“Diedrick,” said Mr. Oakes, “on March eighteenth you printed this thing”—his finger on Willie’s essay—“why did you do it?”
“What’s the matter with it?” replied D.K.T.
“The matter with it,” spoke Mr. Wilbram terribly, “is that it slanders my wife. It makes her out to eat dog bones. Friends of ours as far away as California have seen it and recognized her portrait, drawn by your scurrilous pen. The worst of it is, the slander is founded on fact. By what right do you air my domestic affairs before the public in this outrageous fashion?”
With agonized eyes the funny-man read the essay as far as the fateful line, “It was Mrs. Will Brum.”
“My gosh!” he cried.
“How did you come to write such a thing?” Mr. Oakes demanded.
“Me write that thing? If I only had!”
The facts were recalled; the sending of Mr. Sloan and many reporters to Rutland; the need of extra hands at the copy-table that day.
“I found this contribution on my desk. It looked safe. In the rush of the morning I sent it up and never gave it another thought.”
“So it is really a boy’s essay, and not some of your own fooling?” asked Oakes.
“A boy’s essay, yes; entered in Mr. Wilbram’s prize contest, eliminated by the boy’s teacher and shown by her to Mr. Sloan, who brought it to the shop. I know now that Sloan meant me to change the author’s name to save the kid from ridicule. If there were actual persons in it, I’m as amazed as Mrs. Wilbram.”
“I wonder, Oakes,” said Wilbram, “that a dignified newspaper like yours would print such trash, in the first place.”
Worthington Oakes looked down his nose. D.K.T. took up the challenge.
“Trash, sir? If it’s trash, why has the Ashland Telephone asked permission to reprint it on the front cover of their next directory?”
“Have they asked that?”
“They have; they say they will put a little moral principle into the telephone hogs in this town. And didn’t a Fifth Avenue minister preach a sermon on it last Sunday? Doesn’t the Literary Review give it half a page this week? Hasn’t it been scissored by almost every exchange editor in the land? Isn’t there a man in the city-room now offering me fifteen thousand a year to write a daily screed like it?”
“You can see, Wilbram,” said Mr. Oakes, “that there was no intention to injure or annoy. We are very sorry; but how can we print an apology to Mrs. Wilbram without making the matter worse?”
“Who is this Willie Downey?” demanded Wilbram. “And who is the school teacher?”
“I don’t believe my moral principles will let me tell you,” replied D.K.T. “I’m positive Mr. Sloan’s won’t let him. We received the essay in confidence.”
“Enough said,” Mr. Wilbram exclaimed, rising. “Good day to you. I don’t need your help, anyway. I’ll find out from the butcher.”