The Cop and the Anthem by O. Henry – Explanation
Soapy lived the life of a tramp. He wandered around in the Madison Square in New York. He saw the birds flying south and people ambling in their warm clothes. These were the precursor of the approaching winter. Soapy pondered the looming harsh winter he would have to contend with. A dead leaf fell at his feet accentuated his fear. He knew the cold outdoor life was going to be unbearable as the winter tightened its grip over his city. It set his heart racing for ideas to weather the approaching cold.
Lost in the thoughts, Soapy concluded that a three-month term in the Blackwell’s Island Prison, with its assured food and blankets would be most desirable option.
He had been a regular winter-visitor to the Blackwell prison in earlier years. Unlike affluent New Yorkers, who escape to Florida or the Mediterranean resorts, Soapy had little choice but to choose the Blackwell prison as his winter abode.
The winter cold was already biting. To fend off the cold at night, Soapy wrapped his legs with newspapers. The discomfort made Soapy long for the prison stay. The night shelters of New York offered food and shelter for destitute too, but they asked too many intrusive questions. They would make him clean up his body. It was too much of a hassle for Soapy. For him, the Blackwell prison, which offered certain dignity and privacy, was the place of choice.
Soapy began to scheme to make his way in to the prison somehow. The easiest way was to have a hearty meal in a restaurant and declare that he had no money. The cops would come snooping down on him. The rest would follow. He would be in the prison.
Soapy stepped into a posh restaurant in the Broadway Street and Fifth Avenue crossing, and stepped inside it to have a full meal. To his ill luck, the head waiter easily saw that he was a vagabond, not a genuine customer. His tattered shoes and clothes gave it away. In no time, he was bumped off by the waiter’s muscular hands.
This setback did not stop Soapy. He came near a glass-front, glistening store in the Sixth Avenue corner. He picked up a large piece of stone and threw it with all his force at the shop’s glass front. The glass cracked making a loud sound. People came rushing to see what had happened. A cop was one among them. Soapy, stood there unfazed, with a smile in his face. He expected the cop to come forward and grab him for his mischief. Nothing like that happened.
To the inquisitive cop, Soapy was just a jovial and humble soul, trying to own up the mischief voluntarily. The cop, however, counted Soapy out of the suspects. He reasoned that a stone-thrower would not stand in the spot to court arrest. Instead, the cop was on his heels trying to get hold of a man who was running away possibly due to another reason.
Soapy failed again. He started to think afresh about a way to get arrested.
Soapy saw another middle-class restaurant nearby. He walked without being intercepted. His poor attire did not stand on the way. He ordered a big meal, and ate to his heart’s content. Then, he stood up nonchalantly to tell the waiters that he was broke. He asked them to call a cop and hand him over. To his ill luck, his plan failed again. The two burly waiters simply threw him out of the restaurant.
Again, no cop, no arrest and no luck for Soapy. But, he did not give up, simply because he had to succeed anyway.
Soapy kept trudging forward till he reached a place having a few theatres. People milled around waiting to go in. It was a place for joyous people, out for some entertainment.
Soapy was desperate. He thought of a crazy idea. He started yelling like a drunkard. His plan was to raise enough raucous in the area to attract the attention of the cop on duty there. Then, he could be arrested as a mischief-maker.
But again, he failed. The cop chose to ignore him taking him to be a tipsy college lad. The cop had instructions to be lenient with such fun-loving youngsters. Soapy was left untouched by the police. He was getting increasingly desperate. He tried another trick to break the law.
He stepped inside a newspaper shop, quietly picked up someone’s umbrella kept in the corner and began to walk away. The owner soon followed Soapy asking for the umbrella back. Soapy, a bit brazenly asked the man to call the cop and report the matter. He even pointed to a cop standing nearby. But things took a different turn from then on. The umbrella owner, instead of being assertive and angry, became apologetic. With halting words, he suggested that he had picked up the umbrella from a restaurant that morning. Quite politely, he said it was a mistake on his part to have picked up someone’s umbrella in the first place. The umbrella man asked Soapy to keep it with him. Saying this, the stranger walked away.
For Soapy, it was a dismal failure — a disaster. He had wanted to go to jail, not have the umbrella.
Soapy was crestfallen. He had run out of his wits. With a depressed mind, Soapy just walked on slowly and aimlessly till he reached his old childhood home. Soon the happy memory of the place started to rush through his mind. The soft lighting and the soothing music pouring out of the place lifted his soul. The moon light fell all over the place. Birds chirped nearby. There were some pedestrians nearby. Soapy stood there pondering his plight and the many opportunities lost. He stood at a turning point of his life. With remorse, He wanted the lost days of his life to fade away fast. A desire to open a new leaf in his life gripped him. He wanted to make the best of his future. that lay ahead. Deciding to work hard and earn his living through earnest means, he decided to look out for a job.
But how cruel could life be! Just then Soapy felt the strong hands of a police man grabbing him from behind. He had finally been arrested. He would soon be in the Blackwell prison. It was not the place he wanted to go!