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THE CANDIDATE FROM YALE.
"O your college paper, I suppose?"
"No, I never wrote even a letter to the editor."
"Took prizes for essays?"
"No, I never wrote if I could help it."
"But you like to write?"
"I'd like to learn to write."
"You say you are two months out of college--what college?"
"Hum--I thought Yale men went into something commercial; law or banking or railroads. 'Leave hope of fortune behind, ye who enter here' is over the door of this profession."
"I haven't the money-making instinct."
"We pay fifteen dollars a week at the start."
"Couldn't you make it twenty?"
The Managing Editor of the News-Record turned slowly in his chair until his broad chest was full-front toward the young candidate for the staff. He lowered his florid face slowly until his double chin swelled out over his low "stick-up" collar. Then he gradually raised his eyelids until his amused blue eyes were looking over the tops of his glasses, straight into Howard's eyes.
"Why?" he asked. "Why should we?"
Howard's grey eyes showed embarrassment and he flushed to the line of his black hair which was so smoothly parted in the middle. "Well--you see--the fact is--I need twenty a week. My expenses are arranged on that scale. I'm not clever at money matters. I'm afraid I'd get in a mess with only fifteen."
"My dear young man," said Mr. King, "I started here at fifteen dollars a week. And I had a wife; and the first baby was coming."
"Yes, but your wife was an energetic woman. She stood right beside you and worked too. Now I have only myself."
Mr. King raised his eyebrows and became a rosier red. He was evidently preparing to rebuke this audacious intrusion into his private affairs by a stranger whose card had been handed to him not ten minutes before. But Howard's tone and manner were simple and sincere. And they happened to bring into Mr. King's mind a rush of memories of his youth and his wife. She had married him on faith. They had come to New York fifteen years before, he to get a place as reporter on the News-Record, she to start a boarding-house; he doubting and trembling, she with courage and confidence for two. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and opened the book of memory at the place where the leaves most easily fell apart:
He is coming home at one in the morning, worn out, sick at heart from the day's buffetings. As he puts his key into the latch, the door opens. There stands a handsome girl; her face is flushed; her eyes are bright; her lips are held up for him to kiss; she shows no trace of a day that began hours before his and has been a succession of exasperations and humiliations against which her sensitive nature, trained in the home of her father, a distinguished up-the-state Judge, gives her no protection, "Victory," she whispers, her arms about his neck and her head upon his coat collar. "Victory! We are seventy-two cents ahead on the week, and everything paid up!"
Mr. King opened his eyes--they had been closed less than five seconds. "Well, let it be twenty--though just why I'm sure I don't know. And we'll give you a four weeks' trial. When will you begin?"
"Now," answered the young man, glancing about the room. "And I shall try to show that I appreciate your consideration, whether I deserve it or not."
It was a large bare room, low of ceiling. Across one end were five windows overlooking from a great height the tempest that rages about the City Hall day and night with few lulls and no pauses. Mr. King's roll-top desk was at the first window. Under each of the other windows was a broad flat table desk--for copy-readers. At the farthest of these sat the City Editor--thin, precise-looking, with yellow skin, hollow cheeks, ragged grey-brown moustache, ragged scant grey-brown hair and dark brown eyes. He looked nervously tired and, because brown was his prevailing shade, dusty. He rose as Mr. King came with young Howard.
"Here, Mr. Bowring, is a young man from Yale. He wishes you to teach him how to write. Mr. Howard, Mr. Bowring. I hope you gentlemen will get on comfortably together."
Mr. King went back to his desk. Mr. Bowring and Howard looked each at the other. Mr. Bowring smiled, with good-humour, without cordiality. "Let me see, where shall we put you?" And his glance wandered along the rows of sloping table-desks--those nearer the windows lighted by daylight; those farther away, by electric lamps. Even on that cool, breezy August afternoon the sunlight and fresh air did not penetrate far into the room.
"Do you see the young man with the beautiful fair moustache," said Mr. Bowring, "toiling away in his shirt-sleeves--there?"
"Near the railing at the entrance?"
"Precisely. I think I will put you next him." Mr. Bowring touched a button on his desk and presently an office boy--a mop of auburn curls, a pert face and gangling legs in knickerbockers--hurried up with a "Yes, Sir?"
"Please tell Mr. Kittredge that I would like to speak to him and--please scrape your feet along the floor as little as possible."
The boy smiled, walking away less as if he were trying to terrorize park pedestrians by a rush on roller skates. Kittredge and Howard were made acquainted and went toward their desks together. "A few moments--if you will excuse me--and I'm done," said Kittredge motioning Howard into the adjoining chair as he sat and at once bent over his work.
Howard watched him with interest, admiration and envy. The reporter was perhaps twenty-five years old--fair of hair, fair of skin, goodlooking in a pretty way. His expression was keen and experienced yet too self-complacent to be highly intelligent. He was rapidly covering sheet after sheet of soft white paper with bold, loose hand-writing. Howard noticed that at the end of each sentence he made a little cross with a circle about it, and that he began each paragraph with a paragraph sign. Presently he scrawled a big double cross in the centre of the sheet under the last line of writing and gathered up his sheets in the numbered order. "Done, thank God," he said. "And I hope they won't butcher it."
"Do you send it to be put in type?" asked Howard.
"No," Kittredge answered with a faint smile. "I hand it in to Mr. Bowring--the City Editor, you know. And when the copyreaders come at six, it will be turned over to one of them. He reads it, cuts it down if necessary, and writes headlines for it. Then it goes upstairs to the composing room--see the box, the little dumb-waiter, over there in the wall?--well, it goes up by that to the floor above where they set the type and make up the forms."
"I'm a complete ignoramus," said Howard, "I hope you'll not mind my trying to find out things. I hope I shall not bore you."
"Glad to help you, I'm sure. I had to go through this two years ago when I came here from Princeton."
Kittredge "turned in" his copy and returned to his seat beside Howard.
"What were you writing about, if I may ask?" inquired Howard.
"About some snakes that came this morning in a 'tramp' from South America. One of them, a boa constrictor, got loose and coiled around a windlass. The cook was passing and it caught him. He fainted with fright and the beast squeezed him to death. It's a fine story--lots of amusing and dramatic details. I wrote it for a column and I think they won't cut it. I hope not, anyhow. I need the money."
"You are paid by the column?"
"Yes. I'm on space--what they call a space writer. If a man is of any account here they gradually raise him to twenty-five dollars a week and then put him on space. That means that he will make anywhere from forty to a hundred a week, or perhaps more at times. The average for the best is about eighty."
"Eighty dollars a week," thought Howard. "Fifty-two times eighty is forty-one hundred and sixty. Four thousand a year, counting out two weeks for vacation." To Howard it seemed wealth at the limit of imagination. If he could make so much as that!--he who had grave doubts whether, no matter how hard he worked, he would ever wrench a living from the world.
Just then a seedy young man with red hair and a red beard came through the gate in the railing, nodded to Kittredge and went to a desk well up toward the daylight end of the room.
"That's the best of 'em all," said Kittredge in a low tone. "His name is Sewell. He's a Harvard man--Harvard and Heidelberg. But drink! Ye gods, how he does drink! His wife died last Christmas--practically starvation. Sewell disappeared--frightful bust. A month afterward they found him under an assumed name over on Blackwell's Island, doing three months for disorderly conduct. He wrote a Christmas carol while his wife was dying. It began "Merrily over the Snow" and went on about light hearts and youth and joy and all that--you know, the usual thing. When he got the money, she didn't need it or anything else in her nice quiet grave over in Long Island City. So he 'blew in' the money on a wake."
Sewell was coming toward them. Kittredge called out: "Was it a good story, Sam?"
"Simply great! You ought to have seen the room. Only the bed and the cook-stove and a few dishes on a shelf--everything else gone to the pawnshop. The man must have killed the children first. They lay side by side on the bed, each with its hands folded on its chest--suppose the mother did that; and each little throat was cut from ear to ear--suppose the father did that. Then he dipped his paint brush in the blood and daubed on the wall in big scrawling letters: 'There is no God!' Then he took his wife in his arms, stabbed her to the heart and cut his own throat. And there they lay, his arms about her, his cheek against hers, dead. It was murder as a fine art. Gad, I wish I could write."
Kittredge introduced Howard--"a Yale man--just came on the paper."
"Entering the profession? Well, they say of the other professions that there is always room at the top. Journalism is just the reverse. The room is all at the bottom--easy to enter, hard to achieve, impossible to leave. It is all bottom, no top." Sewell nodded, smiled attractively in spite of his swollen face and his unsightly teeth, and went back to his work.
"He's sober," said Kittredge when he was out of hearing, "so his story is pretty sure to be the talk of Park Row tomorrow."
Howard was astonished at the cheerful, businesslike point of view of these two educated and apparently civilised young men as to the tragedies of life. He had shuddered at Kittredge's story of the man squeezed to death by the snake. Sewell's story, so graphically outlined, filled him with horror, made it a struggle for him to conceal his feelings.
"I suppose you must see a lot of frightful things," he suggested.
"That's our business. You soon get used to it, just as a doctor does. You learn to look at life from the purely professional standpoint. Of course you must feel in order to write. But you must not feel so keenly that you can't write. You have to remember always that you're not there to cheer or sympathise or have emotions, but only to report, to record. You tell what your eyes see. You'll soon get so that you can and will make good stories out of your own calamaties."
"Is that a portrait of the editor?" asked Howard, pointing to a grimed oil-painting, the only relief to the stretch of cracked and streaked white wall except a few ragged maps.
"That--oh, that is old man Stone--the 'great condenser.' He's there for a double purpose, as an example of what a journalist should be and as a warning of what a journalist comes to. After twenty years of fine work at crowding more news in good English into one column than any other editor could get in bad English into four columns, he was discharged for drunkenness. Soon afterwards he walked off the end of a dock one night in a fog. At least it was said that there was a fog and that he was drunk. I have my doubts."
"Cheerful! I have not been in the profession an hour but I have already learned something very valuable."
"What's that?" asked Kittredge, "that it's a good profession to get out of?"
"No. But that bad habits will not help a man to a career in journalism any more than in any other profession."
"Career?" smiled Kittredge, resenting Howard's good-humoured irony and putting on a supercilious look that brought out more strongly the insignificance of his face. "Journalism is not a career. It is either a school or a cemetery. A man may use it as a stepping-stone to something else. But if he sticks to it, he finds himself an old man, dead and done for to all intents and purposes years before he's buried."
"I wonder if it doesn't attract a great many men who have a little talent and fancy that they have much. I wonder if it does not disappoint their vanity rather than their merit."
"That sounds well," replied Kittredge, "and there's some truth in it. But, believe me, journalism is the dragon that demands the annual sacrifice of youth. It will have only youth. Why am I here? Why are you here? Because we are young, have a fresh, a new point of view. As soon as we get a little older, we shall be stale and, though still young in years, we must step aside for young fellows with new ideas and a new point of view."
"But why should not one have always new ideas, always a new point of view? Why should one expect to escape the penalties of stagnation in journalism when one can't escape them in any other profession?"
"But who has new ideas all the time? The average successful man has at most one idea and makes a whole career out of it. Then there are the temptations."
"How do you mean?"
Kittredge flushed slightly and answered in a more serious tone:
"We must work while others amuse themselves or sleep. We must sleep while others are at work. That throws us out of touch with the whole world of respectability and regularity. When we get done at night, wrought up by the afternoon and evening of this gambling with our brains and nerves as the stake, what is open to us?"
"That is true," said Howard. "There are the all-night saloons and--the like."
"And if we wish society, what society is open to us? What sort of young women are waiting to entertain us at one, two, three o'clock in the morning? Why, I have not made a call in a year. And I have not seen a respectable girl of my acquaintance in at least that time, except once or twice when I happened to have assignments that took me near Fifth Avenue in the afternoon."
"Mr. Kittredge, Mr. Bowring wishes to speak to you," an office boy said and Kittredge rose. As he went, he put his hand on Howard's shoulder and said: "No, I am getting out of it as fast as ever I can. I'm writing books."
"Kittredge," thought Howard, "I wonder, is this Henry Jennings Kittredge, whose stories are on all the news stands?" He saw an envelope on the floor at his feet. The address was "Henry Jennings Kittredge, Esq."
When Kittredge came back for his coat, Howard said in a tone of frank admiration: "Why, I didn't know you were the Kittredge that everybody is talking about. You certainly have no cause for complaint."
Kittredge shrugged his shoulders. "At fifteen cents a copy, I have to sell ten thousand copies before I get enough to live on for four months. And you'd be surprised how much reputation and how little money a man can make out of a book. Don't be distressed because they keep you here with nothing to do but wonder how you'll have the courage to face the cashier on pay day. It's the system. Your chance will come."
It was three days before Howard had a chance. On a Sunday afternoon the Assistant City Editor who was in charge of the City Desk for the day sent him up to the Park to write a descriptive story of the crowds. "Try to get a new point of view," he said, "and let yourself loose. There's usually plenty of room in Monday's paper."
Howard wandered through the Central Park for two hours, struggling for the "new point of view" of the crowds he saw there--these monotonous millions, he thought, lazily drinking at a vast trough of country air in the heart of the city. He planned an article carefully as he dined alone at the Casino. He went down to the office early and wrote diligently--about two thousand words. When he had finished, the Night City Editor told him that he might go as there would be nothing more that night.
He was in the street at seven the next morning. As he walked along with a News-Record, bought at the first news-stand, he searched every page: first, the larger "heads"--such a long story would call for a "big head;" then the smaller "heads"--they may have been crowded and have had to cut it down; then the single-line "heads"--surely they found a "stickful" or so worth printing.
At last he found it. A dozen items in the smallest type, agate, were grouped under the general heading "City Jottings" at the end of an inside column of an inside page. The first of these City Jottings was two lines in length:
"The millions were in the Central Park yesterday, lazily drinking at that vast trough of country air in the heart of the city."
As he entered the office Howard looked appealingly and apologetically at the boy on guard at the railing and braced himself to receive the sneering frown of the City Editor and to bear the covert smiles of his fellow reporters. But he soon saw that no one had observed his mighty spring for a foothold and his ludicrous miss and fall.
"Had anything in yet?" Kittredge inquired casually, late in the afternoon.
"I wrote a column and a half yesterday and I found two lines among the City Jottings," replied Howard, reddening but laughing.
"The first story I wrote was cut to three lines but they got a libel suit on it."
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