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The Bow-Legged Ghost and Other Stories by Leon Mead; The Werner Company, New York, Akron, Ohio, Chicago; 1899; pp. 41-48.


An Assumed Weakness

EMBOLDENED by his physical and psychological prowess as a lady-killer, Mr. Claude Ormsby some years ago became less delicate and subtle in his methods of flirtation and gradually resorted to more abrupt and daring, if not foolhardy, experiments. Mr. Ormsby actually ventured one afternoon to wink at a lady he thought he should like to know. He won from her a casual sign of recognition, but her hasty retreat into a millinery establishment, where she managed, on pretense of being vastly interested in the headgear there displayed, to remain over two hours, satisfied Mr. Ormsby that it would be quite futile for him to press a further acquaintance.

But he continued to wink at women whose personal charms appealed to him, and always, for some reason it is unnecessary to exploit here, with his left eye. His success in this barbarous and discredited style of wantoning varied with occasion and with the woman he 42 thus saluted. Often it was far from any definition of triumph. But the resentment of virtuous womanhood neither alarmed nor chagrined him.

On a certain bright morning, as he was passing her on Fifth Avenue, Mr. Ormsby winked at a handsome woman, accompanied by her husband, who, be it said, was ardently devoted to her. While making his reckless and insolent overture, Ormsby did not particularly notice the husband. But the latter fairly and squarely saw Ormsby indulge in the wink, and in an instant the blood deserted his cheek. He left his wife’s side, stepped up to Ormsby, and grasped him by the arm, with every facial assurance that it was his immediate intention to punish the offender. Ormsby possessed quick perceptions, but he was no good as a pugilist. There and then he realized that he must placate the gentleman who was clutching him, or perhaps suffer untold injuries. So meeting the incensed husband’s gaze, Ormsby gave a peculiar wink with his left eye, the optic which had excited Mr. Bryan Burdick’s vexation. Mr. Burdick was surprised. His curdled feelings swirled less violently within him when Ormsby winked again. He winked with his left eye, in what 43 seemed to Mr. Burdick a less culpable and more guileless way than he had winked the first time at Mrs. Burdick.

“Ah, ha!” thought Mr. Burdick, “I am foolishly jealous as usual. This man has a nervous defect of the eye, and therefore is not responsible for what otherwise would be inexcusable. Oh, if he had really insulted my wife, I should — ” But Mr. Burdick did not mentally conclude what he might have done. It is not unreasonable to infer, however, that in those circumstances he would have proven a cruel assailant. At brief intervals Ormsby winked his left eye at Mr. Burdick, who began to reproach himself for having taken umbrage too hastily at the stranger, for he was not fully convinced that Ormsby could not help winking his eye.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” apologized Mr. Burdick. “I at first wrongly thought you intended to insult my wife. But I see the action of your left eye is involuntary. Believe me, sir, I am very sorry for having detained you. Here is my card.”

Ormsby accepted the card graciously, and in turn handed his own to Mr. Burdick.

“It was a natural enough mistake on your part,” said Ormsby, in a voice of remarkable 44 complaisance. “I dare say you may find my acquaintance of some trifling value. My address is on my card. Come and see me sometime.”

As though further to atone for his putative blunder, Mr. Burdick introduced his wife to Ormsby, who was certainly playing his part with masterly finesse.

“I am charmed,” observed Mrs. Burdick, with a dainty bow, “to meet you.”

“Delighted, I’m sure,” said Ormsby, his left eye winking cautiously.

Then, after the exchange of a few commonplaces, Ormsby went on his way, chuckling over the recent encounter.

Mr. Burdick made inquiries concerning Mr. Ormsby and ascertained that he belonged to an aristocratic family, his father being an enormously rich banker. Within a short time Ormsby and the Burdicks became warm friends. He was a frequent visitor at their house, and dined with them nearly every Sunday. He was careful to do the requisite amount of winking whenever in their presence — an effort, by the way, that grew at times extremely boorish to him. But he heroically kept up the delusion, for now that he was intimate with the Burdicks, and really 45 liked them, he dreaded to lose their friendship.

But one Sunday Mr. Burdick caught Ormsby napping, as it were. At the table a certain popular novelist happened also to be a guest. The novelist was feeling in excellent spirits, having the day before sold a serial story to a leading magazine for a good price, and received the cash down for it, and his bright talk was highly entertaining, especially to Ormsby, who listened in rapt attention. In short, he became so absorbed in the novelist’s graphic description of a journey he had taken the previous summer in Alaska, that, for the time being, he forgot to keep his left eye at its allotted task, and Mr. Burdick noticed it. The host gazed long, though somewhat furtively, at the abstracted Ormsby, and his wonder increased almost to consternation as he observed that Ormsby seemed to have his left eye under perfect control. This discovery mystified him and rendered him so curious that he interrupted the novelist to say: “Ormsby, you don’t seem to be winking your eye as much as usual to-day. Have you discontinued that interesting performance of yours?”

“Yes, that is — er — well — I’ve had an operation performed, you know,” stammered 46 Ormsby, who being taken entirely by surprise and thrown off his guard, was considerably frustrated. “My eye still twitches occasionally, however,” he added, sufficiently recovering secretly to congratulate himself upon his ready fabrication.

“Oh, indeed,” put in Mrs. Burdick, quite ingenuously. “Was the operation painful, Mr. Ormsby?”

“Rather,” he replied, with a wink and a smile, that were boldly significant, but which the novelist and Mr. Burdick, if they noticed them, must have considered merely symptoms of affability on Ormsby’s part.

But Mrs. Burdick, with intuitive celerity, discerned the similarity of that wink to Ormsby’s first wink at her on the Avenue months before. She instinctively felt from that moment that Ormsby was a fraud, and he immediately divined that she felt he was. A slight blush suffused Mrs. Burdick’s beautiful face. She was strongly tempted to remark, with true feminine sarcasm: “It seems the operation was not entirely successful,” but she choked back the words, for a timely thought warned her that such an utterance might at once put her husband on the trail of his former suspicion as to Ormsby’s insolence.


“Doctor Peters, the oculist, thinks I shall be able,” ventured Ormsby, with inward desperation and outward suavity, “to gain absolute government of my eye after a while.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said Mr. Burdick, with a kind of insinuating candor.

Some hours later, when the guests had gone, and Mr. Burdick, half irresolutely, had driven off to his favorite club, Mrs. Burdick thoughtfully seated herself at a delicate little rosewood desk, and after wasting two or three sheets of the most expensive note paper, finally sealed the following words, addressed to Mr. Claude Ormsby:

Sir: — You have played a cunning game, but I have found you out at last. Some women might applaud you, but I am one who despises you for having so weak, so cowardly, so debased a left eye. By all means have a real operation performed, Mr. Ormsby; otherwise you may deceive some one yet, who has not a loving husband’s protection. Do not again darken our threshold with your presence. I shall not breathe a word to my husband of your last insult to me, at the dinner-table to-day, if you do not again attempt to intrude upon our domestic peace. Remember this!


In the privacy of his own chamber Ormsby’s left eye assisted his right one to read Mrs. Burdick’s unequivocal message, without 48 any predisposition to wink. A throb of disappointment passed over him — that was all. He reached for a silver decanter containing some rare Amontillado, of which he took a liberal draught.

The fact is, Ormsby may never have any dominant influence over that left eye of his. When he strolls down Broadway or up Fifth Avenue, it will probably wink at any pretty damsel or dashing married woman, as of old. A queer eye has Ormsby. But is Ormsby the only man you ever heard of who has a queer eye?

Will this eye of Ormsby’s finally bring him joy or woe? Ah, me! Perhaps a court of justice may answer that. But, on the other hand, possibly ten years hence, in a felicitous domestic circle of his own, Ormsby may be found — still winking, though with less suggestion, from mere force of habit.


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