THE DOG AND THE PLAYLET
by O. Henry
Usually it is a cold day in July when you can stroll up
Broadway in that month and get a story out of the drama.
I found one a few breathless, parboiling days ago, and it
seems to decide a serious question in art.
There was not a soul left in the city except Hollis and me--and
two or three million sunworshippers who remained at desks and
counters. The elect had fled to seashore, lake, and mountain,
and had already begun to draw for additional funds. Every
evening Hollis and I prowled about the deserted town searching
for coolness in empty cafes, dining-rooms, and roofgardens.
We knew to the tenth part of a revolution the speed of every
electric fan in Gotham, and we followed the swiftest as they
varied. Hollis's fiancee. Miss Loris Sherman, had been in the
Adirondacks, at Lower Saranac Lake, for a month. In another
week he would join her party there. In the meantime, he cursed
the city cheerfully and optimistically, and sought my society
because I suffered him to show me her photograph during the
black coffee every time we dined together.
My revenge was to read to him my one-act play.
It was one insufferable evening when the overplus of the day's
heat was being hurled quiveringly back to the heavens by every
surcharged brick and stone and inch of iron in the panting town.
But with the cunning of the two-legged beasts we had found an
oasis where the hoofs of Apollo's steed had not been allowed
to strike. Our seats were on an ocean of cool, polished oak;
the white linen of fifty deserted tables flapped like seagulls
in the artificial breeze; a mile away a waiter lingered for a
heliographic signal--we might have roared songs there or fought
a duel without molestation.
Out came Miss Loris's photo with the coffee, and I once more
praised the elegant poise of the neck, the extremely low-coiled
mass of heavy hair, and the eyes that followed one, like those
in an oil painting.
"She's the greatest ever," said Hollis, with enthusiasm.
"Good as Great Northern Preferred, and a disposition built
like a watch. One week more and I'll be happy Jonny-on-the-spot.
Old Tom Tolliver, my best college chum, went up there two weeks
ago. He writes me that Loris doesn't talk about anything but me.
Oh, I guess Rip Van Winkle didn't have all the good luck!"
"Yes, yes," said I, hurriedly, pulling out my typewritten play.
"She's no doubt a charming girl. Now, here's that little
curtain-raiser you promised to listen to."
"Ever been tried on the stage?" asked Hollis.
"Not exactly," I answered. "I read half of it the other day
to a fellow whose brother knows Robert Edeson; but he had to
catch a train before I finished."
"Go on," said Hollis, sliding back in his chair like a good
fellow. "I'm no stage carpenter, but I'll tell you what I think
of it from a first-row balcony standpoint. I'm a theatre bug
during the season, and I can size up a fake play almost as
quick as the gallery can. Flag the waiter once more, and then
go ahead as hard as you like with it. I'll be the dog."
I read my little play lovingly, and, I fear, not without some
elocution. There was one scene in it that I believed in greatly.
The comedy swiftly rises into thrilling and unexpectedly developed
drama. Capt. Marchmont suddenly becomes cognizant that his wife
is an unscrupulous adventuress, who has deceived him from the day
of their first meeting. The rapid and mortal duel between them
from that moment--she with her magnificent lies and siren charm,
winding about him like a serpent, trying to recover her lost
ground; he with his man's agony and scorn and lost faith, trying
to tear her from his heart. That scene I always thought was a
crackerjack. When Capt. Marchmont discovers her duplicity by
reading on a blotter in a mirror the impression of a note that
she has written to the Count, he raises his hand to heaven and
exclaims: "O God, who created woman while Adam slept, and gave
her to him for a companion, take back Thy gift and return instead
the sleep, though it last forever!"
"Rot," said Hollis, rudely, when I had given those lines with
"I beg your pardon!" I said, as sweetly as I could.
"Come now," went on Hollis, "don't be an idiot. You know very
well that nobody spouts any stuff like that these days. That
sketch went along all right until you rang in the skyrockets.
Cut out that right-arm exercise and the Adam and Eve stunt, and
make your captain talk as you or I or Bill Jones would."
"I'll admit," said I, earnestly (for my theory was being touched
upon), "that on all ordinary occasions all of us use commonplace
language to convey our thoughts. You will remember that up to
the moment when the captain makes his terrible discovery all the
characters on the stage talk pretty much as they would in real
life. But I believe that I am right in allowing him lines suitable
to the strong and tragic situation into which he falls."
"Tragic, my eye!" said my friend, irreverently. "In Shakespeare's
day he might have sputtered out some high-cockalorum nonsense of
that sort, because in those days they ordered ham and eggs in blank
verse and discharged the cook with an epic. But not for B'way in
the summer of 1905!"
"It is my opinion," said I, "that great human emotions shake up
our vocabulary and leave the words best suited to express them on
top. A sudden violent grief or loss or disappointment will bring
expressions out of an ordinary man as strong and solemn and dramatic
as those used in fiction or on the stage to portray those emotions."
"That's where you fellows are wrong," said Hollis. "Plain, every-day
talk is what goes. Your captain would very likely have kicked the
cat, lit a cigar, stirred up a highball, and telephoned for a lawyer,
instead of getting off those Robert Mantell pyrotechnics."
"Possibly, a little later," I continued. "But just at the time--just
as the blow is delivered, if something Scriptural or theatrical and
deep-tongued isn't wrung from a man in spite of his modern and
practical way of speaking, then I'm wrong."
"Of course," said Hollis, kindly, "you've got to whoop her up some
degrees for the stage. The audience expects it. When the villain
kidnaps little Effie you have to make her mother claw some chunks
out of the atmosphere, and scream: "Me chee-ild, me chee-ild!" What
she would actually do would be to call up the police by 'phone, ring
for some strong tea, and get the little darling's photo out, ready
for the reporters. When you get your villain in a corner--a stage
corner--it's all right for him to clap his hand to his forehead and
hiss: "All is lost!" Off the stage he would remark: "This is a
conspiracy against me-- I refer you to my lawyers.'"
"I get no consolation," said I, gloomily, "from your concession
of an accentuated stage treatment. In my play I fondly hoped that
I was following life. If people in real life meet great crises in
a commonplace way, they should do the same on the stage."
And then we drifted, like two trout, out of our cool pool in the
great hotel and began to nibble languidly at the gay flies in the
swift current of Broadway. And our question of dramatic art was
We nibbled at the flies, and avoided the hooks, as wise trout do;
but soon the weariness of Manhattan in summer overcame us. Nine
stories up, facing the south, was Hollis's apartment, and we soon
stepped into an elevator bound for that cooler haven.
I was familiar in those quarters, and quickly my play was forgotten,
and I stood at a sideboard mixing things, with cracked ice and
glasses all about me. A breeze from the bay came in the windows
not altogether blighted by the asphalt furnace over which it had
passed. Hollis, whistling softly, turned over a late-arrived letter
or two on his table, and drew around the coolest wicker armchairs.
I was just measuring the Vermouth carefully when I heard a
sound. Some man's voice groaned hoarsely: "False, oh, God!--false,
and Love is a lie and friendship but the byword of devils!"
I looked around quickly. Hollis lay across the table with
his head down upon his outstretched arms. And then he looked
up at me and laughed in his ordinary manner.
I knew him--he was poking fun at me about my theory. And it
did seem so unnatural, those swelling words during our quiet
gossip, that I half began to believe I had been mistaken--that
my theory was wrong.
Hollis raised himself slowly from the table.
"You were right about that theatrical business, old man," he
said, quietly, as he tossed a note to me.
I read it.
Loris had run away with Tom Tolliver.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~