Elsie in New York by O. Henry
No, bumptious reader, this story is not a continuation of the Elsie
series. But if your Elsie had lived over here in our big city there
might have been a chapter in her books not very different from this.
Especially for the vagrant feet of youth are the roads of Manhattan
beset "with pitfall and with gin." But the civic guardians of the
young have made themselves acquainted with the snares of the wicked,
and most of the dangerous paths are patrolled by their agents, who
seek to turn straying ones away from the peril that menaces them.
And this will tell you how they guided my Elsie safely through all
peril to the goal that she was seeking.
Elsie's father had been a cutter for Fox & Otter, cloaks and furs,
on lower Broadway. He was an old man, with a slow and limping gait,
so a pot-hunter of a newly licensed chauffeur ran him down one day
when livelier game was scarce. They took the old man home, where he
lay on his bed for a year and then died, leaving $2.50 in cash and a
letter from Mr. Otter offering to do anything he could to help his
faithful old employee. The old cutter regarded this letter as a
valuable legacy to his daughter, and he put it into her hands with
pride as the shears of the dread Cleaner and Repairer snipped off
his thread of life.
That was the landlord's cue; and forth he came and did his part in
the great eviction scene. There was no snowstorm ready for Elsie to
steal out into, drawing her little red woollen shawl about her
shoulders, but she went out, regardless of the unities. And as for
the red shawl—back to Blaney with it! Elsie's fall tan coat was
cheap, but it had the style and fit of the best at Fox & Otter's.
And her lucky stars had given her good looks, and eyes as blue and
innocent as the new shade of note paper, and she had $1 left of the
$2.50. And the letter from Mr. Otter. Keep your eye on the letter
from Mr. Otter. That is the clue. I desire that everything be made
plain as we go. Detective stories are so plentiful now that they do
And so we find Elsie, thus equipped, starting out in the world to
seek her fortune. One trouble about the letter from Mr. Otter was
that it did not bear the new address of the firm, which had moved
about a month before. But Elsie thought she could find it. She had
heard that policemen, when politely addressed, or thumbscrewed by an
investigation committee, will give up information and addresses. So
she boarded a downtown car at One Hundred and Seventy-seventh street
and rode south to Forty-second, which she thought must surely be the
end of the island. There she stood against the wall undecided, for
the city's roar and dash was new to her. Up where she had lived was
rural New York, so far out that the milkmen awaken you in the
morning by the squeaking of pumps instead of the rattling of cans.
A kind-faced, sunburned young man in a soft-brimmed hat went past
Elsie into the Grand Central Depot. That was Hank Ross, of the
Sunflower Ranch, in Idaho, on his way home from a visit to the East.
Hank's heart was heavy, for the Sunflower Ranch was a lonesome
place, lacking the presence of a woman. He had hoped to find one
during his visit who would congenially share his prosperity and
home, but the girls of Gotham had not pleased his fancy. But, as he
passed in, he noted, with a jumping of his pulses, the sweet,
ingenuous face of Elsie and her pose of doubt and loneliness. With
true and honest Western impulse he said to himself that here was his
mate. He could love her, he knew; and he would surround her with so
much comfort, and cherish her so carefully that she would be happy,
and make two sunflowers grow on the ranch where there grew but one
Hank turned and went back to her. Backed by his never before
questioned honesty of purpose, he approached the girl and removed
his soft-brimmed hat. Elsie had but time to sum up his handsome
frank face with one shy look of modest admiration when a burly cop
hurled himself upon the ranchman, seized him by the collar and
backed him against the wall. Two blocks away a burglar was coming
out of an apartment-house with a bag of silverware on his shoulder;
but that is neither here nor there.
"Carry on yez mashin' tricks right before me eyes, will yez?"
shouted the cop. "I'll teach yez to speak to ladies on me beat that
ye're not acquainted with. Come along."
Elsie turned away with a sigh as the ranchman was dragged away. She
had liked the effect of his light blue eyes against his tanned
complexion. She walked southward, thinking herself already in the
district where her father used to work, and hoping to find some one
who could direct her to the firm of Fox & Otter.
But did she want to find Mr. Otter? She had inherited much of the
old cutter's independence. How much better it would be if she could
find work and support herself without calling on him for aid!
Elsie saw a sign "Employment Agency" and went in. Many girls were
sitting against the wall in chairs. Several well-dressed ladies were
looking them over. One white-haired, kind-faced old lady in rustling
black silk hurried up to Elsie.
"My dear," she said in a sweet, gentle voice, "are you looking for a
position? I like your face and appearance so much. I want a young
woman who will be half maid and half companion to me. You will have
a good home and I will pay you $30 a month."
Before Elsie could stammer forth her gratified acceptance, a young
woman with gold glasses on her bony nose and her hands in her jacket
pockets seized her arm and drew her aside.
"I am Miss Ticklebaum," said she, "of the Association for the
Prevention of Jobs Being Put Up on Working Girls Looking for Jobs.
We prevented forty-seven girls from securing positions last week. I
am here to protect you. Beware of any one who offers you a job. How
do you know that this woman does not want to make you work as a
breaker-boy in a coal mine or murder you to get your teeth? If you
accept work of any kind without permission of our association you
will be arrested by one of our agents."
"But what am I to do?" asked Elsie. "I have no home or money. I must
do something. Why am I not allowed to accept this kind lady's
"I do not know," said Miss Ticklebaum. "That is the affair of our
Committee on the Abolishment of Employers. It is my duty simply to
see that you do not get work. You will give me your name and address
and report to our secretary every Thursday. We have 600 girls on the
waiting list who will in time be allowed to accept positions as
vacancies occur on our roll of Qualified Employers, which now
comprises twenty-seven names. There is prayer, music and lemonade in
our chapel the third Sunday of every month."
Elsie hurried away after thanking Miss Ticklebaum for her timely
warning and advice. After all, it seemed that she must try to find
But after walking a few blocks she saw a sign, "Cashier wanted," in
the window of a confectionery store. In she went and applied for the
place, after casting a quick glance over her shoulder to assure
herself that the job-preventer was not on her trail.
The proprietor of the confectionery was a benevolent old man with a
peppermint flavor, who decided, after questioning Elsie pretty
closely, that she was the very girl he wanted. Her services were
needed at once, so Elsie, with a thankful heart, drew off her tan
coat and prepared to mount the cashier's stool.
But before she could do so a gaunt lady wearing steel spectacles and
black mittens stood before her, with a long finger pointing, and
exclaimed: "Young woman, hesitate!"
"Do you know," said the black-and-steel lady, "that in accepting
this position you may this day cause the loss of a hundred lives in
agonizing physical torture and the sending as many souls to
"Why, no," said Elsie, in frightened tones. "How could I do that?"
"Rum," said the lady—"the demon rum. Do you know why so many lives
are lost when a theatre catches fire? Brandy balls. The demon rum
lurking in brandy balls. Our society women while in theatres sit
grossly intoxicated from eating these candies filled with brandy.
When the fire fiend sweeps down upon them they are unable to escape.
The candy stores are the devil's distilleries. If you assist in the
distribution of these insidious confections you assist in the
destruction of the bodies and souls of your fellow-beings, and in
the filling of our jails, asylums and almshouses. Think, girl, ere
you touch the money for which brandy balls are sold."
"Dear me," said Elsie, bewildered. "I didn't know there was rum in
brandy balls. But I must live by some means. What shall I do?"
"Decline the position," said the lady, "and come with me. I will
tell you what to do."
After Elsie had told the confectioner that she had changed her mind
about the cashiership she put on her coat and followed the lady to
the sidewalk, where awaited an elegant victoria.
"Seek some other work," said the black-and-steel lady, "and assist
in crushing the hydra-headed demon rum." And she got into the
victoria and drove away.
"I guess that puts it up to Mr. Otter again," said Elsie, ruefully,
turning down the street. "And I'm sorry, too, for I'd much rather
make my way without help."
Near Fourteenth street Elsie saw a placard tacked on the side of a
doorway that read: "Fifty girls, neat sewers, wanted immediately on
theatrical costumes. Good pay."
She was about to enter, when a solemn man, dressed all in black,
laid his hand on her arm.
"My dear girl," he said, "I entreat you not to enter that
dressing-room of the devil."
"Goodness me!" exclaimed Elsie, with some impatience. "The devil
seems to have a cinch on all the business in New York. What's wrong
about the place?"
"It is here," said the solemn man, "that the regalia of Satan—in
other words, the costumes worn on the stage—are manufactured. The
stage is the road to ruin and destruction. Would you imperil your
soul by lending the work of your hands to its support? Do you know,
my dear girl, what the theatre leads to? Do you know where actors
and actresses go after the curtain of the playhouse has fallen upon
them for the last time?"
"Sure," said Elsie. "Into vaudeville. But do you think it would be
wicked for me to make a little money to live on by sewing? I must
get something to do pretty soon."
"The flesh-pots of Egypt," exclaimed the reverend gentleman,
uplifting his hands. "I beseech you, my child, to turn away from
this place of sin and iniquity."
"But what will I do for a living?" asked Elsie. "I don't care to sew
for this musical comedy, if it's as rank as you say it is; but I've
got to have a job."
"The Lord will provide," said the solemn man. "There is a free Bible
class every Sunday afternoon in the basement of the cigar store next
to the church. Peace be with you. Amen. Farewell."
Elsie went on her way. She was soon in the downtown district where
factories abound. On a large brick building was a gilt sign, "Posey
& Trimmer, Artificial Flowers." Below it was hung a newly stretched
canvas bearing the words, "Five hundred girls wanted to learn trade.
Good wages from the start. Apply one flight up."
Elsie started toward the door, near which were gathered in groups
some twenty or thirty girls. One big girl with a black straw hat
tipped down over her eyes stepped in front of her.
"Say, you'se," said the girl, "are you'se goin' in there after a
"Yes," said Elsie; "I must have work."
"Now don't do it," said the girl. "I'm chairman of our Scab
Committee. There's 400 of us girls locked out just because we
demanded 50 cents a week raise in wages, and ice water, and for the
foreman to shave off his mustache. You're too nice a looking girl to
be a scab. Wouldn't you please help us along by trying to find a job
somewhere else, or would you'se rather have your face pushed in?"
"I'll try somewhere else," said Elsie.
She walked aimlessly eastward on Broadway, and there her heart
leaped to see the sign, "Fox & Otter," stretching entirely across
the front of a tall building. It was as though an unseen guide had
led her to it through the by-ways of her fruitless search for work.
She hurried into the store and sent in to Mr. Otter by a clerk her
name and the letter he had written her father. She was shown
directly into his private office.
Mr. Otter arose from his desk as Elsie entered and took both hands
with a hearty smile of welcome. He was a slightly corpulent man of
nearly middle age, a little bald, gold spectacled, polite, well
"Well, well, and so this is Beatty's little daughter! Your father
was one of our most efficient and valued employees. He left nothing?
Well, well. I hope we have not forgotten his faithful services. I am
sure there is a vacancy now among our models. Oh, it is easy
Mr. Otter struck a bell. A long-nosed clerk thrust a portion of
himself inside the door.
"Send Miss Hawkins in," said Mr. Otter. Miss Hawkins came.
"Miss Hawkins," said Mr. Otter, "bring for Miss Beatty to try on one
of those Russian sable coats and—let's see—one of those latest model
black tulle hats with white tips."
Elsie stood before the full-length mirror with pink cheeks and quick
breath. Her eyes shone like faint stars. She was beautiful. Alas!
she was beautiful.
I wish I could stop this story here. Confound it! I will. No; it's
got to run it out. I didn't make it up. I'm just repeating it.
I'd like to throw bouquets at the wise cop, and the lady who rescues
Girls from Jobs, and the prohibitionist who is trying to crush
brandy balls, and the sky pilot who objects to costumes for stage
people (there are others), and all the thousands of good people who
are at work protecting young people from the pitfalls of a great
city; and then wind up by pointing out how they were the means of
Elsie reaching her father's benefactor and her kind friend and
rescuer from poverty. This would make a fine Elsie story of the old
sort. I'd like to do this; but there's just a word or two to follow.
While Elsie was admiring herself in the mirror, Mr. Otter went to
the telephone booth and called up some number. Don't ask me what it
"Oscar," said he, "I want you to reserve the same table for me this
evening. … What? Why, the one in the Moorish room to the left
of the shrubbery. … Yes; two. … Yes, the usual brand; and
the '85 Johannisburger with the roast. If it isn't the right
temperature I'll break your neck. … No; not her … No, indeed
… A new one—a peacherino, Oscar, a peacherino!"
Tired and tiresome reader, I will conclude, if you please, with a
paraphrase of a few words that you will remember were written by
him—by him of Gad's Hill, before whom, if you doff not your hat, you
shall stand with a covered pumpkin—aye, sir, a pumpkin.
Lost, Your Excellency. Lost Associations and Societies. Lost, Right
Reverends and Wrong Reverends of every order. Lost, Reformers and
Lawmakers, born with heavenly compassion in your hearts, but with
the reverence of money in your souls. And lost thus around us every