THE COP AND THE ANTHEM
by O. Henry
On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild
geese honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats
grow kind to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his
bench in the park, you may know that winter is near at hand.
A dead leaf fell in Soapy's lap. That was Jack Frost's card. Jack
is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair
warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands
his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All
Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.
Soapy's mind became cognizant of the fact that the time had come
for him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and
Means to provide against the coming rigor. And therefore he moved
uneasily on his bench.
The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In
them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of
soporific Southern skies or drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three
months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of
assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas
and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.
For years the hospitable Blackwell's had been his winter quarters.
Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their
tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had
made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island.
And now the time was come. On the night before three Sabbath
newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and
over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his
bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the
Island loomed big and timely in Soapy's mind. He scorned the
provisions made in the name of charity for the city's dependents.
In Soapy's opinion the Law was more benign than Philanthropy.
There was an endless round of institutions, municipal and
eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and
food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy's proud
spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you
must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at
the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed
of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its
compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it
is better to be a guest of the law, which, though conducted by
rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman's private affairs.
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about
accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing
this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive
restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over
quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating
magistrate would do the rest.
Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across
the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow
together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering cafe,
where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the
grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.
Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his
vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat
black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a
lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table
in the restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion
of him that would show above the table would raise no doubt in
the waiter's mind. A roasted Mallard duck, thought Soapy, would
be about the thing--with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert,
a demi-tasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough.
The total would not be so high as to call forth any supreme
manifestation of revenge from the cafe management; and yet the
meat would leave him filled and happy for the journey to his
But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter's
eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and
ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste
to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced Mallard.
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted
island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering
limbo must be thought of.
At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed
wares behind plate-glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took
a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running
around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with
his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.
"Where's the man that done that?" inquired the officer, excitedly.
"Don't you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?"
said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good
The policeman's mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who
smash windows do not remain to parley with the law's minions. They
take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block
running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit.
Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.
On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great
pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its
crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into
this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers
without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak,
flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter be betrayed
the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.
"Now, get busy and call a cop," said Soapy. "And don't keep a
"No cop for youse," said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes
and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. "Hey, Con!"
Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched
Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter's rule opens, and beat
the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The Island
seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store two
doors away laughed and walked down the street.
Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo
capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously
termed to himself a "cinch." A young woman of a modest and pleasing
guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest
at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands. Ten yards from the
window a large policeman of severe demeanor leaned against a water
It was Soapy's design to assume the role of the despicable and
execrated "masher." The refined and elegant appearance of his victim
and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe
that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm that
would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight little isle.
Soapy straightened the lady missionary's ready-made tie, dragged his
shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled
toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with sudden
coughs and "hems," smiled, smirked and went brazenly through the
impudent and contemptible litany of the "masher." With half an eye Soapy
saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved
away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed attention upon the
shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to her side, raised his
hat and said:
"Ah there, Bedelia! Don't you want to come and play in my yard?"
The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to
beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his insular
haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of the
station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand,
caught Soapy's coat sleeve.
"Sure, Mike," she said joyfully, "if you'll blow me to a pail of suds.
I'd have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching."
With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked
past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.
At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in the
district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts, vows and
librettos. Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gayly in the wintry
air. A sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had
rendered him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic
upon it, and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in
front of a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of
On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of
his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the
The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked
to a citizen.
"'Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin' the goose egg they give to the
Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We've instructions to lave them
Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a
policeman lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an
unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling
In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a
swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering.
Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it
slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.
"My umbrella," he said, sternly.
"Oh, is it?" sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. "Well,
why don't you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don't
you call a cop? There stands one on the corner."
The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a
presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman
looked at the two curiously.
"Of course," said the umbrella man--"that is--well, you know how
these mistakes occur--I--if it's your umbrella I hope you'll excuse
me--I picked it up this morning in a restaurant--If you recognize
it as yours, why--I hope you'll--"
"Of course it's mine," said Soapy, viciously.
The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall
blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street car
that was approaching two blocks away.
Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He
hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against
the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted to fall
into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king, who could
do no wrong.
At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter
and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward Madison
Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home is a park
But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an
old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one violet-stained
window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the organist loitered over
the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbath's anthem. For
there drifted out to Soapy's ears sweet music that caught and held him
transfixed against the convolutions of the iron fence.
The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians were
few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves--for a little while the
scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem that the
organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it
well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and
roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.
The conjunction of Soapy's receptive state of mind and the influences
about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul.
He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the
degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base
motives that made up his existence.
And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel
mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with
his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would
make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken
possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet:
he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without
faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution
in him. To-morrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and
find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He
would find him to-morrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody
in the world. He would--
Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the
broad face of a policeman.
"What are you doin' here?" asked the officer.
"Nothin'," said Soapy.
"Come along," said the policeman.
"Three months on the Island," said the Magistrate in the police court
the next morning.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~