Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book V: Chapter VII

In the Ormsby household father and daughter sat in the darkness on the veranda. After Laura Ormsby's encounter with McGregor there had been another talk between her and David. Now she had gone on a visit to her home-town in Wisconsin and father and daughter sat together.

To his wife David had talked pointedly of Margaret's affair. "It is not a matter of good sense," he had said; "one can not pretend there is a prospect of happiness in such an affair. The man is no fool and may some day be a big man but it will not be the kind of bigness that will bring either happiness or contentment to a woman like Margaret. He may end his life in jail."

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McGregor and Edith walked up the gravel walk and stood by the front door of the Ormsby house. From the darkness on the veranda came the hearty voice of David. "Come and sit out here," he said.

McGregor stood silently waiting. Edith clung to his arm. Margaret got up and coming forward stood looking at them. With a jump at her heart she sensed the crisis suggested by the presence of these two people. Her voice trembled with alarm. "Come in," she said, turning and leading the way into the house.

The man and woman followed Margaret. At the door McGregor stopped and called to David. "We want you in here with us," he said harshly.

In the drawing room the four people waited. The great chandelier threw its light down upon them. In her chair Edith sat and looked at the floor.

"I've made a mistake," said McGregor. "I've been going on and on making a mistake." He turned to Margaret. "We didn't count on something here. There is Edith. She isn't what we thought."

Edith said nothing. The weary stoop stayed in her shoulders. She felt that if McGregor had brought her to the house and to this woman he loved to seal their parting she would sit quietly until that was over and then go on to the loneliness she believed must be her portion.

To Margaret the coming of the man and woman was a portent of evil. She also was silent, expecting a shock. When her lover spoke she also looked at the floor. To herself she was saying, "He is going to take himself away and marry this other woman. I must be prepared to hear him say that." In the doorway stood David. "He is going to give me back Margaret," he thought, and his heart danced with happiness.

McGregor walked across the room and stood looking at the two women. His blue eyes were cold and filled with intense curiosity concerning them and himself. He wanted to test them and to test himself. "If I am clear-headed now I shall go on with the dream," he thought. "If I fail in this I shall fail in everything." Turning he took hold of the sleeve of David's coat and pulled him across the room so that the two men stood together. Then he looked hard at Margaret. As he talked to her he continued to stand thus with his hand on her father's arm. The action caught David's fancy and a thrill of admiration ran through him. "Here is a man," he told himself.

"You thought Edith was ready to see us get married. Well she was. She is now and you see what it has done to her," said McGregor.

The daughter of the ploughmaker started to speak. Her face was chalky white. McGregor threw up his hands.

"Wait," he said, "a man and woman can't live together for years and then part like two men friends. Something gets into them to prevent. They find they love each other. I've found out that though I want you, I love Edith. She loves me. Look at her."

Margaret half arose from her chair. McGregor went on. Into his voice came the harsh quality that made men fear and follow him. "Oh, we'll be married, Margaret and I," he said; "her beauty has won me. I follow beauty. I want beautiful children. That is my right."

He turned to Edith and stood staring at her.

"You and I could never have the feeling Margaret and I had when we looked into each other's eyes. We ached with it--each wanting the other. You are made to endure. You would get over anything and be cheerful after a while. You know that--don't you?"

The eyes of Edith came up level with his own.

"Yes I know," she said.

Margaret Ormsby jumped up from her chair, her eyes swimming.

"Stop," she cried. "I do not want you. I would never marry you now. You belong to her. You are Edith's."

McGregor's voice became soft and quiet.

"Oh, I know," he said; "I know! I know! But I want children. Look at Edith. Do you think she could bear children to me?"

A change came over Edith Carson. Her eyes hardened and her shoulders straightened.

"That's for me to say," she cried, springing forward and clutching his arm. "That is between me and God. If you intend to marry me come now and do it. I was not afraid to give you up and I'm not afraid that I shall die bearing children."

Dropping McGregor's arm Edith ran across the room and stood before Margaret. "How do you know you are more beautiful or can bear more beautiful children?" she demanded. "What do you mean by beauty anyway? I deny your beauty." She turned to McGregor. "Look," she cried, "she does not stand the test."

Pride swept over the woman that had come to life within the body of the little milliner. With calm eyes she stared at the people in the room and when she looked again toward Margaret there was a challenge in her voice.

"Beauty has to endure," she said swiftly. "It has to be daring. It has to outlive long years of life and many defeats." A hard look came into her eyes as she challenged the daughter of wealth. "I had the courage to be defeated and I have the courage to take what I want," she said. "Have you that courage? If you have take this man. You want him and so do I. Take his arm and walk away with him. Do it now, here before my eyes."

Margaret shook her head. Her body trembled and her eyes looked wildly about. She turned to David Ormsby. "I did not know that life could be like this," she said. "Why didn't you tell me? She is right. I am afraid."

A light came into McGregor's eyes and he turned quickly about. "I see," he said, looking sharply at Edith, "you have also your purpose." Turning again he looked into the eyes of David.

"There is something to be decided here. It is perhaps the supreme test of a man's life. One struggles to keep a thought in mind, to be impersonal, to see that life has a purpose outside his own purpose. You have perhaps made that struggle. You see I'm making it now. I'm going to take Edith and go back to work."

At the door McGregor stopped and put out his hand to David who took it and looked at the big lawyer respectfully.

"I'm glad to see you go," said the ploughmaker briefly.

"I'm glad to be going," said McGregor, understanding that there was nothing but relief and honest antagonism in the voice and in the mind of David Ormsby.

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