The Green Door by O Henry
Suppose you should be walking down Broadway after dinner, with ten
minutes allotted to the consummation of your cigar while you are
choosing between a diverting tragedy and something serious in the way
of vaudeville. Suddenly a hand is laid upon your arm. You turn to
look into the thrilling eyes of a beautiful woman, wonderful in
diamonds and Russian sables. She thrusts hurriedly into your hand
an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors,
snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningly ejaculates
the one word, "parallelogram!" and swiftly flies down a cross street,
looking back fearfully over her shoulder.
That would be pure adventure. Would you accept it? Not you. You
would flush with embarrassment; you would sheepishly drop the roll
and continue down Broadway, fumbling feebly for the missing button.
This you would do unless you are one of the blessed few in whom the
pure spirit of adventure is not dead.
True adventurers have never been plentiful. They who are set down in
print as such have been mostly business men with newly invented
methods. They have been out after the things they wanted--golden
fleeces, holy grails, lady loves, treasure, crowns and fame. The
true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and
greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son--when he
started back home.
Half-adventurers--brave and splendid figures--have been numerous.
>From the Crusades to the Palisades they have enriched the arts of
history and fiction and the trade of historical fiction. But each
of them had a prize to win, a goal to kick, an axe to grind, a race
to run, a new thrust in tierce to deliver, a name to carve, a crow to
pick--so they were not followers of true adventure.
In the big city the twin spirits Romance and Adventure are always
abroad seeking worthy wooers. As we roam the streets they slyly peep
at us and challenge us in twenty different guises. Without knowing
why, we look up suddenly to see in a window a face that seems to
belong to our gallery of intimate portraits; in a sleeping
thoroughfare we hear a cry of agony and fear coming from an empty and
shuttered house; instead of at our familiar curb, a cab-driver
deposits us before a strange door, which one, with a smile, opens for
us and bids us enter; a slip of paper, written upon, flutters down to
our feet from the high lattices of Chance; we exchange glances of
instantaneous hate, affection and fear with hurrying strangers in the
passing crowds; a sudden douse of rain--and our umbrella may be
sheltering the daughter of the Full Moon and first cousin of the
Sidereal System; at every corner handkerchiefs drop, fingers beckon,
eyes besiege, and the lost, the lonely, the rapturous, the
mysterious, the perilous, changing clues of adventure are slipped
into our fingers. But few of us are willing to hold and follow them.
We are grown stiff with the ramrod of convention down our backs. We
pass on; and some day we come, at the end of a very dull life, to
reflect that our romance has been a pallid thing of a marriage or
two, a satin rosette kept in a safe-deposit drawer, and a lifelong
feud with a steam radiator.
Rudolf Steiner was a true adventurer. Few were the evenings on which
he did not go forth from his hall bedchamber in search of the
unexpected and the egregious. The most interesting thing in life
seemed to him to be what might lie just around the next corner.
Sometimes his willingness to tempt fate led him into strange paths.
Twice he had spent the night in a station-house; again and again he
had found himself the dupe of ingenious and mercenary tricksters; his
watch and money had been the price of one flattering allurement. But
with undiminished ardour he picked up every glove cast before him
into the merry lists of adventure.
One evening Rudolf was strolling along a crosstown street in the
older central part of the city. Two streams of people filled the
sidewalks--the home-hurrying, and that restless contingent that
abandons home for the specious welcome of the thousand-candle-power
The young adventurer was of pleasing presence, and moved serenely and
watchfully. By daylight he was a salesman in a piano store. He wore
his tie drawn through a topaz ring instead of fastened with a stick
pin; and once he had written to the editor of a magazine that
"Junie's Love Test" by Miss Libbey, had been the book that had most
influenced his life.
During his walk a violent chattering of teeth in a glass case on the
sidewalk seemed at first to draw his attention (with a qualm), to a
restaurant before which it was set; but a second glance revealed the
electric letters of a dentist's sign high above the next door. A
giant negro, fantastically dressed in a red embroidered coat, yellow
trousers and a military cap, discreetly distributed cards to those of
the passing crowd who consented to take them.
This mode of dentistic advertising was a common sight to Rudolf.
Usually he passed the dispenser of the dentist's cards without
reducing his store; but tonight the African slipped one into his hand
so deftly that he retained it there smiling a little at the
When he had travelled a few yards further he glanced at the card
indifferently. Surprised, he turned it over and looked again with
interest. One side of the card was blank; on the other was written
in ink three words, "The Green Door." And then Rudolf saw, three
steps in front of him, a man throw down the card the negro had given
him as he passed. Rudolf picked it up. It was printed with the
dentist's name and address and the usual schedule of "plate work" and
"bridge work" and specious promises of "painless" operations.
The adventurous piano salesman halted at the corner and considered.
Then he crossed the street, walked down a block, recrossed and joined
the upward current of people again. Without seeming to notice the
negro as he passed the second time, he carelessly took the card that
was handed him. Ten steps away he inspected it. In the same
handwriting that appeared on the first card "The Green Door" was
inscribed upon it. Three or four cards were tossed to the pavement
by pedestrians both following and leading him. These fell blank side
up. Rudolf turned them over. Every one bore the printed legend of
the dental "parlours."
Rarely did the arch sprite Adventure need to beckon twice to Rudolf
Steiner, his true follower. But twice it had been done, and the
quest was on.
Rudolf walked slowly back to where the giant negro stood by the case
of rattling teeth. This time as he passed he received no card. In
spite of his gaudy and ridiculous garb, the Ethiopian displayed a
natural barbaric dignity as he stood, offering the cards suavely to
some, allowing others to pass unmolested. Every half minute he
chanted a harsh, unintelligible phrase akin to the jabber of car
conductors and grand opera. And not only did he withhold a card this
time, but it seemed to Rudolf that he received from the shining and
massive black countenance a look of cold, almost contemptuous
The look stung the adventurer. He read in it a silent accusation
that he had been found wanting. Whatever the mysterious written
words on the cards might mean, the black had selected him twice from
the throng for their recipient; and now seemed to have condemned him
as deficient in the wit and spirit to engage the enigma.
Standing aside from the rush, the young man made a rapid estimate of
the building in which he conceived that his adventure must lie. Five
stories high it rose. A small restaurant occupied the basement.
The first floor, now closed, seemed to house millinery or furs. The
second floor, by the winking electric letters, was the dentist's.
Above this a polyglot babel of signs struggled to indicate the abodes
of palmists, dressmakers, musicians and doctors. Still higher up
draped curtains and milk bottles white on the window sills proclaimed
the regions of domesticity.
After concluding his survey Rudolf walked briskly up the high flight
of stone steps into the house. Up two flights of the carpeted
stairway he continued; and at its top paused. The hallway there was
dimly lighted by two pale jets of gas one--far to his right, the
other nearer, to his left. He looked toward the nearer light and saw,
within its wan halo, a green door. For one moment he hesitated; then
he seemed to see the contumelious sneer of the African juggler of
cards; and then he walked straight to the green door and knocked
Moments like those that passed before his knock was answered measure
the quick breath of true adventure. What might not be behind those
green panels! Gamesters at play; cunning rogues baiting their traps
with subtle skill; beauty in love with courage, and thus planning to
be sought by it; danger, death, love, disappointment, ridicule--any
of these might respond to that temerarious rap.
A faint rustle was heard inside, and the door slowly opened. A girl
not yet twenty stood there, white-faced and tottering. She loosed
the knob and swayed weakly, groping with one hand. Rudolf caught her
and laid her on a faded couch that stood against the wall. He closed
the door and took a swift glance around the room by the light of a
flickering gas jet. Neat, but extreme poverty was the story that he
The girl lay still, as if in a faint. Rudolf looked around the room
excitedly for a barrel. People must be rolled upon a barrel who--no,
no; that was for drowned persons. He began to fan her with his hat.
That was successful, for he struck her nose with the brim of his
derby and she opened her eyes. And then the young man saw that hers,
indeed, was the one missing face from his heart's gallery of intimate
portraits. The frank, grey eyes, the little nose, turning pertly
outward; the chestnut hair, curling like the tendrils of a pea vine,
seemed the right end and reward of all his wonderful adventures. But
the face was wofully thin and pale.
The girl looked at him calmly, and then smiled.
"Fainted, didn't I?" she asked, weakly. "Well, who wouldn't? You
try going without anything to eat for three days and see!"
"Himmel!" exclaimed Rudolf, jumping up. "Wait till I come back."
He dashed out the green door and down the stairs. In twenty minutes
he was back again, kicking at the door with his toe for her to open
it. With both arms he hugged an array of wares from the grocery and
the restaurant. On the table he laid them--bread and butter, cold
meats, cakes, pies, pickles, oysters, a roasted chicken, a bottle of
milk and one of redhot tea.
"This is ridiculous," said Rudolf, blusteringly, "to go without
eating. You must quit making election bets of this kind. Supper is
ready." He helped her to a chair at the table and asked: "Is there
a cup for the tea?" "On the shelf by the window," she answered.
When he turned again with the cup he saw her, with eyes shining
rapturously, beginning upon a huge Dill pickle that she had rooted
out from the paper bags with a woman's unerring instinct. He took it
from her, laughingly, and poured the cup full of milk. "Drink that
first" he ordered, "and then you shall have some tea, and then a
chicken wing. If you are very good you shall have a pickle
to-morrow. And now, if you'll allow me to be your guest we'll have
He drew up the other chair. The tea brightened the girl's eyes and
brought back some of her colour. She began to eat with a sort of
dainty ferocity like some starved wild animal. She seemcd to regard
the young man's presence and the aid he had rendered her as a natural
thing--not as though she undervalued the conventions; but as one
whose great stress gave her the right to put aside the artificial for
the human. But gradually, with the return of strength and comfort,
came also a sense of the little conventions that belong; and she
began to tell him her little story. It was one of a thousand such as
the city yawns at every day--the shop girl's story of insufficient
wages, further reduced by "fines" that go to swell the store's
profits; of time lost through illness; and then of lost positions,
lost hope, and--the knock of the adventurer upon the green door.
But to Rudolf the history sounded as big as the Iliad or the crisis
in "Junie's Love Test."
"To think of you going through all that," he exclaimed.
"It was something fierce," said the girl, solemnly.
"And you have no relatives or friends in the city?"
"I am all alone in the world, too," said Rudolf, after a pause.
"I am glad of that," said the girl, promptly; and somehow it pleased
the young man to hear that she approved of his bereft condition.
Very suddenly her eyelids dropped and she sighed deeply.
"I'm awfully sleepy," she said, "and I feel so good."
Then Rudolf rose and took his hat. "I'll say good-night. A long
night's sleep will be fine for you."
He held out his hand, and she took it and said "good-night." But
her eyes asked a question so eloquently, so frankly and pathetically
that he answered it with words.
"Oh, I'm coming back to-morrow to see how you are getting along. You
can't get rid of me so easily."
Then, at the door, as though the way of his coming had been so much
less important than the fact that he had come, she asked: "How did
you come to knock at my door?"
He looked at her for a moment, remembering the cards, and felt a
sudden jealous pain. What if they had fallen into other hands as
adventurous as his? Quickly he decided that she must never know the
truth. He would never let her know that he was aware of the strange
expedient to which she had been driven by her great distress.
"One of our piano tuners lives in this house," he said. "I knocked
at your door by mistake."
The last thing he saw in the room before the green door closed was
At the head of the stairway he paused and looked curiously about him.
And then he went along the hallway to its other end; and, coming
back, ascended to the floor above and continued his puzzled
explorations. Every door that he found in the house was painted
Wondering, he descended to the sidewalk. The fantastic African was
still there. Rudolf confronted him with his two cards in his hand.
"Will you tell me why you gave me these cards and what they mean?"
In a broad, good-natured grin the negro exhibited a splendid
advertisement of his master's profession.
"Dar it is, boss," he said, pointing down the street. "But I 'spect
you is a little late for de fust act."
Looking the way he pointed Rudolf saw above the entrance to a theatre
the blazing electric sign of its new play, "The Green Door."
"I'm informed dat it's a fust-rate show, sah," said the negro. "De
agent what represents it pussented me with a dollar, sah, to
distribute a few of his cards along with de doctah's. May I offer
you one of de doctah's cards, sah?"
At the corner of the block in which he lived Rudolf stopped for a
glass of beer and a cigar. When he had come out with his lighted
weed he buttoned his coat, pushed back his hat and said, stoutly, to
the lamp post on the corner:
"All the same, I believe it was the hand of Fate that doped out the
way for me to find her."
Which conclusion, under the circumstances, certainly admits Rudolf
Steiner to the ranks of the true followers of Romance and Adventure.