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Night came. He must needs go home. He started with three neighbors, to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the bit of string: and all the way he talked of his misadventure.
During the evening he made a circuit of the village of Bréauté, in order to tell everybody about it. He found none but incredulous listeners. He was ill over it all night.
The next afternoon, about one o'clock, Marius Paumelle, a farmhand employed by Master Breton, a farmer of Ymauville, restored the wallet and its contents to Master Houlbrèque of Manneville.
The man claimed that he had found it on the road; but, being unable to read, had carried it home and given it to his employer.
The news soon became known in the neighborhood; Master Hauchecorne was informed of it. He started out again at once, and began to tell his story, now made complete by the dénouement. He was triumphant.
"What made me feel bad," he said, "was n't so much the thing itself, you understand, but the lying. There's nothing hurts you so much as being blamed for lying."
All day long he talked of his adventure; he told it on the roads to people who passed; at the wine-shop to people who were drinking; and after church on the following Sunday. He even stopped strangers to tell them about it. His mind was at rest now, and yet something embarrassed him, although he could not say just what it was. People seemed to laugh while they listened to him. They did not seem convinced. He felt as if remarks were made behind his back.
On Tuesday of the next week, he went to market at Goderville, impelled solely by the longing to tell his story.
Malandain, standing in his doorway, began to laugh when he saw him coming. Why?
He accosted a farmer from Criquetot, who did not let him finish, but poked him in the pit of his stomach, and shouted in his face: "Go on, you old fox!" Then he turned on his heel.
Master Hauchecorne was speechless, and more and more disturbed. Why did he call him "old fox"?
When he was seated at the table, in Jourdain's inn, he set about explaining the affair once more.
A horse-trader from Montvilliers called out to him:
"Nonsense, nonsense, you old dodger! I know all about your string!" "But they've found the wallet!" faltered Hauchecorne.
"None of that, old boy; there's one who finds it, and there's one who carries it back. I don't know just how you did it, but I understand you."
The peasant was fairly stunned. He understood at last. He was accused of having sent the wallet back by a confederate, an accomplice.
He tried to protest. The whole table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner, but left the inn amid a chorus of jeers.
He returned home, shamefaced and indignant, suffocated by wrath, by confusion, and all the more cast down because, with his Norman cunning, he was quite capable of doing the thing with which he was charged, and even of boasting of it as a shrewd trick. He had a confused idea that his innocence was impossible to establish, his craftiness being so well known. And he was cut to the heart by the injustice of the suspicion.
Thereupon he began once more to tell of the adventure, making the story longer each day, adding each time new arguments, more forcible protestations, more solemn oaths, which he devised and prepared in his hours of solitude, his mind being wholly engrossed by the story of the string. The more complicated his defence and the more subtle his reasoning, the less he was believed.
"Those are a liar's reasons," people said behind his back.
He realized it; he gnawed his nails, and exhausted himself in vain efforts.
He grew perceptibly thinner.
Now the jokers asked him to tell the story of "The Piece of String" for their amusement, as a soldier who has seen service is asked to tell about his battles. His mind, attacked at its source, grew feebler.
Late in December he took to his bed.
In the first days of January he died, and in his delirium of the death agony, he protested his innocence, repeating:
"A little piece of string a little piece of string-see, here it is, m'sieu' mayor."
"THE PIECE OF STRING"
How does this story compare in interest with the others read?
What characteristics of the artistic short-story are to be found?
Prove that the story makes a single impression although the events are spread over several months.
1Char-a-banes (shä′-ri-bän)—a long, light, open vehicle.
4 Tilbury—a gig, or two-wheeled open carriage drawn by one horse. 5 Petit verre-little glass.
A CHAPARRAL CHRISTMAS GIFT1 (1910)
O. HENRY 2 (1865-1910)
The original cause of the trouble was about twenty years in growing. At the end of the time it was worth it.
1 Used by permission of and special arrangement with Doubleday, Page & Company, owners of the copyright.
2 Nom-de-plume of William Sidney Porter.
Had you lived anywhere within fifty miles of Sundown Ranch you would have heard of it. It possessed a quantity of jet-black hair, a pair of extremely frank, deep-brown eyes and a laugh that rippled across the prairie like the sound of a hidden brook. The name of it was Rosita McMullen; and she was the daughter of old man McMullen of the Sundown Sheep Ranch.
There came riding on red roan steeds-or, to be more explicit, on a painted and a flea-bitten sorrel-two wooers. One was Madison Lane, and the other was the Frio Kid. But at that time they did not call him the Frio Kid, for he had not earned the honors of special nomenclature. His name was simply Johnny McRoy.
It must not be supposed that these two were the sum of the agreeable Rosita's admirers. The bronchos of a dozen others champed their bits at the long hitching rack of the Sundown Ranch. Many were the sheeps'eyes that were cast in those savannas that did not belong to the flocks of Dan McMullen. But of all the cavaliers, Madison Lane and Johnny MeRoy galloped far ahead, wherefore they are to be chronicled.
Madison Lane, a young cattleman from the Nueces country, won the race. He and Rosita were married one Christmas day. Armed, hilarious, vociferous, magnanimous, the cowmen and the sheepmen, laying aside their hereditary hatred, joined forces to celebrate the occasion.
Sundown Ranch was sonorous with the cracking of jokes and six-shooters, the shine of buckles and bright eyes, the outspoken congratulations of the herders of kine.
But while the wedding feast was at its liveliest there descended upon it Johnny McRoy, bitten by jealousy, like one possessed.
"I'll give you a Christmas present," he yelled, shrilly, at the door, with his 45 in his hand. Even then he had some reputation as an offhand shot.
His first bullet cut a neat underbit in Madison Lane's right ear. The barrel of his gun moved an inch. The next shot would have been the bride's had not Carson, a sheepman, possessed a mind with triggers somewhat well oiled and in repair. The guns of the wedding party had been hung, in their belts, upon nails in the wall when they sat at table, as a concession to good taste. But Carson, with great promptness, hurled his plate of roast venison and frijoles at McRoy, spoiling his aim The second bullet, then, only shattered the white petals of a Spanish dagger flower suspended two feet above Rosita's head.
The guests spurned their chairs and jumped for their weapons. It was considered an improper act to shoot the bride and groom at a wedding. In about six seconds there were twenty or so bullets due to be whizzing in the direction of Mr. McRoy.
"I'll shoot better next time," yelled Johnny; "and there'll be a next time." He backed rapidly out the door.
Carson, the sheepman, spurred on to attempt further exploits by the
success of his plate-throwing, was first to reach the door. McRoy's bullet from the darkness laid him low.
The cattlemen then swept out upon him, calling for vengeance, for, while the slaughter of a sheepman has not always lacked condonement, it was a decided misdemeanor in this instance. Carson was innocent; he was no accomplice at the matrimonial proceedings; nor had any one heard him quote the line "Christmas comes but once a year" to the guests.
But the sortie failed in its vengeance. MeRoy was on his horse and away, shouting back curses and threats as he galloped into the concealing chaparral.
That night was the birthnight of the Frio Kid. He became the "bad man" of that portion of the state. The rejection of his suit by Miss McMullen turned him to a dangerous man. When officers went after him for the shooting of Carson, he killed two of them, and entered upon the life of an outlaw. He became a marvellous shot with either hand. He would turn up in towns and settlements, raise a quarrel at the slightest opportunity, pick off his man and laugh at the officers of the law. He was so cool, so deadly, so rapid, so inhumanly bloodthirsty that none but faint attempts were ever made to capture him. When he was at last shot and killed by a little one-armed Mexican, who was nearly dead himself from fright, the Frio Kid had the deaths of eighteen men on his head. About half of these were killed in fair duels depending upon the quickness of the draw. The other half were men whom he assassinated from absolute wantonness and cruelty.
Many tales are told along the border of his impudent courage and daring. But he was not one of the breed of desperadoes who have seasons of generosity and even of softness. They say he never had mercy on the object of his anger. Yet at this and every Christmastide it is well to give each one credit, if it can be done, for whatever speck of good he may have possessed. If the Frio Kid ever did a kindly act or felt a throb of generosity in his heart it was once at such a time and season, and this is the way it happened.
One who has been crossed in love should never breathe the odor from the blossoms of the ratama tree. It stirs the memory to a dangerous degree.
One December in the Frio country there was a ratama tree in full bloom, for the winter had been as warm as springtime. That way rode the Frio Kid and his satellite and co-murderer, Mexican Frank. The Kid reined in his mustang, and sat in his saddle, thoughtful and grim, with dangerously narrowing eyes. The rich, sweet scent touched him somewhere beneath his ice and iron.
"I don't know what I've been thinking about, Mex," he remarked in his usual mild drawl, "to have forgot all about a Christmas present I got to give. I'm going to ride over to-morrow night and shoot Madison
Lane in his own house. He got my girl-Rosita would have had me if he had n't cut into the game. I wonder why I happened to overlook it up
"Ah, shucks, Kid," said Mexican, "don't talk foolishness. You know you can't get within a mile of Mad Lane's house to-morrow night. I see old man Allen day before yesterday, and he says Mad is going to have Christmas doings at his house. You remember how you shot up the festivities when Mad was married, and about the threats you made? Don't you suppose Mad Lane'll kind of keep his eye open for a certain Mr. Kid? You plumb make me tired, Kid, with such remarks."
"I'm going," repeated the Frio Kid, without heat, "to go to Madison Lane's Christmas doings, and kill him. I ought to have done it a long time ago. Why, Mex, just two weeks ago I dreamed me and Rosita was married instead of her and him; and we was living in a house, and I could see her smiling at me, and-oh! h-l, Mex, he got her; and I'll get him—yes, sir, on Christmas Eve he got her, and then 's when I'll get him."
"There's other ways of committing suicide," advised Mexican. "Why don't you go and surrender to the sheriff?"
"I'll get him," said the Kid.
Christmas Eve fell as balmy as April. Perhaps there was a hint of far-away frostiness in the air, but it tingled like seltzer, perfumed faintly with late prairie blossoms and the mesquite grass.
When night came the five or six rooms of the ranch-house were brightly lit. In one room was a Christmas tree, for the Lanes had a boy of three, and a dozen or more guests were expected from the nearer ranches.
At nightfall Madison Lane called aside Jim Belcher and three other cowboys employed on his ranch.
"Now, boys," said Lane, "keep your eyes open. Walk around the Louse and watch the road well. All of you know the Frio Kid, as they call him now, and if you see him, open fire on him without asking any questions. I'm not afraid of his coming around, but Rosita is. She's been afraid he'd come in on us every Christmas since we were married."
The guests had arrived in buckboards and on horseback, and were making themselves comfortable inside.
The evening went along pleasantly. The guests enjoyed and praised Rosita's excellent supper, and afterward the men scattered in groups about the rooms or on the broad gallery, smoking and chatting.
The Christmas tree, of course, delighted the youngsters, and above all were they pleased when Santa Claus himself in magnificent white beard and furs appeared and began to distribute the toys.
"It's my papa," announced Billy Sampson, aged six. "I've seen him wear 'em before."
Berkly, a sheepman, an old friend of Lane, stopped Rosita as she was passing by him on the gallery, where he was sitting smoking.