Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son/Letter 19

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No. 19
From John Graham, at the New York house of Graham & Co., to his son, Pierrepont, at the Union Stock Yards in Chicago. The old man, on the voyage home, has met a girl who interests him and who in turn seems to be interested in Mr. Pierrepont.


New York, November 4, 189–

Dear Pierrepont: Who is this Helen Heath, and what are your intentions there? She knows a heap more about you than she ought to know if they're not serious, and I know a heap less about her than I ought to know if they are. Hadn't got out of sight of land before we'd become acquainted somehow, and she's been treating me like a father clear across the Atlantic. She's a mighty pretty girl, and a mighty nice girl, and a mighty sensible girl—in fact she's so exactly the sort of girl I'd like to see you marry that I'm afraid there's nothing in it.

Of course, your salary isn't a large one yet, but you can buy a whole lot of happiness with fifty dollars a week when you have the right sort of a woman for your purchasing agent. And while I don't go much on love in a cottage, love in a flat, with fifty a week as a starter, is just about right, if the girl is just about right. If she isn't, it doesn't make any special difference how you start out, you're going to end up all wrong.

Money ought never to be the consideration in marriage, but it always ought to be a consideration. When a boy and a girl don't think enough about money before the ceremony, they're going to have to think altogether too much about it after; and when a man's doing sums at home evenings, it comes kind of awkward for him to try to hold his wife on his lap.

There's nothing in this talk that two can live cheaper than one. A good wife doubles a man's expenses and doubles his happiness, and that's a pretty good investment if a fellow's got the money to invest. I have met women who had cut their husband's expenses in half, but they needed the money because they had doubled their own. I might add, too, that I've met a good many husbands who had cut their wives' expenses in half, and they fit naturally into any discussion of our business, because they are hogs. There's a point where economy becomes a vice, and that's when a man leaves its practice to his wife.

An unmarried man is a good deal like a piece of unimproved real estate—he may be worth a whole lot of money, but he isn't of any particular use except to build on. The great trouble with a lot of these fellows is that they're "made land," and if you dig down a few feet you strike ooze and booze under the layer of dollars that their daddies dumped in on top. Of course, the only way to deal with a proposition of that sort is to drive forty-foot piles clear down to solid rock and then to lay railroad iron and cement till you've got something to build on. But a lot of women will go right ahead without any preliminaries and wonder what's the matter when the walls begin to crack and tumble about their ears.

I never come across a case of this sort without thinking of Jack Carter, whose father died about ten years ago and left Jack a million dollars, and left me as trustee of both until Jack reached his twenty-fifth birthday. I didn't relish the job particularly, because Jack was one of these charlotte-russe boys, all whipped cream and sponge cake and high-priced flavoring extracts, without any filling qualities. There wasn't any special harm in him, but there wasn't any special good, either, and I always feel that there's more hope for a fellow who's an out and out cuss than for one who's simply made up of a lot of little trifling meannesses. Jack wore mighty warm clothes and mighty hot vests, and the girls all said that he was a perfect dream, but I've never been one who could get a great deal of satisfaction out of dreams.

It's mighty seldom that I do an exhibition mile, but the winter after I inherited Jack—he was twenty-three years old then—your Ma kept after me so strong that I finally put on my fancy harness and let her trot me around to a meet at the Ralstons one evening. Of course, I was in the Percheron class, and so I just stood around with a lot of heavy old draft horses, who ought to have been resting up in their stalls, and watched the three-year-olds prance and cavort round the ring. Jack was among them, of course, dancing with the youngest Churchill girl, and holding her a little tighter, I thought, than was necessary to keep her from falling. Had both ends working at once—never missed a stitch with his heels and was turning out a steady stream of fancy work with his mouth. And all the time he was looking at that girl as intent and eager as a Scotch terrier at a rat hole.

I happened just then to be pinned into a corner with two or three women who couldn't escape—Edith Curzon, a great big brunette whom I knew Jack had been pretty soft on, and little Mabel Moore, a nice roly-poly blonde, and it didn't take me long to see that they were watching Jack with a hair-pulling itch in their finger-tips. In fact, it looked to me as if the young scamp was a good deal more popular than the facts about him, as I knew them, warranted him in being.

I slipped out early, but next evening, when I was sitting in my little smoking-room, Jack came charging in, and, without any sparring for an opening, burst out with:

"Isn't she a stunner, Mr. Graham!"

I allowed that Miss Curzon was something on the stun.

"Miss Curzon, indeed," he sniffed. "She's well enough in a big, black way, but Miss Churchill——" and he began to paw the air for adjectives.

"But how was I to know that you meant Miss Churchill?" I answered. "It's just a fortnight now since you told me that Miss Curzon was a goddess, and that she was going to reign in your life and make it a heaven, or something of that sort. I forget just the words, but they were mighty beautiful thoughts and did you credit."

"Don't remind me of it," Jack groaned. "It makes me sick every time I think what an ass I've been."

I allowed that I felt a little nausea myself, but I told him that this time, at least, he'd shown some sense; that Miss Churchill was a mighty pretty girl and rich enough so that her liking him didn't prove anything worse against her than bad judgment; and that the thing for him to do was to quit his foolishness, propose to her, and dance the heel, toe, and a one, two, three with her for the rest of his natural days.

Jack hemmed and hawked a little over this, but finally he came out with it:

"That's the deuce of it," says he. "I'm in a beastly mess—I want to marry her—she's the only girl in the world for me—the only one I've ever really loved, and I've proposed—that is, I want to propose to her, but I'm engaged to Edith Curzon on the quiet."

"I reckon you'll marry her, then," I said; "because she strikes me as a young woman who's not going to lose a million dollars without putting a tracer after it."

"And that's not the worst of it," Jack went on.

"Not the worst of it! What do you mean! You haven't married her on the quiet, too, have you?"

"No, but there's Mabel Moore, you know."

I didn't know, but I guessed. "You haven't been such a double-barreled donkey as to give her an option on yourself, too?"

"No, no; but I've said things to her which she may have misconstrued, if she's inclined to be literal."

"You bet she is," I answered. "I never saw a nice, fat, blonde girl who took a million-dollar offer as a practical joke. What is it you've said to her? 'I love you, darling,' or something about as foxy and noncommittal."

"Not that—not that at all; but she may have stretched what I said to mean that."

Well, sir, I just laid into that fellow when I heard that, though I could see that he didn't think it was refined of me. He'd never made it any secret that he thought me a pretty coarse old man, and his face showed me now that I was jarring his delicate works.

"I suppose I have been indiscreet," he said, "but I must say I expected something different from you, after coming out this way and owning up. Of course, if you don't care to help me——"

I cut him short there. "I've got to help you. But I want you to tell me the truth. How have you managed to keep this Curzon girl from announcing her engagement to you?"

"Well," and there was a scared grin on Jack's face now; "I told her that you, as trustee under father's will, had certain unpleasant powers over my money—in fact, that most of it would revert to Sis if I married against your wishes, and that you disliked her, and that she must work herself into your good graces before we could think of announcing our engagement."

I saw right off that he had told Mabel Moore the same thing, and that was why those two girls had been so blamed polite to me the night before. So I rounded on him sudden.

"You're engaged to that Miss Moore, too, aren't you?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Why didn't you come out like a man and say so at first?"

"I couldn't, Mr. Graham. Someways it seemed like piling it up so, and you take such a cold-blooded, unsympathetic view of these things."

"Perhaps I do; yes, I'm afraid I do. How far are you committed to Miss Churchill?"

Jack cheered right up. "I'm all right there, at least. She hasn't answered."

"Then you've asked?"

"Why, so I have; at least she may take it for something like asking. But I don't care; I want to be committed there; I can't live without her; she's the only——"

I saw that he was beginning to foam up again, so I shut him off straight at the spigot. Told him to save it till after the ceremony. Set him down to my desk, and dictated two letters, one to Edith Curzon and the other to Mabel Moore, and made him sign and seal them, then and there. He twisted and squirmed and tried to wiggle off the hook, but I wouldn't give him any slack. Made him come right out and say that he was a yellow pup; that he had made a mistake; and that the stuff was all off, though I worded it a little different from that. Slung in some fancy words and high-toned phrases.

You see, I had made up my mind that the best of a bad matter was the Churchill girl, and I didn't propose to have her commit herself, too, until I'd sort of cleared away the wreckage. Then I reckoned on copper-riveting their engagement by announcing it myself and standing over Jack with a shotgun to see that there wasn't any more nonsense. They were both so light-headed and light-waisted and light-footed that it seemed to me that they were just naturally mates.

Jack reached for those letters when they were addressed and started to put them in his pocket, but I had reached first. I reckon he'd decided that something might happen to them on their way to the post-office; but nothing did, for I called in the butler and made him go right out and mail them then and there.

I'd had the letters dated from my house, and I made Jack spend the night there. I reckoned it might be as well to keep him within reaching distance for the next day or two. He showed up at breakfast in the morning looking like a calf on the way to the killing pens, and I could see that his thoughts were mighty busy following the postman who was delivering those letters. I tried to cheer him up by reading some little odds and ends from the morning paper about other people's troubles, but they didn't seem to interest him.

"They must just about have received them," he finally groaned into his coffee cup. "Why did I send them! What will those girls think of me! They'll cut me dead—never speak to me again."

The butler came in before I could tell him that this was about what we'd calculated on their doing, and said: "Beg pardon, sir, but there's a lady asking for you at the telephone."

"A lady!" says Jack. "Tell her I'm not here." Talk to one of those girls, even from a safe distance! He guessed not. He turned as pale as a hog on ice at the thought of it.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the man, "but I've already said that you were breakfasting here. She said it was very important."

I could see that Jack's curiosity was already getting the best of his scare. After all, he threw out, feeling me, it might be best to hear what she had to say. I thought so, too, and he went to the instrument and shouted "Hello!" in what he tried to make a big, brave voice, but it wobbled a little all the same.

I got the other end of the conversation from him when he was through.

"Hello! Is that you, Jack?" chirped the Curzon girl.

"Yes. Who is that?"

"Edith," came back. "I have your letter, but I can't make out what it's all about. Come this afternoon and tell me, for we're still good friends, aren't we, Jack?"

"Yes—certainly," stammered Jack.

"And you'll come?"

"Yes," he answered, and cut her off.

He had hardly recovered from this shock when a messenger boy came with a note, addressed in a woman's writing.

"Now for it," he said, and breaking the seal read:

"'Jack dear: Your horrid note doesn't say anything, nor explain anything. Come this afternoon and tell what it means to

"Here's a go," exclaimed Jack, but he looked pleased in a sort of sneaking way. "What do you think of it, Mr. Graham?"

"I don't like it."

"Think they intend to cut up?" he asked.

"Like a sausage machine; and yet I don't see how they can stand for you after that letter."

"Well, shall I go?"

"Yes, in fact I suppose you must go; but Jack, be a man. Tell 'em plain and straight that you don't love 'em as you should to marry 'em; say you saw your old girl a few days ago and found you loved her still, or something from the same trough, and stick to it. Take what you deserve. If they hold you up to the bull-ring, the only thing you can do is to propose to take the whole bunch to Utah, and let 'em share and share alike. That'll settle it. Be firm."

"As a rock, sir."

I made Jack come downtown and lunch with me, but when I started him off, about two o'clock, he looked so like a cat padding up the back-stairs to where she knows there's a little canary meat—scared, but happy—that I said once more: "Now be firm, Jack."

"Firm's the word, sir," was the resolute answer.

"And unyielding."

"As the old guard." And Jack puffed himself out till he was as chesty as a pigeon on a barn roof, and swung off down the street looking mighty fine and manly from the rear.

I never really got the straight of it, but I pieced together these particulars later. At the corner there was a flower store. Jack stepped inside and sent a box of roses by special messenger to Miss Curzon, so there might be something to start conversation when he got there. Two blocks farther on he passed a second florist's, turned back and sent some lilies to Miss Moore, for fear she might think he'd forgotten her during the hour or more before he could work around to her house. Then he chased about and found a third florist, from whom he ordered some violets for Miss Churchill, to remind her that she had promised him the first dance at the Blairs' that night. Your Ma told me that Jack had nice instincts about these little things which women like, and always put a good deal of heavy thought into selecting his flowers for them. It's been my experience that a critter who has instincts instead of sense belongs in the bushes with the dicky-birds.

No one ever knew just what happened to Jack during the next three hours. He showed up at his club about five o'clock with a mighty conceited set to his jaw, but it dropped as if the spring had broken when he caught sight of me waiting for him in the reading-room.

"You here?" he asked as he threw himself into a chair.

"You bet," I said. "I wanted to hear how you made out. You settled the whole business, I take it?" but I knew mighty well from his looks that he hadn't settled anything.

"Not—not exactly—that is to say, entirely; but I've made a very satisfactory beginning."

"Began it all over again, I suppose."

This hit so near the truth that Jack jumped, in spite of himself, and then he burst out with a really swear. I couldn't have been more surprised if your Ma had cussed.

"Damn it, sir, I won't stand any more of your confounded meddling. Those letters were a piece of outrageous brutality. I'm breaking off with the girls, but I've gone about it in a gentler and, I hope, more dignified, way."

"Jack, I don't believe any such stuff and guff. You're tied up to them harder and tighter than ever."

I could see I'd made a bull's eye, for Jack began to bluster, but I cut him short with:

"Go to the devil your own way," and walked out of the club. I reckon that Jack felt mighty disturbed for as much as an hour, but a good dinner took the creases out of his system. He'd found that Miss Moore didn't intend to go to the Blairs', and that Miss Curzon had planned to go to a dance with her sister somewheres else, so he calculated on having a clear track for a trial spin with Miss Churchill.

I surprised your Ma a good deal that evening by allowing that I'd go to the Blairs' myself, for it looked to me as if the finals might be trotted there, and I thought I'd better be around, because, while I didn't see much chance of getting any sense into Jack's head, I felt I ought to do what I could on my friendship account with his father.

Jack was talking to Miss Churchill when I came into the room, and he was tending to business so strictly that he didn't see me bearing down on him from one side of the room, nor Edith Curzon's sister, Mrs. Dick, a mighty capable young married woman, bearing down on him from the other, nor Miss Curzon, with one of his roses in her hair, watching him from a corner. There must have been a council of war between the sisters that afternoon, and a change of their plans for the evening.

Mrs. Dick beat me stalking Jack, but I was just behind, a close second. He didn't

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son 349.jpg
"Miss Curzon, with one of his roses in her hair, watching him from a corner."

see her until she got right up to him and rapped him on the arm with her fan.

"Dear Jack," she says, all smiles and sugar; "dear Jack, I've just heard. Edith has told me, though I'd suspected something for a long, long time, you rogue," and she fetched him another kittenish clip with the fan.

Jack looked about the way I once saw old Miss Curley, the president of the Good Templars back in our town in Missouri, look at a party when she half-swallowed a spoonful of her ice cream before she discovered that it was flavored with liquor.

But he stammered something and hurried Miss Churchill away, though not before a fellow who was going by had wrung his hand and said, "Congratulations, old chap. Just heard the news."

Jack's only idea seemed to travel, and to travel far and fast, and he dragged his partner along to the other end of the room, while I followed the band. We had almost gone the length of the course, when Jack, who had been staring ahead mighty hard, shied and balked, for there, not ten feet away, stood Miss Moore, carrying his lilies, and blushing and smiling at something young Blakely was saying to her.

I reckon Jack guessed what that something was, but just then Blakely caught sight of him and rushed up to where he was standing.

"I congratulate you, Jack," he said. "Miss Moore's a charming girl."

And now Miss Churchill slipped her hand from his arm and turned and looked at Jack. Her lips were laughing, but there was something in her eye which made Jack turn his own away.

"Oh, you lucky Jack," she laughed. "You twice lucky Jack."

Jack simply curled up: "Wretched mistake somewhere," he mumbled. "Awfully hot here—get you a glass of water," and he rushed off. He dodged around Miss Moore, and made a flank movement which got him by Miss Curzon and safely to the door. He kept on; I followed.

I had to go to New York on business next day. Jack had already gone there, bought a ticket for Europe, and was just loafing around the pier trying to hurry the steamer off. I went down to see him start, and he looked so miserable that I'd have felt sorry for him if I hadn't seen him look miserable before.

"Is it generally known, sir, do you think?" he asked me humbly. "Can't you hush it up somehow?"

"Hush it up! You might as well say 'Shoo!' to the Limited and expect it to stop for you."

"Mr. Graham, I'm simply heartbroken over it all. I know I shall never reach Liverpool. I'll go mad on the voyage across, and throw myself overboard. I'm too delicately strung to stand a thing of this sort."

"Delicate rats! You haven't nerve enough not to stand it," I said. "Brace up and be a man, and let this be a lesson to you. Good-bye."

Jack took my hand sort of mechanically and looked at me without seeing me, for his grief-dimmed eyes, in straying along the deck, had lit on that pretty little Southern baggage, Fanny Fairfax. And as I started off he was leaning over her in the same old way, looking into her brown eyes as if he saw a full-course dinner there.

"Think of your being on board!" I heard him say. "I'm the luckiest fellow alive; by Jove, I am!"

I gave Jack up, and an ex-grass widow is keeping him in order now. I don't go much on grass widows, but I give her credit for doing a pretty good job. She's got Jack so tame that he eats out of her hand, and so well trained that he don't allow strangers to pet him.

I inherited one Jack—I couldn't help that. But I don't propose to wake up and find another one in the family. So you write me what's what by return.

Your affectionate father,

John Graham.