'Mammon and the Archer' by O. Henry

13 July, 2018

We present the short story "Mammon and the Archer" by O. Henry. The story was originally adapted and recorded by the U.S. Department of State.

Old Anthony Rockwall, who made millions of dollars by making and selling Rockwall's soap, stood at the window of his large Fifth Avenue house. He was looking out at his neighbor, G. Van Schuylight Suffolk-Jones. His neighbor is a proud member of a proud old New York family. He came out of his door and got into a cab. He looked once quickly, as usual, at Anthony Rockwall's house. The look showed that Suffolk-Jones was a very important man, while a rich soapmaker was nothing.

"I will have this house painted red, white, and blue next summer," said the Soap King to himself. "And we'll see how he likes that."

And then Anthony Rockwall turned around and shouted, "Mike!" in a loud voice. He never used a bell to call a servant.

"Tell my son," he said when the servant came, "to come to me before he leaves the house."

When young Rockwall entered the room, the old man put down the newspaper he had been reading. "Richard," said Anthony Rockwall, "what do you pay for the soap that you use?"

Richard had finished college six months before, and he had come home to live. He had not yet learned to understand his father. He was always being surprised.

He said, "Six dollars for twelve pieces."

"And your clothes?"

"About sixty dollars, usually."

"You are a gentleman," said his father. "I have heard of young men who pay twenty-four dollars for twelve pieces of soap, and more than a hundred for clothes. You have as much money to throw away as anyone else has. But what you do is reasonable. I myself use Rockwall Soap, because it is the best. When you pay more than ten cents for a piece of soap, you are paying for a sweet strong smell and a name.

"But fifty cents is good for a young man like you. You are a gentleman. People say that if a man is not a gentleman, his son can't be a gentleman; but perhaps his son's son will be a gentleman. But they are wrong. Money does it faster than that. Money has made you a gentleman. It has almost made me a gentleman. I have become very much like the two gentlemen who own the houses on each side of us. My manners are now almost as bad as theirs. But they still can't sleep at night because a soapmaker lives in this house."

"There are some things that money can't do," said the young man rather sadly.

"Don't say that," said old Anthony. "Money is successful every time. I don't know anything you can't buy with it. Tell me something that money can't buy. And I want you to tell me something more. Something is wrong with you. I've seen it for two weeks. Tell me. Let me help you. In twenty-four hours I could have eleven million dollars here in my hands. Are you sick?"

"Some people call it sickness."

"Oh!" said Anthony. "What's her name? Why don't you ask her to marry you? She would be glad to do it. You have money, you are good-looking, and you are a good boy. Your hands are clean. You have no Rockwall Soap on them."

"I haven't had a chance to ask her," said Richard.

"Make a chance," said Anthony. "Take her for a walk in the park. Or walk home with her from church."

"You don't know the life of a rich girl, father. Every hour and minute of her time is planned. I must have her, or the world is worth nothing to me. And I can't write to say I love her. I can't do that."

"Do you tell me," said the old man, "that with all my money you can't get an hour or two of a girl's time?"

"I've waited too long. She's going to Europe the day after tomorrow. She's going to be there two years. I'm allowed to see her alone tomorrow evening for a few minutes. She's coming to the city on a train. I'm going to meet her with a cab. Then we'll drive fast to the theater where she must meet her mother and some other people. Do you think she would listen to me then? No. Or in the theater? No. Or after the theater? No! No, father, this is one trouble that your money can't help. We can't buy one minute of time with money. If we could, rich people would live longer. There's no hope of talking with Miss Lantry before she sails."

"Richard, my boy," said old Anthony, "I'm glad you're not really sick. You say money won't buy time? Perhaps it won't buy all of time, but I've seen it buy some little pieces."

That evening his sister Ellen came to Anthony, to talk about the troubles that lovers have.

"He told me all about it," said brother Anthony. "I told him he could have all the money he wanted. Then he began to say that money was no use to him. He said money couldn't help."

"Oh, Anthony," said Ellen, "I wish you wouldn't think so much of money. Money is no help for love. Love is all powerful. If he had only spoken to her earlier! She could never say no to our Richard. But now I fear it is too late. All your gold cannot buy happiness for your son."

At eight the next evening Ellen took an old gold ring and gave it to Richard.

"Wear it tonight," she said. "Your mother gave it to me. She asked me to give it to you when you had found the girl you loved."

Young Rockwall took the ring and tried to put it on his little finger. It was too small. He put it inside his coat, in a place where he thought it would be safe. And then he called for his cab.

At the station he met Miss Lantry.

"We must not keep my mother and the others waiting," said she.

"To Wallack's Theater as fast as you can drive," said Richard to the cabby.

They rolled along Forty-second Street to Broadway and from there to Thirty-fourth Street.

Then young Richard quickly ordered the cabby to stop.

"I've dropped a ring," he said, getting out. "It was my mother's and I don't want to lose it. This will take only a minute. I saw where it fell."

In less than a minute he was again in the cab with the ring.

But within that minute, a wagon had stopped in front of the cab. The cabby tried to pass on the left, but a cab was there. He tried to pass on the right, but another cab was there. He could not go back. He was caught where he was and could not move in any direction.

These sudden stops of movement will happen in the city. Instead of moving along the street in their usual orderly way, all the wagons and cabs will suddenly be mixed together and stopped.

"Why don't you drive further?" said Miss Lantry. "We'll be late."

Richard stood up in the cab and looked around. He saw a stream of cabs and wagons and everything else on wheels rolling toward the corner where Broadway, Sixth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street meet. They came from all directions. And more and more were rolling toward them. More and more were caught there. Drivers and cabbies shouted. Everyone on wheels in New York City seemed to be hurrying to this place.

"I'm very sorry," said Richard. He sat down again. "We can't move. They won't get this straight in an hour. If I hadn't dropped the ring, we—"

"Let me see the ring," said Miss Lantry. "Since we really can't hurry, I don't care. I didn't want to go to the theater. I don't like the theater."

At eleven that night someone stopped at the door of Anthony's room.

"Come in," shouted Anthony. He had been reading and he put down his book.

It was Ellen. "They are going to be married Anthony," she said. "She has promised to marry our Richard. On their way to the theater their cab was stopped in the street. It was two hours before it could move again.

"And oh, brother Anthony, don't ever talk about the power of money again. It was a little ring, a true love ring, that was the cause of our Richard finding his happiness. He dropped it in the street and had to get out and find it. And before they could continue, the cab was caught among the others. He told her of his love there in the cab. Money is nothing, Anthony. True love is everything."

"I'm glad the boy got what he wanted," said old Anthony. "I told him I didn't care how much money—"

"But, brother Anthony, what could your money do?"

"Sister," said Anthony Rockwall. "I'm reading a book with a good story in it. It's a wild adventure story, but I like it. And I want to find what happens next. I wish you would let me go on reading."

The story should end there. I wish it would. I'm sure you too wish it would end there. But we must go on to the truth.

The next day a person with red hands and a blue necktie, whose name was Kelly, came to Anthony Rockwall's house to see Anthony.

"That was good soap we made," said Anthony. "I gave you $5,000 yesterday."

"I paid out $300 more of my own money," said Kelly. "It cost more than I expected. I got the cabs, most of them, for $5, but anything with two horses was $10. I had to pay most to the cops—$50 I paid to two, and the others $20 and $25. But didn't it work beautifully, Mr. Rockwall? They were all on time. And it was two hours before anyone could move."

"Thirteen hundred—there you are, Kelly," said Anthony, giving him the money. A thousand for you, and the $300 of your own money that you had to spend. You like money, do you, Kelly?"

"I do," said Kelly.

Anthony stopped Kelly when he was at the door.

"Did you see," asked he, "anywhere on the street yesterday a little fat boy with no clothes on? Carrying arrows?"

Kelly looked surprised. "No. I didn't. But if he was like that, with no clothes, perhaps the cops caught him."

"I thought Cupid wouldn't be there," Anthony said, laughing. "Good-bye, Kelly."

Download activities to help you understand this story here.

Now it's your turn to use the words in this story. Do you think money can buy anything? What is more valuable than money? Let us know in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

soap n. a substance that is used for washing something

avenuen. a wide street

cabn. a car that carries passengers to a place for an amount of money that is based on the distance traveled

theatern. a building where plays or shows are performed on a stage

cabby n. a person who drives a taxi

wagonn. a vehicle with four wheels that is used for carrying heavy loads or passengers and that is usually pulled by animals

cop(s) – n. a person whose job is to enforce laws, investigate crimes, and make arrests

Cupidn. the god of sexual love in ancient Rome