Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book IV: Chapter IV

In the office McGregor occupied in Van Buren Street there was another desk besides his own. The desk was owned by a small man with an extraordinary long moustache and with grease spots on the lapel of his coat. In the morning he came in and sat in his chair with his feet on his desk. He smoked long black stogies and read the morning papers. On the glass panel of the door was the inscription, "Henry Hunt, Real Estate Broker." When he had finished with the morning papers he disappeared, returning tired and dejected late in the afternoon.

The real estate business of Henry Hunt was a myth. Although he bought and sold no property he insisted on the title and had in his desk a pile of letterheads setting forth the kind of property in which he specialised. He had a picture of his daughter, a graduate of the Hyde Park High School, in a glass frame on the wall. When he went out at the door in the morning he paused to look at McGregor and said, "If any one comes in about property tend to them for me. I'll be gone for a while."

Henry Hunt was a collector of tithes for the political bosses of the first ward. All day he went from place to place through the ward interviewing women, checking their names off a little red book he carried in his pocket, promising, demanding, making veiled threats. In the evening he sat in his flat overlooking Jackson Park and listened to his daughter play on the piano. With all his heart he hated his place in life and as he rode back and forth to town on the Illinois Central trains he stared at the lake and dreamed of owning a farm and living a free life in the country. In his mind he could see the merchants standing gossiping on the sidewalk before the stores in an Ohio village where he had lived as a boy and in fancy saw himself again a boy, driving cows through the village street in the evening and making a delightful little slap slap with his bare feet in the deep dust.

It was Henry Hunt in his secret office as collector and lieutenant to the "boss" of the first ward who shifted the scenes for McGregor's appearance as a public character in Chicago.

One night a young man--son of one of the city's plunging millionaire wheat speculators--was found dead in a little blind alley back of a resort known as Polk Street Mary's place. He lay crumpled up against a board fence quite dead and with a bruise on the side of his head. A policeman found him and dragged him to the street light at the corner of the alley.

For twenty minutes the policeman had been standing under the light swinging his stick. He had heard nothing. A young man came up, touched him on the arm and whispered to him. When he turned to go down the alley the young man ran away up the street.

       *       *       *       *       *

The powers that rule the first ward in Chicago were furious when the identity of the dead man became known. The "boss," a mild-looking blue-eyed little man in a neat grey suit and with a silky moustache, stood in his office opening and closing his fists convulsively. Then he called a young man and sent for Henry Hunt and a well known police official.

For some weeks the newspapers of Chicago had been conducting a campaign against vice. Swarms of reporters had over-run the ward. Daily they issued word pictures of life in the underworld. On the front pages of the papers with senators and governors and millionaires who had divorced their wives, appeared also the names of Ugly Brown Chophouse Sam and Carolina Kate with descriptions of their places, their hours of closing and the class and quantity of their patronage. A drunken man rolled on the floor at the back of a Twenty-second Street saloon and robbed of his pocketbook had his picture on the front page of the morning papers.

Henry Hunt sat in his office on Van Buren Street trembling with fright. He expected to see his name in the paper and his occupation disclosed.

The powers that ruled the First--quiet shrewd men who knew how to make and to take profits, the very flower of commercialism--were frightened. They saw in the prominence of the dead man a real opportunity for their momentary enemies the press. For weeks they had been sitting quietly, weathering the storm of public disapproval. In their minds they thought of the ward as a kingdom in itself, something foreign and apart from the city. Among their followers were men who had not been across the Van Buren Street line into foreign territory for years.

Suddenly through the minds of these men floated a menace. Like the small soft-speaking boss the ward gripped its fist conclusively. Through the streets and alleys ran a cry, a warning. Like birds of prey disturbed in their nesting places they fluttered, uttering cries. Throwing his stogie into the gutter Henry Hunt ran through the ward. From house to house he uttered his cry--"Lay low! Pull off nothing."

The little boss in his office at the front of his saloon looked from Henry Hunt to the police official. "It is no time for hesitation," he said. "It will prove a boon if we act quickly. We have got to arrest and try that murderer and do it now. Who is our man? Quick. Let's have action."

Henry Hunt lighted a fresh stogie. He played nervously with the ends of his fingers and wished he were out of the ward and safely out of range of the prying eyes of the press. In fancy he could hear his daughter screaming with horror at the sight of his name spread in glaring letters before the world and thought of her with a flush of abhorrence on her young face turning from him forever. In his terror his mind darted here and there. A name sprang to his lips. "It might have been Andy Brown," he said, puffing at the stogie.

The little boss whirled his chair about. He began picking up the papers scattered about his desk. When he spoke his voice was again soft and mild. "It was Andy Brown," he said. "Whisper the word about. Let a Tribune man locate Brown for you. Handle this right and you will save your own scalp and get the fool papers off the back of the First."

       *       *       *       *       *

The arrest of Brown brought respite to the ward. The prediction of the shrewd little boss made good. The newspapers dropped the clamorous cry for reform and began demanding instead the life of Andrew Brown. Newspaper artists rushed into police headquarters and made hurried sketches to appear an hour later blazoned across the face of extras on the streets. Grave scientific men got their pictures printed at the heads of articles on "Criminal Characteristics of the Head and Face."

An adept and imaginative writer for an afternoon paper spoke of Brown as a Jekyll and Hyde of the Tenderloin and hinted at other murders by the same hand. From the comparatively quiet life of a not markedly industrious yeggman Brown came out of the upper floor of a State Street lodging house to stand stoically before the world of men--a storm centre about which swirled and eddied the wrath of an aroused city.

The thought that had flashed into the mind of Henry Hunt as he sat in the office of the soft-voiced boss was the making of an opportunity for McGregor. For months he and Andrew Brown had been friends. The yeggman, a strongly built slow talking man, looked like a skilled mechanic of a locomotive engineer. Coming into O'Toole's in the quiet hours between eight and twelve he sat eating his evening meal and talking in a half bantering humorous vein to the young lawyer. In his eyes lurked a kind of hard cruelty tempered by indolence. It was he who gave McGregor the name that still clings to him in that strange savage land--"Judge Mac, the Big 'un."

When he was arrested Brown sent for McGregor and offered to give him charge of his case. When the young lawyer refused he was insistent. In a cell at the county jail they talked it over. By the door stood a guard watching them. McGregor peered into the half darkness and said what he thought should be said. "You are in a hole," he began. "You don't want me, you want a big name. They're all set to hang you over there." He waved his hand in the direction of the First. "They're going to hand you over as an answer to a stirred up city. It's a job for the biggest and best criminal lawyer in town. Name the man and I'll get him for you and help raise the money to pay him."

Andrew Brown got up and walked to McGregor. Looking down at him he spoke quickly and determinedly. "You do what I say," he growled. "You take this case. I didn't do the job. I was asleep in my room when it was pulled off. Now you take the case. You won't clear me. It ain't in the cards. But you get the job just the same."

He sat down again upon the iron cot at the corner of the cell. His voice became slow and had in it a touch of cynical humour. "Look here, Big 'un," he said, "the gang's picked my number out of the hat. I'm going across but there's good advertising in the job for some one and you get it."


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