To avoid having this book hurled into corner of the room by the suspicious reader, I will assert in time that this is not a newspaper story. You will encounter no shirt-sleeved, omniscient city editor, no prodigy “cub” reporter just off the farm, no scoop, no story – no anything. But if you will concede me the setting of the first scene in the reporters’ room of the Morning Beacon, I will repay the favor by keeping strictly my promises set forth above. I was doing space-work on the Beacon, hoping to be put on a salary. Some one had cleared with a rake or a shovel a small space for me at the end of a long table piled high with exchanges, Congressional Records, and old files. There I did my work. I wrote whatever the city whispered or roared or chuckled to me on my diligent wanderings about its streets. My income was not regular. One day Tripp came in and leaned on my table. Tripp was something in the mechanical department – I think he had something to do with the pictures, for he smelled of photographers’ supplies, and his hands were always stained and cut up with acids. He was about twenty-five and looked forty. Half of his face was covered with short, curly red whiskers that looked like a door-mat with the “welcome” left off. He was pale and unhealthy and miserable and fawning, and an assiduous borrower of sums ranging from twenty-five cents to a dollar. One dollar was his limit. He knew the extent of his credit as well as the Chemical National Bank knows the amount of H20 that collateral will show on analysis. When he sat on my table he held one hand with the other to keep both from shaking. Whiskey. He had a spurious air of lightness and bravado about him that deceived no one, but was useful in his borrowing because it was so pitifully and perceptibly assumed. This day I had coaxed from the cashier five shining silver dollars as a grumbling advance on a story that the Sunday editor had reluctantly accepted. So if
I was not feeling at peace with the world, at least an armistice had been declared; and I was beginning with ardor to write a description of the Brooklyn Bridge by moonlight.
“Well, Tripp,” said I, looking up at him rather impatiently, “how goes it?” He was looking to-day more miserable, more cringing and haggard and downtrodden than I had ever seen him. He was at that stage of misery where he drew your pity so fully that you longed to kick him.
“Have you got a dollar?” asked Tripp, with his most fawning look and his dog-like eyes that blinked in the narrow space between his highgrowing matted beard and his low-growing matted hair. “I have,” said I; and again I said, “I have,” more loudly and inhospitably, “and four besides. And I had hard work corkscrewing them out of old Atkinson, I can tell you. And I drew them,” I continued, “to meet a want – a hiatus – a demand – a need – an exigency – a requirement of exactly five dollars.” I was driven to emphasis by the premonition that I was to lose one of the dollars on the spot.
“I don’t want to borrow any,” said Tripp, and I breathed again. “I thought you’d like to get put onto a good story,” he went on. “I’ve got a rattling fine one for you. You ought to make it run a column at least. It’ll make a dandy if you work it up right. It’ll probably cost you a dollar or two to get the stuff. I don’t want anything out of it myself.”
I became placated. The proposition showed that Tripp appreciated past favors, although he did not return them. If he had been wise enough to strike me for a quarter then he would have got it.
“What is the story?