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E-text prepared by anonymous Project volunteers and revised by
Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.







STRICTLY BUSINESS

More Stories of the Four Million

by

O. HENRY







CONTENTS

I. STRICTLY BUSINESS
II. THE GOLD THAT GLITTERED
III. BABES IN THE JUNGLE
IV. THE DAY RESURGENT
V. THE FIFTH WHEEL
VI. THE POET AND THE PEASANT
VII. THE ROBE OF PEACE
VIII. THE GIRL AND THE GRAFT
IX. THE CALL OF THE TAME
X. THE UNKNOWN QUANTITY
XI. THE THING'S THE PLAY
XII. A RAMBLE IN APHASIA
XIII. A MUNICIPAL REPORT
XIV. PSYCHE AND THE PSKYSCRAPER
XV. A BIRD OF BAGDAD
XVI. COMPLIMENTS OF THE SEASON
XVII. A NIGHT IN NEW ARABIA
XVIII. THE GIRL AND THE HABIT
XIX. PROOF OF THE PUDDING
XX. PAST ONE AT RODNEY'S
XXI. THE VENTURERS
XXII. THE DUEL
XXIII. "WHAT YOU WANT"





I

STRICTLY BUSINESS


I suppose you know all about the stage and stage people. You've been
touched with and by actors, and you read the newspaper criticisms and
the jokes in the weeklies about the Rialto and the chorus girls and the
long-haired tragedians. And I suppose that a condensed list of your
ideas about the mysterious stageland would boil down to something like
this:

Leading ladies have five husbands, paste diamonds, and figures no better
than your own (madam) if they weren't padded. Chorus girls are
inseparable from peroxide, Panhards and Pittsburg. All shows walk back
to New York on tan oxford and railroad ties. Irreproachable actresses
reserve the comic-landlady part for their mothers on Broadway and their
step-aunts on the road. Kyrle Bellew's real name is Boyle O'Kelley. The
ravings of John McCullough in the phonograph were stolen from the first
sale of the Ellen Terry memoirs. Joe Weber is funnier than E. H.
Sothern; but Henry Miller is getting older than he was.

All theatrical people on leaving the theatre at night drink champagne
and eat lobsters until noon the next day. After all, the moving pictures
have got the whole bunch pounded to a pulp.

Now, few of us know the real life of the stage people. If we did, the
profession might be more overcrowded than it is. We look askance at the
players with an eye full of patronizing superiority--and we go home and
practise all sorts of elocution and gestures in front of our looking
glasses.

Latterly there has been much talk of the actor people in a new light. It
seems to have been divulged that instead of being motoring bacchanalians
and diamond-hungry _loreleis_ they are businesslike folk, students and
ascetics with childer and homes and libraries, owning real estate, and
conducting their private affairs in as orderly and unsensational a
manner as any of us good citizens who are bound to the chariot wheels of
the gas, rent, coal, ice, and wardmen.

Whether the old or the new report of the sock-and-buskiners be the true
one is a surmise that has no place here. I offer you merely this little
story of two strollers; and for proof of its truth I can show you only
the dark patch above the cast-iron of the stage-entrance door of
Keetor's old vaudeville theatre made there by the petulant push of
gloved hands too impatient to finger the clumsy thumb-latch--and where I
last saw Cherry whisking through like a swallow into her nest, on time
to the minute, as usual, to dress for her act.

The vaudeville team of Hart & Cherry was an inspiration. Bob Hart had
been roaming through the Eastern and Western circuits for four years
with a mixed-up act comprising a monologue, three lightning changes
with songs, a couple of imitations of celebrated imitators, and a
buck-and-wing dance that had drawn a glance of approval from the
bass-viol player in more than one house--than which no performer ever
received more satisfactory evidence of good work.

The greatest treat an actor can have is to witness the pitiful
performance with which all other actors desecrate the stage. In order to
give himself this pleasure he will often forsake the sunniest Broadway
corner between Thirty-fourth and Forty-fourth to attend a matinée
offering by his less gifted brothers. Once during the lifetime of a
minstrel joke one comes to scoff and remains to go through with that
most difficult exercise of Thespian muscles--the audible contact of the
palm of one hand against the palm of the other.

One afternoon Bob Hart presented his solvent, serious, well-known
vaudevillian face at the box-office window of a rival attraction and got
his d. h. coupon for an orchestra seat.

A, B, C, and D glowed successively on the announcement spaces and passed
into oblivion, each plunging Mr. Hart deeper into gloom. Others of the
audience shrieked, squirmed, whistled, and applauded; but Bob Hart, "All
the Mustard and a Whole Show in Himself," sat with his face as long and
his hands as far apart as a boy holding a hank of yarn for his
grandmother to wind into a ball.

But when H came on, "The Mustard" suddenly sat up straight. H was the
happy alphabetical prognosticator of Winona Cherry, in Character Songs
and Impersonations. There were scarcely more than two bites to Cherry;
but she delivered the merchandise tied with a pink cord and charged to
the old man's account. She first showed you a deliciously dewy and
ginghamy country girl with a basket of property daisies who informed you
ingenuously that there were other things to be learned at the old log
school-house besides cipherin' and nouns, especially "When the Teach-er
Kept Me in." Vanishing, with a quick flirt of gingham apron-strings,
she reappeared in considerably less than a "trice" as a fluffy
"Parisienne"--so near does Art bring the old red mill to the Moulin
Rouge. And then--

But you know the rest. And so did Bob Hart; but he saw somebody else. He
thought he saw that Cherry was the only professional on the short order
stage that he had seen who seemed exactly to fit the part of "Helen
Grimes" in the sketch he had written and kept tucked away in the tray
of his trunk. Of course Bob Hart, as well as every other normal actor,
grocer, newspaper man, professor, curb broker, and farmer, has a play
tucked away somewhere. They tuck 'em in trays of trunks, trunks of
trees, desks, haymows, pigeonholes, inside pockets, safe-deposit vaults,
handboxes, and coal cellars, waiting for Mr. Frohman to call. They
belong among the fifty-seven different kinds.

But Bob Hart's sketch was not destined to end in a pickle jar. He called
it "Mice Will Play." He had kept it quiet and hidden away ever since he
wrote it, waiting to find a partner who fitted his conception of "Helen
Grimes." And here was "Helen" herself, with all the innocent abandon,
the youth, the sprightliness, and the flawless stage art that his
critical taste demanded.

After the act was over Hart found the manager in the box office, and got
Cherry's address. At five the next afternoon he called at the musty old
house in the West Forties and sent up his professional card.

By daylight, in a secular shirtwaist and plain _voile_ skirt, with her
hair curbed and her Sister of Charity eyes, Winona Cherry might have
been playing the part of Prudence Wise, the deacon's daughter, in the
great (unwritten) New England drama not yet entitled anything.

"I know your act, Mr. Hart," she said after she had looked over his card
carefully. "What did you wish to see me about?"

"I saw you work last night," said Hart. "I've written a sketch that I've
been saving up. It's for two; and I think you can do the other part. I
thought I'd see you about it."

"Come in the parlor," said Miss Cherry. "I've been wishing for something
of the sort. I think I'd like to act instead of doing turns."

Bob Hart drew his cherished "Mice Will Play" from his pocket, and read
it to her.

"Read it again, please," said Miss Cherry.

And then she pointed out to him clearly how it could be improved by
introducing a messenger instead of a telephone call, and cutting the
dialogue just before the climax while they were struggling with the
pistol, and by completely changing the lines and business of Helen
Grimes at the point where her jealousy overcomes her. Hart yielded to
all her strictures without argument. She had at once put her finger on
the sketch's weaker points. That was her woman's intuition that he had
lacked. At the end of their talk Hart was willing to stake the judgment,
experience, and savings of his four years of vaudeville that "Mice Will
Play" would blossom into a perennial flower in the garden of the
circuits. Miss Cherry was slower to decide. After many puckerings of her
smooth young brow and tappings on her small, white teeth with the end of
a lead pencil she gave out her dictum.

"Mr. Hart," said she, "I believe your sketch is going to win out. That
Grimes part fits me like a shrinkable flannel after its first trip to a
handless hand laundry. I can make it stand out like the colonel of the
Forty-fourth Regiment at a Little Mothers' Bazaar. And I've seen you
work. I know what you can do with the other part. But business is
business. How much do you get a week for the stunt you do now?"

"Two hundred," answered Hart.

"I get one hundred for mine," said Cherry. "That's about the natural
discount for a woman. But I live on it and put a few simoleons every
week under the loose brick in the old kitchen hearth. The stage is all
right. I love it; but there's something else I love better--that's a
little country home, some day, with Plymouth Rock chickens and six ducks
wandering around the yard.

"Now, let me tell you, Mr. Hart, I am STRICTLY BUSINESS. If you want me
to play the opposite part in your sketch, I'll do it. And I believe we
can make it go. And there's something else I want to say: There's no
nonsense in my make-up; I'm _on the level_, and I'm on the stage for
what it pays me, just as other girls work in stores and offices. I'm
going to save my money to keep me when I'm past doing my stunts. No Old
Ladies' Home or Retreat for Imprudent Actresses for me.

"If you want to make this a business partnership, Mr. Hart, with all
nonsense cut out of it, I'm in on it.



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