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Soapy’s Choice

Soapy’s Choice by O’Henry

Soapy sat on a seat in Madison Square, New York, and looked up at the sky. A dead leaf fell onto his arm. Winter was coming, and Soapy knew that he must make his plans. He moved unhappily on his seat.

He wanted three months in a nice, warm prison, with food and good friends. This was how he usually spent his winters. And now it was time, because, at night on his seat in the square, three newspapers did not keep out the cold.

So Soapy decided to go to prison, and at once began to try his first plan. It was usually easy. He ate dinner in an expensive restaurant. Then he told them he had no money and they called a policeman. Nice and easy, with no trouble.

So Soapy left his seat, and walked slowly along the street. Soon he came to a bright restaurant on Broadway. Ah! This was all right. He just had to get to a table in the restaurant and sit down. That was all, because, when he sat down, people could only see his coat and his shirt, which were not very old. Nobody could see his trousers. He thought about the meal – not too expensive, but good.

But when Soapy went into the restaurant, the waiter saw Soapy’s dirty old trousers and terrible shoes.

Strong hands turned him round and helped him out into the street again.

So now he had to think of something different. Soapy walked away from Broadway and soon he found himself on Sixth Avenue. He stopped in front of a shop window and looked at it. It was nice and bright, and everybody in the street could see him. Slowly and carefully he picked up a stone and threw it at the window. The glass broke with a loud noise. People ran round the corner and Soapy was happy, because the man in front was a policeman. Soapy did not move. He stood there with his hands in his pockets, and he smiled. ‘I’ll soon be in prison now,’ he thought.

The policeman came up to Soapy. ‘Who did that?’ he asked.

‘Perhaps I did,’ Soapy replied.

But the policeman knew that people who break windows do not stop to talk to policemen. They run away. And just then the policeman saw another man, who was running to catch a bus. So the policeman ran after him. Soapy watched for a minute. Then he walked away. No luck again! He began to feel cross.

But on the opposite side of the road he saw a little restaurant. ‘Ah, that’ll be all right,’ he thought, and he went in. This time nobody looked at his trousers and his shoes. He enjoyed his meal, and then he looked up at the waiter, smiled and said, ‘I haven’t got any money, you know. Now, call the police. And do it quickly. I’m tired!’

‘No police for you!’ the waiter answered. ‘Hey! Jo!’

Another waiter came, and together they threw Soapy out into the cold street. Soapy lay there, very angry. With difficulty, he stood up. His nice warm prison was still far away, and Soapy was very unhappy. He felt worse because a policeman, who was standing near, laughed and walked away.

Soapy moved on, but he walked for a long time before he tried again. This time it looked easy.

A nice young woman was standing in front of a shop window. Not very far away there was also a policeman. Soapy moved nearer to the young woman. He saw that the policeman was watching him. Then he said to the young woman, with a smile, ‘Why don’t you come with me, my dear? I can give you a good time.’

The young woman moved away a little and looked more carefully into the shop window. Soapy looked at the policeman. Yes, he was still watching. Then he spoke to the young woman again. In a minute she would call the policeman. Soapy could almost see the prison doors. Suddenly, the young woman took hold of his arm.

‘OK,’ she said happily. ‘If you buy me a drink. Let’s go before that policeman sees us.’

And poor Soapy walked away with the young woman, who still held on to his arm. He was very unhappy.

At the next corner he ran away from the woman. Suddenly he was afraid. ‘I’m never going to get to prison,’ he thought.

Slowly, he walked on and came to a street with a lot of theatres. There were a lot of people there, rich people in their best clothes. Soapy had to do something to get to prison. He did not want to spend another night on his seat in Madison Square. What could he do? Then he saw a policeman near him, so he began to sing and shout and make a lot of noise. This time they must send him to prison. But the policeman turned his back to Soapy and said to a man who was standing near, ‘He’s had too much to drink, but he’s not dangerous. We’ll leave him alone tonight.’

What was the matter with the police? Soapy was really unhappy now, but he stopped making a noise. How could he get to prison? The wind was cold, and he pulled his thin coat around him.

But, just then, inside a shop, he saw a man with an expensive umbrella. The man put his umbrella down near the door, and took out a cigarette. Soapy went into the shop, picked up the umbrella, and, slowly, he began to walk away. The man came quickly after him.

‘That’s my umbrella,’ he said.

‘Oh, is it?’ Soapy replied. ‘Then why don’t you call a policeman? I took it, and you say it’s your umbrella. Go on, then. Call a policeman! Look! There’s one on the corner.’

The umbrella man looked unhappy. ‘Well, you know, perhaps I’ve made a mistake. I took it from a restaurant this morning. If it’s yours, well, I’m very sorry . . .’

‘Of course it’s my umbrella,’ Soapy said.

The policeman looked at them — and the umbrella man walked away. The policeman went to help a beautiful young girl to cross the road.

Soapy was really angry now. He threw the umbrella away and said many bad things about policemen. Just because he wanted to go to prison, they did not want to send him there. He could do nothing wrong!

He began to walk back to Madison Square and home — his seat.

But on a quiet corner, Soapy suddenly stopped. Here, in the middle of the city, was a beautiful old church. Through one purple window he could see a soft light, and sweet music was coming from inside the church. The moon was high in the sky and everything was quiet. For a few seconds it was like a country church and Soapy remembered other, happier days. He thought of the days when he had a mother, and friends, and beautiful things in his life.

Then he thought about his life now — the empty days, the dead plans. And then a wonderful thing happened. Soapy decided to change his life and be a new man. ‘Tomorrow,’ he said to himself, ‘I’ll go into town and find work. My life will be good again. I’ll be somebody important. Everything will be different. I’ll . . .’

Soapy felt a hand on his arm. He jumped and looked round quickly — into the face of a policeman!

‘What are you doing here?’ asked the policeman.

‘Nothing,’ Soapy answered.

‘Then come with me,’ the policeman said.

‘Three months in prison,’ they told Soapy the next.

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