Chapter 5 - The Poet And The Editor
It was not bad sport - being in London entirely on our own hook. We asked the way to Fleet Street, where Father says all the newspaper offices are. They said straight on down Ludgate Hill - but it turned out to be quite another way. At least we didn't go straight on.
We got to St Paul's. Noel would go in, and we saw where Gordon was buried - at least the monument. It is very flat, considering what a man he was.
When we came out we walked a long way, and when we asked a policeman he said we'd better go back through Smithfield. So we did. They don't burn people any more there now, so it was rather dull, besides being a long way, and Noel got very tired. He's a peaky little chap; it comes of being a poet, I think. We had a bun or two at different shops - out of the shillings - and it was quite late in the afternoon when we got to Fleet Street. The gas was lighted and the electric lights. There is a jolly Bovril sign that comes off and on in different coloured lamps. We went to the Daily Recorder office, and asked to see the Editor. It is a big office, very bright, with brass and mahogany and electric lights.
They told us the Editor wasn't there, but at another office. So we went down a dirty street, to a very dull-looking place. There was a man there inside, in a glass case, as if he was a museum, and he told us to write down our names and our business. So Oswald wrote -
Then we waited on the stone stairs; it was very draughty. And the man in the glass case looked at us as if we were the museum instead of him. We waited a long time, and then a boy came down and said -
'The Editor can't see you. Will you please write your business?' And he laughed. I wanted to punch his head.
But Noel said, 'Yes, I'll write it if you'll give me a pen and ink, and a sheet of paper and an envelope.'
The boy said he'd better write by post. But Noel is a bit pig-headed; it's his worst fault. So he said - 'No, I'll write it now.' So I backed him up by saying -
'Look at the price penny stamps are since the coal strike!'
So the boy grinned, and the man in the glass case gave us pen and paper, and Noel wrote. Oswald writes better than he does; but Noel would do it; and it took a very long time, and then it was inky.
He licked the envelope a good deal, so that that boy shouldn't read it going upstairs; and he wrote 'Very private' outside, and gave the letter to the boy. I thought it wasn't any good; but in a minute the grinning boy came back, and he was quite respectful, and said - 'The Editor says, please will you step up?'
We stepped up. There were a lot of stairs and passages, and a queer sort of humming, hammering sound and a very funny smell. The boy was now very polite, and said it was the ink we smelt, and the noise was the printing machines.
After going through a lot of cold passages we came to a door; the boy opened it, and let us go in. There was a large room, with a big, soft, blue-and-red carpet, and a roaring fire, though it was only October; and a large table with drawers, and littered with papers, just like the one in Father's study. A gentleman was sitting at one side of the table; he had a light moustache and light eyes, and he looked very young to be an editor - not nearly so old as Father. He looked very tired and sleepy, as if he had got up very early in the morning; but he was kind, and we liked him. Oswald thought he looked clever. Oswald is considered a judge of faces.
'Well,' said he, 'so you are Mrs Leslie's friends?'
'I think so,' said Noel; 'at least she gave us each a shilling, and she wished us "good hunting!"'
'Good hunting, eh? Well, what about this poetry of yours? Which is the poet?'
I can't think how he could have asked! Oswald is said to be a very manly-looking boy for his age. However, I thought it would look duffing to be offended, so I said -
'This is my brother Noel. He is the poet.' Noel had turned quite pale. He is disgustingly like a girl in some ways. The Editor told us to sit down, and he took the poems from Noel, and began to read them. Noel got paler and paler; I really thought he was going to faint, like he did when I held his hand under the cold-water tap, after I had accidentally cut him with my chisel. When the Editor had read the first poem - it was the one about the beetle - he got up and stood with his back to us. It was not manners; but Noel thinks he did it 'to conceal his emotion,' as they do in books. He read all the poems, and then he said -
'I like your poetry very much, young man. I'll give you - let me see; how much shall I give you for it?'
'As much as ever you can,' said Noel. 'You see I want a good deal of money to restore the fallen fortunes of the house of Bastable.'
The gentleman put on some eye-glasses and looked hard at us. Then he sat down.
'That's a good idea,' said he. 'Tell me how you came to think of it. And, I say, have you had any tea? They've just sent out for mine.'
He rang a tingly bell, and the boy brought in a tray with a teapot and a thick cup and saucer and things, and he had to fetch another tray for us, when he was told to; and we had tea with the Editor of the Daily Recorder. I suppose it was a very proud moment for Noel, though I did not think of that till afterwards. The Editor asked us a lot of questions, and we told him a good deal, though of course I did not tell a stranger all our reasons for thinking that the family fortunes wanted restoring. We stayed about half an hour, and when we were going away he said again -
'I shall print all your poems, my poet; and now what do you think they're worth?'
'I don't know,' Noel said. 'You see I didn't write them to sell.'
'Why did you write them then?' he asked.
Noel said he didn't know; he supposed because he wanted to.
'Art for Art's sake, eh?' said the Editor, and he seemed quite delighted, as though Noel had said something clever.
'Well, would a guinea meet your views?' he asked.
I have read of people being at a loss for words, and dumb with emotion, and I've read of people being turned to stone with astonishment, or joy, or something, but I never knew how silly it looked till I saw Noel standing staring at the Editor with his mouth open. He went red and he went white, and then he got crimson, as if you were rubbing more and more crimson lake on a palette. But he didn't say a word, so Oswald had to say -
'I should jolly well think so.'
So the Editor gave Noel a sovereign and a shilling, and he shook hands with us both, but he thumped Noel on the back and said -
'Buck up, old man! It's your first guinea, but it won't be your last. Now go along home, and in about ten years you can bring me some more poetry. Not before - see? I'm just taking this poetry of yours because I like it very much; but we don't put poetry in this paper at all. I shall have to put it in another paper I know of.'
'What do you put in your paper?' I asked, for Father always takes the Daily Chronicle, and I didn't know what the Recorder was like. We chose it because it has such a glorious office, and a clock outside lighted up.
'Oh, news,' said he, 'and dull articles, and things about Celebrities. If you know any Celebrities, now?'
Noel asked him what Celebrities were.
'Oh, the Queen and the Princes, and people with titles, and people who write, or sing, or act - or do something clever or wicked.'
'I don't know anybody wicked,' said Oswald, wishing he had known Dick Turpin, or Claude Duval, so as to be able to tell the Editor things about them. 'But I know some one with a title - Lord Tottenham.'
'The mad old Protectionist, eh? How did you come to know him?'
'We don't know him to speak to. But he goes over the Heath every day at three, and he strides along like a giant - with a black cloak like Lord Tennyson's flying behind him, and he talks to himself like one o'clock.'
'What does he say?' The Editor had sat down again, and he was fiddling with a blue pencil.
'We only heard him once, close enough to understand, and then he said, "The curse of the country, sir - ruin and desolation!" And then he went striding along again, hitting at the furze-bushes as if they were the heads of his enemies.'
'Excellent descriptive touch,' said the Editor. 'Well, go on.'
'That's all I know about him, except that he stops in the middle of the Heath every day, and he looks all round to see if there's any one about, and if there isn't, he takes his collar off.'
The Editor interrupted - which is considered rude - and said -
'You're not romancing?'
'I beg your pardon?' said Oswald. 'Drawing the long bow, I mean,' said the Editor.
Oswald drew himself up, and said he wasn't a liar.
The Editor only laughed, and said romancing and lying were not at all the same; only it was important to know what you were playing at. So Oswald accepted his apology, and went on.
'We were hiding among the furze-bushes one day, and we saw him do it. He took off his collar, and he put on a clean one, and he threw the other among the furze-bushes. We picked it up afterwards, and it was a beastly paper one!'
'Thank you,' said the Editor, and he got up and put his hand in his pocket. 'That's well worth five shillings, and there they are. Would you like to see round the printing offices before you go home?'
I pocketed my five bob, and thanked him, and I said we should like it very much. He called another gentleman and said something we couldn't hear. Then he said good-bye again; and all this time Noel hadn't said a word. But now he said, 'I've made a poem about you. It is called "Lines to a Noble Editor." Shall I write it down?'
The Editor gave him the blue pencil, and he sat down at the Editor's table and wrote. It was this, he told me afterwards as well as he could remember -
'Thank you,' said the Editor. 'I don't think I ever had a poem addressed to me before. I shall treasure it, I assure you.'
Then the other gentleman said something about Maecenas, and we went off to see the printing office with at least one pound seven in our pockets.
It was good hunting, and no mistake!
But he never put Noel's poetry in the Daily Recorder. It was quite a long time afterwards we saw a sort of story thing in a magazine, on the station bookstall, and that kind, sleepy-looking Editor had written it, I suppose. It was not at all amusing. It said a lot about Noel and me, describing us all wrong, and saying how we had tea with the Editor; and all Noel's poems were in the story thing. I think myself the Editor seemed to make game of them, but Noel was quite pleased to see them printed - so that's all right. It wasn't my poetry anyhow, I am glad to say.