Best American Humorous Short Stories HTML version

The Duplicity Of Hargraves
By O. Henry (1862-1910)
[From The Junior Munsey, February, 1902. Republished in the volume, Sixes and Sevens
(1911), by O. Henry; copyright, 1911, by Doubleday, Page & Co.; reprinted by their
When Major Pendleton Talbot, of Mobile, sir, and his daughter, Miss Lydia Talbot, came
to Washington to reside, they selected for a boarding place a house that stood fifty yards
back from one of the quietest avenues. It was an old-fashioned brick building, with a
portico upheld by tall white pillars. The yard was shaded by stately locusts and elms, and
a catalpa tree in season rained its pink and white blossoms upon the grass. Rows of high
box bushes lined the fence and walks. It was the Southern style and aspect of the place
that pleased the eyes of the Talbots.
In this pleasant private boarding house they engaged rooms, including a study for Major
Talbot, who was adding the finishing chapters to his book, Anecdotes and Reminiscences
of the Alabama Army, Bench, and Bar.
Major Talbot was of the old, old South. The present day had little interest or excellence in
his eyes. His mind lived in that period before the Civil War when the Talbots owned
thousands of acres of fine cotton land and the slaves to till them; when the family
mansion was the scene of princely hospitality, and drew its guests from the aristocracy of
the South. Out of that period he had brought all its old pride and scruples of honor, an
antiquated and punctilious politeness, and (you would think) its wardrobe.
Such clothes were surely never made within fifty years. The Major was tall, but whenever
he made that wonderful, archaic genuflexion he called a bow, the corners of his frock
coat swept the floor. That garment was a surprise even to Washington, which has long
ago ceased to shy at the frocks and broad-brimmed hats of Southern Congressmen. One
of the boarders christened it a "Father Hubbard," and it certainly was high in the waist
and full in the skirt.
But the Major, with all his queer clothes, his immense area of plaited, raveling shirt
bosom, and the little black string tie with the bow always slipping on one side, both was
smiled at and liked in Mrs. Vardeman's select boarding house. Some of the young
department clerks would often "string him," as they called it, getting him started upon the
subject dearest to him--the traditions and history of his beloved Southland. During his
talks he would quote freely from the Anecdotes and Reminiscences. But they were very
careful not to let him see their designs, for in spite of his sixty-eight years he could make
the boldest of them uncomfortable under the steady regard of his piercing gray eyes.
Miss Lydia was a plump, little old maid of thirty-five, with smoothly drawn, tightly
twisted hair that made her look still older. Old-fashioned, too, she was; but antebellum