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Felix O'Day   By: (1838-1915)

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By F. Hopkinson Smith

Chapter I

Broadway on dry nights, or rather that part known as the Great White Way, is a crowded thoroughfare, dominated by lofty buildings, the sky line studded with constellations of colored signs pencilled in fire. Broadway on wet, rain drenched nights is the fairy concourse of the Wonder City of the World, its asphalt splashed with liquid jewels afloat in molten gold.

Across this flood of frenzied brilliance surge hurrying mobs, dodging the ceaseless traffic, trampling underfoot the wealth of the Indies, striding through pools of quicksilver, leaping gutters filled to the brim with melted rubies horse, car, and man so many black silhouettes against a tremulous sea of light.

Along this blinding whirl blaze the playhouses, their wide portals aflame with crackling globes, toward which swarm bevies of pleasure seeking moths, their eyes dazzled by the glare. Some with heads and throats bare dart from costly broughams, the mountings of their sleek, rain varnished horses glittering in the flash of the electric lamps. Others spring from out street cabs. Many come by twos and threes, their skirts held high. Still others form a line, its head lost in a small side door. These are in drab and brown, with worsted shawls tightly drawn across thin shoulders. Here, too, wedged in between shabby men, the collars of their coats muffling their chins, their backs to the grim policeman, stand keen eyed newsboys and ragged street urchins, the price of a gallery seat in their tightly closed fists.

Soon the swash and flow of light flooding the street and sidewalks shines the clearer. Fewer dots and lumps of man, cab, and cart now cross its surface. The crowd has begun to thin out. The doors of the theatres are deserted; some flaunt signs of "Standing Room Only." The cars still follow their routes, lunging and pausing like huge beetles; but much of the wheel traffic has melted, with only here and there a cab or truck between which gold splashed umbrellas pick a hazardous way.

With the breaking of the silent dawn, shadowed in a lonely archway or on an abandoned doorstep the wet, bedraggled body of a hapless moth is sometimes found, her iridescent wings flattened in the mud. Then for a brief moment a cry of protest, or scorn, or pity goes up. The passers by raise their hands in anger, draw their skirts aside in horror, or kneel in tenderness. It is the same the world over, and New York is no better and, for that matter, no worse.

On one of these rain drenched nights, some ten years or more ago, when the streets were flooded with jewels, and the sky line aflame, a man in a slouch hat, a wet mackintosh clinging to his broad shoulders, stood close to the entrance of one of the principal playhouses along this Great White Way. He had kept his place since the doors were opened, his hat brim, pulled over his brow, his keen eye searching every face that passed. To all appearances he was but an idle looker on, attracted by the beauty of the women, and yet during all that time he had not moved, nor had he been in the way, nor had he been observed even by the door man, the flap of the awning casting its shadow about him. Only once had he strained forward, gazing intently, then again relaxed, settling into his old position.

Not until the last couple had hurried by, breathless at being late, did he refasten the top button of his mackintosh, move clear of the nook which had sheltered him, and step out into the open.

For an instant he glanced about him, seemed to hesitate, as does a bit of driftwood blocked in the current; then, with a sudden straightening of his shoulders, he wheeled and threaded his way down town.

At Herald Square, he mounted with an aimless air a flight of low steps, peered though the windows, and listened to the crunch of the presses chewing the cud of the day's news. When others crowded close he stepped back to the sidewalk, raising his hat once in apology to an elderly dame who, with head down, had brushed him with her umbrella... Continue reading book >>

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