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This carefully edited collection has been designed and formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. Table of Contents: The Voice Of The City The Making Of A New Yorker A Retrieved Reformation The Cop And The Anthem The Duplicity Of Hargraves The Gift Of The Magi The Last Leaf The Ransom Of Red Chief The Skylight Room The Trimmed Lamp The Whirligig Of Life A Harlem Tragedy Biography of O. Henry The Gift of the Magi is a story about a young couple who are short of money but desperately want to buy each other Christmas gifts. The Cop and the Anthem is about a New York City hobo named Soapy, who sets out to get arrested so that he can be a guest of the city jail instead of sleeping out in the cold winter. A Retrieved Reformation tells the tale of safecracker Jimmy Valentine, recently freed from prison. The Duplicity of Hargraves is a short story about a nearly destitute father and daughter's trip to Washington, D.C. The Ransom of Red Chief is a short story, it follows two men who kidnap and attempt to ransom a wealthy Alabaman's son; eventually, the men are driven to distraction by the boy's spoiled and hyperactive behavior, and end up having to pay the boy's father to take him back. William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American writer. O. Henry's short stories are known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and surprise endings.
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A guard came to the prison shoe-shop, where Jimmy Valentine was assiduously stitching uppers, and escorted him to the front office. There the warden handed Jimmy his pardon, which had been signed that morning by the governor. Jimmy took it in a tired kind of way. He had served nearly ten months of a four year sentence. He had expected to stay only about three months, at the longest. When a man with as many friends on the outside as Jimmy Valentine had is received in the “stir” it is hardly worth while to cut his hair.
“Now, Valentine,” said the warden, “you’ll go out in the morning. Brace up, and make a man of yourself. You’re not a bad fellow at heart. Stop cracking safes, and live straight.”
“Me?” said Jimmy, in surprise. “Why, I never cracked a safe in my life.”
“Oh, no,” laughed the warden. “Of course not. Let’s see, now. How was it you happened to get sent up on that Springfield job? Was it because you wouldn’t prove an alibi for fear of compromising somebody in extremely high-toned society? Or was it simply a case of a mean old jury that had it in for you? It’s always one or the other with you innocent victims.”
“Me?” said Jimmy, still blankly virtuous. “Why, warden, I never was in Springfield in my life!”
“Take him back, Cronin!” said the warden, “and fix him up with outgoing clothes. Unlock him at seven in the morning, and let him come to the bull-pen. Better think over my advice, Valentine.”
At a quarter past seven on the next morning Jimmy stood in the warden’s outer office. He had on a suit of the villainously fitting, ready-made clothes and a pair of the stiff, squeaky shoes that the state furnishes to its discharged compulsory guests.
The clerk handed him a railroad ticket and the five-dollar bill with which the law expected him to rehabilitate himself into good citizenship and prosperity. The warden gave him a cigar, and shook hands. Valentine, 9762, was chronicled on the books, “Pardoned by Governor,” and Mr. James Valentine walked out into the sunshine.
Disregarding the song of the birds, the waving green trees, and the smell of the flowers, Jimmy headed straight for a restaurant. There he tasted the first sweet joys of liberty in the shape of a broiled chicken and a bottle of white wine — followed by a cigar a grade better than the one the warden had given him. From there he proceeded leisurely to the depot. He tossed a quarter into the hat of a blind man sitting by the door, and boarded his train. Three hours set him down in a little town near the state line. He went to the café of one Mike Dolan and shook hands with Mike, who was alone behind the bar.
“Sorry we couldn’t make it sooner, Jimmy, me boy,” said Mike. “But we had that protest from Springfield to buck against, and the governor nearly balked. Feeling all right?”
“Fine,” said Jimmy. “Got my key?”
He got his key and went upstairs, unlocking the door of a room at the rear. Everything was just as he had left it. There on the floor was still Ben Price’s collar-button that had been torn from that eminent detective’s shirt-band when they had overpowered Jimmy to arrest him.
Pulling out from the wall a folding-bed, Jimmy slid back a panel in the wall and dragged out a dust-covered suit-case. He opened this and gazed fondly at the finest set of burglar’s tools in the East. It was a complete set, made of specially tempered steel, the latest designs in drills, punches, braces and bits, jimmies, clamps, and augers, with two or three novelties, invented by Jimmy himself, in which he took pride. Over nine hundred dollars they had cost him to have made at ––––, a place where they make such things for the profession.
In half an hour Jimmy went down stairs and through the café. He was now dressed in tasteful and well-fitting clothes, and carried his dusted and cleaned suit-case in his hand.
“Got anything on?” asked Mike Dolan, genially.
“Me?” said Jimmy, in a puzzled tone. “I don’t understand. I’m representing the New York Amalgamated Short Snap Biscuit Cracker and Frazzled Wheat Company.”
This statement delighted Mike to such an extent that Jimmy had to take a seltzer-and-milk on the spot. He never touched “hard” drinks.
A week after the release of Valentine, 9762, there was a neat job of safe-burglary done in Richmond, Indiana, with no clue to the author. A scant eight hundred dollars was all that was secured. Two weeks after that a patented, improved, burglar-proof safe in Logansport was opened like a cheese to the tune of fifteen hundred dollars, currency; securities and silver untouched. That began to interest the rogue-catchers. Then an old-fashioned bank-safe in Jefferson City became active and threw out of its crater an eruption of banknotes amounting to five thousand dollars. The losses were now high enough to bring the matter up into Ben Price’s class of work. By comparing notes, a remarkable similarity in the methods of the burglaries was noticed. Ben Price investigated the scenes of the robberies, and was heard to remark:
“That’s Dandy Jim Valentine’s autograph. He’s resumed business. Look at that combination knob — jerked out as easy as pulling up a radish in wet weather. He’s got the only clamps that can do it. And look how clean those tumblers were punched out! Jimmy never has to drill but one hole. Yes, I guess I want Mr. Valentine. He’ll do his bit next time without any short-time or clemency foolishness.”
Ben Price knew Jimmy’s habits. He had learned them while working up the Springfield case. Long jumps, quick getaways, no confederates, and a taste for good society — these ways had helped Mr. Valentine to become noted as a successful dodger of retribution. It was given out that Ben Price had taken up the trail of the elusive cracksman, and other people with burglar-proof safes felt more at ease.
One afternoon Jimmy Valentine and his suit-case climbed out of the mail-hack in Elmore, a little town five miles off the railroad down in the blackjack country of Arkansas. Jimmy, looking like an athletic young senior just home from college, went down the board sidewalk toward the hotel.
A young lady crossed the street, passed him at the corner and entered a door over which was the sign, “The Elmore Bank.” Jimmy Valentine looked into her eyes, forgot what he was, and became another man. She lowered her eyes and coloured slightly. Young men of Jimmy’s style and looks were scarce in Elmore.
Jimmy collared a boy that was loafing on the steps of the bank as if he were one of the stockholders, and began to ask him questions about the town, feeding him dimes at intervals. By and by the young lady came out, looking royally unconscious of the young man with the suit-case, and went her way.
“Isn’t that young lady Polly Simpson?” asked Jimmy, with specious guile.
“Naw,” said the boy. “She’s Annabel Adams. Her pa owns this bank. What’d you come to Elmore for? Is that a gold watch-chain? I’m going to get a bulldog. Got any more dimes?”
Jimmy went to the Planters’ Hotel, registered as Ralph D. Spencer, and engaged a room. He leaned on the desk and declared his platform to the clerk. He said he had come to Elmore to look for a location to go into business. How was the shoe business, now, in the town? He had thought of the shoe business. Was there an opening?
The clerk was impressed by the clothes and manner of Jimmy. He, himself, was something of a pattern of fashion to the thinly gilded youth of Elmore, but he now perceived his shortcomings. While trying to figure out Jimmy’s manner of tying his four-in-hand he cordially gave information.
Yes, there ought to be a good opening in the shoe line. There wasn’t an exclusive shoe-store in the place. The drygoods and general stores handled them. Business in all lines was fairly good. Hoped Mr. Spencer would decide to locate in Elmore. He would find it a pleasant town to live in, and the people very sociable.
Mr. Spencer thought he would stop over in the town a few days and look over the situation. No, the clerk needn’t call the boy. He would carry up his suit-case, himself; it was rather heavy.
Mr. Ralph Spencer, the phœnix that arose from Jimmy Valentine’s ashes — ashes left by the flame of a sudden and alterative attack of love — remained in Elmore, and prospered. He opened a shoe-store and secured a good run of trade.
Socially he was also a success, and made many friends. And he accomplished the wish of his heart. He met Miss Annabel Adams, and became more and more captivated by her charms.
At the end of a year the situation of Mr. Ralph Spencer was this: he had won the respect of the community, his shoe-store was flourishing, and he and Annabel were engaged to be married in two weeks. Mr. Adams, the typical, plodding, country banker, approved of Spencer. Annabel’s pride in him almost equalled her affection. He was as much at home in the family of Mr. Adams and that of Annabel’s married sister as if he were already a member.
One day Jimmy sat down in his room and wrote this letter, which he mailed to the safe address of one of his old friends in St. Louis:
Dear Old Pal:
I want you to be at Sullivan’s place, in Little Rock, next Wednesday night, at nine o’clock. I want you to wind up some little matters for me. And, also, I want to make you a present of my kit of tools. I know you’ll be glad to get them — you couldn’t duplicate the lot for a thousand dollars. Say, Billy, I’ve quit the old business — a year ago. I’ve got a nice store. I’m making an honest living, and I’m going to marry the finest girl on earth two weeks from now. It’s the only life, Billy — the straight one. I wouldn’t touch a dollar of another man’s money now for a million. After I get married I’m going to sell out and go West, where there won’t be so much danger of having old scores brought up against me. I tell you, Billy, she’s an angel. She believes in me; and I wouldn’t do another crooked thing for the whole world. Be sure to be at Sully’s, for I must see you. I’ll bring along the tools with me.
Your old friend,
On the Monday night after Jimmy wrote this letter, Ben Price jogged unobtrusively into Elmore in a livery buggy. He lounged about town in his quiet way until he found out what he wanted to know. From the drugstore across the street from Spencer’s shoe-store he got a good look at Ralph D. Spencer.
“Going to marry the banker’s daughter are you, Jimmy?” said Ben to himself, softly. “Well, I don’t know!”
The next morning Jimmy took breakfast at the Adamses. He was going to Little Rock that day to order his wedding-suit and buy something nice for Annabel. That would be the first time he had left town since he came to Elmore. It had been more than a year now since those last professional “jobs,” and he thought he could safely venture out.
After breakfast quite a family party went downtown together — Mr. Adams, Annabel, Jimmy, and Annabel’s married sister with her two little girls, aged five and nine. They came by the hotel where Jimmy still boarded, and he ran up to his room and brought along his suit-case. Then they went on to the bank. There stood Jimmy’s horse and buggy and Dolph Gibson, who was going to drive him over to the railroad station.
All went inside the high, carved oak railings into the banking-room — Jimmy included, for Mr. Adams’s future son-in-law was welcome anywhere. The clerks were pleased to be greeted by the good-looking, agreeable young man who was going to marry Miss Annabel. Jimmy set his suit-case down. Annabel, whose heart was bubbling with happiness and lively youth, put on Jimmy’s hat, and picked up the suit-case. “Wouldn’t I make a nice drummer?” said Annabel. “My! Ralph, how heavy it is? Feels like it was full of gold bricks.”
“Lot of nickel-plated shoe-horns in there,” said Jimmy, coolly, “that I’m going to return. Thought I’d save express charges by taking them up. I’m getting awfully economical.”
The Elmore Bank had just put in a new safe and vault. Mr. Adams was very proud of it, and insisted on an inspection by every one. The vault was a small one, but it had a new, patented door. It fastened with three solid steel bolts thrown simultaneously with a single handle, and had a time-lock. Mr. Adams beamingly explained its workings to Mr. Spencer, who showed a courteous but not too intelligent interest. The two children, May and Agatha, were delighted by the shining metal and funny clock and knobs.
While they were thus engaged Ben Price sauntered in and leaned on his elbow, looking casually inside between the railings. He told the teller that he didn’t want anything; he was just waiting for a man he knew.
Suddenly there was a scream or two from the women, and a commotion. Unperceived by the elders, May, the nine-year-old girl, in a spirit of play, had shut Agatha in the vault. She had then shot the bolts and turned the knob of the combination as she had seen Mr. Adams do.
The old banker sprang to the handle and tugged at it for a moment. “The door can’t be opened,” he groaned. “The clock hasn’t been wound nor the combination set.”
Agatha’s mother screamed again, hysterically.
“Hush!” said Mr. Adams, raising his trembling hand. “All be quite for a moment. Agatha!” he called as loudly as he could. “Listen to me.” During the following silence they could just hear the faint sound of the child wildly shrieking in the dark vault in a panic of terror.
“My precious darling!” wailed the mother. “She will die of fright! Open the door! Oh, break it open! Can’t you men do something?”
“There isn’t a man nearer than Little Rock who can open that door,” said Mr. Adams, in a shaky voice. “My God! Spencer, what shall we do? That child — she can’t stand it long in there. There isn’t enough air, and, besides, she’ll go into convulsions from fright.”
Agatha’s mother, frantic now, beat the door of the vault with her hands. Somebody wildly suggested dynamite. Annabel turned to Jimmy, her large eyes full of anguish, but not yet despairing. To a woman nothing seems quite impossible to the powers of the man she worships.
“Can’t you do something, Ralph — try, won’t you?”
He looked at her with a queer, soft smile on his lips and in his keen eyes.
“Annabel,” he said, “give me that rose you are wearing, will you?”
Hardly believing that she heard him aright, she unpinned the bud from the bosom of her dress, and placed it in his hand. Jimmy stuffed it into his vest-pocket, threw off his coat and pulled up his shirtsleeves. With that act Ralph D. Spencer passed away and Jimmy Valentine took his place.
“Get away from the door, all of you,” he commanded, shortly.
He set his suit-case on the table, and opened it out flat. From that time on he seemed to be unconscious of the presence of any one else. He laid out the shining, queer implements swiftly and orderly, whistling softly to himself as he always did when at work. In a deep silence and immovable, the others watched him as if under a spell.
In a minute Jimmy’s pet drill was biting smoothly into the steel door. In ten minutes — breaking his own burglarious record — he threw back the bolts and opened the door.
Agatha, almost collapsed, but safe, was gathered into her mother’s arms.
Jimmy Valentine put on his coat, and walked outside the railings towards the front door. As he went he thought he heard a faraway voice that he once knew call “Ralph!” But he never hesitated.
At the door a big man stood somewhat in his way.
“Hello, Ben!” said Jimmy, still with his strange smile. “Got around at last, have you? Well, let’s go. I don’t know that it makes much difference, now.”
And then Ben Price acted rather strangely.
“Guess you’re mistaken, Mr. Spencer,” he said. “Don’t believe I recognize you. Your buggy’s waiting for you, ain’t it?”
And Ben Price turned and strolled down the street.
On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats grow kind to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his bench in the park, you may know that winter is near at hand.
A dead leaf fell in Soapy’s lap. That was Jack Frost’s card. Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.
Soapy’s mind became cognisant of the fact that the time had come for him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to provide against the coming rigour. And therefore he moved uneasily on his bench.
The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of soporific Southern skies drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.
For years the hospitable Blackwell’s had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now the time was come. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely in Soapy’s mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city’s dependents. In Soapy’s opinion the Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy’s proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman’s private affairs.
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest.
Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering café, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.
Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion of him that would show above the table would raise no doubt in the waiter’s mind. A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing — with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demi-tasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough. The total would not be so high as to call forth any supreme manifestation of revenge from the café management; and yet the meat would leave him filled and happy for the journey to his winter refuge.
But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter’s eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering limbo must be thought of.
At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed wares behind plate-glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.
“Where’s the man that done that?” inquired the officer excitedly.
“Don’t you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?” said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good fortune.
The policeman’s mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who smash windows do not remain to parley with the law’s minions. They take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit. Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.
On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak, flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter be betrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.
“Now, get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don’t keep a gentleman waiting.”
“No cop for youse,” said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. “Hey, Con!”
Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter’s rule opens, and beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store two doors away laughed and walked down the street.
Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously termed to himself a “cinch.” A young woman of a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a large policeman of severe demeanour leaned against a water plug.
It was Soapy’s design to assume the role of the despicable and execrated “masher.” The refined and elegant appearance of his victim and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm that would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight little isle.
Soapy straightened the lady missionary’s ready-made tie, dragged his shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with sudden coughs and “hems,” smiled, smirked and went brazenly through the impudent and contemptible litany of the “masher.” With half an eye Soapy saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to her side, raised his hat and said:
“Ah there, Bedelia! Don’t you want to come and play in my yard?”
The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his insular haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of the station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand, caught Soapy’s coat sleeve.
“Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you’ll blow me to a pail of suds. I’d have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching.”
With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.
At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in the district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts, vows and librettos. Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it, and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of “disorderly conduct.”
On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin.
The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen.
“’Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We’ve instructions to lave them be.”
Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a policeman lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling wind.
In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.
“My umbrella,” he said, sternly.
“Oh, is it?” sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. “Well, why don’t you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don’t you call a cop? There stands one on the corner.”
The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman looked at the two curiously.
“Of course,” said the umbrella man— “that is — well, you know how these mistakes occur — I — if it’s your umbrella I hope you’ll excuse me — I picked it up this morning in a restaurant — If you recognise it as yours, why — I hope you’ll—”
“Of course it’s mine,” said Soapy, viciously.
The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street car that was approaching two blocks away.
Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who could do no wrong.
At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home is a park bench.
But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one violet-stained window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbath anthem. For there drifted out to Soapy’s ears sweet music that caught and held him transfixed against the convolutions of the iron fence.
The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians were few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves — for a little while the scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.
The conjunction of Soapy’s receptive state of mind and the influences about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence.
And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. Tomorrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him tomorrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody in the world. He would —
Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman.
“What are you doin’ here?” asked the officer.
“Nothin’,” said Soapy.
“Then come along,” said the policeman.
“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.
When Major Pendleton Talbot, of Mobile, sir, and his daughter, Miss Lydia Talbot, came to Washington to reside, they selected for a boarding place a house that stood fifty yards back from one of the quietest avenues. It was an old-fashioned brick building, with a portico upheld by tall white pillars. The yard was shaded by stately locusts and elms, and a catalpa tree in season rained its pink and white blossoms upon the grass. Rows of high box bushes lined the fence and walks. It was the Southern style and aspect of the place that pleased the eyes of the Talbots.
In this pleasant, private boarding house they engaged rooms, including a study for Major Talbot, who was adding the finishing chapters to his book, “Anecdotes and Reminiscences of the Alabama Army, Bench, and Bar.”
Major Talbot was of the old, old South. The present day had little interest or excellence in his eyes. His mind lived in that period before the Civil War, when the Talbots owned thousands of acres of fine cotton land and the slaves to till them; when the family mansion was the scene of princely hospitality, and drew its guests from the aristocracy of the South. Out of that period he had brought all its old pride and scruples of honour, an antiquated and punctilious politeness, and (you would think) its wardrobe.
Such clothes were surely never made within fifty years. The major was tall, but whenever he made that wonderful, archaic genuflexion he called a bow, the corners of his frock coat swept the floor. That garment was a surprise even to Washington, which has long ago ceased to shy at the frocks and broadbrimmed hats of Southern congressmen. One of the boarders christened it a “Father Hubbard,” and it certainly was high in the waist and full in the skirt.
But the major, with all his queer clothes, his immense area of plaited, ravelling shirt bosom, and the little black string tie with the bow always slipping on one side, both was smiled at and liked in Mrs. Vardeman’ s select boarding house. Some of the young department clerks would often “string him,” as they called it, getting him started upon the subject dearest to him — the traditions and history of his beloved Southland. During his talks he would quote freely from the “Anecdotes and Reminiscences.” But they were very careful not to let him see their designs, for in spite of his sixty-eight years, he could make the boldest of them uncomfortable under the steady regard of his piercing gray eyes.
Miss Lydia was a plump, little old maid of thirty-five, with smoothly drawn, tightly twisted hair that made her look still older. Old fashioned, too, she was; but ante-bellum glory did not radiate from her as it did from the major. She possessed a thrifty common sense; and it was she who handled the finances of the family, and met all comers when there were bills to pay. The major regarded board bills and wash bills as contemptible nuisances. They kept coming in so persistently and so often. Why, the major wanted to know, could they not be filed and paid in a lump sum at some convenient period — say when the “Anecdotes and Reminiscences” had been published and paid for? Miss Lydia would calmly go on with her sewing and say, “We’ll pay as we go as long as the money lasts, and then perhaps they’ll have to lump it.”
Most of Mrs. Vardeman’s boarders were away during the day, being nearly all department clerks and business men; but there was one of them who was about the house a great deal from morning to night. This was a young man named Henry Hopkins Hargraves — every one in the house addressed him by his full name — who was engaged at one of the popular vaudeville theatres. Vaudeville has risen to such a respectable plane in the last few years, and Mr. Hargraves was such a modest and well-mannered person, that Mrs. Vardeman could find no objection to enrolling him upon her list of boarders.
At the theatre Hargraves was known as an all-round dialect comedian, having a large repertoire of German, Irish, Swede, and black-face specialties. But Mr. Hargraves was ambitious, and often spoke of his great desire to succeed in legitimate comedy.
This young man appeared to conceive a strong fancy for Major Talbot. Whenever that gentleman would begin his Southern reminiscences, or repeat some of the liveliest of the anecdotes, Hargraves could always be found, the most attentive among his listeners.
For a time the major showed an inclination to discourage the advances of the “play actor,” as he privately termed him; but soon the young man’s agreeable manner and indubitable appreciation of the old gentleman’s stories completely won him over.
It was not long before the two were like old chums. The major set apart each afternoon to read to him the manuscript of his book. During the anecdotes Hargraves never failed to laugh at exactly the right point. The major was moved to declare to Miss Lydia one day that young Hargraves possessed remarkable perception and a gratifying respect for the old regime. And when it came to talking of those old days — if Major Talbot liked to talk, Mr. Hargraves was entranced to listen.
Like almost all old people who talk of the past, the major loved to linger over details. In describing the splendid, almost royal, days of the old planters, he would hesitate until he had recalled the name of the Negro who held his horse, or the exact date of certain minor happenings, or the number of bales of cotton raised in such a year; but Hargraves never grew impatient or lost interest. On the contrary, he would advance questions on a variety of subjects connected with the life of that time, and he never failed to extract ready replies.
The fox hunts, the ‘possum suppers, the hoe downs and jubilees in the Negro quarters, the banquets in the plantation-house hall, when invitations went for fifty miles around; the occasional feuds with the neighbouring gentry; the major’s duel with Rathbone Culbertson about Kitty Chalmers, who afterward married a Thwaite of South Carolina; and private yacht races for fabulous sums on Mobile Bay; the quaint beliefs, improvident habits, and loyal virtues of the old slaves — all these were subjects that held both the major and Hargraves absorbed for hours at a time.
Sometimes, at night, when the young man would be coming upstairs to his room after his turn at the theatre was over, the major would appear at the door of his study and beckon archly to him. Going in, Hargraves would find a little table set with a decanter, sugar bowl, fruit, and a big bunch of fresh green mint.
“It occurred to me,” the major would begin — he was always ceremonious— “that perhaps you might have found your duties at the — at your place of occupation — sufficiently arduous to enable you, Mr. Hargraves, to appreciate what the poet might well have had in his mind when he wrote, ‘tired Nature’s sweet restorer,’ — one of our Southern juleps.”
It was a fascination to Hargraves to watch him make it. He took rank among artists when he began, and he never varied the process. With what delicacy he bruised the mint; with what exquisite nicety he estimated the ingredients; with what solicitous care he capped the compound with the scarlet fruit glowing against the dark green fringe! And then the hospitality and grace with which he offered it, after the selected oat straws had been plunged into its tinkling depths!
After about four months in Washington, Miss Lydia discovered one morning that they were almost without money. The “Anecdotes and Reminiscences” was completed, but publishers had not jumped at the collected gems of Alabama sense and wit. The rental of a small house which they still owned in Mobile was two months in arrears. Their board money for the month would be due in three days. Miss Lydia called her father to a consultation.
“No money?” said he with a surprised look. “It is quite annoying to be called on so frequently for these petty sums. Really, I—”
The major searched his pockets. He found only a two-dollar bill, which he returned to his vest pocket.
“I must attend to this at once, Lydia,” he said. “Kindly get me my umbrella and I will go down town immediately. The congressman from our district, General Fulghum, assured me some days ago that he would use his influence to get my book published at an early date. I will go to his hotel at once and see what arrangement has been made.”
With a sad little smile Miss Lydia watched him button his “Father Hubbard” and depart, pausing at the door, as he always did, to bow profoundly.
That evening, at dark, he returned. It seemed that Congressman Fulghum had seen the publisher who had the major’s manuscript for reading. That person had said that if the anecdotes, etc., were carefully pruned down about one half, in order to eliminate the sectional and class prejudice with which the book was dyed from end to end, he might consider its publication.
The major was in a white heat of anger, but regained his equanimity, according to his code of manners, as soon as he was in Miss Lydia’s presence.
“We must have money,” said Miss Lydia, with a little wrinkle above her nose. “Give me the two dollars, and I will telegraph to Uncle Ralph for some tonight.”
The major drew a small envelope from his upper vest pocket and tossed it on the table.
“Perhaps it was injudicious,” he said mildly, “but the sum was so merely nominal that I bought tickets to the theatre tonight. It’s a new war drama, Lydia. I thought you would be pleased to witness its first production in Washington. I am told that the South has very fair treatment in the play. I confess I should like to see the performance myself.”
Miss Lydia threw up her hands in silent despair.
Still, as the tickets were bought, they might as well be used. So that evening, as they sat in the theatre listening to the lively overture, even Miss Lydia was minded to relegate their troubles, for the hour, to second place. The major, in spotless linen, with his extraordinary coat showing only where it was closely buttoned, and his white hair smoothly roached, looked really fine and distinguished. The curtain went up on the first act of “A Magnolia Flower,” revealing a typical Southern plantation scene. Major Talbot betrayed some interest.
“Oh, see!” exclaimed Miss Lydia, nudging his arm, and pointing to her programme.
The major put on his glasses and read the line in the cast of characters that her finger indicated.
Col. Webster Calhoun … . H. Hopkins Hargraves.
“It’s our Mr. Hargraves,” said Miss Lydia. “It must be his first appearance in what he calls ‘the legitimate.’ I’m so glad for him.”
Not until the second act did Col. Webster Calhoun appear upon the stage. When he made his entry Major Talbot gave an audible sniff, glared at him, and seemed to freeze solid. Miss Lydia uttered a little, ambiguous squeak and crumpled her programme in her hand. For Colonel Calhoun was made up as nearly resembling Major Talbot as one pea does another. The long, thin white hair, curly at the ends, the aristocratic beak of a nose, the crumpled, wide, ravelling shirt front, the string tie, with the bow nearly under one ear, were almost exactly duplicated. And then, to clinch the imitation, he wore the twin to the major’s supposed to be unparalleled coat. High-collared, baggy, empire-waisted, ample-skirted, hanging a foot lower in front than behind, the garment could have been designed from no other pattern. From then on, the major and Miss Lydia sat bewitched, and saw the counterfeit presentment of a haughty Talbot “dragged,” as the major afterward expressed it, “through the slanderous mire of a corrupt stage.”
Mr. Hargraves had used his opportunities well. He had caught the major’s little idiosyncrasies of speech, accent, and intonation and his pompous courtliness to perfection — exaggerating all to the purposes of the stage. When he performed that marvellous bow that the major fondly imagined to be the pink of all salutations, the audience sent forth a sudden round of hearty applause.
Miss Lydia sat immovable, not daring to glance toward her father. Sometimes her hand next to him would be laid against her cheek, as if to conceal the smile which, in spite of her disapproval, she could not entirely suppress.
The culmination of Hargraves’s audacious imitation took place in the third act. The scene is where Colonel Calhoun entertains a few of the neighbouring planters in his “den.”
Standing at a table in the centre of the stage, with his friends grouped about him, he delivers that inimitable, rambling, character monologue so famous in “A Magnolia Flower,” at the same time that he deftly makes juleps for the party.
Major Talbot, sitting quietly, but white with indignation, heard his best stories retold, his pet theories and hobbies advanced and expanded, and the dream of the “Anecdotes and Reminiscences” served, exaggerated and garbled. His favourite narrative — that of his duel with Rathbone Culbertson — was not omitted, and it was delivered with more fire, egotism, and gusto than the major himself put into it.
The monologue concluded with a quaint, delicious, witty little lecture on the art of concocting a julep, illustrated by the act. Here Major Talbot’s delicate but showy science was reproduced to a hair’s breadth — from his dainty handling of the fragrant weed— “the one-thousandth part of a grain too much pressure, gentlemen, and you extract the bitterness, instead of the aroma, of this heaven-bestowed plant” — to his solicitous selection of the oaten straws.
At the close of the scene the audience raised a tumultuous roar of appreciation. The portrayal of the type was so exact, so sure and thorough, that the leading characters in the play were forgotten. After repeated calls, Hargraves came before the curtain and bowed, his rather boyish face bright and flushed with the knowledge of success.
At last Miss Lydia turned and looked at the major. His thin nostrils were working like the gills of a fish. He laid both shaking hands upon the arms of his chair to rise.
“We will go, Lydia,” he said chokingly. “This is an abominable — desecration.”
Before he could rise, she pulled him back into his seat. “We will stay it out,” she declared. “Do you want to advertise the copy by exhibiting the original coat?” So they remained to the end.
Hargraves’s success must have kept him up late that night, for neither at the breakfast nor at the dinner table did he appear.
About three in the afternoon he tapped at the door of Major Talbot’s study. The major opened it, and Hargraves walked in with his hands full of the morning papers — too full of his triumph to notice anything unusual in the major’s demeanour.
“I put it all over ’em last night, major,” he began exultantly. “I had my inning, and, I think, scored. Here’s what the Post says:
His conception and portrayal of the old-time Southern colonel, with his absurd grandiloquence, his eccentric garb, his quaint idioms and phrases, his moth-eaten pride of family, and his really kind heart, fastidious sense of honour, and lovable simplicity, is the best delineation of a character role on the boards to-day. The coat worn by Colonel Calhoun is itself nothing less than an evolution of genius. Mr. Hargraves has captured his public.
“How does that sound, major, for a first nighter?”
“I had the honour” — the major’s voice sounded ominously frigid— “of witnessing your very remarkable performance, sir, last night.”
Hargraves looked disconcerted.
“You were there? I didn’t know you ever — I didn’t know you cared for the theatre. Oh, I say, Major Talbot,” he exclaimed frankly, “don’t you be offended. I admit I did get a lot of pointers from you that helped me out wonderfully in the part. But it’s a type, you know — not individual. The way the audience caught on shows that. Half the patrons of that theatre are Southerners. They recognized it.”
“Mr. Hargraves,” said the major, who had remained standing, “you have put upon me an unpardonable insult. You have burlesqued my person, grossly betrayed my confidence, and misused my hospitality. If I thought you possessed the faintest conception of what is the sign manual of a gentleman, or what is due one, I would call you out, sir, old as I am. I will ask you to leave the room, sir.”
The actor appeared to be slightly bewildered, and seemed hardly to take in the full meaning of the old gentleman’s words.
“I am truly sorry you took offence,” he said regretfully. “Up here we don’t look at things just as you people do. I know men who would buy out half the house to have their personality put on the stage so the public would recognize it.”
“They are not from Alabama, sir,” said the major haughtily.
“Perhaps not. I have a pretty good memory, major; let me quote a few lines from your book. In response to a toast at a banquet given in — Milledgeville, I believe — you uttered, and intend to have printed, these words:
The Northern man is utterly without sentiment or warmth except in so far as the feelings may be turned to his own commercial profit. He will suffer without resentment any imputation cast upon the honour of himself or his loved ones that does not bear with it the consequence of pecuniary loss. In his charity, he gives with a liberal hand; but it must be heralded with the trumpet and chronicled in brass.
“Do you think that picture is fairer than the one you saw of Colonel Calhoun last night?”
“The description,” said the major frowning, “is — not without grounds. Some exag — latitude must be allowed in public speaking.”
“And in public acting,” replied Hargraves.
“That is not the point,” persisted the major, unrelenting. “It was a personal caricature. I positively decline to overlook it, sir.”
“Major Talbot,” said Hargraves, with a winning smile, “I wish you would understand me. I want you to know that I never dreamed of insulting you. In my profession, all life belongs to me. I take what I want, and what I can, and return it over the footlights. Now, if you will, let’s let it go at that. I came in to see you about something else. We’ve been pretty good friends for some months, and I’m going to take the risk of offending you again. I know you are hard up for money — never mind how I found out; a boarding house is no place to keep such matters secret — and I want you to let me help you out of the pinch. I’ve been there often enough myself. I’ve been getting a fair salary all the season, and I’ve saved some money. You’re welcome to a couple hundred — or even more — until you get—”
“Stop!” commanded the major, with his arm outstretched. “It seems that my book didn’t lie, after all. You think your money salve will heal all the hurts of honour. Under no circumstances would I accept a loan from a casual acquaintance; and as to you, sir, I would starve before I would consider your insulting offer of a financial adjustment of the circumstances we have discussed. I beg to repeat my request relative to your quitting the apartment.”
Hargraves took his departure without another word. He also left the house the same day, moving, as Mrs. Vardeman explained at the supper table, nearer the vicinity of the downtown theatre, where “A Magnolia Flower” was booked for a week’s run.
Critical was the situation with Major Talbot and Miss Lydia. There was no one in Washington to whom the major’s scruples allowed him to apply for a loan. Miss Lydia wrote a letter to Uncle Ralph, but it was doubtful whether that relative’s constricted affairs would permit him to furnish help. The major was forced to make an apologetic address to Mrs. Vardeman regarding the delayed payment for board, referring to “delinquent rentals” and “delayed remittances” in a rather confused strain.
Deliverance came from an entirely unexpected source.
Late one afternoon the door maid came up and announced an old coloured man who wanted to see Major Talbot. The major asked that he be sent up to his study. Soon an old darkey appeared in the doorway, with his hat in hand, bowing, and scraping with one clumsy foot. He was quite decently dressed in a baggy suit of black. His big, coarse shoes shone with a metallic lustre suggestive of stove polish. His bushy wool was gray — almost white. After middle life, it is difficult to estimate the age of a Negro. This one might have seen as many years as had Major Talbot.
“I be bound you don’t know me, Mars’ Pendleton,” were his first words.
The major rose and came forward at the old, familiar style of address. It was one of the old plantation darkeys without a doubt; but they had been widely scattered, and he could not recall the voice or face.
“I don’t believe I do,” he said kindly— “unless you will assist my memory.”
“Don’t you ‘member Cindy’s Mose, Mars’ Pendleton, what ‘migrated ‘mediately after de war?”
“Wait a moment,” said the major, rubbing his forehead with the tips of his fingers. He loved to recall everything connected with those beloved days. “Cindy’s Mose,” he reflected. “You worked among the horses — breaking the colts. Yes, I remember now. After the surrender, you took the name of — don’t prompt me — Mitchell, and went to the West — to Nebraska.”
“Yassir, yassir,” — the old man’s face stretched with a delighted grin— “dat’s him, dat’s it. Newbraska. Dat’s me — Mose Mitchell. Old Uncle Mose Mitchell, dey calls me now. Old mars’, your pa, gimme a pah of dem mule colts when I lef’ fur to staht me goin’ with. You ‘member dem colts, Mars’ Pendleton?”
“I don’t seem to recall the colts,” said the major. “You know I was married the first year of the war and living at the old Follinsbee place. But sit down, sit down, Uncle Mose. I’m glad to see you. I hope you have prospered.”
Uncle Mose took a chair and laid his hat carefully on the floor beside it.
“Yassir; of late I done mouty famous. When I first got to Newbraska, dey folks come all roun’ me to see dem mule colts. Dey ain’t see no mules like dem in Newbraska. I sold dem mules for three hundred dollars. Yassir — three hundred.
“Den I open a blacksmith shop, suh, and made some money and bought some lan’. Me and my old ‘oman done raised up seb’m chillun, and all doin’ well ‘cept two of ’em what died. Fo’ year ago a railroad come along and staht a town slam ag’inst my lan’, and, suh, Mars’ Pendleton, Uncle Mose am worth leb’m thousand dollars in money, property, and lan’.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said the major heartily. “Glad to hear it.”
“And dat little baby of yo’n, Mars’ Pendleton — one what you name Miss Lyddy — I be bound dat little tad done growed up tell nobody wouldn’t know her.”
The major stepped to the door and called: “Lydia, dear, will you come?”
Miss Lydia, looking quite grown up and a little worried, came in from her room.
“Dar, now! What’d I tell you? I knowed dat baby done be plum growed up. You don’t ‘member Uncle Mose, child?”
“This is Aunt Cindy’s Mose, Lydia,” explained the major. “He left Sunnymead for the West when you were two years old.”
“Well,” said Miss Lydia, “I can hardly be expected to remember you, Uncle Mose, at that age. And, as you say, I’m ‘plum growed up,’ and was a blessed long time ago. But I’m glad to see you, even if I can’t remember you.”
And she was. And so was the major. Something alive and tangible had come to link them with the happy past. The three sat and talked over the olden times, the major and Uncle Mose correcting or prompting each other as they reviewed the plantation scenes and days.
The major inquired what the old man was doing so far from his home.
“Uncle Mose am a delicate,” he explained, “to de grand Baptis’ convention in dis city. I never preached none, but bein’ a residin’ elder in de church, and able fur to pay my own expenses, dey sent me along.”
“And how did you know we were in Washington?” inquired Miss Lydia.
“Dey’s a cullud man works in de hotel whar I stops, what comes from Mobile. He told me he seen Mars’ Pendleton comin’ outen dish here house one mawnin’.
“What I come fur,” continued Uncle Mose, reaching into his pocket— “besides de sight of home folks — was to pay Mars’ Pendleton what I owes him.”
“Owe me?” said the major, in surprise.
“Yassir — three hundred dollars.” He handed the major a roll of bills. “When I lef’ old mars’ says: ‘Take dem mule colts, Mose, and, if it be so you gits able, pay fur ‘em’. Yassir — dem was his words. De war had done lef’ old mars’ po’ hisself. Old mars’ bein’ ‘long ago dead, de debt descends to Mars’ Pendleton. Three hundred dollars. Uncle Mose is plenty able to pay now. When dat railroad buy my lan’ I laid off to pay fur dem mules. Count de money, Mars’ Pendleton. Dat’s what I sold dem mules fur. Yassir.”
Tears were in Major Talbot’s eyes. He took Uncle Mose’s hand and laid his other upon his shoulder.
“Dear, faithful, old servitor,” he said in an unsteady voice, “I don’t mind saying to you that ‘Mars’ Pendleton’ spent his last dollar in the world a week ago. We will accept this money, Uncle Mose, since, in a way, it is a sort of payment, as well as a token of the loyalty and devotion of the old regime. Lydia, my dear, take the money. You are better fitted than I to manage its expenditure.”
“Take it, honey,” said Uncle Mose. “Hit belongs to you. Hit’s Talbot money.”
After Uncle Mose had gone, Miss Lydia had a good cry — for joy; and the major turned his face to a corner, and smoked his clay pipe volcanically.
The succeeding days saw the Talbots restored to peace and ease. Miss Lydia’s face lost its worried look. The major appeared in a new frock coat, in which he looked like a wax figure personifying the memory of his golden age. Another publisher who read the manuscript of the “Anecdotes and Reminiscences” thought that, with a little retouching and toning down of the high lights, he could make a really bright and salable volume of it. Altogether, the situation was comfortable, and not without the touch of hope that is often sweeter than arrived blessings.
One day, about a week after their piece of good luck, a maid brought a letter for Miss Lydia to her room. The postmark showed that it was from New York. Not knowing any one there, Miss Lydia, in a mild flutter of wonder, sat down by her table and opened the letter with her scissors. This was what she read:
Dear Miss Talbot:
I thought you might be glad to learn of my good fortune. I have received and accepted an offer of two hundred dollars per week by a New York stock company to play Colonel Calhoun in “A Magnolia Flower.”
There is something else I wanted you to know. I guess you’d better not tell Major Talbot. I was anxious to make him some amends for the great help he was to me in studying the part, and for the bad humour he was in about it. He refused to let me, so I did it anyhow. I could easily spare the three hundred.
H. Hopkins Hargraves,
P.S. How did I play Uncle Mose?
Major Talbot, passing through the hall, saw Miss Lydia’s door open and stopped.
“Any mail for us this morning, Lydia, dear?” he asked.
Miss Lydia slid the letter beneath a fold of her dress.
“The Mobile Chronicle came,” she said promptly. “It’s on the table in your study.”
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