The year had been, as everybody knows, a momentous and sinister year for the masculine sex; marriages and births in the United States alone had fallen off nearly eighty per cent.; the establishment of Suffragette Unions in every city, town, and village of the country, their obedience to the dictation of the Central National Female Franchise Federation; the financial distress of the florists, caterers, milliners and modistes incident to the almost total suspension of social functions throughout the great cities of the land, threatened eventually to paralyse the nation’s business.
Clergymen were in a pitiable condition for lack of fees and teas; the marriage license bureau was open only Mondays and Saturdays; the social columns of the newspapers were abolished. All over the Union young men were finding time hanging heavy on their hands after business hours because there was little to do now that every town had its Franchise Clubs magnificently fitted with every requisite that a rapidly advancing sex could possibly demand.
The pressure upon the men of the Republic was becoming tremendous; but, as everybody knows, they held out with a courage worthy, perhaps, of a better cause, and women were still denied the franchise in the face of impending national disaster.
But the Central Federation of Amalgamated Females was to deliver a more deadly blow at man than any yet attempted, a blow that for cruelty and audacity remains unparalleled in the annals of that restless sex.
As everybody now knows, this terrible policy was to be inaugurated in secret; a trial was to be made of the idea in New York State; neither the state nor federal governments had the faintest suspicion of what impended; not a single newspaper had any inkling.
Even Augustus Melnor, owner and editor of that greatest of New York daily newspapers, the Morning Star, continued to pay overwhelming attention to his personal appearance, confident that the great feminine revolt was on its last shapely legs, and that once more womankind would be kind to any kind of mankind, and flirt and frivol and marry, and provide progeny, and rock the cradle as in the good old days of yore.
So it happened one raw, windy day in May, Mr. Melnor entered his private office in the huge Morning Star building, in an unusually cheerful frame of mind and sent for the city editor, Mr. Trinkle.
“An exceedingly pretty girl smiled at me on my way down town, Trinkle,” he said exultantly. “That begins to look as though the backbone of this suffragette strike was broken. What?”
“You’ve got a dent in your derby; it may have been that,” said Mr. Trinkle.
Mr. Melnor hastily removed his hat and punched out the dent.
“I’m not so sure it was that,” he said, flushing up.
Mr. Trinkle gazed gloomily out of the window.
For an hour they talked business; then Mr. Melnor was ready to go.
“How are my nephews getting on?” he asked.
“Something rotten,” replied Mr. Trinkle truthfully.
“What’s the matter with ’em?”
“Everything—except a talent for business.”
“You mean to say they exhibit no aptitude?”
“Not the slightest.”
Mr. Melnor seized his overcoat from the hook.
Mr. Trinkle offered to hold it for him. The offer irritated the wealthy owner of the Star, who suspected that the city editor meant to intimate that he, Mr. Melnor, was too old to get into his own overcoat without assistance.
“Never mind!” he said ungratefully. He fussed at the carnation in his buttonhole, picked up his doggy walking stick, glanced over his carefully pressed trousers and light coloured spats, strolled across to the mirror, and leisurely drew on his new gloves.
“Mr. Trinkle,” he began more complacently, “what I want you to always bear in mind is that my pup nephews require a thorough grilling! I want you to bully ’em! Suppress ’em! Squelch, nag, worry, sit on ’em!”
“I have,” said the city editor with satisfaction. “They loathe me.”
“Do it some more, then! I won’t permit any nepotism in this office! If you don’t keep after ’em they’ll turn into little beastly journalists instead of into decent, self-respecting newspaper men! Have either of my nephews attempted to write any more poetry for the Saturday supplement?”
“Young Sayre got away with some verses.”
“Wha’ d’ye do with ’em?” growled Mr. Melnor.
“Printed them! Are—you—craz-y?”
“Don’t worry. Sayre got no signature out of me.”
“But why did you print?”
“Because those verses were too devilish good to lose. You must have read them. It was that poem Amourette.”
“Did he do that?”
“Yes; and the entire sentimental press of the country is now copying it without credit.”
“My nephew wrote Amourette?” repeated Mr. Melnor with mingled emotions.
“He sure did. That poem seemed to deal a direct blow at this suffragette strike. Several women subscribers sent in mash notes. I had a mind to take advantage of one or two myself.”
Pride and duty contended in the breast of Augustus Melnor; duty won.
“That’s what I told you!” he snapped; “those pups will begin to write for the magazines if you don’t look out!”
“Well I tell you that they’ve no nose for news—no real instinct—and they might as well write for the backs of the magazines.”
“They’ve got to acquire news instinct! Bang it into ’em, Trinkle! Rub their noses in it! I’ll have those pups understand that if ever they expect to see any inheritance from me they’ll have to prepare themselves to step into my shoes! They’ll have to know the whole business—from window-washer to desk!—and they’ve got to like it, too—every bit of it! You keep ’em at it if it kills ’em, Trinkle. Understand?”
“It’ll kill more than those gifted young literary gentlemen,” said Trinkle darkly.
“What do you mean by that?”
“It will kill a few dozen good stories. We’re going to murder a big one now. But it’s your funeral.”
“That Adirondack story?”
“Exactly. It’s as good as dead.”
“Trinkle! Listen to me. How are we going to make men of those pups if we don’t rouse their pride? I tell you a man grows to meet the opportunity. The bigger the opportunity the bigger he grows—or he blows up! Put those boys up against the biggest job of the year and it’s worth five years’ liberal education to them. That’s my policy. Isn’t it a good one?”
Mr. Trinkle said: “It’s your paper. I don’t give a damn.”
Mr. Melnor glared at him.
“You do what I tell you,” he growled. “You start in and slam ’em around the way they say Belasco slammed Leslie Carter! I’ll have no nepotism here!”
He went out by a private entrance, walking with the jaunty energy that characterised him. Mr. Trinkle looked after him. “Talk of nepotism!” he muttered, then struck the desk savagely.
To the overzealous young man who came in with an exuberant step he snarled:
“Showemin! And don’t you go volplaning around this office or I’ll destroy you!”
A moment afterward the youthful nephews of the great Mr. Melnor appeared. They closed and locked the door behind them as they were tersely bidden, then stood in a row, politely and attentively receptive—well-bred, pleasant-faced, expensive-looking young fellows, typical of the metropolis. Mr. Trinkle eyed them with disfavour.
“So at last you’re ready to start, eh?” he rasped out. “I thought perhaps you’d gone to Newport for the summer to think it over. You are ready, are you not?”
“Yes, sir, we hope to——”
“Well, dammit! ‘yes’ is enough! Cut out the ‘we hope to’! And try not to look at me patiently, Mr. Sayre. I don’t want anybody to be patient with me. I dislike it. I prefer to incite impatience in people. Impatience is a form of energy. I like energy! Energy is important in this business. The main thing is to get a move on; and then, first you know, you’ll begin to hustle. Try it for a change.”
He continued to inspect them gloomily for a few moments; then:
“To successfully cover this story,” he continued, “you both ought to be expert woodsmen, thoroughly inured to hardship, conversant with woodcraft and nature. Are you?”
“We’ve been reading up,” began Langdon confidently; “we have a dozen pocket volumes to take into the woods with us.”
“Haven’t I already warned you that every ounce of superfluous luggage will weigh a ton in the woods?” interrupted the city editor scornfully. “Are you two youthful guys under the impression that you can stroll through the wilderness loaded down with a five-foot shelf of assorted junk?”
“Sayre arranged that,” said Langdon. “He has invented a wonderful system, Mr. Trinkle. You know that thin, white stuff, which resembles sheets of paper, that they give goldfish to eat. Well, Sayre and I tasted it; and it wasn’t very bad; so we had them make up twelve thousand sheets of it, flavoured with vanilla, and then we got Dribble & Co., the publishers, to print one set of their Nature Library on the sheets and bind ’em up in edible cassava covers. As soon as we thoroughly master a volume we can masticate it, pages, binding, everything. William, show Mr. Trinkle your note-book,” he added, turning to Sayre, who hastily produced a pad and displayed it with pardonable pride.
“Made entirely of fish food, sugar, pemmican, and cassava,” he said modestly. “Takes pencil, ink, stylograph, indelible pencil, crayon, chalk—”
The city editor regarded the two young men and then the edible pad in amazement.
“What?” he barked. “Say it again!”
“It’s made of perfectly good fish-wafer, Mr. Trinkle. We had it analysed by Professor Smawl, and he says it is mildly nutritious. So we added other ingredients——”
“You mean to say that this pad is fit to eat?”
“Certainly,” said Langdon. “Bite into it, William, and show him.”
Sayre bit out a page from the pad and began to masticate it. The city editor regarded him with intense hostility.
“Oh, very well,” he said. “I haven’t any further suggestions to offer. Your uncle has picked you for the job. But it’s my private opinion that here is where you make good or hunt another outlet for your genius—even if your uncle does own the Star.”
Then he rose and laid his hands on their shoulders:
“It’s a wild and desolate region,” he said, with an irony they did not immediately perceive; “nothing but woods and rocks and air and earth and mountains and madly rushing torrents and weird, silent lakes—nothing but trails, macadam roads, and sign-posts and hotels and camps and tourists, and telephones. If you find yourself in any very terrible solitudes, abandon everything and make for the nearest fashionable five-dollar-a-day igloo. It may be almost a mile away, but try to reach it, and God bless you.”
As the dawning suspicion that they were being trifled with became an embarrassed certainty, the city editor’s grim visage cracked into a grimmer grin.
“I don’t think that you young gentlemen are cut out for a newspaper career, but you do, and others higher up say to let you try it. So you’re going in to find at least one of those four men, dead or alive. The police haven’t been able to find them, but you will, of course. The game-wardens, fire-wardens, guides, constables, farmers, lumbermen, sheriffs, can’t discover hair or hide of them; but no doubt you can. The wild and dismal state forest is now full of detectives, amateur and professional; it’s full of hotel keepers, trout fishermen, and private camps which are provided with elevators, electric light, squash courts, modern plumbing, and footmen in knee-breeches; and all of these dinky ginks are hunting for four young and wealthy men who have, at regular intervals of one week each, suddenly and completely disappeared from the face of nature and the awful solitudes of the Adirondacks. I take it for granted that you have the necessary data concerning their several and respective vanishings?”
“Yes, sir,” said Langdon, who was becoming redder and redder under the bland flow of the Desk’s irony.
“Suppose you run over the main points before you dash recklessly out into the woods via Broadway.”
“William,” said Langdon with boyish dignity, “would you be kind enough to run over your notes for Mr. Trinkle?”
“It will afford me much pleasure to do so,” replied Sayre, also very red and dignified.
Out of his pocket he drew what appeared to be an attenuated ham sandwich. Opening it with a slight smile of triumph, as Mr. Trinkle’s eyes protruded, he turned a page of fish-wafer paper and read aloud the pencilled memoranda:
“May 1st, 1910.
“Reginald Willett, a wealthy amateur, author of Rough Life Photography, Snapshots at Trees, Hunting the Wild Bat with the Camera, etc., etc., left his summer camp on the Gilded Dome, taking with him his kodak for the purpose of securing photographs of the wilder flowers of the wilderness.
“He never returned. His butler and second man discovered his camera in the trail.
“No other trace of him has yet been discovered. He was young, well built, handsome, and in excellent physical condition.”
Sayre turned the page outward so that Mr. Trinkle could see it.
“Here’s his photograph,” he said, “and his dimensions.”
Mr. Trinkle nodded: “Go on,” he said; and Sayre resumed, turning the page:
“May 8th: James Carrick, a minor poet, young, well built, handsome, and in excellent physical condition, disappeared from a boat on Dingman’s Pond. The boat was found. It contained a note-book in which was neatly written the following graceful poem:
“While gliding o’er thy fair expanse
And gazing at the shore beyond,
What simple joys the soul entrance
Evoked by rowing on Dingman’s Pond.
The joy I here have found shall be
Dear to my heart till life forsake,
And often shall I think of thee,
Thou mildly beauteous Dingman’s Lake.”
“Stop!” said Mr. Trinkle, infuriated. Sayre looked up.
“The poem gets the hook!” he snarled. “Go on!”
“The next,” continued young Sayre, referring to his edible note-book, “is the case of De Lancy Smith. On May 16th he left his camp, taking with him his rod with the intention of trying for some of the larger, wilder, and more dangerous trout which it is feared still infest the remoter streams of the State forest.
“His luncheon, consisting of truffled patés and champagne, was found by a searching party, but De Lancy Smith has never again been seen or heard of. He was young, well built, handsome, and——”
“In excellent physical condition!” snapped Mr. Trinkle. “That’s the third Adonis you’ve described. Quit it!”
“But that is the exact description of those three young men——”
“Every one of ’em?”
“Every one. They all seem to have been exceptionally handsome and healthy.”
“Well, does that suggest any clue to you? Think! Use your mind. Do you see any clue?”
“In the probably similar fate of so much masculine beauty?”
The young men looked at him, perplexed, silent.
Mr. Trinkle waved his hands in desperation.
“Wake up!” he shouted. “Doesn’t it strike you as odd that every one of them so far has been Gibsonian perfection itself? Doesn’t that seem funny? Doesn’t it suggest some connection with the present Franchise strike?”
“It is odd,” said Langdon, thoughtfully.
“You notice,” bellowed Mr. Trinkle, “that no young man disappears who isn’t a physical Adonis, do you? No thin-shanked, stoop-shouldered, scant-haired highbrow has yet vanished. You notice that, don’t you, Sayre? Open your mouth and speak! Say anything! Say pip! if you like—only say something!”
The young man nodded, bewildered, and his mouth remained open.
“All right, all right—as long as you do notice it,” yelled the city editor, “it looks safe for you; I guess you both will come back, all right—in case any of these suffragettes have become desperate and have started kidnapping operations.”
Langdon was rather thin; he glanced sideways at Sayre, who wore glasses and whose locks were prematurely scant.
“Go on, William,” he said, with a crisp precision of diction which betrayed irritation and Harvard.
Sayre examined his notes, and presently read from them:
“The fourth and last victim of the Adirondack wilderness disappeared very recently—May 24th. His name was Alphonso W. Green, a wealthy amateur artist. When last seen he was followed by his valet, who carried a white umbrella, a folding stool, a box of colours, and several canvases. After luncheon the valet went back to the Gilded Dome Hotel to fetch some cigarettes. When he returned to where he had left his master painting a picture of something, which he thinks was a tree, but which may have been cows in bathing, Mr. Green had vanished. . . . Hum—hum!—ahem! He was young, well built, handsome, and——”
“Kill it!” thundered the city editor, purple with passion.
“But it’s the official descrip——”
“I don’t believe it! I won’t! I can’t! How the devil can a whole bunch of perfect Apollos disappear that way? There are not four such men in this State, anyway—outside of fiction and the stage——”
“I’m only reading you the official——”
Mr. Trinkle gulped; the chewing muscles worked in his cheeks, then calmness came, and his low and anxiously lined brow cleared.
“All right,” he said. “Show me, that’s all I ask. Go ahead and find just one of these disappearing Apollos. That’s all I ask.”
He shook an inky finger at them impressively, timing its wagging to his parting admonition:
“We want two things, do you understand? We want a story, and we want to print it before any other paper. Never mind reporting progress and the natural scenery; never mind telegraphing the condition of the local colour or the dialect of northern New York, or your adventures with nature, or how you went up against big game, or any other kind of game. I don’t want to hear from you until you’ve got something to say. All you’re to do is to prowl and mouse and slink and lurk and hunt and snoop and explore those woods until you find one or more of these Adonises; and then get the story to us by chain-lightning, if,” he added indifferently, “it breaks both your silly necks to do it.”
They passed out with calm dignity, saying “Good-bye, sir,” in haughtily modulated voices.
As they closed the door they heard him grunt a parting injury.
“What an animal!” observed Sayre. “If it wasn’t for the glory of being on the N. Y. Star——”
“Sure,” said Langdon, “it’s a great paper; besides, we’ve got to—if we want to remain next to Uncle Augustus.”
It was a great newspaper; for ethical authority its editorials might be compared only to the Herald’s; for disinterested principle the Sun alone could compare with it; it had all the lively enterprise and virile, restless energy of the Tribune; all the gay, inconsequent, and frothy sparkle of the Evening Post; all the risky popularity of the Outlook. It was a very, very great New York daily. What on earth has become of it!
Categories: English Literature