Reporter Harry Eltonhead writes an article about a fictitious girl,
only to have her appear.
, February 2, 1918
MOTION-PICTURE directors, should they give the matter the slightest
thought, would tell you in a flash that nine hundred and ninety-nine
girls out of a thousand who harbor the notion that they are fitted for
a career before the camera, are harboring nonsense. The remaining girl
is usually ignorant of the fact that she is harboring sense, and she is
usually discovered accidentally, for example, as Laura Corrigan was
Without going far into the technical explanation and not even
mentioning certain events, there is every reason to believe that Laura
Corrigan was a perfect screen type. Her features were well defined
without being prominent. In effect, you recalled her easily. Her eyes
were dark brown and clear, with the merest suggestion of the hypnotic
in them. Through them was revealed the most priceless possession of any
That is rather a cold-blooded way of contemplating Laura Corrigan,
but it is appropriate and vital in view of the problem that confronted
her. How her problem was solved is an issue that must be taken up at
some length, later.
The problem itself was rather complex. For two years Laura Corrigan
and the office adding-machine had occupied an identical position in the
affections of the established old firm of Blake & Blake, dealers in
Laura performed her duties as stenographer with such well concealed
fidelity, with such machinelike accuracy and dependability, that the
firm, whose collective mind was always fixed upon novelty and
originality, had come to look upon her as a cog that never required
In demanding additions and subtractions from the adding-machine you
pressed a variety of red and black buttons; the machine did the rest.
In demanding intelligent transcriptions of your thoughts by Laura
Corrigan you pressed the pearl button at the edge of your desk, and
Laura, prompt as the next clock-tick, appeared noiselessly at your
elbow. You spoke your thoughts; Laura did the rest.
Laura Corrigan believed that the supreme duty of the stenographer was
to remove all possible irksome detail from the busy shoulders of the
firm. Perhaps she made the mistake of not being aggressive enough, of
submerging her identity too deeply.
On the anniversary of her second consecutive year with the firm,
Laura took stock of herself and was not exactly gratified at the
inventory. The unpleasant revelation was made that she, Laura Corrigan,
was hard and fast in a rut.
When the buzzer over her desk sounded that morning, and the
annunciator needle indicated that the elder Mr. Blake desired her
presence, the expression of doubt vanished from her face and her bright
eyes seemed to lose a portion of their luster; whereupon she drew her
lip between her teeth and arose, sighing, no longer a pretty,
determined young woman, but a mechanism. Squaring her slender
shoulders, Laura Corrigan passed the adding-machine and softly entered
Mr. Blake's office.
Mr. Blake did not even glance up.
Take this letter, he barked.
He was not addressing an individual of breath and blood; he was
addressing a machine. Laura poised her pencil meekly. While waiting for
Mr. Blake to assemble his thoughts, she reflected:
I wonder if it's true that men do fall in love with their
HOW Laura was discharged by Mr. Blake in an irate moment, thereby
gaining what she most desired, must be taken up in what may appear to
be a roundabout way.
A few mornings later, Harry Eltonhead, general reporter on the New
York Evening Item, was called before Champlain, the city editor,
to answer to charges of general inefficiency.
Eltonhead, said Champlain in his whining voice, squinting his eyes
as if the light bothered him. I think it's about time you brought back
a story. You haven't brought back a single thing on your last three
Harry Eltonhead, who was guilty of the charges on every count, held
back the very excellent and plausible excuses for his apparent
inability, and nodded his head gravely.
When pressed to the delicate point of firing negligent reporters.
Champlain was without gentleness, without ire, without heart. Usually
he would squint his eyes and remark in his nasal voice. I think you'd
better call at the cashier's window on your way out.
Eltonhead, to whom pride of profession meant a great deal, held that
offhand remark in respect, with which there was mingled not a small
trace of fear. He was receiving a good salary, and the war had placed
scores of good reporters on the waiting list.
Fortunately the city editor did not feel inclined to utter that
feelingless remark just then. Instead, he opened a copy of the first
edition of another afternoon newspaper, the Evening Star, and
Eltonhead, read this story over, go out and see the girl, bring back
all the details and a good photograph. You see, the Star
hasn't got a photograph. Now, Eltonhead, if I were you I'd bring back
something this time.
Eltonhead saw that the address was Brooklyn, so he caught a subway
train for that city and read the story on the way over. It was a
typical Evening Star story, but it was even a more typical
Champlain story, a story that the city editor could revel in. Such
stories had given the Evening Item its vast circulation.
It was the story of Jean Auburn, a Brooklyn stenographer who could
not hold a position longer than a few days because each succeeding
employer made love to her more violently than the last. The case
represented, said the Evening Star in high editorial
indignation, a cross section of the vileness which is shot through and
through New York business methods. It is a case that deserves an
immediate and thorough investigation. Thousands of poor girls are in a
similarly helpless position.
Eltonhead's well-developed nose for news rapidly sensed the
possibilities awaiting him in the person of Jean Auburn, the pretty,
mistreated stenographer. He read on.
Poor little Jean Auburn has been forced to leave nine different
employers in the last two weeks. To an Evening Star reporter she
declared that she was afraid to seek further, and her money is nearly
I dressed very modestly, said Miss Auburn, because I disapprove of
stenographers flaunting thin shirt-waists in the faces of their
employers. I wore long skirts, and II tried Here she paused,
unable to proceed.
In other words, you tried to appear unattractive so that you would
not be annoyed? questioned the Evening Star's woman reporter.
Oh, yes! I did! I did! cried the poor girl, on the verge of tears.
I wore dark colors and high shoes. Butbut
Eltonhead lifted his eyes from the paper with a dreamy look.
She must be a wonder, he said, if any of this description is
trueand of course it's well colored.
The Evening Star had not published poor little Jean Auburn's
photograph, probably, thought Eltonhead, because their woman reporter
was unable to secure it. He made up his mind he would bring back a
photograph of the lovely Miss Auburn if he had to attack her entire
family single-handed. He knew of tricks for securing photographs from
families who dislike publicity, and he was quite prepared to steal the
portrait from its probable place on the mantel, if such a drastic
course was necessary.
Leaving the subway at the Brooklyn Borough Hall Station, he climbed
to the elevated and shortly afterward descended in a neighborhood with
which he was only vaguely familiar. He glanced at the Evening Star
again, to be sure of Jean Auburn's address, and after a short walk
arrived in the approximate vicinity of her home.
He estimated, from the house numbers, that Jean Auburn lived about
two blocks away. As he approached the neighborhood, he began having
doubts. The neighborhood was not the probable abiding place of any
stenographer, no matter how sorely oppressed. The children playing in
the streets were gamins. Noisy, disheveled women bawled to each other
from doorways. Further along the houses became hovels.
Eltonhead examined the address in the Evening Star again, as
if there might be some mistake. There was no doubt of his being in the
right street, and there could be no error on the Evening Star's
part, for the address was printed twice.
In the distance loomed the dusty, austere framework of a city
gas-tank, the giant steel cylinder elevated to some height above the
The revelation came to Eltonhead and made him dizzy. It was a fake
story. The Evening Star had played one of its usual tricks on
its unsuspecting readers. But with the thoroughness of the good
reporter, Eltonhead inquired at every house in the vicinity for Jean
Auburn. No one had ever heard of her. There was irony in the fact that
the gas-tank was poor little Jean Auburn's address.
Eltonhead circled the tank, making inquiries of every one he met.
Jean Auburn simply did not exist. She was a mythical character.
The humor of the situation did not appeal to Eltonhead in the least.
He was irritated and resentful. His sensitive mouth set itself in hard
lines. His dark eyebrow fairly bristled. His gray eyes took on a look
that meant trouble. Only for a moment did he experience the feeling of
weakness which comes over a reporter who has allowed a story to slip
through his fingers. He knew quite well what his fourth consecutive
return from an unsuccessful assignment would mean. Indeed, he could
plainly hear Champlain saying, in his detestable whining tone:
Eltonhead, I think you'd better call at the cashier's window on your
His thoughts became intensely profane for an instant; then his face
brightened, his shoulders lost their droop, and he smiled, revealing
two lines of perfectly white teeth.
Jean Auburn, he declared, you're not dead yet. I'm going to make
you the most talked about girl in New York.
He recalled having passed a photographer's shop near the elevated
station, and as he retraced his steps he laid the foundation of a sob
story built around Jean Auburn that would make all New York go to bed
that night with tears in its eyes.
The photographer's place was not unlike that to be seen on the main
street of any small town. The windows were burdened with photographs of
all shapes and sizes of thoroughly uninteresting people. Babies with
unintelligent eyes stared at him. A bride and groom, with the veil
still wrinkled, smirked from a huge panel. There was not a photograph
of a pretty .girl in the window, but he decided to take the chance
anyway, so he entered.
He heard the photographer doing something with plates in the dark
room. Eltonhead's entrance had attracted no one's attention, for which
he was more grateful than can be recorded. He examined the walls and
show-cases with eagerness.
The same motley assortment greeted him. The portrait of a stout,
middle-aged negro woman caused him to smile as the thought reared
itself of a humorous come back to the Evening Star's story.
But the rest of the collection made him despondent. He examined the
portrait of a muscular Pole, stripped to the waist to reveal a complex
design in tattoo, for a moment in morbid interest, and then gave
himself over to an inventory of a pile of photographs on the counter.
As the third portrait slid into the light he could have fainted from
sheer happiness. It was the face of a girl. She was beautiful. She was
wonderful! Dark hair was piled attractively above a high, white
forehead. Long, arched eyebrows gave that portion of her countenance
another touch of contrast.
The view was semiprofile, and he was given the opportunity to exclaim
to himself that her nose was exquisite. Her lips, dainty and fine, were
curved in a half smile. He forgot for a minute that he was a news
ferret, that he was on his last assignment if he failed to produce
results, and just stood there, an intense, imaginative young man with
his mouth twisted into a smile of rapture.
A clicking sound in the dark room brought him back to the realities
of life, and, checking an impulse to announce his presence, he laid a
one-dollar bill on the counter, rearranged the pile of photographs,
stuffed the portrait of the ravishing brunette into his inside pocket
and retreated from the store, if not in haste at least in a remote
resemblance of it.
GLEEFULLYnay, triumphantly Eltonhead thrust the photograph under
the vulpine nose of Champlain, exclaiming:
There, Mr. Champlain, there you are!
Eltonhead, whined Champlain, tell me, who is this girl?
Why, she's Jean Auburn, the stenographer who can't hold a job longer
than five minutes because all her bosses make love to her. Isn't she a
See here, Eltonhead the city editor drew forth the third and
latest edition of the Evening Star somebody has made a
mistake. The Star's picture of Jean Auburn shows a blondea blonde,
Eltonhead. How do you account for that?
H-m, grunted Eltonhead, thinking for dear life, because not only
his job but his reputation rested upon it. Part of a reporter's stock
in trade is the ability to meet such emergencies as this without
flinching. An easy laugh issued from his lips.
Well, if they aren't up to their old tricks! he declared. You know
how deceitful the Star is, Mr. Champlain, he rushed on without
a trace of nervousness but eagerly, as a reporter will, who has
stumbled upon a whale of a story. They keep that morgue of theirs
stocked full of any little girl's photographs. When this Jean Auburn
story broke, they grabbed the very first picture off the shelf,
andand there you are, he finished triumphantly.
That's right; that's right, Eltonhead, agreed Champlain, unable to
suppress his own delight at the remarkable photograph on the desk
Eltonhead, he whined, handing back the photograph with another long
stare, turn it over to the art department; tell them to touch it up a
little, to get some of the sorrow of the great city about her mouth,
and make it three columns for the next edition. Hurry!
Eltonhead fairly leaped to his typewriter, seized a pad of copy paper
and proceeded to chronicle one of the most amazing accounts that ever
delighted a New York subway strap- hanger.
Fiction? Of course it was fiction, every line of it. But to
Eltonhead, Jean Auburn became a thing of breath and blood. She radiated
before him. Her sweet presence inspired him to splendid written
thoughts. In after days; this imaginative and dramatic ability would
bring to him the plaudits of all Broadway, of all the nation and a
greater part of the penetrated world, where celluloid tin cans brings
cheer to dreary peoples.
Jean Auburn, except for the new drive on Verdun, was the most
important figure in the news that day: New York devoured Jean Auburn
with intensity and understanding.
Copy boys carried the story of Jean Auburn's fitful young life back
to the composing room. It was clean copy. It was beautifully done.
Eltonhead did it all with his two forefingers, for he never had
cultivated the touch system. Toward the end, his face became feverish,
his tongue dry, his eyes burning. The pure wave of genius created those
outward expressions of emotion.
By the time the last sheet was jerked from the typewriter Eltonhead
was not only a wreck, he was in love, completely, dangerously,
foolishly in love with the creature of his imagination. The sweet face
had glanced back at him from every typed pagetimidly,
A few minutes later the homegoers' edition of the Evening Item
was on the streets. Homegoers promptly turned over the front page,
dismissing Verdun at a glance, whereupon their jaded eyes fell upon the
sweet, sad young face of Jean Auburn. They devoured every line of
ithook, line and sinker!
For days Jean Auburn was the talk of the town. Stenographers as a
whole were raised a notch in public opinion. The poor, dear young
things! So this was the life they led! These were the insults they
faced as they bravely earned their daily bread! Indifferent, bored New
York became somewhat incensed: at all events, temporarily concerned.
For days, I repeat, Jean Auburn was on every tongue. She was shuttled
across breakfast tables. She was uncorked in cabarets. She was roared
above the grinding of the subway. Stenographers, especially the very
youthful ones, held their pretty heads a little higher, and certainly
many unoffending young employers were unnecessarily glared at.
But that was before another afternoon newspaper, deadly rival of the
Item, set its reporter-sleuths on the elusive trail of Jean Auburn
and exposed the whole affair as an unmitigated fraud. Even then New
York refused to discard Jean Auburn. No expose, however brutal, could
crush that lovely creature back to earth again. She was alive. She was
vital. You passed her on the street every day. You saw her in the
lunch-rooms. You stumbled over her dainty foot in the elevated jam.
But an important occurrence has been neglected. On the afternoon
following the appearance of Eltonhead's Jean Auburn in the columns of
the Evening Item the Superphotodrama Corporation called
Champlain, the city editor, on the phone and wanted to know where they
could get in touch with this girl. Indeed, the Superphotodrama
Corporation seemed only to want Jean Auburn, when it would be entirely
contented to depart from this life.
The Superphotodrama Corporation, Director Tawnley speaking, was
referred to Eltonhead, who exuded cold sweat, stammered, hawed and said
he would get in touch with the girl immediately.
There's five hundred in it for you, said Director Tawnley in
staccato accents, if you can bring her around to the office, and two
hundred and fifty a week for Jean Auburn on a year's contract.
Even while Eltonhead limply replaced the receiver his thoughts became
angry. His Jean Auburn go to work for a motion-picture company for $250
a week! It was ridiculous. It was a slur upon her personality. She was
worth every cent of $750, and he wouldn't let her sign for a full year
either. Why, Jean Auburn would be worth every cent of $1,000 a week
within six months!
And even while Eltonhead's luxuriant imagination was chasing itself
thus in circles the sounds of a commotion at the city editor's desk
began penetrating the first line of his consciousness. Champlain was
whining in a key that gave the situation the highest color of
seriousness. Something other than a whale of a story was breaking in
the region of Mr. Champlain: it was Mr. Champlain's righteous fury.
Eltonhead, he finally managed to shriek, come here at once. You
are a double-barreled liar, Eltonhead, and on the way out I want you to
stop at the cashier's office.
Whawhat's the matter? groaned the reporter, his air castles
tumbling in pitiful heaps.
Eltonhead, whined Champlain, fiercely grasping both ends of a long
ruler, that story of yoursJean Auburnwas a fakea fake,
Eltonhead! Here is the young lady whose photograph you stole.
Eltonhead, you're not only a liaryou are a thief! This young woman
has lost her position because of the notoriety you gave her-her
photograph. Eltonhead, this young lady never had but the one position
in her life. She's been working for two years-in the same place.
Eltonhead, you've spoiled her futureyouyou
But to Eltonhead the righteous wrath of the city editor was as
hailstones upon the flanks of a submarine. His thoughts were far
afield, for he was gazing now upon the countenance of the creature of
Jean Auburn, he murmured softly, caressingly.
The girl who was not Jean Auburn looked back at him with an
expression of understanding and pity,
II lost my position, said Laura Corrigan gently. Otherwise I
wouldn't have cared.
Jean, whispered Eltonhead, as if doubting his eyes. You're real!
Why, you're real!
H-m, commented Champlain, detecting the germ of an even better
Miss Auburn, declared Eltonhead, withdrawing his head from the
clouds, I can secure a position for you now. To-morrow morning! For
seven hundred and fifty dollars a week!
Heavens! gasped Laura, supporting herself on the edge of the desk.
It makes me dizzy. Whatwhat is it?
In the movies, said Eltonhead, They want youbad. You'll go,
won't you? You you'll be simply wonderful on the screen!
Laura swayed and caressed her lips with the tip of her tongue.
But II don't know what to do. What shall I do? Laura looked dazed
and very small and helpless as she stared first at Eltonhead and then
at Champlain. Will you help me? she pleaded. Won't you bewhat is
II'm out of a job now, said Eltonhead huskily. Why, sure I will,
What a whale of a story, whined Champlain, squinting at the clock,
what a bear-cat!
EText from pulpgen.com - 2007 Blackmask Online.