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Smoke Of Battle
by [?]

This befell during the period that Major Putnam Stone, at the age of sixty-two, held a job as cub reporter on the Evening Press and worked at it until his supply of fine linen and the patience of City Editor Wilbert Devore frazzled out practically together. The episode to which I would here direct attention came to pass in the middle of a particularly hot week in the middle of that particularly hot and grubby summer, at a time when the major was still wearing the last limp survivor of his once adequate stock of frill-bosomed, roll-collared shirts, and when Devore’s scanty stock of endurance had already worn perilously near the snapping point.

As may be recalled, Major Stone lived a life of comparative leisure from the day he came out of the Confederate army, a seasoned veteran, until the day he joined the staff of the Evening Press, a rank beginner; and of these two employments one lay a matter of four decades back in a half-forgotten past, while the other was of pressing moment, having to do with Major Stone’s enjoyment of his daily bread and other elements of nutrition regarded as essential to the sustenance of human life. In his military career he might have been more or less of a success. Certainly he must have acquitted himself with some measure of personal credit; the rank he had attained in the service and the standing he had subsequently enjoyed among his comrades abundantly testified to that.

As a reporter he was absolutely a total loss; for, as already set forth in some detail, he was hopelessly old-fashioned in thought and speech–hopelessly old-fashioned and pedantic in his style of writing; and since his mind mainly concerned itself with retrospections upon the things that happened between April, 1861, and May, 1865, he very naturally–and very frequently–forgot that to a newspaper reporter every day is a new day and a new beginning, and that yesterday always is or always should be ancient history, let alone the time-tarnished yesterdays of forty-odd years ago. Indeed I doubt whether the major ever comprehended that first commandment of the prentice reporter’s catechism.

Devore, himself no grand and glittering success as a newspaper man, nevertheless had mighty little use for the pottering, ponderous old major. Devore did not believe that bricks could be made without straw. He considered it a waste of time and raw material to try. Through that summer he kept the major on the payroll solely because the chief so willed it. But, though he might not discharge the major, at least he could bait him–and bait him Devore did–not, mind you, with words, but with a silent, sublimated contempt more bitter and more biting than any words.

So there, on the occasion in question, the situation stood–the major hanging on tooth and nail to his small job, because he needed most desperately the twelve dollars a week it brought him; the city editor regarding him and all his manifold reportorial sins of omission, commission and remission with a corrosive, speechless venom; and the rest of us in the city room divided in our sympathies as between those two. We sympathized with Devore for having to carry so woful an incompetent upon his small and overworked crew; we sympathized with the kindly, gentle, tiresome old major for his bungling, vain attempts to creditably cover the small and piddling assignments that came his way.

I remember the date mighty well–the third of July. For three days now the Democratic party, in national convention assembled at Chicago, had been in the throes of labor. It had been expected–in fact had been as good as promised–that by ten o’clock that evening the deadlock would melt before a sweetly gushing freshet of party harmony and the head of the presidential ticket would be named, wherefore in the Evening Press shop a late shift had stayed on duty to get out an extra. Back in the press-room the press was dressed. A front page form was made up and ready, all but the space where the name of the nominee would be inserted when the flash came; and in the alley outside a picked squad of newsboys, renowned for speed of the leg and carrying quality of the voice, awaited their wares, meanwhile skylarking under the eye of a circulation manager.