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- An Adventure With A Genius - 2/21 -
combined in one man was quite capable of demanding that his companion- secretary should be able to knit woollen socks, write devotional verse, and compute the phases of the moon.
I remember chuckling to myself over this quaint conceit; I was to learn later that it came unpleasantly near the truth.
Under this close examination I felt that I had made rather a poor showing. This was due in some measure, no doubt, to the fact that my questioner abruptly left any topic as soon as he discovered that I knew something about it, and began to angle around, with disturbing success, to find the things I did not know about.
At one point, however, I scored a hit. After I had been put through my paces, a process which seemed to me to end only at the exact point where my questioner could no longer remember the name of anything in the universe about which he could frame an interrogation, it was my turn to ask questions.
Was the person I was addressing the gentleman who needed the companion?
No, he was merely his agent. As a matter of fact the person on whose behalf he was acting was an American.
I nodded in a non-committal way.
He was also a millionaire.
I bowed the kind of bow that a Frenchman makes when he says Mais parfaitement.
Furthermore he was totally blind.
"Joseph Pulitzer," I said.
"How in the world did you guess that?" asked my companion.
"That wasn't a guess," I replied. "You advertised for an intelligent man; and this is simply where my intelligence commences to show itself. An intelligent man couldn't live as long as I have in the United States without hearing a good deal about Joseph Pulitzer; and, after all, the country isn't absolutely overrun with blind millionaires."
At the close of the interview I was told that I would be reported upon. In the meantime would I kindly send in a written account of the interview, in the fullest possible detail, as a test of my memory, sense of accuracy, and literary style.
Nor was this all. As I prepared to take my departure I was handed the address of another gentleman who would also examine me and make a report. Before I got out of the room my inquisitor said, "It may interest you to know that we have had more than six hundred applications for the post, and that it may, therefore, take some time before the matter is definitely settled."
I was appalled. Evidently I had been wasting my time, for I could have no doubt that the gallant six hundred would include a sample of every kind of pundit, stationary or vagrant, encompassed within the seven seas; and against such competition I felt my chances to be just precisely nothing.
My companion observed my discomfiture. and as he shook hands he said, "Oh, that doesn't really mean very much. As a matter of fact we were able to throw out more than five hundred and fifty applications merely for self-evident reasons. A number of school teachers and bank clerks applied, and in general these gentlemen said that although they had not traveled they would have no objection to living abroad, and that they might venture to hope that if they DID go to sea they would prove to be good sailors.
"Most of them appeared to think that the circumstance of being middle- aged would off-set their deficiencies in other directions. There are really only a few gentlemen whom we can consider as being likely to meet Mr. Pulitzer's requirements, and the selection will be made finally by Mr. Pulitzer himself. It is very probable that you will be asked to go to Mentone to spend a fortnight or so on Mr. Pulitzer's yacht or at his villa at Cap Martin, as he never engages anybody until he has had the candidate with him for a short visit.
"And, by the way, would you mind writing a short narrative of your life, not more than two thousand words? It would interest Mr. Pulitzer and would help him to reach a decision in your case. You might also send me copies of some of your writings."
Thus ended my interview with Mr. James M. Tuohy, the London correspondent of the New York World.
My next step was to call upon the second inquisitor, Mr. George Ledlie. I found him comfortably installed at an hotel in the West End. He was an American, very courteous and pleasant, but evidently prepared to use a probe without any consideration for the feelings of the victim.
As my business was to reveal myself, I wasted no time, and for about an hour I rambled along on the subject of my American experiences. I do not know to this day what sort of an impression I created upon this gentleman, but I felt at the time that it ought to have been a favorable one.
We had many friends in common; I had recently been offered a lectureship in the university from which he had graduated; some of my books had been published in America by firms in whose standing he had confidence; I paraded a slight acquaintance with three Presidents of the United States, and produced from my pocketbook letters from two of them; we found that we were both respectful admirers of a charming lady who had recently undergone a surgical operation; he had been a guest at my club in Boston, I had been a guest at his club in New York. When I left him I thought poorly of the chances of the remnant of the six hundred.
Some weeks passed and I heard nothing more of the matter. During this time I had leisure to think over what I had heard from time to time about Joseph Pulitzer, and to speculate, with the aid of some imaginative friends, upon the probable advantages and disadvantages of the position for which I was a candidate.
Gathered together, my second-hand impressions of Joseph Pulitzer made little more than a hazy outline. I had heard or read that he had landed in New York in the early sixties, a penniless youth unable to speak a word of English; that after a remarkable series of adventures he had become a newspaper proprietor and, later, a millionaire; that he had been stricken blind at the height of his career; that his friends and his enemies agreed in describing him as a man of extraordinary ability and of remarkable character; that he had been victorious in a bitter controversy with President Roosevelt; that one of the Rothschilds had remarked that if Joseph Pulitzer had not lost his eyesight and his health he, Pulitzer, would have collected into his hands all the money there was; that he was the subject of one of the noblest portraits created by the genius of John Sargent; and that he spent most of his time on board a magnificent yacht, surrounded by a staff of six secretaries.
This was enough, of course, to inspire me with a keen desire to meet Mr. Pulitzer; it was not enough to afford me the slightest idea of what life would be like in close personal contact with such a man.
The general opinion of my friends was that life with Mr. Pulitzer would be one long succession of happy, care-free days spent along the languorous shores of the Mediterranean--days of which perhaps two hours would be devoted to light conversation with my interesting host, and the remainder of my waking moments to the gaities of Monte Carlo, to rambles on the picturesque hillsides of Rapallo and Bordighera, or to the genial companionship of my fellow-secretaries under the snowy awnings of the yacht.
We argued the matter out to our entire satisfaction. Mr. Pulitzer, in addition to being blind, was a chronic invalid, requiring a great deal of sleep and repose. He could hardly be expected to occupy more than twelve hours a day with his secretaries. That worked out at two hours apiece, or, if the division was made by days, about one day a week to each secretary.
The yacht, I had been given to understand, cruised for about eight months in the year over a course bounded by Algiers and the Piraeus, by Mentone and Alexandria, with visits to the ports of Italy, Sicily, Corsica, and Crete. The least imaginative of mortals could make a very fair and alluring picture of what life would be like under such circumstances. As the event turned out it was certainly not our imaginations that were at fault.
As time passed without bringing any further sign from Mr. Tuohy my hopes gradually died out, and I fixed in my mind a date upon which I would abandon all expectations of securing the appointment. Scarcely had I reached this determination when I received a telegram from Mr. Tuohy asking me to lunch with him the next day at the Cafe Royal in order to meet Mr. Ralph Pulitzer, who was passing through London on his way back to America after a visit to his father.
I leave my readers to imagine what sort of a lunch I had in the company of two gentlemen whose duty it was to struggle with the problem of discovering the real character and attainments of a guest who knew he was under inspection.
I found Mr. Ralph Pulitzer to be a slender, clean-cut, pale gentleman of an extremely quiet and self-possessed manner. He was very agreeable, and he listened to my torrent of words with an interest which, if it were real, reflected great credit on me, and which, if it were feigned, reflected not less credit on him.
As we parted he said, "I shall write to my father to-day and tell him of our meeting. Of course, as you know, the decision in this matter rests entirely with him."
After this incident there was another long silence, and I again fixed upon a day beyond which I would not allow my hopes to flourish. The day arrived, nothing happened, and the next morning I went down to the offices of the West India Royal Mail Steam Packet Company and made inquiries about the boats for Barbados. I spent the afternoon at my club making out a list of things to be taken out as aids to comfortable housekeeping in a semi-tropical country--a list which swelled amazingly as I turned over the fascinating pages of the Army and Navy Stores Catalogue.
By dinner time I had become more than reconciled to the new turn of affairs, and when I reached my flat at midnight I found myself impatient of the necessary delay before I could settle down to a life of easy literary activity in one of the most delightful climates in the world and in the neighborhood of a large circle of charming friends and acquaintances.
On the table in the hall I found a telegram from Mr. Tuohy instructing me to start next morning for Mentone, where Mr. Pulitzer would entertain
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