He Also Serves
by O Henry
If I could have a thousand years—just one little thousand
years—more of life, I might, in that time, draw near enough to true
Romance to touch the hem of her robe.
Up from ships men come, and from waste places and forest and road
and garret and cellar to maunder to me in strangely distributed words
of the things they have seen and considered. The recording of their
tales is no more than a matter of ears and fingers. There are only
two fates I dread—deafness and writer's cramp. The hand is yet
steady; let the ear bear the blame if these printed words be not in
the order they were delivered to me by Hunky Magee, true camp-follower
Biography shall claim you but an instant—I first knew Hunky when
he was head-waiter at Chubb's little beefsteak restaurant and cafe on
Third Avenue. There was only one waiter besides.
Then, successively, I caromed against him in the little streets of
the Big City after his trip to Alaska, his voyage as cook with a
treasure- seeking expedition to the Caribbean, and his failure as a
pearl-fisher in the Arkansas River. Between these dashes into the
land of adventure he usually came back to Chubb's for a while.
Chubb's was a port for him when gales blew too high; but when you
dined there and Hunky went for your steak you never knew whether he
would come to anchor in the kitchen or in the Malayan Archipelago.
You wouldn't care for his description—he was soft of voice and hard
of face, and rarely had to use more than one eye to quell any approach
to a disturbance among Chubb's customers.
One night I found Hunky standing at a corner of Twenty-third Street
and Third Avenue after an absence of several months. In ten minutes
we had a little round table between us in a quiet corner, and my ears
began to get busy. I leave out my sly ruses and feints to draw
Hunky's word-of-mouth blows—it all came to something like this:
"Speaking of the next election," said Hunky, "did you ever know
much about Indians? No? I don't mean the Cooper, Beadle, cigar-store,
or Laughing Water kind-I mean the modern Indian—the kind that takes
Greek prizes in colleges and scalps the half-back on the other side in
football games. The kind that eats macaroons and tea in the
afternoons with the daughter of the professor of biology, and fills up
on grasshoppers and fried rattlesnake when they get back to the
"Well, they ain't so bad. I like 'em better than most foreigners
that have come over in the last few hundred years. One thing about
the Indian is this: when he mixes with the white race he swaps all his
own vices for them of the pale-faces—and he retains all his own
virtues. Well, his virtues are enough to call out the reserves
whenever he lets 'em loose. But the imported foreigners adopt our
virtues and keep their own vices—and it's going to take our whole
standing army some day to police that gang.
"But let me tell you about the trip I took to Mexico with High jack
Snakefeeder, a Cherokee twice removed, a graduate of a Pennsylvania
college and the latest thing in pointed-toed, rubber-heeled, patent
kid moccasins and Madras hunting-shirt with turned-back cuffs. He was
a friend of mine. I met him in Tahlequah when I was out there during
the land boom, and we got thick. He had got all there was out of
colleges and had come back to lead his people out of Egypt. He was a
man of first-class style and wrote essays, and had been invited to
visit rich guys' houses in Boston and such places.
"There was a Cherokee girl in Muscogee that High Jack was foolish
about. He took me to see her a few times. Her name was Florence Blue
Feather—but you want to clear your mind of all ideas of squaws with
nose-rings and army blankets. This young lady was whiter than you
are, and better educated than I ever was. You couldn't have told her
from any of the girls shopping in the swell Third Avenue stores. I
liked her so well that, I got to calling on her now and then when High
Jack wasn't along, which is the way of friends in such matters. She
was educated at the Muscogee College, and was making a specialty of—
let's see—eth—yes, ethnology. That's the art that goes back and
traces the descent of different races of people, leading up from
jelly-fish through monkeys and to the O'Briens. High Jack had took up
that line too, and had read papers about it before all kinds of
riotous assemblies—Chautauquas and Choctaws and chowder-parties, and
such. Having a mutual taste for musty information like that was what
made 'em like each other, I suppose. But I don't know! What they
call congeniality of tastes ain't always it. Now, when Miss Blue
Feather and me was talking together, I listened to her affidavits
about the first families of the Land of Nod being cousins german
(well, if the Germans don't nod, who does?) to the mound-builders of
Ohio with incomprehension and respect. And when I'd tell her about
the Bowery and Coney Island, and sing her a few songs that I'd heard
the Jamaica niggers sing at their church lawn-parties, she didn't look
much less interested than she did when High Jack would tell her that
he had a pipe that the first inhabitants of America originally arrived
here on stilts after a freshet at Tenafly, New Jersey.
"But I was going to tell you more about High Jack.
"About six months ago I get a letter from him, saying he'd been
commissioned by the Minority Report Bureau of Ethnology at Washington
to go down to Mexico and translate some excavations or dig up the
meaning of some shorthand notes on some ruins—or something of that
sort. And if I'd go along he could squeeze the price into the expense
"Well, I'd been holding a napkin over my arm at Chubb's about long
enough then, so I wired High Jack 'Yes'; and he sent me a ticket, and
I met him in Washington, and he had a lot of news to tell me. First
of all, was that Florence Blue Feather had suddenly disappeared from
her home and environments.
"'Run away?' I asked.
"'Vanished,' says High Jack. 'Disappeared like your shadow when
the sun goes under a cloud. She was seen on the street, and then she
turned a corner and nobody ever seen her afterward. The whole
community turned out to look for her, but we never found a clew.'
"'That's bad—that's bad,' says I. 'She was a mighty nice girl,
and as smart as you find em.
"High Jack seemed to take it hard. I guess he must have esteemed
Miss Blue Feather quite highly. I could see that he'd referred the
matter to the whiskey-jug. That was his weak point—and many another
man's. I've noticed that when a man loses a girl he generally takes to
drink either just before or just after it happens.
"From Washington we railroaded it to New Orleans, and there took a
tramp steamer bound for Belize. And a gale pounded us all down the
Caribbean, and nearly wrecked us on the Yucatan coast opposite a
little town without a harbor called Boca de Coacoyula. Suppose the
ship had run against that name in the dark!
"'Better fifty years of Europe than a cyclone in the bay,' says
High Jack Snakefeeder. So we get the captain to send us ashore in a
dory when the squall seemed to cease from squalling.
"'We will find ruins here or make 'em,' says High. 'The Government
doesn't care which we do. An appropriation is an appropriation.'
"Boca de Coacoyula was a dead town. Them biblical towns we read
about—Tired and Siphon—after they was destroyed, they must have
looked like Forty-second Street and Broadway compared to this Boca
place. It still claimed 1300 inhabitants as estimated and engraved on
the stone court-house by the census-taker in 1597. The citizens were
a mixture of Indians and other Indians; but some of 'em was light-
colored, which I was surprised to see. The town was huddled up on the
shore, with woods so thick around it that a subpoena-server couldn't
have reached a monkey ten yards away with the papers. We wondered
what kept it from being annexed to Kansas; but we soon found out that
it was Major Bing.
"Major Bing was the ointment around the fly. He had the cochineal,
sarsaparilla, log-wood, annatto, hemp, and all other dye-woods and
pure food adulteration concessions cornered. He had five-sixths of
the Boca de Thingama jiggers working for him on shares. It was a
beautiful graft. We used to brag about Morgan and E. H. and others
of our wisest when I was in the provinces—but now no more. That
peninsula has got our little country turned into a submarine without
even the observation tower showing.
"Major Bing's idea was this. He had the population go forth into
the forest and gather these products. When they brought 'em in he
gave 'em one-fifth for their trouble. Sometimes they'd strike and
demand a sixth. The Major always gave in to 'em.
"The Major had a bungalow so close on the sea that the nine-inch
tide seeped through the cracks in the kitchen floor. Me and him and
High Jack Snakefeeder sat on the porch and drank rum from noon till
midnight. He said he had piled up $300,000 in New Orleans banks, and
High and me could stay with him forever if we would. But High Jack
happened to think of the United States, and began to talk ethnology.
"'Ruins!' says Major Bing. 'The woods are full of 'em. I don't
know how far they date back, but they was here before I came.'
"High Jack asks what form of worship the citizens of that locality
are addicted to.
"'Why,' says the Major, rubbing his nose, 'I can't hardly say. I
imagine it's infidel or Aztec or Nonconformist or something like that.
There's a church here—a Methodist or some other kind—with a parson
named Skidder. He claims to have converted the people to
Christianity. He and me don't assimilate except on state occasions.
I imagine they worship some kind of gods or idols yet. But Skidder
says he has 'em in the fold.'
"A few days later High Jack and me, prowling around, strikes a
plain path into the forest, and follows it a good four miles. Then a
branch turns to the left. We go a mile, maybe, down that, and run up
against the finest ruin you ever saw—solid stone with trees and vines
and under-brush all growing up against it and in it and through it.
All over it was chiselled carvings of funny beasts and people that
would have been arrested if they'd ever come out in vaudeville that
way. We approached it from the rear.
"High Jack had been drinking too much rum ever since we landed in
Boca. You know how an Indian is—the palefaces fixed his clock when
they introduced him to firewater. He'd brought a quart along with
"'Hunky,' says he, 'we'll explore the ancient temple. It may be
that the storin that landed us here was propitious. The Minority
Report Bureau of Ethnology,' says he, 'may yet profit by the vagaries
of wind and tide.'
"We went in the rear door of the bum edifice. We struck a kind of
alcove without bath. There was a granite davenport, and a stone wash-
stand without any soap or exit for the water, and some hardwood pegs
drove into holes in the wall, and that was all. To go out of that
furnished apartment into a Harlem hall bedroom would make you feel
like getting back home from an amateur violoncello solo at an East
Side Settlement house.
"While High was examining some hieroglyphics on the wall that the
stone-masons must have made when their tools slipped, I stepped into
the front room. That was at least thirty by fifty feet, stone floor,
six little windows like square port-holes that didn't let much light
"I looked back over my shoulder, and sees High Jack's face three
"'High,' says I, 'of all the—'
"And then I noticed he looked funny, and I turned around.
"He'd taken off his clothes to the waist, and he didn't seem to
hear me. I touched him, and came near beating it. High Jack had
turned to stone. I had been drinking some rum myself.
"'Ossified!' I says to him, loudly. 'I knew what would happen if
you kept it up.'
"And then High Jack comes in from the alcove when he hears me
conversing with nobody, and we have a look at Mr. Snakefeeder No. 2.
It's a stone idol, or god, or revised statute or something, and it
looks as much like High Jack as one green pea looks like itself. It's
got exactly his face and size and color, but it's steadier on its
pins. It stands on a kind of rostrum or pedestal, and you can see
it's been there ten million years.
"'He's a cousin of mine,' sings High, and then he turns solemn.
"'Hunky,' he says, putting one hand on my shoulder and one on the
statue's, 'I'm in the holy temple of my ancestors.'
"'Well, if looks goes for anything,' says I, 'you've struck a twin.
Stand side by side with buddy, and let's see if there's any
"There wasn't. You know an Indian can keep his face as still as an
iron dog's when he wants to, so when High Jack froze his features you
couldn't have told him from the other one.
"'There's some letters,' says I, 'on his nob's pedestal, but I
can't make 'em out. The alphabet of this country seems to be composed
of sometimes a, e, I, o, and u, but generally z's, l's, and t's.'
"High Jack's ethnology gets the upper hand of his rum for a minute,
and he investigates the inscription.
"'Hunky,' says he, 'this is a statue of Tlotopaxl, one of the most
powerful gods of the ancient Aztecs.'
"'Glad to know him,' says I, 'but in his present condition he
reminds me of the joke Shakespeare got off on Julius Caesar. We might
say about your friend:
"'Imperious what's-his-name, dead and tunied to stone—
No use to write or call him on the 'phone.'
"'Hunky,' says High Jack Snakefeeder, looking at me funny, 'do you
believe in reincarnation?'
"'It sounds to me,' says I, 'like either a clean-up of the
slaughter- houses or a new kind of Boston pink. I don't know.'
"'I believe,' says he, 'that I am the reincarnation of Tlotopaxl.
My researches have convinced me that the Cherokees, of all the North
American tribes, can boast of the straightest descent from the proud
Aztec race. That,' says he, 'was a favorite theory of mine and
Florence Blue Feather's. And she—what' if she—!'
"High Jack grabs my arm and walls his eyes at me. Just then he
looked more like his eminent co-Indian murderer, Crazy Horse.
"'Well,' says I, 'what if she, what if she, what if she? You're
drunk,' says I. 'Impersonating idols and believing in—what was it ?-
-recarnalization? Let's have a drink,' says I. 'It's as spooky here
as a Brooklyn artificial-limb factory at midnight with the gas turned
"Just then I heard somebody coming, and I dragged High Jack into
the bedless bedchamber. There was peep-holes bored through the wall,
so we could see the whole front part of the temple.
Major Bing told me afterward that the ancient priests in charge
used to rubber through them at the congregation.
"In a few minutes an old Indian woman came in with a' big oval
earthen dish full of grub. She set it on a square block of stone in
front of the graven image, and laid down and walloped her face on the
floor a few times, and then took a walk for herself.
"High Jack and me was hungry, so we came out and looked it over.
There was goat steaks and fried rice-cakes, and plantains and cassava,
and broiled land-crabs and mangoes—nothing like what you get at
"We ate hearty—and had another round of rum.
"'It must be old Tecumseh's—or whatever you call him—birthday,'
says I. 'Or do they feed him every day? I thought gods only drank
vanilla on Mount Catawampus.'
"Then some more native parties in short kimonos that showed their
aboriginees punctured the near-horizon, and me and High had to skip
back into Father Axletree's private boudoir. They came by ones, twos,
and threes, and left all sorts of offerings—there was enough grub for
Bingham's nine gods of war, with plenty left over for the Peace
Conference at The Hague. They brought jars of honey, and bunches of
bananas, and bottles of wine, and stacks of tortillas, and beautiful
shawls worth one hundred dollars apiece that the Indian women weave of
a kind of vegetable fibre like silk. All of 'em got down and wriggled
on the floor in front of that hard-finish god, and then sneaked off
through the woods again.
"'I wonder who gets this rake-off?' remarks High Jack.
"'Oh,' says I, 'there's priests or deputy idols or a committee of
disarrangements somewhere in the woods on the job. Wherever you find
a god you'll find somebody waiting to take charge of the burnt
"And then we took another swig of rum and walked out to the parlor
front door to cool off, for it was as hot inside as a summer camp on
"And while we stood there in the breeze we looks down the path and
sees a young lady approaching the blasted ruin. She was bare-footed
and had on a white robe, and carried a wreath of white flowers in her
hand. When she got nearer we saw she had a long blue feather stuck
through her black hair. And when she got nearer still me and High
Jack Snakefeeder grabbed each other to keep from tumbling down on the
floor; for the girl's face was as much like Florence Blue Feather's as
his was like old King Toxicology's.
"And then was when High Jack's booze drowned his system of
ethnology. He dragged me inside back of the statue, and says:
"'Lay hold of it, Hunky. We'll pack it into the other room. I
felt it all the time,' says he. 'I'm the reconsideration of the god
Locomotorataxia, and Florence Blue Feather was my bride a thousand
years ago. She has come to seek me in the temple where I used to
"'All right,' says I. 'There's no use arguing against the rum
question. You take his feet.'
"We lifted the three-hundred-pound stone god, and carried him into
the back room of the cafe—the temple, I mean—and leaned him against
the wall. It was more work than bouncing three live ones from an all-
night Broadway joint on New-Year's Eve.
"Then High Jack ran out and brought in a couple of them Indian silk
shawls and began to undress himself.
"'Oh, figs!' says I. 'Is it thus? Strong drink is an adder and
subtractor, too. Is it the heat or the call of the wild that's got
"But High Jack is too full of exaltation and cane-juice to reply.
He stops the disrobing business just short of the Manhattan Beach
rules, and then winds them red-and-white shawls around him, and goes
out and. stands on the pedestal as steady as any platinum deity you
ever saw. And I looks through a peek-hole to see what he is up to.
"In a few minutes in comes the girl with the flower wreath. Danged
if I wasn't knocked a little silly when she got close, she looked so
exactly much like Florence Blue Feather. 'I wonder,' says I to
myself, 'if she has been reincarcerated, too? If I could see,' says I
to myself, 'whether she has a mole on her left—' But the next minute
I thought she looked one-eighth of a shade darker than Florence; but
she looked good at that. And High Jack hadn't drunk all the rum that
had been drank.
"The girl went up within ten feet of the bum idol, and got down and
massaged her nose with the floor, like the rest did. Then she went
nearer and laid the flower wreath on the block of stone at High Jack's
feet. Rummy as I was, I thought it was kind of nice of her to think
of offering flowers instead of household and kitchen provisions. Even
a stone god ought to appreciate a little sentiment like that on top of
the fancy groceries they had piled up in front of him.
"And then High Jack steps down from his pedestal, quiet, and
mentions a few words that sounded just like the hieroglyphics carved
on the walls of the ruin. The girl gives a little jump backward, and
her eyes fly open as big as doughnuts; but she don't beat it.
"Why didn't she? I'll tell you why I think why. It don't seem to
a girl so supernatural, unlikely, strange, and startling that a stone
god should come to life for her. If he was to do it for one of them
snub-nosed brown girls on the other side of the woods, now, it would
be different—but her! I'll bet she said to herself:
'Well, goodness me! you've been a long time getting on your job.
I've half a mind not to speak to you.'
"But she and High Jack holds hands and walks away out of the temple
together. By the time I'd had time to take another drink and enter
upon the scene they was twenty yards away, going up the path in the
woods that the girl had come down. With the natural scenery already
in place, it was just like a play to watch 'em—she looking up at him,
and him giving her back the best that an Indian can hand, out in the
way of a goo-goo eye. But there wasn't anything in that
recarnification and revulsion to tintype for me.
"'Hey! Injun!' I yells out to High Jack.
'We've got a board-bill due in town, and you're leaving me without
a cent. Brace up and cut out the Neapolitan fisher-maiden, and let's
go back home.'
"But on the two goes; without looking once back until, as you might
say, the forest swallowed 'em up. And I never saw or heard of High
Jack Snakefeeder from that day to this. I don't know if the Cherokees
came from the Aspics; but if they did, one of 'em went back.
"All I could do was to hustle back to that Boca place and panhandle
Major Bing. He detached himself from enough of his winnings to buy me
a ticket home. And I'm back again on the job at Chubb's, sir, and I'm
going to hold it steady. Come round, and you'll find the steaks as
good as ever."
I wondered what Hunky Magee thought about his own story; so I asked
him if he had any theories about reincarnation and transmogrification
and such mysteries as he had touched upon.
"Nothing like that," said Hunky, positively. "What ailed High Jack
was too much booze and education. They'll do an Indian up every
"But what about Miss Blue Feather?" I persisted.
"Say," said Hunky, with a grin, "that little lady that stole High
Jack certainly did give me a jar when I first took a look at her, but
it was only for a minute. You remember I told you High Jack said that
Miss Florence Blue Feather disappeared from home about a year ago?
Well, where she landed four days later was in as neat a five-room flat
on East Twenty-third Street as you ever walked sideways through—and
she's been Mrs. Magee ever since."