THE BADGE OF POLICEMAN O'ROON
by O. Henry
It cannot be denied that men and women have looked
upon one another for the first time and become
instantly enamored. It is a risky process, this
love at first sight, before she has seen him in
Bradstreet or he has seen her in curl papers. But
these things do happen; and one instance must form
a theme for this story--though not, thank Heaven,
to the overshadowing of more vital and important
subjects, such as drink, policemen, horses and
During a certain war a troop calling itself the
Gentle Riders rode into history and one or two
ambuscades. The Gentle Riders were recruited from
the aristocracy of the wild men of the West and
the wild men of the aristocracy of the East. In
khaki there is little telling them one from another,
so they became good friends and comrades all around.
Ellsworth Remsen, whose old Knickerbocker descent
atoned for his modest rating at only ten millions,
ate his canned beef gayly by the campfires of the
Gentle Riders. The war was a great lark to him, so
that he scarcely regretted polo and planked shad.
One of the troopers was a well-set-up, affable,
cool young man, who called himself O'Roon. To this
young man Remsen took an especial liking. The two
rode side by side during the famous mooted up-hill
charge that was disputed so hotly at the time by
the Spaniards and afterward by the Democrats.
After the war Remsen came back to his polo and
shad. One day a well-set-up, affable, cool young
man disturbed him at his club, and he and O'Roon
were soon pounding each other and exchanging
opprobrious epithets after the manner of long-lost
friends. O'Roon looked seedy and out of luck and
perfectly contented. But it seemed that his content
was only apparent.
"Get me a job, Remsen," he said. "I've just handed
a barber my last shilling."
"No trouble at all," said Remsen. "I know a lot
of men who have banks and stores and things
downtown. Any particular line you fancy?"
"Yes," said O'Roon, with a look of interest. "I
took a walk in your Central Park this morning.
I'd like to be one of those bobbies on horseback.
That would be about the ticket. Besides, it's
the only thing I could do. I can ride a little
and the fresh air suits me. Think you could land
that for me?"
Remsen was sure that he could. And in a very
short time he did. And they who were not above
looking at mounted policemen might have seen a
well-set-up, affable, cool young man on a
prancing chestnut steed attending to his duties
along the driveways of the park.
And now at the extreme risk of wearying old
gentlemen who carry leather fob chains, and
elderly ladies who--but no! grandmother herself
yet thrills at foolish, immortal Romeo--there
must be a hint of love at first sight.
It came just as Remsen was strolling into Fifth
avenue from his club a few doors away.
A motor car was creeping along foot by foot,
impeded by a freshet of vehicles that filled
the street. In the car was a chauffeur and an
old gentleman with snowy side whiskers and a
Scotch plaid cap which could not be worn while
automobiling except by a personage. Not even a
wine agent would dare do it. But these two were
of no consequence--except, perhaps, for the
guiding of the machine and the paying for it.
At the old gentleman's side sat a young lady
more beautiful than pomegranate blossoms, more
exquisite than the first quarter moon viewed
at twilight through the tops of oleanders.
Remsen saw her and knew his fate. He could have
flung himself under the very wheels that conveyed
her, but he knew that would be the last means
of attracting the attention of those who ride
in motor cars. Slowly the auto passed, and, if
we place the poets above the autoists, carried
the heart of Remsen with it. Here was a large
city of millions, and many women who at a
certain distance appear to resemble pomegranate
blossoms. Yet he hoped to see her again; for
each one fancies that his romance has its own
tutelary guardian and divinity.
Luckily for Remsen's peace of mind there came
a diversion in the guise of a reunion of the
Gentle Riders of the city. There were not many
of them--perhaps a score--and there was wassail
and things to eat, and speeches and the Spaniard
was bearded again in recapitulation. And when
daylight threatened them the survivors prepared
to depart. But some remained upon the battlefield.
One of these was Trooper O'Roon, who was not
seasoned to potent liquids. His legs declined
to fulfil the obligations they had sworn to the
"I'm stewed, Remsen," said O'Roon to his friend.
"Why do they build hotels that go round and
round like catherine wheels? They'll take away
my shield and break me. I can think and talk
con-con-consec-sec-secutively, but I s-s-stammer
with my feet. I've got to go on duty in three
hours. The jig is up, Remsen. The jig is up, I
"Look at me," said Remsen, who was his smiling
self, pointing to his own face; "whom do you see
"Goo' fellow," said O'Roon, dizzily, "Goo' old
"Not so," said Remsen. "You see Mounted Policeman
O'Roon. Look at your face--no; you can't do that
without a glass--but look at mine, and think of
yours. How much alike are we? As two French table
d'hote dinners. With your badge, on your horse, in
your uniform, will I charm nurse-maids and prevent
the grass from growing under people's feet in the
Park this day. I will have your badge and your
honor, besides having the jolliest lark I've been
blessed with since we licked Spain."
Promptly on time the counterfeit presentment of
Mounted Policeman O'Roon single-footed into the
Park on his chestnut steed. In a uniform two men
who are unlike will look alike; two who somewhat
resemble each other in feature and figure will
appear as twin brothers. So Remsen trotted down
the bridle paths, enjoying himself hugely, so few
real pleasures do ten-millionaires have.
Along the driveway in the early morning spun a
victoria drawn by a pair of fiery bays. There
was something foreign about the affair, for the
Park is rarely used in the morning, except by
unimportant people who love to be healthy, poor
and wise. In the vehicle sat an old gentleman
with snowy side-whiskers and a Scotch plaid cap
which could not be worn while driving except by
a personage. At his side sat the lady of Remsen's
heart--the lady who looked like pomegranate
blossoms and the gibbous moon.
Remsen met them coming. At the instant of their
passing her eyes looked into his, and but for
the ever coward's heart of a true lover he could
have sworn that she flushed a faint pink. He
trotted on for twenty yards, and then wheeled
his horse at the sound of runaway hoofs. The
bays had bolted.
Remsen sent his chestnut after the victoria
like a shot. There was work cut out for the
impersonator of Policeman O'Roon. The chestnut
ranged alongside the off bay thirty seconds
after the chase began, rolled his eye back at
Remsen, and said in the only manner open to
"Well, you duffer, are you going to do your
share? You're not O'Roon, but it seems to me
if you'd lean to the right you could reach the
reins of that foolish slow-running bay--ah!
you're all right; O'Roon couldn't have done
it more neatly!"
The runaway team was tugged to an inglorious
halt by Remsen's tough muscles. The driver
released his hands from the wrapped reins,
jumped from his seat and stood at the heads of
the team. The chestnut, approving his new rider,
danced and pranced, reviling equinely the subdued
bays. Remsen, lingering, was dimly conscious of
a vague, impossible, unnecessary old gentleman
in a Scotch cap who talked incessantly about
something. And he was acutely conscious of a
pair of violet eyes that would have drawn Saint
Pyrites from his iron pillar--or whatever the
allusion is--and of the lady's smile and look--a
little frightened, but a look that, with the
ever coward heart of a true lover, he could
not yet construe. They were asking his name
and bestowing upon him well-bred thanks for his
heroic deed, and the Scotch cap was especially
babbling and insistent. But the eloquent appeal
was in the eyes of the lady.
A little thrill of satisfaction ran through
Remsen, because he had a name to give which,
without undue pride, was worthy of being spoken
in high places, and a small fortune which,
with due pride, he could leave at his end
He opened his lips to speak and closed them
Who was he? Mounted Policeman O'Roon. The
badge and the honor of his comrade were in
his hands. If Ellsworth Remsen, ten-millionaire
and Knickerbocker, had just rescued pomegranate
blossoms and Scotch cap from possible death,
where was Policeman O'Roon? Off his beat,
exposed, disgraced, discharged. Love had come,
but before that there had been something that
demanded precedence--the fellowship of men on
battlefields fighting an alien foe.
Remsen touched his cap, looked between the
chestnut's ears, and took refuge in vernacularity.
"Don't mention it," he said, stolidly. "We
policemen are paid to do these things. It's
And he rode away--rode away cursing noblesse
oblige, but knowing he could never have done
At the end of the day Remsen sent the chestnut
to his stable and went to O'Roon's room. The
policeman was again a well-set-up, affable,
cool young man who sat by the window smoking
"I wish you and the rest of the police force
and all badges, horses, brass buttons, and men
who can't drink two glasses of brut without
getting upset were at the devil," said Remsen,
O'Roon smiled with evident satisfaction.
"Good old Remsen," he said, affably, "I know all
about it. They trailed me down and cornered me
here two hours ago. There was a little row at
home, you know, and I cut sticks just to show
them. I don't believe I told you that my Governor
was the Earl of Ardsley. Funny you should bob
against them in the Park. If you damaged that
horse of mine I'll never forgive you. I'm going
to buy him and take him back with me. Oh, yes,
and I think my sister--Lady Angela, you know--wants
particularly for you to come up to the hotel
with me this evening. Didn't lose my badge,
did you, Remsen? I've got to turn that in at
Headquarters when I resign."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~