Various.

O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920 online

. (page 8 of 28)
Online LibraryVariousO. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920 → online text (page 8 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


striped face was barely visible. Farther down, on the same side,
Goblin stood staring stupidly and beyond were the heads of the three
brothers, Sans Pareil, Sans Peur and the famous Sans Souci who could
clear seven feet of timber (and now was lame.) Opposite stood Bohemia,
cold blood in her veins as a certain thickness about the throat
testified, and little Martini, the flat racer. On either side of him
were Hotspur and Meteor and there were a dozen others as famous.
Above each stall was hung the brass plate giving the name and
pedigree and above that up to the roof the hay was piled sweet and
dusty-smelling. The barn swallows twittered by an open window in the
loft. In front of Cuddy the great double doors were open to the
fields and pastures, the gray hills and the radiant sky. Cuddy
reared abruptly striking out with his front legs, crouched and
sprang against his halter again, but it held him fast. Willet, on
returning with his worsted, found him as he had left him, motionless
as a bronze horse on a black marble clock.

Willet stood on a stool the better to work on the horse's neck. His
practised fingers twisted and knotted the mane and worsted, then cut
the ends into hard tassels. The horse's withers were reached and the
tassels bobbing rakishly gave a hilarious look to the condemned
animal.

Four men, very sweaty, carrying spades entered.

"It's done," said the first, nodding, "and it's a big grave. Glad
pet horses don't die oftener."

"This ain't a pet," snapped Willet. "He's just that much property
and being of no more use is thrown away - just like an old tin can.
No more sense in burying one than the other. If I had my way about
it I'd - - " But Geth entered. With his coat off he gave an
impression of greater size, like Cuddy his lines were graceful
enough to minimize his weight.

"Hole dug? Well, let's saddle up and start out." He did not go up to
Cuddy to speak to him as he usually would have done, but as if
trying to avoid him, he fell to patting Happiness's striped face.
She was fretful in her new quarters. "Perhaps," thought Willet,
"she knows it's old Cuddy and _he's_ gone out for good." All the
horses seemed nervous and unhappy. It was as if they knew that one
of their number was to be taken out to an inglorious death - not the
fortune to die on the turf track as a steeple-chaser might wish, but
ignominiously, on a hill top, after a soft canter through spring
meadows.

Cuddy stood saddled and bridled and then Willet turned in last
appeal to his master's son.

"Mr. Geth, I wouldn't ride him - not even if I rode as well as you,
which I don't. That horse has grown worse and worse these last months.
He wants to kill some one, that's what he wants." Geth shook his head.

"No use, Willet, trying to scare me. I know what I'm doing, eh Cuddy?"
He went to the horse and rubbed the base of his ears. The satin head
dropped forward on to the man's chest, a rare response from Cuddy.
Gething led him out of the stable, Willet held his head as the man
mounted.

As he thrust his foot in the stirrup Cuddy lunged at Willet, his
savage yellow teeth crushed into his shoulder. The rider pulled him
off striking him with his heavy hunting whip. The horse squealed,
arched himself in the air and sidled down the driveway. He did not
try to run or buck, but seemed intent on twisting himself into
curves and figures. The two went past the big house with its gables
and numberless chimneys and down to the end of the driveway.

There is a four foot masonry wall around the Gething country-place
("farm" they call it). The horse saw it and began jerking at his bit
and dancing, for ever since colt-hood walls had had but one meaning
for him.

"Well, at it old man," laughed Gething. At a signal Cuddy flew at it,
rose into the air with magnificent strength and landed like
thistle-down.

"Cuddy," cried the man, "there never was a jumper like you.
Break-Neck will keep, we'll find some more walls first." He crossed
the road and entered a rough pasture. It was a day of such abounding
life one could pity the worm the robin pulled. For on such a day
everything seemed to have the right to live and be happy. The crows
sauntered across the sky, care free as hoboes. Under foot the meadow
turf oozed water, the shad-bush petals fell like confetti before the
rough assault of horse and rider. Gething liked this day of wind and
sunshine. In the city there had been the smell of oiled streets to
show that spring had come, here was the smell of damp earth, pollen,
and burnt brush. Suddenly he realized that Cuddy, too, was pleased
and contented for he was going quietly now, occasionally he threw up
his head and blew "Heh, heh!" through his nostrils. Strange that
Willet had thought Cuddy wanted to kill some one - all he really
wanted was a bit of a canter.

A brook was reached. It was wide, marshy, edged with cowslips. It
would take a long jump to clear it. Gething felt the back gather
beneath him, the tense body flung into the air, the flight through
space, then the landing well upon the firm bank.

"Bravo, Cuddy!" the horse plunged and whipped his head between his
forelegs, trying to get the reins from the rider's hands. Gething
let himself be jerked forward until his face almost rested on the
veiny neck.

"Old tricks, Cuddy. I knew _that_ one before you wore your first
shoes." He still had easy control and began to really let him out.
There was a succession of walls and fences and mad racing through
fields when the horse plunged in his gait and frightened birds
fluttered from the thicket and Gething hissed between his teeth as
he always did when he felt a horse going strong beneath him.

Then they came to a hill that rose out of green meadows. It was
covered with dingy pine trees except the top that was bared like a
tonsure. A trail ran through the woods; a trail singularly morose
and unattractive. The pines looked shabby and black in comparison to
the sun on the spring meadows. This was Break-Neck Hill. Perhaps
Cuddy felt his rider stiffen in the saddle for he refused
passionately to take the path. He set his will against Gething's and
fought, bucking and rearing. When a horse is capable of a six foot
jump into the air his great strength and agility make his bucking
terrible. The broncho is a child in size and strength compared to
Cuddy's race of super-horse. Twice Geth went loose in his flat
saddle and once Cuddy almost threw himself. The chain bit had torn
the edges of his mouth and blood coloured his froth. Suddenly he
acquiesced and quiet again, he took the sombre path. Geth thrust his
right hand into his pocket, the revolver was still there. His hand
left it and rested on the bobbing, tasseled mane.

"Old man," he addressed the horse, "I know you don't know where
you're going and I know you don't remember much, but you must
remember Saratoga and how we beat them all. And Cuddy, you'd
understand - if you could - how it's all over now and why I want to
do it for you myself."

The woods were cleared. It was good to leave their muffled dampness
for the pure sunshine of the crest. On the very top of the hill
clean-cut against the sky stood a great wind-misshaped pine. At the
foot of this pine was a bank of fresh earth and Gething knew that
beyond the bank was the trench. He bent in his saddle and pressed
his forehead against the warm neck. Before his eyes was the past
they had been together, the sweep of the turf course, the grandstand
a-flutter, grooms with blankets, jockeys and gentlemen in silk,
owners' wives with cameras, then the race that always seemed so
short - a rush of horses, the stretching over the jumps, and the
purse or not, it did not matter.

He straightened up with a grim set to his jaw and gathered the
loosened reins. Cuddy went into a canter and so approached the earth
bank. Suddenly he refused to advance and again the two wills fought,
but not so furiously. Cuddy was shaking with fear. The bank was a
strange thing, a fearsome thing, and the trench beyond, ghastly. His
neck stretched forward. "Heh, heh!" he blew through his nostrils.

"Six steps nearer, Cuddy." Geth struck him lightly with his spurs.
The horse paused by the bank and began rocking slightly.

"Sist! be quiet," for they were on the spot Gething wished. The
horse gathered himself, started to rear, then sprang into the air,
cleared earth-mound and trench and bounded down the hill. The
tremendous buck-jump he had so unexpectedly taken, combined with his
frantic descent, gave Gething no chance to get control until the
level was reached. Then, with the first pull on the bridle, he
realized it was too late. For a while at least Cuddy was in command.
Gething tried all his tricks with the reins, the horse dashed on
like a furious gust of wind, he whirled through the valley, across a
ploughed field, over a fence and into more pastures. Gething, never
cooler, fought for the control. The froth blown back against his
white shirt was rosy with blood. Cuddy was beyond realizing his bit.
Then Gething relaxed a little and let him go. He could guide him to
a certain extent. Stop him he could not.

The horse was now running flatly and rapidly. He made no attempt to
throw his rider. What jumps were in his way he took precisely.
Unlike the crazed runaway of the city streets Cuddy never took
better care of himself. It seemed that he was running for some
purpose and Gething thought of Willet's often repeated remark,
"Look at 'im - old Cuddy, he's thinking." Two miles had been covered
and the gait had become business-like. Gething, guiding always to the
left, was turning him in a huge circle. The horse reeked with sweat.
"Now," thought Gething, "he's had enough," but at the first pressure
on the bit Cuddy increased his speed. His breath caught in his throat.
There was another mile and the wonderful run grew slower. The man
felt the great horse trip and recover himself. He was tired out.
Again the fight between master and horse began. Cuddy resisted weakly,
then threw up his beautiful, white-starred face as if in entreaty.

"Oh, I'm - - " muttered Gething and let the reins lie loose on his
neck, "your own way, Cuddy. Your way is better than mine. Old friend,
I'll not try to stop you again." For he knew if he tried he could
now gain control. The early dusk of spring had begun to settle on
the surface of the fields in a hazy radiance, a marvelous light that
seemed to breathe out from the earth and stream through the sky. A
mile to the east upon a hill was a farm house. The orange light from
the sunset found every window, blinded them and left them blank
oblongs of orange. The horse and rider passed closer to this farm.
Two collies rushed forward, then stopped to bark and jump. The light
enveloped them and gave each a golden halo.

Again Gething turned still keeping toward the left. A hill began to
rise before them and up it the horse sped, his breath whirring and
rattling in his throat, but his strength still unspent. To the very
top he made his way and paused dazed. "Oh, Cuddy," cried Gething,
"this is Break-Neck." For there was the wind-warped pine, the bank
of earth, the trench. The horse came to a shivering standstill. The
bank looked strange to him. He stood sobbing, his body rocking
slightly, rocking gently, then with a sigh, came slowly down on to
the turf. Gething was on his feet, his hand on the dripping neck.

"You always were a bad horse and I always loved you," he whispered,
"and that was a great ride, and now - - " He rose abruptly and turned
away as he realized himself alone in the soft twilight. The horse
was dead. Then he returned to the tense body, so strangely thin and
wet, and removed saddle and bridle. With these hung on his arm he
took the sombre path through the pines for home.




_BLACK ART AND AMBROSE_


BY GUY GILPATRIC

From _Collier's, The National Weekly_

"... _The Naytives of the Seacoast told me many fearsome Tales of
these Magycians, or Voodoos, as they called Them. It would seem that
the Mystic Powers of these Magycians is hereditary, and that the
Spells, Incantacions, and other Secretts of their Profession are
passed on One to the Other and holden in great Awe by the People.
The Marke of this horride Culte is the Likeness of a great Human Eye,
carved in the Fleshe of the Backe, which rises in Ridges as it heals
and lasts Forever_ ..."


- Extract from "A Truthful Accounte of a Voyage and Journey
to the Land of Afrique, Together with Numerous Drawings and
Mappes, and a most Humble Petition Regarding the Same."
Presented by Roberte Waiting, Gent. in London, Anno D. 1651.


A few blocks west of the subway, and therefore off the beaten track
of the average New Yorker, is San Juan Hill. If you ever happen on
San Juan unawares, you will recognize it at once by its clustering
family of mammoth gas houses, its streets slanting down into the
North River, and the prevailing duskiness of the local complexion.
If you chance to stray into San Juan after sundown, you will be
relieved to note that policemen are plentiful, and that they walk in
pairs. This last observation describes the social status of San Juan
or any other neighbourhood better than volumes of detailed episodes
could begin to do.

Of late years many of the Fust Famblies of San Juan have migrated
northward to the teeming negro districts of Harlem, but enough of
the old stock remains to lend the settlement its time-honoured touch
of gloom. Occasionally, too, it still makes its way to the public
notice by sanguinary affrays and race riots. San Juan Hill is a
geographical, racial, and sociological fact, and will remain so
until the day when safety razors become a universal institution.

San Juan is a community in itself. It has its churches, its clubs,
its theatres, its stores, and - sighs of relief from the police - it
_used_ to have its saloons. It is a cosmopolitan community, too - as
cosmopolitan as it can be and still retain its Senegambian motif.

Negroes from Haiti, Jamaica, Salvador, Cuba; from Morocco and Senegal;
blue-black negroes from the Pacific; ebony negroes from the South;
brown, tan, yellow, and buff negroes from everywhere inhabit San Juan.
Every language from Arabic to Spanish is spoken by these - the
cosmopolites of cosmopolitan San Juan.

_Pussonally_, Mr. Ambrose de Vere Travis spoke only English.
Because he hailed from Galveston, Tex., he spoke it with a Gulf
intonation at once liquid, rich, and musical. He stood six feet five
on his bare soles, so his voice was somewhat reminiscent of the
Vatican organ.

Ambrose was twenty-four years old. Our story finds him a New Yorker
of three years' standing, all of which he had spent as a dweller on
San Juan Hill. Originally the giant Mr. Travis had served as furnace
tender in the subterraneous portions of the Swalecliffe Arms
apartments, that turreted edifice in the Eighties that frowns across
at the Palisades from Riverside Drive. But his size and the size of
his smile had won for Ambrose the coveted and uniformed position of
door-man, a post at which he served with considerable success and
the incidental tips.

The recently wealthy Mr. Braumbauer, for instance, really felt that
he _was_ somebody, when Ambrose opened the door of his car and bowed
him under the portcullis of Swalecliffe. And y'understand me, a
feller's willing he should pay a little something for service once
in a while. And so, one way and another, Ambrose managed to eke from
his job a great deal more than he drew on pay day.

But Mr. Travis's source of income did not stop there - far from it.
He had brought from Galveston a genius for rolling sevens - or, if he
missed seven the first roll, he could generally make his point
within the next three tries. He could hold the dice longer than any
man within the San Juan memory, which, in view of the fact that
craps is to San Juan what bridge is to Boston, is saying a great deal.
Ambrose was simply a demon with the bones, and he was big enough to
get away with it.

True, there had been difficulties.

One evening at the Social Club Ambrose held the dice for a straight
sixteen passes. He and five other courtiers of fortune were bounding
the ivories off the cushion of a billiard table, to the end that the
contest be one of chance and not of science. In the midst of
Ambrose's stentorian protests that the baby needed footwear, one of
the losers forgot his breeding to the extent of claiming that
Ambrose had introduced a loaded die. As he seconded his claims with
a razor, the game met a temporary lull.

When the furniture had ceased crashing, the members of the club
emerged from beneath the pool tables to see Mr. Travis tying up a
slashed hand, while he of the razor lay moaning over a broken
shoulder and exuding teeth in surprising quantities.

After this little incident no one ever so far forgot himself as to
breathe the faintest aspersion on Mr. Travis, his dice, his way of
throwing them down or of picking them up.

It was generally conceded that his conduct throughout the fray had
been of the best, and the affair did much to raise him in popular
esteem - especially as he was able to prove the caviler's charges to
be utterly unfounded.

And so, with his physical beauty, his courage, and his wealth,
Mr. Ambrose de Vere Travis became something of a figure in San
Juan's social circles.

Just when Ambrose fell in love with Miss Aphrodite Tate is not quite
clear.

Aphrodite (pronounced just as spelled) was so named because her
father thought it had something to do with Africa. She was
astoundingly, absolutely, and gratifyingly black, and Ambrose was
sure that he had never seen any one quite so beautiful.

Aphrodite lived with her parents, the ancient and revered
Fremont-Tates, patroons of San Juan. In the daytime she was engaged
as maid by a family that _suttingly_ treated her lovely; while in
the evening she could usually be found at the St. Benedict Young
People's Club. And it was here that Ambrose met her.

True love ran smoothly for a long time. At last, when he felt the
tune was ripe, Ambrose pleaded urgent business for two evenings and
shook down the Social Club dice fanciers for the price of the ring.

Then Mr. Dominique Raffin loomed dark on the horizon. Mr. Raffin did
not loom as dark as he might have loomed, however, because he was
half white. He hailed from Haiti, and was the son of a French sailor
and a transplanted Congo wench. He was slight of build and shifty of
eye. His excuse for being was a genius for music. He could play
anything, could this pasty Dominique, but of all instruments he was
at his tuneful best on the alto saxophone.

"Lawd! _Oh_, Lawd!" his audience would ejaculate, as with closed
eyes and heads thrown back they would drink in the sonorous
emanations from the brazen tube. "Dat's de horn ob de Angel
Gabriel - dat's de heabenly music ob de spears!" And so Dominique's
popularity grew among the ladies of San Juan, even if among the
gentlemen it did not.

To tell the truth, Dominique was something of a beau. Because he
played in an orchestra, he had ample opportunity to study the
deportment of people who passed as fashionable. His dress was
immaculate; his hair was not so kinky that it couldn't be plastered
down with brilliantine, and he perfumed himself copiously. His
fingers were heavily laden with rings. Dominique's voice was
whining - irritating.

His native tongue was French, but he had learned to speak English in
Jamaica. Thus his accent was a curious mixture of French and Cockney,
lubricated with oily African.

Altogether, it is not to be wondered that such sturdy sons of Ham as
Ambrose disliked the snaky Mr. Raffin. Disliked him the more when
his various musical and cultural accomplishments made him a general
favourite with the ladies. And then, when he absolutely cut
Mr. Travis from the affections of Miss Tate, the wrath of the
blacker and more wholesome San Juan citizens knew no bounds.

As for Ambrose - he sulked. Even his friends, the fur-lined tenants
of Swalecliffe Arms, noticed that something worried the swart
guardian of their gate. In the evenings Ambrose gave his entire time
to frenzied rolling of the bones and was surprised to see that here,
at least, luck had not deserted him.

On the few occasions when he forsook the green baize for an
evening's dancing at the St. Benedict Young People's Guild, the
sight of the coveted Miss Aphrodite whirling in the arms of the
hated Raffin almost overcame him.

Finally the lovesick Mr. Travis decided to call upon the lady of his
heart and demand an explanation. After some rehearsal of what he
wanted to say, Ambrose betook himself to the tenement in which the
Tate family dwelt. At sight of her cast-off swain, Miss Aphrodite
showed the whites of her eyes and narrowed her lips to a thin
straight line - perhaps an inch and a half thin. Evidently she was
displeased.

Aphrodite opened the interview by inquiring why she was being
pestered and intermediated by a low-down black nigger that didn't
have no mo' brains than he had manners. Her feelings was likely to
git the better of her at any moment; in which event Mr. Travis had
better watch out, that was all - jest watch out.

The astounded Mr. Travis did his best to pacify this Amazon; to
explain that he had merely come to inquire the reason for her
displeasure; to learn in what respect Mr. Raffin had proved himself
so sweetly desirable.

The answer was brief and crushing. It seemed that where Mr. Travis
was a big, bulky opener of doors, Mr. Raffin was a sleek and
cultured Chesterfield - a musician - an artist. Where Mr. Travis could
not dance without stepping on everybody in the room, Mr. Raffin was
a veritable Mordkin. Where Mr. Travis hung out with a bunch of
no-good crap-shooting black buck niggers, Mr. Raffin's orchestral
duties brought him into the most cultured s'ciety. In short, the
yellow man from Haiti was a gentleman; the black man from Texas was
a boor.

This unexpected tirade made the unhappy Ambrose a trifle weak in the
knees. Then pride came to the rescue, and he drew himself to his
full and towering six feet five. He held out his mammoth hands
before Miss Aphrodite and warned her that with them, at the first
provocation, he would jest take and bust Mr. Raffin in two. This done,
he would throw the shuddering fragments into the street, and with
his feet - Exhibit B - would kick them the entire length and breadth
of the neighbourhood.

This threat only aroused new fires of scorn and vituperation, and
Miss Tate informed her guest that, should he ever attempt the
punitive measures described, Mr. Raffin would cut him up into little
pieces. It seemed that Mr. Raffin carried a knife, and that he knew
how to use it.

Mr. Travis snorted at this, and stamped out of the Tate apartment.

At his exit, doors closed softly on every floor, because the
neighbours had listened to the tête-à-tête with intense interest.
Even people in the next house had been able to hear most of it.

Ambrose made his furious way toward the Social Club, his mind set on
mortal encounter with the hated Dominique. But - here was an
inspiration! - why not win his money away from him first? To win away
his last cent - to humble him - to ruin him - and then to break him in
two and kick the pieces through the San Juan causeways, as per
programme! This would be a revenge indeed!

Ambrose noted with satisfaction that Mr. Raffin was already at play,
and crossing the smoke-filled room he threw down some money and took
his place in the game.

Now, Mr. Travis was ordinarily a very garrulous and vociferous crap
shooter, but to-night he was savagely silent. There was a disturbing,
electric _something_ in the air that the neutrals felt and feared.
There was a look in the Travis eye that boded ill for somebody, and
one by one the more prudent gamesters withdrew.

Then suddenly the storm broke.

Later accounts were not clear as to just what started the fray, but
start it did.

Dominique's knife appeared from some place, and the table crashed.
Then the knife swished through space like a hornet and buried its
point harmlessly in a door across the room.

What followed is still a subject of wondering conversation on San
Juan Hill.

It seems that Mr. Travis seized Mr. Raffin by the collar of his coat,
and swung him round and round and over his head. Mr. Raffin streamed
almost straight out, like the imitation airplanes that whirl dizzily
about the tower in an amusement park. Suddenly there was a rending
of cloth, and Dominique shot through the air to encounter the wall
with a soul-satisfying thump.

Ambrose looked bewildered at the torn clothing he held in his hand,



Online LibraryVariousO. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1920 → online text (page 8 of 28)