FRONT PAGE STUFF
A madcap tale of a Baron who wasn’t, and a Count who invaded a newsroom once too often
P. W. LUCE
BURTON SMITH’S Stupendous Stampede and Exhibition of Bareback Broncho Riding did none too well last summer on the western circuit. He had a lot of good riders beside myself, and as fine a string of mean horses as ever side-bucked out of a chute, but he lacked public support.
There were days, especially when it rained hard, that made one suspect that perhaps rodeos were getting played out on the Pacific Coast after all.
“The folks are neglecting us most shamefully, Boob,” moaned Burton Smith one morning. “If this nonsupport keeps up much longer I’ll have to borrow money from you to pay the other boys, instead of giving you that bonus we discussed at the beginning of the season.” I pondered this intelligence thoroughly for a moment, and then decided this was one of those rare occasions when I had to be firm and resolute.
I had permitted Burton Smith to create me a spurious Russian noble, and had consented to let my whiskers grow to their full length so that he could star me as Baron Boubinoff, the Madcap Cossack, with some slight justification, for father is a Russian and my real name is Stephanik Boubinoff, though everybody calls me ‘ Boob” for short.
But the money was something far more serious, and so I said:
“Burton, you know' very well that I have always kept my finances entirely separate from my business. The two don’t mix in professional cowboy exhibitions. I am the champion broncho buster of the Pacific Coast, but I have had no experience whatever in banking or money-lending, and now is the time I’m not going to start in, either. If once you begin borrowing money from me you may be so ill-advised as to keep on doing it until I am in personal possession of this stampede business, and that would be a calamity for all concerned.” “Especially for you,” agreed Burton; which shows how amenable to reason he is when the arguments against him are clear and logical.
“Besides,” I went on, “you know very well that my money is in the wife’s safe keeping, and . . ”
“Say no more,” sighed Burton, shaking his head sadly, though I failed to see why. As a custodian of my money the wife has no superior; even I can’t get it back except for good and sufficient reason.
“As for the bonus,” I went on relentlessly, now that we were deep in a financial discussion, “you should not permit yourself any hallucinations on that score, Burton. The bonus is written in plain ink in the contract, and there is no way for either of us to avoid it . , If there is any system whereby I can help you, it will be a delight and a pleasure for me to do so, providing it is hot at the expense of my finances. Have you anything good to suggest?”
Burton Smith made a few general remarks on human nature, in which he coupled my name with that of Satan, and I let him talk without interruption until he felt better. Then I repeated my question.
“What we need,” answered Burton, “is some good publicity. Front page stuff. We don’t seem able to break into the news columns except with routine rodeo news, and that
isn’t enough. The editors here are hard-boiled and look with suspicion on anything that savors of advertising. They just won’t be reasonable when a fellow goes to them with a knockout bit of front-page stuff. Believe it or not, Boob, they even refused to run a story I gave them about you putting bear grease on your whiskers to make them grow.”
“No!” I said, all amazed, for various newspapers in other towns have been very kind to Burton Smith in printing pieces about me. By request, I did not read any of them. Burton said that the less I knew about myself the better it would be all round, and I have not gone contrary to his wishes. If he has had anything printed about me that is not strictly true, then the responsibility rests on his conscience, if he has one.
“Yes,” said Burton, after I had said “No !”
“Publicity is the lifeblood of the show game, Boob, and
we’re not getting it . . .1 wish you would do something desperate to get your name on the front page, with a reference to the stampede, of course.”
“Would you like me to go and see the editor?” I asked, that being the most desperate thing I could think of. “Perhaps, if I explain to him that the show is losing money because of lack of publicity, he will give us some.” Burton Smith gave me a funny look, as if he wanted to laugh and wasn’t sure it should be done. Such repression is most unusual on my account, and I was puzzled.
“You might try it,” he agreed after a while. “Go and see Joe Dale, the city editor of the Daily Blade. I’ll prime you up with some good stories. You may put it over where better men have failed. He can’t do more than throw you out of the window ...”
“How high is it?” I asked, anxiously. “I don’t mind being thrown off a bucking horse now and again in the ordinary nature of business, but I’ve no practice out of windows. Suppose I land on my head ...”
“Then you’d be lucky,” commented Burton Smith, but try as I would I could not grasp his meaning. However, I reasoned that the window incident was merely a remote possibility and could probably be avoided.
“I’ll see him early this afternoon,” I promised. “I’ll tuck my red shirt into my pants and go down town ...” “By the sacred ikons of your father’s native land you’ll do nothing of the kind!” roared Burton. “Your contract calls for you to be a Russian baron until the end of the season, my lad, and a Russian you’ll remain. Did you ever hear of a city editor who could visualize a Russian with his shirt tucked inside his pants?”
I admitted that' there was some merit in his objection and agreed to remain in character.
“And don’t you dare run a comb through your whiskers either,” Burton warned me, but this was really unnecessary. Though I am only twenty-three I have had my beard full-grown over a year now, and I know what is expected of it so long as I am billed as The Madcap Cossack.
TT WAS one o’clock when I entered the office of the Daily Blade. It was my first visit to a newspaper, and I was surprised to see that nobody was working. There were no printers anywhere, but a lot of young men at desks playing with typewriters or carrying on conversations over telephones. If I may be permitted to coin a phrase, I will say that there was a lot of activity but no action.
A grinning office boy came to meet me.
“You wish to see someone?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” I answered, amiably enough, for that seemed a foolish question. “I wish to talk seriously with Mr. John Dale, the city editor, with regard to . . .” “What name?” interrupted the lad. “John Dale,” I repeated very distinctly. “The city editor. Is he in?” “Very much so,” I was informed. “But I meant your name, not his. It’s the rule here.”
“And a good rule, too,” I agreed. “J am Baron Boubinoff, at your service,” and I bowed to the youth in tru( Russian fashion, as taught me by Burtor Smith. “I bring some front page stuf for Mr. Dale.”
The lad was impressed. He bowed tlt; me, though somewhat awkwardly, anc murmured, “This way, please, you Excellency,” which was certainly ver? polite of him.
At the city editor’s desk the lad gave military salute and declaimed:
“Mr. Dale, sir, I beg to introduce to you His Excel lency Baron Bouboff, who alleges he has some fron
page stuff for us.”
“Boubinoff,” I corrected, “not Bouboff. Baron Boubinoff, sir, at your service.”
Until we reached his desk Mr. Dale had not noticed me, but he made up for it generously enough now. I am tall and tanned and wiry, and long hair and flowing beard give me a distinguished appearance, even when I am not wearing a red shirt outside my purple goat chapps, and carrying a Russian whip to heighten the effect.
Mr. Dale blinked hard a few times and then favored me with a cordial inclination of the head.
“I regret exceedingly that I am without a peer of the realm on the staff at the moment, so that you might be received with all the honors befitting your exalted rank, Baron Boubinoff,” he said. “In what way may the Daily Blade serve you?”
As I am not really very brilliant at framing a request in diplomatic language, I decided to come to the point at once.
“On behalf of Burton Smith’s Stupendous Stampede and Exhibition of Bareback Broncho Riding,” I began, “I have come to suggest to you that you print a few stories about us on your front page . .
“Oh, yes, yes.” interrupted the city editor. “I recognize you now. You’re Smith’s pet jockey.”
Many cowpunchers, especially after taking a few drinks, would not have accepted this as a compliment, and the longer I think of it the more inclined I am to believe that there was an undercurrent of sarcasm in the remark. But I was not going to permit any reflection on my high calling to interfere with the serious business jn hand.
“Not a jockey and certainly not a pet,” I pointed out, perhaps a trifle reproachfully. “I am the champion brqneho buster of the Pacific Coast by reason of superior Skill, grit, endurance, and a life-long training ...”
“I believe I read something like that in the show posters,” broke in Mr. Dale, and he was quite right. “What are these front page stories of yours? Anything to do with the show?”
“Of course,” I smiled. “The attendance has been ■faijjpg off rather badly and Burton Smith figures that §gmg front page publicity would help.”
^pthing doing!” The city editor said this very snapBfiy,
“You could also print my photograph,” I continued. “Nothing doing!” he repeated, and waved his hand at me in what looked remarkably like a gesture of dismissal.
“We won’t be overscrupulous over what you print,” I went on. “Burton Smith said he’d even stand for the truth so long as it got on the front page. People must be told about the stampede ...”
“That’s a matter for the advertising department,” said Mr. Dale, without looking up from the piece of paper on which he was scribbling words so as to pretend he was busy. “You’ll find .hem downstairs.”
“Advertising costs money,” I reminded him. “We prefer free publicity on the front page.”
“Try and get it!” he murmured, not very encouragingly.
“Thank you, I will,” I promised, bending over and resting my elbow on his desk, foi I began to fear that I might have to reason with the city editor for some time
before I could get him to see my point of view. “One story that you might publish, for instance, concerns the blue roan stallion, Thunderclap, that threw Lefty Grieve clear through the wire netting into the grandstand at Spokane, landing him fair and
square in the lap of the mayor’s mother-in-law ...” I went into details of that incident, but before I was more than halfway through, it dawned on me that I was not holding Mr. Dale’s undivided attention. Sometimes he was scribbling words on paper, and then crumbling the paper and throwing it on the floor. Sometimes he was bawling into a telephone, and sometimes he was shouting across the room to one or another of the young men amusing themselves with typewriters. I gathered from some of his frequent remarks that it was only an hour to press time.
Occasionally, the city editor would leave his desk and rush off somewhere, but when he came back I was always ready to resume my story where I had left off. I must say, however, that his mind seemed to be concerned with other things, and I was not really surprised when he tapped me on the shoulder and said:
“Look here, Baron Boubinoff of Smith’s Stupendous Stampede. I am a patient and long-suffering city editor, a hard-boiled guy who has told many a publicity hound exactly where he got off, but I’m ready to admit right now that you’re one too many for me.”
“Thank you,” I said, eagerly. “That means you’ll print those stories ...”
“Not a bit of it,” he grinned. “It means I’m sick and tired of having you hanging over the corner of my desk and droning away about your buckers and fallers, and I’ll thank you to move over to the far corner of the room where you can entertain the junior cub reporter for a while. He’s fallen down on two assignments today and therefore I have no compunction in wishing you on him . . Over there, Baron, and stay as long as you like. The Daily Blade never closes.”
I TOOK the hint, but I regret to say that the young gentleman described as junior cub reporter did not seem unduly impressed by what I had to say. Burton Smith has since expressed the opinion that the city editor had previously primed him for my reception, and, be that as it may, he was certainly the most unenthusiastic audience before which I have ever performed.
Far be it from me to interfere between master and man under ordinary circumstances, but as I was here to get free publicity for the stampede I deemed it my plain duty to go back to the city editor’s desk and explain to Mr. Dale that I preferred to give him the stories direct.
On hearing this, Mr. Dale used vivid language that would have done credit to a horse wrangler on a wet
winter’s morning when he discovers that the whole outfit has backtracked on him during the night, and he will have to hoof it seven rough miles on an empty stomach before he can head them back.
“Forty minutes to press time,” he yelled aftei he had calmed down a bit, “and here you are pestering me for dead-beat dope on your lousy stampede when we’re already overset seven columns and there’s a column interview with Count Ivan Starinsky still to come. I wish both you bewhiskered Russians were simmering on the hottest griddle in the devil’s kitchen right this minute. The Bolsheviks certainly overlooked two good
bets when they let you and Starinsky outdistance the firing squad.
Joe Dale was in good voice, but he managed to swallow the remainder of the sentence with some difficulty when he noticed that two distin-
guished-looking men had entered the editorial room. One was short and plump and clean-shaven, and I discovered a little later that he was Colonel John Felsom, the proprietor of the Daily Blade. His companion was tall and dark, and carried himself with a military bearing. He had a heavy black mustache and a goatee that he was caressing as he looked around the room.
The newcomers made straight for the city desk, though their eyes were on me most of the time.
“Mr. Dale,” said the newspaper proprietor a trifle pompously, “may I present you to Count Ivan Starinsky, the gentleman who holds those platinum concessions in Eastern Russia in which he is financially interesting so many of our influential citizens, myself included.”
The city editor bowed and murmured something I did not catch. He almost offered the Count his hand, but refrained when Colonel Felsom tapped the desk lightly with his fingertips.
“The Count has finally consented to reveal some of his plans for publication,” continued the newspaper proprietor, “and I have myself written it out in the form of an interview. It will go about a column. Page one, of course.”
“We’ll make it,” promised the city editor, glancing at the clock. “Boy! Rush this to the composing room.”
Colonel Felsom looked from me to Joe Dale and I saw his eyebrows go up.
“One of Count Starinsky’s countrymen,” explained the city editor with a serious face, but letting an eyelid flutter for the benefit of his employer. “Baron Boubinoff, better known as the Madcap Cossack.”
I inclined my head, but said nothing. Colonel Felsom seemed merely amused, but I did not like the look on Count Starinsky’s face.
“You two should meet,” chuckled the newspaper owner. “Russians are rare in this city. Russian noblemen especially. You should have many things in common.”
Colonel Felsom was standing slightly in front of the Count and therefore could not see how that gentleman was glaring at me, but Joe Dale noticed it and a puzzled frown crept over his face.
I’ll admit I felt uncomfortable. I had never met a real Russian nobleman and I did not know what to do or say. Etiquette has always been one of my weak points, and so I stood very straight and stiff and uttered never a sound. In my nervousness I began to swing my whip to and fro.
After a few moments Colonel Felsom broke the silence by asking:
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Continued from page 19
“What part of Russia do you come from, Baron?”
“Yekaterinburg,” I said promptly, this being the nearest to the truth I could answer without revealing that I had never been in Russia. Father worked in a tannery in that city when he was a young man, and, besides, Yekaterinburg was the only Russian place I could think of, even though I don’t really know where it is.
Count Starinsky started suddenly when I mentioned Yekaterinburg and he looked at me most venemously. Then he plucked Colonel Felsom’s sleeve and murmured: “Shall we be going, sir? The other gentlemen will be waiting for us.”
“One moment, one moment,” said the Colonel, looking at me in surprise. “This is indeed a strange coincidence. You two come from the same little city in far-off Eastern Russia and meet here by sheer accident for the first time. Or perhaps you have met before?”
“I have not had that pleasure,” rasped the Count. He looked dreadfully embarrassed, but I felt infinitely worse. Still, out of politeness, I had to say something, but it was not intentionally that I blurted out so crudely:
“I have never heard of Count Starinsky in my life! When were you in Yekaterinburg?”
The Count shrugged his shoulders and I was just on the point of offering an apology for my rudeness when Joe Dale got up and barked at me:
“Talk to him in Russian! Go ahead! Talk to him in Russian!”
When people speak to me in that tone of voice I always do as they say. So I talked loud and I talked fast, and in my excitement I am afraid that I glared in a hostile manner at the Count as I edged a little nearer.
I stopped suddenly when I realized that I had nothing more to say, but I kept my eyes fixed on *ffie Russian nobleman. I had exactly the same feeling that comes over me when I am up on a mean outlaw about to buck as soon as he can catch me off my guard. I can always outguess a horse, and I suppose this gift applies to men as well when their attitude toward me is purely physical, though in a trial of wits I don’t usually come out so well.
“What does he say?” asked Colonel Felsom, addressing himself to nis companion.
“Rubbish and stupid nonsense,” said Count Starinsky, through lips that trembled in a face gone very white. “The man is mad, what?”
“It doesn’t sound like nonsense to me,” snapped Joe Dale, unexpectedly coming to my support. “I know a little Russian myself, Count Starinsky. Don’t you think you’d better translate for the benefit of Colonel Felsom?”
Count Starinsky’s lips curled back from his teeth and for a moment he trembled all over. Then there was a rasping sound in his throat before he managed to cry: “Trapped! You think you have me, eh? I have one more trick ...”
I have never'jumped faster in my life, or landed more exactly where I wanted. I was on top of Count Starinsky before his hand could reach his hip pocket and I had him bowling over backward in a fraction of a second, but I could not catch his wrist before he had whipped out his revolver, though I managed to spoil his aim by kicking the barrel sideways as he pulled the trigger.
The bullet crashed into the office clock and spoiled it completely. It would have done the same for my head if I had not been trained to act quickly in emergencies with horses.
There was only one shot fired. Joe Dale gave me a little careful assistance and wrenched the gun from the Count’s hand, then left it to me to take the rest of the buck out of him. I may say that I
did a very thorough job of it. I am not used to being shot at, and I was annoyed for the time being, but I let up when I realized that four reporters were trying to pull me off the Count.
“Have a heart!” Joe Dale was yelling in my ear. “Don’t knock the man unconscious. He’s got to talk and tell us his story, and it’s only twenty minutes to press time.”
So I got up and dusted my red shirt, and pretty soon Colonel Felsom came out from behind a pillar and sputtered at me, but I was still too near boiling point to know whether he was bawling me out for messing up the office cr thanking me for saving his life, though it had never been in danger.
The four reporters were standing guard over Count Starinsky who was backed in a corner between two desks, moaning heavily and mopping up the blood trickling from his nose and mouth. I think all four were asking him questions, but the Count was neither answering nor listening.
Joe Dale was pawing feverishly over a bunch of papers that had fallen out of the Count’s pocket when his coat had ripped, and pretty soon he called over to Colonel Felsom and chuckled:
“Great stuff, sir! Here’s documents that prove this bird is no Russian Count at all. He’s Julius Roonarty, the Austrian crook who specializes in flim-flam financing on a big scale. Look for yourself ! There’s enough here to give him ten years ! What a story! . . . Boy, rush upstairs and tell them we’re going to be a few minutes late . . . Bill, give me half a column on the scrap in here . . . Dick, you write out a confession and get Mr. Count Starinsky to sign it . . . Turrell, five hundred words on the local men he was trying to gyp . . . It’s too bad we haven’t his picture.” “You could use my picture,” I suggested. “You’ve got one that you used in the stampede advertisement.”
Nobody paid any attention to me. Joe Dale and Colonel Felsom were talking rapidly, and I gathered that the proprietor wanted his own name and some others kept out of the story, much to the editor’s disgust.
In the end, of course, the boss had his own way, though Dale said it practically spoiled what he called the biggest scoop of the year, even though it had to be cut to the bone to make the last edition.
How those reporters did hammer their typewriters in the few minutes in which they had to write their stories! I never thought those machines could move so fast without getting all tangled up.
One after the other they brought what they had written to Joe Dale and he hardly glanced at it before sending it upstairs. Only once did he hesitate, and that was when he was reading about my fight with the Count. He turned to me and asked:
“What did you tell Starinsky that made him see red like that?”
Right then and there I had an inspiration.
“It’s a long story,” I began, “and I’m afraid I couldn’t get through it in time for your last edition, so perhaps I’d better keep it for the Morning Budget . . . ” There was a roar at that. I gathered that an editor would much rather not see any news at all in a rival publication, though I fail to grasp why. But I stood my ground. Still, I never want to do anything of which anybody disapproves if I can help it, so I said:
“If you run my picture today I could perhaps restrain myself ...”
“Picture? Picture?” questioned Colonel Felsom excitedly, thereby confirming my suspicion that he had not heard me the first time I mentioned it. “Certainly we’ll run your picture if we’ve got it. I should say so, after the way you exposed that crook!”
“But it would be rank advertisement or the stampede crowd,” protested Joe Dale ungraciously after all I had done for aim. “Baron Boubinoff is their star broncho buster.”
“Billed as the Madcap Cossack,” I added, for the benefit of the newspaper owner. “If you’ve never seen me in action on a bad horse, sir, you’ve missed a treat. And I may as well tell you that I came here this afternoon purposely to ask to have my picture put on the front page, but up to now Mr. Dale hasn’t seemed very enthusiastic about it.”
“What’s happened is front page stuff,” said the Colonel, in a voice of authority. “I guess our readers will be glad to see the picture of the man who exposed Starinsky, and prevented him from getting his hands on perhaps half a million dollars, including fifty thousand of my own. By all means run the picture, Mr. Dale.”
“All right,” grumbled the city editor. “All right. Just as you say.”
IT WAS not until the paper was off the press that Colonel Felsom knew that the picture showed me fanning the air with my astrakhan cap atop of Addled Egg, a big grey gelding that has killed two men and would like to kill more. He winced a bit when he saw that it showed a lot more horse than man, though it was easy enough to identify me by my long hair and whiskers and by the line underneath which gave my name and the full title of the outfit. I rather think Joe Dale had done that more because he was mad
at his boss than because he was pleased with me, but I was satisfied anyway.
“What did you tell Starinsky?” the city editor asked once again, when things had quietened down a bit after the police had taken that gentleman away.
I hedged a bit, and then Colonel Felsom addressed Dale:
“How about you, Joe? Didn’t you tell Starinsky that you knew a little Russian?” “Darned little!” grinned the city editor. “I know moujik and vodka and soviet, and that’s about all. I just threw a straight bluff into the Count on a hunch that he didn’t know a word of Russian himself when I saw how he was acting!”
“A dangerous thing to do,” frowned the Colonel.
“It worked,” chuckled Dale. "So we’ll have to get the English out of Baron Boubinoff after all. What did you have on him, and what did you say?”
I saw then that I would have to make an open confession.
“I had nothing on him,” I admitted. “I was a trifle nervous because I thought he was a Russian nobleman who would berate me because my title ol baron is not as good in law as it might be. And when you barked at me so suddenly to talk to him in Russian I did my best. The truth is that I don’t know high-class Russian myself.” “You knew enough,” smiled Colonel Felsom. “Now give it to us in English.” “I counted up to ten,” I confessed, "and then I repeated the alphabet all the way through, four or five times . . . That’s all the Russian father ever taught me!”