Why They Got Married by Sherwood Anderson
People keep on getting married. Evidently hope is eternal in
the human breast. Every one laughs about it. You cannot go to a
show but that some comedian takes a shot at the institution of
marriage--and gets a laugh. It is amusing to watch the faces of
married couples at such moments.
But I had intended to speak about Will. Will is a painter. I
had intended to tell you about a conversation that took place in
Will's apartment one night. Every man or woman who marries must
wonder sometimes how it happened to be just that other one he or
"You have to live so close to the other when you are married,"
"Yes, you do," said Helen, his wife.
"I get awfully tired of it sometimes," Will said.
"And don't I?" said Helen.
"It is worse for me than it is for you."
"No, I think it is worse for me."
"Well, gracious sakes, I would like to know how you figure
"I was in New York, was a student there," said Will. It was
evident that he had risen above the little choppy matrimonial sea
in which he had been swimming with Helen--conversational
swimming--he was ready to tell how it happened. That is always an
"Well," said Will, "as I said, there I was, in New York. I was
a young bachelor. I was going to school. Then I got through
school. I got a job. It wasn't much of a job. I got thirty
dollars a week. I was making advertising drawings. So I met a
fellow named Bob. He was getting his seventy-five dollars a week.
Think of that, Helen. Why didn't you get that one?"
"But, Will, dear, you are now making more than he will ever
make," Helen said. "But it wasn't only that. Will is such a
sweet, gentle man. You can see that by just looking at him." She
walked across the room and took her husband's hands.
"You can't tell about that gentle-looking kind sometimes," I
"I know it," Helen said, smiling.
She was surely a very lovely thing at that moment. She had big
gray eyes and was very slender and graceful.
Will said that the man Bob, he had met, had some relatives
living over near Philadelphia. He was, Helen said, a large,
rather mushy-looking man with white hands.
So they began going over there for week-ends. Will and Bob.
Will's own people lived in Kansas.
At the place where Bob had the relatives--it was in a suburb
of Philadelphia--there were two girls. They were cousins of
Will said the girls were all right, and when he said it Helen
smiled. He said their father was an advertising man. "They made
us welcome at their house. They gave us grand beds to sleep in."
Will had got launched into his tale.
"We would get over there about five o'clock of a Saturday
afternoon. The father's name was J. G. Small. He had a
"So he would be at home and he would take a look at us, the
way an older man does look at two young fellows making up to the
young women folks in his house. At first he looks at you as much
as to say, 'Hello, I envy you your youth, etc.,' and then he
takes another look and his eyes say, 'What are you hanging around
here for, you young squirt?'
"After dinner, of a Saturday night, we got the car, or rather
the girls did. I sat on the back seat with one of them. Her name
"She was a tall, heavy-looking girl with dark eyes. She
embarrassed me. I don't know why."
Will went a bit aside from his subject to speak of men's
embarrassment with such women. "There is a certain kind that just
get your goat," he said, speaking a bit inelegantly, I thought,
for a painter. "They feel they ought to be up to their business,
getting themselves a man, but maybe they have thought too much
about it. They are self-conscious and, of course, they make you
feel that way.
"Naturally, we made love. It seemed to be expected. Bob was at
it with her sister on the front seat. Everybody does it nowadays,
and I was glad enough for the chance. Just the same I kept
wishing it came a little more natural with me--with that one I
When Will was saying all this to me he was sitting on a couch
in his apartment in New York. I had dined with him and his wife.
She was sitting on the couch beside him. When he spoke about the
other woman, she crept a little nearer to him. She remarked
casually that it was only a chance that she, instead of the woman
Cynthia, got Will. When she said that, it was very hard to
believe her. I doubt whether she wanted me to believe.
Will said that, with Cynthia, it was very hard indeed to get
close. He said she never really did, what he called "melt." The
fellow on the front seat, that is to say his friend Bob, was
usually in a playful mood during these drives. Of the two girls,
his cousins, he always seemed to prefer, not the one named
Cynthia, but a smaller, darker, livelier one named Grace. He used
to stop the car sometimes, on a dark road in that country
somewhere outside Philadelphia, and he and Grace would make up to
It was simply amazing how the girl named Grace could talk.
Will said she used to swear at Bob and that when he got, what she
called "too gay," she hit him. Sometimes Bob stopped the car and
he and Grace got out and took a walk. They would be gone quite a
long time. Will sat in the back seat with Cynthia. He said her
hands were like men's hands. "They looked like competent hands,"
he thought. She was older than her sister Grace, and had taken a
job in the city.
Apparently she was not very competent in love making; Will
thought Grace and Bob would never come back. He was trying to
think up things to say to Cynthia. One night they all went
together to a dance. It was at a road-house, somewhere near
It must have been a rather tough place. Will said it was, but
when he said so, his wife, Helen, laughed. "What the devil were
you doing there anyway?" Will suddenly said, turning and glaring
at her as though it were the first time he had thought of asking
"I was after a man and I got one, too. I got you," she
She had gone to the dance with a young man of the same suburb
in which Bob's cousins lived. Her father was a doctor. Helen took
the tale right out of Will's hands. She explained that when Will
and Bob and the two girls, Grace and Cynthia, came into the dance
hall she spotted Will at once. "That one's mine," she said to
herself and almost before they had got inside the door she had
been introduced to Will. They danced together at once.
There must really have been some tough people in the
road-house that night. When Will and Helen were dancing together
there was a big, low-browed, tough-looking fellow who kept trying
to "make" Helen, Will said. He had started to tell me about it
and then got an idea. "Say, you look here, Helen," he said,
turning to look at his wife, "didn't you have something to do
with that? Had you given that low-browed man the eye? Were you
egging him on?"
"Sure," she said.
She explained that when a woman, like herself, was at work,
when she really was laying herself out to get a man, the right
thing to do was to have a rival in the field. "You have to work
with what material you have at hand, don't you? You are an
artist. You are always talking about art. You ought to understand
There came very near being a row. Will had taken Helen to a
table where Bob sat with Grace and Cynthia. The young tough
swaggered up--he was a little high--and demanded a dance with
Helen got indignant. She looked frightened and Will felt it
was up to him, and he isn't the kind that is good at that sort of
thing. Will is the kind that in such an emergency grows rather
Such a man begins to tremble. His back hurts. He dreams of
being cool and determined, but is so helpless that very likely he
shouts, makes the situation much worse, goes too far. What
happened was that Helen settled the matter. She had already
become a little tender about Will.
"What did you do?" I asked. "I understood you had become
"I had," she said, "but I managed. I got up and danced with
him. I liked it. He was a good dancer."
Helen, like Grace and Cynthia, had got her father's car for
the evening. When they left that tough place the young man who
had come with her was on the back seat of the other car with
Cynthia, and Will was in the car with her. That did not much
please Cynthia, but it seemed Cynthia had very little to do with
So they had got started in that way. Afterward, Will continued
going to Philadelphia with Bob for the week-ends, but things were
different at the cousin's house. "It was not so warm and cheerful
there," Will said. Helen was always dropping in. Soon the two
young men began stopping at a hotel in Philadelphia. Bob had also
got interested in Helen. They stopped at a cheap hotel, not
having much money, and Helen came to see them. Will said she came
right up into the hotel bedroom. As he began thinking of what
went on during that time, Will looked at Helen with a kind of
wonder in his eyes. "I guess you could have had either of us," he
said, with a note of awe in his voice. It was obvious he admired
"I was not so sure about Bob," Helen said.
She wrote letters to both of the men during the week, when
they were in New York at work, and when they arrived in
Philadelphia, there she was. She always managed to get her
father's car. She went home to her suburb late on Saturday nights
and came back again early on Sundays. Saturday nights they all
went together to a dance.
One day her father grew alarmed and angry, and followed her.
He saw her go to the two men, right into their room, in the cheap
She had to decide the matter. She had made up her mind to
marry one of the men, was tired of living at home. Things, I
gathered, were getting rather warm at home. She was an only
child. She said her mother was crying all the time and her father
was furious. "I had to be hard-boiled with them for the time,"
she explained. She was rather like a surgeon about to perform an
operation on a frightened patient. She cajoled and bullied them.
When her father tried to put his foot down she issued an
ultimatum. "I'm twenty-one," she said. "If you interfere with me
I shall leave home."
"But how will you live?"
"Don't be silly, Father, a woman can always live."
She went right out to the garage, got her father's car and
drove to Philadelphia. In the room in the hotel she was studying
the two men. She got Will to go down to the car with her. "Get
in," she said. They drove away from the hotel. "I didn't know
where we were going," Will said.
They drove and drove. Will spoke of her mood that night. He
was in love. When I heard this tale he was still very much in
love. "It was a soft clear night with stars." Speaking of it, he
took hold of his wife's hands.
"Let's get married," she said to Will that night. "But when?"
he asked. She thought they had better do it at once. "But think
of my salary," Will said. "I am thinking about it. It isn't much,
is it?" The meagerness of his salary didn't seem to alter her
determination. "I can't wait any longer," was what she said. She
said they would drive around all night and get married early the
And so they did. Her people, the doctor and his wife, were in
Will and his wife went to them the next day. "How were you
received?" I asked. "Fine," Will said. He said that the doctor
and his wife would have been happy no matter whom she had
married. "You see, I had arranged for that," Helen said. "I had
got them into a state where marriage sure seemed like salvation