The Cop and the Anthem by O 。Henry
On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily.When wild goose honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats grow kind to their husbands, and whenSoapy moves uneasily on his bench in the park, you may knowthat winter is near at hand.
A dead leaf fell in Soapy’s lap. That was Jack Frost’s card.Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, andgives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to theNorth Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may makeready.
Soapy’s mind became cognisant of the fact that the time had come for him to resolvehimself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to provide against the coming rigour. Andtherefore he moved uneasily on his bench.
The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them were noconsiderations of Mediterranean cruises, of soporific Southern skies or drifting in the VesuvianBay. Three months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence ofthings desirable.
For years the hospitable Blackwell’s had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunatefellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapyhad made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now the time wascome. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about hisankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurtingfountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed large and timely in Soapy’s mind. Hescorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city’s dependents. In Soapy’s opinionthe Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of institutions,municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordantwith the simple life. But to one of Soapy’s proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If notin coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands ofphilanthropy. As Cesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, everyloaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be aguest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman’sprivate affairs.
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. Therewere many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensiverestaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to apoliceman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest.
Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt,where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at aglittering café, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, thesilkworm and the protoplasm.
Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven,and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to himby a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the restaurantunsuspected, success would be his. The portion of him that would show above the table wouldraise no doubt in the waiter’s mind. A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about thething—with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demi-tasse and a cigar. One dollar forthe cigar would be enough. The total would not be so high as to call forth any suprememanifestation of revenge from the café management; and yet the meat would leave him filledand happy for the journey to his winter refuge.
But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter’s eye fell upon his frayedtrousers and decadent shoes. Strong and ready hands turned him about and conveyed him insilence and haste to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted island was not to be anepicurean one. Some other way of entering limbo must be thought of.
At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed wares behind plate-glassmade a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took a cobble-stone and dashed it through the glass.People came running round the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with his handsin his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.
“Where’s the man that done that?” inquired the officer excitedly.
“Don’t you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?” said Soapy, notwithout sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good fortune.
The policeman’s mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who smash windows donot remain to parley with the law’s minions. They take to their heels. The policeman saw a manhalfway down the block running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit. Soapy,with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.
On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great pretensions. It catered tolarge appetites and modest purses. Its crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and naperythin. Into this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and tell-tale trousers without challenge. At atable he sat and consumed beefsteak, flap-jacks, doughnuts, and pie. And then to the waiter hebetrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.
“Now, get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don’t keep a gentleman waiting.”
“No cop for youse,” said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes and an eye like the cherryin a Manhattan cocktail. “Hey, Con!”
Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched Soapy. He arose, jointby joint, as a carpenter’s rule opens, and beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but arosy dream. The Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store twodoors away laughed and walked down the street.
Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo capture again. Thistime the opportunity presented what he fatuously termed to himself a “cinch.” A young womanof a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightlyinterest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a largepoliceman of severe demeanour leaned against a water-plug.
It was Soapy’s design to assume the rule of the despicable and execrated “masher.” Therefined and elegant appearance of his victim and the contiguity of the conscientious copencouraged him to believe that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm thatwould ensure his winter quarters of the right little, tight little isle.
Soapy straightened the lady missionary’s ready-made tie, dragged his shrinking cuffs intothe open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled toward the young women. He made eyes at her,was taken with sudden coughs and “hems,” smiled, smirked, and went brazenly through theimpudent and contemptible litany of the “masher.” With half an eye Soapy saw that thepoliceman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved away a few steps, and againbestowed her absorbed attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to herside, raised his hat and said: “Ah there, Bedelia! Don’t you want to come and play in my yard?”
The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to beckon a fingerand Soapy would be practically en route for his insular haven. Already he imagined he could feelthe cosy warmth of the station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand,caught Soapy’s coat sleeve.
“Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you’ll blow me to a pail of suds. I’d have spoke to yousooner, but the cop was watching.”
With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oakSoapy walked past the policeman overcome with gloom. Heseemed doomed to liberty.
At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. Hehalted in the district where by night are found the lighteststreets, hearts, vows, and librettos. Women in furs and men ingreatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A sudden fear seizedSoapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered himimmune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it,and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of a transplendent theatrehe caught at the immediate straw of “disorderly conduct.”
On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. Hedanced, howled, raved, and otherwise disturbed the welkin.
The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen: “’Tis oneof them Yale lads celebratin’ the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but noharm. We’ve instructions to lave them be.”
Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a policeman lay hands onhim? In his fancy the Island seemed an unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat againstthe chilling wind.
In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silkumbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella andsauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.
“My umbrella,” he said sternly.
“Oh, is it?” sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. “Well, why don’t you call apoliceman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don’t you call a cop? There stands one on the corner.”
The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a presentiment that luckwould run against him. The policeman looked at the two curiously.
“Of course,” said the umbrella man—“that is—well, you know how these mistakes occur—I—if it’s your umbrella I hope you’ll excuse me—I picked it up this morning in a restaurant—If yourecognise it as yours, why—I hope you’ll—“
“Of course it’s mine,” said Soapy viciously.
The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall blonde in an operacloak across the street in front of a street car that was approaching two blocks away.
Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He hurled the umbrellawrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs.Because he wanted to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who could dono wrong.
At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter and turmoil wasbut faint. He set his face down this toward Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives evenwhen the home is a park bench.
But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an old church, quaintand rambling and gabled. Through one violet-stained window a soft light glowed, where, nodoubt, the organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbathanthem. For there drifted out to Soapy’s ears sweet music that caught and held him transfixedagainst the convolutions of the iron fence.
The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrains were few; sparrowstwittered sleepily in the eaves—for a little while the scene might have been a countrychurchyard. And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for hehad known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses andambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.
The conjunction of Soapy’s receptive state of mind and the influences about the old churchwrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit intowhich he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties, andbase motives that made up his existence.
And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneousand strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of themire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had takenpossession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his oldeager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had setup a revolution in him. Tomorrow he would go into the roaring down-town district and find work.A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him to-morrow and ask forthe position. He would be somebody in the world. He would—
Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly round into the broad face of apoliceman.
“What are you doin’ here?” asked the officer.
“Nothing’,” said Soapy.
“Then come along,” said the policeman.
“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.