The Stolen Story and Other Newspaper Stories/The Cub Reporter and the King of Spain
The Cub Reporter and the King of Spain
A MR. KNOX sat swinging a pair of good legs over the end of the dock at the foot of East Twenty-sixth Street, smoking vile cigarettes and wishing something would happen. Small monotonous waves slapped the green-coated piles below, which smelled oozy. Out in the channel ferry-boats and tugs tooted in a self-important manner, but Mr. Knox yawned and would not look up at them; and that is the way he spent most of his time.
He had learned that when it was flood-tide the incoming Thirty-fourth Street ferry boats headed away down the river as if for his dock, just as the patient Twenty-third Streeters pretended to want to land above him when the tide was pulling out. He knew who were the owners of the steam-yachts anchoring there in Kip's Bay; and he could tell many of the harbor tugs and all the Sound steamers by their whistles. That was why he would not look up unless he heard a new voice come across the water. All this bored him exceedingly.
Hamilton J. Knox had been one of the great men of his day, which was a year or two ago, when in college. He was in the World now. Therefore he was not even a man, it seemed, but a boy learning things about the relative importance of the inhabitants of this planet which all American youths should learn, for those who do not usually live to regret it.
But the contrast in this boy's case was more dramatic, because he had been Hammie Knox, the wondrous half-back of the best foot-ball team in the Western Hemisphere, and had made the winning run of the final game before 20,000 excited people; and this was the greatest romantic glory given to man—at that time, which was shortly before the Spanish war. He had been fondled and fussed over by his friends, and pointed out and stared at by everyone else, and his picture was printed, four-columns wide, in the newspaper on whose staff he was now one of the least important re porters, where he had to say Sir to the man who had respectfully sought the favor of an interview with him on the day the championship was won, and who now riddled and ridiculed his copy and seemed not to appreciate the significance of a gold foot-ball worn on the watch-chain.
Instead of letting his hair grow long and travelling around the country in a special car to play beautiful foot-ball, he had to stay still most of the day in a remote corner of the dreary edge of the city and look at dead bodies. These were brought to a low, ugly building in a black wagon, which unloaded quickly and then trotted off up Twenty-sixth Street, past the gray gates of Bellevue Hospital, after more.
When they first gave him the Morgue and Coroner's Office—they told him it was an advance to have a regular department—he used to stand inside the receiving room and watch. But even his interest in dead bodies had died now that they had become part of his business. So usually he only yawned and called out from his seat in the sun, "Anything good, Tom," without stopping his legs. Tom, the driver, generally said, "Naw, only a floater from North River," with some contempt, for Tom was blasé; a good murder was what he appreciated, an Italian murder, with much cutting.
Murders were what Knox wanted, too, murders or suicides with romantic interest; but when it was a good story the police head-quarters man had already been sent out on it, or else some of the crack general-work reporters, while Knox was left to follow up the dull routine part of it, with the other Morgue and Coroner's Office men, to find out when the inquest was to be held, by which more-or-less-Americanized coroner, etc.; then to come back to the monotonous Morgue and observe the people who came to look at the dead face. "Watch their eyes when the cover is first taken off—maybe you can catch the murderer yourself," said the crack reporter, striding off impressively with the Central Office detectives. But such delights never came to Hamilton Knox, who sighed and went back to his seat on the string-piece of the Morgue dock, snapped cigarette butts with yellow-stained fingers at the foolish, futile waves, and wished there were a war, so he could go as a correspondent and do big things and get decorated for bravery.
In reporting, as in everything else, to learn your job you have to begin at a dreary bottom. Even if there had been a war just then, no paper would have sent Knox, because he was not good enough. Besides, he was not modelled for a newspaper man in the first place, as will be made clear.
On one day in every seven he was not a newspaper man. Wednesday was his day off. He always arose early and dressed excitedly, instead of sleeping late, as most working people do on a holiday; then putting a pipe in his pocket, he took the L train for Cortlandt Street, jumped on the ferry, and when in the middle of the stream carefully doubled up his newspaper, gravely threw it far from him into the boiling wake of the screws, and stuck his hands in his pockets, smiling vindictively. Then, turning his back on New York, he stepped gayly off the ferry, jumped into a familiar train, went down to a certain rural university, and strutted for twenty-four hours.
Here he was not a Mr. Knox, one of the young reporters, but Hammie Knox, the old star half-back; he was not sworn at over the telephone for falling down on news, but joyously grabbed and welcomed by those who knew him well enough, and stared at and worshipped by those who did not dare, and it felt very good. But on a certain Wednesday morning he left his pipe in another coat.
He had, as usual, cast himself comfortably into a whole seat in the smoking-car; but when he felt in his pockets he only found some copy-paper, which had been there for weeks.
He could not smoke, nor were there any other "old" graduates to talk to on the way down. No novels or newspapers are sold on these trains after leaving, and his own paper was floating down the bay, unread (and that alone shows he would never make a newspaper man); so, as he could not even read, he took out the copy-paper, and decided to write something, with a view to passing away the time and earning his expenses. He was far enough away from the depressing influence of the City Room to feel confidence in his own powers once more, and he made up his mind to show them what he could do with an open field and no one to hinder him. He might not be a war correspondent; but this is what he wrote while Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway, Metuchen, and New Brunswick scurried by the window:
The brutal policy of Spain and her farcical reforms were vehemently denounced, and the cause of Cuba's independence was enthusiastically extolled. The gathering then formed itself into a large procession, which paraded the town, bearing transparencies on which were inscribed various anti-Spanish and pro-Cuban sentiments. At one point in the proceedings the Spanish colors were deliberately dragged in the streets. This act was cheered vociferously.The procession then returned to the college grounds, where a huge bonfire had been prepared. The leaders of the movement, assisted by a prominent alumnus, who does not wish his name used, then produced an effigy of Alfonso XIII. in royal apparel, which was hurled upon the flames amidst numerous hisses and yells.
He continued in this vein as far as Monmouth Junction, repeating himself occasionally, and enjoying it all very much because he was not hampered by any fool facts. This was a much nicer way: write your facts first and make them afterward. He had no doubt of his ability to do this latter; that was merely incidental. There was about a half-column so far, he estimated; and this, at $6 per column, would more than cover the $2.40 spent for the round-trip ticket. As for food and bed, he considered it beneath him to pay for such things on these visits. Still, he would have written more, but just then the old familiar sky-line of towers and distant trees swung out, making his heart jump as it always did. So he wound up quickly with, "At a late hour to-night the embers of the fire were still glowing brightly," which he considered an artistic ending, and signed his name.
"It'll do 'em good," he said to himself, as he stepped off the train at Princeton Junction. "They need stirring up down here. They are getting too well-behaved. They are not the real thing as we were when I was in college, these boys," he indulgently added; for, being only three miles away, he was beginning to feel his years.
He folded up the MS., stuck it into his pocket, and thought no more about it for awhile, because here was an American Express boy reverently touching his hat and the conductor of the junction train delightedly saluting him by his first name; and in a few minutes more Knox was swaggering up across the campus, with chest puffed out and a scowl on his face, no longer a reporter, but a hero, whose arrival would soon be announced throughout the under-graduate world, for a group of underclassmen, passing along a near-by street had sighted his shoulders from a distance of two hundred yards and said, "That's Hammie Knox."
It was always a little sudden, this transition from what he was in town to what he was in college; and Knox, passing by a couple of awed little town-boys who turned and gazed after him until he was out of sight, had his usual dizzy sensation. But he knew he would get the old campus feeling and would snap back into his proper place again as soon as he could shed his derby hat for a cap and could stick a pipe in his mouth.
So, absent-mindedly knocking a tutor off the walk in his haste, he proceeded to what was formerly his room, and threw his suit-case at the bedroom portière and reached down a cap from the antlers and picked out a congenial-looking pipe from the mantel-piece. The room had again changed hands recently, and he did not know the name of the present occupant, but that did not matter; the latter would see the initials on the suit-case and boast about it afterward. Emit ting a loud "wow!" which had been accumulating for six days, Hamilton Knox darted down the noisy entry-stairs and out upon the campus, himself again.
First he strode across the quadrangle—it was an entirely different gait from that of the young man who went from the Criminal Court Building to Newspaper Row—and on down to the University Athletic Field; drifting into the cage to look over the base-ball candidates, who, by the way, found time to look at him.
The trainer spied him first, and came running over to shake his hand. "It does me good to see you," he said. Meanwhile the captain dropped his bat and strode across to welcome him, and stood beside him awhile to ask his opinion of the material, which Knox gave; and at the close of the practice, "You are going to lunch with us, aren't you, Hammie?" the captain asked. Hammie said he would.
"Yes, you are right—he's taking on weight," whispered one of the candidates to another, as they followed the ex-half-back out of the dressing-room.
After luncheon he leisurely floated up to the campus again, with a bunch of upper-classmen about him. When he reached the corner of Reunion Hall, he suddenly snapped his fingers, and said, "That's so; I forgot," and, leaving his friends for a moment, stepped into the office of the college daily. "Give me some chalk, will you, please?" he said.
Two under-classmen editors started for it, and nearly tripped over each other; but perceiving that the managing editor, a senior, was also hurrying, they sat humbly down, and hoped the managing editor would not store their presumption up against them.
The mighty one took the chalk, said "Thanks, old man," and strode out to where the bulletin-board hangs outside the office-window. Then he wrote:He blew the chalk-dust off his fingers, and rejoined the group by the lamp-post, who were now smiling admiringly. Then, throwing his arms over some of their shoulders, he said, "Come on, let's push over to the inn."
Those who had the time to spare followed along in the wake, and several who did not. "He was always a great horse-player, you know," whispered those in the rear.
Knox knew what to expect of the crowd he would find at the inn, so when several "Yea! Hammie!"s and then a long cheer, with "Ham. Knox" on the end, greeted his entrance to the grill-room, he merely smiled kindly, and as soon as he had said hello to some of them by their first names, hit others on their shoulders or heads, and "How are you, old man"-ed the rest, he remarked, causally, in the silence he had known would come:
"Great scheme you fellows have for to-night." He had winked at his companions.
Those at the tables looked at each other vaguely, and then at him. "What scheme's that, Hammie?"
"I mean the big bonfire, of course, and burning Blanco in effigy, and all that—or is it Alfonso? It seems a reasonable idea. You can count me in. It is all right. But if I were you I'd have a mass meeting first, with horse speeches and all the old Fresh-fire stunts, then a parade. I remember way back in my freshman year, when—why, what's the matter? Haven't you fellows heard about it?"
They had not heard about it.
"This gang is dead slow!" pronounced the prominent alumnus, cruelly. "There's a great big notice on the Princetonian bulletin-board. Why, up on the campus everybody is talking about it" (they were by this time), "while you fellows are sitting here wasting away your glorious half-holiday. You don't appreciate the opportunities of a college course. Just wait till you get out into the wide world and hustle for yourselves. You're getting effete. You're losing the old Princeton spirit. You don't do things the way we did when we were in college. Good-by. I think I'll have to be going——"
"Wait, wait a minute, you old graduate," said one of the gang, somewhat familiarly. "We want to be in it, of course, if there's going to be any fun. Tell us all about it."
Knox did. In half an hour they were lettering transparencies and painting flags and making an inflammable king, while Knox, who said he was sorry he didn't have time to do any of the work, went on over to a room in Witherspoon, where he knew he would find a certain gang playing a game of whist, which he broke up. … Now, with these two crowds interested, and the news having gone forth that he approved of the idea, the enterprise was safe, so he spent the rest of the afternoon drifting about the place, basking.
It began soon after dinner. First a window in West College was lowered, and a big voice bellowed, "Heads out! Fresh Fire."
Every college community has an unpublished signal-code book. In this one these words no longer refer to a certain custom, now defunct, nor to any sort of fire necessarily; they merely signify abstractly that there is about to be some noise and disorder, usually called horse.
Another voice, across the quadrangle—a shrill one this time—yelled, "Fresh Fi-er-r! Heads out! Everybody, heads out!!"
Other windows opened, and other voices echoed the cry earnestly. A megaphone was poked out of one of the back campus rooms. Coach-horns and bicycle bugles had already begun their work. Shotguns were banging. All this by way of prelude.
Now the various dormitory stairs began to rattle and entry doors to slam. Dark forms shot across the bars of light on the way to the cannon, the centre of the quadrangle and of campus activity. Most of the voices were out-door voices now. "Everybody come—yea-a," shouted many; and suddenly there sounded, "Ray! ray! ray! tiger, siss, boom, ah, Cuba Libre." It was greeted with many prolonged yea-as and yells. Transparencies, flags, and banners began to appear. Each of these was welcomed.
Within five minutes the bulk of the undergraduate body was there. Bowles, the young man whose duty it was to be funny on glee-club trips, mounted the cannon; he commenced an oration beginning, "The war must go on," which referred originally to the Revolutionary war. But that did not make enough noise. A couple of hundred of the others joined hands and began to dance in a circle around him, making him dizzy and drowning out his words. They were shouting "Cuba Libre." Also they yelled, "To hell with Spain."
Then a hoarse authoritative voice, which all recognized as the old half-back's, produced a moderate hush. "Now, fellows," it commanded, "let's pee-rade!" Accordingly, everybody shouted "Yea-a" and paraded. Knox had intended to have some more speeches, but he had forgotten that part. He loved parades. The procession formed itself automatically. They proceeded in lock-step to Nassau Street, where they spread out in open rank, put their hands on each other's shoulders, and chasséd four abreast zigzag up the street, yelling pleasantly and unintermittently as they did so. They marched over very much the route that class reunions take in June, only, instead of singing, "Nassau, Nassau, sing out the chorus free," they sang, "Cubaw, Cubaw, sing out for Cuba Libre;" and instead of cheering for class numerals, they shouted, "What's the matter with Alfonso? He's all right—nit," and other "anti-Spanish sentiments."
The townspeople, the same old patient townspeople, came to the doors and windows and looked on with the same expressions they have been wearing, from generation to generation, ever since Washington led his victorious men into old North.
Knox, dressed in a 'Varsity sweater and somebody's stolen duck trousers, was, of course, in the lead. His head was thrown back, and he was having a serene, contented time, oblivious of the Morgue and everything urban, until suddenly, on the way back to the campus, the office of the Western Union Telegraph Company came within his horizon. Then he remembered the despatch in his pocket. Don't you see he was never meant for a newspaper man?
He snatched out his MS., and hastily glanced down the pages by the electric light of the street. "By Jove, I forgot all about the Spanish flag," he exclaimed, clapping his hand to the wad under his sweater. They had reached the campus gate now, and he felt that it was the psychological moment; he ought to lead them in and light the fire, but he did not like to cross out that part about the Spanish flag. Besides, it might make it less than $2.40 worth. "We'll march down to the School of Science and back first," shouted Knox, shoving his copy into his pocket.
"Hammie says down to the School of Science first. Down to the School of Science, fellows." It was repeated down the line.
Meanwhile Knox whipped out the yellow and red flag, and with a joyous yell ran over to the edge of the street and trailed it in the gutter, which happened just then to be occupied by water and notorious Jersey mud. The flag became so muddy that Knox dropped it. Then the whole procession marched over it delightedly.
"So far my stuff is all pat," said Knox to himself, as the procession turned back; "and I can trust them to carry out the rest of it." Excusing himself, he ran over to the telegraph-office, filed his despatch just as they were going to close up, and hurried back to the campus in time to light the goodly pile of timber which had been gathered by faithful Freshmen and soaked with kerosene.
It flared up beautifully and roared, and lighted up the bleak back campus in the rear of Witherspoon Hall; and the mad undergraduate mob began dancing and howling and throwing on more wood. A moment later, at a signal from Knox, a dozen fellows dashed around the corner of Witherspoon and down the terrace with a stuffed foot-ball suit. It had a yellow and red Lord Fauntleroy sash and a Tam o'Shanter cap on its wooden painted head, around which hung a placard reading, "Handle with care—one king of Spain!" This they carried three times around through the crowd, which yelled joyously when the king was dumped on the top of the flames. He was soaked with kerosene and crackled up cheerfully. So they yelled, "To hell with Spain." Ditto with Alfonso; ditto Weyler; ditto Blanco; ditto Spain, Weyler, and Alfonso—and gave three times three for Cuba and themselves.
At this point the university police charged down valiantly and dispersed the mob. Knox did not care; his story was now O. K. The police had seen the bulletin-board, and could doubtless have been more effective if they had torn down the pile before it was lighted; but in that case they would have missed the fun. The undergraduates did not mind being dispersed; the thirst for excitement was about satiated. They shouted, "All over, everybody," and departed, some for bed, some for books, and some for beer. All felt better.
It had given them a little helpful recreation, and a serious young professor, who looked on with note-book in hand, an illustration of "the Theory of the Mob," about which he had studied in Germany. As a matter of fact, there was very little patriotic emotion—or any other kind—"swaying" this gathering, except the desire to let themselves loose and expend the surplus energy of youth, which in certain months of the year cannot express itself in athletics, and yet must come out somehow. But this wise young professor did not understand such primitive motives of action, because he came from a large New England university, where life is an old, old story at nineteen or twenty, and the youth of his set were wont to divert themselves by dissecting their souls and making Meredithian aphorisms and patronizing the universe. He was not accustomed to such boyish spontaneity.
When the time came, and it came soon after this, a goodly number of these same yawping lads went to the front to get shot at, and an equal proportion of the New Englanders likewise, and both did the thing equally well; but at this time, down there in their academic seclusion, they did not care so very much about Cuba, and knew less. They were too full of their own undergraduate interests to feel very strongly on such trivial matters as monarchical tyranny or international complications. When they had time to read the papers they generally turned over to the athletic column. But they had no objection to burning Alfonso or anybody else in effigy, if Hamilton Knox said so; and they pronounced it very good horse, and went to sleep prepared to forget all about it; and so did young Knox, who, next morning arose early, caught the 7.10 for New York, stepped yawningly upon a cross-town car for East Twenty-Sixth Street, and found the little monotonous waves still slapping and swashing against the piles of the dock, which had the same old smell.
The paper he had bought on the trip to New York, showed his story on the first page, leaded, and hardly changed at all. He was pleased, but it had about worn off by this time. So he went out to his old place, lighted a cigarette, swung his legs, and wished he could do something. But he had done something.
Hamilton Knox's paper knew, as all the newspapers knew, that a crisis was impending. The despatch was an interesting commentary on the most momentous topic of the hour. In other words, it was pronounced "good news" by the night editor, who had immediately telegraphed, "Send half-col. more details, what was on transparencies, etc., stay down there until further notice." That was about the time Hamilton and his young friends were appreciating well-earned rest and refreshment in the grill-room, which was long after the telegraph-office windows became dark. The telegram was returned to the editor. So they cursed young Knox, and decided to ask him what he meant by not writing more in the first place.
Now his real reason, it will be remembered, was that the trip from New York to Princeton was not longer; but they forgot all about asking him, because they found the next morning that none of the other papers had a line about it. Young Knox had scored his first beat.
That was something to have done, better than smoking a pipe on the cars at least; but that was not the end of his story.
First, in the offices of every other morning paper in town there were scowls, and unfair remarks about college correspondents; while the afternoon papers were all quietly stealing the despatch for their first editions.
Next, all the big papers, both afternoon and morning editions, began sending men down to Princeton for the good second-day story they thought was there—too good for young Knox, thought his city editor, who unsympathetically let him stay at the Morgue while the best available man was instructed to "get all the details, names of the speakers, and what they said; secure interviews with the president and dean and the prominent professors, especially the Jingoes. There's a good second-day story in it. These college correspondents don't know anything." The yellow journals despatched artists to make pictures of the fire, whose ashes were now cold, and fac-similes of transparencies. So much for the first few hours of the day after Hamilton's holiday.
Meanwhile the New York papers had gone out to the other cities, and the story was clipped and copied, and a hundred clever men all over the East were now writing paragraphs about it. Some praised Princeton's patriotism and some condemned her bad taste, according to the political opinions of the men who paid the writers' salaries. The New York correspondents for Western cities and Western news agencies were flashing the story out to the sections beyond the immediate reach of the fast newspaper trains. But it did not stop there.
The American correspondents for foreign newspapers and news agencies had raised their eyebrows as soon as they saw the headline. Immediately they began sending deep down under the many miles of waves and water brief accounts of the holiday doings of Hammie Knox, who sat out on the string-piece of the dock, idly kicking his legs and wishing something would happen.
It will not take long to tell what happened. First the Madrid papers pounced upon it, then the other important Spanish papers published it with exclamation marks, and cabled to London clamoring for more, the Impartial meanwhile writing an inflamed editorial about Yankee pigs, which ran sputtering and exploding like a string of fire-crackers out through the provinces. Spread heads popped out in the morning, like mushrooms, on sleepy old papers in the interior of which no one ever heard before.
That night the students at the University of Madrid held an indignation meeting. There were speeches which began like the rolling of potatoes out of barrels, which ended with the sound of many saw-mills fighting. All the American flags in the place were torn into shreds, ground into the earth, spat upon. American citizens were jostled on the streets. There was a small-sized riot at the Café Sebastian. Minister Woodford stayed indoors all day, by request. Sagasta's hair bristled.
Meanwhile in London the ponderous Times had published a portentous leader. Labouchere had written something characteristic and caustic in the first person. The Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain in the Cabinet meeting said something suave about Anglo-American alliance. In Berlin, Emperor William twisted up his mustache. On the Paris Bourse, American consols dropped ten points, and in New York Hamilton Knox bought a fresh box of cigarettes.
Now the "second-day" stories were published. From a news point of view they fizzled out. "The university faculty," cabled the foreign correspondents, "profess surprise, and even amusement, that so much has been made of so small a matter. They seem to be trying to show that it was only a boyish prank, not an official university expression. They say it meant nothing."
Now, the Latin races are notoriously unappreciative of our humor. This last bulletin was all that was needed to make Spain froth at the mouth. "Meant nothing! Does our sacred honor mean nothing? Ah, ha! The Yankee pigs are now afraid. They would belittle thisinsult. They now tremble with fear," etc.
At this point the affair came into diplomatic existence. The correspondents had to wait for the cable. "Government business," they were informed. Something in cipher was cabled from Madrid to Señor De Lome's successor at Washington. He rang for his carriage, told the coachman with yellow and red facings on his livery to drive to the French ambassador's —"pronto!—quickly!"
The ponderous jaws of international conversation had begun to work. They worked all that day and most of the night.
The next day in the Cortes Señor Somebody-or-Other made that now historic speech, the one ending: "And if it is thus the youth in their universities of learning are taught, the time has now come when it is necessary for us as a nation of honor to teach yonder insolent nation of pigs what Spanish honor means, and what it means to insult it! … Our forefathers …! Honor to the death! … B-r-r-r," etc.; and they all screamed, gnashed their teeth, and shook themselves to pieces in their interesting Southern way. Then came the long-delayed action in regard to the demands of the United States. The vote was taken; the measure was defeated. The rest is history, as well known as the cub reporter's part in it is little known.
At 9.40 p.m. on February I5th, the Maine was blown up. On April 20th came our ultimatum. On April 2ist the managing editor said, "Mr. Knox, you are to join the despatch-boat at Tampa in forty-eight hours; get vaccinated and start this evening." But Hamilton declined. There was something better to do now.
Out upon the taffrail of a crowded transport, sat Trooper Knox swinging a pair of hardened legs and smoking a dirty pipe. He was about to have a chance at what he was best suited for, and he was chatting happily with another Rough Rider, his bunkie. "Newspaper work is no good," he confided; "they don't give you a chance to run with the ball."