Monday, October 27, 2008
Harry Longbaugh's Bench
"Grampa, Mama says that old bench is special. It looks awful plain to me."
"Your mama's right, in a way, my boy, but like every thing a man can own, the people who use it are more captivatin' than the thing itself. That's Harry Longbaugh's bench. Well, not his bench 'xactly."
"Who in blazes is Harry Longbaugh? Is he that man mama went to grammar school with that put a frog in her bookbag? And why do you have his bench? And.."
"No, no, my boy. You see, your grampa used to work on Harlem and Long Island Railroad, back when the years began with 18's. I was a crack telegraph operator..."
"What's a telegraphs any ways, isn't that that guy who used to come to the door with the brushes and soap and get the door slammed in his face by pa ...?"
"No, no, my boy. The telegraph was a machine we used to send messages to each other, before you, your mama, or the telephone was around. We did manage okay then, you know."
"But who's Harry Longbow? Why did you steal his bench? Is he that man that came with the crooked stick to find a place to dig for the well, that daddy says "If he ever shows his face around here again, I'm gonna..."
"No, my boy, I didn't steal anything. You see, The telegraph operator had to keep busy all day, even when there was nothin' to do, so I was in charge of sweeping the station in Harlem, and lighting the lamps, and tending the Lost and Found..."
"But who's Harry Longfellow? Was he lost? Did you find 'em?, was there a reward...?"
"Harry Longbaugh! No he wasn't lost, but there was a reward, but I didn't get it, exactly, and if you'll let me..."
"Is the bench your reward, did Mr. Longshanks give it to you for..."
"I declare, young man, I'll be gone to my reward before I finish this story! Now keep still, and I'll unwind it straight through, and no more detours!"
"Now, people left the darndest things in that station house. And we'd keep 'em in the office for what seemed like eternity, because you never knew when they'd come a 'lookin' for 'em. Of course there were the usual parasols and bowlers and such, but one day, the baggage boy brought me out to one the benches, THAT VERY BENCH you're sittin' on, to be specific, and pointed to a valise left on the shelf below, where I'd found many a forgotten item. It was a curious sort of bag. I found out later they called it a Gladstone Bag, after a Britisher, I think, and made from a Persian Carpet! Well, as a matter of good sense and manners, I keep my nose from other's business, and stick to my own, but I felt an overpowerin' urge to look in that bag, you see, and make out if there was something inside to tell me where I might find the owner. And what do you think I saw? "
"Henry Longchamp's unnerwear!"
"Harry Longbaugh, you little knothead! NO. As I was sayin', inside, what did I see but a big Colt revolver, the old army sidearm my daddy called a "leg of mutton." Now, you don't see that sort of thing in New York City much, but it didn't catch my eye as much as the money. Stacks and stack of bills, tied ever so neat with string, like little bricks..."
"Was that the reward...?"
"No, my boy, now listen. Along with the money and the pistol, there was a ticket, for passage on the "Soldier Prince," a boat bound for Argentina! and on that ticket was a man's name."
"That's Harry, dear boy. Harry Longbaugh. Yes, it were. and I must admit, I was caught in a sort of reverie, thinkin' about that ship, and that money, and that gun, and Argentina, when easy as you please, a man taps me on the shoulder and says, "Excuse me friend, I think that belongs to me." He was a handsome man, with a big friendly grin, but there was something else about him, too, something hard and cold behind that smile."
"Well, he took that bag, and walked straight out of there, and joined another man and a lady on the platform outside, and no doubt went to Argentina. And I kept that bench, where I found that bag, to remember it all by."
"But with all that money, he didn't give you a reward for findin' it? What kind of story is that!"
"My reward my boy, is that I'm still here to tell the story. For I found out at the Post Office, not long after that very day, that Harry Longbaugh was known by another name too-The Sundance Kid."