restlessly on his seat in Madison Square. There are certain signs to
show that winter is coming. Birds begin to fly south. Women who want
nice new warm coats become very kind to their husbands. And Soapy moves
restlessly on his seat in the park. When you see these signs, you know
that winter is near.
A dead leaf fell at Soapy’s feet. That was a special sign for him that
winter was coming. It was time for all who lived in Madison Square to
Soapy’s mind now realized the fact. The time had come. He had to find
some way to take care of himself during the cold weather. And therefore
he moved restlessly on his seat.
Soapy’s hopes for the winter were not very high. He was not thinking of
sailing away on a ship. He was not thinking of southern skies, or of the
Bay of Naples. Three months in the prison on Blackwell’s Island was what
he wanted. Three months of food every day and a bed every night. Three
months safe from the cold north wind and safe from cops. This seemed to
Soapy the most desirable thing in the world.
For years Blackwell’s Island had been his winter home. Richer New
Yorkers made their large plans to go to Florida or to the shore of the
Mediterranean Sea each winter. Soapy made his small plans for going to
And now the time had come. Three big newspapers, some under his coat and
some over his legs, had not kept him warm during the night in the park.
So Soapy was thinking of the Island.
There were places in the city where he could go and ask for food and a
bed. These would be given to him. He could move from one building to
another, and he would be taken care of through the winter. But he liked
Blackwell’s Island better.
Soapy’s spirit was proud. If he went to any of these places, there were
certain things he had to do. In one way or another, he would have to pay
for what they gave him. They would not ask him for money. But they would
make him wash his whole body. They would make him answer questions; they
would want to know everything about his life. No. Prison was better than
that. The prison had rules that he would have to follow. But in prison a
gentleman’s own life was still his own life.
Soapy, having decided to go to the Island, at once began to move toward
There were many easy ways of doing this. The most pleasant way was to go
and have a good dinner at some fine restaurant. Then he would say that
he had no money to pay. And then a cop would be called. It would all be
done very quietly. The cop would arrest him. He would be taken to a
judge. The judge would do the rest.
Soapy left his seat and walked out of Madison Square to the place where
the great street called Broadway and Fifth Avenue meet. He went across
this wide space and started north on Broadway. He stopped at a large and
brightly lighted restaurant. This was where the best food and the best
people in the best clothes appeared every evening.
Soapy believed that above his legs he looked all right. His face was
clean. His coat was good enough. If he could get to a table, he believed
that success would be his. The part of him that would be seen above the
table would look all right. The waiter would bring him what he asked for.
He began thinking of what he would like to eat. In his mind he could see
the whole dinner. The cost would not be too high. He did not want the
restaurant people to feel any real anger. But the dinner would leave him
filled and happy for the journey to his winter home.
But as Soapy put his foot inside the restaurant door, the head waiter
saw his broken old shoes and torn clothes that covered his legs. Strong
and ready hands turned Soapy around and moved him quietly and quickly
Soapy turned off Broadway. It seemed that this easy, this most desirable
way to the Island was not to be his. He must think of some other way of
At a corner of Sixth Avenue was a shop with a wide glass window, bright
with electric lights. Soapy picked up a big stone and threw it through
the glass. People came running around the corner. A cop was the first
among them. Soapy stood still and smiled when he saw the cop.
“Where’s the man that did that?” asked the cop.
“Don’t you think that I might have done it?” said Soapy. He was friendly
and happy. What he wanted was coming toward him.
But the cop’s mind would not consider Soapy. Men who break windows do
not stop there to talk to cops. They run away as fast as they can. The
cop saw a man further along the street, running. He ran after him. And
Soapy, sick at heart, walked slowly away. He had failed two times.
Across the street was another restaurant. It was not so fine as the one
on Broadway. The people who went there were not so rich. Its food was
not so good. Into this, Soapy took his old shoes and his torn clothes,
and no one stopped him. He sat down at a table and was soon eating a big
dinner. When he had finished, he said that he and money were strangers.
“Get busy and call a cop,” said Soapy. “And don’t keep a gentleman
“No cop for you,” said the waiter. He called another waiter.
The two waiters threw Soapy upon his left ear on the hard street outside.
He stood up slowly, one part at a time, and beat the dust from his
clothes. Prison seemed only a happy dream. The Island seemed very far
away. A cop who was standing near laughed and walked away.
Soapy traveled almost half a mile before he tried again. This time he
felt very certain that he would be successful. A nice-looking young
woman was standing before a shop window, looking at the objects inside.
Very near stood a large cop.
Soapy’s plan was to speak to the young woman. She seemed to be a very
nice young lady, who would not want a strange man to speak to her. She
would ask the cop for help. And then Soapy would be happy to feel the
cop’s hand on his arm. He would be on his way to the Island. He went
near her. He could see that the cop was already watching him. The young
woman moved away a few steps. Soapy followed. Standing beside her he
“Good evening, Bedelia! Don’t you want to come and play with me?”
The cop was still looking. The young woman had only to move her hand,
and Soapy would be on his way to the place where he wanted to go. He was
already thinking how warm he would be.
The young woman turned to him. Putting out her hand, she took his arm.
“Sure, Mike,” she said joyfully, “if you’ll buy me something to drink. I
would have spoken to you sooner, but the cop was watching.”
With the young woman holding his arm, Soapy walked past the cop. He was
filled with sadness. He was still free. Was he going to remain free
At the next corner he pulled his arm away, and ran.
When he stopped, he was near several theaters. In this part of the city,
streets are brighter and hearts are more joyful than in other parts.
Women and men in rich, warm coats moved happily in the winter air.
A sudden fear caught Soapy. No cop was going to arrest him. Then he came
to another cop standing in front of a big theater.
He thought of something else to try.
He began to shout as if he’d had too much to drink. His voice was as
loud as he could make it. He danced, he cried out.
And the cop turned his back to Soapy, and said to a man standing near
him, “It’s one of those college boys. He won’t hurt anything. We had
orders to let them shout.”
Soapy was quiet. Was no cop going to touch him? He began to think of the
Island as if it were as far away as heaven. He pulled his thin coat
around him. The wind was very cold.
Then he saw a man in the shop buying a newspaper. The man’s umbrella
stood beside the door. Soapy stepped inside the shop, took the umbrella,
and walked slowly away. The man followed him quickly.
“My umbrella,” he said.
“Oh, is it?” said Soapy. “Why don’t you call a cop? I took it. Your
umbrella! Why don’t you call a cop? There’s one standing at the corner.”The
man walked more slowly. Soapy did the same. But he had a feeling that he
was going to fail again. The cop looked at the two men.
“I — ” said the umbrella man — “that is — you know how these things
happen — I — if that’s your umbrella I’m very sorry — I — I found it
this morning in a restaurant — if you say it’s yours — I hope you’ll — ”
“It’s mine!” cried Soapy with anger in his voice.
The umbrella man hurried away. The cop helped a lady across the street.
Soapy walked east. He threw the umbrella as far as he could throw it. He
talked to himself about cops and what he thought of them. Because he
wished to be arrested, they seemed to believe he was like a king, who
could do no wrong. At last Soapy came to one of the quiet streets on the
east side of the city. He turned here and began to walk south toward
Madison Square. He was going home, although home was only a seat in the
But on a very quiet corner Soapy stopped. There was an old, old church.
Through one of the colored-glass window came a soft light. Sweet music
came to Soapy’s ears and seemed to hold him there.
The moon was above, peaceful and bright. There were few people passing.
He could hear birds high above him.
And the anthem that came from the church held Soapy there, for he had
known it well long ago. In those days his life contained such things as
mothers and flowers and high hopes and friends and clean thoughts and
Soapy’s mind was ready for something like this. He had come to the old
church at the right time. There was a sudden and wonderful change in his
soul. He saw with sick fear how he had fallen. He saw his worthless days,
his wrong desires, his dead hopes, the lost power of his mind.
And also in a moment his heart answered this change in his soul. He
would fight to change his life. He would pull himself up, out of the mud.
He would make a man of himself again.
There was time. He was young enough. He would find his old purpose in
life, and follow it. That sweet music had changed him. Tomorrow he would
find work. A man had once offered him a job. He would find that man
tomorrow. He would be somebody in the world. He would—
Soapy felt a hand on his arm. He looked quickly around into the broad
face of a cop.
“What are you doing hanging around here?” asked the cop. “Nothing,” said
“You think I believe that?” said the cop.
Full of his new strength, Soapy began to argue. And it is not wise to
argue with a New York cop.
“Come along,” said the cop.
“Three months on the Island,” said the Judge to Soapy the next morning.