WHISTLING DICK'S CHRISTMAS STOCKING
by O. Henry
It was with much caution that Whistling Dick slid back
the door of the box-car, for Article 5716, City Ordinances,
authorized (perhaps unconstitutionally) arrest on suspicion,
and he was familiar of old with this ordinance. So, before
climbing out, he surveyed the field with all the care of
a good general.
He saw no change since his last visit to this big, alms-giving,
long-suffering city of the South, the cold-weather paradise
of the tramps. The levee where his freight-car stood was
pimpled with dark bulks of merchandise. The breeze reeked
with the well-remembered, sickening smell of the old tarpaulins
that covered bales and barrels. The dun river slipped along
among the shipping with an oily gurgle. Far down toward
Chalmette he could see the great bend in the stream outlined
by the row of electric lights. Across the river Algiers lay,
a long, irregular blot, made darker by the dawn which lightened
the sky beyond. An industrious tug or two, coming for some
early sailing-ship, gave a few appalling toots, that seemed
to be the signal for breaking day. The Italian luggers were
creeping nearer their landing, laden with early vegetables
and shellfish. A vague roar, subterranean in quality, from
dray wheels and street cars, began to make itself heard and
felt; and the ferryboats, the Mary Anns of water craft, stirred
sullenly to their menial morning tasks.
Whistling Dick's red head popped suddenly back into the car. A
sight too imposing and magnificent for his gaze had been added to
the scene. A vast, incomparable policeman rounded a pile of rice
sacks and stood within twenty yards of the car. The daily miracle
of the dawn, now being performed above Algiers, received the
flattering attention of this specimen of municipal official
splendor. He gazed with unbiased dignity at the faintly glowing
colors until, at last, he turned to them his broad back, as if
convinced that legal interference was not needed, and the sunrise
might proceed unchecked. So he turned his face to the rice bags,
and drawing a flat flask from an inside pocket, he placed it to
his lips and regarded the firmament.
Whistling Dick, professional tramp, possessed a half-friendly
acquaintance with this officer. They both loved music. Still,
he did not care, under the present circumstances, to renew the
acquaintance. There is a difference between meeting a policeman
upon a lonely street corner and whistling a few operatic airs
with him, and being caught by him crawling out of a freight-car.
So Dick waited, as even a New Orleans policeman must move on some
time--perhaps it is a retributive law of nature--and before long
"Big Fritz" majestically disappeared between the trains of cars.
Whistling Dick waited as long as his judgment advised, and then
slid swiftly to the ground. Assuming as far as possible the air
of an honest laborer who seeks his daily toil, he moved across
the network of railway lines, with the intention of making his
way by quiet Girod Street to a certain bench in Lafayette Square,
where, according to appointment, he hoped to rejoin a pal known
as "Slick," this adventurous pilgrim having preceded him by one
day in a cattle-car into which a loose slat had enticed him.
As Whistling Dick picked his way where night still lingered among
the big, reeking, musty warehouses, he gave way to the habit that
had won for him his title. Subdued, yet clear, with each note as
true and liquid as a bobolink's, his whistle tinkled about the dim,
cold mountains of brick like drops of rain falling into a hidden
pool. He followed an air, but it swam mistily into a swirling
current of improvisation. You could cull out the trill of mountain
brooks, the staccato of green rushes shivering above chilly
lagoons, the pipe of sleepy birds.
Rounding a corner, the whistler collided with a mountain of blue
"So," observed the mountain calmly, "you are already pack. Und
dere vill not pe frost before two veeks yet! Und you haf forgotten
how to vistle. Dere was a valse note in dot last bar."
"Watcher know about it?" said Whistling Dick, with tentative
familiarity; "you wit yer little Gherman-band nixcumrous chunes.
Watcher know about music? Pick yer ears, and listen agin. Here's
de way I whistled it--see?"
He puckered his lips, but the big policeman held up his hand.
"Shtop," he said, "und learn der right way. Und learn also dot
a rolling shtone can't vistle for a cent."
Big Fritz's heavy moustache rounded into a circle, and from its
depths came a sound deep and mellow as that from a flute. He
repeated a few bars of the air the tramp had been whistling. The
rendition was cold, but correct, and he emphasized the note he
had taken exception to.
"Dot p is p natural, und not p vlat. Py der vay, you petter pe
glad I meet you. Von hour later, und I vould haf to put you in
a gage to vistle mit der chail pirds. Der orders are to bull all
der pums afder sunrise."
"To bull der pums--eferybody mitout fisible means. Dirty days
is der price, or fifteen tollars."
"Is dat straight, or a game you givin' me?"
"It's der pest tip you efer had. I gif it to you pecause I pelief
you are not so bad as der rest. Und pecause you gan visle 'Die
Freischutz' bezzer dan I myself gan. Don't run against any more
bolicemans aroundt der corners, but go avay vrom town a few tays.
So Madame Orleans had at last grown weary of the strange and
ruffled brood that came yearly to nestle beneath her charitable
After the big policeman had departed, Whistling Dick stood for
an irresolute minute, feeling all the outraged indignation of a
delinquent tenant who is ordered to vacate his premises. He had
pictured to himself a day of dreamful ease when he should have
joined his pal; a day of lounging on the wharf, munching the
bananas and cocoanuts scattered in unloading the fruit steamers;
and then a feast along the free-lunch counters from which the
easy-going owners were too good-natured or too generous to drive
him away, and afterward a pipe in one of the little flowery parks
and a snooze in some shady corner of the wharf. But here was a
stern order to exile, and one that he knew must be obeyed. So,
with a wary eye open for the gleam of brass buttons, he began
his retreat toward a rural refuge. A few days in the country
need not necessarily prove disastrous. Beyond the possibility
of a slight nip of frost, there was no formidable evil to be
However, it was with a depressed spirit that Whistling Dick
passed the old French market on his chosen route down the
river. For safety's sake, he still presented to the world his
portrayal of the part of the worthy artisan on his way to
labor. A stall-keeper in the market, undeceived, hailed him
by the generic name of his ilk, and "Jack" halted, taken by
surprise. The vender, melted by this proof of his own acuteness,
bestowed a foot of Frankfurter and half a loaf, and thus the
problem of breakfast was solved.
When the streets, from topographical reasons, began to shun the
river bank, the exile mounted to the top of the levee, and on
its well-trodden path pursued his way. The suburban eye regarded
him with cold suspicion. Individuals reflected the stern spirit
of the city's heartless edict. He missed the seclusion of the
crowded town and the safety he could always find in the
At Chalmette, six miles upon his desultory way, there suddenly
menaced him a vast and bewildering industry. A new port was being
established; the dock was being built, compresses were going up;
picks and shovels and barrows struck at him like serpents from
every side. An arrogant foreman bore down upon him, estimating
his muscles with the eye of a recruiting sergeant. Brown men
and black men all about him were toiling away. He fled in terror.
By noon he had reached the country of the plantations, the great,
sad, silent levels bordering the mighty river. He overlooked
fields of sugar-cane so vast that their farthest limits melted
into the sky. The sugar-making season was well advanced, and the
cutters were at work; the wagons creaked drearily after them;
the Negro teamsters inspired the mules to greater speed with
mellow and sonorous imprecations. Dark-green groves, blurred
by the blue of distance, showed where the plantation-houses
stood. The tall chimneys of the sugar-mills caught the eye
miles distant, like lighthouses at sea.
At a certain point Whistling Dick's unerring nose caught the scent
of frying fish. Like a pointer to a quail, he made his way down
the levee side straight to the camp of a credulous and ancient
fisherman, whom he charmed with song and story, so that he dined
like an admiral, and then like a philosopher annihilated the
worst three hours of the day by a nap under the trees.
When he awoke and again continued his hegira, a frosty sparkle in
the air had succeeded the drowsy warmth of the day, and as this
portent of a chilly night translated itself to the brain of Sir
Peregrine, he lengthened his stride and bethought him of shelter.
He traveled a road that faithfully followed the convolutions of the
levee, running along its base, but whither he knew not. Bushes and
rank grass crowded it to the wheel ruts, and out of this ambuscade
the pests of the lowlands swarmed after him, humming a keen, vicious
soprano. And as the night grew nearer, although colder, the whine
of the mosquitoes became a greedy, petulant snarl that shut out
all other sounds. To his right, against the heavens, he saw a green
light moving, and, accompanying it, the masts and funnels of a big
incoming steamer, moving as upon a screen at a magic-lantern show.
And there were mysterious marshes at his left, out of which came
queer gurgling cries and a choked croaking. The whistling vagrant
struck up a merry warble to offset these melancholy influences, and
it is likely that never before, since Pan himself jigged it on his
reeds, had such sounds been heard in those depressing solitudes.
A distant clatter in the rear quickly developed into the swift beat
of horses' hoofs, and Whistling Dick stepped aside into the dew-wet
grass to clear the track. Turning his head, he saw approaching a
fine team of stylish grays drawing a double surrey. A stout man
with a white mustache occupied the front seat, giving all his
attention to the rigid lines in his hands. Behind him sat a placid,
middle-aged lady and a brilliant-looking girl hardly arrived at
young ladyhood. The laprobe had slipped partly from the knees of
the gentleman driving, and Whistling Dick saw two stout canvas bags
between his feet--bags such as, while loafing in cities, he had
seen warily transferred between express wagons and bank doors.
The remaining space in the vehicle was filled with parcels of
various sizes and shapes.
As the surrey swept even with the sidetracked tramp, the bright-eyed
girl, seized by some merry, madcap impulse, leaned out toward him
with a sweet, dazzling smile, and cried, "Mer-ry Christ-mas!" in a
shrill, plaintive treble.
Such a thing had not often happened to Whistling Dick, and he felt
handicapped in devising the correct response. But lacking time
for reflection, he let his instinct decide, and snatching off his
battered derby, he rapidly extended it at arm's length, and drew it
back with a continuous motion, and shouted a loud, but ceremonious,
"Ah, there!" after the flying surrey.
The sudden movement of the girl had caused one of the parcels to
become unwrapped, and something limp and black fell from it into
the road. The tramp picked it up, and found it to be a new black
silk stocking, long and fine and slender. It crunched crisply,
and yet with a luxurious softness, between his fingers.
"Ther bloomin' little skeezicks!" said Whistling Dick, with a broad
grin bisecting his freckled face. "W'ot do yer think of dat, now!
Mer-ry Chris-mus! Sounded like a cuckoo clock, dats what she did.
Dem guys is swells, too, betcher life, an' der old 'un stacks dem
sacks of dough down under his trotters like dey was common as dried
apples. Been shoppin' fer Chrismus, and de kid's lost one of her new
socks w'ot she was goin' to hold up Santy wid. De bloomin' little
skeezicks! Wit' her 'Mer-ry Chris-mus!' W'ot d'yer t'ink! Same as
to say, 'Hello, Jack, how goes it?' and as swell as Fift' Av'noo,
and as easy as a blowout in Cincinnat."
Whistling Dick folded the stocking carefully, and stuffed it into
It was nearly two hours later when he came upon signs of habitation.
The buildings of an extensive plantation were brought into view by
a turn in the road. He easily selected the planter's residence in
a large square building with two wings, with numerous good-sized,
well-lighted windows, and broad verandas running around its full
extent. It was set upon a smooth lawn, which was faintly lit by the
far-reaching rays of the lamps within. A noble grove surrounded it,
and old-fashioned shrubbery grew thickly about the walks and fences.
The quarters of the hands and the mill buildings were situated at a
distance in the rear.
The road was now enclosed on each side by a fence, and presently,
as Whistling Dick drew nearer the house, he suddenly stopped and
sniffed the air.
"If dere ain't a hobo stew cookin' somewhere in dis immediate
precinct," he said to himself, "me nose has quit tellin' de trut'."
Without hesitation he climbed the fence to windward. He found
himself in an apparently disused lot, where piles of old bricks
were stacked, and rejected, decaying lumber. In a corner he saw
the faint glow of a fire that had become little more than a bed
of living coals, and he thought he could see some dim human forms
sitting or lying about it. He drew nearer, and by the light of a
little blaze that suddenly flared up he saw plainly the fat figure
of a ragged man in an old brown sweater and cap.
"Dat man," said Whistling Dick to himself softly, "is a dead
ringer for Boston Harry. I'll try him wit de high sign."
He whistled one or two bars of a rag-time melody, and the air was
immediately taken up, and then quickly ended with a peculiar run.
The first whistler walked confidently up to the fire. The fat man
looked up, and spake in a loud, asthmatic wheeze:
"Gents, the unexpected, but welcome, addition to our circle is Mr.
Whistling Dick, an old friend of mine for whom I fully vouches.
The waiter will lay another cover at once. Mr. W. D. will join
us at supper, during which function he will enlighten us in regard
to the circumstances that gave us the pleasure of his company."
"Chewin' de stuffin' out'n de dictionary, as usual, Boston," said
Whistling Dick; "but t'anks all de same for de invitashun. I guess
I finds meself here about de same way as yous guys. A cop gimme de
tip dis mornin'. Yous workin' on dis farm?"
"A guest," said Boston, sternly, "shouldn't never insult his
entertainers until he's filled up wid grub. 'Tain't good business
sense. Workin'!--but I will restrain myself. We five--me, Deaf Pete,
Blinky, Goggles, and Indiana Tom--got put onto this scheme of Noo
Orleans to work visiting gentlemen upon her dirty streets, and we
hit the road last evening just as the tender hues of twilight had
flopped down upon the daisies and things. Blinky, pass the empty
oyster-can at your left to the empty gentleman at your right."
For the next ten minutes the gang of roadsters paid their undivided
attention to the supper. In an old five-gallon kerosene can they
had cooked a stew of potatoes, meat, and onions, which they partook
of from smaller cans they had found scattered about the vacant lot.
Whistling Dick had known Boston Harry of old, and knew him to be
one of the shrewdest and most successful of his brotherhood. He
looked like a prosperous stock-drover or a solid merchant from
some country village. He was stout and hale, with a ruddy, always
smoothly shaven face. His clothes were strong and neat, and he
gave special attention to the care of his decent-appearing shoes.
During the past ten years he had acquired a record for working
a larger number of successfully managed confidence games than any
of his acquaintances, and he had not a day's work to be counted
against him. It was rumored among his associates that he had saved
a considerable amount of money. The four other men were fair
specimens of the slinking, ill-clad, noisome genus who carry
their labels of "suspicious" in plain view.
After the bottom of the large can had been scraped, and pipes lit
at the coals, two of the men called Boston aside and spake with him
lowly and mysteriously. He nodded decisively, and then said aloud
to Whistling Dick:
"Listen, sonny, to some plain talky-talk. We five are on a lay. I've
guaranteed you to be square, and you're to come in on the profits
equal with the boys, and you've got to help. Two hundred hands on
this plantation are expecting to be paid a week's wages tomorrow
morning. Tomorrow's Christmas, and they want to lay off. Says the
boss: 'Work from five to nine in the morning to get a train load of
sugar off, and I'll pay every man cash down for the week and a day
extra.' They say: 'Hooray for the boss! It goes.' He drives to Noo
Orleans to-day, and fetches back the cold dollars. Two thousand and
seventy-four fifty is the amount. I got the figures from a man who
talks too much, who got 'em from the bookkeeper. The boss of this
plantation thinks he's going to pay this wealth to the hands. He's
got it down wrong; he's going to pay it to us. It's going to stay
in the leisure class, where it belongs. Now, half of this haul
goes to me, and the other half the rest of you may divide. Why the
difference? I represent the brains. It's my scheme. Here's the way
we're going to get it. There's some company at supper in the house,
but they'll leave about nine. They've just happened in for an hour
or so. If they don't go pretty soon, we'll work the scheme anyhow.
We want all night to get away good with the dollars. They're heavy.
About nine o'clock Deaf Pete and Blinky'll go down the road about
a quarter beyond the house, and set fire to a big cane-field there
that the cutters haven't touched yet. The wind's just right to have
it roaring in two minutes. The alarm'll be given, and every man Jack
about the place will be down there in ten minutes, fighting fire.
That'll leave the money sacks and the women alone in the house for
us to handle. You've heard cane burn? Well, there's mighty few women
can screech loud enough to be heard above its crackling. The thing's
dead safe. The only danger is in being caught before we can get far
enough away with the money. Now, if you--"
"Boston," interrupted Whistling Dick, rising to his feet, "t'anks
for de grub yous fellers has give me, but I'll be movin' on now."
"What do you mean?" asked Boston, also rising.
"W'y, you can count me outer dis deal. You outer know dat. I'm
on de bum all right enough, but dat other t'ing don't go wit' me.
Burglary is no good. I'll say good-night and many t'anks fer--"
Whistling Dick had moved away a few steps as he spoke, but he
stopped very suddenly. Boston had covered him with a short revolver
of roomy caliber.
"Take your seat," said the tramp leader. "I'd feel mighty proud of
myself if I let you go and spoil the game. You'll stick right in
this camp until we finish the job. The end of that brick pile is
your limit. You go two inches beyond that, and I'll have to shoot.
Better take it easy, now."
"It's my way of doin'," said Whistling Dick. "Easy goes. You can
depress de muzzle of dat twelve-incher, and run 'er back on de
trucks. I remains, as de newspapers says, 'in yer midst.'"
"All right," said Boston, lowering his piece, as the other returned
and took his seat again on a projecting plank in a pile of timber.
"Don't try to leave; that's all. I wouldn't miss this chance even
if I had to shoot an old acquaintance to make it go. I don't want to
hurt anybody specially, but this thousand dollars I'm going to get
will fix me for fair. I'm going to drop the road, and start a saloon
in a little town I know about. I'm tired of being kicked around."
Boston Harry took from his pocket a cheap silver watch, and
held it near the fire.
"It's a quarter to nine," he said. "Pete, you and Blinky start.
Go down the road past the house, and fire the cane in a dozen
places. Then strike for the levee, and come back on it, instead
of the road, so you won't meet anybody. By the time you get
back the men will all be striking out for the fire, and we'll
break for the house and collar the dollars. Everybody cough up
what matches he's got."
The two surly tramps made a collection of all the matches in the
party, Whistling Dick contributing his quota with propitiatory
alacrity, and then they departed in the dim starlight in the
direction of the road.
Of the three remaining vagrants, two, Goggles and Indiana Tom,
reclined lazily upon convenient lumber and regarded Whistling Dick
with undisguised disfavor. Boston, observing that the dissenting
recruit was disposed to remain peaceably, relaxed a little in his
vigilance. Whistling Dick arose presently and strolled leisurely
up and down, keeping carefully within the territory assigned him.
"Dis planter chap," he said, pausing before Boston Harry, "w'ot
makes yer t'ink he's got de tin in de house wit' 'im?"
"I'm advised of the facts in the case," said Boston. "He drove to
Noo Orleans and got it, I say, to-day. Want to change your mind
now and come in?"
"Naw, I was just askin'. Wot kind o' team did de boss drive?"
"Pair of grays."
"Women folks along?"
"Wife and kid. Say, what morning paper are you trying to
pump news for?"
"I was just conversin' to pass de time away. I guess dat
team passed me in de road dis evenin'. Dat's all."
As Whistling Dick put his hands in his pockets and continued
his curtailed beat up and down by the fire, he felt the silk
stocking he had picked up in the road.
"Ther bloomin' little skeezicks," he muttered, with a grin.
As he walked up and down he could see, through a sort of
natural opening or lane among the trees, the planter's
residence some seventy-five yards distant. The side of the
house toward him exhibited spacious, well-lighted windows
through which a soft radiance streamed, illuminating the
broad veranda and some extent of the lawn beneath.
"What's that you said?" asked Boston, sharply.
"Oh, nuttin' 't all," said Whistling Dick, lounging carelessly,
and kicking meditatively at a little stone on the ground.
"Just as easy," continued the warbling vagrant softly to himself,
"an' sociable an' swell an' sassy, wit' her 'Mer-ry Chris-mus,'
wot d'yer t'ink, now!"
Dinner, three hours late, was being served in the Bellemeade
The dining-room and all its appurtenances spoke of an old
regime that was here continued rather than suggested to
the memory. The plate was rich to the extent that its age
and quaintness alone saved it from being showy; there were
interesting names signed in the corners of the pictures on
the walls; the viands were of the kind that bring a shine
into the eyes of gourmets. The service was swift, silent,
lavish, as in the days when the waiters were assets like
the plate. The names by which the planter's family and
their visitors addressed one another were historic in the
annals of two nations. Their manners and conversation had
that most difficult kind of ease--the kind that still
preserves punctilio. The planter himself seemed to be the
dynamo that generated the larger portion of the gaiety
and wit. The younger ones at the board found it more than
difficult to turn back upon him his guns of raillery and
banter. It is true, the young men attempted to storm his
works repeatedly, incited by the hope of gaining the
approbation of their fair companions; but even when they
sped a well-aimed shaft, the planter forced them to feel
defeat by the tremendous discomfiting thunder of the
laughter with which he accompanied his retorts. At the
head of the table, serene, matronly, benevolent, reigned
the mistress of the house, placing here and there the
right smile, the right word, the encouraging glance.
The talk of the party was too desultory, too evanescent to
follow, but at last they came to the subject of the tramp
nuisance, one that had of late vexed the plantations for
many miles around. The planter seized the occasion to direct
his good-natured fire of raillery at the mistress, accusing
her of encouraging the plague. "They swarm up and down the
river every winter," he said. "They overrun New Orleans,
and we catch the surplus, which is generally the worst
part. And, a day or two ago, Madame Nouveau Orleans, suddenly
discovering that she can't go shopping without brushing
her skirts against great rows of the vagabonds sunning
themselves on the banquettes, says to the police: 'Catch
'em all,' and the police catch a dozen or two, and the
remaining three or four thousand overflow up and down the
levees, and Madame there,"--pointing tragically with the
carving-knife at her--"feeds them. They won't work; they
defy my overseers, and they make friends with my dogs;
and you, Madame, feed them before my eyes, and intimidate
me when I would interfere. Tell us, please, how many to-day
did you thus incite to future laziness and depredation?"
"Six, I think," said Madame, with a reflective smile; "but
you know two of them offered to work, for you heard them
The planter's disconcerting laugh rang out again.
"Yes, at their own trades. And one was an artificial-flower
maker, and the other a glass-blower. Oh, they were looking
for work! Not a hand would they consent to lift to labor of
any other kind."
"And another one," continued the soft-hearted mistress, "used
quite good language. It was really extraordinary for one of
his class. And he carried a watch. And had lived in Boston.
I don't believe they are all bad. They have always seemed to
me to rather lack development. I always look upon them as
children with whom wisdom has remained at a standstill while
dirt and whiskers have continued to grow. We passed one this
evening as we were driving home who had a face as good as it
was incompetent. He was whistling the intermezzo from 'Cavalleria'
and blowing the spirit of Mascagni himself into it."
A bright-eyed young girl who sat at the left of the mistress
leaned over, and said in a confidential undertone:
"I wonder, mamma, if that tramp we passed on the road found
my stocking, and do you think he will hang it up to-night? Now
I can hang up but one. Do you know why I wanted a new pair of
silk stockings when I have plenty? Well, old Aunt Judy says,
if you hang up two that have never been worn, Santa Claus will
fill one with good things, and Monsieur Pambe will place in the
other payment for all the words you have spoken--good or bad--on
the day before Christmas. That's why I've been unusually nice
and polite to everyone to-day. Monsieur Pambe, you know, is a
witch gentleman; he--"
The words of the young girl were interrupted by a startling
Like the wraith of some burned-out shooting star, a black streak
came crashing through the window-pane and upon the table, where
it shivered into fragments a dozen pieces of crystal and china
ware, and then glanced between the heads of the guests to the
wall, imprinting therein a deep, round indentation, at which,
to-day, the visitor to Bellemeade marvels as he gazes upon it
and listens to this tale as it is told.
The women screamed in many keys, and the men sprang to their
feet, and would have laid their hands upon their swords had
not the verities of chronology forbidden.
The planter was the first to act; he sprang to the intruding
missile, and held it up to view.
"By Jupiter!" he cried. "A meteoric shower of hosiery!
Has communication at last been established with Mars?"
"I should say--ahem!--Venus," ventured a young gentleman
visitor, looking hopefully for approbation toward the
unresponsive young-lady visitors.
The planter held at arm's length the unceremonious visitor--a
long, dangling, black stocking. "She's loaded," he announced.
As he spoke, he reversed the stocking, holding it by the toe,
and down from it dropped a roundish stone, wrapped about by a
piece of yellowish paper. "Now for the first interstellar
message of the century!" he cried; and nodding to the company,
who had crowded about him, he adjusted his glasses with
provoking deliberation, and examined it closely. When he
finished, he had changed from the jolly host to the practical,
decisive man of business. He immediately struck a bell, and
said to the silent-footed mulatto man who responded: "Go and
tell Mr. Wesley to get Reeves and Maurice and about ten stout
hands they can rely upon, and come to the hall door at once.
Tell him to have the men arm themselves, and bring plenty
of ropes and plough lines. Tell him to hurry." And then he
read aloud from the paper these words:
TO THE GENT OF DE HOUS:
Dere is 5 tuff hoboes xcept meself in de vaken lot near
de rode war de old brick piles is. Dey got me stuck up wid
a gun see and I takes dis means of comunikaten. 2 of der
lads is gone down to set fire to de cain field below de hous
and when yous fellers goes to turn de hoes on it de hole
gang is goin to rob de hous of de money yoo got to pay off
wit say git a move on ye say de kid dropt dis sock in der
rode tel her mery crismus de same as she told me. Ketch de
bums down de rode first and den sen a relefe core to get me
out of soke youres truly,
There was some quiet, but rapid, manoeuvering at Bellemeade
during the ensuring half hour, which ended in five disgusted
and sullen tramps being captured, and locked securely in an
outhouse pending the coming of the morning and retribution.
For another result, the visiting young gentlemen had secured
the unqualified worship of the visiting young ladies by their
distinguished and heroic conduct. For still another, behold
Whistling Dick, the hero, seated at the planter's table,
feasting upon viands his experience had never before included,
and waited upon by admiring femininity in shapes of such
beauty and "swellness" that even his ever-full mouth could
scarcely prevent him from whistling. He was made to disclose
in detail his adventure with the evil gang of Boston Harry, and
how he cunningly wrote the note and wrapped it around the stone
and placed it at the toe of the stocking, and, watching his
chance, sent it silently, with a wonderful centrifugal momentum,
like a comet, at one of the big lighted windows of the dining-room.
The planter vowed that the wanderer should wander no more;
that his was a goodness and an honesty that should be rewarded,
and that a debt of gratitude had been made that must be paid;
for had he not saved them from a doubtless imminent loss, and,
maybe, a greater calamity? He assured Whistling Dick that he
might consider himself a charge upon the honor of Bellemeade;
that a position suited to his powers would be found for him at
once, and hinted that the way would be heartily smoothed for
him to rise to as high places of emolument and trust as the
But now, they said, he must be weary, and the immediate thing
to consider was rest and sleep. So the mistress spoke to a
servant, and Whistling Dick was conducted to a room in the
wing of the house occupied by the servants. To this room, in
a few minutes, was brought a portable tin bathtub filled with
water, which was placed on a piece of oiled cloth upon the
floor. Here the vagrant was left to pass the night.
By the light of a candle he examined the room. A bed, with
the covers neatly turned back, revealed snowy pillows and
sheets. A worn, but clean, red carpet covered the floor.
There was a dresser with a beveled mirror, a washstand with
a flowered bowl and pitcher; the two or three chairs were
softly upholstered. A little table held books, papers, and
a day-old cluster of roses in a jar. There were towels on
a rack and soap in a white dish.
Whistling Dick set his candle on a chair, and placed his
hat carefully under the table. After satisfying what we
must suppose to have been his curiosity by a sober scrutiny,
he removed his coat, folded it, and laid it upon the floor,
near the wall, as far as possible from the unused bathtub.
Taking his coat for a pillow, he stretched himself luxuriously
upon the carpet.
The tale of the historian is often disappointing; and if
the historian be a workman who has an eye for effect and
proportion, he has temptations to inaccuracy. For results
fail to adjust themselves logically, and evince the most
profound indifference toward artistic consequence. But
here we are at the mercy of facts, and the unities--whatever
they may be--must be crushed beneath an impotent conclusion.
When, on Christmas morning, the first streaks of dawn broke
above the marshes, Whistling Dick awoke, and reached instinctively
for his hat. Then he remembered that the skirts of Fortune
had swept him into their folds on the night previous, and he
went to the window and raised it, to let the fresh breath of
the morning cool his brow and fix the yet dream-like memory
of his good luck within his brain.
As he stood there, certain dread and ominous sounds pierced
the fearful hollow of his ear.
The force of plantation workers, eager to complete the
shortened task allotted them, were all astir. The mighty
din of the ogre Labor shook the earth, and the poor
tattered and forever disguised Prince in search of his
fortune held tight to the window-sill even in the
enchanted castle, and trembled.
Already from the bosom of the mill came the thunder of
rolling barrels of sugar, and (prison-like sounds) there
was a great rattling of chains as the mules were harried
with stimulant imprecations to their places by the
wagon tongues. A little vicious "dummy" engine, with
a train of flat cars in tow, stewed and fumed on the
plantation tap of the narrow-gauge railroad, and a
toiling, hurrying, hallooing stream of workers were
dimly seen in the half darkness loading the train with
the weekly output of sugar. Here was a poem; an epic--nay,
a tragedy--with Work! the curse of the world, for its
The December air was frosty, but the sweat broke out upon
Whistling Dick's face. He thrust his head out of the window,
and looked down. Fifteen feet below him, against the wall
of the house, he could make out that a border of flowers
grew, and by that token he overhung a bed of soft earth.
Softly as a burglar goes, he clambered out upon the sill,
lowered himself until he hung by his hands alone, and then
dropped safely. No one seemed to be about upon this side
of the house. He dodged low, and skimmed swiftly across the
yard to the low fence. It was an easy matter to vault this,
for a terror urged him such as lifts the gazelle over the
thorn bush when the lion pursues. A crush through the
dew-drenched weeds on the roadside, a clutching, slippery
rush up the grassy side of the levee to the footpath at
the summit, and--he was free!
The east was blushing and brightening. The wind, himself
a vagrant rover, saluted his brother upon the cheek. Some
wild geese, high above, gave cry. A rabbit skipped along
the path before him, free to turn to the right or to the
left as his mood should send him. The river slid past,
and certainly no one could tell the ultimate abiding place
of its waters.
A small, ruffled, brown-breasted bird, sitting upon a
dogwood sapling, began a soft, throaty, tender little
piping in praise of the dew which entices foolish worms
from their holes; but suddenly he stopped, and sat with
his head turned sidewise, listening.
From the path along the levee there burst forth a jubilant,
stirring, buoyant, thrilling whistle, loud and keen and
clear as the cleanest notes of the piccolo. The soaring
sound rippled and trilled and arpeggioed as the songs of
wild birds do not; but it had a wild free grace that,
in a way, reminded the small, brown bird of something
familiar, but exactly what he could not tell. There was
in it the bird call, or reveille, that all birds know;
but a great waste of lavish, unmeaning things that art
had added and arranged, besides, and that were quite
puzzling and strange; and the little brown bird sat
with his head on one side until the sound died away in
The little bird did not know that the part of that strange
warbling that he understood was just what kept the warbler
without his breakfast; but he knew very well that the part
he did not understand did not concern him, so he gave a
little flutter of his wings and swooped down like a brown
bullet upon a big fat worm that was wriggling along the
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~