A refreshing and dramatic change in the narrative treatment. Our narrator has disappeared into the history he has related for readers. Now Gunter uses the form of diary extracts as a literary device to introduce a new pivotal character: Miss Louise Minturn. Rather than the story continuing to be told in third person by an omnipresent narrator, Gunter has made the decision to break up the tone of the narrative stream and intensify observations from a first-person point of view.
The diary excerpts are wonderful records, insightful, precise and unabashedly indiscrete as diaries are wont to be, because the words stem from the qualities of the female character Gunter has created. Miss Minturn, a nineteen-year-old, is such a keen observer and recorder of events, that one could hardly ask for anyone more accomplished. Reading the detailed dialogue, she has transcribed verbatim, there arises the consideration she might possess a photographic memory which she has yet to reveal.
There is a moment where Miss Minturn herself reads from the diary an earlier entry, and curiously the reader is privy to what she reads. It is at this point she ceases to be the author of a diary Gunter has somehow purloined for us to read, and becomes a fully-fledged character in her own right. It is a subtle shift but signifies Gunter abandoning the constraints of his diary extracts conceit and taking on Miss Minturn’s point of view in totality. The reader will notice the absence of day and date information usually associated with a diary. The pretense of diary entries is both a mollifying concession to his female readers, who might have been disturbed by the abrupt change from a gruff male narrator to a young lady, and an invitation to intimate thoughts for his voyeuristic readership.
Louise’s heritage, which the reader will recognize, makes her integral to the larger plot resolution, in addition to her presence bringing an element of romance to the story. The narrator thus far has been almost embarrassingly effusive in describing the many admirable qualities of Harry Larchmont the footballer, but Miss Minturn who is also infatuated takes this adoration to a whole new level.
Also in future pages the reader will be reminded of how thankful they should be that in case of medical emergency all they need do is call Triple Zero, or that someone present knows CPR, rather than ensuring social decorum is maintained first, before aid.
A 15th Century Persian doctor, Burhan-ud-din Kermani was the first to describe the use of chest compression for those afflicted with abnormal breathing or shortness of breath, for those with a pulse but in respiratory arrest, and also for those with a weak pulse (Dadmehr et al). In the 1780’s the Royal Humane Society introduced EAV (Expired Air Ventilation) or mouth-to mouth method to the US (Trubuhovich). Rescue Breathing, what we know today as CPR, was developed in the 1960’s through the work of Doctors James Elam, Peter Safar and Archer S. Gordon (Lenzer).
If indeed, some form of CPR is performed, to the uninitiated the practice would seem both brutal and confronting, so perhaps it is understandable Miss Minturn refrains from describing actual actions, and attributes the resuscitation process to secret men’s football business.
Although the universal knowledge, prejudices and perspective of our narrator have gone, we now have the delightful Miss Minturn at the centre of affairs to inform, and enlighten us with her opinion.
The American Brother
THE STENOGRAPHER’S DAYDREAM
[Extracts from the diary of Miss Louise Ripley Minturn.]
“A typewriter, I believe?”
“A stenographer,” I reply as sternly and indignantly as an Italian tenor accused of being in the chorus, “stenographer!”
“Oh, excuse me, mademoiselle! Certainly, a stenographer—that is what we require. What salary will you ask to go to Panama, to act as stenographer?”
“To Pan-a-ma?” There is an excited tremolo in my voice as I say the words, for the proposition is unexpected, and the distance from New York perhaps awes me a little. “Panama, where they are constructing the great canal?”
“Certainly, mademoiselle. It is because they are building the great canal that I ask you the question.”
“What will be the cost of living there?”
“That I hardly know. It will not be small, I am certain, judging by the bills of expense I have seen from there.”
“Very well,” I reply, American business tact coming to me, “if I go, we will say thirty dollars a week, and expenses.”
“You are able to take stenographic dictation in English?”
“And in French?”
“Yes; but that will be ten dollars a week more.”
“And in Spanish?”
“Perfectly. Ten dollars extra.”
“Ah,” remarks the little clerk, who is half American and half French, “your charges are high; but everyone gets their own price—on the Isthmus.”
Prompted by this ingenuous remark, and actuated by American business greed, I ejaculate hurriedly: “I also take dictation in German, which will be another ten dollars a week.”
“Let me try you,” says the little man; and in six minutes he has given me English, French, Spanish and German dictations, to my astonishment, and I have taken them down, and read them correctly, much more to his amazement.
“Your work is perfectly satisfactory in every language,” he replies. “You will come on the terms you mentioned?”
“That is, sixty dollars a week, and expenses there and back,” I say, “if I go.”
“Ah, you are not certain you would like to leave New York? You have ties here?”
“None,” I reply, a tremble getting into my voice, as I think of my loneliness, and of my mother, who passed away from me but a year before.
“You would like time to consider the proposition?” suggests my interviewer.
Looking around upon the dingy copying establishment of Miss Work in Nassau Street, the girls slaving over interminable legal documents on their typewriting machines, and thinking of the drudgery that has been, and still promises to be my lot, I say desperately: “Yes, I will go!”
“Very well. Remember, you must sign a contract for a year from tomorrow. That is till the twentieth of March, 1889.”
“You must be ready to start the day after tomorrow.”
“Certainly. Only, of course, as I said before, my contract includes a first-cabin passage to and from Panama.”
“It shall be as I have promised. Call at the office of Flandreau & Co., No. 331/2 South Street, tomorrow at eleven, for your instructions and contract. Good afternoon—Miss Minturn, I believe your name is?”
“Yes; make out the contract for Louise Ripley Minturn. But you have not told me the name of the person by whom I am to be employed.”
“Montez, Aguilla et Cie., Contractors Construction, Panama. You can ask about them at the agents of the canal, Seligman & Co., bankers, or the French Consul—are these references satisfactory?”
“Perfectly,” I gasp, overcome by the solidity of their sponsors as I sink back, before my Remington, overwhelmed with what I have so hurriedly, and perhaps rashly done, as the dapper little clerk, bowing with French empressement to Miss Work, and with a wave of his hand to the other typewriting ladies, leaves the apartment.
Montez, Aguilla et Cie. Where have I heard the name before, and Panama—the place my mother used to talk to me about when I was a child. My mother—all thought leaves me save that I have lost her forever, and tears get in my eyes.
A few minutes after, time having brought me composure, I step over to Miss Work, a sharp Yankee business woman of about thirty-five, and tell her my story.
“I supposed you would go, Louise,” she says kindly, “when I recommended you for the position. I am very glad that you have got a situation that will enable you to save money. There is, I understand, plenty of it on the Isthmus. I presume you are anxious to go home and make your preparations.”
Then she settles with me for the work I have done, at the same time telling my companions of my good fortune, which makes a buzz in the room even greater than at lunch-hour, as they come clustering about, to congratulate, and wish me a pleasant journey and good luck, and all the kind wishes that come into the hearts of generous American girls, which even toil and drudgery cannot harden.
Just as I am going, Miss Work, after kissing me good by, remarks: “Be sure and make every inquiry about your employers, and under whose protection you are to go out to Panama, as the journey is a long one; though I know you are as well able to take care of yourself as any young lady who has been in my employ, and I have had some giants, both physical and intellectual.”
“Thank you. I’ll remember what you say,” I reply, and turn away.
As I reach the head of the stairs, there is a patter of light feet after me, and my chum and roommate, Sally Broughton, puts her arm around my waist, and says: “I shall be at home early, too, Louise dear, to help you pack, and do anything I can for you. But,” here she whispers to me rather roguishly, “what will Mr. Alfred Tompkins say to this?”
“Say!” reply I. “What business is it of Mr. Alfred Tompkins, what Miss Louise Ripley Minturn does?”
“Notwithstanding this, I’ll bet you dare not tell him.”
“Dare not tell him? Wait until this evening, and see me,” I answer firmly, as I step down the stairs on my way home to East Seventeenth Street, just off Irving Place, where Sally and I have two rooms—one a parlor and the other a bedroom, for joint use, that we call home.
Notwithstanding my defiant reply, as I am being conveyed by the Fourth Avenue cars to my destination, Sally’s remark has not only set me to thinking about Mr. Tompkins, one of the floorwalkers and rising young employees of Jonold, Dunstable & Co., but also of—some one else.
Mr. Tompkins’ blond face fades from my imagination. His yellow hair becomes chestnut; his English side whiskers transform themselves into a long, drooping, military mustache; his pinkish eyes become hazel, flashing, and brilliant. His slightly Roman nose takes a Grecian cast. His wavering chin changes into a firm, strong, and dominating one. His five feet eight, grows into six feet in his stockings. In short, Mr. Alfred Tompkins of Jonold, Dunstable & Co.’s dry-goods establishment, expands into Harry Sturgis Larchmont of the United and Kollybocker Clubs, the leader of cotillons at Newport, Lenox, and Delmonico’s, the ex-lawn-tennis champion and football athlete. I go into a daydream of stupid unreality, and call myself—IDIOT! What have I, one of the female workers of this earth, to do with this masculine butterfly of fashion, frivolity, luxury, and athletics?
Still—I am a Minturn!
He dances with my first cousins at Patriarch balls. He takes my aunts down to dinners in Fifth Avenue residences, and plays cards with my uncles at the United and Kollybocker Clubs; a second cousin of mine is one of his chums; though they all apparently have forgotten they have a relative named Louise Ripley Minturn, one of Miss Work’s stenographic and typewriting band at No. 1351/2 Nassau Street, New York, in this year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight.
My drifting away from my fashionable relatives had been easy: the drifting was done by my father, when he married my mother. He had no money. Neither had my mother, and so they drifted.
The thought of my mother brings Panama into my mind, and I give a start, for it calls back the sad tale she had told me so often, in my early girlhood, though before her death it had become even an old story to her: the statement of the unrecorded fate that befell her parents upon the Isthmus, no detail of which was known to her, she being a girl of sixteen at that time, at a school near Baltimore.
Her father, George Merritt Ripley, and her mother, Alice Louise Ripley, were returning from California. Enthusiastic letters said they came laden with the gold of the Sierras, to bring all the blessings of wealth and love to the one daughter of their heart. They had arrived in Panama in April, 1856. Since that time, no word had ever come of their own fate, or that of the treasure they brought with them.
Their daughter had tried to discover—the lady principal of the school at which she was, had made repeated efforts to learn of George Merritt Ripley and his wife from the American Consul and the agent of the railroad company—but could never discover anything save that my mother’s parents arrived at Panama by the steamer George L. Stevens from San Francisco and then disappeared.
The lady principal, however, was kind; and my mother, having no near relatives who would assume the care of the orphan, had remained at her school—partly as pupil, partly as music teacher—until Martin Minturn had met her, after he was in his middle age, and had already, during the War of the Rebellion, lost his fortune, which he had invested in Southern securities.
Turning from the world, perhaps embittered by his losses, he had become one of that class least fitted to battle with its storms and currents—a scientist and philosopher. He was professor of chemistry in a Baltimore university, and came three times a week to lecture at the young ladies’ seminary in which my mother lived a tame and passionless existence as instructor on the piano.
Mutual sympathy for the misfortunes that had come upon them brought them together. They loved and married.
Inspired by his love for her, my father had determined to again take up the battle with the world. He had brought his wife with him to New York, and after eight years of heartbreaking disappointment as an inventor and the maker of other men’s fortunes, had died, leaving my mother with very little of this world’s goods, and burdened by myself, a child of six.
My father before his death had drifted entirely away from his rich and fashionable relatives in New York, who once or twice, in a halfhearted manner, had tried to aid him, and then had finally shut their doors against the man of ill fortune who only came to them to borrow.
Too proud to ask assistance from those who had turned their backs on her husband, my mother again devoted herself to teaching, this time in a New York school. Here she had lived out her life for me, giving me all she could obtain for me by parsimony and self-denial—a first-rate education, for which God bless her! my dear mother, who has gone from me!
At last she died, and I, left alone in this world at eighteen, was compelled to put my talents into bread and butter. A fair musician, I was not artist enough to become celebrated. A poor music teacher is the veriest drudge upon this earth. I had studied stenography, and was an accomplished linguist. That seemed a better field. To the moment of writing this, it had been a hard one, though the previous year had been to me generally a pleasant one, and I had made a friend—not a fair-weather friend, but an all-weather friend—Sally Broughton, who sat at the next typewriter to me, at Miss Work’s. Mr. Alfred Tompkins of Jonold, Dunstable’s establishment, and Mr. Horace Jenkins of the rival dry-goods house of Pacy & Co., had also become known to me. These gentlemen are chums, though the haughty Tompkins, whose business place is on Broadway, rather looks down upon his Sixth Avenue factotum.
Mr. Jenkins greatly admires Miss Sally Broughton. Mr. Alfred Tompkins—but why should I mention a matter that hardly interests me? My life is so lonely, I must talk to someone at times—though Mr. Tompkins says, I am told, that I have a great and haughty coolness in my manner.
I have also seen, met, and spoken to the athlete, who fills my mind, at the house of his uncle, Larchmont Delafield, the great banker.
Here the conductor of the Fourth Avenue car disturbs my meditations by calling out in stentorian tones: “TWENTY-THIRD STREET!”
With a start, I remember Seventeenth is my destination, and jump off the car, reflecting that my musings have cost me an unnecessary promenade of six Fourth Avenue blocks.
While making this return trip, my mind goes wandering again. It seems, now that I am about to leave New York, to take me to the object that has most interested me in it—the frank hazel eyes, that have appeared to be always laughing, when I have seen them, and the graceful athletic figure of Harry Sturgis Larchmont.
So getting to the little bedroom and parlor en suite that Miss Broughton and I call home, I take out my diary, and in its pages go back to the time I first met him.
His uncle, Mr. Larchmont Delafield, had had a good deal of stenographic and typewriting work done at Miss Work’s office. Mr. Delafield, being anxious to complete some very important correspondence, was confined to his house by an attack of gout. I was sent to his house on Madison Avenue, one evening, to take a dictation from him.
Arriving at his mansion about half-past seven o’clock in the evening, I found evidences of an incipient dinner party. A magnificent woman and very charming girl, both in full evening dress, preceded me up the grand staircase. The footman was about to show me after them into the ladies’ reception room, when I told him my call was simply one of business with his master.
A moment after, I found myself in the study of the banker, who was apparently in one of those extraordinary bad tempers, peculiar to gout.
“Shut the door, John!” he thunders at the domestic, “and keep the odors of that infernal dinner out of my nostrils. I long for it, but can’t have it!”
“Yes, sir,” replies the footman, about to retire.
“Stop!” cries the banker. “Tell my nephew, Harry Larchmont, to come up and see me at once. Has he arrived yet?”
“Yes, sir, with Mrs. Dewitt and Miss Severn.”
“Of course—of course—with Miss Jessie Severn! the girl with the plump shoulders that she shows so nicely,” says the old gentleman, with a savage chuckle. “Tell him to come up—that I want to see him instantly, though I won’t keep him long.”
A moment after, Mr. Harry Sturgis Larchmont stalks lazily into the apartment, in faultless evening dress, decorated with a big bunch of lilies of the valley, and looking the embodiment of neat fashion.
“Harry, my boy,” says the banker, “I want to see you for a moment.”
“So I was just told. I’m awful sorry the doctors won’t permit you to join us,” returns the young man, giving the elder a hearty grip of the hand.
“Don’t speak of the dinner,” mutters old Delafield. “My mouth waters at the thought of the canvasback ducks now. But it is of this I wish to speak to you. You must occupy my place, as host, with Mrs. Delafield. I know I can leave my reputation for hospitality in your hands.”
“I’ll do my best, sir,” replies young Larchmont. Then he gives a sudden start of horror, and ejaculates: “Great goodness! My taking your place as host entails my taking that fat dowager, Mrs. John Robinson Norton, in to dinner.”
“I’m afraid it does, my poor boy,” grins his uncle, “but I spoke to my wife, and pretty little Miss Jessie Severn sits on the other side of you. You have only to turn your head to see her blue eyes and plump shoulders. She has also exquisite ankles; you should have kept her in the short dresses she came over in from Paris a month ago. You’re kind of half guardian to her, ain’t you?” runs on the old man.
“It is necessary to drape a young lady’s ankles to bring her out in society,” returns Mr. Larchmont. “Miss Severn is now out. Mrs. Dewitt is chaperoning her. Besides,” the young man goes on, playfully, “you’re too old for ankles. At your time of life the ballet!”
“If you didn’t know, Harry, that you were my favorite nephew, you wouldn’t dare such wit,” chuckles the uncle. Then he goes on: “I suppose you feel so financially comfortable already, that you never think of my will?”
“Thank God, I never do, dear old uncle!” says the young man, earnestly.
“Besides, if you marry Miss Severn, she’ll have a pretty plum,” goes on old Delafield.
At this the nephew suddenly looks serious, and I think I detect a slight sigh.
Somehow or other, as I look at Harry Sturgis Larchmont, I begin to dislike the pretty little Miss Jessie Severn. I had seen this gorgeous masculine creature, when I was sixteen and enthusiastic, at a football game, and had gloried in his triumphs on that brutal arena.
Interest begets interest, and as the young gentleman turns to go, he casts inquiring gaze upon me. This is answered by his uncle, in the politeness of the old school, as he says: “Miss Minturn, let me present my nephew, Mr. Harry Larchmont.”
“Miss Minturn has kindly consented to act as my stenographer this evening, on some important business, that cannot be delayed;” interjects the elder man, as the younger one bows to me, which I, anxious to maintain my dignity, return in a careless and nonchalant manner.
A moment after, Mr. Larchmont has left the room. While his uncle chuckles after him sotto voce: “A fine young man! I wish that French brother of his, Frank, the Parisian la de da, was more like him—more of an American!” Then he snaps his lips together, and says: “To business!”
“But your dinner!” I suggest hurriedly, for I have somehow grown to sympathize with the old gentleman’s appetite.
“My dinner? My dinner consisted of oatmeal gruel, which was digested two hours ago, thank Heaven! To business!” cries the old man.
With this, he commences to dictate to me a number of letters on some very important and confidential transactions. As we go on, these letters approach a climax. I have been at work nearly two hours, when an epistle to the president of a railroad, who, he thinks, is attempting some underhand game with its preferred stock holders, makes the old gentleman intensely angry. His face gets red; as he continues, his letter, from being that of a business man, becomes one of vindictive and bitter animosity. His asides are, I am sorry to say, strong almost to the verge of profanity. His hands tremble, his voice becomes husky, and as he closes the letter with “Yours most respectfully,” Larchmont Delafield utters a savage oath, and rising from his chair, after two or three attempts at articulation that end in gasps and gurgles, falls back into it. I am alone with a man apparently stricken with an attack of apoplexy, brought on by his own passions.
I hastily open the door. The noise of laughter and gayety downstairs, comes to me, up the great staircase. The perfume of flowers, and the faint music of the orchestra, tell of revelry below.
I hesitate to make this scene of gayety one of consternation and sorrow. I hurriedly press the button of an electric bell.
A moment after, a footman coming to me, I say: “Please quietly ask Mr. Harry Larchmont to come up to his uncle. Mr. Delafield wishes to see him immediately.”
“I can do that easily, now,” replies the man. “The ladies are in the parlor, and the gentlemen are by themselves in the dining room.”
I wait at the head of the stairs. Mr. Larchmont coming up, says: “My uncle wishes to see me, I believe.”
‘“No!” I reply.
“No?—he sent for me.”
“He did not send for you—I did.”
“You?” The young man gazes at me in astonishment.
“Yes; I did not wish to disturb the gayety of the party below. Your uncle has had a seizure of some kind—a fit!”
“Thank you for your consideration,” he answers, and in another second is by the side of the invalid, and I looking at him, admire him more than ever.
This gentleman of pleasure has become a man of action.
“Some cold water on his head—quick!” he says sharply. I obey, and he lifts his uncle up, and proceeds to resuscitate the old gentleman by means that are known to athletes. While he is doing this, he says rapidly to me: “Ring the bell, and give the footman the notes I will dictate to you.”
As I do his bidding, and sit down; never relaxing his efforts to bring consciousness back to his uncle, the young man dictates hurriedly:
“Dear Sir: Come to Mr. Larchmont Delafield’s, No. 1241/2 Madison Avenue, at once. He has had an attack of epilepsy or apoplexy—I think the latter. Simply ask for Mr. Delafield. There is a dinner party below.
Yours in haste,
HARRY STURGIS LARCHMONT.”
“Triplicate that letter,” he says. “Send one to Dr. George Howland, another to Dr. Ralph Abercrombie, and the third to Dr. Thomas Robertson; you’ll find their addresses in that directory.”
As I finish these the footman comes in.
“Not a word of this, John,” Mr. Larchmont says, “to anybody! Take these three letters, go downstairs, and give them to three of the servants. There are half a dozen in the kitchen. Tell them they must be delivered, each of them, within ten minutes—and a five-dollar bill for you.”
A quarter of an hour later, the young man has partially revived his uncle.
A moment after, one of the doctors summoned stands beside him, and says that the attack is not a serious one, and that the old gentleman will be all right with rest and care.
“Very well,” replies Mr. Harry; “if that is the case, I will go down to the dinner party. No one has been alarmed—not even Mrs. Delafield—and all owing to the thoughtfulness of this young lady, to whom I tender my thanks.” He bows to me and goes down to the festival below, while I gather up my papers and dictation book, and make my preparations for departure.
A few minutes afterwards, I come down the great stairway also, and stand putting on my cloak in the hall.
As I do so, through tapestry curtains, that are partially open, I see, for the first time in my life, one of the great reception rooms of a New York mansion. Lighted by rare and peculiar lamps, each one of them a work of art, adorned by numerous pictures, statues, and costly bric-a-brac from the four corners of the earth; embellished and perfumed by hothouse plants and flowers; and made bright by lovely women in exquisite toilettes, and men in faultless evening dress, the scene is a revelation to me.
But I linger only on one portion of it. In front of a large mantel-piece stands Harry Larchmont, talking to a young lady who is a dream of fairy-like loveliness in the lace, tulle, and gauze that float about her graceful figure. She is scarcely more than a child yet, but her eyes are blue as sapphires, her chin piquant, her laugh vivacious, her smile enchanting. I am compelled to admit this, though for some occult reason I do not care to do so.
For one short second I compare the face and figure in the parlor with the one I see reflected in the great hall mirror beside me. A flash of joy! It seems to me I am as pretty as Miss Jessie Severn. Perchance, if I wore the same exquisite toilette, my lithe figure and brunette charms would be as lovely as her blonde graces. Perhaps even he—
Here fool’s blushes come upon me. His voice sounds in my ear.
It says: “I have excused myself for a moment from my guests, to again thank you, Miss Minturn, for your presence of mind and thoughtful action this evening. The night is stormy—you have been kept here late.” Then he turns and directs the man at the door: “John, call up the carriage for Miss Minturn.”
He holds out a hand, which I take, as I stammer out my thanks, and looking in his eyes, I know he means what he says. Perhaps more—for there is something in his glance that makes me, as I go out of the massive oaken doors and down the great stairs, and pass through the little throng of waiting footmen, and take the equipage his care has provided for me, grow bitter, for the first time in my life, at my fate.
As I ride to my modest rooms in quiet Seventeenth Street, I clinch my hands, and mutter: “Had my mother’s parents not disappeared upon that Isthmus of Panama, their gold might have made me the guest, instead of the stenographer. At dinner he might have gazed upon my pretty shoulders—not Miss Jessie Severn’s.”
Fool that I am, I think these things! For I have admired this young gentleman’s victories on the football field, and his presence of mind and action more this evening. “He seems to me a man who might make a woman—” But I stop myself here, and gasp: “You are crazy! Typewriter! you are crazy!”
Reaching home, I take out my clicking Remington, and over the correspondence of Mr. Delafield the banker, Miss Minturn the stenographer tries to forget Mr. Harry Larchmont the man of fashion.
Notes and References
- cotillons: “French country dance, a social dance, popular in 18th-century Europe and America. Originally for four couples in square formation.” Belvedire Heritage.
- apoplexy: “stroke, a sudden, usually marked loss of bodily function due to rupture or occlusion of a blood vessel, a hemorrhage into an organ cavity or tissue or a state of extreme anger.” Dictionary.com.
- empressement: display of cordiality.
- factotum: “a person, as a handyman or servant, employed to do all kinds of work around the house, also any employee or official having many different responsibilities.” Wordreference.com.
Dadmehr, M., Bahrami, et al.: Chest compression for syncope in medieval Persia. European Heart Journal, Volume 39, Issue 29 (2018) 2700-2701. Jump to article
Trubuhovich, Ronald B.: History of mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing. Part 2: the 18th century. PDF at Researchgate.
Ambience: Ella Fitzgerald, Manhattan
This edition © 2021 Furin Chime, Brian Armour
Categories: Gunter: Baron Montez of Panama and Paris