Rus in Urbe by O Henry
Considering men in relation to money, there are three kinds whom I
dislike: men who have more money than they can spend; men who have
more money than they do spend; and men who spend more money than they
have. Of the three varieties, I believe I have the least liking for
the first. But, as a man, I liked Spencer Grenville North pretty
well, although he had something like two or ten or thirty millions—
I've forgotten exactly how many.
I did not leave town that summer. I usually went down to a village
on the south shore of Long Island. The place was surrounded by duck-
farms, and the ducks and dogs and whippoorwills and rusty windmills
made so much noise that I could sleep as peacefully as if I were in my
own flat six doors from the elevated railroad in New York. But that
summer I did not go. Remember that. One of my friends asked me why I
did not. I replied:
"Because, old man, New York is the finest summer resort in the
world." You have heard that phrase before. But that is what I told
I was press-agent that year for Binkly Bing, the theatrical
managers and producers. Of course you know what a press-agent is.
Well, he is not. That is the secret of being one.
Binkly was touring France in his new C. N. Williamson car, and
Bing had gone to Scotland to learn curling, which he seemed to
associate in his mind with hot tongs rather than with ice. Before
they left they gave me June and July, on salary, for my vacation,
which act was in accord with their large spirit of liberality. But I
remained in New York, which I had decided was the finest summer resort
But I said that before.
On July the 10th, North came to town from his camp in the
Adirondacks. Try to imagine a camp with sixteen rooms, plumbing,
eiderdown quilts, a butler, a garage, solid silver plate, and a
long-distance telephone. Of course it was in the woods—if Mr.
Pinchot wants to preserve the forests let him give every citizen two
or ten or thirty million dollars, and the trees will all gather around
the summer camps, as the Birnam woods came to Dunsinane, and be
North came to see me in my three rooms and bath, extra charge for
light when used extravagantly or all night. He slapped me on the back
(I would rather have my shins kicked any day), and greeted me with
out-door obstreperousness and revolting good spirits. He was
insolently brown and healthy-looking, and offensively well dressed.
"Just ran down for a few days," said he, "to sign some papers and
stuff like that. My lawyer wired me to come. Well, you indolent
cockney, what are you doing in town? I took a chance and telephoned,
and they said you were here. What's the matter with that Utopia on
Long Island where you used to take your typewriter and your villanous
temper every summer? Anything wrong with the—er—swans, weren't
they, that used to sing on the farms at night?"
"Ducks," said I. "The songs of swans are for luckier ears. They
swim and curve their necks in artificial lakes on the estates of the
wealthy to delight the eyes of the favorites of Fortune."
"Also in Central Park," said North, "to delight the eyes of
immigrants and bummers. I've seen em there lots of times. But why
are you in the city so late in the summer?"
"New York City," I began to recite, "is the finest sum—"
"No, you don't," said North, emphatically. "You don't spring that
old one on me. I know you know better. Man, you ought to have gone
up with us this summer. The Prestons are there, and Tom Volney and
the Monroes and Lulu Stanford and the Miss Kennedy and her aunt that
you liked so well."
"I never liked Miss Kennedy's aunt," I said.
"I didn't say you did," said North. "We are having the greatest
time we've ever had. The pickerel and trout are so ravenous that I
believe they would swallow your hook with a Montana copper-mine
prospectus fastened on it. And we've a couple of electric launches;
and I'll tell you what we do every night or two—we tow a rowboat
behind each one with a big phonograph and a boy to change the discs in
'em. On the water, and twenty yards behind you, they are not so bad.
And there are passably good roads through the woods where we go
motoring. I shipped two cars up there. And the Pinecliff Inn is only
three miles away. You know the Pinecliff. Some good people are there
this season, and we run over to the dances twice a week. Can't you go
back with me for a week, old man?"
I laughed. "Northy," said I—"if I may be so familiar with a
millionaire, because I hate both the names Spencer and Grenville—your
invitation is meant kindly, but—the city in the summer-time for me.
Here, while the bourgeoisie is away, I can live as Nero lived-barring,
thank heaven, the fiddling-while the city burns at ninety in the
shade. The tropics and the zones wait upon me like handmaidens. I
sit under Florida palms and eat pomegranates while Boreas himself,
electrically conjured up, blows upon me his Arctic breath. As for
trout, you know, yourself, that Jean, at Maurice's, cooks them better
than any one else in the world."
"Be advised," said North. "My chef has pinched the blue ribbon
from the lot. He lays some slices of bacon inside the trout, wraps it
all in corn-husks—the husks of green corn, you know—buries them in
hot ashes and covers them with live coals. We build fires on the bank
of the lake and have fish suppers."
"I know," said I. "And the servants bring down tables and chairs
and damask cloths, and you eat with silver forks. I know the kind of
camps that you millionaires have. And therc are champagne pails set
about, disgracing the wild flowers, and, no doubt, Madame Tetrazzini
to sing in the boat pavilion after the trout."
"Oh no," said North, concernedly, "we were never as bad as that.
We did have a variety troupe up from the city three or four nights,
but they weren't stars by as far as light can travel in the same
length of time. I always like a few home comforts even when I'm
roughing it. But don't tell me you prefer to stay in the city during
summer. I don't believe it. If you do, why did you spend your
summers there for the last four years, even sneaking away from town on
a night train, and refusing to tell your friends where this Arcadian
"Because," said I, "they might have followed me and discovered it.
But since then I have learned that Amaryllis has come to town. The
coolest things, the freshest, the brightest, the choicest, are to be
found in the city. If you've nothing on hand this evening I will show
"I'm free," said North, "and I have my light car outside. I
suppose, since you've been converted to the town, that your idea of
rural sport is to have a little whirl between bicycle cops in Central
Park and then a mug of sticky ale in some stuffy rathskeller under a
fan that can't stir up as many revolutions in a week as Nicaragua can
in a day."
"We'll begin with the spin through the Park, anyhow," I said. I
was choking with the hot, stale air of my little apartment, and I
wanted that breath of the cool to brace me for the task of proving to
my friend that New York was the greatest—and so forth.
"Where can you find air any fresher or purer than this?" I asked,
as we sped into Central's boskiest dell.
"Air!" said North, contemptuously. "Do you call this air?—this
muggy vapor, smelling of garbage and gasoline smoke. Man, I wish you
could get one sniff of the real Adirondack article in the pine woods
"I have heard of it," said I. "But for fragrance and tang and a
joy in the nostrils I would not give one puff of sea breeze across the
bay, down on my little boat dock on Long Island, for ten of your
"Then why," asked North, a little curiously, "don't you go there
instead of staying cooped up in this Greater Bakery?"
"Because," said I, doggedly, "I have discovered that New York is
the greatest summer—"
"Don't say that again," interrupted North, "unless you've actually
got a job as General Passenger Agent of the Subway. You can't really
I went to some trouble to try to prove my theory to my friend. The
Weather Bureau and the season had conspired to make the argument
worthy of an able advocate.
The city seemed stretched on a broiler directly above the furnaces
of Avernus. There was a kind of tepid gayety afoot and awheel in the
boulevards, mainly evinced by languid men strolling about in straw
hats and evening clothes, and rows of idle taxicabs with their flags
up, looking like a blockaded Fourth of July procession. The hotels
kept up a specious brilliancy and hospitable outlook, but inside one
saw vast empty caverns, and the footrails at the bars gleamed brightly
from long disacquaintance with the sole-leather of customers. In the
cross-town streets the steps of the old brownstone houses were
swarming with "stoopers," that motley race hailing from sky-light room
and basement, bringing out their straw doorstep mats to sit and fill
the air with strange noises and opinions.
North and I dined on the top of a hotel; and here, for a few
minutes, I thought I had made a score. An east wind, almost cool,
blew across the roofless roof. A capable orchestra concealed in a
bower of wistaria played with sufficient judgment to make the art of
music probable and the art of conversation possible.
Some ladies in reproachless summer gowns at other tables gave
animation and color to the scene. And an excellent dinner, mainly
from the refrigerator, seemed to successfully back my judgment as to
summer resorts. But North grumbled all during the meal, and cursed
his lawyers and prated so of his confounded camp in the woods that I
began to wish he would go back there and leave me in my peaceful city
After dining we went to a roof-garden vaudeville that was being
much praised. There we found a good bill, an artificially cooled
atmosphere, cold drinks, prompt service, and a gay, well-dressed
audience. North was bored.
"If this isn't comfortable enough for you on the hottest August
night for five years," I said, a little sarcastically, "you might
think about the kids down in Delancey and Hester streets lying out on
the fire-escapes with their tongues hanging out, trying to get a
breath of air that hasn't been fried on both sides. The contrast
might increase your enjoyment."
"Don't talk Socialism," said North. "I gave five hundred dollars
to the free ice fund on the first of May. I'm contrasting these
stale, artificial, hollow, wearisome 'amusements' with the enjoyment a
man can get in the woods. You should see the firs and pines do skirt-
dances during a storm; and lie down flat and drink out of a mountain
branch at the end of a day's tramp after the deer. That's the only
way to spend a summer. Get out and live with nature."
"I agree with you absolutely," said I, with emphasis.
For one moment I had relaxed my vigilance, and had spoken my true
sentiments. North looked at me long and curiously.
"Then why, in the name of Pan and Apollo," he asked, "have you been
singing this deceitful paean to summer in town?"
I suppose I looked my guilt.
"Ha," said North, "I see. May I ask her name?"
"Annie Ashton," said I, simply. "She played Nannette in Binkley
Bing's production of The Silver Cord. She is to have a better part
"Take me to see her," said North.
Miss Ashton lived with her mother in a small hotel. They were out
of the West, and had a little money that bridged the seasons. As
press- agent of Binkley Bing I had tried to keep her before the
public. As Robert James Vandiver I had hoped to withdraw her; for if
ever one was made to keep company with said Vandiver and smell the
salt breeze on the south shore of Long Island and listen to the ducks
quack in the watches of the night, it was the Ashton set forth above.
But she had a soul above ducks—above nightingales; aye, even above
birds of paradise. She was very beautiful, with quiet ways, and
seemed genuine. She had both taste and talent for the stage, and she
liked to stay at home and read and make caps for her mother. She was
unvaryingly kind and friendly with Binkley Bing's press-agent. Since
the theatre had closed she had allowed Mr. Vandiver to call in an
unofficial role. I had often spoken to her of my friend, Spencer
Grenville North; and so, as it was early, the first turn of the
vaudeville being not yet over, we left to find a telephone.
Miss Ashton would be very glad to see Mr. Vandiver and Mr. North.
We found her fitting a new cap on her mother. I never saw her look
North made himself disagreeably entertaining. He was a good
talker, and had a way with him. Besides, he had two, ten, or thirty
millions, I've for gotten which. I incautiously admired the mother's
cap, whereupon she brought out her store of a dozen or two, and I took
a course in edgings and frills. Even though Annie's fingers had
pinked, or ruched, or hemmed, or whatever you do to 'em, they palled
upon me. And I could hear North drivelling to Annie about his odious
Two days after that I saw North in his motor-car with Miss Ashton
and her mother. On the next afternoon he dropped in on me.
"Bobby," said he, "this old burg isn't such a bad proposition in
the summer-time, after all. Since I've keen knocking around it looks
better to me. There are some first-rate musical comedies and light
operas on the roofs and in the outdoor gardens. And if you hunt up
the right places and stick to soft drinks, you can keep about as cool
here as you can in the country. Hang it! when you come to think of
it, there's nothing much to the country, anyhow. You get tired and
sunburned and lonesome, and you have to eat any old thing that the
cook dishes up to you."
"It makes a difference, doesn't it?" said I.
"It certainly does. Now, I found some whitebait yesterday, at
Maurice's, with a new sauce that beats anything in the trout line I
"It makes a difference, doesn't it?" I said.
"Immense. The sauce is the main thing with whitebait."
"It makes a difference, doesn't it?" I asked, looking him straight
in the eye. He understood.
"Look here, Bob," he said, "I was going to tell you. I couldn't
help it. I'll play fair with you, but I'm going in to win. She is
the 'one particular' for me."
"All right," said I. "It's a fair field. There are no rights for
you to encroach upon."
On Thursday afternoon Miss Ashton invited North and myself to have
tea in her apartment. He was devoted, and she was more charming than
usual. By avoiding the subject of caps I managed to get a word or two
into and out of the talk. Miss Ashton asked me in a make-
conversational tone something about the next season's tour.
"Oh," said I, "I don't know about that. I'm not going to be with
Binkley Bing next season."
"Why, I thought," said she, "that they were going to put the Number
One road company under your charge. I thought you told me so."
"They were," said I, "but they won't.. I'll tell you what I'm
going to do. I'm going to the south shore of Long Island and buy a
small cottage I know there on the edge of the bay. And I'll buy a
catboat and a rowboat and a shotgun and a yellow dog. I've got money
enough to do it. And I'll smell the salt wind all day when it blows
from the sea and the pine odor when it blows from the land. And, of
course, I'll write plays until I have a trunk full of 'em on hand.
"And the next thing and the biggest thing I'll do will be to buy
that duck-farm next door. Few people understand ducks. I can watch
'em for hours. They can march better than any company in the National
Guard, and they can play 'follow my leader' better than the entire
Democratic party. Their voices don't amount to much, but I like to
hear 'em. They wake you up a dozen times a night, but there's a
homely sound about their quacking that is more musical to me than the
cry of 'Fresh strawber-rees!' under your window in the morning when
you want to sleep.
"And," I went on, enthusiastically, "do you know the value of ducks
besides their beauty and intelligence and order and sweetness of
voice? Picking their feathers gives you an unfailing and never
ceasing income. On a farm that I know the feathers were sold for $400
in one year. Think of that! And the ones shipped to the market will
bring in more money than that. Yes, I am for the ducks and the salt
breeze coming over the bay. I think I shall get a Chinaman cook, and
with him and the dog and the sunsets for company I shall do well. No
more of this dull, baking, senseless, roaring city for me."
Miss Ashton looked surprised. North laughed.
"I am going to begin one of my plays tonight," I said, "so I must
be going." And with that I took my departure.
A few days later Miss Ashton telephoned to me, asking me to call at
four in the afternoon.
"You have been very good to me," she said, hesitatingly, "and I
thought I would tell you. I am going to leave the stage."
"Yes," said I, "I suppose you will. They usually do when there's
so much money."
"There is no money," she said, "or very little. Our money is
"But I am told," said I, "that he has something like two or ten or
thirty millions—I have forgotten which."
"I know what you mean," she said. "I will not pretend that I do
not. I am not going to marry Mr. North."
"Then why are you leaving the stage ?" I asked, severely. "What
else can you do to earn a living?"
She came closer to me, and I can see the look in her eyes yet as
"I can pick ducks," she said.
We sold the first year's feathers for $350.