By the time Bartley Hubbard found a place with Mr. Witherby on the Events, he had already learned something of the relationship between business and the press. Arriving in Boston newly married and unemployed, Bartley put his experience as a small town newspaper editor to work and began to write free-lance, developing a relationship with a number of papers, among them the Chronicle-Abstract. His first article was an account of life in a New England logging camp; his second – at his wife Marcia’s suggestion – a look at the world of Boston boarding-houses:
He had the true newspaper instinct, and went to work with a motive that was as different as possible from the literary motive. He wrote for the effect which he was to make, and not from any artistic pleasure in the treatment. He did not attempt to give it form,–to imagine a young couple like himself and Marcia coming down from the country to place themselves in the city; he made no effort to throw about it the poetry of their ignorance and their poverty, or the pathetic humor of their dismay at the disproportion of the prices to their means. He set about getting all the facts he could, and he priced a great many lodgings in different parts of the city; then he went to a number of real-estate agents, and, giving himself out as a reporter of the Chronicle-Abstract, he interviewed them as to house-rents, past and present. Upon these bottom facts, as he called them, he based a “spicy sketch, which had also largely the character of an exposé. There is nothing the public enjoys so much as an exposé: it seems to be made in the reader’s own interest; it somehow constitutes him a party to the attack upon the abuse, and its effectiveness redounds to the credit of all the newspaper’s subscribers. After a week’s stay in Boston, Bartley was able to assume the feelings of a native who sees his city falling into decay through the rapacity of its landladies. In the heading of ten or fifteen lines which he gave his sketch, the greater number were devoted to this feature of it; though the space actually allotted to it in the text was comparatively small. He called his report “Boston’s Boarding-Houses,” and he spent a paragraph upon the relation of boarding-houses to civilization, before detailing his own experience and observation. This part had many of those strokes of crude picturesqueness and humor which he knew how to give, and was really entertaining; but it was when he came to contrast the rates of house-rent and the cost of provisions with the landladies’
that Bartley showed all the virtue of a born reporter. The sentences were vivid and telling; the ensemble was very alarming, and the conclusion was inevitable, that, unless this abuse could somehow be reached, we should lose a large and valuable portion of our population,–especially those young married people of small means with whom the city’s future prosperity so largely rested, and who must drift away to find homes in rival communities if the present exorbitant demands were maintained.
The success of this piece earned Bartley even more work and
As the spring advanced, Bartley conceived the plan of a local study, something in the manner of the boarding-house article, but on a much vaster scale: he proposed to Ricker [editor of the Chronicle-Abstract] a timely series on the easily accessible hot-weather resorts, to be called “Boston’s Breathing-Places,” and to relate mainly to the seaside hotels and their surroundings. His idea was encouraged, and he took Marcia with him on most of his expeditions for its realization. These were largely made before the regular season had well begun; but the boats were already running, and the hotels were open, and they were treated with the hospitality which a knowledge of Bartley’s mission must invoke. As he said, it was a matter of business, give and take on both sides, and the landlords took more than they gave in any such trade.
Mr. Ricker thought Bartley could make more money as a free-lance than as a regular reporter, but both Bartley and Marcia – who still harbored hopes that her husband would leave journalism for the law – preferred to have a more secure and steady source of income. Bartley had tried to sell his logging-camp sketch to Mr. Witherby before turning to the Chronicle-Abstract, but Witherby rejected it; they had never worked together. But now Witherby needed someone to run his paper, and though neither man was fond of the other, they had come to an understanding. Mr. Witherby just had one more request, which Bartley’s free-lance experience had rendered him more than capable of fulfilling:
“Oh, by the way,” said Witherby, “there is one little piece of outside work which I should like you to finish up for us; and we’ll agree upon something extra for it, if you wish. I mean our Solid Men series. I don’t know whether you’ve noticed the series in the Events?”
“Yes,” said Bartley, “I have.”
“Well, then, you know what they are. They consist of interviews–guarded and inoffensive as respects the sanctity-of private life–with our leading manufacturers and merchant princes at their places of business and their residences, and include a description of these, and some account of the lives of the different subjects.”
“Yes, I have seen them,” said Bartley. “I’ve noticed the general plan.”
“You know that Mr. Clayton has been doing them. He madethem a popular feature. The parties themselves were very much pleased with them.”
“Oh, people are always tickled to be interviewed,” said Bartley. “I know they put on airs about it, and go round complaining to each other about the violation of confidence, and so on; but they all like it. You know I reported that Indigent Surf-Bathing entertainment in June for the Chronicle-Abstract. I knew the lady who got it up, and I interviewed her after the entertainment.”
“Yes.” Witherby made an inarticulate murmur of respect for Bartley in his throat, and involuntarily changed toward him, but not so subtly that Bartley’s finer instinct did not take note of the change. “She was a fresh subject, and she told me everything. Of course I printed it all. She was awfully shocked,–or pretended to be,–and wrote me a very O-dear-how-could-you note about it. But I went round to the office the next day, and I found that nearly every lady mentioned in the interview had ordered half a dozen copies of that issue sent to her seaside address, and the office had been full of Beacon Street swells all the morning buying Chronicle-Abstracts,–‘the one with the report of the Concert in it.'” These low views of high society, coupled with an apparent familiarity with it, modified Witherby more and more. He began to see that he had got a prize. “The way to do with such fellows as your Solid Men,” continued Bartley, “is to submit a proof to ’em. They never know exactly what to do about it, and so you print the interview with their approval, and make ’em particeps criminis. I’ll finish up the series for you, and I won’t make any very heavy extra charge.”
“I should wish to pay you whatever the work was worth,” said Witherby, not to be outdone in nobleness.
“All right; we sha’n’t quarrel about that, at any rate.”