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- A Fool and His Money - 1/63 -
A FOOL AND HIS MONEY
GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
I. I MAKE NO EFFORT TO DEFEND MYSELF
II. I DEFEND MY PROPERTY
III. I CONVERSE WITH A MYSTERY
IV. I BECOME AN ANCESTOR
V. I MEET THE FOE AND FALL
VI. I DISCUSS MATRIMONY
VII. I RECEIVE VISITORS
VIII. I RESORT TO DIPLOMACY
IX. I AM INVITED OUT TO DINNER
X. I AGREE TO MEET THE ENEMY
XI. I AM INVITED TO LEND MONEY
XII. I AM INFORMED THAT I AM IN LOVE
XIII. I VISIT AND AM VISITED
XIV. I AM FORCED INTO BEING A HERO
XV. I TRAVERSE THE NIGHT
XVI. I INDULGE IN PLAIN LANGUAGE
XVII. I SEE TO THE BOTTOM OF THINGS
XVIII. I SPEED THE PARTING GUEST
XIX. I BURN A FEW BRIDGES
XX. I CHANGE GARDEN SPOTS
XXI. SHE PROPOSES
In the aperture stood my amazing neighbour ... Frontispiece
I found myself staring as if stupefied at the white figure of a woman who stood in the topmost balcony.
I sat bolt upright and yelled: "Get out!"
We faced each other across the bowl of roses
Up to that moment I had wondered whether I could do it with my left hand
I MAKE NO EFFORT TO DEFEND MYSELF
I am quite sure it was my Uncle Rilas who said that I was a fool. If memory serves me well he relieved himself of that conviction in the presence of my mother--whose brother he was--at a time when I was least competent to acknowledge _his_ wisdom and most arrogant in asserting my own. I was a freshman in college: a fact--or condition, perhaps,--which should serve as an excuse for both of us. I possessed another uncle, incidentally, and while I am now convinced that he must have felt as Uncle Rilas did about it, he was one of those who suffer in silence. The nearest he ever got to openly resenting me as a freshman was when he admitted, as if it were a crime, that he too had been in college and knew less when he came out than when he entered. Which was a mild way of putting it, I am sure, considering the fact that he remained there for twenty-three years as a distinguished member of the faculty.
I assume, therefore, that it was Uncle Rilas who orally convicted me, an assumption justified to some extent by putting two and two together after the poor old gentleman was laid away for his long sleep. He had been very emphatic in his belief that a fool and his money are soon parted. Up to the time of his death I had been in no way qualified to dispute this ancient theory. In theory, no doubt, I was the kind of fool he referred to, but in practice I was quite an untried novice. It is very hard for even a fool to part with something he hasn't got. True, I parted with the little I had at college with noteworthy promptness about the middle of each term, but that could hardly have been called a fair test for the adage. Not until Uncle Rilas died and left me all of his money was I able to demonstrate that only dead men and fools part with it. The distinction lies in the capacity for enjoyment while the sensation lasts. Dead men part with it because they have to, fools because they want to.
In any event, Uncle Rilas did not leave me his money until my freshman days were far behind me, wherein lies the solace that he may have outgrown an opinion while I was going through the same process. At twenty-three I confessed that _all_ freshmen were insufferable, and immediately afterward took my degree and went out into the world to convince it that seniors are by no means adolescent. Having successfully passed the age of reason, I too felt myself admirably qualified to look with scorn upon all creatures employed in the business of getting an education. There were times when I wondered how on earth I could have stooped so low as to be a freshman. I still have the disquieting fear that my uncle did not modify his opinion of me until I was thoroughly over being a senior. You will note that I do not say he changed his opinion. Modify is the word.
His original estimate of me, as a freshman, of course,--was uttered when I, at the age of eighteen, picked out my walk in life, so to speak. After considering everything, I decided to be a literary man. A novelist or a playwright, I hadn't much of a choice between the two, or perhaps a journalist. Being a journalist, of course, was preliminary; a sort of makeshift. At any rate, I was going to be a writer. My Uncle Rilas, a hard-headed customer who had read Scott as a boy and the Wall Street news as a man,--without being misled by either,--was scornful. He said that I would outgrow it, there was some consolation in that. He even admitted that when he was seventeen he wanted to be an actor. There you are, said he! I declared there was a great difference between being an actor and being a writer. Only handsome men can be actors, while I--well, by nature I was doomed to be nothing more engaging than a novelist, who doesn't have to spoil an illusion by showing himself in public.
Besides, I argued, novelists make a great deal of money, and playwrights too, for that matter. He said in reply that an ordinarily vigorous washerwoman could make more money than the average novelist, and she always had a stocking without a hole to keep it in, which was more to the point.
Now that I come to think of it, it _was_ Uncle Rilas who oracularly prejudged me, and not Uncle John, who was by way of being a sort of literary chap himself and therefore lamentably unqualified to guide me in any course whatsoever, especially as he had all he could do to keep his own wolf at bay without encouraging mine, and who, besides teaching good English, loved it wisely and too well. I think Uncle Rilas would have held Uncle John up to me as an example,--a scarecrow, you might say,--if it hadn't been for the fact that he loved him in spite of his English. He must have loved me in spite of mine.
My mother felt in her heart that I ought to be a doctor or a preacher, but she wasn't mean: she was positive I could succeed as a writer if I set my mind to it. She was also sure that I could be President of the United States or perhaps even a Bishop. We were Episcopalian.
When I was twenty-seven my first short story appeared in a magazine of considerable weight, due to its advertising pages, but my Uncle Rilas didn't read it until I had convinced him that the honorarium amounted to three hundred dollars. Even then I was obliged to promise him a glimpse of the check when I got it. Somewhat belated, it came in the course of three or four months with a rather tart letter in which I was given to understand that it wasn't quite the thing to pester a great publishing house with queries of the kind I had been so persistent in propounding. But at last Uncle Rilas saw the check and was properly impressed. He took back what he said about the washerwoman, but gave me a little further advice concerning the stocking.
In course of time my first novel appeared. It was a love story. Uncle Rilas read the first five chapters and then skipped over to the last page. Then he began it all over again and sat up nearly all night to finish it. The next day he called it "trash" but invited me to have luncheon with him at the Metropolitan Club, and rather noisily introduced me to a few old cronies of his, who were not sufficiently interested in me to enquire what my name was--a trifling detail he had overlooked in presenting me as his nephew--but who _did_ ask me to have a drink.
A month later, he died. He left me a fortune, which was all the more staggering in view of the circumstance that had seen me named for my Uncle John and not for him.
It was not long afterward that I made a perfect fool of myself by falling in love. It turned out very badly. I can't imagine what got into me to want to commit bigamy after I had already proclaimed myself to be irrevocably wedded to my profession. Nevertheless, I deliberately coveted the experience, and would have attained to it no doubt had it not been for the young woman in the case. She would have none of me, but with considerable independence of spirit and, I must say, noteworthy acumen, elected to wed a splendid looking young fellow who clerked in a jeweller's shop in Fifth Avenue. They had been engaged for several years, it seems, and my swollen fortune failed to disturb her sense of fidelity. Perhaps you will be interested enough in a girl who could
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