The Fifth Wheel (Henry)

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The Fifth Wheel
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A former coachman and a man out of work bond over their shared struggles and desire for a better life, only to be separated when the former is unexpectedly reunited with his former employers.

Thomas McQuade, a former coachman, found himself standing in a line of homeless men waiting for a free bed on a cold night. He had been fired from his job a month ago due to his alcoholism and was now struggling to survive on the streets. As he stood in line, he struck up a conversation with a young man who shared his own story of hardship, having been out of work for a year and separated from his wife and child.

Thomas McQuade — ex-coachman; discharged for drunkenness; desperate, freezing, angry.
Freddy — man out of work; married unwisely; sick and unemployed.

"I’ve been out of work for a year because I don’t know how to work; and I’ve been sick in Bellevue and other hospitals for months. My wife and kid had to go back to her mother. I was turned out of the hospital yesterday. And I haven’t a cent. That’s my tale of woe."

Suddenly, a luxurious motor car sped by, losing one of its tires in the process. Thomas seized the opportunity to retrieve the tire and return it to the car's owner, hoping for a reward. Instead, the mysterious and wealthy owner of the car invited Thomas to his home, where he was treated to a lavish meal and intriguing conversation. However, when the man discovered that Thomas was not the person he had been searching for, he promptly kicked him out of the house.

Undeterred, Thomas returned to the line of homeless men, where he was soon reunited with his former employer's lady's maid, Annie. She informed him that a clairvoyant named Professor Cherubusco had told her and her mistress where to find him, and that he was being offered his old job back. Thomas gratefully accepted the offer and accompanied Annie back to his former home.

Annie — Thomas's former employer's lady's maid; caring, loyal.

Meanwhile, the young man Thomas had spoken to earlier in the line was also discovered by Annie, who recognized him as the long-lost son of her employer. The young man, Walter, was overjoyed to learn that his mother had been searching for him and eagerly agreed to return home as well.

In the end, both Thomas and Walter were given a second chance at life, thanks to the mysterious Professor Cherubusco and his seemingly magical abilities.