Glencliff's Mysterious Burglar
by Charles Hoy Fort
It was rather late in the afternoon and not yet time for the night assignments. A young fellow came briskly into the newspaper office. He had a picturesque face, because it would remind you of the setting sun with a cloud speck in front. You see he was florid, but -- most absurdly -- a white mark shone where the skin was drawn tightly over a lump on the bridge of his nose. His ears looked like clam shells thrown at the sides of his head and sticking in by the edges. Strictly speaking, he was not handsome, but he was a shrewd-looking young fellow, and timidity was not noticeable in him. He went to Jackson, who sat at the first desk in our row of desks.
"You the editor?"
This question was asked so often at the first desk that Jackson's answer was a thumb jerked back over his shoulder, meaning that the editor was down further. Red face, splash of whitewash and the clam shells went to the next desk. The man there went on writing, did not look up, but convulsively jerked his thumb backward when asked whether he were the editor. Like a stick over a picket fence, the stranger seemed to bump along from desk to desk, following thumbs, until he was in the awful presence of Old Buttons.
"Are you the editor?"
"Yes; but I'm busy now. Just speak to that young man, and he'll take down what you have to tell us."
"Oh, that's all right!" our visitor was very cheerful. "There ain't no use making no record of what I have to say. I want to write articles for you. Won't you give me a consignment?"
"A what? We're not in the mercantile line!"
"Oh, that's all right!" Seemingly everything was all right. "Don't get mad about it. I want to do contributions for you."
Old Buttons was pressed for time, so he said:
"No, we have no vacancies, but, if you can bring in any stories not covered in our regular channels, you may do so."
"All right, then. Good-bye," said our friendly visitor; and on his way out he paused at each desk to say, confidentially:
"I'll bring you in some fine stories. Warm ain't it? Just you trust to me to bring the news in! Say, and I'm telling it for your own good, you need more exercise sitting here all day. You're getting pretty fat, ain't you?" At each desk, the occupant silently thrust a forefinger forward, which was an invitation to confide in the man ahead. When Jackson was reached, his forefinger pointed to the door. All of us went on writing, and our visitor went away, remarking to the row of bowed heads:
"I'll get the news for you. Fearful hot, ain't it?"
His name was Jeremiah Boggs, we learned. Every evening Jeremiah came in to report, beginning to confide in Jackson, gradually forwarded by thumbs along the row of desks, until he reached Old Buttons, whose health he inquired after anxiously and with whom he tried to discuss the weather.
"Don't let that fellow in again," said our indignant city editor; but as the fellow was more amusing than annoying, and as he never failed to follow a thumb or a forefinger just as soon as it was pointed, nobody tried to bar him from the office.
And Jeremiah's report of the day's work was always:
"Ain't seen nothing to-day, but sure will to-morrow. Does the sun make your eyes blink like it does mine? Maybe my eyes ain't very strong, I guess. Ain't it queer? When I wasn't looking for news, I run acrosst accidents or something every day. Now I'm looking for them, nothing never happens."
Then the reports ceased, and we did not see Mr. Boggs until a month later. Jackson was idling one afternoon, but he suddenly began to write furiously, for, like a meteor, he saw the familiar white mark shooting toward him from the doorway.
"I guess you wasn't looking for me to-day, hey? Sorter chilly, ain't it?" Jackson's thumb went mechanically backward, and without another word at the first desk Jeremiah bumped along to the second desk.
"You feeling pretty good? Ain't sick or nothing? If you put mutton taller on your hair you could have it all down nice and slick, and not tossed about like you wear it." Another thumb shot back as if it were shooting marbles over a shoulder, and Jeremiah shot with it to the next desk, bumping along with his cheerfulness, his confidences and his friendly interest in our appearance.
At the city desk he dropped into the chair that we dared to use only when taking down a dictation.
"Gee! You look all played out to-day Mr. Buttling. I guess that's a new wrinkle you're getting in your forehead, and you mustn't frown so much, but rub it with a hairbrush for an hour every night before going to bed. Well, I give that up, I did. I spied and I pried and I searched throughout the hull city, and got trun out of a hundred houses and buildings looking for news, I did, and not a item did I come acrosst. I couldn't find no news in the hull city, and it would make your heart ache did I tell you half the front stoops I was trun down. So I've went out in the country and looked over likely places for news, till I've settled and got a job in a town where it looks like things happens. I think, maybe, if you use a good, stiff scrub brush for an hour before retiring them wrinkles will be eradicated. But I've come for to see have you a corryspondent out to Glencliff, which is where I am, and, if not, can I hold down the job for youse?"
Old Buttons had been writing spasmodically and frowning severely. But when he heard Glencliff mentioned, he very nearly smiled and almost looked good-humored.
"We have not, at present," he said. "Just now we are not represented in that important news center." And when he said this, an appreciative flutter ran down the row of desks, for he had been pleased to be facetious. The uneventfulness of Glencliff was a standing joke in the office.
"Well," said Jeremiah, "I've got a steady job in Glencliff, and, if I send you tips of anything happens there, will you pay me for them?"
"Bring along your tips. We'll give you space rates for what they come to. So let us know whenever a bank fails or there's a great strike among the milkmaids or a farm explodes;" and a swishing sound went down the row of desks. All of us, old fellows and young fellows, were never too busy to make some sound or sign of recognition when Old Buttons was pleased to be facetious.
Jackson was writing at speed that approached the record, but he scraped with one foot while his pencil was flying; and others leaned back to make a chair squeak, or thumped a knee against a loose drawer in a desk to make it rattle. But all went on busily writing. Some day there might come a fire or earthquake, but all would go on busily writing.
"Well, good-by," said Jeremiah; "I'll drop in now and then to see you, whether I have any news or not. Did you ever try baking soda for indigestion? Maybe I'll drop in next week some time." He stretched out a hand, and Old Buttons shook hands, though not very cordially, with him.
"You must come see me, if you're out my way," said Jeremiah, at the first desk. "Now, if that ain't bad of you! You're just as fat as ever you was! You mustn't wear collars nor eat things with starch in them." Forefingers were extended mechanically, because that seemed the established way of treating him; and Jeremiah bounced along to Jackson and from Jackson to the door.
When we were busy, we were very busy, but when work was done, and for a time there would be no assignments, we idled and expressed idleness chiefly with our legs. So legs went up on chairs and feet were on desks, and somebody matched somebody else for seven beers, which would be brought up on a tray if some one touched the button in the club room next door. The seven beers came up, and Old Buttons suffered, for his dignity would not permit him to take one with us, and for the sake of discipline he would have to pretend not to see, while in deference to discipline we pretended to smuggle them in, but drank them openly enough.
Legs were twisted and stretched for the greatest possible comfort, and we were ready to smoke and gossip for half an hour or so. Most of us expressed amusement that anyone should hope to do anything in the newspaper business in dull and silent little Glencliff, but Jackson said, in his irritable, snappy way:
"How do you know? Glencliff has never been exploited. I'll bet you we find it positively seethe with excitement, now there's some one there to tell the world." But that was Jackson's way. He liked to take long chances upon anything conflicting with general judgment, because the slighter the chance the more creditable to his foresight would his advocacy be. And in this spirit he offered to bet that Russia would win the war with Japan, though Rojestvensky was in the hospital then.
We gossiped and derided the news possibilities of Glencliff until Miss Lansing came in. Miss Lansing did the society news. As to hats and in the matter of smoking and of losing temper we did not recognize her presence, but in the matter of legs we made a concession to her. All the legs came down, and we could neither be comfortable nor gossip any more then.
The next day a story came over the telephone from Jeremiah. A burglary in Glencliff. Little of value had been taken, but the story was worth attention, because of the importance of the man whose summer home had been robbed.
"It's a fake. Don't let that fellow in here again," said Old Buttons; but he told Jackson to call up the Jamaica correspondent, who covered Queens County generally.
Burglary in Glencliff? The Jamaica man had heard nothing of it.
"Jeremiah is a faker," said everyone, writing rapidly and letting nothing interfere with the writing, but offering an opinion while pencils were jabbing in jagged jerks. "He's started right in."
But Jackson then called up the station agent in Glencliff. Burglary? Certainly. In the house of Ebenezer Snow, the insurance man. The facts were those that Jeremiah had telephoned.
"Queer," said Jackson, uneasily. "As it's verified it must be so, and is no fake, after all; but there is something familiar in that station agent's voice--sort of a confidential tone to it that I seemed to recognize." But we were not interested in whatever was puzzling him, for we were discussing the copy reader's new suit, while we were rapidly writing up fires and swindles and whatever we had been sent out on during the day.
Jeremiah came to the office Wednesday evening to turn in his bill and chat confidentially with us.
"You always put your name up in the corner?" he asked. Such a little thing as to look over one's shoulder while one was writing was nothing he would scruple at. "There! You spelled that word wrong, all right. You must avoid prottyoids, if you expect to thin down some. Did you ever try salt for biliousness? I guess you're bilious, ain't you? Do you always draw circles around your periods, like that? And what's them marks for?"
All that was necessary to forward him on was to raise a finger, but there was one good story spoiled by his anxiety to learn, for one may write easily in an earthquake, but to write while some one is looking over one's shoulder is a different thing.
"Well, good-by," said Jeremiah. "If I have any space, I'll drop in next Wednesday night to see you. Be good to yourselves. Did you ever try Brazil nuts for the liver, Mr. Jackson? I think your liver is bad." But we were silent, and a line of forefingers pointed to the door.
Jackson was certainly right in one of his long chances. Truly, Glencliff had never been appreciated before. Dynamite was found on the railroad tracks just in time to prevent it from blowing up an express train. According to our correspondent, some one had fired a revolver from ambush at a prominent citizen, and then in came a story that the post office had been robbed. To Jeremiah Boggs was due all credit for the discovery of Glencliff as a news mine, and he was the man that was making Glencliff notorious. Every Wednesday evening he came to the office, his pockets bulging with clippings, which he pasted in a strip so as to send in a space bill that was long enough for a surveyor to measure with.
In fact, Old Buttons became suspicious. Glencliff was altogether too small to support such an opulence of crime. Such a delightful degree of wickedness would have been creditable to a large city. To be sure, the station agent verified everything when we telephoned to him, but then this agent was unknown in the office. Either Glencliff was being despoiled by some most desperate villain, or why, these things were occurring only in some one's imagination. The post office was robbed a second time, and in a dozen small stores the safes were looted. Great was the prosperity of Jeremiah Boggs; and his friendly interest continued, but there was something about his stories that stamped them as fakes. Jackson was sent out to Glencliff to investigate. He thought he would take a look at the station agent first.
"Hello!" said the station agent. "You didn't sit in a draught, did you? You ought to be very particular when you're travelling, you know."
"Oh, I see!" said Jackson. "You've been verifying your own stories, have you? Oh, you're all right, Mr. J. Boggs, but some one must have cornered the copyright on the truth where you came from." And he went into the town to interview the inhabitants to make complete the exposure of Jeremiah Boggs.
"It's true!" said every inhabitant interviewed. "Your paper has neither added nor left out a fact. You have had most veracious information of this reign of terror suffered by Glencliff. But we have detectives at work."
Jackson returned to the office just in time to be told to go right back, for the mysterious burglar of Glencliff had been caught not ten minutes before, as told over the telephone. This was too important a story to be intrusted to Jeremiah, so away went Jackson, the staff artist going with him to draw a picture of the burglar.
And why pry and spy and toil in the search of news, when one can make one's own news, and then swell one's income by reporting one's own misdeeds? The artist came back with Jeremiah's picture.
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