Fenderton Roper, Pressman
by Ellis Parker Butler
The truest thing Fenderton Roper ever said was said by him Monday morning at 10:15 o'clock, in the suburban town of Westcote, Long Island, on York Street, October 8, as he stood with one foot on the doorstep of the Westcote Intelligencer office, with the tip of a brand-new cane resting on the toe of that foot. As he stood thus, his other foot on the cement walk and his body slightly turned at the waist, he spoke this indisputable truth to May Middleton. He did not then know how true it was. What he said which was so truthful was, "I may not make it my life-work."
It may be as well, in order to avoid confusion, to detail the entire conversation. Fenderton Roper, just about to enter the office of the Westcote Daily Intelligencer, paused -- as a matter of course -- to look about to see who was observing him with, let us say, envy. Any kind of envy -- envy of his face, or figure, or clothes, or cane, or maturity -- and he saw May Middleton.
"Why, hello, Fenderton!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know you were here! Did you get kicked out again?"
"Hello, May!" he replied. "You look all to the good. Why, it's like this, May: I gave the joint the once over, and I didn't like it. Some of the fellows were O. K., but the joint was cheesy. I couldn't stand it."
"What'd they kick you out for this time, Fenny?" May asked. She had a most annoying directness of simplicity, the kind that goes with dimples.
"Say, there was a big boob of a prof. there thought he was a gumshoe king, and he came in my room when I was having a little wind-up party, you know -- just winding up the inch or so of good old red liquor that still clung in the bottom of the flask. You know, May -- I showed it to you at the Hines', August. Just about five drops apiece; and what's that for a lot of bone-head faculty to get all worked up about, May? And a few cigarettes. But he got to shooting off his mouth about it, and I said, 'All right! All right! We'll go to the dean in the morning; now shut up and go away!' You know how I talk to them, May. Only he tried to get rough with me, so I had to soak him one or two. 'All right!' I said to him. 'Have it your own way! Just for that I'll get out of your rotten little school right now. I'll pack my trunk and --"
"It's the eighth school you've been kicked out of, ain't it, Fenny? Or ninth?"
"Seventh. I mean I gave seven of them the once over, but none of them came up to my standard. If father had let me --"
"My! A boy has lots of fun! Kicked out of seven schools! And that don't count the ones you flunked out of before you got into them, does it, Fenny?"
"N---- Well, I didn't think such a much of that lot. No athletics. I gave them the once over, and that was enough for me. So I said --"
"Well, we can't stand here all day," said May in her delightfully inconsequential way. "Don't you want to walk up to the post office, Fenny?"
"Love to; but a man's got to think of business first. I'll bet old Higgins is just about clawing the ceiling already in here," Fenderton told her, "wondering where I am. These fellows expect us wage-slaves to show up on the dot, huh?"
"My goodness, Fenny! Are you working for the Intelligencer?"
"At present," said Fenderton, tapping the toe of his yellow shoe with the ferrule of his cane. "Going to give it the once over, this journalism thing. What I think is that journalism, here in Westcote -- well, you can't hardly call it journalism, if you look at the kind of hash they print all the time -- I think it needs some good red blood put into it. I think that's what journalism needs in America -- good red blood put into it. Some of the better classes and brainy fellows to take an interest in it. Well, just look at the Intelligencer and you know what I mean. A man has only got to give it the once over to see that. What journalism needs is good, fresh, red blood. The Intelligencer, especially. What it needs is a change of editorial policy, right from the ground up. I guess you can see that, if you read the poor old rag."
"Goodness, Fenny! Are you going to be editor?"
"Well, I haven't made up my mind yet, May," Fenderton assured his bobbed-haired admirer. "I made up my mind to give the good old journalism a try sort of quick, like I do everything.
"You know how I am that way. I got to thinking what Westcote needed most -- last night -- and it struck me that it needed some red-blooded journalism.
"A man ought to do his best for his home town. So I haven't quite made up my mind what end of it I'll take a-hold of. There's a lot in the business end -- whooping up the income and pumping some pep into the advertising men and that sort of thing. But a paper has got to have the stuff in it before it can dictate to the advertisers. A man has got to look at both sides of a thing. So I guessed I'd give the old joint the once over before I made up my mind."
"I should think you'd rather be editor," May suggested. "It'd be a lot of fun to boss around a lot of reporters."
"Well, yes," admitted Fenderton. "If a man could only get the right sort of peppy men under him. And a bright fellow could put a lot of pep into the editorials. I just simply can't read the editorials in the Intelligencer, the way they're written now. If a man put a little pep into them, and brains. That's what they haven't got -- brains. These guys think anybody can run a newspaper. Now --"
"Yes, I know," said May, hastily; "but I simply must glide on down to the post office, Fenny. See you later. Well, it must be grand to have decided what your life-work is going to be!"
"Well, I don't know!" Fenderton said gravely. "I don't know that I'm, when you come right down to it, going to make journalism my life-work, May. I'm going to give it the once over and try it a whirl, but it all depends. I may not keep at it long."
That, although he did not know it, was the truest thing Fenderton Roper ever said. Time -- and it was a very small division of time -- proved he was right. He did not keep at journalism long. To everyone in the Roper family, except Fenderton Roper himself, Fenderton had been and was still something of a problem. He was, in a sense, a forceful youth, the sense being that he was eternally forcing himself and his views upon others -- particularly upon older persons -- to the great annoyance of one and all.
Quite often very gentle tempered elderly gentlemen said, after bearing Fenderton for a few minutes, "I'd like to kick that unmannerly cub a good one!" He was the sort of youth who would interrupt General Pershing to tell him how the great war should have been handled, explaining things eagerly and with the utmost good nature, but never pausing.
Fenderton's father was conscious that in Fenderton he had a problem. There was no doubt that the boy had a good heart and enormous vim, but he also had all the conceit in the world and a little imported from Mars. Fenderton was always right, and knew he was right, and said so. He was a large boy and, without taking too much time to check up the minor details, it might be said he resembled a large and smiling war tank with caterpillar wheels and no steering apparatus and no brakes, but with triple power motors and a continuous action steam siren. Such a tank is more or less of a nuisance, but it is even more so when it considers itself a natural born genius.
By the time Fenderton had flunked out of many of the reputable preparatory schools and been kicked out of the rest, his father became a little irritated, and he told Mrs. Roper that that was enough and all there was to it -- Fenderton would have to go to work. Fenderton was willing -- he was always willing to give a thing the once over -- but the difficulty was to find a man whom Mr. Roper could cow sufficiently to accept Fenderton on any terms.
After work equal to finding Lake Albert Nyanza or reaching the south pole, Mr. Roper made a dicker with Mr. Ilderman, the owner of the Westcote Intelligencer. It was a simple dicker, too. After suggesting to Mr. Ilderman that times were such that he might have to foreclose the mortgage he held on the Intelligencer plant, Mr. Roper mentioned that he was trying to find a job for Fenderton and said the money part did not matter. If Mr. Ilderman would take Fenderton and put him on the payroll Mr. Roper would reduce the interest on the mortgage from six to five and one-half per cent, which would come to twenty-five dollars a week.
"Send the boy around and I'll give him a job." Ilderman said instantly. "He can be an employee of the Intelligencer as long as he likes. I know Fenderton -- mostly by hearsay -- but we have some mighty raw specimens on the Intelligencer. Mighty raw! Send him around tomorrow morning at nine, and tell him to ask for Higgins. Higgins will put him at something or another."
That evening, about one hour after midnight, Fenderton returned home from a social engagement with one of the younger set (female) and his father called him into the library.
"This is a nice time of night for you to be getting in!" he said. "What did you do to the car this time?"
"Well, it's nothing but the mud guard. One of these boobs that don't know how to drive --"
"All right, if it's only the mud guard. Now, listen to me. Tomorrow morning at nine o'clock you're going down to the Intelligencer and go to work. You'll get twenty-five dollars a week. You ask for Mr. Higgins and he'll tell you what to do. Get up to bed."
Fenderton took a cigarette from his pocket case and tapped it on his thumb. He lighted a match by chipping it with the nail of his thumb and inhaled some of the sweet smoke from his initialed cigarette.
"Going into politics, dad?" he asked nonchalantly.
"Going into --! What th' --!" sputtered Mr. Roper.
"Sticking me into the Intelligencer, I mean," said Fenderton, dropping into an easy chair and crossing his ankles, which were sweet in their thin silk socks. "Scheme to swing them for you, I mean, dad. They can't knock you if I'm on the job, huh? Not so worse, either -- what are you after, the governorship? Now, as man to man, if you get it I can help you a lot --"
Mr. Roper glared at his son.
"Now, none of your swell-headedness with me!" he exclaimed. "I'm putting you in that job to keep you busy, and that's all. If you won't go to school you've got to go to work."
"Have it your own way, boss," said Fenderton in the tone of a man who knows what he knows but understands it must not be talked about for weighty reasons. "I'm silent."
"And you be on the job at nine o'clock," said Mr. Roper sternly. "I told Ilderman you'd be there."
"Nine it is," agreed Fenderton gaily.
"Get up to bed, then!"
"Soon as I give this magazine the once over," said Fenderton, and when Mr. Roper had glared at his son a moment longer he went to bed himself. Fenderton went to the humidor and took one of his father's fat black cigars and ensconced himself in his father's chair and put his feet on the library table. A little after two o'clock, feeling sleepy, he went to bed.
Inside the Intelligencer door Fenderton looked in at the wicket window. The three young lady employees were busy with a topic of conversation and did not look around, and Fenderton took a half dollar from his pocket and rapped sharply on the wicket window sill.
"Come now! Come now, girls! A little attention, please!" he commanded. "Business first. You can give the scandals the once over when you're through with me."
One of the girls came to the window.
"What is it, please?" she asked primly.
"My name is Roper -- Fenderton Roper," said the new employee of the Intelligencer.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I don't believe I can do anything about it," said the girl, and Fenderton instantly thought, "A peach! We're going to get better acquainted."
"That means nothing in your young life, huh?" asked Fenderton. "Well, it will, sister -- it will! I am the new employee here."
"Say, Ann," said the pretty girl, turning her head toward the others, "here's a new one fresh from the cradle -- very fresh, I'll tell the world! What are you going to do, boy? Carry papers?"
Fenderton grinned. He could understand and appreciate this bright repartee; it was his own variety.
"Little Fenderton registers a death agony," he said. "Heroine sticks her claws in him. End of reel one. One minute, please. But, listen, kid -- I'm new to this joint. Where do I find old Hig?"
"You mean Mr. Higgins? First door left, through there."
Fenderton passed on, his cane swinging nattily from the crook of his elbow. He wondered whether he would make a better impression on Higgins if he entered with a lighted cigarette in his mouth, but decided that it was not worth the bother; his appearance would be sufficiently impressive. Higgins, after all, was merely a fellow employee. Fenderton pushed past the swinging door and went through Higgins' always open door.
The editor of the Intelligencer, which was an afternoon paper, was busily pounding the keys of a typewriter with his forefingers. The ink was purple and very dim and the paper was ordinary newsprint paper. As Fenderton stood waiting for the editor to look up he read, over Higgins' shoulder, what Higgins wa writing. His instant impression was that Higgins was not so much. Slovenly fellow. The e keys and the o keys and other keys of Higgins' machine were so dirty that they made merely round spots, all alike in appearance. In addition to this Higgins was not at all careful in hitting the keys. His intentions were good, but his execution was faulty and the lines he was just typing read something like this:
and the encesssity for a pulbic markt
in wEstcote gro2s great r daily,,, &
shd have the mmediaet at ention og
"My name is Roper --" said Fenderton.
"Jussa minute! Jussa minute!" replied Higgins, his right forefinger hovering over the keys. He could not find the i, it seemed, so he skipped it as if vowels were nothing between editors and linotype operators. "Now, what is it, son? Oh, yes! You're the man Ilderman told me about. Sam Roper's boy, ain't you?"
"Yes, and about my lateness this morning, Mr. Higgins," said Fenderton, seating himself gracefully on the mess of copy paper on the corner of Higgins' desk. "I'll have to explain that I had a social call that simply had to be made. I don't suppose you think much of such things, being a man of your age, but I make it a point to keep such engagements. What I mean is I had this date with this peach to play tennis this afternoon, and I had to square myself, taking up journalism this way. I hope it hasn't upset the business of the day --"
"Upset the --" repeated Higgins blankly. "Oh, not at all! Not at all! We foresaw that you might be late. I made arrangements. Now, what the devil to give you to do --"
"Yes, I was about to speak of that when you interrupted me," said Fenderton. "I've been thinking it over, giving it quite a lot of thought, and I've just about decided that I'll take up the journalistic side of journalism. At first anyway. So we can say, unless I change my mind, that for the present, I'll do reporting."
"Well, now, that's nice," said Higgins, "because that's just what I had in mind myself."
"Yes," said Fenderton. "The business end is all right, but I think it is apt to be sordid -- scheming for the money, and all that. I may give it the once over a little later on, just to see what it is like, but not now. And I've about decided that the mere editorial work is too confining for anybody with pep -- sitting at a desk all day and that sort of thing. I think, for the present, a reportorial capacity would suit me. It will get me out among people, to meet them. I think when a man is like I am it is good to take the end that gets me out in the open air most of the time."
"I think so, too," said Higgins, seriously. "When a man is like you are I want you out in the open air as much as possible. Yes."
"Yes, and another thing," said Fenderton. "I've given the matter quite a little thought, and it seems to me -- I mean I'm going to ask you not to call me a journalist. I mean I think we ought to begin right now and make a reform there, because it is one of the things the English do better than we do, because -- after all -- unless a man is working on the Journal there's no sense in calling him that. Calling him a journalist, I mean. Because you wouldn't think of calling yourself an intelligentsia, even if you do work for the Intelligencer. And that's just as sensible."
"My word!" exclaimed Higgins. "My word! But what are you getting at?"
"Well, it's just one of the reforms I think ought to be started," said Fenderton, "but we can leave the rest until some other time, when you, and I can get together and talk them over, only I think this ought to begin right now. I think it ought to begin instantly, so there won't be any mistake about it and they get to calling me a journalist."
"I don't believe they will," said Higgins, softly.
"Well, no; not if we begin the reform at once," agreed Fenderton. "We might have some notices struck off and tacked up; I mean in the offices here, so everybody will begin the reform at one and the same time."
"But what reform?" asked Higgins.
"Well, I mean calling us 'pressmen' and not journalists," explained Fenderton. "They do in England. They're all called pressmen there, and to call us journalists, when we ought to be called by the good old English name, is provincial. That's just what it is, Higgins -- provincial. So when you mention me, or I mention you, we'll say 'pressman' 'Fenderton Roper is a pressman,' and not 'Fenderton Roper is a journalist.' I think it has more class."
"I'll say it has!" said Higgins, grinning. 'Pressmen get more pay than journalists, as a rule, for one thing. In this country, anyway."
"There, you see!" exclaimed Fenderton. "Well -- I think that's all today. I think I'll just run out and look up some news --"
He was about to depart when a new thought held him.
"Oh, I say! " he cried. "I was forgetting that! What time ought a pressman get back with his news if he's going to have it in a good place? On the first page of the paper, say."
"Well now, usually," said Higgins, leaning back and clasping his hands behind his head, a thing he had not done in the office for years. "usually we don't work exactly that way. It's not the rule in American newspapers. In England it may be the custom; it may be usual there for a pressman to wander off in the morning, his keen nose in the air, going whither he listeth. I don't know and can't say.
"But here we usually tell our reporters -- pardon! our pressmen -- where to go and what to get."
"You do! You do?" exclaimed Fenderton, then turning the exclamation into a query. "Why, that's great, ain't it! That makes it as easy as pie."
"It also," Higgins pointed out dryly, "permits the poor fish of an editor to keep some sort of tab on his elegant young majesties of pressmen. They have to show up then, once in a while. My dear pressman, do you know how many re-- how many pressmen I'd need if I let them go where they wanted to and when they wanted to? I'd need five hundred thousand right here on the Intelligencer. And at that," he added bitterly, "I'd never see an accursed one of them except on pay day."
"Well, of course," said Fenderton, "if a chap isn't interested in -- in pressmanship, he might sort of --"
"He might sort of inquire the last minute he could rush back here with the news that Mrs. J. C. Dillon of Pardington, New Jersey, is spending the week with her daughter, Mrs. M. N. Goofus. Rush back madly, you understand, Fenderton, after spending the morning rushing some bobbed-haired flapper around in his dad's second best car and the afternoon batting the tennis balls around with Flapper No. 2 -- or No. 22, for all I care. They're too durned apt to do that anyway, even if I smear them all over with assignments. So I guess, my dear pressman, we will give you assignments for a while."
"Well, all right!" said Fenderton.
"Only I don't know what in heck to put you at just now." said Higgins. "Lift your hip a minute, will you?"
Fenderton got off the desk and Higgins rummaged in the papers there. He found one that was scribbled "Hints" at the top, and cast his eye over it. For a minute he studied this; then he checked off one of the items on it.
"Here you are." he said, pushing the paper to one side. "You ought to be able to do this without balling it all up and ruining Papa Higgins for life. From now on until who-knows-when you are Our Inquiring Reporter. Every morning you go out and tackle five different people, in five different places, and ask all five the same identical question. You get the idea? I write out a question of broad general interest, such as 'Should Westcote have a modern public market?' or 'Should flappers have their hair boy-cut?' and you go out and ask any five that question, and jot down the answers. Then we print 'em exactly as given, in a nice box at the top of the first page. Like this --"
He showed Fenderton a specimen, clipped from some other newspaper.
OUR INQUIRING REPORTER.
Is it your opinion that the prevalence of bootleg liquor is the cause of the marked increase of revolt of young girls against parental authority?
In front of the Third National Bank.
Henry J. Phipps, plumber, 546 North Street.
"I don't know anything about it. I am not married and have no daughters, and bootleg stuff is nothing to me. Maybe, and maybe not."
Fenderton read the clipping.
"All right," he said. "I'll tackle this for you, Higgins. When do I have to be back with it to catch the first edition?"
"In the first place," said Higgins, "the Intelligencer manages to get out just one edition, which is first, last, and middle. In the second place, this Inquiring Reporter stuff is filler, and not rush stuff, and we'll run it next day. So get back before night. That's all."
"But don't you think, Higgins," said Fenderton, "that important matter like this ought to be rushed into print? Without delay, I mean? When I rush out and work like a slave, and hustle in with it --"
"Work any way you thundering well please," said Higgins, "and hustle your head off, for all I care. You have five Inquiring Reporter answers on this desk tomorrow morning! That's all I'm interested in. But see that you have them here. If you don't, you're fired!"
"Yes, sir," said Fenderton, suddenly realizing that there might be something in this Higgins he had not guessed before. "And what question shall I ask today?"
"Oh, ask the one on that clipping!" said Higgins carelessly, and he pushed his head forward to see what he had written last and began tapping the keys of his typewriter with his forefingers.
As Fenderton Roper stepped grandly forth from the Intelligencer office he felt that he was now fixed for life if he chose it to be so. After a brief but glorious period as a reporting pressman -- in order to learn the ropes -- he would, if he liked the business, rag his father into buying the Intelligencer for him.
And not a bad life, what? He would then give the paper a little attention, create a Sunday edition now lacking, run in it eight sheets of brown-tone pictures and four pages of colored comics.
The good old Intelligencer he would fill up with hot stuff and full page advertisements of department stores and make a power in American politics. Probably he would have to change the name to something snappier, such as the Tiger or the Dictator, with his own name invariably appearing on the heading, "Fenderton Roper, Owner."
He remembered he had not asked for a note book and he stopped in at the stationer's next door and bought a neat little vest pocket one, genuine morocco leather, for a dollar and forty cents. Leaning on the stationer's counter, with his cane in the crook of his arm, he copied the Inquiring Reporter's query on the first page: Is it your opinion that the prevalence of bootleg liquor is the cause of the marked increase of revolt of young girls against parental authority?
He was now ready to begin his career as a pressman in earnest. He walked to the corner of Main and Forest Streets and jotted that location in his book, using the solid silver pencil he had recently picked up on his father's desk. He then glanced up and down the street, seeking to choose an interesting person as the first to ask his question. He allowed two small boys to pass in one direction and a woman with a washing in a baby carriage to pass in the other, but the next person seemed to be worth asking.
In appearance the approaching citizen was a man of substance and forcefulness, and something vaguely familiar in his face suggested to Fenderton that the man was important in some way. He was rather hefty in size and was coming toward the corner of Main and Forest at quite a hurried pace, like a man who had missed one train for the city and had hardly time to catch the next. Such a man, Fenderton said to himself, would be sure to give a brief and important answer to any question. He would snap it out and be on his way. Everything inclined Fenderton to ask the question of this man; Fenderton's innate ego itself always inclined him to interrupt persons who were intent on other matters, and the man's creased forehead and rapid pace suggested that he was very much intent on some other matter.
"One minute, please!" said Fenderton, and he stepped in front of James Wotters. "I want to ask you a question."
Mr. Wotters was, in the way of business, a dealer in coal in carload lots only, selling to factories, and he had recently moved to Westcote. Before becoming a coal dealer in New York he had been a mine superintendent or something of the sort, in Pennsylvania, in a section where rather hard drinking was the rule. Mr. Wotters had been too fond of liquor. There were weeks when he had been quite filled with liquor from Monday till Sunday night, running over into the next week, but he never showed it much until he became positively stupefied. Then he passed out instantly and knew no more for a solid twenty-four hours.
As a mine superintendent he had been a loud and hearty sort, hail fellow with his men, and he loved to mingle with them and show them how the heavier and harder jobs should be done. He had muscles to make a draft ox jealous, both in his legs and in his arms, and he liked to use them.
Mr. Wotters also had a hasty and violent temper. The slightest things would often make him frightfully angry. It was often said by those who knew him best that some day Jim Wotters would murder someone in one of his rages. They said he was liable to hit someone in the face and break his neck, or pick him up and throw him against a lamp-post and break his backbone, thus killing him.
Mr. Wotters often flew into these rages when he was drinking, but he flew into them far more often during the periods when he was swearing off for good and all. Under pressure from Mrs. Wotters, who had a bitter tongue and a meanish disposition, he swore off for good and all far too frequently for a man who becomes irritated when he feels the desire for liquor coming on him.
A week or two since, possibly eighteen days, Mr. Wotters had sworn off for good and all again, but Fenderton Roper did not know this as he stood on the corner with his notebook in his hand and his cane over his arm. If he had known that Mr. Wotters had been growing more and more irritable every day for two weeks he might not have selected Mr. Wotters to ask a question of. But, as has been said, he stepped in front of him and said:
"One minute, please! I want to ask you a question."
It is wonderful how Youth calls to Youth. You may have a daughter and hide her in a convent for years, and the moment she is out she will be surrounded by young men. Or, like Mr. Wotters, you may be a newcomer to Westcote, but if you have a pretty daughter the young fellows will learn it in some mysterious way and presently be ringing the doorbell. It is really amazing how young fellows discover and meet pretty girls so quickly. Fenderton Roper, for instance, had not been home for two days before he met a real little peach of a girl whose name he thought was Walters, or Witters, or something of the sort. Anyway, it was Marion, and she was a dream.
The first evening that he called at the Wotters home he asked for Miss Marion and stayed half an hour. The second time he stayed an hour and a half. After that, not caring much for Marion's mother, he took the girl for short spins in the auto.
At midnight, the night before Fenderton Roper became a pressman on the Intelligencer, Mr. Wotters said to his wife something like, "Oh, for cat's sake, shut up!"
"I will not shut up!" said Mrs. Wotters. "I will tell you, Jim Wotters, what I mean to tell you, and I dare you to shut me up! A nice thing it is, my daughter staying out until all hours of the night with who-knows-who? And I told her positively to be in at ten -- ten at the very latest. And now it is twelve, and no telling where she is or when she'll be in. Paying no more attention to what I tell her than if I didn't exist. I have not the slightest authority over her any more, and you have less."
Mr. Wotters listened to another hour of this. At times Mrs. Wotters wept and at times she practically screamed with hysterics, but most of the time she was cuttingly honest in her statements to Mr. Wotters.
"And you know very well why it is your daughter is going to ruin, James Wotters. It's your eternal drinking -- your bootleg liquor. Nothing but drink, drink, drink; and it's no wonder my daughter behaves as she does. That's all you think of -- your bootleg liquor. You let your business go to wrack and ruin, and your daughter fall into the hands of these unscrupulous young devils, and you sit and sop up your bootleg stuff, and that's all you care for. I tell you, I'm through, James Wotters! Tomorrow I go home to my mother and take my daughter, and you can stew in your bootleg liquor. I'll not have it ruining my child!"
Mr. Wotters' nerves were in no condition to hear such talk placidly. They were in no condition to hear anything unpleasant whatever. He stood it until a quarter to one, and then his nerves and his real anxiety for his daughter got the best of him and he began breaking the furniture. He did not break much, but what he did break he broke completely and heartily, shouting at the same time.
At one o'clock, or near that moment, he heard a car stop before the house and he rushed out, but he was not in time to catch Fenderton Roper by the throat and throttle him. He was only in time to see Fenderton reach for a kiss -- and miss it -- as Marion pulled laughingly away from him and jumped from the car, and to see Fenderton's face very clearly in the light of the street lamp. Then Fenderton stepped on the gas and was gone.
The next half hour in the Wotters home was, no doubt, rather mad. There were three talking and two of them crying, at once, and two neighbors telephoned the police, who came and rang the doorbell and wanted to know if someone was being killed.
The next morning, when Mr. Wotters got out of bed, he found that his wife and daughter had indeed gone away, probably to his wife's mother's. It was the work of picking up the broken pieces of furniture that made him miss his usual train to the city. He hastened down Main Street with his head lowered and his hands twitching open and shut.
"One minute, please!" said Fenderton Roper, pressman, stepping in front of James Wotters. "I want to ask you a question." Mr. Wotters looked up and gasped. He had not expected such luck in a life that seemed all askew. He drew a deep breath and doubled his large, horny hand into a hard fist as Fenderton Roper, pressman, daintily shifted his cane to the other elbow and raised the morocco-covered notebook.
"Is it your opinion," queried Fenderton Roper, "that the prevalence of bootleg liquor is the cause of the marked increase of revolt of young girls against parental authority?"
For one moment only Mr. Wotters stared at Fenderton Roper in absolute amazement. Then he leaped. The rest need not be told. You have already guessed that at the next succeeding moment Fenderton Roper gave up all idea of being a pressman at once and forever. As he told May Middleton, he did not seem to care for it much.
"You don't meet the right kind of people," he told her. "I gave it the once over, but it's no sort of thing to make a life-work of."
"But, say, Fenny, was it so? What I mean, that somebody pounded you 'most to death? Did they, Fenny?"
Fenderton tapped a monogrammed cigarette on his thumbnail.
"You mean the fellow I asked a question and he wouldn't answer it and so I got mad and soaked him a couple in the eye? Say, listen, May, I like your hair bobbed that way; it makes you look swell."
"Do you think so, Fenny?" May Middleton asked, beaming eagerly. "I'm awfully glad. But, Fenny, did a man --"
"Well, I gotta go in here," said Fenderton briskly. "Gotta get the poor old teeth attended to. See you later, May."
As the door he opened bore the sign "Millicent Miller, Beauty Parlor," it may be inferred that, in spite of his nonchalant air, Fenderton Roper was somewhat reluctant to dwell on his career as a pressman, and that questions regarding it upset his equanimity somewhat.