SHERWOOD ANDERSON – My father was a retail druggist in our town, out in Nebraska, which was so much like a thousand other towns I’ve been in since that there’s no use fooling around and taking up your time and mine trying to describe it.
Anyway I became a drug clerk and after father’s death the store was sold and mother took the money and went west, to her sister in California, giving me four hundred dollars with which to make my start in the world. I was only nineteen years old then.
I came to Chicago, where I worked as a drug clerk for a time, and then, as my health suddenly went back on me, perhaps because I was so sick of my lonely life in the city and of the sight and smell of the drugstore, I decided to set out on what seemed to me then the great adventure and became for a time a tramp, working now and then, when I had no money, but spending all the time I could loafing around out of doors or riding up and down the land on freight trains and trying to see the world. I even did some stealing in lonely towns at night—once a pretty good suit of clothes that someone had left hanging out on a clothesline, and once some shoes out of a box in a freight car—but I was in constant terror of being caught and put into jail so realized that success as a thief was not for me.
The most delightful experience of that period of my life was when I once worked as a groom, or swipe, with race horses and it was during that time I met a young fellow of about my own age who has since become a writer of some prominence. The young man of whom I now speak had gone into race track work as a groom, to bring a kind of flourish, a high spot he used to say, into his life.
He was then unmarried and had not been successful as a writer. What I mean is he was free and I guess, with him as with me, there was something he liked about the people who hang about a race track, the touts, swipes, drivers, niggers and gamblers. You know what a gaudy undependable lot they are—if you’ve ever been around the tracks much—about the best liars I’ve seen, and not saving money or thinking about morals, like most druggists, drygoods merchants and the others who used to be my father’s friends in our Nebraska town—and not bending the knee much either, or kowtowing to people, they thought must be grander or richer or more powerful than themselves.
What I mean is, they were an independent, go-to-the-devil, come-have-a-drink-of-whisky, kind of a crew and when one of them won a bet, “knocked ’em off,” we called it, his money was just dirt to him while it lasted. No king or president or soap manufacturer—gone on a trip with his family to Europe— could throw on more dog than one of them, with his big diamond rings and the diamond horseshoe stuck in his necktie and all. I liked the whole blamed lot pretty well and he did too.
He was groom temporarily for a pacing gelding named Lumpy Joe owned by a tall blackmustached man named Alfred Kreymborg and trying the best he could to make the bluff to himself he was a real one. It happened that we were on the same circuit, doing the West Pennsylvania county fairs all that fall, and on fine evenings we spent a good deal of time walking and talking together.
Let us suppose it to be a Monday or Tuesday evening and our horses had been put away for the night. The racing didn’t start until later in the week, maybe, Wednesday, usually. There was always a little place called a dining-hall, run mostly by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Association of the towns, and we would go there to eat where we could get a pretty good meal for twenty-five cents. At least then we thought it pretty good.
I would manage it so that I sat beside this fellow, whose name was Tom Means and when we had got through eating we would go look at our two homes again and when we got there Lumpy Joe would be eating his hay in his box stall and Alfred Kreymborg would be standing there, pulling his mustache and looking as sad as a sick crane.
But he wasn’t really sad. “You two boys want to go downtown to see the girls. I’m an old duffer and way past that myself. You go along. I’ll be setting here anyway, and I’ll keep an eye on both the horses for you,” he would say.
So we would set off, going, not into the town to try to get in with some of the town girls, who might have taken up with us because we were strangers and race track fellows, but out into the country. Sometimes we got into a hilly country and there was a moon. The leaves were falling off the trees and lay in the road so that we kicked them up with the dust as we went along.
To tell the truth I suppose I got to love Tom Means, who was five years older than me, although I wouldn’t have dared say so, then, Americans are shy and timid about saying things like that and a man here don’t dare own up he loves another man, I’ve found out, and they are afraid to admit such feelings to themselves even. I guess they’re afraid it may be taken to mean something it don’t need to at all.
Anyway we walked along and some of the trees were already bare and looked like people standing solemnly beside the road and listening to what we had to say. Only I didn’t say much. Tom Means did most of the talking.
Sometimes we came back to the race track and it was late and the moon had gone down and it was dark. Then we often walked round and round the track, sometimes a dozen times, before we crawled into the hay to go to bed.
Tom talked always on two subjects, writing and race horses, but mostly about race horses. The quiet sounds about the race tracks and the smells of horses, and the things that go with horses, seemed to get him all excited. “Oh, hell, Herman Dudley,” he would burst out suddenly, “don’t go talking to me. I know what I think. I’ve been around more than you have and I’ve seen a world of people. There isn’t any man or woman, not even a fellow’s own mother, as fine as a horse, that is to say a thoroughbred horse.”
Sometimes he would go on like that a long time, speaking of people he had seen and their characteristics. He wanted to be a writer later and what he said was that when he came to be one he wanted to write the way a well bred horse runs or trots or paces. Whether he ever did it or not I can’t say. He has written a lot, but I’m not too good a judge of such things. Anyway I don’t think he has.
But when he got on the subject of horses he certainly was a darby. I would never have felt the way I finally got to feel about horses or enjoyed my stay among them half so much if it hadn’t been for him. Often he would go on talking for an hour maybe, speaking of horses’ bodies and of their minds and wills as though they were human beings. “Lord help us, Herman,” he would say, grabbing hold of my arm, “don’t it get you up in the throat? I say now, when a good one, like that Lumpy Joe I’m swiping, flattens himself at the head of the stretch and he’s coming, and you know he’s coming, and you know his heart’s sound, and he’s game, and you know he isn’t going to let himself get licked—don’t it get you Herman, don’t it get you like the old Harry?”
That’s the way he would talk, and then later, sometimes, he’d talk about writing and get himself all het up about that too. He had some notions about writing I’ve never got myself around to thinking much about but just the same maybe his talk, working in me, has led me to want to begin to write this story myself. There was one experience of that time on the tracks that I am forced, by some feeling inside myself, to tell. Well, I don’t know why but I’ve just got to. It will be kind of like confession is, I suppose, to a good Catholic, or maybe, better yet, like cleaning up the room you live in, if you are a bachelor, like I was for so long. The room gets pretty mussy and the bed not made some days and clothes and things thrown on the closet floor and maybe under the bed. And then you clean all up and put on new sheets, and then you take off all your clothes and get down on your hands and knees, and scrub the floor so clean you could eat bread off it, and then take a walk and come home after a while and your room smells sweet and you feel sweetened-up and better inside yourself too. What I mean is, this story has been on my chest, and I’ve often dreamed about the happenings in it, even after I married Jessie and was happy. Sometimes I even screamed out at night and so I said to myself, “I’ll write the dang story,” and here goes.
Fall had come on and in the mornings now when we crept out of our blankets, spread out on the hay in the tiny lofts above the horse stalls, and put our heads out to look around, there was a white rime of frost on the ground. When we woke the horses woke too. You know how it is at the tracks—the little barnlike stalls with the tiny lofts above are all set along in a row and there are two doors to each stall, one coming up to a horse’s breast and then a top one, that is only closed at night and in bad weather.
In the mornings the upper door is swung open and fastened back and the horses put their heads out. There is the white rime on the grass over inside the gray oval the track makes. Usually there is some outfit that has six, ten or even twelve horses, and perhaps they have a Negro cook who does his cooking at an open fire in the clear space before the row of stalls and he is at work now and the horses with their big fine eyes are looking about and whinnying, and a stallion looks out at the door of one of the stalls and sees a sweet-eyed mare looking at him and sends up his trumpet-call, and a man’s voice laughs, and there are no women anywhere in sight or no sign of one anywhere, and everyone feels like laughing and usually does.
It’s pretty fine but I didn’t know how fine it was until I got to know Tom Means and heard him talk about it all.
At the time the thing happened of which I am trying to tell now Tom was no longer with me. A week before his owner, Alfred Kreymborg, had taken his horse Lumpy Joe over into the Ohio Fair Circuit and I saw no more of Tom at the tracks.
There was a story going about the stalls that Lumpy Joe, a big rangy brown gelding, wasn’t really named Lumpy Joe at all, that he was a ringer who had made a fast record out in Iowa and up through the northwest country the year before, and that Kreymborg had picked him up and had kept him under wraps all winter and had brought him over into the Pennsylvania country under this new name and made a clean-up in the books. I know nothing about that and never talked to Tom about it but anyway he, Lumpy Joe and Kreymborg were all gone now. I suppose I’ll always remember those days, and Tom’s talk at night, and before that in the early September evenings how we sat around in front of the stalls and Kreymborg sitting on an upturned feed box and pulling at his long black mustache and sometimes humming a little ditty one couldn’t catch the words of. It was something about a deep well and a little gray squirrel crawling up the sides of it, and he never laughed or smiled much but there was something in his solemn gray eyes, not quite a twinkle, something more delicate than that.
The others talked in low tones and Tom and I sat in silence. He never did his best talking except when he and I were alone.
For his sake—if he ever sees my story—I should mention that at the only big track we ever visited, at Readville, Pennsylvania, we saw old Pop Geers, the great racing driver, himself. His horses were at a place far away across the tracks from where we were stabled. I suppose a man like him was likely to get the choice of all the good places for his horses.
We went over there one evening and stood about and there was Geers himself, sitting before one of the stalls on a box tapping the ground with a riding whip. They called him, around the tracks, “The silent man from Tennessee” and he was silent—that night anyway. All we did was to stand and look at him for maybe a half hour and then we went away and that night Tom talked better than I had ever heard him. He said that the ambition of his life was to wait until Pop Geers died and then write a book about him, and to show in the book that there was at least one American who never went nutty about getting rich or owning a big factory or being any other kind of a hell of fellow. “He’s satisfied I think to sit around like that and wait until the big moments of his life come, when he heads a fast one into the stretch and then, darn his soul, he can give all of himself to the thing right in front of him,” Tom said, and then he was so worked up he began to blubber. We were walking along the fence on the inside of the tracks and it was dusk and, in some trees nearby, some birds, just sparrows maybe, were making a chirping sound, and you could hear insects singing and, where there was a little light, off to the west between some trees, motes were dancing in the air. Tom said that about Pop Geers, although I think he was thinking most about something he wanted to be himself and wasn’t, and then he went and stood by the fence and sort of blubbered and I began to blubber too, although I didn’t know what about.
But perhaps I did know, after all. I suppose Tom wanted to feel, when he became a writer, like he thought old Pop must feel when his horse swung around the upper turn, and there lay the stretch before him, and if he was going to get his horse home in front he had to do it right then. What Tom said was that any man had something in him that understands about a thing like that but that no woman ever did except up in her brain. He often got off things like that about women but I notice he later married one of them just the same.
But to get back to my knitting. After Tom had left, the stable I was with kept drifting along through nice little Pennsylvania county seat towns. My owner, a strange excitable kind of a man from over in Ohio, who had lost a lot of money on horses but was always thinking he would maybe get it all back in some big killing, had been playing in pretty good luck that year. The horse I had, a tough little gelding, a five-year-old, had been getting home in front pretty regular and so he took some of his winnings and bought a three-year-old black pacing stallion named “O My Man.” My gelding was called “Pick-it-boy” because when he was in a race and had gone into the stretch my owner always got half wild with excitement and shouted so you could hear him a mile and a half. “Go, pick it boy, pick it boy, pick it boy,” he kept shouting and so when he had got hold of this good little gelding he had named him that.
The gelding was a fast one, all right. As the boys at the tracks used to say, he “picked ’em up sharp and set ’em down clean,” and he was what we called a natural race horse, right up to all the speed he had, and didn’t require much training. “All you got to do is to drop him down on the track and he’ll go,” was what my owner was always saying to other men, when he was bragging about his horse. And so you see, after Tom left, I hadn’t much to do evenings and then the new stallion, the threeyear- old, came on with a Negro swipe named Burt. I liked him fine and he liked me but not the same as Tom and me. We got to be friends all right and I suppose Burt would have done things for me, and maybe me for him, that Tom and me wouldn’t have done for each other. But with a Negro you couldn’t be close friends like you can with another white man. There’s some reason you can’t understand but it’s true. There’s been too much talk about the difference between whites and blacks and you’re both shy, and anyway no use trying and I suppose Burt and I both knew it and so I was pretty lonesome.
Something happened to me that happened several times, when I was a young fellow, that I have never exactly understood. Sometimes now I think it was all because I had got to be almost a man and had never been with a woman. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I can’t ask a woman. I’ve tried it a good many times in my life but every time I’ve tried the same thing happened. Of course, with Jessie now, it’s different, but at the time of which I’m speaking Jessie was a long ways off and a good many things were to happen to me before I got to her.
Around a race track, as you may suppose, the fellows who are swipes and drivers and strangers in the towns do not go without women. They don’t have to. In any town there are always some fly girls will come around a place like that. I suppose they think they are fooling with men who lead romantic lives. Such girls will come along by the front of the stalls where the race horses are and, if you look all right to them, they will stop and make a fuss over your horse. They rub their little hands over the horse’s nose and then is the time for you—if you aren’t a fellow like me who can’t get up the nerve—then is the time for you to smile and say, “Hello, kid,” and make a date with one of them for that evening uptown after supper. I couldn’t do that, although the Lord knows I tried hard enough, often enough. A girl would come along alone, and she would be a little thing and give me the eye, and I would try and try but couldn’t say anything. Both Tom, and Burt afterwards, used to laugh at me about it sometimes but what I think is that, had I been able to speak up to one of them and had managed to make a date with her, nothing would have come of it. We would probably have walked around the town and got off together in the dark somewhere, where the town came to an end, and then she would have had to knock me over with a club before it got any further.
And so there I was, having got used to Tom and our talks together, and Burt of course had his own friends among the black men. I got lazy and mopey and had a hard time doing my work. It was like this. Sometimes I would be sitting, perhaps under a tree in the late afternoon when the races were over for the day and the crowds had gone away. There were always a lot of other men and boys who hadn’t any horses in the races that day and they would be standing or sitting about in front of the stalls and talking. I would listen for a time to their talk and then their voices would seem to go far away. The things I was looking at would go far away too. Perhaps there would be a tree, not more than a hundred yards away, and it would just come out of the ground and float away like a thistle. It would get smaller and smaller, away off there in the sky, and then suddenly—bang, it would be back where it belonged, in the ground, and I would begin hearing the voices of the men talking again.
When Tom was with me that summer the nights were splendid. We usually walked about and talked until pretty late and then I crawled up into my hole and went to sleep. Always out of Tom’s talk I got something that stayed in my mind, after I was off by myself, curled up in my blanket. I suppose he had a way of making pictures as he talked and the pictures stayed by me as Burt was always saying pork chops did by him. “Give me the old pork chops, they stick to the ribs,” Burt was always saying and with the imagination it was always that way about Tom’s talks. He started something inside you that went on and on, and your mind played with it like walking about in a strange town and seeing the sights, and you slipped off to sleep and had splendid dreams and woke up in the morning feeling fine.
And then he was gone and it wasn’t that way any more and I got into the fix I have described. At night I kept seeing women’s bodies and women’s lips and things in my dreams, and woke up in the morning feeling like the old Harry.
Burt was pretty good to me. He always helped me cool Pick-it-boy out after a race and he did the things himself that take the most skill and quickness, like getting the bandages on a horse’s leg smooth, and seeing that every strap is setting just right, and every buckle drawn up to just the right hole, before your horse goes out on the track for a heat.
Burt knew there was something wrong with me and put himself out not to let the boss know. When the boss was around he was always bragging about me. “The brightest kid I’ve ever worked with around the tracks,” he would say and grin, and that at a time when I wasn’t worth my salt.
When you go out with the horses there is one job that always takes a lot of time. In the late afternoon, after your horse has been in a race and after you have washed him and rubbed him out, he has to be walked slowly, sometimes for hours and hours, so he’ll cool out slowly and won’t get musclebound. I got so I did that job for both our horses and Burt did the more important things. It left him free to go talk or shoot dice with the other niggers and I didn’t mind. I rather liked it and after a hard race even the stallion, O My Man, was tame enough, even when there were mares about.
You walk and walk and walk, around a little circle, and your horse’s head is right by your shoulder, and all around you the life of the place you are in is going on, and in a queer way you get so you aren’t really a part of it at all. Perhaps no one ever gets as I was then, except boys that aren’t quite men yet and who like me have never been with girls or women—to really be with them, up to the hilt, I mean. I used to wonder if young girls got that way too before they married or did what we used to call “go on the town.”
If I remember it right though, I didn’t do much thinking then. Often I would have forgotten supper if Burt hadn’t shouted at me and reminded me, and sometimes he forgot and went off to town with one of the other niggers and I did forget.
There I was with the horse, going slow slow slow, around a circle that way. The people were leaving the fair grounds now, some afoot, some driving away to the farms in wagons and Fords. Clouds of dust floated in the air and over to the west, where the town was, maybe the sun was going down, a red ball of fire through the dust. Only a few hours before the crowd had been all filled with excitement and everyone shouting. Let us suppose my horse had been in a race that afternoon and I had stood in front of the grandstand with my horse blanket over my shoulder, alongside of Burt perhaps, and when they came into the stretch my owner began to call, in that queer high voice of his that seemed to float over the top of all the shouting up in the grandstand. And his voice was saying over and over, “Go, pick it boy, pick it boy, pick it boy,” the way he always did, and my heart was thumping so I could hardly breathe, and Burt was leaning over and snapping his fingers and muttering. “Come, little sweet. Come on home. Your Mama wants you. Come get your ’lasses and bread, little Pick-it-boy.”
Well, all that was over now and the voices of the people left around were all low. And Pick-it-boy— I was leading him slowly around the little ring, to cool him out slowly, as I’ve said—he was different too. Maybe he had pretty nearly broken his heart trying to get down to the wire in front, or getting down there in front, and now everything inside him was quiet and tired, as it was nearly all the time those days in me, except in me tired but not quiet.
You remember I’ve told you we always walked in a circle, round and round and round. I guess something inside me got to going round and round and round too. The sun did sometimes and the trees and the clouds of dust. I had to think sometimes about putting down my feet so they went down in the right place and I didn’t get to staggering like a drunken man.
And a funny feeling came that it is going to be hard to describe. It had something to do with the life in the horse and in me. Sometimes, these last years, I’ve thought maybe Negroes would understand what I’m trying to talk about now better than any white man ever will. I mean something about men and animals, something between them, something that can perhaps only happen to a white man when he has slipped off his base a little, as I suppose I had then. I think maybe a lot of horsey people feel it sometimes though. It’s something like this, maybe—do you suppose it could be that something we whites have got, and think such a lot of, and are so proud about, isn’t much of any good after all?
It’s something in us that wants to be big and grand and important maybe and won’t let us just be, like a horse or a dog or a bird can. Let’s say Pick-it-boy had won his race that day. He did that pretty often that summer. Well, he was neither proud, like I would have been in his place, or mean in one part of the inside of him either. He was just himself, doing something with a kind of simplicity. That’s what Pickit- boy was like and I got to feeling it in him as I walked with him slowly in the gathering darkness. I got inside him in some way I can’t explain and he got inside me. Often we would stop walking for no cause and he would put his nose up against my face.
I wished he was a girl sometimes or that I was a girl and he was a man. It’s an odd thing to say but it’s a fact. Being with him that way, so long, and in such a quiet way, cured something in me a little. Often after an evening like that I slept all right and did not have the kind of dreams I’ve spoken about. But I wasn’t cured for very long and couldn’t get cured. My body seemed all right and just as good as ever but there wasn’t no pep in me.
Then the fall got later and later and we came to the last town we were going to make before my owner laid his horses up for the winter, in his home town over across the state line in Ohio, and the track was up a hill, or rather in a kind of high plain above the town.
It wasn’t much of a place and the sheds were rather rickety and the track bad, especially at the turns. As soon as we got to the place and got stabled it began to rain and kept it up all week so the fair had to be put off. As the purses weren’t very large a lot of the owners shipped right out but our owner stayed. The fair owners guaranteed expenses, whether the races were held the next week or not. And all week there wasn’t much of anything for Burt and me to do but clean manure out of the stalls in the morning, watch for a chance when the rain let up a little to jog the horses around the track in the mud and then clean them off, blanket them and stick them back in their stalls. It was the hardest time of all for me. Burt wasn’t so bad off as there were a dozen or two blacks around and in the evening they went off to town, got liquored up a little and came home late, singing and talking, even in the cold rain.
And then one night I got mixed up in the thing I’m trying to tell you about.
It was a Saturday evening and when I look back at it now it seems to me everyone had left the tracks but just me. In early evening swipe after swipe came over to my stall and asked me if I was going to stick around. When I said I was he would ask me to keep an eye out for him, that nothing happened to his horse. “Just take a stroll down that way now and then, eh, kid,” one of them would say, “I just want to run up to town for an hour or two.”
I would say “yes” to be sure, and so pretty soon it was dark as pitch up there in that little ruined fair-ground and nothing living anywhere around but the horses and me.
I stood it as long as I could, walking here and there in the mud and rain, and thinking all the time I wished I was someone else and not myself. “If I were someone else,” I thought, “I wouldn’t be here but down there in town with the others.” I saw myself going into saloons and having drinks and later going off to a house maybe and getting myself a woman. I got to thinking so much that, as I went stumbling around up there in the darkness, it was as though what was in my mind was actually happening. Only I wasn’t with some cheap woman, such as I would have found had I had the nerve to do what I wanted but with such a woman as I thought then I should never find in this world. She was slender and like a flower and with something in her like a race horse too, something in her like Pick-it-boy in the stretch, I guess. And I thought about her and thought about her until I couldn’t stand thinking any more. “I’ll do something anyway,” I said to myself.
So, although I had told all the swipes I would stay and watch their horses. I went out of the fair grounds and down the hill a ways. I went down until I came to a little low saloon, not in the main part of the town itself but halfway up the hillside. The saloon had once been a residence, a farmhouse perhaps, but if it was ever a farmhouse I’m sure the farmer who lived there and worked the land on that hillside hadn’t made out very well. The country didn’t look like a farming country, such as one sees all about the other county-seat towns we had been visiting all through the late summer and fall. Everywhere you looked there were stones sticking out of the ground and the trees mostly of the stubby, stunted kind. It looked wild and untidy and ragged, that’s what I mean. On the flat plain, up above, where the fair ground was, there were a few fields and pastures, and there were some sheep raised and in the field right next to the tracks, on the furtherest side from town, on the back stretch side, there had once been a slaughterhouse, the ruins of which were still standing. It hadn’t been used for quite some time but there were bones of animals lying all about in the field, and there was a smell coming out of the old building that would curl your hair.
The horses hated the place, just as we swipes did, and in the morning when we were jogging them around the track in the mud, to keep them in racing condition. Pick-it-boy and O My Man both raised old Ned every time we headed them up the back stretch and got near to where the old slaughterhouse stood. They would rear and fight at the bit, and go off their stride and run until they got clear of the rotten smells, and neither Burt nor I could make them stop it. “It’s a hell of a town down there and this is a hell of a track for racing,” Burt kept saying. “If they ever have their danged old fair someone’s going to get spilled and maybe killed back here.” Whether they did or not I don’t know as I didn’t stay for the fair, for reasons I’ll tell you pretty soon, but Burt was speaking sense all right. A race horse isn’t like a human being. He won’t stand for it to have to do his work in any rotten ugly kind of a dump the way a man will, and he won’t stand for the smells a man will either.
But to get back to my story again. There I was, going down the hillside in the darkness and the cold soaking rain and breaking my word to all the others about staying up above and watching the horses. When I got to the little saloon I decided to stop and have a drink or two. I’d found out long before that about two drinks upset me so I was two-thirds piped and couldn’t walk straight, but on that night I didn’t care a tinker’s dam.
So I went up a kind of path, out of the road, toward the front door of the saloon. It was in what must have been the parlor of the place when it was a farmhouse and there was a little front porch.
I stopped before I opened the door and looked about a little. From where I stood I could look right down into the main street of the town, like being in a big city, like New York or Chicago, and looking down out of the fifteenth floor of an office building into the street.
The hillside was mighty steep and the road up had to wind and wind or no one could ever have come up out of the town to their plagued old fair at all.
It wasn’t much of a town I saw—a main street with a lot of saloons and a few stores, one or two dinky moving-picture places, a few fords, hardly any women or girls in sight and a raft of men. I tried to think of the girl I had been dreaming about, as I walked around in the mud and darkness up at the fair ground, living in the place but I couldn’t make it. It was like trying to think of Pick-it-boy getting himself worked up to the state I was in then, and going into the ugly dump I was going into. It couldn’t be done.
All the same I knew the town wasn’t all right there in sight. There must have been a good many of the kinds of houses Pennsylvania miners live in back in the hills, or around a turn in the valley in which the main street stood.
What I suppose is that, it being Saturday night and raining, the women and kids had all stayed at home and only the men were out, intending to get themselves liquored up. I’ve been in some other mining towns since and if I was a miner and had to live in one of them, or in one of the houses they live in with their women and kids, I’d get out and liquor myself up too.
So there I stood looking, and as sick as a dog inside myself, and as wet and cold as a rat in a sewer pipe. I could see the mass of dark figures moving about down below, and beyond the main street there was a river that made a sound you could hear distinctly, even up where I was, and over beyond the river were some railroad tracks with switch engines going up and down. I suppose they had something to do with the mines in which the men of the town worked. Anyway, as I stood watching and listening there was, now and then, a sound like thunder rolling down the sky, and I suppose that was a lot of coal, maybe a whole carload, being let down plunk into a coal car.
And then besides there was, on the side of a hill far away, a long row of coke ovens. They had little doors, through which the light from the fire within leaked out and as they were set closely, side by side, they looked like the teeth of some big man-eating giant lying and waiting over there in the hills.
The sight of it all, even the sight of the kind of hell-holes men are satisfied to go on living in, gave me the fantods and the shivers right down in my liver, and on that night I guess I had in me a kind of contempt for all men, including myself, that I’ve never had so thoroughly since. Come right down to it, I suppose women aren’t so much to blame as men. They aren’t running the show.
Then I pushed open the door and went into the saloon. There were about a dozen men, miners I suppose, playing cards at tables in a little long dirty room, with a bar at one side of it, and with a big redfaced man with a mustache standing back of the bar.
The place smelled, as such places do where men hang around who have worked and sweated in their clothes and perhaps slept in them too, and have never had them washed but have just kept on wearing them. I guess you know what I mean if you’ve ever been in a city. You smell that smell in a city, in streetcars on rainy nights when a lot of factory hands get on. I got pretty used to that smell when I was a tramp and pretty sick of it too.
And so I was in the place now, with a glass of whisky in my hand, and I thought all the miners were staring at me, which they weren’t at all, but I thought they were and so I felt just the same as though they had been. And then I looked up and saw my own face in the old cracked looking-glass back of the bar. If the miners had been staring, or laughing at me, I wouldn’t have wondered when I saw what I looked like.
It—I mean my own face—was white and pasty-looking, and for some reason, I can’t tell exactly why, it wasn’t my own face at all. It’s a funny business I’m trying to tell you about and I know what you may be thinking of me as well as you do, so you needn’t suppose I’m innocent or ashamed. I’m only wondering. I’ve thought about it a lot since and I can’t make it out. I know I was never that way before that night and I know I’ve never been that way since. Maybe it was lonesomeness, just lonesomeness, gone on in me too long. I’ve often wondered if women generally are lonesomer than men.
The point is that the face I saw in the looking-glass back of that bar, when I looked up from my glass of whisky that evening, wasn’t my own face at all but the face of a woman. It was a girl’s face, that’s what I mean. That’s what it was. It was a girl’s face, and a lonesome and scared girl too. She was just a kid at that.
I saw that the glass of whisky came pretty near falling out of my hand but I gulped it down, put a dollar on the bar, and called for another. “I’ve got to be careful here—I’m up against something new,” I said to myself. “If any of these men in here get on to me there’s going to be trouble.” When I had got the second drink in me I called for a third and I thought, “When I get this third drink down I’ll get out of here and back up the hill to the fair ground before I make a fool of myself and begin to get drunk.”
And then, while I was thinking and drinking my third glass of whisky, the men in the room began to laugh and of course I thought they were laughing at me. But they weren’t. No one in the place had really paid any attention to me.
What they were laughing at was a man who had just come in at the door. I’d never seen such a fellow. He was a huge big man, with red hair, that stuck straight up like bristles out of his head, and he had a red-haired kid in his arms. The kid was just like himself, big, I mean, for his age, and with the same kind of stiff red hair.
He came and set the kid up on the bar, close beside me, and called for a glass of whisky for himself and all the men in the room began to shout and laugh at him and his kid. Only they didn’t shout and laugh when he was looking, so he could tell which ones did it, but did all their shouting and laughing when his head was turned the other way. They kept calling him “cracked.” “The crack is getting wider in the old tin pan,” someone sang and then they all laughed.
I’m puzzled you see, just how to make you feel as I felt that night. I suppose, having undertaken to write this story, that’s what I’m up against, trying to do that. I’m not claiming to be able to inform you or to do you any good. I’m just trying to make you understand some things about me, as I would like to understand some things about you, or anyone, if I had the chance. Anyway the whole blamed thing, the thing that went on I mean in that little saloon on that rainy Saturday night, wasn’t like anything quite real. I’ve already told you how I had looked into the glass back of the bar and had seen there, not my own face but the face of a scared young girl. Well, the men, the miners, sitting at the tables in the half-dark room, the red-faced bartender, the unholy looking big man who had come in and his queer-looking kid, now sitting on the bar—all of them were like characters in some play, not like real people at all.
There was myself, that wasn’t myself—and I’m not any fairy. Anyone who has ever known me knows better than that.
And then there was the man who had come in. There was a feeling came out of him that wasn’t like the feeling you get from a man at all. It was more like the feeling you get from a man at all. It was more like the feeling you get maybe from a horse, only his eyes weren’t like a horse’s eyes. Horses’ eyes have a kind of calm something in them and his hadn’t. If you’ve ever carried a lantern through a wood at night, going along a path, and then suddenly you felt something funny in the air and stopped, and there ahead of you somewhere were the eyes of some little animal, gleaming out at you from a dead wall of darkness—The eyes shine big and quiet but there is a point right in the center of each, where there is something dancing and wavering. You aren’t afraid the little animal will jump at you, you are afraid the little eyes will jump at you—that’s what’s the matter with you.
Only of course a horse, when you go into his stall at night, or a little animal you had disturbed in a wood that way, wouldn’t be talking and the big man who had come in there with his kid was talking. He kept talking all the time, saying something under his breath, as they say, and I could only understand now and then a few words. It was his talking made him kind of terrible. His eyes said one thing and his lips another. They didn’t seem to get together, as though they belonged to the same person.
For one thing the man was too big. There was about him an unnatural bigness. It was in his hands, his arms, his shoulders, his body, his head, a bigness like you might see in trees and bushes in a tropical country perhaps. I’ve never been in a tropical country but I’ve seen pictures. Only his eyes were small. In his big head they looked like the eyes of a bird. And I remember that his lips were thick, like Negroes’ lips.
He paid no attention to me or to the others in the room but kept on muttering to himself, or to the kid sitting on the bar—I couldn’t tell to which. First he had one drink and then, quick, another. I stood staring at him and thinking—a jumble of thoughts, I suppose. What I must have been thinking was something like this. “Well he’s one of the kind you are always seeing about towns,” I thought. I meant he was one of the cracked kind. In almost any small town you go to you will find one, and sometimes two or three cracked people, walking around. They go through the street, muttering to themselves and people generally are cruel to them. Their own folks make a bluff at being kind, but they aren’t really, and the others in the town, men and boys, like to tease them. They send such a fellow, the mild silly kind, on some fool errand after a round square or a dozen postholes or tie cards on his back saying “Kick me,” or something like that, and then carry on and laugh as though they had done something funny.
And so there was this cracked one in that saloon and I could see the men in there wanted to have some fun putting up some kind of horseplay on him, but they didn’t quite dare. He wasn’t one of the mild kind, that was a cinch. I kept looking at the man and at his kid, and then up at that strange unreal reflection of myself in the cracked looking-glass back of the bar. “Rats, rats, digging in the ground— miners are rats, little jackrabbit,” I heard him say to his solemn-faced kid. I guess, after all, maybe he wasn’t so cracked.
The kid sitting on the bar kept blinking at his father, like an owl caught out in the daylight, and now the father was having another glass of whisky. He drank six glasses, one right after the other, and it was cheap ten cent stuff. He must have had cast-iron insides all right.
Of the men in the room there were two or three (maybe they were really more scared than the others so had to put up a bluff of bravery by showing off) who kept laughing and making funny cracks about the big man and his kid and there was one fellow was the worst of the bunch. I’ll never forget that fellow because of his looks and what happened to him afterwards.
He was one of the showing-off kind all right, and he was the one that had started the song about the crack getting bigger in the old tin pan. He sang it two or three times, and then he grew bolder and got up and began walking up and down the room singing it over and over. He was a showy kind of man with a fancy vest, on which there were brown tobacco spots, and he wore glasses. Every time he made some crack he thought was funny, he winked at the others as though to say, “You see me. I’m not afraid of this big fellow,” and then the others laughed.
The proprietor of the place must have known what was going on, and the danger in it, because he kept leaning over the bar and saying, “Shush, now quit it,” to the showy-off man, but it didn’t do any good. The fellow kept prancing like a turkey-cock and he put his hat on one side of his head and stopped right back of the big man and sang that song about the crack in the old tin pan. He was one of the kind you can’t shush until they get their blocks knocked off, and it didn’t take him long to come to it that time anyhow.
Because the big fellow just kept on muttering to his kid and drinking his whisky, as though he hadn’t heard anything, and then suddenly he turned and his big hand flashed out and he grabbed, not the fellow who had been showing off, but me. With just a sweep of his arm he brought me up against his big body. Then he shoved me over with my breast jammed against the bar and looking right into his kid’s face and he said, “Now you watch him, and if you let him fall I’ll kill you,” in just quite ordinary tones as though he was saying “good morning” to some neighbor.
Then the kid leaned over and threw his arms around my head, and in spite of that I did manage to screw my head around enough to see what happened.
It was a sight I’ll never forget. The big fellow had whirled around, and he had the showy-off man by the shoulder now, and the fellow’s face was a sight. The big man must have had some reputation as a bad man in the town, even though he was cracked for the man with the fancy vest had his mouth open now, and his hat had fallen off his head, and he was silent and scared. Once, when I was a tramp, I saw a kid killed by a train. The kid was walking on the rail and showing off before some other kids, by letting them see how close he could let an engine come to him before he got out of the way. And the engine was whistling and a woman, over on the porch of a house nearby, was jumping up and down and screaming, and the kid let the engine get nearer and nearer, wanting more and more to show off, and then he stumbled and fell. God, I’ll never forget the look on his face, in just the second before he got hit and killed and now, there in the saloon, was the same terrible look on another face.
I closed my eyes for a moment and was sick all through me and then, when I opened my eyes, the big man’s fist was just coming down in the other man’s face. The one blow knocked him cold and he fell down like a beast hit with an axe.
And then the most terrible thing of all happened. The big man had on heavy boots, and he raised one of them and brought it down on the other man’s shoulder, as he lay white and groaning on the floor. I could hear the bones crunch and it made me so sick I could hardly stand up, but I had to stand up and hold on to that kid or I knew it would be my turn next.
Because the big fellow didn’t seem excited or anything, but kept on muttering to himself as he had been doing when he was standing peacefully by the bar drinking his whisky, and now he had raised his foot again, and maybe this time he would bring it down in the other man’s face and, “just eliminate his map for keeps,” as sports and prize-fighters sometimes say. I trembled like I was having a chill, but thank God at that moment the kid, who had his arms around me and one hand clinging to my nose, so that there were the marks of his fingernails on it the next morning, at that moment the kid, thank God, began to howl, and his father didn’t bother any more with the man on the floor but turned around, knocked me aside, and taking the kid in his arms tramped out of that place, muttering to himself as he had been doing ever since he came in.
I went out too but I didn’t prance out with any dignity, I’ll tell you that. I slunk out like a thief or a coward, which perhaps I am, partly anyhow.
And so there I was, outside there in the darkness, and it was as cold and wet and black and Godforsaken a night as any man ever saw. I was so sick at the thought of human beings that night I could have vomited to think of them at all. For a while I just stumbled along in the mind of the road, going up the hill, back to the fair ground, and then, almost before I knew where I was, I found myself in the stall with Pick-it-boy.
That was one of the best and sweetest feelings I’ve ever had in my whole life, being in that warm stall alone with that horse that night. I had told the other swipes that I would go up and down the row of stalls now and then and have an eye on the other horses, but I had altogether forgotten my promise now. I went and stood with my back against the side of the stall, thinking how mean and low and all balled-up and twisted-up human beings can become, and how the best of them are likely to get that way any time, just because they are human beings and not simple and clear in their minds, and inside themselves, as animals are, maybe.
Perhaps you know how a person feels at such a moment. There are things you think of, odd little things you had thought you had forgotten. Once, when you were a kid, you were with your father, and he was all dressed up, as for a funeral or Fourth of July, and was walking along a street holding your hand. And you were going past a railroad station, and there was a woman standing. She was a stranger in your town and was dressed as you had never seen a woman dressed before, and never thought you would see one, looking so nice. Long afterwards you knew that was because she had lovely taste in clothes, such as so few women have really, but then you thought she must be a queen. You had read about queens in fairy stories and the thoughts of them thrilled you. What lovely eyes the strange lady had and what beautiful rings she wore on her fingers.
Then your father came out, from being in the railroad station, maybe to set his watch by the station clock, and took you by the hand and he and the woman smiled at each other, in an embarrassed kind of way, and you kept looking longingly back at her, and when you were out of her hearing you asked your father if she really were a queen. And it may be that your father was one who wasn’t so very hot on democracy and a free country and talked-up bunk about a free citizenry, and he said he hoped she was a queen, and maybe, for all he knew, she was.
Or maybe, when you get jammed up as I was that night, and can’t get things clear about yourself or other people and why you are alive, or for that matter why anyone you can think about is alive, you think, not of people at all but of other things you have seen and felt—like walking along a road in the snow in the winter, perhaps out in Iowa, and hearing soft warm sounds in a barn close to the road, or of another time when you were on a hill and the sun was going down and the sky suddenly became a great soft-colored bowl, all glowing like a jewel-handled bowl, a great queen in some faraway mighty kingdom might have put on a vast table out under the tree, once a year, when she invited all her loyal and loving subjects to come and dine with her.
I can’t, of course, figure out what you try to think about when you are as desolate as I was that night. Maybe you are like me and inclined to think of women, and maybe you are like a man I met once, on the road, who told me that when he was up against it he never thought of anything but grub and a big nice clean warm bed to sleep in. “I don’t care about anything else and I don’t ever let myself think of anything else,” he said. “If I was like you and went to thinking about women sometime I’d find myself hooked up to some skirt, and she’d have the old double cross on me, and the rest of my life maybe I’d be working in some factory for her and her kids.”
As I say, there I was anyway, up there alone with the horse in that warm stall in that dark lonesome fair ground and I had that feeling about being sick at the thought of human beings and what they could be like.
Well, suddenly I got again the queer feeling I’d had about him once or twice before, I mean the feeling about our understanding each other in some way I can’t explain.
So having it again I went over to where he stood and began running my hands all over his body, just because I loved the feel of him and as sometimes, to tell the plain truth, I’ve felt about touching with my hands the body of a woman I’ve seen and who I thought was lovely too. I ran my hands over his head and neck and then down over his hard firm round body and then over his flanks and down his legs. His flanks quivered a little I remember and once he turned his head and stuck his cold nose down along my neck and nipped my shoulder a little, in a soft playful way. It hurt a little but I didn’t care.
So then I crawled up through a hole into the loft above thinking that night was over anyway and glad of it, but it wasn’t, not by a long sight.
As my clothes were all soaking wet and as we race track swipes didn’t own any such things as nightgowns or pajamas I had to go to bed naked, of course.
But we had plenty of horse blankets and so I tucked myself in between a pile of them and tried not to think any more that night. The being with Pick-it-boy and having him close right under me that way made me feel a little better.
Then I was sound asleep and dreaming and—bang like being hit with a club by someone who has sneaked up behind you—I got another wallop.
What I suppose is that, being upset the way I was, I had forgotten to bolt the door to Pick-it-boy’s stall down below and two Negro men had come in there, thinking they were in their own place, and had climbed up through the hole where I was. They were half lit-up but not what you might call dead drunk, and I suppose they were up against something a couple of white swipes, who had some money in their pockets, wouldn’t have been up against.
What I mean is that a couple of white swipes, having liquored themselves up and being down there in the town on a bat, if they wanted a woman or a couple of women would have been able to find them. There is always a few women of that kind can be found around any town I’ve ever seen or heard of, and of course a bartender would have given them the tip where to go.
But a Negro, up there in that country, where there aren’t any, or anyway mighty few Negro women, wouldn’t know what to do when he felt that way and would be up against it.
It’s so always. Burt and several other Negroes I’ve known pretty well have talked to me about it, lots of times. You take now a young Negro man—not a race track swipe or a tramp or any other lowdown kind of a fellow—but, let us say, one who has been to college, and has behaved himself and tried to be a good man, the best he could, and be clean, as they say. He isn’t any better off, is he? If he has made himself some money and wants to go sit in a swell restaurant, or go to hear some good music, or see a good play at the theater, he gets what we used to call on the tracks, “the messy end of the dung fork,” doesn’t he?
And even in such a lowdown place as what people call a “bad house” it’s the same way. The white swipes and others can go into a place where they have Negro women fast enough, and they do it too, but you let a Negro swipe try it the other way around and see how he comes out.
You see, I can think this whole thing out fairly now, sitting here in my own home and writing, and with my wife Jessie in the kitchen making a pie or something, and I can show just how the two Negro men who came into that loft, where I was asleep, were justified in what they did, and I can preach about how the Negroes are up against it in this country, like a daisy, but I tell you what, I didn’t think things out that way that night.
For, you understand, what they thought, they being half liquored-up, and when one of them had jerked the blankets off me, was that I was a woman. One of them carried a lantern but it was smoky and dirty and didn’t give out much light. So they must have figured it out—my body being pretty white and slender then, like a young girl’s body I suppose—that some white swipe had brought me up there. The kind of girls around a town that will come with a swipe to a race track on a rainy night aren’t very fancy females but you’ll find that kind in the towns all right. I’ve seen many a one in my day.
And so, I figure, these two big buck niggers, being piped that way, just made up their minds they would snatch me away from the white swipe who had brought me there, and who had left me lying carelessly around.
“Jes’ you lie still honey. We ain’t gwine hurt you none,” one of them said, with a little chuckling laugh that had something in it besides a laugh, too. It was the kind of laugh that gives you the shivers.
The devil of it was I couldn’t say anything, not even a word. Why I couldn’t yell out and say “What the hell,” and just kid them a little and shoo them out of there I don’t know, but I couldn’t. I tried and tried so that my throat hurt but I didn’t say a word. I just lay there staring at them.
It was a mixed-up night. I’ve never gone through another night like it.
Was I scared? Lord Almighty, I’ll tell you what, I was scared.
Because the two black faces were leaning right over me now, and I could feel their liquored-up breaths on my cheeks, and their eyes were shining in the dim light from that smoky lantern, and right in the center of their eyes was that dancing flickering light I’ve told you about your seeing in the eyes of wild animals, when you were carrying a lantern through the woods at night.
It was a puzzler! All my life, you see—me never having had any sisters, and at that time never having had a sweetheart either—I had been dreaming and thinking about women, and I suppose I’d always been dreaming about a pure innocent one, for myself, made for me by God, maybe. Men are that way. No matter how big they talk about “let the women go hang,” they’ve always got that notion tucked away inside themselves, somewhere. It’s a kind of chesty man’s notion, I suppose, but they’ve got it and the kind of up-and-coming women we have nowadays who are always saying, “I’m as good as a man and will do what the men do,” are on the wrong trail if they really ever want to, what you might say “hog-tie” a fellow of their own.
So I had invented a kind of princess, with black hair and a slender willowy body to dream about. And I thought of her as being shy and afraid to ever tell anything she really felt to anyone but just me. I suppose I fancied that if I ever found such a woman in the flesh I would be the strong sure one and she the timid shrinking one.
And now I was that woman, or something like her, myself.
I gave a kind of wriggle, like a fish you have just taken off the hook. What I did next wasn’t a thought-out thing. I was caught and I squirmed, that’s all.
The two niggers both jumped at me but somehow—the lantern having been kicked over and having gone out the first move they made—well in some way, when they both lunged at me they missed.
As good luck would have it my feet found the hole, where you put hay down to the horse in the stall below, and through which we crawled up when it was time to go to bed in our blankets up in the hay, and down I slid, not bothering to try to find the ladder with my feet but just letting myself go.
In less than a second I was out of doors in the dark and the rain and the two blacks were down the hole and out the door of the stall after me.
How long or how far they really followed me I suppose I’ll never know. It was black dark and raining hard now and a roaring wind had begun to blow. Of course, my body being white, it must have made some kind of a faint streak in the darkness as I ran, and anyway I thought they could see me and I knew I couldn’t see them and that made my terror ten times worse. Every minute I thought they would grab me.
You know how it is when a person is all upset and full of terror as I was. I suppose maybe the two niggers followed me for a while, running across the muddy race track and into the grove of trees that grew in the oval inside the track, but likely enough, after just a few minutes, they gave up the chase and went back, found their own place and went to sleep. They were liquored-up, as I’ve said, and maybe partly funning too.
But I didn’t know that, if they were. As I ran I kept hearing sounds, sounds made by the rain coming down through the dead old leaves left on the trees and by the wind blowing, and it may be that the sound that scared me most of all was my own bare feet stepping on a dead branch and breaking it or something like that.
There was something strange and scary, a steady sound, like a heavy man running and breathing hard, right at my shoulder. It may have been my own breath, coming quick and fast. And I thought I heard that chuckling laugh I’d heard up in the loft, the laugh that sent the shivers right down through me. Of course every tree I came close to looked like a man standing there, ready to grab me, and I kept dodging and going—bang—into other trees. My shoulders kept knocking against trees in that way and the skin was all knocked off, and every time it happened I thought a big black hand had come down and clutched at me and was tearing my flesh.
How long it went on I don’t know, maybe an hour, maybe five minutes. But anyway the darkness didn’t let up, and I couldn’t, to save my life, scream or make any sound.
Just why I couldn’t I don’t know. Could it be because at the time I was a woman, while at the same time I wasn’t a woman? It may be that I was too ashamed of having turned into a girl and being afraid of a man to make any sound. I don’t know about that. It’s over my head.
But anyway I couldn’t make a sound. I tried and tried and my throat hurt from trying and no sound came.
And then, after a long time, or what seemed like a long time, I got out from among the trees inside the track and was on the track itself again. I thought the two black men were still after me, you understand, and I ran like a madman.
Of course, running along the track that way, it must have been up the back stretch, I came after a time to where the old slaughterhouse stood, in that field, beside the track. I knew it by its ungodly smell, scared as I was. Then, in some way, I managed to get over the high old fair ground fence and was in the field, where the slaughterhouse was.
All the time I was trying to yell or scream, or be sensible and tell those two black men that I was a man and not a woman, but I couldn’t make it. And then I heard a sound like a board cracking or breaking in the fence and thought they were still after me.
So I kept on running like a crazy man, in the field, and just then I stumbled and fell over something. I’ve told you how the old slaughterhouse field was filled with bones, that had been lying there a long time and had all been washed white. There were heads of sheep and cows and all kinds of things.
And when I fell and pitched forward I fell right into the midst of something, still and cold and white.
It was probably the skeleton of a horse lying there. In small towns like that, they take an old worn-out horse, that has died, and haul him off to some field outside of town and skin him for the hide, that they can sell for a dollar or two. It doesn’t make any difference what the horse has been, that’s the way he usually ends up. Maybe even Pick-it-boy, or O My Man, or a lot of other good fast ones I’ve seen and known have ended that way by this time.
And so I think it was the bones of a horse lying there and he must have been lying on his back. The birds and wild animals had picked all his flesh away and the rain had washed his bones clean.
Anyway I fell and pitched forward and my side got cut pretty deep and my hands clutched at something. I had fallen right in between the ribs of the horse and they seemed to wrap themselves around me close. And my hands, clutching upwards, had got hold of the cheeks of that dead horse and the bones of his cheeks were cold as ice with the rain washing over them. White bones wrapped around me and white bones in my hands.
There was a new terror now that seemed to go down to the very bottom of me, to the bottom of the inside of me, I mean. It shook me like I have seen a rat in a barn shaken by a dog. It was a terror like a big wave that hits you when you are walking on a seashore, maybe. You see it coming and you try to run and get away but when you start to run inshore there is a stone cliff you can’t climb. So the wave comes high as a mountain, and there it is, right in front of you and nothing in all this world can stop it. And now it had knocked you down and rolled and tumbled you over and over and washed you clean, clean, but dead maybe.
And that’s the way I felt—I seemed to myself dead with blind terror. It was a feeling like the finger of God running down your back and burning you clean, I mean.
It burned all that silly nonsense about being a girl right out of me. I screamed at last and the spell that was on me was broken. I’ll bet the scream I let out of me could have been heard a mile and a half.
Right away I felt better and crawled out from among the pile of bones, and then I stood on my own feet again and I wasn’t a woman, or a young girl any more but a man and my own self, and as far as I know I’ve been that way ever since. Even the black night seemed warm and alive now, like a mother might be to a kid in the dark.
Only I couldn’t go back to the race track because I was blubbering and crying and was ashamed of myself and of what a fool I had made of myself. Someone might see me and I couldn’t stand that, not at that moment.
So I went across the field, walking now, not running like a crazy man, and pretty soon I came to a fence and crawled over and got into another field, in which there was a straw stack, I just happened to find in the pitch darkness.
The straw stack had been there a long time and some sheep had nibbled away at it until they had made a pretty deep hole, like a cave, in the side of it. I found the hole and crawled in and there were some sheep in there, about a dozen of them.
When I came in, creeping on my hands and knees, they didn’t make much fuss, just stirred around a little and then settled down.
So I settled down amongst them too. They were warm and gentle and kind, like Pick-it-boy, and being in there with them made me feel better than I would have felt being with any human person I knew at that time.
So I settled down and slept after a while, and when I woke up it was daylight and not very cold and the rain was over. The clouds were breaking away from the sky now and maybe there would be a fair the next week but if there was I knew I wouldn’t be there to see it.
Because what I expected to happen did happen. I had to go back across the fields and the fair ground to the place where my clothes were, right in the broad daylight, and me stark naked, and of course I knew someone would be up and would raise a shout, and every swipe and every driver would stick his head out and would whoop with laughter.
And there would be a thousand questions asked, and I would be too mad and too ashamed to answer, and would perhaps begin to blubber, and that would make me more ashamed than ever.
It all turned out just as I expected, except that when the noise and the shouts of laughter were going it the loudest, Burt came out of the stall where O My Man was kept, and when he saw me he didn’t know what was the matter but he knew something was up that wasn’t on the square and for which I wasn’t to blame.
So he got so all-fired mad he couldn’t speak for a minute, and then he grabbed a pitchfork and began prancing up and down before the other stalls, giving that gang of swipes and drivers such a royal old dressing-down as you never heard. You should have heard him sling language. It was grand to hear.
And while he was doing it I sneaked up into the loft, blubbering because I was so pleased and happy to hear him swear that way, and I got my wet clothes on quick and got down, and gave Pick-it-boy a good-bye kiss on the cheek and lit out.
The last I saw of all that part of my life was Burt, still going it, and yelling out for the man who had put up a trick on me to come out and get what was coming to him. He had the pitchfork in his hand and was swinging it around, and every now and then he would make a kind of lunge at a tree or something, he was so mad through, and there was no one else in sight at all. And Burt didn’t even see me cutting out along the fence through a gate and down the hill and out of the race-horse and the tramp life for the rest of my days.
*Sherwood Anderson (USA; 1876-1941), Horses and Men. Tales, long and short, from our American life, New York: Huebsch, 1923