Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

An Experiment With Policeman Hogan

Mr. Scalper sits writing in the reporters' room of The
Daily Eclipse. The paper has gone to press and he is
alone; a wayward talented gentleman, this Mr. Scalper,
and employed by The Eclipse as a delineator of character
from handwriting. Any subscriber who forwards a specimen
of his handwriting is treated to a prompt analysis of
his character from Mr. Scalper's facile pen. The literary
genius has a little pile of correspondence beside him,
and is engaged in the practice of his art. Outside the
night is dark and rainy. The clock on the City Hall marks
the hour of two. In front of the newspaper office Policeman
Hogan walks drearily up and down his beat. The damp misery
of Hogan is intense. A belated gentleman in clerical
attire, returning home from a bed of sickness, gives him
a side-look of timid pity and shivers past. Hogan follows
the retreating figure with his eye; then draws forth a
notebook and sits down on the steps of The Eclipse building
to write in the light of the gas lamp. Gentlemen of
nocturnal habits have often wondered what it is that
Policeman Hogan and his brethren write in their little
books. Here are the words that are fashioned by the big
fist of the policeman:

"Two o'clock. All is well. There is a light in Mr.
Scalper's room above. The night is very wet and I am
unhappy and cannot sleep--my fourth night of insomnia.
Suspicious-looking individual just passed. Alas, how
melancholy is my life! Will the dawn never break! Oh,
moist, moist stone."

Mr. Scalper up above is writing too, writing with the
careless fluency of a man who draws his pay by the column.
He is delineating with skill and rapidity. The reporters'
room is gloomy and desolate. Mr. Scalper is a man of
sensitive temperament and the dreariness of his surroundings
depresses him. He opens the letter of a correspondent,
examines the handwriting narrowly, casts his eye around
the room for inspiration, and proceeds to delineate:

"G.H. You have an unhappy, despondent nature; your
circumstances oppress you, and your life is filled with
an infinite sadness. You feel that you are without hope--"

Mr. Scalper pauses, takes another look around the room,
and finally lets his eye rest for some time upon a tall
black bottle that stands on the shelf of an open cupboard.
Then he goes on:

"--and you have lost all belief in Christianity and a
future world and human virtue. You are very weak against
temptation, but there is an ugly vein of determination
in your character, when you make up your mind that you
are going to have a thing--"

Here Mr. Scalper stops abruptly, pushes back his chair,
and dashes across the room to the cupboard. He takes the
black bottle from the shelf, applies it to his lips, and
remains for some time motionless. He then returns to
finish the delineation of G.H. with the hurried words:


"On the whole I recommend you to persevere; you are doing
very well." Mr. Scalper's next proceeding is peculiar.
He takes from the cupboard a roll of twine, about fifty
feet in length, and attaches one end of it to the neck
of the bottle. Going then to one of the windows, he opens
it, leans out, and whistles softly. The alert ear of
Policeman Hogan on the pavement below catches the sound,
and he returns it. The bottle is lowered to the end of
the string, the guardian of the peace applies it to his
gullet, and for some time the policeman and the man of
letters remain attached by a cord of sympathy. Gentlemen
who lead the variegated life of Mr. Scalper find it well
to propitiate the arm of the law, and attachments of this
sort are not uncommon. Mr. Scalper hauls up the bottle,
closes the window, and returns to his task; the policeman
resumes his walk with a glow of internal satisfaction.
A glance at the City Hall clock causes him to enter
another note in his book.

"Half-past two. All is better. The weather is milder with
a feeling of young summer in the air. Two lights in Mr.
Scalper's room. Nothing has occurred which need be brought
to the notice of the roundsman."

Things are going better upstairs too. The delineator
opens a second envelope, surveys the writing of the
correspondent with a critical yet charitable eye, and
writes with more complacency.

"William H. Your writing shows a disposition which, though
naturally melancholy, is capable of a temporary
cheerfulness. You have known misfortune but have made up
your mind to look on the bright side of things. If you
will allow me to say so, you indulge in liquor but are
quite moderate in your use of it. Be assured that no harm
ever comes of this moderate use. It enlivens the intellect,
brightens the faculties, and stimulates the dormant fancy
into a pleasurable activity. It is only when carried to
excess--"

At this point the feelings of Mr. Scalper, who had been
writing very rapidly, evidently become too much for him.
He starts up from his chair, rushes two or three times
around the room, and finally returns to finish the
delineation thus: "it is only when carried to excess that
this moderation becomes pernicious."

Mr. Scalper succumbs to the train of thought suggested
and gives an illustration of how moderation to excess
may be avoided, after which he lowers the bottle to
Policeman Hogan with a cheery exchange of greetings.

The half-hours pass on. The delineator is writing busily
and feels that he is writing well. The characters of his
correspondents lie bare to his keen eye and flow from
his facile pen. From time to time he pauses and appeals
to the source of his inspiration; his humanity prompts
him to extend the inspiration to Policeman Hogan. The
minion of the law walks his beat with a feeling of more
than tranquillity. A solitary Chinaman, returning home
late from his midnight laundry, scuttles past. The literary
instinct has risen strong in Hogan from his connection
with the man of genius above him, and the passage of the
lone Chinee gives him occasion to write in his book:

"Four-thirty. Everything is simply great. There are four
lights in Mr. Scalper's room. Mild, balmy weather with
prospects of an earthquake, which may be held in check
by walking with extreme caution. Two Chinamen have just
passed--mandarins, I presume. Their walk was unsteady,
but their faces so benign as to disarm suspicion."

Up in the office Mr. Scalper has reached the letter of
a correspondent which appears to give him particular
pleasure, for he delineates the character with a beaming
smile of satisfaction. To the unpractised eye the writing
resembles the prim, angular hand of an elderly spinster.
Mr. Scalper, however, seems to think otherwise, for he
writes:

"Aunt Dorothea. You have a merry, rollicking nature. At
times you are seized with a wild, tumultuous hilarity to
which you give ample vent in shouting and song. You are
much addicted to profanity, and you rightly feel that
this is part of your nature and you must not check it.
The world is a very bright place to you, Aunt Dorothea.
Write to me again soon. Our minds seem cast in the same
mould."

Mr. Scalper seems to think that he has not done full
justice to the subject he is treating, for he proceeds
to write a long private letter to Aunt Dorothea in addition
to the printed delineation. As he finishes the City Hall
clock points to five, and Policeman Hogan makes the last
entry in his chronicle. Hogan has seated himself upon
the steps of The Eclipse building for greater comfort
and writes with a slow, leisurely fist:

"The other hand of the clock points north and the second
longest points south-east by south. I infer that it is
five o'clock. The electric lights in Mr. Scalper's room
defy the eye. The roundsman has passed and examined my
notes of the night's occurrences. They are entirely
satisfactory, and he is pleased with their literary form.
The earthquake which I apprehended was reduced to a few
minor oscillations which cannot reach me where I sit--"

The lowering of the bottle interrupts Policeman Hogan.
The long letter to Aunt Dorothea has cooled the ardour
of Mr. Scalper. The generous blush has passed from his
mind and he has been trying in vain to restore it. To
afford Hogan a similar opportunity, he decides not to
haul the bottle up immediately, but to leave it in his
custody while he delineates a character. The writing of
this correspondent would seem to the inexperienced eye
to be that of a timid little maiden in her teens. Mr.
Scalper is not to be deceived by appearances. He shakes
his head mournfully at the letter and writes:

"Little Emily. You have known great happiness, but it
has passed. Despondency has driven you to seek forgetfulness
in drink. Your writing shows the worst phase of the liquor
habit. I apprehend that you will shortly have delirium
tremens. Poor little Emily! Do not try to break off; it
is too late."

Mr. Scalper is visibly affected by his correspondent's
unhappy condition. His eye becomes moist, and he decides
to haul up the bottle while there is still time to save
Policeman Hogan from acquiring a taste for liquor. He is
surprised and alarmed to find the attempt to haul it up
ineffectual. The minion of the law has fallen into a
leaden slumber, and the bottle remains tight in his grasp.
The baffled delineator lets fall the string and returns
to finish his task. Only a few lines are now required to
fill the column, but Mr. Scalper finds on examining the
correspondence that he has exhausted the subjects. This,
however, is quite a common occurrence and occasions no
dilemma in the mind of the talented gentleman. It is his
custom in such cases to fill up the space with an imaginary
character or two, the analysis of which is a task most
congenial to his mind. He bows his head in thought for
a few moments, and then writes as follows:

"Policeman H. Your hand shows great firmness; when once
set upon a thing you are not easily moved. But you have
a mean, grasping disposition and a tendency to want more
than your share. You have formed an attachment which you
hope will be continued throughout life, but your selfishness
threatens to sever the bond."

Having written which, Mr. Scalper arranges his manuscript
for the printer next day, dons his hat and coat, and
wends his way home in the morning twilight, feeling that
his pay is earned.

Stephen Leacock