TWO THANKSGIVING DAY GENTLEMEN
by O. Henry
There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we
Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to
eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the
porch the old pump looks than it used to. Bless the day.
President Roosevelt gives it to us. We hear some talk of
the Puritans, but don't just remember who they were. Bet
we can lick 'em, anyhow, if they try to land again. Plymouth
Rocks? Well, that sounds more familiar. Lots of us have had
to come down to hens since the Turkey Trust got its work in.
But somebody in Washington is leaking out advance information
to 'em about these Thanksgiving proclamations.
The big city east of the cranberry bogs has made Thanksgiving
Day an institution. The last Thursday in November is the
only day in the year on which it recognizes the part of
America lying across the ferries. It is the one day that
is purely American. Yes, a day of celebration, exclusively
And now for the story which is to prove to you that we have
traditions on this side of the ocean that are becoming older
at a much rapider rate than those of England are--thanks to
our git-up and enterprise.
Stuffy Pete took his seat on the third bench to the right
as you enter Union Square from the east, at the walk opposite
the fountain. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he had
taken his seat there promptly at 1 o'clock. For every time
he had done so things had happened to him--Charles Dickensy
things that swelled his waistcoat above his heart, and
equally on the other side.
But to-day Stuffy Pete's appearance at the annual trysting
place seemed to have been rather the result of habit than
of the yearly hunger which, as the philanthropists seem to
think, afflicts the poor at such extended intervals.
Certainly Pete was not hungry. He had just come from a
feast that had left him of his powers barely those of
respiration and locomotion. His eyes were like two pale
gooseberries firmly imbedded in a swollen and gravy-smeared
mask of putty. His breath came in short wheezes; a
senatorial roll of adipose tissue denied a fashionable
set to his upturned coat collar. Buttons that had been
sewed upon his clothes by kind Salvation fingers a week
before flew like popcorn, strewing the earth around him.
Ragged he was, with a split shirt front open to the
wishbone; but the November breeze, carrying fine snowflakes,
brought him only a grateful coolness. For Stuffy Pete was
overcharged with the caloric produced by a super-bountiful
dinner, beginning with oysters and ending with plum
pudding, and including (it seemed to him) all the roast
turkey and baked potatoes and chicken salad and squash
pie and ice cream in the world. Wherefore he sat, gorged,
and gazed upon the world with after-dinner contempt.
The meal had been an unexpected one. He was passing a
red brick mansion near the beginning of Fifth avenue, in
which lived two old ladies of ancient family and a reverence
for traditions. They even denied the existence of New York,
and believed that Thanksgiving Day was declared solely for
Washington Square. One of their traditional habits was to
station a servant at the postern gate with orders to admit
the first hungry wayfarer that came along after the hour
of noon had struck, and banquet him to a finish. Stuffy
Pete happened to pass by on his way to the park, and the
seneschals gathered him in and upheld the custom of the
After Stuffy Pete had gazed straight before him for ten
minutes he was conscious of a desire for a more varied
field of vision. With a tremendous effort he moved his
head slowly to the left. And then his eyes bulged out
fearfully, and his breath ceased, and the rough-shod
ends of his short legs wriggled and rustled on the
For the Old Gentleman was coming across Fourth avenue
toward his bench.
Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years the Old Gentleman
had come there and found Stuffy Pete on his bench. That
was a thing that the Old Gentleman was trying to make a
tradition of. Every Thanksgiving Day for nine years he
had found Stuffy there, and had led him to a restaurant
and watched him eat a big dinner. They do those things in
England unconsciously. But this is a young country, and
nine years is not so bad. The Old Gentleman was a staunch
American patriot, and considered himself a pioneer in
American tradition. In order to become picturesque we must
keep on doing one thing for a long time without ever
letting it get away from us. Something like collecting
the weekly dimes in industrial insurance. Or cleaning the
The Old Gentleman moved, straight and stately, toward the
Institution that he was rearing. Truly, the annual feeding
of Stuffy Pete was nothing national in its character, such
as the Magna Charta or jam for breakfast was in England.
But it was a step. It was almost feudal. It showed, at
least, that a Custom was not impossible to New
The Old Gentleman was thin and tall and sixty. He was dressed
all in black, and wore the old-fashioned kind of glasses that
won't stay on your nose. His hair was whiter and thinner than
it had been last year, and he seemed to make more use of his
big, knobby cane with the crooked handle.
As his established benefactor came up Stuffy wheezed and
shuddered like some woman's over-fat pug when a street
dog bristles up at him. He would have flown, but all the
skill of Santos-Dumont could not have separated him from
his bench. Well had the myrmidons of the two old ladies
done their work.
"Good morning," said the Old Gentleman. "I am glad to
perceive that the vicissitudes of another year have
spared you to move in health about the beautiful world.
For that blessing alone this day of thanksgiving is well
proclaimed to each of us. If you will come with me, my
man, I will provide you with a dinner that should make
your physical being accord with the mental."
That is what the Old Gentleman said every time. Every
Thanksgiving Day for nine years. The words themselves
almost formed an Institution. Nothing could be compared
with them except the Declaration of Independence. Always
before they had been music in Stuffy's ears. But now he
looked up at the Old Gentleman's face with tearful agony
in his own. The fine snow almost sizzled when it fell
upon his perspiring brow. But the Old Gentleman shivered
a little and turned his back to the wind.
Stuffy had always wondered why the Old Gentleman spoke
his speech rather sadly. He did not know that it was
because he was wishing every time that he had a son to
succeed him. A son who would come there after he was
gone--a son who would stand proud and strong before
some subsequent Stuffy, and say: "In memory of my father."
Then it would be an Institution.
But the Old Gentleman had no relatives. He lived in rented
rooms in one of the decayed old family brownstone mansions
in one of the quiet streets east of the park. In the winter
he raised fuchsias in a little conservatory the size of a
steamer trunk. In the spring he walked in the Easter parade.
In the summer he lived at a farmhouse in the New Jersey
hills, and sat in a wicker armchair, speaking of a butterfly,
the ornithoptera amphrisius, that he hoped to find some day.
In the autumn he fed Stuffy a dinner. These were the Old
Stuffy Pete looked up at him for a half minute, stewing and
helpless in his own self-pity. The Old Gentleman's eyes were
bright with the giving-pleasure. His face was getting more
lined each year, but his little black necktie was in as
jaunty a bow as ever, and the linen was beautiful and white,
and his gray mustache was curled carefully at the ends. And
then Stuffy made a noise that sounded like peas bubbling in
a pot. Speech was intended; and as the Old Gentleman had
heard the sounds nine times before, he rightly construed them
into Stuffy's old formula of acceptance.
"Thankee, sir. I'll go with ye, and much obliged. I'm very
The coma of repletion had not prevented from entering Stuffy's
mind the conviction that he was the basis of an Institution.
His Thanksgiving appetite was not his own; it belonged by all
the sacred rights of established custom, if not, by the actual
Statute of Limitations, to this kind old gentleman who had
preempted it. True, America is free; but in order to establish
tradition some one must be a repetend--a repeating decimal.
The heroes are not all heroes of steel and gold. See one here
that wielded only weapons of iron, badly silvered, and tin.
The Old Gentleman led his annual protege southward to the
restaurant, and to the table where the feast had always
occurred. They were recognized.
"Here comes de old guy," said a waiter, "dat blows dat same
bum to a meal every Thanksgiving."
The Old Gentleman sat across the table glowing like a smoked
pearl at his corner-stone of future ancient Tradition. The
waiters heaped the table with holiday food--and Stuffy, with
a sigh that was mistaken for hunger's expression, raised knife
and fork and carved for himself a crown of imperishable bay.
No more valiant hero ever fought his way through the ranks
of an enemy. Turkey, chops, soups, vegetables, pies, disappeared
before him as fast as they could be served. Gorged nearly to
the uttermost when he entered the restaurant, the smell of
food had almost caused him to lose his honor as a gentleman,
but he rallied like a true knight. He saw the look of beneficent
happiness on the Old Gentleman's face--a happier look than even
the fuchsias and the ornithoptera amphrisius had ever brought
to it--and he had not the heart to see it wane.
In an hour Stuffy leaned back with a battle won.
"Thankee kindly, sir," he puffed like a leaky steam pipe;
"thankee kindly for a hearty meal."
Then he arose heavily with glazed eyes and started toward
the kitchen. A waiter turned him about like a top, and
pointed him toward the door. The Old Gentleman carefully
counted out $1.30 in silver change, leaving three nickels
for the waiter.
They parted as they did each year at the door, the Old
Gentleman going south, Stuffy north.
Around the first corner Stuffy turned, and stood for one
minute. Then he seemed to puff out his rags as an owl
puffs out his feathers, and fell to the sidewalk like a
When the ambulance came the young surgeon and the driver
cursed softly at his weight. There was no smell of whiskey
to justify a transfer to the patrol wagon, so Stuffy and
his two dinners went to the hospital. There they stretched
him on a bed and began to test him for strange diseases,
with the hope of getting a chance at some problem with the
And lo! an hour later another ambulance brought the Old
Gentleman. And they laid him on another bed and spoke of
appendicitis, for he looked good for the bill.
But pretty soon one of the young doctors met one of the
young nurses whose eyes he liked, and stopped to chat
with her about the cases.
"That nice old gentleman over there, now," he said, "you
wouldn't think that was a case of almost starvation. Proud
old family, I guess. He told me he hadn't eaten a thing
for three days."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~