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The City of Dreadful Night by O. Henry

The following is the complete text of O. Henry's "The City of Dreadful Night." For in-depth biographical data on this writer, visit our biography of O. Henry (William Sydney Porter). This classic O. Henry short story was originally published August 13, 1905, in the New York Sunday World Magazine.

Visit these other works by O. Henry
The Adventures of Shamrock Jolnes
After Twenty Years
Aristocracy Versus Hash
The Assessor of Success
At Arms with Morpheus
The Badge of Policeman O'Roon
The Buyer from Cactus City
By Courier
The Caballero's Way
The Cactus
The Caliph and the Cad
A Chaparral Christmas Gift
The Cop and the Anthem
The Count and the Wedding Guest
The Dog and the Playlet
The Dream
The Duplicity of Hargraves
The Enchanted Kiss
Fickle Fortune, or How Gladys Hustled
A Fog in Santone
The Furnished Room
The Gift of the Magi
Hearts and Hands
The Lady Higher Up
The Last Leaf
A Lickpenny Lover
A Little Talk About Mobs
The Lost Blend

Makes the Whole World Kin
Man About Town
The Marionettes
Memoirs of a Yellow Dog
A Municipal Report
New York by Camp Fire Light
A Newspaper Story
October and June
The Pride of the Cities
The Prisoner of Zembla
The Ransom of Red Chief
A Retrieved Reformation
The Robe of Peace
The Romance of a Busy Broker
Round The Circle
A Snapshot at the President
The Sparrows in Madison Square
Squaring the Circle
A Strange Story
Tracked to Doom
Transients in Arcadia
Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen
Ulysses and the Dogman
An Unfinished Christmas Story
The Voice of the City
Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking
Witches' Loaves

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title. The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

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* Students or educators looking for material to adapt for a public performance or in drama class.

NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

The City of Dreadful Night by O. Henry


by O. Henry

"During the recent warmed-over spell," said my friend Carney, driver of express wagon No. 8,606, "a good many opportunities was had of observin' human nature through peek-aboo waists.

"The Park Commissioner and the Commissioner of Polis and the Forestry Commission gets together and agrees to let the people sleep in the parks until the Weather Bureau gets the thermometer down again to a living basis. So they draws up open-air resolutions and has them O.K.'d by the Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Comstock and the Village Improvement Mosquito Exterminating Society of South Orange, N. J.

"When the proclamation was made openin' up to the people by special grant the public parks that belong to 'em, there was a general exodus into Central Park by the communities existin' along its borders. In ten minutes after sundown you'd have thought that there was an undress rehearsal of a potato famine in Ireland and a Kishineff massacre. They come by families, gangs, clambake societies, clans, clubs and tribes from all sides to enjoy a cool sleep on the grass. Them that didn't have oil stoves brought along plenty of blankets, so as not to be upset with the cold and discomfort of sleepin' outdoors. By buildin' fires of the shade trees and huddlin' together in the bridle paths, and burrowin' under the grass where the ground was soft enough, the likes of 5,000 head of people successfully battled against the night air in Central Park alone.

"Ye know I live in the elegant furnished apartment house called the Beersheba Flats, over against the elevated portion of the New York Central Railroad.

"When the order come to the flats that all hands must turn out and sleep in the park, according to the instructions of the consulting committee of the City Club and the Murphy Draying, Returfing and Sodding Company, there was a look of a couple of fires and an eviction all over the place.

"The tenants began to pack up feather beds, rubber boots, strings of garlic, hot-water bags, portable canoes and scuttles of coal to take along for the sake of comfort. The sidewalk looked like a Russian camp in Oyama's line of march. There was wailin' and lamentin' up and down stairs from Danny Geoghegan's flat on the top floor to the apartments of Missis Goldsteinupski on the first.

"'For why,' says Danny, comin' down and ragin' in his blue yarn socks to the janitor, 'should I be turned out of me comfortable apartments to lay in the dirty grass like a rabbit? 'Tis like Jerome to stir up trouble wid small matters like this instead of--'

"'Whist!' says Officer Reagan on the sidewalk, rappin' with his club. ''Tis not Jerome. 'Tis by order of the Police Commissioner. Turn out every one of yez and hike yerselves to the park.'

"Now, 'twas a peaceful and happy home that all of us had in them same Beersheba Flats. The O'Dowds and the Steinowitzes and the Callahans and the Cohens and the Spizzinellis and the McManuses and the Spiegelmayers and the Joneses--all nations of us, we lived like one big family together. And when the hot nights come along we kept a line of children reachin' from the front door to Kelly's on the corner passin' along the cans of beer from one to another without the trouble of runnin' after it. And with no more clothin' on than is provided for in the statutes, sittin' in all the windies, with a cool growler in every one, and your feet out in the air, and the Rosenstein girls singin' on the fire-escape of the sixth floor, and Patsy Rourke's flute goin' in the eighth, and the ladies callin' each other synonyms out the windies, and now and then a breeze sailin' in over Mister Depew's Central--I tell you the Beersheba Flats was a summer resort that made the Catskills look like a hole in the ground. With his person full of beer and his feet out the windy and his old woman frying pork chops over a charcoal furnace and the childher dancin' in cotton slips on the sidewalk around the organ-grinder and the rent paid for a week--what does a man want better on a hot night than that? And then comes this rulin' of the polis drivin' people out o' their comfortable homes to sleep in parks--'twas for all the world like a ukase of them Russians--'twill be heard from again at next election time.

"Well, then, Officer Reagan drives the whole lot of us to the park and turns us in by the nearest gate. 'Tis dark under the trees, and all the childher sets up to howling that they want to go home.

"'Ye'll pass the night in this stretch of woods and scenery,' says Officer Reagan. ''Twill be fine and imprisonment for insoolting the Park Commissioner and the Chief of the Weather Bureau if ye refuse. I'm in charge of thirty acres between here and the Agyptian Monument, and I advise ye to give no trouble. 'Tis sleepin' on the grass yez all have been condemned to by the authorities. Yez'll be permitted to leave in the mornin', but ye must retoorn be night. Me orders was silent on the subject of bail, but I'll find out if 'tis required and there'll be bondsmen at the gate.'

"There bein' no lights except along the automobile drives, us 179 tenants of the Beersheba Flats prepared to spend the night as best we could in the ragin' forest. Them that brought blankets and kindling wood was best off. They got fires started and wrapped the blankets round their heads and laid down, cursin', in the grass. There was nothin' to see, nothin' to drink, nothin' to do. In the dark ye had no way of tellin' friend or foe, except by feelin' the noses of 'em. I brought along me last winter overcoat, me tooth-brush, some quinine pills and the red quilt off the bed in me flat. Three times durin' the night somebody rolled on me quilt and stuck his knees against the Adam's apple of me. And three times I judged his character by runnin' me hands over his face, and three times I rose up and kicked the intruder down the hill to the gravelly walk below. And then some one with a flavor of Kelly's whiskey snuggled up to me, and I found his nose turned up the right way, and I says: 'Is that you, then, Patsey?' and he says, 'It is, Carney. How long do you think it'll last?'

"'I'm no weather prophet,' says I, 'but if they bring out a strong anti-Tammany ticket next fall it ought to get us home in time to sleep on a bed once or twice before they line us up at the polls.'

"'A-playin' of my flute into the airshaft, says Patsey Rourke, 'and a-perspirin' in me own windy to the joyful noise of the passin' trains and the smell of liver and onions and a-readin' of the latest murder in the smoke of the cookin' is well enough for me,' says he. 'What is this herdin' us in the grass for, not to mention the crawlin' things with legs that walk up the trousers of us, and the Jersey snipes that peck at us, masqueradin' under the name and denomination of mosquitoes. What is it all for Carney, and the rint goin' on just the same over at the flats?'

"''Tis the great annual Municipal Free Night Outing Lawn Party,' says I, 'given by the polis, Russell Sage and the Drug Trust. Durin' the heated season they hold a week of it in the principal parks. 'Tis a scheme to reach that portion of the people that's not worth takin' up to North Beach for a fish fry.'

"'I can't sleep on the ground,' says Patsey, 'wid any benefit. I have the hay fever and the rheumatism, and me ear is full of ants.'

"Well, the night goes on, and the ex-tenants of the Flats groans and stumbles around in the dark, tryin' to find rest and recreation in the forest. The childher is screamin' with the coldness, and the janitor makes hot tea for 'em and keeps the fires goin' with the signboards that point to the Tavern and the Casino. The tenants try to lay down on the grass by families in the dark, but you're lucky if you can sleep next to a man from the same floor or believin' in the same religion. Now and then a Murphy, accidental, rolls over on the grass of a Rosenstein, or a Cohen tries to crawl under the O'Grady bush, and then there's a feelin' of noses and somebody is rolled down the hill to the driveway and stays there. There is some hair-pullin' among the women folks, and everybody spanks the nearest howlin' kid to him by the sense of feelin' only, regardless of its parentage and ownership. 'Tis hard to keep up the social distinctions in the dark that flourish by daylight in the Beersheba Flats. Mrs. Rafferty, that despises the asphalt that a Dago treads on, wakes up in the mornin' with her feet in the bosom of Antonio Spizzinelli. And Mike O'Dowd, that always threw peddlers downstairs as fast as he came upon 'em, has to unwind old Isaacstein's whiskers from around his neck, and wake up the whole gang at daylight. But here and there some few got acquainted and overlooked the discomforts of the elements. There was five engagements to be married announced at the Flats the next morning.

"About midnight I gets up and wrings the dew out of my hair, and goes to the side of the driveway and sits down. At one side of the park I could see the lights in the streets and houses; and I was thinkin' how happy them folks was who could chase the duck and smoke their pipes at their windows, and keep cool and pleasant like nature intended for 'em to.

"Just then an automobile stops by me, and a fine-lookin', well-dressed man steps out.

"'Me man,' says he, 'can you tell me why all these people are lyin' around on the grass in the park? I thought it was against the rules.'

"''Twas an ordinance,' says I, 'just passed by the Polis Department and ratified by the Turf Cutters' Association, providin' that all persons not carryin' a license number on their rear axles shall keep in the public parks until further notice. Fortunately, the orders comes this year durin' a spell of fine weather, and the mortality, except on the borders of the lake and along the automobile drives, will not be any greater than usual.'

"'Who are these people on the side of the hill?' asks the man.

"'Sure,' says I, 'none others than the tenants of the Beersheba Flats--a fine home for any man, especially on hot nights. May daylight come soon!'

The fine man takes out a red book and marks in it.

"'They come here be night,' says he, 'and breathe in the pure air and the fragrance of the flowers and trees. They do that,' says he, 'comin' every night from the burnin' heat of dwellin's of brick and stone.'

"'And wood,' says I. 'And marble and plaster and iron.'

"'The matter will be attended to at once,' says the man, putting up his book.

"'Are ye the Park Commissioner?' I asks.

"'I own the Beersheba Flats,' says he. 'God bless the grass and the trees that give extra benefits to a man's tenants. The rents shall be raised fifteen per cent to-morrow. Good-night,' says he."

~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~

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