A Sacrifice Hit
by O. Henry
The editor of the Hearthstone Magazine his own ideas about the selection of manuscript for his publication. His theory is no secret; in fact, he will expound it to you willingly sitting at his mahogany desk, smiling benignantly and tapping his knee gently with his gold-rimmed eye- glasses.
“The Hearthstone,” he will say, “does not employ a staff of readers. We obtain opinions of the manuscripts submitted to us directly from types of the various classes of our readers.”
That is the editor’s theory; and this is the way he carries it out:
When a batch of MSS. is received the editor stuffs every one of his pockets full of them and distributes them as he goes about during the day. The office employees, the hall porter, the janitor, the elevator man, messenger boys, the waiters at the caf where the editor has luncheon, the man at the news-stand where he buys his evening paper, the grocer and milkman, the guard on the 5.30 uptown elevated train, the ticket-chopper at Sixty –th street, the cook and maid at his home — these are the readers who pass upon MSS. sent in to the Hearthstone Magazine. If his pockets are not entirely emptied by the time he reaches the bosom of his family the remaining ones are handed over to his wife to read after the baby goes to sleep. A few days later the editor gathers in the MSS. during his regular rounds and con- siders the verdict of his assorted readers.
This system of making up a magazine has been very successful; and the circulation, paced by the advertising rates, is making a wonderful record of speed.
The Hearthstone Company also publishes books, and its imprint is to be found on several successful works — all recommended, says the editor, by the Hearthstone’8 army of volunteer readers. Now and then (according to talkative members of the editorial staff) the Hearthstone has allowed manuscripts to slip through its fingers on the advice of its heterogeneous readers, that afterward proved to be famous sellers when brought out by other houses.
For instance (the gossips say), “The Rise and Fall of Silas Latham” was unfavourably passed upon by the elevator-man; the office-boy unanimously rejected “The Boss”; “In the Bishop’s Carriage” was contemptuously looked upon by the street-car conductor; “The Deliver- ance” was turned down by a clerk in the subscription department whose wife’s mother had just begun a two- months’ visit at his home; “The Queen’s Quair” came back from the janitor with the comment: “So is the book.”
But nevertheless the Hearthstone adheres to its theory and system, and it will never lack volunteer readers; for each one of the widely scattered staff, from the young lady stenographer in the editorial office to the man who shovels in coal (whose adverse decision lost to the Hearth- stone Company the manuscript of “The Under World”), has expectations of becoming editor of the magazine some day.
This method of the Hearthstone was well known to Allen Slayton when he wrote his novelette entitled “Love Is All.” Slayton had hung about the editorial offices of all the magazines so persistently that he was acquainted with the inner workings of every one in Gotham.
He knew not only that the editor of the Hearthstone handed his MSS. around among different types of people for reading, but that the stories of sentimental love- interest went to Miss Puffkin, the editor’s stenographer. Another of the editor’s peculiar customs was to conceal invariably the name of the writer from his readers of MSS. so that a glittering name might not influence the sincerity of their reports.
Slayton made “Love Is All” the effort of his life. He gave it six months of the best work of his heart and brain. It was a pure love-story, fine, elevated, romantic, passionate — a prose poem that set the divine blessing of love (I am transposing from the manuscript) high above all earthly gifts and honours, and listed it in the catalogue of heaven’s choicest rewards. Slayton’s literary ambition was intense. He would have sacrificed all other worldly possessions to have gained fame in his chosen art. He would almost have cut off his right hand, or have offered himself to the knife of the appendi- citis fancier to have realized his dream of seeing one of his efforts published in the Hearthstone.
Slayton finished “Love Is All,” and took it to thy Hearthstone in person. The office of the magazine was in a large, conglomerate building, presided under by a janitor.
As the writer stepped inside the door on his way to the elevator a potato masher flew through the hall, wreck- ing, Slayton’s hat, and smashing the glass of the door. Closely following in the wake of the utensil flew the janitor, a bulky, unwholesome man, suspenderless and sordid, panic-stricken and breathless. A frowsy, tall woman with flying hair followed the missile. The janitor’s foot slipped on the tiled floor, he fell in a heap with an exclamation of despair. The woman pounced upon him and seized his hair. The man bellowed lustily.
Her vengeance wreaked, the virago rose and stalked triumphant as Minerva, back to some cryptic domestic retreat at the rear. The janitor got to his feet, blown and humiliated.
“This is married life,” he said to Slayton, with a certain bruised humour. “That’s the girl I used to lay awake of nights thinking about. Sorry about your hat, mister. Say, don’t snitch to the tenants about this, will yer? I don’t want to lose me job.”
Slayton took the elevator at the end of the hall and went up to the offices of the Hearthstone. He left the MS. of “Love Is All” with the editor, who agreed to give, him an answer as to its availability at the end of a week.
Slayton formulated his great winning scheme on his way down. It struck him with one brilliant flash, and he could not refrain from admiring his own genius in conceiving the idea. That very night he set about carry- ing it into execution.
Miss Puffkin, the Hearthstone stenographer, boarded in the same house with the author. She was an oldish, thin, exclusive, languishing, sentimental maid; and Slayton had been introduced to her some time before.
The writer’s daring and self-sacrificing project was this: He knew that the editor of the Hearthstone relied strongly upon Miss Puffkin’s judgment in the manuscript of romantic and sentimental fiction. Her taste represented the immense average of mediocre women who devour novels and stories of that type. The central idea and keynote of “Love Is All” was love at first sight — the enrapturing, irresistible, soul-thrilling, feeling that com- pels a man or a woman to recognize his or her spirit-mate as soon as heart speaks to heart. Suppose he should impress this divine truth upon Miss Puffkin personally! — would she not surely indorse her new and rapturous sensations by recommending highly to the editor of the Hearthstone the novelette “Love Is All” ?
Slayton thought so. And that night he took Miss Puffkin to the theatre. The next night he made vehement love to her in the dim parlour of the boarding-house. He quoted freely from “Love Is All”; and he wound up with Miss Puffkin’s head on his shoulder, and visions of literary fame dancing in his head.
But Slayton did not stop at love-making. This, he said to himself, was the turning point of his life; and, like a true sportsman, he “went the limit.” On Thursday night he and Miss Puffkin walked over to the Big Church in the Middle of the Block and were married.
Brave Slayton! Chateaubriand died in a garret, Byron courted a widow, Keats starved to death, Poe mixed his drinks, De Quincey hit the pipe, Ade lived in Chica-o, James kept on doing it, Dic Kens wore white socks, De Maupassant wore a strait-jacket, Tom Watson became a Populist, Jeremiah wept, all these authors did these things for the sake of literature, but thou didst cap them all; thou marriedst a wife for to carve for thyself a niche in the temple of fame!
On Friday morning Mrs. Slayton said she would go over to the Hearthstone office, hand in one or two manu- ripts that the editor had given to her to read, and resign her position as stenographer.
“Was there anything — er — that — er — you particu- larly fancied in the stories you are going to turn in?” asked Slayton with a thumping heart.
“There was one a novelette, that I liked so much,” said his wife. “I haven’t read anything in years that I thought was half as nice and true to life.”
That afternoon Slayton hurried down to the Hearth- stone office. He felt that his reward was close at hand. With a novelette in the Hearthstone, literary reputation would soon be his.
The office boy met him at the railing in the outer office. It was not for unsuccessful authors to hold personal colloquy with the editor except at rare intervals.
Slayton, hugging himself internally, was nursing in his heart the exquisite hope of being able to crush the office boy with his forthcoming success.
He inquired concerning his novelette. The office boy went into the sacred precincts and brought forth a large envelope, thick with more than the bulk of a thousand diecks.
“The boss told me to tell you he’s sorry,” said the boy, “but your manuscript ain’t available for the magazine.”
Slayton stood, dazed. “Can you tell me,” he stammered, “whether or no Miss Puff — that is my — I mean Miss ruffkin — handed in a novelette this morning that she had been asked to read?”
“Sure she did,” answered the office boy wisely. “I heard the old man say that Miss Puffkin said it was a daisy. The name of it was, ‘Married for the Mazuma, or a Working Girl’s Triumph.'”
“Say, you!” said the office boy confidentially, “your name’s Slayton, ain’t it? I guess I mixed cases on vou without meanin’ to do it. The boss give me some manu- script to hand around the other day and I got the ones for Miss Puffkin and the janitor mixed. I guess it’s all right, though.”
And then Slayton looked closer and saw on the cover of his manuscript, under the title “Love Is All,” the janitor’s comment scribbled with a piece of charcoal:
“The — you say!”