Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book V: Chapter V

Edith Carson was six years older than McGregor and lived entirely within herself. Hers was one of those natures that do not express themselves in words. Although at his coming into the shop her heart beat high no colour came to her cheeks and her pale eyes did not flash back into his a message. Day after day she sat in her shop at work, quiet, strong in her own kind of faith, ready to give her money, her reputation, and if need be her life to the working out of her own dream of womanhood. She did not see in McGregor the making of a man of genius as did Margaret and did not hope to express through him a secret desire for power. She was a working woman and to her he represented all men. In her secret heart she thought of him merely as the man--her man.

And to McGregor Edith was companion and friend. He saw her sitting year after year in her shop, putting money into the savings bank, keeping a cheerful front before the world, never assertive, kindly, in her own way sure of herself. "We could go on forever as we are now and she be none the less pleased," he told himself.

One afternoon after a particularly hard week of work he went out to her place to sit in her little workroom and think out the matter of marrying Margaret Ormsby. It was a quiet season in Edith's trade and she was alone in the shop serving a customer. McGregor lay down upon the little couch in the workroom. For a week he had been speaking to gatherings of workmen night after night and later had sat in his own room thinking of Margaret. Now on the couch with the murmur of voices in his ears he fell asleep.

When he awoke it was late in the night and on the floor by the side of the couch sat Edith with her ringers in his hair.

McGregor opened his eyes quietly and looked at her. He could see a tear running down her cheek. She was staring straight ahead at the wall of the room and by the dim light that came through a window he could see the drawn cords of her little neck and the knot of mouse coloured hair on her head.

McGregor closed his eyes quickly. He felt like one who has been aroused out of sleep by a dash of cold water across his breast. It came over him with a rush that Edith Carson had been expecting something from him--something he was not prepared to give.

She got up after a time and crept quietly away into the shop and with a great clatter and bustle he arose also and began calling loudly. He demanded the time and complained about a missed appointment. Turning up the gas, Edith walked with him to the door. On her face sat the old placid smile. McGregor hurried away into the darkness and spent the rest of the night walking in the streets.

The next day he went to Margaret Ormsby at the settlement house. With her he used no art. Driving straight to the point he told her of the undertaker's daughter sitting beside him on the eminence above Coal Creek, of the barber and his talk of women on the park bench and how that had led him to that other woman kneeling on the floor in the little frame house, his fists in her hair and of Edith Carson whose companionship had saved him from all of these.

"If you can't hear all of this and still want life with me," he said, "there is no future for us together. I want you. I'm afraid of you and afraid of my love for you but still I want you. I've been seeing your face floating above the audiences in the halls where I've been at work. I've looked at babies in the arms of workingmen's wives and wanted to see my babe in your arms. I care more for what I am doing than I do for you but I love you."

McGregor arose and stood over her. "I love you with my arms aching to close about you, with my brain planning the triumph of the workers, with all of the old perplexing human love that I had almost thought I would never want.

"I can't bear this waiting. I can't bear this not knowing so that I can tell Edith. I can't have my mind filled with the need of you just as men are beginning to catch the infection of an idea and are looking to me for clear-headed leadership. Take me or let me go and live my life."

Margaret Ormsby looked at McGregor. When she spoke her voice was as quiet as the voice of her father telling a workman in the shop what to do with a broken machine.

"I am going to marry you," she said simply. "I am full of the thought of it. I want you, want you so blindly that I think you can't understand."

She stood up facing him and looked into his eyes.

"You must wait," she said. "I must see Edith, I myself must do that. All these years she has served you--she has had that privilege."

McGregor looked across the table into the beautiful eyes of the woman he loved.

"You belong to me even if I do belong to Edith," he said.

"I will see Edith," Margaret answered again.

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