Poor White by Sherwood Anderson
If many things had happened to Clara Butterworth in the three years since that day when John May so rudely tripped her first hesitating girlish attempt to run out to life, things had also happened to the people she had left behind in Bidwell. In so short a space of time her father, his business associate Steve Hunter, Ben Peeler the town carpenter, Joe Wainsworth the harness maker, almost every man and woman in town had become something different in his nature from the man or woman bearing the same name she had known in her girlhood.
Ben Peeler was forty years old when Clara went to Columbus to school. He was a tall, slender, stoop-shouldered man who worked hard and was much respected by his fellow townsmen. Almost any afternoon he might have been seen going through Main Street, wearing his carpenter's apron and with a carpenter's pencil stuck under his cap and balanced on his ear. He went into Oliver Hall's hardware store and came out with a large package of nails under his arm. A farmer who was thinking of building a new barn stopped him in front of the post-office and for a half hour the two men talked of the project. Ben put on his glasses, took the pencil out of his cap and made some notation on the back of the package of nails. "I'll do a little figuring; then I'll talk things over with you," he said. During the spring, summer and fall Ben had always employed another carpenter and an apprentice, but when Clara came back to town he was employing four gangs of six men each and had two foremen to watch the work and keep it moving, while his son, who in other times would also have been a carpenter, had become a salesman, wore fancy vests and lived in Chicago. Ben was making money and for two years had not driven a nail or held a saw in his hand. He had an office in a frame building beside the New York Central tracks, south of Main Street, and employed a book-keeper and a stenographer. In addition to carpentry he had embarked in another business. Backed by Gordon Hart, he had become a lumber dealer and bought and sold lumber under the firm name of Peeler and Hart. Almost every day cars of lumber were unloaded and stacked under sheds in the yard back of his office. He was no longer satisfied with his income as a workman but, under the influence of Gordon Hart, demanded also a swinging profit on the building materials. Ben now drove about town in a vehicle called a buckboard and spent the entire day hurrying from job to job. He had no time now to stop for a half hour's gossip with a prospective builder of a barn, and did not come to loaf in Birdie Spinks' drug-store at the end of the day. In the evening he went to the lumber office and Gordon Hart came over from the bank. The two men figured on jobs to be built, rows of workingmen's houses, sheds alongside one of the new factories, large frame houses for the superintendents and other substantial men of the town's new enterprises. In the old days Ben had been glad to go occasionally into the country on a barn-building job. He had liked the country food, the gossip with the farmer and his men at the noon hour and the drive back and forth to town, mornings and evenings. While he was in the country he managed to make a deal for his winter potatoes, hay for his horse, and perhaps a barrel of cider to drink on winter evenings. Now he had no time to think of such things. When a farmer came to see him he shook his head. "Get some one else to figure on your job," he advised. "You'll save money by getting a barn-building carpenter. I can't bother. I have too many houses to build." Ben and Gordon sometimes worked in the lumber office until midnight. On warm still nights the sweet smell of new-cut boards filled the air of the yard and crept in through the open windows, but the two men, intent on their figures, did not notice. In the early evening one or two teams came back to the yard to finish hauling lumber to a job where the men were to work on the next day. The voices of the men, talking and singing as they loaded their wagons, broke the silence. Later the wagons loaded high with boards went creaking away. When the two men grew tired and sleepy, they locked the office and walked through the yard to the driveway that led to a residence street. Ben was nervous and irritable. One evening they found three men, sleeping on a pile of boards in the yard, and drove them out. It gave both men something to think about. Gordon Hart went home and before he slept made up his mind that he would not let another day go by without getting the lumber in the yard more heavily insured. Ben had not handled affairs long enough to come quickly to so sensible a decision. All night he rolled and tumbled about in his bed. "Some tramp with his pipe will set the place afire," he thought. "I'll lose all the money I've made." For a long time he did not think of the simple expedient of hiring a watchman to drive sleepy and penniless wanderers away, and charging enough more for his lumber to cover the additional expense. He got out of bed and dressed, thinking he would get his shotgun out of the barn and go back to the yard and spend the night. Then he undressed and got into bed again. "I can't work all day and spend my nights down there," he thought resentfully. When at last he slept, he dreamed of sitting in the lumber yard in the darkness with the gun in his hand. A man came toward him and he discharged the gun and killed the man. With the inconsistency common to the physical aspect of dreams, the darkness passed away and it was daylight. The man he had thought dead was not quite dead. Although the whole side of his head was torn away, he still breathed. His mouth opened and closed convulsively. A dreadful illness took possession of the carpenter. He had an elder brother who had died when he was a boy, but the face of the man on the ground was the face of his brother. Ben sat up in bed and shouted. "Help, for God's sake, help! It's my own brother. Don't you see, it is Harry Peeler?" he cried. His wife awoke and shook him. "What's the matter, Ben," she asked anxiously. "What's the matter?" "It was a dream," he said, and let his head drop wearily on the pillow. His wife went to sleep again, but he stayed awake the rest of the night. When on the next morning Gordon Hart suggested the insurance idea, he was delighted. "That settles it of course," he said to himself. "It's simple enough, you see. That settles everything."
In his shop on Main Street Joe Wainsworth had plenty to do after the boom came to Bidwell. Many teams were employed in the hauling of building materials; loads of paving brick were being carted from cars to where they were to be laid on Main Street; and teams hauled earth from where the new Main Street sewer was being dug and from the freshly dug cellars of houses. Never had there been so many teams employed and so much repairing of harness to do. Joe's apprentice had left him, had been carried off by the rush of young men to the places where the boom had arrived earlier. For a year Joe had worked alone and had then employed a journeyman harness maker who had drifted into town drunk and who got drunk every Saturday evening. The new man was an odd character. He had a faculty for making money, but seemed to care little about making it for himself. Within a week after he came to town he knew every one in Bidwell. His name was Jim Gibson and he had no sooner come to work for Joe than a contest arose between them. The contest concerned the question of who was to run the shop. For a time Joe asserted himself. He growled at the men who brought harness in to be repaired, and refused to make promises as to when the work would be done. Several jobs were taken away and sent to nearby towns. Then Jim Gibson asserted himself. When one of the teamsters who had come to town with the boom came with a heavy work harness on his shoulder, he went to meet him. The harness was thrown with a rattling crash on the floor and Jim examined it. "Oh, the devil, that's an easy job," he declared. "We'll fix that up in a jiffy. You can have it to-morrow afternoon if you want it."
For a time Jim made it a practice to come to where Joe stood at work at his bench and consult with him regarding prices to be charged for work. Then he returned to the customer and charged more than Joe had suggested. After a few weeks he slopped consulting Joe at all. "You're no good," he exclaimed, laughing. "What you're doing in business I don't know." The old harness maker stared at him for a minute and then went to his bench and to work. "Business," he muttered, "what do I know about business? I'm a harness maker, I am."
After Jim came to work for him, Joe made in one year almost twice the amount he had lost in the failure of the plant-setting machine factory. The money was not invested in stock of any factory but lay in the bank. Still he was not happy. All day Jim Gibson, whom Joe had never dared tell the tales of his triumph as a workman and to whom he did not brag as he had formerly done to his apprentices, talked of his ability to get the best of customers. He had, he declared, managed, in the last place he had worked before he came to Bidwell, to sell a good many sets of harness as handmade that were in reality made in a factory. "It isn't like the old times," he said, "things are changing. We used to sell harness only to farmers or to teamsters right in our towns who owned their own horses. We always knew the men we did business with and always would know them. Now it's different. The men now, you see, who are here in this town to work--well, next month or next year they'll be somewhere else. All they care about you and me is how much work they can get for a dollar. Of course they talk big about honesty and all that stuff, but that's only their guff. They think maybe we'll fall for it and they'll get more for the money they pay out. That's what they're up to."
Jim tried hard to make his version of how the shop should be run clear to his employer. Every day he talked for hours regarding the matter. He tried to get Joe to put in a stock of factory-made harness and when he was unsuccessful was angry. "O the devil," he cried. "Can't you understand what you're up against? The factories are bound to win. For why? Look here, there can't any one but some old moss-back who has worked around horses all his life tell the difference between hand- and machine-sewed harness. The machine-made can be sold cheaper. It looks all right and the factories are able to put on a lot of do-dads. That catches the young fellows. It's good business. Quick sales and profits, that's the story." Jim laughed and then said something that made the shivers run up and down Joe's back. "If I had the money and was steady I'd start a shop in this town and show you up," he said. "I'd pretty near run you out. The trouble with me is I wouldn't stick to business if I had the money. I tried it once and made money; then when I got a little ahead I shut up the shop and went on a big drunk. I was no good for a month. When I work for some one else I'm all right. I get drunk on Saturdays and that satisfies me. I like to work and scheme for money, but it ain't any good to me when I get it and never will be. What I want you to do here is to shut your eyes and give me a chance. That's all I ask. Just shut your eyes and give me a chance."
All day Joe sat astride his harness maker's horse, and when he was not at work, stared out through a dirty window into an alleyway and tried to understand Jim's idea of what a harness maker's attitude should be toward his customers, now that new times had come. He felt very old. Although Jim was as old in years lived as himself, he seemed very young. He began to be a little afraid of the man. He could not understand why the money, nearly twenty-five hundred dollars he had put in the bank during the two years Jim had been with him, seemed so unimportant and the twelve hundred dollars he had earned slowly after twenty years of work seemed so important. As there was much repair work always waiting to be done in the shop, he did not go home to lunch, but every day carried a few sandwiches to the shop in his pocket. At the noon hour, when Jim had gone to his boarding-house, he was alone, and if no one came in, he was happy. It seemed to him the best time of the day. Every few minutes he went to the front door to look out. The quiet Main Street, on which his shop had faced since he was a young man just come home from his trade adventures, and which had always been such a sleepy place at the noon hour in the summer, was now like a battle-field from which an army had retreated. A great gash had been cut in the street where the new sewer was to be laid. Swarms of workingmen, most of them strangers, had come into Main Street from the factories by the railroad tracks. They stood in groups in lower Main Street by Wymer's tobacco store. Some of them had gone into Ben Head's saloon for a glass of beer and came out wiping their mustaches. The men who were digging the sewer, foreign men, Italians he had heard, sat on the banks of dry earth in the middle of the street. Their dinner pails were held between their legs and as they ate they talked in a strange language. He remembered the day he had come to Bidwell with his bride, the girl he had met on his trade journey and who had waited for him until he had mastered his trade and had a shop of his own. He had gone to New York State to get her and had arrived back in Bidwell at noon on just such another summer day. There had not been many people about, but every one had known him. On that day every one had been his friend. Birdie Spinks rushed out of his drug store and had insisted that he and his bride go home to dinner with him. Every one had wanted them to come to his house for dinner. It had been a happy, joyous time.
The harness maker had always been sorry his wife had borne him no children. He had said nothing and had always pretended he did not want them and now, at last, he was glad they had not come. He went back to his bench and to work, hoping Jim would be late in getting back from lunch. The shop was very quiet after the activity of the street that had so bewildered him. It was, he thought, like a retreat, almost like a church when you went to the door and looked in on a week day. He had done that once and had liked the empty silent church better than he did a church with a preacher and a lot of people in it. He had told his wife about the matter. "It was like the shop in the evening when I've got a job of work done and the boy has gone home," he had said.
The harness maker looked out through the open door of his shop and saw Tom Butterworth and Steve Hunter going along Main Street, engaged in earnest conversation. Steve had a cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth and Tom had on a fancy vest. He thought again of the money he had lost in the plant-setting machine venture and was furious. The noon hour was spoiled and he was almost glad when Jim came back from his mid-day meal.
The position in which he found himself in the shop amused Jim Gibson. He chuckled to himself as he waited on the customers who came in, and as he worked at the bench. One day when he came back along Main Street from the noon meal, he decided to try an experiment. "If I lose my job what difference does it make?" he asked himself. He stopped at a saloon and had a drink of whisky. When he got to the shop he began to scold his employer, to threaten him as though he were his apprentice. Swaggering suddenly in, he walked to where Joe was at work and slapped him roughly on the back. "Come, cheer up, old daddy," he said. "Get the gloom out of you. I'm tired of your muttering and growling at things."
The employee stepped back and watched his employer. Had Joe ordered him out of the shop he would not have been surprised, and as he said later when he told Ben Head's bartender of the incident, would not have cared very much. The fact that he did not care, no doubt saved him. Joe was frightened. For just a moment he was so angry he could not speak, and then he remembered that if Jim left him he would have to wait on trade and would have to dicker with the strange teamsters regarding the repairing of the work harness. Bending over the bench he worked for an hour in silence. Then, instead of demanding an explanation of the rude familiarity with which Jim had treated him, he began to explain. "Now look here, Jim," he pleaded, "don't you pay any attention to me. You do as you please here. Don't you pay any attention to me."
Jim said nothing, but a smile of triumph lit up his face. Late in the afternoon he left the shop. "If any one comes in, tell them to wait. I won't be gone very long," he said insolently. Jim went into Ben Head's saloon and told the bartender how his experiment had come out. The story was later told from store to store up and down the Main Street of Bidwell. "He was like a boy who has been caught with his hand in the jam pot," Jim explained. "I can't think what's the matter with him. Had I been in his, shoes I would have kicked Jim Gibson out of the shop. He told me not to pay any attention to him and to run the shop as I pleased. Now what do you think of that? Now what do you think of that for a man who owns his own shop and has money in the bank? I tell you, I don't know how it is, but I don't work for Joe any more. He works for me. Some day you come in the shop casual-like and I'll boss him around for you. I'm telling you I don't know how it is that it come about, but I'm the boss of the shop as sure as the devil."
All of Bidwell was looking at itself and asking itself questions. Ed Hall, who had been a carpenter's apprentice earning but a few dollars a week with his master, Ben Peeler, was now foreman in the corn-cutter factory and received a salary of twenty-five dollars every Saturday night. It was more money than he had ever dreamed of earning in a week. On pay nights he dressed himself in his Sunday clothes and had himself shaved at Joe Trotter's barber shop. Then he went along Main Street, fingering the money in his pocket and half fearing he would suddenly awaken and find it all a dream. He went into Wymer's tobacco store to get a cigar, and old Claude Wymer came to wait on him. On the second Saturday evening after he got his new position, the tobacconist, a rather obsequious man, called him Mr. Hall. It was the first time such a thing had happened and it upset him a little. He laughed and made a joke of it. "Don't get high and mighty," he said, and turned to wink at the men loafing in the shop. Later he thought about the matter and was sorry he had not accepted the new title without protest. "Well, I'm foreman, and a lot of the young fellows I've always known and fooled around with will be working under me," he told himself. "I can't be getting thick with them."
Ed walked along the street feeling very keenly the importance of his new place in the community. Other young fellows in the factory were getting a dollar and a half a day. At the end of the week he got twenty-five dollars, almost three times as much. The money was an indication of superiority. There could be no doubt about that. Ever since he had been a boy he had heard older men speak respectfully of men who possessed money. "Get on in the world," they said to young men, when they talked seriously. Among themselves they did not pretend that they did not want money. "It's money makes the mare go," they said.
Down Main Street to the New York Central tracks Ed went, and then turned out of the street and disappeared into the station. The evening train had passed and the place was deserted. He went into the dimly lighted waiting-room. An oil lamp, turned low, and fastened by a bracket to the wall made a little circle of light in a corner. The room was like a church in the early morning of a wintry day, cold and still. He went hurriedly to the light, and taking the roll of money from his pocket, counted it. Then he went out of the room and along the station platform almost to Main Street, but was not satisfied. On an impulse he returned to the waiting room again and, late in the evening on his way home, he stopped there for a final counting of the money before he went to bed.
Peter Fry was a blacksmith and had a son who was clerk in the Bidwell Hotel. He was a tall young fellow with curly yellow hair and watery blue eyes and smoked cigarettes, a habit that was an offense to the nostrils of the men of his times. His name was Jacob, but he was called in derision Fizzy Fry. The young man's mother was dead and he got his meals at the hotel and at night slept on a cot in the hotel office. He had a passion for gayly colored neckties and waistcoats and was forever trying unsuccessfully to attract the attention of the town girls. When he and his father met on the street, they did not speak to each other. Sometimes the father stopped and stared at his son. "How did I happen to be the father of a thing like that?" he muttered aloud.
The blacksmith was a square-shouldered, heavily built man with a bushy black beard and a tremendous voice. When he was a young man he sang in the Methodist choir, but after his wife died he stopped going to church and began putting his voice to other uses. He smoked a short clay pipe that had become black with age and that at night could not be seen against his black curly beard. Smoke rolled out of his mouth in clouds and appeared to come up out of his belly. He was like a volcanic mountain and was called, by the men who loafed in Birdie Spinks' drug store, Smoky Pete.
Smoky Pete was in more ways than one like a mountain given to eruptions. He did not get drunk, but after his wife died he got into the habit of having two or three drinks of whisky every evening. The whisky inflamed his mind and he strode up and down Main Street, ready to quarrel with any one his eye lighted upon. He got into the habit of roaring at his fellow citizens and making ribald jokes at their expense. Every one was a little afraid of him and he became in an odd way the guardian of the town morals. Sandy Ferris, a house painter, became a drunkard and did not support his family. Smoky Pete abused him in the public streets and in the sight of all men. "You cheap thing, warming your belly with whisky while jour children freeze, why don't you try being a man?" he shouted at the house painter, who staggered into a side street and went to sleep off his intoxication in a stall in Clyde Neighbors' livery barn. The blacksmith kept at the painter until the whole town took up his cry and the saloons became ashamed to accept his custom. He was forced to reform.
The blacksmith did not, however, discriminate in the choice of victims. His was not the spirit of the reformer. A merchant of Bidwell, who had always been highly respected and who was an elder in his church, went one evening to the county seat and there got into the company of a notorious woman known throughout the county as Nell Hunter. The two went into a little room at the back of a saloon and were seen by two Bidwell young men who had gone to the county seat for an evening of adventure. When the merchant, named Pen Beck, realized he had been seen, he was afraid the tale of his indiscretion would be carried to his home town, and left the woman to join the young men. He was not a drinking man, but began at once to buy drinks for his companions. The three got very drunk and drove home together late at night in a rig the young men had hired for the occasion from Clyde Neighbors. On the way the merchant kept trying to explain his presence in the company of the woman. "Don't say anything about it," he urged. "It would be misunderstood. I have a friend whose son has been taken in by the woman. I was trying to get her to let him alone."
The two young men were delighted that they had caught the merchant off his guard. "It's all right," they assured him. "Be a good fellow and we won't tell your wife or the minister of your church." When they had all the drinks they could carry, they got the merchant into the buggy and began to whip the horse. They had driven half way to Bidwell and all of them had fallen into a drunken sleep, when the horse became frightened at something in the road and ran away. The buggy was overturned and they were all thrown into the road. One of the young men had an arm broken and Pen Beck's coat was almost torn in two. He paid the young man's doctor's bill and settled with Clyde Neighbors for the damage to the buggy.
For a long time the story of the merchant's adventure did not leak out, and when it did, but a few intimate friends of the young men knew it. Then it reached the ears of Smoky Pete. On the day he heard it he could hardly bear to wait until evening came. He hurried to Ben Head's saloon, had two drinks of whisky and then went to stand with the loafers before Birdie Spinks' drug store. At half past seven Pen Beck turned into Main Street from Cherry Street, where he lived. When he was more than three blocks away from the crowd of men before the drug store, Smoky Pete's roaring voice began to question him. "Well, Penny, my lad, so you went for a night among the ladies?" he shouted. "You've been fooling around with my girl, Nell Hunter, over at the county seat. I'd like to know what you mean. You'll have to make an explanation to me."
The merchant stopped and stood on the sidewalk, unable to decide whether to face his tormentor or flee. It was just at the quiet time of the evening when the housewives of the town had finished their evening's work and stood resting by the kitchen doors. It seemed to Pen Beck that Smoky Pete's voice could be heard for a mile. He decided to face it out and if necessary to fight the blacksmith. As he came hurriedly toward the group before the drug store, Smoky Pete's voice took up the story of the merchant's wild night. He stepped out from the men in front of the store and seemed to be addressing himself to the whole street. Clerks, merchants, and customers rushed out of the stores. "Well," he cried, "so you made a night of it with my girl Nell Hunter. When you sat with her in the back room of the saloon you didn't know I was there. I was hidden under a table. If you'd done anything more than bite her on the neck I'd have come out and called you to time."
Smoky Pete broke into a roaring laugh and waved his arms to the people gathered in the street and wondering what it was all about. It was for him one of the really delicious spots of his life. He tried to explain to the people what he was talking about. "He was with Nell Hunter in the back room of a saloon over at the county seat," he shouted. "Edgar Duncan and Dave Oldham saw him there. He came home with them and the horse ran away. He didn't commit adultery. I don't want you to think that happened. All that happened was he bit my best girl, Nell Hunter, on the neck. That's what makes me so mad. I don't like to have her bitten by him. She is my girl and belongs to me."
The blacksmith, forerunner of the modern city newspaper reporter in his love of taking the center of the stage in order to drag into public sight the misfortunes of his fellows, did not finish his tirade. The merchant, white with anger, rushed up and struck him a blow on the chest with his small and rather fat fist. The blacksmith knocked him into the gutter and later, when he was arrested, went proudly off to the office of the town mayor and paid his fine.
It was said by the enemies of Smoky Pete that he had not taken a bath for years. He lived alone in a small frame house at the edge of town. Behind his house was a large field. The house itself was unspeakably dirty. When the factories came to town, Tom Butterworth and Steve Hunter bought the field intending to cut it into building lots. They wanted to buy the blacksmith's house and finally did secure it by paying a high price. He agreed to move out within a year but after the money was paid repented and wished he had not sold. A rumor began to run about town connecting the name of Tom Butterworth with that of Fanny Twist, the town milliner. It was said the rich farmer had been seen coming out of her shop late at night. The blacksmith also heard another story whispered in the streets. Louise Trucker, the farmer's daughter who had at one time been seen creeping through a side street in the company of young Steve Hunter, had gone to Cleveland and it was said she had become the proprietor of a prosperous house of ill fame. Steve's money, it was declared, had been used to set her up in business. The two stories offered unlimited opportunity for expansion in the blacksmith's mind, but while he was preparing himself to do what he called bringing the two men down in the sight and hearing of the whole town, a thing happened that upset his plans. His son Fizzy Fry left his place as clerk in the hotel and went to work in the corn-cutting machine factory. One day his father saw him coming from the factory at noon with a dozen other workmen. The young man had on overalls and smoked a pipe. When he saw his father he stopped, and when the other men had gone on, explained his sudden transformation. "I'm in the shop now, but I won't be there long," he said proudly. "You know Tom Butterworth stays at the hotel? Well, he's given me a chance. I got to stay in the shop for a while to learn about things. After that I'm to have a chance as shipping clerk. Then I'll be a traveler on the road." He looked at his father and his voice broke. "You haven't thought very much of me, but I'm not so bad," he said. "I don't want to be a sissy, but I'm not very strong. I worked at the hotel because there wasn't anything else I thought I could do."
Peter Fry went home to his house but could not eat the food he had cooked for himself on the tiny stove in the kitchen. He went outdoors and stood for a long time, looking out across the cow-pasture Tom Butterworth and Steve Hunter had bought and that they proposed should become a part of the rapidly growing city. He had himself taken no part in the new impulses that had come upon the town, except that he had taken advantage of the failure of the town's first industrial effort to roar insults at those of his townsmen who had lost their money. One evening he and Ed Hall had got into a fight about the matter on Main Street, and the blacksmith had been compelled to pay another fine. Now he wondered what was the matter with him. He had evidently made a mistake about his son. Had he made a mistake about Tom Butterworth and Steve Hunter?
The perplexed man went back to his shop and all the afternoon worked in silence. His heart had been set on the creation of a dramatic scene on Main Street, when he openly attacked the two most prominent men of the town, and he even pictured himself as likely to be put in the town jail where he would have an opportunity to roar things through the iron bars at the citizens gathered in the street. In anticipation of such an event, he had prepared himself to attack the reputation of other people. He had never attacked women but, if he were locked up, he intended to do so. John May had once told him that Tom Butterworth's daughter, who had been away to college for a year, had been sent away because she was in the family way. John May had claimed he was responsible for her condition. Several of Tom's farm hands he said had been on intimate terms with the girl. The blacksmith had told himself that if he got into trouble for publicly attacking the father he would be justified in telling what he knew about the daughter.
The blacksmith did not come into Main Street that evening. As he went home from work he saw Tom Butterworth standing with Steve Hunter before the post-office. For several weeks Tom had been spending most of his time away from town, had only appeared in town for a few hours at a time, and had not been seen on the streets in the evening. The blacksmith had been waiting to catch both men on the street at one time. Now that this opportunity had come, he began to be afraid he would not dare take it. "What right have I to spoil my boy's chances?" he asked himself, as he went rather heavily along the street toward his own house.
It rained on that evening and for the first time in years Smoky Pete did not go into Main Street. He told himself that the rain kept him at home, but the thought did not satisfy him. All evening he moved restlessly about the house and at half past eight went to bed. He did not, however, sleep, but lay with his trousers on and with his pipe in his mouth, trying to think. Every few minutes he took the pipe from his mouth, blew out a cloud of smoke and swore viciously. At ten o'clock the farmer, who had owned the cow-pasture back of his house and who still kept his cows there, saw his neighbor tramping about in the rain in the field and saying things he had planned to say on Main Street in the hearing of the entire town.
The farmer also had gone to bed early, but at ten o'clock he decided that, as the rain continued to fall and as it was growing somewhat cold, he had better get up and let his cows into the barn. He did not dress, but threw a blanket about his shoulders and went out without a light. He let down the bars separating the field from the barnyard and then saw and heard Smoky Pete in the field. The blacksmith walked back and forth in the darkness, and as the farmer stood by the fence, began to talk in a loud voice. "Well, Tom Butterworth, you're fooling around with Fanny Twist," he cried into the silence and emptiness of the night. "You're sneaking into her shop late at night, eh? Steve Hunter has set Louise Trucker up in business in a house in Cleveland. Are you and Fanny Twist going to open a house here? Is that the next industrial enterprise we're to have here in this town?"
The amazed farmer stood in the rain in the darkness, listening to the words of his neighbor. The cows came through the gate and went into the barn. His bare legs were cold and he drew them alternately up under the blanket. For ten minutes Peter Fry tramped up and down in the field. Once he came quite near the farmer, who drew himself down beside the fence and listened, filled with amazement and fright. He could dimly see the tall, old man striding along and waving his arms about. When he had said many bitter, hateful things regarding the two most prominent men of Bidwell, he began to abuse Tom Butterworth's daughter, calling her a bitch and the daughter of a dog. The farmer waited until Smoky Pete had gone back to his house and, when he saw a light in the kitchen, and fancied he could also see his neighbor cooking food at a stove, he went again into his own house. He had himself never quarreled with Smoky Pete and was glad. He was glad also that the field at the back of his house had been sold. He intended to sell the rest of his farm and move west to Illinois. "The man's crazy," he told himself. "Who but a crazy man would talk that way in the darkness? I suppose I ought to report him and get him locked up, but I guess I'll forget what I heard. A man who would talk like that about nice respectable people would do anything. He might set fire to my house some night or something like that. I guess I'll just forget what I heard."