Dust was the conspicuous attribute of the place. It lay, flat and toneless, upon the desk, the chairs, the floor; it streaked the walls. The semi-consumptive office “boy’s” middle-aged shoulders collected it. It stirred in the wake of quiet-moving men, mostly under thirty-five, who entered the outer door, passed through the waiting-room, and disappeared behind a partition. Banneker felt like shaking himself lest he should be eventually buried under its impalpable sifting. Two hours and a half had passed since he had sent in his name on a slip of paper, to Mr. Gordon, managing editor of the paper. On the way across Park Row he had all but been persuaded by a lightning printer on the curb to have a dozen tasty and elegant visiting-cards struck off, for a quarter; but some vague inhibition of good taste checked him. Now he wondered if a card would have served better.
While he waited, he checked up the actuality of a metropolitan newspaper entrance-room, as contrasted with his notion of it, derived from motion pictures. Here was none of the bustle and hurry of the screen. No brisk and earnest young figures with tense eyes and protruding notebooks darted feverishly in and out; nor, in the course of his long wait, had he seen so much as one specimen of that invariable concomitant of all screen journalism, the long-haired poet with his flowing tie and neatly ribboned manuscript. Even the office “boy,” lethargic, neutrally polite, busy writing on half-sheets of paper, was profoundly untrue to the pictured type. Banneker wondered what the managing editor would be like; would almost, in the wreckage of his preconceived notions, have accepted a woman or a priest in that manifestation, when Mr. Gordon appeared and was addressed by name by the hollow-chested Cerberus. Banneker at once echoed the name, rising.
The managing editor, a tall, heavy man, whose smoothly fitting cutaway coat seemed miraculously to have escaped the plague of dust, stared at him above heavy glasses.
“You want to see me?”
“Yes. I sent in my name.”
“Did you? When?”
“At two-forty-seven, thirty,” replied the visitor with railroad accuracy.
The look above the lowered glasses became slightly quizzical. “You’re exact, at least. Patient, too. Good qualities for a newspaper man. That’s what you are?”
“What I’m going to be,” amended Banneker.
“There is no opening here at present.”
“That’s formula, isn’t it?” asked the young man, smiling.
The other stared. “It is. But how do you know?”
“It’s the tone, I suppose. I’ve had to use it a good deal myself, in railroading.”
“Observant, as well as exact and patient. Come in. I’m sorry I misplaced your card. The name is—?”
“Banneker, E. Banneker.”