The Progress Of a Gentleman 1

“What interested me most of all were Cortright’s books.”

– George Mahon

Today it is my pleasure to present a rather long article by George Mahon. The description of a young man’s career, I found this in a 1911 book titled simply, Business.  Slightly longer than normal, this biography is worth every word in it.

He’ll not stay long,” said Tom Mullins, decisively. “He’s too much of a gentleman for this office.”

“What’s your definition of a gentleman, Tom?” asked Calker, – “Cub” Calker, as he was called, not by reason of his being of a tender and unsophisticated age, but because he had served but a paltry two years in the office where the rest of us had worked for what Tom Mullins would term “a crow’s age.” Cub was always getting himself into trouble by asking impudent or foolish questions, on which occasions “the office” individually and collectively would proceed verbally to sit upon him.

“Listen to the innocent! What’s a gentleman?” jibed Hughes.

“Did you ever see one?” queried Watson.

“Why yes, I’ve seen one or two,” responded Cub, “though, now that I think of it, not among the company here assembled. That, however, was not my question. What I want is simply Mullins’s definition of a gentleman.”

Tom looked Cub over very deliberately from head to heel before deigning to answer.

“Well then, sonny, listen.” Tom’s manner was most self-satisfied and condescending. “A gentleman is a fellow who has been pampered and waited on, and who has been away to college and learned a lot of things that are of no practical use. He can talk about history and politics and art; he can dance and play golf; he feels as much at ease in his dress suit as you do in your working clothes; he always wears good clothes, even if he doesn’t pay for them; he generally has a big idea of himself and the girls all think he is just lovely; but when it comes down to doing hard, actual work, he can always prove an alibi.”

“Good. Very good, indeed!” commented Cub. “That puts us out of it, sure. Imagine a man feeling comfortable in a dress suit! I never could. And, imagine Hughes talking art. He couldn’t tell a landscape from a fire escape. And wouldn’t Watson look cute playing golf? You’ll never make it, Cummings, for when you talk politics you make us all wonder whether it would be better for us to commit suicide or simply to murder you. But, Tom, old chap, there’s hope for you.”

“Think so?” asked Mullins, half pleased, yet cautious.

“Certainly. You possess at least one qualification. Whenever there is work to be done, your alibi is—”

Cub was gone. As the door slammed behind him it arrested the flight of Tom’s ruler and paper-weight, hurled with murderous intent. As Tom recovered his property, Cub’s laughter floated up to us, while our own mirth was increased by Henderson’s sage remark that a gentleman threw bricks, bottles or cuspidors, maybe, if the occasion required it, but never paper-weights. And then, noticing that the clock hands indicated ten minutes past six, we made a rush for our hats and departed.

As I walked homeward my thoughts turned involuntarily to the man who had been the occasion of Mullins’s remark. Unquestionably he had the appearance and manner of a gentleman. How self-confident, yet courteous, he seemed as he stepped into the office and inquired for Mr. Harley!

“Somewhere about the works,” Watson replied, shortly.

For a moment, silence. Then the stranger asked, “Had I best go look for him or wait here?”

“No one allowed through the works,” grunted Watson.

Then Cub’s impulsiveness broke out. Seizing a chair, he lifted it over the railing, at the same time saying, “Mr. Harley will be in shortly. Won’t you sit down and wait for him?”

“Thank you, I will,” replied the stranger, and he did. For two long hours he sat silently, patiently, until at last the chief came.

“That’s him,” volunteered Cub, in a whisper.

The stranger thanked him with a nod, rose, removed his hat and stepped forward.

“Mr. Harley?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Cortright. I have a letter from Mr. Clarke directing me to report to you.”

“Ah, you want a job?”

“I do. I have brought some testimonials from my former em—”

“Oh, never mind that. I don’t need any more help. Office full now. Crowded for room. But Mr. Clarke has instructed me to put you on and give you a trial, and what Mr. Clarke says goes in this establishment. When can you start?”

“At once.”

“H’m. Four o’clock. Not today. Report here at seven o’clock to-morrow morning.”

“All right, sir. Thank you.”

“No. Don’t thank me. I am merely following directions. Now, see here. I don’t know what you’re to get or anything about it. Mr. Clarke simply says to give you a trial. He will decide on your salary, I suppose, when I report to him about you.”

Now, the position I filled was a source of some pride to me, for I had been obliged to serve long and arduously at all the lower desks and to wait my turn in the slow-moving line of promotion before I attained to it. I could hardly have overestimated the importance of the work, but I felt that I must have greatly overestimated its difficulty when I saw how quickly Cortright picked it up.

“Ever do anything like this before?” I asked.

“Never.”

I could scarcely believe it. A glance at the work, a question or two, a second of thought, and then Cortright’s pen would begin to move. And how it did move! Standing at the extreme end of my long, high desk, taking up so little room that I seemed to have as much space to myself as ever, Cortright wrote and figured as I had never seen man do before. His penmanship was good and he wrote rapidly, while at figuring he was remarkable. He was full of short cuts, and many calculations he would do mentally before I had set down the first figures for the computation of them. I soon saw that within a few days’ time Cortright would be able to do the work of my desk better than I could do it, and a most un-Christian spirit of resentment took hold of me. But early in the afternoon my cup of bitterness became full to overflowing. About two o’clock old Harley burst in, crying sharply:

“Cummings, you’ll have to get the time sheets and come out into the shop. That fool, Deny, has got himself hurt and gone home. There’s been no time taken this afternoon and you’ll have to work it up. Let Cortright do what he can here while you’re away.”

Down came my pen with a force that sent ink spots flying in every direction; into the drawer went my sheets crumpled and mussed; and slam went the drawer shut with a slam that had capsized the ink-well but for Cortright’s quick grasp to save it.

“.Too bad, old chap,” said he. “Hope you’re soon out of it.”

But I answered not, for my soul was filled with wrath. Grabbing my hat and a pad of time sheets, I fled out into the shop, whither old Harley had preceded me. And there, amid the banging of the heavy hammers, the constant thudding of the rivet machines and the rattling and rumbling of the great cranes as they ran to and fro overhead; there, among the grimy machinists and the sweating, panting “hunkies,” I put in what seemed to me the most miserable afternoon of my existence. How well it came back to me, the joy I had felt at being promoted from this same timekeeper’s position! How proud I had been to become the newest and most insignificant of Harley’s office force! Emergencies like the present had arisen before, yet never had I been called upon to leave my desk and “take time.” But now —

When I returned to the office all had left save Cortright. He sat upon my high stool, leaning back against the desk and facing the doorway. A picture of graceful ease he was, and there by him on the desk lay, fully completed, the large “Daily Report” sheet, which was at once my pride and my despair.

“Through with it at last? ” he asked, pleasantly.

My reply was more forcible than it was relevant or civil.

“Beastly job, I imagine,” he commented. “Will you look over this report and see if it is all right?”

In form and appearance, it certainly was. As to the correctness of the figures I had no doubt.

“Who showed you?” I demanded.

“No one. I had an idea of the drift of your work from what I saw this morning, so all I had to do was to hunt up yesterday’s sheet, see how you carried the work and do the same with this. Does it seem to be all right?”

Why ask? He knew very well it was all right, as well — nay, better done than I could do it. I grudgingly muttered assent.

“Well, good night, then. I hope Derry will be back to-morrow.”

Why should he hope so? If he could fill my place for a few days, the quality of his work might insure his being retained there, while I… well, I suppose I should go back to time-keeping. Such was the justice of the world in general and of the Carleton Iron Works in particular, I reflected.

For a week Derry remained away and I took his place, while Cortright took mine. Every night he would wait for me to examine the report. I remonstrated against this, telling him he was quite competent to do it, but he shook his head smilingly.

“It is your work, you know,” he said. “I’m only your understudy, and must submit my work to you.”

I refused to look over the sheets after this, but he waited for me just the same. One evening I came in quietly and went into the little wash-room just off the office to clean up. Cortright neither saw nor heard me. A moment later a burly “hunky” entered and asked some question in broken English.

“I really do not know,” Cortright replied, “but Mr. Cummings will be here shortly. Probably he can tell you.”

The “hunky” growled something I could not catch, opened the gate, walked over to Watson’s desk and began to fumble through his papers.

“Look here, my friend,” said Cortright; “do you see that sign? You’re not allowed in here. Step outside and wait for Mr. Cummings.”

“No wait,” growled the hunky.

Cortright bounced from his stool. “Get outside or I’ll put you out,” he commanded.

“You no put me out. You go to—”

Just how it happened I could never tell, but the next second the “hunky” was over the railing and in a heap on the floor, thrown there by a slim youth twenty or thirty pounds below his weight.

“If you attempt to come back I’ll break you in half,” said Cortright, cheerfully. And I have no doubt that he would have done so, but at this moment I stepped into the office, answered the man’s question and saw him out.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “That fellow is much heavier and looks twice as strong as you.”

“He probably is. It was not a case of strength, — just a case of know how.”

And so it was ever with Cortright. Whatever his task, he seemed always to have the “know how.”

When Deny returned, I resumed my own place and Cortright was set to help Mullins, whose work was behind.

“Guess that will keep you amused for a few days,” commented old Harley. But so great was Cortright’s speed and so much increased was Mullins’s own effort, unconsciously stimulated by Cortright’s example, that by evening Tom’s work was “up to the minute.”

“What do you think of your gentleman now?” asked Cub, as we walked homeward together.

“He’s a smart fellow,” Tom replied. “But we must not forget he‘s here simply on trial. After he is assured a permanent job, you’ll see that his daily life will cease to be one continuous performance of grand-stand plays.”

“Tom, I wouldn’t have your disposition for all the wealth of Carnegie,” retorted Cub.

A few days later came the day on which the most reluctant of us went cheerfully to work, — the fortnightly pay day. About ten o’clock a messenger from the cashier’s office came in and proceeded silently to lay each man’s envelope upon his desk; and each of us, hastily and with an assumption of indifference, crammed the envelope into his pocket, only to extract it again the first moment he was sure of being unobserved, rip it open, count the contents and place them lovingly in his pocketbook. Just why we did this I cannot say, but it was the invariable custom of every man in the office.

“Your name Cortright?” the messenger demanded of our new recruit.

Cortright assented. Then, making no motion to take the envelope extended to him, he asked, “What is it?”

“Why, your pay envelope, of course.”

“Just take it back again and put it in the safe for the present, will you?”

“What for? You had better take it.”

“I prefer not to take it.”

“Well, I’m not going to take it back, at any rate.” The messenger was getting angry.

“You may do as you please with it,” replied Cortright, coldly, as he turned again to his work.

The messenger stood undecided for a moment, then stepped over and laid the envelope on Harley’s desk. A moment later the chief came in.

“Eh! What’s this?” he cried, ” Cortright, I guess this envelope is yours.”

Cortright stepped briskly over to him. “I suppose the messenger laid it there after I declined to take it,” he said.

“Declined to take it! Are you crazy?”

“If you please, sir, there has been no agreement with me as to salary,” Cortright explained, with a smile. “Until some agreement is made, I prefer not to accept any payments which may or may not be satisfactory.”

“Young man, you are likely to accept whatever payments this concern offers you,” bellowed Harley.

“Probably I will.” Cortright was neither frightened nor angry. “But I claim the right of being consulted first. If my ideas regarding salary do not coincide with those of Mr. Clarke, or whoever has the deciding of it, it is more to the purpose if I kick before accepting a payment than if I do so afterwards. Will you tell me the rate at which that payment is figured?”

“Don’t know,” growled Harley.

“Will you be so kind as to open the envelope and see?”

“Open it yourself and see.”

“I beg to be excused.”

I glanced cautiously at the boss, expecting an explosion. Harley’s temper was never angelic; and when aroused to wrath he was sublimely terrible. At that moment he looked as if he were about to devour the calm, smiling, yet respectful, young man who stood before him. Suddenly his face relaxed.

“Well, I’m damned!” he exclaimed. “Get back to your work.”

On the following Monday morning Cortright was not at the office when we arrived, but old Harley was, and he glared so balefully at each of us as we came in, at the same time glancing ostentatiously at the clock, that every man sought his own desk speedily, and plunged at once into his work. As soon as the chief left for his daily tour of inspection around the works, each of us turned involuntarily to the others and asked, “Where’s Cortright?”

Nobody knew, but before we left that night we had startling news of him. The six o’clock whistle had blown; the thud and clang and rattle of the great shop had subsided; the tired, grimy toilers were issuing from its doors on their way homeward, and we were just preparing to follow them, when we were arrested by a word from old Harley, who, in defiance of his usual custom, was still at his desk.

“One moment, gentlemen,” said the chief; and at so extraordinary an address from that grim official, every man stood as if rooted to the spot. “This morning I received a call for a clerk from the General Office. You know they are rather particular up there.”

Didn’t we know it! On the last occasion of such a call Mullins had been sent up, he being senior clerk in point of service. But at the end of a three days’ trial he had been sent down again in disgrace, whereby the prestige of our office was greatly reduced.

“I sent up Cortright, for two reasons,” proceeded Harley. “One, because I can best spare him, he having no regular desk here; the other, because he seems to possess several of the requisite qualifications of a good clerk, not the least of which is punctuality, — a fact which it will be well for you all to bear in mind. Good night, gentlemen.”

For several minutes we walked in silence. For once Mullins could say nothing. He had had his chance.

At last Cub blurted out, “Serves him right!”

“I hope he’ll suit them,” I added.

“Of course he will,” cried Tom. “Such namby-pamby, soft-spoken fellows as he always do suit. He’ll know how to toady and curry favor up there.”

“Toady! Why, he has more independence and nerve in a second than you’ll have in your whole life,” replied Cub. “Just look how he stuck out about his pay —”

“Oh, of course, that episode appeals to you,” sneered Tom. “To win your admiration, it is only necessary to perform some such theatrical piece of business as that.”

“Well, if he has in any way won my admiration, it is more than you have ever done.”

“For which, believe me, I am duly thankful,” was Tom’s retort, as he left us at the corner of his street.

Some two weeks after this, old Harley called me to his desk.

“They need another clerk up at the General Office,” he said. “Ball says to send you, if I can spare you, which means I must spare you. You will report there at once.”

“But my work here,” I said. Surely my place could not be filled at a moment’s notice, I thought.

“Oh, we’ll make shift to manage that. Go along and good luck to you.” Old Harley was never disconcerted. I verily believe that if every clerk in his office had suddenly dropped dead the old man would have “made shift” to get the work out somehow just the same.

At the General Office I found all in confusion. Workmen were tearing down the partition that formerly separated the chief clerk’s office from that occupied by the billing department. Desks were being moved and everything was being rearranged. Quickly I learned that Mr. Clous, the chief clerk, had been stricken down with an incurable disease, and that his office was now to be consolidated with the billing department, all under the head of Mr. Ball, heretofore chief of the latter. When we were settled I found that Ball had assumed Clous’s old desk, while Cortright had taken the one just vacated by Ball. And with the desk, he had taken on practically all of the work formerly done by Ball. I also noticed that whenever Ball found himself in difficulty, as happened not infrequently, owing to his unfamiliarity with the new work, he invariably went to Cortright for assistance. The man who had been Clous’s assistant apparently resented having Ball replaced over his head, for, instead of trying to make things run smoothly for his new chief, he seemed to try deliberately to multiply his difficulties. So it came about on the very first day of the new order that the former chief clerk’s assistant was relegated down to the place of a minor clerk, while Cortright occupied the position of right-hand man to Ball. And I, having been passed by Cortright at a single bound, felt no little satisfaction in seeing him pass others as readily.

I waited that evening for Cortright, he being, as usual, the last to leave his desk.

“I have a suspicion that I owe this promotion to a kindly word spoken by you,” I said. “And if you will permit me to thank you, Mr. Cortright —”

“For the convenience of my friends,” he interrupted, “I was christened Frank.”

“Well, Frank, I am very grateful to you.”

“Don’t speak of it, old chap. I only told the truth about you as I know it. You deserved to come here ahead of me.”

But I could not listen to that, knowing it to be untrue.

When I became familiar with the work in my new position, I was surprised to find the methods prevailing in that office were very antiquated. In handling the work that had formerly pertained to Clous’s office, the utter lack of system was appalling. Cortright soon suggested several improvements, but Ball, who lacked decision and initiative, failed to put them into practice.

Our office was next to that of Mr. Clarke, the General Manager, who frequently strolled through our room, watching the clerks at their work. One day he stopped by Cortright’s desk for several moments. Suddenly he asked:

“How are you getting on with your new work?”

“All right, sir, I believe.”

“Getting familiar with Mr. Clous’s system, are you?”

“His what?” Cortright’s tone was unmistakable, but the manager did not understand, or pretended that he did not.

“Why, his system, his method,” he repeated.

“I was not aware that he had any,” said Cortright, calmly.

It seemed like impudence, but Cortright told me afterwards that the chance was too good a one to lose. However, nothing came of it, — at least, not then, — for Mr. Clarke stood for a moment in silence, then walked on.

For some months things moved along in their usual course, and then one day the stenographer who did Mr. Clarke’s work failed to appear. A letter came stating that he was ill. Out came Mr. Clarke into our office.

“Mr. Ball, can any of your clerks do typewriting?” he demanded.

“I can, sir,” spoke up Cortright.

“Shorthand?”

“Yes, sir; though I’m a bit out of practice.”

“Come along, then. Mr. Ball, I shall need him the rest of the day.”

But in an hour Cortright was out again and hammering away at the typewriter so fast that I could not do my work, but must needs sit staring at him in stupid wonder. In an hour and a half more he had his letters all transcribed; in another fifteen minutes Cortright had got them signed and was back again at his desk. My own work kept me unusually late that night, and as I rose from my desk Cortright was just quitting his. The other clerks had gone.

“So you’ve worked at stenography, have you?” I asked.

His laugh rang out loud and clear. “No, upon my soul, I never did. Picked it up, though — home study, you know. I was afraid I’d flunk to-day, but I carried the bluff through, didn’t I?”

“Flunk! Bluff!” I cried, “Don’t play the hypocrite to me. You knew very well you were fit and you’ve just been sitting there, waiting for your chance.”

“And if I have, what then?”

“Oh, nothing. Only I don’t see how you ever managed to become so perfect without daily practice.”

“That reminds me, you’ve never been up to my rooms. Have you anything on for tonight?”

“No.”

“Well, come up, then, and I’ll show you my talisman.”

I cannot say I was surprised at what I found in Cortright’s rooms, for one naturally expected that things of his would be different from those of the common herd. His rooms consisted of a bedroom and one other, which appeared to be parlor, sitting-room and workshop combined. In this latter room was a bay window of goodly size, in which stood a couch of ample proportions, overhung with oriental draperies and literally smothered in cushions of all shapes, sizes and colors. On the wall hung pictures of men, women, dogs, horses and boats, all mingling indiscriminately together. Above a picture of a most villainous looking bulldog hung a dainty girl’s glove; over a photograph of an exceptionally pretty girl was a pair of soiled and worn boxing gloves, while beneath the picture of a sedate and clerical looking gentleman reposed a pair of foils. In one corner stood a guitar and a banjo; in another a typewriter. What interested me most of all was Cortright’s books. Histories, novels, and works of science there were, but the majority of the books pertained to modern business and its “attendant sciences,” as Cortright was pleased to call them. Books on commercial law, books on accounting, on stenography, a large “Business Encyclopedia”; several periodicals devoted to the interests of various trades, all were there, together with innumerable circulars and catalogues of card-systems and loose-leaf book systems.

“This,” said Cortright, with a comprehensive wave of his hand, “is my play-room.”

“And these, I suppose,” indicating his books, “are your playthings.”

“Correct. And glorious playthings they are. The study of modern business and its methods is a most complex and fascinating one. Once a devotee at the shrine of this art, there is no recanting. My goddess is an exacting one, — no half-hearted worship for her, — yet how generously she rewards her true followers.”

Then he dived into his books and began explaining their purposes with great enthusiasm. And I, carried away by the fascination and novelty of it all, was no less eager than he, so that it was long past midnight when I started for home. .

As we parted, Cortright held out his hand to me in his frank, boyish fashion and said, cordially, “All my belongings are at your disposal, old chap. If you care to turn up here and make use of my books, you will be very welcome. Come every night if you will.”

About this time the business of the Carleton Iron Works increased largely, and Cortright’s services as stenographer came more and more into demand, until soon we saw him installed as secretary to Mr. Clarke. A vacancy thus occurring in the office, Cub Calker was brought up to fill it. He soon found favor with Mr. Ball, and gradually came to stand in much the same relation to him as Cortright had formerly occupied. And Cortright so well availed himself of his opportunities for grasping every detail of the management of the business that when, eighteen months after he became Mr. Clarke’s secretary, the Carleton works absorbed another plant, and Clarke became superintendent over all, it followed, as a matter of course, that Cortright should become manager at Carleton. Gratification and pride are poor words to describe the sensation I felt when he called me to become his secretary and confidential man.

I felt sure that as soon as Cortright could affect it, a change in our office methods would be made. For a month he made no sign, but one evening, when we were at Cortright’s rooms, he turned suddenly to Cub and asked, “How would you like to become chief clerk?”

“Why, what’s to become of Ball?” cried Cub. “I couldn’t push him out, you know.”

“I appreciate your feeling. It does you credit,” said Cortright, gravely. “But Ball has been offered another position and has decided to accept it. You will therefore become chief clerk. Cummings, you will continue as my secretary, but I shall expect you to co-operate with Calker and myself in reforming our office methods.”

Whenever Cortright addressed us by our surnames we knew he was speaking as chief to subordinates. In this mood he was as far removed from us as the sun is from the earth. We realized the gulf which separated us, and sought not to pass it.

Accordingly, it came about that Ball retired and Cub Calker reigned in his stead. And then came the upheaval. The first things to go were the old low desks for the clerks and accountants, they being replaced by broad, high desks, at which a man could work more comfortably and to better advantage. Then the old books and files disappeared, and in their place came modern loose-leaf books, card-systems and filing cases, to suit which our entire method was changed, so that within a month we had fewer clerks in the office, but those few were turning out the work more promptly and better done than ever before. The next step was to advance the salaries of those clerks who remained, whereupon clerks became more cheerful and energetic. Our system worked like a huge clock and the office became a source of satisfaction and pride to all concerned.

During the next two years no material change occurred, nor did any event take place beyond what might be expected in the ordinary course of conducting a great business; but in the third year of Cortright’s management the United States Steel Corporation was formed, and our plant became one of its integral parts. At first I was a trifle uneasy, fearing that changes whereby I should lose rather than profit might be made; but I soon found that Cortright’s management was satisfactory to the higher powers, and as long as he remained at the helm I felt secure.

My fears were re-awakened, however, one afternoon when Cortright summoned me and announced that he was leaving for New York on the 7.05 train.

“I must take someone with me,” he said. “Can you make it?”

The question was superfluous.

“What’s up?” I gasped.

“Can’t tell till I get there.” His tone betrayed neither fear nor hope. “Run home and get your bag. We’ll dine on the train.”

We dined in silence, and in silence we sat and smoked through the long evening hours as the train rushed on. Finally we sought our berths, but little could I sleep, for my soul was filled with forebodings of disaster. Changes would be made, I was sure, and the policy of the corporation tended toward a reduction of expenses. To my mind the conclusion was obvious.

Our train had hardly come to a standstill in the Grand Central Depot next morning when Cortright had me in a cab and soon we were whirling down town through the pulsing heart of the great city. Arrived at the company’s offices, Cortright left me in an anteroom, while he went to consult with someone who was expecting him. I waited an almost interminable time, every moment growing more nervous and apprehensive, and had just about reached the conclusion that my path thenceforth would be down hill, when Cortright appeared in the doorway and beckoned me. Mechanically I followed him and soon found myself standing in a handsome office room, where Cortright, after a hasty word of introduction, left me. So nervous was I that I failed to catch Cortright’s words, but the moment I glanced at the man to whom he had presented me I realized that I was in the presence of him who had been chosen to bear the burden of the chief executive office of this giant among industries.

With a smile, the great man rose and extended his hand cordially. “I am glad to know you, Mr. Cummings. Sit down.”

I sat. In fact, my knees were so shaky it is a wonder I did not collapse sooner. But as I sat before him I found myself growing calmer. The president sat regarding me for some moments, his eye seeming to penetrate the secrets of my life; yet was there nothing disquieting in the gaze. His very person seemed to exhale a spirit of confidence and strength. Those who came in contact with this man could not fail to unconsciously mould their minds in some measure to his qualities. And he was gravely courteous in manner, as I have ever found those men to be who are really great; for it is only the small-natured incompetents who never have time for politeness.

“You have been some time at the Carleton plant, I understand,” he said, at last.

“Twenty-eight years,” I replied.

“And you began, I believe, as a timekeeper and have worked up to your present position?”

I nodded assent.

“That is a point in your favor.”

He is trying to let me down easily, I thought.

“You are a young man.”

“Forty-six,” I retorted. I wished I could have said sixty-six. But he waved my answer aside.

“Young men are what we need in some positions,” he continued.

Minor positions, thought I.

“We are very well satisfied with Mr. Cortright’s management, but —”

Now it was coming! I wondered if I had not better bolt.

“But we need him here.”

Hurrah! It was all right, then. Would they keep me here with Cortright? I leaned forward in breathless eagerness.

“It is our wish that the management of the Carleton plant be continued along the same lines as those followed by Mr. Cortright. He informs me that you are thoroughly conversant with all the details of his methods. The question, therefore, is whether you will accept the position of manager at Carleton?”

Would I accept it? Imagine St. Peter asking some poor lost soul if he desired admission to Paradise.

” Very well, then,” smiled the president, rising. ”Hunt up Mr. Cortright now. He will give you definite instructions. And drop in here again before you leave.”

It is not my intention to set forth a list of the difficulties that beset my new path, nor yet to record the blunders that I made, — that there were many of both, you may believe, — so we will come down to an event the memory of which will ever remain with me. The occasion is a dinner to which Cub Calker has bidden us on the eve of his becoming a benedick. At the head of the table sits Cub, no longer chief clerk at Carleton, but superintendent of another plant in a distant city. At the other end sits old Harley, stern and grim no longer, but a genial, mellow old gentleman who has retired to live upon the savings of his years of frugality and toil. Around the board sit Watson, Mullins, Hughes, Henderson, a few other old comrades of former years, and myself. The dishes have been cleared away, cigars are lighted, and Cub Calker rises to address us.

“Boys, I have a letter from one I had expected to be with us. He says:

“‘ I cannot tell you how disappointed I am at being unable to attend your farewell dinner to the friends of your bachelor days. I had expected to be present, but the stern finger of duty is pointing me in another direction, and I may not disobey. But, while I cannot be at the dinner, I shall surely arrive in time for the wedding. I would come clear across the continent for that event, and I shall expect no less of you on the occasion of my own wedding, which will occur at no very distant date. Some New York society bud, did you say? Wrong, my boy. She lives in dear old Carleton, the home of my youth, wherein rest the sweetest memories of my life. I shall defer my congratulations until I can again grasp your hand. Remember me to all the boys. God bless you all.’

“I need not tell you the writer’s name,” goes on Cub. “He is the one who, above all others, we are proud and happy to call our friend, — the man whom we have seen rise from a small beginning to the position which his genius and sterling worth entitle him to occupy.”

” Genius nothing!” breaks in Mullins. ” Why, the man is simply —”

“Shut up, Tom!” commands Cub. “We all know how steeped your soul is in pessimism. Enjoy your own sordid thoughts if you will, but don’t inflict them upon us.”

And now old Harley is on his feet.

“Gentlemen,” he says, “I rise to propose a toast. Old codgers like myself take great pride in watching the successful careers of those with whom we have labored, whom we have helped to guide, in their youth. I count no man more fortunate in his young friends than myself. May the future of these men be no less glorious than their past and present. Our interest, our good wishes, our affection go ever with them. Gentlemen, I give you Frank Cortright and Leonard Calker, — the one as true and loyal a gentleman, the other as brave and bonny a lad as ever trod the face of God’s green earth.”

With a shout we are on our feet. But no, old Harley is waving us down frantically, and we, who have not forgotten how we used to tremble at his frown, sink back into our chairs as he shouts:

“Down! Sit down. I was about to say, when you so rudely interrupted me, that to these two names I would join the name of him who has shared in their toils, their struggles, and their triumphs, — a man whom we have seen rise from the lowest position in the Carleton Iron Works to the very —”

But here, gentle reader, modesty impels me to draw the curtain.

One comment on “The Progress Of a Gentleman

  1. Reply Lawrence Donnelly Oct 5,2011 1:45 PM

    Wow! That`s a great story, very inspirational. I am sixteen years and this post has made me decide to work harder at everything I do, to never stop learning lest I stop growing, and to strive even harder to grow up into a true man and a gentleman.

    Many thanks to Practical Manliness for their aid in my quest for manliness.
    Stay strong,
    Lawrence

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