An Author was sitting at his Desk trying to pull himself together and grind out Any Old Thing that could be converted into Breakfast Food. It was his Off Day, however. His Brain felt as if some one had played a Mean Trick on him and substituted a Side-Order of Cauliflower. All he could do was to lean up against his Desk and make marks and Piffle his Time away. Between Scribbles he wrote a few Verses about, “When Willie Came to say Good Night.” It was a Sad Effort. He made it almost as Salty as a Mother Song and filled it with Papa and Mamma and the Patter of Baby Feet. He used Love-Light and the Evening Prayer and the Heart-Strings and other venerable Paraphernalia. He had to commit Infanticide to make it Weepy enough for the last Stanza. The Author wrote this Stuff merely to Get Back at himself and see how Sloppy he could be. He did not intend to Print it, because he was not a Vendor of Death-Beds, and he shrank from making any violent Assault on the Sensibilities. So he tossed the Idle Product into the Waste-Basket and wondered if he was biginning to lose his Mind. With that Poem in his Right Hand he could have walked into Bloomingdale and no Questions Asked.
While he was still Backing Up and Jockeying for a Fair Start at his Day’s Work, A Friend came in and sat on the Edge of the Desk, and told him to go right ahead and not pay any Attention.
Seeing the Crumpled Paper in the Basket, the Friend, who was Inquisitive, hooked it out and read the Lines. Presently, when the Author looked up, the Friend had big Tears rolling down his Cheeks and was Sniffling.
“This is the Best Thing you have ever done,” said the Friend. “My God, but it is Pathetic! It will certainly Appeal to any one who has lost a Child.”
“I have no desire to Manufacture any more Sorrow for the Bereaved,” said the Author. “They have had Trouble enough. If I have to deal in White Caskets or tap the Lachrymal Glands in order to thrash out an Income, I will cease being an Author and go back to Work.”
“But this Poem will touch any Heart,” insisted the Friend. “As soon as I got into it I began to Cry. You can get a Good Price for this.”
When it came down to a Business Basis, the Author Switched.
“Get what you can on it,” he said. “It seems a Shame to go and Market that kind of Scroll-Work; still if it hits you, it may be Bad enough to affect others having the same Shape of Head. I need the Money and I have no Shame.”
Thereupon the Friend sent the Verses to the Publisher of a Family Monthly that Percolates into every Postoffice in the Country. In a few Days there came a tear-stained Acceptance and a Check. The Author said it was just like Finding $22.50, and he thought that was the End of it.
But when the Verses came out in the Monthly he began to get Letters from all parts of the United States telling him how much Suffering and Opening of Old Wounds had been caused by his little Poem about Willie and how Proud he ought to be. Many who wrote expressed Sympathy for him, and begged him to Bear Up. These Letters dazed the Author. He never had owned any Boy named Willie. He did not so much as Know a Boy named Willie. He lived in an Office Building with a lot of Stenographers and Bill Clerks. If he had been the Father of a Boy named Willie, and Willie had ever come to tell him “Good Night” when he was busy at Something Else, probably he would have jumped at Willie and snapped a piece out of his Arm. Just the Same, the Correspondents wrote to him from All Over, and said they could read Grief in every Line of his Grand Composition.