THE GIFT OF THE MAGI
One dollar and eighty–seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty–seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter–box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”
The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling—something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier–glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”
“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.
“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.
“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
“Give it to me quick,” said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation—as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value—the description applied to both. Twenty–one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends—a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close–lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do—oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty–seven cents?”
At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying–pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying a little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty–two—and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again—you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice—what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”
“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.
“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you—sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year—what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims—just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”
And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
A COSMOPOLITE IN A CAFÉ
At midnight the café was crowded. By some chance the little table at which I sat had escaped the eye of incomers, and two vacant chairs at it extended their arms with venal hospitality to the influx of patrons.
And then a cosmopolite sat in one of them, and I was glad, for I held a theory that since Adam no true citizen of the world has existed. We hear of them, and we see foreign labels on much luggage, but we find travellers instead of cosmopolites.
I invoke your consideration of the scene—the marble–topped tables, the range of leather–upholstered wall seats, the gay company, the ladies dressed in demi–state toilets, speaking in an exquisite visible chorus of taste, economy, opulence or art; the sedulous and largess–loving garçons, the music wisely catering to all with its raids upon the composers; the mélange of talk and laughter—and, if you will, the Würzburger in the tall glass cones that bend to your lips as a ripe cherry sways on its branch to the beak of a robber jay. I was told by a sculptor from Mauch Chunk that the scene was truly Parisian.
My cosmopolite was named E. Rushmore Coglan, and he will be heard from next summer at Coney Island. He is to establish a new “attraction” there, he informed me, offering kingly diversion. And then his conversation rang along parallels of latitude and longitude. He took the great, round world in his hand, so to speak, familiarly, contemptuously, and it seemed no larger than the seed of a Maraschino cherry in a table d’hôte grape fruit. He spoke disrespectfully of the equator, he skipped from continent to continent, he derided the zones, he mopped up the high seas with his napkin. With a wave of his hand he would speak of a certain bazaar in Hyderabad. Whiff! He would have you on skis in Lapland. Zip! Now you rode the breakers with the Kanakas at Kealaikahiki. Presto! He dragged you through an Arkansas post–oak swamp, let you dry for a moment on the alkali plains of his Idaho ranch, then whirled you into the society of Viennese archdukes. Anon he would be telling you of a cold he acquired in a Chicago lake breeze and how old Escamila cured it in Buenos Ayres with a hot infusion of the chuchula weed. You would have addressed a letter to “E. Rushmore Coglan, Esq., the Earth, Solar System, the Universe,” and have mailed it, feeling confident that it would be delivered to him.
I was sure that I had found at last the one true cosmopolite since Adam, and I listened to his worldwide discourse fearful lest I should discover in it the local note of the mere globe–trotter. But his opinions never fluttered or drooped; he was as impartial to cities, countries and continents as the winds or gravitation.
And as E. Rushmore Coglan prattled of this little planet I thought with glee of a great almost–cosmopolite who wrote for the whole world and dedicated himself to Bombay. In a poem he has to say that there is pride and rivalry between the cities of the earth, and that “the men that breed from them, they traffic up and down, but cling to their cities’ hem as a child to the mother’s gown.” And whenever they walk “by roaring streets unknown” they remember their native city “most faithful, foolish, fond; making her mere–breathed name their bond upon their bond.” And my glee was roused because I had caught Mr. Kipling napping. Here I had found a man not made from dust; one who had no narrow boasts of birthplace or country, one who, if he bragged at all, would brag of his whole round globe against the Martians and the inhabitants of the Moon.
Expression on these subjects was precipitated from E. Rushmore Coglan by the third corner to our table. While Coglan was describing to me the topography along the Siberian Railway the orchestra glided into a medley. The concluding air was “Dixie,” and as the exhilarating notes tumbled forth they were almost overpowered by a great clapping of hands from almost every table.
It is worth a paragraph to say that this remarkable scene can be witnessed every evening in numerous cafés in the City of New York. Tons of brew have been consumed over theories to account for it. Some have conjectured hastily that all Southerners in town hie themselves to cafés at nightfall. This applause of the “rebel” air in a Northern city does puzzle a little; but it is not insolvable. The war with Spain, many years’ generous mint and watermelon crops, a few long–shot winners at the New Orleans race–track, and the brilliant banquets given by the Indiana and Kansas citizens who compose the North Carolina Society have made the South rather a “fad” in Manhattan. Your manicure will lisp softly that your left forefinger reminds her so much of a gentleman’s in Richmond, Va. Oh, certainly; but many a lady has to work now—the war, you know.
When “Dixie” was being played a dark–haired young man sprang up from somewhere with a Mosby guerrilla yell and waved frantically his soft–brimmed hat. Then he strayed through the smoke, dropped into the vacant chair at our table and pulled out cigarettes.
The evening was at the period when reserve is thawed. One of us mentioned three Würzburgers to the waiter; the dark–haired young man acknowledged his inclusion in the order by a smile and a nod. I hastened to ask him a question because I wanted to try out a theory I had.
“Would you mind telling me,” I began, “whether you are from—”
The fist of E. Rushmore Coglan banged the table and I was jarred into silence.
“Excuse me,” said he, “but that’s a question I never like to hear asked. What does it matter where a man is from? Is it fair to judge a man by his post–office address? Why, I’ve seen Kentuckians who hated whiskey, Virginians who weren’t descended from Pocahontas, Indianians who hadn’t written a novel, Mexicans who didn’t wear velvet trousers with silver dollars sewed along the seams, funny Englishmen, spendthrift Yankees, cold–blooded Southerners, narrow–minded Westerners, and New Yorkers who were too busy to stop for an hour on the street to watch a one–armed grocer’s clerk do up cranberries in paper bags. Let a man be a man and don’t handicap him with the label of any section.”
“Pardon me,” I said, “but my curiosity was not altogether an idle one. I know the South, and when the band plays ‘Dixie’ I like to observe. I have formed the belief that the man who applauds that air with special violence and ostensible sectional loyalty is invariably a native of either Secaucus, N.J., or the district between Murray Hill Lyceum and the Harlem River, this city. I was about to put my opinion to the test by inquiring of this gentleman when you interrupted with your own—larger theory, I must confess.”
And now the dark–haired young man spoke to me, and it became evident that his mind also moved along its own set of grooves.
“I should like to be a periwinkle,” said he, mysteriously, “on the top of a valley, and sing tooralloo–ralloo.”
This was clearly too obscure, so I turned again to Coglan.
“I’ve been around the world twelve times,” said he. “I know an Esquimau in Upernavik who sends to Cincinnati for his neckties, and I saw a goat–herder in Uruguay who won a prize in a Battle Creek breakfast food puzzle competition. I pay rent on a room in Cairo, Egypt, and another in Yokohama all the year around. I’ve got slippers waiting for me in a tea–house in Shanghai, and I don’t have to tell ’em how to cook my eggs in Rio de Janeiro or Seattle. It’s a mighty little old world. What’s the use of bragging about being from the North, or the South, or the old manor house in the dale, or Euclid avenue, Cleveland, or Pike’s Peak, or Fairfax County, Va., or Hooligan’s Flats or any place? It’ll be a better world when we quit being fools about some mildewed town or ten acres of swampland just because we happened to be born there.”
“You seem to be a genuine cosmopolite,” I said admiringly. “But it also seems that you would decry patriotism.”
“A relic of the stone age,” declared Coglan, warmly. “We are all brothers—Chinamen, Englishmen, Zulus, Patagonians and the people in the bend of the Kaw River. Some day all this petty pride in one’s city or State or section or country will be wiped out, and we’ll all be citizens of the world, as we ought to be.”
“But while you are wandering in foreign lands,” I persisted, “do not your thoughts revert to some spot—some dear and—”
“Nary a spot,” interrupted E. R. Coglan, flippantly. “The terrestrial, globular, planetary hunk of matter, slightly flattened at the poles, and known as the Earth, is my abode. I’ve met a good many object–bound citizens of this country abroad. I’ve seen men from Chicago sit in a gondola in Venice on a moonlight night and brag about their drainage canal. I’ve seen a Southerner on being introduced to the King of England hand that monarch, without batting his eyes, the information that his grand–aunt on his mother’s side was related by marriage to the Perkinses, of Charleston. I knew a New Yorker who was kidnapped for ransom by some Afghanistan bandits. His people sent over the money and he came back to Kabul with the agent. ‘Afghanistan?’ the natives said to him through an interpreter. ‘Well, not so slow, do you think?’ ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ says he, and he begins to tell them about a cab driver at Sixth avenue and Broadway. Those ideas don’t suit me. I’m not tied down to anything that isn’t 8,000 miles in diameter. Just put me down as E. Rushmore Coglan, citizen of the terrestrial sphere.”
My cosmopolite made a large adieu and left me, for he thought he saw some one through the chatter and smoke whom he knew. So I was left with the would–be periwinkle, who was reduced to Würzburger without further ability to voice his aspirations to perch, melodious, upon the summit of a valley.
I sat reflecting upon my evident cosmopolite and wondering how the poet had managed to miss him. He was my discovery and I believed in him. How was it? “The men that breed from them they traffic up and down, but cling to their cities’ hem as a child to the mother’s gown.”
Not so E. Rushmore Coglan. With the whole world for his—
My meditations were interrupted by a tremendous noise and conflict in another part of the café. I saw above the heads of the seated patrons E. Rushmore Coglan and a stranger to me engaged in terrific battle. They fought between the tables like Titans, and glasses crashed, and men caught their hats up and were knocked down, and a brunette screamed, and a blonde began to sing “Teasing.”
My cosmopolite was sustaining the pride and reputation of the Earth when the waiters closed in on both combatants with their famous flying wedge formation and bore them outside, still resisting.
I called McCarthy, one of the French garçons, and asked him the cause of the conflict.
“The man with the red tie” (that was my cosmopolite), said he, “got hot on account of things said about the bum sidewalks and water supply of the place he come from by the other guy.”
“Why,” said I, bewildered, “that man is a citizen of the world—a cosmopolite. He—”
“Originally from Mattawamkeag, Maine, he said,” continued McCarthy, “and he wouldn’t stand for no knockin’ the place.”
THE COP AND THE ANTHEM
On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats grow kind to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his bench in the park, you may know that winter is near at hand.
A dead leaf fell in Soapy’s lap. That was Jack Frost’s card. Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.
Soapy’s mind became cognisant of the fact that the time had come for him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to provide against the coming rigour. And therefore he moved uneasily on his bench.
The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of soporific Southern skies drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.
For years the hospitable Blackwell’s had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now the time was come. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely in Soapy’s mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city’s dependents. In Soapy’s opinion the Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy’s proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman’s private affairs.
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest.
Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering café, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.
Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready–tied four–in–hand had been presented to him by a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion of him that would show above the table would raise no doubt in the waiter’s mind. A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing—with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demi–tasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough. The total would not be so high as to call forth any supreme manifestation of revenge from the café management; and yet the meat would leave him filled and happy for the journey to his winter refuge.
But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter’s eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering limbo must be thought of.
At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed wares behind plate–glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.
“Where’s the man that done that?” inquired the officer excitedly.
“Don’t you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?” said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good fortune.
The policeman’s mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who smash windows do not remain to parley with the law’s minions. They take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit. Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.
On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak, flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter be betrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.
“Now, get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don’t keep a gentleman waiting.”
“No cop for youse,” said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. “Hey, Con!”
Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter’s rule opens, and beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store two doors away laughed and walked down the street.
Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously termed to himself a “cinch.” A young woman of a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a large policeman of severe demeanour leaned against a water plug.
It was Soapy’s design to assume the role of the despicable and execrated “masher.” The refined and elegant appearance of his victim and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm that would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight little isle.
Soapy straightened the lady missionary’s ready–made tie, dragged his shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with sudden coughs and “hems,” smiled, smirked and went brazenly through the impudent and contemptible litany of the “masher.” With half an eye Soapy saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to her side, raised his hat and said:
“Ah there, Bedelia! Don’t you want to come and play in my yard?”
The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his insular haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of the station–house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand, caught Soapy’s coat sleeve.
“Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you’ll blow me to a pail of suds. I’d have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching.”
With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.
At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in the district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts, vows and librettos. Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it, and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of “disorderly conduct.”
On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin.
The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen.
“‘Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We’ve instructions to lave them be.”
Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a policeman lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling wind.
In a cigar store he saw a well–dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.
“My umbrella,” he said, sternly.
“Oh, is it?” sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. “Well, why don’t you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don’t you call a cop? There stands one on the corner.”
The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman looked at the two curiously.
“Of course,” said the umbrella man—”that is—well, you know how these mistakes occur—I—if it’s your umbrella I hope you’ll excuse me—I picked it up this morning in a restaurant—If you recognise it as yours, why—I hope you’ll—”
“Of course it’s mine,” said Soapy, viciously.
The ex–umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street car that was approaching two blocks away.
Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who could do no wrong.
At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home is a park bench.
But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one violet–stained window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbath anthem. For there drifted out to Soapy’s ears sweet music that caught and held him transfixed against the convolutions of the iron fence.
The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians were few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves—for a little while the scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.
The conjunction of Soapy’s receptive state of mind and the influences about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence.
And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. To–morrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him to–morrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody in the world. He would—
Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman.
“What are you doin’ here?” asked the officer.
“Nothin’,” said Soapy.
“Then come along,” said the policeman.
“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.
MAN ABOUT TOWN
There were two or three things that I wanted to know. I do not care about a mystery. So I began to inquire.
It took me two weeks to find out what women carry in dress suit cases. And then I began to ask why a mattress is made in two pieces. This serious query was at first received with suspicion because it sounded like a conundrum. I was at last assured that its double form of construction was designed to make lighter the burden of woman, who makes up beds. I was so foolish as to persist, begging to know why, then, they were not made in two equal pieces; whereupon I was shunned.
The third draught that I craved from the fount of knowledge was enlightenment concerning the character known as A Man About Town. He was more vague in my mind than a type should be. We must have a concrete idea of anything, even if it be an imaginary idea, before we can comprehend it. Now, I have a mental picture of John Doe that is as clear as a steel engraving. His eyes are weak blue; he wears a brown vest and a shiny black serge coat. He stands always in the sunshine chewing something; and he keeps half–shutting his pocket knife and opening it again with his thumb. And, if the Man Higher Up is ever found, take my assurance for it, he will be a large, pale man with blue wristlets showing under his cuffs, and he will be sitting to have his shoes polished within sound of a bowling alley, and there will be somewhere about him turquoises.
But the canvas of my imagination, when it came to limning the Man About Town, was blank. I fancied that he bad a detachable sneer (like the smile of the Cheshire cat) and attached cuffs; and that was all. Whereupon I asked a newspaper reporter about him.
“Why,” said he, “a ‘Man About Town’ something between a ’rounder’ and a ‘clubman.’ He isn’t exactly—well, he fits in between Mrs. Fish’s receptions and private boxing bouts. He doesn’t—well, he doesn’t belong either to the Lotos Club or to the Jerry McGeogheghan Galvanised Iron Workers’ Apprentices’ Left Hook Chowder Association. I don’t exactly know how to describe him to you. You’ll see him everywhere there’s anything doing. Yes, I suppose he’s a type. Dress clothes every evening; knows the ropes; calls every policeman and waiter in town by their first names. No; he never travels with the hydrogen derivatives. You generally see him alone or with another man.”
My friend the reporter left me, and I wandered further afield. By this time the 3126 electric lights on the Rialto were alight. People passed, but they held me not. Paphian eyes rayed upon me, and left me unscathed. Diners, heimgangers, shop–girls, confidence men, panhandlers, actors, highwaymen, millionaires and outlanders hurried, skipped, strolled, sneaked, swaggered and scurried by me; but I took no note of them. I knew them all; I had read their hearts; they had served. I wanted my Man About Town. He was a type, and to drop him would be an error—a typograph—but no! let us continue.
Let us continue with a moral digression. To see a family reading the Sunday paper gratifies. The sections have been separated. Papa is earnestly scanning the page that pictures the young lady exercising before an open window, and bending—but there, there! Mamma is interested in trying to guess the missing letters in the word N_w Yo_k. The oldest girls are eagerly perusing the financial reports, for a certain young man remarked last Sunday night that he had taken a flyer in Q., X. & Z. Willie, the eighteen–year–old son, who attends the New York public school, is absorbed in the weekly article describing how to make over an old skirt, for he hopes to take a prize in sewing on graduation day.
Grandma is holding to the comic supplement with a two–hours’ grip; and little Tottie, the baby, is rocking along the best she can with the real estate transfers. This view is intended to be reassuring, for it is desirable that a few lines of this story be skipped. For it introduces strong drink.
I went into a café to—and while it was being mixed I asked the man who grabs up your hot Scotch spoon as soon as you lay it down what he understood by the term, epithet, description, designation, characterisation or appellation, viz.: a “Man About Town.”
“Why,” said he, carefully, “it means a fly guy that’s wise to the all–night push—see? It’s a hot sport that you can’t bump to the rail anywhere between the Flatirons—see? I guess that’s about what it means.”
I thanked him and departed.
On the sidewalk a Salvation lassie shook her contribution receptacle gently against my waistcoat pocket.
“Would you mind telling me,” I asked her, “if you ever meet with the character commonly denominated as ‘A Man About Town’ during your daily wanderings?”
“I think I know whom you mean,” she answered, with a gentle smile. “We see them in the same places night after night. They are the devil’s body guard, and if the soldiers of any army are as faithful as they are, their commanders are well served. We go among them, diverting a few pennies from their wickedness to the Lord’s service.”
She shook the box again and I dropped a dime into it.
In front of a glittering hotel a friend of mine, a critic, was climbing from a cab. He seemed at leisure; and I put my question to him. He answered me conscientiously, as I was sure he would.
“There is a type of ‘Man About Town’ in New York,” he answered. “The term is quite familiar to me, but I don’t think I was ever called upon to define the character before. It would be difficult to point you out an exact specimen. I would say, offhand, that it is a man who had a hopeless case of the peculiar New York disease of wanting to see and know. At 6 o’clock each day life begins with him. He follows rigidly the conventions of dress and manners; but in the business of poking his nose into places where he does not belong he could give pointers to a civet cat or a jackdaw. He is the man who has chased Bohemia about the town from rathskeller to roof garden and from Hester street to Harlem until you can’t find a place in the city where they don’t cut their spaghetti with a knife. Your ‘Man About Town’ has done that. He is always on the scent of something new. He is curiosity, impudence and omnipresence. Hansoms were made for him, and gold–banded cigars; and the curse of music at dinner. There are not so many of him; but his minority report is adopted everywhere.
“I’m glad you brought up the subject; I’ve felt the influence of this nocturnal blight upon our city, but I never thought to analyse it before. I can see now that your ‘Man About Town’ should have been classified long ago. In his wake spring up wine agents and cloak models; and the orchestra plays ‘Let’s All Go Up to Maud’s’ for him, by request, instead of Händel. He makes his rounds every evening; while you and I see the elephant once a week. When the cigar store is raided, he winks at the officer, familiar with his ground, and walks away immune, while you and I search among the Presidents for names, and among the stars for addresses to give the desk sergeant.”
My friend, the critic, paused to acquire breath for fresh eloquence. I seized my advantage.
“You have classified him,” I cried with joy. “You have painted his portrait in the gallery of city types. But I must meet one face to face. I must study the Man About Town at first hand. Where shall I find him? How shall I know him?”
Without seeming to hear me, the critic went on. And his cab–driver was waiting for his fare, too.
“He is the sublimated essence of Butt–in; the refined, intrinsic extract of Rubber; the concentrated, purified, irrefutable, unavoidable spirit of Curiosity and Inquisitiveness. A new sensation is the breath in his nostrils; when his experience is exhausted he explores new fields with the indefatigability of a—”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted, “but can you produce one of this type? It is a new thing to me. I must study it. I will search the town over until I find one. Its habitat must be here on Broadway.”
“I am about to dine here,” said my friend. “Come inside, and if there is a Man About Town present I will point him out to you. I know most of the regular patrons here.”
“I am not dining yet,” I said to him. “You will excuse me. I am going to find my Man About Town this night if I have to rake New York from the Battery to Little Coney Island.”
I left the hotel and walked down Broadway. The pursuit of my type gave a pleasant savour of life and interest to the air I breathed. I was glad to be in a city so great, so complex and diversified. Leisurely and with something of an air I strolled along with my heart expanding at the thought that I was a citizen of great Gotham, a sharer in its magnificence and pleasures, a partaker in its glory and prestige.
I turned to cross the street. I heard something buzz like a bee, and then I took a long, pleasant ride with Santos–Dumont.
When I opened my eyes I remembered a smell of gasoline, and I said aloud: “Hasn’t it passed yet?”
A hospital nurse laid a hand that was not particularly soft upon my brow that was not at all fevered. A young doctor came along, grinned, and handed me a morning newspaper.
“Want to see how it happened?” he asked cheerily. I read the article. Its headlines began where I heard the buzzing leave off the night before. It closed with these lines:
“—Bellevue Hospital, where it was said that his injuries were not serious. He appeared to be a typical Man About Town.”
MAMMON AND THE ARCHER
Old Anthony Rockwall, retired manufacturer and proprietor of Rockwall’s Eureka Soap, looked out the library window of his Fifth Avenue mansion and grinned. His neighbour to the right—the aristocratic clubman, G. Van Schuylight Suffolk–Jones—came out to his waiting motor–car, wrinkling a contumelious nostril, as usual, at the Italian renaissance sculpture of the soap palace’s front elevation.
“Stuck–up old statuette of nothing doing!” commented the ex–Soap King. “The Eden Musee’ll get that old frozen Nesselrode yet if he don’t watch out. I’ll have this house painted red, white, and blue next summer and see if that’ll make his Dutch nose turn up any higher.”
And then Anthony Rockwall, who never cared for bells, went to the door of his library and shouted “Mike!” in the same voice that had once chipped off pieces of the welkin on the Kansas prairies.
“Tell my son,” said Anthony to the answering menial, “to come in here before he leaves the house.”
When young Rockwall entered the library the old man laid aside his newspaper, looked at him with a kindly grimness on his big, smooth, ruddy countenance, rumpled his mop of white hair with one hand and rattled the keys in his pocket with the other.
“Richard,” said Anthony Rockwall, “what do you pay for the soap that you use?”
Richard, only six months home from college, was startled a little. He had not yet taken the measure of this sire of his, who was as full of unexpectednesses as a girl at her first party.
“Six dollars a dozen, I think, dad.”
“And your clothes?”
“I suppose about sixty dollars, as a rule.”
“You’re a gentleman,” said Anthony, decidedly. “I’ve heard of these young bloods spending $24 a dozen for soap, and going over the hundred mark for clothes. You’ve got as much money to waste as any of ’em, and yet you stick to what’s decent and moderate. Now I use the old Eureka—not only for sentiment, but it’s the purest soap made. Whenever you pay more than 10 cents a cake for soap you buy bad perfumes and labels. But 50 cents is doing very well for a young man in your generation, position and condition. As I said, you’re a gentleman. They say it takes three generations to make one. They’re off. Money’ll do it as slick as soap grease. It’s made you one. By hokey! it’s almost made one of me. I’m nearly as impolite and disagreeable and ill–mannered as these two old Knickerbocker gents on each side of me that can’t sleep of nights because I bought in between ’em.”
“There are some things that money can’t accomplish,” remarked young Rockwall, rather gloomily.
“Now, don’t say that,” said old Anthony, shocked. “I bet my money on money every time. I’ve been through the encyclopaedia down to Y looking for something you can’t buy with it; and I expect to have to take up the appendix next week. I’m for money against the field. Tell me something money won’t buy.”
“For one thing,” answered Richard, rankling a little, “it won’t buy one into the exclusive circles of society.”
“Oho! won’t it?” thundered the champion of the root of evil. “You tell me where your exclusive circles would be if the first Astor hadn’t had the money to pay for his steerage passage over?”
“And that’s what I was coming to,” said the old man, less boisterously. “That’s why I asked you to come in. There’s something going wrong with you, boy. I’ve been noticing it for two weeks. Out with it. I guess I could lay my hands on eleven millions within twenty–four hours, besides the real estate. If it’s your liver, there’s the Rambler down in the bay, coaled, and ready to steam down to the Bahamas in two days.”
“Not a bad guess, dad; you haven’t missed it far.”
“Ah,” said Anthony, keenly; “what’s her name?”
Richard began to walk up and down the library floor. There was enough comradeship and sympathy in this crude old father of his to draw his confidence.
“Why don’t you ask her?” demanded old Anthony. “She’ll jump at you. You’ve got the money and the looks, and you’re a decent boy. Your hands are clean. You’ve got no Eureka soap on ’em. You’ve been to college, but she’ll overlook that.”
“I haven’t had a chance,” said Richard.
“Make one,” said Anthony. “Take her for a walk in the park, or a straw ride, or walk home with her from church. Chance! Pshaw!”
“You don’t know the social mill, dad. She’s part of the stream that turns it. Every hour and minute of her time is arranged for days in advance. I must have that girl, dad, or this town is a blackjack swamp forevermore. And I can’t write it—I can’t do that.”
“Tut!” said the old man. “Do you mean to tell me that with all the money I’ve got you can’t get an hour or two of a girl’s time for yourself?”
“I’ve put it off too late. She’s going to sail for Europe at noon day after to–morrow for a two years’ stay. I’m to see her alone to–morrow evening for a few minutes. She’s at Larchmont now at her aunt’s. I can’t go there. But I’m allowed to meet her with a cab at the Grand Central Station to–morrow evening at the 8.30 train. We drive down Broadway to Wallack’s at a gallop, where her mother and a box party will be waiting for us in the lobby. Do you think she would listen to a declaration from me during that six or eight minutes under those circumstances? No. And what chance would I have in the theatre or afterward? None. No, dad, this is one tangle that your money can’t unravel. We can’t buy one minute of time with cash; if we could, rich people would live longer. There’s no hope of getting a talk with Miss Lantry before she sails.”
“All right, Richard, my boy,” said old Anthony, cheerfully. “You may run along down to your club now. I’m glad it ain’t your liver. But don’t forget to burn a few punk sticks in the joss house to the great god Mazuma from time to time. You say money won’t buy time? Well, of course, you can’t order eternity wrapped up and delivered at your residence for a price, but I’ve seen Father Time get pretty bad stone bruises on his heels when he walked through the gold diggings.”
That night came Aunt Ellen, gentle, sentimental, wrinkled, sighing, oppressed by wealth, in to Brother Anthony at his evening paper, and began discourse on the subject of lovers’ woes.
“He told me all about it,” said brother Anthony, yawning. “I told him my bank account was at his service. And then he began to knock money. Said money couldn’t help. Said the rules of society couldn’t be bucked for a yard by a team of ten–millionaires.”
“Oh, Anthony,” sighed Aunt Ellen, “I wish you would not think so much of money. Wealth is nothing where a true affection is concerned. Love is all–powerful. If he only had spoken earlier! She could not have refused our Richard. But now I fear it is too late. He will have no opportunity to address her. All your gold cannot bring happiness to your son.”
At eight o’clock the next evening Aunt Ellen took a quaint old gold ring from a moth–eaten case and gave it to Richard.
“Wear it to–night, nephew,” she begged. “Your mother gave it to me. Good luck in love she said it brought. She asked me to give it to you when you had found the one you loved.”
Young Rockwall took the ring reverently and tried it on his smallest finger. It slipped as far as the second joint and stopped. He took it off and stuffed it into his vest pocket, after the manner of man. And then he ‘phoned for his cab.
At the station he captured Miss Lantry out of the gadding mob at eight thirty–two.
“We mustn’t keep mamma and the others waiting,” said she.
“To Wallack’s Theatre as fast as you can drive!” said Richard loyally.
They whirled up Forty–second to Broadway, and then down the white–starred lane that leads from the soft meadows of sunset to the rocky hills of morning.
At Thirty–fourth Street young Richard quickly thrust up the trap and ordered the cabman to stop.
“I’ve dropped a ring,” he apologised, as he climbed out. “It was my mother’s, and I’d hate to lose it. I won’t detain you a minute—I saw where it fell.”
In less than a minute he was back in the cab with the ring.
But within that minute a crosstown car had stopped directly in front of the cab. The cabman tried to pass to the left, but a heavy express wagon cut him off. He tried the right, and had to back away from a furniture van that had no business to be there. He tried to back out, but dropped his reins and swore dutifully. He was blockaded in a tangled mess of vehicles and horses.
One of those street blockades had occurred that sometimes tie up commerce and movement quite suddenly in the big city.
“Why don’t you drive on?” said Miss Lantry, impatiently. “We’ll be late.”
Richard stood up in the cab and looked around. He saw a congested flood of wagons, trucks, cabs, vans and street cars filling the vast space where Broadway, Sixth Avenue and Thirty–fourth street cross one another as a twenty–six inch maiden fills her twenty–two inch girdle. And still from all the cross streets they were hurrying and rattling toward the converging point at full speed, and hurling themselves into the struggling mass, locking wheels and adding their drivers’ imprecations to the clamour. The entire traffic of Manhattan seemed to have jammed itself around them. The oldest New Yorker among the thousands of spectators that lined the sidewalks had not witnessed a street blockade of the proportions of this one.
“I’m very sorry,” said Richard, as he resumed his seat, “but it looks as if we are stuck. They won’t get this jumble loosened up in an hour. It was my fault. If I hadn’t dropped the ring we—”
“Let me see the ring,” said Miss Lantry. “Now that it can’t be helped, I don’t care. I think theatres are stupid, anyway.”
At 11 o’clock that night somebody tapped lightly on Anthony Rockwall’s door.
“Come in,” shouted Anthony, who was in a red dressing–gown, reading a book of piratical adventures.
Somebody was Aunt Ellen, looking like a grey–haired angel that had been left on earth by mistake.
“They’re engaged, Anthony,” she said, softly. “She has promised to marry our Richard. On their way to the theatre there was a street blockade, and it was two hours before their cab could get out of it.
“And oh, brother Anthony, don’t ever boast of the power of money again. A little emblem of true love—a little ring that symbolised unending and unmercenary affection—was the cause of our Richard finding his happiness. He dropped it in the street, and got out to recover it. And before they could continue the blockade occurred. He spoke to his love and won her there while the cab was hemmed in. Money is dross compared with true love, Anthony.”
“All right,” said old Anthony. “I’m glad the boy has got what he wanted. I told him I wouldn’t spare any expense in the matter if—”
“But, brother Anthony, what good could your money have done?”
“Sister,” said Anthony Rockwall. “I’ve got my pirate in a devil of a scrape. His ship has just been scuttled, and he’s too good a judge of the value of money to let drown. I wish you would let me go on with this chapter.”
The story should end here. I wish it would as heartily as you who read it wish it did. But we must go to the bottom of the well for truth.
The next day a person with red hands and a blue polka–dot necktie, who called himself Kelly, called at Anthony Rockwall’s house, and was at once received in the library.
“Well,” said Anthony, reaching for his chequebook, “it was a good bilin’ of soap. Let’s see—you had $5,000 in cash.”
“I paid out $300 more of my own,” said Kelly. “I had to go a little above the estimate. I got the express wagons and cabs mostly for $5; but the trucks and two–horse teams mostly raised me to $10. The motormen wanted $10, and some of the loaded teams $20. The cops struck me hardest—$50 I paid two, and the rest $20 and $25. But didn’t it work beautiful, Mr. Rockwall? I’m glad William A. Brady wasn’t onto that little outdoor vehicle mob scene. I wouldn’t want William to break his heart with jealousy. And never a rehearsal, either! The boys was on time to the fraction of a second. It was two hours before a snake could get below Greeley’s statue.”
“Thirteen hundred—there you are, Kelly,” said Anthony, tearing off a check. “Your thousand, and the $300 you were out. You don’t despise money, do you, Kelly?”
“Me?” said Kelly. “I can lick the man that invented poverty.”
Anthony called Kelly when he was at the door.
“You didn’t notice,” said he, “anywhere in the tie–up, a kind of a fat boy without any clothes on shooting arrows around with a bow, did you?”
“Why, no,” said Kelly, mystified. “I didn’t. If he was like you say, maybe the cops pinched him before I got there.”
“I thought the little rascal wouldn’t be on hand,” chuckled Anthony. “Good–by, Kelly.”