Chapter 5 Summary

Scripps looks inside the barber and contemplates going in. He likes the look of the barbers in their white coats, deftly using their tools. He has money, so he feels assured that he has the right to go in. Instead, he decides he wants something to eat, plus he needs to take care of the bird.

As Scripps walks down the frozen street, he hears the sound of sleigh bells. He thinks perhaps it is Christmas. He remembers from his childhood in the South how the children would shoot off fireworks. His father had been a soldier in the Confederate army. When General William T. Sherman marched through Georgia, he had burned down the O’Neil home. Scripps recounts to himself that Sherman had said:

War is hell. But you see how it is Mrs. O’Neil. I’ve got to do it.

This last part is a questionable recollection. Scripps’s mother watched while her home burned down. Sherman explained that if Mr. O’Neil had been home, the two of them could have fought it out. As it was, the house must be burned. Mrs. O’Neil reasoned that at least the smoke would warn the other Southern women that Sherman was on his way.

Scripps passes a restaurant called Brown’s Beanery: The Best by Test. He decides this is where he wants to eat. He goes inside and asks the waitress if it is really Brown’s Beanery. She assures him that it is, “the best by test.” He orders some beans for himself and the bird. The waitress praises the bird as a “manly little fellow” and goes to fill his order. Scripps tells her his story, from the time his wife left him after drinking on the railroad track. He begins rambling, quoting lines from the comic strips, thinking that H. L. Mencken, the critic, is after him. He knows his mind is wandering because he is faint from hunger, so he asks if she can rush the beans.

When the beans arrive at his table, Scripps devours them appreciatively, as does his bird. His mind begins to clear up and he remembers the nonsense he was talking. He sees that his bird has gone to sleep. He talks to the waitress and learns that she is originally from England. She explains that she was not always a waitress. She went to Paris with her mother. Her mother disappeared, replaced by a French general. When she asked the concierge where her mother went, he said she came to the hotel with the general. She never saw her mother again and eventually came to America to become a waitress.

Scripps asks the waitress if there is any work in town, so she directs him to the pump factory. She tells him to come back and to bring his bird with him. He leaves; he tries to remember if the cook had been black or just covered with soot.