They were schoolboys together. And if you like, I'll write and ask father. I know he'll be glad to give it to you for my sake."

Ed could not find words capable of expressing his gratitude and delight. The three days passed, and the letter was put into his bands. He started on his trip, still pouring out his thanks while he shook good-bye all around. And when he was out of sight his comrades let fly their laughter in a storm of happy satisfaction--and then quieted down, and were less happy, less satisfied. For the old doubts as to the wisdom of this deception began to intrude again.

Arrived in New York, Ed found his way to Commodore Vanderbilt's business quarters, and was ushered into a large anteroom, where a score of people were patiently awaiting their turn for a two-minute interview with the millionaire in his private office. A servant asked for Ed's card, and got the letter instead. Ed was sent for a moment later, and found Mr. Vanderbilt alone, with the letter--open--in his hand.

"Pray sit down, Mr. --er--"


" Ah--sit down, Mr. Jackson. By the opening sentences it seems to be a letter from an old friend. Allow me--I will run my eye through it. He says he says--why, who is it?" He turned the sheet and found the signature. "Alfred Fairchild--hm--Fairchild--I don't recall the name. But that is nothing--a thousand names have gone from me. He says--he says-hm-hmoh, dear, but it's good! Oh, it's rare! I don't quite remember it, but I seem to it'll all come back to me presently. He says --he says--hm--hm-oh, but that was a game! Oh, spl-endid! How it carries me back! It's all dim, of course it's a long time ago--and the names--some of the names are wavery and indistinct--but sho', I know it happened--I can feel it! and lord, how it warms my heart, and brings back my lost youth! Well, well, well, I've got to come back into this work-a-day world now--business presses and people are waiting--I'll keep the rest for bed to-night, and live my youth over again. And you'll thank Fairchild for me when you see him--I used to call him Alf, I think --and you'll give him my gratitude for--what this letter has done for the tired spirit of a hard-worked man; and tell him there isn't anything that I can do for him or any friend of his that I won't do. And as for you, my lad, you are my guest; you can't stop at any hotel in New York. Sit. where you are a little while, till I get through with these people, then we'll go home. I'll take care of you, my boy--make yourself easy as to that."

Ed stayed a week, and had an immense time--and never suspected that the Commodore's shrewd eye was on him, and that he was daily being weighed and measured and analyzed and tried and tested.

Yes, he had an immense time; and never wrote home, but saved it all up to tell when he should get back. Twice, with proper modesty and decency, he proposed to end his visit, but the Commodore said, "No--wait; leave it to me; I'll tell you when to go."

In those days the Commodore was making some of those vast combinations of his--consolidations of warring odds and ends of railroads into harmonious systems, and concentrations of floating and rudderless commerce in effective centers--and among other things his farseeing eye had detected the convergence of that huge tobacco-commerce, already spoken of, toward Memphis, and he had resolved to set his grasp upon it and make it his own.

The week came to an end. Then the Commodore said:

"Now you can start home. But first we will have some more talk about that tobacco matter. I know you now. I know your abilities as well as you know them yourself--perhaps better. You understand that tobacco matter; you understand that I am going to take possession of it, and you also understand the plans which I have matured for doing it. What I want is a man who knows my mind, and is qualified to represent me in Memphis, and be in supreme command of that important business--and I appoint you."


"Yes. Your salary will be high--of course-for you are representing me. Later you will earn increases of it, and will get them.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book