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policemen who spoke to me that I was getting material for a description of the city by night.
At last three o'clock came, and with it the heavenly humming of the presses that were issuing forth the history of another day. And part of that history I had written. I waked up a sleepy newsboy in a hallway, and bribed him to hurry to the press-room and get me a paper. He brought me one yet damp with printers' ink. Under a street lamp I examined it. I looked through it frantically, but could not find my productions. Hell's torments were mine for a moment that seemed endless. I looked again, and yet again. My hands were shaking as with the palsy. Once more I searched, taking a column at a time.
Ah, there it was! Divinest ecstasy! The first child of my journalistic dreams! On the seventh page, last column, at the bottom, under two headlines—twin joy of genius triumphant:
“Argentine News Notes,” and “Armourdale Brevities."
I put the paper in my pocket, and loped all the way home. I lived only seventeen blocks distant. Locked in my room, I read till dawn, and read only the bottom part of the seventh column of the seventh page. The next afternoon I returned to duty heavy-eyed, but happy. At last I was a real journalist!
In the suburban towns it was the fashion for social leaders to leave news notes in certain drug stores for their favorite papers. Hooks were provided for this. The reporters who represented the three opposition papers didn't take kindly to me at first. I heard that they thought I had too much energy. Of course, I knew that I was really too brilliant for them. To discredit me they left items like the following on my hooks. I used them without investigation, and my city editor carelessly let them go through without reading:
"The Hon. Tiberius Jackson is getting over his attack of influenza, and hopes soon to resume his normal activities." (Tiberius Jackson was a horse owned by an undertaker.)
“Patrolman Smith shot a mad dog in the West End while it was running eastward yesterday."
After a few more pieces of bait like these had been swallowed by me, I was ready to admit that I didn't yet quite know it all. Then my competitors became my friends. We formed an alliance. Thereafter, each did only one-fourth as much work as he was supposed to do.
It was harder to be recognized as a genius in the Times office. The reporters above me, veterans of many a hard campaign for news, scarcely noticed me.
And the city editor, the owner's son, recently from Harvard, used to have me come into his sanctum, and stand at his elbow while he bluepenciled my copy to show me how much I didn't know—perhaps, too, to show how much he knew.
“See there!” he would say. “See what I have done to your stuff!”
He would change expressions like “no doubt” to “doubtless," one evening, and the next would change “doubtless” to “no doubt.” “We want as few words as possible,” he would say in the first instance, and in the next would declare “It is simplicity and terseness we seek.”
As he was the city editor, and I only a cub reporter, I tried always to be guided by his greater wisdom. And the joy merely of being near the editorial throne!
The Kansas City Times office was rich in traditions. It had little else but traditions when I went to work upon it. In money matters it was almost a wreck. Six months later a receiver was appointed. This was about the time I became a full-fledged genius—that is, when I graduated from the suburbs and began doing regular city reporting.
But I had preferred a place on the Times to one on any of the three other papers. Those papers were all prosperous, but what did I care? What if my salary little more than paid my laundry bills? I was "connected with” the Times. And it was the Times that had done more than everything else combined to open Oklahoma Territory to settlement. It was the Times whose editor and founder had been shot at, years before, for championing the rights of the people—the people who wanted him to go to Congress, while wicked politicians wanted someone else. And it was the Times on which Eugene Field, Augustus Thomas, Alfred Henry Lewis and other such notables had once worked.
I intended to be famous, too. And I thought I might get inspiration in the same office in which these great lights had once shone. I used to go white at the thought that possibly Fame would pass me by. No, no! That must not be!
I would often sneak into a corner of the “local
room” after my suburban notes were written. There I would listen eagerly for pearls of wisdom to fall from the lips of the veterans. Particularly I hungered for reminiscences of the great ones. As a cub reporter, I was despised by the others, just as later I despised cub reporters who came after me. And the more I realized I was looked down upon, the greater was my reverence for those above me. I felt that it was just that they should treat me with disdain, viewing me from the mountain peaks of their experiences.
When the head reporter expressed a desire to borrow money, I wanted to lend him all I had. But I dared not offer money to such a divinity unless he should ask me. He went from reporter to reporter, ignoring me, of course, and all of them confessed that they were “broke."
“You're as bad as 'Gene Field used to be to borrow money," said the market editor, whose desk was in one corner of the reporters' room.
“Maybe that's because he sits at Field's desk,” remarked the court reporter.
I felt a veneration at once for that desk. But another member of the staff declared that Field's desk was the one at which he himself sat. He said that the janitor had told him that he had seen Field sitting at it many a time, and hanging copy on the old hook at one side.
My affections were at once transferred to this desk. But the last assertion was strongly disputed. As the point was never settled, I never knew which desk to venerate. So I resolved to try to fall heir to each of them in turn,
The conversation turned on Alfred Henry Lewis.
“How Al Lewis ever broke into literature, I don't see,” said the City Hall reporter. “Why, his grammar wasn't even decent in a lot of the stuff he turned in here."
“But Gus Thomas knew how to write, all right, all right," the sporting editor put in.
but he couldn't get a big news story, or handle it well when he did get it,” added an old reporter. “Why, when I was on the Journal and he was on the Times here, I used to scoop him right along. I never considered him much. He could put in a pretty phrase occasionally, but he was apt to fall down on a big story.”
Afterward, in recalling these talks, I have thought of how Cassius likewise belittled Cæsar, grown great, and told how he had once saved him from the Tiber because Cæsar couldn't swim well. But at that time I thought only of the glory of being in the company of such journalistic geniuses, who had known those greater geniuses—of sitting in hallowed chairs before hallowed desks, and writing inspired “copy.”