I did my best, and he appeared to be pleased; but before I had half exhausted the details of the magnificent scene above and below us he stopped me suddenly with a request that I should tell him exactly what had occurred from the time I had answered his advertisement up to the moment of my arrival at the villa.
This demand placed me in rather an awkward predicament, for I had to try and reconcile the fact that the advertisement itself as well as all my conversations with his agents and with his son had been directed toward the idea of a companionship, with his positive assertion that there was no vacancy on his personal staff and that he wanted me for another, and an undisclosed purpose. Here was a very clear opportunity for destroying my reputation, either for tact or for accuracy.
There was, of course, only one thing to do, and that was to tell him exactly what had taken place. This I did, and at the end of my recital he said, “It’s simply amazing how anyone can get a matter tangled up the way you have. There was never a question of your becoming one of my companions. What I want is a man to go out to the Philippines and write a series of vigorous articles showing the bungle we’ve made of that business, and paving the way for an agitation in favor of giving the Islands their independence. There’ll be a chance of getting that done if we elect a Democratic President in 1912.”
“Well, sir,” I replied, “if the bungle has been as bad as you think I certainly ought to be able to do the work to your satisfaction. I’m pretty familiar with the conditions of tropical life, I’ve written a good deal on the subject, I’ve been in the Philippines and have published a book and a number of articles about them, and, although I don’t take as gloomy a view as you do about the administration out there, I found a good deal to criticize, and if I go out I can certainly describe the conditions as they are now, and your editorial writers can put my articles to whatever use they may wish.”
“You’re going too fast,” he said, “and you’re altogether too cock-sure of your abilities. You mustn’t think that because you’ve written articles for the London Times you are competent to write for The World. It’s a very different matter. The American people want something terse, forcible, picturesque, striking, something that will arrest their attention, enlist their sympathy, arouse their indignation, stimulate their imagination, convince their reason, awaken their conscience. Why should I accept you at your own estimate? You don’t realize the responsibility I have in this matter. The World isn’t like your Times, with its forty or fifty thousand educated readers. It’s read by, well, say a million people a day; and it’s my duty to see that they get the truth; but that’s not enough, I’ve got to put it before them briefly so that they will read it, clearly so that they will understand it, forcibly so that they will appreciate it, picturesquely so that they will remember it, and, above all, accurately so that they may be wisely guided by its light. And you come to me, and before you’ve been here a day you ask me to entrust you with an important mission which concerns the integrity of my paper, the conscience of my readers, the policy of my country, no, my God! you’re too cock-sure of yourself.”