Chapter 2 Summary

The story flashes back to the night Scripps O’Neil lost his wife. Ignoring the falling snow, Scripps stands outside the Mancelona High School. A man passes by, stares at him for a while, and then moves on. Scripps looks at the school, thinking about the fact that inside are boys and girls in search of knowledge. It is this surge of interest in knowledge that is sweeping the country, he believes. He thinks of his daughter, Lousy, in there. He also thinks about the seventy dollars in doctor’s bills she has cost him. Scripps, however, is proud of her; he thinks that—for himself at least—it is too late to learn.

Scripps makes his way to his small home. He is not bothered by its size; neither is his wife. She told him often when they were drinking together that she does not want a palace but simply a place that keeps the wind out. Based on that, Scripps chose this small house. He is glad to have taken her for her word, for he is not the kind of person to want a palace either.

As he enters his home, something keeps going through his head. He tries to get it out, but to no avail. He thinks of his friend Harry Parker who had met a poet in Detroit who had written the poem “There’s No Place Like Home,” or so he claimed. Scripps had written a tune to the words of this poem and had taught it to Lucy, his wife, when they were first married. Scripps thinks that, if he had had the chance, he might have become a famous composer. Scripps decides he will have Lucy sing the song this night and vows never to drink again. He thinks drinking robs him of his ear for music. When he is drunk, the sound of trains coming through town sounds like music to him, more beautiful than music composed by Stravinsky. It is not beautiful, but he thinks so because of the drink. He decides to go to Paris, like the violinist Albert Spalding.

When he opens his front door, he calls out a greeting to Lucy, but he receives no answer. He promises himself he will never drink again, nor will he spend nights out on the railroad. He wants to buy his wife things like a fur coat and perhaps a bigger house after all. He lights the lamp and continues to call out, but the house is empty. Through the snow-filled air outside, Scripps hears the sound of an Indian war whoop.