Saturday, November 10, 2007


Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson
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 explanation.
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 critical doubt.
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
All men lead their lives behind a wall of misunderstanding
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, becomes
absorbed in doing something that is personal,
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
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 moral signature.
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
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
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
Sherwood Anderson.
To the memory of my mother,
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 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
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
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,
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 writer's
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
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
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
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 them."
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 nervously.
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 dream.
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 rosary.
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
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 about
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 laughter.
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 began again.
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 to her.
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
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
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 Winesburg.
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 the
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
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
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
"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,
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
"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
kitchen table.
"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
"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 things.
"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 king.
"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 the kind.
"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 him."
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, uselessly 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 yourself forget."
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 turn back.
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
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 quiet,
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
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 Jesse's uncle.
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 earlier day.
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 eagerness.
"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 men.
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
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
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
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 mind.
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
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
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
between them.
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 misunderstanding.
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 subject.
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
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 cigar.
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
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.
* * *
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 end.
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
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
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
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 toward David.
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 panic.
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
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
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 worth considering.
"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
"Not that I think that has anything to do with it.
There it is, you see. You understand how puzzled I
"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,
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 past.
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
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
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 son.
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 that."
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 us."
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 life.
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 everyday life.
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
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
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 soiled.
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 plan.
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
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 quickly,
"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--
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 and blacks.
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
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 him.
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
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
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 Willard.
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 do it."
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
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
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
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
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 town.
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 sidewalk.
"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
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 a boy."
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
"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 mother's
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 together.
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
"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 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 added philosophically.
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 the Christ.
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 need."
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
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 in bed.
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
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 again.
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
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 swearing
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,
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 York.
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 Enoch Robinson.
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
"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 was."
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 night.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 window.
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
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 thought.
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 fields.
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 and starched."
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 worried."
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 it."
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 will."
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 for himself.
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
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
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 so
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 jail together.
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
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 eyes.
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 tell him."
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 have kids."
Ray Pearson also laughed. He felt like laughing at
himself and all the world.
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
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 baggage
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
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
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
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 Tom's outbreak.
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
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
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 alleyway.
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 it is."
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 to explain.
"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
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 own affairs.
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 promise."
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
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 angrily.
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 bitter weather.
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
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 colors.
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 mused.
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 talking."
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 street.
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
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
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
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
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
thing felt.
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
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
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
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
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
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 father.
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.

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