THE CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT
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
"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
"'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
"'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 wood,' says I. 'And marble and plaster and
"'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 ~~~~~~~