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   Chapter 13 No.13

Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 21064

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


One evening, six weeks after the talk in the gathering darkness in Jackson Park, Sue Rainey and Sam McPherson sat on the deck of a Lake Michigan steamer watching the lights of Chicago blink out in the distance. They had been married that afternoon in Colonel Tom's big house on the south side; and now they sat on the deck of the boat, being carried out into darkness, vowed to motherhood and to fatherhood, each more or less afraid of the other. They sat in silence, looking at the blinking lights and listening to the low voices of their fellow passengers, also sitting in the chairs along the deck or strolling leisurely about, and to the wash of the water along the sides of the boat, eager to break down a little reserve that the solemnity of the marriage service had built up between them.

A picture floated in Sam's mind. He saw Sue, all in white, radiant and wonderful, coming toward him down a broad stairway, toward him, the newsboy of Caxton, the smuggler of game, the roisterer, the greedy moneygetter. All during those six weeks he had been waiting for this hour when he should sit beside the little grey-clad figure, getting from her the help he wanted in the reconstruction of his life. Without being able to talk as he had thought of talking, he yet felt assured and easy in his mind. In the moment when she had come down the stairway he had been half overcome by a feeling of intense shame, a return of the shame that had swept over him that night when she had given her word and he had walked hour after hour through the streets. It had seemed to him that from among the guests standing about should arise a voice crying, "Stop! Do not go on! Let me tell you of this fellow-this McPherson!" And then he had seen her holding to the arm of swaggering, pretentious Colonel Tom and he had taken her hand to become one with her, two curious, feverish, strangely different human beings, taking a vow in the name of their God, with the flowers banked about them and the eyes of people upon them.

When Sam had gone to Colonel Tom the morning after that evening in Jackson Park, there had been a scene. The old gun maker had blustered and roared and forbidden, pounding on his desk with his fist. When Sam remained cool and unimpressed, he had stormed out of the room slamming the door and shouting, "Upstart! Damned upstart!" and Sam had gone smiling back to his desk, mildly disappointed. "I told Sue he would say 'Ingrate,'" he thought, "I am losing my skill at guessing just what he will do and say."

The colonel's rage had been short-lived. Within a week he was boasting of Sam to chance callers as "the best business man in America," and in the face of a solemn promise given Sue was telling news of the approaching marriage to every newspaper man he knew. Sam suspected him of secretly calling on the telephone those newspapers whose representatives had not crossed his trail.

During the six waiting weeks there had been little of love making between Sue and Sam. They had talked instead, or, going into the country or to the parks, had walked under the trees consumed with a curious eager passion of suspense. The idea she had given him in the park grew in Sam's brain. To live for the young things that would presently come to them, to be simple, direct, and natural, like the trees or the beasts of the field, and then to have the native honesty of such a life illuminated and ennobled by a mutual intelligent purpose to make their young something finer and better than the things in Nature by the intelligent use of their own good minds and bodies. In the shops and on the streets the hurrying men and women took on a new significance to him. He wondered what secret mighty purpose might be in their lives, and read a newspaper report of an engagement or a marriage with a little jump of the heart. He looked at the girls and the women at work over the typewriting machines in the office, with questioning eyes, asking himself why they did not seek marriage openly and determinedly, and saw a healthy single woman as so much wasted material, as a machine for producing healthy new life standing idle and unused in the great workshop of the universe. "Marriage is a port, a beginning, a point of departure, from which men and women go forth upon the real voyage of life," he told Sue one evening as they walked in the park. "All that goes before is but a preparation, a building. The pains and the triumphs of all unmarried people are but the good oak planks being driven into place to make the vessel fit for the real voyage." Or, again, one night when they were in a rowboat on the lagoon in the park and all about them in the darkness was the plash of oars in the water, the screams of excited girls, and the sound of voices calling, he let the boat float in against the shores of a little island and crept along the boat to kneel, with his head in her lap and whisper, "It is not the love of a woman that grips me, Sue, but the love of life. I have had a peep into the great mystery. This-this is why we are here-this justifies us."

Now that she sat beside him, her shoulder against his own, being carried away with him into darkness and privacy, the personal side of his love for her ran through Sam like a flame and, turning, he drew her head down upon his shoulder.

"Not yet, Sam," she whispered, "not with these hundreds of people sleeping and drinking and thinking and going about their affairs almost within touch of our hands."

They got up and walked along the swaying deck. Out of the north the clean wind called to them, the stars looked down upon them, and in the darkness in the bow of the boat they parted for the night silently, speechless with happiness and with a dear, unmentioned secret between them.

At dawn they landed at a little lumbering town, where boat, blankets, and camping kit had gone before. A river flowed down out of the woods passing the town, going under a bridge and turning the wheel of a sawmill that stood by the shore of the river facing the lake. The clean sweet smell of the new-cut logs, the song of the saws, the roar of the water tumbling over a dam, the cries of the blue-shirted lumbermen working among the floating logs above the dam, filled the morning air, and above the song of the saws sang another song, a breathless, waiting song, the song of love and of life singing in the hearts of husband and wife.

In a little roughly-built lumberman's hotel they ate breakfast in a room overlooking the river. The proprietor of the hotel, a large red-faced woman in a clean calico dress, was expecting them and, having served the breakfast, went out of the room grinning good naturedly and closing the door behind her. Through the open window they looked at the cold swiftly-flowing river and at a freckled-faced boy who carried packages wrapped in blankets and put them in a long canoe tied to a little wharf beside the hotel. They ate and sat staring at each other like two strange boys, saying nothing. Sam ate little. His heart pounded in his breast.

On the river he sank his paddle deep into the water, pulling against the current. During the six weeks' waiting in Chicago she had taught him the essentials of the canoeist's art and, now, as he shot the canoe under the bridge and around a bend of the river out of sight of the town, a superhuman strength seemed in his arms and back. Before him in the prow of the boat sat Sue, her straight muscular little back bending and straightening again. By his side rose towering hills clothed with pine trees, and piles of cut logs lay at the foot of the hills along the shore.

At sunset they landed in a little cleared space at the foot of a hill and on the top of the hill, with the wind blowing across it, they made their first camp. Sam brought boughs and spread them, lapped like feathers in the wings of a bird, and carried blankets up the hill, while Sue, at the foot, near the overturned boat, built a fire and prepared their first cooked meal out of doors. In the failing light, Sue got out her rifle and gave Sam his first lesson in marksmanship, his awkwardness making the lesson half a jest. And then, in the soft stillness of the young night, with the first stars coming into the sky and the clean cold wind blowing into their faces, they went arm in arm up the hill under the trees to where the tops of the trees rolled and pitched like the stormy waters of a great sea before their eyes, and lay down together for their first long tender embrace.

There is a special kind of fine pleasure in getting one's first knowledge of the great outdoors in the company of a woman a man loves and to have that woman an expert, with a keen appetite for the life, adds point and flavour to the experience. In his busy striving, nickel-seeking boyhood in the town surrounded by hot cornfields, and in his young manhood of scheming and money hunger in the city, Sam had not thought of vacations and resting places. He had walked on country roads with John Telfer and Mary Underwood, listening to their talk, absorbing their ideas, blind and deaf to the little life in the grass, in the leafy branches of the trees and in the air about him. In clubs, and about hotels and barrooms in the city, he had heard men talk of life in the open, and had said to himself, "When my time comes I will taste these things."

And now he did taste them, lying on his back on the grass along the river, floating down quiet little side streams in the moonlight, listening to the night call of birds, or watching the flight of frightened wild things as he pushed the canoe into the quiet depths of the great forest about them.

At night, under the little tent they had brought, or beneath the blankets under the stars, he slept lightly, awakening often to look at Sue lying beside him. Perhaps the wind had blown a wisp of hair across her face and her breath played with it, tossing it about; perhaps just the quiet of her expressive little face charmed and held him, so that he turned reluctantly to sleep again thinking that he might, with pleasure, go on looking at her all night.

For Sue the days also passed lightly. She also awoke in the night and lay looking at the man sleeping beside her, and once she told Sam that when he awoke she feigned sleep dreading to rob him of the pleasure that she knew these secret love passages gave to both.

They were not alone in those northern woods. Everywhere along the rivers and on the shores of little lakes they found people, to Sam a new kind of

people, who dropped all the ordinary things of life, and ran away to the woods and the streams to spend long happy months in the open. He discovered with surprise that these adventurers were men of modest fortunes, small manufacturers, skilled workingmen, retail merchants. One with whom he talked was a grocer from a town in Ohio, and when Sam asked him if the coming to the woods with his family for an eight-weeks stay did not endanger the success of his business he agreed with Sam that it did, nodding his head and laughing.

"But there would be a lot more danger in not leaving it," he said, "the danger of having my boys grow up to be men without my having any real fun with them."

Among all of the people they met Sue passed with a sort of happy freedom that confounded Sam, as he had formed a habit of thinking of her always as one shut within herself. Many of the people they saw she knew, and he came to believe that she had chosen the place for their love making because she admired and held in high favour the lives of these people of the out-of-doors and wanted her lover to be in some way like them. Out of the solitude of the woods, along the shores of little lakes, they called to her as she passed, demanding that she come ashore and show her husband, and among them she sat talking of other seasons and of the inroads of the lumber men upon their paradise. "The Burnhams were this year on the shores of Grant Lake, the two school teachers from Pittsburgh would come early in August, the Detroit man with the crippled son was building a cabin on the shores of Bone River."

Sam sat among them in silence, renewing constantly his admiration for the wonder of Sue's past life. She, the daughter of Colonel Tom, the woman rich in her own right, to have made her friends among these people; she, who had been pronounced an enigma by the young men of Chicago, to have been secretly all of these years the companion and fellow spirit of these campers by the lakes.

For six weeks they led a wandering, nomadic life in that half wild land, for Sue six weeks of tender love making, and of the expression of every thought and impulse of her fine nature, for Sam six weeks of readjustment and freedom, during which he learned to sail a boat, to shoot, and to get the fine taste of that life into his being.

And then one morning they came again to the little lumber town at the mouth of the river and sat upon the pier waiting for the Chicago boat. They were bound once more into the world, and to that life together that was the foundation of their marriage and that was to be the end and aim of their two lives.

If Sam's life from boyhood had been, on the whole, barren and empty of many of the sweeter things, his life during the next year was strikingly full and complete. In the office he had ceased being the pushing upstart tramping on the toes of tradition and had become the son of Colonel Tom, the voter of Sue's big stock holdings, the practical, directing head and genius of the destinies of the company. Jack Prince's loyalty had been rewarded, and a huge advertising campaign made the name and merits of the Rainey Arms Company's wares known to all reading Americans. The muzzles of Rainey-Whittaker rifles, revolvers, and shotguns looked threateningly out at one from the pages of the great popular magazines, brown fur-clad hunters did brave deeds before one's eyes, kneeling upon snow-topped crags preparing to speed winged death to waiting mountain sheep; huge open-mouthed bears rushed down from among the type at the top of the pages and seemed about to devour cool deliberate sportsmen who stood undaunted, swinging their trusty Rainey-Whittakers into place, and presidents, explorers, and Texas gun fighters loudly proclaimed the merits of Rainey-Whittakers to a gun-buying world. It was for Sam and for Colonel Tom a time of big dividends, mechanical progress, and contentment.

Sam stayed diligently at work in the offices and in the shops, but kept within himself a reserve of strength and resolution that might have gone into the work. With Sue he took up golf and morning rides on horseback, and with Sue he sat during the long evenings, reading aloud, absorbing her ideas and her beliefs. Sometimes for days they were like two children, going off together to walk on country roads and to sleep in country hotels. On these walks they went hand in hand or, bantering each other, raced down long hills to lie panting in the grass by the roadside when they were out of breath.

Near the end of the first year she told him one night of the realisation of their hopes and they sat through the evening alone by the fire in her room, filled with the white wonder of it, renewing to each other all the fine vows of their early love-making days.

Sam never succeeded in recapturing the flavour of those days. Happiness is a thing so vague, so indefinite, so dependent on a thousand little turns of the events of the day, that it only visits the most fortunate and at rare intervals, but Sam thought that he and Sue touched almost ideal happiness constantly during that time. There were weeks and even months of their first year together that later passed out of Sam's memory entirely, leaving only a sense of completeness and well being. He could remember, perhaps, a winter walk in the moonlight by the frozen lake, or a visitor who sat and talked an evening away by their fire. But at the end he had to come back to this: that something sang in his heart all day long and that the air tasted better, the stars shone more brightly, and the wind and the rain and the hail upon the window panes sang more sweetly in his ears. He and the woman who lived with him had wealth, position, and infinite delight in the presence and the persons of each other, and a great idea burned like a lamp in a window at the end of the road they travelled.

Meanwhile, in the world about him events came and went. A president was elected, the grey wolves were being hunted out of the Chicago city council, and a strong rival to his company flourished in his own city. In other days he would have been down upon this rival fighting, planning, working for its destruction. Now he sat at Sue's feet, dreaming and talking to her of the brood that under their care should grow into wonderful reliant men and women. When Lewis, the talented sales manager of the Edwards Arms Company, got the business of a Kansas City jobber, he smiled, wrote a sharp letter to his man in that territory, and went for an afternoon of golf with Sue. He had completely and wholly accepted Sue's conception of life. "We have wealth for any emergency," he said to himself, "and we will live our lives for service to mankind through the children that will presently come into our house."

After their marriage Sam found that Sue, for all her apparent coldness and indifference, had in Chicago, as in the northern woods, her own little circle of men and women. Some of these people Sam had met during the engagement, and now they began gradually coming to the house for an evening with the McPhersons. Sometimes there would be several of them for a quiet dinner at which there was much good talk, and after which Sue and Sam sat for half the night, continuing some vein of thought brought to them. Among the people who came to them, Sam shone resplendent. In some indefinable way he thought they paid court to him and the thought flattered him immensely. The college professor who had talked brilliantly through an evening turned to Sam for approval of his conclusions, a writer of tales of cowboy life asked him to help him over a difficulty in the stock market, and a tall black-haired painter paid him the rare compliment of repeating one of Sam's remarks as his own. It was as though, in spite of their talk, they thought him the most gifted of them all, and for a time he was puzzled by their attitude. Jack Prince came, sat at one of the dinner parties, and explained.

"You have got what they want and cannot get-the money," he said.

After the evening when Sue told him the great news they gave a dinner. It was a sort of welcoming party for the coming guest, and, while the people at the table ate and talked, Sue and Sam, from opposite ends of the table, lifted high their glasses and, looking into each other's eyes, drank off the health of him who was to come, the first of the great family, the family that was to have two lives lived for its success.

At the table sat Colonel Tom with his broad white shirt front, his white, pointed beard, and his grandiloquent flow of talk; at Sue's side sat Jack Prince, pausing in his open admiration of Sue to cast an eye on the handsome New York girl at Sam's end of the table or to puncture, with a flash of his terse common sense, some balloon of theory launched by Williams of the University, who sat on the other side of Sue; the artist, who hoped for a commission to paint Colonel Tom, sat opposite him bewailing the dying out of fine old American families; and a serious-faced little German scientist sat beside Colonel Tom smiling as the artist talked. The man, Sam fancied, was laughing at them both, perhaps at all of them. He did not mind. He looked at the scientist and at the other faces up and down the table and then at Sue. He saw her directing and leading the talk; he saw the play of muscles about her strong neck and the fine firmness of her straight little body, and his eyes grew moist and a lump came into his throat at the thought of the secret that lay between them.

And then his mind ran back to another night in Caxton when first he sat eating among strange people at Freedom Smith's table. He saw again the tomboy girl and the sturdy boy and the lantern swinging in Freedom's hand in the close little stable; he saw the absurd housepainter trying to blow the bugle in the street; and the mother talking to her boy of death through the summer evening; the fat foreman making the record of his loves on the walls of his room, the narrow-faced commission man rubbing his hands before a group of Greek hucksters, and then this-this home with its safety and its secret high aim and him sitting there at the head of it all. Like the novelist, it seemed to him that he should admire and bow his head before the romance of destiny. He thought his station, his wife, his country, his end in life, when rightly seen, the very apex of life on the earth, and to him in his pride it seemed that he was in some way the master and maker of it all.

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