Why he chose Buffalo Paul Anderson never knew, unless perhaps it had more newspapers than Bay City, Michigan, and because his ticket expired in the vicinity of Buffalo. For that matter, why he should have given up an easy job as the mate of a tugboat to enter the tortuous paths of journalism the young man did not know, and, lacking the introspective faculty, he did not stop to analyze his motives. So far as he could discover he had felt the call to higher endeavor, and just naturally had heeded it. Such things as practical experience and educational equipment were but empty words to him, for he was young and hopeful, and the world is kind at twenty-one.
He had hoped to enter his chosen field with some financial backing, and to that end, when the desire to try his hand at literature had struck him, he had bought an interest in a smoke-consumer which a fireman on another tugboat had patented. In partnership with the inventor he had installed one of the devices beneath a sawmill boiler as an experiment. Although the thing consumed smoke surprisingly well, it likewise unharnessed such an amazing army of heat-units that it melted the crown-sheet of the boiler; whereupon the sawmill men, being singularly coarse and unimaginative fellows, set upon the patentee and his partner with ash-rakes, draw-bars, and other ordinary, unpatented implements; a lumberjack beat hollowly upon their ribs with a peavy, and that night young Anderson sickened of smoke-consumers, harked anew to the call of journalism, and hiked, arriving in Buffalo with seven dollars and fifty cents to the good.
For seven dollars, counted out in advance, he chartered a furnished room for a week, the same carrying with it a meal at each end of the day, which left in Anderson’s possession a superfluity of fifty cents to be spent in any extravagance he might choose.
Next day he bought a copy of each newspaper and, carefully scanning them, selected the one upon which to bestow his reportorial gifts. This done, he weighed anchor and steamed through the town in search of the office. Walking in upon the city editor of The Intelligencer, he gazed with benevolent approval upon that busy gentleman’s broad back. He liked the place, the office suited him, and he decided to have his desk placed over by the window.
After a time the editor wheeled, displaying a young, smooth, fat face, out of which peered gray-blue eyes with pin-point pupils.
“Well?” he queried.
“Here I am,” said Anderson.
“So it appears. What do you want?”
“What can you do?”
“Well, well!” cried the editor. “You don’t look much like a newspaper man.”
“I’m not one yet. But I’m going to be.”
“Where have you worked?”
“Nowhere! You see, I’m really a playwright.”
The editor’s face showed a bit of interest. “Playwright, eh? Anderson! Anderson!” he mused. “Don’t recall the name.”
“No,” said Paul; “I’ve never written any plays yet, but I’m going to. That’s why I want to sort of begin here and get the hang of this writing game.”
A boy entered with some proofs at that moment and tossed them upon the table, distracting the attention of the newspaper man. The latter wheeled back to his work and spoke curtly over his shoulder.
“I’m not running a school of journalism. Good-by.”
“Maybe you’d like me to do a little space work?”
“I’d never like you. Get out. I’m busy.”
Anderson retired gracefully, jingling his scanty handful of nickels and dimes, and a half-hour later thrust himself boldly in upon another editor, but with no better result. He made the rounds of all the offices; although invariably rebuffed he became more firmly convinced than ever that journalism was his designated sphere.
That night after dinner he retired to his room with the evening papers, wedged a chair against his bed, and, hoisting his feet upon the wash-stand, absorbed the news of the day. It was ineffably sweet and satisfying to be thus identified with the profession of letters, and it was immeasurably more dignified than “tugging” on the Saginaw River. Once he had schooled himself in the tricks of writing, he decided he would step to higher things than newspaper work, but for the present it was well to ground himself firmly in the rudiments of the craft.
In going through the papers he noted one topic which interested him, a “similar mystery” story on the second page. From what he could gather, he judged that much space had already been given to it; for now, inasmuch as no solution offered, the item was dying slowly, the major portion of each article being devoted to a rehash of similar unsolved mysteries.
Anderson read that the body of the golden-haired girl still lay at the Morgue, unidentified. Bit by bit he pieced together the lean story that she was a suicide and that both the police and the press had failed in their efforts to unearth the least particle of information regarding her. In spite of her remarkable beauty and certain unusual circumstances connected with her death investigation had led nowhere.
On the following day Anderson again walked into the editorial-rooms of The Intelligencer and greeted the smooth, fat-faced occupant thereof.
“Anything doing yet?” he inquired.
“Not yet,” said the newspaper man, with a trace of annoyance in his voice. As the applicant moved out he halted him at the door with the words: “Oh! Wait!”
Anderson’s heart leaped. After all, he thought, perseverance would
“Not yet, nor soon.” The editor smiled broadly, and Paul realized that the humor in those pin-point eyes was rather cruel.
Five other calls he made that day, to be greeted gruffly in every instance except one. One man encouraged him slightly by saying:
“Come back next week; I may have an opening then.”
In view of the “pay-as-you-enter” policy in vogue at Anderson’s boarding-house he knew there could be no next week for him, therefore he inquired:
“How about a little space work in the meantime? I’m pretty good at that stuff.”
“Surest thing you know.”
“Did you ever do any?”
“No. But I’m good, just the same.”
“Huh!” the editor grunted. “There’s no room now, and, come to think of it, you needn’t bother to get around next week. I can’t break in new men.”
That evening young Anderson again repaired to his room with his harvest of daily papers, and again he read them thoroughly. He was by no means discouraged as yet, for his week had just begun there were still five days of grace, and prime ministers have been made overnight, nations have fallen in five days. Six calls a day for five days that meant thirty chances for a job. It was a cinch!
Hidden away among the back pages once more he encountered the golden-haired-girl story, and although one paper featured it a bit because of some imaginary clue, the others treated it casually, making public the information that the body still lay at the Morgue, a silent, irritating thing of mystery.
On the third day Paul made his usual round of calls. He made them more quickly now because he was recognized, and was practically thrown out of each editorial sanctum. His serenity remained unruffled, and his confidence undisturbed. Of all the six editors, Burns, of The Intelligencer, treated him worst, adding ridicule to his gruffness, a refinement of cruelty which annoyed the young steamboat man. Anderson clenched his hard-knuckled hand and estimated the distance from editorial ear to point of literary chin, but realized in time that steamboat methods were out of place here in the politer realms of journalism.
Four times more he followed his daily routine, and on Monday morning arose early to avoid his landlady. His week was up, his nickels and dimes were gone, nevertheless he spent the day on his customary rounds. He crept in late at night, blue with the cold and rather dazed at his bad luck; he had eaten nothing since the morning before, and he knew that he dared not show up at the breakfast-table the next morning. For the time being discouragement settled upon him; it settled suddenly like some heavy smothering thing; it robbed him of hope and redoubled his hunger. He awoke at daylight, roused by the sense of his defeat, then tiptoed out while yet the landlady was abed, and spent the day looking for work along the water-front. But winter had tied up the shipping, and he failed, as he likewise failed at sundry employment agencies where he offered himself in any capacity.
At noon he wandered into the park, and, finding a sheltered spot, sunned himself as best he could. He picked up the sheets of a wind-scattered paper and read until the chill December afternoon got into his bones and forced him to his feet. The tale of the unidentified girl at the Morgue recurred to him when he read the announcement that she would be buried two days later in the Potter’s Field. Perhaps the girl had starved for lack of work, he reflected. Perhaps hunger and cold had driven her to her death. Certainly those two were to blame for many a tragedy calculated to mystify warmly clad policemen and well-fed reporters.
When he stole, shivering, into his bleak bedroom, late that night, he found a note pinned upon his pillow. Of course the landlady needed her rent all landladies were in need of money–and of course he would get out in the morning. He was glad she had not turned him out during the day, for this afforded him sanctuary for another night at least. After to-morrow it would be a park bench for his.
He left his valise behind in the morning, rather lamenting the fact that the old lady could not wear the shirts it contained, and hoping that she would realize a sufficient sum from their sale to pay his bill.
It was late afternoon when he commenced his listless tramp toward the newspaper offices. Since Burns had become his pet aversion, he saved him for the last, framing a few farewell remarks befitting the death of hopes like his, and rehearsing an exit speech suitable to mark his departure from the field of letters.
When he finally reached The Intelligencer editorial-rooms, Burns rounded on him angrily.
“For the love of Mike! Are you here again?” he demanded.
“I thought you might like to have some space work”
“By heavens! You’re persistent.”
“We editors are an unfeeling lot, aren’t we?” the fat young man inquired. “No temperament, no appreciation.” He laughed noiselessly.
“Give me a job,” Anderson cried, his voice breaking huskily. “I’ll make good. I’ll do anything.”
“How long do you intend to keep bothering me?” questioned Burns.
Anderson’s cheeks were blue and the backs of his legs were trembling from weakness, but he repeated, stolidly: “Give me a job. I won’t bother you after that. I’ll make good, see if I don’t.”
“You think well of yourself, don’t you?”
“If you thought half as well of me as I do,” Paul assured him, “I’d be your star reporter.”
“Star hell!” testily cried the editor. “We haven’t got such a thing. They don’t know they’re alive, except on pay-day. Look at this blond girl at the Morgue they’ve wasted two weeks on that case.” He paused suddenly, then his soft lips spread, showing his sharp, white teeth. Modifying his tone, he continued: “Say, I rather like you, Anderson, you’re such a blamed nuisance. You’ve half convinced me that you’re a genius.”
The younger man’s hunger, which had given up in despair, raised its head and bit into his vitals sharply.
“I’ve a notion to give you a chance.”
“That’s all I want,” the caller quavered, in a panic. “Just give me a toe-hold, that’s all,” His voice broke in spite of his effort to hold it steady. Burns wasn’t a bad sort, after all; just grouchy and irritable. Perhaps this was merely his way.
Burns continued: “Well, I will give you an assignment, a good assignment, too, and if you cover it I’ll put you on permanently. I’ll do more than that, I’ll pay you what we pay our best man, if you make good. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
He smiled benignly, and the soon-to-be reporter’s wits went capering off in a hysterical stampede. Anderson felt the desire to wring the fellow’s hand.
“All that counts in this office is efficiency,” the latter went on. “We play no favorites. When a man delivers the goods we boost him; when he fails we fire him. There’s no sentiment here, and I hold my job merely because I’m the best man in the shop. Can you go to work to-night?”
“Why yes, sir!”
“Very well. That’s the spirit I like. You can take your time on the story, and you needn’t come back till you bring it.”
“Now pay attention, here it is. About two weeks ago a blond girl committed suicide in a Main Street boarding-house. The body’s down at the Morgue now. Find out who she is.” He turned back to his desk and began to work.
The hungry youth behind him experienced a sudden sinking at the stomach. All at once he became hopelessly empty and friendless, and he felt his knees urging him to sit down. He next became conscious that the shoulders of Mr. Burns were shaking a bit, as if he had encountered a piece of rare humor. After an instant, when Anderson made no move to go, the man at the desk wheeled about, exposing a bloated countenance purple with suppressed enjoyment.
“What’s the matter?” he giggled. “Don’t you want the job? I can’t tell you any more about the girl; that’s all we know. The rest is up to you. You’ll find out everything, won’t you? Please do, for your own sake and the sake of The Intelligencer. Yes, yes, I’m sure you will, because you’re a good newspaper man you told me so yourself.” His appreciation of the jest threatened to strangle him.
“Mr. Burns,” began the other, “I’m up against it. I guess you don’t know it, but I’m hungry. I haven’t eaten for three days.”
At this the editor became positively apoplectic.
“Oh yes, I do!” He nodded vigorously. “You show it in your face. That’s why I went out of my way to help you. He! He! He! Now you run along and get me the girl’s name and address while I finish this proof. Then come back and have supper with me at the Press Club.” Again he chortled and snickered, whereupon something sullen and fierce awoke in young Anderson. He knew of a way to get food and a bed and a place to work even if it would only last thirty days, for he judged Burns was the kind of man who would yell for the police in case of an assault. Paul would have welcomed the prospect of prison fare, but he reasoned that it would be an incomplete satisfaction merely to mash the pudgy face of Mr. Burns and hear him clamor. What he wanted at this moment was a job; Burns’s beating could hold over. This suicide case had baffled the pick of Buffalo’s trained reporters; it had foiled the best efforts of her police; nevertheless, this fat-paunched fellow had baited a starving man by offering him the assignment. It was impossible; it was a cruel joke, and yet there might be a chance of success. Even while he was debating the point he heard himself say:
“Very well, Mr. Burns. If you want her name I’ll get it for you.”
He crammed his hat down over his ears and walked out, leaving the astonished editor gazing after him with open mouth.
Anderson’s first impulse had been merely to get out of Burns’s office, out of sight of that grinning satyr, and never to come back, but before he had reached the street he had decided that it was as well to starve striving as with folded hands. After all, the dead girl had a name.
Instead of leaving the building, he went to the files of the paper and, turning back, uncovered the original story, which he cut out with his pen-knife, folded up, and placed in his pocket. This done, he sought the lobby of a near-by hotel, found a seat near a radiator, and proceeded to read the clipping carefully.
It was a meager story, but it contained facts and was free from the confusion and distortions of the later accounts, which was precisely what he wished to guard against. Late one afternoon, so the story went, the girl had rented a room in a Main Street boarding-house, had eaten supper and retired. At eleven o’clock the next day, when she did not respond to a knock on her door, the room had been broken into and she had been found dead, with an empty morphine-bottle on the bureau. That was all. There were absolutely no clues to the girl’s identity, for the closest scrutiny failed to discover a mark on her clothing or any personal articles which could be traced. She had possessed no luggage, save a little hand-satchel or shopping-bag containing a few coins. One fact alone stood out in the whole affair. She had paid for her room with a two-dollar Canadian bill, but this faint clue had been followed with no result. No one knew the girl; she had walked out of nowhere and had disappeared into impenetrable mystery. Those were the facts in the case, and they were sufficiently limited to baffle the best efforts of Buffalo’s trained detective force.
It would seem that there can be no human creature so obscure as to have neither relatives, friends, nor acquaintances, and yet this appeared to be the case, for a full description of this girl had been blazoned in the papers of every large city, had been exposed in countless country post-offices, and conveyed to the police of every city of the States and Canada. It was as if the mysterious occupant of the Morgue had been born of the winter wind on that fateful evening two weeks before. The country had been dragged by a net of publicity, that marvelous, fine-meshed fabric from which no living man is small or shrewd enough to escape, and still the sad, white face at the Morgue continued to smile out from its halo of gold as if in gentle mockery.
For a long time Paul Anderson sat staring into the realms of speculation, his lips white with hunger, his cheeks hollow and feverish from the battle he had waged. His power of exclusion was strong, therefore he lost himself to his surroundings. Finally, however, he roused himself from his abstraction and realized the irony of this situation. He, the weakest, the most inexperienced of all the men who had tried, had been set to solve this mystery, and starvation was to be the fruit of his failure.
He saw that it had begun to snow outside. In the lobby it was warm and bright and vivid with jostling life; the music of a stringed orchestra somewhere back of him was calling well-dressed men and women in to dinner. All of them seemed happy, hopeful, purposeful. He noted, furthermore, that three days without food makes a man cold, even in a warm place, and light-headed, too. The north wind had bitten him cruelly as he crossed the street, and now as he peered out of the plate-glass windows the night seemed to hold other lurking horrors besides. His want was like a burden, and he shuddered weakly, hesitating to venture out where the wind could harry him. It was a great temptation to remain here where there was warmth and laughter and life; nevertheless, he rose and slunk shivering out into the darkness, then laid a course toward the Morgue.
While Anderson trod the snowy streets a slack-jowled editor sat at supper with some friends at the Press Club, eating and drinking heartily, as is the custom of newspaper men let down for a moment from the strain of their work. He had told a story, and his caustic way of telling it had amused his hearers, for each and every one of them remembered the shabby applicant for work, and all of them had wasted baffling hours on the mystery of this girl with the golden hair.
“I guess I put a crimp in him,” giggled Mr. Burns. “I gave him a chance to show those talents he recommends so highly.”
“The Morgue, on a night like this, is a pretty dismal place for a hungry man,” said one of the others. “It’s none too cheerful in the daytime.”
The others agreed, and Burns wabbled anew in his chair in appreciation of his humor.
Young Anderson had never seen a morgue, and to-night, owing to his condition, his dread of it was child-like. It seemed as if this particular charnel-house harbored some grisly thing which stood between him and food and warmth and hope; the nearer he drew to it the greater grew his dread. A discourteous man, shrunken as if from the chill of the place, was hunched up in front of a glowing stove. He greeted Anderson sourly:
“Out into that courtyard; turn to the left–second door,” he directed. “She’s in the third compartment.”
Anderson lacked courage to ask the fellow to come along, but stumbled out into a snow-filled areaway lighted by a swinging incandescent which danced to the swirling eddies.
Compartment! He supposed bodies were kept upon slabs or tables, or something like that. He had steeled himself to see rows of unspeakable sights, played upon by dripping water, but he found nothing of the sort.
The second door opened into a room which he discovered was colder than the night outside, evidently the result of artificial refrigeration. He was relieved to find the place utterly bare except for a sort of car or truck which ran around the room on a track beneath a row of square doors. These doors evidently opened into the compartments alluded to by the keeper.
Which compartment had the fellow said? Paul abruptly discovered that he was rattled, terribly rattled, and he turned back out of the place. He paused shortly, however, and took hold of himself.
“Now, now!” he said, aloud. “You’re a bum reporter, my boy.” An instant later he forced himself to jerk open the first door at his hand.
For what seemed a full minute he stared into the cavern, as if petrified, then he closed the door softly. Sweat had started from his every pore. Alone once more in the great room, he stood shivering. “God!” he muttered. This was newspaper training indeed.
He remembered now having read, several days before, about an Italian laborer who had been crushed by a falling column. To one unaccustomed to death in any form that object, head-on in the obscurity of the compartment, had been a trying sight. He began to wonder if it were really cold or stiflingly hot.
The boy ground his teeth and flung open the next door, slamming it hurriedly again to blot out what it exposed. Why didn’t they keep them covered? Why didn’t they show a card outside? Must he examine every grisly corpse upon the premises?
He stepped to the third door and wrenched it open. He knew the girl at once by her wealth of yellow hair and the beauty of her still, white face. There was no horror here, no ghastly sight to weaken a man’s muscles and sicken his stomach; only a tired girl asleep. Anderson felt a great pity as he wheeled the truck opposite the door and reverently drew out the slab on which the body lay. He gazed upon her intently for some time. She was not at all as he had pictured her, and yet there could be no mistake. He took the printed description from his pocket and reread it carefully, comparing it point by point. When he had finished he found that it was a composite word photograph, vaguely like and yet totally unlike the person it was intended to portray, and so lacking in character that no one knowing the original intimately would have been likely to recognize her from it.
So that was why no word had come in answer to all this newspaper publicity. After all, this case might not be so difficult as it had seemed; for the first time the dispirited youth felt a faint glow of encouragement. He began to formulate a plan.
Hurriedly he fumbled for his note-book, and there, in that house of death, with his paper propped against the wall, he wrote a two-hundred-word description; a description so photographically exact that to this day it is preserved in the Buffalo police archives as a perfect model.
He replaced the body in its resting-place and went out. There was no chill in him now, no stumbling nor weakness of any sort. He had found a starting-point, had uncovered what all those trained newspaper men had missed, and he felt that he had a chance to win.
Twenty minutes later Burns, who had just come in from supper, turned back from his desk with annoyance and challenge in his little, narrow eyes.
“I think I’ve got her, Mr. Burns.”
“Anyhow, I’ve got a description that her father or her mother or her friends can recognize. The one you and the other papers printed disguised her so that nobody could tell who she was it might have covered a hundred girls.”
Rapidly, and without noting the editor’s growing impatience, Paul read the two descriptions, then ran on, breathlessly:
“All we have to do is print ten or twenty thousand of these and mail them out with the morning edition separate sheets, posters, you understand? so they can be nailed up in every post-office within two hundred miles. Send some to the police of all the cities, and we’ll have a flash in twenty-four hours.”
Burns made no comment for a moment. Instead, he looked the young man over angrily from his eager face to his unblacked shoes. His silence, his stare, were eloquent.
“Why? Why not?” Anderson demanded, querulously. “I tell you this description isn’t right. It it’s nothing like her, nothing at all.”
“Say! I thought I’d seen the last of you,” growled the corpulent man. “Aren’t you on to yourself yet?”
“Do you mean that your talk this evening don’t go?” Paul demanded, quietly. “Do you mean to say you won’t even give me the chance you promised?”
“No! I don’t mean that. What I said goes, all right, but I told you to identify this girl. I didn’t agree to do it. What d’you think this paper is, anyhow? We want stories in this office. We don’t care who or what this girl is unless there’s a story in her. We’re not running a job-print shop nor a mail-order business to identify strayed females. Twenty thousand posters! Bah! And say don’t you know that no two men can write similar descriptions of anybody or anything? What’s the difference whether her hair is burnished gold or ‘raw gold’ or her eyes bluish gray instead of grayish blue? Rats! Beat it!”
“But I tell you”
“What’s her name? Where does she live? What killed her? That’s what I want to know. I’d look fine, wouldn’t I, circularizing a dead story? Wouldn’t that be a laugh on me? No, Mr. Anderson, author, artist, and playwright, I’m getting damned tired of being pestered by you, and you needn’t come back here until you bring the goods. Do I make myself plain?”
It was anger which cut short the younger man’s reply. On account of petty economy, for fear of ridicule, this editor refused to relieve some withered old woman, some bent and worried old man, who might be, who probably were, waiting, waiting, waiting in some out-of-the-way village. So Anderson reflected. Because there might not be a story in it this girl would go to the Potter’s Field and her people would never know. And yet, by Heaven, they would know! Something told him there was a story back of this girl’s death, and he swore to get it. With a mighty effort he swallowed his chagrin and, disregarding the insult to himself, replied:
“Very well. I’ve got you this time.”
“Humph!” Burns grunted, viciously.
“I don’t know how I’ll turn the trick, but I’ll turn it.” For the second time that evening he left the office with his jaws set stubbornly.
Paul Anderson walked straight to his boarding-house and bearded his landlady. “I’ve got a job,” said he.
“I’m very glad,” the lady told him, honestly enough. “I feared you were going to move out.”
“Yes!” he repeated. “I’ve got a job that carries the highest salary on the paper. You remember the yellow-haired girl who killed herself awhile ago?” he asked.
“Indeed I do. Everybody knows about that case.”
“Well, it got too tough for the police and the other reporters, so they turned it over to me. It’s a bully assignment, and my pay starts when I solve the mystery. Now I’m starved; I wish you’d rustle me some grub.”
“But, Mr. Anderson, you’re bill for this week? You know I get paid in”
“Tut, tut! You know how newspapers are. They don’t pay in advance, and I can’t pay you until they pay me. You’ll probably have to wait until Saturday, for I’m a little out of practice on detective stuff. But I’ll have this thing cleared up by then. You don’t appreciate–you can’t appreciate what a corking assignment it is.”
Anderson had a peculiarly engaging smile, and five minutes later he was wrecking the pantry of all the edibles his fellow-boarders had overlooked, the while his landlady told him her life’s history, wept over the memory of her departed husband, and confessed that she hoped to get out of the boarding-house business some time.
A good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast put the young man in fine fettle, and about ten o’clock he repaired to a certain rooming-house on Main Street, the number of which he obtained from the clipping in his pocket.
A girl answered his ring, but at sight of him she shut the door hurriedly, explaining through the crack:
“Mrs. MacDougal is out and you can’t come in.”
“But I want to talk to you.”
“I’m not allowed to talk to reporters,” she declared. “Mrs. MacDougal won’t let me.”
A slight Scotch accent gave Anderson his cue. “MacDougal is a good Scotch name. I’m Scotch myself, and so are you.” He smiled his boarding-house smile, and the girl’s eyes twinkled back at him. “Didn’t she tell you I was coming?”
“Why, no, sir. Aren’t you a reporter?”
“I’ve been told that I’m not. I came to look at a room.”
“What room?” the girl asked, quickly. “We haven’t any vacant rooms.”
“That’s queer,” Anderson frowned. “I can’t be mistaken. I’m sure Mrs. MacDougal said there was one.”
The door opened slowly. “Maybe she meant the one on the second floor.”
“Precisely.” An instant later he was following his guide up-stairs.
Anderson recognized the room at a glance, from its description, but the girl did not mention the tragedy which had occurred therein, so he proceeded to talk terms with her, prolonging his stay as long as possible, meanwhile using his eyes to the best advantage. He invented an elaborate ancestry which he traced backward through the pages of Scottish Chiefs, the only book of the sort he had ever read, and by the time he was ready to leave the girl had thawed out considerably.
“I’ll take the room,” he told her, “and I’m well pleased to get it. I don’t see how such a good one stands vacant in this location.”
There was an instant’s pause, then his companion confessed: “There’s a reason. You’ll find it out sooner or later, so I may as well tell you. That’s where the yellow-haired girl you hear so much about killed herself. I hope it won’t make any difference to you, Mr.”
“Gregor. Certainly not. I read about the case. Canadian, wasn’t she?”
“Oh yes! There’s no doubt of it. She paid her rent with a Canadian bill, and, besides, I noticed her accent. I didn’t tell the reporters, however, they’re such a fresh lot.”
Paul’s visit, it appeared, had served to establish one thing, at least, a thing which the trained investigators had not discovered. Canadian money in Buffalo was too common to excite comment, therefore none of them had seen fit to follow out that clue of the two-dollar bill.
“The papers had it that she was some wealthy girl,” the former speaker ran on, “but I know better.”
“Indeed? How do you know?”
“Her hands! They were good hands, and she used them as if she knew what they were made for.”
“No. She seemed very sad and didn’t say much. Of course I only saw her once.”
Anderson questioned the girl at some further length, but discovered nothing of moment, so he left, declaring that he would probably move into the room on the following day.
Prom the rooming-house he went directly to the Morgue, and for a second time examined the body, confining his attention particularly to the hands. The right one showed nothing upon which to found a theory, save that it was, indeed, a capable hand with smooth skin and well-tended nails; but on examining the left Paul noted a marked peculiarity. Near the ends of the thumb and the first finger the skin was roughened, abrased; there were numerous tiny black spots beneath the skin, which, upon careful scrutiny, he discovered to be microscopic blood-blisters.
For a long time he puzzled over this phenomenon which had escaped all previous observers, but to save him he could invent no explanation for it. He repaired finally to the office of the attendant and asked for the girl’s clothes, receiving permission to examine a small bundle.
“Where’s the rest?” he demanded.
“That’s all she had,” said the man.
“No baggage at all?”
“Not a thing but what she stood up in. The coroner has her jewelry and things of that sort.”
Anderson searched the contents of the bundle with the utmost care, but found no mark of any sort. The garments, although inexpensive, were beautifully neat and clean, and they displayed the most marvelous examples of needlework he had ever seen. Among the effects was a plush muff, out of which, as he picked it up, fell a pair of little knitted mittens or was there a pair? Finding but the one, he shook the muff again, then looked through the other things.
“Where’s the other mitten?” he inquired.
“There ‘ain’t been but the one,” the attendant told him.
“Are you sure?”
“See here, do you think I’m trying to hold out a yarn mitten on you? I say there ‘ain’t been but the one. I was here when she came, and I know.”
Discouraged by the paucity of clues which this place offered, Anderson went next to the coroner’s office.
The City Hall newspaper squad had desks in this place, but Paul paid no attention to them or to their occupants. He went straight to the wicket and asked for the effects of the dead girl.
It appeared that Burns had told his practical joke broadcast, for the young man heard his name mentioned, and then someone behind him snickered. He paid no attention, however, for the clerk had handed him a small leather bag or purse, together with a morphine-bottle, about the size and shape of an ordinary vaseline-bottle. The bag was cheap and bore no maker’s name or mark. Inside of it was a brooch, a ring, a silver chain, and a slip of paper. Stuck to the bottom of the reticule was a small key. Paul came near overlooking the last-named article, for it was well hidden in a fold near the corner. Now a key to an unknown lock is not much to go on at best, therefore he gave his attention to the paper. It was evidently a scrap torn from a sheet of wrapping-paper, and bore these figures in pencil:
9.25 6.25 – 3.00
While he was reading these figures Paul heard a reporter say, loudly, “Now that I have written the paper, who will take it?”
Another answered, “I will.”
“Who are you?” inquired the first voice.
“Hawkshaw, the detective.”
Anderson’s cheeks flushed, but he returned the bag and its contents without comment and walked out, heedless of the laughter of the six reporters. The injustice of their ridicule burnt him like a branding-iron, for his only offense lay in trying the impossible. These fellows had done their best and had failed, yet they jeered at him because he had tackled a forlorn hope. They had taken the trail when it was hot and had lost it; now they railed at him when he took it cold.
All that afternoon he tramped the streets, thinking, thinking, until his brain went stale. The only fresh clues he had discovered thus far were the marks on finger and thumb, the fact that the girl was a Canadian, and that she had possessed but one mitten instead of two. This last, for obvious reasons, was too trivial to mean anything, and yet in so obscure a case it could not be ignored. The fact that she was a Canadian helped but little, therefore the best point upon which to hang a line of reasoning seemed to be those black spots on the left hand. But they stumped Anderson absolutely.
He altered his mental approach to the subject and reflected upon the girl’s belongings. Taken in their entirety they showed nothing save that the girl was poor, therefore he began mentally to assort them, one by one. First, clothes. They were ordinary clothes; they betrayed nothing. Second, the purse. It was like a million other purses and showed no distinguishing mark, no peculiarity. Third, the jewelry. It was cheap and common, of a sort to be found in any store. Fourth, the morphine-bottle. Paul was forced likewise to dismiss consideration of that. There remained nothing but the scrap of paper, torn from the corner of a large sheet and containing these penciled figures:
9.25 6.25 – 3.00
It was a simple sum in subtraction, a very simple sum indeed; too simple, Anderson reflected, for anyone to reduce to figures unless those figures had been intended for a purpose. He recalled the face at the morgue and vowed that such a girl could have done the sum mentally. Then why the paper? Why had she taken pains to tear off a piece of wrapping-paper, jot down figures so easy to remember, and preserve them in her purse? Why, she did so because she was methodical, something answered. But, his alter ego reasoned, if she had been sufficiently methodical to note a trivial transaction so carefully, she would have been sufficiently methodical to use some better, some more methodical method. She would not have torn off a corner of thick wrapping-paper upon which to keep her books. There was but one answer, memorandum!
All right, memorandum it was, for the time being. Now then, in what business could she have been engaged where she found it necessary to keep memoranda of such inconsiderable sums? Oh, Lord! There were a million! Paul had been walking on thin ice from the start; now it gave way beneath him, so he abandoned this train of thought and went back once more to the bundle of clothes. Surely there was a clue concealed somewhere among them, if only he could find it. They were poor clothes, and yet, judging by their cut, he fancied the girl had looked exceedingly well in them nay, even modish. She had evidently spent much time on them, as the beautiful needlework attested. At this point Anderson’s mind ran out on to thin ice again, so he reverted to the girl herself for the nth time. She was Canadian, her hands were useful, there were tiny blood-blisters on the left thumb and index finger, and the skin was roughened and torn minutely, evidently by some sharp instrument. What instrument? He answered the question almost before he had voiced it. A needle, of course!
Paul stopped in his walk so abruptly that a man poked him in the back with a ladder; but he paid no heed, for his mind was leaping. That thickening of the skin, those tiny scratches, those blood-blisters, those garments without mark of maker, yet so stylish in cut and so carefully made, and furthermore that memorandum:
9.25 6.25 -3.00
“Why, she was a dressmaker!” said Anderson, out loud. He went back over his reasoning, but it held good so good that he would have wagered his own clothes that he was right. Yes, and those figures represented some trifling purchases or commission for a customer, no doubt.
It followed naturally that she was not a Buffalo dressmaker, else she would have been identified long since; nor was it likely that she came from any city, for her clothes had not given him the impression of being city-made, and, moreover, the publicity given to the case through the press, even allowing for the fact that the printed description had been vague, would have been sure to uncover her identity. No, she was a Canadian country seamstress.
The young man’s mind went back a few years to his boyhood on a Michigan farm, where visiting dressmakers used to come and stay by the week to make his mother’s clothes. They usually carried a little flat trunk filled with patterns, yard sticks, forms, and other paraphernalia of the trade. Paul remembered that the owners used to buy the cloths and materials at the country stores, and render a strict accounting thereof to his mother. Well, where was the trunk that went with this country dressmaker?
The question of baggage had puzzled him from the start. Had the girl been possessed of a grip or bundle of any kind at the time of her death that question would have been answered. But there was absolutely nothing of the sort in her room. Her complete lack of luggage had made him doubt, at first, that she was an out-of-town visitor; but, following his recent conclusions, he decided now that directly the opposite was true. She had come to Buffalo with nothing but a trunk, otherwise she would have taken her hand-luggage with her to the Main Street rooming-house. It remained to find that trunk.
This problem threatened even greater difficulties than any hitherto, and Paul shivered as the raw Lake wind searched through his clothes. He wondered if it had been as cold as this when the girl arrived in Buffalo. Yes, assuredly. Then why did she go out with only one mitten? His reason told him that the other one had been lost by the police. But the police are careful, as a rule. They had saved every other article found in the girl’s possession, even to a brooch and pin and scrap of paper. Probably the girl herself had lost it. But country dressmakers are careful, too; they are not given to losing mittens, especially in cold weather. It was more reasonable to believe that she had mislaid it among her belongings; inasmuch as those belongings, according to Paul’s logic, were doubtless contained in her trunk that was probably where the missing mitten would be found. But, after all, had she really brought a trunk with her?
Like a flash came the recollection of that key stuck to the bottom of the girl’s leather purse at the coroner’s office. Ten minutes later Paul was back at the City Hall.
For a second time he was greeted with laughter by the reportorial squad; again he paid no heed.
“Why, you saw those things not two hours ago,” protested the coroner’s clerk, in answer to his inquiry.
“I want to see them again.”
“Well, I’m busy. You’ve had them once, that’s enough.”
“Friend,” said Anderson, quietly, “I want those things and I want them quick. You give them to me or I’ll go to the man higher up and get them and your job along with them.”
The fellow obeyed reluctantly. Paul picked the key loose and examined it closely. While he was thus engaged, one of the reporters behind him said:
“Aha! At last he has the key to the mystery.”
The general laughter ceased abruptly when the object of this banter thrust the key into his pocket and advanced threateningly toward the speaker, his face white with rage. The latter rose to his feet; he undertook to execute a dignified retreat, but Anderson seized him viciously, flung him back, and pinned him against the wall, crying, furiously:
“You dirty rat! If you open your face to me again, I’ll brain you, and that goes for all of this death-watch.” He took in the other five men with his reddened eyes. “When you fellows see me coming, hole up. Understand?”
His grip was so fierce, his mouth had such a wicked twist to it, that his victim understood him perfectly and began to grin in a sickly, apologetic fashion. Paul reseated the reporter at his desk with such violence that a chair leg gave way; then he strode out of the building.
For the next few hours Anderson tramped the streets in impotent anger, striving to master himself, for that trifling episode had so upset him that he could not concentrate his mind upon the subject in hand. When he tried to do so his conclusions seemed grotesquely fanciful and farfetched. This delay was all the more annoying because on the morrow the girl was to be buried, and, therefore, the precious hours were slipping away. He tried repeatedly to attain that abstract, subconscious mood in which alone shines the pure light of inductive reasoning.
“Where is that trunk? Where is that trunk? Where is that trunk?” he repeated, tirelessly. Could it be in some other rooming-house? No. If the girl had disappeared from such a place, leaving her trunk behind, the publicity would have uncovered the fact. It might be lying in the baggage-room of some hotel, to be sure; but Paul doubted that, for the same reason. The girl had been poor, too; it was unlikely that she would have gone to a high-priced hotel. Well, he couldn’t examine all the baggage in all the cheap hotels of the city that was evident. Somehow he could not picture that girl in a cheap hotel; she was too fine, too patrician. No, it was more likely that she had left her trunk in some railroad station. This was a long chance, but Paul took it.
The girl had come from Canada, therefore Anderson went to the Grand Trunk Railway depot and asked for the baggage-master. There were other roads, but this seemed the most likely.
A raw-boned Irish baggage-man emerged from the confusion, and of a sudden Paul realized the necessity of even greater tact here than he had used with the Scotch girl, for he had no authority of any sort behind him by virtue of which he could demand so much as a favor.
“Are you a married man?” he inquired, abruptly.
“G’wan! I thought ye wanted a baggage-man,” the big fellow replied.
“Don’t kid me; this is important.”
“Shure, I am, but I don’t want any accident insurance. I took a chance and I’m game.”
“Have you any daughters?”
“Two of them. But what’s it to ye?”
“Suppose one of them disappeared?”
The baggage-man seized Anderson by the shoulder; his eyes dilated; with a catch in his voice he cried:
“Love o’ God, speak out! What are ye driving at?”
“Nothing has happened to your girls, but”
“Then what in hell?”
“Wait! I had to throw a little scare into you so you’d understand what I’m getting at. Suppose one of your girls lay dead and unidentified in the morgue of a strange city and was about to be buried in the Potter’s Field. You’d want to know about it, wouldn’t you?”
“Are ye daft? Or has something really happened? If not, it’s a damn fool question. What d’ye want?”
“Listen! You’d want her to have a decent burial, and you’d want her mother to know how she came to such a pass, wouldn’t you?”
The Irishman mopped his brow uncertainly. “I would that.”
“Then listen some more.” Paul told the man his story, freely, earnestly, but rapidly; he painted the picture of a shy, lonely girl, homeless, hopeless and despondent in a great city, then the picture of two old people waiting in some distant farmhouse, sick at heart and uncertain, seeing their daughter’s face in the firelight, hearing her sigh in the night wind. He talked in homely words that left the baggage-man’s face grave, then he told how Burns, in a cruel jest, had sent a starving boy out to solve the mystery that had baffled the best detectives. When he had finished his listener cried:
“Shure it was a rotten trick, but why d’ye come here?”
“I want you to go through your baggage-room with me till we find a trunk which this key will fit.”
“Come on with ye. I’m blamed if I don’t admire yer nerve. Of course ye understand I’ve no right to let ye in that’s up to the station-master, but he’s a grouchy divil.” The speaker led Paul into a room piled high with trunks, then summoned two helpers. “We’ll move every dam’ wan of them till we fit your little key,” he declared; then the four men fell to.
A blind search promised to be a job of hours, so Paul walked down the runway between the piles of trunks, using his eyes as he went. At least he could eliminate certain classes of baggage, and thus he might shorten the search; but half-way down the row he called sharply to the smashers:
“Come here, quick!” At his tone they came running. “Look! That one in the bottom row!” He cried. “That’s it. Something tells me it is.”
On the floor underneath the pile was a little, flat, battered tin trunk, pathetically old-fashioned and out of place among its more stylish neighbors; it was the kind of trunk Paul had seen in his mother’s front room on the farm. It was bound about with a bit of rope.
His excitement infected the others, and the three smashers went at the pile, regardless of damage. Anderson’s suspense bid fair to choke him; what if this were not the one? He asked himself. But what if it were the right one? What if this key he clutched in his cold palm should fit the lock? Paul pictured what he would see when he lifted the lid: a collection of forms, hangers, patterns, yard-sticks, a tape measure, and somewhere in it a little black yarn mitten. He prayed blindly for courage to withstand disappointment.
“There she is,” panted his Irish friend, dragging the object out into the clear. The other men crowded closer. “Come on, lad. What are ye waiting for?”
Anderson knelt before the little battered trunk and inserted the key. It was the keenest moment he had ever lived. He turned the key; then he was on his feet, cold, calm, his blue eyes glittering.
“Cut those ropes. Quick!” he ordered. “We’re right.”
The man at his side whipped out a knife and slashed twice.
“Come close, all of you,” Paul directed, “and remember everything we find. You may have to testify.”
He lifted the lid. On the top of the shallow tray lay a little black yarn mitten, the mate to that one in the city Morgue.
Anderson smiled into the faces of the men at his side. “That’s it,” he said, simply.
The tall Irishman laid a hand on his shoulder, saying: “Yer all right, boy. Don’t get rattled,”
Paul opened the till and found precisely the paraphernalia he had expected: there were forms, hangers, patterns, yard-sticks, and a tape measure. In the compartment beneath were some neatly folded clothes, the needlework of which was fine, and in one corner a bundle of letters which Anderson examined with trembling fingers. They were addressed to “Miss Mabel Wilkes, Highland, Ontario, Canada, Care of Captain Wilkes.”
The amateur detective replaced the letters carefully; he closed and locked the trunk; then he thanked his companions.
“If I had a dollar in the world,” said he, “I’d ask you boys to have a drink, but I’m broke.” Then he began to laugh foolishly, hysterically, until the raw-boned man clapped him on the back again.
“Straighten up, lad. Ye’ve been strained a bit too hard. I’ll telephone for the cops.”
In an instant Paul was himself. “You’ll do nothing of the sort,” he cried. “Why, man, you’ll spoil the whole thing. I’ve worked this out alone, and if the police hear of it they’ll notify all the papers and I’ll have no story. Burns won’t give me that job, and I’ll be hungry again.”
“True! I forgot that fat-headed divil of an editor. Well, you say the word and nobody won’t know nothin’ from us. Hey, boys?”
“Sure not,” the other men agreed. This lad was one of their kind; he was up against it and fighting for his own, therefore they knew how to sympathize. But Paul had been seized with terror lest his story might get away from him, therefore he bade them a hasty good-by and sped up-town. His feet could not carry him swiftly enough.
Burns greeted him sourly when he burst into the editorial sanctum. It was not yet twenty-four hours since he had sent this fellow away with instructions not to return.
“Are you back again?” he snarled. “I heard about your assaulting Wells down at the City Hall. Don’t try it on me or I’ll have you pinched.”
Paul laughed lightly. “I don’t have to fight for my rights anymore.”
“Indeed! What are you grinning about? Have you found who that girl is?”
“What?” Burns’s jaw dropped limply; he leaned forward in his chair.
“Yes, sir! I’ve identified her.”
The fat man was at first incredulous, then suspicious. “Don’t try any tricks on me,” he cried, warningly. “Don’t try to put anything over”
“Her name is Mabel Wilkes. She is the daughter of Captain Wilkes, of Highland, Ontario. She was a country dressmaker and lived with her people at that place. Her trunk is down at the Grand Trunk depot with the rest of her clothes in it, together with the mate to the mitten she had when she killed herself. I went through the trunk with the baggage-master, name Corrigan. Here’s the key which I got from her purse at the coroner’s office.”
Burns fixed his round eyes upon the key, then he shifted them slowly to Anderson’s face. “Why this is amazing! I” He cleared his throat nervously. “How did you discover all this? Who told you?”
“Nobody told me. I reasoned it out.”
“But how Good Lord! Am I dreaming?”
“I’m a good newspaper man. I’ve been telling you that every day. Maybe you’ll believe me now.”
Burns made no reply. Instead, he pushed a button and Wells, of the City Hall squad, entered, pausing abruptly at sight of Anderson. Giving the latter no time for words, Mr. Burns issued his instructions. On the instant he was the trained newspaper man again, cheating the clock dial and trimming minutes: his words were sharp and decisive.
“That suicide story has broken big and we’ve got a scoop. Anderson has identified her. Take the first G.T. train for Highland, Ontario, and find her father, Captain Wilkes. Wire me a full story about the girl Mabel, private life, history, everything. Take plenty of space. Have it in by midnight.”
Wells’s eyes were round, too; they were glued upon Paul with a hypnotic stare, but he managed to answer, “Yes, sir!” He was no longer grinning.
“Now, Anderson,” the editor snapped, “get down-stairs and see if you can write the story. Pile it on thick it’s a corker.”
“Very good, sir, but I’d like a little money,” that elated youth demanded, boldly. “Just advance me fifty, will you? Remember I’m on top salary.”
Burns made a wry face. “I’ll send a check down to you,” he promised, “but get at that story and make it a good one or I’ll fire you tonight.”
Anderson got. He found a desk and began to write feverishly. A half-hour later he read what he had written and tore it up. Another half-hour and he repeated the performance. Three times he wrote the tale and destroyed it, then paused, realizing blankly that as a newspaper story it was impossible. Every atom of interest surrounding the suicide of the girl grew out of his own efforts to solve the mystery. Nothing had happened, no new clues had been uncovered, no one had been implicated in the girl’s death, there was no crime. It was a tale of Paul Anderson’s deductions, nothing more, and it had no newspaper value. He found he had written about himself instead of about the girl.
He began again, this time laboriously eliminating himself, and when he had finished his story it was perhaps the poorest journalistic effort ever written.
Upon lagging feet he bore the copy to Burns’s office. But the editor gave him no time for explanation, demanding, fiercely:
“Where’s that check I sent you?”
“Here it is.” The youth handed it to him. “Make a mistake?”
“I certainly did.” Burns tore up the check before saying, “Now you get out, you bum, and stay out, or take the consequences.”
“Get out? What for?”
“You know what for.” Burns was quivering with rage. “You ran a good bluff and you nearly put it over; but I don’t want to advertise myself as a jackass, so I shan’t have you pinched unless you come back.”
“Come back? I intend to stay. What’s the matter?”
“I had an idea you were fourflushing,” stormed the editor, “so I went down to the G.T. depot myself. There’s no trunk of the sort there; Corrigan never saw you or anybody like you. Say, why didn’t you walk out when you got that check? What made you come back?”
Anderson began to laugh softly. “Good old Corrigan! He’s all right, isn’t he? Well, he gets half of that check when you rewrite it, if I don’t laugh myself to death before I get to the bank.”
“What d’you mean?” Burns was impressed by the other’s confidence.
“Nothing, except that I’ve found one square man in this village. One square guy is a pretty big percentage in a town the size of Buffalo. Corrigan wouldn’t let you see the depot if I wasn’t along. Put on your coat and come with me yes, and bring a couple of hired men if it will make you feel any better.”
At the depot he called the baggage-master to him, and said:
“Mr. Corrigan, this is Mr. Burns, the city editor of The Intelligencer.”
“That’s what he told me,” grinned the Irishman, utterly ignoring the young editor; “but you didn’t give him no references, and I wouldn’t take a chance.”
Burns maintained a dignified silence; he said little even when the contents of the trunk were displayed to him. Nor did he open his mouth on the way back to the office. But when he was seated at his desk and had read Anderson’s copy he spoke.
“This is the rottenest story ever turned in at this office,” said he.
“I know it is,” Paul agreed, frankly, then explained his difficulty in writing it.
“I’ll do it myself,” Burns told him. “Now, you go home and report to-morrow.”
A very tired but a very happy young man routed out the landlady of a cheap boarding-house that night and hugged her like a bear, explaining joyously that he had done a great big thing. He waltzed her down the hall and back, while she clutched wildly at her flapping flannel wrapper and besought him to think of her other boarders. He waltzed her out of her bedroom slippers, gave her a smacking big kiss on her wrinkled cheek, then left her, breathless and scandalized, but all aflutter.
The city had read the story when Anderson awoke the next morning, for The Intelligencer had made a clean “beat,” and Burns had played up the story tremendously, hence it was with jumping pulses that Paul scanned the front page of that journal. The further he read, however, the greater grew his indignation.
The history of Mabel Wilkes, under the magic touch of Burns, had, to be sure, become a wonderful, tragic story; but nowhere in it was mention made of Paul Anderson. In the patient and ingenious solution of the mystery of the girl’s identity no credit was given to him. The cleverness and the perseverance of The Buffalo Intelligencer was exploited, its able reportorial staff was praised, its editorial shrewdness extolled, but that was all. When he had concluded reading the article Anderson realized that it was no more than a boost for the city editor, who it was plain to be seen, had uncovered the story bit by bit, greatly to the confusion of the police and the detective bureau.
It astounded as well as angered Paul to realize how cleverly Burns had covered him up, therefore the sense of injustice was strong in him when he entered the office. His enemy recognized his mood, and seemed to gloat over it.
“That was good work you did,” he purred, “and I’ll keep you on as long as you show ability. Of course you can’t write yet, so I’ll let you cover real-estate transactions and the market. I’ll send for you when you’re needed.”
Anderson went back to his desk in silent rage. Real estate! Burns evidently intended to hold him down. His gloomy meditations were somewhat lightened by the congratulations of his fellow-reporters, who rather timidly ventured to introduce themselves. They understood the facts and they voiced a similar indignation to his. Burns had played him a rotten trick, they agreed. Not content with robbing his new reporter of the recognition which was justly his, the fellow was evidently determined to vent his spite in other ways. Well, that was like Burns. They voiced the opinion that Anderson would have a tough job getting through interference of the kind that their editor would throw in his way.
Hour after hour Paul sat around the office nursing his disappointment, waiting for Burns to send him out. About two o’clock Wells hurried into the office, bringing with him the afternoon papers still wet from the press. In his eyes was an unwonted sparkle. He crossed directly to Anderson and thrust out his palm.
“Old man, I want to shake with you,” said he. “And I want to apologize for being a rotter.”
Paul met him half-way, and the fellow went on:
“Burns gave us the wrong tip on you said you were a joke that’s why we joshed you. But you showed us up, and I’m glad you did.”
“Why thank you!” stammered the new reporter, upon whom this manly apology had a strong effect. “It was more luck than anything.”
“Luck nothing! You’re a genius, and it’s a dirty shame the way the boss tried to steal your credit. However, it seems he overreached himself.” Wells began to laugh.
“Tried to steal it! Good Lord! he did steal it! How do you mean he overreached himself?”
“Haven’t you seen the afternoon papers?”
“Well! Read them!” Mr. Wells spread his papers out before Paul, whose astonished eyes took in for a second time the story of the Wilkes suicide. But what a story!
He read his own name in big, black type; he read head-lines that told of a starving boy sent out on a hopeless assignment as a cruel joke; he read the story as it had really occurred, only told in the third person by an author who was neither ashamed nor afraid to give credit where it was due. The egotistical pretense of The Buffalo Intelligencer was torn to shreds, and ridicule was heaped upon its editor. Paul read nervously, breathlessly, until Wells interrupted him.
“I’m to blame for this,” said he. “I couldn’t stand for such a crooked deal. When I got in this morning and saw what that fat imbecile had done to you I tipped the true facts off to the others all of the facts I knew. They got the rest from Corrigan, down at the Grand Trunk depot. Of course this means my job, if the old man finds it out; but I don’t give a damn.”
As yet Anderson was too dazed to grasp what had happened to him, but the other continued:
“The boys have had it in for Burns, on the quiet, for months, and now I guess they’re even.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” stammered Anderson.
“Don’t try. You’re a born reporter, and the other papers will give you a job even if the baby hippo in yonder fires you.”
A boy touched Paul on the arm with the announcement, “Mr. Burns wants to see you.”
“Oho!” cried Wells. “He’s got the bad news. Gee! I’d like to hear what he says. I’ll bet he’s biting splinters out of his desk. Let me know what comes off, will you?”
When Anderson entered the office of his editor he was met by a white-faced man whose rage had him so by the throat that speech for a moment was impossible. Beneath Mr. Burns’s feet, and strewn broadcast about the room, were the crumpled sheets of the afternoon papers. Burns glared at the newcomer for a moment, then he extended a shaking finger, crying, furiously:
“You did this!”
“You put up this job. You made a fool of me!”
“No, sir! I did not. Your parents saw to that.”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t, you damned ungrateful” Burns seemed about to assault his reporter, but restrained himself. “You’re fired! Do you understand? Fired discharged.”
“Not a word. I’m done with you. I”
“Just a minute,” young Anderson cried, in a tone that stilled the other. “I’m fired, am I, for something I didn’t do? Very well! I’m glad of it, for now you can’t stand in my way. You tried to double-cross me and failed. You robbed me of what was mine and got caught at it. You’re a big man, in your way, Burns, but some day people will tell you that the biggest thing you ever did was to fire Paul Anderson. That’s how small you’ll be, and that’s how big I’m going to grow. You’ve ‘welched’ on your own word; but there’s one thing you gave me that you can’t take away, and that’s the knowledge that I’m a newspaper man and a good one. Now just one thing more: I’m broke today, but I’m going to lick you as soon as I save up enough for the fine.”
With studied insolence the speaker put on his hat, slammed the door behind him, and walked out of The Intelligencer office, leaving the apoplectic editor thereof secure in the breathless knowledge that for once in his life he had heard the truth spoken. Mr. Burns wondered how long it would take that young bully to save up ten dollars and costs.
Written by Rex Ellingwood Beach