The opium eater—A babbler o’ green fields—The “Brither Scots”—A South Sea idyl—St. Andrew Lang Syne—An intelligent community—The arrival of the “Bonnie Doon,” Mackellar, master—Captain Mackellar “says a ‘sweer’”—A border raid on a Newspaper—It pays—A raid of the wild Irish—Naugay Doola as a Newspaper editor—An epic—How the editor came to buy my emulsion—The constitutionially quarlsome sub-editor—The melancholy man—Not without a cause—The use of the razor.

ANOTHER remarkable type of the subeditor of the past was a middle-aged man whom it was my privilege to study for some months. No one could account for a curious distrait air which he frequently wore; but I had only to look at his eyes to become aware of the secret of his life. I had seen enough of opium smokers in the East to enable me to pronounce decisively on this “case.” He was a most intelligent and widely-read man; but he had wrecked his life over opium. He could not live without it, and with it he was utterly unfit for any work. Night after night I did the wretched man’s work while he lay in a corner of the room wandering through the opium eater’s paradise. After some months he vanished, utterly from the town, and I never found a trace of him elsewhere.

He was much to be preferred to a curious Scotsman who succeeded him. It was not the effects of opium that caused this person to lie in a corner and babble o’ green fields upon certain occasions, such as the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, the anniversary of the death of the same poet, the celebration of the Annual Festival of St. Andrew, the Annual Dinner of the Caledonian Society, the Anniversary Supper of the Royal Scottish Association, the Banquet and Ball of the Sons of Scotia, the “Nicht wi’ Our Ain Kin,” the Ancient Golf Dinner, the Curlers’ Reunion, the “Rink and Drink” of the “Free Bowlers”—a local festival—the Pipe and Bagpipe of the Clans Awa’ Frae Harne—another local club of Caledonians. Each of these celebrations of the representatives of his nation, which took place in the town to which he came—I need scarcely say it was not in Scotland—was attended by him; hence the babbling o’ green fields between the hours of one and three a.m. He babbled once too often, and was sent forth to fresh fields by his employer, who was not a “brither Scot.” I daresay he is babbling up to the present hour.

In spite of the well-known and deeply-rooted prejudices of the Scottish nation against the spirit of what may be termed racial cohesion, it cannot be denied that they have been known now and again to display a tendency—when outside Scotland—to localise certain of their national institutions. They do so at considerable self-sacrifice, and the result is never otherwise than beneficial to the locality operated on. No more adequately attested narrative has been recorded than that of the two Shanghai merchants—Messrs. Andrew Gareloch and Alexander MacClackan—who were unfortunate enough to be wrecked on the voyage to England. They were the sole survivors of the ship’s company, and the island upon which they found themselves was in the middle of the Pacific, and about six miles long by four across. In the lagoon were plenty of fish, and on the ridge of the slope cocoanuts, loquats, plantains, and sweet potatoes were growing, so that there was no question as to their supplies holding out. After a good meal they determined that their first duty was to name the island. They called it St. Andrew Lang Syne Island, and became as festive and brotherly—they pronounced it “britherly”—as was possible over cocoanut milk: it was a long time since either of them had tasted milk. The second day they founded a local Benevolent Society of St. Andrew, and held the inaugural dinner; the third day they founded a Burns Club, and inaugurated the undertaking with a supper; the fourth day they started a Scottish Association, and with it a series of monthly reunions for the discussion of Scotch ballad literature; the fifth day they laid out a golf links with the finest bunkers in the world, and instituted a club lunch (strictly non-alcoholic); the sixth day they formed a Curling Club—the lagoon would make a braw rink, they said, if it only froze; if it didn’t freeze, well, they could still have the annual Curlers’ supper—and they had it; the Seventh Day they kept. On the evening of the same day a vessel was sighted bearing up for the island; but, of course, neither of the men would hoist a signal on the Seventh Day, and they watched the craft run past the island, though they were amazed to find that she had only her courses and a foresail set, in spite of the fact that the breeze was a light one. The next morning, when they were sitting together at breakfast discussing whether they should lay the foundation stone—with a commemorative lunch—of a free kirk, a U.P. meeting-house, or an Auld Licht meeting-house—they had been fiercely discussing the merits of each at every spare moment during the previous twenty years at Shanghai—they saw the vessel returning with all sail set and a signal flying. To run up one of their shirts to a pole at the entrance to the lagoon was a matter of a moment, and they saw that their signal was responded to. Sail was taken off the ship, she was steered by signals from the shore through the entrance to the lagoons and dropped anchor.

She turned out to be the Bonnie Doon, of Dundee, Douglas Mackellar, master. He had found portions of wreckage floating at sea, and had thought it possible that some of the survivors of the wreck might want passages “hame.”

“Nae, nae,” said both the men, “we’re no in need o’ passages hame just the noo. But what for did ye no mak’ for the passage yestere’en in the gloaming?”

“Ay,” said Captain Mackellar, “I ran by aboot the mirk; but hoot awa’—hoot awa’, ye wouldn’t hae me come ashore on the Sawbath Day.”

“Ye shortened sail, tho’,” remarked Mr. MacClackan.

“Ay, on Saturday nicht. I never let her do more than just sail on the Sawbath. Why the eevil didn’t ye run up a bit signal, ye loons, if ye spied me sae weel?”

“Hoot awa’—hoot awa’, ye wouldn’t hae us mak’ a signal on the Sawbath day.”

“Na’, na’, no regular signal; but ye might hae run up a wee bittie—just eneugh tae catch my e’en. Ay, an’ will ye nae come aboard?”

“We’ll hae to talk owre it, Captain.”

Well; they did talk over the matter, cautiously and discreetly, for a few hours, for Captain Mackellar was a hard man at a bargain, and he would not agree to give them a passage at anything less than two pound a head. At last negotiations were concluded, the men got aboard the Bonnie Doon and piloted her out of the lagoon. They reached the Clyde in safety, having on the voyage found that Captain Mackellar was a religious man and never used any but the most God-fearing of oaths at his crew.

“Weel, ma freends,” said he, as they approached Greenock—“Weel, I’m in hopes that ye’ll be paying me the siller this e’en.”

“Ay, mon, that we will, certes,” said the passengers. “In the meantime, we’d tak’ the liberty o’ calling your attention to a wee bit claim we hae japped doon on a bit slip o’ paper. It’s three poon nine for harbour dues that ye owe us, Captain Mackellar, and twa poon ten for pilotage—it’s compulsory at yon island, so maybe ye’ll mak’ it convenient to hand us owre the differs when we land. Ay, Douglas Mackellar, ye shouldn’a try to get the better o’ brither Scots.”

Captain Douglas Mackellar was a God-fearing man, but he said “Dom!”

I once had some traffic with a newspaper office that had suffered from a border raid. In the month of June a managing editor had been imported from the Clyde, and although previously no “hand” from north of the Tweed had ever been located within its walls, yet before December had come, to take a stroll through any department of that office was like taking a walk down Sauchiehall Street, or the Broomielaw. The foreman printer used weird Scotch oaths, and his son was the “devil”—pronounced deevil. His brother-in-law was the day foreman, and his brother-in-law’s son was a junior clerk. The stereotyper was the stepson of the night foreman’s mother, and he had a nephew who was the machinist, with a brother for his assistant. The managing editor’s brother was sub-editor, and the man to whom his wife had been engaged before she married him, was assistant-editor. The assistant-editor’s uncle became the head of the advertising department, and he had three sons; two of them became clerks with progressive salaries, and the third became the chief reporter, also with a progressive salary. In fact, the paper became a one-family show—it was like a “nicht wi’ Burns,”—and no paper was ever worked better. It never paid less than fifteen per cent.

A rather more amusing experience was of the overrunning of a newspaper office by the wild Irishry. The organ in question had a somewhat chequered career during the ten months that it existed. At one period—for even as long as a month—it was understood to pay its expenses; but when it failed to pay its expenses, no one else paid them; hence in time it came to be looked upon as a rather unsound property. The original editor, a man of ability and culture, declined to be dictated to in some delicate political question by the proprietor, and took his departure without going through the empty formality—it was, after all, only a point of etiquette—of asking for the salary that was due to him. For some weeks the paper was run—if something that scarcely crawled could be said to be run—without an editor; then a red-headed Irishman of the Namgay Doola type appeared—like a meteor surrounded by a nimbus of brogue—in the editor’s room. His name was O’Keegan, but lest this name might be puzzling to the English nation, he weakly gave in to their prejudices and simplified it into O’Geogheghoiran. He was a Master of Arts of the Royal University in Ireland, and a winner of gold medals for Greek composition, as well as philosophy. He said he had passed at one time at the head of the list of Indian Civil Service candidates, but was rejected by the doctor on account of his weak lungs. When I met him his lungs had apparently overcome whatever weakness they may once have had. He had a colloquial acquaintance with Sanscrit, and he had also been one of the best billiard markers in all Limerick.

I fancy he knew something about every science and art, except the art and science of editing a daily newspaper on which the payment of salaries was intermittent. In the course of a week a man from Galway had taken the vacant and slightly injured chair of the sub-editor, a man from Waterford said he had been appointed chief of the reporting staff, a man from Tipperary said he was the new art editor and musical critic, and a man from Kilkenny said he had been invited by his friend Mr. O’Geogheghoiran to “do the reviews.” I have the best of reasons for knowing that he fancied “doing the reviews” meant going into the park upon military field-days, and reporting thereupon.

In short, the newspaper staff was an Irish blackthorn.

It began to “behave as sich.”

The office was situated down a court on my line of route homeward; and one morning about three o’clock I was passing the entrance to the court when I fancied I heard the sound of singing. I paused, and then, out of sheer curiosity, moved in the direction of the newspaper premises. By the time I had reached them the singing had broadened into recrimination. I have noticed that singing is usually the first step in that direction. The members of the literary staff had apparently assembled in the reporters’ room, and, stealing past the flaring gas jet on the very rickety stairs, I reached that window of the apartment which looked upon the lobby. When I rubbed as much dust and grime off one of the panes as admitted of my seeing into the room, I learned more about fighting in five minutes than I had done during a South African campaign.

A dozen or so bottles of various breeds lay about the floor, and a variety of drinking vessels lay about the long table at the moment of my glancing through the window. Only for a moment, however, for in another second the editor had leapt upon the table, and with one dexterous kick—a kick that no amount of Association play could cause one to acquire; a kick that must have been handed down, so to speak, from father to son, unto the third and fourth generations of backs—had sent every drinking vessel into the air. One—it was a jug—struck the ceiling, and brought down a piece of plaster about the size of a cart-wheel; but before the mist that followed this transaction had risen to obscure everything, I saw that a tumbler had shot out through the window that looked upon the court. I heard the crash below a moment afterwards. A mug had caught the corresponding portion of the anatomy of the gentleman from Waterford, and it irritated him; a cup crashed at the open mouth of the reviewer from Kilkenny, and, so far as I could see, he swallowed it; a tin pannikin carried away a portion of the ear of the musical critic from Tipperary—it was so large that he could easily spare a chip or so of it, though some sort of an ear is essential to the conscientious discharge of the duties of musical critic.

For some time after, I could not see very distinctly what was going on in the room, for the dust from the dislodged plaster began to rise, and “friend and foe were shadows in the mist.” Now and again I caught a glimpse of the red-head of the Master of Arts and Gold Medallist permeating the mist, as the western sun permeates the smoke that hangs over a battle-field; and wherever that beacon-fire appeared devastation was wrought. The subeditor had gone down before him—so much I could see; and then all was dimness and yells again—yells that brought down more of the plaster and a portion of the stucco cornice; yells that chipped flakes off the marble mantelpiece and sent them quivering through the room; yells that you might have driven tenpenny nails home with.

Then the dust-cloud drifted away, and I was able to form a pretty good idea of what was going on. The meeting in mid-air of the ten-light gasalier, which the dramatic critic had pulled down, and the iron fender, which the chief of the reporting staff had picked up when he saw that his safety was imperilled, was epic. The legs of chairs and stools flying through the air suggested a blackboard illustration of a shower of meteors; every now and again one crashed upon a head and cannoned off against the wall, where it sometimes lodged and became a bracket that you might have hung a coat on, or else knocked a brick into the adjoining apartment.

The room began to assume an untidy appearance after a while; but I noticed that the editor was making praiseworthy efforts to speak. I sympathised with the difficulty he seemed to have in that direction. It was not until he had folded in two the musical critic and the chief reporter, and had seated himself upon them without straightening them out, that his voice was heard.

“Boys,” he cried, “if this work goes on much longer I fear there’ll be a breach of the peace. Anyhow, I’m thirsty. I’ve a dozen of porter in my room.”

The only serious accident of the evening occurred at this point. The reviewer got badly hurt through being jammed in with the other six in the door leading to the editor’s room.

The next morning the paper came out as usual, and the fact that the leaders were those that had appeared on the previous day, and that the Parliamentary report had been omitted, was not noticed. I met the red-haired editor as he came out of a chemist’s shop that afternoon. I asked, as delicately as possible, after his health.

“I’d be well enough if it wasn’t for the sense of responsibility that sometimes oppresses me,” said he. “It’s a terrible weight on a single man’s shoulders that a daily paper is, so it is.”

“No doubt,” said I. “Do you feel it on your shoulders now?”

“Don’t I just?” said he. “I’ve been buying some emulsion inside to see if that will give me any ease.”

He then told me a painfully circumstantial story of how, when walking home early in the morning, he was set upon by some desperate miscreant, who had struck him twice upon his left eye, which might account, he said, for any slight discolouration I might notice in the region of that particular organ if I looked closely at it.

“But what’s the matter with your hair?”

I inquired. “It looks as if it had been powdered.”

“Blast it!” said he, taking off his hat, and disclosing several hillocks of red heather with a patch of white sticking-plaster on their summits—like the illustration of the snow line on a geological model of the earth’s surface. “Blast it! It must have been the ceiling. It’s a dog’s life an editor’s is, anyhow.”

I never saw him again.

Of course, the foregoing narrative is only illustrative of the exuberance of the Irish nature under depressing circumstances; but I have also come in contact with sub-editors who were constitutionally quarrelsome. They were nearly as disagreeable to work with as those who were perpetually standing on their dignity—men who were never without a complaint of being insulted. I bore with one of this latter class longer than any one else would have done. He was the most incompetent man whom I ever met, so that one night when he growled out that he had never been so badly treated by his inferiors as he was just at that instant, I had no compunction in saying,—

“By whom?”

“By my inferiors in this office,” he replied.

“I’d like to know where your inferiors are,” said I. “They’re not in this office—so much I can swear. I doubt if they are in any other.”

He asked me if I meant to insult him, and I assured him that I invariably made my meaning so plain when I had occasion to say anything, there was no excuse for asking what I meant.

He never talked to me again about being insulted.

Another curious specimen of an extinct animal was subject to remarkable fits of depression and moroseness. He offered to make me a bet one night that he would not be alive on that day week. I took him up promptly, and offered to stake a five-pound note on the issue, provided that he did the same. He said he hadn’t a five-pound note in the world, though he had been toiling like a galley slave for twenty years. I pitied the poor fellow, though it was not until I saw his wife—a mass of black beads and pomatum—that I recognised his right to the consolation of pessimism. I believe that he was only deterred from suicide by an irresistible belief in a future state. He had heard a well-meant but injudicious sermon in which the statement was made that husband and wife, though parted by death, would one day be reunited. Believing this he lived on. What was the use of doing anything else?

I met with another sub-editor on whom for a period I looked with some measure of awe, being in statu pupillari at the time.

Every night he used to take a razor out of his press and lay it beside his desk, having opened it with great deliberation and a hard look upon his haggard face. I believed that he was possessed of strong suicidal impulses, and that he was placing the razor where it would be handy in case he should find it necessary to make away with himself some night or in the early hours of the morning.

I held him in respect for just one month. At the end of that time I saw him sharpening his pencil with the razor, and I ventured to inquire if he usually employed the instrument for that purpose.

“I do,” he replied. “I lost six penknives in this room within a fortnight; those blue-pencilled reporters use up a lot of knives, and they never buy any, so I brought down this old razor. They’ll not steal that.”

And they didn’t.

But I lost all respect for that sub-editor.

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