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A Fool and His Money

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I am quite sure it was my Uncle Rilas who said that I was a fool. If memory serves me well he relieved himself of that conviction in the presence of my mother—whose brother he was—at a time when I was least competent to acknowledge his wisdom and most arrogant in asserting my own. I was a freshman in college: a fact—or condition, perhaps,—which should serve as an excuse for both of us. I possessed another uncle, incidentally, and while I am now convinced that he must have felt as Uncle Rilas did about it, he was one of those who suffer in silence. The nearest he ever got to openly resenting me as a freshman was when he admitted, as if it were a crime, that he too had been in college and knew less when he came out than when he entered. Which was a mild way of putting it, I am sure, considering the fact that he remained there for twenty-three years as a distinguished member of the faculty.

I assume, therefore, that it was Uncle Rilas who orally convicted me, an assumption justified to some extent by putting two and two together after the poor old gentleman was laid away for his long sleep. He had been very emphatic in his belief that a fool and his money are soon parted. Up to the time of his death I had been in no way qualified to dispute this ancient theory. In theory, no doubt, I was the kind of fool he referred to, but in practice I was quite an untried novice. It is very hard for even a fool to part with something he hasn't got. True, I parted with the little I had at college with noteworthy promptness about the middle of each term, but that could hardly have been called a fair test for the adage. Not until Uncle Rilas died and left me all of his money was I able to demonstrate that only dead men and fools part with it. The distinction lies in the capacity for enjoyment while the sensation lasts. Dead men part with it because they have to, fools because they want to.

In any event, Uncle Rilas did not leave me his money until my freshman days were far behind me, wherein lies the solace that he may have outgrown an opinion while I was going through the same process. At twenty-three I confessed that all freshmen were insufferable, and immediately afterward took my degree and went out into the world to convince it that seniors are by no means adolescent. Having successfully passed the age of reason, I too felt myself admirably qualified to look with scorn upon all creatures employed in the business of getting an education. There were times when I wondered how on earth I could have stooped so low as to be a freshman. I still have the disquieting fear that my uncle did not modify his opinion of me until I was thoroughly over being a senior. You will note that I do not say he changed his opinion. Modify is the word.

His original estimate of me, as a freshman, of course,—was uttered when I, at the age of eighteen, picked out my walk in life, so to speak. After considering everything, I decided to be a literary man....