[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Tony Ring for providing a copy of this item.]
MR. THEODORE POPJOY edited the Mayfair Gazette. Joseph Kyrke knew a man at Oxford whose cousin had once been introduced to Mr. Popjoy’s brother at a garden-party. When, therefore, the genial but unruly Joseph had come down from the University at the request of the authorities, with whom he had fallen out on a matter not wholly unconnected with orgies in the Quad on the occasion of his College boat reaching the head of the river, he applied to this influential friend for an introduction to the great man; for he had determined to be a writer. It was not so much any lofty ideal that he had in this direction that swayed his choice, as the fact that there was no preliminary examination. He disliked preliminary examinations. He obtained his letter of introduction, which performed its complex journey without a mistake, and, thus armed, called at the offices of The Mayfair.
A person in uniform, who sat behind a little window at the top of the stairs, and who seemed to dislike Joseph at first sight, regarded him with suspicion, and said that Mr. Popjoy was engaged. One of the first things the young author learns in his profession is that when an editor is not out at lunch—most editors lunch from eleven in the morning till six in the evening (when they go home to dinner)—he is always engaged.
“I’ll wait,” said Joseph, and lit a cigarette.
It was the cigarette that did it. The uniformed official capitulated. He went so far as to take Joseph’s card in, and a few minutes later he was in the editorial sanctum, seated in what, if it was not the editorial chair, was at any rate quite near it and just as uncomfortable.
“Ah,” said Mr. Popjoy, “Mr. Kyrke?”
“The same,” said Joseph affably.
“So you wish to become a journalist, Mr. Kyrke? Have you, may I ask, any special aptitude for writing?”
Joseph explained that he could make a living at anything he cared to turn his hand to—an aunt of his had told him so—but that he fancied he could do rather better at writing than at anything else.
“H’m,” said Mr. Popjoy. “Ha!”
There was a silence. Joseph tapped cheerfully at his boot with the ferule of his cane, Mr. Popjoy the while looking wretched, as if he wished his visitor would go. As indeed he did.
“Of course,” he said, dismally, at last, “the great thing in journalism is to get a footing. To get a footing.”
Joseph explained at some length that he had thoroughly grasped that fact, that a footing was just what he wanted, that he had no desire whatever to experience the sordid struggles of the average beginner, and that it was just here, in fact, that Mr. Popjoy was to come in. Were there any vacancies on the staff? Dramatic criticism was what he would like, but he was prepared to write middle articles until that post was vacant.
“The fact is,” replied Mr. Popjoy, “that our staff is at present full. I would do anything in my power to oblige the friend of a man whose cousin has met my brother at a garden-party, but there are no vacancies, I fear. Of course, anything you like to send in will receive my fullest consideration.”
But Joseph had been had that way before. He suggested that for a merely nominal salary he was prepared to come in and do odd jobs till a vacancy occurred. Mr. Popjoy rose.
“Can you tell me the time?” he said.
“Just eleven,” said Joseph.
“Then it is high time that I went out and had a little lunch. Come with me to my club, and over a comfortable chop and Worcester I will tell you a story. It is not a long story, and it will prove to you more than anything I can say the impracticability of what you suggest. Come.”
“Now,” said Mr. Popjoy, as, the meal concluded, he called for coffee and cigarettes, “Don’t look round suddenly. Count thirty slowly, and then turn and look at the man sitting at the table immediately behind you. You see him? That is my old friend Alexander Tudway, the editor of the Piccadilly Weekly. It is with him that the story deals which I am about to narrate to you. Observe him well. What do you notice about him?”
“He has white hair.”
“True. Too true. A comparatively young man. Younger than myself, but with white hair. Proceed.”
“He wears a worried look.”
“A very worried look. Anything further?”
“His brow is wrinkled, and his eye is wild and haggard.”
“You are right. And if you add that his form is bowed and meagre, and that he is, in fine, a complete wreck, you will have summed up the Alexander Tudway of to-day. He was not always as you see him. Once no blither editor paced down Fleet Street than Alexander Tudway. Listen, then, to the history of that unfortunate man.”
And, blowing a thoughtful ring from his cigarette, Mr. Popjoy began.
“When I first knew Alexander Tudway,” he said, “both of us had yet to earn our first trophy in the world of literature. I earned mine—the fact is not material, but it may prove of service to one, who, like you, is beginning the literary life—by obtaining the first prize in an all-in-spring-poem-tourney in the Monthly Songster. I was thus fairly launched on my journalistic career before my friend Tudway had started. But it was not long before he sent a short story up to the Cosy Corner. It was accepted, and paid for at the rate of five shillings a page. Tudway sent more. He heard they wanted more. He became a regular contributor. Encouraged by this he despatched his manuscripts right and left, and before long found his work welcomed by the editors of some of the best magazines in London.”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Joseph, “but this is not a story about there being no royal road to success in journalism, and honest hard work being the only thing to succeed, is it? Because I was going to say—Yes?”
“Tudway, in short,” continued the editor, “arrived. He made his name. His work was good, and was recognised as such. His market value rose with his increasing popularity. But in the midst of his triumph he continued to keep a warm place in his heart for the Cosy Corner. He was a very modest young man, and attributed his success less to the merit of his work than to the fact that the Cosy Corner had given him a start. And he always determined that if ever he became an editor he would be as kind an editor as he of the Cosy Corner, and would make it his first business to encourage budding talent, and give the Young Author a start. You’re not going to sleep are you?”
“Oh, no,” said Joseph, “I can always listen better with my eyes shut. You were saying—?”
“Soon after this the editorship of the Piccadilly Weekly fell vacant, and it was offered to Tudway, who accepted it. And from that moment his troubles began. One of the first contributions sent in to him was a story. Its author was a Mr. Aubrey Jerningham. It was not a good story. Any other editor would have sent it back after reading the first two pages. But Tudway said ‘No. I will read this story again. Six times if necessary. There may be a germ of good in it, which, carefully treated, will repay my trouble, and turn what is in its present form undoubtedly a poor effort into a story of enthralling interest. So he re-read the story over a pipe in his rooms. There did not seem much in it when he had finished it for the second time, but he said to himself, ‘I must be fair. I must not be hasty. I will read it once more.’ And at the third reading he began to see how the story might be made interesting. He wrote off to Aubrey Jerningham, saying that he was willing to print his story ‘The Vengeance of Jasper Murgatroyd,’ if he had no objection to his making a few alterations in it here and there. Aubrey Jerningham said he had not the slightest objection, and begged to enclose another little thing, ‘The Heart of Delilah Brown.’ Then Tudway took ‘The Vengeance of Jasper Murgatroyd,’ cut out the first thousand words, wrote in fifteen hundred of his own, put the end of the story in the middle and the middle at the end, altered the murder to a croquet-party, made Jasper the hero instead of the villain, and sent it to the printer. He then turned his attention to ‘The Heart of Delilah Brown.’ He turned her from an actress into a district visitor with an innocent taste for fun, converted the suicide into a wedding, and added about two thousand words of his own in the scene between Delilah and the curate. And when Aubrey Jerningham wrote to say that he had expected a little more than twenty pounds apiece for two long stories, he added ten pounds with an apology.
“The Piccadilly Weekly printed so much work by authors of established merit that the young writer did not send many of his things there. The consequence was, that during the first fortnight Tudway found no other budding talent to encourage, except that of Aubrey Jerningham. But as regarded Jerningham he felt that he had done his duty.
“In the course of the following week Mr. Jerningham wrote again. He enclosed a third story, ‘The Ordeal of Percy Pilkington,’ and also a tale entitled ‘The Lovers’ Well.’ This, he wrote, was from the pen of his brother Samuel, and, as Mr. Tudway had been so kind with regard to his own work, he hoped that a similar leniency might be extended towards what had struck him—after reading the first page—as a story which the world would not willingly let die. And he remained his sincerely, Aubrey Jerningham.
“It took Tudway a whole week’s unintermittent toil to lick ‘The Ordeal’ into shape, and then he started to read ‘The Lovers’ Well.’ It was worse than anything of Aubrey’s, but, as he told me afterwards, he had not the heart to reject a first story. He wrote it up, and printed it.
“Well, to cut a long story short—as we editors are frequently obliged to do—the Piccadilly Weekly soon became quite a family affair, a Jerningham family affair. Aubrey and Samuel were both prolific contributors. Samuel’s wife sent in military stories, Aubrey’s ‘Tales for the Tots.’ Their cousin George was drawn into it, and wrote society dialogue. At the end of Tudway’s first year as editor no fewer than seven Jerninghams were contributing regularly, and the amount of extra work he had to put in was appalling. You may wonder why his proprietor did not object. But you must remember that the Jerningham stories as printed were mainly Tudway, and Tudway was in quite the first flight of authors. Indeed, his proprietor congratulated him on discovering such a bevy of geniuses. ‘Imitators of your work, Tudway,’ he would say. ‘Their style is singularly like yours in parts. But they could have no better model, my dear Tudway, no better model!’ And Tudway would thank him with a ghastly grin.
“We now come to Tudway—the last phase.
“In the spring of the second year of his editorship we find him showing a last flickering sign of spirit. A contribution arrived from a Mr. Lucas Undershaw. It was a sentimental story, entitled ‘Gracie’s Hero,’ and it was so bad that even Tudway was roused. Without giving himself time to pause—for he knew his fatal tender-heartedness—he hurled the M.S. to the office-boy and told him to send it back with a rejection-form. The office-boy did so, grinning. A youth of malevolent disposition, he loved this part of his duties, and had been growing wan and dispirited of late owing to the lack of opportunities vouchsafed to him in that direction.
“Tudway breathed more freely. He had asserted himself. He had shown what he could do when roused; that, though lenient, he could still be firm.
“But mark the sequel.
“One morning, just as he was settling down to work, a card was brought in to him. The name on it was Miss Rachel Jerningham. The office-boy said he had told the lady (a) that the editor was engaged, (b) that he was out at lunch, but she had insisted on remaining. Tudway was beginning to feel that he could get on without any more Jerninghams, but his chivalrous nature would not allow him to be discourteous to a lady, so he told the boy to show her in.
“And in she came, an elderly and unattractive lady of uncertain age.
“ ‘Pray be seated, madam,’ said Tudway. ‘Can I be of any service to you? You are related to Mr. Aubrey Jerningham?’
“ ‘His aunt. Oh, Mr. Tudway, how could you, how could you be so heartless?’
“ ‘I beg your pardon—I don’t quite—I think—some mistake—’
“ ‘Oh, no—no—no mistake. How could you be so cruel as to reject my little story, Mr. Tudway? Oh!’
“ ‘Your story, madam?’
“ ‘My story. In me you see none other than the unfortunate Lucas Undershaw, the author of “Gracie’s Hero.” Oh, Mr. Tudway!’ And whipping out a pocket-handkerchief, the lady burst into a flood of tears.
“Tudway’s dilemma was now painful. He could not print ‘Gracie’s Hero.’ No amount of doctoring would make any impression on that masterpiece of inept writing. On the other hand he must soothe his visitor somehow. Then he remembered that in romances the kind-hearted editor, confronted with a similar situation, always offered his heart where he could not give his columns, the affair ending in St. George’s, Hanover Square. Must he follow editorial etiquette? He had no desire to marry. Indeed, the prospect appalled him. No. He would be firm.
“Just then his visitor’s heels began to drum upon the floor. He waited no longer. Two minutes later he was an engaged man.
“Little more remains to be told. Tudway is still editor of the Piccadilly. He supports by his own exertions the entire family of Jerninghams, who are most prolific contributors. His wife writes a story every month, and it is the strain of making these efforts readable that has turned his hair to the colour it now is. He is now, as you see, haggard, prematurely old, and bent. And all because he let his determination to be kind to the Young Author get the better of his judgment. I believe you are asleep,” he broke off complainingly, as a slight snore proceeded from Joseph’s shapely nose.
“Asleep,” said Joseph, starting. “Of course not. You were just going to tell me a story about a friend of yours, weren’t you? Please go on. I am all attention.”
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had a comma after the opening “POPJOY”
Magazine misspelled “dis-spirited” (hyphenated thus at a line break)