Monday, August 13, 2007

"Hell and repeat?" and The Infunt Fernomerner Tale

On p. 181 of the script, Andrew says, "You ever been to West Virginia? Colorado?" and Abe replies, "'Hell and repeat?' No sir, I ain't been there."

The question of what that means came up. I found the expression in a few places online. One particularly interesting was this letter.
You might find it helpful to see a father-son exchange from 1900, to see the idioms, the base grammar at the end, and the distinct tone of communication that we also find in some of the cycles...

CHICAGO, June 4, 1900.

Dear Pierrepont: Judging from what you say about the Highfaluting
Lulu, it must be a wonder, and the owner's reason for selling--that
his lungs are getting too strong to stand the climate--sounds
perfectly good. You can have the money at 5 per cent, as soon as
you've finally made up your mind that you want it, but before you
plant it in the mine for keeps, I think you should tie a wet towel
around your head, while you consider for a few minutes the bare
possibility of having to pay me back out of your salary, instead of
the profits from the mine. You can't throw a stone anywhere in this
world without hitting a man, with a spade over his shoulder, who's
just said the last sad good-byes to his bank account and is starting
out for the cemetery where defunct flyers are buried.

While you've only asked me for money, and not for advice, I may say
that, should you put a question on some general topic like, "What are
the wild waves saying, father?" I should answer, "Keep out of watered
stocks, my son, and wade into your own business a little deeper."
Though, when you come to think of it, these continuous-performance
companies, that let you in for ten, twenty, and thirty cents a share,
ought to be a mighty good thing for investors after they've developed
their oil and gold properties, because a lot of them can afford to pay
10 per cent. before they've developed anything but suckers.

So long as gold-mining with a pen and a little fancy paper continues to
be such a profitable industry, a lot of fellows who write a pretty fair
hand won't see any good reason for swinging a pick. They'll simply pass
the pick over to the fellow who invests, and start a new prospectus.
While the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, they're something
after all; but the walls along the short cuts to Fortune are papered
with only the prospectuses of good intentions--intentions to do the
other fellow good and plenty.

I don't want to question your ability or the purity of your friends'
intentions, but are you sure you know their business as well as they
do? Denver is a lovely city, with a surplus of climate and scenery,
and a lot of people there go home from work every night pushing a
wheelbarrow full of gold in front of them, but at the same time there
is no surplus of that commodity, and most of the fellows who find it
have cut their wisdom teeth on quartz. It isn't reasonable to expect
that you're going to buy gold at fifty cents on the dollar, just
because it hasn't been run through the mint yet.

I simply mention these things in a general way. There are two branches
in the study of riches--getting the money and keeping it from getting
away. When a fellow has saved a thousand dollars, and every nickel
represents a walk home, instead of a ride on a trolley; and every
dollar stands for cigars he didn't smoke and for shows he didn't
see--it naturally seems as if that money, when it's invested, ought to
declare dividends every thirty days. But almost any scheme which
advertises that it will make small investors rich quick is like one of
these Yellowstone geysers that spouts up straight from Hades with a
boom and a roar--it's bound to return to its native brimstone sooner
or later, leaving nothing behind it but a little smoke, and a smell of
burned money--your money.

If a fellow would stop to think, he would understand that when money
comes in so hard, it isn't reasonable to expect that it can go out and
find more easy. But the great trouble is that a good many small
investors don't stop to think, or else let plausible strangers do
their thinking for them. That's why most young men have tucked away
with their college diploma and the picture of their first girl, an
impressive deed to a lot in Nowhere-on-the-Nothingness, or a beautiful
certificate of stock in the Gushing Girlie Oil Well, that has never
gushed anything but lies and promises, or a lovely receipt for money
invested in one of these discretionary pools that are formed for the
higher education of indiscreet fools. While I reckon that every fellow
has one of these certificates of membership in The Great Society of
Suckers, I had hoped that you would buy yours for a little less than
the Highfaluting Lulu is going to cost you. Young men are told that
the first thousand dollars comes hard and that after that it comes
easier. So it does--just a thousand dollars plus interest easier; and
easier through all the increased efficiency that self-denial and
self-control have given you, and the larger salary they've made you

It doesn't seem like much when you take your savings' bank book around
at the end of the year and get a little thirty or forty dollars
interest added, or when you cash in the coupon on the bond that you've
bought; yet your bank book and your bond are still true to you. But if
you'd had your thousand in one of these 50 per cent bleached blonde
schemes, it would have lit out long ago with a fellow whose ways were
more coaxing, leaving you the laugh and a mighty small lock of
peroxide gold hair. If you think that saving your first thousand
dollars is hard, you'll find that saving the second, after you've lost
the first, is hell and repeat.

You can't too soon make it a rule to invest only on your own know
and never on somebody else's say so. You may lose some profits by this
policy, but you're bound to miss a lot of losses. Often the best
reason for keeping out of a thing is that everybody else is going into
it. A crowd's always dangerous; it first pushes prices up beyond
reason and then down below common sense. The time to buy is before the
crowd comes in or after it gets out. It'll always come back to a good
thing when it's been pushed up again to the point where it's a bad

It's better to go slow and lose a good bargain occasionally than to go
fast and never get a bargain. It's all right to take a long chance now
and then, when you've got a long bank account, but it's been my
experience that most of the long chances are taken by the fellows with
short bank accounts.

You'll meet a lot of men in Chicago who'll point out the corner of State
and Madison and tell you that when they first came to the city they were
offered that lot for a hundred dollars, and that it's been the crowning
regret of their lives that they didn't buy it. But for every genuine case
of crowning regret because a fellow didn't buy, there are a thousand
because he did. Don't let it make you feverish the next time you see
one of those Won't-you-come-in-quick-and-get-rich-sudden ads. Freeze
up and on to your thousand, and by and by you'll get a chance to buy a
little stock in the concern for which you're working and which you
know something about; or to take that thousand and one or two more
like it, and buy an interest in a nice little business of the breed
that you've been grooming and currying for some other fellow. But if
your money's tied up in the sudden--millionaire business, you'll have
to keep right on clerking.

A man's fortune should grow like a tree, in rings around the parent
trunk. It'll be slow work at first, but every ring will be a little
wider and a little thicker than the last one, and by and by you'll be
big enough and strong enough to shed a few acorns within easy reaching
distance, and so start a nice little nursery of your own from which
you can saw wood some day. Whenever you hear of a man's jumping
suddenly into prominence and fortune, look behind the popular
explanation of a lucky chance. You'll usually find that these men
manufactured their own luck right on the premises by years of slow
preparation, and are simply realizing on hard work.

Speaking of manufacturing luck on the premises, naturally calls to
mind the story of old Jim Jackson, "dealer in mining properties," and
of young Thornley Harding, graduate of Princeton and citizen of New

Thorn wasn't a bad young fellow, but he'd been brought up by a nice,
hard-working, fond and foolish old papa, in the fond belief that his
job in life was to spend the income of a million. But one week papa
failed, and the next week he died, and the next Thorn found he had to
go to work. He lasted out the next week on a high stool, and then he
decided that the top, where there was plenty of room for a bright
young man, was somewhere out West.

Thorn's life for the next few years was the whole series of hard-luck
parables, with a few chapters from Job thrown in, and then one day he
met old Jim. He seemed to cotton to Thorn from the jump. Explained to
him that there was nothing in this digging gopher holes in the solid
rock and eating Chinaman's grub for the sake of making niggers' wages.
Allowed that he was letting other fellows dig the holes, and that he
was selling them at a fair margin of profit to young Eastern
capitalists who hadn't been in the country long enough to lose their
roll and that trust in Mankind and Nature which was Youth's most
glorious possession. Needed a bright young fellow to help him--someone
who could wear good clothes and not look as if he were in a disguise,
and could spit out his words without chewing them up. Would Thorn join
him on a grub, duds, and commission basis? Would Thorn surprise his
skin with a boiled shirt and his stomach with a broiled steak? You bet
he would, and they hitched up then and there.

They ran along together for a year or more, selling a played-out mine
now and then or a "promising claim," for a small sum. Thorn knew that
the mines which they handled were no Golcondas, but, as he told
himself, you could never absolutely swear that a fellow wouldn't
strike it rich in one of them.

There came a time, though, when they were way down on their luck. The
run of young Englishmen was light, and visiting Easterners were a
little gun-shy. Almost looked to Thorn as if he might have to go to
work for a living, but he was a tenacious cuss, and stuck it out till
one day when Jim came back to Leadville from a near-by camp, where
he'd been looking at some played-out claims.

Jim was just boiling over with excitement. Wouldn't let on what it was
about, but insisted on Thorn's going back with him then and there.
Said it was too big to tell; must be taken in by all Thorn's senses,
aided by his powers of exaggeration.

It took them only a few hours to make the return trip. When Jim came
within a couple of miles of the camp, he struck in among some trees
and on to the center of a little clearing. There he called Thorn's
attention to a small, deep spring of muddy water.

"Thorn," Jim began, as impressive as if he were introducing him to an
easy millionaire, "look at thet spring. Feast yer eyes on it and tell
me what you see."

"A spring, you blooming idiot," Thorn replied, feeling a little

"You wouldn't allow, Thorn, to look at it, thet thar was special pints
about thet spring, would you?" he went on, slow and solemn. "You
wouldn't be willin' to swar thet the wealth of the Hindoos warn't in
thet precious flooid which you scorn? Son," he wound up suddenly,
"this here is the derndest, orneriest spring you ever see. Thet water
is rich enough to be drunk straight."

Thorn began to get excited in earnest now. "What is it? Spit it out

"Watch me, sonny," and Jim hung his tin cup in the spring and sat down
on a near-by rock. Then after fifteen silent minutes had passed, he
lifted the cup from the water and passed it over. Thorn almost jumped
out of his jack-boots with surprise.

"Silver?" he gasped.

"Generwine," Jim replied. "Down my way, in Illinois, thar used to be a
spring thet turned things to stone. This gal gives 'em a jacket of

After Thorn had kicked and rolled and yelled a little of the joy out
of his system, he started to take a drink of the water, but Jim
stopped him with:

"Taste her if you wanter, but she's one of them min'rul springs which
leaves a nasty smack behind." And then he added: "I reckon she's a
winner. We'll christen her the Infunt Fernomerner, an' gin a lib'rul
investor a crack at her."

The next morning Thorn started back, doing fancy steps up the trail.

He hadn't been in Leadville two days before he bumped into an old
friend of his uncle's, Tom Castle, who was out there on some business,
and had his daughter, a mighty pretty girl, along. Thorn sort of let
the spring slide for a few days, while he took them in hand and showed
them the town. And by the time he was through, Castle had a pretty bad
case of mining fever, and Thorn and the girl were in the first stages
of something else.

Castle showed a good deal of curiosity about Thorn's business and how
he was doing, so he told 'em all about how he'd struck it rich, and in
his pride showed a letter which he had received from Jim the day
before. It ran:

"Dere Thorn: The Infunt Fernomerner is a wunder and the pile groes
every day. I hav 2 kittles, a skilit and a duzzen cans in the spring
every nite wich is awl it wil hold and days i trys out the silver frum
them wich have caked on nites. This is to dern slo. we nede munny so
we kin dril and get a bigger flo and tanks and bilers and sech. hump
yoursel and sell that third intrest. i hav to ten the kittles now so
no mor frum jim."

"You see," Thorn explained, "we camped beside the spring one night,
and a tin cup, which Jim let fall when he first tasted the water,
discovered its secret. It's just the same principle as those lime
springs that incrust things with lime. This one must percolate through
a bed of ore. There's some quality in the water which acts as a
solvent of the silver, you know, so that the water becomes charged
with it."

Now, Thorn hadn't really thought of interesting Castle as an investor
in that spring, because he regarded his Western business and his
Eastern friends as things not to be mixed, and he wasn't very hot to
have Castle meet Jim and get any details of his life for the past few
years. But nothing would do Castle but that they should have a look at
The Infant, and have it at once.

Well, sir, when they got about a mile from camp they saw Jim standing
in the trail, and smiling all over his honest, homely face. He took
Castle for a customer, of course, and after saying "Howdy" to Thorn,
opened right up: "I reckon Thorn hev toted you up to see thet blessid
infunt as I'm mother, father and wet-nuss to. Thar never was sich a
kid. She's jest the cutest little cuss ever you see. Eh, Thorn?"

"Do you prefer to the er--er--Infant Phenomenon?" asked Castle, all

"The same precious infunt. She's a cooin' to herself over thar in them
pines," Jim replied, and he started right in to explain: "As you see,
Jedge, the precious flooid comes from the bowels of the earth, as full
of silver as sody water of gas; and to think thet water is the mejum.
Nacher's our silent partner, and the blessid infunt delivers the
goods. No ore, no stamps, no sweatin', no grindin', and crushin', and
millin', and smeltin'. Thar you hev the pure juice, and you bile it
till it jells. Looky here," and Jim reached down and pulled out a
skillet. "Taste it! Smell it! Bite it! Lick it! An' then tell me if
Sollermun in all his glory was dressed up like this here!"

Castle handled that skillet like a baby, and stroked it as if he just
naturally loved children. Stayed right beside the spring during the
rest of the day, and after supper he began talking about it with Jim,
while Thorn and Kate went for a stroll along the trail. During the
time they were away Jim must have talked to pretty good purpose, for
no sooner were the partners alone for the night than Jim said to
Thorn: "I hev jest sold the Jedge a third intrest in the Fernomerner
fur twenty thousand dollars."

"I'm not so sure about that," answered Thorn, for he still didn't
quite like the idea of doing business with one of his uncle's friends.
"The Infant looks good and I believe she's a wonder, but it's a new
thing, and twenty thousand's a heap of money to Castle. If it
shouldn't pan out up to the first show-down, I'd feel deucedly cut up
about having let him in. I'd a good deal rather refuse to sell Castle
and hunt up a stranger."

"Don't be a dern fool, son," Jim replied. "He knew we was arter money
to develop, and when he made thet offer I warn't goin' to be sich a
permiscuss Charley-hoss as to refuse. It'd be a burnin' crime not to
freeze to this customer. It takes time to find customers, even for a
good thing like this here, and it's bein' a leetle out of the usual
run will make it slower still."

"But my people East. If Castle should get stuck he'll raise an awful

Jim grinned: "He'd holler, would he? In course; it might help his
business. Yer the orneriest ostrich fur a man of yer keerful
eddication! Did you hear thet Boston banker what bought the
Cracker-jack from us a-hollerin'? He kept so shet about it, I'll bet,
thet you couldn't a-blasted it outer him."

They argued along until after midnight, but Jim carried his point; and
two weeks later Thorn was in Denver, saying good-by to Kate, and
listening to her whisper, "But it won't be for long, as you'll soon be
able to leave business and come back East," and to Castle yelling from
the rear platform to "Push the Infant and get her sizzling."

Later, as Jim and Thorn walked back to the hotel, the old scoundrel
turned to his partner with a grin and said: "I hev removed the insides
from the Infunt and stored 'em fur future ref'rence. Meanin', in
course," he added, as Thorn gaped up at him like a chicken with the
pip, "the 'lectro-platin' outfit. P'r'aps it would be better to take a
leetle pasear now, but later we can come back and find another orphant
infunt and christen her the Phoenix, which is Greek fur sold agin."

It took Thorn a full minute to comprehend the rascality in which he'd
been an unconscious partner, but when he finally got it through his
head that Jim had substituted the child of a base-born churl for the
Earl's daughter, he fairly raged. Threatened him with exposure and
arrest if he didn't make restitution to Castle, but Jim simply grinned
and asked him whether he allowed to sing his complaint to the police.
Wound up by saying that, even though Thorn had rounded on him, old Jim
was a square man, and he proposed to divide even.

Thorn was simply in the fix of the fellow between the bull and the
bulldog--he had a choice, but it was only whether he would rather be
gored or bitten, so he took the ten thousand, and that night Jim faded
away on a west-bound Pullman, smoking two-bit cigars and keeping the
porter busy standing by with a cork-screw. Thorn took his story and
the ten thousand back to his uncle in the East, and after a pretty
solemn interview with the old man, he went around and paid Castle in
full and resumed his perch on top of the high stool he'd left a few
years before. He never got as far as explaining to the girl in person,
because Castle told him that while he didn't doubt his honesty, he was
afraid he was too easy a mark to succeed in Wall Street. Yet Thorn did
work up slowly in his uncle's office, and he's now in charge of the
department that looks after the investments of widows and orphans, for
he is so blamed conservative that they can't use him in any part of
the business where it's necessary to take chances.

I simply speak of Thorn as an example of why I think you should have a
cool head before you finally buy the Lulu with my money. After all, it
seems rather foolish to pay railroad fares to the West and back for
the sake of getting stuck when there are such superior facilities for
that right here in the East.

Your affectionate father,


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