25 лучших рассказов / 25 Best Short Stories
Чтение оригинальных произведений – простой и действенный способ погрузиться в языковую среду и совершенствоваться в иностранном языке. Серия «Бестселлер на все времена» – это возможность улучшить свой английский, читая лучшие произведения англоязычных авторов, любимые миллионами читателей. Для лучшего понимания текста в книгу включены краткий словарь и комментарии, поясняющие языковые и лингвострановедческие вопросы, исторические и культурные реалии описываемой эпохи.
В этой книге собраны лучшие рассказы О. Генри – самые смешные, самые трогательные, самые любимые. Узнаваемые герои, блистательные диалоги, мастерски сплетенные сюжеты и неожиданные развязки помогут читателям улучшить свой английский и настроение.
Книга предназначена для тех, кто изучает английский язык на продолжающем или продвинутом уровне и стремится к его совершенствованию.
О. Генри / O. Henry
25 лучших рассказов / 25 Best Short Stories
Комментарии и словарь Н. Самуэльян
© ООО «Издательство «Эксмо», 2015
Springtime à la Carte
It was a day in March.
Never, never begin a story this way when you write one. No opening could possibly be worse. It is unimaginative, flat, dry and likely to consist of mere wind. But in this instance it is allowable. For the following paragraph, which should have inaugurated the narrative, is too wildly extravagant and preposterous to be flaunted in the face of the reader without preparation.
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare.
Think of a New York girl shedding tears on the menu card!
To account for this you will be allowed to guess that the lobsters were all out, or that she had sworn ice-cream off during Lent, or that she had ordered onions, or that she had just come from a Hackett
matinee. And then, all these theories being wrong, you will please let the story proceed.
The gentleman who announced that the world was an oyster which he with his sword would open made a larger hit than he deserved. It is not difficult to open an oyster with a sword. But did you ever notice any one try to open the terrestrial bivalve with a typewriter? Like to wait for a dozen raw opened that way?
Sarah had managed to pry apart the shells with her unhandy weapon far enough to nibble a wee bit at the cold and clammy world within. She knew no more shorthand than if she had been a graduate in stenography just let slip upon the world by a business college. So, not being able to stenog, she could not enter that bright galaxy of office talent. She was a free-lance typewriter and canvassed for odd jobs of copying.
The most brilliant and crowning feat of Sarah’s battle with the world was the deal she made with Schulenberg’s Home Restaurant. The restaurant was next door to the old red brick in which she hall-roomed. One evening after dining at Schulenberg’s 40-cent, five-course table d’hôte (served as fast as you throw the five baseballs at the coloured gentleman’s head) Sarah took away with her the bill of fare. It was written in an almost unreadable script neither English nor German, and so arranged that if you were not careful you began with a toothpick and rice pudding and ended with soup and the day of the week.
The next day Sarah showed Schulenberg a neat card on which the menu was beautifully typewritten with the viands temptingly marshalled under their right and proper heads from “hors d’oeuvre” to “not responsible for overcoats and umbrellas.”
Schulenberg became a naturalised citizen on the spot. Before Sarah left him she had him willingly committed to an agreement. She was to furnish typewritten bills of fare for the twenty-one tables in the restaurant – a new bill for each day’s dinner, and new ones for breakfast and lunch as often as changes occurred in the food or as neatness required.
In return for this Schulenberg was to send three meals per diem
to Sarah’s hall room by a waiter – an obsequious one if possible – and furnish her each afternoon with a pencil draft of what Fate had in store for Schulenberg’s customers on the morrow.
Mutual satisfaction resulted from the agreement. Schulenberg’s patrons now knew what the food they ate was called even if its nature sometimes puzzled them. And Sarah had food during a cold, dull winter, which was the main thing with her.
And then the almanac lied, and said that spring had come. Spring comes when it comes. The frozen snows of January still lay like adamant in the crosstown streets. The hand-organs still played “In the Good Old Summertime,” with their December vivacity and expression. Men began to make thirty-day notes to buy Easter dresses. Janitors shut off steam. And when these things happen one may know that the city is still in the clutches of winter.
One afternoon Sarah shivered in her elegant hall bedroom; “house heated; scrupulously clean; conveniences; seen to be appreciated.” She had no work to do except Schulenberg’s menu cards. Sarah sat in her squeaky willow rocker, and looked out the window. The calendar on the wall kept crying to her: “Springtime is here, Sarah – springtime is here, I tell you. Look at me, Sarah, my figures show it. You’ve got a neat figure yourself, Sarah – a – nice springtime figure – why do you look out the window so sadly?”
Sarah’s room was at the back of the house. Looking out the window she could see the windowless rear brick wall of the box factory on the next street. But the wall was clearest crystal; and Sarah was looking down a grassy lane shaded with cherry trees and elms and bordered with raspberry bushes and Cherokee roses.
Spring’s real harbingers are too subtle for the eye and ear. Some must have the flowering crocus, the wood-starring dogwood, the voice of bluebird – even so gross a reminder as the farewell handshake of the retiring buckwheat and oyster before they can welcome the Lady in Green to their dull bosoms. But to old earth’s choicest kin there come straight, sweet messages from his newest bride, telling them they shall be no stepchildren unless they choose to be.
On the previous summer Sarah had gone into the country and loved a farmer.
(In writing your story never hark back thus. It is bad art, and cripples interest. Let it march, march.)
Sarah stayed two weeks at Sunnybrook Farm. There she learned to love old Farmer Franklin’s son Walter. Farmers have been loved and wedded and turned out to grass in less time. But young Walter Franklin was a modern agriculturist. He had a telephone in his cow house, and he could figure up exactly what effect next year’s Canada wheat crop would have on potatoes planted in the dark of the moon.
It was in this shaded and raspberried lane that Walter had wooed and won her. And together they had sat and woven a crown of dandelions for her hair. He had immoderately praised the effect of the yellow blossoms against her brown tresses; and she had left the chaplet there, and walked back to the house swinging her straw sailor in her hands.
They were to marry in the spring – at the very first signs of spring, Walter said. And Sarah came back to the city to pound her typewriter.
A knock at the door dispelled Sarah’s visions of that happy day. A waiter had brought the rough pencil draft of the Home Restaurant’s next day fare in old Schulenberg’s angular hand.
Sarah sat down to her typewriter and slipped a card between the rollers. She was a nimble worker. Generally in an hour and a half the twenty-one menu cards were written and ready.
To-day there were more changes on the bill of fare than usual. The soups were lighter; pork was eliminated from the entrées
, figuring only with Russian turnips among the roasts. The gracious spirit of spring pervaded the entire menu. Lamb, that lately capered on the greening hillsides, was becoming exploited with the sauce that commemorated its gambols. The song of the oyster, though not silenced, was dimuendo con amore
. The frying-pan seemed to be held, inactive, behind the beneficent bars of the broiler. The pie list swelled; the richer puddings had vanished; the sausage, with his drapery wrapped about him, barely lingered in a pleasant thanatopsis
with the buckwheats and the sweet but doomed maple.
Sarah’s fingers danced like midgets above a summer stream. Down through the courses she worked, giving each item its position according to its length with an accurate eye. Just above the desserts came the list of vegetables. Carrots and peas, asparagus on toast, the perennial tomatoes and corn and succotash, lima beans, cabbage – and then –
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare. Tears from the depths of some divine despair rose in her heart and gathered to her eyes. Down went her head on the little typewriter stand; and the keyboard rattled a dry accompaniment to her moist sobs.
For she had received no letter from Walter in two weeks, and the next item on the bill of fare was dandelions – dandelions with some kind of egg – but bother the egg! – dandelions, with whose golden blooms Walter had crowned her his queen of love and future bride – dandelions, the harbingers of spring, her sorrow’s crown of sorrow – reminder of her happiest days.
Madam, I dare you to smile until you suffer this test: Let the Marechal Niel roses that Percy brought you on the night you gave him your heart be served as a salad with French dressing before your eyes at a Schulenberg table d’hôte
. Had Juliet so seen her love tokens dishonoured the sooner would she have sought the lethean
herbs of the good apothecary.
But what a witch is Spring! Into the great cold city of stone and iron a message had to be sent. There was none to convey it but the little hardy courier of the fields with his rough green coat and modest air. He is a true soldier of fortune, this dent-de-lion – this lion’s tooth, as the French chefs call him. Flowered, he will assist at love-making, wreathed in my lady’s nut-brown hair; young and callow and unblossomed, he goes into the boiling pot and delivers the word of his sovereign mistress.
By and by Sarah forced back her tears. The cards must be written. But, still in a faint, golden glow from her dandeleonine dream, she fingered the typewriter keys absently for a little while, with her mind and heart in the meadow lane with her young farmer. But soon she came swiftly back to the rock-bound lanes of Manhattan, and the typewriter began to rattle and jump like a strike-breaker’s motor car.
At 6 o’clock the waiter brought her dinner and carried away the typewritten bill of fare. When Sarah ate she set aside, with a sigh, the dish of dandelions with its crowning ovarious accompaniment. As this dark mass had been transformed from a bright and love-indorsed flower to be an ignominious vegetable, so had her summer hopes wilted and perished. Love may, as Shakespeare said, feed on itself: but Sarah could not bring herself to eat the dandelions that had graced, as ornaments, the first spiritual banquet of her heart’s true affection.
At 7:30 the couple in the next room began to quarrel: the man in the room above sought for A on his flute; the gas went a little lower; three coal wagons started to unload – the only sound of which the phonograph is jealous; cats on the back fences slowly retreated toward Mukden
. By these signs Sarah knew that it was time for her to read. She got out “The Cloister and the Hearth,”
the best non-selling book of the month, settled her feet on her trunk, and began to wander with Gerard.
The front door bell rang. The landlady answered it. Sarah left Gerard and Denys treed by a bear and listened. Oh, yes; you would, just as she did!
And then a strong voice was heard in the hall below, and Sarah jumped for her door, leaving the book on the floor and the first round easily the bear’s. You have guessed it. She reached the top of the stairs just as her farmer came up, three at a jump, and reaped and garnered her, with nothing left for the gleaners.
“Why haven’t you written – oh, why?” cried Sarah.
“New York is a pretty large town,” said Walter Franklin. “I came in a week ago to your old address. I found that you went away on a Thursday. That consoled some; it eliminated the possible Friday bad luck. But it didn’t prevent my hunting for you with police and otherwise ever since!”
“I wrote!” said Sarah, vehemently.
“Never got it!”
“Then how did you find me?”
The young farmer smiled a springtime smile.
“I dropped into that Home Restaurant next door this evening,” said he. “I don’t care who knows it; I like a dish of some kind of greens at this time of the year. I ran my eye down that nice typewritten bill of fare looking for something in that line. When I got below cabbage I turned my chair over and hollered for the proprietor. He told me where you lived.”
“I remember,” sighed Sarah, happily. “That was dandelions below cabbage.”
“I’d know that cranky capital W ’way above the line that your typewriter makes anywhere in the world,” said Franklin.
“Why, there’s no W in dandelions,” said Sarah, in surprise.
The young man drew the bill of fare from his pocket, and pointed to a line.
Sarah recognised the first card she had typewritten that afternoon. There was still the rayed splotch in the upper right-hand corner where a tear had fallen. But over the spot where one should have read the name of the meadow plant, the clinging memory of their golden blossoms had allowed her fingers to strike strange keys.
Between the red cabbage and the stuffed green peppers was the item:
“DEAREST WALTER, WITH HARD-BOILED EGG.”
The Coming-out of Maggie
Every Saturday night the Clover Leaf Social Club gave a hop in the hall of the Give and Take Athletic Association on the East Side. In order to attend one of these dances you must be a member of the Give and Take – or, if you belong to the division that starts off with the right foot in waltzing, you must work in Rhinegold’s paper-box factory. Still, any Clover Leaf was privileged to escort or be escorted by an outsider to a single dance. But mostly each Give and Take brought the paper-box girl that he affected; and few strangers could boast of having shaken a foot at the regular hops.
Maggie Toole, on account of her dull eyes, broad mouth and left-handed style of footwork in the two-step, went to the dances with Anna McCarty and her “fellow.” Anna and Maggie worked side by side in the factory, and were the greatest chums ever. So Anna always made Jimmy Burns take her by Maggie’s house every Saturday night so that her friend could go to the dance with them.
The Give and Take Athletic Association lived up to its name. The hall of the association in Orchard street was fitted out with muscle-making inventions. With the fibres thus builded up the members were wont to engage the police and rival social and athletic organisations in joyous combat. Between these more serious occupations the Saturday night hop with the paper-box factory girls came as a refining influence and as an efficient screen. For sometimes the tip went ’round, and if you were among the elect that tiptoed up the dark back stairway you might see as neat and satisfying a little welter-weight affair to a finish as ever happened inside the ropes.
On Saturdays Rhinegold’s paper-box factory closed at 3 P. M. On one such afternoon Anna and Maggie walked homeward together. At Maggie’s door Anna said, as usual: “Be ready at seven, sharp, Mag; and Jimmy and me’ll come by for you.”
But what was this? Instead of the customary humble and grateful thanks from the non-escorted one there was to be perceived a high-poised head, a prideful dimpling at the corners of a broad mouth, and almost a sparkle in a dull brown eye.
“Thanks, Anna,” said Maggie; “but you and Jimmy needn’t bother to-night. I’ve a gentleman friend that’s coming ‘round to escort me to the hop.”
The comely Anna pounced upon her friend, shook her, chided and beseeched her. Maggie Toole catch a fellow! Plain, dear, loyal, unattractive Maggie, so sweet as a chum, so unsought for a two-step or a moonlit bench in the little park. How was it? When did it happen? Who was it?
“You’ll see to-night,” said Maggie, flushed with the wine of the first grapes she had gathered in Cupid’s vineyard. “He’s swell all right. He’s two inches taller than Jimmy, and an up-to-date dresser. I’ll introduce him, Anna, just as soon as we get to the hall.”
Anna and Jimmy were among the first Clover Leafs to arrive that evening. Anna’s eyes were brightly fixed upon the door of the hall to catch the first glimpse of her friend’s “catch.”
At 8:30 Miss Toole swept into the hall with her escort. Quickly her triumphant eye discovered her chum under the wing of her faithful Jimmy.
“Oh, gee!” cried Anna, “Mag ain’t made a hit – oh, no! Swell fellow? well, I guess! Style? Look at ’um.”
“Go as far as you like,” said Jimmy, with sandpaper in his voice. “Cop him out if you want him. These new guys always win out with the push. Don’t mind me. He don’t squeeze all the limes, I guess. Huh!”
“Shut up, Jimmy. You know what I mean. I’m glad for Mag. First fellow she ever had. Oh, here they come.”
Across the floor Maggie sailed like a coquettish yacht convoyed by a stately cruiser. And truly, her companion justified the encomiums of the faithful chum. He stood two inches taller than the average Give and Take athlete; his dark hair curled; his eyes and his teeth flashed whenever he bestowed his frequent smiles. The young men of the Clover Leaf Club pinned not their faith to the graces of person as much as they did to its prowess, its achievements in hand-to-hand conflicts, and its preservation from the legal duress that constantly menaced it. The member of the association who would bind a paper-box maiden to his conquering chariot scorned to employ Beau Brummel airs. They were not considered honourable methods of warfare. The swelling biceps, the coat straining at its buttons over the chest, the air of conscious conviction of the supereminence of the male in the cosmogony
of creation, even a calm display of bow legs as subduing and enchanting agents in the gentle tourneys of Cupid – these were the approved arms and ammunition of the Clover Leaf gallants. They viewed, then, genuflexions and alluring poses of this visitor with their chins at a new angle.
“A friend of mine, Mr. Terry O’Sullivan,” was Maggie’s formula of introduction. She led him around the room, presenting him to each new-arriving Clover Leaf. Almost was she pretty now, with the unique luminosity in her eyes that comes to a girl with her first suitor and a kitten with its first mouse.
“Maggie Toole’s got a fellow at last,” was the word that went round among the paper-box girls. “Pipe Mag’s floor-walker” – thus the Give and Takes expressed their indifferent contempt.
Usually at the weekly hops Maggie kept a spot on the wall warm with her back. She felt and showed so much gratitude whenever a self-sacrificing partner invited her to dance that his pleasure was cheapened and diminished. She had even grown used to noticing Anna joggle the reluctant Jimmy with her elbow as a signal for him to invite her chum to walk over his feet through a two-step.
But to-night the pumpkin had turned to a coach and six. Terry O’Sullivan was a victorious Prince Charming, and Maggie Toole winged her first butterfly flight. And though our tropes of fairyland be mixed with those of entomology
they shall not spill one drop of ambrosia from the rose-crowned melody of Maggie’s one perfect night.
The girls besieged her for introductions to her “fellow.” The Clover Leaf young men, after two years of blindness, suddenly perceived charms in Miss Toole. They flexed their compelling muscles before her and bespoke her for the dance.
Thus she scored; but to Terry O’Sullivan the honours of the evening fell thick and fast. He shook his curls; he smiled and went easily through the seven motions for acquiring grace in your own room before an open window ten minutes each day. He danced like a faun; he introduced manner and style and atmosphere; his words came trippingly upon his tongue, and – he waltzed twice in succession with the paper-box girl that Dempsey Donovan brought.
Dempsey was the leader of the association. He wore a dress suit, and could chin the bar twice with one hand. He was one of “Big Mike” O’Sullivan’s lieutenants, and was never troubled by trouble. No cop dared to arrest him. Whenever he broke a pushcart man’s head or shot a member of the Heinrick B. Sweeney Outing and Literary Association in the kneecap, an officer would drop around and say:
“The Cap’n’d like to see ye a few minutes round to the office whin ye have time, Dempsey, me boy.”
But there would be sundry gentlemen there with large gold fob chains and black cigars; and somebody would tell a funny story, and then Dempsey would go back and work half an hour with the six-pound dumbbells. So, doing a tight-rope act on a wire stretched across Niagara was a safe terpsichorean
performance compared with waltzing twice with Dempsey Donovan’s paper-box girl. At 10 o’clock the jolly round face of “Big Mike” O’Sullivan shone at the door for five minutes upon the scene. He always looked in for five minutes, smiled at the girls and handed out real perfectos to the delighted boys.
Dempsey Donovan was at his elbow instantly, talking rapidly. “Big Mike” looked carefully at the dancers, smiled, shook his head and departed.
The music stopped. The dancers scattered to the chairs along the walls. Terry O’Sullivan, with his entrancing bow, relinquished a pretty girl in blue to her partner and started back to find Maggie. Dempsey intercepted him in the middle of the floor.
Some fine instinct that Rome must have bequeathed to us caused nearly everyone to turn and look at them – there was a subtle feeling that two gladiators had met in the arena. Two or three Give and Takes with tight coat sleeves drew nearer.
“One moment, Mr. O’Sullivan,” said Dempsey. “I hope you’re enjoying yourself. Where did you say you live?”
The two gladiators were well matched. Dempsey had, perhaps, ten pounds of weight to give away. The O’Sullivan had breadth with quickness. Dempsey had a glacial eye, a dominating slit of a mouth, an indestructible jaw, a complexion like a belle’s and the coolness of a champion. The visitor showed more fire in his contempt and less control over his conspicuous sneer. They were enemies by the law written when the rocks were molten. They were each too splendid, too mighty, too incomparable to divide pre-eminence. One only must survive.
“I live on Grand,” said O’Sullivan, insolently; “and no trouble to find me at home. Where do you live?”
Dempsey ignored the question.
“You say your name’s O’Sullivan,” he went on. “Well, ‘Big Mike’ says he never saw you before.”
“Lots of things he never saw,” said the favourite of the hop.
“As a rule,” went on Dempsey, huskily sweet, “O’Sullivans in this district know one another. You escorted one of our lady members here, and we want a chance to make good. If you’ve got a family tree let’s see a few historical O’Sullivan buds come out on it. Or do you want us to dig it out of you by the roots?”
“Suppose you mind your own business,” suggested O’Sullivan, blandly.
Dempsey’s eye brightened. He held up an inspired forefinger as though a brilliant idea had struck him.
“I’ve got it now,” he said cordially. “It was just a little mistake. You ain’t no O’Sullivan. You are a ring-tailed monkey. Excuse us for not recognising you at first.”
O’Sullivan’s eye flashed. He made a quick movement, but Andy Geoghan was ready and caught his arm.
Dempsey nodded at Andy and William McMahan, the secretary of the club, and walked rapidly toward a door at the rear of the hall. Two other members of the Give and Take Association swiftly joined the little group. Terry O’Sullivan was now in the hands of the Board of Rules and Social Referees. They spoke to him briefly and softly, and conducted him out through the same door at the rear.
This movement on the part of the Clover Leaf members requires a word of elucidation. Back of the association hall was a smaller room rented by the club. In this room personal difficulties that arose on the ballroom floor were settled, man to man, with the weapons of nature, under the supervision of the board. No lady could say that she had witnessed a fight at a Clover Leaf hop in several years. Its gentlemen members guaranteed that.
So easily and smoothly had Dempsey and the board done their preliminary work that many in the hall had not noticed the checking of the fascinating O’Sullivan’s social triumph. Among these was Maggie. She looked about for her escort.
“Smoke up!” said Rose Cassidy. “Wasn’t you on? Demps Donovan picked a scrap with your Lizzie-boy, and they’ve waltzed out to the slaughter room with him. How’s my hair look done up this way, Mag?”
Maggie laid a hand on the bosom of her cheesecloth waist.
“Gone to fight with Dempsey!” she said, breathlessly. “They’ve got to be stopped. Dempsey Donovan can’t fight him. Why, he’ll – he’ll kill him!”
“Ah, what do you care?” said Rosa. “Don’t some of ’em fight every hop?”
But Maggie was off, darting her zig-zag way through the maze of dancers. She burst through the rear door into the dark hall and then threw her solid shoulder against the door of the room of single combat. It gave way, and in the instant that she entered her eye caught the scene – the Board standing about with open watches; Dempsey Donovan in his shirt sleeves dancing, light-footed, with the wary grace of the modern pugilist, within easy reach of his adversary; Terry O’Sullivan standing with arms folded and a murderous look in his dark eyes. And without slacking the speed of her entrance she leaped forward with a scream – leaped in time to catch and hang upon the arm of O’Sullivan that was suddenly uplifted, and to whisk from it the long, bright stiletto
that he had drawn from his bosom.
The knife fell and rang upon the floor. Cold steel drawn in the rooms of the Give and Take Association! Such a thing had never happened before. Every one stood motionless for a minute. Andy Geoghan kicked the stiletto with the toe of his shoe curiously, like an antiquarian who has come upon some ancient weapon unknown to his learning.
And then O’Sullivan hissed something unintelligible between his teeth. Dempsey and the board exchanged looks. And then Dempsey looked at O’Sullivan without anger, as one looks at a stray dog, and nodded his head in the direction of the door.
“The back stairs, Giuseppi,” he said, briefly. “Somebody’ll pitch your hat down after you.”
Maggie walked up to Dempsey Donovan. There was a brilliant spot of red in her cheeks, down which slow tears were running. But she looked him bravely in the eye.
“I knew it, Dempsey,” she said, as her eyes grew dull even in their tears. “I knew he was a Guinea. His name’s Tony Spinelli. I hurried in when they told me you and him was scrappin’. Them Guineas always carries knives. But you don’t understand, Dempsey. I never had a fellow in my life. I got tired of comin’ with Anna and Jimmy every night, so I fixed it with him to call himself O’Sullivan, and brought him along. I knew there’d be nothin’ doin’ for him if he came as a Dago
. I guess I’ll resign from the club now.”
Dempsey turned to Andy Geoghan.
“Chuck that cheese slicer out of the window,” he said, “and tell ’em inside that Mr. O’Sullivan has had a telephone message to go down to Tammany Hall.”
And then he turned back to Maggie.
“Say, Mag,” he said, “I’ll see you home. And how about next Saturday night? Will you come to the hop with me if I call around for you?”
It was remarkable how quickly Maggie’s eyes could change from dull to a shining brown.
“With you, Dempsey?” she stammered. “Say – will a duck swim?”
The Trimmed Lamp
Of course there are two sides to the question. Let us look at the other. We often hear “shop-girls” spoken of. No such persons exist. There are girls who work in shops. They make their living that way. But why turn their occupation into an adjective? Let us be fair. We do not refer to the girls who live on Fifth Avenue as “marriage-girls.”
Lou and Nancy were chums. They came to the big city to find work because there was not enough to eat at their homes to go around. Nancy was nineteen; Lou was twenty. Both were pretty, active, country girls who had no ambition to go on the stage.
The little cherub that sits up aloft guided them to a cheap and respectable boarding-house. Both found positions and became wage-earners. They remained chums. It is at the end of six months that I would beg you to step forward and be introduced to them. Meddlesome Reader: My Lady friends, Miss Nancy and Miss Lou. While you are shaking hands please take notice – cautiously – of their attire. Yes, cautiously; for they are as quick to resent a stare as a lady in a box at the horse show is.
Lou is a piece-work ironer in a hand laundry. She is clothed in a badly-fitting purple dress, and her hat plume is four inches too long; but her ermine muff and scarf cost , and its fellow beasts will be ticketed in the windows at .98 before the season is over. Her cheeks are pink, and her light blue eyes bright. Contentment radiates from her.
Nancy you would call a shop-girl – because you have the habit. There is no type; but a perverse generation is always seeking a type; so this is what the type should be. She has the high-ratted pompadour
, and the exaggerated straight-front. Her skirt is shoddy, but has the correct flare. No furs protect her against the bitter spring air, but she wears her short broadcloth jacket as jauntily as though it were Persian lamb
! On her face and in her eyes, remorseless type-seeker, is the typical shop-girl expression. It is a look of silent but contemptuous revolt against cheated womanhood; of sad prophecy of the vengeance to come. When she laughs her loudest the look is still there. The same look can be seen in the eyes of Russian peasants; and those of us left will see it someday on Gabriel’s
face when he comes to blow us up. It is a look that should wither and abash man; but he has been known to smirk at it and offer flowers – with a string tied to them.
Now lift your hat and come away, while you receive Lou’s cheery “See you again,” and the sardonic, sweet smile of Nancy that seems, somehow, to miss you and go fluttering like a white moth up over the housetops to the stars.
The two waited on the corner for Dan. Dan was Lou’s steady company. Faithful? Well, he was on hand when Mary would have had to hire a dozen subpoena servers to find her lamb.
“Ain’t you cold, Nance?” said Lou. “Say, what a chump you are for working in that old store for . a week! I made .50 last week. Of course ironing ain’t as swell work as selling lace behind a counter, but it pays. None of us ironers make less than . And I don’t know that it’s any less respectful work, either.”
“You can have it,” said Nancy, with uplifted nose. “I’ll take my eight a week and hall bedroom. I like to be among nice things and swell people. And look what a chance I’ve got! Why, one of our glove girls married a Pittsburg – steel maker, or blacksmith or something – the other day worth a million dollars. I’ll catch a swell myself some time. I ain’t bragging on my looks or anything; but I’ll take my chances where there’s big prizes offered. What show would a girl have in a laundry?”
“Why, that’s where I met Dan,” said Lou, triumphantly. “He came in for his Sunday shirt and collars and saw me at the first board, ironing. We all try to get to work at the first board. Ella Maginnis was sick that day, and I had her place. He said he noticed my arms first, how round and white they was. I had my sleeves rolled up. Some nice fellows come into laundries. You can tell ’em by their bringing their clothes in suit cases; and turning in the door sharp and sudden.”
“How can you wear a waist like that, Lou?” said Nancy, gazing down at the offending article with sweet scorn in her heavy-lidded eyes. “It shows fierce taste.”
“This waist?” cried Lou, with wide-eyed indignation. “Why, I paid . for this waist. It’s worth twenty-five. A woman left it to be laundered, and never called for it. The boss sold it to me. It’s got yards and yards of hand embroidery on it. Better talk about that ugly, plain thing you’ve got on.”
“This ugly, plain thing,” said Nancy, calmly, “was copied from one that Mrs. Van Alstyne Fisher was wearing. The girls say her bill in the store last year was ,000. I made mine, myself. It cost me .50. Ten feet away you couldn’t tell it from hers.”
“Oh, well,” said Lou, good-naturedly, “if you want to starve and put on airs, go ahead. But I’ll take my job and good wages; and after hours give me something as fancy and attractive to wear as I am able to buy.”
But just then Dan came – a serious young man with a ready-made necktie, who had escaped the city’s brand of frivolity – an electrician earning 30 dollars per week who looked upon Lou with the sad eyes of Romeo, and thought her embroidered waist a web in which any fly should delight to be caught.
“My friend, Mr. Owens – shake hands with Miss Danforth,” said Lou.
“I’m mighty glad to know you, Miss Danforth,” said Dan, with outstretched hand. “I’ve heard Lou speak of you so often.”
“Thanks,” said Nancy, touching his fingers with the tips of her cool ones, “I’ve heard her mention you – a few times.”
“Did you get that handshake from Mrs. Van Alstyne Fisher, Nance?” she asked.
“If I did, you can feel safe in copying it,” said Nancy.
“Oh, I couldn’t use it, at all. It’s too stylish for me. It’s intended to set off diamond rings, that high shake is. Wait till I get a few and then I’ll try it.”
“Learn it first,” said Nancy wisely, “and you’ll be more likely to get the rings.”
“Now, to settle this argument,” said Dan, with his ready, cheerful smile, “let me make a proposition. As I can’t take both of you up to Tiffany’s
and do the right thing, what do you say to a little vaudeville? I’ve got the tickets. How about looking at stage diamonds since we can’t shake hands with the real sparklers?”
The faithful squire took his place close to the curb; Lou next, a little peacocky in her bright and pretty clothes; Nancy on the inside, slender, and soberly clothed as the sparrow, but with the true Van Alstyne Fisher walk – thus they set out for their evening’s moderate diversion.
I do not suppose that many look upon a great department store as an educational institution. But the one in which Nancy worked was something like that to her. She was surrounded by beautiful things that breathed of taste and refinement. If you live in an atmosphere of luxury, luxury is yours whether your money pays for it, or another’s.
The people she served were mostly women whose dress, manners, and position in the social world were quoted as criterions. From them Nancy began to take toll – the best from each according to her view.
From one she would copy and practice a gesture, from another an eloquent lifting of an eyebrow, from others, a manner of walking, of carrying a purse, of smiling, of greeting a friend, of addressing “inferiors in station.” From her best beloved model, Mrs. Van Alstyne Fisher, she made requisition for that excellent thing, a soft, low voice as clear as silver and as perfect in articulation as the notes of a thrush. Suffused in the aura of this high social refinement and good breeding, it was impossible for her to escape a deeper effect of it. As good habits are said to be better than good principles, so, perhaps, good manners are better than good habits. The teachings of your parents may not keep alive your New England conscience; but if you sit on a straight-back chair and repeat the words “prisms and pilgrims” forty times the devil will flee from you. And when Nancy spoke in the Van Alstyne Fisher tones she felt the thrill of noblesse oblige
to her very bones.
There was another source of learning in the great departmental school. Whenever you see three or four shop-girls gather in a bunch and jingle their wire bracelets as an accompaniment to apparently frivolous conversation, do not think that they are there for the purpose of criticizing the way Ethel does her back hair. The meeting may lack the dignity of the deliberative bodies of man; but it has all the importance of the occasion on which Eve and her first daughter first put their heads together to make Adam understand his proper place in the household. It is Woman’s Conference for Common Defense and Exchange of Strategical Theories of Attack and Repulse upon and against the World, which is a Stage, and Man, its Audience who Persists in Throwing Bouquets Thereupon. Woman, the most helpless of the young of any animal – with the fawn’s grace but without its fleetness; with the bird’s beauty but without its power of flight; with the honey-bee’s burden of sweetness but without its – Oh, let’s drop that simile – some of us may have been stung.
During this council of war they pass weapons one to another, and exchange stratagems that each has devised and formulated out of the tactics of life.
“I says to ’im,” says Sadie, “ain’t you the fresh thing! Who do you suppose I am, to be addressing such a remark to me? And what do you think he says back to me?”
The heads, brown, black, flaxen, red, and yellow bob together; the answer is given; and the parry to the thrust is decided upon, to be used by each thereafter in passages-at-arms with the common enemy, man.
Thus Nancy learned the art of defense; and to women successful defense means victory.
The curriculum of a department store is a wide one. Perhaps no other college could have fitted her as well for her life’s ambition – the drawing of a matrimonial prize.
Her station in the store was a favored one. The music room was near enough for her to hear and become familiar with the works of the best composers – at least to acquire the familiarity that passed for appreciation in the social world in which she was vaguely trying to set a tentative and aspiring foot. She absorbed the educating influence of art wares, of costly and dainty fabrics, of adornments that are almost culture to women.
The other girls soon became aware of Nancy’s ambition. “Here comes your millionaire, Nancy,” they would call to her whenever any man who looked the rôle approached her counter. It got to be a habit of men, who were hanging about while their women folk were shopping, to stroll over to the handkerchief counter and dawdle over the cambric squares. Nancy’s imitation high-bred air and genuine dainty beauty was what attracted. Many men thus came to display their graces before her. Some of them may have been millionaires; others were certainly no more than their sedulous apes. Nancy learned to discriminate. There was a window at the end of the handkerchief counter; and she could see the rows of vehicles waiting for the shoppers in the street below. She looked and perceived that automobiles differ as well as do their owners.
Once a fascinating gentleman bought four dozen handkerchiefs, and wooed her across the counter with a King Cophetua air. When he had gone one of the girls said:
“What’s wrong, Nance, that you didn’t warm up to that fellow. He looks the swell article, all right, to me.”
“Him?” said Nancy, with her coolest, sweetest, most impersonal, Van Alstyne Fisher smile; “not for mine. I saw him drive up outside. A 12 H. P. machine and an Irish chauffeur! And you saw what kind of handkerchiefs he bought – silk! And he’s got dactylis
on him. Give me the real thing or nothing, if you please.”
Two of the most “refined” women in the store – a forelady and a cashier – had a few “swell gentlemen friends” with whom they now and then dined. Once they included Nancy in an invitation. The dinner took place in a spectacular café whose tables are engaged for New Year’s eve a year in advance. There were two “gentlemen friends” – one without any hair on his head – high living ungrew it; and we can prove it – the other a young man whose worth and sophistication he impressed upon you in two convincing ways – he swore that all the wine was corked; and he wore diamond cuff buttons. This young man perceived irresistible excellencies in Nancy. His taste ran to shop-girls; and here was one that added the voice and manners of his high social world to the franker charms of her own caste. So, on the following day, he appeared in the store and made her a serious proposal of marriage over a box of hem-stitched, grass-bleached Irish linens. Nancy declined. A brown pompadour ten feet away had been using her eyes and ears. When the rejected suitor had gone she heaped carboys of upbraidings and horror upon Nancy’s head.
“What a terrible little fool you are! That fellow’s a millionaire – he’s a nephew of old Van Skittles himself. And he was talking on the level, too. Have you gone crazy, Nance?”
“Have I?” said Nancy. “I didn’t take him, did I? He isn’t a millionaire so hard that you could notice it, anyhow. His family only allows him ,000 a year to spend. The bald-headed fellow was guying him about it the other night at supper.”
The brown pompadour came nearer and narrowed her eyes.
“Say, what do you want?” she inquired, in a voice hoarse for lack of chewing-gum. “Ain’t that enough for you? Do you want to be a Mormon
, and marry Rockefeller and Gladstone Dowie and the King of Spain and the whole bunch? Ain’t ,000 a year good enough for you?”
Nancy flushed a little under the level gaze of the black, shallow eyes.
“It wasn’t altogether the money, Carrie,” she explained. “His friend caught him in a rank lie the other night at dinner. It was about some girl he said he hadn’t been to the theater with. Well, I can’t stand a liar. Put everything together – I don’t like him; and that settles it. When I sell out it’s not going to be on any bargain day. I’ve got to have something that sits up in a chair like a man, anyhow. Yes, I’m looking out for a catch; but it’s got to be able to do something more than make a noise like a toy bank.”
“The physiopathic ward
for yours!” said the brown pompadour, walking away.
These high ideas, if not ideals – Nancy continued to cultivate on . per week. She bivouacked on the trail of the great unknown “catch,” eating her dry bread and tightening her belt day by day. On her face was the faint, soldierly, sweet, grim smile of the preordained man-hunter. The store was her forest; and many times she raised her rifle at game that seemed broad-antlered and big; but always some deep unerring instinct – perhaps of the huntress, perhaps of the woman – made her hold her fire and take up the trail again.
Lou flourished in the laundry. Out of her .50 per week she paid . for her room and board. The rest went mainly for clothes. Her opportunities for bettering her taste and manners were few compared with Nancy’s. In the steaming laundry there was nothing but work, work and her thoughts of the evening pleasures to come. Many costly and showy fabrics passed under her iron; and it may be that her growing fondness for dress was thus transmitted to her through the conducting metal.
When the day’s work was over Dan awaited her outside, her faithful shadow in whatever light she stood.
Sometimes he cast an honest and troubled glance at Lou’s clothes that increased in conspicuity rather than in style; but this was no disloyalty; he deprecated the attention they called to her in the streets.
And Lou was no less faithful to her chum. There was a law that Nancy should go with them on whatsoever outings they might take. Dan bore the extra burden heartily and in good cheer. It might be said that Lou furnished the color, Nancy the tone, and Dan the weight of the distraction-seeking trio. The escort, in his neat but obviously ready-made suit, his ready-made tie and unfailing, genial, ready-made wit never startled or clashed. He was of that good kind that you are likely to forget while they are present, but remember distinctly after they are gone.
To Nancy’s superior taste the flavor of these ready-made pleasures was sometimes a little bitter: but she was young; and youth is a gourmand, when it cannot be a gourmet.
“Dan is always wanting me to marry him right away,” Lou told her once. “But why should I? I’m independent. I can do as I please with the money I earn; and he never would agree for me to keep on working afterward. And say, Nance, what do you want to stick to that old store for, and half starve and half dress yourself? I could get you a place in the laundry right now if you’d come. It seems to me that you could afford to be a little less stuck-up if you could make a good deal more money.”
“I don’t think I’m stuck-up, Lou,” said Nancy, “but I’d rather live on half rations and stay where I am. I suppose I’ve got the habit. It’s the chance that I want. I don’t expect to be always behind a counter. I’m learning something new every day. I’m right up against refined and rich people all the time – even if I do only wait on them; and I’m not missing any pointers that I see passing around.”
“Caught your millionaire yet?” asked Lou with her teasing laugh.
“I haven’t selected one yet,” answered Nancy. “I’ve been looking them over.”
“Goodness! the idea of picking over ’em! Don’t you ever let one get by you Nance – even if he’s a few dollars shy. But of course you’re joking – millionaires don’t think about working girls like us.”
“It might be better for them if they did,” said Nancy, with cool wisdom. “Some of us could teach them how to take care of their money.”
“If one was to speak to me,” laughed Lou, “I know I’d have a duck-fit.”
“That’s because you don’t know any. The only difference between swells and other people is you have to watch ’em closer. Don’t you think that red silk lining is just a little bit too bright for that coat, Lou?”
Lou looked at the plain, dull olive jacket of her friend.
“Well, no I don’t – but it may seem so beside that faded-looking thing you’ve got on.”
“This jacket,” said Nancy, complacently, “has exactly the cut and fit of one that Mrs. Van Alstyne Fisher was wearing the other day. The material cost me .98. I suppose hers cost about 0. more.”
“Oh, well,” said Lou lightly, “it don’t strike me as millionaire bait. Shouldn’t wonder if I catch one before you do, anyway.”
Truly it would have taken a philosopher to decide upon the values of the theories held by the two friends. Lou, lacking that certain pride and fastidiousness that keeps stores and desks filled with girls working for the barest living, thumped away gaily with her iron in the noisy and stifling laundry. Her wages supported her even beyond the point of comfort; so that her dress profited until sometimes she cast a sidelong glance of impatience at the neat but inelegant apparel of Dan – Dan the constant, the immutable, the undeviating.
As for Nancy, her case was one of tens of thousands. Silk and jewels and laces and ornaments and the perfume and music of the fine world of good-breeding and taste – these were made for woman; they are her equitable portion. Let her keep near them if they are a part of life to her, and if she will. She is no traitor to herself, as Esau
was; for she keeps he birthright and the pottage she earns is often very scant.
In this atmosphere Nancy belonged; and she throve in it and ate her frugal meals and schemed over her cheap dresses with a determined and contented mind. She already knew woman; and she was studying man, the animal, both as to his habits and eligibility. Some day she would bring down the game that she wanted; but she promised herself it would be what seemed to her the biggest and the best, and nothing smaller.
Thus she kept her lamp trimmed and burning to receive the bridegroom
when he should come.
But, another lesson she learned, perhaps unconsciously. Her standard of values began to shift and change. Sometimes the dollar-mark grew blurred in her mind’s eye, and shaped itself into letters that spelled such words as “truth” and “honor” and now and then just “kindness.” Let us make a likeness of one who hunts the moose or elk in some mighty wood. He sees a little dell, mossy and embowered, where a rill trickles, babbling to him of rest and comfort. At these times the spear of Nimrod
himself grows blunt.
So, Nancy wondered sometimes if Persian lamb was always quoted at its market value by the hearts that it covered.
One Thursday evening Nancy left the store and turned across Sixth Avenue westward to the laundry. She was expected to go with Lou and Dan to a musical comedy.
Dan was just coming out of the laundry when she arrived. There was a queer, strained look on his face.
“I thought I would drop around to see if they had heard from her,” he said.
“Heard from who?” asked Nancy. “Isn’t Lou there?”
“I thought you knew,” said Dan. “She hasn’t been here or at the house where she lived since Monday. She moved all her things from there. She told one of the girls in the laundry she might be going to Europe.”
“Hasn’t anybody seen her anywhere?” asked Nancy.
Dan looked at her with his jaws set grimly, and a steely gleam in his steady gray eyes.
“They told me in the laundry,” he said, harshly, “that they saw her pass yesterday – in an automobile. With one of the millionaires, I suppose, that you and Lou were forever busying your brains about.”
For the first time Nancy quailed before a man. She laid her hand that trembled slightly on Dan’s sleeve.
“You’ve no right to say such a thing to me, Dan – as if I had anything to do with it!”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Dan, softening. He fumbled in his vest pocket.
“I’ve got the tickets for the show to-night,” he said, with a gallant show of lightness. “If you – ”
Nancy admired pluck whenever she saw it.
“I’ll go with you, Dan,” she said.
Three months went by before Nancy saw Lou again.
At twilight one evening the shop-girl was hurrying home along the border of a little quiet park. She heard her name called, and wheeled about in time to catch Lou rushing into her arms.
After the first embrace they drew their heads back as serpents do, ready to attack or to charm, with a thousand questions trembling on their swift tongues. And then Nancy noticed that prosperity had descended upon Lou, manifesting itself in costly furs, flashing gems, and creations of the tailors’ art.
“You little fool!” cried Lou, loudly and affectionately. “I see you are still working in that store, and as shabby as ever. And how about that big catch you were going to make – nothing doing yet, I suppose?”
And then Lou looked, and saw that something better than prosperity had descended upon Nancy – something that shone brighter than gems in her eyes and redder than a rose in her cheeks, and that danced like electricity anxious to be loosed from the tip of her tongue.
“Yes, I’m still in the store,” said Nancy, “but I’m going to leave it next week. I’ve made my catch – the biggest catch in the world. You won’t mind now Lou, will you? – I’m going to be married to Dan – to Dan! – he’s my Dan now – why, Lou!”
Around the corner of the park strolled one of those new-crop, smooth-faced young policemen that are making the force more endurable – at least to the eye. He saw a woman with an expensive fur coat, and diamond-ringed hands crouching down against the iron fence of the park sobbing turbulently, while a slender, plainly-dressed working girl leaned close, trying to console her. But the Gibsonian
cop, being of the new order, passed on, pretending not to notice, for he was wise enough to know that these matters are beyond help so far as the power he represents is concerned, though he rap the pavement with his nightstick till the sound goes up to the furthermost stars.
Vanity and Some Sables
When “Kid” Brady was sent to the rope by Molly McKeever’s blue-black eyes he withdrew from the Stovepipe Gang. So much for the power of a colleen’s blanderin’ tongue and stubborn true-heartedness. If you are a man who read this, may such an influence be sent you before 2 o’clock to-morrow; if you are a woman, may your Pomeranian
greet you this morning with a cold nose – a sign of dog-health and your happiness.
The Stovepipe Gang borrowed its name from a sub-district of the city called the “Stovepipe,” which is a narrow and natural extension of the familiar district known as “Hell’s Kitchen.” The “Stovepipe” strip of town runs along Eleventh and Twelfth avenues on the river, and bends a hard and sooty elbow around little, lost homeless DeWitt Clinton park. Consider that a stovepipe is an important factor in any kitchen and the situation is analyzed. The chefs in “Hell’s Kitchen” are many, and the “Stovepipe” gang, wears the cordon blue.
The members of this unchartered but widely known brotherhood appeared to pass their time on street corners arrayed like the lilies of the conservatory and busy with nail files and penknives. Thus displayed as a guarantee of good faith, they carried on an innocuous conversation in a 200-word vocabulary, to the casual observer as innocent and immaterial as that heard in clubs seven blocks to the east.
But off exhibition the “Stovepipes” were not mere street corner ornaments addicted to posing and manicuring. Their serious occupation was the separating of citizens from their coin and valuables. Preferably this was done by weird and singular tricks without noise or bloodshed; but whenever the citizen honored by their attentions refused to impoverish himself gracefully his objections came to be spread finally upon some police station blotter or hospital register.
The police held the “Stovepipe” gang in perpetual suspicion and respect. As the nightingale’s liquid note is heard in the deepest shadows, so along the “Stovepipe’s” dark and narrow confines the whistle for reserves punctures the dull ear of night. Whenever there was smoke in the “Stovepipe” the tasselled men in blue knew there was fire in “Hell’s Kitchen.”
“Kid” Brady promised Molly to be good. “Kid” was the vainest, the strongest, the wariest and the most successful plotter in the gang. Therefore, the boys were sorry to give him up.
But they witnessed his fall to a virtuous life without protest. For, in the Kitchen it is considered neither unmanly nor improper for a guy to do as his girl advises.
Black her eye for love’s sake, if you will; but it is all-to-the-good business to do a thing when she wants you to do it.
“Turn off the hydrant,” said the Kid, one night when Molly, tearful, besought him to amend his ways. “I’m going to cut out the gang. You for mine, and the simple life on the side. I’ll tell you, Moll – I’ll get work; and in a year we’ll get married. I’ll do it for you. We’ll get a flat and a flute, and a sewing machine and a rubber plant and live as honest as we can.”
“Oh, Kid,” sighed Molly, wiping the powder off his shoulder with her handkerchief, “I’d rather hear you say that than to own all of New York. And we can be happy on so little!”
The Kid looked down at his speckless cuffs and shining patent leathers with a suspicion of melancholy.
“It’ll hurt hardest in the rags department,” said he. “I’ve kind of always liked to rig out swell when I could. You know how I hate cheap things, Moll. This suit set me back sixty-five. Anything in the wearing apparel line has got to be just so, or it’s to the misfit parlors for it, for mine. If I work I won’t have so much coin to hand over to the little man with the big shears.”
“Never mind, Kid. I’ll like you just as much in a blue jumper as I would in a red automobile.”
Before the Kid had grown large enough to knock out his father he had been compelled to learn the plumber’s art. So now back to this honorable and useful profession he returned. But it was as an assistant that he engaged himself; and it is the master plumber and not the assistant, who wears diamonds as large as hailstones and looks contemptuously upon the marble colonnades of Senator Clark’s mansion.
Eight months went by as smoothly and surely as though they had “elapsed” on a theater program. The Kid worked away at his pipes and solder with no symptoms of backsliding. The Stovepipe gang continued its piracy on the high avenues, cracked policemen’s heads, held up late travelers, invented new methods of peaceful plundering, copied Fifth avenue’s cut of clothes and neckwear fancies and comported itself according to its lawless bylaws. But the Kid stood firm and faithful to his Molly, even though the polish was gone from his fingernails and it took him 15 minutes to tie his purple silk ascot so that the worn places would not show.
One evening he brought a mysterious bundle with him to Molly’s house.
“Open that, Moll!” he said in his large, quiet way. “It’s for you.”
Molly’s eager fingers tore off the wrappings. She shrieked aloud, and in rushed a sprinkling of little McKeevers, and Ma McKeever, dishwashy, but an undeniable relative of the late Mrs. Eve
Again Molly shrieked, and something dark and long and sinuous flew and enveloped her neck like an anaconda.
“Russian sables,” said the Kid, pridefully, enjoying the sight of Molly’s round cheek against the clinging fur. “The real thing. They don’t grow anything in Russia too good for you, Moll.”
Molly plunged her hands into the muff, overturned a row of the family infants and flew to the mirror. Hint for the beauty column. To make bright eyes, rosy checks and a bewitching smile: Recipe – one set Russian sables. Apply.
When they were alone Molly became aware of a small cake of the ice of common sense floating down the full tide of her happiness.
“You’re a bird, all right, Kid,” she admitted gratefully. “I never had any furs on before in my life. But ain’t Russian sables awful expensive? Seems to me I’ve heard they were.”
“Have I ever chucked any bargain-sale stuff at you, Moll?” asked the Kid, with calm dignity. “Did you ever notice me leaning on the remnant counter or peering in the window of the five-and-ten? Call that scarf 0 and the muff 5 and you won’t make any mistake about the price of Russian sables. The swell goods for me. Say, they look fine on you, Moll.”
Molly hugged the sables to her bosom in rapture. And then her smile went away little by little, and she looked the Kid straight in the eye sadly and steadily.
He knew what every look of hers meant; and he laughed with a faint flush upon his face.
“Cut it out,” he said, with affectionate roughness. “I told you I was done with that. I bought ’em and paid for ’em, all right, with my own money.”
“Out of the money you worked for, Kid? Out of a month?”
“Sure. I been saving up.”
“Let’s see – saved 5 in eight months, Kid?”
“Ah, let up,” said the Kid, with some heat. “I had some money when I went to work. Do you think I’ve been holding ’em up again? I told you I’d quit. They’re paid for on the square. Put ’em on and come out for a walk.”
Molly calmed her doubts. Sables are soothing. Proud as a queen she went forth in the streets at the Kid’s side. In all that region of low-lying streets Russian sables had never been seen before. The word sped, and doors and windows blossomed with heads eager to see the swell furs Kid Brady had given his girl. All down the street there were “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” and the reported fabulous sum paid for the sables was passed from lip to lip, increasing as it went. At her right elbow sauntered the Kid with the air of princes. Work had not diminished his love of pomp and show and his passion for the costly and genuine. On a corner they saw a group of the Stovepipe Gang loafing, immaculate. They raised their hats to the Kid’s girl and went on with their calm, unaccented palaver.
Three blocks behind the admired couple strolled Detective Ransom, of the Central office. Ransom was the only detective on the force who could walk abroad with safety in the Stovepipe district. He was fair dealing and unafraid and went there with the hypothesis that the inhabitants were human. Many liked him, and now and then one would tip off to him something that he was looking for.
“What’s the excitement down the street?” asked Ransom of a pale youth in a red sweater.
“Dey’re out rubberin’ at a set of buffalo robes Kid Brady staked his girl to,” answered the youth. “Some say he paid 0 for de skins. Dey’re swell all right enough.”
“I hear Brady has been working at his old trade for nearly a year,” said the detective. “He doesn’t travel with the gang any more, does he?”
“He’s workin’, all right,” said the red sweater, “but – say, sport, are you trailin’ anything in the fur line? A job in a plumbin’ shop don’ match wid dem skins de Kid’s girl’s got on.”
Ransom overtook the strolling couple on an empty street near the river bank. He touched the Kid’s arm from behind.
“Let me see you a moment, Brady,” he said, quietly. His eye rested for a second on the long fur scarf thrown stylishly back over Molly’s left shoulder. The Kid, with his old-time police hating frown on his face, stepped a yard or two aside with the detective.
“Did you go to Mrs. Hethcote’s on West 7 – th street yesterday to fix a leaky water pipe?” asked Ransom.
“I did,” said the Kid. “What of it?”
“The lady’s ,000 set of Russian sables went out of the house about the same time you did. The description fits the ones this lady has on.”
“To h – Harlem with you,”
cried the Kid, angrily. “You know I’ve cut out that sort of thing, Ransom. I bought them sables yesterday at –”
The Kid stopped short.
“I know you’ve been working straight lately,” said Ransom. “I’ll give you every chance. I’ll go with you where you say you bought the furs and investigate. The lady can wear ’em along with us and nobody’ll be on. That’s fair, Brady.”
“Come on,” agreed the Kid, hotly. And then he stopped suddenly in his tracks and looked with an odd smile at Molly’s distressed and anxious face.
“No use,” he said, grimly. “They’re the Hethcote sables, all right. You’ll have to turn ’em over, Moll, but they ain’t too good for you if they cost a million.”
Molly, with anguish in her face, hung upon the Kid’s arm.
“Oh, Kiddy, you’ve broke my heart,” she said. “I was so proud of you – and now they’ll do you – and where’s our happiness gone?”
“Go home,” said the Kid, wildly. “Come on, Ransom – take the furs. Let’s get away from here. Wait a minute – I’ve a good mind to – no, I’ll be d – if I can do it – run along, Moll – I’m ready, Ransom.”
Around the corner of a lumber-yard came Policeman Kohen on his way to his beat along the river. The detective signed to him for assistance. Kohen joined the group. Ransom explained.
“Sure,” said Kohen. “I hear about those saples dat vas stole. You say you have dem here?”
Policeman Kohen took the end of Molly’s late scarf in his hands and looked at it closely.
“Once,” he said, “I sold furs in Sixth avenue. Yes, dese are saples. Dey come from Alaska. Dis scarf is vort and dis muff – ”
“Biff!” came the palm of the Kid’s powerful hand upon the policeman’s mouth. Kohen staggered and rallied. Molly screamed. The detective threw himself upon Brady and with Kohen’s aid got the nippers on his wrist.
“The scarf is vort and the muff is vort ,” persisted the policeman. “Vot is dis talk about ,000 saples?”
The Kid sat upon a pile of lumber and his face turned dark red.
!” he declared, viciously. “I paid .50 for the set. I’d rather have got six months and not have told it. Me, the swell guy that wouldn’t look at anything cheap! I’m a plain bluffer. Moll – my salary couldn’t spell sables in Russian.”
Molly cast herself upon his neck.
“What do I care for all the sables and money in the world,” she cried. “It’s my Kiddy I want. Oh, you dear, stuck-up, crazy blockhead!”
“You can take dose nippers off,” said Kohen to the detective. “Before I leaf de station de report come in dat de lady vind her saples – hanging in her wardrobe. Young man, I excuse you dat punch in my vace – dis von time.”
Ransom handed Molly her furs. Her eyes were smiling upon the Kid. She wound the scarf and threw the end over her left shoulder with a duchess’ grace.
“A gouple of young vools,” said Policeman Kohen to Ransom; “come on away.”
Sisters of the Golden Circle
The Rubberneck Auto
was about ready to start. The merry top-riders had been assigned to their seats by the gentlemanly conductor. The sidewalk was blockaded with sightseers who had gathered to stare at sightseers, justifying the natural law that every creature on earth is preyed upon by some other creature.
The megaphone man raised his instrument of torture; the inside of the great automobile began to thump and throb like the heart of a coffee drinker. The top-riders nervously clung to the seats; the old lady from Valparaiso, Indiana, shrieked to be put ashore. But, before a wheel turns, listen to a brief preamble through the cardiaphone
, which shall point out to you an object of interest on life’s sightseeing tour.
Swift and comprehensive is the recognition of white man for white man in African wilds; instant and sure is the spiritual greeting between mother and babe; unhesitatingly do master and dog commune across the slight gulf between animal and man; immeasurably quick and sapient are the brief messages between one and one’s beloved. But all these instances set forth only slow and groping interchange of sympathy and thought beside one other instance which the Rubberneck coach shall disclose. You shall learn (if you have not learned already) what two beings of all earth’s living inhabitants most quickly look into each other’s hearts and souls when they meet face to face.
The gong whirred, and the Glaring-at-Gotham car moved majestically upon its instructive tour.
On the highest, rear seat was James Williams, of Cloverdale, Missouri, and his Bride.
Capitalise it, friend typo – that last word – word of words in the epiphany of life and love. The scent of the flowers, the booty of the bee, the primal drip of spring waters, the overture of the lark, the twist of lemon peel on the cocktail of creation – such is the bride. Holy is the wife; revered the mother; galliptious is the summer girl – but the bride is the certified check among the wedding presents that the gods send in when man is married to mortality.
The car glided up the Golden Way. On the bridge of the great cruiser the captain stood, trumpeting the sights of the big city to his passengers. Wide-mouthed and open-eared, they heard the sights of the metropolis thundered forth to their eyes. Confused, delirious with excitement and provincial longings, they tried to make ocular responses to the megaphonic ritual. In the solemn spires of spreading cathedrals they saw the home of the Vanderbilts; in the busy bulk of the Grand Central depot they viewed, wonderingly, the frugal cot of Russell Sage
. Bidden to observe the highlands of the Hudson, they gaped, unsuspecting, at the upturned mountains of a new-laid sewer. To many the elevated railroad was the Rialto
, on the stations of which uniformed men sat and made chop suey of your tickets. And to this day in the outlying districts many have it that Chuck Connors, with his hand on his heart, leads reform; and that but for the noble municipal efforts of one Parkhurst, a district attorney, the notorious “Bishop” Potter gang would have destroyed law and order from the Bowery to the Harlem River
But I beg you to observe Mrs. James Williams – Hattie Chalmers that was – once the belle of Cloverdale. Pale-blue is the bride’s, if she will; and this colour she had honoured. Willingly had the moss rosebud loaned to her cheeks of its pink – and as for the violet! – her eyes will do very well as they are, thank you. A useless strip of white chaf – oh, no, he was guiding the auto car – of white chiffon – or perhaps it was grenadine or tulle – was tied beneath her chin, pretending to hold her bonnet in place. But you know as well as I do that the hatpins did the work.
And on Mrs. James Williams’s face was recorded a little library of the world’s best thoughts in three volumes. Volume No. 1 contained the belief that James Williams was about the right sort of thing. Volume No. 2 was an essay on the world, declaring it to be a very excellent place. Volume No. 3 disclosed the belief that in occupying the highest seat in a Rubberneck auto they were travelling the pace that passes all understanding.
James Williams, you would have guessed, was about twenty-four. It will gratify you to know that your estimate was so accurate. He was exactly twenty-three years, eleven months and twenty-nine days old. He was well built, active, strong-jawed, good-natured and rising. He was on his wedding trip.
Dear kind fairy, please cut out those orders for money and 40 H. P.
touring cars and fame and a new growth of hair and the presidency of the boat club. Instead of any of them turn backward – oh, turn backward and give us just a teeny-weeny bit of our wedding trip over again. Just an hour, dear fairy, so we can remember how the grass and poplar trees looked, and the bow of those bonnet strings tied beneath her chin – even if it was the hatpins that did the work. Can’t do it? Very well; hurry up with that touring car and the oil stock, then.
Just in front of Mrs. James Williams sat a girl in a loose tan jacket and a straw hat adorned with grapes and roses. Only in dreams and milliners’ shops do we, alas! gather grapes and roses at one swipe. This girl gazed with large blue eyes, credulous, when the megaphone man roared his doctrine that millionaires were things about which we should be concerned. Between blasts she resorted to Epictetian philosophy
in the form of pepsin chewing gum.
At this girl’s right hand sat a young man about twenty-four. He was well-built, active, strong-jawed and good-natured. But if his description seems to follow that of James Williams, divest it of anything Cloverdalian. This man belonged to hard streets and sharp corners. He looked keenly about him, seeming to begrudge the asphalt under the feet of those upon whom he looked down from his perch.
While the megaphone barks at a famous hostelry, let me whisper you through the low-tuned cardiaphone to sit tight; for now things are about to happen, and the great city will close over them again as over a scrap of ticker tape floating down from the den of a Broad street bear.
The girl in the tan jacket twisted around to view the pilgrims on the last seat. The other passengers she had absorbed; the seat behind her was her Bluebeard’s
Her eyes met those of Mrs. James Williams. Between two ticks of a watch they exchanged their life’s experiences, histories, hopes and fancies. And all, mind you, with the eye, before two men could have decided whether to draw steel or borrow a match.
The bride leaned forward low. She and the girl spoke rapidly together, their tongues moving quickly like those of two serpents – a comparison that is not meant to go further. Two smiles and a dozen nods closed the conference.
And now in the broad, quiet avenue in front of the Rubberneck car a man in dark clothes stood with uplifted hand. From the sidewalk another hurried to join him.
The girl in the fruitful hat quickly seized her companion by the arm and whispered in his ear. That young man exhibited proof of ability to act promptly. Crouching low, he slid over the edge of the car, hung lightly for an instant, and then disappeared. Half a dozen of the top-riders observed his feat, wonderingly, but made no comment, deeming it prudent not to express surprise at what might be the conventional manner of alighting in this bewildering city. The truant passenger dodged a hansom and then floated past, like a leaf on a stream between a furniture van and a florist’s delivery wagon.
The girl in the tan jacket turned again, and looked in the eyes of Mrs. James Williams. Then she faced about and sat still while the Rubberneck auto stopped at the flash of the badge under the coat of the plainclothes man.
“What’s eatin’ you?” demanded the megaphonist, abandoning his professional discourse for pure English.
“Keep her at anchor for a minute,” ordered the officer. “There’s a man on board we want – a Philadelphia burglar called ‘Pinky’ McGuire. There he is on the back seat. Look out for the side, Donovan.”
Donovan went to the hind wheel and looked up at James Williams.
“Come down, old sport,” he said, pleasantly. “We’ve got you. Back to Sleepytown of yours. It ain’t a bad idea, hidin’ on a Rubberneck, though. I’ll remember that.”
Softly through the megaphone came the advice of the conductor:
“Better step off, sir, and explain. The car must proceed on its tour.”
James Williams belonged among the level heads. With necessary slowness he picked his way through the passengers down to the steps at the front of the car. His wife followed, but she first turned her eyes and saw the escaped tourist glide from behind the furniture van and slip behind a tree on the edge of the little park, not fifty feet away.
Descended to the ground, James Williams faced his captors with a smile. He was thinking what a good story he would have to tell in Cloverdale about having been mistaken for a burglar. The Rubberneck coach lingered, out of respect for its patrons. What could be a more interesting sight than this?
“My name is James Williams, of Cloverdale, Missouri,” he said kindly, so that they would not be too greatly mortified. “I have letters here that will show – ”
“You’ll come with us, please,” announced the plainclothes man. “‘Pinky’ McGuire’s description fits you like flannel washed in hot suds. A detective saw you on the Rubberneck up at Central Park and ’phoned down to take you in. Do your explaining at the station-house.”
James Williams’s wife – his bride of two weeks – looked him in the face with a strange, soft radiance in her eyes and a flush on her cheeks, looked him in the face and said:
“Go with ’em quietly, ‘Pinky,’ and maybe it’ll be in your favour.”
And then as the Glaring-at-Gotham car rolled away she turned and threw a kiss – his wife threw a kiss – at someone high up on the seats of the Rubberneck.
“Your girl gives you good advice, McGuire,” said Donovan. “Come on, now.”
And then madness descended upon and occupied James Williams. He pushed his hat far upon the back of his head.
“My wife seems to think I am a burglar,” he said, recklessly. “I never heard of her being crazy; therefore I must be. And if I’m crazy, they can’t do anything to me for killing you two fools in my madness.”
Whereupon he resisted arrest so cheerfully and industriously that cops had to be whistled for, and afterwards the reserves, to disperse a few thousand delighted spectators.
At the station-house the desk sergeant asked for his name.
“McDoodle, the Pink, or Pinky the Brute, I forget which,” was James Williams’s answer. “But you can bet I’m a burglar; don’t leave that out. And you might add that it took five of ’em to pluck the Pink. I’d especially like to have that in the records.”
In an hour came Mrs. James Williams, with Uncle Thomas, of Madison Avenue, in a respect-compelling motor car and proofs of the hero’s innocence – for all the world like the third act of a drama backed by an automobile mfg. co.
After the police had sternly reprimanded James Williams for imitating a copyrighted burglar and given him as honourable a discharge as the department was capable of, Mrs. Williams rearrested him and swept him into an angle of the station-house. James Williams regarded her with one eye. He always said that Donovan closed the other while somebody was holding his good right hand. Never before had he given her a word of reproach or of reproof.
“If you can explain,” he began rather stiffly, “why you – ”
“Dear,” she interrupted, “listen. It was an hour’s pain and trial to you. I did it for her – I mean the girl who spoke to me on the coach. I was so happy, Jim – so happy with you that I didn’t dare to refuse that happiness to another. Jim, they were married only this morning – those two; and I wanted him to get away. While they were struggling with you I saw him slip from behind his tree and hurry across the park. That’s all of it, dear – I had to do it.”
Thus does one sister of the plain gold band know another who stands in the enchanted light that shines but once and briefly for each one. By rice and satin bows does mere man become aware of weddings. But bride knoweth bride at the glance of an eye. And between them swiftly passes comfort and meaning in a language that man and widows wot
The Handbook of Hymen
’Tis the opinion of myself, Sanderson Pratt, who sets this down, that the educational system of the United States should be in the hands of the weather bureau. I can give you good reasons for it; and you can’t tell me why our college professors shouldn’t be transferred to the meteorological department. They have been learned to read; and they could very easily glance at the morning papers and then wire in to the main office what kind of weather to expect. But there’s the other side of the proposition. I am going on to tell you how the weather furnished me and Idaho Green with an elegant education.
We was up in the Bitter Root Mountains over the Montana line
prospecting for gold. A chin-whiskered man in Walla-Walla, carrying a line of hope as excess baggage, had grubstaked us; and there we was in the foothills pecking away, with enough grub on hand to last an army through a peace conference.
Along one day comes a mail-rider over the mountains from Carlos, and stops to eat three cans of greengages, and leave us a newspaper of modern date. This paper prints a system of premonitions of the weather, and the card it dealt Bitter Root Mountains from the bottom of the deck was “warmer and fair, with light westerly breezes.”
That evening it began to snow, with the wind strong in the east. Me and Idaho moved camp into an old empty cabin higher up the mountain, thinking it was only a November flurry. But after falling three foot on a level it went to work in earnest; and we knew we was snowed in. We got in plenty of firewood before it got deep, and we had grub enough for two months, so we let the elements rage and cut up all they thought proper.
If you want to instigate the art of manslaughter just shut two men up in a eighteen by twenty-foot cabin for a month. Human nature won’t stand it.
When the first snowflakes fell me and Idaho Green laughed at each other’s jokes and praised the stuff we turned out of a skillet
and called bread. At the end of three weeks Idaho makes this kind of a edict to me. Says he:
“I never exactly heard sour milk dropping out of a balloon on the bottom of a tin pan, but I have an idea it would be music of the spears compared to this attenuated stream of asphyxiated thought that emanates out of your organs of conversation. The kind of half-masticated noises that you emit every day puts me in mind of a cow’s cud, only she’s lady enough to keep hers to herself, and you ain’t.”
“Mr. Green,” says I, “you having been a friend of mine once, I have some hesitations in confessing to you that if I had my choice for society between you and a common yellow, three-legged cur pup, one of the inmates of this here cabin would be wagging a tail just at present.”
This way we goes on for two or three days, and then we quits speaking to one another. We divides up the cooking implements, and Idaho cooks his grub on one side of the fireplace, and me on the other. The snow is up to the windows, and we have to keep a fire all day.
You see me and Idaho never had any education beyond reading and doing “if John had three apples and James five” on a slate. We never felt any special need for a university degree, though we had acquired a species of intrinsic intelligence in knocking around the world that we could use in emergencies. But, snowbound in that cabin in the Bitter Roots, we felt for the first time that if we had studied Homer
or Greek and fractions and the higher branches of information, we’d have had some resources in the line of meditation and private thought. I’ve seen them Eastern college fellows working in camps all through the West, and I never noticed but what education was less of a drawback to ’em than you would think. Why, once over on Snake River, when Andrew McWilliams’ saddle horse got the botts, he sent a buckboard ten miles for one of these strangers that claimed to be a botanist. But that horse died.
One morning Idaho was poking around with a stick on top of a little shelf that was too high to reach. Two books fell down to the floor. I started toward ‘em, but caught Idaho’s eye. He speaks for the first time in a week.
“Don’t burn your fingers,” says he. “In spite of the fact that you’re only fit to be the companion of a sleeping mud-turtle, I’ll give you a square deal. And that’s more than your parents did when they turned you loose in the world with the sociability of a rattle-snake and the bedside manner of a frozen turnip. I’ll play you a game of seven-up, the winner to pick up his choice of the book, the loser to take the other.”
We played; and Idaho won. He picked up his book; and I took mine. Then each of us got on his side of the house and went to reading.
I never was as glad to see a ten-ounce
nugget as I was that book. And Idaho took at his like a kid looks at a stick of candy.
Mine was a little book about five by six inches called “Herkimer’s Handbook of Indispensable Information.” I may be wrong, but I think that was the greatest book that ever was written. I’ve got it to-day; and I can stump you or any man fifty times in five minutes with the information in it. Talk about Solomon or the New York Tribune
! Herkimer had cases on both of ’em. That man must have put in fifty years and travelled a million miles to find out all that stuff. There was the population of all cities in it, and the way to tell a girl’s age, and the number of teeth a camel has. It told you the longest tunnel in the world, the number of the stars, how long it takes for chicken pox to break out, what a lady’s neck ought to measure, the veto
powers of Governors, the dates of the Roman aqueducts
, how many pounds of rice going without three beers a day would buy, the average annual temperature of Augusta, Maine, the quantity of seed required to plant an acre of carrots in drills, antidotes for poisons, the number of hairs on a blond lady’s head, how to preserve eggs, the height of all the mountains in the world, and the dates of all wars and battles, and how to restore drowned persons, and sunstroke, and the number of tacks in a pound, and how to make dynamite and flowers and beds, and what to do before the doctor comes – and a hundred times as many things besides. If there was anything Herkimer didn’t know I didn’t miss it out of the book.
I sat and read that book for four hours. All the wonders of education was compressed in it. I forgot the snow, and I forgot that me and old Idaho was on the outs. He was sitting still on a stool reading away with a kind of partly soft and partly mysterious look shining through his tan-bark whiskers.
“Idaho,” says I, “what kind of a book is yours?”
Idaho must have forgot, too, for he answered moderate, without any slander or malignity.
“Why,” says he, “this here seems to be a volume by Homer K. M.
“Homer K. M. what?” I asks.
“Why, just Homer K. M.,” says he.
“You’re a liar,” says I, a little riled that Idaho should try to put me up a tree. “No man is going ’round signing books with his initials. If it’s Homer K. M. Spoopendyke, or Homer K. M. McSweeney, or Homer K. M. Jones, why don’t you say so like a man instead of biting off the end of it like a calf chewing off the tail of a shirt on a clothes-line?”
“I put it to you straight, Sandy,” says Idaho, quiet. “It’s a poem book,” says he, “by Homer K. M. I couldn’t get colour out of it at first, but there’s a vein if you follow it up. I wouldn’t have missed this book for a pair of red blankets.”
“You’re welcome to it,” says I. “What I want is a disinterested statement of facts for the mind to work on, and that’s what I seem to find in the book I’ve drawn.”
“What you’ve got,” says Idaho, “is statistics, the lowest grade of information that exists. They’ll poison your mind. Give me old K. M.’s system of surmises. He seems to be a kind of a wine agent. His regular toast is ‘nothing doing,’ and he seems to have a grouch, but he keeps it so well lubricated with booze that his worst kicks sound like an invitation to split a quart. But it’s poetry,” says Idaho, “and I have sensations of scorn for that truck of yours that tries to convey sense in feet and inches. When it comes to explaining the instinct of philosophy through the art of nature, old K. M. has got your man beat by drills, rows, paragraphs, chest measurement, and average annual rainfall.”
So that’s the way me and Idaho had it. Day and night all the excitement we got was studying our books. That snowstorm sure fixed us with a fine lot of attainments apiece. By the time the snow melted, if you had stepped up to me suddenly and said: “Sanderson Pratt, what would it cost per square foot to lay a roof with twenty by twenty-eight tin at nine dollars and fifty cents per box?” I’d have told you as quick as light could travel the length of a spade handle at the rate of one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. How many can do it? You wake up ’most any man you know in the middle of the night, and ask him quick to tell you the number of bones in the human skeleton exclusive of the teeth, or what percentage of the vote of the Nebraska Legislature overrules a veto. Will he tell you? Try him and see.
About what benefit Idaho got out of his poetry book I didn’t exactly know. Idaho boosted the wine-agent every time he opened his mouth; but I wasn’t so sure.
This Homer K. M., from what leaked out of his libretto
through Idaho, seemed to me to be a kind of a dog who looked at life like it was a tin can tied to his tail. After running himself half to death, he sits down, hangs his tongue out, and looks at the can and says:
“Oh, well, since we can’t shake the growler, let’s get it filled at the corner, and all have a drink on me.”
Besides that, it seems he was a Persian; and I never hear of Persia producing anything worth mentioning unless it was Turkish rugs and Maltese cats.
That spring me and Idaho struck pay ore. It was a habit of ours to sell out quick and keep moving. We unloaded our grubstaker for eight thousand dollars apiece; and then we drifted down to this little town of Rosa, on the Salmon river
, to rest up, and get some human grub, and have our whiskers harvested.
Rosa was no mining-camp. It laid in the valley, and was as free of uproar and pestilence as one of them rural towns in the country. There was a three-mile trolley line champing its bit in the environs; and me and Idaho spent a week riding on one of the cars, dropping off at nights at the Sunset View Hotel. Being now well read as well as travelled, we was soon pro re nata
with the best society in Rosa, and was invited out to the most dressed-up and high-toned entertainments. It was at a piano recital and quail-eating contest in the city hall, for the benefit of the fire company, that me and Idaho first met Mrs. De Ormond Sampson, the queen of Rosa society.
Mrs. Sampson was a widow, and owned the only two-story house in town. It was painted yellow, and whichever way you looked from you could see it as plain as egg on the chin of an O’Grady on a Friday. Twenty-two men in Rosa besides me and Idaho was trying to stake a claim on that yellow house.
There was a dance after the song books and quail bones had been raked out of the Hall. Twenty-three of the bunch galloped over to Mrs. Sampson and asked for a dance. I side-stepped the two-step, and asked permission to escort her home. That’s where I made a hit.
On the way home says she:
“Ain’t the stars lovely and bright to-night, Mr. Pratt?”
“For the chance they’ve got,” says I, “they’re humping themselves in a mighty creditable way. That big one you see is sixty-six million miles distant. It took thirty-six years for its light to reach us. With an eighteen-foot telescope you can see forty-three millions of ’em, including them of the thirteenth magnitude, which, if one was to go out now, you would keep on seeing it for twenty-seven hundred years.”
“My!” says Mrs. Sampson. “I never knew that before. How warm it is! I’m as damp as I can be from dancing so much.”
“That’s easy to account for,” says I, “when you happen to know that you’ve got two million sweat-glands working all at once. If every one of your perspiratory ducts, which are a quarter of an inch long, was placed end to end, they would reach a distance of seven miles.”
“Lawsy!” says Mrs. Sampson. “It sounds like an irrigation ditch you was describing, Mr. Pratt. How do you get all this knowledge of information?”
“From observation, Mrs. Sampson,” I tells her. “I keep my eyes open when I go about the world.”
“Mr. Pratt,” says she, “I always did admire a man of education. There are so few scholars among the sap-headed plug-uglies of this town that it is a real pleasure to converse with a gentleman of culture. I’d be gratified to have you call at my house whenever you feel so inclined.”
And that was the way I got the goodwill of the lady in the yellow house. Every Tuesday and Friday evening I used to go there and tell her about the wonders of the universe as discovered, tabulated, and compiled from nature by Herkimer. Idaho and the other gay Lutherans
of the town got every minute of the rest of the week that they could.
I never imagined that Idaho was trying to work on Mrs. Sampson with old K. M.’s rules of courtship till one afternoon when I was on my way over to take her a basket of wild hog-plums. I met the lady coming down the lane that led to her house. Her eyes was snapping, and her hat made a dangerous dip over one eye.
“Mr. Pratt,” she opens up, “this Mr. Green is a friend of yours, I believe.”
“For nine years,” says I.
“Cut him out,” says she. “He’s no gentleman!”
“Why ma’am,” says I, “he’s a plain incumbent of the mountains, with asperities and the usual failings of a spendthrift and a liar, but I never on the most momentous occasion had the heart to deny that he was a gentleman. It may be that in haberdashery and the sense of arrogance and display Idaho offends the eye, but inside, ma’am, I’ve found him impervious to the lower grades of crime and obesity. After nine years of Idaho’s society, Mrs. Sampson,” I winds up, “I should hate to impute him, and I should hate to see him imputed.”
“It’s right plausible of you, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson, “to take up the curmudgeons in your friend’s behalf; but it don’t alter the fact that he has made proposals to me sufficiently obnoxious to ruffle the ignominy of any lady.”
“Why, now, now, now!” says I. “Old Idaho do that! I could believe it of myself, sooner. I never knew but one thing to deride in him; and a blizzard was responsible for that. Once while we was snow-bound in the mountains he became a prey to a kind of spurious and uneven poetry, which may have corrupted his demeanour.”
“It has,” says Mrs. Sampson. “Ever since I knew him he has been reciting to me a lot of irreligious rhymes by some person he calls Ruby Ott
, and who is no better than she should be, if you judge by her poetry.”
“Then Idaho has struck a new book,” says I, “for the one he had was by a man who writes under the nom de plume
of K. M.”
“He’d better have stuck to it,” says Mrs. Sampson, “whatever it was. And to-day he caps the vortex. I get a bunch of flowers from him, and on ’em is pinned a note. Now, Mr. Pratt, you know a lady when you see her; and you know how I stand in Rosa society. Do you think for a moment that I’d skip out to the woods with a man along with a jug of wine and a loaf of bread, and go singing and cavorting up and down under the trees with him? I take a little claret
with my meals, but I’m not in the habit of packing a jug of it into the brush and raising Cain
in any such style as that. And of course he’d bring his book of verses along, too. He said so. Let him go on his scandalous picnics alone! Or let him take his Ruby Ott with him. I reckon she wouldn’t kick unless it was on account of there being too much bread along. And what do you think of your gentleman friend now, Mr. Pratt?”
“Well, ’m,” says I, “it may be that Idaho’s invitation was a kind of poetry, and meant no harm. May be it belonged to the class of rhymes they call figurative. They offend law and order, but they get sent through the mails on the grounds that they mean something that they don’t say. I’d be glad on Idaho’s account if you’d overlook it,” says I, “and let us extricate our minds from the low regions of poetry to the higher planes of fact and fancy. On a beautiful afternoon like this, Mrs. Sampson,” I goes on, “we should let our thoughts dwell accordingly. Though it is warm here, we should remember that at the equator the line of perpetual frost is at an altitude of fifteen thousand feet
. Between the latitudes of forty degrees and forty-nine degrees it is from four thousand to nine thousand feet.”
“Oh, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson, “it’s such a comfort to hear you say them beautiful facts after getting such a jar from that minx of a Ruby’s poetry!”
“Let us sit on this log at the roadside,” says I, “and forget the inhumanity and ribaldry of the poets. It is in the glorious columns of ascertained facts and legalised measures that beauty is to be found. In this very log we sit upon, Mrs. Sampson,” says I, “is statistics more wonderful than any poem. The rings show it was sixty years old. At the depth of two thousand feet it would become coal in three thousand years. The deepest coal mine in the world is at Killingworth, near Newcastle
. A box four feet long, three feet wide, and two feet eight inches deep will hold one ton of coal. If an artery is cut, compress it above the wound. A man’s leg contains thirty bones. The Tower of London was burned in 1841.”
“Go on, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson. “Them ideas is so original and soothing. I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be.”
But it wasn’t till two weeks later that I got all that was coming to me out of Herkimer.
One night I was waked up by folks hollering “Fire!” all around. I jumped up and dressed and went out of the hotel to enjoy the scene. When I see it was Mrs. Sampson’s house, I gave forth a kind of yell, and I was there in two minutes.
The whole lower story of the yellow house was in flames, and every masculine, feminine, and canine in Rosa was there, screeching and barking and getting in the way of the firemen. I saw Idaho trying to get away from six firemen who were holding him. They was telling him the whole place was on fire down-stairs, and no man could go in it and come out alive.
“Where’s Mrs. Sampson?” I asks.
“She hasn’t been seen,” says one of the firemen. “She sleeps up-stairs. We’ve tried to get in, but we can’t, and our company hasn’t got any ladders yet.”
I runs around to the light of the big blaze, and pulls the Handbook out of my inside pocket. I kind of laughed when I felt it in my hands – I reckon I was some daffy with the sensation of excitement.
“Herky, old boy,” I says to it, as I flipped over the pages, “you ain’t ever lied to me yet, and you ain’t ever throwed me down at a scratch yet. Tell me what, old boy, tell me what!” says I.
I turned to “What to do in Case of Accidents,” on page 117. I run my finger down the page, and struck it. Good old Herkimer, he never overlooked anything! It said:
Suffocation from Inhaling Smoke or Gas. – There is nothing better than flaxseed. Place a few seed in the outer corner of the eye.
I shoved the Handbook back in my pocket, and grabbed a boy that was running by.
“Here,” says I, giving him some money, “run to the drug store and bring a dollar’s worth of flaxseed. Hurry, and you’ll get another one for yourself. Now,” I sings out to the crowd, “we’ll have Mrs. Sampson!” And I throws away my coat and hat.
Four of the firemen and citizens grabs hold of me. It’s sure death, they say, to go in the house, for the floors was beginning to fall through.
“How in blazes,” I sings out, kind of laughing yet, but not feeling like it, “do you expect me to put flaxseed in a eye without the eye?”
I jabbed each elbow in a fireman’s face, kicked the bark off of one citizen’s shin, and tripped the other one with a side hold. And then I busted into the house. If I die first I’ll write you a letter and tell you if it’s any worse down there than the inside of that yellow house was; but don’t believe it yet. I was a heap more cooked than the hurry-up orders of broiled chicken that you get in restaurants. The fire and smoke had me down on the floor twice, and was about to shame Herkimer, but the firemen helped me with their little stream of water, and I got to Mrs. Sampson’s room. She’d lost conscientiousness from the smoke, so I wrapped her in the bed clothes and got her on my shoulder. Well, the floors wasn’t as bad as they said, or I never could have done it – not by no means.
I carried her out fifty yards from the house and laid her on the grass. Then, of course, every one of them other twenty-two plaintiff’s to the lady’s hand crowded around with tin dippers of water ready to save her. And up runs the boy with the flaxseed.
I unwrapped the covers from Mrs. Sampson’s head. She opened her eyes and says:
“Is that you, Mr. Pratt?”
“S-s-sh,” says I. “Don’t talk till you’ve had the remedy.”
I runs my arm around her neck and raises her head, gentle, and breaks the bag of flaxseed with the other hand; and as easy as I could I bends over and slips three or four of the seeds in the outer corner of her eye.
Up gallops the village doc by this time, and snorts around, and grabs at Mrs. Sampson’s pulse, and wants to know what I mean by any such sandblasted nonsense.
“Well, old Jalap and Jerusalem oakseed,” says I, “I’m no regular practitioner, but I’ll show you my authority, anyway.”
They fetched my coat, and I gets out the Handbook.
“Look on page 117,” says I, “at the remedy for suffocation by smoke or gas. Flaxseed in the outer corner of the eye, it says. I don’t know whether it works as a smoke consumer or whether it hikes the compound gastro-hippopotamus nerve into action, but Herkimer says it, and he was called to the case first. If you want to make it a consultation, there’s no objection.”
A la carte = на выбор.
Hackett – театр в Нью-Йорке; назван в честь выдающегося американского актера Джеймса Генри Хэкетта (1800–1871).
Per diem (лат.) = в день.
Entrées (фр.) = основные блюда.
Dimuendo con amore (ит.) = плавно стихающий (о звуке).
Thanatopsis – зд. сонливость; лень, летаргия.
Lethean = смертельный.
Mukden – город на северо-востоке Китая, место знаменитой битвы при Мукдене в 1905 г. в ходе Русско-японской войны 1904–1905 гг.
“The Cloister and the Hearth” – исторический роман Чарльза Рида (1814–1884), английского писателя, драматурга и театрального деятеля.
Cosmogony – космогония, раздел физики, изучающий эволюцию космических объектов во Вселенной.
Entomology – раздел зоологии, изучающий насекомых.
Terpsichorean – танцевальный, балетный; Терпсихора – муза-покровительница танца и хорового пения в древнегреческой мифологии.
Stiletto – стилет, острый кинжал.
Dago – презрительное прозвище мексиканцев.
Pompadour – высокая прическа с валиком над лбом, названная в честь маркизы де Помпадур (1721–1864), фаворитки короля Франции Людовика XV.
Persian lamb – персидский каракуль (дорогой мех).
Gabriel – архангел Гавриил; в Ветхом Завете, в иудаизме, христианстве и исламе – посланник и вестник Бога, часто изображаемый с трубой.
Tiffany’s – всемирно известная ювелирная и сувенирная фирма, основанная в 1837 г.
Noblesse oblige (фр.) = положение обязывает.
Dactylis – зд. кольцо с гравировкой.
Mormon – мормон, член Мормонской церкви, основанной в 1830 г. в Соединенных Штатах Джозефом Смитом (1805–1844); для мормонов характерно уважение к власти, почитание семейных ценностей, стремление к порядку, трудолюбие и чувство ответственности.
Physiopathic ward – зд. палата для душевнобольных.
Esau – Исав; в Ветхом Завете, старший сын Исаака, который продал право первородства своему брату Иакову за чечевичную похлебку.
She kept the lamp trimmed and burning to receive the bridegroom – в евангельской притче девушки держали лампы горящими, чтобы принять своего Небесного Жениха.
Nimrod – Нимрод, герой Ветхого Завета, легендарный охотник, царь Ассирии и Вавилона, основатель Ниневии, одного из самых знаменитых городов Древнего мира.
Gibsonian – зд. нарисованный популярным американским художником и иллюстратором Чарльзом Дана Гибсоном (1867–1945).
Pomeranian – померанский шпиц, популярная порода карликовых собак; название породы происходит от слова Померания (историческая область на побережье Балтийского моря в северо-восточной Европе).
The late Mrs. Eve – имеется в виду библейская Ева, первая женщина на Земле согласно Библии.
To h– Harlem with you = черт с тобой!
Solomonski – персонаж назван по имени царя Соломона (X в. до н. э.), известного своей мудростью.
Rubberneck Auto – туристический автобус для экскурсий (от rubberneck – ехать медленно, чтобы можно было посмотреть достопримечательности).
Cardiaphone – устройство для прослушивания работы сердца и других очень слабых звуков.
Russell Sage (1816–1906) – американский финансист, принимавший участие в создании железных дорог и телеграфа в США.
The Rialto – мост в Венеции, на котором расположены магазины; построен в XVI в.
The Harlem River – река в Гарлеме, районе в центре Нью-Йоркa.
H. P. = лошадиных сил.
Epictetian philosophy – в греко-римской истории – философия стоицизма, для которой характерны ясность и спокойствие ума, и образ жизни, основанный на определенных моральных принципах; Эпиктет (I–II в. н.э.) – выдающийся философ, представитель позднего стоицизма.
The Bluebeard – Синяя Борода, герой сказок Шарля Перро и литературный персонаж европейского, восточного и африканского фольклора, убивавший всех, кто рискнул войти в запертую и запретную комнату.
(automobile) mfg. co = manufacturing company (компания, производящая автомобили).
Wot = знать (устаревшее).
The Montana line – горный хребет в Скалистых горах в штате Монтана.
Skillet (амер.) – сковородка.
Homer (IX–VIII в. до н.э.) – древнегреческий поэт, автор двух великих эпических поэм – «Илиады и Одиссеи».
Ounce – унция, единица веса, равная 28,35 грамма.
The New York Tribune – американская ежедневная газета, основанная в XIX в., позднее объединившаяся с газетой Herald и ставшая New York Herald Tribune.
Veto – конституционное право власти на запрет или отказ.
Aqueduct – акведук, рукотворная система труб, каналов, канав и поддерживающих их конструкций для водоснабжения; впервые построена ассирийцами в 691 г. до н.э.
Homer K. M. – зд. Омар Хайям (1048–1131), великий персидский математик, философ, астроном и поэт.
Libretto – либретто, текст оперы в прозе или стихах.
The Salmon River – река в центральном Айдахо, самый большой приток реки Снейк; место слияния этих двух рек называется ‘River of No Return’ (Река без возврата).
Pro re nata (лат.) = ввиду обстоятельств.
Lutherans – члены лютеранской церкви, одной из основных протестантских церквей мира, основанной Мартином Лютером (1483–1546), немецким проповедником и реформатором.
Ruby Ott – зд. рубаи, знаменитые стихотворные четверостишия Омара Хайяма.
Nom de plume (фр.) = псевдоним.
Claret – кларет, красное французское вино из района города Бордо.
Raise Cain – (идиома) разозлиться, устроить скандал.
Feet – мн. ч. от foot; фут – единица длины, равная 30,48 см.
Newcastle – шахтерский город, основанный в 1809 г. и названный в честь английского угольного порта Ньюкасл на реке Тайн.