Windy McPherson's Son

by Sherwood Anderson

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Book III - Chapter 6

One morning, at the end of his second year of wandering, Sam got out ofhis bed in a cold little hotel in a mining village in West Virginia,looked at the miners, their lamps in their caps, going through the dimlylighted streets, ate a portion of leathery breakfast cakes, paid his billat the hotel, and took a train for New York. He had definitely abandonedthe idea of getting at what he wanted through wandering about the countryand talking to chance acquaintances by the wayside and in villages, andhad decided to return to a way of life more befitting his income.

He felt that he was not by nature a vagabond, and that the call of thewind and the sun and the brown road was not insistent in his blood. Thespirit of Pan did not command him, and although there were certain springmornings of his wandering days that were like mountain tops in hisexperience of life, mornings when some strong, sweet feeling ran throughthe trees, and the grass, and the body of the wanderer, and when the callof life seemed to come shouting and inviting down the wind, filling himwith delight of the blood in his body and the thoughts in his brain, yetat bottom and in spite of these days of pure joy he was, after all, a manof the towns and the crowds. Caxton and South Water Street and LaSalleStreet had all left their marks on him, and so, throwing his canvas jacketinto a corner of the room in the West Virginia hotel, he returned to thehaunts of his kind.

In New York he went to an uptown club where he owned a membership and intothe grill where he found at breakfast an actor acquaintance named Jackson.

Sam dropped into a chair and looked about him. He remembered a visit hehad made there some years before with Webster and Crofts and felt againthe quiet elegance of the surroundings.

"Hello, Moneymaker," said Jackson, heartily. "Heard you had gone to anunnery."

Sam laughed and began ordering a breakfast that made Jackson's eyes openwith astonishment.

"You, Mr. Elegance, would not understand a man's spending month aftermonth in the open air seeking a good body and an end in life and thensuddenly changing his mind and coming back to a place like this," heobserved.

Jackson laughed and lighted a cigarette.

"How little you know me," he said. "I would live my life in the open butthat I am a mighty good actor and have just finished another long New Yorkrun. What are you going to do now that you are thin and brown? Will you goback to Morrison and Prince and money making?"

Sam shook his head and looked at the quiet elegance of the man before him.How satisfied and happy he looked.

"I am going to try living among the rich and the leisurely," he said.

"They are a rotten crew," Jackson assured him, "and I am taking a nighttrain for Detroit. Come with me. We will talk things over."

On the train that night they got into talk with a broad-shouldered old manwho told them of a hunting trip on which he was bound.

"I am going to sail from Seattle," he said, "and go everywhere and hunteverything. I am going to shoot the head off of every big animal kind ofthing left in the world and then come back to New York and stay thereuntil I die."

"I will go with you," said Sam, and in the morning left Jackson at Detroitand continued westward with his new acquaintance.

For months Sam travelled and shot with the old man, a vigorous, bighearted old fellow who, having become wealthy through an early investmentin stock of the Standard Oil Company, devoted his life to his lusty,primitive passion for shooting and killing. They went on lion hunts,elephant hunts and tiger hunts, and when on the west coast of Africa Samtook a boat for London, his companion walked up and down the beach smokingblack cheroots and declaring the fun was only half over and that Sam was afool to go.

After the year of the hunt royal Sam spent another year living the life ofa gentleman of wealth and leisure in London, New York, and Paris. He wenton automobile trips, fished and loafed along the shores of northern lakes,canoed through Canada with a writer of nature books, and sat about clubsand fashionable hotels listening to the talk of the men and women of thatworld.

Late one afternoon in the spring of the year he went to the village on theHudson River where Sue had taken a house, and almost immediately saw her.For an hour he followed, watching her quick, active little figure as shewalked through the village streets, and wondering what life had come tomean to her, but when, turning suddenly, she would have come face to facewith him, he hurried down a side street and took a train to the cityfeeling that he could not face her empty-handed and ashamed after theyears.

In the end he started drinking again, not moderately now, but steadily andalmost continuously. One night in Detroit, with three young men from hishotel, he got drunk and was, for the first time since his parting withSue, in the company of women. Four of them, met in some restaurant, gotinto an automobile with Sam and the three young men and rode about townlaughing, waving bottles of wine in the air, and calling to passers-by inthe street. They wound up in a diningroom in a place at the edge of town,where the party spent hours around a long table, drinking, and singingsongs.

One of the girls sat on Sam's lap and put an arm about his neck.

"Give me some money, rich man," she said.

Sam looked at her closely.

"Who are you?" he asked.

She began explaining that she was a clerk in a downtown store and that shehad a lover who drove a laundry wagon.

"I go on these bats to get money to buy good clothes," she said frankly,"but if Tim saw me here he would kill me."

Putting a bill into her hand Sam went downstairs and getting into ataxicab drove back to his hotel.

After that night he went frequently on carouses of this kind. He was in akind of prolonged stupor of inaction, talked of trips abroad which he didnot take, bought a huge farm in Virginia which he never visited, planned areturn to business which he did not execute, and month after monthcontinued to waste his days. He would get out of bed at noon and begindrinking steadily. As the afternoon passed he grew merry and talkative,calling men by their first names, slapping chance acquaintances on theback, playing pool or billiards with skilful young men intent upon gain.In the early summer he got in with a party of young men from New York andwith them spent months in sheer idle waste of time. Together they drovehigh-powered automobiles on long trips, drank, quarrelled, and went onboard a yacht to carouse, alone or with women. At times Sam would leavehis companions and spend days riding through the country on fast trains,sitting for hours in silence looking out of the window at the passingcountry and wondering at his endurance of the life he led. For some monthshe carried with him a young man whom he called a secretary and paid alarge salary for his ability to tell stories and sing clever songs, onlyto discharge him suddenly for telling a foul tale that reminded Sam ofanother tale told by the stoop-shouldered old man in the office of Ed'shotel in the Illinois town.

From being silent and taciturn, as during the months of his wanderings,Sam became morose and combative. Staying on and on in the empty, aimlessway of life he had adopted he yet felt that there was for him a right wayof living and wondered at his continued inability to find it. He lost hisnative energy, grew fat and coarse of body, was pleased for hours bylittle things, read no books, lay for hours in bed drunk and talkingnonsense to himself, ran about the streets swearing vilely, grewhabitually coarse in thought and speech, sought constantly a lower andmore vulgar set of companions, was brutal and ugly with attendants abouthotels and clubs where he lived, hated life, but ran like a coward tosanitariums and health resorts at the wagging of a doctor's head.

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