According to Their Lights by O. Henry
Somewhere in the depths of the big city, where the unquiet dregs are
forever being shaken together, young Murray and the Captain had met
and become friends. Both were at the lowest ebb possible to their
fortunes; both had fallen from at least an intermediate Heaven of
respectability and importance, and both were typical products of the
monstrous and peculiar social curriculum of their overweening and
bumptious civic alma mater.
The captain was no longer a captain. One of those sudden moral
cataclysms that sometimes sweep the city had hurled him from a high
and profitable position in the Police Department, ripping off his
badge and buttons and washing into the hands of his lawyers the
solid pieces of real estate that his frugality had enabled him to
accumulate. The passing of the flood left him low and dry. One month
after his dishabilitation a saloon-keeper plucked him by the neck
from his free-lunch counter as a tabby plucks a strange kitten from
her nest, and cast him asphaltward. This seems low enough. But after
that he acquired a pair of cloth top, button Congress gaiters and
wrote complaining letters to the newspapers. And then he fought the
attendant at the Municipal Lodging House who tried to give him a
bath. When Murray first saw him he was holding the hand of an
Italian woman who sold apples and garlic on Essex street, and
quoting the words of a song book ballad.
Murray's fall had been more Luciferian, if less spectacular. All the
pretty, tiny little kickshaws of Gotham had once been his. The
megaphone man roars out at you to observe the house of his uncle on
a grand and revered avenue. But there had been an awful row about
something, and the prince had been escorted to the door by the
butler, which, in said avenue, is equivalent to the impact of the
avuncular shoe. A weak Prince Hal, without inheritance or sword, he
drifted downward to meet his humorless Falstaff, and to pick the
crusts of the streets with him.
One evening they sat on a bench in a little downtown park. The great
bulk of the Captain, which starvation seemed to increase—drawing
irony instead of pity to his petitions for aid—was heaped against
the arm of the bench in a shapeless mass. His red face, spotted by
tufts of vermilion, week-old whiskers and topped by a sagging white
straw hat, looked, in the gloom, like one of those structures that
you may observe in a dark Third avenue window, challenging your
imagination to say whether it be something recent in the way of
ladies' hats or a strawberry shortcake. A tight-drawn belt—last
relic of his official spruceness—made a deep furrow in his
circumference. The Captain's shoes were buttonless. In a smothered
bass he cursed his star of ill-luck.
Murray, at his side, was shrunk into his dingy and ragged suit of
blue serge. His hat was pulled low; he sat quiet and a little
indistinct, like some ghost that had been dispossessed.
"I'm hungry," growled the Captain—"by the top sirloin of the Bull of
Bashan, I'm starving to death. Right now I could eat a Bowery
restaurant clear through to the stovepipe in the alley. Can't you
think of nothing, Murray? You sit there with your shoulders
scrunched up, giving an imitation of Reginald Vanderbilt driving his
coach—what good are them airs doing you now? Think of some place we
can get something to chew."
"You forget, my dear Captain," said Murray, without moving, "that
our last attempt at dining was at my suggestion."
"You bet it was," groaned the Captain, "you bet your life it was.
Have you got any more like that to make—hey?"
"I admit we failed," sighed Murray. "I was sure Malone would be good
for one more free lunch after the way he talked baseball with me the
last time I spent a nickel in his establishment."
"I had this hand," said the Captain, extending the unfortunate
member—"I had this hand on the drumstick of a turkey and two sardine
sandwiches when them waiters grabbed us."
"I was within two inches of the olives," said Murray. "Stuffed
olives. I haven't tasted one in a year."
"What'll we do?" grumbled the Captain. "We can't starve."
"Can't we?" said Murray quietly. "I'm glad to hear that. I was
afraid we could."
"You wait here," said the Captain, rising, heavily and puffily to
his feet. "I'm going to try to make one more turn. You stay here
till I come back, Murray. I won't be over half an hour. If I turn
the trick I'll come back flush."
He made some elephantine attempts at smartening his appearance. He
gave his fiery mustache a heavenward twist; he dragged into sight a
pair of black-edged cuffs, deepened the crease in his middle by
tightening his belt another hole, and set off, jaunty as a zoo
rhinoceros, across the south end of the park.
When he was out of sight Murray also left the park, hurrying swiftly
eastward. He stopped at a building whose steps were flanked by two
"A police captain named Maroney," he said to the desk sergeant, "was
dismissed from the force after being tried under charges three years
ago. I believe sentence was suspended. Is this man wanted now by the
"Why are ye asking?" inquired the sergeant, with a frown.
"I thought there might be a reward standing," explained Murray,
easily. "I know the man well. He seems to be keeping himself pretty
shady at present. I could lay my hands on him at any time. If there
should be a reward—"
"There's no reward," interrupted the sergeant, shortly. "The man's
not wanted. And neither are ye. So, get out. Ye are frindly with um,
and ye would be selling um. Out with ye quick, or I'll give ye a
Murray gazed at the officer with serene and virtuous dignity.
"I would be simply doing my duty as a citizen and gentleman," he
said, severely, "if I could assist the law in laying hold of one of
Murray hurried back to the bench in the park. He folded his arms and
shrank within his clothes to his ghost-like presentment.
Ten minutes afterward the Captain arrived at the rendezvous, windy
and thunderous as a dog-day in Kansas. His collar had been torn
away; his straw hat had been twisted and battered; his shirt with
ox-blood stripes split to the waist. And from head to knee he was
drenched with some vile and ignoble greasy fluid that loudly
proclaimed to the nose its component leaven of garlic and kitchen
"For Heaven's sake, Captain," sniffed Murray, "I doubt that I would
have waited for you if I had suspected you were so desperate as to
resort to swill barrels. I"—
"Cheese it," said the Captain, harshly. "I'm not hogging it yet.
It's all on the outside. I went around on Essex and proposed
marriage to that Catrina that's got the fruit shop there. Now, that
business could be built up. She's a peach as far as a Dago could be.
I thought I had that senoreena mashed sure last week. But look what
she done to me! I guess I got too fresh. Well there's another scheme
"You don't mean to say," said Murray, with infinite contempt, "that
you would have married that woman to help yourself out of your
"Me?" said the Captain. "I'd marry the Empress of China for one bowl
of chop suey. I'd commit murder for a plate of beef stew. I'd steal
a wafer from a waif. I'd be a Mormon for a bowl of chowder."
"I think," said Murray, resting his head on his hands, "that I would
play Judas for the price of one drink of whiskey. For thirty pieces
of silver I would"—
"Oh, come now!" exclaimed the Captain in dismay. "You wouldn't do
that, Murray! I always thought that Kike's squeal on his boss was
about the lowest-down play that ever happened. A man that gives his
friend away is worse than a pirate."
Through the park stepped a large man scanning the benches where the
electric light fell.
"Is that you, Mac?" he said, halting before the derelicts. His
diamond stickpin dazzled. His diamond-studded fob chain assisted. He
was big and smooth and well fed. "Yes, I see it's you," he
continued. "They told me at Mike's that I might find you over here.
Let me see you a few minutes, Mac."
The Captain lifted himself with a grunt of alacrity. If Charlie
Finnegan had come down in the bottomless pit to seek him there must
be something doing. Charlie guided him by an arm into a patch of
"You know, Mac," he said, "they're trying Inspector Pickering on
"He was my inspector," said the Captain.
"O'Shea wants the job," went on Finnegan. "He must have it. It's for
the good of the organization. Pickering must go under. Your
testimony will do it. He was your 'man higher up' when you were on
the force. His share of the boodle passed through your hands. You
must go on the stand and testify against him."
"He was"—began the Captain.
"Wait a minute," said Finnegan. A bundle of yellowish stuff came out
of his inside pocket. "Five hundred dollars in it for you. Two-fifty
on the spot, and the rest"—
"He was my friend, I say," finished the Captain. "I'll see you and
the gang, and the city, and the party in the flames of Hades before
I'll take the stand against Dan Pickering. I'm down and out; but I'm
no traitor to a man that's been my friend." The Captain's voice rose
and boomed like a split trombone. "Get out of this park, Charlie
Finnegan, where us thieves and tramps and boozers are your betters;
and take your dirty money with you."
Finnegan drifted out by another walk. The Captain returned to his
"I couldn't avoid hearing," said Murray, drearily. "I think you are
the biggest fool I ever saw."
"What would you have done?" asked the Captain.
"Nailed Pickering to the cross," said Murray.
"Sonny," said the Captain, huskily and without heat. "You and me are
different. New York is divided into two parts—above Forty-second
street, and below Fourteenth. You come from the other part. We both
act according to our lights."
An illuminated clock above the trees retailed the information that
it lacked the half hour of twelve. Both men rose from the bench and
moved away together as if seized by the same idea. They left the
park, struck through a narrow cross street, and came into Broadway,
at this hour as dark, echoing and de-peopled as a byway in Pompeii.
Northward they turned; and a policeman who glanced at their unkempt
and slinking figures withheld the attention and suspicion that he
would have granted them at any other hour and place. For on every
street in that part of the city other unkempt and slinking figures
were shuffling and hurrying toward a converging point—a point that
is marked by no monument save that groove on the pavement worn by
tens of thousands of waiting feet.
At Ninth street a tall man wearing an opera hat alighted from a
Broadway car and turned his face westward. But he saw Murray,
pounced upon him and dragged him under a street light. The Captain
lumbered slowly to the corner, like a wounded bear, and waited,
"Jerry!" cried the hatted one. "How fortunate! I was to begin a
search for you to-morrow. The old gentleman has capitulated. You're
to be restored to favor. Congratulate you. Come to the office in the
morning and get all the money you want. I've liberal instructions in
"And the little matrimonial arrangement?" said Murray, with his head
"Why.—er—well, of course, your uncle understands—expects that the
engagement between you and Miss Vanderhurst shall be"—
"Good night," said Murray, moving away.
"You madman!" cried the other, catching his arm. "Would you give up
two millions on account of"—
"Did you ever see her nose, old man?" asked Murray, solemnly.
"But, listen to reason, Jerry. Miss Vanderhurst is an heiress, and"—
"Did you ever see it?"
"Yes, I admit that her nose isn't"—
"Good night!" said Murray. "My friend is waiting for me. I am
quoting him when I authorize you to report that there is 'nothing
doing.' Good night."
A wriggling line of waiting men extended from a door in Tenth street
far up Broadway, on the outer edge of the pavement. The Captain and
Murray fell in at the tail of the quivering millipede.
"Twenty feet longer than it was last night," said Murray, looking up
at his measuring angle of Grace Church.
"Half an hour," growled the Captain, "before we get our punk."
The city clocks began to strike 12; the Bread Line moved forward
slowly, its leathern feet sliding on the stones with the sound of a
hissing serpent, as they who had lived according to their lights
closed up in the rear.