The Badge of Policeman O'roon by O. Henry
It cannot be denied that men and women have looked upon one another
for the first time and become instantly enamored. It is a risky
process, this love at first sight, before she has seen him in
Bradstreet or he has seen her in curl papers. But these things do
happen; and one instance must form a theme for this story—though
not, thank Heaven, to the overshadowing of more vital and important
subjects, such as drink, policemen, horses and earldoms.
During a certain war a troop calling itself the Gentle Riders rode
into history and one or two ambuscades. The Gentle Riders were
recruited from the aristocracy of the wild men of the West and the
wild men of the aristocracy of the East. In khaki there is little
telling them one from another, so they became good friends and
comrades all around.
Ellsworth Remsen, whose old Knickerbocker descent atoned for his
modest rating at only ten millions, ate his canned beef gayly by the
campfires of the Gentle Riders. The war was a great lark to him, so
that he scarcely regretted polo and planked shad.
One of the troopers was a well set up, affable, cool young man, who
called himself O'Roon. To this young man Remsen took an especial
liking. The two rode side by side during the famous mooted up-hill
charge that was disputed so hotly at the time by the Spaniards and
afterward by the Democrats.
After the war Remsen came back to his polo and shad. One day a well
set up, affable, cool young man disturbed him at his club, and he
and O'Roon were soon pounding each other and exchanging opprobrious
epithets after the manner of long-lost friends. O'Roon looked seedy
and out of luck and perfectly contented. But it seemed that his
content was only apparent.
"Get me a job, Remsen," he said. "I've just handed a barber my last
"No trouble at all," said Remsen. "I know a lot of men who have
banks and stores and things downtown. Any particular line you
"Yes," said O'Roon, with a look of interest. "I took a walk in your
Central Park this morning. I'd like to be one of those bobbies on
horseback. That would be about the ticket. Besides, it's the only
thing I could do. I can ride a little and the fresh air suits me.
Think you could land that for me?"
Remsen was sure that he could. And in a very short time he did. And
they who were not above looking at mounted policemen might have seen
a well set up, affable, cool young man on a prancing chestnut steed
attending to his duties along the driveways of the park.
And now at the extreme risk of wearying old gentlemen who carry
leather fob chains, and elderly ladies who—but no! grandmother
herself yet thrills at foolish, immortal Romeo—there must be a hint
of love at first sight.
It came just as Remsen was strolling into Fifth avenue from his club
a few doors away.
A motor car was creeping along foot by foot, impeded by a freshet of
vehicles that filled the street. In the car was a chauffeur and an
old gentleman with snowy side whiskers and a Scotch plaid cap which
could not be worn while automobiling except by a personage. Not even
a wine agent would dare do it. But these two were of no
consequence—except, perhaps, for the guiding of the machine and the
paying for it. At the old gentleman's side sat a young lady more
beautiful than pomegranate blossoms, more exquisite than the first
quarter moon viewed at twilight through the tops of oleanders.
Remsen saw her and knew his fate. He could have flung himself under
the very wheels that conveyed her, but he knew that would be the
last means of attracting the attention of those who ride in motor
cars. Slowly the auto passed, and, if we place the poets above the
autoists, carried the heart of Remsen with it. Here was a large city
of millions, and many women who at a certain distance appear to
resemble pomegranate blossoms. Yet he hoped to see her again; for
each one fancies that his romance has its own tutelary guardian and
Luckily for Remsen's peace of mind there came a diversion in the
guise of a reunion of the Gentle Riders of the city. There were not
many of them—perhaps a score—and there was wassail and things to
eat, and speeches and the Spaniard was bearded again in
recapitulation. And when daylight threatened them the survivors
prepared to depart. But some remained upon the battlefield. One of
these was Trooper O'Roon, who was not seasoned to potent liquids.
His legs declined to fulfil the obligations they had sworn to the
"I'm stewed, Remsen," said O'Roon to his friend. "Why do they build
hotels that go round and round like catherine wheels? They'll take
away my shield and break me. I can think and talk
con-con-consec-sec-secutively, but I s-s-stammer with my feet. I've
got to go on duty in three hours. The jig is up, Remsen. The jig is
up, I tell you."
"Look at me," said Remsen, who was his smiling self, pointing to his
own face; "whom do you see here?"
"Goo' fellow," said O'Roon, dizzily, "Goo' old Remsen."
"Not so," said Remsen. "You see Mounted Policeman O'Roon. Look at
your face—no; you can't do that without a glass—but look at mine,
and think of yours. How much alike are we? As two French table
d'hote dinners. With your badge, on your horse, in your uniform,
will I charm nurse-maids and prevent the grass from growing under
people's feet in the Park this day. I will have your badge and your
honor, besides having the jolliest lark I've been blessed with since
we licked Spain."
Promptly on time the counterfeit presentment of Mounted Policeman
O'Roon single-footed into the Park on his chestnut steed. In a
uniform two men who are unlike will look alike; two who somewhat
resemble each other in feature and figure will appear as twin
brothers. So Remsen trotted down the bridle paths, enjoying himself
hugely, so few real pleasures do ten-millionaires have.
Along the driveway in the early morning spun a victoria drawn by a
pair of fiery bays. There was something foreign about the affair,
for the Park is rarely used in the morning except by unimportant
people who love to be healthy, poor and wise. In the vehicle sat an
old gentleman with snowy side-whiskers and a Scotch plaid cap which
could not be worn while driving except by a personage. At his side
sat the lady of Remsen's heart—the lady who looked like pomegranate
blossoms and the gibbous moon.
Remsen met them coming. At the instant of their passing her eyes
looked into his, and but for the ever coward's heart of a true lover
he could have sworn that she flushed a faint pink. He trotted on for
twenty yards, and then wheeled his horse at the sound of runaway
hoofs. The bays had bolted.
Remsen sent his chestnut after the victoria like a shot. There was
work cut out for the impersonator of Policeman O'Roon. The chestnut
ranged alongside the off bay thirty seconds after the chase began,
rolled his eye back at Remsen, and said in the only manner open to
"Well, you duffer, are you going to do your share? You're not
O'Roon, but it seems to me if you'd lean to the right you could
reach the reins of that foolish slow-running bay—ah! you're all
right; O'Roon couldn't have done it more neatly!"
The runaway team was tugged to an inglorious halt by Remsen's tough
muscles. The driver released his hands from the wrapped reins,
jumped from his seat and stood at the heads of the team. The
chestnut, approving his new rider, danced and pranced, reviling
equinely the subdued bays. Remsen, lingering, was dimly conscious of
a vague, impossible, unnecessary old gentleman in a Scotch cap who
talked incessantly about something. And he was acutely conscious of
a pair of violet eyes that would have drawn Saint Pyrites from his
iron pillar—or whatever the allusion is—and of the lady's smile and
look—a little frightened, but a look that, with the ever coward
heart of a true lover, he could not yet construe. They were asking
his name and bestowing upon him wellbred thanks for his heroic deed,
and the Scotch cap was especially babbling and insistent. But the
eloquent appeal was in the eyes of the lady.
A little thrill of satisfaction ran through Remsen, because he had a
name to give which, without undue pride, was worthy of being spoken
in high places, and a small fortune which, with due pride, he could
leave at his end without disgrace.
He opened his lips to speak and closed them again.
Who was he? Mounted Policeman O'Roon. The badge and the honor of his
comrade were in his hands. If Ellsworth Remsen, ten-millionaire and
Knickerbocker, had just rescued pomegranate blossoms and Scotch cap
from possible death, where was Policeman O'Roon? Off his beat,
exposed, disgraced, discharged. Love had come, but before that there
had been something that demanded precedence—the fellowship of men on
battlefields fighting an alien foe.
Remsen touched his cap, looked between the chestnut's ears, and took
refuge in vernacularity.
"Don't mention it," he said stolidly. "We policemen are paid to do
these things. It's our duty."
And he rode away—rode away cursing noblesse oblige, but
knowing he could never have done anything else.
At the end of the day Remsen sent the chestnut to his stable and
went to O'Roon's room. The policeman was again a well set up,
affable, cool young man who sat by the window smoking cigars.
"I wish you and the rest of the police force and all badges, horses,
brass buttons and men who can't drink two glasses of brut
without getting upset were at the devil," said Remsen feelingly.
O'Roon smiled with evident satisfaction.
"Good old Remsen," he said, affably, "I know all about it. They
trailed me down and cornered me here two hours ago. There was a
little row at home, you know, and I cut sticks just to show them. I
don't believe I told you that my Governor was the Earl of Ardsley.
Funny you should bob against them in the Park. If you damaged that
horse of mine I'll never forgive you. I'm going to buy him and take
him back with me. Oh, yes, and I think my sister—Lady Angela, you
know—wants particularly for you to come up to the hotel with me this
evening. Didn't lose my badge, did you, Remsen? I've got to turn
that in at Headquarters when I resign."