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A short story by Irvin S. Cobb

Another Of Those Cub Reporter Stories

Title:     Another Of Those Cub Reporter Stories
Author: Irvin S. Cobb [More Titles by Cobb]

The first time I saw Major Putnam Stone I didn't see him first. To be exact, I heard him first, and then I walked round the end of a seven-foot partition and saw him.

I had just gone to work for the Evening Press. As I recall now it was my second day, and I hadn't begun to feel at home there yet, and probably was more sensitive to outside sights and noises than I would ever again be in that place. Generally speaking, when a reporter settles down to his knitting, which in his case is his writing, he becomes impervious to all disturbances excepting those that occur inside his own brainpan. If he couldn't, he wouldn't amount to shucks in his trade. Give him a good, live-action story to write for an edition going to press in about nine minutes, and the rattles and slams of half a dozen typewriting machines, and the blattings of a pestered city editor, and the gabble of a couple of copy boys at his elbow, and all the rest of it won't worry him. He may not think he hears it, but he does, only instead of being distracting it is stimulating. It's all a part of the mechanism of the shop, helping him along unconsciously to speed and efficiency. I've often thought that, when I was handling a good, bloody murder story, say, it would tone up my style to have a phonograph about ten feet away grinding out The Last Ravings of John McCullough. Anyway, I am sure it wouldn't do any harm. A brass band playing a John Philip Sousa march makes fine accompaniment to write copy to. I've done it before now, covering parades and conventions, and I know.

But on this particular occasion I was, as I say, new to the job and maybe a little nervous to boot, and as I sat there, trying to frame a snappy opening paragraph for the interview I had just brought back with me from one of the hotels, I became aware of a voice somewhere in the immediate vicinity, a voice that didn't jibe in with my thoughts. At the moment I stopped to listen it was saying: "As for me, sir, I have always contended that the ultimate fate of the cause was due in great measure to the death of Albert Sidney Johnston at Shiloh on the evening of the first day's fight. Now then, what would have been the final result if Albert Sidney Johnston had lived? I ask you, gentlemen, what would have been the final result if Albert Sidney Johnston had lived?"

Across the room from me I heard Devore give a hollow groan. His desk was backed right up against the cross partition, and the partition was built of thin pine boards and was like a sounding board in his ear. Devore was city editor.

"Oh, thunder!" he said, half under his breath, "I'll be the goat! What would have been the result if Albert Sidney Johnston had lived?" He looked at me and gave a wink of serio-comic despair, and then he ran his blue pencil up through his hair and left a blue streak like a scar on his scalp. Devore was one of the few city editors I have ever seen who used that tool which all of them are popularly supposed to handle so murderously--a blue pencil. And as he had a habit, when he was flustered or annoyed--and that was most of the time--of scratching his head with the point end of it, his forehead under the hair roots was usually streaked with purplish-blue tracings, like a fly-catcher's egg.

The voice, which had a deep and space-filling quality to it, continued to come through and over the partition that divided off our cubby-hole of a workroom--called a city room by courtesy--from the space where certain other members of the staff had their desks. I got up from my place and stepped over to where the thin wall ended in a doorway, being minded to have a look at the speaker. The voice sounded as though it must belong to a big man with a barrel-organ chest. I was surprised to find that it didn't.

Its owner was sitting in a chair in the middle of a little space cluttered up with discarded exchanges and galley proofs. He was rather a small man, short but compact. He had his hat off and his hair, which was thin but fine as silk floss, was combed back over his ears and sprayed out behind in a sort of mane effect. It had been red hair once, but was now so thickly streaked with white that it had become a faded brindle color. I took notice of this first because his back was toward me; in a second or two he turned his head sideways and I saw that he had exactly the face to match the hair. It was a round, plump, elderly face, with a short nose, delicately pink at the tip. The eyes were a pale blue, and just under the lower lip, which protruded slightly, was a small gray-red goatee, sticking straight out from a cleft in the chin like a dab of a sandy sheep's wool. Also, as the speaker swung himself further round, I took note of a shirt of plaited white linen billowing out over his chest and ending at the top in a starchy yet rumply collar that rolled majestically and Byronically clear up under his ears. Under the collar was loosely knotted a black-silk tie such as sailors wear. His vest was unbuttoned, all except the two lowermost buttons, and the sleeves of his coat were turned back neatly off his wrists. This, though, could not have been on account of the heat, because the weather wasn't very hot yet. I learned later that, winter or summer, he always kept his coat sleeves turned back and the upper buttons of his vest unfastened. His hands were small and plump, and his feet were small too and daintily shod in low, square-toed shoes. About the whole man there was an air somehow of full-bloomed foppishness gone to tassel--as though having been a dandy once, he was now merely neat and precise in his way of dress.

He was talking along with the death of Albert Sidney Johnston for his subject, not seeming to notice that his audience wasn't deeply interested. He had, it seemed, a way of stating a proposition as a fact, as an indisputable, everlasting, eternal fact, an immutable thing. It became immutable through his way of stating it. Then he would frame it in the form of a question and ask it. Then he would answer it himself and go right ahead.

Boynton, the managing editor, was coiled up at his desk, wearing a look of patient endurance on his face. Harty, the telegraph editor, was trying to do his work--trying, I say, because the orator was booming away like a bittern within three feet of him and Harty plainly was pestered and fretful. Really the only person in sight who seemed entertained was Sidley, the exchange editor, a young man with hair that had turned white before its time and in his eye the devil-driven look of a man who drinks hard, not because he wants to drink but because he can't help drinking. Sidley, as I was to find out later, had less cause to care for the old man than anybody about the shop, for he used to disarrange Sidley's neatly piled exchanges, pawing through them for his favorite papers. But Sidley could forget his own grievances in watchful enjoyment of the dumb sufferings of Harty, whom he hated, as I came to know, with the blind hate a dipsomaniac often has for any mild and perfectly harmless individual.

As I stood there taking in the picture, the speaker, sensing a stranger's presence, faced clear about and saw me. He nodded with a grave courtesy, and then paused a moment as though expecting that one of the others would introduce us. None of the others did introduce us though, so he went ahead talking about Albert Sidney Johnston's death, and I turned away. I stopped by Devore's desk.

"Who is he?" I asked.

"That," he said, with a kind of leashed and restrained ferocity in his voice, "is Major Putnam P. Stone--and the P stands for Pest, which is his middle name--late of the Southern Confederacy."

"Picturesque-looking old fellow, isn't he?" I said.

"Picturesque old nuisance," he said, and jabbed at his scalp with his pencil as though he meant to puncture his skull. "Wait until you've been here a few weeks and you'll have another name for him."

"Well, anyway, he's got a good carrying voice," I said, rather at a loss to understand Devore's bitterness.

"Great," he mocked venomously; "you can hear it a mile. I hear it in my sleep. So will you when you get to know him, the old bore!"

In due time I did get to know Major Stone well. He was dignified, tiresome, conversational, gentle mannered and, I think, rather lonely. By driblets, a scrap here and a scrap there, I learned something about his private life. He came from the extreme eastern end of the state. He belonged to an old family. His grandfather--or maybe it was his great-grand-uncle--had been one of the first United States senators that went to Washington after our state was admitted into the Union. He had never married. He had no business or profession. From some property or other he drew an income, small, but enough to keep him in a sort of simple and genteel poverty. He belonged to the best club in town and the most exclusive, the Shawnee Club, and he had served four years in the Confederate army. That last was the one big thing in his life. To the major's conceptions everything that happened before 1861 had been of a preparatory nature, leading up to and paving the way for the main event; and what had happened since 1865 was of no consequence, except in so far as it reflected the effects of the Civil War.

Daily, as methodically as a milkwagon horse, he covered the same route. First he sat in the reading room of the old Gaunt House, where by an open fire in winter or by an open window in summer he discussed the blunders of Braxton Bragg and similar congenial topics with a little group of aging, fading, testy veterans. On his way to the Shawnee Club he would come by the Evening Press office and stay an hour, or two hours, or three hours, to go away finally with a couple of favored exchanges tucked under his arm, and leave us with our ears still dinned and tingling. Once in a while of a night, passing the Gaunt House on my way to the boarding house where I lived--for four dollars a week--I would see him through the windows, sometimes sitting alone, sometimes with one of his cronies.

Round the office he sometimes bothered us and sometimes he interfered with our work; but mainly all the men on the staff liked him, I think, or at least we put up with him. In our home town each of us had known somebody very much like him--there used to be at least one Major Stone in every community in the South, although most of them are dead now, I guess--so we all could understand him. When I say all I mean all but Devore. The major's mere presence would poison Devore's whole day for him. The major's blaring notes would cross-cut Devore's nerves as with a dull and haggling saw. He--Devore I mean--disliked the major with a dislike almost too deep for words. It had got to be an obsession with him.

"You fellows that were born down here have to stand for him," he said once, when the major had stumped out on his short legs after an unusually long visit. "It's part of the penalty you pay for belonging in this country. But I don't have to venerate him and fuss over him and listen to him. I'm a Yankee, thank the Lord!" Devore came from Michigan and had worked on papers in Cleveland and Detroit before he drifted South. "Oh, we've got his counterpart up my way," he went on. "Up there he'd be a pension-grabbing old kicker, ready to have a fit any time anybody wearing a gray uniform got within ninety miles of him, and writing red-hot letters of protest to the newspapers every time the state authorities sent a captured battle flag back down South. Down here he's a pompous, noisy old fraud, too proud to work for a living--or too lazy--and too poor to count for anything in this world. The difference is that up in my country we've squelched the breed--we got good and tired of these professional Bloody Shirt wavers a good while ago; but here you fuss over this man, and you'll sit round and pretend to listen while he drools away about things that happened before any one of you was born. Do you fellows know what I've found out about your Major Putnam Stone? He's a life member of the Shawnee Club--a life member, mind you! And here I've been living in this town over a year, and nobody ever so much as invited me inside its front door!"

All of which was, perhaps, true, even though Devore had an unnecessarily harsh way of stating the case; the part about the Shawnee Club was true, at any rate, and I used to think it possibly had something to do with Devore's feelings for Major Stone. Not that Devore gave open utterance to his feelings to the major's face. To the major he was always silently polite, with a little edging of ice on his politeness; he saved up his spleen to spew it out behind the old fellow's back. Farther than that he couldn't well afford to go anyhow. The Chief, owner of the paper and its editor, was the major's friend. As for the major himself, he seemed never to notice Devore's attitude. For a fact, I believe he actually felt a sort of pity for Devore, seeing that Devore had been born in the North. Not to have been born in the South was, from the major's way of looking at the thing, a great and regrettable misfortune for which the victim could not be held responsible, since the fault lay with his parents and not with him. By way of a suitable return for this, Devore spent many a spare moment thinking up grotesque yet wickedly appropriate nicknames for the major. He called him Old First and Second Manassas and Old Hardee's Tactics and Old Valley of Virginia. He called him an old bluffer too.

He was wrong there, though, certainly. Though the major talked pretty exclusively about the war, I took notice that he rarely talked about the part he himself had played in it. Indeed, he rarely discussed anybody below the rank of brigadier. The errors of Hood's campaign concerned him more deeply than the personal performances of any individual. Campaigns you might say were his specialty, campaigns and strategy. About such things as these he could talk for hours--and he did.

I've known other men--plenty of them--not nearly so well educated as the major, who could tell you tales of the war that would make you see it--yes, and smell it too--the smoke of the campfires, the unutterable fatigue of forced marches when the men, with their tongues lolling out of their mouths like dogs, staggered along, panting like dogs; the bloody prints of unshod feet on flinty, frozen clods; the shock and fearful joy of the fighting; the shamed numbness of retreats; artillery horses, their hides all blood-boltered and their tails clubbed and clotted with mire, lying dead with stiff legs between overturned guns; dead men piled in heaps and living men huddled in panics--all of it. But when the major talked I saw only some serious-minded officers, in whiskers of an obsolete cut and queer-looking shirt collars, poring over maps round a table in a farmhouse parlor. When he chewed on the cud of the vanished past it certainly was mighty dry chewing.

There came a day, a few weeks after I went to work for the Evening Press, when for once anyway the major didn't seem to have anything to say. It was in the middle of a blistering, smothering hot forenoon in early June, muggy and still and close, when a fellow breathing felt as though he had his nose buried in layers of damp cotton waste. The city room was a place fit to addle eggs, and from the composing room at the back the stenches of melting metals and stale machine oils came rolling in to us in nasty waves. With his face glistening through the trickling sweat, the major came in about ten o'clock, fanning himself with his hat, and when he spoke his greeting the booming note seemed all melted and gone out of his voice. He went through the city room into the room behind the partition, and passing through a minute later I saw him sitting there with one of Sidley's exchanges unfolded across his knee, but he wasn't reading it. Presently I saw him climbing laboriously up the stairs to the second floor where the chief had his office. At quitting time that afternoon I dropped into the place on the corner for a beer, and I was drinking it, as close to an electric fan as I could get, when Devore came in and made for where I was standing. I asked him to have something.

"I'll take the same," he said to the man behind the bar, and then to me with a kind of explosive snap: "By George, I'm in a good mind to resign this rotten job!" That didn't startle me. I had been in the business long enough to know that the average newspaper man is forever threatening to resign. Most of them--to hear them talk--are always just on the point of throwing up their jobs and buying a good-paying country weekly somewhere and taking things easy for the rest of their lives, or else they're going into magazine work. Only they hardly ever do it. So Devore's threat didn't jar me much. I'd heard it too often.

"What's the trouble?" I asked. "Heat getting on your nerves?"

"No, it's not the heat," he said peevishly; "it's worse than the heat. Do you know what's happened? The chief has saddled Old Signal Corps on me. Yes, sir, I've got to take his old pet, the major, on the city staff. It seems he's succeeded in losing what little property he had--the chief told me some rigmarole about sudden financial reverses--and now he's down and out. So I'm elected. I've got to take him on as a reporter--a cub reporter sixty-odd years old, mind you, who hasn't heard of anything worth while since Robert E. Lee surrendered!"

The pathos of the situation--if you could call it that--hit me with a jolt; but it hadn't hit Devore, that was plain. He saw only the annoying part of it.

"What's he going to do?" I asked--"assignments, or cover a route like the district men?"

"Lord knows," said Devore. "Because the old bore knows a lot of big people in this town and is friendly with all the old-timers in the state, the chief has a wild delusion that he can pick up a lot of stuff that an ordinary reporter wouldn't get. Rats!

"Come on, let's take another beer," he said, and then he added: "Well, I'll just make you two predictions. He'll be a total loss as a reporter--that's one prediction; and the other is that he'll have a hard time buying his provender and his toddies over at the Shawnee Club on the salary he'll draw down from the Evening Press."

Devore was not such a very great city editor, as I know now in the light of fuller experience, but I must say that as a prophet he was fairly accurate. The major did have a hard time living on his salary--it was twelve a week, I learned--and as a reporter he certainly was not what you would call a dazzling success. He came on for duty at eight the next morning, the same as the rest of us, and sorry as I felt for him I had to laugh. He had bought himself a leather-backed notebook as big as a young ledger, just as a green kid just out of high school would have done, and he had a long, new, shiny, freshly sharpened lead pencil sticking out of the breast pocket of his coat. He tried to come in smartly with a businesslike air, but it wouldn't have fooled a blind man, because he was as nervous as a debutante. It struck me as one of the funniest things--and one of the most pathetic--I had ever seen.

I'll say this for Devore--he tried out the major on nearly every kind of job; and surely it wasn't Devore's fault that the major failed on every single one of them. His first attempt was as typical a failure as any of them. That first morning Devore assigned him to cover a wedding at high noon, high noon being the phrase we always used for a wedding that took place round twelve o'clock in the day. The daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants in the town, and also one of our largest advertisers, was going to be married to the first deputy cotillion leader of the German Club, or something of that nature. Anyhow the groom was what is known as prominent in society, and the chief wanted a spread made of it. Devore sent the major out to cover the wedding, and when he came back told him to write about half a column.

He wrote half a column before he mentioned the bride's name. He started off with an eight-line quotation from Walter Scott's Lady of the Lake, and then he went into a long, flowery dissertation on the sacred rite or ceremony of matrimony, proving conclusively and beyond the peradventure of a doubt that it was handed down to us from remote antiquity. And he forgot altogether to tell the minister's name, and he got the groom's middle initial wrong--he was the kind of groom who would make a fuss over a wrong middle initial, too--and along toward the end of his story he devoted about three closely-written pages to the military history of the young woman's father. It seems that her parent had served with distinction as colonel of a North Carolina regiment. And he wound up with a fancy flourish and handed it in. I know all these details of his story, because it fell to me to rewrite it.

Devore didn't say a word when the old major reverently laid that armload of copy down in front of him. He just sat and waited in silence until the major had gone out to get a bite to eat, and then he undertook to edit it. But there wasn't any way to edit it, except to throw it away. I suppose that kind of literature went very well indeed back along about 1850; I remember having read such accounts in the back files of old weeklies, printed before the war. But we were getting out a live, snappy paper. Devore tried to pattern the local side after the New York and Chicago models. As yet we hadn't reached the point where we spoke of any white woman without the prefix Mrs. or Miss before her name, but we were up-to-date in a good many other particulars. Why, it was even against the office rule to run "beauty and chivalry" into a story when describing a mixed assemblage of men and women; and when a Southern newspaper bars out that ancient and honorable standby among phrases it is a sign that the old order has changed.

For ten minutes or so Devore, cursing softly to himself, cut and chopped and gutted his way through the major's introduction, and between slashing strokes made a war map of the Balkans in his scalp with his blue pencil. Then he lost patience altogether.

"Here," he said to me, "you're not doing anything, are you? Well, take this awful bunch of mushy slush and read it through, and then try to make a decent half-column story out of it. And rush it over a page at a time, will you? We've got to hustle to catch the three o'clock edition with it."

Long before three o'clock the major was back in the shop, waiting for the first run of papers to come off the press. Furtively I watched him as he hunted through the sticky pages to find his first story. I guess he had the budding pride of authorship in him, just as all the rest of us have it in us. But he didn't find his story, he found mine. He didn't say anything, but he looked crushed and forlorn as he got up and went away. It was like him not to ask for any explanations, and it was like Devore not to offer him any.

So it went. Even if he had grown up in the business I doubt whether Major Putnam Stone would ever have made a newspaper man; and now he was too far along in life to pick up even the rudiments of the trade. He didn't have any more idea of news values than a rabbit. He had the most amazing faculty for overlooking what was vital in the news, but he could always be depended upon to pick out some trivial and inconsequential detail and dress it up with about half a yard of old-point lace adjectives. He never by any chance used a short word if he could dig up a long, hard one, and he never seemed to be able to start a story without a quotation from one of the poets. It never was a modern poet either. Excepting for Sidney Lanier and Father Ryan, apparently he hadn't heard of any poet worth while since Edgar Allan Poe died. And everything that happened seemed to remind him--at great length--of something else that had happened between 1861 and 1865. When it came to lugging the Civil War into a tale, he was as bad as that character in one of Dickens' novels who couldn't keep the head of King Charles the First out of his literary productions. With that reared-back, flat-heeled, stiff-spined gait of his, he would go rummaging round the hotels and the Shawnee Club, meeting all sorts of people and hearing all sorts of things that a real reporter would have snatched at like a hungry dog snatching at a T-bone, and then he would remember that it was the fortieth anniversary of the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, or something, and, forgetting everything else, would come bulging and bustling back to the office, all worked up over the prospect of writing two or three columns about that. He just simply couldn't get the viewpoint; yet I think he tried hard enough. I guess the man who said you couldn't teach an old dog new tricks had particular reference to an old war dog.

I remember mighty well one incident that illustrates the point I am trying to make. We had a Sunday edition. We were rather vain of our Sunday edition. It carried a colored comic supplement and a section full of special features, and we all took a more or less righteous pride in it and tried hard to make it alive and attractive. We didn't always succeed, but we tried all right. One Saturday night we put the Sunday to bed, and about one o'clock, when the last form was locked, three or four of us dropped into Tony's place at the corner for a bite to eat and a drink. We hadn't been there very long when in came the old major, and at my invitation he joined us at one of Tony's little round tables at the back of the place. As a general thing the major didn't patronize Tony's. I had never heard him say so--probably he wouldn't have said it for fear of hurting our feelings--but I somehow had gathered the impression that the major believed a gentleman, if he drank at all, should drink at his club. But it was long after midnight now and the Shawnee Club would be closed. Ike Webb spoke up presently.

"It's a pity we couldn't dig up the governor tonight," he said.

The governor had come down from the state capital about noon, and all the afternoon and during most of the evening Webb had been trying to find him. There was a possibility of a big story in the governor if Webb could have found him. The major, who had been sitting there stirring his toddy in an absent-minded sort of way, spoke up casually: "I spent an hour with the governor tonight--at my club. In fact, I supped with him in one of the private dining rooms." We looked up, startled, but the major went right along. "Young gentlemen, it may interest you to know that every time I see our worthy governor I am struck more and more by his resemblance to General Leonidas Polk, as that gallant soldier and gentleman looked when I last saw him----"

Devore, who had been sitting next to the major, with his shoulder half turned from the old man, swung round sharply and interrupted him.

"Major," he said, with a thin icy stream of sarcasm trickling through his words, "did you and the governor by any remote chance discuss anything so brutally new and fresh as the present political complications in this state?"

"Oh, yes," said the major blandly. "We discussed them quite at some length--or at least the governor did. Personally I do not take a great interest in these matters, not so great an interest as I should, perhaps, take. However, I did feel impelled to take issue with him on one point. Our governor is an honest gentleman--more than that, he was a brave soldier--but I fear he is mistaken in some of his attitudes. I regard him as being badly advised. For example, he told me that no longer ago than this afternoon he affixed his official signature to a veto of Senator Stickney's measure in regard to the warehouses of our state----"

As Devore jumped up he overturned the major's toddy right in the major's lap. He didn't stop to beg pardon, though; in fact, none of us stopped. But at the door I threw one glance backward over my shoulder. The major was still sitting reared back in his chair, with his wasted toddy seeping all down the front of his billowy shirt, viewing our vanishing figures with amazement and a mild reproof in his eyes. In the one quick glance that I took I translated his expression to mean something like this:

"Good Heavens, is this any way for a party of gentlemen to break up! This could never happen at a gentlemen's club."

It was a foot-race back to the office, and Devore, who had the start, won by a short length. Luckily the distance was short, not quite half a block, and the presses hadn't started yet. Working like the crew of a sinking ship, we snatched the first page form back off the steam table and pried it open and gouged a double handful of hot slugs out of the last column--Devore blistered his fingers doing it. A couple of linotype operators who were on the late trick threw together the stick or two of copy that Webb and I scribbled off a line at a time. And while we were doing this Devore framed a triple-deck, black-face head. So we missed only one mail.

The first page had a ragged, sloppy look, but anyway we were saved from being scooped to death on the most important story of the year. The vetoing of the Stickney Bill vitally affected the tobacco interests, and they were the biggest interests in the state, and half the people of the state had been thinking about nothing else and talking about nothing else for two months--ever since the extra session of the legislature started. It was well for us too that we did save our faces, because the opposition sheet had managed to find the governor--he was stopping for the night at the house of a friend out in the suburbs--and over the telephone at a late hour he had announced his decision to them. But by Monday morning the major seemed to have forgotten the whole thing. I think he had even forgiven Devore for spilling his toddy and not stopping to apologize.

As for Devore, he didn't say a word to the major--what would have been the use? To Devore's credit also I will say that he didn't run to the chief, bearing complaints of the major's hopeless incompetency. He kept his tongue between his teeth and his teeth locked; and that must have been hard on Devore, for he was a flickery, high-tempered man, and nervous as a cat besides. To my knowledge, the only time he ever broke out was when we teetotally missed the Castleton divorce story. So far as the major's part in it was concerned, it was the Stickney veto story all over again, with variations. The Castletons were almost the richest people in town, and socially they stood way up. That made the scandal that had been brewing and steeping and simmering for months all the bigger when finally it came to a boil. When young Buford Castleton got his eyes open and became aware of what everybody else had known for a year or more, and when the rival evening paper came out in its last edition with the full particulars, we, over in the Evening Press shop, were plastered with shame, for we didn't have a line of it.

A stranger dropping in just about that time would have been justified in thinking there was a corpse laid out in the plant somewhere, and that all the members of the city staff were sitting up with the remains. As luck would have it, it wasn't a stranger that dropped in on our grand lodge of sorrow. It was Major Putnam Stone, and as he entered the door he caught the tag end of what one of us was saying.

"I gather," he said in that large round voice of his, "that you young gentlemen are discussing the unhappy affair which, I note, is mentioned with such signally poor taste in the columns of our sensational contemporary. I may state that I knew of this contemplated divorce action yesterday. Mr. Buford Castleton, Senior, was my informant."

"What!" Devore almost yelled it. He had the love of a true city editor for his paper, and the love of a mother for her child or a miser for his gold is no greater love than that, let me tell you. "You knew about this thing here?" He beat with two fingers that danced like the prongs of a tuning fork on the paper spread out in front of him. "You knew it yesterday?"

"Certainly," said the major. "The elder Mr. Castleton bared the truly distressing details to me at the Shawnee Club."

"In confidence though--he told you about it in confidence, didn't he, major?" said Ike Webb, trying to save the old fellow.

But the major besottedly wouldn't be saved.

"Absolutely not," he said. "There were several of us present, at least three other gentlemen whose names I cannot now recall. Mr. Castleton made the disclosure as though he wished it to be known among his friends and his son's friends. It was quite evident to all of us that he was entirely out of sympathy with the lady who is his daughter-in-law."

Devore forced himself to be calm. It was almost as though he sat on himself to hold himself down in his chair; but when he spoke his voice ran up and down the scales quiveringly.

"Major," he said, "don't you think it would be a good idea if you would admit that the Southern Confederacy was defeated, and turned your attention to a few things that have occurred subsequently? Why didn't you write this story? Why didn't you tell me, so that I could write it? Why didn't----Oh, what's the use!"

The major straightened himself up.

"Sir," he said, "allow me to correct you in regard to a plain misstatement of fact. Sir, the Southern Confederacy was never defeated. It ceased to exist as a nation because we were exhausted--because our devastated country was exhausted. Another thing, sir, I am employed upon this paper, I gainsay you, as a reporter, not as a scandal monger. I would be the last to give circulation in the public prints to another gentleman's domestic unhappiness. I regard it as highly improper that a gentleman's private affairs should be aired in a newspaper under any circumstances."

And with that he bowed and turned on his heel and went out, leaving Devore shaking all over with the superhuman task of trying to hold himself in. About ten minutes later, when I came out bound for my boarding house, the major was standing at the front door. He looped one of his absurdly small fingers into one of my buttonholes.

"Our city editor means well, no doubt," he said, "but he doesn't understand, he doesn't appreciate our conceptions of these matters. He was born on the other side of the river, you know," he said as though that explained everything. Then his tone changed and anxiety crept into it. "Do you think that I went too far? Do you think I ought to return to him and apologize to him for the somewhat hasty and abrupt manner of speech I used just now?"

I told him no--I didn't know what might happen if he went back in there then--and I persuaded him that Devore didn't expect any apology; and with that he seemed better satisfied and walked off. As I stood there watching him, his stiff old back growing smaller as he went away from me, I didn't know which I blamed the more, Devore for his malignant, cold disdain of the major, or the major for his blatant stupidity. And right then and there, all of a sudden, there came to me an understanding of a thing that had been puzzling me all these weeks. Often I had wondered how the major had endured Devore's contempt. I had decided in my own mind that he must be blind to it, else he would have shown resentment. But now I knew the answer. The major wasn't blind, he was afraid; as the saying goes, he was afraid of his job. He needed it; he needed the little scrap of money it brought him every Saturday night. That was it, I knew now.

Knowing it made me sorrier than ever for the old man. Dimly I began to realize, I think, what his own mental attitude toward his position must be. Here he was, a mere cub reporter--and a remarkably bad one, a proven failure--skirmishing round for small, inconsequential items, running errands really, at an age when most of the men he knew were getting ready to retire from business. Yet he didn't dare quit. He didn't dare even to rebel against the slights of the man over him, because he needed that twelve dollars a week. It was all, no doubt, that stood between him and actual want. His pride was bleeding to death internally. On top of all that he was being forced into a readjustment of his whole scheme of things, at a time of life when its ordered routine was almost as much a part of him as his hands and feet. As I figured it, he had long before adjusted his life to his income, cunningly fitting in certain small luxuries and all the small comforts; and now this income was cut to a third or a quarter perhaps of its former dimensions. It seemed a pretty hard thing for the major. It was fierce.

Perhaps my vision was clouded by my sympathy, but I thought Major Stone aged visibly that summer. Maybe you have noticed how it is with men who have gone along, hale and stanch, until they reach a certain age. When they do start to break they break fast. He lost some of his flesh and most of his rosiness. The skin on his face loosened a little and became a tallowy yellowish-red, somewhat like a winter-killed apple.

His wardrobe suffered. One day one of his short little shoes was split across the top just back of the toe cap, and the next morning it was patched. Pretty soon the other shoe followed suit--first a crack in the leather, then a clumsy patch over the crack. He wore his black slouch hat until it was as green in spots as a gage plum; and late in August he supplanted it with one of those cheap, varnished brown-straw hats that cost about thirty-five cents apiece and look it.

His linen must have been one of his small extravagances. Those majestically collared garments with the tremendous plaited bosoms and the hand worked eyelets, where the three big flat gold studs went in, never came ready made from any shop. They must have been built to his measure and his order. Now he wore them until there were gaped places between the plaits where the fine, fragile linen had ripped lengthwise, and the collars were frayed down and broken across and caved in limply. Finally he gave them up too, and one morning came to work wearing a flimsy, sleazy, negligee shirt. I reckon you know the kind of shirt I mean--always it fits badly, and the sleeves are always short and the bosom is skimpy, and the color design is like bad wall-paper. After his old full-bosomed grandeur this shirt, with a ten-cent collar buttoned on to it and overriding the neckband, and gaping away in the front so that the major's throat showed, seemed to typify more than anything else the days upon which he had fallen. About this time I thought his voice took on a changed tone permanently. It was still hollow, but it no longer rang.

A good many men similarly placed would have taken to drink, but Major Putnam Stone plainly was never born to be a drunkard and hard times couldn't make one of him. With a sort of gentle, stupid persistence he hung fast to his poor job, blundering through some way, struggling constantly to learn the first easy tricks of the trade--the a, b, c's of it--and never succeeding. He still lugged the classical poets and the war into every story he tried to write, and day after day Devore maintained his policy of eloquent brutal silence, refusing dumbly to accept the major's clumsy placating attempts to get upon a better footing with him. After that once he had never attempted to scold the old man, but he would watch the major pottering round the city room, and he would chew on his under lip and viciously lance his scalp with his pencil point.

Well, aside from the major, Devore had his troubles that summer. That was the summer of the biggest, bitterest campaign that the state had seen, so old-timers said, since Breckinridge ran against Douglas and both of them against Lincoln. If you have ever lived in the South, probably you know something of political fights that will divide a state into two armed camps, getting hotter and hotter until old slumbering animosities come crawling out into the open, like poison snakes from under a rock, and new lively ones hatch from the shell every hour or so in a multiplying adder brood.

This was like that, only worse. Stripped of a lot of embroidery in the shape of side issues and local complications, it resolved itself in a last-ditch, last-stand, back-to-the-wall fight of the old regime of the party against the new. On one side were the oldsters, bearers of famous names some of them, who had learned politics as a trade and followed it as a profession. Almost to a man they were professional office holders, professional handshakers, professional silver tongues. And against them were pitted a greedy, hungry group of younger men, less showy perhaps in their persons, less picturesque in their manner of speech, but filled each one with a great yearning for office and power; and they brought to the aid of their vaulting ambitions a new and a faultlessly running machine. From the outset the Evening Press had championed the cause of the old crowd--the state-house ring as the enemy called it, when they didn't call it something worse. We championed it not as a Northern or an Eastern paper might, in a sedate, half-hearted way, but fiercely and wholly and blindly--so blindly that we could see nothing in our own faction but what was good and high and pure, nothing in the other but what was smutted with evil intent. In daily double-leaded editorial columns the chief preached a Holy War, and in the local pages we fought the foe tooth and nail, biting and gouging and clawing, and they gouged and clawed back at us like catamounts. That was where the hard work fell upon Devore. He had to keep half his scanty staff working on politics while the other half tried to cover the run of the news.

If I live to be a thousand years old I am not going to forget the state convention that began at two o'clock that muggy September afternoon at Lyric Hall up on Washington Street in the old part of the town. Once upon a time, twenty or thirty years before, Lyric Hall had been the biggest theater in town. The stage was still there and the boxes, and at the back there were miles--they seemed miles anyway--of ancient, crumbling, dauby scenery stacked up and smelling of age and decay. Booth and Barrett had played there, and Fanny Davenport and Billy Florence. Now, having fallen from its high estate, it served altered purposes--conventions were held at Lyric Hall and cheap masquerade balls and the like.

The press tables that had been provided were not, strictly speaking, press tables at all. They were ordinary unpainted kitchen tables, ranged two on one side and two on the other side at the front of the stage, close up to the old gas-tipped footlights; and when we came in by the back way that afternoon and found our appointed places I was struck by certain sinister facts. Usually women flocked to a state convention. By rights there should have been ladies in the boxes and in the balcony. Now there wasn't a woman in sight anywhere, only men, row after row of them. And there wasn't any cheering, or mighty little of it. When I tell you the band played Dixie all the way through with only a stray whoop now and then, you will understand better the temper of that crowd.

The situation, you see, was like this: One side had carried the mountain end of the state; the other had carried the lowlands. One side had swept the city; that meant a solid block of more than a hundred delegates. The other side had won the small towns and the inland counties. So it stood lowlander against highlander, city man against country man, and the bitter waters of those ancient feuds have their wellsprings back a thousand years in history, they tell me. One side led slenderly on instructed vote. The other side had enough contesting delegations on hand to upset the result if these contestants or any considerable proportion of them should be recognized in the preliminary organization.

One side held a majority of the delegates who sat upon the floor; the other side had packed the balcony and the aisles and the corners with its armed partizans. One side was in the saddle and determined; the other afoot and grimly desperate. And it was our side, as I shall call it, meaning by that the state-house ring, that for the moment had the whiphand; and it was the other side, led in person by State Senator Stickney, god of the new machine, that stood ready to wade hip deep through trouble to unhorse us.

Just below me, stretching across the hall from side to side in favored front places, sat the city delegates--Stickney men all of them. And as my eye swept the curved double row of faces it seemed to me I saw there every man in town with a reputation as a gun-fighter or a knife-fighter or a fist-fighter; and every one of them wore, pinning his delegate's badge to his breast, a Stickney button that was round and bright red, like a clot of blood on his shirt front.

They made a contrast, these half-moon lines of blocky men, to the lank, slouch-hatted, low-collared country delegates--farmers, school teachers, country doctors and country lawyers--who filled the seats behind them and on beyond them. To the one group politics was a business in which there was money to be made and excitement to be had; to the other group it was a passion, veritably a sacredly high and serious thing, which they took as they did their religion, with a solemn, intolerant, Calvinistic sincerity. There was one thing, though, they all shared in common. Whether a man's coat was of black alpaca or striped flannel, the right-hand pocket sagged under the weight of unseen ironmongery; or if the coat pocket didn't sag there was a bulging clump back under the skirts on the right hip. For all the heat, hardly a man there was in his shirtsleeves; and it would have been funny to watch how carefully this man or that eased himself down into his seat, favoring his flanks against the pressure of his hardware--that is to say, it would have been funny if it all hadn't been so deadly earnest.

You could fairly smell trouble cooking in that hall. In any corner almost there were the potential makings of half a dozen prominent funerals. There was scarce a man, I judged, but nursed a private grudge against some other man; and then besides these there was the big issue itself, which had split the state apart lengthwise as a butcher's cleaver splits a joint. Looking out over that convention, you could read danger spelled out everywhere, in everything, as plain as print.

I was where I could read it with particular and uncomfortable distinctness, too, for I had the second place at the table that had been assigned to the Evening Press crew. There were four of us in all--Devore, who had elected to be in direct charge of the detail; Ike Webb, our star man, who was to handle the main story; I who was to write the running account--and, fourthly and lastly, Major Putnam Stone. The major hadn't been included in the assignment originally, but little Pinky Gilfoil had turned up sick that morning, and the chief decided the major should come along with us in Gilfoil's place. The chief had a deluded notion that the major could circulate on a roving commission and pick up spicy scraps of gossip. But here, for this once anyway, was a convention wherein there were no spicy bits of gossip to be picked up--curse words, yes, and cold-chilled fighting words, but not gossip--everything focused and was summed up in the one main point: Should the majority rule the machine or should the machine rule the majority? So the major sat there at the far inside corner of the table doing nothing at all--Devore saw to that--and was rather in the way. For the time I forgot all about him.

The clash wasn't long in coming. It came on the first roll call of the counties. Later we found out that the Stickney forces had been counting, all along, on throwing the convention into a disorder of such proportions as to force an adjournment, trusting then to their acknowledged superiority at organization to win some strong strategic advantage in the intervening gap of time. Failing there they meant to raise a cry of unfairness and walk out. That then was their program--first the riot and then, as a last resort, the bolt. But they had men in their ranks, high-tempered men who, like so many skittish colts, wouldn't stand without hitching. The signals crossed and the thunder cracked across that calm-before-the-storm situation before there was proper color of excuse either for attack or for retreat.

It came with scarcely any warning at all. Old Judge Marcellus Barbee, the state chairman, called the convention to order, he standing at a little table in the center of the stage. Although counted as our man, the judge was of such uncertain fiber as to render it doubtful whose man he really was. He was a kindly, wind-blown old gentleman, who very much against his will had been drawn unawares, as it were, into the middle of this fight, and he was bewildered by it all--and not only bewildered but unhappy and frightened. His gavel seemed to quaver its raps out timorously.

A pastor of one of the churches, a reverend man with a bleak, worried face, prayed the Good Lord that peace and good-will and wise counsel might rule these deliberations, and then fled away as though fearing the mocking echoes of his own Amen. Summoning his skulking voice out of his lower throat, Judge Barbee bade the secretary of the state committee call the counties. The secretary got as far as Blanton, the third county alphabetically down the list. And Blanton was one of the contested counties. So up rose two rival chairmen of delegations, each waving aloft his credentials, each demanding the right to cast the vote of free and sovereign Blanton, each shaking a clenched fist at the other. Up got the rival delegations from Blanton. Up got everybody. Judge Barbee, with a gesture, recognized the rights of the anti-Stickney delegation. Jeers and yells broke out, spattering forth like a skirmish fire, then almost instantly were merged into a vast, ominous roar. Chairs began to overturn. Not twenty feet from me the clattering of the chairman's gavel, as he vainly beat for order, sounded like the clicking of a telegraph instrument in a cyclone.

I saw the sergeant-at-arms--who was our man too--start down the middle aisle and saw him trip over a hostile leg and stumble and fall, and I saw a big mountaineer drop right on top of him, pinning him flat to the floor. I saw the musicians inside the orchestra rail, almost under my feet, scuttling away in two directions like a divided covey of gorgeous blue and red birds. I saw the snare drummer, a little round German, put his foot through the skin roof of his own drum. I saw Judge Barbee overturn the white china pitcher of ice water that sweated on the table at his elbow, and as the cold stream of its contents spattered down the legs of his trousers saw him staring downward, contemplating his drenched limbs as though that mattered greatly.

All in a flash I saw these things, and in that same flash I saw, taking shape and impulse, a groundswell of men, all wearing red buttons, rolling toward the stage, with the picked bad men of the city wards for its crest; and out of the tail of my eye I saw too, stealing out from the rear of the stage, a small, compact wedge of men wearing those same red buttons; and the prow of the wedge was Fighting Dave Dancy, the official bad man of a bad county, a man who packed a gun on each hip and carried a dirk knife down the back of his neck; a man who would shoot you at the drop of a hat and provide the hat himself--or at least so it was said of him.

And I realized that the enemy, coming by concerted agreement from front and rear at once, had nipped those of us who were upon the stage as between two closing walls, and I was exceedingly unhappy to be there. I ducked my head low, waiting for the shooting to begin. Afterward we figured it out that nobody fired the first shot because everybody knew the first shot would mean a massacre, where likely enough a man would kill more friends than foes.

What happened now in the space of the next few seconds I saw with particular clarity of vision, because it happened right alongside me and in part right over me. I recall in especial Mink Satterlee. Mink Satterlee was one of the worst men in town, and he ran the worst saloon and prevailed mightily in ward politics. He had been sitting just below our table in the front row of seats. He was a big-bodied man, fat-necked, but this day he showed himself quick on his feet as any toe-dancer. Leading his own forces by a length, he vaulted the orchestra rail and lit lightly where a scared oboe player had been squatted a moment before; Mink breasted the gutterlike edging of the footlights and leaped upward, teetering a moment in space. One of his hands grabbed out for a purchase and closed on the leg of our table and jerked it almost from under us.

At that Devore either lost his head or else indignation made him reckless. Still half sitting, he kicked out at the wriggling bulk at his feet, and the toe of his shoe took Mink Satterlee in his chest. It was a puny enough kick; it didn't even shake Mink Satterlee loose from where he clung. He gave a bellow and heaved himself up on the stage and, before any of us could move, grabbed Devore by the throat with his left hand and jammed him back, face upward, on the table until I thought Devore's spine would crack. His right hand shot into his coat pocket, then, quick as a snake, came out again, showing the fat fist armed with a set of murderously heavy brass knucks, and he bent his arm in a crooked sickle-like stroke, aiming for Devore's left temple. I've always been satisfied--and so has Devore--that if the blow had landed true his skull would have caved in like a puff-ball. Only it never landed.

Above me a shadow of something hung for the hundredth part of a second, something white flashed over me and by me, moving downward whizzingly; something cracked on something; and Mink Satterlee breathed a gentle little grunt right in Devore's face and then relaxed and slid down on the floor, lying half under the table and half in the tin trough where the stubby gas jets of the footlights stood up, with his legs protruding stiffly out over its edge toward his friends. Subconsciously I noted that his socks were not mates, one of them being blue and one black; also that his scalp had a crescent-shaped split place in it just between and above his half-closed eyes. All this, though, couldn't have taken one-fifth of the time it has required for me to tell it. It couldn't have taken more than a brace of seconds, but even so it was time enough for other things to happen; and I looked back again toward the center of the stage just as Fighting Dave Dancy seized startled old Judge Barbee by the middle from behind and flung him aside so roughly that the old man spun round twice, clutching at nothing, and then sat down very hard, yards away from where he started spinning.

Dancy stooped for the gavel, which had fallen from the judge's hand, being minded, I think, to run the convention awhile in the interest of his own crowd. But his greedy fingers never closed over its black-walnut handle, because, facing him, he saw just then what made him freeze solid where he was.

Out from behind the Evening Press table and through a scattering huddle of newspaper reporters, stepping on the balls of his feet as lightly as a puss-cat, emerged Major Putnam Stone. His sleeves were turned back off his wrists and his vest flared open. His head was thrust forward so that the tuft of goatee on his chin stuck straight out ahead of him like a little burgee in a fair breeze. His face was all a clear, bright, glowing pink; and in his right hand he held one of the longest cavalry revolvers that ever was made, I reckon. It had a square-butted ivory handle, and as I saw that ivory handle I knew what the white thing was that had flashed by me only a moment before to fell Mink Satterlee so expeditiously.

Writing this, I've been trying to think of the one word that would best describe how Major Putnam Stone looked to me as he advanced on Dave Dancy. I think now that the proper word is competent, for indeed the old major did look most competent--the tremendous efficiency he radiated filled him out and made him seem sundry sizes larger than he really was. A great emergency acts upon different men as chemical processes act upon different metals. Some it melts like lead, so that their resolution softens and runs away from them; and some it hardens to tempered steel. There was the old major now. Always before this he had seemed to me to be but pot metal and putty, and here, poised, alert, ready--a wire-drawn, hard-hammered Damascus blade of a man--all changed and transformed and glorified, he was coming down on Dave Dancy, finger on trigger, thumb on hammer, eye on target, dominating the whole scene.

Ten feet from him he halted and there was nobody between them. Somehow everybody else halted too, some even giving back a little. Over the edge of the stage a ring of staring faces, like a high-water mark, showed where the onward rushing swell of the Stickney city delegates had checked itself. Seemingly to all at once came the realization that the destinies of the fight had by the chances of the fight been entrusted to these two men--to Dancy and the major--and that between them the issue would be settled one way or the other.

Still at a half crouch, Dancy's right hand began to steal back under the skirt of his long black coat. At that the major flung up the muzzle of his weapon so that it pointed skyward, and he braced his left arm at his side in the attitude you have seen in the pictures of dueling scenes of olden times.

"I am waiting, sir, for you to draw," said the major quite briskly. "I will shoot it out with you to see whether right or might shall control this convention." And his heels clicked together like castanets.

Dancy's right hand kept stealing farther and farther back. And then you could mark by the change of his skin and by the look out of his eyes how his courage was clabbering to whey inside him, making his face a milky, curdled white, the color of a poorly stirred emulsion, and then he quit--he quit cold--his hand came out again from under his coat tails and it was an empty hand and wide open. It was from that moment on that throughout our state Fighting Dave Dancy ceased to be Fighting Dave and became instead Yaller Dave.

"Then, sir," said the major, "as you do not seem to care to shoot it out with me, man to man, you and your friends will kindly withdraw from this stage and allow the business of this convention to proceed in an orderly manner."

And as Dave Dancy started to go somebody laughed. In another second we were all laughing and the danger was over. When an American crowd begins laughing the danger is always over.

* * * * *

Newspaper men down in that town still talk about the story that Ike Webb wrote for the last edition of the Evening Press that afternoon. It was a great story, as Ike Webb told it--how, still sitting on the floor, old Judge Barbee got his wits back and by word of mouth commissioned the major a special sergeant-at-arms; how the major privily sent men to close and lock and hold the doors so that the Stickney people couldn't get out to bolt, even if they had now been of a mind to do so; how the convention, catching the spirit of the moment, elected the major its temporary chairman, and how even after that, for quite a spell, until some of his friends bethought to remove him, Mink Satterlee slept peacefully under our press table with his mismated legs bridged across the tin trough of the footlights.

* * * * *

In rapid succession a number of unusual events occurred in the Evening Press shop the next morning. To begin with, the chief came down early. He had a few words in private with Devore and went upstairs. When the major came at eight as usual, Devore was waiting for him at the door of the city room; and as they went upstairs together, side by side, I saw Devore's arm steal timidly out and rest a moment on the major's shoulder.

The major was the first to descend. Walking unusually erect, even for him, he bustled into the telephone booth. Jessie, our operator, told us afterward that he called up a haberdasher, and in a voice that boomed like a bell ordered fourteen of those plaited-bosom shirts of his, the same to be made up and delivered as soon as possible. Then he stalked out. And in a minute or two more Devore came down looking happy and unhappy and embarrassed and exalted, all of them at once. On his way to his desk he halted midway of the floor.

"Gentlemen," he said huskily--"fellows, I mean--I've got an announcement to make, or rather two announcements. One is this: Right here before you fellows who heard most of them I want to take back all the mean things I ever said about him--about Major Stone--and I want to say I'm sorry for all the mean things I've done to him. I've tried to beg his pardon, but he wouldn't listen--he wouldn't let me beg his pardon--he--he said everything was all right. That's one announcement. Here's the other: The major is going to have a new job with this paper. He's going to leave the city staff. Hereafter he's going to be upstairs in the room next to the chief. He's gone out now to pick out his own desk. He's going to write specials for the Sunday--specials about the war. And he's going to do it on a decent salary too."

I judge by my own feelings that we all wanted to cheer, but didn't because we thought it might sound theatrical and foolish. Anyhow, I know that was how I felt. So there was a little awkward pause.

"What's his new title going to be?" asked somebody then.

"The title is appropriate--I suggested it myself," said Devore. "Major Stone is going to be war editor."

[The end]
Irvin S. Cobb's short story: Another Of Those Cub Reporter Stories