The Romance of A Busy Broker by O Henry
Pitcher, confidential clerk in the office of Harvey Maxwell, broker,
allowed a look of mild interest and surprise to visit his usually
expressionless countenance when his employer briskly entered at half
past nine in company with his young lady stenographer. With a snappy
"Good-morning, Pitcher," Maxwell dashed at his desk as though he were
intending to leap over it, and then plunged into the great heap of
letters and telegrams waiting there for him.
The young lady had been Maxwell's stenographer for a year. She was
beautiful in a way that was decidedly unstenographic. She forewent
the pomp of the alluring pompadour. She wore no chains, bracelets or
lockets. She had not the air of being about to accept an invitation
to luncheon. Her dress was grey and plain, but it fitted her figure
with fidelity and discretion. In her neat black turban hat was the
gold-green wing of a macaw. On this morning she was softly and shyly
radiant. Her eyes were dreamily bright, her cheeks genuine
peachblow, her expression a happy one, tinged with reminiscence.
Pitcher, still mildly curious, noticed a difference in her ways this
morning. Instead of going straight into the adjoining room, where
her desk was, she lingered, slightly irresolute, in the outer office.
Once she moved over by Maxwell's desk, near enough for him to be
aware of her presence.
The machine sitting at that desk was no longer a man; it was a busy
New York broker, moved by buzzing wheels and uncoiling springs.
"Well--what is it? Anything?" asked Maxwell sharply. His opened
mail lay like a bank of stage snow on his crowded desk. His keen
grey eye, impersonal and brusque, flashed upon her half impatiently.
"Nothing," answered the stenographer, moving away with a little smile.
"Mr. Pitcher," she said to the confidential clerk, did Mr. Maxwell
say anything yesterday about engaging another stenographer?"
"He did," answered Pitcher. "He told me to get another one. I
notified the agency yesterday afternoon to send over a few samples
this morning. It's 9.45 o'clock, and not a single picture hat or
piece of pineapple chewing gum has showed up yet."
"I will do the work as usual, then," said the young lady, "until some
one comes to fill the place." And she went to her desk at once and
hung the black turban hat with the gold-green macaw wing in its
He who has been denied the spectacle of a busy Manhattan broker
during a rush of business is handicapped for the profession of
anthropology. The poet sings of the "crowded hour of glorious life."
The broker's hour is not only crowded, but the minutes and seconds
are hanging to all the straps and packing both front and rear
And this day was Harvey Maxwell's busy day. The ticker began to reel
out jerkily its fitful coils of tape, the desk telephone had a
chronic attack of buzzing. Men began to throng into the office and
call at him over the railing, jovially, sharply, viciously,
excitedly. Messenger boys ran in and out with messages and
telegrams. The clerks in the office jumped about like sailors during
a storm. Even Pitcher's face relaxed into something resembling
On the Exchange there were hurricanes and landslides and snowstorms
and glaciers and volcanoes, and those elemental disturbances were
reproduced in miniature in the broker's offices. Maxwell shoved his
chair against the wall and transacted business after the manner of a
toe dancer. He jumped from ticker to 'phone, from desk to door with
the trained agility of a harlequin.
In the midst of this growing and important stress the broker became
suddenly aware of a high-rolled fringe of golden hair under a nodding
canopy of velvet and ostrich tips, an imitation sealskin sacque and a
string of beads as large as hickory nuts, ending near the floor with
a silver heart. There was a self-possessed young lady connected with
these accessories; and Pitcher was there to construe her.
"Lady from the Stenographer's Agency to see about the position," said
Maxwell turned half around, with his hands full of papers and ticker
"What position?" he asked, with a frown.
"Position of stenographer," said Pitcher. "You told me yesterday to
call them up and have one sent over this morning."
"You are losing your mind, Pitcher," said Maxwell. "Why should I
have given you any such instructions? Miss Leslie has given perfect
satisfaction during the year she has been here. The place is hers as
long as she chooses to retain it. There's no place open here, madam.
Countermand that order with the agency, Pitcher, and don't bring any
more of 'em in here."
The silver heart left the office, swinging and banging itself
independently against the office furniture as it indignantly
departed. Pitcher seized a moment to remark to the bookkeeper that
the "old man" seemed to get more absent-minded and forgetful every
day of the world.
The rush and pace of business grew fiercer and faster. On the floor
they were pounding half a dozen stocks in which Maxwell's customers
were heavy investors. Orders to buy and sell were coming and going
as swift as the flight of swallows. Some of his own holdings were
imperilled, and the man was working like some high-geared, delicate,
strong machine--strung to full tension, going at full speed,
accurate, never hesitating, with the proper word and decision and act
ready and prompt as clockwork. Stocks and bonds, loans and
mortgages, margins and securities--here was a world of finance, and
there was no room in it for the human world or the world of nature.
When the luncheon hour drew near there came a slight lull in the
Maxwell stood by his desk with his hands full of telegrams and
memoranda, with a fountain pen over his right ear and his hair
hanging in disorderly strings over his forehead. His window was
open, for the beloved janitress Spring had turned on a little warmth
through the waking registers of the earth.
And through the window came a wandering--perhaps a lost--odour--a
delicate, sweet odour of lilac that fixed the broker for a moment
immovable. For this odour belonged to Miss Leslie; it was her own,
and hers only.
The odour brought her vividly, almost tangibly before him. The world
of finance dwindled suddenly to a speck. And she was in the next
room--twenty steps away.
"By George, I'll do it now," said Maxwell, half aloud. "I'll ask her
now. I wonder I didn't do it long ago."
He dashed into the inner office with the haste of a short trying to
cover. He charged upon the desk of the stenographer.
She looked up at him with a smile. A soft pink crept over her cheek,
and her eyes were kind and frank. Maxwell leaned one elbow on her
desk. He still clutched fluttering papers with both hands and the
pen was above his ear.
"Miss Leslie," he began hurriedly, "I have but a moment to spare.
I want to say something in that moment. Will you he my wife? I
haven't had time to make love to you in the ordinary way, but I
really do love you. Talk quick, please--those fellows are clubbing
the stuffing out of Union Pacific."
"Oh, what are you talking about?" exclaimed the young lady. She rose
to her feet and gazed upon him, round-eyed.
"Don't you understand?" said Maxwell, restively. "I want you to
marry me. I love you, Miss Leslie. I wanted to tell you, and I
snatched a minute when things had slackened up a bit. They're
calling me for the 'phone now. Tell 'em to wait a minute, Pitcher.
Won't you, Miss Leslie?"
The stenographer acted very queerly. At first she seemed overcome
with amazement; then tears flowed from her wondering eyes; and then
she smiled sunnily through them, and one of her arms slid tenderly
about the broker's neck.
"I know now," she said, softly. "It's this old business that has
driven everything else out of your head for the time. I was
frightened at first. Don't you remember, Harvey? We were married
last evening at 8 o'clock in the Little Church Around the Corner."