A SYMPATHETIC HEART
(After O. Henry)
Miss Martha Meacham kept a little bakery on the corner. Miss Martha was forty, she had two false teeth and a sympathetic heart.
Two or three times a week a customer came, and she began to take interest in him. He was a middle-aged man, wearing spectacles and a brown beard. He spoke English with a strong German accent. His clothes were old and worn, but he looked neat and had very good manners. He always bought two loaves of stale bread. Fresh bread was five cents a loaf. Stale ones were two for five. He never bought anything but stale bread.
Once Miss Martha saw a red and brown spot on his fingers. She was sure that he was an artist and very poor. Surely he lived in a garret where he painted pictures and ate stale bread and thought of the good things to eat in Miss Martha's bakery.
Often when Miss Martha sat down to her supper she wished that the artist might share her tasty meal instead of eating the stale bread in his garret. Miss Martha's heart was a sympathetic one.
The customer kept on buying stale bread. Never a cake, never a pie, never any fresh bread. She thought he began to look thinner, and was discouraged. She wanted him to have something good to eat. She wanted to add something good to his bread. But she dared not. She knew the pride of artists.
Miss Martha began to dress better and look after her complexion.
One day the customer came in for his stale loaves. While Miss Martha was getting them for him, a fire engine came past. He ran to the door to look.
Miss Martha seized the opportunity. On the shelf behind her was some fresh butter. With a bread knife Miss Martha made a deep cut in each of the stale loaves, put a great deal of butter inside and pressed them together. When the customer came back, she was tying the paper round them.
For a long time that day she thought about him and imagined his surprise and pleasure when he discovered the butter in the loaves.
Suddenly the front door bell rang furiously. Somebody was coming in, making a great deal of noise. As Miss Martha hurried to the door, she saw two men come in. One was a young man she had never seen before. The other was her artist. His face was very red, his hat was on the back of his head, his hair in disorder. He shook his fist at Miss Martha shouting, "You fool, you old cat, you have ruined me!" The young man took him by the arm.
"Come on," he said, "you have said enough," and dragged the angry one to the door.
" I think you ought to be told, ma'am," he said, "what it is all about. This gentleman's name is Blumberger. He is an architect. I work in the same office with him. He has been drawing a plan for a new city hall. It was a prize competition. He finished inking the lines yesterday. You know, an architect always makes his drawing in pencil first. When it's done, he rubs out the pencil lines with stale bread. That's better than Indian rubber. Blumberger has been buying the bread here. Well, today... you know, ma'am, that butter isn't... well, Blumberger's plan isn't good for anything now, except to cut it into sandwiches."
Miss Martha went to the back room. She took off her blue silk blouse and put on the old brown one she had always worn before.