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- An Adventure With A Genius - 21/21 -
were usually cut short by putting in to Portland, or New London, or Marblehead to get newspapers and to send telegrams summoning to the yacht one or another of the higher staff of The World.
It was, however, when we anchored, as we often did, off Greenwich, Conn., that J. P. indulged himself to his utmost capacity in conferences with editors and business managers of The World and with one or two outsiders. We would drop anchor in the afternoon, pick up a visitor, cruise in the Sound for a night and a morning, drop anchor again, send the visitor ashore, and pick up another.
Toward the latter part of September, 1911, J. P. left the yacht and moved into his town house in East 73d Street. It was a large and beautifully designed mansion, differing in three particulars from the ordinary run of residences which have been built, furnished, and decorated with the utmost good taste and without regard to expense.
The room in which J. P. usually took his meals was a small but beautifully proportioned retreat so placed that it was completely surrounded by other rooms and had no direct contact with the outside world. It was in its ground plan an irregular octagon, and it drew its light and air from a glass dome. The most striking element in the decorations was a number of slender columns of pale-green Irish marble, which rose from the floor to the dome.
Another unusual feature of the house was a superb church organ, which was built into a large recess halfway up the main staircase. J. P. was an enthusiastic lover of organ music, and heard as much of it as he could during his brief visits to New York.
There are no doubt other houses which have an octagonal dining-room and a church organ; but no other house, I am sure, has a bedroom like that which Mr. Pulitzer occupied. Although it appeared to form part of the house, it did not, in fact, do so. It stood upon its own foundations and was connected with the main structure by some ingenious device which isolated it from all vibrations originating there. It was of the most solid construction, and had but one window, a very large affair, consisting of three casements set one inside the other and provided with heavy plate glass panels. This triple window was never opened when Mr. Pulitzer was in the room, the ventilation being secured by means of fans situated in a long masonry shaft whose interior opening was in the chimney and whose exterior opening was far enough away to forbid the passage of any sound from the street. At intervals inside this shaft were placed frames with silk threads drawn across them, for the purpose of absorbing any faint vibrations which might find their way in. In this bedroom, with its triple window and its heavy double-door closed, J. P. enjoyed as near an approach to perfect quietness as it was possible to attain in New York.
I saw very little of J. P. when he was in New York. He was much occupied with family affairs; he was in constant touch with the staff of The World; and the deep interest he took in the prospects of the presidential election of 1912, which was already being eagerly discussed, brought an unusual number of visitors to the house.
The extent of my intercourse with J. P. at this time was an occasional drive in Central Park, during which we talked of little else but politics, and on that topic of little else but Mr. Woodrow Wilson's speeches and plans.
It did not take very long before the hard work and the excitement of the New York life reduced Mr. Pulitzer to a condition in which it was imperative that he should go to sea again and abandon completely his contact with the daily events which stimulated rather than nourished his mental powers.
On October 20, 1911, the Liberty left New York with J. P., his youngest son, Herbert, and the usual staff. We headed south, with nothing settled as to our plans except that we might spend some time at Mr. Pulitzer's house on Jekyll Island, Ga., and might pass part of the winter cruising in the West Indies.
As soon as we got settled down on board I was delighted to find that J. P. had apparently satisfied himself in regard to my qualifications and limitations. He abandoned the searching examinations which had kept me on the rack for nearly eight months, and our relations became much more agreeable.
Apart from bearing my share in the routine work of dealing with the news of the day and with the current magazine literature my principal duty gradually assumed the form of furnishing humor on demand.
The easiest part of this task was that of reading humorous books to J. P. When he was in the right mood and would submit to the process, I read to him the greater part of "Dooley," of Artemus Ward, of Max Adler, and portions of W. W. Jacobs, of Lorimer's Letters of a Self-made Merchant to His Son, of Mrs. Anne Warner's Susan Clegg and Her Friend Mrs. Lathrop, and of some of Stockton's delightful stories. My greatest triumph was in inducing him to forget for a while his intense aversion to slang and to listen to the shrewd and genial philosophy of George Ade.
The work of the official humorist to J. P. was rendered particularly arduous because he carried into the field of humor, absolutely unabated, his passion for facts. To most people a large part of humor consists in the manner of presentation, in the trick of phrase, in the texture of the narrative. To J. P. those things meant little or nothing; what amused him was the situation disclosed, the inherent humor of the action or thought.
As I have said, it was not difficult to read humorous material to J. P. when he deliberately resigned himself to it. What was exceedingly difficult was to rise to those frequent occasions when, tired, vexed and out of sorts, he suddenly interrupted your summary of a magazine article by saying: "Stop! Stop! For God's sake! I've got a frightful headache. Now tell me some humorous stories--make me laugh."
In order to meet these urgent and embarrassing demands I ransacked the periodical press of England and America. I procured a year's file of Pearson's Weekly, of Tit Bits and of Life, and scores of stray copies of Puck, Judge and Answers.
From these I cut hundreds of short humorous paragraphs, which I kept in a box in my cabin. Whenever I was summoned to attend upon J. P. I put a handful of these clippings in my pocket. I am afraid I should make enemies if I were to tell of the thousands of stories I had to read in order to get the hundreds which came within range even of my modest hopes; but I may say that line for line I got more available stories from the "Newspaper Waifs" on the editorial page of the New York Evening Post than from any other source.
Even after I had labored long and heroically in the vineyard of professional humor, grape juice, and not wine, was the commoner product of my efforts.
It was no unusual experience that after I had told J. P. one of the best tales in my collection he would say: "Well, go on, go on, come to the point. For God's sake, isn't there any end to this story?"
On October 25, 1911, we put into the harbor of Charlestown, S. C. There was the usual business of collecting mail, newspapers, and so on, for J. P., after five days at sea, was eager to pick up the thread of current happenings.
On the following day Mr. Lathan, editor of the Charleston Courier, lunched on the yacht. He and Mr. Pulitzer had an animated discussion about the possibilities of a Democratic victory in 1912. I had never seen J. P. in a more genial mood or in higher spirits.
Whether it was due to the excitement of receiving a visitor whose conversation was so stimulating I do not know; but on Friday, October 27, J. P. was feeling so much out of sorts that he did not appear on deck. On Saturday he remained below only because Dunningham, who always kept the closest watch over his health, persuaded him to have a good rest before resuming the ordinary routine. J. P. was anxious to take up some business matters with Thwaites, but Dunningham induced him to give up the idea.
At three o'clock in the morning of Sunday, October 29, Dunningham came to my cabin and, without making any explanation, said:
"Mr, Pulitzer wishes you to come and read to him."
I put on a dressing gown, gathered up half a dozen books, and in five minutes I was sitting by Mr. Pulitzer's bedside. He was evidently suffering a good deal of pain, for he turned from side to side, and once or twice got out of bed and sat in an easy chair.
I tried several books, but finally settled down to read Macaulay's Essay on Hallam. I read steadily until about five o'clock, and J. P. listened attentively, interrupting me from time to time with a direction to go back and read over a passage.
About half-past five he began to suffer severely, and he sent for the yacht's doctor, who did what was possible for him. At a few minutes after six J. P. said: "Now, Mr. Ireland, you'd better go and get some sleep; we will finish that this afternoon. Good-bye, I'm much obliged to you. Ask Mr. Mann to come to me. Go, now, and have a good rest, and forget all about me."
I slept till noon. When I came on deck I found that everything was going on much as usual. One of the secretaries was with J. P.; the others were at work over the day's papers.
At lunch we spoke of J. P. One man said that he seemed a little worse than usual, another that he had seen him much worse a score of times.
Suddenly the massive door at the forward end of the saloon opened. I turned in my seat and saw framed in the doorway the towering figure of the head butler. I faced his impassive glance, and received the full shock of his calm but incredible announcement: "Mr. Pulitzer is dead."
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