A Republic without A President and Other Stories by Herbert D. Ward

A Republic without A President and Other Stories by Herbert D. Ward

THE LOST CITY.


I.

“Great guns!” The ejaculator tipped his straw hat off with his left hand, let it roll upon the office floor, made a dab for a damp pocket handkerchief in his right pistol pocket, and stared at the yellow paper again. “Whew! I don’t believe it!” he muttered. Then, aware that the keen eyes of the three-and-a-half-foot messenger boy were upon him, as if sizing him up for news, he stared at the telegram again, mumbled “It’s a fake! Great guns!” and rushed from the room.

The messenger boy looked after the editor’s retreating form with a knowing wink, as if the whole thing had been a special job put up by himself, whistled “Annie Rooney,” took up a tattered copy of “Famous Quotations,” laid it down again with an expression of mingled respect and scepticism, characteristic of his kind, and then swaggered out of the editorial sanctum.

“Well, Swift, what’s up now?”

The editor-in-chief of the Daily Planet (Democratic) lifted his young, alert face from the evening edition of his own journal to that of his news editor. Interruptions were the expected thing in that stirring office.

Swift did not speak, but laid the telegram upon the desk, pulled out a Victoria Regina, and chewed it nervously. The chief read the message through once to himself, gave one glance at the face of his subordinate, and then said:

“This is a repeat, is it not?”

“Yes sir. First news came three hours ago. I didn’t believe it. Thought it a fake. Half think so still. I wouldn’t insert it, and wired for an immediate reply. Here it is. It is too late for the five o’clock edition. What shall I do?”

“Well, this is extraordinary!” conceded the chief. This admission meant a great deal in that office, deluged with news from all parts of the world, where it frequently happened that fourteen columns of purchased and paid for telegraphic despatches were not considered important enough to use, and were dropped in the waste-paper basket. The chief pressed the button in his desk and asked the boy that appeared to inform Mr. Ticks that he was wanted at once.

Mr. Stalls Ticks answered the summons promptly. He was a sallow, faded, middle-aged man, dressed in a sere and faded Prince Albert coat, with sallow and faded boots. In fact, the whole appearance of this invaluable member of the Planet corps gave one the impression of the last minute of autumn, when even the trunks of the trees, the stones of the hills, the soil of the valleys look sere and yellow and faded and ready for a winter’s sleep. Mr. Ticks looked as if he were waiting for the trance that never overcame him.

“I wish to know something of Russell, the capital of the new State of Harrison, Mr. Ticks.”

Mr. Ticks pulled out a yellow, faded, silk bandanna, wiped his spectacles sadly, and with an over-aspirated tone asked:

“Yes, sir?”

Mr. Swift looked at him with mingled disgust and respect, and tapped his foot impatiently on the bare floor.

“Let me see; it is situated?” proceeded the chief quietly.

“On the southeast shore of the Great Gopher lake.” Mr. Ticks finished the sentence mechanically.

“Ah! I remember. Its population?”

“Twenty-nine thousand five hundred and fifty-two. It increases at the rate of thirty a day.”

“Exactly so! It is—?”

“Just two years nine months and twelve days old.”

“To be sure. Its property—?”

“Is one hundred and sixty-four million dollars, in round numbers.”

“Of course. Its industries are—?”

“The usual pertaining to Western cities, I suppose. I confess ignorance to concrete particulars. The reports have been singularly deficient in this respect. I credit this entirely to its youth.”

“Indeed! Its railroad facilities—?”

“The C. H. & S. F. is its great trunk line. Three branch lines have their centre there—just built. Two roads are surveyed to shorten the distance to Chicago and San Francisco respectively.”

“Any other facts of interest, Mr. Ticks?” Mr. Ticks hesitated.

“Well—no—yes—no. In fact, there is nothing of special importance that I—that is different from any other city—except—nothing, sir, that I am willing to stake my professional reputation upon; you must excuse me, sir.”

“Is it in the cyclone area, Mr. Ticks?”

“No, sir. The centre of barometric depression is farther north. The Buzzard mountains to the south deflect all such storm centres. Russell will be singularly free from tornadoes.”

The editor-in-chief looked somewhat nonplussed, and handed Mr. Ticks the telegram, with the remark:

“What do you think of that?”

“I do not know, sir. I cannot give an opinion.”

“I, Mr. Ticks, I for one believe this is true. I’ll—I’ll stake my reputation on it!” said Swift decidedly. Mr. Ticks’ exasperating caution grated on the news editor and converted his scepticism into conviction.

“If it is,” replied his chief, quietly, “you can start for the scene to-night on the six thirty express. You did up the Charleston earthquake. You were the first on the spot at Johnstown, and this promises to be as bad—or as good.”

Swift tried to look indifferent at this cumulation of trust. He had been on the paper for five years; he had started in as night reporter, and his own ability and quickness, united with a certain caution, one might call it a news integrity, had raised him to his present position. The Planet had the singular reputation of printing the truth. It rarely was “taken in,” with a false item. It aspired far beyond the local.

The Planet, under the able management of its chief and of Swift, had become the mirror of the world. And, if at times it reflected important news from a convex surface, it did no more and far less than the majority of its contemporaries, who had no telegraphic facts to throw away daily, and who, when hard pressed to it, manufactured a murder at home or a war rumor abroad to help pad their lean columns.

“Let me see! It is five forty-five,” continued the chief, consulting his watch. “I will not detain you any longer, Mr. Ticks. We shall want a column from you on Russell, to-night. And now, Swift,”—when Mr. Ticks had faded out of the room,—”who’s this correspondent signed D.?”

“It’s Dubbs. You know him. Associated press man and special correspondent. Never failed me. He’s the only one there who knows our cipher.”

The editor-in-chief did not change his expression, but his eyes had the steady, stern look that showed easy determination. He quickly wrote a few words on his pad and handed them to his favorite “sub.”

“Take this to the cashier! Get to the elevated as fast as you can! Buy what you need when you get time, and—go! I depend on you for the fullest description to be had. If you do as well as you did on the Conemaugh, I’ll give you a raise on your return. Good luck to you.”

It did not take Mr. Swift five minutes to rush to his den, slip on his coat, snatch his hat from the floor, run downstairs, receive a fat roll of bills from the phlegmatic cashier and bolt for the elevated train. In twenty-five minutes he was at the central station, with two minutes to spare. He nodded pleasantly to the gatekeeper and boarded the train as nonchalantly as if he were going to his suburban boarding-house.

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Categories: English Literature

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