The Best Short Stories in the English Language
In addition to the survey of the all-time best short stories
in English that was conducted in 1914 and compiled in the above three
volumes, I have assembled the results of a different poll. The seven
best short stories from the author O. Henry are presented below. The
top two vote-getters from the O. Henry poll also appeared in the best
short story compilation.
Which is the best short story by O. Henry?
In the early 1920s, Arthur Bartlett Maurice, editor of the literary journal, The Bookman, queried several noted authors and prominent figures in O. Henry's life as to which was his best short story.
William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name O. Henry, published
over two hundred short stories in his lifetime. As editor and columnist
for The Bookman, Arthur B. Maurice, presented ten lists as to
which were O. Henry's ten best stories. Responses were presented from:
Booth Tarkington, prominent author
Owen Johnson, " "
George Barr McCutcheon, " "
Arthur W. Page, representing O. Henry's publishers
Athol Estes Porter, Mrs. William Sydney Porter
Robert H Davis, O. Henry friend and editor of Munsey's Magazine
Gilman Hall, editor who helped discover O. Henry
A compilation from three unnamed literary agents.
"The 1000th Reader," assigned to read all of O. Henry's work.
Arthur Bartlett Maurice, author of the piece.
The two most common responses, appearing on seven and six of the lists,
respectively, were An Unfinished Story and A Municipal Report. These
two were also selected for The Best Short Stories in the English
Language series. The first choice on each list was:
Source: O. Henry Complete Works, Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1928.
With such a diversity of opinions, perhaps it is best to tally those stories which made it on to the most lists. An Unfinished Story led with seven lists, A Municipal Report was on six, and The Gift of the Magi, A Lickpenny Lover, Mammon and the Archer, Let Me Feel Your Pulse and The Furnished Room appeared on four. These seven stories, presented below, make for a good survey of O. Henry's talent, from the serious (The Furnished Room), to his most popular (The Gift of the Magi), to his most literary (A Municipal Report), on to what is nearly a humorist's monologue in the vein of Franklin P. Adams or Robert Benchley (Let Me Feel Your Pulse).
|Tarkington|| The Ransom of Red Chief.|
|Johnson|| An Unfinished Story.|
|McCutcheon|| The Tale of a Tainted Tenner.|
|Page|| The Rose of Dixie.|
|Mrs. Porter|| A Municipal Report.|
|Davis|| A Tempered Wind.|
|Hall|| An Unfinished Story.|
|Literary Agents|| A Harlem Tragedy.|
|The 1000th Reader|| A Municipal Report.|
|Maurice|| The Defeat of the City.|
What is the
continuing appeal of such sly and melodramatic works? Perhaps beneath the
gruff exteriors of literature lovers there lurks a desire to be
expertly manipulated, to have a surprise delivered gift-wrapped. To
paraphrase Captain Louis Renault, chief of police in Casablanca: "Just
as I suspected, you're rank sentimentalists."
The Best of O. Henry.
The Furnished Room
O. Henry demonstrates his keen eye for detail and, unlike most of his stories, a willingness to be dead serious.
Restless, shifting, fugacious as time itself is a certain vast bulk of
the population of the red brick district of the lower West Side.
Homeless, they have a hundred homes. They flit from furnished room to
furnished room, transients forever—transients in abode, transients in
heart and mind. They sing "Home, Sweet Home" in ragtime; they carry
their lares et penates in a bandbox; their vine is entwined about a
picture hat; a rubber plant is their fig tree.
Hence the houses of this district, having had a thousand dwellers,
should have a thousand tales to tell, mostly dull ones, no doubt; but
it would be strange if there could not be found a ghost or two in the
wake of all these vagrant guests.
One evening after dark a young man prowled among these crumbling red
mansions, ringing their bells. At the twelfth he rested his lean
hand-baggage upon the step and wiped the dust from his hatband and
forehead. The bell sounded faint and far away in some remote, hollow
To the door of this, the twelfth house whose bell he had rung, came a
housekeeper who made him think of an unwholesome, surfeited worm that
had eaten its nut to a hollow shell and now sought to fill the vacancy
with edible lodgers.
He asked if there was a room to let.
"Come in," said the housekeeper. Her voice came from her throat; her
throat seemed lined with fur. "I have the third floor back, vacant
since a week back. Should you wish to look at it?"
The young man followed her up the stairs. A faint light from no
particular source mitigated the shadows of the halls. They trod
noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn.
It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank,
sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to
the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter. At
each turn of the stairs were vacant niches in the wall. Perhaps plants
had once been set within them. If so they had died in that foul and
tainted air. It may be that statues of the saints had stood there, but
it was not difficult to conceive that imps and devils had dragged them
forth in the darkness and down to the unholy depths of some furnished
"This is the room," said the housekeeper, from her furry throat. "It's
a nice room. It ain't often vacant. I had some most elegant people in
it last summer—no trouble at all, and paid in advance to the minute.
The water's at the end of the hall. Sprowls and Mooney kept it three
months. They done a vaudeville sketch. Miss B'retta Sprowls—you may
have heard of her—Oh, that was just the stage names—right there over
the dresser is where the marriage certificate hung, framed. The gas is
here, and you see there is plenty of closet room. It's a room everybody
likes. It never stays idle long."
"Do you have many theatrical people rooming here?" asked the young man.
"They comes and goes. A good proportion of my lodgers is connected with
the theatres. Yes, sir, this is the theatrical district. Actor people
never stays long anywhere. I get my share. Yes, they comes and they
He engaged the room, paying for a week in advance. He was tired, he
said, and would take possession at once. He counted out the money. The
room had been made ready, she said, even to towels and water. As the
housekeeper moved away he put, for the thousandth time, the question
that he carried at the end of his tongue.
"A young girl—Miss Vashner—Miss Eloise Vashner—do you remember such a
one among your lodgers? She would be singing on the stage, most likely.
A fair girl, of medium height and slender, with reddish, gold hair and
a dark mole near her left eyebrow."
"No, I don't remember the name. Them stage people has names they change
as often as their rooms. They comes and they goes. No, I don't call
that one to mind."
No. Always no. Five months of ceaseless interrogation and the
inevitable negative. So much time spent by day in questioning managers,
agents, schools and choruses; by night among the audiences of theatres
from all-star casts down to music halls so low that he dreaded to find
what he most hoped for. He who had loved her best had tried to find
her. He was sure that since her disappearance from home this great,
water-girt city held her somewhere, but it was like a monstrous
quicksand, shifting its particles constantly, with no foundation, its
upper granules of to-day buried to-morrow in ooze and slime.
The furnished room received its latest guest with a first glow of
pseudo-hospitality, a hectic, haggard, perfunctory welcome like the
specious smile of a demirep. The sophistical comfort came in reflected
gleams from the decayed furniture, the ragged brocade upholstery of a
couch and two chairs, a footwide cheap pier glass between the two
windows, from one or two gilt picture frames and a brass bedstead in a
The guest reclined, inert, upon a chair, while the room, confused in
speech as though it were an apartment in Babel, tried to discourse to
him of its divers tenantry.
A polychromatic rug like some brilliant-flowered rectangular, tropical
islet lay surrounded by a billowy sea of soiled matting. Upon the
gay-papered wall were those pictures that pursue the homeless one from
house to house—The Huguenot Lovers, The First Quarrel, The Wedding
Breakfast, Psyche at the Fountain. The mantel's chastely severe outline
was ingloriously veiled behind some pert drapery drawn rakishly askew
like the sashes of the Amazonian ballet. Upon it was some desolate
flotsam cast aside by the room's marooned when a lucky sail had borne
them to a fresh port—a trifling vase or two, pictures of actresses, a
medicine bottle, some stray cards out of a deck.
One by one, as the characters of a cryptograph become explicit, the
little signs left by the furnished room's procession of guests
developed a significance. The threadbare space in the rug in front of
the dresser told that lovely woman had marched in the throng. Tiny
finger prints on the wall spoke of little prisoners trying to feel
their way to sun and air. A splattered stain, raying like the shadow of
a bursting bomb, witnessed where a hurled glass or bottle had
splintered with its contents against the wall. Across the pier glass
had been scrawled with a diamond in staggering letters the name
"Marie." It seemed that the succession of dwellers in the furnished
room had turned in fury—perhaps tempted beyond forbearance by its
garish coldness—and wreaked upon it their passions. The furniture was
chipped and bruised; the couch, distorted by bursting springs, seemed a
horrible monster that had been slain during the stress of some
grotesque convulsion. Some more potent upheaval had cloven a great
slice from the marble mantel. Each plank in the floor owned its
particular cant and shriek as from a separate and individual agony. It
seemed incredible that all this malice and injury had been wrought upon
the room by those who had called it for a time their home; and yet it
may have been the cheated home instinct surviving blindly, the
resentful rage at false household gods that had kindled their wrath. A
hut that is our own we can sweep and adorn and cherish.
The young tenant in the chair allowed these thoughts to file,
soft-shod, through his mind, while there drifted into the room
furnished sounds and furnished scents. He heard in one room a tittering
and incontinent, slack laughter; in others the monologue of a scold,
the rattling of dice, a lullaby, and one crying dully; above him a
banjo tinkled with spirit. Doors banged somewhere; the elevated trains
roared intermittently; a cat yowled miserably upon a back fence. And he
breathed the breath of the house—a dank savour rather than a smell—a
cold, musty effluvium as from underground vaults mingled with the
reeking exhalations of linoleum and mildewed and rotten woodwork.
Then, suddenly, as he rested there, the room was filled with the
strong, sweet odour of mignonette. It came as upon a single buffet of
wind with such sureness and fragrance and emphasis that it almost
seemed a living visitant. And the man cried aloud: "What, dear?" as if
he had been called, and sprang up and faced about. The rich odour clung
to him and wrapped him around. He reached out his arms for it, all his
senses for the time confused and commingled. How could one be
peremptorily called by an odour? Surely it must have been a sound. But,
was it not the sound that had touched, that had caressed him?
"She has been in this room," he cried, and he sprang to wrest from it a
token, for he knew he would recognize the smallest thing that had
belonged to her or that she had touched. This enveloping scent of
mignonette, the odour that she had loved and made her own—whence came
The room had been but carelessly set in order. Scattered upon the
flimsy dresser scarf were half a dozen hairpins—those discreet,
indistinguishable friends of womankind, feminine of gender, infinite of
mood and uncommunicative of tense. These he ignored, conscious of their
triumphant lack of identity. Ransacking the drawers of the dresser he
came upon a discarded, tiny, ragged handkerchief. He pressed it to his
face. It was racy and insolent with heliotrope; he hurled it to the
floor. In another drawer he found odd buttons, a theatre programme, a
pawnbroker's card, two lost marshmallows, a book on the divination of
dreams. In the last was a woman's black satin hair bow, which halted
him, poised between ice and fire. But the black satin hairbow also is
femininity's demure, impersonal, common ornament, and tells no tales.
And then he traversed the room like a hound on the scent, skimming the
walls, considering the corners of the bulging matting on his hands and
knees, rummaging mantel and tables, the curtains and hangings, the
drunken cabinet in the corner, for a visible sign, unable to perceive
that she was there beside, around, against, within, above him, clinging
to him, wooing him, calling him so poignantly through the finer senses
that even his grosser ones became cognizant of the call. Once again he
answered loudly: "Yes, dear!" and turned, wild-eyed, to gaze on
vacancy, for he could not yet discern form and colour and love and
outstretched arms in the odour of mignonette. Oh, God! whence that
odour, and since when have odours had a voice to call? Thus he groped.
He burrowed in crevices and corners, and found corks and cigarettes.
These he passed in passive contempt. But once he found in a fold of the
matting a half-smoked cigar, and this he ground beneath his heel with a
green and trenchant oath. He sifted the room from end to end. He found
dreary and ignoble small records of many a peripatetic tenant; but of
her whom he sought, and who may have lodged there, and whose spirit
seemed to hover there, he found no trace.
And then he thought of the housekeeper.
He ran from the haunted room downstairs and to a door that showed a
crack of light. She came out to his knock. He smothered his excitement
as best he could.
"Will you tell me, madam," he besought her, "who occupied the room I have before I came?"
"Yes, sir. I can tell you again. 'Twas Sprowls and Mooney, as I said.
Miss B'retta Sprowls it was in the theatres, but Missis Mooney she was.
My house is well known for respectability. The marriage certificate
hung, framed, on a nail over—"
"What kind of a lady was Miss Sprowls—in looks, I mean?"
Why, black-haired, sir, short, and stout, with a comical face. They left a week ago Tuesday."
"And before they occupied it?"
"Why, there was a single gentleman connected with the draying business.
He left owing me a week. Before him was Missis Crowder and her two
children, that stayed four months; and back of them was old Mr. Doyle,
whose sons paid for him. He kept the room six months. That goes back a
year, sir, and further I do not remember."
He thanked her and crept back to his room. The room was dead. The
essence that had vivified it was gone. The perfume of mignonette had
departed. In its place was the old, stale odour of mouldy house
furniture, of atmosphere in storage.
The ebbing of his hope drained his faith. He sat staring at the yellow,
singing gaslight. Soon he walked to the bed and began to tear the
sheets into strips. With the blade of his knife he drove them tightly
into every crevice around windows and door. When all was snug and taut
he turned out the light, turned the gas full on again and laid himself
gratefully upon the bed.
* * * * * * *
It was Mrs. McCool's night to go with the can for beer. So she fetched
it and sat with Mrs. Purdy in one of those subterranean retreats where
house-keepers foregather and the worm dieth seldom.
"I rented out my third floor, back, this evening," said Mrs. Purdy,
across a fine circle of foam. "A young man took it. He went up to bed
two hours ago."
"Now, did ye, Mrs. Purdy, ma'am?" said Mrs. McCool, with intense
admiration. "You do be a wonder for rentin' rooms of that kind. And did
ye tell him, then?" she concluded in a husky whisper, laden with
"Rooms," said Mrs. Purdy, in her furriest tones, "are furnished for to rent. I did not tell him, Mrs. McCool."
"'Tis right ye are, ma'am; 'tis by renting rooms we kape alive. Ye have
the rale sense for business, ma'am. There be many people will rayjict
the rentin' of a room if they be tould a suicide has been after dyin'
in the bed of it."
"As you say, we has our living to be making," remarked Mrs. Purdy.
"Yis, ma'am; 'tis true. 'Tis just one wake ago this day I helped ye lay
out the third floor, back. A pretty slip of a colleen she was to be
killin' herself wid the gas—a swate little face she had, Mrs. Purdy,
"She'd a-been called handsome, as you say," said Mrs. Purdy, assenting
but critical, "but for that mole she had a-growin' by her left eyebrow.
Do fill up your glass again, Mrs. McCool."
A Lickpenny Lover
This tale is typical of many of O. Henry's stories, a careful build to a sharp punchline.
There, were 3,000 girls in the Biggest Store. Masie was one of them.
She was eighteen and a saleslady in the gents' gloves. Here she became
versed in two varieties of human beings—the kind of gents who buy their
gloves in department stores and the kind of women who buy gloves for
unfortunate gents. Besides this wide knowledge of the human species,
Masie had acquired other information. She had listened to the
promulgated wisdom of the 2,999 other girls and had stored it in a
brain that was as secretive and wary as that of a Maltese cat. Perhaps
nature, foreseeing that she would lack wise counsellors, had mingled
the saving ingredient of shrewdness along with her beauty, as she has
endowed the silver fox of the priceless fur above the other animals
For Masie was beautiful. She was a deep-tinted blonde, with the calm
poise of a lady who cooks butter cakes in a window. She stood behind
her counter in the Biggest Store; and as you closed your band over the
tape-line for your glove measure you thought of Hebe; and as you looked
again you wondered how she had come by Minerva's eyes.
When the floorwalker was not looking Masie chewed tutti-frutti; when he
was looking she gazed up as if at the clouds and smiled wistfully.
That is the shopgirl smile, and I enjoin you to shun it unless you are
well fortified with callosity of the heart, caramels and a congeniality
for the capers of Cupid. This smile belonged to Masie's recreation
hours and not to the store; but the floorwalker must have his own. He
is the Shylock of the stores. When he comes nosing around the bridge of
his nose is a toll-bridge. It is goo-goo eyes or "git" when he looks
toward a pretty girl. Of course not all floorwalkers are thus. Only a
few days ago the papers printed news of one over eighty years of age.
One day Irving Carter, painter, millionaire, traveller, poet,
automobilist, happened to enter the Biggest Store. It is due to him to
add that his visit was not voluntary. Filial duty took him by the
collar and dragged him inside, while his mother philandered among the
bronze and terra-cotta statuettes.
Carter strolled across to the glove counter in order to shoot a few
minutes on the wing. His need for gloves was genuine; he had forgotten
to bring a pair with him. But his action hardly calls for apology,
because he had never heard of glove-counter flirtations.
As he neared the vicinity of his fate he hesitated, suddenly conscious of this unknown phase of Cupid's less worthy profession.
Three or four cheap fellows, sonorously garbed, were leaning over the
counters, wrestling with the mediatorial hand-coverings, while giggling
girls played vivacious seconds to their lead upon the strident string
of coquetry. Carter would have retreated, but he had gone too far.
Masie confronted him behind her counter with a questioning look in eyes
as coldly, beautifully, warmly blue as the glint of summer sunshine on
an iceberg drifting in Southern seas.
And then Irving Carter, painter, millionaire, etc., felt a warm flush
rise to his aristocratically pale face. But not from diffidence. The
blush was intellectual in origin. He knew in a moment that he stood in
the ranks of the ready-made youths who wooed the giggling girls at
other counters. Himself leaned against the oaken trysting place of a
cockney Cupid with a desire in his heart for the favor of a glove
salesgirl. He was no more than Bill and Jack and Mickey. And then he
felt a sudden tolerance for them, and an elating, courageous contempt
for the conventions upon which he had fed, and an unhesitating
determination to have this perfect creature for his own.
When the gloves were paid for and wrapped the Carter lingered for a
moment. The dimples at corners of Masie's damask mouth deepened. All
gentlemen who bought gloves lingered in just that way. She curved an
arm, showing like Psyche's through her shirt-waist sleeve, and rested
an elbow upon the show-case edge.
Carter had never before encountered a situation of which he had not
been perfect master. But now he stood far more awkward than Bill or
Jack or Mickey. He had no chance of meeting this beautiful girl
socially. His mind struggled to recall the nature and habits of
shopgirls as he had read or heard of them. Somehow he had received the
idea that they sometimes did not insist too strictly upon the regular
channels of introduction. His heart beat loudly at the thought of
proposing an unconventional meeting with this lovely and virginal
being. But the tumult in his heart gave him courage.
After a few friendly and well-received remarks on general subjects, he laid his card by her hand on the counter.
"Will you please pardon me," he said, "if I seem too bold; but I
earnestly hope you will allow me the pleasure of seeing you again.
There is my name; I assure you that it is with the greatest respect
that I ask the favor of becoming one of your—acquaintances. May I not
hope for the privilege?"
Masie knew men—especially men who buy gloves. Without hesitation she looked him frankly and smilingly in the eyes, and said:
"Sure. I guess you're all right. I don't usually go out with strange
gentlemen, though. It ain't quite ladylike. When should you want to see
"As soon as I may," said Carter. "If you would allow me to call at your home, I—"
Masie laughed musically. "Oh, gee, no!" she said, emphatically. "If you
could see our flat once! There's five of us in three rooms. I'd just
like to see ma's face if I was to bring a gentleman friend there!"
"Anywhere, then," said the enamored Carter, "that will be convenient to you."
"Say," suggested Masie, with a bright-idea look in her peach-blow face;
"I guess Thursday night will about suit me. Suppose you come to the
corner of Eighth Avenue and Forty-eighth Street at 7:30. I live right
near the corner. But I've got to be back home by eleven. Ma never lets
me stay out after eleven." Carter promised gratefully to keep the
tryst, and then hastened to his mother, who was looking about for him
to ratify her purchase of a bronze Diana.
A salesgirl, with small eyes and an obtuse nose, strolled near Masie, with a friendly leer.
"Did you make a hit with his nobs, Mase?" she asked, familiarly.
"The gentleman asked permission to call." answered Masie, with the
grand air, as she slipped Carter's card into the bosom of her waist.
"Permission to call!" echoed small eyes, with a snigger. "Did he say
anything about dinner in the Waldorf and a spin in his auto afterward?"
"Oh, cheese it!" said Masie, wearily. "You've been used to swell
things, I don't think. You've had a swelled bead ever since that
hose-cart driver took you out to a chop suey joint. No, he never
mentioned the Waldorf; but there's a Fifth Avenue address on his card,
and if he buys the supper you can bet your life there won't be no
pigtail on the waiter what takes the order."
As Carter glided away from the Biggest Store with his mother in his
electric runabout, he bit his lip with a dull pain at his heart. He
knew that love had come to him for the first time in all the
twenty-nine years of his life. And that the object of it should make so
readily an appointment with him at a street corner, though it was a
step toward his desires, tortured him with misgivings.
Carter did not know the shopgirl. He did not know that her home is
often either a scarcely habitable tiny room or a domicile filled to
overflowing with kith and kin. The street-corner is her parlor, the
park is her drawing-room; the avenue is her garden walk; yet for the
most part she is as inviolate mistress of herself in them as is my lady
inside her tapestried chamber.
One evening at dusk, two weeks after their first meeting, Carter and
Masie strolled arm-in-arm into a little, dimly-lit park. They found a
bench, tree-shadowed and secluded, and sat there.
For the first time his arm stole gently around her. Her golden-bronze head slid restfully against his shoulder.
"Gee!" sighed Masie, thankfully. "Why didn't you ever think of that before?"
"Masie," said Carter, earnestly, "you surely know that I love you. I
ask you sincerely to marry me. You know me well enough by this time to
have no doubts of me. I want you, and I must have you. I care nothing
for the difference in our stations."
"What is the difference?" asked Masie, curiously.
"Well, there isn't any," said Carter, quickly, "except in the minds of
foolish people. It is in my power to give you a life of luxury. My
social position is beyond dispute, and my means are ample."
"They all say that," remarked Masie. "It's the kid they all give you. I
suppose you really work in a delicatessen or follow the races. I ain't
as green as I look."
"I can furnish you all the proofs you want," said Carter, gently. "And I want you, Masie. I loved you the first day I saw you."
"They all do," said Masie, with an amused laugh, "to hear 'em talk. If
I could meet a man that got stuck on me the third time he'd seen me I
think I'd get mashed on him."
"Please don't say such things," pleaded Carter. "Listen to me, dear.
Ever since I first looked into your eyes you have been the only woman
in the world for me."
"Oh, ain't you the kidder!" smiled Masie. "How many other girls did you ever tell that?"
But Carter persisted. And at length he reached the flimsy, fluttering
little soul of the shopgirl that existed somewhere deep down in her
His words penetrated the heart whose very lightness was its safest
armor. She looked up at him with eyes that saw. And a warm glow visited
her cool cheeks. Tremblingly, awfully, her moth wings closed, and she
seemed about to settle upon the flower of love. Some faint glimmer of
life and its possibilities on the other side of her glove counter
dawned upon her. Carter felt the change and crowded the opportunity.
"Marry me, Masie," he whispered softly, "and we will go away from this
ugly city to beautiful ones. We will forget work and business, and life
will be one long holiday. I know where I should take you—I have been
there often. Just think of a shore where summer is eternal, where the
waves are always rippling on the lovely beach and the people are happy
and free as children. We will sail to those shores and remain there as
long as you please. In one of those far-away cities there are grand and
lovely palaces and towers full of beautiful pictures and statues. The
streets of the city are water, and one travels about in—"
"I know," said Masie, sitting up suddenly. "Gondolas."
"Yes," smiled Carter.
"I thought so," said Masie.
"And then," continued Carter, "we will travel on and see whatever we
wish in the world. After the European cities we will visit India and
the ancient cities there, and ride on elephants and see the wonderful
temples of the Hindoos and Brahmins and the Japanese gardens and the
camel trains and chariot races in Persia, and all the queer sights of
foreign countries. Don't you think you would like it, Masie?"
Masie rose to her feet.
"I think we had better be going home," she said, coolly. "It's getting late."
Carter humored her. He had come to know her varying, thistle-down
moods, and that it was useless to combat them. But he felt a certain
happy triumph. He had held for a moment, though but by a silken thread,
the soul of his wild Psyche, and hope was stronger within him. Once she
had folded her wings and her cool band bad closed about his own.
At the Biggest Store the next day Masie's chum, Lulu, waylaid her in an angle of the counter.
"How are you and your swell friend making it? she asked.
"Oh, him?" said Masie, patting her side curls. "He ain't in it any
more. Say, Lu, what do you think that fellow wanted me to do?"
"Go on the stage?" guessed Lulu, breathlessly.
"Nit; he's too cheap a guy for that. He wanted me to marry him and go down to Coney Island for a wedding tour!"
The Gift of the Magi
The most famous, the most filmed and
the most parodied of O. Henry's works. The opening lines are considered to
have an error, but then again, there was a three-cent nickel in the
late 19th century.
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it
was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the
grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned
with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing
implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven
cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little
couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection
that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first
stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8
per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had
that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad. In the vestibule
below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric
button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining
thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young." The
"Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of
prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when
the income was shrunk to $20, the letters of "Dillingham" looked
blurred, as though they were thinking seriously of contracting to a
modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came
home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged
by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della.
Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag.
She stood by the window and looked out dully at a grey cat walking a
grey fence in a grey backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she
had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving
every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a
week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated.
They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a
happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something
fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being
worthy of the honour of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you
have seen a pier glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person
may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal
strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being
slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. Her
eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its colour within
twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which
they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been
his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the
Queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have
let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her
Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all
his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his
watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her, rippling and shining like
a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself
almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and
quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or
two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl
of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she
fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mme. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All
Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.
Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade. "Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed
metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else.
There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all
of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in
design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by
meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even
worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she that it must be Jim's.
It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both.
Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with
the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly
anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he
sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap
that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence
and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went
to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which
is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls
that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at
her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a
second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl.
But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on
the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she
heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she
turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little
silent prayers about the simplest everyday things, and now she
whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and
very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two—and to be burdened
with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of
quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in
them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger,
nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments
that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with
that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair
cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas
without giving you a present. It'll grow out again—you won't mind, will
you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say 'Merry
Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice—what a
beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not
arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you—sold and
gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you.
Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden
serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall
I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della.
For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some
inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or
a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would
give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that
was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think
there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that
could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package
you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an
ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to
hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of
all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had
worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise
shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful
vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had
simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of
possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have
adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up
with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him
eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash
with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have
to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I
want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a
while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get
the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought
gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving
Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones,
possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And
here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two
foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other
the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise
of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were
the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest.
Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
Mammon and the Archer
From the most sentimental to the most cynical.
Old Anthony Rockwall, retired manufacturer and proprietor of Rockwall's
Eureka Soap, looked out the library window of his Fifth Avenue mansion
and grinned. His neighbour to the right—the aristocratic clubman, G.
Van Schuylight Suffolk-Jones—came out to his waiting motor-car,
wrinkling a contumelious nostril, as usual, at the Italian renaissance
sculpture of the soap palace's front elevation.
"Stuck-up old statuette of nothing doing!" commented the ex-Soap King.
"The Eden Musee'll get that old frozen Nesselrode yet if he don't watch
out. I'll have this house painted red, white, and blue next summer and
see if that'll make his Dutch nose turn up any higher."
And then Anthony Rockwall, who never cared for bells, went to the door
of his library and shouted "Mike!" in the same voice that had once
chipped off pieces of the welkin on the Kansas prairies.
"Tell my son," said Anthony to the answering menial, "to come in here before he leaves the house."
When young Rockwall entered the library the old man laid aside his
newspaper, looked at him with a kindly grimness on his big, smooth,
ruddy countenance, rumpled his mop of white hair with one hand and
rattled the keys in his pocket with the other.
"Richard," said Anthony Rockwail, "what do you pay for the soap that you use?"
Richard, only six months home from college, was startled a little. He
had not yet taken the measure of this sire of his, who was as full of
unexpectednesses as a girl at her first party.
"Six dollars a dozen, I think, dad."
"And your clothes?"
"I suppose about sixty dollars, as a rule."
"You're a gentleman," said Anthony, decidedly. "I've heard of these
young bloods spending $24 a dozen for soap, and going over the hundred
mark for clothes. You've got as much money to waste as any of 'em, and
yet you stick to what's decent and moderate. Now I use the old
Eureka—not only for sentiment, but it's the purest soap made. Whenever
you pay more than 10 cents a cake for soap you buy bad perfumes and
labels. But 50 cents is doing very well for a young man in your
generation, position and condition. As I said, you're a gentleman. They
say it takes three generations to make one. They're off. Money'll do it
as slick as soap grease. It's made you one. By hokey! it's almost made
one of me. I'm nearly as impolite and disagreeable and ill-mannered as
these two old Knickerbocker gents on each side of me that can't sleep
of nights because I bought in between 'em."
"There are some things that money can't accomplish," remarked young Rockwall, rather gloomily.
"Now, don't say that," said old Anthony, shocked. "I bet my money on
money every time. I've been through the encyc1opaedia down to Y looking
for something you can't buy with it; and I expect to have to take up
the appendix next week. I'm for money against the field. Tell me
something money won't buy."
"For one thing," answered Richard, rankling a little, "it won't buy one
into the exclusive circles of society." "Oho! won't it?" thundered the
champion of the root of evil. "You tell me where your exclusive circles
would be if the first Astor hadn't had the money to pay for his
steerage passage over?"
"And that's what I was coming to," said the old man, less boisterously.
"That's why I asked you to come in. There's something going wrong with
you, boy. I've been noticing it for two weeks. Out with it. I guess I
could lay my hands on eleven millions within twenty-four hours, besides
the real estate. If it's your liver, there's the Rambler down in the
bay, coaled, and ready to steam down to the Bahamas in two days."
"Not a bad guess, dad; you haven't missed it far."
"Ah," said Anthony, keenly; "what's her name?"
Richard began to walk up and down the library floor. There was enough
comradeship and sympathy in this crude old father of his to draw his
"Why don't you ask her?" demanded old Anthony. "She'll jump at you.
You've got the money and the looks, and you're a decent boy. Your hands
are clean. You've got no Eureka soap on 'em. You've been to college,
but she'll overlook that."
"I haven't had a chance," said Richard.
"Make one," said Anthony. "Take her for a walk in the park, or a straw ride, or walk home with her from church. Chance! Pshaw!"
"You don't know the social mill, dad. She's part of the stream that
turns it. Every hour and minute of her time is arranged for days in
advance. I must have that girl, dad, or this town is a blackjack swamp
forevermore. And I can't write it—I can't do that."
"Tut!" said the old man. "Do you mean to tell me that with all the
money I've got you can't get an hour or two of a girl's time for
"I've put it off too late. She's going to sail for Europe at noon day
after to-morrow for a two years' stay. I'm to see her alone to-morrow
evening for a few minutes. She's at Larchmont now at her aunt's. I
can't go there. But I'm allowed to meet her with a cab at the Grand
Central Station to-morrow evening at the 8.30 train. We drive down
Broadway to Wallack's at a gallop, where her mother and a box party
will be waiting for us in the lobby. Do you think she would listen to a
declaration from me during that six or eight minutes under those
circumstances? No. And what chance would I have in the theatre or
afterward? None. No, dad, this is one tangle that your money can't
unravel. We can't buy one minute of time with cash; if we could, rich
people would live longer. There's no hope of getting a talk with Miss
Lantry before she sails."
"All right, Richard, my boy," said old Anthony, cheerfully. "You may
run along down to your club now. I'm glad it ain't your liver. But
don't forget to burn a few punk sticks in the joss house to the great
god Mazuma from time to time. You say money won't buy time? Well, of
course, you can't order eternity wrapped up and delivered at your
residence for a price, but I've seen Father Time get pretty bad stone
bruises on his heels when he walked through the gold diggings."
That night came Aunt Ellen, gentle, sentimental, wrinkled, sighing,
oppressed by wealth, in to Brother Anthony at his evening paper, and
began discourse on the subject of lovers' woes.
"He told me all about it," said brother Anthony, yawning. "I told him
my bank account was at his service. And then he began to knock money.
Said money couldn't help. Said the rules of society couldn't be bucked
for a yard by a team of ten-millionaires."
"Oh, Anthony," sighed Aunt Ellen, "I wish you would not think so much
of money. Wealth is nothing where a true affection is concerned. Love
is all-powerful. If he only had spoken earlier! She could not have
refused our Richard. But now I fear it is too late. He will have no
opportunity to address her. All your gold cannot bring happiness to
At eight o'clock the next evening Aunt Ellen took a quaint old gold ring from a moth-eaten case and gave it to Richard.
"Wear it to-night, nephew," she begged. "Your mother gave it to me.
Good luck in love she said it brought. She asked me to give it to you
when you had found the one you loved."
Young Rockwall took the ring reverently and tried it on his smallest
finger. It slipped as far as the second joint and stopped. He took it
off and stuffed it into his vest pocket, after the manner of man. And
then he phoned for his cab.
At the station he captured Miss Lantry out of the gadding mob at eight thirty-two.
"We mustn't keep mamma and the others waiting," said she.
"To Wallack's Theatre as fast as you can drive!" said Richard loyally.
They whirled up Forty-second to Broadway, and then down the
white-starred lane that leads from the soft meadows of sunset to the
rocky hills of morning.
At Thirty-fourth Street young Richard quickly thrust up the trap and ordered the cabman to stop.
"I've dropped a ring," he apo1ogised, as he climbed out. "It was my
mother's, and I'd hate to lose it. I won't detain you a minute—I saw
where it fell."
In less than a minute he was back in the cab with the ring.
But within that minute a crosstown car had stopped directly in front of
the cab. The cabman tried to pass to the left, but a heavy express
wagon cut him off. He tried the right, and had to back away from a
furniture van that had no business to be there. He tried to back out,
but dropped his reins and swore dutifully. He was blockaded in a
tangled mess of vehicles and horses.
One of those street blockades had occurred that sometimes tie up commerce and movement quite suddenly in the big city.
"Why don't you drive on?" said Miss Lantry, impatiently. "We'll be late."
Richard stood up in the cab and looked around. He saw a congested flood
of wagons, trucks, cabs, vans and street cars filling the vast space
where Broadway, Sixth Avenue and Thirty-fourth street cross one another
as a twenty-six inch maiden fills her twenty-two inch girdle. And still
from all the cross streets they were hurrying and rattling toward the
converging point at full speed, and hurling themselves into the
struggling mass, locking wheels and adding their drivers' imprecations
to the clamour. The entire traffic of Manhattan seemed to have jammed
itself around them. The oldest New Yorker among the thousands of
spectators that lined the sidewalks had not witnessed a street blockade
of the proportions of this one.
"I'm very sorry," said Richard, as he resumed his seat, "but it looks
as if we are stuck. They won't get this jumble loosened up in an hour.
It was my fault. If I hadn't dropped the ring we—"Let me see the ring,"
said Miss Lantry. "Now that it can't be helped, I don't care. I think
theatres are stupid, anyway."
At 11 o'clock that night somebody tapped lightly on Anthony Rockwall's door.
"Come in," shouted Anthony, who was in a red dressing-gown, reading a book of piratical adventures.
Somebody was Aunt Ellen, looking like a grey-haired angel that had been left on earth by mistake.
"They're engaged, Anthony," she said, softly. "She has promised to
marry our Richard. On their way to the theatre there was a street
blockade, and it was two hours before their cab could get out of it.
"And oh, brother Anthony, don't ever boast of the power of money again.
A little emblem of true love—a little ring that symbolized unending and
unmercenary affection—was the cause of our Richard finding his
happiness. He dropped it in the street, and got out to recover it. And
before they could continue the blockade occurred. He spoke to his love
and won her there while the cab was hemmed in. Money is dross compared
with true love, Anthony."
"All right," said old Anthony. "I'm glad the boy has got what he
wanted. I told him I wouldn't spare any expense in the matter if—"
"But, brother Anthony, what good could your money have done?"
"Sister," said Anthony Rockwall. "I've got my pirate in a devil of a
scrape. His ship has just been scuttled, and he's too good a judge of
the value of money to let drown. I wish you would let me go on with
The story should end here. I wish it would as heartily as you who read
it wish it did. But we must go to the bottom of the well for truth.
The next day a person with red hands and a blue polka-dot necktie, who
called himself Kelly, called at Anthony Rockwall's house, and was at
once received in the library.
"Well," said Anthony, reaching for his chequebook, "it was a good bilin' of soap. Let's see—you had $5,000 in cash."
"I paid out $300 more of my own," said Kelly. "I had to go a little
above the estimate. I got the express wagons and cabs mostly for $5;
but the trucks and two-horse teams mostly raised me to $10. The
motormen wanted $10, and some of the loaded teams $20. The cops struck
me hardest—$50 I paid two, and the rest $20 and $25. But didn't it work
beautiful, Mr. Rockwall? I'm glad William A. Brady wasn't onto that
little outdoor vehicle mob scene. I wouldn't want William to break his
heart with jealousy. And never a rehearsal, either! The boys was on
time to the fraction of a second. It was two hours before a snake could
get below Greeley's statue."
"Thirteen hundred—there you are, Kelly," said Anthony, tearing off a
check. "Your thousand, and the $300 you were out. You don't despise
money, do you, Kelly?"
"Me?" said Kelly. "I can lick the man that invented poverty."
Anthony called Kelly when he was at the door.
"You didn't notice," said he, "anywhere in the tie-up, a kind of a fat
boy without any clothes on shooting arrows around with a bow, did you?"
"Why, no," said Kelly, mystified. "I didn't. If he was like you say, maybe the cops pinched him before I got there."
"I thought the little rascal wouldn't be on hand," chuckled Anthony. "Good-by, Kelly."
Let Me Feel Your Pulse
This sort of dry, deprecating humor was very popular at the time.
So I went to a doctor.
"How long has it been since you took any alcohol into your system?" he asked.
Turning my head sidewise, I answered, "Oh, quite awhile."
He was a young doctor, somewhere between twenty and forty. He wore
heliotrope socks, but he looked like Napoleon. I liked him immensely.
"Now," said he, "I am going to show you the effect of alcohol upon your
circulation." I think it was "circulation" he said; though it may have
He bared my left arm to the elbow, brought out a bottle of whiskey, and
gave me a drink. He began to look more like Napoleon. I began to like
Then he put a tight compress on my upper arm, stopped my pulse with his
fingers, and squeezed a rubber bulb connected with an apparatus on a
stand that looked like a thermometer. The mercury jumped up and down
without seeming to stop anywhere; but the doctor said it registered two
hundred and thirty-seven or one hundred and sixty-five or some such
"Now," said he, "you see what alcohol does to the blood-pressure."
"It's marvellous," said I, "but do you think it a sufficient test? Have one on me, and let's try the other arm." But, no!
Then he grasped my hand. I thought I was doomed and he was saying
good-bye. But all he wanted to do was to jab a needle into the end of a
finger and compare the red drop with a lot of fifty-cent poker chips
that he had fastened to a card.
"It's the haemoglobin test," he explained. "The colour of your blood is wrong."
"Well," said I, "I know it should be blue; but this is a country of
mix-ups. Some of my ancestors were cavaliers; but they got thick with
some people on Nantucket Island, so—"
"I mean," said the doctor, "that the shade of red is too light."
"Oh," said I, "it's a case of matching instead of matches."
The doctor then pounded me severely in the region of the chest. When he
did that I don't know whether he reminded me most of Napoleon or
Battling or Lord Nelson. Then he looked grave and mentioned a string of
grievances that the flesh is heir to—mostly ending in "-itis." I
immediately paid him fifteen dollars on account.
"Is or are it or some or any of them necessarily fatal?" I asked. I
thought my connection with the matter justified my manifesting a
certain amount of interest.
"All of them," he answered cheerfully. "But their progress may be
arrested. With care and proper continuous treatment you may live to be
eighty-five or ninety."
I began to think of the doctor's bill. "Eighty-five would be
sufficient, I am sure," was my comment. I paid him ten dollars more on
"The first thing to do," he said, with renewed animation, "is to find a
sanitarium where you will get a complete rest for a while, and allow
your nerves to get into a better condition. I myself will go with you
and select a suitable one.
So he took me to a mad-house in the Catskills. It was on a bare
mountain frequented only by infrequent frequenters. You could see
nothing but stones and boulders, some patches of snow, and scattered
pine trees. The young physician in charge was most agreeable. He gave
me a stimulant without applying a compress to the arm. It was luncheon
time, and we were invited to partake. There were about twenty inmates
at little tables in the dining room. The young physician in charge came
to our table and said: "It is a custom with our guests not to regard
themselves as patients, but merely as tired ladies and gentlemen taking
a rest. Whatever slight maladies they may have are never alluded to in
My doctor called loudly to a waitress to bring some phosphoglycerate of
lime hash, dog-bread, bromo-seltzer pancakes, and nux vomica tea for my
repast. Then a sound arose like a sudden wind storm among pine trees.
It was produced by every guest in the room whispering loudly,
"Neurasthenia!"—except one man with a nose, whom I distinctly heard
say, "Chronic alcoholism." I hope to meet him again. The physician in
charge turned and walked away.
An hour or so after luncheon he conducted us to the workshop—say fifty
yards from the house. Thither the guests had been conducted by the
physician in charge's understudy and sponge-holder—a man with feet and
a blue sweater. He was so tall that I was not sure he had a face; but
the Armour Packing Company would have been delighted with his hands.
"Here," said the physician in charge, "our guests find relaxation from
past mental worries by devoting themselves to physical
labour—recreation, in reality."
There were turning-lathes, carpenters' outfits, clay-modelling tools,
spinning-wheels, weaving-frames, treadmills, bass drums,
enlarged-crayon-portrait apparatuses, blacksmith forges, and
everything, seemingly, that could interest the paying lunatic guests of
a first-rate sanitarium.
"The lady making mud pies in the corner," whispered the physician in
charge, "is no other than—Lula Lulington, the authoress of the novel
entitled 'Why Love Loves.' What she is doing now is simply to rest her
mind after performing that piece of work."
I had seen the book. "Why doesn't she do it by writing another one instead?" I asked.
As you see, I wasn't as far gone as they thought I was.
"The gentleman pouring water through the funnel," continued the
physician in charge, "is a Wall Street broker broken down from
I buttoned my coat.
Others he pointed out were architects playing with Noah's arks,
ministers reading Darwin's "Theory of Evolution," lawyers sawing wood,
tired-out society ladies talking Ibsen to the blue-sweatered
sponge-holder, a neurotic millionaire lying asleep on the floor, and a
prominent artist drawing a little red wagon around the room.
"You look pretty strong," said the physician in charge to me. "I think
the best mental relaxation for you would be throwing small boulders
over the mountainside and then bringing them up again."
I was a hundred yards away before my doctor overtook me.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"The matter is," said I, "that there are no aeroplanes handy. So I am
going to merrily and hastily jog the foot-pathway to yon station and
catch the first unlimited-soft-coal express back to town."
"Well," said the doctor, "perhaps you are right. This seems hardly the
suitable place for you. But what you need is rest—absolute rest and
That night I went to a hotel in the city, and said to the clerk: "What
I need is absolute rest and exercise. Can you give me a room with one
of those tall folding beds in it, and a relay of bellboys to work it up
and down while I rest?"
The clerk rubbed a speck off one of his finger nails and glanced
sidewise at a tall man in a white hat sitting in the lobby. That man
came over and asked me politely if I had seen the shrubbery at the west
entrance. I had not, so he showed it to me and then looked me over.
"I thought you had 'em," he said, not unkindly, "but I guess you're all right. You'd better go see a doctor, old man."
A week afterward my doctor tested my blood pressure again without the
preliminary stimulant. He looked to me a little less like Napoleon. And
his socks were of a shade, of tan that did not appeal to me.
"What you need," he decided, "is sea air and companionship."
"Would a mermaid—" I began; but he slipped on his professional manner.
"I myself," he said, "will take you to the Hotel Bonair off the coast
of Long Island and see that you get in good shape. It is a quiet,
comfortable resort where you will soon recuperate."
The Hotel Bonair proved to be a nine-hundred-room fashionable hostelry
on an island off the main shore. Everybody who did not dress for dinner
was shoved into a side dining-room and given only a terrapin and
champagne table d'hote. The bay was a great stamping ground for wealthy
yachtsmen. The Corsair anchored there the day we arrived. I saw Mr.
Morgan standing on deck eating a cheese sandwich and gazing longingly
at the hotel. Still, it was a very inexpensive place. Nobody could
afford to pay their p rices. When you went away you simply left your
baggage, stole a skiff, and beat it for the mainland in the night.
When I had been there one day I got a pad of monogrammed telegraph
blanks at the clerk's desk and began to wire to all my friends for
get-away money. My doctor and I played one game of croquet on the golf
links and went to sleep on the lawn.
When we got back to town a thought seemed to occur to him suddenly. "By the way," he asked, "how do you feel?"
"Relieved of very much," I replied.
Now a consulting physician is different. He isn't exactly sure whether
he is to be paid or not, and this uncertainty insures you either the
most careful or the most careless attention. My doctor took me to see a
consulting physician. He made a poor guess and gave me careful
attention. I liked him immensely. He put me through some coordination
"Have you a pain in the back of your head?" he asked. I told him I had not.
"Shut your eyes," he ordered, "put your feet close together, and jump backward as far as you can."
I always was a good backward jumper with my eyes shut, so I obeyed. My
head struck the edge of the bathroom door, which had been left open and
was only three feet away. The doctor was very sorry. He had overlooked
the fact that the door was open. He closed it.
"Now touch your nose with your right forefinger," he said.
"Where is it?" I asked.
"On your face," said he.
"I mean my right forefinger," I explained.
"Oh, excuse me," said he. He reopened the bathroom door, and I took my finger out of the crack of it.
After I had performed the marvellous digito-nasal feat I said:
"I do not wish to deceive you as to symptoms, Doctor; I really have
something like a pain in the back of my head." He ignored the symptom
and examined my heart carefully with a
latest-popular-air-penny-in-the-slot ear-trumpet. I felt like a ballad.
"Now," he said, "gallop like a horse for about five minutes around the room."
I gave the best imitation I could of a disqualified Percheron being led
out of Madison Square Garden. Then, without dropping in a penny, he
listened to my chest again.
"No glanders in our family, Doc," I said.
The consulting physician held up his forefinger within three inches of my nose. "Look at my finger," he commanded.
"Did you ever try Pears'—" I began; but he went on with his test rapidly.
"Now look across the bay. At my finger. Across the bay. At my finger.
At my finger. Across the bay. Across the bay. At my finger. Across the
bay." This for about three minutes.
He explained that this was a test of the action of the brain. It seemed
easy to me. I never once mistook his finger for the bay. I'll bet that
if he had used the phrases: "Gaze, as it were, unpreoccupied,
outward—or rather laterally—in the direction of the horizon, underlaid,
so to speak, with the adjacent fluid inlet," and "Now, returning—or
rather, in a manner, withdrawing your attention, bestow it upon my
upraised digit"—I'll bet, I say, that Henry James himself could have
passed the examination.
After asking me if I had ever had a grand uncle with curvature of the
spine or a cousin with swelled ankles, the two doctors retired to the
bathroom and sat on the edge of the bath tub for their consultation. I
ate an apple, and gazed first at my finger and then across the bay.
The doctors came out looking grave. More: they looked tombstones and
Tennessee-papers-please-copy. They wrote out a diet list to which I was
to be restricted. It had everything that I had ever heard of to eat on
it, except snails. And I never eat a snail unless it overtakes me and
bites me first.
"You must follow this diet strictly," said the doctors.
"I'd follow it a mile if I could get one-tenth of what's on it," I answered.
"Of next importance," they went on, "is outdoor air and exercise. And
here is a prescription that will be of great benefit to you."
Then all of us took something. They took their hats, and I took my departure.
I went to a druggist and showed him the prescription.
"It will be $2.87 for an ounce bottle," he said.
"Will you give me a piece of your wrapping cord?" said I.
I made a hole in the prescription, ran the cord through it, tied it
around my neck, and tucked it inside. All of us have a little
superstition, and mine runs to a confidence in amulets.
Of course there was nothing the matter with me, but I was very ill. I
couldn't work, sleep, eat, or bowl. The only way I could get any
sympathy was to go without shaving for four days. Even then somebody
would say: "Old man, you look as hardy as a pine knot. Been up for a
jaunt in the Maine woods, eh?"
Then, suddenly, I remembered that I must have outdoor air and exercise.
So I went down South to John's. John is an approximate relative by
verdict of a preacher standing with a little book in his hands in a
bower of chrysanthemums while a hundred thousand people looked on. John
has a country house seven miles from Pineville. It is at an altitude
and on the Blue Ridge Mountains in a state too dignified to be dragged
into this controversy. John is mica, which is more valuable and clearer
He met me at Pineville, and we took the trolley car to his home. It is
a big, neighbourless cottage on a hill surrounded by a hundred
mountains. We got off at his little private station, where John's
family and Amaryllis met and greeted us. Amaryllis looked at me a
A rabbit came bounding across the hill between us and the house. I
threw down my suit-case and pursued it hotfoot. After I had run twenty
yards and seen it disappear, I sat down on the grass and wept
"I can't catch a rabbit any more," I sobbed. "I'm of no further use in the world. I may as well be dead."
"Oh, what is it—what is it, Brother John?" I heard Amaryllis say.
"Nerves a little unstrung," said John, in his calm way. "Don't worry.
Get up, you rabbit-chaser, and come on to the house before the biscuits
get cold." It was about twilight, and the mountains came up nobly to
Miss Murfree's descriptions of them.
Soon after dinner I announced that I believed I could sleep for a year
or two, including legal holidays. So I was shown to a room as big and
cool as a flower garden, where there was a bed as broad as a lawn. Soon
afterward the remainder of the household retired, and then there fell
upon the land a silence.
I had not heard a silence before in years. It was absolute. I raised
myself on my elbow and listened to it. Sleep! I thought that if I only
could hear a star twinkle or a blade of grass sharpen itself I could
compose myself to rest. I thought once that I heard a sound like the
sail of a catboat flapping as it veered about in a breeze, but I
decided that it was probably only a tack in the carpet. Still I
Suddenly some belated little bird alighted upon the window-sill, and,
in what he no doubt considered sleepy tones, enunciated the noise
generally translated as "cheep!"
I leaped into the air.
"Hey! what's the matter down there?" called John from his room above mine.
"Oh, nothing," I answered, "except that I accidentally bumped my head against the ceiling."
The next morning I went out on the porch and looked at the mountains.
There were forty-seven of them in sight. I shuddered, went into the big
hall sitting room of the house, selected "Pancoast's Family Practice of
Medicine" from a bookcase, and began to read. John came in, took the
book away from me, and led me outside. He has a farm of three hundred
acres furnished with the usual complement of barns, mules, peasantry,
and harrows with three front teeth broken off. I had seen such things
in my childhood, and my heart began to sink.
Then John spoke of alfalfa, and I brightened at once. "Oh, yes," said I, "wasn't she in the chorus of—let's see—"
"Green, you know," said John, "and tender, and you plow it under after the first season."
"I know," said I, "and the grass grows over her."
"Right," said John. "You know something about farming, after all."
"I know something of some farmers," said I, "and a sure scythe will mow them down some day."
On the way back to the house a beautiful and inexplicable creature
walked across our path. I stopped irresistibly fascinated, gazing at
it. John waited patiently, smoking his cigarette. He is a modern
farmer. After ten minutes he said: "Are you going to stand there
looking at that chicken all day? Breakfast is nearly ready."
"A chicken?" said I.
"A White Orpington hen, if you want to particularize."
"A White Orpington hen?" I repeated, with intense interest. The fowl
walked slowly away with graceful dignity, and I followed like a child
after the Pied Piper. Five minutes more were allowed me by John, and
then he took me by the sleeve and conducted me to breakfast.
After I had been there a week I began to grow alarmed. I was sleeping
and eating well and actually beginning to enjoy life. For a man in my
desperate condition that would never do. So I sneaked down to the
trolley-car station, took the car for Pineville, and went to see one of
the best physicians in town. By this time I knew exactly what to do
when I needed medical treatment. I hung my hat on the back of a chair,
and said rapidly:
"Doctor, I have cirrhosis of the heart, indurated arteries,
neurasthenia, neuritis, acute indigestion, and convalescence. I am
going to live on a strict diet. I shall also take a tepid bath at night
and a cold one in the morning. I shall endeavour to be cheerful, and
fix my mind on pleasant subjects. In the way of drugs I intend to take
a phosphorous pill three times a day, preferably after meals, and a
tonic composed of the tinctures of gentian, cinchona, calisaya, and
cardamom compound. Into each teaspoonful of this I shall mix tincture
of nux vomica, beginning with one drop and increasing it a drop each
day until the maximum dose is reached. I shall drop this with a
medicine-dropper, which can be procured at a trifling cost at any
pharmacy. Good morning."
I took my hat and walked out. After I had closed the door I remembered
something that I had forgotten to say. I opened it again. The doctor
had not moved from where he had been sitting, but he gave a slightly
nervous start when he saw me again.
"I forgot to mention," said I, "that I shall also take absolute rest and exercise.
After this consultation I felt much better. The reestablishing in my
mind of the fact that I was hopelessly ill gave me so much satisfaction
that I almost became gloomy again. There is nothing more alarming to a
neurasthenic than to feel himself growing well and cheerful.
John looked after me carefully. After I had evinced so much interest in
his White Orpington chicken he tried his best to divert my mind, and
was particular to lock his hen house of nights. Gradually the tonic
mountain air, the wholesome food, and the daily walks among the hills
so alleviated my malady that I became utterly wretched and despondent.
I heard of a country doctor who lived in the mountains nearby. I went
to see him and told him the whole story. He was a gray-bearded man with
clear, blue, wrinkled eyes, in a home-made suit of gray jeans.
In order to save time I diagnosed my case, touched my nose with my
right forefinger, struck myself below the knee to make my foot kick,
sounded my chest, stuck out my tongue, and asked him the price of
cemetery lots in Pineville.
He lit his pipe and looked at me for about three minutes. "Brother," he
said, after a while, "you are in a mighty bad way. There's a chance for
you to pull through, but it's a mighty slim one."
"What can it be?" I asked eagerly. "I have taken arsenic and gold,
phosphorus, exercise, nux vomica, hydrotherapeutic baths, rest,
excitement, codein, and aromatic spirits of ammonia. Is there anything
left in the pharmacopoeia?"
"Somewhere in these mountains," said the doctor, "there's a plant
growing—a flowering plant that'll cure you, and it's about the only
thing that will. It's of a kind that's as old as the world; but of late
it's powerful scarce and hard to find. You and I will have to hunt it
up. I'm not engaged in active practice now: I'm getting along in years;
but I'll take your case. You'll have to come every day in the afternoon
and help me hunt for this plant till we find it. The city doctors may
know a lot about new scientific things, but they don't know much about
the cures that nature carries around in her saddlebags."
So every day the old doctor and I hunted the cure-all plant among the
mountains and valleys of the Blue Ridge. Together we toiled up steep
heights so slippery with fallen autumn leaves that we had to catch
every sapling and branch within our reach to save us from falling. We
waded through gorges and chasms, breast-deep with laurel and ferns; we
followed the banks of mountain streams for miles; we wound our way like
Indians through brakes of pine—road side, hill side, river side,
mountain side we explored in our search for the miraculous plant.
As the old doctor said, it must have grown scarce and hard to find. But
we followed our quest. Day by day we plumbed the valleys, scaled the
heights, and tramped the plateaus in search of the miraculous plant.
Mountain-bred, he never seemed to tire. I often reached home too
fatigued to do anything except fall into bed and sleep until morning.
This we kept up for a month.
One evening after I had returned from a six-mile tramp with the old
doctor, Amaryllis and I took a little walk under the trees near the
road. We looked at the mountains drawing their royal-purple robes
around them for their night's repose.
"I'm glad you're well again," she said. "When you first came you frightened me. I thought you were really ill."
"Well again!" I almost shrieked. "Do you know that I have only one chance in a thousand to live?"
Amaryllis looked at me in surprise. "Why," said she, "you are as strong
as one of the plough-mules, you sleep ten or twelve hours every night,
and you are eating us out of house and home. What more do you want?"
"I tell you," said I, "that unless we find the magic—that is, the plant
we are looking for—in time, nothing can save me. The doctor tells me
"Doctor Tatum—the old doctor who lives halfway up Black Oak Mountain. Do you know him?"
"I have known him since I was able to talk. And is that where you go
every day—is it he who takes you on these long walks and climbs that
have brought back your health and strength? God bless the old doctor."
Just then the old doctor himself drove slowly down the road in his
rickety old buggy. I waved my hand at him and shouted that I would be
on hand the next day at the usual time. He stopped his horse and called
to Amaryllis to come out to him. They talked for five minutes while I
waited. Then the old doctor drove on.
When we got to the house Amaryllis lugged out an encyclopaedia and
sought a word in it. "The doctor said," she told me, "that you needn't
call any more as a patient, but he'd be glad to see you any time as a
friend. And then he told me to look up my name in the encyclopaedia and
tell you what it means. It seems to be the name of a genus of flowering
plants, and also the name of a country girl in Theocritus and Virgil.
What do you suppose the doctor meant by that?"
"I know what he meant," said I. "I know now."
A word to a brother who may have come under the spell of the unquiet Lady Neurasthenia.
The formula was true. Even though gropingly at times, the physicians of
the walled cities had put their fingers upon the specific medicament.
And so for the exercise one is referred to good Doctor Tatum on Black
Oak Mountain—take the road to your right at the Methodist meeting house
in the pine-grove.
Absolute rest and exercise!
What rest more remedial than to sit with Amaryllis in the shade, and,
with a sixth sense, read the wordless Theocritan idyl of the
gold-bannered blue mountains marching orderly into the dormitories of
the night?An Unfinished Story
We no longer groan and heap ashes upon our heads when the flames of
Tophet are mentioned. For, even the preachers have begun to tell us
that God is radium, or ether or some scientific compound, and that the
worst we wicked ones may expect is a chemical reaction. This is a
pleasing hypothesis; but there lingers yet some of the old, goodly
terror of orthodoxy.
There are but two subjects upon which one may discourse with a free
imagination, and without the possibility of being controverted. You may
talk of your dreams; and you may tell what you heard a parrot say. Both
Morpheus and the bird are incompetent witnesses; and your listener dare
not attack your recital. The baseless fabric of a vision, then, shall
furnish my theme—chosen with apologies and regrets instead of the more
limited field of pretty Polly's small talk.
An Unfinished Story
Along with being the top vote-getters
in the Maurice survey, An Unfinished Story and A Municipal Report were
also selected by those polled by the New York Times and appear in The
Best Short Stories in English series.
I had a dream that was so far removed from the higher criticism that it
had to do with the ancient, respectable, and lamented bar-of-judgment
Gabriel had played his trump; and those of us who could not follow suit
were arraigned for examination. I noticed at one side a gathering of
professional bondsmen in solemn black and collars that buttoned behind;
but it seemed there was some trouble about their real estate titles;
and they did not appear to be getting any of us out.
A fly cop—an angel policeman—flew over to me and took me by the left
wing. Near at hand was a group of very prosperous-looking spirits
arraigned for judgment.
"Do you belong with that bunch?" the policeman asked.
"Who are they?" was my answer.
"Why," said he, "they are—"
But this irrelevant stuff is taking up space that the story should occupy.
Dulcie worked in a department store. She sold Hamburg edging, or
stuffed peppers, or automobiles, or other little trinkets such as they
keep in department stores. Of what she earned, Dulcie received six
dollars per week. The remainder was credited to her and debited to
somebody else's account in the ledger kept by G–––– Oh, primal energy,
you say, Reverend Doctor—Well then, in the Ledger of Primal Energy.
During her first year in the store, Dulcie was paid five dollars per
week. It would be instructive to know how she lived on that amount.
Don't care? Very well; probably you are interested in larger amounts.
Six dollars is a larger amount. I will tell you how she lived on six
dollars per week.
One afternoon at six, when Dulcie was sticking her hat-pin within an
eighth of an inch of her medulla oblongata, she said to her chum,
Sadie—the girl that waits on you with her left side:
"Say, Sade, I made a date for dinner this evening with Piggy."
"You never did!" exclaimed Sadie admiringly. "Well, ain't you the lucky
one? Piggy's an awful swell; and he always takes a girl to swell
places. He took Blanche up to the Hoffman House one evening, where they
have swell music, and you see a lot of swells. You'll have a swell
Dulcie hurried homeward. Her eyes were shining, and her cheeks showed
the delicate pink of life's—real life's—approaching dawn. It was
Friday; and she had fifty cents left of her last week's wages.
The streets were filled with the rush-hour floods of people. The
electric lights of Broadway were glowing—calling moths from miles, from
leagues, from hundreds of leagues out of darkness around to come in and
attend the singeing school. Men in accurate clothes, with faces like
those carved on cherry stones by the old salts in sailors' homes,
turned and stared at Dulcie as she sped, unheeding, past them.
Manhattan, the night-blooming cereus, was beginning to unfold its
dead-white, heavy-odoured petals.
Dulcie stopped in a store where goods were cheap and bought an
imitation lace collar with her fifty cents. That money was to have been
spent otherwise—fifteen cents for supper, ten cents for breakfast, ten
cents for lunch. Another dime was to be added to her small store of
savings; and five cents was to be squandered for licorice drops—the
kind that made your cheek look like the toothache, and last as long.
The licorice was an extravagance—almost a carouse—but what is life
Dulcie lived in a furnished room. There is this difference between a
furnished room and a boarding-house. In a furnished room, other people
do not know it when you go hungry.
Dulcie went up to her room—the third floor back in a West Side
brownstone-front. She lit the gas. Scientists tell us that the diamond
is the hardest substance known. Their mistake. Landladies know of a
compound beside which the diamond is as putty. They pack it in the tips
of gas-burners; and one may stand on a chair and dig at it in vain
until one's fingers are pink and bruised. A hairpin will not remove it;
therefore let us call it immovable.
So Dulcie lit the gas. In its one-fourth-candlepower glow we will observe the room.
Couch-bed, dresser, table, washstand, chair—of this much the landlady
was guilty. The rest was Dulcie's. On the dresser were her treasures—a
gilt china vase presented to her by Sadie, a calendar issued by a
pickle works, a book on the divination of dreams, some rice powder in a
glass dish, and a cluster of artificial cherries tied with a pink
Against the wrinkly mirror stood pictures of General Kitchener, William
Muldoon, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Benvenuto Cellini. Against one
wall was a plaster of Paris plaque of an O'Callahan in a Roman helmet.
Near it was a violent oleograph of a lemon-coloured child assaulting an
inflammatory butterfly. This was Dulcie's final judgment in art; but it
had never been upset. Her rest had never been disturbed by whispers of
stolen copes; no critic had elevated his eyebrows at her infantile
Piggy was to call for her at seven. While she swiftly makes ready, let us discreetly face the other way and gossip.
For the room, Dulcie paid two dollars per week. On week-days her
breakfast cost ten cents; she made coffee and cooked an egg over the
gaslight while she was dressing. On Sunday mornings she feasted royally
on veal chops and pineapple fritters at "Billy's" restaurant, at a cost
of twenty-five cents—and tipped the waitress ten cents. New York
presents so many temptations for one to run into extravagance. She had
her lunches in the department-store restaurant at a cost of sixty cents
for the week; dinners were $1.05. The evening papers—show me a New
Yorker going without his daily paper!—came to six cents; and two Sunday
papers—one for the personal column and the other to read—were ten
cents. The total amounts to $4.76. Now, one has to buy clothes, and—
I give it up. I hear of wonderful bargains in fabrics, and of miracles
performed with needle and thread; but I am in doubt. I hold my pen
poised in vain when I would add to Dulcie's life some of those joys
that belong to woman by virtue of all the unwritten, sacred, natural,
inactive ordinances of the equity of heaven. Twice she had been to
Coney Island and had ridden the hobby-horses. 'Tis a weary thing to
count your pleasures by summers instead of by hours.
Piggy needs but a word. When the girls named him, an undeserving stigma
was cast upon the noble family of swine. The words-of-three-letters
lesson in the old blue spelling book begins with Piggy's biography. He
was fat; he had the soul of a rat, the habits of a bat, and the
magnanimity of a cat... He wore expensive clothes; and was a
connoisseur in starvation. He could look at a shop-girl and tell you to
an hour how long it had been since she had eaten anything more
nourishing than marshmallows and tea. He hung about the shopping
districts, and prowled around in department stores with his invitations
to dinner. Men who escort dogs upon the streets at the end of a string
look down upon him. He is a type; I can dwell upon him no longer; my
pen is not the kind intended for him; I am no carpenter.
At ten minutes to seven Dulcie was ready. She looked at herself in the
wrinkly mirror. The reflection was satisfactory. The dark blue dress,
fitting without a wrinkle, the hat with its jaunty black feather, the
but-slightly-soiled gloves—all representing self-denial, even of food
itself—were vastly becoming.
Dulcie forgot everything else for a moment except that she was
beautiful, and that life was about to lift a corner of its mysterious
veil for her to observe its wonders. No gentleman had ever asked her
out before. Now she was going for a brief moment into the glitter and
The girls said that Piggy was a "spender." There would be a grand
dinner, and music, and splendidly dressed ladies to look at, and things
to eat that strangely twisted the girls' jaws when they tried to tell
about them. No doubt she would be asked out again. There was a blue
pongee suit in a window that she knew—by saving twenty cents a week
instead of ten, in—let's see—Oh, it would run into years! But there was
a second-hand store in Seventh Avenue where—
Somebody knocked at the door. Dulcie opened it. The landlady stood
there with a spurious smile, sniffing for cooking by stolen gas.
"A gentleman's downstairs to see you," she said. "Name is Mr. Wiggins."
By such epithet was Piggy known to unfortunate ones who had to take him seriously.
Dulcie turned to the dresser to get her handkerchief; and then she
stopped still, and bit her underlip hard. While looking in her mirror
she had seen fairyland and herself, a princess, just awakening from a
long slumber. She had forgotten one that was watching her with sad,
beautiful, stern eyes—the only one there was to approve or condemn what
she did. Straight and slender and tall, with a look of sorrowful
reproach on his handsome, melancholy face, General Kitchener fixed his
wonderful eyes on her out of his gilt photograph frame on the dresser.
Dulcie turned like an automatic doll to the landlady.
"Tell him I can't go," she said dully. "Tell him I'm sick, or something. Tell him I'm not going out."
After the door was closed and locked, Dulcie fell upon her bed,
crushing her black tip, and cried for ten minutes. General Kitchener
was her only friend. He was Dulcie's ideal of a gallant knight. He
looked as if he might have a secret sorrow, and his wonderful moustache
was a dream, and she was a little afraid of that stern yet tender look
in his eyes. She used to have little fancies that he would call at the
house sometime, and ask for her, with his sword clanking against his
high boots. Once, when a boy was rattling a piece of chain against a
lamp-post she had opened the window and looked out. But there was no
use. She knew that General Kitchener was away over in Japan, leading
his army against the savage Turks; and he would never step out of his
gilt frame for her. Yet one look from him had vanquished Piggy that
night. Yes, for that night.
When her cry was over Dulcie got up and took off her best dress, and
put on her old blue kimono. She wanted no dinner. She sang two verses
of "Sammy." Then she became intensely interested in a little red speck
on the side of her nose. And after that was attended to, she drew up a
chair to the rickety table, and told her fortune with an old deck of
"The horrid, impudent thing!" she said aloud. "And I never gave him a word or a look to make him think it!"
At nine o'clock Dulcie took a tin box of crackers and a little pot of
raspberry jam out of her trunk, and had a feast. She offered General
Kitchener some jam on a cracker; but he only looked at her as the
sphinx would have looked at a butterfly—if there are butterflies in the
"Don't eat it if you don't want to," said Dulcie. "And don't put on so
many airs and scold so with your eyes. I wonder if you'd be so superior
and snippy if you had to live on six dollars a week."
It was not a good sign for Dulcie to be rude to General Kitchener. And
then she turned Benvenuto Cellini face downward with a severe gesture.
But that was not inexcusable; for she had always thought he was Henry
VIII, and she did not approve of him.
At half-past nine Dulcie took a last look at the pictures on the
dresser, turned out the light, and skipped into bed. It's an awful
thing to go to bed with a good-night look at General Kitchener, William
Muldoon, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Benvenuto Cellini. This story
really doesn't get anywhere at all. The rest of it comes later—sometime
when Piggy asks Dulcie again to dine with him, and she is feeling
lonelier than usual, and General Kitchener happens to be looking the
other way; and then—
As I said before, I dreamed that I was standing near a crowd of
prosperous-looking angels, and a policeman took me by the wing and
asked if I belonged with them.
"Who are they?" I asked.
"Why," said he, "they are the men who hired working-girls, and paid 'em
five or six dollars a week to live on. Are you one of the bunch?"
"Not on your immortality," said I. "I'm only the fellow that set fire
to an orphan asylum, and murdered a blind man for his pennies."
A Municipal Report
For the final entry, a cleverly crafted piece about injustice and justice.
Fancy a novel about Chicago or Buffalo, let us say,
or Nashville, Tennessee! There are just three big cities in the United
States that are "story cities"—New York, of course, New Orleans, and,
best of the lot, San Francisco.—Frank Norris.
East is East, and West is San Francisco, according to Californians.
Californians are a race of people; they are not merely inhabitants of a
State. They are the Southerners of the West. Now, Chicagoans are no
less loyal to their city; but when you ask them why, they stammer and
speak of lake fish and the new Odd Fellows Building. But Californians
go into detail.
Of course they have, in the climate, an argument that is good for half
an hour while you are thinking of your coal bills and heavy underwear.
But as soon as they come to mistake your silence for conviction,
madness comes upon them, and they picture the city of the Golden Gate
as the Bagdad of the New World. So far, as a matter of opinion, no
refutation is necessary. But, dear cousins all (from Adam and Eve
descended), it is a rash one who will lay his finger on the map and
say: "In this town there can be no romance—what could happen here?"
Yes, it is a bold and a rash deed to challenge in one sentence history,
romance, and Rand and McNally.
NASHVILLE—A city, port of delivery, and the capital of the State of
Tennessee, is on the Cumberland River and on the N. C. & St. L. and
the L. & N. railroads. This city is regarded as the most important
educational centre in the South.
I stepped off the train at 8 P.M. Having searched the thesaurus in vain
for adjectives, I must, as a substitution, hie me to comparison in the
form of a recipe.
Take a London fog 30 parts; malaria 10 parts; gas leaks 20 parts;
dewdrops gathered in a brick yard at sunrise, 25 parts; odor of
honeysuckle 15 parts. Mix.
The mixture will give you an approximate conception of a Nashville
drizzle. It is not so fragrant as a moth-ball nor as thick as pea-soup;
but 'tis enough—'twill serve.
I went to a hotel in a tumbril. It required strong self-suppression for
me to keep from climbing to the top of it and giving an imitation of
Sidney Carton. The vehicle was drawn by beasts of a bygone era and
driven by something dark and emancipated.
I was sleepy and tired, so when I got to the hotel I hurriedly paid it
the fifty cents it demanded (with approximate lagniappe, I assure you).
I knew its habits; and I did not want to hear it prate about its old
"marster" or anything that happened "befo' de wah."
The hotel was one of the kind described as 'renovated." That means
$20,000 worth of new marble pillars, tiling, electric lights and brass
cuspidors in the lobby, and a new L. & N. time table and a
lithograph of Lookout Mountain in each one of the great rooms above.
The management was without reproach, the attention full of exquisite
Southern courtesy, the service as slow as the progress of a snail and
as good-humored as Rip Van Winkle. The food was worth traveling a
thousand miles for. There is no other hotel in the world where you can
get such chicken livers en brochette.
At dinner I asked a Negro waiter if there was anything doing in town.
He pondered gravely for a minute, and then replied: "Well, boss, I
don't really reckon there's anything at all doin' after sundown."
Sundown had been accomplished; it had been drowned in the drizzle long
before. So that spectacle was denied me. But I went forth upon the
streets in the drizzle to see what might be there.
It is built on undulating grounds; and the streets are lighted by electricity at a cost of $32,470 per annum.
As I left the hotel there was a race riot. Down upon me charged a
company of freedmen, or Arabs, or Zulus, armed with—no, I saw with
relief that they were not rifles, but whips. And I saw dimly a caravan
of black, clumsy vehicles; and at the reassuring shouts, "Kyar you
anywhere in the town, boss, fuh fifty cents," I reasoned that I was
merely a "fare" instead of a victim.
I walked through long streets, all leading uphill. I wondered how those
streets ever came down again. Perhaps they didn't until they were
"graded." On a few of the "main streets" I saw lights in stores here
and there; saw street cars go by conveying worthy burghers hither and
yon; saw people pass engaged in the art of conversation, and heard a
burst of semi-lively laughter issuing from a soda-water and ice-cream
parlor. The streets other than "main" seemed to have enticed upon their
borders houses consecrated to peace and domesticity. In many of them
lights shone behind discreetly drawn window shades; in a few pianos
tinkled orderly and irreproachable music. There was, indeed, little
"doing." I wished I had come before sundown. So I returned to my hotel.
In November, 1864, the Confederate General Hood advanced against
Nashville, where he shut up a National force under General Thomas. The
latter then sallied forth and defeated the Confederates in a terrible
All my life I have heard of, admired, and witnessed the fine
marksmanship of the South in its peaceful conflicts in the
tobacco-chewing regions. But in my hotel a surprise awaited me. There
were twelve bright, new, imposing, capacious brass cuspidors in the
great lobby, tall enough to be called urns and so wide-mouthed that the
crack pitcher of a lady baseball team should have been able to throw a
ball into one of them at five paces distant. But, although a terrible
battle had raged and was still raging, the enemy had not suffered.
Bright, new, imposing, capacious, untouched, they stood. But, shades of
Jefferson Brick! the tile floor—the beautiful tile floor! I could not
avoid thinking of the battle of Nashville, and trying to draw, as is my
foolish habit, some deductions about hereditary marksmanship.
Here I first saw Major (by misplaced courtesy) Wentworth Caswell. I
knew him for a type the moment my eyes suffered from the sight of him.
A rat has no geographical habitat. My old friend, A. Tennyson, said, as
he so well said almost everything:
Prophet, curse me the blabbing lip, And curse me the British vermin, the rat.
Let us regard the word "British" as interchangeable ad lib. A rat is a rat.
This man was hunting about the hotel lobby like a starved dog that had
forgotten where he had buried a bone. He had a face of great acreage,
red, pulpy, and with a kind of sleepy massiveness like that of Buddha.
He possessed one single virtue—he was very smoothly shaven. The mark of
the beast is not indelible upon a man until he goes about with a
stubble. I think that if he had not used his razor that day I would
have repulsed his advances, and the criminal calendar of the world
would have been spared the addition of one murder.
I happened to be standing within five feet of a cuspidor when Major
Caswell opened fire upon it. I had been observant enough to perceive
that the attacking force was using Gatlings instead of squirrel rifles;
so I side-stepped so promptly that the major seized the opportunity to
apologize to a noncombatant. He had the blabbing lip. In four minutes
he had become my friend and had dragged me to the bar.
I desire to interpolate here that I am a Southerner. But I am not one
by profession or trade. I eschew the string tie, the slouch hat, the
Prince Albert, the number of bales of cotton destroyed by Sherman, and
plug chewing. When the orchestra plays Dixie I do not cheer. I slide a
little lower on the leather-cornered seat and, well, order another
Wurzburger and wish that Longstreet had—but what's the use?
Major Caswell banged the bar with his fist, and the first gun at Fort
Sumter re-echoed. When he fired the last one at Appomattox I began to
hope. But then he began on family trees, and demonstrated that Adam was
only a third cousin of a collateral branch of the Caswell family.
Genealogy disposed of, he took up, to my distaste, his private family
matters. He spoke of his wife, traced her descent back to Eve, and
profanely denied any possible rumor that she may have had relations in
the land of Nod.
By this time I was beginning to suspect that he was trying to obscure
by noise the fact that he had ordered the drinks, on the chance that I
would be bewildered into paying for them. But when they were down he
crashed a silver dollar loudly upon the bar. Then, of course, another
serving was obligatory. And when I had paid for that I took leave of
him brusquely; for I wanted no more of him. But before I had obtained
my release he had prated loudly of an income that his wife received,
and showed a handful of silver money.
When I got my key at the desk the clerk said to me courteously: "If
that man Caswell has annoyed you, and if you would like to make a
complaint, we will have him ejected. He is a nuisance, a loafer, and
without any known means of support, although he seems to have some
money most the time. But we don't seem to be able to hit upon any means
of throwing him out legally."
"Why, no," said I, after some reflection; "I don't see my way clear to
making a complaint. But I would like to place myself on record as
asserting that I do not care for his company. Your town," I continued,
"seems to be a quiet one. What manner of entertainment, adventure, or
excitement have you to offer to the stranger within your gates?"
"Well, sir," said the clerk, "there will be a show here next Thursday.
It is—I'll look it up and have the announcement sent up to your room
with the ice water. Good night."
After I went up to my room I looked out the window. It was only about
ten o'clock, but I looked upon a silent town. The drizzle continued,
spangled with dim lights, as far apart as currants in a cake sold at
the Ladies' Exchange.
"A quiet place," I said to myself, as my first shoe struck the ceiling
of the occupant of the room beneath mine. "Nothing of the life here
that gives color and variety to the cities in the East and West. Just a
good, ordinary, humdrum, business town."
Nashville occupies a foremost place among the manufacturing centres of
the country. It is the fifth boot and shoe market in the United States,
the largest candy and cracker manufacturing city in the South, and does
an enormous wholesale drygoods, grocery, and drug business.
I must tell you how I came to be in Nashville, and I assure you the
digression brings as much tedium to me as it does to you. I was
traveling elsewhere on my own business, but I had a commission from a
Northern literary magazine to stop over there and establish a personal
connection between the publication and one of its contributors, Azalea
Adair (there was no clue to the personality except the handwriting) had
sent in some essays (lost art!) and poems that had made the editors
swear approvingly over their one o'clock luncheon. So they had
commissioned me to round up said Adair and corner by contract his or
her output at two cents a word before some other publisher offered her
ten or twenty.
At nine o'clock the next morning, after my chicken livers en brochette
(try them if you can find that hotel), I strayed out into the drizzle,
which was still on for an unlimited run. At the first corner, I came
upon Uncle Caesar. He was a stalwart Negro, older than the pyramids,
with gray wool and a face that reminded me of Brutus, and a second
afterwards of the late King Cettiwayo. He wore the most remarkable coat
that I ever had seen or expect to see. It reached to his ankles an had
once been a Confederate gray in colors. But rain and sun and age had so
variegated it that Joseph's coat, beside it, would have faded to a pale
monochrome. I must linger with that coat, for it has to do with the
story—the story that is so long in coming, because you can hardly
expect anything to happen in Nashville.
Once it must have been the military coat of an officer. The cape of it
had vanished, but all adown its front it had been frogged and tasseled
magnificently. But now the frogs and tassels were gone. In their stead
had been patiently stitched (I surmised by some surviving "black
mammy") new frogs made of cunningly twisted common hempen twine. This
twine was frayed and disheveled. It must have been added to the coat as
a substitute for vanished splendors, with tasteless but painstaking
devotion, for it followed faithfully the curves of the long-missing
frogs. And, to complete the comedy and pathos of the garment, all its
buttons were gone save one. The second button from the top alone
remained. The coat was fastened by other twine strings tied through the
buttonholes and other holes rudely pierced in the opposite side. There
was never such a weird garment so fantastically bedecked and of so many
mottled hues. The lone button was the size of a half-dollar, made of
yellow horn and sewed on with coarse twine.
This Negro stood by a carriage so old that Ham himself might have
started a hack line with it after he left the ark with the two animals
hitched to it. As I approached he threw open the door, drew out a
feather duster, waved it without using it, and said in deep, rumbling
"Step right in, suh; ain't a speck of dust in it—jus' got back from a funeral, suh."
I inferred that on such gala occasions carriages were given an extra
cleaning. I looked up and down the street and perceived that there was
little choice among the vehicles for hire that lined the curb. I looked
in my memorandum book for the address of Azalea Adair.
"I want to go to 861 Jessamine Street," I said, and was about to step
into the hack. But for an instant the thick, long, gorilla-like arm of
the old Negro barred me. On his massive and saturnine face a look of
sudden suspicion and enmity flashed for a moment. Then, with quickly
returning conviction, he asked blandishingly: "What are you gwine there
"What is it to you?" I asked, a little sharply.
"Nothin', suh, jus' nothin'. Only it's a lonesome kind of part of town
and few folks ever has business out there. Step right in. The seats is
clean—jes' got back from a funeral, suh."
A mile and a half it must have been to our journey's end. I could hear
nothing but the fearful rattle of the ancient hack over the uneven
brick paving; I could smell nothing but the drizzle, now further
flavored with coal smoke and something like a mixture of tar and
oleander blossoms. All I could see through the streaming windows were
two rows of dim houses.
The city has an area of 10 square miles; 181 miles of streets, of which
137 miles are paved; a system of waterworks that cost $2,000,000, with
77 miles of mains.
Eight-sixty-one Jessamine Street was a decayed mansion. Thirty yards
back from the street it stood, outmerged in a splendid grove of trees
and untrimmed shrubbery. A row of box bushes overflowed and almost hid
the paling fence from sight; the gate was kept closed by a rope noose
that encircled the gate post and the first paling of the gate. But when
you got inside you saw that 861 was a shell, a shadow, a ghost of
former grandeur and excellence. But in the story, I have not yet got
When the hack had ceased from rattling and the weary quadrupeds came to
a rest I handed my jehu his fifty cents with an additional quarter,
feeling a glow of conscious generosity, as I did so. He refused it.
"It's two dollars, suh," he said.
"How's that?" I asked. "I plainly heard you call out at the hotel: 'Fifty cents to any part of the town.'"
"It's two dollars, suh," he repeated obstinately. "It's a long ways from the hotel."
"It is within the city limits and well within them." I argued. "Don't
think that you have picked up a greenhorn Yankee. Do you see those
hills over there?" I went on, pointing toward the east (I could not see
them, myself, for the drizzle); "well, I was born and raised on their
other side. You old fool n-----, can't you tell people from other
people when you see 'em?"
The grim face of King Cettiwayo softened. "Is you from the South, suh?
I reckon it was them shoes of yourn fooled me. They is somethin' sharp
in the toes for a Southern gen'lman to wear."
"Then the charge is fifty cents, I suppose?" said I inexorably.
His former expression, a mingling of cupidity and hostility, returned, remained ten seconds, and vanished.
"Boss," he said, "fifty cents is right; but I needs two dollars, suh;
I'm obleeged to have two dollars. I ain't demandin' it now, suh; after
I know whar you's from; I'm jus' sayin' that I has to have two dollars
to-night, and business mighty po'."
Peace and confidence settled upon his heavy features. He had been
luckier than he had hoped. Instead of having picked up a greenhorn,
ignorant of rates, he had come upon an inheritance.
"You confounded old rascal," I said, reaching down to my pocket, "you ought to be turned over to the police."
For the first time I saw him smile. He knew; he knew. HE KNEW.
I gave him two one-dollar bills. As I handed them over I noticed that
one of them had seen parlous times. Its upper right-hand corner was
missing, and it had been torn through the middle, but joined again. A
strip of blue tissue paper, pasted over the split, preserved its
Enough of the African bandit for the present: I left him happy, lifted the rope and opened a creaky gate.
The house, as I said, was a shell. A paint brush had not touched it in
twenty years. I could not see why a strong wind should not have bowled
it over like a house of cards until I looked again at the trees that
hugged it close—the trees that saw the battle of Nashville and still
drew their protecting branches around it against storm and enemy and
Azalea Adair, fifty years old, white-haired, a descendant of the
cavaliers, as thin and frail as the house she lived in, robed in the
cheapest and cleanest dress I ever saw, with an air as simple as a
queen's, received me.
The reception room seemed a mile square, because there was nothing in
it except some rows of books, on unpainted white-pine bookshelves, a
cracked marble-top table, a rag rug, a hairless horsehair sofa and two
or three chairs. Yes, there was a picture on the wall, a colored crayon
drawing of a cluster of pansies. I looked around for the portrait of
Andrew Jackson and the pinecone hanging basket but they were not there.
Azalea Adair and I had conversation, a little of which will be repeated
to you. She was a product of the old South, gently nurtured in the
sheltered life. Her learning was not broad, but was deep and of
splendid originality in its somewhat narrow scope. She had been
educated at home, and her knowledge of the world was derived from
inference and by inspiration. Of such is the precious, small group of
essayists made. While she talked to me I kept brushing my fingers,
trying, unconsciously, to rid them guiltily of the absent dust from the
half-calf backs of Lamb, Chaucer, Hazlitt, Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne
and Hood. She was exquisite, she was a valuable discovery. Nearly
everybody nowadays knows too much—oh, so much too much—of real life.
I could perceive clearly that Azalea Adair was very poor. A house and a
dress she had, not much else, I fancied. So, divided between my duty to
the magazine and my loyalty to the poets and essayists who fought
Thomas in the valley of the Cumberland, I listened to her voice, which
was like a harpsichord's, and found that I could not speak of
contracts. In the presence of the nine Muses and the three Graces one
hesitated to lower the topic to two cents. There would have to be
another colloquy after I had regained my commercialism. But I spoke of
my mission, and three o'clock of the next afternoon was set for the
discussion of the business proposition.
"Your town," I said, as I began to make ready to depart (which is the
time for smooth generalities), "seems to be a quiet, sedate place. A
home town, I should say, where few things out of the ordinary ever
It carries on an extensive trade in stoves and hollow ware with the
West and South, and its flouring mills have a daily capacity of more
than 2,000 barrels.
Azalea Adair seemed to reflect.
"I have never thought of it that way," she said, with a kind of sincere
intensity that seemed to belong to her. "Isn't it in the still, quiet
places that things do happen? I fancy that when God began to create the
earth on the first Monday morning one could have leaned out one's
window and heard the drops of mud splashing from His trowel as He built
up the everlasting hills. What did the noisiest project in the world—I
mean the building of the Tower of Babel—result in finally? A page and a
half of Esperanto in the North American Review."
"Of course," said I platitudinously, "human nature is the same
everywhere; but there is more color—er—more drama and movement
and—er—romance in some cities than in others."
"On the surface," said Azalea Adair. "I have traveled many times around
the world in a golden airship wafted on two wings—print and dreams. I
have seen (on one of my imaginary tours) the Sultan of Turkey bowstring
with his own hands one of his wives who had uncovered her face in
public. I have seen a man in Nashville tear up his theatre tickets
because his wife was going out with her face covered—with rice powder.
In San Francisco's Chinatown I saw the slave girl Sing Yee dipped
slowly, inch by inch, in boiling almond oil to make her swear she would
never see her American lover again. She gave in when the boiling oil
had reached three inches above her knee. At a euchre party in East
Nashville the other night I saw Kitty Morgan cut dead by seven of her
schoolmates and lifelong friends because she had married a house
painter. The boiling oil was sizzling as high as her heart; but I wish
you could have seen the fine little smile that she carried from table
to table. Oh, yes, it is a humdrum town. Just a few miles of red brick
houses and mud and lumber yards."
Some one knocked hollowly at the back of the house. Azalea Adair
breathed a soft apology and went to investigate the sound. She came
back in three minutes with brightened eyes, a faint flush on her
cheeks, and ten years lifted from her shoulders.
"You must have a cup of tea before you go," she said, "and a sugar cake."
She reached and shook a little iron bell. In shuffled a small Negro
girl about twelve, barefoot, not very tidy, glowering at me with thumb
in mouth and bulging eyes.
Azlea Adair opened a tiny, worn purse and drew out a dollar bill, a
dollar bill with the upper right-hand corner missing, torn in two
pieces, and pasted together again with a strip of blue tissue paper. It
was one of the bills I had given the piratical Negro—there was no doubt
"Go up to Mr. Baker's store on the corner, Impy," she said, handing the
girl the dollar bill, "and get a quarter of a pound of tea—the kind he
always sends me—and ten cents worth of sugar cakes. Now, hurry. The
supply of tea in the house happens to be exhausted," she explained to
Impy left by the back way. Before the scrape of her hard, bare feet had
died away on the back porch, a wild shriek—I was sure it was
hers—filled the hollow house. Then the deep, gruff tones of an angry
man's voice mingled with the girl's further squeals and unintelligible
Azalea Adair rose without surprise or emotion and disappeared. For two
minutes I heard the hoarse rumble of the man's voice; then something
like an oath and a slight scuffle, and she returned calmly to her chair.
"This is a roomy house," she said, "and I have a tenant for part of it.
I am sorry to have to rescind my invitation to tea. It was impossible
to get the kind I always use at the store. Perhaps tomorrow, Mr. Baker
will be able to supply me."
I was sure that Impy had not had time to leave the house. I inquired
concerning street-car lines and took my leave. After I was well on my
way I remembered that I had not learned Azalea Adair's name. But
to-morrow would do.
That same day I started in on the course of iniquity that this
uneventful city forced upon me. I was in the town only two days, but in
that time I managed to lie shamelessly by telegraph, and to be an
accomplice—after the fact, if that is the correct legal term—to a
As I rounded the corner nearest my hotel the Afrite coachman of the
ploychromatic, nonpareil coat seized me, swung open the dungeony door
of his peripatetic sarcophagus, flirted his feather duster and began
his ritual: "Step right in, boss. Carriage is clean—jus' got back from
a funeral. Fifty cents to any—"
And then he knew me and grinned broadly. "'Scuse me, boss; you is de
gen'l'man what rid out with me dis mawnin'. Thank you kindly, suh."
"I am going out to 861 again to-morrow afternoon at three," said I,
"and if you will be here, I'll let you drive me. So you know Miss
Adair?" I concluded, thinking of my dollar bill.
"I belonged to her father, Judge Adair, suh," he replied.
"I judge that she is pretty poor," I said. "She hasn't much money to speak of, has she?"
For an instant I looked again at the fierce countenance of King
Cettiwayo, and then he changed back to an extortionate old Negro hack
"She ain't gwine to starve, suh," he said slowly. "She has reso'ces, suh; she has reso'ces."
"I shall pay you fifty cents for the trip," said I.
"Dat is puffeckly correct, suh," he answered humbly. "I jus' had to have dat two dollars dis mawnin', boss."
I went to the hotel and lied by electricity. I wired the magazine: "A. Adair holds out for eight cents a word."
The answer that came back was: "Give it to her quick you duffer."
Just before dinner "Major" Wentworth Caswell bore down upon me with the
greetings of a long-lost friend. I have seen few men whom I have so
instantaneously hated, and of whom it was so difficult to be rid. I was
standing at the bar when he invaded me; therefore I could not wave the
white ribbon in his face. I would have paid gladly for the drinks,
hoping, thereby, to escape another; but he was one of those despicable,
roaring, advertising bibbers who must have brass bands and fireworks
attend upon every cent that they waste in their follies.
With an air of producing millions he drew two one-dollar bills from a
pocket and dashed one of them upon the bar. I looked once more at the
dollar bill with the upper right-hand corner missing, torn through the
middle, and patched with a strip of blue tissue paper. It was my dollar
bill again. It could have been no other.
I went up to my room. The drizzle and the monotony of a dreary,
eventless Southern town had made me tired and listless. I remember that
just before I went to bed I mentally disposed of the mysterious dollar
bill (which might have formed the clew to a tremendously fine detective
story of San Francisco) by saying to myself sleepily: "Seems as if a
lot of people here own stock in the Hack-Driver's Trust. Pays dividends
promptly, too. Wonder if—" Then I fell asleep.
King Cettiwayo was at his post the next day, and rattled my bones over
the stones out to 861. He was to wait and rattle me back again when I
Azalea Adair looked paler and cleaner and frailer than she had looked
on the day before. After she had signed the contract at eight cents per
word she grew still paler and began to slip out of her chair. Without
much trouble I managed to get her up on the antediluvian horsehair sofa
and then I ran out to the sidewalk and yelled to the coffee-colored
Pirate to bring a doctor. With a wisdom that I had not expected in him,
he abandoned his team and struck off up the street afoot, realizing the
value of speed. In ten minutes he returned with a grave, gray-haired
and capable man of medicine. In a few words (worth much less than eight
cents each) I explained to him my presence in the hollow house of
mystery. He bowed with stately understanding, and turned to the old
"Uncle Caesar," he said calmly, "Run up to my house and ask Miss Lucy
to give you a cream pitcher full of fresh milk and half a tumbler of
port wine. And hurry back. Don't drive—run. I want you to get back
sometime this week."
It occurred to me that Dr. Merriman also felt a distrust as to the
speeding powers of the land-pirate's steeds. After Uncle Caesar was
gone, lumberingly, but swiftly, up the street, the doctor looked me
over with great politeness and as much careful calculation until he had
decided that I might do.
"It is only a case of insufficient nutrition," he said. "In other
words, the result of poverty, pride, and starvation. Mrs. Caswell has
many devoted friends who would be glad to aid her, but she will accept
nothing except from that old Negro, Uncle Caesar, who was once owned by
"Mrs. Caswell!" said I, in surprise. And then I looked at the contract and saw that she had signed it "Azalea Adair Caswell."
"I thought she was Miss Adair," I said.
"Married to a drunken, worthless loafer, sir," said the doctor. "It is
said that he robs her even of the small sums that her old servant
contributes toward her support."
When the milk and wine had been brought the doctor soon revived Azalea
Adair. She sat up and talked of the beauty of the autumn leaves that
were then in season, and their height of color. She referred lightly to
her fainting seizure as the outcome of an old palpitation of the heart.
Impy fanned her as she lay on the sofa. The doctor was due elsewhere,
and I followed him to the door. I told him that it was within my power
and intentions to make a reasonable advance of money to Azalea Adair on
future contributions to the magazine, and he seemed pleased.
"By the way," he said, "perhaps you would like to know that you have
had royalty for a coachman. Old Caesar's grandfather was a king in
Congo. Caesar himself has royal ways, as you may have observed."
As the doctor was moving off I heard Uncle Caesar's voice inside: "Did he get bofe of dem two dollars from you, Mis' Zalea?"
"Yes, Caesar," I heard Azalea Adair answer weakly. And then I went in
and concluded business negotiations with our contributor. I assumed the
responsibility of advancing fifty dollars, putting it as a necessary
formality in binding our bargain. And then Uncle Caesar drove me back
to the hotel.
Here ends all of the story as far as I can testify as a witness. The rest must be only bare statements of facts.
At about six o'clock I went out for a stroll. Uncle Caesar was at his
corner. He threw open the door of his carriage, flourished his duster
and began his depressing formula: "Step right in, suh. Fifty cents to
anywhere in the city—hack's puffickly clean, suh—jus' got back from a
And then he recognized me. I think his eyesight was getting bad. His
coat had taken on a few more faded shades of color, the twine strings
were more frayed and ragged, the last remaining button—the button of
yellow horn—was gone. A motley descendant of kings was Uncle Caesar!
About two hours later I saw an excited crowd besieging the front of a
drug store. In a desert where nothing happens this was manna; so I
edged my way inside. On an extemporized couch of empty boxes and chairs
was stretched the mortal corporeality of Major Wentworth Caswell. A
doctor was testing him for the immortal ingredient. His decision was
that it was conspicuous by its absence.
The erstwhile Major had been found dead on a dark street and brought by
curious and ennuied citizens to the drug store. The late human being
had been engaged in terrific battle—the details showed that. Loafer and
reprobate though he had been, he had been also a warrior. But he had
lost. His hands were yet clinched so tightly that his fingers would not
be opened. The gentle citizens who had know him stood about and
searched their vocabularies to find some good words, if it were
possible, to speak of him. One kind-looking man said, after much
thought: "When 'Cas' was about fo'teen he was one of the best spellers
While I stood there the fingers of the right hand of "the man that was"
which hung down the side of a white pine box, relaxed, and dropped
something at my feet. I covered it with one foot quietly, and a little
later on I picked it up and pocketed it. I reasoned that in his last
struggle his hand must have seized that object unwittingly and held it
in a death grip.
At the hotel that night the main topic of conversation, with the
possible exceptions of politics and prohibition, was the demise of
Major Caswell. I heard one man say to a group of listeners:
"In my opinion, gentlemen, Caswell was murdered by somme of these
no-account n-----s for his money. He had fifty dollars this afternoon
which he showed to several gentlemen in the hotel. When he was found
the money was not on his person."
I left the city the next morning at nine, and as the train was crossing
the bridge over the Cumberland River I took out of my pocket a yellow
horn overcoat button the size of a fifty-cent piece, with frayed ends
of coarse twine hanging from it, and cast it out of the window into the
slow, muddy waters below.
I wonder what's doing in Buffalo!
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Table of Contents, Volume I
A Lodging for the Night—A Story of Francis Villon by Robert Louis. Stevenson.
The Outcasts of Poker Flat by Bret Harte.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Pavilion on the Links by Robert Louis. Stevenson
The Maltese Cat by Rudyard Kipling
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe
Will o' the Mill by Robert Louis Stevenson
Wolfert Webber; or, Golden Dreams by Washington Irving
The Ring of Thoth by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County by Mark Twain
The Door in the Wall by H. G. Wells
Gifts of Oblivion by Dorothy Canfield
Table of Contents, Volume II
Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Luck of the Roaring Camp by Bret Harte
The Brushwood Boy by Rudyard Kipling
Doctor Marigold by Charles Dickens
Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving
An Unfinished Story by O. Henry
The Claws of the Tiger by Gouverneur Morris IV
The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Providence and the Guitar by Robert Louis Stevenson
"Bread Upon the Waters" by Rudyard Kipling
Marjorie Daw by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Love in a Mist by A. Neil Lyons
His Wife by Stephen French Whitman
Rebecca and Rowena by William Makepeace Thackeray
Master and Man by Leo Tolstoy
The Necklace by Guy de Maupassant
A Piece of String by Guy de Maupassant
Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm
The Story of Ruth
"What is the Best Short Story?" The original article as presented in The New York Times
Table of Contents, Volume III
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
The Haunted and the Haunters; Or, The House and the Brain by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
A Municipal Report by O. Henry
The Man Without a Country by Edward Everett Hale
The Merry Men by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe
The Cricket on the Hearth, A Fairy Tale of Home by Charles Dickens
The Story of Richard Doubledick by Charles Dickens
The Belled Buzzard by Irvin S. Cobb
An Incident by Sarah Barnwell Elliott
A Journey by Edith Wharton
Beyond the Pale by Rudyard Kipling
Without Benefit of Clergy by Rudyard Kipling
The Stolen Story by Jesse Lynch Williams
A Postscript: The Dead by James Joyce
Brief Biographies of the Selectors and the Selected
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copyright 2014, Martin Hill Ortiz