GETTING TO KNOW MR. PULITZER
As time passed, my relations with Mr. Pulitzer became more agreeable. He had given me fair warning that the first few weeks of my trial would be more or less unpleasant; a month at Cap Martin and a month on the yacht had amply verified his prediction.
But this period of probation, laborious and nerve-racking as it was, enabled me to appreciate how important it was for J. P. to put to a severe test of ability, tact and good temper any one whom he intended to attach to his personal staff.
His total blindness placed him completely in the hands of those around him, and, in order that he might enjoy that sense of perfect security without which his life would have been intolerable, it was necessary that he should be able to repose absolute confidence in the loyalty and intelligence of his companions.
It was not with reference to his blindness alone that the qualifications of his secretaries were measured. Indeed, to the loss of his sight he had become, in some measure, reconciled; what really dominated every other consideration was the need of being able to meet the peculiar conditions which had arisen through the complete breakdown of his nervous system.
I have spoken of his extreme sensitiveness to noise. It is impossible to give any description of this terrible symptom which shall be in any way adequate. Many of us suffer torment through the hideous clamor which appears to be inseparable from modern civilization; but to Mr. Pulitzer even the sudden click of a spoon against a saucer, the gurgle of water poured into a glass, the striking of a match, produced a spasm of suffering. I have seen him turn pale, tremble, break into a cold perspiration at some sound which to most people would have been scarcely audible.
When we were on the yacht every one was compelled to wear rubber-soled shoes. When Mr. Pulitzer was asleep that portion of the deck which was over his bedroom was roped off so that no one could walk over his head; and each door which gave access to the rooms above his cabin was provided with a brass plate on which was cut the legend: “This door must not be opened when Mr. Pulitzer is asleep.”
With every resource at his command which ingenuity could suggest and money procure, the one great unsolved problem of his later years was to obtain absolute quietness at all times. At his magnificent house in New York, at his beautiful country home at Bar Harbor he had spent tens of thousands of dollars in a vain effort to procure the one luxury which he prized above all others. On the yacht the conditions in this respect were as nearly perfect as possible; but some noise was inseparable from the ship’s work—letting go the anchor, heaving it up again, blowing the foghorn, and so on—though most of the ordinary noises had been eliminated.