A council of war was held, and it was decided that they should tramp back to St. Louis, and put a summary termination to the agent’s career by storming his office and murdering him. Whether or not this reckless program would have been carried out it is impossible to say, for when, three days later, the ragged army arrived in the city, worn out with fatigue and half dead from hunger, the agent had decamped.
A reporter happened to pick up the story, and by mere chance met Pulitzer and induced him to write out in German the tale of his experiences. This account created such an impression on the mind of the editor through whose hands it passed that Pulitzer was offered, and accepted, with the greatest misgivings, as he solemnly assured us, a position as reporter on the Westliche Post.
The event proved that there had been no grounds for J. P.’s modest doubts. After he had been some time on the paper, things went so badly that two reporters had to be got rid of. The editor kept Pulitzer on the staff, because he felt that if anyone was destined to force him out of the editorial chair it was not a young, uneducated foreigner, who could hardly mumble half-a-dozen words of English. The editor was mistaken. Within a few years J. P. not only supplanted him but became half-proprietor of the paper.
Another interesting anecdote of his early days, which he told with great relish, related to his experience as a fireman on a Mississippi ferryboat. His limited knowledge of English was regarded by the captain as a personal affront, and that fire-eating old-timer made it his particular business to let young Pulitzer feel the weight of his authority. At last the overwork and the constant bullying drove J. P. into revolt, and he left the boat after a violent quarrel with the captain.
Whenever J. P. reached this point in the story, and I heard him tell it several times, his face lighted up with amusement, and he had to stop until he had enjoyed a good laugh.
“Well, my God!” he would conclude, “about two years later, when I had learned English and studied some law and been made a notary public, this very same captain walked into my office in St. Louis one day to have some documents sealed. As soon as he saw me he stopped short, as if he had seen a ghost, and said, “Say, ain’t you the damned cuss that I fired off my boat?”
“I told him yes, I was. He was the most surprised man I ever saw, but after he had sworn himself hoarse he faced the facts and gave me his business.”
Mr. Pulitzer always declared that the proudest day of his life, the occasion on which his vanity was most tickled, was when he was elected to the Missouri Legislature. Things were evidently run in a rather happy-go-lucky fashion in those early days, since, as he admitted with a reminiscent smile, he was absolutely disqualified for election, being neither an American citizen nor of age.
Mr. Pulitzer’s anecdotes about himself always ended in one way. He would break off suddenly and exclaim, “For Heaven’s sake, why do you let me run on like this; as soon as a man gets into the habit of talking about his past adventures he might just as well make up his mind that he is growing old and that his intellect is giving way.”