Waifs and Strays [Part 1]
Part 1 out of 2
Waifs and Strays
by O Henry
The Red Roses of Tonia
Round The Circle
The Rubber Plant's Story
Out of Nazareth
Confessions of a Humorist
The Sparrows in Madison Square
Hearts and Hands
The Detective Detector
The Dog and the Playlet
A Little Talk About Mobs
The Snow Man
THE RED ROSES OF TONIA
A trestle burned down on the International Railroad. The south-
bound from San Antonio was cut off for the next forty-eight hours.
On that train was Tonia Weaver's Easter hat.
Espirition, the Mexican, who had been sent forty miles in a
buckboard from the Espinosa Ranch to fetch it, returned with a
shrugging shoulder and hands empty except for a cigarette. At
the small station, Nopal, he had learned of the delayed train and,
having no commands to wait, turned his ponies toward the ranch
Now, if one supposes that Easter, the Goddess of Spring, cares any
more for the after-church parade on Fifth Avenue than she does for
her loyal outfit of subjects that assemble at the meeting-house at
Cactus, Tex., a mistake has been made. The wives and daughters of
the ranchmen of the Frio country put forth Easter blossoms of new
hats and gowns as faithfully as is done anywhere, and the Southwest
is, for one day, a mingling of prickly pear, Paris, and paradise.
And now it was Good Friday, and Tonia Weaver's Easter hat blushed
unseen in the desert air of an impotent express car, beyond the
burned trestle. On Saturday noon the Rogers girls, from the
Shoestring Ranch, and Ella Reeves, from the Anchor-O, and Mrs.
Bennet and Ida, from Green Valley, would convene at the Espinosa
and pick up Tonia. With their Easter hats and frocks carefully
wrapped and bundled against the dust, the fair aggregation would
then merrily jog the ten miles to Cactus, where on the morrow they
would array themselves, subjugate man, do homage to Easter, and
cause jealous agitation among the lilies of the field.
Tonia sat on the steps of the Espinosa ranch house flicking gloomily
with a quirt at a tuft of curly mesquite. She displayed a frown
and a contumelious lip, and endeavored to radiate an aura of
disagreeableness and tragedy.
"I hate railroads," she announced positively. "And men. Men pretend
to run them. Can you give any excuse why a trestle should burn? Ida
Bennet's hat is to be trimmed with violets. I shall not go one step
toward Cactus without a new hat. If I were a man I would get one."
Two men listened uneasily to this disparagement of their kind. One
was Wells Pearson, foreman of the Mucho Calor cattle ranch. The
other was Thompson Burrows, the prosperous sheepman from the Quintana
Valley. Both thought Tonia Weaver adorable, especially when she
railed at railroads and menaced men. Either would have given up his
epidermis to make for her an Easter hat more cheerfully than the
ostrich gives up his tip or the aigrette lays down its life. Neither
possessed the ingenuity to conceive a means of supplying the sad
deficiency against the coming Sabbath. Pearson's deep brown face and
sunburned light hair gave him the appearance of a schoolboy seized by
one of youth's profound and insolvable melancholies. Tonia's plight
grieved him through and through. Thompson Burrows was the more
skilled and pliable. He hailed from somewhere in the East originally;
and he wore neckties and shoes, and was made dumb by woman's presence.
"The big water-hole on Sandy Creek," said Pearson, scarcely hoping to
make a hit, "was filled up by that last rain."
"Oh! Was it?" said Tonia sharply. "Thank you for the information.
I suppose a new hat is nothing to you, Mr. Pearson. I suppose you
think a woman ought to wear an old Stetson five years without a
change, as you do. If your old water-hole could have put out the
fire on that trestle you might have some reason to talk about it."
"I am deeply sorry," said Burrows, warned by Pearson's fate, "that
you failed to receive your hat, Miss Weaver--deeply sorry, indeed.
If there was anything I could do--"
"Don't bother," interrupted Tonia, with sweet sarcasm. "If there was
anything you could do, you'd be doing it, of course. There isn't."
Tonia paused. A sudden sparkle of hope had come into her eye. Her
frown smoothed away. She had an inspiration.
"There's a store over at Lone Elm Crossing on the Nueces," she said,
"that keeps hats. Eva Rogers got hers there. She said it was the
latest style. It might have some left. But it's twenty-eight miles
to Lone Elm."
The spurs of two men who hastily arose jingled; and Tonia almost
smiled. The Knights, then, were not all turned to dust; nor were
their rowels rust.
"Of course," said Tonia, looking thoughtfully at a white gulf cloud
sailing across the cerulean dome, "nobody could ride to Lone Elm and
back by the time the girls call by for me to-morrow. So, I reckon
I'll have to stay at home this Easter Sunday."
And then she smiled.
"Well, Miss Tonia," said Pearson, reaching for his hat, as guileful
as a sleeping babe. "I reckon I'll be trotting along back to Mucho
Calor. There's some cutting out to be done on Dry Branch first thing
in the morning; and me and Road Runner has got to be on hand. It's
too bad your hat got sidetracked. Maybe they'll get that trestle
mended yet in time for Easter."
"I must be riding, too, Miss Tonia," announced Burrows, looking at
his watch. "I declare, it's nearly five o'clock! I must be out at
my lambing camp in time to help pen those crazy ewes."
Tonia's suitors seemed to have been smitten with a need for haste.
They bade her a ceremonious farewell, and then shook each other's
hands with the elaborate and solemn courtesy of the Southwesterner.
"Hope I'll see you again soon, Mr. Pearson," said Burrows.
"Same here," said the cowman, with the serious face of one whose
friend goes upon a whaling voyage. "Be gratified to see you ride
over to Mucho Calor any time you strike that section of the range."
Pearson mounted Road Runner, the soundest cow-pony on the Frio, and
let him pitch for a minute, as he always did on being mounted, even
at the end of a day's travel.
"What kind of a hat was that, Miss Tonia," he called, "that you
ordered from San Antone? I can't help but be sorry about that hat."
"A straw," said Tonia; "the latest shape, of course; trimmed with red
roses. That's what I like--red roses."
"There's no color more becoming to your complexion and hair," said
"It's what I like," said Tonia. "And of all the flowers, give me red
roses. Keep all the pinks and blues for yourself. But what's the
use, when trestles burn and leave you without anything? It'll be a
dry old Easter for me!"
Pearson took off his hat and drove Road Bunner at a gallop into the
chaparral east of the Espinosa ranch house.
As his stirrups rattled against the brush Burrows's long-legged
sorrel struck out down the narrow stretch of open prairie to the
Tonia hung up her quirt and went into the sitting-room.
"I'm mighty sorry, daughter, that you didn't get your hat," said her
"Oh, don't worry, mother," said Tonia, coolly. "I'll have a new hat,
all right, in time to-morrow."
When Burrows reached the end of the strip of prairie he pulled his
sorrel to the right and let him pick his way daintily across a
sacuista flat through which ran the ragged, dry bed of an arroyo.
Then up a gravelly hill, matted with bush, the hoarse scrambled, and
at length emerged, with a snort of satisfaction into a stretch of
high, level prairie, grassy and dotted with the lighter green of
mesquites in their fresh spring foliage. Always to the right Burrows
bore, until in a little while he struck the old Indian trail that
followed the Nueces southward, and that passed, twenty-eight miles
to the southeast, through Lone Elm.
Here Burrows urged the sorrel into a steady lope. As he settled
himself in the saddle for a long ride he heard the drumming of hoofs,
the hollow "thwack" of chaparral against wooden stirrups, the whoop
of a Comanche; and Wells Pearson burst out of the brush at the right
of the trail like a precocious yellow chick from a dark green Easter
Except in the presence of awing femininity melancholy found no place
in Pearson's bosom. In Tonia's presence his voice was as soft as a
summer bullfrog's in his reedy nest. Now, at his gleesome yawp,
rabbits, a mile away, ducked their ears, and sensitive plants closed
their fearful fronds.
"Moved your lambing camp pretty far from the ranch, haven't you,
neighbor?" asked Pearson, as Road Runner fell in at the sorrel's
"Twenty-eight miles," said Burrows, looking a little grim. Pearson's
laugh woke an owl one hour too early in his water-elm on the river
bank, half a mile away.
"All right for you, sheepman. I like an open game, myself. We're
two locoed he-milliners hat-hunting in the wilderness. I notify you.
Burr, to mind your corrals. We've got an even start, and the one
that gets the headgear will stand some higher at the Espinosa."
"You've got a good pony," said Burrows, eyeing Road Runner's barrel-
like body and tapering legs that moved as regularly as the pistonrod
of an engine. "It's a race, of course; but you're too much of a
horseman to whoop it up this soon. Say we travel together till we
get to the home stretch."
"I'm your company," agreed Pearson, "and I admire your sense. If
there's hats at Lone Elm, one of 'em shall set on Miss Tonia's brow
to-morrow, and you won't be at the crowning. I ain't bragging, Burr,
but that sorrel of yours is weak in the fore-legs."
"My horse against yours," offered Burrows, "that Miss Tonia wears
the hat I take her to Cactus to-morrow."
"I'll take you up," shouted Pearson. "But oh, it's just like horse-
stealing for me! I can use that sorrel for a lady's animal when--
when somebody comes over to Mucho Calor, and--"
Burrows' dark face glowered so suddenly that the cowman broke off his
sentence. But Pearson could never feel any pressure for long.
"What's all this Easter business about, Burr?" he asked, cheerfully.
"Why do the women folks have to have new hats by the almanac or bust
all cinches trying to get 'em?"
"It's a seasonable statute out of the testaments," explained Burrows.
"It's ordered by the Pope or somebody. And it has something to do
with the Zodiac I don't know exactly, but I think it was invented by
"It's an all-right jubilee if the heathens did put their brand on
it," said Pearson; "or else Tonia wouldn't have anything to do with
it. And they pull it off at church, too. Suppose there ain't but
one hat in the Lone Elm store, Burr!"
"Then," said Burrows, darkly, "the best man of us'll take it back to
"Oh, man!" cried Pearson, throwing his hat high and catching it
again, "there's nothing like you come off the sheep ranges before.
You talk good and collateral to the occasion. And if there's more
"Then," said Burrows, "we'll pick our choice and one of us'll get
back first with his and the other won't."
"There never was two souls," proclaimed Pearson to the stars, "that
beat more like one heart than yourn and mine. Me and you might be
riding on a unicorn and thinking out of the same piece of mind."
At a little past midnight the riders loped into Lone Elm. The half a
hundred houses of the big village were dark. On its only street the
big wooden store stood barred and shuttered.
In a few moments the horses were fastened and Pearson was pounding
cheerfully on the door of old Sutton, the storekeeper.
The barrel of a Winchester came through a cranny of a solid window
shutter followed by a short inquiry.
"Wells Pearson, of the Mucho Calor, and Burrows, of Green Valley,"
was the response. "We want to buy some goods in the store. Sorry
to wake you up but we must have 'em. Come on out, Vncle Tommy, and
get a move on you."
Uncle Tommy was slow, but at length they got him behind his counter
with a kerosene lamp lit, and told him of their dire need.
"Easter hats?" said Uncle Tommy, sleepily. "Why, yes, I believe I
have got just a couple left. I only ordered a dozen this spring.
I'll show 'em to you."
Now, Uncle Tommy Sutton was a merchant, half asleep or awake. In
dusty pasteboard boxes under the counter he had two left-over spring
hats. But, alas! for his commercial probity on that early Saturday
morn--they were hats of two springs ago, and a woman's eye would
have detected the fraud at half a glance. But to the unintelligent
gaze of the cowpuncher and the sheepman they seemed fresh from the
mint of contemporaneous April.
The hats were of a variety once known as "cart-wheels." They were
of stiff straw, colored red, and flat brimmed. Both were exactly
alike, and trimmed lavishly around their crowns with full blown,
immaculate, artificial white roses.
"That all you got, Uncle Tommy?" said Pearson. "All right. Not much
choice here, Burr. Take your pick."
"They're the latest styles" lied Uncle Tommy. "You'd see 'em on
Fifth Avenue, if you was in New York."
Uncle Tommy wrapped and tied each hat in two yards of dark calico for
a protection. One Pearson tied carefully to his calfskin saddle-
thongs; and the other became part of Road Runner's burden. They
shouted thanks and farewells to Uncle Tommy, and cantered back into
the night on the home stretch.
The horsemen jockeyed with all their skill. They rode more slowly
on their way back. The few words they spoke were not unfriendly.
Burrows had a Winchester under his left leg slung over his saddle
horn. Pearson had a six shooter belted around him. Thus men rode
in the Frio country.
At half-past seven in the morning they rode to the top of a hill and
saw the Espinosa Ranch, a white spot under a dark patch of live-oaks,
five miles away.
The sight roused Pearson from his drooping pose in the saddle.
He knew what Road Runner could do. The sorrel was lathered, and
stumbling frequently; Road Runner was pegging away like a donkey
Pearson turned toward the sheepman and laughed. "Good-bye, Burr," he
cried, with a wave of his hand. "It's a race now. We're on the home
He pressed Road Runner with his knees and leaned toward the Espinosa.
Road Runner struck into a gallop, with tossing head and snorting
nostrils, as if he were fresh from a month in pasture.
Pearson rode twenty yards and heard the unmistakable sound of a
Winchester lever throwing a cartridge into the barrel. He dropped
flat along his horse's back before the crack of the rifle reached
It is possible that Burrows intended only to disable the horse--
he was a good enough shot to do that without endangering his rider.
But as Pearson stooped the ball went through his shoulder and then
through Road Runner's neck. The horse fell and the cowman pitched
over his head into the hard road, and neither of them tried to move.
Burrows rode on without stopping.
In two hours Pearson opened his eyes and took inventory. He managed
to get to his feet and staggered back to where Road Runner was
Road Runner was lying there, but he appeared to be comfortable.
Pearson examined him and found that the bullet had "creased" him.
He had been knocked out temporarily, but not seriously hurt. But he
was tired, and he lay there on Miss Tonia's hat and ate leaves from
a mesquite branch that obligingly hung over the road.
Pearson made the horse get up. The Easter hat, loosed from the
saddle-thongs, lay there in its calico wrappings, a shapeless thing
from its sojourn beneath the solid carcass of Road Runner. Then
Pearson fainted and fell head long upon the poor hat again, crumpling
it under his wounded shoulders.
It is hard to kill a cowpuncher. In half an hour he revived--long
enough for a woman to have fainted twice and tried ice-cream for a
restorer. He got up carefully and found Road Runner who was busy
with the near-by grass. He tied the unfortunate hat to the saddle
again, and managed to get himself there, too, after many failures.
At noon a gay and fluttering company waited in front of the Espinosa
Ranch. The Rogers girls were there in their new buckboard, and the
Anchor-O outfit and the Green Valley folks--mostly women. And each
and every one wore her new Easter hat, even upon the lonely prairies,
for they greatly desired to shine forth and do honor to the coming
At the gate stood Tonia. with undisguised tears upon her cheeks.
In her hand she held Burrow's Lone Elm hat, and it was at its white
roses, hated by her, that she wept. For her friends were telling
her, with the ecstatic joy of true friends, that cart-wheels could
not be worn, being three seasons passed into oblivion.
"Put on your old hat and come, Tonia," they urged.
"For Easter Sunday?" she answered. "I'll die first." And wept
The hats of the fortunate ones were curved and twisted into the style
of spring's latest proclamation.
A strange being rode out of the brush among them, and there sat his
horse languidly. He was stained and disfigured with the green of the
grass and the limestone of rocky roads.
"Hallo, Pearson," said Daddy Weaver. "Look like you've been breaking
a mustang. What's that you've got tied to your saddle--a pig in a
"Oh, come on, Tonia, if you're going," said Betty Rogers. "We mustn't
wait any longer. We've saved a seat in the buckboard for you. Never
mind the hat. That lovely muslin you've got on looks sweet enough
with any old hat."
Pearson was slowly untying the queer thing on his saddle. Tonia
looked at him with a sudden hope. Pearson was a man who created
hope. He got the thing loose and handed it to her. Her quick
fingers tore at the strings.
"Best I could do," said Pearson slowly. "What Road Runner and me
done to it will be about all it needs."
"Oh, oh! it's just the right shape," shrieked Tonia. "And red roses!
Wait till I try it on!"
She flew in to the glass, and out again, beaming, radiating,
"Oh, don't red become her?" chanted the girls in recitative. "Hurry
Tonia stopped for a moment by the side of Road Runner.
"Thank you, thank you, Wells," she said, happily. "It's just what
I wanted. Won't you come over to Cactus to-morrow and go to church
"If I can," said Pearson. He was looking curiously at her hat, and
then he grinned weakly.
Tonia flew into the buckboard like a bird. The vehicles sped away
"What have you been doing, Pearson?" asked Daddy Weaver. "You ain't
looking so well as common."
"Me?" said Pearson. "I've been painting flowers. Them roses was
white when I left Lone Elm. Help me down, Daddy Weaver, for I
haven't got any more paint to spare."
ROUND THE CIRCLE
[This story is especially interesting as an early treatment (1902)
of the theme afterward developed with a surer hand in The Pendulum.]
"Find yo' shirt all right, Sam?" asked Mrs. Webber, from her chair
under the live-oak, where she was comfortably seated with a paper-
back volume for company.
"It balances perfeckly, Marthy," answered Sam, with a suspicious
pleasantness in his tone. "At first I was about ter be a little
reckless and kick 'cause ther buttons was all off, but since I
diskiver that the button holes is all busted out, why, I wouldn't
go so fur as to say the buttons is any loss to speak of."
"Oh, well," said his wife, carelessly, "put on your necktie--that'll
keep it together."
Sam Webber's sheep ranch was situated in the loneliest part of the
country between the Nueces and the Frio. The ranch house--a two-room
box structure--was on the rise of a gently swelling hill in the midst
of a wilderness of high chaparral. In front of it was a small
clearing where stood the sheep pens, shearing shed, and wool house.
Only a few feet back of it began the thorny jungle.
Sam was going to ride over to the Chapman ranch to see about buying
some more improved merino rams. At length he came out, ready for his
ride. This being a business trip of some importance, and the Chapman
ranch being almost a small town in population and size, Sam had
decided to "dress up" accordingly. The result was that he had
transformed himself from a graceful, picturesque frontiersman into
something much less pleasing to the sight. The tight white collar
awkwardly constricted his muscular, mahogany-colored neck. The
buttonless shirt bulged in stiff waves beneath his unbuttoned vest.
The suit of "ready-made" effectually concealed the fine lines of
his straight, athletic figure. His berry-brown face was set to the
melancholy dignity befitting a prisoner of state. He gave Randy,
his three-year-old son, a pat on the head, and hurried out to where
Mexico, his favorite saddle horse, was standing.
Marthy, leisurely rocking in her chair, fixed her place in the book
with her finger, and turned her head, smiling mischievously as she
noted the havoc Sam had wrought with his appearance in trying to
~Well, ef I must say it, Sam," she drawled, "you look jest like one
of them hayseeds in the picture papers, 'stead of a free and
independent sheepman of the State o' Texas."
Sam climbed awkwardly into the saddle.
"You're the one ought to be 'shamed to say so," he replied hotly.
"'Stead of 'tendin' to a man's clothes you're al'ays setting around
a-readin' them billy-by-dam yaller-back novils."
"Oh, shet up and ride along," said Mrs. Webber, with a little jerk at
the handles of her chair; "you always fussin' 'bout my readin'. I do
a-plenty; and I'll read when I wanter. I live in the bresh here like
a varmint, never seein' nor hearin' nothin', and what other 'musement
kin I have? Not in listenin' to you talk, for it's complain,
complain, one day after another. Oh, go on, Sam, and leave me in
Sam gave his pony a squeeze with his knees and "shoved" down the
wagon trail that connected his ranch with the old, open Government
road. It was eight o'clock, and already beginning to be very warm.
He should have started three hours earlier. Chapman ranch was only
eighteen miles away, but there was a road for only three miles of the
distance. He had ridden over there once with one of the Half-Moon
cowpunchers, and he had the direction well-defined in his mind.
Sam turned off the old Government road at the split mesquite, and
struck down the arroyo of the Quintanilla. Here was a narrow stretch
of smiling valley, upholstered with a rich mat of green, curly
mesquite grass; and Mexico consumed those few miles quickly with his
long, easy lope. Again, upon reaching Wild Duck Waterhole, must he
abandon well-defined ways. He turned now to his right up a little
hill, pebble-covered, upon which grew only the tenacious and thorny
prickly pear and chaparral. At the summit of this he paused to take
his last general view of the landscape for, from now on, he must wind
through brakes and thickets of chaparral, pear, and mesquite, for the
most part seeing scarcely farther than twenty yards in any direction,
choosing his way by the prairie-dweller's instinct, guided only by an
occasional glimpse of a far distant hilltop, a peculiarly shaped knot
of trees, or the position of the sun.
Sam rode down the sloping hill and plunged into the great pear flat
that lies between the Quintanilla and the Piedra.
In about two hours he discovered that he was lost. Then came the
usual confusion of mind and the hurry to get somewhere. Mexico was
anxious to redeem the situation, twisting with alacrity along the
tortuous labyrinths of the jungle. At the moment his master's
sureness of the route had failed his horse had divined the fact.
There were no hills now that they could climb to obtain a view of
the country. They came upon a few, but so dense and interlaced was
the brush that scarcely could a rabbit penetrate the mass. They
were in the great, lonely thicket of the Frio bottoms.
It was a mere nothing for a cattleman or a sheepman to be lost for a
day or a night. The thing often happened. It was merely a matter
of missing a meal or two and sleeping comfortably on your saddle
blankets on a soft mattress of mesquite grass. But in Sam's case
it was different. He had never been away from his ranch at night.
Marthy was afraid of the country--afraid of Mexicans, of snakes, of
panthers, even of sheep. So he had never left her alone.
It must have been about four in the afternoon when Sam's conscience
awoke. He was limp and drenched, rather from anxiety than the heat
or fatigue. Until now he had been hoping to strike the trail that
led to the Frio crossing and the Chapman ranch. He must have
crossed it at some dim part of it and ridden beyond. If so he was
now something like fifty miles from home. If he could strike a
ranch-- a camp--any place where he could get a fresh horse and
inquire the road, he would ride all night to get back to Marthy and
So, I have hinted, Sam was seized bv remorse. There was a big lump
in his throat as he thought of the cross words he had spoken to his
wife. Surely it was hard enough for her to live in that horrible
country witnout having to bear the burden of his abuse. He cursed
himself grimly, and felt a sudden flush of shame that over-glowed the
summer heat as he remembered the many times he had flouted and railed
at her because she had a liking for reading fiction.
"Ther only so'ce ov amusement ther po' gal's got," said Sam aloud,
with a sob, which unaccustomed sound caused Mexico to shy a bit.
A-livin with a sore-headed kiote like me--a low-down skunk that ought
to be licked to death with a saddle cinch--a-cookin' and a-washin'
and a-livin' on mutton and beans and me abusin' her fur takin' a
squint or two in a little book!"
He thought of Marthy as she had been when he first met her in
Dogtown--smart, pretty, and saucy--before the sun had turned the
roses in her cheeks brown and the silence of the chaparral had
tamed her ambitions.
"Ef I ever speaks another hard word to ther little gal," muttered
Sam, "or fails in the love and affection that's coming to her in
the deal, I hopes a wildcat'll t'ar me to pieces."
He knew what he would do. He would write to Garcia & Jones, his San
Antonio merchants where he bought his supplies and sold his wool, and
have them send down a big box of novels and reading matter for Marthy.
Things were going to be different. He wondered whether a little
piano could be placed in one of the rooms of the ranch house without
the family having to move out of doors.
In nowise calculated to allay his self-reproach was the thought that
Marthy and Randy would have to pass the night alone. In spite of
their bickerings, when night came Marthy was wont to dismiss her fears
of the country, and rest her head upon Sam's strong arm with a sigh
of peaceful content and dependence. And were her fears so groundless?
Sam thought of roving, marauding Mexicans, of stealthy cougars that
sometimes invaded the ranches, of rattlesnakes, centipedes, and a
dozen possible dangers. Marthy would be frantic with fear. Randy
would cry, and call for dada to come.
Still the interminable succession of stretches of brush, cactus, and
mesquite. Hollow after hollow, slope after slope--all exactly alike
--all familiar by constant repetition, and yet all strange and new.
If he could only arrive ~somewhere.~
The straight line is Art. Nature moves in circles. A
straightforward man is more an artificial product than a diplomatist
is. Men lost in the snow travel in exact circles until they sink,
exhausted, as their footprints have attested. Also, travellers in
philosophy and other mental processes frequently wind up at their
It was when Sam Webber was fullest of contrition and good resolves
that Mexico, with a heavy sigh, subsided from his regular, brisk trot
into a slow complacent walk. They were winding up an easy slope
covered with brush ten or twelve feet high.
"I say now, Mex," demurred Sam, "this here won't do. I know you're
plumb tired out, but we got ter git along. Oh, Lordy, ain't there
no mo' houses in the world!" He gave Mexico a smart kick with his
Mexico gave a protesting grunt as if to say: "What's the use of
that, now we're so near?" He quickened his gait into a languid trot.
Rounding a great clump of black chaparral he stopped short. Sam
dropped the bridle reins and sat, looking into the back door of his
own house, not ten yards away.
Marthy, serene and comfortable, sat in her rocking-chair before the
door in the shade of the house, with her feet resting luxuriously
upon the steps. Randy, who was playing with a pair of spurs on the
ground, looked up for a moment at his father and went on spinning the
rowels and singing a little song. Marthy turned her head lazily
against the back of the chair and considered the arrivals with
emotionless eyes. She held a book in her lap with her finger holding
Sam shook himself queerly, like a man coming out of a dream, and
slowly dismounted. He moistened his dry lips.
"I see you are still a-settin'," he said, "a-readin' of them billy-
by-dam yaller-back novils."
Sam had traveled round the circle and was himself again.
THE RUBBER PLANT'S STORY
We rubber plants form the connecting link between the vegetable
kingdom and the decorations of a Waldorf-Astoria scene in a Third
Avenue theatre. I haven't looked up our family tree, but I believe
we were raised by grafting a gum overshoe on to a 30-cent table
d'hote stalk of asparagus. You take a white bulldog with a Bourke
Cockran air of independence about him and a rubber plant and there
you have the fauna and flora of a flat. What the shamrock is to
Ireland the rubber plant is to the dweller in flats and furnished
rooms. We get moved from one place to another so quickly that the
only way we can get our picture taken is with a kinetoscope. We are
the vagrant vine and the flitting fig tree. You know the proverb:
"Where the rubber plant sits in the window the moving van draws up
to the door."
We are the city equivalent to the woodbine and the honeysuckle. No
other vegetable except the Pittsburg stogie can withstand as much
handling as we can. When the family to which we belong moves into
a flat they set us in the front window and we become lares and
penates, fly-paper and the peripatetic emblem of "Home Sweet Home."
We aren't as green as we look. I guess we are about what you would
call the soubrettes of the conservatory. You try sitting in the
front window of a $40 flat in Manhattan and looking out into the
street all day, and back into the flat at night, and see whether you
get wise or not--hey? Talk about the tree of knowledge of good and
evil in the garden of Eden--say! suppose there had been a rubber
plant there when Eve--but I was going to tell you a story.
The first thing I can remember I had only three leaves and belonged
to a member of the pony ballet. I was kept in a sunny window, and
was generally watered with seltzer and lemon. I had plenty of fun
in those days. I got cross-eyed trying to watch the numbers of the
automobiles in the street and the dates on the labels inside at the
Well, then the angel that was molting for the musical comedy lost his
last feather and the company broke up. The ponies trotted away and I
was left in the window ownerless. The janitor gave me to a refined
comedy team on the eighth floor, and in six weeks I had been set in
the window of five different flats I took on experience and put out
two more leaves.
Miss Carruthers, of the refined comedy team--did you ever see her
cross both feet back of her neck?--gave me to a friend of hers who
had made an unfortunate marriage with a man in a store. Consequently
I was placed in the window of a furnished room, rent in advance,
water two flights up, gas extra after ten o'clock at night. Two of
my leaves withered off here. Also, I was moved from one room to
another so many times that I got to liking the odor of the pipes the
I don't think I ever had so dull a time as I did with this lady.
There was never anything amusing going on inside--she was devoted
to her husband, and, besides leaning out the window and flirting with
the iceman, she never did a thing toward breaking the monotony.
When the couple broke up they left me with the rest of their goods at
a second-hand store. I was put out in front for sale along with the
jobbiest lot you ever heard of being lumped into one bargain. Think
of this little cornucopia of wonders, all for $1.89: Henry James's
works, six talking machine records, one pair of tennis shoes, two
bottles of horse radish, and a rubber plant--that was me!
One afternoon a girl came along and stopped to look at me. She had
dark hair and eyes, and she looked slim, and sad around the mouth.
"Oh, oh!" she says to herself. "I never thought to see one up here."
She pulls out a little purse about as thick as one of my leaves and
fingers over some small silver in it. Old Koen, always on the
lockout, is ready, rubbing his hands. This girl proceeds to turn
down Mr. James and the other commodities. Rubber plants or nothing
is the burden of her song. And at last Koen and she come together at
39 cents, and away she goes with me in her arms.
She was a nice girl, but not my style. Too quiet and sober looking.
Thinks I to myself: "I'll just about land on the fire-escape of a
tenement, six stories up. And I'll spend the next six months looking
at clothes on the line."
But she carried me to a nice little room only three flights up in
quite a decent street. And she put me in the window, of course. And
then she went to work and cooked dinner for herself. And what do you
suppose she had? Bread and tea and a little dab of jam! Nothing
else. Not a single lobster, nor so much as one bottle of champagne.
The Carruthers comedy team had both every evening, except now and
then when they took a notion for pig's knuckle and kraut.
After she had finished her dinner my new owner came to the window
and leaned down close to my leaves and cried softly to herself for a
while. It made me feel funny. I never knew anybody to cry that way
over a rubber plant before. Of course, I've seen a few of 'em turn
on the tears for what they could get out of it, but she seemed to be
crying just for the pure enjoyment of it. She touched my leaves like
she loved 'em, and she bent down her head and kissed each one of 'em.
I guess I'm about the toughest specimen of a peripatetic orchid on
earth, but I tell you it made me feel sort of queer. Home never was
like that to me before. Generally I used to get chewed by poodles
and have shirt-waists hung on me to dry, and get watered with coffee
grounds and peroxide of hydrogen.
This girl had a piano in the room, and she used to disturb it with
both hands while she made noises with her mouth for hours at a time.
I suppose she was practising vocal music.
One day she seemed very much excited and kept looking at the clock.
At eleven somebody knocked and she let in a stout, dark man with
towsled black hair. He sat down at once at the piano and played
while she sang for him. When she finished she laid one hand on her
bosom and looked at him. He shook his head, and she leaned against
the piano. "Two years already," she said, speaking slowly--"do you
think in two more--or even longer?"
The man shook his head again. "You waste your time," he said,
roughly I thought. "The voice is not there." And then he looked at
her in a peculiar way. "But the voice is not everything," he went
on. "You have looks. I can place you, as I told you if--"
The girl pointed to the door without saying anything, and the dark
man left the room. And then she came over and cried around me again.
It's a good thing I had enough rubber in me to be water-proof.
About that time somebody else knocked at the door. "Thank goodness,"
I said to myself. "Here's a chance to get the water-works turned
off. I hope it's somebody that's game enough to stand a bird and a
bottle to liven things up a little." Tell you the truth, this little
girl made me tired. A rubber plant likes to see a little sport now
and then. I don't suppose there's another green thing in New York
that sees as much of gay life unless it's the chartreuse or the
sprigs of parsley around the dish.
When the girl opens the door in steps a young chap in a traveling cap
and picks her up in his arms, and she sings out "Oh, Dick!" and stays
there long enough to--well, you've been a rubber plant too,
sometimes, I suppose.
"Good thing!" says I to myself. "This is livelier than scales and
weeping. Now there'll be something doing."
"You've got to go back with me," says the young man. "I've come two
thousand miles for you. Aren't you tired of it yet. Bess? You've
kept all of us waiting so long. Haven't you found out yet what is
"The bubble burst only to-day," says the girl. "Come here, Dick, and
see what I found the other day on the sidewalk for sale." She brings
him by the hand and exhibits yours truly. "How one ever got away up
here who can tell? I bought it with almost the last money I had."
He looked at me, but he couldn't keep his eyes off her for more than
a second. "Do you remember the night, Bess," he said, "when we stood
under one of those on the bank of the bayou and what you told me
"Geewillikins!" I said to myself. "Both of them stand under a rubber
plant! Seems to me they are stretching matters somewhat!"
"Do I not," says she, looking up at him and sneaking close to his
vest, "and now I say it again, and it is to last forever. Look,
Dick, at its leaves, how wet they are. Those are my tears, and it
was thinking of you that made them fall."
"The dear old magnolias!" says the young man, pinching one of my
leaves. "I love them all."
Magnolia! Well, wouldn't that--say! those innocents thought I was a
magnolia! What the--well, wasn't that tough on a genuine little old
New York rubber plant?
OUT OF NAZARETH
Okochee, in Georgia, had a boom, and J. Pinkney Bloom came out of
it with a "wad." Okochee came out of it with a half-million-dollar
debt, a two and a half per cent. city property tax, and a city
council that showed a propensity for traveling the back streets of
the town. These things came about through a fatal resemblance of the
river Cooloosa to the Hudson, as set forth and expounded by a Northern
tourist. Okochee felt that New York should not be allowed to consider
itself the only alligator in the swamp, so to speak. And then that
harmless, but persistent, individual so numerous in the South--the man
who is always clamoring for more cotton mills, and is ready to take a
dollar's worth of stock, provided he can borrow the dollar--that man
added his deadly work to the tourist's innocent praise, and Okochee
The Cooloosa River winds through a range of small mountains, passes
Okochee and then blends its waters trippingly, as fall the mellifluous
Indian syllables, with the Chattahoochee.
Okochee rose, as it were, from its sunny seat on the post-office
stoop, hitched up its suspender, and threw a granite dam two hundred
and forty feet long and sixty feet high across the Cooloosa one mile
above the town. Thereupon, a dimpling, sparkling lake backed up
twenty miles among the little mountains. Thus in the great game of
municipal rivalry did Okochee match that famous drawing card, the
Hudson. It was conceded that nowhere could the Palisades be judged
superior in the way of scenery and grandeur. Following the picture
card was played the ace of commercial importance. Fourteen thousand
horsepower would this dam furnish. Cotton mills, factories, and
manufacturing plants would rise up as the green corn after a shower.
The spindle and the flywheel and turbine would sing the shrewd glory
of Okochee. Along the picturesque heights above the lake would rise
in beauty the costly villas and the splendid summer residences of
capital. The naphtha launch of the millionaire would spit among
the romantic coves; the verdured hills would take formal shapes of
terrace, lawn, and park. Money would be spent like water in Okochee,
and water would be turned into money.
The fate of the good town is quickly told. Capital decided not to
invest. Of all the great things promised, the scenery alone came to
fulfilment. The wooded peaks, the impressive promontories of solemn
granite, the beautiful green slants of bank and ravine did all they
could to reconcile Okochee to the delinquency of miserly gold. The
sunsets gilded the dreamy draws and coves with a minting that should
charm away heart-burning. Okochee, true to the instinct of its blood
and clime, was lulled by the spell. It climbed out of the arena,
loosed its suspender, sat down again on the post-office stoop, and
took a chew. It consoled itself by drawling sarcasms at the city
council which was not to blame, causing the fathers, as has been
said, to seek back streets and figure perspiringly on the sinking
fund and the appropriation for interest due.
The youth of Okochee--they who were to carry into the rosy future the
burden of the debt--accepted failure with youth's uncalculating joy.
For, here was sport, aquatic and nautical, added to the meagre round
of life's pleasures. In yachting caps and flowing neckties they
pervaded the lake to its limits. Girls wore silk waists embroidered
with anchors in blue and pink. The trousers of the young men widened
at the bottom, and their hands were proudly calloused by the oft-
plied oar. Fishermen were under the spell of a deep and tolerant
Sailboats and rowboats furrowed the lenient waves, popcorn and ice-
cream booths sprang up about the little wooden pier. Two small
excursion steamboats were built, and plied the delectable waters.
Okochee philosophically gave up the hope of eating turtle soup with
a gold spoon, and settled back, not ill content, to its regular diet
of lotus and fried hominy. And out of this slow wreck of great
expectations rose up J. Pinkney Bloom with his "wad" and his
prosperous, cheery smile.
Needless to say J. Pinkney was no product of Georgia soil. He came
out of that flushed and capable region known as the "North." He
called himself a "promoter"; his enemies had spoken of him as a
"grafter"; Okochee took a middle course, and held him to be no better
nor no worse than a "Yank."
Far up the lake--eighteen miles above the town--the eye of this
cheerful camp-follower of booms had spied out a graft. He purchased
there a precipitous tract of five hundred acres at forty-five cents
per acre; and this he laid out and subdivided as the city of Skyland
--the Queen City of the Switzerland of the South. Streets and avenues
were surveyed; parks designed; corners of central squares reserved for
the "proposed" opera house, board of trade, lyceum, market, public
schools, and "Exposition Hall." The price of lots ranged from five
to five hundred dollars. Positively, no lot would be priced higher
than five hundred dollars.
While the boom was growing in Okochee, J. Pinkney's circulars, maps,
and prospectuses were flying through the mails to every part of the
country. Investors sent in their money by post, and the Skyland Real
Estate Company (J. Pinkney Bloom) returned to each a deed, duly
placed on record, to the best lot, at the price, on hand that day.
All this time the catamount screeched upon the reserved lot of the
Skyland Board of Trade, the opossum swung by his tail over the site
of the exposition hall, and the owl hooted a melancholy recitative to
his audience of young squirrels in opera house square. Later, when
the money was coming in fast, J. Pinkney caused to be erected in the
coming city half a dozen cheap box houses, and persuaded a contingent
of indigent natives to occupy them, thereby assuming the role of
"poulation" in subsequent prospectuses, which became, accordingly,
more seductive and remunerative.
So, when the dream faded and Okochee dropped back to digging bait and
nursing its two and a half per cent. tax, J. Pinkney Bloom (unloving
of checks and drafts and the cold interrogatories of bankers) strapped
about his fifty-two-inch waist a soft leather belt containing eight
thousand dollars in big bills, and said that all was very good.
One last trip he was making to Skyland before departing to other
salad fields. Skyland was a regular post-office, and the steamboat,
~Dixie Belle~, under contract, delivered the mail bag (generally
empty) twice a week. There was a little business there to be settled
--the postmaster was to be paid off for his light but lonely services,
and the "inhabitants" had to be furnished with another month's homely
rations, as per agreement. And then Skyland would know J. Pinkney
Bloom no more. The owners of these precipitous, barren, useless lots
might come and view the scene of their invested credulity, or they
might leave them to their fit tenants, the wild hog and the browsing
deer. The work of the Skyland Real Estate Company was finished.
The little steamboat ~Dixie Belle~ was about to shove off on her
regular up-the-lake trip, when a rickety hired carriage rattled up
to the pier, and a tall, elderly gentleman, in black, stepped out,
signaling courteously but vivaciously for the boat to wait. Time was
of the least importance in the schedule of the ~Dixie Belle~; Captain
MacFarland gave the order, and the boat received its ultimate two
passengers. For, upon the arm of the tall, elderly gentleman, as
he crossed the gangway, was a little elderly lady, with a gray curl
depending quaintly forward of her left ear.
Captain MacFarland was at the wheel; therefore it seemed to J. Pinkney
Bloom, who was the only other passenger, that it should be his to play
the part of host to the boat's new guests, who were, doubtless, on
a scenery-viewing expedition. He stepped forward, with that
translucent, child-candid smile upon his fresh, pink countenance,
with that air of unaffected sincerity that was redeemed from bluffness
only by its exquisite calculation, with that promptitude and masterly
decision of manner that so well suited his calling--with all his stock
in trade well to the front; he stepped forward to receive Colonel and
Mrs. Peyton Blaylock. With the grace of a grand marshal or a wedding
usher, he escorted the two passengers to a side of the upper deck,
from which the scenery was supposed to present itself to the observer
in increased quantity and quality. There, in comfortable steamer
chairs, they sat and began to piece together the random lines that
were to form an intelligent paragraph in the big history of little
"Our home, sir," said Colonel Blaylock, removing his wide-brimmed,
rather shapeless black felt hat, "is in Holly Springs--Holly Springs,
Georgia. I am very proud to make your acquaintance, Mr. Bloom.
Mrs. Blaylock and myself have just arrived in Okochee this morning,
sir, on business--business of importance in connection with the
recent rapid march of progress in this section of our state."
The Colonel smoothed back, with a sweeping gesture, his long, smooth,
locks. His dark eyes, still fiery under the heavy black brows,
seemed inappropriate to the face of a business man. He looked rather
to be an old courtier handed down from the reign of Charles, and
re-attired in a modern suit of fine, but raveling and seam-worn,
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Bloom, in his heartiest prospectus voice,
"things have been whizzing around Okochee. Biggest industrial
revival and waking up to natural resources Georgia ever had. Did
you happen to squeeze in on the ground floor in any of the gilt-
edged grafts, Colonel?"
"Well, sir," said the Colonel, hesitating in courteous doubt, "if I
understand your question, I may say that I took the opportunity to
make an investment that I believe will prove quite advantageous--yes,
sir, I believe it will result in both pecuniary profit and agreeable
"Colonel Blaylock," said the little edlerly lady, shaking her gray
curl and smiling indulgent explanation at J. Pinkney Bloom, "is so
devoted to businesss. He has such a talent for financiering and
markets and investments and those kind of things. I think myself
extremely fortunate in having secured him for a partner on life's
journey--I am so unversed in those formidable but very useful
branches of learning."
Colonel Blaylock rose and made a bow--a bow that belonged with silk
stockings and lace ruffles and velvet.
"Practical affairs," he said, with a wave of his hand toward the
promoter, "are, if I may use the comparison, the garden walks upon
which we tread through life, viewing upon either side of us the
flowers which brighten that journey. It is my pleasure to be able
to lay out a walk or two. Mrs. Blaylock, sir, is one of those
fortunate higher spirits whose mission it is to make the flowers grow.
Perhaps, Mr. Bloom, you have perused the lines of Lorella, the
Southern poetess. That is the name above which Mrs. Blaylock has
contributed to the press of the South for many years."
"Unfortunately," said Mr. Bloom, with a sense of the loss clearly
written upon his frank face, "I'm like the Colonel--in the walk-making
business myself--and I haven't had time to even take a sniff at the
flowers. Poetry is a line I never dealt in. It must be nice, though
"It is the region," smiled Mrs. Blaylock, "in which my soul dwells.
My shawl, Peyton, if you please--the breeze comes a little chilly
from yon verdured hills."
The Colonel drew from the tail pocket of his coat a small shawl of
knitted silk and laid it solicitously about the shoulders of the lady.
Mrs. Blaylock sighed contentedly, and turned her expressive eyes--
still as clear and unworldly as a child's--upon the steep slopes that
were slowly slipping past. Very fair and stately they looked in the
clear morning air. They seemed to speak in familiar terms to the
responsive spirit of Lorella. "My native hills!" she murmured,
dreamily. "See how the foliage drinks the sunlight from the hollows
"Mrs. Blaylock's maiden days," said the Colonel, interpreting her
mood to J. Pinkney Bloom, "were spent among the mountains of northern
Georgia. Mountain air and mountain scenery recall to her those days.
Holly Springs, where we have lived for twenty years, is low and flat.
I fear that she may have suffered in health and spirits by so long a
residence there. That is one portent reason for the change we are
making. My dear, can you not recall those lines you wrote--entitled,
I think, 'The Georgia Hills'--the poem that was so extensively copied
by the Southern press and praised so highly by the Atlanta critics?"
Mrs. Blaylock turned a glance of speaking tenderness upon the
Colonel, fingered for a moment the silvery curl that drooped upon her
bosom, then looked again toward the mountains. Without preliminary
or affectation or demurral she began, in rather thrilling and more
deeply pitched tones to recite these lines:
"The Georgia hills, the Georgia hills!--
Oh, heart, why dost thou pine?
Are not these sheltered lowlands fair
With mead and bloom and vine?
Ah! as the slow-paced river here
Broods on its natal rills
My spirit drifts, in longing sweet,
Back to the Georgia hills.
"And through the close-drawn, curtained night
I steal on sleep's slow wings
Back to my heart's ease--slopes of pine--
Where end my wanderings.
Oh, heaven seems nearer from their tops--
And farther earthly ills--
Even in dreams, if I may but
Dream of my Georgia hills.
The grass upon their orchard sides
Is a fine couch to me;
The common note of each small bird
Passes all minstrelsy.
It would not seem so dread a thing
If, when the Reaper wills,
He might come there and take my hand
Up in the Georgia hills."
Thats great stuff, ma'am," said J. Pinkney Bloom, enthusiastically,
when the poetess had concluded. "I wish I had looked up poetry more
than I have. I was raised in the pine hills myself."
"The mountains ever call to their children," murmured Mrs. Blaylock.
"I feel that life will take on the rosy hue of hope again in among
these beautiful hills. Peyton--a little taste of the currant wine,
if you will be so good. The journey, though delightful in the
extreme, slightly fatigues me." Colonel Blaylock again visited the
depths of his prolific coat, and produced a tightly corked, rough,
black bottle. Mr. Bloom was on his feet in an instant.
"Let me bring a glass, ma'am. You come along, Colonel--there's a
little table we can bring, too. Maybe we can scare up some fruit or
a cup of tea on board. I'll ask Mac."
Mrs. Blaylock reclined at ease. Few royal ladies have held their
royal prerogative with the serene grace of the petted Southern woman.
The Colonel, with an air as gallant and assiduous as in the days of
his courtship, and J. Pinkney Bloom, with a ponderous agility half
professional and half directed by some resurrected, unnamed, long-
forgotten sentiment, formed a diversified but attentive court. The
currant wine--wine home made from the Holly Springs fruit--went round,
and then J. Pinkney began to hear something of Holly Springs life.
It seemed (from the conversation of the Blaylocks) that the Springs
was decadent. A third of the population had moved away. Business--
and the Colonel was an authority on business--had dwindled to nothing.
After carefully studying the field of opportunities open to capital
he had sold his little property there for eight hundred dollars and
invested it in one of the enterprises opened up by the book in
"Might I inquire, sir," said Mr. Bloom, "in what particular line of
business you inserted your coin? I know that town as well as I know
the regulations for illegal use of the mails. I might give you a
hunch as to whether you can make the game go or not."
J. Pinkney, somehow, had a kindly feeling toward these unsophisticated
representatives of by-gone days. They were so simple, impractical,
and unsuspecting. He was glad that he happened not to have a gold
brick or a block of that western Bad Boy Silver Mine stock along with
him. He would have disliked to unload on people he liked so well as
he did these; but there are some temptations toe enticing to be
"No, sir," said Colonel Blaylock. pausing to arrange the queen's wrap.
"I did not invest in Okochee. I have made an exhaustive study of
business conditions, and I regard old settled towns as unfavorable
fields in which to place capital that is limited in amount. Some
months ago, through the kindness of a friend, there came into my
hands a map and description of this new town of Skyland that has
been built upon the lake. The description was so pleasing, the
future of the town set forth in such convincing arguments, and its
increasing prosperity portrayed in such an attractive style that
I decided to take advantage of the opportunity it offered. I
carefully selected a lot in the centre of the business district,
although its price was the highest in the schedule--five hundred
dollars--and made the purchase at once."
"Are you the man--I mean, did you pay five hundred dollars for a
lot in Skyland" asked J. Pinkney Bloom.
"I did, sir," answered the Colonel, with the air of a modest
millionaire explaining his success; "a lot most excellently situated
on the same square with the opera house, and only two squares from
the board of trade. I consider the purchase a most fortuitous one.
It is my intention to erect a small building upon it at once, and
open a modest book and stationery store. During past years I have
met with many pecuniary reverses, and I now find it necessary to
engage in some commercial occupation that will furnish me with a
livelihood. The book and stationery business, though an humble one,
seems to me not inapt nor altogether uncongenial. I am a graduate
of the University of Virginia; and Mrs. Blaylock's really wonderful
acquaintance with belles-lettres and poetic literature should go far
toward insuring success. Of course, Mrs. Blaylock would not
personally serve behind the counter. With the nearly three hundred
dollars I have remaining I can manage the building of a house, by
giving a lien on the lot. I have an old friend in Atlanta who is a
partner in a large book store, and he has agreed to furnish me with
a stock of goods on credit, on extremely easy terms. I am pleased
to hope, sir, that Mrs. Blaylock's health and happiness will be
increased by the change of locality. Already I fancy I can perceive
the return of those roses that were once the hope and despair of
Again followed that wonderful bow, as the Colonel lightly touched the
pale cheek of the poetess. Mrs. Blaylock, blushing like a girl, shook
her curl and gave the Colonel an arch, reproving tap. Secret of
eternal youth--where art thou? Every second the answer comes--"Here,
here, here." Listen to thine own heartbeats, 0 weary seeker after
"Those years," said Mrs. Blaylock, "in Holly Springs were long, long,
long. But now is the promised land in sight. Skyland!--a lovely
"Doubtless," said the Colonel, "we shall be able to secure comfortable
accommodations at some modest hotel at reasonable rates. Our trunks
are in Okochee, to be forwarded when we shall have made permanent
J. Pinkney Bloom excused himself, went forward, and stood by the
captain at the wheel.
"Mac," said he, "do you remember my telling you once that I sold one
of those five-hundred-dollar lots in Skyland?"
"Seems I do," grinned Captain MacFarland.
"I'm not a coward, as a general rule," went on the promoter, "but
I always said that if I ever met the sucker that bought that lot
I'd run like a turkey. Now, you see that old babe-in-the-wood over
there? Well, he's the boy that drew the prize. That was the only
five-hundred-dollar lot that went. The rest ranged from ten dollars
to two hundred. His wife writes poetry. She's invented one about
the high grounds of Georgia, that's way up in G. They're going to
Skyland to open a book store."
"Well," said MacFarland, with another grin, "it's a good thing you
are along, J. P.; you can show 'em around town until they begin to
feel at home."
"He's got three hundred dollars left to build a house and store
with," went on J. Pinkney, as if he were talking to himself. "And
he thinks there's an open house up there."
Captain MacFarland released the wheel long enough to give his leg
a roguish slap.
"You old fat rascal!" he chuckled, with a wink.
"Mac, you're a fool," said J. Pinkney Bloom, coldly. He went back
and joined the Blaylocks, where he sat, less talkative, with that
straight furrow between his brows that always stood as a signal of
schemes being shaped within.
"There's a good many swindles connected with these booms," he said
presently. "What if this Skyland should turn out to be one--that is,
suppose business should be sort of dull there, and no special sale
"My dear sir," said Colonel Blaylock, resting his hand upon the back
of his wife's chair, "three times I have been reduced to almost penury
by the duplicity of others, but I have not yet lost faith in humanity.
If I have been deceived again, still we may glean health and content,
if not worldly profit. I am aware that there are dishonest schemers
in the world who set traps for the unwary, but even they are not
altogether bad. My dear, can you recall those verses entitled 'He
Giveth the Increase,' that you composed for the choir of our church
in Holly Springs?"
"That was four years ago," said Mrs. Blaylock; "perhans I can repeat
a verse or two.
"The lily springs from the rotting mould;
Pearls from the deep sea slime;
Good will come out of Nazareth
All in God's own time.
"To the hardest heart the softening grace
Cometh, at last, to bless;
Guiding it right to help and cheer
And succor in distress.
"I cannot remember the rest. The lines were not ambitious. They
were written to the music composed by a dear friend."
"It's a fine rhyme, just the same," declared Mr. Bloom. "It seems
to ring the bell, all right. I guess I gather the sense of it. It
means that the rankest kind of a phony will give you the best end
of it once in a while."
Mr. Bloom strayed thoughtfully back to the captain, and stood
"Ought to be in sight of the spires and gilded domes of Skyland now
in a few minutes," chirruped MacFarland, shaking with enjoyment.
"Go to the devil," said Mr. Bloom, still pensive.
And now, upon the left bank, they caught a glimpse of a white village,
high up on the hills, smothered among green trees. That was Cold
Branch--no boom town, but the slow growth of many years. Cold Branch
lay on the edge of the grape and corn lands. The big country road ran
just back of the heights. Cold Branch had nothing in common with the
frisky ambition of Okochee with its impertinent lake.
"Mac," said J. Pinkney suddenly, "I want you to stop at Cold Branch.
There's a landing there that they made to use sometimes when the
river was up."
"Can't," said the captain, grinning more broadly. "I've got the
United States mails on board. Right to-day this boat's in the
government service. Do you want to have the poor old captain
keelhauled by Uncle Sam? And the great city of Skyland, all
disconsolate, waiting for its mail? I'm ashamed of your extravagance,
"Mac," almost whispered J. Pinkney, in his danger-line voice, "I
looked into the engine room of the ~Dixie Belle~ a while ago. Don't
you know of somebody that needs a new boiler? Cement and black Japan
can't hide flaws from me. And then, those shares of building and loan
that you traded for repairs--they were all yours, of course. I hate
to mention these things, but--"
"Oh, come now, J. P.," said the captain. "You know I was just
fooling. I'll put you off at Cold Branch, if you say so."
"The other passengers get off there, too," said Mr. Bloom.
Further conversation was held, and in ten minutes the ~Dixie Belle~
turned her nose toward a little, cranky wooden pier on the left bank,
and the captain, relinquishing the wheel to a roustabout, came to the
passenger deck and made the remarkable announcement: "All out for
The Blaylocks and J. Pinkney Bloom disembarked, and the ~Dixie Belle~
proceeded on her way up the lake. Guided by the indefatigable
promoter, they slowly climbed the steep hillside, pausing often to
rest and admire the view. Finally they entered the village of Cold
Branch. Warmly both the Colonel and his wife praised it for its
homelike and peaceful beauty. Mr. Bloom conducted them to a two-story
building on a shady street that bore the legend, "Pine-top Inn." Here
he took his leave, receiving the cordial thanks of the two for his
attentions, the Colonel remarking that he thought they would spend the
remainder of the day in rest, and take a look at his purchase on the
J.Pinkney Bloom walked down Cold Branch's main street. He did not
know this town, but he knew towns, and his feet did not falter.
Presently he saw a sign over a door: "Frank E. Cooly, Attorney-at-Law
and Notary Public." A young man was Mr. Cooly, and awaiting business.
"Get your hat, son," said Mr. Bloom, in his breezy way, "and a blank
deed, and come along. It's a job for you."
"Now," he continued, when Mr. Cooly had responded with alacrity, "is
there a bookstore in town?"
"One," said the lawyer. "Henry Williams's."
"Get there," said Mr. Bloom. "We're going to buy it."
Henry Williams was behind his counter. His store was a small one,
containing a mixture of books, stationery, and fancy rubbish.
Adjoining it was Henry's home--a decent cottage, vine-embowered and
cosy. Henry was lank and soporific, and not inclined to rush his
"I want to buy your house and store," said Mr. Bloom. "I haven't
got time to dicker--name your price."
"It's worth eight hundred," said Henry, too much dazed to ask more
than its value.
"Shut that door," said Mr. Bloom to the lawyer. Then he tore off
his coat and vest, and began to unbutton his shirt.
"Wanter fight about it, do yer?" said Henry Williams, jumping up and
cracking his heels together twice. "All right, hunky--sail in and
cut yer capers."
"Keep your clothes on," said Mr. Bloom. "I'm only going down to
He drew eight one-hundred-dollar bills from his money belt and
planked them down on the counter. Mr. Cooly showed signs of future
promise, for he already had the deed spread out, and was reaching
across the counter for the ink bottle. Never before or since was
such quick action had in Cold Branch.
"Your name, please?" asked the lawyer.
"Make it out to Peyton Blaylock," said Mr. Bloom. "God knows how to
Within thirty minutes Henry Williams was out of business, and Mr.
Bloom stood on the brick sidewalk with Mr. Cooly, who held in his
hand the signed and attested deed.
"You'll find the party at the Pinetop Inn," said J. Pinkney Bloom.
"Get it recorded, and take it down and give it to him. He'll ask you
a hell's mint of questions; so here's ten dollars for the trouble
you'll have in not being able to answer 'em. Never run much to
poetry, did you, young man?"
"Well," said the really talented Cooly, who even yet retained his
right mind, "now and then."
"Dig into it," said Mr. Bloom, "it'll pay you. Never heard a poem,
now, that run something like this, did you?--
A good thing out of Nazareth
Comes up sometimes, I guess,
On hand, all right, to help and cheer
A sucker in distress."
"I believe not," said Mr. Cooly.
"It's a hymn," said J. Pinkney Bloom. "Now, show me the way to a
livery stable, son, for I'm going to hit the dirt road back to
CONFESSIONS OF A HUMORIST
There was a painless stage of incubation that lasted twenty-five
years, and then it broke out on me, and people said I was It.
But they called it humor instead of measles.
The employees in the store bought a silver inkstand for the senior
partner on his fiftieth birthday. We crowded into his private office
to present it. I had been selected for spokesman, and I made a
little speech that I had been preparing for a week.
It made a hit. It was full of puns and epigrams and funny twists
that brought down the house--which was a very solid one in the
wholesale hardware line. Old Marlowe himself actually grinned, and
the employees took their cue and roared.
My reputation as a humorist dates from half-past nine o'clock on
that morning. For weeks afterward my fellow clerks fanned the flame
of my self-esteem. One by one they came to me, saying what an
awfully clever speech that was, old man, and carefully explained to
me the point of each one of my jokes.
Gradually I found that I was expected to keep it up. Others might
speak sanely on business matters and the day's topics, but from me
something gamesome and airy was required.
I was expected to crack jokes about the crockery and lighten up the
granite ware with persiflage. I was second bookkeeper, and if I
failed to show up a balance sheet without something comic about the
footings or could find no cause for laughter in an invoice of plows,
the other clerks were disappointed. By degrees my fame spread, and
I became a local "character." Our town was small enough to make this
possible. The daily newspaper quoted me. At social gatherings I was
I believe I did possess considerable wit and a facility for quick
and spontaneous repartee. This gift I cultivated and improved by
practice. And the nature of it was kindly and genial, not running to
sarcasm or offending others. People began to smile when they saw me
coming, and by the time we had met I generally had the word ready to
broaden the smile into a laugh.
I had married early. We had a charming boy of three and a girl of
five. Naturally, we lived in a vine-covered cottage, and were happy.
My salary as bookkeeper in the hardware concern kept at a distance
those ills attendant upon superfluous wealth.
At sundry times I had written out a few jokes and conceits that I
considered peculiarly happy, and had sent them to certain periodicals
that print such things. All of them had been instantly accepted.
Several of the editors had written to request further contributions.
One day I received a letter from the editor of a famous weekly
publication. He suggested that I submit to him a humorous composition
to fill a column of space; hinting that he would make it a regular
feature of each issue if the work proved satisfactory. I did so, and
at the end of two weeks he offered to make a contract with me for a
year at a figure that was considerably higher than the amount paid me
by the hardware firm.
I was filled with delight. My wife already crowned me in her mind
with the imperishable evergreens of literary success. We had lobster
croquettes and a bottle of blackberry wine for supper that night.
Here was the chance to liberate myself from drudgery. I talked over
the matter very seriously with Louisa. We agreed that I must resign
my place at the store and devote myself to humor.
I resigned. My fellow clerks gave me a farewell banquet. The speech
I made there coruscated. It was printed in full by the Gazette. The
next morning I awoke and looked at the clock.
"Late, by George!" I exclaimed, and grabbed for my clothes. Louisa
reminded me that I was no longer a slave to hardware and contractors'
supplies. I was now a professional humorist.
After breakfast she proudly led me to the little room off the kitchen.
Dear girl! There was my table and chair, writing pad, ink, and pipe
tray. And all the author's trappings--the celery stand full of fresh
roses and honeysuckle, last year's calendar on the wall, the
dictionary, and a little bag of chocolates to nibble between
inspirations. Dear girl!
I sat me to work. The wall paper is patterned with arabesques or
odalisks or--perhaps--it is trapezoids. Upon one of the figures I
fixed my eyes. I bethought me of humor.
A voice startled me--Louisa's voice.
"If you aren't too busy, dear," it said, "come to dinner."
I looked at my watch. Yes, five hours had been gathered in by the
grim scytheman. I went to dinner.
"You mustn't work too hard at first," said Louisa. "Goethe--or was it
Napoleon?--said five hours a day is enough for mental labor. Couldn't
you take me and the children to the woods this afternoon?"
"I am a little tired," I admitted. So we went to the woods.
But I soon got the swing of it. Within a month I was turning out
copy as regular as shipments of hardware.
And I had success. My column in the weekly made some stir, and I was
referred to in a gossipy way by the critics as something fresh in the
line of humorists. I augmented my income considerably by contributing
to other publications.
I picked up the tricks of the trade. I could take a funny idea and
make a two-line joke of it, earning a dollar. With false whiskers
on, it would serve up cold as a quatrain, doubling its producing
value. By turning the skirt and adding a ruffle of rhyme you would
hardly recognize it as ~vers de societe~ with neatly shod feet and a
I began to save up money, and we had new carpets, and a parlor organ.
My townspeople began to look upon me as a citizen of some consequence
instead of the merry trifier I had been when I clerked in the
After five or six months the spontaniety seemed to depart from my
humor. Quips and droll sayings no longer fell carelessly from my
lips. I was sometimes hard run for material. I found myself
listening to catch available ideas from the conversation of my
friends. Sometimes I chewed my pencil and gazed at the wall paper
for hours trying to build up some gay little bubble of unstudied
And then I became a harpy, a Moloch, a Jonah, a vampire, to my
acquaintances. Anxious, haggard, greedy, I stood among them like a
veritable killjoy. Let a bright saying, a witty comparison, a piquant
phrase fall from their lips and I was after it like a hound springing
upon a bone. I dared not trust my memory; but, turning aside guiltily
and meanly, I would make a note of it in my ever-present memorandum
book or upon my cuff for my own future use.
My friends regarded me in sorrow and wonder. I was not the same man.
Where once I had furnished them entertainment and jollity, I now
preyed upon them. No jests from me ever bid for their smiles now.
They were too precious. I could not afford to dispense gratuitously
the means of my livelihood.
I was a lugubrious fox praising the singing of my friends, the crow's,
that they might drop from their beaks the morsels of wit that I
Nearly every one began to avoid me. I even forgot how to smile, not
even paying that much for the sayings I appropriated.
No persons, places, times, or subjects were exempt from my plundering
in search of material. Even in church my demoralized fancy went
hunting among the solemn aisles and pillars for spoil.
Did the minister give out the long-meter doxology, at once I began:
"Doxology --sockdology--sockdolager--meter--meet her."
The sermon ran through my mental sieve, its precepts filtering
unheeded, could I but glean a suggestion of a pun or a ~bon mot~.
The solemnest anthems of the choir were but an accompaniment to my
thoughts as I conceived new changes to ring upon the ancient
comicalities concerning the jealousies of soprano, tenor, and basso.
My own home became a hunting ground. My wife is a singularly feminine
creature, candid, sympathetic, and impulsive. Once her conversation
was my delight, and her ideas a source of unfailing pleasure. Now I
worked her. She was a gold mine of those amusing but lovable
inconsistencies that distinguish the female mind.
I began to market those pearls of unwisdom and humor that should have
enriched only the sacred precincts of home. With devilish cunning I
encouraged her to talk. Unsuspecting, she laid her heart bare. Upon
the cold, conspicuous, common, printed page I offered it to the
A literary Judas, I kissed her and betrayed her. For pieces of silver
I dressed her sweet confidences in the pantalettes and frills of folly
and made them dance in the market place.
Dear Louisa! Of nights I have bent over her cruel as a wolf above
a tender lamb, hearkening even to her soft words murmured in sleep,
hoping to catch an idea for my next day's grind. There is worse to
God help me! Next my fangs were buried deep in the neck of the
fugitive sayings of my little children.
Guy and Viola were two bright fountains of childish, quaint thoughts
and speeches. I found a ready sale for this kind of humor, and was
furnishing a regular department in a magazine with "Funny Fancies of
Childhood." I began to stalk them as an Indian stalks the antelope.
I would hide behind sofas and doors, or crawl on my hands and knees
among the bushes in the yard to eavesdrop while they were at play.
I had all the qualities of a harpy except remorse.
Once, when I was barren of ideas, and my copy must leave in the next
mail, I covered myself in a pile of autumn leaves in the yard, where
I knew they intended to come to play. I cannot bring myself to
believe that Guy was aware of my hiding place, but even if he was,
I would be loath to blame him for his setting fire to the leaves,
causing the destruction of my new suit of clothes, and nearly
cremating a parent.
Soon my own children began to shun me as a pest. Often, when I was
creeping upon them like a melancholy ghoul, I would hear them say
to each other: "Here comes papa," and they would gather their toys
and scurry away to some safer hiding place. Miserable wretch that
And yet I was doing well financially. Before the first year had
passed I had saved a thousand dollars, and we had lived in comfort.
But at what a cost! I am not quite clear as to what a pariah is,
but I was everything that it sounds like. I had no friends, no
amusements, no enjoyment of life. The happiness of my family had
been sacrificed. I was a bee, sucking sordid honey from life's
fairest flowers, dreaded and shunned on account of my stingo.
One day a man spoke to me, with a pleasant and friendly smile. Not
in months had the thing happened. I was passing the undertaking
establishment of Peter Heffelbower. Peter stood in the door and
saluted me. I stopped, strangely wrung in my heart by his greeting.
He asked me inside.
The day was chill and rainy. We went into the back room, where a
fire burned, in a little stove. A customer came, and Peter left me
alone for a while. Presently I felt a new feeling stealing over me
--a sense of beautiful calm and content, I looked around the place.
There were rows of shining rosewood caskets, black palls, trestles,
hearse plumes, mourning streamers, and all the paraphernalia of the
solemn trade. Here was peace, order, silence, the abode of grave
and dignified reflections. Here, on the brink of life, was a little
niche pervaded by the spirit of eternal rest.
When I entered it, the follies of the world abandoned me at the door.
I felt no inclination to wrest a humorous idea from those sombre and
stately trappings. My mind seemed to stretch itself to grateful
repose upon a couch draped with gentle thoughts.
A quarter of an hour ago I was an abandoned humorist. Now I was a
philosopher, full of serenity and ease. I had found a refuge from
humor, from the hot chase of the shy quip, from the degrading pursuit
of the panting joke, from the restless reach after the nimble
I had not known Heffelbower well. When he came back, I let him talk,
fearful that he might prove to be a jarring note in the sweet,
dirgelike harmony of his establishment.
But, no. He chimed truly. I gave a long sigh of happiness. Never
have I known a man's talk to be as magnificently dull as Peter's was.
Compared with it the Dead Sea is a geyser. Never a sparkle or a
glimmer of wit marred his words. Commonplaces as trite and as
plentiful as blackberries flowed from his lips no more stirring in
quality than a last week's tape running from a ticker. Quaking a
little, I tried upon him one of my best pointed jokes. It fell back
ineffectual, with the point broken. I loved that man from then on.
Two or three evenings each week I would steal down to Heffelbower's
and revel in his back room. That was my only joy. I began to rise
early and hurry through my work, that I might spend more time in my
haven. In no other place could I throw off my habit of extracting
humorous ideas from my surroundings. Peter's talk left me no opening
had I besieged it ever so hard.
Under this influence I began to improve in spirits. It was the
recreation from one's labor which every man needs. I surprised one
or two of my former friends by throwing them a smile and a cheery
word as I passed them on the streets. Several times I dumfounded
my family by relaxing long enough to make a jocose remark in their
I had so long been ridden by the incubus of humor that I seized my
hours of holiday with a schoolboy's zest.
Mv work began to suffer. It was not the pain and burden to me that
it had been. I often whistled at my desk, and wrote with far more
fluency than before. I accomplished my tasks impatiently, as anxious
to be off to my helpful retreat as a drunkard is to get to his tavern.
My wife had some anxious hours in conjecturing where I spent my
afternoons. I thought it best not to tell her; women do not
understand these things. Poor girl!--she had one shock out of it.
One day I brought home a silver coffin handle for a paper weight and
a fine, fluffy hearse plume to dust my papers with.
I loved to see them on my desk, and think of the beloved back room
down at Heffelbower's. But Louisa found them, and she shrieked with
horror. I had to console her with some lame excuse for having them,
but I saw in her eyes that the prejudice was not removed. I had to
remove the articles, though, at double-quick time.
One day Peter Heffelbower laid before me a temptation that swept me
off my feet. In his sensible, uninspired way he showed me his books,
and explained that his profits and his business were increasing
rapidly. He had thought of taking in a partner with some cash. He
would rather have me than any one he knew. When I left his place that
afternoon Peter had my check for the thousand dollars I had in the
bank, and I was a partner in his undertaking business.
I went home with feelings of delirious joy, mingled with a certain
amount of doubt. I was dreading to tell my wife about it. But I
walked on air. To give up the writing of humorous stuff, once more
to enjoy the apples of life, instead of squeezing them to a pulp for
a few drops of hard cider to make the pubic feel funny--what a boon
that would be!
At the supper table Louisa handed me some letters that had come during
my absence. Several of them contained rejected manuscript. Ever
since I first began going to Heffelbower's my stuff had been coming
back with alarming frequency. Lately I had been dashing off my jokes
and articles with the greatest fluency. Previously I had labored like
a bricklayer, slowly and with agony.
Presently I opened a letter from the editor of the weekly with which I
had a regular contract. The checks for that weekly article were still
our main dependence. The letter ran thus:
As you are aware, our contract for the year expires with the present
month. While regretting the necessity for so doing, we must say that
we do not care to renew same for the coming year. We were quite
pleased with your style of humor, which seems to have delighted quite
a large proportion of our readers. But for the past two months we
have noticed a decided falling off in its quality. Your earlier work
showed a spontaneous, easy, natural flow of fun and wit. Of late it
is labored, studied, and unconvincing, giving painful evidence of hard
toil and drudging mechanism.
Again regretting that we do not consider your contributions
available any longer, we are, yours sincerely,
I handed this letter to my wife. After she had read it her face grew
extremely long, and there were tears in her eyes.
"The mean old thing!" she exclaimed indignantly. "I'm sure your
pieces are just as good as they ever were. And it doesn't take you
half as long to write them as it did." And then, I suppose, Louisa
thought of the checks that would cease coming. "Oh, John," she
wailed, "what will you do now?"
For an answer I got up and began to do a polka step around the supper
table. I am sure Louisa thought the trouble had driven me mad; and
I think the children hoped it had, for they tore after me, yelling
with glee and emulating my steps. I was now something like their old
playmate as of yore.
"The theatre for us to-night!" I shouted; "nothing less. And a late,
wild, disreputable supper for all of us at the Palace Restaurant.
And then I explained my glee by declaring that I was now a partner in
a prosperous undertaking establishment, and that written jokes might
go hide their heads in sackcloth and ashes for all me.
With the editor's letter in her hand to justify the deed I had done,
my wife could advance no objections save a few mild ones based on
the feminine inability to appreciate a good thing such as the little
back room of Peter Hef--no, of Heffelbower & Co's. undertaking
In conclusion, I will say that to-day you will find no man in our
town as well liked, as jovial, and full of merry sayings as I. My
jokes are again noised about and quoted; once more I take pleasure
in my wife's confidential chatter without a mercenary thought, while
Guy and Viola play at my feet distributing gems of childish humor
without fear of the ghastly tormentor who used to dog their steps,
notebook in hand.
Our business has prospered finely. I keep the books and look after
the shop, while Peter attends to outside matters. He says that my
levity and high spirits would simply turn any funeral into a regular
THE SPARROWS IN MADISON SQUARE
The young man in straitened circumstances who comes to New York City
to enter literature has but one thing to do, provided he has studied
carefully his field in advance. He must go straight to Madison
Square, write an article about the sparrows there, and sell it to the
~Sun~ for $15.
I cannot recall either a novel or a story dealing with the popular
theme of the young writer from the provinces who comes to the
metropolis to win fame and fortune with his pen in which the hero
does not get his start that way. It does seem strange that some
author, in casting about for startlingly original plots, has not hit
upon the idea of having his hero write about the bluebirds in Union
Square and sell it to the ~Herald~. But a search through the files
of metropolitan fiction counts up overwhelmingly for the sparrows
and the old Garden Square, and the ~Sun~ always writes the check.
Of course it is easy to understand why this first city venture of the
budding author is always successful. He is primed by necessity to a
superlative effort; mid the iron and stone and marble of the roaring
city he has found this spot of singing birds and green grass and
trees; every tender sentiment in his nature is baffling with the sweet
pain of homesickness; his genius is aroused as it never may be again;
the birds chirp, the tree branches sway, the noise of wheels is
forgotten; he writes with his soul in his pen--and he sells it to the
~Sun~ for $15.
I had read of this custom during many years before I came to New York.
When my friends were using their strongest arguments to dissuade me
from coming, I only smiled serenely. They did not know of that
sparrow graft I had up my sleeve.
When I arrived in New York, and the car took me straight from the
ferry up Twenty-third Street to Madison Square, I could hear that
$15 check rustling in my inside pocket.
I obtained lodging at an unhyphenated hostelry, and the next morning
I was on a bench in Madison Square almost by the time the sparrows
were awake. Their melodious chirping, the benignant spring foliage of
the noble trees and the clean, fragrant grass reminded me so potently
of the old farm I had left that tears almost came into my eyes.
Then, all in a moment, I felt my inspiration. The brave, piercing
notes of those cheerful small birds formed a keynote to a wonderful,
light, fanciful song of hope and joy and altruism. Like myself, they
were creatures with hearts pitched to the tune of woods and fields;
as I was, so were they captives by circumstance in the discordant,
dull city--yet with how much grace and glee they bore the restraint!
And then the early morning people began to pass through the square to
their work--sullen people, with sidelong glances and glum faces,
hurrying, hurrying, hurrying. And I got my theme cut out clear from
the bird notes, and wrought it into a lesson, and a poem, and a
carnival dance, and a lullaby; and then translated it all into prose
and began to write.
For two hours my pencil traveled over my pad with scarcely a rest.
Then I went to the little room I had rented for two days, and there
I cut it to half, and then mailed it, white-hot, to the ~Sun~.
The next morning I was up by daylight and spent two cents of my
capital for a paper. If the word "sparrow" was in it I was unable to
find it. I took it up to my room and spread it out on the bed and
went over it, column by column. Something was wrong.
Three hours afterward the postman brought me a large envelope
containing my MS. and a piece of inexpensive paper, about 3 inches by
4--I suppose some of you have seen them--upon which was written in
violet ink, "With the ~Sun's~ thanks."
I went over to the square and sat upon a bench. No; I did not think
it necessary to eat any breakfast that morning. The confounded pests
of sparrows were making the square hideous with their idiotic "cheep,
cheep." I never saw birds so persistently noisy, impudent, and
disagreeable in all my life.
By this time, according to all traditions, I should have been standing
in the office of the editor of the ~Sun~. That personage--a tall,
grave, white-haired man--would strike a silver bell as he grasped my
hand and wiped a suspicious moisture from his glasses.
"Mr. McChesney," he would be saying when a subordinate appeared, "this
is Mr. Henry, the young man who sent in that exquisite gem about the
sparrows in Madison Square. You may give him a desk at once. Your
salary, sir, will be $80 a week, to begin with."
This was what I had been led to expect by all writers who have evolved
romances of literary New York.
Something was decidedly wrong with tradition. I could not assume the
blame, so I fixed it upon the sparrows. I began to hate them with
intensity and heat.
At that moment an individual wearing an excess of whiskers, two hats,
and a pestilential air slid into the seat beside me.
"Say, Willie," he muttered cajolingly, "could you cough up a dime out
of your coffers for a cup of coffee this morning?"
"I'm lung-weary, my friend," said I. "The best I can do is three
"And you look like a gentleman, too," said he. "What brung you
"Birds," I said fiercely. "The brown-throated songsters carolling
songs of hope and cheer to weary man toiling amid the city's dust
and din. The little feathered couriers from the meadows and woods
chirping sweetly to us of blue skies and flowering fields. The
confounded little squint-eyed nuisances yawping like a flock of steam
pianos, and stuffing themselves like aldermen with grass seeds and
bugs, while a man sits on a bench and goes without his breakfast.
Yes, sir, birds! look at them!"
As I spoke I picked up a dead tree branch that lay by the bench, and
hurled it with all my force into a close congregation of the sparrows
on the grass. The flock flew to the trees with a babel of shrill
cries; but two of them remained prostrate upon the turf.
In a moment my unsavory friend had leaped over the row of benches and
secured the fluttering victims, which he thrust hurriedly into his
pockets. Then he beckoned me with a dirty forefinger.
"Come on, cully," he said hoarsely. "You're in on the feed."
Thank you very much!
Weakly I followed my dingy acquaintance. He led me away from the park
down a side street and through a crack in a fence into a vacant lot
where some excavating had been going on. Behind a pile of old stones
and lumber he paused, and took out his birds.
"I got matches," said he. "You got any paper to start a fire with?"
I drew forth my manuscript story of the sparrows, and offered it for
burnt sacrifice. There were old planks, splinters, and chips for our
fire. My frowsy friend produced from some interior of his frayed
clothing half a loaf of bread, pepper, and salt.
In ten minutes each of us was holding a sparrow spitted upon a stick
over the leaping flames.
"Say," said my fellow bivouacker, "this ain't so bad when a fellow's
hungry. It reminds me of when I struck New York first--about fifteen
years ago. I come in from the West to see if I could get a job on a
newspaper. I hit the Madison Square Park the first mornin' after, and
was sitting around on the benches. I noticed the sparrows chirpin',
and the grass and trees so nice and green that I thought I was back in
the country again. Then I got some papers out of my pocket, and--"
"I know," I interrupted. "You sent it to the ~Sun~ and got $15."
"Say," said my friend, suspiciously, "you seem to know a good deal.
Where was you? I went to sleep on the bench there, in the sun, and
somebody touched me for every cent I had--$15."
HEARTS AND HANDS
At Denver there was an influx of passengers into the coaches on the
eastbound B. & M. express. In one coach there sat a very pretty young
woman dressed in elegant taste and surrounded by all the luxurious
comforts of an experienced traveler. Among the newcomers were two
young men, one of handsome presence with a bold, frank countenance
and manner; the other a ruffled, glum-faced person, heavily built and
roughly dressed. The two were handcuffed together.
As they passed down the aisle of the coach the only vacant seat
offered was a reversed one facing the attractive young woman. Here
the linked couple seated themselves. The young woman's glance fell
upon them with a distant, swift disinterest; then with a lovely smile
brightening her countenance and a tender pink tingeing her rounded
cheeks, she held out a little gray-gloved hand. When she spoke her
voice, full, sweet, and deliberate, proclaimed that its owner was
accustomed to speak and be heard.
"Well, Mr. Easton, if you ~will~ make me speak first, I suppose I
must. Don't vou ever recognize old friends when you meet them in
The younger man roused himself sharply at the sound of her voice,
seemed to struggle with a slight embarrassment which he threw off
instantly, and then clasped her fingers with his left hand.
"It's Miss Fairchild," he said, with a smile. "I'll ask you to excuse
the other hand; "it's otherwise engaged just at present."
He slightly raised his right hand, bound at the wrist by the shining
"bracelet" to the left one of his companion. The glad look in the
girl's eyes slowly changed to a bewildered horror. The glow faded
from her cheeks. Her lips parted in a vague, relaxing distress.
Easton, with a little laugh, as if amused, was about to speak again
when the other forestalled him. The glum-faced man had been watching
the girl's countenance with veiled glances from his keen, shrewd eyes.
"You'll excuse me for speaking, miss, but, I see you're acquainted
with the marshall here. If you'll ask him to speak a word for me when
we get to the pen he'll do it, and it'll make things easier for me
there. He's taking me to Leavenworth prison. It's seven years for
"Oh!" said the girl, with a deep breath and returning color. "So that
is what you are doing out here? A marshal!"
"My dear Miss Fairchild," said Easton, calmly, "I had to do something.
Money has a way of taking wings unto itself, and you know it takes
money to keep step with our crowd in Washington. I saw this opening
in the West, and--well, a marshalship isn't quite as high a position
as that of ambassador, but--"
"The ambassador," said the girl, warmly, "doesn't call any more. He
needn't ever have done so. You ought to know that. And so now you
are one of these dashing Western heroes, and you ride and shoot and go
into all kinds of dangers. That's different from the Washington life.
You have been missed from the old crowd."
The girl's eyes, fascinated, went back, widening a little, to rest
upon the glittering handcuffs.
"Don't you worry about them, miss," said the other man. "All marshals
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