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   Chapter 11 No.11

Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 21178

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


One night in April Colonel Tom Rainey of the great Rainey Arms Company and his chief lieutenant, young Sam McPherson, treasurer and chairman of the board of directors of the company, slept together in a room in a St. Paul hotel. It was a double room with two beds, and Sam, lying on his pillow, looked across the bed to where the colonel's paunch protruding itself between him and the light from a long narrow window, made a round hill above which the moon just peeped. During the evening the two men had sat for several hours at a table in the grill down stairs while Sam discussed a proposition he proposed making to a St. Paul jobber the next day. The account of the jobber, a large one, had been threatened by Lewis, the Jew manager of the Edwards Arms Company, the Rainey Company's only important western rival, and Sam was full of ideas to checkmate the shrewd trade move the Jew had made. At the table, the colonel had been silent and taciturn, an unusual attitude of mind for him, and Sam lay in bed and looked at the moon gradually working its way over the undulating abdominal hill, wondering what was in his mind. The hill dropped, showing the full face of the moon, and then rose again obliterating it.

"Sam, were you ever in love?" asked the colonel, with a sigh.

Sam turned and buried his face in the pillow and the white covering of his bed danced up and down. "The old fool, has it come to that with him?" he asked himself. "After all these years of single life is he going to begin running after women now?"

He did not answer the colonel's question. "There are breakers ahead for you, old boy," he thought, the figure of quiet, determined, little Sue Rainey, the colonel's daughter, as he had seen her on the rare occasions when he had dined at the Rainey home or she had come into the LaSalle Street offices, coming into his mind. With a quiver of enjoyment of the mental exercise, he tried to imagine the colonel as a swaggering blade among women.

The colonel, oblivious of Sam's mirth and of his silence regarding his experience in the field of love, began talking, making amends for the silence in the grill. He told Sam that he had decided to take to himself a new wife, and confessed that the view of the matter his daughter might take worried him. "Children are so unfair," he complained; "they forget about a man's feelings and can't realise that his heart is still young."

With a smile on his lips, Sam began trying to picture a woman's lying in his place and looking at the moon over the pulsating hill. The colonel continued talking. He grew franker, telling the name of his beloved and the circumstances of their meeting and courtship. "She is an actress, a working girl," he said feelingly. "I met her at a dinner given by Will Sperry one evening and she was the only woman there who did not drink wine. After the dinner we went for a drive together and she told me of her hard life, of her fight against temptations, and of her brother, an artist, she is trying to get started in the world. We have been together a dozen times and have written letters, and, Sam, we have discovered an affinity for each other."

Sam sat up in bed. "Letters!" he muttered. "The old dog is going to get himself involved." He dropped again upon the pillow. "Well, let him. Why need I bother myself?"

The colonel, having begun talking, could not stop. "Although we have seen each other only a dozen times, a letter has passed between us every day. Oh, if you could see the letters she writes. They are wonderful."

A worried sigh broke from the colonel. "I want Sue to invite her to the house, but I am afraid," he complained; "I am afraid she will be wrong-headed about it. Women are such determined creatures. She and my Luella should meet and know each other, but if I go home and tell her she may make a scene and hurt Luella's feelings."

The moon had risen, shedding its light in Sam's eyes, and he turned his back to the colonel and prepared to sleep. The naive credulity of the older man had touched a spring of mirth in him and from time to time the covering of his bed continued to quiver suggestively.

"I would not hurt her feelings for anything. She is the squarest little woman alive," the voice of the colonel announced. The voice broke and the colonel, who habitually roared forth his sentiments, began to dither. Sam wondered if his feelings had been touched by the thoughts of his daughter or of the lady from the stage. "It is a wonderful thing," half sobbed the colonel, "when a young and beautiful woman gives her whole heart into the keeping of a man like me."

It was a week later before Sam heard more of the affair. Looking up from his desk in the offices in LaSalle Street one morning, he found Sue Rainey standing before him. She was a small athletic looking woman with black hair, square shoulders, cheeks browned by the sun and wind, and quiet grey eyes. She stood facing Sam's desk and pulled off a glove while she looked down at him with amused, quizzical eyes. Sam rose, and leaning over the flat-topped desk, took her hand, wondering what had brought her there.

Sue Rainey did not mince matters, but plunged at once into an explanation of the purpose of her visit. From birth she had lived in an atmosphere of wealth. Although she was not counted a beautiful woman, she had, because of her wealth and the charm of her person, been much courted. Sam, who had talked briefly with her a half dozen times, had long had a haunting curiosity to know more of her personality. As she stood there before him looking so wonderfully well-kept and confident he thought her baffling and puzzling.

"The colonel," she began, and then hesitated and smiled. "You, Mr. McPherson, have become a figure in my father's life. He depends upon you very much. He tells me that he has talked with you concerning a Miss Luella London from the theatre, and that you have agreed with him that the colonel and she should marry."

Sam watched her gravely. A flicker of mirth ran through him, but his face was grave and disinterested.

"Yes?" he said, looking into her eyes. "Have you met Miss London?"

"I have," answered Sue Rainey. "Have you?"

Sam shook his head.

"She is impossible," declared the colonel's daughter, clutching the glove held in her hand and staring at the floor. A flush of anger rose in her cheeks. "She is a crude, hard, scheming woman. She colours her hair, she cries when you look at her, she hasn't even the grace to be ashamed of what she is trying to do, and she has got the colonel into a fix."

Sam looked at the brown of Sue Rainey's cheek and thought the texture of it beautiful. He wondered why he had heard her called a plain woman. The heightened colour brought to her face by her anger had, he thought, transfigured her. He liked her direct, forceful way of putting the matter of the colonel's affair, and felt keenly the compliment implied by her having come to him. "She has self-respect," he told himself, and felt a thrill of pride in her attitude as though it had been inspired by himself.

"I have been hearing of you a great deal," she continued, glancing up at him and smiling. "At our house you are brought to the table with the soup and taken away with the liqueur. My father interlards his table talk, and introduces all of his wise new axioms on economy and efficiency and growth, with a constant procession of 'Sam says' and 'Sam thinks.' And the men who come to the house talk of you also. Teddy Foreman says that at directors' meetings they all sit about like children waiting for you to tell them what to do."

She threw out her hand with an impatient little gesture. "I am in a hole," she said. "I might handle my father but I cannot handle that woman."

While she had been talking to him Sam looked past her and out at a window. When her eyes wandered from his face he looked again at her brown firm cheeks. From the beginning of the interview he had been intending to help her.

"Give me the lady's address," he said; "I'll go look her over."

Three evenings later Sam took Miss Luella London to a midnight supper at one of the town's best restaurants. She knew the motive of his taking her, as he had been quite frank in the few minutes' talk near the stage door of the theatre when the engagement was made. As they ate, they talked of the plays at the Chicago theatres, and Sam told her a story of an amateur performance that had once taken place in the hall over Geiger's drug store in Caxton when he was boy. In the performance Sam had taken the r?le of a drummer boy killed on the field of battle by a swaggering villain in a grey uniform, and John Telfer, in the r?le of villain, had become so in earnest that, a pistol not exploding at a critical moment, he had chased Sam about the stage trying to hit him with the butt of the weapon while the audience roared with delight at the realism of Telfer's rage and at the frightened boy begging for mercy.

Luella London laughed heartily at Sam's story and then, the coffee being served, she fingered the handle of the cup and a shrewd look came into her eyes.

"And now you are a big business man and have come to see me about Colonel Rainey," she said.

Sam lighted a cigar.

"Just how much are you counting on this marriage between yourself and the colonel?" he asked bluntly.

The actress laughed and poured cream into her coffee. A line came and went on her forehead between her eyes. Sam thought she looked capable.

"I have been thinking of what you told me at the stage door," she said, and a childlike smile played about her lips. "Do you know, Mr. McPherson, I can't just figure you. I can't just see how you get into this. Where are your credentials, anyway?"

Sam, keeping his eyes upon her face, took a jump into the dark.

"It's this way," he said, "I'm something of an adventurer myself. I fly the black flag. I come from where you do. I had to reach out my hand and take what I wanted. I do not blame you in the least, but it just happens that I saw Colonel Tom Rainey first. He is my game and I do not propose to have you fooling around. I am not bluffing. You have got to get off him."

Leaning forward, he stared at her intently, and then lowered his voice. "I've got your record. I know the man you used to live with. He's going to help me get you if you do not drop it."

Sitting back in his chair Sam watched her gravely. He had taken the odd chance to win quickly by a bluff and had won. But Luella London was not to be defeated without a struggle.

"You lie," she cri

ed, half springing from her chair. "Frank has never-"

"Oh yes, Frank has," answered Sam, turning as though to call a waiter; "I will have him here in ten minutes if you wish to be shown."

Picking up a fork the woman began nervously picking holes in the table cloth and a tear appeared upon her cheek. She took a handkerchief from a bag that hung hooked over the back of a chair at the side of the table and wiped her eyes.

"All right! All right!" she said, bracing herself, "I'll drop it. If you've dug up Frank Robson you've got me. He'll do anything you say for a piece of money."

For some minutes the two sat in silence. A tired look had come into the woman's eyes.

"I wish I was a man," she said. "I get whipped at everything I tackle because I'm a woman. I'm getting past my money-making days in the theatre and I thought the colonel was fair game."

"He is," answered Sam dispassionately, "but you see I beat you to it. He's mine."

Glancing cautiously about the room, he took a roll of bills from his pocket and began laying them one at a time upon the table.

"Look here," he said, "you've done a good piece of work. You should have won. For ten years half the society women of Chicago have been trying to marry their daughters or their sons to the Rainey fortune. They had everything to help them, wealth, good looks, and a standing in the world. You have none of these things. How did you do it?

"Anyway," he went on, "I'm not going to see you trimmed. I've got ten thousand dollars here, as good Rainey money as ever was printed. You sign this paper and then put the roll in your purse."

"That's square," said Luella London, signing, and with the light coming back into her eyes.

Sam beckoned to the proprietor of the restaurant whom he knew and had him and a waiter sign as witnesses.

Luella London put the roll of bills into her purse.

"What did you give me that money for when you had me beat anyway?" she asked.

Sam lighted a fresh cigar and folding the paper put it in his pocket.

"Because I like you and I admire your skill," he said, "and anyway I did not have you beaten until right now."

They sat studying the people getting up from the tables and going through the door to waiting carriages and automobiles, the well-dressed women with assured airs serving Sam's mind to make a contrast for the woman who sat with him.

"I presume you are right about women," he said musingly, "it must be a stiff game for you if you like winning on your own hook."

"Winning! We don't win." The lips of the actress drew back showing her white teeth. "No woman ever won who tried to play a straight fighting game for herself."

Her voice grew tense and the lines upon her forehead reappeared.

"Woman can't stand alone," she went on, "she is a sentimental fool. She reaches out her hand to some man and that in the end beats her. Why, even when she plays the game as I played it against the colonel some rat of a man like Frank Robson, for whom she has given up everything worth while to a woman, sells her out."

Sam looked at her hand, covered with rings, lying on the table.

"Let's not misunderstand each other," he said quietly, "do not blame Frank for this. I never knew him. I just imagined him."

A puzzled look came into the woman's eyes and a flush rose in her cheeks.

"You grafter!" she sneered.

Sam called to a passing waiter and ordered a fresh bottle of wine.

"What's the use being sore?" he asked. "It's simple enough. You staked against a better mind. Anyway you have the ten thousand, haven't you?"

Luella reached for her purse.

"I don't know," she said, "I'll look. Haven't you decided to steal it back yet?"

Sam laughed.

"I'm coming to that," he said, "don't hurry me."

For several minutes they sat eyeing each other, and then, with an earnest ring in his voice and a smile on his lips, Sam began talking again.

"Look here!" he said, "I'm no Frank Robson and I do not like giving a woman the worst of it. I have been studying you and I can't see you running around loose with ten thousand dollars of real money on you. You do not fit into the picture and the money will not last a year in your hands.

"Give it to me," he urged; "let me invest it for you. I'm a winner. I'll double it for you in a year."

The actress stared past Sam's shoulder to where a group of young men sat about a table drinking and talking loudly. Sam began telling an anecdote of an Irish baggage man in Caxton. When he had finished he looked at her and laughed.

"As that shoemaker looked to Jerry Donlin so you, as the colonel's wife, looked to me," he said. "I had to make you get out of my flower bed."

A gleam of resolution came into the wandering eyes of Luella London and she took the purse from the back of the chair and brought out the roll of bills.

"I'm a sport," she said, "and I'm going to lay a bet on the best horse I ever saw. You may trim me, but I always would take a chance."

Turning, she called a waiter and, handing him a bill from her purse, threw the roll on the table.

"Take the pay for the spread and the wine we have had out of that," she said, handing him the loose bill and then turning to Sam. "You ought to beat the world. Anyway your genius gets recognition from me. I pay for this party and when you see the colonel say good-bye to him for me."

The next day, at his request, Sue Rainey called at the offices of the Arms Company and Sam handed her the paper signed by Luella London. It was an agreement on her part to divide with Sam, half and half, any money she might be able to blackmail out of Colonel Rainey.

The colonel's daughter glanced from the paper to Sam's face.

"I thought so," she said, and a puzzled look came into her eyes. "But I do not understand this. What does this paper do and what did you pay for it?"

"The paper," Sam answered, "puts her in a hole and I paid ten thousand dollars for it."

Sue Rainey laughed and taking a checkbook from her handbag laid it on the desk and sat down.

"Do you get your half?" she asked.

"I get it all," answered Sam, and then leaning back in his chair launched into an explanation. When he had told her of the talk in the restaurant she sat with the checkbook lying before her and with the puzzled look still in her eyes.

Without giving her time for comment, Sam plunged into the midst of what had been in his mind to say to her.

"The woman will not bother the colonel any more," he declared; "if that paper won't hold her something else will. She respects me and she is afraid of me. We had a talk after she had signed the paper and she gave me the ten thousand dollars to invest for her. I promised to double it for her within a year and I want to make good. I want you to double it now. Make the check for twenty thousand."

Sue Rainey wrote the check, making it payable to bearer, and pushed it across the table.

"I cannot say that I understand yet," she confessed. "Did you also fall in love with her?"

Sam grinned. He was wondering whether he would be able to get into words just what he wanted to tell her of the actress soldier of fortune. He looked across the table at her frank grey eyes and then on an impulse decided that he would tell it straight out as though she had been a man.

"It's like this," he said. "I like ability and good brains and that woman has them. She isn't a good woman, but nothing in her life has made her want to be good. All her life she has been going the wrong way, and now she wants to get on her feet and squared around. That's what she was after the colonel for. She did not want to marry him, she wanted to make him give her the start she was after. I got the best of her because somewhere there is a snivelling little whelp of a man who has taken all the good and the fineness out of her and who now stands ready to sell her out for a few dollars. I imagined there would be such a man when I saw her and I bluffed my way through to him. But I do not want to whip a woman, even in such an affair, through the cheapness of some man. I want to do the square thing by her. That's why I asked you to make that check for twenty thousand."

Sue Rainey rose and stood by the desk looking down at him. He was thinking how wonderfully clear and honest her eyes.

"And what about the colonel?" she asked. "What will he think of all this?"

Sam walked around the desk and took her hand.

"We'll have to agree not to consider him," he said. "We really did that you know when we started this thing. I think we can depend upon Miss London's putting the finishing touches on the job."

And Miss London did. She sent for Sam a week later and put tweny-five hundred dollars into his hand.

"That's not to invest for me," she said, "that's for yourself. By the agreement I signed with you we were to split anything I got out of the colonel. Well, I went light. I only got five thousand dollars."

With the money in his hand Sam stood by the side of a little table in her room looking at her.

"What did you tell the colonel?" he asked.

"I called him up here to my room last night and lying here in bed I told him that I had just discovered I was the victim of an incurable disease. I told him that within a month I would be in bed for keeps and asked him to marry me at once and to take me away with him to some quiet place where I could die in his arms."

Coming over to Sam, Luella London put a hand upon his arm and laughed.

"He began to beg off and make excuses," she went on, "and then I brought out his letters to me and talked straight. He wilted at once and paid the five thousand dollars I asked for the letters without a murmur. I might have made it fifty and with your talent you ought to get all he has in six months."

Sam shook hands with her and told her of his success in doubling the money she had put into his hands. Then putting the twenty-five hundred dollars in his pocket he went back to his desk. He did not see her again and when, through a lucky market turn, he had increased the twenty thousand dollars she had left with him to twenty-five, he placed it in the hands of a trust company for her and forgot the incident. Years later he heard that she was running a fashionable dressmaking establishment in a western city.

And Colonel Tom Rainey, who had for months talked of nothing but factory efficiency and of what he and young Sam McPherson were going to do in the way of enlarging the business, began the next morning a tirade against women that lasted the rest of his life.

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