A LITTLE TALK ABOUT MOBS
by O. Henry
"I see," remarked the tall gentleman in the frock
coat and black slouch hat, "that another street
car motorman in your city has narrowly escaped
lynching at the hands of an infuriated mob by
lighting a cigar and walking a couple of blocks
down the street."
"Do you think they would have lynched him?" asked
the New Yorker, in the next seat of the ferry
station, who was also waiting for the boat.
"Not until after the election," said the tall
man, cutting a corner off his plug of tobacco.
"I've been in your city long enough to know
something about your mobs. The motorman's mob
is about the least dangerous of them all, except
the National Guard and the Dressmakers' Convention.
"You see, when little Willie Goldstein is sent
by his mother for pigs' knuckles, with a nickel
tightly grasped in his chubby fist, he always
crosses the street car track safely twenty feet
ahead of the car; and then suddenly turns back
to ask his mother whether it was pale ale or a
spool of 80 white cotton that she wanted. The
motorman yells and throws himself on the brakes
like a football player. There is a horrible
grinding and then a ripping sound, and a piercing
shriek, and Willie is sitting, with part of his
trousers torn away by the fender, screaming for
his lost nickel.
"In ten seconds the car is surrounded by 600
infuriated citizens, crying, 'Lynch the motorman!
Lynch the motorman!' at the top of their voices.
Some of them run to the nearest cigar store to
get a rope; but they find the last one has just
been cut up and labelled. Hundreds of the excited
mob press close to the cowering motorman, whose
hand is observed to tremble perceptibly as he
transfers a stick of pepsin gum from his pocket
to his mouth.
"When the bloodthirsty mob of maddened citizens
has closed in on the motorman, some bringing camp
stools and sitting quite close to him, and all
shouting, 'Lynch him!' Policeman Fogarty forces
his way through them to the side of their prospective
"'Hello, Mike,' says the motorman in a low voice,
'nice day. Shall I sneak off a block or so, or
would you like to rescue me?'
"'Well, Jerry, if you don't mind,' says the policeman,
'I'd like to disperse the infuriated mob singlehanded.
I haven't defeated a lynching mob since last Tuesday;
and that was a small one of only 300, that wanted
to string up a Dago boy for selling wormy pears.
It would boost me some down at the station.'
"'All right, Mike,' says the motorman, 'anything to
oblige. I'll turn pale and tremble.'
And he does so; and Policeman Fogarty draws his
club and says, 'G'wan wid yez!' and in eight seconds
the desperate mob has scattered and gone about
its business, except about a hundred who remain to
search for Willie's nickel."
"I never heard of a mob in our city doing violence
to a motorman because of an accident," said the
"You are not liable to," said the tall man. "They
know the motorman's all right, and that he wouldn't
even run over a stray dog if he could help it. And
they know that not a man among 'em would tie the
knot to hang even a Thomas cat that had been tried
and condemned and sentenced according to law."
"Then why do they become infuriated and make threats
of lynching?" asked the New Yorker.
"To assure the motorman," answered the tall man,
"that he is safe. If they really wanted to do him
up they would go into the houses and drop bricks
on him from the third-story windows."
"New Yorkers are not cowards," said the other man,
a little stiffly.
"Not one at a time," agreed the tall man, promptly.
"You've got a fine lot of single-handed scrappers
in your town. I'd rather fight three of you than
one; and I'd go up against all the Gas Trust's
victims in a bunch before I'd pass two citizens
on a dark corner, with my watch chain showing.
When you get rounded up in a bunch you lose your
nerve. Get you in crowds and you're easy. Ask the
'L' road guards and George B. Cortelyou and the
tintype booths at Coney Island. Divided you stand,
united you fall. E pluribus nihil. Whenever one
of your mobs surrounds a man and begins to holler,
"Lynch him!' he says to himself, "Oh, dear, I
suppose I must look pale to please the boys, but
I will, forsooth, let my life insurance premium
lapse to-morrow. This is a sure tip for me to play
Methuselah straight across the board in the next
"I can imagine the tortured feelings of a prisoner
in the hands of New York policemen when an infuriated
mob demands that he be turned over to them for
lynching. 'For God's sake, officers,' cries the
distracted wretch, 'have ye hearts of stone, that
ye will not let them wrest me from ye?'
"'Sorry, Jimmy,' says one of the policemen, 'but
it won't do. There's three of us--me and Darrel
and the plain-clothes man; and there's only sivin
thousand of the mob. How'd we explain it at the
office if they took ye? Jist chase the infuriated
aggregation around the corner, Darrel, and we'll
be movin' along to the station.'"
"Some of our gatherings of excited citizens have
not been so harmless," said the New Yorker, with
a faint note of civic pride.
"I'll admit that," said the tall man. "A cousin
of mine who was on a visit here once had an arm
broken and lost an ear in one of them."
"That must have been during the Cooper Union riots,"
remarked the New Yorker.
"Not the Cooper Union," explained the tall man--"but
it was a union riot--at the Vanastor wedding."
"You seem to be in favor of lynch law," said the
New Yorker, severely.
"No, sir, I am not. No intelligent man is. But,
sir, there are certain cases when people rise in
their just majesty and take a righteous vengeance
for crimes that the law is slow in punishing. I
am an advocate of law and order, but I will say
to you that less than six months ago I myself
assisted at the lynching of one of that race
that is creating a wide chasm between your section
of country and mine, sir."
"It is a deplorable condition," said the New Yorker,
"that exists in the South, but--"
"I am from Indiana, sir," said the tall man, taking
another chew; "and I don't think you will condemn
my course when I tell you the colored man in question
had stolen $9.60 in cash, sir, from my own brother."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~