This is one of Grandpa’s stories that I enjoyed the most when I read it for the first time. What a “Slice of Life”.
Also about this time I left the Smelting Company and took another stenographic job at a higher salary with the estate of Collis P. Huntington, one of the countries great railroad builders. His adopted son, Archer M. Huntington, also a millionaire, used the office for his headquarters. One day I was called into the Manager’s private office and told that Archer M. wanted me to go down that morning to the American Art Gallery’s auction sale and purchase, in my own name a set of fine Sheraton chairs which were to be put up for sale, and for which purpose he gave me $1000 in cash. I had never had as much money as this in my possession nor indeed had I ever attended so glamorous an auction sale and felt the responsibility deeply. I asked the Office Manager what I should do if the bidding should go higher put all he would say was: “You are to buy the furniture.” I was still troubled in mind, and as Mr. Archer had just come in, I decided in spite of the fact he was a very pompous individual not in the habit of discussing his business with clerks and in fact treating me and all my fellow employees as dirt beneath his feet, that I would do the unheard-of thing and approach him direct. I told him I had been given $1000 to buy the chairs and asked what I should do if I had to bid higher, a fatal error. He glared at me and angrily replied, “Buy the furniture!” And that was that.
On the way down to the auction Gallery I decided to play it cagily, and, as he didn’t want his name to appear in the transaction, I decided to let the low bidders and dealers, if there were any (there were) , start it and when they had dropped out come in when there would be less competition.
When the set was put up for bid I followed this plan and joined in when it reached about $500. Soon just a lady and myself were the sole bidders and every time one of us raised the amount by fifty dollars, the other would immediately counter with another fifty. We seesawed back and forth until, with a firm voice and nonchalant air (I hoped) but with a dry mouth and butterflies in my stomach, I boldly said “One thousand dollars.” and she promptly said “One thousand, fifty.” I was over my head already and might as well sink as swim so I came right back with “Eleven hundred dollars.” She glared at me, threw up her hands and quit. “Sold” said the auctioneer, “Name please.” After the sale was over I went up to the desk, laid down my thousand dollars in bills and told the cashier I’d send the balance later, which was all right with him. As instructed, I gave him Mr. Huntington’s Fifth Avenue address where the chairs were to be delivered and returned to the office. When I reported the price I had had to bid the office manager seemed not a bit concerned and I went back to my routine office work.
The following Saturday in my pay envelope was an additional two weeks salary “in advance” accompanied with a little note reading “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere.” I asked the Manager the reason for my dismissal, pointing out that I had never before been fired from a job and while I didn’t doubt I could find other employment, it would help me if I knew what I had done wrong in this case to guard against making the same mistake again. “Mr. Huntington thinks you would do better elsewhere.” was the only answer I could get and to this day I don’t know why I was fired.
The New York Times, on the following day under “Auction News”, contained an item which read: “Spirited bidding on a set of Sheraton furniture took place between Mr. A.D. Guion and Mrs. Vanderbilt.”
This story reminds Grandpa of another brush with the elite of New York City and you can read about that tomorrow.
On Monday, I’ll be posting letters from 1941. Lad is still in Venezuela but is expecting to come home in May. Dick is getting ready to drive from Trumbull to Seattle and then deliver the car, and himself, to Anchorage, Alaska. He plans on getting a job and staying there with Dan and Ced. Dave and Grandpa will soon be all that’s left in Trumbull.