A GUEST OF TRADITION
JOSEPH LISTER RUTLEDGE
MOST newspapers have traditions of a sort, and George Wilcox was the tradition of the Examiner. In the dozen or more years since he had left, good men had come and gone; had left their impress one way and another and were remembered in friendship; but no one had arisen to dispute his place.
He lived in the record of achievement that he had left behind.
Through all the changes of a score of years this tradition held, and born of it these stories that he had written achieved a certain solitary grandeur. They were held in memory by the few who had known him, a memory mellowed by the years that had faded the type on their yellowed pages, but they were remembered.
There was a certain formality about this tradition. It was a custom when a cub reporter was placed on his first real assignment to show him these stories.
“George Wilcox wrote that,” they would say, “and he was the greatest reporter we ever had.”
There were none who had not spent their hour in that dusty back room where the fyles were kept. They had read these stories with a certain element of awe of that stilled voice that yet had power to touch them. It was that perhaps, that and the appreciation of their fellows which made them more servants of the tradition, than of the qualities that had brought it into being.
Yes, George Wilcox was a tradition. Men who had given their years of service to the Examiner, who had never seen Wilcox, still pointed to his record with pride.
When, at times, one of the few who still remained of all those who had known him stopped to tell of some of the staggering exploits by which Wilcox had made for himself a place in the Examiner office, they crowded about him eagerly. Yet these spoken words had little power to picture him as he had been—lighthearted and debonair, with the gift ot words in him, and the gift of sight that set him apart from his more stolid fellows. Nor could they describe that flair for situation, that subtle, instinctive sympathy, that had made it, easy for him to plumb men’s hearts.
He was no more than a name now, a name that hinted of almost fabulous exploits, touched with the arresting quality of secret, daring and bizarre adventure, that and the record of old tragedies and past enthusiasm, dimmed words on tattering pages. Yet he held an enduring place in the young and ardent hearts of those who, in fair weather and in foul, did the work of the Examiner.
The natural question, “Where is he now?” that sprang so readily to the lips of these young acolytes of the tradi•
tion met with the shrug of a shoulder or a gruff word_
little enough to account for so great a passing.
"u ^?n’ Sa'^ 0ne *'*le &rey-beards, misanthropically, he left because he fell in love with a woman. If you want to stay, like me, you’ve got to harden your heart against them. No man can serve two masters, and the paper is the first.” Perhaps they sensed some other story but it was not told in words.
TN THE yearswhenthe Examiner was young, when its A few reporters covered definite “beats,” when there was no place for a ‘special’ man, George Wilcox yet followed his own roving commission. He covered his beat of hotels, railways and theatres with painstaking care; but it was when he strayed from these that his copy leaped into life. One time it was the story of a little lost dog in the circus parade. Or of the wistful old lady, who was always to be found about the court room wheri the court was in session, a strange, little, old figure, bent, with years and with the obsession that her son was confined behind those grim enclosing walls though, as far as anyone knew, she never had had a son. These were his stories. He seemed to have a kinship with all wand-
ering folk, and that was strange because George Wilcox was not a wanderer. He had grown up in the city and had seldom been away. But it was when he touched these stories, whether it was of a barn owl, caught sullen and frightened in the unknown surroundings of the city streets; or some derelict of life or of the mind, that he seemed to sense unerringly the passions and impulses and fears that were behind their actions. He had the gift of sympathy.
“But it’s not news,” the city editor would wail. “It’s a pretty little story about a dog—but it’s not news, I tell you, and this is a newspaper.”
“Why isn’t it news?” Wilcox sometimes would ask, argumentatively. “Isn’t there as much news in what people think and feel as in what they do and say?”
And the city editor would only grunt in answer. He knew the story was going to find its way into print and George Wilcox knew it, so why argue the abstract point?
Little by little George Wilcox found himself deputed to write the sort of stories that seemed his natural bent. No one seemed responsible for this change. It just appeared to happen. He went about with the lilt of young life singing in his veins, writing as God had given him ability to write, the stories that went down under the crust of things to the inner impulse, the hopes and aspirations; and he was supremely happy. He knew that he was doing good work. Already the office was beginning to wait for his stories, and he was young enough to feel the thrill of pride. He realized, too, that the boys of the office somehow expected that he was going to make a name for himself, it thrilled and sobered him. “Someday,” he often said to himself, “someday, I will write something.”
TT WAS then that he met Dora Churchill. She was •*little and slight with a certain wistfulness to her face. Perhaps it was this that caught his fancy. She had a minor part inthe “Eden Flower” that was playingthe
small town circuit, and was at the moment at one of the local theatres, where he first saw her. He saw her again, the next night, and the next, going in and waiting till she had made her appearance and her quick departure. That ended the play for him. In some way he came to know her. But that closer knowledge which his comrades had expected would end this fascination, merely served to foster his interest. And she, whose life had been starved of anything but the tinselled passion of the stage, found in his adoration a new and wonderful experience. As for George Wilcox, he followed her as though he were treading in the footprints of some high adventure.
The Examiner saw little of him these days. He followed her here and there for several weeks, giving himself a roving commission that bade fair to outrage the feelings of the management. But every now and then there would come a story from some odd corner of the county, touched with that light and understanding that was his great charm, and for the sake of these they bore with him.
There is no need to deal at length with that strange courtship. He caught the fancy of that little fluttering soul that was Dora Churchill and swept her off her feet, till she forgot for a while the blood that was in. her veins and could picture herself settling down in one place to be the fireside angel of the man whose understanding had caught and held her heart.
And so it happened that George Wilcox and Dora Churchill were married and began housekeeping in a little home on the outskirts of the city. They were days of pure joy for them both. It was then that the ability that was in him seemed to blossom into its full flower. His new life opened up to him a realm of fascinating experience. It taught him many things, but most of all it gave him a deeper understanding of the human heart.
As for Dora, it was all so new, and the little things that would have been common-place to another came to her with all the intensity and excitement of an untried experience. Even the ordinary household tasks were a joy to her—a constant, never-ending revelation of all her little, vagrant soul had missed. And so the first year passed, a year almost too flawless. But they, so immersed in all that had come to them, did not stay to question.
Almost a year later a child was born, a little weakling thing that could not stay. George Wilcox sat by his wife’s bedside, holding her hand and gazing at her with anxious eyes, waiting for the passion of weeping that did not come. Her white face as it lay there on the pillow gave no hint of sorrowing motherhood, but only the evidence of a great weariness and a great surprise that life could be so cruel, that pain could be so real, and that death could come so near.
FROM that day on there was a subtle change in her.
There had gone out of life that care-free joy that had held so great a charm. In the centre of her Eden there lurked the memory of pain. It was with the passing of this sense of ease that there came again the old hungry demand for excitement, for light and color and movement. It seeméd to her that this life, so new to her, was all unreal, its figures shadowy, that only those things were real that mimed and gestured behind the blazing footlights.
She tried to hide the change, struggled to keep a bold face fronting this unfamiliar world, but the light was out of her. Her laughter rang shrilly, and her hands twitched as she did her daily tasks. George Wilcox stood quietly by, letting her pour out all the story of her life to him, a life of change and glitter that had still its hold upon her; and often the words would die on her lips and
a memory as to be overlaid by the thought of the George Wilcox,copy-reader, he went away. It was so that the real George Wilcox stayed, the memory of a boyish, glad enthusiasm clothed in enduring words.
IT WAS on one of those dull nights when the whole world seemed to have settled down into a state of somnolence. There was nothing happening in the city but meetings and conventions, the faithful old wheel horses that fill so many gaping columns. There was not even a squabble at the City Hall, nothing anywhere that could give the tang of excitement. Even over the wires there was nothing coming that seemed of sufficient importance to cause a flicker of interest. It was one of those nights that comes from time to time, with the whole world on its good behaviour, nobody doing anything, not even dying.
George Wilcox sat at his desk through a long evening writing and rewriting heads, trying to beat this unpromising material into something that would look like news. But that work was largely done now and he leaned back heavily, his eyes half closed. A boy came in with a wire and tossed it down on his desk. Wilcox picked it up with awakening interest. When he had read it, he laid it again with care on the desk before him, and sat staring down at it dully, his two elbows on the desk, his head supported on his two hands. Men came and went about him but George Wilcox did not move. Finally he got to his feet, heavily, as a man overtired. He crossed to the door of the night editor’s office and entered without knocking.
Ben Thurston looked up quickly. He, too, had been hoping for something to break. But the something he saw in the boy’s face, was not that for which he sought.
Wilcox dropped the wire on the desk. It was dated from a town in the Middle Western States. It said merely, “I think I need you—now.” Andit was signed,“Dora—”
she would fall asleep like a tired, overwrought child, in the memory of the turgid atmosphere “back stage.” One evening when he came in late he found her waiting. “Do you mind if we talk a little?” she asked hesitatingly. “It has been a long day, and I have something that I must tell you.”
He smiled at her as he sank into a big chair while she sat at his feet, an arm thrown over his knees. Though her face was in the shadow he seemed to see a mistiness about her eyes.
“What is it?” he asked.
“George,” she whispered breathlessly, “I’ve got to go back.” Her voice was low, but the flush on her face was evident despite the encompassing dark, and all too clearly belied the apparent calm. “Just for a little while,” she pleaded, “to my own people.”
He lifted her face and looked into it with a smile. “All right,” he said slowly. “You can go back—I’ll go with you.”
But she only shook her'head, and he felt a tear fall on his hand where it rested on her own. “No, dear, you can’t do that. That’s not your work. You wouldn’t be happy there,” and then so low that he had to bend to catch her words: “I mustn’t do you any more harm.”
“George, dear,” she continued after a moment, “I must go. I can’t explain why, but if I do not go I think I will die. And you can’t come with me because you would bring all this with you.” Her sweeping arm took in the little room with its modest effort at comfort and homeyness. “I wasn’t meant for this, and I can’t get used to it—not all at once. Let me go—just for a little while. I know that life. I won’t come to any harm, dear. Let me go—for a little while—all by myself.” George Wilcox who had the gift of sympathy and understanding for those whose life was not his life, had yet learned that harder thing, to bring those same qualities to his own. He thought he understood.
“All right, dear,” he said, soberly, “you can go when you want and where you want, and I won’t bother you, because you don’t need me now. But the time will come when you will need me. All I ask is that you will send for me then, and I will come.”
She nodded a quick affirmative, and her laugh that had the old ring of joy in it rippled out.
“Dear Boy,” she said softly.
DURING that period, George Wilcox missed nothing of the task that was entrusted to him, but the song was out of his work as it was out of his heart. Week after week he trudged his daily round seeing nothing but the dusty surface of things, writing dully out of a dull brain and a sore heart.
One day, months later, he went to the Chief. “I’m stale,” he said, “and tired. Do you think you could find a place for me on the desk for a while— I never thought,” he added with a half smile, “that I would ever ask to be taken off the street, but I’m no good there,—not for a while anyway.”
The Chief, always a man of few words, looked up at him with a gruff, “All right.”
So George Wilcox took up his work on the desk, editing copy as any hack might have done, with all the high gift of words dead within him. He did work with meticulous care, his trained sense quick to catch the straying phrase. All that was mechanical in his brain worked with the perfection of a well-regulated machine, but the elusive flame of creation was his no longer.
But before the glamor of his early exploits had become so dim
George Wilcox was standing by the window, looking down, where, far below, grotesquely dwarfed by the distance, a few belated folks still trod the deserted streets.
With a conscious effort he brought his attention back to his immediate surroundings, to the disordered room piled high with the evidence of the night’s work, to Ben Thurston facing him with a queer look in his eyes, and the wire still held in his hand.
“Everything is all right out there,” Wilcox motioned vaguely in the direction of the city room. “There’s nothing stirring—nothing likely to stir now, unless it comes over the wire. So I’m going—now—to-night.”
Thurston only nodded. He had known the old George Wilcox and the new.
There was nothing to be said.
Wilcox returned to his familiar chair, picked up his coat that was hanging there, and without a word of farewell to anyone went heavily down the long, winding flight of stairs, out of the life of the Examiner, and into its traditions.
THOUGH George Wilcox was gone from their midst he was not quite beyond the ken of those who had worked with him. Newspaperdom is a wide fraternity, and news of the craft travels far. They heard of him from time to time now located with one paper for a while, now with another. His wife, they knew, was failing; yet still with the life burning out of her ever more rapidly she was caught and held by the vagrant blood in her veins. And George Wilcox, knowing it was too late to make her life anew, did as she wished, leaving her when she had no need of him and coming to her at her call, for she could neither stay with him nor let him go. With her was always the wandering desire, but only he could save her from the crowding fears that were so constant comrades. So George Wilcox moved from one city room to another, and on to an almost endless succession of small town dailies.
So much drifted back to the Examiner, a story touched with a devotion that saved it from ribald comment. And then the trail was lost and George Wilcox was heard of no more. There were those who said that Dora Wilcox must have died, that it must be a great release, that George Wilcox would come back to his own work again. But if there was any truth in these assumptions, there was no outward evidence, for George Wilcox did not return. Year by year his figure grew more shadowy, a disembodied spirit, with remembered words to keep that spirit whole.
THE Examiner had outgrown its struggling, chrysalis years. It had reached out now, far beyond its own immediate location, to become a voice heard in the farthermost parts of the country, a voice carrying the weight of a vigorous and balanced opinion. It made reputations for men and governments. It pricked the bubble of many false aspirations. In any undertaking it was a factor to be considered. “Where does the Examiner stand?” was one of the testing questions. It had all the authority of size, and with it a reputation for integrity, for square dealing, for news handled as news without flavor of personal bias. Yet it was not mealy-mouthed and when it spoke its words cut clean and clear.
With the growth of the city and with the increasing prestige that naturally accrued to the Examiner its staff had changed and expanded. Little remained but the outer shell of the old office where George Wilcox had worked almost a score of years before. In the place of its tattered furniture there had come more orderly and elaborate equipment. Over in the corner where his desk had been now sat Crailey (Edwards, jaunty and self-assured, with just a touch of hardness in his Continued on page 1,6
A Guest of Tradition
Coniinued from page 25
otherwise handsome face. He was a terror to any who for one reason or another dreaded the printed word. His typewriter dripped caustic. He was the master of pungent, biting invective
couched in mellifluous prose. He was the man who wrote the Examiner's feature stories. He was one of the reasons why the Examiner was respected, one reason also why it was feared.
The other members of the staff stood out less sharply. Darnell, sharp-faced and insistent, a human blood-hound for the scent of news, a man given to swift angers that would ripple off into laughter, a terror to the young reporter, but the friend of all those who stayed long enough to understand. Such was the City Editor, under whose hand the actual paper grew into being. There were Donnelly and Creighton, the one gross and unwieldy, his mind only seeming to have escaped a certain fatty degeneration. Heavy and lethargic, he could yet move with incredible swiftness when the occasion demanded, and could see with amazing clearness. Creighton was different, long and cadaverous, a prey to dyspepsia and with a dyspeptic view of life. These only stood out from the ruck of day-by-day reporters and cubs and copy boys. Only these could be said to belong to the school of men, who, like George Wilcox, knew the urge of words. These men remembered the tradition, because there sparkled in them this keen appreciation and this understanding; and because of this they forced it on these lesser fry.
BUT there was one man on the staff who could not be so clearly placed. George Everett had drifted into the office a year before, just when a sudden epidemic had depleted the staff for a time. For this reason he was taken on. He was an old man as the word is used in newspaper offices, perhaps in his early fifties; but there was something about the man that gave color to the word. He gave the impression, not of decrepit age, but of its disillusionments, its lost hopes, its memories of vain endeavour. His hair was grizzled and there were drawn lines about his face. Perhaps it was this that had given rise to the generally held opinion that “old Everett must have oeen quite a lad in his day.” Old Everett, whatever his day may have been, lived now at least a life that could not be impugned. He had drifted in, a waif from some newspaper wreck, to meet a definite need; and remained perhaps because his small salary had never come under anyone’s particular attention, and perhaps because in a stolid sort of way he did his work well.
His was the uninspiring task to provide the daily quota of news from a growing and ambitious suburb. He did his work faithfully, covering the news in a plain and painstaking manner, the hum-drum happenings of a growing section. Rarely, if ever, did a story of his creep out of the comparative obscurity of his column to the publicity of the front page. He was more or less the butt of the office, partly because he was older than the rest, and partly because he showed no resentment.
“How about trying your hand at a real story,” Darnell, the City Editor asked him one day. But the suggestion seemed only to disquiet him. “No,” he said slowly. “I’m satisfied if you are.” But Darnell was not satisfied, there was something in the man, and in his careful workmanship, that suggested long training, that surely could not have ended just in this. “Some old hack, I suppose,” he said regretfully. “Too bad though.”
THE Examiner office was alive with the tense excitement of pre-election days. They faced in this election both success and failure. They stood to win in the country as a whole, to win so overwhelmingly that the contest had lost, for them, much of its interest. But in the city, in the Examiner's own ward, jt was a different story. Defeat stared it in the face. Elton Bradshaw was all too likely to pull out a win. Bradshaw was a lawyer, not too scrupulous it was said, though it was said without warrant, for certainly no one had ever discovered him overstepping the limits prescribed by his profession. Perhaps the very hold he had over the foreign element in the town, the ne'er-do wells, and even the avowedly criminal class, was all that gave color to this impression, but the impression still prevailed.
The Examiner was fighting his election, and its opponents were glorying in the prospect of its all-too-probable defeat.
“Can't you get this fellow, Crailey?” The chief was evidently smarting under the barbed attack of the “Post” and “Clarion,” “We know he’s a rotter. Why can’t we get the evidence on him, so that we can tell the people and give the decent ones at least a chance of seeing straight.”
Crailey Kdwards shook his head doubtfully. “I can try, sir, hut Bradshaw is an elusive bird, and a wise one. Either we’re wrong, or he has his tracks pretty well covered.”
“Well, go to it anyway. See what you can dig up.”
A day or so later Crailey Edwards breezed in, hung up his coat and lighted a cigarette with evident satisfaction. Only young Anson was in the office. The innocent product of a sheltering home, Anson was trying, out of a welter of emotions of surprise and ambition and fear, to develop something that might entitle him to be called a reporter. He had not been very successful. He was quicker to feel than to see. But even he sensed the flavor of victory in the air.
“Did you get it?” he asked in an awed voice, for it was common knowledge that Crailey Edwards was out stalking big game.
“ ‘It’ being presumably the turgid life history of one, Bradshaw,” said Crailey Edwards, settling his hat at a rakish angle. “Yes, I think I may say that I got ‘It.’ ”
He pulled his typewriter toward him. “And believe me, young Mephistopheles,” he continued, turning to the boy, “I’m going to pinch his hide off by inches and nail each inch firmly—but artistically, mind you—to the fence.”
“But what did he do,” young Anson asked, his curiosity for the moment getting the better of his awe.
“Son, he fell foul of a woman, and when you are sixty years older and have begun to cut your wisdom teeth, you probably will appreciate the fact that given a woman in the case, the process of flaying is generally absurdly simply, and develops a world of public interest.”
He turned to his machine, tapping a meditative key for a moment or two, then, settling himself easily in his chair he settled down to a steady grind. Men drifted in from their various assignments, and for an hour or so the whole room resounded to a steady clicking, growing into the story of the city’s life.
CRAILEY EDWARDS pulled the last sheet from his machine and leaned back with a sigh. His face was flushed, his eyes bright. It was his night, his story: right hand upper corner of the
front page under a screaming head. He could picture to himself the sensation it would make on the street. He read over his copy page by page, stopping here and there to make a correction, or to add an extra barb to a phrase. Finally he rose and made his way through the cluttered room to the City Editors desk.
“Herewith Bradshaw’s hide,” he said lightly, as he dropped the copy down on the desk.
Darnell picked it up, and read a page or two, then he went back and read them again. Edwards waited for a word of comment but instead Darnell leaned across the desk and picking up the ’phone called the chief.
“Edwards has Bradshaw done to a turn,” he said. “It’s a knock-out but it’s dangerous; I was wondering if you were
coming down.”........“All right, I’ll
hold it for you,” he said and hung up the receiver. Without a word he turned again to the copy, spread it out on the desk before him, and went over it word by word.
“Well?” Edwards was leaning on the desk waiting for a verdict, but Darnell still read on methodically re-reading page after page. Finally he gathered the pages together and deftly impaled them on a spike.
“Crailey,” he said, “I believe you’re a wildcat.”
From where he sat on the edge of his desk, Crailey Edwards saw the chief come in, saw him take the copy from Darnell and pass into his own office. He sat there nervously swinging his feet and whistling softly for what seemed to him an eternity. He had the story he knew, but no one knew better than he that it was dangerous.
Finally the chief’s door opened. “Crailey,’’ he called, “here a minute, will you.” The whistling stopped abruptly as Crailey Edwards dropped to the floor, and approached with a well-assumed air of indifference.
“You got him,” said the chief. “It’s a big story—and dangerous. You’re sure of the facts, of course?”
“Yes, they’re correct. You can bet I made sure of that.”
“And the implications?” ( i
“Correct as far as I can judge. It’s ! anybody’s guess—and that’s mine. One ; thing I’m sure of, the public will reason J that way. We’re pretty sure there’s something wrong with the fellow anyWay, so there’s no reason to let him down j too easv, is there?” j
The chief shook his head absently. “Wish you’d let the girl down a little easier we didn’t want to gel her.” | “Why should we?” There was an ari gumentative tone in Edward’s question. !
“No reason, I suppose—but it’s a bitter story—well, shoot it anyway,” he said after a pause. “We’ve got to take some chances, I suppose.”
OUTSIDE a big clock somewhere struck twelve. A few men drifted out wearily, but for the most part they hung around smoking and talking, disjointedly of the day’s happenings.
“Tell us about Bradshaw,” suggested Donnelly, leaning back in his chair, an obese and flabby figure of ease, but his bright eyes resting on Edwards. Nothing loth, the latter launched into the story, telling it sometimes swiftly in crude and biting words, sometimes in smoother sentences that hinted of the written page. They gathered around him, a ring of faces in a nimbus of smoke, nodding their appreciation. They were as interested and excited as he. Everett, standing in the background, his loose figure slumped against a desk, listened without comment.
“Is that the way you’d write it in your Plattsville column?” Creighton asked, turning to him with a sour grin.
The single word fell unexpectedly, sharply, despite its quiet tone, and they turned to look at him.
Crailey Edwards eyes rested on Everett, as though he had noticed him for the first, time.
“Why wouldn’t you?” he asked, a certain truculence in his tone. But Everett, who had seemed to that time, a man devoid of opinions, answered him
“Because,” he said soberly, “I don’t think you told the story—not the real story. You said somewhere that they were lonely, but that was all you said, you didn’t stop to think what it might mean. You only used the facts, and I think you know that facts can often convey a lie. That’s a killing story—cruel without purpose.”
“But it’s news,” Edwards interrupted sharply.
“News,” the word caught Everett’s attention. “If it’s news, it must be told, but tell it straight. Words can hurt or heal. That’s a thing to learn, Edwards. You can’t always tell what people are by what they do. It may not be there—men have gone down to Hell and come back unscathed.” He stopped as though his own words had startled
“Soft and saccharine—” Creighton broke the silence with a sneer. “I wonder just what your story of the affair would be like.”
“Let the old bird write it,’ someone suggested—“show how it should be done—put in all the Plattsville fal-de-lals.”
A shout of derisive enthusiasm greeted the
Everett shook his head, but Edwards had him by the shoulder and with just the suspicion of force, cloaked with a laugh, was propelling him to a desk. “There,” he said, pushing him into the chair but late vacated by Darnell, “go to it.”
EVERETT hesitated, looking up into the faces that seemed to challenge him. For a moment, a wave of resentment swept over him, but it passed as quickly as it had come and there came to his mind instead a picture of the story he had heard. “A bitter story,” the chief had called it. Yes, it was bitter, bitter and cruel, and most of all, it was unfair. He pulled a pad toward him and commenced to write. Little by little the crowd drifted into other circles, the baiting of Everett forgotten; only Crailey Edwards sat watching him, smoking contentedly cigarette after cigarette.
It was almost an hour before Everett leaned back in his chair, one arm thrown over the back as though to support his tired shoulders. His face was gray and tired in the sharp light that shone on the
Crailey Edwards picked up the sheets of paper and began reading. When he had finished, he stood quietly holding them in his hand. “Read it,” called out Creighton, catching sight of him, “read it.”
Crailey Edwards hesitated. His dark face was a little flushed. He turned to them soberly. “All right,” he said. “I’ll read it.”
Everett had drifted away into the background, and stood leaning heavily against the window frame, only he saw the chief come out of his door and stop as he caught sight of the interested group.
Crailey Edwards was reading. It was the same story, all the facts were there, only there was missing the sense of hardness, of cruelty. There were two lonely souls seeking for something, finding no answer. Eager, impassioned, straying hearts, hungry for some measure of happiness. It was not a different story, it was the same. There was no effort to minimize guilt, or to slur an acknowledged wrong. No effort to make them other than they were, wandering souls reaching out in an encompassing darkness of heart and mind. The picture stood out sharp and clear, etched into a living image, an image touched with pity and sympathy and understanding.
Darnell, the city editor, entered and slumped down wearily in his chair but Edwards read on, unheeding, to the close.
“Who wrote that?” Darnell asked quietly.
Edwards did not speak for a moment and when he did it was not to answer the question.
“Bill,” he asked, “is the first page down?”
“Just off the stone now.” Darnell turned to him with a look that was half enquiry, half comprehension.
“Then you’ll have time to kill my story, and run this in its place. This is the real story,” he continued quickly, in answer to Darnell’s sharp movement. “I thought mine was, but I was wrong. This is the real story. We’ve always prided ourselves on telling the truth— there’s still time to change.”
Glancing up, Darnell caught the eye of the chief, who was hastily glancing over
the first few pages of Everett’s copy. The chief nodded.
DARNELL picked up the composing room tube. “Get the first page back on the stone,” he ordered. “Kill the Bradshaw story, and get ready to take a new one.”
From below a murmur subtly suggestive of blasphemy floated up, as the City Editor dropped the tube and with quick fingers started writing a new head.
“Break it up into ‘takes,’ six of them.” He tossed the story to Edwards,—“rush it down—take it down yourself—move fast.” He dived through the door and they could hear him taking the stair three steps at a time.
Everett still stood by the window taking his congratulations quietly. There was about him no sense of elation, though they praised him generously in rough and ribald terms that showed the measure of their friendliness. By degrees they drifted away, leaving him alone with young Anson, who from the moment of his coming had given him a dog-like devotion.
“Their George Wilcox might have written that story”—a world of pride and adoration spoke through the words.
The slouched figure of Everett pulled itself erect. “George Wilcox did write it,” he said, “I’m George Wilcox, George Everett Wilcox.”
Young Anson regarded him with startled eyes. “George Wilcox......” he
“Is dead,” finished Everett, as if already regretting the admission. “There’s
nothing left......” he continued,
“nothing that can mean much to you, but if you ever think of him remember that he said to you, ‘ Keep bitterness from your heart and tongue.’ ” He reached for his hat and without another word went out into the night.
They laughed, some of them, when they heard young Anson’s eager story, but some were silent. They had not seen the slouched figure make its way out of the room and out of the life of the Examiner—so George Wilcox is still a tradition, renewed and vivified by one fleeting word.