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Triumph of the Egg and Other Stories, stories by Sherwood Anderson


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Mary Cochran went out of the rooms where she lived with her father,
Doctor Lester Cochran, at seven o'clock on a Sunday evening. It was
June of the year nineteen hundred and eight and Mary was eighteen years
old. She walked along Tremont to Main Street and across the railroad
tracks to Upper Main, lined with small shops and shoddy houses, a
rather quiet cheerless place on Sundays when there were few people
about. She had told her father she was going to church but did not
intend doing anything of the kind. She did not know what she wanted to
do. "I'll get off by myself and think," she told herself as she walked
slowly along. The night she thought promised to be too fine to be spent
sitting in a stuffy church and hearing a man talk of things that had
apparently nothing to do with her own problem. Her own affairs were
approaching a crisis and it was time for her to begin thinking
seriously of her future.

The thoughtful serious state of mind in which Mary found herself had
been induced in her by a conversation had with her father on the
evening before. Without any preliminary talk and quite suddenly and
abruptly he had told her that he was a victim of heart disease and
might die at any moment. He had made the announcement as they stood
together in the Doctor's office, back of which were the rooms in which
the father and daughter lived.

It was growing dark outside when she came into the office and found him
sitting alone. The office and living rooms were on the second floor of
an old frame building in the town of Huntersburg, Illinois, and as the
Doctor talked he stood beside his daughter near one of the windows that
looked down into Tremont Street. The hushed murmur of the town's
Saturday night life went on in Main Street just around a corner, and
the evening train, bound to Chicago fifty miles to the east, had just
passed. The hotel bus came rattling out of Lincoln Street and went
through Tremont toward the hotel on Lower Main. A cloud of dust kicked
up by the horses' hoofs floated on the quiet air. A straggling group of
people followed the bus and the row of hitching posts on Tremont Street
was already lined with buggies in which farmers and their wives had
driven into town for the evening of shopping and gossip.

After the station bus had passed three or four more buggies were driven
into the street. From one of them a young man helped his sweetheart to
alight. He took hold of her arm with a certain air of tenderness, and a
hunger to be touched thus tenderly by a man's hand, that had come to
Mary many times before, returned at almost the same moment her father
made the announcement of his approaching death.

As the Doctor began to speak Barney Smithfield, who owned a livery barn
that opened into Tremont Street directly opposite the building in which
the Cochrans lived, came back to his place of business from his evening
meal. He stopped to tell a story to a group of men gathered before the
barn door and a shout of laughter arose. One of the loungers in the
street, a strongly built young man in a checkered suit, stepped away
from the others and stood before the liveryman. Having seen Mary he was
trying to attract her attention. He also began to tell a story and as
he talked he gesticulated, waved his arms and from time to time looked
over his shoulder to see if the girl still stood by the window and if
she were watching.

Doctor Cochran had told his daughter of his approaching death in a cold
quiet voice. To the girl it had seemed that everything concerning her
father must be cold and quiet. "I have a disease of the heart," he said
flatly, "have long suspected there was something of the sort the matter
with me and on Thursday when I went into Chicago I had myself examined.
The truth is I may die at any moment. I would not tell you but for one
reason--I will leave little money and you must be making plans for the

The Doctor stepped nearer the window where his daughter stood with her
hand on the frame. The announcement had made her a little pale and her
hand trembled. In spite of his apparent coldness he was touched and
wanted to reassure her. "There now," he said hesitatingly, "it'll
likely be all right after all. Don't worry. I haven't been a doctor for
thirty years without knowing there's a great deal of nonsense about
these pronouncements on the part of experts. In a matter like this,
that is to say when a man has a disease of the heart, he may putter
about for years." He laughed uncomfortably. "I've even heard it said
that the best way to insure a long life is to contract a disease of the

With these words the Doctor had turned and walked out of his office,
going down a wooden stairway to the street. He had wanted to put his
arm about his daughter's shoulder as he talked to her, but never having
shown any feeling in his relations with her could not sufficiently
release some tight thing in himself.

Mary had stood for a long time looking down into the street. The young
man in the checkered suit, whose name was Duke Yetter, had finished
telling his tale and a shout of laughter arose. She turned to look
toward the door through which her father had passed and dread took
possession of her. In all her life there had never been anything warm
and close. She shivered although the night was warm and with a quick
girlish gesture passed her hand over her eyes.

The gesture was but an expression of a desire to brush away the cloud
of fear that had settled down upon her but it was misinterpreted by
Duke Yetter who now stood a little apart from the other men before the
livery barn. When he saw Mary's hand go up he smiled and turning
quickly to be sure he was unobserved began jerking his head and making
motions with his hand as a sign that he wished her to come down into
the street where he would have an opportunity to join her.

* * * * *

On the Sunday evening Mary, having walked through Upper Main, turned
into Wilmott, a street of workmens' houses. During that year the first
sign of the march of factories westward from Chicago into the prairie
towns had come to Huntersburg. A Chicago manufacturer of furniture had
built a plant in the sleepy little farming town, hoping thus to escape
the labor organizations that had begun to give him trouble in the city.
At the upper end of town, in Wilmott, Swift, Harrison and Chestnut
Streets and in cheap, badly-constructed frame houses, most of the
factory workers lived. On the warm summer evening they were gathered on
the porches at the front of the houses and a mob of children played in
the dusty streets. Red-faced men in white shirts and without collars
and coats slept in chairs or lay sprawled on strips of grass or on the
hard earth before the doors of the houses. The laborers' wives had
gathered in groups and stood gossiping by the fences that separated the
yards. Occasionally the voice of one of the women arose sharp and
distinct above the steady flow of voices that ran like a murmuring
river through the hot little streets.

In the roadway two children had got into a fight. A thick-shouldered
red-haired boy struck another boy who had a pale sharp-featured face, a
blow on the shoulder. Other children came running. The mother of the
red-haired boy brought the promised fight to an end. "Stop it Johnny, I
tell you to stop it. I'll break your neck if you don't," the woman

The pale boy turned and walked away from his antagonist. As he went
slinking along the sidewalk past Mary Cochran his sharp little eyes,
burning with hatred, looked up at her.

Mary went quickly along. The strange new part of her native town with
the hubbub of life always stirring and asserting itself had a strong
fascination for her. There was something dark and resentful in her own
nature that made her feel at home in the crowded place where life
carried itself off darkly, with a blow and an oath. The habitual
silence of her father and the mystery concerning the unhappy married
life of her father and mother, that had affected the attitude toward
her of the people of the town, had made her own life a lonely one and
had encouraged in her a rather dogged determination to in some way
think her own way through the things of life she could not understand.

And back of Mary's thinking there was an intense curiosity and a
courageous determination toward adventure. She was like a little animal
of the forest that has been robbed of its mother by the gun of a
sportsman and has been driven by hunger to go forth and seek food.
Twenty times during the year she had walked alone at evening in the new
and fast growing factory district of her town. She was eighteen and had
begun to look like a woman, and she felt that other girls of the town
of her own age would not have dared to walk in such a place alone. The
feeling made her somewhat proud and as she went along she looked boldly

Among the workers in Wilmott Street, men and women who had been brought
to town by the furniture manufacturer, were many who spoke in foreign
tongues. Mary walked among them and liked the sound of the strange
voices. To be in the street made her feel that she had gone out of her
town and on a voyage into a strange land. In Lower Main Street or in
the residence streets in the eastern part of town where lived the young
men and women she had always known and where lived also the merchants,
the clerks, the lawyers and the more well-to-do American workmen of
Huntersburg, she felt always a secret antagonism to herself. The
antagonism was not due to anything in her own character. She was sure
of that. She had kept so much to herself that she was in fact but
little known. "It is because I am the daughter of my mother," she told
herself and did not walk often in the part of town where other girls of
her class lived.

Mary had been so often in Wilmott Street that many of the people had
begun to feel acquainted with her. "She is the daughter of some farmer
and has got into the habit of walking into town," they said. A red-
haired, broad-hipped woman who came out at the front door of one of the
houses nodded to her. On a narrow strip of grass beside another house
sat a young man with his back against a tree. He was smoking a pipe,
but when he looked up and saw her he took the pipe from his mouth. She
decided he must be an Italian, his hair and eyes were so black. "Ne
bella! si fai un onore a passare di qua," he called waving his hand and

Mary went to the end of Wilmott Street and came out upon a country
road. It seemed to her that a long time must have passed since she left
her father's presence although the walk had in fact occupied but a few
minutes. By the side of the road and on top of a small hill there was a
ruined barn, and before the barn a great hole filled with the charred
timbers of what had once been a farmhouse. A pile of stones lay beside
the hole and these were covered with creeping vines. Between the site
of the house and the barn there was an old orchard in which grew a mass
of tangled weeds.

Pushing her way in among the weeds, many of which were covered with
blossoms, Mary found herself a seat on a rock that had been rolled
against the trunk of an old apple tree. The weeds half concealed her
and from the road only her head was visible. Buried away thus in the
weeds she looked like a quail that runs in the tall grass and that on
hearing some unusual sound, stops, throws up its head and looks sharply

The doctor's daughter had been to the decayed old orchard many times
before. At the foot of the hill on which it stood the streets of the
town began, and as she sat on the rock she could hear faint shouts and
cries coming out of Wilmott Street. A hedge separated the orchard from
the fields on the hillside. Mary intended to sit by the tree until
darkness came creeping over the land and to try to think out some plan
regarding her future. The notion that her father was soon to die seemed
both true and untrue, but her mind was unable to take hold of the
thought of him as physically dead. For the moment death in relation to
her father did not take the form of a cold inanimate body that was to
be buried in the ground, instead it seemed to her that her father was
not to die but to go away somewhere on a journey. Long ago her mother
had done that. There was a strange hesitating sense of relief in the
thought. "Well," she told herself, "when the time comes I also shall be
setting out, I shall get out of here and into the world." On several
occasions Mary had gone to spend a day with her father in Chicago and
she was fascinated by the thought that soon she might be going there to
live. Before her mind's eye floated a vision of long streets filled
with thousands of people all strangers to herself. To go into such
streets and to live her life among strangers would be like coming out
of a waterless desert and into a cool forest carpeted with tender young

In Huntersburg she had always lived under a cloud and now she was
becoming a woman and the close stuffy atmosphere she had always
breathed was becoming constantly more and more oppressive. It was true
no direct question had ever been raised touching her own standing in
the community life, but she felt that a kind of prejudice against her
existed. While she was still a baby there had been a scandal involving
her father and mother. The town of Huntersburg had rocked with it and
when she was a child people had sometimes looked at her with mocking
sympathetic eyes. "Poor child! It's too bad," they said. Once, on a
cloudy summer evening when her father had driven off to the country and
she sat alone in the darkness by his office window, she heard a man and
woman in the street mention her name. The couple stumbled along in the
darkness on the sidewalk below the office window. "That daughter of Doc
Cochran's is a nice girl," said the man. The woman laughed. "She's
growing up and attracting men's attention now. Better keep your eyes in
your head. She'll turn out bad. Like mother, like daughter," the woman

For ten or fifteen minutes Mary sat on the stone beneath the tree in
the orchard and thought of the attitude of the town toward herself and
her father. "It should have drawn us together," she told herself, and
wondered if the approach of death would do what the cloud that had for
years hung over them had not done. It did not at the moment seem to her
cruel that the figure of death was soon to visit her father. In a way
Death had become for her and for the time a lovely and gracious figure
intent upon good. The hand of death was to open the door out of her
father's house and into life. With the cruelty of youth she thought
first of the adventurous possibilities of the new life.

Mary sat very still. In the long weeds the insects that had been
disturbed in their evening song began to sing again. A robin flew into
the tree beneath which she sat and struck a clear sharp note of alarm.
The voices of people in the town's new factory district came softly up
the hillside. They were like bells of distant cathedrals calling people
to worship. Something within the girl's breast seemed to break and
putting her head into her hands she rocked slowly back and forth. Tears
came accompanied by a warm tender impulse toward the living men and
women of Huntersburg.

And then from the road came a call. "Hello there kid," shouted a voice,
and Mary sprang quickly to her feet. Her mellow mood passed like a puff
of wind and in its place hot anger came.

In the road stood Duke Yetter who from his loafing place before the
livery barn had seen her set out for the Sunday evening walk and had
followed. When she went through Upper Main Street and into the new
factory district he was sure of his conquest. "She doesn't want to be
seen walking with me," he had told himself, "that's all right. She
knows well enough I'll follow but doesn't want me to put in an
appearance until she is well out of sight of her friends. She's a
little stuck up and needs to be brought down a peg, but what do I care?
She's gone out of her way to give me this chance and maybe she's only
afraid of her dad."

Duke climbed the little incline out of the road and came into the
orchard, but when he reached the pile of stones covered by vines he
stumbled and fell. He arose and laughed. Mary had not waited for him to
reach her but had started toward him, and when his laugh broke the
silence that lay over the orchard she sprang forward and with her open
hand struck him a sharp blow on the cheek. Then she turned and as he
stood with his feet tangled in the vines ran out to the road. "If you
follow or speak to me I'll get someone to kill you," she shouted.

Mary walked along the road and down the hill toward Wilmott Street.
Broken bits of the story concerning her mother that had for years
circulated in town had reached her ears. Her mother, it was said, had
disappeared on a summer night long ago and a young town rough, who had
been in the habit of loitering before Barney Smithfield's Livery Barn,
had gone away with her. Now another young rough was trying to make up
to her. The thought made her furious.

Her mind groped about striving to lay hold of some weapon with which
she could strike a more telling blow at Duke Yetter. In desperation it
lit upon the figure of her father already broken in health and now
about to die. "My father just wants the chance to kill some such fellow
as you," she shouted, turning to face the young man, who having got
clear of the mass of vines in the orchard, had followed her into the
road. "My father just wants to kill someone because of the lies that
have been told in this town about mother."

Having given way to the impulse to threaten Duke Yetter Mary was
instantly ashamed of her outburst and walked rapidly along, the tears
running from her eyes. With hanging head Duke walked at her heels. "I
didn't mean no harm, Miss Cochran," he pleaded. "I didn't mean no harm.
Don't tell your father. I was only funning with you. I tell you I
didn't mean no harm."

* * * * *

The light of the summer evening had begun to fall and the faces of the
people made soft little ovals of light as they stood grouped under the
dark porches or by the fences in Wilmott Street. The voices of the
children had become subdued and they also stood in groups. They became
silent as Mary passed and stood with upturned faces and staring eyes.
"The lady doesn't live very far. She must be almost a neighbor," she
heard a woman's voice saying in English. When she turned her head she
saw only a crowd of dark-skinned men standing before a house. From
within the house came the sound of a woman's voice singing a child to

The young Italian, who had called to her earlier in the evening and who
was now apparently setting out of his own Sunday evening's adventures,
came along the sidewalk and walked quickly away into the darkness. He
had dressed himself in his Sunday clothes and had put on a black derby
hat and a stiff white collar, set off by a red necktie. The shining
whiteness of the collar made his brown skin look almost black. He
smiled boyishly and raised his hat awkwardly but did not speak.

Mary kept looking back along the street to be sure Duke Yetter had not
followed but in the dim light could see nothing of him. Her angry
excited mood went away.

She did not want to go home and decided it was too late to go to
church. From Upper Main Street there was a short street that ran
eastward and fell rather sharply down a hillside to a creek and a
bridge that marked the end of the town's growth in that direction. She
went down along the street to the bridge and stood in the failing light
watching two boys who were fishing in the creek.

A broad-shouldered man dressed in rough clothes came down along the
street and stopping on the bridge spoke to her. It was the first time
she had ever heard a citizen of her home town speak with feeling of her
father. "You are Doctor Cochran's daughter?" he asked hesitatingly. "I
guess you don't know who I am but your father does." He pointed toward
the two boys who sat with fishpoles in their hands on the weed-grown
bank of the creek. "Those are my boys and I have four other children,"
he explained. "There is another boy and I have three girls. One of my
daughters has a job in a store. She is as old as yourself." The man
explained his relations with Doctor Cochran. He had been a farm
laborer, he said, and had but recently moved to town to work in the
furniture factory. During the previous winter he had been ill for a
long time and had no money. While he lay in bed one of his boys fell
out of a barn loft and there was a terrible cut in his head.

"Your father came every day to see us and he sewed up my Tom's head."
The laborer turned away from Mary and stood with his cap in his hand
looking toward the boys. "I was down and out and your father not only
took care of me and the boys but he gave my old woman money to buy the
things we had to have from the stores in town here, groceries and
medicines." The man spoke in such low tones that Mary had to lean
forward to hear his words. Her face almost touched the laborer's
shoulder. "Your father is a good man and I don't think he is very
happy," he went on. "The boy and I got well and I got work here in town
but he wouldn't take any money from me. 'You know how to live with your
children and with your wife. You know how to make them happy. Keep your
money and spend it on them,' that's what he said to me."

The laborer went on across the bridge and along the creek bank toward
the spot where his two sons sat fishing and Mary leaned on the railing
of the bridge and looked at the slow moving water. It was almost black
in the shadows under the bridge and she thought that it was thus her
father's life had been lived. "It has been like a stream running always
in shadows and never coming out into the sunlight," she thought, and
fear that her own life would run on in darkness gripped her. A great
new love for her father swept over her and in fancy she felt his arms
about her. As a child she had continually dreamed of caresses received
at her father's hands and now the dream came back. For a long time she
stood looking at the stream and she resolved that the night should not
pass without an effort on her part to make the old dream come true.
When she again looked up the laborer had built a little fire of sticks
at the edge of the stream. "We catch bullheads here," he called. "The
light of the fire draws them close to the shore. If you want to come
and try your hand at fishing the boys will lend you one of the poles."

"O, I thank you, I won't do it tonight," Mary said, and then fearing
she might suddenly begin weeping and that if the man spoke to her again
she would find herself unable to answer, she hurried away. "Good bye!"
shouted the man and the two boys. The words came quite spontaneously
out of the three throats and created a sharp trumpet-like effect that
rang like a glad cry across the heaviness of her mood.

* * * * *

When his daughter Mary went out for her evening walk Doctor Cochran sat
for an hour alone in his office. It began to grow dark and the men who
all afternoon had been sitting on chairs and boxes before the livery
barn across the street went home for the evening meal. The noise of
voices grew faint and sometimes for five or ten minutes there was
silence. Then from some distant street came a child's cry. Presently
church bells began to ring.

The Doctor was not a very neat man and sometimes for several days he
forgot to shave. With a long lean hand he stroked his half grown beard.
His illness had struck deeper than he had admitted even to himself and
his mind had an inclination to float out of his body. Often when he sat
thus his hands lay in his lap and he looked at them with a child's
absorption. It seemed to him they must belong to someone else. He grew
philosophic. "It's an odd thing about my body. Here I've lived in it
all these years and how little use I have had of it. Now it's going to
die and decay never having been used. I wonder why it did not get
another tenant." He smiled sadly over this fancy but went on with it.
"Well I've had thoughts enough concerning people and I've had the use
of these lips and a tongue but I've let them lie idle. When my Ellen
was here living with me I let her think me cold and unfeeling while
something within me was straining and straining trying to tear itself

He remembered how often, as a young man, he had sat in the evening in
silence beside his wife in this same office and how his hands had ached
to reach across the narrow space that separated them and touch her
hands, her face, her hair.

Well, everyone in town had predicted his marriage would turn out badly!
His wife had been an actress with a company that came to Huntersburg
and got stranded there. At the same time the girl became ill and had no
money to pay for her room at the hotel. The young doctor had attended
to that and when the girl was convalescent took her to ride about the
country in his buggy. Her life had been a hard one and the notion of
leading a quiet existence in the little town appealed to her.

And then after the marriage and after the child was born she had
suddenly found herself unable to go on living with the silent cold man.
There had been a story of her having run away with a young sport, the
son of a saloon keeper who had disappeared from town at the same time,
but the story was untrue. Lester Cochran had himself taken her to
Chicago where she got work with a company going into the far western
states. Then he had taken her to the door of her hotel, had put money
into her hands and in silence and without even a farewell kiss had
turned and walked away.

The Doctor sat in his office living over that moment and other intense
moments when he had been deeply stirred and had been on the surface so
cool and quiet. He wondered if the woman had known. How many times he
had asked himself that question. After he left her that night at the
hotel door she never wrote. "Perhaps she is dead," he thought for the
thousandth time.

A thing happened that had been happening at odd moments for more than a
year. In Doctor Cochran's mind the remembered figure of his wife became
confused with the figure of his daughter. When at such moments he tried
to separate the two figures, to make them stand out distinct from each
other, he was unsuccessful. Turning his head slightly he imagined he
saw a white girlish figure coming through a door out of the rooms in
which he and his daughter lived. The door was painted white and swung
slowly in a light breeze that came in at an open window. The wind ran
softly and quietly through the room and played over some papers lying
on a desk in a corner. There was a soft swishing sound as of a woman's
skirts. The doctor arose and stood trembling. "Which is it? Is it you
Mary or is it Ellen?" he asked huskily.

On the stairway leading up from the street there was the sound of heavy
feet and the outer door opened. The doctor's weak heart fluttered and
he dropped heavily back into his chair.

A man came into the room. He was a farmer, one of the doctor's
patients, and coming to the centre of the room he struck a match, held
it above his head and shouted. "Hello!" he called. When the doctor
arose from his chair and answered he was so startled that the match
fell from his hand and lay burning faintly at his feet.

The young farmer had sturdy legs that were like two pillars of stone
supporting a heavy building, and the little flame of the match that
burned and fluttered in the light breeze on the floor between his feet
threw dancing shadows along the walls of the room. The doctor's
confused mind refused to clear itself of his fancies that now began to
feed upon this new situation.

He forgot the presence of the farmer and his mind raced back over his
life as a married man. The flickering light on the wall recalled
another dancing light. One afternoon in the summer during the first
year after his marriage his wife Ellen had driven with him into the
country. They were then furnishing their rooms and at a farmer's house
Ellen had seen an old mirror, no longer in use, standing against a wall
in a shed. Because of something quaint in the design the mirror had
taken her fancy and the farmer's wife had given it to her. On the drive
home the young wife had told her husband of her pregnancy and the
doctor had been stirred as never before. He sat holding the mirror on
his knees while his wife drove and when she announced the coming of the
child she looked away across the fields.

How deeply etched, that scene in the sick man's mind! The sun was going
down over young corn and oat fields beside the road. The prairie land
was black and occasionally the road ran through short lanes of trees
that also looked black in the waning light.

The mirror on his knees caught the rays of the departing sun and sent a
great ball of golden light dancing across the fields and among the
branches of trees. Now as he stood in the presence of the farmer and as
the little light from the burning match on the floor recalled that
other evening of dancing lights, he thought he understood the failure
of his marriage and of his life. On that evening long ago when Ellen
had told him of the coming of the great adventure of their marriage he
had remained silent because he had thought no words he could utter
would express what he felt. There had been a defense for himself built
up. "I told myself she should have understood without words and I've
all my life been telling myself the same thing about Mary. I've been a
fool and a coward. I've always been silent because I've been afraid of
expressing myself--like a blundering fool. I've been a proud man and a

"Tonight I'll do it. If it kills me I'll make myself talk to the girl,"
he said aloud, his mind coming back to the figure of his daughter.

"Hey! What's that?" asked the farmer who stood with his hat in his hand
waiting to tell of his mission.

The doctor got his horse from Barney Smithfield's livery and drove off
to the country to attend the farmer's wife who was about to give birth
to her first child. She was a slender narrow-hipped woman and the child
was large, but the doctor was feverishly strong. He worked desperately
and the woman, who was frightened, groaned and struggled. Her husband
kept coming in and going out of the room and two neighbor women
appeared and stood silently about waiting to be of service. It was past
ten o'clock when everything was done and the doctor was ready to depart
for town.

The farmer hitched his horse and brought it to the door and the doctor
drove off feeling strangely weak and at the same time strong. How
simple now seemed the thing he had yet to do. Perhaps when he got home
his daughter would have gone to bed but he would ask her to get up and
come into the office. Then he would tell the whole story of his
marriage and its failure sparing himself no humiliation. "There was
something very dear and beautiful in my Ellen and I must make Mary
understand that. It will help her to be a beautiful woman," he thought,
full of confidence in the strength of his resolution.

He got to the door of the livery barn at eleven o'clock and Barney
Smithfield with young Duke Yetter and two other men sat talking there.
The liveryman took his horse away into the darkness of the barn and the
doctor stood for a moment leaning against the wall of the building. The
town's night watchman stood with the group by the barn door and a
quarrel broke out between him and Duke Yetter, but the doctor did not
hear the hot words that flew back and forth or Duke's loud laughter at
the night watchman's anger. A queer hesitating mood had taken
possession of him.

There was something he passionately desired to do but could not
remember. Did it have to do with his wife Ellen or Mary his daughter?
The figures of the two women were again confused in his mind and to add
to the confusion there was a third figure, that of the woman he had
just assisted through child birth. Everything was confusion. He started
across the street toward the entrance of the stairway leading to his
office and then stopped in the road and stared about. Barney Smithfield
having returned from putting his horse in the stall shut the door of
the barn and a hanging lantern over the door swung back and forth. It
threw grotesque dancing shadows down over the faces and forms of the
men standing and quarreling beside the wall of the barn.

* * * * *

Mary sat by a window in the doctor's office awaiting his return. So
absorbed was she in her own thoughts that she was unconscious of the
voice of Duke Yetter talking with the men in the street.

When Duke had come into the street the hot anger of the early part of
the evening had returned and she again saw him advancing toward her in
the orchard with the look of arrogant male confidence in his eyes but
presently she forgot him and thought only of her father. An incident of
her childhood returned to haunt her. One afternoon in the month of May
when she was fifteen her father had asked her to accompany him on an
evening drive into the country. The doctor went to visit a sick woman
at a farmhouse five miles from town and as there had been a great deal
of rain the roads were heavy. It was dark when they reached the
farmer's house and they went into the kitchen and ate cold food off a
kitchen table. For some reason her father had, on that evening,
appeared boyish and almost gay. On the road he had talked a little.
Even at that early age Mary had grown tall and her figure was becoming
womanly. After the cold supper in the farm kitchen he walked with her
around the house and she sat on a narrow porch. For a moment her father
stood before her. He put his hands into his trouser pockets and
throwing back his head laughed almost heartily. "It seems strange to
think you will soon be a woman," he said. "When you do become a woman
what do you suppose is going to happen, eh? What kind of a life will
you lead? What will happen to you?"

The doctor sat on the porch beside the child and for a moment she had
thought he was about to put his arm around her. Then he jumped up and
went into the house leaving her to sit alone in the darkness.

As she remembered the incident Mary remembered also that on that
evening of her childhood she had met her father's advances in silence.
It seemed to her that she, not her father, was to blame for the life
they had led together. The farm laborer she had met on the bridge had
not felt her father's coldness. That was because he had himself been
warm and generous in his attitude toward the man who had cared for him
in his hour of sickness and misfortune. Her father had said that the
laborer knew how to be a father and Mary remembered with what warmth
the two boys fishing by the creek had called to her as she went away
into the darkness. "Their father has known how to be a father because
his children have known how to give themselves," she thought guiltily.
She also would give herself. Before the night had passed she would do
that. On that evening long ago and as she rode home beside her father
he had made another unsuccessful effort to break through the wall that
separated them. The heavy rains had swollen the streams they had to
cross and when they had almost reached town he had stopped the horse on
a wooden bridge. The horse danced nervously about and her father held
the reins firmly and occasionally spoke to him. Beneath the bridge the
swollen stream made a great roaring sound and beside the road in a long
flat field there was a lake of flood water. At that moment the moon had
come out from behind clouds and the wind that blew across the water
made little waves. The lake of flood water was covered with dancing
lights. "I'm going to tell you about your mother and myself," her
father said huskily, but at that moment the timbers of the bridge began
to crack dangerously and the horse plunged forward. When her father had
regained control of the frightened beast they were in the streets of
the town and his diffident silent nature had reasserted itself.

Mary sat in the darkness by the office window and saw her father drive
into the street. When his horse had been put away he did not, as was
his custom, come at once up the stairway to the office but lingered in
the darkness before the barn door. Once he started to cross the street
and then returned into the darkness.

Among the men who for two hours had been sitting and talking quietly a
quarrel broke out. Jack Fisher the town nightwatchman had been telling
the others the story of a battle in which he had fought during the
Civil War and Duke Yetter had begun bantering him. The nightwatchman
grew angry. Grasping his nightstick he limped up and down. The loud
voice of Duke Yetter cut across the shrill angry voice of the victim of
his wit. "You ought to a flanked the fellow, I tell you Jack. Yes sir
'ee, you ought to a flanked that reb and then when you got him flanked
you ought to a knocked the stuffings out of the cuss. That's what I
would a done," Duke shouted, laughing boisterously. "You would a raised
hell, you would," the night watchman answered, filled with ineffectual

The old soldier went off along the street followed by the laughter of
Duke and his companions and Barney Smithfield, having put the doctor's
horse away, came out and closed the barn door. A lantern hanging above
the door swung back and forth. Doctor Cochran again started across the
street and when he had reached the foot of the stairway turned and
shouted to the men. "Good night," he called cheerfully. A strand of
hair was blown by the light summer breeze across Mary's cheek and she
jumped to her feet as though she had been touched by a hand reached out
to her from the darkness. A hundred times she had seen her father
return from drives in the evening but never before had he said anything
at all to the loiterers by the barn door. She became half convinced
that not her father but some other man was now coming up the stairway.

The heavy dragging footsteps rang loudly on the wooden stairs and Mary
heard her father set down the little square medicine case he always
carried. The strange cheerful hearty mood of the man continued but his
mind was in a confused riot. Mary imagined she could see his dark form
in the doorway. "The woman has had a baby," said the hearty voice from
the landing outside the door. "Who did that happen to? Was it Ellen or
that other woman or my little Mary?"

A stream of words, a protest came from the man's lips. "Who's been
having a baby? I want to know. Who's been having a baby? Life doesn't
work out. Why are babies always being born?" he asked.

A laugh broke from the doctor's lips and his daughter leaned forward
and gripped the arms of her chair. "A babe has been born," he said
again. "It's strange eh, that my hands should have helped a baby be
born while all the time death stood at my elbow?"

Doctor Cochran stamped upon the floor of the landing. "My feet are cold
and numb from waiting for life to come out of life," he said heavily.
"The woman struggled and now I must struggle."

Silence followed the stamping of feet and the tired heavy declaration
from the sick man's lips. From the street below came another loud shout
of laughter from Duke Yetter.

And then Doctor Cochran fell backward down the narrow stairs to the
street. There was no cry from him, just the clatter of his shoes upon
the stairs and the terrible subdued sound of the body falling.

Mary did not move from her chair. With closed eyes she waited. Her
heart pounded. A weakness complete and overmastering had possession of
her and from feet to head ran little waves of feeling as though tiny
creatures with soft hair-like feet were playing upon her body.

It was Duke Yetter who carried the dead man up the stairs and laid him
on a bed in one of the rooms back of the office. One of the men who had
been sitting with him before the door of the barn followed lifting his
hands and dropping them nervously. Between his fingers he held a
forgotten cigarette the light from which danced up and down in the

UNLIGHTED LAMPS [Sherwood Anderson's short story]


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