The Great God Success
By JOHN GRAHAM (DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS)
THE GREGG PRESS / RIDGEWOOD, N.J.
I. THE CANDIDATE FROM YALE
II. THE CITY EDITOR RECONSIDERS
III. A PARK ROW CELEBRITY
IV. IN THE EDGE OF BOHEMIA
VI. IN A BOHEMIAN QUICKSAND
VII. A LITTLE CANDLE GOES OUT
VIII. A STRUGGLE FOR SELF-CONTROL
IX. AMBITION AWAKENS
X. THE ETERNAL MASCULINE
XII. MAKING THE MOST OF A MONTH
XIII. RECKONING WITH DANVERS
XIV. THE NEWS-RECORD GETS A NEW EDITOR
XV. YELLOW JOURNALISM
XVI. MR. STOKELY IS TACTLESS
XVII. A WOMAN AND A WARNING
XVIII. HOWARD EXPLAINS HIS MACHINE
XIX. "I MUST BE RICH."
XXII. THE SHENSTONE EPISODE
XXIII. EXPANDING AND CONTRACTING
XXIV. "MR. VALIANT-FOR-TRUTH."
XXV. THE PROMISED LAND
XXVI. IN POSSESSION
XXVII. THE HARVEST
THE GREAT GOD SUCCESS
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."
THE CITY EDITOR RECONSIDERS.
At the end of six weeks, the City Editor called Howard up to the desk and asked him to seat himself. He talked in a low tone so that the Assistant City Editor, reading the newspapers at a nearby desk, could not hear.
"We like you, Mr. Howard." Mr. Bowring spoke slowly and with a carefulness in selecting words that indicated embarrassment. "And we have been impressed by your earnestness. But we greatly fear that you are not fitted for this profession. You write well enough, but you do not seem to get the newspaper—the news—idea. So we feel that in justice to you and to ourselves we ought to let you know where you stand. If you wish, we shall be glad to have you remain with us two weeks longer. Meanwhile you can be looking about you. I am certain that you will succeed somewhere, in some line, sooner or later. But I think that the newspaper profession is a waste of your time."
Howard had expected this. Failure after failure, his articles thrown away or rewritten by the copyreaders, had prepared him for the blow. Yet it crushed him for the moment. His voice was not steady as he replied:
"No doubt you are right. Thank you for taking the trouble to study my case and tell me so soon."
"Don't hesitate to stay on for the two weeks," Mr. Bowring continued. "We can make you useful to us. And you can look about to much better advantage than if you were out of a place."
"I'll stay the two weeks," Howard said, "unless I find something sooner."
"Don't be more discouraged than you can help," said Mr. Bowring. "You may be very grateful before long for finding out so early what many of us—I myself, I fear—find out after years and—when it is too late."
Always that note of despair; always that pointing to the motto over the door of the profession: "Abandon hope, ye who enter here." What was the explanation? Were these men right? Was he wrong in thinking that journalism offered the most splendid of careers—the development of the mind and the character; the sharpening of all the faculties; the service of truth and right and human betterment, in daily combat with injustice and error and falsehood; the arousing and stimulating of the drowsy minds of the masses of mankind?
Howard looked about at the men who held on where he was slipping. "Can it be," he thought, "that I cannot survive in a profession where the poorest are so poor in intellect and equipment? Why am I so dull that I cannot catch the trick?"
He set himself to study newspapers, reading them line by line, noting the modes of presenting facts, the arrangement of headlines, the order in which the editors put the several hundred items before the eyes of the reader—what they displayed on each page and why; how they apportioned the space. With the energy of unconquerable resolution he applied himself to solving for himself the puzzle of the press—the science and art of catching the eye and holding the attention of the hurrying, impatient public.
He learned much. He began to develop the news-instinct, that subtle instant realisation of what is interesting and what is not interesting to the public mind. But the time was short; a sense of impending calamity and the lack of self-confidence natural to inexperience made it impossible for him effectively to use his new knowledge in the few small opportunities which Mr. Bowring gave him. With only six days of his two weeks left, he had succeeded in getting into the paper not a single item of a length greater than two sticks. He slept little; he despaired not at all; but he was heart-sick and, as he lay in his bed in the little hall-room of the furnished-room house, he often envied women the relief of tears. What he endured will be appreciated only by those who have been bred in sheltered homes; who have abruptly and alone struck out for themselves in the ocean of a great city without a single lesson in swimming; who have felt themselves seized from below and dragged downward toward the deep-lying feeding-grounds of Poverty and Failure.
"Buck up, old man," said Kittredge to whom he told his bad news after several days of hesitation and after Kittredge had shown him that he strongly suspected it. "Don't mind old Bowring. You're sure to get on, and, if you insist upon the folly, in this profession. I'll give you a note to Montgomery—he's City Editor over at the World-shop—and he'll take you on. In some ways you will do better there. You'll rise faster, get a wider experience, make more money. In fact, this shop has only one advantage. It does give a man peace of mind. It's more like a club than an office. But in a sense that is a drawback. I'll give you a note to-night. You will be at work over there to-morrow."
"I think I'll wait a few days," said Howard, his tone corresponding to the look in his eyes and the compression of his resolute mouth.
The next day but one Mr. Bowring called him up to the City Desk and gave him a newspaper-clipping which read:
"Bald Peak, September 29—Willie Dent, the three-year-old baby of John Dent, a farmer living two miles from here, strayed away into the mountains yesterday and has not been seen since. His dog, a cur, went with him. Several hundred men are out searching. It has been storming, and the mountains are full of bears and wild cats."
"Yes, I saw this in the Herald," said Howard.
"Will you take the train that leaves at eleven tonight and get us the story—if it is not a 'fake,' as I strongly suspect. Telegraph your story if there is not time for you to get back here by nine to-morrow night."
"Of course it's a fake, or at least a wild exaggeration," thought Howard as he turned away. "If Bowring had not been all but sure there was nothing in it, he would never have given it to me."
He was not well, his sleepless nights having begun to tell even upon his powerful constitution. The rest of that afternoon and all of a night without sleep in the Pullman he was in a depth of despond. He had been in the habit of getting much comfort out of an observation his father had made to him just before he died: "Remember that ninety per cent of these fourteen hundred million human beings are uncertain where to-morrow's food is to come from. Be prudent but never be afraid." But just then he could get no consolation out of this maxim of grim cheer. He seemed to himself incompetent and useless, a predestined failure. "What is to become of me?" he kept repeating, his heart like lead and his mind fumbling about in a confused darkness.
At Bald Peak he was somewhat revived by the cold mountain air of the early morning. As he alighted upon the station platform he spoke to the baggage-master standing in front of the steps.
"Was the little boy of a man named Dent lost in the mountains near here?"
"Yes—three days ago," replied the baggage-man.
"Have they found him yet?"
"No—nor never will alive—that's my opinion."
Howard asked for the nearest livery-stable and within twenty minutes was on his way to Dent's farm. His driver knew all about the lost child. Two hundred men were still searching. "And Mrs. Dent, she's been sittin' by the window, list'nin' day and night. She won't speak nor eat and she ain't shed a tear. It was her only child. The men come in sayin' it ain't no use to hunt any more, an' they look at her an' out they goes ag'in."
Soon the driver pointed to a cottage near the road. The gate was open; the grass and the flower-beds were trampled into a morass. The door was thrown wide and several women were standing about the threshold. At the window within view of the road and the mountains sat the mother—a young woman with large brown eyes, and clear-cut features, refined, beautified, exalted by suffering. Her look was that of one listening for a faint, far away sound upon which hangs the turn of the balances to joy or to despair.
* * * * *
That morning two of the searchers went to the northeast into the dense and tangled swamp woods between Bald Peak and Cloudy Peak—the wildest wilderness in the mountains. The light barely penetrates the foliage on the brightest days. The ground is rough, sometimes precipitous, closely covered with bushes and tangled creepers.
The two explorers, almost lost themselves, came at last to the edge of a swamp surrounded by cedars. They half-crawled, half-climbed through the low trees and festooning creepers to the edge of a clear bit of open, firm ground.
In the middle was a cedar tree. Under it, seated upon the ground, was the lost boy. His bare, brown legs, torn and bleeding, were stretched straight in front of him. His bare feet were bruised and cut. His gingham dress was torn and wet and stained. His small hands were smears of dirt and blood. He was playing with a tin can. He had put a stone into it and was making a great rattling. The dog was running to and fro, apparently enjoying the noise. The little boy's face was tear-stained and his eyes were swollen. But he was not crying just then and laughter lurked in his thin, fever-flushed face.
As the men came into view, the dog began to bark angrily, but the boy looked a solemn welcome.
"Want mamma," he said. "I'se hungry."
One of the men picked him up—the gingham dress was saturated.
"You're hungry?" asked the man, his voice choking.
"Yes. An' I'se so wet. It wained and wained." Then the child began to sob. "It was dark," he whispered, "an' cold. I want my mamma."
It was an hour's tedious journey back to Dent's by the shortest route. At the top of the hill those near the cottage saw the boy in the arms of the man who had found him. They shouted and the mother sprang out of the house and came running, stumbling down the path to the gate. She caught at the gate-post and stood there, laughing, screaming, sobbing.
"Baby! Baby!" she called.
The little boy turned his head and stretched out his thin, blood-stained arms. She ran toward him and snatched him from the young farmer.
"Hungry, mamma," he sobbed, hiding his face on her shoulder.
* * * * *
Howard wrote his story on the train, going down to New York. It was a straightforward chronicle of just what he had seen and heard. He began at the beginning—the little mountain home, the family of three, the disappearance of the child. He described the perils of the mountains, the storm, the search, the wait, the listening mother, scene by scene, ending with mother and child together again and the dog racing around them, with wagging tail and hanging tongue. He wrote swiftly, making no changes, without a trace of his usual self-consciousness in composition. When he had done he went into the restaurant car and dined almost gaily. He felt that he had failed again. How could he hope to tell such a story? But he was not despondent. He was still under the spell of that intense human drama with its climax of joy. His own concerns seemed secondary, of no consequence.
He reached the office at half-past nine, handed in his "copy" and went away. He was in bed at half-past ten and was at once asleep. At eleven the next morning a knocking awakened him from a sound sleep that had restored and refreshed him. "A messenger from the office," was called through the door in answer to his inquiry. He took the note from the boy and tore it open:
"My dear Mr. Howard: Thank you for the splendid story you gave us last night. It is one of the best, if not the best, we have had the pleasure of publishing in years. Your salary has been raised to twenty-five dollars a week.
"Congratulations. You have 'caught on' at last. I'm glad to take back what I said the other day.
"HENRY C. BOWRING."
A PARK ROW CELEBRITY.
Kittredge was the first to congratulate him when he reached the office. "Everybody is talking about your story," he said. "I must say I was surprised when I read it. I had begun to fear that you would never catch the trick—for, with most of us writing is only a trick. But now I see that you are a born writer. Your future is in your own hands."
"You think I can learn to write?"
"That is the sane way to put it. Yes, I know that you can. If you'll only not be satisfied with the results that come easy, you will make a reputation. Not a mere Park Row reputation, but the real thing."
Howard got flattery enough in the next few days to turn a stronger head than was his at twenty-two. But a few partial failures within a fortnight sobered him and steadied him. His natural good sense made him take himself in hand. He saw that his success had been to a great extent a happy accident; that to repeat it, to improve upon it he must study life, study the art of expression. He must keep his senses open to impression. He must work at style, enlarge his vocabulary, learn the use of words, the effect of varying combinations of words both as to sound and as to meaning. "I must learn to write for the people," he thought, "and that means to write the most difficult of all styles."
He was, then and always, one of those who like others and are liked by them, yet never seek company and so are left to themselves. As he had no money to spare and a deep aversion to debt, he was not tempted into joining in the time-wasting dissipations that were now open to him. He worked hard at his profession and, when he left the office, usually went direct to his rooms to read until far into the morning. He was often busy sixteen hours out of the twenty-four. His day at reporting was long—from noon until midnight, and frequently until three in the morning. But the work was far different from the grind which is the lot of the young men striving in other professions or in business. It was the most fascinating work imaginable for an intelligent, thirsty mind—the study of human nature under stress of the great emotions.
His mode of thought and his style made Mr. Bowring and Mr. King give him much of this particular kind of reporting. So he was always observing love, hate, jealousy, revenge, greed. He saw these passions in action in the lives of people of all kinds and conditions. And he saw little else. The reporter is a historian. And history is, as Gibbon says, for the most part "a record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind."
For many a man this has been a ruinous, one-sided development. Howard was saved by his extremely intelligent, sympathetic point of view. He saw the whole of each character, each conflict that he was sent to study. If the point of the story was the good side of human nature—some act of generosity or self-sacrifice—he did not exaggerate it into godlike heroism but adjusted it in its proper prospective by bringing out its human quality and its human surroundings. If the main point was violence or sordidness or baseness, he saw the characteristics which relieved and partially redeemed it. His news-reports were accounts of the doings not of angels or devils but of human beings, accounts written from a thoroughly human standpoint.
Here lay the cause of his success. In all his better stories—for he often wrote poor ones—there was the atmosphere of sincerity, of realism, the marks of an acute observer, without prejudice and with a justifiable leaning toward a belief in the fundamental worth of humanity. Where others were cynical he was just. Where others were sentimental, he had sincere, healthful sentiment. Where others were hysterical, he calmly and accurately described, permitting the tragedy to reveal itself instead of burying it beneath high-heaped adjectives. Simplicity of style was his aim and he was never more delighted by any compliment than by one from the chief political reporter.
"That story of yours this morning," said this reporter whose lack as a writer was more than compensated by his ability to get intimately acquainted with public men, "reads as if a child might have written it. I don't see how you get such effects without any style at all. You just let your story tell itself."
"Well, you see," replied Howard, "I am writing for the masses, and fine writing would be wasted upon them."
"You're right," said Jackman, "we don't need literature on this paper—long words, high-sounding phrases and all that sort of thing. What we want is just plain, simple English that goes straight to the point."
"Like Shakespeare's and Bunyan's," suggested Kittredge with a grin.
"Shakespeare? Fudge!" scoffed Jackman. "Why he couldn't have made a living as a space-writer on a New York newspaper."
"No, I don't think he would have staid long in Park Row," replied Kittredge with a subtlety of meaning that escaped Jackman.
A few days before New Year's the Managing Editor looked up and smiled as Howard was passing his desk.
"How goes it?" he asked.
"Oh, not so badly," Howard answered, "but I am a good deal depressed at times."
"Depressed? Nonsense! You've got everything—youth, health and freedom. And by the way, you are going on space the first of the year. Our rule is a year on salary before space. But we felt that it was about time to strengthen the rule by making an exception."
Howard stammered thanks and went away. This piece of news, dropped apparently so carelessly by Mr. King, meant a revolution in fortune for him. It was the transition from close calculation on twenty-five dollars a week to wealth beyond his most fanciful dreams of six months ago. Not having the money-getting instinct and being one of those who compare their work with the best instead of with the inferior, Howard never felt that he was "entitled to a living." He had a lively sense of gratitude for the money return for his services which prudence presently taught him to conceal.
"Space" meant to him eighty dollars a week at least—circumstances of ease. So vast a sum did it seem that he began to consider the problem of investment. "I have been not badly off on twenty-five dollars a week," he thought. "With, well, say forty dollars a week I shall be able to satisfy all my wants. I can save at least forty a week and that will mean an independence with a small income by the time I am thirty-four."
But—a year after he was put "on space" he was still just about even with his debts. He seemed to himself to be living no better and it was only by careful counting-up that he could see how that dream of independence had eluded him. A more extensive wardrobe, a little better food, a more comfortable suite of rooms, an occasional dinner to some friends, loans to broken-down reporters, and the mysteriously vanished two thousand dollars was accounted for.
Howard tried to retrench, devised small ingenious schemes for saving money, lectured himself severely and frequently for thus trifling away his chance to be a free man. But all in vain. He remained poor; and, whenever he gave the matter thought, which was not often, gloomy forebodings as to the future oppressed him. "I shall find myself old," he thought, "with nothing accomplished, with nothing laid by. I shall be an old drudge." He understood the pessimistic tone of his profession. All about him were men like himself—leading this gambler's life of feverish excitement and evanescent achievement, earning comfortable incomes and saving nothing, looking forward to the inevitable time of failing freshness and shattered nerves and declining income.
He spasmodically tried to write stories for the magazines, contrived plots for novels and plays, wrote first chapters, first scenes of first acts. But the exactions of newspaper life, the impossibility of continuous effort at any one piece of work and his natural inertia—he was inert but neither idle nor lazy—combined to make futile his efforts to emancipate himself from hand-to-mouth journalism.
He had been four years a reporter and was almost twenty-six years old. He was known throughout his profession in New York, although he had never signed an article. One remarkable "human interest" story after another had forced the knowledge of his abilities upon the reporters and editors of other newspapers. And he was spoken of as one of the best and in some respects the best "all round reporter" in the city. This meant that he was capable to any emergency—that, whatever the subject, he could write an accurate, graphic, consecutive and sustained story and could get it into the editor's hands quickly.
Indeed he possessed facility to the perilous degree. What others achieved only after long toil, he achieved without effort. This was due chiefly to the fact that he never relaxed but was at all times the journalist, reading voraciously newspapers, magazines and the best books, and using what he read; observing constantly and ever trying to see something that would make "good copy"; turning over phrases in his mind to test the value of words both as to sound and as to meaning. He was an incessantly active man. His great weakness was the common weakness—failure to concentrate. In Park Row they regarded him as a brilliant success. Brilliant he was. But a success he was not. He knew that he was a brilliant failure—and not very brilliant.
"Why is it?" he asked himself again and again in periods of reaction from the nervous strain of some exciting experience. "Shall I never seize any of these chances that are always thrusting themselves at me? Shall I always act like a Neapolitan beggar? Will the stimulus to ambition never come?"
IN THE EDGE OF BOHEMIA.
Howard lived in Washington Square, South. He had gone to a "furnished-room house" there because it was cheap. He staid because he was comfortable and was without a motive for moving.
It was the centre of the most varied life in New York. To the north lay fashion and wealth, to the east and west, respectability and moderate means; to the south, poverty and squalor, vice and crime. All could be seen and heard from the windows of his sitting room. In the evenings toward spring he looked out upon a panorama of the human race such as is presented by no other city in the world and by no other part of that city. Within view were Americans of all kinds, French and Germans, Italians and Austrians, Spaniards and Moors, Scandinavians and negroes, born New Yorkers and born citizens of most of the capitals of civilisation and semi-barbarism. There were actresses, dancers, shop girls, cocottes; touts, thieves, confidence-men, mission workers; artists and students from the musty University building, tramps and drunkards from the "barrel-houses" and "stale-beer shops;" and, across the square to the north, representatives of New York's oldest and most noted families. To the west were apartment houses whence stiff, prim bookkeepers, floor-walkers, clerks and small shop-keepers issued with their families on Sundays, bound for church. There were other apartment houses—the most of them to the south—whence in the midnight hours came slattern servants and reckless looking girls in loose wrappers and high-heeled slippers, pitcher in hand, bound for the nearest saloon.
After dusk from early spring until late fall a multitude of interesting sounds mingled with the roar of the elevated trains to the west and south and the rumble of carriages in "the Avenue" to the north. Howard, reading or writing at his window on his leisure days, heard the young men and young women laughing and shouting and making love under the trees where the Washington Arch glistened in the twilight. Later came the songs—"I want you, my honey, yes I do," or "Lu, Lu, how I love my Lu!", or some other of the current concert-hall jingles. Many figures could be seen flitting about in the shadows. Usually these figures were in pairs; usually one was in white; usually at her waist-line there was a black belt that continued on until it was lost in the other and darker figure.
Scraps of a score of languages—curses, jests, terms of endearment—would float up to him. Then came the hours of comparative silence, with the city breathing softly and regularly, with the moon hanging low and the pale arch rising above the dark trees like a giant ghost. There would be an occasional drunken shout or shriek; a riotous roar of song from some staggering reveller making company for himself on the journey home; the heavy step of the policeman. Or perhaps the only sound to disturb the city's sleep would be that soft tread, timid as a mouse's, stealthy as a jackal's—the tread of a lonely woman with draggled silk skirt and painted cheeks and eyes burning into the darkness, and a heart as bitter and as sad as no money, no home, no friends, no hope can make it.
Once he threw a silver dollar from his window to the sidewalk well in front of her. She did not see it flash downward but she heard it ring upon the walk. She rushed forward and twice kicked it away from her in her frenzy to get it. When her bare hand—or was it a claw?—at last closed upon it, she gave a low scream, looked slyly and fearfully about, then ran as if death were at her heels.
Soon after Howard was put "on space" he took the best suite of rooms in the house. It was a strange company which Mrs. Sands had gathered under her roof. Except Howard there was no one, not even Mrs. Sands herself, who did not have so much past that there was little left for future. Indeed, perhaps none of these storm-tossed or wrecked human craft had had more of a past than Mrs. Sands. There was no mistaking the significance of those deep furrows filled with powder and plastered with paint, those few hairs tinted and frizzed. But like all persons with real pasts Mrs. Sands and her lodgers kept the veil tightly drawn. They confessed to no yesterdays and they did not dare think of to-morrow. They were incuriously awaiting the impulse which was sure to come, sure to thrust them on downward.
A new lodger at Mrs. Sand's usually took the best rooms that were to be had. Then, sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly, came the retreat upward until a cubby-hole under the eaves was reached. Finally came precipitate and baggageless departure, often with a week or two of lodging unpaid. The next pause, if pause there was, would be still nearer the river-bed or the Morgue.
One morning when he had been living in Washington Square, South, about—three years, Howard was dressing hurriedly, the door of his sitting-room accidentally ajar. Through the crack he saw some one stooping over the serving tray which he had himself put outside his door when he had finished breakfast. He looked more closely. It was "the clergyman" from up under the eaves—an unfrocked priest, thin to emaciation, misery written upon his face even more deeply than weakness. He hastily bundled the bones of two chops and a bit of bread into a stained and torn handkerchief, and sprang away up the stairs toward his little hole at the roof.
Howard was in a hurry and so put off for the time action upon the natural impulse. When he came back at midnight, there was soon a knock at his door. He opened it and invited in the man at the threshold—a tall, strongly built, erect German, with a dissipated handsome face, heavily scarred from university duels.
"Pardon me for disturbing you," said the German. His speech, his tone, his manner, left no doubt as to his breeding though they raised the gravest doubts as to his being willing to give a true account of why he had become a tenant in that lodging house.
"Will you have a cigarette and some whiskey?" inquired Howard.
The German's glance lit and lingered upon the bottle of Scotch on the table. "Concentrated, double-distilled friendship," said he as he poured out his drink.
"But a friend that drives all others away," smiled Howard.
"I have found it of a very jealous disposition," replied the German with a careless shrug of the shoulders and a lifting of the eyebrows. "But at least this friend has the grace to stay after it has driven the others away."
"To stay until the last piece of silver is gone."
"But what more does one expect of a friend? Besides, we are overlooking one friend—the one who helped our clerical fellow-lodger of the attic out of his troubles to-day."
"His luck has turned?"
"Permanently. He shot himself this afternoon."
"And only this morning I made up my mind to try to help him," said Howard regretfully.
"You could not have hoped to succeed so well. His case needed something more than temporary expedient. But, to come to the point, I had a slight acquaintance with him. He left a note for me—mailed it just before he shot himself. In it he asked that I insert a personal in the Herald. Unfortunately I have not the money. I thought that you as a journalist might be able to suggest something."
The German held out a slip of cheap writing paper on which was written: "Helen—when you see this it will be over—L."
"A good story," was Howard's first thought, his news-instinct alert. And then he remembered that it was not for him to tell. "I will attend to this for you to-morrow."
"Thank you," said the German, helping himself to the whiskey. "Have you seen the new lodgers?"
"Those in the room behind me? Yes. I saw them at the front door as I came in."
"They're a queer pair—the youngest I've seen in this house. I've been wondering what tempest wrecked them on this forlorn coast so early in the voyage."
"My dear sir, we are all—except you—wrecks here, all unseaworthy at least."
"One of them was quite pretty, I thought," said Howard, "the slender one with the black hair."
"They are not mates. The other girl is of a different sort. She's more used to this kind of life, at least to poverty. I fancy Miss Black-Hair looks on it as a lark. But she'll find out the truth by the time she has mounted another story."
"Here, to go up means to go down," Howard said, weary of the conversation and wishing that the German would leave.
"They say that they're sisters," the German went on, again helping himself to the whiskey; "They say they have run away from home because of a stepmother and that they are going to earn their own living. But they won't. They spend the nights racing about with a gang of the young wretches of this neighbourhood. They won't be able to stand getting up early for work. And then——"
The German blew out a huge cloud of cigarette smoke, shrugged his shoulders and added: "Miss Black-Hair may get on up town presently. But I doubt it. The Tenderloin rarely recruits from down here."
The bottle was empty and the German bowed himself out. As the night was hot, Howard opened the door a few moments afterward. At the other end of the short hall light was streaming through the open door of the room the two girls had taken. Before he could turn, there was a shadow and "Miss Black-Hair" was standing in her doorway:
"Oh," she began, "I thought——"
Howard paused, looking at her. She was above the medium height—tall for a woman—and slender. Her loose wrapper, a little open at her round throat, clung to her, attracting attention to all the lines of her form. Her hair was indeed black, jet black, waving back from her forehead in a line of curving and beautiful irregularity. Her skin was clear and dark. There were deep circles under her eyes, making them look unnaturally large, pathetically weary. In repose her face was childish and sadly serious. When she smiled she looked older and pert, but no happier.
"I thought," she continued with the pert, self-confident smile, "that you were my sister Nellie. I'm waiting for her."
"You're in early tonight," said Howard, the circles under her eyes reminding him of what the German had told him.
"I haven't slept much for a week," the girl replied, "I'm nearly dead. But I won't go to bed till Nellie comes."
Howard was about to turn when she went on: "We agreed always to stay together. She broke it tonight. My fellow got too fresh, so I came home. She said she'd come too. That was an hour ago and she isn't here yet."
"Isn't she rather young to be out alone at this time?"
Howard could hardly have told why he continued the conversation. He certainly would not, had she been less beautiful or less lonely and childish. At his remark about her sister's youth she laughed with an expression of cunning at once amusing and pitiful.
"She's a year older than me," she said, "and I guess I can take care of myself. Still she hasn't much sense. She'll get into trouble yet. She doesn't understand how to manage the boys when they're too fresh."
"But you do, I suppose?" suggested Howard.
"Indeed I do," with a quick nod of her small graceful head, "I know what I'm about. My mother taught me a few things."
"Didn't she teach your sister also?"
"Miss Black-Hair" dropped her eyes and flushed a little, looking like a child caught in a lie. "Of course," she said after a pause.
"How long have you been without your mother?"
"I've been away from home four months. But I saw her in the street yesterday. She didn't see me though."
"Then you've got a step-father?"
"No, I haven't. Nellie told that to Mrs. Sands. But it's not so. You know Nellie's not my sister?"
"I fancied not from what you said a moment ago."
"No, she used to be nurse girl in our family. We just say we're sisters. I wish she'd come. I'm tired of standing. Won't you come in?"
She went into her room, her manner a frank and simple invitation. Howard hesitated, then went just inside the door and half sat, half leaned upon the high roll of the lounge. The room was cheaply furnished, the lounge and a closed folding bed almost filling it. Upon the mantel, the bureau and the little table were a few odds and ends that stamped it a woman's room. A street gown of thin pale-blue cloth was thrown over a rocking chair. As the girl leaned back in this chair with her face framed in the pale-blue of the gown, she looked tired and sad and beautiful and very young.
"If Nellie doesn't look out, I'll go away and live alone," she said, and the accompanying unconscious look of loneliness touched Howard.
"You might go back home."
"You don't know my home or you wouldn't say that. You don't know my father." She had got upon the subject of herself, and, once in that road she kept it with no thought of turning out. "He can't treat me as he treats mother. Why, he goes away and stays for days. Then he comes home and quarrels with her all the time. They never both sit through a meal. One or the other flares up and leaves. He generally whipped me when he got very mad—just for spite."
"But there's your mother."
"Yes. She doesn't like my going away. But I can't stand it. Papa wouldn't let me go anywhere or let anybody come to see me. He says everybody's bad. I guess he's about right. Only he doesn't include himself."
"You seem to have a poor opinion of people."
"Well, you can't blame me." She put on her wise look of experience and craft. "I've been away, living with Nellie for four months and I've seen no good to speak of. A girl doesn't get a fair chance."
"But you've got work?"
"Oh, yes. We both stayed down in a restaurant, Nellie's got a place as waiter. That's the best she could do. The man said I was good-looking and would catch trade. So he made me cashier. I get six dollars a week to Nellie's three. But it's a bad place. The men are always slipping notes in my hand when they give me their checks. Then the boss, he's always bothering around."
"But you don't have to work hard?"
"From nine till four. We get our lunch free. I pay three dollars on the room and Nellie pays one."
If Howard had not seen many such problems in economics before, he would have been astonished at any one even hoping to be able to get two meals a day, clothing and carfare out of two or three dollars a week. As it was, he only wondered how long a girl who had been used at least to comfort would endure this. "It's easy for the other girl," he thought, "because she's used to it. But this one—" and he decided that the "trouble" would begin as soon as her clothing was worn out.
He noticed that she was pulling at the third finger of her right hand where she would have worn rings if she had had any. "You've had to pawn your rings?" he ventured.
She looked at him startled. "Did Nellie tell you?" she asked.
"No," he replied, "I saw that you were missing your rings and suspected the rest."
"Yes; that's so. I've pawned all my jewelry except a bracelet. Nellie can't get along on her three dollars. She eats too much."
"I should think you'd rather be at home."
"As I told you before," she said impatiently, "anything's better than home. Besides, I'm pretty well off. I go where I please, stay out as late as I please and have all the company I want. At home I'd have to be in bed at ten o'clock."
There was a sound at the front door down in the darkness. The girl started from the chair, listened, then exclaimed: "There she comes now. And it's two o'clock!"
Howard took the hint, smiled and said: "Well, good-night. I'll see you again."
"Good-night," the girl answered absently.
From his room Howard heard Nellie coming up the stairs. "You're a nice one!" came in "Miss Black-Hair's" indignant voice, "Where have you been? Where did you and Jack go?"
The answer came in a sob—"Oh, Alice, you'll never forgive me!"
Their door closed upon the two girls but Howard could still hear Nellie's voice tearful, pleading. There was the sound of some one falling heavily upon the lounge, then sobs and cries of "Oh! Oh!" As Howard went into his bedroom, he could hear the voices still more plainly through the thin wall. He caught the words only once. "Miss Black-Hair," her voice shaking with anger, exclaimed: "Nellie Baker, you are a wicked girl, I shall go away."
Several nights later Howard came upon Alice at the front door, where a young man was detaining her in a lingering good-bye. Another night as he was passing her room he saw her stretched upon the floor, her head supported by her elbows and an open book in front of her. She looked so childlike that Howard paused and said: "What is it—a fairy story?"
"No, it's a love story," she replied, just glancing at him with a faint smile and showing that she did not wish to be interrupted. The same night as he was going to bed he heard the angry voices of the two girls. A week later, toward the end of July, he found Alice sitting on the front stoop, when he came from dinner. She was obviously in the depths of the "blues." Her eyes, the droop of the corners of her mouth, even the colour of her skin indicated anxiety and depression. She looked so forlorn that he said gently: "Wouldn't you like to walk in the Square?"
She rose at once. "Yes, I guess so." They crossed to the green. She was wearing the pale-blue gown and it fitted her well. Neither in the gown nor in the big hat with its coquettish flowers nodding over the brim was there much of fashion. But there was a certain distinction in her walk and her manner of wearing her clothes; and to a pretty face and a graceful form was added the charm of youth, magnetic youth.
"Do you want to walk?" she asked, lassitude in her voice.
"No, let us sit," he said, and they went to a bench near the arch. It was twilight. The children were still romping and shouting. Many fat elderly women—mothers and grandmothers—were solemnly marching about, talking in fat, elderly voices.
"You have the blues?" asked Howard, thinking it might make her feel better to talk of her troubles. "If I were your doctor, I should prescribe a series of good cries."
"I don't cry," said the girl. "Sometimes I wish I could. Nellie cries and gets over things. I feel awful inside and sick and my eyes burn. But I can't cry."
"You're too young for that."
"Oh, in some ways I'm young; again, I'm not. I hate everybody this evening."
"What's the matter? Has Nellie deserted you?"
"She? Not much. I had to tell her to go"—this with a joyless little laugh—"she quit work and wouldn't behave herself. So now I'm going on alone." "And you won't go home?"
"Never in the world," she said with almost fierce energy; then some thought made her laugh in the same way as before. Howard decided that she had not told him everything about her home life, even though she had rattled on as if there were nothing to conceal. He sat watching her, she looking straight before her, her small bare hands clasped in her lap. He was pitying her keenly—this child, at once stunted and abnormally developed, this stray from one of the classes that keeps their women sheltered; and here she was adrift, without any of those resources of experience which assist the girls of the tenements.
Her features were small, sensitive, regular. Her eyes were brown with lines of reddish gold raying from the pupils. Her chin and mouth were firm enough, yet suggested weakness through the passions. Her clear skin had the glow of youth and health upon its smooth surface. She was certainly beautiful and she certainly had magnetism.
"What do you think is going to become of you?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said, after a deep sigh. "A girl doesn't have a fair chance. I don't seem to be able to have any fun without getting into trouble. I don't know what to think. It's all so black. I wish I was dead."
Her dreary tone put the deepest pathos into her words. Howard had seen despondency in youth before—had felt it himself. But there had always been a certain lightness in it. Here was a mere child who evidently thought, and thought with reason, that there was no hope for her; and her despair was not a passing cloud or storm, but a settled conviction.
"There doesn't seem to be any chance for a young girl," she repeated as if that phrase summed up all that was weighing upon her. And Howard feared that she, was right. Even the readiest of all commodities, advice, failed him. "What can she do?" he thought. "If she has no home, worth speaking of"—then he went on aloud:
"Haven't you friends?"
She laughed again with that slight moving of the lips and with eyes mirthless. "Who wants me for a friend? Nobody'd think I was respectable. And I guess I'm not so very. There's Nellie and her—friends. Oh, the girls join in with the men to drag other girls down. But I won't do that. I don't care what becomes of me—except that."
"Why?" he asked, curious for her explanation of this aversion.
"I don't know why," she replied. "There doesn't seem to be any good reason. I've thought I would several times. And then—well, I just couldn't."
Howard turned the subject and tried to draw her out of this mood. They sat there for several hours and became well acquainted. He found that she had an intelligent way of looking at things, that she observed closely, and that she appreciated and understood far more than he had expected.
It was the beginning of a series of evenings spent together. He took her with him on many of his assignments and they often dined together at "Le Chat Noir" or the "Restaurant de Paris," or "The Manhattan" over in Second Avenue. Late in June she bought a new gown—a pale-grey with ribbons and hat to match. Howard was amused at the anxious expression in her gold-brown eyes as she waited for his opinion. And when he said: "Well, well, I never saw you look so pretty," she looked much prettier with a slight colour rising to tint the usual pallor of her cheeks.
One Sunday he came home in the afternoon and found her helping the maid at straightening his rooms. As he lay on the lounge smoking he watched her lazily. She handled his books with a great deal of awe. She opened one of them and sat on the floor in the childlike way she often had. She read several sentences aloud. It was a tangle of technical words on the subject of political economy.
"What do you have such stupid things around for?" she said, smiling and rising. She began to arrange the books and papers on the table. He was looking at her but thinking of something else when he became conscious that she had got suddenly white to the lips. He jumped to his feet.
"What's the matter?" he asked, "are you going to faint?"
Her eyes were shining as with fever out of a ghostly face. Her lips trembled as she answered: "Oh it's nothing. I do this often." She went slowly into the back room where the maid was. In a few minutes she returned, apparently as usual. She flitted about uneasily, taking up now one thing, now another in a purposeless, nervous way.
"I never was in here before," she said. "You've got lots of pretty things. Whose picture is this?"
"That? Oh, my sister-in-law out in Chicago."
Howard did not then understand why she became so gay, why her eyes danced with happiness, why as soon as she went into the hall she began to sing and kept it up in her own room, quieting down only to burst forth again. He did not even especially note the swift change, the, for her, extraordinary mood of high spirits. It was about this time that their relations began to change.
Howard had thought of her, or had thought that he thought of her, only as a lonely and desolate child, to be taught so far as he was capable of teaching and she of learning. He was conscious of her extreme youth and of the impassable gulf of thought and taste between them. He did not take her feelings into account at all. It never occurred to him that this part of friend and patron which he was playing was not safe for him, not just and right toward her.
One night he took her to a ball at the Terrace Garden—a respectable, amusing affair "under the auspices of the Young-German-American- Shooting-Society." The next day a reporter for the Sun whom he knew slightly said to him with a grin he did not like: "Mighty pretty little girl you're taking about with you, Howard. Where'd you pick her up?"
Howard reddened, angry with himself for reddening, angry with the Sun man for his impudence, ashamed that he had put himself and Alice in such a position. But the incident brought the matter of his relation with her sharply and clearly before his mind and conscience.
"This must stop," he said to himself; "it must stop at once. It is unjust to her. And it is dragging me into an entanglement."
But the mischief had been done. She loved him. And with the confidence of youth and inexperience, she was disregarding all the obstacles, was giving herself up to the dream that he would presently love her in return, with the end as in the story books. Indeed love stories became her constant companions. Where she once read them for amusement, she now read them as a Christian reads his Bible—for instruction, inspiration, faith, hope and courage.
One evening in July—it was in the week of Independence Day—Howard's windows and door were thrown wide to get the full benefit of whatever stir there might be in the air. He was sprawled upon the lounge, the table drawn close and upon it a lamp shedding a dim light through the room but enough near by to let him read. He had dropped his book and was thinking whether a stroll in the Square in the moonlight would repay the trouble of moving. There were steps in the hall and then, peeping round the door-frame was the face of his young neighbour.
"Hello," he said, "I thought you were out somewhere. Come in."
"No, I'm going to bed," she answered, nevertheless gradually edging into the room. She was wearing a loose wrapper of flowered silk, somewhat worn and never very fine. Her black hair hung in a long thick braid to her waist and she looked even younger than usual.
"Where have you been all evening?" asked Howard.
"Oh, I've been up to see a friend. She lives in Harlem, and she wants me to come and live with her."
"Are you going?" Howard inquired, noting that he was interested and not pleased. "The house wouldn't seem natural without you."
She gave him a quick, gratified glance and, advancing further into the room, sat upon the arm of the big rocking-chair. "She gave me a good talking to," she went on with a smile. "She told me I ought not to live alone at my age. She said I ought to live with her and meet some friends of hers. She said maybe I'd find a nice fellow to marry."
Howard thought over this as he smoked and at last said in an ostentatiously judicial tone: "Well, I think she's right. I don't see what else there is to do. You can't live on down here alone always. What's become of Nellie?"
"Nellie's got to be a bad girl," said Alice with a blush and a dropping of the eyes. "She's in Fourteenth Street every night. She says she doesn't care what happens to her. I saw her last night and she wanted me to come with her. She says it's of no use for me to put on airs. She says I've got no friends and I might as well join her sooner as later."
"Well?" Howard was keeping his eyes carefully away from hers.
"Oh, I sha'n't go with her. As long as a girl has got anything at all to live for, she doesn't want that. Besides I'd rather go to the East River."
"Drowning's a serious matter," said Howard with a smile and with banter in his tone.
"Yes, it is," said the girl seriously, "I've thought of it. And I don't believe I could."
"Then you'd better go with your friend and get married."
"I don't want to get married," she replied, shaking her head slowly from side to side.
"That's what all the girls say," laughed Howard. "But of course you will. It's the only thing to do."
"Then why don't you get married?" asked Alice, tracing one of the flowers in her wrapper with her slim, brown forefinger.
"I couldn't if I would and I wouldn't if I could."
"Oh, you could get a nice girl to marry you, I'm sure," she said, the colour rising faintly toward her long, downcast lashes.
"But who would get the money? It takes money to keep a nice girl."
"Oh, not much," said Alice earnestly, yet with a queer hesitation in her voice. "You oughtn't to marry those extravagant girls. I've read about them and I think they don't make very good wives, real wives to save money and—and care."
"You seem to know a good deal about these things for your age," said Howard, much amused and showing it.
"I don't care," she persisted, "you ought to get married."
Howard felt that this was the time to clear the girl's mind of any "notions" she might have got. He would be very clever, very adroit. He would not let her suspect that he had any idea of her thoughts. Indeed he was not perfectly certain that he had. But he would gently and frankly tell her the truth.
"I shall never get married," he said, sitting up and talking as one who is discussing a case which he understands thoroughly yet has no personal interest in. "I haven't the money and I haven't the desire. I am what they would call a confirmed bachelor. I wouldn't marry any girl who had not been brought up as I have been. We should be unhappy together unsuited each to the other. She would soon hate me. Besides, I wish to be free. I care more for freedom than I ever shall for any human being. As I am now, so I shall always be, a wandering fellow without ties. It is not a pleasant prospect for old age. But I have made up my mind to it and I shall never marry."
The girl's hands had dropped limp into her lap; her face was down so that he could barely see the burning blush which overspread it.
"You don't mean that," she said in a voice that was queer and choked.
"Oh yes, I do, little girl," he answered, intending to smile when she should look up.
When she did lift her eyes, his smile could not come. For her face was grey and her lips bloodless and from her eyes looked despair. Howard glanced away instantly. With rude hand he had suddenly toppled into the dust this child's dream-castle of love and happiness which he had himself helped her build. He felt like a criminal. But partly from a sense of duty, chiefly from the cowardice of self-preservation, he made no effort to lighten her suffering.
"I should only prolong it," he thought, "only make matters worse. To-morrow—perhaps."
If she had been worldly wise, even if she had not been so completely absorbed in her worship of him that her woman-instincts were dormant, she would herself have found hope. But she had not a suspicion that these strong words of apparent finality were spoken to give himself courage, to keep him from obeying the impulse to respond to the appeal of her youth to his, her aloneness to his, her passion to his. She believed him literally.
There was a long silence. He heard her move, heard a suppressed cry and glanced toward her again. She was darting from the room. A second later her door crashed. He started up and after her, hesitated, returned to his book—but not to his reading.
Toward noon the next day, he passed her room on his way out. The door was wide open; none of her belongings was in sight; the maid was sweeping energetically. She paused when she saw him.
"Miss Alice left this morning," she said, "and the room's been let to another party."
IN A BOHEMIAN QUICKSAND.
Howard could have got her new address; and for many weeks habit, at first steadily, afterward intermittently, teased him to look her up. He was amazed at her hold upon him. At times the longing for her was so intense that he almost suspected himself of being in love with her.
"I escaped from that none too soon," he congratulated himself. "It wasn't nearly so one-sided as I thought."
He had never been gregarious. Thus far he had not had a single intimate friend, man or woman. He knew many people and knew them well. They liked him and some of them sought his friendship. These were often puzzled because it was easy to get acquainted with him, impossible to know him intimately.
The explanation of this combination of openness and reserve, friendliness and unapproachableness, was that his boyhood and youth had been spent wholly among books. That life had trained him not to look to others for amusement, sympathy or counsel, but to depend upon himself. As his temperament was open and good-natured and sympathetic, he was as free from enemies and enmities as he was from friends and friendships.
Women there had been—several women, a succession of idealizations which had dispersed in the strong light of his common sense. He had never disturbed himself about morals in what he regarded as the limited sense. He always insisted that he was free; and he was careful only of his personal pride and of taking no advantage of another. What he had said to Alice about marriage was true—as to his intentions, at least. A poor woman, he felt, he could not marry; a rich woman, he felt, he would not marry. And he cared nothing about marriage because he was never lonely, never leaned or wished to lean upon another, abhorred the idea of any one leaning upon him; because he regarded freedom as the very corner-stone of his scheme of life.
The nearest he had come to companionship was with Alice. With the other women whom he had known in various degrees from warmth to white-heat, there had been interruptions, no such constant freedom of access, no such intermingling of daily life. Her he had seen at all hours and in all circumstances. She never disturbed him but was ready to talk when he wished to listen, listened eagerly when he talked, and was silent and beautiful and restful to look at when he wished to indulge in the dissipation of mental laziness.
As she loved him, she showed him only the best that there was in her and showed it in the most attractive of all lights.
While he was still wavering or fancying that he was wavering, the Managing Editor sent him to "do" a great strike-riot in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. He was there for three weeks, active day and night, interested in the new phases of life—the mines and the miners, the display of fierce passions, the excitement, the peril.
When he returned to New York, Alice had ceased to tempt him.
* * * * *
One midnight in the early spring he was in his sitting room, reading and a little bored. There came a knock at the door. He hoped that it was some one bringing something interesting or coming to propose a search for something interesting. "Come in," he said with welcome in his voice. The door opened. It was Alice.
She was dressed much as she had been the first time he talked with her—a loose, clinging wrapper open at the throat. There was a change in her face—a change for the better but also for the worse. She looked more intelligent, more of a woman. There was more sparkle in her eyes and in her smile. But—Howard saw instantly the price she had paid. As the German had suggested, she had "got on up town."
She was pulling at the long broad blue ribbons of her negligee. Her hands were whiter and her pink finger nails had had careful attention. She smiled, enjoying his astonishment. "I have come back," she said.
Howard came forward and took her hand. "I'm glad, very glad to see you. For a minute I thought I was dreaming."
"Yes," she went on, "I'm in my old room. I came this afternoon. I must have been asleep, for I didn't hear you come in."
"I hope it isn't bad luck that has flung you back here."
"Oh, no. I've been doing very well. I've been saving up to come. And when I had enough to last me through the summer, I—I came."
"You've been at work?"
She dropped her eyes and flushed. And her fingers played more nervously with her ribbons.
"You needn't treat me as a child any longer," she said at last in a low voice; "I'm eighteen now and—well, I'm not a child."
Again there was a long pause. Howard, watching her downcast face, saw her steadying her expression to meet his eyes. When she looked, it was straight at him—appeal but also defiance.
"I don't ask anything of you," she said, "we are both free. And I wanted to see you. I was sick of all those others—up there. I've never had—had—this out of my mind. And I've come. And I can see you sometimes. I won't be in the way."
Howard went over to the window and stared out into the lights and shadows of the leafy Square. When he turned again she had lighted and was smoking one of his cigarettes.
"Well," he said smiling down at her, "Why not? Put on a street gown and we'll go out and get supper and talk it over."
She sprang up, her face alight. She was almost running toward the door. Midway she stopped, turned and came slowly back. She put one of her arms upon his shoulder—a slender, cool, smooth, white arm with the lace of the wide sleeve slipping away from it. She turned her face up until her mouth, like a rosebud, was very near his lips. There was appeal in her eyes.
"I'm very, very glad to see you," Howard said as he kissed her.
* * * * *
And so Howard's life was determined for the next four years.
He worked well at his profession. He read a great deal. He wrote fiction and essays in desultory fashion and got a few things printed in the magazines. He led a life that was a model of regularity. But he knew the truth—that Alice had ended his career.
He was content. Ambition had always been vague with him and now his habit of following the line of least resistance had drifted him into this mill-pond. Sometimes, he would give himself up to bitter self-reproach, disgusted that he should be so satisfied, so non-resisting in a lot in every way the reverse of that which he had marked out for himself. If he had been chained he might, probably would, have broken away. But Alice never attempted to control him. His will was her law. She was especially shrewd about money matters, so often the source of disputes and estrangements. Two months after she reappeared, she proposed that they take an apartment together.
"I saw one to-day in West Twelfth Street at seventy dollars a month," she said, "and I'm sure I could manage it so that you would be much better off than you are now."
He viewed this plan with suspicion. It definitely committed him to a mode of life which he had always regarded as degrading both to the man and the woman and as certain of a calamitous ending. So he made excuses for delay, fully intending never to yield. But although Alice did not speak of her plan again, he found himself more and more attracted by it, caught himself speculating about various apartments he happened to see as he went about the streets. She must have been conscious of what was going on in his mind; for when, a month after she had spoken, he said abruptly: "Where was that apartment you saw?" she went straight on discussing the details as if there had been no interval. She was ready to act.
The apartment was taken in her name—Mrs. Cammack, the "Mrs." being necessary to account for him. They selected the furniture together, he as interested as she and very pleased to find that she had the same good taste in those matters that she had in dress. She took all the troubles and annoyances upon herself. When she invited him to assist in the arrangement, it was in matters that amused him and at times when she was sure he had nothing else to do. It is not strange that he got a wholly false idea of the difficulties of setting up an establishment.
After a month of selecting and discussing, of pleasure in the new experience, pleasure in Alice's enthusiasm and excitement and happiness, he found himself master of five attractive and comfortable rooms, his clothing, his books, all his belongings properly arranged. The door was opened for him by a cleanlooking coloured maid, with a tiny white cap on her head.
As he looked around and then at the beautiful face with the wistful, gold-brown eyes so anxiously following his wandering glance, he was very near to loving her. Indeed, he was like a husband who has left out that period of passionate love which extends into married life until it gives place to boredom, or to dislike, or to some such sympathetic affection as he felt for Alice. "It is just this that holds me," he thought, in his infrequent moods of dissatisfaction. "If we quarrelled or if there were any deep feeling on my side, I should not be in this mess. I should be"—Well, where would he be? "Probably worse off," he usually added.
Certainly he could not have been freer, for she never questioned him; and, if she was ever uneasy or jealous when he came in late—for him—without telling her where he had been, she never showed it. She had no friends, and he often wondered how she passed the time when he was not with her. Whenever he inquired he got the same answer: She had been busying herself with their home; she had been planning to save money or to make him more comfortable; she had been reading to improve her mind and to enable herself to start him talking on subjects that interested him.
No matter how unexpectedly he looked in upon her life or her mind, he found—himself.
One day she said to him—it was after two years of this life: "Something is worrying you. Is it about me? You look at me so queerly at times."
"Yes," he answered. "It is about you. Tell me, Miss Black-Hair, do you never think of getting old?"
"No," she smiled. "I shall wait until I am twenty-five before I begin to think of that."
"But don't you see that this sort of thing must stop sometime? It is unjust to you. When I think of it, I reproach myself for permitting us to get into it."
"I am happy," she said, looking straight at him, terror in her eyes.
"But you have no friends?"
"Who has? And what do I want with friends?"
"But don't you see, I can't introduce you to anybody. I can't talk about you to the people I know. I am always having to explain you away, always having to act as if I were ashamed of this, my real life. At times I am Anglo-Saxon enough to be really ashamed of it. And I ought to be and am ashamed of myself."
"Don't let's talk about it. You and I understand. Why should we bother about the rest of the world?"
"No, we must talk about it. I have been going over it carefully. We must—must be married."
He laid his hand upon hers. She blushed deeply and lowered her head. A tear dropped upon the front of her gown and hung glittering in the meshes of the white lace. She crept into his arms and buried her face upon his shoulder and sobbed. He had never seen her even look like tears before.
"We must be married," he repeated, patting her on the shoulder.
She shook her head in negation.
"Yes," he said firmly, mentally noting that this was the very first time he had ever caught her in a pretense.