by O. Henry
Miss Martha Meacham kept the little bakery on the corner
(the one where you go up three steps, and the bell tinkles
when you open the door).
Miss Martha was forty, her bank-book showed a credit of
two thousand dollars, and she possessed two false teeth
and a sympathetic heart. Many people have married whose
chances to do so were much inferior to Miss Martha's.
Two or three times a week a customer came in in whom she
began to take an interest. He was a middle-aged man,
wearing spectacles and a brown beard trimmed to a careful
He spoke English with a strong German accent. His clothes
were worn and darned in places, and wrinkled and baggy in
others. But he looked neat, and had very good manners.
He always bought two loaves of stale bread. Fresh bread
was five cents a loaf. Stale ones were two for five.
Never did he call for anything but stale bread.
Once Miss Martha saw a red and brown stain on his fingers.
She was sure then that he was an artist and very poor. No
doubt he lived in a garret, where he painted pictures and
ate stale bread and thought of the good things to eat in
Miss Martha's bakery.
Often when Miss Martha sat down to her chops and light
rolls and jam and tea she would sigh, and wish that the
gentle-mannered artist might share her tasty meal instead
of eating his dry crust in that draughty attic. Miss
Martha's heart, as you have been told, was a sympathetic
In order to test her theory as to his occupation, she
brought from her room one day a painting that she had
bought at a sale, and set it against the shelves behind
the bread counter.
It was a Venetian scene. A splendid marble palazzo (so
it said on the picture) stood in the foreground--or
rather forewater. For the rest there were gondolas
(with the lady trailing her hand in the water), clouds,
sky, and chiaro-oscuro in plenty. No artist could fail
to notice it.
Two days afterward the customer came in.
"Two loafs of stale bread, if you blease.
"You haf here a fine bicture, madame," he said while she
was wrapping up the bread.
"Yes?" says Miss Martha, revelling in her own cunning. "I
do so admire art and" (no, it would not do to say "artists"
thus early) "and paintings," she substituted. "You think
it is a good picture?"
"Der balance," said the customer, "is not in good drawing.
Der bairspective of it is not true. Goot morning, madame."
He took his bread, bowed, and hurried out.
Yes, he must be an artist. Miss Martha took the picture
back to her room.
How gentle and kindly his eyes shone behind his spectacles!
What a broad brow he had! To be able to judge perspective
at a glance--and to live on stale bread! But genius often
has to struggle before it is recognized.
What a thing it would be for art and perspective if genius
were backed by two thousand dollars in bank, a bakery, and
a sympathetic heart to--But these were day-dreams, Miss
Often now when he came he would chat for a while across
the showcase. He seemed to crave Miss Martha's cheerful
He kept on buying stale bread. Never a cake, never a pie,
never one of her delicious Sally Lunns.
She thought he began to look thinner and discouraged. Her
heart ached to add something good to eat to his meagre
purchase, but her courage failed at the act. She did not
dare affront him. She knew the pride of artists.
Miss Martha took to wearing her blue-dotted silk waist
behind the counter. In the back room she cooked a mysterious
compound of quince seeds and borax. Ever so many people
use it for the complexion.
One day the customer came in as usual, laid his nickel
on the showcase, and called for his stale loaves. While
Miss Martha was reaching for them there was a great
tooting and clanging, and a fire-engine came lumbering
The customer hurried to the door to look, as anyone will.
Suddenly inspired, Miss Martha seized the opportunity.
On the bottom shelf behind the counter was a pound of
fresh butter that the dairyman had left ten minutes before.
With a bread knife Miss Martha made a deep slash in each
of the stale loaves, inserted a generous quantity of butter,
and pressed the loaves tight again.
When the customer turned once more she was tying the paper
When he had gone, after an unusually pleasant little chat,
Miss Martha smiled to herself, but not without a slight
fluttering of the heart.
Had she been too bold? Would he take offense? But surely
not. There was no language of edibles. Butter was no
emblem of unmaidenly forwardness.
For a long time that day her mind dwelt on the subject.
She imagined the scene when he should discover her little
He would lay down his brushes and palette. There would
stand his easel with the picture he was painting in which
the perspective was beyond criticism.
He would prepare for his luncheon of dry bread and water.
He would slice into a loaf--ah!
Miss Martha blushed. Would he think of the hand that placed
it there as he ate? Would he--
The front door bell jangled viciously. Somebody was coming
in, making a great deal of noise.
Miss Martha hurried to the front. Two men were there. One
was a young man smoking a pipe--a man she had never seen
before. The other was her artist.
His face was very red, his hat was on the back of his head,
his hair was wildly rumpled. He clinched his two fists and
shook them ferociously at Miss Martha. At Miss Martha.
"Dummkopf!" he shouted with extreme loudness; and
then "Tausendonfer!" or something like it in German.
The young man tried to draw him away.
"I vill not go," he said angrily, "else I shall told her."
He made a bass drum of Miss Martha's counter.
"You haf shpoilt me," he cried, his blue eyes blazing behind
his spectacles. "I vill tell you. You vas von meddingsome
Miss Martha leaned weakly against the shelves and laid one
hand on her blue-dotted silk waist. The young man took the
other by the collar.
"Come on," he said, "you've said enough." He dragged the
angry one out at the door to the sidewalk, and then came
"Guess you ought to be told, ma'am," he said, "what the
row is about. That's Blumberger. He's an architectural
draftsman. I work in the same office with him.
"He's been working hard for three months drawing a plan
for a new city hall. It was a prize competition. He finished
inking the lines yesterday. You know, a draftsman always
makes his drawing in pencil first. When it's done he rubs
out the pencil lines with handfuls of stale bread crumbs.
That's better than India rubber.
"Blumberger's been buying the bread here. Well, to-day--well,
you know, ma'am, that butter isn't--well, Blumberger's plan
isn't good for anything now except to cut up into railroad
Miss Martha went into the back room. She took off the
blue-dotted silk waist and put on the old brown serge
she used to wear. Then she poured the quince seed and
borax mixture out of the window into the ash can.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~