I am at my house in the country and it is late October. It rains. Back
of my house is a forest and in front there is a road and beyond that
open fields. The country is one of low hills, flattening suddenly into
plains. Some twenty miles away, across the flat country, lies the huge
On this rainy day the leaves of the trees that line the road before my
window are falling like rain, the yellow, red and golden leaves fall
straight down heavily. The rain beats them brutally down. They are
denied a last golden flash across the sky. In October leaves should be
carried away, out over the plains, in a wind. They should go dancing
Yesterday morning I arose at daybreak and went for a walk. There was a
heavy fog and I lost myself in it. I went down into the plains and
returned to the hills, and everywhere the fog was as a wall before me.
Out of it trees sprang suddenly, grotesquely, as in a city street late
at night people come suddenly out of the darkness into the circle of
light under a street lamp. Above there was the light of day forcing
itself slowly into the fog. The fog moved slowly. The tops of trees
moved slowly. Under the trees the fog was dense, purple. It was like
smoke lying in the streets of a factory town.
An old man came up to me in the fog. I know him well. The people here
call him insane. "He is a little cracked," they say. He lives alone in
a little house buried deep in the forest and has a small dog he carries
always in his arms. On many mornings I have met him walking on the road
and he has told me of men and women who are his brothers and sisters,
his cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers-in-law. It is confusing. He cannot
draw close to people near at hand so he gets hold of a name out of a
newspaper and his mind plays with it. On one morning he told me he was
a cousin to the man named Cox who at the time when I write is a
candidate for the presidency. On another morning he told me that Caruso
the singer had married a woman who was his sister-in-law. "She is my
wife's sister," he said, holding the little dog close. His grey watery
eyes looked appealing up to me. He wanted me to believe. "My wife was a
sweet slim girl," he declared. "We lived together in a big house and in
the morning walked about arm in arm. Now her sister has married Caruso
the singer. He is of my family now."
As someone had told me the old man had never married, I went away
wondering. One morning in early September I came upon him sitting under
a tree beside a path near his house. The dog barked at me and then ran
and crept into his arms. At that time the Chicago newspapers were
filled with the story of a millionaire who had got into trouble with
his wife because of an intimacy with an actress. The old man told me
that the actress was his sister. He is sixty years old and the actress
whose story appeared in the newspapers is twenty but he spoke of their
childhood together. "You would not realize it to see us now but we were
poor then," he said. "It's true. We lived in a little house on the side
of a hill. Once when there was a storm, the wind nearly swept our house
away. How the wind blew! Our father was a carpenter and he built strong
houses for other people but our own house he did not build very
strong!" He shook his head sorrowfully. "My sister the actress has got
into trouble. Our house is not built very strongly," he said as I went
away along the path.
* * * * *
For a month, two months, the Chicago newspapers, that are delivered
every morning in our village, have been filled with the story of a
murder. A man there has murdered his wife and there seems no reason for
the deed. The tale runs something like this--
The man, who is now on trial in the courts and will no doubt be hanged,
worked in a bicycle factory where he was a foreman and lived with his
wife and his wife's mother in an apartment in Thirty-second Street. He
loved a girl who worked in the office of the factory where he was
employed. She came from a town in Iowa and when she first came to the
city lived with her aunt who has since died. To the foreman, a heavy
stolid looking man with grey eyes, she seemed the most beautiful woman
in the world. Her desk was by a window at an angle of the factory, a
sort of wing of the building, and the foreman, down in the shop had a
desk by another window. He sat at his desk making out sheets containing
the record of the work done by each man in his department. When he
looked up he could see the girl sitting at work at her desk. The notion
got into his head that she was peculiarly lovely. He did not think of
trying to draw close to her or of winning her love. He looked at her as
one might look at a star or across a country of low hills in October
when the leaves of the trees are all red and yellow gold. "She is a
pure, virginal thing," he thought vaguely. "What can she be thinking
about as she sits there by the window at work."
In fancy the foreman took the girl from Iowa home with him to his
apartment in Thirty-second Street and into the presence of his wife and
his mother-in-law. All day in the shop and during the evening at home
he carried her figure about with him in his mind. As he stood by a
window in his apartment and looked out toward the Illinois Central
railroad tracks and beyond the tracks to the lake, the girl was there
beside him. Down below women walked in the street and in every woman he
saw there was something of the Iowa girl. One woman walked as she did,
another made a gesture with her hand that reminded of her. All the
women he saw except his wife and his mother-in-law were like the girl
he had taken inside himself.
The two women in his own house puzzled and confused him. They became
suddenly unlovely and commonplace. His wife in particular was like some
strange unlovely growth that had attached itself to his body.
In the evening after the day at the factory he went home to his own
place and had dinner. He had always been a silent man and when he did
not talk no one minded. After dinner he with his wife went to a picture
show. There were two children and his wife expected another. They came
into the apartment and sat down. The climb up two flights of stairs had
wearied his wife. She sat in a chair beside her mother groaning with
The mother-in-law was the soul of goodness. She took the place of a
servant in the home and got no pay. When her daughter wanted to go to a
picture show she waved her hand and smiled. "Go on," she said. "I don't
want to go. I'd rather sit here." She got a book and sat reading. The
little boy of nine awoke and cried. He wanted to sit on the po-po. The
mother-in-law attended to that.
After the man and his wife came home the three people sat in silence
for an hour or two before bed time. The man pretended to read a
newspaper. He looked at his hands. Although he had washed them
carefully grease from the bicycle frames left dark stains under the
nails. He thought of the Iowa girl and of her white quick hands playing
over the keys of a typewriter. He felt dirty and uncomfortable.
The girl at the factory knew the foreman had fallen in love with her
and the thought excited her a little. Since her aunt's death she had
gone to live in a rooming house and had nothing to do in the evening.
Although the foreman meant nothing to her she could in a way use him.
To her he became a symbol. Sometimes he came into the office and stood
for a moment by the door. His large hands were covered with black
grease. She looked at him without seeing. In his place in her
imagination stood a tall slender young man. Of the foreman she saw only
the grey eyes that began to burn with a strange fire. The eyes
expressed eagerness, a humble and devout eagerness. In the presence of
a man with such eyes she felt she need not be afraid.
She wanted a lover who would come to her with such a look in his eyes.
Occasionally, perhaps once in two weeks, she stayed a little late at
the office, pretending to have work that must be finished. Through the
window she could see the foreman waiting. When everyone had gone she
closed her desk and went into the street. At the same moment the
foreman came out at the factory door.
They walked together along the street a half dozen blocks to where she
got aboard her car. The factory was in a place called South Chicago and
as they went along evening was coming on. The streets were lined with
small unpainted frame houses and dirty faced children ran screaming in
the dusty roadway. They crossed over a bridge. Two abandoned coal
barges lay rotting in the stream.
He went by her side walking heavily and striving to conceal his hands.
He had scrubbed them carefully before leaving the factory but they
seemed to him like heavy dirty pieces of waste matter hanging at his
side. Their walking together happened but a few times and during one
summer. "It's hot," he said. He never spoke to her of anything but the
weather. "It's hot," he said. "I think it may rain."
She dreamed of the lover who would some time come, a tall fair young
man, a rich man owning houses and lands. The workingman who walked
beside her had nothing to do with her conception of love. She walked
with him, stayed at the office until the others had gone to walk
unobserved with him because of his eyes, because of the eager thing in
his eyes that was at the same time humble, that bowed down to her. In
his presence there was no danger, could be no danger. He would never
attempt to approach too closely, to touch her with his hands. She was
safe with him.
In his apartment in the evening the man sat under the electric light
with his wife and his mother-in-law. In the next room his two children
were asleep. In a short time his wife would have another child. He had
been with her to a picture show and in a short time they would get into
He would lie awake thinking, would hear the creaking of the springs of
a bed where, in another room, his mother-in-law was crawling between
the sheets. Life was too intimate. He would lie awake eager, expectant—expecting, what?
Nothing. Presently one of the children would cry. It wanted to get out
of bed and sit on the po-po. Nothing strange or unusual or lovely would
or could happen. Life was too close, intimate. Nothing that could
happen in the apartment could in any way stir him; the things his wife
might say, her occasional half-hearted outbursts of passion, the
goodness of his mother-in-law who did the work of a servant without
He sat in the apartment under the electric light pretending to read a
newspaper—thinking. He looked at his hands. They were large,
shapeless, a working-man's hands.
The figure of the girl from Iowa walked about the room. With her he
went out of the apartment and walked in silence through miles of
streets. It was not necessary to say words. He walked with her by a
sea, along the crest of a mountain. The night was clear and silent and
the stars shone. She also was a star. It was not necessary to say
Her eyes were like stars and her lips were like soft hills rising out
of dim, star lit plains. "She is unattainable, she is far off like the
stars," he thought. "She is unattainable like the stars but unlike the
stars she breathes, she lives, like myself she has being."
One evening, some six weeks ago, the man who worked as foreman in the
bicycle factory killed his wife and he is now in the courts being tried
for murder. Every day the newspapers are filled with the story. On the
evening of the murder he had taken his wife as usual to a picture show
and they started home at nine. In Thirty-second Street, at a corner
near their apartment building, the figure of a man darted suddenly out
of an alleyway and then darted back again. The incident may have put
the idea of killing his wife into the man's head.
They got to the entrance to the apartment building and stepped into a
dark hallway. Then quite suddenly and apparently without thought the
man took a knife out of his pocket. "Suppose that man who darted into
the alleyway had intended to kill us," he thought. Opening the knife he
whirled about and struck at his wife. He struck twice, a dozen times—
madly. There was a scream and his wife's body fell.
The janitor had neglected to light the gas in the lower hallway.
Afterwards, the foreman, decided, that was the reason he did it, that
and the fact that the dark slinking figure of a man darted out of an
alleyway and then darted back again. "Surely," he told himself, "I
could never have done it had the gas been lighted."
He stood in the hallway thinking. His wife was dead and with her had
died her unborn child. There was a sound of doors opening in the
apartments above. For several minutes nothing happened. His wife and
her unborn child were dead—that was all.
He ran upstairs thinking quickly. In the darkness on the lower stairway
he had put the knife back into his pocket and, as it turned out later,
there was no blood on his hands or on his clothes. The knife he later
washed carefully in the bathroom, when the excitement had died down a
little. He told everyone the same story. "There has been a hold-up," he
explained. "A man came slinking out of an alleyway and followed me and
my wife home. He followed us into the hallway of the building and there
was no light. The janitor has neglected to light the gas." Well—there
had been a struggle and in the darkness his wife had been killed. He
could not tell how it had happened. "There was no light. The janitor
has neglected to light the gas," he kept saying.
For a day or two they did not question him specially and he had time to
get rid of the knife. He took a long walk and threw it away into the
river in South Chicago where the two abandoned coal barges lay rotting
under the bridge, the bridge he had crossed when on the summer evenings
he walked to the street car with the girl who was virginal and pure,
who was far off and unattainable, like a star and yet not like a star.
And then he was arrested and right away he confessed—told everything.
He said he did not know why he killed his wife and was careful to say
nothing of the girl at the office. The newspapers tried to discover the
motive for the crime. They are still trying. Someone had seen him on
the few evenings when he walked with the girl and she was dragged into
the affair and had her picture printed in the papers. That has been
annoying for her as of course she has been able to prove she had
nothing to do with the man.
* * * * *
Yesterday morning a heavy fog lay over our village here at the edge of
the city and I went for a long walk in the early morning. As I returned
out of the lowlands into our hill country I met the old man whose
family has so many and such strange ramifications. For a time he walked
beside me holding the little dog in his arms. It was cold and the dog
whined and shivered. In the fog the old man's face was indistinct. It
moved slowly back and forth with the fog banks of the upper air and
with the tops of trees. He spoke of the man who has killed his wife and
whose name is being shouted in the pages of the city newspapers that
come to our village each morning. As he walked beside me he launched
into a long tale concerning a life he and his brother, who has now
become a murderer, once lived together. "He is my brother," he said
over and over, shaking his head. He seemed afraid I would not believe.
There was a fact that must be established. "We were boys together that
man and I," he began again. "You see we played together in a barn back
of our father's house. Our father went away to sea in a ship. That is
the way our names became confused. You understand that. We have
different names, but we are brothers. We had the same father. We played
together in a barn back of our father's house. For hours we lay
together in the hay in the barn and it was warm there."
In the fog the slender body of the old man became like a little gnarled
tree. Then it became a thing suspended in air. It swung back and forth
like a body hanging on the gallows. The face beseeched me to believe
the story the lips were trying to tell. In my mind everything
concerning the relationship of men and women became confused, a muddle.
The spirit of the man who had killed his wife came into the body of the
little old man there by the roadside.
It was striving to tell me the story it would never be able to tell in
the court room in the city, in the presence of the judge. The whole
story of mankind's loneliness, of the effort to reach out to
unattainable beauty tried to get itself expressed from the lips of a
mumbling old man, crazed with loneliness, who stood by the side of a
country road on a foggy morning holding a little dog in his arms.
The arms of the old man held the dog so closely that it began to whine
with pain. A sort of convulsion shook his body. The soul seemed
striving to wrench itself out of the body, to fly away through the fog,
down across the plain to the city, to the singer, the politician, the
millionaire, the murderer, to its brothers, cousins, sisters, down in
the city. The intensity of the old man's desire was terrible and in
sympathy my body began to tremble. His arms tightened about the body of
the little dog so that it cried with pain. I stepped forward and tore
the arms away and the dog fell to the ground and lay whining. No doubt
it had been injured. Perhaps ribs had been crushed. The old man stared
at the dog lying at his feet as in the hallway of the apartment
building the worker from the bicycle factory had stared at his dead
wife. "We are brothers," he said again. "We have different names but we
are brothers. Our father you understand went off to sea."
* * * * *
I am sitting in my house in the country and it rains. Before my eyes
the hills fall suddenly away and there are the flat plains and beyond
the plains the city. An hour ago the old man of the house in the forest
went past my door and the little dog was not with him. It may be that
as we talked in the fog he crushed the life out of his companion. It
may be that the dog like the workman's wife and her unborn child is now
dead. The leaves of the trees that line the road before my window are
falling like rain—the yellow, red and golden leaves fall straight
down, heavily. The rain beat them brutally down. They are denied a last
golden flash across the sky. In October leaves should be carried away,
out over the plains, in a wind. They should go dancing away.