Marching Men by Sherwood Anderson
One evening three weeks after the great murder trial McGregor took a long walk in the streets of Chicago and tried to plan out his life. He was troubled and disconcerted by the event that had crowded in upon the heels of his dramatic success in the court room and more than troubled by the fact that his mind constantly played with the dream of having Margaret Ormsby as his wife. In the city he had become a power and instead of the names and the pictures of criminals and keepers of disorderly houses his name and his picture now appeared on the front pages of newspapers. Andrew Leffingwell, the political representative in Chicago of a rich and successful publisher of sensational newspapers, had visited him in his office and had proposed to make him a political figure in the city. Finley a noted criminal lawyer had offered him a partnership. The lawyer, a small smiling man with white teeth, had not asked McGregor for an immediate decision. In a way he had taken the decision for granted. Smiling genially and rolling a cigar across McGregor's desk he had spent an hour telling stories of famous court room triumphs.
"One such triumph is enough to make a man," he declared. "You have no idea how far such a success will carry you. The word of it keeps running through men's minds. A tradition is built up. The remembrance of it acts upon the minds of jurors. Cases are won for you by the mere connection of your name with the case."
McGregor walked slowly and heavily through the streets without seeing the people. In Wabash Avenue near Twenty-third Street he stopped in a saloon and drank beer. The saloon was in a room below the level of the sidewalk and the floor was covered with sawdust. Two half drunken labourers stood by the bar quarrelling. One of the labourers who was a socialist continually cursed the army and his words started McGregor to thinking of the dream he had so long held and that now seemed fading. "I was in the army and I know what I am talking about," declared the socialist. "There is nothing national about the army. It is a privately owned thing. Here it is secretly owned by the capitalists and in Europe by the aristocracy. Don't tell me--I know. The army is made up of bums. If I'm a bum I became one then. You will see fast enough what fellows are in the army if the country is ever caught and drawn into a great war."
Becoming excited the socialist raised his voice and pounded on the bar. "Hell, we don't know ourselves at all," he cried. "We never have been tested. We call ourselves a great nation because we are rich. We are like a fat boy who has had too much pie. Yes sir--that's what we are here in America and as far as our army goes it is a fat boy's plaything. Keep away from it."
McGregor sat in the corner of the saloon and looked about. Men came in and went out at the door. A child carried a pail down the short flight of steps from the street and ran across the sawdust floor. Her voice, thin and sharp, pierced through the babble of men's voices. "Ten cents' worth--give me plenty," she pleaded, raising the pail above her head and putting it on the bar.
The confident smiling face of Finley the lawyer came back into McGregor's mind. Like David Ormsby the successful maker of ploughs the lawyer looked upon men as pawns in a great game and like the ploughmaker his intentions were honourable and his purpose clear. He was intent upon making much of his life, being successful. If he played the game on the side of the criminal that was but a chance. Things had fallen out so. In his mind was something else--the expression of his own purpose.
McGregor rose and went out of the saloon. In the street men stood about in groups. At Thirty-ninth Street a crowd of youths scuffling on the sidewalk pushed against the tall muttering man who passed with his hat in his hand. He began to feel that he was in the midst of something too vast to be moved by the efforts of any one man. The pitiful insignificance of the individual was apparent. As in a long procession the figures of the individuals who had tried to rise out of the ruck of American life passed before him. With a shudder he realised that for the most part the men whose names filled the pages of American history meant nothing. The children who read of their deeds were unmoved. Perhaps they had only increased the disorder. Like the men passing in the street they went across the face of things and disappeared into the darkness.
"Perhaps Finley and Ormsby are right," he whispered. "They get what they can, they have the good sense to know that life runs quickly like a flying bird passing an open window. They know that if a man thinks of anything else he is likely to become another sentimentalist and spend his life being hypnotised by the wagging of his own jaw."
* * * * *
In his wanderings McGregor came to an out-of-door restaurant and garden far out on the south side. The garden had been built for the amusement of the rich and successful. Upon a little platform a band played. Although the garden was walled about it was open to the sky and above the laughing people seated at the tables shone the stars.
McGregor sat alone at a little table on a balcony beneath a shaded light. Below him along a terrace were other tables occupied by men and women. On a platform in the centre of the garden dancers appeared.
McGregor who had ordered a dinner left it untouched. A tall graceful girl, strongly suggestive of Margaret Ormsby, danced upon the platform. With infinite grace her body gave expression to the movements of the dance and like a thing blown by the wind she moved here and there in the arms of her partner, a slender youth with long black hair. In the figure of the dancing woman there was expressed much of the idealism man has sought to materialise in women and McGregor was thrilled by it. A sensualism so delicate that it did not appear to be sensualism began to invade him. With a new hunger he looked forward to the time when he would again see Margaret.
Upon the platform in the garden appeared other dancers. The lights at the tables were turned low. From the darkness laughter arose. McGregor stared about. The people seated at the tables on the terrace caught and held his attention and he began looking sharply at the faces of the men. How cunning they were, these men who had been successful in life. Were they not after all the wise men? Behind the flesh that had grown so thick upon their bones what cunning eyes. There was a game of life and they had played it. The garden was a part of the game. It was beautiful and did not all that was beautiful in the world end by serving them? The arts of men, the thoughts of men, the impulses toward loveliness that came into the minds of men and women, did not all these things work solely to lighten the hours of the successful? The eyes of the men at the tables as they looked at the women who danced were not too greedy. They were filled with assurance. Was it not for them that the dancers turned here and there revealing their grace? If life was a struggle had they not been successful in the struggle?
McGregor arose from the table and left his food untouched. Near the entrance to the gardens he stopped and leaning against a pillar looked again at the scene before him. Upon the platform appeared a whole troupe of women-dancers. They were dressed in many-coloured garments and danced a folk dance. As McGregor watched a light began to creep back into his eyes. The women who now danced were unlike her who had reminded him of Margaret Ormsby. They were short of stature and there was something rugged in their faces. Back and forth across the platform they moved in masses. By their dancing they were striving to convey a message. A thought came to McGregor. "It is the dance of labour," he muttered. "Here in this garden it is corrupted but the note of labour is not lost. There is a hint of it left in these figures who toil even as they dance."
McGregor moved away from the shadows of the pillar and stood, hat in hand, beneath the garden lights waiting as though for a call out of the ranks of the dancers. How furiously they worked. How the bodies twisted and squirmed. Out of sympathy with their efforts sweat appeared on the face of the man who stood watching. "What a storm must be going on just below the surface of labour," he muttered. "Everywhere dumb brutalised men and women must be waiting for something, not knowing what they want. I will stick to my purpose but I will not give up Margaret," he said aloud, turning and half running out of the garden and into the street.
In his sleep that night McGregor dreamed of a new world, a world of soft phrases and gentle hands that stilled the rising brute in man. It was a world-old dream, the dream out of which such women as Margaret Ormsby have been created. The long slender hands he had seen lying on the desk in the settlement house now touched his hands. Uneasily he rolled about in bed and desire came to him so that he awakened. On the Boulevard people still passed up and down. McGregor arose and stood in the darkness by the window of his room watching. A theatre had just spat forth its portion of richly dressed men and women and when he had opened the window the voices of the women came clear and sharp to his ears.
The distracted man stared into the darkness and his blue eyes were troubled. The vision of the disordered and disorganised band of miners marching silently in the wake of his mother's funeral into whose lives he by some supreme effort was to bring order was disturbed and shattered by the more definite and lovely vision that had come to him.