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The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger: chapter 25
By Allen Rich, with excerpts from The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, 1899-1912
May 7, 2018
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Harry Peyton Steger had given up his Rhodes Scholarship and the $1,500 yearly stipend that went along with it.  Now he found himself trying to get by in New York City making $1.50 a day working for Frederick Stokes Company and living in a cramped hall bedroom.

But Steger was becoming fast friends with Authur W. Page, son of one of the principals of Doubleday, Page & Company, and friends had a way of always coming to the Bonham High School graduate's rescue. 

Steger's hall bedroom days were almost over.

Following his "residence abroad" with Steger in the summer of 1907, Roy Bedichek had made it back to Montreal on a tramp steamer with his close friend.  Harry decided to make his stand in New York City while Roy worked his way back to Texas by taking odd jobs and then getting a railroad ticket as far south as funds would allow.  Evidently Bedichek made it back to his teaching job in San Angelo in time for fall classes and the next letter from Steger must have left his old friend shaking his head.

Bedi, why not drift to New York and save me the pulpy bulbousness of soul that a modicum of success threatens me with.  I am getting this off to catch you in Fort Stockton, wherever in Gehenna that may be.  Bet your horse's feet fall out, or that you stop en route to chase prairie dogs.  New York is cankering me.  My habits are exemplary and I like clean linen.  The spark of genius flickers--while ever you get more and more applause.


PS: For professional reasons I am now calling myself "Peyton Steger."

Who could blame Bedichek if, from this point on, he began to wonder if his former college roommate was even the same old Harry anymore.

And Steger may have inflated the level of success he was enjoying.  After all, as late as December 1907, a letter to his parents proves he was still living off pecans his family was sending from Fannin County.

The pecans are still holding out.  They are fine.  Don't, don't, don't think of sending me any Christmas presents, any of you.  Make it a card.  That is what I shall have to do.  Seriously.  The last of the pralines went last night as a finale to dinner.



By February, management at Stokes had increased Harry's salary to $20 a week.  He was still having lunch with Arthur Page two or three times a week.  And he was still waiting for an editor to respond favorably to work Steger had submitted.

Valuable lessons were being learned that would one day make Steger the rarest commodity -- an editor that writers saw as truly one of their own...because he was.  Harry knew what it was like to go hungry while editorial staffs took their own sweet time to peruse manuscripts.  Even then, they couldn't discern meaningful writing from fluff and froth.

"Holland's never reported on my tramp articles," Harry told his father.  "You know, editors of all sorts are slow in such things.  It makes something of a hardship on contributors."

Meanwhile, Harry was taking cold baths while old man winter slid his freezing fingers through New York City.  His big break came when Arthur Page invited his father, Walter H. Page, to a luncheon with Harry.  The elder Page saw the spark in Steger that lesser judges of talent had overlooked.  As a result of that conversation, Steger was hired at Doubleday, Page & Company and Harry devoted the rest of his life to the influential publishing firm. 

Even in New York City, Steger continued to stumble into associates from his days in Austin.  In the Breslin Hotel, Harry came face to face with Eleanor Brackenridge, a friend that he had also met in London where Eleanor was traveling with Paris, Texas native, Miss Emma Pryor. 

Meanwhile, Bedichek continued to stumble in his quest for meaningful employment.  Bedi wrote that his school teaching days were over, although he had no other solid prospects.

It was on October 21, 1908 that Steger penned a few words to Bedichek that resulted in The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger.  In one of the middle rooms of the Fannin County Museum of History is a simple note stuck to the wall.  The clues within that note turned out to be even better than I had hoped the day it froze me in my tracks.  The letter reads....

Dear Bedi,

It's mean of me not to loosen up and send you a bit of Heine or at least my interpretation of Tolstoy.  Every night finds me resolute to do one or the other; but the weary world is heavy for me and I sleep.   

Geronimo has a story within his rotten hide.  "The Chief" doesn't think it can be gotten out o' him.  What would it cost you to go over there?  I can sell the story for you twice, I am practically sure.  (1) A Sunday story and (2) a magazine sketch.  If you go, get some pictures of the old fellow and as much as you can in the way of a statement of fact.  Find out, too, whether he has ever been written up before or not.  It will probably vary.  It's not often you get hold of a thing like Geronimo.  He's news.

Do you remember a boy at Bonham -- Erwin Smith by name --who played cowboy all the time?  He is making an artistic record with the camera of cowboy life that I believe will be of prime value.  I go up to Boston -- where he is now an art student -- this week to go over material.



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