Windy McPherson's Son

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book II - Chapter 4

One night in April Colonel Tom Rainey of the great Rainey Arms Company andhis chief lieutenant, young Sam McPherson, treasurer and chairman of theboard of directors of the company, slept together in a room in a St. Paulhotel. It was a double room with two beds, and Sam, lying on his pillow,looked across the bed to where the colonel's paunch protruding itselfbetween him and the light from a long narrow window, made a round hillabove which the moon just peeped. During the evening the two men had satfor several hours at a table in the grill down stairs while Sam discusseda proposition he proposed making to a St. Paul jobber the next day. Theaccount of the jobber, a large one, had been threatened by Lewis, the Jewmanager of the Edwards Arms Company, the Rainey Company's only importantwestern rival, and Sam was full of ideas to checkmate the shrewd trademove the Jew had made. At the table, the colonel had been silent andtaciturn, an unusual attitude of mind for him, and Sam lay in bed andlooked at the moon gradually working its way over the undulating abdominalhill, wondering what was in his mind. The hill dropped, showing the fullface of the moon, and then rose again obliterating it.

"Sam, were you ever in love?" asked the colonel, with a sigh.

Sam turned and buried his face in the pillow and the white covering of hisbed danced up and down. "The old fool, has it come to that with him?" heasked himself. "After all these years of single life is he going to beginrunning after women now?"

He did not answer the colonel's question. "There are breakers ahead foryou, old boy," he thought, the figure of quiet, determined, little SueRainey, the colonel's daughter, as he had seen her on the rare occasionswhen he had dined at the Rainey home or she had come into the LaSalleStreet offices, coming into his mind. With a quiver of enjoyment of themental exercise, he tried to imagine the colonel as a swaggering bladeamong women.

The colonel, oblivious of Sam's mirth and of his silence regarding hisexperience in the field of love, began talking, making amends for thesilence in the grill. He told Sam that he had decided to take to himself anew wife, and confessed that the view of the matter his daughter mighttake worried him. "Children are so unfair," he complained; "they forgetabout a man's feelings and can't realise that his heart is still young."

With a smile on his lips, Sam began trying to picture a woman's lying inhis place and looking at the moon over the pulsating hill. The colonelcontinued talking. He grew franker, telling the name of his beloved andthe circumstances of their meeting and courtship. "She is an actress, aworking girl," he said feelingly. "I met her at a dinner given by WillSperry one evening and she was the only woman there who did not drinkwine. After the dinner we went for a drive together and she told me of herhard life, of her fight against temptations, and of her brother, anartist, she is trying to get started in the world. We have been together adozen times and have written letters, and, Sam, we have discovered anaffinity for each other."

Sam sat up in bed. "Letters!" he muttered. "The old dog is going to gethimself involved." He dropped again upon the pillow. "Well, let him. Whyneed I bother myself?"

The colonel, having begun talking, could not stop. "Although we have seeneach other only a dozen times, a letter has passed between us every day.Oh, if you could see the letters she writes. They are wonderful."

A worried sigh broke from the colonel. "I want Sue to invite her to thehouse, but I am afraid," he complained; "I am afraid she will be wrongheaded about it. Women are such determined creatures. She and my Luellashould meet and know each other, but if I go home and tell her she maymake a scene and hurt Luella's feelings."

The moon had risen, shedding its light in Sam's eyes, and he turned hisback to the colonel and prepared to sleep. The naive credulity of theolder man had touched a spring of mirth in him and from time to time thecovering of his bed continued to quiver suggestively.

"I would not hurt her feelings for anything. She is the squarest littlewoman alive," the voice of the colonel announced. The voice broke and thecolonel, who habitually roared forth his sentiments, began to dither. Samwondered if his feelings had been touched by the thoughts of his daughteror of the lady from the stage. "It is a wonderful thing," half sobbed thecolonel, "when a young and beautiful woman gives her whole heart into thekeeping of a man like me."

It was a week later before Sam heard more of the affair. Looking up fromhis desk in the offices in LaSalle Street one morning, he found Sue Raineystanding before him. She was a small athletic looking woman with blackhair, square shoulders, cheeks browned by the sun and wind, and quiet greyeyes. She stood facing Sam's desk and pulled off a glove while she lookeddown at him with amused, quizzical eyes. Sam rose, and leaning over theflat-topped desk, took her hand, wondering what had brought her there.

Sue Rainey did not mince matters, but plunged at once into an explanationof the purpose of her visit. From birth she had lived in an atmosphere ofwealth. Although she was not counted a beautiful woman, she had, becauseof her wealth and the charm of her person, been much courted. Sam, who hadtalked briefly with her a half dozen times, had long had a hauntingcuriosity to know more of her personality. As she stood there before himlooking so wonderfully well-kept and confident he thought her baffling andpuzzling.

"The colonel," she began, and then hesitated and smiled. "You, Mr.McPherson, have become a figure in my father's life. He depends upon youvery much. He tells me that he has talked with you concerning a MissLuella London from the theatre, and that you have agreed with him that thecolonel and she should marry."

Sam watched her gravely. A flicker of mirth ran through him, but his facewas grave and disinterested.

"Yes?" he said, looking into her eyes. "Have you met Miss London?"

"I have," answered Sue Rainey. "Have you?"

Sam shook his head.

"She is impossible," declared the colonel's daughter, clutching the gloveheld in her hand and staring at the floor. A flush of anger rose in hercheeks. "She is a crude, hard, scheming woman. She colours her hair, shecries when you look at her, she hasn't even the grace to be ashamed ofwhat she is trying to do, and she has got the colonel into a fix."

Sam looked at the brown of Sue Rainey's cheek and thought the texture ofit beautiful. He wondered why he had heard her called a plain woman. Theheightened colour brought to her face by her anger had, he thought,transfigured her. He liked her direct, forceful way of putting the matterof the colonel's affair, and felt keenly the compliment implied by herhaving come to him. "She has self-respect," he told himself, and felt athrill of pride in her attitude as though it had been inspired by himself.

"I have been hearing of you a great deal," she continued, glancing up athim and smiling. "At our house you are brought to the table with the soupand taken away with the liqueur. My father interlards his table talk, andintroduces all of his wise new axioms on economy and efficiency andgrowth, with a constant procession of 'Sam says' and 'Sam thinks.' And themen who come to the house talk of you also. Teddy Foreman says that atdirectors' meetings they all sit about like children waiting for you totell them what to do."

She threw out her hand with an impatient little gesture. "I am in a hole,"she said. "I might handle my father but I cannot handle that woman."

While she had been talking to him Sam looked past her and out at a window.When her eyes wandered from his face he looked again at her brown firmcheeks. From the beginning of the interview he had been intending to helpher.

"Give me the lady's address," he said; "I'll go look her over."

Three evenings later Sam took Miss Luella London to a midnight supper atone of the town's best restaurants. She knew the motive of his taking her,as he had been quite frank in the few minutes' talk near the stage door ofthe theatre when the engagement was made. As they ate, they talked of theplays at the Chicago theatres, and Sam told her a story of an amateurperformance that had once taken place in the hall over Geiger's drug storein Caxton when he was boy. In the performance Sam had taken the rle of adrummer boy killed on the field of battle by a swaggering villain in agrey uniform, and John Telfer, in the rle of villain, had become so inearnest that, a pistol not exploding at a critical moment, he had chasedSam about the stage trying to hit him with the butt of the weapon whilethe audience roared with delight at the realism of Telfer's rage and atthe frightened boy begging for mercy.

Luella London laughed heartily at Sam's story and then, the coffee beingserved, she fingered the handle of the cup and a shrewd look came into hereyes.

"And now you are a big business man and have come to see me about ColonelRainey," she said.

Sam lighted a cigar.

"Just how much are you counting on this marriage between yourself and thecolonel?" he asked bluntly.

The actress laughed and poured cream into her coffee. A line came and wenton her forehead between her eyes. Sam thought she looked capable.

"I have been thinking of what you told me at the stage door," she said,and a childlike smile played about her lips. "Do you know, Mr. McPherson,I can't just figure you. I can't just see how you get into this. Where areyour credentials, anyway?"

Sam, keeping his eyes upon her face, took a jump into the dark.

"It's this way," he said, "I'm something of an adventurer myself. I flythe black flag. I come from where you do. I had to reach out my hand andtake what I wanted. I do not blame you in the least, but it just happensthat I saw Colonel Tom Rainey first. He is my game and I do not propose tohave you fooling around. I am not bluffing. You have got to get off him."

Leaning forward, he stared at her intently, and then lowered his voice."I've got your record. I know the man you used to live with. He's going tohelp me get you if you do not drop it."

Sitting back in his chair Sam watched her gravely. He had taken the oddchance to win quickly by a bluff and had won. But Luella London was not tobe defeated without a struggle.

"You lie," she cried, half springing from her chair. "Frank has never--"

"Oh yes, Frank has," answered Sam, turning as though to call a waiter; "Iwill have him here in ten minutes if you wish to be shown."

Picking up a fork the woman began nervously picking holes in the tablecloth and a tear appeared upon her cheek. She took a handkerchief from abag that hung hooked over the back of a chair at the side of the table andwiped her eyes.

"All right! All right!" she said, bracing herself, "I'll drop it. Ifyou've dug up Frank Robson you've got me. He'll do anything you say for apiece of money."

For some minutes the two sat in silence. A tired look had come into thewoman's eyes.

"I wish I was a man," she said. "I get whipped at everything I tacklebecause I'm a woman. I'm getting past my money-making days in the theatreand I thought the colonel was fair game."

"He is," answered Sam dispassionately, "but you see I beat you to it. He'smine."

Glancing cautiously about the room, he took a roll of bills from hispocket and began laying them one at a time upon the table.

"Look here," he said, "you've done a good piece of work. You should havewon. For ten years half the society women of Chicago have been trying tomarry their daughters or their sons to the Rainey fortune. They hadeverything to help them, wealth, good looks, and a standing in the world.You have none of these things. How did you do it?

"Anyway," he went on, "I'm not going to see you trimmed. I've got tenthousand dollars here, as good Rainey money as ever was printed. You signthis paper and then put the roll in your purse."

"That's square," said Luella London, signing, and with the light comingback into her eyes.

Sam beckoned to the proprietor of the restaurant whom he knew and had himand a waiter sign as witnesses.

Luella London put the roll of bills into her purse.

"What did you give me that money for when you had me beat anyway?" sheasked.

Sam lighted a fresh cigar and folding the paper put it in his pocket.

"Because I like you and I admire your skill," he said, "and anyway I didnot have you beaten until right now."

They sat studying the people getting up from the tables and going throughthe door to waiting carriages and automobiles, the well-dressed women withassured airs serving Sam's mind to make a contrast for the woman who satwith him.

"I presume you are right about women," he said musingly, "it must be astiff game for you if you like winning on your own hook."

"Winning! We don't win." The lips of the actress drew back showing herwhite teeth. "No woman ever won who tried to play a straight fighting gamefor herself."

Her voice grew tense and the lines upon her forehead reappeared.

"Woman can't stand alone," she went on, "she is a sentimental fool. Shereaches out her hand to some man and that in the end beats her. Why, evenwhen she plays the game as I played it against the colonel some rat of aman like Frank Robson, for whom she has given up everything worth while toa woman, sells her out."

Sam looked at her hand, covered with rings, lying on the table.

"Let's not misunderstand each other," he said quietly, "do not blame Frankfor this. I never knew him. I just imagined him."

A puzzled look came into the woman's eyes and a flush rose in her cheeks.

"You grafter!" she sneered.

Sam called to a passing waiter and ordered a fresh bottle of wine.

"What's the use being sore?" he asked. "It's simple enough. You stakedagainst a better mind. Anyway you have the ten thousand, haven't you?"

Luella reached for her purse.

"I don't know," she said, "I'll look. Haven't you decided to steal it backyet?"

Sam laughed.

"I'm coming to that," he said, "don't hurry me."

For several minutes they sat eyeing each other, and then, with an earnestring in his voice and a smile on his lips, Sam began talking again.

"Look here!" he said, "I'm no Frank Robson and I do not like giving awoman the worst of it. I have been studying you and I can't see yourunning around loose with ten thousand dollars of real money on you. Youdo not fit into the picture and the money will not last a year in yourhands.

"Give it to me," he urged; "let me invest it for you. I'm a winner. I'lldouble it for you in a year."

The actress stared past Sam's shoulder to where a group of young men satabout a table drinking and talking loudly. Sam began telling an anecdoteof an Irish baggage man in Caxton. When he had finished he looked at herand laughed.

"As that shoemaker looked to Jerry Donlin so you, as the colonel's wife,looked to me," he said. "I had to make you get out of my flower bed."

A gleam of resolution came into the wandering eyes of Luella London andshe took the purse from the back of the chair and brought out the roll ofbills.

"I'm a sport," she said, "and I'm going to lay a bet on the best horse Iever saw. You may trim me, but I always would take a chance."

Turning, she called a waiter and, handing him a bill from her purse, threwthe roll on the table.

"Take the pay for the spread and the wine we have had out of that," shesaid, handing him the loose bill and then turning to Sam. "You ought tobeat the world. Anyway your genius gets recognition from me. I pay forthis party and when you see the colonel say good-bye to him for me."

The next day, at his request, Sue Rainey called at the offices of the ArmsCompany and Sam handed her the paper signed by Luella London. It was anagreement on her part to divide with Sam, half and half, any money shemight be able to blackmail out of Colonel Rainey.

The colonel's daughter glanced from the paper to Sam's face.

"I thought so," she said, and a puzzled look came into her eyes. "But I donot understand this. What does this paper do and what did you pay for it?"

"The paper," Sam answered, "puts her in a hole and I paid ten thousanddollars for it."

Sue Rainey laughed and taking a checkbook from her handbag laid it on thedesk and sat down.

"Do you get your half?" she asked.

"I get it all," answered Sam, and then leaning back in his chair launchedinto an explanation. When he had told her of the talk in the restaurantshe sat with the checkbook lying before her and with the puzzled lookstill in her eyes.

Without giving her time for comment, Sam plunged into the midst of whathad been in his mind to say to her.

"The woman will not bother the colonel any more," he declared; "if thatpaper won't hold her something else will. She respects me and she isafraid of me. We had a talk after she had signed the paper and she gave methe ten thousand dollars to invest for her. I promised to double it forher within a year and I want to make good. I want you to double it now.Make the check for twenty thousand."

Sue Rainey wrote the check, making it payable to bearer, and pushed itacross the table.

"I cannot say that I understand yet," she confessed. "Did you also fall inlove with her?"

Sam grinned. He was wondering whether he would be able to get into wordsjust what he wanted to tell her of the actress soldier of fortune. Helooked across the table at her frank grey eyes and then on an impulsedecided that he would tell it straight out as though she had been a man.

"It's like this," he said. "I like ability and good brains and that womanhas them. She isn't a good woman, but nothing in her life has made herwant to be good. All her life she has been going the wrong way, and nowshe wants to get on her feet and squared around. That's what she was afterthe colonel for. She did not want to marry him, she wanted to make himgive her the start she was after. I got the best of her because somewherethere is a snivelling little whelp of a man who has taken all the good andthe fineness out of her and who now stands ready to sell her out for a fewdollars. I imagined there would be such a man when I saw her and I bluffedmy way through to him. But I do not want to whip a woman, even in such anaffair, through the cheapness of some man. I want to do the square thingby her. That's why I asked you to make that check for twenty thousand."

Sue Rainey rose and stood by the desk looking down at him. He was thinkinghow wonderfully clear and honest her eyes.

"And what about the colonel?" she asked. "What will he think of all this?"

Sam walked around the desk and took her hand.

"We'll have to agree not to consider him," he said. "We really did thatyou know when we started this thing. I think we can depend upon MissLondon's putting the finishing touches on the job."

And Miss London did. She sent for Sam a week later and put tweny-fivehundred dollars into his hand.

"That's not to invest for me," she said, "that's for yourself. By theagreement I signed with you we were to split anything I got out of thecolonel. Well, I went light. I only got five thousand dollars."

With the money in his hand Sam stood by the side of a little table in herroom looking at her.

"What did you tell the colonel?" he asked.

"I called him up here to my room last night and lying here in bed I toldhim that I had just discovered I was the victim of an incurable disease. Itold him that within a month I would be in bed for keeps and asked him tomarry me at once and to take me away with him to some quiet place where Icould die in his arms."

Coming over to Sam, Luella London put a hand upon his arm and laughed.

"He began to beg off and make excuses," she went on, "and then I broughtout his letters to me and talked straight. He wilted at once and paid thefive thousand dollars I asked for the letters without a murmur. I mighthave made it fifty and with your talent you ought to get all he has in sixmonths."

Sam shook hands with her and told her of his success in doubling the moneyshe had put into his hands. Then putting the twenty-five hundred dollarsin his pocket he went back to his desk. He did not see her again and when,through a lucky market turn, he had increased the twenty thousand dollarsshe had left with him to twenty-five, he placed it in the hands of a trustcompany for her and forgot the incident. Years later he heard that she wasrunning a fashionable dressmaking establishment in a western city.

And Colonel Tom Rainey, who had for months talked of nothing but factoryefficiency and of what he and young Sam McPherson were going to do in theway of enlarging the business, began the next morning a tirade againstwomen that lasted the rest of his life.

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