THE BUYER FROM CACTUS CITY
by O. Henry
It is well that hay fever and colds do not obtain in
the healthful vicinity of Cactus City, Texas, for the
dry goods emporium of Navarro & Platt, situated
there, is not to be sneezed at.
Twenty thousand people in Cactus City scatter their
silver coin with liberal hands for the things that
their hearts desire. The bulk of this semi-precious
metal goes to Navarro & Platt. Their huge brick
building covers enough ground to graze a dozen head
of sheep. You can buy of them a rattlesnake-skin
necktie, an automobile or an eighty-five dollar,
latest style, ladies' tan coat in twenty different
shades. Navarro & Platt first introduced pennies
west of the Colorado River. They had been ranchmen
with business heads, who saw that the world did not
necessarily have to cease its revolutions after free
grass went out.
Every Spring, Navarro, senior partner, fifty-five,
half Spanish, cosmopolitan, able, polished, had
"gone on" to New York to buy goods. This year he
shied at taking up the long trail. He was undoubtedly
growing older; and he looked at his watch several
times a day before the hour came for his siesta.
"Tim," he said, to his junior partner, "you shall
go on this year to buy the goods."
Platt looked tired.
"I'm told," said he, "that New York is a plumb dead
town; but I'll go. I can take a whirl in San Antonio
for a few days on my way and have some fun."
Two weeks later a man in a Texas full dress suit--black
frock coat, broad-brimmed soft white hat, and lay-down
collar 3-4 inch high, with black, wrought iron
necktie--entered the wholesale cloak and suit establishment
of Zizzbaum & Son, on lower Broadway.
Old Zizzbaum had the eye of an osprey, the memory of
an elephant, and a mind that unfolded from him in three
movements like the puzzle of the carpenter's rule. He
rolled to the front like a brunette polar bear, and
shook Platt's hand.
"And how is the good Mr. Navarro?" he said. "The trip
was too long for him this year, so? We welcome Mr. Platt
"A bull's eye," said Platt, "and I'd give forty acres
of unirrigated Pecos County land to know how you did it."
"I knew," grinned Zizzbaum, "just as I know that the
rainfall in El Paso for the year was 28.5 inches, or
an increase of 15 inches, and that therefore Navarro & Platt
will buy a $15,000 stock of suits this spring instead of
$10,000, as in a dry year. But that will be to-morrow.
There is first a cigar in my private office that will
remove from your mouth the taste of the ones you smuggle
across the Rio Grande and like--because they are smuggled."
It was late in the afternoon and business for the day
had ended. Zizzbaum left Platt with a half-smoked cigar,
and came out of the private office to Son, who was
arranging his diamond scarfpin before a mirror, ready
"Abey," he said, "you will have to take Mr. Platt around
tonight and show him things. They are customers for ten
years. Mr. Navarro and I we played chess every moment of
spare time when he came. That is good, but Mr. Platt is
a young man and this is his first visit to New York. He
should amuse easily."
"All right," said Abey, screwing the guard tightly on
his pin. "I'll take him on. After he's seen the Flatiron
and the head waiter at the Hotel Astor and heard the
phonograph play 'Under the Old Apple Tree' it'll be half
past ten, and Mr. Texas will be ready to roll up in his
blanket. I've got a supper engagement at 11:30, but he'll
be all to the Mrs. Winslow before then."
The next morning at 10 Platt walked into the store ready
to do business. He had a bunch of hyacinths pinned on his
lapel. Zizzbaum himself waited on him. Navarro & Platt
were good customers, and never failed to take their
discount for cash.
"And what did you think of our little town?" asked Zizzbaum,
with the fatuous smile of the Manhattanite.
"I shouldn't care to live in it," said the Texan. "Your
son and I knocked around quite a little last night. You've
got good water, but Cactus City is better lit up."
"We've got a few lights on Broadway, don't you think,
"And a good many shadows," said Platt. "I think I like
your horses best. I haven't seen a crow-bait since I've
been in town."
Zizzbaum led him upstairs to show the samples of suits.
"Ask Miss Asher to come," he said to a clerk.
Miss Asher came, and Platt, of Navarro & Platt, felt
for the first time the wonderful bright light of romance
and glory descend upon him. He stood still as a granite
cliff above the canyon of the Colorado, with his wide-open
eyes fixed upon her. She noticed his look and flushed a
little, which was contrary to her custom.
Miss Asher was the crack model of Zizzbaum & Son. She
was of the blond type known as "medium" and her measurements
even went the required 38-25-42 standard a little better.
She had been at Zizzbaum's two years, and knew her business.
Her eye was bright, but cool; and had she chosen to match
her gaze against the optic of the famed basilisk, that
fabulous monster's gaze would have wavered and softened
first. Incidentally, she knew buyers.
"Now, Mr. Platt," said Zizzbaum, "I want you to see these
princess gowns in the light shades. They will be the thing
in your climate. This first, if you please, Miss Asher."
Swiftly in and out of the dressing-room the prize model
flew, each time wearing a new costume and looking more
stunning with every change. She posed with absolute
self-possession before the stricken buyer, who stood,
tongue-tied and motionless, while Zizzbaum orated
oilily of the styles. On the model's face was her faint,
impersonal professional smile that seemed to cover
something like weariness or contempt.
When the display was over Platt seemed to hesitate.
Zizzbaum was a little anxious, thinking that his customer
might be inclined to try elsewhere. But Platt was only
looking over in his mind the best building sites in
Cactus City, trying to select one on which to build a
house for his wife-to-be--who was just then in the
dressing-room taking off an evening gown of lavender
"Take your time, Mr. Platt," said Zizzbaum. "Think it
over tonight. You won't find anybody else meet our
prices on goods like these. I'm afraid you're having
a dull time in New York, Mr. Platt. A young man like
you--of course, you miss the society of the ladies.
Wouldn't you like a nice young lady to take out to
dinner this evening? Miss Asher, now, is a very nice
young lady; she will make it agreeable for you."
"Why, she doesn't know me," said Platt, wonderingly.
"She doesn't know anything about me. Would she go? I'm
not acquainted with her."
"Would she go?" repeated Zizzbaum, with uplifted eyebrows.
"Sure, she would go. I will introduce you. Sure, she
He called Miss Asher loudly.
She came, calm and slightly contemptuous, in her white
shirt waist and plain black skirt.
"Mr. Platt would like the pleasure of your company to
dinner this evening," said Zizzbaum, walking away.
"Sure," said Miss Asher, looking at the ceiling. "I'd
be much pleased. Nine-eleven West Twentieth street.
"Say seven o'clock."
"All right, but please don't come ahead of time. I
room with a school teacher, and she doesn't allow any
gentlemen to call in the room. There isn't any parlor,
so you'll have to wait in the hall. I'll be ready."
At half past seven Platt and Miss Asher sat at a table
in a Broadway restaurant. She was dressed in a plain,
filmy black. Platt didn't know that it was all a part
of her day's work.
With the unobtrusive aid of a good waiter he managed
to order a respectable dinner, minus the usual Broadway
Miss Asher flashed upon him a dazzling smile.
"Mayn't I have something to drink?" she asked.
"Why, certainly," said Platt. "Anything you want."
"A dry Martini," she said to the waiter.
When it was brought and set before her Platt reached
over and took it away.
"What is this?" he asked.
"A cocktail, of course."
"I thought it was some kind of tea you ordered. This
is liquor. You can't drink this. What is your first
"To my intimate friends," said Miss Asher, freezingly,
"it is 'Helen.'"
"Listen, Helen," said Platt, leaning over the table.
"For years every time the spring flowers blossomed out
on the prairies I got to thinking of somebody that I'd
never seen or heard of. I knew it was you the minute I
saw you yesterday. I'm going back home to-morrow, and
you're going with me. I know it, for I saw it in your
eyes when you first looked at me. You needn't kick,
for you've got to fall into line. Here's a little trick
I picked out for you on my way over."
He flicked a two-carat diamond solitaire ring across the
table. Miss Asher flipped it back to him with her fork.
"Don't get fresh," she said, severely.
"I'm worth a hundred thousand dollars," said Platt. "I'll
build you the finest house in West Texas."
"You can't buy me, Mr. Buyer," said Miss Asher, "if you
had a hundred million. I didn't think I'd have to call
you down. You didn't look like the others to me at first,
but I see you're all alike."
"All who?" asked Platt.
"All you buyers. You think because we girls have to go
out to dinner with you or lose our jobs that you're
privileged to say what you please. Well, forget it. I
thought you were different from the others, but I see
I was mistaken."
Platt struck his fingers on the table with a gesture of
sudden, illuminating satisfaction.
"I've got it!" he exclaimed, almost hilariously--"the
Nicholson place, over on the north side. There's a big
grove of live oaks and a natural lake. The old house
can be pulled down and the new one set further back."
"Put out your pipe," said Miss Asher. "I'm sorry to wake
you up, but you fellows might as well get wise, once and
for all, to where you stand. I'm supposed to go to dinner
with you and help jolly you along so you'll trade with
old Zizzy, but don't expect to find me in any of the
suits you buy."
"Do you mean to tell me," said Platt, "that you go out
this way with customers, and they all--they all talk
to you like I have?"
"They all make plays," said Miss Asher. "But I must
say that you've got 'em beat in one respect. They
generally talk diamonds, while you've actually dug
"How long have you been working, Helen?"
"Got my name pat, haven't you? I've been supporting
myself for eight years. I was a cash girl and a
wrapper and then a shop girl until I was grown, and
then I got to be a suit model. Mr. Texas Man, don't
you think a little wine would make this dinner a
little less dry?"
"You're not going to drink wine any more, my dear. It's
awful to think how--I'll come to the store to-morrow
and get you. I want you to pick out an automobile
before we leave. That's all we need to buy here."
"Oh, cut that out. If you knew how sick I am of hearing
After the dinner they walked down Broadway and came
upon Diana's little wooded park. The trees caught
Platt's eye at once, and he must turn along under
the winding walk beneath them. The lights shone upon
two bright tears in the model's eyes.
"I don't like that," said Platt. "What's the matter?"
"Don't you mind," said Miss Asher. "Well, it's
because--well, I didn't think you were that kind when
I first saw you. But you are all like. And now will
you take me home, or will I have to call a cop?"
Platt took her to the door of her boarding-house. They
stood for a minute in the vestibule. She looked at him
with such scorn in her eyes that even his heart of oak
began to waver. His arm was half way around her waist,
when she struck him a stinging blow on the face with
her open hand.
As he stepped back a ring fell from somewhere and bounded
on the tiled floor. Platt groped for it and found it.
"Now, take your useless diamond and go, Mr. Buyer," she
"This was the other one--the wedding ring," said the
Texan, holding the smooth gold band on the palm of his
Miss Asher's eyes blazed upon him in the half darkness.
"Was that what you--did you mean"--
Somebody opened the door from inside the house.
"Good-night," said Platt. "I'll see you at the store
Miss Asher ran up to her room and shook the school teacher
until she sat up in bed ready to scream "Fire!"
"Where is it?" she cried.
"That's what I want to know," said the model. "You've
studied geography, Emma, and you ought to know. Where is
a town called Cac--Cac--Carac--Caracas City, I think, they
"How dare you wake me up for that?" said the school teacher."
Caracas is in Venezuela, of course."
"What's it like?"
"Why, it's principally earthquakes and negroes and monkeys
and malarial fever and volcanoes."
"I don't care," said Miss Asher, blithely; "I'm going there
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~