The Temporary Editor
by Ellis Parker Butler [Author of “Pigs is Pigs.]
The editor of the Hartsock News lay flat on his back in bed, as crazy as a loon, and jabbering like a perpetual motion phonograph. He was only temporary crazy, the grippe having bowled him over. As a rule he was as sane as could be expected, considering that he had chosen Hartsock as a promising field for journalism. But today he was certainly flighty. No sane gentleman will look upon his mother as a spotted cow nor laugh joyously because she walks upright. Neither will he send his grandmother to get out the regular weekly edition of a newspaper. It is an evidence of temporary derangement.
When Granma Huff paused, panting, at the head of the stairs, and pushed open the door of the News office, Jimmie, the office boy, was sitting in the editorial chair studying his Sunday school lesson. The editor never spoke of Jimmie as the “devil,” although that is the customary title. He called him the “angel,” Jimmie was such a good boy. Goodness stood out on him like freckles. Every time he washed his hands and face he washed off enough goodness to supply a dozen boys, and he had signed so many temperance pledges that if he had started in to drink steadily for the balance of his life he would have wound up with some of the pledges still unbroken. Later in life he tried it. But he was a good boy. Granma Huff looked over the rims of her two pair of spectacles and smiled.
“Jimmie,” she said, “my gran’son’s sick, so I’ve come down to git out the News this week, and I want you to hurry ’round and help me all you can.”
“Yes’m,” said Jimmie, meekly.
“Well, now,” said Granma Huff, seating herself in the editorial chair and rubbing her knees with the palms of her hands, “I can’t move ’round much, bein’ as I’ve got the rheumatiz so bad, but I reckon you kin do most thet’s to be did. Gran’son says you’re a right good boy.”
“Yes’m,” said Jimmie, modestly.
“Kin you work the printin’ machine?” enquired Granma, nodding toward the old Washington press.
“Yes’m, I allus does,” said Jimmie.
“Well, then,” said Granma, “I guess you’d better go right on an’ print some papers. I reckon you know ’bout how many’s needed, don’t you?”
Jimmie explained that there were a few things to do first. There must be some news gathered, the forms made ready.
“Do tell!” exclaimed Granma, “I’sposed gran’son ‘ud hev all that ready. Ain’t you got any at all?”
“No’m,” said Jimmie.
“Well, I can’t fix the types, but I guess you know how,” she said, “an I can’t see to write, but you kin take down. First, say, gran’son’s sick with the grippe, but doc says he’ll git along all right soon’s the fever goes down some. Then say Marthy Clemen’s baby’s sick with the measles. I knowed Marthy’s ma before Marthy was born. Her an’ me come from York county, Pennsylvania, together.”
“How d’you spell Pennsylvany?”
“Pen-syl-va-ny,” spelled Granma. “Her ma an’ me was second cousins, she bein a Bell, an’ me a Murdock, an old man Murdock bein’ first cousin o’ Randy Bell. We come down the Ohio on a flat an up the Mississippi by steamer. But I told Marthy that child ‘ud get the measles ef she took it out to Joe Nayadley’s. Got that down?” “Yes’m,” said Jimmie. “Well, I don’t think o’ any more news just now, do you?” she queried.
“No’m,” said Jimmie.
“Will that be enough?” asked Granma.
“No’m, that ain’t more’n two sticks,” said Jimmie.
“Well, what does gran’son do when he hasn’t enough news to fill up?”
“He uses patent insides. This what comes in chunks from Chicago,” said Jimmie; “but we ain’t got none but what we’ve used. He was goin’ to order some when he was took sick.”
“We’ve got to use some over again,” said Granma, decidedly. “What is there?” “Sermons,” said Jimmie, grinning. “We ain’t got nothin’ but Talmage sermons, but we got lots o’ them.”
“Well, I don’t know nothin’ better for people than sermons,” said Granma. “I guess we’ll use them sermons. ‘Twon’t hurt nobody to read ’em over twice. Reckon you’ve got enough of ’em?”
“Yes’m,” said Jimmie.
“All right then, you go ahead an’ fix up the paper like you always do. Mebby you kin git some nice little boy to help. I’m goin’ home, my rheumatiz hurts me so, an I can’t do nothin’ more. Jist be sure to have the paper out on time.” Jimmie promised, and Granma went home. She had done her duty.
Jimmie did his. There were forty-two local and patent medicine advertisements that were always scattered through the reading. He knew this, and as the sermons were long and solid, he cut each sermon into small pieces, laying the electrotypes across the chair and sawing them into chunks with the office saw. Then he made up his forms, sticking in a piece of sermon, then a local, then another bit of sermon, then a patent medicine “ad,” then more sermon. He did not miss a department. He had “Local News,” “Country Correspondence,” “From Our Exchanges” and “A Little Nonsense,” each in its appointed place, but each composed of short reading advertisements and small sections of sermon. The sermons were rather mixed. In sawing them up he had failed to preserve their consecutive form. There were fifteen columns of disjointed sermon, sandwiched with “Perkins Plasters” and “Get Your Canned Tomatoes at Wray’s.” Jimmie persuaded Bob Hochstetler to help him run the press, and the paper came out on time. The editor was sleeping nicely when Jimmie delivered the News at the door. The editor was out of his fever. When he awoke Granma proudly handed him the News. As a rule, I have said, the editor was as sane as could be expected. He looked through the paper, and gasped. It was two days later before the two strong men who were called in to hold him in bed were permitted to release him. Then he thanked Granma, put on his clothes and went down to his office and discharged Jimmie three times. The third time he raised his wages.
The next week the editorial page contained the following notice, double-leaded, at the head of the first column:
“The News, always the foremost paper of the State, again outstripped its rivals last week by inaugurating a new and highly moral prize competition. As we never do things by half, we devoted our entire paper to this newest and most attractive feature. Scattered over pages one, four, five and eight were five complete sermons. To the party sending the first correct arrangement of all the sermons we will send the News free for five years; for any one sermon correctly arranged, the News for one year. Address: Sermon Editor, this office. Thus once more the News distances those reeking sheets, the Jimtown Blade and the Richmond Gust!”
Current Opinion, Volume 30, Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Frank Crane, editors, 1901
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: La Grippe was believed to make some of its victims temporarily insane. The scrambled sermon contest is not as eccentric an idea as one might expect; the highly competitive newspapers of the past were always looking for novel prize contests to attract readership. “Talmage” was Dr Thomas DeWitt Talmage, one of the most popular divines and preachers in the United States. He ministered to the depraved people of New York with sermons attacking every species of vice, but when three successive “Tabernacles” burnt to the ground, he felt unappreciated. He abandoned New York to the Evil One, went on tour and wrote sermonizing articles and books. His oratory was colourful and full of striking imagery. Here is a particularly trenchant excerpt:
As to the physical ruin wrought by the dissipations of social life, there can be no doubt. What may we expect of people who work all day and dance all night? After awhile they will be thrown on society, nervous, exhausted imbeciles. These people who indulge in the suppers and the midnight revels and then go home in the cold unwrapped in limbs, will after awhile be found to have been written down in God’s eternal records as suicides, as much suicides as if they had taken their life with a pistol, or a knife, or strychnine.
How many people in America have stepped from the ballroom into the graveyard! Consumptions and swift neuralgias are close on their track. Amid many of the glittering scenes of social life in America, diseases stand right and left, and balance and chain. The breath of the sepulchre floats up through the perfume, and the froth of Death’s lip bubbles up in the champagne.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.