home | authors | books | about

Home -> O. Henry -> Squaring the Circle

Squaring the Circle

Short Stories


A Bird of Bagdad

A Blackjack Bargainer

A Call Loan

A Chaparral Christmas Gift

A Chaparral Prince

A Comedy in Rubber

A Cosmopolite in a Cafe

A Departmental Case

A Dinner at--------*

A Double-Dyed Deceiver

A Fog in Santone

A Harlem Tragedy

A Lickpenny Lover

A Little Local Colour

A Little Talk about Mobs

A Madison Square Arabian Night

A Matter of Mean Elevation

A Midsummer Knight's Dream

A Midsummer Masquerade

A Municipal Report

A Newspaper Story

A Night in New Arabia

A Philistine in Bohemia

A Poor Rule

A Ramble in Aphasia

A Retrieved Reformation

A Ruler of Men

A Sacrifice Hit

A Service of Love

A Snapshot at the President

A Strange Story

A Technical Error

A Tempered Wind

According to Their Lights

After Twenty Years

An Adjustment of Nature

An Afternoon Miracle

An Apology

An Unfinished Christmas Story

An Unfinished Story

Aristocracy Versus Hash

Art and the Bronco

At Arms With Morpheus

Babes in the Jungle


Between Rounds

Bexar Scrip No. 2692

Blind Man's Holiday

Brickdust Row

Buried Treasure

By Courier

Calloway's Code


Cherchez La Femme

Christmas by Injunction

Compliments of the Season

Confessions of a Humorist

Conscience in Art

Cupid a La Carte

Cupid's Exile Number Two


Dougherty's Eye-Opener

Elsie in New York

Extradited from Bohemia

Fickle Fortune or How Gladys Hustled

Friends in San Rosario

From Each According to His Ability

From the Cabby's Seat

Georgia's Ruling


He Also Serves

Hearts and Crosses

Hearts and Hands

Helping the Other Fellow

Holding Up a Train

Hostages to Momus

Hygeia at the Solito

Innocents of Broadway

Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet

Jimmy Hayes and Muriel

Law and Order

Let Me Feel Your Pulse

Little Speck in Garnered Fruit

Lord Oakhurst's Curse

Lost on Dress Parade

Madame Bo-Peep, of the Ranches

Makes the Whole World Kin

Mammon and the Archer

Man About Town

Masters of Arts

Memoirs of a Yellow Dog

Modern Rural Sports

Money Maze

Nemesis and the Candy Man

New York by Camp Fire Light

Next to Reading Matter

No Story

October and June

On Behalf of the Management

One Dollar's Worth

One Thousand Dollars

Out of Nazareth

Past One at Rooney's


Proof of the Pudding

Psyche and the Pskyscraper

Queries and Answers

Roads of Destiny

Roses, Ruses and Romance

Rouge et Noir

Round the Circle

Rus in Urbe

Schools and Schools

Seats of the Haughty

Shearing the Wolf



Sisters of the Golden Circle


Sociology in Serge and Straw

Sound and Fury

Springtime a La Carte

Squaring the Circle

Strictly Business

Strictly Business

Suite Homes and Their Romance

Telemachus, Friend

The Admiral

The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes

The Assessor of Success

The Atavism of John Tom Little Bear

The Badge of Policeman O'Roon

The Brief Debut of Tildy

The Buyer From Cactus City

The Caballero's Way

The Cactus

The Caliph and the Cad

The Caliph, Cupid and the Clock

The Call of the Tame

The Chair of Philanthromathematics

The Champion of the Weather

The Church with an Overshot-Wheel

The City of Dreadful Night

The Clarion Call

The Coming-Out of Maggie

The Complete Life of John Hopkins

The Cop and the Anthem

The Count and the Wedding Guest

The Country of Elusion

The Day Resurgent

The Day We Celebrate

The Defeat of the City

The Detective Detector

The Diamond of Kali

The Discounters of Money

The Dog and the Playlet

The Door of Unrest

The Dream

The Duel

The Duplicity of Hargraves

The Easter of the Soul

The Emancipation of Billy

The Enchanted Kiss

The Enchanted Profile

The Ethics of Pig

The Exact Science of Matrimony

The Ferry of Unfulfilment

The Fifth Wheel

The Flag Paramount

The Fool-Killer

The Foreign Policy of Company 99

The Fourth in Salvador

The Friendly Call

The Furnished Room

The Gift of the Magi

The Girl and the Graft

The Girl and the Habit

The Gold That Glittered

The Greater Coney

The Green Door

The Guardian of the Accolade

The Guilty Party - An East Side Tragedy

The Halberdier of the Little Rheinschloss

The Hand that Riles the World

The Handbook of Hymen

The Harbinger

The Head-Hunter

The Hiding of Black Bill

The Higher Abdication

The Higher Pragmatism

The Hypotheses of Failure

The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson

The Lady Higher Up

The Last Leaf

The Last of the Troubadours

The Lonesome Road

The Lost Blend

The Lotus And The Bottle

The Love-Philtre of Ikey Schoenstein

The Making of a New Yorker

The Man Higher Up

The Marionettes

The Marquis and Miss Sally

The Marry Month of May

The Memento

The Missing Chord

The Moment of Victory

The Octopus Marooned

The Passing of Black Eagle

The Pendulum

The Phonograph and the Graft

The Pimienta Pancakes

The Plutonian Fire

The Poet and the Peasant

The Pride of the Cities

The Princess and the Puma

The Prisoner of Zembla

The Proem

The Purple Dress

The Ransom of Mack

The Ransom of Red Chief

The Rathskeller and the Rose

The Red Roses of Tonia

The Reformation of Calliope

The Remnants of the Code

The Renaissance at Charleroi

The Roads We Take

The Robe of Peace

The Romance of a Busy Broker

The Rose of Dixie

The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball

The Rubber Plant's Story

The Shamrock and the Palm

The Shocks of Doom

The Skylight Room

The Sleuths

The Snow Man

The Social Triangle

The Song and the Sergeant

The Sparrows in Madison Square

The Sphinx Apple

The Tale of a Tainted Tenner

The Theory and the Hound

The Thing's the Play

The Third Ingredient

The Trimmed Lamp

The Unknown Quantity

The Unprofitable Servant

The Venturers

The Vitagraphoscope

The Voice of the City

The Whirligig of Life

The World and the Door

Thimble, Thimble


To Him Who Waits

Tobin's Palm

Tommy's Burglar

Tracked to Doom

Transformation of Martin Burney

Transients in Arcadia

Two Recalls

Two Renegades

Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen

Ulysses and the Dogman

Vanity and Some Sables

What You Want

While the Auto Waits

Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking

Witches' Loaves

At the hazard of wearying you this tale of vehe-
ment emotions must be prefaced by a discourse on

Nature moves in circles; Art in straight lines.
The natural is rounded; the artificial is made up
of angles. A man lost in the snow wanders, in spite
of himself, in perfect circles; the city man's feet,
denaturalized by rectangular streets and floors, carry
him ever away from himself.

The round eyes of childhood typify innocence;
the narrowed line of the flirt's optic proves the in-
vasion of art. The horizontal mouth is the mark of
determined cunning; who has not read Nature's most
spontaneous lyric in lips rounded for the candid kiss?

Beauty is Nature in perfection; circularity is its
chief attribute. Behold the full moon, the enchant-
ing golf ball, the domes of splendid temples, the
huckleberry pie, the wedding ring, the circus ring,
the ring for the waiter, and the "round" of drinks.

On the other hand, straight lines show that Na-
ture has been deflected. Imagine Venus's girdle
transformed into a "straight front"!

When we begin to move in straight lines and turn
sharp corners our natures begin to change. The
consequence is that Nature, being more adaptive than
Art, tries to conform to its sterner regulations. The
result is often a rather curious product -- for in-
stance: A prize chrysanthemum, wood alcohol whis-
key, a Republican Missouri, cauliflower au gratin,
and a New Yorker,

Nature is lost quickest in a big city. The cause
is geometrical, not moral. The straight lines of its
streets and architecture, the rectangularity of its
laws and social customs, the undeviating pavements,
the hard, severe, depressing, uncompromising rules
of all its ways -- even of its recreation and sports --
coldly exhibit a sneering defiance of the curved line
of Nature.

Wherefore, it may be said that the big city has
demonstrated the problem of squaring the circle.
And it may be added that this mathematical intro-
duction precedes an account of the fate of a Kentucky
feud that was imported to the city that has a habit
of making its importations conform to its angles.

The feud began in the Cumberland Mountains be-
tween the Folwell and the Harkness families. The
first victim of the homespun vendetta was a 'possum
dog belonging to Bill Harkness. The Harkness
family evened up this dire loss by laying out the
chief of the Folwell clan. The Folwells were prompt
at repartee. They oiled up their squirrel rifles and
made it feasible for Bill Harkness to follow his dog
to a land where the 'possums come down when treed
without the stroke of an ax.

The feud flourished for forty years. Harknesses
were shot at the plough, through their lamp-lit cabin
windows, coming from camp-meeting, asleep, in duello,
sober and otherwise, singly and in family groups,
prepared and unprepared. Folwells had the
branches of their family tree lopped off in similar
ways, as the traditions of their country prescribed
and authorized.

By and by the pruning left but a single member
of each family. And then Cal Harkness, probably
reasoning that further pursuance of the controversy
would give a too decided personal flavor to the feud,
suddenly disappeared from the relieved Cumberlands,
baulking the avenging hand of Sam, the ultimate op-
posing Folwell.

A year afterward Sam Folwell learned that his
hereditary, unsuppressed enemy was living in New
York City. Sam turned over the big iron wash-pot
in the yard, scraped off some of the soot, which he
mixed with lard and shined his boots with the com-
pound. He put on his store clothes of butternut
dyed black, a white shirt and collar, and packed a
carpet-sack with Spartan lingerie. He took his
squirrel rifle from its hooks, but put it back again
with a sigh. However ethical and plausible the habit
might be in the Cumberlands, perhaps New York
would not swallow his pose of hunting squirrels among
the skyscrapers along Broadway. An ancient but
reliable Colt's revolver that he resurrected from a
bureau drawer seemed to proclaim itself the pink of
weapons for metropolitan adventure and vengeance.
This and a hunting-knife in a leather sheath, Sam
packed in the carpet-sack. As he started, Muleback,
for the lowland railroad station the last Folwell
turned in his saddle and looked grimly at the little
cluster of white-pine slabs in the clump of cedars that
marked the Folwell burying-ground.

Sam Folwell arrived in New York in the night.
Still moving and living in the free circles of nature,
he did not perceive the formidable, pitiless, restless,
fierce angles of the great city waiting in the dark
to close about the rotundity of his heart and brain
and mould him to the form of its millions of re-shaped
victims. A cabby picked him out of the whirl, as
Sam himself had often picked a nut from a bed of
wind-tossed autumn leaves, and whisked him away
to a hotel commensurate to his boots and carpet-

On the next morning the last of the Folwells made
his sortie into the city that sheltered the last Hark-
ness. The Colt was thrust beneath his coat and se-
cured by a narrow leather belt; the hunting-knife
hung between his shoulder-blades, with the haft an
inch below his coat collar. He knew this much --
that Cal Harkness drove an express wagon some-
where in that town, and that he, Sam Folwell, had
come to kill him. And as he stepped upon the side-
walk the red came into his eye and the feud-hate into
his heart.

The clamor of the central avenues drew him thith-
erward. He had half expected to see Cal coming
down the street in his shirt-sleeves, with a jug and
a whip in his hand, just as he would have seen him
in Frankfort or Laurel City. But an hour went by
and Cal did not appear. Perhaps he was waiting in
ambush, to shoot him from a door or a window. Sam
kept a sharp eye on doors and windows for a while.

About noon the city tired of playing with its mouse
and suddenly squeezed him with its straight lines.

Sam Folwell stood where two great, rectangular
arteries of the city cross. He looked four ways, and
saw the world burled from its orbit and reduced
by spirit level and tape to an edged and cornered
plane. All life moved on tracks, in grooves, accord-
ing to system, within boundaries, by rote. The root
of life was the cube root; the measure of existence
was square measure. People streamed by in straight
rows; the horrible din and crash stupefied him.

Sam leaned against the sharp corner of a stone
building. Those faces passed him by thousands, and
none of them were turned toward him. A sudden fool-
ish fear that he had died and was a spirit, and that
they could not see him, seized him. And then the city
smote him with loneliness.

A fat man dropped out of the stream and stood
a few feet distant, waiting for his car. Sam crept
to his side and shouted above the tumult into his

"The Rankinses' hogs weighed more'n ourn a
whole passel, but the mast in thar neighborhood was
a fine chance better than what it was down -- "

The fat man moved away unostentatiously, and
bought roasted chestnuts to cover his alarm.

Sam felt the need of a drop of mountain dew.
Across the street men passed in and out through
swinging doors. Brief glimpses could be had of a
glistening bar and its bedeckings. The feudist crossed
and essayed to enter. Again had Art eliminated the
familiar circle. Sam's hand found no door-knob -
it slid, in vain, over a rectangular brass plate and
polished oak with nothing even so large as a pin's
head upon which his fingers might close.
Abashed, reddened, heartbroken, he walked away
from the bootless door and sat upon a step. A locust
club tickled him in the ribs.

"Take a walk for yourself," said the policeman.
You've been loafing around here long enough."

At the next corner a shrill whistle sounded in Sam's
ear. He wheeled around and saw a black-browed vil-
lain scowling at him over peanuts heaped on a steam-
ing machine. He started across the street. An im-
mense engine, running without mules, with the voice of
a bull and the smell of a smoky lamp, whizzed past,
grazing his knee. A cab-driver bumped him with a
hub and explained to him that kind words were in-
vented to be used on other occasions. A motorman
clanged his bell wildly and, for once in his life, cor-
roborated a cab-driver. A large lady in a changeable
silk waist dug an elbow into his back, and a newsy
pensively pelted him with banana rinds, murmuring,
"I hates to do it -- but if anybody seen me let it

Cal Harkness, his day's work over and his express
wagon stabled, turned the sharp edge of the build-
ing that, by the cheek of architects, is modelled upon
a safety razor. Out of the mass of hurrying people
his eye picked up, three yards away, the surviving
bloody and implacable foe of his kith and kin.

He stopped short and wavered for a moment, be-
ing unarmed and sharply surprised. But the keen
mountaineer's eye of Sam Folwell had picked him out.

There was a sudden spring, a ripple in the stream
of passersby and the sound of Sam's voice crying:

"Howdy, Cal! I'm durned glad to see ye."

And in the angles of Broadway, Fifth Avenue and
Twenty-third Street the Cumberland feudists shook

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary