The Higher Pragmatism (Henry)

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The Higher Pragmatism
Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: A man, inspired by a conversation with a park bench philosopher, overcomes his fear of confessing his love to a woman, only to find out he had accidentally confessed to her sister instead.

A man found himself in a city park, sitting next to a musty, dingy, and tattered man who claimed to be a great judge of human nature. The man decided to confide in this stranger about his love for Mildred Telfair, a beautiful and dignified woman from an ancient and proud family. He admitted that he was too shy and afraid to confess his feelings to her, fearing that she would reject him.

The Narrator — narrator; in love with Mildred; shy, hesitant, and lacking confidence.
Mildred Telfair — elder daughter of a prestigious family; beautiful, dignified, and admired.

The stranger, Mack, shared his own story of being a talented amateur boxer who could never win a professional fight due to his lack of confidence. He compared their situations, saying that they were both amateurs who would never succeed in their respective fields. Mack believed that the man would never win Mildred's heart because he was too afraid to face a "professional" like her.

Mack — park bench philosopher; former amateur boxer; musty, dingy, and tattered.

'You're a amateur; and that means that you'd better keep outside of the ropes.'

Determined to prove Mack wrong, the man called Mildred and boldly confessed his love for her over the phone. To his surprise, she agreed to marry him and asked him to come to her house immediately.

'Will you marry me or not? Hold the wire, please. Keep out, Central. Hello, hello! Will you, or will you not?'

When he arrived, however, it was Mildred's younger sister, Bess, who greeted him. She believed that his phone call had been meant for her, and the man found himself unexpectedly captivated by her beauty and charm.

Elizabeth Telfair — Mildred's younger sister; beautiful, angelic, and ultimately the narrator's love interest.

'Phil, dear, of course I will! I didn't know that you—that is, you never said—oh, come up to the house, please—I can't say what I want to over the 'phone.'

In the end, both the man and Mack remained hopeless amateurs in their respective fields, but the man was grateful for the unexpected turn of events that led him to find love with Bess instead of Mildred.