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   Chapter 10 No.10

Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 16417

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Sam McPherson, who stood in the shops among the thousands of employees of the Rainey Arms Company, who looked with unseeing eyes at the faces of the men intent upon the operation of machines and saw in them but so many aids to the ambitious projects stirring in his brain, who, while yet a boy, had because of the quality of daring in him, combined with a gift of acquisitiveness, become a master, who was untrained, uneducated, knowing nothing of the history of industry or of social effort, walked out of the offices of his company and along through the crowded streets to the new apartment he had taken on Michigan Avenue. It was Saturday evening at the end of a busy week and as he walked he thought of things he had accomplished during the week and made plans for the one to come. Through Madison Street he went and into State, seeing the crowds of men and women, boys and girls, clambering aboard the cable cars, massed upon the pavements, forming in groups, the groups breaking and reforming, and the whole making a picture intense, confusing, awe-inspiring. As in the shops among the men workers, so here, also, walked the youth with unseeing eyes. He liked it all; the mass of people; the clerks in their cheap clothing; the old men with young girls on their arms going to dine in restaurants; the young man with a wistful look in his eyes waiting for his sweetheart in the shadow of the towering office building. The eager, straining rush of the whole, seemed no more to him than a kind of gigantic setting for action; action controlled by a few quiet, capable men-of whom he intended to be one-intent upon growth.

In State Street he stopped at a shop and buying a bunch of roses came out again upon the crowded street. In the crowd before him walked a woman-tall, freewalking, with a great mass of reddish-brown hair on her head. As she passed through the crowd men stopped and looked back at her, their eyes ablaze with admiration. Seeing her, Sam sprang forward with a cry.

"Edith!" he called, and running forward thrust the roses into her hand. "For Janet," he said, and lifting his hat walked beside her along State to Van Buren Street.

Leaving the woman at a corner Sam came into a region of cheap theatres and dingy hotels. Women spoke to him; young men in flashy overcoats and with a peculiar, assertive, animal swing to their shoulders loitered before the theatres or in the doorways of the hotels; from an upstairs restaurant came the voice of another young man singing a popular song of the street. "There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night," sang the voice.

Over a cross street Sam went into Michigan Avenue, faced by a long narrow park and beyond the railroad tracks by the piles of new earth where the city was trying to regain its lake front. In the cross street, standing in the shadow of the elevated railroad, he had passed a whining, intoxicated old woman who lurched forward and put a hand upon his coat. Sam had flung her a quarter and passed on shrugging his shoulders. Here also he had walked with unseeing eyes; this too was a part of the gigantic machine with which the quiet, competent men of growth worked.

From his new quarters in the top floor of the hotel facing the lake, Sam walked north along Michigan Avenue to a restaurant where Negro men went noiselessly about among white-clad tables, serving men and women who talked and laughed under the shaded lamps had an assured, confident air. Passing in at the door of the restaurant, a wind, blowing over the city toward the lake, brought the sound of a voice floating with it. "There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night," again insisted the voice.

After dining Sam got on a grip car of the Wabash Avenue Cable, sitting on the front seat and letting the panorama of the town roll up to him. From the region of cheap theatres he passed through streets in which saloons stood massed, one beside another, each with its wide garish doorway and its dimly lighted "Ladies' Entrance," and into a region of neat little stores where women with baskets upon their arms stood by the counters and Sam was reminded of Saturday nights in Caxton.

The two women, Edith and Janet Eberly, met through Jack Prince, to one of whom Sam had sent the roses at the hands of the other, and from whom he had borrowed the six thousand dollars when he was new in the city, had been in Chicago for five years when Sam came to know them. For all of the five years they had lived in a two-story frame building that had been a residence in Wabash Avenue near Thirty-ninth Street and that was now both a residence and a grocery store. The apartment upstairs, reached by a stairway at the side of the grocery, had in the five years, and under the hand of Janet Eberly, become a thing of beauty, perfect in the simplicity and completeness of its appointment.

The two women were the daughters of a farmer who had lived in one of the middle western states facing the Mississippi River. Their grandfather had been a noted man in the state, having been one of its first governors and later serving it in the senate in Washington. There was a county and a good-sized town named for him and he had once been talked of as a vice-presidential possibility but had died at Washington before the convention at which his name was to have been put forward. His one son, a youth of great promise, went to West Point and served brilliantly through the Civil War, afterward commanding several western army posts and marrying the daughter of another army man. His wife, an army belle, died after having borne him the two daughters.

After the death of his wife Major Eberly began drinking, and to get away from the habit and from the army atmosphere where he had lived with his wife, whom he loved intensely, took the two little girls and returned to his home state to settle on a farm.

About the county where the two girls grew to womanhood, their father, Major Eberly, got the name of a character, seeing people but seldom and treating rudely the friendly advances of his farmer neighbours. He would sit in the house for days poring over books, of which he had a great many, and hundreds of which were now on open shelves in the apartment of the two girls. These days of study, during which he would brook no intrusion, were followed by days of fierce industry during which he led team after team to the field, ploughing or reaping day and night with no rest except to eat.

At the edge of the Eberly farm there was a little wooden country church surrounded by a hay field, and on Sunday mornings during the summer the ex-army man was always to be found in the field, running some noisy, clattering agricultural implement up and down under the windows of the church and disturbing the worship of the country folk; in the winter he drew a pile of logs there and went on Sunday mornings to split firewood under the church windows. While his daughters were small he was several times haled into court and fined for cruel neglect of his animals. Once he locked a great herd of fine sheep in a shed and went into the house and stayed for days intent upon his books so that many of them suffered cruelly for want of food and water. When he was taken into court and fined, half the county came to the trial and gloated over his humiliation.

To the two girls the father was neither cruel nor kind, leaving them largely to themselves but giving them no money, so that they went about in dresses made over from those of the mother, that lay piled in trunks in the attic. When they were small, an old Negro woman, an ex-servant of the army belle, lived with and mothered them, but when Edith was a girl of ten this woman went off home to Tennessee, so that the girls were thrown on their own resources and ran the house in their own way.

Janet Eberly was, at the beginning of her friendship with Sam, a slight woman of twenty-seven with a small expressive face, quick nervous fingers, black piercing eyes, black hair and a way of becoming so absorbed in the exposition of a book or the rush of a conversation that her little intense face became transfigured and her quick fingers clutched the arm of her listener while her eyes lo

oked into his and she lost all consciousness of his presence or of the opinions he may have expressed. She was a cripple, having fallen from the loft of a barn in her youth injuring her back so that she sat all day in a specially made reclining wheeled chair.

Edith was a stenographer, working in the office of a publisher down town, and Janet trimmed hats for a milliner a few doors down the street from the house in which they lived. In his will the father left the money from the sale of the farm to Janet, and Sam used it, insuring his life for ten thousand dollars in her name while it was in his possession and handling it with a caution entirely absent from his operations with the money of the medical student. "Take it and make money for me," the little woman had said impulsively one evening shortly after the beginning of their acquaintance and after Jack Prince had been talking flamboyantly of Sam's ability in affairs. "What is the good of having a talent if you do not use it to benefit those who haven't it?"

Janet Eberly was an intellect. She disregarded all the usual womanly points of view and had an attitude of her own toward life and people. In a way she had understood her hard-driven, grey-haired father and during the time of her great physical suffering they had built up a kind of understanding and affection for each other. After his death she wore a miniature of him, made in his boyhood, on a chain about her neck. When Sam met her the two immediately became close friends, sitting for hours in talk and coming to look forward with great pleasure to the evenings spent together.

In the Eberly household Sam McPherson was a benefactor, a wonder-worker. In his hands the six thousand dollars was bringing two thousand a year into the house and adding immeasurably to the air of comfort and good living that prevailed there. To Janet, who managed the house, he was guide, counsellor, and something more than friend.

Of the two women it was the strong, vigorous Edith, with the reddish-brown hair and the air of physical completeness that made men stop to look at her on the street, who first became Sam's friend.

Edith Eberly was strong of body, given to quick flashes of anger, stupid intellectually and hungry to the roots of her for wealth and a place in the world. She had heard, through Jack Prince, of Sam's money making and of his ability and prospects and, for a time, had designs upon his affections. Several times when they were alone together she gave his hand a characteristically impulsive squeeze and once upon the stairway beside the grocery store offered him her lips to kiss. Later there sprang up between her and Jack Prince a passionate love affair, dropped finally by Prince through fear of her violent fits of anger. After Sam had met Janet Eberly and had become her loyal friend and henchman all show of affection or even of interest between him and Edith was at an end and the kiss upon the stairs was forgotten.

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Going up the stairway after the ride in the cable car Sam stood beside Janet's wheel chair in the room at the front of the apartment facing Wabash Avenue. The chair was by the window and faced an open coal fire in a grate she had had built into the wall of the house. Outside, through an open arched doorway, Edith moved noiselessly about taking dishes from a little table. He knew that after a time Jack Prince would come and take her to the theatre, leaving Janet and him to finish their talk.

Sam lighted his pipe and between puffs began talking, making a statement that he knew would arouse her, and Janet, putting her hand impulsively on his shoulder, began tearing the statement to bits.

"You talk!" she broke out. "Books are not full of pretence and lies; you business men are-you and Jack Prince. What do you know of books? They are the most wonderful things in the world. Men sit writing them and forget to lie, but you business men never forget. You and books! You haven't read books, not real ones. Didn't my father know; didn't he save himself from insanity through books? Do I not, sitting here, get the real feel of the movement of the world through the books that men write? Suppose I saw those men. They would swagger and strut and take themselves seriously just like you or Jack or the grocer down stairs. You think you know what's going on in the world. You think you are doing things, you Chicago men of money and action and growth. You are blind, all blind."

The little woman, a light, half scorn, half amusement in her eyes, leaned forward and ran her fingers through Sam's hair, laughing down into the astonished face he turned up to her.

"Oh, I'm not afraid, in spite of what Edith and Jack Prince say of you," she went on impulsively. "I like you all right and if I were a well woman I should make love to you and marry you and then see to it there was something in this world for you besides money and tall buildings and men and machines that make guns."

Sam grinned. "You are like your father, driving the mowing machine up and down under the church windows on Sunday mornings," he declared; "you think you could remake the world by shaking your fist at it. I should like to go and see you fined in a court room for starving sheep."

Janet, closing her eyes and lying back in her chair, laughed with delight and declared that they would have a splendid quarrelsome evening.

After Edith had gone out, Sam sat through the evening with Janet, listening to her exposition of life and what she thought it should mean to a strong capable fellow like himself, as he had been listening ever since their acquaintanceship began. In the talk, and in the many talks they had had together, talks that rang in his ears for years, the little black-eyed woman gave him a glimpse into a whole purposeful universe of thought and action of which he had never dreamed, introducing him to a new world of men: methodical, hard-thinking Germans, emotional, dreaming Russians, analytical, courageous Norwegians, Spaniards and Italians with their sense of beauty, and blundering, hopeful Englishmen wanting so much and getting so little; so that at the end of the evening he went out of her presence feeling strangely small and insignificant against the great world background she had drawn for him.

Sam did not understand Janet's point of view. It was all too new and foreign to everything life had taught him, and in his mind he fought her ideas doggedly, clinging to his own concrete, practical thoughts and hopes, but on the train homeward bound, and in his own room later, he turned over and over in his mind the things she had said and tried in a dim way to grasp the bigness of the conception of human life she had got sitting in a wheel chair and looking down into Wabash Avenue.

Sam loved Janet Eberly. No word of that had ever passed between them and he had seen her hand flash out and grasp the shoulder of Jack Prince when she was laying down to him some law of life as she saw it, as it had so often shot out and grasped his own, but had she been able to spring out of the wheel chair he should have taken her hand and gone with her to the clergyman within the hour and in his heart he knew that she would have gone with him gladly.

Janet died suddenly during the second year of Sam's work for the gun company without a direct declaration of affection from him, but during the years when they were much together he thought of her as in a sense his wife and when she died he was desolate, overdrinking night after night and wandering aimlessly through the deserted streets during hours when he should have been asleep. She was the first woman who ever got hold of and stirred his manhood, and she awoke something in him that made it possible for him later to see life with a broadness and scope of vision that was no part of the pushing, energetic young man of dollars and of industry who sat beside her wheeled chair during the evenings on Wabash Avenue.

After Janet's death, Sam did not continue his friendship with Edith, but turned over to her the ten thousand dollars to which the six thousand of Janet's money had grown in his hands and did not see her again.

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