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|The Higher Pragmatism||O Henry|
|Page 2 of 5||
"Do you want the dime back in advance ?" said he.
I handed him a dollar.
"The dime," said I, "was the price of listening to your story."
"Right on the point of the jaw," said he. "Go on."
And then, incredible as it may seem to the lovers in the world who confide their sorrows only to the night wind and the gibbous moon, I laid bare my secret to that wreck of all things that you would have supposed to be in sympathy with love.
I told him of the days and weeks and months that I had spent in adoring Mildred Telfair. I spoke of my despair, my grievous days and wakeful nights, my dwindling hopes and distress of mind. I even pictured to this night-prowler her beauty and dignity, the great sway she had in society, and the magnificence of her life as the elder daughter of an ancient race whose pride overbalanced the dollars of the city's millionaires.
"Why don't you cop the lady out?" asked Mack, bringing me down to earth and dialect again.
I explained to him that my worth was so small, my income so minute, and my fears so large that I hadn't the courage to speak to her of my worship. I told him that in her presence I could only blush and stammer, and that she looked upon me with a wonderful, maddening smile of amusement.
"She kind of moves in the professional class, don't she?" asked Mack.
"The Telfair family--" I began, haughtily.
"I mean professional beauty," said my hearer.
"She is greatly and widely admired," I answered, cautiously.
"You know any more girls?"
"Why, several," I answered. "And a few others."
"Say," said Mack, "tell me one thing--can you hand out the dope to other girls? Can you chin 'em and make matinee eyes at 'em and squeeze 'em? You know what I mean. You're just shy when it comes to this particular dame--the professional beauty--ain't that right ?"
"In a way you have outlined the situation with approximate truth," I admitted.
"I thought so," said Mack, grimly. "Now, that reminds me of my own case. I'll tell you about it."
I was indignant, but concealed it. What was this loafer's case or anybody's case compared with mine? Besides, I had given him a dollar and ten cents.
"Feel my muscle," said my companion, suddenly, flexing his biceps. I did so mechanically. The fellows in gyms are always asking you to do that. His arm was as hard as cast-iron.
"Four years ago," said Mack, "I could lick any man in New York outside of the professional ring. Your case and mine is just the same. I come from the West Side--between Thirtieth and Fourteenth--I won't give the number on the door. I was a scrapper when I was ten, and when I was twenty no amateur in the city could stand up four rounds with me. 'S a fact. You know Bill McCarty? No? He managed the smokers for some of them swell clubs. Well, I knocked out everything Bill brought up before me. I was a middle-weight, but could train down to a welter when necessary. I boxed all over the West Side at bouts and benefits and private entertainments, and was never put out once.
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