The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Herb ’n’ Lorna (A Love Story) by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy
Chapter 3: 
In Which Herb Is Born to the Pipers of Boston

MY GRANDFATHER, Herb Piper, was born in Boston, into a family that was broke.  For generations, the Pipers had exhibited two outstanding characteristics: a cool-headed talent for selling and a gullible ineptitude for investing.  It was quite possible for a Piper to accumulate a tidy nest egg over the course of a week of selling and lose it in an hour by buying into a scheme that he thought would double his money overnight—a land deal, say, that he had overheard two fellows talking about downtown while he was having lunch, a deal that, he allowed himself to be convinced, involved virtually no risk whatsoever, a deal that was as sure as sure can be. Like a dog biting its own tail, a Piper at his worst turned his talent against himself, selling himself on the wisdom of his folly.  This type of self-deception, self-injury, has been known in my family for generations as “doing a foolish Piper thing.”  When imprudent Pipers found that they had done a foolish Piper thing, when the land, the development company, and the two fellows vanished, some Pipers would brood and curse themselves and the foolish Piper giant who seemed to dog their steps, but others would shrug and chuckle at themselves and their inherited folly.  Herb’s grandfather was of the chuckling type.  “Well,” he had said when he broke the news about the land, the development company, and the two vanishing fellows to Herb’s grandmother, “I’ve gone and done a foolish Piper thing, haven’t I?”
    Once, however, there had been a substantial Piper fortune, thanks to Herb’s great-grandfather, Thomas Piper, and his association with Frederick Lewis Tudor, the finest flower ever to blossom on the vine of American marketing genius.  In his essay “The American Drummer,” Wilhelm Huber wrote, “I am among those who hold that a genius for selling, that curious alliance of art, ingenuity, inspiration, cupidity, and fraud, is the American genius.”  Certainly it was a genius for selling that made the United States, for a while at any rate, the commercial giant of the world, indeed the model for what a commercial giant might be.  Just what was the nature of that genius that made America a great commercial nation, that genius that was so pronounced in Frederick Lewis Tudor and in the Piper family?  Edward Huxtable has attempted to describe it, in The Person in Your Mirror Is You:
    The inept salesman or saleswoman has the wrong mental image of himself or herself and his or her product, something like a huckster at a sideshow in a traveling circus might have: he or she feels that what he or she sells is inferior, an embarrassment.  He or she imagines that he or she could be a much better huckster if the fat lady were fatter, the rubber man more limber, the dog-boy more slavering.  But the best huckster, the genius huckster, begins by selling him- or herself on the merits of his or her commodity and so finds it not merely easy but intellectually satisfying, even morally gratifying, to persuade the rubes or inform the consumers that slim fat ladies are the rage, arthritic rubber men the rarest, dry-mouthed dog-boys the marvel of the age.  The natural genius salesperson, whether he or she peddles books, cars, furniture, jewelry, pocket calculators, or investment schemes, is a carrier of his or her own infectious self-deception.

    Frederick Lewis Tudor was the man who established the international ice trade, cutting ice on the lakes of New England and shipping it virtually all over the world.  This remarkable enterprise captured the imaginations of so disparate a trio as Henry David Thoreau, Gabriel García Márquez, and the Marx Brothers.
    In the winter of 1846?1847, when the ice trade was in full swing, Thoreau watched a crew of immigrant Irish ice cutters at work on Walden Pond and recorded in his journal these remarks about the extent and influence of the ice trade:

    The sweltering inhabitants of Charleston and New Orleans, of Madras and Bombay and Calcutta, drink at my well. . . . The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

    A hundred years later, Márquez described the arrival in nineteenth-century Macondo of what may well have been some Walden Pond ice:

    There was a giant with a hairy torso and a shaved head, with a copper ring in his nose and a heavy iron chain on his ankle, watching over a pirate chest.  When it was opened by the giant, the chest gave off a glacial exhalation.  Inside there was only an enormous, transparent block. . . .

Surely the ice trade, based as it was on teaching people to want something that they hadn’t even known existed before, selling something for which there was no demand, marks the dawn of modern marketing, and the Piper family, in the person of Thomas Piper, was there.
    What was Thomas Piper like?  My mind’s eye’s image of him is an inaccurate but appealing one.  It comes straight from the movie Cracked Ice, in which the Marx Brothers romp through a series of madcap adventures loosely based on the events leading to the establishment of the ice trade.
    In Cracked Ice, we first meet the flamboyant Frederick Lewis Tudor (Groucho) at a dinner party in a fashionable home on Beacon Hill, in Boston, in 1805, where he is sitting between the wives of two of his brothers.  The brothers, successful, sober men, sit opposite him.  Tudor inclines toward one of the women and whispers in her ear.  She looks startled, then smiles coquettishly.  Tudor inclines toward the other (Margaret Dumont) and whispers in her ear.  She squeals and slaps his face.
    “Really, Fred,” says one brother, “be reasonable, won’t you?”
    Tudor, demonstrating the mercurial temper and physical agility for which he was noted, leaps upon the table and begins berating his brothers for their unimaginative reasonableness, gesticulating with the leg of a roast duck as he does so.
    “The difference between us, brothers,” he declares at the end of his tirade, dropping himself into the lap of Margaret Dumont, “is that you have hearts of ice.  Not mine, brothers!  My heart burns!  (It must have been the horseradish.)  I say phooey to being reasonable.  Give me imagination!  It’s men with imagination who leave their mark on this world!”  He looks at Margaret Dumont and bats his eyes.  “Am I right, toots?” he asks.
    “That sounds like hubris to me, Fred,” says the other brother.
    “Hubris, schmoobris,” Tudor fires back.  “I tell you the man with imagination can do anything he puts his mind to.  Anything!”
    “How about—selling water?” suggests the first of the brothers, with haughty composure, idly turning the stem of his crystal goblet.  The other guests laugh.  Tudor storms out of the house in a rage, and from the street he shouts, “I will sell water, and I’ll make my fortune at it, too!”
    Striding across the street, blinded by rage, he is nearly run over by a wagon (not a Studebaker; Henry and Clem Studebaker built their first wagons in 1852).  The driver, young Tom Piper (Chico), stops his horses and rushes to pick Tudor up from the cobblestone pavement.  Still in a fury, Tudor waves him off.  “When I need your help, I’ll ask for it,” he shouts.
    Tom climbs back up to his seat and is about to pull away.  Tudor notices the lettering on the side of the van: WENHAM ICE.  His face lights up.  “Help!” he cries.
    Tom climbs down again and helps Tudor to his feet.  “What’s your name, fellow?” Tudor asks.
    “Huh?” Tom replies, surprised.
    “That can’t be it,” says Tudor.  “Think, man!  What does your mother say when she wants you to come to dinner?”  He wears a look that suggests he thinks he’s dealing with an idiot.
    “Come and get it!”
    “Well, if it’s good enough for your mother, it’s good enough for me,” says Tudor, throwing his arm across Tom’s shoulders.  “Cumangetit, tell me about ice.”
    “Well, itsa real cold—” begins Tom.
    Tudor rides along with Tom Piper, pumping him for information about the ice business.  Suddenly, Tom seems suspicious.  “Just a minute,” he asks, “why you aska me this?”
    “Cumangetit,” says Tudor, chewing on his cigar, “I’m going to start an ice company of my own.”
    Tom begins laughing.  “You?” he says.  Suddenly he stops laughing.  “You got a vice president?” he asks.  Tudor shakes his head.  “How much does it pay?”  Tudor shrugs.  “Okay, I take it,” says Tom.  They shake hands.
    Tom brings Tudor to his home.  There we meet Tom’s wife, Lavinia, and her beautiful sister, Katherine, who is visiting from Savannah.  Tom warns Tudor that there isn’t much room for another ice company in these parts.  Tudor, who is lying with his head in Katherine’s lap, batting his lashes at her, asks coyly, “Do y’all have many ice companies in Savannah?”
    Giggling, blushing, Katherine replies that there are none.
    “Well then!” declares Tudor.  “We’ll sell our ice in Savannah.  We’ll sell our ice where it’s most wanted, in the sultry climes!  We’ll sell it in Savannah, and we’ll sell it in Havana, and we’ll sell it in Bombay!”
    “ ’At’s an ice idea, boss,” says Tom.
    They all toast the start of their enterprise.
    A mad scramble begins.  Tudor must raise money, obtain ice-cutting monopolies on lakes and ponds, find ships, hire workers, build icehouses, and so on.  At one point, Tom and Tudor recruit the help of Nathaniel Wyeth (Harpo), who has invented a more efficient way of cutting ice.  They pay him in stock.
    Tom Piper is always at Tudor’s side, and Katherine, who stays on in Boston to help, grows daily more smitten with the stubborn genius.  Tudor grows so obsessed with what he now thinks of as his mission in life that he begins to sound like a madman, not the sort of person in whose venture one would be likely to invest.  Tom Piper, however, is able to lay the whole scheme out before a potential investor in a stream of compelling words, to make it sound like a sure thing, as sure as sure can be, and he is the one who brings the investors in.
    Against all odds, the enterprise is in place and operating when winter arrives.  In a curiously balletic scene, we watch a swarm of workers cutting ice in a light snow: small, dark figures moving against a seamless white background under the direction of Wyeth, who scoots around, directing their work by waving, whistling, clapping his hands, and honking a small horn.  It’s a strange interlude, one that European audiences in particular seem to find oddly moving.
    Suddenly, we’re at sea!  The great ice-filled schooner Tuscany noses through the waves.  The Tuscany arrives in Savannah, and Tom goes to work at once.  He sets up a little stage right on the dock, gathers a crowd, and pulls aside a curtain to reveal Wyeth, stripped to the waist, his cheeks puffed out as if he were straining under a great weight, carrying a huge Chinese lacquer chest.  He sets the chest down, unlocks it, opens it, and reveals a gemlike piece of ice inside.  The crowd is delighted.  Ice!  Here in Savannah!  They clamor to buy.  “Boss, the ice it’sa go like hotcakes,” Tom reports to Tudor.
    On the sea again, the Tuscany is now bound for Cuba.  During a storm, Tom Piper entertains the crew with some snappy tunes on the ship’s piano, and Wyeth, alone in his cabin, falls into a contemplative mood and plucks a harp he has brought along.  At last, they arrive in Havana, and Tom goes to work again, but just as Tom and Tudor are about to conclude a deal with the Spanish governor, the captain of the Tuscany rushes in, upset, flustered, worried.  Glancing anxiously at the governor’s guards, he blurts out, “The arrangements must be canceled!  The ice has melted!”  Wyeth tries to muffle him with a scarf.
    Calmly, taking his cigar from his mouth, Tudor says to the governor, “This must be your lucky day!  Now we can give you a better price.”
    At sea again, the three pace the deck at night, in step, Tudor in the lead.  “We’ve got to find a way to keep ice from melting!” he cries.  “I won’t be defeated!  I will find a way!”  All three pound their fists into their open hands.
    Back in Boston, Tudor begins the experiments in preserving ice that will occupy him for months.  In a quick sequence of scenes, we see that things are going badly. 
    Tudor flings open the doors of an icehouse and water rushes out.  “Blankets won’t work,” he says in disgust. 
    He flings open another icehouse.  Water rushes out.  Wyeth staggers out with wet feathers stuck all over him.  “Feathers won’t work, either,” Tudor says. 
    Katherine is seen in her office, trying to keep creditors at bay.  Wyeth is seen trying to sell his shares in the company to passersby.  Tom Piper is seen trying to raise more money and being turned down. 
    Katherine tries to persuade Tudor to abandon the project.  They are walking along the line of icehouses set up for testing.  Water is running from each one they pass.  “Perhaps you’re right,” admits Tudor. 
    Suddenly, Wyeth rushes up, whistling like mad, carrying a huge saw.  He begins sawing at one of the icehouses, still whistling like crazy, smiling and bobbing his head up and down.
    “Perhaps you’re right,” says Tudor, misinterpreting Wyeth’s message.  “I’ll put all this behind me and become a lumberjack.”
    Wyeth grabs Tudor by the coat and drags him to an icehouse from which no water runs.  Tudor’s eyes light up.  He flings the door open.  “Sawdust!” he cries.
    At sea again, the Tuscany, with a load of ice packed in sawdust, is bound for Bombay.
    In Bombay harbor, Tom, Nathaniel, and Tudor pace the deck, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Sultan of Gujarat and representatives of the British East India Company.  When they arrive, Tom, in an inspired scene, delivers two simultaneous sales pitches, one directed toward the interests of the Indians, one toward the British.  The final disclosure of the ice is a huge success with both.  Tom offers a sample piece to the Sultan as a gift.
    The cargo of ice is being unloaded when hundreds of fierce, armed Indians arrive and surround the wharf.  The Sultan himself arrives, in high dudgeon, and appeals to the British for justice.  He’s been tricked.  The ice he was given yesterday is gone.  Much chuckling about this on the part of the British, who explain that this is melting, something ice always does, but that fortunately Tudor has leased to them the exclusive rights to build icehouses in Bombay, following the secret methods discovered in America after long and arduous effort.
    Back in Boston, some time later, on the wharves, Lavinia and Katherine wait, and watch, and worry.  Lavinia, peering through a spyglass, suddenly cries, “There!”  It’s the Tuscany!  Both peer through their spyglasses, looking for a sign that will tell them whether the trip has been a success or a failure.  At last they spot Tudor, Tom, and Nathaniel, standing in the bow of the first ship, decked out in flamboyant outfits.  For some reason not made clear in the film, the Sultan of Gujarat, his attendants, his guards, a bevy of girls in harem pants, four elephants, and a delegation of British colonial officials have come along with them.  They are all singing, “Hooray for Freddie Tudor,” a number that is, it must be admitted, a pallid reworking of “Hooray for Captain Spaulding.”  It is sung to the same tune:

  Hooray for Freddie Tudor!
  Yo ho!  The iceman cometh!
  “Did someone call me goniff?”
  Yo ho!  Yo ho!  Yo ho!



cutting ice on Lake Wenham
Thomas Piper, Frederick Lewis Tudor, and Nathaniel Wyeth (arrows) oversee the ice-cutting operation on Lake Wenham, Massachusetts, in 1845 (from The Illustrated London News, May 17, 1845)
THE TRIUMPH didn’t last for the Pipers, although ice made Tom Piper a wealthy man.  When he died in 1852, he left a considerable fortune, including stock in Tudor’s ice business, but within two years his two sons and two daughters had lost it all.
    Tom Piper’s eldest son, Eleazer, visited a palmist on the day after his father was buried.  The thrust of the palmist’s remarks was that Eleazer was about to go through a key pivotal time in his life, and that prospects were not good, but that Eleazer could make the best of things by trusting his intuition.  Eleazer left the palmist’s with his head reeling.  In the course of his walk home, he decided to act in accordance with a hunch he’d had for some time.  He had been keeping an eye on a British patent medicine, Tono-Bungay.  Its sales had grown phenomenally.  Eleazer had tried to persuade his father to invest in it, but Thomas Piper’s interest in ice had been so consuming that he had paid little attention to his son; Eleazer suspected that his father thought little of his business abilities.  The Tono-Bungay company was just beginning to make a serious move toward expansion beyond the British Isles, and Eleazer’s intuition told him that now was the time to strike.  If he could persuade his siblings to invest, they might obtain an American monopoly in Tono-Bungay, which ought to put them on a surer footing in the coming turbulent times that the palmist had predicted.  This was surer than ice, as sure as sure can be.
    The sons and daughters of Thomas Piper agreed, swept up by the force of Eleazer’s conviction and his hereditary gift for salesmanship.  They divested themselves of everything ice had brought them and bid for and won exclusive rights to the American market for Tono-Bungay.
    Within a month, Tono-Bungay collapsed.  The Ponderevos, who had launched the business in Britain, and the Pipers, who had hoped to advance it in America, were paupers.  The palmist, confronted by a blubbering, drunk, and disheveled Eleazer Piper, told him that he had actually been extremely lucky.  “If you hadn’t followed your hunch in this matter,” she said, “there’s no telling what might have happened.  Of this, however, I am certain: things would have been far worse.”
    In the years that followed, the Piper fortunes rose and fell within a narrower range on the scale of success and failure.  When they rose, they rose only to the level where there was enough for dinner and a little extra in case someone dropped by; when they fell, they fell to the level where there wasn’t enough for dinner, and if someone dropped by, one of the children would answer the door and say that Father was out.

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I should like to see the custom introduced of readers who are pleased with a book sending the author some small cash token: anything between half-a-crown and a hundred pounds.  Authors would then receive what their publishers give them as a flat rate and their “tips” from grateful readers in addition, in the same way that waiters receive a wage from their employers and also get what the customer leaves on the plate.  Not more than a few hundred pounds—that would be bad for my character—not less than half-a-crown—that would do no good to yours.

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise

-- Roberta J. Wahlers, The Milwaukee Journal

Warm, Inventive, Quirky
-- ALA Booklist


Herb ’n’Lorna is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $13.00.

You should be able to find Herb ’n’ Lornaat your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from:

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Libros en Español: Herb ’n’Lorna is also available in Spanish from Ediciones Destino





Copyright © 1994 by Eric Kraft

Herb ’n’Lorna  is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 

First published by Crown Publishers, Inc., 201 East 50th Street, New York, New York 10022. Member of the Crown Publishing Group. 

Now available in paperback from Picador USA, a division of St. Martin's Press.