Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

A Subway Romance: Conclusion

Welcome to Part III and “A Subway Romance” conclusion. Here in A Subway Romance: Conclusion we will learn what happens to Nick. Does he throw it all away and go to Cuba? He has the money saved up for it. The Great Depression is still five years off. He could feed his wanderlust by closing his news stand and living the roaming life.

When we left Nick and his vagabond friend Shorty, they had just finished breakfast over the campfire at the Brooklyn waterfront. If you missed that section, you can find it here. To start at the beginning of the tale, begin here.

The conclusion

They strolled to a railway station, skulking along the outskirts of the crowd. They walked on through the switch yards. A truckload of baggage crowded them against a moving freight. As Nick cringed and stepped aside he felt a nudge at his elbow.

“S’long,” muttered Shorty, as he swung aboard.

“S’long,” answered Nick.

Nick hurried to the nearest railway station. It was late. He would be losing his brisk eight o’clock trade.

Dreaming on the train

Once aboard the Broadway train, however, he was lost in a dream of palm bordered roadways, of Pampas plains and tropic seas. He created vividly luxurious groves of bananas and breadfruit trees. He imagined how the moon would look shining through a notch of the Andes.

Nick came to with a start, as the crowds pushed on and off at Times Square. He moved nearer the door so as to be ready for his station. He would send his resignation in to the news agency right away. They would have no trouble getting a man for his place. Only one more dy at the stand. Tomorrow he would be free.

The train jerked to a stop.

Reaching the news stand

Nick separated himself from the crowd and went up to unlock the news stand. He was startled to see that the windows were open, and the morning papers arranged in orderly piles. He looked in across the papers and saw a curly dark head over an open magazine. Looking closer he served large gold earrings and long-lashed eyes.

He leaned over the counter.

“What––what did you do with the Gipsy dress?” he asked.

The girl started and then blushed.

“How did you know me?” she asked.

“I’d have known you in––South America,” babbled Nick. “But it’s great to fid you here. How did you get into the news stand?”

“By the door. Isn’t that the way you get into yours?”

“Into mine? Mine? Why––isn’t this mine?” Nick stared wildly.

“This is Seventy-second Street,” laughed the girl. “Did you think you were home?”

Nick looked at the huge sign, foolishly.

“My––I––” He wanted to say that his heart must have directed him here. “But what did you do with the Gipsy shawl and everything?” he blurted.

The shawl

“Oh, I want to explain to you,” said the girl. “They’re my grandmother’s. I wore them to an autumn pageant one day, when I danced a Gipsy dance. And when I came back I was very busy dreaming, and I got off at the wrong station. I––I felt rather free and reckless in my Gipsy togs. So when I saw a strange, dreamy-eyed man where I thought my news stand was going to be, I––I’m afraid I acted very silly and––nervy. I––apologize. But, it was the costume, really. And, of course, I didn’t expect to see you again.”

“I wonder what her name is,” mused Nick, as he arranged his papers, uncovered the candy and gum, and dusted the magazines. He was an hour late, but the thought failed to worry him.

The crowds surged up and down stairways and crossed and recrossed between local and express. Nick saw them not. Trains shrieked and bellowed, but he did not hea.r His lean hands juggled change or reached down a magazine from the rack behind him. His eyes were on the gray subway arch, and he was smiling at the memory of a brown roofed cottage he had seen once, away up at the end of the subway near Van Courtland Park.

His mind was busy adding a few fanciful details, among them an open wood fire and a dark-haired girl beside it, wearing a Gipsy shawl. He would be able to get home by nine o-clock in the evenings, and sh would come to meet him down a grassy little bystreet bordered with poplars. The wind would ripple the poplar leaves softly, and sometimes there would be a moon shining through a notch between the trees.

The End

This is the end of A Subway Romance Conclusion. I hope you enjoyed reading this very typical example of a magazine short story. These stories appeared in almost every magazine of the time. Stories sold magazines. I’m sure, after reading A Subway Romance to its conclusion, you can understand why.

You may also be interested in reading Cinderella’s Confession, an advertisement from 1919 that changed advertising when it mimicked the popular magazine short story.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

A Subway Romance Part II

A young woman stands next to a newspaper stand in this 1924 illustration. People stream behind her. Most of them are men in suits, overcoats, and hats.
The young womanl stands among the bustle of the New York subway tunnel.

When we last left our dreamer Nick, he had just met an intriguing girl at his newsstand in the New York subway system. If you missed the first section of the story, you can locate it here. Now we continue with “A Subway Romance,” Part II.

The story continues…

Her voice was rich and low, with a kind of sighing lilt in it. She seemed not to have seen the price labels.

She bought two nut bars and slipped them into a bag at her side, while Nick tried futilely to think of something to say. It had been a long time since he had indulged in social small talk. At last he found himself commenting upon the coolness of the weather and urging her to try some of the whipped creams.

The Gipsy shook her head. Her red lips smiled. Nick caught a tantalizing gleam between long lashes and stood staring helplessly as she walked away. When he had recovered his wits sufficiently to crawl out of the low side door and go to look for her she had disappeared in the crowd. Nick ran up the stairs and down. He plunged frantically into the floods of passengers streaming from local to express and from express to local. He returned to his stall flushed and baffled, and found two customers thrusting coins over the magazine counter, with no pair of hands there to return the change.

After this Nick began to look at the people around him instead of gazing dreamily at the subway vault. He began to grow vaguely dissatisfied with his life, yet unwilling to break away for one of his vagrant adventures. A wan loneliness possessed him, such as he had never known in the most isolated country places; and still he felt loath to desert his subway stand. He studied the faces that streamed past him and began to experience a faint thrill of satisfaction at discovering some of the same ones day after day. Often he watched hopefully for a flash of the Gipsy’s crimson shawl. But he watched in vain. Her voice had broken the spell of his long silence, her wild beauty had stirred the sluggish pool of his content, and then she had swept on, lost in the seething current of the subway crowds.

An old friend resurfaces

One night, a week after the Gipsy passed, Nick saw a familiar face peering in at him. It was a loose-mouthed, heavy-jawed face with no self discipline. In a flash of recollection Nick recognized this man. They had bunked together in a slum hotel in San Francisco. Nick usually avoided the out and out hoboes. Shorty had been more congenial than most of his kind. In Nick’s present mood the familiar face was welcome.

“Hello, Shorty,” said Nick.

“H’ar ye, Bo,” grinned Shorty sticking his hand in across the newspapers.

When Nick closed the stand that night Shorty was waiting for him. They had lunch at a hot tamale wagon down in Christopher Street and they sat on a park bench and watched the moon edging over the roofs while Shorty told of his wanderings. Again Nick felt the pull of vagabondage. His mind raced out along an Arizona canyon slivered with moonlight. He heard the sough of the pines, the murmur of prairie grasses, the trickle of water beside a pitch-pine campfire. He crumpled a sooty park leaf in his fingers, and longed for the smell of sage and resin.

Catching up

Nick only half heard the marvelous tale that Shorty related with profane emphasis. He was planning to pack the battered suitcase that lay covered with dust under the cot in his hall bedroom, planning to chuck the news stand and the rewards of a regular income. He had thought of it vaguely before, but the force of habit and the weekly check had held him. But tonight, with the moon rising over the roofs and Shorty chuckling at his elbow, his business acumen had sunk to almost a minus quantity.

Why had he stuck there for the last two years? he asked himself. He had money now, enough to take him to Cuba, to South America, though he had never thought of saving it for that purpose. Well, he was ready at last to leave the noisy glare of his burrow. He had hoarded his savings senselessly like a blind mole storing away food. He had watched the trains pass long enough. He had watched millions of faces without hearing a voice or touching a hand. Restless feet had surged past him, day after day, and he had quietly stuck to his cage, pushing out papers and picking up change.

Yet, under all his eager planning, there lurked a poignant regret. More than he would admit, he had hoped that the Gipsy girl might return sometime and smile and speak to him over the candy counter. It was she who had aroused him from his strange lethargy. But he had a persistent intuition that he would miss her, out along the open trails, for in spite of her Gipsy dress she had seemed a creature of the town. At the thought of missing her, Nick’s heart sank, and his bold resolution ebbed like water.

At water’s edge

“Guess we’d better move on somewheres.” Shorty’s arm was around Nick’s shoulders. Shorty’s corncob pipe was unpleasantly near Nick’s nose. Nick looked up and saw a policeman moored in the offing, swinging his club a shade ostentatiously. They moved on. Over on the Brooklyn waterfront they lighted a driftwood fire. Nick stretched on the ground beside it, unmindful of the fact that his suit had just been cleaned and pressed. In spite of the cheering blaze the wind crept up with a little nagging chill, and Shorty made a tour of investigation along a row of warehouses and returned with a dirty horse blanket. They crept under it together, after arranging some empty boxes to protect themselves and their fire. Nick sniffed the smell of the water and stared blissfully up at the stars.

He heard the waves lapping against the pier, and his drowsy wits went roving. South America, Cuba. Long roads that he had never traveled, blue seas that he had never crossed. Perhaps China and Japan a little later. Strange cities, far ports. That would be his way of life. He rejoiced at the thought of the money he had laid by. When that was gone he would work again, and then he would go on. What had he been thinking of, to sit dreaming behind a counter? He felt a sudden contempt for the Sunday afternoon hikes he had taken around Manhattan, the holiday excursions up in the Bronx. He laughed as he remembered his nonsense about that Gipsy girl.

Shorty stirred sleepily.

“What’s the joke, Bo?” he inquired.

“Nothin’. Jest a-dreamin’, I guess,” murmured Nick.

A new morning

It seemed only a few minutes until he turned on his side and peered out at the sky, reddening beyond the warehouses. Shorty had kept the fire going and Nick felt warm, even with the wind blowing up stronger from the water.

They boiled their coffee in an empty Karo can, munched sandwiches, and watched the bay flashing like a vast opal under the morning sun. Ships crept up the harbor, ferry boats steered a resolute course, motor boats chugged erratically about.

To be continued…

Find out what happens after “A Subway Romance,” Part II. Look for Part III, which brings an end to the tale.

This is a typical Twenties short story. These tales sold magazines by the thousands for a good many years. Sometimes they were serialized, and then released in book form. Often, though, they appeared like this: short, single tales that transported the reader to a different place, time, or situation.

Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

Short Story: A Subway Romance

A 1924 illustration of a woman, dressed in a blouse and skirt, stands before a news stand, gesturing. A dark shawl hangs over her skirt, knotted at the hip, and she wears a silk handkerchief on her head. Illustration from the short story A Subway Romance.
“How much are the chocolate bars?”

Today’s short story, “A Subway Romance” appeared in The American Needlewoman in December, 1924. Written by Rose Henderson, this story is in the public domain. Henderson was an accomplished writer whose stories appeared in several of the story-printing publications of the day.

Keep in mind that this is an antique story, posted as it was written. It is a product of its time. It may contain terms and ideas that we find outdated or offensive. For ease of reading the story will appear here as a three part series. This is Part I of the short story, “A Subway Romance”.

A Subway Romance

To the New York crowds pushing and swirling through the Ninety-Sixth Street subway station, the man in the glass-windowed stall behind the candy, newspapers and magazines was hardly more human than the penny-in-the-slot weighing machines, or the chewing gum boxes with dirty mirrors at their tops and a row of coin slots below. He seemed like another mechanical convenience, a pair of hands that made change deftly or reached down a magazine that somebody pointed out. In the noisy, garish gloom of the subway station people pointed at what they wanted a good deal of the time, or they merely threw down their money and took their choice.

Nick Barnes had arranged his stall to suit the haste and directness of his customers, who, in their turn, were mere marionettes to him. With thousands whirling past him, hour after hour, it was seldom indeed that anyone spoke. They knew the prices of their favorite magazines; and the packages of chewing gum and candy in the pasteboard boxes bore conspicuous price labels. Conversation with the man behind the wares was a needless waste of time and energy. They didn’t even look at him. Rushing from local to express, and from express to local, they saw only his ands and the things he sold.

Even if they waited hectically before his booth watching for the Bronx express to come shrieking in, they looked at the magazine covers and read the newspaper headlines. And their impersonal attitude seemed natural enough to Nick. He was equally indifferent to the crowd, though often lonely for a real friend.

Dreaming in the subway

If anyone had paused to study the face above the deft hands he would have been surprised at the dreamy remoteness of Nick’s long, brown eyes. Looking out over the stampeding crowds, Nick saw strange and remote scenes blossom into life down the dim arch of the subway tunnel. He saw, for instance, a pine-shaded trail leading through the Rocky Mountains, an oil-packed automobile road bordered with lupin and California poppies, a golden expanse of Dakota wheat fields, a sloping-roofed farmhouse, gray with rain. The pictures were dim and elusive, to be sure, but they held Nick’s mind with a kind of placid enchantment while his hands gathered in the pennies for papers and chewing gum.

He had always possessed this facility of detachment, of living in places far remote from his real surroundings. It was a source of much pacific enjoyment, though as a rule the tranquility was broken, sooner or later, by a sudden fling at actual adventuring.

There were boyish wanderings when he deserted the slant-roofed farmhouse and the school across the fields. At first they were one-day excursions, a fishing tour up Gipson’s creek, or blissful idleness in the great meadow behind his father’s barns. For hours at a time he would lie in the clover, looking up at the clouds that flocked across a midsummer sky. Then came the insistent wanderlust of his early manhood and his tramp from Kansas to California, his season in a fisherman’s deserted shack on the Pacific Coast, his gold-hunting period in Alaska.

Singurlarly, his love for the open road was balanced by an almost equal delight in sheltered seclusion. Sometime he had always returned to the old farmhouse, loitered through the grassy orchard, loped along the meadow, helped with the work for a time and then went on again, down the long hill to the main highway, out through the grain-covered prairies to the little town where he took the train, if he happened to have money enough, traveled to a strange neighborhood, worked, dreamed, and traveled on.

Moving to New York

In one of these home visits he found his mother stricken with a sudden severe illness. The doctors recommended a New York specialist. Nick had a little money saved from his Alaska venture. He had always adored his mother. So the two came to New York, she to linger for a year in the specialist’s sanitarium, and Nick to sit dreaming in the underground world of the subway station. She had been dead for two years. Still Nick stayed on, seldom stopping to wonder at his strange docility, only half alive to the swirling activity that isolated his retreat.

But just as it seemed that the city’s intricate energy had caught him like a dazed gnat in the corner of a gigantic web, the latent wanderlust stirred within him. He looked at the pushing mobs and longed to escape them. He became conscious of the narrow confines of this booth and felt foolishly imprisoned. The pictures of his fancy still wavered confusedly along the subway vault, but they no longer soothed him to passivity.

Colors of October

It was a day in early October when the awakening came. The magazine covers were aglow with autumn colors. Women were wearing furs for warmth instead of for style only. The wind blew fresh from the river in the early morning when Nick left his fiurnished room and went down to unlock the news stand. The air in the subway was heavy and chilling. Nick sat humped on his stool behind the candy boxes, skimming through an adventure story. The trains shrieked and clanged and roared through their black-walled caverns. Lights flashed and glared. The crowds poured up and down stairways, pushed in and out of iron doors, swirled about the windows of Nick’s booth, threw down coins for candy or reading matter and swept away, dissolving continually into new eddies and currents.

Nick closed the magazine and remembered the frost-covered leaves around his camp in a Canada forest. He looked up at the subway roof where his memories visualized most effectively, but his eyes were caught by the flare of a crimson sash like a bit of gay foliage in the dark masses of the crowd. It was a Gipsy shawl, worn about lithe hips and knotted at the side. A yellow blouse, a brown skirt, brown stockings and moccasins completed the costume, with a red silk handkerchief forming a cap set jauntily over curly dark hair. The girl was strikingly handsome in the garish costume, with huge gold rings in her ears. She returned Nick’s stare with a keen, level glance that make him flush self consciously.

Then she stepped in front of the little piles of gum and candy.

“How much are the chocolate bars?” she asked.

To be continued…

This short story, “A Subway Romance,” will be continued. Watch for the next installment. Discover what happens with Nick in the short story A Subway Romance.

Browse through another issue of The American Needlewoman at the Internet Archive.