Edmonds shot a swift glance at him. “What do you think?”
“I think,” he decided slowly, “it’s because there is a sort of stigma attached to reporting.”
“Damn you, you’re right!” snapped the veteran. “Though it’s the rankest heresy to admit it. There’s a taint about it. There’s a touch of the pariah. We try to fool ourselves into thinking there isn’t. But it’s there, and we admit it when we use a clumsy, misfit term like ’newspaper man.’”
“Whose fault is it?”
“The public’s. The public is a snob. It likes to look down on brains. Particularly the business man. That’s why I’m a Socialist. I’m ag’in the bourgeoisie.”
“Aren’t the newspapers to blame, in the kind of stuff they print?”
“And why do they print it?” demanded the other fiercely. “Because the public wants all the filth and scandal and invasion of privacy that it can get and still feel respectable.”
“The Ledger doesn’t go in for that sort of thing.”
“Not as much as some of the others. But a little more each year. It follows the trend.” He got up, quenched his pipe, and reached for his hat. “Drop in here about seven-thirty when you feel like hearing the old man maunder,” he said with his slight, friendly smile.
Rising, Banneker leaned over to him. “Who’s the man at the next table?” he asked in a low voice, indicating a tall, broad, glossily dressed diner who was sipping his third demi-tasse, in apparent detachment from the outside world.
“His name is Marrineal,” replied the veteran. “He dines here occasionally alone. Don’t know what he does.”
“He’s been listening in.”
“Curious thing; he often does.”
As they parted at the door, Edmonds said paternally:
“Remember, young fellow, a Park Row reputation is written on glass with a wet finger. It doesn’t last during the writing.”
“And only dims the glass,” said Banneker reflectively.
Heat, sudden, savage, and oppressive, bore down upon the city early that spring, smiting men in their offices, women in their homes, the horses between the shafts of their toil, so that the city was in danger of becoming disorganized. The visitation developed into the big story of successive days. It was the sort of generalized, picturesque “fluff-stuff” matter which Banneker could handle better than his compeers by sheer imaginative grasp and deftness of presentation. Being now a writer on space, paid at the rate of eight dollars a column of from thirteen to nineteen hundred words, he found the assignment profitable and the test of skill quite to his taste. Soft job though it was in a way, however, the unrelenting pressure of the heat and the task of finding, day after day, new phases and fresh phrases in which to deal with it, made inroads upon his nerves.
He took to sleeping ill again. Io Welland had come back in all the glamorous panoply of waking dreams to command and torment his loneliness of spirit. At night he dreaded the return to the draughtless room on Grove Street. In the morning, rising sticky-eyed and unrested, he shrank from the thought of the humid, dusty, unkempt hurly-burly of the office. Yet his work was never more brilliant and individual.