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The Short Story of Harry Peyton Steger: chapter 44
By Allen Rich, with excerpts from The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, 1899-1912
Feb 19, 2014
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In 1912, Dorothy Steger was slow to recover from two operations and Harry Peyton Steger thought a season in Paris might be just the thing to put the bloom back on the pansy. 

Still, parting was difficult. 

The last time Harry ever laid eyes on Dorothy, she was standing along the ship's railing with tears streaming down her face.

A letter from Steger to Montague Glass defined the fall of 1912.

Mr. Montague Glass,
Care of Thomas Cook & Sons,
Nice, France.

Dear Mont:
Two hundred Greek soldiers calling themselves The Detroit Reserves sailed for Havre in the steerage of the French liner Chicago on Saturday, October 19th.  Among the cabin passengers were two beautiful ladies whose faces were wreathed in tears, also en route for Harve.  Their addresses for the next six weeks will be Mrs. H.P. Steger, care of American Express Company, 11 Rue Scribe, Paris, and Miss Margaret Porter, likewise in this gentle corporation's charge. 

The boat is a 10-day boat, so they will probably not be in Paris until the 30th of October.  They intend to live there six or eight weeks at a Pension.  If you and your Mary Caroline or ward Isabel go to Paris, I hope you will find them merry and happy.  I want Dorothy to stay over there until she is entirely recovered from her illness and operations, so don't do anything to make them homesick. 

I give you fair warning that if you are the least bit encouraging you may have for a few days four "traveling" ladies on your hands, instead of two.

Your bully letters were forwarded to me down in Indianapolis where I was sitting up with Tarkington and incidentally doing my O. Henry book.  I finished my book and a rotten job of it, too.  I also brought back a mighty good novel by Tarkington that Lorimer is going to run in the Post.

Charlie Falls is full of mournful prophesies that all three of you will be hiking back long before your allotted time.  He and Alberta are getting ready to break ground at the Sage Patch and accordingly making a pretense of economy.  I had dinner with them night before last at Mouquin's, and then following strict discipline, administered by my own hand, took a night train for Freeport.

Dorothy's sister and her husband are taking care of the house and Teddy.  Teddy appears to be most cheerful and intent on making all he can of his liberty.

Yours sincerely,


So, Harry had completed Rolling Stone, a compilation of several unpublished short stories O. Henry had written and the book also contained examples of the newspaper column William Sydney Porter had written in Houston, years before the invention of O. Henry.  Of course, the title of the book came from the satirical newspaper Porter had published during 1894-95 in Austin, The Rolling Stone, and a variety of excerpts from the newspaper were included. 

Here is an example of the "news" Porter included in The Rolling Stone.

Our worthy mayor, Colonel Henry Stutty, died this morning after an illness of about five minutes, brought on by carrying a bouquet to Mrs. Eli Watts just as Eli got in from a fishing trip.

Here's another newsworthy item.

Longtime advertisers, Adams & Co, grocers, have cancelled their ad.  Coincidentally, no less than three children have recently been poisoned by eating their canned vegetables and J. O. Adams, the senior member of the firm, was run out of Kansas City for adulterating codfish balls.  It pays to advertise.

Rolling Stone also had examples of Porter's artwork and letters Steger had found when he retraced the author's footsteps, first in North Carolina and then Texas.  While all the letters offer insight into Porter's personality, one was a jewel. 

The letter was written in 1902 to a prominent Oklahoma City attorney, Al Jennings.  Before Porter became an author and prior to Jennings practicing law, the two men had served time together --- Jennings had been convicted of robbing trains and Porter was imprisoned for embezzlement.  

In the letter, Porter wants to collaborate with Jennings and it eventually became "Holding up Trains" in Sixes and Sevens.

"Here is a rough draft of my idea," Porter told Jennings.  "Begin abruptly, without any philosophizing, with your idea of the best times, places and conditions for the hold-up.  Get as much meat in it as you can and, by the way, stuff it full of genuine western slang--(not the eastern story paper kind.)  The main idea is to be natural, direct and concise.  I hope you understand what I say.  I don't."

Porter adds that to improve their odds of eventually seeing the story in print, he would forward Jennings' original manuscript as well as a manuscript Porter had doctored up.

"If he uses mine," Porter explains, "we'll whack up the shares of the proceeds.  If he uses yours, you get the check direct.  If he uses neither, we are only out a few stamps."

Al Jennings went on to make a career in Hollywood, but Porter was the better writer and some editor chose Porter's version, written under the pen name O. Henry.

"When you see your baby in print," Porter warned Jennings, "don't blame me if you find strange ear marks and brands on it.  I slashed it and cut it and added lots of stuff that never happened, but I followed your facts and ideas, and that is what made it valuable.  I'll think up some other idea for an article and we'll collaborate again sometime---eh?  As soon as the check comes in, I'll send your 'sheer' of the boodle.  By the way, please keep my nom de plume strictly to yourself.  I don't want anyone to know just yet."

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