The following is the complete text of O. Henry's
The Assessor of Success. For in-depth biographical
data on this writer, visit our biography of
O. Henry (William Sydney Porter).
This classic O. Henry short story was originally
published as The "Little White Man" of Morley in
the New York Sunday World Magazine, August 27, 1905.
It was later reprinted with the more
familiar title, The Assessor of Success..
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The Assessor of Success by O. Henry
THE ASSESSOR OF SUCCESS
by O. Henry
Hastings Beauchamp Morley sauntered across Union Square
with a pitying look at the hundreds that lolled upon the
park benches. They were a motley lot, he thought; the men
with stolid, animal, unshaven faces; the women wriggling
and self-conscious, twining and untwining their feet that
hung four inches above the gravelled walks.
Were I Mr. Carnegie or Mr. Rockefeller I would put a few
millions in my inside pocket and make an appointment with
all the Park Commissioners (around the corner, if necessary),
and arrange for benches in all the parks of the world low
enough for women to sit upon, and rest their feet upon the
ground. After that I might furnish libraries to towns that
would pay for 'em, or build sanitariums for crank professors,
and call 'em colleges, if I wanted to.
Women's rights societies have been laboring for many years
after equality with man. With what result? When they sit
on a bench they must twist their ankles together and
uncomfortably swing their highest French heels clear of
earthly support. Begin at the bottom, ladies. Get your feet
on the ground, and then rise to theories of mental equality.
Hastings Beauchamp Morley was carefully and neatly dressed.
That was the result of an instinct due to his birth and breeding.
It is denied us to look further into a man's bosom than the
starch on his shirt front; so it is left to us only to recount
his walks and conversation.
Morley had not a cent in his pockets; but he smiled pityingly
at a hundred grimy, unfortunate ones who had no more, and who
would have no more when the sun's first rays yellowed the tall
paper-cutter building on the west side of the square. But Morley
would have enough by then. Sundown had seen his pockets empty
before; but sunrise had always seen them lined.
First he went to the house of a clergyman off Madison Avenue
and presented a forged letter of introduction that holily
purported to issue from a pastorate in Indiana. This netted
him $5 when backed up by a realistic romance of a delayed
On the sidewalk, twenty steps from the clergyman's door, a
pale-faced, fat man huskily enveloped him with a raised, red
fist and the voice of a bell buoy, demanding payment of an
"Why, Bergman, man," sang Morley, dulcetly, "is this you? I was
just on my way up to your place to settle up. That remittance
from my aunt arrived only this morning. Wrong address was the
trouble. Come up to the corner and I'll square up. Glad to see
you. Saves me a walk."
Four drinks placated the emotional Bergman. There was an air
about Morley when he was backed by money in hand that would
have stayed off a call loan at Rothschilds'. When he was
penniless his bluff was pitched half a tone lower, but few
were competent to detect the difference in the notes.
"You gum to mine blace and bay me tomorrow, Mr. Morley," said
Bergman. "Oxcuse me dat I dun you on der street. But I haf not
seen you in dree mont'. Pros't!"
Morley walked away with a crooked smile on his pale, smooth
face. The credulous, drink-softened German amused him. He
would have to avoid Twenty-ninth Street in the future. He
had not been aware that Bergman ever went home by that route.
At the door of a darkened house two squares to the north Morley
knocked with a peculiar sequence of raps. The door opened to
the length of a six-inch chain, and the pompous, important
black face of an African guardian imposed itself in the opening.
Morley was admitted.
In a third-story room, in an atmosphere opaque with smoke, he
hung for ten minutes above a roulette wheel. Then downstairs he
crept, and was out-sped by the important Negro, jingling in his
pocket the 40 cents in silver that remained to him of the
dollar he had sacrificed to Bergman. At the corner he lingered,
Across the street was a drug store, well lighted, sending forth
gleams from the German silver and crystal of its soda fountain
and glasses. Along came a youngster of five, headed for the
dispensary, stepping high with the consequence of a big errand,
possibly one to which his advancing age had earned him promotion.
In his hand he clutched something tightly, publicly, proudly,
Morley stopped him with his winning smile and soft speech.
"Me?" said the youngster. "I'm doin' to the drug 'tore for
Mamma. She dave me a dollar to buy a bottle of med'cin."
"Now, now, now!" said Morley. "Such a big man you are to be
doing errands for Mamma. I must go along with my little man
to see that the cars don't run over him. And on the way we'll
have some chocolates. Or would he rather have lemon drops?"
Morley entered the drug store leading the child by the hand.
He presented the prescription that had been wrapped around
On his face was a smile, predatory, parental, politic,
"Aqua pura, one pint," said he to the druggist. "Sodium
chloride, ten grains. Fiat solution. And don't try to skin
me, because I know all about the number of gallons of H2O
in the Croton reservoir, and I always use the other ingredient
on my potatoes."
"Fifteen cents," said the druggist, with a wink, after he had
compounded the order. "I see you understand pharmacy. A dollar
is the regular price."
"To gulls," said Morley, smilingly.
He settled the wrapped bottle carefully in the child's arms
and escorted him to the corner. In his own pocket he dropped
the 85 cents accruing to him by virtue of his chemical
"Look out for the cars, sonny," he said, cheerfully, to his
Two street cars suddenly swooped in opposite directions upon
the youngster. Morley dashed between them and pinned the
infantile messenger by the neck, holding him in safety. Then
from the corner of his street he sent him on his way, swindled,
happy, and sticky with vile, cheap candy from the Italian's
Morley went to a restaurant and ordered a sirloin and a pint
of inexpensive Chateau Breuille. He laughed noiselessly, but
so genuinely that the waiter ventured to premise that good
news had come his way.
"Why, no," said Morley, who seldom held conversation with
anyone. "It is not that. It is something else that amuses
me. Do you know what three divisions of people are easiest
to over-reach in transactions of all kinds?"
"Sure," said the waiter, calculating the size of the tip
promised by the careful knot of Morley's tie; "there's the
buyers from the dry goods stores in the South during August,
and honeymooners from Staten Island, and"--
"Wrong!" said Morley, chuckling happily. "The answer is
just--men, women, and children. The world--well, say New York
and as far as summer boarders can swim out from Long
Island--is full of greenhorns. Two minutes longer on the
broiler would have made this steak fit to be eaten by a
"If yez t'inks it's on de bum," said the waiter, "Oi'll"--
Morley lifted his hand in protest--slightly martyred
"It will do," he said, magnanimously. "And now, green
Chartreuse, frappe and a demi-tasse."
Morley went out leisurely and stood on a corner where two
tradeful arteries of the city cross. With a solitary dime
in his pocket, he stood on the curb watching with confident,
cynical, smiling eyes the tides of people that flowed past
him. Into that stream he must cast his net and draw fish
for his further sustenance and need. Good Izaak Walton
had not the half of his self-reliance and bait-lore.
A joyful party of four--two women and two men--fell upon
him with cries of delight. There was a dinner party on--where
had he been for a fortnight past?--what luck to thus run
upon him! They surrounded and engulfed him--he must join
them--tra la la--and the rest.
One with a white hat plume curving to the shoulder touched
his sleeve, and cast at the others a triumphant look that
said: "See what I can do with him?" and added her queen's
command to the invitations.
"I leave you to imagine," said Morley, pathetically, "how
it desolates me to forego the pleasure. But my friend
Carruthers, of the New York Yacht Club, is to pick me up
here in his motor car at 8."
The white plume tossed, and the quartet danced like midges
around an arc light down the frolicsome way.
Morley stood, turning over and over the dime in his pocket
and laughing gleefully to himself. "'Front,'" he chanted
under his breath; "'front' does it. It is trumps in the
game. How they take it in! Men, women and children--forgeries,
water-and-salt lies--how they all take it in!"
An old man with an ill-fitting suit, a straggling gray
beard and a corpulent umbrella hopped from the conglomeration
of cabs and street cars to the sidewalk at Morley's side.
"Stranger," said he, "excuse me for troubling you, but do
you know anybody in this here town named Solomon Smothers?
He's my son, and I've come down from Ellenville to visit
him. Be darned if I know what I done with his street and
"I do not, sir," said Morley, half closing his eyes to
veil the joy in them. "You had better apply to the police."
"The police!" said the old man. "I ain't done nothin' to
call in the police about. I just come down to see Ben. He
lives in a five-story house, he writes me. If you know
anybody by that name and could"--
"I told you I did not," said Morley, coldly. "I know no
one by the name of Smithers, and I advise you to"--
"Smothers not Smithers," interrupted the old man, hopefully.
"A heavy-set man, sandy complected, about twenty-nine, two
front teeth out, about five foot"--
"Oh, 'Smothers!'" exclaimed Morley. "Sol Smothers? Why, he
lives in the next house to me. I thought you said 'Smithers.'"
Morley looked at his watch. You must have a watch. You can
do it for a dollar. Better go hungry than forego a gunmetal
or the ninety-eight-cent one that the railroads--according
to these watchmakers--are run by.
"Mayor McClellan," said Morley, "was to meet me here at 8
to dine with me at the Kingfishers' Club. But I can't leave
the father of my friend Sol Smothers alone on the street.
By St. Swithin, Mr. Smothers, we Wall street men have to
work! Tired is no name for it! I was about to step across
to the other corner and have a glass of ginger ale with a
dash of sherry when you approached me. You must let me take
you to Sol's house, Mr. Smothers. But, before we take the
car I hope you will join me in"--
An hour later Morley seated himself on the end of a quiet
bench in Madison Square, with a twenty-five-cent cigar
between his lips and $140 in deeply creased bills in his
inside pocket. Content, light-hearted, ironical, keenly
philosophic, he watched the moon drifting in and out
amidst a maze of flying clouds. An old, ragged man with
a low-bowed head sat at the other end of the bench.
Presently the old man stirred and looked at his bench
companion. In Morley's appearance he seemed to recognize
something superior to the usual nightly occupants of the
"Kind sir," he whined, "if you could spare a dime or even
a few pennies to one who"--
Morley cut short his stereotyped appeal by throwing him a
"God bless you!" said the old man. "I've been trying to
find work for"--
"Work!" echoed Morley with his ringing laugh. "You are a
fool, my friend. The world is a rock to you, no doubt; but
you must be an Aaron and smite it with your rod. Then things
better than water will gush out of it for you. That is what
the world is for. It gives to me whatever I want from it."
"God has blessed you," said the old man. "It is only work
that I have known. And now I can get no more."
"I must go home," said Morley, rising and buttoning his
coat. "I stopped here only for a smoke. I hope you may
"May your kindness be rewarded this night," said the old
"Oh," said Morley, "you have your wish already. I am satisfied.
I think good luck follows me like a dog. I am for yonder
bright hotel across the square for the night. And what a
moon that is lighting up the city to-night. I think no one
enjoys the moonlight and such little things as I do. Well,
a good-night to you."
Morley walked to the corner where he would cross to his
hotel. He blew slow streams of smoke from his cigar heavenward.
A policeman passing saluted to his benign nod. What a fine
moon it was.
The clock struck nine as a girl just entering womanhood
stopped on the corner waiting for the approaching car.
She was hurrying as if homeward from employment or delay.
Her eyes were clear and pure, she was dressed in simple
white, she looked eagerly for the car and neither to the
right nor the left.
Morley knew her. Eight years before he had sat on the
same bench with her at school. There had been no sentiment
between them--nothing but the friendship of innocent days.
But he turned down the side street to a quiet spot and
laid his suddenly burning face against the cool iron of
a lamp-post, and said dully:
"God! I wish I could die."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~
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