Springtime A La Carte by O Henry
It was a day in March.
Never, never begin a story this way when you write one. No opening
could possibly be worse. It is unimaginative, flat, dry and likely
to consist of mere wind. But in this instance it is allowable. For
the following paragraph, which should have inaugurated the narrative,
is too wildly extravagant and preposterous to be flaunted in the face
of the reader without preparation.
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare.
Think of a New York girl shedding tears on the menu card!
To account for this you will be allowed to guess that the lobsters
were all out, or that she had sworn ice-cream off during Lent, or
that she had ordered onions, or that she had just come from a Hackett
matinee. And then, all these theories being wrong, you will please
let the story proceed.
The gentleman who announced that the world was an oyster which he
with his sword would open made a larger hit than he deserved. It is
not difficult to open an oyster with a sword. But did you ever
notice any one try to open the terrestrial bivalve with a typewriter?
Like to wait for a dozen raw opened that way?
Sarah had managed to pry apart the shells with her unhandy weapon far
enough to nibble a wee bit at the cold and clammy world within. She
knew no more shorthand than if she had been a graduate in stenography
just let slip upon the world by a business college. So, not being
able to stenog, she could not enter that bright galaxy of office
talent. She was a free-lance typewriter and canvassed for odd jobs
The most brilliant and crowning feat of Sarah's battle with the world
was the deal she made with Schulenberg's Home Restaurant. The
restaurant was next door to the old red brick in which she ball-
roomed. One evening after dining at Schulenberg's 40-cent, five-
course ~table d'hote~ (served as fast as you throw the five baseballs
at the coloured gentleman's head) Sarah took away with her the bill
of fare. It was written in an almost unreadable script neither
English nor German, and so arranged that if you were not careful you
began with a toothpick and rice pudding and ended with soup and the
day of the week.
The next day Sarah showed Schulenberg a neat card on which the menu
was beautifully typewritten with the viands temptingly marshalled
under their right and proper heads from "hors d'oeuvre" to "not
responsible for overcoats and umbrellas."
Schulenberg became a naturalised citizen on the spot. Before Sarah
left him she had him willingly committed to an agreement. She was to
furnish typewritten bills of fare for the twenty-one tables in the
restaurant--a new bill for each day's dinner, and new ones for
breakfast and lunch as often as changes occurred in the food or as
In return for this Schulenberg was to send three meals per diem to
Sarah's hall room by a waiter--an obsequious one if possible--and
furnish her each afternoon with a pencil draft of what Fate had in
store for Schulenberg's customers on the morrow.
Mutual satisfaction resulted from the agreement. Schulenberg's
patrons now knew what the food they ate was called even if its nature
sometimes puzzled them. And Sarah had food during a cold, dull
winter, which was the main thing with her.
And then the almanac lied, and said that spring had come. Spring
comes when it comes. The frozen snows of January still lay like
adamant in the crosstown streets. The hand-organs still played "In
the Good Old Summertime," with their December vivacity and
expression. Men began to make thirty-day notes to buy Easter
dresses. Janitors shut off steam. And when these things happen one
may know that the city is still in the clutches of winter.
One afternoon Sarah shivered in her elegant hall bedroom; "house
heated; scrupulously clean; conveniences; seen to be appreciated."
She had no work to do except Schulenberg's menu cards. Sarah sat in
her squeaky willow rocker, and looked out the window. The calendar
on the wall kept crying to her: "Springtime is here, Sarah--
springtime is here, I tell you. Look at me, Sarah, my figures show
it. You've got a neat figure yourself, Sarah--a--nice springtime
figure--why do you look out the window so sadly?"
Sarah's room was at the back of the house. Looking out the window
she could see the windowless rear brick wall of the box factory on
the next street. But the wall was clearest crystal; and Sarah was
looking down a grassy lane shaded with cherry trees and elms and
bordered with raspberry bushes and Cherokee roses.
Spring's real harbingers are too subtle for the eye and ear. Some
must have the flowering crocus, the wood-starring dogwood, the voice
of bluebird--even so gross a reminder as the farewell handshake of
the retiring buckwheat and oyster before they can welcome the Lady in
Green to their dull bosoms. But to old earth's choicest kin there
come straight, sweet messages from his newest bride, telling them
they shall be no stepchildren unless they choose to be.
On the previous summer Sarah had gone into the country and loved a
(In writing your story never hark back thus. It is bad art, and
cripples interest. Let it march, march.)
Sarah stayed two weeks at Sunnybrook Farm. There she learned to love
old Farmer Franklin's son Walter. Farmers have been loved and wedded
and turned out to grass in less time. But young Walter Franklin was
a modern agriculturist. He had a telephone in his cow house, and he
could figure up exactly what effect next year's Canada wheat crop
would have on potatoes planted in the dark of the moon.
It was in this shaded and raspberried lane that Walter had wooed and
won her. And together they had sat and woven a crown of dandelions
for her hair. He had immoderately praised the effect of the yellow
blossoms against her brown tresses; and she had left the chaplet
there, and walked back to the house swinging her straw sailor in her
They were to marry in the spring--at the very first signs of spring,
Walter said. And Sarah came back to the city to pound her
A knock at the door dispelled Sarah's visions of that happy day. A
waiter had brought the rough pencil draft of the Home Restaurant's
next day fare in old Schulenberg's angular hand.
Sarah sat down to her typewriter and slipped a card between the
rollers. She was a nimble worker. Generally in an hour and a half
the twenty-one menu cards were written and ready.
To-day there were more changes on the bill of fare than usual. The
soups were lighter; pork was eliminated from the entrees, figuring
only with Russian turnips among the roasts. The gracious spirit of
spring pervaded the entire menu. Lamb, that lately capered on the
greening hillsides, was becoming exploited with the sauce that
commemorated its gambols. The song of the oyster, though not
silenced, was ~diminuendo con amore~. The frying-pan seemed to be
held, inactive, behind the beneficent bars of the broiler. The pie
list swelled; the richer puddings had vanished; the sausage, with his
drapery wrapped about him, barely lingered in a pleasant thanatopsis
with the buckwheats and the sweet but doomed maple.
Sarah's fingers danced like midgets above a summer stream. Down
through the courses she worked, giving each item its position
according to its length with an accurate eye. Just above the
desserts came the list of vegetables. Carrots and peas, asparagus on
toast, the perennial tomatoes and corn and succotash, lima beans,
Sarah was crying over her bill of fare. Tears from the depths of
some divine despair rose in her heart and gathered to her eyes. Down
went her head on the little typewriter stand; and the keyboard
rattled a dry accompaniment to her moist sobs.
For she had received no letter from Walter in two weeks, and the next
item on the bill of fare was dandelions--dandelions with some kind of
egg--but bother the egg!--dandelions, with whose golden blooms Walter
had crowned her his queen of love and future bride--dandelions, the
harbingers of spring, her sorrow's crown of sorrow--reminder of her
Madam, I dare you to smile until you suffer this test: Let the
Marechal Niel roses that Percy brought you on the night you gave him
your heart be served as a salad with French dressing before your eyes
at a Schulenberg ~table d'hote~. Had Juliet so seen her love tokens
dishonoured the sooner would she have sought the lethean herbs of the
But what a witch is Spring! Into the great cold city of stone and
iron a message had to be sent. There was none to convey it but the
little hardy courier of the fields with his rough green coat and
modest air. He is a true soldier of fortune, this ~dent-de-lion~--
this lion's tooth, as the French chefs call him. Flowered, he will
assist at love-making, wreathed in my lady's nut-brown hair; young
and callow and unblossomed, he goes into the boiling pot and delivers
the word of his sovereign mistress.
By and by Sarah forced back her tears. The cards must be written.
But, still in a faint, golden glow from her dandeleonine dream, she
fingered the typewriter keys absently for a little while, with her
mind and heart in the meadow lane with her young farmer. But soon
she came swiftly back to the rock-bound lanes of Manhattan, and the
typewriter began to rattle and jump like a strike-breaker's motor
At 6 o'clock the waiter brought her dinner and carried away the
typewritten bill of fare. When Sarah ate she set aside, with a sigh,
the dish of dandelions with its crowning ovarious accompaniment. As
this dark mass had been transformed from a bright and love-indorsed
flower to be an ignominious vegetable, so had her summer hopes wilted
and perished. Love may, as Shakespeare said, feed on itself: but
Sarah could not bring herself to eat the dandelions that had graced,
as ornaments, the first spiritual banquet of her heart's true
At 7:30 the couple in the next room began to quarrel: the man in the
room above sought for A on his flute; the gas went a little lower;
three coal wagons started to unload--the only sound of which the
phonograph is jealous; cats on the back fences slowly retreated
toward Mukden. By these signs Sarah knew that it was time for her to
read. She got out "The Cloister and the Hearth," the best non-
selling book of the month, settled her feet on her trunk, and began
to wander with Gerard.
The front door bell rang. The landlady answered it. Sarah left
Gerard and Denys treed by a bear and listened. Oh, yes; you would,
just as she did!
And then a strong voice was heard in the hall below, and Sarah jumped
for her door, leaving the book on the floor and the first round
easily the bear's. You have guessed it. She reached the top of the
stairs just as her farmer came up, three at a jump, and reaped and
garnered her, with nothing left for the gleaners.
"Why haven't you written--oh, why?" cried Sarah.
"New York is a pretty large town," said Walter Franklin. "I came in
a week ago to your old address. I found that you went away on a
Thursday. That consoled some; it eliminated the possible Friday bad
luck. But it didn't prevent my hunting for you with police and
otherwise ever since!
"I wrote!" said Sarah, vehemently.
"Never got it!"
"Then how did you find me?"
The young farmer smiled a springtime smile.
"I dropped into that Home Restaurant next door this evening," said
he. "I don't care who knows it; I like a dish of some kind of greens
at this time of the year. I ran my eye down that nice typewritten
bill of fare looking for something in that line. When I got below
cabbage I turned my chair over and hollered for the proprietor. He
told me where you lived."
"I remember," sighed Sarah, happily. "That was dandelions below
"I'd know that cranky capital W 'way above the line that your
typewriter makes anywhere in the world," said Franklin.
"Why, there's no W in dandelions," said Sarah, in surprise.
The young man drew the bill of fare from his pocket, and pointed to
Sarah recognised the first card she had typewritten that afternoon.
There was still the rayed splotch in the upper right-hand corner
where a tear had fallen. But over the spot where one should have
read the name of the meadow plant, the clinging memory of their
golden blossoms had allowed her fingers to strike strange keys.
Between the red cabbage and the stuffed green peppers was the item:
"DEAREST WALTER, WITH HARD-BOILED EGG."