Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book IV: Chapter VI

The clearing of Andrew Brown made a sensation in Chicago. At the trial McGregor was able to introduce one of those breath-taking dramatic climaxes that catch the attention of the mob. At the tense dramatic moment of the trial a frightened hush fell upon the court room and that evening in their houses men turned instinctively from the reading of the papers to look at their beloved sitting about them. A chill of fear ran over the bodies of women. For a moment Beaut McGregor had given them a peep under the crust of civilisation that awoke an age- old trembling in their hearts. In his fervour and impatience McGregor had cried out, not against the incidental enemies of Brown but against all modern society and its formlessness. To the listeners it seemed that he shook mankind by the throat and that by the power and purposefulness of his own solitary figure he revealed the pitiful weakness of his fellows.

In the court room McGregor had sat, grim and silent, letting the State build up its case. In his face was a challenge. His eyes looked out from beneath swollen eyelids. For weeks he had been as tireless as a bloodhound running through the First Ward and building his case. Policemen had seen him emerge from alleyways at three in the morning, the soft spoken boss hearing of his activities had eagerly questioned Henry Hunt, a bartender in a dive on Polk Street had felt the grip of a hand at his throat and a trembling girl of the town had knelt before him in a little dark room begging protection from his wrath. In the court room he sat waiting and watching.

When the special counsel for the State, a man of great name in the courts, had finished his insistent persistent cry for the blood of the silent unemotional Brown, McGregor acted. Springing to his feet he shouted hoarsely across the silent court room to a large woman sitting among the witnesses. "They have tricked you Mary," he roared. "The tale about the pardon after the excitement dies is a lie. They're stringing you. They're going to hang Andy Brown. Get up there and tell the naked truth or his blood be on your hands."

A furor arose in the crowded court room. Lawyers sprang to their feet, objecting, protesting. Above the noise arose a hoarse accusing voice. "Keep Polk Street Mary and every woman from her place in here," he shouted. "They know who killed your man. Put them back there on the stand. They'll tell. Look at them. The truth is coming out of them."

The clamour in the room subsided. The silent red-haired attorney, the joke of the case, had scored. Walking in the streets at night the words of Edith Carson had come back into his brain, and with the help of Margaret Ormsby he had been able to follow a clue given by her suggestion.

"Find out if your man Brown has a sweetheart."

In a moment he saw the message the women of the underworld, patrons of O'Toole's, had been trying to convey to him. Polk Street Mary was the sweetheart of Andy Brown. Now in the silent court room the voice of a woman arose broken with sobs. To the listening crowd in the packed little room came the story of the tragedy in the darkened house before which stood the policeman idly swinging his night stick--the story of a girl from an Illinois village procured and sold to the broker's son --of the desperate struggle in the little room between the eager lustful man and the frightened brave-hearted girl--of the blow with the chair in the hands of the girl that brought death to the man--of the women of the house trembling on the stairs and the body hastily pitched into the passageway.

"They told me they would get Andy off when this blew over," wailed the woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

McGregor went out of the court room into the street. The glow of victory was on him and he strode along with his heart beating high. His way led over a bridge into the North Side and in his wanderings he passed the apple warehouse where he had made his start in the city and where he had fought with the German. When night came he walked in North Clark Street and heard the newsboys shouting of his victory. Before him danced a new vision, a vision of himself as a big figure in the city. Within himself he felt the power to stand forth among men, to outwit them and outfight them, to get for himself power and place in the world.

The miner's son was half drunk with the new sense of achievement that swept in on him. Out of Clark Street he went and walked east along a residence street to the lake. By the lake he saw a street of great houses surrounded by gardens and the thought came that at some time he might have such a house of his own. The disorderly clatter of modern life seemed very far away. When he came to the lake he stood in the darkness thinking of the useless rowdy of the mining town suddenly become a great lawyer in the city and the blood ran swiftly through his body. "I am to be one of the victors, one of the few who emerge," he whispered to himself and with a jump of the heart thought also of Margaret Ormsby looking at him with her fine questioning eyes as he stood before the men in the court room and by the force of his personality pushed his way through a fog of lies to victory and truth.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.