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A Fog In Santone
by [?]

[Published in The Cosmopolitan, October, 1912. Probably
written in 1904, or shortly after O. Henry’s first
successes in New York.]

The drug clerk looks sharply at the white face half concealed by the high-turned overcoat collar.

“I would rather not supply you,” he said doubtfully. “I sold you a dozen morphine tablets less than an hour ago.”

The customer smiles wanly. “The fault is in your crooked streets. I didn’t intend to call upon you twice, but I guess I got tangled up. Excuse me.”

He draws his collar higher, and moves out, slowly. He stops under an electric light at the corner, and juggles absorbedly with three or four little pasteboard boxes. “Thirty-six,” he announces to himself. “More than plenty.” For a gray mist had swept upon Santone that night, an opaque terror that laid a hand to the throat of each of the city’s guests. It was computed that three thousand invalids were hibernating in the town. They had come from far and wide, for here, among these contracted river-sliced streets, the goddess Ozone has elected to linger.

Purest atmosphere, sir, on earth! You might think from the river winding through our town that we are malarial, but, no, sir! Repeated experiments made both by the Government and local experts show that our air contains nothing deleterious–nothing but ozone, sir, pure ozone. Litmus paper tests made all along the river show–but you can read it all in the prospectuses; or the Santonian will recite it for you, word by word.

We may achieve climate, but weather is thrust upon us. Santone, then, cannot be blamed for this cold gray fog that came and kissed the lips of the three thousand, and then delivered them to the cross. That night the tubercles, whose ravages hope holds in check, multiplied. The writhing fingers of the pale mist did not go thence bloodless. Many of the wooers of ozone capitulated with the enemy that night, turning their faces to the wall in that dumb, isolated apathy that so terrifies their watchers. On the red stream of Hemorrhagia a few souls drifted away, leaving behind pathetic heaps, white and chill as the fog itself. Two or three came to view this atmospheric wraith as the ghost of impossible joys, sent to whisper to them of the egregious folly it is to inhale breath into the lungs, only to exhale it again, and these used whatever came handy to their relief, pistols, gas or the beneficent muriate.

The purchaser of the morphia wanders into the fog, and at length, finds himself upon a little iron bridge, one of the score or more in the heart of the city, under which the small tortuous river flows. He leans on the rail and gasps, for here the mist has concentrated, lying like a foot-pad to garrote such of the Three Thousand as creep that way. The iron bridge guys rattle to the strain of his cough, a mocking phthisical rattle, seeming to say to him: “Clickety-clack! just a little rusty cold, sir–but not from our river. Litmus paper all along the banks and nothing but ozone. Clacket-y-clack!”

The Memphis man at last recovers sufficiently to be aware of another overcoated man ten feet away, leaning on the rail, and just coming out of a paroxysm. There is a freemasonry among the Three Thousand that does away with formalities and introductions. A cough is your card; a hemorrhage a letter of credit. The Memphis man, being nearer recovered, speaks first.

“Goodall. Memphis–pulmonary tuberculosis–guess last stages.” The Three Thousand economize on words. Words are breath and they need breath to write checks for the doctors.

“Hurd,” gasps the other. “Hurd; of T’leder. T’leder, Ah-hia. Catarrhal bronkeetis. Name’s Dennis, too–doctor says. Says I’ll live four weeks if I–take care of myself. Got your walking papers yet?”

“My doctor,” says Goodall of Memphis, a little boastingly, “gives me three months.”