Self-Made Men by Margaret White Eggleston

Story type: Literature

The banqueting hall of Hotel Northland was crowded to its limit. There were noted men and women from all walks of life. There were many from humble homes. There were those whose beautiful dresses showed that money meant little to them; there were others to whom the price of the banquet ticket had meant sacrifice. It was a merry company that awaited the coming of the guests of the evening.

Cheer after cheer arose when the tall, fine-looking young man took his seat near the center of the guest’s table. He was the newly elected mayor of the city–the youngest mayor they had ever had. He had risen from the ranks and many of the humbler folk knew him well as a boy. Oh, how proud they were of him!

Then again the cheers sounded as an old white-haired lady entered and was placed at the left of the mayor. She it was who had given them their college, their library, their playground. For years and years she had been living away from the town, but still she loved them all and gave of her wealth to make them happy. Her friends were many in the great banqueting hall.

The supper was served and the tables cleared and then the mayor rose to speak. He told of his boyhood, of his struggles at school and college, of his eagerness to enter the political field, of his happiness at his recent election.

“I believe that every man is master of his own fate. I believe in being a self-made man and I mean during these next years when I am to serve you to make it possible for every boy to push his way to a career. One can make himself what he will if only he has grit and courage. I am here to serve you all,” he said.

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Not once during the address had the eyes of the little, white-haired lady been taken from the speaker. She seemed studying him rather than his address. So intent was she that she hardly heard the toastmaster introducing her as the friend whom all delighted to honor. Dreamily she arose and said,

“Years and years ago, in this very town there lived a teacher who had ten bright, happy girls in a club. For four years they had played and worked together and they loved each other dearly. Then the husband of the teacher was taken ill and it became necessary for the teacher to go to another continent to live.

“How hard it was for the girls to have her go! But it was harder still for her, for she had wanted to help them through to womanhood. She had tried to help them to see the best but often she had felt that her efforts were all too small. The day came nearer for her to leave and she had asked the girls to spend the last evening with her in her home.

“And they came, each bringing in their hands a little letter, sealed tightly. They were steamer letters for their teacher and they had been written because they had heard her say that she wished she could take with her some idea as to what the girls wanted to be when they had grown, so that she might be thinking of their plans, even though she could not be there to help with them. One by one they laid them on the table till there were ten little letters–heart-to-heart letters to their dear friend.

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“Five days later, away out in mid-ocean, the teacher opened the letters and read them over and over to herself. How much they told of the girls!

“Jennie wanted to be a great singer; she wanted to go to New York and study and then go into Grand Opera.

“Katherine wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher. Ah! she had found that because of helping in the church.

“Mary wanted to be a lawyer–a criminal lawyer. Perhaps that desire had grown in their debating club.

“Louise wanted to be a nurse. What a dear faithful girl she had been in helping with the bandages after the great fire in the city!

“So one by one she read their letters and her heart was filled with gratitude that to her it had been given to mold in a little way their lives.”

Then turning to the mayor of the city, the little white-haired lady said,

“Sir, the contents of one of those letters will be of interest to you more than to the rest. I was the teacher of those girls, so I can give you the exact wording of the last letter that I read,

“‘Dear friend: You have asked us to give you our dearest wish. I have many wishes for the future but the wish that I want most of all is to be a fine woman and some day to be a real mother, the kind you have so often told us about.’

“The girl who wrote that letter, sir, became your mother. Fourteen years before you were born, your character was being formed, your ideals were being molded, your future was being safeguarded. I congratulate you, sir, on being elected to the office of mayor; but I congratulate you more for being the child of my little girl of the long ago who at sixteen could write, ‘I want most of all to be a fine, noble woman and some day to be a real mother.’ To her you owe much. Inspire the girls of the town if you plan for great men. A self-made man needs a real mother to build the foundations of his character. There is no other way.”

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Then the speaker sat down and there was silence in the banqueting hall.

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