After the first week "On Your Way," on the Orb, offered hardly any difficulty. The source of material was the morning papers, which were placed in a pile on our table at nine o'clock. The halfpenny papers were our principal support. Gresham and I each took one, and picked it clean. We attended first to the Subject of the Day. This was generally good for two or three paragraphs of verbal fooling. There was a sort of tradition that the first half-dozen paragraphs should be topical. The rest might be topical or not, as occasion served.
The column usually opened with a one-line pun--Gresham's invention.
Gresham was a man of unparalleled energy and ingenuity. He had created several of the typical characters who appeared from time to time in "On Your Way," as, for instance, Mrs. Jenkinson, our Mrs. Malaprop, and Jones junior, our "howler" manufacturing schoolboy. He was also a stout apostle of a mode of expression which he called "funny language." Thus, instead of writing boldly: "There is a rumour that----," I was taught to say, "It has got about that----." This sounds funnier in print, so Gresham said. I could never see it myself.
Gresham had a way of seizing on any bizarre incident reported in the morning papers, enfolding it in "funny language," adding a pun, and thus making it his own. He had a cunning mastery of periphrasis, and a telling command of adverbs.
Here is an illustration. An account was given one morning by the Central news of the breaking into of a house at Johnsonville (Mich.) by a negro, who had stolen a quantity of greenbacks. The thief, escaping across some fields, was attacked by a cow, which, after severely injuring the negro, ate the greenbacks.
Gresham's unacknowledged version of the episode ran as follows:
"The sleepy god had got the stranglehold on John Denville when Caesar Bones, a coloured gentleman, entered John's house at Johnsonville (Mich.) about midnight. Did the nocturnal caller disturb his slumbering host? No. Caesar Bones has the finer feelings. But as he was noiselessly retiring, what did he see? Why, a pile of greenbacks which John had thoughtlessly put away in a fire-proof safe."
To prevent the story being cut out by the editor, who revised all the proofs of the column, with the words "too long" scribbled against it, Gresham continued his tale in another paragraph.
"'Dis am berry insecure,' murmured the visitor to himself, transplanting the notes in a neighbourly way into his pocket. Mark the sequel. The noble Caesar met, on his homeward path, an irritable cudster. The encounter was brief. Caesar went weak in the second round, and took the count in the third. Elated by her triumph, and hungry from her exertions, the horned quadruped nosed the wad of paper money and daringly devoured it. Caesar has told the court that if he is convicted of felony, he will arraign the owner of the ostrich-like bovine on a charge of receiving stolen goods. The owner merely ejaculates 'Black male!'"
On his day Gresham could write the column and have a hundred lines over by ten o'clock. I, too, found plenty of copy as a rule, though I continued my practice of doing a few paragraphs overnight. But every now and then fearful days would come, when the papers were empty of material for our purposes, and when two out of every half-dozen paragraphs which we did succeed in hammering out were returned deleted on the editor's proof.
The tension at these times used to be acute. The head printer would send up a relay of small and grubby boys to remind us that "On Your Way" was fifty lines short. At ten o'clock he would come in person, and be plaintive.
Gresham, the old hand, applied to such occasions desperate remedies. He would manufacture out of even the most pointless item of news two paragraphs by adding to his first the words, "This reminds us of Mr. Punch's famous story." He would then go through the bound volumes of Punch--we had about a dozen in the room--with lightning speed until he chanced upon a more or less appropriate tag.
Those were mornings when verses would be padded out from three stanzas to five, Gresham turning them out under fifteen minutes. He had a wonderful facility for verse.
As a last expedient one fell back upon a standing column, a moth-eaten collection of alleged jests which had been set up years ago to meet the worst emergencies. It was, however, considered a confession of weakness and a degradation to use this column.
We had also in our drawer a book of American witticisms, published in New York. To cut one out, preface it with "A good American story comes to hand," and pin it on a slip was a pleasing variation of the usual mode of constructing a paragraph. Gresham and I each had our favourite method. Personally, I had always a partiality for dealing with "buffers." "The brakes refused to act, and the train struck the buffers at the end of the platform" invariably suggested that if elderly gentlemen would abstain from loitering on railway platforms, they would not get hurt in this way.
Gresham had a similar liking for "turns." "The performance at the Frivoli Music Hall was in full swing when the scenery was noticed to be on fire. The audience got a turn. An extra turn."
Julian Eversleigh, to whom I told my experiences on the Orb, said he admired the spirit with which I entered into my duties. He said, moreover, that I had a future before me, not only as a journalist, but as a writer.
- Татьяна Л.
- Рулле Вой
- Mars Volta
- Jack Tison