THE DUPLICITY OF HARGRAVES
By O. Henry (1862-1910)
Humorous Short Stories
[From The Junior Munsey, February, 1902. Republished in the volume,
Sixes and Sevens (1911), by O. Henry; copyright, 1911, by Doubleday,
Page & Co.; reprinted by their permission.]
When Major Pendleton Talbot, of Mobile, sir, and his daughter, Miss
Lydia Talbot, came to Washington to reside, they selected for a
boarding place a house that stood fifty yards back from one of the
quietest avenues. It was an old-fashioned brick building, with a
portico upheld by tall white pillars. The yard was shaded by stately
locusts and elms, and a catalpa tree in season rained its pink and
white blossoms upon the grass. Rows of high box bushes lined the fence
and walks. It was the Southern style and aspect of the place that
pleased the eyes of the Talbots.
In this pleasant private boarding house they engaged rooms, including
a study for Major Talbot, who was adding the finishing chapters to his
book, Anecdotes and Reminiscences of the Alabama Army, Bench, and
Major Talbot was of the old, old South. The present day had little
interest or excellence in his eyes. His mind lived in that period
before the Civil War when the Talbots owned thousands of acres of fine
cotton land and the slaves to till them; when the family mansion was
the scene of princely hospitality, and drew its guests from the
aristocracy of the South. Out of that period he had brought all its
old pride and scruples of honor, an antiquated and punctilious
politeness, and (you would think) its wardrobe.
Such clothes were surely never made within fifty years. The Major was
tall, but whenever he made that wonderful, archaic genuflexion he
called a bow, the corners of his frock coat swept the floor. That
garment was a surprise even to Washington, which has long ago ceased
to shy at the frocks and broad-brimmed hats of Southern Congressmen.
One of the boarders christened it a "Father Hubbard," and it certainly
was high in the waist and full in the skirt.
But the Major, with all his queer clothes, his immense area of
plaited, raveling shirt bosom, and the little black string tie with
the bow always slipping on one side, both was smiled at and liked in
Mrs. Vardeman's select boarding house. Some of the young department
clerks would often "string him," as they called it, getting him
started upon the subject dearest to him—the traditions and history of
his beloved Southland. During his talks he would quote freely from the
Anecdotes and Reminiscences. But they were very careful not to let
him see their designs, for in spite of his sixty-eight years he could
make the boldest of them uncomfortable under the steady regard of his
piercing gray eyes.
Miss Lydia was a plump, little old maid of thirty-five, with smoothly
drawn, tightly twisted hair that made her look still older.
Old-fashioned, too, she was; but antebellum glory did not radiate from
her as it did from the Major. She possessed a thrifty common sense,
and it was she who handled the finances of the family, and met all
comers when there were bills to pay. The Major regarded board bills
and wash bills as contemptible nuisances. They kept coming in so
persistently and so often. Why, the Major wanted to know, could they
not be filed and paid in a lump sum at some convenient period—say
when the Anecdotes and Reminiscences had been published and paid
for? Miss Lydia would calmly go on with her sewing and say, "We'll pay
as we go as long as the money lasts, and then perhaps they'll have to
Most of Mrs. Vardeman's boarders were away during the day, being
nearly all department clerks and business men; but there was one of
them who was about the house a great deal from morning to night. This
was a young man named Henry Hopkins Hargraves—every one in the house
addressed him by his full name—who was engaged at one of the popular
vaudeville theaters. Vaudeville has risen to such a respectable plane
in the last few years, and Mr. Hargraves was such a modest and
well-mannered person, that Mrs. Vardeman could find no objection to
enrolling him upon her list of boarders.
At the theater Hargraves was known as an all-round dialect comedian,
having a large repertoire of German, Irish, Swede, and black-face
specialties. But Mr. Hargraves was ambitious, and often spoke of his
great desire to succeed in legitimate comedy.
This young man appeared to conceive a strong fancy for Major Talbot.
Whenever that gentleman would begin his Southern reminiscences, or
repeat some of the liveliest of the anecdotes, Hargraves could always
be found, the most attentive among his listeners.
For a time the Major showed an inclination to discourage the advances
of the "play actor," as he privately termed him; but soon the young
man's agreeable manner and indubitable appreciation of the old
gentleman's stories completely won him over.
It was not long before the two were like old chums. The Major set
apart each afternoon to read to him the manuscript of his book. During
the anecdotes Hargraves never failed to laugh at exactly the right
point. The Major was moved to declare to Miss Lydia one day that young
Hargraves possessed remarkable perception and a gratifying respect for
the old régime. And when it came to talking of those old days—if
Major Talbot liked to talk, Mr. Hargraves was entranced to listen.
Like almost all old people who talk of the past, the Major loved to
linger over details. In describing the splendid, almost royal, days of
the old planters, he would hesitate until he had recalled the name of
the negro who held his horse, or the exact date of certain minor
happenings, or the number of bales of cotton raised in such a year;
but Hargraves never grew impatient or lost interest. On the contrary,
he would advance questions on a variety of subjects connected with the
life of that time, and he never failed to extract ready replies.
The fox hunts, the 'possum suppers, the hoe-downs and jubilees in the
negro quarters, the banquets in the plantation-house hall, when
invitations went for fifty miles around; the occasional feuds with the
neighboring gentry; the Major's duel with Rathbone Culbertson about
Kitty Chalmers, who afterward married a Thwaite of South Carolina; and
private yacht races for fabulous sums on Mobile Bay; the quaint
beliefs, improvident habits, and loyal virtues of the old slaves—all
these were subjects that held both the Major and Hargraves absorbed
for hours at a time.
Sometimes, at night, when the young man would be coming upstairs to
his room after his turn at the theater was over, the Major would
appear at the door of his study and beckon archly to him. Going in,
Hargraves would find a little table set with a decanter, sugar bowl,
fruit, and a big bunch of fresh green mint.
"It occurred to me," the Major would begin—he was always
ceremonious—"that perhaps you might have found your duties at the—at
your place of occupation—sufficiently arduous to enable you, Mr.
Hargraves, to appreciate what the poet might well have had in his mind
when he wrote, 'tired Nature's sweet restorer'—one of our Southern
It was a fascination to Hargraves to watch him make it. He took rank
among artists when he began, and he never varied the process. With
what delicacy he bruised the mint; with what exquisite nicety he
estimated the ingredients; with what solicitous care he capped the
compound with the scarlet fruit glowing against the dark green fringe!
And then the hospitality and grace with which he offered it, after the
selected oat straws had been plunged into its tinkling depths!
After about four months in Washington, Miss Lydia discovered one
morning that they were almost without money. The Anecdotes and
Reminiscences was completed, but publishers had not jumped at the
collected gems of Alabama sense and wit. The rental of a small house
which they still owned in Mobile was two months in arrears. Their
board money for the month would be due in three days. Miss Lydia
called her father to a consultation.
"No money?" said he with a surprised look. "It is quite annoying to be
called on so frequently for these petty sums, Really, I—"
The Major searched his pockets. He found only a two-dollar bill, which
he returned to his vest pocket.
"I must attend to this at once, Lydia," he said. "Kindly get me my
umbrella and I will go downtown immediately. The congressman from our
district, General Fulghum, assured me some days ago that he would use
his influence to get my book published at an early date. I will go to
his hotel at once and see what arrangement has been made."
With a sad little smile Miss Lydia watched him button his "Father
Hubbard" and depart, pausing at the door, as he always did, to bow
That evening, at dark, he returned. It seemed that Congressman Fulghum
had seen the publisher who had the Major's manuscript for reading.
That person had said that if the anecdotes, etc., were carefully
pruned down about one-half, in order to eliminate the sectional and
class prejudice with which the book was dyed from end to end, he might
consider its publication.
The Major was in a white heat of anger, but regained his equanimity,
according to his code of manners, as soon as he was in Miss Lydia's
"We must have money," said Miss Lydia, with a little wrinkle above her
nose. "Give me the two dollars, and I will telegraph to Uncle Ralph
for some to-night."
The Major drew a small envelope from his upper vest pocket and tossed
it on the table.
"Perhaps it was injudicious," he said mildly, "but the sum was so
merely nominal that I bought tickets to the theater to-night. It's a
new war drama, Lydia. I thought you would be pleased to witness its
first production in Washington. I am told that the South has very fair
treatment in the play. I confess I should like to see the performance
Miss Lydia threw up her hands in silent despair.
Still, as the tickets were bought, they might as well be used. So that
evening, as they sat in the theater listening to the lively overture,
even Miss Lydia was minded to relegate their troubles, for the hour,
to second place. The Major, in spotless linen, with his extraordinary
coat showing only where it was closely buttoned, and his white hair
smoothly roached, looked really fine and distinguished. The curtain
went up on the first act of A Magnolia Flower, revealing a typical
Southern plantation scene. Major Talbot betrayed some interest.
"Oh, see!" exclaimed Miss Lydia, nudging his arm, and pointing to her
The Major put on his glasses and read the line in the cast of
characters that her fingers indicated.
Col. Webster Calhoun …. Mr. Hopkins Hargraves.
"It's our Mr. Hargraves," said Miss Lydia. "It must be his first
appearance in what he calls 'the legitimate.' I'm so glad for him."
Not until the second act did Col. Webster Calhoun appear upon the
stage. When he made his entry Major Talbot gave an audible sniff,
glared at him, and seemed to freeze solid. Miss Lydia uttered a
little, ambiguous squeak and crumpled her program in her hand. For
Colonel Calhoun was made up as nearly resembling Major Talbot as one
pea does another. The long, thin white hair, curly at the ends, the
aristocratic beak of a nose, the crumpled, wide, raveling shirt front,
the string tie, with the bow nearly under one ear, were almost exactly
duplicated. And then, to clinch the imitation, he wore the twin to the
Major's supposed to be unparalleled coat. High-collared, baggy,
empire-waisted, ample-skirted, hanging a foot lower in front than
behind, the garment could have been designed from no other pattern.
From then on, the Major and Miss Lydia sat bewitched, and saw the
counterfeit presentment of a haughty Talbot "dragged," as the Major
afterward expressed it, "through the slanderous mire of a corrupt
Mr. Hargraves had used his opportunities well. He had caught the
Major's little idiosyncrasies of speech, accent, and intonation and
his pompous courtliness to perfection—exaggerating all to the purpose
of the stage. When he performed that marvelous bow that the Major
fondly imagined to be the pink of all salutations, the audience sent
forth a sudden round of hearty applause.
Miss Lydia sat immovable, not daring to glance toward her father.
Sometimes her hand next to him would be laid against her cheek, as if
to conceal the smile which, in spite of her disapproval, she could not
The culmination of Hargraves audacious imitation took place in the
third act. The scene is where Colonel Calhoun entertains a few of the
neighboring planters in his "den."
Standing at a table in the center of the stage, with his friends
grouped about him, he delivers that inimitable, rambling character
monologue so famous in A Magnolia Flower, at the same time that he
deftly makes juleps for the party.
Major Talbot, sitting quietly, but white with indignation, heard his
best stories retold, his pet theories and hobbies advanced and
expanded, and the dream of the Anecdotes and Reminiscences served,
exaggerated and garbled. His favorite narrative—that of his duel with
Rathbone Culbertson—was not omitted, and it was delivered with more
fire, egotism, and gusto than the Major himself put into it.
The monologue concluded with a quaint, delicious, witty little lecture
on the art of concocting a julep, illustrated by the act. Here Major
Talbot's delicate but showy science was reproduced to a hair's
breadth—from his dainty handling of the fragrant weed—"the
one-thousandth part of a grain too much pressure, gentlemen, and you
extract the bitterness, instead of the aroma, of this heaven-bestowed
plant"—to his solicitous selection of the oaten straws.
At the close of the scene the audience raised a tumultuous roar of
appreciation. The portrayal of the type was so exact, so sure and
thorough, that the leading characters in the play were forgotten.
After repeated calls, Hargraves came before the curtain and bowed, his
rather boyish face bright and flushed with the knowledge of success.
At last Miss Lydia turned and looked at the Major. His thin nostrils
were working like the gills of a fish. He laid both shaking hands upon
the arms of his chair to rise.
"We will go, Lydia," he said chokingly. "This is an
Before he could rise, she pulled him back into his seat.
"We will stay it out," she declared. "Do you want to advertise the
copy by exhibiting the original coat?" So they remained to the end.
Hargraves's success must have kept him up late that night, for neither
at the breakfast nor at the dinner table did he appear.
About three in the afternoon he tapped at the door of Major Talbot's
study. The Major opened it, and Hargraves walked in with his hands
full of the morning papers—too full of his triumph to notice anything
unusual in the Major's demeanor.
"I put it all over 'em last night, Major," he began exultantly. "I had
my inning, and, I think, scored. Here's what The Post says:
"'His conception and portrayal of the old-time Southern colonel, with
his absurd grandiloquence, his eccentric garb, his quaint idioms and
phrases, his motheaten pride of family, and his really kind heart,
fastidious sense of honor, and lovable simplicity, is the best
delineation of a character role on the boards to-day. The coat worn by
Colonel Calhoun is itself nothing less than an evolution of genius.
Mr. Hargraves has captured his public.'
"How does that sound, Major, for a first-nighter?"
"I had the honor"—the Major's voice sounded ominously frigid—"of
witnessing your very remarkable performance, sir, last night."
Hargraves looked disconcerted.
"You were there? I didn't know you ever—I didn't know you cared for
the theater. Oh, I say, Major Talbot," he exclaimed frankly, "don't
you be offended. I admit I did get a lot of pointers from you that
helped out wonderfully in the part. But it's a type, you know—not
individual. The way the audience caught on shows that. Half the
patrons of that theater are Southerners. They recognized it."
"Mr. Hargraves," said the Major, who had remained standing, "you have
put upon me an unpardonable insult. You have burlesqued my person,
grossly betrayed my confidence, and misused my hospitality. If I
thought you possessed the faintest conception of what is the sign
manual of a gentleman, or what is due one, I would call you out, sir,
old as I am. I will ask you to leave the room, sir."
The actor appeared to be slightly bewildered, and seemed hardly to
take in the full meaning of the old gentleman's words.
"I am truly sorry you took offense," he said regretfully. "Up here we
don't look at things just as you people do. I know men who would buy
out half the house to have their personality put on the stage so the
public would recognize it."
"They are not from Alabama, sir," said the Major haughtily.
"Perhaps not. I have a pretty good memory, Major; let me quote a few
lines from your book. In response to a toast at a banquet given
in—Milledgeville, I believe—you uttered, and intend to have printed,
"'The Northern man is utterly without sentiment or warmth except in so
far as the feelings may be turned to his own commercial profit. He
will suffer without resentment any imputation cast upon the honor of
himself or his loved ones that does not bear with it the consequence
of pecuniary loss. In his charity, he gives with a liberal hand; but
it must be heralded with the trumpet and chronicled in brass.'
"Do you think that picture is fairer than the one you saw of Colonel
Calhoun last night?"
"The description," said the Major, frowning, "is—not without grounds.
Some exag—latitude must be allowed in public speaking."
"And in public acting," replied Hargraves.
"That is not the point," persisted the Major, unrelenting. "It was a
personal caricature. I positively decline to overlook it, sir."
"Major Talbot," said Hargraves, with a winning smile, "I wish you
would understand me. I want you to know that I never dreamed of
insulting you. In my profession, all life belongs to me. I take what I
want, and what I can, and return it over the footlights. Now, if you
will, let's let it go at that. I came in to see you about something
else. We've been pretty good friends for some months, and I'm going to
take the risk of offending you again. I know you are hard up for
money—never mind how I found out, a boarding house is no place to
keep such matters secret—and I want you to let me help you out of the
pinch. I've been there often enough myself. I've been getting a fair
salary all the season, and I've saved some money. You're welcome to a
couple hundred—or even more—until you get——"
"Stop!" commanded the Major, with his arm outstretched. "It seems that
my book didn't lie, after all. You think your money salve will heal
all the hurts of honor. Under no circumstances would I accept a loan
from a casual acquaintance; and as to you, sir, I would starve before
I would consider your insulting offer of a financial adjustment of the
circumstances we have discussed. I beg to repeat my request relative
to your quitting the apartment."
Hargraves took his departure without another word. He also left the
house the same day, moving, as Mrs. Vardeman explained at the supper
table, nearer the vicinity of the downtown theater, where A Magnolia
Flower was booked for a week's run.
Critical was the situation with Major Talbot and Miss Lydia. There was
no one in Washington to whom the Major's scruples allowed him to apply
for a loan. Miss Lydia wrote a letter to Uncle Ralph, but it was
doubtful whether that relative's constricted affairs would permit him
to furnish help. The Major was forced to make an apologetic address to
Mrs. Vardeman regarding the delayed payment for board, referring to
"delinquent rentals" and "delayed remittances" in a rather confused
Deliverance came from an entirely unexpected source.
Late one afternoon the door maid came up and announced an old colored
man who wanted to see Major Talbot. The Major asked that he be sent up
to his study. Soon an old darkey appeared in the doorway, with his hat
in hand, bowing, and scraping with one clumsy foot. He was quite
decently dressed in a baggy suit of black. His big, coarse shoes shone
with a metallic luster suggestive of stove polish. His bushy wool was
gray—almost white. After middle life, it is difficult to estimate the
age of a negro. This one might have seen as many years as had Major
"I be bound you don't know me, Mars' Pendleton," were his first words.
The Major rose and came forward at the old, familiar style of address.
It was one of the old plantation darkeys without a doubt; but they had
been widely scattered, and he could not recall the voice or face.
"I don't believe I do," he said kindly—"unless you will assist my
"Don't you 'member Cindy's Mose, Mars' Pendleton, what 'migrated
'mediately after de war?"
"Wait a moment," said the Major, rubbing his forehead with the tips of
his fingers. He loved to recall everything connected with those
beloved days. "Cindy's Mose," he reflected. "You worked among the
horses—breaking the colts. Yes, I remember now. After the surrender,
you took the name of—don't prompt me—Mitchell, and went to the
"Yassir, yassir,"—the old man's face stretched with a delighted
grin—"dat's him, dat's it. Newbraska. Dat's me—Mose Mitchell. Old
Uncle Mose Mitchell, dey calls me now. Old mars', your pa, gimme a pah
of dem mule colts when I lef' fur to staht me goin' with. You 'member
dem colts, Mars' Pendleton?"
"I don't seem to recall the colts," said the Major. "You know. I was
married the first year of the war and living at the old Follinsbee
place. But sit down, sit down, Uncle Mose. I'm glad to see you. I hope
you have prospered."
Uncle Mose took a chair and laid his hat carefully on the floor beside
"Yessir; of late I done mouty famous. When I first got to Newbraska,
dey folks come all roun' me to see dem mule colts. Dey ain't see no
mules like dem in Newbraska. I sold dem mules for three hundred
dollars. Yessir—three hundred.
"Den I open a blacksmith shop, suh, and made some money and bought
some lan'. Me and my old 'oman done raised up seb'm chillun, and all
doin' well 'cept two of 'em what died. Fo' year ago a railroad come
along and staht a town slam ag'inst my lan', and, suh, Mars'
Pendleton, Uncle Mose am worth leb'm thousand dollars in money,
property, and lan'."
"I'm glad to hear it," said the Major heartily. "Glad to hear it."
"And dat little baby of yo'n, Mars' Pendleton—one what you name Miss
Lyddy—I be bound dat little tad done growed up tell nobody wouldn't
The Major stepped to the door and called: "Lydie, dear, will you
Miss Lydia, looking quite grown up and a little worried, came in from
"Dar, now! What'd I tell you? I knowed dat baby done be plum growed
up. You don't 'member Uncle Mose, child?"
"This is Aunt Cindy's Mose, Lydia," explained the Major. "He left
Sunnymead for the West when you were two years old."
"Well," said Miss Lydia, "I can hardly be expected to remember you,
Uncle Mose, at that age. And, as you say, I'm 'plum growed up,' and
was a blessed long time ago. But I'm glad to see you, even if I can't
And she was. And so was the Major. Something alive and tangible had
come to link them with the happy past. The three sat and talked over
the olden times, the Major and Uncle Mose correcting or prompting each
other as they reviewed the plantation scenes and days.
The Major inquired what the old man was doing so far from his home.
"Uncle Mose am a delicate," he explained, "to de grand Baptis'
convention in dis city. I never preached none, but bein' a residin'
elder in de church, and able fur to pay my own expenses, dey sent me
"And how did you know we were in Washington?" inquired Miss Lydia.
"Dey's a cullud man works in de hotel whar I stops, what comes from
Mobile. He told me he seen Mars' Pendleton comin' outen dish here
house one mawnin'.
"What I come fur," continued Uncle Mose, reaching into his
pocket—"besides de sight of home folks—was to pay Mars' Pendleton
what I owes him.
"Yessir—three hundred dollars." He handed the Major a roll of bills.
"When I lef' old mars' says: 'Take dem mule colts, Mose, and, if it be
so you gits able, pay fur 'em.' Yessir—dem was his words. De war had
done lef' old mars' po' hisself. Old mars' bein' long ago dead, de
debt descends to Mars' Pendleton. Three hundred dollars. Uncle Mose is
plenty able to pay now. When dat railroad buy my lan' I laid off to
pay fur dem mules. Count de money, Mars' Pendleton. Dat's what I sold
dem mules fur. Yessir."
Tears were in Major Talbot's eyes. He took Uncle Mose's hand and laid
his other upon his shoulder.
"Dear, faithful, old servitor," he said in an unsteady voice, "I don't
mind saying to you that 'Mars' Pendleton spent his last dollar in the
world a week ago. We will accept this money, Uncle Mose, since, in a
way, it is a sort of payment, as well as a token of the loyalty and
devotion of the old régime. Lydia, my dear, take the money. You are
better fitted than I to manage its expenditure."
"Take it, honey," said Uncle Mose. "Hit belongs to you. Hit's Talbot
After Uncle Mose had gone, Miss Lydia had a good cry—-for joy; and
the Major turned his face to a corner, and smoked his clay pipe
The succeeding days saw the Talbots restored to peace and ease. Miss
Lydia's face lost its worried look. The major appeared in a new frock
coat, in which he looked like a wax figure personifying the memory of
his golden age. Another publisher who read the manuscript of the
Anecdotes and Reminiscences thought that, with a little retouching
and toning down of the high lights, he could make a really bright and
salable volume of it. Altogether, the situation was comfortable, and
not without the touch of hope that is often sweeter than arrived
One day, about a week after their piece of good luck, a maid brought a
letter for Miss Lydia to her room. The postmark showed that it was
from New York. Not knowing any one there, Miss Lydia, in a mild
flutter of wonder, sat down by her table and opened the letter with
her scissors. This was what she read:
DEAR MISS TALBOT:
I thought you might be glad to learn of my good fortune. I have
received and accepted an offer of two hundred dollars per week by a
New York stock company to play Colonel Calhoun in A Magnolia Flower.
There is something else I wanted you to know. I guess you'd better not
tell Major Talbot. I was anxious to make him some amends for the great
help he was to me in studying the part, and for the bad humor he was
in about it. He refused to let me, so I did it anyhow. I could easily
spare the three hundred.
H. HOPKINS HARGRAVES.
P.S. How did I play Uncle Mose?
Major Talbot, passing through the hall, saw Miss Lydia's door open and
"Any mail for us this morning, Lydia, dear?" he asked.
Miss Lydia slid the letter beneath a fold of her dress.
"The Mobile Chronicle came," she said promptly. "It's on the table
in your study."