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O. Henry

Reading Books


The most popular and recent advertising dodge in literature is the Grand Guess Contest Mystery Story. Everybody is invited to guess how the story will end, at any time before the last chapter is published, and incidentally to buy a paper or subscribe. It is the easiest thing in the world to write a story of mystery that will defy the most ingenious guessers in the country.

To prove it, here is one that we offer $10,000 to any man and $15,000 to any woman who guesses the mystery before the last chapter.

The synopsis of the story is alone given, as literary style is not our object we want mystery.


Judge Smith, a highly esteemed citizen of Plunkville, is found murdered in his bed at his home. He has been stabbed with a pair of scissors, poisoned with `rough on rats.' His throat has been cut with an ivory handled razor, an artery in his arm has been opened, and he has been shot full of buckshot from a double-barreled gun.

The coroner is summoned and the room examined. On the ceiling is a bloody footprint, and on the floor are found a lady's lace handkerchief, embroidered with the initials ` J. B.,' a package of cigarettes and a ham sandwich. The coroner renders a verdict of suicide.


The judge leaves a daughter, Mabel, aged eighteen, and ravishingly lovely. The night before the murder she exhibited a revolver and an axe in the principal saloon in town and declared her intention of `doing up' the old man. The judge has his life insured for $100,000 in her favor. Nobody suspects her of the crime.

Mabel is engaged to a young man named Charlie, who is seen on the night of the murder by several citizens climbing out the judge's window with a bloody razor and a shotgun in his hand. Society gives Charlie the cold shoulder.

A tramp is run over by a street car and before dying confesses to having committed the murder, and at the judge's funeral his brother, Colonel Smith, breaks down and acknowledges having killed the judge in order to get his watch. Mabel sends to Chicago and employs a skilled detective to work up the case.


A beautiful strange lady dressed in mourning comes to Plunkville and registers at the hotel as Jane Bumgartner. (The initials on the handkerchief!)

The next day a Chinaman is found who denies having killed the judge, and is arrested by the detective. The strange lady meets Charlie on the street, and, on smelling the smoke from his cigarette, faints. Mabel discards him and engages herself to the Chinaman.


While the Chinaman is being tried for murder, Jane Bumgartner testifies that she saw the detective murder Judge Smith at the instance of the minister who con-ducted the funeral, and that Mabel is Charlie's step-mother. The Chinaman is about to confess when foot-steps are heard approaching. The next chapter will be the last, and it is safe to say that no one will find it easy to guess the ending of the story. To show how difficult this feat is, the last chapter is now given.


The footsteps prove to be those of Thomas R. Hefllebomer of Washington Territory, who introduces positive proof of having murdered the judge during a fit of mental aberration, and Mabel marries a man named Tompkins, whom she met two years later at Hot Springs.

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.

This tribute to Bill Nye has the added interest of containing O. Henry's only known reference to humor as a whole:

Bill Nye, who recently laid down his pen for all time, was a unique figure in the field of humor. His best work probably more nearly represented American Humor than that of any other writer. Mr. Nye had a sense of the ludicrous that was keen and judicious. His humor was peculiarly American in that it depended upon sharp and unexpected contrasts and the bringing of opposites into unlooked for comparison for its effect. Again, he had the true essence of kindliness, without which humor is stripped of its greatest component part. His was the child's heart, the scholar's knowledge, and the philosopher's view of life. The world has been better for him, and when that can be said of a man the tears that drop upon his grave are more potent than the loud huzzas that follow the requiem of the greatest conqueror or the most successful statesman. The kindliest thoughts and the sincerest prayers follow the great humanitarian for such he was into the great beyond, and such solace as the hearty condolement of a million people can bring to the bereaved loved ones of Bill Nye is theirs.

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