O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories of 1924/The Tie That Binds

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From Saturday Evening Post

HARDTACK and Wally lolled on the deck of a cargo boat in the crowded harbour of Piræus, wondering what they would do with the night. The sun was setting, and hills and city lay bathed in a mellow golden glow. Behind them some Moslem deck passengers were at their devotions—bearded patriarchs, making obeisance on their prayer mats before bedding down on the hatch. “Time and money, and no place to spend it,” grumbled Hardtack. “I knowed all the while this trip would be a bust.”

Wally turned on him angrily.

“You wanted to sight-see, didn’t you? Well, whose idea was this, anyhow—yours or mine?”

“Any time there’s a idea, it’s like to be mine,” Hardtack admitted; “but I never meant to do nothin’ else except ruins—I like a li’l’ action now and ag’in. We ain’t even caught up to Noah’s ark yet, have we?”

“That’s right! Go on and beef!”

“I ain’t beefin’. Only let’s do something.”

“Then let’s go ashore.”

“What for? There’s nothin’ to do.”

“I promised my sister I’d go see the Acropolis,” said Wally, stubbornly.

Hardtack let out a yowl.

“More ruins, I bet!”

“These,” retorted Wally, “are the wonders of the world. The pinnacle of art was reached by them, my sister says. My sister says the Parthenon by moonlight is majestic.”

“What does she know about it? I never even knowed you had a sister!” “Well, I have. And she’s had good schooling, too.”

“Huh! Where is it at, this here—what did you say it was?”

“You seen it just before we come into the harbour. Sure you, did—the big white thing ’way up on top of that high hill.”

“Shucks, that’s five miles from here!”

“Sure. It’s at Athens, you poor roughneck. Ain’t you never read nothin’?”

“How’ll we git there?”

“Oh, there’s bound to be some way. Come on, shake a leg.”

“All right,” Hardtack assented, “I’ll go. But I hope you’ll remember your weakness, Wally.”

“There you go again! That’s just like you!”

“Well, I only wanted to warn you for your own good.”

“Do you take me for a fool?”

Hardtack evaded the question.

“You ain’t forgot the ruckus we got into in Constantinople?” he reminded him.

“Whose fault was that? Mine, I suppose!”

“The police seemed to think so. Anyhow, every time a woman looks sideways at you, it ain’t safe to figure you’ve got the all-clear signal, buddy—remember that.”

“You make me tired,”

“Well, I’ve done my duty, so let’s go.”

The formality of obtaining a landing permit delayed them two hours, because the steamer had arrived late in the afternoon and the control and quarantine officers showed no hurry about inspection, so it was after eight o’clock before the pair were ready to start.

“No use goin’ now,” Hardtack complained.

“Why ain’t there? The moon’ll be just right by the time we get there. She’s near full to-night, too.”

“I wish I was.”

They haggled with a boatman and were presently put ashore at the landing stage. There they encountered a belated runner. for a travel agency frantically searching for some lost trunks, and he directed them to the electric railway. They boarded a first-class car. In a few minutes the train stopped at Phalerum and three gobs got on. “Well, well, well!” exclaimed Hardtack, grinning from ear toear. “Look who’s here!”

They grinned back at him.

“Where’re you guys headin’?” he inquired.

“The Acropolis.”

“So’re we,” said Hardtack, pleased to discover he wasn’t on a fool’s errand and that others knew about the place. Then and there they joined forces. The gobs told them that the destroyer to which they belonged was anchored in the harbour of Phalerum and a large liberty party was ashore.

“How about a li’l’ drink before we go see that place?” Hardtack suggested. “It’ll look better.”

They agreed that the point was well taken. Accordingly, on arrival at the station, the five of them piled into a horse cab and set out for what the gobs called Shanghai, that they might hoist a couple of ouzos before tackling the serious business of the evening. None of them spoke Greek and the cabby did not know a word of English, yet he started off without hesitation, cracking his whip.

“How does he know where we want to go?” Wally wanted to know.

“He don’t,” answered a gob; “but he keeps on goin’ till we tell him to stop. It works fine.”

Shanghai is a cabaret district of Athens much frequented by sailors. Just as they entered it a terrific clamour broke out directly ahead and the street echoed to the tumult of combat. Men came running from all directions. In ten seconds the crowd grew so dense that their cab could not move.

They sat there and listened to fierce yells, the thudding of chairs and overturned tables, crash of glass and splintering wood.

“Say, what’s comin’ off?” they demanded of the citizens near them.

“I think,” said one who understood, “somebody is angry.”

“You’re sure it ain’t a weddin’?” rejoined Hardtack.

The native made some inquiries and shrugged his shoulders.

“The Americans and the English, they dispute,” he announced.

Next instant the cab was empty—empty, with the driver howling for the police and calling heaven to witness what had been done to him. Here on earth his plaints went unheeded, for the crowd was split wide apart as though a battering ram had struck it. With Hardtack in the lead, they burst through the press and arrived, pell-mell and panting, at the scene of strife.

In a cabaret below the level of the sidewalk a party of American gobs was debating who won the war with a party of English bluejackets. Hardtack gave tongue to a battle whoop and the five plunged into the fray. The maelstrom ingulfed them.

Now they’ve been singing the heroes of antiquity long enough in Greece. A petty skirmish like Marathon, where one hundred and ninety-two Athenians fell, goes echoing down the corridors of time. Xenophon mentions, as important, a battle at Corinth where eight of the contestants were slain!

We do better than that nowadays in a riot. And there was Phayllus’ celebrated jump of forty-nine feet! So I submit that the poets did most of the valorous deeds for those old birds, and from the standpoint of fights they were tame affairs. Legend and literary skill have exalted them.

But this was the real thing. No talky-talk here, with each side shoving forth champions to brag and boast and crack their heels together in the hope of scaring the enemy. No, sir, just an honest, sincere knock-down-and-drag-out. Seldom in its history has Athens staged a sweeter fight.

Not that much could be seen. The lights danced and flickered and the dust welled up in choking clouds, obliterating individuals, so that some of the combatants struck out blindly at any one within reach. But Hardtack selected an antagonist and closed and stayed with him. He was a hairy-chested guy with a Gibraltarized skull, and the two livened up the party considerably.

Shouts of encouragement and bellowings of rage; the scraping of feet striving desperately for a hold; thud and grunt of impact. From time to time the surge of the struggling mass propelled a group up the steps and into the street. They promptly fought their way back again. It seemed to be a point of honour not to leave the floor.

Twice Hardtack and his opponent found themselves in the cool night air, where there was plenty of room for their business. Twice they manfully dived into the mêlée again, although the first time Hardtack had to let go of an advantageous hold on his man’s throat. On the second occasion, the bluejacket courteously removed his fingers from Hardtack’s hair.

The clangour of the battle reverberated over the city. Spectators in the street were bawling for the town guard; women shrieked; a fire-engine siren in the neighbourhood added to the deafening tumult; the debate below stairs never flagged. Now the affirmatives had the edge, then the negatives won the upper hand. Gradually the uproar subsided to grimmer sounds—short, savage snarls, a moan or two, the gasp of men at the last ounce of effort.

And then the asty-phylax—the town guard—the police—they arrived. They came at a run, scattering the proletariat. At the entrance they stopped. They listened. They hesitated. Then they held a conference. The Citizens. urged them to get busy. Forming in phalanx, they advanced resolutely to the steps; by sheer weight of numbers they would overwhelm the rioters.

Their cautious approach quickened to a rush. Down they went into the cabaret. The mob raised frenzied cheers. But it was a bit crowded inside, and Epaminondas Papadopoulos came out. He came out without touching the steps, and probably lighted the fires of another revolution by landing in the middle of a couple of spectators from Crete.

Then Phocion Polymenakos, the Spartan, rocketed into view. A bluejacket had hit Phocion a swat that came near to landing him in Plutarch’s Lives. One by one they emerged hurriedly, as though they were not wanted down there. Within two minutes the entire body of asty-phylax was out in the street and ready for another conference.

“Here come the soldiers!” rose the cry.

Sure enough, the stirring notes of a bugle soared clear and high above the hubbub. Followed the tread of marching feet—clump, clump, clumpety-clump. The crowd took one earful and tarried not. They have had experience of the military in street troubles in Athens, and they broke and scattered.

Perhaps the sudden hush outside carried foreboding to the warriors locked in straining embrace. Or it may be that there is a telepathy of danger. At any rate, the fight in the cabaret paused for breath and to listen. Then the combatants broke apart as though by general consent and made a dash for the steps. A few earnest souls continued to punch and gouge as they were swept upward by the rush, but these were mere flotsam on the main stream and did not stay it. Neither did the asty-phylax, who tried to interpose. They were brushed aside, and off ran the disputants, carrying their casualties with them. When the soldiers arrived in Shanghai, everything was as quiet there as in Chinatown after a tong battle.

Hardtack and Wally brought up the rear guard of the American contingent, dragging along one of their gob acquaintances. He seemed a trifle confused as to his whereabouts and kept murmuring “Mamma! Oh, mamma!” A kick in the mid section had probably contributed to unsettle him.

“Here! In here!” Hardtack panted as they arrived opposite a coffee shop with their burden sagging between them.

“They’ll catch us,” objected Wally.

“I can’t run no farther.”

There was nobody in the coffee shop except the proprietor, who seemed undecided whether to run or yell for help when they staggered in. From his front door he had heard the row in the cabaret and knew that the soldiers had been called to quell it; also, his eyes told him that here were three of the most active participants.

“Shut the door,” Hardtack commanded through puffed lips, and the landlord mechanically obeyed. “Now help me with this boy.”

They laid the gob out on the floor in rear of the shop and went to work pumping his arms up and down. Then Hardtack turned him over and administered first aid to the drowning. In spite of these remedies the gob soon became normal and made an abrupt and strong effort to get on his feet again with a view to resuming the debate. The first warning they had of returning strength was when he suddenly let fly a right which caught the landlord squarely on the nose.

“Take it easy, buddy,” Wally cautioned. “It’s all over and the bunch’ve legged it.” “I wanna fight,” remarked the gob as he held shakily to the back of a chair.

“Sure! It does you credit, too, ol’ settler. But sit down now and have one. You’ll get lots of chances later on.”

They ordered three ouzos. The weeping landlord brought them more from fear than because he wanted their business. He was tempted to rush to the door and summon the police; the only thing that deterred him was a conviction the three would beat him up before the asty-phylax could reach the spot. He sniffled while serving the drinks, but when he discerned the size of the tip that Hardtack left on the table his lamentations ceased and be began to display an interest in the proceedings.

“Here come them soldiers now,” exclaimed Wally, but the running feet he heard turned out to belong to five members of the American debating team.

“We got into a blind alley and had to beat it back,” they said.

“Just in time,” responded Hardtack, cordially. “Garçon, apportez another bunch of ouzos. And pronto, bitte! Get me?”

They sat down with groans of thankfulness, some of them on the verge of collapse. Not a man there but showed the marks of battle. Three of them were fearful sights; Hardtack looked as though he might have cheered for Judge Gary at an I. W. W. meeting.

“I suppose they’ll grab us,” said a gob. “But meanwhile, here goes!” And he tossed off the milky aromatic liquid at a gulp.

The soldiers did not pursue, however. The Greeks have learned that they’ll always get the worst of any international complications with the great powers, so the officer in command discreetly sent word to the respective naval commanders to dispatch patrols ashore, for God’s sake.

Silence reigned in the coffee shop whilst the gobs got back their breath and nursed their wounds. After a while one of them inquired, “Say, what’re you guys doing here, anyhow?”

“We was on our way to see the Metrolopus,” answered Hardtack.

A moan burst from an A. B. who was sitting forward on a stool, his head between his hands. He glanced up wearily to say, “So was I. This is the third night I’ve started out to get a look at the Parthenon by moonlight and I ain’t made it yet.”

“A lot of the boys have, though, Red.”

“What good does that do me?” demanded Red.

“My sister says———” began Wally.

“Sure! It’s majestic,” Hardtack cut in. “Well, it ain’t too late to go now.”

But they had no heart for sight-seeing. Only the gob who had been kicked in the mid-section took any notice of Hardtack’s proposal—he seemed peculiarly tenacious of ideas.

“I’m on,” he announced. “I started out to see the Parthenon, and I’m a-going to see the Parthenon.”

One of the others suggested: “Well, there’s no hurry. How about a beer?”

“I’ll go you. But I tell you night now I’m a-going to see the Parthenon.”

“Nobody’s trying to stop you that I know of.”

“They’d better not,” said the gob.

Over a round of beers they fell to discussing the events of the evening. All were agreed that nothing but the timely intervention of the soldiery had saved their opponents. Also, they were unanimously convinced that the Old Man would raise Cain, and no mistake.

“Say,” remarked a gob, struck with a sudden thought, “how did you two birds get into it, anyhow? Who asked you to the party?”

“You did.”

“How come?”

“We heard you yellin’ for help,” replied Hardtack.

The A. B. transfixed him with a steely stare and retorted in a rasping voice: “Any time you catch me yellin’ for help——— Say, for two obols I’d———”

“Aw, cut it out!” somebody protested. “Do you want to start something? Seems to me like we’ve had enough fightin’ for a while.”

Said Red, “Ain’t it the truth? I’ve been in more trouble since the Armistice than I was during the whole war.”

There was a chorus of assent.

“The limeys and us to-night.”

“And us and the limeys at Constantinople.”

“And the limeys and the frogs at Haifa.”

“And the frogs and the wops at Smyrna.”

“Don’t forget the limeys and the wops at Leghorn, neither. They piled the stiffs up on the pier.”

For a quarter of an hour they reviewed the clashes between sailors of the Allied nations in various ports since the Armistice.

“The war to end war,” said somebody in a pause. Catcalls and hoots of derision.

“I’ve been bummin’ round the wurruld, man and bhoy, for twenty-foive years and I never seen the loike of the hate.”

“What? You ain’t felt the spiritual uplift? Why, I’m ashamed of you, Paddy! You’re just awful coarse.”

Then Wally broke into a song the dough-boys composed on the Rhine:

“When the next war comes around,
In the front ranks I’ll be found.
I’ll rush in again pell-mell.
Yes, I will—like hell, like hell!”

They roared the chorus, oblivious of prowling patrols.

“Well, let’s get back to the ship,” Red proposed. “Might as well take our medicine now as later.”

“I’m a-going to see the Parthenon,” said the gob with Hardtack.

“All right, we’ll all go. Maybe if we can show tickets to the Acropolis the Old Man’ll take our word for it that we wasn’t mixed up in the row.”

“What? With a face like that?” exclaimed Red. “Fat chance!”

The other mournfully admitted that the Old Man was not likely to fall for such a story, but they decided to go along with Hardtack and Wally anyway.

It was growing late when they left the coffee shop and they wandered a considerable distance hunting for cabs. Once they thought. they glimpsed a patrol and ran up a dark alley. As they emerged from it into the street again a swelling murmur arrested them.

“What’s that?”

The murmur grew to a babel of sounds. It was drawing nearer.

“Another fight! Let’s beat it!”

“No, wait a minute. Maybe it’s some of the gang.”

A mob of men swirled around a corner. Now they moved at a rush, now they stood still. The mass seemed to revolve around its centre; figures darted in and out; the mass heaved and sank and heaved again. Oaths and savage yells. They came to a momentary halt under an electric light and the gobs obtained a clear view of them.

“The limeys! They’re at it again!”

“Those aren’t our guys!”

“That other bunch has ganged up on ’em! Look! Look at that, will you?”

Above a struggling group a knife had flashed. They did not wait for more. Letting out a yell, they went tearing into the combat.

“Watch out for the knives!” somebody cautioned.

“And when you—git your man down”—this from Hardtack—“be sure he don’t git—up agin. Take that!”

Overwhelmed by numbers, the bluejackets were fighting desperately. Three of their number were laid out in the street. They heard the smash of the new attack and turned wearily to meet it. But instead of a fresh rush of the enemy, a hoarse bellow reached them—“All right, you guys! Give ’em hell!”

“The Yanks!”

They swung around and waded into the fight again, and within five minutes the street was cleared. As a mopping-up job it was a creditable performance. A bluejacket kicked the last knife wielder down a flight of steps and summed up the affair with “That’s that!”

“Come on!” yelled Hardtack. “Let’s beat it while the going’s good!”

They picked up their wounded and scattered in all directions. Hardtack and Wally found themselves running down a street alongside some gobs and half a dozen of the English. They did not slacken pace until well away from the scenes of disturbance.

Then a bluejacket panted, ‘I sy, wot’s the ’urry?”

There was sense to this, since they had arrived in a portion of the city where patrols would not be likely to search for them. They slowed to a walk.

’Ow about some beer?”

Not a dissenting voice—practical thinking like this has built up the British Empire. They looked around them for a coffee shop.

“We’ll have to get a move on or it’ll be closing time,” remarked a gob.

At last they found one at a curve in the street.

“Well, well, well!” exclaimed Hardtack, jovially, as they drew several tables together and sat down.

“Wot ho, matey!” It was the hairy gent who had engaged his attention earlier in the evening. They grinned at each other.

“You can beat me runnin’,” said Hardtack. “Yus, and I can beat your blinkin’ ’ead orf at anythink,” retorted the bluejacket, giving him a lusty slap on the back, and proceedings started in all good fellowship.

There was no beer to be had, but the landlord produced a fair quality of cognac. They stayed there for nearly an hour, long past closing time. In vain the harassed proprietor besought them to leave. They pretended not to understand.

As the minutes passed, the entente cordiale became a love feast. They pledged one another; they solemnly vowed eternal friendship. ‘There were songs, all of them sentimental, with bluejackets and gobs roaring the chorus in close harmony.

And then—“Strike me dead, but you blokes just got there in the nick o’ time,” remarked the hairy-chested man as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“But we always do,” replied Hardtack. “Ain’t you noticed that, ol’-timer?”

“Wot d’you mean by that?”

“Well, we saved your hides, didn’t we?”

“Wot of it?”


“I know wot you mean! You tyke that back, do you ’ear? Tyke it back!”

“Take back nothin’! That goes as she lays!” Hardtack retorted.

The bluejacket pushed back his chair and very deliberately moved the table aside in order to make room for the ceremonies.

“We may as well finish it ’ere,” he remarked with a sort of sad patience.

Next minute the two were at it, hammer and tongs. Several members of the party tried to separate them and restore peace. Whang! They got what the peacemaker usually gets and promptly joined the fracas. In no time at all they had resumed the debate at the point where they broke off in the cabaret.

The landlord fled at the first blow. He fled as fast as he could leg it to the nearest square, where he encountered an American patrol of six men under a gunnery officer, sent ashore to round up the liberty party. They hardly needed his guidance—the noise of the row was echoing from the hills.

“Cheese it!” shouted one of the combatants as the officer reached the door.

They went from there any way they could—out the back way, through windows, down cellar. Hardtack and Wally managed to gain the backyard, whence they streaked down an alley. But several of the gobs fell into the hands of the patrol.

“This is a fine business, isn’t it?” roared the gunnery officer. “You men ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”

No response.

“Fighting in a foreign port and giving the Navy a bad name!”

Still no reply.

“Well, I hope they gave you a damned good licking. You look like it.”

The gobs did not utter a word.

“Did they? Don’t stand there like a lot of dumb-bells! Who licked?”

Meanwhile Hardtack and Wally had hailed a cab and given orders that they should be conveyed to the station without pause. There they caught a train for Pireus and an hour later a boatman rowed them out to their steamer.

“Well,” said Hardtack as they set foot on deck, “we sure were lucky to git out of that.”

“But we never did get to see the Parthenon!”

“Shucks, what does that matter?”

“I promised my sister———”

“You can send her a picture post card, can’t you?”

“I reckon so,” Wally replied, but he kept muttering to himself all the way to their cabin.

“What the Sam Hill will I tell her?” he demanded.

“Well, I am surprised at you! Tell her the Metrolopus sure looks majestic by moonlight.”

“Or I could copy a piece out of the guidebook, maybe,” Wally suggested.

“Lots of ’em do it. Say, Wally, when you buy them post cards, git one for me, too.”

“What for?”

“Well, I’ve been figurin’ I might send one to Mamma. Mamma don’t know where the Metrolopus is at, but it’ll sort of comfort her to know I ain’t wasting my time.”

They started to undress.

“Well,” remarked Hardtack with a sigh of satisfaction as he washed the blood from his face, “we had a nice time, anyhow, didn’t we? And say, I’d liefer fight with them limeys than any guys I know.”

“They sure do give you your money’s worth,” said Wally.

Both of them drew automatics from their hip pockets, slipped them under the pillows and went peacefully to sleep.