Martin was steadily losing his battle. Economize as he would, the earnings from hack-work did not balance expenses. Thanksgiving found him with his black suit in pawn and unable to accept the Morses’ invitation to dinner. Ruth was not made happy by his reason for not coming, and the corresponding effect on him was one of desperation. He told her that he would come, after all; that he would go over to San Francisco, to the Transcontinental office, collect the five dollars due him, and with it redeem his suit of clothes.
In the morning he borrowed ten cents from Maria. He would have borrowed it, by preference, from Brissenden, but that erratic individual had disappeared. Two weeks had passed since Martin had seen him, and he vainly cudgelled his brains for some cause of offence. The ten cents carried Martin across the ferry to San Francisco, and as he walked up Market Street he speculated upon his predicament in case he failed to collect the money. There would then be no way for him to return to Oakland, and he knew no one in San Francisco from whom to borrow another ten cents.
The door to the Transcontinental office was ajar, and Martin, in the act of opening it, was brought to a sudden pause by a loud voice from within, which exclaimed:– “But that is not the question, Mr. Ford.” (Ford, Martin knew, from his correspondence, to be the editor’s name.) “The question is, are you prepared to pay?-cash, and cash down, I mean? I am not interested in the prospects of the Transcontinental and what you expect to make it next year. What I want is to be paid for what I do. And I tell you, right now, the Christmas Transcontinental don’t go to press till I have the money in my hand. Good day. When you get the money, come and see me.”
The door jerked open, and the man flung past Martin, with an angry countenance and went down the corridor, muttering curses and clenching his fists. Martin decided not to enter immediately, and lingered in the hallways for a quarter of an hour. Then he shoved the door open and walked in. It was a new experience, the first time he had been inside an editorial office. Cards evidently were not necessary in that office, for the boy carried word to an inner room that there was a man who wanted to see Mr. Ford. Returning, the boy beckoned him from halfway across the room and led him to the private office, the editorial sanctum. Martin’s first impression was of the disorder and cluttered confusion of the room. Next he noticed a bewhiskered, youthful-looking man, sitting at a roll-top desk, who regarded him curiously. Martin marvelled at the calm repose of his face. It was evident that the squabble with the printer had not affected his equanimity.
“I– I am Martin Eden,” Martin began the conversation. (“And I want my five dollars,” was what he would have liked to say.)
But this was his first editor, and under the circumstances he did not desire to scare him too abruptly. To his surprise, Mr. Ford leaped into the air with a “You don’t say so!” and the next moment, with both hands, was shaking Martin’s hand effusively.
“Can’t say how glad I am to see you, Mr. Eden. Often wondered what you were like.”
Here he held Martin off at arm’s length and ran his beaming eyes over Martin’s second-best suit, which was also his worst suit, and which was ragged and past repair, though the trousers showed the careful crease he had put in with Maria’s flat-irons.
“I confess, though, I conceived you to be a much older man than you are. Your story, you know, showed such breadth, and vigor, such maturity and depth of thought. A masterpiece, that story-I knew it when I had read the first half-dozen lines. Let me tell you how I first read it. But no; first let me introduce you to the staff.”
Still talking, Mr. Ford led him into the general office, where he introduced him to the associate editor, Mr. White, a slender, frail little man whose hand seemed strangely cold, as if he were suffering from a chill, and whose whiskers were sparse and silky.
“And Mr. Ends, Mr. Eden. Mr. Ends is our business manager, you know.”
Martin found himself shaking hands with a cranky-eyed, bald-headed man, whose face looked youthful enough from what little could be seen of it, for most of it was covered by a snow-white beard, carefully trimmed-by his wife, who did it on Sundays, at which times she also shaved the back of his neck.
The three men surrounded Martin, all talking admiringly and at once, until it seemed to him that they were talking against time for a wager.
“We often wondered why you didn’t call,” Mr. White was saying.
“I didn’t have the carfare, and I live across the Bay,” Martin answered bluntly, with the idea of showing them his imperative need for the money.
Surely, he thought to himself, my glad rags in themselves are eloquent advertisement of my need. Time and again, whenever opportunity offered, he hinted about the purpose of his business. But his admirers’ ears were deaf. They sang his praises, told him what they had thought of his story at first sight, what they subsequently thought, what their wives and families thought; but not one hint did they breathe of intention to pay him for it.
“Did I tell you how I first read your story?” Mr. Ford said. “Of course I didn’t. I was coming west from New York, and when the train stopped at Ogden, the train-boy on the new run brought aboard the current number of the Transcontinental .”
My God! Martin thought; you can travel in a Pullman while I starve for the paltry five dollars you owe me. A wave of anger rushed over him. The wrong done him by the Transcontinental loomed colossal, for strong upon him were all the dreary months of vain yearning, of hunger and privation, and his present hunger awoke and gnawed at him, reminding him that he had eaten nothing since the day before, and little enough then. For the moment he saw red. These creatures were not even robbers. They were sneak-thieves. By lies and broken promises they had tricked him out of his story. Well, he would show them. And a great resolve surged into his will to the effect that he would not leave the office until he got his money. He remembered, if he did not get it, that there was no way for him to go back to Oakland. He controlled himself with an effort, but not before the wolfish expression of his face had awed and perturbed them.
They became more voluble than ever. Mr. Ford started anew to tell how he had first read “The Ring of Bells,” and Mr. Ends at the same time was striving to repeat his niece’s appreciation of “The Ring of Bells,” said niece being a school-teacher in Alameda.
“I’ll tell you what I came for,” Martin said finally. “To be paid for that story all of you like so well. Five dollars, I believe, is what you promised me would be paid on publication.”
Mr. Ford, with an expression on his mobile features of mediate and happy acquiescence, started to reach for his pocket, then turned suddenly to Mr. Ends, and said that he had left his money home. That Mr. Ends resented this, was patent; and Martin saw the twitch of his arm as if to protect his trousers pocket. Martin knew that the money was there.
“I am sorry,” said Mr. Ends, “but I paid the printer not an hour ago, and he took my ready change. It was careless of me to be so short; but the bill was not yet due, and the printer’s request, as a favor, to make an immediate advance, was quite unexpected.”
Both men looked expectantly at Mr. White, but that gentleman laughed and shrugged his shoulders. His conscience was clean at any rate. He had come into the Transcontinental to learn magazine-literature, instead of which he had principally learned finance. The Transcontinental owed him four months’ salary, and he knew that the printer must be appeased before the associate editor.
“It’s rather absurd, Mr. Eden, to have caught us in this shape,” Mr. Ford preambled airily. “All carelessness, I assure you. But I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll mail you a check the first thing in the morning. You have Mr. Eden’s address, haven’t you, Mr. Ends?”
Yes, Mr. Ends had the address, and the check would be mailed the first thing in the morning. Martin’s knowledge of banks and checks was hazy, but he could see no reason why they should not give him the check on this day just as well as on the next.
“Then it is understood, Mr. Eden, that we’ll mail you the check to-morrow?” Mr. Ford said.
“I need the money to-day,” Martin answered stolidly.
“The unfortunate circumstances-if you had chanced here any other day,” Mr. Ford began suavely, only to be interrupted by Mr. Ends, whose cranky eyes justified themselves in his shortness of temper.
“Mr. Ford has already explained the situation,” he said with asperity. “And so have I. The check will be mailed-”
“I also have explained,” Martin broke in, “and I have explained that I want the money to-day.”
He had felt his pulse quicken a trifle at the business manager’s brusqueness, and upon him he kept an alert eye, for it was in that gentleman’s trousers pocket that he divined the Transcontinental’s ready cash was reposing.
“It is too bad-” Mr. Ford began.
But at that moment, with an impatient movement, Mr. Ends turned as if about to leave the room. At the same instant Martin sprang for him, clutching him by the throat with one hand in such fashion that Mr. Ends’ snow-white beard, still maintaining its immaculate trimness, pointed ceilingward at an angle of forty-five degrees. To the horror of Mr. White and Mr. Ford, they saw their business manager shaken like an Astrakhan rug.
“Dig up, you venerable discourager of rising young talent!” Martin exhorted. “Dig up, or I’ll shake it out of you, even if it’s all in nickels.” Then, to the two affrighted onlookers: “Keep away! If you interfere, somebody’s liable to get hurt.”
Mr. Ends was choking, and it was not until the grip on his throat was eased that he was able to signify his acquiescence in the digging-up programme. All together, after repeated digs, its trousers pocket yielded four dollars and fifteen cents.
“Inside out with it,” Martin commanded.
An additional ten cents fell out. Martin counted the result of his raid a second time to make sure.
“You next!” he shouted at Mr. Ford. “I want seventy-five cents more.”
Mr. Ford did not wait, but ransacked his pockets, with the result of sixty cents.
“Sure that is all?” Martin demanded menacingly, possessing himself of it. “What have you got in your vest pockets?”
In token of his good faith, Mr. Ford turned two of his pockets inside out. A strip of cardboard fell to the floor from one of them. He recovered it and was in the act of returning it, when Martin cried:-
“What’s that?-A ferry ticket? Here, give it to me. It’s worth ten cents. I’ll credit you with it. I’ve now got four dollars and ninety-five cents, including the ticket. Five cents is still due me.”
He looked fiercely at Mr. White, and found that fragile creature in the act of handing him a nickel.
“Thank you,” Martin said, addressing them collectively. “I wish you a good day.”
“Robber!” Mr. Ends snarled after him.
“Sneak– thief!” Martin retorted, slamming the door as he passed out.
Martin was elated-so elated that when he recollected that The Hornet owed him fifteen dollars for “The Peri and the Pearl,” he decided forthwith to go and collect it. But The Hornet was run by a set of clean-shaven, strapping young men, frank buccaneers who robbed everything and everybody, not excepting one another. After some breakage of the office furniture, the editor (an ex-college athlete), ably assisted by the business manager, an advertising agent, and the porter, succeeded in removing Martin from the office and in accelerating, by initial impulse, his descent of the first flight of stairs.
“Come again, Mr. Eden; glad to see you any time,” they laughed down at him from the landing above.
Martin grinned as he picked himself up.
“Phew!” he murmured back. “The Transcontinental crowd were nanny-goats, but you fellows are a lot of prize-fighters.”
More laughter greeted this.
“I must say, Mr. Eden,” the editor of The Hornet called down, “that for a poet you can go some yourself. Where did you learn that right cross-if I may ask?”
“Where you learned that half-Nelson,” Martin answered. “Anyway, you’re going to have a black eye.”
“I hope your neck doesn’t stiffen up,” the editor wished solicitously: “What do you say we all go out and have a drink on it-not the neck, of course, but the little rough-house?”
“I’ll go you if I lose,” Martin accepted.
And robbers and robbed drank together, amicably agreeing that the battle was to the strong, and that the fifteen dollars for “The Peri and the Pearl” belonged by right to The Hornet’s editorial staff.