"Mammon and the Archer" by American author William Sydney Porter, better known by the pseudonym, O. Henry, was first published in the 1906 short story collection, The Four Million
, including the classic O. Henry story "The Gift of the Magi." "Mammon and the Archer" follows wealthy entrepreneur Anthony Rockwall as he helps his son win the hand of a young aristocratic woman in marriage.
To fully understand "Mammon and the Archer," it is important to know the context behind the publication of the stories contained in The Four Million
. The author chose the name of his story collection in response to a snide comment made in 1892 by Ward McAllister, a New York high society tastemaker who believed that only four hundred of New York's four million people truly mattered. O. Henry, however, was far more interested in the four million than the four hundred. For example, the protagonist of "Mammon and the Archer" is Anthony Rockwall who, despite being a millionaire, is not considered by the society pages to be a member of the city's elite because he made his fortune himself and does not belong to one of the city's rich families with their old money.
Rockwall both welcomes and resents the hatred he receives from his elite old money neighbors. For instance, when the rich neighbors complain about a Renaissance sculpture Rockwall has in his front yard, the man resolves to paint his house red, white, and blue, just to incense the rich neighbors.
On a phone call with his son, Richard, Rockwall commends Richard for paying less than his wealthy peers for basic hygiene supplies. He tells Richard that while it takes most families three generations to produce true gentlemen, it only took the Rockwalls one generation. Richard, however, is insecure in his status as a gentleman and even less certain of his father's belief that money, new or not, can buy anything, including status. Richard is in love with Miss Lantry, a young woman who comes from a long line of rich family members of the New York aristocracy. Unfortunately, Richard has thus far failed to win her heart; worse, he's running out of time. Miss Lantry leaves for Europe in two days and won't return for two years. Making matters more difficult, Miss Lantry, like other members of the aristocracy, keeps a very tight schedule, giving Richard only a few minutes each day in which to woo her. Despite the seeming unlikelihood of winning her over, Richard's father cryptically suggests that, with enough money, such a thing can, indeed, be done.
The following evening, Richard is visited by his Aunt Ellen, who agrees with Richard that money can't buy everything. Nevertheless, she wants to help her nephew, and so she gives him a gold ring to give to Miss Lantry that night—the last night Richard will be able to accompany his beloved to the theater before she leaves for Europe. The ring, Ellen says, belonged to Richard's mother who passed away; it is said that the ring brings good luck in love. Richard puts the ring in the pocket of his vest, but he drops it from the coach later in the evening on the way to the theater with Miss Lantry. Richard begs the coachman to stop. Unfortunately, while Richard is retrieving the ring from the street, the coach is overwhelmed by traffic, preventing them from making it to the theater in time. Richard apologizes profusely, but Miss Lantry says she is more interested in the gold ring than she is in the theater.
The reader discovers what happens next second-hand when Aunt Ellen visits Anthony Rockwall. She reveals that against all odds, Richard and Miss Lantry are now engaged. Aunt Ellen brags that she was right and Anthony was wrong because it was love, and the good luck of the ring, that finally brings Richard and Miss Lantry together, not money. However, Rockwall dismisses Ellen and, without going into details, says it was actually money, not love, that brought about their union.
The next day a man named Kelly visits Rockwall. Kelly is there to collect a payment for services rendered. The services in question? Kelly paid a bunch of coachmen and other travelers to cause the traffic jam that stranded Richard and Miss Lantry. In jest, Rockwall asks Kelly if he saw a little chubby boy with a bow and arrows on the scene. Kelly doesn't understand that Rockwall is jokingly referring to Cupid and his love arrows, and so he says no, he is not aware of any such character being on the scene. This is enough to reinforce Rockwall 's belief that money, not love, was the key instrument in bringing his son and his beloved together.
With its surprise ending and wry commentary on wealth and privilege in America, "Mammon and the Archer" is a winning example of O. Henry's much-loved style of storytelling.