O. henry – the trimmed lamp

O. Henry


Of course there are two sides to the question. Let us look at the
Other. We often hear “shop-girls” spoken of. No such persons exist.
There are girls who work in shops. They make their living that
Way. But why turn their occupation into an adjective? Let us be
Fair. We do not refer to the girls who live on Fifth Avenue as

Lou and Nancy were chums. They came to the big city to find work
Because there was not enough to eat at their homes to go around.
Nancy was nineteen; Lou was twenty. Both were pretty, active,
Country girls who had no ambition to go on the stage.

The little cherub that sits up aloft guided them to a cheap and
Respectable boarding-house. Both found positions and became
Wage-earners. They remained chums. It is at the end of six months
That I would beg you to step forward and be introduced to them.
Meddlesome Reader: My Lady friends, Miss Nancy and Miss Lou.
While you are shaking hands please take notice – cautiously – of
Their attire. Yes, cautiously; for they are as quick to resent a
Stare as a lady in a box at the horse show is.

Lou is a piece-work ironer in a hand laundry. She is clothed in a
Badly-fitting purple dress, and her hat plume is four inches too
Long; but her ermine muff and scarf cost $25, and its fellow beasts
Will be ticketed in the windows at $7.98 before the season is over.
Her cheeks are pink, and her light blue eyes bright. Contentment
Radiates from her.

Nancy you would call a shop-girl – because you have the habit. There
Is no type; but a perverse generation is always seeking a type; so
This is what the type should be. She has the high-ratted pompadour,
And the exaggerated straight-front. Her skirt is shoddy, but has the
Correct flare. No furs protect her against

the bitter spring air,
But she wears her short broadcloth jacket as jauntily as though
It were Persian lamb! On her face and in her eyes, remorseless
Type-seeker, is the typical shop-girl expression. It is a look of
Silent but contemptuous revolt against cheated womanhood; of sad
Prophecy of the vengeance to come. When she laughs her loudest the
Look is still there. The same look can be seen in the eyes of Russian
Peasants; and those of us left will see it some day on Gabriel’s
Face when he comes to blow us up. It is a look that should wither
And abash man; but he has been known to smirk at it and offer
Flowers – with a string tied to them.

Now lift your hat and come away, while you receive Lou’s cheery
“See you again,” and the sardonic, sweet smile of Nancy that seems,
Somehow, to miss you and go fluttering like a white moth up over the
Housetops to the stars.

The two waited on the corner for Dan. Dan was Lou’s steady company.
Faithful? Well, he was on hand when Mary would have had to hire a
Dozen subpoena servers to find her lamb.

“Ain’t you cold, Nance?” said Lou. “Say, what a chump you are for
Working in that old store for $8. a week! I made $l8.50 last week.
Of course ironing ain’t as swell work as selling lace behind a
Counter, but it pays. None of us ironers make less than $10. And I
Don’t know that it’s any less respectful work, either.”

“You can have it,” said Nancy, with uplifted nose. “I’ll take my eight
A week and hall bedroom. I like to be among nice things and swell
People. And look what a chance I’ve got! Why, one of our glove girls
Married a Pittsburg – steel maker, or blacksmith or something – the
Other day worth a million dollars. I’ll catch a swell myself some

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O. henry – the trimmed lamp