Leander Wapshot’s letter to Moses Wapshot

Leander Wapshot, one of the great characters in John Cheever’s Wapshot Chronicle, is the slightly neurotic patriarch of an old New England family. To keep him out of adulterous mischief, his cousin Honora lets him captain her boat, the Topaze, and ferry passengers down the river to the local fairgrounds. He loves his job. “‘Tie me to the mast, Perimedes,’ Leander used to shout when he heard the merry-go-round.”

But one stormy day he crashes his ferry on the rocks and it sinks “to the bottom of the sea.” He writes to his son Moses (in his unique style) for the money to repair his vessel:

“Topaze gone, how will I fare? Geezer as old as me begins to cherish his time on this earth but with Topaze gone days pass without purpose, meaning, color, form, appetite, glory, squalor, regret, desire, pleasure or pain. Dusk. Dawn. All the same. Feel hopeful sometimes in early morning but soon discouraged. Sole excitement is to listen to horse races on radio. If I had a stake could quickly recoup price to repair Topaze. Lack even small sum for respectable bet.

“Was generous giver myself. On several occasions gave large sums to needy strangers. One-hundred-dollar bill to cab starter at Parker House. Fifty dollars to old lady selling lavender at Park Street Church. Eighty dollars to stranger in restaurant who claimed son needed operation. Other donations forgotten. Cast bread upon waters, so to speak. No refund as of today. Tasteless to remind you but never spared the horses with family. Extra suit of sail for Tern. Three hundred dollars for dahlia bulbs. English shoes, mushrooms, hothouse posies, boat club dues and groaning board consumed much of windward anchor.

“Try to help old father if within means. If not, feel out acquaintances. There is one easy spender in every group of men. Sometimes gambler. Topaze good investment. Has shown substantial profit for every season, but one. Grand business expected in Nangasakit this year. Good chance of returning loan by August. Regret handkerchief tone of letter. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”

Leander’s wife Sarah is able to secure a loan from the same bank that turned down Leander, and with the money she converts the Topaze into “The Only Floating Gift Shoppe in New England,” breaking her husband’s nautical heart.

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