On his bench in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese
honk high of nights, and when women without sealskin coats grow kind
to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his bench in the
park, you may know that winter is near at hand.
A dead leaf fell in Soapy's lap. That was Jack Frost's card. Jack
is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair
warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands
his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All
Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.
Soapy's mind became cognisant of the fact that the time had come for
him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to
provide against the coming rigour. And therefore he moved uneasily
on his bench.
The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In
them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of
soporific Southern skies drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three months
on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured
board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats,
seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.
For years the hospitable Blackwell's had been his winter quarters.
Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their
tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made
his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now
the time was come. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers,
distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had
failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting
fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely
in Soapy's mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of
charity for the city's dependents. In Soapy's opinion the Law was
more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of
institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out
and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to
one of Soapy's proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If
not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit
received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus,
every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of
bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition.
Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though
conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman's private
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about
accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this.
The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant;
and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and
without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do
Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the
level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together.
Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering cafe, where are
gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the
silkworm and the protoplasm.
Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest
upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black,
ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a lady
missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the
restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion of him that
would show above the table would raise no doubt in the waiter's mind.
A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing--with
a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demi-tasse and a cigar.
One dollar for the cigar would be enough. The total would not be so
high as to call forth any supreme manifestation of revenge from the
cafe management; and yet the meat would leave him filled and happy
for the journey to his winter refuge.
But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter's
eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and
ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste to
the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted
island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering
limbo must be thought of.
At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed
wares behind plate-glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took
a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running
around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with
his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.
"Where's the man that done that?" inquired the officer excitedly.
"Don't you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?"
said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good
The policeman's mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who
smash windows do not remain to parley with the law's minions. They
take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block
running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit.
Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.
On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great
pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its
crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into
this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers
without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak,
flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter be betrayed the
fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.
"Now, get busy and call a cop," said Soapy. "And don't keep a
"No cop for youse," said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes
and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. "Hey, Con!"
Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched
Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter's rule opens, and
beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The
Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug
store two doors away laughed and walked down the street.
Five blocks Soapy travelled before his courage permitted him to woo
capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously
termed to himself a "cinch." A young woman of a modest and pleasing
guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly
interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards
from the window a large policeman of severe demeanour leaned against
a water plug.
It was Soapy's design to assume the role of the despicable and
execrated "masher." The refined and elegant appearance of his victim
and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe
that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm
that would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight
Soapy straightened the lady missionary's readymade tie, dragged his
shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and
sidled toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with
sudden coughs and "hems," smiled, smirked and went brazenly through
the impudent and contemptible litany of the "masher." With half an
eye Soapy saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young
woman moved away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed
attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to
her side, raised his hat and said:
"Ah there, Bedelia! Don't you want to come and play in my yard?"
The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but
to beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his
insular haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of
the station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a
hand, caught Soapy's coat sleeve.
Sure, Mike," she said joyfully, "if you'll blow me to a pail of suds.
I'd have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching."
With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked
past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.
At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in
the district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts,
vows and librettos.
Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A
sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered
him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it,
and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of
a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of
On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of
his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed
The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked
to a citizen.
"'Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin' the goose egg they give to
the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We've instructions to
lave them be."
Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a
policeman lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an
unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling
In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a
swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on
entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered
off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.
"My umbrella," he said, sternly.
"Oh, is it?" sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. "Well,
why don't you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why
don't you call a cop? There stands one on the corner."
The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a
presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman
looked at the two curiously.
"Of course," said the umbrella man--"that is--well, you know how
these mistakes occur--I--if it's your umbrella I hope you'll excuse
me--I picked it up this morning in a restaurant--If you recognise it
as yours, why--I hope you'll--"
"Of course it's mine," said Soapy, viciously.
The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a
tall blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street
car that was approaching two blocks away.
Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He
hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered
against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted
to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who
could do no wrong.
At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the
glitter and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward
Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home
is a park bench.
But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here
was an old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one
violet-stained window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the
organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the
coming Sabbath anthem. For there drifted out to Soapy's ears sweet
music that caught and held him transfixed against the convolutions of
the iron fence.
The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians
were few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves--for a little
while the scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem
that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had
known it well in the days when his life contained such things as
mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts
The conjunction of Soapy's receptive state of mind and the influences
about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his
soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled,
the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties
and base motives that made up his existence.
And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel
mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with
his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would
make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken
possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet;
he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without
faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a
revolution in him. To-morrow he would go into the roaring downtown
district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place
as driver. He would find him to-morrow and ask for the position. He
would be somebody in the world. He would--
Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the
broad face of a policeman.
"What are you doin' here?" asked the officer.
"Nothin'," said Soapy.
"Then come along," said the policeman.
"Three months on the Island," said the Magistrate in the Police Court
the next morning.