O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1919 online

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wheat, garnered by moonlight, a peacock's feather, and a small silver
bell with a coiled snake for a handle. When anything is to be decided, a
few of the grains are taken out and counted. If they are even, the omen
is bad, but if they are odd, all is well. Old John had an elastic and
accommodating mind, like all Romanys, so he never thought it strange
that he should ask the "box of meanings" whether or not it was going to
storm on prayer-meeting nights.

Dora Parse thought of the box now, and wished that she might have the
peacock's feather for a minute, so that her uneasy sense of impending
bad luck would leave her. Then she stopped beside a cross-barred gate
where an old man was evidently waiting for her.

"Lane was gettin' troubled about yuh," he said, as he turned the horses
and peered curiously up at her. He knew who she was, not only because
John Lane had said who it was who was late, but because Dora Parse's
appearance was well known to the whole countryside. She was the only
member of the tribe who kept to the full Romany dress. There were big
gold loops in her small ears, and on her arms, many gold bracelets,
whose lightness testified to their freedom from alloy. Her skirt was of
red, heavily embroidered in blue, and her waist, with short sleeves, was
of sheer white cloth, with an embroidered bolero. Her hair she wore in
the ancient fashion, in two braids on either side of her face. She could
well afford to, the chis muttered among themselves. Any girl with hair
like that -

There was a long lane leading to the barns and to the meadow back of
them, and there, said Jan, the tribe was to camp. As the princess drove
along the short distance, she swiftly snatched off her little bolero,
put it on wrong side out, and then snatched it off and righted it. That
much, at least, she could do to avert ill luck. And her heart bounded as
she drove in among the other wagons, for her husband came running to
meet her and held out his arms.

She dropped into them and laid each finger tip, delicately, in
succession, upon his eyes and his ears and his mouth, the seal of a
betrothal and the sign whereby a Romany chal may know that a chi intends
to accept him when he speaks for her before the tribe; a sign that
lovers repeat as a sacred and intimate caress. She leaned, hard, into
his arms, and he held her, pressing the tender, confidential kiss that
is given to children behind her little ear.

Dora Parse suddenly ran both hands through his thick hair and gave it a
little pull. She always did that when her spirits rose. Then she turned
and looked at the scene, and at once she knew that there was to be some
special occasion. Aunty Alice Lee was seated by a cooking fire, on which
stood the enormous iron pot in which the "big meals" were prepared, when
the tribe was to eat together and not in separate groups, as it usually
did. There were some boards laid on wooden horses, and Pyramus Lee,
aunty's grandson, was bringing blocks of wood from the woodshed for
seats. Dora Parse clapped her hands with delight and looked at her man.

"_Tetcho_!" she exclaimed, approvingly, using the word that spells all
degrees of satisfaction. "And what is it for, stickless one? Is it a
talk over silver?"

"Yes, it is some business," George Lane replied, "but first there will
be a _gillie shoon_."

A _gillie shoon_ has its counterpart in the English word "singsong," as
it is beginning to be used now, with this exception: Romanys have few
"fixed" songs. They have strains which are set, which every one knows,
but a _gillie shoon_ means that the performers improvise coninually; and
in this sense it is a mystic ceremony, never held at an appointed time,
except a "time of Mul-cerus," which really means a sort of religious
wave of feeling, which strikes tribe after tribe, usually in the spring.

"Marda has come back," Aunty Lee called out to Dora Parse. No one ever
called her by her full name of Marda Lee, because she was a Lee only by
courtesy, having been adopted from a distant wagon when both her parents
were killed in a thunderstorm. Marda, wearing the trim tailored skirt
and waist that were her usual costume, was putting the big red
tablecloth of the "big meals" on the boards. Dora went quickly toward
the young girl and embraced her.

"How is our little scholar?" she asked affectionately.

"I am very well, Dora Parse, but a little tired," Marda answered.

"And did you receive another paper?"

"Yes. I passed my exams. It will save me half a year in Dover."

"That is good," Dora Parse replied, although she had only the dimmest
idea of what Marda meant. The young girl knew that. She had just come
from taking a special course in Columbia, and she was feeling the breach
between herself and her people to be especially wide. Because of that,
perhaps, she also felt more loving toward all of them than she ever had,
and especially toward Dora about whom she knew something that was most
alarming. Dora Parse noted the pale, grave face of her favourite friend
with concern.

"Smile, bird of my heart," she entreated, "for we are to have a _gillie
shoon_. Sit near me, that I may follow your heaven voice."

There was no flattery meant. The Romanys call the soprano "the heaven
voice," the tenor "the sky voice," the contralto "the earth voice," and
the basso "the sea voice." Dora had a really wonderful earth voice,
almost as wonderful as Marda's heaven voice, which would have been
remarkable even among opera singers, and the two were known everywhere
for their improvisations. In answer to the remark of the princess, Marda
gave her a strange look and said:

"I shall be near you, Dora Parse. Do not forget."

Her manner was certainly peculiar, the princess thought, as she walked
away. But then one never knew what Marda was thinking about. Her great
education set her apart from others. Any chi who habitually read herself
to sleep over those most _puro libros_, "The Works of William
Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, Complete, with Glossary and Appendix,"
must not be judged by ordinary standards. The princess knew the full
title of those _puro libros_, having painfully spelled it out, all one
rainy afternoon, in Marda's mother's wagon, with repeated assitance and
explanations from Marda, which had left the princess with a headache.

Now Aunty Lee took off the heavy iron cover of the pot and the odour of
Romany duck stew, than which there is nothing in the world more
appetizing, mingled with the sweet fragrance of the drying hay. Aunty
thrust a fork as long as a poker into the bubbling mass and then gave
the call that brings the tribe in a hurry.

"Empo!" she said in her shrill, cracked voice. "Empo! Empo!"

Laughing, teasing, jostling, talking, they all came, spilling out from
the wagons, running from the barn, sauntering in, the lovers, by twos,
and sat down before the plates heaped high with the duck and the
vegetables with which it was cooked and the big loaves of Italian bread
which the Romanys like and always buy as they pass through towns where
there are Italian bakeries.

But they sat quiet then, and each one looked toward the princess, as
politeness demanded, since she was the highest in rank among them.

She drew a sliver of meat from her plate and tossed it over her

"To the great _ré_" she said.

"To the _shule_," each one murmured. Then, having paid their compliments
to the sun and the moon, as all good Romanys must before eating, they
fell to with heartiness.

When they were through, the mothers and the old men cleared away the
tables and put the younger children to bed in the wagons, and the
princess and George Lane and Marda and young Adam Lane, George's
youngest brother, walked up and down, outside the glow from the cooking
fire, taking the deep, full breaths which cleanse the mouth and prepare
the soul for the ecstasy of song.

The men took away the table and the lanterns which had been standing
about, and put out the cooking fire, for the big moon was rolling up
over the treetops, and Romanys sing by her light alone, if they can.
Frogs were calling in the shallow stretches of the Upper Rockaway.
People began to sit down in a big circle.

Then Marda started the _gillie shoon_. At first you could not have been
sure whether the sound was far or near, for she "covered" her tones, in
a way that many a gorgio gives years and much silver to learn. Then the
wonderful tone swelled out, as if an organ stop were being pulled open,
and one by one, the four leaders cast in the dropping notes which
followed and sustained the theme that Marda was weaving:

"Lal - la - ai - lala - lalu! Ai - l-a-a-a - lalu!"

Old John, who had not appeared before, slid into the circle, holding by
the sleeve a giant of a man who seemed to come half unwillingly. Dora
Parse saw him, and she could not repress the shiver that ran through her
at the sight of young Jan Jacobus, yet she sang on. The deep, majestic
basses throbbed out the foundation of the great fuguelike chorus, and
the sopranos soared and soared until they were singing falsetto,
according to gorgio standards, only it sounded like the sweetly piercing
high notes of violins, and the tenors and contraltos wove a garland of
glancing melody between the two. They were all singing now. Rocking back
and forth a little, swaying gently from side to side, lovers clasped
together, mothers in their young sons' arms, and fathers clasping their
daughters, they sent out to the velvet arch above them the heart cry of
a race, proud and humble, cleanly voluptuous, strong and cruel,
passionate and loving, elemental like the north wind and subtle as the
fragrance of the poppy.

"Ai - lallu! Ai - lala - lala! Ai - lallu!"

Jan Jacobus sat with his big jaw dropping. Stupid boor that he was, he
could not have explained the terrifying effect which this wild music and
those tense, uplifting faces had upon him, but he would have given
anything to be back in his mother's kitchen, with the lamp lit and the
dark, unfamiliar night shut out.

As suddenly as the singing had begun, it stopped. People coughed, moved
a little, whispered to one another. Then George Lane stood upon his
feet, pulling Dora Parse with him.

"You see her?" he asked them all, holding out his wife in his arms.

Dora Parse knew then, for he was beginning the ritual of the man or
woman who accuses a partner, before the tribe, of unfaithfulness. He was
using the most _puro_ Romany _jib_, for only so can the serious affairs
of the tribe tribunal be conducted. Dora Parse struggled in the strong
hands of her man.

"No! No!" she cried. "No - no!"

"You see her?" George Lane repeated to the circle.

"We see her," they answered in a murmur that ran around from end to end.

"She is mine?"

"She is yours."

"What shall be done to her if she has lost the spirit of our love?"

Again Dora Parse furiously struggled, but George Lane held her.

"What shall be done with her? If that is so?"

Aunty Lee, as the oldest woman present, now took up the replies, as was
her right and duty:

"Let her go to that other, if she wishes, and do you close your tent and
your wagon against her."

"And if she does not wish?"

"Then punish her."

"What shall be done to the man?"

"Is he a Romany?"


Jan Jacobus half started up, but strong hands instantly jerked him down.

"He is a gorgio?"


"Do nothing. We do not soil our hands with gorgios. Let the woman bear
the blame. She is a Romany. She should have known better. She is a
woman, the wiser sex. It is her fault. Let her be punished."

"Do you all say so?" George Lane demanded.

"We say so." Again the rippling murmur.

Jan Jacobus made a desperate attempt to get on his feet, but, for all
his strength, he might as well have tried to uncoil the folds of a great
snake as to unbind the many hands that held him, for the Romanys have
as many secret ways of restraining a person as the Japanese.

George Lane drew his wife tenderly close to him.

"She shall be punished," he said, "but first she shall hear, before you
all, that I love her and that I know she has not lost the spirit of our
love. Her fault was born of lightness of heart and vanity, not of evil."

"What is her fault? Name it," commanded Aunty Lee.

George Lane looked over at Jan.

"Her fault is that she trusted a gorgio to understand the ways of a
Romany. For our girls have the spirit of love in their eyes, but no man
among us would kiss a girl unless he received the sign from her. But the
gorgio men are without honour. To-day, as this woman who is mine stopped
to talk with a gorgio, among some trees where I waited, thinking to
enter her wagon there, he kissed her, and she kissed him, in return."

"Not with the _lubbeny_ kiss - not with that kiss!" Dora Parse cried.
"May I be lost as Pharaoh was in the sea if I speak not the truth!"

The solemn oath, never taken by any Romany lightly and never falsely
sworn to, rang out on the still night air. A cold, but firm little hand
was slipped into Dora Parse's. Marda was near, as she had promised, and
the hot palm of the princess closed gratefully upon it.

George Lane drew his wife upon his breast, and over her glossy head he
looked for encouragement to Aunty Lee, who knew what he must do. He was
very pale, but he must not hesitate.

"Kiss me, my love," he said, loudly and clearly, "here before my people,
that I may punish you. Give me the kiss of love, when tongues and lips
meet, that you may know your fault."

Now Dora Parse grew very pale, too, and she leaned far back against her
man's arms, her eyes wide with terror. And no one spoke, for in all the
history of the tribe this thing had never happened before, though every
one had heard of it. Dora Parse knew that, if she refused, her oath
would be considered false, and she would be cast out, not only from her
husband's tent and wagon, but from all Romany tribes. And slowly she
leaned forward, and George Lane bent down.

Jan Jacobus, although he had not understood the words of the ritual,
thought he knew what had happened. The gypsy fool was forgiving his
pretty wife. The young Dutchman settled back on his haunches, suddenly
aware that he was no longer held. And then, with all the others, he
sprang to his feet, for Dora Parse was hanging in her husband's arms,
with blood pouring from her mouth and George Lane was sobbing aloud as
he called her name.

"What - what - what happened?" Jan stammered. "Gawd - did he kill her?"

Old John Lane, his serene face unruffled, turned the bewildered and
frightened boy toward the lane and spoke, in the silky, incisive tones
which were half of his enchanting charm.

"Nothing much has happened. One of our girls allowed a gorgio to kiss
her, so her man bit off the tip of her tongue. It is not necessary,
often, to do it, but it is not a serious matter. It will soon heal. She
will be able to talk - a little. It is really nothing, but I thought you
might like to see it. It is seldom that gorgios are allowed to see a
thing like that.

"Please say to your father that I will spend the evening as usual with
him. My people will pass on."



From _The American Magazine_

It was a plain case of affinity between Davy Allen and Old Man
Thornycroft's hound dog Buck. Davy, hurrying home along the country road
one cold winter afternoon, his mind intent on finishing his chores
before dark, looking back after passing Old Man Thornycroft's house to
find Buck trying to follow him - _trying_ to, because the old man, who
hated to see anybody or anything but himself have his way, had chained a
heavy block to him to keep him from doing what nature had intended him
to do - roam the woods and poke his long nose in every briar patch after

At the sight Davy stopped, and the dog came on, dragging behind him in
the road the block of wood fastened by a chain to his collar, and trying
at the same time to wag his tail. He was tan-coloured, lean as a rail,
long-eared, a hound every inch; and Davy was a ragged country boy who
lived alone with his mother, and who had an old single-barrel shotgun at
home, and who had in his grave boy's eyes a look, clear and
unmistakable, of woods and fields.

To say it was love at first sight when that hound, dragging his prison
around with him, looked up into the boy's face, and when that ragged boy
who loved the woods and had a gun at home looked down into the hound's
eyes, would hardly be putting it strong enough. It was more than
love - it was perfect understanding, perfect comprehension. "I'm your
dog," said the hound's upraised, melancholy eyes. "I'll jump rabbits and
bring them around for you to shoot. I'll make the frosty hills echo with
music for you. I'll follow you everywhere you go. I'm your dog if you
want me - yours to the end of my days."

And Davy looking down into those upraised beseeching eyes, and at that
heavy block of wood, and at the raw place the collar had worn on the
neck, then at Old Man Thornycroft's bleak, unpainted house on the hill,
with the unhomelike yard and the tumble-down fences, felt a great pity,
the pity of the free for the imprisoned, and a great longing to own, not
a dog, but _this_ dog.

"Want to come along?" he grinned.

The hound sat down on his haunches, elevated his long nose and poured
out to the cold winter sky the passion and longing of his soul. Davy
understood, shook his head, looked once more into the pleading eyes,
then at the bleak house from which this prisoner had dragged himself.

"That ol' devil!" he said. "He ain't fitten to own a dog. Oh, I wish he
was mine!"

A moment he hesitated there in the road, then he turned and hurried away
from temptation.

"He _ain't_ mine," he muttered. "Oh' dammit all!"

But temptation followed him as it has followed many a boy and man. A
little way down the road was a pasture through which by a footpath he
could cut off half a mile of the three miles that lay between him and
home. Poised on top of the high rail fence that bordered the road, he
looked back. The hound was still trying to follow, walking
straddle-legged, head down, all entangled with the taut chain that
dragged the heavy block. The boy watched the frantic efforts, pity and
longing on his face; then he jumped off the fence inside the pasture and
hurried on down the hill, face set straight ahead.

He had entered a pine thicket when he heard behind the frantic, choking
yelps of a dog in dire distress. Knowing what had happened, he ran back.
Within the pasture the hound, only his hind feet touching the ground,
was struggling and pawing at the fence. He had jumped, the block had
caught, and was hanging him. Davy rushed to him. Breathing fast, he
unclicked the chain. The block an chain fell on the other side of the
fence, and the dog was free. Shrewdly the boy looked back up the road;
the woods hid the old man's house from view, and no one was to be seen.
With a little grin of triumph he turned and broke into a run down the
pasture hill toward the pines, the wind blowing gloriously into his
face, the dog galloping beside him.

Still running, the two came out into the road that led home, and
suddenly Davy stopped short and his face flushed. Yonder around the bend
on his grey mare jogged Squire Kirby toward them, his pipe in his mouth,
his white beard stuck cozily inside the bosom of his big overcoat There
was no use to run, no use to try to make the dog hide, no use to try to
hide himself - the old man had seen them both. Suppose he knew whose dog
this was! Heart pounding, Davy waited beside the road.

Mr. Kirby drew rein opposite them and looked down with eyes that
twinkled under his bushy white brows. He always stopped to ask the boy
how his mother was, and how they were getting along. Davy had been to
his house many a time with eggs and chickens to sell, or with a load of
seasoned oak wood. Many a time he had warmed before Mr. Kirby's fire in
the big living- and bedroom combined, and eaten Mrs. Kirby's fine white
cake covered with frosting. Never before had he felt ill at ease in the
presence of the kindly old man.

"That's a genuine hound you got there, son, ain't it?"

"Yes, sir," said Davy.

"Good for rabbits an' 'possums an' coons, eh?"

"He shore is!"

"Well, next big fat 'possum you an' him ketch, you bring that 'possum
'round an' me an' you'll talk business. Maybe we'll strike a bargain.
Got any good sweet potatoes? Well, you bring four or five bushels along
to eat that 'possum with. Haulin' any wood these days? Bring me a load
or two of good, dry oak - pick it out, son, hear? How's your ma? All
right? That's good. Here - "

He reached deep down in a pocket of his enormous faded overcoat, brought
out two red apples, and leaned down out of his saddle, that creaked
under the strain of his weight.

"Try one of 'em yourself, an' take one of 'em home to your ma. Git up,

He jogged on down the road, and the boy, sobered walked on. One thing
was certain, though, Mr Kirby hadn't known whose dog this was. What
difference did it make anyhow? He hadn't stolen anything. He couldn't
let a dog choke to death before his eyes. What did Old Man Thornycroft
care about a dog, anyhow, the hard-hearted old skin-flint!

He remembered the trouble his mother had had when his father died and
Old Man Thornycroft pushed her for a note he had given. He had heard
people talk about it at the time, and he remembered how white his
mother's face had been. Old Man Thornycroft had refused to wait, and his
mother had had to sell five acres of the best land on the little farm to
pay the note. It was after the sale that Mr. Kirby, who lived five miles
away, had ridden over.

"Why didn't you let me know, Mrs. Allen!" he had demanded. "I would have
loaned you the money - gladly, gladly!" He had risen from the fire and
pulled on the same overcoat he wore now. It was faded then, and that was
two years ago.

It was sunset when Davy reached home to find his mother out in the
clean-swept yard picking up chips in her apron. From the bedroom window
of the little one-storied unpainted house came a bright red glow, and
from the kitchen the smell of cooking meat. His mother straightened up
from her task with a smile when with his new-found partner he entered
the yard.

"Why, Davy," she asked, "where did you get him?"

"He - he just followed me, Ma."

"But whose dog is he?"

"He's mine, Ma - he just took up with me."

"Where, Davy?"

"Oh, way back down the road - in a pasture."

"He must belong to somebody."

"He's just a ol' hound dog, Ma, that's all he is. Lots of hounds don't
belong to nobody - everybody knows that, Ma. Look at him, Ma. Mighty nigh
starved to death. Lemme keep him. We can feed him on scraps. He can
sleep under the house. Me an' him will keep you in rabbits. You won't
have to kill no more chickens. Nobody don't want him but me!"

From her gaunt height she looked down into the boy's eager eyes, then at
the dog beside him. "All right, son," she said. "If he don't belong to

That night Davy alternately whistled and talked to the dog beside him as
he husked the corn he had raised with his own hands, and chopped the
wood he had cut and hauled - for since his father's death he had kept
things going. He ate supper in a sort of haze; he hurried out with a tin
plate of scraps; he fed the grateful, hungry dog on the kitchen steps.
He begged some vaseline from his mother and rubbed it on the sore neck.
Then he got two or three empty gunnysacks out of the corncrib, crawled
under the house to a warm place beside the chimney and spread them out
for a bed. He went into the house whistling; he didn't hear a word of
the chapter his mother read out of the Bible. Before he went to bed in
the shed-room, he raised the window.

"You all right, old feller?" he called.

Underneath the house he heard the responsive tap-tap of a tail in the
dry dust. He climbed out of his clothes, leaving them in a pile in the
middle of the floor, tumbled into bed, and pulled the covers high over

"Golly!" he said. "Oh, golly!"

Next day he hunted till sundown. The Christmas holidays were on and
there was no thought of school. He went only now and then, anyway, for
since his father's death there was too much for him to do at home. He
hunted in the opposite direction from Old Man Thornycroft's. It was
three miles away; barriers of woods and bottoms and hills lay between,
and the old man seldom stirred beyond the boundaries of his own farm;
but Davy wanted to be on the safe side.

There were moments, though, when he thought of the old man, and wondered

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Online LibraryVariousO. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1919 → online text (page 16 of 24)