Read the following story to see how busy work schedule makes a man absentminded and do the given tasks.
Pitcher, confidential clerk in the office of Harvey Maxwell, broker, allowed a look
of mild interest and surprise to visit his usually expressionless countenance when his
employer briskly entered at half past nine in company with his young lady stenographer.
With a snappy “Good-morning, Pitcher,” Maxwell dashed at his desk as though he
were intending to leap over it, and then plunged into the great heap of letters and
telegrams waiting there for him.
The young lady had been Maxwell’s stenographer for a year. She was beautiful in
a way that was decidedly unstenographic. She forewent the pomp of the alluring
pompadour. She wore no chains, bracelets or lockets. She had not the air of being
about to accept an invitation to luncheon. Her dress was grey and plain, but it fitted
her figure with fidelity and discretion. In her neat black turban hat was the gold-green
wing of a macaw. On this morning she was softly and shyly radiant. Her eyes were
dreamily bright, her cheeks genuine peachblow, her expression a happy one, tinged
Pitcher, still mildly curious, noticed a difference in her ways this morning. Instead
of going straight into the adjoining room, where her desk was, she lingered, slightly
irresolute, in the outer office. Once she moved over by Maxwell’s desk, near enough
for him to be aware of her presence.
The machine sitting at that desk was no longer a man; it was a busy New York broker,
moved by buzzing wheels and
“Well–what is it? Anything?”
asked Maxwell sharply. His
opened mail lay like a bank of
stage snow on his crowded desk.
His keen grey eye, impersonal and
brusque, flashed upon her half
“Nothing,” answered the stenographer, moving away with a little smile.
“Mr. Pitcher,” she said to the confidential clerk, did Mr. Maxwell say anything
yesterday about engaging another stenographer?”
“He did,” answered Pitcher. “He told me to get another one. I notified the agency
yesterday afternoon to send over a few samples this morning. It’s 9.45 o’clock, and not
a single picture hat or piece of pineapple chewing gum has showed up yet.”
“I will do the work as usual, then,” said the young lady, “until someone comes to fill
the place.” And she went to her desk at once and hung the black turban hat with the
gold-green macaw wing in its accustomed place.
He who has been denied the spectacle of a busy Manhattan broker during a rush of
business is handicapped for the profession of anthropology. The poet sings of the
“crowded hour of glorious life.” The broker’s hour is not only crowded, but the minutes
and seconds are hanging to all the straps and packing both front and rear platforms.
And this day was Harvey Maxwell’s busy day. The ticker began to reel out jerkily its
fitful coils of tape, the desk telephone had a chronic attack of buzzing. Men began
to throng into the office and call at him over the railing, jovially, sharply, viciously,
excitedly. Messenger boys ran in and out with messages and telegrams. The clerks in
the office jumped about like sailors during a storm. Even Pitcher’s face relaxed into
something resembling animation.
On the Exchange there were hurricanes and landslides and snowstorms and glaciers
and volcanoes, and those elemental disturbances were reproduced in miniature in the
broker’s offices. Maxwell shoved his chair against the wall and transacted business
after the manner of a toe dancer. He jumped from ticker to ‘phone, from desk to door
with the trained agility of a harlequin.
In the midst of this growing and important stress the broker became suddenly aware of
a high-rolled fringe of golden hair under a nodding canopy of velvet and ostrich tips,
an imitation sealskin sacque and a string of beads as large as hickory nuts, ending near
the floor with a silver heart. There was a self-possessed young lady connected with
these accessories; and Pitcher was there to construe her.
“Lady from the Stenographer’s Agency to see about the position,” said Pitcher.
Maxwell turned half around, with his hands full of papers and ticker tape.
“What position?” he asked, with a frown.
“Position of stenographer,” said Pitcher. “You told me yesterday to call them up and
have one sent over this morning.”
“You are losing your mind, Pitcher,” said Maxwell. “Why should I have given you any
such instructions? Miss Leslie has given perfect satisfaction during the year she has
been here. The place is hers as long as she chooses to retain it. There’s no place open
here, madam. Countermand that order with the agency, Pitcher, and don’t bring any
more of ‘em in here.”
The silver heart left the office, swinging and banging itself independently against the
office furniture as it indignantly departed. Pitcher seized a moment to remark to the
bookkeeper that the “old man” seemed to get more absent-minded and forgetful every
day of the world.
The rush and pace of business grew fiercer and faster. On the floor they were pounding
half a dozen stocks in which Maxwell’s customers were heavy investors. Orders to buy
and sell were coming and going as swift as the flight of swallows. Some of his own
holdings were imperiled, and the man was working like some high-geared, delicate,
strong machine–strung to full tension, going at full speed, accurate, never hesitating,
with the proper word and decision and act ready and prompt as clockwork. Stocks and
bonds, loans and mortgages, margins and securities–here was a world of finance, and
there was no room in it for the human world or the world of nature.
When the luncheon hour drew near there came a slight lull in the uproar.
Maxwell stood by his desk with his hands full of telegrams and memoranda, with
a fountain pen over his right ear and his hair hanging in disorderly strings over his
forehead. His window was open, for the beloved janitress Spring had turned on a little
warmth through the waking registers of the earth.
And through the window came a wandering–perhaps a lost–odor–a delicate, sweet
odor of lilac that fixed the broker for a moment immovable. For this odor belonged to
Miss Leslie; it was her own, and hers only.
The odor brought her vividly, almost tangibly before him. The world of finance
dwindled suddenly to a speck. And she was in the next room–twenty steps away.
“By George, I’ll do it now,” said Maxwell, half aloud. “I’ll ask her now. I wonder I
didn’t do it long ago.”
He dashed into the inner office with the haste of a short trying to cover. He charged
upon the desk of the stenographer.
She looked up at him with a smile. A soft pink crept over her cheek, and her eyes were
kind and frank. Maxwell leaned one elbow on her desk. He still clutched fluttering
papers with both hands and the pen was above his ear.
“Miss Leslie,” he began hurriedly, “I have but a moment to spare. I want to say
something in that moment. Will you be my wife? I haven’t had time to make love to
you in the ordinary way, but I really do love you. Talk quick, please–those fellows are
clubbing the stuffing out of Union Pacific.”
“Oh, what are you talking about?” exclaimed the young lady. She rose to her feet and
gazed upon him, round-eyed.
“Don’t you understand?” said Maxwell, restively. “I want you to marry me. I love you,
Miss Leslie. I wanted to tell you, and I snatched a minute when things had slackened
up a bit. They’re calling me for the phone now. Tell ‘em to wait a minute, Pitcher.
Won’t you, Miss Leslie?”
The stenographer acted very queerly. At first she seemed overcome with amazement;
then tears flowed from her wondering eyes; and then she smiled sunnily through them,
and one of her arms slid tenderly about the broker’s neck.
“I know now,” she said, softly. “It’s this old business that has driven everything else
out of your head for the time. I was frightened at first. Don’t you remember, Harvey?
We were married last evening at 8 o’clock in the Little Church around the Corner.”
- -O’ Henry
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