Poor White by Sherwood Anderson
Modern men and women who live in industrial cities are like mice that have come out of the fields to live in houses that do not belong to them. They live within the dark walls of the houses where only a dim light penetrates, and so many have come that they grow thin and haggard with the constant toil of getting food and warmth. Behind the walls the mice scamper about in droves, and there is much squealing and chattering. Now and then a bold mouse stands upon his hind legs and addresses the others. He declares he will force his way through the walls and conquer the gods who have built the house. "I will kill them," he declares. "The mice shall rule. You shall live in the light and the warmth. There shall be food for all and no one shall go hungry."
The little mice, gathered in the darkness out of sight in the great houses, squeal with delight. After a time when nothing happens they become sad and depressed. Their minds go back to the time when they lived in the fields, but they do not go out of the walls of the houses, because long living in droves has made them afraid of the silence of long nights and the emptiness of skies. In the houses giant children are being reared. When the children fight and scream in the houses and in the streets, the dark spaces between the walls rumble with strange and appalling noises.
The mice are terribly afraid. Now and then a single mouse for a moment escapes the general fear. A mood comes over such a one and a light comes into his eyes. When the noises run through the houses he makes up stories about them. "The horses of the sun are hauling wagon loads of days over the tops of trees," he says and looks quickly about to see if he has been heard. When he discovers a female mouse looking at him he runs away with a flip of his tail and the female follows. While other mice are repeating his saying and getting some little comfort from it, he and the female mouse find a warm dark corner and lie close together. It is because of them that mice continue to be born to dwell within the walls of the houses.
When the first small model of Hugh McVey's plant-setting machine had been whittled out by the half-wit Allie Mulberry, it replaced the famous ship, floating in the bottle, that for two or three years had been lying in the window of Hunter's jewelry store. Allie was inordinately proud of the new specimen of his handiwork. As he worked under Hugh's directions at a bench in a corner of the deserted pickle factory, he was like a strange dog that has at last found a master. He paid no attention to Steve Hunter who, with the air of one bearing in his breast some gigantic secret, came in and went out at the door twenty times a day, but kept his eyes on the silent Hugh who sat at a desk and made drawings on sheets of paper. Allie tried valiantly to follow the instructions given him and to understand what his master was trying to do, and Hugh, finding himself unembarrassed by the presence of the half-wit, sometimes spent hours trying to explain the workings of some intricate part of the proposed machine. Hugh made each part crudely out of great pieces of board and Allie reproduced the part in miniature. Intelligence began to come into the eyes of the man who all his life had whittled meaningless wooden chains, baskets formed out of peach stones, and ships intended to float in bottles. Love and understanding began a little to do for him what words could not have done. One day when a part Hugh had fashioned would not work the half-wit himself made the model of a part that worked perfectly. When Hugh incorporated it in the machine, he was so happy that he could not sit still, and walked up and down cooing with delight.
When the model of the machine appeared in the jeweler's window, a fever of excitement took hold of the minds of the people. Every one declared himself either for or against it. Something like a revolution took place. Parties were formed. Men who had no interest in the success of the invention, and in the nature of things could not have, were ready to fight any one who dared to doubt its success. Among the farmers who drove into town to see the new wonder were many who said the machine would not, could not, work. "It isn't practical," they said. Going off by themselves and forming groups, they whispered warnings. A hundred objections sprang to their lips. "See all the little wheels and cogs the thing has," they said. "You see it won't work. You take now in a field where there are stones and old tree roots, maybe, sticking in the ground. There you'll see. Fools'll buy the machine, yes. They'll spend their money. They'll put in plants. The plants'll die. The money'll be wasted. There'll be no crop." Old men, who had been cabbage farmers in the country north of Bidwell all their lives, and whose bodies were all twisted out of shape by the terrible labor of the cabbage fields, came hobbling into town to look at the model of the new machine. Their opinions were anxiously sought by the merchant, the carpenter, the artisan, the doctor--by all the townspeople. Almost without exception, they shook their heads in doubt. Standing on the sidewalk before the jeweler's window, they stared at the machine and then, turning to the crowd that had gathered about, they shook their heads in doubt. "Huh," they exclaimed, "a thing of wheels and cogs, eh? Well, so young Hunter expects that thing to take the place of a man. He's a fool. I always said that boy was a fool." The merchants and townspeople, their ardor a little dampened by the adverse decision of the men who knew plant-setting, went off by themselves. They went into Birdie Spinks' drugstore, but did not listen to the talk of Judge Hanby. "If the machine works, the town'll wake up," some one declared. "It means factories, new people coming in, houses to be built, goods to be bought." Visions of suddenly acquired wealth began to float in their minds. Young Ed Hall, apprentice to Ben Peeler the carpenter, grew angry. "Hell," he exclaimed, "why listen to a lot of damned old calamity howlers? It's the town's duty to get out and plug for that machine. We got to wake up here. We got to forget what we used to think about Steve Hunter. Anyway, he saw a chance, didn't he? and he took it. I wish I was him. I only wish I was him. And what about that fellow we thought was maybe just a telegraph operator? He fooled us all slick, now didn't he? I tell you we ought to be proud to have such men as him and Steve Hunter living in Bidwell. That's what I say. I tell you it's the town's duty to get out and plug for them and for that machine. If we don't, I know what'll happen. Steve Hunter's a live one. I been thinking maybe he was. He'll take that invention and that inventor of his to some other town or to a city. That's what he'll do. Damn it, I tell you we got to get out and back them fellows up. That's what I say."
On the whole the town of Bidwell agreed with young Hall. The excitement did not die, but grew every day more intense. Steve Hunter had a carpenter come to his father's store and build in the show window facing Main Street, a long shallow box formed in the shape of a field. This he filled with pulverized earth and then by an arrangement of strings and pulleys connected with a clockwork device the machine was pulled across the field. In a receptacle at the top of the machine had been placed some dozens of tiny plants no larger than pins. When the clockwork was started and the strings pulled to imitate applied horse power, the machine crept slowly forward, an arm came down and made a hole in the ground, the plant dropped into the hole and spoon-like hands appeared and packed the earth about the plant roots. At the top of the machine there was a tank filled with water, and when the plant was set, a portion of water, nicely calculated as to quantity, ran down a pipe and was deposited at the plant roots.
Evening after evening the machine crawled forward across the tiny field, setting the plants in perfect order. Steve Hunter busied himself with it; he did nothing else; and rumors of a great company to be formed in Bidwell to manufacture the device were whispered about. Every evening a new tale was told. Steve went to Cleveland for a day and it was said that Bidwell was to lose its chance, that big moneyed men had induced Steve to take his factory project to the city. Hearing Ed Hall berate a farmer who doubted the practicability of the machine, Steve took him aside and talked to him. "We're going to need live young men who know how to handle other men for jobs as superintendent and things like that," he said. "I make no promises. I only want to tell you that I like live young fellows who can see the hole in a bushel basket. I like that kind. I like to see them get up in the world."
Steve heard the farmers continually expressing their skepticism about making the plants that had been set by the machine grow into maturity, and had the carpenter build another tiny field in a side window of the store. He had the machine moved and plants set in the new field. He let these grow. When some of the plants showed signs of dying he came secretly at night and replaced them with sturdier shoots so that the miniature field showed always a brave, vigorous front to the world.
Bidwell became convinced that the most rigorous of all forms of human labor practiced by its people was at an end. Steve made and had hung in the store window a large sheet showing the relative cost of planting an acre of cabbage with the machine, and by what was already called "the old way," by hand. Then he formally announced that a stock company would be formed in Bidwell and that every one would have a chance to get into it. He printed an article in the weekly paper in which he said that many offers had come to him to take his project to the city or to other and larger towns. "Mr. McVey, the celebrated inventor, and I both want to stick to our own people," he said, regardless of the fact that Hugh knew nothing of the article and had never been taken into the lives of the people addressed. A day was set for the beginning of the taking of stock subscriptions, and in private conversations Steve whispered of huge profits to be made. The matter was talked over in every household and plans were made for raising money to buy stock. John Clark agreed to lend a certain percentage on the value of the town property and Steve secured a long-time option on all the land facing Turner's Pike clear down to Pickleville. When the town heard of this it was filled with wonder. "Gee," the loiterers before the store exclaimed, "old Bidwell is going to grow up. Now look at that, will you? There are going to be houses clear down to Pickleville." Hugh went to Cleveland to see about having one of his new machines made in steel and wood and in a size that would permit its actual use in the field. He returned, a hero in the town's eyes. His silence made it possible for the people, who could not entirely forget their former lack of faith in Steve, to let their minds take hold of something they thought was truly heroic.
In the evening, after going again to see the machine in the window of the jewelry store, crowds of young and old men wandered down along Turner's Pike to the Wheeling Station where a new man had come to replace Hugh. They hardly saw the evening train when it came in. Like devotees before a shrine they gazed with something like worship in their eyes at the old pickle factory, and when by chance Hugh came among them, unconscious of the sensation he was creating, they became embarrassed as he was always embarrassed by their presence. Every one dreamed of becoming suddenly rich by the power of the man's mind. They thought of him as thinking always great thoughts. To be sure, Steve Hunter might be more than half bluff and blow and pretense, but there was no bluff and blow about Hugh. He didn't waste his time in words. He thought, and out of his thought sprang almost unbelievable wonders.
In every part of the town of Bidwell, the new impulse toward progress was felt. Old men, who had become settled in their ways and who had begun to pass their days in a sort of sleepy submission to the idea of the gradual passing away of their lives, awoke and went into Main Street in the evening to argue with skeptical farmers. Beside Ed Hall, who had become a Demosthenes on the subject of progress and the duty of the town to awake and stick to Steve Hunter and the machine, a dozen other men held forth on the street corners. Oratorical ability awoke in the most unexpected places. Rumors flew from lip to lip. It was said that within a year Bidwell was to have a brick factory covering acres of ground, that there would be paved streets and electric lights.
Oddly enough the most persistent decrier of the new spirit in Bidwell was the man who, if the machine turned out to be a success, would profit most from its use. Ezra French, the profane, refused to be convinced. When pressed by Ed Hall, Dr. Robinson, and other enthusiasts, he fell back upon the word of that God whose name had been so much upon his lips. The decrier of God became the defender of God. "The thing, you see, can't be done. It ain't all right. Something awful'll happen. The rains won't come and the plants'll dry up and die. It'll be like it was in Egypt in the Bible times," he declared. The old farmer with the twisted leg stood before the crowd in the drug-store and proclaimed the truth of God's word. "Don't it say in the Bible men shall work and labor by the sweat of their brows?" he asked sharply. "Can a machine like that sweat? You know it can't. And it can't do the work either. No, siree. Men've got to do it. That's the way things have been since Cain killed Abel in the Garden of Eden. God intended it so and there can't no telegraph operator or no smart young squirt like Steve Hunter--fellows in a town like this--set themselves up before me to change the workings of God's laws. It can't be done, and if it could be done it would be wicked and ungodly to try. I'll have nothing to do with it. It ain't right. That's what I say and all your smart talk ain't a-going to change me."
It was in the year 1892 that Steve Hunter organized the first industrial enterprise that came to Bidwell. It was called the Bidwell Plant-Setting Machine Company, and in the end it turned out to be a failure. A large factory was built on the river bank facing the New York Central tracks. It is now occupied by an enterprise called the Hunter Bicycle Company and is what in industrial parlance is called a live, going concern.
For two years Hugh worked faithfully trying to perfect the first of his inventions. After the working models of the plant-setter were brought from Cleveland, two trained mechanics were employed to come to Bidwell and work with him. In the old pickle factory an engine was installed and lathes and other tool-making machines were set up. For a long time Steve, John Clark, Tom Butterworth, and the other enthusiastic promoters of the enterprise had no doubt as to the final outcome. Hugh wanted to perfect the machine, had his heart set on doing the job he had set out to do, but he had then and, for that matter, he continued during his whole life to have but little conception of the import in the lives of the people about him of the things he did. Day after day, with two city mechanics and Allie Mulberry to drive the team of horses Steve had provided, he went into a rented field north of the factory. Weak places developed in the complicated mechanism, and new and stronger parts were made. For a time the machine worked perfectly. Then other defects appeared and other parts had to be strengthened and changed. The machine became too heavy to be handled by one team. It would not work when the soil was either too wet or too dry. It worked perfectly in both wet and dry sand but would do nothing in clay. During the second year and when the factory was nearing completion and much machinery had been installed, Hugh went to Steve and told him of what he thought were the limitations of the machine. He was depressed by his failure, but in working with the machine, he felt he had succeeded in educating himself as he never could have done by studying books. Steve decided that the factory should be started and some of the machines made and sold. "You keep the two men you have and don't talk," he said. "The machine may yet turn out to be better than you think. One can never tell. I have made it worth their while to keep still." On the afternoon of the day on which he had his talk with Hugh, Steve called the four men who were associated with him in the promotion of the enterprise into the back room of the bank and told them of the situation. "We're up against something here," he said. "If we let word of the failure of this machine get out, where'll we be? It is a case of the survival of the fittest."
Steve explained his plan to the men in the room. After all, he said, there was no occasion for any of them to get excited. He had taken them into the thing and he proposed to get them out. "I'm that kind of a man," he said pompously. In a way, he declared, he was glad things had turned out as they had. The four men had little actual money invested. They had all tried honestly to do something for the town and he would see to it that everything came out all right. "We'll be honest with every one," he said. "The stock in the company has all been sold. We'll make some of the machines and sell them. If they're failures, as this inventor thinks, it will not be our fault. The plant, you see, will have to be sold cheap. When that times comes we five will have to save ourselves and the future of the town. The machinery we have bought, is, you see, iron and wood working machinery, the very latest kind. It can be used to make some other thing. If the plant-setting machine is a failure we'll simply buy up the plant at a low price and make something else. Perhaps it'll be better for the town to have the entire stock control in our hands. You see we few men have got to run things here. It's going to be on our shoulders to see that labor is employed. A lot of small stock-holders are a nuisance. As man to man I'm going to ask each of you not to sell his stock, but if any one comes to you and asks about its value, I expect you to be loyal to our enterprise. I'll begin looking about for something to replace the plant-setting machine, and when the shop closes we'll start right up again. It isn't every day men get a chance to sell themselves a fine plant full of new machinery as we can do in a year or so now."
Steve went out of the bank and left the four men staring at each other. Then his father got up and went out. The other men, all connected with the bank, arose and wandered out. "Well," said John Clark, somewhat heavily, "he's a smart man. I suppose after all it is up to us to stick with him and with the town. As he says, labor has got to be employed. I can't see that it does a carpenter or a farmer any good to own a little stock in a factory. It only takes their minds off their work. They have foolish dreams of getting rich and don't attend to their own affairs. It would be an actual benefit to the town if a few men owned the factory." The banker lighted a cigar and going to a window stared out into the main street of Bidwell. Already the town had changed. Three new brick buildings were being erected on Main Street within sight of the bank window. Workmen employed in the building of the factory had come to town to live, and many new houses were being built. Everywhere things were astir. The stock of the company had been oversubscribed, and almost every day men came into the bank and spoke of wanting to buy more. Only the day before a farmer had come in with two thousand dollars. The banker's mind began to secrete the poison of his age. "After all, it's men like Steve Hunter, Tom Butterworth, Gordon Hart, and myself that have to take care of things, and to be in shape to do it we have to look out for ourselves," he soliloquized. Again he stared into Main Street. Tom Butterworth went out at the front door. He wanted to be by himself and think his own thoughts. Gordon Hart returned to the empty back room and standing by a window looked out into an alleyway. His thoughts ran in the same channel as those that played through the mind of the bank president. He also thought of men who wanted to buy stock in the company that was doomed to failure. He began to doubt the judgment of Hugh McVey in the matter of failure. "Such fellows are always pessimists," he told himself. From the window at the back of the bank, he could see over the roofs of a row of small sheds and down a residence street to where two new workingmen's houses were being built. His thoughts only differed from the thoughts of John Clark because he was a younger man. "A few men of the younger generation, like Steve and myself will have to take hold of things," he muttered aloud. "We'll have to have money to work with. We'll have to take the responsibility of the ownership of money."
At the front of the bank John Clark puffed at his cigar. He felt like a soldier weighing the chances of battle. Vaguely he thought of himself as a general, a kind of U. S. Grant of industry. The lives and happiness of many people, he told himself, depended on the clear working of his brain. "Well," he thought, "when factories start coming to a town and it begins to grow as this town is growing no man can stop it. The fellow who thinks of individual men, little fellows with their savings invested, who may be hurt by an industrial failure, is just a weakling. Men have to face the duties life brings. The few men who see clearly have to think first of themselves. They have to save themselves in order that they may save others."
* * * * *
Things kept on the stir in Bidwell and the gods of chance played into the hands of Steve Hunter. Hugh invented an apparatus for lifting a loaded coal-car off the railroad tracks, carrying it high up into the air and dumping its contents into a chute. By its use an entire car of coal could be emptied with a roaring rush into the hold of a ship or the engine room of a factory. A model of the new invention was made and a patent secured. Then Steve Hunter carried it off to New York. He received two hundred thousand dollars in cash for it, half of which went to Hugh. Steve's faith in the inventive genius of the Missourian was renewed and strengthened. He looked forward with a feeling almost approaching pleasure to the time when the town would be forced to face the fact that the plant-setting machine was a failure, and the factory with its new machinery would have to be thrown on the market. He knew that his associates in the promotion of the enterprise were secretly selling their stock. One day he went to Cleveland and had a long talk with a banker there. Hugh was at work on a corn-cutting machine and already he had secured an option on it. "Perhaps when the time comes to sell the factory there'll be more than one bidder," he told Ernestine, the soap maker's daughter, who had married him within a month after the sale of the car-unloading device. He grew indignant when he told her of the disloyalty of the two men in the bank, and the rich farmer, Tom Butterworth. "They're selling their shares and letting the small stock-holders lose their money," he declared. "I told 'em not to do it. Now if anything happens to spoil their plans they'll not have me to blame."
Nearly a year had been spent in stirring up the people of Bidwell to the point of becoming investors. Then things began to stir. The ground was broken for the erection of the factory. No one knew of the difficulties that had been encountered in attempting to perfect the machine and word was passed about that in actual tests in the fields it had proven itself entirely practical. The skeptical farmers who came into town on Saturdays were laughed at by the town enthusiasts. A field, that had been planted during one of the brief periods when the machine finding ideal soil conditions had worked perfectly, was left to grow. As when he operated the tiny model in the store window, Steve took no chances. He engaged Ed Hall to go at night and replace the plants that did not live. "It's fair enough," he explained to Ed. "A hundred things can cause the plants to die, but if they die it'll be blamed on the machine. What will become of the town if we don't believe in the thing we're going to manufacture here?"
The crowds of people, who in the evenings walked out along Turner's Pike to look at the field with its long rows of sturdy young cabbages, moved restlessly about and talked of the new days. From the field they went along the railroad tracks to the site of the factory. The brick walls began to mount up into the sky. Machinery began to arrive and was housed under temporary sheds against the time when it could be installed. An advance horde of workmen came to town and new faces appeared on Main Street in the evening. The thing that was happening in Bidwell happened in towns all over the Middle West. Out through the coal and iron regions of Pennsylvania, into Ohio and Indiana, and on westward into the States bordering on the Mississippi River, industry crept. Gas and oil were discovered in Ohio and Indiana. Over night, towns grew into cities. A madness took hold of the minds of the people. Villages like Lima and Findlay, Ohio, and like Muncie and Anderson in Indiana, became small cities within a few weeks. To some of these places, so anxious were the people to get to them and to invest their money, excursion trains were run. Town lots that a few weeks before the discovery of oil or gas could have been bought for a few dollars sold for thousands. Wealth seemed to be spurting out of the very earth. On farms in Indiana and Ohio giant gas wells blew the drilling machinery out of the ground, and the fuel so essential to modern industrial development rushed into the open. A wit, standing in the presence of one of the roaring gas wells exclaimed, "Papa, Earth has indigestion; he has gas on his stomach. His face will be covered with pimples."
Having, before the factories came, no market for the gas, the wells were lighted and at night great torches of flame lit the skies. Pipes were laid on the surface of the ground and by a day's work a laborer earned enough to heat his house at tropical heat through an entire winter. Farmers owning oil-producing land went to bed in the evening poor and owing money at the bank, and awoke in the morning rich. They moved into the towns and invested their money in the factories that sprang up everywhere. In one county in southern Michigan, over five hundred patents for woven wire farm fencing were taken out in one year, and almost every patent was a magnet about which a company for the manufacture of fence formed itself. A vast energy seemed to come out of the breast of earth and infect the people. Thousands of the most energetic men of the middle States wore themselves out in forming companies, and when the companies failed, immediately formed others. In the fast-growing towns, men who were engaged in organizing companies representing a capital of millions lived in houses thrown hurriedly together by carpenters who, before the time of the great awakening, were engaged in building barns. It was a time of hideous architecture, a time when thought and learning paused. Without music, without poetry, without beauty in their lives or impulses, a whole people, full of the native energy and strength of lives lived in a new land, rushed pell-mell into a new age. A man in Ohio, who had been a dealer in horses, made a million dollars out of a patent churn he had bought for the price of a farm horse, took his wife to visit Europe and in Paris bought a painting for fifty thousand dollars. In another State of the Middle West, a man who sold patent medicine from door to door through the country began dealing in oil leases, became fabulously rich, bought himself three daily newspapers, and before he had reached the age of thirty-five succeeded in having himself elected Governor of his State. In the glorification of his energy his unfitness as a statesman was forgotten.
In the days before the coming of industry, before the time of the mad awakening, the towns of the Middle West were sleepy places devoted to the practice of the old trades, to agriculture and to merchandising. In the morning the men of the towns went forth to work in the fields or to the practice of the trade of carpentry, horse-shoeing, wagon making, harness repairing, and the making of shoes and clothing. They read books and believed in a God born in the brains of men who came out of a civilization much like their own. On the farms and in the houses in the towns the men and women worked together toward the same ends in life. They lived in small frame houses set on the plains like boxes, but very substantially built. The carpenter who built a farmer's house differentiated it from the barn by putting what he called scroll work up under the eaves and by building at the front a porch with carved posts. After one of the poor little houses had been lived in for a long time, after children had been born and men had died, after men and women had suffered and had moments of joy together in the tiny rooms under the low roofs, a subtle change took place. The houses became almost beautiful in their old humanness. Each of the houses began vaguely to shadow forth the personality of the people who lived within its walls.
In the farmhouses and in the houses on the side streets in the villages, life awoke at dawn. Back of each of the houses there was a barn for the horses and cows, and sheds for pigs and chickens. At daylight a chorus of neighs, squeals, and cries broke the silence. Boys and men came out of the houses. They stood in the open spaces before the barns and stretched their bodies like sleepy animals. The arms extended upward seemed to be supplicating the gods for fair days, and the fair days came. The men and boys went to a pump beside the house and washed their faces and hands in the cold water. In the kitchens there was the smell and sound of the cooking of food. The women also were astir. The men went into the barns to feed the animals and then hurried to the houses to be themselves fed. A continual grunting sound came from the sheds where pigs were eating corn, and over the houses a contented silence brooded.
After the morning meal men and animals went together to the fields and to the doing of their tasks, and in the houses the women mended clothes, put fruit in cans against the coming of winter and talked of woman's affairs. On the streets of the towns on fair days lawyers, doctors, the officials of the county courts, and the merchants walked about in their shirt sleeves. The house painter went along with his ladder on his shoulder. In the stillness there could be heard the hammers of the carpenters building a new house for the son of a merchant who had married the daughter of a blacksmith. A sense of quiet growth awoke in sleeping minds. It was the time for art and beauty to awake in the land.
Instead, the giant, Industry, awoke. Boys, who in the schools had read of Lincoln, walking for miles through the forest to borrow his first book, and of Garfield, the towpath lad who became president, began to read in the newspapers and magazines of men who by developing their faculty for getting and keeping money had become suddenly and overwhelmingly rich. Hired writers called these men great, and there was no maturity of mind in the people with which to combat the force of the statement, often repeated. Like children the people believed what they were told.
While the new factory was being built with the carefully saved dollars of the people, young men from Bidwell went out to work in other places. After oil and gas were discovered in neighboring states, they went to the fast-growing towns and came home telling wonder tales. In the boom towns men earned four, five and even six dollars a day. In secret and when none of the older people were about, they told of adventures on which they had gone in the new places; of how, attracted by the flood of money, women came from the cities; and the times they had been with these women. Young Harley Parsons, whose father was a shoemaker and who had learned the blacksmith trade, went to work in one of the new oil fields. He came home wearing a fancy silk vest and astonished his fellows by buying and smoking ten-cent cigars. His pockets were bulging with money. "I'm not going to stay long in this town, you can bet on that," he declared one evening as he stood, surrounded by a group of admirers before Fanny Twist's Millinery Shop on lower Main Street. "I have been with a Chinese woman, and an Italian, and with one from South America." He took a puff of his cigar and spat on the sidewalk. "I'm out to get what I can out of life," he declared. "I'm going back and I'm going to make a record. Before I get through I'm going to be with a woman of every nationality on earth, that's what I'm going to do."
Joseph Wainsworth the harness maker, who had been the first man in Bidwell to feel the touch of the heavy finger of industrialism, could not get over the effect of the conversation had with Butterworth, the farmer who had asked him to repair harnesses made by machines in a factory. He became a silent disgruntled man and muttered as he went about his work in the shop. When Will Sellinger his apprentice threw up his place and went to Cleveland he did not get another boy but for a time worked alone in the shop. He got the name of being disagreeable, and on winter afternoons the farmers no longer came into his place to loaf. Being a sensitive man, Joe felt like a pigmy, a tiny thing walking always in the presence of a giant that might at any moment and by a whim destroy him. All his life he had been somewhat off-hand with his customers. "If they don't like my work, let 'em go to the devil," he said to his apprentices. "I know my trade and I don't have to bow down to any one here."
When Steve Hunter organized the Bidwell Plant-Setting Machine Company, the harness maker put his savings, twelve hundred dollars, into the stock of the company. One day, during the time when the factory was building, he heard that Steve had paid twelve hundred dollars for a new lathe that had just arrived by freight and had been set on the floor of the uncompleted building. The promoter had told a farmer that the lathe would do the work of a hundred men, and the farmer had come into Joe's shop and repeated the statement. It stuck in Joe's mind and he came to believe that the twelve hundred dollars he had invested in stock had been used for the purchase of the lathe. It was money he had earned in a long lifetime of effort and it had now bought a machine that would do the work of a hundred men. Already his money had increased by a hundred fold and he wondered why he could not be happy about the matter. On some days he was happy, and then his happiness was followed by an odd fit of depression. Suppose, after all, the plant-setting machine wouldn't work? What then could be done with the lathe, with the machine bought with his money?
One evening after dark and without saying anything to his wife, he went down along Turner's Pike to the old factory at Pickleville where Hugh with the half-wit Allie Mulberry, and the two mechanics from the city, were striving to correct the faults in the plant-setting machine. Joe wanted to look at the tall gaunt man from the West, and had some notion of trying to get into conversation with him and of asking his opinion of the possibilities of the success of the new machine. The man of the age of flesh and blood wanted to walk in the presence of the man who belonged to the new age of iron and steel. When he got to the factory it was dark and on an express truck in front of the Wheeling Station the two city workmen sat smoking their evening pipes. Joe walked past them to the station door and then returned along the platform and got again into Turner's Pike. He stumbled along the path beside the road and presently saw Hugh McVey coming toward him. It was one of the evenings when Hugh, overcome with loneliness, and puzzled that his new position in the town's life did not bring him any closer to people, had gone to town to walk through Main Street, half hoping some one would break through his embarrassment and enter into conversation with him.
When the harness maker saw Hugh walking in the path, he crept into a fence corner, and crouching down, watched the man as Hugh had watched the French boys at work in the cabbage fields. Strange thoughts came into his head. He thought the extraordinarily tall figure before him in some way terrible. He became childishly angry and for a moment thought that if he had a stone in his hand he would throw it at the man, the workings of whose brain had so upset his own life. Then as the figure of Hugh went away along the path another mood came. "I have worked all my life for twelve hundred dollars, for money that will buy one machine that this man thinks nothing about," he muttered aloud. "Perhaps I'll get more money than I invested: Steve Hunter says maybe I will. If machines kill the harness-making trade what's the difference? I'll be all right. The thing to do is to get in with the new times, to wake up, that's the ticket. With me it's like with every one else: nothing venture nothing gain."
Joe crawled out of the fence corner and went stealthily along the road behind Hugh. A fervor seized him and he thought he would like to creep close and touch with his finger the hem of Hugh's coat. Afraid to try anything so bold his mind took a new turn. He ran in the darkness along the road toward town and, when he had crossed the bridge and come to the New York Central tracks, turned west and went along the tracks until he came to the new factory. In the darkness the half completed walls stuck up into the sky, and all about were piles of building materials. The night had been dark and cloudy, but now the moon began to push its way through the clouds. Joe crawled over a pile of bricks and through a window into the building. He felt his way along the walls until he came to a mass of iron covered by a rubber blanket. He was sure it must be the lathe his money had bought, the machine that was to do the work of a hundred men and that was to make him comfortably rich in his old age. No one had spoken of any other machine having been brought in on the factory floor. Joe knelt on the floor and put his hands about the heavy iron legs of the machine. "What a strong thing it is! It will not break easily," he thought. He had an impulse to do something he knew would be foolish, to kiss the iron legs of the machine or to say a prayer as he knelt before it. Instead he got to his feet and crawling out again through the window, went home. He felt renewed and full of new courage because of the experiences of the night, but when he got to his own house and stood at the door outside, he heard his neighbor, David Chapman, a wheelwright who worked in Charlie Collins' wagon shop, praying in his bedroom before an open window. Joe listened for a moment and, for some reason he couldn't understand, his new-found faith was destroyed by what he heard. David Chapman, a devout Methodist, was praying for Hugh McVey and for the success of his invention. Joe knew his neighbor had also invested his savings in the stock of the new company. He had thought that he alone was doubtful of success, but it was apparent that doubt had come also into the mind of the wheelwright. The pleading voice of the praying man, as it broke the stillness of the night, cut across and for the moment utterly destroyed his confidence. "O God, help the man Hugh McVey to remove every obstacle that stands in his way," David Chapman prayed. "Make the plant-setting machine a success. Bring light into the dark places. O Lord, help Hugh McVey, thy servant, to build successfully the plant-setting machine."