O. Henry.

The Four Million online

. (page 2 of 12)
Online LibraryO. HenryThe Four Million → online text (page 2 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


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 then 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.





A COSMOPOLITE IN A CAFÉ


At midnight the café was crowded. By some chance the little table at
which I sat had escaped the eye of incomers, and two vacant chairs at it
extended their arms with venal hospitality to the influx of patrons.

And then a cosmopolite sat in one of them, and I was glad, for I held
a theory that since Adam no true citizen of the world has existed. We
hear of them, and we see foreign labels on much luggage, but we find
travellers instead of cosmopolites.

I invoke your consideration of the scene - the marble-topped tables, the
range of leather-upholstered wall seats, the gay company, the ladies
dressed in demi-state toilets, speaking in an exquisite visible chorus
of taste, economy, opulence or art; the sedulous and largess-loving
_garçons_, the music wisely catering to all with its raids upon the
composers; the _mélange_ of talk and laughter - and, if you will, the
Würzburger in the tall glass cones that bend to your lips as a ripe
cherry sways on its branch to the beak of a robber jay. I was told by
a sculptor from Mauch Chunk that the scene was truly Parisian.

My cosmopolite was named E. Rushmore Coglan, and he will be heard from
next summer at Coney Island. He is to establish a new "attraction"
there, he informed me, offering kingly diversion. And then his
conversation rang along parallels of latitude and longitude. He took the
great, round world in his hand, so to speak, familiarly, contemptuously,
and it seemed no larger than the seed of a Maraschino cherry in a
_table d'hôte_ grape fruit. He spoke disrespectfully of the equator, he
skipped from continent to continent, he derided the zones, he mopped
up the high seas with his napkin. With a wave of his hand he would
speak of a certain bazaar in Hyderabad. Whiff! He would have you on
skis in Lapland. Zip! Now you rode the breakers with the Kanakas at
Kealaikahiki. Presto! He dragged you through an Arkansas post-oak swamp,
let you dry for a moment on the alkali plains of his Idaho ranch, then
whirled you into the society of Viennese archdukes. Anon he would be
telling you of a cold he acquired in a Chicago lake breeze and how old
Escamila cured it in Buenos Ayres with a hot infusion of the _chuchula_
weed. You would have addressed a letter to "E. Rushmore Coglan, Esq.,
the Earth, Solar System, the Universe," and have mailed it, feeling
confident that it would be delivered to him.

I was sure that I had found at last the one true cosmopolite since Adam,
and I listened to his worldwide discourse fearful lest I should discover
in it the local note of the mere globe-trotter. But his opinions never
fluttered or drooped; he was as impartial to cities, countries and
continents as the winds or gravitation.

And as E. Rushmore Coglan prattled of this little planet I thought with
glee of a great almost-cosmopolite who wrote for the whole world and
dedicated himself to Bombay. In a poem he has to say that there is pride
and rivalry between the cities of the earth, and that "the men that
breed from them, they traffic up and down, but cling to their cities'
hem as a child to the mother's gown." And whenever they walk "by roaring
streets unknown" they remember their native city "most faithful,
foolish, fond; making her mere-breathed name their bond upon their
bond." And my glee was roused because I had caught Mr. Kipling napping.
Here I had found a man not made from dust; one who had no narrow boasts
of birthplace or country, one who, if he bragged at all, would brag of
his whole round globe against the Martians and the inhabitants of the
Moon.

Expression on these subjects was precipitated from E. Rushmore Coglan
by the third corner to our table. While Coglan was describing to me
the topography along the Siberian Railway the orchestra glided into a
medley. The concluding air was "Dixie," and as the exhilarating notes
tumbled forth they were almost overpowered by a great clapping of hands
from almost every table.

It is worth a paragraph to say that this remarkable scene can be
witnessed every evening in numerous cafés in the City of New York. Tons
of brew have been consumed over theories to account for it. Some have
conjectured hastily that all Southerners in town hie themselves to cafés
at nightfall. This applause of the "rebel" air in a Northern city does
puzzle a little; but it is not insolvable. The war with Spain, many
years' generous mint and watermelon crops, a few long-shot winners at
the New Orleans race-track, and the brilliant banquets given by the
Indiana and Kansas citizens who compose the North Carolina Society have
made the South rather a "fad" in Manhattan. Your manicure will lisp
softly that your left forefinger reminds her so much of a gentleman's in
Richmond, Va. Oh, certainly; but many a lady has to work now - the war,
you know.

When "Dixie" was being played a dark-haired young man sprang up from
somewhere with a Mosby guerrilla yell and waved frantically his
soft-brimmed hat. Then he strayed through the smoke, dropped into the
vacant chair at our table and pulled out cigarettes.

The evening was at the period when reserve is thawed. One of us
mentioned three Würzburgers to the waiter; the dark-haired young man
acknowledged his inclusion in the order by a smile and a nod. I hastened
to ask him a question because I wanted to try out a theory I had.

"Would you mind telling me," I began, "whether you are from - "

The fist of E. Rushmore Coglan banged the table and I was jarred into
silence.

"Excuse me," said he, "but that's a question I never like to hear asked.
What does it matter where a man is from? Is it fair to judge a man by
his post-office address? Why, I've seen Kentuckians who hated whiskey,
Virginians who weren't descended from Pocahontas, Indianians who hadn't
written a novel, Mexicans who didn't wear velvet trousers with silver
dollars sewed along the seams, funny Englishmen, spendthrift Yankees,
cold-blooded Southerners, narrow-minded Westerners, and New Yorkers who
were too busy to stop for an hour on the street to watch a one-armed
grocer's clerk do up cranberries in paper bags. Let a man be a man and
don't handicap him with the label of any section."

"Pardon me," I said, "but my curiosity was not altogether an idle one.
I know the South, and when the band plays 'Dixie' I like to observe. I
have formed the belief that the man who applauds that air with special
violence and ostensible sectional loyalty is invariably a native of
either Secaucus, N.J., or the district between Murray Hill Lyceum and
the Harlem River, this city. I was about to put my opinion to the
test by inquiring of this gentleman when you interrupted with your
own - larger theory, I must confess."

And now the dark-haired young man spoke to me, and it became evident
that his mind also moved along its own set of grooves.

"I should like to be a periwinkle," said he, mysteriously, "on the top
of a valley, and sing tooralloo-ralloo."

This was clearly too obscure, so I turned again to Coglan.

"I've been around the world twelve times," said he. "I know an Esquimau
in Upernavik who sends to Cincinnati for his neckties, and I saw a
goat-herder in Uruguay who won a prize in a Battle Creek breakfast food
puzzle competition. I pay rent on a room in Cairo, Egypt, and another
in Yokohama all the year around. I've got slippers waiting for me in a
tea-house in Shanghai, and I don't have to tell 'em how to cook my eggs
in Rio de Janeiro or Seattle. It's a mighty little old world. What's the
use of bragging about being from the North, or the South, or the old
manor house in the dale, or Euclid avenue, Cleveland, or Pike's Peak, or
Fairfax County, Va., or Hooligan's Flats or any place? It'll be a better
world when we quit being fools about some mildewed town or ten acres of
swampland just because we happened to be born there."

"You seem to be a genuine cosmopolite," I said admiringly. "But it also
seems that you would decry patriotism."

"A relic of the stone age," declared Coglan, warmly. "We are all
brothers - Chinamen, Englishmen, Zulus, Patagonians and the people in the
bend of the Kaw River. Some day all this petty pride in one's city or
State or section or country will be wiped out, and we'll all be citizens
of the world, as we ought to be."

"But while you are wandering in foreign lands," I persisted, "do not
your thoughts revert to some spot - some dear and - "

"Nary a spot," interrupted E. R. Coglan, flippantly. "The terrestrial,
globular, planetary hunk of matter, slightly flattened at the poles, and
known as the Earth, is my abode. I've met a good many object-bound
citizens of this country abroad. I've seen men from Chicago sit in a
gondola in Venice on a moonlight night and brag about their drainage
canal. I've seen a Southerner on being introduced to the King of England
hand that monarch, without batting his eyes, the information that
his grand-aunt on his mother's side was related by marriage to the
Perkinses, of Charleston. I knew a New Yorker who was kidnapped for
ransom by some Afghanistan bandits. His people sent over the money and
he came back to Kabul with the agent. 'Afghanistan?' the natives said to
him through an interpreter. 'Well, not so slow, do you think?' 'Oh, I
don't know,' says he, and he begins to tell them about a cab driver at
Sixth avenue and Broadway. Those ideas don't suit me. I'm not tied down
to anything that isn't 8,000 miles in diameter. Just put me down as E.
Rushmore Coglan, citizen of the terrestrial sphere."

My cosmopolite made a large adieu and left me, for he thought he saw
some one through the chatter and smoke whom he knew. So I was left with
the would-be periwinkle, who was reduced to Würzburger without further
ability to voice his aspirations to perch, melodious, upon the summit of
a valley.

I sat reflecting upon my evident cosmopolite and wondering how the poet
had managed to miss him. He was my discovery and I believed in him. How
was it? "The men that breed from them they traffic up and down, but
cling to their cities' hem as a child to the mother's gown."

Not so E. Rushmore Coglan. With the whole world for his -

My meditations were interrupted by a tremendous noise and conflict in
another part of the café. I saw above the heads of the seated patrons E.
Rushmore Coglan and a stranger to me engaged in terrific battle. They
fought between the tables like Titans, and glasses crashed, and men
caught their hats up and were knocked down, and a brunette screamed, and
a blonde began to sing "Teasing."

My cosmopolite was sustaining the pride and reputation of the Earth when
the waiters closed in on both combatants with their famous flying wedge
formation and bore them outside, still resisting.

I called McCarthy, one of the French _garçons_, and asked him the cause
of the conflict.

"The man with the red tie" (that was my cosmopolite), said he, "got hot
on account of things said about the bum sidewalks and water supply of
the place he come from by the other guy."

"Why," said I, bewildered, "that man is a citizen of the world - a
cosmopolite. He - "

"Originally from Mattawamkeag, Maine, he said," continued McCarthy,
"and he wouldn't stand for no knockin' the place."





BETWEEN ROUNDS


The May moon shone bright upon the private boarding-house of Mrs.
Murphy. By reference to the almanac a large amount of territory will
be discovered upon which its rays also fell. Spring was in its heydey,
with hay fever soon to follow. The parks were green with new leaves and
buyers for the Western and Southern trade. Flowers and summer-resort
agents were blowing; the air and answers to Lawson were growing milder;
hand-organs, fountains and pinochle were playing everywhere.

The windows of Mrs. Murphy's boarding-house were open. A group of
boarders were seated on the high stoop upon round, flat mats like
German pancakes.

In one of the second-floor front windows Mrs. McCaskey awaited her
husband. Supper was cooling on the table. Its heat went into Mrs.
McCaskey.

At nine Mr. McCaskey came. He carried his coat on his arm and his pipe
in his teeth; and he apologised for disturbing the boarders on the steps
as he selected spots of stone between them on which to set his size 9,
width Ds.

As he opened the door of his room he received a surprise. Instead of the
usual stove-lid or potato-masher for him to dodge, came only words.

Mr. McCaskey reckoned that the benign May moon had softened the breast
of his spouse.

"I heard ye," came the oral substitutes for kitchenware. "Ye can
apollygise to riff-raff of the streets for settin' yer unhandy feet on
the tails of their frocks, but ye'd walk on the neck of yer wife the
length of a clothes-line without so much as a 'Kiss me fut,' and I'm
sure it's that long from rubberin' out the windy for ye and the victuals
cold such as there's money to buy after drinkin' up yer wages at
Gallegher's every Saturday evenin', and the gas man here twice to-day
for his."

"Woman!" said Mr. McCaskey, dashing his coat and hat upon a chair, "the
noise of ye is an insult to me appetite. When ye run down politeness ye
take the mortar from between the bricks of the foundations of society.
'Tis no more than exercisin' the acrimony of a gentleman when ye ask the
dissent of ladies blockin' the way for steppin' between them. Will ye
bring the pig's face of ye out of the windy and see to the food?"

Mrs. McCaskey arose heavily and went to the stove. There was something
in her manner that warned Mr. McCaskey. When the corners of her mouth
went down suddenly like a barometer it usually foretold a fall of
crockery and tinware.

"Pig's face, is it?" said Mrs. McCaskey, and hurled a stewpan full of
bacon and turnips at her lord.

Mr. McCaskey was no novice at repartee. He knew what should follow
the entrée. On the table was a roast sirloin of pork, garnished with
shamrocks. He retorted with this, and drew the appropriate return of
a bread pudding in an earthen dish. A hunk of Swiss cheese accurately
thrown by her husband struck Mrs. McCaskey below one eye. When she
replied with a well-aimed coffee-pot full of a hot, black, semi-fragrant
liquid the battle, according to courses, should have ended.

But Mr. McCaskey was no 50-cent _table d'hôter_. Let cheap Bohemians
consider coffee the end, if they would. Let them make that _faux pas_.
He was foxier still. Finger-bowls were not beyond the compass of his
experience. They were not to be had in the Pension Murphy; but their
equivalent was at hand. Triumphantly he sent the granite-ware wash
basin at the head of his matrimonial adversary. Mrs. McCaskey dodged in
time. She reached for a flatiron, with which, as a sort of cordial, she
hoped to bring the gastronomical duel to a close. But a loud, wailing
scream downstairs caused both her and Mr. McCaskey to pause in a sort of
involuntary armistice.

On the sidewalk at the corner of the house Policeman Cleary was standing
with one ear upturned, listening to the crash of household utensils.

"'Tis Jawn McCaskey and his missis at it again," meditated the
policeman. "I wonder shall I go up and stop the row. I will not. Married
folks they are; and few pleasures they have. 'Twill not last long. Sure,
they'll have to borrow more dishes to keep it up with."

And just then came the loud scream below-stairs, betokening fear or dire
extremity. "'Tis probably the cat," said Policeman Cleary, and walked
hastily in the other direction.

The boarders on the steps were fluttered. Mr. Toomey, an insurance
solicitor by birth and an investigator by profession, went inside
to analyse the scream. He returned with the news that Mrs. Murphy's
little boy, Mike, was lost. Following the messenger, out bounced Mrs.
Murphy - two hundred pounds in tears and hysterics, clutching the air
and howling to the sky for the loss of thirty pounds of freckles and
mischief. Bathos, truly; but Mr. Toomey sat down at the side of Miss
Purdy, millinery, and their hands came together in sympathy. The two old
maids, Misses Walsh, who complained every day about the noise in the
halls, inquired immediately if anybody had looked behind the clock.

Major Grigg, who sat by his fat wife on the top step, arose and buttoned
his coat. "The little one lost?" he exclaimed. "I will scour the city."
His wife never allowed him out after dark. But now she said: "Go,
Ludovic!" in a baritone voice. "Whoever can look upon that mother's
grief without springing to her relief has a heart of stone." "Give me
some thirty or - sixty cents, my love," said the Major. "Lost children
sometimes stray far. I may need carfares."

Old man Denny, hall room, fourth floor back, who sat on the lowest step,
trying to read a paper by the street lamp, turned over a page to follow
up the article about the carpenters' strike. Mrs. Murphy shrieked to the
moon: "Oh, ar-r-Mike, f'r Gawd's sake, where is me little bit av a boy?"

"When'd ye see him last?" asked old man Denny, with one eye on the
report of the Building Trades League.

"Oh," wailed Mrs. Murphy, "'twas yisterday, or maybe four hours ago!
I dunno. But it's lost he is, me little boy Mike. He was playin' on
the sidewalk only this mornin' - or was it Wednesday? I'm that busy with
work, 'tis hard to keep up with dates. But I've looked the house over
from top to cellar, and it's gone he is. Oh, for the love av Hiven - "

Silent, grim, colossal, the big city has ever stood against its
revilers. They call it hard as iron; they say that no pulse of pity
beats in its bosom; they compare its streets with lonely forests and
deserts of lava. But beneath the hard crust of the lobster is found a
delectable and luscious food. Perhaps a different simile would have been
wiser. Still, nobody should take offence. We would call no one a lobster
without good and sufficient claws.

No calamity so touches the common heart of humanity as does the straying
of a little child. Their feet are so uncertain and feeble; the ways are
so steep and strange.

Major Griggs hurried down to the corner, and up the avenue into Billy's
place. "Gimme a rye-high," he said to the servitor. "Haven't seen a
bow-legged, dirty-faced little devil of a six-year-old lost kid around
here anywhere, have you?"

Mr. Toomey retained Miss Purdy's hand on the steps. "Think of that dear
little babe," said Miss Purdy, "lost from his mother's side - perhaps
already fallen beneath the iron hoofs of galloping steeds - oh, isn't it
dreadful?"

"Ain't that right?" agreed Mr. Toomey, squeezing her hand. "Say I start
out and help look for um!"

"Perhaps," said Miss Purdy, "you should. But, oh, Mr. Toomey, you are so
dashing - so reckless - suppose in your enthusiasm some accident should
befall you, then what - "

Old man Denny read on about the arbitration agreement, with one finger
on the lines.

In the second floor front Mr. and Mrs. McCaskey came to the window to
recover their second wind. Mr. McCaskey was scooping turnips out of his
vest with a crooked forefinger, and his lady was wiping an eye that the
salt of the roast pork had not benefited. They heard the outcry below,
and thrust their heads out of the window.

"'Tis little Mike is lost," said Mrs. McCaskey, in a hushed voice, "the
beautiful, little, trouble-making angel of a gossoon!"

"The bit of a boy mislaid?" said Mr. McCaskey, leaning out of the
window. "Why, now, that's bad enough, entirely. The childer, they be
different. If 'twas a woman I'd be willin', for they leave peace behind
'em when they go."

Disregarding the thrust, Mrs. McCaskey caught her husband's arm.

"Jawn," she said, sentimentally, "Missis Murphy's little bye is lost.
'Tis a great city for losing little boys. Six years old he was. Jawn,
'tis the same age our little bye would have been if we had had one six
years ago."

"We never did," said Mr. McCaskey, lingering with the fact.

"But if we had, Jawn, think what sorrow would be in our hearts this
night, with our little Phelan run away and stolen in the city nowheres
at all."

"Ye talk foolishness," said Mr. McCaskey. "'Tis Pat he would be named,
after me old father in Cantrim."

"Ye lie!" said Mrs. McCaskey, without anger. "Me brother was worth tin
dozen bog-trotting McCaskeys. After him would the bye be named." She
leaned over the window-sill and looked down at the hurrying and bustle
below.

"Jawn," said Mrs. McCaskey, softly, "I'm sorry I was hasty wid ye."

"'Twas hasty puddin', as ye say," said her husband, "and hurry-up
turnips and get-a-move-on-ye coffee. 'Twas what ye could call a quick
lunch, all right, and tell no lie."

Mrs. McCaskey slipped her arm inside her husband's and took his rough
hand in hers.

"Listen at the cryin' of poor Mrs. Murphy," she said. "'Tis an awful
thing for a bit of a bye to be lost in this great big city. If 'twas our
little Phelan, Jawn, I'd be breakin' me heart."

Awkwardly Mr. McCaskey withdrew his hand. But he laid it around the
nearing shoulder of his wife.

"'Tis foolishness, of course," said he, roughly, "but I'd be cut up
some meself if our little Pat was kidnapped or anything. But there
never was any childer for us. Sometimes I've been ugly and hard with
ye, Judy. Forget it."

They leaned together, and looked down at the heart-drama being acted
below.

Long they sat thus. People surged along the sidewalk, crowding,
questioning, filling the air with rumours, and inconsequent surmises.
Mrs. Murphy ploughed back and forth in their midst, like a soft
mountain down which plunged an audible cataract of tears. Couriers
came and went.

Loud voices and a renewed uproar were raised in front of the


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryO. HenryThe Four Million → online text (page 2 of 12)