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Windy McPherson's Son By Sherwood Anderson Characters: 11614

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Sam McPherson is a living American. He is a rich man, but his money, that he spent so many years and so much of his energy acquiring, does not mean much to him. What is true of him is true of more wealthy Americans than is commonly believed. Something has happened to him that has happened to the others also, to how many of the others? Men of courage, with strong bodies and quick brains, men who have come of a strong race, have taken up what they had thought to be the banner of life and carried it forward. Growing weary they have stopped in a road that climbs a long hill and have leaned the banner against a tree. Tight brains have loosened a little. Strong convictions have become weak. Old gods are dying.

"It is only when you are torn from your mooring and

drift like a rudderless ship I am able to come

near to you."

The banner has been carried forward by a strong daring man filled with determination.

What is inscribed on it?

It would perhaps be dangerous to inquire too closely. We Americans have believed that life must have point and purpose. We have called ourselves Christians, but the sweet Christian philosophy of failure has been unknown among us. To say of one of us that he has failed is to take life and courage away. For so long we have had to push blindly forward. Roads had to be cut through our forests, great towns must be built. What in Europe has been slowly building itself out of the fibre of the generations we must build now, in a lifetime.

In our father's day, at night in the forests of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and on the wide prairies, wolves howled. There was fear in our fathers and mothers, pushing their way forward, making the new land. When the land was conquered fear remained, the fear of failure. Deep in our American souls the wolves still howl.

* * *

There were moments after Sam came back to Sue, bringing the three children, when he thought he had snatched success out of the very jaws of failure.

But the thing from which he had all his life been fleeing was still there. It hid itself in the branches of the trees that lined the New England roads where he went to walk with the two boys. At night it looked down at him from the stars.

Perhaps life wanted acceptance from him, but he could not accept. Perhaps his story and his life ended with the home-coming, perhaps it began then.

The home-coming was not in itself a completely happy event. There was a house with a fire at night and the voices of the children. In Sam's breast there was a feeling of something alive, growing.

Sue was generous, but she was not now the Sue of the bridle path in Jackson Park in Chicago or the Sue who had tried to remake the world by raising fallen women. On his arrival at her house, on a summer night, coming in suddenly and strangely with the three strange children-a little inclined toward tears and homesickness-she was flustered and nervous.

Darkness was coming on when he walked up the gravel path from the gate to the house door with the child Mary in his arms and the two boys, Joe and Tom, walking soberly and solemnly beside him. Sue had just come out at the front door and stood regarding them, startled and a little frightened. Her hair was becoming grey, but as she stood there Sam thought her figure almost boyish in its slenderness.

With quick generosity she threw aside the inclination in herself to ask many questions but there was the suggestion of a taunt in the question she did ask.

"Have you decided to come back to me and is this your home-coming?" she asked, stepping down into the path and looking not at Sam but at the children.

Sam did not answer at once, and little Mary began to cry. That was a help.

"They will all be wanting something to eat and a place to sleep," he said, as though coming back to a wife, long neglected, and bringing with him three strange children were an everyday affair.

Although she was puzzled and afraid, Sue smiled and led the way into the house. Lamps were lighted and the five human beings, so abruptly brought together, stood looking at each other. The two boys clung to each other and little Mary put her arms about Sam's neck and hid her face on his shoulder. He unloosed her clutching hands and put her boldly into Sue's arms. "She will be your mother now," he said defiantly, not looking at Sue.

* * *

The evening was got through, blunderingly by himself, Sam thought, and very nobly by Sue.

There was the mother hunger still alive in her. He had shrewdly counted on that. It blinded her eyes to other things and then a notion had come into her head and there seemed the possibility of doing a peculiarly romantic act. Before that notion was destroyed, later in the evening, both Sam and the children had been installed in the house.

A tall strong Negress came into the room, and Sue gave her instructions regarding food for the children. "They will want bread and milk, and beds must be found for them," she said, and then, although her mind was still filled with the romantic notion that they were Sam's children by some other woman, she took her plunge. "This is Mr. McPherson, my husband, and these are our three children," she announced to the puzzled and smiling servant.

They went into a low-ceilinged room whose windows looked into a garden. In the garden an old Negro with a sprinkling can was watering flowers. A little light yet remained. Both Sam and Sue were glad there was no more. "Don't bring lamps, a candle will do," Sue said, and she went to stand near the door beside her husband. The three children were on the point of breaking forth into sobs, but the Negro woman with a quick intuitive sense of the situation began to chatter, striving to make the children feel at home. She awoke wonder and hope in the bre

asts of the boys. "There is a barn with horses and cows. To-morrow old Ben will show you everything," she said, smiling at them.

* * *

A thick grove of elm and maple trees stood between Sue's house and a road that went down a hill into a New England village, and while Sue and the Negro woman put the children to bed, Sam went there to wait. In the feeble light the trunks of trees could be dimly seen, but the thick branches overhead made a wall between him and the sky. He went back into the darkness of the grove and then returned toward the open space before the house.

He was nervous and distraught and two Sam McPhersons seemed struggling for possession of his person.

There was the man he had been taught by the life about him to bring always to the surface, the shrewd, capable man who got his own way, trampled people underfoot, went plunging forward, always he hoped forward, the man of achievement.

And then there was another personality, a quite different being altogether, buried away within him, long neglected, often forgotten, a timid, shy, destructive Sam who had never really breathed or lived or walked before men.

What of him? The life Sam had led had not taken the shy destructive thing within into account. Still it was powerful. Had it not torn him out of his place in life, made of him a homeless wanderer? How many times it had tried to speak its own word, take entire possession of him.

It was trying again now, and again and from old habit Sam fought against it, thrusting it back into the dark inner caves of himself, back into darkness.

He kept whispering to himself. Perhaps now the test of his life had come. There was a way to approach life and love. There was Sue. A basis for love and understanding might be found with her. Later the impulse could be carried on and into the lives of the children he had found and brought to her.

A vision of himself as a truly humble man, kneeling before life, kneeling before the intricate wonder of life, came to him, but he was again afraid. When he saw Sue's figure, dressed in white, a dim, pale, flashing thing, coming down steps toward him, he wanted to run away, to hide himself in the darkness.

And he wanted also to run toward her, to kneel at her feet, not because she was Sue but because she was human and like himself filled with human perplexities.

He did neither of the two things. The boy of Caxton was still alive within him. With a boyish lift of the head he went boldly to her. "Nothing but boldness will answer now," he kept saying to himself.

* * *

They walked in the gravel path before the house and he tried lamely to tell his story, the story of his wanderings, of his seeking. When he came to the tale of the finding of the children she stopped in the path and stood listening, pale and tense in the half light.

Then she threw back her head and laughed, nervously, half hysterically. "I have taken them and you, of course," she said, after he had stepped to her and had put his arm about her waist. "My life alone hasn't turned out to be a very inspiring affair. I had made up my mind to take them and you, in the house there. The two years you have been gone have seemed like an age. What a foolish mistake my mind has made. I thought they must be your own children by some other woman, some woman you had found to take my place. It was an odd notion. Why, the older of the two must be nearly fourteen."

They went toward the house, the Negro woman having, at Sue's command, found food for Sam and respread the table, but at the door he stopped and excusing himself stepped again into the darkness under the trees.

In the house lamps had been lighted and he could see Sue's figure going through a room at the front of the house toward the dining-room. Presently she returned and pulled the shades at the front windows. A place was being prepared for him inside there, a shut-in place in which he was to live what was left of his life.

With the pulling of the shades darkness dropped down over the figure of the man standing just within the grove of trees and darkness dropped down over the inner man also. The struggle within him became more intense.

Could he surrender to others, live for others? There was the house darkly seen before him. It was a symbol. Within the house was the woman, Sue, ready and willing to begin the task of rebuilding their lives together. Upstairs in the house now were the three children, three children who must begin life as he had once done, who must listen to his voice, the voice of Sue and all the other voices they would hear speaking words in the world. They would grow up and thrust out into a world of people as he had done.

To what end?

There was an end. Sam believed that stoutly. "To shift the load to the shoulders of children is cowardice," he whispered to himself.

An almost overpowering desire to turn and run away from the house, from Sue who had so generously received him and from the three new lives into which he had thrust himself and in which in the future he would have to be concerned, took hold of him. His body shook with the strength of it, but he stood still under the trees. "I cannot run away from life. I must face it. I must begin to try to understand these other lives, to love," he told himself. The buried inner thing in him thrust itself up.

How still the night had become. In the tree beneath which he stood a bird moved on some slender branch and there was a faint rustling of leaves. The darkness before and behind was a wall through which he must in some way manage to thrust himself into the light. With his hand before him, as though trying to push aside some dark blinding mass, he moved out of the grove and thus moving stumbled up the steps and into the house.

THE END

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