SPRINGTIME À LA CARTE
by O. Henry
This is the conclusion of a short story by the American author, O. Henry (born William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910), which was first published in 1906. It is in the public domain.
A knock at the door dispelled Sarah’s visions of that happy day. A waiter had brought the rough pencil draft of the Home Restaurant’s next day fare in old Schulenberg’s angular hand.
Sarah sat down to her typewriter and slipped a card between the rollers. She was a nimble worker. Generally in an hour and a half the twenty-one menu cards were written and ready.
To-day there were more changes on the bill of fare than usual. The soups were lighter; pork was eliminated from the entrées, figuring only with Russian turnips among the roasts. The gracious spirit of spring pervaded the entire menu. Lamb, that lately capered on the greening hillsides, was becoming exploited with the sauce that commemorated its gambols. The song of the oyster, though not silenced, was dimuendo con amore. The frying-pan seemed to be held, inactive, behind the beneficent bars of the broiler. The pie list swelled; the richer puddings had vanished; the sausage, with his drapery wrapped about him, barely lingered in a pleasant thanatopsis with the buckwheats and the sweet but doomed maple.
Sarah’s fingers danced like midges above a summer stream. Down through the courses she worked, giving each item its position according to its length with an accurate eye. Just above the desserts came the list of vegetables. Carrots and peas, asparagus on toast, the perennial tomatoes and corn and succotash, lima beans, cabbage—and then—
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare. Tears from the depths of some divine despair rose in her heart and gathered to her eyes. Down went her head on the little typewriter stand; and the keyboard rattled a dry accompaniment to her moist sobs.
For she had received no letter from Walter in two weeks, and the next item on the bill of fare was dandelions—dandelions with some kind of egg—but bother the egg!—dandelions, with whose golden blooms Walter had crowned her his queen of love and future bride—dandelions, the harbingers of spring, her sorrow’s crown of sorrow—reminder of her happiest days.
Madam, I dare you to smile until you suffer this test: Let the Marechal Niel roses that Percy brought you on the night you gave him your heart be served as a salad with French dressing before your eyes at a Schulenberg table d’hôte. Had Juliet so seen her love tokens dishonoured the sooner would she have sought the lethean herbs of the good apothecary.
But what a witch is Spring! Into the great cold city of stone and iron a message had to be sent. There was none to convey it but the little hardy courier of the fields with his rough green coat and modest air. He is a true soldier of fortune, this dent-de-lion—this lion’s tooth, as the French chefs call him. Flowered, he will assist at love-making, wreathed in my lady’s nut-brown hair; young and callow and unblossomed, he goes into the boiling pot and delivers the word of his sovereign mistress.
By and by Sarah forced back her tears. The cards must be written. But, still in a faint, golden glow from her dandeleonine dream, she fingered the typewriter keys absently for a little while, with her mind and heart in the meadow lane with her young farmer. But soon she came swiftly back to the rock-bound lanes of Manhattan, and the typewriter began to rattle and jump like a strike-breaker’s motor car.
At 6 o’clock the waiter brought her dinner and carried away the typewritten bill of fare. When Sarah ate she set aside, with a sigh, the dish of dandelions with its crowning ovarious accompaniment. As this dark mass had been transformed from a bright and love-indorsed flower to be an ignominious vegetable, so had her summer hopes wilted and perished. Love may, as Shakespeare said, feed on itself: but Sarah could not bring herself to eat the dandelions that had graced, as ornaments, the first spiritual banquet of her heart’s true affection.
At 7:30 the couple in the next room began to quarrel: the man in the room above sought for A on his flute; the gas went a little lower; three coal wagons started to unload—the only sound of which the phonograph is jealous; cats on the back fences slowly retreated toward Mukden. By these signs Sarah knew that it was time for her to read. She got out “The Cloister and the Hearth,” the best non-selling book of the month, settled her feet on her trunk, and began to wander with Gerard.
The front door bell rang. The landlady answered it. Sarah left Gerard and Denys treed by a bear and listened. Oh, yes; you would, just as she did!
And then a strong voice was heard in the hall below, and Sarah jumped for her door, leaving the book on the floor and the first round easily the bear’s. You have guessed it. She reached the top of the stairs just as her farmer came up, three at a jump, and reaped and garnered her, with nothing left for the gleaners.
“Why haven’t you written—oh, why?” cried Sarah.
“New York is a pretty large town,” said Walter Franklin. “I came in a week ago to your old address. I found that you went away on a Thursday. That consoled some; it eliminated the possible Friday bad luck. But it didn’t prevent my hunting for you with police and otherwise ever since!
“I wrote!” said Sarah, vehemently.
“Never got it!”
“Then how did you find me?”
The young farmer smiled a springtime smile.
“I dropped into that Home Restaurant next door this evening,” said he. “I don’t care who knows it; I like a dish of some kind of greens at this time of the year. I ran my eye down that nice typewritten bill of fare looking for something in that line. When I got below cabbage I turned my chair over and hollered for the proprietor. He told me where you lived.”
“I remember,” sighed Sarah, happily. “That was dandelions below cabbage.”
“I’d know that cranky capital W way above the line that your typewriter makes anywhere in the world,” said Franklin.
“Why, there’s no W in dandelions,” said Sarah, in surprise.
The young man drew the bill of fare from his pocket, and pointed to a line.
Sarah recognised the first card she had typewritten that afternoon. There was still the rayed splotch in the upper right-hand corner where a tear had fallen. But over the spot where one should have read the name of the meadow plant, the clinging memory of their golden blossoms had allowed her fingers to strike strange keys.
Between the red cabbage and the stuffed green peppers was the item:
“DEAREST WALTER, WITH HARD-BOILED EGG.”