PART II. THE VISION
Mrs. Brashear's rooming-house on Grove Street wore its air of respectability like a garment, clean and somber, in an environment of careful behavior. Greenwich Village, not having fully awakened to the commercial advantages of being a _locale_, had not yet stretched between itself and the rest of New York that gauzy and iridescent curtain of sprightly impropriety and sparkling intellectual naughtiness, since faded to a lather tawdry pattern. An early pioneer of the Villager type, emancipated of thought and speech, chancing upon No. 11 Grove, would have despised it for its lack of atmosphere and its patent conservatism. It did not go out into the highways and byways, seeking prospective lodgers. It folded its hands and waited placidly for them to come. When they came, it pondered them with care, catechized them tactfully, and either rejected them with courteous finality or admitted them on probation. Had it been given to self-exploitation, it could have boasted that never had it harbored a bug or a scandal within its doors.
Now, on this filmy-soft April day it was nonplussed. A type new to its experience was applying for a room, and Mrs. Brashear, who was not only the proprietress, but, as it were, the familiar spirit and incarnation of the institution, sat peering near-sightedly and in some perturbation of soul at the phenomenon. He was young, which was against him, and of a winning directness of manner, which was in his favor, and extremely good to look at, which was potential of complications, and encased in clothing of an uncompromising cut and neutral pattern (to wit; No. 45 T 370, "an ideal style for a young business man of affairs; neat, impressive and dignified"), which was reassuring.
"My name is Banneker," he had said, immediately the door was opened to him. "Can I get a room here?"
"There is a room vacant," admitted the spirit of the house unwillingly.
"I'd like to see it."
As he spoke, he was mounting the stairs; she must, perforce, follow. On the third floor she passed him and led the way to a small, morosely papered front room, almost glaringly clean.
"All right, if I can have a work-table in it and if it isn't too much," he said, after one comprehensive glance around.
"The price is five dollars a week."
Had Banneker but known it, this was rather high. The Brashear rooming-house charged for its cleanliness, physical and moral. "Can I move in at once?" he inquired.
"I don't know you nor anything about you, Mr. Banneker," she replied, but not until they had descended the stairs and were in the cool, dim parlor. At the moment of speaking, she raised a shade, as if to help in the determination.
"Is that necessary? They didn't ask me when I registered at the hotel."
Mrs. Brashear stared, then smiled. "A hotel is different. Where are you stopping?"
"At the St. Denis."
"A very nice place. Who directed you here?"
"No one. I strolled around until I found a street I liked, and looked around until I found a house I liked. The card in the window--"
"Of course. Well, Mr. Banneker, for the protection of the house I must have references."
"References? You mean letters from people?"
"Not necessarily. Just a name or two from whom I can make inquiries. You have friends, I suppose."
"I haven't any."
"Then the people in the place where you work. What is your business, by the way?"
"I expect to go on a newspaper."
"Expect?" Mrs. Brashear stiffened in defense of the institution. "You have no place yet?"
He answered not her question, but her doubt. "As far as that is concerned, I'll pay in advance."
"It isn't the financial consideration," she began loftily--"alone," she added more honestly. "But to take in a total stranger--"
Banneker leaned forward to her. "See here, Mrs. Brashear; there's nothing wrong about me. I don't get drunk. I don't smoke in bed. I'm decent of habit and I'm clean. I've got money enough to carry me. Couldn't you take me on my say-so? Look me over."
Though it was delivered with entire gravity, the speech provoked a tired and struggling smile on the landlady's plain features. She looked.
"Well?" he queried pleasantly. "What do you think? Will you take a chance?"
That suppressed motherliness which, embodying the unformulated desire to look after and care for others, turns so many widows to taking lodgers, found voice in Mrs. Brashear's reply:
"You've had a spell of sickness, haven't you?"
"No," he said, a little sharply. "Where did you get that idea?"
"Your eyes look hot."
"I haven't been sleeping very well. That's all."
"Too bad. You've had a loss, maybe," she ventured sympathetically.
"A loss? No.... Yes. You might call it a loss. You'll take me, then?"
"You can move in right away," said Mrs. Brashear recklessly.
So the Brashear rooming-house took into its carefully guarded interior the young and unknown Mr. Banneker--who had not been sleeping well. Nor did he seem to be sleeping well in his new quarters, since his light was to be seen glowing out upon the quiet street until long after midnight; yet he was usually up betimes, often even before the moving spirit of the house, herself. A full week had he been there before his fellow lodgers, self-constituted into a Committee on Membership, took his case under consideration in full session upon the front steps. None had had speech with him, but it was known that he kept irregular hours.
"What's his job: that's what I'd like to know," demanded in a tone of challenge, young Wickert, a man of the world who clerked in the decorative department of a near-by emporium.
"Newsboy, I guess," said Lambert, the belated art-student of thirty-odd with a grin. "He's always got his arms full of papers when he comes in."
"And he sits at his table clipping pieces out of them and arranging them in piles," volunteered little Mrs. Bolles, the trained nurse on the top floor. "I've seen him as I go past."
"Help-wanted ads," suggested Wickert, who had suffered experience in that will-o'-the-wisp chase.
"Then he hasn't got a job," deduced Mr. Hainer, a heavy man of heavy voice and heavy manner, middle-aged, a small-salaried accountant.
"Maybe he's got money," suggested Lambert.
"Or maybe he's a dead beat; he looks on the queer," opined young Wickert.
"He has a very fine and sensitive face. I think he has been ill." The opinion came from a thin, quietly dressed woman of the early worn-out period of life, who sat a little apart from the others. Young Wickert started a sniff, but suppressed it, for Miss Westlake was held locally in some degree of respect, as being "well-connected" and having relatives who called on her in their own limousines, though seldom.
"Anybody know his name?" asked Lambert.
"Barnacle," said young Wickert wittily. "Something like that, anyway. Bannsocker, maybe. Guess he's some sort of a Swede."
"Well, I only hope he doesn't clear out some night with his trunk on his back and leave poor Mrs. Brashear to whistle," declared Mrs. Bolles piously.
The worn face of the landlady, with its air of dispirited motherliness, appeared in the doorway. "Mr. Banneker is a _gentleman_," she said.
"Gentleman" from Mrs. Brashear, with that intonation, meant one who, out of or in a job, paid his room rent. The new lodger had earned the title by paying his month in advance. Having settled that point, she withdrew, followed by the two other women. Lambert, taking a floppy hat from the walnut rack in the hall, went his way, leaving young Wickert and Mr. Hainer to support the discussion, which they did in tones less discreet than the darkness warranted.
"Where would he hail from, would you think?" queried the elder. "Iowa, maybe? Or Arkansas?"
"Search me," answered young Wickert. "But it was a small-town carpenter built those honest-to-Gawd clothes. I'd say the corn-belt."
"Dressed up for the monthly meeting of the Farmers' Alliance, all but the oil on his hair. He forgot that," chuckled the accountant.
"He's got a fine chance in Nuh Yawk--of buying a gold brick cheap," prophesied the worldly Wickert out of the depths of his metropolitan experience. "Somebody ought to put him onto himself."
A voice from the darkened window above said, with composure, "That will be all right. I'll apply to you for advice."
"Oh, Gee!" whispered young Wickert, in appeal to his companion. "How long's he been there?"
Acute hearing, it appeared, was an attribute of the man above, for he answered at once:
"Just put my head out for a breath of air when I heard your kind expressions of solicitude. Why? Did I miss something that came earlier?"
Mr. Hainer melted unostentatiously into the darkness. While young Wickert was debating whether his pride would allow him to follow this prudent example, the subject of their over-frank discussion appeared at his elbow. Evidently he was as light of foot as he was quick of ear. Meditating briefly upon these physical qualities, young Wickert said, in a deprecatory tone:
"We didn't mean to get fresh with you. It was just talk."
"Very interesting talk."
Wickert produced a suspiciously jeweled case. "Have a cigarette?"
"I have some of my own, thank you."
"Give you a light?"
The metropolitan worldling struck a match and held it up. This was on the order of strategy. He wished to see Banneker's face. To his relief it did not look angry or even stern. Rather, it appeared thoughtful. Banneker was considering impartially the matter of his apparel.
"What is the matter with my clothes?" he asked.
"Why--well," began Wickert, unhappy and fumbling with his ideas; "Oh, _they_'re all right."
"For a meeting of the Farmers' Alliance." Banneker was smiling good-naturedly. "But for the East?"
"Well, if you really want to know," began Wickert doubtfully. "If you won't get sore--" Banneker nodded his assurance. "Well, they're jay. No style. No snap. Respectable, and that lets 'em out."
"They don't look as if they were made in New York or for New York?"
Young Mr. Wickert apportioned his voice equitably between a laugh and a snort. "No: nor in Hoboken!" he retorted. "Listen, 'bo," he added, after a moment's thought. "You got to have a smooth shell in Nuh Yawk. The human eye only sees the surface. Get me? And it judges by the surface." He smoothed his hands down his dapper trunk with ineffable complacency. "Thirty-eight dollars, this. Bernholz Brothers, around on Broadway. Look it over. That's a cut!"
"Is that how they're making them in the East?" doubtfully asked the neophyte, reflecting that the pinched-in snugness of the coat, and the flare effect of the skirts, while unquestionably more impressive than his own box-like garb, still lacked something of the quiet distinction which he recalled in the clothes of Herbert Cressey. The thought of that willing messenger set him to groping for another sartorial name. He hardly heard Wickert say proudly:
"If Bernholz's makes 'em that way, you can bet it's up to the split-second of date, and _maybe_ they beat the pistol by a jump. I bluffed for a raise of five dollars, on the strength of this outfit, and got it off the bat. There's the suit paid for in two months and a pair of shoes over." He thrust out a leg, from below the sharp-pressed trouser-line of which protruded a boot trimmed in a sort of bizarre fretwork. "Like me to take you around to Bernholz's?"
Banneker shook his head. The name for which he sought had come to him. "Did you ever hear of Mertoun, somewhere on Fifth Avenue?"
"Yes. And I've seen Central Park and the Statue of Liberty," railed the other. "Thinkin' of patternizing Mertoun, was you?"
"Yes, I'd like to."
"Like to! There's a party at the Astorbilt's to-morrow night; you'd _like_ to go to that, wouldn't you? Fat chance!" said the disdainful and seasoned cit. "D'you know what Mertoun would do to you? Set you back a hundred simoleons soon as look at you. And at that you got to have a letter of introduction like gettin' in to see the President of the United States or John D. Rockefeller. Come off, my boy! Bernholz's 'll fix you just as good, all but the label. Better come around to-morrow."
"Much obliged, but I'm not buying yet. Where would you say a fellow would have a chance to see the best-dressed men?"
Young Mr. Wickert looked at once self-conscious and a trifle miffed, for in his own set he was regarded as quite the mould of fashion. "Oh, well, if you want to pipe off the guys that _think_ they're the whole thing, walk up the Avenue and watch the doors of the clubs and the swell restaurants. At that, they haven't got anything on some fellows that don't spend a quarter of the money, but know what's what and don't let grafters like Mertoun pull their legs," said he. "Say, you seem to know what you want, all right, all right," he added enviously. "You ain't goin' to let this little old town bluff you; ay?"
"No. Not for lack of a few clothes. Good-night," replied Banneker, leaving in young Wickert's mind the impression that he was "a queer gink," but also, on the whole, "a good guy." For the worldling was only small, not mean of spirit.
Banneker might have added that one who had once known cities and the hearts of men from the viewpoint of that modern incarnation of Ulysses, the hobo, contemptuous and predatory, was little likely to be overawed by the most teeming and headlong of human ant-heaps. Having joined the ant-heap, Banneker was shrewdly concerned with the problem of conforming to the best type of termite discoverable. The gibes of the doorstep chatterers had not aroused any new ambition; they had merely given point to a purpose deferred because of other and more immediate pressure. Already he had received from Camilla Van Arsdale a letter rich in suggestion, hint, and subtly indicated advice, with this one passage of frank counsel:
If I were writing, spinster-aunt-wise, to any one else in your position, I should be tempted to moralize and issue warnings about--well, about the things of the spirit. But you are equipped, there. Like the "Master," you will "go your own way with inevitable motion." With the outer man--that is different. You have never given much thought to that phase. And you have an asset in your personal appearance. I should not be telling you this if I thought there were danger of your becoming vain. But I really think it would be a good investment for you to put yourself into the hands of a first-class tailor, and follow his advice, in moderation, of course. Get the sense of being fittingly turned out by going where there are well-dressed people; to the opera, perhaps, and the theater occasionally, and, when you can afford it, to a good restaurant. Unless the world has changed, people will look at you. _But you must not know it_. Important, this is!... I could, of course, give you letters of introduction. "_Les morts vont vite_," it is true, and I am dead to that world, not wholly without the longings of a would-be _revenant_; but a ghost may still claim some privileges of memory, and my friends would be hospitable to you. Only, I strongly suspect that you would not use the letters if I gave them. You prefer to make your own start; isn't it so? Well; I have written to a few. Sooner or later you will meet with them. Those things always happen even in New York.... Be sure to write me all about the job when you get it--
Prudence dictated that he should be earning something before he invested in expensive apparel, be it never so desirable and important. However, he would outfit himself just as soon as a regular earning capacity justified his going into his carefully husbanded but dwindling savings. He pictured himself clad as a lily of the field, unconscious of perfection as Herbert Cressey himself, in the public haunts of fashion and ease; through which vision there rose the searing prospect of thus encountering Io Welland. What was her married name? He had not even asked when the news was broken to him; had not wanted to ask; was done with all that for all time.
He was still pathetically young and inexperienced. And he had been badly hurt.
Dust was the conspicuous attribute of the place. It lay, flat and toneless, upon the desk, the chairs, the floor; it streaked the walls. The semi-consumptive office "boy's" middle-aged shoulders collected it. It stirred in the wake of quiet-moving men, mostly under thirty-five, who entered the outer door, passed through the waiting-room, and disappeared behind a partition. Banneker felt like shaking himself lest he should be eventually buried under its impalpable sifting. Two hours and a half had passed since he had sent in his name on a slip of paper, to Mr. Gordon, managing editor of the paper. On the way across Park Row he had all but been persuaded by a lightning printer on the curb to have a dozen tasty and elegant visiting-cards struck off, for a quarter; but some vague inhibition of good taste checked him. Now he wondered if a card would have served better.
While he waited, he checked up the actuality of a metropolitan newspaper entrance-room, as contrasted with his notion of it, derived from motion pictures. Here was none of the bustle and hurry of the screen. No brisk and earnest young figures with tense eyes and protruding notebooks darted feverishly in and out; nor, in the course of his long wait, had he seen so much as one specimen of that invariable concomitant of all screen journalism, the long-haired poet with his flowing tie and neatly ribboned manuscript. Even the office "boy," lethargic, neutrally polite, busy writing on half-sheets of paper, was profoundly untrue to the pictured type. Banneker wondered what the managing editor would be like; would almost, in the wreckage of his preconceived notions, have accepted a woman or a priest in that manifestation, when Mr. Gordon appeared and was addressed by name by the hollow-chested Cerberus. Banneker at once echoed the name, rising.
The managing editor, a tall, heavy man, whose smoothly fitting cutaway coat seemed miraculously to have escaped the plague of dust, stared at him above heavy glasses.
"You want to see me?"
"Yes. I sent in my name."
"Did you? When?"
"At two-forty-seven, thirty," replied the visitor with railroad accuracy.
The look above the lowered glasses became slightly quizzical. "You're exact, at least. Patient, too. Good qualities for a newspaper man. That's what you are?"
"What I'm going to be," amended Banneker.
"There is no opening here at present."
"That's formula, isn't it?" asked the young man, smiling.
The other stared. "It is. But how do you know?"
"It's the tone, I suppose. I've had to use it a good deal myself, in railroading."
"Observant, as well as exact and patient. Come in. I'm sorry I misplaced your card. The name is--?"
"Banneker, E. Banneker."
Following the editor, he passed through a large, low-ceilinged room, filled with desk-tables, each bearing a heavy crystal ink-well full of a fluid of particularly virulent purple. A short figure, impassive as a Mongol, sat at a corner desk, gazing out over City Hall Park with a rapt gaze. Across from him a curiously trim and graceful man, with a strong touch of the Hibernian in his elongated jaw and humorous gray eyes, clipped the early evening editions with an effect of highly judicious selection. Only one person sat in all the long files of the work-tables, littered with copy-paper and disarranged newspapers; a dark young giant with the discouraged and hurt look of a boy kept in after school. All this Banneker took in while the managing editor was disposing, usually with a single penciled word or number, of a sheaf of telegraphic "queries" left upon his desk. Having finished, he swiveled in his chair, to face Banneker, and, as he spoke, kept bouncing the thin point of a letter-opener from the knuckles of his left hand. His hands were fat and nervous.
"So you want to do newspaper work?"
"I think I can make a go of it."
"None to speak of. I've written a few things. I thought you might remember my name."
"Your name? Banneker? No. Why should I?"
"You published some of my things in the Sunday edition, lately. From Manzanita, California."
"No. I don't think so. Mr. Homans." A graying man with the gait of a marionnette and the precise expression of a rocking-horse, who had just entered, crossed over. "Have we sent out any checks to a Mr. Banneker recently, in California?"
The new arrival, who was copy-reader and editorial selecter for the Sunday edition, repeated the name in just such a wooden voice as was to be expected. "No," he said positively.
"But I've cashed the checks," returned Banneker, annoyed and bewildered. "And I've seen the clipping of the article in the Sunday Sphere of--"
"Just a moment. You're not in The Sphere office. Did you think you were? Some one has directed you wrong. This is The Ledger."
"Oh!" said Banneker. "It was a policeman that pointed it out. I suppose I saw wrong." He paused; then looked up ingenuously. "But, anyway, I'd rather be on The Ledger."
Mr. Gordon smiled broadly, the thin blade poised over a plump, reddened knuckle.
"Would you! Now, why?"
"I've been reading it. I like the way it does things."
The editor laughed outright. "If you didn't look so honest, I would think that somebody of experience had been tutoring you. How many other places have you tried?"
"You were going to The Sphere first? On the promise of a job?"
"No. Because they printed what I wrote."
"The Sphere's ways are not our ways," pronounced Mr. Gordon primly. "It's a fundamental difference in standards."
"I can see that."
"Oh, you can, can you?" chuckled the other. "But it's true that we have no opening here."
(The Ledger never did have an "opening"; but it managed to wedge in a goodly number of neophytes, from year to year, ninety per cent of whom were automatically and courteously ejected after due trial. Mr. Gordon performed a surpassing rataplan upon his long-suffering thumb-joint and wondered if this queer and direct being might qualify among the redeemable ten per cent.)
"I can wait." (They often said that.) "For a while," added the youth thoughtfully.
"How long have you been in New York?"
"And what have you been doing?"
"No! Reading--That's rather surprising. All of them?"
"All that I could manage."
"Some were so bad that you couldn't worry through them, eh?" asked the other with appreciation.
"Not that. But I didn't know the foreign languages except French, and Spanish, and a little Italian."
"The foreign-language press, too. Remarkable!" murmured the other. "Do you mind telling me what your idea was?"
"It was simple enough. As I wanted to get on a newspaper, I thought I ought to find out what newspapers were made of."
"Simple, as you say. Beautifully simple! So you've devised for yourself the little job of perfecting yourself in every department of journalism; politics, finances, criminal, sports, society; all of them, eh?"
"No; not all," replied Banneker.
"Not? What have you left out?"
"Society news" was the answer, delivered less promptly than the other replies.
Bestowing a twinkle of mingled amusement and conjecture upon the applicant's clothing, Mr. Gordon said:
"You don't approve of our social records? Or you're not interested? Or why is it that you neglect this popular branch?"
This reply, which took the managing editor somewhat aback, was accurate if not explanatory. Miss Van Arsdale's commentaries upon Gardner and his quest had inspired Banneker with a contemptuous distaste for this type of journalism. But chiefly he had shunned the society columns from dread of finding there some mention of her who had been Io Welland. He was resolved to conquer and evict that memory; he would not consciously put himself in the way of anything that recalled it.
"Hum! And this notion of making an intensive study of the papers; was that original with you?"
"Well, no, not entirely. I got it from a man who made himself a bank president in seven years."
"Yes? How did he do that?"
"He started by reading everything he could find about money and coinage and stocks and bonds and other financial paper. He told me that it was incredible the things that financial experts didn't know about their own business--the deep-down things--and that he guessed it was so with any business. He got on top by really knowing the things that everybody was supposed to know."
"A sound theory, I dare say. Most financiers aren't so revealing."
"He and I were padding the hoof together. We were both hoboes then."
The managing editor looked up, alert, from his knuckle-tapping. "From bank president to hobo. Was his bank an important one?"
"The biggest in a medium-sized city."
"And does that suggest nothing to you, as a prospective newspaper man?"
"What? Write him up?"
"It would make a fairly sensational story."
"I couldn't do that. He was my friend. He wouldn't like it."
Mr. Gordon addressed his wedding-ring finger which was looking a bit scarified. "Such an article as that, properly done, would go a long way toward getting you a chance on this paper--Sit down, Mr. Banneker."
"You and I," said Banneker slowly and in the manner of the West, "can't deal."
"Yes, we can." The managing editor threw his steel blade on the desk. "Sit down, I tell you. And understand this. If you come on this paper--I'm going to turn you over to Mr. Greenough, the city editor, with a request that he give you a trial--you'll be expected to subordinate every personal interest and advantage to the interests and advantages of the paper, _except_ your sense of honor and fair-play. We don't ask you to give that up; and if you do give it up, we don't want you at all. What have you done besides be a hobo?"
"Where were you educated?"
"Nowhere. Wherever I could pick it up."
"Which means everywhere. Ever read George Borrow?"
The heavy face of Mr. Gordon lighted up. "Ree-markable! Keep on. He's a good offset to--to the daily papers. Writing still counts, on The Ledger. Come over and meet Mr. Greenough."
The city editor unobtrusively studied Banneker out of placid, inscrutable eyes, soft as a dove's, while he chatted at large about theaters, politics, the news of the day. Afterward the applicant met the Celtic assistant, Mr. Mallory, who broadly outlined for him the technique of the office. With no further preliminaries Banneker found himself employed at fifteen dollars a week, with Monday for his day off and directions to report on the first of the month.
As the day-desk staff was about departing at six o'clock, Mr. Gordon sauntered over to the city desk looking mildly apologetic.
"I practically had to take that young desert antelope on," said he.
"Too ingenuous to turn down," surmised the city editor.
"Ingenuous! He's heir to the wisdom of the ages. And now I'm afraid I've made a ghastly mistake."
"Something wrong with him?"
"I've had his stuff in the Sunday Sphere looked up."
"Pretty weird?" put in Mallory, gliding into his beautifully fitting overcoat.
"So damned good that I don't see how The Sphere ever came to take it. Greenough, you'll have to find some pretext for firing that young phenomenon as soon as possible."
Perfectly comprehending his superior's mode of indirect expression the city editor replied:
"You think so highly of him as that?"
"Not one of our jobs will be safe from him if he once gets his foot planted," prophesied the other with mock ruefulness. "Do you know," he added, "I never even asked him for a reference."
"You don't need to," pronounced Mallory, shaking the last wrinkle out of himself and lighting the cigarette of departure. "He's got it in his face, if I'm any judge."
Highly elate, Banneker walked on springy pavements all the way to Grove Street. Fifteen a week! He could live on that. His other income and savings could be devoted to carrying out Miss Camilla's advice. For he need not save any more. He would go ahead, fast, now that he had got his start. How easy it had been.
Entering the Brashear door, he met plain, middle-aged little Miss Westlake. A muffler was pressed to her jaw. He recalled having heard her moving about her room, the cheapest and least desirable in the house, and groaning softly late in the night; also having heard some lodgers say that she was a typist with very little work. Obviously she needed a dentist, and presumably she had not the money to pay his fee. In the exultation of his good luck, Banneker felt a stir of helpfulness toward this helpless person.
"Oh!" said he. "How do you do! Could you find time to do some typing for me quite soon?"
It was said impulsively and was followed by a surge of dismay. Typing? Type what? He had absolutely nothing on hand!
Well, he must get up something. At once. It would never do to disappoint that pathetic and eager hope, as of a last-moment rescue, expressed in the little spinster's quick flush and breathless, thankful affirmative.
Ten days' leeway before entering upon the new work. To which of scores of crowding purposes could Banneker best put the time? In his offhand way the instructive Mallory had suggested that he familiarize himself with the topography and travel-routes of the Island of Manhattan. Indefatigably he set about doing this; wandering from water-front to water-front, invading tenements, eating at queer, Englishless restaurants, picking up chance acquaintance with chauffeurs, peddlers, street-fakers, park-bench loiterers; all that drifting and iridescent scum of life which variegates the surface above the depths. Everywhere he was accepted without question, for his old experience on the hoof had given him the uncoded password which loosens the speech of furtive men and wise. A receptivity, sensitized to a high degree by the inspiration of new adventure, absorbed these impressions. The faithful pocket-ledger was filling rapidly with notes and phrases, brisk and trenchant, set down with no specific purpose; almost mechanically, in fact, but destined to future uses. Mallory, himself no mean connoisseur of the tumultuous and flagrant city, would perhaps have found matter foreign to his expert apprehension could he have seen and translated the pages of 3 T 9901.
Banneker would go forward in the fascinating paths of exploration; but there were other considerations.
The outer man, for example. The inner man, too; the conscious inner man strengthened upon the strong milk of the philosophers, the priests, and the prophets so strangely mingled in that library now stored with Camilla Van Arsdale; exhilarated by the honey-dew of "The Undying Voices," of Keats and Shelley, and of Swinburne's supernal rhythms, which he had brought with him. One visit to the Public Library had quite appalled him; the vast, chill orderliness of it. He had gone there, hungry to chat about books! To the Public Library! Surely a Homeric joke for grim, tomish officialdom. But tomish officialdom had not even laughed at him; it was too official to appreciate the quality of such side-splitting innocence.... Was he likely to meet a like irresponsiveness when he should seek clothing for the body?
Watch the clubs, young Wickert had advised. Banneker strolled up Fifth Avenue, branching off here and there, into the more promising side streets.
It was the hour of the First Thirst; the institutions which cater to this and subsequent thirsts drew steadily from the main stream of human activity flowing past. Many gloriously clad specimens passed in and out of the portals, socially sacred as in the quiet Fifth Avenue clubs, profane as in the roaring, taxi-bordered "athletic" foundations; but there seemed to the anxious observer no keynote, no homogeneous character wherefrom to build as on a sure foundation. Lacking knowledge, his instinct could find no starting-point; he was bewildered in vision and in mind. Just off the corner of the quietest of the Forties, he met a group of four young men, walking compactly by twos. The one nearest him in the second line was Herbert Cressey. His heavy and rather dull eye seemed to meet Banneker's as they came abreast. Banneker nodded, half checking himself in his slow walk.
"How are you?" he said with an accent of surprise and pleasure.
Cressey's expressionless face turned a little. There was no response in kind to Banneker's smile.
"Oh! H'ware you!" said he vaguely, and passed on.
Banneker advanced mechanically until he reached the corner. There he stopped. His color had heightened. The smile was still on his lips; it had altered, taken on a quality of gameness. He did not shake his fist at the embodied spirit of metropolitanism before him, as had a famous Gallic precursor of his, also a determined seeker for Success in a lesser sphere; but he paraphrased Rastignac's threat in his own terms.
"I reckon I'll have to lick this town and lick it good before it learns to be friendly."
A hand fell on his arm. He turned to face Cressey.
"You're the feller that bossed the wreck out there in the desert, aren't you? You're--lessee--Banneker."
"I am." The tone was curt.
"Awfully sorry I didn't spot you at once." Cressey's genuineness was a sufficient apology. "I'm a little stuffy to-day. Bachelor dinner last night. What are you doing here? Looking around?"
"No. I'm living here."
"That so? So am I. Come into my club and let's talk. I'm glad to see you, Mr. Banneker."
Even had Banneker been prone to self-consciousness, which he was not, the extreme, almost monastic plainness of the small, neutral-fronted building to which the other led him would have set him at ease. It gave no inkling of its unique exclusiveness, and equally unique expensiveness. As for Cressey, that simple, direct, and confident soul took not the smallest account of Banneker's standardized clothing, which made him almost as conspicuous in that environment as if he had entered clad in a wooden packing-case. Cressey's creed in such matters was complete; any friend of his was good enough for any environment to which he might introduce him, and any other friend who took exceptions might go farther!
"Banzai!" said the cheerful host over his cocktail. "Welcome to our city. Hope you like it."
"I do," said Banneker, lifting his glass in response.
"Where are you living?"
Cressey knit his brows. "Where's that? Harlem?"
"No. Over west of Sixth Avenue."
"Queer kind of place to live, ain't it? There's a corkin' little suite vacant over at the Regalton. Cheap at the money. Oh!-er-I-er-maybe--"
"Yes; that's it," smiled Banneker. "The treasury isn't up to bachelor suites, yet awhile. I've only just got a job."
"What is it?"
"Newspaper work. The Morning Ledger."
"Reporting?" A dubious expression clouded the candid cheerfulness of the other's face.
"Yes. What's the matter with that?"
"Oh; I dunno. It's a piffling sort of job, ain't it?"
"Piffling? How do you mean?"
"Well, I supposed you had to ask a lot of questions and pry into other people's business and--and all that sorta thing."
"If nobody asked questions," pointed out Banneker, remembering Gardner's resolute devotion to his professional ideals, "there wouldn't be any news, would there?"
"Sure! That's right," agreed the gilded youth. "The Ledger's the decentest paper in town, too. It's a gentleman's paper. I know a feller on it; Guy Mallory; was in my class at college. Give you a letter to him if you like."
Informed that Banneker already knew Mr. Mallory, his host expressed the hope of being useful to him in any other possible manner--"any tips I can give you or anything of that sort, old chap?"--so heartily that the newcomer broached the subject of clothes.
"Nothin' easier," was the ready response. "I'll take you right down to Mertoun. Just one more and we're off."
The one more having been disposed of: "What is it you want?" inquired Cressey, when they were settled in the taxi which was waiting at the club door for them.
"Well, what _do_ I want? You tell me."
"How far do you want to go? Will five hundred be too much?"
Cressey lost himself in mental calculations out of which he presently delivered himself to this effect:
"Evening clothes, of course. And a dinner-jacket suit. Two business suits, a light and a dark. You won't need a morning coat, I expect, for a while. Anyway, we've got to save somethin' out for shirts and boots, haven't we?"
"I haven't the money with me" remarked Banneker, his innocent mind on the cash-with-order policy of Sears-Roebuck.
"Now, see here," said Cressey, good-humoredly, yet with an effect of authority. "This is a game that's got to be played according to the rules. Why, if you put down spot cash before Mertoun's eyes he'd faint from surprise, and when he came to, he'd have no respect for you. And a tailor's respect for you," continued Cressey, the sage, "shows in your togs."
"When do I pay, then?"
"Oh, in three or four months he sends around a bill. That's more of a reminder to come in and order your fall outfit than it is anything else. But you can send him a check on account, if you feel like it."
"A check?" repeated the neophyte blankly. "Must I have a bank account?"
"Safer than a sock, my boy. And just as simple. To-morrow will do for that, when we call on the shirt-makers and the shoe sharps. I'll put you in my bank; they'll take you on for five hundred."
Arrived at Mertoun's, Banneker unobtrusively but positively developed a taste of his own in the matter of hue and pattern; one, too, which commanded Cressey's respect. The gilded youth's judgment tended toward the more pronounced herringbones and homespuns.
"All right for you, who can change seven days in the week; but I've got to live with these clothes, day in and day out," argued Banneker.
To which Cressey deferred, though with a sigh. "You could carry off those sporty things as if they were woven to order for you," he declared. "You've got the figure, the carriage, the--the whatever-the-devil it is, for it."
Prospectively poorer by something more than four hundred dollars, Banneker emerged from Mertoun's with his mentor.
"Gotta get home and dress for a rotten dinner," announced that gentleman cheerfully. "Duck in here with me," he invited, indicating a sumptuous bar, near the tailor's, "and get another little kick in the stomach. No? Oh, verrawell. Where are you for?"
"The Public Library."
"Gawd!" said his companion, honestly shocked. "That's a gloomy hole, ain't it?"
"Not so bad, when you get used to it. I've been putting in three hours a day there lately."
"Oh, browsing. Book-hungry, I suppose. Carnegie hasn't discovered Manzanita yet, you know; so I haven't had many library opportunities."
"Speaking of Manzanita," remarked Cressey, and spoke of it, reminiscently and at length, as they walked along together. "Did the lovely and mysterious I.O.W. ever turn up and report herself?"
Banneker's breath caught painfully in his throat.
"D'you know who she was?" pursued the other, without pause for reply to his previous question; and still without intermission continued: "Io Welland. _That_'s who she was. Oh, but she's a hummer! I've met her since. Married, you know. Quick work, that marriage. There was a dam' queer story whispered around about her starting to elope with some other chap, and his going nearly batty because she didn't turn up, and all the time she was wandering around in the desert until somebody picked her up and took care of her. You ought to know something of that. It was supposed to be right in your back-yard."
"I?" said Banneker, commanding himself with an effort; "Miss Welland reported in with a slight injury. That's all."
One glance at him told Cressey that Banneker did indeed "know something" of the mysterious disappearance which had so exercised a legion of busy tongues in New York; how much that something might be, he preserved for future and private speculation, based on the astounding perception that Banneker was in real pain of soul. Tact inspired Cressey to say at once: "Of course, that's all you had to consider. By the way, you haven't seen my revered uncle since you got here, have you?"
"Mr. Vanney? No."
"Better drop in on him."
"He might try to give me another yellow-back," smiled the ex-agent.
"Don't take Uncle Van for a fool. Once is plenty for him to be hit on the nose."
"Has he still got a green whisker?"
"Go and see. He's asked about you two or three times in the last coupla months."
"But I've no errand with him."
"How can you tell? He might start something for you. It isn't often that he keeps a man in mind like he has you. Anyway, he's a wise old bird and may hand you a pointer or two about what's what in New York. Shall I 'phone him you're in town?"
"Yes. I'll get in to see him some time to-morrow."
Having made an appointment, in the vital matter of shirts and shoes, for the morning, they parted. Banneker set to his browsing in the library until hunger drove him forth. After dinner he returned to his room, cumbered with the accumulation of evening papers, for study.
Beyond the thin partition he could hear Miss Westlake moving about and humming happily to herself. The sound struck dismay to his soul. The prospect of work from him was doubtless the insecure foundation of that cheerfulness. "Soon" he had said; the implication was that the matter was pressing. Probably she was counting on it for the morrow. Well, he must furnish something, anything, to feed the maw of her hungry typewriter; to fulfill that wistful hope which had sprung in her eyes when he spoke to her.
Sweeping his table bare of the lore and lure of journalism as typified in the bulky, black-faced editions, he set out clean paper, cleansed his fountain pen, and stared at the ceiling. What should he write about? His mental retina teemed with impressions. But they were confused, unresolved, distorted for all that he knew, since he lacked experience and knowledge of the environment, and therefore perspective. Groping, he recalled a saying of Gardner's as that wearied enthusiast descanted upon the glories of past great names in metropolitan journalism.
"They used to say of Julian Ralph that he was always discovering City Hall Park and getting excited over it; and when he got excited enough, he wrote about it so that the public just ate it up."
Well, he, Banneker, hadn't discovered City Hall Park; not consciously. But he had gleaned wonder and delight from other and more remote spots, and now one of them began to stand forth upon the blank ceiling at which he stared, seeking guidance. A crowded corner of Essex Street, stewing in the hard sunshine. The teeming, shrill crowd. The stench and gleam of a fish-stall offering bargains. The eager games of the children, snatched between onsets of imminent peril as cart or truck came whirling through and scattering the players. Finally the episode of the trade fracas over the remains of a small and dubious weakfish, terminating when the dissatisfied customer cast the delicacy at the head of the stall-man and missed him, the _corpus delicti_ falling into the gutter where it was at once appropriated and rapt away by an incredulous, delighted, and mangy cat. A crude, commonplace, malodorous little street row, the sort of thing that happens, in varying phases, on a dozen East-Side corners seven days in the week.
Banneker approached and treated the matter from the viewpoint of the cat, predatory, philosophic, ecstatic. One o'clock in the morning saw the final revision, for he had become enthralled with the handling of his subject. It was only a scant five pages; less than a thousand words. But as he wrote and rewrote, other schemata rose to the surface of his consciousness, and he made brief notes of them on random ends of paper; half a dozen of them, one crowding upon another. Some day, perhaps, when there were enough of them, when he had become known, had achieved the distinction of a signature like Gardner, there might be a real series.... His vague expectancies were dimmed in weariness.
Such was the genesis of the "Local Vagrancies" which later were to set Park Row speculating upon the signature "Eban."
Accessibility was one of Mr. Horace Vanney's fads. He aspired to be a publicist, while sharing fallible humanity's ignorance of just what the vague and imposing term signifies; and, as a publicist, he conceived it in character to be readily available to the public. Almost anybody could get to see Mr. Vanney in his tasteful and dignified lower Broadway offices, upon almost any reasonable or plausible errand. Especially was he hospitable to the newspaper world, the agents of publicity; and, such is the ingratitude of the fallen soul of man, every newspaper office in the city fully comprehended his attitude, made use of him as convenient, and professionally regarded him as a bit of a joke, albeit a useful and amiable joke. Of this he had no inkling. Enough for him that he was frequently, even habitually quoted, upon a wide range of windy topics, often with his picture appended.
With far less difficulty than he had found in winning the notice of Mr. Gordon, Banneker attained the sanctum of the capitalist.
"Well, well!" was the important man's greeting as he shook hands. "Our young friend from the desert! How do we find New York?"
From Banneker's reply, there grew out a pleasantly purposeless conversation, which afforded the newcomer opportunity to decide that he did not like this Mr. Vanney, sleek, smiling, gentle, and courteous, as well as he had the brusque old tyrant of the wreck. That green-whiskered autocrat had been at least natural, direct, and unselfish in his grim emergency work. This manifestation seemed wary, cautious, on its guard to defend itself against some probable tax upon its good nature. All this unconscious, instinctive reckoning of the other man's characteristics gave to the young fellow an effect of poise, of judicious balance and quiet confidence. It was one of Banneker's elements of strength, which subsequently won for him his unique place, that he was always too much interested in estimating the man to whom he was talking, to consider even what the other might think of him. It was at once a form of egoism, and the total negation of egotism. It made him the least self-conscious of human beings. And old Horace Vanney, pompous, vain, the most self-conscious of his genus, felt, though he could not analyze, the charm of it.
A chance word indicated that Banneker was already "placed." At once, though almost insensibly, the attitude of Mr. Vanney eased; obviously there was no fear of his being "boned" for a job. At the same time he experienced a mild misgiving lest he might be forfeiting the services of one who could be really useful to him. Banneker's energy and decisiveness at the wreck had made a definite impression upon him. But there was the matter of the rejected hundred-dollar tip. Unpliant, evidently, this young fellow. Probably it was just as well that he should be broken in to life and new standards elsewhere than in the Vanney interests. Later, if he developed, watchfulness might show it to be worth while to....
"What is it that you have in mind, my boy?" inquired the benign Mr. Vanney.
"I start in on The Ledger next month."
"The Ledger! Indeed! I did not know that you had any journalistic experience."
"Well. Er--hum! Journalism, eh? A--er--brilliant profession!"
"You think well of it?"
"I have many friends among the journalists. Fine fellows! Very fine fellows."
The instinctive tone of patronage was not lost upon Banneker. He felt annoyed at Mr. Vanney. Unreasonably annoyed. "What's the matter with journalism?" he asked bluntly.
"The matter?" Mr. Vanney was blandly surprised. "Haven't I just said--"
"Yes; you have. Would you let your son go into a newspaper office?"
"My son? My son chose the profession of law."
"But if he had wanted to be a journalist?"
"Journalism does not perhaps offer the same opportunities for personal advancement as some other lines," said the financier cautiously.
"Why shouldn't it?"
"It is largely anonymous." Mr. Vanney gave the impression of feeling carefully for his words. "One may go far in journalism and yet be comparatively unknown to the public. Still, he might be of great usefulness," added the sage, brightening, "very great usefulness. A sound, conservative, self-respecting newspaper such as The Ledger, is a public benefactor."
"And the editor of it?"
"That's right, my boy," approved the other. "Aim high! Aim high! The great prizes in journalism are few. They are, in any line of endeavor. And the apprenticeship is hard."
Herbert Cressey's clumsy but involuntary protest reasserted itself in Banneker's mind. "I wish you would tell me frankly, Mr. Vanney, whether reporting is considered undignified and that sort of thing?"
"Reporters can be a nuisance," replied Mr. Vanney fervently. "But they can also be very useful."
"But on the whole--"
"On the whole it is a necessary apprenticeship. Very suitable for a young man. Not a final career, in my judgment."
"A reporter on The Ledger, then, is nothing but a reporter on The Ledger."
"Isn't that enough, for a start?" smiled the other. "The station-agent at--what was the name of your station? Yes, Manzanita. The station-agent at Manzanita--"
"Was E. Banneker," interposed the owner of that name positively. "A small puddle, but the inhabitant was an individual toad, at least. To keep one's individuality in New York isn't so easy, of course."
"There are quite a number of people in New York," pointed out the philosopher, Vanney. "Mostly crowd."
"Yes," said Banneker. "You've told me something about the newspaper business that I wanted to know." He rose.
The other put out an arresting hand. "Wouldn't you like to do a little reporting for me, before you take up your regular work?"
"What kind of reporting?"
"Quite simple. A manufacturing concern in which I own a considerable interest has a strike on its hands. Suppose you go down to Sippiac, New Jersey, where our factories are, spend three or four days, and report back to me your impressions and any ideas you may gather as to improving our organization for furthering our interests."
"What makes you think that I could be useful in that line?" asked Banneker curiously.
"My observations at the Manzanita wreck. You have, I believe, a knack for handling a situation."
"I can always try," accepted Banneker.
Supplied with letters to the officials of the International Cloth Company, and a liberal sum for expenses, the neophyte went to Sippiac. There he visited the strongly guarded mills, still making a feeble pretense of operating, talked with the harassed officials, the gang-boss of the strike-breakers, the "private guards," who had, in fact, practically assumed dominant police authority in the place; all of which was faithful to the programme arranged by Mr. Vanney. Having done so much, he undertook to obtain a view of the strike from the other side; visited the wretched tenements of the laborers, sought out the sullen and distrustful strike-leaders, heard much fiery oratory and some veiled threats from impassioned agitators, mostly foreign and all tragically earnest; chatted with corner grocerymen, saloon-keepers, ward politicians, composing his mental picture of a strike in a minor city, absolutely controlled, industrially, politically, and socially by the industry which had made it. The town, as he came to conceive it, was a fevered and struggling gnome, bound to a wheel which ground for others; a gnome who, if he broke his bonds, would be perhaps only the worse for his freedom. At the beginning of the sixth day, for his stay had outgrown its original plan, the pocket-ledger, 3 T 9901, was but little the richer, but the mind of its owner teemed with impressions.
It was his purpose to take those impressions in person to Mr. Horace Vanney, by the 10 A.M. train. Arriving at the station early, he was surprised at being held up momentarily by a line of guards engaged in blocking off a mob of wailing, jabbering women, many of whom had children in their arms, or at their skirts. He asked the ticket-agent, a big, pasty young man about them.
"Mill workers," said the agent, making change.
"What are they after?"
"Wanta get to the 10.10 train."
"And the guards are stopping them?"
"You can use your eyes, cantcha?"
Using his eyes, Banneker considered the position. "Are those fellows on railroad property?"
"What is it to you whether they are or ain't?"
Banneker explained his former occupation. "That's different," said the agent. "Come inside. That's a hell of a mess, ain't it!" he added plaintively as Banneker complied. "Some of those poor Hunkies have got their tickets and can't use 'em."
"I'd see that they got their train, if this was my station," asserted Banneker.
"Yes, you would! With that gang of strong-arms against you."
"Chase 'em," advised Banneker simply. "They've got no right keeping your passengers off your trains."
"Chase 'em, ay? You'd do it, I suppose."
"You've got a gun, haven't you?"
"Maybe you think those guys haven't got guns, too."
"Well, all I can say is, that if there had been passengers held up from their trains at my station and I didn't get them through, _I_'d have been through so far as the Atkinson and St. Philip goes."
"This railroad's different. I'd be through if I butted in on this mill row."
"Well, for one thing, old Vanney, who's the real boss here, is a director of the road."
"So _that_'s it!" Banneker digested this information. "Why are the women so anxious to get away?"
"They say"--the local agent lowered his voice--"their children are starving here, and they can get better jobs in other places. Naturally the mills don't want to lose a lot of their hands, particularly the women, because they're the cheapest. I don't know as I blame 'em for that. But this business of hiring a bunch of ex-cons and--Hey! Where are you goin'?"
Banneker was beyond the door before the query was completed. Looking out of the window, the agent saw a fat and fussy young mother, who had contrived to get through the line, waddling at her best speed across the open toward the station, and dragging a small boy by the hand. A lank giant from the guards' ranks was after her. Screaming, she turned the corner out of his vision. There were sounds which suggested a row at the station-door, but the agent, called at that moment to the wire, could not investigate. The train came and went, and he saw nothing more of the ex-railroader from the West.
Although Mr. Horace Vanney smiled pleasantly enough when Banneker presented himself at the office to make his report, the nature of the smile suggested a background more uncertain.
"Well, what have you found, my boy?" the financier began.
"A good many things that ought to be changed," answered Banneker bluntly.
"Quite probably. No institution is perfect."
"The mills are pretty rotten. You pay your people too little--"
"Where do you get that idea?"
"From the way they live."
"My dear boy; if we paid them twice as much, they'd live the same way. The surplus would go to the saloons."
"Then why not wipe out the saloons?"
"I am not the Common Council of Sippiac," returned Mr. Vanney dryly.
"Aren't you?" retorted Banneker even more dryly.
The other frowned. "What else?"
"Well; the housing. You own a good many of the tenements, don't you?"
"The company owns some."
"They're filthy holes."
"They are what the tenants make them."
"The tenants didn't build them with lightless hallways, did they?"
"They needn't live there if they don't like them. Have you spent all your time, for which I am paying, nosing about like a cheap magazine muckraker?" It was clear that Mr. Vanney was annoyed.
"I've been trying to find out what is wrong with Sippiac. I thought you wanted facts."
"Precisely. Facts. Not sentimental gushings."
"Well, there are your guards. There isn't much sentiment about them. I saw one of them smash a woman in the face, and knock her down, while she was trying to catch a train and get out of town."
"And what did you do?"
"I don't know exactly how much. But I hope enough to land him in the hospital. They pulled me off too soon."
"Do you know that you would have been killed if it hadn't been for some of the factory staff who saved you from the other guards--as you deserved, for your foolhardiness?"
The young man's eyebrows went up a bit. "Don't bank too much on my foolhardiness. I had a wall back of me. And there would have been material for several funerals before they got me." He touched his hip-pocket. "By the way, you seem to be well informed."
"I've been in 'phone communication with Sippiac since the regrettable occurrence. It perhaps didn't occur to you to find out that the woman, who is now under arrest, bit the guard very severely."
"Of course! Just like the rabbit bit the bulldog. You've got a lot of thugs and strong-arm men doing your dirty work, that ought to be in jail. If the newspapers here ever get onto the situation, it would make pretty rough reading for you, Mr. Vanney."
The magnate looked at him with contemptuous amusement. "No newspaper of decent standing prints that kind of socialistic stuff, my young friend."
"Why not! Because of my position. Because the International Cloth Company is a powerful institution of the most reputable standing, with many lines of influence."
"And that is enough to keep the newspapers from printing an article about conditions in Sippiac?" asked Banneker, deeply interested in this phase of the question. "Is that the fact?"
It was not the fact; The Sphere, for one, would have handled the strike on the basis of news interest, as Mr. Vanney well knew; wherefore he hated and pretended to despise The Sphere. But for his own purposes he answered:
"Not a paper in New York would touch it. Except," he added negligently, "perhaps some lying, Socialist sheet. And let me warn you, Mr. Banneker," he pursued in his suavest tone, "that you will find no place for your peculiar ideas on The Ledger. In fact, I doubt whether you will be doing well either by them or by yourself in going on their staff, holding such views as you do."
"Do you? Then I'll tell them beforehand."
Mr. Vanney privately reflected that there was no need of this: _he_ intended to call up the editor-in-chief and suggest the unsuitability of the candidate for a place, however humble, on the staff of a highly respectable and suitably respectful daily.
Which he did. The message was passed on to Mr. Gordon, and, in his large and tolerant soul, decently interred. One thing of which the managing editor of The Ledger was not tolerant was interference from without in his department.
Before allowing his man to leave, Mr. Vanney read him a long and well-meant homily, full of warning and wisdom, and was both annoyed and disheartened when, at the end of it, Banneker remarked:
"I'll dare you to take a car and spend twenty-four hours going about Sippiac with me. If you stand for your system after that, I'll pay for the car."
To which the other replied sadly that Banneker had in some manner acquired a false and distorted view of industrial relations.
Therein, for once in an existence guided almost exclusively by prejudice, Horace Vanney was right. At the outset of a new career to which he was attuning his mind, Banneker had been injected into a situation typical of all that is worst in American industrial life, a local manufacturing enterprise grown rich upon the labor of underpaid foreigners, through the practice of all the vicious, lawless, and insidious methods of an ingrown autocracy, and had believed it to be fairly representative. Had not Horace Vanney, doubtless genuine in his belief, told him as much?
"We're as fair and careful with our employees as any of our competitors."
As a matter of fact there were, even then, scores of manufacturing plants within easy distance of New York, representing broad and generous policies and conducted on a progressive and humanistic labor system. Had Banneker had his first insight into local industrial conditions through one of these, he might readily have been prejudiced in favor of capital. As it was, swallowing Vanney's statement as true, he mistook an evil example as a fair indication of the general status. Then and there he became a zealous protagonist of labor.
It had been Mr. Horace Vanney's shrewd design to show a budding journalist of promise on which side his self-interest lay. The weak spot in the plan was that Banneker did not seem to care!
Banneker's induction into journalism was unimpressive. They gave him a desk, an outfit of writing materials, a mail-box with his name on it, and eventually an assignment. Mr. Mallory presented him to several of the other "cubs" and two or three of the older and more important reporters. They were all quite amiable, obviously willing to be helpful, and they impressed the observant neophyte with that quiet and solid _esprit de corps_ which is based upon respect for work well performed in a common cause. He apprehended that The Ledger office was in some sort an institution.
None of his new acquaintances volunteered information as to the mechanism of his new job. Apparently he was expected to figure that out for himself. By nature reticent, and trained in an environment which still retained enough of frontier etiquette to make a scrupulous incuriosity the touchstone of good manners and perhaps the essence of self-preservation, Banneker asked no questions. He sat and waited.
One by one the other reporters were summoned by name to the city desk, and dispatched with a few brief words upon the various items of the news. Presently Banneker found himself alone, in the long files of desks. For an hour he sat there and for a second hour. It seemed a curious way in which to be earning fifteen dollars a week. He wondered whether he was expected to sit tight at his desk. Or had he the freedom of the office? Characteristically choosing the more active assumption, he found his way to the current newspaper files. They were like old friends.
"Mr. Banneker." An office boy was at his elbow. "Mr. Greenough wants you."
Conscious of a quickened pulse, and annoyed at himself because of it, the tyro advanced to receive his maiden assignment. The epochal event was embodied in the form of a small clipping from an evening paper, stating that a six-year-old boy had been fatally burned at a bonfire near the North River. Banneker, Mr. Greenough instructed him mildly, was to make inquiries of the police, of the boy's family, of the hospital, and of such witnesses as he could find.
Quick with interest he caught up his hat and hurried out. Death, in the sparsely populated country wherefrom he hailed, was a matter of inclusive local importance; he assumed the same of New York. Three intense hours he devoted to an item which any police reporter of six months' standing would have rounded up in a brace of formal inquiries, and hastened back, brimful of details for Mr. Greenough.
"Good! Good!" interpolated that blandly approving gentleman from time to time in the course of the narrative. "Write it, Mr. Banneker! write it."
"How much shall I write?"
"Just what is necessary to tell the news."
Behind the amiable smile which broadened without lighting up the sub-Mongol physiognomy of the city editor, Banneker suspected something. As he sat writing page after page, conscientiously setting forth every germane fact, the recollection of that speculative, estimating smile began to play over the sentences with a dire and blighting beam. Three fourths of the way through, the writer rose, went to the file-board and ran through a dozen newspapers. He was seeking a ratio, a perspective. He wished to determine how much, in a news sense, the death of the son of an obscure East-Side plasterer was worth. On his return he tore up all that he had written, and substituted a curt paragraph, without character or color, which he turned in. He had gauged the value of the tragedy accurately, in the light of his study of news files.
Greenough showed the paragraph (which failed to appear at all in the overcrowded paper of next morning) to Mr. Gordon.
"The new man doesn't start well," he remarked. "Too little imaginative interest."
"Isn't it knowledge rather than lack of interest?" suggested the managing editor.
"It may come to the same thing. If he knows too much to get really interested, he'll be a dull reporter."
"I doubt whether you'll find him dull," smiled Mr. Gordon. "But he may find his job dull. In that case, of course he'd better find another."
Indeed, that was the danger which, for weeks to follow, Banneker skirted. Police news, petty and formal, made up his day's work. Had he sought beneath the surface of it the underlying elements, and striven to express these, his matter as it came to the desk, however slight the technical news value might have been, would have afforded the watchful copy-readers, trained to that special selectiveness as only The Ledger could train its men, opportunity of judging what potentialities might lurk beneath the crudities of the "cub." But Banneker was not crude. He was careful. His sense of the relative importance of news, acquired by those weeks of intensive analysis before applying for his job, was too just to let him give free play to his pen. What was the use? The "story" wasn't worth the space.
Nevertheless, 3 T 9901, which Banneker was already too cognoscent to employ in his formal newsgathering (the notebook is anathema to the metropolitan reporter), was filling up with odd bits, which were being transferred, in the weary hours when the new man sat at his desk with nothing to do, to paper in the form of sketches for Miss Westlake's trustful and waiting typewriter. Nobody could say that Banneker was not industrious. Among his fellow reporters he soon acquired the melancholy reputation of one who was forever writing "special stuff," none of which ever "landed." It was chiefly because of his industry and reliability, rather than any fulfillment of the earlier promise of brilliant worth as shown in the Sunday Sphere articles, that he got his first raise to twenty dollars. It surprised rather than gratified him.
He went to Mr. Gordon about it. The managing editor was the kind of man with whom it is easy to talk straight talk.
"What's the matter with me?" asked Banneker.
Mr. Gordon played a thoughtful tattoo upon his fleshy knuckles with the letter-opener. "Nothing. Aren't you satisfied?"
"No. Are you?"
"You've had your raise, and fairly early. Unless you had been worth it, you wouldn't have had it."
"Am I doing what you expected of me?"
"Not exactly. But you're developing into a sure, reliable reporter."
"A routine man," commented Banneker.
"After all, the routine man is the backbone of the office." Mr. Gordon executed a fantasia on his thumb. "Would you care to try a desk job?" he asked, peering at Banneker over his glasses.
"I'd rather run a trolley car. There's more life in it."
"Do you _see_ life, in your work, Mr. Banneker?"
"See it? I feel it. Sometimes I think it's going to flatten me out like a steam-roller."
"Then why not write it?"
"It isn't news: not what I see."
"Perhaps not. Perhaps it's something else. But if it's there and we can get a gleam of it into the paper, we'll crowd news out to make a place for it. You haven't been reading The Ledger I'm afraid."
"Like a Bible."
"Not to good purpose, then. What do you think of Tommy Burt's stuff?"
"It's funny; some of it. But I couldn't do it to save my job."
"Nobody can do it but Burt, himself. Possibly you could learn something from it, though."
"Burt doesn't like it, himself. He told me it was all formula; that you could always get a laugh out of people about something they'd been taught to consider funny, like a red nose or a smashed hat. He's got a list of Sign Posts on the Road to Humor."
"The cynicism of twenty-eight," smiled the tolerant Mr. Gordon. "Don't let yourself be inoculated."
"Mr. Gordon," said Banneker doggedly; "I'm not doing the kind of work I expected to do here."
"You can hardly expect the star jobs until you've made yourself a star man."
Banneker flushed. "I'm not complaining of the way I've been treated. I've had a square enough deal. The trouble is with me. I want to know whether I ought to stick or quit."
"If you quit, what would you do?"
"I haven't a notion," replied the other with an indifference which testified to a superb, instinctive self-confidence. "Something."
"Do it here. I think you'll come along all right."
"But what's wrong with me?" persisted Banneker.
"Too much restraint. A rare fault. You haven't let yourself out." For a space he drummed and mused. Suddenly a knuckle cracked loudly. Mr. Gordon flinched and glared at it, startled as if it had offended him by interrupting a train of thought. "Here!" said he brusquely. "There's a Sewer-Cleaners' Association picnic to-morrow. They're going to put in half their day inspecting the Stimson Tunnel under the North River. Pretty idea; isn't it? Suppose I ask Mr. Greenough to send you out on the story. And I'd like a look at it when you turn it in."
Banneker worked hard on his report of the picnic; hard and self-consciously. Tommy Burt would, he knew, have made a "scream" of it, for tired business men to chuckle over on their way downtown. Pursuant to what he believed Mr. Gordon wanted, Banneker strove conscientiously to be funny with these human moles, who, having twelve hours of freedom for sunshine and air, elected to spend half of it in a hole bigger, deeper, and more oppressive than any to which their noisome job called them. The result was five painfully mangled sheets which presently went to the floor, torn in strips. After that Banneker reported the picnic as he saw, felt, and smelt it. It was a somber bit of writing, not without its subtleties and shrewd perceptions; quite unsuitable to the columns of The Ledger, in which it failed to appear. But Mr. Gordon read it twice. He advised Banneker not to be discouraged.
Banneker was deeply discouraged. He wanted to resign.
Perhaps he would nave resigned, if old Mynderse Verschoyle had not died at eight o'clock on the morning of the day when Banneker was the earliest man to report at the office. A picturesque character, old Mynderse, who had lived for forty-five years with his childless wife in the ancient house on West 10th Street, and for the final fifteen years had not addressed so much as a word to her. She had died three months before; and now he had followed, apparently, from what Banneker learned in an interview with the upset and therefore voluble secretary of the dead man, because, having no hatred left on which to center his life, he had nothing else to live for. Banneker wrote the story of that hatred, rigid, ceremonious, cherished like a rare virtue until it filled two lives; and he threw about it the atmosphere of the drear and divided old house. At the end, the sound of the laughter of children at play in the street.
The article appeared word for word as he had written it. That noon Tommy Burt, the funny man, drawing down his hundred-plus a week on space, came over and sat on Banneker's desk, and swung his legs and looked at him mournfully and said:
"You've broken through your shell at last."
"Did you like it?" asked Banneker.
"Like it! My God, if I could write like that! But what's the use! Never in the world."
"Oh, that's nonsense," returned Banneker, pleased. "Of course you can. But what's the rest of your 'if'?"
"I wouldn't be wasting my time here. The magazines for me."
"Is that better?"
"Depends on what you're after. For a man who wants to write, it's better, of course."
"Gives him a larger audience. No newspaper story is remembered overnight except by newspaper men. And they don't matter."
"Why don't they matter?" Banneker was surprised again, this time rather disagreeably.
"It's a little world. There isn't much substance to it. Take that Verschoyle stuff of yours; that's literature, that is! But you'll never hear of it again after next week. A few people here will remember it, and it'll help you to your next raise. But after you've got that, and, after that, your lift onto space, where are you?"
The abruptly confidential approach of Tommy Burt flattered Banneker with the sense that by that one achievement of the Verschoyle story he had attained a new status in the office. Later there came out from the inner sanctum where sat the Big Chief, distilling venom and wit in equal parts for the editorial page, a special word of approval. But this pleased the recipient less than the praise of his peers in the city room.
After that first talk, Burt came back to Banneker's desk from time to time, and once took him to dinner at "Katie's," the little German restaurant around the corner. Burt was given over to a restless and inoffensively egoistic pessimism.
"Look at me. I'm twenty-eight and making a good income. When I was twenty-three, I was making nearly as much. When I'm thirty-eight, where shall I be?"
"Can't you keep on making it?" asked Banneker.
"Doubtful. A fellow goes stale on the kind of stuff I do. And if I do keep on? Five to six thousand is fine now. It won't be so much ten years from now. That's the hell of this game; there's no real chance in it."
"What about the editing jobs?"
"Desk-work? Chain yourself by the leg, with a blue pencil in your hand to butcher better men's stuff? A managing editor, now, I'll grant you. He gets his twenty or twenty-five thousand if he doesn't die of overstrain, first. But there's only a few managing editors."
"There are more editorial writers."
"Hired pens. Dishing up other fellows' policies, whether you believe in 'em or not. No; I'm not of that profession, anyway." He specified the profession, a highly ancient and dishonorable one. Mr. Burt, in his gray moods, was neither discriminating nor quite just.
Banneker voiced the question which, at some point in his progress, every thoughtful follower of journalism must meet and solve as best he can. "When a man goes on a newspaper I suppose he more or less accepts that paper's standards, doesn't he?"
"More or less? To what extent?" countered the expert.
"I haven't figured that out, yet."
"Don't be in a hurry about it," advised the other with a gleam of malice. "The fellows that do figure it out to the end, and are honest enough about it, usually quit."
"You haven't quit."
"Perhaps I'm not honest enough or perhaps I'm too cowardly," retorted the gloomy Burt.
Banneker smiled. Though the other was nearly two years his senior, he felt immeasurably the elder. There is about the true reporter type an infinitely youthful quality; attractive and touching; the eternal juvenile, which, being once outgrown with its facile and evanescent enthusiasms, leaves the expert declining into the hack. Beside this prematurely weary example of a swift and precarious success, Banneker was mature of character and standard. Nevertheless, the seasoned journalist was steeped in knowledge which the tyro craved.
"What would you do," Banneker asked, "if you were sent out to write a story absolutely opposed to something you believed right; political, for instance?"
"I don't write politics. That's a specialty."
"Does he believe in everything The Ledger stands for?"
"Certainly. In office hours. For and in consideration of one hundred and twenty-five dollars weekly, duly and regularly paid."
"Outside of office hours, then."
"Ah; that's different. In Harlem where he lives, the Parson is quite a figure among the reform Democrats. The Ledger, as you know, is Republican; and anything in the way of reform is its favorite butt. So Gale spends his working day poking fun at his political friends and associates."
"Out West we'd call that kind of fellow a yellow pup."
"Well, don't call the Parson that; not to me," warned the other indignantly. "He's as square a man as you'll find on Park Row. Why, you were just saying, yourself, that a reporter is bound to accept his paper's standards when he takes the job."
"Then I suppose the answer is that a man ought to work only on a newspaper in whose policies he believes."
"Which policies? A newspaper has a hundred different ones about a hundred different things. Here in this office we're dead against the split infinitive and the Honest Laboring Man. We don't believe he's honest and we've got our grave doubts as to his laboring. Yet one of our editorial writers is an out-and-out Socialist and makes fiery speeches advising the proletariat to rise and grab the reins of government. But he'd rather split his own head than an infinitive."
"Does he write anti-labor editorials?" asked the bewildered Banneker.
"Not as bad as that. He confines himself to European politics and popular scientific matters. But, of course, wherever there is necessity for an expression of opinion, he's anti-socialist in his writing, as he's bound to be."
"Just a moment ago you were talking of hired pens. Now you seem to be defending that sort of thing. I don't understand your point of view."
"Don't you? Neither do I, I guess," admitted the expositor with great candor. "I can argue it either way and convince myself, so far as the other fellow's work is concerned. But not for my own."
"How do you figure it out for yourself, then?"
"I don't. I dodge. It's a kind of tacit arrangement between the desk and me. In minor matters I go with the paper. That's easy, because I agree with it in most questions of taste and the way of doing things. After all The Ledger _has_ got certain standards of professional conduct and of decent manners; it's a gentleman's paper. The other things, the things where my beliefs conflict with the paper's standards, political or ethical, don't come my way. You see, I'm a specialist; I do mostly the fluffy stuff."
"If that's the way to keep out of embarrassing decisions, I'd like to become a specialist myself."
"You can do it, all right," the other assured him earnestly. "That story of yours shows it. You've got The Ledger touch--no, it's more individual than that. But you've got something that's going to stick out even here. Just the same, there'll come a time when you'll have to face the other issue of your job or your--well, your conscience."
What Tommy Burt did not say in continuation, and had no need to say, since his expressive and ingenuous face said it for him, was, "And I wonder what you'll do with _that_!"
A far more influential friend than Tommy Burt had been wondering, too, and had, not without difficulty, expressed her doubts in writing. Camilla Van Arsdale had written to Banneker:
... I know so little of journalism, but there are things about it that I distrust instinctively. Do you remember what that wrangler from the _Jon Cal_ told Old Bill Speed when Bill wanted to hire him: "I wouldn't take any job that I couldn't look in the eye and tell it to go to hell on five minutes' notice." I have a notion that you've got to take that attitude toward a reporting job. There must be so much that a man cannot do without loss of self-respect. Yet, I can't imagine why I should worry about you as to that. Unless it is that, in a strange environment one gets one's values confused.... Have you had to do any "Society" reporting yet? I hope not. The society reporters of my day were either obsequious little flunkeys and parasites, or women of good connections but no money who capitalized their acquaintanceship to make a poor living, and whom one was sorry for, but would rather not see. Going to places where one is not asked, scavenging for bits of news from butlers and housekeepers, sniffing after scandals--perhaps that is part of the necessary apprenticeship of newspaper work. But it's not a proper work for a gentleman. And, in any case, Ban, you are that, by the grace of your ancestral gods.
Little enough did Banneker care for his ancestral gods: but he did greatly care for the maintenance of those standards which seemed to have grown, indigenously within him, since he had never consciously formulated them. As for reporting, of whatever kind, he deemed Miss Van Arsdale prejudiced. Furthermore, he had met the society reporter of The Ledger, an elderly, mild, inoffensive man, neat and industrious, and discerned in him no stigma of the lickspittle. Nevertheless, he hoped that he would not be assigned to such "society news" as Remington did not cover in his routine. It might, he conceived, lead him into false situations where he could be painfully snubbed. And he had never yet been in a position where any one could snub him without instant reprisals. In such circumstances he did not know exactly what he would do. However, that bridge could be crossed or refused when he came to it.
Such members of the Brashear household as chose to accommodate themselves strictly to the hour could have eight o'clock breakfast in the basement dining-room for the modest consideration of thirty cents; thirty-five with special cream-jug. At these gatherings, usually attended by half a dozen of the lodgers, matters of local interest were weightily discussed; such as the progress of the subway excavations, the establishment of a new Italian restaurant in 11th Street, or the calling away of the fourth-floor-rear by the death of an uncle who would perhaps leave him money. To this sedate assemblage descended one crisp December morning young Wickert, clad in the natty outline of a new Bernholz suit, and obviously swollen with tidings.
"Whaddya know about the latest?" he flung forth upon the coffee-scented air.
"The latest" in young Wickert's compendium of speech might be the garments adorning his trim person, the current song-hit of a vaudeville to which he had recently contributed his critical attention, or some tidbit of purely local gossip. Hainer, the plump and elderly accountant, opined that Wickert had received an augmentation of salary, and got an austere frown for his sally. Evidently Wickert deemed his news to be of special import; he was quite bloated, conversationally. He now dallied with it.
"Since when have you been taking in disguised millionaires, Mrs. Brashear?"
The presiding genius of the house, divided between professional resentment at even so remotely slurring an implication (for was not the Grove Street house good enough for any millionaire, undisguised!) and human curiosity, requested an explanation.
"I was in Sherry's restaurant last night," said the offhand Wickert.
"I didn't read about any fire there," said the jocose Hainer, pointing his sally with a wink at Lambert, the art-student.
Wickert ignored the gibe. Such was the greatness of his tidings that he could afford to.
"Our firm was giving a banquet to some buyers and big folks in the trade. Private room upstairs; music, flowers, champagne by the case. We do things in style when we do 'em. They sent me up after hours with an important message to our Mr. Webler; he was in charge of arrangements."
"Been promoted to be messenger, ay?" put in Mr. Hainer, chuckling.
"When I came downstairs," continued the other with only a venomous glance toward the seat of the scorner, "I thought to myself what's the matter with taking a look at the swells feeding in the big restaurant. You may not know it, people, but Sherry's is the ree-churchiest place in Nuh Yawk to eat dinner. It's got 'em all beat. So I stopped at the door and took 'em in. Swell? Oh, you dolls! I stood there trying to work up the nerve to go in and siddown and order a plate of stew or something that wouldn't stick me more'n a dollar, just to _say_ I'd been dining at Sherry's, when I looked across the room, and whadda you think?" He paused, leaned forward, and shot out the climactic word, "Banneker!"
"Having his dinner there?" asked the incredulous but fascinated Mrs. Brashear.
"Like he owned the place. Table to himself, against the wall. Waiter fussin' over him like he loved him. And dressed! Oh, Gee!"
"Did you speak to him?" asked Lambert.
"He spoke to me," answered Wickert, dealing in subtle distinctions. "He was just finishing his coffee when I sighted him. Gave the waiter haffa dollar. I could see it on the plate. There I was at the door, and he said, 'Why, hello, Wickert. Come and have a liquor.' He pronounced it a queer, Frenchy way. So I said thanks, I'd have a highball."
"Didn't he seem surprised to see you there?" asked Hainer.
Wickert paid an unconscious tribute to good-breeding. "Banneker's the kind of feller that wouldn't show it if he was surprised. He couldn't have been as surprised as I was, at that. We went to the bar and had a drink, and then I ast him what'd _he_, have on _me_, and all the time I was sizing him up. I'm telling you, he looked like he'd grown up in Sherry's."
The rest of the conversation, it appeared from Mr. Wickert's spirited sketch, had consisted mainly in eager queries from himself, and good-humored replies by the other.
Did Banneker eat there every night?
Oh, no! He wasn't up to that much of a strain on his finances.
But the waiters seemed to know him, as if he was one of the regulars.
In a sense he was. Every Monday he dined there. Monday was his day off.
Well, Mr. Wickert (awed and groping) _would_ be damned! All alone?
Banneker, smiling, admitted the solitude. He rather liked dining alone.
Oh, Wickert couldn't see that at all! Give him a pal and a coupla lively girls, say from the Ladies' Tailor-Made Department, good-lookers and real dressers; that was _his_ idea of a dinner, though he'd never tried it at Sherry's. Not that he couldn't if he felt like it. How much did they stick you for a good feed-out with a cocktail and maybe a bottle of Italian Red?
Well, of course, that depended on which way was Wickert going? Could Banneker set him on his way? He was taking a taxi to the Avon Theater, where there was an opening.
Did Mr. Banneker (Wickert had by this time attained the "Mr." stage) always follow up his dinner at Sherry's with a theater?
Usually, if there were an opening. If not he went to the opera or a concert.
For his part, Wickert liked a little more spice in life. Still, every feller to his tastes. And Mr. Banneker was sure dressed for the part. Say--if he didn't mind--who made that full-dress suit?
No; of course he didn't mind. Mertoun made it.
After which Mr. Banneker had been deftly enshrouded in a fur-lined coat, worthy of a bank president, had crowned these glories with an impeccable silk hat, and had set forth. Wickert had only to add that he wore in his coat lapel one of those fancy tuberoses, which he, Wickert, had gone to the pains of pricing at the nearest flower shop immediately after leaving Banneker. A dollar apiece! No, he had not accepted the offer of a lift, being doubtful upon the point of honor as to whether he would be expected to pay a _pro rata_ of the taxi charge. They, the assembled breakfast company, had his permission to call him, Mr. Wickert, a goat if Mr. Banneker wasn't the swellest-looking guy he had anywhere seen on that memorable evening.
Nobody called Mr. Wickert a goat. But Mr. Hainer sniffed and said:
"And him a twenty-five-dollar-a-week reporter!"
"Perhaps he has private means," suggested little Miss Westlake, who had her own reasons for suspecting this: reasons bolstered by many and frequent manuscripts, turned over to her for typing, recast, returned for retyping, and again, in many instances, re-recast and re-retyped, the result of the sweating process being advantageous to their literary quality. Simultaneous advantage had accrued to the typist, also, in a practical way. Though the total of her bills was modest, it constituted an important extra; and Miss Westlake no longer sought to find solace for her woes through the prescription of the ambulant school of philosophic thought, and to solve her dental difficulties by walking the floor of nights. Philosophy never yet cured a toothache. Happily the sufferer was now able to pay a dentist. Hence Banneker could work, untroubled of her painful footsteps in the adjoining room, and considered the outcome cheap at the price. He deemed himself an exponent of enlightened selfishness. Perhaps he was. But the dim and worn spinster would have given half a dozen of her best and painless teeth to be of service to him. Now she came to his defense with a pretty dignity:
"I am sure that Mr. Banneker would not be out of place in any company."
"Maybe not," answered the cynical Lambert. "But where does he get it? I ask you!"
"Wherever he gets it, no gentleman could be more forehanded in his obligations," declared Mrs. Brashear.
"But what's he want to blow it for in a shirty place like Sherry's?" marveled young Wickert.
"Wyncha ask him?" brutally demanded Hainer.
Wickert examined his mind hastily, and was fain to admit inwardly that he had wanted to ask him, but somehow felt "skittish" about it. Outwardly he retorted, being displeased at his own weakness, "Ask him yourself."
Had any one questioned the subject of the discussion at Mrs. Brashear's on this point, even if he were willing to reply to impertinent interrogations (a high improbability of which even the hardy Wickert seems to have had some timely premonition), he would perhaps have explained the glorified routine of his day-off, by saying that he went to Sherry's and the opening nights for the same reason that he prowled about the water-front and ate in polyglot restaurants on obscure street-corners east of Tompkins Square; to observe men and women and the manner of their lives. It would not have been a sufficient answer; Banneker must have admitted that to himself. Too much a man of the world in many strata not to be adjustable to any of them, nevertheless he felt more attuned to and at one with his environment amidst the suave formalism of Sherry's than in the more uneasy and precarious elegancies of an East-Side Tammany Association promenade and ball.
Some of the youngsters of The Ledger said that he was climbing.
He was not climbing. To climb one must be conscious of an ascent to be surmounted. Banneker was serenely unaware of anything above him, in that sense. Eminent psychiatrists were, about that time, working upon the beginning of a theory of the soul, later to be imposed upon an impressionable and faddish world, which dealt with a profound psychical deficit known as a "complex of inferiority." In Banneker they would have found sterile soil. He had no complex of inferiority, nor, for that matter, of superiority; mental attitudes which, applied to social status, breed respectively the toady and the snob. He had no complex at all. He had, or would have had, if the soul-analysts had invented such a thing, a simplex. Relative status was a matter to which he gave little thought. He maintained personal standards not because of what others might think of him, but because he chose to think well of himself.
Sherry's and a fifth-row-center seat at opening nights meant to him something more than refreshment and amusement; they were an assertion of his right to certain things, a right of which, whether others recognized or ignored it, he felt absolutely assured. These were the readily attainable places where successful people resorted. Serenely determined upon success, he felt himself in place amidst the outward and visible symbols of it. Let the price be high for his modest means; this was an investment which he could not afford to defer. He was but anticipating his position a little, and in such wise that nobody could take exception to it, because his self-promotion demanded no aid or favor from any other living person. His interest was in the environment, not in the people, as such, who were hardly more than, "walking ladies and gentlemen" in a _mise-en-scène_. Indeed, where minor opportunities offered by chance of making acquaintances, he coolly rejected them. Banneker did not desire to know people--yet. When he should arrive at the point of knowing them, it must be upon his terms, not theirs.
It was on one of his Monday evenings of splendor that a misadventure of the sort which he had long foreboded, befell him. Sherry's was crowded, and a few tables away Banneker caught sight of Herbert Cressey, dining with a mixed party of a dozen. Presently Cressey came over.
"What have you been doing with yourself?" he asked, shaking hands. "Haven't seen you for months."
"Working," replied Banneker. "Sit down and have a cocktail. Two, Jules," he added to the attentive waiter.
"I guess they can spare me for five minutes," agreed Cressey, glancing back at his forsaken place. "This isn't what you call work, though, is it?"
"Hardly. This is my day off."
"Oh! And how goes the job?"
"I'd think so," commented the other, taking in the general effect of Banneker's easy habituation to the standards of the restaurant. "You don't own this place, do you?" he added.
From another member of the world which had inherited or captured Sherry's as part of the spoils of life, the question might have been offensive. But Banneker genuinely liked Cressey.
"Not exactly," he returned lightly. "Do I give that unfortunate impression?"
"You give very much the impression of owning old Jules--or he does--and having a proprietary share in the new head waiter. Are you here much?"
"Monday evenings, only."
"This is a good cocktail," observed Cressey, savoring it expertly. "Better than they serve to me. And, say, Banneker, did Mertoun make you that outfit?"
"Then I quit him," declared the gilded youth.
"Why? Isn't it all right?"
"All right! Dammit, it's a better job than ever I got out of him," returned his companion indignantly. "Some change from the catalogue suit you sported when you landed here! You know how to wear 'em; I've got to say that for you.... I've got to get back. When'll you dine with me? I want to hear all about it."
"Any Monday," answered Banneker.
Cressey returned to his waiting potage, and was immediately bombarded with queries, mainly from the girl on his left.
"Who's the wonderful-looking foreigner?"
"He isn't a foreigner. At least not very much."
"He looks like a North Italian princeling I used to know," said one of the women. "One of that warm-complexioned out-of-door type, that preserves the Roman mould. Isn't he an Italian?"
"He's an American. I ran across him out in the desert country."
"Hence that burned-in brown. What was he doing out there?"
Cressey hesitated. Innocent of any taint of snobbery himself, he yet did not know whether Banneker would care to have his humble position tacked onto the tails of that work of art, his new coat. "He was in the railroad business," he returned cautiously. "His name is Banneker."
"I've been seeing him for months," remarked another of the company. "He's always alone and always at that table. Nobody knows him. He's a mystery."
"He's a beauty," said Cressey's left-hand neighbor.
Miss Esther Forbes had been quite openly staring, with her large, gray, and childlike eyes, at Banneker, eating his oysters in peaceful unconsciousness of being made a subject for discussion. Miss Forbes was a Greuze portrait come to life and adjusted to the extremes of fashion. Behind an expression of the sweetest candor and wistfulness, as behind a safe bulwark, she preserved an effrontery which balked at no defiance of conventions in public, though essentially she was quite sufficiently discreet for self-preservation. Also she had a keen little brain, a reckless but good-humored heart and a memory retentive of important trifles.
"In the West, Bertie?" she inquired of Cressey. "You were in that big wreck there, weren't you?"
"Devil of a wreck," said Cressey uneasily. You never could tell what Esther might know or might not say.
"Ask him over here," directed that young lady blandly, "for coffee and liqueurs."
"Oh, I say!" protested one of the men. "Nobody knows anything about him--"
"He's a friend of mine," put in Cressey, in a tone which ended that particular objection. "But I don't think he'd come."
Instantly there was a chorus of demand for him.
"All right, I'll try," yielded Cressey, rising.
"Put him next to me," directed Miss Forbes.
The emissary visited Banneker's table, was observed to be in brief colloquy with him, and returned, alone.
"Wouldn't he come?" interrogated the chorus.
"He's awfully sorry, but he says he isn't fit for decent human associations."
"More and more interesting!"--"Why?"--"What awful thing has he been doing?"
"Eating onions," answered Cressey. "Raw."
"I don't believe it," cried the indignant Miss Forbes. "One doesn't eat raw onions at Sherry's. It's a subterfuge."
"If I went over there myself, who'll bet a dozen silk stockings that I can't--"
"Come off it, Ess," protested her brother-in-law across the table. "That's too high a jump, even for you."
She let herself be dissuaded, but her dovelike eyes were vagrant during the rest of the dinner.
Pleasantly musing over the last glass of a good but moderate-priced Rosemont-Geneste, Banneker became aware of Cressey's dinner party filing past him: then of Jules, the waiter, discreetly murmuring something, from across the table. A faint and provocative scent came to his nostrils, and as he followed Jules's eyes he saw a feminine figure standing at his elbow. He rose promptly and looked down into a face which might have been modeled for a type of appealing innocence.
"You're Mr. Banneker, aren't you?"
"I'm Esther Forbes, and I think I've heard a great deal about you."
"It doesn't seem probable," he replied gravely.
"From a cousin of mine," pursued the girl. "She was Io Welland. Haven't I?"
A shock went through Banneker at the mention of the name. But he steadied himself to say: "I don't think so."
Herein he was speaking by the letter. Knowing Io Welland as he had, he deemed it very improbable that she had even so much as mentioned him to any of her friends. In that measure, at least, he believed, she would have respected the memory of the romance which she had so ruthlessly blasted. This girl, with the daring and wistful eyes, was simply fishing, so he guessed.
His guess was correct. Mendacity was not outside of Miss Forbes's easy code when enlisted in a good cause, such as appeasing her own impish curiosity. Never had Io so much as mentioned that quaint and lively romance with which vague gossip had credited her, after her return from the West; Esther Forbes had gathered it in, gossamer thread by gossamer thread, and was now hoping to identify Banneker in its uncertain pattern. Her little plan of startling him into some betrayal had proven abortive. Not by so much as the quiver of a muscle or the minutest shifting of an eye had he given sign. Still convinced that he was the mysterious knight of the desert, she was moved to admiration for his self-command and to a sub-thrill of pleasurable fear as before an unknown and formidable species. The man who had transformed self-controlled and invincible Io Welland into the creature of moods and nerves and revulsions which she had been for the fortnight preceding her marriage, must be something out of the ordinary. Instinct of womankind told Miss Forbes that this and no other was the type of man to work such a miracle.
"But you did know Io?" she persisted, feeling, as she afterward confessed, that she was putting her head into the mouth of a lion concerning whose habits her knowledge was regrettably insufficient.
The lion did not bite her head off. He did not even roar. He merely said, "Yes."
"In a railroad wreck or something of that sort?"
"Something of that sort."
"Are you awfully bored and wishing I'd go away and let you alone?" she said, on a note that pleaded for forbearance. "Because if you are, don't make such heroic efforts to conceal it."
At this an almost imperceptible twist at the corners of his lips manifested itself to the watchful eye and cheered the enterprising soul of Miss Forbes. "No," he said equably, "I'm interested to discover how far you'll go."
The snub left Miss Forbes unembarrassed.
"Oh, as far as you'll let me," she answered. "Did you ride in from your ranch and drag Io out of the tangled wreckage at the end of your lasso?"
"My ranch? I wasn't on a ranch."
"Please, sir," she smiled up at him like a beseeching angel, "what did you do that kept us all talking and speculating about you for a whole week, though we didn't know your name?"
"I sat right on my job as station-agent at Manzanita and made up lists of the killed and injured," answered Banneker dryly.
"Station-agent!" The girl was taken aback, for this was not at all in consonance with the Io myth as it had drifted back, from sources never determined, to New York. "Were you the station-agent?"
She bestowed a glance at once appraising and flattering, less upon himself than upon his apparel. "And what are you now? President of the road?"
"A reporter on The Ledger."
"Really!" This seemed to astonish her even more than the previous information. "What are you reporting here?"
"I'm off duty to-night."
"I see. Could you get off duty some afternoon and come to tea, if I'll promise to have Io there to meet you?"
"Your party seems to be making signals of distress, Miss Forbes."
"That's the normal attitude of my friends and family toward me. You'll come, won't you, Mr. Banneker?"
"Thank you: but reporting keeps one rather too busy for amusement."
"You won't come," she murmured, aggrieved. "Then it _is_ true about you and Io."
This time she achieved a result. Banneker flushed angrily, though he said, coolly enough: "I think perhaps you would make an enterprising reporter, yourself, Miss Forbes."
"I'm sure I should. Well, I'll apologize. And if you won't come for Io--she's still abroad, by the way and won't be back for a month--perhaps you'll come for me. Just to show that you forgive my impertinences. Everybody does. I'm going to tell Bertie Cressey he must bring you.... All right, Bertie! I wish you wouldn't follow me up like--like a paper-chase. Good-night, Mr. Banneker."
To her indignant escort she declared that it couldn't have hurt them to wait a jiffy; that she had had a most amusing conversation; that Mr. Banneker was as charming as he was good to look at; and that (in answer to sundry questions) she had found out little or nothing, though she hoped for better results in future.
"But he's Io's passion-in-the-desert right enough," said the irreverent Miss Forbes.
Banneker sat long over his cooling coffee. Through haunted nights he had fought maddening memories of Io's shadowed eyes, of the exhalant, irresistible femininity of her, of the pulses of her heart against his on that wild and wonderful night in the flood; and he had won to an armed peace, in which the outposts of his spirit were ever on guard against the recurrent thoughts of her.
Now, at the bitter music of her name on the lips of a gossiping and frivolous girl, the barriers had given away. In eagerness and self-contempt he surrendered to the vision. Go to an afternoon tea to see and speak with her again? He would, in that awakened mood, have walked across the continent, only to be in her presence, to feel himself once more within the radius of that inexorable charm.
"Katie's" sits, sedate and serviceable, on a narrow side street so near to Park Row that the big table in the rear rattles its dishes when the presses begin their seismic rumblings, in the daily effort to shake the world. Here gather the pick and choice of New York journalism, while still on duty, to eat and drink and discuss the inner news of things which is so often much more significant than the published version; haply to win or lose a few swiftly earned dollars at pass-three hearts. It is the unofficial press club of Newspaper Row.
Said McHale of The Sphere, who, having been stuck with the queen of spades--that most unlucky thirteener--twice in succession, was retiring on his losses, to Mallory of The Ledger who had just come in:
"I hear you've got a sucking genius at your shop."
"If you mean Banneker, he's weaned," replied the assistant city editor of The Ledger. "He goes on space next week."
"Does he, though! Quick work, eh?"
"A record for the office. He's been on the staff less than a year."
"Is he really such a wonder?" asked Glidden of The Monitor.
Three or four Ledger men answered at once, citing various stories which had stirred the interest of Park Row.
"Oh, you Ledger fellows are always giving the college yell for each other," said McHale, impatiently voicing the local jealousy of The Ledger's recognized _esprit de corps_. "I've seen bigger rockets than him come down in the ash-heap."
"He won't," prophesied Tommy Burt, The Ledger's humorous specialist. "He'll go up and stay up. High! He's got the stuff."
"They say," observed Fowler, the star man of The Patriot, "he covers his assignment in taxicabs."
"He gets the news," murmured Mallory, summing up in that phrase all the encomiums which go to the perfect praise of the natural-born reporter.
"And he writes it," put in Van Cleve of The Courier. "Lord, how that boy can write! Why, a Banneker two-sticks stands out as if it were printed in black-face."
"I've never seen him around," remarked Glidden. "What does he do with himself besides work?"
"Nothing, I imagine," answered Mallory. "One of the cubs reports finding him at the Public Library, before ten o'clock in the morning, surrounded by books on journalism. He's a serious young owl."
"It doesn't get into his copy, then," asserted "Parson" Gale, political expert for The Ledger.
"Nor into his appearance. He certainly dresses like a flower of the field. Even the wrinkles in his clothes have the touch of high-priced Fifth Avenue."
"Must be rich," surmised Fowler. "Taxis for assignments and Fifth-Avenue raiment sound like real money."
"Nobody knows where he got it, then," said Tommy Burt. "Used to be a freight brakeman or something out in the wild-and-woolly. When he arrived, he was dressed very proud and stiff like a Baptist elder going to make a social call, all but the made-up bow tie and the oil on the hair. Some change and sudden!"
"Got a touch of the swelled head, though, hasn't he?" asked Van Cleve. "I hear he's beginning to pick his assignments already. Refuses to take society stuff and that sort of thing."
"Oh," said Mallory, "I suppose that comes from his being assigned to a tea given by the Thatcher Forbes for some foreign celebrity, and asking to be let off because he'd already been invited there and declined."
"Hello!" exclaimed McHale. "Where does our young bird come in to fly as high as the Thatcher Forbes? He may look like a million dollars, but is he?"
"All I know," said Tommy Burt, "is that every Monday, which is his day off, he dines at Sherry's, and goes in lonely glory to a first-night, if there is one, afterward. It must have been costing him half of his week's salary."
"Swelled head, sure," diagnosed Decker, the financial reporter of The Ledger. "Well, watch the great Chinese joss, Greenough, pull the props from under him when the time comes."
"As how?" inquired Glidden.
"By handing him a nawsty one out of the assignment book, just to show him where his hat fits too tight."
"A run of four-line obits," suggested Van Cleve, who had passed a painful apprenticeship of death-notices in which is neither profitable space nor hopeful opportunity, "for a few days, will do it."
"Or the job of asking an indignant millionaire papa why his pet daughter ran away with the second footman and where."
"Or interviewing old frozen-faced Willis Enderby on his political intentions, honorable or dishonorable."
"If I know Banneker," said Mallory, "he's game. He'll take what's handed him and put it over."
"Once, maybe," contributed Tommy Burt. "Twice, perhaps. But I wouldn't want to crowd too much on him."
"Greenough won't. He's wise in the ways of marvelous and unlicked cubs," said Decker.
"Why? What do you think Banneker would do?" asked Mallory curiously, addressing Burt.
"If he got an assignment too rich for his stomach? Well, speaking unofficially and without special knowledge, I'd guess that he'd handle it to a finish, and then take his very smart and up-to-date hat and perform a polite adieu to Mr. Greenough and all the works of The Ledger city room."
A thin, gray, somnolent elder at the end of the table, whose nobly cut face was seared with lines of physical pain endured and outlived, withdrew a very small pipe from his mouth and grunted.
"The Venerable Russell Edmonds has the floor," said Tommy Burt in a voice whose open raillery subtly suggested an underlying affection and respect. "He snorts, and in that snort is sublimated the wisdom and experience of a ripe ninety years on Park Row. Speak, O Compendium of all the--"
"Shut up, Tommy," interrupted Edmonds. He resumed his pipe, gave it two anxious puffs, and, satisfied of its continued vitality, said:
"Banneker, uh? Resign, uh? You think he would?"
"I think so."
"Does _he_ think so?"
"That's my belief."
"He won't," pronounced the veteran with finality. "They never do. They chafe. They strain. They curse out the job and themselves. They say it isn't fit for any white man. So it isn't, the worst of it. But they stick. If they're marked for it, they stick."
"Marked for it?" murmured Glidden.
"The ink-spot. The mark of the beast. I've got it. You've got it, Glidden, and you, McHale. Mallory's smudged with it. Tommy thinks it's all over him, but it isn't. He'll end between covers. Fiction, like as not," he added with a mildly contemptuous smile. "But this young Banneker; it's eaten into him like acid."
"Do you know him, Pop?" inquired McHale.
"Never saw him. Don't have to. I've read his stuff."
"And you see it there?"
"Plain as Brooklyn Bridge. He'll eat mud like the rest of us."
"Come off, Pop! Where do you come in to eat mud? You've got the creamiest job on Park Row. You never have to do anything that a railroad president need shy at."
This was nearly true. Edmonds, who in his thirty years of service had filled almost every conceivable position from police headquarters reporter to managing editor, had now reverted to the phase for which the ink-spot had marked him, and was again a reporter; a sort of super-reporter, spending much of his time out around the country on important projects either of news, or of that special information necessary to a great daily, which does not always appear as news, but which may define, determine, or alter news and editorial policies.
Of him it was said on Park Row, and not without reason, that he was bigger than his paper, which screened him behind a traditional principle of anonymity, for The Courier was of the second rank in metropolitan journalism and wavered between an indigenous Bourbonism and a desire to be thought progressive. The veteran's own creed was frankly socialistic; but in the Fabian phase. His was a patient philosophy, content with slow progress; but upon one point he was a passionate enthusiast. He believed in the widest possible scope of education, and in the fundamental duty of the press to stimulate it.
"We'll get the Social Revolution just as soon as we're educated up to it," he was wont to declare. "If we get it before then, it'll be a worse hash than capitalism. So let's go slow and learn."
For such a mind to be contributing to an organ of The Courier type might seem anomalous. Often Edmonds accused himself of shameful compromise; the kind of compromise constantly necessary to hold his place. Yet it was not any consideration of self-interest that bound him. He could have commanded higher pay in half a dozen open positions. Or, he could have afforded to retire, and write as he chose, for he had been a shrewd investor with wide opportunities. What really held him was his ability to forward almost imperceptibly through the kind of news political and industrial, which he, above all other journalists of his day, was able to determine and analyze, the radical projects dear to his heart. Nothing could have had a more titillating appeal to his sardonic humor than the furious editorial refutations in The Courier, of facts and tendencies plainly enunciated by him in the news columns.
Nevertheless, his impotency to speak out openly and individually the faith that was in him, left always a bitter residue in his mind. It now informed his answer to Van Cleve's characterization of his job.
"If I can sneak a tenth of the truth past the copy-desk," he said, "I'm doing well. And what sort of man am I when I go up against these big-bugs of industry at their conventions, and conferences, appearing as representative of The Courier which represents their interests? A damned hypocrite, I'd say! If they had brains enough to read between the lines of my stuff, they'd see it."
"Why don't you tell 'em?" asked Mallory lazily.
"I did, once. I told the President of the United Manufacturers' Association what I really thought of their attitude toward labor."
"With what result?"
"He ordered The Courier to fire me."
"You're still there."
"Yes. But he isn't. I went after him on his record."
"All of which doesn't sound much like mud-eating, Pop."
"I've done my bit of that in my time, too. I've had jobs to do that a self-respecting swill-hustler wouldn't touch. I've sworn I wouldn't do 'em. And I've done 'em, rather than lose my job. Just as young Banneker will, when the test comes."
"I'll bet he won't," said Tommy Burt.
Mallory, who had been called away, returned in time to hear this. "You might ask him to settle the bet," he suggested. "I've just had him on the 'phone. He's coming around."
"I will," said Edmonds.
On his arrival Banneker was introduced to those of the men whom he did not know, and seated next to Edmonds.
"We've been talking about you, young fellow," said the veteran.
From most men Banneker would have found the form of address patronizing. But the thin, knotty face of Edmonds was turned upon him with so kindly a regard in the hollow eyes that he felt an innate stir of knowledge that here was a man who might be a friend. He made no answer, however, merely glancing at the speaker. To learn that the denizens of Park Row were discussing him, caused him neither surprise nor elation. While he knew that he had made hit after hit with his work, he was not inclined to over-value the easily won reputation. Edmonds's next remark did not please him.
"We were discussing how much dirt you'd eat to hold your job on The Ledger."
"The Ledger doesn't ask its men to eat dirt, Edmonds," put in Mallory sharply.
"Chop, fried potatoes, coffee, and a stein of Nicklas-brau," Banneker specified across the table to the waiter. He studied the mimeographed bill-of-fare with selective attention. "And a slice of apple pie," he decided. Without change of tone, he looked up over the top of the menu at Edmonds slowly puffing his insignificant pipe and said: "I don't like your assumption, Mr. Edmonds."
"It's ugly," admitted the other, "but you have to answer it. Oh, not to me!" he added, smiling. "To yourself."
"It hasn't come my way yet."
"It will. Ask any of these fellows. We've all had to meet it. Yes; you, too, Mallory. We've all had to eat our peck of dirt in the sacred name of news. Some are too squeamish. They quit."
"If they're too squeamish, they'd never make real newspaper men," pronounced McHale. "You can't be too good for your business."
"Just so," said Tommy Burt acidly, "but your business can be too bad for you."
"There's got to be news. And if there's got to be news there have got to be men willing to do hard, unpleasant work, to get it," argued Mallory.
"Hard? All right," retorted Edmonds. "Unpleasant? Who cares! I'm talking about the dirty work. Wait a minute, Mallory. Didn't you ever have an assignment that was an outrage on some decent man's privacy? Or, maybe woman's? Something that made you sick at your stomach to have to do? Did you ever have to take a couple of drinks to give you nerve to ask some question that ought to have got you kicked downstairs for asking?"
Mallory, flushing angrily, was silent. But McHale spoke up. "Hell! Every business has its stinks, I guess. What about being a lawyer and serving papers? Or a manufacturer and having to bootlick the buyers? I tell you, if the public wants a certain kind of news, it's the newspaper's business to serve it to 'em; and it's the newspaper man's business to get it for his paper. I say it's up to the public."
"The public," murmured Edmonds. "Swill-eaters."
"All right! Then give 'em the kind of swill they want," cried McHale.
Edmonds so manipulated his little pipe that it pointed directly at Banneker. "Would you?" he asked.
"Would I what?"
"Give 'em the kind of swill they want? You seem to like to keep your hands clean."
"Aren't you asking me your original question in another form?" smiled the young man.
"You objected to it before."
"I'll answer it now. A friend of mine wrote to me when I went on The Ledger, advising me always to be ready on a moment's notice to look my job between the eyes and tell it to go to hell."
"Yes; I've known that done, too," interpolated Mallory. "But in those cases it isn't the job that goes." He pushed back his chair. "Don't let Pop Edmonds corrupt you with his pessimism, Banneker," he warned. "He doesn't mean half of it."
"Under the seal of the profession," said the veteran. "If there were outsiders present, it would be different. I'd have to admit that ours is the greatest, noblest, most high-minded and inspired business in the world. Free and enlightened press. Fearless defender of the right. Incorruptible agent of the people's will. Did I say 'people's will' or 'people's swill'? Don't ask me!"
The others paid their accounts and followed Mallory out, leaving Banneker alone at the table with the saturnine elder. Edmonds put a thumbful of tobacco in his pipe, and puffed silently.
"What will it get a man?" asked Banneker, setting down his coffee-cup.
"This game?" queried the other.
"'What shall it profit a man,'" quoted the veteran ruminatively. "You know the rest."
"No," returned Banneker decidedly. "That won't do. These fellows here haven't sold their souls."
"Or lost 'em. Maybe not," admitted the elder. "Though I wouldn't gamble strong on some of 'em. But they've lost something."
"Well, what is it? That's what I'm trying to get at."
"Independence. They're merged in the paper they write for."
"Every man's got to subordinate himself to his business, if he's to do justice to it and himself, hasn't he?"
"Yes. If you're buying or selling stocks or socks, it doesn't matter. The principles you live by aren't involved. In the newspaper game they are."
"Not in reporting, though."
"If reporting were just gathering facts and presenting them, it wouldn't be so. But you're deep enough in by now to see that reporting of a lot of things is a matter of coloring your version to the general policy of your paper. Politics, for instance, or the liquor question, or labor troubles. The best reporters get to doing it unconsciously. Chameleons."
"And you think it affects them?"
"How can it help? There's a slow poison in writing one way when you believe another."
"And that's part of the dirt-eating?"
"Well, yes. Not so obvious as some of the other kinds. Those hurt your pride, mostly. This kind hurts your self-respect."
"But where does it get you, all this business?" asked Banneker reverting to his first query.
"I'm fifty-two years old," replied Edmonds quietly.
Banneker stared. "Oh, I see!" he said presently. "And you're considered a success. Of course you _are_ a success."
"On Park Row. Would you like to be me? At fifty-two?"
"No, I wouldn't," said Banneker with a frankness which brought a faint smile to the other man's tired face. "Yet you've got where you started for, haven't you?"
"Perhaps I could answer that if I knew where I started for or where I've got to."
"Put it that you've got what you were after, then."
"No's the answer. Upper-case No. I want to get certain things over to the public intelligence. Maybe I've got one per cent of them over. Not more."
"That's something. To have a public that will follow you even part way--"
"Follow me? Bless you; they don't know me except as a lot of print that they occasionally read. I'm as anonymous as an editorial writer. And that's the most anonymous thing there is."
"That doesn't suit me at all," declared Banneker. "If I have got anything in me--and I think I have--I don't want it to make a noise like a part of a big machine. I'd rather make a small noise of my own."
"Buy a paper, then. Or write fluffy criticisms about art or theaters. Or get into the magazine field. You can write; O Lord! yes, you can write. But unless you've got the devotion of a fanatic like McHale, or a born servant of the machine like 'Parson' Gale, or an old fool like me, willing to sink your identity in your work, you'll never be content as a reporter."
"Tell me something. Why do none of the men, talking among themselves, ever refer to themselves as reporters. It's always 'newspaper men.'"
Edmonds shot a swift glance at him. "What do you think?"
"I think," he decided slowly, "it's because there is a sort of stigma attached to reporting."
"Damn you, you're right!" snapped the veteran. "Though it's the rankest heresy to admit it. There's a taint about it. There's a touch of the pariah. We try to fool ourselves into thinking there isn't. But it's there, and we admit it when we use a clumsy, misfit term like 'newspaper man.'"
"Whose fault is it?"
"The public's. The public is a snob. It likes to look down on brains. Particularly the business man. That's why I'm a Socialist. I'm ag'in the bourgeoisie."
"Aren't the newspapers to blame, in the kind of stuff they print?"
"And why do they print it?" demanded the other fiercely. "Because the public wants all the filth and scandal and invasion of privacy that it can get and still feel respectable."
"The Ledger doesn't go in for that sort of thing."
"Not as much as some of the others. But a little more each year. It follows the trend." He got up, quenched his pipe, and reached for his hat. "Drop in here about seven-thirty when you feel like hearing the old man maunder," he said with his slight, friendly smile.
Rising, Banneker leaned over to him. "Who's the man at the next table?" he asked in a low voice, indicating a tall, broad, glossily dressed diner who was sipping his third _demi-tasse_, in apparent detachment from the outside world.
"His name is Marrineal," replied the veteran. "He dines here occasionally alone. Don't know what he does."
"He's been listening in."
"Curious thing; he often does."
As they parted at the door, Edmonds said paternally:
"Remember, young fellow, a Park Row reputation is written on glass with a wet finger. It doesn't last during the writing."
"And only dims the glass," said Banneker reflectively.
Heat, sudden, savage, and oppressive, bore down upon the city early that spring, smiting men in their offices, women in their homes, the horses between the shafts of their toil, so that the city was in danger of becoming disorganized. The visitation developed into the big story of successive days. It was the sort of generalized, picturesque "fluff-stuff" matter which Banneker could handle better than his compeers by sheer imaginative grasp and deftness of presentation. Being now a writer on space, paid at the rate of eight dollars a column of from thirteen to nineteen hundred words, he found the assignment profitable and the test of skill quite to his taste. Soft job though it was in a way, however, the unrelenting pressure of the heat and the task of finding, day after day, new phases and fresh phrases in which to deal with it, made inroads upon his nerves.
He took to sleeping ill again. Io Welland had come back in all the glamorous panoply of waking dreams to command and torment his loneliness of spirit. At night he dreaded the return to the draughtless room on Grove Street. In the morning, rising sticky-eyed and unrested, he shrank from the thought of the humid, dusty, unkempt hurly-burly of the office. Yet his work was never more brilliant and individual.
Having finished his writing, one reeking midnight, he sat, spent, at his desk, hating the thought of the shut-in place that he called home. Better to spend the night on a bench in some square, as he had done often enough in the earlier days. He rose, took his hat, and had reached the first landing when the steps wavered and faded in front of him and he found himself clutching for the rail. A pair of hands gripped his shoulders and held him up.
"What's the matter, Mr. Banneker?" asked a voice.
"God!" muttered Banneker. "I wish I were back on the desert."
"You want a drink," prescribed his volunteer prop.
As his vision and control reestablished themselves, Banneker found himself being led downstairs and to the nearest bar by young Fentriss Smith, who ordered two soda cocktails.
Of Smith he knew little except that the office called him "the permanent twenty-five-dollar man." He was one of those earnest, faithful, totally uninspired reporters, who can be relied upon implicitly for routine news, but are constitutionally impotent to impart color and life to any subject whatsoever. Patiently he had seen younger and newer men overtake and pass him; but he worked on inexorably, asking for nothing, wearing the air of a scholar with some distant and abstruse determination in view. Like Banneker he had no intimates in the office.
"The desert," echoed Smith in his quiet, well-bred voice. "Isn't it pretty hot, there, too?"
"It's open," said Banneker. "I'm smothering here."
"You look frazzled out, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I feel frazzled out; that's what I mind."
"Suppose you come out with me to-night as soon as I report to the desk," suggested the other.
Banneker, refreshed by the tingling drink, looked down at him in surprise. "Where?" he asked.
"I've got a little boat out here in the East River."
"A boat? Lord, that sounds good!" sighed Banneker.
"Does it? Then see here! Why couldn't you put in a few days with me, and cool off? I've often wanted to talk to you about the newspaper business, and get your ideas."
"But I'm newer at it than you are."
"For a fact! Just the same you've got the trick of it and I haven't. I'll go around to your place while you pack a suitcase, and we're off."
"That's very good of you." Accustomed though he was to the swift and ready comradeship of a newspaper office, Banneker was puzzled by this advance from the shy and remote Smith. "All right: if you'll let me share expenses," he said presently.
Smith seemed taken aback at this. "Just as you like," he assented. "Though I don't quite know--We'll talk of that later."
While Banneker was packing in his room, Smith, seated on the window-sill, remarked:
"I ought to tell you that we have to go through a bad district to get there."
"The Tunnel Gang?" asked Banneker, wise in the plague spots of the city.
"Just this side of their stamping ground. It's a gang of wharf rats. There have been a number of hold-ups, and last week a dead woman was found under the pier."
Banneker made an unobtrusive addition to his packing. "They'll have to move fast to catch me," he observed.
"Two of us together won't be molested. But if you're alone, be careful. The police in that precinct are no good. They're either afraid or they stand in with the gang."
On Fifth Avenue the pair got a late-cruising taxicab whose driver, however, declined to take them nearer than one block short of the pier. "The night air in that place ain't good fer weak constitutions," he explained. "One o' my pals got a headache last week down on the pier from bein' beaned with a sandbag."
No one interfered with the two reporters, however. A whistle from the end of the pier evolved from the watery dimness a dinghy, which, in a hundred yards of rowing, delivered them into a small but perfectly appointed yacht. Banneker, looking about the luxurious cabin, laughed a little.
"That was a bad guess of mine about half expenses," he said good-humoredly. "I'd have to mortgage my future for a year. Do you own this craft?"
"My father does. He's been called back West."
Bells rang, the wheel began to churn, and Banneker, falling asleep in his berth with a vivifying breeze blowing across him, awoke in broad daylight to a view of sparkling little waves which danced across his vision to smack impudently the flanks of the speeding craft.
"We'll be in by noon," was Smith's greeting as they met on the companionway for a swim.
"What do you do it for?" asked Banneker, seated at the breakfast table, with an appetite such as he had not known for weeks.
"Two men's work at twenty-five per for The Ledger?"
"Are you going to stick to the business?"
"The family," explained Smith, "own a newspaper in Toledo. It fell to them by accident. Our real business is manufacturing farm machinery, and none of us has ever tried or thought of manufacturing newspapers. So they wished on me the job of learning how."
"Do you like it?"
"Not particularly. But I'm going through with it."
Banneker felt a new and surprised respect for his host. He could forecast the kind of small city newspaper that Smith would make; careful, conscientious, regular in politics, loyal to what it deemed the best interests of the community, single-minded in its devotion to the Smith family and its properties; colorless, characterless, and without vision or leadership in all that a newspaper should, according to Banneker's opinion, stand for. So he talked with the fervor of an enthusiast, a missionary, a devotee, who saw in that daily chronicle of the news an agency to stir men's minds and spur their thoughts, if need be, to action; at the same time the mechanism and instrument of power, of achievement, of success. Fentriss Smith listened and was troubled in spirit by these unknown fires. He had supposed respectability to be the final aim and end of a sound newspaper tradition.
The apparent intimacy which had sprung up between twenty-five-dollar Smith and the reserved, almost hermit-like Banneker was the subject of curious and amused commentary in The Ledger office. Mallory hazarded a humorous guess that Banneker was tutoring Smith in the finer arts of journalism, which was not so far amiss as its proponent might have supposed.
The Great Heat broke several evenings later in a drench of rain and wind. This, being in itself important news, kept Banneker late at his writing, and he had told his host not to wait, that he would join him on the yacht sometime about midnight. So Smith had gone on alone.
The next morning Tommy Burt, lounging into the office from an early assignment, approached the City Desk with a twinkle far back in his lively eyes.
"Hear anything of a shoot-fest up in the Bad Lands last night?" he asked.
"Not yet," replied Mr. Greenough. "They're getting to be everyday occurrences up there. Is it on the police slips, Mr. Mallory?"
"No. Nothing in that line," answered the assistant, looking over his assortment.
"Police are probably suppressing it," opined Burt.
"Have you got the story?" queried Mr. Greenough.
"In outline. It isn't really my story."
"Whose is it, then?"
"That's part of it." Tommy Burt leaned against Mallory's desk and appeared to be revolving some delectable thought in his mind.
"Tommy," said Mallory, "they didn't open that committee meeting you've been attending with a corkscrew, did they?"
"I'm intoxicated with the chaste beauties of my story, which isn't mine," returned the dreamily smiling Mr. Burt. "Here it is, boiled down. Guest on an anchored yacht returning late, sober, through the mist. Wharf-gang shooting craps in a pier-shed. They size him up and go to it; six of 'em. Knives and one gun: maybe more. The old game: one asks for the time. Another sneaks up behind and gives the victim the elbow-garrote. The rest rush him. Well, they got as far as the garrote. Everything lovely and easy. Then Mr. Victim introduces a few specialties. Picks a gun from somewhere around his shirt-front, shoots the garroter over his shoulder; kills the man in front, who is at him with a stiletto, ducks a couple of shots from the gang, and lays out two more of 'em. The rest take to the briny. Tally: two dead, one dying, one wounded, Mr. Guest walks to the shore end, meets two patrolmen, and turns in his gun. 'I've done a job for you,' says he. So they pinch him. He's in the police station, _incomunicado_."
Throughout the narrative, Mr. Greenough had thrown in little, purring interjections of "Good! Good!"--"Yes."--"Ah! good!" At the conclusion Mallory exclaimed!
"Moses! That is a story! You say it isn't yours? Why not?"
"Because it's Banneker's."
"He's the guest with the gun."
Mallory jumped in his chair. "Banneker!" he exclaimed. "Oh, hell!" he added disconsolately.
"Takes the shine out of the story, doesn't it?" observed Burt with a malicious smile.
One of the anomalous superstitions of newspaperdom is that nothing which happens to a reporter in the line of his work is or can be "big news." The mere fact that he is a reporter is enough to blight the story.
"What was Banneker doing down there?" queried Mr. Greenough.
"Visiting on a yacht."
"Is that so?" There was a ray of hope in the other's face. The glamour of yachting association might be made to cast a radiance about the event, in which the damnatory fact that the principal figure was a mere reporter could be thrown into low relief. Such is the view which journalistic snobbery takes of the general public's snobbery. "Whose yacht?"
Again the spiteful little smile appealed on Burt's lips as he dashed the rising hope. "Fentriss Smith's."
And again the expletive of disillusion burst from between Mallory's teeth as he saw the front-page double-column spread, a type-specialty of the usually conservative Ledger upon which it prided itself, dwindle to a carefully handled inside-page three-quarter of a column.
"You say that Mr. Banneker is in the police station?" asked the city editor.
"Or at headquarters. They're probably working the third degree on him."
"That won't do," declared the city desk incumbent, with conviction. He caught up the telephone, got the paper's City Hall reporter, and was presently engaged in some polite but pointed suggestions to His Honor the Mayor. Shortly after, Police Headquarters called; the Chief himself was on the wire.
"The Ledger is behind Mr. Banneker, Chief," said Mr. Greenough crisply. "Carrying concealed weapons? If your men in that precinct were fit to be on the force, there would be no need for private citizens to go armed. You get the point, I see. Good-bye."
"Unless I am a bad guesser we'll have Banneker back here by evening. And there'll be no manhandling in his case," Mallory said to Burt.
Counsel was taken of Mr. Gordon, as soon as that astute managing editor arrived, as to the handling of the difficult situation. The Ledger, always cynically intolerant of any effort to better the city government, as savoring of "goo-gooism," which was its special _bête noire_, could not well make the shooting a basis for a general attack upon police laxity, though it was in this that lay the special news possibility of the event. On the other hand, the thing was far too sensational to be ignored or too much slurred.
Andreas, the assistant managing editor, in charge of the paper's make-up, a true news-hound with an untainted delight in the unusual and striking, no matter what its setting might be, who had been called into the conference, advocated "smearing it all over the front page, with Banneker's first-hand statement for the lead--pictures too."
Him, Mr. Greenough, impassive joss of the city desk, regarded with a chill eye. "One reporter visiting another gets into a muss and shoots up some riverside toughs," he remarked contemptuously. "You can hardly expect our public to get greatly excited over that. Are we going into the business of exploiting our own cubs?"
Thereupon there was sharp discussion to which Mr. Gordon put an end by remarking that the evening papers would doubtless give them a lead; meantime they could get Banneker's version.
First to come in was The Evening New Yorker, the most vapid of all the local prints, catering chiefly to the uptown and shopping element. Its heading half-crossed the page proclaiming "Guest of Yachtsman Shoots Down Thugs." Nowhere in the article did it appear that Banneker had any connection with the newspaper world. He was made to appear as a young Westerner on a visit to the yacht of a millionaire business man, having come on from his ranch in the desert, and presumptively--to add the touch of godhead--a millionaire himself.
"The stinking liars!" said Andreas.
"That settles it," declared Mr. Gordon. "We'll give the facts plainly and without sensationalism; but all the facts."
"Including Mr. Banneker's connection here?" inquired Mr. Greenough.
The other evening papers, more honest than The Evening New Yorker, admitted, though, as it were, regretfully and in an inconspicuous finale to their accounts that the central figure of the sensation was only a reporter. But the fact of his being guest on a yacht was magnified and glorified.
At five o'clock Banneker arrived, having been bailed out after some difficulty, for the police were frightened and ugly, foreseeing that this swift vengeance upon the notorious gang, meted out by a private hand, would throw a vivid light upon their own inefficiency and complaisance. Happily the District Attorney's office was engaged in one of its periodical feuds with the Police Department over some matter of graft gone astray, and was more inclined to make a cat's-paw than a victim out of Banneker.
Though inwardly strung to a high pitch, for the police officials had kept him sleepless through the night by their habitual inquisition, Banneker held himself well in hand as he went to the City Desk to report gravely that he had been unable to come earlier.
"So we understand, Mr. Banneker," said Mr. Greenough, his placid features for once enlivened. "That was a good job you did. I congratulate you."
"Thank you, Mr. Greenough," returned Banneker. "I had to do it or get done. And, at that, it wasn't much of a trick. They were a yellow lot."
"Very likely: very likely. You've handled a gun before."
"Only in practice."
"Ever shot anybody before?"
"How does it feel?" inquired the city editor, turning his pale eyes on the other and fussing nervously with his fingers.
"At first you want to go on killing," answered Banneker. "Then, when it's over, there's a big let-down. It doesn't seem as if it were you." He paused and added boyishly: "The evening papers are making an awful fuss over it."
"What do you expect? It isn't every day that a Wild West Show with real bullets and blood is staged in this effete town."
"Of course I knew there'd be a kick-up about it," admitted Banneker. "But, some way--well, in the West, if a gang gets shot up, there's quite a bit of talk for a while, and the boys want to buy the drinks for the fellow that does it, but it doesn't spread all over the front pages. I suppose I still have something of the Western view.... How much did you want of this, Mr. Greenough?" he concluded in a business-like tone.
"You are not doing the story, Mr. Banneker. Tommy Burt is."
"I'm not writing it? Not any of it?"
"Certainly not. You're the hero"--there was a hint of elongation of the first syllable which might have a sardonic connotation from those pale and placid lips--"not the historian. Burt will interview you."
"A Patriot reporter has already. I gave him a statement."
Mr. Greenough frowned. "It would have been as well to have waited. However."
"Oh, Banneker," put in Mallory, "Judge Enderby wants you to call at his office."
"Who's Judge Enderby?"
"Chief Googler of the Goo-Goos; the Law Enforcement Society lot. They call him the ablest honest lawyer in New York. He's an old crab. Hates the newspapers, particularly us."
"He cherishes some theory," said Mr. Greenough in his most toneless voice, "that a newspaper ought to be conducted solely in the interests of people like himself."
"Is there any reason why I should go chasing around to see him?"
"That's as you choose. He doesn't see reporters often. Perhaps it would be as well."
"His outfit are after the police," explained Mallory. "That's what he wants you for. It's part of their political game. Always politics."
"Well, he can wait until to-morrow, I suppose," remarked Banneker indifferently.
Greenough examined him with impenetrable gaze. This was a very cavalier attitude toward Judge Willis Enderby. For Enderby was a man of real power. He might easily have been the most munificently paid corporation attorney in the country but for the various kinds of business which he would not, in his own homely phrase, "poke at with a burnt stick." Notwithstanding his prejudices, he was confidential legal adviser, in personal and family affairs, to a considerable percentage of the important men and women of New York. He was supposed to be the only man who could handle that bull-elephant of finance, ruler of Wall Street, and, when he chose to give it his contemptuous attention, dictator, through his son and daughters, of the club and social world of New York, old Poultney Masters, in the apoplectic rages into which the slightest thwart to his will plunged him. To Enderby's adroitness the financier (one of whose pet vanities was a profound and wholly baseless faith in himself as a connoisseur of art) owed it that he had not become a laughing-stock through his purchase of a pair of particularly flagrant Murillos, planted for his special behoof by a gang of clever Italian swindlers. Rumor had it that when Enderby had privately summed up his client's case for his client's benefit before his client as referee, in these words: "And, Mr. Masters, if you act again in these matters without consulting me, you must find another lawyer; I cannot afford fools for clients"--they had to call in a physician and resort to the ancient expedient of bleeding, to save the great man's cerebral arteries from bursting.
Toward the public press, Enderby's attitude was the exact reverse of Horace Vanney's. For himself, he unaffectedly disliked and despised publicity; for the interests which he represented, he delegated it to others. He would rarely be interviewed; his attitude toward the newspapers was consistently repellent. Consequently his infrequent utterances were treasured as pearls, and given a prominence far above those of the too eager and over-friendly Mr. Vanney, who, incidentally, was his associate on the directorate of the Law Enforcement Society. The newspapers did not like Willis Enderby any more than he liked them. But they cherished for him an unrequited respect.
That a reporter, a nobody of yesterday whose association with The Ledger constituted his only claim to any status whatever, should profess indifference to a summons from a man of Enderby's position, suggested affectation to Mr. Greenough's suspicions. Young Mr. Banneker's head was already swelling, was it? Very well; in the course of time and his duties, Mr. Greenough would apply suitable remedies.
If Banneker were, indeed, taking a good conceit of himself from the conspicuous position achieved so unexpectedly, the morning papers did nothing to allay it. Most of them slurred over, as lightly as possible, the fact of his journalistic connection; as in the evening editions, the yacht feature was kept to the fore. There were two exceptions. The Ledger itself, in a colorless and straightforward article, frankly identified the hero of the episode, in the introductory sentence, as a member of its city staff, and his host of the yacht as another journalist. But there was one notable omission about which Banneker determined to ask Tommy Burt as soon as he could see him. The Patriot, most sensational of the morning issues, splurged wildly under the caption, "Yacht Guest Cleans Out Gang Which Cowed Police." The Sphere, in an editorial, demanded a sweeping and honest investigation of the conditions which made life unsafe in the greatest of cities. The Sphere was always demanding sweeping and honest investigations, and not infrequently getting them. In Greenough's opinion this undesirable result was likely to be achieved now. To Mr. Gordon he said:
"We ought to shut down all we can on the Banneker follow-up. An investigation with our man as prosecuting witness would put us in the position of trying to reform the police, and would play into the hands of the Enderby crowd."
The managing editor shook a wise and grizzled head. "If The Patriot keeps up its whooping and The Sphere its demanding, the administration will have to do something. After all, Mr. Greenough, things have become pretty unendurable in the Murder Precinct."
"That's true. But the signed statement of Banneker's in The Patriot--it's really an interview faked up as a statement--is a savage attack on the whole administration."
"I understand," remarked Mr. Gordon, "that they were going to beat him up scientifically in the station house when Smith came in and scared them out of it."
"Yes. Banneker is pretty angry over it. You can't blame him. But that's no reason why we should alienate the city administration.... Then you think, Mr. Gordon, that we'll have to keep the story running?"
"I think, Mr. Greenough, that we'll have to give the news," answered the managing editor austerely. "Where is Banneker now?"
"With Judge Enderby, I believe. In case of an investigation he won't be much use to us until it's over."
"Can't be helped," returned Mr. Gordon serenely. "We'll stand by our man."
Banneker had gone to the old-fashioned offices of Enderby and Enderby, in a somewhat inimical frame of mind. Expectant of an invitation to aid the Law Enforcement Society in cleaning up a pest-hole of crime, he was half determined to have as little to do with it as possible. Overnight consideration had developed in him the theory that the function of a newspaper is informative, not reformative; that when a newspaper man has correctly adduced and frankly presented the facts, his social as well as his professional duty is done. Others might hew out the trail thus blazed; the reporter, bearing his searchlight, should pass on to other dark spots. All his theories evaporated as soon as he confronted Judge Enderby, forgotten in the interest inspired by the man.
A portrait painter once said of Willis Enderby that his face was that of a saint, illumined, not by inspiration, but by shrewdness. With his sensitiveness to beauty of whatever kind, Banneker felt the extraordinary quality of the face, beneath its grim outline, interpreting it from the still depth of the quiet eyes rather than from the stern mouth and rather tyrannous nose. He was prepared for an abrupt and cold manner, and was surprised when the lawyer rose to shake hands, giving him a greeting of courtly congratulation upon his courage and readiness. If the purpose of this was to get Banneker to expand, as he suspected, it failed. The visitor sensed the cold reserve behind the smile.
"Would you be good enough to run through this document?" requested the lawyer, motioning Banneker to a seat opposite himself, and handing him a brief synopsis of what the Law Enforcement Society hoped to prove regarding police laxity.
Exercising that double faculty of mind which later became a part of the Banneker legend in New York journalism, the reader, whilst absorbing the main and quite simple points of the report, recalled an instance in which an Atkinson and St. Philip ticket agent had been maneuvered into a posture facing a dazzling sunset, and had adjusted his vision to find it focused upon the barrel of a 45. Without suspecting the Judge of hold-up designs, he nevertheless developed a parallel. Leaving his chair he walked over and sat by the window. Halfway through the document, he quietly laid it aside and returned the lawyer's studious regard.
"Have you finished?" asked Judge Enderby.
"You do not find it interesting?"
"Less interesting than your idea in giving it to me."
"What do you conceive that to have been?"
By way of reply, Banneker cited the case of Tim Lake, the robbed agent. "I think," he added with a half smile, "that you and I will do better in the open."
"I think so, too. Mr. Banneker, are you honest?"
"Where I came from, that would be regarded as a trouble-hunter's question."
"I ask you to regard it as important and take it without offense."
"I don't know about that," returned Banneker gravely. "We'll see. Honest, you say. Are you?"
"Then why do you begin by doubting the honesty of a stranger against whom you know nothing?"
"Legal habit, I dare say. Fortified, in this case, by your association with The Ledger."
"You haven't a high opinion of my paper?"
"The very highest, of its adroitness and expertness. It can make the better cause appear the worse with more skill than any other journal in America."
"I thought that was the specialty of lawyers."
Judge Enderby accepted the touch with a smile.
"A lawyer is an avowed special pleader. He represents one side. A newspaper is supposed to be without bias and to present the facts for the information of its one client, the public. You will readily appreciate the difference."
"I do. Then you don't consider The Ledger honest."
Judge Enderby's composed glance settled upon the morning's issue, spread upon his desk. "I have, I assume, the same opinion of The Ledger's honesty that you have."
"Do you mind explaining that to me quite simply, so that I shall be sure to understand it?" invited Banneker.
"You have read the article about your exploit?"
"Is that honest?"
"It is as accurate a job as I've ever known done."
"Granted. Is it honest?"
"I don't know," answered the other after a pause. "I intend to find out."
"You intend to find out why it is so reticent on every point that might impugn the police, I take it. I could tell you; but yours is the better way. You gave the same interview to your own paper that you gave to The Patriot, I assume. By the way, what a commentary on journalism that the most scurrilous sheet in New York should have given the fullest and frankest treatment to the subject; a paper written by the dregs of Park Row for the reading of race-track touts and ignorant servant girls!"
"Yes; I gave them the same interview. It may have been crowded out--"
"For lack of space," supplied Enderby in a tone which the other heartily disliked. "Mr. Banneker, I thought that this was to be in the open."
"I'm wrong," confessed the other. "I'll know by this evening why the police part was handled that way, and if it was policy--" He stopped, considering.
"Well?" prompted the other.
"I'll go through to the finish with your committee."
"You're as good as pledged," retorted the lawyer. "I shall expect to hear from you."
As soon as he could find Tommy Burt, Banneker put to him the direct question. "What is the matter with the story as I gave it to you?"
Burt assumed an air of touching innocence. "The story had to be handled with great care," he explained blandly.
"Come off, Tommy. Didn't you write the police part?"
Tommy Burl's eyes denoted the extreme of candor. "It was suggested to me that your views upon the police, while interesting and even important, might be misunderstood."
"Is _that_ so? And who made the suggestion?"
"An all-wise city desk."
"Thank you. Tommy."
"The Morning Ledger," volunteered Tommy Burt, "has a high and well-merited reputation for its fidelity to the principles of truth and fairness and to the best interests of the reading public. It never gives the public any news to play with that it thinks the dear little thing ought not to have. Did you say anything? No? Well; you meant it. You're wrong. The Ledger is the highest-class newspaper in New York. We are the Elect!"
In his first revulsion of anger, Banneker was for going to Mr. Greenough and having it out with him. If it meant his resignation, very good. He was ready to look his job in the eye and tell it to go to hell. Turning the matter over in his mind, however, he decided upon another course. So far as the sensational episode of which he was the central figure went, he would regard himself consistently as a private citizen with no responsibility whatsoever to The Ledger. Let the paper print or suppress what it chose; his attitude toward it would be identical with his attitude toward the other papers. Probably the office powers would heartily disapprove of his having any dealings with Enderby and his Law Enforcement Society. Let them! He telephoned a brief but final message to Enderby and Enderby. When, late that night, Mr. Gordon called him over and suggested that it was highly desirable to let the whole affair drop out of public notice as soon as the startling facts would permit, he replied that Judge Enderby had already arranged to push an investigation.
"Doubtless," observed the managing editor. "It is his specialty. But without your evidence they can't go far."
"They can have my evidence."
Mr. Gordon, who had been delicately balancing his letter-opener, now delivered a whack of such unthinking ferocity upon his fat knuckle as to produce a sharp pang. He gazed in surprise and reproach upon the aching thumb and something of those emotions informed the regard which he turned slowly upon Banneker.
Mr. Gordon's frame of mind was unenviable. The Inside Room, moved by esoteric considerations, political and, more remotely, financial, had issued to him a managerial ukase; no police investigation if it could be avoided. Now, news was the guise in which Mr. Gordon sincerely worshiped Truth, the God. But Mammon, in the Inside Room, held the purse-strings Mr. Gordon had arrived at his honorable and well-paid position, not by wisdom alone, but also by compromise. Here was a situation where news must give way to the more essential interests of the paper.
"Mr. Banneker," he said, "that investigation will take a great deal of your time; more, I fear, than the paper can afford to give you."
"They will arrange to put me on the stand in the mornings."
"Further, any connection between a Ledger man and the Enderby Committee is undesirable and injudicious."
"I'm sorry," answered Banneker simply. "I've said I'd go through with it."
Mr. Gordon selected a fresh knuckle for his modified drumming. "Have you considered your duty to the paper, Mr. Banneker? If not, I advise you to do so." The careful manner, more than the words, implied threat.
Banneker leaned forward as if for a confidential communication, as he lapsed into a gross Westernism:
"Mr. Gordon, _I_ am paying for this round of drinks."
Somehow the managing editor received the impression that this remark, delivered in just that tone of voice and in its own proper environment, was usually accompanied by a smooth motion of the hand toward the pistol holster.
Banneker, after asking whether there was anything more, and receiving a displeased shake of the head, went away.
"Now," said he to the waiting Tommy Burt, "they'll probably fire me."
"Let 'em! You can get plenty of other jobs. But I don't think they will. Old Gordon is really with you. It makes him sick to have to doctor news."
Sleepless until almost morning, Banneker reviewed in smallest detail his decision and the situation to which it had led. He thought that he had taken the right course. He felt that Miss Camilla would approve. Judge Enderby's personality, he recognized, had exerted some influence upon his decision. He had conceived for the lawyer an instinctive respect and liking. There was about him a power of attraction, not readily definable, but seeming mysteriously to assert some hidden claim from the past.
Where had he seen that fine and still face before?
Sequels of a surprising and diverse character followed Banneker's sudden fame. The first to manifest itself was disconcerting. On the Wednesday following the fight on the pier, Mrs. Brashear intercepted him in the hallway.
"I'm sure we all admire what you did, Mr. Banneker," she began, in evident trepidation.
The subject of this eulogy murmured something deprecatory.
"It was very brave of you. Most praiseworthy. We appreciate it, all of us. Yes, indeed. It's very painful, Mr. Banneker. I never expected to--to--indeed, I couldn't have believed--" Mrs. Brashear's plump little hands made gestures so fluttery and helpless that her lodger was moved to come to her aid.
"What's the matter, Mrs. Brashear? What's troubling you?"
"If you could make it convenient," said she tremulously, "when your month is up. I shouldn't think of asking you before."
"Are you giving me notice?" he inquired in amazement.
"If you don't mind, please. The notoriety, the--the--your being arrested. You were arrested, weren't you?"
"Oh, yes. But the coroner's jury cleared--"
"Such a thing never happened to any of my guests before. To have my house in the police records," wept Mrs. Brashear. "Really, Mr. Banneker, really! You can't know how it hurts one's pride."
"I'll go next week," said the evicted one, divided between amusement and annoyance, and retired to escape another outburst of grief.
Now that the matter was presented to him, he was rather glad to be leaving. Quarters somewhere in mid-town, more in consonance with his augmented income, suggested themselves as highly desirable. Since the affray he had been the object of irksome attentions from his fellow lodgers. It is difficult to say whether he found the more unendurable young Wickert's curiosity regarding details, Hainer's pompous adulation, or Lambert's admiring but jocular attitude. The others deemed it their duty never to refrain from some reference to the subject wherever and whenever they encountered him. The one exception was Miss Westlake. She congratulated him once, quietly but with warm sincerity; and when next she came to his door, dealt with another topic.
"Mrs. Brashear tells me that you are leaving, Mr. Banneker."
"Did she tell you why? That she has fired me out?"
"No. She didn't."
Banneker, a little surprised and touched at the landlady's reticence, explained.
"Ah, well," commented Miss Westlake, "you would soon have outgrown us in any case."
"I'm not so sure. Where one lives doesn't so much matter. And I'm a creature of habit."
"I think that you are going to be a very big man, Mr. Banneker."
"Do you?" He smiled down at her. "Now, why?"
She did not answer his smile. "You've got power," she replied. "And you have mastered your medium--or gone far toward it."
"I'm grateful for your good opinion," he began courteously; but she broke in on him, shaking her head.
"If it were mine alone, it wouldn't matter. It's the opinion of those who know. Mr. Banneker, I've been taking a liberty."
"You're the last person in the world to do that, I should think," he replied smilingly.
"But I have. You may remember my asking you once when those little sketches that I retyped so often were to be published."
"Yes. I never did anything with them."
"I did. I showed them to Violet Thornborough. She is an old friend."
Ignorant of the publication world outside of Park Row, Banneker did not recognize a name, unknown to the public, which in the inner literary world connoted all that was finest, most perceptive, most discriminating and helpful in selective criticism. Miss Thornborough had been the first to see and foster half of the glimmering and feeble radiances which had later grown to be the manifest lights of the magazine and book world, thanks largely to her aid and encouragement. The next name mentioned by Miss Westlake was well enough known to Banneker, however. The critic, it appears, had, with her own hands, borne the anonymous, typed copies to the editorial sanctum of the foremost of monthlies, and, claiming a prerogative, refused to move aside from the pathway of orderly business until the Great Gaines himself, editor and autocrat of the publication, had read at least one of them. So the Great Gaines indulged Miss Thornborough by reading one. He then indulged himself by reading three more.
"Your goose," he pronounced, "is not fledged; but there may be a fringe of swan feathers. Bring him to see me."
"I haven't the faintest idea of who, what, or where he is," answered the insistent critic.
"Then hire a detective at our expense," smiled the editor. "And, please, as you go, can't you lure away with you Mr. Harvey Wheelwright, our most popular novelist, now in the reception-room wishing us to publish his latest enormity? Us!" concluded the Great Gaines sufficiently.
Having related the episode to its subject, Miss Westlake said diffidently: "Do you think it was inexcusably impertinent of me?"
"No. I think it was very kind."
"Then you'll go to see Mr. Gaines?"
"One of these days. When I get out of this present scrape. And I hope you'll keep on copying my Sunday stuff after I leave. Nobody else would be so patient with my dreadful handwriting."
She gave him a glance and a little flush of thankfulness. Matters had begun to improve with Miss Westlake. But it was due to Banneker that she had won through her time of desperation. Now, through his suggestion, she was writing successfully, quarter and half column "general interest" articles for the Woman's Page of the Sunday Ledger. If she could in turn help Banneker to recognition, part of her debt would be paid. As for him, he was interested in, but not greatly expectant of, the Gaines invitation. Still, if he were cast adrift from The Ledger because of activity in the coming police inquiry, there was a possible port in the magazine world.
Meantime there pressed the question of a home. Cressey ought to afford help on that. He called the gilded youth on the telephone.
"Hello, old fire-eater!" cried Cressey. "Some little hero, aren't you! Bully work, my boy. I'm proud to know you.... What; quarters? Easiest thing you know. I've got the very thing--just like a real-estate agent. Let's see; this is your Monday at Sherry's, isn't it? All right. I'll meet you there."
Providentially, as it might appear, a friend of Cressey's, having secured a diplomatic appointment, was giving up his bachelor apartment in the select and central Regalton.
"Cheap as dirt," said the enthusiastic Cressey, beaming at Banneker over his cocktail that evening. "Two rooms and bath; fully furnished, and you can get it for eighteen hundred a year."
"Quite a raise from the five dollars a week I've been paying," smiled Banneker.
"Pshaw! You've got to live up to your new reputation. You're somebody, now, Banneker. All New York is talking about you. Why, I'm afraid to say I know you for fear they'll think I'm bragging."
"All of which doesn't increase my income," pointed out the other.
"It will. Just wait. One way or another you'll capitalize that reputation. That's the way New York is."
"That isn't the way _I_ am, however. I'll capitalize my brains and ability, if I've got 'em; not my gun-play."
"Your gun-play will advertise your brains and ability, then," retorted Cressey. "Nobody expects you to make a princely income shooting up toughs on the water-front. But your having done it will put you in the lime-light where people will notice you. And being noticed is the beginning of success in this-man's-town. I'm not sure it isn't the end, too. Just see how the head waiter fell all over himself when you came in. I expect he's telling that bunch at the long table yonder who you are now."
"Let him," returned Banneker comfortably, his long-bred habit of un-self-consciousness standing him in good stead. "They'll all forget it soon enough."
As he glanced over at the group around the table, the man who was apparently acting as host caught his eye and nodded in friendly fashion.
"Oh, you know Marrineal, do you?" asked Cressey in surprise.
"I've seen him, but I've never spoken to him. He dines sometimes in a queer little restaurant way downtown, just off the Swamp. Who is he, anyway?"
"Puzzle. Nobody in the clubs knows him. He's a spender. Bit of a rounder, too, I expect. Plays the Street, and beats it, too."
"Who's the little beauty next him?"
"You a rising light of Park Row, and not know Betty Raleigh? She killed 'em dead in London in romantic comedy and now she's come back here to repeat."
"Oh, yes. Opening to-night, isn't she? I've got a seat." He looked over at Marrineal, who was apparently protesting against his neighbor's reversed wine-glass. "So that's Mr. Marrineal's little style of game, is it?" He spoke crudely, for the apparition of the girl was quite touching in its youth, and delight, and candor of expression, whereas he had read into Marrineal's long, handsome, and blandly mature face a touch of the satyr. He resented the association.
"No; it isn't," replied Cressey promptly. "If it is, he's in the wrong pew. Miss Raleigh is straight as they make 'em, from all I hear."
"She looks it," admitted Banneker.
"At that, she's in a rather sporty lot. Do you know that chap three seats to her left?"
Banneker considered the diner, a round-faced, high-colored, youthful man of perhaps thirty-five, with a roving and merry eye. "No," he answered. "I never saw him before."
"That's Del Eyre," remarked Cressey casually, and appearing not to look at Banneker.
"A friend of yours?" The indifference of the tone indicated to his companion either that Banneker did not identify Delavan Eyre by his marriage, or that he maintained extraordinary control over himself, or that the queer, romantic stories of Io Welland's "passion in the desert" were gross exaggerations. Cressey inclined to the latter belief.
"Not specially," he answered the question. "He belongs to a couple of my clubs. Everybody likes Del; even Mrs. Del. But his pace is too swift for me. Just at present he is furnishing transportation, sixty horse-power, for Tarantina, the dancer who is featured in Betty Raleigh's show."
"Is she over there with them?"
"Oh, no. She wouldn't be. It isn't as sporty as all that." He rose to shake hands with a short, angular young man, dressed to a perfection as accurate as Banneker's own, and excelling him in one distinctive touch, a coat-flower of gold-and-white such as no other in New York could wear, since only in one conservatory was that special orchid successfully grown. By it Banneker recognized Poultney Masters, Jr., the son and heir of the tyrannous old financier who had for years bullied and browbeaten New York to his wayward old heart's content. In his son there was nothing of the bully, but through the amiability of manner Banneker could feel a quiet force. Cressey introduced them.
"We're just having coffee," said Banneker. "Will you join us?"
"Thank you; I must go back to my party. I came over to express my personal obligation to you for cleaning out that gang of wharf-rats. My boat anchors off there. I hope to see you aboard her sometime."
"You owe me no thanks," returned Banneker good-humoredly. "What I did was to save my own precious skin."
"The effect was the same. After this the rats will suspect every man of being a Banneker in disguise, and we shall have no more trouble."
"You see!" remarked Cressey triumphantly as Masters went away. "I told you you'd arrived."
"Do you count a word of ordinary courtesy as so much?" inquired Banneker, surprised and amused.
"From Junior? I certainly do. No Masters ever does anything without having figured out its exact meaning in advance."
"And what does this mean?" asked the other, still unimpressed.
"For one thing, that the Masters influence will be back of you, if the police try to put anything over. For another, that you've got the broadest door to society open to you, if Junior follows up his hint about the yacht."
"I haven't the time," returned Banneker with honest indifference. He sipped his coffee thoughtfully. "Cressey," he said, "if I had a newspaper of my own in New York, do you know what I'd do with it?"
"I hope so. But whether I did or not, I'd set out to puncture that bubble of the Masters power and supremacy. It isn't right for any man to have that power just through money. It isn't American."
"The old man would smash your paper in six months."
"Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody has ever taken a shot at him yet. He may be more vulnerable than he looks.... Speaking of money, I suppose I'd better take that apartment. God knows how I'll pay for it, especially if I lose my job."
"If you lose your job I'll get you a better one on Wall Street to-morrow."
"On the strength of Poultney Masters, Jr., shaking hands with me, I suppose."
"Practically. It may not get into your newspapers, but the Street will know all about it to-morrow."
"It's a queer city. And it's a queer way to get on in it, by being quick on the trigger. Well, I'm off for the theater."
Between acts, Banneker, walking out to get air, was conscious of being the object of comment and demonstration. He heard his name spoken in half whispers; saw nods and jerks of the head; was an involuntary eavesdropper upon a heated discussion; "That's the man."--"No; it ain't. The paper says he's a big feller."--"This guy ain't a reporter. Pipe his clothes."--"Well, he's big if you size him right. Look at his shoulders."--"I'll betcha ten he ain't the man." And an apologetic young fellow ran after him to ask if he was not, in truth, Mr. Banneker of The Ledger. Being no more than human, he experienced a feeling of mild excitation over all this. But no sooner had the curtain risen on the second act than he quite forgot himself and his notoriety in the fresh charm of the comedy, and the delicious simplicity of Betty Raleigh as the heroine. That the piece was destined to success was plain, even so early. As the curtain fell again, and the star appeared, dragging after her a long, gaunt, exhausted, alarmed man in horn-rimmed spectacles, who had been lurking in a corner suffering from incipient nervous breakdown and illusions of catastrophe, he being the author, the body of the house rose and shouted. A hand fell on Banneker's shoulder.
"Come behind at the finish?" said a voice.
Turning, Banneker met the cynical and near-sighted eyes of Gurney, The Ledger's dramatic critic, with whom he had merely a nodding acquaintance, as Gurney seldom visited the office except at off-hours.
"Yes; I'd like to," he answered.
"Little Betty spotted you and has been demanding that the management bring you back for inspection."
"The play is a big success, isn't it?"
"I give it a year's run," returned the critic authoritatively. "Laurence has written it to fit Raleigh like a glove. She's all they said of her in London. And when she left here a year ago, she was just a fairly good _ingénue_. However, she's got brains, which is the next best thing in the theatrical game to marriage with the manager--or near-marriage."
Banneker, considering Gurney's crow-footed and tired leer, decided that he did not like the critic much.
Back-of-curtain after a successful opening provides a hectic and scrambled scene to the unaccustomed eye. Hastily presented to a few people, Banneker drifted to one side and, seating himself on a wire chair, contentedly assumed the role of onlooker. The air was full of laughter and greetings and kisses; light-hearted, offhand, gratulatory kisses which appeared to be the natural currency of felicitation. Betty Raleigh, lovely, flushed, and athrill with nervous exaltation, flung him a smile as she passed, one hand hooked in the arm of her leading man.
"You're coming to supper with us later," she called.
"Am I?" said Banneker.
"Of course. I've got something to ask you." She spoke as one expectant of unquestioning obedience: this was her night of glory and power.
Whether he had been previously bidden in through Gurney, or whether this chance word constituted his invitation, he did not know. Seeking enlightenment upon the point, he discovered that the critic had disappeared, to furnish his half-column for the morning issue. La Tarantina, hearing his inquiry, gave him the news in her broken English. The dancer, lithe, powerful, with the hideous feet and knotty legs typical of her profession, turned her somber, questioning eyes on the stranger:
"You air Monsieur Ban-kerr, who shoot, n'est-ce-pas?" she inquired.
"My name is Banneker," he replied.
"Weel you be ver' good an' shoot sahmbody for me?"
"With pleasure," he said, laughing; "if you'll plead for me with the jury."
"Zen here he iss." She stretched a long and, as it seemed, blatantly naked arm into a group near by and drew forth the roundish man whom Cressey had pointed out at Marrineal's dinner party. "He would be unfaithful to me, ziss one."
"I? Never!" denied the accused. He set a kiss in the hollow of the dancer's wrist. "How d'ye do, Mr. Banneker," he added, holding out his hand. "My name is Eyre."
"But yess!" cried the dancer. "He--what you say it?--he r-r-r-rave over Miss R-r-raleigh. He make me jealous. He shall be shoot at sunrice an' I weel console me wiz his shooter."
"Charming programme!" commented the doomed man. It struck Banneker that he had probably been drinking a good deal, also that he was a very likeable person, indeed. "If you don't mind my asking, where the devil did you learn to shoot like that?"
"Oh, out West where I came from. I used to practice on the pine trees at a little water-tank station called Manzanita".
"Manzanita!" repeated the other. "By God!" He swore softly, and stared at the other.
Banneker was annoyed. Evidently the gossip of which Io's girl friend had hinted that other night at Sherry's had obtained wide currency. Before the conversation could go any further, even had it been likely to after that surprising check, one of the actors came over. He played the part of an ex-cowboy, who, in the bar-room scene, shot his way out of danger through a circle of gang-men, and he was now seeking from Banneker ostensibly pointers, actually praise.
"Say, old man," he began without introduction. "Gimme a tip or two. How do you get your hand over for your gun without giving yourself away?"
"Just dive for it, as you do in the play. You do it plenty quick enough. You'd get the drop on me ten times out of ten," returned Banneker pleasantly, leaving the gratified actor with the conviction that he had been talking with the coming dramatic critic of the age.
For upwards of an hour there was carnival on the dismantling stage, mingled with the hurried toil of scene-shifters and the clean-up gang. Then the impromptu party began to disperse, Eyre going away with the dancer, after coming to bid Banneker good-night, with a look of veiled curiosity and interest which its object could not interpret. Banneker was gathered into the _corps intime_ of Miss Raleigh's supper party, including the author of the play, an elderly first-nighter, two or three dramatic critics, Marrineal, who had drifted in, late, and half a dozen of the company. The men outnumbered the women, as is usual in such affairs, and Banneker found himself seated between the playwright and a handsome, silent girl who played with distinction the part of an elderly woman. There was wine in profusion, but he noticed that the player-folk drank sparingly. Condition, he correctly surmised, was part of their stock in trade. As it should be part of his also.
Late in the supper's course, there was a shifting of seats, and he was landed next to the star.
"I suppose you're bored stiff with talking about the shooting," she said, at once.
"I am, rather. Wouldn't you be?"
"I? Publicity is the breath of life to us," she laughed. "You deal in it, so you don't care for it."
"That's rather shrewd in you. I'm not sure that the logic is sound."
"Anyway, I'm not going to bore you with your fame. But I want you to do something for me."
"It is done," he said solemnly.
"How prettily you pay compliments! There is to be a police investigation, isn't there?"
"Could you get me in?"
"Then I want to come when you're on the stand."
"Great goodness! Why?"
"Why, if you want a reason," she answered mischievously, "say that I want to bring good luck to your _première_, as you brought it to mine."
"I'll probably make a sorry showing. Perhaps you would give me some training."
She answered in kind, and the acquaintanceship was progressing most favorably when a messenger of the theater manager's office staff appeared with early editions of the morning papers. Instantly every other interest was submerged.
"Give me The Ledger," demanded Betty. "I want to see what Gurney says."
"Something pleasant surely," said Banneker. "He told me that the play was an assured success."
As she read, Betty's vivacious face sparkled. Presently her expression changed. She uttered a little cry of disgust and rage.
"What's the matter?" inquired the author.
"Gurney is up to his smartnesses again," she replied. "Listen. Isn't this enraging!" She read:
"As for the play itself, it is formed, fashioned, and finished in the cleverest style of tailor-made, to Miss Raleigh's charming personality. One must hail Mr. Laurence as chief of our sartorial playwrights. No actress ever boasted a neater fit. Can you not picture him, all nice little enthusiasms and dainty devices, bustling about his fair patroness, tape in hand, mouth bristling with pins, smoothing out a wrinkle here, adjusting a line there, achieving his little _chef d'oeuvre_ of perfect tailoring? We have had playwrights who were blacksmiths, playwrights who were costumers, playwrights who were musical-boxes, playwrights who were, if I may be pardoned, garbage incinerators. It remained, for Mr. Laurence to show us what can be done with scissors, needle, and a nice taste in frills.
"I think it's mean and shameful!" proclaimed the reader in generous rage.
"But he gives you a splendid send-off, Miss Raleigh," said her leading man, who, reading over her shoulder, had discovered that he, too, was handsomely treated.
"I don't care if he does!" cried Betty. "He's a pig!"
Her manager, possessed of a second copy of The Ledger, now made a weighty contribution to the discussion. "Just the same, this'll help sell out the house. It's full of stuff we can lift to paper the town with."
He indicated several lines heartily praising Miss Raleigh and the cast, and one which, wrenched from its satirical context, was made to give an equally favorable opinion of the play. Something of Banneker's astonishment at this cavalier procedure must have been reflected in his face, for Marrineal, opposite, turned to him with a look of amusement.
"What's your view of that, Mr. Banneker?"
"Mine?" said Banneker promptly. "I think it's crooked. What's yours?"
"Still quick on the trigger," murmured the other, but did not answer the return query.
Replies in profusion came from the rest, however. "It isn't any crookeder than the review."--"D'you call that fair criticism!"--"Gurney! He hasn't an honest hair in his head."--"Every other critic is strong for it; this is the only knock."--"What did Laurence ever do to Gurney?"
Out of the welter of angry voices came Betty Raleigh's clear speech, addressed to Banneker.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Banneker; I'd forgotten that The Ledger is your paper."
"Oh, The Ledger ain't any worse than the rest of 'em, take it day in and day out," the manager remarked, busily penciling apposite texts for advertising, on the margin of Gurney's critique.
"It isn't fair," continued the star. "A man spends a year working over a play--it was more than a year on this, wasn't it, Denny?" she broke off to ask the author.
Laurence nodded. He looked tired and a little bored, Banneker thought.
"And a critic has a happy thought and five minutes to think it over, and writes something mean and cruel and facetious, and perhaps undoes a whole year's work. Is that right?"
"They ought to bar him from the theater," declared one of the women in the cast.
"And what do you think of _that_?" inquired Marrineal, still addressing Banneker.
Banneker laughed. "Admit only those who wear the bright and burnished badge of the Booster," he said. "Is that the idea?"
"Nobody objects to honest criticism," began Betty Raleigh heatedly, and was interrupted by a mild but sardonic "Hear! Hear!" from one of the magazine reviewers.
"Honest players don't object to honest criticism, then," she amended. "It's the unfairness that hurts."
"All of which appears to be based on the assumption that it is impossible for Mr. Gurney honestly to have disliked Mr. Laurence's play," pointed out Banneker. "Now, delightful as it seemed to me, I can conceive that to other minds--"
"Of course he could honestly dislike it," put in the playwright hastily. "It isn't that."
"It's the mean, slurring way he treated it," said the star "Mr. Banneker, just what did he say to you about it?"
Swiftly there leapt to his recollection the critic's words, at the close of the second act. "It's a relief to listen for once to comedy that is sincere and direct." ... Then why, why--"He said that you were all that the play required and the play was all that you required," he answered, which was also true, but another part of the truth. He was not minded to betray his associate.
"He's rotten," murmured the manager, now busy on the margin of another paper. "But I dunno as he's any rottener than the rest."
"On behalf of the profession of journalism, we thank you, Bezdek," said one of the critics.
"Don't mind old Bez," put in the elderly first-nighter. "He always says what he thinks he means, but he usually doesn't mean it."
"That is perhaps just as well," said Banneker quite quietly, "if he means that The Ledger is not straight."
"I didn't say The Ledger. I said Gurney. He's crooked as a corkscrew's hole."
There was a murmur of protest and apprehension, for this was going rather too far, which Banneker's voice stilled. "Just a minute. By that you mean that he takes bribes?"
"Naw!" snorted Bezdek.
"That he's influenced by favoritism, then?"
"I didn't say so, did I?"
"You've said either too little or too much."
"I can clear this up, I think," proffered the elderly first-nighter, in his courteous voice. "Mr. Gurney is perhaps more the writer than the critic. He is carried away by the felicitous phrase."
"He'd rather be funny than fair," said Miss Raleigh bluntly.
"The curse of dramatic criticism," murmured a magazine representative.
"Rotten," said Bezdek doggedly. "Crooked. Tryin' to be funny at other folks' expense. _I_'ll give his tail a twist!" By which he meant Mr. Gurney's printed words.
"Apropos of the high cult of honesty," remarked Banneker.
"The curse of all journalism," put in Laurence. "The temptation to be effective at the expense of honesty."
"And what do you think of _that_?" inquired the cheerful Marrineal, still directing his query to Banneker.
"I think it's rather a large order. Why do you keep asking my opinion?"
"Because I suspect that you still bring a fresh mind to bear on these matters."
Banneker rose, and bade Betty Raleigh good-night. She retained his hand in hers, looking up at him with a glint of anxiety in her weary, childlike eyes. "Don't mind what we've said," she appealed to him. "We're all a little above ourselves. It's always so after an opening."
"I don't mind at all," he returned gravely: "unless it's true."
"Ah, it's true right enough," she answered dispiritedly. "Don't forget about the investigation. And don't let them dare to put you on on a matinée day."
Betty Raleigh was a conspicuous figure, at not one but half a dozen sessions of the investigation, which wound through an accelerating and sensational course, with Banneker as the chief figure. He was an extraordinary witness, ready, self-possessed, good-humored under the heckling of the politician lawyer who had claimed and received the right to appear, on the ground that his police clients might be summoned later on a criminal charge.
Before the proceedings were over, a complete overturn in the city government was foreshadowed, and it became evident that Judge Enderby might either head the movement as its candidate, or control it as its leader. Nobody, however, knew what he wished or intended politically. Every now and again in the progress of the hearings, Banneker would surprise on the lawyer's face an expression which sent his memory questing fruitlessly for determination of that elusive likeness, flickering dimly in the past.
Banneker's own role in the investigation kept him in the headlines; at times put him on the front page. Even The Ledger could only minimize, not suppress, his dominating and picturesque part.
But there was another and less pleasant sequel to the shooting, in its effect upon the office status. Though he was a "space-man" now, dependent for his earnings upon the number of columns weekly which he had in the paper, and ostensibly equipped to handle matter of importance, a long succession of the pettiest kind of assignments was doled out to him by the city desk: obituary notices of insignificant people, small police items, tipsters' yarns, routine jobs such as ship news, police headquarters substitution, even the minor courts usually relegated to the fifteen or twenty-dollar-a-week men. Or, worst and most grinding ordeal of a reporter's life, he was kept idle at his desk, like a misbehaving boy after school, when all the other men had been sent out. One week his total space came to but twenty-eight dollars odd. What this meant was plain enough; he was being disciplined for his part in the investigation.
Out of the open West which, under the rigor of the game, keeps its temper and its poise, Banneker had brought the knack of setting his teeth and smiling so serenely that one never even perceived the teeth to be set behind the smile. This ability stood him in good stead now. In his time of enforced leisure he bethought himself of the sketches which Miss Westlake had typed. With his just and keen perception, he judged them not to be magazine matter. But they might do as "Sunday stuff." He turned in half a dozen of them to Mr. Homans. When next he saw them they were lying, in uncorrected proof, on the managing editor's desk while Mr. Gordon gently rapped his knuckles over them.
"Where did you get the idea for these, Mr. Banneker?" he asked.
"I don't know. It came to me."
"Would you care to sign them?"
"Sign them?" repeated the reporter in surprise, for this was a distinction afforded to only a choice few on the conservative Ledger.
"Yes. I'm going to run them on the editorial page. Do us some more and keep them within the three-quarters. What's your full name?"
"I'd like to sign them 'Eban,'" answered the other, after some thought. "And thank you."
Assignments or no assignments, thereafter Banneker was able to fill his idle time. Made adventurous by the success of the "Vagrancies," he next tried his hand at editorials on light or picturesque topics, and with satisfying though not equal results, for here he occasionally stumbled upon the hard-rooted prejudices of the Inside Office, and beheld his efforts vanish into the irreclaimable limbo of the scrap-basket. Nevertheless, at ten dollars per column for this kind of writing, he continued to make a decent space bill, and clear himself of the doldrums where the waning of the city desk's favor had left him. All that he could now make he needed, for his change of domicile had brought about a corresponding change of habit and expenditure into which he slipped imperceptibly. To live on fifteen dollars a week, plus his own small income, which all went for "extras," had been simple, at Mrs. Brashear's. To live on fifty at the Regalton was much more of a problem. Banneker discovered that he was a natural spender. The discovery caused him neither displeasure nor uneasiness. He confidently purposed to have money to spend; plenty of it, as a mere, necessary concomitant to other things that he was after. Good reporters on space, working moderately, made from sixty to seventy-five dollars a week. Banneker set himself a mark of a hundred dollars. He intended to work very hard ... if Mr. Greenough would give him a chance.
Mr. Greenough's distribution of the day's news continued to be distinctly unfavorable to the new space-man. The better men on the staff began to comment on the city desk's discrimination. Banneker had, for a time, shone in heroic light: his feat had been honorable, not only to The Ledger office, but to the entire craft of reporting. In the investigation he had borne himself with unexceptionable modesty and equanimity. That he should be "picked on" offended that generous _esprit de corps_ which was natural to the office. Tommy Burt was all for referring the matter to Mr. Gordon.
"You mind your own business, Tommy," said Banneker placidly. "Our friend the Joss will stick his foot into a gopher hole yet."
The assignment that afforded Banneker his chance was of the most unpromising. An old builder, something of a local character over in the Corlears Hook vicinity, had died. The Ledger, Mr. Greenough informed Banneker, in his dry, polite manner, wanted "a sufficient obit" of the deceased. Banneker went to the queer, decrepit frame cottage at the address given, and there found a group of old Sam Corpenshire's congeners, in solemn conclave over the dead. They welcomed the reporter, and gave him a ceremonial drink of whiskey, highly superior whiskey. They were glad that he had come to write of their dead friend. If ever a man deserved a good write-up, it was Sam Corpenshire. From one mouth to another they passed the word of his shrewd dealings, of his good-will to his neighbors, of his ripe judgment, of his friendliness to all sound things and sound men, of his shy, sly charities, of the thwarted romance, which, many years before, had left him lonely but unembittered; and out of it Banneker, with pen too slow for his eager will, wove not a two-stick obit, but a rounded column shot through with lights that played upon the little group of characters, the living around the dead, like sunshine upon an ancient garden.
Even Mr. Greenough congratulated Banneker, the next morning. In the afternoon mail came a note from Mr. Gaines of The New Era monthly. That perspicuous editor had instantly identified the style of the article with that of the "Eban" series, part of which he had read in typograph. He wrote briefly but warmly of the work: and would the writer not call and see him soon?
Perhaps the reporter might have accepted the significant invitation promptly, as he at first intended. But on the following morning he found in his box an envelope under French stamp, inscribed with writing which, though he had seen but two specimens of it, drove everything else out of his tumultuous thoughts. He took it, not to his desk, but to a side room of the art department, unoccupied at that hour, and opened it with chilled and fumbling hands.
Within was a newspaper clipping, from a Paris edition of an American daily. It gave a brief outline of the battle on the pier. In pencil on the margin were these words:
"Do you remember practicing, that day, among the pines? I'm so proud! Io."
He read it again. The last sentence affected him with a sensation of dizziness. Proud! Of his deed! It gave him the feeling that she had reclaimed, reappropriated him. No! That she had never for a moment released him. In a great surge, sweeping through his veins, he felt the pressure of her breast against his, the strong enfoldment of her arms, her breath upon his lips. He tore envelope and clipping into fragments.
By one of those strange associations of linked memory, such as "clangs and flashes for a drowning man," he sharply recalled where he had seen Willis Enderby before. His was the face in the photograph to which Camilla Van Arsdale had turned when death stretched out a hand toward her.
While the police inquiry was afoot, Banneker was, perforce, often late in reporting for duty, the regular hour being twelve-thirty. Thus the idleness which the city desk had imposed upon him was, in a measure, justified. On a Thursday, when he had been held in conference with Judge Enderby, he did not reach The Ledger office until after two. Mr. Greenough was still out for luncheon. No sooner had Banneker entered the swinging gate than Mallory called to him. On the assistant city editor's face was a peculiar expression, half humorous, half dubious, as he said:
"Mr. Greenough has left an assignment for you."
"All right," said Banneker, stretching out his hand for the clipping or slip. None was forthcoming.
"It's a tip," explained Mallory. "It's from a pretty convincing source. The gist of it is that the Delavan Eyres have separated and a divorce is impending. You know, of course, who the Eyres are."
"I've met Eyre."
"That so? Ever met his wife?"
"No," replied Banneker, in good faith.
"No; you wouldn't have, probably. They travel different paths. Besides, she's been practically living abroad. She's a stunner. It's big society stuff, of course. The best chance of landing the story is from Archie Densmore, her half-brother. The international polo-player, you know. You'll find him at The Retreat, down on the Jersey coast."
The Retreat Banneker had heard of as being a bachelor country club whose distinguishing marks were a rather Spartan athleticism, and a more stiffly hedged exclusiveness than any other social institution known to the _élite_ of New York and Philadelphia, between which it stood midway.
"Then I'm to go and ask him," said Banneker slowly, "whether his sister is suing for divorce?"
"Yes," confirmed Mallory, a trifle nervously. "Find out who's to be named, of course. I suppose it's that new dancer, though there have been others. And there was a quaint story about some previous attachment of Mrs. Eyre's: that might have some bearing."
"I'm to ask her brother about that, too?"
"We want the story," answered Mallory, almost petulantly.
On the trip down into Jersey the reporter had plenty of time to consider his unsavory task. Some one had to do this kind of thing, so long as the public snooped and peeped and eavesdropped through the keyhole of print at the pageant of the socially great: this he appreciated and accepted. But he felt that it ought to be some one other than himself--and, at the same time, was sufficiently just to smile at himself for his illogical attitude.
A surprisingly good auto was found in the town of his destination, to speed him to the stone gateway of The Retreat. The guardian, always on duty there, passed him with a civil word, and a sober-liveried flunkey at the clubhouse door, after a swift, unobtrusive consideration of his clothes and bearing, took him readily for granted, and said that Mr. Densmore would be just about going on the polo field for practice. Did the gentleman know his way to the field? Seeing the flag on the stable, Banneker nodded, and walked over. A groom pointed out a spare, powerful looking young man with a pink face, startlingly defined by a straight black mustache and straighter black eyebrows, mounting a light-built roan, a few rods away. Banneker accosted him.
"Yes, my name is Densmore," he answered the visitor's accost.
"I'm a reporter from The Ledger," explained Banneker.
"A reporter?" Mr. Densmore frowned. "Reporters aren't allowed here, except on match days. How did you get in?"
"Nobody stopped me," answered the visitor in an expressionless tone.
"It doesn't matter," said the other, "since you're here. What is it; the international challenge?"
"A rumor has come to us--There's a tip come in at the office--We understood that there is--" Banneker pulled himself together and put the direct question. "Is Mrs. Delavan Eyre bringing a divorce suit against her husband?"
For a time there was a measured silence. Mr. Densmore's heavy brows seemed to jut outward and downward toward the questioner.
"You came out here from New York to ask me that?" he said presently.
"Yes. Who is named as co-respondent? And will there be a defense, or a counter-suit?"
"A counter-suit," repeated the man in the saddle quietly. "I wonder if you realize what you're asking?"
"I'm trying to get the news," said Banneker doggedly striving to hold to an ideal which momentarily grew more sordid and tawdry.
"And I wonder if you realize how you ought to be answered."
Yes; Banneker realized, with a sick realization. But he was not going to admit it. He kept silence.
"If this polo mallet were a whip, now," observed Mr. Densmore meditatively. "A dog-whip, for preference."
Under the shameful threat Banneker's eyes lightened. Here at least was something he could face like a man. His undermining nausea mitigated.
"What then?" he inquired in tones as level as those of his opponent.
"Why, then I'd put a mark on you. A reporter's mark."
"I think not."
"Oh; you think not?" The horseman studied him negligently. Trained to the fineness of steel in the school of gymnasium, field, and tennis court, he failed to recognize in the man before him a type as formidable, in its rugged power, as his own. "Or perhaps I'd have the grooms do it for me, before they threw you over the fence."
"It would be safer," allowed the other, with a smile that surprised the athlete.
"Safer?" he repeated. "I wasn't thinking of safety."
"Think of it," advised the visitor; "for if you set your grooms on me, they could perhaps throw me out. But as sure as they did I'd kill you the next time we met."
Densmore smiled. "You!" he said contemptuously. "Kill, eh? Did you ever kill any one?"
Under their jet brows Densmore's eyes took on a peculiar look of intensity. "A Ledger reporter," he murmured. "See here! Is your name Banneker, by any chance?"
"You're the man who cleared out the wharf-gang."
Densmore had been born and brought up in a cult to which courage is the basic, inclusive virtue for mankind, as chastity is for womankind. To his inground prejudice a man who was simply and unaffectedly brave must by that very fact be fine and admirable. And this man had not only shown an iron nerve, but afterward, in the investigation, which Densmore had followed, he had borne himself with the modesty, discretion, and good taste of the instinctive gentleman. The poloist was almost pathetically at a loss. When he spoke again his whole tone and manner had undergone a vital transformation.
"But, good God!" he cried in real distress and bewilderment, "a fellow who could do what you did, stand up to those gun-men in the dark and alone, to be garbaging around asking rotten, prying questions about a man's sister! No! I don't get it."
Banneker felt the blood run up into his face, under the sting of the other's puzzled protest, as it would never have done under open contempt or threat. A miserable, dull hopelessness possessed him. "It's part of the business," he muttered.
"Then it's a rotten business," retorted the horseman. "Do you _have_ to do this?"
"Somebody has to get the news."
"News! Scavenger's filth. See here, Banneker, I'm sorry I roughed you about the whip. But, to ask a man questions about the women of his own family--No: I'm _damned_ if I get it." He lost himself in thought, and when he spoke again it was as much to himself as to the man on the ground. "Suppose I did make a frank statement: you can never trust the papers to get it straight, even if they mean to, which is doubtful. And there's Io's name smeared all over--Hel-lo! What's the matter, now?" For his horse had shied away from an involuntary jerk of Banneker's muscles, responsive to electrified nerves, so sharply as to disturb the rider's balance.
"What name did you say?" muttered Banneker, involuntarily.
"Io. My foster-sister's nickname. Irene Welland, she was. You're a queer sort of society reporter if you don't know that."
"I'm not a society reporter."
"But you know Mrs. Eyre?"
"Yes; in a way," returned Banneker, gaining command of himself. "Officially, you might say. She was in a railroad wreck that I stage-managed out West. I was the local agent."
"Then I've heard about you," replied Densmore with interest, though he had heard only what little Io had deemed it advisable that he should know. "You helped my sister when she was hurt. We owe you something for that."
"That's all right. But it was more than that. I recall your name now." Densmore's bearing had become that of a man to his equal. "I'll tell you, let's go up to the clubhouse and have a drink, shan't we? D' you mind just waiting here while I give this nag a little run to supple him up?"
He was off, leaving Banneker with brain awhirl. To steady himself against this sudden flood of memory and circumstance, Banneker strove to focus his attention upon the technique of the horse and his rider. When they returned he said at once:
"Are you going to play that pony?"
The horseman looked mildly surprised. "After he's learned a bit more. Shapes up well, don't you think?"
"Speed him up to me and give him a sharp twist to the right, will you?"
Accepting the suggestion without comment, Densmore cantered away and brought the roan down at speed. To the rider, his mount seemed to make the sudden turn perfectly. But Banneker stepped out and examined the off forefoot with a dubious face.
"Breaks a little there," he stated seriously.
The horseman tried the turn again, throwing his weight over. This time he did feel a slightly perceptible "give." "What's the remedy?" he asked.
"Build up the outer flange of the shoe. That may do it. But I shouldn't trust him without a thorough test. A good pony'll always overplay his safety a little in a close match."
The implication of this expert view aroused Densmore's curiosity. "You've played," he said.
"No: I've never played. I've knocked the ball about a little."
"Out in Santa Barbara. With the stable-boys."
So simply was it said that Densmore returned, quite as simply: "Were you a stable-boy?"
"No such luck, then. Just a kid, out of a job."
Densmore dismounted, handed reins and mallet to the visitor and said, "Try a shot or two."
Slipping his coat and waistcoat, Banneker mounted and urged the pony after the ball which the other sent spinning out across the field. He made a fairly creditable cut away to the left, following down and playing back moderately. While his mallet work was, naturally, uncertain, he played with a full, easy swing and in good form. But it was his horsemanship which specially commended itself to the critical eye of the connoisseur.
"Ridden range, haven't you?" inquired the poloist when the other came in.
"Quite a bit of it, in my time."
"Now, I'll tell you," said Densmore, employing his favorite formula. "There'll be practice later. It's an off day and we probably won't have two full teams. Let me rig you out, and you try it."
Banneker shook his head. "I'm here on business. I'm a reporter with a story to get."
"All right; it's up to a reporter to stick until he gets his news," agreed the other. "You dismiss your taxi, and stay out here and dine, and I'll run you back to town myself. And at nine o'clock I'll answer your question and answer it straight."
Banneker, gazing longingly at the bright turf of the field, accepted.
Polo is to The Retreat what golf is to the average country club. The news that Archie Densmore had a new player down for a try-out brought to the side-lines a number of the old-time followers of the game, including Poultney Masters, the autocrat of Wall Street and even more of The Retreat, whose stables he, in large measure, supported. In the third period, the stranger went in at Number Three on the pink team. He played rather poorly, but there was that in his style which encouraged the enthusiasts.
"He's material," grunted old Masters, blinking his pendulous eyelids, as Banneker, accepting the challenge of Jim Maitland, captain of the opposing team and roughest of players, for a ride-off, carried his own horse through by sheer adroitness and daring, and left the other rolling on the turf. "Anybody know who he is?"
"Heard Archie call him Banker, I think," answered one of the great man's hangers-on.
Later, Banneker having changed, sat in an angled window of the clubhouse, waiting for his host, who had returned from the stables. A group of members entering the room, and concealed from him by an L, approached the fireplace talking briskly.
"Dick says the feller's a reporter," declared one of them, a middle-aged man named Kirke. "Says he saw him tryin' to interview somebody on the Street, one day."
"Well, I don't believe it," announced an elderly member. "This chap of Densmore's looks like a gentleman and dresses like one. I don't believe he's a reporter. And he rides like a devil."
"_I_ say there's ridin' and ridin'," proclaimed Kirke. "Some fellers ride like jockeys; some fellers ride like cowboys; some fellers ride like gentlemen. I say this reporter feller don't ride like a gentleman."
"Oh, slush!" said another discourteously. "What is riding like a gentleman?"
Kirke reverted to the set argument of his type. "I'll betcha a hundred he don't!"
"Who's to settle such a bet?"
"Leave it to Maitland," said somebody.
"I'll leave it to Archie Densmore if you like," offered the bettor belligerently.
"Leave it to Mr. Masters," suggested Kirke.
"Why not leave it to the horse?"
The suggestion, coming in a level and unconcerned tone from the depths of the chair in which Banneker was seated, produced an electrical effect. Banneker spoke only because the elderly member had walked over to the window, and he saw that he must be discovered in another moment. Out of the astonished silence came the elderly member's voice, gentle and firm.
"Are you the visitor we have been so frankly discussing?"
"I assume so."
"Isn't it rather unfortunate that you did not make your presence known sooner?"
"I hoped that I might have a chance to slip out unseen and save you embarrassment."
The other came forward at once with hand outstretched. "My name is Forster," he said. "You're Mr. Banker, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Banneker, shaking hands. For various reasons it did not seem worth while to correct the slight error.
"Look out! Here's the old man," said some one.
Poultney Masters plodded in, his broad paunch shaking with chuckles. "'Leave it to the horse,'" he mumbled appreciatively. "'Leave it to the horse.' It's good. It's damned good. The right answer. Who but the horse should know whether a man rides like a gentleman! Where's young Banneker?"
Forster introduced the two. "You've got the makings of a polo-man in you," decreed the great man. "Where are you playing?"
"I've never really played. Just practiced."
"Then you ought to be with us. Where's Densmore? We'll put you up and have you in by the next meeting."
"A reporter in The Retreat!" protested Kirke who had proffered the bet.
"Why not?" snapped old Poultney Masters. "Got any objections?"
Since the making or marring of his fortunes, like those of hundreds of other men, lay in the pudgy hollow of the financier's hand, poor Kirke had no objections which he could not and did not at once swallow. The subject of the flattering offer had, however.
"I'm much obliged," said he. "But I couldn't join this club. Can't afford it."
"You can't afford not to. It's a chance not many young fellows from nowhere get."
"Perhaps you don't know what a reporter's earnings are, Mr. Masters."
The rest of the group had drifted away, in obedience, Banneker suspected, to some indication given by Masters which he had not perceived.
"You won't be a reporter long. Opportunities will open out for a young fellow of your kind."
"What sort of opportunities?" inquired Banneker curiously.
"Wall Street, for example."
"I don't think I'd like the game. Writing is my line. I'm going to stick to it."
"You're a fool," barked Masters.
"That is a word I don't take from anybody," stated Banneker.
"_You_ don't take? Who the--" The raucous snarl broke into laughter, as the other leaned abruptly forward. "Banneker," he said, "have you got _me_ covered?"
Banneker laughed, too. Despite his brutal assumption of autocracy, it was impossible not to like this man. "No," he answered. "I didn't expect to be held up here. So I left my gun."
"You did a job on that pier," affirmed the other. "But you're a fool just the same--if you'll take it with a smile."
"I'll think it over," answered Banneker, as Densmore entered.
"Come and see me at the office," invited Masters as he shambled pursily away.
Across the dining-table Densmore said to his guest: "So the Old Boy wants to put you up here."
"That means a sure election."
"But even if I could afford it, I'd get very little use of the club. You see, I have only one day off a week."
"It is a rotten business, for sure!" said Densmore sympathetically. "Couldn't you get on night work, so you could play afternoons?"
"Play polo?" Banneker laughed. "My means would hardly support one pony."
"That'll be all right," returned the other nonchalantly. "There are always fellows glad to lend a mount to a good player. And you're going to be that."
The high lust of the game took and shook Banneker for a dim moment. Then he recovered himself. "No. I couldn't do that."
"Let's leave it this way, then. Whether you join now or not, come down once in a while as my guest, and fill in for the scratch matches. Later you may be able to pick up a few nags, cheap."
"I'll think it over," said Banneker, as he had said to old Poultney Masters.
Not until after the dinner did Banneker remind his host of their understanding. "You haven't forgotten that I'm here on business?"
"No; I haven't. I'm going to answer your question for publication. Mrs. Eyre has not the slightest intention of suing for divorce."
"About the separation?"
"No. No separation, either. Io is traveling with friends and will be back in a few months."
"That is authoritative?"
"You can quote me, if you like, though I'd rather nothing were published, of course. And I give you my personal word that it's true."
"That's quite enough."
"So much for publication. What follows is private: just between you and me."
Banneker nodded. After a ruminative pause Densmore asked an abrupt question.
"You found my sister after the wreck, didn't you?"
"Well; she found me."
"Was she hurt?"
"I think not. There was some concussion of the brain, I suppose. She was quite dazed."
"Did you call a doctor?"
"No. She wouldn't have one."
"You know Miss Van Arsdale, don't you?"
"She's the best friend I've got in the world," returned Banneker, so impulsively that his interrogator looked at him curiously before continuing:
"Did you see Io at her house?"
"Yes; frequently," replied Banneker, wondering to what this all tended, but resolved to be as frank as was compatible with discretion.
"How did she seem?"
"She was as well off there as she could be anywhere."
"Yes. But how did she seem? Mentally, I mean."
"Oh, that! The dazed condition cleared up at once."
"I wish I were sure that it had ever cleared up," muttered Densmore.
"Why shouldn't you be sure?"
"I'm going to be frank with you because I think you may be able to help me with a clue. Since she came back from the West, Io has been unlike herself. The family has never understood her marriage with Del Eyre. She didn't really care for Del. [To his dismay, Banneker here beheld the glowing tip of his cigar perform sundry involuntary dips and curves. He hoped that his face was under better control.] The marriage was a fizzle. I don't believe it lasted a month, really. Eyre had always been a chaser, though he did straighten out when he married Io. He really was crazy about her; but when she chucked him, he went back to his old hunting grounds. One can understand that. But Io; that's different. She's always played the game before. With Del, I don't think she quite did. She quit: that's the plain fact of it. Just tired of him. No other cause that I can find. Won't get a divorce. Doesn't want it. So there's no one else in the case. It's queer. It's mighty queer. And I can't help thinking that the old jar to her brain--"
"Have you suggested that to her?" asked Banneker as the other broke off to ruminate mournfully.
"Yes. She only laughed. Then she said that poor old Del wasn't at fault except for marrying her in the face of a warning. I don't know what she meant by it; hanged if I do. But, you see, it's quite true: there'll be no divorce or separation.... You're sure she was quite normal when you last saw her at Miss Van Arsdale's?"
"Absolutely. If you want confirmation, why not write Miss Van Arsdale yourself?"
"No; I hardly think I'll do that.... Now as to that gray you rode, I've got a chance to trade him." And the talk became all of horse, which is exclusive and rejective of other interests, even of women.
Going back in the train, Banneker reviewed the crowding events of the day. At the bottom of his thoughts lay a residue, acid and stinging, the shame of the errand which had taken him to The Retreat, and which the memory of what was no less than a personal triumph could not submerge. That he, Errol Banneker, whose dealings with all men had been on the straight and level status of self-respect, should have taken upon him the ignoble task of prying into intimate affairs, of meekly soliciting the most private information in order that he might make his living out of it--not different in kind from the mendicancy which, even as a hobo, he had scorned--and that, at the end, he should have discerned Io Welland as the object of his scandal-chase; that fermented within him like something turned to foulness.
At the office he reported "no story." Before going home he wrote a note to the city desk.
Impenetrability of expression is doubtless a valuable attribute to a joss. Otherwise so many josses would not display it. Upon the stony and placid visage of Mr. Greenough, never more joss-like than when, on the morning after Banneker went to The Retreat, he received the resultant note, the perusal thereof produced no effect. Nor was there anything which might justly be called an expression, discernible between Mr. Greenough's cloven chin-tip and Mr. Greenough's pale fringe of hair, when, as Banneker entered the office at noon, he called the reporter to him. Banneker's face, on the contrary, displayed a quite different impression; that of amiability.
"Nothing in the Eyre story, Mr. Banneker!"
"Not a thing."
"You saw Mr. Densmore?"
"Would he talk?"
"Yes; he made a statement."
"It didn't appear in the paper."
"There was nothing to it but unqualified denial."
"I see; I see. That's all, Mr. Banneker.... Oh, by the way."
Banneker, who had set out for his desk, turned back.
"I had a note from you this morning."
As this statement required no confirmation, Banneker gave it none.
"Containing your resignation."
"Conditional upon my being assigned to pry into society or private scandals or rumors of them."
"The Ledger does not recognize conditional resignation."
"Very well." Banneker's smile was as sunny and untroubled as a baby's.
"I suppose you appreciate that some one must cover this kind of news."
"Yes. It will have to be some one else."
The faintest, fleeting suspicion of a frown troubled the Brahminical calm of Mr. Greenough's brow, only to pass into unwrinkled blandness.
"Further, you will recognize that, for the protection of the paper, I must have at call reporters ready to perform any emergency duty."
"Perfectly," agreed Banneker.
"Mr. Banneker," queried Mr. Greenough in a semi-purr, "are you too good for your job?"
For once the personification of city-deskness, secure though he was in the justice of his position, was discomfited. "Too good for The Ledger?" he demanded in protest and rebuke.
"Let me put it this way; I'm too good for any job that won't let me look a man square between the eyes when I meet him on it."
"A dull lot of newspapers we'd have if all reporters took that view," muttered Mr. Greenough.
"It strikes me that what you've just said is the severest kind of an indictment of the whole business, then," retorted Banneker.
"A business that is good enough for a good many first-class men, even though you may not consider it so for you. Possibly being for the time--for a brief time--a sort of public figure, yourself, has--"
"Nothing at all to do with it," interrupted the urbane reporter. "I've always been this way. It was born in me."
"I shall consult with Mr. Gordon about this," said Mr. Greenough, becoming joss-like again. "I hardly think--" But what it was that he hardly thought, the subject of his animadversions did not then or subsequently ascertain, for he was dismissed in the middle of the sentence with a slow, complacent nod.
Loss of his place, had it promptly followed, would not have dismayed the rebel. It did not follow. Nothing followed. Nothing, that is, out of the ordinary run. Mr. Gordon said no word. Mr. Greenough made no reference to the resignation. Tommy Burt, to whom Banneker had confided his action, was of opinion that the city desk was merely waiting "to hand you something so raw that you'll have to buck it; something that not even Joe Bullen would take." Joe Bullen, an undertaker's assistant who had drifted into journalism through being a tipster, was The Ledger's "keyhole reporter" (unofficial).
"The joss is just tricky enough for that," said Tommy. "He'll want to put you in the wrong with Gordon. You're a pet of the boss's."
"Don't blame Greenough," said Banneker. "If you were on the desk you wouldn't want reporters that wouldn't take orders."
Van Cleve, oldest in standing of any of the staff, approached Banneker with a grave face and solemn warnings. To leave The Ledger was to depart forever from the odor of journalistic sanctity. No other office in town was endurable for a gentleman. Other editors treated their men like muckers. The worst assignment given out from The Ledger desk was a perfumed cinch in comparison with what the average city room dealt out. And he gave a formidable sketch of the careers (invariably downhill) of reckless souls who had forsaken the true light of The Ledger for the false lures which led into outer and unfathomable darkness. By this system of subtly threatened excommunication had The Ledger saved to itself many a good man who might otherwise have gone farther and not necessarily fared worse. Banneker was not frightened. But he did give more than a thought to the considerate standards and generous comradeship of the office. Only--was it worth the price in occasional humiliation?
Sitting, idle at his desk in one of the subsequent periods of penance, he bethought him of the note on the stationery of The New Era Magazine, signed, "Yours very truly, Richard W. Gaines." Perhaps this was opportunity beckoning. He would go to see the Great Gaines.
The Great Gaines received him with quiet courtesy. He was a stubby, thick, bearded man who produced an instant effect of entire candor. So peculiar and exotic was this quality that it seemed to set him apart from the genus of humankind in an aura of alien and daunting honesty. Banneker recalled hearing of outrageous franknesses from his lips, directed upon small and great, and, most amazingly, accepted without offense, because of the translucent purity of the medium through which, as it were, the inner prophet had spoken. Besides, he was usually right.
His first words to Banneker, after his greeting, were: "You are exceedingly well tailored."
"Does it matter?" asked Banneker, smiling.
"I'm disappointed. I had read into your writing midnight toil and respectable, if seedy, self-support."
"After the best Grub Street tradition? Park Row has outlived that."
"I know your tailor, but what's your college?" inquired this surprising man.
Banneker shook his head.
"At least I was right in that. I surmised individual education. Who taught you to think for yourself?"
"It's an uncommon name. You're not a son of Christian Banneker, perhaps?"
"Yes. Did you know him?"
"A mistaken man. Whoring after strange gods. Strange, sterile, and disappointing. But a brave soul, nevertheless. Yes; I knew him well. What did he teach you?"
"He tried to teach me to stand on my own feet and see with my own eyes and think for myself."
"Ah, yes! With one's own eyes. So much depends upon whither one turns them. What have you seen in daily journalism?"
"A chance. Possibly a great chance."
"To think for yourself?"
Banneker started, at this ready application of his words to the problem which was already outlining itself by small, daily limnings in his mind.
"To write for others what you think for yourself?" pursued the editor, giving sharpness and definition to the outline.
"Or," concluded Mr. Gaines, as his hearer preserved silence, "eventually to write for others what they think for themselves?" He smiled luminously. "It's a problem in stress: _x_ = the breaking-point of honesty. Your father was an absurdly honest man. Those of us who knew him best honored him."
"Are you doubting my honesty?" inquired Banneker, without resentment or challenge.
"Why, yes. Anybody's. But hopefully, you understand."
"Or the honesty of the newspaper business?"
A sigh ruffled the closer tendrils of Mr. Gaines's beard. "I have never been a journalist in the Park Row sense," he said regretfully. "Therefore I am conscious of solutions of continuity in my views. Park Row amazes me. It also appalls me. The daily stench that arises from the printing-presses. Two clouds; morning and evening.... Perhaps it is only the odor of the fertilizing agent, stimulating the growth of ideas. Or is it sheer corruption?"
"Two stages of the same process, aren't they?" suggested Banneker.
"Encouraging to think so. Yet labor in a fertilizing plant, though perhaps essential, is hardly conducive to higher thinking. You like it?"
"I don't accept your definition at all," replied Banneker. "The newspapers are only a medium. If there is a stench, they do not originate it. They simply report the events of the day."
"Exactly. They simply disseminate it."
Banneker was annoyed at himself for flushing. "They disseminate news. We've got to have news, to carry on the world. Only a small fraction of it is--well, malodorous. Would you destroy the whole system because of one flaw? You're not fair."
"Fair? Of course I'm not. How should I be? No; I would not destroy the system. Merely deodorize it a bit. But I suppose the public likes the odors. It sniffs 'em up like--like Cyrano in the bake-shop. A marvelous institution, the public which you and I serve. Have you ever thought of magazine work, Mr. Banneker?"
"There might be a considerable future there for you. I say 'might.' Nothing is more uncertain. But you have certain--er--stigmata of the writer--That article, now, about the funereal eulogies over the old builder; did you report that talk as it was?"
"Well; the basic idea was there. The old fellows gave me that, and I fitted it up with talk. Surely there's nothing dishonest in that," protested Banneker.
"Surely not," agreed the other. "You gave the essence of the thing. That is a higher veracity than any literal reporting which would be dull and unreadable. I thought I recognized the fictional quality in the dialogue."
"But it wasn't fiction," denied Banneker eagerly.
The Great Gaines gave forth one of his oracles. "But it was. Good dialogue is talk as it should be talked, just as good fiction is life as it should be lived--logically and consecutively. Why don't you try something for The New Era?"
"Before I got your note."
"It never reached me."
"It never reached anybody. It's in my desk, ripening."
"Send it along, green, won't you? It may give more indications that way. And first work is likely to be valuable chiefly as indication."
"I'll mail it to you. Before I go, would you mind telling me more definitely why you advise me against the newspaper business?"
"I advise? I never advise as to questions of morals or ethics. I have too much concern with keeping my own straight."
"Then it _is_ a question of morals?"
"Or ethics. I think so. For example, have you tried your hand at editorials?"
"As far as I've gone."
"Then you are in accord with the editorial policy of The Ledger?"
"Not in everything."
"In its underlying, unexpressed, and immanent theory that this country can best be managed by an aristocracy, a chosen few, working under the guise of democracy?"
"No; I don't believe that, of course."
"I do, as it happens. But I fail to see how Christian Banneker's son and _élève_ could. Yet you write editorials for The Ledger."
"Not on those topics."
"Have you never had your editorials altered or cut or amended, in such manner as to give a side-slant toward the paper's editorial fetiches?"
Again and most uncomfortably Banneker felt his color change. "Yes; I have," he admitted.
"What did you do?"
"What could I do? The Chief controls the editorial page."
"You might have stopped writing for it."
"I needed the money. No; that isn't true. More than the money, I wanted the practice and the knowledge that I could write editorials if I wished to."
"Are you thinking of going on the editorial side?"
"God forbid!" cried Banneker.
"Unwilling to deal in other men's ideas, eh? Well, Mr. Banneker, you have plenty of troubles before you. Interesting ones, however."
"How much could I make by magazine writing?" asked Banneker abruptly.
"Heaven alone knows. Less than you need, I should say, at first. How much do you need?"
"My space bill last week was one hundred and twenty-one dollars. I filled 'em up on Sunday specials."
"And you need that?"
"It's all gone," grinned Banneker boyishly.
"As between a safe one hundred dollars-plus, and a highly speculative nothing-and-upwards, how could any prudent person waver?" queried Mr. Gaines as he shook hands in farewell.
For the first time in the whole unusual interview, Banneker found himself misliking the other's tone, particularly in the light emphasis placed upon the word prudent. Banneker did not conceive kindly of himself as a prudent person.
Back at the office, Banneker got out the story of which he had spoken to Mr. Gaines, and read it over. It seemed to him good, and quite in the tradition of The New Era. It was polite, polished, discreet, and, if not precisely subtle, it dealt with interests and motives lying below the obvious surfaces of life. It had amused Banneker to write it; which is not to say that he spared laborious and conscientious effort. The New Era itself amused him, with its air of well-bred aloofness from the flatulent romanticism which filled the more popular magazines of the day with duke-like drummers or drummer-like dukes, amiable criminals and brisk young business geniuses, possessed of rather less moral sense than the criminals, for its heroes, and for its heroines a welter of adjectives exhaling an essence of sex. Banneker could imagine one of these females straying into Mr. Gaines's editorial ken, and that gentleman's bland greeting as to his own sprightly second maid arrayed and perfumed, unexpectedly encountered at a charity bazar. Too rarefied for Banneker's healthy and virile young tastes, the atmosphere in which The New Era lived and moved and had its consistently successful editorial being! He preferred a freer air to the mild scents of lavender and rose-ash, even though it might blow roughly at times. Nevertheless, that which was fine and fastidious in his mind recognized and admired the restraint, the dignity, the high and honorably maintained standards of the monthly. It had distinction. It stood apart from and consciously above the reading mob. In some respects it was the antithesis of that success for which Park Row strove and sweated.
Banneker felt that he, too, could claim a place on those heights. Yes; he liked his story. He thought that Mr. Gaines would like it. Having mailed it, he went to Katie's to dinner. There he found Russell Edmonds discussing his absurdly insufficient pipe with his customary air of careworn watchfulness lest it go out and leave him forlorn and unsolaced in a harsh world. The veteran turned upon the newcomer a grim twinkle.
"Don't you do it," he advised positively.
"Who told you I was considering it?"
"Nobody. I knew it was about time for you to reach that point. We all do--at certain times."
"Disenchantment. Disillusionment. Besides, I hear the city desk has been horsing you."
"Then some one _has_ been blabbing."
"Oh, those things ooze out. Can't keep 'em in. Besides, all city desks do that to cubs who come up too fast. It's part of the discipline. Like hazing."
"There are some things a man can't do," said Banneker with a sort of appeal in his voice.
"Nothing," returned Edmonds positively. "Nothing he can't do to get the news."
"Did you ever peep through a keyhole?"
"If you like. Either way."
"Would you do it to-day?"
"Then it's a phase a reporter has to go through?"
"You haven't quit?"
"I did. For a time. In a way. I went to jail."
"Jail? You?" Banneker had a flash of intuition. "I'll bet it was for something you were proud of."
"I wasn't ashamed of the jail sentence, at any rate. Youngster, I'm going to tell you about this." Edmonds's fine eyes seemed to have receded into their hollows as he sat thinking with his pipe neglected on the table. "D'you know who Marna Corcoran was?"
"An actress, wasn't she?"
"Leading lady at the old Coliseum Theater. A good actress and a good woman. I was a cub then on The Sphere under Red McGraw, the worst gutter-pup that ever sat at a city desk, and a damned good newspaper man. In those days The Sphere specialized on scandals; the rottener, the better; stuff that it wouldn't touch to-day. Well, a hell-cat of a society woman sued her husband for divorce and named Miss Corcoran. Pure viciousness, it was. There wasn't a shadow of proof, or even suspicion."
"I remember something about that case. The woman withdrew the charge, didn't she?"
"When it was too late. Red McGraw had an early tip and sent me to interview Marna Corcoran. He let me know pretty plainly that my job depended on my landing the story. That was his style; a bully. Well, I got the interview; never mind how. When I left her home Miss Corcoran was in a nervous collapse. I reported to McGraw. 'Keno!' says he. 'Give us a column and a half of it. Spice it.' I spiced it--I guess. They tell me it was a good job. I got lost in the excitement of writing and forgot what I was dealing with, a woman. We had a beat on that interview. They raised my salary, I remember. A week later Red called me to the desk. 'Got another story for you, Edmonds. A hummer. Marna Corcoran is in a private sanitarium up in Connecticut; hopelessly insane. I wouldn't wonder if our story did it.' He grinned like an ape. 'Go up there and get it. Buy your way in, if necessary. You can always get to some of the attendants with a ten-spot. Find out what she raves about; whether it's about Allison. Perhaps she's given herself away. Give us another red-hot one on it. Here's the address.'
"I wadded up the paper and stuffed it in his mouth. His lips felt pulpy. He hit me with a lead paper-weight and cut my head open. I don't know that I even hit him; I didn't specially want to hit him. I wanted to mark him. There was an extra-size open ink-well on his desk. I poured that over him and rubbed it into his face. Some of it got into his eyes. How he yelled! Of course he had me arrested. I didn't make any defense; I couldn't without bringing in Marna Corcoran's name. The Judge thought _I_ was crazy. I was, pretty near. Three months, he gave me. When I came out Marna Corcoran was dead. I went to find Red McGraw and kill him. He was gone. I think he suspected what I would do. I've never set eyes on him since. Two local newspapers sent for me as soon as my term was up and offered me jobs. I thought it was because of what I had done to McGraw. It wasn't. It was on the strength of the Marna Corcoran interview."
"I needed a job, too. But I didn't take either of those. Later I got a better one with a decent newspaper. The managing editor said when he took me on: 'Mr. Edmonds, we don't approve of assaults on the city desk. But if you ever receive in this office an assignment of the kind that caused your outbreak, you may take it out on me.' There are pretty fine people in the newspaper business, too."
Edmonds retrieved his pipe, discovering with a look of reproach and dismay that it was out. He wiped away some tiny drops of sweat which had come out upon the grayish skin beneath his eyes, while he was recounting his tragedy.
"That makes my troubles seem petty," said Banneker, under his breath. "I wonder--"
"You wonder why I told you all this," supplemented the veteran. "Since I have, I'll tell you the rest; how I made atonement in a way. Ten years ago I was on a city desk myself. Not very long; but long enough to find I didn't like it. A story came to me through peculiar channels. It was a scandal story; one of those things that New York society whispers about all over the place, yet it's almost impossible to get anything to go on. When I tell you that even The Searchlight, which lives on scandal, kept off it, you can judge how dangerous it was. Well; I had it pat. It was really big stuff of its kind. The woman was brilliant, a daughter of one of the oldest and most noted New York families; and noted in her own right. She had never married: preferred to follow her career. The man was eminent in his line: not a society figure, except by marriage--his wife was active in the Four Hundred--because he had no tastes in that direction. He was nearly twenty years senior to the girl. The affair was desperate from the first. How far it went is doubtful; my informant gave it the worst complexion. Certainly there must have been compromising circumstances, for the wife left him, holding over him the threat of exposure. He cared nothing for himself; and the girl would have given up everything for him. But he was then engaged on a public work of importance; exposure meant the ruin of that. The wife made conditions; that the man should neither speak to, see, nor communicate with the girl. He refused. The girl went into exile and forced him to make the agreement. My informant had a copy of the letter of agreement; you can see how close she was to the family. She said that, if we printed it, the man would instantly break barriers, seek out the girl, and they would go away together. A front-page story, and exclusive."
"So it was a woman who held the key!" exclaimed Banneker.
Edmonds turned on him. "What does that mean? Do you know anything of the story?"
"Not all that you've told me. I know the people."
"Then why did you let me go on?"
"Because they--one of them--is my friend. There is no harm to her in my knowing. It might even be helpful."
"Nevertheless, I think you should have told me at once," grumbled the veteran. "Well, I didn't take the story. The informer said that she would place it elsewhere. I told her that if she did I would publish the whole circumstances of her visit and offer, and make New York too hot to hold her. She retired, bulging with venom like a mad snake. But she dares not tell."
"The man's wife, was it not?"
"Some one representing her, I suspect. A bad woman, that wife. But I saved the girl in memory of Marna Corcoran. Think what the story would be worth, now that the man is coming forward politically!" Edmonds smiled wanly. "It was worth a lot even then, and I threw my paper down on it. Of course I resigned from the city desk at once."
"It's a fascinating game, being on the inside of the big things," ruminated Banneker. "But when it comes to a man's enslaving himself to his paper, I--don't--know."
"No: you won't quit," prophesied the other.
"I have. That is, I've resigned."
"Of course. They all do, of your type. It was the peck of dirt, wasn't it?"
"Gordon won't let you go. And you won't have any more dirt thrown at you--probably. If you do, it'll be time enough then."
"There's more than that."
"Is there? What?"
"We're a pariah caste, Edmonds, we reporters. People look down on us."
"Oh, that be damned! You can't afford to be swayed by the ignorance or snobbery of outsiders. Play the game straight, and let the rest go."
"But we are, aren't we?" persisted Banneker.
"What! Pariahs?" The look which the old-timer bent upon the rising star of the business had in it a quality of brooding and affection. "Son, you're too young to have come properly to that frame of mind. That comes later. With the dregs of disillusion after the sparkle has died out."
"But it's true. You admit it."
"If an outsider said that we were pariahs I'd call him a liar. But, what's the use, with you? It isn't reporting alone. It's the whole business of news-getting and news-presenting; of journalism. We're under suspicion. They're afraid of us. And at the same time they're contemptuous of us."
"Because people are mostly fools and fools are afraid or contemptuous of what they don't understand."
Banneker thought it over. "No. That won't do," he decided. "Men that aren't fools and aren't afraid distrust us and despise the business. Edmonds, there's nothing wrong, essentially, in furnishing news for the public. It's part of the spread of truth. It's the handing on of the light. It's--it's as big a thing as religion, isn't it?"
"Bigger. Religion, seven days a week."
"I know, son," said Edmonds gently. "You're thirsting for the clear and restoring doctrine of journalism. And I'm going to give you hell's own heresy. You'll come to it anyway, in time." His fierce little pipe glowed upward upon his knotted brows. "You talk about truth, news: news and truth as one and the same thing. So they are. But newspapers aren't after news: not primarily. Can't you see that?"
"No. What are they after?"
Banneker turned the word over in his mind, evoking confirmation in the remembered headlines even of the reputable Ledger.
"Sensation," repeated the other. "We've got the speed-up motto in industry. Our newspaper version of it is 'spice-up.' A conference that may change the map of Europe will be crowded off any front page any day by young Mrs. Poultney Masters making a speech in favor of giving girls night-keys, or of some empty-headed society dame being caught in a roadhouse with another lady's hubby. Spice: that's what we're looking for. Something to tickle their jaded palates. And they despise us when we break our necks or our hearts to get it for 'em."
"But if it's what they want, the fault lies with the public, not with us," argued Banneker.
"I used to know a white-stuff man--a cocaine-seller--who had the same argument down pat," retorted Edmonds quietly.
Banneker digested that for a time before continuing.
"Besides, you imply that because news is sensational, it must be unworthy. That isn't fair. Big news is always sensational. And of course the public wants sensation. After all, sensation of one sort or another is the proof of life."
"Hence the noble profession of the pander," observed Edmonds through a coil of minute and ascending smoke-rings. "He also serves the public."
"You're not drawing a parallel--"
"Oh, no! It isn't the same thing, quite. But it's the same public. Let me tell you something to remember, youngster. The men who go to the top in journalism, the big men of power and success and grasp, come through with a contempt for the public which they serve, compared to which the contempt of the public for the newspaper is as skim milk to corrosive sublimate."
"Perhaps that's what is wrong with the business, then."
"Have you any idea," inquired Edmonds softly, "what the philosophy of the Most Ancient Profession is?"
Banneker shook his head.
"I once heard a street-walker on the verge of D.T.'s--she was intelligent; most of 'em are fools--express her analytical opinion of the men who patronized her. The men who make our news system have much the same notion of their public. How much poison _they_ scatter abroad we won't know until a later diagnosis."
"Yet you advise me to stick in the business."
"You've got to. You are marked for it."
"And help scatter the poison!"
"God forbid! I've been pointing out the disease of the business. There's a lot of health in it yet. But it's got to have new blood. I'm too old to do more than help a little. Son, you've got the stuff in you to do the trick. Some one is going to make a newspaper here in this rotten, stink-breathing, sensation-sniffing town that'll be based on news. Truth! There's your religion for you. Go to it."
"And serve a public that I'll despise as soon as I get strong enough to disregard it's contempt for me," smiled Banneker.
"You'll find a public that you can't afford to despise," retorted the veteran. "There is such a public. It's waiting."
"Well; I'll know in a couple of weeks," said Banneker. "But _I_ think I'm about through."
For Edmonds's bitter wisdom had gone far toward confirming his resolution to follow up his first incursion into the magazine field if it met with the success which he confidently expected of it.
As if to hold him to his first allegiance, the ruling spirits of The Ledger now began to make things easy for him. Fat assignments came his way again. Events which seemed almost made to order for his pen were turned over to him by the city desk. Even though he found little time for Sunday "specials," his space ran from fifteen to twenty-five dollars a day, and the "Eban" skits on the editorial page, now paid at double rates because of their popularity, added a pleasant surplus. To put a point to his mysteriously restored favor, Mr. Greenough called up one hot morning and asked Banneker to make what speed he could to Sippiac, New Jersey. Rioting had broken out between mill-guards and the strikers of the International Cloth Company factories, with a number of resulting fatalities. It was a "big story." That Banneker was specially fitted, through his familiarity with the ground, to handle it, the city editor was not, of course, aware.
At Sippiac, Banneker found the typical industrial tragedy of that time and condition, worked out to its logical conclusion. On the one side a small army of hired gun-men, assured of full protection and endorsement in whatever they might do: on the other a mob of assorted foreigners, ignorant, resentful of the law, which seemed only a huge mechanism of injustice manipulated by their oppressors, inflamed by the heavy potations of a festal night carried over into the next day, and, because of the criminally lax enforcement of the law, tacitly permitted to go armed. Who had started the clash was uncertain and, perhaps in essentials, immaterial; so perfectly and fatefully had the stage been set for mutual murder. At the close of the fray there were ten dead. One was a guard: the rest, strikers or their dependents, including a woman and a six-year-old child, both shot down while running away.
By five o'clock that afternoon Banneker was in the train returning to the city with a board across his knees, writing. Five hours later his account was finished. At the end of his work, he had one of those ideas for "pointing" a story, mere commonplaces of journalism nowadays, which later were to give him his editorial reputation. In the pride of his publicity-loving soul, Mr. Horace Vanney, chief owner of the International Cloth Mills, had given to Banneker a reprint of an address by himself, before some philosophical and inquiring society, wherein he had set forth some of his simpler economic theories. A quotation, admirably apropos to Banneker's present purposes, flashed forth clear and pregnant, to his journalistic memory. From the Ledger "morgue" he selected one of several cuts of Mr. Vanney, and turned it in to the night desk for publication, with this descriptive note:
Horace Vanney, Chairman of the Board of the International Cloth Company, Who declares that if working-women are paid more than a bare living wage, The surplus goes into finery and vanities which tempt them to ruin, Mr. Vanney's mills pay girls four dollars a week.
Ravenously hungry, Banneker went out to order a long-delayed dinner at Katie's. Hardly had he swallowed his first mouthful of soup, when an office boy appeared.
"Mr. Gordon wants to know if you can come back to the office at once."
On the theory that two minutes, while important to his stomach, would not greatly matter to the managing editor, Banneker consumed the rest of his soup and returned. He found Mr. Gordon visibly disturbed.
"Sit down, Mr. Banneker," he said.
"We can't use that Sippiac story."
Banneker sat silent and attentive.
"Why did you write it that way?"
"I wrote it as I got it."
"It is not a fair story."
"It is a most unfair story."
"Do you know Sippiac, Mr. Gordon?" inquired Banneker equably.
"I do not. Nor can I believe it possible that you could acquire the knowledge of it implied in your article, in a few hours."
"I spent some time investigating conditions there before I came on the paper."
Mr. Gordon was taken aback. Shifting his stylus to his left hand, he assailed severally the knuckles of his right therewith before he spoke. "You know the principles of The Ledger, Mr. Banneker."
"To get the facts and print them, so I have understood."
"These are not facts." The managing editor rapped sharply upon the proof. "This is editorial matter, hardly disguised."
"Descriptive, I should call it," returned the writer amiably.
"Editorial. You have pictured Sippiac as a hell on earth."
"Sentimentalism!" snapped the other. His heavy visage wore a disturbed and peevish expression that rendered it quite plaintive. "You have been with us long enough, Mr. Banneker, to know that we do not cater to the uplift-social trade, nor are we after the labor vote."
"Yes, sir. I understand that."
"Yet you present here, what is, in effect, a damning indictment of the Sippiac Mills."
"The facts do that; not I."
"But you have selected your facts, cleverly--oh, very cleverly--to produce that effect, while ignoring facts on the other side."
"Such as the presence and influence of agitators. The evening editions have the names, and some of the speeches."
"That is merely clouding the main issue. Conditions are such there that no outside agitation is necessary to make trouble."
"But the agitators are there. They're an element and you have ignored it. Mr. Banneker, do you consider that you are dealing fairly with this paper, in attempting to commit it to an inflammatory, pro-strike course?"
"Certainly, if the facts constitute that kind of an argument."
"What of that picture of Horace Vanney? Is that news?"
"Why not? It goes to the root of the whole trouble."
"To print that kind of stuff," said Mr. Gordon forcibly, "would make The Ledger a betrayer of its own cause. What you personally believe is not the point."
"I believe in facts."
"It is what The Ledger believes that is important here. You must appreciate that, as long as you remain on the staff, your only honorable course is to conform to the standards of the paper. When you write an article, it appears to our public, not as what Mr. Banneker says, but as what The Ledger says."
"In other words," said Banneker thoughtfully, "where the facts conflict with The Ledger's theories, I'm expected to adjust the facts. Is that it?"
"Certainly not! You are expected to present the news fairly and without editorial emphasis."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Gordon, but I don't believe I could rewrite that story so as to give a favorable slant to the International's side. Shooting down women and kids, you know--"
Mr. Gordon's voice was crisp as he cut in. "There is no question of your rewriting it. That has been turned over to a man we can trust."
"To handle facts tactfully," put in Banneker in his mildest voice.
Considerably to his surprise, he saw a smile spread over Mr. Gordon's face. "You're an obstinate young animal, Banneker," he said. "Take this proof home, put it under your pillow and dream over it. Tell me a week from now what you think of it."
Banneker rose. "Then, I'm not fired?" he said.
"Not by me."
"Because I'm trusting in your essential honesty to bring you around."
"To be quite frank," returned Banneker after a moment's thought, "I'm afraid I've got to be convinced of The Ledger's essential honesty to come around."
"Go home and think it over," suggested the managing editor.
To his associate, Andreas, he said, looking at Banneker's retreating back: "We're going to lose that young man, Andy. And we can't afford to lose him."
"What's the matter?" inquired Andreas, the fanatical devotee of the creed of news for news' sake.
"Quixotism. Did you read his story?"
Mr. Gordon looked up from his inflamed knuckles for an opinion.
"A great job," pronounced Andreas, almost reverently.
"But not for us."
"No; no. Not for us."
"It wasn't a fair story," alleged the managing editor with a hint of the defensive in his voice.
"Too hot for that," the assistant supported his chief. "And yet perhaps--"
"Perhaps what?" inquired Mr. Gordon with roving and anxious eye.
"Nothing," said Andreas.
As well as if he had finished, Mr. Gordon supplied the conclusion. "Perhaps it is quite as fair as our recast article will be."
It was, on the whole, fairer.
Sound though Mr. Gordon's suggestion was, Banneker after the interview did not go home to think it over. He went to a telephone booth and called up the Avon Theater. Was the curtain down? It was, just. Could he speak to Miss Raleigh? The affair was managed.
"How nearly dressed are you?"
"Oh--half an hour or so."
"Go out for a bite, if I come up there?"
The telephone receiver gave a transferred effect of conscientious consideration. "No: I don't think so. I'm tired. This is my night for sleep."
To such a basis had the two young people come in the course of the police investigation and afterward, that an agreement had been formulated whereby Banneker was privileged to call up the youthful star at any reasonable hour and for any reasonable project, which she might accept or reject without the burden of excuse.
"Oh, all right!" returned Banneker amiably.
The receiver produced, in some occult manner, the manner of not being precisely pleased with this. "You don't seem much disappointed," it said.
"I'm stricken but philosophical. Don't you see me, pierced to the heart, but--"
"Ban," interrupted the instrument: "you're flippant. Have you been drinking?"
"No. Nor eating either, now that you remind me."
"Has something happened?"
"Something is always happening in this restless world."
"It has. And you want to tell me about it."
"No. I just want to forget it, in your company."
"Is it a decent night out?"
"Then you may come and walk me home. I think the air will do me good."
"It's very light diet, though," observed Banneker.
"Oh, very well," responded the telephone in tones of patient resignation. "I'll watch you eat. Good-bye."
Seated at a quiet table in the restaurant, Betty Raleigh leaned back in her chair, turning expectant eyes upon her companion.
"Now tell your aged maiden auntie all about it."
"Did I say I was going to tell you about it?"
"You said you weren't. Therefore I wish to know."
"I think I'm fired."
"Fired? From The Ledger? Do you care?"
"For the loss of the job? Not a hoot. Otherwise I wouldn't be going to fire myself."
"Oh: that's it, is it?"
"Yes. You see, it's a question of my doing my work my way or The Ledger's way. I prefer my way."
"And The Ledger prefers its way, I suppose. That's because what you call _your_ work, The Ledger considers _its_ work."
"In other words, as a working entity, I belong to The Ledger."
"Well, don't you?"
"It isn't a flattering thought. And if the paper wants me to falsify or suppress or distort, I have to do it. Is that the idea?"
"Unless you're big enough not to."
"Being big enough means getting out, doesn't it?"
"Or making yourself so indispensable that you can do things your own way."
"You're a wise child, Betty," said he. "What do you really think of the newspaper business?"
"It's a rotten business."
"That's frank, anyway."
"Now I've hurt your feelings. Haven't I?"
"Not a bit. Roused my curiosity: that's all. Why do you think it a rotten business?"
"It's so--so mean. It's petty."
"As for example?" he pressed.
"See what Gurney did to me--to the play," she replied naïvely. "Just to be smart."
"Whew! Talk about the feminine propensity for proving a generalization by a specific instance! Gurney is an old man reared in an old tradition. He isn't metropolitan journalism."
"He's dramatic criticism," she retorted.
"No. Only one phase of it."
"Anyway, a successful phase."
"He wants to produce his little sensation," ruminated Banneker, recalling Edmonds's bitter diagnosis. "He does it by being clever. There are worse ways, I suppose."
"He'd always rather say a clever thing than a true one."
Banneker gave her a quick look. "Is that the disease from which the newspaper business is suffering?"
"I suppose so. Anyway, it's no good for you, Ban, if it won't let you be yourself. And write as you think. This isn't new to me. I've known newspaper men before, a lot of them, and all kinds."
"Weren't any of them honest?"
"Lots. But very few of them independent. They can't be. Not even the owners, though they think they are."
"I'd like to try that."
"You'd only have a hundred thousand bosses instead of one," said she wisely.
"You're talking about the public. They're your bosses, too, aren't they?"
"Oh, I'm only a woman. It doesn't matter. Besides, they're not. I lead 'em by the ear--the big, red, floppy ear. Poor dears! They think I love 'em all."
"Whereas what you really love is the power within yourself to please them. You call it art, I suppose."
"Ban! What a repulsive way to put it. You're revenging yourself for what I said about the newspapers."
"Not exactly. I'm drawing the deadly parallel."
She drew down her pretty brows in thought. "I see. But, at worst, I'm interpreting in my own way. Not somebody else's."
"Not your author's?"
"Certainly not," she returned mutinously. "I know how to put a line over better than he possibly could. That's _my_ business."
"I'd hate to write a play for you, Bettina."
"Try it," she challenged. "But don't try to teach me how to play it after it's written."
"I begin to see the effect of the bill-board's printing the star's name in letters two feet high and the playwright's in one-inch type."
"The newspapers don't print yours at all, do they? Unless you shoot some one," she added maliciously.
"True enough. But I don't think I'd shine as a playwright."
"What will you do, then, if you fire yourself?"
"Fiction, perhaps. It's slow but glorious, I understand. When I'm starving in a garret, awaiting fame with the pious and cocksure confidence of genius, will you guarantee to invite me to a square meal once a fortnight? Think what it would give me to look forward to!"
She was looking him in the face with an expression of frank curiosity. "Ban, does money never trouble you?"
"Not very much," he confessed. "It comes somehow and goes every way."
"You give the effect of spending it with graceful ease. Have you got much?"
"A little dribble of an income of my own. I make, I suppose, about a quarter of what your salary is."
"One doesn't readily imagine you ever being scrimped. You give the effect of pros--no, not of prosperity; of--well--absolute ease. It's quite different."
"Do you know what they call you, around town?"
"Didn't know I had attained the pinnacle of being called anything, around town."
"They call you the best-dressed first-nighter in New York."
"Oh, damn!" said Banneker fervently.
"That's fame, though. I know plenty of men who would give half of their remaining hairs for it."
"I don't need the hairs, but they can have it."
"Then, too, you know, I'm an asset."
"Yes. To you, I mean." She pursed her fingers upon the tip of her firm little chin and leaned forward. "Our being seen so much together. Of course, that's a brashly shameless thing to say. But I never have to wear a mask for you. In that way you're a comfortable person."
"You do have to furnish a diagram, though."
"Yes? You're not usually stupid. Whether you try for it or not--and I think there's a dash of the theatrical in your make-up--you're a picturesque sort of animal. And I--well, I help out the picture; make you the more conspicuous. It isn't your good looks alone--you're handsome as the devil, you know, Ban," she twinkled at him--"nor the super-tailored effect which you pretend to despise, nor your fame as a gun-man, though that helps a lot.... I'll give you a bit of tea-talk: two flappers at The Plaza. 'Who's that wonderful-looking man over by the palm?'--'Don't you know him? Why, that's Mr. Banneker.'--'Who's he; and what does he do? Have I seen him on the stage?'--'No, indeed! I don't know what he does; but he's an ex-ranchman and he held off a gang of river-pirates on a yacht, all alone, and killed eight or ten of them. Doesn't he look it!'"
"I don't go to afternoon teas," said the subject of this sprightly sketch, sulkily.
"You will! If you don't look out. Now the same scene several years hence. Same flapper, answering same question: 'Who's Banneker? Oh, a reporter or something, on one of the papers.' _Et voilà tout_!"
"Suppose you were with me at the Plaza, as an asset, several years hence?"
"I shouldn't be--several years hence."
Banneker smiled radiantly. "Which I am to take as fair warning that, unless I rise above my present lowly estate, that waxing young star, Miss Raleigh, will no longer--"
"Ban! What right have you to think me a wretched little snob?"
"None in the world. It's I that am the snob, for even thinking about it. Just the same, what you said about 'only a reporter or something' struck in."
"But in a few years from now you won't be a reporter."
"Shall I still be privileged to invite Miss Raleigh to supper--or was it tea?"
"You're still angry. That isn't fair of you when I'm being so frank. I'm going to be even franker. I'm feeling that way to-night. Comes of being tired, I suppose. Relaxing of the what-you-callems of inhibition. Do you know there's a lot of gossip about us, back of stage?"
"Is there? Do you mind it?"
"No. It doesn't matter. They think I'm crazy about you." Her clear, steady eyes did not change expression or direction.
"You're not; are you?"
"No; I'm not. That's the strange part of it."
"Thanks for the flattering implication. But you couldn't take any serious interest in a mere reporter, could you?" he said wickedly.
This time Betty laughed. "Couldn't I! I could take serious interest in a tumblebug, at times. Other times I wouldn't care if the whole race of men were extinct--and that's most times. I feel your charm. And I like to be with you. You rest me. You're an asset, too, in a way, Ban; because you're never seen with any woman. You're supposed not to care for them.... You've never tried to make love to me even the least little bit, Ban. I wonder why."
"That sounds like an invitation, but--"
"But you know it isn't. That's the delightful part of you; you do know things like that."
"Also I know better than to risk my peace of mind."
"Don't lie to me, my dear," she said softly. "There's some one else."
He made no reply.
"You see, you don't deny it." Had he denied it, she would have said: "Of course you'd deny it!" the methods of feminine detective logic being so devised.
"No; I don't deny it."
"But you don't want to talk about her."
"It's as bad as that?" she commiserated gently. "Poor Ban! But you're young. You'll get over it." Her brooding eyes suddenly widened. "Or perhaps you won't," she amended with deeper perceptiveness. "Have you been trying me as an anodyne?" she demanded sternly.
Banneker had the grace to blush. Instantly she rippled into laughter.
"I've never seen you at a loss before. You look as sheepish as a stage-door Johnnie when his inamorata gets into the other fellow's car. Ban, you never hung about stage-doors, did you? I think it would be good for you; tame your proud spirit and all that. Why don't you write one of your 'Eban' sketches on John H. Stage-Door?"
"I'll do better than that. Give me of your wisdom on the subject and I'll write an interview with you for Tittle-Tattle."
"Do! And make me awfully clever, please. Our press-agent hasn't put anything over for weeks. He's got a starving wife and seven drunken children, or something like that, and, as he'll take all the credit for the interview and even claim that he wrote it unless you sign it, perhaps it'll get him a raise and he can then buy the girl who plays the manicure part a bunch of orchids. _He_'d have been a stage-door Johnnie if he hadn't stubbed his toe and become a press-agent."
"All right," said Banneker. "Now: I'll ask the stupid questions and you give the cutie answers."
It was two o'clock when Miss Betty Raleigh, having seen the gist of all her witty and profound observations upon a strange species embodied in three or four scrawled notes on the back of a menu, rose and observed that, whereas acting was her favorite pastime, her real and serious business was sleep. At her door she held her face up to him as straightforwardly as a child. "Good luck to you, dear boy," she said softly. "If I ever were a fortune-teller, I would say that your star was for happiness and success."
He bent and kissed her cheek lightly. "I'll have my try at success," he said. "But the other isn't so easy."
"You'll find them one and the same," was her parting prophecy.
Inured to work at all hours, Banneker went to the small, bare room in his apartment which he kept as a study, and sat down to write the interview. Angles of dawn-light had begun to irradiate the steep canyon of the street by the time he had finished. He read it over and found it good, for its purposes. Every line of it sparkled. It had the effervescent quality which the reading public loves to associate with stage life and stage people. Beyond that, nothing. Banneker mailed it to Miss Westlake for typing, had a bath, and went to bed. At noon he was at The Ledger office, fresh, alert, and dispassionately curious to ascertain the next resolution of the mix-up between the paper and himself.
Nothing happened; at least, nothing indicative. Mr. Greenough's expression was as flat and neutral as the desk over which he presided as he called Banneker's name and said to him:
"Mr. Horace Vanney wishes to relieve his soul of some priceless information. Will you call at his office at two-thirty?"
It was Mr. Vanney's practice, whenever any of his enterprises appeared in a dubious or unfavorable aspect, immediately to materialize in print on some subject entirely unrelated, preferably an announcement on behalf of one of the charitable or civic organizations which he officially headed. Thus he shone forth as a useful, serviceable, and public-spirited citizen, against whom (such was the inference which the newspaper reader was expected to draw) only malignancy could allege anything injurious. In this instance his offering upon the altar of publicity, carefully typed and mimeographed, had just enough importance to entitle it to a paragraph of courtesy. After it was given out to those who called, Mr. Vanney detained Banneker.
"Have you read the morning papers, Mr. Banneker?"
"Yes. That's my business, Mr. Vanney."
"Then you can see, by the outbreak in Sippiac, to what disastrous results anarchism and fomented discontent lead."
"Depends on the point of view. I believe that, after my visit to the mills for you, I told you that unless conditions were bettered you'd have another and worse strike. You've got it."
"Fortunately it is under control. The trouble-makers and thugs have been taught a needed lesson."
"Especially the six-year-old trouble-making thug who was shot through the lungs from behind."
Mr. Vanney scowled. "Unfortunate. And the papers laid unnecessary stress upon that. Wholly unnecessary. Most unfair."
"You would hardly accuse The Ledger, at least, of being unfair to the mill interests."
"Yes. The Ledger's handling, while less objectionable than some of the others, was decidedly unfortunate."
Banneker gazed at him in stupefaction. "Mr. Vanney, The Ledger minimized every detail unfavorable to the mills and magnified every one which told against the strikers. It was only its skill that concealed the bias in every paragraph."
"You are not over-loyal to your employer, sir," commented the other severely.
"At least I'm defending the paper against your aspersions," returned Banneker.
"Most unfair," pursued Mr. Vanney. "Why publish such matter at all? It merely stirs up more discontent and excites hostility against the whole industrial system which has made this country great. And I give more copy to the newspaper men than any other public man in New York. It's rank ingratitude, that's what it is." He meditated upon the injurious matter. "I suppose we ought to have advertised," he added pensively. "Then they'd let us alone as they do the big stores."
Banneker left the Vanney offices with a great truth illuminating his brain; to wit, that news, whether presented ingenuously or disingenuously, will always and inevitably be unpopular with those most nearly affected. For while we all read avidly what we can find about the other man's sins and errors, we all hope, for our own, the kindly mantle of silence. And because news always must and will stir hostility, the attitude of a public, any part of which may be its next innocent (or guilty) victim, is instinctively inimical. Another angle of the pariahdom of those who deal in day-to-day history, for Banneker to ponder.
Feeling a strong desire to get away from the troublous environment of print, Banneker was glad to avail himself of Densmore's invitation to come to The Retreat on the following Monday and try his hand at polo again. This time he played much better, his mallet work in particular being more reliable.
"You ride like an Indian," said Densmore to him after the scratch game, "and you've got no nerves. But I don't see where you got your wrist, except by practice."
"I've had the practice, some time since."
"But if you've only knocked about the field with stable-boys--"
"That's the only play I've ever had. But when I was riding range in the desert, I picked up an old stick and a ball of the owner's, and I've chased that ball over more miles of sand and rubble than you'd care to walk. Cactus plants make very fair goal posts, too; but the sand is tricky going for the ball."
Densmore whistled. "That explains it. Maitland says you'll make the club team in two years. Let us get together and fix you up some ponies," invited Densmore.
Banneker shook his head, but wistfully.
"Until you're making enough to carry your own."
"That might be ten years, in the newspaper business. Or never.
"Then get out of it. Let Old Man Masters find you something in the Street. You could get away with it," persuaded Densmore. "And he'll do anything for a polo-man."
"No, thank you. No paid-athlete job for mine. I'd rather stay a reporter."
"Come into the club, anyway. You can afford that. And at least you can take a mount on your day off."
"I'm thinking of another job where I'll have more time to myself than one day a week," confessed Banneker, having in mind possible magazine work. He thought of the pleasant remoteness of The Retreat. It was expensive; it would involve frequent taxi charges. But, as ever, Banneker had an unreasoning faith in a financial providence of supply. "Yes: I'll come in," he said. "That is, if I can get in."
"You'll get in, with Poultney Masters for a backer. Otherwise, I'll tell you frankly, I think your business would keep you out, in spite of your polo."
"Densmore, there's something I've been wanting to put up to you."
Densmore's heavy brows came to attention. "Fire ahead."
"You were ready to beat me up when I came here to ask you certain questions."
"I was. Any fellow would be. You would."
"Perhaps. But suppose, through the work of some other reporter, a divorce story involving the sister and brother-in-law of some chap in your set had appeared in the papers."
"No concern of mine."
"But you'd read it, wouldn't you?"
"And if your paper didn't have it in and another paper did, you'd buy the other paper to find out about it."
"If I was interested in the people, I might."
"Then what kind of a sport are you, when you're keen to read about other people's scandals, but sore on any one who inquires about yours?"
"That's the other fellow's bad luck. If he--"
"You don't get my point. A newspaper is simply a news exchange. If you're ready to read about the affairs of others, you should not resent the activity of the newspaper that attempts to present yours. I'm merely advancing a theory."
"Damned ingenious," admitted the polo-player. "Make a reporter a sort of public agent, eh? Only, you see, he isn't. He hasn't any right to my private affairs."
"Then you shouldn't take advantage of his efforts, as you do when you read about your friends."
"Oh, that's too fine-spun for me. Now, I'll tell you; just because I take a drink at a bar I don't make a pal of the bartender. It comes to about the same thing, I fancy. You're trying to justify your profession. Let me ask _you_; do you feel that you're within your decent rights when you come to a stranger with such a question as you put up to me?"
"No; I don't," replied Banneker ruefully. "I feel like a man trying to hold up a bigger man with a toy pistol."
"Then you'd better get into some other line."
But whatever hopes Banneker may have had of the magazine line suffered a set-back when, a few days later, he called upon the Great Gaines at his office, and was greeted with a cheery though quizzical smile.
"Yes; I've read it," said the editor at once, not waiting for the question. "It's clever. It's amazingly clever."
"I'm glad you like it," replied Banneker, pleased but not surprised.
Mr. Gaines's expression became one of limpid innocence. "Like it? Did I say I liked it?"
"No; you didn't say so."
"No. As a matter of fact I don't like it. Dear me, no! Not at all. Where did you get the idea?" asked Mr. Gaines abruptly.
"No; no. Not the plot. The plot is nothing. The idea of choosing such an environment and doing the story in that way."
"From The New Era Magazine."
"I begin to see. You have been studying the magazine."
"Yes. Since I first had the idea of trying to write for it."
"Flattered, indeed!" said Mr. Gaines dryly. "And you modeled yourself upon--what?"
"I wrote the type of story which the magazine runs to."
"Pardon me. You did not. You wrote, if you will forgive me, an imitation of that type. Your story has everything that we strive for except reality."
"You believe that I have deliberately copied--"
"A type, not a story. No; you are not a plagiarist, Mr. Banneker. But you are very thoroughly a journalist."
"Coming from you that can hardly be accounted a compliment."
"Nor is it so intended. But I don't wish you to misconstrue me. You are not a journalist in your style and method; it goes deeper than that. You are a journalist in your--well, in your approach. 'What the public wants.'"
Inwardly Banneker was raging. The incisive perception stung. But he spoke lightly. "Doesn't The New Era want what its public wants?"
"My dear sir, in the words of a man who ought to have been an editor of to-day, 'The public be damned!' What I looked to you for was not your idea of what somebody else wanted you to write, but your expression of what you yourself want to write. About hoboes. About railroad wrecks. About cowmen or peddlers or waterside toughs or stage-door Johnnies, or ward politicians, or school-teachers, or life. Not pink teas."
"I have read pink-tea stories in your magazine."
"Of course you have. Written by people who could see through the pink to the primary colors underneath. When _you_ go to a pink tea, you are pink. Did you ever go to one?"
Still thoroughly angry, Banneker nevertheless laughed, "Then the story is no use?"
"Not to us, certainly. Miss Thornborough almost wept over it. She said that you would undoubtedly sell it to The Bon Vivant and be damned forever."
"Thank her on my behalf," returned the other gravely. "If The Bon Vivant wants it and will pay for it, I shall certainly sell it to them."
"Out of pique?... Hold hard, young sir! You can't shoot an editor in his sanctum because of an ill-advised but natural question."
"True enough. Nor do I want--well, yes; I would rather like to."
"Good! That's natural and genuine."
"What do you think The Bon Vivant would pay for that story?" inquired Banneker.
"Perhaps a hundred dollars. Cheap, for a career, isn't it!"
"Isn't the assumption that there is but one pathway to the True Art and but one signboard pointing to it a little excessive?"
"Abominably. There are a thousand pathways, broad and narrow. They all go uphill.... Some day when you spin something out of your own inside, Mr. Banneker, forgive the well-meaning editor and let us see it. It might be pure silk."
All the way downtown, Banneker cursed inwardly but brilliantly. This was his first set-back. Everything prior which he had attempted had been successful. Inevitably the hard, firm texture of his inner endurance had softened under the spoiled-child treatment which the world had readily accorded him. Even while he recognized this, he sulked.
To some extent he was cheered up by a letter from the editor of that lively and not too finicky publication, Tittle-Tattle. The interview with Miss Raleigh was acclaimed with almost rapturous delight. It was precisely the sort of thing wanted. Proof had already been sent to Miss Raleigh, who was equally pleased. Would Mr. Banneker kindly read and revise enclosed proof and return it as soon as possible? Mr. Banneker did better than that. He took back the corrected proof in person. The editor was most cordial, until Banneker inquired what price was to be paid for the interview. Then the editor was surprised and grieved. It appeared that he had not expected to pay anything for it.
"Do you expect to get copy for nothing?" inquired the astonished and annoyed Banneker.
"If it comes to that," retorted the sharp-featured young man at the editorial desk, "you're the one that's getting something for nothing."
"I don't follow you."
"Come off! This is red-hot advertising matter for Betty Raleigh, and you know it. Why, I ought to charge a coupla hundred for running it at all. But you being a newspaper man and the stuff being so snappy, I'm willing to make an exception. Besides, you're a friend of Raleigh's, ain't you? Well--'nuff said!"
It was upon the tip of Banneker's tongue to demand the copy back. Then he bethought himself of Betty's disappointment. The thing _was_ well done. If he had been a thousand miles short of giving even a hint of the real Betty--who was a good deal of a person--at least he had embodied much of the light and frivolous charm which was her stage stock-in-trade, and what her public wanted. He owed her that much, anyhow.
"All right," he said shortly.
He left, and on the street-car immersed himself in some disillusioning calculations. Suppose he did sell the rejected story to The Bon Vivant. One hundred dollars, he had learned, was the standard price paid by that frugal magazine; that would not recompense him for the time bestowed upon it. He could have made more by writing "specials" for the Sunday paper. And on top of that to find that a really brilliant piece of interviewing had brought him in nothing more substantial than congratulations and the sense of a good turn done for a friend!
The magazine field, he began to suspect, might prove to be arid land.
What next? Banneker put the query to himself with more seriousness than he had hitherto given to estimating the future. Money, as he told Betty Raleigh, had never concerned him much. His start at fifteen dollars a week had been more than he expected; and though his one weekly evening of mild sybaritism ate up all his margin, and his successful sartorial experiments consumed his private surplus, he had no cause for worry, since his salary had been shortly increased to twenty, and even more shortly thereafter to twenty-five. Now it was a poor week in which he did not exceed the hundred. All of it went, rather more fluently than had the original fifteen. Frugal though he could be in normal expenditures, the rental of his little but fashionably situated apartment, his new club expenses, his polo outfit, and his occasional associations with the after-theater clique, which centered at The Avon, caused the debit column to mount with astonishing facility. Furthermore, through his Western associations he had an opportunity to pick up two half-broken polo ponies at bargain prices. He had practically decided to buy them. Their keep would be a serious item. He must have more money. How to get it? Harder work was the obvious answer. Labor had no terrors for Banneker. Mentally he was a hardened athlete, always in training. Being wise and self-protective, he did no writing on his day off. But except for this period of complete relaxation, he gave himself no respite. Any morning which did not find him writing in his den, after a light, working breakfast, he put in at the Library near by, insatiably reading economics, sociology, politics, science, the more serious magazines, and always the news and comments of the day. He was possessed of an assertive and sane curiosity to know what was going on in the world, an exigence which pressed upon him like a healthy appetite, the stimulus of his hard-trained mental condition. The satisfaction of this demand did not pay an immediate return; he obtained little or no actual material to be transmuted into the coin of so-much-per-column, except as he came upon suggestions for editorial use; and, since his earlier experience of The Ledger's editorial method with contributions (which he considered light-fingered), he had forsworn this medium. Notwithstanding this, he wrote or sketched out many an editorial which would have astonished, and some which would have benefited, the Inside Room where the presiding genius, malicious and scholarly, dipped his pen alternately into luminous ether and undiluted venom. Some day, Banneker was sure, he himself was going to say things editorially.
His opinion of the editorial output in general was unflattering. It seemed to him bound by formalism and incredibly blind to the immense and vivid interest of the news whereby it was surrounded, as if a man, set down in a meadow full of deep and clear springs, should elect to drink from a shallow, torpid, and muddy trickle. Legislation, taxes, transportation problems, the Greatness of Our City, our National Duty (whatever it might be at the time--and according to opinion), the drink question, the race problem, labor and capital; these were the reiterated topics, dealt with informatively often, sometimes wittily, seldom impartially. But, at best, this was but the creaking mechanism of the artificial structure of society, and it was varied only by an occasional literary or artistic sally, or a preachment in the terms of a convinced moralization upon the unvarying text that the wages of sin is death. Why not a touch of humanism, now and again, thought Banneker, following the inevitable parallels in paper after paper; a ray of light striking through into the life-texture beneath?
By way of experiment he watched the tide of readers, flowing through the newspaper room of the Public Library, to ascertain what they read. Not one in thirty paid any attention to the editorial pages. Essaying farther afield, he attended church on several occasions. His suspicions were confirmed; from the pulpit he heard, addressed to scanty congregations, the same carefully phrased, strictly correct comments, now dealing, however, with the mechanism of another world. The chief point of difference was that the newspaper editorials were, on the whole, more felicitously worded and more compactly thought out. Essentially, however, the two ran parallel.
Banneker wondered whether the editorial rostrum, too, was fated to deliver its would-be authoritative message to an audience which threatened to dwindle to the vanishing point. Who read those carefully wrought columns in The Ledger? Pot-bellied chair-warmers in clubs; hastening business men appreciative of the daily assurance that stability is the primal and final blessing, discontent the cardinal sin, the extant system perfect and holy, and any change a wile of the forces of destruction--as if the human race had evoluted by the power of standing still! For the man in the street they held no message. No; nor for the woman in the home. Banneker thought of young Smith of the yacht and the coming millions, with a newspaper waiting to drop into his hands. He wished he could have that newspaper--any newspaper, for a year. He'd make the man in the street sit up and read his editorials. Yes, and the woman in the home. Why not the boy and the girl in school, also? Any writer, really master of his pen, ought to be able to make even a problem in algebra editorially interesting!
And if he could make it interesting, he could make it pay.... But how was he to profit by all this hard work, this conscientious technical training to which he was devoting himself? True, it was improving his style. But for the purposes of Ledger reporting, he wrote quite well enough. Betterment here might be artistically satisfactory; financially it would be fruitless. Already his space bills were the largest, consistently, on the staff, due chiefly to his indefatigable industry in devoting every spare office hour to writing his "Eban" sketches, now paid at sixteen dollars a column, and Sunday "specials." He might push this up a little, but not much.
From the magazine field, expectations were meager in the immediate sense. True, The Bon Vivant had accepted the story which The Era rejected; but it had paid only seventy-five dollars. Banneker did not care to go farther on that path. Aside from the unsatisfactory return, his fastidiousness revolted from being identified with the output of a third-class and flashy publication. Whatever The Ledger's shortcomings, it at least stood first in its field. But was there any future for him there, other than as a conspicuously well-paid reporter? In spite of the critical situation which his story of the Sippiac riots had brought about, he knew that he was safe as long as he wished to stay.
"You're too valuable to lose," said Tommy Burt, swinging his pudgy legs over Banneker's desk, having finished one of his mirthful stories of a row between a wine agent and a theatrical manager over a doubly reserved table in a conspicuous restaurant. "Otherwise--phutt! But they'll be very careful what kind of assignments they hand over to your reckless hands in future. You mustn't throw expensive and brittle conventions at the editor's head. They smash."
"And the fragments come back and cut. I know. But what does it all lead to, Tommy?"
"Depends on which way you're going."
"To the top, naturally."
"From anybody else that would sound blatant, Ban," returned Tommy admiringly. "Somehow you get away with it. Are you as sincere as you act?"
"In so far as my intentions go. Of course, I may trip up and break myself in two."
"No. You'll always fall light. There's a buoyancy about you.... But what about coming to the end of the path and finding nowhere else to proceed?"
"Paragon of wisdom, you have stated the situation. Now produce the answer."
"More money?" inquired Tommy.
"More money. More opportunity."
"Then you've got to aim at the executive end. Begin by taking a copy-desk."
"At forty a week?"
"It isn't so long ago that twenty-five looked pretty big to you, Ban."
"A couple of centuries ago," stated Banneker positively. "Forty a week wouldn't keep me alive now."
"You could write a lot of specials. Or do outside work."
"Perhaps. But what would a desk lead to?
"City editor. Night city editor. Night editor. Managing editor at fifteen thou."
"After ten years. If one has the patience. I haven't. Besides, what chance would _I_ have?'
"None, with the present lot in the Inside Room. You're a heretic. You're unsound. You've got dangerous ideas--accent on the dangerous. I doubt if they'd even trust you with a blue pencil. You might inject something radical into a thirty-head."
"Tommy," said Banneker, "I'm still new at this game. What becomes of star reporters?"
"Drink," replied Tommy brusquely.
"Rats!" retorted Banneker. "That's guff. There aren't three heavy drinkers in this office."
"A lot of the best men go that way," persisted Burt. "It's the late hours and the irregular life, I suppose. Some drift out into other lines. This office has trained a lot of playwrights and authors and ad-men."
"But some must stick."
"They play out early. The game is too hard. They get to be hacks. _Or_ permanent desk-men. D'you know Philander Akely?"
"Who is he?"
"Ask me who he _was_ and I'll tell you. He was the brilliant youngster, the coruscating firework, the--the Banneker of ten years ago. Come into the den and meet him."
In one of the inner rooms Banneker was introduced to a fragile, desiccated-looking man languidly engaged in scissoring newspaper after newspaper which he took from a pile and cast upon the floor after operation. The clippings he filed in envelopes. A checkerboard lay on the table beside him.
"Do you play draughts, Mr. Banneker?" he asked in a rumbling bass.
"Very little and very poorly."
The other sighed. "It is pure logic, in the form of contest. Far more so than chess, which is merely sustained effort of concentration. Are you interested in emblemology?"
"I'm afraid I know almost nothing of it," confessed Banneker.
Akely sighed again, gave Banneker a glance which proclaimed an utter lack of interest, and plunged his shears into the editorial vitals of the Springfield Republican. Tommy Burt led the surprised Banneker away.
"Dried up, played out, and given a measly thirty-five a week as hopper-feeder for the editorial room," he announced. "And he was the star man of his time."
"That's pretty rotten treatment for him, then," said Banneker indignantly.
"Not a bit of it. He isn't worth what he gets. Most offices would have chucked him out on the street."
"What was his trouble?"
"Nothing in particular. Just wore his machine out. Everything going out, nothing coming in. He spun out enough high-class copy to keep the ordinary reporter going for a life-time; but he spun it out too fast. Nothing left. The tragedy of it is that he's quite happy."
"Then it isn't a tragedy at all."
"Depends on whether you take the Christian or the Buddhist point of view. He's found his Nirvana in checker problems and collecting literature about insignia. Write? I don't suppose he'd want to if he could. 'There but for the grace of God goes'--you or I. _I_ think the _facilis descensus_ to the gutter is almost preferable."
"So you've shown him to me as a dreadful warning, have you, Tommy?" mused Banneker aloud.
"Get out of it, Ban; get out of it."
"Why don't you get out of it yourself?"
"Inertia. Or cowardice. And then, I haven't come to the turning-point yet. When I do reach it, perhaps it'll be too late."
"What do you reckon the turning-point?"
"As long as you feel the excitement of the game," explained this veteran of thirty, "you're all right. That will keep you going; the sense of adventure, of change, of being in the thick of things. But there's an underlying monotony, so they tell me: the monotony of seeing things by glimpses, of never really completing a job, of being inside important things, but never of them. That gets into your veins like a clogging poison. Then you're through. Quit it, Ban, before it's too late."
"No. I'm not going to quit the game. It's my game. I'm going to beat it."
"Maybe. You've got the brains. But I think you're too stiff in the backbone. Go-to-hell-if-you-don't-like-the-way-I-do-it may be all right for a hundred-dollar-a-week job; but it doesn't get you a managing editorship at fifteen to twenty thousand. Even if it did, you'd give up the go-to-hell attitude as soon as you landed, for fear it would cost you your job and be too dear a luxury."
"All right, Mr. Walpole," laughed Banneker. "When I find what my price is, I'll let you know. Meantime I'll think over your well-meant advice."
If the normal way of advancement were closed to him in The Ledger office because of his unsound and rebellious attitude on social and labor questions, there might be better opportunities in other offices, Banneker reflected.
Before taking any step he decided to talk over the general situation with that experienced campaigner, Russell Edmonds. Him and his diminutive pipe he found at Katie's, after most of the diners had left. The veteran nodded when Banneker told him of his having reached what appeared to be a _cul-de-sac_.
"It's about time you quit," said Edmonds vigorously.
"You've changed your mind?"
The elder nodded between two spirals of smoke which gave him the appearance of an important godling delivering oracles through incense. "That was a dam' bad story you wrote of the Sippiac killings."
"I didn't write it."
"Didn't uh? You were there."
"My story went to the office cat."
"What was the stuff they printed? Amalgamated Wire Association?"
"No. Machine-made rewrite in the office."
"It wasn't dishonest. The Ledger's too clever for that. It was unhonest. You can't be both neutral and fair on cold-blooded murder."
"You weren't precisely neutral in The Courier."
Edmonds chuckled. "I did rather put it over on the paper. But that was easy. Simply a matter of lining up the facts in logical sequence."
"Horace Vanney says you're an anarchist."
"It's mutual. I think he's one. To hell with all laws and rights that discommode _Me_ and _My_ interests. That's the Vanney platform."
"He thinks he ought to have advertised."
"Wise guy! So he ought."
"To secure immunity?"
It required six long, hard puffs to elicit from Edmonds the opinion: "He'd have got it. Partly. Not all he paid for."
"Not from The Ledger," said Banneker jealously. "We're independent in that respect."
Edmonds laughed. "You don't have to bribe your own heeler. The Ledger believes in Vanney's kind of anarchism, as in a religion."
"Could he have bought off The Courier?"
"Nothing as raw as that. But it's quite possible that if the Sippiac Mills had been a heavy advertiser, the paper wouldn't have sent me to the riots. Some one more sympathetic, maybe."
"Didn't they kick on your story?"
"Who? The mill people? Howled!"
"But it didn't get them anything?"
"Didn't it! You know how difficult it is to get anything for publication out of old Rockface Enderby. Well, I had a brilliant idea that this was something he'd talk about. Law Enforcement stuff, you know. And he did. Gave me a hummer of an interview. Tore the guts out of the mill-owners for violating all sorts of laws, and put it up that the mill-guards were themselves a lawless organization. There's nothing timid about Enderby. Why, we'd have started a controversy that would be going yet."
"Well, why didn't you?"
"Interview was killed," replied Edmonds, grinning ruefully. "For the best interests of the paper. That's what the Vanney crowd's kick got them."
"Pop, what do you make of Willis Enderby?"
"Oh, he's plodding along only a couple of decades behind his time."
"Didn't I say he was plodding along? A reactionary is immovable except in the wrong direction. Enderby's a conservative."
"As a socialist you're against any one who isn't as radical as you are."
"I'm not against Willis Enderby. I'm for him," grunted the veteran.
"Why; if he's a conservative?"
"Oh, as for that, I can bring a long indictment against him. He's a firm believer in the capitalistic system. He's enslaved to the old economic theories, supply and demand, and all that rubbish from the ruins of ancient Rome. He believes that gold is the only sound material for pillars of society. The aristocratic idea is in his bones." Edmonds, by a feat of virtuosity, sent a thin, straight column of smoke, as it might have been an allegorical and sardonic pillar itself, almost to the ceiling. "But he believes in fair play. Free speech. Open field. The rigor of the game. He's a sportsman in life and affairs. That's why he's dangerous."
"Dangerous? To whom?"
"To the established order. To the present system. Why, son, all we Socialists ask is fair play. Give us an even chance for labor, for the proletariat; an even show before the courts, an open forum in the newspapers, the right to organize as capital organizes, and we'll win. If we can't win, we deserve to lose. I say that men like Willis Enderby are our strongest supporters."
"Probably he thinks his side will win, under the strict rules of the game."
"Of course. But if he didn't, he'd still be for fair play, to the last inch."
"That's a pretty fine thing to say of a man, Pop."
"It's a pretty fine man," said Edmonds.
"What does Enderby want? What is he after?"
"For himself? Nothing. It's something to be known as the ablest honest lawyer in New York. Or, you can turn it around and say he's the honestest able lawyer in New York. I think, myself, you wouldn't be far astray if you said the ablest and honestest. No; he doesn't want anything more than what he's got: his position, his money, his reputation. Why should he? But it's going to be forced on him one of these days."
"Yes. Whatever there is of leadership in the reform element here centers in him. It's only a question of time when he'll have to carry the standard."
"I'd like to be able to fall in behind him when the time comes."
"On The Ledger?" grunted Edmonds.
"But I shan't be on The Ledger when the time comes. Not if I can find any other place to go."
"Plenty of places," affirmed Edmonds positively.
"Yes; but will they give me the chance I want?"
"Not unless you make it for yourself. But let's canvass 'em. You want a morning paper."
"Yes. Not enough salary in the evening field."
"Well: you've thought of The Sphere first, I suppose."
"Naturally. I like their editorial policy. Their news policy makes me seasick."
"I'm not so strong for the editorials. They're always for reform and never for progress."
"Ah, but that's epigram."
"It's true, nevertheless. The Sphere is always tiptoeing up to the edge of some decisive policy, and then running back in alarm. What of The Observer? They're looking for new blood."
"The Observer! O Lord! Preaches the eternal banalities and believes them the eternal verities."
"Epigram, yourself," grinned Edmonds. "Well, The Monitor?"
"The three-card Monitor, and marked cards at that."
"Yes; you'd have to watch the play. The Graphic then?"
"Nothing but an ornamental ghost. The ghost of a once handsomely kept lady. I don't aspire to write daily epitaphs."
"And The Messenger I suppose you wouldn't even call a kept lady. Too common. Babylonian stuff. But The Express is respectable enough for anybody."
"And conscious of it in every issue. One long and pious scold, after a high-minded, bad-tempered formula of its own."
"Then I'll give you a motto for your Ledger." Edmonds puffed it out enjoyably,--decorated with bluish and delicate whorls. "'_Meliora video proboque, deleriora sequor_.'"
"No; I won't have that. The last part will do; we do follow the worser way; but if we see the better, we don't approve it. We don't even recognize it as the better. We're honestly convinced in our advocacy of the devil."
"I don't know that we're honestly convinced of anything on The Courier, except of the desirability of keeping friendly with everybody. But such as we are, we'd grab at you."
"No; thanks, Pop. You yourself are enough in the troubled-water duckling line for one old hen like The Courier."
"Then there remains only The Patriot, friend of the Pee-pul."
"Skimmed scum," was Banneker's prompt definition. "And nothing in the soup underneath."
Ernst, the waiter, scuttled across the floor below, and disappeared back of the L-angle a few feet away.
"Somebody's dining there," remarked Edmonds, "while we've been stripping the character off every paper in the field."
"May it be all the editors and owners in a lump!" said Banneker. "I'm sorry I didn't talk louder. I'm feeling reckless."
"Bad frame of mind for a man seeking a job. By the way, what _are_ you out after, exactly? Aiming at the editorial page, aren't you?"
Banneker leaned over the table, his face earnest to the point of somberness. "Pop," he said, "you know I can write."
"You can write like the devil," Edmonds offered up on twin supports of vapor.
"Yes, and I can do more than that. I can think."
"For self, or others?" propounded the veteran.
"I take you. I can think for myself and make it profitable to others, if I can find the chance. Why, Pop, this editorial game is child's play!"
"You've tried it?"
"Experimentally. The opportunities are limitless. I could make people read editorials as eagerly as they read scandal or baseball."
"By making them as simple and interesting as scandal or baseball."
"Oh! As easy as that," observed Edmonds scornfully. "High art, son! Nobody's found the way yet. Perhaps, if--"
He stopped, took his pipe from his lips and let his raised eyes level themselves toward the corner of the L where appeared a figure.
"Would you gentlemen mind if I took my coffee with you?" said the newcomer smoothly.
Banneker looked with questioning eyebrows toward Edmonds, who nodded. "Come up and sit down, Mr. Marrineal," invited Banneker, moving his chair to leave a vacancy between himself and his companion.
Tertius C. Marrineal was a man of forty, upon whom the years had laid no bonds. A large fortune, founded by his able but illiterate father in the timber stretches of the Great Lakes region, and spread out into various profitable enterprises of mining, oil, cattle, and milling, provided him with a constantly increasing income which, though no amateur at spending, he could never quite overtake. Like many other hustlers of his day and opportunity, old Steve Marrineal had married a shrewd little shopgirl who had come up with him through the struggle by the slow, patient steps described in many of our most improving biographies. As frequently occurs, though it doesn't get into the biographies, she who had played a helpful role in adversity, could not withstand affluence. She bloated physically and mentally, and became the juicy and unsuspecting victim of a horde of parasites and flatterers who swarmed eagerly upon her, as soon as the rough and contemptuous protection of her husband was removed by the hand of a medical prodigy who advertised himself as the discoverer of a new and infallible cure for cancer, and whom Mrs. Marrineal, with an instinctive leaning toward quackery, had forced upon her spouse. Appraising his prospective widow with an accurate eye, the dying man left a testament bestowing the bulk of his fortune upon his son, with a few heavy income-producing properties for Mrs. Marrineal. Tertius Marrineal was devoted to his mother, with a jealous, pitying, and protective affection. This is popularly approved as the infallible mark of a good man. Tertius Marrineal was not a good man.
Nor was there any particular reason why he should be. Boys who have a business pirate for father, and a weak-minded coddler for mother, seldom grow into prize exhibits. Young Marrineal did rather better than might have been expected, thanks to the presence at his birth-cradle of a robust little good-fairy named Self-Preservation, who never gets half the credit given to more picturesque but less important gift-bringers. He grew up with an instinctive sense of when to stop. Sometimes he stopped inopportunely. He quit several courses of schooling too soon, because he did not like the unyielding regimen of the institutions. When, a little, belated, he contrived to gain entrance to a small, old, and fashionable Eastern college, he was able, or perhaps willing, to go only halfway through his sophomore year. Two years in world travel with a well-accredited tutor seemed to offer an effectual and not too rigorous method of completing the process of mind-formation. Young Marrineal got a great deal out of that trip, though the result should perhaps be set down under the E of Experience rather than that of Erudition. The mentor also acquired experience, but it profited him little, as he died within the year after the completion of the trip, his health having been sacrificed in a too conscientious endeavor to keep even pace with his pupil. Young Marrineal did not suffer in health. He was a robust specimen. Besides, there was his good and protective fairy always ready with the flag of warning at the necessary moment.
Launched into the world after the elder Marrineal's death, Tertius interested himself in sundry of the businesses left by his father. Though they had been carefully devised and surrounded with safeguards, the heir managed to break into and improve several of them. The result was more money. After having gambled with fair luck, played the profuse libertine for a time, tried his hand at yachting, horse-racing, big-game hunting, and even politics, he successively tired of the first three, and was beaten at the last, but retained an unsatisfied hunger for it. To celebrate his fortieth birthday, he had bought a house on the eastern vista of Central Park, and drifted into a rather indeterminate life, identified with no special purpose, occupation, or set. Large though his fortune was, it was too much disseminated and he was too indifferent to it, for him to be conspicuous in the money game which constitutes New York's lists of High Endeavor. His reputation, in the city of careless reckonings, was vague, but just a trifle tarnished; good enough for the casual contacts which had hitherto made up his life, but offering difficulties should he wish to establish himself more firmly.
The best clubs were closed to him; he had reached his possible summit along that path in achieving membership in the recently and superbly established Oligarchs Club, which was sumptuous, but over-vivid like a new Oriental rug. As to other social advancement, his record was an obstacle. Not that it was worse than, nor indeed nearly as bad as, that of many an established member of the inner circle; but the test for an outsider seeking admittance is naturally made more severe. Delavan Eyre, for example, an average sinner for one of his opportunities and standing, had certainly no better a general repute, and latterly a much more dubious one than Marrineal. But Eyre "belonged" of right.
As sufficient indication of Marrineal's status, by the way, it may be pointed out that, while he knew Eyre quite well, it was highly improbable that he would ever know Mrs. Eyre, or, if he did fortuitously come to know her, that he would be able to improve upon the acquaintance. All this Marrineal himself well understood. But it must not be inferred that he resented it. He was far too much of a philosopher for that. It amused him as offering a new game to be played, more difficult certainly and inferentially more interesting than any of those which had hitherto enlisted his somewhat languid efforts. He appreciated also, though with a cynical disbelief in the logic of the situation, that he must polish up his reputation. He was on the new quest at the time when he overheard Banneker and Edmonds discuss the journalistic situation in Katie's restaurant, and had already determined upon his procedure.
Sitting between the two newspaper workers, Marrineal overtopped them both; the supple strength of Banneker as well as the gnarly slenderness of Edmonds. He gave an impression of loose-jointed and rather lazy power; also of quiet self-confidence. He began to talk at once, with the easy, drifting commentary of a man who had seen everything, measured much, and liked the glittering show. Both of the others, one his elder, the other his junior, felt the ready charm of the man. Both were content to listen, waiting for the clue to his intrusion which he had contrived to make not only inoffensive, but seemingly a casual act of good-fellowship. The clue was not afforded, but presently some shrewd opinion of the newcomer upon the local political situation set them both to discussion. Quite insensibly Marrineal withdrew from the conversation, sipping his coffee and listening with an effect of effortless amenity.
"If we had a newspaper here that wasn't tied hard and fast, politically!" cried Edmonds presently.
Marrineal fingered a specially fragrant cigar. "But a newspaper must be tied to something, mustn't it?" he queried. "Otherwise it drifts."
"Why not to its reading public?" suggested Banneker.
"That's an idea. But can you tie to a public? Isn't the public itself adrift, like seaweed?"
"Blown about by the gales of politics." Edmonds accepted the figure. "Well, the newspaper ought to be the gale."
"I gather that you gentlemen do not think highly of present journalistic conditions."
"You overheard our discussion," said Banneker bluntly.
Marrineal assented. "It did not seem private. Katie's is a sort of free forum. That is why I come. I like to listen. Besides, it touched me pretty closely at one or two points."
The two others turned toward him, waiting. He nodded, and took upon himself an air of well-pondered frankness. "I expect to take a more active part in journalism from now on."
Edmonds followed up the significant phrase. "_More_ active? You have newspaper interests?"
"Practically speaking, I own The Patriot. What do you gentlemen think of it?"
"Who reads The Patriot?" inquired Banneker. He was unprepared for the swift and surprised flash from Marrineal's fine eyes, as if some profoundly analytical or revealing suggestion had been made.
"Forty thousand men, women, and children. Not half enough, of course."
"Not a tenth enough, I would say, if I owned the paper. Nor are they the right kind of readers."
"How would you define them, then?" asked Marrineal, still in that smooth voice.
"Small clerks. Race-track followers. People living in that class of tenements which call themselves flats. The more intelligent servants. Totally unimportant people."
"Therefore a totally unimportant paper?"
"A paper can be important only through what it makes people believe and think. What possible difference can it make what The Patriot's readers think?"
"If there were enough of them?" suggested Marrineal.
"No. Besides, you'll never get enough of them, in the way you're running the paper now."
"Don't say 'you,' please," besought Marrineal. "I've been keeping my hands off. Watching."
"And now you're going to take hold?" queried Edmonds. "Personally?"
"As soon as I can find my formula--and the men to help me work it out," he added, after a pause so nicely emphasized that both his hearers had a simultaneous inkling of the reason for his being at their table.
"I've seen newspapers run on formula before," muttered Edmonds.
"Onto the rocks?"
"That's because the formulas were amateur formulas, isn't it?"
The veteran of a quarter-century turned a mildly quizzical smile upon the adventurer into risky waters. "Well?" he jerked out.
Marrineal's face was quite serious as he took up the obvious implication. "Where is the dividing line between professional and amateur in the newspaper business? You gentlemen will bear with me if I go into personal details a little. I suppose I've always had the newspaper idea. When I was a youngster of twenty, I tried myself out. Got a job as a reporter in St. Louis. It was just a callow escapade. And of course it couldn't last. I was an undisciplined sort of cub. They fired me; quite right, too. But I did learn a little. And at least it educated me in one thing; how to read newspapers." He laughed lightly. "Perhaps that is as nearly thorough an education as I've ever had in anything."
"It's rather an art, newspaper reading," observed Banneker.
"You've tried it, I gather. So have I, rather exhaustively in the last year. I've been reading every paper in New York every day and all through."
"That's a job for an able-minded man," commented Edmonds, looking at him with a new respect.
"It put eye-glasses on me. But if it dimmed my eyes, it enlightened my mind. The combined newspapers of New York do not cover the available field. They do not begin to cover it.... Did you say something, Mr. Banneker?"
"Did I? I didn't mean to," said Banneker hastily. "I'm a good deal interested."
"I'm glad to hear that," returned Marrineal with gravity. "After I'd made my estimate of what the newspapers publish and fail to publish, I canvassed the circulation lists and news-stands and made another discovery. There is a large potential reading public not yet tied up to any newspaper. It's waiting for the right paper."
"The imputation of amateurishness is retracted, with apologies," announced Russell Edmonds.
"Accepted. Though there are amateur areas yet in my mind. I bought The Patriot."
"Does that represent one of the areas?"
"It represents nothing, thus far, except what it has always represented, a hand-to-mouth policy and a financial deficit. But what's wrong with it from your point of view?"
"Cheap and nasty," was the veteran's succinct criticism.
"Any more so than The Sphere? The Sphere's successful."
"Because it plays fair with the main facts. It may gloss 'em up with a touch of sensationalism, like the oil on a barkeep's hair. But it does go after the facts, and pretty generally it presents 'em as found. The Patriot is fakey; clumsy at it, too. Any man arrested with more than five dollars in his pocket is a millionaire clubman. If Bridget O'Flaherty jumps off Brooklyn Bridge, she becomes a prominent society woman with picture (hers or somebody else's) in The Patriot. And the cheapest little chorus-girl tart, who blackmails a broker's clerk with a breach of promise, gets herself called a 'distinguished actress' and him a 'well-known financier.' Why steal the Police Gazette's rouge and lip-stick?"
"Because it's what the readers want."
"All right. But at least give it to 'em well done. And cut out the printing of wild rumors as news. That doesn't get a paper anything in the long run. None of your readers have any faith in The Patriot."
"Does any paper have the confidence of its public?" returned Marrineal.
Touched upon a sensitive spot, Edmonds cursed briefly. "If it hasn't, it's because the public has a dam'-fool fad for pretending it doesn't believe what it reads. Of course it believes it! Otherwise, how would it know who's president, or that the market sagged yesterday? This 'I-never-believe-what-I-read-in-the-papers' guff makes me sick to the tips of my toes."
"Only the man who knows newspapers from the inside can disbelieve them scientifically," put in Banneker with a smile.
"What would _you_ do with The Patriot if you had it?" interrogated the proprietor.
"I? Oh, I'd try to make it interesting," was the prompt and simple reply.
For his own purposes Banneker chose to misinterpret the purport of the question. "So interesting that half a million people would have to read it."
"You think you could do that?"
"I think it could be done."
"Will you come with me and try it?"
"You're offering me a place on The Patriot staff?"
"Precisely. Mr. Edmonds is joining."
That gentleman breathed a small cloud of blue vapor into the air together with the dispassionate query: "Is that so? Hadn't heard of it."
"My principle in business is to determine whether I want a man or an article, and then bid a price that can't be rejected."
"Sound," admitted the veteran. "Perfectly sound. But I'm not specially in need of money."
"I'm offering you opportunity."
"Opportunity to handle big stories according to the facts as you see them. Not as you had to handle the Sippiac strike story."
Edmonds set down his pipe. "What did you think of that?"
"A masterpiece of hinting and suggestion and information for those who can read between the lines. Not many have the eye for it. With me you won't have to write between the lines. Not on labor or political questions, anyway. You're a Socialist, aren't you?"
"Yes. You're not going to make The Patriot a Socialist paper, are you?"
"Some people might call it that. I'm going to make it a popular paper. It's going to be for the many against the few. How are you going to bring about Socialism?"
"Exactly! What better chance could you ask? A paper devoted to the interests of the masses, and willing to print facts. I want you to do the same sort of thing that you've been doing for The Courier; a job of handling the big, general stories. You'll be responsible to me alone. The salary will be a third higher than you are now getting. Think it over."
"I've thought. I'm bought," said Russell Edmonds. He resumed his pipe.
"And you, Mr. Banneker?"
"I'm not a Socialist, in the party sense. Besides a Socialist paper in New York has no chance of big circulation."
"Oh, The Patriot isn't going to tag itself. Politically it will be independent. Its policy will be socialistic only in that it will be for labor rather than capital and for the under dog as against the upper dog. It certainly won't tie up to the Socialist Party or advocate its principles. It's for fair play and education."
"What's your purpose?" demanded Banneker. "Money?"
"I've a very comfortable income," replied Marrineal modestly.
"Political advancement? Influence? Want to pull the wires?" persisted the other.
"The game. I'm out of employment and tired of it."
"And you think I could be of use in your plan? But you don't know much about me."
Marrineal murmured smilingly something indefinite but complimentary as to Banneker's reputation on Park Row; but this was by no means a fair index to what he knew about Banneker.
Indeed, that prematurely successful reporter would have been surprised at the extent to which Marrineal's private investigations had gone. Not only was the purchaser of The Patriot apprised of Banneker's professional career in detail, but he knew of his former employment, and also of his membership in The Retreat, which he regarded with perplexity and admiration. Marrineal was skilled at ascertainments. He made a specialty of knowing all about people.
"With Mr. Edmonds on roving commission and you to handle the big local stuff," he pursued, "we should have the nucleus of a news organization. Like him, you would be responsible to me alone. And, of course, it would be made worth your while. What do you think? Will you join us?"
"No?" There was no slightest hint of disappointment, surprise, or resentment in Marrineal's manner. "Do you mind giving me the reason?"
"I don't care to be a reporter on The Patriot."
"Well, this would hardly be reporting. At least, a very specialized and important type."
"For that matter, I don't care to be a reporter on any paper much longer. Besides, you need me--or some one--in another department more than in the news section."
"You don't like the editorials," was the inference which Marrineal drew from this, and correctly.
"I think they're solemn flapdoodle."
"So do I. Occasionally I write them myself and send them in quietly. It isn't known yet that I own the property; so I don't appear at the office. Mine are quite as solemn and flapdoodlish as the others. To which quality do you object the most?"
"Solemnity. It's the blight of editorial expression. All the papers suffer from it."
"Then you wouldn't have the editorial page modeled on that of any of our contemporaries."
"No. I'd try to make it interesting. There isn't a page in town that the average man-in-the-street-car can read without a painful effort at thought."
"Editorials are supposed to be for thinking men," put in Edmonds.
"Make the thinking easy, then. Don't make it hard, with heavy words and a didactic manner. Talk to 'em. You're trying to reach for their brain mechanism. Wrong idea. Reach for their coat-lapels. Hook a finger in the buttonholes and tell 'em something about common things they never stopped to consider. Our editorializers are always tucking their hands into their oratorical bosoms and discoursing in a sonorous voice about freight differentials as an element in stabilizing the market. How does that affect Jim Jones? Why, Jim turns to the sporting page. But if you say to him casually, in print, 'Do you realize that every woman who brings a child into the world shows more heroism than Teddy Roosevelt when he charged up San Juan Hill?'--what'll Jim do about that? Turn to the sporting page just the same, maybe. But after he's absorbed the ball-scores, he'll turn back to the editorial. You see, he never thought about Mrs. Jones just that way before."
"Sentimentalism," observed Marrineal. "Not altogether original, either." But he did not speak as a critic. Rather as one pondering upon new vistas of thought.
"Why shouldn't an editorial be sentimental about something besides the starry flag and the boyhood of its party's candidate? Original? I shouldn't worry overmuch about that. All my time would be occupied in trying to be interesting. After I got 'em interested, I could perhaps be instructive. Very cautiously, though. But always man to man: that's the editorial trick, as I see it. Not preacher to congregation."
"Where are your editorials, son?" asked the veteran Edmonds abruptly.
"Locked up." Banneker tapped his forehead.
"In the place of their birth?" smiled Marrineal.
"Oh, I don't want too much credit for my idea. A fair share of it belongs to a bald-headed and snarling old nondescript whom I met one day in the Public Library and shall probably never meet again anywhere. Somebody had pointed me out--it was after that shooting mess--and the old fellow came up to me and growled out, 'Employed on a newspaper?' I admitted it. 'What do you know about news?' was his next question. Well, I'm always open to any fresh slants on the business, so I asked him politely what he knew. He put on an expression like a prayerful owl and said, 'Suppose I came into your office with the information that a destructive plague was killing off the earthworms?' Naturally, I thought one of the librarians had put up a joke on me; so I said, 'Refer you to the Anglers' Department of the All-Outdoors Monthly.' 'That is as far as you could see into the information?' he said severely. I had to confess that it was. 'And you are supposed to be a judge of news!' he snarled. Well, he seemed so upset about it that I tried to be soothing by asking him if there was an earthworm pestilence in progress. 'No,' answers he, 'and lucky for you. For if the earthworms all died, so would you and the rest of us, including your accursed brood of newspapers, which would be some compensation. Read Darwin,' croaks the old bird, and calls me a callow fool, and flits."
"Who was he? Did you find out?" asked Edmonds.
"Some scientific grubber from the museum. I looked up the Darwin book and decided that he was right; not Darwin; the old croaker."
"Still, that was not precisely news," pointed out Marrineal.
"Theoretical news. I'm not sure," pursued Banneker, struck with a new idea, "that that isn't the formula for editorial writing; theoretical news. Supplemented by analytical news, of course."
"Philosophizing over Darwin and dead worms would hardly inspire half a million readers to follow your editorial output, day after day." Marrineal delivered his opinion suavely.
"Not if written in the usual style, suggesting a conscientious rehash of the encyclopedia. But suppose it were done differently, and with a caption like this, 'Why Does an Angle-Worm Wriggle?' Set that in irregular type that weaved and squirmed across the column, and Jones-in-the-street-car would at least look at it."
"Good Heavens! I should think so," assented Marrineal. "And call for the police."
"Or, if that is too sensational," continued Banneker, warming up, "we could head it 'Charles Darwin Would Never Go Fishing, Because' and a heavy dash after 'because.'"
"Fakey," pronounced Edmonds. "Still, I don't know that there's any harm in that kind of faking."
"Merely a trick to catch the eye. I don't know whether Darwin ever went fishing or not. Probably he did if only for his researches. But, in essentials, I'm giving 'em a truth; a big truth."
"What?" inquired Marrineal.
"Solemn sermonizers would call it the inter-relations of life or something to that effect. What I'm after is to coax 'em to think a little."
"About anything. It's the process I'm after. Only let me start them thinking about evolution and pretty soon I'll have them thinking about the relations of modern society--and thinking my way. Five hundred thousand people, all thinking in the way we told 'em to think--"
"Could elect Willis Enderby mayor of New York," interjected the practical Edmonds.
Marrineal, whose face had become quite expressionless, gave a little start. "Who?" he said.
"Judge Enderby of the Law Enforcement Society."
"Oh! Yes. Of course. Or any one else."
"Or any one else," agreed Banneker, catching a quick, informed glance from Edmonds.
"Frankly, your scheme seems a little fantastic to me," pronounced the owner of The Patriot. "But that may be only because it's new. It might be worth trying out." He reverted again to his expressionless reverie, out of which exhaled the observation: "I wonder what the present editorial staff could do with that."
"Am I to infer that you intend to help yourself to my idea?" inquired Banneker.
Mr. Marrineal aroused himself hastily from his editorial dream. Though by no means a fearful person, he was uncomfortably sensible of a menace, imminent and formidable. It was not in Banneker's placid face, nor in the unaltered tone wherein the pertinent query was couched. Nevertheless, the object of that query became aware that young Banneker was not a person to be trifled with. He now went on, equably to say:
"Because, if you do, it might be as well to give me the chance of developing it."
Possibly the "Of course," with which Marrineal responded to this reasonable suggestion, was just a little bit over-prompt.
"Give me ten days. No: two weeks, and I'll be ready to show my wares. Where can I find you?"
Marrineal gave a telephone address. "It isn't in the book," he said. "It will always get me between 9 A.M. and noon."
They talked of matters journalistic, Marrineal lapsing tactfully into the role of attentive listener again, until there appeared in the lower room a dark-faced man of thirty-odd, spruce and alert, who, upon sighting them, came confidently forward. Marrineal ordered him a drink and presented him to the two journalists as Mr. Ely Ives. As Mr. Ives, it appeared, was in the secret of Marrineal's journalistic connection, the talk was resumed, becoming more general. Presently Marrineal consulted his watch.
"You're not going up to the After-Theater Club to-night?" he asked Banneker, and, on receiving a negative reply, made his adieus and went out with Ives to his waiting car.
Banneker and Edmonds looked at each other. "Don't both speak at once," chuckled Banneker. "What do _you_?"
"Think of him? He's a smooth article. Very smooth. But I've seen 'em before that were straight as well as smooth."
"Bland," said Banneker. "Bland with a surpassing blandness. A blandness amounting to blandeur, as grandness in the highest degree becomes grandeur. I like that word," Banneker chucklingly approved himself. "But I wouldn't use it in an editorial, one of those editorials that our genial friend was going to appropriate so coolly. A touch of the pirate in him, I think. I like him."
"Yes; you have to. He makes himself likable. What do you figure Mr. Ely Ives to be?"
"Do you know him?"
"I've seen him uptown, once or twice. He has some reputation as an amateur juggler."
"I know him, too. But he doesn't remember me or he wouldn't have been so pleasant," said the veteran, committing two errors in one sentence, for Ely Ives had remembered him perfectly, and in any case would never have exhibited any unnecessary rancor in his carefully trained manner. "Wrote a story about him once. He's quite a betting man; some say a sure-thing bettor. Several years ago Bob Wessington was giving one of his famous booze parties on board his yacht 'The Water-Wain,' and this chap was in on it somehow. When everybody was tanked up, they got to doing stunts and he bet a thousand with Wessington he could swarm up the backstay to the masthead. Two others wished in for a thousand apiece, and he cleaned up the lot. It cut his hands up pretty bad, but that was cheap at three thousand. Afterwards it turned out that he'd been practicing that very climb in heavy gloves, down in South Brooklyn. So I wrote the story. He came back with a threat of a libel suit. Fool bluff, for it wasn't libelous. But I looked up his record a little and found he was an ex-medical student, from Chicago, where he'd been on The Chronicle for a while. He quit that to become a press-agent for a group of oil-gamblers, and must have done some good selling himself, for he had money when he landed here. To the best of my knowledge he is now a sort of lookout for the Combination Traction people, with some connection with the City Illuminating Company on the side. It's a secret sort of connection."
Banneker made the world-wide symbolistic finger-shuffle of money-handling. "Legislative?" he inquired.
"Possibly. But it's more keeping a watch on publicity and politics. He gives himself out as a man-about-town, and is supposed to make a good thing out of the market. Maybe he does, though I notice that generally the market makes a good thing out of the smart guy who tries to beat it."
"Not a particularly desirable person for a colleague."
"I doubt if he'd be Marrineal's colleague exactly. The inside of the newspaper isn't his game. More likely he's making himself attractive and useful to Marrineal just to find out what he's up to with his paper."
"I'll show him something interesting if I get hold of that editorial page."
"Son, are you up to it, d'you think?" asked Edmonds with affectionate solicitude. "It takes a lot of experience to handle policies."
"I'll have you with me, won't I, Pop? Besides, if my little scheme works, I'm going out to gather experience like a bee after honey."
"We'll make a queer team, we three," mused the veteran, shaking his bony head, as he leaned forward over his tiny pipe. His protuberant forehead seemed to overhang the idea protectively. Or perhaps threateningly. "None of us looks at a newspaper from the same angle or as the same kind of a machine as the others view it."
"Never mind our views. They'll assimilate. What about his?"
"Ah! I wish I knew. But he wants something. Like all of us." A shade passed across the clearly modeled severity of the face. Edmonds sighed. "I don't know but that I'm too old for this kind of experiment. Yet I've fallen for the temptation."
"Pop," said Banneker with abrupt irrelevance, "there's a line from Emerson that you make me think of when you look like that. 'His sad lucidity of soul.'"
"Do I? But it isn't Emerson. It's Matthew Arnold."
"Where do you find time for poetry, you old wheelhorse! Never mind; you ought to be painted as the living embodiment of that line."
"Or as a wooden automaton, jumping at the end of a special wire from 'our correspondent.' Ban, can you see Marrineal's hand on a wire?"
"If it's plain enough to be visible, I'm underestimating his tact. I'd like to have a lock of his hair to dream on to-night. I'm off to think things over, Pop. Good-night."
Banneker walked uptown, through dimmed streets humming with the harmonic echoes of the city's never-ending life, faint and delicate. He stopped at Sherry's, and at a small table in the side room sat down with a bottle of ale, a cigarette, and some stationery. When he rose, it was to mail a letter. That done, he went back to his costly little apartment upon which the rent would be due in a few days. He had the cash in hand: that was all right. As for the next month, he wondered humorously whether he would have the wherewithal to meet the recurring bill, not to mention others. However, the consideration was not weighty enough to keep him sleepless.
Custom kindly provides its own patent shock-absorbers to all the various organisms of nature; otherwise the whole regime would perish. Necessarily a newspaper is among the best protected of organisms against shock: it deals, as one might say, largely in shocks, and its hand is subdued to what it works in. Nevertheless, on the following noon The Ledger office was agitated as it hardly would have been had Brooklyn Bridge fallen into the East River, or the stalest mummy in the Natural History Museum shown stirrings of life. A word was passing from eager mouth to incredulous ear.
Banneker had resigned.
Looking out of the front window, into the decorum of Grove Street, Mrs. Brashear could hardly credit the testimony of her glorified eyes. Could the occupant of the taxi indeed be Mr. Banneker whom, a few months before and most sorrowfully, she had sacrificed to the stern respectability of the house? And was it possible, as the very elegant trunk inscribed "E.B.--New York City" indicated, that he was coming back as a lodger? For the first time in her long and correct professional career, the landlady felt an unqualified bitterness in the fact that all her rooms were occupied.
The occupant of the taxi jumped out and ran lightly up the steps.
"How d'you do, Mrs. Brashear. Am I still excommunicated?"
"Oh, Mr. Banneker! I'm _so_ glad to see you. If I could tell you how often I've blamed myself--"
"Let's forget all that. The point is I've come back."
"Oh, dear! I do hate not to take you in. But there isn't a spot."
"Who's got my old room?"
"Hainer? Let's turn him out."
"I would in a minute," declared the ungrateful landlady to whom Mr. Hainer had always been a model lodger. "But the law--"
"Oh, I'll fix Hainer if you'll fix the room."
"How?" asked the bewildered Mrs. Brashear.
"The room? Just as it used to be. Bed, table, couple of chairs, bookshelf."
"But Mr. Hainer's things?"
"Store 'em. It'll be for only a month."
Leaving his trunk, Banneker sallied forth in smiling confidence to accost and transfer the unsuspecting occupant of his room. To achieve this, it was necessary only to convince the object of the scheme that the incredible offer was made in good faith; an apartment in the "swell" Regalton, luxuriously furnished, service and breakfast included, rent free for a whole month. A fairy-tale for the prosaic Hainer to be gloated over for the rest of his life! Very quietly, for this was part of the bargain, the middle-aged accountant moved to his new glories and Banneker took his old quarters. It was all accomplished that evening. The refurnishing was finished on the following day.
"But what are you doing it for, if I may be so bold, Mr. Banneker?" asked the landlady.
"Peace, quiet, and work," he answered gayly. "Just to be where nobody can find me, while I do a job."
Here, as in the old, jobless days, Banneker settled down to concentrated and happy toil. Always a creature of Spartan self-discipline in the matter of work, he took on, in this quiet and remote environment, new energies. Miss Westlake, recipient of the output as it came from the hard-driven pen, was secretly disquieted. Could any human being maintain such a pace without collapse? Day after day, the devotee of the third-floor-front rose at seven, breakfasted from a thermos bottle and a tin box, and set upon his writing; lunched hastily around the corner, returned with armfuls of newspapers which he skimmed as a preliminary to a second long bout with his pen; allowed himself an hour for dinner, and came back to resume the never-ending task. As in the days of the "Eban" sketches, now on the press for book publication, it was write, rewrite, and re-rewrite, the typed sheets coming back to Miss Westlake amended, interlined, corrected, but always successively shortened and simplified. Profitable, indeed, for the solicitous little typist; but she ventured, after a fortnight of it, to remonstrate on the score of ordinary prudence. Banneker laughed, though he was touched, too, by her interest.
"I'm indestructible," he assured her. "But next week I shall run around outside a little."
"You must," she insisted.
"Field-work, I believe they call it. The Elysian Fields of Manhattan Island. Perhaps you'll come with me sometimes and see that I attend properly to my recreation."
Curiosity as well as a mere personal interest prompted her to accept. She did not understand the purpose of these strange and vivid writings committed to her hands, so different from any of the earlier of Mr. Banneker's productions; so different, indeed, from anything that she had hitherto seen in any print. Nor did she derive full enlightenment from her Elysian journeys with the writer. They seemed to be casual if not aimless. The pair traveled about on street-cars, L trains, Fifth Avenue buses, dined in queer, crowded restaurants, drank in foreign-appearing beer-halls, went to meetings, to Cooper Union forums, to the Art Gallery, the Aquarium, the Museum of Natural History, to dances in East-Side halls: and everywhere, by virtue of his easy and graceful good-fellowship, Banneker picked up acquaintances, entered into their discussions, listened to their opinions and solemn dicta, agreeing or controverting with equal good-humor, and all, one might have carelessly supposed, in the idlest spirit of a light-minded Haroun al Raschid.
"What is it all about, if you don't mind telling?" asked his companion as he bade her good-night early one morning.
"To find what people naturally talk about," was the ready answer.
"To talk with them about what interests them. In print."
"Then it isn't Elysian-fielding at all."
"No. It's work. Hard work."
"And what do you do after it?"
"Oh, sit up and write for a while."
"You'll break down."
"Oh, no! It's good for me."
And, indeed, it was better for him than the alternative of trying to sleep without the anodyne of complete exhaustion. For again, his hours were haunted by the not-to-be-laid spirit of Io Welland. As in those earlier days when, with hot eyes and set teeth, he had sent up his nightly prayer for deliverance from the powers of the past--
"Heaven shield and keep us free From the wizard, Memory And his cruel necromancies!"--
she came back to her old sway over his soul, and would not be exorcised.--So he drugged his brain against her with the opiate of weariness.
Three of his four weeks had passed when Banneker began to whistle at his daily stent. Thereafter small boys, grimy with printer's ink, called occasionally, received instructions and departed, and there emanated from his room the clean and bitter smell of paste, and the clip of shears. Despite all these new activities, the supply of manuscript for Miss Westlake's typewriter never failed. One afternoon Banneker knocked at the door, asked her if she thought she could take dictation direct, and on her replying doubtfully that she could try, transferred her and her machine to his den, which was littered with newspapers, proof-sheets, and foolscap. Walking to and fro with a sheet of the latter inscribed with a few notes in his hand, the hermit proceeded to deliver himself to the briskly clicking writing machine.
"Three-em dash," said he at the close. "That seemed to go fairly well."
"Are you training me?" asked Miss Westlake.
"No. I'm training myself. It's easier to write, but it's quicker to talk. Some day I'm going to be really busy"--Miss Westlake gasped--"and time-saving will be important. Shall we try it again to-morrow?"
She nodded. "I could brush up my shorthand and take it quicker."
"Do you know shorthand?" He looked at her contemplatively. "Would you care to take a regular position, paying rather better than this casual work?"
"With you?" asked Miss Westlake in a tone which constituted a sufficient acceptance.
"Yes. Always supposing that I land one myself. I'm in a big gamble, and these," he swept a hand over the littered accumulations, "are my cards. If they're good enough, I'll win."
"They are good enough," said Miss Westlake with simple faith.
"I'll know to-morrow," replied Banneker.
For a young man, jobless, highly unsettled of prospects, the ratio of whose debts to his assets was inversely to what it should have been, Banneker presented a singularly care-free aspect when, at 11 A.M. of a rainy morning, he called at Mr. Tertius Marrineal's Fifth Avenue house, bringing with him a suitcase heavily packed. Mr. Marrineal's personal Jap took over the burden and conducted it and its owner to a small rear room at the top of the house. Banneker apprehended at the first glance that this was a room for work. Mr. Marrineal, rising from behind a broad, glass-topped table with his accustomed amiable smile, also looked workmanlike.
"You have decided to come with us, I hope," said he pleasantly enough, yet with a casual politeness which might have been meant to suggest a measure of indifference. Banneker at once caught the note of bargaining.
"If you think my ideas are worth my price," he replied.
"Let's have the ideas."
"No trouble to show goods," Banneker said, unclasping the suitcase. He preferred to keep the talk in light tone until his time came. From the case he extracted two close-packed piles of news-print, folded in half.
"Coals to Newcastle," smiled Marrineal. "These seem to be copies of The Patriot."
"Not exact copies. Try this one." Selecting an issue at random he passed it to the other.
Marrineal went into it carefully, turning from the front page to the inside, and again farther in the interior, without comment. Nor did he speak at once when he came to the editorial page. But he glanced up at Banneker before settling down to read.
"Very interesting," he said presently, in a non-committal manner. "Have you more?"
Silently Banneker transferred to the table-top the remainder of the suitcase's contents. Choosing half a dozen at random, Marrineal turned each inside out and studied the editorial columns. His expression did not in any degree alter.
"You have had these editorials set up in type to suit yourself, I take it," he observed after twenty minutes of perusal; "and have pasted them into the paper."
"Why the double-column measure?"
"More attractive to the eye. It stands out."
"And the heavy type for the same reason?"
"Yes. I want to make 'em just as easy to read as possible."
"They're easy to read," admitted the other. "Are they all yours?"
Marrineal looked a bland question. Banneker answered it.
"I've been up and down in the highways and the low-ways, Mr. Marrineal, taking those editorials from the speech of the ordinary folk who talk about their troubles and their pleasures."
"I see. Straight from the throbbing heart of the people. Jones-in-the-street-car."
"And Mrs. Jones. Don't forget her. She'll read 'em."
"If she doesn't, it won't be because they don't bid for her interest. Here's this one, 'Better Cooking Means Better Husbands: Try It.' That's the _argumentum ad feminam_ with a vengeance."
"Yes. I picked that up from a fat old party who was advising a thin young wife at a fish-stall. 'Give'm his food _right_ an' he'll come home to it, 'stid o' workin' the free lunch.'"
"Here are two on the drink question. 'Next Time Ask the Barkeep Why _He_ Doesn't Drink,' and, 'Mighty Elephants Like Rum--and Are Chained Slaves.'"
"You'll find more moralizing on booze if you look farther. It's one of the subjects they talk most about."
"'The Sardine is Dead: Therefore More Comfortable Than You, Mr. Straphanger,'" read Marrineal.
"Go up in the rush-hour L any day and you'll hear that editorial with trimmings."
"And 'Mr. Flynn Owes You a Yacht Ride' is of the same order, I suppose."
"Yes. If it had been practicable, I'd have had some insets with that: a picture of Flynn, a cut of his new million-dollar yacht, and a table showing the twenty per cent dividends that the City Illuminating Company pays by over-taxing Jones on his lighting and heating. That would almost tell the story without comment."
"I see. Still making it easy for them to read."
Marrineal ran over a number of other captions, sensational, personal, invocative, and always provocative: "Man, Why Hasn't Your Wife Divorced You?" "John L. Sullivan, the Great Unknown." "Why Has the Ornithorhyncus Got a Beak?" "If You Must Sell Your Vote, Ask a Fair Price For It." "Mustn't Play, You Kiddies: It's a Crime: Ask Judge Croban." "Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Christ; All Dead, But--!!!" "The Inventor of Goose-Plucking Was the First Politician. They're At It Yet." "How Much Would You Pay a Man to Think For You?" "Air Doesn't Cost Much: Have You Got Enough to Breathe?"
"All this," said the owner of The Patriot, "is taken from what people talk and think about?"
"Doesn't some of it reach out into the realm of what Mr. Banneker thinks they _ought_ to talk and think about?"
Banneker laughed. "Discovered! Oh, I won't pretend but what I propose to teach 'em thinking."
"If you can do that and make them think our way--"
"'Give me place for my fulcrum,' said Archimedes."
"But that's an editorial you won't write very soon. One more detail. You've thrown up words and phrases into capital letters all through for emphasis. I doubt whether that will do."
"Haven't you shattered enough traditions without that? The public doesn't want to be taught with a pointer. I'm afraid that's rather too much of an innovation."
"No innovation at all. In fact, it's adapted plagiarism."
"Harper's Monthly of the seventy's. I used to have some odd volumes in my little library. There was a department of funny anecdote; and the point of every joke, lest some obtuse reader should overlook it, was printed in italics. That," chuckled Banneker, "was in the days when we used to twit the English with lacking a sense of humor. However, the method has its advantages. It's fool-proof. Therefore I helped myself to it."
"Then you're aiming at the weak-minded?"
"At anybody who can assimilate simple ideas plainly expressed," declared the other positively. "There ought to be four million of 'em within reaching distance of The Patriot's presses."
"Your proposition--though you haven't made any as yet--is that we lead our editorial page daily with matter such as this. Am I correct?"
"No. Make a clean sweep of the present editorials. Substitute mine. One a day will be quite enough for their minds to work on."
"But that won't fill the page," objected the proprietor.
"Cartoon. Column of light comment. Letters from readers. That will," returned Banneker with severe brevity.
"It might be worth trying," mused Marrineal.
"It might be worth, to a moribund paper, almost anything." The tone was significant.
"Then you are prepared to join our staff?"
"On suitable terms."
"I had thought of offering you," Marrineal paused for better effect, "one hundred and fifty dollars a week."
Banneker was annoyed. That was no more than he could earn, with a little outside work, on The Ledger. He had thought of asking two hundred and fifty. Now he said promptly:
"Those editorials are worth three hundred a week to any paper. As a starter," he added.
A pained and patient smile overspread Marrineal's regular features. "The Patriot's leader-writer draws a hundred at present."
"I dare say."
"The whole page costs barely three hundred."
"It is overpaid."
"For a comparative novice," observed Marrineal without rancor, "you do not lack self-confidence."
"There are the goods," said Banneker evenly. "It is for you to decide whether they are worth the price asked."
"And there's where the trouble is," confessed Marrineal. "I don't know. They might be."
Banneker made his proposition. "You spoke of my being a novice. I admit the weak spot. I want more experience. You can afford to try this out for six months. In fact, you can't afford not to. Something has got to be done with The Patriot, and soon. It's losing ground daily."
"You are mistaken," returned Marrineal.
"Then the news-stands and circulation lists are mistaken, too," retorted the other. "Would you care to see my figures?"
Marrineal waved away the suggestion with an easy gesture which surrendered the point.
"Very well. I'm backing the new editorial idea to get circulation."
"With my money," pointed out Marrineal.
"I can't save you the money. But I can spread it for you, that three hundred dollars."
"How, spread it?"
"Charge half to editorial page: half to the news department."
"On account of what services to the news department?"
"General. That is where I expect to get my finishing experience. I've had enough reporting. Now I'm after the special work; a little politics, a little dramatic criticism; a touch of sports; perhaps some book-reviewing and financial writing. And, of course, an apprenticeship in the Washington office."
"Haven't you forgotten the London correspondence?"
Whether or not this was sardonic, Banneker did not trouble to determine. "Too far away, and not time enough," he answered. "Later, perhaps, I can try that."
"And while you are doing all these things who is to carry out the editorial idea?"
Marrineal stared. "Both? At the same time?"
"No living man could do it."
"I can do it. I've proved it to myself."
"How and where?"
"Since I last saw you. Now that I've got the hang of it, I can do an editorial in the morning, another in the afternoon, a third in the evening. Two and a half days a week will turn the trick. That leaves the rest of the time for the other special jobs."
"You won't live out the six months."
"Insure my life if you like," laughed Banneker. "Work will never kill me."
Marrineal, sitting with inscrutable face turned half away from his visitor, was beginning, "If I meet you on the salary," when Banneker broke in:
"Wait until you hear the rest. I'm asking that for six months only. Thereafter I propose to drop the non-editorial work and with it the salary."
"With what substitute?"
"A salary based upon one cent a week for every unit of circulation put on from the time the editorials begin publication."
"It sounds innocent," remarked Marrineal. "It isn't as innocent as it sounds," he added after a penciled reckoning on the back of an envelope. "In case we increase fifty thousand, you will be drawing twenty-five thousand a year."
"Well? Won't it be worth the money?"
"I suppose it would," admitted Marrineal dubiously. "Of course fifty thousand in six months is an extreme assumption. Suppose the circulation stands still?"
"Then I starve. It's a gamble. But it strikes me that I'm giving the odds."
"Can you amuse yourself for an hour?" asked Marrineal abruptly.
"Why, yes," answered Banneker hesitantly. "Perhaps you'd turn me loose in your library. I'd find something to put in the time on there."
"Not very much, I'm afraid," replied his host apologetically. "I'm of the low-brow species in my reading tastes, or else rather severely practical. You'll find some advertising data that may interest you, however."
From the hour--which grew to an hour and a half--spent in the library, Banneker sought to improve his uncertain conception of his prospective employer's habit and trend of mind. The hope of revelation was not borne out by the reading matter at hand. Most of it proved to be technical.
When he returned to Marrineal's den, he found Russell Edmonds with the host.
"Well, son, you've turned the trick," was the veteran's greeting.
"You've read 'em?" asked Banneker, and Marrineal was shrewd enough to note the instinctive shading of manner when expert spoke to expert. He was an outsider, being merely the owner. It amused him.
"Yes. They're dam' good."
"Aren't they dam' good?" returned Banneker eagerly.
"They'll save the day if anything can."
"Precisely my own humble opinion if a layman may speak," put in Marrineal. "Mr. Banneker, shall I have the contract drawn up?"
"Not on my account. I don't need any. If I haven't made myself so essential after the six months that you _have_ to keep me on, I'll want to quit."
"Still in the gambling mood," smiled Marrineal.
The two practical journalists left, making an appointment to spend the following morning with Marrineal in planning policy and methods. Banneker went back to his apartment and wrote Miss Camilla Van Arsdale all about it, in exultant mood.
"Brains to let! But I've got my price. And I'll get a higher one: the highest, if I can hold out. It's all due to you. If you hadn't kept my mind turned to things worth while in the early days at Manzanita, with your music and books and your taste for all that is fine, I'd have fallen into a rut. It's success, the first real taste. I like it. I love it. And I owe it all to you."
Camilla Van Arsdale, yearning over the boyish outburst, smiled and sighed and mused and was vaguely afraid, with quasi-maternal fears. She, too, had had her taste of success; a marvelous stimulant, bubbling with inspiration and incitement. But for all except the few who are strong and steadfast, there lurks beneath the effervescence a subtle poison.
Not being specially gifted with originality of either thought or expression, Mr. Herbert Cressey stopped Banneker outside of his apartment with the remark made and provided for the delayed reunion of frequent companions: "Well I thought you were dead!"
By way of keeping to the same level Banneker replied cheerfully: "I'm not."
"Where've you been all this while?"
"Where were you Monday last? Didn't see you at Sherry's."
"And the week before? You weren't at The Retreat."
"And the week before that? Nobody's seen so much--"
"Working. Working. Working."
"I stopped in at your roost and your new man told me you were away and might be gone indefinitely. Funny chap, your new man. Mysterious sort of manner. Where'd you pick him up?"
"Oh, Lord! Hainer!" exclaimed Banneker appreciatively. "Well, he told the truth."
"You look pulled down, too, by Jove!" commented Cressey, concern on his sightly face. "Ridin' for a fall, aren't you?"
"Only for a test. I'm going to let up next week."
"Tell you what," proffered Cressey. "Let's do a day together. Say Wednesday, eh? I'm giving a little dinner that night. And, oh, I say! By the way--no: never mind that. You'll come, won't you? It'll be at The Retreat."
"Yes: I'll come. I'll be playing polo that afternoon."
"Not if Jim Maitland sees you first. He's awfully sore on you for not turning up to practice. Had a place for you on the second team."
"Don't want it. I'm through with polo."
"Ban! What the devil--"
"Work, I tell you. Next season I may be able to play. For the present I'm off everything."
"Have they made you _all_ the editors of The Ledger in one?"
"I'm off The Ledger, too. Give you all the painful details Wednesday. Fare-you-well."
General disgust and wrath pervaded the atmosphere of the polo field when Banneker, making his final appearance on Wednesday, broke the news to Maitland, Densmore, and the others.
"Just as you were beginning to know one end of your stick from the other," growled the irate team captain.
Banneker played well that afternoon because he played recklessly. Lack of practice sometimes works out that way; as if luck took charge of a man's play and carried him through. Three of the five goals made by the second team fell to his mallet, and he left the field heartily cursed on all sides for his recalcitrancy in throwing himself away on work when the sport of sports called him. Regretful, yet well pleased with himself, he had his bath, his one, lone drink, and leisurely got into his evening clothes. Cressey met him at the entry to the guest's lounge giving on the general dining-room.
"Damned if you're not a good-lookin' chap, Ban!" he declared with something like envy in his voice. "Thinning down a bit gives you a kind of look. No wonder Mertoun puts in his best licks on your clothes."
"Which reminds me that I've neglected even Mertoun," smiled Banneker.
"Go ahead in, will you? I've got to bone some feller for a fresh collar. My cousin's in there somewhere. Mrs. Rogerson Lyle from Philadelphia. She's a pippin in pink. Go in and tell on yourself, and order her a cocktail."
Seeking to follow the vague direction, Banneker turned to the left and entered a dim side room. No pippin in pink disclosed herself. But a gracious young figure in black was bending over a table looking at a magazine, the long, free curve of her back turned toward him. He advanced. The woman said in a soft voice that shook him to the depths of his soul:
"Back so soon, Archie? Want Sis to fix your tie?"
She turned then and said easily: "Oh, I thought you were my brother.... How do you do, Ban?"
Io held out her hand to him. He hardly knew whether or not he took it until he felt the close, warm pressure of her fingers. Never before had he so poignantly realized that innate splendor of femininity that was uniquely hers, a quality more potent than any mere beauty. Her look met his straight and frankly, but he heard the breath flutter at her lips, and he thought to read in her eyes a question, a hunger, and a delight. His voice was under rigid control as he said:
"I didn't know you were to be here, Mrs. Eyre."
"I knew that you were," she retorted. "And I'm not Mrs. Eyre, please. I'm Io."
He shook his head. "That was in another world."
"Oh, Ban, Ban!" she said. Her lips seemed to cherish the name that they gave forth so softly. "Don't be a silly Ban. It's the same world, only older; a million years older, I think.... I came here only because you were coming. Are you a million years older, Ban?"
"Unfair," he said hoarsely.
"I'm never unfair. I play the game." Her little, firm chin went up defiantly. Yes: she was more lovely and vivid and desirable than in the other days. Or was it only the unstifled yearning in his heart that made her seem so? "Have you missed me?" she asked simply.
He made no answer.
"I've missed you." She walked over to the window and stood looking out into the soft and breathing murk of the night. When she came back to him, her manner had changed. "Fancy finding you here of all places!" she said gayly.
"It isn't such a bad place to be," he said, relieved to meet her on the new ground.
"It's a goal," she declared. "Half of the aspiring gilded youth of the city would give their eye-teeth to make it. How did you manage?"
"I didn't manage. It was managed for me. Old Poultney Masters put me in."
"Well, don't scowl at me! For a reporter, you know, it's rather an achievement to get into The Retreat."
"I suppose so. Though I'm not a reporter now."
"Well, for any newspaper man. What are you, by the way?"
"A sort of all-round experimental editor."
"I hadn't heard of that," said Io, with a quickness which apprised him that she had been seeking information about him.
"Nobody has. It's only just happened."
"And I'm the first to know of it? That's as it should be," she asserted calmly. "You shall tell me all about it at dinner."
"Am I taking you in?"
"No: you're taking in my cousin, Esther Forbes. But I'm on your left. Be nice to me."
Others came in and joined them. Banneker, his inner brain a fiery whorl, though the outer convolutions which he used for social purposes remained quite under control, drifted about making himself agreeable and approving himself to his host as an asset of the highest value. At dinner, sprightly and mischievous Miss Forbes, who recalled their former meeting at Sherry's, found him wholly delightful and frankly told him so. He talked little with Io; but he was conscious to his nerve-ends of the sweet warmth of her so near him. To her questions about his developing career he returned vague replies or generalizations.
"You're not drinking anything," she said, as the third course came on. "Have you renounced the devil and all his works?" There was an impalpable stress upon the "all."
His answer, composed though it was in tone, quite satisfied her. "I wouldn't dare touch drink to-night."
After dinner there was faro bank. Banneker did not play. Io, after a run of indifferent luck, declared herself tired of the game and turned to him.
"Take me out somewhere where there is air to breathe."
They stood together on the stone terrace, blown lightly upon by a mist-ladden breeze.
"It ought to be a great drive of rain, filling the world," said Io in her voice of dreams. "The roar of waters above us and below, and the glorious sense of being in the grip of a resistless current.... We're all in the grip of resistless currents. D'you believe that yet, Ban?"
"Skeptic! You want to work out your own fate. You 'strive to see, to choose your path.' Well, you've climbed. Is it success. Ban?"
"It will be."
"And have you reached the Mountains of Fulfillment?"
He shook his head. "One never does, climbing alone."
"Has it been alone, Ban?"
"So it has been for me--really. No," she added swiftly; "don't ask me questions. Not now. I want to hear more of your new venture."
He outlined his plan and hopes for The Patriot.
"It's good," she said gravely. "It's power, and so it's danger. But it's good.... Are we friends, Ban?"
"How can we be!"
"How can we not be! You've tried to drop me out of your life. Oh, I know, because I know you--better than you think. You'll never drop me out of your life again," she murmured with confident wistfulness. "Never, Ban.... Let's go in."
Not until she came to bid him good-night, with a lingering handclasp, her palm cleaving to his like the reluctant severance of lips, did she tell him that she was going away almost immediately. "But I had to make sure first that you were really alive, and still Ban," she said.
It was many months before he saw her again.