Marching Men

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book VII: Chapter II

On the day of the great demonstration, when McGregor's power over the minds and the bodies of the men of labour sent hundreds of thousands marching and singing in the streets, there was one man who was untouched by the song of labour expressed in the threshing of feet. David Ormsby had in his quiet way thought things out. He expected that the new impetus given to solidity in the ranks of labour would make trouble for him and his kind, that it would express itself finally in strikes and in wide-spread industrial disturbance. He was not worried. In the end he thought that the silent patient power of money would bring his people the victory. On that day he did not go to his office but in the morning stayed in his own room thinking of McGregor and of his daughter. Laura Ormsby was out of the city but Margaret was at home. David believed he had measured accurately the power of McGregor over her mind but occasional doubts came to him. "Well the time has come to have it out with her," he decided. "I must reassert my ascendency over her mind. The thing that is going on here is really a struggle of minds. McGregor differs from other leaders of labour as I differ from most leaders of the forces of money. He has brains. Very well. I shall meet him on that level. Then, when I have made Margaret think as I think, she will return to me."

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When he was still a small manufacturer in the Wisconsin town David had been in the habit of driving out in the evening with his daughter. During the drives he had been almost a lover in his attentions to the child and now when he thought of the forces at work within her he was convinced that she was still a child. Early in the afternoon he had a carriage brought to the door and drove off with her to the city. "She will want to see the man in the height of his power. If I am right in thinking that she is still under the influence of his personality there will be a romantic desire for that.

"I will give her the chance," he thought proudly. "In this struggle I ask no quarter from him and shall not make the common mistake of parents in such cases. She is fascinated by the figure he has made of himself. Showy men who stand out from the crowd have that power. She is still under his influence. Why else her constant distraction and her want of interest in other things? Now I will be with her when the man is most powerful, when he shows to the greatest advantage, and then I will make my fight for her. I will point out to her another road, the road along which the real victors in life must learn to travel."

Together David the quiet efficient representative of wealth and his woman child sat in the carriage on the day of McGregor's triumph. For the moment an impassable gulf seemed to separate them and with intense eyes each watched the hordes of men who massed themselves about the labour leader. At the moment McGregor seemed to have caught all men in the sweep of his movement. Business men had closed their desks, labour was exultant, writers and men given to speculation in thought walked about dreaming of the realisation of the brotherhood of man. In the long narrow treeless park the music made by the steady never-ending thresh of feet arose to something vast and rhythmical. It was like a mighty chorus come up out of the hearts of men. David was unmoved. Occasionally he spoke to the horses and looked from the faces of the men massed about him to his daughter's face. In the coarse faces of the men he thought he saw only a crude sort of intoxication, the result of a new kind of emotionalism. "It will not outlast thirty days of ordinary living in their squalid surroundings," he thought grimly. "It is not the kind of exaltation for Margaret. I can sing her a more wonderful song. I must get myself ready for that."

When McGregor arose to speak Margaret was overcome with emotions. Dropping to her knees in the carriage she put her head down upon her father's arm. For days she had been telling herself that in the future of the man she loved there was no place for failure. Now again she whispered to herself that this great sturdy figure must not be denied the fulfilment of its purpose. When in the hush that followed the massing of the labourers about him the harsh booming voice floated over the heads of the people her body shook as with a chill. Extravagant fancies invaded her mind and she wished it were possible for her to do something heroic, something that would make her live again in the mind of McGregor. She wanted to serve him, to give him something out of herself, and thought wildly that there might yet come a time and a way by which the beauty of her body could be laid like a gift before him. The half mythical figure of Mary the lover of Jesus came into her mind and she aspired to be such another. With her body shaken with emotions she pulled at the sleeve of her father's coat. "Listen! It is going to come now," she murmured. "The brain of labour is going to express the dream of labour. An impulse sweet and lasting is going to come into the world."

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David Ormsby said nothing. When McGregor had begun to speak he touched the horses with the whip and drove slowly along Van Buren Street past the silent attentive ranks of men. When he had got into one of the streets near the river a vast cheer arose. It seemed to shake the city and the horses reared and leaped forward over the rough cobblestones. With one hand David quieted them while with the other he gripped the hand of his daughter. They drove over a bridge and into the West Side and as they went the marching song of the workers rising up out of thousands of throats rang in their ears. For a time the air seemed to pulsate with it but as they went westward it grew continually less and less distinct. At last when they had turned into a street lined by tall factories it died out altogether. "That is the end of him for me and mine," thought David and again set himself for the task he had to perform.

Through street after street David let the horses wander while he clung to his daughter's hand and thought of what he wanted to say. Not all of the streets were lined with factories. Some, and these in the evening light were the most hideous, were bordered by the homes of workers. The houses of the workers, jammed closely together and black with grime, were filled with noisy life. Women sat in the doorways and children ran screaming and shouting in the road. Dogs barked and howled. Everywhere was dirt and disorder, the terrible evidence of men's failure in the difficult and delicate art of living. In one of the streets a little girl child who sat on the post of a fence made a ludicrous figure. As David and Margaret drove past she beat with her heels against the sides of the post and screamed. Tears ran down her cheeks and her dishevelled hair was black with dirt. "I want a banana! I want a banana!" she howled, staring at the blank walls of one of the houses. In spite of herself Margaret was touched and her mind left the figure of McGregor. By an odd chance the child on the post was the daughter of that socialist orator who one night on the North Side had climbed upon a platform to confront McGregor with the propaganda of the Socialist Party.

David turned the horses into a wide boulevard that ran south through the factory district of the west. As they came out into the boulevard they saw sitting on the sidewalk before a saloon a drunkard with a drum in his hand. The drunkard beat upon the drum and tried to sing the marching song of the workers but succeeded only in making a queer grunting noise like a distressed animal. The sight brought a smile to David's lips. "Already it has begun to disintegrate," he muttered. "I brought you into this part of town on purpose," he said to Margaret. "I wanted you to see with your own eyes how much the world needs the thing he is trying to do. The man is terribly right about the need for discipline and order. He is a big man doing a big thing and I admire his courage. He would be a really big man had he the greater courage."

On the boulevard into which they had turned all was quiet. The summer sun was setting and over the roofs of buildings the west was ablaze with light. They passed a factory surrounded by little patches of garden. Some employer of labour had tried thus feebly to bring beauty into the neighbourhood of the place where his men worked. David pointed with the whip. "Life is a husk," he said, "and we men of affairs who take ourselves so seriously because the fates have been good to us have odd silly little fancies. See what this fellow has been at, patching away, striving to create beauty on the shell of things. He is like McGregor you see. I wonder if the man has made himself beautiful, if either he or McGregor has seen to it that there is something lovely inside the husk he wears around and that he calls his body, if he has seen through life to the spirit of life. I do not believe in patching nor do I believe in disturbing the shell of things as McGregor has dared to do. I have my own beliefs and they are the beliefs of my kind. This man here, this maker of little gardens, is like McGregor. He might better let men find their own beauty. That is my way. I have, I want to think, kept myself for the sweeter and more daring effort."

David turned and looked hard at Margaret who had begun to be influenced by his mood. She waited, looking with averted face at the sky over the roofs of buildings. David began to talk of himself in relation to her and her mother. A note of impatience came into his voice.

"How far you have been carried away, haven't you?" he said sharply. "Listen. I am not talking to you now as your father nor as Laura's daughter. Let us be clear about that I love you and am in a contest to win your love. I am McGregor's rival. I accept the handicap of fatherhood. I love you. You see I have let something within myself alight upon you. McGregor has not done that. He refused what you had to offer but I do not. I have centred my life upon you and have done it quite knowingly and after much thought. The feeling I have is something quite special. I am an individualist but believe in the oneness of man and woman. I would dare venture into but one other life beyond my own and that the life of a woman. I have chosen to ask you to let me venture so into your life. We will talk of it."

Margaret turned and looked at her father. Later she thought that some strange phenomena must have happened at the moment Something like a film was torn from her eyes and she saw the man David, not as a shrewd and calculating man of affairs, but as something magnificently young. Not only was he strong and solid but in his face there was at the moment the deep lines of thought and suffering she had seen on the countenance of McGregor. "It is strange," she thought. "They are so unlike and yet the two men are both beautiful."

"I married your mother when I was a child as you are a child now," David went on. "To be sure I had a passion for her and she had one for me. It passed but it was beautiful enough while it lasted. It did not have depth or meaning. I want to tell you why. Then I am going to make you understand McGregor so that you may take your measure of the man. I am coming to that. I have to begin at the beginning.

"My factory began to grow and as an employer of labour I became concerned in the lives of a good many men."

His voice again became sharp. "I have been impatient with you," he said. "Do you think this McGregor is the only man who has seen and thought of other men in the mass? I have done that and have been tempted. I also might have become sentimental and destroyed myself. I did not. Loving a woman saved me. Laura did that for me although when it came to the real test of our love, understanding, she failed. I am nevertheless grateful to her that she was once the object of my love. I believe in the beauty of that."

Again David paused and began to tell his story in a new way. The figure of McGregor came back into Margaret's mind and her father began to feel that to take it entirely away would be an accomplishment full of significance. "If I can take her from him, I and my kind can take the world from him also," he thought. "It will be another victory for the aristocracy in the never-ending battle with the mob."

"I came to a turning point," he said aloud. "All men come to that point. To be sure the great mass of people drift quite stupidly but we are not now talking of people in general. There is you and me and there is the thing McGregor might be. We are each in our way something special. We come, people like us, to a place where there are two roads to take. I took one and McGregor has taken another. I know why and perhaps he knows why. I concede to him knowledge of what he has done. But now it is time for you to decide which road you will take. You have seen the crowds moving along the broad way he has chosen and now you will set out on your own way. I want you to look down my road with me."

They came to a bridge over a canal and David stopped the horses. A body of McGregor's marchers passed and Margaret's pulse began to beat high again. When she looked at her father however he was unmoved and she was a little ashamed of her emotions. For a moment David waited, as though for inspiration, and when the horses started on again he began to talk. "A labour leader came to my factory, a miniature McGregor with a crooked twist to him. He was a rascal but the things he said to my men were all true enough. I was making money for my investors, a lot of it. They might have won in a fight with me. One evening I went out into the country to walk alone under the trees and think it over."

David's voice became harsh and Margaret thought it had become strangely like the voice of McGregor talking to workingmen. "I bought the man off," David said. "I used the cruel weapon men like me have to use. I gave him money and told him to get out, to let me alone. I did it because I had to win. My kind of men always have to win. During the walk I took alone I got hold of my dream, my belief. I have the same dream now. It means more to me than the welfare of a million men. For it I would crush whatever opposed me. I am going to tell you of the dream.

"It is too bad one has to talk. Talk kills dreams and talk will also kill all such men as McGregor. Now that he has begun to talk we will get the best of him. I do not worry about McGregor. Time and talk will bring about his destruction."

David's mind ran off in a new direction. "I do not think a man's life is of much importance," he said. "No man is big enough to grasp all of life. That is the foolish fancy of children. The grown man knows he cannot see life at one great sweep. It cannot be comprehended so. One has to realise that he lives in a patchwork of many lives and many impulses.

"The man must strike at beauty. That is the realisation maturity brings and that is where the woman conies in. That is what McGregor was not wise enough to understand. He is a child you see in a land of excitable children."

The quality of David's voice changed. Putting his arm about his daughter he drew her face down beside his own. Night descended upon them. The woman who was tired from much thinking began to feel grateful for the touch of the strong hand on her shoulder. David had accomplished his purpose. He had for the moment made his daughter forget that she was his daughter. There was something hypnotic in the quiet strength of his mood.

"I come now to women, to your part," he said. "We will talk of the thing I want to make you understand. Laura failed as the woman. She never saw the point. As I grew she did not grow with me. Because I did not talk of love she did not understand me as a lover, did not know what I wanted, what I demanded of her.

"I wanted to fit my love down upon her figure as one puts a glove on his hand. You see I was the adventurer, the man mussed and moiled by life and its problems. The struggle to exist, to get money, could not be avoided. I had to make that struggle. She did not. Why could she not understand that I did not want to come into her presence to rest or to say empty words. I wanted her to help me create beauty. We should have been partners in that. Together we should have undertaken the most delicate and difficult of all struggles, the struggle for living beauty in our everyday affairs."

Bitterness swept over the old ploughmaker and he used strong words. "The whole point is in what I am now saying. That was my cry to the woman. It came out of my soul. It was the only cry to another I have ever made. Laura was a little fool. Her mind flitted away to little things. I do not know what she wanted me to be and now I do not care. Perhaps she wanted me to be a poet, a stringer together of words, one to write shrill little songs about her eyes and lips. It does not matter now what she wanted.

"But you matter."

David's voice cut through the fog of new thoughts that were confusing his daughter's mind and she could feel his body stiffen. A thrill ran through her own body and she forgot McGregor. With all the strength of her spirit she was absorbed in what David was saying. In the challenge that was coming from the lips of her father she began to feel there would be born in her own life a definite purpose.

"Women want to push out into life, to share with men the disorder and mussiness of little things. What a desire! Let them try it if they wish. They will sicken of the attempt. They lose sight of something bigger they might undertake. They have forgotten the old things, Ruth in the corn and Mary with the jar of precious ointment, they have forgotten the beauty they were meant to help men create.

"Let them share only in man's attempt to create beauty. That is the big, the delicate task to which they should consecrate themselves. Why attempt instead the cheaper, the secondary task? They are like this McGregor."

The ploughmaker became silent. Taking up the whip he drove the horses rapidly along. He thought that his point was made and was satisfied to let the imagination of his daughter do the rest. They turned off the boulevard and passed through a street of small stores. Before a saloon a troop of street urchins led by a drunken man without a hat gave a grotesque imitation of McGregor's Marchers before a crowd of laughing idlers. With a sinking heart Margaret realised that even at the height of his power the forces that would eventually destroy the impulses back of McGregor's Marchers were at work. She crept closer to David. "I love you," she said. "Some day I may have a lover but always I shall love you. I shall try to be what you want of me."

It was past two o'clock that night when David arose from the chair where he had been for several hours quietly reading. With a smile on his face he went to a window facing north toward the city. All through the evening groups of men had been passing the house. Some had gone scuffling along, a mere disorderly mob, some had gone shoulder to shoulder chanting the marching song of the workers and a few, under the influence of drink, had stopped before the house to roar out threats. Now all was quiet. David lighted a cigar and stood for a long time looking out over the city. He was thinking of McGregor and wondering what excited dream of power the day had brought into the man's head. Then he thought of his daughter and of her escape. A soft light came into his eyes. He was happy but when he had partially undressed a new mood came and he turned out the lights in the room and went again to the window. In the room above Margaret had been unable to sleep and had also crept to the window. She was thinking again of McGregor and was ashamed of her thoughts. By chance both father and daughter began at the same moment to doubt the truth of what David had said during the drive along the boulevard. Margaret could not express her doubts in words but tears came into her eyes.

As for David, he put his hand on the sill of the window and for just a moment his body trembled as with age and weariness. "I wonder," he muttered--"if I had youth--perhaps McGregor knew he would fail and yet had the courage of failure, I wonder if both Margaret and myself lack the greater courage, if that evening long ago when I walked under the trees I made a mistake? What if after all this McGregor and his woman knew both roads. What if they, after looking deliberately along the road toward success in life, went without regret along the road to failure? What if McGregor and not myself knew the road to beauty?"


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