A long illness, a longer convalescence, a positive injunction from my doctor to leave friends and business associates and to seek some spot where a comfortable bed and good food could be had in convenient proximity to varied but mild forms of amusement—and I found myself in the autumn of the year 1910 free and alone in the delightful city of Hamburg.
All my plans had gone down wind, and as I sat at my table in the Cafe Ziechen, whence, against the background of the glittering blue of the Alster, I could see the busy life of the Alter Jungfernstieg and the Alsterdamm, my thoughts turned naturally to the future.
It is not the easiest thing in the world to reconstruct at forty years of age the whole scheme of your life; but my illness, and other happenings of a highly disagreeable character, had compelled me to abandon a career to which I had devoted twenty years of arduous labor; and the question which pressed for an immediate answer was: What are you going to do now?
Various alternatives presented themselves. There had been a suggestion that I should take the editorship of a newspaper in Calcutta; an important financial house in London had offered me the direction of its interests in Western Canada; a post in the service of the Government of India had been mentioned as a possibility by certain persons in authority.
My own inclination, the child of a weary spirit and of the lassitude of ill health, swayed me in the direction of a quiet retreat in Barbados, that peaceful island of an eternal summer cooled by the northeast trades, where the rush and turmoil of modern life are unknown and where a very modest income more than suffices for all the needs of a simple existence.
I shall never know to what issue my reflections upon these matters would have led me, for a circumstance, in the last degree trivial, intervened to turn my thoughts into an entirely new channel, and to guide me, though I could not know it at the time, into the service of Joseph Pulitzer.
My waiter was extremely busy serving a large party of artillery officers at an adjoining table. I glanced through The Times and the Hamburger Nachrichten, looked out for a while upon the crowded street, and then, resigning myself to the delay in getting my lunch, picked up The Times again and did what I had never done before in my life—read the advertisements under the head “Professional Situations.”
All except one were of the usual type, the kind in which a prospective employer flatters a prospective employee by classing as “professional” the services of a typewriter or of a companion to an elderly gentleman who resides within easy distance of an important provincial town.
One advertisement, however, stood out from the rest on account of the peculiar requirements set forth in its terse appeal. It ran something after this fashion: “Wanted, an intelligent man of about middle age, widely read, widely traveled, a good sailor, as companion-secretary to a gentleman. Must be prepared to live abroad. Good salary. Apply, etc.”