by Charles Hoy Fort
"Did you read that interview of mine?" asked Fryhuysen. "Colonel Stackman is in Boston, but I knocked a column out of his views, just the same. Not bad, was it?"
The rest of us in the newspaper office said: "Tut! Tut!"
If you are sent to interview a man, and find that he is in Boston, why, of course, write up the interview, anyway; but take no credit to yourself, for that sort of thing is of common occurrence. Fryhuysen was a good-natured young fellow, but this boastfulness was his fault.
It was pay night. Each of us put his envelope in his pocket without opening it. Life is earnest; life is real; and old age was only about forty years in our future. We were going to start bank accounts and be provident young men, like the artist of the staff, Harry Barker.
Then the envelopes were, of course, opened, but poker was not played in the office that night, and Saturday morning three of us went to the bank to start accounts and provide for old age. Maybe you fancy we went back to the bank as soon as it opened Monday morning. Oh, don't for a moment think we were so bad as that! Two of us did not go until Monday afternoon; the third actually held out till Tuesday, and was very uppish all Monday night, taking the improvident two aside to tell them the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. The ability to save is a gift; but perhaps it could be acquired, so we asked Harry Barker how he succeeded. We wanted to be strong, like him, and resist temptation and draw interest. Harry said:
"Well, you see, my folks upstate aren't very well fixed. My father is getting pretty well on in years now and can't do indoor work any longer. He feels that he must do something, and in the spring wants to take out a traveling merry-go-round. If I can save three hundred and fifty dollars, he can have it.
We were charmed with such frankness. How many friends of yours, who come from out of town, will admit that their folks are not very "well fixed?" Everyone, except Harry, who ever came to this city, came from "one of the leading families." And we said:
"That's fine, isn't it? So filial of him! Great will be Harry's reward some day!"
We felt better and stronger, with such a good example before us, and we were determined to make honored names for ourselves. Then Jackson appeared in the office in a new fall suit, and we had to live up to him, and went to see old Zeke, who would let you have thirty dollars if you would pay him forty or sixty or maybe one hundred and fifty for the loan.
"Did I ever tell you how I got my job here?" asked Fryhuysen. "I got it on the strength of the most realistic and beautifully repulsive little story you ever read. It was a fight, for five hundred a side, between a bulldog and a negro, who fought the brute on hands and knees. Of course there was no truth in it, but anybody could write a true story."
We said: "You ought to go to some nice, quiet, psychopathic ward and have your mind scraped for imagining such things." This boastfulness of his was always irritating; it seemed so amateurish.
Anyway, we were very sad because we could not be promising young men, except when we signed promises to pay, but one can't be both good and beautiful, and our fall suits were faultless. Then we seemed to settle upon Harry Barker, as if to have him express for us. When we would not drink anything but ginger ale and held away from poker, it seemed to us as if, through him, we were vicariously very virtuous, inasmuch as he was one of us.
"No, Harry," we said, very firmly, "you mustn't join in this game. We've got to get that merry-go-round, you know."
Harry would go home and go to bed early, and you don't know how that would encourage us, and how much better and nobler we would feel after every temptation he resisted. Bad habits are not at all hard to overcome, when they are some one else's temptations. And we'd say:
"Now, Harry, you know cigars are too expensive and are bad for you. There are nice pipes for seventeen cents in the corner window."
Harry meekly got a seventeen-cent pipe, with a package of tobacco and a coupon thrown in, and we were well pleased with our abstentiousness. Our aged parent -- we had come to look upon all the saving as ours and the aged parent as our aged parent -- would surely have his merry-go-round; and happy little children would twirl around on horses or lions and tigers, and try to work off a fake brass ring on said aged parent.
All of which -- upon which Matthews, the copy reader, would surely scrawl "X's" with his hated blue pencil, because he scratched out every introduction, without reading it -- takes us to the morning when Fryhuysen went wrong again.
Old Buttons, the city editor, came in to his tiny room, inclosed in a corner of the general office. He was so stiff and straight that we were not sure it was no fiction that he had once swallowed a sword, which had stuck and was too much for even his digestion. Cold, severe old fellow! And, still, there were occasions when he could be positively delightful. These occasions were when he contemplated doing something unusually mean; then his geniality would charm you.
There was a death somewhere, and some space writer, probably Jackson who by deaths made his living, was sent out for the obituary.
To some one else was given a pile of clippings; he was told to rehash these stories from the morning papers, of course writing as if he had witnessed the occurrences.
Then Fryhuysen was called for his assignment.
"Mr. Fryhuysen," said Old Buttons, in his cold, stiff way, "I don't see anything for you this morning, but we are short on special matter for Sunday. Go somewhere and get us a good Sunday story; down to the docks or to the jail or -- "
"Yes, sir!" very promptly, for it would never do to have the old fellow caught floundering in poverty of suggestions. And Fryhuysen went out on a roving commission.
It was late in the afternoon when he returned. The old-timers on the staff were busy writing; perhaps they were covering their departments, or perhaps they were writing letters; the old-timers always pretended to be busy whenever in the office, so that Old Buttons should not feel they were not earning their salaries. But you know what young fellows are! We'd not pretend! We'd scorn to make believe work when we had nothing to do. It seemed to be our impression that you must not let your boss think you're at all afraid of him and that even to show him too much respect is contemptible. Lose a few jobs and learn something of the ways of a pawnshop, and you gradually moderate in this feeling.
We were matching nickels on Fryhuysen's desk. Fryhuysen was matching with his left hand and with the other hand he was scribbling whatever story he had come across in his travels. Then he took the story to Old Buttons, who, himself, read all the special matter.
He returned to us and began to boast, as usual:
"Wait till you see what I have for Sunday! There are three columns, and it's about a squatters' colony down by the bay somewheres. I've got in descriptions of odd houses pieced together with old doors and roof tin. There's a cave dweller in it, and the other characters are great. There's the old woman with the seventeen goats, and the one-legged sailor. And not a word of it is true. Why, I never wrote a story more than a fifth true in all my life! Anybody could just sit down and describe what he sees. Where's the art in that? Instead of going to any bays, or docks, or jails, I just went to Jenning's and shot pool and came back to write the first thing I could think of."
"Oh, be calm!" we said. "There's nothing remarkable about that. Do you want Old Buttons to overhear you?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Fryhuysen; "I'd be fired, but the next day I'd be on the Times at a dollar more a column." Of course we each thought we were in similar demand, but this boastfulness was very irritating. Then there was a call from the tiny office.
"Mr. Fryhuysen," said Old Buttons, "I have read this story of yours. Go upstairs to the artist and take him with you and show him these things you have described. This story will carry three or four one-column cuts."
Fryhuysen, laughing and winking at us, seemed to think it very funny to have the artist called upon to illustrate something only in his imagination, and he went to the art department, which was a little office almost filled with old cartoons, Harry Barker sitting, with scarcely room to move, among piles of them. But the rest of us were alarmed. Let Fryhuysen fake and boast all he wanted to, but here he had involved Harry. Both of them would be "fired," if detected. Then, with Harry out of a job, all our saving and self-denial and general good conduct would be in vain.
"Harry," said Fryhuysen, "just look this over. You're to draw pictures for it."
Harry glanced over the story and asked:
"Where is this colony?"
"Where is it?" Fryhuysen pointed to his forehead. "It's right here before you, inasmuch as it's only in my own mind."
The Harry hesitated. Which was only wasting time, for, of course, he would have to draw the pictures or expose Fryhuysen by refusing.
"If you think you can't do it -- but I always thought an artist could draw a thing, whether he sees it or not."
That was enough. Harry traced rapidly with a pencil, and then went over the sketch with a fine drawing pen. Fryhuysen posed as the one-legged sailor, and they saw goats on the ceiling and cave dwellers on the walls, and, altogether, in order to see things, it is not at all necessary to have things to see.
They went out on a stroll aimlessly around during the hour that they were supposed to take to go to the colony and return.
"Have a game of pool?" asked Harry.
But Fryhuysen was horrified. Finally he did agree to go to Jenning's and shoot a game with Bill Throbs, but Harry would have to promise only to sit and look on. So Fryhuysen resisted Harry's temptation and was just so much the stronger for the resistance, felt better and nobler, and added forty cents to his week's bill for the hour in which he played pool.
It was Sunday morning. Old Buttons, who would go home a little after noon, read Fryhuysen's story in print and was suspicious. The characters were too unique. The queer houses were too queer. The story was too interesting to be true. Truth is stranger than fiction? Maybe; but you don't run across such truths; besides, you can take the strangest truth you ever heard of and, with that for a foundation, pile up some more strangeness.
And Old Buttons became so genial that we were apprehensive. Such geniality could signify only that he meant to be mean.
"My! My! A beautiful day! A glorious day! Too fine a day to be cooped up here, Mr. Fryhuysen!" Fryhuysen agreed that the day was very fine, but his manner was uneasy.
"A very good story of yours, Mr. Fryhuysen! Very clever sketches, Mr. Barker! Fryhuysen, I am so interested in this colony you have so ably described that I must see it. You must take me there; Mr. Barker will go with us."
And to be invited to take a trolley ride with Old Buttons was an honor that nobody could think of refusing. So all three went out, the condemned ones without enthusiasm, leaving us so gloomy that we wrote humorous stories.
Truly Old Buttons was a delightful companion! He joked with the conductor and shook hands with a baby on a woman's shoulder, and insisted on paying the fares, though his readiness was not equal to his insistence, for Fryhuysen was the first to find three nickels. And then Old Buttons cried:
"So here's the street? Hop out. Why, you don't seem very lively!"
Harry walked along jauntily. There would be a vacancy in the art department, but his was the sportsman-like feeling of a small boy taking the first swim in the springtime. "Fine! Just as warm!" But Fryhuysen looked guilty and showed his depression.
"I don't know what to say," he whispered, as they walked down a long block to the river front. "I might as well confess."
"What!" cried jolly Old Buttons. "Whispering in company! Shocking manners, Fryhuysen! Ah, here we are! Then it's just around this corner? This is the corner you mentioned?"
"It is," said Fryhuysen, faintly. All three wheeled around the corner of a tall fence.
There was the one-legged sailor. He sat in front of a house queerly made of old junk and old woodwork. The goats were there; the queer old woman and the cave dweller. Just as described was everything.
Humiliated Fryhuysen hung his head. He had boasted of his imagination, but this time, perhaps for the novelty of it, had written up things that only existed. Pitiable was his chagrin.
"Very interesting!" snapped Old Buttons, no longer genial and no longer a delightful companion. "It looks like rain, and we must get back."
But our aged parent got his merry-go-round. Wasn't that good and kind and dutiful of us?
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