A LICKPENNY LOVER
by O. Henry
There were 2,000 girls in the Biggest Store. Masie was one of
them. She was eighteen and a saleslady in the gents' gloves.
Here she became versed in two varieties of human beings--the
kind of gents who buy their gloves in department stores and the
kind of women who buy gloves for unfortunate gents. Besides this
wide knowledge of the human species, Masie had acquired other
information. She had listened to the promulgated wisdom of the
1,999 other girls and had stored it in a brain that was as
secretive and wary as that of a Maltese cat. Perhaps nature,
foreseeing that she would lack wise counsellors, had mingled
the saving ingredient of shrewdness along with her beauty, as
she has endowed the silver fox of the priceless fur above the
other animals with cunning.
For Masie was beautiful. A deep-tanned blonde, with the calm
poise of a lady who cooks butter cakes in a window. She stood
behind her counter in the Biggest Store; and as you closed
your hand over the tape-line for your glove measure you
thought of Hebe; and as you looked again you wondered how she
had come by Minerva's eyes.
When the floorwalker was not looking Masie chewed tutti frutti;
when he was looking she gazed up as if at the clouds and smiled
That is the shopgirl smile, and I enjoin you to shun it unless
you are well fortified with callosity of the heart, caramels
and a congeniality for the capers of Cupid. This smile belonged
to Masie's recreation hours and not to the store; but the
floorwalker must have his own. He is the Shylock of the stores.
When he comes nosing around the bridge of his nose is a toll-bridge.
It is goo-goo eyes or "git" when he looks toward a pretty girl.
Of course not all floorwalkers are thus. Only a few days ago the
papers printed news of one over eighty years of age.
One day Irving Carter, painter, millionaire, traveller, poet,
automobilist, happened to enter the Biggest Store. It is due
to him to add that his visit was not voluntary. Filial duty
took him by the collar and dragged him inside, while his mother
philandered among the bronze and terra-cotta statuettes.
Carter strolled across to the glove counter in order to shoot
a few minutes on the wing. His need for gloves was genuine;
he had forgotten to bring a pair with him. But his action
hardly calls for apology, because he had never heard of
As he neared the vicinity of his fate he hesitated, suddenly
conscious of this unknown phase of Cupid's less worthy
Three or four cheap fellows, sonorously garbed, were leaning
over the counters, wrestling with the mediatorial hand-coverings,
while giggling girls played vivacious second to their lead
upon the strident string of coquetry. Carter would have retreated,
but he had gone too far. Masie confronted him behind her counter
with a questioning look in eyes as coldly, beautifully, warmly
blue as the glint of summer sunshine on an iceberg drifting
in Southern seas.
And then Irving Carter, painter, millionaire, etc., felt a
warm flush rise to his aristocratically pale face. But not
from diffidence. The blush was intellectual in origin. He
knew in a moment that he stood in the ranks of the ready-made
youths who wooed the giggling girls at other counters. Himself
leaned against the oaken trysting place of a cockney Cupid
with a desire in his heart for the favor of a glove salesgirl.
He was no more than Bill and Jack and Mickey. And then he
felt a sudden tolerance for them, and an elating, courageous
contempt for the conventions upon which he had fed, and an
unhesitating determination to have this perfect creature for
When the gloves were paid for and wrapped Carter lingered
for a moment. The dimples at the corners of Masie's damask
mouth deepened. All gentlemen who bought gloves lingered
in just that way. She curved an arm, showing like Psyche's
through her shirt-waist sleeve, and rested an elbow upon
the show-case edge.
Carter had never before encountered a situation of which he
had not been perfect master. But now he stood far more awkward
than Bill or Jack or Mickey. He had no chance of meeting this
beautiful girl socially. His mind struggled to recall the
nature and habits of shopgirls as he had read or heard of
them. Somehow he had received the idea that they sometimes
did not insist too strictly upon the regular channels of
introduction. His heart beat loudly at the thought of proposing
an unconventional meeting with this lovely and virginal being.
But the tumult in his heart gave him courage.
After a few friendly and well-received remarks on general
subjects, he laid his card by her hand on the counter.
"Will you please pardon me," he said, "if I seem too bold;
but I earnestly hope you will allow me the pleasure of seeing
you again. There is my name; I assure you that it is with the
greatest respect that I ask the favor of becoming one of your
fr--acquaintances. May I not hope for the privilege?"
Masie knew men--especially men who buy gloves. Without
hesitation she looked him frankly and smilingly in the eyes,
"Sure. I guess you're all right. I don't usually go out with
strange gentlemen, though. It ain't quite ladylike. When should
you want to see me again?"
"As soon as I may," said Carter. "If you would allow me to
call at your home, I--"
Masie laughed musically. "Oh, gee, no!" she said, emphatically.
"If you could see our flat once! There's five of us in three
rooms. I'd just like to see ma's face if I was to bring a
gentleman friend there!"
"Anywhere, then," said the enamored Carter, "that will be
convenient to you."
"Say," suggested Masie, with a bright-idea look in her peach-blow
face; "I guess Thursday night will about suit me. Suppose you
come to the corner of Eighth Avenue and Forty-eighth Street at
7:30. I live right near the corner. But I've got to be back
home by 11. Ma never lets me stay out after 11."
Carter promised gratefully to keep the tryst, and then hastened
to his mother, who was looking about for him to ratify her
purchase of a bronze Diana.
A salesgirl with small eyes and an obtuse nose, strolled near
Masie, with a friendly leer.
"Did you make a hit with his nobs, Masie?" she asked, familiarly.
"The gentleman asked permission to call," answered Masie, with
the grand air, as she slipped Carter's card into the bosom of
"Permission to call!" echoed small eyes, with a snigger. "Did
he say anything about dinner in the Waldorf and a spin in his
"Oh, cheese it!" said Masie, wearily. "You've been used to swell
things, I don't think. You've had a swelled head ever since that
hose-cart driver took you out to a chop suey joint. No, he never
mentioned the Waldorf; but there's a Fifth Avenue address on his
card, and if he buys the supper you can bet your life there won't
be no pigtail on the waiter who takes the order."
As Carter glided away from the Biggest Store with his mother in
his electric runabout, he bit his lip with a dull pain at his
heart. He knew that love had come to him for the first time in
all the twenty-nine years of his life. And that the object of
it should make so readily an appointment with him at a street
corner, though it was a step toward his desires, tortured him
Carter did not know the shopgirl. He did not know that her
home is often either a scarcely habitable tiny room or a
domicile filled to overflowing with kith and kin. The
street corner is her parlor; the park is her drawing room;
the avenue is her garden walk; yet for the most part she
is as inviolate mistress of herself in them as is my
lady behind her tapestried four-walled chamber.
One evening at dusk, two weeks after their first meeting,
Carter and Masie strolled arm-in-arm into a little,
dimly-lit park. They found a bench, tree-shadowed and
secluded, and sat there.
For the first time his arm stole gently around her. Her
gold-bronze head slid restfully against his shoulder.
"Gee!" sighed Masie, thankfully. "Why didn't you ever think
of that before?"
"Masie," said Carter, earnestly, "you surely know that I
love you. I ask you sincerely to marry me. You know me well
enough by this time to have no doubts of me. I want you,
and I must have you. I care nothing for the difference in
"What is the difference?" asked Masie, curiously.
"Well, there isn't any," said Carter, quickly, "except in
the minds of foolish people. It is in my power to give you
a life of luxury. My social position is beyond dispute, and
my means are ample."
"They all say that," remarked Masie. "It's the kid they all
give you. I suppose you really work in a delicatessen or
follow the races. I ain't as green as I look."
"I can furnish you all the proofs you want," said Carter,
gently. "And I want you, Masie. I loved you the first day
I saw you."
"They all do," said Masie, with an amused laugh, "to hear
'em talk. If I could meet a man that got stuck on me the
third time he'd seen me I think I'd get mashed on him."
"Please don't say such things," pleaded Carter. "Listen to
me, dear. Ever since I first looked into your eyes you have
been the only woman in the world for me."
"Oh, ain't you the kidder!" smiled Masie. "How many other
girls did you ever tell that?"
But Carter persisted. And at length he reached the flimsy,
fluttering little soul of the shopgirl that existed somewhere
deep down in her lovely bosom. His words penetrated the heart
whose very lightness was its safest armor. She looked up
at him with eyes that saw and a warm glow visited her cool
cheeks. Tremblingly, awfully, her moth wings closed, and she
seemed about to settle upon the flower of love. Some faint
glimmer of life and its possibilities on the other side of
her glove counter dawned upon her. Carter felt the change
and crowded the opportunity.
"Marry me, Masie," he whispered softly, "and we will go
away from this ugly city to beautiful ones. We will forget
work and business, and life will be one long holiday. I
know where I should take you--I have been there often.
Just think of a shore where summer is eternal, where the
waves are always rippling on the lovely beach and the
people are happy and free as children. We will sail to
those shores and remain there as long as you please. In
one of those far-away cities there are grand and lovely
palaces and towers full of beautiful pictures and statues.
The streets of the city are water, and one travels about
"I know," said Masie, sitting up suddenly. "Gondolas."
"Yes," smiled Carter.
"I thought so," said Masie.
"And then," continued Carter, "we will travel on and see
whatever we wish in the world. After the European cities
we will visit India and the ancient cities there, and ride
on elephants and see the wonderful temples of the Hindoos
and the Brahmins. And the Japanese gardens and the camel
trains and chariot races in Persia, and all the queer
sights of foreign countries. Don't you think you would
like it, Masie?"
Masie rose to her feet.
"I think we had better be going home," she said, coolly.
"It's getting late."
Carter humored her. He had come to know her varying,
thistle-down moods, and that it was useless to combat
them. But he felt a certain happy triumph. He had held
for a moment, though but by a silken thread, the soul
of his wild Psyche, and hope was stronger within him.
Once she had folded her wings and her cool hand had
closed about his own.
At the Biggest Store the next day Masie's chum, Lulu,
waylaid her in an angle of the counter.
"How are you and your swell friend making it? she asked.
"Oh, him?" said Masie, patting her side curls. "He ain't in
it any more. Say, Lu, what do you think that fellow wanted
me to do?"
"Go on the stage?" guessed Lulu, breathlessly.
"Nit; he's too cheap a guy for that! He wanted me to marry
him and go down to Coney Island to see Luna Park and Dreamland
for a wedding tour!"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~