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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, December 22, 1929, Image 92

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1929-12-22/ed-1/seq-92/

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12
“EXTRA! EXTRA!” SSS One of the O. Henry A L
The Passing of Mr. Whidden Is a
Strange Affair, and This Is One of the
Reasons Why This Particular Story Was
Given One of the 0. Henry Memorial
Awards—Another Complete Prize Story
Will Appear in the Magazine of Next
Sunday's Star.
, 'W ROM the street below came that moat
/# j terrifying of sounds, the full-chested
/ roar of two men shouting, “Extra!
T M Extra!” through the rainy night.
"Exta! Extra!”
Mr. Whidden, reading his evening paper,
wondered what was the trouble. He could
gather nothing from the ominous shouts that
assailed his ears. The two men might have
been lusty-lunged Russians for all of him.
But there was an ominous note in their voices—
the warning of dark calamity—the grim sug
gestion of wars, plagues, holocausts.
“Where do they get those men with voices
like that, and what do they do between extras?”
he thought.
Mrs. Whidden emerged from the kitchen,
whither she had retired to bathe the supper
dishes.
“There’s an extra out, Ray,” she announced.
“So I hear,” said her husband, who was not
above an occasional facetious sally.
She walked over to the window, opened it,
and thrust her head out into the rain. In the
street, five stories below, she could see the
two newsvenders.
“Extra! Extra!”
• Mrs. Whidden turned from the window.
“Something must have happened?”
r I ''HERE was an overtone of complaint in her
• remark that Mr. Whidden recognized only
too well. It was a tone that always suggested
unwelcome activity on Mr. Whidden’s part. He
wished that she would came right out and say,
“Go downstairs and get the paper,” but she
never did. She always prefaced her commands
with a series of whining insinuations.
“I wonder what it was?” she asked, as though
expecting her husband to know.
“Oh, nothing, I guess. Those extras never
amount to anything.”
Mrs. Whidden turned again to the window.
“Something awful must have happened," she
observed, and the counterpoint of complaint was
even more pronounced.
Mr. Whidden shifted uneasily in his chair—
the one comfortable chair in the flat—the chair
which he himself had bought for his own oc
cupancy and about which there had been so
much argument. He knew what was coming;
he didn't want to move, and walk down and
up four flights of stairs for the sake of some
information that would not affect his life in
the remotest degree.
“Don’t you intend to And out?” asked Mrs.
Whidden, and it was evident that she had
reached the snappy stage. Her husband knew
that, if he didn't go down and buy that paper,
he would provide fuel for an irritation that
would burn well into the night. Nevertheless,
that chair was so comfortable, and the weather
was so disagreeable, and the stairs were such a
climb!...
“I guess I won’t go down, Emmy. Those
extras are sometimes fakes, anyway, and, be
sides. if it is anything important we’ll find
out about it in the morning paper.”
The roars of the men shouting “Extra!
Extra!” reverberated through the street, beating
with determined violence against the sheer
walls of the walk-up apartment houses, shud
dering through the open window of the Whid
den’s living room, jarring the fringed shade
of the reading lamp, the souvenirs on the book
shelves, the tasseled portieres that led into the
little hall.
“You’re just lazy, Roy Whidden,” said Mrs.
Whidden. “You sit there reading your paper—
night after night—night after night.” She
turned as though to an invisible Jury, to
whom she was addressing a fervent plea for
recognition of her prolonged martyrdom. Then,
with all the dramatic suddenness of an ex
perienced prosecutor, she snapped at the de
fendant: “What do you read, anyway? Answer
me that! What do you read?”
X4[R. WHIDDEN knew that the question was
purely rhetorical. No answer was expected.
“You don’t read a thing. You just sit there
and stare at that fool paper—probably the
death notices. When anything important hap
pens, you don’t even care enough to step out
into the street and see what it is."
“How do you know it’s important?” Mr.
Whidden inquired, being inclined, albeit un
wisely, to display a little spirit.
“How do you know it isn’t?” Mrs. Whidden
back-fired. “How will you ever know any
thing unless you take the trouble to find out?”
Mr. Whidden uncrossed his legs and then
crossed them again.
“I suppose you expect me to go down and
get that paper,” cried Mrs. Whidden, whose
voice was now rivaling the news-venders’. “With
all I’ve got to do—the dishes, and the baby’s
10-o’clock feeding, and.. .all right! I’ll go!
I’ll walk down the four flights of stairs and
get the paper, so that your majesty won’t have
to trouble yourself.” There was a fine sarcasm
in her tone now.
Mr. Whidden knew that it was the end. For
seven years this exact scene had been repeating
itself over and over again. If there had only
been some slight variation in his wife's tech
nic... but there never had. At first, he had
tried to be frightfully spotting about it, as
suming the blame at the first hint of trouble
and doing whatever was demanded with all
possible grace; but that pose, and it had not
been long before he admitted that it was a
pose, was worn away by a process of erosion, a
process that had kept up for seven years—
seven years of writing things in ledgers in an
airless office on Dey street; seven years of
listening to those endless scoldings and com
plaints at home. Whatever of gallantry had
existed in Mr. Whidden’s soul had crumbled be
fore the persistent and ever-increasing waves
of temper. He know that now, if he gave in,
he did so because of cowardice and not be
cause of any worthily chivalrous motives.
He threw his paper down, stood up, and
walked into the bedroom to get his coat. Little
Conrad was asleep in there, lying on his
stomach, his face pressed against the bars of
the crib.
Over the crib hung a colored photograph of
the Taj Mahal, a ‘lovely, white building that
Mr. Whidden had always wanted to see. He
also wanted to see Singapore, and the Straits
Settlements, and the west coast of Africa, places
that he had read about in books.
He was thinking about these places, and
wondering whether little Conrad would ever
see them, when his wife's voice rasped at him
from the next room.
“Are you going or will I have to go?”
“I’m going, dear,” he assured her, in the
manner of one who is lired.
“Well, hurry! Those men are a block away
by now.”
Mr. Whidden pul on his coat, looked at little
Conrad and at the Taj Mahal, and then started
down the stairs
There were four flights of them, and it was
raining hard outside.
r J'WELVE years later Mrs. Whidden (now Mrs.
Burchall) sat sewing on the front porch
of a pleasant house in a respectable suburb.
It was a brilliantly sUnny day, and the
hydrangeas were Just starting to burst out into
profuse bloom on the bushes at either side of
the steps.
“And do you mean to tell me you never
heard from him?” asked Mrs. Lent, who was
also sewing.
“Not a word," replied Mrs. Burchall, without
rancor. “Not one word in 12 years. He used
to send money sometimes to the bank, but
they’d never tell me where it came from.”
“I guess you ain’t sorry he went. Fred
Burchall’s a good man.”
“You’d think he was a good man all right
if you could’ve seen what I had before. My
goodness! When I think of the seven years I
wasted being Roy Whidden’s wife!”
Mrs. Burchall heaved a profound sigh.
“Ain’t you ever sort of afraid he might show
up?” asked Mrs. Lent.
“Not him And if he did, what of it? Fred
could kick him out with one hand tied behind
his back. Fred Burchall’s a real man.”
She sewed in silence for a while.
“Os course, I am a little worried about
Conrad. He thinks his father's dead. You
see, we wanted to spare him from knowing
about the divorce and all that. We couldn’t
have the boy starting out In life with his
father’s disgrace on his shoulders.”
Shortly thereafter Mrs. Lent went on her
way and Mrs. Burchall stepped Into the house
to see whether the maid was doing anything
constructive. She found her son Conrad curled
up in a chair, reading some book.
“You sitting In the house reading on a fine
day like this! Go on out Into the fresh air
and shake your limbs.”
“But mother ”
“Go on out, I tell you. Can't you try to be
a real boy for a change?”
“But this book’s exciting.”
“I’ll bet. Anything In print is better than
fresh air and outdoor exercise, I suppose.
You’re Just like your—can’t you ever stop
reading for one instant? I declare! One of
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these days you’ll turn into a book
Now you set that book down and go out of
this house this instant.”
Conrad went out to the front yard and
started, with no enthusiasm, to bounce an old
golf ball up and down upon the concrete walk
that led from the front porch to the gate. He
was thus engaged when a strange man ap
peared in the street, stopping before the gate
to look for the number which wasn't there.
“Hey, sonny, is this Mrs. Burchall’s house?”
"Yes,” said the boy, “it is. Want to see her?”
r J' I HE man was short, slight, and none too
formidable-looking, although he was ob
viously a representative of the lower classes—
possibly a tramp—Conrad was not in the least
afraid of him. He had a rather friendly ex
pression, a peaceful expression, as though he
bore ill-will to no one.
THE SUNDAY STAR, WASHING*
“What’s your name?” the man inquired.
“My name’s Conrad—Conrad Whidden.”
Conrad wondered why the man stared at
him so.
“I used to know your mother," the man
explained, “before I went to sea.”
"Oh, you’re a sailor!” Conrad was obviously
impressed. “Where’ve you been?”
“Oh, all over. I just came from Marseilles.”
“Gosh,” said Conrad. “I’d like to go there.
I’ve been reading about it m a book—it’s a
book called ‘The Arrow of Gold.’ ”
The man smiled.
“You w'ere named after the man who wrote
that book,” said the sailor.
"I never knew that.”
“No, I guess not. Your mother didn’t know,
either.”
Just then Mrs. Burchall appeared on the front
steps, attracted perhaps by the suspicious ces
sation of the sharp pops that the golf ball had
been making cn the concrete walk.
When she saw her former husband leaning on
the gate, her first thought was this: “Well, or
all things! And here I was talking about him
to Adele Lent not 10 minutes ago.’’ Then she
realized, with sudden horror, that her son was
actually in conversation with his father. She 1
wondered whether that fool Roy had said any
thing. . . .
“Cenrad, you come here this instant!*’
Conrad ambled up the concrete walk.
**How many times do I have to tell you not
to talk to every strange man that comes %
around?"
“He’s a sailor, mother.” *
“Oh, a sailor, is he!” Somehow or other that
annoyed Mrs. Burchall. “Well, you just chase
yourself around to the back and don’t let me
catch you talking to any tramps—cr sailors,
either.”
Conrad cast one glance toward the man who
had come from Marseilles, and then disappeared
from view behind the house.
Mrs. Burchall walked elegantly down to the
front gate and confronted Roy Whidden.
"So ycu’re a sailor, are you?” she said, and l

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