SHervud Anderson. Uajnsburg, Ogajo (engl)
SHervud Anderson -- Amerikanskij Pisatel'. 1876-1941
Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio
OCR: Irina Nesterenko
INTRODUCTION by Irving Howe
THE TALES AND THE PERSONS
THE BOOK OF THE GROTESQUE
HANDS, concerning Wing Biddlebaum
PAPER PILLS, concerning Doctor Reefy
MOTHER, concerning Elizabeth Willard
THE PHILOSOPHER, concerning Doctor Parcival
NOBODY KNOWS, concerning Louise Trunnion
GODLINESS, a Tale in Four Parts
I, concerning Jesse Bentley
II, also concerning Jesse Bentley
III Surrender, concerning Louise Bentley
IV Terror, concerning David Hardy
A MAN OF IDEAS, concerning Joe Welling
ADVENTURE, concerning Alice Hindman
RESPECTABILITY, concerning Wash Williams
THE THINKER, concerning Seth Richmond
TANDY, concerning Tandy Hard
THE STRENGTH OF GOD, concerning the
Reverend Curtis Hartman
THE TEACHER, concerning Kate Swift
LONELINESS, concerning Enoch Robinson
AN AWAKENING, concerning Belle Carpenter
"QUEER," concerning Elmer Cowley
THE UNTOLD LIE, concerning Ray Pearson
DRINK, concerning Tom Foster
DEATH, concerning Doctor Reefy
and Elizabeth Willard
SOPHISTICATION, concerning Helen White
DEPARTURE, concerning George Willard
by Irving Howe
I must have been no more than fifteen or sixteen years old when I first
chanced upon Winesburg, Ohio. Gripped by these stories and sketches of
Sherwood Anderson's small-town "grotesques," I felt that he was opening for
me new depths of experience, touching upon half-buried truths which nothing
in my young life had prepared me for. A New York City boy who never saw the
crops grow or spent time in the small towns that lay sprinkled across
America, I found myself overwhelmed by the scenes of wasted life, wasted
love--was this the "real" America?--that Anderson sketched in Winesburg. In
those days only one other book seemed to offer so powerful a revelation, and
that was Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure.
Several years later, as I was about to go overseas as a soldier, I
spent my last weekend pass on a somewhat quixotic journey to Clyde, Ohio,
the town upon which Winesburg was partly modeled. Clyde looked, I suppose,
not very different from most other American towns, and the few of its
residents I tried to engage in talk about Anderson seemed quite
uninterested. This indifference would not have surprised him; it certainly
should not surprise anyone who reads his book.
Once freed from the army, I started to write literary criticism, and in
1951 I published a critical biography of Anderson. It came shortly after
Lionel Trilling's influential essay attacking Anderson, an attack from which
Anderson's reputation would never quite recover. Trilling charged Anderson
with indulging a vaporous sentimentalism, a kind of vague emotional
meandering in stories that lacked social or spiritual solidity. There was a
certain cogency in Trilling's attack, at least with regard to Anderson's
inferior work, most of which he wrote after Winesburg, Ohio. In my book I
tried, somewhat awkwardly, to bring together the kinds of judgment Trilling
had made with my still keen affection for the best of Anderson's writings.
By then, I had read writers more complex, perhaps more distinguished than
Anderson, but his muted stories kept a firm place in my memories, and the
book I wrote might be seen as a gesture of thanks for the light--a glow of
darkness, you might say--that he had brought to me.
Decades passed. I no longer read Anderson, perhaps fearing I might have
to surrender an admiration of youth. (There are some writers one should
never return to.) But now, in the fullness of age, when asked to say a few
introductory words about Anderson and his work, I have again fallen under
the spell of Winesburg, Ohio, again responded to the half-spoken desires,
the flickers of longing that spot its pages. Naturally, I now have some
changes of response: a few of the stories no longer haunt me as once they
did, but the long story "Godliness," which years ago I considered a failure,
I now see as a quaintly effective account of the way religious fanaticism
and material acquisitiveness can become intertwined in American experience.
Sherwood Anderson was born in Ohio in 1876. His childhood and youth in
Clyde, a town with perhaps three thousand souls, were scarred by bouts of
poverty, but he also knew some of the pleasures of pre-industrial American
society. The country was then experiencing what he would later call "a
sudden and almost universal turning of men from the old handicrafts towards
our modern life of machines." There were still people in Clyde who
remembered the frontier, and like America itself, the town lived by a
mixture of diluted Calvinism and a strong belief in "progress," Young
Sherwood, known as "Jobby"--the boy always ready to work--showed the kind of
entrepreneurial spirit that Clyde respected: folks expected him to become a
"go-getter," And for a time he did. Moving to Chicago in his early twenties,
he worked in an advertising agency where he proved adept at turning out
copy. "I create nothing, I boost, I boost," he said about himself, even as,
on the side, he was trying to write short stories.
In 1904 Anderson married and three years later moved to Elyria, a town
forty miles west of Cleveland, where he established a firm that sold paint.
"I was going to be a rich man.... Next year a bigger house; and after that,
presumably, a country estate." Later he would say about his years in Elyria,
"I was a good deal of a Babbitt, but never completely one." Something drove
him to write, perhaps one of those shapeless hungers--a need for
self-expression? a wish to find a more authentic kind of experience?-- that
would become a recurrent motif in his fiction.
And then, in 1912, occurred the great turning point in Anderson's life.
Plainly put, he suffered a nervous breakdown, though in his memoirs he would
elevate this into a moment of liberation in which he abandoned the sterility
of commerce and turned to the rewards of literature. Nor was this, I
believe, merely a deception on Anderson's part, since the breakdown painful
as it surely was, did help precipitate a basic change in his life. At the
age of 36, he left behind his business and moved to Chicago, becoming one of
the rebellious writers and cultural bohemians in the group that has since
come to be called the "Chicago Renaissance." Anderson soon adopted the
posture of a free, liberated spirit, and like many writers of the time, he
presented himself as a sardonic critic of American provincialism and
materialism. It was in the freedom of the city, in its readiness to put up
with deviant styles of life, that Anderson found the strength to settle
accounts with--but also to release his affection for--the world of
small-town America. The dream of an unconditional personal freedom, that
hazy American version of utopia, would remain central throughout Anderson's
life and work. It was an inspiration; it was a delusion.
In 1916 and 1917 Anderson published two novels mostly written in
Elyria, Windy McPherson's Son and Marching Men, both by now largely
forgotten. They show patches of talent but also a crudity of thought and
unsteadiness of language. No one reading these novels was likely to suppose
that its author could soon produce anything as remarkable as Winesburg,
Ohio. Occasionally there occurs in a writer's career a sudden, almost
mysterious leap of talent, beyond explanation, perhaps beyond any need for
In 1915-16 Anderson had begun to write and in 1919 he published the
stories that comprise Winesburg, Ohio, stories that form, in sum, a sort of
looselystrung episodic novel. The book was an immediate critical success,
and soon Anderson was being ranked as a significant literary figure. In 1921
the distinguished literary magazine The Dial awarded him its first annual
literary prize of $2,000, the significance of which is perhaps best
understood if one also knows that the second recipient was T. S. Eliot. But
Anderson's moment of glory was brief, no more than a decade, and sadly, the
remaining years until his death in 1940 were marked by a sharp decline in
his literary standing. Somehow, except for an occasional story like the
haunting "Death in the Woods," he was unable to repeat or surpass his early
success. Still, about Winesburg, Ohio and a small number of stories like
"The Egg" and "The Man Who Became a Woman" there has rarely been any
No sooner did Winesburg, Ohio make its appearance than a number of
critical labels were fixed on it: the revolt against the village, the
espousal of sexual freedom, the deepening of American realism. Such tags may
once have had their point, but by now they seem dated and stale. The revolt
against the village (about which Anderson was always ambivalent) has faded
into history. The espousal of sexual freedom would soon be exceeded in
boldness by other writers. And as for the effort to place Winesburg, Ohio in
a tradition of American realism, that now seems dubious. Only rarely is the
object of Anderson's stories social verisimilitude, or the "photographing"
of familiar appearances, in the sense, say, that one might use to describe a
novel by Theodore Dreiser or Sinclair Lewis. Only occasionally, and then
with a very light touch, does Anderson try to fill out the social
arrangements of his imaginary town--although the fact that his stories are
set in a mid-American place like Winesburg does constitute an important
formative condition. You might even say, with only slight overstatement,
that what Anderson is doing in Winesburg, Ohio could be described as
"antirealistic," fictions notable less for precise locale and social detail
than for a highly personal, even strange vision of American life. Narrow,
intense, almost claustrophobic, the result is a book about extreme states of
being, the collapse of men and women who have lost their psychic bearings
and now hover, at best tolerated, at the edge of the little community in
which they live. It would be a gross mistake, though not one likely to occur
by now, if we were to take Winesburg, Ohio as a social photograph of "the
typical small town" (whatever that might be.) Anderson evokes a depressed
landscape in which lost souls wander about; they make their flitting
appearances mostly in the darkness of night, these stumps and shades of
humanity. This vision has its truth, and at its best it is a terrible if
narrow truth--but it is itself also grotesque, with the tone of the
authorial voice and the mode of composition forming muted signals of the
book's content. Figures like Dr. Parcival, Kate Swift, and Wash Williams are
not, nor are they meant to be, "fullyrounded" characters such as we can
expect in realistic fiction; they are the shards of life, glimpsed for a
moment, the debris of suffering and defeat. In each story one of them
emerges, shyly or with a false assertiveness, trying to reach out to
companionship and love, driven almost mad by the search for human
connection. In the economy of Winesburg these grotesques matter less in
their own right than as agents or symptoms of that "indefinable hunger" for
meaning which is Anderson's preoccupation.
Brushing against one another, passing one another in the streets or the
fields, they see bodies and hear voices, but it does not really matter--they
are disconnected, psychically lost. Is this due to the particular
circumstances of small-town America as Anderson saw it at the turn of the
century? Or does he feel that he is sketching an inescapable human condition
which makes all of us bear the burden of loneliness? Alice Hindman in the
story "Adventure" turns her face to the wall and tries "to force herself to
face the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg."
Or especially in Winesburg? Such impressions have been put in more general
terms in Anderson's only successful novel, Poor White:
All men lead their lives behind a wall of misun
derstanding they have themselves built, and
most men die in silence and unnoticed behind
the walls. Now and then a man, cut off from
his fellows by the peculiarities of his nature, be
comes absorbed in doing something that is per
sonal, useful and beautiful. Word of his activities
is carried over the walls.
These "walls" of misunderstanding are only seldom due to physical
deformities (Wing Biddlebaum in "Hands") or oppressive social arrangements
(Kate Swift in "The Teacher.") Misunderstanding, loneliness, the inability
to articulate, are all seen by Anderson as virtually a root condition,
something deeply set in our natures. Nor are these people, the grotesques,
simply to be pitied and dismissed; at some point in their lives they have
known desire, have dreamt of ambition, have hoped for friendship. In all of
them there was once something sweet, "like the twisted little apples that
grow in the orchards in Winesburg." Now, broken and adrift, they clutch at
some rigid notion or idea, a "truth" which turns out to bear the stamp of
monomania, leaving them helplessly sputtering, desperate to speak out but
unable to. Winesburg, Ohio registers the losses inescapable to life, and it
does so with a deep fraternal sadness, a sympathy casting a mild glow over
the entire book. "Words," as the American writer Paula Fox has said, "are
nets through which all truth escapes." Yet what do we have but words?
They want, these Winesburg grotesques*, to unpack their hearts, to
release emotions buried and festering. Wash Williams tries to explain his
eccentricity but hardly can; Louise Bentley "tried to talk but could say
nothing"; Enoch Robinson retreats to a fantasy world, inventing "his own
people to whom he could really talk and to whom he explained the things he
had been unable to explain to living people."
In his own somber way, Anderson has here touched upon one of the great
themes of American literature, especially Midwestern literature, in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the struggle for speech as it
entails a search for the self. Perhaps the central Winesburg story, tracing
the basic movements of the book, is "Paper Pills," in which the old Doctor
Reefy sits "in his empty office close by a window that was covered with
cobwebs," writes down some thoughts on slips of paper ("pyramids of truth,"
he calls them) and then stuffs them into his pockets where they "become
round hard balls" soon to be discarded. What Dr. Reefy's "truths" may be we
never know; Anderson simply persuades us that to this lonely old man they
are utterly precious and thereby incommunicable, forming a kind of blurred
After a time the attentive reader will notice in these stories a
recurrent pattern of theme and incident: the grotesques, gathering up a
little courage, venture out into the streets of Winesburg, often in the
dark, there to establish some initiatory relationship with George Willard,
the young reporter who hasn't yet lived long enough to become a grotesque.
Hesitantly, fearfully, or with a sputtering incoherent rage, they approach
him, pleading that he listen to their stories in the hope that perhaps they
can find some sort of renewal in his youthful voice. Upon this sensitive and
fragile boy they pour out their desires and frustrations. Dr. Parcival hopes
that George Willard "will write the book I may never get written," and for
Enoch Robinson, the boy represents "the youthful sadness, young man's
sadness, the sadness of a growing boy in a village at the year's end [which
may open] the lips of the old man."
What the grotesques really need is each other, but their estrangement
is so extreme they cannot establish direct ties--they can only hope for
connection through George Willard. The burden this places on the boy is more
than he can bear. He listens to them attentively, he is sympathetic to their
complaints, but finally he is too absorbed in his own dreams. The grotesques
turn to him because he seems "different"--younger, more open, not yet
hardened-- but it is precisely this "difference" that keeps him from
responding as warmly as they want. It is hardly the boy's fault; it is
simply in the nature of things. For George Willard, the grotesques form a
moment in his education; for the grotesques, their encounters with George
Willard come to seem like a stamp of hopelessness.
The prose Anderson employs in telling these stories may seem at first
glance to be simple: short sentences, a sparse vocabulary, uncomplicated
syntax. In actuality, Anderson developed an artful style in which, following
Mark Twain and preceding Ernest Hemingway, he tried to use American speech
as the base of a tensed rhythmic prose that has an economy and a shapeliness
seldom found in ordinary speech or even oral narration. What Anderson
employs here is a stylized version of the American language, sometimes
rising to quite formal rhetorical patterns and sometimes sinking to a
self-conscious mannerism. But at its best, Anderson's prose style in
Winesburg, Ohio is a supple instrument, yielding that "low fine music" which
he admired so much in the stories of Turgenev.
One of the worst fates that can befall a writer is that of
self-imitation: the effort later in life, often desperate, to recapture the
tones and themes of youthful beginnings. Something of the sort happened with
Anderson's later writings. Most critics and readers grew impatient with the
work he did after, say, 1927 or 1928; they felt he was constantly repeating
his gestures of emotional "groping"-- what he had called in Winesburg, Ohio
the "indefinable hunger" that prods and torments people. It became the
critical fashion to see Anderson's "gropings" as a sign of delayed
adolescence, a failure to develop as a writer. Once he wrote a chilling
reply to those who dismissed him in this way: "I don't think it matters
much, all this calling a man a muddler, a groper, etc.... The very man who
throws such words as these knows in his heart that he is also facing a
wall." This remark seems to me both dignified and strong, yet it must be
admitted that there was some justice in the negative responses to his later
work. For what characterized it was not so much "groping" as the imitation
of "groping," the self-caricature of a writer who feels driven back upon an
earlier self that is, alas, no longer available.
But Winesburg, Ohio remains a vital work, fresh and authentic. Most of
its stories are composed in a minor key, a tone of subdued pathos--pathos
marking both the nature and limit of Anderson's talent. (He spoke of himself
as a "minor writer.") In a few stories, however, he was able to reach beyond
pathos and to strike a tragic note. The single best story in Winesburg, Ohio
is, I think, "The Untold Lie," in which the urgency of choice becomes an
outer sign of a tragic element in the human condition. And in Anderson's
single greatest story, "The Egg," which appeared a few years after
Winesburg, Ohio, he succeeded in bringing together a surface of farce with
an undertone of tragedy. "The Egg" is an American masterpiece.
Anderson's influence upon later American writers, especially those who
wrote short stories, has been enormous. Ernest Hemingway and William
Faulkner both praised him as a writer who brought a new tremor of feeling, a
new sense of introspectiveness to the American short story. As Faulkner put
it, Anderson's "was the fumbling for exactitude, the exact word and phrase
within the limited scope of a vocabulary controlled and even repressed by
what was in him almost a fetish of simplicity ... to seek always to
penetrate to thought's uttermost end." And in many younger writers who may
not even be aware of the Anderson influence, you can see touches of his
approach, echoes of his voice.
Writing about the Elizabethan playwright John Ford, the poet Algernon
Swinburne once said: "If he touches you once he takes you, and what he takes
he keeps hold of; his work becomes part of your thought and parcel of your
spiritual furniture forever." So it is, for me and many others, with
To the memory of my mother,
EMMA SMITH ANDERSON,
whose keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the
hunger to see beneath the surface of lives, this book is dedicated.
THE TALES AND THE PERSONS
THE BOOK OF THE GROTESQUE
THE WRITER, an old man with a white mustache, had some difficulty in
getting into bed. The windows of the house in which he lived were high and
he wanted to look at the trees when he awoke in the morning. A carpenter
came to fix the bed so that it would be on a level with the window.
Quite a fuss was made about the matter. The carpenter, who had been a
soldier in the Civil War, came into the writer's room and sat down to talk
of building a platform for the purpose of raising the bed. The writer had
cigars lying about and the carpenter smoked.
For a time the two men talked of the raising of the bed and then they
talked of other things. The soldier got on the subject of the war. The
writer, in fact, led him to that subject. The carpenter had once been a
prisoner in Andersonville prison and had lost a brother. The brother had
died of starvation, and whenever the carpenter got upon that subject he
cried. He, like the old writer, had a white mustache, and when he cried he
puckered up his lips and the mustache bobbed up and down. The weeping old
man with the cigar in his mouth was ludicrous. The plan the writer had for
the raising of his bed was forgotten and later the carpenter did it in his
own way and the writer, who was past sixty, had to help himself with a chair
when he went to bed at night.
In his bed the writer rolled over on his side and lay quite still. For
years he had been beset with notions concerning his heart. He was a hard
smoker and his heart fluttered. The idea had got into his mind that he would
some time die unexpectedly and always when he got into bed he thought of
that. It did not alarm him. The effect in fact was quite a special thing and
not easily explained. It made him more alive, there in bed, than at any
other time. Perfectly still he lay and his body was old and not of much use
any more, but something inside him was altogether young. He was like a
pregnant woman, only that the thing inside him was not a baby but a youth.
No, it wasn't a youth, it was a woman, young, and wearing a coat of mail
like a knight. It is absurd, you see, to try to tell what was inside the old
writer as he lay on his high bed and listened to the fluttering of his
heart. The thing to get at is what the writer, or the young thing within the
writer, was thinking about.
The old writer, like all of the people in the world, had got, during
his long fife, a great many notions in his head. He had once been quite
handsome and a number of women had been in love with him. And then, of
course, he had known people, many people, known them in a peculiarly
intimate way that was different from the way in which you and I know people.
At least that is what the writer thought and the thought pleased him. Why
quarrel with an old man concerning his thoughts?
In the bed the writer had a dream that was not a dream. As he grew
somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his
eyes. He imagined the young indescribable thing within himself was driving a
long procession of figures before his eyes.
You see the interest in all this lies in the figures that went before
the eyes of the writer. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women
the writer had ever known had become grotesques.
The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost
beautiful, and one, a woman all drawn out of shape, hurt the old man by her
grotesqueness. When she passed he made a noise like a small dog whimpering.
Had you come into the room you might have supposed the old man had
unpleasant dreams or perhaps indigestion.
For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the
old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of
bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep
impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.
At his desk the writer worked for an hour. In the end he wrote a book
which he called "The Book of the Grotesque." It was never published, but I
saw it once and it made an indelible impression on my mind. The book had one
central thought that is very strange and has always remained with me. By
remembering it I have been able to understand many people and things that I
was never able to understand before. The thought was involved but a simple
statement of it would be something like this:
That in the beginning when the world was young there were a great many
thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each
truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world
were the truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not
try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the
truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of
profligacy, of carelessness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the
truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people came along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of
the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the truths that made the people grotesques. The old man had
quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the
moment one of the people took one of the truths to himself, called it his
truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth
he embraced became a falsehood.
You can see for yourself how the old man, who had spent all of his life
writing and was filled with words, would write hundreds of pages concerning
this matter. The subject would become so big in his mind that he himself
would be in danger of becoming a grotesque. He didn't, I suppose, for the
same reason that he never published the book. It was the young thing inside
him that saved the old man.
Concerning the old carpenter who fixed the bed for the writer, I only
mentioned him because he,
THE BOOK OF THE GROTESQUE 7
like many of what are called very common people, became the nearest
thing to what is understandable and lovable of all the grotesques in the
UPON THE HALF decayed veranda of a small frame house that stood near
the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man
walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for
clover but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, he
could see the public highway along which went a wagon filled with berry
pickers returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and maidens,
laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a blue shirt leaped from the
wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the maidens, who screamed and
protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud of dust
that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came
a thin girlish voice. "Oh, you Wing Biddlebaum, comb your hair, it's falling
into your eyes," commanded the voice to the man, who was bald and whose
nervous little hands fiddled about the bare white forehead as though
arranging a mass of tangled locks.
Wing Biddlebaum, forever frightened and beset by a ghostly band of
doubts, did not think of himself as in any way a part of the life of the
town where he had lived for twenty years. Among all the people of Winesburg
but one had come close to him. With George Willard, son of Tom Willard, the
proprietor of the New Willard House, he had formed something like a
friendship. George Willard was the reporter on the Winesburg Eagle and
sometimes in the evenings he walked out along the highway to Wing
Biddlebaum's house. Now as the old man walked up and down on the veranda,
his hands moving nervously about, he was hoping that George Willard would
come and spend the evening with him. After the wagon containing the berry
pickers had passed, he went across the field through the tall mustard weeds
and climbing a rail fence peered anxiously along the road to the town. For a
moment he stood thus, rubbing his hands together and looking up and down the
road, and then, fear overcoming him, ran back to walk again upon the porch
on his own house.
In the presence of George Willard, Wing Biddlebaum, who for twenty
years had been the town mystery, lost something of his timidity, and his
shadowy personality, submerged in a sea of doubts, came forth to look at the
world. With the young reporter at his side, he ventured in the light of day
into Main Street or strode up and down on the rickety front porch of his own
house, talking excitedly. The voice that had been low and trembling became
shrill and loud. The bent figure straightened. With a kind of wriggle, like
a fish returned to the brook by the fisherman, Biddlebaum the silent began
to talk, striving to put into words the ideas that had been accumulated by
his mind during long years of silence.
Wing Biddlebaum talked much with his hands. The slender expressive
fingers, forever active, forever striving to conceal themselves in his
pockets or behind his back, came forth and became the piston rods of his
machinery of expression.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum is a story of hands. Their restless
activity, like unto the beating of the wings of an imprisoned bird, had
given him his name. Some obscure poet of the town had thought of it. The
hands alarmed their owner. He wanted to keep them hidden away and looked
with amazement at the quiet inexpressive hands of other men who worked
beside him in the fields, or passed, driving sleepy teams on country roads.
When he talked to George Willard, Wing Biddlebaum closed his fists and
beat with them upon a table or on the walls of his house. The action made
him more comfortable. If the desire to talk came to him when the two were
walking in the fields, he sought out a stump or the top board of a fence and
with his hands pounding busily talked with renewed ease.
The story of Wing Biddlebaum's hands is worth a book in itself.
Sympathetically set forth it would tap many strange, beautiful qualities in
obscure men. It is a job for a poet. In Winesburg the hands had attracted
attention merely because of their activity. With them Wing Biddlebaum had
picked as high as a hundred and forty quarts of strawberries in a day. They
became his distinguishing feature, the source of his fame. Also they made
more grotesque an already grotesque and elusive individuality. Winesburg was
proud of the hands of Wing Biddlebaum in the same spirit in which it was
proud of Banker White's new stone house and Wesley Moyer's bay stallion,
Tony Tip, that had won the two-fifteen trot at the fall races in Cleveland.
As for George Willard, he had many times wanted to ask about the hands.
At times an almost overwhelming curiosity had taken hold of him. He felt
that there must be a reason for their strange activity and their inclination
to keep hidden away and only a growing respect for Wing Biddlebaum kept him
from blurting out the questions that were often in his mind.
Once he had been on the point of asking. The two were walking in the
fields on a summer afternoon and had stopped to sit upon a grassy bank. All
afternoon Wing Biddlebaum had talked as one inspired. By a fence he had
stopped and beating like a giant woodpecker upon the top board had shouted
at George Willard, condemning his tendency to be too much influenced by the
people about him, "You are destroying yourself," he cried. "You have the
inclination to be alone and to dream and you are afraid of dreams. You want
to be like others in town here. You hear them talk and you try to imitate
On the grassy bank Wing Biddlebaum had tried again to drive his point
home. His voice became soft and reminiscent, and with a sigh of contentment
he launched into a long rambling talk, speaking as one lost in a dream.
Out of the dream Wing Biddlebaum made a picture for George Willard. In
the picture men lived again in a kind of pastoral golden age. Across a green
open country came clean-limbed young men, some afoot, some mounted upon
horses. In crowds the young men came to gather about the feet of an old man
who sat beneath a tree in a tiny garden and who talked to them.
Wing Biddlebaum became wholly inspired. For once he forgot the hands.
Slowly they stole forth and lay upon George Willard's shoulders. Something
new and bold came into the voice that talked. "You must try to forget all
you have learned," said the old man. "You must begin to dream. From this
time on you must shut your ears to the roaring of the voices."
Pausing in his speech, Wing Biddlebaum looked long and earnestly at
George Willard. His eyes glowed. Again he raised the hands to caress the boy
and then a look of horror swept over his face.
With a convulsive movement of his body, Wing Biddlebaum sprang to his
feet and thrust his hands deep into his trousers pockets. Tears came to his
eyes. "I must be getting along home. I can talk no more with you," he said
Without looking back, the old man had hurried down the hillside and
across a meadow, leaving George Willard perplexed and frightened upon the
grassy slope. With a shiver of dread the boy arose and went along the road
toward town. "I'll not ask him about his hands," he thought, touched by the
memory of the terror he had seen in the man's eyes. "There's something
wrong, but I don't want to know what it is. His hands have something to do
with his fear of me and of everyone."
And George Willard was right. Let us look briefly into the story of the
hands. Perhaps our talking of them will arouse the poet who will tell the
hidden wonder story of the influence for which the hands were but fluttering
pennants of promise.
In his youth Wing Biddlebaum had been a school teacher in a town in
Pennsylvania. He was not then known as Wing Biddlebaum, but went by the less
euphonic name of Adolph Myers. As Adolph Myers he was much loved by the boys
of his school.
Adolph Myers was meant by nature to be a teacher of youth. He was one
of those rare, littleunderstood men who rule by a power so gentle that it
passes as a lovable weakness. In their feeling for the boys under their
charge such men are not unlike the finer sort of women in their love of men.
And yet that is but crudely stated. It needs the poet there. With the
boys of his school, Adolph Myers had walked in the evening or had sat
talking until dusk upon the schoolhouse steps lost in a kind of dream. Here
and there went his hands, caressing the shoulders of the boys, playing about
the tousled heads. As he talked his voice became soft and musical. There was
a caress in that also. In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the
shoulders and the touching of the hair were a part of the schoolmaster's
effort to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in his
fingers he expressed himself. He was one of those men in whom the force that
creates life is diffused, not centralized. Under the caress of his hands
doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to
And then the tragedy. A half-witted boy of the school became enamored
of the young master. In his bed at night he imagined unspeakable things and
in the morning went forth to tell his dreams as facts. Strange, hideous
accusations fell from his loosehung lips. Through the Pennsylvania town went
a shiver. Hidden, shadowy doubts that had been in men's minds concerning
Adolph Myers were galvanized into beliefs.
The tragedy did not linger. Trembling lads were jerked out of bed and
questioned. "He put his arms about me," said one. "His fingers were always
playing in my hair," said another.
One afternoon a man of the town, Henry Bradford, who kept a saloon,
came to the schoolhouse door. Calling Adolph Myers into the school yard he
began to beat him with his fists. As his hard knuckles beat down into the
frightened face of the schoolmaster, his wrath became more and more
terrible. Screaming with dismay, the children ran here and there like
disturbed insects. "I'll teach you to put your hands on my boy, you beast,"
roared the saloon keeper, who, tired of beating the master, had begun to
kick him about the yard.
Adolph Myers was driven from the Pennsylvania town in the night. With
lanterns in their hands a dozen men came to the door of the house where he
lived alone and commanded that he dress and come forth. It was raining and
one of the men had a rope in his hands. They had intended to hang the
schoolmaster, but something in his figure, so small, white, and pitiful,
touched their hearts and they let him escape. As he ran away into the
darkness they repented of their weakness and ran after him, swearing and
throwing sticks and great balls of soft mud at the figure that screamed and
ran faster and faster into the darkness.
For twenty years Adolph Myers had lived alone in Winesburg. He was but
forty but looked sixtyfive. The name of Biddlebaum he got from a box of
goods seen at a freight station as he hurried through an eastern Ohio town.
He had an aunt in Winesburg, a black-toothed old woman who raised chickens,
and with her he lived until she died. He had been ill for a year after the
experience in Pennsylvania, and after his recovery worked as a day laborer
in the fields, going timidly about and striving to conceal his hands.
Although he did not understand what had happened he felt that the hands must
be to blame. Again and again the fathers of the boys had talked of the
hands. "Keep your hands to yourself," the saloon keeper had roared, dancing,
with fury in the schoolhouse yard.
Upon the veranda of his house by the ravine, Wing Biddlebaum continued
to walk up and down until the sun had disappeared and the road beyond the
field was lost in the grey shadows. Going into his house he cut slices of
bread and spread honey upon them. When the rumble of the evening train that
took away the express cars loaded with the day's harvest of berries had
passed and restored the silence of the summer night, he went again to walk
upon the veranda. In the darkness he could not see the hands and they became
quiet. Although he still hungered for the presence of the boy, who was the
medium through which he expressed his love of man, the hunger became again a
part of his loneliness and his waiting. Lighting a lamp, Wing Biddlebaum
washed the few dishes soiled by his simple meal and, setting up a folding
cot by the screen door that led to the porch, prepared to undress for the
night. A few stray white bread crumbs lay on the cleanly washed floor by the
table; putting the lamp upon a low stool he began to pick up the crumbs,
carrying them to his mouth one by one with unbelievable rapidity. In the
dense blotch of light beneath the table, the kneeling figure looked like a
priest engaged in some service of his church. The nervous expressive
fingers, flashing in and out of the light, might well have been mistaken for
the fingers of the devotee going swiftly through decade after decade of his
HE WAS AN old man with a white beard and huge nose and hands. Long
before the time during which we will know him, he was a doctor and drove a
jaded white horse from house to house through the streets of Winesburg.
Later he married a girl who had money. She had been left a large fertile
farm when her father died. The girl was quiet, tall, and dark, and to many
people she seemed very beautiful. Everyone in Winesburg wondered why she
married the doctor. Within a year after the marriage she died.
The knuckles of the doctor's hands were extraordinarily large. When the
hands were closed they looked like clusters of unpainted wooden balls as
large as walnuts fastened together by steel rods. He smoked a cob pipe and
after his wife's death sat all day in his empty office close by a window
that was covered with cobwebs. He never opened the window. Once on a hot day
in August he tried but found it stuck fast and after that he forgot all
Winesburg had forgotten the old man, but in Doctor Reefy there were the
seeds of something very fine. Alone in his musty office in the Heffner Block
above the Paris Dry Goods Company's store, he worked ceaselessly, building
up something that he himself destroyed. Little pyramids of truth he erected
and after erecting knocked them down again that he might have the truths to
erect other pyramids.
Doctor Reefy was a tall man who had worn one suit of clothes for ten
years. It was frayed at the sleeves and little holes had appeared at the
knees and elbows. In the office he wore also a linen duster with huge
pockets into which he continually stuffed scraps of paper. After some weeks
the scraps of paper became little hard round balls, and when the pockets
were filled he dumped them out upon the floor. For ten years he had but one
friend, another old man named John Spaniard who owned a tree nursery.
Sometimes, in a playful mood, old Doctor Reefy took from his pockets a
handful of the paper balls and threw them at the nursery man. "That is to
confound you, you blathering old sentimentalist," he cried, shaking with
The story of Doctor Reefy and his courtship of the tall dark girl who
became his wife and left her money to him is a very curious story. It is
delicious, like the twisted little apples that grow in the orchards of
Winesburg. In the fall one walks in the orchards and the ground is hard with
frost underfoot. The apples have been taken from the trees by the pickers.
They have been put in barrels and shipped to the cities where they will be
eaten in apartments that are filled with books, magazines, furniture, and
people. On the trees are only a few gnarled apples that the pickers have
rejected. They look like the knuckles of Doctor Reefy's hands. One nibbles
at them and they are delicious. Into a little round place at the side of the
apple has been gathered all of its sweetness. One runs from tree to tree
over the frosted ground picking the gnarled, twisted apples and filling his
pockets with them. Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples.
The girl and Doctor Reefy began their courtship on a summer afternoon.
He was forty-five then and already he had begun the practice of filling his
pockets with the scraps of paper that became hard balls and were thrown
away. The habit had been formed as he sat in his buggy behind the jaded
white horse and went slowly along country roads. On the papers were written
thoughts, ends of thoughts, beginnings of thoughts.
One by one the mind of Doctor Reefy had made the thoughts. Out of many
of them he formed a truth that arose gigantic in his mind. The truth clouded
the world. It became terrible and then faded away and the little thoughts
The tall dark girl came to see Doctor Reefy because she was in the
family way and had become frightened. She was in that condition because of a
series of circumstances also curious.
The death of her father and mother and the rich acres of land that had
come down to her had set a train of suitors on her heels. For two years she
saw suitors almost every evening. Except two they were all alike. They
talked to her of passion and there was a strained eager quality in their
voices and in their eyes when they looked at her. The two who were different
were much unlike each other. One of them, a slender young man with white
hands, the son of a jeweler in Winesburg, talked continually of virginity.
When he was with her he was never off the subject. The other, a black-haired
boy with large ears, said nothing at all but always managed to get her into
the darkness, where he began to kiss her.
For a time the tall dark girl thought she would marry the jeweler's
son. For hours she sat in silence listening as he talked to her and then she
began to be afraid of something. Beneath his talk of virginity she began to
think there was a lust greater than in all the others. At times it seemed to
her that as he talked he was holding her body in his hands. She imagined him
turning it slowly about in the white hands and staring at it. At night she
dreamed that he had bitten into her body and that his jaws were dripping.
She had the dream three times, then she became in the family way to the one
who said nothing at all but who in the moment of his passion actually did
bite her shoulder so that for days the marks of his teeth showed.
After the tall dark girl came to know Doctor Reefy it seemed to her
that she never wanted to leave him again. She went into his office one
morning and without her saying anything he seemed to know what had happened
In the office of the doctor there was a woman, the wife of the man who
kept the bookstore in Winesburg. Like all old-fashioned country
practitioners, Doctor Reefy pulled teeth, and the woman who waited held a
handkerchief to her teeth and groaned. Her husband was with her and when the
tooth was taken out they both screamed and blood ran down on the woman's
white dress. The tall dark girl did not pay any attention. When the woman
and the man had gone the doctor smiled. "I will take you driving into the
country with me," he said.
For several weeks the tall dark girl and the doctor were together
almost every day. The condition that had brought her to him passed in an
illness, but she was like one who has discovered the sweetness of the
twisted apples, she could not get her mind fixed again upon the round
perfect fruit that is eaten in the city apartments. In the fall after the
beginning of her acquaintanceship with him she married Doctor Reefy and in
the following spring she died. During the winter he read to her all of the
odds and ends of thoughts he had scribbled on the bits of paper. After he
had read them he laughed and stuffed them away in his pockets to become
round hard balls.
ELIZABETH WILLARD, the mother of George Willard, was tall and gaunt and
her face was marked with smallpox scars. Although she was but forty-five,
some obscure disease had taken the fire out of her figure. Listlessly she
went about the disorderly old hotel looking at the faded wall-paper and the
ragged carpets and, when she was able to be about, doing the work of a
chambermaid among beds soiled by the slumbers of fat traveling men. Her
husband, Tom Willard, a slender, graceful man with square shoulders, a quick
military step, and a black mustache trained to turn sharply up at the ends,
tried to put the wife out of his mind. The presence of the tall ghostly
figure, moving slowly through the halls, he took as a reproach to himself.
When he thought of her he grew angry and swore. The hotel was unprofitable
and forever on the edge of failure and he wished himself out of it. He
thought of the old house and the woman who lived there with him as things
defeated and done for. The hotel in which he had begun life so hopefully was
now a mere ghost of what a hotel should be. As he went spruce and
business-like through the streets of Winesburg, he sometimes stopped and
turned quickly about as though fearing that the spirit of the hotel and of
the woman would follow him even into the streets. "Damn such a life, damn
it!" he sputtered aimlessly.
Tom Willard had a passion for village politics and for years had been
the leading Democrat in a strongly Republican community. Some day, he told
himself, the fide of things political will turn in my favor and the years of
ineffectual service count big in the bestowal of rewards. He dreamed of
going to Congress and even of becoming governor. Once when a younger member
of the party arose at a political conference and began to boast of his
faithful service, Tom Willard grew white with fury. "Shut up, you," he
roared, glaring about. "What do you know of service? What are you but a boy?
Look at what I've done here! I was a Democrat here in Winesburg when it was
a crime to be a Democrat. In the old days they fairly hunted us with guns."
Between Elizabeth and her one son George there was a deep unexpressed
bond of sympathy, based on a girlhood dream that had long ago died. In the
son's presence she was timid and reserved, but sometimes while he hurried
about town intent upon his duties as a reporter, she went into his room and
closing the door knelt by a little desk, made of a kitchen table, that sat
near a window. In the room by the desk she went through a ceremony that was
half a prayer, half a demand, addressed to the skies. In the boyish figure
she yearned to see something half forgotten that had once been a part of
herself recreated. The prayer concerned that. "Even though I die, I will in
some way keep defeat from you," she cried, and so deep was her determination
that her whole body shook. Her eyes glowed and she clenched her fists. "If I
am dead and see him becoming a meaningless drab figure like myself, I will
come back," she declared. "I ask God now to give me that privilege. I demand
it. I will pay for it. God may beat me with his fists. I will take any blow
that may befall if but this my boy be allowed to express something for us
both." Pausing uncertainly, the woman stared about the boy's room. "And do
not let him become smart and successful either," she added vaguely.
The communion between George Willard and his mother was outwardly a
formal thing without meaning. When she was ill and sat by the window in her
room he sometimes went in the evening to make her a visit. They sat by a
window that looked over the roof of a small frame building into Main Street.
By turning their heads they could see through another window, along an
alleyway that ran behind the Main Street stores and into the back door of
Abner Groff's bakery. Sometimes as they sat thus a picture of village life
presented itself to them. At the back door of his shop appeared Abner Groff
with a stick or an empty milk bottle in his hand. For a long time there was
a feud between the baker and a grey cat that belonged to Sylvester West, the
druggist. The boy and his mother saw the cat creep into the door of the
bakery and presently emerge followed by the baker, who swore and waved his
arms about. The baker's eyes were small and red and his black hair and beard
were filled with flour dust. Sometimes he was so angry that, although the
cat had disappeared, he hurled sticks, bits of broken glass, and even some
of the tools of his trade about. Once he broke a window at the back of
Sinning's Hardware Store. In the alley the grey cat crouched behind barrels
filled with torn paper and broken bottles above which flew a black swarm of
flies. Once when she was alone, and after watching a prolonged and
ineffectual outburst on the part of the baker, Elizabeth Willard put her
head down on her long white hands and wept. After that she did not look
along the alleyway any more, but tried to forget the contest between the
bearded man and the cat. It seemed like a rehearsal of her own life,
terrible in its vividness.
In the evening when the son sat in the room with his mother, the
silence made them both feel awkward. Darkness came on and the evening train
came in at the station. In the street below feet tramped up and down upon a
board sidewalk. In the station yard, after the evening train had gone, there
was a heavy silence. Perhaps Skinner Leason, the express agent, moved a
truck the length of the station platform. Over on Main Street sounded a
man's voice, laughing. The door of the express office banged. George Willard
arose and crossing the room fumbled for the doorknob. Sometimes he knocked
against a chair, making it scrape along the floor. By the window sat the
sick woman, perfectly still, listless. Her long hands, white and bloodless,
could be seen drooping over the ends of the arms of the chair. "I think you
had better be out among the boys. You are too much indoors," she said,
striving to relieve the embarrassment of the departure. "I thought I would
take a walk," replied George Willard, who felt awkward and confused.
One evening in July, when the transient guests who made the New Willard
House their temporary home had become scarce, and the hallways, lighted only
by kerosene lamps turned low, were plunged in gloom, Elizabeth Willard had
an adventure. She had been ill in bed for several days and her son had not
come to visit her. She was alarmed. The feeble blaze of life that remained
in her body was blown into a flame by her anxiety and she crept out of bed,
dressed and hurried along the hallway toward her son's room, shaking with
exaggerated fears. As she went along she steadied herself with her hand,
slipped along the papered walls of the hall and breathed with difficulty.
The air whistled through her teeth. As she hurried forward she thought how
foolish she was. "He is concerned with boyish affairs," she told herself.
"Perhaps he has now begun to walk about in the evening with girls."
Elizabeth Willard had a dread of being seen by guests in the hotel that
had once belonged to her father and the ownership of which still stood
recorded in her name in the county courthouse. The hotel was continually
losing patronage because of its shabbiness and she thought of herself as
also shabby. Her own room was in an obscure corner and when she felt able to
work she voluntarily worked among the beds, preferring the labor that could
be done when the guests were abroad seeking trade among the merchants of
By the door of her son's room the mother knelt upon the floor and
listened for some sound from within. When she heard the boy moving about and
talking in low tones a smile came to her lips. George Willard had a habit of
talking aloud to himself and to hear him doing so had always given his
mother a peculiar pleasure. The habit in him, she felt, strengthened the
secret bond that existed between them. A thousand times she had whispered to
herself of the matter. "He is groping about, trying to find himself," she
thought. "He is not a dull clod, all words and smartness. Within him there
is a secret something that is striving to grow. It is the thing I let be
killed in myself."
In the darkness in the hallway by the door the sick woman arose and
started again toward her own room. She was afraid that the door would open
and the boy come upon her. When she had reached a safe distance and was
about to turn a corner into a second hallway she stopped and bracing herself
with her hands waited, thinking to shake off a trembling fit of weakness
that had come upon her. The presence of the boy in the room had made her
happy. In her bed, during the long hours alone, the little fears that had
visited her had become giants. Now they were all gone. "When I get back to
my room I shall sleep," she murmured gratefully.
But Elizabeth Willard was not to return to her bed and to sleep. As she
stood trembling in the darkness the door of her son's room opened and the
boy's father, Tom Willard, stepped out. In the light that steamed out at the
door he stood with the knob in his hand and talked. What he said infuriated
Tom Willard was ambitious for his son. He had always thought of himself
as a successful man, although nothing he had ever done had turned out
successfully. However, when he was out of sight of the New Willard House and
had no fear of coming upon his wife, he swaggered and began to dramatize
himself as one of the chief men of the town. He wanted his son to succeed.
He it was who had secured for the boy the position on the Winesburg Eagle.
Now, with a ring of earnestness in his voice, he was advising concerning
some course of conduct. "I tell you what, George, you've got to wake up," he
said sharply. "Will Henderson has spoken to me three times concerning the
matter. He says you go along for hours not hearing when you are spoken to
and acting like a gawky girl. What ails you?" Tom Willard laughed
good-naturedly. "Well, I guess you'll get over it," he said. "I told Will
that. You're not a fool and you're not a woman. You're Tom Willard's son and
you'll wake up. I'm not afraid. What you say clears things up. If being a
newspaper man had put the notion of becoming a writer into your mind that's
all right. Only I guess you'll have to wake up to do that too, eh?"
Tom Willard went briskly along the hallway and down a flight of stairs
to the office. The woman in the darkness could hear him laughing and talking
with a guest who was striving to wear away a dull evening by dozing in a
chair by the office door. She returned to the door of her son's room. The
weakness had passed from her body as by a miracle and she stepped boldly
along. A thousand ideas raced through her head. When she heard the scraping
of a chair and the sound of a pen scratching upon paper, she again turned
and went back along the hallway to her own room.
A definite determination had come into the mind of the defeated wife of
the Winesburg hotel keeper. The determination was the result of long years
of quiet and rather ineffectual thinking. "Now," she told herself, "I will
act. There is something threatening my boy and I will ward it off." The fact
that the conversation between Tom Willard and his son had been rather quiet
and natural, as though an understanding existed between them, maddened her.
Although for years she had hated her husband, her hatred had always before
been a quite impersonal thing. He had been merely a part of something else
that she hated. Now, and by the few words at the door, he had become the
thing personified. In the darkness of her own room she clenched her fists
and glared about. Going to a cloth bag that hung on a nail by the wall she
took out a long pair of sewing scissors and held them in her hand like a
dagger. "I will stab him," she said aloud. "He has chosen to be the voice of
evil and I will kill him. When I have killed him something will snap within
myself and I will die also. It will be a release for all of us."
In her girlhood and before her marriage with Tom Willard, Elizabeth had
borne a somewhat shaky reputation in Winesburg. For years she had been what
is called "stage-struck" and had paraded through the streets with traveling
men guests at her father's hotel, wearing loud clothes and urging them to
tell her of life in the cities out of which they had come. Once she startled
the town by putting on men's clothes and riding a bicycle down Main Street.
In her own mind the tall dark girl had been in those days much
confused. A great restlessness was in her and it expressed itself in two
ways. First there was an uneasy desire for change, for some big definite
movement to her life. It was this feeling that had turned her mind to the
stage. She dreamed of joining some company and wandering over the world,
seeing always new faces and giving something out of herself to all people.
Sometimes at night she was quite beside herself with the thought, but when
she tried to talk of the matter to the members of the theatrical companies
that came to Winesburg and stopped at her father's hotel, she got nowhere.
They did not seem to know what she meant, or if she did get something of her
passion expressed, they only laughed. "It's not like that," they said. "It's
as dull and uninteresting as this here. Nothing comes of it."
With the traveling men when she walked about with them, and later with
Tom Willard, it was quite different. Always they seemed to understand and
sympathize with her. On the side streets of the village, in the darkness
under the trees, they took hold of her hand and she thought that something
unexpressed in herself came forth and became a part of an unexpressed
something in them.
And then there was the second expression of her restlessness. When that
came she felt for a time released and happy. She did not blame the men who
walked with her and later she did not blame Tom Willard. It was always the
same, beginning with kisses and ending, after strange wild emotions, with
peace and then sobbing repentance. When she sobbed she put her hand upon the
face of the man and had always the same thought. Even though he were large
and bearded she thought he had become suddenly a little boy. She wondered
why he did not sob also.
In her room, tucked away in a corner of the old Willard House,
Elizabeth Willard lighted a lamp and put it on a dressing table that stood
by the door. A thought had come into her mind and she went to a closet and
brought out a small square box and set it on the table. The box contained
material for makeup and had been left with other things by a theatrical
company that had once been stranded in Winesburg. Elizabeth Willard had
decided that she would be beautiful. Her hair was still black and there was
a great mass of it braided and coiled about her head. The scene that was to
take place in the office below began to grow in her mind. No ghostly
worn-out figure should confront Tom Willard, but something quite unexpected
and startling. Tall and with dusky cheeks and hair that fell in a mass from
her shoulders, a figure should come striding down the stairway before the
startled loungers in the hotel office. The figure would be silent--it would
be swift and terrible. As a tigress whose cub had been threatened would she
appear, coming out of the shadows, stealing noiselessly along and holding
the long wicked scissors in her hand.
With a little broken sob in her throat, Elizabeth Willard blew out the
light that stood upon the table and stood weak and trembling in the
darkness. The strength that had been as a miracle in her body left and she
half reeled across the floor, clutching at the back of the chair in which
she had spent so many long days staring out over the tin roofs into the main
street of Winesburg. In the hallway there was the sound of footsteps and
George Willard came in at the door. Sitting in a chair beside his mother he
began to talk. "I'm going to get out of here," he said. "I don't know where
I shall go or what I shall do but I am going away."
The woman in the chair waited and trembled. An impulse came to her. "I
suppose you had better wake up," she said. "You think that? You will go to
the city and make money, eh? It will be better for you, you think, to be a
business man, to be brisk and smart and alive?" She waited and trembled.
The son shook his head. "I suppose I can't make you understand, but oh,
I wish I could," he said earnestly. "I can't even talk to father about it. I
don't try. There isn't any use. I don't know what I shall do. I just want to
go away and look at people and think."
Silence fell upon the room where the boy and woman sat together. Again,
as on the other evenings, they were embarrassed. After a time the boy tried
again to talk. "I suppose it won't be for a year or two but I've been
thinking about it," he said, rising and going toward the door. "Something
father said makes it sure that I shall have to go away." He fumbled with the
doorknob. In the room the silence became unbearable to the woman. She wanted
to cry out with joy because of the words that had come from the lips of her
son, but the expression of joy had become impossible to her. "I think you
had better go out among the boys. You are too much indoors," she said. "I
thought I would go for a little walk," replied the son stepping awkwardly
out of the room and closing the door.
DOCTOR PARCIVAL was a large man with a drooping mouth covered by a
yellow mustache. He always wore a dirty white waistcoat out of the pockets
of which protruded a number of the kind of black cigars known as stogies.
His teeth were black and irregular and there was something strange about his
eyes. The lid of the left eye twitched; it fell down and snapped up; it was
exactly as though the lid of the eye were a window shade and someone stood
inside the doctor's head playing with the cord.
Doctor Parcival had a liking for the boy, George Willard. It began when
George had been working for a year on the Winesburg Eagle and the
acquaintanceship was entirely a matter of the doctor's own making.
In the late afternoon Will Henderson, owner and editor of the Eagle,
went over to Tom Willy's saloon. Along an alleyway he went and slipping in
at the back door of the saloon began drinking a drink made of a combination
of sloe gin and soda water. Will Henderson was a sensualist and had reached
the age of forty-five. He imagined the gin renewed the youth in him. Like
most sensualists he enjoyed talking of women, and for an hour he lingered
about gossiping with Tom Willy. The saloon keeper was a short,
broad-shouldered man with peculiarly marked hands. That flaming kind of
birthmark that sometimes paints with red the faces of men and women had
touched with red Tom Willy's fingers and the backs of his hands. As he stood
by the bar talking to Will Henderson he rubbed the hands together. As he
grew more and more excited the red of his fingers deepened. It was as though
the hands had been dipped in blood that had dried and faded.
As Will Henderson stood at the bar looking at the red hands and talking
of women, his assistant, George Willard, sat in the office of the Winesburg
Eagle and listened to the talk of Doctor Parcival.
Doctor Parcival appeared immediately after Will Henderson had
disappeared. One might have supposed that the doctor had been watching from
his office window and had seen the editor going along the alleyway. Coming
in at the front door and finding himself a chair, he lighted one of the
stogies and crossing his legs began to talk. He seemed intent upon
convincing the boy of the advisability of adopting a line of conduct that he
was himself unable to define.
"If you have your eyes open you will see that although I call myself a
doctor I have mighty few patients," he began. "There is a reason for that.
It is not an accident and it is not because I do not know as much of
medicine as anyone here. I do not want patients. The reason, you see, does
not appear on the surface. It lies in fact in my character, which has, if
you think about it, many strange turns. Why I want to talk to you of the
matter I don't know. I might keep still and get more credit in your eyes. I
have a desire to make you admire me, that's a fact. I don't know why. That's
why I talk. It's very amusing, eh?"
Sometimes the doctor launched into long tales concerning himself. To
the boy the tales were very real and full of meaning. He began to admire the
fat unclean-looking man and, in the afternoon when Will Henderson had gone,
looked forward with keen interest to the doctor's coming.
Doctor Parcival had been in Winesburg about five years. He came from
Chicago and when he arrived was drunk and got into a fight with Albert
Longworth, the baggageman. The fight concerned a trunk and ended by the
doctor's being escorted to the village lockup. When he was released he
rented a room above a shoe-repairing shop at the lower end of Main Street
and put out the sign that announced himself as a doctor. Although he had but
few patients and these of the poorer sort who were unable to pay, he seemed
to have plenty of money for his needs. He slept in the office that was
unspeakably dirty and dined at Biff Carter's lunch room in a small frame
building opposite the railroad station. In the summer the lunch room was
filled with flies and Biff Carter's white apron was more dirty than his
floor. Doctor Parcival did not mind. Into the lunch room he stalked and
deposited twenty cents upon the counter. "Feed me what you wish for that,"
he said laughing. "Use up food that you wouldn't otherwise sell. It makes no
difference to me. I am a man of distinction, you see. Why should I concern
myself with what I eat."
The tales that Doctor Parcival told George Willard began nowhere and
ended nowhere. Sometimes the boy thought they must all be inventions, a pack
of lies. And then again he was convinced that they contained the very
essence of truth.
"I was a reporter like you here," Doctor Parcival began. "It was in a
town in Iowa--or was it in Illinois? I don't remember and anyway it makes no
difference. Perhaps I am trying to conceal my identity and don't want to be
very definite. Have you ever thought it strange that I have money for my
needs although I do nothing? I may have stolen a great sum of money or been
involved in a murder before I came here. There is food for thought in that,
eh? If you were a really smart newspaper reporter you would look me up. In
Chicago there was a Doctor Cronin who was murdered. Have you heard of that?
Some men murdered him and put him in a trunk. In the early morning they
hauled the trunk across the city. It sat on the back of an express wagon and
they were on the seat as unconcerned as anything. Along they went through
quiet streets where everyone was asleep. The sun was just coming up over the
lake. Funny, eh--just to think of them smoking pipes and chattering as they
drove along as unconcerned as I am now. Perhaps I was one of those men. That
would be a strange turn of things, now wouldn't it, eh?" Again Doctor
Parcival began his tale: "Well, anyway there I was, a reporter on a paper
just as you are here, running about and getting little items to print. My
mother was poor. She took in washing. Her dream was to make me a
Presbyterian minister and I was studying with that end in view.
"My father had been insane for a number of years. He was in an asylum
over at Dayton, Ohio. There you see I have let it slip out! All of this took
place in Ohio, right here in Ohio. There is a clew if you ever get the
notion of looking me up.
"I was going to tell you of my brother. That's the object of all this.
That's what I'm getting at. My brother was a railroad painter and had a job
on the Big Four. You know that road runs through Ohio here. With other men
he lived in a box car and away they went from town to town painting the
railroad property-switches, crossing gates, bridges, and stations.
"The Big Four paints its stations a nasty orange color. How I hated
that color! My brother was always covered with it. On pay days he used to
get drunk and come home wearing his paint-covered clothes and bringing his
money with him. He did not give it to mother but laid it in a pile on our
"About the house he went in the clothes covered with the nasty orange
colored paint. I can see the picture. My mother, who was small and had red,
sad-looking eyes, would come into the house from a little shed at the back.
That's where she spent her time over the washtub scrubbing people's dirty
clothes. In she would come and stand by the table, rubbing her eyes with her
apron that was covered with soap-suds.
"'Don't touch it! Don't you dare touch that money,' my brother roared,
and then he himself took five or ten dollars and went tramping off to the
saloons. When he had spent what he had taken he came back for more. He never
gave my mother any money at all but stayed about until he had spent it all,
a little at a time. Then he went back to his job with the painting crew on
the railroad. After he had gone things began to arrive at our house,
groceries and such things. Sometimes there would be a dress for mother or a
pair of shoes for me.
"Strange, eh? My mother loved my brother much more than she did me,
although he never said a kind word to either of us and always raved up and
down threatening us if we dared so much as touch the money that sometimes
lay on the table three days.
"We got along pretty well. I studied to be a minister and prayed. I was
a regular ass about saying prayers. You should have heard me. When my father
died I prayed all night, just as I did sometimes when my brother was in town
drinking and going about buying the things for us. In the evening after
supper I knelt by the table where the money lay and prayed for hours. When
no one was looking I stole a dollar or two and put it in my pocket. That
makes me laugh now but then it was terrible. It was on my mind all the time.
I got six dollars a week from my job on the paper and always took it
straight home to mother. The few dollars I stole from my brother's pile I
spent on myself, you know, for trifles, candy and cigarettes and such
"When my father died at the asylum over at Dayton, I went over there. I
borrowed some money from the man for whom I worked and went on the train at
night. It was raining. In the asylum they treated me as though I were a
"The men who had jobs in the asylum had found out I was a newspaper
reporter. That made them afraid. There had been some negligence, some
carelessness, you see, when father was ill. They thought perhaps I would
write it up in the paper and make a fuss. I never intended to do anything of
"Anyway, in I went to the room where my father lay dead and blessed the
dead body. I wonder what put that notion into my head. Wouldn't my brother,
the painter, have laughed, though. There I stood over the dead body and
spread out my hands. The superintendent of the asylum and some of his
helpers came in and stood about looking sheepish. It was very amusing. I
spread out my hands and said, 'Let peace brood over this carcass.' That's
what I said. "
Jumping to his feet and breaking off the tale, Doctor Parcival began to
walk up and down in the office of the Winesburg Eagle where George Willard
sat listening. He was awkward and, as the office was small, continually
knocked against things. "What a fool I am to be talking," he said. "That is
not my object in coming here and forcing my acquaintanceship upon you. I
have something else in mind. You are a reporter just as I was once and you
have attracted my attention. You may end by becoming just such another fool.
I want to warn you and keep on warning you. That's why I seek you out."
Doctor Parcival began talking of George Willard's attitude toward men.
It seemed to the boy that the man had but one object in view, to make
everyone seem despicable. "I want to fill you with hatred and contempt so
that you will be a superior being," he declared. "Look at my brother. There
was a fellow, eh? He despised everyone, you see. You have no idea with what
contempt he looked upon mother and me. And was he not our superior? You know
he was. You have not seen him and yet I have made you feel that. I have
given you a sense of it. He is dead. Once when he was drunk he lay down on
the tracks and the car in which he lived with the other painters ran over
One day in August Doctor Parcival had an adventure in Winesburg. For a
month George Willard had been going each morning to spend an hour in the
doctor's office. The visits came about through a desire on the part of the
doctor to read to the boy from the pages of a book he was in the process of
writing. To write the book Doctor Parcival declared was the object of his
coming to Winesburg to live.
On the morning in August before the coming of the boy, an incident had
happened in the doctor's office. There had been an accident on Main Street.
A team of horses had been frightened by a train and had run away. A little
girl, the daughter of a farmer, had been thrown from a buggy and killed.
On Main Street everyone had become excited and a cry for doctors had
gone up. All three of the active practitioners of the town had come quickly
but had found the child dead. From the crowd someone had run to the office
of Doctor Parcival who had bluntly refused to go down out of his office to
the dead child. The useless cruelty of his refusal had passed unnoticed.
Indeed, the man who had come up the stairway to summon him had hurried away
without hearing the refusal.
All of this, Doctor Parcival did not know and when George Willard came
to his office he found the man shaking with terror. "What I have done will
arouse the people of this town," he declared excitedly. "Do I not know human
nature? Do I not know what will happen? Word of my refusal will be whispered
about. Presently men will get together in groups and talk of it. They will
come here. We will quarrel and there will be talk of hanging. Then they will
come again bearing a rope in their hands."
Doctor Parcival shook with fright. "I have a presentiment," he declared
emphatically. "It may be that what I am talking about will not occur this
morning. It may be put off until tonight but I will be hanged. Everyone will
get excited. I will be hanged to a lamp-post on Main Street."
Going to the door of his dirty office, Doctor Parcival looked timidly
down the stairway leading to the street. When he returned the fright that
had been in his eyes was beginning to be replaced by doubt. Coming on tiptoe
across the room he tapped George Willard on the shoulder. "If not now,
sometime," he whispered, shaking his head. "In the end I will be crucified,
Doctor Parcival began to plead with George Willard. "You must pay
attention to me," he urged. "If something happens perhaps you will be able
to write the book that I may never get written. The idea is very simple, so
simple that if you are not careful you will forget it. It is this--that
everyone in the world is Christ and they are all crucified. That's what I
want to say. Don't you forget that. Whatever happens, don't you dare let
LOOKING CAUTIOUSLY ABOUT, George Willard arose from his desk in the
office of the Winesburg Eagle and went hurriedly out at the back door. The
night was warm and cloudy and although it was not yet eight o'clock, the
alleyway back of the Eagle office was pitch dark. A team of horses tied to a
post somewhere in the darkness stamped on the hardbaked ground. A cat sprang
from under George Willard's feet and ran away into the night. The young man
was nervous. All day he had gone about his work like one dazed by a blow. In
the alleyway he trembled as though with fright.
In the darkness George Willard walked along the alleyway, going
carefully and cautiously. The back doors of the Winesburg stores were open
and he could see men sitting about under the store lamps. In Myerbaum's
Notion Store Mrs. Willy the saloon keeper's wife stood by the counter with a
basket on her arm. Sid Green the clerk was waiting on her. He leaned over
the counter and talked earnestly.
George Willard crouched and then jumped through the path of light that
came out at the door. He began to run forward in the darkness. Behind Ed
Griffith's saloon old Jerry Bird the town drunkard lay asleep on the ground.
The runner stumbled over the sprawling legs. He laughed brokenly.
George Willard had set forth upon an adventure. All day he had been
trying to make up his mind to go through with the adventure and now he was
acting. In the office of the Winesburg Eagle he had been sitting since six
o'clock trying to think.
There had been no decision. He had just jumped to his feet, hurried
past Will Henderson who was reading proof in the printshop and started to
run along the alleyway.
Through street after street went George Willard, avoiding the people
who passed. He crossed and recrossed the road. When he passed a street lamp
he pulled his hat down over his face. He did not dare think. In his mind
there was a fear but it was a new kind of fear. He was afraid the adventure
on which he had set out would be spoiled, that he would lose courage and
George Willard found Louise Trunnion in the kitchen of her father's
house. She was washing dishes by the light of a kerosene lamp. There she
stood behind the screen door in the little shedlike kitchen at the back of
the house. George Willard stopped by a picket fence and tried to control the
shaking of his body. Only a narrow potato patch separated him from the
adventure. Five minutes passed before he felt sure enough of himself to call
to her. "Louise! Oh, Louise!" he called. The cry stuck in his throat. His
voice became a hoarse whisper.
Louise Trunnion came out across the potato patch holding the dish cloth
in her hand. "How do you know I want to go out with you," she said sulkily.
"What makes you so sure?"
George Willard did not answer. In silence the two stood in the darkness
with the fence between them. "You go on along," she said. "Pa's in there.
I'll come along. You wait by Williams' barn."
The young newspaper reporter had received a letter from Louise
Trunnion. It had come that morning to the office of the Winesburg Eagle. The
letter was brief. "I'm yours if you want me," it said. He thought it
annoying that in the darkness by the fence she had pretended there was
nothing between them. "She has a nerve! Well, gracious sakes, she has a
nerve," he muttered as he went along the street and passed a row of vacant
lots where corn grew. The corn was shoulder high and had been planted right
down to the sidewalk.
When Louise Trunnion came out of the front door of her house she still
wore the gingham dress in which she had been washing dishes. There was no
hat on her head. The boy could see her standing with the doorknob in her
hand talking to someone within, no doubt to old Jake Trunnion, her father.
Old Jake was half deaf and she shouted. The door closed and everything was
dark and silent in the little side street. George Willard trembled more
violently than ever.
In the shadows by Williams' barn George and Louise stood, not daring to
talk. She was not particularly comely and there was a black smudge on the
side of her nose. George thought she must have rubbed her nose with her
finger after she had been handling some of the kitchen pots.
The young man began to laugh nervously. "It's warm," he said. He wanted
to touch her with his hand. "I'm not very bold," he thought. Just to touch
the folds of the soiled gingham dress would, he decided, be an exquisite
pleasure. She began to quibble. "You think you're better than I am. Don't
tell me, I guess I know," she said drawing closer to him.
A flood of words burst from George Willard. He remembered the look that
had lurked in the girl's eyes when they had met on the streets and thought
of the note she had written. Doubt left him. The whispered tales concerning
her that had gone about town gave him confidence. He became wholly the male,
bold and aggressive. In his heart there was no sympathy for her. "Ah, come
on, it'll be all right. There won't be anyone know anything. How can they
know?" he urged.
They began to walk along a narrow brick sidewalk between the cracks of
which tall weeds grew. Some of the bricks were missing and the sidewalk was
rough and irregular. He took hold of her hand that was also rough and
thought it delightfully small. "I can't go far," she said and her voice was
They crossed a bridge that ran over a tiny stream and passed another
vacant lot in which corn grew. The street ended. In the path at the side of
the road they were compelled to walk one behind the other. Will Overton's
berry field lay beside the road and there was a pile of boards. "Will is
going to build a shed to store berry crates here," said George and they sat
down upon the boards.
When George Willard got back into Main Street it was past ten o'clock
and had begun to rain. Three times he walked up and down the length of Main
Street. Sylvester West's Drug Store was still open and he went in and bought
a cigar. When Shorty Crandall the clerk came out at the door with him he was
pleased. For five minutes the two stood in the shelter of the store awning
and talked. George Willard felt satisfied. He had wanted more than anything
else to talk to some man. Around a corner toward the New Willard House he
went whistling softly.
On the sidewalk at the side of Winney's Dry Goods Store where there was
a high board fence covered with circus pictures, he stopped whistling and
stood perfectly still in the darkness, attentive, listening as though for a
voice calling his name. Then again he laughed nervously. "She hasn't got
anything on me. Nobody knows," he muttered doggedly and went on his way.
A Tale in Four Parts
THERE WERE ALWAYS three or four old people sitting on the front porch
of the house or puttering about the garden of the Bentley farm. Three of the
old people were women and sisters to Jesse. They were a colorless, soft
voiced lot. Then there was a silent old man with thin white hair who was
The farmhouse was built of wood, a board outercovering over a framework
of logs. It was in reality not one house but a cluster of houses joined
together in a rather haphazard manner. Inside, the place was full of
surprises. One went up steps from the living room into the dining room and
there were always steps to be ascended or descended in passing from one room
to another. At meal times the place was like a beehive. At one moment all
was quiet, then doors began to open, feet clattered on stairs, a murmur of
soft voices arose and people appeared from a dozen obscure corners.
Besides the old people, already mentioned, many others lived in the
Bentley house. There were four hired men, a woman named Aunt Callie Beebe,
who was in charge of the housekeeping, a dull-witted girl named Eliza
Stoughton, who made beds and helped with the milking, a boy who worked in
the stables, and Jesse Bentley himself, the owner and overlord of it all.
By the time the American Civil War had been over for twenty years, that
part of Northern Ohio where the Bentley farms lay had begun to emerge from
pioneer life. Jesse then owned machinery for harvesting grain. He had built
modern barns and most of his land was drained with carefully laid tile
drain, but in order to understand the man we will have to go back to an
The Bentley family had been in Northern Ohio for several generations
before Jesse's time. They came from New York State and took up land when the
country was new and land could be had at a low price. For a long time they,
in common with all the other Middle Western people, were very poor. The land
they had settled upon was heavily wooded and covered with fallen logs and
underbrush. After the long hard labor of clearing these away and cutting the
timber, there were still the stumps to be reckoned with. Plows run through
the fields caught on hidden roots, stones lay all about, on the low places
water gathered, and the young corn turned yellow, sickened and died.
When Jesse Bentley's father and brothers had come into their ownership
of the place, much of the harder part of the work of clearing had been done,
but they clung to old traditions and worked like driven animals. They lived
as practically all of the farming people of the time lived. In the spring
and through most of the winter the highways leading into the town of
Winesburg were a sea of mud. The four young men of the family worked hard
all day in the fields, they ate heavily of coarse, greasy food, and at night
slept like tired beasts on beds of straw. Into their lives came little that
was not coarse and brutal and outwardly they were themselves coarse and
brutal. On Saturday afternoons they hitched a team of horses to a
three-seated wagon and went off to town. In town they stood about the stoves
in the stores talking to other farmers or to the store keepers. They were
dressed in overalls and in the winter wore heavy coats that were flecked
with mud. Their hands as they stretched them out to the heat of the stoves
were cracked and red. It was difficult for them to talk and so they for the
most part kept silent. When they had bought meat, flour, sugar, and salt,
they went into one of the Winesburg saloons and drank beer. Under the
influence of drink the naturally strong lusts of their natures, kept
suppressed by the heroic labor of breaking up new ground, were released. A
kind of crude and animallike poetic fervor took possession of them. On the
road home they stood up on the wagon seats and shouted at the stars.
Sometimes they fought long and bitterly and at other times they broke forth
into songs. Once Enoch Bentley, the older one of the boys, struck his
father, old Tom Bentley, with the butt of a teamster's whip, and the old man
seemed likely to die. For days Enoch lay hid in the straw in the loft of the
stable ready to flee if the result of his momentary passion turned out to be
murder. He was kept alive with food brought by his mother, who also kept him
informed of the injured man's condition. When all turned out well he emerged
from his hiding place and went back to the work of clearing land as though
nothing had happened.
The Civil War brought a sharp turn to the fortunes of the Bentleys and
was responsible for the rise of the youngest son, Jesse. Enoch, Edward,
Harry, and Will Bentley all enlisted and before the long war ended they were
all killed. For a time after they went away to the South, old Tom tried to
run the place, but he was not successful. When the last of the four had been
killed he sent word to Jesse that he would have to come home.
Then the mother, who had not been well for a year, died suddenly, and
the father became altogether discouraged. He talked of selling the farm and
moving into town. All day he went about shaking his head and muttering. The
work in the fields was neglected and weeds grew high in the corn. Old Tim
hired men but he did not use them intelligently. When they had gone away to
the fields in the morning he wandered into the woods and sat down on a log.
Sometimes he forgot to come home at night and one of the daughters had to go
in search of him.
When Jesse Bentley came home to the farm and began to take charge of
things he was a slight, sensitive-looking man of twenty-two. At eighteen he
had left home to go to school to become a scholar and eventually to become a
minister of the Presbyterian Church. All through his boyhood he had been
what in our country was called an "odd sheep" and had not got on with his
brothers. Of all the family only his mother had understood him and she was
now dead. When he came home to take charge of the farm, that had at that
time grown to more than six hundred acres, everyone on the farms about and
in the nearby town of Winesburg smiled at the idea of his trying to handle
the work that had been done by his four strong brothers.
There was indeed good cause to smile. By the standards of his day Jesse
did not look like a man at all. He was small and very slender and womanish
of body and, true to the traditions of young ministers, wore a long black
coat and a narrow black string tie. The neighbors were amused when they saw
him, after the years away, and they were even more amused when they saw the
woman he had married in the city.
As a matter of fact, Jesse's wife did soon go under. That was perhaps
Jesse's fault. A farm in Northern Ohio in the hard years after the Civil War
was no place for a delicate woman, and Katherine Bentley was delicate. Jesse
was hard with her as he was with everybody about him in those days. She
tried to do such work as all the neighbor women about her did and he let her
go on without interference. She helped to do the milking and did part of the
housework; she made the beds for the men and prepared their food. For a year
she worked every day from sunrise until late at night and then after giving
birth to a child she died.
As for Jesse Bentley--although he was a delicately built man there was
something within him that could not easily be killed. He had brown curly
hair and grey eyes that were at times hard and direct, at times wavering and
uncertain. Not only was he slender but he was also short of stature. His
mouth was like the mouth of a sensitive and very determined child. Jesse
Bentley was a fanatic. He was a man born out of his time and place and for
this he suffered and made others suffer. Never did he succeed in getting
what he wanted out of fife and he did not know what he wanted. Within a very
short time after he came home to the Bentley farm he made everyone there a
little afraid of him, and his wife, who should have been close to him as his
mother had been, was afraid also. At the end of two weeks after his coming,
old Tom Bentley made over to him the entire ownership of the place and
retired into the background. Everyone retired into the background. In spite
of his youth and inexperience, Jesse had the trick of mastering the souls of
his people. He was so in earnest in everything he did and said that no one
understood him. He made everyone on the farm work as they had never worked
before and yet there was no joy in the work. If things went well they went
well for Jesse and never for the people who were his dependents. Like a
thousand other strong men who have come into the world here in America in
these later times, Jesse was but half strong. He could master others but he
could not master himself. The running of the farm as it had never been run
before was easy for him. When he came home from Cleveland where he had been
in school, he shut himself off from all of his people and began to make
plans. He thought about the farm night and day and that made him successful.
Other men on the farms about him worked too hard and were too fired to
think, but to think of the farm and to be everlastingly making plans for its
success was a relief to Jesse. It partially satisfied something in his
passionate nature. Immediately after he came home he had a wing built on to
the old house and in a large room facing the west he had windows that looked
into the barnyard and other windows that looked off across the fields. By
the window he sat down to think. Hour after hour and day after day he sat
and looked over the land and thought out his new place in life. The
passionate burning thing in his nature flamed up and his eyes became hard.
He wanted to make the farm produce as no farm in his state had ever produced
before and then he wanted something else. It was the indefinable hunger
within that made his eyes waver and that kept him always more and more
silent before people. He would have given much to achieve peace and in him
was a fear that peace was the thing he could not achieve.
All over his body Jesse Bentley was alive. In his small frame was
gathered the force of a long line of strong men. He had always been
extraordinarily alive when he was a small boy on the farm and later when he
was a young man in school. In the school he had studied and thought of God
and the Bible with his whole mind and heart. As time passed and he grew to
know people better, he began to think of himself as an extraordinary man,
one set apart from his fellows. He wanted terribly to make his life a thing
of great importance, and as he looked about at his fellow men and saw how
like clods they lived it seemed to him that he could not bear to become also
such a clod. Although in his absorption in himself and in his own destiny he
was blind to the fact that his young wife was doing a strong woman's work
even after she had become large with child and that she was killing herself
in his service, he did not intend to be unkind to her. When his father, who
was old and twisted with toil, made over to him the ownership of the farm
and seemed content to creep away to a corner and wait for death, he shrugged
his shoulders and dismissed the old man from his mind.
In the room by the window overlooking the land that had come down to
him sat Jesse thinking of his own affairs. In the stables he could hear the
tramping of his horses and the restless movement of his cattle. Away in the
fields he could see other cattle wandering over green hills. The voices of
men, his men who worked for him, came in to him through the window. From the
milkhouse there was the steady thump, thump of a churn being manipulated by
the half-witted girl, Eliza Stoughton. Jesse's mind went back to the men of
Old Testament days who had also owned lands and herds. He remembered how God
had come down out of the skies and talked to these men and he wanted God to
notice and to talk to him also. A kind of feverish boyish eagerness to in
some way achieve in his own life the flavor of significance that had hung
over these men took possession of him. Being a prayerful man he spoke of the
matter aloud to God and the sound of his own words strengthened and fed his
"I am a new kind of man come into possession of these fields," he
declared. "Look upon me, O God, and look Thou also upon my neighbors and all
the men who have gone before me here! O God, create in me another Jesse,
like that one of old, to rule over men and to be the father of sons who
shall be rulers!" Jesse grew excited as he talked aloud and jumping to his
feet walked up and down in the room. In fancy he saw himself living in old
times and among old peoples. The land that lay stretched out before him
became of vast significance, a place peopled by his fancy with a new race of
men sprung from himself. It seemed to him that in his day as in those other
and older days, kingdoms might be created and new impulses given to the
lives of men by the power of God speaking through a chosen servant. He
longed to be such a servant. "It is God's work I have come to the land to
do," he declared in a loud voice and his short figure straightened and he
thought that something like a halo of Godly approval hung over him.
It will perhaps be somewhat difficult for the men and women of a later
day to understand Jesse Bentley. In the last fifty years a vast change has
taken place in the lives of our people. A revolution has in fact taken
place. The coming of industrialism, attended by all the roar and rattle of
affairs, the shrill cries of millions of new voices that have come among us
from overseas, the going and coming of trains, the growth of cities, the
building of the interurban car lines that weave in and out of towns and past
farmhouses, and now in these later days the coming of the automobiles has
worked a tremendous change in the lives and in the habits of thought of our
people of Mid-America. Books, badly imagined and written though they may be
in the hurry of our times, are in every household, magazines circulate by
the millions of copies, newspapers are everywhere. In our day a farmer
standing by the stove in the store in his village has his mind filled to
overflowing with the words of other men. The newspapers and the magazines
have pumped him full. Much of the old brutal ignorance that had in it also a
kind of beautiful childlike innocence is gone forever. The farmer by the
stove is brother to the men of the cities, and if you listen you will find
him talking as glibly and as senselessly as the best city man of us all.
In Jesse Bentley's time and in the country districts of the whole
Middle West in the years after the Civil War it was not so. Men labored too
hard and were too tired to read. In them was no desire for words printed
upon paper. As they worked in the fields, vague, half-formed thoughts took
possession of them. They believed in God and in God's power to control their
lives. In the little Protestant churches they gathered on Sunday to hear of
God and his works. The churches were the center of the social and
intellectual life of the times. The figure of God was big in the hearts of
And so, having been born an imaginative child and having within him a
great intellectual eagerness, Jesse Bentley had turned wholeheartedly toward
God. When the war took his brothers away, he saw the hand of God in that.
When his father became ill and could no longer attend to the running of the
farm, he took that also as a sign from God. In the city, when the word came
to him, he walked about at night through the streets thinking of the matter
and when he had come home and had got the work on the farm well under way,
he went again at night to walk through the forests and over the low hills
and to think of God.
As he walked the importance of his own figure in some divine plan grew
in his mind. He grew avaricious and was impatient that the farm contained
only six hundred acres. Kneeling in a fence corner at the edge of some
meadow, he sent his voice abroad into the silence and looking up he saw the
stars shining down at him.
One evening, some months after his father's death, and when his wife
Katherine was expecting at any moment to be laid abed of childbirth, Jesse
left his house and went for a long walk. The Bentley farm was situated in a
tiny valley watered by Wine Creek, and Jesse walked along the banks of the
stream to the end of his own land and on through the fields of his
neighbors. As he walked the valley broadened and then narrowed again. Great
open stretches of field and wood lay before him. The moon came out from
behind clouds, and, climbing a low hill, he sat down to think.
Jesse thought that as the true servant of God the entire stretch of
country through which he had walked should have come into his possession. He
thought of his dead brothers and blamed them that they had not worked harder
and achieved more. Before him in the moonlight the tiny stream ran down over
stones, and he began to think of the men of old times who like himself had
owned flocks and lands.
A fantastic impulse, half fear, half greediness, took possession of
Jesse Bentley. He remembered how in the old Bible story the Lord had
appeared to that other Jesse and told him to send his son David to where
Saul and the men of Israel were fighting the Philistines in the Valley of
Elah. Into Jesse's mind came the conviction that all of the Ohio farmers who
owned land in the valley of Wine Creek were Philistines and enemies of God.
"Suppose," he whispered to himself, "there should come from among them one
who, like Goliath the Philistine of Gath, could defeat me and take from me
my possessions." In fancy he felt the sickening dread that he thought must
have lain heavy on the heart of Saul before the coming of David. Jumping to
his feet, he began to run through the night. As he ran he called to God. His
voice carried far over the low hills. "Jehovah of Hosts," he cried, "send to
me this night out of the womb of Katherine, a son. Let Thy grace alight upon
me. Send me a son to be called David who shall help me to pluck at last all
of these lands out of the hands of the Philistines and turn them to Thy
service and to the building of Thy kingdom on earth."
DAVID HARDY OF Winesburg, Ohio, was the grandson of Jesse Bentley, the
owner of Bentley farms. When he was twelve years old he went to the old
Bentley place to live. His mother, Louise Bentley, the girl who came into
the world on that night when Jesse ran through the fields crying to God that
he be given a son, had grown to womanhood on the farm and had married young
John Hardy of Winesburg, who became a banker. Louise and her husband did not
live happily together and everyone agreed that she was to blame. She was a
small woman with sharp grey eyes and black hair. From childhood she had been
inclined to fits of temper and when not angry she was often morose and
silent. In Winesburg it was said that she drank. Her husband, the banker,
who was a careful, shrewd man, tried hard to make her happy. When he began
to make money he bought for her a large brick house on Elm Street in
Winesburg and he was the first man in that town to keep a manservant to
drive his wife's carriage.
But Louise could not be made happy. She flew into half insane fits of
temper during which she was sometimes silent, sometimes noisy and
quarrelsome. She swore and cried out in her anger. She got a knife from the
kitchen and threatened her husband's life. Once she deliberately set fire to
the house, and often she hid herself away for days in her own room and would
see no one. Her life, lived as a half recluse, gave rise to all sorts of
stories concerning her. It was said that she took drugs and that she hid
herself away from people because she was often so under the influence of
drink that her condition could not be concealed. Sometimes on summer
afternoons she came out of the house and got into her carriage. Dismissing
the driver she took the reins in her own hands and drove off at top speed
through the streets. If a pedestrian got in her way she drove straight ahead
and the frightened citizen had to escape as best he could. To the people of
the town it seemed as though she wanted to run them down. When she had
driven through several streets, tearing around corners and beating the
horses with the whip, she drove off into the country. On the country roads
after she had gotten out of sight of the houses she let the horses slow down
to a walk and her wild, reckless mood passed. She became thoughtful and
muttered words. Sometimes tears came into her eyes. And then when she came
back into town she again drove furiously through the quiet streets. But for
the influence of her husband and the respect he inspired in people's minds
she would have been arrested more than once by the town marshal.
Young David Hardy grew up in the house with this woman and as can well
be imagined there was not much joy in his childhood. He was too young then
to have opinions of his own about people, but at times it was difficult for
him not to have very definite opinions about the woman who was his mother.
David was always a quiet, orderly boy and for a long time was thought by the
people of Winesburg to be something of a dullard. His eyes were brown and as
a child he had a habit of looking at things and people a long time without
appearing to see what he was looking at. When he heard his mother spoken of
harshly or when he overheard her berating his father, he was frightened and
ran away to hide. Sometimes he could not find a hiding place and that
confused him. Turning his face toward a tree or if he was indoors toward the
wall, he closed his eyes and tried not to think of anything. He had a habit
of talking aloud to himself, and early in life a spirit of quiet sadness
often took possession of him.
On the occasions when David went to visit his grandfather on the
Bentley farm, he was altogether contented and happy. Often he wished that he
would never have to go back to town and once when he had come home from the
farm after a long visit, something happened that had a lasting effect on his
David had come back into town with one of the hired men. The man was in
a hurry to go about his own affairs and left the boy at the head of the
street in which the Hardy house stood. It was early dusk of a fall evening
and the sky was overcast with clouds. Something happened to David. He could
not bear to go into the house where his mother and father lived, and on an
impulse he decided to run away from home. He intended to go back to the farm
and to his grandfather, but lost his way and for hours he wandered weeping
and frightened on country roads. It started to rain and lightning flashed in
the sky. The boy's imagination was excited and he fancied that he could see
and hear strange things in the darkness. Into his mind came the conviction
that he was walking and running in some terrible void where no one had ever
been before. The darkness about him seemed limitless. The sound of the wind
blowing in trees was terrifying. When a team of horses approached along the
road in which he walked he was frightened and climbed a fence. Through a
field he ran until he came into another road and getting upon his knees felt
of the soft ground with his fingers. But for the figure of his grandfather,
whom he was afraid he would never find in the darkness, he thought the world
must be altogether empty. When his cries were heard by a farmer who was
walking home from town and he was brought back to his father's house, he was
so tired and excited that he did not know what was happening to him.
By chance David's father knew that he had disappeared. On the street he
had met the farm hand from the Bentley place and knew of his son's return to
town. When the boy did not come home an alarm was set up and John Hardy with
several men of the town went to search the country. The report that David
had been kidnapped ran about through the streets of Winesburg. When he came
home there were no lights in the house, but his mother appeared and clutched
him eagerly in her arms. David thought she had suddenly become another
woman. He could not believe that so delightful a thing had happened. With
her own hands Louise Hardy bathed his tired young body and cooked him food.
She would not let him go to bed but, when he had put on his nightgown, blew
out the lights and sat down in a chair to hold him in her arms. For an hour
the woman sat in the darkness and held her boy. All the time she kept
talking in a low voice. David could not understand what had so changed her.
Her habitually dissatisfied face had become, he thought, the most peaceful
and lovely thing he had ever seen. When he began to weep she held him more
and more tightly. On and on went her voice. It was not harsh or shrill as
when she talked to her husband, but was like rain falling on trees.
Presently men began coming to the door to report that he had not been found,
but she made him hide and be silent until she had sent them away. He thought
it must be a game his mother and the men of the town were playing with him
and laughed joyously. Into his mind came the thought that his having been
lost and frightened in the darkness was an altogether unimportant matter. He
thought that he would have been willing to go through the frightful
experience a thousand times to be sure of finding at the end of the long
black road a thing so lovely as his mother had suddenly become.
During the last years of young David's boyhood he saw his mother but
seldom and she became for him just a woman with whom he had once lived.
Still he could not get her figure out of his mind and as he grew older it
became more definite. When he was twelve years old he went to the Bentley
farm to live. Old Jesse came into town and fairly demanded that he be given
charge of the boy. The old man was excited and determined on having his own
way. He talked to John Hardy in the office of the Winesburg Savings Bank and
then the two men went to the house on Elm Street to talk with Louise. They
both expected her to make trouble but were mistaken. She was very quiet and
when Jesse had explained his mission and had gone on at some length about
the advantages to come through having the boy out of doors and in the quiet
atmosphere of the old farmhouse, she nodded her head in approval. "It is an
atmosphere not corrupted by my presence," she said sharply. Her shoulders
shook and she seemed about to fly into a fit of temper. "It is a place for a
man child, although it was never a place for me," she went on. "You never
wanted me there and of course the air of your house did me no good. It was
like poison in my blood but it will be different with him."
Louise turned and went out of the room, leaving the two men to sit in
embarrassed silence. As very often happened she later stayed in her room for
days. Even when the boy's clothes were packed and he was taken away she did
not appear. The loss of her son made a sharp break in her life and she
seemed less inclined to quarrel with her husband. John Hardy thought it had
all turned out very well indeed.
And so young David went to live in the Bentley farmhouse with Jesse.
Two of the old farmer's sisters were alive and still lived in the house.
They were afraid of Jesse and rarely spoke when he was about. One of the
women who had been noted for her flaming red hair when she was younger was a
born mother and became the boy's caretaker. Every night when he had gone to
bed she went into his room and sat on the floor until he fell asleep. When
he became drowsy she became bold and whispered things that he later thought
he must have dreamed.
Her soft low voice called him endearing names and he dreamed that his
mother had come to him and that she had changed so that she was always as
she had been that time after he ran away. He also grew bold and reaching out
his hand stroked the face of the woman on the floor so that she was
ecstatically happy. Everyone in the old house became happy after the boy
went there. The hard insistent thing in Jesse Bentley that had kept the
people in the house silent and timid and that had never been dispelled by
the presence of the girl Louise was apparently swept away by the coming of
the boy. It was as though God had relented and sent a son to the man.
The man who had proclaimed himself the only true servant of God in all
the valley of Wine Creek, and who had wanted God to send him a sign of
approval by way of a son out of the womb of Katherine, began to think that
at last his prayers had been answered. Although he was at that time only
fiftyfive years old he looked seventy and was worn out with much thinking
and scheming. The effort he had made to extend his land holdings had been
successful and there were few farms in the valley that did not belong to
him, but until David came he was a bitterly disappointed man.
There were two influences at work in Jesse Bentley and all his life his
mind had been a battleground for these influences. First there was the old
thing in him. He wanted to be a man of God and a leader among men of God.
His walking in the fields and through the forests at night had brought him
close to nature and there were forces in the passionately religious man that
ran out to the forces in nature. The disappointment that had come to him
when a daughter and not a son had been born to Katherine had fallen upon him
like a blow struck by some unseen hand and the blow had somewhat softened
his egotism. He still believed that God might at any moment make himself
manifest out of the winds or the clouds, but he no longer demanded such
recognition. Instead he prayed for it. Sometimes he was altogether doubtful
and thought God had deserted the world. He regretted the fate that had not
let him live in a simpler and sweeter time when at the beckoning of some
strange cloud in the sky men left their lands and houses and went forth into
the wilderness to create new races. While he worked night and day to make
his farms more productive and to extend his holdings of land, he regretted
that he could not use his own restless energy in the building of temples,
the slaying of unbelievers and in general in the work of glorifying God's
name on earth.
That is what Jesse hungered for and then also he hungered for something
else. He had grown into maturity in America in the years after the Civil War
and he, like all men of his time, had been touched by the deep influences
that were at work in the country during those years when modem industrialism
was being born. He began to buy machines that would permit him to do the
work of the farms while employing fewer men and he sometimes thought that if
he were a younger man he would give up farming altogether and start a
factory in Winesburg for the making of machinery. Jesse formed the habit of
reading newspapers and magazines. He invented a machine for the making of
fence out of wire. Faintly he realized that the atmosphere of old times and
places that he had always cultivated in his own mind was strange and foreign
to the thing that was growing up in the minds of others. The beginning of
the most materialistic age in the history of the world, when wars would be
fought without patriotism, when men would forget God and only pay attention
to moral standards, when the will to power would replace the will to serve
and beauty would be well-nigh forgotten in the terrible headlong rush of
mankind toward the acquiring of possessions, was telling its story to Jesse
the man of God as it was to the men about him. The greedy thing in him
wanted to make money faster than it could be made by tilling the land. More
than once he went into Winesburg to talk with his son-in-law John Hardy
about it. "You are a banker and you will have chances I never had," he said
and his eyes shone. "I am thinking about it all the time. Big things are
going to be done in the country and there will be more money to be made than
I ever dreamed of. You get into it. I wish I were younger and had your
chance." Jesse Bentley walked up and down in the bank office and grew more
and more excited as he talked. At one time in his life he had been
threatened with paralysis and his left side remained somewhat weakened. As
he talked his left eyelid twitched. Later when he drove back home and when
night came on and the stars came out it was harder to get back the old
feeling of a close and personal God who lived in the sky overhead and who
might at any moment reach out his hand, touch him on the shoulder, and
appoint for him some heroic task to be done. Jesse's mind was fixed upon the
things read in newspapers and magazines, on fortunes to be made almost
without effort by shrewd men who bought and sold. For him the coming of the
boy David did much to bring back with renewed force the old faith and it
seemed to him that God had at last looked with favor upon him.
As for the boy on the farm, life began to reveal itself to him in a
thousand new and delightful ways. The kindly attitude of all about him
expanded his quiet nature and he lost the half timid, hesitating manner he
had always had with his people. At night when he went to bed after a long
day of adventures in the stables, in the fields, or driving about from farm
to farm with his grandfather, he wanted to embrace everyone in the house. If
Sherley Bentley, the woman who came each night to sit on the floor by his
bedside, did not appear at once, he went to the head of the stairs and
shouted, his young voice ringing through the narrow halls where for so long
there had been a tradition of silence. In the morning when he awoke and lay
still in bed, the sounds that came in to him through the windows filled him
with delight. He thought with a shudder of the life in the house in
Winesburg and of his mother's angry voice that had always made him tremble.
There in the country all sounds were pleasant sounds. When he awoke at dawn
the barnyard back of the house also awoke. In the house people stirred
about. Eliza Stoughton the half-witted girl was poked in the ribs by a farm
hand and giggled noisily, in some distant field a cow bawled and was
answered by the cattle in the stables, and one of the farm hands spoke
sharply to the horse he was grooming by the stable door. David leaped out of
bed and ran to a window. All of the people stirring about excited his mind,
and he wondered what his mother was doing in the house in town.
From the windows of his own room he could not see directly into the
barnyard where the farm hands had now all assembled to do the morning
shores, but he could hear the voices of the men and the neighing of the
horses. When one of the men laughed, he laughed also. Leaning out at the
open window, he looked into an orchard where a fat sow wandered about with a
litter of tiny pigs at her heels. Every morning he counted the pigs. "Four,
five, six, seven," he said slowly, wetting his finger and making straight up
and down marks on the window ledge. David ran to put on his trousers and
shirt. A feverish desire to get out of doors took possession of him. Every
morning he made such a noise coming down stairs that Aunt Callie, the
housekeeper, declared he was trying to tear the house down. When he had run
through the long old house, shutting the doors behind him with a bang, he
came into the barnyard and looked about with an amazed air of expectancy. It
seemed to him that in such a place tremendous things might have happened
during the night. The farm hands looked at him and laughed. Henry Strader,
an old man who had been on the farm since Jesse came into possession and who
before David's time had never been known to make a joke, made the same joke
every morning. It amused David so that he laughed and clapped his hands.
"See, come here and look," cried the old man. "Grandfather Jesse's white
mare has tom the black stocking she wears on her foot."
Day after day through the long summer, Jesse Bentley drove from farm to
farm up and down the valley of Wine Creek, and his grandson went with him.
They rode in a comfortable old phaeton drawn by the white horse. The old man
scratched his thin white beard and talked to himself of his plans for
increasing the productiveness of the fields they visited and of God's part
in the plans all men made. Sometimes he looked at David and smiled happily
and then for a long time he appeared to forget the boy's existence. More and
more every day now his mind turned back again to the dreams that had filled
his mind when he had first come out of the city to live on the land. One
afternoon he startled David by letting his dreams take entire possession of
him. With the boy as a witness, he went through a ceremony and brought about
an accident that nearly destroyed the companionship that was growing up
Jesse and his grandson were driving in a distant part of the valley
some miles from home. A forest came down to the road and through the forest
Wine Creek wriggled its way over stones toward a distant river. All the
afternoon Jesse had been in a meditative mood and now he began to talk. His
mind went back to the night when he had been frightened by thoughts of a
giant that might come to rob and plunder him of his possessions, and again
as on that night when he had run through the fields crying for a son, he
became excited to the edge of insanity. Stopping the horse he got out of the
buggy and asked David to get out also. The two climbed over a fence and
walked along the bank of the stream. The boy paid no attention to the
muttering of his grandfather, but ran along beside him and wondered what was
going to happen. When a rabbit jumped up and ran away through the woods, he
clapped his hands and danced with delight. He looked at the tall trees and
was sorry that he was not a little animal to climb high in the air without
being frightened. Stooping, he picked up a small stone and threw it over the
head of his grandfather into a clump of bushes. "Wake up, little animal. Go
and climb to the top of the trees," he shouted in a shrill voice.
Jesse Bentley went along under the trees with his head bowed and with
his mind in a ferment. His earnestness affected the boy, who presently
became silent and a little alarmed. Into the old man's mind had come the
notion that now he could bring from God a word or a sign out of the sky,
that the presence of the boy and man on their knees in some lonely spot in
the forest would make the miracle he had been waiting for almost inevitable.
"It was in just such a place as this that other David tended the sheep when
his father came and told him to go down unto Saul," he muttered.
Taking the boy rather roughly by the shoulder, he climbed over a fallen
log and when he had come to an open place among the trees he dropped upon
his knees and began to pray in a loud voice.
A kind of terror he had never known before took possession of David.
Crouching beneath a tree he watched the man on the ground before him and his
own knees began to tremble. It seemed to him that he was in the presence not
only of his grandfather but of someone else, someone who might hurt him,
someone who was not kindly but dangerous and brutal. He began to cry and
reaching down picked up a small stick, which he held tightly gripped in his
fingers. When Jesse Bentley, absorbed in his own idea, suddenly arose and
advanced toward him, his terror grew until his whole body shook. In the
woods an intense silence seemed to lie over everything and suddenly out of
the silence came the old man's harsh and insistent voice. Gripping the boy's
shoulders, Jesse turned his face to the sky and shouted. The whole left side
of his face twitched and his hand on the boy's shoulder twitched also. "Make
a sign to me, God," he cried. "Here I stand with the boy David. Come down to
me out of the sky and make Thy presence known to me."
With a cry of fear, David turned and, shaking himself loose from the
hands that held him, ran away through the forest. He did not believe that
the man who turned up his face and in a harsh voice shouted at the sky was
his grandfather at all. The man did not look like his grandfather. The
conviction that something strange and terrible had happened, that by some
miracle a new and dangerous person had come into the body of the kindly old
man, took possession of him. On and on he ran down the hillside, sobbing as
he ran. When he fell over the roots of a tree and in falling struck his
head, he arose and tried to run on again. His head hurt so that presently he
fell down and lay still, but it was only after Jesse had carried him to the
buggy and he awoke to find the old man's hand stroking his head tenderly
that the terror left him. "Take me away. There is a terrible man back there
in the woods," he declared firmly, while Jesse looked away over the tops of
the trees and again his lips cried out to God. "What have I done that Thou
dost not approve of me," he whispered softly, saying the words over and over
as he drove rapidly along the road with the boy's cut and bleeding head held
tenderly against his shoulder.
THE STORY OF Louise Bentley, who became Mrs. John Hardy and lived with
her husband in a brick house on Elm Street in Winesburg, is a story of
Before such women as Louise can be understood and their lives made
livable, much will have to be done. Thoughtful books will have to be written
and thoughtful lives lived by people about them.
Born of a delicate and overworked mother, and an impulsive, hard,
imaginative father, who did not look with favor upon her coming into the
world, Louise was from childhood a neurotic, one of the race of
over-sensitive women that in later days industrialism was to bring in such
great numbers into the world.
During her early years she lived on the Bentley farm, a silent, moody
child, wanting love more than anything else in the world and not getting it.
When she was fifteen she went to live in Winesburg with the family of Albert
Hardy, who had a store for the sale of buggies and wagons, and who was a
member of the town board of education.
Louise went into town to be a student in the Winesburg High School and
she went to live at the Hardys' because Albert Hardy and her father were
Hardy, the vehicle merchant of Winesburg, like thousands of other men
of his times, was an enthusiast on the subject of education. He had made his
own way in the world without learning got from books, but he was convinced
that had he but known books things would have gone better with him. To
everyone who came into his shop he talked of the matter, and in his own
household he drove his family distracted by his constant harping on the
He had two daughters and one son, John Hardy, and more than once the
daughters threatened to leave school altogether. As a matter of principle
they did just enough work in their classes to avoid punishment. "I hate
books and I hate anyone who likes books," Harriet, the younger of the two
girls, declared passionately.
In Winesburg as on the farm Louise was not happy. For years she had
dreamed of the time when she could go forth into the world, and she looked
upon the move into the Hardy household as a great step in the direction of
freedom. Always when she had thought of the matter, it had seemed to her
that in town all must be gaiety and life, that there men and women must live
happily and freely, giving and taking friendship and affection as one takes
the feel of a wind on the cheek. After the silence and the cheerlessness of
life in the Bentley house, she dreamed of stepping forth into an atmosphere
that was warm and pulsating with life and reality. And in the Hardy
household Louise might have got something of the thing for which she so
hungered but for a mistake she made when she had just come to town.
Louise won the disfavor of the two Hardy girls, Mary and Harriet, by
her application to her studies in school. She did not come to the house
until the day when school was to begin and knew nothing of the feeling they
had in the matter. She was timid and during the first month made no
acquaintances. Every Friday afternoon one of the hired men from the farm
drove into Winesburg and took her home for the week-end, so that she did not
spend the Saturday holiday with the town people. Because she was embarrassed
and lonely she worked constantly at her studies. To Mary and Harriet, it
seemed as though she tried to make trouble for them by her proficiency. In
her eagerness to appear well Louise wanted to answer every question put to
the class by the teacher. She jumped up and down and her eyes flashed. Then
when she had answered some question the others in the class had been unable
to answer, she smiled happily. "See, I have done it for you," her eyes
seemed to say. "You need not bother about the matter. I will answer all
questions. For the whole class it will be easy while I am here."
In the evening after supper in the Hardy house, Albert Hardy began to
praise Louise. One of the teachers had spoken highly of her and he was
delighted. "Well, again I have heard of it," he began, looking hard at his
daughters and then turning to smile at Louise. "Another of the teachers has
told me of the good work Louise is doing. Everyone in Winesburg is telling
me how smart she is. I am ashamed that they do not speak so of my own
girls." Arising, the merchant marched about the room and lighted his evening
The two girls looked at each other and shook their heads wearily.
Seeing their indifference the father became angry. "I tell you it is
something for you two to be thinking about," he cried, glaring at them.
"There is a big change coming here in America and in learning is the only
hope of the coming generations. Louise is the daughter of a rich man but she
is not ashamed to study. It should make you ashamed to see what she does."
The merchant took his hat from a rack by the door and prepared to
depart for the evening. At the door he stopped and glared back. So fierce
was his manner that Louise was frightened and ran upstairs to her own room.
The daughters began to speak of their own affairs. "Pay attention to me,"
roared the merchant. "Your minds are lazy. Your indifference to education is
affecting your characters. You will amount to nothing. Now mark what I
say--Louise will be so far ahead of you that you will never catch up."
The distracted man went out of the house and into the street shaking
with wrath. He went along muttering words and swearing, but when he got into
Main Street his anger passed. He stopped to talk of the weather or the crops
with some other merchant or with a farmer who had come into town and forgot
his daughters altogether or, if he thought of them, only shrugged his
shoulders. "Oh, well, girls will be girls," he muttered philosophically.
In the house when Louise came down into the room where the two girls
sat, they would have nothing to do with her. One evening after she had been
there for more than six weeks and was heartbroken because of the continued
air of coldness with which she was always greeted, she burst into tears.
"Shut up your crying and go back to your own room and to your books," Mary
Hardy said sharply.
x x x
The room occupied by Louise was on the second floor of the Hardy house,
and her window looked out upon an orchard. There was a stove in the room and
every evening young John Hardy carried up an armful of wood and put it in a
box that stood by the wall. During the second month after she came to the
house, Louise gave up all hope of getting on a friendly footing with the
Hardy girls and went to her own room as soon as the evening meal was at an
Her mind began to play with thoughts of making friends with John Hardy.
When he came into the room with the wood in his arms, she pretended to be
busy with her studies but watched him eagerly. When he had put the wood in
the box and turned to go out, she put down her head and blushed. She tried
to make talk but could say nothing, and after he had gone she was angry at
herself for her stupidity.
The mind of the country girl became filled with the idea of drawing
close to the young man. She thought that in him might be found the quality
she had all her life been seeking in people. It seemed to her that between
herself and all the other people in the world, a wall had been built up and
that she was living just on the edge of some warm inner circle of life that
must be quite open and understandable to others. She became obsessed with
the thought that it wanted but a courageous act on her part to make all of
her association with people something quite different, and that it was
possible by such an act to pass into a new life as one opens a door and goes
into a room. Day and night she thought of the matter, but although the thing
she wanted so earnestly was something very warm and close it had as yet no
conscious connection with sex. It had not become that definite, and her mind
had only alighted upon the person of John Hardy because he was at hand and
unlike his sisters had not been unfriendly to her.
The Hardy sisters, Mary and Harriet, were both older than Louise. In a
certain kind of knowledge of the world they were years older. They lived as
all of the young women of Middle Western towns lived. In those days young
women did not go out of our towns to Eastern colleges and ideas in regard to
social classes had hardly begun to exist. A daughter of a laborer was in
much the same social position as a daughter of a farmer or a merchant, and
there were no leisure classes. A girl was "nice" or she was "not nice." If a
nice girl, she had a young man who came to her house to see her on Sunday
and on Wednesday evenings. Sometimes she went with her young man to a dance
or a church social. At other times she received him at the house and was
given the use of the parlor for that purpose. No one intruded upon her. For
hours the two sat behind closed doors. Sometimes the lights were turned low
and the young man and woman embraced. Cheeks became hot and hair
disarranged. After a year or two, if the impulse within them became strong
and insistent enough, they married.
One evening during her first winter in Winesburg, Louise had an
adventure that gave a new impulse to her desire to break down the wall that
she thought stood between her and John Hardy. It was Wednesday and
immediately after the evening meal Albert Hardy put on his hat and went
away. Young John brought the wood and put it in the box in Louise's room.
"You do work hard, don't you?" he said awkwardly, and then before she could
answer he also went away.
Louise heard him go out of the house and had a mad desire to run after
him. Opening her window she leaned out and called softly, "John, dear John,
come back, don't go away." The night was cloudy and she could not see far
into the darkness, but as she waited she fancied she could hear a soft
little noise as of someone going on tiptoes through the trees in the
orchard. She was frightened and closed the window quickly. For an hour she
moved about the room trembling with excitement and when she could not longer
bear the waiting, she crept into the hall and down the stairs into a
closet-like room that opened off the parlor.
Louise had decided that she would perform the courageous act that had
for weeks been in her mind. She was convinced that John Hardy had concealed
himself in the orchard beneath her window and she was determined to find him
and tell him that she wanted him to come close to her, to hold her in his
arms, to tell her of his thoughts and dreams and to listen while she told
him her thoughts and dreams. "In the darkness it will be easier to say
things," she whispered to herself, as she stood in the little room groping
for the door.
And then suddenly Louise realized that she was not alone in the house.
In the parlor on the other side of the door a man's voice spoke softly and
the door opened. Louise just had time to conceal herself in a little opening
beneath the stairway when Mary Hardy, accompanied by her young man, came
into the little dark room.
For an hour Louise sat on the floor in the darkness and listened.
Without words Mary Hardy, with the aid of the man who had come to spend the
evening with her, brought to the country girl a knowledge of men and women.
Putting her head down until she was curled into a little ball she lay
perfectly still. It seemed to her that by some strange impulse of the gods,
a great gift had been brought to Mary Hardy and she could not understand the
older woman's determined protest.
The young man took Mary Hardy into his arms and kissed her. When she
struggled and laughed, he but held her the more tightly. For an hour the
contest between them went on and then they went back into the parlor and
Louise escaped up the stairs. "I hope you were quiet out there. You must not
disturb the little mouse at her studies," she heard Harriet saying to her
sister as she stood by her own door in the hallway above.
Louise wrote a note to John Hardy and late that night, when all in the
house were asleep, she crept downstairs and slipped it under his door. She
was afraid that if she did not do the thing at once her courage would fail.
In the note she tried to be quite definite about what she wanted. "I want
someone to love me and I want to love someone," she wrote. "If you are the
one for me I want you to come into the orchard at night and make a noise
under my window. It will be easy for me to crawl down over the shed and come
to you. I am thinking about it all the time, so if you are to come at all
you must come soon."
For a long time Louise did not know what would be the outcome of her
bold attempt to secure for herself a lover. In a way she still did not know
whether or not she wanted him to come. Sometimes it seemed to her that to be
held tightly and kissed was the whole secret of life, and then a new impulse
came and she was terribly afraid. The age-old woman's desire to be possessed
had taken possession of her, but so vague was her notion of life that it
seemed to her just the touch of John Hardy's hand upon her own hand would
satisfy. She wondered if he would understand that. At the table next day
while Albert Hardy talked and the two girls whispered and laughed, she did
not look at John but at the table and as soon as possible escaped. In the
evening she went out of the house until she was sure he had taken the wood
to her room and gone away. When after several evenings of intense listening
she heard no call from the darkness in the orchard, she was half beside
herself with grief and decided that for her there was no way to break
through the wall that had shut her off from the joy of life.
And then on a Monday evening two or three weeks after the writing of
the note, John Hardy came for her. Louise had so entirely given up the
thought of his coming that for a long time she did not hear the call that
came up from the orchard. On the Friday evening before, as she was being
driven back to the farm for the week-end by one of the hired men, she had on
an impulse done a thing that had startled her, and as John Hardy stood in
the darkness below and called her name softly and insistently, she walked
about in her room and wondered what new impulse had led her to commit so
ridiculous an act.
The farm hand, a young fellow with black curly hair, had come for her
somewhat late on that Friday evening and they drove home in the darkness.
Louise, whose mind was filled with thoughts of John Hardy, tried to make
talk but the country boy was embarrassed and would say nothing. Her mind
began to review the loneliness of her childhood and she remembered with a
pang the sharp new loneliness that had just come to her. "I hate everyone,"
she cried suddenly, and then broke forth into a tirade that frightened her
escort. "I hate father and the old man Hardy, too," she declared vehemently.
"I get my lessons there in the school in town but I hate that also."
Louise frightened the farm hand still more by turning and putting her
cheek down upon his shoulder. Vaguely she hoped that he like that young man
who had stood in the darkness with Mary would put his arms about her and
kiss her, but the country boy was only alarmed. He struck the horse with the
whip and began to whistle. "The road is rough, eh?" he said loudly. Louise
was so angry that reaching up she snatched his hat from his head and threw
it into the road. When he jumped out of the buggy and went to get it, she
drove off and left him to walk the rest of the way back to the farm.
Louise Bentley took John Hardy to be her lover. That was not what she
wanted but it was so the young man had interpreted her approach to him, and
so anxious was she to achieve something else that she made no resistance.
When after a few months they were both afraid that she was about to become a
mother, they went one evening to the county seat and were married. For a few
months they lived in the Hardy house and then took a house of their own. All
during the first year Louise tried to make her husband understand the vague
and intangible hunger that had led to the writing of the note and that was
still unsatisfied. Again and again she crept into his arms and tried to talk
of it, but always without success. Filled with his own notions of love
between men and women, he did not listen but began to kiss her upon the
lips. That confused her so that in the end she did not want to be kissed.
She did not know what she wanted.
When the alarm that had tricked them into marriage proved to be
groundless, she was angry and said bitter, hurtful things. Later when her
son David was born, she could not nurse him and did not know whether she
wanted him or not. Sometimes she stayed in the room with him all day,
walking about and occasionally creeping close to touch him tenderly with her
hands, and then other days came when she did not want to see or be near the
tiny bit of humanity that had come into the house. When John Hardy
reproached her for her cruelty, she laughed. "It is a man child and will get
what it wants anyway," she said sharply. "Had it been a woman child there is
nothing in the world I would not have done for it."
WHEN DAVID HARDY was a tall boy of fifteen, he, like his mother, had an
adventure that changed the whole current of his life and sent him out of his
quiet corner into the world. The shell of the circumstances of his life was
broken and he was compelled to start forth. He left Winesburg and no one
there ever saw him again. After his disappearance, his mother and
grandfather both died and his father became very rich. He spent much money
in trying to locate his son, but that is no part of this story.
It was in the late fall of an unusual year on the Bentley farms.
Everywhere the crops had been heavy. That spring, Jesse had bought part of a
long strip of black swamp land that lay in the valley of Wine Creek. He got
the land at a low price but had spent a large sum of money to improve it.
Great ditches had to be dug and thousands of tile laid. Neighboring farmers
shook their heads over the expense. Some of them laughed and hoped that
Jesse would lose heavily by the venture, but the old man went silently on
with the work and said nothing.
When the land was drained he planted it to cabbages and onions, and
again the neighbors laughed. The crop was, however, enormous and brought
high prices. In the one year Jesse made enough money to pay for all the cost
of preparing the land and had a surplus that enabled him to buy two more
farms. He was exultant and could not conceal his delight. For the first time
in all the history of his ownership of the farms, he went among his men with
a smiling face.
Jesse bought a great many new machines for cutting down the cost of
labor and all of the remaining acres in the strip of black fertile swamp
land. One day he went into Winesburg and bought a bicycle and a new suit of
clothes for David and he gave his two sisters money with which to go to a
religious convention at Cleveland, Ohio.
In the fall of that year when the frost came and the trees in the
forests along Wine Creek were golden brown, David spent every moment when he
did not have to attend school, out in the open. Alone or with other boys he
went every afternoon into the woods to gather nuts. The other boys of the
countryside, most of them sons of laborers on the Bentley farms, had guns
with which they went hunting rabbits and squirrels, but David did not go
with them. He made himself a sling with rubber bands and a forked stick and
went off by himself to gather nuts. As he went about thoughts came to him.
He realized that he was almost a man and wondered what he would do in life,
but before they came to anything, the thoughts passed and he was a boy
again. One day he killed a squirrel that sat on one of the lower branches of
a tree and chattered at him. Home he ran with the squirrel in his hand. One
of the Bentley sisters cooked the little animal and he ate it with great
gusto. The skin he tacked on a board and suspended the board by a string
from his bedroom window.
That gave his mind a new turn. After that he never went into the woods
without carrying the sling in his pocket and he spent hours shooting at
imaginary animals concealed among the brown leaves in the trees. Thoughts of
his coming manhood passed and he was content to be a boy with a boy's
One Saturday morning when he was about to set off for the woods with
the sling in his pocket and a bag for nuts on his shoulder, his grandfather
stopped him. In the eyes of the old man was the strained serious look that
always a little frightened David. At such times Jesse Bentley's eyes did not
look straight ahead but wavered and seemed to be looking at nothing.
Something like an invisible curtain appeared to have come between the man
and all the rest of the world. "I want you to come with me," he said
briefly, and his eyes looked over the boy's head into the sky. "We have
something important to do today. You may bring the bag for nuts if you wish.
It does not matter and anyway we will be going into the woods."
Jesse and David set out from the Bentley farmhouse in the old phaeton
that was drawn by the white horse. When they had gone along in silence for a
long way they stopped at the edge of a field where a flock of sheep were
grazing. Among the sheep was a lamb that had been born out of season, and
this David and his grandfather caught and tied so tightly that it looked
like a little white ball. When they drove on again Jesse let David hold the
lamb in his arms. "I saw it yesterday and it put me in mind of what I have
long wanted to do," he said, and again he looked away over the head of the
boy with the wavering, uncertain stare in his eyes.
After the feeling of exaltation that had come to the farmer as a result
of his successful year, another mood had taken possession of him. For a long
time he had been going about feeling very humble and prayerful. Again he
walked alone at night thinking of God and as he walked he again connected
his own figure with the figures of old days. Under the stars he knelt on the
wet grass and raised up his voice in prayer. Now he had decided that like
the men whose stories filled the pages of the Bible, he would make a
sacrifice to God. "I have been given these abundant crops and God has also
sent me a boy who is called David," he whispered to himself. "Perhaps I
should have done this thing long ago." He was sorry the idea had not come
into his mind in the days before his daughter Louise had been born and
thought that surely now when he had erected a pile of burning sticks in some
lonely place in the woods and had offered the body of a lamb as a burnt
offering, God would appear to him and give him a message.
More and more as he thought of the matter, he thought also of David and
his passionate self-love was partially forgotten. "It is time for the boy to
begin thinking of going out into the world and the message will be one
concerning him," he decided. "God will make a pathway for him. He will tell
me what place David is to take in life and when he shall set out on his
journey. It is right that the boy should be there. If I am fortunate and an
angel of God should appear, David will see the beauty and glory of God made
manifest to man. It will make a true man of God of him also."
In silence Jesse and David drove along the road until they came to that
place where Jesse had once before appealed to God and had frightened his
grandson. The morning had been bright and cheerful, but a cold wind now
began to blow and clouds hid the sun. When David saw the place to which they
had come he began to tremble with fright, and when they stopped by the
bridge where the creek came down from among the trees, he wanted to spring
out of the phaeton and run away.
A dozen plans for escape ran through David's head, but when Jesse
stopped the horse and climbed over the fence into the wood, he followed. "It
is foolish to be afraid. Nothing will happen," he told himself as he went
along with the lamb in his arms. There was something in the helplessness of
the little animal held so tightly in his arms that gave him courage. He
could feel the rapid beating of the beast's heart and that made his own
heart beat less rapidly. As he walked swiftly along behind his grandfather,
he untied the string with which the four legs of the lamb were fastened
together. "If anything happens we will run away together," he thought.
In the woods, after they had gone a long way from the road, Jesse
stopped in an opening among the trees where a clearing, overgrown with small
bushes, ran up from the creek. He was still silent but began at once to
erect a heap of dry sticks which he presently set afire. The boy sat on the
ground with the lamb in his arms. His imagination began to invest every
movement of the old man with significance and he became every moment more
afraid. "I must put the blood of the lamb on the head of the boy," Jesse
muttered when the sticks had begun to blaze greedily, and taking a long
knife from his pocket he turned and walked rapidly across the clearing
Terror seized upon the soul of the boy. He was sick with it. For a
moment he sat perfectly still and then his body stiffened and he sprang to
his feet. His face became as white as the fleece of the lamb that, now
finding itself suddenly released, ran down the hill. David ran also. Fear
made his feet fly. Over the low bushes and logs he leaped frantically. As he
ran he put his hand into his pocket and took out the branched stick from
which the sling for shooting squirrels was suspended. When he came to the
creek that was shallow and splashed down over the stones, he dashed into the
water and turned to look back, and when he saw his grandfather still running
toward him with the long knife held tightly in his hand he did not hesitate,
but reaching down, selected a stone and put it in the sling. With all his
strength he drew back the heavy rubber bands and the stone whistled through
the air. It hit Jesse, who had entirely forgotten the boy and was pursuing
the lamb, squarely in the head. With a groan he pitched forward and fell
almost at the boy's feet. When David saw that he lay still and that he was
apparently dead, his fright increased immeasurably. It became an insane
With a cry he turned and ran off through the woods weeping
convulsively. "I don't care--I killed him, but I don't care," he sobbed. As
he ran on and on he decided suddenly that he would never go back again to
the Bentley farms or to the town of Winesburg. "I have killed the man of God
and now I will myself be a man and go into the world," he said stoutly as he
stopped running and walked rapidly down a road that followed the windings of
Wine Creek as it ran through fields and forests into the west.
On the ground by the creek Jesse Bentley moved uneasily about. He
groaned and opened his eyes. For a long time he lay perfectly still and
looked at the sky. When at last he got to his feet, his mind was confused
and he was not surprised by the boy's disappearance. By the roadside he sat
down on a log and began to talk about God. That is all they ever got out of
him. Whenever David's name was mentioned he looked vaguely at the sky and
said that a messenger from God had taken the boy. "It happened because I was
too greedy for glory," he declared, and would have no more to say in the
A MAN OF IDEAS
HE LIVED WITH his mother, a grey, silent woman with a peculiar ashy
complexion. The house in which they lived stood in a little grove of trees
beyond where the main street of Winesburg crossed Wine Creek. His name was
Joe Welling, and his father had been a man of some dignity in the community,
a lawyer, and a member of the state legislature at Columbus. Joe himself was
small of body and in his character unlike anyone else in town. He was like a
tiny little volcano that lies silent for days and then suddenly spouts fire.
No, he wasn't like that-- he was like a man who is subject to fits, one who
walks among his fellow men inspiring fear because a fit may come upon him
suddenly and blow him away into a strange uncanny physical state in which
his eyes roll and his legs and arms jerk. He was like that, only that the
visitation that descended upon Joe Welling was a mental and not a physical
thing. He was beset by ideas and in the throes of one of his ideas was
uncontrollable. Words rolled and tumbled from his mouth. A peculiar smile
came upon his lips. The edges of his teeth that were tipped with gold
glistened in the light. Pouncing upon a bystander he began to talk. For the
bystander there was no escape. The excited man breathed into his face,
peered into his eyes, pounded upon his chest with a shaking forefinger,
demanded, compelled attention.
In those days the Standard Oil Company did not deliver oil to the
consumer in big wagons and motor trucks as it does now, but delivered
instead to retail grocers, hardware stores, and the like. Joe was the
Standard Oil agent in Winesburg and in several towns up and down the
railroad that went through Winesburg. He collected bills, booked orders, and
did other things. His father, the legislator, had secured the job for him.
In and out of the stores of Winesburg went Joe Welling--silent,
excessively polite, intent upon his business. Men watched him with eyes in
which lurked amusement tempered by alarm. They were waiting for him to break
forth, preparing to flee. Although the seizures that came upon him were
harmless enough, they could not be laughed away. They were overwhelming.
Astride an idea, Joe was overmastering. His personality became gigantic. It
overrode the man to whom he talked, swept him away, swept all away, all who
stood within sound of his voice.
In Sylvester West's Drug Store stood four men who were talking of horse
racing. Wesley Moyer's stallion, Tony Tip, was to race at the June meeting
at Tiffin, Ohio, and there was a rumor that he would meet the stiffest
competition of his career. It was said that Pop Geers, the great racing
driver, would himself be there. A doubt of the success of Tony Tip hung
heavy in the air of Winesburg.
Into the drug store came Joe Welling, brushing the screen door
violently aside. With a strange absorbed light in his eyes he pounced upon
Ed Thomas, he who knew Pop Geers and whose opinion of Tony Tip's chances was
"The water is up in Wine Creek," cried Joe Welling with the air of
Pheidippides bringing news of the victory of the Greeks in the struggle at
Marathon. His finger beat a tattoo upon Ed Thomas's broad chest. "By Trunion
bridge it is within eleven and a half inches of the flooring," he went on,
the words coming quickly and with a little whistling noise from between his
teeth. An expression of helpless annoyance crept over the faces of the four.
"I have my facts correct. Depend upon that. I went to Sinnings'
Hardware Store and got a rule. Then I went back and measured. I could hardly
believe my own eyes. It hasn't rained you see for ten days. At first I
didn't know what to think. Thoughts rushed through my head. I thought of
subterranean passages and springs. Down under the ground went my mind,
delving about. I sat on the floor of the bridge and rubbed my head. There
wasn't a cloud in the sky, not one. Come out into the street and you'll see.
There wasn't a cloud. There isn't a cloud now. Yes, there was a cloud. I
don't want to keep back any facts. There was a cloud in the west down near
the horizon, a cloud no bigger than a man's hand.
"Not that I think that has anything to do with it. There it is, you
see. You understand how puzzled I was.
"Then an idea came to me. I laughed. You'll laugh, too. Of course it
rained over in Medina County. That's interesting, eh? If we had no trains,
no mails, no telegraph, we would know that it rained over in Medina County.
That's where Wine Creek comes from. Everyone knows that. Little old Wine
Creek brought us the news. That's interesting. I laughed. I thought I'd tell
you--it's interesting, eh?"
Joe Welling turned and went out at the door. Taking a book from his
pocket, he stopped and ran a finger down one of the pages. Again he was
absorbed in his duties as agent of the Standard Oil Company. "Hern's Grocery
will be getting low on coal oil. I'll see them," he muttered, hurrying along
the street, and bowing politely to the right and left at the people walking
When George Willard went to work for the Winesburg Eagle he was
besieged by Joe Welling. Joe envied the boy. It seemed to him that he was
meant by Nature to be a reporter on a newspaper. "It is what I should be
doing, there is no doubt of that," he declared, stopping George Willard on
the sidewalk before Daugherty's Feed Store. His eyes began to glisten and
his forefinger to tremble. "Of course I make more money with the Standard
Oil Company and I'm only telling you," he added. "I've got nothing against
you but I should have your place. I could do the work at odd moments. Here
and there I would run finding out things you'll never see."
Becoming more excited Joe Welling crowded the young reporter against
the front of the feed store. He appeared to be lost in thought, rolling his
eyes about and running a thin nervous hand through his hair. A smile spread
over his face and his gold teeth glittered. "You get out your note book," he
commanded. "You carry a little pad of paper in your pocket, don't you? I
knew you did. Well, you set this down. I thought of it the other day. Let's
take decay. Now what is decay? It's fire. It burns up wood and other things.
You never thought of that? Of course not. This sidewalk here and this feed
store, the trees down the street there--they're all on fire. They're burning
up. Decay you see is always going on. It doesn't stop. Water and paint can't
stop it. If a thing is iron, then what? It rusts, you see. That's fire, too.
The world is on fire. Start your pieces in the paper that way. Just say in
big letters 'The World Is On Fire.' That will make 'em look up. They'll say
you're a smart one. I don't care. I don't envy you. I just snatched that
idea out of the air. I would make a newspaper hum. You got to admit that."'
Turning quickly, Joe Welling walked rapidly away. When he had taken
several steps he stopped and looked back. "I'm going to stick to you," he
said. "I'm going to make you a regular hummer. I should start a newspaper
myself, that's what I should do. I'd be a marvel. Everybody knows that."
When George Willard had been for a year on the Winesburg Eagle, four
things happened to Joe Welling. His mother died, he came to live at the New
Willard House, he became involved in a love affair, and he organized the
Winesburg Baseball Club.
Joe organized the baseball club because he wanted to be a coach and in
that position he began to win the respect of his townsmen. "He is a wonder,"
they declared after Joe's team had whipped the team from Medina County. "He
gets everybody working together. You just watch him."
Upon the baseball field Joe Welling stood by first base, his whole body
quivering with excitement. In spite of themselves all the players watched
him closely. The opposing pitcher became confused.
"Now! Now! Now! Now!" shouted the excited man. "Watch me! Watch me!
Watch my fingers! Watch my hands! Watch my feet! Watch my eyes! Let's work
together here! Watch me! In me you see all the movements of the game! Work
with me! Work with me! Watch me! Watch me! Watch me!"
With runners of the Winesburg team on bases, Joe Welling became as one
inspired. Before they knew what had come over them, the base runners were
watching the man, edging off the bases, advancing, retreating, held as by an
invisible cord. The players of the opposing team also watched Joe. They were
fascinated. For a moment they watched and then, as though to break a spell
that hung over them, they began hurling the ball wildly about, and amid a
series of fierce animal-like cries from the coach, the runners of the
Winesburg team scampered home.
Joe Welling's love affair set the town of Winesburg on edge. When it
began everyone whispered and shook his head. When people tried to laugh, the
laughter was forced and unnatural. Joe fell in love with Sarah King, a lean,
sad-looking woman who lived with her father and brother in a brick house
that stood opposite the gate leading to the Winesburg Cemetery.
The two Kings, Edward the father, and Tom the son, were not popular in
Winesburg. They were called proud and dangerous. They had come to Winesburg
from some place in the South and ran a cider mill on the Trunion Pike. Tom
King was reported to have killed a man before he came to Winesburg. He was
twenty-seven years old and rode about town on a grey pony. Also he had a
long yellow mustache that dropped down over his teeth, and always carried a
heavy, wicked-looking walking stick in his hand. Once he killed a dog with
the stick. The dog belonged to Win Pawsey, the shoe merchant, and stood on
the sidewalk wagging its tail. Tom King killed it with one blow. He was
arrested and paid a fine of ten dollars.
Old Edward King was small of stature and when he passed people in the
street laughed a queer unmirthful laugh. When he laughed he scratched his
left elbow with his right hand. The sleeve of his coat was almost worn
through from the habit. As he walked along the street, looking nervously
about and laughing, he seemed more dangerous than his silent, fierce-looking
When Sarah King began walking out in the evening with Joe Welling,
people shook their heads in alarm. She was tall and pale and had dark rings
under her eyes. The couple looked ridiculous together. Under the trees they
walked and Joe talked. His passionate eager protestations of love, heard
coming out of the darkness by the cemetery wall, or from the deep shadows of
the trees on the hill that ran up to the Fair Grounds from Waterworks Pond,
were repeated in the stores. Men stood by the bar in the New Willard House
laughing and talking of Joe's courtship. After the laughter came the
silence. The Winesburg baseball team, under his management, was winning game
after game, and the town had begun to respect him. Sensing a tragedy, they
waited, laughing nervously.
Late on a Saturday afternoon the meeting between Joe Welling and the
two Kings, the anticipation of which had set the town on edge, took place in
Joe Welling's room in the New Willard House. George Willard was a witness to
the meeting. It came about in this way:
When the young reporter went to his room after the evening meal he saw
Tom King and his father sitting in the half darkness in Joe's room. The son
had the heavy walking stick in his hand and sat near the door. Old Edward
King walked nervously about, scratching his left elbow with his right hand.
The hallways were empty and silent.
George Willard went to his own room and sat down at his desk. He tried
to write but his hand trembled so that he could not hold the pen. He also
walked nervously up and down. Like the rest of the town of Winesburg he was
perplexed and knew not what to do.
It was seven-thirty and fast growing dark when Joe Welling came along
the station platform toward the New Willard House. In his arms he held a
bundle of weeds and grasses. In spite of the terror that made his body
shake, George Willard was amused at the sight of the small spry figure
holding the grasses and half running along the platform.
Shaking with fright and anxiety, the young reporter lurked in the
hallway outside the door of the room in which Joe Welling talked to the two
Kings. There had been an oath, the nervous giggle of old Edward King, and
then silence. Now the voice of Joe Welling, sharp and clear, broke forth.
George Willard began to laugh. He understood. As he had swept all men before
him, so now Joe Welling was carrying the two men in the room off their feet
with a tidal wave of words. The listener in the hall walked up and down,
lost in amazement.
Inside the room Joe Welling had paid no attention to the grumbled
threat of Tom King. Absorbed in an idea he closed the door and, lighting a
lamp, spread the handful of weeds and grasses upon the floor. "I've got
something here," he announced solemnly. "I was going to tell George Willard
about it, let him make a piece out of it for the paper. I'm glad you're
here. I wish Sarah were here also. I've been going to come to your house and
tell you of some of my ideas. They're interesting. Sarah wouldn't let me.
She said we'd quarrel. That's foolish."
Running up and down before the two perplexed men, Joe Welling began to
explain. "Don't you make a mistake now," he cried. "This is something big."
His voice was shrill with excitement. "You just follow me, you'll be
interested. I know you will. Suppose this--suppose all of the wheat, the
corn, the oats, the peas, the potatoes, were all by some miracle swept away.
Now here we are, you see, in this county. There is a high fence built all
around us. We'll suppose that. No one can get over the fence and all the
fruits of the earth are destroyed, nothing left but these wild things, these
grasses. Would we be done for? I ask you that. Would we be done for?" Again
Tom King growled and for a moment there was silence in the room. Then again
Joe plunged into the exposition of his idea. "Things would go hard for a
time. I admit that. I've got to admit that. No getting around it. We'd be
hard put to it. More than one fat stomach would cave in. But they couldn't
down us. I should say not."
Tom King laughed good naturedly and the shivery, nervous laugh of
Edward King rang through the house. Joe Welling hurried on. "We'd begin, you
see, to breed up new vegetables and fruits. Soon we'd regain all we had
lost. Mind, I don't say the new things would be the same as the old. They
wouldn't. Maybe they'd be better, maybe not so good. That's interesting, eh?
You can think about that. It starts your mind working, now don't it?"
In the room there was silence and then again old Edward King laughed
nervously. "Say, I wish Sarah was here," cried Joe Welling. "Let's go up to
your house. I want to tell her of this."
There was a scraping of chairs in the room. It was then that George
Willard retreated to his own room. Leaning out at the window he saw Joe
Welling going along the street with the two Kings. Tom King was forced to
take extraordinary long strides to keep pace with the little man. As he
strode along, he leaned over, listening--absorbed, fascinated. Joe Welling
again talked excitedly. "Take milkweed now," he cried. "A lot might be done
with milkweed, eh? It's almost unbelievable. I want you to think about it. I
want you two to think about it. There would be a new vegetable kingdom you
see. It's interesting, eh? It's an idea. Wait till you see Sarah, she'll get
the idea. She'll be interested. Sarah is always interested in ideas. You
can't be too smart for Sarah, now can you? Of course you can't. You know
ALICE HINDMAN, a woman of twenty-seven when George Willard was a mere
boy, had lived in Winesburg all her life. She clerked in Winney's Dry Goods
Store and lived with her mother, who had married a second husband.
Alice's step-father was a carriage painter, and given to drink. His
story is an odd one. It will be worth telling some day.
At twenty-seven Alice was tall and somewhat slight. Her head was large
and overshadowed her body. Her shoulders were a little stooped and her hair
and eyes brown. She was very quiet but beneath a placid exterior a continual
ferment went on.
When she was a girl of sixteen and before she began to work in the
store, Alice had an affair with a young man. The young man, named Ned
Currie, was older than Alice. He, like George Willard, was employed on the
Winesburg Eagle and for a long time he went to see Alice almost every
evening. Together the two walked under the trees through the streets of the
town and talked of what they would do with their lives. Alice was then a
very pretty girl and Ned Currie took her into his arms and kissed her. He
became excited and said things he did not intend to say and Alice, betrayed
by her desire to have something beautiful come into her rather narrow life,
also grew excited. She also talked. The outer crust of her life, all of her
natural diffidence and reserve, was tom away and she gave herself over to
the emotions of love. When, late in the fall of her sixteenth year, Ned
Currie went away to Cleveland where he hoped to get a place on a city
newspaper and rise in the world, she wanted to go with him. With a trembling
voice she told him what was in her mind. "I will work and you can work," she
said. "I do not want to harness you to a needless expense that will prevent
your making progress. Don't marry me now. We will get along without that and
we can be together. Even though we live in the same house no one will say
anything. In the city we will be unknown and people will pay no attention to
Ned Currie was puzzled by the determination and abandon of his
sweetheart and was also deeply touched. He had wanted the girl to become his
mistress but changed his mind. He wanted to protect and care for her. "You
don't know what you're talking about," he said sharply; "you may be sure
I'll let you do no such thing. As soon as I get a good job I'll come back.
For the present you'll have to stay here. It's the only thing we can do."
On the evening before he left Winesburg to take up his new life in the
city, Ned Currie went to call on Alice. They walked about through the
streets for an hour and then got a rig from Wesley Moyer's livery and went
for a drive in the country. The moon came up and they found themselves
unable to talk. In his sadness the young man forgot the resolutions he had
made regarding his conduct with the girl.
They got out of the buggy at a place where a long meadow ran down to
the bank of Wine Creek and there in the dim light became lovers. When at
midnight they returned to town they were both glad. It did not seem to them
that anything that could happen in the future could blot out the wonder and
beauty of the thing that had happened. "Now we will have to stick to each
other, whatever happens we will have to do that," Ned Currie said as he left
the girl at her father's door.
The young newspaper man did not succeed in getting a place on a
Cleveland paper and went west to Chicago. For a time he was lonely and wrote
to Alice almost every day. Then he was caught up by the life of the city; he
began to make friends and found new interests in life. In Chicago he boarded
at a house where there were several women. One of them attracted his
attention and he forgot Alice in Winesburg. At the end of a year he had
stopped writing letters, and only once in a long time, when he was lonely or
when he went into one of the city parks and saw the moon shining on the
grass as it had shone that night on the meadow by Wine Creek, did he think
of her at all.
In Winesburg the girl who had been loved grew to be a woman. When she
was twenty-two years old her father, who owned a harness repair shop, died
suddenly. The harness maker was an old soldier, and after a few months his
wife received a widow's pension. She used the first money she got to buy a
loom and became a weaver of carpets, and Alice got a place in Winney's
store. For a number of years nothing could have induced her to believe that
Ned Currie would not in the end return to her.
She was glad to be employed because the daily round of toil in the
store made the time of waiting seem less long and uninteresting. She began
to save money, thinking that when she had saved two or three hundred dollars
she would follow her lover to the city and try if her presence would not win
back his affections.
Alice did not blame Ned Currie for what had happened in the moonlight
in the field, but felt that she could never marry another man. To her the
thought of giving to another what she still felt could belong only to Ned
seemed monstrous. When other young men tried to attract her attention she
would have nothing to do with them. "I am his wife and shall remain his wife
whether he comes back or not," she whispered to herself, and for all of her
willingness to support herself could not have understood the growing modern
idea of a woman's owning herself and giving and taking for her own ends in
Alice worked in the dry goods store from eight in the morning until six
at night and on three evenings a week went back to the store to stay from
seven until nine. As time passed and she became more and more lonely she
began to practice the devices common to lonely people. When at night she
went upstairs into her own room she knelt on the floor to pray and in her
prayers whispered things she wanted to say to her lover. She became attached
to inanimate objects, and because it was her own, could not bare to have
anyone touch the furniture of her room. The trick of saving money, begun for
a purpose, was carried on after the scheme of going to the city to find Ned
Currie had been given up. It became a fixed habit, and when she needed new
clothes she did not get them. Sometimes on rainy afternoons in the store she
got out her bank book and, letting it lie open before her, spent hours
dreaming impossible dreams of saving money enough so that the interest would
support both herself and her future husband.
"Ned always liked to travel about," she thought. "I'll give him the
chance. Some day when we are married and I can save both his money and my
own, we will be rich. Then we can travel together all over the world."
In the dry goods store weeks ran into months and months into years as
Alice waited and dreamed of her lover's return. Her employer, a grey old man
with false teeth and a thin grey mustache that drooped down over his mouth,
was not given to conversation, and sometimes, on rainy days and in the
winter when a storm raged in Main Street, long hours passed when no
customers came in. Alice arranged and rearranged the stock. She stood near
the front window where she could look down the deserted street and thought
of the evenings when she had walked with Ned Currie and of what he had said.
"We will have to stick to each other now." The words echoed and re-echoed
through the mind of the maturing woman. Tears came into her eyes. Sometimes
when her employer had gone out and she was alone in the store she put her
head on the counter and wept. "Oh, Ned, I am waiting," she whispered over
and over, and all the time the creeping fear that he would never come back
grew stronger within her.
In the spring when the rains have passed and before the long hot days
of summer have come, the country about Winesburg is delightful. The town
lies in the midst of open fields, but beyond the fields are pleasant patches
of woodlands. In the wooded places are many little cloistered nooks, quiet
places where lovers go to sit on Sunday afternoons. Through the trees they
look out across the fields and see farmers at work about the barns or people
driving up and down on the roads. In the town bells ring and occasionally a
train passes, looking like a toy thing in the distance.
For several years after Ned Currie went away Alice did not go into the
wood with the other young people on Sunday, but one day after he had been
gone for two or three years and when her loneliness seemed unbearable, she
put on her best dress and set out. Finding a little sheltered place from
which she could see the town and a long stretch of the fields, she sat down.
Fear of age and ineffectuality took possession of her. She could not sit
still, and arose. As she stood looking out over the land something, perhaps
the thought of never ceasing life as it expresses itself in the flow of the
seasons, fixed her mind on the passing years. With a shiver of dread, she
realized that for her the beauty and freshness of youth had passed. For the
first time she felt that she had been cheated. She did not blame Ned Currie
and did not know what to blame. Sadness swept over her. Dropping to her
knees, she tried to pray, but instead of prayers words of protest came to
her lips. "It is not going to come to me. I will never find happiness. Why
do I tell myself lies?" she cried, and an odd sense of relief came with
this, her first bold attempt to face the fear that had become a part of her
In the year when Alice Hindman became twentyfive two things happened to
disturb the dull uneventfulness of her days. Her mother married Bush Milton,
the carriage painter of Winesburg, and she herself became a member of the
Winesburg Methodist Church. Alice joined the church because she had become
frightened by the loneliness of her position in life. Her mother's second
marriage had emphasized her isolation. "I am becoming old and queer. If Ned
comes he will not want me. In the city where he is living men are
perpetually young. There is so much going on that they do not have time to
grow old," she told herself with a grim little smile, and went resolutely
about the business of becoming acquainted with people. Every Thursday
evening when the store had closed she went to a prayer meeting in the
basement of the church and on Sunday evening attended a meeting of an
organization called The Epworth League.
When Will Hurley, a middle-aged man who clerked in a drug store and who
also belonged to the church, offered to walk home with her she did not
protest. "Of course I will not let him make a practice of being with me, but
if he comes to see me once in a long time there can be no harm in that," she
told herself, still determined in her loyalty to Ned Currie.
Without realizing what was happening, Alice was trying feebly at first,
but with growing determination, to get a new hold upon life. Beside the drug
clerk she walked in silence, but sometimes in the darkness as they went
stolidly along she put out her hand and touched softly the folds of his
coat. When he left her at the gate before her mother's house she did not go
indoors, but stood for a moment by the door. She wanted to call to the drug
clerk, to ask him to sit with her in the darkness on the porch before the
house, but was afraid he would not understand. "It is not him that I want,"
she told herself; "I want to avoid being so much alone. If I am not careful
I will grow unaccustomed to being with people."
During the early fall of her twenty-seventh year a passionate
restlessness took possession of Alice. She could not bear to be in the
company of the drug clerk, and when, in the evening, he came to walk with
her she sent him away. Her mind became intensely active and when, weary from
the long hours of standing behind the counter in the store, she went home
and crawled into bed, she could not sleep. With staring eyes she looked into
the darkness. Her imagination, like a child awakened from long sleep, played
about the room. Deep within her there was something that would not be
cheated by phantasies and that demanded some definite answer from life.
Alice took a pillow into her arms and held it tightly against her
breasts. Getting out of bed, she arranged a blanket so that in the darkness
it looked like a form lying between the sheets and, kneeling beside the bed,
she caressed it, whispering words over and over, like a refrain. "Why
doesn't something happen? Why am I left here alone?" she muttered. Although
she sometimes thought of Ned Currie, she no longer depended on him. Her
desire had grown vague. She did not want Ned Currie or any other man. She
wanted to be loved, to have something answer the call that was growing
louder and louder within her.
And then one night when it rained Alice had an adventure. It frightened
and confused her. She had come home from the store at nine and found the
house empty. Bush Milton had gone off to town and her mother to the house of
a neighbor. Alice went upstairs to her room and undressed in the darkness.
For a moment she stood by the window hearing the rain beat against the glass
and then a strange desire took possession of her. Without stopping to think
of what she intended to do, she ran downstairs through the dark house and
out into the rain. As she stood on the little grass plot before the house
and felt the cold rain on her body a mad desire to run naked through the
streets took possession of her.
She thought that the rain would have some creative and wonderful effect
on her body. Not for years had she felt so full of youth and courage. She
wanted to leap and run, to cry out, to find some other lonely human and
embrace him. On the brick sidewalk before the house a man stumbled homeward.
Alice started to run. A wild, desperate mood took possession of her. "What
do I care who it is. He is alone, and I will go to him," she thought; and
then without stopping to consider the possible result of her madness, called
softly. "Wait!" she cried. "Don't go away. Whoever you are, you must wait."
The man on the sidewalk stopped and stood listening. He was an old man
and somewhat deaf. Putting his hand to his mouth, he shouted. "What? What
say?" he called.
Alice dropped to the ground and lay trembling. She was so frightened at
the thought of what she had done that when the man had gone on his way she
did not dare get to her feet, but crawled on hands and knees through the
grass to the house. When she got to her own room she bolted the door and
drew her dressing table across the doorway. Her body shook as with a chill
and her hands trembled so that she had difficulty getting into her
nightdress. When she got into bed she buried her face in the pillow and wept
brokenheartedly. "What is the matter with me? I will do something dreadful
if I am not careful," she thought, and turning her face to the wall, began
trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live
and die alone, even in Winesburg.
IF YOU HAVE lived in cities and have walked in the park on a summer
afternoon, you have perhaps seen, blinking in a corner of his iron cage, a
huge, grotesque kind of monkey, a creature with ugly, sagging, hairless skin
below his eyes and a bright purple underbody. This monkey is a true monster.
In the completeness of his ugliness he achieved a kind of perverted beauty.
Children stopping before the cage are fascinated, men turn away with an air
of disgust, and women linger for a moment, trying perhaps to remember which
one of their male acquaintances the thing in some faint way resembles.
Had you been in the earlier years of your life a citizen of the village
of Winesburg, Ohio, there would have been for you no mystery in regard to
the beast in his cage. "It is like Wash Williams," you would have said. "As
he sits in the corner there, the beast is exactly like old Wash sitting on
the grass in the station yard on a summer evening after he has closed his
office for the night."
Wash Williams, the telegraph operator of Winesburg, was the ugliest
thing in town. His girth was immense, his neck thin, his legs feeble. He was
dirty. Everything about him was unclean. Even the whites of his eyes looked
I go too fast. Not everything about Wash was unclean. He took care of
his hands. His fingers were fat, but there was something sensitive and
shapely in the hand that lay on the table by the instrument in the telegraph
office. In his youth Wash Williams had been called the best telegraph
operator in the state, and in spite of his degradement to the obscure office
at Winesburg, he was still proud of his ability.
Wash Williams did not associate with the men of the town in which he
lived. "I'll have nothing to do with them," he said, looking with bleary
eyes at the men who walked along the station platform past the telegraph
office. Up along Main Street he went in the evening to Ed Griffith's saloon,
and after drinking unbelievable quantities of beer staggered off to his room
in the New Willard House and to his bed for the night.
Wash Williams was a man of courage. A thing had happened to him that
made him hate life, and he hated it wholeheartedly, with the abandon of a
poet. First of all, he hated women. "Bitches," he called them. His feeling
toward men was somewhat different. He pitied them. "Does not every man let
his life be managed for him by some bitch or another?" he asked.
In Winesburg no attention was paid to Wash Williams and his hatred of
his fellows. Once Mrs. White, the banker's wife, complained to the telegraph
company, saying that the office in Winesburg was dirty and smelled
abominably, but nothing came of her complaint. Here and there a man
respected the operator. Instinctively the man felt in him a glowing
resentment of something he had not the courage to resent. When Wash walked
through the streets such a one had an instinct to pay him homage, to raise
his hat or to bow before him. The superintendent who had supervision over
the telegraph operators on the railroad that went through Winesburg felt
that way. He had put Wash into the obscure office at Winesburg to avoid
discharging him, and he meant to keep him there. When he received the letter
of complaint from the banker's wife, he tore it up and laughed unpleasantly.
For some reason he thought of his own wife as he tore up the letter.
Wash Williams once had a wife. When he was still a young man he married
a woman at Dayton, Ohio. The woman was tall and slender and had blue eyes
and yellow hair. Wash was himself a comely youth. He loved the woman with a
love as absorbing as the hatred he later felt for all women.
In all of Winesburg there was but one person who knew the story of the
thing that had made ugly the person and the character of Wash Williams. He
once told the story to George Willard and the telling of the tale came about
in this way:
George Willard went one evening to walk with Belle Carpenter, a trimmer
of women's hats who worked in a millinery shop kept by Mrs. Kate McHugh. The
young man was not in love with the woman, who, in fact, had a suitor who
worked as bartender in Ed Griffith's saloon, but as they walked about under
the trees they occasionally embraced. The night and their own thoughts had
aroused something in them. As they were returning to Main Street they passed
the little lawn beside the railroad station and saw Wash Williams apparently
asleep on the grass beneath a tree. On the next evening the operator and
George Willard walked out together. Down the railroad they went and sat on a
pile of decaying railroad ties beside the tracks. It was then that the
operator told the young reporter his story of hate.
Perhaps a dozen times George Willard and the strange, shapeless man who
lived at his father's hotel had been on the point of talking. The young man
looked at the hideous, leering face staring about the hotel dining room and
was consumed with curiosity. Something he saw lurking in the staring eyes
told him that the man who had nothing to say to others had nevertheless
something to say to him. On the pile of railroad ties on the summer evening,
he waited expectantly. When the operator remained silent and seemed to have
changed his mind about talking, he tried to make conversation. "Were you
ever married, Mr. Williams?" he began. "I suppose you were and your wife is
dead, is that it?"
Wash Williams spat forth a succession of vile oaths. "Yes, she is
dead," he agreed. "She is dead as all women are dead. She is a living-dead
thing, walking in the sight of men and making the earth foul by her
presence." Staring into the boy's eyes, the man became purple with rage.
"Don't have fool notions in your head," he commanded. "My wife, she is dead;
yes, surely. I tell you, all women are dead, my mother, your mother, that
tall dark woman who works in the millinery store and with whom I saw you
walking about yesterday--all of them, they are all dead. I tell you there is
something rotten about them. I was married, sure. My wife was dead before
she married me, she was a foul thing come out a woman more foul. She was a
thing sent to make life unbearable to me. I was a fool, do you see, as you
are now, and so I married this woman. I would like to see men a little begin
to understand women. They are sent to prevent men making the world worth
while. It is a trick in Nature. Ugh! They are creeping, crawling, squirming
things, they with their soft hands and their blue eyes. The sight of a woman
sickens me. Why I don't kill every woman I see I don't know."
Half frightened and yet fascinated by the light burning in the eyes of
the hideous old man, George Willard listened, afire with curiosity. Darkness
came on and he leaned forward trying to see the face of the man who talked.
When, in the gathering darkness, he could no longer see the purple, bloated
face and the burning eyes, a curious fancy came to him. Wash Williams talked
in low even tones that made his words seem the more terrible. In the
darkness the young reporter found himself imagining that he sat on the
railroad ties beside a comely young man with black hair and black shining
eyes. There was something almost beautiful in the voice of Wash Williams,
the hideous, telling his story of hate.
The telegraph operator of Winesburg, sitting in the darkness on the
railroad ties, had become a poet. Hatred had raised him to that elevation.
"It is because I saw you kissing the lips of that Belle Carpenter that I
tell you my story," he said. "What happened to me may next happen to you. I
want to put you on your guard. Already you may be having dreams in your
head. I want to destroy them."
Wash Williams began telling the story of his married life with the tall
blonde girl with the blue eyes whom he had met when he was a young operator
at Dayton, Ohio. Here and there his story was touched with moments of beauty
intermingled with strings of vile curses. The operator had married the
daughter of a dentist who was the youngest of three sisters. On his marriage
day, because of his ability, he was promoted to a position as dispatcher at
an increased salary and sent to an office at Columbus, Ohio. There he
settled down with his young wife and began buying a house on the installment
The young telegraph operator was madly in love. With a kind of
religious fervor he had managed to go through the pitfalls of his youth and
to remain virginal until after his marriage. He made for George Willard a
picture of his life in the house at Columbus, Ohio, with the young wife. "in
the garden back of our house we planted vegetables," he said, "you know,
peas and corn and such things. We went to Columbus in early March and as
soon as the days became warm I went to work in the garden. With a spade I
turned up the black ground while she ran about laughing and pretending to be
afraid of the worms I uncovered. Late in April came the planting. In the
little paths among the seed beds she stood holding a paper bag in her hand.
The bag was filled with seeds. A few at a time she handed me the seeds that
I might thrust them into the warm, soft ground."
For a moment there was a catch in the voice of the man talking in the
darkness. "I loved her," he said. "I don't claim not to be a fool. I love
her yet. There in the dusk in the spring evening I crawled along the black
ground to her feet and groveled before her. I kissed her shoes and the
ankles above her shoes. When the hem of her garment touched my face I
trembled. When after two years of that life I found she had managed to
acquire three other lovers who came regularly to our house when I was away
at work, I didn't want to touch them or her. I just sent her home to her
mother and said nothing. There was nothing to say. I had four hundred
dollars in the bank and I gave her that. I didn't ask her reasons. I didn't
say anything. When she had gone I cried like a silly boy. Pretty soon I had
a chance to sell the house and I sent that money to her."
Wash Williams and George Willard arose from the pile of railroad ties
and walked along the tracks toward town. The operator finished his tale
"Her mother sent for me," he said. "She wrote me a letter and asked me
to come to their house at Dayton. When I got there it was evening about this
Wash Williams' voice rose to a half scream. "I sat in the parlor of
that house two hours. Her mother took me in there and left me. Their house
was stylish. They were what is called respectable people. There were plush
chairs and a couch in the room. I was trembling all over. I hated the men I
thought had wronged her. I was sick of living alone and wanted her back. The
longer I waited the more raw and tender I became. I thought that if she came
in and just touched me with her hand I would perhaps faint away. I ached to
forgive and forget."
Wash Williams stopped and stood staring at George Willard. The boy's
body shook as from a chill. Again the man's voice became soft and low. "She
came into the room naked," he went on. "Her mother did that. While I sat
there she was taking the girl's clothes off, perhaps coaxing her to do it.
First I heard voices at the door that led into a little hallway and then it
opened softly. The girl was ashamed and stood perfectly still staring at the
floor. The mother didn't come into the room. When she had pushed the girl in
through the door she stood in the hallway waiting, hoping we would--well,
you see-- waiting."
George Willard and the telegraph operator came into the main street of
Winesburg. The lights from the store windows lay bright and shining on the
sidewalks. People moved about laughing and talking. The young reporter felt
ill and weak. In imagination, he also became old and shapeless. "I didn't
get the mother killed," said Wash Williams, staring up and down the street.
"I struck her once with a chair and then the neighbors came in and took it
away. She screamed so loud you see. I won't ever have a chance to kill her
now. She died of a fever a month after that happened."
THE HOUSE in which Seth Richmond of Winesburg lived with his mother had
been at one time the show place of the town, but when young Seth lived there
its glory had become somewhat dimmed. The huge brick house which Banker
White had built on Buckeye Street had overshadowed it. The Richmond place
was in a little valley far out at the end of Main Street. Farmers coming
into town by a dusty road from the south passed by a grove of walnut trees,
skirted the Fair Ground with its high board fence covered with
advertisements, and trotted their horses down through the valley past the
Richmond place into town. As much of the country north and south of
Winesburg was devoted to fruit and berry raising, Seth saw wagon-loads of
berry pickers--boys, girls, and women--going to the fields in the morning
and returning covered with dust in the evening. The chattering crowd, with
their rude jokes cried out from wagon to wagon, sometimes irritated him
sharply. He regretted that he also could not laugh boisterously, shout
meaningless jokes and make of himself a figure in the endless stream of
moving, giggling activity that went up and down the road.
The Richmond house was built of limestone, and, although it was said in
the village to have become run down, had in reality grown more beautiful
with every passing year. Already time had begun a little to color the stone,
lending a golden richness to its surface and in the evening or on dark days
touching the shaded places beneath the eaves with wavering patches of browns
The house had been built by Seth's grandfather, a stone quarryman, and
it, together with the stone quarries on Lake Erie eighteen miles to the
north, had been left to his son, Clarence Richmond, Seth's father. Clarence
Richmond, a quiet passionate man extraordinarily admired by his neighbors,
had been killed in a street fight with the editor of a newspaper in Toledo,
Ohio. The fight concerned the publication of Clarence Richmond's name
coupled with that of a woman school teacher, and as the dead man had begun
the row by firing upon the editor, the effort to punish the slayer was
unsuccessful. After the quarryman's death it was found that much of the
money left to him had been squandered in speculation and in insecure
investments made through the influence of friends.
Left with but a small income, Virginia Richmond had settled down to a
retired life in the village and to the raising of her son. Although she had
been deeply moved by the death of the husband and father, she did not at all
believe the stories concerning him that ran about after his death. To her
mind, the sensitive, boyish man whom all had instinctively loved, was but an
unfortunate, a being too fine for everyday life. "You'll be hearing all
sorts of stories, but you are not to believe what you hear," she said to her
son. "He was a good man, full of tenderness for everyone, and should not
have tried to be a man of affairs. No matter how much I were to plan and
dream of your future, I could not imagine anything better for you than that
you turn out as good a man as your father."
Several years after the death of her husband, Virginia Richmond had
become alarmed at the growing demands upon her income and had set herself to
the task of increasing it. She had learned stenography and through the
influence of her husband's friends got the position of court stenographer at
the county seat. There she went by train each morning during the sessions of
the court, and when no court sat, spent her days working among the
rosebushes in her garden. She was a tall, straight figure of a woman with a
plain face and a great mass of brown hair.
In the relationship between Seth Richmond and his mother, there was a
quality that even at eighteen had begun to color all of his traffic with
men. An almost unhealthy respect for the youth kept the mother for the most
part silent in his presence. When she did speak sharply to him he had only
to look steadily into her eyes to see dawning there the puzzled look he had
already noticed in the eyes of others when he looked at them.
The truth was that the son thought with remarkable clearness and the
mother did not. She expected from all people certain conventional reactions
to life. A boy was your son, you scolded him and he trembled and looked at
the floor. When you had scolded enough he wept and all was forgiven. After
the weeping and when he had gone to bed, you crept into his room and kissed
Virginia Richmond could not understand why her son did not do these
things. After the severest reprimand, he did not tremble and look at the
floor but instead looked steadily at her, causing uneasy doubts to invade
her mind. As for creeping into his room-- after Seth had passed his
fifteenth year, she would have been half afraid to do anything of the kind.
Once when he was a boy of sixteen, Seth in company with two other boys
ran away from home. The three boys climbed into the open door of an empty
freight car and rode some forty miles to a town where a fair was being held.
One of the boys had a bottle filled with a combination of whiskey and
blackberry wine, and the three sat with legs dangling out of the car door
drinking from the bottle. Seth's two companions sang and waved their hands
to idlers about the stations of the towns through which the train passed.
They planned raids upon the baskets of farmers who had come with their
families to the fair. "We will five like kings and won't have to spend a
penny to see the fair and horse races," they declared boastfully.
After the disappearance of Seth, Virginia Richmond walked up and down
the floor of her home filled with vague alarms. Although on the next day she
discovered, through an inquiry made by the town marshal, on what adventure
the boys had gone, she could not quiet herself. All through the night she
lay awake hearing the clock tick and telling herself that Seth, like his
father, would come to a sudden and violent end. So determined was she that
the boy should this time feel the weight of her wrath that, although she
would not allow the marshal to interfere with his adventure, she got out a
pencil and paper and wrote down a series of sharp, stinging reproofs she
intended to pour out upon him. The reproofs she committed to memory, going
about the garden and saying them aloud like an actor memorizing his part.
And when, at the end of the week, Seth returned, a little weary and
with coal soot in his ears and about his eyes, she again found herself
unable to reprove him. Walking into the house he hung his cap on a nail by
the kitchen door and stood looking steadily at her. "I wanted to turn back
within an hour after we had started," he explained. "I didn't know what to
do. I knew you would be bothered, but I knew also that if I didn't go on I
would be ashamed of myself. I went through with the thing for my own good.
It was uncomfortable, sleeping on wet straw, and two drunken Negroes came
and slept with us. When I stole a lunch basket out of a farmer's wagon I
couldn't help thinking of his children going all day without food. I was
sick of the whole affair, but I was determined to stick it out until the
other boys were ready to come back."
"I'm glad you did stick it out," replied the mother, half resentfully,
and kissing him upon the forehead pretended to busy herself with the work
about the house.
On a summer evening Seth Richmond went to the New Willard House to
visit his friend, George Willard. It had rained during the afternoon, but as
he walked through Main Street, the sky had partially cleared and a golden
glow lit up the west. Going around a corner, he turned in at the door of the
hotel and began to climb the stairway leading up to his friend's room. In
the hotel office the proprietor and two traveling men were engaged in a
discussion of politics.
On the stairway Seth stopped and listened to the voices of the men
below. They were excited and talked rapidly. Tom Willard was berating the
traveling men. "I am a Democrat but your talk makes me sick," he said. "You
don't understand McKinley. McKinley and Mark Hanna are friends. It is
impossible perhaps for your mind to grasp that. If anyone tells you that a
friendship can be deeper and bigger and more worth while than dollars and
cents, or even more worth while than state politics, you snicker and laugh."
The landlord was interrupted by one of the guests, a tall,
grey-mustached man who worked for a wholesale grocery house. "Do you think
that I've lived in Cleveland all these years without knowing Mark Hanna?" he
demanded. "Your talk is piffle. Hanna is after money and nothing else. This
McKinley is his tool. He has McKinley bluffed and don't you forget it."
The young man on the stairs did not linger to hear the rest of the
discussion, but went on up the stairway and into the little dark hall.
Something in the voices of the men talking in the hotel office started a
chain of thoughts in his mind. He was lonely and had begun to think that
loneliness was a part of his character, something that would always stay
with him. Stepping into a side hall he stood by a window that looked into an
alleyway. At the back of his shop stood Abner Groff, the town baker. His
tiny bloodshot eyes looked up and down the alleyway. In his shop someone
called the baker, who pretended not to hear. The baker had an empty milk
bottle in his hand and an angry sullen look in his eyes.
In Winesburg, Seth Richmond was called the "deep one." "He's like his
father," men said as he went through the streets. "He'll break out some of
these days. You wait and see."
The talk of the town and the respect with which men and boys
instinctively greeted him, as all men greet silent people, had affected Seth
Richmond's outlook on life and on himself. He, like most boys, was deeper
than boys are given credit for being, but he was not what the men of the
town, and even his mother, thought him to be. No great underlying purpose
lay back of his habitual silence, and he had no definite plan for his life.
When the boys with whom he associated were noisy and quarrelsome, he stood
quietly at one side. With calm eyes he watched the gesticulating lively
figures of his companions. He wasn't particularly interested in what was
going on, and sometimes wondered if he would ever be particularly interested
in anything. Now, as he stood in the half-darkness by the window watching
the baker, he wished that he himself might become thoroughly stirred by
something, even by the fits of sullen anger for which Baker Groff was noted.
"It would be better for me if I could become excited and wrangle about
politics like windy old Tom Willard," he thought, as he left the window and
went again along the hallway to the room occupied by his friend, George
George Willard was older than Seth Richmond, but in the rather odd
friendship between the two, it was he who was forever courting and the
younger boy who was being courted. The paper on which George worked had one
policy. It strove to mention by name in each issue, as many as possible of
the inhabitants of the village. Like an excited dog, George Willard ran here
and there, noting on his pad of paper who had gone on business to the county
seat or had returned from a visit to a neighboring village. All day he wrote
little facts upon the pad. "A. P. Wringlet had received a shipment of straw
hats. Ed Byerbaum and Tom Marshall were in Cleveland Friday. Uncle Tom
Sinnings is building a new barn on his place on the Valley Road."
The idea that George Willard would some day become a writer had given
him a place of distinction in Winesburg, and to Seth Richmond he talked
continually of the matter, "It's the easiest of all lives to live," he
declared, becoming excited and boastful. "Here and there you go and there is
no one to boss you. Though you are in India or in the South Seas in a boat,
you have but to write and there you are. Wait till I get my name up and then
see what fun I shall have."
In George Willard's room, which had a window looking down into an
alleyway and one that looked across railroad tracks to Biff Carter's Lunch
Room facing the railroad station, Seth Richmond sat in a chair and looked at
the floor. George Willard, who had been sitting for an hour idly playing
with a lead pencil, greeted him effusively. "I've been trying to write a
love story," he explained, laughing nervously. Lighting a pipe he began
walking up and down the room. "I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to
fall in love. I've been sitting here and thinking it over and I'm going to
As though embarrassed by his declaration, George went to a window and
turning his back to his friend leaned out. "I know who I'm going to fall in
love with," he said sharply. "It's Helen White. She is the only girl in town
with any 'get-up' to her."
Struck with a new idea, young Willard turned and walked toward his
visitor. "Look here," he said. "You know Helen White better than I do. I
want you to tell her what I said. You just get to talking to her and say
that I'm in love with her. See what she says to that. See how she takes it,
and then you come and tell me."
Seth Richmond arose and went toward the door. The words of his comrade
irritated him unbearably. "Well, good-bye," he said briefly.
George was amazed. Running forward he stood in the darkness trying to
look into Seth's face. "What's the matter? What are you going to do? You
stay here and let's talk," he urged.
A wave of resentment directed against his friend, the men of the town
who were, he thought, perpetually talking of nothing, and most of all,
against his own habit of silence, made Seth half desperate. "Aw, speak to
her yourself," he burst forth and then, going quickly through the door,
slammed it sharply in his friend's face. "I'm going to find Helen White and
talk to her, but not about him," he muttered.
Seth went down the stairway and out at the front door of the hotel
muttering with wrath. Crossing a little dusty street and climbing a low iron
railing, he went to sit upon the grass in the station yard. George Willard
he thought a profound fool, and he wished that he had said so more
vigorously. Although his acquaintanceship with Helen White, the banker's
daughter, was outwardly but casual, she was often the subject of his
thoughts and he felt that she was something private and personal to himself.
"The busy fool with his love stories," he muttered, staring back over his
shoulder at George Willard's room, "why does he never tire of his eternal
It was berry harvest time in Winesburg and upon the station platform
men and boys loaded the boxes of red, fragrant berries into two express cars
that stood upon the siding. A June moon was in the sky, although in the west
a storm threatened, and no street lamps were lighted. In the dim light the
figures of the men standing upon the express truck and pitching the boxes in
at the doors of the cars were but dimly discernible. Upon the iron railing
that protected the station lawn sat other men. Pipes were lighted. Village
jokes went back and forth. Away in the distance a train whistled and the men
loading the boxes into the cars worked with renewed activity.
Seth arose from his place on the grass and went silently past the men
perched upon the railing and into Main Street. He had come to a resolution.
"I'll get out of here," he told himself. "What good am I here? I'm going to
some city and go to work. I'll tell mother about it tomorrow."
Seth Richmond went slowly along Main Street, past Wacker's Cigar Store
and the Town Hall, and into Buckeye Street. He was depressed by the thought
that he was not a part of the life in his own town, but the depression did
not cut deeply as he did not think of himself as at fault. In the heavy
shadows of a big tree before Doctor Welling's house, he stopped and stood
watching half-witted Turk Smollet, who was pushing a wheelbarrow in the
road. The old man with his absurdly boyish mind had a dozen long boards on
the wheelbarrow, and, as he hurried along the road, balanced the load with
extreme nicety. "Easy there, Turk! Steady now, old boy!" the old man shouted
to himself, and laughed so that the load of boards rocked dangerously.
Seth knew Turk Smollet, the half dangerous old wood chopper whose
peculiarities added so much of color to the life of the village. He knew
that when Turk got into Main Street he would become the center of a
whirlwind of cries and comments, that in truth the old man was going far out
of his way in order to pass through Main Street and exhibit his skill in
wheeling the boards. "If George Willard were here, he'd have something to
say," thought Seth. "George belongs to this town. He'd shout at Turk and
Turk would shout at him. They'd both be secretly pleased by what they had
said. It's different with me. I don't belong. I'll not make a fuss about it,
but I'm going to get out of here."
Seth stumbled forward through the half-darkness, feeling himself an
outcast in his own town. He began to pity himself, but a sense of the
absurdity of his thoughts made him smile. In the end he decided that he was
simply old beyond his years and not at all a subject for self-pity. "I'm
made to go to work. I may be able to make a place for myself by steady
working, and I might as well be at it," he decided.
Seth went to the house of Banker White and stood in the darkness by the
front door. On the door hung a heavy brass knocker, an innovation introduced
into the village by Helen White's mother, who had also organized a women's
club for the study of poetry. Seth raised the knocker and let it fall. Its
heavy clatter sounded like a report from distant guns. "How awkward and
foolish I am," he thought. "If Mrs. White comes to the door, I won't know
what to say."
It was Helen White who came to the door and found Seth standing at the
edge of the porch. Blushing with pleasure, she stepped forward, closing the
door softly. "I'm going to get out of town. I don't know what I'll do, but
I'm going to get out of here and go to work. I think I'll go to Columbus,"
he said. "Perhaps I'll get into the State University down there. Anyway, I'm
going. I'll tell mother tonight." He hesitated and looked doubtfully about.
"Perhaps you wouldn't mind coming to walk with me?"
Seth and Helen walked through the streets beneath the trees. Heavy
clouds had drifted across the face of the moon, and before them in the deep
twilight went a man with a short ladder upon his shoulder. Hurrying forward,
the man stopped at the street crossing and, putting the ladder against the
wooden lamp-post, lighted the village lights so that their way was half
lighted, half darkened, by the lamps and by the deepening shadows cast by
the low-branched trees. In the tops of the trees the wind began to play,
disturbing the sleeping birds so that they flew about calling plaintively.
In the lighted space before one of the lamps, two bats wheeled and circled,
pursuing the gathering swarm of night flies.
Since Seth had been a boy in knee trousers there had been a half
expressed intimacy between him and the maiden who now for the first time
walked beside him. For a time she had been beset with a madness for writing
notes which she addressed to Seth. He had found them concealed in his books
at school and one had been given him by a child met in the street, while
several had been delivered through the village post office.
The notes had been written in a round, boyish hand and had reflected a
mind inflamed by novel reading. Seth had not answered them, although he had
been moved and flattered by some of the sentences scrawled in pencil upon
the stationery of the banker's wife. Putting them into the pocket of his
coat, he went through the street or stood by the fence in the school yard
with something burning at his side. He thought it fine that he should be
thus selected as the favorite of the richest and most attractive girl in
Helen and Seth stopped by a fence near where a low dark building faced
the street. The building had once been a factory for the making of barrel
staves but was now vacant. Across the street upon the porch of a house a man
and woman talked of their childhood, their voices coming dearly across to
the half-embarrassed youth and maiden. There was the sound of scraping
chairs and the man and woman came down the gravel path to a wooden gate.
Standing outside the gate, the man leaned over and kissed the woman. "For
old times' sake," he said and, turning, walked rapidly away along the
"That's Belle Turner," whispered Helen, and put her hand boldly into
Seth's hand. "I didn't know she had a fellow. I thought she was too old for
that." Seth laughed uneasily. The hand of the girl was warm and a strange,
dizzy feeling crept over him. Into his mind came a desire to tell her
something he had been determined not to tell. "George Willard's in love with
you," he said, and in spite of his agitation his voice was low and quiet.
"He's writing a story, and he wants to be in love. He wants to know how it
feels. He wanted me to tell you and see what you said."
Again Helen and Seth walked in silence. They came to the garden
surrounding the old Richmond place and going through a gap in the hedge sat
on a wooden bench beneath a bush.
On the street as he walked beside the girl new and daring thoughts had
come into Seth Richmond's mind. He began to regret his decision to get out
of town. "It would be something new and altogether delightful to remain and
walk often through the streets with Helen White," he thought. In imagination
he saw himself putting his arm about her waist and feeling her arms clasped
tightly about his neck. One of those odd combinations of events and places
made him connect the idea of love-making with this girl and a spot he had
visited some days before. He had gone on an errand to the house of a farmer
who lived on a hillside beyond the Fair Ground and had returned by a path
through a field. At the foot of the hill below the farmer's house Seth had
stopped beneath a sycamore tree and looked about him. A soft humming noise
had greeted his ears. For a moment he had thought the tree must be the home
of a swarm of bees.
And then, looking down, Seth had seen the bees everywhere all about him
in the long grass. He stood in a mass of weeds that grew waist-high in the
field that ran away from the hillside. The weeds were abloom with tiny
purple blossoms and gave forth an overpowering fragrance. Upon the weeds the
bees were gathered in armies, singing as they worked.
Seth imagined himself lying on a summer evening, buried deep among the
weeds beneath the tree. Beside him, in the scene built in his fancy, lay
Helen White, her hand lying in his hand. A peculiar reluctance kept him from
kissing her lips, but he felt he might have done that if he wished. Instead,
he lay perfectly still, looking at her and listening to the army of bees
that sang the sustained masterful song of labor above his head.
On the bench in the garden Seth stirred uneasily. Releasing the hand of
the girl, he thrust his hands into his trouser pockets. A desire to impress
the mind of his companion with the importance of the resolution he had made
came over him and he nodded his head toward the house. "Mother'll make a
fuss, I suppose," he whispered. "She hasn't thought at all about what I'm
going to do in life. She thinks I'm going to stay on here forever just being
Seth's voice became charged with boyish earnestness. "You see, I've got
to strike out. I've got to get to work. It's what I'm good for."
Helen White was impressed. She nodded her head and a feeling of
admiration swept over her. "This is as it should be," she thought. "This boy
is not a boy at all, but a strong, purposeful man." Certain vague desires
that had been invading her body were swept away and she sat up very straight
on the bench. The thunder continued to rumble and flashes of heat lightning
lit up the eastern sky. The garden that had been so mysterious and vast, a
place that with Seth beside her might have become the background for strange
and wonderful adventures, now seemed no more than an ordinary Winesburg back
yard, quite definite and limited in its outlines.
"What will you do up there?" she whispered.
Seth turned half around on the bench, striving to see her face in the
darkness. He thought her infinitely more sensible and straightforward than
George Willard, and was glad he had come away from his friend. A feeling of
impatience with the town that had been in his mind returned, and he tried to
tell her of it. "Everyone talks and talks," he began. "I'm sick of it. I'll
do something, get into some kind of work where talk don't count. Maybe I'll
just be a mechanic in a shop. I don't know. I guess I don't care much. I
just want to work and keep quiet. That's all I've got in my mind."
Seth arose from the bench and put out his hand. He did not want to
bring the meeting to an end but could not think of anything more to say.
"It's the last time we'll see each other," he whispered.
A wave of sentiment swept over Helen. Putting her hand upon Seth's
shoulder, she started to draw his face down toward her own upturned face.
The act was one of pure affection and cutting regret that some vague
adventure that had been present in the spirit of the night would now never
be realized. "I think I'd better be going along," she said, letting her hand
fall heavily to her side. A thought came to her. "Don't you go with me; I
want to be alone," she said. "You go and talk with your mother. You'd better
do that now."
Seth hesitated and, as he stood waiting, the girl turned and ran away
through the hedge. A desire to run after her came to him, but he only stood
staring, perplexed and puzzled by her action as he had been perplexed and
puzzled by all of the life of the town out of which she had come. Walking
slowly toward the house, he stopped in the shadow of a large tree and looked
at his mother sitting by a lighted window busily sewing. The feeling of
loneliness that had visited him earlier in the evening returned and colored
his thoughts of the adventure through which he had just passed. "Huh!" he
exclaimed, turning and staring in the direction taken by Helen White.
"That's how things'll turn out. She'll be like the rest. I suppose she'll
begin now to look at me in a funny way." He looked at the ground and
pondered this thought. "She'll be embarrassed and feel strange when I'm
around," he whispered to himself. "That's how it'll be. That's how
everything'll turn out. When it comes to loving someone, it won't never be
me. It'll be someone else--some fool--someone who talks a lot--someone like
that George Willard."
UNTIL SHE WAS seven years old she lived in an old unpainted house on an
unused road that led off Trunion Pike. Her father gave her but little
attention and her mother was dead. The father spent his time talking and
thinking of religion. He proclaimed himself an agnostic and was so absorbed
in destroying the ideas of God that had crept into the minds of his
neighbors that he never saw God manifesting himself in the little child
that, half forgotten, lived here and there on the bounty of her dead
A stranger came to Winesburg and saw in the child what the father did
not see. He was a tall, redhaired young man who was almost always drunk.
Sometimes he sat in a chair before the New Willard House with Tom Hard, the
father. As Tom talked, declaring there could be no God, the stranger smiled
and winked at the bystanders. He and Tom became friends and were much
The stranger was the son of a rich merchant of Cleveland and had come
to Winesburg on a mission. He wanted to cure himself of the habit of drink,
and thought that by escaping from his city associates and living in a rural
community he would have a better chance in the struggle with the appetite
that was destroying him.
His sojourn in Winesburg was not a success. The dullness of the passing
hours led to his drinking harder than ever. But he did succeed in doing
something. He gave a name rich with meaning to Tom Hard's daughter.
One evening when he was recovering from a long debauch the stranger
came reeling along the main street of the town. Tom Hard sat in a chair
before the New Willard House with his daughter, then a child of five, on his
knees. Beside him on the board sidewalk sat young George Willard. The
stranger dropped into a chair beside them. His body shook and when he tried
to talk his voice trembled.
It was late evening and darkness lay over the town and over the
railroad that ran along the foot of a little incline before the hotel.
Somewhere in the distance, off to the west, there was a prolonged blast from
the whistle of a passenger engine. A dog that had been sleeping in the
roadway arose and barked. The stranger began to babble and made a prophecy
concerning the child that lay in the arms of the agnostic.
"I came here to quit drinking," he said, and tears began to run down
his cheeks. He did not look at Tom Hard, but leaned forward and stared into
the darkness as though seeing a vision. "I ran away to the country to be
cured, but I am not cured. There is a reason." He turned to look at the
child who sat up very straight on her father's knee and returned the look.
The stranger touched Tom Hard on the arm. "Drink is not the only thing
to which I am addicted," he said. "There is something else. I am a lover and
have not found my thing to love. That is a big point if you know enough to
realize what I mean. It makes my destruction inevitable, you see. There are
few who understand that."
The stranger became silent and seemed overcome with sadness, but
another blast from the whistle of the passenger engine aroused him. "I have
not lost faith. I proclaim that. I have only been brought to the place where
I know my faith will not be realized," he declared hoarsely. He looked hard
at the child and began to address her, paying no more attention to the
father. "There is a woman coming," he said, and his voice was now sharp and
earnest. "I have missed her, you see. She did not come in my time. You may
be the woman. It would be like fate to let me stand in her presence once, on
such an evening as this, when I have destroyed myself with drink and she is
as yet only a child."
The shoulders of the stranger shook violently, and when he tried to
roll a cigarette the paper fell from his trembling fingers. He grew angry
and scolded. "They think it's easy to be a woman, to be loved, but I know
better," he declared. Again he turned to the child. "I understand," he
cried. "Perhaps of all men I alone understand."
His glance again wandered away to the darkened street. "I know about
her, although she has never crossed my path," he said softly. "I know about
her struggles and her defeats. It is because of her defeats that she is to
me the lovely one. Out of her defeats has been born a new quality in woman.
I have a name for it. I call it Tandy. I made up the name when I was a true
dreamer and before my body became vile. It is the quality of being strong to
be loved. It is something men need from women and that they do not get. "
The stranger arose and stood before Tom Hard. His body rocked back and
forth and he seemed about to fall, but instead he dropped to his knees on
the sidewalk and raised the hands of the little girl to his drunken lips. He
kissed them ecstatically. "Be Tandy, little one," he pleaded. "Dare to be
strong and courageous. That is the road. Venture anything. Be brave enough
to dare to be loved. Be something more than man or woman. Be Tandy."
The stranger arose and staggered off down the street. A day or two
later he got aboard a train and returned to his home in Cleveland. On the
summer evening, after the talk before the hotel, Tom Hard took the girl
child to the house of a relative where she had been invited to spend the
night. As he went along in the darkness under the trees he forgot the
babbling voice of the stranger and his mind returned to the making of
arguments by which he might destroy men's faith in God. He spoke his
daughter's name and she began to weep.
"I don't want to be called that," she declared. "I want to be called
Tandy--Tandy Hard." The child wept so bitterly that Tom Hard was touched and
tried to comfort her. He stopped beneath a tree and, taking her into his
arms, began to caress her. "Be good, now," he said sharply; but she would
not be quieted. With childish abandon she gave herself over to grief, her
voice breaking the evening stillness of the street. "I want to be Tandy. I
want to be Tandy. I want to be Tandy Hard," she cried, shaking her head and
sobbing as though her young strength were not enough to bear the vision the
words of the drunkard had brought to her.
THE STRENGTH OF GOD
THE REVEREND Curtis Hartman was pastor of the Presbyterian Church of
Winesburg, and had been in that position ten years. He was forty years old,
and by his nature very silent and reticent. To preach, standing in the
pulpit before the people, was always a hardship for him and from Wednesday
morning until Saturday evening he thought of nothing but the two sermons
that must be preached on Sunday. Early on Sunday morning he went into a
little room called a study in the bell tower of the church and prayed. In
his prayers there was one note that always predominated. "Give me strength
and courage for Thy work, O Lord!" he pleaded, kneeling on the bare floor
and bowing his head in the presence of the task that lay before him.
The Reverend Hartman was a tall man with a brown beard. His wife, a
stout, nervous woman, was the daughter of a manufacturer of underwear at
Cleveland, Ohio. The minister himself was rather a favorite in the town. The
elders of the church liked him because he was quiet and unpretentious and
Mrs. White, the banker's wife, thought him scholarly and refined.
The Presbyterian Church held itself somewhat aloof from the other
churches of Winesburg. It was larger and more imposing and its minister was
better paid. He even had a carriage of his own and on summer evenings
sometimes drove about town with his wife. Through Main Street and up and
down Buckeye Street he went, bowing gravely to the people, while his wife,
afire with secret pride, looked at him out of the corners of her eyes and
worried lest the horse become frightened and run away.
For a good many years after he came to Winesburg things went well with
Curtis Hartman. He was not one to arouse keen enthusiasm among the
worshippers in his church but on the other hand he made no enemies. In
reality he was much in earnest and sometimes suffered prolonged periods of
remorse because he could not go crying the word of God in the highways and
byways of the town. He wondered if the flame of the spirit really burned in
him and dreamed of a day when a strong sweet new current of power would come
like a great wind into his voice and his soul and the people would tremble
before the spirit of God made manifest in him. "I am a poor stick and that
will never really happen to me," he mused dejectedly, and then a patient
smile lit up his features. "Oh well, I suppose I'm doing well enough," he
The room in the bell tower of the church, where on Sunday mornings the
minister prayed for an increase in him of the power of God, had but one
window. It was long and narrow and swung outward on a hinge like a door. On
the window, made of little leaded panes, was a design showing the Christ
laying his hand upon the head of a child. One Sunday morning in the summer
as he sat by his desk in the room with a large Bible opened before him, and
the sheets of his sermon scattered about, the minister was shocked to see,
in the upper room of the house next door, a woman lying in her bed and
smoking a cigarette while she read a book. Curtis Hartman went on tiptoe to
the window and closed it softly. He was horror stricken at the thought of a
woman smoking and trembled also to think that his eyes, just raised from the
pages of the book of God, had looked upon the bare shoulders and white
throat of a woman. With his brain in a whirl he went down into the pulpit
and preached a long sermon without once thinking of his gestures or his
voice. The sermon attracted unusual attention because of its power and
clearness. "I wonder if she is listening, if my voice is carrying a message
into her soul," he thought and began to hope that on future Sunday mornings
he might be able to say words that would touch and awaken the woman
apparently far gone in secret sin.
The house next door to the Presbyterian Church, through the windows of
which the minister had seen the sight that had so upset him, was occupied by
two women. Aunt Elizabeth Swift, a grey competentlooking widow with money in
the Winesburg National Bank, lived there with her daughter Kate Swift, a
school teacher. The school teacher was thirty years old and had a neat
trim-looking figure. She had few friends and bore a reputation of having a
sharp tongue. When he began to think about her, Curtis Hartman remembered
that she had been to Europe and had lived for two years in New York City.
"Perhaps after all her smoking means nothing," he thought. He began to
remember that when he was a student in college and occasionally read novels,
good although somewhat worldly women, had smoked through the pages of a book
that had once fallen into his hands. With a rush of new determination he
worked on his sermons all through the week and forgot, in his zeal to reach
the ears and the soul of this new listener, both his embarrassment in the
pulpit and the necessity of prayer in the study on Sunday mornings.
Reverend Hartman's experience with women had been somewhat limited. He
was the son of a wagon maker from Muncie, Indiana, and had worked his way
through college. The daughter of the underwear manufacturer had boarded in a
house where he lived during his school days and he had married her after a
formal and prolonged courtship, carried on for the most part by the girl
herself. On his marriage day the underwear manufacturer had given his
daughter five thousand dollars and he promised to leave her at least twice
that amount in his will. The minister had thought himself fortunate in
marriage and had never permitted himself to think of other women. He did not
want to think of other women. What he wanted was to do the work of God
quietly and earnestly.
In the soul of the minister a struggle awoke. From wanting to reach the
ears of Kate Swift, and through his sermons to delve into her soul, he began
to want also to look again at the figure lying white and quiet in the bed.
On a Sunday morning when he could not sleep because of his thoughts he arose
and went to walk in the streets. When he had gone along Main Street almost
to the old Richmond place he stopped and picking up a stone rushed off to
the room in the bell tower. With the stone he broke out a corner of the
window and then locked the door and sat down at the desk before the open
Bible to wait. When the shade of the window to Kate Swift's room was raised
he could see, through the hole, directly into her bed, but she was not
there. She also had arisen and had gone for a walk and the hand that raised
the shade was the hand of Aunt Elizabeth Swift.
The minister almost wept with joy at this deliverance from the carnal
desire to "peep" and went back to his own house praising God. In an ill
moment he forgot, however, to stop the hole in the window. The piece of
glass broken out at the corner of the window just nipped off the bare heel
of the boy standing motionless and looking with rapt eyes into the face of
Curtis Hartman forgot his sermon on that Sunday morning. He talked to
his congregation and in his talk said that it was a mistake for people to
think of their minister as a man set aside and intended by nature to lead a
blameless life. "Out of my own experience I know that we, who are the
ministers of God's word, are beset by the same temptations that assail you,"
he declared. "I have been tempted and have surrendered to temptation. It is
only the hand of God, placed beneath my head, that has raised me up. As he
has raised me so also will he raise you. Do not despair. In your hour of sin
raise your eyes to the skies and you will be again and again saved."
Resolutely the minister put the thoughts of the woman in the bed out of
his mind and began to be something like a lover in the presence of his wife.
One evening when they drove out together he turned the horse out of Buckeye
Street and in the darkness on Gospel Hill, above Waterworks Pond, put his
arm about Sarah Hartman's waist. When he had eaten breakfast in the morning
and was ready to retire to his study at the back of his house he went around
the table and kissed his wife on the cheek. When thoughts of Kate Swift came
into his head, he smiled and raised his eyes to the skies. "Intercede for
me, Master," he muttered, "keep me in the narrow path intent on Thy work."
And now began the real struggle in the soul of the brown-bearded
minister. By chance he discovered that Kate Swift was in the habit of lying
in her bed in the evenings and reading a book. A lamp stood on a table by
the side of the bed and the light streamed down upon her white shoulders and
bare throat. On the evening when he made the discovery the minister sat at
the desk in the dusty room from nine until after eleven and when her light
was put out stumbled out of the church to spend two more hours walking and
praying in the streets. He did not want to kiss the shoulders and the throat
of Kate Swift and had not allowed his mind to dwell on such thoughts. He did
not know what he wanted. "I am God's child and he must save me from myself,"
he cried, in the darkness under the trees as he wandered in the streets. By
a tree he stood and looked at the sky that was covered with hurrying clouds.
He began to talk to God intimately and closely. "Please, Father, do not
forget me. Give me power to go tomorrow and repair the hole in the window.
Lift my eyes again to the skies. Stay with me, Thy servant, in his hour of
Up and down through the silent streets walked the minister and for days
and weeks his soul was troubled. He could not understand the temptation that
had come to him nor could he fathom the reason for its coming. In a way he
began to blame God, saying to himself that he had tried to keep his feet in
the true path and had not run about seeking sin. "Through my days as a young
man and all through my life here I have gone quietly about my work," he
declared. "Why now should I be tempted? What have I done that this burden
should be laid on me?"
Three times during the early fall and winter of that year Curtis
Hartman crept out of his house to the room in the bell tower to sit in the
darkness looking at the figure of Kate Swift lying in her bed and later went
to walk and pray in the streets. He could not understand himself. For weeks
he would go along scarcely thinking of the school teacher and telling
himself that he had conquered the carnal desire to look at her body. And
then something would happen. As he sat in the study of his own house, hard
at work on a sermon, he would become nervous and begin to walk up and down
the room. "I will go out into the streets," he told himself and even as he
let himself in at the church door he persistently denied to himself the
cause of his being there. "I will not repair the hole in the window and I
will train myself to come here at night and sit in the presence of this
woman without raising my eyes. I will not be defeated in this thing. The
Lord has devised this temptation as a test of my soul and I will grope my
way out of darkness into the light of righteousness."
One night in January when it was bitter cold and snow lay deep on the
streets of Winesburg Curtis Hartman paid his last visit to the room in the
bell tower of the church. It was past nine o'clock when he left his own
house and he set out so hurriedly that he forgot to put on his overshoes. In
Main Street no one was abroad but Hop Higgins the night watchman and in the
whole town no one was awake but the watchman and young George Willard, who
sat in the office of the Winesburg Eagle trying to write a story. Along the
street to the church went the minister, plowing through the drifts and
thinking that this time he would utterly give way to sin. "I want to look at
the woman and to think of kissing her shoulders and I am going to let myself
think what I choose," he declared bitterly and tears came into his eyes. He
began to think that he would get out of the ministry and try some other way
of life. "I shall go to some city and get into business," he declared. "If
my nature is such that I cannot resist sin, I shall give myself over to sin.
At least I shall not be a hypocrite, preaching the word of God with my mind
thinking of the shoulders and neck of a woman who does not belong to me."
It was cold in the room of the bell tower of the church on that January
night and almost as soon as he came into the room Curtis Hartman knew that
if he stayed he would be ill. His feet were wet from tramping in the snow
and there was no fire. In the room in the house next door Kate Swift had not
yet appeared. With grim determination the man sat down to wait. Sitting in
the chair and gripping the edge of the desk on which lay the Bible he stared
into the darkness thinking the blackest thoughts of his life. He thought of
his wife and for the moment almost hated her. "She has always been ashamed
of passion and has cheated me," he thought. "Man has a right to expect
living passion and beauty in a woman. He has no right to forget that he is
an animal and in me there is something that is Greek. I will throw off the
woman of my bosom and seek other women. I will besiege this school teacher.
I will fly in the face of all men and if I am a creature of carnal lusts I
will live then for my lusts."
The distracted man trembled from head to foot, partly from cold, partly
from the struggle in which he was engaged. Hours passed and a fever assailed
his body. His throat began to hurt and his teeth chattered. His feet on the
study floor felt like two cakes of ice. Still he would not give up. "I will
see this woman and will think the thoughts I have never dared to think," he
told himself, gripping the edge of the desk and waiting.
Curtis Hartman came near dying from the effects of that night of
waiting in the church, and also he found in the thing that happened what he
took to be the way of life for him. On other evenings when he had waited he
had not been able to see, through the little hole in the glass, any part of
the school teacher's room except that occupied by her bed. In the darkness
he had waited until the woman suddenly appeared sitting in the bed in her
white nightrobe. When the light was turned up she propped herself up among
the' pillows and read a book. Sometimes she smoked one of the cigarettes.
Only her bare shoulders and throat were visible.
On the January night, after he had come near dying with cold and after
his mind had two or three times actually slipped away into an odd land of
fantasy so that he had by an exercise of will power to force himself back
into consciousness, Kate Swift appeared. In the room next door a lamp was
lighted and the waiting man stared into an empty bed. Then upon the bed
before his eyes a naked woman threw herself. Lying face downward she wept
and beat with her fists upon the pillow. With a final outburst of weeping
she half arose, and in the presence of the man who had waited to look and
not to think thoughts the woman of sin began to pray. In the lamplight her
figure, slim and strong, looked like the figure of the boy in the presence
of the Christ on the leaded window.
Curtis Hartman never remembered how he got out of the church. With a
cry he arose, dragging the heavy desk along the floor. The Bible fell,
making a great clatter in the silence. When the light in the house next door
went out he stumbled down the stairway and into the street. Along the street
he went and ran in at the door of the Winesburg Eagle. To George Willard,
who was tramping up and down in the office undergoing a struggle of his own,
he began to talk half incoherently. "The ways of God are beyond human
understanding," he cried, running in quickly and closing the door. He began
to advance upon the young man, his eyes glowing and his voice ringing with
fervor. "I have found the light," he cried. "After ten years in this town,
God has manifested himself to me in the body of a woman." His voice dropped
and he began to whisper. "I did not understand," he said. "What I took to be
a trial of my soul was only a preparation for a new and more beautiful
fervor of the spirit. God has appeared to me in the person of Kate Swift,
the school teacher, kneeling naked on a bed. Do you know Kate Swift?
Although she may not be aware of it, she is an instrument of God, bearing
the message of truth."
Reverend Curtis Hartman turned and ran out of the office. At the door
he stopped, and after looking up and down the deserted street, turned again
to George Willard. "I am delivered. Have no fear." He held up a bleeding
fist for the young man to see. "I smashed the glass of the window," he
cried. "Now it will have to be wholly replaced. The strength of God was in
me and I broke it with my fist."
SNOW LAY DEEP in the streets of Winesburg. It had begun to snow about
ten o'clock in the morning and a wind sprang up and blew the snow in clouds
along Main Street. The frozen mud roads that led into town were fairly
smooth and in places ice covered the mud. "There will be good sleighing,"
said Will Henderson, standing by the bar in Ed Griffith's saloon. Out of the
saloon he went and met Sylvester West the druggist stumbling along in the
kind of heavy overshoes called arctics. "Snow will bring the people into
town on Saturday," said the druggist. The two men stopped and discussed
their affairs. Will Henderson, who had on a light overcoat and no overshoes,
kicked the heel of his left foot with the toe of the right. "Snow will be
good for the wheat," observed the druggist sagely.
Young George Willard, who had nothing to do, was glad because he did
not feel like working that day. The weekly paper had been printed and taken
to the post office Wednesday evening and the snow began to fall on Thursday.
At eight o'clock, after the morning train had passed, he put a pair of
skates in his pocket and went up to Waterworks Pond but did not go skating.
Past the pond and along a path that followed Wine Creek he went until he
came to a grove of beech trees. There he built a fire against the side of a
log and sat down at the end of the log to think. When the snow began to fall
and the wind to blow he hurried about getting fuel for the fire.
The young reporter was thinking of Kate Swift, who had once been his
school teacher. On the evening before he had gone to her house to get a book
she wanted him to read and had been alone with her for an hour. For the
fourth or fifth time the woman had talked to him with great earnestness and
he could not make out what she meant by her talk. He began to believe she
must be in love with him and the thought was both pleasing and annoying.
Up from the log he sprang and began to pile sticks on the fire. Looking
about to be sure he was alone he talked aloud pretending he was in the
presence of the woman, "Oh,, you're just letting on, you know you are," he
declared. "I am going to find out about you. You wait and see."
The young man got up and went back along the path toward town leaving
the fire blazing in the wood. As he went through the streets the skates
clanked in his pocket. In his own room in the New Willard House he built a
fire in the stove and lay down on top of the bed. He began to have lustful
thoughts and pulling down the shade of the window closed his eyes and turned
his face to the wall. He took a pillow into his arms and embraced it
thinking first of the school teacher, who by her words had stirred something
within him, and later of Helen White, the slim daughter of the town banker,
with whom he had been for a long time half in love.
By nine o'clock of that evening snow lay deep in the streets and the
weather had become bitter cold. It was difficult to walk about. The stores
were dark and the people had crawled away to their houses. The evening train
from Cleveland was very late but nobody was interested in its arrival. By
ten o'clock all but four of the eighteen hundred citizens of the town were
Hop Higgins, the night watchman, was partially awake. He was lame and
carried a heavy stick. On dark nights he carried a lantern. Between nine and
ten o'clock he went his rounds. Up and down Main Street he stumbled through
the drifts trying the doors of the stores. Then he went into alleyways and
tried the back doors. Finding all tight he hurried around the corner to the
New Willard House and beat on the door. Through the rest of the night he
intended to stay by the stove. "You go to bed. I'll keep the stove going,"
he said to the boy who slept on a cot in the hotel office.
Hop Higgins sat down by the stove and took off his shoes. When the boy
had gone to sleep he began to think of his own affairs. He intended to paint
his house in the spring and sat by the stove calculating the cost of paint
and labor. That led him into other calculations. The night watchman was
sixty years old and wanted to retire. He had been a soldier in the Civil War
and drew a small pension. He hoped to find some new method of making a
living and aspired to become a professional breeder of ferrets. Already he
had four of the strangely shaped savage little creatures, that are used by
sportsmen in the pursuit of rabbits, in the cellar of his house. "Now I have
one male and three females," he mused. "If I am lucky by spring I shall have
twelve or fifteen. In another year I shall be able to begin advertising
ferrets for sale in the sporting papers."
The nightwatchman settled into his chair and his mind became a blank.
He did not sleep. By years of practice he had trained himself to sit for
hours through the long nights neither asleep nor awake. In the morning he
was almost as refreshed as though he had slept.
With Hop Higgins safely stowed away in the chair behind the stove only
three people were awake in Winesburg. George Willard was in the office of
the Eagle pretending to be at work on the writing of a story but in reality
continuing the mood of the morning by the fire in the wood. In the bell
tower of the Presbyterian Church the Reverend Curtis Hartman was sitting in
the darkness preparing himself for a revelation from God, and Kate Swift,
the school teacher, was leaving her house for a walk in the storm.
It was past ten o'clock when Kate Swift set out and the walk was
unpremeditated. It was as though the man and the boy, by thinking of her,
had driven her forth into the wintry streets. Aunt Elizabeth Swift had gone
to the county seat concerning some business in connection with mortgages in
which she had money invested and would not be back until the next day. By a
huge stove, called a base burner, in the living room of the house sat the
daughter reading a book. Suddenly she sprang to her feet and, snatching a
cloak from a rack by the front door, ran out of the house.
At the age of thirty Kate Swift was not known in Winesburg as a pretty
woman. Her complexion was not good and her face was covered with blotches
that indicated ill health. Alone in the night in the winter streets she was
lovely. Her back was straight, her shoulders square, and her features were
as the features of a tiny goddess on a pedestal in a garden in the dim light
of a summer evening.
During the afternoon the school teacher had been to see Doctor Welling
concerning her health. The doctor had scolded her and had declared she was
in danger of losing her hearing. It was foolish for Kate Swift to be abroad
in the storm, foolish and perhaps dangerous.
The woman in the streets did not remember the words of the doctor and
would not have turned back had she remembered. She was very cold but after
walking for five minutes no longer minded the cold. First she went to the
end of her own street and then across a pair of hay scales set in the ground
before a feed barn and into Trunion Pike. Along Trunion Pike she went to Ned
Winters' barn and turning east followed a street of low frame houses that
led over Gospel Hill and into Sucker Road that ran down a shallow valley
past Ike Smead's chicken farm to Waterworks Pond. As she went along, the
bold, excited mood that had driven her out of doors passed and then returned
There was something biting and forbidding in the character of Kate
Swift. Everyone felt it. In the schoolroom she was silent, cold, and stern,
and yet in an odd way very close to her pupils. Once in a long while
something seemed to have come over her and she was happy. All of the
children in the schoolroom felt the effect of her happiness. For a time they
did not work but sat back in their chairs and looked at her.
With hands clasped behind her back the school teacher walked up and
down in the schoolroom and talked very rapidly. It did not seem to matter
what subject came into her mind. Once she talked to the children of Charles
Lamb and made up strange, intimate little stories concerning the life of the
dead writer. The stories were told with the air of one who had lived in a
house with Charles Lamb and knew all the secrets of his private life. The
children were somewhat confused, thinking Charles Lamb must be someone who
had once lived in Winesburg.
On another occasion the teacher talked to the children of Benvenuto
Cellini. That time they laughed. What a bragging, blustering, brave, lovable
fellow she made of the old artist! Concerning him also she invented
anecdotes. There was one of a German music teacher who had a room above
Cellini's lodgings in the city of Milan that made the boys guffaw. Sugars
McNutts, a fat boy with red cheeks, laughed so hard that he became dizzy and
fell off his seat and Kate Swift laughed with him. Then suddenly she became
again cold and stern.
On the winter night when she walked through the deserted snow-covered
streets, a crisis had come into the life of the school teacher. Although no
one in Winesburg would have suspected it, her life had been very
adventurous. It was still adventurous. Day by day as she worked in the
schoolroom or walked in the streets, grief, hope, and desire fought within
her. Behind a cold exterior the most extraordinary events transpired in her
mind. The people of the town thought of her as a confirmed old maid and
because she spoke sharply and went her own way thought her lacking in all
the human feeling that did so much to make and mar their own lives. In
reality she was the most eagerly passionate soul among them, and more than
once, in the five years since she had come back from her travels to settle
in Winesburg and become a school teacher, had been compelled to go out of
the house and walk half through the night fighting out some battle raging
within. Once on a night when it rained she had stayed out six hours and when
she came home had a quarrel with Aunt Elizabeth Swift. "I am glad you're not
a man," said the mother sharply. "More than once I've waited for your father
to come home, not knowing what new mess he had got into. I've had my share
of uncertainty and you cannot blame me if I do not want to see the worst
side of him reproduced in you."
Kate Swift's mind was ablaze with thoughts of George Willard. In
something he had written as a school boy she thought she had recognized the
spark of genius and wanted to blow on the spark. One day in the summer she
had gone to the Eagle office and finding the boy unoccupied had taken him
out Main Street to the Fair Ground, where the two sat on a grassy bank and
talked. The school teacher tried to bring home to the mind of the boy some
conception of the difficulties he would have to face as a writer. "You will
have to know life," she declared, and her voice trembled with earnestness.
She took hold of George Willard's shoulders and turned him about so that she
could look into his eyes. A passer-by might have thought them about to
embrace. "If you are to become a writer you'll have to stop fooling with
words," she explained. "It would be better to give up the notion of writing
until you are better prepared. Now it's time to be living. I don't want to
frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you
think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing
to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say."
On the evening before that stormy Thursday night when the Reverend
Curtis Hartman sat in the bell tower of the church waiting to look at her
body, young Willard had gone to visit the teacher and to borrow a book. It
was then the thing happened that confused and puzzled the boy. He had the
book under his arm and was preparing to depart. Again Kate Swift talked with
great earnestness. Night was coming on and the light in the room grew dim.
As he turned to go she spoke his name softly and with an impulsive movement
took hold of his hand. Because the reporter was rapidly becoming a man
something of his man's appeal, combined with the winsomeness of the boy,
stirred the heart of the lonely woman. A passionate desire to have him
understand the import of life, to learn to interpret it truly and honestly,
swept over her. Leaning forward, her lips brushed his cheek. At the same
moment he for the first time became aware of the marked beauty of her
features. They were both embarrassed, and to relieve her feeling she became
harsh and domineering. "What's the use? It will be ten years before you
begin to understand what I mean when I talk to you," she cried passionately.
On the night of the storm and while the minister sat in the church
waiting for her, Kate Swift went to the office of the Winesburg Eagle,
intending to have another talk with the boy. After the long walk in the snow
she was cold, lonely, and tired. As she came through Main Street she saw the
fight from the printshop window shining on the snow and on an impulse opened
the door and went in. For an hour she sat by the stove in the office talking
of life. She talked with passionate earnestness. The impulse that had driven
her out into the snow poured itself out into talk. She became inspired as
she sometimes did in the presence of the children in school. A great
eagerness to open the door of life to the boy, who had been her pupil and
who she thought might possess a talent for the understanding of life, had
possession of her. So strong was her passion that it became something
physical. Again her hands took hold of his shoulders and she turned him
about. In the dim light her eyes blazed. She arose and laughed, not sharply
as was customary with her, but in a queer, hesitating way. "I must be
going," she said. "In a moment, if I stay, I'll be wanting to kiss you."
In the newspaper office a confusion arose. Kate Swift turned and walked
to the door. She was a teacher but she was also a woman. As she looked at
George Willard, the passionate desire to be loved by a man, that had a
thousand times before swept like a storm over her body, took possession of
her. In the lamplight George Willard looked no longer a boy, but a man ready
to play the part of a man.
The school teacher let George Willard take her into his arms. In the
warm little office the air became suddenly heavy and the strength went out
of her body. Leaning against a low counter by the door she waited. When he
came and put a hand on her shoulder she turned and let her body fall heavily
against him. For George Willard the confusion was immediately increased. For
a moment he held the body of the woman tightly against his body and then it
stiffened. Two sharp little fists began to beat on his face. When the school
teacher had run away and left him alone, he walked up and down the office
It was into this confusion that the Reverend Curtis Hartman protruded
himself. When he came in George Willard thought the town had gone mad.
Shaking a bleeding fist in the air, the minister proclaimed the woman George
had only a moment before held in his arms an instrument of God bearing a
message of truth.
George blew out the lamp by the window and locking the door of the
printshop went home. Through the hotel office, past Hop Higgins lost in his
dream of the raising of ferrets, he went and up into his own room. The fire
in the stove had gone out and he undressed in the cold. When he got into bed
the sheets were like blankets of dry snow.
George Willard rolled about in the bed on which had lain in the
afternoon hugging the pillow and thinking thoughts of Kate Swift. The words
of the minister, who he thought had gone suddenly insane, rang in his ears.
His eyes stared about the room. The resentment, natural to the baffled male,
passed and he tried to understand what had happened. He could not make it
out. Over and over he turned the matter in his mind. Hours passed and he
began to think it must be time for another day to come. At four o'clock he
pulled the covers up about his neck and tried to sleep. When he became
drowsy and closed his eyes, he raised a hand and with it groped about in the
darkness. "I have missed something. I have missed something Kate Swift was
trying to tell me," he muttered sleepily. Then he slept and in all Winesburg
he was the last soul on that winter night to go to sleep.
HE WAS THE son of Mrs. Al Robinson who once owned a farm on a side road
leading off Trunion Pike, east of Winesburg and two miles beyond the town
limits. The farmhouse was painted brown and the blinds to all of the windows
facing the road were kept closed. In the road before the house a flock of
chickens, accompanied by two guinea hens, lay in the deep dust. Enoch lived
in the house with his mother in those days and when he was a young boy went
to school at the Winesburg High School. Old citizens remembered him as a
quiet, smiling youth inclined to silence. He walked in the middle of the
road when he came into town and sometimes read a book. Drivers of teams had
to shout and swear to make him realize where he was so that he would turn
out of the beaten track and let them pass.
When he was twenty-one years old Enoch went to New York City and was a
city man for fifteen years. He studied French and went to an art school,
hoping to develop a faculty he had for drawing. In his own mind he planned
to go to Paris and to finish his art education among the masters there, but
that never turned out.
Nothing ever turned out for Enoch Robinson. He could draw well enough
and he had many odd delicate thoughts hidden away in his brain that might
have expressed themselves through the brush of a painter, but he was always
a child and that was a handicap to his worldly development. He never grew up
and of course he couldn't understand people and he couldn't make people
understand him. The child in him kept bumping against things, against
actualities like money and sex and opinions. Once he was hit by a street car
and thrown against an iron post. That made him lame. It was one of the many
things that kept things from turning out for Enoch Robinson
In New York City, when he first went there to live and before he became
confused and disconcerted by the facts of life, Enoch went about a good deal
with young men. He got into a group of other young artists, both men and
women, and in the evenings they sometimes came to visit him in his room.
Once he got drunk and was taken to a police station where a police
magistrate frightened him horribly, and once he tried to have an affair with
a woman of the town met on the sidewalk before his lodging house. The woman
and Enoch walked together three blocks and then the young man grew afraid
and ran away. The woman had been drinking and the incident amused her. She
leaned against the wall of a building and laughed so heartily that another
man stopped and laughed with her. The two went away together, still
laughing, and Enoch crept off to his room trembling and vexed.
The room in which young Robinson lived in New York faced Washington
Square and was long and narrow like a hallway. It is important to get that
fixed in your mind. The story of Enoch is in fact the story of a room almost
more than it is the story of a man.
And so into the room in the evening came young Enoch's friends. There
was nothing particularly striking about them except that they were artists
of the kind that talk. Everyone knows of the talking artists. Throughout all
of the known history of the world they have gathered in rooms and talked.
They talk of art and are passionately, almost feverishly, in earnest about
it. They think it matters much more than it does.
And so these people gathered and smoked cigarettes and talked and Enoch
Robinson, the boy from the farm near Winesburg, was there. He stayed in a
corner and for the most part said nothing. How his big blue childlike eyes
stared about! On the walls were pictures he had made, crude things, half
finished. His friends talked of these. Leaning back in their chairs, they
talked and talked with their heads rocking from side to side. Words were
said about line and values and composition, lots of words, such as are
always being said.
Enoch wanted to talk too but he didn't know how. He was too excited to
talk coherently. When he tried he sputtered and stammered and his voice
sounded strange and squeaky to him. That made him stop talking. He knew what
he wanted to say, but he knew also that he could never by any possibility
say it. When a picture he had painted was under discussion, he wanted to
burst out with something like this: "You don't get the point," he wanted to
explain; "the picture you see doesn't consist of the things you see and say
words about. There is something else, something you don't see at all,
something you aren't intended to see. Look at this one over here, by the
door here, where the light from the window falls on it. The dark spot by the
road that you might not notice at all is, you see, the beginning of
everything. There is a clump of elders there such as used to grow beside the
road before our house back in Winesburg, Ohio, and in among the elders there
is something hidden. It is a woman, that's what it is. She has been thrown
from a horse and the horse has run away out of sight. Do you not see how the
old man who drives a cart looks anxiously about? That is Thad Grayback who
has a farm up the road. He is taking corn to Winesburg to be ground into
meal at Comstock's mill. He knows there is something in the elders,
something hidden away, and yet he doesn't quite know.
"It's a woman you see, that's what it is! It's a woman and, oh, she is
lovely! She is hurt and is suffering but she makes no sound. Don't you see
how it is? She lies quite still, white and still, and the beauty comes out
from her and spreads over everything. It is in the sky back there and all
around everywhere. I didn't try to paint the woman, of course. She is too
beautiful to be painted. How dull to talk of composition and such things!
Why do you not look at the sky and then run away as I used to do when I was
a boy back there in Winesburg, Ohio?"
That is the kind of thing young Enoch Robinson trembled to say to the
guests who came into his room when he was a young fellow in New York City,
but he always ended by saying nothing. Then he began to doubt his own mind.
He was afraid the things he felt were not getting expressed in the pictures
he painted. In a half indignant mood he stopped inviting people into his
room and presently got into the habit of locking the door. He began to think
that enough people had visited him, that he did not need people any more.
With quick imagination he began to invent his own people to whom he could
really talk and to whom he explained the things he had been unable to
explain to living people. His room began to be inhabited by the spirits of
men and women among whom he went, in his turn saying words. It was as though
everyone Enoch Robinson had ever seen had left with him some essence of
himself, something he could mould and change to suit his own fancy,
something that understood all about such things as the wounded woman behind
the elders in the pictures.
The mild, blue-eyed young Ohio boy was a complete egotist, as all
children are egotists. He did not want friends for the quite simple reason
that no child wants friends. He wanted most of all the people of his own
mind, people with whom he could really talk, people he could harangue and
scold by the hour, servants, you see, to his fancy. Among these people he
was always self-confident and bold. They might talk, to be sure, and even
have opinions of their own, but always he talked last and best. He was like
a writer busy among the figures of his brain, a kind of tiny blue-eyed king
he was, in a sixdollar room facing Washington Square in the city of New
Then Enoch Robinson got married. He began to get lonely and to want to
touch actual flesh-andbone people with his hands. Days passed when his room
seemed empty. Lust visited his body and desire grew in his mind. At night
strange fevers, burning within, kept him awake. He married a girl who sat in
a chair next to his own in the art school and went to live in an apartment
house in Brooklyn. Two children were born to the woman he married, and Enoch
got a job in a place where illustrations are made for advertisements.
That began another phase of Enoch's life. He began to play at a new
game. For a while he was very proud of himself in the role of producing
citizen of the world. He dismissed the essence of things and played with
realities. In the fall he voted at an election and he had a newspaper thrown
on his porch each morning. When in the evening he came home from work he got
off a streetcar and walked sedately along behind some business man, striving
to look very substantial and important. As a payer of taxes he thought he
should post himself on how things are run. "I'm getting to be of some
moment, a real part of things, of the state and the city and all that," he
told himself with an amusing miniature air of dignity. Once, coming home
from Philadelphia, he had a discussion with a man met on a train. Enoch
talked about the advisability of the government's owning and operating the
railroads and the man gave him a cigar. It was Enoch's notion that such a
move on the part of the government would be a good thing, and he grew quite
excited as he talked. Later he remembered his own words with pleasure. "I
gave him something to think about, that fellow," he muttered to himself as
he climbed the stairs to his Brooklyn apartment.
To be sure, Enoch's marriage did not turn out. He himself brought it to
an end. He began to feel choked and walled in by the life in the apartment,
and to feel toward his wife and even toward his children as he had felt
concerning the friends who once came to visit him. He began to tell little
lies about business engagements that would give him freedom to walk alone in
the street at night and, the chance offering, he secretly re-rented the room
facing Washington Square. Then Mrs. Al Robinson died on the farm near
Winesburg, and he got eight thousand dollars from the bank that acted as
trustee of her estate. That took Enoch out of the world of men altogether.
He gave the money to his wife and told her he could not live in the
apartment any more. She cried and was angry and threatened, but he only
stared at her and went his own way. In reality the wife did not care much.
She thought Enoch slightly insane and was a little afraid of him. When it
was quite sure that he would never come back, she took the two children and
went to a village in Connecticut where she had lived as a girl. In the end
she married a man who bought and sold real estate and was contented enough.
And so Enoch Robinson stayed in the New York room among the people of
his fancy, playing with them, talking to them, happy as a child is happy.
They were an odd lot, Enoch's people. They were made, I suppose, out of real
people he had seen and who had for some obscure reason made an appeal to
him. There was a woman with a sword in her hand, an old man with a long
white beard who went about followed by a dog, a young girl whose stockings
were always coming down and hanging over her shoe tops. There must have been
two dozen of the shadow people, invented by the child-mind of Enoch
Robinson, who lived in the room with him.
And Enoch was happy. Into the room he went and locked the door. With an
absurd air of importance he talked aloud, giving instructions, making
comments on life. He was happy and satisfied to go on making his living in
the advertising place until something happened. Of course something did
happen. That is why he went back to live in Winesburg and why we know about
him. The thing that happened was a woman. It would be that way. He was too
happy. Something had to come into his world. Something had to drive him out
of the New York room to live out his life an obscure, jerky little figure,
bobbing up and down on the streets of an Ohio town at evening when the sun
was going down behind the roof of Wesley Moyer's livery barn.
About the thing that happened. Enoch told George Willard about it one
night. He wanted to talk to someone, and he chose the young newspaper
reporter because the two happened to be thrown together at a time when the
younger man was in a mood to understand.
Youthful sadness, young man's sadness, the sadness of a growing boy in
a village at the year's end, opened the lips of the old man. The sadness was
in the heart of George Willard and was without meaning, but it appealed to
It rained on the evening when the two met and talked, a drizzly wet
October rain. The fruition of the year had come and the night should have
been fine with a moon in the sky and the crisp sharp promise of frost in the
air, but it wasn't that way. It rained and little puddles of water shone
under the street lamps on Main Street. In the woods in the darkness beyond
the Fair Ground water dripped from the black trees. Beneath the trees wet
leaves were pasted against tree roots that protruded from the ground. In
gardens back of houses in Winesburg dry shriveled potato vines lay sprawling
on the ground. Men who had finished the evening meal and who had planned to
go uptown to talk the evening away with other men at the back of some store
changed their minds. George Willard tramped about in the rain and was glad
that it rained. He felt that way. He was like Enoch Robinson on the evenings
when the old man came down out of his room and wandered alone in the
streets. He was like that only that George Willard had become a tall young
man and did not think it manly to weep and carry on. For a month his mother
had been very ill and that had something to do with his sadness, but not
much. He thought about himself and to the young that always brings sadness.
Enoch Robinson and George Willard met beneath a wooden awning that
extended out over the sidewalk before Voight's wagon shop on Maumee Street
just off the main street of Winesburg. They went together from there through
the rain-washed streets to the older man's room on the third floor of the
Heffner Block. The young reporter went willingly enough. Enoch Robinson
asked him to go after the two had talked for ten minutes. The boy was a
little afraid but had never been more curious in his life. A hundred times
he had heard the old man spoken of as a little off his head and he thought
himself rather brave and manly to go at all. From the very beginning, in the
street in the rain, the old man talked in a queer way, trying to tell the
story of the room in Washington Square and of his life in the room. "You'll
understand if you try hard enough," he said conclusively. "I have looked at
you when you went past me on the street and I think you can understand. It
isn't hard. All you have to do is to believe what I say, just listen and
believe, that's all there is to it."
It was past eleven o'clock that evening when old Enoch, talking to
George Willard in the room in the Heffner Block, came to the vital thing,
the story of the woman and of what drove him out of the city to live out his
life alone and defeated in Winesburg. He sat on a cot by the window with his
head in his hand and George Willard was in a chair by a table. A kerosene
lamp sat on the table and the room, although almost bare of furniture, was
scrupulously clean. As the man talked George Willard began to feel that he
would like to get out of the chair and sit on the cot also. He wanted to put
his arms about the little old man. In the half darkness the man talked and
the boy listened, filled with sadness.
"She got to coming in there after there hadn't been anyone in the room
for years," said Enoch Robinson. "She saw me in the hallway of the house and
we got acquainted. I don't know just what she did in her own room. I never
went there. I think she was a musician and played a violin. Every now and
then she came and knocked at the door and I opened it. In she came and sat
down beside me, just sat and looked about and said nothing. Anyway, she said
nothing that mattered."
The old man arose from the cot and moved about the room. The overcoat
he wore was wet from the rain and drops of water kept falling with a soft
thump on the floor. When he again sat upon the cot George Willard got out of
the chair and sat beside him.
"I had a feeling about her. She sat there in the room with me and she
was too big for the room. I felt that she was driving everything else away.
We just talked of little things, but I couldn't sit still. I wanted to touch
her with my fingers and to kiss her. Her hands were so strong and her face
was so good and she looked at me all the time."
The trembling voice of the old man became silent and his body shook as
from a chill. "I was afraid," he whispered. "I was terribly afraid. I didn't
want to let her come in when she knocked at the door but I couldn't sit
still. 'No, no,' I said to myself, but I got up and opened the door just the
same. She was so grown up, you see. She was a woman. I thought she would be
bigger than I was there in that room."
Enoch Robinson stared at George Willard, his childlike blue eyes
shining in the lamplight. Again he shivered. "I wanted her and all the time
I didn't want her," he explained. "Then I began to tell her about my people,
about everything that meant anything to me. I tried to keep quiet, to keep
myself to myself, but I couldn't. I felt just as I did about opening the
door. Sometimes I ached to have her go away and never come back any more."
The old man sprang to his feet and his voice shook with excitement.
"One night something happened. I became mad to make her understand me and to
know what a big thing I was in that room. I wanted her to see how important
I was. I told her over and over. When she tried to go away, I ran and locked
the door. I followed her about. I talked and talked and then all of a sudden
things went to smash. A look came into her eyes and I knew she did
understand. Maybe she had understood all the time. I was furious. I couldn't
stand it. I wanted her to understand but, don't you see, I couldn't let her
understand. I felt that then she would know everything, that I would be
submerged, drowned out, you see. That's how it is. I don't know why."
The old man dropped into a chair by the lamp and the boy listened,
filled with awe. "Go away, boy," said the man. "Don't stay here with me any
more. I thought it might be a good thing to tell you but it isn't. I don't
want to talk any more. Go away."
George Willard shook his head and a note of command came into his
voice. "Don't stop now. Tell me the rest of it," he commanded sharply. "What
happened? Tell me the rest of the story."
Enoch Robinson sprang to his feet and ran to the window that looked
down into the deserted main street of Winesburg. George Willard followed. By
the window the two stood, the tall awkward boyman and the little wrinkled
man-boy. The childish, eager voice carried forward the tale. "I swore at
her," he explained. "I said vile words. I ordered her to go away and not to
come back. Oh, I said terrible things. At first she pretended not to
understand but I kept at it. I screamed and stamped on the floor. I made the
house ring with my curses. I didn't want ever to see her again and I knew,
after some of the things I said, that I never would see her again."
The old man's voice broke and he shook his head. "Things went to
smash," he said quietly and sadly. "Out she went through the door and all
the life there had been in the room followed her out. She took all of my
people away. They all went out through the door after her. That's the way it
George Willard turned and went out of Enoch Robinson's room. In the
darkness by the window, as he went through the door, he could hear the thin
old voice whimpering and complaining. "I'm alone, all alone here," said the
voice. "It was warm and friendly in my room but now I'm all alone."
BELLE CARPENTER had a dark skin, grey eyes, and thick lips. She was
tall and strong. When black thoughts visited her she grew angry and wished
she were a man and could fight someone with her fists. She worked in the
millinery shop kept by Mrs. Kate McHugh and during the day sat trimming hats
by a window at the rear of the store. She was the daughter of Henry
Carpenter, bookkeeper in the First National Bank of Winesburg, and lived
with him in a gloomy old house far out at the end of Buckeye Street. The
house was surrounded by pine trees and there was no grass beneath the trees.
A rusty tin eaves-trough had slipped from its fastenings at the back of the
house and when the wind blew it beat against the roof of a small shed,
making a dismal drumming noise that sometimes persisted all through the
When she was a young girl Henry Carpenter made life almost unbearable
for Belle, but as she emerged from girlhood into womanhood he lost his power
over her. The bookkeeper's life was made up of innumerable little
pettinesses. When he went to the bank in the morning he stepped into a
closet and put on a black alpaca coat that had become shabby with age. At
night when he returned to his home he donned another black alpaca coat.
Every evening he pressed the clothes worn in the streets. He had invented an
arrangement of boards for the purpose. The trousers to his street suit were
placed between the boards and the boards were clamped together with heavy
screws. In the morning he wiped the boards with a damp cloth and stood them
upright behind the dining room door. If they were moved during the day he
was speechless with anger and did not recover his equilibrium for a week.
The bank cashier was a little bully and was afraid of his daughter.
She, he realized, knew the story of his brutal treatment of her mother and
hated him for it. One day she went home at noon and carried a handful of
soft mud, taken from the road, into the house. With the mud she smeared the
face of the boards used for the pressing of trousers and then went back to
her work feeling relieved and happy.
Belle Carpenter occasionally walked out in the evening with George
Willard. Secretly she loved another man, but her love affair, about which no
one knew, caused her much anxiety. She was in love with Ed Handby, bartender
in Ed Griffith's Saloon, and went about with the young reporter as a kind of
relief to her feelings. She did not think that her station in life would
permit her to be seen in the company of the bartender and walked about under
the trees with George Willard and let him kiss her to relieve a longing that
was very insistent in her nature. She felt that she could keep the younger
man within bounds. About Ed Handby she was somewhat uncertain.
Handby, the bartender, was a tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty who
lived in a room upstairs above Griffith's saloon. His fists were large and
his eyes unusually small, but his voice, as though striving to conceal the
power back of his fists, was soft and quiet.
At twenty-five the bartender had inherited a large farm from an uncle
in Indiana. When sold, the farm brought in eight thousand dollars, which Ed
spent in six months. Going to Sandusky, on Lake Erie, he began an orgy of
dissipation, the story of which afterward filled his home town with awe.
Here and there he went throwing the money about, driving carriages through
the streets, giving wine parties to crowds of men and women, playing cards
for high stakes and keeping mistresses whose wardrobes cost him hundreds of
dollars. One night at a resort called Cedar Point, he got into a fight and
ran amuck like a wild thing. With his fist he broke a large mirror in the
wash room of a hotel and later went about smashing windows and breaking
chairs in dance halls for the joy of hearing the glass rattle on the floor
and seeing the terror in the eyes of clerks who had come from Sandusky to
spend the evening at the resort with their sweethearts.
The affair between Ed Handby and Belle Carpenter on the surface
amounted to nothing. He had succeeded in spending but one evening in her
company. On that evening he hired a horse and buggy at Wesley Moyer's livery
barn and took her for a drive. The conviction that she was the woman his
nature demanded and that he must get her settled upon him and he told her of
his desires. The bartender was ready to marry and to begin trying to earn
money for the support of his wife, but so simple was his nature that he
found it difficult to explain his intentions. His body ached with physical
longing and with his body he expressed himself. Taking the milliner into his
arms and holding her tightly in spite of her struggles, he kissed her until
she became helpless. Then he brought her back to town and let her out of the
buggy. "When I get hold of you again I'll not let you go. You can't play
with me," he declared as he turned to drive away. Then, jumping out of the
buggy, he gripped her shoulders with his strong hands. "I'll keep you for
good the next time," he said. "You might as well make up your mind to that.
It's you and me for it and I'm going to have you before I get through."
One night in January when there was a new moon George Willard, who was
in Ed Handby's mind the only obstacle to his getting Belle Carpenter, went
for a walk. Early that evening George went into Ransom Surbeck's pool room
with Seth Richmond and Art Wilson, son of the town butcher. Seth Richmond
stood with his back against the wall and remained silent, but George Willard
talked. The pool room was filled with Winesburg boys and they talked of
women. The young reporter got into that vein. He said that women should look
out for themselves, that the fellow who went out with a girl was not
responsible for what happened. As he talked he looked about, eager for
attention. He held the floor for five minutes and then Art Wilson began to
talk. Art was learning the barber's trade in Cal Prouse's shop and already
began to consider himself an authority in such matters as baseball, horse
racing, drinking, and going about with women. He began to tell of a night
when he with two men from Winesburg went into a house of prostitution at the
county seat. The butcher's son held a cigar in the side of his mouth and as
he talked spat on the floor. "The women in the place couldn't embarrass me
although they tried hard enough," he boasted. "One of the girls in the house
tried to get fresh, but I fooled her. As soon as she began to talk I went
and sat in her lap. Everyone in the room laughed when I kissed her. I taught
her to let me alone."
George Willard went out of the pool room and into Main Street. For days
the weather had been bitter cold with a high wind blowing down on the town
from Lake Erie, eighteen miles to the north, but on that night the wind had
died away and a new moon made the night unusually lovely. Without thinking
where he was going or what he wanted to do, George went out of Main Street
and began walking in dimly lighted streets filled with frame houses.
Out of doors under the black sky filled with stars he forgot his
companions of the pool room. Because it was dark and he was alone he began
to talk aloud. In a spirit of play he reeled along the street imitating a
drunken man and then imagined himself a soldier clad in shining boots that
reached to the knees and wearing a sword that jingled as he walked. As a
soldier he pictured himself as an inspector, passing before a long line of
men who stood at attention. He began to examine the accoutrements of the
men. Before a tree he stopped and began to scold. "Your pack is not in
order," he said sharply. "How many times will I have to speak of this
matter? Everything must be in order here. We have a difficult task before us
and no difficult task can be done without order."
Hypnotized by his own words, the young man stumbled along the board
sidewalk saying more words. "There is a law for armies and for men too," he
muttered, lost in reflection. "The law begins with little things and spreads
out until it covers everything. In every little thing there must be order,
in the place where men work, in their clothes, in their thoughts. I myself
must be orderly. I must learn that law. I must get myself into touch with
something orderly and big that swings through the night like a star. In my
little way I must begin to learn something, to give and swing and work with
life, with the law."
George Willard stopped by a picket fence near a street lamp and his
body began to tremble. He had never before thought such thoughts as had just
come into his head and he wondered where they had come from. For the moment
it seemed to him that some voice outside of himself had been talking as he
walked. He was amazed and delighted with his own mind and when he walked on
again spoke of the matter with fervor. "To come out of Ransom Surbeck's pool
room and think things like that," he whispered. "It is better to be alone.
If I talked like Art Wilson the boys would understand me but they wouldn't
understand what I've been thinking down here."
In Winesburg, as in all Ohio towns of twenty years ago, there was a
section in which lived day laborers. As the time of factories had not yet
come, the laborers worked in the fields or were section hands on the
railroads. They worked twelve hours a day and received one dollar for the
long day of toil. The houses in which they lived were small cheaply
constructed wooden affairs with a garden at the back. The more comfortable
among them kept cows and perhaps a pig, housed in a little shed at the rear
of the garden.
With his head filled with resounding thoughts, George Willard walked
into such a street on the clear January night. The street was dimly lighted
and in places there was no sidewalk. In the scene that lay about him there
was something that excited his already aroused fancy. For a year he had been
devoting all of his odd moments to the reading of books and now some tale he
had read concerning fife in old world towns of the middle ages came sharply
back to his mind so that he stumbled forward with the curious feeling of one
revisiting a place that had been a part of some former existence. On an
impulse he turned out of the street and went into a little dark alleyway
behind the sheds in which lived the cows and pigs.
For a half hour he stayed in the alleyway, smelling the strong smell of
animals too closely housed and letting his mind play with the strange new
thoughts that came to him. The very rankness of the smell of manure in the
clear sweet air awoke something heady in his brain. The poor little houses
lighted by kerosene lamps, the smoke from the chimneys mounting straight up
into the clear air, the grunting of pigs, the women clad in cheap calico
dresses and washing dishes in the kitchens, the footsteps of men coming out
of the houses and going off to the stores and saloons of Main Street, the
dogs barking and the children crying--all of these things made him seem, as
he lurked in the darkness, oddly detached and apart from all life.
The excited young man, unable to bear the weight of his own thoughts,
began to move cautiously along the alleyway. A dog attacked him and had to
be driven away with stones, and a man appeared at the door of one of the
houses and swore at the dog. George went into a vacant lot and throwing back
his head looked up at the sky. He felt unutterably big and remade by the
simple experience through which he had been passing and in a kind of fervor
of emotion put up his hands, thrusting them into the darkness above his head
and muttering words. The desire to say words overcame him and he said words
without meaning, rolling them over on his tongue and saying them because
they were brave words, full of meaning. "Death," he muttered, night, the
sea, fear, loveliness."
George Willard came out of the vacant lot and stood again on the
sidewalk facing the houses. He felt that all of the people in the little
street must be brothers and sisters to him and he wished he had the courage
to call them out of their houses and to shake their hands. "If there were
only a woman here I would take hold of her hand and we would run until we
were both tired out," he thought. "That would make me feel better." With the
thought of a woman in his mind he walked out of the street and went toward
the house where Belle Carpenter lived. He thought she would understand his
mood and that he could achieve in her presence a position he had long been
wanting to achieve. In the past when he had been with her and had kissed her
lips he had come away filled with anger at himself. He had felt like one
being used for some obscure purpose and had not enjoyed the feeling. Now he
thought he had suddenly become too big to be used.
When George got to Belle Carpenter's house there had already been a
visitor there before him. Ed Handby had come to the door and calling Belle
out of the house had tried to talk to her. He had wanted to ask the woman to
come away with him and to be his wife, but when she came and stood by the
door he lost his self-assurance and became sullen. "You stay away from that
kid," he growled, thinking of George Willard, and then, not knowing what
else to say, turned to go away. "If I catch you together I will break your
bones and his too," he added. The bartender had come to woo, not to
threaten, and was angry with himself because of his failure.
When her lover had departed Belle went indoors and ran hurriedly
upstairs. From a window at the upper part of the house she saw Ed Handby
cross the street and sit down on a horse block before the house of a
neighbor. In the dim light the man sat motionless holding his head in his
hands. She was made happy by the sight, and when George Willard came to the
door she greeted him effusively and hurriedly put on her hat. She thought
that, as she walked through the streets with young Willard, Ed Handby would
follow and she wanted to make him suffer.
For an hour Belle Carpenter and the young reporter walked about under
the trees in the sweet night air. George Willard was full of big words. The
sense of power that had come to him during the hour in the darkness in the
alleyway remained with him and he talked boldly, swaggering along and
swinging his arms about. He wanted to make Belle Carpenter realize that he
was aware of his former weakness and that he had changed. "You'll find me
different," he declared, thrusting his hands into his pockets and looking
boldly into her eyes. "I don't know why but it is so. You've got to take me
for a man or let me alone. That's how it is."
Up and down the quiet streets under the new moon went the woman and the
boy. When George had finished talking they turned down a side street and
went across a bridge into a path that ran up the side of a hill. The hill
began at Waterworks Pond and climbed upward to the Winesburg Fair Grounds.
On the hillside grew dense bushes and small trees and among the bushes were
little open spaces carpeted with long grass, now stiff and frozen.
As he walked behind the woman up the hill George Willard's heart began
to beat rapidly and his shoulders straightened. Suddenly he decided that
Belle Carpenter was about to surrender herself to him. The new force that
had manifested itself in him had, he felt, been at work upon her and had led
to her conquest. The thought made him half drunk with the sense of masculine
power. Although he had been annoyed that as they walked about she had not
seemed to be listening to his words, the fact that she had accompanied him
to this place took all his doubts away. "It is different. Everything has
become different," he thought and taking hold of her shoulder turned her
about and stood looking at her, his eyes shining with pride.
Belle Carpenter did not resist. When he kissed her upon the lips she
leaned heavily against him and looked over his shoulder into the darkness.
In her whole attitude there was a suggestion of waiting. Again, as in the
alleyway, George Willard's mind ran off into words and, holding the woman
tightly he whispered the words into the still night. "Lust," he whispered,
"lust and night and women."
George Willard did not understand what happened to him that night on
the hillside. Later, when he got to his own room, he wanted to weep and then
grew half insane with anger and hate. He hated Belle Carpenter and was sure
that all his life he would continue to hate her. On the hillside he had led
the woman to one of the little open spaces among the bushes and had dropped
to his knees beside her. As in the vacant lot, by the laborers' houses, he
had put up his hands in gratitude for the new power in himself and was
waiting for the woman to speak when Ed Handby appeared.
The bartender did not want to beat the boy, who he thought had tried to
take his woman away. He knew that beating was unnecessary, that he had power
within himself to accomplish his purpose without using his fists. Gripping
George by the shoulder and pulling him to his feet, he held him with one
hand while he looked at Belle Carpenter seated on the grass. Then with a
quick wide movement of his arm he sent the younger man sprawling away into
the bushes and began to bully the woman, who had risen to her feet. "You're
no good," he said roughly. "I've half a mind not to bother with you. I'd let
you alone if I didn't want you so much."
On his hands and knees in the bushes George Willard stared at the scene
before him and tried hard to think. He prepared to spring at the man who had
humiliated him. To be beaten seemed to be infinitely better than to be thus
hurled ignominiously aside.
Three times the young reporter sprang at Ed Handby and each time the
bartender, catching him by the shoulder, hurled him back into the bushes.
The older man seemed prepared to keep the exercise going indefinitely but
George Willard's head struck the root of a tree and he lay still. Then Ed
Handby took Belle Carpenter by the arm and marched her away.
George heard the man and woman making their way through the bushes. As
he crept down the hillside his heart was sick within him. He hated himself
and he hated the fate that had brought about his humiliation. When his mind
went back to the hour alone in the alleyway he was puzzled and stopping in
the darkness listened, hoping to hear again the voice outside himself that
had so short a time before put new courage into his heart. When his way
homeward led him again into the street of frame houses he could not bear the
sight and began to run, wanting to get quickly out of the neighborhood that
now seemed to him utterly squalid and commonplace.
FROM HIS SEAT on a box in the rough board shed that stuck like a burr
on the rear of Cowley & Son's store in Winesburg, Elmer Cowley, the junior
member of the firm, could see through a dirty window into the printshop of
the Winesburg Eagle. Elmer was putting new shoelaces in his shoes. They did
not go in readily and he had to take the shoes off. With the shoes in his
hand he sat looking at a large hole in the heel of one of his stockings.
Then looking quickly up he saw George Willard, the only newspaper reporter
in Winesburg, standing at the back door of the Eagle printshop and staring
absentmindedly about. "Well, well, what next!" exclaimed the young man with
the shoes in his hand, jumping to his feet and creeping away from the
A flush crept into Elmer Cowley's face and his hands began to tremble.
In Cowley & Son's store a Jewish traveling salesman stood by the counter
talking to his father. He imagined the reporter could hear what was being
said and the thought made him furious. With one of the shoes still held in
his hand he stood in a corner of the shed and stamped with a stockinged foot
upon the board floor.
Cowley & Son's store did not face the main street of Winesburg. The
front was on Maumee Street and beyond it was Voight's wagon shop and a shed
for the sheltering of farmers' horses. Beside the store an alleyway ran
behind the main street stores and all day drays and delivery wagons, intent
on bringing in and taking out goods, passed up and down. The store itself
was indescribable. Will Henderson once said of it that it sold everything
and nothing. In the window facing Maumee Street stood a chunk of coal as
large as an apple barrel, to indicate that orders for coal were taken, and
beside the black mass of the coal stood three combs of honey grown brown and
dirty in their wooden frames.
The honey had stood in the store window for six months. It was for sale
as were also the coat hangers, patent suspender buttons, cans of roof paint,
bottles of rheumatism cure, and a substitute for coffee that companioned the
honey in its patient willingness to serve the public.
Ebenezer Cowley, the man who stood in the store listening to the eager
patter of words that fell from the lips of the traveling man, was tall and
lean and looked unwashed. On his scrawny neck was a large wen partially
covered by a grey beard. He wore a long Prince Albert coat. The coat had
been purchased to serve as a wedding garment. Before he became a merchant
Ebenezer was a farmer and after his marriage he wore the Prince Albert coat
to church on Sundays and on Saturday afternoons when he came into town to
trade. When he sold the farm to become a merchant he wore the coat
constantly. It had become brown with age and was covered with grease spots,
but in it Ebenezer always felt dressed up and ready for the day in town.
As a merchant Ebenezer was not happily placed in life and he had not
been happily placed as a farmer. Still he existed. His family, consisting of
a daughter named Mabel and the son, lived with him in rooms above the store
and it did not cost them much to live. His troubles were not financial. His
unhappiness as a merchant lay in the fact that when a traveling man with
wares to be sold came in at the front door he was afraid. Behind the counter
he stood shaking his head. He was afraid, first that he would stubbornly
refuse to buy and thus lose the opportunity to sell again; second that he
would not be stubborn enough and would in a moment of weakness buy what
could not be sold.
In the store on the morning when Elmer Cowley saw George Willard
standing and apparently listening at the back door of the Eagle printshop, a
situation had arisen that always stirred the son's wrath. The traveling man
talked and Ebenezer listened, his whole figure expressing uncertainty. "You
see how quickly it is done," said the traveling man, who had for sale a
small flat metal substitute for collar buttons. With one hand he quickly
unfastened a collar from his shirt and then fastened it on again. He assumed
a flattering wheedling tone. "I tell you what, men have come to the end of
all this fooling with collar buttons and you are the man to make money out
of the change that is coming. I am offering you the exclusive agency for
this town. Take twenty dozen of these fasteners and I'll not visit any other
store. I'll leave the field to you."
The traveling man leaned over the counter and tapped with his finger on
Ebenezer's breast. "It's an opportunity and I want you to take it," he
urged. "A friend of mine told me about you. 'See that man Cowley,' he said.
'He's a live one.'"
The traveling man paused and waited. Taking a book from his pocket he
began writing out the order. Still holding the shoe in his hand Elmer Cowley
went through the store, past the two absorbed men, to a glass showcase near
the front door. He took a cheap revolver from the case and began to wave it
about. "You get out of here!" he shrieked. "We don't want any collar
fasteners here." An idea came to him. "Mind, I'm not making any threat," he
added. "I don't say I'll shoot. Maybe I just took this gun out of the case
to look at it. But you better get out. Yes sir, I'll say that. You better
grab up your things and get out."
The young storekeeper's voice rose to a scream and going behind the
counter he began to advance upon the two men. "We're through being fools
here!" he cried. "We ain't going to buy any more stuff until we begin to
sell. We ain't going to keep on being queer and have folks staring and
listening. You get out of here!"
The traveling man left. Raking the samples of collar fasteners off the
counter into a black leather bag, he ran. He was a small man and very
bow-legged and he ran awkwardly. The black bag caught against the door and
he stumbled and fell. "Crazy, that's what he is--crazy!" he sputtered as he
arose from the sidewalk and hurried away.
In the store Elmer Cowley and his father stared at each other. Now that
the immediate object of his wrath had fled, the younger man was embarrassed.
"Well, I meant it. I think we've been queer long enough," he declared, going
to the showcase and replacing the revolver. Sitting on a barrel he pulled on
and fastened the shoe he had been holding in his hand. He was waiting for
some word of understanding from his father but when Ebenezer spoke his words
only served to reawaken the wrath in the son and the young man ran out of
the store without replying. Scratching his grey beard with his long dirty
fingers, the merchant looked at his son with the same wavering uncertain
stare with which he had confronted the traveling man. "I'll be starched," he
said softly. "Well, well, I'll be washed and ironed and starched!"
Elmer Cowley went out of Winesburg and along a country road that
paralleled the railroad track. He did not know where he was going or what he
was going to do. In the shelter of a deep cut where the road, after turning
sharply to the right, dipped under the tracks he stopped and the passion
that had been the cause of his outburst in the store began to again find
expression. "I will not be queer--one to be looked at and listened to," he
declared aloud. "I'll be like other people. I'll show that George Willard.
He'll find out. I'll show him!"
The distraught young man stood in the middle of the road and glared
back at the town. He did not know the reporter George Willard and had no
special feeling concerning the tall boy who ran about town gathering the
town news. The reporter had merely come, by his presence in the office and
in the printshop of the Winesburg Eagle, to stand for something in the young
merchant's mind. He thought the boy who passed and repassed Cowley & Son's
store and who stopped to talk to people in the street must be thinking of
him and perhaps laughing at him. George Willard, he felt, belonged to the
town, typified the town, represented in his person the spirit of the town.
Elmer Cowley could not have believed that George Willard had also his days
of unhappiness, that vague hungers and secret unnamable desires visited also
his mind. Did he not represent public opinion and had not the public opinion
of Winesburg condemned the Cowleys to queerness? Did he not walk whistling
and laughing through Main Street? Might not one by striking his person
strike also the greater enemy--the thing that smiled and went its own
way--the judgment of Winesburg?
Elmer Cowley was extraordinarily tall and his arms were long and
powerful. His hair, his eyebrows, and the downy beard that had begun to grow
upon his chin, were pale almost to whiteness. His teeth protruded from
between his lips and his eyes were blue with the colorless blueness of the
marbles called "aggies" that the boys of Winesburg carried in their pockets.
Elmer had lived in Winesburg for a year and had made no friends. He was, he
felt, one condemned to go through life without friends and he hated the
Sullenly the tall young man tramped along the road with his hands
stuffed into his trouser pockets. The day was cold with a raw wind, but
presently the sun began to shine and the road became soft and muddy. The
tops of the ridges of frozen mud that formed the road began to melt and the
mud clung to Elmer's shoes. His feet became cold. When he had gone several
miles he turned off the road, crossed a field and entered a wood. In the
wood he gathered sticks to build a fire, by which he sat trying to warm
himself, miserable in body and in mind.
For two hours he sat on the log by the fire and then, arising and
creeping cautiously through a mass of underbrush, he went to a fence and
looked across fields to a small farmhouse surrounded by low sheds. A smile
came to his lips and he began making motions with his long arms to a man who
was husking corn in one of the fields.
In his hour of misery the young merchant had returned to the farm where
he had lived through boyhood and where there was another human being to whom
he felt he could explain himself. The man on the farm was a half-witted old
fellow named Mook. He had once been employed by Ebenezer Cowley and had
stayed on the farm when it was sold. The old man lived in one of the
unpainted sheds back of the farmhouse and puttered about all day in the
Mook the half-wit lived happily. With childlike faith he believed in
the intelligence of the animals that lived in the sheds with him, and when
he was lonely held long conversations with the cows, the pigs, and even with
the chickens that ran about the barnyard. He it was who had put the
expression regarding being "laundered" into the mouth of his former
employer. When excited or surprised by anything he smiled vaguely and
muttered: "I'll be washed and ironed. Well, well, I'll be washed and ironed
When the half-witted old man left his husking of corn and came into the
wood to meet Elmer Cowley, he was neither surprised nor especially
interested in the sudden appearance of the young man. His feet also were
cold and he sat on the log by the fire, grateful for the warmth and
apparently indifferent to what Elmer had to say.
Elmer talked earnestly and with great freedom, walking up and down and
waving his arms about. "You don't understand what's the matter with me so of
course you don't care," he declared. "With me it's different. Look how it
has always been with me. Father is queer and mother was queer, too. Even the
clothes mother used to wear were not like other people's clothes, and look
at that coat in which father goes about there in town, thinking he's dressed
up, too. Why don't he get a new one? It wouldn't cost much. I'll tell you
why. Father doesn't know and when mother was alive she didn't know either.
Mabel is different. She knows but she won't say anything. I will, though.
I'm not going to be stared at any longer. Why look here, Mook, father
doesn't know that his store there in town is just a queer jumble, that he'll
never sell the stuff he buys. He knows nothing about it. Sometimes he's a
little worried that trade doesn't come and then he goes and buys something
else. In the evenings he sits by the fire upstairs and says trade will come
after a while. He isn't worried. He's queer. He doesn't know enough to be
The excited young man became more excited. "He don't know but I know,"
he shouted, stopping to gaze down into the dumb, unresponsive face of the
half-wit. "I know too well. I can't stand it. When we lived out here it was
different. I worked and at night I went to bed and slept. I wasn't always
seeing people and thinking as I am now. In the evening, there in town, I go
to the post office or to the depot to see the train come in, and no one says
anything to me. Everyone stands around and laughs and they talk but they say
nothing to me. Then I feel so queer that I can't talk either. I go away. I
don't say anything. I can't."
The fury of the young man became uncontrollable. "I won't stand it," he
yelled, looking up at the bare branches of the trees. "I'm not made to stand
Maddened by the dull face of the man on the log by the fire, Elmer
turned and glared at him as he had glared back along the road at the town of
Winesburg. "Go on back to work," he screamed. "What good does it do me to
talk to you?" A thought came to him and his voice dropped. "I'm a coward
too, eh?" he muttered. "Do you know why I came clear out here afoot? I had
to tell someone and you were the only one I could tell. I hunted out another
queer one, you see. I ran away, that's what I did. I couldn't stand up to
someone like that George Willard. I had to come to you. I ought to tell him
and I will."
Again his voice arose to a shout and his arms flew about. "I will tell
him. I won't be queer. I don't care what they think. I won't stand it."
Elmer Cowley ran out of the woods leaving the half-wit sitting on the
log before the fire. Presently the old man arose and climbing over the fence
went back to his work in the corn. "I'll be washed and ironed and starched,"
he declared. "Well, well, I'll be washed and ironed." Mook was interested.
He went along a lane to a field where two cows stood nibbling at a straw
stack. "Elmer was here," he said to the cows. "Elmer is crazy. You better
get behind the stack where he don't see you. He'll hurt someone yet, Elmer
At eight o'clock that evening Elmer Cowley put his head in at the front
door of the office of the Winesburg Eagle where George Willard sat writing.
His cap was pulled down over his eyes and a sullen determined look was on
his face. "You come on outside with me," he said, stepping in and closing
the door. He kept his hand on the knob as though prepared to resist anyone
else coming in. "You just come along outside. I want to see you."
George Willard and Elmer Cowley walked through the main street of
Winesburg. The night was cold and George Willard had on a new overcoat and
looked very spruce and dressed up. He thrust his hands into the overcoat
pockets and looked inquiringly at his companion. He had long been wanting to
make friends with the young merchant and find out what was in his mind. Now
he thought he saw a chance and was delighted. "I wonder what he's up to?
Perhaps he thinks he has a piece of news for the paper. It can't be a fire
because I haven't heard the fire bell and there isn't anyone running," he
In the main street of Winesburg, on the cold November evening, but few
citizens appeared and these hurried along bent on getting to the stove at
the back of some store. The windows of the stores were frosted and the wind
rattled the tin sign that hung over the entrance to the stairway leading to
Doctor Welling's office. Before Hern's Grocery a basket of apples and a rack
filled with new brooms stood on the sidewalk. Elmer Cowley stopped and stood
facing George Willard. He tried to talk and his arms began to pump up and
down. His face worked spasmodically. He seemed about to shout. "Oh, you go
on back," he cried. "Don't stay out here with me. I ain't got anything to
tell you. I don't want to see you at all."
For three hours the distracted young merchant wandered through the
resident streets of Winesburg blind with anger, brought on by his failure to
declare his determination not to be queer. Bitterly the sense of defeat
settled upon him and he wanted to weep. After the hours of futile sputtering
at nothingness that had occupied the afternoon and his failure in the
presence of the young reporter, he thought he could see no hope of a future
And then a new idea dawned for him. In the darkness that surrounded him
he began to see a light. Going to the now darkened store, where Cowley & Son
had for over a year waited vainly for trade to come, he crept stealthily in
and felt about in a barrel that stood by the stove at the rear. In the
barrel beneath shavings lay a tin box containing Cowley & Son's cash. Every
evening Ebenezer Cowley put the box in the barrel when he closed the store
and went upstairs to bed. "They wouldn't never think of a careless place
like that," he told himself, thinking of robbers.
Elmer took twenty dollars, two ten-dollar bills, from the little roll
containing perhaps four hundred dollars, the cash left from the sale of the
farm. Then replacing the box beneath the shavings he went quietly out at the
front door and walked again in the streets.
The idea that he thought might put an end to all of his unhappiness was
very simple. "I will get out of here, run away from home," he told himself.
He knew that a local freight train passed through Winesburg at midnight and
went on to Cleveland, where it arrived at dawn. He would steal a ride on the
local and when he got to Cleveland would lose himself in the crowds there.
He would get work in some shop and become friends with the other workmen and
would be indistinguishable. Then he could talk and laugh. He would no longer
be queer and would make friends. Life would begin to have warmth and meaning
for him as it had for others.
The tall awkward young man, striding through the streets, laughed at
himself because he had been angry and had been half afraid of George
Willard. He decided he would have his talk with the young reporter before he
left town, that he would tell him about things, perhaps challenge him,
challenge all of Winesburg through him.
Aglow with new confidence Elmer went to the office of the New Willard
House and pounded on the door. A sleep-eyed boy slept on a cot in the
office. He received no salary but was fed at the hotel table and bore with
pride the title of "night clerk." Before the boy Elmer was bold, insistent.
"You 'wake him up," he commanded. "You tell him to come down by the depot. I
got to see him and I'm going away on the local. Tell him to dress and come
on down. I ain't got much time."
The midnight local had finished its work in Winesburg and the trainsmen
were coupling cars, swinging lanterns and preparing to resume their flight
east. George Willard, rubbing his eyes and again wearing the new overcoat,
ran down to the station platform afire with curiosity. "Well, here I am.
What do you want? You've got something to tell me, eh?" he said.
Elmer tried to explain. He wet his lips with his tongue and looked at
the train that had begun to groan and get under way. "Well, you see," he
began, and then lost control of his tongue. "I'll be washed and ironed. I'll
be washed and ironed and starched," he muttered half incoherently.
Elmer Cowley danced with fury beside the groaning train in the darkness
on the station platform. Lights leaped into the air and bobbed up and down
before his eyes. Taking the two ten-dollar bills from his pocket he thrust
them into George Willard's hand. "Take them," he cried. "I don't want them.
Give them to father. I stole them." With a snarl of rage he turned and his
long arms began to flay the air. Like one struggling for release from hands
that held him he struck out, hitting George Willard blow after blow on the
breast, the neck, the mouth. The young reporter rolled over on the platform
half unconscious, stunned by the terrific force of the blows. Springing
aboard the passing train and running over the tops of cars, Elmer sprang
down to a flat car and lying on his face looked back, trying to see the
fallen man in the darkness. Pride surged up in him. "I showed him," he
cried. "I guess I showed him. I ain't so queer. I guess I showed him I ain't
THE UNTOLD LIE
RAY PEARSON and Hal Winters were farm hands employed on a farm three
miles north of Winesburg. On Saturday afternoons they came into town and
wandered about through the streets with other fellows from the country.
Ray was a quiet, rather nervous man of perhaps fifty with a brown beard
and shoulders rounded by too much and too hard labor. In his nature he was
as unlike Hal Winters as two men can be unlike.
Ray was an altogether serious man and had a little sharp-featured wife
who had also a sharp voice. The two, with half a dozen thin-legged children,
lived in a tumble-down frame house beside a creek at the back end of the
Wills farm where Ray was employed.
Hal Winters, his fellow employee, was a young fellow. He was not of the
Ned Winters family, who were very respectable people in Winesburg, but was
one of the three sons of the old man called Windpeter Winters who had a
sawmill near Unionville, six miles away, and who was looked upon by everyone
in Winesburg as a confirmed old reprobate.
People from the part of Northern Ohio in which Winesburg lies will
remember old Windpeter by his unusual and tragic death. He got drunk one
evening in town and started to drive home to Unionville along the railroad
tracks. Henry Brattenburg, the butcher, who lived out that way, stopped him
at the edge of the town and told him he was sure to meet the down train but
Windpeter slashed at him with his whip and drove on. When the train struck
and killed him and his two horses a farmer and his wife who were driving
home along a nearby road saw the accident. They said that old Windpeter
stood up on the seat of his wagon, raving and swearing at the onrushing
locomotive, and that he fairly screamed with delight when the team, maddened
by his incessant slashing at them, rushed straight ahead to certain death.
Boys like young George Willard and Seth Richmond will remember the incident
quite vividly because, although everyone in our town said that the old man
would go straight to hell and that the community was better off without him,
they had a secret conviction that he knew what he was doing and admired his
foolish courage. Most boys have seasons of wishing they could die gloriously
instead of just being grocery clerks and going on with their humdrum lives.
But this is not the story of Windpeter Winters nor yet of his son Hal
who worked on the Wills farm with Ray Pearson. It is Ray's story. It will,
however, be necessary to talk a little of young Hal so that you will get
into the spirit of it.
Hal was a bad one. Everyone said that. There were three of the Winters
boys in that family, John, Hal, and Edward, all broad-shouldered big fellows
like old Windpeter himself and all fighters and woman-chasers and generally
all-around bad ones.
Hal was the worst of the lot and always up to some devilment. He once
stole a load of boards from his father's mill and sold them in Winesburg.
With the money he bought himself a suit of cheap, flashy clothes. Then he
got drunk and when his father came raving into town to find him, they met
and fought with their fists on Main Street and were arrested and put into
Hal went to work on the Wills farm because there was a country school
teacher out that way who had taken his fancy. He was only twenty-two then
but had already been in two or three of what were spoken of in Winesburg as
"women scrapes." Everyone who heard of his infatuation for the school
teacher was sure it would turn out badly. "He'll only get her into trouble,
you'll see," was the word that went around.
And so these two men, Ray and Hal, were at work in a field on a day in
the late October. They were husking corn and occasionally something was said
and they laughed. Then came silence. Ray, who was the more sensitive and
always minded things more, had chapped hands and they hurt. He put them into
his coat pockets and looked away across the fields. He was in a sad,
distracted mood and was affected by the beauty of the country. If you knew
the Winesburg country in the fall and how the low hills are all splashed
with yellows and reds you would understand his feeling. He began to think of
the time, long ago when he was a young fellow living with his father, then a
baker in Winesburg, and how on such days he had wandered away into the woods
to gather nuts, hunt rabbits, or just to loaf about and smoke his pipe. His
marriage had come about through one of his days of wandering. He had induced
a girl who waited on trade in his father's shop to go with him and something
had happened. He was thinking of that afternoon and how it had affected his
whole life when a spirit of protest awoke in him. He had forgotten about Hal
and muttered words. "Tricked by Gad, that's what I was, tricked by life and
made a fool of," he said in a low voice.
As though understanding his thoughts, Hal Winters spoke up. "Well, has
it been worth while? What about it, eh? What about marriage and all that?"
he asked and then laughed. Hal tried to keep on laughing but he too was in
an earnest mood. He began to talk earnestly. "Has a fellow got to do it?" he
asked. "Has he got to be harnessed up and driven through life like a horse?"
Hal didn't wait for an answer but sprang to his feet and began to walk
back and forth between the corn shocks. He was getting more and more
excited. Bending down suddenly he picked up an ear of the yellow corn and
threw it at the fence. "I've got Nell Gunther in trouble," he said. "I'm
telling you, but you keep your mouth shut."
Ray Pearson arose and stood staring. He was almost a foot shorter than
Hal, and when the younger man came and put his two hands on the older man's
shoulders they made a picture. There they stood in the big empty field with
the quiet corn shocks standing in rows behind them and the red and yellow
hills in the distance, and from being just two indifferent workmen they had
become all alive to each other. Hal sensed it and because that was his way
he laughed. "Well, old daddy," he said awkwardly, "come on, advise me. I've
got Nell in trouble. Perhaps you've been in the same fix yourself. I know
what everyone would say is the right thing to do, but what do you say? Shall
I marry and settle down? Shall I put myself into the harness to be worn out
like an old horse? You know me, Ray. There can't anyone break me but I can
break myself. Shall I do it or shall I tell Nell to go to the devil? Come
on, you tell me. Whatever you say, Ray, I'll do."
Ray couldn't answer. He shook Hal's hands loose and turning walked
straight away toward the barn. He was a sensitive man and there were tears
in his eyes. He knew there was only one thing to say to Hal Winters, son of
old Windpeter Winters, only one thing that all his own training and all the
beliefs of the people he knew would approve, but for his life he couldn't
say what he knew he should say.
At half-past four that afternoon Ray was puttering about the barnyard
when his wife came up the lane along the creek and called him. After the
talk with Hal he hadn't returned to the cornfield but worked about the barn.
He had already done the evening chores and had seen Hal, dressed and ready
for a roistering night in town, come out of the farmhouse and go into the
road. Along the path to his own house he trudged behind his wife, looking at
the ground and thinking. He couldn't make out what was wrong. Every time he
raised his eyes and saw the beauty of the country in the failing light he
wanted to do something he had never done before, shout or scream or hit his
wife with his fists or something equally unexpected and terrifying. Along
the path he went scratching his head and trying to make it out. He looked
hard at his wife's back but she seemed all right.
She only wanted him to go into town for groceries and as soon as she
had told him what she wanted began to scold. "You're always puttering," she
said. "Now I want you to hustle. There isn't anything in the house for
supper and you've got to get to town and back in a hurry."
Ray went into his own house and took an overcoat from a hook back of
the door. It was torn about the pockets and the collar was shiny. His wife
went into the bedroom and presently came out with a soiled cloth in one hand
and three silver dollars in the other. Somewhere in the house a child wept
bitterly and a dog that had been sleeping by the stove arose and yawned.
Again the wife scolded. "The children will cry and cry. Why are you always
puttering?" she asked.
Ray went out of the house and climbed the fence into a field. It was
just growing dark and the scene that lay before him was lovely. All the low
hills were washed with color and even the little clusters of bushes in the
corners of the fences were alive with beauty. The whole world seemed to Ray
Pearson to have become alive with something just as he and Hal had suddenly
become alive when they stood in the corn field stating into each other's
The beauty of the country about Winesburg was too much for Ray on that
fall evening. That is all there was to it. He could not stand it. Of a
sudden he forgot all about being a quiet old farm hand and throwing off the
torn overcoat began to run across the field. As he ran he shouted a protest
against his life, against all life, against everything that makes life ugly.
"There was no promise made," he cried into the empty spaces that lay about
him. "I didn't promise my Minnie anything and Hal hasn't made any promise to
Nell. I know he hasn't. She went into the woods with him because she wanted
to go. What he wanted she wanted. Why should I pay? Why should Hal pay? Why
should anyone pay? I don't want Hal to become old and worn out. I'll tell
him. I won't let it go on. I'll catch Hal before he gets to town and I'll
Ray ran clumsily and once he stumbled and fell down. "I must catch Hal
and tell him," he kept thinking, and although his breath came in gasps he
kept running harder and harder. As he ran he thought of things that hadn't
come into his mind for years--how at the time he married he had planned to
go west to his uncle in Portland, Oregon--how he hadn't wanted to be a farm
hand, but had thought when he got out West he would go to sea and be a
sailor or get a job on a ranch and ride a horse into Western towns, shouting
and laughing and waking the people in the houses with his wild cries. Then
as he ran he remembered his children and in fancy felt their hands clutching
at him. All of his thoughts of himself were involved with the thoughts of
Hal and he thought the children were clutching at the younger man also.
"They are the accidents of life, Hal," he cried. "They are not mine or
yours. I had nothing to do with them."
Darkness began to spread over the fields as Ray Pearson ran on and on.
His breath came in little sobs. When he came to the fence at the edge of the
road and confronted Hal Winters, all dressed up and smoking a pipe as he
walked jauntily along, he could not have told what he thought or what he
Ray Pearson lost his nerve and this is really the end of the story of
what happened to him. It was almost dark when he got to the fence and he put
his hands on the top bar and stood staring. Hal Winters jumped a ditch and
coming up close to Ray put his hands into his pockets and laughed. He seemed
to have lost his own sense of what had happened in the corn field and when
he put up a strong hand and took hold of the lapel of Ray's coat he shook
the old man as he might have shaken a dog that had misbehaved.
"You came to tell me, eh?" he said. "Well, never mind telling me
anything. I'm not a coward and I've already made up my mind." He laughed
again and jumped back across the ditch. "Nell ain't no fool," he said. "She
didn't ask me to marry her. I want to marry her. I want to settle down and
Ray Pearson also laughed. He felt like laughing at himself and all the
As the form of Hal Winters disappeared in the dusk that lay over the
road that led to Winesburg, he turned and walked slowly back across the
fields to where he had left his torn overcoat. As he went some memory of
pleasant evenings spent with the thin-legged children in the tumble-down
house by the creek must have come into his mind, for he muttered words.
"It's just as well. Whatever I told him would have been a lie," he said
softly, and then his form also disappeared into the darkness of the fields.
TOM FOSTER came to Winesburg from Cincinnati when he was still young
and could get many new impressions. His grandmother had been raised on a
farm near the town and as a young girl had gone to school there when
Winesburg was a village of twelve or fifteen houses clustered about a
general store on the Trunion Pike.
What a life the old woman had led since she went away from the frontier
settlement and what a strong, capable little old thing she was! She had been
in Kansas, in Canada, and in New York City, traveling about with her
husband, a mechanic, before he died. Later she went to stay with her
daughter, who had also married a mechanic and lived in Covington, Kentucky,
across the river from Cincinnati.
Then began the hard years for Tom Foster's grandmother. First her
son-in-law was killed by a policeman during a strike and then Tom's mother
became an invalid and died also. The grandmother had saved a little money,
but it was swept away by the illness of the daughter and by the cost of the
two funerals. She became a half worn-out old woman worker and lived with the
grandson above a junk shop on a side street in Cincinnati. For five years
she scrubbed the floors in an office building and then got a place as dish
washer in a restaurant. Her hands were all twisted out of shape. When she
took hold of a mop or a broom handle the hands looked like the dried stems
of an old creeping vine clinging to a tree.
The old woman came back to Winesburg as soon as she got the chance. One
evening as she was coming home from work she found a pocket-book containing
thirty-seven dollars, and that opened the way. The trip was a great
adventure for the boy. It was past seven o'clock at night when the
grandmother came home with the pocket-book held tightly in her old hands and
she was so excited she could scarcely speak. She insisted on leaving
Cincinnati that night, saying that if they stayed until morning the owner of
the money would be sure to find them out and make trouble. Tom, who was then
sixteen years old, had to go trudging off to the station with the old woman,
bearing all of their earthly belongings done up in a worn-out blanket and
slung across his back. By his side walked the grandmother urging him
forward. Her toothless old mouth twitched nervously, and when Tom grew weary
and wanted to put the pack down at a street crossing, she snatched it up and
if he had not prevented would have slung it across her own back. When they
got into the train and it had run out of the city she was as delighted as a
girl and talked as the boy had never heard her talk before.
All through the night as the train rattled along, the grandmother told
Tom tales of Winesburg and of how he would enjoy his life working in the
fields and shooting wild things in the woods there. She could not believe
that the tiny village of fifty years before had grown into a thriving town
in her absence, and in the morning when the train came to Winesburg did not
want to get off. "It isn't what I thought. It may be hard for you here," she
said, and then the train went on its way and the two stood confused, not
knowing where to turn, in the presence of Albert Longworth, the Winesburg
But Tom Foster did get along all right. He was one to get along
anywhere. Mrs. White, the banker's wife, employed his grandmother to work in
the kitchen and he got a place as stable boy in the banker's new brick barn.
In Winesburg servants were hard to get. The woman who wanted help in
her housework employed a "hired girl" who insisted on sitting at the table
with the family. Mrs. White was sick of hired girls and snatched at the
chance to get hold of the old city woman. She furnished a room for the boy
Tom upstairs in the barn. "He can mow the lawn and run errands when the
horses do not need attention," she explained to her husband.
Tom Foster was rather small for his age and had a large head covered
with stiff black hair that stood straight up. The hair emphasized the
bigness of his head. His voice was the softest thing imaginable, and he was
himself so gentle and quiet that he slipped into the life of the town
without attracting the least bit of attention.
One could not help wondering where Tom Foster got his gentleness. In
Cincinnati he had lived in a neighborhood where gangs of tough boys prowled
through the streets, and all through his early formative years he ran about
with tough boys. For a while he was a messenger for a telegraph company and
delivered messages in a neighborhood sprinkled with houses of prostitution.
The women in the houses knew and loved Tom Foster and the tough boys in the
gangs loved him also.
He never asserted himself. That was one thing that helped him escape.
In an odd way he stood in the shadow of the wall of life, was meant to stand
in the shadow. He saw the men and women in the houses of lust, sensed their
casual and horrible love affairs, saw boys fighting and listened to their
tales of thieving and drunkenness, unmoved and strangely unaffected.
Once Tom did steal. That was while he still lived in the city. The
grandmother was ill at the time and he himself was out of work. There was
nothing to eat in the house, and so he went into a harness shop on a side
street and stole a dollar and seventy-five cents out of the cash drawer.
The harness shop was run by an old man with a long mustache. He saw the
boy lurking about and thought nothing of it. When he went out into the
street to talk to a teamster Tom opened the cash drawer and taking the money
walked away. Later he was caught and his grandmother settled the matter by
offering to come twice a week for a month and scrub the shop. The boy was
ashamed, but he was rather glad, too. "It is all right to be ashamed and
makes me understand new things," he said to the grandmother, who didn't know
what the boy was talking about but loved him so much that it didn't matter
whether she understood or not.
For a year Tom Foster lived in the banker's stable and then lost his
place there. He didn't take very good care of the horses and he was a
constant source of irritation to the banker's wife. She told him to mow the
lawn and he forgot. Then she sent him to the store or to the post office and
he did not come back but joined a group of men and boys and spent the whole
afternoon with them, standing about, listening and occasionally, when
addressed, saying a few words. As in the city in the houses of prostitution
and with the rowdy boys running through the streets at night, so in
Winesburg among its citizens he had always the power to be a part of and yet
distinctly apart from the life about him.
After Tom lost his place at Banker White's he did not live with his
grandmother, although often in the evening she came to visit him. He rented
a room at the rear of a little frame building belonging to old Rufus
Whiting. The building was on Duane Street, just off Main Street, and had
been used for years as a law office by the old man, who had become too
feeble and forgetful for the practice of his profession but did not realize
his inefficiency. He liked Tom and let him have the room for a dollar a
month. In the late afternoon when the lawyer had gone home the boy had the
place to himself and spent hours lying on the floor by the stove and
thinking of things. In the evening the grandmother came and sat in the
lawyer's chair to smoke a pipe while Tom remained silent, as he always, did
in the presence of everyone.
Often the old woman talked with great vigor. Sometimes she was angry
about some happening at the banker's house and scolded away for hours. Out
of her own earnings she bought a mop and regularly scrubbed the lawyer's
office. Then when the place was spotlessly clean and smelled clean she
lighted her clay pipe and she and Tom had a smoke together. "When you get
ready to die then I will die also," she said to the boy lying on the floor
beside her chair.
Tom Foster enjoyed life in Winesburg. He did odd jobs, such as cutting
wood for kitchen stoves and mowing the grass before houses. In late May and
early June he picked strawberries in the fields. He had time to loaf and he
enjoyed loafing. Banker White had given him a cast-off coat which was too
large for him, but his grandmother cut it down, and he had also an overcoat,
got at the same place, that was lined with fur. The fur was worn away in
spots, but the coat was warm and in the winter Tom slept in it. He thought
his method of getting along good enough and was happy and satisfied with the
way fife in Winesburg had turned out for him.
The most absurd little things made Tom Foster happy. That, I suppose,
was why people loved him. In Hern's Grocery they would be roasting coffee on
Friday afternoon, preparatory to the Saturday rush of trade, and the rich
odor invaded lower Main Street. Tom Foster appeared and sat on a box at the
rear of the store. For an hour he did not move but sat perfectly still,
filling his being with the spicy odor that made him half drunk with
happiness. "I like it," he said gently. "It makes me think of things far
away, places and things like that."
One night Tom Foster got drunk. That came about in a curious way. He
never had been drunk before, and indeed in all his fife had never taken a
drink of anything intoxicating, but he felt he needed to be drunk that one
time and so went and did it.
In Cincinnati, when he lived there, Tom had found out many things,
things about ugliness and crime and lust. Indeed, he knew more of these
things than anyone else in Winesburg. The matter of sex in particular had
presented itself to him in a quite horrible way and had made a deep
impression on his mind. He thought, after what he had seen of the women
standing before the squalid houses on cold nights and the look he had seen
in the eyes of the men who stopped to talk to them, that he would put sex
altogether out of his own life. One of the women of the neighborhood tempted
him once and he went into a room with her. He never forgot the smell of the
room nor the greedy look that came into the eyes of the woman. It sickened
him and in a very terrible way left a scar on his soul. He had always before
thought of women as quite innocent things, much like his grandmother, but
after that one experience in the room he dismissed women from his mind. So
gentle was his nature that he could not hate anything and not being able to
understand he decided to forget.
And Tom did forget until he came to Winesburg. After he had lived there
for two years something began to stir in him. On all sides he saw youth
making love and he was himself a youth. Before he knew what had happened he
was in love also. He fell in love with Helen White, daughter of the man for
whom he had worked, and found himself thinking of her at night.
That was a problem for Tom and he settled it in his own way. He let
himself think of Helen White whenever her figure came into his mind and only
concerned himself with the manner of his thoughts. He had a fight, a quiet
determined little fight of his own, to keep his desires in the channel where
he thought they belonged, but on the whole he was victorious.
And then came the spring night when he got drunk. Tom was wild on that
night. He was like an innocent young buck of the forest that has eaten of
some maddening weed. The thing began, ran its course, and was ended in one
night, and you may be sure that no one in Winesburg was any the worse for
In the first place, the night was one to make a sensitive nature drunk.
The trees along the residence streets of the town were all newly clothed in
soft green leaves, in the gardens behind the houses men were puttering about
in vegetable gardens, and in the air there was a hush, a waiting kind of
silence very stirring to the blood.
Tom left his room on Duane Street just as the young night began to make
itself felt. First he walked through the streets, going softly and quietly
along, thinking thoughts that he tried to put into words. He said that Helen
White was a flame dancing in the air and that he was a little tree without
leaves standing out sharply against the sky. Then he said that she was a
wind, a strong terrible wind, coming out of the darkness of a stormy sea and
that he was a boat left on the shore of the sea by a fisherman.
That idea pleased the boy and he sauntered along playing with it. He
went into Main Street and sat on the curbing before Wacker's tobacco store.
For an hour he lingered about listening to the talk of men, but it did not
interest him much and he slipped away. Then he decided to get drunk and went
into Willy's saloon and bought a bottle of whiskey. Putting the bottle into
his pocket, he walked out of town, wanting to be alone to think more
thoughts and to drink the whiskey.
Tom got drunk sitting on a bank of new grass beside the road about a
mile north of town. Before him was a white road and at his back an apple
orchard in full bloom. He took a drink out of the bottle and then lay down
on the grass. He thought of mornings in Winesburg and of how the stones in
the graveled driveway by Banker White's house were wet with dew and
glistened in the morning light. He thought of the nights in the barn when it
rained and he lay awake hearing the drumming of the raindrops and smelling
the warm smell of horses and of hay. Then he thought of a storm that had
gone roaring through Winesburg several days before and, his mind going back,
he relived the night he had spent on the train with his grandmother when the
two were coming from Cincinnati. Sharply he remembered how strange it had
seemed to sit quietly in the coach and to feel the power of the engine
hurling the train along through the night.
Tom got drunk in a very short time. He kept taking drinks from the
bottle as the thoughts visited him and when his head began to reel got up
and walked along the road going away from Winesburg. There was a bridge on
the road that ran out of Winesburg north to Lake Erie and the drunken boy
made his way along the road to the bridge. There he sat down. He tried to
drink again, but when he had taken the cork out of the bottle he became ill
and put it quickly back. His head was rocking back and forth and so he sat
on the stone approach to the bridge and sighed. His head seemed to be flying
about like a pinwheel and then projecting itself off into space and his arms
and legs flopped helplessly about.
At eleven o'clock Tom got back into town. George Willard found him
wandering about and took him into the Eagle printshop. Then he became afraid
that the drunken boy would make a mess on the floor and helped him into the
The reporter was confused by Tom Foster. The drunken boy talked of
Helen White and said he had been with her on the shore of a sea and had made
love to her. George had seen Helen White walking in the street with her
father during the evening and decided that Tom was out of his head. A
sentiment concerning Helen White that lurked in his own heart flamed up and
he became angry. "Now you quit that," he said. "I won't let Helen White's
name be dragged into this. I won't let that happen." He began shaking Tom's
shoulder, trying to make him understand. "You quit it," he said again.
For three hours the two young men, thus strangely thrown together,
stayed in the printshop. When he had a little recovered George took Tom for
a walk. They went into the country and sat on a log near the edge of a wood.
Something in the still night drew them together and when the drunken boy's
head began to clear they talked.
"It was good to be drunk," Tom Foster said. "It taught me something. I
won't have to do it again. I will think more dearly after this. You see how
George Willard did not see, but his anger concerning Helen White passed
and he felt drawn toward the pale, shaken boy as he had never before been
drawn toward anyone. With motherly solicitude, he insisted that Tom get to
his feet and walk about. Again they went back to the printshop and sat in
silence in the darkness.
The reporter could not get the purpose of Tom Foster's action
straightened out in his mind. When Tom spoke again of Helen White he again
grew angry and began to scold. "You quit that," he said sharply. "You
haven't been with her. What makes you say you have? What makes you keep
saying such things? Now you quit it, do you hear?"
Tom was hurt. He couldn't quarrel with George Willard because he was
incapable of quarreling, so he got up to go away. When George Willard was
insistent he put out his hand, laying it on the older boy's arm, and tried
"Well," he said softly, "I don't know how it was. I was happy. You see
how that was. Helen White made me happy and the night did too. I wanted to
suffer, to be hurt somehow. I thought that was what I should do. I wanted to
suffer, you see, because everyone suffers and does wrong. I thought of a lot
of things to do, but they wouldn't work. They all hurt someone else."
Tom Foster's voice arose, and for once in his life he became almost
excited. "It was like making love, that's what I mean," he explained. "Don't
you see how it is? It hurt me to do what I did and made everything strange.
That's why I did it. I'm glad, too. It taught me something, that's it,
that's what I wanted. Don't you understand? I wanted to learn things, you
see. That's why I did it."
THE STAIRWAY LEADING up to Doctor Reefy's office, in the Heffner Block
above the Paris Dry Goods store, was but dimly lighted. At the head of the
stairway hung a lamp with a dirty chimney that was fastened by a bracket to
the wall. The lamp had a tin reflector, brown with rust and covered with
dust. The people who went up the stairway followed with their feet the feet
of many who had gone before. The soft boards of the stairs had yielded under
the pressure of feet and deep hollows marked the way.
At the top of the stairway a turn to the right brought you to the
doctor's door. To the left was a dark hallway filled with rubbish. Old
chairs, carpenter's horses, step ladders and empty boxes lay in the darkness
waiting for shins to be barked. The pile of rubbish belonged to the Paris
Dry Goods Company. When a counter or a row of shelves in the store became
useless, clerks carried it up the stairway and threw it on the pile.
Doctor Reefy's office was as large as a barn. A stove with a round
paunch sat in the middle of the room. Around its base was piled sawdust,
held in place by heavy planks nailed to the floor. By the door stood a huge
table that had once been a part of the furniture of Herrick's Clothing Store
and that had been used for displaying custom-made clothes. It was covered
with books, bottles, and surgical instruments. Near the edge of the table
lay three or four apples left by John Spaniard, a tree nurseryman who was
Doctor Reefy's friend, and who had slipped the apples out of his pocket as
he came in at the door.
At middle age Doctor Reefy was tall and awkward. The grey beard he
later wore had not yet appeared, but on the upper lip grew a brown mustache.
He was not a graceful man, as when he grew older, and was much occupied with
the problem of disposing of his hands and feet.
On summer afternoons, when she had been married many years and when her
son George was a boy of twelve or fourteen, Elizabeth Willard sometimes went
up the worn steps to Doctor Reefy's office. Already the woman's naturally
tall figure had begun to droop and to drag itself listlessly about.
Ostensibly she went to see the doctor because of her health, but on the half
dozen occasions when she had been to see him the outcome of the visits did
not primarily concern her health. She and the doctor talked of that but they
talked most of her life, of their two lives and of the ideas that had come
to them as they lived their lives in Winesburg.
In the big empty office the man and the woman sat looking at each other
and they were a good deal alike. Their bodies were different, as were also
the color of their eyes, the length of their noses, and the circumstances of
their existence, but something inside them meant the same thing, wanted the
same release, would have left the same impression on the memory of an
onlooker. Later, and when he grew older and married a young wife, the doctor
often talked to her of the hours spent with the sick woman and expressed a
good many things he had been unable to express to Elizabeth. He was almost a
poet in his old age and his notion of what happened took a poetic turn. "I
had come to the time in my life when prayer became necessary and so I
invented gods and prayed to them," he said. "I did not say my prayers in
words nor did I kneel down but sat perfectly still in my chair. In the late
afternoon when it was hot and quiet on Main Street or in the winter when the
days were gloomy, the gods came into the office and I thought no one knew
about them. Then I found that this woman Elizabeth knew, that she worshipped
also the same gods. I have a notion that she came to the office because she
thought the gods would be there but she was happy to find herself not alone
just the same. It was an experience that cannot be explained, although I
suppose it is always happening to men and women in all sorts of places."
On the summer afternoons when Elizabeth and the doctor sat in the
office and talked of their two lives they talked of other lives also.
Sometimes the doctor made philosophic epigrams. Then he chuckled with
amusement. Now and then after a period of silence, a word was said or a hint
given that strangely illuminated the fife of the speaker, a wish became a
desire, or a dream, half dead, flared suddenly into life. For the most part
the words came from the woman and she said them without looking at the man.
Each time she came to see the doctor the hotel keeper's wife talked a
little more freely and after an hour or two in his presence went down the
stairway into Main Street feeling renewed and strengthened against the
dullness of her days. With something approaching a girlhood swing to her
body she walked along, but when she had got back to her chair by the window
of her room and when darkness had come on and a girl from the hotel dining
room brought her dinner on a tray, she let it grow cold. Her thoughts ran
away to her girlhood with its passionate longing for adventure and she
remembered the arms of men that had held her when adventure was a possible
thing for her. Particularly she remembered one who had for a time been her
lover and who in the moment of his passion had cried out to her more than a
hundred times, saying the same words madly over and over: "You dear! You
dear! You lovely dear!" The words, she thought, expressed something she
would have liked to have achieved in life.
In her room in the shabby old hotel the sick wife of the hotel keeper
began to weep and, putting her hands to her face, rocked back and forth. The
words of her one friend, Doctor Reefy, rang in her ears. "Love is like a
wind stirring the grass beneath trees on a black night," he had said. "You
must not try to make love definite. It is the divine accident of life. If
you try to be definite and sure about it and to live beneath the trees,
where soft night winds blow, the long hot day of disappointment comes
swiftly and the gritty dust from passing wagons gathers upon lips inflamed
and made tender by kisses."
Elizabeth Willard could not remember her mother who had died when she
was but five years old. Her girlhood had been lived in the most haphazard
manner imaginable. Her father was a man who had wanted to be let alone and
the affairs of the hotel would not let him alone. He also had lived and died
a sick man. Every day he arose with a cheerful face, but by ten o'clock in
the morning all the joy had gone out of his heart. When a guest complained
of the fare in the hotel dining room or one of the girls who made up the
beds got married and went away, he stamped on the floor and swore. At night
when he went to bed he thought of his daughter growing up among the stream
of people that drifted in and out of the hotel and was overcome with
sadness. As the girl grew older and began to walk out in the evening with
men he wanted to talk to her, but when he tried was not successful. He
always forgot what he wanted to say and spent the time complaining of his
In her girlhood and young womanhood Elizabeth had tried to be a real
adventurer in life. At eighteen life had so gripped her that she was no
longer a virgin but, although she had a half dozen lovers before she married
Tom Willard, she had never entered upon an adventure prompted by desire
alone. Like all the women in the world, she wanted a real lover. Always
there was something she sought blindly, passionately, some hidden wonder in
life. The tall beautiful girl with the swinging stride who had walked under
the trees with men was forever putting out her hand into the darkness and
trying to get hold of some other hand. In all the babble of words that fell
from the lips of the men with whom she adventured she was trying to find
what would be for her the true word,
Elizabeth had married Tom Willard, a clerk in her father's hotel,
because he was at hand and wanted to marry at the time when the
determination to marry came to her. For a while, like most young girls, she
thought marriage would change the face of life. If there was in her mind a
doubt of the outcome of the marriage with Tom she brushed it aside. Her
father was ill and near death at the time and she was perplexed because of
the meaningless outcome of an affair in which she had just been involved.
Other girls of her age in Winesburg were marrying men she had always known,
grocery clerks or young farmers. In the evening they walked in Main Street
with their husbands and when she passed they smiled happily. She began to
think that the fact of marriage might be full of some hidden significance.
Young wives with whom she talked spoke softly and shyly. "It changes things
to have a man of your own," they said.
On the evening before her marriage the perplexed girl had a talk with
her father. Later she wondered if the hours alone with the sick man had not
led to her decision to marry. The father talked of his life and advised the
daughter to avoid being led into another such muddle. He abused Tom Willard,
and that led Elizabeth to come to the clerk's defense. The sick man became
excited and tried to get out of bed. When she would not let him walk about
he began to complain. "I've never been let alone," he said. "Although I've
worked hard I've not made the hotel pay. Even now I owe money at the bank.
You'll find that out when I'm gone."
The voice of the sick man became tense with earnestness. Being unable
to arise, he put out his hand and pulled the girl's head down beside his
own. "There's a way out," he whispered. "Don't marry Tom Willard or anyone
else here in Winesburg. There is eight hundred dollars in a tin box in my
trunk. Take it and go away."
Again the sick man's voice became querulous. "You've got to promise,"
he declared. "If you won't promise not to marry, give me your word that
you'll never tell Tom about the money. It is mine and if I give it to you
I've the right to make that demand. Hide it away. It is to make up to you
for my failure as a father. Some time it may prove to be a door, a great
open door to you. Come now, I tell you I'm about to die, give me your
In Doctor Reefy's office, Elizabeth, a tired gaunt old woman at
forty-one, sat in a chair near the stove and looked at the floor. By a small
desk near the window sat the doctor. His hands played with a lead pencil
that lay on the desk. Elizabeth talked of her life as a married woman. She
became impersonal and forgot her husband, only using him as a lay figure to
give point to her tale. "And then I was married and it did not turn out at
all," she said bitterly. "As soon as I had gone into it I began to be
afraid. Perhaps I knew too much before and then perhaps I found out too much
during my first night with him. I don't remember.
"What a fool I was. When father gave me the money and tried to talk me
out of the thought of marriage, I would not listen. I thought of what the
girls who were married had said of it and I wanted marriage also. It wasn't
Tom I wanted, it was marriage. When father went to sleep I leaned out of the
window and thought of the life I had led. I didn't want to be a bad woman.
The town was full of stories about me. I even began to be afraid Tom would
change his mind."
The woman's voice began to quiver with excitement. To Doctor Reefy, who
without realizing what was happening had begun to love her, there came an
odd illusion. He thought that as she talked the woman's body was changing,
that she was becoming younger, straighter, stronger. When he could not shake
off the illusion his mind gave it a professional twist. "It is good for both
her body and her mind, this talking," he muttered.
The woman began telling of an incident that had happened one afternoon
a few months after her marriage. Her voice became steadier. "In the late
afternoon I went for a drive alone," she said. "I had a buggy and a little
grey pony I kept in Moyer's Livery. Tom was painting and repapering rooms in
the hotel. He wanted money and I was trying to make up my mind to tell him
about the eight hundred dollars father had given to me. I couldn't decide to
do it. I didn't like him well enough. There was always paint on his hands
and face during those days and he smelled of paint. He was trying to fix up
the old hotel, and make it new and smart."
The excited woman sat up very straight in her chair and made a quick
girlish movement with her hand as she told of the drive alone on the spring
afternoon. "It was cloudy and a storm threatened," she said. "Black clouds
made the green of the trees and the grass stand out so that the colors hurt
my eyes. I went out Trunion Pike a mile or more and then turned into a side
road. The little horse went quickly along up hill and down. I was impatient.
Thoughts came and I wanted to get away from my thoughts. I began to beat the
horse. The black clouds settled down and it began to rain. I wanted to go at
a terrible speed, to drive on and on forever. I wanted to get out of town,
out of my clothes, out of my marriage, out of my body, out of everything. I
almost killed the horse, making him run, and when he could not run any more
I got out of the buggy and ran afoot into the darkness until I fell and hurt
my side. I wanted to run away from everything but I wanted to run towards
something too. Don't you see, dear, how it was?"
Elizabeth sprang out of the chair and began to walk about in the
office. She walked as Doctor Reefy thought he had never seen anyone walk
before. To her whole body there was a swing, a rhythm that intoxicated him.
When she came and knelt on the floor beside his chair he took her into his
arms and began to kiss her passionately. "I cried all the way home," she
said, as she tried to continue the story of her wild ride, but he did not
listen. "You dear! You lovely dear! Oh you lovely dear!" he muttered and
thought he held in his arms not the tired-out woman of forty-one but a
lovely and innocent girl who had been able by some miracle to project
herself out of the husk of the body of the tired-out woman.
Doctor Reefy did not see the woman he had held in his arms again until
after her death. On the summer afternoon in the office when he was on the
point of becoming her lover a half grotesque little incident brought his
love-making quickly to an end. As the man and woman held each other tightly
heavy feet came tramping up the office stairs. The two sprang to their feet
and stood listening and trembling. The noise on the stairs was made by a
clerk from the Paris Dry Goods Company. With a loud bang he threw an empty
box on the pile of rubbish in the hallway and then went heavily down the
stairs. Elizabeth followed him almost immediately. The thing that had come
to life in her as she talked to her one friend died suddenly. She was
hysterical, as was also Doctor Reefy, and did not want to continue the talk.
Along the street she went with the blood still singing in her body, but when
she turned out of Main Street and saw ahead the lights of the New Willard
House, she began to tremble and her knees shook so that for a moment she
thought she would fall in the street.
The sick woman spent the last few months of her life hungering for
death. Along the road of death she went, seeking, hungering. She personified
the figure of death and made him now a strong blackhaired youth running over
hills, now a stem quiet man marked and scarred by the business of living. In
the darkness of her room she put out her hand, thrusting it from under the
covers of her bed, and she thought that death like a living thing put out
his hand to her. "Be patient, lover," she whispered. "Keep yourself young
and beautiful and be patient."
On the evening when disease laid its heavy hand upon her and defeated
her plans for telling her son George of the eight hundred dollars hidden
away, she got out of bed and crept half across the room pleading with death
for another hour of life. "Wait, dear! The boy! The boy! The boy!" she
pleaded as she tried with all of her strength to fight off the arms of the
lover she had wanted so earnestly.
Elizabeth died one day in March in the year when her son George became
eighteen, and the young man had but little sense of the meaning of her
death. Only time could give him that. For a month he had seen her lying
white and still and speechless in her bed, and then one afternoon the doctor
stopped him in the hallway and said a few words.
The young man went into his own room and closed the door. He had a
queer empty feeling in the region of his stomach. For a moment he sat
staring at, the floor and then jumping up went for a walk. Along the station
platform he went, and around through residence streets past the highschool
building, thinking almost entirely of his own affairs. The notion of death
could not get hold of him and he was in fact a little annoyed that his
mother had died on that day. He had just received a note from Helen White,
the daughter of the town banker, in answer to one from him. "Tonight I could
have gone to see her and now it will have to be put off," he thought half
Elizabeth died on a Friday afternoon at three o'clock. It had been cold
and rainy in the morning but in the afternoon the sun came out. Before she
died she lay paralyzed for six days unable to speak or move and with only
her mind and her eyes alive. For three of the six days she struggled,
thinking of her boy, trying to say some few words in regard to his future,
and in her eyes there was an appeal so touching that all who saw it kept the
memory of the dying woman in their minds for years. Even Tom Willard, who
had always half resented his wife, forgot his resentment and the tears ran
out of his eyes and lodged in his mustache. The mustache had begun to turn
grey and Tom colored it with dye. There was oil in the preparation he used
for the purpose and the tears, catching in the mustache and being brushed
away by his hand, formed a fine mistlike vapor. In his grief Tom Willard's
face looked like the face of a little dog that has been out a long time in
George came home along Main Street at dark on the day of his mother's
death and, after going to his own room to brush his hair and clothes, went
along the hallway and into the room where the body lay. There was a candle
on the dressing table by the door and Doctor Reefy sat in a chair by the
bed. The doctor arose and started to go out. He put out his hand as though
to greet the younger man and then awkwardly drew it back again. The air of
the room was heavy with the presence of the two selfconscious human beings,
and the man hurried away.
The dead woman's son sat down in a chair and looked at the floor. He
again thought of his own affairs and definitely decided he would make a
change in his fife, that he would leave Winesburg. "I will go to some city.
Perhaps I can get a job on some newspaper," he thought, and then his mind
turned to the girl with whom he was to have spent this evening and again he
was half angry at the turn of events that had prevented his going to her.
In the dimly lighted room with the dead woman the young man began to
have thoughts. His mind played with thoughts of life as his mother's mind
had played with the thought of death. He closed his eyes and imagined that
the red young lips of Helen White touched his own lips. His body trembled
and his hands shook. And then something happened. The boy sprang to his feet
and stood stiffly. He looked at the figure of the dead woman under the
sheets and shame for his thoughts swept over him so that he began to weep. A
new notion came into his mind and he turned and looked guiltily about as
though afraid he would be observed.
George Willard became possessed of a madness to lift the sheet from the
body of his mother and look at her face. The thought that had come into his
mind gripped him terribly. He became convinced that not his mother but
someone else lay in the bed before him. The conviction was so real that it
was almost unbearable. The body under the sheets was long and in death
looked young and graceful. To the boy, held by some strange fancy, it was
unspeakably lovely. The feeling that the body before him was alive, that in
another moment a lovely woman would spring out of the bed and confront him,
became so overpowering that he could not bear the suspense. Again and again
he put out his hand. Once he touched and half lifted the white sheet that
covered her, but his courage failed and he, like Doctor Reefy, turned and
went out of the room. In the hallway outside the door he stopped and
trembled so that he had to put a hand against the wall to support himself.
"That's not my mother. That's not my mother in there," he whispered to
himself and again his body shook with fright and uncertainty. When Aunt
Elizabeth Swift, who had come to watch over the body, came out of an
adjoining room he put his hand into hers and began to sob, shaking his head
from side to side, half blind with grief. "My mother is dead," he said, and
then forgetting the woman he turned and stared at the door through which he
had just come. "The dear, the dear, oh the lovely dear," the boy, urged by
some impulse outside himself, muttered aloud.
As for the eight hundred dollars the dead woman had kept hidden so long
and that was to give George Willard his start in the city, it lay in the tin
box behind the plaster by the foot of his mother's bed. Elizabeth had put it
there a week after her marriage, breaking the plaster away with a stick.
Then she got one of the workmen her husband was at that time employing about
the hotel to mend the wall. "I jammed the corner of the bed against it," she
had explained to her husband, unable at the moment to give up her dream of
release, the release that after all came to her but twice in her life, in
the moments when her lovers Death and Doctor Reefy held her in their arms.
IT WAS EARLY evening of a day in, the late fall and the Winesburg
County Fair had brought crowds of country people into town. The day had been
clear and the night came on warm and pleasant. On the Trunion Pike, where
the road after it left town stretched away between berry fields now covered
with dry brown leaves, the dust from passing wagons arose in clouds.
Children, curled into little balls, slept on the straw scattered on wagon
beds. Their hair was full of dust and their fingers black and sticky. The
dust rolled away over the fields and the departing sun set it ablaze with
In the main street of Winesburg crowds filled the stores and the
sidewalks. Night came on, horses whinnied, the clerks in the stores ran
madly about, children became lost and cried lustily, an American town worked
terribly at the task of amusing itself.
Pushing his way through the crowds in Main Street, young George Willard
concealed himself in the stairway leading to Doctor Reefy's office and
looked at the people. With feverish eyes he watched the faces drifting past
under the store lights. Thoughts kept coming into his head and he did not
want to think. He stamped impatiently on the wooden steps and looked sharply
about. "Well, is she going to stay with him all day? Have I done all this
waiting for nothing?" he muttered.
George Willard, the Ohio village boy, was fast growing into manhood and
new thoughts had been coming into his mind. All that day, amid the jam of
people at the Fair, he had gone about feeling lonely. He was about to leave
Winesburg to go away to some city where he hoped to get work on a city
newspaper and he felt grown up. The mood that had taken possession of him
was a thing known to men and unknown to boys. He felt old and a little
tired. Memories awoke in him. To his mind his new sense of maturity set him
apart, made of him a halftragic figure. He wanted someone to understand the
feeling that had taken possession of him after his mother's death.
There is a time in the life of every boy when he for the first time
takes the backward view of life. Perhaps that is the moment when he crosses
the line into manhood. The boy is walking through the street of his town. He
is thinking of the future and of the figure he will cut in the world.
Ambitions and regrets awake within him. Suddenly something happens; he stops
under a tree and waits as for a voice calling his name. Ghosts of old things
creep into his consciousness; the voices outside of himself whisper a
message concerning the limitations of life. From being quite sure of himself
and his future he becomes not at all sure. If he be an imaginative boy a
door is tom open and for the first time he looks out upon the world, seeing,
as though they marched in procession before him, the countless figures of
men who before his time have come out of nothingness into the world, lived
their lives and again disappeared into nothingness. The sadness of
sophistication has come to the boy. With a little gasp he sees himself as
merely a leaf blown by the wind through the streets of his village. He knows
that in spite of all the stout talk of his fellows he must live and die in
uncertainty, a thing blown by the winds, a thing destined like corn to wilt
in the sun. He shivers and looks eagerly about. The eighteen years he has
lived seem but a moment, a breathing space in the long march of humanity.
Already he hears death calling. With all his heart he wants to come close to
some other human, touch someone with his hands, be touched by the hand of
another. If he prefers that the other be a woman, that is because he
believes that a woman will be gentle, that she will understand. He wants,
most of all, understanding.
When the moment of sophistication came to George Willard his mind
turned to Helen White, the Winesburg banker's daughter. Always he had been
conscious of the girl growing into womanhood as he grew into manhood. Once
on a summer night when he was eighteen, he had walked with her on a country
road and in her presence had given way to an impulse to boast, to make
himself appear big and significant in her eyes. Now he wanted to see her for
another purpose. He wanted to tell her of the new impulses that had come to
him. He had tried to make her think of him as a man when he knew nothing of
manhood and now he wanted to be with her and to try to make her feel the
change he believed had taken place in his nature.
As for Helen White, she also had come to a period of change. What
George felt, she in her young woman's way felt also. She was no longer a
girl and hungered to reach into the grace and beauty of womanhood. She had
come home from Cleveland, where she was attending college, to spend a day at
the Fair. She also had begun to have memories. During the day she sat in the
grand-stand with a young man, one of the instructors from the college, who
was a guest of her mother's. The young man was of a pedantic turn of mind
and she felt at once he would not do for her purpose. At the Fair she was
glad to be seen in his company as he was well dressed and a stranger. She
knew that the fact of his presence would create an impression. During the
day she was happy, but when night came on she began to grow restless. She
wanted to drive the instructor away, to get out of his presence. While they
sat together in the grand-stand and while the eyes of former schoolmates
were upon them, she paid so much attention to her escort that he grew
interested. "A scholar needs money. I should marry a woman with money," he
Helen White was thinking of George Willard even as he wandered gloomily
through the crowds thinking of her. She remembered the summer evening when
they had walked together and wanted to walk with him again. She thought that
the months she had spent in the city, the going to theaters and the seeing
of great crowds wandering in lighted thoroughfares, had changed her
profoundly. She wanted him to feel and be conscious of the change in her
The summer evening together that had left its mark on the memory of
both the young man and woman had, when looked at quite sensibly, been rather
stupidly spent. They had walked out of town along a country road. Then they
had stopped by a fence near a field of young corn and George had taken off
his coat and let it hang on his arm. "Well, I've stayed here in
Winesburg--yes--I've not yet gone away but I'm growing up," he had said.
"I've been reading books and I've been thinking. I'm going to try to amount
to something in life.
"Well," he explained, "that isn't the point. Perhaps I'd better quit
The confused boy put his hand on the girl's arm. His voice trembled.
The two started to walk back along the road toward town. In his desperation
George boasted, "I'm going to be a big man, the biggest that ever lived here
in Winesburg," he declared. "I want you to do something, I don't know what.
Perhaps it is none of my business. I want you to try to be different from
other women. You see the point. It's none of my business I tell you. I want
you to be a beautiful woman. You see what I want."
The boy's voice failed and in silence the two came back into town and
went along the street to Helen White's house. At the gate he tried to say
something impressive. Speeches he had thought out came into his head, but
they seemed utterly pointless. "I thought--I used to think--I had it in my
mind you would marry Seth Richmond. Now I know you won't," was all he could
find to say as she went through the gate and toward the door of her house.
On the warm fall evening as he stood in the stairway and looked at the
crowd drifting through Main Street, George thought of the talk beside the
field of young corn and was ashamed of the figure he had made of himself. In
the street the people surged up and down like cattle confined in a pen.
Buggies and wagons almost filled the narrow thoroughfare. A band played and
small boys raced along the sidewalk, diving between the legs of men. Young
men with shining red faces walked awkwardly about with girls on their arms.
In a room above one of the stores, where a dance was to be held, the
fiddlers tuned their instruments. The broken sounds floated down through an
open window and out across the murmur of voices and the loud blare of the
horns of the band. The medley of sounds got on young Willard's nerves.
Everywhere, on all sides, the sense of crowding, moving life closed in about
him. He wanted to run away by himself and think. "If she wants to stay with
that fellow she may. Why should I care? What difference does it make to me?"
he growled and went along Main Street and through Hern's Grocery into a side
George felt so utterly lonely and dejected that he wanted to weep but
pride made him walk rapidly along, swinging his arms. He came to Wesley
Moyer's livery barn and stopped in the shadows to listen to a group of men
who talked of a race Wesley's stallion, Tony Tip, had won at the Fair during
the afternoon. A crowd had gathered in front of the barn and before the
crowd walked Wesley, prancing up and down boasting. He held a whip in his
hand and kept tapping the ground. Little puffs of dust arose in the
lamplight. "Hell, quit your talking," Wesley exclaimed. "I wasn't afraid, I
knew I had 'em beat all the time. I wasn't afraid."
Ordinarily George Willard would have been intensely interested in the
boasting of Moyer, the horseman. Now it made him angry. He turned and
hurried away along the street. "Old windbag," he sputtered. "Why does he
want to be bragging? Why don't he shut up?"
George went into a vacant lot and, as he hurried along, fell over a
pile of rubbish. A nail protruding from an empty barrel tore his trousers.
He sat down on the ground and swore. With a pin he mended the torn place and
then arose and went on. "I'll go to Helen White's house, that's what I'll
do. I'll walk right in. I'll say that I want to see her. I'll walk right in
and sit down, that's what I'll do," he declared, climbing over a fence and
beginning to run.
On the veranda of Banker White's house Helen was restless and
distraught. The instructor sat between the mother and daughter. His talk
wearied the girl. Although he had also been raised in an Ohio town, the
instructor began to put on the airs of the city. He wanted to appear
cosmopolitan. "I like the chance you have given me to study the background
out of which most of our girls come," he declared. "It was good of you, Mrs.
White, to have me down for the day." He turned to Helen and laughed. "Your
life is still bound up with the life of this town?" he asked. "There are
people here in whom you are interested?" To the girl his voice sounded
pompous and heavy.
Helen arose and went into the house. At the door leading to a garden at
the back she stopped and stood listening. Her mother began to talk. "There
is no one here fit to associate with a girl of Helen's breeding," she said.
Helen ran down a flight of stairs at the back of the house and into the
garden. In the darkness she stopped and stood trembling. It seemed to her
that the world was full of meaningless people saying words. Afire with
eagerness she ran through a garden gate and, turning a corner by the
banker's barn, went into a little side street. "George! Where are you,
George?" she cried, filled with nervous excitement. She stopped running, and
leaned against a tree to laugh hysterically. Along the dark little street
came George Willard, still saying words. "I'm going to walk right into her
house. I'll go right in and sit down, " he declared as he came up to her. He
stopped and stared stupidly. "Come on," he said and took hold of her hand.
With hanging heads they walked away along the street under the trees. Dry
leaves rustled under foot. Now that he had found her George wondered what he
had better do and say.
At the upper end of the Fair Ground, in Winesburg, there is a half
decayed old grand-stand. It has never been painted and the boards are all
warped out of shape. The Fair Ground stands on top of a low hill rising out
of the valley of Wine Creek and from the grand-stand one can see at night,
over a cornfield, the lights of the town reflected against the sky.
George and Helen climbed the hill to the Fair Ground, coming by the
path past Waterworks Pond. The feeling of loneliness and isolation that had
come to the young man in the crowded streets of his town was both broken and
intensified by the presence of Helen. What he felt was reflected in her.
In youth there are always two forces fighting in people. The warm
unthinking little animal struggles against the thing that reflects and
remembers, and the older, the more sophisticated thing had possession of
George Willard. Sensing his mood, Helen walked beside him filled with
respect. When they got to the grand-stand they climbed up under the roof and
sat down on one of the long bench-like seats.
There is something memorable in the experience to be had by going into
a fair ground that stands at the edge of a Middle Western town on a night
after the annual fair has been held. The sensation is one never to be
forgotten. On all sides are ghosts, not of the dead, but of living people.
Here, during the day just passed, have come the people pouring in from the
town and the country around. Farmers with their wives and children and all
the people from the hundreds of little frame houses have gathered within
these board walls. Young girls have laughed and men with beards have talked
of the affairs of their lives. The place has been filled to overflowing with
life. It has itched and squirmed with life and now it is night and the life
has all gone away. The silence is almost terrifying. One conceals oneself
standing silently beside the trunk of a tree and what there is of a
reflective tendency in his nature is intensified. One shudders at the
thought of the meaninglessness of life while at the same instant, and if the
people of the town are his people, one loves life so intensely that tears
come into the eyes.
In the darkness under the roof of the grand-stand, George Willard sat
beside Helen White and felt very keenly his own insignificance in the scheme
of existence. Now that he had come out of town where the presence of the
people stirring about, busy with a multitude of affairs, had been so
irritating, the irritation was all gone. The presence of Helen renewed and
refreshed him. It was as though her woman's hand was assisting him to make
some minute readjustment of the machinery of his life. He began to think of
the people in the town where he had always lived with something like
reverence. He had reverence for Helen. He wanted to love and to be loved by
her, but he did not want at the moment to be confused by her womanhood. In
the darkness he took hold of her hand and when she crept close put a hand on
her shoulder. A wind began to blow and he shivered. With all his strength he
tried to hold and to understand the mood that had come upon him. In that
high place in the darkness the two oddly sensitive human atoms held each
other tightly and waited. In the mind of each was the same thought. "I have
come to this lonely place and here is this other," was the substance of the
In Winesburg the crowded day had run itself out into the long night of
the late fall. Farm horses jogged away along lonely country roads pulling
their portion of weary people. Clerks began to bring samples of goods in off
the sidewalks and lock the doors of stores. In the Opera House a crowd had
gathered to see a show and further down Main Street the fiddlers, their
instruments tuned, sweated and worked to keep the feet of youth flying over
a dance floor.
In the darkness in the grand-stand Helen White and George Willard
remained silent. Now and then the spell that held them was broken and they
turned and tried in the dim light to see into each other's eyes. They kissed
but that impulse did not last. At the upper end of the Fair Ground a half
dozen men worked over horses that had raced during the afternoon. The men
had built a fire and were heating kettles of water. Only their legs could be
seen as they passed back and forth in the light. When the wind blew the
little flames of the fire danced crazily about.
George and Helen arose and walked away into the darkness. They went
along a path past a field of corn that had not yet been cut. The wind
whispered among the dry corn blades. For a moment during the walk back into
town the spell that held them was broken. When they had come to the crest of
Waterworks Hill they stopped by a tree and George again put his hands on the
girl's shoulders. She embraced him eagerly and then again they drew quickly
back from that impulse. They stopped kissing and stood a little apart.
Mutual respect grew big in them. They were both embarrassed and to relieve
their embarrassment dropped into the animalism of youth. They laughed and
began to pull and haul at each other. In some way chastened and purified by
the mood they had been in, they became, not man and woman, not boy and girl,
but excited little animals.
It was so they went down the hill. In the darkness they played like two
splendid young things in a young world. Once, running swiftly forward, Helen
tripped George and he fell. He squirmed and shouted. Shaking with laughter,
he roiled down the hill. Helen ran after him. For just a moment she stopped
in the darkness. There was no way of knowing what woman's thoughts went
through her mind but, when the bottom of the hill was reached and she came
up to the boy, she took his arm and walked beside him in dignified silence.
For some reason they could not have explained they had both got from their
silent evening together the thing needed. Man or boy, woman or girl, they
had for a moment taken hold of the thing that makes the mature life of men
and women in the modern world possible.
YOUNG GEORGE WILLARD got out of bed at four in the morning. It was
April and the young tree leaves were just coming out of their buds. The
trees along the residence streets in Winesburg are maple and the seeds are
winged. When the wind blows they whirl crazily about, filling the air and
making a carpet underfoot.
George came downstairs into the hotel office carrying a brown leather
bag. His trunk was packed for departure. Since two o'clock he had been awake
thinking of the journey he was about to take and wondering what he would
find at the end of his journey. The boy who slept in the hotel office lay on
a cot by the door. His mouth was open and he snored lustily. George crept
past the cot and went out into the silent deserted main street. The east was
pink with the dawn and long streaks of light climbed into the sky where a
few stars still shone.
Beyond the last house on Trunion Pike in Winesburg there is a great
stretch of open fields. The fields are owned by farmers who live in town and
drive homeward at evening along Trunion Pike in light creaking wagons. In
the fields are planted berries and small fruits. In the late afternoon in
the hot summers when the road and the fields are covered with dust, a smoky
haze lies over the great flat basin of land. To look across it is like
looking out across the sea. In the spring when the land is green the effect
is somewhat different. The land becomes a wide green billiard table on which
tiny human insects toil up and down.
All through his boyhood and young manhood George Willard had been in
the habit of walking on Trunion Pike. He had been in the midst of the great
open place on winter nights when it was covered with snow and only the moon
looked down at him; he had been there in the fall when bleak winds blew and
on summer evenings when the air vibrated with the song of insects. On the
April morning he wanted to go there again, to walk again in the silence. He
did walk to where the road dipped down by a little stream two miles from
town and then turned and walked silently back again. When he got to Main
Street clerks were sweeping the sidewalks before the stores. "Hey, you
George. How does it feel to be going away?" they asked.
The westbound train leaves Winesburg at seven forty-five in the
morning. Tom Little is conductor. His train runs from Cleveland to where it
connects with a great trunk line railroad with terminals in Chicago and New
York. Tom has what in railroad circles is called an "easy run." Every
evening he returns to his family. In the fall and spring he spends his
Sundays fishing in Lake Erie. He has a round red face and small blue eyes.
He knows the people in the towns along his railroad better than a city man
knows the people who live in his apartment building.
George came down the little incline from the New Willard House at seven
o'clock. Tom Willard carried his bag. The son had become taller than the
On the station platform everyone shook the young man's hand. More than
a dozen people waited about. Then they talked of their own affairs. Even
Will Henderson, who was lazy and often slept until nine, had got out of bed.
George was embarrassed. Gertrude Wilmot, a tall thin woman of fifty who
worked in the Winesburg post office, came along the station platform. She
had never before paid any attention to George. Now she stopped and put out
her hand. In two words she voiced what everyone felt. "Good luck," she said
sharply and then turning went on her way.
When the train came into the station George felt relieved. He scampered
hurriedly aboard. Helen White came running along Main Street hoping to have
a parting word with him, but he had found a seat and did not see her. When
the train started Tom Little punched his ticket, grinned and, although he
knew George well and knew on what adventure he was just setting out, made no
comment. Tom had seen a thousand George Willards go out of their towns to
the city. It was a commonplace enough incident with him. In the smoking car
there was a man who had just invited Tom to go on a fishing trip to Sandusky
Bay. He wanted to accept the invitation and talk over details.
George glanced up and down the car to be sure no one was looking, then
took out his pocketbook and counted his money. His mind was occupied with a
desire not to appear green. Almost the last words his father had said to him
concerned the matter of his behavior when he got to the city. "Be a sharp
one," Tom Willard had said. "Keep your eyes on your money. Be awake. That's
the ticket. Don't let anyone think you're a greenhorn."
After George counted his money he looked out of the window and was
surprised to see that the train was still in Winesburg.
The young man, going out of his town to meet the adventure of life,
began to think but he did not think of anything very big or dramatic. Things
like his mother's death, his departure from Winesburg, the uncertainty of
his future life in the city, the serious and larger aspects of his life did
not come into his mind.
He thought of little things--Turk Smollet wheeling boards through the
main street of his town in the morning, a tall woman, beautifully gowned,
who had once stayed overnight at his father's hotel, Butch Wheeler the lamp
lighter of Winesburg hurrying through the streets on a summer evening and
holding a torch in his hand, Helen White standing by a window in the
Winesburg post office and putting a stamp on an envelope.
The young man's mind was carried away by his growing passion for
dreams. One looking at him would not have thought him particularly sharp.
With the recollection of little things occupying his mind he closed his eyes
and leaned back in the car seat. He stayed that way for a long time and when
he aroused himself and again looked out of the car window the town of
Winesburg had disappeared and his life there had become but a background on
which to paint the dreams of his manhood.
Sherwood Anderson. Winesburg, Ohio
Last-modified: Wed, 26 May 2004 18:17:38 GMT