The Cop and the Anthem

ON HIS BENCH in Madison Square Soapy moved uneasily. When wild geese honk high of nights, and when women without seal-skin coats grow kind to their husbands, and when Soapy moves uneasily on his bench in the park, you may know that winter is near at hand.

A dead leaf fell in Soapy's lap. That was Jack Frost's card. Jack is kind to the regular denizens of Madison Square, and gives fair warning of his annual call. At the corners of four streets he hands his pasteboard to the North Wind, footman of the mansion of All Outdoors, so that the inhabitants thereof may make ready.

Soapy's mind became cognizant of the fact that the time had come for him to resolve himself into a singular Committee of Ways and Means to provide against the coming rigor. And therefore he moved uneasily on his bench.

The hibernatorial ambitions of Soapy were not of the highest. In them there were no considerations of Mediterranean cruises, of soporific Southern skies drifting in the Vesuvian Bay. Three months on the Island was what his soul craved. Three months of assured board and bed and congenial company, safe from Boreas and bluecoats, seemed to Soapy the essence of things desirable.

For years the hospitable Blackwell's had been his winter quarters. Just as his more fortunate fellow New Yorkers had bought their tickets to Palm Beach and the Riviera each winter, so Soapy had made his humble arrangements for his annual hegira to the Island. And now the time was come. On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his lap, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square. So the Island loomed big and timely in Soapy's mind. He scorned the provisions made in the name of charity for the city's dependents. In Soapy's opinion the Law was more benign than Philanthropy. There was an endless round of institutions, municipal and eleemosynary, on which he might set out and receive lodging and food accordant with the simple life. But to one of Soapy's proud spirit the gifts of charity are encumbered. If not in coin you must pay in humiliation of spirit for every benefit received at the hands of philanthropy. As Caesar had his Brutus, every bed of charity must have its toll of a bath, every loaf of bread its compensation of a private and personal inquisition. Wherefore it is better to be a guest of the law, which though conducted by rules, does not meddle unduly with a gentleman's private affairs.

Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once set about accomplishing his desire. There were many easy ways of doing this. The pleasantest was to dine luxuriously at some expensive restaurant; and then, after declaring insolvency, be handed over quietly and without uproar to a policeman. An accommodating magistrate would do the rest.

Soapy left his bench and strolled out of the square and across the level sea of asphalt, where Broadway and Fifth Avenue flow together. Up Broadway he turned, and halted at a glittering café, where are gathered together nightly the choicest products of the grape, the silkworm and the protoplasm.

Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward. He was shaven, and his coat was decent and his neat black, ready-tied four-in-hand had been presented to him by a lady missionary on Thanksgiving Day. If he could reach a table in the restaurant unsuspected success would be his. The portion of him that would show above the table would raise no doubt in the waiter's mind. A roasted mallard duck, thought Soapy, would be about the thing—with a bottle of Chablis, and then Camembert, a demitasse and a cigar. One dollar for the cigar would be enough. The total would not be so high as to call forth any supreme manifestation of revenge from the café management; and yet the meat would leave him filled and happy for the journey to his winter refuge.

But as Soapy set foot inside the restaurant door the head waiter's eye fell upon his frayed trousers and decadent shoes. Strong and ready hands turned him about and conveyed him in silence and haste to the sidewalk and averted the ignoble fate of the menaced mallard.

Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that his route to the coveted island was not to be an epicurean one. Some other way of entering limbo must be thought of.

At a corner of Sixth Avenue electric lights and cunningly displayed wares behind plate-glass made a shop window conspicuous. Soapy took a cobblestone and dashed it through the glass. People came running around the corner, a policeman in the lead. Soapy stood still, with his hands in his pockets, and smiled at the sight of brass buttons.

“Where's the man that done that?” inquired the officer excitedly.

“Don't you figure out that I might have had something to do with it?” said Soapy, not without sarcasm, but friendly, as one greets good fortune.

The policeman's mind refused to accept Soapy even as a clue. Men who smash windows do not remain to parley with the law's minions. They take to their heels. The policeman saw a man half way down the block running to catch a car. With drawn club he joined in the pursuit. Soapy, with disgust in his heart, loafed along, twice unsuccessful.

On the opposite side of the street was a restaurant of no great pretensions. It catered to large appetites and modest purses. Its crockery and atmosphere were thick; its soup and napery thin. Into this place Soapy took his accusive shoes and telltale trousers without challenge. At a table he sat and consumed beefsteak, flapjacks, doughnuts and pie. And then to the waiter he betrayed the fact that the minutest coin and himself were strangers.

“Now, get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don't keep a gentleman waiting.”

“No cops for youse,” said the waiter, with a voice like butter cakes and an eye like the cherry in a Manhattan cocktail. “Hey, Con!”

Neatly upon his left ear on the callous pavement two waiters pitched Soapy. He arose, joint by joint, as a carpenter's rule opens, and beat the dust from his clothes. Arrest seemed but a rosy dream. The Island seemed very far away. A policeman who stood before a drug store two doors away laughed and walked down the street.

Five blocks Soapy traveled before his courage permitted him to woo capture again. This time the opportunity presented what he fatuously termed to himself a “cinch.” A young woman of a modest and pleasing guise was standing before a show window gazing with sprightly interest at its display of shaving mugs and inkstands, and two yards from the window a large policeman of severe demeanor leaned against a water plug.

It was Soapy's design to assume the role of the despicable and execrated “masher.” The refined and elegant appearance of his victim and the contiguity of the conscientious cop encouraged him to believe that he would soon feel the pleasant official clutch upon his arm that would insure his winter quarters on the right little, tight little isle.

Soapy straightened the lady missionary's ready-made tie, dragged his shrinking cuffs into the open, set his hat at a killing cant and sidled toward the young woman. He made eyes at her, was taken with sudden coughs and “hems,” smiled, smirked and went brazenly through the impudent and contemptible litany of the “masher.” With half an eye Soapy saw that the policeman was watching him fixedly. The young woman moved away a few steps, and again bestowed her absorbed attention upon the shaving mugs. Soapy followed, boldly stepping to her side, raised his hat and said:

“Ah there, Bedelia! Don't you want to come and play in my yard?”

The policeman was still looking. The persecuted young woman had but to beckon a finger and Soapy would be practically en route for his insular haven. Already he imagined he could feel the cozy warmth of the station-house. The young woman faced him and, stretching out a hand, caught Soapy's coat sleeve.

“Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you'll blow me to a pail of suds. I'd have spoke to you sooner, but the cop was watching.”

With the young woman playing the clinging ivy to his oak Soapy walked past the policeman overcome with gloom. He seemed doomed to liberty.

At the next corner he shook off his companion and ran. He halted in the district where by night are found the lightest streets, hearts, vows and librettos. Women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air. A sudden fear seized Soapy that some dreadful enchantment had rendered him immune to arrest. The thought brought a little of panic upon it, and when he came upon another policeman lounging grandly in front of a transplendent theatre he caught at the immediate straw of “disorderly conduct.”

On the sidewalk Soapy began to yell drunken gibberish at the top of his harsh voice. He danced, howled, raved and otherwise disturbed the welkin.

The policeman twirled his club, turned his back to Soapy and remarked to a citizen.

“'Tis one of them Yale lads celebratin' the goose egg they give to the Hartford College. Noisy; but no harm. We've instructions to lave them be.”

Disconsolate, Soapy ceased his unavailing racket. Would never a police man lay hands on him? In his fancy the Island seemed an unattainable Arcadia. He buttoned his thin coat against the chilling wind.

In a cigar store he saw a well-dressed man lighting a cigar at a swinging light. His silk umbrella he had set by the door on entering. Soapy stepped inside, secured the umbrella and sauntered off with it slowly. The man at the cigar light followed hastily.

“My umbrella,” he said, sternly.

“Oh, is it?” sneered Soapy, adding insult to petit larceny. “Well, why don't you call a policeman? I took it. Your umbrella! Why don't you call a cop? There stands one on the corner.”

The umbrella owner slowed his steps. Soapy did likewise, with a presentiment that luck would again run against him. The policeman looked at the two curiously.

“Of course,” said the umbrella man—“that is—well, you know how these mistakes occur—I—if it's your umbrella I hope you'll excuse me—I picked it up this morning in a restaurant—If you recognize it as yours, why—I hope you'll—”

“Of course it's mine,” said Soapy, viciously.

The ex-umbrella man retreated. The policeman hurried to assist a tall blonde in an opera cloak across the street in front of a street car that was approaching two blocks away.

Soapy walked eastward through a street damaged by improvements. He hurled the umbrella wrathfully into an excavation. He muttered against the men who wear helmets and carry clubs. Because he wanted to fall into their clutches, they seemed to regard him as a king who could do no wrong.

At length Soapy reached one of the avenues to the east where the glitter and turmoil was but faint. He set his face down this toward Madison Square, for the homing instinct survives even when the home is a park bench.

But on an unusually quiet corner Soapy came to a standstill. Here was an old church, quaint and rambling and gabled. Through one violet-stained window a soft light glowed, where, no doubt, the organist loitered over the keys, making sure of his mastery of the coming Sabbath anthem. For there drifted out to Soapy's ears sweet music that caught and held him transfixed against the convolutions of the iron fence.

The moon was above, lustrous and serene; vehicles and pedestrians were few; sparrows twittered sleepily in the eaves—for a little while the scene might have been a country churchyard. And the anthem that the organist played cemented Soapy to the iron fence, for he had known it well in the days when his life contained such things as mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars.

The conjunction of Soapy's receptive state of mind and the influences about the old church wrought a sudden and wonderful change in his soul. He viewed with swift horror the pit into which he had tumbled, the degraded days, unworthy desires, dead hopes, wrecked faculties and base motives that made up his existence.

And also in a moment his heart responded thrillingly to this novel mood. An instantaneous and strong impulse moved him to battle with his desperate fate. He would pull himself out of the mire; he would make a man of himself again; he would conquer the evil that had taken possession of him. There was time; he was comparatively young yet; he would resurrect his old eager ambitions and pursue them without faltering. Those solemn but sweet organ notes had set up a revolution in him. Tomorrow he would go into the roaring downtown district and find work. A fur importer had once offered him a place as driver. He would find him tomorrow and ask for the position. He would be somebody in the world. He would—

Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman.

“What are you doin' here?” asked the officer.

“Nothin',” said Soapy.

“Then come along,” said the policeman.

“Three months on the Island,” said the Magistrate in the Police Court the next morning.


  1. "The Cop and the Anthem" has a characteristic "O. Henry" surprise ending. In order for the surprise to work effectively, the reader must be prepared for something different. This entire paragraph is intended to prepare the reader to expect Soapy to reform. He has made a definite decision to "find work." But the inspiration of the church anthem has made him lose his hold on reality. He has, in effect, allowed himself to stray back into the middle-class world where he doesn't belong. His fantasies have made him incautious. He doesn't notice the policeman silently approaching.

    Soapy felt a hand laid on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad face of a policeman. “What are you doin' here?” asked the officer. “Nothin',” said Soapy. “Then come along,” said the policeman.

    — William Delaney
  2. O. Henry is joking about policemen who liked to assist attractive women in crossing a busy street. There was obviously no need to assist this tall blonde if the approaching street car was two blocks away. Raymond Chandler makes a similar joke about cops in Chapter 6 of The Big Sleep:

    Rain filled the gutters and splashed knee-high off the sidewalk. Big cops in slickers that shone like gun barrels had a lot of fun carrying giggling girls across the bad places.

    — William Delaney
  3. Soapy intentionally keeps his hands in his pockets to show that he is harmless. If the policeman took Soapy for the culprit, he would naturally think that he was dealing with a violent criminal, one who might be armed or might at least have another cobblestone to throw. The policeman would assume that Soapy intended to grab some merchandise through the broken plate-glass window and that, therefore, he was dealing with a more potentially violent man that was actually the case. Another reason Soapy keeps his hands in his pockets is to demonstrate that he has not taken anything that had been on display behind the window. Soapy wants to get arrested for a misdemeanor of breaking a window and not for a felony of burglary or attempted burglary. He can get three months in jail for breaking the window, but he could get hard time in a tough prison for breaking and entering, or attempted "smash-and-grab" burglary. 

    — William Delaney
  4. Soapy's character is complex. He is a bum who sleeps on a park bench and who is trying to get himself arrested and thrown into jail; yet he has a "proud spirit" and acts throughout the story like a respectable gentleman. The reader may wonder what happens to Soapy after he is arrested and sentenced to three months in jail. He had just decided to reform.

    ...he would resurrect his old eager ambitions...

    Would Soapy emerge from jail in the spring a completely broken man, after the experiences described in this story? Would he still have anything left of that "proud spirit"?

    — William Delaney
  5. According to Arthur Miller, author of the play Death of a Salesman, "The American Dream is the largely unacknowledged screen in front of which all American writing plays itself out. Whoever is writing in the United States is using the American Dream as an ironical pole of his story. People elsewhere tend to accept, to a far greater degree anyway, that the conditions of life are hostile to man's pretensions." O. Henry's "The Cop and the Anthem" might be called an early example of a story played out against a screen depicting the American Dream. In fact, many people in the story seem to be living the American Dream, including those dining in the first restaurant from which he is promptly ejected and the district where "women in furs and men in greatcoats moved gaily in the wintry air." Soapy once had that dream and lost it. Now he thinks he can get it back--but it is too late to change.


    — William Delaney
  6. Soapy is never even given a last name. He is a nobody. Even his first name is not his own but a nickname he has picked up during his years as a vagrant. Men like him can become virtually invisible. O. Henry uses the words "his bench" several times as an indication that this is Soapy's sole home and his only possession.

    — William Delaney
  7. Soapy's arrest and conviction are handled in just a few sentences. This shows the swift and dispassionate way in which such cases were handled in a big city like New York, especially when they involved misdemeanors by indigents like Soapy.

    — William Delaney
  8. This is an example of "personification." O. Henry personifies winter for a purpose. He wants an identifiable, motivated antagonist for his story. Soapy, of course, is the protagonist. The conflict between the two is the essence of the story. It provides the drama. Jack Frost is not O. Henry's creation. He is a mythical character who has been around for centuries, like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Jack Frost goes around at night painting the tree leaves white around the edges and touching the whole landscape with that color. He may also be responsible for painting the remaining leaves in other colors such as red, brown, and yellow.

    — William Delaney
  9. There is a certain logic to this. Because Soapy is acting bold, confident, and assertive, his body language makes him appear to be a respectable citizen and not a bum. If, for example, he had acted furtive when he took the umbrella, the other man might have yelled for the cop. 

    — William Delaney
  10. O. Henry makes Soapy's motivation very specific. It is also crucial. Soapy could freeze to death in a New York winter if he didn't have some kind of shelter. This strong motivation is what drives the story from beginning to end. The hero has a problem which must be solved. Readers empathize with Soapy because everybody has a basic need for self-preservation. We are always interested in fictional characters based, not on who they are, but on what they want. A story is more effective if there is what is called a "ticking clock." The problem must be solved and solved within a certain time limit. Soapy is already feeling the coming winter cold and has to find shelter soon.

    This story might well be compared with Jack London's "To Build a Fire," in which the protagonist has to get to shelter or freeze to death.


    — William Delaney
  11. This invitation is as suggestive as O. Henry dared to make it over a hundred years ago in a story addressed to a general readership. Notice that he says "in my yard?" What he really means is, "Don't you want to come and play in my house?" But the "yard" is still out in the open where nothing too licentious could occur. Evidently Soapy calls her by a made-up name because he pretends he wants the policeman to think he knows her. That would make no difference if she reacted with fright and indignation as he anticipated. She calls Soapy by a made-up name to show she is willing to play his game for the benefit of the cop. The "large policeman" is standing only "two yards" away.

    — William Delaney
  12. O. Henry also uses dead leaves to identify the season and to help set the mood in his story "The Last Leaf." Dead leaves falling from branches not only suggest the chill of coming winter but regret for the passing of summer. 

    — William Delaney
  13. Soapy is a social deviant on a small scale. There are many men who manage to spend most of their lives in prison because they have security, room and board (three hots and a cot), congenial company (for the likes of them), no work in many cases, and someone else to direct their activities twenty-four hours a day, which for some is a relief from having to plan for themselves.

    — William Delaney
  14. Notice how O. Henry's style exhibits a combination of long, complex sentences and short, direct sentences, such as "Three months on the island was what his soul craved," or "And now the time was come" in the next paragraph. This is for the sake of contrast and variety. All good writers use such stylistic devices.

    — William Delaney
  15. This word serves to characterize Soapy. He prizes freedom and independence. He is a rebel and a nonconformist, an individualist. Perhaps it is these qualities that have led to his present position at the bottom of the social ladder. He may have lost good jobs because he refused to take orders. Here he even scorns to accept charity. He is headed for jail because that is the end of the line for people like him. He is a sort of anarchist at heart and does not want to be reformed.

    — William Delaney
  16. Apparently the organist is practicing the anthem for next week's church meeting, since it would appear that this story is taking place on a Sunday or possibly a Monday. In the fifth paragraph Soapy is described as sleeping "uneasily" on a park bench wrapped up in Sunday newspapers.

    On the previous night three Sabbath newspapers, distributed beneath his coat, about his ankles and over his legs, had failed to repulse the cold as he slept on his bench near the spurting fountain in the ancient square.

    The organist may be practicing the anthem for the following week's service because this is his or her only opportunity to use the organ. O. Henry wants to have an organ playing beautiful music. He even uses the word "Anthem" in his title. But it is getting late at night and he cannot say that there is a crowd of worshipers in attendance. The church is empty except for the organist. This explains why O. Henry has to say that the organist is only practicing. Since the church is virtually empty, this makes Soapy's presence look more conspicuous.

    — William Delaney
  17. This is as true today as it was in O. Henry's time. It is humiliating to have to apply for food stamps and welfare or unemployment assistance. The applicant has to wait for a number to be called and is interrogated by unsympathetic, overworked clerks. Soapy is especially sensitive because he still thinks of himself as a upper-middle-class gentleman. When he expects to be arrested for eating in a restaurant without being able to pay the bill, he tells the waiter to get busy and call a cop. "And don't keep a gentleman waiting." O. Henry writes:

    Soapy had confidence in himself from the lowest button of his vest upward.

    His mixture of being a bum and a gentleman are what makes Soapy an interesting character.

    — William Delaney
  18. These words indicate that Soapy had been living the life of a homeless derelict for a long time. O. Henry does not tell us how Soapy has survived during all that time, except for the three months he spent in jail each year.

    — William Delaney
  19. The cobblestones in many streets were not held together with mortar but set in sand. So it would have been easy for Soapy to pick up a cobblestone to hurl through the store-window.

    — William Delaney
  20. "The Cop and the Anthem" was published in 1904. Electric lights were still something of a novelty. Thomas Edison developed electric light bulbs several decades earlier, but there was still the problems of generating electricity and delivering it to customers over a wide area. There were also prolonged legal battles over patents between Edison and competitors.

    — William Delaney
  21. Mallards are wild ducks and not generally raised domestically for human consumption. O. Henry may be using the adjective "menaced" to suggest jokingly that the duck might actually have to be shot by a hunter before being served to Soapy.

    — William Delaney
  22. After his failed attempt to get arrested for stealing an umbrella, Soapy gives up completely, at least for tonight.

    — William Delaney
  23. There has been a downward trend in Soapy's morale since he walked so confidently into the expensive restaurant and got ejected by the head waiter. Now he is experiencing "a sudden fear."

    — William Delaney
  24. Of course, in that type of restaurant Soapy could not reach a table by himself. He would have to be escorted by a receptionist or a head waiter. In this case it appears to be the head waiter who greets him and then ejects him.

    — William Delaney
  25. This was the "pleasantest" because he could enjoy a delicious meal and then get arrested with no violence, no ugly scene, no embarrassment. The more expensive the restaurant, the more unobtrusively they would deal with the arrest in order to avoid disturbing the other diners. Soapy has obviously done this before and has been successful on previous occasions.

    — William Delaney
  26. Why should a young woman be interested in a display of shaving mugs and inkstands? This is O. Henry's way of suggesting that she is a prostitute waiting to be approached. Soapy should have known better than to try his "masher" act with her. However, he might not have noticed what kind of merchandise she was pretending to be examining. The word "prostitute" is not mentioned in the story. The young woman's profession is only hinted at. Editors and publishers generally had a more "Victorian" attitude in O. Henry's day. 

    — William Delaney
  27. O. Henry also refers to the north wind in "The Last Leaf." It is especially cold because it comes down from the frozen north. 

    *And then, with the coming of the night the north wind was again loosed, while the rain still beat against the windows and pattered down from the low Dutch eaves. *
    "The Last Leaf"

    — William Delaney
  28. The iron fence is made of horizontal iron bars held together with cross bars of iron. The fence is a symbol of the social barrier that keeps Soapy out of the respectable world symbolized by the church itself. In a few words O. Henry paints a memorable picture of a man clinging to iron bars and gazing longingly at a world that is forever out of his reach. This could have been a self-portrait for the author. O. Henry served a little more than three years in prison and never got over the feelings of shame, guilt, remorse, depression, and just the simple awareness of being an ex-con. He wrote under a pseudonym to hide his real identity. He was a heavy whiskey drinker and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only forty-seven. As Philip Marlowe says to someone in Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, "Once you're outside the law you're all the way outside." Soapy may not be a dangerous criminal, but he has been breaking laws regularly for years. He has served several terms in municipal jail and feels that it is like his winter home. He is guilty of panhandling, vagrancy, loitering, petty larceny (stealing a stolen umbrella), disorderly conduct, and no doubt a whole additional list of misdemeanors.

    — William Delaney
  29. The church symbolizes the respectable middle class world to which Soapy once belonged and from which he had somehow been expelled. The bars of the iron fence against which he is pressing symbolize that Soapy is permanently barred from that clean, safe world regardless of how hard he tries to get back inside. The anthem being played on the church organ is deceptive. It seems to be calling to him, but he is not wanted back inside that world of "mothers and roses and ambitions and friends and immaculate thoughts and collars."

    — William Delaney
  30. Soapy has been wandering around the city looking for a way to get himself arrested and sent to jail. He has found his way into an area where down-and-outers don't belong. There were laws against vagrancy and loitering which were strictly enforced in some neighborhoods and not in others. Soapy does not realize that he looks suspicious loitering outside a church. The policeman probably would not believe that a bum would be able to appreciate church organ music or the beauty of a violet-stained window. The iron-rail fence between Soapy and the church is a symbol of the social barriers that separate Soapy from the polite society which it is the policeman's job to protect. O. Henry had to establish that Soapy had known better days in order to make his surprise ending work. 

    — William Delaney
  31. This states in more specific terms what has been suggested throughout the story--that Soapy had once belonged to an elevated social class and for some unspecified reason, or reasons, had fallen all the way to the bottom, while retaining refined speech and manners. We can only guess at what had caused his downfall.

    — William Delaney
  32. A ready-tied necktie was permanently tied in a four-in-hand knot or in a bow. It would be held in place by snapping the ends together in the back under the shirt-collar. 

    — William Delaney
  33. This line is intended to remind the reader of the motivating factor behind all of Soapy's actions in the story. He is acting boldly but he is getting badly frightened. It could be starting to seem as if Fate, or even God, was finally punishing him for the lifestyle he has chosen. He has existed by breaking laws against vagrancy, loitering, and panhandling; now he is trying to solve his problem by breaking more serious laws. 

    — William Delaney
  34. City streets were patrolled on foot by uniformed officers in O. Henry's time. If a criminal tried to escape in a horse-drawn buggy he would find it difficult because of the traffic of carriages and wagons. If someone yelled, "Stop thief!" a pedestrian was likely to stop the horse by grabbing its harness. Many men carried canes. A buggy could be immobilized by inserting a cane through the spokes of one of the wheels. Automobiles were unknown. They did not create a serious law-enforcement problem until they started to be mass-produced. Then the police had to become motorized to keep up with the criminals.

    — William Delaney
  35. The fact that Soapy knows about gourmet food and wine shows he must have been prosperous at one time. This makes him a more sympathetic character than if he had always been a homeless panhandler sleeping on park benches. He is intelligent and has upper-middle-class speech and manners.

    — William Delaney
  36. O. Henry treats the entire story with humor, although he is dealing with a very serious issue. Soapy must find shelter for the coming winter or he is likely to freeze to death, as many homeless and nameless people died in New York in those days. O. Henry must have copied the style of the famous Charles Dickens, who uses humor to tell tragic stories, as can be seen for example in "A Christmas Carol" and "Oliver Twist." Editors on both sides of the Atlantic were crazy about Dickens and urged contributors to write like him. Dickens' humor included a lot of exaggeration, circumlocution and hyperbole, like O. Henry's. Readers enjoyed such prose in those days but it has gone out of fashion. It was probably Ernest Hemingway more than any other writer who dealt a death blow to such windy writing. Sherwood Anderson was also influential, as were Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and others.

    — William Delaney
  37. A carpenter's rule has three or four hinges. It can be used to measure things that are only a foot long or less, or opened up to measure big boards and then folded back into a compact device that will fit easily into the carpenter's pocket.

    — William Delaney
  38. In those days a dollar cigar would be a very expensive cigar, comparable to one that would cost at least ten dollars today. 

    — William Delaney
  39. There really should be a comma after the word "unsuspected." The sentence should read:

    If he could reach a table in the restaurant unsuspected, success would be his.

    O. Henry has to take some pains to make it seem plausible that a man who sleeps on park benches could get served at an expensive restaurant. Soapy's coat, vest and necktie look presentable, but his frayed trousers and "decadent" shoes give him away. His clothes suggest that at one time he was an affluent and respectable citizen and also that he is still concerned about his personal appearance.

    — William Delaney
  40. In the days before the invention of the telephone, people had to call on others in person and take a chance they were in. In mansions a servant would answer the door and take the visitor's calling card (which O. Henry here calls a "pasteboard"). The author invents a clever and amusing metaphor in saying that a dead leaf is Jack Frost's calling card and that the North Wind, to whom the card is presented, is the footman, or liveried servant, in the mansion of the Great Outdoors. In other words, this calling card, a sure sign of approaching winter, is to announce the arrival of winter to all the homeless people, including Soapy. Jack Frost is an invisible spirit who flies around at night painting the edges of dead and dying tree leaves white and leaving traces of his visits in many other places.

    — William Delaney
  41. The cop is unintentionally mispronouncing the name Harvard. The big annual football game between Harvard and Yale was a popular sporting event. Since college football is played during the fall, this is an indication of the time of year. 

    — William Delaney
  42. By "singular" O. Henry does not mean unique or unusual. He simply means that the Committee of Ways and Means consists of only one member--himself. 

    — William Delaney
  43. The four-in-hand mentioned earlier in the story is evidently one of those neckties that comes already permanently tied and is snapped on under the back of the collar. They were common in O. Henry's time and for several decades into the twentieth century. This one necktie is obviously the only one Soapy owns, and that is because a lady missionary gave it to him. Most dress shirts came with detachable collars, so that men could change the collars but continue to wear the same shirt. 

    — William Delaney
  44. The Sunday newspapers were always by far the biggest editions of each week, probably because subscribers had more time for reading. A really big Sunday (or Sabbath) newspaper might be several inches thick and weigh up to five pounds. O. Henry specifies that Soapy was using Sunday newspapers for insulation in order to suggest how cold it was during the night, as well as to give the reader a mental picture of what a mound the homeless man must have made on the park bench. Newspapers were commonly used for this purpose by poor people because they made excellent insulation and also because they could be acquired at no cost after they had been read and discarded. Men stuffed them inside their vests, inside their coats, down the backs of their trousers and inside their trouser-legs. If all those Sabbath newspapers had "failed to repulse the cold," it was obviously a sign of another approaching New York winter, during which the temperatures at night can fall below zero.

    — William Delaney