by Robert Benchley
A textbook on English composition, giving examples of good and bad letter-writing, is always a mine of possibilities for one given to ruminating and with nothing in particular to do. In Business Man's English the specimen letters are unusually interesting. It seems almost as if the authors, Wallace Edgar Bartholomew and Floyd Hurlbut, had selected their examples with a view to their fiction possibilities. It also seems to the reader as if he were opening someone else's mail.
For instance, the following is given as a type of "very short letter, well placed":
Mr. Richard T. Green,
Travellers' Insurance Co.,
Dear Mr. Green:
The young man about whom you inquire has much native ability and while in our employ proved himself a master of office routine.
I regret to say, however, that he left us under circumstances that would not justify our recommending him to you.
C. S. THOMPSON
Now I want to know what those "circumstances" were. And in lieu of the facts, I am afraid that I shall have to imagine some circumstances for myself. Personally, I don't believe that the "young man" was to blame. Bad companions, maybe, or I shouldn't be at all surprised if he was shielding someone else, perhaps a young lady stenographer with whom he was in love. The more I think of it the more I am sure that this was the secret of the whole thing. You see, he was a good worker and had, Mr. Thompson admits, proved himself a master of office routine. Although Mr. Thompson doesn't say so, I have no doubt but that he would have been promoted very shortly.
And then he fell in love with a little brown-eyed stenographer. You know how it is yourself. She had an invalid mother at home and was probably trying to save enough money to send her father to college. And whatever she did, it couldn't have been so very bad, for she was such a nice girl.
Well, at any rate, it looks to me as if the young man, while he was arranging the pads of paper for the regular Monday morning conference, overheard the office-manager telling about this affair (I have good reason to believe that it was a matter of carelessness in the payroll) and saying that he considered the little brown-eyed girl dishonest.
At this the young man drew himself up to his full height and, looking the office-manager squarely in the eye, said:
"No, Mr. Hostetter; it was I who did it, and I will take the consequences. And I want it understood that no finger of suspicion shall be pointed at Agnes Fairchild, than whom no truer, sweeter girl ever lived!"
"I am sorry to hear this, Ralph," said Mr. Hostetter. "You know what this means."
"I do, sir," said Ralph, and turned to look out over the chimney-pots of the city, biting his under lip very tight.
And on Saturday Ralph left.
Since then he has applied at countless places for work, but always they have written to his old employer, Mr. Thompson, for a reference, and have received a letter similar to the one given here as an example. Naturally, they have not felt like taking him on. You cannot blame them. And, in a way, you cannot blame Mr. Thompson. You see, Mr. Hostetter didn't tell Mr. Thompson all the circumstances of the affair. He just said that Ralph had confessed to responsibility for the payroll mix-up. If Mr. Thompson had been there at the time I am sure that he would have divined that Ralph was shielding Miss Fairchild, for Mr. Thompson liked Ralph. You can see that from his letter.
But as it stands now things are pretty black for the boy, and it certainly seems as if in this great city there ought to be some one who will give him a job without writing to Mr. Thompson about him. This department will be open as a clearing-house for offers of work for a young man of great native ability and master of office routine who is just at present, unfortunately, unable to give any references, but who will, I am quite sure, justify any trust that may be placed in him in the future.