The Tragedy of William Hemingway

Damon Runyon

Well, sir, now I will tell you of a terrible tragedy in the life of a friend of mine by the name of William Hemingway, who is called Bill for short.

This Bill is as fine a guy as anybody you will wish to see, except that he is a little careful with his dough. In fact, he is very tight. In fact, a doorknob is as loose as ashes compared to Bill in the matter of his dough.

I hear guys say of Bill that he is so tight he can carry an armload of eels from here to Albany and never lose a one, and while I never see Bill try such a thing, I have no doubt he can do it, because he lives in a furnished room, and he likes to get home early so as to get his money’s worth out of his bed.

This Bill is a fellow so close to fifty that he commences to call himself forty-three when I first know him, and he is saving his dough since infancy by not spending it. He always buys heavy walking shoes, because he has plenty of hoofing to save streetcar fare, and he wears the same suit of clothes that he buys when he gets out of the army after the Spanish-American war.

He uses celluloid collars, and polishes them himself. He turns his cuffs, and never eats a meal in his life that costs more than fifty cents, and this is only on holidays, because in between a two-bit meal is a spread for him.

Yes, sir, Bill is tight, but as I am saying, he is no bad guy, and his pleasure is saving his dough. Every time he thinks of how much he has socked away in his old bank, which his friends figure is plenty, Bill gets all pleasured up, so he is pretty good company.

Well, what finally happens to Bill, he falls in love with some doll, or anyway he takes a liking to her no little, which is the same thing, and the first thing anybody knows he is around saying he is figuring on getting himself married up.

Furthermore, it looks like a serious proposition, as Bill is getting his hair cut every two or three weeks, when he never has it done before inside of three months. The next thing anybody knows, Bill buys himself a new suit of clothes, and takes to wearing linen collars.

Finally the blow-off comes. Bill gets married to this doll, who is not such a bad-looker as you may think, and full of speed at that. Then comes the tragedy in Bill’s life that I am telling you about.

It seems this doll is in favor of seeing guys well dressed, and she is shooing Bill into the best tailors in the town and making him spend a hundred and fifty bucks for a suit. The first time Bill lays down this kind of money for nothing but one suit they say he has a bad spell of blood pressure, but he comes out of it all right.

Then she makes him buy shirts made to order and quit turning his cuffs. Furthermore, she has him getting his neckties in Fifth Avenue joints instead of down on the Bowery. But the most horrible thing which happens to Bill is when she backs him into a shoe shop and makes him get some shoes made at forty bucks a pair.

Up to this time Bill does not know there are whole shoe stores worth this much dough, and he is in a serious condition for some weeks.

Well, he is out and around again, but every time he thinks of how much the stuff he has on him costs he has a relapse. He looks as spruce and chipper as a young chicken, but there is no joy whatever in his life, and every time any of the old mob see him coming we take air, because we cannot bear to look a such a living tragedy.

Of course the moral is that a guy is a sucker to let a doll do such a thing to him, but when a guy is in love the chances are he is not responsible.