I soon became well acquainted with my collaborators on the paper. It was a pleasant surprise to be greeted in the foreground by the familiar face of Jim Fellows, my old college class-mate.

Jim was an agreeable creature, born with a decided genius for gossip. He had in perfection the faculty which phrenologists call individuality. He was statistical in the very marrow of his bones, apparently imbibing all the external facts of every person and everything around him, by a kind of rapid instinct. In college, Jim always knew all about every student; he knew all about everybody in the little town where the college was situated, their name, history, character, business, their front door and their back door affairs. No birth, marriage, or death ever took Jim by surprise; he always knew all about it long ago.

Now, as a newspaper is a gossip market on a large scale, this species of talent often goes farther in our modern literary life than the deepest reflection or the highest culture.

Jim was the best-natured fellow breathing; it was impossible to ruffle or disturb the easy, rattling, chattering flow of his animal spirits. He was like a Frenchman in his power of bright, airy adaptation to circumstances, and determination and ability to make the most of them.

"How lucky!" he said, the morning I first shook hands with him at the office of the Great Democracy; "you are just on the minute; the very lodging you want has been vacated this morning by old Styles; sunny room—south windows—close by here—water, gas, and so on, all correct; and, best of all, me for your opposite neighbor."

I went round with him, looked, approved, and was settled at once, Jim helping me with all the good-natured handiness and activity of old college days. We had a rattling, gay morning, plunging round into auction-rooms, bargaining for second-hand furniture, and with so much zeal did we drive our enterprise, seconded by the co-labors of a whom Jim patronized, that by night I found myself actually settled in a home of my own, making tea in Jim's patent bachelor tea-kettle, and talking over his and my affairs with the freedom of old cronies. Jim made no scruple in inquiring in the most direct manner as to the terms of my agreement with Mr. Goldstick, and opened the subject succinctly, as follows:

"Now, my son, you must let your old grandfather advise you a little about your temporalities. In the first place; what's Old Soapy going to give you?"

"If you mean Mr. Goldstick," said I——

"Yes," said he, "call him 'Soapy' for short. Did he come down handsomely on the terms?"

"His offers were not as large as I should have liked; but then, as he said, this paper is not a money-making affair, but a moral enterprise, and I am willing to work for less."

"Moral grandmother!" said Jim, in a tone of unlimited disgust. "He be—choked, as it were. Why, Harry Henderson, are your eye-teeth in such a retrograde state as that? Why, this paper is a fortune to that man; he lives in a palace, owns a picture gallery, and rolls about in his own carriage."

"I understood him," said I, "that the paper was not immediately profitable in a pecuniary point of view."

"Soapy calls everything unprofitable that does not yield him fifty per cent. on the money invested. Talk of moral enterprise! What did he engage you for?"

I stated the terms.

"For how long?"

"For one year."

"Well, the best you can do is to work it out now. Never make another bargain without asking your grandfather. Why, he pays me just double; and you know, Harry, I am nothing at all of a writer compared to you. But then, to be sure, I fill a place you've really no talent for."

"What is that?"

"General professor of humbug," said Jim. "No sort of business gets on in this world without that, and I'm a real genius in that line. I made Old Soapy come down, by threatening to 'rat,' and go to the Spouting Horn, and they couldn't afford to let me do that. You see, I've been up their back stairs, and know all their little family secrets. The Spouting Horn would give their eye-teeth for me. It's too funny," he said, throwing himself back and laughing.

"Are these papers rivals?" said I.

"Well, I should 'rayther' think they were," said he, eyeing me with an air of superiority amounting almost to contempt. "Why, man, the thing that I'm particularly valuable for is, that I always know just what will plague the Spouting Horn folks the most. I know precisely where to stick a pin or a needle into them; and one great object of our paper is to show that the Spouting Horn is always in the wrong. No matter what topic is uppermost, I attend to that, and get off something on them. For you see, they are popular, and make money like thunder, and, of course, that isn't to be allowed. Now," he added, pointing with his thumb upward, "overhead, there is really our best fellow—Bolton. Bolton is said to be the best writer of English in our day; he's an A No. 1, and no mistake; tremendously educated, and all that, and he knows exactly to a shaving what's what everywhere; he's a gentleman, too; we call him the Dominie. Well, Bolton writes the great leaders, and fires off on all the awful and solemn topics, and lays off the politics of Europe and the world generally. When there's a row over there in Europe, Bolton is magnificent on editorials. You see, he has the run of all the rows they have had there, and every bobbery that has been kicked up since the Christian era. He'll tell you what the French did in 1700 this, and the Germans in 1800 that, and of course he prophesies splendidly on what's to turn up next."

"I suppose they give him large pay," said I.

"Well, you see, Bolton's a quiet fellow and a gentleman—one that hates to jaw—and is modest, and so they keep him along steady on about half what I would get out of them if I were in his skin. Bolton is perfectly satisfied. If I were he, I shouldn't be, you see. I say, Harry, I know you'd like him. Let me bring him down and introduce him," and before I could either consent or refuse, Jim rattled up stairs, and I heard him in an earnest, persuasive treaty, and soon he came down with his captive.

I saw a man of thirty-three or thereabouts, tall, well formed, with bright, dark eyes, strongly-marked features, a finely-turned head, and closely-cropped black hair. He had what I should call presence—something that impressed me, as he entered the room, with the idea of a superior kind of individuality, though he was simple in his manners, with a slight air of shyness and constraint. The blood flushed in his cheeks as he was introduced to me, and there was a tremulous motion about his finely-cut lips, betokening suppressed sensitiveness. The first sound of his voice, as he spoke, struck on my ear agreeably, like the tones of a fine instrument, and, reticent and retiring as he seemed, I felt myself singularly attracted toward him.

What impressed me most, as he joined in the conversation with my rattling, free and easy, good-natured neighbor, was an air of patient, amused tolerance. He struck me as a man who had made up his mind to expect nothing and ask nothing of life, and who was sitting it out patiently, as one sits out a dull play at the theater. He was disappointed with nobody, and angry with nobody, while he seemed to have no confidence in anybody. With all this apparent reserve, he was simply and frankly cordial to me, as a new-comer and a fellow-worker on the same paper.

"Mr. Henderson," he said, "I shall be glad to extend to you the hospitalities of my den, such as they are. If I can at any time render you any assistance, don't hesitate to use me. Perhaps you would like to walk up and look at my books? I shall be only too happy to put them at your disposal."

We went up into a little attic room whose walls were literally lined with books on all sides, only allowing space for the two southerly windows which overlooked the city.

"I like to be high in the world, you see," he said, with a smile.

The room was not a large one, and the center was occupied by a large table, covered with books and papers. A cheerful coal-fire was burning in the little grate, a large leather arm-chair stood before it, and, with one or two other chairs, completed the furniture of the apartment. A small, lighted closet, whose door stood open on the room, displayed a pallet bed of monastic simplicity.

There were two occupants of the apartment who seemed established there by right of possession. A large Maltese cat, with great, golden eyes, like two full moons, sat gravely looking into the fire, in one corner, and a very plebeian, scrubby mongrel, who appeared to have known the hard side of life in former days, was dozing in the other.

Apparently, these genii loci were so strong in their sense of possession that our entrance gave them no disturbance. The dog unclosed his eyes with a sleepy wink as we came in, and then shut them again, dreamily, as satisfied that all was right.

Bolton invited us to sit down, and did the honors of his room with a quiet elegance, as if it had been a palace instead of an attic. As soon as we were seated, the cat sprang familiarly on the table and sat down cosily by Bolton, rubbing her head against his coat-sleeve.

"Let me introduce you to my wife," said Bolton, stroking her head. "Eh, Jenny, what now?" he added, as she seized his hands playfully in her teeth and claws. "You see, she has the connubial weapons," he said, "and insists on being treated with attention; but she's capital company. I read all my articles to her, and she never makes an unjust criticism."

Puss soon stepped from her perch on the table and ensconced herself in his lap, while I went round examining his books.

The library showed varied and curious tastes. The books were almost all rare.

"I have always made a rule," he said, "never to buy a book that I could borrow."

I was amused, in the course of the conversation, at the relations which apparently existed between him and Jim Fellows, which appeared to me to be very like what might be supposed to exist between a philosopher and a lively pet squirrel—it was the perfection of quiet, amused tolerance.

Jim seemed to be not in the slightest degree under constraint in his presence, and rattled on with a free and easy slang familiarity, precisely as he had done with me.

"What do you think Old Soapy has engaged Hal for?" he said. "Why, he only offers him—" Here followed the statement of terms.

I was annoyed at this matter-of-fact way of handling my private affairs, but on meeting the eyes of my new friend I discerned a glance of quiet humor which re-assured me. He seemed to regard Jim only as another form of the inevitable.

"Don't you think it is a confounded take-in?" said Jim.

"Of course," said Mr. Bolton, with a smile, "but he will survive it. The place is only one of the stepping-stones. Meanwhile," he said, "I think Mr. Henderson can find other markets for his literary wares, and more profitable ones. I think," he added, while the blood again rose in his cheeks, "that I have some influence in certain literary quarters, and I shall be happy to do all that I can to secure to him that which he ought to receive for such careful work as this. Your labor on the paper will not by any means take up your whole power or time."

"Well," said Jim, "the fact is the same all the world over—the people that grow a thing are those that get the least for it. It isn't your farmers, that work early and late, that get rich by what they raise out of the earth, it's the middlemen and the hucksters. And just so it is in literature; and the better a fellow writes, and the more work he puts into it, the less he gets paid for it. Why, now, look at me," he said, perching himself astride the arm of a chair, "I'm a genuine literary humbug, but I'll bet you I'll make more money than either of you, because, you see, I've no modesty and no conscience. Confound it all, those are luxuries that a poor fellow can't afford to keep. I'm a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, but I'm just the sort of fellow the world wants, and, hang it, they shall pay me for being that sort of fellow. I mean to make it shell out, and you see if I don't. I'll bet you, now, that I'd write a book that you wouldn't, either of you, be hired to write, and sell one hundred thousand copies of it, and put the money in my pocket, marry the handsomest, richest, and best educated girl in New York, while you are trudging on, doing good, careful work, as you call it."

"Remember us in your will," said I.

"Oh, yes, I will," he said. "I'll found an asylum for decayed authors of merit—a sort of literary 'Hotel des Invalides.'"

We had a hearty laugh over this idea, and, on the whole, our evening passed off very merrily. When I shook hands with Bolton for the night, it was with a silent conviction of an interior affinity between us.

It is a charming thing in one's rambles to come across a tree, or a flower, or a fine bit of landscape that one can think of afterward, and feel richer for their its in the world. But it is more when one is in a strange place, to come across a man that you feel thoroughly persuaded is, somehow or other, morally and intellectually worth exploring. Our lives tend to become so hopelessly commonplace, and the human beings we meet are generally so much one just like another, that the possibility of a new and peculiar style of character in an acquaintance is a most enlivening one.

There was something about Bolton both stimulating and winning, and I lay down less a stranger that night than I had been since I came to New York.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook