SPRINGTIME À LA CARTE
by O. Henry
This is Part I of a short story by the American author, O. Henry, who was born William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910). The story was first published in 1906. It is in the public domain.
It was a day in March.
Never, never begin a story this way when you write one. No opening could possibly be worse. It is unimaginative, flat, dry and likely to consist of mere wind. But in this instance it is allowable. For the following paragraph, which should have inaugurated the narrative, is too wildly extravagant and preposterous to be flaunted in the face of the reader without preparation.
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare.
Think of a New York girl shedding tears on the menu card!
To account for this you will be allowed to guess that the lobsters were all out, or that she had sworn ice-cream off during Lent, or that she had ordered onions, or that she had just come from a Hackett matinee. And then, all these theories being wrong, you will please let the story proceed.
The gentleman who announced that the world was an oyster which he with his sword would open made a larger hit than he deserved. It is not difficult to open an oyster with a sword. But did you ever notice any one try to open the terrestrial bivalve with a typewriter? Like to wait for a dozen raw opened that way?
Sarah had managed to pry apart the shells with her unhandy weapon far enough to nibble a wee bit at the cold and clammy world within. She knew no more shorthand than if she had been a graduate in stenography just let slip upon the world by a business college. So, not being able to stenog, she could not enter that bright galaxy of office talent. She was a free-lance typewriter and canvassed for odd jobs of copying.
The most brilliant and crowning feat of Sarah’s battle with the world was the deal she made with Schulenberg’s Home Restaurant. The restaurant was next door to the old red brick in which she hall-roomed. One evening after dining at Schulenberg’s 40-cent, five-course table d’hôte (served as fast as you throw the five baseballs at the colored gentleman’s head) Sarah took away with her the bill of fare. It was written in an almost unreadable script neither English nor German, and so arranged that if you were not careful you began with a toothpick and rice pudding and ended with soup and the day of the week.
The next day Sarah showed Schulenberg a neat card on which the menu was beautifully typewritten with the viands temptingly marshalled under their right and proper heads from “hors d’oeuvre” to “not responsible for overcoats and umbrellas.”
Schulenberg became a naturalized citizen on the spot. Before Sarah left him she had him willingly committed to an agreement. She was to furnish typewritten bills of fare for the twenty-one tables in the restaurant—a new bill for each day’s dinner, and new ones for breakfast and lunch as often as changes occurred in the food or as neatness required.
In return for this Schulenberg was to send three meals per diem to Sarah’s hall room by a waiter—an obsequious one if possible—and furnish her each afternoon with a pencil draft of what Fate had in store for Schulenberg’s customers on the morrow.
Mutual satisfaction resulted from the agreement. Schulenberg’s patrons now knew what the food they ate was called even if its nature sometimes puzzled them. And Sarah had food during a cold, dull winter, which was the main thing with her.
And then the almanac lied, and said that spring had come. Spring comes when it comes. The frozen snows of January still lay like adamant in the crosstown streets. The hand-organs still played “In the Good Old Summertime,” with their December vivacity and expression. Men began to make thirty-day notes to buy Easter dresses. Janitors shut off steam. And when these things happen one may know that the city is still in the clutches of winter.
One afternoon Sarah shivered in her elegant hall bedroom; “house heated; scrupulously clean; conveniences; seen to be appreciated.” She had no work to do except Schulenberg’s menu cards. Sarah sat in her squeaky willow rocker, and looked out the window. The calendar on the wall kept crying to her: “Springtime is here, Sarah—springtime is here, I tell you. Look at me, Sarah, my figures show it. You’ve got a neat figure yourself, Sarah—a—nice springtime figure—why do you look out the window so sadly?”
Sarah’s room was at the back of the house. Looking out the window she could see the windowless rear brick wall of the box factory on the next street. But the wall was clearest crystal; and Sarah was looking down a grassy lane shaded with cherry trees and elms and bordered with raspberry bushes and Cherokee roses.
Spring’s real harbingers are too subtle for the eye and ear. Some must have the flowering crocus, the wood-starring dogwood, the voice of bluebird—even so gross a reminder as the farewell handshake of the retiring buckwheat and oyster before they can welcome the Lady in Green to their dull bosoms. But to old earth’s choicest kin there come straight, sweet messages from his newest bride, telling them they shall be no stepchildren unless they choose to be.
On the previous summer Sarah had gone into the country and loved a farmer.
(In writing your story never hark back thus. It is bad art, and cripples interest. Let it march, march.)
Sarah stayed two weeks at Sunnybrook Farm. There she learned to love old Farmer Franklin’s son Walter. Farmers have been loved and wedded and turned out to grass in less time. But young Walter Franklin was a modern agriculturist. He had a telephone in his cow house, and he could figure up exactly what effect next year’s Canada wheat crop would have on potatoes planted in the dark of the moon.
It was in this shaded and raspberried lane that Walter had wooed and won her. And together they had sat and woven a crown of dandelions for her hair. He had immoderately praised the effect of the yellow blossoms against her brown tresses; and she had left the chaplet there, and walked back to the house swinging her straw sailor in her hands.
They were to marry in the spring—at the very first signs of spring, Walter said. And Sarah came back to the city to pound her typewriter.
What’s next for Sarah, Walter, et al? Find out in the conclusion to our story in the April edition of The Hurleyville Sentinel!