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Chapter 18

XVIII.

One hot day in August, when Bartley had been doing nothing for a week, and Marcia was gloomily forecasting the future when they would have to begin living upon the money they had put into the savings bank, she reverted to the question of his taking up the law again. She was apt to recur to this in any moment of discouragement, and she urged him now to give up his newspaper work with that wearisome persistence with which women torment the men they love.

"My newspaper work seems to have given me up, my dear," said Bartley. "It's like asking a fellow not to marry a girl that won't have him." He laughed and then whistled; and Marcia burst into fretful, futile tears, which he did not attempt to assuage.

They had been all summer in town; the country would have been no change to them; and they knew nothing of the seaside except the crowded, noisy, expensive resorts near the city. Bartley wished her to go to one of these for a week or two, at any rate, but she would not; and in fact neither of them had the born citizen's conception of the value of a summer vacation. But they had found their attic intolerable; and, the single gentlemen having all given up their rooms by this time, Mrs. Nash let Marcia have one lower down, where they sat looking out on the hot street.

"Well," cried Marcia at last, "you don't care for my feelings, or you would take up the law again."

Her husband rose with a sigh that was half a curse, and went out. After what she had said, he would not give her the satisfaction of knowing what he meant to do; but he had it in his head to go to that Mr. Atherton to whom Miss Kingsbury had introduced him, and ask his advice; he had found out that Mr. Atherton was a lawyer, and he believed that he would tell him what to do. He could at least give him some authoritative discouragement which he might use in these discussions with Marcia.

Mr. Atherton had his office in the Events building, and Bartley was on his way thither when he met Ricker.

"Seen Witherby?" asked his friend. "He was round looking for you."

"What does Witherby want with me?" asked Bartley, with a certain resentment.

"Wants to give you the managing-editorship of the Events," said Ricker, jocosely.

"Pshaw! Well, he knows where to find me, if he wants me very badly."

"Perhaps he doesn't," suggested Ricker. "In that case, you'd better look him up."

"Why, you don't advise—"

"Oh, I don't advise anything! But if he can let bygones be bygones, I guess you can afford to! I don't know just what he wants with you, but if he offers you anything like a basis, you'd better take it."

Bartley's basis had come to be a sort of by-word between them; Ricker usually met him with some such demand as, "Well, what about the basis?" or, "How's your poor basis?" Bartley's ardor for a salaried position amused him, and he often tried to argue him out of it. "You're much better off as a free lance. You make as much money as most of the fellows in places, and you lead a pleasanter life. If you were on any one paper, you'd have to be on duty about fifteen hours out of the twenty-four; you'd be out every night till three or four o'clock; you'd have to do fires, and murders, and all sorts of police business; and now you work mostly on fancy jobs,—something you suggest yourself, or something you're specially asked to do. That's a kind of a compliment, and it gives you scope."

Nevertheless, if Bartley had his heart set upon a basis, Ricker wanted him to have it. "Of course," he said, "I was only joking about the basis. But if Witherby should have something permanent to offer, don't quarrel with your bread and butter, and don't hold yourself too cheap. Witherby's going to get all he can, for as little as he can, every time."

Ricker was a newspaper man in every breath. His great interest in life was the Chronicle-Abstract, which paid him poorly and worked him hard. To get in ahead of the other papers was the object for which he toiled with unremitting zeal; but after that he liked to see a good fellow prosper, and he had for Bartley that feeling of comradery which comes out among journalists when their rivalries are off. He would hate to lose Bartley from the Chronicle-Abstract; if Witherby meant business, Bartley and he might be excoriating each other before a week passed in sarcastic references to "our esteemed contemporary of the Events," and "our esteemed contemporary of the Chronicle-Abstract"; but he heartily wished him luck, and hoped it might be some sort of inside work.

When Ricker left him Bartley hesitated. He was half minded to go home and wait for Witherby to look him up, as the most dignified and perhaps the most prudent course. But he was curious and impatient, and he was afraid of letting the chance, whatever it might be, slip through his fingers. He suddenly resolved upon a little ruse, which would still oblige Witherby to make the advance, and yet would risk nothing by delay. He mounted to Witherby's room in the Events building, and pushed open the door. Then he drew back, embarrassed, as if he had made a mistake. "Excuse me," he said, "isn't Mr. Atherton's office on this floor?"

Witherby looked up from the papers on his desk, and cleared his throat. When he overreached himself he was apt to hold any party to the transaction accountable for his error. Ever since he refused Bartley's paper on the logging-camp, he had accused him in his heart of fraud because he had sold the rejected sketch to another paper, and anticipated Witherby's tardy enterprise in the same direction. Each little success that Bartley made added to Witherby's dislike; and whilst Bartley had written for all the other papers, he had never got any work from the Events. Witherby had the guilty sense of having hated him as he looked up, and Bartley on his part was uneasily sensible of some mocking paragraphs of a more or less personal cast, which he had written in the Chronicle-Abstract, about the enterprise of the Events.

"Mr. Atherton is on the floor above," said Witherby. "But I'm very glad you happened to look in, Mr. Hubbard. I—I was just thinking about you. Ah—wont you take a chair?"

"Thanks," said Bartley, non-committally; but he sat down in the chair which the other rose to offer him.

Witherby fumbled about among the things on his desk before he resumed his own seat. "I hope you have been well since I saw you?"

"Oh, yes, I'm always well. How have you been?" Bartley wondered whither this exchange of civilities tended; but he believed he could keep it up as long as old Witherby could.

"Why, I have not been very well," said Witherby, getting into his chair, and taking up a paper-weight to help him in talk. "The fact is, I find that I have been working too hard. I have undertaken to manage the editorial department of the Events in addition to looking after its business, and the care has been too great. It has told upon me. I flatter myself that I have not allowed either department to suffer—"

He referred this point so directly to him, that Bartley made a murmur of assent, and Witherby resumed.

"But the care has told upon me. I am not so well as I could wish. I need rest, and I need help," he added.

Bartley had by this time made up his mind that, if Witherby had anything to say to him, he should say it unaided.

Witherby put down the paper-weight, and gave his attention for a moment to a paper-cutter. "I don't know whether you have heard that Mr. Clayton is going to leave us?"

"No," Bartley said, "I hadn't heard that."

"Yes, he is going to leave us. Mr. Clayton and I have not agreed upon some points, and we have both judged it best that we should part." Witherby paused again, and changed the positions of his inkstand and mucilage-bottle. "Mr. Clayton has failed me, as I may say, at the last moment, and we have been compelled to part. I found Mr. Clayton—unpractical."

He looked again at Bartley, who said, "Yes?"

"Yes. I found Mr. Clayton so much at variance in his views with—with my own views—that I could do nothing with him. He has used language to me which I am sure he will regret. But that is neither here nor there; he is going. I have had my eye on you, Mr. Hubbard, ever since you came to Boston, and have watched your career with interest. But I thought of Mr. Clayton, in the first instance, because he was already attached to the Events, and I wished to promote him. Office during good behavior, and promotion in the direct line: I'm that much of a civil-service reformer," said Witherby.

"Certainly," said Bartley.

"But of course my idea in starting the Events was to make money."

"Of course."

"I hold that the first duty of a public journal is to make money for the owner; all the rest follows naturally."

"You're quite right, Mr. Witherby," said Bartley. "Unless it makes money, there can be no enterprise about it, no independence,—nothing. That was the way I did with my little paper down in Maine. The first thing—I told the committee when I took hold of the paper—is to keep it from losing money; the next is to make money with it. First peaceable, then pure: that's what I told them."

"Precisely so!" Witherby was now so much at his ease with Bartley that he left off tormenting the things on his desk, and used his hands in gesticulating. "Look at the churches themselves! No church can do any good till it's on a paying basis. As long as a church is in debt, it can't secure the best talent for the pulpit or the choir, and the members go about feeling discouraged and out of heart. It's just so with a newspaper. I say that a paper does no good till it pays; it has no influence, its motives are always suspected, and you've got to make it pay by hook or by crook, before you can hope to—to—forward any good cause by it. That's what I say. Of course," he added, in a large, smooth way, "I'm not going to contend that a newspaper should be run solely in the interest of the counting-room. Not at all! But I do contend that, when the counting-room protests against a certain course the editorial room is taking, it ought to be respectfully listened to. There are always two sides to every question. Suppose all the newspapers pitch in—as they sometimes do—and denounce a certain public enterprise: a projected scheme of railroad legislation, or a peculiar system of banking, or a co-operative mining interest, and the counting-room sends up word that the company advertises heavily with us; shall we go and join indiscriminately in that hue and cry, or shall we give our friends the benefit of the doubt?"

"Give them the benefit of the doubt," answered Bartley. "That's what I say."

"And so would any other practical man!" said Witherby. "And that's just where Mr. Clayton and I differed. Well, I needn't allude to him any more," he added leniently. "What I wish to say is this, Mr. Hubbard. I am overworked, and I feel the need of some sort of relief. I know that I have started the Events in the right line at last,—the only line in which it can be made a great, useful, and respectable journal, efficient in every good cause,—and what I want now is some sort of assistant in the management who shall be in full sympathy with my own ideas. I don't want a mere slave,—a tool; but I do want an independent, right-minded man, who shall be with me for the success of the paper the whole time and every time, and shall not be continually setting up his will against mine on all sorts of doctrinaire points. That was the trouble with Mr. Clayton. I have nothing against Mr. Clayton personally; he is an excellent young man in very many respects; but he was all wrong about journalism, all wrong, Mr. Hubbard. I talked with him a great deal, and tried to make him see where his interest lay. He had been on the paper as a reporter from the start, and I wished very much to promote him to this position; which he could have made the best position in the country. The Events is an evening paper; there is no night-work; and the whole thing is already thoroughly systematized. Mr. Clayton had plenty of talent, and all he had to do was to step in under my direction and put his hand on the helm. But, no! I should have been glad to keep him in a subordinate capacity; but I had to let him go. He said that he would not report the conflagration of a peanut-stand for a paper conducted on the principles I had developed to him. Now, that is no way to talk. It's absurd."

"Perfectly." Bartley laughed his rich, caressing laugh, in which there was the insinuation of all worldly-wise contempt for Clayton and all worldly-wise sympathy with Witherby. It made Witherby feel good,—better perhaps than he had felt at any time since his talk with Clayton.

"Well, now, what do you say, Mr. Hubbard? Can't we make some arrangement with you?" he asked, with a burst of frankness.

"I guess you can," said Bartley. The fact that Witherby needed him was so plain that he did not care to practise any finesse about the matter.

"What are your present engagements?"

"I haven't any."

"Then you can take hold at once?"

"Yes."

"That's good!" Witherby now entered at large into the nature of the position which he offered Bartley. They talked a long time, and in becoming better acquainted with each other's views, as they called them, they became better friends. Bartley began to respect Witherby's business ideas, and Witherby in recognizing all the admirable qualities of this clear-sighted and level-headed young man began to feel that he had secretly liked him from the first, and had only waited a suitable occasion to unmask his affection. It was arranged that Bartley should come on as Witherby's assistant, and should do whatever he was asked to do in the management of the paper; he was to write on topics as they occurred to him, or as they were suggested to him. "I don't say whether this will lead to anything more, Mr. Hubbard, or not; but I do say that you will be in the direct line of promotion."

"Yes, I understand that," said Bartley.

"And now as to terms," continued Witherby, a little tremulously.

"And now as to terms," repeated Bartley to himself; but he said nothing aloud. He felt that Witherby had cut out a great deal of work for him, and work of a kind that he could not easily find another man both willing and able to do. He resolved that he would have all that his service was worth.

"What should you think of twenty dollars a week?" asked Witherby.

"I shouldn't think it was enough," said Bartley, amazed at his own audacity, but enjoying it, and thinking how he had left Marcia with the intention of offering himself to Mr. Atherton as a clerk for ten dollars a week. "There is a great deal of labor in what you propose, and you command my whole time. You would not like to have me do any work outside of the Events."

"No," Witherby assented. "Would twenty-five be nearer the mark?" he inquired soberly.

"It would be nearer, certainly," said Bartley. "But I guess you had better make it thirty." He kept a quiet face, but his heart throbbed.

"Well, say thirty, then," replied Witherby so promptly that Bartley perceived with a pang that he might as easily have got forty from him. But it was now too late, and a salary of fifteen hundred a year passed the wildest hopes he had cherished half an hour before.

"All right," he said quietly. "I suppose you want me to take hold at once?"

"Yes, on Monday. Oh, by the way," said Witherby, "there is one little piece of outside work which I should like you to finish up for us; and we'll agree upon something extra for it, if you wish. I mean our Solid Men series. I don't know whether you've noticed the series in the Events?"

"Yes," said Bartley, "I have."

"Well, then, you know what they are. They consist of interviews—guarded and inoffensive as respects the sanctity of private life—with our leading manufacturers and merchant princes at their places of business and their residences, and include a description of these, and some account of the lives of the different subjects."

"Yes, I have seen them," said Bartley. "I've noticed the general plan."

"You know that Mr. Clayton has been doing them. He made them a popular feature. The parties themselves were very much pleased with them."

"Oh, people are always tickled to be interviewed," said Bartley. "I know they put on airs about it, and go round complaining to each other about the violation of confidence, and so on; but they all like it. You know I reported that Indigent Surf-Bathing entertainment in June for the Chronicle-Abstract. I knew the lady who got it up, and I interviewed her after the entertainment."

"Miss Kingsbury?"

"Yes." Witherby made an inarticulate murmur of respect for Bartley in his throat, and involuntarily changed toward him, but not so subtly that Bartley's finer instinct did not take note of the change. "She was a fresh subject, and she told me everything. Of course I printed it all. She was awfully shocked,—or pretended to be,—and wrote me a very O-dear-how-could-you note about it. But I went round to the office the next day, and I found that nearly every lady mentioned in the interview had ordered half a dozen copies of that issue sent to her seaside address, and the office had been full of Beacon Street swells all the morning buying Chronicle-Abstracts,—'the one with the report of the Concert in it.'" These low views of high society, coupled with an apparent familiarity with it, modified Witherby more and more. He began to see that he had got a prize. "The way to do with such fellows as your Solid Men," continued Bartley, "is to submit a proof to 'em. They never know exactly what to do about it, and so you print the interview with their approval, and make 'em particeps criminis. I'll finish up the series for you, and I won't make any very heavy extra charge."

"I should wish to pay you whatever the work was worth," said Witherby, not to be outdone in nobleness.

"All right; we sha'n't quarrel about that, at any rate."

Bartley was getting toward the door, for he was eager to be gone now to Marcia, but Witherby followed him up as if willing to detain him. "My wife," he said, "knows Miss Kingsbury. They have been on the same charities together."

"I met her a good while ago, when I was visiting a chum of mine at his father's house here. I didn't suppose she'd know me; but she did at once, and began to ask me if I was at the Hallecks'—as if I had never gone away."

"Mr. Ezra B. Halleck?" inquired Witherby reverently. "Leather trade?"

"Yes," said Bartley. "I believe his first name was Ezra. Ben Halleck was my friend. Do you know the family?" asked Bartley.

"Yes, we have met them—in society. I hope you're pleasantly situated where you are, Mr. Hubbard? Should be glad to have you call at the house."

"Thank you," said Bartley, "my wife will be glad to have Mrs. Witherby call."

"Oh!" cried Witherby. "I didn't know you were married! That's good! There's nothing like marriage, Mr. Hubbard, to keep a man going in the right direction. But you've begun pretty young."

"Nothing like taking a thing in time," answered Bartley. "But I haven't been married a great while; and I'm not so young as I look. Well, good afternoon, Mr. Witherby."

"What did you say was your address?" asked Witherby, taking out his note-book. "My wife will certainly call. She's down at Nantasket now, but she'll be up the first part of September, and then she'll call. Good afternoon."

They shook hands at last, and Bartley ran home to Marcia. He burst into the room with a glowing face. "Well, Marcia," he shouted, "I've got my basis!"

"Hush! No! Don't be so loud! You haven't!" she answered, springing to her feet. "I don't believe it! How hot you are!"

"I've been running—almost all the way from the Events office. I've got a place on the Events,—assistant managing-editor,—thirty dollars a week," he panted.

"I knew you would succeed yet,—I knew you would, if I could only have a little patience. I've been scolding myself ever since you went. I thought you were going to do something desperate, and I had driven you to it. But Bartley, Bartley! It can't be true, is it? Here, here! Do take this fan. Or no, I'll fan you, if you'll let me sit on your knee! O poor thing, how hot you are! But I thought you wouldn't white for the Events; I thought you hated that old Witherby, who acted so ugly to you when you first came."

"Oh, Witherby is a pretty good old fellow," said Bartley, who had begun to get his breath again. He gave her a full history of the affair, and they rejoiced together over it, and were as happy as if Bartley had been celebrating a high and honorable good fortune. She was too ignorant to feel the disgrace, if there were any, in the compact which Bartley had closed, and he had no principles, no traditions, by which to perceive it. To them it meant unlimited prosperity; it meant provision for the future, which was to bring a new responsibility and a new care.

"We will take the parlor with the alcove, now," said Bartley. "Don't excite yourself," he added, with tender warning.

"No, no," she said, pillowing her head on his shoulder, and shedding peaceful tears.

"It doesn't seem as if we should ever quarrel again, does it?"

"No, no! We never shall," she murmured. "It has always come from my worrying you about the law, and I shall never do that any more. If you like journalism better, I shall not urge you any more to leave it, now you've got your basis."

"But I'm going on with the law, now, for that very reason. I shall read law all my leisure time. I feel independent, and I shall not be anxious about the time I give, because I shall know that I can afford it."

"Well, only you mustn't overdo." She put her lips against his cheek.
"You're more to me than anything you can do for me."

"Oh, Marcia!"

William Dean Howells