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- An Adventure With A Genius - 16/21 -
office of a general agent who had advertised for hands to go down the Mississippi and take up well-paid posts on a Louisiana sugar plantation. The agent demanded a fee of five dollars from each applicant, and, by pooling their resources, the members of this wretched band managed to meet the charge. The same night they were taken on board a steamer which immediately started down river. At three o'clock in the morning they were landed on the river bank about forty miles below St. Louis, at a spot where there was neither house, road, nor clearing. Before the marooned party had time to realize its plight the steamer had disappeared.
A council of war was held, and it was decided that they should tramp back to St. Louis, and put a summary termination to the agent's career by storming his office and murdering him. Whether or not this reckless program would have been carried out it is impossible to say, for when, three days later, the ragged army arrived in the city, worn out with fatigue and half dead from hunger, the agent had decamped.
A reporter happened to pick up the story, and by mere chance met Pulitzer and induced him to write out in German the tale of his experiences. This account created such an impression on the mind of the editor through whose hands it passed that Pulitzer was offered, and accepted, with the greatest misgivings, as he solemnly assured us, a position as reporter on the Westliche Post.
The event proved that there had been no grounds for J. P.'s modest doubts. After he had been some time on the paper, things went so badly that two reporters had to be got rid of. The editor kept Pulitzer on the staff, because he felt that if anyone was destined to force him out of the editorial chair it was not a young, uneducated foreigner, who could hardly mumble half-a-dozen words of English. The editor was mistaken. Within a few years J. P. not only supplanted him but became half- proprietor of the paper.
Another interesting anecdote of his early days, which he told with great relish, related to his experience as a fireman on a Mississippi ferryboat. His limited knowledge of English was regarded by the captain as a personal affront, and that fire-eating old-timer made it his particular business to let young Pulitzer feel the weight of his authority. At last the overwork and the constant bullying drove J. P. into revolt, and he left the boat after a violent quarrel with the captain.
Whenever J. P. reached this point in the story, and I heard him tell it several times, his face lighted up with amusement, and he had to stop until he had enjoyed a good laugh.
"Well, my God!" he would conclude, "about two years later, when I had learned English and studied some law and been made a notary public, this very same captain walked into my office in St. Louis one day to have some documents sealed. As soon as he saw me he stopped short, as if he had seen a ghost, and said, "Say, ain't you the damned cuss that I fired off my boat?"
"I told him yes, I was. He was the most surprised man I ever saw, but after he had sworn himself hoarse he faced the facts and gave me his business."
Mr. Pulitzer always declared that the proudest day of his life, the occasion on which his vanity was most tickled, was when he was elected to the Missouri Legislature. Things were evidently run in a rather happy-go-lucky fashion in those early days, since, as he admitted with a reminiscent smile, he was absolutely disqualified for election, being neither an American citizen nor of age.
Mr. Pulitzer's anecdotes about himself always ended in one way. He would break off suddenly and exclaim, "For Heaven's sake, why do you let me run on like this; as soon as a man gets into the habit of talking about his past adventures he might just as well make up his mind that he is growing old and that his intellect is giving way."
It was this strong disinclination for personal reminiscence which prevented Mr. Pulitzer, despite many urgent appeals, from writing his autobiography. It is a thousand pities that he adhered to this resolution, for his career, as well in point of interest as in achievement and picturesqueness, would have stood the test of comparison with that of any man whose life-story has been preserved in literature.
WIESBADEN AND AN ATLANTIC VOYAGE
At last the time came when we had to leave the yacht and make a pilgrimage to Wiesbaden, in order that Mr. Pulitzer might submit to a cure before sailing for New York.
The first stage of our journey took us from Genoa to Milan. Here we stayed for five hours so that J. P. could have his lunch and his siesta comfortably at an hotel. Paterson had been sent ahead two or three days in advance to look over the hotels and to select the one which promised to be least noisy. On our arrival in Milan J. P. was taken to an automobile, and in ten minutes he was in his rooms.
Simple as these arrangements appear from the bald statement of what actually happened they really involved a great deal of care and forethought. It was not enough that Paterson should visit half-a-dozen hotels and make his choice from a cursory inspection. After his choice had been narrowed down by a process of elimination he had to spend several hours in each of two or three hotels, in the room intended for J. P., so that he could detect any of the hundred noises which might make the room uninhabitable to its prospective tenant.
The room might be too near the elevator, it might be too near a servants' staircase, it might overlook a courtyard where carpets were beaten, or a street with heavy traffic, it might be within earshot of a dining-room where an orchestra played or a smoking-room with the possibility of loud talking, it might open off a passage which gave access to some much frequented reception-room.
Most of these points could be determined by merely observing the location of the room. But other things were to be considered. Did the windows rattle, did the floor creak, did the doors open and shut quietly, was the ventilation good, were there noisy guests in the adjoining rooms?
This last difficulty was, I understand, usually overcome by Mr. Pulitzer engaging, in addition to his own room, a room on either side of it, three rooms facing it, the room above it and the room beneath it.
Even the question of the drive from the station to the hotel had to be thought out. A trial trip was made in an automobile. If the route followed a car line or passed any spot likely to be noisy, such as a market place or a school playground, or if it led over a roughly paved road on which the car would jolt, another route had to be selected, which, as far as possible, dodged the unfavorable conditions.
Our carefully arranged journey passed without incident. We had a private car from Milan to Frankfort and another for the short run to Wiesbaden, where we arrived in time for lunch on the day after our departure from Genoa. Everything had been prepared for our reception by some one who had made similar arrangements on former occasions. We occupied the whole of a villa belonging to one of the large hotels, and situated less than a hundred yards from it.
In the main our life was modeled upon that at the Cap Martin villa; but part of Mr. Pulitzer's morning was devoted to baths, massage, and the drinking of waters. Our meals were taken, as a rule, either in a private dining-room at the hotel or in the big restaurant of the Kurhaus; but when Mr. Pulitzer was feeling more than usually tired the table was laid in the dining-room of the villa.
Our dinners at the Kurhaus were a welcome change from our ordinary meals with their set routine of literary discussions. Mr. Pulitzer was immensely interested in people; but it was impossible for him to meet them, except on rare occasions, because the excitement was bad for his health. Whenever he dined in a crowded restaurant, however, our time was fully occupied in describing with the utmost minuteness the men, women, and children around us.
The Kurhaus was an excellent place for the exercise of our descriptive powers. In addition to the ordinary crowd of pleasure-seekers and health-hunters there were, during a great part of our visit, a large number of military men, for the Kaiser spent a week at Wiesbaden that year and reviewed some troops, and this involved careful preparation in advance by a host of court officials and high army officers.
Under these circumstances the dining-room of the Kurhaus presented a scene full of color and animation. Sometimes J. P. said to one of us: "Look around for a few minutes and pick out the most interesting- looking man and woman in the room, examine them carefully, try and catch the tone of their voices, and when you are ready describe them to me." Or he might say: "I hear a curious, sharp, incisive voice somewhere over there on my right. There it is now--don't you hear it?--s s s s s, every s like a hiss. Describe that man to me; tell me what kind of people he's talking to; tell me what you think his profession is." Or it might be: "There are some gabbling women over there. Describe them to me. How are they dressed, are they painted, are they wearing jewels, how old are they?"
In whatever form the request was made its fulfilment meant a description covering everything which could be detected by the eye or surmised from any available clew.
Describing people to J. P. was by no means an easy task. It was no use saying that a man had a medium-sized nose, that he was of average height, and that his hair was rather dark. Everything had to be given in feet and inches and in definite colors. You had to exercise your utmost powers to describe the exact cast of the features, the peculiar texture and growth of the hair, the expression of the eyes, and every little trick of gait or gesture.
Mr. Pulitzer was very sceptical of everybody's faculty of description. He made us describe people, and specially his own children and others whom he knew well, again and again, and his unwillingness to accept any description as being good rested no doubt upon the wide divergence between the different descriptions he received of the same person.
There were few things which Mr. Pulitzer enjoyed more than having a face described to him, whether of a living person or of a portrait, and as our table-talk was often about men and women of distinction or notoriety, dead or living, any one of us might be called upon at any time to portray feature by feature some person whose name had been mentioned.
By providing ourselves with illustrated catalogues of the Royal Academy exhibitions and of the National Portrait Gallery, and by cutting out the
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