Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
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 ingenue. 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 premiere, 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 matinee 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.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.