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Glackens, William J / In Our Town
In Our Town

BY WILLIAM ALLEN WHITE

The Court of Boyville, The Real Issue, Stratagems and Spoils

Illustrations by F. R. Gruger and W. Glackens




NEW YORK
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
MCMVI

Copyright 1906 by
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.

Published April, 1906


Copyright 1904 by The Century Co.
Copyright 1905-1906 by The Curtis Publishing Co.




[Illustration: He wore his collars so high that he had to order them
from a drummer]



Contents


I. SCRIBES AND PHARISEES

II. THE YOUNG PRINCE

III. THE SOCIETY EDITOR

IV. "AS A BREATH INTO THE WIND"

V. THE COMING OF THE LEISURE CLASS

VI. THE BOLTON GIRL'S "POSITION"

VII. "BY THE ROD OF HIS WRATH"

VIII. "A BUNDLE OF MYRRH"

IX. OUR LOATHED BUT ESTEEMED CONTEMPORARY

X. A QUESTION OF CLIMATE

XI. THE CASTING OUT OF JIMMY MYERS

XII. "'A BABBLED OF GREEN FIELDS"

XIII. A PILGRIM IN THE WILDERNESS

XIV. THE PASSING OF PRISCILLA WINTHROP

XV. "AND YET A FOOL"

XVI. A KANSAS "CHILDE ROLAND"

XVII. THE TREMOLO STOP

XVIII. SOWN IN OUR WEAKNESS

XIX. "THIRTY"




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


He Wore his Collars so High that He Had to Order Them from a Drummer

Suppressing Nothing "On Account of the Respectability of the Parties
Concerned"

As an Office Joke the Boys Used to Leave a Step-Ladder by Her Desk so
that She Could Climb Up and See How Her Top-Knot Really Looked

And Brought with Him a Large Leisure and a Taste for Society

Sometimes He Thought It was a Report of a Fire and at Other Times It
Seemed Like a Dress-Goods Catalogue

As the Dinner Hour Grew Near She Raged--So the Servants said--Whenever
the Telephone Rang

"Jim Purdy, Taken the Day He Left for the Army"

He Advertised the Fact that He was a Good Hater by Showing Callers at
His Office His Barrel

He Likes to Sit in the Old Swayback Swivel-Chair and Tell Us His Theory
of the Increase in the Rainfall

And Camped in the Office for Two Days, Looking for Jimmy

Reverend Milligan Came in with a Church Notice

A Desert Scorpion, Outcast by Society and Proud of it

"He Made a Lot of Money and Blew it in"

Went About Town with His Cigar Pointing Toward his Hat-Brim

The Traveling Men on the Veranda Craned Their Necks to Watch Her Out of
Sight

Counting the Liars and Scoundrels and Double-Dealers and Villains Who
Pass




IN OUR TOWN




I

Scribes and Pharisees


Ours is a little town in that part of the country called the West by
those who live east of the Alleghanies, and referred to lovingly as
"back East" by those who dwell west of the Rockies. It is a country town
where, as the song goes, "you know everybody and they all know you," and
the country newspaper office is the social clearing-house.

When a man has published a paper in a country community for many years,
he knows his town and its people, their strength and their weakness,
their joys and their sorrows, their failings and their prosperity--or if
he does not know these things, he is on the road to failure, for this
knowledge must be the spirit of his paper. The country editor and his
reporters sooner or later pass upon everything that interests their
town.

In our little newspaper office we are all reporters, and we know many
intimate things about our people that we do not print. We know, for
instance, which wives will not let their husbands endorse other men's
notes at the banks. We know about the row the Baptists are having to get
rid of the bass singer in their choir, who has sung at funerals for
thirty years, until it has reached a point where all good Baptists dread
death on account of his lugubrious profundo. Perhaps we should take this
tragedy to heart, but we know that the Methodists are having the same
trouble with their soprano, who "flats"--and has flatted for ten years,
and is too proud to quit the choir "under fire" as she calls it; and we
remember what a time the Congregationalists had getting rid of their
tenor. So that choir troubles are to us only a part of the grist that
keeps the mill going.

As the merest incident of the daily grind, it came to the office that
the bank cashier, whose retirement we announced with half a column of
regret, was caught $3500 short, after twenty years of faithful service,
and that his wife sold the homestead to make his shortage good. We know
the week that the widower sets out, and we hear with remarkable accuracy
just when he has been refused by this particular widow or that, and,
when he begins on a school-teacher, the whole office has candy and cigar
and mince pie bets on the result, with the odds on the widower five to
one. We know the woman who is always sent for when a baby comes to town,
and who has laid more good people of the community in their shrouds than
all the undertakers. We know the politician who gets five dollars a day
for his "services" at the polls, the man who takes three dollars and the
man who will work for the good of the cause in the precious hope of a
blessed reward at some future county convention. To know these things is
not a matter of pride; it is not a source of annoyance or shame; it is
part of the business.

Though our loathed but esteemed contemporary, the _Statesman_, speaks of
our town as "this city," and calls the marshal "chief of police," we are
none the less a country town. Like hundreds of its kind, our little
daily newspaper is equipped with typesetting machines and is printed
from a web perfecting press, yet it is only a country newspaper, and
knowing this we refuse to put on city airs. Of course we print the
afternoon Associated Press report on the first page, under formal heads
and with some pretence of dignity, but that first page is the parlour of
the paper, as it is of most of its contemporaries, and in the other
pages they and we go around in our shirt sleeves, calling people by
their first names; teasing the boys and girls good-naturedly; tickling
the pompous members of the village family with straws from time to time,
and letting out the family secrets of the community without much regard
for the feelings of the supercilious.

Nine or ten thousand people in our town go to bed on this kind of mental
pabulum, as do country-town dwellers all over the United States, and
although we do not claim that it is helpful, we do contend that it does
not hurt them. Certainly by poking mild fun at the shams--the town
pharisees--we make it more difficult to maintain the class lines which
the pretenders would establish. Possibly by printing the news of
everything that happens, suppressing nothing "on account of the
respectability of the parties concerned," we may prevent some evil-doers
from going on with their plans, but this is mere conjecture, and we do
not set it down to our credit. What we maintain is that in printing our
little country dailies, we, the scribes, from one end of the world to
the other, get more than our share of fun out of life as we go along,
and pass as much of it on to our neighbours as we can spare.

[Illustration: Suppressing nothing "on account of the respectability of
the parties concerned"]

Because we live in country towns, where the only car-gongs we hear are
on the baker's waggon, and where the horses in the fire department work
on the streets, is no reason why city dwellers should assume that we are
natives. We have no dialect worth recording--save that some of us
Westerners burr our "r's" a little or drop an occasional final "g." But
you will find that all the things advertised in the backs of the
magazines are in our houses, and that the young men in our towns walking
home at midnight, with their coats over their arms, whistle the same
popular airs that lovelorn boys are whistling in New York, Portland, San
Francisco or New Orleans that same fine evening. Our girls are those
pretty, reliant, well-dressed young women whom you see at the summer
resorts from Coronado Beach to Buzzard's Bay. In the fall and winter
these girls fill the colleges of the East and the State universities of
the West. Those wholesome, frank, good-natured people whom you met last
winter at the Grand Caņons and who told you of the funny performance of
"Uncle Tom's Cabin" in Yiddish at the People's Theatre on the East Side
in New York, and insisted that you see the totem pole in Seattle; and
then take a cottage for a month at Catalina Island; who gave you the tip
about Abson's quaint little beefsteak chop-house up an alley in Chicago,
who told you of Mrs. O'Hagan's second-hand furniture shop in Charleston,
where you can get real colonial stuff dirt cheap--those people are our
leading citizens, who run the bank or the dry-goods store or the
flour-mill. At our annual arts and crafts show we have on exhibition
loot from the four corners of the earth, and the club woman who has not
heard it whispered around in our art circles that Mr. Sargent is
painting too many portraits lately, and that a certain long-legged model
whose face is familiar in the weekly magazines is no better than she
should be--a club woman in our town who does not know of these things
is out of caste in clubdom, and women say of her that she is giving too
much time to her church.

We take all the beautiful garden magazines, and our terra-cotta works
are turning out creditable vases--which we pronounce "vahzes," you may
be sure--for formal gardens. And though we men for the most part run our
own lawnmowers, and personally look after the work of the college boy
who takes care of the horse and the cow for his room, still there are a
few of us proud and haughty creatures who have automobiles, and go
snorting around the country scaring horses and tooting terror into the
herds by the roadside. But the bright young reporters on our papers do
not let an automobile come to town without printing an item stating its
make and its cost, and whether or not it is a new one or a second-hand
one, and what speed it can make. At the flower parade in our own little
town last October there were ten automobiles in line, decked with paper
flowers and laden with pretty girls in lawns and dimities and
linens--though as a matter of fact most of the linens were only "Indian
head." And our particular little country paper printed an item to the
effect that the real social line of cleavage in the town lies not
between the cut-glass set and the devotees of hand-painted china, but
between the real nobility who wear genuine linen and the base imitations
who wear Indian head.

In some towns an item like that would make people mad, but we have our
people trained to stand a good deal. They know that it costs them five
cents a line for cards of thanks and resolutions of respect, so they
never bring them in. They know that our paper never permits "one who was
there" to report social functions, so that dear old correspondent has
resigned; and because we have insisted for years on making an item about
the first tomatoes that are served in spring at any dinner or reception,
together with the cost per pound of the tomatoes, the town has become
used to our attitude and does not buzz with indignation when we poke a
risible finger at the homemade costumes of the Plymouth Daughters when
they present "The Mikado" to pay for the new pipe-organ. Indeed, so used
is the town to our ways that when there was great talk last winter about
Mrs. Frelingheysen for serving fresh strawberries over the ice cream at
her luncheon in February, just after her husband had gone through
bankruptcy, she called up Miss Larrabee, our society editor, on the
telephone and asked her to make a little item saying that the
strawberries served by Mrs. Frelingheysen at her luncheon were not
fresh, but merely sun dried. This we did gladly and printed her recipe.
So used is this town to our school teachers resigning to get married
that when one resigns for any other reason we make it a point to
announce in the paper that it is not for the usual reason, and tell our
readers exactly what the young woman is going to do.

So, gradually, without our intending to establish it, a family
vernacular has grown up in the paper which our people understand, but
which--like all other family vernaculars--is Greek to those outside the
circle. Thus we say:

"Bill Parker is making his eighth biennial distribution of cigars to-day
for a boy."

City papers would print it:

"Born to Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Parker, a baby boy."

Again we print this item:

"Mrs. Merriman is getting ready to lend her fern to the Nortons, June
15."

That doesn't mean anything, unless you happen to know that Mrs. Merriman
has the prettiest Boston fern in town, and that no bow-window is
properly decorated at any wedding without that fern. In larger towns the
same news item would appear thus:

"Cards are out announcing the wedding of Miss Cecil Norton and Mr.
Collis R. Hatcher at the home of the bride's parents, Mr. and Mrs. T. J.
Norton, 1022 High street, June 15."

A plain drunk is generally referred to in our columns as a "guest of
Marshal Furgeson's informal house-party," and when a group of
drunk-and-disorderlies is brought in we feel free to say of their
evening diversion that they "spent the happy hours, after refreshments,
playing progressive hell." And this brings us to the consideration of
the most important personage with whom we have to deal. In what we call
"social circles," the most important personages are Mrs. Julia Neal
Worthington and Mrs. Priscilla Winthrop Conklin, who keep two hired
girls and can pay five dollars a week for them when the prevailing
price is three. In financial circles the most important personage is
John Markley, who buys real-estate mortgages; in political circles the
most important personage is Charlie Hedrick who knows the railroad
attorneys at the capital and always can get passes for the county
delegation to the State convention; in the railroad-yards the most
important personage is the division superintendent, who smokes ten-cent
cigars and has the only "room with a bath" at the Hotel Metropole. But
with us, in the publication of our newspaper, the most important
personage in town is Marshal Furgeson.

If you ever looked out of the car-window as you passed through town, you
undoubtedly saw him at the depot, walking nervously up and down the
platform, peering into the faces of strangers. He is ever on the outlook
for crooks, though nothing more violent has happened in our county for
years than an assault and battery. But Marshal Furgeson never
relinquishes his watch. In winter, clad in his blue uniform and campaign
hat, he is a familiar figure on our streets; and in summer, without coat
or vest, with his big silver star on which is stamped "Chief of
Police," pinned to his suspender, he may be seen at any point where
trouble is least likely to break out. He is the only man on the town
site whom we are afraid to tease, because he is our chief source of
news; for if we ruffle his temper he sees to it that our paper misses
the details of the next chicken-raid that comes under his notice. He can
bring us to time in short order.

When we particularly desire to please him we refer to him as "the
authorities." If the Palace Grocery has been invaded through the back
window and a box of plug tobacco stolen, Marshal Furgeson is delighted
to read in the paper that "the authorities have an important clew and
the arrest may be expected at any time." He is "the authorities." If
"the authorities have their eyes on a certain barber-shop on South Main
Street, which is supposed to be doing a back-door beer business," he
again is "the authorities," and contends that the word strikes more
terror into the hearts of evil-doers than the mere name, Marshal
Furgeson.

Next in rank to "the authorities," in the diplomatic corps of the
office, come our advertisers: the proprietors of the White Front
Dry-Goods Store, the Golden Eagle Clothing Store, and the Bee Hive.
These men can come nearer to dictating the paper's policy than the
bankers and politicians, who are supposed to control country newspapers.
Though we are charged with being the "organ" of any of half-a-dozen
politicians whom we happen to speak of kindly at various times, we have
little real use for politicians in our office, and a business man who
brings in sixty or seventy dollars' worth of advertising every month has
more influence with us than all the politicians in the county. This is
the situation in most newspaper offices that succeed, and when any other
situation prevails, when politicians control editors, the newspapers
don't pay well, and sooner or later the politicians are bankrupt.

The only person in town whom all the merchants desire us to poke fun at
is Mail-Order Petrie. Mail-Order Petrie is a miserly old codger who buys
everything out of town that he can buy a penny cheaper than the home
merchants sell it. He is a hard-working man, so far as that goes, and
so stingy that he has been accused of going barefooted in the summer
time to save shoes. When he is sick he sends out of town for patent
medicines, and for ten years he worked in his truck-garden, fighting
floods and droughts, bugs and blight, to save something like a hundred
dollars, which he put in a mail-order bank in St. Louis. When it failed
he grinned at the fellows who twitted him of his loss, and said: "Oh,
come easy, go easy!"

A few years ago he subscribed to a matrimonial paper, and one day he
appeared at the office of the probate judge with a mail-order wife, who,
when they had been married a few years, went to an orphan asylum and got
a mail-order baby. We have had considerable sport with Mail-Order
Petrie, and he has become so used to it that he likes it. Sometimes on
dull days he comes around to the office to tell us what a bargain he got
at this or that mail-order house, and last summer he came in to tell us
about a great bargain in a cemetery lot in a new cemetery being laid out
in Kansas City; he bought it on the installment plan, a dollar down and
twenty-five cents a month, to be paid until he died, and he bragged a
great deal about his shrewdness in getting the lot on those terms. He
chuckled as he said that he would be dead in five years at the most and
would have a seventy-five dollar lot for a mere song. He made us promise
that when that time does come we will write up his obsequies under the
head "A Mail-Order Funeral." He added, as he stood with his hand on the
door screen, that he had no use for the preachers and the hypocrites in
the churches in this town, and that he was taking a paper called the
"Magazine of Mysteries," that teaches some new ideas on religion and
that he expects to wind up in a mail-order Heaven.

And this is the material with which we do our day's work--Mail-Order
Petrie, Marshal Furgeson, the pretty girls in the flower parade, the
wise clubwomen, the cut-glass society crowd, the proud owner of the
automobile, the "respectable parties concerned," the proprietor of the
Golden Eagle, the clerks in the Bee Hive, the country crook who aspires
to be a professional criminal some day, "the leading citizen," who
spends much of his time seeing the sights of his country, the college
boys who wear funny clothes and ribbons on their hats, and the
politicians, greedy for free advertising. They are ordinary two-legged
men and women, and if there is one thing more than any other that marks
our town, it is its charity, and the mercy that is at the bottom of all
its real impulses.

Our business seems to outsiders to be a cruel one, because we have to
deal as mere business with such sacred things as death and birth, the
meeting and parting of friends, and with tragedies as well as with
comedies. This is true. Every man--even a piano tuner--thinks his
business leads him a dog's life, and that it shows him only the seamy
side of the world. But our business, though it shows the seams, shows us
more of good than of bad in men. We are not cynics in our office; for we
know in a thousand ways that the world is good. We know that at the end
of the day we have set down more good deeds than bad deeds, and that the
people in our town will keep the telephone bell ringing to-morrow, more
to praise the recital of a good action than they will to talk to us
about some evil thing that we had to print.

Time and again we have been surprised at the charity of our people.



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