Sisters of the Golden Circle by O Henry
The Rubberneck Auto was about ready to start. The merry top-riders
had been assigned to their seats by the gentlemanly conductor. The
sidewalk was blockaded with sightseers who had gathered to stare at
sightseers, justifying the natural law that every creature on earth
is preyed upon by some other creature.
The megaphone man raised his instrument of torture; the inside of the
great automobile began to thump and throb like the heart of a coffee
drinker. The top-riders nervously clung to the seats; the old lady
from Valparaiso, Indiana, shrieked to be put ashore. But, before a
wheel turns, listen to a brief preamble through the cardiaphone,
which shall point out to you an object of interest on life's
Swift and comprehensive is the recognition of white man for white man
in African wilds; instant and sure is the spiritual greeting between
mother and babe; unhesitatingly do master and dog commune across the
slight gulf between animal and man; immeasurably quick and sapient
are the brief messages between one and one's beloved. But all these
instances set forth only slow and groping interchange of sympathy and
thought beside one other instance which the Rubberneck coach shall
disclose. You shall learn (if you have not learned already) what two
beings of all earth's living inhabitants most quickly look into each
other's hearts and souls when they meet face to face.
The gong whirred, and the Glaring-at-Gotham car moved majestically
upon its instructive tour.
On the highest, rear seat was James Williams, of Cloverdale,
Missouri, and his Bride.
Capitalise it, friend typo--that last word--word of words in the
epiphany of life and love. The scent of the flowers, the booty of
the bee, the primal drip of spring waters, the overture of the lark,
the twist of lemon peel on the cocktail of creation--such is the
bride. Holy is the wife; revered the mother; galliptious is the
summer girl--but the bride is the certified check among the wedding
presents that the gods send in when man is married to mortality.
The car glided up the Golden Way. On the bridge of the great cruiser
the captain stood, trumpeting the sights of the big city to his
passengers. Wide-mouthed and open-eared, they heard the sights of
the metropolis thundered forth to their eyes. Confused, delirious
with excitement and provincial longings, they tried to make ocular
responses to the megaphonic ritual. In the solemn spires of
spreading cathedrals they saw the home of the Vanderbilts; in the
busy bulk of the Grand Central depot they viewed, wonderingly, the
frugal cot of Russell Sage. Bidden to observe the highlands of the
Hudson, they gaped, unsuspecting, at the upturned mountains of a new-
laid sewer. To many the elevated railroad was the Rialto, on the
stations of which uniformed men sat and made chop suey of your
tickets. And to this day in the outlying districts many have it that
Chuck Connors, with his hand on his heart, leads reform; and that but
for the noble municipal efforts of one Parkhurst, a district
attorney, the notorious "Bishop" Potter gang would have destroyed law
and order from the Bowery to the Harlem River.
But I beg you to observe Mrs. James Williams--Hattie Chalmers that
was--once the belle of Cloverdale. Pale-blue is the bride's, if she
will; and this colour she had honoured. Willingly had the moss
rosebud loaned to her cheeks of its pink--and as for the violet!--her
eyes will do very well as they are, thank you. A useless strip of
white chaf--oh, no, he was guiding the auto car--of white chiffon--or
perhaps it was grenadine or tulle--was tied beneath her chin,
pretending to hold her bonnet in place. But you know as well as I do
that the hatpins did the work.
And on Mrs. James Williams's face was recorded a little library of
the world's best thoughts in three volumes. Volume No. 1 contained
the belief that James Williams was about the right sort of thing.
Volume No. 2 was an essay on the world, declaring it to be a very
excellent place. Volume No. 3 disclosed the belief that in occupying
the highest seat in a Rubberneck auto they were travelling the pace
that passes all understanding.
James Williams, you would have guessed, was about twenty-four. It
will gratify you to know that your estimate was so accurate. He was
exactly twenty-three years, eleven months and twenty-nine days old.
He was well built, active, strong-jawed, good-natured and rising. He
was on his wedding trip.
Dear kind fairy, please cut out those orders for money and 40 H. P.
touring cars and fame and a new growth of hair and the presidency of
the boat club. Instead of any of them turn backward--oh, turn
backward and give us just a teeny-weeny bit of our wedding trip over
again. Just an hour, dear fairy, so we can remember how the grass
and poplar trees looked, and the bow of those bonnet strings tied
beneath her chin--even if it was the hatpins that did the work.
Can't do it? Very well; hurry up with that touring car and the oil
Just in front of Mrs. James Williams sat a girl in a loose tan jacket
and a straw hat adorned with grapes and roses. Only in dreams and
milliners' shops do we, alas! gather grapes and roses at one swipe.
This girl gazed with large blue eyes, credulous, when the megaphone
man roared his doctrine that millionaires were things about which we
should be concerned. Between blasts she resorted to Epictetian
philosophy in the form of pepsin chewing gum.
At this girl's right hand sat a young man about twenty-four. He was
well-built, active, strong-jawed and good-natured. But if his
description seems to follow that of James Williams, divest it of
anything Cloverdalian. This man belonged to hard streets and sharp
corners. He looked keenly about him, seeming to begrudge the asphalt
under the feet of those upon whom he looked down from his perch.
While the megaphone barks at a famous hostelry, let me whisper you
through the low-tuned cardiaphone to sit tight; for now things are
about to happen, and the great city will close over them again as
over a scrap of ticker tape floating down from the den of a Broad
The girl in the tan jacket twisted around to view the pilgrims on the
last seat. The other passengers she had absorbed; the seat behind
her was her Bluebeard's chamber.
Her eyes met those of Mrs. James Williams. Between two ticks of a
watch they exchanged their life's experiences, histories, hopes and
fancies. And all, mind you, with the eye, before two men could have
decided whether to draw steel or borrow a match.
The bride leaned forward low. She and the girl spoke rapidly
together, their tongues moving quickly like those of two serpents--
a comparison that is not meant to go further. Two smiles and a dozen
nods closed the conference.
And now in the broad, quiet avenue in front of the Rubberneck car a
man in dark clothes stood with uplifted hand. From the sidewalk
another hurried to join him.
The girl in the fruitful hat quickly seized her companion by the arm
and whispered in his ear. That young man exhibited proof of ability
to act promptly. Crouching low, he slid over the edge of the car,
hung lightly for an instant, and then disappeared. Half a dozen of
the top-riders observed his feat, wonderingly, but made no comment,
deeming it prudent not to express surprise at what might be the
conventional manner of alighting in this bewildering city. The
truant passenger dodged a hansom and then floated past, like a leaf
on a stream between a furniture van and a florist's delivery wagon.
The girl in the tan jacket turned again, and looked in the eyes of
Mrs. James Williams. Then she faced about and sat still while the
Rubberneck auto stopped at the flash of the badge under the coat of
the plainclothes man.
"What's eatin' you?" demanded the megaphonist, abandoning his
professional discourse for pure English.
"Keep her at anchor for a minute," ordered the officer. "There's a
man on board we want--a Philadelphia burglar called 'Pinky' McGuire.
There he is on the back seat. Look out for the side, Donovan."
Donovan went to the hind wheel and looked up at James Williams.
"Come down, old sport," he said, pleasantly. "We've got you. Back
to Sleepytown for yours. It ain't a bad idea, hidin' on a
Rubberneck, though. I'll remember that."
Softly through the megaphone came the advice of the conductor:
"Better step off, sir, and explain. The car must proceed on its tour."
James Williams belonged among the level heads. With necessary
slowness he picked his way through the passengers down to the steps
at the front of the car. His wife followed, but she first turned her
eyes and saw the escaped tourist glide from behind the furniture van
and slip behind a tree on the edge of the little park, not fifty feet
Descended to the ground, James Williams faced his captors with a
smile. He was thinking what a good story he would have to tell in
Cloverdale about having been mistaken for a burglar. The Rubberneck
coach lingered, out of respect for its patrons. What could be a more
interesting sight than this?
"My name is James Williams, of Cloverdale, Missouri," he said kindly,
so that they would not be too greatly mortified. "I have letters
here that will show--"
"You'll come with us, please," announced the plainclothes man.
"'Pinky' McGuire's description fits you like flannel washed in hot
suds. A detective saw you on the Rubberneck up at Central Park and
'phoned down to take you in. Do your explaining at the station-
James Williams's wife--his bride of two weeks--looked him in the face
with a strange, soft radiance in her eyes and a flush on her cheeks,
looked him in the face and said:
"Go with 'em quietly, 'Pinky,' and maybe it'll be in your favour."
And then as the Glaring-at-Gotham car rolled away she turned and
threw a kiss--his wife threw a kiss--at some one high up on the seats
of the Rubberneck.
"Your girl gives you good advice, McGuire," said Donovan. "Come on,
And then madness descended upon and occupied James Williams. He
pushed his hat far upon the back of his head.
"My wife seems to think I am a burglar," he said, recklessly. "I
never heard of her being crazy; therefore I must be. And if I'm
crazy, they can't do anything to me for killing you two fools in my
Whereupon he resisted arrest so cheerfully and industriously that
cops had to be whistled for, and afterwards the reserves, to disperse
a few thousand delighted spectators.
At the station-house the desk sergeant asked for his name.
"McDoodle, the Pink, or Pinky the Brute, I forget which," was James
Williams's answer. "But you can bet I'm a burglar; don't leave that
out. And you might add that it took five of 'em to pluck the Pink.
I'd especially like to have that in the records."
In an hour came Mrs. James Williams, with Uncle Thomas, of Madison
Avenue, in a respect-compelling motor car and proofs of the hero's
innocence--for all the world like the third act of a drama backed by
an automobile mfg. co.
After the police had sternly reprimanded James Williams for imitating
a copyrighted burglar and given him as honourable a discharge as the
department was capable of, Mrs. Williams rearrested him and swept him
into an angle of the station-house. James Williams regarded her with
one eye. He always said that Donovan closed the other while somebody
was holding his good right hand. Never before had he given her a
word of reproach or of reproof.
"If you can explain," he began rather stiffly, "why you--"
"Dear," she interrupted, "listen. It was an hour's pain and trial to
you. I did it for her--I mean the girl who spoke to me on the coach.
I was so happy, Jim--so happy with you that I didn't dare to refuse
that happiness to another. Jim, they were married only this morning
--those two; and I wanted him to get away. While they were
struggling with you I saw him slip from behind his tree and hurry
across the park. That's all of it, dear--I had to do it."
Thus does one sister of the plain gold band know another who stands
in the enchanted light that shines but once and briefly for each one.
By rice and satin bows does mere man become aware of weddings. But
bride knoweth bride at the glance of an eye. And between them
swiftly passes comfort and meaning in a language that man and widows
wot not of.