O. Henry, Afrite-Chef of all delight —
Of all delectables conglomerate
That stay the starved brain and rejuvenate
The Mental Man! The æsthetic appetite —
So long enhungered that the "inards" fight
And growl gutwise – its pangs thou dost abate
And all so amiably alleviate,
Joy pats his belly as a hobo might
Who haply hath obtained a cherry pie
With no burnt crust at all, ner any seeds;
Nothin' but crisp crust, and the thickness fit.
And squashin'-juicy, an' jes' mighty nigh
Too dratted, drippin'-sweet for human needs,
But fer the sosh of milk that goes with it.
This the twelfth and final volume of O. Henry's work gets its title from an early newspaper venture of which he was the head and front. On April 28, 1894, there appeared in Austin, Texas, volume 1, number 3, of The Rolling Stone, with a circulation greatly in excess of that of the only two numbers that had gone before. Apparently the business office was encouraged. The first two issues of one thousand copies each had been bought up. Of the third an edition of six thousand was published and distributed free, so that the business men of Austin, Texas, might know what a good medium was at hand for their advertising. The editor and proprietor and illustrator of The Rolling Stone was Will Porter, incidentally Paying and Receiving Teller in Major Brackenridge's bank.
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of the paper was "The Plunkville Patriot," a page each week – or at least with the regularity of the somewhat uncertain paper itself – purporting to be reprinted from a contemporary journal. The editor of the Plunkville Patriot was Colonel Aristotle Jordan, unrelenting enemy of his enemies. When the Colonel's application for the postmastership in Plunkville is ignored, his columns carry a bitter attack on the administration at Washington. With the public weal at heart, the Patriot announces that "there is a dangerous hole in the front steps of the Elite saloon." Here, too, appears the delightful literary item that Mark Twain and Charles Egbert Craddock are spending the summer together in their Adirondacks camp. "Free," runs its advertising column, "a clergyman who cured himself of fits will send one book containing 100 popular songs, one repeating rifle, two decks easywinner cards and 1 liver pad free of charge for $8. Address Sucker & Chump, Augusta, Me." The office moves nearly every week, probably in accordance with the time-honored principle involving the comparative ease of moving and paying rent. When the Colonel publishes his own candidacy for mayor, he further declares that the Patriot will accept no announcements for municipal offices until after "our" (the editor's) canvass. Adams & Co., grocers, order their $2.25 ad. discontinued and find later in the Patriot this estimate of their product: "No less than three children have been poisoned by eating their canned vegetables, and J. O. Adams, the senior member of the firm, was run out of Kansas City for adulterating codfish balls. It pays to advertise." Here is the editorial in which the editor first announces his campaign: "Our worthy mayor, Colonel Henry Stutty, died this morning after an illness of about five minutes, brought on by carrying a bouquet to Mrs. Eli Watts just as Eli got in from a fishing trip. Ten minutes later we had dodgers out announcing our candidacy for the office. We have lived in Plunkville going on five years and have never been elected anything yet. We understand the mayor business thoroughly and if elected some people will wish wolves had stolen them from their cradles…"
The page from the Patriot is presented with an array of perfectly confused type, of artistic errors in setting up, and when an occasional line gets shifted (intentionally, of course) the effect is alarming. Anybody who knows the advertising of a small country weekly can, as he reads, pick out, in the following, the advertisement from the "personal."
Miss Hattie Green of Paris, Ill., is Steel-riveted seam or water power automatic oiling thoroughly tested visiting her sister Mrs. G. W. Grubes Little Giant Engines at Adams & Co.
Also Sachet powders Mc. Cormick Reapers and oysters.
All of this was a part of The Rolling Stone, which flourished, or at least wavered, in Austin during the years 1894 and 1895. Years before, Porter's strong instinct to write had been gratified in letters. He wrote, in his twenties, long imaginative letters, occasionally stuffed with execrable puns, but more than often buoyant, truly humorous, keenly incisive into the unreal, especially in fiction. I have included a number of these letters to Doctor Beall of Greensboro, N. C., and to his early friend in Texas, Mr. David Harrell.
In 1895-1896 Porter went to Houston, Texas, to work on the Houston Post. There he "conducted" a column which he called "Postscripts." Some of the contents of the pages that follow have been taken from these old files in the fair hope that admirers of the matured O. Henry will find in them pleasurable marks of the later genius.
Before the days of The Rolling Stone there are eleven years in Texas over which, with the exception of the letters mentioned, there are few "traces" of literary performance; but there are some very interesting drawings, some of which are reproduced in this volume. A story is back of them. They were the illustrations to a book. "Joe" Dixon, prospector and inveterate fortune-seeker, came to Austin from the Rockies in 1883, at the constant urging of his old pal, Mr. John Maddox, "Joe," kept writing Mr. Maddox, "your fortune's in your pen, not your pick. Come to Austin and write an account of your adventures." It was hard to woo Dixon from the gold that wasn't there, but finally Maddox wrote him he must come and try the scheme. "There's a boy here from North Carolina," wrote Maddox. "His name is Will Porter and he can make the pictures. He's all right." Dixon came. The plan was that, after Author and Artist had done their work, Patron would step in, carry the manuscript to New York, bestow it on a deserving publisher and then return to await, with the other two, the avalanche of royalties. This version of the story comes from Mr. Maddox. There were forty pictures in all and they were very true to the life of the Rockies in the seventies. Of course, the young artist had no "technique" – no anything except what was native. But wait! As the months went by Dixon worked hard, but he began to have doubts. Perhaps the book was no good. Perhaps John would only lose his money. He was a miner, not a writer, and he ought not to let John go to any expense. The result of this line of thought was the Colorado River for the manuscript and the high road for the author. The pictures, fortunately, were saved. Most of them Porter gave later to Mrs. Hagelstein of San Angelo, Texas. Mr. Maddox, by the way, finding a note from Joe that "explained all," hastened to the river and recovered a few scraps of the great book that had lodged against a sandbar. But there was no putting them together again.
So much for the title. It is a real O. Henry title. Contents of this last volume are drawn not only from letters, old newspaper files, and The Rolling Stone, but from magazines and unpublished manuscripts. Of the short stories, several were written at the very height of his powers and popularity and were lost, inexplicably, but lost. Of the poems, there are a few whose authorship might have been in doubt if the compiler of this collection had not secured external evidence that made them certainly the work of O. Henry. Without this very strong evidence, they might have been rejected because they were not entirely the kind of poems the readers of O. Henry would expect from him. Most of them however, were found in his own indubitable manuscript or over his own signature.
There is extant a mass of O. Henry correspondence that has not been included in this collection. During the better part of a decade in New York City he wrote constantly to editors, and in many instances intimately. This is very important material, and permission has been secured to use nearly all of it in a biographical volume that will be issued within the next two or three years. The letters in this volume have been chosen as an "exihibit," as early specimens of his writing and for their particularly characteristic turns of thought and phrase. The collection is not "complete" in any historical sense.
[This was the last work of O. Henry. The Cosmopolitan Magazine had ordered it from him and, after his death, the unfinished manuscript was found in his room, on his dusty desk. The story as it here appears was published in the Cosmopolitan for September, 1910.]
Murray dreamed a dream.
Both psychology and science grope when they would explain to us the strange adventures of our immaterial selves when wandering in the realm of "Death's twin brother, Sleep." This story will not attempt to be illuminative; it is no more than a record of Murray's dream. One of the most puzzling phases of that strange waking sleep is that dreams which seem to cover months or even years may take place within a few seconds or minutes.
Murray was waiting in his cell in the ward of the condemned. An electric arc light in the ceiling of the corridor shone brightly upon his table. On a sheet of white paper an ant crawled wildly here and there as Murray blocked its way with an envelope. The electrocution was set for eight o'clock in the evening. Murray smiled at the antics of the wisest of insects.
There were seven other condemned men in the chamber. Since he had been there Murray had seen three taken out to their fate; one gone mad and fighting like a wolf caught in a trap; one, no less mad, offering up a sanctimonious lip-service to Heaven; the third, a weakling, collapsed and strapped to a board. He wondered with what credit to himself his own heart, foot, and face would meet his punishment; for this was his evening. He thought it must be nearly eight o'clock.
Opposite his own in the two rows of cells was the cage of Bonifacio, the Sicilian slayer of his betrothed and of two officers who came to arrest him. With him Murray had played checkers many a long hour, each calling his move to his unseen opponent across the corridor.
Bonifacio's great booming voice with its indestructible singing quality called out:
"Eh, Meestro Murray; how you feel – all-a right – yes?"
"All right, Bonifacio," said Murray steadily, as he allowed the ant to crawl upon the envelope and then dumped it gently on the stone floor.
"Dat's good-a, Meestro Murray. Men like us, we must-a die like-a men. My time come nex'-a week. All-a right. Remember, Meestro Murray, I beat-a you dat las' game of de check. Maybe we play again some-a time. I don'-a know. Maybe we have to call-a de move damn-a loud to play de check where dey goin' send us."
Bonifacio's hardened philosophy, followed closely by his deafening, musical peal of laughter, warmed rather than chilled Murray's numbed heart. Yet, Bonifacio had until next week to live.
The cell-dwellers heard the familiar, loud click of the steel bolts as the door at the end of the corridor was opened. Three men came to Murray's cell and unlocked it. Two were prison guards; the other was "Len" – no; that was in the old days; now the Reverend Leonard Winston, a friend and neighbor from their barefoot days.
"I got them to let me take the prison chaplain's place," he said, as he gave Murray's hand one short, strong grip. In his left hand he held a small Bible, with his forefinger marking a page.
Murray smiled slightly and arranged two or three books and some penholders orderly on his small table. He would have spoken, but no appropriate words seemed to present themselves to his mind.
The prisoners had christened this cellhouse, eighty feet long, twenty-eight feet wide, Limbo Lane. The regular guard of Limbo Lane, an immense, rough, kindly man, drew a pint bottle of whiskey from his pocket and offered it to Murray, saying:
"It's the regular thing, you know. All has it who feel like they need a bracer. No danger of it becoming a habit with 'em, you see."
Murray drank deep into the bottle.
"That's the boy!" said the guard. "Just a little nerve tonic, and everything goes smooth as silk."
They stepped into the corridor, and each one of the doomed seven knew. Limbo Lane is a world on the outside of the world; but it had learned, when deprived of one or more of the five senses, to make another sense supply the deficiency. Each one knew that it was nearly eight, and that Murray was to go to the chair at eight. There is also in the many Limbo Lanes an aristocracy of crime. The man who kills in the open, who beats his enemy or pursuer down, flushed by the primitive emotions and the ardor of combat, holds in contempt the human rat, the spider, and the snake.
So, of the seven condemned only three called their farewells to Murray as he marched down the corridor between the two guards – Bonifacio, Marvin, who had killed a guard while trying to escape from the prison, and Bassett, the train-robber, who was driven to it because the express-messenger wouldn't raise his hands when ordered to do so. The remaining four smoldered, silent, in their cells, no doubt feeling their social ostracism in Limbo Lane society more keenly than they did the memory of their less picturesque offences against the law.
Murray wondered at his own calmness and nearly indifference. In the execution room were about twenty men, a congregation made up of prison officers, newspaper reporters, and lookers-on who had succeeded Here, in the very middle of a sentence, the hand of Death interrupted the telling of O. Henry's last story. He had planned to make this story different from his others, the beginning of a new series in a style he had not previously attempted. "I want to show the public," he said, "that I can write something new – new for me, I mean – a story without slang, a straightforward dramatic plot treated in a way that will come nearer my idea of real story-writing." Before starting to write the present story, he outlined briefly how he intended to develop it: Murray, the criminal accused and convicted of the brutal murder of his sweetheart – a murder prompted by jealous rage – at first faces the death penalty, calm, and, to all outward appearances, indifferent to his fate. As he nears the electric chair he is overcome by a revulsion of feeling. He is left dazed, stupefied, stunned. The entire scene in the death-chamber – the witnesses, the spectators, the preparations for execution – become unreal to him. The thought flashes through his brain that a terrible mistake is being made. Why is he being strapped to the chair? What has he done? What crime has he committed? In the few moments while the straps are being adjusted a vision comes to him. He dreams a dream. He sees a little country cottage, bright, sun-lit, nestling in a bower of flowers. A woman is there, and a little child. He speaks with them and finds that they are his wife, his child – and the cottage their home. So, after all, it is a mistake. Some one has frightfully, irretrievably blundered. The accusation, the trial, the conviction, the sentence to death in the electric chair – all a dream. He takes his wife in his arms and kisses the child. Yes, here is happiness. It was a dream. Then – at a sign from the prison warden the fatal current is turned on.
Murray had dreamed the wrong dream.
[Written at the prime of his popularity and power, this characteristic and amusing story was published in Everybody's Magazine in August, 1906.]
I walked the streets of the City of Insolence, thirsting for the sight of a stranger face. For the City is a desert of familiar types as thick and alike as the grains in a sand-storm; and you grow to hate them as you do a friend who is always by you, or one of your own kin.
And my desire was granted, for I saw near a corner of Broadway and Twenty-ninth Street, a little flaxen-haired man with a face like a scaly-bark hickory-nut, selling to a fast-gathering crowd a tool that omnigeneously proclaimed itself a can-opener, a screw-driver, a button-hook, a nail-file, a shoe-horn, a watch-guard, a potato-peeler, and an ornament to any gentleman's key-ring.
And then a stall-fed cop shoved himself through the congregation of customers. The vender, plainly used to having his seasons of trade thus abruptly curtailed, closed his satchel and slipped like a weasel through the opposite segment of the circle. The crowd scurried aimlessly away like ants from a disturbed crumb. The cop, suddenly becoming oblivious of the earth and its inhabitants, stood still, swelling his bulk and putting his club through an intricate drill of twirls. I hurried after Kansas Bill Bowers, and caught him by an arm.
Without his looking at me or slowing his pace, I found a five-dollar bill crumpled neatly into my hand.
"I wouldn't have thought, Kansas Bill," I said, "that you'd hold an old friend that cheap."
Then he turned his head, and the hickory-nut cracked into a wide smile.
"Give back the money," said he, "or I'll have the cop after you for false pretenses. I thought you was the cop."
"I want to talk to you, Bill," I said. "When did you leave Oklahoma? Where is Reddy McGill now? Why are you selling those impossible contraptions on the street? How did your Big Horn gold-mine pan out? How did you get so badly sunburned? What will you drink?"
"A year ago," answered Kansas Bill systematically. "Putting up windmills in Arizona. For pin money to buy etceteras with. Salted. Been down in the tropics. Beer."
We foregathered in a propitious place and became Elijahs, while a waiter of dark plumage played the raven to perfection. Reminiscence needs must be had before I could steer Bill into his epic mood.
"Yes," said he, "I mind the time Timoteo's rope broke on that cow's horns while the calf was chasing you. You and that cow! I'd never forget it."
"The tropics," said I, "are a broad territory. What part of Cancer of Capricorn have you been honoring with a visit?"
"Down along China or Peru – or maybe the Argentine Confederacy," said Kansas Bill. "Anyway 'twas among a great race of people, off-colored but progressive. I was there three months."
"No doubt you are glad to be back among the truly great race," I surmised. "Especially among New Yorkers, the most progressive and independent citizens of any country in the world," I continued, with the fatuity of the provincial who has eaten the Broadway lotus.
"Do you want to start an argument?" asked Bill.
"Can there be one?" I answered.
"Has an Irishman humor, do you think?" asked he.
"I have an hour or two to spare," said I, looking at the café clock.
"Not that the Americans aren't a great commercial nation," conceded Bill. "But the fault laid with the people who wrote lies for fiction."
"What was this Irishman's name?" I asked.
"Was that last beer cold enough?" said he.
"I see there is talk of further outbreaks among the Russian peasants," I remarked.
"His name was Barney O'Connor," said Bill.
Thus, because of our ancient prescience of each other's trail of thought, we travelled ambiguously to the point where Kansas Bill's story began:
"I met O'Connor in a boarding-house on the West Side. He invited me to his hall-room to have a drink, and we became like a dog and a cat that had been raised together. There he sat, a tall, fine, handsome man, with his feet against one wall and his back against the other, looking over a map. On the bed and sticking three feet out of it was a beautiful gold sword with tassels on it and rhinestones in the handle.
"'What's this?' says I (for by that time we were well acquainted). 'The annual parade in vilification of the ex-snakes of Ireland? And what's the line of march? Up Broadway to Forty-second; thence east to McCarty's café; thence – '
"'Sit down on the wash-stand,' says O'Connor, 'and listen. And cast no perversions on the sword. 'Twas me father's in old Munster. And this map, Bowers, is no diagram of a holiday procession. If ye look again. ye'll see that it's the continent known as South America, comprising fourteen green, blue, red, and yellow countries, all crying out from time to time to be liberated from the yoke of the oppressor.'
"'I know,' says I to O'Connor. 'The idea is a literary one. The ten-cent magazine stole it from "Ridpath's History of the World from the Sand-stone Period to the Equator." You'll find it in every one of 'em. It's a continued story of a soldier of fortune, generally named O'Keefe, who gets to be dictator while the Spanish-American populace cries "Cospetto!" and other Italian maledictions. I misdoubt if it's ever been done. You're not thinking of trying that, are you, Barney?' I asks.
"'Bowers,' says he, 'you're a man of education and courage.'
"'How can I deny it?' says I. 'Education runs in my family; and I have acquired courage by a hard struggle with life.'
"'The O'Connors,' says he, 'are a warlike race. There is me father's sword; and here is the map. A life of inaction is not for me. The O'Connors were born to rule. 'Tis a ruler of men I must be.'
"'Barney,' I says to him, 'why don't you get on the force and settle down to a quiet life of carnage and corruption instead of roaming off to foreign parts? In what better way can you indulge your desire to subdue and maltreat the oppressed?'
"'Look again at the map,' says he, 'at the country I have the point of me knife on. 'Tis that one I have selected to aid and overthrow with me father's sword.'
"'I see,' says I. 'It's the green one; and that does credit to your patriotism, and it's the smallest one; and that does credit to your judgment.'
"'Do ye accuse me of cowardice?' says Barney, turning pink.
"'No man,' says I, 'who attacks and confiscates a country single-handed could be called a coward. The worst you can be charged with is plagiarism or imitation. If Anthony Hope and Roosevelt let you get away with it, nobody else will have any right to kick.'
"'I'm not joking,' says O'Connor. 'And I've got $1,500 cash to work the scheme with. I've taken a liking to you. Do you want it, or not?'
"'I'm not working,' I told him; 'but how is it to be? Do I eat during the fomentation of the insurrection, or am I only to be Secretary of War after the country is conquered? Is it to be a pay envelope or only a portfolio?'
"I'll pay all expenses,' says O'Connor. 'I want a man I can trust. If we succeed you may pick out any appointment you want in the gift of the government.'
"'All right, then,' says I. 'You can get me a bunch of draying contracts and then a quick-action consignment to a seat on the Supreme Court bench so I won't be in line for the presidency. The kind of cannon they chasten their presidents with in that country hurt too much. You can consider me on the pay-roll.'
"Two weeks afterward O'Connor and me took a steamer for the small, green, doomed country. We were three weeks on the trip. O'Connor said he had his plans all figured out in advance; but being the commanding general, it consorted with his dignity to keep the details concealed from his army and cabinet, commonly known as William T. Bowers. Three dollars a day was the price for which I joined the cause of liberating an undiscovered country from the ills that threatened or sustained it. Every Saturday night on the steamer I stood in line at parade rest, and O'Connor handed ever the twenty-one dollars.
"The town we landed at was named Guayaquerita, so they told me. 'Not for me,' says I. 'It'll be little old Hilldale or Tompkinsville or Cherry Tree Corners when I speak of it. It's a clear case where Spelling Reform ought to butt in and disenvowel it.'
"But the town looked fine from the bay when we sailed in. It was white, with green ruching, and lace ruffles on the skirt when the surf slashed up on the sand. It looked as tropical and dolce far ultra as the pictures of Lake Ronkonkoma in the brochure of the passenger department of the Long Island Railroad.
"We went through the quarantine and custom-house indignities; and then O'Connor leads me to a 'dobe house on a street called 'The Avenue of the Dolorous Butterflies of the Individual and Collective Saints.' Ten feet wide it was, and knee-deep in alfalfa and cigar stumps.
"'Hooligan Alley,' says I, rechristening it.
"''Twill be our headquarters,' says O'Connor. 'My agent here, Don Fernando Pacheco, secured it for us.'
"So in that house O'Connor and me established the revolutionary centre. In the front room we had ostensible things such as fruit, a guitar, and a table with a conch shell on it. In the back room O'Connor had his desk and a large looking-glass and his sword hid in a roll of straw matting. We slept on hammocks that we hung to hooks in the wall; and took our meals at the Hotel Ingles, a beanery run on the American plan by a German proprietor with Chinese cooking served à la Kansas City lunch counter.
"It seems that O'Connor really did have some sort of system planned out beforehand. He wrote plenty of letters; and every day or two some native gent would stroll round to headquarters and be shut up in the back room for half an hour with O'Connor and the interpreter. I noticed that when they went in they were always smoking eight-inch cigars and at peace with the world; but when they came out they would be folding up a ten- or twenty-dollar bill and cursing the government horribly.
"One evening after we had been in Guaya – in this town of Smellville-by-the-Sea – about a month, and me and O'Connor were sitting outside the door helping along old tempus fugit with rum and ice and limes, I says to him:
"'If you'll excuse a patriot that don't exactly know what he's patronizing, for the question – what is your scheme for subjugating this country? Do you intend to plunge it into bloodshed, or do you mean to buy its votes peacefully and honorably at the polls?'
"'Bowers,' says he, 'ye're a fine little man and I intend to make great use of ye after the conflict. But ye do not understand statecraft. Already by now we have a network of strategy clutching with invisible fingers at the throat of the tyrant Calderas. We have agents at work in every town in the republic. The Liberal party is bound to win. On our secret lists we have the names of enough sympathizers to crush the administration forces at a single blow.'
"'A straw vote,' says I, 'only shows which way the hot air blows.'
"'Who has accomplished this?' goes on O'Connor. 'I have. I have directed everything. The time was ripe when we came, so my agents inform me. The people are groaning under burdens of taxes and levies. Who will be their natural leader when they rise? Could it be any one but meself? 'Twas only yesterday that Zaldas, our representative in the province of Durasnas, tells me that the people, in secret, already call me "El Library Door," which is the Spanish manner of saying "The Liberator."'
"'Was Zaldas that maroon-colored old Aztec with a paper collar on and unbleached domestic shoes?' I asked.
"'He was,' says O'Connor.
"'I saw him tucking a yellow-back into his vest pocket as he came out,' says I. 'It may be,' says I, 'that they call you a library door, but they treat you more like the side door of a bank. But let us hope for the worst.'
"'It has cost money, of course,' says O'Connor; 'but we'll have the country in our hands inside of a month.'
"In the evenings we walked about in the plaza and listened to the band playing and mingled with the populace at its distressing and obnoxious pleasures. There were thirteen vehicles belonging to the upper classes, mostly rockaways and old-style barouches, such as the mayor rides in at the unveiling of the new poorhouse at Milledgeville, Alabama. Round and round the desiccated fountain in the middle of the plaza they drove, and lifted their high silk hats to their friends. The common people walked around in barefooted bunches, puffing stogies that a Pittsburg millionaire wouldn't have chewed for a dry smoke on Ladies' Day at his club. And the grandest figure in the whole turnout was Barney O'Connor. Six foot two he stood in his Fifth Avenue clothes, with his eagle eye and his black moustache that tickled his ears. He was a born dictator and czar and hero and harrier of the human race. It looked to me that all eyes were turned upon O'Connor, and that every woman there loved him, and every man feared him. Once or twice I looked at him and thought of funnier things that had happened than his winning out in his game; and I began to feel like a Hidalgo de Officio de Grafto de South America myself. And then I would come down again to solid bottom and let my imagination gloat, as usual, upon the twenty-one American dollars due me on Saturday night.
"'Take note,' says O'Connor to me as thus we walked, 'of the mass of the people. Observe their oppressed and melancholy air. Can ye not see that they are ripe for revolt? Do ye not perceive that they are disaffected?'
"'I do not,' says I. 'Nor disinfected either. I'm beginning to understand these people. When they look unhappy they're enjoying themselves. When they feel unhappy they go to sleep. They're not the kind of people to take an interest in revolutions.'