THE ROMANCE AND TRAGEDY OF A WIDELY KNOWN BUSINESS MAN OF NEW YORK
BY HIMSELF (WILLIAM INGRAHAM RUSSELL)
TO MY WIFE Who, after more than forty years of married life, is still my sweetheart
TO MY READERS
A true story of a life I give you; not in its completion, for it is still unfinished. The romance of youth has lingered through all the later years and the tragedy of these years could not destroy it. In the manuscript tears have fallen on some pages, smiles on others, and still others have been scorched with the fire of indignation.
Why is it written? To bear testimony to the love and devotion of a noble woman; to set straight before the world certain matters now misunderstood; to give evidence of the insincerity of friendship that comes to one in prosperity only to vanish in adversity; and also, in the hope that an appreciative public will buy the book.
Not all the names used are fictitious, and where they are so, no effort has been made to conceal identity.
No spirit of malice has animated the writer. Although his wounds have been deep he knows now no feeling save sorrow and regret that they should have been inflicted by his "friends"
WILLIAM INGRAHAM RUSSELL.
February 1, 1905.
AUTHOR'S NOTE TO SECOND EDITION
This narrative, first published in an author's autograph edition, limited to one thousand copies, was privately circulated, the entire edition having been sold by the author through correspondence.
A second edition is now offered to the public. The original narrative, except for the correction of a few minor errors, is unchanged, and added to it are two chapters disclosing a remarkable sequel and also setting forth a lesson for the younger generation of business men, showing clearly how different would have been the conditions had my wisdom come before my experience.
This latter chapter was written at the suggestion of an eminently successful New York business man, president of one of the largest and oldest concerns in the United States.
WILLIAM INGRAHAM RUSSELL. "CHESTNUT RIDGE" Jessup, Maryland,
February 15th, 1907.
AUTHOR'S NOTE TO THIRD EDITION
Why is it published?
The second Edition—long out of print, still orders that could not be filled were continually received. These have come from nearly every State in the Union and as the book has never been advertised other than by press reviews and the favorable comment of readers, this demand means something.
Perhaps if you read the narrative you will discover the answer.
WILLIAM INGRAHAM RUSSELL
CALVERT BUILDING, Baltimore, Maryland,
August 23rd, 1913.
I The First Round of the Ladder II I Meet My Affinity III A Co-Partnership Dissolved IV And the Answer Was "Yes" V Wedding Bells VI A First Reverse of Fortune VII The Coming of the Stork VIII The New Partner IX Suburban Life X My Partner Retires XI A Year of Sunshine XII An Ideal Life XIII Prosperous Days XIV Near the Dark Valley XV A Successful Maneuver XVI "Redstone" XVII Our Neighbors XVIII An Uneventful Year XIX The Stream Broadens XX Retrogression XXI The Dam Gives Way XXII The Calm Before the Storm XXIII "A Few Weak French Speculators" XXIV Exciting Times XXV "Come and Dance in the Barn" XXVI An Importer and Dealer XXVII Sad Hearts at Knollwood XXVIII New Faces XXIX A Short Year and a Merry One XXX A Voucher XXXI Two Sides to the Question XXXII The Panic of Ninety-Three XXXIII Farewell to "Redstone" XXXIV A Summer on the Sound XXXV Monmouth Beach XXXVI The Ship Founders XXXVII The Family and Friends XXXVIII "W. E. Stowe & Co., Incorporated" XXXIX The Struggle Commenced XL The Struggle Continued XLI Darkness Before the Dawn XLII Brighter Days XLIII Smooth Sailing Into Rough Waters XLIV The Tyranny of the Jury Law XLV Bitter Trials XLVI At the Brink of the Grave XLVII Again at the Helm XLVIII A Nightmare XLIX Retrospection L A Dream LI "From God and the King" LII A Foundation Principle
The Woman Portrait "Sunnyside" "Redstone" "Redstone"—Library Off for a drive Eighty-sixth Street and West End Avenue "Redstone"—The Hall "Chestnut Ridge" "Chestnut Ridge"—Library
THE FIRST ROUND OF THE LADDER
NEW YORK, February 23, 1866.
"Master Walter E. Stowe:
"If you have not yet procured a situation, please call at my office, 45 Duane Street, and oblige.
"JNO. DERHAM, "Per T. E. D."
This letter came to me in response to my application for a situation as an office-boy. I had replied to the advertisement in the Herald, without consulting my parents, knowing they would raise objections to my leaving school.
My father, one of New York's old-time shipping merchants, running a line of packets to Cuban ports, had failed in business as a result of losses during the war, the crowding out of sailing vessels by steamers, and unfortunate outside investments.
It did not require great discernment to see the necessity of my giving up all idea of going to Columbia College, for which I was preparing, and thus, before I was sixteen years of age, I commenced as an office-boy at a salary of three dollars per week. The position in those days was vastly different from what it is to-day. The work now done by janitors and porters fell to the office-boy, and my duties included sweeping and dusting the office, cleaning windows, and in winter making fires.
This work, menial and distasteful as it was to the boy brought up in luxury, was cheerfully undertaken, and it is only referred to here to show that my start was from the first round of the ladder.
My employer, a north of Ireland man, though frequently brusque with others, often to the detriment of his own interest, always treated me with consideration and probably my life at the office ran as smoothly as that of any lad in similar position. The only other employee was a younger brother of Mr. Derham, who was taken in as a limited partner shortly after I was employed. The firm carried on a brokerage business, requiring no capital, and stood in the trade as well and perhaps a little better than any of its competitors, of which there were but few.
Much of the business done by the firm consisted in the execution of orders for out-of-town dealers and consumers, but by far the greater volume comprised the negotiations carried on between the different importers and dealers of New York.
The entire business of the United States, in their line of trade, was practically controlled by these importers and dealers. The characteristics of the trade as they existed then, exist to-day. A few of the old firms have gone out of existence through failure or liquidation, and some accessions have been made, chiefly of foreign blood, but most of the old concerns remain, and though the personality of these has changed, through the departure of many on the long journey and the taking of their places by their successors, the same spirit that was in evidence in the years immediately following the war, animates the trade to-day.
Admitting that sentiment has no place in business and brotherly love is not to be expected amongst business competitors, I feel safe in saying that in no other trade has jealous rivalry so nearly approached to personal animosity.
Preeminent in the trade stands a firm with name unchanged for three generations, of world-wide reputation for its wealth and the philanthropy of its individual members, past and present, all of whom have been prominent in New York's religious and social life. Another firm only a few years ago discontinued a custom of hanging on the walls of its offices scriptural texts. Of still another firm, the most active member is a leader of Brooklyn's annual Sunday-school processions, though he prides himself on his cold blood, and before leaving his home in the morning to go to his office replaces his heart with a paving-stone. But why go on? Suffice it to say that the trade is eminently respectable and rich, in some instances possessed of enormous wealth, and this is the trade in which I began my career.
My office life for the first two years was routine and devoid of excitement, except for occasional strenuous experiences the result of Mr. Derham's brusqueness and quickness to resent anything that he deemed an attempt to take advantage of, or put a slight upon him. He was the sort of man that makes a steadfast friend or a bitter enemy, with no room for anything in between.
"Walter, take this contract to Winter and bring me his acceptance," said Mr. Derham on one occasion, when, having made what in those days was considered a large sale, he was feeling particularly good-natured over it.
"Yes, sir," I replied, and was off at once, little knowing the reception awaiting me in the Beaver Street office of Rudolph C. Winter.
On entering the office I approached Mr. Winter's desk and handed him the contract. He glanced at it, and then all the nervous irritability for which that individual was noted came to the surface at once. Springing up from his desk, upsetting the chair in his haste and rushing toward me, he shouted:
"Here! take this back to Mr. Derham; tell him I won't have it! I didn't sell it; get out!" And pushing me across the office, he opened the door and thrust me into the street, throwing after me my hat, which had been knocked from my hand.
It did not take me long to get back to Mr. Derham and give him an account of what had occurred.
In a fury he put on his hat, and saying "come with me," we walked rapidly to Winter's office. Entering the door with blood in his eye, Mr. Derham stepped up to the still wrathful merchant.
"Winter, I understand you decline to accept this contract."
"But," began Winter, when down on the desk came Mr. Derham's clenched fist.
"No explanations now; sign first, and then after you have apologized to my messenger, who is my representative when I send him to you, perhaps I'll listen, and I am not sure I will not give you a good thrashing afterwards."
The fury of Winter disappeared and in its place there was a very mild spring. He signed the contract, told me he was sorry he had been so hasty, and when I left them he was trying to pacify Mr. Derham.
On another occasion, Mr. Brightman, of Brightman & Smart, a dignified gentleman at that time acting as consul for the Netherlands, called at the office.
It appeared he had made a sale which he regretted and he called to have it cancelled, claiming that he had been induced to make the sale through the alleged misrepresentation by Mr. Thomas Derham, of certain features of the market.
The argument became heated and Brightman called Thomas a liar. His brother looked at him in silence for a moment, long enough to discover that he was lacking either in pluck or inclination to resent the insult, then springing at Brightman he literally threw him out of the office.
These scenes, though not of daily occurrence, were frequent enough to relieve the monotony of office life and at the same time to give me a wholesome fear of incurring my employer's displeasure.
In the summer of 1868 Mr. Thomas Derham was married. For some reason unknown to me his brother did not approve, and a little later differences arose between them, the friction increasing until finally a separation of their business interests was agreed upon. Mr. Thomas Derham launched out on his own account, and the competition between the brothers became a bitter warfare, all personal intercourse ceasing.
At this time my salary was seven dollars per week, and Mr. Derham, after the dissolution of partnership with his brother, advanced it to ten dollars.
As he was my only employer and there were no further advances later, this is the largest salary I was ever paid.
How large it looked to me then I remember well, and although matters had gone from bad to worse at home and most of my earnings had to contribute to keep the pot boiling, it seemed to me as if I were rich the first Saturday night I carried home the ten-dollar bill.
From this time my position in the office became more dignified. A woman was employed to do the cleaning, and Mr. Derham delegated to me the placing of many of the smaller orders and occasionally sent me on business trips to near-by cities.
I worked hard and faithfully to make my services valuable. I kept the books, made collections, attended to a portion of the correspondence, and it was not long before I had acquired a thorough knowledge of the methods of doing the business and was able to carry out transactions to a finish without having to consult my employer.
In October, 1870, Mr. Derham told me he had decided to give up the business and accept an offer which had been made him by one of the large importing firms, to go to England as its foreign representative.
He proposed that I take his business, paying him for the good-will twenty-five per cent of the profits for three years.
As I was not yet twenty years of age, he thought me too young to assume the business alone, and advised a partnership on equal terms with a Mr. Bulkley, then doing a brokerage business in a line that would work in well with ours, it being his idea to combine the two.
Adam Bulkley, a tall, handsome fellow of thirty-five, was a personal friend of Mr. Derham. He was a captain in the Seventh Regiment and had seen service. A man of attractive personality, he had many friends and had married the daughter of one of the wealthiest hide and leather brokers in the "swamp."
I do not know why, but in my first interview with this man I took an aversion to him. I tried to convince Mr. Derham that I could do better without a partner, but he thought otherwise, and not unnaturally, under the circumstances, I allowed matters to take their course as he planned them, and the partnership was made for a period of three years.
Early in November Mr. Derham sailed for England, leaving as his successor the firm of Bulkley & Stowe.
I MEET MY AFFINITY
My home was in Brooklyn. On my mother's side the family came from the old Dutch settlers of that section of Greater New York. My mother's father was a commissioned officer in the war of 1812. My father came from Connecticut, of English ancestry. I used to tell my mother the only thing I could never forgive her was that I was born in Brooklyn, and I have never gotten over my dislike for the place, though it is nearly thirty years since I left there.
The family for generations back have been Episcopalians, and from earliest childhood I was accustomed to attend regularly Sunday-school and church services.
After my father's failure we moved into a house on St. James Place, and our church home was old St. Luke's, on Clinton avenue. Doctor Diller, the rector, who lost his life in the burning of a steamboat on the East River, was a life-long friend of the family, and my social intercourse was chiefly with the young people of his church.
Mr. Sherman, the treasurer and senior warden of the church and superintendent of the Sunday-school, a fine old gentleman, now gathered to his fathers, was one of Hon. Seth Low's "Cabinet," when he was Mayor of Brooklyn. Seth Low, by the way, is the same age as myself, and we were schoolmates at the Polytechnic Institute.
As librarian of the Sunday-school and one of the committee in charge of the social meetings of the young people, I became intimate with Mr. Sherman and his family.
On December 20th, 1870, the first sociable of the season was held and I had looked forward to it with considerable interest, owing to the fact that a niece of Mr. Sherman, residing in Chicago and then visiting him for the winter, was to be present. I had heard the young lady spoken of in such glowing terms that I anticipated much pleasure in meeting her.
When the evening came and I met Miss Wilson, I must confess I was not deeply impressed, and I have since learned that the lady, who had heard much of me from her cousin, Miss Sherman, regarded me with indifference.
On this occasion, the saying that "first impressions go a great way" was disproved, for two weeks later, after returning from the second sociable, where I again met Miss Wilson, I said to my sister, whom I had escorted:
"What do you think of Miss Wilson"?
"A very charming girl" she replied, and I then told her I had lost my heart and was determined to win her for my wife.
Miss Wilson was of the brunette type. Her face, surmounted by a mass of dark brown, silky hair, was most attractive. A clear olive complexion, charming features, and beneath long lashes, large brilliant eyes. Her figure, was finely proportioned and graceful.
Endowed with unusual common sense and well educated she was a most interesting conversationalist, while her voice was musical and well modulated.
Why I did not discover all these charms on the occasion of our first meeting I never have been able to understand, unless it was because our intercourse on that evening was limited to little more than a formal introduction.
Thereafter, I sought every possible opportunity for the enjoyment of Miss Wilson's society.
Our acquaintance quickly grew into a friendship which permitted almost daily intercourse and enabled me to fathom the noble nature of the girl, and to realize what a blessing would be mine if I could win her affection.
A girl of strong character, there was nothing of the frivolous about her. In the frequent informal social gatherings she was always the life of the occasion, but never did her merriment get down to the level of silliness. Without a suspicion of prudishness there was always with her the natural dignity of the true-born gentlewoman.
Of course, it need not be said that Miss Wilson had many admirers—altogether too many for my peace of mind.
When I would get temporary relief by thinking I was getting the best of the Brooklyn element, I would suffer a heart-throb because of news that some flame left behind in Chicago was burning brighter. When that would dim or become extinguished, depressing news would reach me from West Point, where Miss Wilson visited her cousin, the wife of an officer.
Thus I was kept guessing most of the time, and though I could not but feel I was steadily gaining my way to the goal, I cannot say that I did not spend many an anxious hour pondering over the other fellow's chances.
In the early summer Miss Wilson left Brooklyn for a visit to relatives in Boston.
A few days later I followed her to that city, and her pleasure at seeing me was so evident, her reception so cordial, that I dismissed from my mind all fear of my rivals and determined to take an early opportunity of offering her my hand and heart.
How impatiently I awaited her return. The days dragged along. I was restless and unhappy. We did not correspond, so there were no letters to brighten the gloomy days of waiting.
To a small degree I derived some comfort from frequent calls on Miss Sherman, who was good enough to tell me of her letters from her cousin and good-natured enough to permit me to spend most of the evening in talking about her. I was certainly very much in love, and as the case with most young men in that condition of mind, the object of my adoration was always in my thoughts.
All things finally come to an end, and early in July Miss Wilson returned to Brooklyn. She was to remain but a few days before leaving for a visit in Connecticut.
In the interim I felt I must speak, and yet now that the opportunity had arrived, what a mighty proposition it seemed.
For days and days I had been thinking of it, at night I dreamed of it. It seemed so easy to tell the woman I loved, that I loved her, and yet when the time had come my courage waned. I let day after day pass in spite of a resolution each morning that before sleeping again I would know my fate.
I tried to reason with myself.
I knew that my personality was not objectionable. I had lived an absolutely clean life, had no vices. My associates were of the right kind, business prospects satisfactory. Why should I hesitate to offer a hand that was clean, a heart that was pure to the woman I loved? "I will do it," I said aloud, and I did—that evening.
It was the evening of July 10th, 1870.
The day had been warm and oppressive, but after sundown a pleasant breeze cooled the air.
As I entered the grounds surrounding Mr. Sherman's home I stood for a few moments beneath the foliage of his fine old trees, inhaling the fragrance of the flowers blooming on the lawn.
My mind was filled with a feeling of awe at the great responsibility I was about to assume.
I had perfect confidence in my ability to care for the well-being and happiness of the object of my affection. I knew my love was sincere and lasting, and yet, when I thought of all it meant, to take a girl from a home in which she was loved and happy, to bind her to me for all time, to share what might come of good or evil in the uncertainties of life, it came over me with tremendous force that if this girl should intrust her heart to my keeping, a lifetime of devotion should be her reward.
The early part of the evening was passed in general conversation with the family, and after a little music we were finally left alone.
The hour had come!
At my request Miss Wilson sat at the piano and played a few strains of an old waltz we had been discussing. I stood beside her while she sat there, and in tones trembling with the intensity of my feelings I poured forth the old, old story. I told her of my love in such words as I could command in my agitation.
Then, while my heart almost ceased beating, Miss Wilson told me in the kindest possible manner of her appreciation of the offer and also of her complete surprise. She said that while she esteemed me highly as a friend and liked me personally very much, she had not thought of me as a lover, and that she could not regard me in that light.
To say that I was crushed by the blow, kindly as it had fallen, does not express my feelings. When, however, in reply to my question I learned that there was no one else—that she was still heart free, I gained courage; and when, before I had left her that evening, she had consented to leave the matter open until some future time, my hopes of ultimate success were very far from being destroyed.
A CO-PARTNERSHIP DISSOLVED
Before Mr. Derham had landed in England my feeling of dislike for my partner had increased materially.
His own business, which had been represented as worth at least five hundred dollars per month to the firm, was, so far as I could see, largely a myth.
He had a habit of arriving at the office at half-past ten or eleven o'clock, and leaving at three. By frequent demands on his father-in-law he kept himself in funds to provide for his extravagant living, and it seemed to me his principal object in coming to the office at all was to meet various fast-looking men who called there to see him.
To cap the climax, he had a half-patronizing, half-nagging way of treating me that I simply could not put up with. I was doing all the business, earning all the money that was made, and this man was entitled to fifty per cent of the net results. I stood it for a few months, meanwhile writing fully to Mr. Derham of the position in which I was placed.
Finally, on the 10th of March, 1871 when I saw on Bulkley's desk a note for a few hundred dollars, drawn to his own order and signed by him with the firm's name, and in response to my inquiry as to the meaning of it, he told me it was a little matter he was putting through by a friend for his own accommodation, I cut the knot and insisted on a dissolution of our co-partnership.
I had to pay him a small sum to get his consent, and though I had to borrow the money to make the payment, I did so rather than have any litigation, which he threatened.
It was with a feeling of immense relief that I went to the office the following morning, knowing that I was rid of the leaden weight which Mr. Derham had bound to me in an error of judgment, which he readily admitted.
The sign was removed and in its place went up another bearing my name only.
Although in the trade I enjoyed a fair measure of popularity, which is the key-note to a broker's success, I found my youth a disadvantage when it came to seeking important business.
The dealers hesitated to intrust me with the carrying out of large contracts, while favoring me with the smaller orders. This was a great trial and I could not but feel it an injustice. Still, there was nothing I could do except to be grateful for the favors I received and strive in every way to demonstrate my ability.
Another thing I had to fight against was the questionable methods of a firm which was my principal competitor.
Naturally there was a very active effort made to get away from me the old trade which Mr. Derham had held well in hand for many years. This I had expected, but I did not count upon my competitor waiving commissions whenever we came into a contest for business of any importance.
This sort of competition I could not meet, not only as a matter of principle based on the idea that "the laborer is worthy of his hire," but because I could not afford to do business for nothing.
Despite the handicap of youth and unfair competition, I kept steadily at work increasing the strength of my position where it was already established, and striving to the utmost to get a foothold where I had not yet secured it.
At the end of the year, when the books were balanced, I found that I had made about twenty-five hundred dollars, as compared with twelve thousand dollars made by Mr. Derham the year previous.
This was most unsatisfactory to me, for while of course it was a much larger income than I had ever before earned, it was so far below my expectations that I could not but feel keen disappointment.
Still, I knew that I now possessed a business, and as the prospects were good I started the new year with courage and the determination to make a better showing.
Early in the year two incidents occurred that helped me immensely.
The largest consumers in our line were the oil refiners, all of whom have since been absorbed by the Standard Oil Company.
These concerns were heavy buyers, and Mr. Thomas Derham had the preference on their business. From the first I had struggled to get a share of it, without having made them, after a year of constant effort, a single sale. Still, I made a daily call on each and finally secured my first order.
It was given to me by Mr. J. A. Bostwick personally, and the order was so large I could scarcely believe I had captured it. This was the entering wedge, and throughout the year, although not getting more than a very small proportion of the business, I succeeded in selling occasionally to all of the refiners.
The other incident was even more important in its results, for it was the commencement of intimate relations with the important firm which stood at the head of the trade.
This firm had up to that time shown a decided favoritism for my chief competitor, but this feeling changed in consequence of investments in a mining stock, both by the firm and by its most active individual member, which they had been led into through the influence of my competitor.
The investment proved disastrous, resulting in losses of more than a hundred thousand dollars, and though this sum was insignificant to people of such large wealth, the feeling of bitterness aroused was most acute.
My competitor had for many years as a Boston correspondent the firm of W. B. Tatnall & Company, and through it a large business was done with the Boston dealers; but the most important phase of this connection was the fact that Tatnall controlled the selling of a certain commodity imported in large quantities by a Boston firm, and of which the leading firm in New York was the largest buyer.
Tatnall & Company had severed abruptly its connection with my competitor, and without my solicitation made me a proposition which I promptly accepted. The competing firm immediately established in Boston as its correspondent a brother of the senior partner.
The first battle for supremacy came over the sale of a cargo due to arrive at Boston by a sailing vessel. This was before the days of the telephone, and numerous telegrams passed between us before the transaction was closed.
When the final message confirming the sale reached me, it read as follows: "Closed, contracts coming, competitors conquered, congratulations, cocktails, cigars, careful contemplation."
In a feeling of exuberance Tatnall had written this telegram, and by his closing words meant me to remember that "one swallow does not make a summer," and that over-confidence on the occasion of a first success would be unwise.
Mr. W. B. Tatnall came to New York a few days later. It was our first meeting and I found him a delightful man, a typical Bostonian. He was highly cultured, well up in art, a book-collector of some repute.
I recall one little incident of his visit which amused me greatly. The weather was very stormy and his salutation on greeting me was, "Good-morning Mr. Stowe; fine day for birds of an aquatic nature."
We called on all the trade, and in every office he made the same remark. Before the day was over I concluded I was not likely ever to forget that rain makes "a fine day for ducks."
AND THE ANSWER WAS "YES"
Although when I left Miss Wilson on that evening in July it was not as an accepted lover, as I had brought myself to believe it would be, and my disappointment was overwhelming that such was the case, my heart told me that all was not lost.
She had admitted that she admired and respected me more than any other man of her acquaintance, while she did not feel the love for me that a woman should give to the man she marries.
This admission I deemed a great point gained.
With a field cleared of rivals, it only remained to transform her admiration and respect into love. How to do that was for me to find out. That it could be done I felt reasonably certain.
It was my first love-affair, hence I was an amateur in such matters. This I knew was a point in my favor, as Miss Wilson was not the sort of girl to admire a man who had a habit of falling in love with every pretty face. Life in her eyes had its serious side and she was well equipped mentally to test the true ring of those with whom she came in contact.
The following day I wrote Miss Wilson at length, reiterating and enlarging on all that I had said, telling her I would wait until she felt she could give me a definite answer, and begging her not to hasten her decision if it was to be negative.
If I had any fear at all it was on this point—that she might feel it imperative to decide the matter promptly, while I was prepared to wait, years if necessary, rather than to take from those lips which I so eagerly longed to press to mine own in love's first caress, the relentless, cruel—no.
Miss Wilson's contemplated visit to Connecticut was postponed for a while and this gave me an opportunity to see her daily.
That I laid vigorous siege to her heart was certain. I was most assiduous in all those little attentions that please a woman, and as our tastes were entirely congenial our hours of companionship were delightful to both.
If I were a few minutes late in making my evening call, very rarely the case, she would remark it, and I soon realized that the feature of her day was the hours passed with me. In fact, my presence was becoming necessary to her happiness.
As soon as this impression became fixed in my mind, I grew impatient at delay in the culmination of my desires, and felt I must soon urge Miss Wilson to relieve me of suspense by making me the happiest of men. Probably I should have done this within a few days had it not been for the fact that she left Brooklyn on her visit to Middletown, Connecticut. Then I decided to await her return.
On the morning of the sixth of September I found in my mail at the office an envelope addressed in a lady's handwriting, postmarked Middletown, Connecticut.
It contained a brief note from Miss Wilson, stating that on that day at one o'clock she would be due at New York and was going at once for a week at West Point, and asked me, if convenient, to meet her at the railroad station to escort her across the city to the boat.
There were three significant points in that note, the first I had ever received from her.
First, it commenced with "Dear Walter." Always before I had been Mr. Stowe. Next, it was signed as "Yours, with love"; and last, but by no means least, Miss Wilson wrote, as a postscript, "I shall be alone."
Would it be convenient for me to meet that train? I should say so.
I was at the station with a carriage at least half an hour ahead of time and I walked the platform of the old Twenty-seventh Street station of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, back and forth, looking at my watch every five minutes and wondering if the train would ever come.
The train arrived on time, and as Miss Wilson alighted from the car, I greeted her. How I gazed into those beautiful eyes and tried to read there the love I hungered for.
We drove to the Hotel Brunswick for luncheon, and if "the proof of the pudding is in the eating," the luncheon, despite the good reputation of that old hostelry, then in its palmy days, must have been a poor one. Either that, or we lacked appetite—more likely the latter.
After luncheon we again took the carriage, and drove to the pier where the Mary Powell was awaiting her passengers.
It was during that drive, while passing down Fifth Avenue, that the word I so longed to hear was spoken. "Yes"—only a single word and yet it spoke volumes to my heart. It bound together for all time two beings, neither of whom had known for longer than a few months even of the existence of the other, and yet a divine power had brought these two hearts, beating in unison, to their natural mate. While the lips whispered "yes," the hand found its way to mine and the loving clasp was the only demonstration the surroundings permitted; but when the carriage had turned into a comparatively quiet side street and just before it reached the pier, I could no longer refrain.
Drawing the curtains at the carriage windows, I clasped to my heart the lovely girl who was now my very own.
Oh, what an ecstasy of bliss that moment was!
I have owned many handsome carriages, luxurious in their appointments, drawn by fine horses, but as I look back to that day of days, that shabby public hack, with its rough-looking driver, holding the reins over a pair of ill-fed animals, stands in my memory as almost ideal.
Of course I did not leave my promised wife at the boat. There was no reason I should not take that delightful sail up the river with her, and there was every reason why I should. I sought out a secluded spot on deck and there, comparatively free from observation, we let our thoughts revel in our new-found happiness.
It was possible, unseen, to occasionally clasp each other's hand, and in this way a sort of lover's wireless telegraph kept us in communication that emphasized to me the fact that my happiness was real and not a dream.
Our conversation was not very animated; we were too happy to talk, and the beautiful scenery of the Hudson was lost to us on that occasion.
To look into each other's eyes and read there all that was in our hearts was the supreme pleasure and happiness of the moment.
When the boat arrived at West Point, Lieutenant Harper, then Professor of Spanish at the Academy, afterwards major, and since promoted to colonel for gallantry in the Philippines, met Miss Wilson at the landing.
I had planned to at once take the ferry across the river—there was no West Shore Railroad at that time—and return to New York by train, but Lieutenant Harper insisted that I should dine with them and take a later train, which I did.
Of course the, to us, great incident of the day was unknown to Miss Wilson's friends, and she did not enlighten them until after I had gone.
The two or three hours spent with Lieutenant Harper's family, while I was supposed to be simply a friend of Miss Wilson, passed quickly. I had hoped to be able on leaving to see her alone for at least a few moments, but in this I was disappointed, and while the clasp of her hand and the expression of her eyes conveyed a great deal to me, our parting that evening was in its details most unsatisfactory from a lover's point of view.
During that first week of our engagement, while separated, we corresponded daily, and the rejoicing was mutual when, her visit ended, Miss Wilson returned to Brooklyn.
Then for two short weeks I enjoyed to the full the privileges and delights of an accepted lover. What visions of future happiness those two weeks of close companionship opened to my eyes! The refinement and natural dignity of the woman made her caresses of exquisite daintiness and tenderness. Spontaneously and absolutely without a suggestion of affectation her love was poured out generously to the man who had won her heart, and each evening it seemed as if my affection had increased a thousand fold.
Oh, what a wonderful thing is pure love! What would the world be without it?
The day of our parting was drawing nigh.
At the end of September Miss Wilson was to return to her home in Chicago. A month later I was to visit her there, but the thought of that month of separation so soon after we had become engaged saddened us and our hearts dreaded the ordeal. Still, come it did, and as I watched the train pull out of the station, carrying with it all that I loved best in the world, I felt a wrench at my heartstrings and a loneliness that was inexpressible.
For a month I consoled myself as best I could with the letters which reached me almost daily and always brought me happiness.
Then I turned my face westward.
Miss Wilson's father had been dead for many years. She, with her mother, resided with her married sister, the wife of a general in the army during the war, and at the time of which I write, judge of the Probate Court. Until his death, a few years ago, he was one of Chicago's best known and most highly respected citizens.
As the relatives approved of our engagement, my reception by the family was all that could be desired. As to my reception by Miss Wilson, I think it safe to leave it to the imagination of my readers. It was entirely satisfactory to me.
My visit was of necessity a short one. For though I was not again to see Miss Wilson until the time of our marriage, a full year away, I had to return to New York after a few days and look after my business interests, which required constant personal attention.
The days of my visit flew speedily, and back in New York I settled down to business with increased ambition and the greatest possible incentive to achieve success.
The year in which the days had been as weeks, the weeks as months, had finally come to an end, and at six o'clock on the evening of Saturday, October 19th, 1872, I started on my thirty-six hours' journey to Chicago.
There was no "Twentieth Century Limited," making the trip in twenty hours, in those days, and my two nights and a day on the road gave me ample time for contemplation, which I was in a mood to avail myself of. I felt all the eagerness of youth, the power of a love that stirred my whole being, and was impressed with the solemnity of the obligation I was about to incur.
The life of a lovely woman was to be intrusted to me, to make or to mar according as I did my duty.
I passed many hours, as the train rolled on, mile after mile, mentally reviewing the past, looking at the present, and planning for the future.
My year of correspondence with my wife-to-be had increased the strength of my affection, and to its growth there seemed no end. In a worldly way I had prospered, accumulating five thousand dollars, while my income from my business was, so far as I could see, making a steady and gratifying increase. My health was perfect, I had not a care in the world, and when I arrived in Chicago Monday morning my happiness was complete. No, not quite; but it was a few minutes later when I arrived at the home of my bride on Michigan avenue.
I remained a guest there until Tuesday, and then visited my married sister, who resided in a suburb of Chicago.
Wednesday was one of those glorious October days when, with a clear sky, the temperature is low enough to make the air bracing without being too cold. I was at the Michigan avenue home early, and after a few minutes with Miss Wilson, walking through the rooms, admiring the floral decorations, I was deserted, and felt myself for the time being as rather "a fifth wheel to a coach."
The bride was in the hands of her girl friends, everybody was busy with the final preparations, and I wandered around, wishing that the agony was over and I had my wife to myself.
At last the hour arrived.
Preceded by Miss Wilson's little nieces as flower-girls we entered the crowded rooms, and in a few minutes the clergyman had pronounced us man and wife.
As I am not writing for a society paper or fashion journal, I will not attempt to describe the gown worn by the bride. It was very handsome, no doubt.
But the woman who wore it! Ah, there was a subject for the pen of a poet, the brush of an artist. Certainly I have never seen any creature half so lovely; and as I looked into those eyes, beaming with love, trust, confidence,—everything, that a noble woman could give to the man she loved,—I thanked my God for the inestimable blessing He had bestowed upon me.
I have made many mistakes in my life, most men have, and I have done many things the wisdom of which was afterwards proven; but as I write these lines, looking back over more than thirty-two years of married life, I know that my marriage is the one act of my whole career that stands pre-eminent as the wisest and best thing that I have ever done.
In all these years my wife and I have been as one. In days of prosperity she rejoiced with me, in times of adversity and bitter trials she has stood nobly by me, always with absolute faith in and unswerving loyalty to the man to whom she gave her heart.
Her love, courage, and cheerfulness have been the mainstays which supported me when I would have fallen by the wayside, and her sweet companionship and keen appreciation of refined pleasures have added immeasurably to my enjoyment and happiness.
After a two-hour reception we donned our traveling garb and made a race for the carriage, submitting good-naturedly to the usual shower of rice and slippers.
We were to take the five o'clock train going East, and the Judge rode with us to the station. When the last farewell had been said while standing on the platform of the car as the train pulled out from the station, we sought our drawing-room in the Pullman, and closing the door I clasped my wife to my heart.
It was the first moment we had been alone since the ceremony.
Our wedding-trip was necessarily brief, as I had to get back to my business; so after a day or two each at Toledo and Albany, the early part of the following week found us in New York.
Like all young people on their wedding-trip, we tried to fool the public into believing that we were not bride and groom; but I have no doubt that if we fooled anybody, that individual must have been very nearsighted and minus eye-glasses.
My wife possibly maintained her dignity, but I fear I was too happy to be suppressed.
I remember well the peculiar way in which the clerk at the Boody House, Toledo, looked at me when I registered. As I was not yet twenty-two years of age I could hardly have expected him to take us for "old married folks."
Before leaving for Chicago I had engaged an apartment and board with a very pleasant and refined family in Fort Greene Place, Brooklyn, and it was there we commenced our married life.
It was my custom to walk to Wall Street Ferry each morning on my way to the office, and whenever the weather was suitable my wife accompanied me to within a block or two of the ferry.
In the afternoon I was always home at the earliest possible moment.
I begrudged every hour that we were parted.
Each day I discovered something new to admire, some trait of character, some mental attribute, or a dainty mannerism that was simply captivating.
Thus were our lives developing day after day.
In the evenings we had frequent callers, and while I was always the gracious host to my friends, I was selfish enough to wish, at times, that we could live on an island by ourselves, where we could remain undisturbed.
It is said "there is nothing half so sweet in life, as love's young dream." I have found something far sweeter, as this narrative in its natural progression will develop; but those were my days of "love's young dream."
I was proud of my wife, proud of the admiration she commanded from our friends, but I wanted her all to myself.
Our Sundays were looked forward to with eagerness. We attended church service in the morning, and the afternoons were passed in our apartment in delightful intercourse.
There was never a dull moment.
Sunday evening supper, which to me has always been a most attractive meal, was usually taken either with my family or at Mr. Sherman's. Occasionally we would attend an evening service, but as a rule we would get home early and have a few hours to ourselves.
Our year of separation while engaged had to be atoned for.
We were lovers the first year of our wedded life, and after all these years we are, no less ardently, lovers still.
THE FIRST REVERSE OF FORTUNE.
The Christmas holidays of 1872 were at hand and I was in full spirit with the festivities of the season.
My home life was a constant revelation of delight and happiness.
The income from my business had increased to double that of the previous year, and the future looked bright indeed.
Just at this time came to me in an evil hour a temptation to which I yielded, and I have always wondered how, under all the conditions then existing, I could have been so weak.
My accumulations had not been invested, and as I had in my business no use for capital, the money remained idle in bank.
Crossing the ferry one morning I was joined by a friend in the employ of a Stock Exchange firm, then well known, but since retired from business.
I had been thinking of an investment and spoke to him on the subject, telling him the amount of money I had to invest. I had in mind the buying of some good bonds.
My friend, who was a most plausible talker, had, I understood, made considerable money in Wall Street, and when he told me of a movement in certain stocks then being manipulated for a rise, through his office, I was at first interested and then carried away with the desire to enter what seemed such an easy road to wealth.
He told me of several instances where the investment of a few thousands had resulted in enormous profits. These stories usually get to public knowledge one way or another, but the other side, the vastly greater number of cases where ruin and often worse follows, one does not hear so much of.
Before I went home that day I had bought five hundred shares of stock and had deposited as a margin five thousand dollars. I was told that the margin would surely be ample to carry the stock through any possible fluctuations, that I was not to feel alarmed if I saw the price go off a point or two, and that I was certain to see a twenty-point rise within a few weeks.
On my way home that afternoon I, for the first time in my life, read in the paper closing prices at the Stock Exchange, before reading anything else.
My stock was up half a point above the price I paid and I experienced a feeling of jubilation that was very pleasant. I saw in my mind my five thousand dollars transformed into fifteen thousand.
It was great!
At first I thought I would tell my wife about it, then decided not to do so, but to wait and surprise her with the good news when the money was made.
Had I told my wife, as I should have done, she would surely have advised me to sell out the first thing the following morning and to let speculation entirely alone.
The following day the price receded a full point Then, for a week, without any reaction, I watched it decline daily, by fractions, until my margin was more than half exhausted.
My wife readily discovered there was something worrying me, though I tried to conceal it, and in her sweet, loving way urged me to tell her of my trouble. I put her off from day to day, hoping for a change for the better.
Finally, when the price of the stock had reached a point where there was hardly anything left of my five thousand dollars, the brokers notified me I must make a further deposit or they would have to sell me out. I could have borrowed the money, but I would not do it, so the transaction was closed and my money lost.
As a matter of fact, which only goes to show what seems to the small speculator the infernal ingenuity of the stock market, the stock reacted almost immediately after I sold, and had I held on for another two or three weeks, not only would I have saved my money, but would have made in addition a very handsome profit.
Well, the money was gone—and now came the hardest part of it. I had to tell my wife. I felt that I had wronged her confidence in not telling her from the first, and this feeling hurt me far more than the loss of the money.
After dinner that evening, fortunately we were spared from callers, sitting on the lounge with my arm around her, I told her all. How practically all I had in the world was gone, through an act of foolishness I should never have committed.
Then I told her of the feeling that overwhelmed me because I had not informed her of the matter from the first. While I talked, her little hand sought mine and from the frequent pressure I knew she was listening with a heart full of loving sympathy.
When I had finished she raised her head, and after kissing me fondly, said with a glorious smile:
"Why, my darling, is that all? I thought it was something terrible. What do we care for the loss of a little money? We have each other and our love. That is everything."
Then in the sunshine of that love my naturally good spirits returned and my trouble was forgotten in the joy over this new insight into the character of my wife.
With determination I resolved that I would devote myself closer than ever to my business, and set for myself the task of accumulating another five thousand dollars within a year.
During 1872 I had made about seven thousand dollars, but now nearly five thousand dollars was represented by experience.
The other fellow had the money.
The holidays had come and gone. We enjoyed them in spite of our recent reverse.
We did not spend very much money, though we had just as good a time as if we had done so. I had entirely recovered my mental equilibrium and had put out of my mind all thought of my financial loss.
Life was moving on in the same delightful channel. Love was our bark, and we sailed smoothly, as on a summer sea.
My business during the early months of the year was good, but in April signs were not wanting of a general falling off in the commerce of the entire country.
My trade began to feel the effect of the approaching "hard times." This did not disturb me at first, for I did not think it would last long, and in any event thought I could safely count on at least as good a business as in the year previous.
At this period it became evident to me that my father was breaking down, and that while he might accomplish a little toward the support of his family, it was not to be depended on, and the burden must rest on me.
It came at a bad time, but I accepted it as a duty which it was my pleasure to perform so far as I was able.
Under these conditions we decided to give up our apartment and take up our residence with my parents. They, as also my sisters, were very fond of my wife and she of them, while I was always, from infancy, accused of being the pet of the family.
As the summer months progressed I realized that beyond a doubt the hard times were upon us. My customers were buying nothing and complaining there was not enough business doing to use up the stock of material they had on hand.
My savings of the first quarter of the year began to dwindle, and in those days I thought often with regret of my lost five thousand dollars.
My wife, always the same bright, cheerful, loving woman, encouraged me to keep up my spirits, and I did, for her sake as well as my own.
THE COMING OF THE STORK.
By the first of November I had exhausted all my savings, and from then on knew that if my monthly earnings were insufficient to pay my expenses, I should have to resort to borrowing money to tide me over until better times.
A crisis was coming at home that demanded every effort of mine to have matters there pleasant and comfortable. Under no circumstances must my wife worry.
Thus I thought, but even yet I did not know the magnificent courage of the woman.
Each evening when I returned home she greeted me with the brightest of smiles, and as soon as dinner was over, in our own room, with my arms around her, she insisted on knowing the history of the day in detail.
She grasped the situation thoroughly, caressed and encouraged me, always asserting that everything would come out right in the end. She had no fear and did not worry.
On the nineteenth of November our child was born.
A boy physically perfect. That his lungs were all right I personally could swear to, and what sweet music his crying was to my ears when first I heard it.
A little later I was permitted to enter the room, and did so in great agitation.
As I kissed my wife and held her hand a few minutes, on her face, more lovely than ever in her motherhood, was the same sweet smile and an expression of devotion and love eternal. I looked at the boy, the new rivet in the chain of love that bound us together, and then, after another kiss, went quietly from the room.
Heroes, ancient and modern, the world has developed. Heroines, also have their place in history, but the heroism of a woman in ordinary life, in trials physical and mental, is something to be regarded with awe and reverence.
Our wives! Our mothers! Heroines, all.
The mother recovered quickly her normal state of health and the boy thrived and grew rapidly.
In March, 1874, I was greatly encouraged by a slight improvement in business. I had been through a terribly hard winter, and with the burden of the household on my shoulders had only just succeeded, by the utmost prudence, in making both ends meet. With absolutely no surplus I could not but feel uneasy most of the time.
It was while this was the condition of my finances that my most intimate friend, the son of a man of some means, approached me on the subject of getting his brother, then in Europe, but soon to return, into business.
I knew his brother, but not intimately. I thought he might make a good business man, and it occurred to me that if he was a hard worker and his father was willing to buy him an interest in my business, I might get efficient aid to my efforts and at the same time get a cash surplus to relieve my mind of financial worry, which I knew to be very desirable; for a man who has to worry about the small expenses of living can never do himself full justice in his business efforts.
Another point that induced me to consider the matter was the desire of my wife and myself to go to housekeeping.
The relations with my parents and sisters were most pleasant, but now that we had our boy we felt anxious to set up a modest little establishment of our own, and indeed my mother advised it, though she was sorry to have us leave her.
After several interviews with Mr. Allis we came to an agreement that as soon as his son Thomas arrived from Europe I was to take him into partnership on equal terms and he was to pay me a bonus of three thousand dollars.
A couple of weeks later my sign again came down and a new one went up, reading W. E. Stowe & Co.
With three thousand dollars in the bank my mind was again at ease and we immediately looked for our new home.
We were offered a very prettily furnished, nicely located house, a few blocks from my mother's, for the summer at a very low rent. We decided to take it and not look up a permanent home until fall.
Our housekeeping that summer was a delightful experience and we knew we should never again be satisfied to board. We were fortunate in getting a good maid, the boy kept well, we had a cool summer, business was fairly good and we had soon forgotten the hard times of the previous winter.
Of course, we were prudent in our expenditures, but we lived well and did a little entertaining.
In October we rented and furnished tastefully but inexpensively a three-story and basement house, one of a new row in a pleasant street, not far from the residence of Mr. Sherman.
While we did not own the house, the fact that the contents belonged to us gave us a sense of proprietorship that we had not felt in the house we had recently vacated.
We had enjoyed greatly our shopping for the furnishings and felt very happy in our new home amidst our household gods.
Our efficient maid was devoted to our boy and to her mistress. The housekeeping ran smoothly, and although we already began to talk of the day when we should own our home and of what that home should be, we were entirely contented and happy.
As the winter approached I began to suffer, slightly at first, with muscular rheumatism. Not since the days of childhood, when I had gone through the usual category of children's diseases, had I been really ill. I always had suffered to some extent with neuralgic headaches, inherited no doubt from my mother, who was a great sufferer, and with the advent of the rheumatism these headaches became more frequent and severe.
I did not regard the trouble seriously and I so enjoyed the fond nursing and petting of my wife that the pain brought its own recompense. It soon became evident, however, that I required medical attention.
First one and then another physician was called upon without getting relief, the attack recurring at shorter intervals and each time seemingly more severe. I stood it through the winter, though suffering greatly, and with the warmer weather my health improved.
THE NEW PARTNER.
Tom Allis, my new partner, was one of the most peculiar men I have ever met. In social life he was affable and self-possessed, but in his business intercourse exhibited confusion and a shyness that was simply amazing.
Actually and in appearance he was about my age, while in his manner he was a bashful boy of seventeen. It was impossible for him to talk without blushing and appearing extremely embarrassed.
As I had only met him socially, this phase was a revelation to me. I tried to get him out amongst the trade, thinking that after he had become well acquainted his embarrassment would be overcome, or at least partially so. My efforts in this direction failed and he settled down to a routine office-man, and while he looked after that end of the business satisfactorily, I could easily have found a clerk at fifteen dollars per week to do as well.
This was disappointing, but I hoped that as he gained experience his services would be of greater value to the firm. Meanwhile, I let him relieve me entirely of the office work.
Tom had been with me only a few months when he came to me for advice in a matter in which he felt he had become involved.
It appeared he had been calling regularly on a young lady, a pretty little French girl. I had met her but once and then was impressed with the idea that she had a temper which it would be unpleasant to arouse, though I may have done her an injustice.
At all events, Tom said he thought the girl was in love with him; that probably he had given her reason to believe his attentions were serious, and he saw no honorable way out except to ask her to be his wife.
I saw that the boy, so he seemed to me, was really very much disturbed. I told him before I could offer any advice I must know every detail, and after learning that not one word of love had ever passed between them, that their intercourse was really nothing more than that of intimate friends, and he assuring me that he had not a particle of love for the girl, I advised him strongly to give up any idea of offering her marriage and to gently but firmly break off the intimacy.
He accepted the advice gratefully and acted on it.
A few years later he married the girl, and I presume that he told her of my share in this matter. She probably held me responsible and no doubt influenced him to some extent in a course of action, referred to farther on in this narrative, that I have always regarded with regret.
It is a thankless task to advise one in such matters, even though the one be your friend.
Business continued to improve slowly, but at the end of the year my partner had drawn as his share of the profits, for the eight months he had been with me, twenty-two hundred dollars.
He was more than satisfied, and well he might be.
During the winter of 1874 and '75 I had another and more trying siege of rheumatism. As in the previous spring, with the advent of warmer weather I found relief, but I knew the disease had become chronic and it worried me.
This worry, however, I soon dismissed from my mind to make room for one more formidable and pressing.
Hard times were coming again and there were two now to divide the profits.
The furnishing of our home had absorbed a good portion of the three thousand dollars I had received from my partner, and my living expenses together with what it was necessary for me to do toward the support of my parents and sisters exhausted my income.
My always-cheerful and devoted wife, and my boy, just arriving at an interesting age, made home so attractive that I was able to forget business when away from the office.
Each morning with the parting caress came words of loving encouragement that did much to support me through the day, and at night on my return home, my greeting from wife and boy always dispelled the clouds hanging over me.
I was happy, infinitely so, despite the business worry.
My physicians had advised my leaving Brooklyn for a dryer atmosphere.
We had a lease of our house until the spring of 1876, but had decided that then we would try country life.
Many hours were passed pleasantly in discussing the plan and its probable results. My wife's fertile brain would paint to me in pleasing colors what the country home should be—the cottage and its coziness, the garden, the lawn and flowers, my health restored, the benefit of country life to the boy, and the relief to my mind through largely reduced living expenses.
We were eager for the time to come to make the change.
On the twelfth of December our second child was born. My first boy had a brother, and again my wife, noble woman, gave testimony of her great love.
No trials that came to her prevented the outpouring of that love to me.
She knew how I needed her fond encouragement, particularly at that period, and she gave it to me daily, always with the same sweet smile and tender caress.
That winter will never be forgotten by me for the torture which I suffered from the almost nightly attacks of that awful rheumatism. Medicine did not seem of any use.
Night after night until long past midnight my devoted wife, with ceaseless energy, would apply every few moments hot applications to relieve the cruel pains, until finally I would fall asleep for a few hours' rest.
I lost flesh rapidly, and when spring came was hardly more than a semblance of my former self.
It was indeed time that I should shake the dust of Brooklyn from my feet.
Before the winter was over we had commenced to scan the advertising columns of the daily papers for "country places to rent." We wanted if possible to get a place in the mountainous section of New Jersey. I wanted to get away from air off the salt water and this section of the country seemed the best.
It must be healthy and at a low rent. For the rest we must take what we could get at the price we could pay.
Our search ended in our taking a place of about six acres, five minutes' walk from a station on the Morris & Essex Railroad, between Summit and Morristown.
On the property was a farm-house more than one hundred years old, and this the owner repaired and improved by building an extra room and a piazza across the front of the house.
The rent was two hundred dollars a year. We moved there early in April. The last night in the Brooklyn house I had one of my worst attacks of rheumatism. I have never had the slightest twinge of it since.
Blessed be New Jersey!
We had been in our new home but a very few days before we were quite in accord with the sentiment that "God made the country and man made the town."
The house in its exterior was the ordinary, old-fashioned, one-and-a-half story farmhouse, improved by a piazza; but the interior, under the deft hands and good taste of my wife, had an appearance both home-like and cozy that was very attractive.
We had to get accustomed to the low ceilings, only seven feet high; but this did not distress us, though in our parlor, a room twenty-eight feet long, the effect was always peculiar.
The grounds around the house were not laid out. It was simply a case of a house set on a little elevation, in the center of a rather rough lawn, and without a path or a flower-bed, no shrubs and but few trees.
I hired a man with plow and horse for a day or two and we made a path from the piazza to the road, set out an arbor-vitae hedge, made two or three small flower-beds, and had the kitchen-garden ploughed.
The man planted the potatoes and corn in a field next the garden, but the kitchen garden was my hobby, and with all the enthusiasm of a child with a new toy I took personal possession of it.
About an acre in extent, fenced and almost entirely free from even small stones, the soil was rich and productive. I met with wonderful success, and the crops that I raised, in their earliness and size, astonished the natives.
Every pleasant morning I was up at five o'clock, and after a bowl of crackers and milk, worked for two or three hours. Then a bath, followed by breakfast, and after a day in town, which, owing to dull business, I made very short, I was back in the afternoon at work again.
How I did enjoy those days.
In the early stages my wife used to laugh at me for digging up the seed to see if it had sprouted, so impatient was I to see the growing plants.
We had an ice-house, filled for us by the owner without charge, and in melon season I picked the melons in the morning and left them in the ice-house all day.
My mouth waters at the thought of those delicious melons.
The fact that I raised everything myself, practically by my own labor, added greatly to our enjoyment in the eating.
The walk between house and station was for most of the distance through a private lane which was in part shaded by large trees.
The quaint old village, one of the oldest in the State, was interesting; but not so the people, at least to us. It was a farming community, and of social life there was none.
Still, we felt that no privation. We had found what we sought—a pleasant, comfortable home, my return to good health, and economical living.
During the first year of our residence in the country our entire expenditure was but thirteen hundred dollars, which was fully three thousand dollars less than the year previous.
A few of our most intimate friends were invited occasionally for visits of a few days, and these little visits we always enjoyed; but to each other my wife and I were all-sufficient, and in the dear little home there was never a feeling of loneliness.
It was truly "love in a cottage."
During the summer, about once a week, I would hire from a farmer a horse and rockaway, and with wife and babies take a drive, our favorite ride having as an objective point a visit to the old Ford mansion, Washington's headquarters at Morristown.
There is certainly no section of country in the vicinity of New York city that can compare in natural beauty with Morris County, New Jersey, and we commanded the best of this, in rather antiquated style of equipage to be sure, but at the small cost of half a dollar for "all the afternoon."
Thinking of that old carriage recalls to mind an incident of later years which so impressed me I shall never forget it:
With my wife I was spending a few days at Old Point Comfort, and while we were there John Jacob Astor and his bride arrived, on their wedding tour.
The hack service at the Point at that time was about the worst imaginable. The hotel had none, and a few old negroes with disreputable "foh de wah" vehicles and horses that could only get over the poor roads by constant urging, picked up a few dollars by driving guests of the hotel to the Hampton School.
One afternoon when there were just two of these hacks standing in front of the hotel, I engaged the better one.
As a matter of fact, the only difference I could see was that the one I selected had been washed probably at least once that season, whereas the other appeared to be plastered with the dried mud of ages.
We drove to the school and on our return met the other hack on its way there.
The hackman had disappeared, and in his place, driving positively the worst-looking turnout I ever saw, was John Jacob Astor with his bride sitting beside him.
The spectacle of that man, with his social position and his enormous wealth, driving under such conditions, struck me first as ludicrous and then as a living example of the great leveling power that in the end makes all men equal regardless of wealth or position.
My boys were thriving in the country air, living out of doors most of the day. With only one maid, my wife had no difficulty in keeping busy while I was in town, and the summer passed quickly and pleasantly.
MY PARTNER RETIRES
Matters at the office had been going badly for many months and any improvement in prospect was too far distant to be discerned.
My partner was absolutely useless to me except as a clerk, and indeed a good clerk would have been better, for I could have commanded him to do things that I could only request of my partner, and I had long since learned that these requests carried no weight unless they were in the line of duty that was agreeable to him.
On first taking up my residence in the country I felt it necessary, in consequence of poor health, to remain at home a day or two each week, but I soon had to abandon this custom, for on such days there was nothing accomplished.
Orders by mail and wire which should have had immediate attention were held over until the following day, and this of course could not be permitted, without jeopardizing the business.
When I would ask Tom why he had not been out in the trade instead of remaining at his desk all day, the only satisfaction I could get was his statement that the trade treated him as boy and he did not like it.
I knew but too well that the trade sized him up about right.
He meant well enough, but it simply wasn't in him to assert himself.
He had been with me a little over two years and during that time his share of the profits had returned him the three thousand dollars he had invested and in addition paid him what would have been a good salary for the services rendered.
As he was unmarried and lived with his parents, paying no board, a very small business would give him an income sufficient for his requirements, and apparently he was contented to let matters go on as they were.
What might be considered easy times for him with no responsibilities, was for me, with a wife and two children, parents and two sisters, to provide for, an impossible proposition.
Something had to be done to change the status.
I waited until the first of September in hopes of some sign of better times, but business looked worse rather than better, and I decided to make him an offer for his interest. I thought best to put this in writing, and while doing so went fully into our affairs and endeavored to show him how impossible it was for me to go on any longer under existing conditions. Incidentally I emphasized the fact that after more than two years' experience he was still unable to accomplish anything that could not be done by a clerk.
Then I made him an offer of two thousand dollars to be paid in monthly instalments of fifty dollars each, without interest, the first payment to be made in January. For these payments I offered him my notes.
I had written this on Saturday morning, and having finished while he was at luncheon, laid it on his desk and took my usual train home, which gave him an opportunity to think the matter over until Monday.
When we met on Monday morning I was not surprised to find him in a bad temper.
He said at once that he declined my offer, and having paid his money to come into the concern he proposed to stay.
I told him I was sorry I could not see my way clear to make any better offer and it was that or nothing. If he would not accept it, then the only alternative was for me to step out and leave him the business.
This suggestion startled him. He knew he could not carry on the business without me.
After going to his father's office for consultation he returned and said he had decided to accept my offer. "As to those notes," he said, "you may give them to me if you like, but I don't suppose you will ever pay them."
We terminated our partnership that day, but I continued the business under the same style, W. E. Stowe & Co., complying with the legal requirements governing such action.
While Allis was my partner, on more than one occasion, when we were discussing the wretched state of business, he would call himself a "Jonah," and in the light of later developments it really looked as if such was the fact.
When we separated, unquestionably the outlook was most gloomy. I could not see a ray of light ahead, and without the constant encouragement of my wife, who always insisted that brighter days were in store for us, I might have given up the ship.
Before I had been alone a month an improvement was perceptible, in another month it was more decided, and by the end of the year there was no longer any doubt that an era of good times was approaching.
Those notes for two thousand dollars given Allis, and which he thought I would never pay, carried no interest. There was no reason I should anticipate the payments if I did not wish to. Probably he would have been glad to have me discount them. I had forty months in which to pay them. I paid them all in full within six months.
I thought he would appreciate my doing so. Quite the contrary.
Of course my prepayment so far in advance of maturity was evidence of my prosperity.
He, in his small soul, could not but believe I knew this prosperity was coming and had forced him out of the firm, just in advance of its arrival. I met him in the street frequently and noticed the change in his manner. A few weeks later he did not return my bow and we have since been strangers.
When I heard shortly after of his engagement to the little French girl, I concluded that his envy of my success and her prejudice for my share in the temporary cessation of his intimacy with her had cost me a friend. And yet it surely was through no fault of mine.
A YEAR OF SUNSHINE
The year 1878 was to me a memorable one.
The improvement in business the previous year had been sufficient to enable me to pay my indebtedness to Allis, meet all my current expenses, and enter the new year with a good balance in bank.
My health had become entirely restored, and with mind free from worry life was indeed well worth the living. The home life, happy under adverse circumstances, was of course made more enjoyable by my improved financial condition.
The little rivulet of prosperity of 1877 broadened in 1878 to a stream, small at first, but ever widening and leading on to the sea.
On the second of July there was born to us our first daughter.
My wife and myself were delighted with this latest arrival from love-land. We had looked forward with fond anticipation to the event, and our hearts' desire was that a daughter should be added to the family circle. The blessing had come to us and we were grateful.
What shall I say of the mother of that little daughter?
What can I say that would do justice to her love and devotion?
It is said "there is no love like a mother's love." True, but with all reverence to my own sainted mother, there is another love that has come to me, the love of a wife for her husband, that I cannot but maintain is the greatest of all.
How completely that little baby girl ruled the household was soon in evidence. For the time being she was queen and we her loyal subjects, anxious to do her honor. The little brothers were more than pleased to have a sister and rivaled each other in their efforts to entertain her.
The mother was proud of her girl and I—well, to tell the truth, I was deeply in love with the entire family.
Our lease of the place had expired in April but I arranged to keep it until the first of October.
We felt warranted, in our improved circumstances, in seeking a better home, amidst refined surroundings, and had concluded to make a change in the fall. We did not want to give up country life. My wife and I enjoyed it and we knew it was best for the children. Our desire was for a house with modern conveniences, neighbors, pleasant, cultured people whose society we could enjoy.
On my trips to and from the city I had observed from the car window a section of country not far from where we were then residing, and as the few houses I could see were modern, the elevation high and beautifully wooded, we thought it worth while to investigate.
With my wife I drove there one afternoon and we were both surprised and delighted at what we saw.
A gentleman of wealth had purchased many hundreds of acres of land, and after building for himself a handsome home had commenced development of the property for residences of the better class.
There was nothing of the cheap real estate scheme about the place. The owner would sell or rent only to such people as he deemed desirable.
Although the water supply and sewerage system had been established, miles of roads built, a handsome railroad station erected, and a large Casino in course of erection, there were at that time but six houses completed.
Knollwood was to be a park, and as a unique feature no two houses were to be alike. How successful it has been is shown by the fact that to-day there is no more beautiful or flourishing residence park in the vicinity of New York.
As a result of our visit to the property, an arrangement was made for a house to be built for us on a lease of three years, and we were permitted to select the plans of the house, its site, and the interior decorations. Work was to commence at once and possession given us in April, 1879.
Not wishing to spend another winter where we were, we returned to Brooklyn and remained with my parents until the new house was completed.
When we commenced our packing preparatory to leaving the little farm, as we called it, there was a feeling akin to homesickness.
We had been very happy and great blessings had come to us while there. The dear little baby girl, my health, prosperity in worldly affairs—all this and the thought of how the place had been a sort of lovers' retreat, where I had my wife all to myself most of the time, made the homely old farm-house seem something sacred.
We could not but feel a little sentimental over it all.
The garden, the arbor-vitae hedge, planted with my own hands, and now tall and almost impenetrable, the play-house which I built in the orchard for the children, all had to be visited with a feeling of saying good-by to old friends.
There was hardly a summer for years after that we did not at least once drive down the old lane and look over the place where our country life had commenced, and I shall have for it always a tender spot in my memory.
When, at the end of the year, the books were closed at the office, I was pleased to find that I had made a little over twelve thousand dollars.
It had taken me eight years to catch up to the point where Mr. Derham left off, but I had finally succeeded.
As I was but twenty-eight years of age, I congratulated myself with a little self-conceit that was perhaps pardonable.
It had certainly been a hard up-hill fight.
AN IDEAL LIFE
As the new house was approaching completion we found much pleasure in occasionally going to Knollwood for an hour or two, to look it over.
Our having selected the plans and site made it seem as if it belonged to us and our interest in its development was great. The kitchen was in the basement. On the first floor was a square entrance hall opening into parlor, dining-room, and library. There were four bed-rooms and bath-room on second floor and above that a maid's room and attic.
While the house was not large the rooms were all of comfortable size. For heating, in addition to the furnace, there were several open fire-places, a great desideratum in any house. In its exterior the style was something of the Swiss cottage.
The grounds consisted of about an acre in lawn with a few flower-beds and a number of fine trees.
In April we moved into the new house. Some additions had been made to our furnishings, and when all was in order we agreed that in our eyes there was no other house in the world quite so pretty.
It was a case of "contentment is wealth," and we were perfectly contented.
Of course we must have a name for the place. Every one does that, in the country, and we were not to be the exception. One of our boundary lines was a brook and we decided on "Brookside Cottage."
The stationery and visiting cards were so engraved, when, alas, a few weeks later our brook dried up and we had to select another name.
At this time, where the brook had been, a new line of sewer was laid, and my wife suggested "Sewerside," but after punishing her with a kiss for her bad pun, I suggested "Sunnyside."
The name was adopted and to this day the place has retained it.
"Sunnyside" was not the only house in Knollwood completed that spring. There were several others, and when the summer commenced there resided there a little community of delightful, congenial people. Most of them were of about my age, and with the exception of the owner of the Park, of moderate means. Probably at that time I enjoyed a larger income than any of them.
Wealth cut no figure in that community. We all respected each other and met on the same social plane, regardless of individual means.
While we liked them all, we became particularly intimate with two of our immediate neighbors, the Woods and the Lawtons, who had come to the Park at the same time as ourselves.
This intimacy became a strong and close friendship, so much so that it was very like one family. The children of the three families fraternized and almost every disengaged evening found the parents gathered together in some one of the three houses, which were connected by private telephone.
In its social elements Knollwood was peculiarly fortunate. The people were bright and entertaining. In a number of instances musical talent, both vocal and instrumental, was of a high order, and there was also a good deal of amateur dramatic talent.
Taking this combination and an inspiration on the part of each individual to do what he or she could for the entertainment of all, one can readily see that much pleasure might be derived in Knollwood society.
The facilities for making use of the talent we possessed were excellent. We had a beautiful casino, with a stage well equipped with scenery, and during the first four years of our residence there more than fifty performances were given, each followed by a dance. A Country Club was organized for out-door sports and there was something going on continually.
The life at Knollwood in those days was to my mind ideal.
The beauty of the place, its facilities and conveniences are still there, improved and increased. Its social life, now on a totally different scale, has expanded to meet the tastes of the people. With the large increase in population came the break in the circle. Cliques defining the difference, not in culture or refinement, but in wealth, have developed. The old charm of every resident my friend, is lacking. Gossip, unknown in the early days, showed its ugly head in later years.
It is the way of the world. All struggle to gain wealth. Those that succeed, with but few exceptions, sneer at those who are left behind, and what does it all amount to in the end? One can enjoy it but a few years at most.
I have in my career come into more or less intimate contact, socially and in a business way, with many men of great wealth. In some instances, where the wealth was inherited, the past generation had paid the price of its accumulation, but I doubt if any of those who have given up the best of their lives in the struggle to attain their present position and wealth, now that they possess it, get out of it anything like the degree of happiness and contentment that was in evidence in those early years in Knollwood.
And what has it cost them?
Long years of struggle and worry, continual mental strain that has prevented the full enjoyment of home life, a weakened physical condition, old age in advance of its time, and more, far more than all this, in at least one instance of which I have personal knowledge, and I presume there have been many others, the disruption of a family that would never have occurred had the husband given less time to his struggle for wealth and more to the wife whom he had vowed to love and cherish.
She, poor, beautiful woman, left much to herself evening after evening while her husband was at his club or elsewhere planning with allies his huge business operations, fell a victim to a fiend in the guise of a man.
When that husband looks at his children, deserted by their mother, he must think that for his millions he has paid a stupendous price.
Wealth brings with it fashionable life. Of what horrors the fashionable life of New York is continually giving us examples, the columns of the daily papers bear witness.
Is the "game worth the candle"?
My business in 1879 returned me nearly sixteen thousand dollars, a satisfactory increase over the previous year.
My wife and I had become much attached to "Sunnyside," and as the owner was willing to sell it to us for just what it had cost to build, plus one thousand dollars for the land, we bought it. We then spent eleven hundred dollars in improvements, and when finished our home had cost us sixty-five hundred dollars.
It was certainly a very attractive place for that amount of money. To be sure it was only an unpretentious cottage, but a pretty one, and the interior had been so successfully though inexpensively treated in decorations and appointments that the general effect attracted from our friends universal admiration.
As our neighbor, Charlie Wood, put it on his first inspection, we had succeeded in making a "silk purse out of a sow's ear." His remark rather grated on us, but it was characteristic of the man and we knew it was simply his way of paying us a compliment.
In January a broker in the trade, not a competitor for the reason that he was a specialist in a line that I did not cover, gave me a large order, for future delivery.
He told me it was a purchase on speculation for himself and another party whom he named, and that not only should I have the resale but they would give me one-eighth interest in the transaction.
Up to that time I had never been interested to the extent of a single dollar in the markets in which I dealt as a broker nor had I any speculative clientage, I was certain the operation would be successful provided they did not hold on for too large a profit and overstay the market. I accepted the order as he offered it, but stipulated that I should have the right at any time to close out my interest in the deal.
The purchase was made and a few weeks later long before time for delivery, I found a buyer who would pay a clear ten thousand dollars profit. In vain I urged them to accept it. Then with their knowledge I sold my interest and secured my twelve hundred and fifty dollars.
They held on, took delivery at maturity, and finally after several months I resold for them at a loss of nearly forty thousand dollars.
In the negotiations I came into personal contact only with the broker. The other party was a wealthy Hebrew merchant then doing business on Broome Street. He was at that time supposed to be worth possibly a million and was just getting in touch with my line of trade. A few years later he became a most important factor and still later was allied with Standard Oil interests.
At his death in 1902 he left to his heirs many millions of dollars. I attended his funeral and truly mourned and respected the man, for while for many years we were active business competitors, in the days of trouble he was one of the very few ready to extend a helping hand.
In the first three months of 1880, including my profit in the transaction just mentioned, I made six thousand dollars. I was now in a position where if hard times came I could accept them with reasonable complacency.
My success had broadened my views and given me a keener insight into the possibilities of my business. I became convinced that in earning capacity it was about at the top notch.
There were several features then becoming prominent that led me to this conclusion. The Standard Oil Company had absorbed all the refining concerns and had then established its own broker. It paid him a salary for his services and he paid to the Company the brokerages he collected from the sellers. I had been doing a large business with the constituent companies which would now cease. The leading firm with which my relations had been most intimate had taken into its employ as a confidential man my most active competitor and I knew his influence would work against me to the utmost. New competitors, young men who had been clerks in the trade, were coming into the field. Then a movement looking to a reduction in the rate of brokerage was being agitated.
I had no doubt about being able to keep up with the procession, but it looked to me as if the procession would be too slow and if it was to be a funeral march I proposed to look on rather than take part. I had been through the stages of creeping, then walking, and now I wanted to run.
The problem was before me and I thought I saw the solution.
The business being done by brokers covered several different articles. The most important of these, that is, the one on which the most brokerages were earned, happened to be the one article that the Standard Oil Company was the largest buyer of, that the leading firm was most interested in, and that the talk of reduced brokerage was aimed at.
My plan was to drop that entirely and also everything else except one particular staple commodity in which I would be a specialist. I had for two or three years done a large business in this and had made a profound study of that branch of the trade.
It was yet in its infancy but I believed in a rapid and important growth. How rapid that growth has been is shown by the fact that in 1879 the consumption in the United States was less than five thousand tons. It has increased every year since and is now thirty-six thousand tons per year.
Another point that decided me on the commodity I was to handle exclusively was its adaptability to speculative operations. In London for many years it has been a favorite medium of speculation and I believed I could build up a speculative clientele and thereby largely increase my brokerage account.
As business continued good through the spring and early summer I concluded to delay my action until the fall. Each month I was adding to my surplus and there was no need for haste.
NEAR THE DARK VALLEY
It was the middle of July. After a most oppressively hot and a very busy day in the city I returned home with a feeling of weariness that was unusual, my head ached badly. At dinner I ate but little and then retired early. My wife petted and nursed me until I had fallen asleep. After a restless night I was too ill to rise in the morning.
Our physician was called in and his first diagnosis was nothing serious, but he advised my remaining at home for a day or two and taking a much-needed rest.
Twenty-four hours later he pronounced my illness congestion of the brain.
Ten years of close application to business, much of the time under a great nervous strain and no rest, had brought its day of reckoning.
For nearly three weeks I was confined to my bed.
My wife, aided by our faithful physician, Doctor Burling, who often when I was delirious remained with me throughout the night, nursed me with constant and untiring devotion. While she accepted the efficient aid of one of my sisters, she would not consent to a trained nurse, so long as the doctor would advise it only on the ground of relief to her.
Her love for me was all-absorbing and no hand but hers should administer to my wants. For hours at a time she stroked the poor tired head, until her gentle caresses soothed me to brief intervals of rest.
How she stood the strain, especially when as the crisis drew near life seemed slowly but surely ebbing, I do not know. I never opened my eyes that they did not rest on her sweet face, smiling, cheerful, her own fears hidden from me that she might give me the courage which the doctor said must be maintained.