Marching Men by Sherwood Anderson
All through the early months of that year in Chicago, rumours of a new and not understandable movement among labourers ran about among men of affairs. In a way the labourers understood the undercurrent of terror their marching together had inspired and like the advertising man dancing on the sidewalk before the grocery were made happy by it. Grim satisfaction dwelt in their hearts. Remembering their boyhoods and the creeping terror that invaded their fathers' houses in times of depression they were glad to spread terror among the homes of the rich and the well-to-do. For years they had been going through life blindly, striving to forget age and poverty. Now they felt that life had a purpose, that they were marching toward some end. When in the past they had been told that power dwelt in them they had not believed. "He is not to be trusted," thought the man at the machine looking at the man at work at the next machine. "I have heard him talk and at bottom he is a fool."
Now the man at the machine did not think of his brother at the next machine. In his dreams at night he was beginning to have a new vision. Power had breathed its message into his brain. Of a sudden he saw himself as a part of a giant walking in the world. "I am like a drop of blood running through the veins of labour," he whispered to himself. "In my own way I am adding strength to the heart and the brain of labour. I have become a part of this thing that has begun to move. I will not talk but will wait. If this marching is the thing then I will march. Though I am weary at the end of the day that shall not stop me. Many times I have been weary and was alone. Now I am a part of something vast. This I know, that a consciousness of power has crept into my brain and although I be persecuted I shall not surrender what I have gained."
In the offices of the plough trust a meeting of men of affairs was called. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the movement going on among the workers. At the plough works it had broken out. No more at evening did the men shuffle along, like a disorderly mob but marched in companies along the brick-paved street that ran by the factory door.
At the meeting David Ormsby had been as always quiet and self- possessed. A halo of kindly intent hung over him and when a banker, one of the directors of the company, had finished a speech he arose and walked up and down, his hands thrust into his trousers pockets. The banker was a fat man with thin brown hair and delicate hands. As he talked he held a pair of yellow gloves and beat with them on a long table at the centre of the room. The soft thump of the gloves upon the table made a chorus to the things he had to say. David motioned for him to be seated. "I will myself go to see this McGregor," he said, walking across the room and putting an arm about the shoulder of the banker. "Perhaps there is as you say a new and terrible danger here but I do not think so. For thousands, no doubt for millions of years, the world has gone on its way and I do not think it is to be stopped now.
"It has been my fortune to see and to know this McGregor," added David smiling at the others in the room. "He is a man and not a Joshua to make the sun stand still."
In the office in Van Buren Street, David, the grey and confident, stood before the desk at which sat McGregor. "We will get out of here if you do not mind," he said. "I want to talk to you and I would not like being interrupted. I have a fancy that we talk out of doors."
The two men went in a street car to Jackson Park and, forgetting to dine, walked for an hour along the paths under the trees. The wind from the lake had chilled the air and the park was deserted.
They went to stand on a pier that ran out into the lake. On the pier David tried to begin the talk that was the object of their being together but felt that the wind and the water that beat against the piling of the pier made talk too difficult. Although he could not have told why, he was relieved by the necessity of delay. Into the park they went again and found a seat upon a bench facing a lagoon.
In the presence of the silent McGregor David felt suddenly embarrassed and awkward. "By what right do I question him?" he asked himself and in his mind could find no answer. A half dozen times he started to say what he had come to say but stopped and his talk ran off into trivialities. "There are men in the world you have not taken into consideration," he said finally, forcing himself to begin. With a laugh he went on, relieved that the silence had been broken. "You see the very inner secret of strong men has been missed by you and others."
David Ormsby looked sharply at McGregor. "I do not believe that you believe we are after money, we men of affairs. I trust you see beyond that. We have our purpose and we keep to our purpose quietly and doggedly."
Again David looked at the silent figure sitting in the dim light and again his mind ran out, striving to penetrate the silence. "I am not a fool and perhaps I know that the movement you have started among the workers is something new. There is power in it as in all great ideas. Perhaps I think there is power in you. Why else should I be here?"
Again David laughed uncertainly. "In a way I am in sympathy with you," he said. "Although all through my life I have served money I have not been owned by it. You are not to suppose that men like me have not something beyond money in mind."
The old plough maker looked away over McGregor's shoulder to where the leaves of the trees shook in the wind from the lake. "There have been men and great leaders who have understood the silent competent servants of wealth," he said half petulantly. "I want you to understand these men. I should like to see you become such a one yourself--not for the wealth it would bring but because in the end you would thus serve all men. You would get at truth thus. The power that is in you would be conserved and used more intelligently."
"To be sure, history has taken little or no account of the men of whom I speak. They have passed through life unnoticed, doing great work quietly."
The plough maker paused. Although McGregor had said nothing the older man felt that the interview was not going as it should. "I should like to know what you have in mind, what in the end you hope to gain for yourself or for these men," he said somewhat sharply. "There is after all no point to our beating about the bush."
McGregor said nothing. Arising from the bench he began again to walk along the path with Ormsby at his side.
"The really strong men of the world have had no place in history," declared Ormsby bitterly. "They have not asked that. They were in Rome and in Germany in the time of Martin Luther but nothing is said of them. Although they do not mind the silence of history they would like other strong men to understand. The march of the world is a greater thing than the dust raised by the heels of some few workers walking through the streets and these men are responsible for the march of the world. You are making a mistake. I invite you to become one of us. If you plan to upset things you may get yourself into history but you will not really count. What you are trying to do will not work. You will come to a bad end."
When the two men emerged from the park the older man had again the feeling that the interview had not been a success. He was sorry. The evening he felt had marked for him a failure and he was not accustomed to failures. "There is a wall here that I cannot penetrate," he thought.
Along the front of the park beneath a grove of trees they walked in silence. McGregor seemed not to have heard the words addressed to him. When they came to where a long row of vacant lots faced the park he stopped and stood leaning against a tree to look away into the park, lost in thought.
David Ormsby also became silent. He thought of his youth in the little village plough factory, of his efforts to get on in the world, of the long evenings spent reading books and trying to understand the movements of men.
"Is there an element in nature and in youth that we do not understand or that we lose sight of?" he asked. "Are the efforts of the patient workers of the world always to be abortive? Can some new phase of life arise suddenly upsetting all of our plans? Do you, can you, think of men like me as but part of a vast whole? Do you deny to us individuality, the right to stand forth, the right to work things out and to control?"
The ploughmaker looked at the huge figure standing beside the tree. Again he was irritated and kept lighting cigars which after two or three puffs he threw away. In the bushes at the back of the bench insects began to sing. The wind coming now in gentle gusts swayed slowly the branches of the trees overhead.
"Is there an eternal youth in the world, a state out of which men pass unknowingly, a youth that forever destroys, tearing down what has been built?" he asked. "Are the mature lives of strong men of so little account? Have you like the empty fields that bask in the sun in the summer the right to remain silent in the presence of men who have had thoughts and have tried to put their thoughts into deeds?"
Still saying nothing McGregor pointed with his finger along the road that faced the park. From a side street a body of men swung about a corner, coming with long strides toward the two. As they passed beneath a street lamp that swung gently in the wind their faces flashing in and out of the light seemed to be mocking David Ormsby. For a moment anger burned in him and then something, perhaps the rhythm of the moving mass of men, brought a gentler mood. The men swinging past turned another corner and disappeared beneath the structure of an elevated railroad.
The ploughmaker walked away from McGregor. Something in the interview, terminating thus with, the presence of the marching figures had he felt unmanned him. "After all there is youth and the hope of youth. What he has in mind may work," he thought as he climbed aboard a street car.
In the car David put his head out at the window and looked at the long line of apartment buildings that lined the streets. He thought again of his own youth and of the evenings in the Wisconsin village when, himself a youth, he went with other young men singing and marching in the moonlight.
In a vacant lot he again saw a body of the Marching Men moving back and forth and responding quickly to the commands given by a slender young man who stood on the sidewalk beneath a street lamp and held a stick in his hand.
In the car the grey-haired man of affairs put his head down upon the back of the seat in front. Half unconscious of his own thoughts his mind began to dwell upon the figure of his daughter. "Had I been Margaret I should not have let him go. No matter what the cost I should have clung to the man," he muttered.