The rapid growth of the Bousted & Son firm effects certain important changes in our lives, of which our removal to Allegheny is not the least.
My father was so ridiculously pleased with me for the next week or so that I found myself wishing, on more than one occasion, that he could find at least one fault in me, so that at least for a quarter-hour at a stretch I might be spared that hideous simian grin of his. Outwardly, I continued to play the part of the devoted and dutiful son, because it was still to my advantage to do so. Inwardly, I could be as contemptuous as I liked. Indeed, one of my most delightful discoveries since adopting the system of Baucher was the freedom I felt inwardly. The outer man continued to abide by all the precepts of virtue, as far as anyone could see, even while the inner man was wonderfully wicked. There had been a time when I dismissed such seeming virtue as hypocrisy; now I called it expedient.
In that next week, I spent almost all my waking hours hard at work. Not a single day went by without the appearance of at least four or five ladies whose penmanship required analysis, and by the end of the week we were already coming near the end of our stock of paper in some grades. In the evenings I walked across the Allegheny—or, when I was feeling especially prosperous, rode the horse-car—to the great Boggs & Buhl establishment, where I trained half a dozen clerks in the Bousted system of handwriting analysis. Orders were coming briskly there as well, and it was not long before more of Bousted’s Famous Graded Stationery was being sold at Boggs & Buhl than from our own store. That was good news, since we stood to make a healthy profit from the sales there with very little work, now that the clerks were properly trained. Very soon it was time to order more paper, which we did on the same terms as before—Boggs & Buhl to pay for the entire lot, and Bousted & Son to take a quarter of it, along with our fee in excess of the value of the paper. It amounted to being paid to take the paper we were going to sell—an arrangement of whose obvious advantage even my father was aware.
As all this was going on, Camellia had her birth-day. I was careful to stay home that evening, giving myself a holiday from training clerks, so that I could make a show of interest in my horrible sister’s happiness. As long as my father doted on his two hideous girls as much as he did on me, it was greatly to my advantage to give them as little real cause for complaint as possible. Camellia was in fact much pleased with the parasol I gave her, declaring it the “nicest” gift she had ever received. This in turn caused a simply delightful falling-out between her and Viola that lasted for days, during which Camellia went out of her way to be civil to me, which was very good, and Viola would not speak to me at all, which was better. She refused to smile for anyone except the silent clerk across the street, who appeared to melt into the curtain whenever she noticed him gawking at her and smiled at him.
I should also mention that, every time I walked up or down Federal-street, or rode the horse-car, I looked among the milling crowds for that girl. I never saw her, but I always looked for her. And you, dear reader, are perfectly well aware that I must see her eventually, or I should not have mentioned her in the first place. But for the present I did not see her, and that is all I can say.
Our next order of stationery was four times the size of the previous one; I won a substantially lower price from Cargill Bros., but charged Boggs & Buhl at the same rate. Since that remarkable day when Mrs. Rockland had blustered into the store, we had made more in profit than we had made in the entire previous year. My father was ecstatic, and gave me all the credit, which of course was only my due. Camellia at least affected to be pleased as well. Viola was simply speechless with impotent fury, which is the way I always like her best.
We packed bundles as carefully as we could, but still there was no room for about a third of the paper in the back of the shop. I refused to allow the excess to go down into the dank basement, so it went up into my attic: I carried a few reams at a time up three flights of stairs. Viola was somewhat pleased by this inconvenience to me, and even ventured a few cheerfully ill-natured remarks on the subject at supper before my father’s oafish pride in his son reduced her to sullen silence again. As for me, I regarded the carefully distributed bundles as trophies, and it gave me distinct pleasure to gaze on them just before retiring—though I must confess that my thoughts, just before I drifted into the arms of Morpheus for the night, were not of paper, but invariably of that girl on Federal-street.
The parade of pretentious middle-class ladies continued its unabated march through the little store. A few men came in as well, but it was plain that Bousted’s Famous Graded Stationery (now advertised in large gold letters on the display window) appealed mostly to women. I suspected that most of our male patrons had been sent to us by their wives. My father was ridiculously happy almost all the time, and he found himself in possession of more money than he had ever seen in one place in his life, as he remarked at least once per diem. I was of course pleased as well, but I did not carry the thing to such loathsome extremes.
It was not long before we were in need of even more stock, and it was quite clear that, if we were to continue expanding the business this way, we should need to keep a larger stock, or continually be running short. Since there was no room for a larger stock, even with my attic taken up mostly by bundles of paper, we had to find somewhere else to keep it all.
“The difficulty,” my father said, “is that the goods will have to be transported. That will cost us over and above the cost of warehouse space.”
“There is an alternative,” I said, seized by a sudden inspiration. “We could move ourselves, rather than move our stock.”
“What do you mean by that, Galahad? Your sisters have already made it clear that they aren’t willing to give up any space in their own rooms.”
“No, I mean take a house. We could devote this entire building to store and stock if we lived in a separate house.”
My father laughed—not a jolly laugh, but a worried and uncertain sort of laugh. “That would cost a great deal of money.”
“And we have a great deal of money, with more coming in every day. We could take—”
Here, all unbidden, the image of that girl on Federal-street rose up in my mind.
“We could take a house in Allegheny,” I suggested. “The air is healthier, and the horse-car makes it a practical distance. All the better class of merchants are moving to Allegheny, or the newer parts of Birmingham. We might even expand the store—add a selection of maps, which I hear are very profitable, or children’s books, for the children who already come in for their school things. The benefit to the store of a little more space must be obvious.” And in my mind I added, “even to an oaf like you,” though of course outwardly I was perfectly respectful.
My father thought for a moment, and the effort it cost him was painfully visible. “I don’t think it’s time for that yet,” he said at last. “We’ve been doing pretty well, but I’d like to know that the money will keep coming in before I spend it all.”
“Well, of—” I began,—and then I stopped. “Well, of course I shall defer to your judgment,” I said in my best approximation of a dutiful son’s expression. I had nearly said, “Well, of course it will keep coming in, you old fool,” but I restrained myself. It was of great importance that I should appear to be a dutiful son. I had not yet reached my twenty-first birthday; as much as I had accomplished, I was still, in the eyes of the world, my father’s son. The reputation of the store—the capital of my nascent empire—would be adversely affected by even the rumor of any falling-out with my father. I suppressed, therefore, the words I desired to speak, and substituted the words my father desired to hear.
It was an obvious necessity, however, that we should remove from the store to a separate residence. While we lived above the store, we were no more than shopkeepers, even if prosperous shopkeepers. My father might be content to live as a shopkeeper the rest of his life; and if there were shops in that dreary Methodist heaven he believed in, he might keep one there as well. I, however, was bound for greater things, and I must take the reins, while seeming to all the world to submit to my father.
The next shipment of paper arrived, larger than the last, and my attic was beginning to fill up with the bundles. I had little objection to the inconvenience, which was easily borne; but it did keep my father’s shortsightedness ever before my eyes. I must find some way of overcoming it—but without appearing to deviate from that filial obedience, the appearance of which was essential to my interests, even as the practical violation of it was essential to my advancement. Clearly it was necessary to bring in even more money, so that even my father could be persuaded that we had enough to take a house in Allegheny.
“Rohrbaugh’s,” I said suddenly at supper one evening.
“I beg your pardon?” my father responded interrogatively.
“We have given Boggs & Buhl the exclusive trade in the Graded Stationery for Allegheny, but nothing prevents us from making the same agreement with Rohrbaugh’s for Pittsburgh, and thus doubling our income from the department-store trade.”
“But would that not simply take patrons away from our store?” my father asked.
I said nothing, because there was (much as it pains me to say so even now) some justice in his objection.
“Really, Galahad,” Viola added, “don’t be a noodle.” It appeared that she was speaking to me again.
I was sullen and dejected the rest of the evening, although to all appearances as cheerful as ever. It was not until I had nearly fallen asleep that night that I had my next sudden revelation. Yes, it was foolish, and probably even fatal to my ultimate design, to give Rohrbaugh’s the sale of my Graded Stationery. But there were department stores in other cities—in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, St. Louis. These stores would certainly not draw patrons away from us—yet there were dozens of them, hundreds perhaps. I quickly multiplied the profit we made from the Boggs & Buhl sales by one hundred, and idly calculated how large a house, with how many carriages, I could buy with that money.
The next morning, my father came down as I was marshaling my troops, as I called it—which is to say, arranging everything in perfect order, so that it could be retrieved instantly when a patron requested it.
“Good morning, Galahad,” he said with his usual oafish cheer.
“If I double our income by Christmas,” I asked without any preliminary greeting, “will you take a house in Allegheny?”
My father was silent for a moment; then he laughed briefly; then, when that also seemed to have failed him as a response, he asked me, “What sort of doubling do you mean?”
“I mean that December’s receipts shall be twice last month’s. No”—here a spirit of boastfulness entered my soul—“they shall be twice this month’s, which are already a good bit more than last month’s. And we shall count the receipts until Christmas only, not any in the week after Christmas. If the receipts from the first to the twenty-fourth of December, from all our various ventures—the store and the Boggs & Buhl contract and anything else—if what we take in then is double our receipts for the entire month of September, will you agree that we should take a house in Allegheny, and use our rooms here to expand the store?”
My father smiled that empty smile that always contorted his lips when the conversation ascended to heights he could not climb. “My boy, if you can do that, I’ll remove us to Allegheny, and I’ll stand on my head while I do it.”
“I do not believe that will be necessary,” I told him. “The removal to Allegheny will be sufficient.”
He laughed with an ear-splitting bellow, as if he had just heard the most splendid bon mot ever spoken by the mouth of man. I made some show of laughing, too, to show him that I was in good spirits, because that, in turn, in his oafish devotion to me, always put him in good spirits. I was rapidly learning that keeping my father happy was essential to my success, for which reason it behooved me, as a rational (which is to say evil) man, to study his disposition and learn what made him happy. The small effort it cost me was an investment that would reap large dividends in the future.
“I should be down long before we open,” I said, heading for the stairway. “I have something to attend to upstairs, but it won’t take long.”
And then I ran up the stairs, doubtless thundering my sisters awake (which I am sure I did not regret in the least), and sat down at my little table in the dormer to draft a letter. I laid out the distinct advantages of the Bousted system of graded stationery, and what was far more important (I used the exact phrase “what is far more important”) the appeal of it to ladies of a certain class, and their willingness to pay high prices for it; I mentioned the successful introduction of the line at Boggs & Buhl, and how ordinary clerks were, by a short course of training, fitted to perform the requisite evaluations; how the name of Bousted was already a household word in Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and was rapidly becoming so elsewhere as the letters written by Pittsburgh ladies made their way around the world (this I simply made up, or, to put it more kindly to myself, extrapolated from the facts known to me); and I concluded by inviting the recipient to join the small and exclusive society of dealers who carried the genuine Bousted line, by which they were enabled to double or treble their sales of high-grade stationery (this figure I also extrapolated, to use a term that sounds ever so much better than making up).
I did not have time in the morning to copy out the letter, but I had written my draft. I faced the parade of ladies coming in to scribble for me with unforced cheerfulness. I was even polite and pleasant to Viola at supper, which discommoded her no end. In the evening I retired early and set to work copying the letter a dozen times, writing as neatly as I could. Here, for once, I was grateful for my schooling: I had been beaten mercilessly until I was able to write a very fair hand, which (I thought) reflected very creditably on the firm. I made sure, of course, to write on our own watermarked stationery, and to choose the grade that best matched my own penmanship. And then, at the foot of each letter, I signed my father’s name, in a better-than-tolerable facsimile of his antiquated flourish. Yes, I suppose it was deliberate fraud, but it was wonderful how easily the system of Baucher met that objection with the answer that it was a crime which it was in my interest to commit. I was not insensible of the disadvantage of my youth: howsoever much I had accomplished already, I was still uncommonly young in the eyes of the world; whereas my father, although I knew him as an ill-educated oaf, presented to the world the very picture of a respectable tradesman. It was of the greatest importance, therefore, that, if any of the gentlemen to whom I was writing should make inquiries, he should discover only a respectable stationer who had been in business for nearly two decades with an untarnished reputation.
Having finished copying, I looked at my pocket-watch. It was nearly midnight: I had been writing with such care that it had taken me more than three hours to finish the letters. But I did not feel at all fatigued. I lowered the gas, but I sat for some time in the darkness at the chair in my front dormer, gazing out at the empty street below me. From somewhere a street or two behind me I heard a group of inebriated revelers singing a rather ribald song about one Maisie, who apparently was lazy, and suffered the consequences of her lethargy, as detailed in a number of verses. As their voices faded into the low hum of steamboats on the rivers and trains along the shore, I reflected that I had never in my life been drunk that way. Until quite recently, I should have said, without thinking, that drunkenness was a sin; but now that I was living a life of sin, perhaps it was time to try the experiment. Those sturdy fellows down on Market-street, or wherever they were, sounded happy. I had only had wine at dinner—dreadful cheap stuff from New York, which my father considered a great luxury, and which he would buy only when he felt exceptionally prosperous. Since my father rightly attributed our current prosperity to me, Viola affected to disdain the wine, the palpable symbol of my success. “Where there’s drink there’s danger,” she repeated as often as she thought of it, proving at least that she could read a temperance tract. At any rate, as I said, I had wine at dinner, but never in sufficient quantities to intoxicate me to any perceptible degree. Perhaps it was time to try some of that famous Monongahela rye against which the temperance societies railed so monotonously.
But not to-night. I had already used up half the night writing, and I was very much inclined to devote the rest to Morpheus. I undressed and lay down to sleep, closing my eyes and summoning up visions of that girl on Federal-street.
I shall not weary you, as I wearied myself, with the many expedients to which I resorted to obtain out-of-town newspapers and other references; but eventually I succeeded in finding a dozen addresses of great department stores in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Providence, Washington, York, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and St. Louis. My letters were dispatched, and I had only to wait.
This waiting was an agony, the more so because no effort of mine could shorten it. I had to pretend that everything was going well for me, because I could not admit what I had done—not until I was certain of success. So I decided to get drunk.
It was, perhaps, the folly of youth that suggested such a course; but you must remember that I had no experience of drunkenness. It was said to be a vice, but I had turned away from virtue. My observations of the phenomenon from a distance suggested that it made men happy, and like any rational being I desired to be happy. My decision was a purely rational one, and I approached the implementation of it in a spirit of scientific inquiry.
My first step was to inquire into the popular methods of attaining that blessed state. I did not have far to go to do so. Viola had taken to leaving temperance tracts strewn about our little parlor, doubtless as a warning that my success (which enabled my father to buy wine for the table) would lead to damnation. I took up one of those tracts on Sunday afternoon and read it from front to back—an activity of which my elder sister coldly expressed her approval, which I know was really a gnawing displeasure, since, if I were converted to the cause of temperance, she must needs find some other vice in me on which to fasten her disapproval, and I had been very careful to conceal my devotion to vice under an impenetrable mask of false virtue.
The tract was nothing less than a complete manual of self-instruction for the novice tippler. In order to horrify the imagination of the female readers who were more than probably the only human beings besides myself who would ever read more than two lines of the thing, it described with wonderful thoroughness the scenes of appalling vice enacted in saloons throughout the land every Saturday night: how the poor lost soul, leaving his wife and children alone in the miserable hovel that was all he could provide for them (because, of course, his money went for drink), would walk into a saloon, where he was greeted convivially by other lost souls, demand rye whiskey, and begin an assault on his own mental faculties that did not end until well past midnight. I could not have asked for a better tutor. There was nothing for me to do but follow the detailed instructions in this comprehensive manual, and I could not fail at my enterprise. I wondered then, as I still wonder to-day, how many susceptible young men are led straight through the swinging doors by these temperance tracts. Perhaps the authors of them are all charlatans in the pay of the great distilleries. If it be so, I commend the inventor of the scheme.
It remained to find a place suitable for my experiment. The saloons were innumerable toward the Point, but their proximity made them unsuitable. I did not wish to be recognized. I must maintain that illusion of virtue in the eyes of my family and patrons which would allow my schemes to come to fruition. I was familiar with Allegheny, however, and in that happy city were many notorious haunts of demon rum. Since I was not well known there, it seemed quite reasonable to undertake the additional quarter-hour of walking, and the negligible toll on the bridge. I fixed on the next Saturday as the date of my expedition, since, if it proved necessary, I might thus have Sunday to recover from my exertions.
That week was uneventful, except in that it was our most successful week yet in the store. More than once I had two or three ladies waiting in the store at once for me to have a look at their writing. In the mean time, no letters came in from department stores. It was, of course, unreasonable for me to expect a reply within a week, but knowing that my impatience was unreasonable did not make me any more patient.
Saturday we closed the store at the usual time; and, as we ate supper, I announced that I had plans to visit a friend in Allegheny. Viola, that constant delight of my soul, expressed some surprise at the news that I had friends, at which Camellia snorted briefly in her usual way; and then, recalling that for the moment she had more grievances against Viola than against me, abruptly silenced herself. My father, as was his wont, either affected not to hear them or really heard nothing, in his imbecilic way shutting out what was too unpleasant to believe: viz., that anything other than peace and inviolate affection could prevail among his children. It was therefore not mentioned any more at the table that I should be absent that evening; and later, when my father said his offhand farewell to me as I passed through the parlor, I could not but reflect privately upon the immense difference between the great experiment on which I was embarking and the evening of dull fellowship which he doubtless imagined lay ahead of me.
The sun had set, but there was still a rosy light from the west as I set out on my walk up Wood-street. The streets of the city had an air of festivity, as they ordinarily had on a Saturday night; and I reflected that to-night, for the first time in my life, I was (in a sense) joining in that festivity, rather than simply watching it from four storeys above, as I had done on many previous occasions, or sitting in the cramped parlor and listening to Viola rail against it as she had done every week since she took up the torch of temperance. Men who passed me seemed genuinely happy. For most of them, this was the one time of the week to be their own men—not to be at the bidding of an employer, as they were six days of the week, or of a dour clergyman, as they were on Sundays (although I had heard shocking rumors to the effect that a significant number of the hired workmen did not attend church on Sundays, as though they cared as little for their supposedly immortal souls as I cared for mine). And it appeared that most of them were, like me, off somewhere to some saloon or other, where it appeared that happiness in fluid form was offered for a price even the humblest workingman could muster, provided he was not immoderately attached to his wife and children. The general gaiety was infectious, and I found myself walking with an unaccustomed spring in my step. The very air seemed fresher, with a steady breeze from the west to blow the smoke of the mills away and exchange it for what I imagined to be the fresh air of the Ohio countryside, though in reality it was doubtless merely the stale smoke from more distant mills.
Liberty-street was quieter; its pushcarts had been pushed home for the evening, and there were no saloons to attract the boisterous activity I had seen on Wood-street; but the activity resumed as I walked toward the river, along a street where there were not merely saloons, but music-halls that affected the name of “theaters” as well.
By the time I had reached the Allegheny bridge, the rosy glow of sunset had given way to the indigo of twilight; and the view from the river as I crossed the bridge was indescribably beautiful to me, with the innumerable bright gas lights of both cities reflected in the rippling water, and in the east the fire of the mills making almost a new sunrise against the darkening sky; the steamboats like fairy castles floating on the inverted sky of the river; the world infused with poetry and charged with romance. And I—I was a new Magellan, or a second Columbus, on my merry way to discover new worlds where none had even been suspected before.
Federal-street was bustling, but for some reason I decided to turn eastward on Ohio-street, which was also filled with Saturday-evening crowds. Here were many saloons, some of them euphemistically designated “cafes”; and, without having any reason to choose one over another, I rather unexpectedly found myself unable to choose one at all. I walked along the south side of the street for some distance, and then back along the north side, and I must have passed a dozen saloons at the least; but this one was too crowded, and that one too small, and the other too noisy,—so that it really seemed as if I was losing my courage. The moment I thought of it in those terms, the thing was done: no one should say that Newman Bousted had lost his courage. I simply walked through the next set of swinging doors I came to, and I did not stop walking until I had taken my place at the bar.
“What’ll it be?” the gentleman behind the bar asked me as I sat on the stool.
“Monongahela rye,” I answered readily.
“Straight up?” he asked.
I delayed answering for a moment, because I really had no idea what he meant by that question. On reflection, however, I concluded that the drink would be easier to handle vertically than horizontally or on a slant of some sort, so I answered in the affirmative.
The man nodded, and with seemingly impossible alacrity, and all in one fluid motion, poured a small amount of brown liquid into a tiny glass and handed the glass to me. In my eyes, it resembled nothing so much as an inkwell filled with sepia writing fluid. Nevertheless, unappetizing as the appearance might be, I certainly could not give up my experiment without a proper trial.
I pressed the glass to my lips and took a tentative sip. At once my mouth was filled with burning bitterness, and rank fumes invaded my nostrils; and when, overcoming every instinct pleading with me to spit the vile fluid out, I swallowed, the burning continued down my gullet and into my stomach, where it began to spread like an ink-blot to my chest and abdomen, and the rest of my frame.
This was not the pleasure I had promised myself. Nevertheless, I was preparing to take in the rest of the abominable fluid, if only to get the thing done with, when a sudden blow to my shoulder nearly knocked me off the stool.
“Beauthted!” cried a voice, at once familiar and unfamiliar, in my right ear; and I turned to behold my old friend Snyder,—or, rather, what remained of Snyder, the better part of him having been drowned already in a prodigious quantity of alcohol.
“Mr. Snyder,” I greeted him. I could think of nothing else to say.
“Ha!” he exclaimed, and he slapped my shoulder again. “My friend—my dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear, dear,—what was I saying?”
“It’s very good to see you,” I said with as much politeness as I could muster under the circumstances.
“Yeth! Tha’s it! Iss very good to see me! I mean you. Very good to see you. You have no idea the good you’ve done me, Beauteds! No idea whatsoever. No idea! You have no idea.”
“I am always happy to be of service,” I replied warily. At that particular moment, I might have paid a goodly sum in ready money to be somewhere else.
“Bothers’ Famouth Graded Sass— Stationery—my idea to bring it in—you remember—my idea—introduced you to Mr. Whassacallit. Sales trebled—trebled! Tee-tiddy-um-tum-trebled! Make me a minnager!—Ha! I mean to say, a managin. Salary, office.”
“That certainly is good news!” And even here, in the noise and smoke of the saloon, I was drafting in my mind my next letter to a department store: “Already the man responsible for introducing the Bousted system at Boggs & Buhl has received a substantial promotion, which he attributes to no other cause…”
“Iss egslent news! Eskelent! Called me into office safternoon. Came here to celebrate! Happiest day of my life!” Here he suddenly began to weep with great heaving sobs. “Never been so happy—’sall your doing—you a ta-rue friend, Boatsaid—a true true true true friend!” He fell sobbing on my shoulder, mumbling the words “true friend” over and over again into my collar.
“Your friend has had too much,” the barkeep told me. “He needs to go home.”
I nodded in agreement, but the barkeep kept his gaze fixed on me, until he had made it clear to me that my friend was somehow my responsibility. Since the man was at least a foot taller than I was and twice my weight, I thought it best to comply with his unexpressed demand as expeditiously as possible.
“Come along, friend,” I said, attempting to push Snyder into an upright position. “We’ll get you home now.”
My effort was mostly futile. I succeeded in rising to a standing position, but with Snyder’s head still on my shoulder,—until all at once he stood bolt upright and declaimed, “Home is where the heart is!” Falling backward, he braced himself on the stool, which, toppling with him, made a loud clatter that turned every eye toward us. Snyder himself only narrowly escaped breaking his head on the bar, and that only by grasping my lapel and dragging me down with him. There was much laughter from the assembled crowd, and for the first time it began to dawn on me that the laughter I had associated with drunkenness was not a symptom of the happiness of the drunkard, but rather the ill-natured merriment of the observers.
“Home is where the heart is,” Snyder repeated in a low but portentous voice. I stood and began pulling him up with all my strength; he rose slowly and almost majestically, solemnly intoning as he rose, “My heart is in my chest.”
“Indeed it is,” I agreed. “Now let me help you along home. You’ll feel much better there, I trust.”
“But do you grasp the meaning of it, Boorstep?” he demanded as we made our way, slowly and deliberately, toward the door. “My home is in my chest! How could I not have seen it before? My home is in my chest! Where my heart is!”
He continued in that vein for some time; then, as we reached Federal-street, he burst into tears again, and for the next two blocks he sobbed theatrically as we walked, slowly and deliberately. When we reached the common, he began to sing a rather lugubrious ballad, most of the words of which were indistinguishable to me; then he abruptly turned aside into the grass, fell on his hands and knees, and vomited. At precisely that moment, I lost all further desire to pursue my experiment in inebriation.
It was another half-hour before I succeeded in conveying Snyder to his own house, where a very pleasant young woman brought us both in. I briefly wondered why Snyder would leave such a wife as this at home to go out and make himself sick; but when she began to thank me profusely for my solicitous care for her brother, I understood the situation a little better.
“May I ask to whom we are indebted for my brother’s safe return?” the sister inquired.
“Oh!” I replied. “Please forgive my ill breeding. Newman Bousted at your service, miss.”
“Gertrude Snyder,” she said, extending her hand, which I took politely. “I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Bousted—Bousted! Surely not the Mr. Bousted of Bousted’s stationery?”
“The same, Miss Snyder.”
“Why, you must be a positive angel sent from heaven! Edward has told me how he owes his new position to Mr. Bousted—he has spoken of you as his benefactor every day—and now you appear here to bring him safely home! I beg you not to hold his weakness against him, Mr. Bousted. Edward only rarely indulges in strong drink. When he does, this”—she waved her hand in the direction of her brother, who by now was horizontal on the settee, snoring loudly—“this is the inevitable result. I worry so, Mr. Bousted! How did you come to be with him, and yet so obviously sober? Oh, dear, I should not have asked such a question. Please pardon——”
“Not at all, Miss Snyder—nothing to pardon. I happened to meet your brother on Ohio-street” (which was perfectly true as far as it went, although I left out the pertinent detail of having met him in a saloon), “and I felt it incumbent upon me, as his friend, to make sure he returned home safely. I am certain that he would do as much for me under similar circumstances; although, as I am not myself given to strong drink” (well, not since this evening’s experience of its effects, at any rate), “I suppose no exactly similar circumstances are likely to arise.” I really do not know why I felt it necessary to make this veiled declaration of moral superiority, except that she was an attractive girl, and I was a man, and I thought it might dispose her to think well of me.
“Poor Edward!” she said with that tone, at once maternal and dismissive, that only a sister can manage. “You must have seen his good qualities, and please believe me when I say that those predominate. And I must say that he never drinks when he has an obligation the following day. But oh, Mr. Bousted, when he does drink, he is so terribly excessive! I wish he might take your example. You might have some salutary influence over him. I know he respects you a great deal.”
“His respect,” I said, “is very flattering, if perhaps undeserved, and I—”
Here Snyder interrupted with a loud cry of “Home is where the heart is!” before turning over and resuming his fitful slumber.
“I ought to be attending to my brother,” Miss Snyder said, “perhaps with a pot of coffee. If I could offer you—”
“Completely unnecessary, Miss Snyder, I assure you. I need to be walking homeward myself now, so I shall detain you no longer. But I do hope I shall see you again soon.”
Her expression told me I had hit just the right note: I did not presume upon the circumstances of our accidental meeting, but I expressed a hope of deepening our acquaintance at some future opportunity.
“Well, then, Mr. Bousted, good night, until we meet again, and thank you for your kindness to my brother.”
I took her hand again briefly, and looked in her eyes as I bid her good night. She really was a very attractive girl—dark hair, flashing green eyes, a tiny nose that turned up just a little at the end. Perhaps something might come of our acquaintance. It occurred to me in that brief moment of touching her hand that a man might do much worse in a wife.
As I walked back down Federal-street, I reflected that the evening had not been entirely unproductive. I had not achieved my original purpose, but I had achieved something rather better than that: I had gained an education in the effects of drunkenness that has lasted me a lifetime. Furthermore, I had learned that Bousted’s Famous Graded Stationery was held in high esteem at Boggs & Buhl, a fact which must be useful to me in some way. Finally, I had made the acquaintance of Miss Gertrude Snyder, who was already disposed to think favorably of me. She was an attractive young woman, and I could still feel the delicate touch of her hand on mine. I had little experience in the ways of women who were not my sisters, but it did not seem inconceivable to me that Miss Snyder might be willing to consider a more intimate acquaintance. As I crossed the common, my fancy painted a charming picture of Miss Snyder as my wife, waiting for me in our spacious mansion, greeting me with a bright smile, blushing prettily as I took certain liberties to which a husband is entitled—
And then, all at once, the picture of Miss Snyder was forgotten. In front of me, walking toward me, I saw that girl again—the most beautiful woman in Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and quite probably in the world. She was walking with another female, of whom I have no recollection whatsoever; and as they passed I raised my hat to her. She nodded, and for a fleeting moment looked directly into my eyes, while her friend continued her idle chatter. And that was all: she said nothing, and I said nothing, and we passed. But all the way home, and very late into the night, I thought of nothing but that perfect face.
Sunday afternoon, I walked back across the river to call on Snyder and inquire as to his health; his sister informed me that he was still sleeping, but otherwise suffering no more than the expected effects of overindulgence. I left my card, and we parted. I mention this visit only because it did in fact lead, by a series of events unknown to me at the time, to a more intimate acquaintance with Miss Snyder.
Monday I received—or rather my father received, but I intercepted and opened—two letters from prominent department stores. The first, from Lerner Bros. in Cincinnati, very politely thanked us for our correspondence, but regretted that the store had no need for our goods at the present. This put me in such a funk that I nearly tossed aside the other letter unopened; but at last I summoned up my courage and read it. It was from Carey’s in Philadelphia: they had heard somehow of the success of my system at Boggs & Buhl, and urgently requested—urgently, they said!—a full order at the earliest opportunity.
More such letters followed, and within a week I had four orders. I shall not be prolix. I composed a short manual of instruction, of which I had a hundred copies printed by our regular printer, and sent it to each of the stores (with the warning to keep it strictly confidential, of course). As for the paper, I arranged for it to be sent direct from Cargill’s. Meanwhile, I sent more letters to more department stores. By my twenty-first birthday, which was at the end of October, eight department stores were selling the Graded Stationery, and repeat orders were already coming in. On Christmas Eve, I presented my father with the figures, which showed that December’s receipts so far were six and a half times September’s. He said it was “first-rate” and danced. Right there in the store, in front of two baffled matrons waiting to have their writing examined, he danced what I think was meant to be a jig. At the end of January, we removed to Allegheny.