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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter5,part1)

2006-08-28 23:26

    CHAPTER 5

    Lies need only age to make them respectable. Given that, they become traditions and are put upon a pedestal. Then the gentlest word for him who attacks them is traitor. ——From the Note Book of a Dreamer.

    THE REBEL FOLLOWS THE RAMIFICATIONS OF BIG BUSINESS AND FINDS THAT THE PILLARS OF SOCIETY ARE NOT IN POLITICS FOR THEIR HEALTH

    PART 1

    "Hmp! Want to be a reporter, do you?"

    Warren, city editor on the Advocate, leaned back in his chair and looked Jeff over sharply.

    "Yes."

    "It's a hell of a life. Better keep out."

    "I'd like to try it."

    "Any experience?"

    "Only correspondence. I've had two years at college."

    The city editor snorted. He had the unreasoning contempt for college men so often found in the old-time newspaper hack.

    "Then you don't want to be a reporter. You want to be a journalist," he jeered.

    "They kicked me out," Jeff went on quietly.

    "Sounds better. Why?"

    Jeff hesitated. "I got drunk."

    "Can't use you," Warren cut in hastily.

    "I've quit——sworn off."

    The city editor was back on the job, his eyes devouring copy. "Heard that before. Nothing to it," he grunted.

    "Give me a trial. I'll show you."

    "Don't want a man that drinks. Office crowded with 'em already."

    Jeff held his ground. For five minutes the attention of Warren was focused on his work.

    Suddenly he snapped out, "Well?"

    He met Farnum's ingratiating smile. "You haven't told me yet what to start doing."

    "I told you I didn't want you."

    "But you do. I'm on the wagon."

    "For how long?" jeered the city editor.

    "For good."

    Warren sized him up again. He saw a cleareyed young fellow without a superfluous ounce of flesh on him, not rugged but with a look of strength in the slender figure and the thin face. This young man somehow inspired confidence.

    "Sent in that Colby story to us, didn't you?"

    "Yes."

    "Rotten story. Not half played up. Report to Jenkins at the City Hall."

    "Now?"

    "Now. Think I meant next year?"

    The city editor was already lost in the reading of more copy.

    Inside of half an hour Jeff was at work on his first assignment. Some derelict had committed suicide under the very shadow of the City Hall. Upon the body was a note scrawled on the bask of a dirty envelope.

    Sick and out of work. Notify Henry Simmons, 237 River Street, San Francisco.

    Jenkins, his hands in his pockets, looked at the body indifferently and turned the story over to the cub with a nod of his head.

    "Go to it. Half a stick," he said.

    From another reporter Jeff learned how much half a stick is. He wrote the account. When he had read it Jenkins glanced sharply at him. Though only the barest facts were told there was a sob in the story.

    "That ain't just how we handle vag suicides, but we'll let 'er go this time," he commented.

    It did not take Jeff long to learn how to cover a story to the satisfaction of the city editor. He had only to be conventional, sensational, and in general accurate as to his facts. He fraternized with his fellow reporters at the City Hall, shared stories with them, listened to the cheerful lies they

    told of their exploits, and lent them money they generally forgot to return. They were a happy-go-lucky lot, full of careless generosities and Bohemian tendencies. Often a week's salary went at a single poker sitting. Most of them drank a good deal.

    After a few months' experience Jeff discovered that while the gathering of news tends to sharpen the wits it makes also for the superficial. Alertness, cleverness, persistence, a nose for news, and a surface accuracy were the chief qualities demanded of him by the office. He had only to look around him to see that the profession was full of keen-eyed, nimble-witted old-young men who had never attempted to synthesize the life they were supposed to be recording and interpreting. While at work they were always in a hurry, for to-day's news is dead tomorrow. They wrote on the run, without time for thought or reflection. Knowing beyond their years, the fruit of their wisdom was cynicism. Their knowledge withered for lack of roots.

    The tendency of the city desk and of copy readers is to reduce all reporters to a dead level, but in spite of this Jeff managed to get himself into his work. He brought to many stories a freshness, a point of view, an optimism that began to be noticed. From the police run Jeff drifted to other departments. He covered hotels, the court house, the state house and general assignments.

    At the end of a couple of years he was promoted to a desk position. This did not suit him, and he went back to the more active work of the street. In time he became known as a star man. From dramatics he went to politics, special stories and feature work. The big assignments were given him.

    It was his duty to meet famous people and interview them. The chance to get behind the scenes at the real inside story was given him. Because of this many reputations were pricked like bubbles so far as he was concerned. The mask of greatness was like the false faces children wear to conceal their own. In the one or two really big men he met Jeff discovered a humility and simplicity that came from self-forgetfulness.

    They were too busy with their vision of truth to pose for the public admiration.

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