A Gifted Millionaire

Ambrose Bierce

May 27, 1903

 

If one have the misfortune to open a metropolitan newspaper and not see the name “Vanderbllt” in conspicuous type on the first page one may find consolation in the consciousness that one is blind. Having many Vanderbilts, we who see have many pleasures, but, alas for the others, there Is only one blindness! The balance of advantage is with those who see.

Apparently, too, there are as many kinds of Vanderbilts as there are Vanderbilts. Multitude cannot wither, nor publicity stale, their infinite variety. It does not appear that any naturalist has ever adequately catalogued them; perhaps life in these degenerate days is not long enough to do so. Let us not repine, but gratefully accept the imperfect record in the faith that half a Vanderbilt is better than none.

If some members of this illustrious and insistent family are distinguished by a conspicuous conformity to the type, one at least is equally noted for talent. He is known as W. K. Vanderbilt Jr.

At Great Neck, Long Island, is a body of water called Lake Success. It appears to be on, or near, land belonging to Mr. Vanderbilt; but unlike most things thereabout and elsewhere, the lake is not yet his. “From time Immemorial,” says the historian from whose account these facts are gathered, “the villagers about Great Neck have looked upon it as bottomless.” That made it an interesting lake. A lake that Is bottomless goes clear through the earth, and is of course full of water all the way. Where does this one come out? What manner of people at the other surface “lave in it, drink of it”? Upon its thither end, eight thousand miles from Great Neck, what kind of painted native impels the light canoe, the while bewooes his dusky sweetheart, who trails her slender fingers in the tide and speaks of other things? Or is the other surface of Lake Success a part of the circumclusive sea? To questions such as these proud Science gave an evasive answer and passed on, in maiden meditation, fancy free.

Not so the ingenious Mr. Vanderbilt He had long wanted to know the worst about the bottomless lake, but as he did not own it what could the poor man do? But was that active mind to lie down and curl up? Did it weakly accept the picturesque local view of the matter? Not it.

Mr. Vanderbilt took his head in his hands and thought. Little by little, a gleam here and a flash there, the light came to him and lay upon his path. In the headlight Illumination of his own genius he saw his way clear. He went to the village authorities and persuaded them to drain the lake.

The lake, when drained, was found to have been a singularly shallow body of water, with an uncommonly hard bottom, but that is neither here nor there. What is both here and there and wherever it is needful to prove the superiority of man to the beasts that perish is the amazing fact that the unaided human mind could think out so effective a way to resolve so dark a doubt. Even the highest anthropoid ape would have thought of nothing better than to take soundings with a weighted line.

 

(Source: https://www.newspapers.com/image/457466683/?terms=Ambrose%2BBierce)

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