by O. Henry
The most notable thing about Time is that it is so
purely relative. A large amount of reminiscence is,
by common consent, conceded to the drowning man; and
it is not past belief that one may review an entire
courtship while removing one's gloves.
That is what Trysdale was doing, standing by a table
in his bachelor apartments. On the table stood a
singular-looking green plant in a red earthen jar.
The plant was one of the species of cacti, and was
provided with long, tentacular leaves that perpetually
swayed with the slightest breeze with a peculiar
Trysdale's friend, the brother of the bride, stood
at a sideboard complaining at being allowed to drink
alone. Both men were in evening dress. White favors
like stars upon their coats shone through the gloom
of the apartment.
As he slowly unbuttoned his gloves, there passed through
Trysdale's mind a swift, scarifying retrospect of the
last few hours. It seemed that in his nostrils was still
the scent of the flowers that had been banked in odorous
masses about the church, and in his ears the low-pitched
hum of a thousand well-bred voices, the rustle of crisp
garments, and, most insistently recurring, the drawling
words of the minister irrevocably binding her to another.
From this last, hopeless point of view he still strove,
as if it had become a habit of his mind, to reach some
conjecture as to why and how he had lost her. Shaken
rudely by the uncompromising fact, he had suddenly found
himself confronted by a thing he had never before
faced--his own innermost, unmitigated, arid unbedecked
self. He saw all the garbs of pretense and egoism that
he had worn now turn to rags of folly. He shuddered at
the thought that to others, before now, the garments
of his soul must have appeared sorry and threadbare.
Vanity and conceit! These were the joints in his armor.
And how free from either she had always been! But why--
As she had slowly moved up the aisle toward the altar he
had felt an unworthy, sullen exultation that had served
to support him. He had told himself that her paleness
was from thoughts of another than the man to whom she
was about to give herself. But even that poor consolation
had been wrenched from him. For, when he saw that swift,
limpid, upward look that she gave the man when he took
her hand, he knew himself to be forgotten. Once that same
look had been raised to him, and he had gauged its meaning.
Indeed, his conceit had crumbled; its last prop was gone.
Why had it ended thus? There had been no quarrel between
For the thousandth time he remarshalled in his mind the
events of those last few days before the tide had so
She had always insisted upon placing him upon a pedestal,
and he had accepted her homage with royal grandeur. It
had been a very sweet incense that she had burned before
him; so modest (he told himself), so childlike and
worshipful, and (he would once have sworn) so sincere.
She had invested him with an almost supernatural number
of high attributes and excellencies and talents, and he
had absorbed the oblation as a desert drinks the rain
that can coax from it no promise of blossom or fruit.
As Trysdale grimly wrenched apart the seam of his last
glove, the crowning instance of his fatuous and tardily
mourned egoism came vividly back to him.
The scene was the night when he had asked her to come
up on his pedestal with him and share his greatness.
He could not, now, for the pain of it, allow his mind
to dwell upon the memory of her convincing beauty that
night--the careless wave of her hair, the tenderness
and virginal charm of her looks and words. But they
had been enough, and they had brought him to speak.
During their conversation she had said:
"And Captain Carruthers tells me that you speak the
Spanish language like a native. Why have you hidden
this accomplishment from me? Is there anything you do
Now, Carruthers was an idiot. No doubt he (Trysdale)
had been guilty (he sometimes did such things) of airing
at the club some old, canting Castilian proverb dug from
the hotch-potch at the back of dictionaries. Carruthers,
who was one of his incontinent admirers, was the very
man to have magnified this exhibition of doubtful
But, alas! the incense of her admiration had been so
sweet and flattering. He allowed the imputation to
pass without denial. Without protest, he allowed her
to twine about his brow this spurious bay of Spanish
scholarship. He let it grace his conquering head, and,
among its soft convolutions, he did not feel the prick
of the thorn that was to pierce him later.
How glad, how shy, how tremulous she was! How she
fluttered like a snared bird when he laid his mightiness
at her feet! He could have sworn, and he could swear
now, that unmistakable consent was in her eyes, but,
coyly, she would give him no direct answer. "I will
send you my answer tomorrow," she said; and he, the
indulgent, confident victor, smilingly granted the
The next day he waited, impatient, in his rooms for
the word. At noon her groom came to the door and left
the strange cactus in the red earthen jar. There was
no note, no message, merely a tag upon the plant
bearing a barbarous foreign or botanical name. He
waited until night, but her answer did not come. His
large pride and hurt vanity kept him from seeking her.
Two evenings later they met at a dinner. Their greetings
were conventional, but she looked at him, breathless,
wondering, eager. He was courteous, adamant, waiting
her explanation. With womanly swiftness she took her
cue from his manner, and turned to snow and ice. Thus,
and wider from this on, they had drifted apart. Where
was his fault? Who had been to blame? Humbled now, he
sought the answer amid the ruins of his self-conceit.
The voice of the other man in the room, querulously
intruding upon his thoughts, aroused him.
"I say, Trysdale, what the deuce is the matter with
you? You look unhappy as if you yourself had been
married instead of having acted merely as an accomplice.
Look at me, another accessory, come two thousand miles
on a garlicky, cockroachy banana steamer all the way
from South America to connive at the sacrifice--please
to observe how lightly my guilt rests upon my shoulders.
Only little sister I had, too, and now she's gone. Come
now! take something to ease your conscience."
"I won't drink just now, thanks," said Trysdale.
"Your brandy," resumed the other, coming over and joining
him, "is abominable. Run down to see me some time at Punta
Redonda, and try some of our stuff that old Garcia smuggles
in. It's worth the, trip. Hallo! here's an old acquaintance.
Wherever did you rake up this cactus, Trysdale?"
"A present," said Trysdale, "from a friend. Know the
"Very well. It's a tropical concern. See hundreds of
'em around Punta every day. Here's the name on this
tag tied to it. Know any Spanish, Trysdale?"
"No," said Trysdale, with the bitter wraith of a
smile,--"Is it Spanish?"
"Yes. The natives imagine the leaves are reaching out
and beckoning to you. They call it by this name--'Ventomarme.'
Name means in English, 'Come and take me.'"
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~