The Return by Sherwood Anderson
Eighteen years. Well, he was driving a good car, an expensive
roadster. He was well clad, a rather solid, fine-looking man, not
too heavy. When he had left the Middle-Western town to go live in
New York City he was twenty-two and now, on his way back, he was
forty. He drove toward the town from the east, stopping for lunch
at another town ten miles away.
When he went away from Caxton, after his mother died, he used
to write letters to friends at home, but after several months the
replies began to come with less and less frequency. On the day
when he sat eating his lunch at a small hotel in the town ten
miles east of Caxton he suddenly thought of the reason, and was
ashamed. "Am I going back there on this visit for the same reason
I wrote the letters?" he asked himself. For a moment he thought
he might not go on. There was still time to turn back.
Outside, in the principal business street of the neighboring
town, people were walking about. The sun shone warmly. Although
he had lived for so many years in New York, he had always kept,
buried away in him somewhere, a hankering for his own country.
All the day before he had been driving through the Eastern Ohio
country, crossing many small streams, running down through small
valleys, seeing the white farmhouses set back from the road, and
the big red barns.
The elders were still in bloom along the fences, boys were
swimming in a creek, the wheat had been cut, and now the corn was
shoulder-high. Everywhere the drone of bees; in patches of
woodland along the road, a heavy, mysterious silence.
Now, however, he began thinking of something else. Shame crept
over him. "When I first left Caxton, I wrote letters back to my
boyhood friends there, but I wrote always of myself. When I had
written a letter telling what I was doing in the city, what
friends I was making, what my prospects were, I put, at the very
end of the letter, perhaps, a little inquiry: 'I hope you are
well. How are things going with you?' Something of that
The returning native--his name was John Holden--had grown very
uneasy. After eighteen years it seemed to him he could see, lying
before him, one of the letters written eighteen years before,
when he had first come into the strange Eastern city. His
mother's brother, a successful architect in the city, had given
him such and such an opportunity: he had been at the theater to
see Mansfield as Brutus; he had taken the night boat up-river to
Albany with his aunt; there were two very handsome girls on the
Everything must have been in the same tone. His uncle had
given him a rare opportunity, and he had taken advantage of it.
In time he had also become a successful architect. In New York
City there were certain great buildings, two or three
skyscrapers, several huge industrial plants, any number of
handsome and expensive residences, that were the products of his
When it came down to scratch, John Holden had to admit that
his uncle had not been excessively fond of him. It had just
happened that his aunt and uncle had no children of their own. He
did his work in the office well and carefully, had developed a
certain rather striking knack for design. The aunt had liked him
better. She had always tried to think of him as her own son, had
treated him as a son. Sometimes she called him son. Once or
twice, after his uncle died, he had a notion. His aunt was a good
woman, but sometimes he thought she would rather have enjoyed
having him, John Holden, go in a bit more for wickedness, go a
little on the loose, now and then. He never did anything she had
to forgive him for. Perhaps she hungered for the opportunity to
Odd thoughts, eh? Well, what was a fellow to do? You had but
the one life to live. You had to think of yourself.
Botheration! John Holden had rather counted on the trip back
to Caxton, had really counted on it more than he realized. It was
a bright Summer day. He had been driving over the mountains of
Pennsylvania, through New York State, through Eastern Ohio.
Gertrude, his wife, had died during the Summer before, and his
one son, a lad of twelve, had gone away for the Summer to a boys'
camp in Vermont.
The idea had just come to him. "I'll drive the car along
slowly through the country, drinking it in. I need a rest, time
to think. What I really need is to renew old acquaintances. I'll
go back to Caxton and stay several days. I'll see Herman and
Frank and Joe. Then I'll go call on Lillian and Kate. What a lot
of fun, really!" It might just be that when he got to Caxton, the
Caxton ball team would be playing a game, say with a team from
Yerington. Lillian might go to the game with him. It was in his
mind faintly that Lillian had never married. How did he know
that? He had heard nothing from Caxton for many years. The ball
game would be in Heffler's field, and he and Lillian would go out
there, walking under the maple trees along Turner Street, past
the old stave factory, then in the dust of the road, past where
the sawmill used to stand, and on into the field itself. He would
be carrying a sunshade over Lillian's head, and Bob French would
be standing at the gate where you went into the field and
charging the people twenty-five cents to see the game.
Well, it would not be Bob; his son, perhaps. There would be
something very nice in the notion of Lillian's going off to a
ball game that way with an old sweetheart. A crowd of boys, women
and men, going through a cattle gate into Heffler's field,
tramping through the dust, young men with their sweethearts, a
few gray-haired women, mothers of boys who belonged to the team,
Lillian and he sitting in the rickety grandstand in the hot
Once it had been--how they had felt, he and Lillian, sitting
there together! It had been rather hard to keep the attention
centered on the players in the field. One couldn't ask a
neighbor, "Who's ahead now, Caxton or Yerington?" Lillian's hands
lay in her lap. What white, delicate, expressive hands they were!
Once--that was just before he went away to live in the city with
his uncle and but a month after his mother died--he and Lillian
went to the ball field together at night. His father had died
when he was a young lad, and he had no relatives left in the
town. Going off to the ball field at night was maybe a risky
thing for Lillian to do--risky for her reputation if any one
found it out--but she had seemed willing enough. You know how
small-town girls of that age are.
Her father owned a retail shoe store in Caxton, and was a
good, respectable man; but the Holdens--John's father had been a
After they got back from the ball field that night--it must
have been after midnight--they went to sit on the front porch
before her father's house. He must have known. A daughter
cavorting about half the night with a young man that way! They
had clung to each other with a sort of queer, desperate feeling
neither understood. She did not go into the house until after
three o'clock, and went then only because he insisted. He hadn't
wanted to ruin her reputation. Why, he might have . . . She was
like a little frightened child at the thought of his going away.
He was twenty-two then, and she must have been about
Eighteen and twenty-two make forty. John Holden was forty on
the day when he sat at lunch at the hotel in the town ten miles
Now, he thought, he might be able to walk through the streets
of Caxton to the ball park with Lillian with a certain effect.
You know how it is. One has to accept the fact that youth is
gone. If there should turn out to be such a ball game and Lillian
would go with him, he would leave the car in the garage and ask
her to walk. One saw pictures of that sort of thing in the
movies--a man coming back to his native village after twenty
years; a new beauty taking the place of the beauty of
youth--something like that. In the Spring the leaves on maple
trees are lovely, but they are even more lovely in the Fall--a
flame of color--manhood and womanhood.
After he had finished his lunch John did not feel very
comfortable. The road to Caxton--it used to take nearly three
hours to travel the distance with a horse and buggy, but now, and
without any effort, the distance might be made in twenty
He lit a cigar and went for a walk, not in the streets of
Caxton, but in the streets of the town ten miles away. If he got
to Caxton in the evening, just at dusk, say, now . . .
With an inward pang John realized that he wanted darkness, the
kindliness of soft evening lights. Lillian, Joe, Herman and the
rest. It had been eighteen years for the others as well as for
himself. Now he had succeeded, a little, in twisting his fear of
Caxton into fear for the others, and it made him feel somewhat
better; but at once he realized what he was doing and again felt
uncomfortable. One had to look out for changes, new people, new
buildings, middle-aged people grown old, youth grown middle-aged.
At any rate, he was thinking of the other now. He wasn't, as when
he wrote letters home eighteen years before, thinking only of
himself. "Am I?" It was a question.
An absurd situation, really. He had sailed along so gayly
through upper New York State, through Western Pennsylvania,
through Eastern Ohio. Men were at work in the fields and in the
towns, farmers drove into towns in their cars, clouds of dust
rose on some distant road, seen across a valley. Once he had
stopped his car near a bridge and had gone for a walk along the
banks of a creek where it wound through a wood.
He was liking people. Well, he had never before given much
time to people, to thinking of them and their affairs. "I hadn't
time," he told himself. He had always realized that, while he was
a good enough architect, things move fast in America. New men
were coming on. He couldn't take chances of going on forever on
his uncle's reputation. A man had to be always on the alert.
Fortunately, his marriage had been a help. It had made valuable
connections for him.
Twice he had picked up people on the road. There was a lad of
sixteen from some town of Eastern Pennsylvania, working his way
westward toward the Pacific Coast by picking up rides in cars--a
Summer's adventure. John had carried him all of one day and had
listened to his talk with keen pleasure. And so this was the
younger generation. The boy had nice eyes and an eager, friendly
manner. He smoked cigarettes, and once, when they had a puncture,
he was very quick and eager about changing the tire. "Now, don't
you soil your hands, Mister, I can do it like a flash," he said,
and he did. The boy said he intended working his way overland to
the Pacific Coast, where he would try to get a job of some kind
on an ocean freighter, and that, if he did, he would go on around
the world. "But do you speak any foreign languages?" The boy did
not. Across John Holden's mind flashed pictures of hot Eastern
deserts, crowded Asiatic towns, wild half-savage mountain
countries. As a young architect, and before his uncle died, he
had spent two years in foreign travel, studying buildings in many
countries; but he said nothing of this thought to the boy. Vast
plans entered into with eager, boyish abandon, a world tour
undertaken as he, when a young man, might have undertaken to find
his way from his uncle's house in East Eighty-first Street
downtown to the Battery. "How do I know--perhaps he will do it?"
John thought. The day in company with the boy had been very
pleasant, and he had been on the alert to pick him up again the
next morning; but the boy had gone on his way, had caught a ride
with some earlier riser. Why hadn't John invited him to his hotel
for the night? The notion hadn't come to him until too late.
Youth, rather wild and undisciplined, running wild, eh? I
wonder why I never did it, never wanted to do it.
If he had been a bit wilder, more reckless--that night, that
time when he and Lillian . . . "It's all right being reckless
with yourself, but when some one else is involved, a young girl
in a small town, you yourself lighting out . . ." He remembered
sharply that on the night, long before, as he sat with Lillian on
the porch before her father's house, his hand . . . It had seemed
as though Lillian, on that evening, might not have objected to
anything he wanted to do. He had thought--well, he had thought of
the consequences. Women must be protected by men, all that sort
of thing. Lillian had seemed rather stunned when he walked away,
even though it was three o'clock in the morning. She had been
rather like a person waiting at a railroad station for the coming
of a train. There is a blackboard, and a strange man comes out
and writes on it, "Train Number 287 has been
discontinued"--something like that.
Well, it had been all right.
Later, four years later, he had married a New York woman of
good family. Even in a city like New York, where there are so
many people, her family had been well known. They had
After marriage, sometimes, it is true, he had wondered.
Gertrude used to look at him sometimes with an odd light in her
eyes. That boy he picked up in the road--once during the day when
he said something to the boy, the same queer look came into his
eyes. It would be rather upsetting if you knew that the boy had
purposely avoided you next morning. There had been Gertrude's
cousin. Once after his marriage, John heard a rumor that Gertrude
had wanted to marry that cousin, but of course he had said
nothing to her. Why should he have? She was his wife. There had
been, he had heard, a good deal of family objection to the
cousin. He was reputed to be wild, a gambler and drinker.
Once the cousin came to the Holden apartment at two in the
morning, drunk and demanding that he be allowed to see Gertrude,
and she slipped on a dressing-gown and went down to him. That was
in the hallway of the apartment, downstairs, where almost any one
might have come in and seen her. As a matter of fact, the
elevator boy and janitor did see her. She had stood in the
hallway below talking for nearly an hour. What about? He had
never asked Gertrude directly, and she had never told him
anything. When she came upstairs again and had got into her bed,
he lay in his own bed trembling, but remained silent. He had been
afraid that if he spoke he might say something rude; better keep
still. The cousin had disappeared. John had a suspicion that
Gertrude later supplied him with money. He went out West
Now Gertrude was dead. She had always seemed very well, but
suddenly she was attacked by a baffling kind of slow fever that
lasted nearly a year. Sometimes she seemed about to get better,
and then suddenly the fever grew worse. It might be that she did
not want to live. What a notion! John had been at the bedside
with the doctor when she died. There was something of the same
feeling he had that night of his youth when he went with Lillian
to the ball field, an odd sense of inadequacy. There was no doubt
that in some subtle way both women had accused him.
Of what? There had always been, in some vague, indefinable
way, a kind of accusation in the attitude toward him of his
uncle, the architect, and of his aunt. They had left him their
money, but . . . It was as though the uncle had said, as though
Lillian during that night long ago had said . . .
Had they all said the same thing, and was Gertrude his wife
saying it as she lay dying? A smile. "You have always taken such
good care of yourself, haven't you, John dear? You have observed
the rules. You have taken no chances for yourself or the others."
She had actually said something of that sort to him once in a
moment of anger.
In the small town ten miles from Caxton there wasn't any park
to which a man could go to sit. If one stayed about the hotel,
some one from Caxton might come in. "Hello, what are you doing
It would be inconvenient to explain. He had wanted the
kindliness of soft evening light, both for himself and the old
friends he was to see again.
He began thinking of his son, now a boy of twelve. "Well," he
said to himself, "his character has not begun to form yet." There
was, as yet, in the son, an unconsciousness of other people, a
rather casual selfishness, an unawareness of others, an unhealthy
sharpness about getting the best of others. It was a thing that
should be corrected in him and at once. John Holden had got
himself into a small panic. "I must write him a letter at once.
Such a habit gets fixed in a boy and then in the man, and it
cannot later be shaken off. There are such a lot of people living
in the world! Every man and woman has his own point of view. To
be civilized, really, is to be aware of the others, their hopes,
their gladnesses, their illusions about life."
John Holden was now walking along a residence street of a
small Ohio town, composing in fancy a letter to his son in the
boys' camp in Vermont. He was a man who wrote to his son every
day. "I think a man should," he told himself. "He should remember
that now the boy has no mother."
He had come to an outlying railroad station. It was neat with
grass and flowers growing in a round bed in the very center of a
lawn. Some man, the station agent and telegraph operator perhaps,
passed him and went inside the station. John followed him in. On
the wall of the waiting-room there was a framed copy of the
time-table, and he stood studying it. A train went to Caxton at
five. Another train came from Caxton and passed through the town
he was now in at seven forty-three, the seven-nineteen out of
Caxton. The man in the small business section of the station
opened a sliding-panel and looked at him. The two men just stared
at each other without speaking, and then the panel was slid shut
John looked at his watch. Two twenty-eight. At about six he
could drive over to Caxton and dine at the hotel there. After he
had dined, it would be evening and people would be coming into
the main street. The seven-nineteen would come in. When John was
a lad, sometimes, he, Joe, Herman, and often several other lads
had climbed on the front of the baggage or mail car and had
stolen a ride to the very town he was now in. What a thrill,
crouched down in the gathering darkness on the platform as the
train ran the ten miles, the car rocking from side to side! When
it got a little dark, in the Fall or Spring, the fields beside
the track were lighted up when the fireman opened his fire box to
throw in coal. Once John saw a rabbit running along in the glare
of light beside the track. He could have reached down and caught
it with his hand. In the neighboring town the boys went into
saloons and played pool and drank beer. They could depend upon
catching a ride back home on the local freight that got to Caxton
at about ten thirty. On one of the adventures John and Herman got
drunk and Joe had to help them into an empty coal car and later
get them out at Caxton. Herman got sick, and when they were
getting off the freight at Caxton, he stumbled and came very near
falling under the wheels of the moving train. John wasn't as
drunk as Herman. When the others weren't looking, he had poured
several of the glasses of beer into a spittoon. In Caxton he and
Joe had to walk about with Herman for several hours and when John
finally got home, his mother was still awake and was worried. He
had to lie to her. "I drove out into the country with Herman, and
a wheel broke. We had to walk home." The reason Joe could carry
his beer so well was because he was German. His father owned the
town meat market and the family had beer on the table at home. No
wonder it did not knock him out as it did Herman and John.
There was a bench at the side of the railroad station, in the
shade, and John sat there for a long time--two hours, three
hours. Why hadn't he brought a book? In fancy he composed a
letter to his son and in it he spoke of the fields lying beside
the road outside the town of Caxton, of his greeting old friends
there, of things that had happened when he was a boy. He even
spoke of his former sweetheart, of Lillian. If he now thought out
just what he was going to say in the letter, he could write it in
his room at the hotel over in Caxton in a few minutes without
having to stop and think what he was going to say. You can't
always be too fussy about what you say to a young boy. Really,
sometimes, you should take him into your confidence, into your
life, make him a part of your life.
It was six twenty when John drove into Caxton and went to the
hotel, where he registered, and was shown to a room. On the
streets as he drove into town he saw Billy Baker, who, when he
was a young man, had a paralyzed leg that dragged along the
sidewalk when he walked. Now he was getting old; his face seemed
wrinkled and faded, like a dried lemon, and his clothes had spots
down the front. People, even sick people, live a long time in
small Ohio towns. It is surprising how they hang on.
John had put his car, of a rather expensive make, into a
garage beside the hotel. Formerly, in his day, the building had
been used as a livery barn. There used to be pictures of famous
trotting and pacing horses on the walls of the little office at
the front. Old Dave Grey, who owned race horses of his own, ran
the livery barn then, and John occasionally hired a rig there. He
hired a rig and took Lillian for a ride into the country, along
moonlit roads. By a lonely farmhouse a dog barked. Sometimes they
drove along a little dirt road lined with elders and stopped the
horse. How still everything was! What a queer feeling they had!
They couldn't talk. Sometimes they sat in silence thus, very near
each other, for a long, long time. Once they got out of the
buggy, having tied the horse to the fence, and walked in a newly
cut hay field. The cut hay lay all about in little cocks. John
wanted to lie on one of the haycocks with Lillian, but did not
dare suggest it.
At the hotel John ate his dinner in silence. There wasn't even
a traveling salesman in the dining-room, and presently the
proprietor's wife came and stood by his table to talk with him.
The hotel had a good many tourists, but this just happened to be
a quiet day. Dull days came that way in the hotel business. The
woman's husband was a traveling man and had bought the hotel to
give his wife something to keep her interested while he was on
the road. He was away from home so much! They had come to Caxton
After he had dined, John went up to his room, and presently
the woman followed. The door leading into the hall had been left
open, and she came and stood in the doorway. Really, she was
rather handsome. She only wanted to be sure that everything was
all right, that he had towels and soap and everything he
For a time she lingered by the door talking of the town.
"It's a good little town. General Hurst is buried here. You
should drive out to the cemetery and see the statue." He wondered
who General Hurst was. In what war had he fought. Odd that he
hadn't remembered about him. The town had a piano factory, and
there was a watch company from Cincinnati talking of putting up a
plant. "They figure there is less chance of labor trouble in a
small town like this."
The woman went reluctantly away. As she was going along the
hallway she stopped once and looked back. There was something a
little queer. They were both self-conscious. "I hope you'll be
comfortable," she said. At forty a man did not come home to his
own home town to start . . . A traveling man's wife, eh? Well!
At seven forty-five John went out for a walk on Main Street
and almost at once he met Tom Ballard, who at once recognized
him, a fact that pleased Tom. He bragged about it. "Once I see a
face, I never forget. Well! Well!" When John was twenty-two, Tom
must have been about fifteen. His father was the leading doctor
of the town. He took John in tow, walked back with him toward the
hotel. He kept exclaiming: "I knew you at once. You haven't
changed much, really."
Tom was in his turn a doctor, and there was about him
something . . . Right away John guessed what it was. They went up
into John's room, and John, having in his bag a bottle of whisky,
poured Tom a drink, which he took somewhat too eagerly, John
thought. There was talk. After Tom had taken the drink he sat on
the edge of the bed, still holding the bottle John had passed to
him. Herman was running a dray now. He had married Kit Small and
had five kids. Joe was working for the International Harvester
Company. "I don't know whether he's in town now or not. He's a
trouble-shooter, a swell mechanic, a good fellow," Tom said. He
As for Lillian, mentioned with an air of being casual by John,
he, John, knew of course that she had been married and divorced.
There was some sort of trouble about another man. Her husband
married again later, and now she lived with her mother, her
father, the shoe merchant, having died. Tom spoke somewhat
guardedly, as though protecting a friend.
"I guess she's all right now, going straight and all. Good
thing she never had any kids. She's a little nervous and queer;
has lost her looks a good deal."
The two men went downstairs and, walking along Main Street,
got into a car belonging to the doctor.
"I'll take you for a little ride," Tom said; but as he was
about to pull away from the curb where the car had been parked,
he turned and smiled at his passenger. "We ought to celebrate a
little, account of your coming back here," he said. "What do you
say to a quart?"
John handed him a ten-dollar bill, and he disappeared into a
nearby drug store. When he came back he laughed.
"I used your name, all right. They didn't recognize it. In the
prescription I wrote out I said you had a general breakdown, that
you needed to be built up. I recommended that you take a
teaspoonful three times a day. Lord! my prescription book is
getting almost empty." The drug store belonged to a man named
Will Bennett. "You remember him, maybe. He's Ed Bennett's son;
married Carrie Wyatt." The names were but dim things in John's
mind. "This man is going to get drunk. He is going to try to get
me drunk, too," he thought.
When they had turned out of Main Street and into Walnut Street
they stopped midway between two street lights and had another
drink, John holding the bottle to his lips, but putting his
tongue over the opening. He remembered the evenings with Joe and
Herman when he had secretly poured his beer into a spittoon. He
felt cold and lonely. Walnut Street was one along which he used
to walk, coming home late at night from Lillian's house. He
remembered people who then lived along the street, and a list of
names began running through his head. Often the names remained,
but did not call up images of people. They were just names. He
hoped the doctor would not turn the car into the street in which
the Holdens had lived. Lillian had lived over in another part of
town, in what was called "The Red House District." Just why it
had been called that John did not know.
They drove silently along, up a small hill, and came to the
edge of town, going south. Stopping before a house that had
evidently been built since John's time, Tom sounded his horn.
"Didn't the fair grounds used to stand about here?" John
asked. The doctor turned and nodded his head.
"Yes, just here," he said. He kept on sounding his horn, and a
man and woman came out of the house and stood in the road beside
"Let's get Maud and Alf and all go over to Lylse's Point," Tom
said. John had indeed been taken into tow. For a time he wondered
if he was to be introduced. "We got some hooch. Meet John Holden;
used to live here years ago." At the fair grounds, when John was
a lad, Dave Grey, the livery man, used to work out his race
horses in the early morning. Herman, who was a horse enthusiast,
dreaming of some day becoming a horseman, came often to John's
house in the early morning and the two boys went off to the fair
grounds without breakfast. Herman had got some sandwiches made of
slices of bread and cold meat out of his mother's pantry. They
went 'cross-lots, climbing fences and eating the sandwiches. In a
meadow they had to cross there was heavy dew on the grass, and
meadow larks flew up before them. Herman had at least come
somewhere near expressing in his life his youthful passion: he
still lived about horses; he owned a dray. With a little inward
qualm John wondered. Perhaps Herman ran a motor-truck.
The man and woman got into the car, the woman on the back seat
with John, the husband in front with Tom, and they drove away to
another house. John could not keep track of the streets they
passed through. Occasionally he asked the woman, "What street are
we in now?" They were joined by Maud and Alf, who also crowded
into the back seat. Maud was a slender woman of twenty-eight or
thirty, with yellow hair and blue eyes, and at once she seemed
determined to make up to John. "I don't take more than an inch of
room," she said, laughing and squeezing herself in between John
and the first woman, whose name he could not later remember.
He had rather liked Maud. When the car had been driven some
eighteen miles along a gravel road, they came to Lylse's
farmhouse, which had been converted into a road-house, and got
out. Maud had been silent most of the way, but she sat very close
to John and as he felt cold and lonely, he was grateful for the
warmth of her slender body. Occasionally she spoke to him in a
half-whisper: "Ain't the night swell! Gee! I like it out in the
dark this way."
Lylse's Point was at a bend of the Samson River, a small
stream to which John as a lad had occasionally gone on fishing
excursions with his father. Later he went out there several times
with crowds of young fellows and their girls. They drove out then
in Grey's old bus, and the trip out and back took several hours.
On the way home at night they had great fun singing at the top of
their voices and waking the sleeping farmers along the road.
Occasionally some of the party got out and walked for a way. It
was a chance for a fellow to kiss his girl when the others could
not see. By hurrying a little, they could easily enough catch up
with the bus.
A rather heavy-faced Italian named Francisco owned Lylse's,
and it had a dance hall and dining-room. Drinks could be had if
you knew the ropes, and it was evident the doctor and his friends
were old acquaintances. At once they declared John should not buy
anything, the declaration, in fact, being made before he had
offered. "You're our guest now; don't you forget that. When we
come sometime to your town, then it will be all right," Tom said.
He laughed. "And that makes me think. I forgot your change," he
said, handing John a five-dollar bill. The whisky got at the
drug-store had been consumed on the way out, all except John and
Maud drinking heartily. "I don't like the stuff. Do you, Mr.
Holden?" Maud said and giggled. Twice during the trip out her
fingers had crept over and touched lightly his fingers, and each
time she had apologized. "Oh, do excuse me!" she said. John felt
a little as he had felt earlier in the evening when the woman of
the hotel had come to stand at the door of his room and had
seemed reluctant about going away.
After they got out of the car at Lylse's, he felt
uncomfortably old and queer. "What am I doing here with these
people?" he kept asking himself. When they had got into the
light, he stole a look at his watch. It was not yet nine o'clock.
Several other cars, most of them, the doctor explained, from
Yerington, stood before the door, and when they had taken several
drinks of rather mild Italian red wine, all of the party except
Maud and John went into the dance hall to dance. The doctor took
John aside and whispered to him: "Lay off Maud," he said. He
explained hurriedly that Alf and Maud had been having a row and
that for several days they had not spoken to each other, although
they lived in the same house, ate at the same table, and slept in
the same bed. "He thinks she gets too gay with men," Tom
explained. "You better look out a little."
The woman and man sat on a bench under a tree on the lawn
before the house, and when the others had danced, they came out,
bringing more drinks. Tom had got some more whisky. "It's moon,
but pretty good stuff," he declared. In the clear sky overhead
stars were shining, and when the others were dancing, John turned
his head and saw across the road and between the trees that lined
its banks the stars reflected in the waters of the Samson. A
light from the house fell on Maud's face, a strikingly lovely
face in that light, but when looked at closely, rather petulant.
"A good deal of the spoiled child in her," John thought.
She began asking him about life in the city of New York.
"I was there once, but for only three days. It was when I went
to school in the East. A girl I knew lived there. She married a
lawyer named Trigan, or something like that. You didn't know him,
And now there was a hungry, dissatisfied look on her face.
"God! I'd like to live in a place like that, not in this hole!
There hadn't no man better tempt me." When she said that she
giggled again. Once during the evening they walked across the
dusty road and stood for a time by the river's edge, but got back
to the bench before the others finished their dance. Maud
persistently refused to dance.
At ten thirty, all of the others having got a little drunk,
they drove back to town, Maud again sitting beside John. On the
drive Alf went to sleep. Maud pressed her slender body against
John's, and after two or three futile moves to which he made no
special response, she boldly put her hand into his. The second
woman and her husband talked with Tom of people they had seen at
Lylse's. "Do you think there's anything up between Fanny and Joe?
No; I think she's on the square."
They got to John's hotel at eleven thirty, and, bidding them
all good night, he went upstairs. Alf had awakened. When they
were parting, he leaned out of the car and looked closely at
John. "What did you say your name was?" he asked.
John went up a dark stairway and sat on the bed in his room.
Lillian had lost her looks. She had married, and her husband had
divorced her. Joe was a trouble-shooter. He worked for the
International Harvester Company, a swell mechanic. Herman was a
drayman. He had five kids.
Three men in a room next to John's were playing poker. They
laughed and talked, and their voices came clearly to John. "You
think so, do you? Well, I'll prove you're wrong." A mild quarrel
began. As it was Summer, the windows of John's room were open,
and he went to one to stand, looking out. A moon had come up, and
he could see down into an alleyway. Two men came out of a street
and stood in the alleyway, whispering. After they left, two cats
crept along a roof and began a love-making scene. The game in the
next room broke up. John could hear voices in the hallway.
"Now, forget it. I tell you, you're both wrong." John thought
of his son at the camp up in Vermont. "I haven't written him a
letter today." He felt guilty.
Opening his bag, he took out paper and sat down to write; but
after two or three attempts gave it up and put the paper away
again. How fine the night had been as he sat on the bench beside
the woman at Lylse's! Now the woman was in bed with her husband.
They were not speaking to each other.
"Could I do it?" John asked himself, and then, for the first
time that evening, a smile came to his lips.
"Why not?" he asked himself.
With his bag in his hand he went down the dark hallway and
into the hotel office and began pounding on a desk. A fat old man
with thin red hair and sleep-heavy eyes appeared from somewhere.
"I can't sleep. I think I'll drive on. I want to get to
Pittsburgh and as I can't sleep, I might as well be driving." He
paid his bill.
Then he asked the clerk to go and arouse the man in the
garage, and gave him an extra dollar. "If I need gas, is there
any place open?" he asked, but evidently the man did not hear.
Perhaps he thought the question absurd.
He stood in the moonlight on the sidewalk before the door of
the hotel and heard the clerk pounding on a door. Presently
voices were heard, and the headlights of his car shone. The car
appeared, driven by a boy. He seemed very alive and alert.
"I saw you out to Lylse's," he said, and, without being asked,
went to look at the tank. "You're all right; you got 'most eight
gallons," he assured John, who had climbed into the driver's
How friendly the car, how friendly the night! John was not one
who enjoyed fast driving, but he went out of the town at very
high speed. "You go down two blocks, turn to your right, and go
three. There you hit the cement. Go right straight to the east.
You can't miss it."
John was taking the turns at racing speed. At the edge of town
some one shouted to him from the darkness, but he did not stop.
He hungered to get into the road going east.
"I'll let her out," he thought. "Lord! It will be fun! I'll
let her out."