A Cosmopolite in A Cafe by O Henry
At midnight the cafe was crowded. By some chance the little table
at which I sat had escaped the eye of incomers, and two vacant chairs
at it extended their arms with venal hospitality to the influx of
And then a cosmopolite sat in one of them, and I was glad, for I held
a theory that since Adam no true citizen of the world has existed.
We hear of them, and we see foreign labels on much luggage, but we
find travellers instead of cosmopolites.
I invoke your consideration of the scene--the marble-topped tables,
the range of leather-upholstered wall seats, the gay company, the
ladies dressed in demi-state toilets, speaking in an exquisite
visible chorus of taste, economy, opulence or art; the sedulous and
largess-loving ~garcons~, the music wisely catering to all with its
raids upon the composers; the ~melange~ of talk and laughter--and,
if you will, the Wurzburger in the tall glass cones that bend to your
lips as a ripe cherry sways on its branch to the beak of a robber
jay. I was told by a sculptor from Mauch Chunk that the scene was
My cosmopolite was named E. Rushmore Coglan, and he will be heard
from next summer at Coney Island. He is to establish a new
"attraction" there, he informed me, offering kingly diversion. And
then his conversation rang along parallels of latitude and longitude.
He took the great, round world in his hand, so to speak, familiarly,
contemptuously, and it seemed no larger than the seed of a Maraschino
cherry in a ~table d'hote~ grape fruit. He spoke disrespectfully of
the equator, he skipped from continent to continent, he derided the
zones, he mopped up the high seas with his napkin. With a wave of
his hand he would speak of a certain bazaar in Hyderabad. Whiff! He
would have you on skis in Lapland. Zip! Now you rode the breakers
with the Kanakas at Kealaikahiki. Presto! He dragged you through an
Arkansas post-oak swamp, let you dry for a moment on the alkali
plains of his Idaho ranch, then whirled you into the society of
Viennese archdukes. Anon he would be telling you of a cold he
acquired in a Chicago lake breeze and how old Escamila cured it in
Buenos Ayres with a hot infusion of the ~chuchula~ weed. You would
have addressed a letter to "E. Rushmore Coglan, Esq., the Earth,
Solar System, the Universe," and have mailed it, feeling confident
that it would be delivered to him.
I was sure that I had found at last the one true cosmopolite since
Adam, and I listened to his worldwide discourse fearful lest I should
discover in it the local note of the mere globe-trotter. But his
opinions never fluttered or drooped; he was as impartial to cities,
countries and continents as the winds or gravitation. And as
E. Rushmore Coglan prattled of this little planet I thought with glee
of a great almost-cosmopolite who wrote for the whole world and
dedicated himself to Bombay. In a poem he has to say that there is
pride and rivalry between the cities of the earth, and that "the men
that breed from them, they traffic up and down, but cling to their
cities' hem as a child to the mother's gown." And whenever they walk
"by roaring streets unknown" they remember their native city "most
faithful, foolish, fond; making her mere-breathed name their bond
upon their bond." And my glee was roused because I had caught Mr.
Kipling napping. Here I had found a man not made from dust; one who
had no narrow boasts of birthplace or country, one who, if he bragged
at all, would brag of his whole round globe against the Martians and
the inhabitants of the Moon.
Expression on these subjects was precipitated from E. Rushmore Coglan
by the third corner to our table. While Coglan was describing to me
the topography along the Siberian Railway the orchestra glided into
a medley. The concluding air was "Dixie," and as the exhilarating
notes tumbled forth they were almost overpowered by a great clapping
of hands from almost every table.
It is worth a paragraph to say that this remarkable scene can be
witnessed every evening in numerous cafes in the City of New York.
Tons of brew have been consumed over theories to account for it.
Some have conjectured hastily that all Southerners in town hie
themselves to cafes at nightfall. This applause of the "rebel" air
in a Northern city does puzzle a little; but it is not insolvable.
The war with Spain, many years' generous mint and watermelon crops,
a few long-shot winners at the New Orleans race-track, and the
brilliant banquets given by the Indiana and Kansas citizens who
compose the North Carolina Society have made the South rather a
"fad" in Manhattan. Your manicure will lisp softly that your left
forefinger reminds her so much of a gentleman's in Richmond, Va.
Oh, certainly; but many a lady has to work now--the war, you know.
When "Dixie" was being played a dark-haired young man sprang up from
somewhere with a Mosby guerrilla yell and waved frantically his soft-
brimmed hat. Then he strayed through the smoke, dropped into the
vacant chair at our table and pulled out cigarettes.
The evening was at the period when reserve is thawed. One of us
mentioned three Wurzburgers to the waiter; the dark-haired young man
acknowledged his inclusion in the order by a smile and a nod. I
hastened to ask him a question because I wanted to try out a theory
"Would you mind telling me," I began, "whether you are from--"
The fist of E. Rushmore Coglan banged the table and I was jarred into
"Excuse me," said he, "but that's a question I never like to hear
asked. What does it matter where a man is from? Is it fair to judge
a man by his post-office address? Why, I've seen Kentuckians who
hated whiskey, Virginians who weren't descended from Pocahontas,
Indianians who hadn't written a novel, Mexicans who didn't wear
velvet trousers with silver dollars sewed along the seams, funny
Englishmen, spendthrift Yankees, cold-blooded Southerners, narrow-
minded Westerners, and New Yorkers who were too busy to stop for an
hour on the street to watch a one-armed grocer's clerk do up
cranberries in paper bags. Let a man be a man and don't handicap him
with the label of any section."
"Pardon me," I said, "but my curiosity was not altogether an idle
one. I know the South, and when the band plays 'Dixie' I like to
observe. I have formed the belief that the man who applauds that air
with special violence and ostensible sectional loyalty is invariably
a native of either Secaucus, N.J., or the district between Murray
Hill Lyceum and the Harlem River, this city. I was about to put my
opinion to the test by inquiring of this gentleman when you
interrupted with your own--larger theory, I must confess."
And now the dark-haired young man spoke to me, and it became evident
that his mind also moved along its own set of grooves.
"I should like to be a periwinkle," said he, mysteriously, "on the
top of a valley, and sing tooralloo-ralloo."
This was clearly too obscure, so I turned again to Coglan.
"I've been around the world twelve times," said he. "I know an
Esquimau in Upernavik who sends to Cincinnati for his neckties, and
I saw a goatherder in Uruguay who won a prize in a Battle Creek
breakfast food puzzle competition. I pay rent on a room in Cairo,
Egypt, and another in Yokohama all the year around. I've got
slippers waiting for me in a tea-house in Shanghai, and I don't have
to tell 'em how to cook my eggs in Rio de Janeiro or Seattle. It's a
mighty little old world. What's the use of bragging about being from
the North, or the South, or the old manor house in the dale, or
Euclid avenue, Cleveland, or Pike's Peak, or Fairfax County, Va., or
Hooligan's Flats or any place? It'll be a better world when we quit
being fools about some mildewed town or ten acres of swampland just
because we happened to be born there."
"You seem to be a genuine cosmopolite," I said admiringly. "But it
also seems that you would decry patriotism."
"A relic of the stone age," declared Coglan, warmly. "We are all
brothers--Chinamen, Englishmen, Zulus, Patagonians and the people
in the bend of the Kaw River. Some day all this petty pride in one's
city or State or section or country will be wiped out, and we'll all
be citizens of the world, as we ought to be."
"But while you are wandering in foreign lands," I persisted, "do not
your thoughts revert to some spo--some dear and--"
"Nary a spot," interrupted E. R. Coglan, flippantly. "The
terrestrial, globular, planetary hunk of matter, slightly flattened
at the poles, and known as the Earth, is my abode. I've met a good
many object-bound citizens of this country abroad. I've seen men
from Chicago sit in a gondola in Venice on a moonlight night and brag
about their drainage canal. I've seen a Southerner on being
introduced to the King of England hand that monarch, without batting
his eyes, the information that his grandaunt on his mother's side was
related by marriage to the Perkinses, of Charleston. I knew a New
Yorker who was kidnapped for ransom by some Afghanistan bandits. His
people sent over the money and he came back to Kabul with the agent.
'Afghanistan?' the natives said to him through an interpreter.
'Well, not so slow, do you think?' 'Oh, I don't know,' says he, and
he begins to tell them about a cab driver at Sixth avenue and
Broadway. Those ideas don't suit me. I'm not tied down to anything
that isn't 8,000 miles in diameter. Just put me down as E. Rushmore
Coglan, citizen of the terrestrial sphere."
My cosmopolite made a large adieu and left me, for he thought he saw
some one through the chatter and smoke whom he knew. So I was left
with the would-be periwinkle, who was reduced to Wurzburger without
further ability to voice his aspirations to perch, melodious, upon
the summit of a valley.
I sat reflecting upon my evident cosmopolite and wondering how the
poet had managed to miss him. He was my discovery and I believed in
him. How was it? "The men that breed from them they traffic up and
down, but cling to their cities' hem as a child to the mother's
Not so E. Rushmore Coglan. With the whole world for his--
My meditations were interrupted by a tremendous noise and conflict
in another part of the cafe. I saw above the heads of the seated
patrons E. Rushmore Coglan and a stranger to me engaged in terrific
battle. They fought between the tables like Titans, and glasses
crashed, and men caught their hats up and were knocked down, and a
brunette screamed, and a blonde began to sing "Teasing."
My cosmopolite was sustaining the pride and reputation of the Earth
when the waiters closed in on both combatants with their famous
flying wedge formation and bore them outside, still resisting.
I called McCarthy, one of the French ~garcons~, and asked him the
cause of the conflict.
"The man with the red tie" (that was my cosmopolite), said he, "got
hot on account of things said about the bum sidewalks and water
supply of the place he come from by the other guy."
"Why," said I, bewildered, "that man is a citizen of the world--a
"Originally from Mattawamkeag, Maine, he said," continued McCarthy,
"and he wouldn't stand for no knockin' the place."