Self-Made Man by Stephen Crane
AN EXAMPLE OF SUCCESS THAT ANY ONE CAN FOLLOW.
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 off 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 condition.
Of a sudden he perceived on 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 old man fumbled in his pocket. You look honest, sonny. I've
been looking for 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
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.
Rufus Wilkins, Esq.
Dear Sir,I have as yet received no acknowledgment of the
from the sale of the north section lots, which I forwarded to
on 25th June. I would request an immediate reply concerning
Since my last I have sold the three corner lots at five
each. The city grew so rapidly in that direction that they
surrounded by brick stores almost before you would know it. I
also sold for four thousand dollars the ten acres of
sage bush, which you once foolishly tried to give away. Mr.
Simpson, of Boston, bought the tract. He is very shrewd, no
but he hasn't been in the west long. Still, I think if he
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
draft sent on 25th June.
In conclusion, I might say that if you have any eastern friends
are after good western investments inform them of the glorious
future of Tin Can. We now have three railroads, a bank, an
light plant, a projected horse-car line, and an art society.
a saw manufactory, a patent car-wheel mill, and a Methodist
Tin Can is marching forward to take her proud stand as the
metropolis of the west. The rose-hued future holds no glories
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
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 of 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. 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
hallway. 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 bit 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. erahSmith, and we want to know what you did with the
draft that was sent on 25th June.
The old man delivered the words as if each one was a musket shot.
George's coffee spilled softly upon the tablecover, 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 ddo 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 draftthat's what I mean. Give it up or
we'llwe'llhe paused to gain courage by a glance at the formidable
figure at his sidewe'll put the screws on you.
Well, I wasI was only borrowin' it for 'bout a month, said
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
Well, said George, finally, in a weak voice, I s'pose I can give
you a cheque 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 cheque.
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 cheque, he said coldly after a time.
George arose and tottered across the room. He drew a cheque 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 side-walk 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' 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.