THE LADY HIGHER UP
by O. Henry
New York City, they said, was deserted; and that accounted,
doubtless, for the sounds carrying so far in the tranquil
summer air. The breeze was south-by-southwest; the hour was
midnight; the theme was a bit of feminine gossip by wireless
mythology. Three hundred and sixty-five feet above the heated
asphalt the tiptoeing symbolic deity on Manhattan pointed her
vacillating arrow straight, for the time, in the direction of
her exalted sister on Liberty Island. The lights of the great
Garden were out; the benches in the Square were filled with
sleepers in postures so strange that beside them the writhing
figures in Dore's illustrations of the Inferno would have
straightened into tailor's dummies. The statue of Diana on the
tower of the Garden--its constancy shown by its weathercock
ways, its innocence by the coating of gold that it has acquired,
its devotion to style by its single, graceful flying scarf,
its candor and artlessness by its habit of ever drawing the
long bow, its metropolitanism by its posture of swift flight
to catch a Harlem train--remained poised with its arrow pointed
across the upper bay. Had that arrow sped truly and horizontally
it would have passed fifty feet above the head of the heroic
matron whose duty it is to offer a cast-ironical welcome to
the oppressed of other lands.
Seaward this lady gazed, and the furrows between steamship
lines began to cut steerage rates. The translators, too,
have put an extra burden upon her. "Liberty Lighting the
World" (as her creator christened her) would have had a
no more responsible duty, except for the size of it, than
that of an electrician or a Standard Oil magnate. But to
"enlighten" the world (as our learned civic guardians
"Englished" it) requires abler qualities. And so poor
Liberty, instead of having a sinecure as a mere illuminator,
must be converted into a Chautauqua schoolma'am, with the
oceans for her field instead of the placid, classic lake.
With a fireless torch and an empty head must she dispel
the shadows of the world and teach it its A, B, C's.
"Ah, there, Mrs. Liberty!" called a clear, rollicking soprano
voice through the still, midnight air.
"Is that you, Miss Diana? Excuse my not turning my head.
I'm not as flighty and whirly-whirly as some. And 'tis so
hoarse I am I can hardly talk on account of the peanut-hulls
left on the stairs in me throat by that last boatload of
tourists from Marietta, Ohio. 'Tis after being a fine
"If you don't mind my asking," came the bell-like tones of
the golden statue, "I'd like to know where you got that
City Hall brogue. I didn't know that Liberty was necessarily
"If ye'd studied the history of art in its foreign
complications ye'd not need to ask," replied the offshore
statue. "If ye wasn't so light-headed and giddy ye'd know
that I was made by a Dago and presented to the American
people on behalf of the French Government for the purpose
of welcomin' Irish immigrants into the Dutch city of New
York. 'Tis that I've been doing night and day since I was
erected. Ye must know, Miss Diana, that 'tis with statues
the same as with people--'tis not their makers nor the
purposes for which they were created that influence the
operations of their tongues at all--it's the associations
with which they become associated, I'm telling ye."
"You're dead right," agreed Diana. "I notice it on myself.
If any of the old guys from Olympus were to come along and
hand me any hot air in the ancient Greek I couldn't tell
it from a conversation between a Coney Island car conductor
and a five-cent fare."
"I'm right glad ye've made up your mind to be sociable,
Miss Diana," said Mrs. Liberty. "'Tis a lonesome life I
have down here. Is there anything doin' up in the city,
Miss Diana, dear?"
"Oh, la, la, la!--no," said Diana. "Notice that 'la, la,
la,' Aunt Liberty? Got that from 'Paris by Night' on the
roof garden under me. You'll hear that 'la, la, la' at
the Cafe McCann now, along with 'garsong.' The bohemian
crowd there have become tired of 'garsong' since O'Rafferty,
the head waiter, punched three of them for calling him it.
Oh, no; the town's strickly on the bum these nights.
Everybody's away. Saw a downtown merchant on a roof garden
this evening with his stenographer. Show was so dull he
went to sleep. A waiter biting on a dime tip to see if it
was good half woke him up. He looks around and sees his
little pothooks perpetrator. 'H'm!' says he, 'will you take
a letter, Miss De St. Montmorency?' 'Sure, in a minute,' says
she, 'if you'll make it an X.'
"That was the best thing happened on the roof. So you see
how dull it is. La, la, la!"
"'Tis fine ye have it up there in society, Miss Diana. Ye
have the cat show and the horse show and the military
tournaments where the privates look grand as generals and
the generals try to look grand as floor-walkers. And ye
have the Sportsmen's Show, where the girl that measures
36, 19, 45 cooks breakfast food in a birch-bark wigwam on
the banks of the Grand Canal of Venice conducted by one of
the Vanderbilts, Bernard McFadden, and the Reverends Dowie
and Duss. And ye have the French ball, where the original
Cohens and the Robert Emmet-Sangerbund Society dance the
Highland fling one with another. And ye have the grand
O'Ryan ball, which is the most beautiful pageant in the
world, where the French students vie with the Tyrolean
warblers in doin' the cake walk. Ye have the best job for
a statue in the whole town, Miss Diana.
"'Tis weary work," sighed the island statue, "disseminatin'
the science of liberty in New York Bay. Sometimes when I
take a peep down at Ellis Island and see the gang of
immigrants I'm supposed to light up, 'tis tempted I am to
blow out the gas and let the coroner write out their
"Say, it's a shame, ain't it, to give you the worst end
of it?" came the sympathetic antiphony of the steeplechase
goddess. "It must be awfully lonesome down there with so
much water around you. I don't see how you ever keep your
hair in curl. And that Mother Hubbard you are wearing went
out ten years ago. I think those sculptor guys ought to be
held for damages for putting iron or marble clothes on a
lady. That's where Mr. St. Gaudens was wise. I'm always a
little ahead of the styles; but they're coming my way
pretty fast. Excuse my back a moment--I caught a puff of
wind from the north--shouldn't wonder if things had loosened
up in Esopus. There, now! It's in the West--I should think
that gold plank would have calmed the air out in that
direction. What were you saying, Mrs. Liberty?"
"A fine chat I've had with ye, Miss Diana, ma'am, but I
see one of them European steamers a-sailin' up the Narrows,
and I must be attendin' to me duties. 'Tis me job to extend
aloft the torch of Liberty to welcome all them that survive
the kicks that the steerage stewards give 'em while landin.'
Sure 'tis a great country ye can come to for $8.50, and the
doctor waitin' to send ye back home free if he sees yer eyes
red from cryin' for it."
The golden statue veered in the changing breeze, menacing
many points on the horizon with its aureate arrow.
"So long, Aunt Liberty," sweetly called Diana of the Tower.
"Some night, when the wind's right. I'll call you up again.
But--say! you haven't got such a fierce kick coming about
your job. I've kept a pretty good watch on the island of
Manhattan since I've been up here. That's a pretty sick-looking
bunch of liberty chasers they dump down at your end of it;
but they don't all stay that way. Every little while up here
I see guys signing checks and voting the right ticket, and
encouraging the arts and taking a bath every morning, that
was shoved ashore by a dock laborer born in the United States
who never earned over forty dollars a month. Don't run down
your job, Aunt Liberty; you're all right, all right."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~