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Strictly Business by O. Henry

Part 5 out of 5

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the Beautiful Persian, the one-eyed Calenders, Ali Baba and Forty
Robbers on every block, and the Barber and his Six Brothers, and all the
old Arabian gang easily.

But let us revenue to our lamb chops.

Old Tom Crowley was a caliph. He had $42,000,000 in preferred stocks and
bonds with solid gold edges. In these times, to be called a caliph you
must have money. The old-style caliph business as conducted by Mr.
Rashid is not safe. If you hold up a person nowadays in a bazaar or a
Turkish bath or a side street, and inquire into his private and personal
affairs, the police court'll get you.

Old Tom was tired of clubs, theatres, dinners, friends, music, money
and everything. That's what makes a caliph--you must get to despise
everything that money can buy, and then go out and try to want something
that you can't pay for.

"I'll take a little trot around town all by myself," thought old Tom,
"and try if I can stir up anything new. Let's see--it seems I've read
about a king or a Cardiff giant or something in old times who used to go
about with false whiskers on, making Persian dates with folks he hadn't
been introduced to. That don't listen like a bad idea. I certainly have
got a case of humdrumness and fatigue on for the ones I do know. That
old Cardiff used to pick up cases of trouble as he ran upon 'em and give
'em gold--sequins, I think it was--and make 'em marry or got 'em good
Government jobs. Now, I'd like something of that sort. My money is as
good as his was even if the magazines do ask me every month where I got
it. Yes, I guess I'll do a little Cardiff business to-night, and see how
it goes."

Plainly dressed, old Tom Crowley left his Madison Avenue palace, and
walked westward and then south. As he stepped to the sidewalk, Fate,
who holds the ends of the strings in the central offices of all the
enchanted cities pulled a thread, and a young man twenty blocks away
looked at a wall clock, and then put on his coat.

James Turner worked in one of those little hat-cleaning establishments
on Sixth Avenue in which a fire alarm rings when you push the door
open, and where they clean your hat while you wait--two days. James
stood all day at an electric machine that turned hats around faster than
the best brands of champagne ever could have done. Overlooking your mild
impertinence in feeling a curiosity about the personal appearance of a
stranger, I will give you a modified description of him. Weight, 118;
complexion, hair and brain, light; height, five feet six; age, about
twenty-three; dressed in a $10 suit of greenish-blue serge; pockets
containing two keys and sixty-three cents in change.

But do not misconjecture because this description sounds like a General
Alarm that James was either lost or a dead one.


James stood all day at his work. His feet were tender and extremely
susceptible to impositions being put upon or below them. All day long
they burned and smarted, causing him much suffering and inconvenience.
But he was earning twelve dollars per week, which he needed to support
his feet whether his feet would support him or not.

James Turner had his own conception of what happiness was, just as you
and I have ours. Your delight is to gad about the world in yachts and
motor-cars and to hurl ducats at wild fowl. Mine is to smoke a pipe at
evenfall and watch a badger, a rattlesnake, and an owl go into their
common prairie home one by one.

James Turner's idea of bliss was different; but it was his. He would go
directly to his boarding-house when his day's work was done. After his
supper of small steak, Bessemer potatoes, stooed (not stewed) apples and
infusion of chicory, he would ascend to his fifth-floor-back hall room.
Then he would take off his shoes and socks, place the soles of his
burning feet against the cold bars of his iron bed, and read Clark
Russell's sea yarns. The delicious relief of the cool metal applied to
his smarting soles was his nightly joy. His favorite novels never palled
upon him; the sea and the adventures of its navigators were his sole
intellectual passion. No millionaire was ever happier than James Turner
taking his ease.

When James left the hat-cleaning shop he walked three blocks out of
his way home to look over the goods of a second-hand bookstall. On the
sidewalk stands he had more than once picked up a paper-covered volume
of Clark Russell at half price.

While he was bending with a scholarly stoop over the marked-down
miscellany of cast-off literature, old Tom the caliph sauntered by. His
discerning eye, made keen by twenty years' experience in the manufacture
of laundry soap (save the wrappers!) recognized instantly the poor
and discerning scholar, a worthy object of his caliphanous mood. He
descended the two shallow stone steps that led from the sidewalk, and
addressed without hesitation the object of his designed munificence. His
first words were no worse than salutatory and tentative.

James Turner looked up coldly, with "Sartor Resartus" in one hand and
"A Mad Marriage" in the other.

"Beat it," said he. "I don't want to buy any coat hangers or town lots
in Hankipoo, New Jersey. Run along, now, and play with your Teddy bear."

"Young man," said the caliph, ignoring the flippancy of the hat cleaner,
"I observe that you are of a studious disposition. Learning is one of
the finest things in the world. I never had any of it worth mentioning,
but I admire to see it in others. I come from the West, where we imagine
nothing but facts. Maybe I couldn't understand the poetry and allusions
in them books you are picking over, but I like to see somebody else seem
to know what they mean. I'm worth about $40,000,000, and I'm getting
richer every day. I made the height of it manufacturing Aunt Patty's
Silver Soap. I invented the art of making it. I experimented for three
years before I got just the right quantity of chloride of sodium
solution and caustic potash mixture to curdle properly. And after I had
taken some $9,000,000 out of the soap business I made the rest in corn
and wheat futures. Now, you seem to have the literary and scholarly
turn of character; and I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll pay for your
education at the finest college in the world. I'll pay the expense of
your rummaging over Europe and the art galleries, and finally set you up
in a good business. You needn't make it soap if you have any objections.
I see by your clothes and frazzled necktie that you are mighty poor; and
you can't afford to turn down the offer. Well, when do you want to

The hat cleaner turned upon old Tom the eye of the Big City, which is an
eye expressive of cold and justifiable suspicion, of judgment suspended
as high as Haman was hung, of self-preservation, of challenge,
curiosity, defiance, cynicism, and, strange as you may think it, of a
childlike yearning for friendliness and fellowship that must be hidden
when one walks among the "stranger bands." For in New Bagdad one, in
order to survive, must suspect whosoever sits, dwells, drinks, rides,
walks or sleeps in the adjacent chair, house, booth, seat, path or room.

"Say, Mike," said James Turner, "what's your line, anyway--shoe laces?
I'm not buying anything. You better put an egg in your shoe and beat it
before incidents occur to you. You can't work off any fountain pens,
gold spectacles you found on the street, or trust company certificate
house clearings on me. Say, do I look like I'd climbed down one of them
missing fire-escapes at Helicon Hall? What's vitiating you, anyhow?"

"Son," said the caliph, in his most Harunish tones, "as I said, I'm
worth $40,000,000. I don't want to have it all put in my coffin when I
die. I want to do some good with it. I seen you handling over these
here volumes of literature, and I thought I'd keep you. I've give the
missionary societies $2,000,000, but what did I get out of it? Nothing
but a receipt from the secretary. Now, you are just the kind of young
man I'd like to take up and see what money could make of him."

Volumes of Clark Russell were hard to find that evening at the Old
Book Shop. And James Turner's smarting and aching feet did not tend to
improve his temper. Humble hat cleaner though he was, he had a spirit
equal to any caliph's.

"Say, you old faker," he said, angrily, "be on your way. I don't know
what your game is, unless you want change for a bogus $40,000,000 bill.
Well, I don't carry that much around with me. But I do carry a pretty
fair left-handed punch that you'll get if you don't move on."

"You are a blamed impudent little gutter pup," said the caliph.

Then James delivered his self-praised punch; old Tom seized him by the
collar and kicked him thrice; the hat cleaner rallied and clinched; two
bookstands were overturned, and the books sent flying. A copy came up,
took an arm of each, and marched them to the nearest station house.
"Fighting and disorderly conduct," said the cop to the sergeant.

"Three hundred dollars bail," said the sergeant at once, asseveratingly
and inquiringly.

"Sixty-three cents," said James Turner with a harsh laugh.

The caliph searched his pockets and collected small bills and change
amounting to four dollars.

"I am worth," he said, "forty million dollars, but--"

"Lock 'em up," ordered the sergeant.

In his cell, James Turner laid himself on his cot, ruminating. "Maybe
he's got the money, and maybe he ain't. But if he has or he ain't, what
does he want to go 'round butting into other folks's business for? When
a man knows what he wants, and can get it, it's the same as $40,000,000
to him."

Then an idea came to him that brought a pleased look to his face.

He removed his socks, drew his cot close to the door, stretched himself
out luxuriously, and placed his tortured feet against the cold bars
of the cell door. Something hard and bulky under the blankets of his
cot gave one shoulder discomfort. He reached under, and drew out a
paper-covered volume by Clark Russell called "A Sailor's Sweetheart."
He gave a great sigh of contentment.

Presently, to his cell came the doorman and said:

"Say, kid, that old gazabo that was pinched with you for scrapping seems
to have been the goods after all. He 'phoned to his friends, and he's
out at the desk now with a roll of yellowbacks as big as a Pullman car
pillow. He wants to bail you, and for you to come out and see him."

"Tell him I ain't in," said James Turner.

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