August 13, 2014

Bunner's Nine Cent-Girls: Catch the difference?

New York author Henry Cuyler Bunner certainly had a good sense of humor, becoming assistant editor then full editor of the comic weekly magazine Puck. It was in that magazine, in its August 13, 1890 issue, that he published his short story "The Nine Cent-Girls." "The Nine-cent Girls?" asked the character Jack Winfield. "No," responded his friend Richard Cutter, "the Nine Cent-Girls. Catch the difference?"

The two men are jilted, or at least unsuccessful, lovers. Winfield vows to get a wife soon, despite being stuck in the "girlless wilderness" of a ranch in Montana. His friend tells him about the town of Tusculum, New York, which is nearly overrun with women (as all the men move to New York City to make their mark). The Nine Cent-Girls are sisters who each look like the face of the Indian lady on the little red cent, "the neatest and most artistic coin that the United States government has ever struck."

Despite being resigned never to marry, Cutter is deputed to visit the girls on behalf of the ranchers. But, when he calls at their home in Tusculum, he learns that the patriarch had died and no male relative had assumed a similar head of household role for them. "The whole scheme [is] busted," Cutter thinks. Still, somehow, he convinces the eldest of the women, Euphrosyne, to bring the whole group to the ranch in Montana. Euphrosyne, apparently in her 30s, is too old to get married herself, but she thinks it would be good for her sisters. Accordingly, she sells the house and prepares to go West.

Illustration by S. B. Griffin, 1891
On the train ride, he is self-conscious that he might be doing something wrong. Fellow passengers wonder about the man leading the nine similar-looking women (all wearing the same outfit): one thinks they are a baseball team, another a minstrel group. When those assumptions are proven wrong, other gossip spreads, and Euphrosyne changes her mind: "Nine young unmarried women can not go West with a young man — if you had heard what people were saying all around us in the cars — you don't know." Cutter sheepishly notes that if only a married woman were leading the group, it might be different. She agrees, and he admits he has taken a fancy to one of the girls.

"Why, Mr. Cutter!" Miss Euphrosyne cried, "I had no idea that you — you — ever — though of — is it Clytie?
"No," said Mr. Cutter, "it isn't Clytie."
"Is it — is it — " Miss Euphrosyne's eyes lit up with hope long since extinguished, "is it Aurora?"
"No!" Dick Cutter could have been heard three rooms off. "No!" he said, with all his lungs... "It's YOU — Y-O-U! I want to marry you, and what's more, I'm going to!"

Sure enough, they are married an hour later (though it's not stated if the wedding took place on the train or at one of the stops). Despite the odd circumstances behind their marriage, it seems Mr. and Mrs. Cutter are quite happy — and, what's more, the other eight Cent-Girls are soon married too. The author, Henry Cuyler Bunner, was himself married, though Alice Learned Bunner was from neither New York nor Montana; she was from Connecticut (and a published author herself).

2 comments:

  1. How fun is that?! Another take on the mail-order brides. Was this ever made into a stage play? It seems it would be good for that.

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  2. I, for one, am still laughing at the "nine-cent girls" vs. "nine cent-girls" line.

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