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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThat Fortune - Chapter 5
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That Fortune - Chapter 5 Post by :Finner Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :1251

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That Fortune - Chapter 5


It is the desire of every ambitious soul to, enter Literature by the front door, and the few who have patience and money enough to live without the aid of the beckoning Helen may enter there. But a side entrance is the destiny of most aspirants, even those with the golden key of genius, and they are a long time in working their way to be seen coming out, of the front entrance. It is true that a man can attract considerable and immediate attention by trying to effect an entrance through the sewer, but he seldom gains the respect of the public whom he interests, any more than an exhibitor of fireworks gains the reputation of an artist that is accorded to the painter of a good picture.

Philip was waiting at the front door, with his essays and his prose symphonies and his satirical novel--the satire of a young man is apt to be very bitter--but it was as tightly shut against him as if a publisher and not the muse of literature kept the door.

There was a fellow-boarder with Philip, whose acquaintance he had made at the common table in the basement, who appeared to be free of the world of letters and art. He was an alert, compact, neatly dressed little fellow, who had apparently improved every one of his twenty-eight years in the study of life, in gaining assurance and confidence in himself, and also presented himself as one who knew the nether world completely but was not of it. He would have said of himself that he knew it profoundly, that he frequented it for "material," but that his home was in another sphere. The impression was that he belonged among those brilliant guerrillas of both sexes, in the border-land of art and society, who lived daintily and talked about life with unconventional freedom. Slight in figure, with very black hair, and eyes of cloudy gray, an olive complexion, and features trained to an immobility proof against emotion or surprise, the whole poised as we would say in the act of being gentlemanly, it is needless to say that he took himself seriously. His readiness, self-confidence, cocksureness, Philip thought all expressed in his name--Olin Brad.

Mr. Brad was not a Bohemian--that is, not at all a Bohemian of the recognized type. His fashionable dress, closely trimmed hair, and dainty boots took him out of that class. He belonged to the new order, which seems to have come in with modern journalism--that is, Bohemian in principle, but of the manners and apparel of the favored of fortune. Mr. Brad was undoubtedly clever, and was down as a bright young man in the list of those who employed talent which was not dulled by conscientious scruples. He had stood well in college, during three years in Europe he had picked up two or three languages, dissipated his remaining small fortune, acquired expensive tastes, and knowledge, both esoteric and exoteric, that was valuable to him in his present occupation. Returning home fully equipped for a modern literary career, and finding after some bitter experience that his accomplishments were not taken or paid for at their real value by the caterers for intellectual New York, he had dropped into congenial society on the staff of the Daily Spectrum, a mighty engine of public opinion, which scattered about the city and adjacent territory a million of copies, as prodigally as if they had been auctioneers' announcements. Fastidious people who did not read it gave it a bad name, not recognizing the classic and heroic attitude of those engaged in pitchforking up and turning over the muck of the Augean stables under the pretense of cleaning them.

Mr. Brad had a Socratic contempt for this sort of fault-finding. It was answer enough to say, "It pays. The people like it or they wouldn't buy it. It commands the best talent in the market and can afford to pay for it; even clergymen like to appear in its columns--they say it's a providential chance to reach the masses. And look at the 'Morning GooGoo' (this was his nickname for one of the older dailies), it couldn't pay its paper bills if it hadn't such a small circulation."

Mr. Brad, however, was not one of the editors, though the acceptance of an occasional short editorial, sufficiently piquant and impudent and vivid in language--to suit, had given him hopes. He was salaried, but under orders for special service, and was always in the hope that the execution of each new assignment would bring him into popular notice, which would mean an advance of position and pay.

Philip was impressed with the ready talent, the adaptable talent, and the facility of this accomplished journalist, and as their acquaintance improved he was let into many of the secrets of success in the profession.

"It isn't an easy thing," said Mr. Brad, "to cater to a public that gets tired of anything in about three days. But it is just as well satisfied with a contradiction as with the original statement. It calls both news. You have to watch out and see what the people want, and give it to 'em. It is something like the purveying of the manufacturers and the dry-goods jobber for the changing trade in fashions; only the newspaper has the advantage that it can turn a somersault every day and not have any useless stock left on hand.

"The public hasn't any memory, or, if it has, this whirligig process destroys it. What it will not submit to is the lack of a daily surprise. Keep that in your mind and you can make a popular newspaper. Only," continued Mr. Brad, reflectively, "you've got to hit a lot of different tastes."

"You'd laugh," this artist in emotions went on, after a little pause, "at some of my assignments. There was a run awhile ago on elopements, and my assignment was to have one every Monday morning. The girl must always be lovely and refined and moving in the best society; elopement with the coachman preferred, varied with a teacher in a Sunday-school. Invented? Not always. It was surprising how many you could find ready made, if you were on the watch. I got into the habit of locating them in the interior of Pennsylvania as the safest place, though Jersey seemed equally probable to the public. Did I never get caught? That made it all the more lively and interesting. Denials, affidavits, elaborate explanations, two sides to any question; if it was too hot, I could change the name and shift the scene to a still more obscure town. Or it could be laid to the zeal of a local reporter, who could give the most ingenious reasons for his story. Once I worked one of those imaginary reporters up into such prominence for his clever astuteness that my boss was taken in, and asked me to send for him and give him a show on the paper.

"Oh, yes, we have to keep up the domestic side. A paper will not go unless the women like it. One of the assignments I liked was 'Sayings of Our Little Ones.' This was for every Tuesday morning. Not more than half a column. These always got copied by the country press solid. It is really surprising how many bright things you can make children of five and six years say if you give your mind to it. The boss said that I overdid it sometimes and made them too bright instead of 'just cunning.'

"'Psychological Study of Children' had a great run. This is the age of science. Same with animals, astronomy--anything. If the public wants science, the papers will give it science.

"After all, the best hold for a lasting sensation is an attack upon some charity or public institution; show up the abuses, and get all the sentimentalists on your side. The paper gets sympathy for its fearlessness in serving the public interests. It is always easy to find plenty of testimony from ill-used convicts and grumbling pensioners."

Undoubtedly Olin Brad was a clever fellow, uncommonly well read in the surface literatures of foreign origin, and had a keen interest in what he called the metaphysics of his own time. He had many good qualities, among them friendliness towards men and women struggling like himself to get up the ladder, and he laid aside all jealousy when he advised Philip to try his hand at some practical work on the Spectrum. What puzzled Philip was that this fabricator of "stories" for the newspaper should call himself a "realist." The "story," it need hardly be explained, is newspaper slang for any incident, true or invented, that is worked up for dramatic effect. To state the plain facts as they occurred, or might have occurred, and as they could actually be seen by a competent observer, would not make a story. The writer must put in color, and idealize the scene and the people engaged in it, he must invent dramatic circumstances and positions and language, so as to produce a "picture." And this picture, embroidered on a commonplace incident, has got the name of "news." The thread of fact in this glittering web the reader must pick out by his own wits, assisted by his memory of what things usually are. And the public likes these stories much better than the unadorned report of facts. It is accustomed to this view of life, so much so that it fancies it never knew what war was, or what a battle was, until the novelists began to report them.

Mr. Brad was in the story stage of his evolution as a writer. His light facility in it had its attraction for Philip, but down deep in his nature he felt and the impression was deepened by watching the career of several bright young men and women on the press--that indulgence in it would result in such intellectual dishonesty as to destroy the power of producing fiction that should be true to life. He was so impressed by the ability and manifold accomplishments of Mr. Brad that he thought it a pity for him to travel that road, and one day he asked him why he did not go in for literature.

"Literature!" exclaimed Mr. Brad, with some irritation; "I starved on literature for a year. Who does live on it, till he gets beyond the necessity of depending on it? There is a lot of humbug talked about it. You can't do anything till you get your name up. Some day I will make a hit, and everybody will ask, 'Who is this daring, clever Olin Brad?' Then I can get readers for anything I choose to write. Look at Champ Lawson. He can't write correct English, he never will, he uses picturesque words in a connection that makes you doubt if he knows what they mean. But he did a dare-devil thing picturesquely, and now the publishers are at his feet. When I met him the other day he affected to be bored with so much attention, and wished he had stuck to the livery-stable. He began at seventeen by reporting a runaway from the point of view of the hostler."

"Well," said Philip, "isn't it quite in the line of the new movement that we should have an introspective hostler, who perhaps obeys Sir Philip Sidney's advice, 'Look into your heart and write'? I chanced the other night in a company of the unconventional and illuminated, the 'poster' set in literature and art, wild-eyed and anaemic young women and intensely languid, 'nil admirari' young men, the most advanced products of the studios and of journalism. It was a very interesting conclave. Its declared motto was, 'We don't read, we write.' And the members were on a constant strain to say something brilliant, epigrammatic, original. The person who produced the most outre sentiment was called 'strong.' The women especially liked no writing that was not 'strong.' The strongest man in the company, and adored by the women, was the poet-artist Courci Cleves, who always seems to have walked straight out of a fashion-plate, much deferred to in this set, which affects to defer to nothing, and a thing of beauty in the theatre lobbies. Mr. Cleves gained much applause for his well-considered wish that all that has been written in the world, all books and libraries, could be destroyed, so as to give a chance to the new men and the fresh ideas of the new era."

"My dear sir," said Brad, who did not like this caricature of his friends, "you don't make any allowance for the eccentricities of genius."

"You would hit it nearer if you said I didn't make allowance for the eccentricities without genius," retorted Philip.

"Well," replied Mr. Brad, taking his leave, "you don't understand your world. You go your own way and see where you will come out."

And when Philip reflected on it, he wondered if it were not rash to offend those who had the public ear, and did up the personals and minor criticisms for the current prints. He was evidently out of view. No magazine paper of his had gained the slightest notice from these sublimated beings, who discovered a new genius every month.

A few nights after this conversation Mr. Brad was in uncommon spirits at dinner.

"Anything special turned up?" asked Philip.

"Oh, nothing much. I've thrown away the chance of the biggest kind of a novel of American life. Only it wouldn't keep. You look in the Spectrum tomorrow morning. You'll see something interesting."

"Is it a--" and Philip's incredulous expression supplied the word.

"No, not a bit. And the public is going to be deceived this time, sure, expecting a fake. You know Mavick?"

"I've heard of him--the operator, a millionaire."

"A good many times. Used to be minister or consul or something at Rome. A great swell. It's about his daughter, Evelyn, a stunning girl about sixteen or seventeen--not out yet."

"I hope it's no scandal."

"No, no; she's all right. It's the way she's brought up--shows what we've come to. They say she's the biggest heiress in America and a raving beauty, the only child. She has been brought up like the Kohinoor, never out of somebody's sight. She has never been alone one minute since she was born. Had three nurses, and it was the business of one of them, in turn, to keep an eye on her. Just think of that. Never was out of the sight of somebody in her life. Has two maids now--always one in the room, night and day."

"What for?"

"Why, the parents are afraid she'll be kidnapped, and held for a big ransom. No, I never saw her, but I've got the thing down to a dot. Wouldn't I like to interview her, though, get her story, how the world looks to her. Under surveillance for sixteen years! The 'Prisoner of Chillon' is nothing to it for romance."

"Just the facts are enough, I should say."

"Yes, facts make a good basis, sometimes. I've got 'em all in, but of course I've worked the thing up for all it is worth. You'll see. I kept it one day to try and get a photograph. We've got the house and Mavick, but the girl's can't be found, and it isn't safe to wait. We are going to blow it out tomorrow morning."

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That Fortune - Chapter 6 That Fortune - Chapter 6

That Fortune - Chapter 6
CHAPTER VIThe Mavick mansion was on Fifth Avenue in the neighborhood of Central Park. It was one of the buildings in the city that strangers were always taken to see. In fact, this was a palace not one kind of a palace, but all kinds of a palace. The clever and ambitious architect of the house had grouped all the styles of architecture he had ever seen, or of which he had seen pictures. Here was not an architectural conception, like a sonnet or a well-constructed novel, but if all the work could have been spread out in line, in all

That Fortune - Chapter 4 That Fortune - Chapter 4

That Fortune - Chapter 4
CHAPTER IVTraits that make a child disagreeable are apt to be perpetuated in the adult. The bumptious, impudent, selfish, "hateful" boy may become a man of force, of learning, of decided capacity, even of polish and good manners, and score success, so that those who know him say how remarkable it is that such a "knurly" lad should have turned out so well. But some exigency in his career, it may be extraordinary prosperity or bitter defeat, may at any moment reveal the radical traits of the boy, the original ignoble nature. The world says that it is a "throwing back";