Triumph of the Egg and Other Stories
Part 1 out of 4
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The Triumph Of The Egg
A Book Of Impressions
From American Life
In Tales And Poems
In Clay By
In the fields
Seeds on the air floating.
In the towns
Black smoke for a shroud.
In my breast
_Mid American Chants_.
Robert And John Anderson
Tales are people who sit on the doorstep of the house of my mind.
It is cold outside and they sit waiting.
I look out at a window.
The tales have cold hands,
Their hands are freezing.
A short thickly-built tale arises and threshes his arms about.
His nose is red and he has two gold teeth.
There is an old female tale sitting hunched up in a cloak.
Many tales come to sit for a few moments on the doorstep
and then go away.
It is too cold for them outside.
The street before the door of the house of my mind is
filled with tales.
They murmur and cry out, they are dying of cold and hunger.
I am a helpless man--my hands tremble.
I should be sitting on a bench like a tailor.
I should be weaving warm cloth out of the threads of thought.
The tales should be clothed.
They are freezing on the doorstep of the house of my mind.
I am a helpless man--my hands tremble.
I feel in the darkness but cannot find the doorknob.
I look out at a window.
Many tales are dying in the street before the house of my mind.
THE DUMB MAN
I WANT TO KNOW WHY
THE OTHER WOMAN
THE MAN IN THE BROWN COAT
THE DOOR OF THE TRAP
THE NEW ENGLANDER
OUT OF NOWHERE INTO NOTHING
THE MAN WITH THE TRUMPET
THE DUMB MAN
There is a story.--I cannot tell it.--I have no words. The story is
almost forgotten but sometimes I remember.
The story concerns three men in a house in a street. If I could say the
words I would sing the story. I would whisper it into the ears of
women, of mothers. I would run through the streets saying it over and
over. My tongue would be torn loose--it would rattle against my teeth.
The three men are in a room in the house. One is young and dandified.
He continually laughs.
There is a second man who has a long white beard. He is consumed with
doubt but occasionally his doubt leaves him and he sleeps.
A third man there is who has wicked eyes and who moves nervously about
the room rubbing his hands together. The three men are waiting--
Upstairs in the house there is a woman standing with her back to a
wall, in half darkness by a window.
That is the foundation of my story and everything I will ever know is
distilled in it.
I remember that a fourth man came to the house, a white silent man.
Everything was as silent as the sea at night. His feet on the stone
floor of the room where the three men were made no sound.
The man with the wicked eyes became like a boiling liquid--he ran back
and forth like a caged animal. The old grey man was infected by his
nervousness--he kept pulling at his beard.
The fourth man, the white one, went upstairs to the woman.
There she was--waiting.
How silent the house was--how loudly all the clocks in the neighborhood
ticked. The woman upstairs craved love. That must have been the story.
She hungered for love with her whole being. She wanted to create in
love. When the white silent man came into her presence she sprang
forward. Her lips were parted. There was a smile on her lips.
The white one said nothing. In his eyes there was no rebuke, no
question. His eyes were as impersonal as stars.
Down stairs the wicked one whined and ran back and forth like a little
lost hungry dog. The grey one tried to follow him about but presently
grew tired and lay down on the floor to sleep. He never awoke again.
The dandified fellow lay on the floor too. He laughed and played with
his tiny black mustache.
I have no words to tell what happened in my story. I cannot tell the
The white silent one may have been Death.
The waiting eager woman may have been Life.
Both the old grey bearded man and the wicked one puzzle me. I think and
think but cannot understand them. Most of the time however I do not
think of them at all. I keep thinking about the dandified man who
laughed all through my story.
If I could understand him I could understand everything. I could run
through the world telling a wonderful story. I would no longer be dumb.
Why was I not given words? Why am I dumb?
I have a wonderful story to tell but know no way to tell it.
I WANT TO KNOW WHY
We got up at four in the morning, that first day in the east. On the
evening before we had climbed off a freight train at the edge of town,
and with the true instinct of Kentucky boys had found our way across
town and to the race track and the stables at once. Then we knew we
were all right. Hanley Turner right away found a nigger we knew. It was
Bildad Johnson who in the winter works at Ed Becker's livery barn in
our home town, Beckersville. Bildad is a good cook as almost all our
niggers are and of course he, like everyone in our part of Kentucky who
is anyone at all, likes the horses. In the spring Bildad begins to
scratch around. A nigger from our country can flatter and wheedle
anyone into letting him do most anything he wants. Bildad wheedles the
stable men and the trainers from the horse farms in our country around
Lexington. The trainers come into town in the evening to stand around
and talk and maybe get into a poker game. Bildad gets in with them. He
is always doing little favors and telling about things to eat, chicken
browned in a pan, and how is the best way to cook sweet potatoes and
corn bread. It makes your mouth water to hear him.
When the racing season comes on and the horses go to the races and
there is all the talk on the streets in the evenings about the new
colts, and everyone says when they are going over to Lexington or to
the spring meeting at Churchhill Downs or to Latonia, and the horsemen
that have been down to New Orleans or maybe at the winter meeting at
Havana in Cuba come home to spend a week before they start out again,
at such a time when everything talked about in Beckersville is just
horses and nothing else and the outfits start out and horse racing is
in every breath of air you breathe, Bildad shows up with a job as cook
for some outfit. Often when I think about it, his always going all
season to the races and working in the livery barn in the winter where
horses are and where men like to come and talk about horses, I wish I
was a nigger. It's a foolish thing to say, but that's the way I am
about being around horses, just crazy. I can't help it.
Well, I must tell you about what we did and let you in on what I'm
talking about. Four of us boys from Beckersville, all whites and sons
of men who live in Beckersville regular, made up our minds we were
going to the races, not just to Lexington or Louisville, I don't mean,
but to the big eastern track we were always hearing our Beckersville
men talk about, to Saratoga. We were all pretty young then. I was just
turned fifteen and I was the oldest of the four. It was my scheme.
I admit that and I talked the others into trying it. There was Hanley
Turner and Henry Rieback and Tom Tumberton and myself. I had thirty-
seven dollars I had earned during the winter working nights and
Saturdays in Enoch Myer's grocery. Henry Rieback had eleven dollars and
the others, Hanley and Tom had only a dollar or two each. We fixed it
all up and laid low until the Kentucky spring meetings were over and
some of our men, the sportiest ones, the ones we envied the most, had
cut out--then we cut out too.
I won't tell you the trouble we had beating our way on freights and
all. We went through Cleveland and Buffalo and other cities and saw
Niagara Falls. We bought things there, souvenirs and spoons and cards
and shells with pictures of the falls on them for our sisters and
mothers, but thought we had better not send any of the things home. We
didn't want to put the folks on our trail and maybe be nabbed.
We got into Saratoga as I said at night and went to the track. Bildad
fed us up. He showed us a place to sleep in hay over a shed and
promised to keep still. Niggers are all right about things like that.
They won't squeal on you. Often a white man you might meet, when you
had run away from home like that, might appear to be all right and give
you a quarter or a half dollar or something, and then go right and give
you away. White men will do that, but not a nigger. You can trust them.
They are squarer with kids. I don't know why.
At the Saratoga meeting that year there were a lot of men from home.
Dave Williams and Arthur Mulford and Jerry Myers and others. Then there
was a lot from Louisville and Lexington Henry Rieback knew but I
didn't. They were professional gamblers and Henry Rieback's father is
one too. He is what is called a sheet writer and goes away most of the
year to tracks. In the winter when he is home in Beckersville he don't
stay there much but goes away to cities and deals faro. He is a nice
man and generous, is always sending Henry presents, a bicycle and a
gold watch and a boy scout suit of clothes and things like that.
My own father is a lawyer. He's all right, but don't make much money
and can't buy me things and anyway I'm getting so old now I don't
expect it. He never said nothing to me against Henry, but Hanley Turner
and Tom Tumberton's fathers did. They said to their boys that money so
come by is no good and they didn't want their boys brought up to hear
gamblers' talk and be thinking about such things and maybe embrace
That's all right and I guess the men know what they are talking about,
but I don't see what it's got to do with Henry or with horses either.
That's what I'm writing this story about. I'm puzzled. I'm getting to
be a man and want to think straight and be O. K., and there's something
I saw at the race meeting at the eastern track I can't figure out.
I can't help it, I'm crazy about thoroughbred horses. I've always been
that way. When I was ten years old and saw I was growing to be big and
couldn't be a rider I was so sorry I nearly died. Harry Hellinfinger in
Beckersville, whose father is Postmaster, is grown up and too lazy to
work, but likes to stand around in the street and get up jokes on boys
like sending them to a hardware store for a gimlet to bore square holes
and other jokes like that. He played one on me. He told me that if I
would eat a half a cigar I would be stunted and not grow any more and
maybe could be a rider. I did it. When father wasn't looking I took a
cigar out of his pocket and gagged it down some way. It made me awful
sick and the doctor had to be sent for, and then it did no good. I kept
right on growing. It was a joke. When I told what I had done and why
most fathers would have whipped me but mine didn't.
Well, I didn't get stunted and didn't die. It serves Harry Hellinfinger
right. Then I made up my mind I would like to be a stable boy, but had
to give that up too. Mostly niggers do that work and I knew father
wouldn't let me go into it. No use to ask him.
If you've never been crazy about thoroughbreds it's because you've
never been around where they are much and don't know any better.
They're beautiful. There isn't anything so lovely and clean and full of
spunk and honest and everything as some race horses. On the big horse
farms that are all around our town Beckersville there are tracks and
the horses run in the early morning. More than a thousand times I've
got out of bed before daylight and walked two or three miles to the
tracks. Mother wouldn't of let me go but father always says, "Let him
alone." So I got some bread out of the bread box and some butter and
jam, gobbled it and lit out.
At the tracks you sit on the fence with men, whites and niggers, and
they chew tobacco and talk, and then the colts are brought out. It's
early and the grass is covered with shiny dew and in another field a
man is plowing and they are frying things in a shed where the track
niggers sleep, and you know how a nigger can giggle and laugh and say
things that make you laugh. A white man can't do it and some niggers
can't but a track nigger can every time.
And so the colts are brought out and some are just galloped by stable
boys, but almost every morning on a big track owned by a rich man who
lives maybe in New York, there are always, nearly every morning, a few
colts and some of the old race horses and geldings and mares that are
It brings a lump up into my throat when a horse runs. I don't mean all
horses but some. I can pick them nearly every time. It's in my blood
like in the blood of race track niggers and trainers. Even when they
just go slop-jogging along with a little nigger on their backs I can
tell a winner. If my throat hurts and it's hard for me to swallow,
that's him. He'll run like Sam Hill when you let him out. If he don't
win every time it'll be a wonder and because they've got him in a
pocket behind another or he was pulled or got off bad at the post or
something. If I wanted to be a gambler like Henry Rieback's father I
could get rich. I know I could and Henry says so too. All I would have
to do is to wait 'til that hurt comes when I see a horse and then bet
every cent. That's what I would do if I wanted to be a gambler, but I
When you're at the tracks in the morning--not the race tracks but the
training tracks around Beckersville--you don't see a horse, the kind
I've been talking about, very often, but it's nice anyway. Any
thoroughbred, that is sired right and out of a good mare and trained by
a man that knows how, can run. If he couldn't what would he be there
for and not pulling a plow?
Well, out of the stables they come and the boys are on their backs and
it's lovely to be there. You hunch down on top of the fence and itch
inside you. Over in the sheds the niggers giggle and sing. Bacon is
being fried and coffee made. Everything smells lovely. Nothing smells
better than coffee and manure and horses and niggers and bacon frying
and pipes being smoked out of doors on a morning like that. It just
gets you, that's what it does.
But about Saratoga. We was there six days and not a soul from home seen
us and everything came off just as we wanted it to, fine weather and
horses and races and all. We beat our way home and Bildad gave us a
basket with fried chicken and bread and other eatables in, and I had
eighteen dollars when we got back to Beckersville. Mother jawed and
cried but Pop didn't say much. I told everything we done except one
thing. I did and saw that alone. That's what I'm writing about. It got
me upset. I think about it at night. Here it is.
At Saratoga we laid up nights in the hay in the shed Bildad had showed
us and ate with the niggers early and at night when the race people had
all gone away. The men from home stayed mostly in the grandstand and
betting field, and didn't come out around the places where the horses
are kept except to the paddocks just before a race when the horses are
saddled. At Saratoga they don't have paddocks under an open shed as at
Lexington and Churchill Downs and other tracks down in our country, but
saddle the horses right out in an open place under trees on a lawn as
smooth and nice as Banker Bohon's front yard here in Beckersville. It's
lovely. The horses are sweaty and nervous and shine and the men come
out and smoke cigars and look at them and the trainers are there and
the owners, and your heart thumps so you can hardly breathe.
Then the bugle blows for post and the boys that ride come running out
with their silk clothes on and you run to get a place by the fence with
I always am wanting to be a trainer or owner, and at the risk of being
seen and caught and sent home I went to the paddocks before every race.
The other boys didn't but I did.
We got to Saratoga on a Friday and on Wednesday the next week the big
Mullford Handicap was to be run. Middlestride was in it and Sunstreak.
The weather was fine and the track fast. I couldn't sleep the night
What had happened was that both these horses are the kind it makes my
throat hurt to see. Middlestride is long and looks awkward and is a
gelding. He belongs to Joe Thompson, a little owner from home who only
has a half dozen horses. The Mullford Handicap is for a mile and
Middlestride can't untrack fast. He goes away slow and is always way
back at the half, then he begins to run and if the race is a mile and a
quarter he'll just eat up everything and get there.
Sunstreak is different. He is a stallion and nervous and belongs on the
biggest farm we've got in our country, the Van Riddle place that
belongs to Mr. Van Riddle of New York. Sunstreak is like a girl you
think about sometimes but never see. He is hard all over and lovely
too. When you look at his head you want to kiss him. He is trained by
Jerry Tillford who knows me and has been good to me lots of times, lets
me walk into a horse's stall to look at him close and other things.
There isn't anything as sweet as that horse. He stands at the post
quiet and not letting on, but he is just burning up inside. Then when
the barrier goes up he is off like his name, Sunstreak. It makes you
ache to see him. It hurts you. He just lays down and runs like a bird
dog. There can't anything I ever see run like him except Middlestride
when he gets untracked and stretches himself.
Gee! I ached to see that race and those two horses run, ached and
dreaded it too. I didn't want to see either of our horses beaten. We
had never sent a pair like that to the races before. Old men in
Beckersville said so and the niggers said so. It was a fact.
Before the race I went over to the paddocks to see. I looked a last
look at Middlestride, who isn't such a much standing in a paddock that
way, then I went to see Sunstreak.
It was his day. I knew when I see him. I forgot all about being seen
myself and walked right up. All the men from Beckersville were there
and no one noticed me except Jerry Tillford. He saw me and something
happened. I'll tell you about that.
I was standing looking at that horse and aching. In some way, I can't
tell how, I knew just how Sunstreak felt inside. He was quiet and
letting the niggers rub his legs and Mr. Van Riddle himself put the
saddle on, but he was just a raging torrent inside. He was like the
water in the river at Niagara Falls just before its goes plunk down.
That horse wasn't thinking about running. He don't have to think about
that. He was just thinking about holding himself back 'til the time for
the running came. I knew that. I could just in a way see right inside
him. He was going to do some awful running and I knew it. He wasn't
bragging or letting on much or prancing or making a fuss, but just
waiting. I knew it and Jerry Tillford his trainer knew. I looked up and
then that man and I looked into each other's eyes. Something happened
to me. I guess I loved the man as much as I did the horse because he
knew what I knew. Seemed to me there wasn't anything in the world but
that man and the horse and me. I cried and Jerry Tillford had a shine
in his eyes. Then I came away to the fence to wait for the race. The
horse was better than me, more steadier, and now I know better than
Jerry. He was the quietest and he had to do the running.
Sunstreak ran first of course and he busted the world's record for a
mile. I've seen that if I never see anything more. Everything came out
just as I expected. Middlestride got left at the post and was way back
and closed up to be second, just as I knew he would. He'll get a
world's record too some day. They can't skin the Beckersville country
I watched the race calm because I knew what would happen. I was sure.
Hanley Turner and Henry Rieback and Tom Tumberton were all more excited
A funny thing had happened to me. I was thinking about Jerry Tillford
the trainer and how happy he was all through the race. I liked him that
afternoon even more than I ever liked my own father. I almost forgot
the horses thinking that way about him. It was because of what I had
seen in his eyes as he stood in the paddocks beside Sunstreak before
the race started. I knew he had been watching and working with
Sunstreak since the horse was a baby colt, had taught him to run and be
patient and when to let himself out and not to quit, never. I knew that
for him it was like a mother seeing her child do something brave or
wonderful. It was the first time I ever felt for a man like that.
After the race that night I cut out from Tom and Hanley and Henry. I
wanted to be by myself and I wanted to be near Jerry Tillford if I
could work it. Here is what happened.
The track in Saratoga is near the edge of town. It is all polished up
and trees around, the evergreen kind, and grass and everything painted
and nice. If you go past the track you get to a hard road made of
asphalt for automobiles, and if you go along this for a few miles there
is a road turns off to a little rummy-looking farm house set in a yard.
That night after the race I went along that road because I had seen
Jerry and some other men go that way in an automobile. I didn't expect
to find them. I walked for a ways and then sat down by a fence to
think. It was the direction they went in. I wanted to be as near Jerry
as I could. I felt close to him. Pretty soon I went up the side road--I
don't know why--and came to the rummy farm house. I was just lonesome
to see Jerry, like wanting to see your father at night when you are a
young kid. Just then an automobile came along and turned in. Jerry was
in it and Henry Rieback's father, and Arthur Bedford from home, and
Dave Williams and two other men I didn't know. They got out of the car
and went into the house, all but Henry Rieback's father who quarreled
with them and said he wouldn't go. It was only about nine o'clock, but
they were all drunk and the rummy looking farm house was a place for
bad women to stay in. That's what it was. I crept up along a fence and
looked through a window and saw.
It's what give me the fantods. I can't make it out. The women in the
house were all ugly mean-looking women, not nice to look at or be near.
They were homely too, except one who was tall and looked a little like
the gelding Middlestride, but not clean like him, but with a hard ugly
mouth. She had red hair. I saw everything plain. I got up by an old
rose bush by an open window and looked. The women had on loose dresses
and sat around in chairs. The men came in and some sat on the women's
laps. The place smelled rotten and there was rotten talk, the kind a
kid hears around a livery stable in a town like Beckersville in the
winter but don't ever expect to hear talked when there are women
around. It was rotten. A nigger wouldn't go into such a place.
I looked at Jerry Tillford. I've told you how I had been feeling about
him on account of his knowing what was going on inside of Sunstreak in
the minute before he went to the post for the race in which he made a
Jerry bragged in that bad woman house as I know Sunstreak wouldn't
never have bragged. He said that he made that horse, that it was him
that won the race and made the record. He lied and bragged like a fool.
I never heard such silly talk.
And then, what do you suppose he did! He looked at the woman in there,
the one that was lean and hard-mouthed and looked a little like the
gelding Middlestride, but not clean like him, and his eyes began to
shine just as they did when he looked at me and at Sunstreak in the
paddocks at the track in the afternoon. I stood there by the window--
gee!--but I wished I hadn't gone away from the tracks, but had stayed
with the boys and the niggers and the horses. The tall rotten looking
woman was between us just as Sunstreak was in the paddocks in the
Then, all of a sudden, I began to hate that man. I wanted to scream and
rush in the room and kill him. I never had such a feeling before. I was
so mad clean through that I cried and my fists were doubled up so my
finger nails cut my hands.
And Jerry's eyes kept shining and he waved back and forth, and then he
went and kissed that woman and I crept away and went back to the tracks
and to bed and didn't sleep hardly any, and then next day I got the
other kids to start home with me and never told them anything I seen.
I been thinking about it ever since. I can't make it out. Spring has
come again and I'm nearly sixteen and go to the tracks mornings same as
always, and I see Sunstreak and Middlestride and a new colt named
Strident I'll bet will lay them all out, but no one thinks so but me
and two or three niggers.
But things are different. At the tracks the air don't taste as good or
smell as good. It's because a man like Jerry Tillford, who knows what
he does, could see a horse like Sunstreak run, and kiss a woman like
that the same day. I can't make it out. Darn him, what did he want to
do like that for? I keep thinking about it and it spoils looking at
horses and smelling things and hearing niggers laugh and everything.
Sometimes I'm so mad about it I want to fight someone. It gives me the
fantods. What did he do it for? I want to know why.
He was a small man with a beard and was very nervous. I remember how
the cords of his neck were drawn taut.
For years he had been trying to cure people of illness by the method
called psychoanalysis. The idea was the passion of his life. "I came
here because I am tired," he said dejectedly. "My body is not tired but
something inside me is old and worn-out. I want joy. For a few days or
weeks I would like to forget men and women and the influences that make
them the sick things they are."
There is a note that comes into the human voice by which you may know
real weariness. It comes when one has been trying with all his heart
and soul to think his way along some difficult road of thought. Of a
sudden he finds himself unable to go on. Something within him stops. A
tiny explosion takes place. He bursts into words and talks, perhaps
foolishly. Little side currents of his nature he didn't know were there
run out and get themselves expressed. It is at such times that a man
boasts, uses big words, makes a fool of himself in general.
And so it was the doctor became shrill. He jumped up from the steps
where we had been sitting, talking and walked about. "You come from the
West. You have kept away from people. You have preserved yourself--damn
you! I haven't--" His voice had indeed become shrill. "I have entered
into lives. I have gone beneath the surface of the lives of men and
women. Women especially I have studied--our own women, here in
"You have loved them?" I suggested.
"Yes," he said. "Yes--you are right there. I have done that. It is the
only way I can get at things. I have to try to love. You see how that
is? It's the only way. Love must be the beginning of things with me."
I began to sense the depths of his weariness. "We will go swim in the
lake," I urged.
"I don't want to swim or do any damn plodding thing. I want to run and
shout," he declared. "For awhile, for a few hours, I want to be like a
dead leaf blown by the winds over these hills. I have one desire and
one only--to free myself."
We walked in a dusty country road. I wanted him to know that I thought
I understood, so I put the case in my own way.
When he stopped and stared at me I talked. "You are no more and no
better than myself," I declared. "You are a dog that has rolled in
offal, and because you are not quite a dog you do not like the smell of
your own hide."
In turn my voice became shrill. "You blind fool," I cried impatiently.
"Men like you are fools. You cannot go along that road. It is given to
no man to venture far along the road of lives."
I became passionately in earnest. "The illness you pretend to cure is
the universal illness," I said. "The thing you want to do cannot be
done. Fool--do you expect love to be understood?"
We stood in the road and looked at each other. The suggestion of a
sneer played about the corners of his mouth. He put a hand on my
shoulder and shook me. "How smart we are--how aptly we put things!"
He spat the words out and then turned and walked a little away. "You
think you understand, but you don't understand," he cried. "What you
say can't be done can be done. You're a liar. You cannot be so definite
without missing something vague and fine. You miss the whole point. The
lives of people are like young trees in a forest. They are being choked
by climbing vines. The vines are old thoughts and beliefs planted by
dead men. I am myself covered by crawling creeping vines that choke
He laughed bitterly. "And that's why I want to run and play," he said.
"I want to be a leaf blown by the wind over hills. I want to die and be
born again, and I am only a tree covered with vines and slowly dying. I
am, you see, weary and want to be made clean. I am an amateur venturing
timidly into lives," he concluded. "I am weary and want to be made
clean. I am covered by creeping crawling things."
* * * * *
A woman from Iowa came here to Chicago and took a room in a house on
the west-side. She was about twenty-seven years old and ostensibly she
came to the city to study advanced methods for teaching music.
A certain young man also lived in the west-side house. His room faced a
long hall on the second floor of the house and the one taken by the
woman was across the hall facing his room.
In regard to the young man--there is something very sweet in his
nature. He is a painter but I have often wished he would decide to
become a writer. He tells things with understanding and he does not
And so the woman from Iowa lived in the west-side house and came home
from the city in the evening. She looked like a thousand other women
one sees in the streets every day. The only thing that at all made her
stand out among the women in the crowds was that she was a little lame.
Her right foot was slightly deformed and she walked with a limp. For
three months she lived in the house--where she was the only woman
except the landlady--and then a feeling in regard to her began to grow
up among the men of the house.
The men all said the same thing concerning her. When they met in the
hallway at the front of the house they stopped, laughed and whispered.
"She wants a lover," they said and winked. "She may not know it but a
lover is what she needs."
One knowing Chicago and Chicago men would think that an easy want to be
satisfied. I laughed when my friend--whose name is LeRoy--told me the
story, but he did not laugh. He shook his head. "It wasn't so easy," he
said. "There would be no story were the matter that simple."
LeRoy tried to explain. "Whenever a man approached her she became
alarmed," he said. Men kept smiling and speaking to her. They invited
her to dinner and to the theatre, but nothing would induce her to walk
in the streets with a man. She never went into the streets at night.
When a man stopped and tried to talk with her in the hallway she turned
her eyes to the floor and then ran into her room. Once a young drygoods
clerk who lived there induced her to sit with him on the steps before
He was a sentimental fellow and took hold of her hand. When she began
to cry he was alarmed and arose. He put a hand on her shoulder and
tried to explain, but under the touch of his fingers her whole body
shook with terror. "Don't touch me," she cried, "don't let your hands
touch me!" She began to scream and people passing in the street stopped
to listen. The drygoods clerk was alarmed and ran upstairs to his own
room. He bolted the door and stood listening. "It is a trick," he
declared in a trembling voice. "She is trying to make trouble. I did
nothing to her. It was an accident and anyway what's the matter? I only
touched her arm with my fingers."
Perhaps a dozen times LeRoy has spoken to me of the experience of the
Iowa woman in the west-side house. The men there began to hate her.
Although she would have nothing to do with them she would not let them
alone. In a hundred ways she continually invited approaches that when
made she repelled. When she stood naked in the bathroom facing the
hallway where the men passed up and down she left the door slightly
ajar. There was a couch in the living room down stairs, and when men
were present she would sometimes enter and without saying a word throw
herself down before them. On the couch she lay with lips drawn slightly
apart. Her eyes stared at the ceiling. Her whole physical being seemed
to be waiting for something. The sense of her filled the room. The men
standing about pretended not to see. They talked loudly. Embarrassment
took possession of them and one by one they crept quietly away.
One evening the woman was ordered to leave the house. Someone, perhaps
the drygoods clerk, had talked to the landlady and she acted at once.
"If you leave tonight I shall like it that much better," LeRoy heard
the elder woman's voice saying. She stood in the hallway before the
Iowa woman's room. The landlady's voice rang through the house.
LeRoy the painter is tall and lean and his life has been spent in
devotion to ideas. The passions of his brain have consumed the passions
of his body. His income is small and he has not married. Perhaps he has
never had a sweetheart. He is not without physical desire but he is not
primarily concerned with desire.
On the evening when the Iowa woman was ordered to leave the west-side
house, she waited until she thought the landlady had gone down stairs,
and then went into LeRoy's room. It was about eight o'clock and he sat
by a window reading a book. The woman did not knock but opened the
door. She said nothing but ran across the floor and knelt at his feet.
LeRoy said that her twisted foot made her run like a wounded bird, that
her eyes were burning and that her breath came in little gasps. "Take
me," she said, putting her face down upon his knees and trembling
violently. "Take me quickly. There must be a beginning to things. I
can't stand the waiting. You must take me at once."
You may be quite sure LeRoy was perplexed by all this. From what he has
said I gathered that until that evening he had hardly noticed the
woman. I suppose that of all the men in the house he had been the most
indifferent to her. In the room something happened. The landlady
followed the woman when she ran to LeRoy, and the two women confronted
him. The woman from Iowa knelt trembling and frightened at his feet.
The landlady was indignant. LeRoy acted on impulse. An inspiration came
to him. Putting his hand on the kneeling woman's shoulder he shook her
violently. "Now behave yourself," he said quickly. "I will keep my
promise." He turned to the landlady and smiled. "We have been engaged
to be married," he said. "We have quarreled. She came here to be near
me. She has been unwell and excited. I will take her away. Please don't
let yourself be annoyed. I will take her away."
When the woman and LeRoy got out of the house she stopped weeping and
put her hand into his. Her fears had all gone away. He found a room for
her in another house and then went with her into a park and sat on a
* * * * *
Everything LeRoy has told me concerning this woman strengthens my
belief in what I said to the man that day in the mountains. You cannot
venture along the road of lives. On the bench he and the woman talked
until midnight and he saw and talked with her many times later. Nothing
came of it. She went back, I suppose, to her place in the West.
In the place from which she had come the woman had been a teacher of
music. She was one of four sisters, all engaged in the same sort of
work and, LeRoy says, all quiet capable women. Their father had died
when the eldest girl was not yet ten, and five years later the mother
died also. The girls had a house and a garden.
In the nature of things I cannot know what the lives of the women were
like but of this one may be quite certain--they talked only of women's
affairs, thought only of women's affairs. No one of them ever had a
lover. For years no man came near the house.
Of them all only the youngest, the one who came to Chicago, was visibly
affected by the utterly feminine quality of their lives. It did
something to her. All day and every day she taught music to young girls
and then went home to the women. When she was twenty-five she began to
think and to dream of men. During the day and through the evening she
talked with women of women's affairs, and all the time she wanted
desperately to be loved by a man. She went to Chicago with that hope in
mind. LeRoy explained her attitude in the matter and her strange
behavior in the west-side house by saying she had thought too much and
acted too little. "The life force within her became decentralized," he
declared. "What she wanted she could not achieve. The living force
within could not find expression. When it could not get expressed in
one way it took another. Sex spread itself out over her body. It
permeated the very fibre of her being. At the last she was sex
personified, sex become condensed and impersonal. Certain words, the
touch of a man's hand, sometimes even the sight of a man passing in the
street did something to her."
* * * * *
Yesterday I saw LeRoy and he talked to me again of the woman and her
strange and terrible fate.
We walked in the park by the lake. As we went along the figure of the
woman kept coming into my mind. An idea came to me.
"You might have been her lover," I said. "That was possible. She was
not afraid of you."
LeRoy stopped. Like the doctor who was so sure of his ability to walk
into lives he grew angry and scolded. For a moment he stared at me and
then a rather odd thing happened. Words said by the other man in the
dusty road in the hills came to LeRoy's lips and were said over again.
The suggestion of a sneer played about the corners of his mouth. "How
smart we are. How aptly we put things," he said.
The voice of the young man who walked with me in the park by the lake
in the city became shrill. I sensed the weariness in him. Then he
laughed and said quietly and softly, "It isn't so simple. By being sure
of yourself you are in danger of losing all of the romance of life. You
miss the whole point. Nothing in life can be settled so definitely. The
woman--you see--was like a young tree choked by a climbing vine. The
thing that wrapped her about had shut out the light. She was a
grotesque as many trees in the forest are grotesques. Her problem was
such a difficult one that thinking of it has changed the whole current
of my life. At first I was like you. I was quite sure. I thought I
would be her lover and settle the matter."
LeRoy turned and walked a little away. Then he came back and took hold
of my arm. A passionate earnestness took possession of him. His voice
trembled. "She needed a lover, yes, the men in the house were quite
right about that," he said. "She needed a lover and at the same time a
lover was not what she needed. The need of a lover was, after all, a
quite secondary thing. She needed to be loved, to be long and quietly
and patiently loved. To be sure she is a grotesque, but then all the
people in the world are grotesques. We all need to be loved. What would
cure her would cure the rest of us also. The disease she had is, you
see, universal. We all want to be loved and the world has no plan for
creating our lovers."
LeRoy's voice dropped and he walked beside me in silence. We turned
away from the lake and walked under trees. I looked closely at him. The
cords of his neck were drawn taut. "I have seen under the shell of life
and I am afraid," he mused. "I am myself like the woman. I am covered
with creeping crawling vine-like things. I cannot be a lover. I am not
subtle or patient enough. I am paying old debts. Old thoughts and
beliefs--seeds planted by dead men--spring up in my soul and choke me."
For a long time we walked and LeRoy talked, voicing the thoughts that
came into his mind. I listened in silence. His mind struck upon the
refrain voiced by the man in the mountains. "I would like to be a dead
dry thing," he muttered looking at the leaves scattered over the grass.
"I would like to be a leaf blown away by the wind." He looked up and
his eyes turned to where among the trees we could see the lake in the
distance. "I am weary and want to be made clean. I am a man covered by
creeping crawling things. I would like to be dead and blown by the wind
over limitless waters," he said. "I want more than anything else in the
world to be clean."
THE OTHER WOMAN
"I am in love with my wife," he said--a superfluous remark, as I had
not questioned his attachment to the woman he had married. We walked
for ten minutes and then he said it again. I turned to look at him. He
began to talk and told me the tale I am now about to set down.
The thing he had on his mind happened during what must have been the
most eventful week of his life. He was to be married on Friday
afternoon. On Friday of the week before he got a telegram announcing
his appointment to a government position. Something else happened that
made him very proud and glad. In secret he was in the habit of writing
verses and during the year before several of them had been printed in
poetry magazines. One of the societies that give prizes for what they
think the best poems published during the year put his name at the head
of its list. The story of his triumph was printed in the newspapers of
his home city and one of them also printed his picture.
As might have been expected he was excited and in a rather highly
strung nervous state all during that week. Almost every evening he went
to call on his fiancée, the daughter of a judge. When he got there the
house was filled with people and many letters, telegrams and packages
were being received. He stood a little to one side and men and women
kept coming up to speak to him. They congratulated him upon his success
in getting the government position and on his achievement as a poet.
Everyone seemed to be praising him and when he went home and to bed he
could not sleep. On Wednesday evening he went to the theatre and it
seemed to him that people all over the house recognized him. Everyone
nodded and smiled. After the first act five or six men and two women
left their seats to gather about him. A little group was formed.
Strangers sitting along the same row of seats stretched their necks and
looked. He had never received so much attention before, and now a fever
of expectancy took possession of him.
As he explained when he told me of his experience, it was for him an
altogether abnormal time. He felt like one floating in air. When he got
into bed after seeing so many people and hearing so many words of
praise his head whirled round and round. When he closed his eyes a
crowd of people invaded his room. It seemed as though the minds of all
the people of his city were centred on himself. The most absurd fancies
took possession of him. He imagined himself riding in a carriage
through the streets of a city. Windows were thrown open and people ran
out at the doors of houses. "There he is. That's him," they shouted,
and at the words a glad cry arose. The carriage drove into a street
blocked with people. A hundred thousand pairs of eyes looked up at him.
"There you are! What a fellow you have managed to make of yourself!"
the eyes seemed to be saying.
My friend could not explain whether the excitement of the people was
due to the fact that he had written a new poem or whether, in his new
government position, he had performed some notable act. The apartment
where he lived at that time was on a street perched along the top of a
cliff far out at the edge of his city, and from his bedroom window he
could look down over trees and factory roofs to a river. As he could
not sleep and as the fancies that kept crowding in upon him only made
him more excited, he got out of bed and tried to think.
As would be natural under such circumstances, he tried to control his
thoughts, but when he sat by the window and was wide awake a most
unexpected and humiliating thing happened. The night was clear and
fine. There was a moon. He wanted to dream of the woman who was to be
his wife, to think out lines for noble poems or make plans that would
affect his career. Much to his surprise his mind refused to do anything
of the sort.
At a corner of the street where he lived there was a small cigar store
and newspaper stand run by a fat man of forty and his wife, a small
active woman with bright grey eyes. In the morning he stopped there to
buy a paper before going down to the city. Sometimes he saw only the
fat man, but often the man had disappeared and the woman waited on him.
She was, as he assured me at least twenty times in telling me his tale,
a very ordinary person with nothing special or notable about her, but
for some reason he could not explain, being in her presence stirred him
profoundly. During that week in the midst of his distraction she was
the only person he knew who stood out clear and distinct in his mind.
When he wanted so much to think noble thoughts he could think only of
her. Before he knew what was happening his imagination had taken hold
of the notion of having a love affair with the woman.
"I could not understand myself," he declared, in telling me the story.
"At night, when the city was quiet and when I should have been asleep,
I thought about her all the time. After two or three days of that sort
of thing the consciousness of her got into my daytime thoughts. I was
terribly muddled. When I went to see the woman who is now my wife I
found that my love for her was in no way affected by my vagrant
thoughts. There was but one woman in the world I wanted to live with
and to be my comrade in undertaking to improve my own character and my
position in the world, but for the moment, you see, I wanted this other
woman to be in my arms. She had worked her way into my being. On all
sides people were saying I was a big man who would do big things, and
there I was. That evening when I went to the theatre I walked home
because I knew I would be unable to sleep, and to satisfy the annoying
impulse in myself I went and stood on the sidewalk before the tobacco
shop. It was a two story building, and I knew the woman lived upstairs
with her husband. For a long time I stood in the darkness with my body
pressed against the wall of the building, and then I thought of the two
of them up there and no doubt in bed together. That made me furious.
"Then I grew more furious with myself. I went home and got into bed,
shaken with anger. There are certain books of verse and some prose
writings that have always moved me deeply, and so I put several books
on a table by my bed.
"The voices in the books were like the voices of the dead. I did not
hear them. The printed words would not penetrate into my consciousness.
I tried to think of the woman I loved, but her figure had also become
something far away, something with which I for the moment seemed to
have nothing to do. I rolled and tumbled about in the bed. It was a
"On Thursday morning I went into the store. There stood the woman
alone. I think she knew how I felt. Perhaps she had been thinking of me
as I had been thinking of her. A doubtful hesitating smile played about
the corners of her mouth. She had on a dress made of cheap cloth and
there was a tear on the shoulder. She must have been ten years older
than myself. When I tried to put my pennies on the glass counter,
behind which she stood, my hand trembled so that the pennies made a
sharp rattling noise. When I spoke the voice that came out of my throat
did not sound like anything that had ever belonged to me. It barely
arose above a thick whisper. 'I want you,' I said. 'I want you very
much. Can't you run away from your husband? Come to me at my apartment
at seven tonight.'
"The woman did come to my apartment at seven. That morning she didn't
say anything at all. For a minute perhaps we stood looking at each
other. I had forgotten everything in the world but just her. Then she
nodded her head and I went away. Now that I think of it I cannot
remember a word I ever heard her say. She came to my apartment at seven
and it was dark. You must understand this was in the month of October.
I had not lighted a light and I had sent my servant away.
"During that day I was no good at all. Several men came to see me at my
office, but I got all muddled up in trying to talk with them. They
attributed my rattle-headedness to my approaching marriage and went
"It was on that morning, just the day before my marriage, that I got a
long and very beautiful letter from my fiancée. During the night before
she also had been unable to sleep and had got out of bed to write the
letter. Everything she said in it was very sharp and real, but she
herself, as a living thing, seemed to have receded into the distance.
It seemed to me that she was like a bird, flying far away in distant
skies, and that I was like a perplexed bare-footed boy standing in the
dusty road before a farm house and looking at her receding figure. I
wonder if you will understand what I mean?
"In regard to the letter. In it she, the awakening woman, poured out
her heart. She of course knew nothing of life, but she was a woman. She
lay, I suppose, in her bed feeling nervous and wrought up as I had been
doing. She realized that a great change was about to take place in her
life and was glad and afraid too. There she lay thinking of it all.
Then she got out of bed and began talking to me on the bit of paper.
She told me how afraid she was and how glad too. Like most young women
she had heard things whispered. In the letter she was very sweet and
fine. 'For a long time, after we are married, we will forget we are a
man and woman,' she wrote. 'We will be human beings. You must remember
that I am ignorant and often I will be very stupid. You must love me
and be very patient and kind. When I know more, when after a long time
you have taught me the way of life, I will try to repay you. I will
love you tenderly and passionately. The possibility of that is in me or
I would not want to marry at all. I am afraid but I am also happy. O, I
am so glad our marriage time is near at hand!'
"Now you see clearly enough what a mess I was in. In my office, after I
had read my fiancée's letter, I became at once very resolute and
strong. I remember that I got out of my chair and walked about, proud
of the fact that I was to be the husband of so noble a woman. Right
away I felt concerning her as I had been feeling about myself before I
found out what a weak thing I was. To be sure I took a strong
resolution that I would not be weak. At nine that evening I had planned
to run in to see my fiancée. 'I'm all right now,' I said to myself.
'The beauty of her character has saved me from myself. I will go home
now and send the other woman away.' In the morning I had telephoned to
my servant and told him that I did not want him to be at the apartment
that evening and I now picked up the telephone to tell him to stay at
"Then a thought came to me. 'I will not want him there in any event,' I
told myself. 'What will he think when he sees a woman coming in my
place on the evening before the day I am to be married?' I put the
telephone down and prepared to go home. 'If I want my servant out of
the apartment it is because I do not want him to hear me talk with the
woman. I cannot be rude to her. I will have to make some kind of an
explanation,' I said to myself.
"The woman came at seven o'clock, and, as you may have guessed, I let
her in and forgot the resolution I had made. It is likely I never had
any intention of doing anything else. There was a bell on my door, but
she did not ring, but knocked very softly. It seems to me that
everything she did that evening was soft and quiet, but very determined
and quick. Do I make myself clear? When she came I was standing just
within the door where I had been standing and waiting for a half hour.
My hands were trembling as they had trembled in the morning when her
eyes looked at me and when I tried to put the pennies on the counter in
the store. When I opened the door she stepped quickly in and I took her
into my arms. We stood together in the darkness. My hands no longer
trembled. I felt very happy and strong.
"Although I have tried to make everything clear I have not told you
what the woman I married is like. I have emphasized, you see, the other
woman. I make the blind statement that I love my wife, and to a man of
your shrewdness that means nothing at all. To tell the truth, had I not
started to speak of this matter I would feel more comfortable. It is
inevitable that I give you the impression that I am in love with the
tobacconist's wife. That's not true. To be sure I was very conscious of
her all during the week before my marriage, but after she had come to
me at my apartment she went entirely out of my mind.
"Am I telling the truth? I am trying very hard to tell what happened to
me. I am saying that I have not since that evening thought of the woman
who came to my apartment. Now, to tell the facts of the case, that is
not true. On that evening I went to my fiancée at nine, as she had
asked me to do in her letter. In a kind of way I cannot explain the
other woman went with me. This is what I mean--you see I had been
thinking that if anything happened between me and the tobacconist's
wife I would not be able to go through with my marriage. 'It is one
thing or the other with me,' I had said to myself.
"As a matter of fact I went to see my beloved on that evening filled
with a new faith in the outcome of our life together. I am afraid I
muddle this matter in trying to tell it. A moment ago I said the other
woman, the tobacconist's wife, went with me. I do not mean she went in
fact. What I am trying to say is that something of her faith in her own
desires and her courage in seeing things through went with me. Is that
clear to you? When I got to my fiancée's house there was a crowd of
people standing about. Some were relatives from distant places I had
not seen before. She looked up quickly when I came into the room. My
face must have been radiant. I never saw her so moved. She thought her
letter had affected me deeply, and of course it had. Up she jumped and
ran to meet me. She was like a glad child. Right before the people who
turned and looked inquiringly at us, she said the thing that was in her
mind. 'O, I am so happy,' she cried. 'You have understood. We will be
two human beings. We will not have to be husband and wife.'
"As you may suppose everyone laughed, but I did not laugh. The tears
came into my eyes. I was so happy I wanted to shout. Perhaps you
understand what I mean. In the office that day when I read the letter
my fiancée had written I had said to myself, 'I will take care of the
dear little woman.' There was something smug, you see, about that. In
her house when she cried out in that way, and when everyone laughed,
what I said to myself was something like this: 'We will take care of
ourselves.' I whispered something of the sort into her ears. To tell
you the truth I had come down off my perch. The spirit of the other
woman did that to me. Before all the people gathered about I held my
fiancée close and we kissed. They thought it very sweet of us to be so
affected at the sight of each other. What they would have thought had
they known the truth about me God only knows!
"Twice now I have said that after that evening I never thought of the
other woman at all. That is partially true but, sometimes in the
evening when I am walking alone in the street or in the park as we are
walking now, and when evening comes softly and quickly as it has come
to-night, the feeling of her comes sharply into my body and mind. After
that one meeting I never saw her again. On the next day I was married
and I have never gone back into her street. Often however as I am
walking along as I am doing now, a quick sharp earthy feeling takes
possession of me. It is as though I were a seed in the ground and the
warm rains of the spring had come. It is as though I were not a man but
"And now you see I am married and everything is all right. My marriage
is to me a very beautiful fact. If you were to say that my marriage is
not a happy one I could call you a liar and be speaking the absolute
truth. I have tried to tell you about this other woman. There is a kind
of relief in speaking of her. I have never done it before. I wonder why
I was so silly as to be afraid that I would give you the impression I
am not in love with my wife. If I did not instinctively trust your
understanding I would not have spoken. As the matter stands I have a
little stirred myself up. To-night I shall think of the other woman.
That sometimes occurs. It will happen after I have gone to bed. My wife
sleeps in the next room to mine and the door is always left open. There
will be a moon to-night, and when there is a moon long streaks of light
fall on her bed. I shall awake at midnight to-night. She will be lying
asleep with one arm thrown over her head.
"What is it that I am now talking about? A man does not speak of his
wife lying in bed. What I am trying to say is that, because of this
talk, I shall think of the other woman to-night. My thoughts will not
take the form they did during the week before I was married. I will
wonder what has become of the woman. For a moment I will again feel
myself holding her close. I will think that for an hour I was closer to
her than I have ever been to anyone else. Then I will think of the time
when I will be as close as that to my wife. She is still, you see, an
awakening woman. For a moment I will close my eyes and the quick,
shrewd, determined eyes of that other woman will look into mine. My
head will swim and then I will quickly open my eyes and see again the
dear woman with whom I have undertaken to live out my life. Then I will
sleep and when I awake in the morning it will be as it was that evening
when I walked out of my dark apartment after having had the most
notable experience of my life. What I mean to say, you understand is
that, for me, when I awake, the other woman will be utterly gone."
My father was, I am sure, intended by nature to be a cheerful, kindly
man. Until he was thirty-four years old he worked as a farm-hand for a
man named Thomas Butterworth whose place lay near the town of Bidwell,
Ohio. He had then a horse of his own and on Saturday evenings drove
into town to spend a few hours in social intercourse with other farm-
hands. In town he drank several glasses of beer and stood about in Ben
Head's saloon--crowded on Saturday evenings with visiting farm-hands.
Songs were sung and glasses thumped on the bar. At ten o'clock father
drove home along a lonely country road, made his horse comfortable for
the night and himself went to bed, quite happy in his position in life.
He had at that time no notion of trying to rise in the world.
It was in the spring of his thirty-fifth year that father married my
mother, then a country school-teacher, and in the following spring I
came wriggling and crying into the world. Something happened to the two
people. They became ambitious. The American passion for getting up in
the world took possession of them.
It may have been that mother was responsible. Being a school-teacher
she had no doubt read books and magazines. She had, I presume, read of
how Garfield, Lincoln, and other Americans rose from poverty to fame
and greatness and as I lay beside her--in the days of her lying-in--she
may have dreamed that I would some day rule men and cities. At any rate
she induced father to give up his place as a farm-hand, sell his horse
and embark on an independent enterprise of his own. She was a tall
silent woman with a long nose and troubled grey eyes. For herself she
wanted nothing. For father and myself she was incurably ambitious.
The first venture into which the two people went turned out badly. They
rented ten acres of poor stony land on Griggs's Road, eight miles from
Bidwell, and launched into chicken raising. I grew into boyhood on the
place and got my first impressions of life there. From the beginning
they were impressions of disaster and if, in my turn, I am a gloomy man
inclined to see the darker side of life, I attribute it to the fact
that what should have been for me the happy joyous days of childhood
were spent on a chicken farm.
One unversed in such matters can have no notion of the many and tragic
things that can happen to a chicken. It is born out of an egg, lives
for a few weeks as a tiny fluffy thing such as you will see pictured on
Easter cards, then becomes hideously naked, eats quantities of corn and
meal bought by the sweat of your father's brow, gets diseases called
pip, cholera, and other names, stands looking with stupid eyes at the
sun, becomes sick and dies. A few hens, and now and then a rooster,
intended to serve God's mysterious ends, struggle through to maturity.
The hens lay eggs out of which come other chickens and the dreadful
cycle is thus made complete. It is all unbelievably complex. Most
philosophers must have been raised on chicken farms. One hopes for so
much from a chicken and is so dreadfully disillusioned. Small chickens,
just setting out on the journey of life, look so bright and alert and
they are in fact so dreadfully stupid. They are so much like people
they mix one up in one's judgments of life. If disease does not kill
them they wait until your expectations are thoroughly aroused and then
walk under the wheels of a wagon--to go squashed and dead back to their
maker. Vermin infest their youth, and fortunes must be spent for
curative powders. In later life I have seen how a literature has been
built up on the subject of fortunes to be made out of the raising of
chickens. It is intended to be read by the gods who have just eaten of
the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is a hopeful literature
and declares that much may be done by simple ambitious people who own a
few hens. Do not be led astray by it. It was not written for you. Go
hunt for gold on the frozen hills of Alaska, put your faith in the
honesty of a politician, believe if you will that the world is daily
growing better and that good will triumph over evil, but do not read
and believe the literature that is written concerning the hen. It was
not written for you.
I, however, digress. My tale does not primarily concern itself with the
hen. If correctly told it will centre on the egg. For ten years my
father and mother struggled to make our chicken farm pay and then they
gave up that struggle and began another. They moved into the town of
Bidwell, Ohio and embarked in the restaurant business. After ten years
of worry with incubators that did not hatch, and with tiny--and in
their own way lovely--balls of fluff that passed on into semi-naked
pullethood and from that into dead hen-hood, we threw all aside and
packing our belongings on a wagon drove down Griggs's Road toward
Bidwell, a tiny caravan of hope looking for a new place from which to
start on our upward journey through life.
We must have been a sad looking lot, not, I fancy, unlike refugees
fleeing from a battlefield. Mother and I walked in the road. The wagon
that contained our goods had been borrowed for the day from Mr. Albert
Griggs, a neighbor. Out of its sides stuck the legs of cheap chairs and
at the back of the pile of beds, tables, and boxes filled with kitchen
utensils was a crate of live chickens, and on top of that the baby
carriage in which I had been wheeled about in my infancy. Why we stuck
to the baby carriage I don't know. It was unlikely other children would
be born and the wheels were broken. People who have few possessions
cling tightly to those they have. That is one of the facts that make
life so discouraging.
Father rode on top of the wagon. He was then a bald-headed man of
forty-five, a little fat and from long association with mother and the
chickens he had become habitually silent and discouraged. All during
our ten years on the chicken farm he had worked as a laborer on
neighboring farms and most of the money he had earned had been spent
for remedies to cure chicken diseases, on Wilmer's White Wonder Cholera
Cure or Professor Bidlow's Egg Producer or some other preparations that
mother found advertised in the poultry papers. There were two little
patches of hair on father's head just above his ears. I remember that
as a child I used to sit looking at him when he had gone to sleep in a
chair before the stove on Sunday afternoons in the winter. I had at
that time already begun to read books and have notions of my own and
the bald path that led over the top of his head was, I fancied,
something like a broad road, such a road as Caesar might have made on
which to lead his legions out of Rome and into the wonders of an
unknown world. The tufts of hair that grew above father's ears were, I
thought, like forests. I fell into a half-sleeping, half-waking state
and dreamed I was a tiny thing going along the road into a far
beautiful place where there were no chicken farms and where life was a
happy eggless affair.
One might write a book concerning our flight from the chicken farm into
town. Mother and I walked the entire eight miles--she to be sure that
nothing fell from the wagon and I to see the wonders of the world. On
the seat of the wagon beside father was his greatest treasure. I will
tell you of that.
On a chicken farm where hundreds and even thousands of chickens come
out of eggs surprising things sometimes happen. Grotesques are born out
of eggs as out of people. The accident does not often occur--perhaps
once in a thousand births. A chicken is, you see, born that has four
legs, two pairs of wings, two heads or what not. The things do not
live. They go quickly back to the hand of their maker that has for a
moment trembled. The fact that the poor little things could not live
was one of the tragedies of life to father. He had some sort of notion
that if he could but bring into henhood or roosterhood a five-legged
hen or a two-headed rooster his fortune would be made. He dreamed of
taking the wonder about to county fairs and of growing rich by
exhibiting it to other farm-hands.
At any rate he saved all the little monstrous things that had been born
on our chicken farm. They were preserved in alcohol and put each in its
own glass bottle. These he had carefully put into a box and on our
journey into town it was carried on the wagon seat beside him. He drove
the horses with one hand and with the other clung to the box. When we
got to our destination the box was taken down at once and the bottles
removed. All during our days as keepers of a restaurant in the town of
Bidwell, Ohio, the grotesques in their little glass bottles sat on a
shelf back of the counter. Mother sometimes protested but father was a
rock on the subject of his treasure. The grotesques were, he declared,
valuable. People, he said, liked to look at strange and wonderful
Did I say that we embarked in the restaurant business in the town of
Bidwell, Ohio? I exaggerated a little. The town itself lay at the foot
of a low hill and on the shore of a small river. The railroad did not
run through the town and the station was a mile away to the north at a
place called Pickleville. There had been a cider mill and pickle
factory at the station, but before the time of our coming they had both
gone out of business. In the morning and in the evening busses came
down to the station along a road called Turner's Pike from the hotel on
the main street of Bidwell. Our going to the out of the way place to
embark in the restaurant business was mother's idea. She talked of it
for a year and then one day went off and rented an empty store building
opposite the railroad station. It was her idea that the restaurant
would be profitable. Travelling men, she said, would be always waiting
around to take trains out of town and town people would come to the
station to await incoming trains. They would come to the restaurant to
buy pieces of pie and drink coffee. Now that I am older I know that she
had another motive in going. She was ambitious for me. She wanted me to
rise in the world, to get into a town school and become a man of the
At Pickleville father and mother worked hard as they always had done.
At first there was the necessity of putting our place into shape to be
a restaurant. That took a month. Father built a shelf on which he put
tins of vegetables. He painted a sign on which he put his name in large
red letters. Below his name was the sharp command--"EAT HERE"--that was
so seldom obeyed. A show case was bought and filled with cigars and
tobacco. Mother scrubbed the floor and the walls of the room. I went to
school in the town and was glad to be away from the farm and from the
presence of the discouraged, sad-looking chickens. Still I was not very
joyous. In the evening I walked home from school along Turner's Pike
and remembered the children I had seen playing in the town school yard.
A troop of little girls had gone hopping about and singing. I tried
that. Down along the frozen road I went hopping solemnly on one leg.
"Hippity Hop To The Barber Shop," I sang shrilly. Then I stopped and
looked doubtfully about. I was afraid of being seen in my gay mood. It
must have seemed to me that I was doing a thing that should not be done
by one who, like myself, had been raised on a chicken farm where death
was a daily visitor.
Mother decided that our restaurant should remain open at night. At ten
in the evening a passenger train went north past our door followed by a
local freight. The freight crew had switching to do in Pickleville and
when the work was done they came to our restaurant for hot coffee and
food. Sometimes one of them ordered a fried egg. In the morning at four
they returned north-bound and again visited us. A little trade began to
grow up. Mother slept at night and during the day tended the restaurant
and fed our boarders while father slept. He slept in the same bed
mother had occupied during the night and I went off to the town of
Bidwell and to school. During the long nights, while mother and I
slept, father cooked meats that were to go into sandwiches for the
lunch baskets of our boarders. Then an idea in regard to getting up in
the world came into his head. The American spirit took hold of him. He
also became ambitious.
In the long nights when there was little to do father had time to
think. That was his undoing. He decided that he had in the past been an
unsuccessful man because he had not been cheerful enough and that in
the future he would adopt a cheerful outlook on life. In the early
morning he came upstairs and got into bed with mother. She woke and the
two talked. From my bed in the corner I listened.
It was father's idea that both he and mother should try to entertain
the people who came to eat at our restaurant. I cannot now remember his
words, but he gave the impression of one about to become in some
obscure way a kind of public entertainer. When people, particularly
young people from the town of Bidwell, came into our place, as on very
rare occasions they did, bright entertaining conversation was to be
made. From father's words I gathered that something of the jolly inn-
keeper effect was to be sought. Mother must have been doubtful from the
first, but she said nothing discouraging. It was father's notion that a
passion for the company of himself and mother would spring up in the
breasts of the younger people of the town of Bidwell. In the evening
bright happy groups would come singing down Turner's Pike. They would
troop shouting with joy and laughter into our place. There would be
song and festivity. I do not mean to give the impression that father
spoke so elaborately of the matter. He was as I have said an
uncommunicative man. "They want some place to go. I tell you they want
some place to go," he said over and over. That was as far as he got. My
own imagination has filled in the blanks.
For two or three weeks this notion of father's invaded our house. We
did not talk much, but in our daily lives tried earnestly to make
smiles take the place of glum looks. Mother smiled at the boarders and
I, catching the infection, smiled at our cat. Father became a little
feverish in his anxiety to please. There was no doubt, lurking
somewhere in him, a touch of the spirit of the showman. He did not
waste much of his ammunition on the railroad men he served at night but
seemed to be waiting for a young man or woman from Bidwell to come in
to show what he could do. On the counter in the restaurant there was a
wire basket kept always filled with eggs, and it must have been before
his eyes when the idea of being entertaining was born in his brain.
There was something pre-natal about the way eggs kept themselves
connected with the development of his idea. At any rate an egg ruined
his new impulse in life. Late one night I was awakened by a roar of
anger coming from father's throat. Both mother and I sat upright in our
beds. With trembling hands she lighted a lamp that stood on a table by
her head. Downstairs the front door of our restaurant went shut with a
bang and in a few minutes father tramped up the stairs. He held an egg
in his hand and his hand trembled as though he were having a chill.
There was a half insane light in his eyes. As he stood glaring at us I
was sure he intended throwing the egg at either mother or me. Then he
laid it gently on the table beside the lamp and dropped on his knees
beside mother's bed. He began to cry like a boy and I, carried away by
his grief, cried with him. The two of us filled the little upstairs
room with our wailing voices. It is ridiculous, but of the picture we
made I can remember only the fact that mother's hand continually
stroked the bald path that ran across the top of his head. I have
forgotten what mother said to him and how she induced him to tell her
of what had happened downstairs. His explanation also has gone out of
my mind. I remember only my own grief and fright and the shiny path
over father's head glowing in the lamp light as he knelt by the bed.
As to what happened downstairs. For some unexplainable reason I know
the story as well as though I had been a witness to my father's
discomfiture. One in time gets to know many unexplainable things. On
that evening young Joe Kane, son of a merchant of Bidwell, came to
Pickleville to meet his father, who was expected on the ten o'clock
evening train from the South. The train was three hours late and Joe
came into our place to loaf about and to wait for its arrival. The
local freight train came in and the freight crew were fed. Joe was left
alone in the restaurant with father.
From the moment he came into our place the Bidwell young man must have
been puzzled by my father's actions. It was his notion that father was
angry at him for hanging around. He noticed that the restaurant keeper
was apparently disturbed by his presence and he thought of going out.
However, it began to rain and he did not fancy the long walk to town
and back. He bought a five-cent cigar and ordered a cup of coffee. He
had a newspaper in his pocket and took it out and began to read. "I'm
waiting for the evening train. It's late," he said apologetically.
For a long time father, whom Joe Kane had never seen before, remained
silently gazing at his visitor. He was no doubt suffering from an
attack of stage fright. As so often happens in life he had thought so
much and so often of the situation that now confronted him that he was
somewhat nervous in its presence.
For one thing, he did not know what to do with his hands. He thrust one
of them nervously over the counter and shook hands with Joe Kane. "How-
de-do," he said. Joe Kane put his newspaper down and stared at him.
Father's eye lighted on the basket of eggs that sat on the counter and
he began to talk. "Well," he began hesitatingly, "well, you have heard
of Christopher Columbus, eh?" He seemed to be angry. "That Christopher
Columbus was a cheat," he declared emphatically. "He talked of making
an egg stand on its end. He talked, he did, and then he went and broke
the end of the egg."
My father seemed to his visitor to be beside himself at the duplicity
of Christopher Columbus. He muttered and swore. He declared it was
wrong to teach children that Christopher Columbus was a great man when,
after all, he cheated at the critical moment. He had declared he would
make an egg stand on end and then when his bluff had been called he had
done a trick. Still grumbling at Columbus, father took an egg from the
basket on the counter and began to walk up and down. He rolled the egg
between the palms of his hands. He smiled genially. He began to mumble
words regarding the effect to be produced on an egg by the electricity
that comes out of the human body. He declared that without breaking its
shell and by virtue of rolling it back and forth in his hands he could
stand the egg on its end. He explained that the warmth of his hands and
the gentle rolling movement he gave the egg created a new centre of
gravity, and Joe Kane was mildly interested. "I have handled thousands
of eggs," father said. "No one knows more about eggs than I do."
He stood the egg on the counter and it fell on its side. He tried the
trick again and again, each time rolling the egg between the palms of
his hands and saying the words regarding the wonders of electricity and
the laws of gravity. When after a half hour's effort he did succeed in
making the egg stand for a moment he looked up to find that his visitor
was no longer watching. By the time he had succeeded in calling Joe
Kane's attention to the success of his effort the egg had again rolled
over and lay on its side.
Afire with the showman's passion and at the same time a good deal
disconcerted by the failure of his first effort, father now took the
bottles containing the poultry monstrosities down from their place on
the shelf and began to show them to his visitor. "How would you like to
have seven legs and two heads like this fellow?" he asked, exhibiting
the most remarkable of his treasures. A cheerful smile played over his
face. He reached over the counter and tried to slap Joe Kane on the
shoulder as he had seen men do in Ben Head's saloon when he was a young
farm-hand and drove to town on Saturday evenings. His visitor was made
a little ill by the sight of the body of the terribly deformed bird
floating in the alcohol in the bottle and got up to go. Coming from
behind the counter father took hold of the young man's arm and led him
back to his seat. He grew a little angry and for a moment had to turn
his face away and force himself to smile. Then he put the bottles back
on the shelf. In an outburst of generosity he fairly compelled Joe Kane
to have a fresh cup of coffee and another cigar at his expense. Then he
took a pan and filling it with vinegar, taken from a jug that sat
beneath the counter, he declared himself about to do a new trick. "I
will heat this egg in this pan of vinegar," he said. "Then I will put
it through the neck of a bottle without breaking the shell. When the
egg is inside the bottle it will resume its normal shape and the shell
will become hard again. Then I will give the bottle with the egg in it
to you. You can take it about with you wherever you go. People will
want to know how you got the egg in the bottle. Don't tell them. Keep
them guessing. That is the way to have fun with this trick."
Father grinned and winked at his visitor. Joe Kane decided that the man
who confronted him was mildly insane but harmless. He drank the cup of
coffee that had been given him and began to read his paper again. When
the egg had been heated in vinegar father carried it on a spoon to the
counter and going into a back room got an empty bottle. He was angry
because his visitor did not watch him as he began to do his trick, but
nevertheless went cheerfully to work. For a long time he struggled,
trying to get the egg to go through the neck of the bottle. He put the
pan of vinegar back on the stove, intending to reheat the egg, then
picked it up and burned his fingers. After a second bath in the hot
vinegar the shell of the egg had been softened a little but not enough
for his purpose. He worked and worked and a spirit of desperate
determination took possession of him. When he thought that at last the
trick was about to be consummated the delayed train came in at the
station and Joe Kane started to go nonchalantly out at the door. Father
made a last desperate effort to conquer the egg and make it do the
thing that would establish his reputation as one who knew how to
entertain guests who came into his restaurant. He worried the egg. He
attempted to be somewhat rough with it. He swore and the sweat stood
out on his forehead. The egg broke under his hand. When the contents
spurted over his clothes, Joe Kane, who had stopped at the door, turned
A roar of anger rose from my father's throat. He danced and shouted a
string of inarticulate words. Grabbing another egg from the basket on
the counter, he threw it, just missing the head of the young man as he
dodged through the door and escaped.
Father came upstairs to mother and me with an egg in his hand. I do not
know what he intended to do. I imagine he had some idea of destroying
it, of destroying all eggs, and that he intended to let mother and me
see him begin. When, however, he got into the presence of mother
something happened to him. He laid the egg gently on the table and
dropped on his knees by the bed as I have already explained. He later
decided to close the restaurant for the night and to come upstairs and
get into bed. When he did so he blew out the light and after much
muttered conversation both he and mother went to sleep. I suppose I
went to sleep also, but my sleep was troubled.
I awoke at dawn and for a long time looked at the egg that lay on the
table. I wondered why eggs had to be and why from the egg came the hen
who again laid the egg. The question got into my blood. It has stayed
there, I imagine, because I am the son of my father. At any rate, the
problem remains unsolved in my mind. And that, I conclude, is but
another evidence of the complete and final triumph of the egg--at
least as far as my family is concerned.
Mary Cochran went out of the rooms where she lived with her father,
Doctor Lester Cochran, at seven o'clock on a Sunday evening. It was
June of the year nineteen hundred and eight and Mary was eighteen years
old. She walked along Tremont to Main Street and across the railroad
tracks to Upper Main, lined with small shops and shoddy houses, a
rather quiet cheerless place on Sundays when there were few people
about. She had told her father she was going to church but did not
intend doing anything of the kind. She did not know what she wanted to
do. "I'll get off by myself and think," she told herself as she walked
slowly along. The night she thought promised to be too fine to be spent
sitting in a stuffy church and hearing a man talk of things that had
apparently nothing to do with her own problem. Her own affairs were
approaching a crisis and it was time for her to begin thinking
seriously of her future.
The thoughtful serious state of mind in which Mary found herself had
been induced in her by a conversation had with her father on the
evening before. Without any preliminary talk and quite suddenly and
abruptly he had told her that he was a victim of heart disease and
might die at any moment. He had made the announcement as they stood
together in the Doctor's office, back of which were the rooms in which
the father and daughter lived.
It was growing dark outside when she came into the office and found him
sitting alone. The office and living rooms were on the second floor of
an old frame building in the town of Huntersburg, Illinois, and as the
Doctor talked he stood beside his daughter near one of the windows that
looked down into Tremont Street. The hushed murmur of the town's
Saturday night life went on in Main Street just around a corner, and
the evening train, bound to Chicago fifty miles to the east, had just
passed. The hotel bus came rattling out of Lincoln Street and went
through Tremont toward the hotel on Lower Main. A cloud of dust kicked
up by the horses' hoofs floated on the quiet air. A straggling group of
people followed the bus and the row of hitching posts on Tremont Street
was already lined with buggies in which farmers and their wives had
driven into town for the evening of shopping and gossip.
After the station bus had passed three or four more buggies were driven
into the street. From one of them a young man helped his sweetheart to
alight. He took hold of her arm with a certain air of tenderness, and a
hunger to be touched thus tenderly by a man's hand, that had come to
Mary many times before, returned at almost the same moment her father
made the announcement of his approaching death.
As the Doctor began to speak Barney Smithfield, who owned a livery barn
that opened into Tremont Street directly opposite the building in which
the Cochrans lived, came back to his place of business from his evening
meal. He stopped to tell a story to a group of men gathered before the
barn door and a shout of laughter arose. One of the loungers in the
street, a strongly built young man in a checkered suit, stepped away
from the others and stood before the liveryman. Having seen Mary he was
trying to attract her attention. He also began to tell a story and as
he talked he gesticulated, waved his arms and from time to time looked
over his shoulder to see if the girl still stood by the window and if
she were watching.
Doctor Cochran had told his daughter of his approaching death in a cold
quiet voice. To the girl it had seemed that everything concerning her
father must be cold and quiet. "I have a disease of the heart," he said
flatly, "have long suspected there was something of the sort the matter
with me and on Thursday when I went into Chicago I had myself examined.
The truth is I may die at any moment. I would not tell you but for one
reason--I will leave little money and you must be making plans for the
The Doctor stepped nearer the window where his daughter stood with her
hand on the frame. The announcement had made her a little pale and her
hand trembled. In spite of his apparent coldness he was touched and
wanted to reassure her. "There now," he said hesitatingly, "it'll
likely be all right after all. Don't worry. I haven't been a doctor for
thirty years without knowing there's a great deal of nonsense about
these pronouncements on the part of experts. In a matter like this,
that is to say when a man has a disease of the heart, he may putter
about for years." He laughed uncomfortably. "I've even heard it said
that the best way to insure a long life is to contract a disease of the
With these words the Doctor had turned and walked out of his office,
going down a wooden stairway to the street. He had wanted to put his
arm about his daughter's shoulder as he talked to her, but never having
shown any feeling in his relations with her could not sufficiently
release some tight thing in himself.
Mary had stood for a long time looking down into the street. The young
man in the checkered suit, whose name was Duke Yetter, had finished
telling his tale and a shout of laughter arose. She turned to look
toward the door through which her father had passed and dread took
possession of her. In all her life there had never been anything warm
and close. She shivered although the night was warm and with a quick
girlish gesture passed her hand over her eyes.
The gesture was but an expression of a desire to brush away the cloud
of fear that had settled down upon her but it was misinterpreted by
Duke Yetter who now stood a little apart from the other men before the
livery barn. When he saw Mary's hand go up he smiled and turning
quickly to be sure he was unobserved began jerking his head and making
motions with his hand as a sign that he wished her to come down into
the street where he would have an opportunity to join her.
* * * * *
On the Sunday evening Mary, having walked through Upper Main, turned
into Wilmott, a street of workmens' houses. During that year the first
sign of the march of factories westward from Chicago into the prairie
towns had come to Huntersburg. A Chicago manufacturer of furniture had
built a plant in the sleepy little farming town, hoping thus to escape
the labor organizations that had begun to give him trouble in the city.
At the upper end of town, in Wilmott, Swift, Harrison and Chestnut
Streets and in cheap, badly-constructed frame houses, most of the
factory workers lived. On the warm summer evening they were gathered on
the porches at the front of the houses and a mob of children played in
the dusty streets. Red-faced men in white shirts and without collars
and coats slept in chairs or lay sprawled on strips of grass or on the
hard earth before the doors of the houses. The laborers' wives had
gathered in groups and stood gossiping by the fences that separated the
yards. Occasionally the voice of one of the women arose sharp and
distinct above the steady flow of voices that ran like a murmuring
river through the hot little streets.
In the roadway two children had got into a fight. A thick-shouldered
red-haired boy struck another boy who had a pale sharp-featured face, a
blow on the shoulder. Other children came running. The mother of the
red-haired boy brought the promised fight to an end. "Stop it Johnny, I
tell you to stop it. I'll break your neck if you don't," the woman
The pale boy turned and walked away from his antagonist. As he went
slinking along the sidewalk past Mary Cochran his sharp little eyes,
burning with hatred, looked up at her.
Mary went quickly along. The strange new part of her native town with
the hubbub of life always stirring and asserting itself had a strong
fascination for her. There was something dark and resentful in her own
nature that made her feel at home in the crowded place where life
carried itself off darkly, with a blow and an oath. The habitual
silence of her father and the mystery concerning the unhappy married
life of her father and mother, that had affected the attitude toward
her of the people of the town, had made her own life a lonely one and
had encouraged in her a rather dogged determination to in some way
think her own way through the things of life she could not understand.
And back of Mary's thinking there was an intense curiosity and a
courageous determination toward adventure. She was like a little animal
of the forest that has been robbed of its mother by the gun of a
sportsman and has been driven by hunger to go forth and seek food.
Twenty times during the year she had walked alone at evening in the new
and fast growing factory district of her town. She was eighteen and had
begun to look like a woman, and she felt that other girls of the town
of her own age would not have dared to walk in such a place alone. The
feeling made her somewhat proud and as she went along she looked boldly
Among the workers in Wilmott Street, men and women who had been brought
to town by the furniture manufacturer, were many who spoke in foreign
tongues. Mary walked among them and liked the sound of the strange
voices. To be in the street made her feel that she had gone out of her
town and on a voyage into a strange land. In Lower Main Street or in
the residence streets in the eastern part of town where lived the young
men and women she had always known and where lived also the merchants,
the clerks, the lawyers and the more well-to-do American workmen of
Huntersburg, she felt always a secret antagonism to herself. The
antagonism was not due to anything in her own character. She was sure
of that. She had kept so much to herself that she was in fact but
little known. "It is because I am the daughter of my mother," she told
herself and did not walk often in the part of town where other girls of
her class lived.
Mary had been so often in Wilmott Street that many of the people had
begun to feel acquainted with her. "She is the daughter of some farmer
and has got into the habit of walking into town," they said. A red-
haired, broad-hipped woman who came out at the front door of one of the
houses nodded to her. On a narrow strip of grass beside another house
sat a young man with his back against a tree. He was smoking a pipe,
but when he looked up and saw her he took the pipe from his mouth. She
decided he must be an Italian, his hair and eyes were so black. "Ne
bella! si fai un onore a passare di qua," he called waving his hand and
Mary went to the end of Wilmott Street and came out upon a country
road. It seemed to her that a long time must have passed since she left
her father's presence although the walk had in fact occupied but a few
minutes. By the side of the road and on top of a small hill there was a
ruined barn, and before the barn a great hole filled with the charred
timbers of what had once been a farmhouse. A pile of stones lay beside
the hole and these were covered with creeping vines. Between the site
of the house and the barn there was an old orchard in which grew a mass
of tangled weeds.
Pushing her way in among the weeds, many of which were covered with
blossoms, Mary found herself a seat on a rock that had been rolled
against the trunk of an old apple tree. The weeds half concealed her
and from the road only her head was visible. Buried away thus in the
weeds she looked like a quail that runs in the tall grass and that on
hearing some unusual sound, stops, throws up its head and looks sharply
The doctor's daughter had been to the decayed old orchard many times
before. At the foot of the hill on which it stood the streets of the
town began, and as she sat on the rock she could hear faint shouts and
cries coming out of Wilmott Street. A hedge separated the orchard from
the fields on the hillside. Mary intended to sit by the tree until
darkness came creeping over the land and to try to think out some plan
regarding her future. The notion that her father was soon to die seemed
both true and untrue, but her mind was unable to take hold of the
thought of him as physically dead. For the moment death in relation to
her father did not take the form of a cold inanimate body that was to
be buried in the ground, instead it seemed to her that her father was
not to die but to go away somewhere on a journey. Long ago her mother
had done that. There was a strange hesitating sense of relief in the
thought. "Well," she told herself, "when the time comes I also shall be
setting out, I shall get out of here and into the world." On several
occasions Mary had gone to spend a day with her father in Chicago and
she was fascinated by the thought that soon she might be going there to
live. Before her mind's eye floated a vision of long streets filled
with thousands of people all strangers to herself. To go into such
streets and to live her life among strangers would be like coming out
of a waterless desert and into a cool forest carpeted with tender young
In Huntersburg she had always lived under a cloud and now she was
becoming a woman and the close stuffy atmosphere she had always
breathed was becoming constantly more and more oppressive. It was true
no direct question had ever been raised touching her own standing in
the community life, but she felt that a kind of prejudice against her
existed. While she was still a baby there had been a scandal involving
her father and mother. The town of Huntersburg had rocked with it and
when she was a child people had sometimes looked at her with mocking
sympathetic eyes. "Poor child! It's too bad," they said. Once, on a
cloudy summer evening when her father had driven off to the country and
she sat alone in the darkness by his office window, she heard a man and
woman in the street mention her name. The couple stumbled along in the
darkness on the sidewalk below the office window. "That daughter of Doc
Cochran's is a nice girl," said the man. The woman laughed. "She's
growing up and attracting men's attention now. Better keep your eyes in
your head. She'll turn out bad. Like mother, like daughter," the woman
For ten or fifteen minutes Mary sat on the stone beneath the tree in
the orchard and thought of the attitude of the town toward herself and
her father. "It should have drawn us together," she told herself, and
wondered if the approach of death would do what the cloud that had for
years hung over them had not done. It did not at the moment seem to her
cruel that the figure of death was soon to visit her father. In a way
Death had become for her and for the time a lovely and gracious figure
intent upon good. The hand of death was to open the door out of her
father's house and into life. With the cruelty of youth she thought
first of the adventurous possibilities of the new life.
Mary sat very still. In the long weeds the insects that had been
disturbed in their evening song began to sing again. A robin flew into
the tree beneath which she sat and struck a clear sharp note of alarm.
The voices of people in the town's new factory district came softly up
the hillside. They were like bells of distant cathedrals calling people
to worship. Something within the girl's breast seemed to break and
putting her head into her hands she rocked slowly back and forth. Tears
came accompanied by a warm tender impulse toward the living men and
women of Huntersburg.
And then from the road came a call. "Hello there kid," shouted a voice,
and Mary sprang quickly to her feet. Her mellow mood passed like a puff
of wind and in its place hot anger came.
In the road stood Duke Yetter who from his loafing place before the
livery barn had seen her set out for the Sunday evening walk and had
followed. When she went through Upper Main Street and into the new
factory district he was sure of his conquest. "She doesn't want to be
seen walking with me," he had told himself, "that's all right. She
knows well enough I'll follow but doesn't want me to put in an
appearance until she is well out of sight of her friends. She's a
little stuck up and needs to be brought down a peg, but what do I care?
She's gone out of her way to give me this chance and maybe she's only
afraid of her dad."
Duke climbed the little incline out of the road and came into the
orchard, but when he reached the pile of stones covered by vines he
stumbled and fell. He arose and laughed. Mary had not waited for him to
reach her but had started toward him, and when his laugh broke the
silence that lay over the orchard she sprang forward and with her open
hand struck him a sharp blow on the cheek. Then she turned and as he
stood with his feet tangled in the vines ran out to the road. "If you
follow or speak to me I'll get someone to kill you," she shouted.
Mary walked along the road and down the hill toward Wilmott Street.
Broken bits of the story concerning her mother that had for years
circulated in town had reached her ears. Her mother, it was said, had
disappeared on a summer night long ago and a young town rough, who had
been in the habit of loitering before Barney Smithfield's Livery Barn,
had gone away with her. Now another young rough was trying to make up
to her. The thought made her furious.
Her mind groped about striving to lay hold of some weapon with which
she could strike a more telling blow at Duke Yetter. In desperation it
lit upon the figure of her father already broken in health and now
about to die. "My father just wants the chance to kill some such fellow
as you," she shouted, turning to face the young man, who having got
clear of the mass of vines in the orchard, had followed her into the
road. "My father just wants to kill someone because of the lies that
have been told in this town about mother."
Having given way to the impulse to threaten Duke Yetter Mary was
instantly ashamed of her outburst and walked rapidly along, the tears
running from her eyes. With hanging head Duke walked at her heels. "I
didn't mean no harm, Miss Cochran," he pleaded. "I didn't mean no harm.
Don't tell your father. I was only funning with you. I tell you I
didn't mean no harm."
* * * * *
The light of the summer evening had begun to fall and the faces of the
people made soft little ovals of light as they stood grouped under the
dark porches or by the fences in Wilmott Street. The voices of the
children had become subdued and they also stood in groups. They became
silent as Mary passed and stood with upturned faces and staring eyes.
"The lady doesn't live very far. She must be almost a neighbor," she
heard a woman's voice saying in English. When she turned her head she
saw only a crowd of dark-skinned men standing before a house. From
within the house came the sound of a woman's voice singing a child to
The young Italian, who had called to her earlier in the evening and who
was now apparently setting out of his own Sunday evening's adventures,
came along the sidewalk and walked quickly away into the darkness. He
had dressed himself in his Sunday clothes and had put on a black derby
hat and a stiff white collar, set off by a red necktie. The shining
whiteness of the collar made his brown skin look almost black. He
smiled boyishly and raised his hat awkwardly but did not speak.
Mary kept looking back along the street to be sure Duke Yetter had not
followed but in the dim light could see nothing of him. Her angry
excited mood went away.
She did not want to go home and decided it was too late to go to
church. From Upper Main Street there was a short street that ran
eastward and fell rather sharply down a hillside to a creek and a
bridge that marked the end of the town's growth in that direction. She
went down along the street to the bridge and stood in the failing light
watching two boys who were fishing in the creek.
A broad-shouldered man dressed in rough clothes came down along the
street and stopping on the bridge spoke to her. It was the first time
she had ever heard a citizen of her home town speak with feeling of her
father. "You are Doctor Cochran's daughter?" he asked hesitatingly. "I
guess you don't know who I am but your father does." He pointed toward
the two boys who sat with fishpoles in their hands on the weed-grown
bank of the creek. "Those are my boys and I have four other children,"
he explained. "There is another boy and I have three girls. One of my
daughters has a job in a store. She is as old as yourself." The man
explained his relations with Doctor Cochran. He had been a farm
laborer, he said, and had but recently moved to town to work in the
furniture factory. During the previous winter he had been ill for a
long time and had no money. While he lay in bed one of his boys fell
out of a barn loft and there was a terrible cut in his head.
"Your father came every day to see us and he sewed up my Tom's head."
The laborer turned away from Mary and stood with his cap in his hand
looking toward the boys. "I was down and out and your father not only
took care of me and the boys but he gave my old woman money to buy the
things we had to have from the stores in town here, groceries and
medicines." The man spoke in such low tones that Mary had to lean
forward to hear his words. Her face almost touched the laborer's
shoulder. "Your father is a good man and I don't think he is very
happy," he went on. "The boy and I got well and I got work here in town
but he wouldn't take any money from me. 'You know how to live with your
children and with your wife. You know how to make them happy. Keep your
money and spend it on them,' that's what he said to me."
The laborer went on across the bridge and along the creek bank toward
the spot where his two sons sat fishing and Mary leaned on the railing
of the bridge and looked at the slow moving water. It was almost black
in the shadows under the bridge and she thought that it was thus her
father's life had been lived. "It has been like a stream running always
in shadows and never coming out into the sunlight," she thought, and
fear that her own life would run on in darkness gripped her. A great
new love for her father swept over her and in fancy she felt his arms
about her. As a child she had continually dreamed of caresses received
at her father's hands and now the dream came back. For a long time she
stood looking at the stream and she resolved that the night should not
pass without an effort on her part to make the old dream come true.
When she again looked up the laborer had built a little fire of sticks
at the edge of the stream. "We catch bullheads here," he called. "The
light of the fire draws them close to the shore. If you want to come
and try your hand at fishing the boys will lend you one of the poles."
"O, I thank you, I won't do it tonight," Mary said, and then fearing
she might suddenly begin weeping and that if the man spoke to her again
she would find herself unable to answer, she hurried away. "Good bye!"
shouted the man and the two boys. The words came quite spontaneously
out of the three throats and created a sharp trumpet-like effect that
rang like a glad cry across the heaviness of her mood.
* * * * *
When his daughter Mary went out for her evening walk Doctor Cochran sat
for an hour alone in his office. It began to grow dark and the men who
all afternoon had been sitting on chairs and boxes before the livery
barn across the street went home for the evening meal. The noise of
voices grew faint and sometimes for five or ten minutes there was
silence. Then from some distant street came a child's cry. Presently
church bells began to ring.
The Doctor was not a very neat man and sometimes for several days he
forgot to shave. With a long lean hand he stroked his half grown beard.
His illness had struck deeper than he had admitted even to himself and
his mind had an inclination to float out of his body. Often when he sat
thus his hands lay in his lap and he looked at them with a child's
absorption. It seemed to him they must belong to someone else. He grew
philosophic. "It's an odd thing about my body. Here I've lived in it
all these years and how little use I have had of it. Now it's going to
die and decay never having been used. I wonder why it did not get
another tenant." He smiled sadly over this fancy but went on with it.
"Well I've had thoughts enough concerning people and I've had the use
of these lips and a tongue but I've let them lie idle. When my Ellen
was here living with me I let her think me cold and unfeeling while
something within me was straining and straining trying to tear itself
He remembered how often, as a young man, he had sat in the evening in
silence beside his wife in this same office and how his hands had ached
to reach across the narrow space that separated them and touch her
hands, her face, her hair.
Well, everyone in town had predicted his marriage would turn out badly!
His wife had been an actress with a company that came to Huntersburg
and got stranded there. At the same time the girl became ill and had no
money to pay for her room at the hotel. The young doctor had attended
to that and when the girl was convalescent took her to ride about the
country in his buggy. Her life had been a hard one and the notion of
leading a quiet existence in the little town appealed to her.
And then after the marriage and after the child was born she had
suddenly found herself unable to go on living with the silent cold man.
There had been a story of her having run away with a young sport, the
son of a saloon keeper who had disappeared from town at the same time,
but the story was untrue. Lester Cochran had himself taken her to
Chicago where she got work with a company going into the far western
states. Then he had taken her to the door of her hotel, had put money
into her hands and in silence and without even a farewell kiss had
turned and walked away.
The Doctor sat in his office living over that moment and other intense
moments when he had been deeply stirred and had been on the surface so
cool and quiet. He wondered if the woman had known. How many times he
had asked himself that question. After he left her that night at the
hotel door she never wrote. "Perhaps she is dead," he thought for the
A thing happened that had been happening at odd moments for more than a
year. In Doctor Cochran's mind the remembered figure of his wife became
confused with the figure of his daughter. When at such moments he tried
to separate the two figures, to make them stand out distinct from each
other, he was unsuccessful. Turning his head slightly he imagined he
saw a white girlish figure coming through a door out of the rooms in
which he and his daughter lived. The door was painted white and swung
slowly in a light breeze that came in at an open window. The wind ran
softly and quietly through the room and played over some papers lying
on a desk in a corner. There was a soft swishing sound as of a woman's
skirts. The doctor arose and stood trembling. "Which is it? Is it you
Mary or is it Ellen?" he asked huskily.
On the stairway leading up from the street there was the sound of heavy
feet and the outer door opened. The doctor's weak heart fluttered and
he dropped heavily back into his chair.
A man came into the room. He was a farmer, one of the doctor's
patients, and coming to the centre of the room he struck a match, held
it above his head and shouted. "Hello!" he called. When the doctor
arose from his chair and answered he was so startled that the match
fell from his hand and lay burning faintly at his feet.
The young farmer had sturdy legs that were like two pillars of stone
supporting a heavy building, and the little flame of the match that
burned and fluttered in the light breeze on the floor between his feet
threw dancing shadows along the walls of the room. The doctor's
confused mind refused to clear itself of his fancies that now began to
feed upon this new situation.
He forgot the presence of the farmer and his mind raced back over his
life as a married man. The flickering light on the wall recalled
another dancing light. One afternoon in the summer during the first
year after his marriage his wife Ellen had driven with him into the
country. They were then furnishing their rooms and at a farmer's house
Ellen had seen an old mirror, no longer in use, standing against a wall
in a shed. Because of something quaint in the design the mirror had
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