CHANCE—TO GET KNIFED!
Yoho Tenbrockerville, seated this early afternoon in the office of the Managing Editor of the Buffalo Transcript, making his seventh application in that city for a newspaper berth, reflected grimly that, in his three decades of existence, ranging all the way from being a millionaire’s only son to selling 10-cent novelties at back doors, he had encountered plenty of adventure of a sort. From fights in expensive night-clubs where he and his companions had imbibed too much champagne at $6 the bottle—to angry husbands who thought their wives had talked too long at the back door! But the pointed question just put to him by the quite British-appearing Managing Editor who was known, moreover, to be a Britisher!—while the clock on the wall gave forth a single impudent “bong” announcing the hour of 1 p.m.—had awakened some doubts as to whether he—Yoho tenBrockerville, American!—ever had seen real adventure—since the question had been hurled point-blank, encased in a withering barrage of critical facts:
“So you want to pull together the threads of your existence by becoming a ‘journalist,’ eh? And want a job thereat—on no less than the Buffalo Transcript!—which hires only journalists with experience? Now when I first started my career in Fleet Street, London—full ten years before I was in charge of the Johannesburg Echo—and fifteen years before I came over here, I—however—this is about you—not me! Now take experience. Experience—of a sort—you say you have? But what? An American college education—with two months in a travelling theatrical company—but only as a lark, moreover—to your credit! The ability to wear a full-dress suit, thanks to having been born of a millionaire father who went broke, blew out his brains, and left you to pound back doorbells! And face-to-face contact with, you say also, about forty billion people! Yes—at back doors! Well, none of these things, tenBrockerville, constitute newspaper experience—and so, experience you have none—and your qualifications are zero—on getting aboard the Transcript. But, in the absence of experience, have you the courage, in order to get on the Transcript—and therefore into this crowded field you want to enter—have you the courage to embark on a desperate adventure that may make you the hub of attack by crooks and international thieves and smugglers desperate enough to maybe bump you off?”
Thus had been the pointed question of the Editor, after Yoho tenBrockerville had lamely told his qualifications and what he wanted. Vainly and futilely had tenBrockerville gone the rounds of newspaper offices wondering how one obtained experience in that chosen field when the very field seemed to bar all of those who had no experience; futilely—at least, until this day when, because the City Editor of the Transcript was sick, and a substitute was in his chair, tenBrockerville had disconsolately straggled into the office of no less than the well-known British Managing Editor himself of the Transcript, hardly hoping any longer but to get another curt dismissal, only to be met with a most astounded and puzzled gaze on the part of the M.E., Mr. Stanley Braithwaite. The latter, as English looking as his name, with penetrating blue eyes and ruddy complexion, dressed in tweed suit, and perhaps 50 years of age, had stared at Yoho tenBrockerville with a pronounced hopeful look as though he, tenBrockerville, were the key to a most perplexing newspaper problem. And this was the more strange since the Managing Editor of the Transcript bore the reputation of being the most inexorable newspaper executive in Buffalo.
“By the Gods!—” the Britisher had, in fact, exclaimed when he had first glanced up to see tenBrockerville standing there, and had heard the latter’s stereotyped description of his mission— “but you are the man’s double! It—it might be that you could do it—it might be! Draw up a chair, tenBrockerville. And tell me what experience you’ve had—all of it. It may be—it may be you could do it!”
“What is it I could do?” Yoho tenBrockerville had asked hurriedly, brushing back from his forehead the lock of black hair that threatened to fall over one of his dark eyes, and straightening out the voluminous black windsor tie that, with soft-collared, grey-flannel shirt, he had worn in order at least to look “lit’ry”! Whereat he had pulled over a chair hastily and sat down on the edge of it. “It’s the first time in a month of Sundays that anybody in charge of any part of a newspaper thought that I might be able to do anything on it. What is it I can do—however—first, Mr. Braithwaite, here’s my experience—from A to Izzard.”
And it was then that, seated in that so-British office, with a stuffed boar’s head on one wall—a huge stuffed tarpon on another—two crossed polo sticks on a third—and a fibre rug which, though he did not know it, had been woven for Braithwaite by South African savages—tenBrockerville had expounded his more or less useless “experience,” while the Englishman had regarded him curiously and thoughtfully and had then made pointed reply. Concerning “courage”! Though before even obtaining an answer, the latter had reached into a drawer of his glass-topped mahogany desk, and taking out therefrom a rolled-up photoprint of some sort, had compared it with tenBrockerville, nodding, and again nodding, and finally handing it to tenBrockerville, who himself stared at it. It showed the face of a man, obviously taken on an undertaker’s morgue slab, with features partly frozen in death, and with eyes, as yet unclosed by the undertaker, staring blankly out of the picture. But what was most remarkable about it was that it was a pronounced replica of tenBrockerville himself, one of those doubles that exist in life for everyone on the globe. The latter looked up.
“Looks like my twin brother,” he commented, “except—that I never had any brothers at all. Or—sisters. I take it, moreover, from your words, that his hair is the same hue as mine?—and his eyes the same colour?” The other nodded wonderingly. “Who is he?”
Mr. Stanley Braithwaite rose and closed the door of his office. He came back and sat down, and began speaking.
“Now first—before I even offer you a chance to maybe get killed!—and you, in turn, foolishly accept it—exactly what racial derivation are you, tenBrockerville?”
“Well, nomenclaturally, of course, I’m Dutch!—the ‘tenBrock-erville’ part, that is—which came down from one of my four grandparents—my father’s father; two more grandparents were dyed-in-the-wool Americans, without any definitely known racial derivations—if any; physically, I appear to be—judging from a portrait long in our family—my fourth grandparent—my mother’s Norwegian sea-captain father, one Johan Johansen. With perhaps his high cheekbones very, very much suppressed. So you can write your own ticket as to what I am!”
“Oh, yes, I see. Well, it sure takes the Norwegians to have—and to transmit—dark—even, at times, downright black!—eyes, and black hair. But always, of course, with unnaturally white skins. And what you now tell me throws a lot of light for the first time on what this other fellow, whose picture I showed you, must have been—’Joren,’ his real name apparently was; now it’s plainer than a nose on a face that it was actually Jorensen—why, of course!—yes—he must have been half-Norwegian anyway, and by way of his father, and with a suppression of his high cheekbones via his mother. Well, that’s that, then. It gives the explanation of why you are this dead man’s astounding counterpart.”
“On the contrary,” said Yoho tenBrockerville, “I think it doesn’t! The real explanation lies in the fact that my face is a combination—in toto—of so-called 1-in-5, or more briefly, No. 5, features only—and consequently, mathematically, a ‘repeater.’ At least according to no less an authority than one really unique young physiognomist I once met on a world cruise. At least I speak of him as ‘young’ because at the time I met him he was the same age as myself—and I was young myself! A chap named Adrian Frodel—and he surely knew his stuff.”
“Frodel?—hm? Frodel—Adrian Frodel, you say? I’ve delved just a little in the science, but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of any famous physiognomist named Frodel.”
“Naturally! For this fellow wasn’t famous—had written no books—held no chairs in the subject, if chairs there ever were in that subject. But he was a genius who—I believe—is destined to upturn the science of physiognomy someday—with bran-new aspects.”
“I see. Well, I don’t even know the rudiments of the science. If science it even is! But since on your similarity to this dead man hinges your prospective job around here!—and perhaps your very life—God knows just what—just what, might I ask, is a 1-in-5, or No. 5, feature?”
“That’s a facial feature,” explained tenBrockerville, “which is of such shape—or size—or angle–etc.–as to occur at least once in approximately every five persons. Which is, incidentally, a high maximum. And all of mine are that. Which means that the combination of them all—x in number!—not a permutation, the fellow Frodel explained, but a true mathematical combination—my face, in short!—must possess far more doubles in the universe than faces containing one or more No. 25, or No. 20, or No. 15, or No. 10 features. I’m no physiognomist—I’m just quoting the chap Frodel. But that he was right is proven by the fact that I’ve encountered four doubles in my life already. And one of them was himself—of, as I mentioned, my own age, to boot!—which was precisely how and why I learned so much of the—well—mathematics of my own phiz!”
“Well—well—well, I do learn things today! However—” and Braithwaite glanced at the clock on the wall, the hands of which were now at 5 minutes after 1. “Well now, let’s see—we have your race—your experience—such as it is!—your age—30—which to a sprat just out of college would seem a very, very old man—but which to me seems like a very, very young one—too bloomin’ young, almost, I’d say” —that was the first instance where tenBrockerville heard the Englishman lapse into the slang of his native land— “to handle a sinister affair like this. However—well, oh, yes—now your first name Yoho—where on earth, in the name of a certain Mr. C. Dickens of 48 Doughty Street, London, deceased—did you get that? Or—do you mind?”
“Not at all. Everybody asks me that always—and always will. My father was a great lover of Stevenson’s Treasure Island and often used to sing that famous ballad ‘Yoho and a bottle o’ rum.’ On the day I was to be christened—which was about a year after I was born—and getting a bit prehensile with my fists—well, when they came for me, I wouldn’t let loose of a bottle of gift rum I’d gotten off a table into my bassinet or whatever it was I was in—and, to save my yelling the house down, they let me hold it while the christening went on. But when the clergyman asked what my name was to be, my father laughed and said: ‘Since, Your Reverence, you appear to be christening both a child and a bottle of rum—the name’ll be Yoho—Yoho and a Bottle of Rum!’ And that’s—how it happened,” finished tenBrockerville.
The Englishman smiled, showing he could see the humorous aspect of things, anyway. But his smile faded—he became grave—very grave—and pressed on with his line of questioning.
“And you say that in this two months’ lark with that theatrical troupe you played at least a dozen parts? No acting experience would be necessary in what I have in mind—for the man you’ve just looked at talked with not a hint of an accent. But anyway—you say you did play a dozen parts?”
“Yes—and, if I do say it myself, passably. At least not an egg was ever thrown my way.”
“Perhaps,” said Mr. Stanley Braithwaite, “eggs were too expensive.” He paused, and again studied the other intensively.
“Well now, tenBrockerville,” he resumed,
“you’re the twenty-ninth man who has come in for a berth this week. Most of them
had journalistic experience—and some of them had none—and twenty-eight ahead
of you have been turned down. You would have been turned down, too, except
that the moment I saw you, I
was knocked into a bally cocked hat by your resemblance to this dead man whose photograph I have just shown you. Now I’m going to give you your chance to become a full-fledged reporter. You say you’ll do anything to get aboard a paper. So—as I asked you before, merely to get aboard one, have you the physical courage to go through with a thing that is possible only because of your actual resemblance to this man, but which will likely mean a knife between your ribs—if certain people suspect anything wrong?”
“If there’s no other way to get aboard,” said tenBrockerville desperately, “I’ll say yes. I’ve tried and tried to land on a newspaper, and failed. So whatever it is—I’ll go through with it.”
“Well—maybe you will,” said the Editor dryly. “And maybe you won’t. However—here’s your chance. If you do embark on it, you can draw on us for expenses only; and if you come through with it, you get aboard here on a salary as a reporter—Grade 3. And remain here—at least till some fine day when I’m ordered by the owner, as frequently I am, to reduce force, when, naturally—since you’ll have been virtually last man on—and to get rid of you politely!—I’ll give you the famous Unsolvable Quest—when you will indeed be out! But once out, you’ll at least have had experience on the Buffalo Transcript—and so will be all set for further connections. So—”
“Just a minute,” queried tenBrockerville. “On the assumption that I might successfully dodge such knives and whatnot as want to insinuate themselves into my corporeal self—and thus become part and parcel of the Buffalo Transcript—and then, in due course of things, catch an assignment to this Unsolvable Quest of yours—and really, I refuse, here and now, to accept the possibility of any newspaper quest being ‘unsolvable’—well—do you mind telling me what this particular ‘Unsolvable Quest’ is?”
“Not at all,” said the other pleasantly—almost too much so it seemed to tenBrockerville. “And in one hundred words—to boot!”
“The Unsolvable Quest—at least in this particular office,” began the Managing Editor, “is to get the full inside story of the man who killed Senator Vanderwall.”
“But that was Cassius Calaban, the Negro dramatic actor from New York’s Harl—”
“—and Calaban’s dead—by his own hand. So how–”
“And right here, tenBrockerville, is a good place for you to receive your first practical lesson in newspapermaking—on the supposition that somehow and somewhere you will get aboard a paper before you die!” Braithwaite paused. “News, tenBrocker-ville, is a thing more relative than Einstein’s Relativity itself. In short, news is dependent solely on other news: i.e. When the supposed suicide of Cassius Calaban took place, a couple of weeks or so ago, in that Memphis, Tennessee riverfront lodging-house, it happened on one of those rare days when not a line of news was stirring in all America—or all Europe either. And got headlines everywhere. But when, three days later, the dead middle-aged Negro’s body was definitely identified as ‘Crazy Tom’ Okus of Birmingham, Alabama—and the suicide note was found not to be in Cassius Calaban’s handwriting, the refutation of the Calaban suicide story—because of the fact that ten huge pieces of news broke in America and Europe—got only a small paragraph on the insides of some sheets—in others, none at all. And next day, of course, ’twas too dead to print. No, despite even our own scareheads, Cassius Calaban, middle-aged Negro dramatic actor, isn’t dead! And to get his complete story of why he killed Senator Vanderwall is still, around here, the Unsolvable Quest!”
“But—but wasn’t it universally supposed that Calaban did it because Vanderwall was the great ‘nigger-hater’ and advocate, in Congress, of ‘America for Whites Only’?”
“Good God, no! That was only the reason which the police—and a few superficially thinking news-sheets took. Why, Calaban himself was an advocate of ‘Back-to-Africa-for-all Negroes.’ Actually, his policies were no different from Vanderwall’s. No, there’s said to be a story back of why he shot Vanderwall dead and disappeared—but, alas, only Calaban himself has that story. And someday—mayhap and alas!—should you become a member of this staff!—you may be sent to get that story—which of course you won’t—since Calaban’s as non est as though he had killed himself in a Memphis riverfront lodging-house. And so now we’ll get back to a story which you can get!”
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