your online library and language lab
Contents > Author > Stephen Crane > A Self-Made Man 1871- 1900
Previous Next

Stephen Crane
A Self-Made Man
printer friendly version
Tom had a hole in his shoe. It was very round and very uncomfortable,
particularly when he went on wet pavements. Rainy days made him
feel that he was walking on frozen dollars, although he had only to
think for a moment to discover he was not. He used up almost two
packs of playing cards by means of putting four cards at a time inside
his shoe as a sort of temporary sole, which usually lasted about half
a day. Once he put in four aces for luck. He went down town that
morning and got refused work. He thought it wasn't a very
extraordinary performance for a young man of ability, and he was
not sorry that night to find his packs were entirely out of aces.

One day, Tom was strolling down Broadway. He was in pursuit of work,
although his pace was slow. He had found that he must take the matter
coolly. So he puffed tenderly at a cigarette and walked as if he owned
stock. He imitated success so successfully that if it wasn't for the
constant reminder (king, queen, deuce, and tray) in his shoe, he would
have gone into a store and bought something.

He had borrowed five cents that morning of his landlady, for his mouth
craved tobacco. Although he owed her much for board, she had unlimited
confidence in him, because his stock of self-assurance was very large
indeed. And as it increased in a proper ratio with the amount of his bills,
his relations with her seemed on a firm basis. So he strolled along and
smoked, with his confidence in fortune in nowise impaired by his financial

Of a sudden he perceived an old man seated upon a railing, and
smoking a clay pipe.

He stopped to look because he wasn't in a hurry, and because it
was an unusual thing on Broadway to see old men seated upon railings
and smoking clay pipes.

And to his surprise the old man regarded him very intently in return.
He stared, with a wistful expression, into Tom's face, and he clasped
his hands in trembling excitement.

Tom was filled with astonishment at the old man's strange demeanour.
He stood, puffing at his cigarette, and tried to understand matters.
Failing, he threw his cigarette away, took a fresh one from his pocket,
and approached the old man.

'Got a match?' he inquired pleasantly.

The old man, much agitated, nearly fell from the railing as he leaned
dangerously forward.

'Sonny, can you read?' he demanded, in a quavering voice.

'Certainly I can,' said Tom encouragingly. He waived the affair of the

The old man fumbled in his pocket. 'You look honest, sonny. I've been
lookin' fer an honest feller fur a'most a week. I've set on this railing fur
six days,' he cried plaintively.

He drew forth a letter and handed it to Tom. 'Read it fur me, sonny,
read it,' he said coaxingly.

Tom took the letter and leaned back against the railings. As he opened
it and prepared to read, the old man wriggled like a child at a forbidden

Thundering trucks made frequent interruptions and seven men in a hurry
jogged Tom's elbow, but he succeeded in reading what follows:

'Office of Ketchum R. Jones, Attorney-at-Law,

'Tin Can, Nevada, May 19, 18 -- .



I have as yet received no acknowledgment of the draft from the sale of
the north section lots, which I forwarded to you on June 25. I would
request an immediate reply concerning it.
'Since my last I have sold the three corner lots at five thousand each.
The city grew so rapidly in that direction that they were surrounded by
brick stores almost before you would know it. I have also sold for four
thousand dollars the ten acres of outlying sage-bush which you once
foolishly tried to give away. Mr. Simpson, of Boston, bought the tract. He
is very shrewd, no doubt, but he hasn't been in the West long. Still, I
think if he holds it for about a thousand years he may come out all right.
'I worked him with the projected-horse-car-line gag. Inform me of the
address of your New York attorneys and I will send on the papers. Pray do
not neglect to write me concerning the draft sent on June 25.
'In conclusion I might say that if you have any eastern friends
who are after good western investments, inform them of the glorious future
of Tin Can. We now have three railroads, a bank, an electric-light plant, a
projected-horse-car line, and an art society. Also, a saw manufactory, a
patent car-wheel mill, and a Methodist church. Tin Can is marching forward
to take her proud stand as the metropolis of the West. The rose-hued future
holds no glories to which Tin Can does not -- ' Tom stopped abruptly. 'I
guess the important part of the letter came first,' he said.

'Yes,' cried the old man, 'I've heard enough. It is just as I thought.
George has robbed his dad.'

The old man's frail body quivered with grief. Two tears trickled slowly
down the furrows of his face.

'Come, come, now,' said Tom, patting him tenderly on the back. 'Brace up,
old feller. What you want to do is to get a lawyer and go put the screws
on George.'

'Is it really?' asked the old man eagerly.

'Certainly it is,' said Tom.

'All right,' cried the old man, with enthusiasm; 'tell me where to get
one.' He slid down from the railing and prepared to start off.

Tom reflected. 'Well,' he said finally, 'I might do for one myself.'

'What!' shouted the old man in a voice of admiration, 'are you a lawyer
as well as a reader?'

'Well,' said Tom again, 'I might appear to advantage as one. All you need
is a big front,' he added slowly. He was a profane young man.

The old man seized him by the arm. 'Come on, then,' he cried, 'and we'll
go put the screws on George.'

Tom permitted himself to be dragged by the weak arms of his companion
around a corner and along a side-street. As they proceeded, he was
internally bracing himself for a struggle, and putting large bales of
self-assurance around where they would be likely to obstruct the
advance of discovery and defeat.

By the time they reached a brown stone house, hidden away in a
street of shops and warehouses, his mental balance was so admirable
that he seemed to be in possession of enough information and brains
to ruin half the city, and he was no more concerned about the king,
queen, deuce and tray than if they had been discards that didn't fit
his draw. Too, he infused so much confidence and courage into his
companion, that the old man went along the street breathing war,
like a decrepit hound on the scent of new blood. He ambled up the
steps of the brown stone house as if he were charging earthworks.
He unlocked the door, and they passed along a dark hall-way. In
a rear room they found a man seated at table engaged with a very
late breakfast. He had a diamond in his shirt front, and a big of egg
on his cuff.

'George,' said the old man in a fierce voice that came from his aged
throat with a sound like the crackle of burning twigs, 'here's my
lawyer, Mr. -- er -- ah -- Smith, and we want to know what you did
with the draft that was sent on June 25th.'

The old man delivered the words as if each one was a musket shot.

George's coffee spilled softly upon the table-cover, and his fingers
worked convulsively upon a slice of bread. He turned a white,
astonished face toward the old man and the intrepid Thomas.

The latter, straight and tall, with a highly legal air, stood at the old
man's side. His glowing eyes were fixed upon the face of the man
at the table. They seemed like two little detective cameras taking
pictures of the other man's thoughts.

'Father, what d-do you mean?' faltered George, totally unable to
withstand the two cameras and the highly legal air.

'What do I mean?' said the old man with a feeble roar, as from an
ancient lion; 'I mean that draft -- that's what I mean. Give it up, or
we'll -- we'll -- ' he paused to gain courage by a glance at the
formidable figure at his side, 'we'll put the screws on you.'

'Well, I was -- I was only borrowin' it for 'bout a month,' said George.

'Ah,' said Tom.

George started, glared at Tom, and then began to shiver like an
animal with a broken back.

There were a few moments of silence. The old man was fumbling
about in his mind for more imprecations. George was wilting and
turning limp before the glittering orbs of the valiant attorney. The
latter, content with the exalted advantage he had gained by the
use of the expression, 'Ah,' spoke no more, but continued to stare.

'Well,' said George finally, in a weak voice, 'I s'pose I can give you a
check for it, though I was only borrowin' it for 'bout a month. I don't
think you have treated me fairly, father, with your lawyers, and your
threats, and all that. But I'll give you the check.'

The old man turned to his attorney. 'Well?' he asked. Tom looked
at the son and held an impressive debate with himself. 'I think we
may accept the check,' he said coldly, after a time.

George arose and tottered across the room. He drew a check that
made the attorney's heart come privately into his mouth. As he
and his client passed triumphantly out, he turned a last highly legal
glare upon George that reduced that individual to a mere paste.

On the sidewalk the old man went into a spasm of delight and called his
attorney all the admiring and endearing names there were to be had.

'Lord, how you settled him!' he cried ecstatically. They walked slowly
back toward Broadway. 'The scoundrel,' murmured the old man. 'I'll
never see 'im again. I'll desert 'im. I'll find a nice quiet boarding-place,
and -- '

'That's all right,' said Tom. 'I know one. I'll take you right up,' which
he did.

He came near being happy ever after. The old man lived at advanced
rates in the front room at Tom's boarding-house. And the latter basked
in the proprietress's smiles, which had a commercial value and were
a great improvement on many we see.

The old man, with his quantities of sage-bush, thought Thomas owned
all the virtues mentioned in high-class literature, and his opinion, too,
was of commercial value. Also, he knew a man who knew another man
who received an impetus which made him engage Thomas on terms
that were highly satisfactory. Then it was that the latter learned he
had not succeeded sooner because he did not know a man who knew
another man.

So it came to pass that Tom grew to be Thomas G. Somebody. He achieved
that position in life from which he could hold out for good wines when he
went to poor restaurants. His name became entangled with the name
of Wilkins in the ownership of vast and valuable tracts of sage-bush
in Tin Can, Nevada.

At the present day he is so great that he lunches frugally at high
prices. His fame has spread through the land as a man who carved
his way to fortune with no help but his undaunted pluck, his tireless
energy, and his sterling integrity.

Newspapers apply to him now, and he writes long signed articles to
struggling young men, in which he gives the best possible advice as
to how to become wealthy. In these articles he, in a burst of glorification,
cites the king, queen, deuce, and tray, the four aces, and all that. He
alludes tenderly to the nickel he borrowed and spent for cigarettes
as the foundation of his fortune.

'To succeed in life,' he writes, 'the youth of America have only to see
an old man seated upon a railing and smoking a clay pipe. Then go
up and ask him for a match.'


Previous Next

13018464 visitors
· 8908 texts · 2350 recordings · 957 authors · 194 readers

· Home · Index · Audio Clips · Links · Feedback · About Us · Contact Us ·

Copyright © All Rights Reserved.