Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book V: Chapter VI

McGregor left the telling of the story of his love to Margaret. Edith Carson who knew defeat so well and who had in her the courage of defeat was to meet defeat at his hands through the undefeated woman and he let himself forget the whole matter. For a month he had been trying to get workingmen to take up the idea of the Marching Men without success and after the talk with Margaret he kept doggedly at the work.

And then one evening something happened that aroused him. The Marching Men idea that had become more than half intellectualised became again a burning passion and the matter of his life with women got itself cleared up swiftly and finally.

It was night and McGregor stood upon the platform of the Elevated Railroad at State and Van Buren Streets. He had been feeling guilty concerning Edith and had been intending to go out to her place but the scene in the street below fascinated him and he remained standing, looking along the lighted thoroughfare.

For a week there had been a strike of teamsters in the city and that afternoon there had been a riot. Windows had been smashed and several men injured. Now the evening crowds gathered and speakers climbed upon boxes to talk. Everywhere there was a great wagging of jaws and waving of arms. McGregor grew reminiscent. Into his mind came the little mining town and he saw himself again a boy sitting in the darkness on the steps before his mother's bake shop and trying to think. Again in fancy he saw the disorganised miners tumbling out of the saloon to stand on the street swearing and threatening and again he was filled with contempt for them.

And then in the heart of the great western city the same thing happened that had happened when he was a boy in Pennsylvania. The officials of the city, having decided to startle the striking teamsters by a display of force, sent a regiment of state troops marching through the streets. The soldiers were dressed in brown uniforms. They were silent. As McGregor looked down they turned out of Polk Street and came with swinging measured tread up State Street past the disorderly mobs on the sidewalk and the equally disorderly speakers on the curb.

McGregor's heart beat so that he nearly choked. The men in the uniforms, each in himself meaning nothing, had become by their marching together all alive with meaning. Again he wanted to shout, to run down into the street and embrace them. The strength in them seemed to kiss, as with the kiss of a lover, the strength within himself and when they had passed and the disorderly jangle of voices broke out again he got on a car and went out to Edith's with his heart afire with resolution.

Edith Carson's millinery shop was in the hands of a new owner. She had sold out and fled. McGregor stood in the show room looking about him at the cases filled with their feathery finery and at the hats along the wall. The light from a street lamp that came in at the window started millions of tiny motes dancing before his eyes.

Out of the room at the back of the shop--the room where he had seen the tears of suffering in Edith's eyes--came a woman who told him of Edith's having sold the business. She was excited by the message she had to deliver and walked past the waiting man, going to the screen door to stand with her back to him and look up the street.

Out of the corners of her eyes the woman looked at him. She was a small black-haired woman with two gleaming gold teeth and with glasses on her nose. "There has been a lovers' quarrel here," she told herself.

"I have bought the store," she said aloud. "She told me to tell you that she had gone."

McGregor did not wait for more but hurried past the woman into the street. In his heart was a feeling of dumb aching loss. On an impulse he turned and ran back.

Standing in the street by the screen door he shouted hoarsely. "Where did she go?" he demanded.

The woman laughed merrily. She felt that she was getting with the shop a flavour of romance and adventure very attractive to her. Then she walked to the door and smiled through the screen. "She has only just left," she said. "She went to the Burlington station. I think she has gone West. I heard her tell the man about her trunk. She has been around here for two days since I bought the shop. I think she has been waiting for you to come. You did not come and now she has gone and perhaps you won't find her. She did not look like one who would quarrel with a lover."

The woman in the shop laughed softly as McGregor hurried away. "Now who would think that quiet little woman would have such a lover?" she asked herself.

Down the street ran McGregor and raising his hand stopped a passing automobile. The woman saw him seated in the automobile talking to a grey-haired man at the wheel and then the machine turned and disappeared up the street at a law-breaking pace.

McGregor had again a new light on the character of Edith Carson. "I can see her doing it," he told himself--"cheerfully telling Margaret that it didn't matter and all the time planning this in the back of her head. Here all of these years she has been leading a life of her own. The secret longings, the desires and the old human hunger for love and happiness and expression have been going on under her placid exterior as they have under my own."

McGregor thought of the busy days behind him and realised with shame how little Edith had seen of him. It was in the days when his big movement of The Marching Men was just coming into the light and on the night before he had been in a conference of labour men who had wanted him to make a public demonstration of the power he had secretly been building up. Every day his office was filled with newspaper men who asked questions and demanded explanations. And in the meantime Edith had been selling her shop to that woman and getting ready to disappear.

In the railroad station McGregor found Edith sitting in a corner with her face buried in the crook of her arm. Gone was the placid exterior. Her shoulders seemed narrower. Her hand, hanging over the back of the seat in front of her, was white and lifeless.

McGregor said nothing but snatched up the brown leather bag that sat beside her on the floor and taking her by the arm led her up a flight of stone steps to the street.

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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.