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Chapter 16

XVI.

Bartley stood for a moment, and then went out and wandered aimlessly about till nightfall. He went out shocked and frightened at what he had done, and ready for any reparation. But this mood wore away, and he came back sullenly determined to let her make the advances toward reconciliation, if there was to be one. Her love had already made his peace, and she met him in the dimly lighted little hall with a kiss of silent penitence and forgiveness. She had on her hat and shawl, as if she had been waiting for him to come and take her out to tea; and on their way to the restaurant she asked him of his adventure among the newspapers. He told her briefly, and when they sat down at their table he took out the precious order and showed it to her. But its magic was gone; it was only an order for twenty-five dollars, now; and two hours ago it had been success, rapture, a common hope and a common joy. They scarcely spoke of it, but talked soberly of indifferent things.

She could not recur to her father's visit at once, and he would not be the first to mention it. He did nothing to betray his knowledge of her intention, as she approached the subject through those feints that women use, and when they stood again in their little attic room she was obliged to be explicit.

"What hurt me, Bartley," she said, "was that you should think for an instant that I would let father ask me to leave you, or that he would ask such a thing. He only came to tell me to be good to you, and help you, and trust you; and not worry you with my silliness and—and—jealousy. And I don't ever mean to. And I know he will be good friends with you yet. He praised you for working so hard;"—she pushed it a little beyond the bare fact;—"he always did that; and I know he's only waiting for a good chance to make it up with you."

She lifted her eyes, glistening with tears, and it touched his peculiar sense of humor to find her offering him reparation, when he had felt himself so outrageously to blame; but he would not be outdone in magnanimity, if it came to that.

"It's all right, Marsh. I was a furious idiot, or I should have let you explain at once. But you see I had only one thought in my mind, and that was my luck, which I wanted to share with you; and when your father seemed to have come in between us again—"

"Oh, yes, yes!" she answered. "I understand." And she clung to him in the joy of this perfect intelligence, which she was sure could never be obscured again.

When Bartley's article came out, she read it with a fond admiration which all her praises seemed to leave unsaid. She bought a scrap-book, and pasted the article into it, and said that she was going to keep everything he wrote. "What are you going to write the next thing?" she asked.

"Well, that's what I don't know," he answered. "I can't find another subject like that, so easily."

"Why, if people care to read about a logging-camp, I should think they
would read about almost anything. Nothing could be too common for them.
You might even write about the trouble of getting cheap enough rooms in
Boston."

"Marcia," cried Bartley, "you're a treasure! I'll write about that very thing! I know the Chronicle-Abstract will be glad to get it."

She thought he was joking, till he came to her after a while for some figures which he did not remember. He had the true newspaper instinct, and went to work with a motive that was as different as possible from the literary motive. He wrote for the effect which he was to make, and not from any artistic pleasure in the treatment. He did not attempt to give it form,—to imagine a young couple like himself and Marcia coming down from the country to place themselves in the city; he made no effort to throw about it the poetry of their ignorance and their poverty, or the pathetic humor of their dismay at the disproportion of the prices to their means. He set about getting all the facts he could, and he priced a great many lodgings in different parts of the city; then he went to a number of real-estate agents, and, giving himself out as a reporter of the Chronicle-Abstract, he interviewed them as to house-rents, past and present. Upon these bottom facts, as he called them, he based a "spicy" sketch, which had also largely the character of an exposé. There is nothing the public enjoys so much as an exposé: it seems to be made in the reader's own interest; it somehow constitutes him a party to the attack upon the abuse, and its effectiveness redounds to the credit of all the newspaper's subscribers. After a week's stay in Boston, Bartley was able to assume the feelings of a native who sees his city falling into decay through the rapacity of its landladies. In the heading of ten or fifteen lines which he gave his sketch, the greater number were devoted to this feature of it; though the space actually allotted to it in the text was comparatively small. He called his report "Boston's Boarding-Houses," and he spent a paragraph upon the relation of boarding-houses to civilization, before detailing his own experience and observation. This part had many of those strokes of crude picturesqueness and humor which he knew how to give, and was really entertaining; but it was when he came to contrast the rates of house-rent and the cost of provisions with the landladies'

"PERPENDICULAR PRICES,"

that Bartley showed all the virtue of a born reporter. The sentences were vivid and telling; the ensemble was very alarming; and the conclusion was inevitable, that, unless this abuse could somehow be reached, we should lose a large and valuable portion of our population,—especially those young married people of small means with whom the city's future prosperity so largely rested, and who must drift away to find homes in rival communities if the present exorbitant demands were maintained.

As Bartley had foretold, he had not the least trouble in selling this sketch to the Chronicle-Abstract. The editor probably understood its essential cheapness perfectly well; but he also saw how thoroughly readable it was. He did not grumble at the increased price which Bartley put upon his work; it was still very far from dear; and he liked the young Downeaster's enterprise. He gave him as cordial a welcome as an overworked man may venture to offer when Bartley came in with his copy, and he felt like doing him a pleasure. Some things out of the logging-camp sketch had been copied, and people had spoken to the editor about it, which was a still better sign that it was a hit.

"Don't you want to come round to our club to-night?" asked the editor, as he handed Bartley the order for his money across the table. "We have a bad dinner, and we try to have a good time. We're all newspaper men together."

"Why, thank you," said Bartley, "I guess I should like to go."

"Well, come round at half-past five, and go with me."

Bartley walked homeward rather soberly. He had meant, if he sold this article, to make amends for the disappointment they had both suffered before, and to have a commemorative supper with Marcia at Parker's: he had ignored a little hint of hers about his never having taken her there yet, because he was waiting for this chance to do it in style. He resolved that, if she did not seem to like his going to the club, he would go back and withdraw his acceptance. But when he told her he had been invited,—he thought he would put the fact in this tentative way,—she said, "I hope you accepted!"

"Would you have liked me to?" he asked with relief.

"Why, of course! It's a great honor. You'll get acquainted with all those editors, and perhaps some of them will want to give you a regular place." A salaried employment was their common ideal of a provision for their future.

"Well, that's what I was thinking myself," said Bartley.

"Go and accept at once," she pursued.

"Oh, that isn't necessary. If I get round there by half-past five, I can go," he answered.

His lurking regret ceased when he came into the reception-room, where the members of the club were constantly arriving, and putting off their hats and overcoats, and then falling into groups for talk. His friend of the Chronicle-Abstract introduced him lavishly, as our American custom is. Bartley had a little strangeness, but no bashfulness, and, with his essentially slight opinion of people, he was promptly at his ease. These men liked his handsome face, his winning voice, the good-fellowship of his instant readiness to joke; he could see that they liked him, and that his friend Ricker was proud of the impression he made; before the evening was over he kept himself with difficulty from patronizing Ricker a little.

The club has grown into something much more splendid and expensive; but it was then content with a dinner certainly as bad as Ricker promised, but fabulously modest in price, at an old-fashioned hotel, whose site was long ago devoured by a dry-goods palace. The drink was commonly water or beer; occasionally, if a great actor or other distinguished guest honored the board, some spendthrift ordered champagne. But no one thought fit to go to this ruinous extreme for Bartley. Ricker offered him his choice of beer or claret, and Bartley temperately preferred water to either; he could see that this raised him in Ricker's esteem.

No company of men can fail to have a good time at a public dinner, and the good time began at once with these journalists, whose overworked week ended in this Saturday evening jollity. They were mostly young men, who found sufficient compensation in the excitement and adventure of their underpaid labors, and in the vague hope of advancement; there were grizzled beards among them, for whom neither the novelty nor the expectation continued, but who loved the life for its own sake, and would hardly have exchanged it for prosperity. Here and there was an old fellow, for whom probably all the illusion was gone; but he was proud of his vocation, proud even of the changes that left him somewhat superannuated in his tastes and methods. None, indeed, who have ever known it, can wholly forget the generous rage with which journalism inspires its followers. To each of those young men, beginning the strangely fascinating life as reporters and correspondents, his paper was as dear as his king once was to a French noble; to serve it night and day, to wear himself out for its sake, to merge himself in its glory, and to live in its triumphs without personal recognition from the public, was the loyal devotion which each expected his sovereign newspaper to accept as its simple right. They went and came, with the prompt and passive obedience of soldiers, wherever they were sent, and they struggled each to "get in ahead" of all the others with the individual zeal of heroes. They expanded to the utmost limits of occasion, and they submitted with an anguish that was silent to the editorial excision, compression, and mutilation of reports that were vitally dear to them. What becomes of these ardent young spirits, the inner history of journalism in any great city might pathetically show; but the outside world knows them only in the fine frenzy of interviewing, or of recording the midnight ravages of what they call the devouring element, or of working up horrible murders or tragical accidents, or of tracking criminals who have baffled all the detectives. Hearing their talk Bartley began to realize that journalism might be a very different thing from what he had imagined it in a country printing-office, and that it might not be altogether wise to consider it merely as a stepping-stone to the law.

With the American eagerness to recognize talent, numbers of good fellows spoke to him about his logging sketch; even those who had not read it seemed to know about it as a hit. They were all delighted to be able to say, "Ricker tells me that you offered it to old Witherby, and he wouldn't look at it!" He found that this fact, which he had doubtfully confided to Ricker, was not offensive to some of the Events people who were there; one of them got him aside, and darkly owned to him that Witherby was doing everything that any one man could to kill the Events, and that in fact the counting-room was running the paper.

All the club united in abusing the dinner, which in his rustic ignorance Bartley had not found so infamous; but they ate it with perfect appetite and with mounting good spirits. The president brewed punch in a great bowl before him, and, rising with a glass of it in his hand, opened a free parliament of speaking, story-telling, and singing. Whoever recollected a song or a story that he liked, called upon the owner of it to sing it or tell it; and it appeared not to matter how old the fun or the music was: the company was resolved to be happy; it roared and clapped till the glasses rang. "You will like this song," Bartley's neighbors to right and left of him prophesied; or, "Just listen to this story of Mason's,—it's capital,"—as one or another rose in response to a general clamor. When they went back to the reception-room they carried the punch-bowl with them, and there, amid a thick cloud of smoke, two clever amateurs took their places at the piano, and sang and played to their heart's content, while the rest, glass in hand, talked and laughed, or listened as they chose. Bartley had not been called upon, but he was burning to try that song in which he had failed so dismally in the logging-camp. When the pianist rose at last, he slipped down into the chair, and, striking the chords of the accompaniment, he gave his piece with brilliant audacity. The room silenced itself and then burst into a roar of applause, and cries of "Encore!" There could be no doubt of the success. "Look here, Ricker," said a leading man at the end of the repetition, "your friend must be one of us!"—and, rapping on the table, he proposed Bartley's name. In that simple time the club voted viva voce on proposed members, and Bartley found himself elected by acclamation, and in the act of paying over his initiation fee to the treasurer, before he had well realized the honor done him. Everybody near him shook his hand, and offered to be of service to him. Much of this cordiality was merely collective good feeling; something of it might be justly attributed to the punch; but the greater part was honest. In this civilization of ours, grotesque and unequal and imperfect as it is in many things, we are bound together in a brotherly sympathy unknown to any other. We new men have all had our hard rubs, but we do not so much remember them in soreness or resentment as in the wish to help forward any other who is presently feeling them. If he will but help himself too, a hundred hands are stretched out to him.

Bartley had kept his head clear of the punch, but he left the club drunk with joy and pride, and so impatient to be with Marcia and tell her of his triumphs that he could hardly wait to read the proof of his boarding-house article which Ricker had put in hand at once for the Sunday edition. He found Marcia sitting up for him, and she listened with a shining face while he hastily ran over the most flattering facts of the evening. She was not so much surprised at the honors done him as he had expected but she was happier, and she made him repeat it all and give her the last details. He was afraid she would ask him what his initiation had cost; but she seemed to have no idea that it had cost anything, and though it had swept away a third of the money he had received for his sketch, he still resolved that she should have that supper at Parker's.

"I consider my future made," he said aloud, at the end of his swift cogitation on this point.

"Oh, yes!" she responded rapturously. "We needn't have a moment's anxiety.
But we must be very saving still till you get a place."

"Oh, certainly," said Bartley.

William Dean Howells