William Riley and the Fates
THERE are quite a few proverbs and such about a young man going out to meet his fate. But the only one I ever heard of who did it was a boy named William Riley. And he didn’t really intend to. It just happened to him.
He lived in a town called Snapperville, in the days when Big Bill Taft was President, and he worked for the Snapperville Gazette. That is, he did so summers and after school — next year, when he’d graduated from high school, Mr. Slater was thinking of hiring him regular. He’d started out by delivering papers and worked up to local items and odd jobs around the plant. And once or twice a year, because he intended to be a real journalist and a power in the community, he’d get his nerve up and write a slam-bang editorial about civic corruption or how Wall Street preyed upon the farmer or some new subject like that. He never got them printed, of course, because Mr. Slater wrote the editorials himself, but he had the satisfaction of writing them.
Once he did show Mr. Slater the one on civic corruption, and Mr. Slater read it and grunted and said, ‘Well, William, I’m getting on in years and I’m sure I’ve seen worse. I must have. But next time you talk about flinging the gauntlet in the teeth of an abysm, just hold yourself in and count ten. Because an abysm with teeth is a pretty unusual object for Snapperville.’ This encouraged William and he bought a dictionary next day, to find out more about abysms. He had a great respect for Mr. Slater’s opinion because, as everybody knew, Mr. Slater had once worked for Dana on the Sun.
Of course, if you looked at it one way, William’s job wasn’t very important. And yet it was to him. To be sure, the Gazette came out only once a week, but it covered the whole county, and they had one subscriber who lived as far east as Chicago. And over Mr. Slater’s desk hung the framed front page of the extra he’d gotten out for McKinley’s assassination. William used to look at that often and hope something like it would happen in his time. He could see himself dashing into the office with the news. And sometimes on make-up night, when the cranky old press started wheezing, he’d shut his eyes and imagine it was the Twin City Standard or the New York Times or some big paper like that. Then he’d usually get yelled at by Mr. Slater. But other times Mr. Slater would grunt and allow that he might make a newspaper man yet, and William would be pleased.
Often and often he wondered about the future. Of course, he felt pretty sure how some of it would be. He liked Mr. Slater a lot, but he didn’t intend to be just like Mr. Slater. He intended to go to New York and be a great journalist and make a million dollars and reform society and marry the handsomest girl in the world and vote the straight Republican ticket and have his named printed on the front page of the Snapperville Gazette as ‘our leading citizen.’ At least these were some of his intentions — they didn’t include the times he was going to be President or the times he was going to be a world-famous ventriloquist, but they covered most of the ground. The only thing that really bothered him was what to do first. For suppose he started after the million dollars and missed the girl — or started after the girl and missed the million dollars? He wished he could get a little guidance on that — but he knew if he asked Mr. Slater Mr. Slater would just grunt and ask him if there’d been any new arrivals on the 5.30 train. And yet William wanted to know. You generally do, when you’re young.
He was thinking about it one makeup day — maybe that’s one reason why things turned out as they did. He’d about decided that, sensible or not, he’d have to have a straight talk with Mr. Slater about his prospects, if any. But when he got back to the office, after covering the registrations at the Palace Hotel (there weren’t any), Mr. Slater was in a stew. Mr. Slater was generally in a stew on make-up day, but this one was something special. He looked up as William came in.
‘Do you know what a man is, William, when he tries to edit a small-town newspaper?’ he said. ‘He’s a fool, that’s what he is — a congenital, Billy-bedamned fool!’
‘Yes, sir,’ said William, respectfully, for he knew that only meant that Mr. Slater was having dyspepsia again.
‘And to add to that,’ said Mr. Slater, ‘to add to the congenital Billy-bedamned foolishness of the world, we’re short all the way through the paper. I never knew such a dry week for news in my whole life. Our special correspondent at Goose Creek — the dear old shebuzzard — writes in that she’s suffering from summer complaint and hasn’t been able to supply her usual string of fascinating information on Goose Creek society. Our special correspondent at Fernville — that’s the new girl — sends me in a story I can’t make head or tail of. She says it was a festive occasion, but I can’t make out if it was a progressive euchre party or a popular hanging — she writes the worst hand in seven counties. The tax commissioners were going to meet, but they didn’t. The Spanish War Veterans were going to parade, but they haven’t. The mayor’s off fishing. T. R.’s in Africa. Nobody’s died, nobody’s been married, nobody’s in jail. Not even a local hen has laid an egg with “Bryan” on it. I don’t know what’s happened to the world. Oh, God, if they’d only send me a couple of massacres and a tornado! Then they’d find out I used to work for Dana’s Sun! As it is,’ and he tossed a scrap of copy paper over to William, ‘ there’s some Billy-be-damned organization from nowhere having a basket picnic at Snapper’s Grove. Ted Jenkins was supposed to cover it, but he’s got a lame back again, and I can’t spare Hod from the press — it’s acting up. So go get the story, William — it’ll fill up the paper.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said William, feeling excited and pleased, for he’d wakened up that morning thinking ‘Something’s going to happen today,’ and now, sure enough, it had. ‘How much space can I have, sir?’
‘Space?’ said Mr. Slater and yawned. ‘You can have the whole paper as far as I’m concerned — there’s no news in the world or the universe. String it out, William — string it out — it’s good practice for you.’ He glanced at the scrap of copy paper again. ‘Call themselves the United Sons and Daughters of Destiny!’ he said. ‘Lodge, I guess, and a new one on me — but if they’re a lodge they’ve got members, and they like to see their names in print. You can step by the window and get your trolley fare and twenty-five — no, thirty cents lunch money — I won’t have it said the Gazette isn’t a generous journal. But come back with something or I’m liable to skin you alive.’
‘Yes, sir!' said William, and put out from the office as if he had wings on his feet. But, after he’d drawn his expense money, he decided to jump on his bicycle instead of waiting for the trolley. He’d never had an expense account before and he didn’t mean to waste it.
It was a five-mile ride to Snapper’s Grove and a hot August day and William was sweating when he got there. But the ride gave him a chance to collect himself and put his ideas in order, which was a good thing. Because, even when he first touched that scrap of copy paper, there’d been a queer little shiver in his mind. Of course, as Mr. Slater had said, the United Sons and Daughters of Destiny was bound to be just another lodge — though it sounded like a queer one. But that didn’t prevent his wondering and speculating about it.
A little while before he got to Snapper’s Grove he stopped and put on his nickel-plated badge. It said ‘Press’ on it and he’d never dared wear it around the office. But this was an important occasion and he felt he could.
It was a big shady grove of trees by the river — Snapper’s Grove — and the whole town was proud of it. There were picnic tables and rustic benches and a stone fireplace and a bandstand, and picnic parties came there from all over the state. It was well kept up, too — the town saw to that — and, if parties didn’t behave as parties should, those parties never got another permit. There were trees in Snapper’s Grove that had been there before there was a Snapperville, and you could still find Indian arrowheads down by the river. It was a pleasant place and people enjoyed themselves there, but always, to William, there was a great sense of Time in it — Time flowing by like the river, rustling and flowing by like the wind in the trees. You could look at some of the trees and see initials cut there by hands that had long been dust. You could lie by the river and wonder how things had been when the first settlers came.
When William got to the gate — sort of rustic entrance it was, beyond the trolley stop — Hi Summers, the caretaker, stopped him.
‘Sorry, Willie,’ he said. ‘No private picnicking today. Grounds rented to a party.’
‘Oh, that’s all right, Hi,’ said William in an offhand way. ‘I’m here for the paper,’ and he swelled out his chest so Hi could see his badge.
‘Paper, eh?’ said Hi Summers. ‘Does Ed Slater know about it?’ But he grinned, just the same, and let William leave his bicycle by the gate.
‘Say, Hi,’ said William, ‘you might kind of start me off. Want to make a statement or anything?’
Hi thought for a minute. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if you put anything about me in the Gazette, just remember the name is Summers, spelt with a u. And of course you might say something about our popular custodian of the grounds. Not that I’ve got much time for reading, myself,’ he said, ‘but Mrs. Summers subscribes.’
‘I’ll certainly do that, Hi,’ said William, for he’d done enough work by now to know how people were. ‘But I mean about this particular picnic.’
Hi thought some more. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘they’ve got a permit and they’re well enough behaved. They got ten gallons of cream from Ike Schaefer’s and I’ve got nothing against them. But I’m not mixing in any of it ‘ — and his mouth got thin and set.
‘What do you mean by that, Hi?’ said William, feeling rather excited.
‘I mean what I say,’ said Hi, and his voice was stubborn. ‘They may be foreigners, and then again they mightn’t be. They may be just what they say or they might be otherwise. But I’m not mixing in any of it. There’s a little wizened-up fellow who claims he knew my greatgrandfather. Well, everybody knows my great-grandfather died before the family moved West. And there’s three ladies in an oxcart who say they came from Wisconsin. Well, maybe they did, and they look to be respectable ladies, but the ox has flowers on his horns. Decoration, probably, but there it is. I’m not mixing in it at all. And if you had the sense of a June bug neither would you, Willie — paper or no paper.’
That was a pretty long speech for Hi, and William thanked him politely. But, as he tried to explain, the Press was the Press and not to be hindered. So he went in and left Hi scratching his head. But as soon as he entered the Grove he began to get the feeling.
It wasn’t anything he could put his finger on, just at first. He’d seen the Grove crowded, before — and naturally, with any lodge meeting, some people would have regalia and badges and such. But there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the regalia these people wore. A good many of them were dressed like anybody else — and then there was one old man in a leather suit and moccasins who carried a long, old-fashioned gun in the crook of his arm. William rubbed his eyes at that, for he knew guns weren’t permitted in Snapper’s Grove, but nobody else seemed to be paying any attention.
The three ladies with the oxcart were there all right — very handsome they looked in their bright costumes, with their long yellow braids of hair and their icy gray eyes. They seemed to be knitting all the time, but you couldn’t tell where the knitting began or finished. Then there were the people who looked like pictures out of old books — and the conjurers and the sleight-of-hand men and the pitchmen. William couldn’t see how they got in — games of chance and such weren’t usually allowed in Snapper’s Grove, but there they were. Only these were different, for as soon as one fellow had finished some sort of trick somebody else would step up from the audience and do it better. He’d never seen that done before, and it bothered him to see it now.
And yet, at the same time, he felt a queer exhilaration. He couldn’t make head or tail of these Sons and Daughters of Destiny — he couldn’t even find anybody who seemed to be in charge. And yet, in spite of the oddness of the occasion, there was something exciting about it. For some reason the light seemed brighter and the air sweeter and the sky deeper than he’d ever found them before, even at Snapper’s Grove. There was something in the air that reminded him of Spring and Fall — and yet it was neither Fall nor Spring, as he knew. ‘It’s outside of Time,’ thought William Riley, though he couldn’t have said how the words came into his mind. And suddenly he felt a little afraid.
For, if these people were outside of Time, then he was outside it, too — and he couldn’t see a soul around that he’d ever seen before. For a minute he wanted to run out of the Grove as fast as he could, jump on his bicycle, and pedal back to town. And then he remembered the badge on his coat and that he was there for the paper. ' Well, whoever they are, they can’t intimidate the Press,’ said William to himself, and he looked around for some reasonable citizen to interview.
There weren’t many who looked just like that. But he finally picked on a wizened little fellow because he had merry eyes. He had a sort of booth rigged up between two big trees and he was spinning a dingy old wheel-offortune.
It seemed to be mostly for his own amusement, for nobody stopped by to take a chance. So William stepped up to the counter.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but I represent the Snapperville Gazette, and —’
‘Fortune — try out your fortune — step up and try it — everybody gets a prize,’ said the wizened old fellow in a singsong voice. Then he stopped and looked at William.
‘Great Jumping Jehoshaphat!’ he said. ‘Where on mortal earth did you spring from? I haven’t had a customer like you in a hundred years.’
‘I told you,’ said William, patiently, ‘I represent the Snapperville Gazette, Lincoln County’s Foremost Newspaper. And if you’ll just stop whirling that wheel for a minute — it makes me dizzy — and give me some firsthand impressions of this highly interesting gathering — ‘
‘I told them!’ said the old man, nodding his head. ‘I told them it was bound to happen! But they wouldn’t pay attention. Of course, I’m only a thirddegree man, myself — never could pass through to the fourth degree, though I’ve studied and studied. But I told them just the same. “If you want to have the convention in a grove,” I said, “that’s right and fitting. But for goodness’ sake pick a grove that isn’t all tied up with human living and dying. Otherwise,” I said, “somebody’s likely to walk in without an invitation and then there’ll be a pretty kettle of fish!” But they wouldn’t listen, of course, and so here you are.’
‘Well, that’s very interesting,’ said William Riley, who hadn’t understood a word of it, ‘but —’
‘Don’t interrupt me!’ said the little man. ‘The Rileys always were great interrupters. Why, your great-great-greatgrandfather, Theophilus — fleshy man, he was — interrupted a cousin of mine, just because he didn’t like the fate that seemed to be laid out for him. And what was the consequences? Well, he had to emigrate anyway — that was laid down for him — but he had to do it as a bondservant instead of a moneyed man and he didn’t like that at all. On the other hand,’ said the little man, thoughtfully, ‘if he had come with money, which was possible — you’d now be named De Lancey Fayerweather Riley III and look quite a bit like an educated codfish. So that turned out all right, on the whole. But in general I don’t advise interruptions. Our work’s hard enough as it is.’
‘It must be pretty interesting work,’ said William, ‘and if you could just give me an idea of —’
‘Oh, you’ll see that,’ said the little man, and chuckled. ‘And you’ll get what you came for — yes, you’re bound to get that. You’ve come at the one time you could — the time between boy and man. So you’ll get more and less than you bargained for — and what it will do to you, I don’t know. But we might as well start with the wheel. Pick a number!’ he commanded.
Well, William Riley didn’t much feel like doing it, but he picked a number all the same and the little old man spun the wheel and spun the wheel till William felt dizzier than ever. Sure enough, in the end, William’s number came up.
‘There,’ said the little man, triumphantly, as if he’d done something extraordinary, though William knew about wheels and how they could be fixed. ‘You see — that’s your number, first crack out of the box! And now you get a prize — a prize’ — and he scrabbled among a lot of little boxes.
‘There,’ he said, and gave one to William. ‘Now open it.’ So William did, and inside there was a nickel-plated badge, just like the one he had on his coat.
‘What does it say on it?’ said the old man, eagerly.
‘It says “Poultry Inspector,”’ said William, and he didn’t sound pleased.
The old man looked terribly crestfallen. ‘Dear, dear! ‘ he said, clicking his tongue against his teeth. ‘ There must be some mistake — some mistake — I can’t imagine how that happened. Daughter! ‘ he called, and a girl came out from the back of the booth. And, after the crowd and the dizziness and the talk of the little old man, William felt very glad to see her, for she was a nice-looking girl. She had brown hair and brown eyes and she looked like all the girls he’d known and liked in high school. She even had two little golden-brown freckles on her nose.
‘Daughter,’ said the old man, ‘this is William Riley and there seems to be some little mistake about his future’ — and then his voice dropped as he mumbled to her and scrabbled among the boxes. But the girl, apparently, was used to her father’s ways. She picked out another box, while he was still scrabbling, and gave it to William Riley.
‘Don’t mind Father,’ she said in a low voice. ‘He gets a little mixed, sometimes. But this is the right one.’ And she pinned the new badge on his coat. This one said ‘Editor and Publisher’ and William felt better pleased.
‘There, I told you so!’ said the little old man and beamed. But William Riley turned to the girl.
‘Do you go around like this all the time?’ ho said. ‘Excuse me — I didn’t mean it to sound that way.’
‘I don’t mind,’ said the girl and smiled. ‘Why, we travel a good deal — yes. But Father’s work is really quite light.’
‘Oh,’ said William, rather disappointedly, and fingered the badge with ‘Editor and Publisher’ on it.
The girl smiled again.
‘He always talks about wishing he’d passed the fourth degree,’ she said. ‘But, honestly, he likes this better. A new town every week or so, and new people, and a little good luck or bad luck to pass out along the road, because that’s the way of the road. And sometimes Father cheats just a little — he’s so kind-hearted — and gives out more good luck than the invoice calls for. That’s really why they’ve never let him take the fourth degree. Well, I suppose it does make trouble with the accounts. But there have to be a few of us like that.’
‘I’m glad to hear it,’ said William, but he fingered his badge uneasily. ‘You mean, if your father wasn’t kind-hearted — well, maybe I was intended to be a poultry inspector, and of course if that’s really so — ‘
The girl looked at him with wide brown eyes.
‘Good heavens, young man,’ she said, and her voice was sober, ‘don’t you ever think about anybody but yourself? ‘
‘I’m sorry,’ said William, humbly, for the more he looked at the two little golden freckles on her nose, the more he wanted her good opinion. ‘I guess I am pretty selfish and pretty heedless. But, well, I always wanted to know how things were going to turn out for me. And now — ‘
‘Don’t I know!’ said the girl. ‘Why, that’s just the way I often feel myself!’ And they stared at each other.
‘But you — you can’t feel that way,’ said William Riley. ‘Because, if you are what you are — you’re bound to know!’
The girl shook her head.
‘Not a bit,’ she said. ‘I’m new. I’m young. I’m beginning. I was born in this country. I’m not very wise, but I’m growing. I don’t know all I can do yet, but I want to try. I’m not like one of the Eastern Seaboard destinies — not that they aren’t very fine stock — but I like all kinds of people.’ She hesitated a moment. ‘You see, it’s this way,’ she said. ‘All sorts of different people have been coming to this country for years and years — and of course, as they came, they brought their fates and their destinies with them. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?’
‘As you say it, it sounds reasonable,’ said William Riley.
‘Well,’ said the girl, a trifle impatiently, ‘they couldn’t very well leave them behind. And some were weak and some were strong and some were wise and some were silly — just like the people themselves. But, weak or strong, wise or silly, they had to learn American ways. They couldn’t sit around in damp caves and wait for people to come to them. They had to take care of their people and grow up with the country. But it’s too big a country for any one of us to decide about all by ourselves — that wasn’t the idea of it — and, as old destinies die and pass away, new ones are born. And so, every few years, we meet — but I’ve kept you talking too long. Father’s packing up the booth.’
‘All packed, daughter,’ said the little old man, and, when William looked around, there wasn’t any booth or any wheel-of-fortune — just a pair of battered black sample cases stacked under a tree.
‘You aren’t leaving?’ said William Riley, with a pang at his heart.
‘Oh, no,’ said the girl, with a laugh. ‘But we always like to have things neat and shipshape before the meeting. But there’s time left for you to get your story. Come with me.’ And she took his hand.
William Riley followed her and her father, half in a dream. As they passed through the crowd he heard queer names and queer words. He heard every language and accent that people use in America — the clipped New England speech and the Western drawl, the lilt of Italian and the lilt of Spanish. He’d never realized the country was so big and various before. He heard words that were meaningless to him; he heard people talked about as important whom he’d never heard of in his life. He realized, of course, that it was bound to be so. But it dizzied him and confused him, try as hard as he would to keep up with it. He tried to make notes on his copy paper, but he knew the notes didn’t make sense. Finally he drew the girl aside, while her father stopped to chat with the man in the leather suit.
‘What’s a preview?’ he said. ‘And a tabloid? What’s something called insulin — does it insulate things? What’s spurlos versenkt and strict accountability? Oh, well, you don’t have to tell me.
I wouldn’t remember.’
The girl smiled at him but didn’t say anything. He tried again.
‘I don’t understand anything,’ he said. ‘Those two men over there — and they look like sensible men — are just as worried as can be. And what are they worried about? Well, they just got news that some youngster named Schicklgruber back in the old country is growing up just about the way they expected. Now — does that make sense?’
‘I wish it didn’t,’ said the girl.
‘ Oh, come on! ‘ said William Riley, and his voice was exasperated. ‘A youngster named Schicklgruber! It sounds like delicatessen. Suppose he does turn out bad. I can see it might worry his folks, at home. But I’m here in Snapperville. What on earth has it got to do with me?’
The girl looked at him a little sadly.
' Yes, you’ll think that for quite a while, William Riley,’ she said. ‘But you’re not one man alone — you’re part of a nation and a time. And that nation and that time are going to be changed and altered by all sorts of things and people. You’re going to wake up in the morning and wonder what’s happened in China; you’re going to lie down at night and wonder what’s happened in Egypt. You’re going to make efforts you never thought were in you, and be helped and hindered by men you’ll never see in the flesh. For Snapperville isn’t just Snapperville, William Riley. It’s part of the world. And now we’d better be getting our seats for the meeting,’ she said.
Well, William Riley followod her, still in a dream. He hadn’t taken in a great deal of what she said, and what he had taken in was a worry to him. But the meeting itself was like most meetings. There were resolutions and reports and committees and appeals to the chair — and all that helped to steady him down. He took notes about it and hoped he could read them afterwards, when he wasn’t thinking about those two little golden freckles on the nose of the girl beside him. Only then they began to throw the pictures on the screen.
He didn’t know how they did it — he’d never heard of movies in the open air before. But he always liked the movies and he settled back to enjoy himself. Only pretty soon he was sitting up straight in his camp chair.
For these weren’t like any movies he’d ever seen — they were real, somehow, though he knew the things in them hadn’t happened yet. The years began to flicker by, on the screen — the years of the future for America and the world. At first William was very excited and his pencil wrote like mad. When the man was shot at Sarajevo, he strained his eyes and his ears to remember the names and the dates. Then the film went on. It went on, year after year, with the tumult and the confusion, the waste and the striving and the hope. And here and there William groaned, and at a couple of places he covered his eyes.
‘But they can’t do that!’ he said passionately. ‘Human beings can’t act that way!’
‘Some can,’ said the girl beside him. ‘And hiding your eyes doesn’t help it.’
‘But they shot that little fellow over there!’ said William. ‘I saw them shoot him! And he wasn’t doing them any harm.’
‘I thought you were only interested in Snapperville,’ said the girl, and William Riley groaned again.
Of course that wasn’t all he saw. There were places when his cheek flushed and his eye glowed. He saw men stand up against tyranny, he saw men stretch out their hands to help other men. He saw the discoveries and the inventions — he saw things that touched his heart like music. But the future’s a hard load to bear for any son of man.
Toward the end, the film got vaguer and more disjointed. There were shouts and cries and confusion, the drone of planes in the sky, and the struggle of ideas and nations. He didn’t know quite where it ended. He just knew he was walking with the girl toward the gate of the Grove — and they two were alone.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘have you seen enough?’
‘Too much,’ said William Riley. ‘I don’t see how a man can bear it. I don’t see how men live through times like that and come out on the other side.’
‘No one ever sees till he himself has to do it,’ said the girl. ‘And then, if he’s worth his salt, he finds that he can.’
William Riley turned and faced her. ‘But why does it have to be me? Why does it have to happen in my time?’ he cried out, in a cry as old as the world.
The girl looked at him. She wasn’t smiling now, but her face was grave and sweet.
‘ I can’t tell you that,’ she said. ‘ That’s beyond my knowledge. But I can tell you this. There’s fate and there’s destiny
— and there’s man as well. And too many people make fate an excuse for failure. They’re bright and they’re tired and they see something bad might come, so they just lie down and let it walk over them. Or else they’re all wrapped up in their little concerns and hates and they won’t listen to anything till fate grabs them by the scruff of the neck. But you — you stand up, William Riley! Because you were born a free man.’
‘But what can I do?’ said William Riley. ‘What can I do?’
The girl smiled a little now.
‘Why,’ she said, ‘you can print the news as it comes and see people’s names are spelled right — that’s part of your job. But you can do more. You’ll hear a lot of talk in the days to come. You’ll hear this country is finished — well, we’ve heard that right from the first. You’ll hear things will never be the same — well, they never have been quite the same, to my knowledge, since John Smith came to Jamestown. You’ll hear people say that they can’t bear to have children with times so unsettled — well, if they feel that way, let them — I don’t want their children. I’m young and I’m free and I’m growing, and I want the bold and the merry and the enduring. I want the laughers and the thinkers, the strong-hearted and the daring. I’ve a need for them and I’ll use them and their bones will be dust in the graveyards, but their fate and mine will go on. And now, good-bye, William Riley.’
‘But — won’t I ever see you again?’ said William Riley.
‘Oh, you’ll see me again,’ said the girl. ‘But not as you think. You’ll see me in the faces of your children and the look of your town, in your dreams at night and in the things you find worth keeping. But those will be what you make them — and it’s up to you, William Riley.’
Then she left him, and William Riley went out of the Grove and got on his bicycle. He wondered how long he could remember what he’d seen and heard. He knew, somehow, that it couldn’t be for long. But the girl hadn’t said anything about not printing the story. Not, of course, that folks would believe it — he knew enough to know that. But he wondered just how the Fates would get around it.
William Riley woke next morning and knew that something important had happened. Then he knew what it was — he’d written his first big story for the Gazette and it would be in today’s issue. So he dressed as fast as he could and ran downstairs to get the paper.
He looked at the front page eagerly. Yes, there it was — and Mr. Slater had given it a nice position. His eyes screwed up as he read it — he couldn’t quite remember some things in it, but he knew he must have written it, because he remembered the assignment.
‘Destiny Picnic Well Attended,’ he read. ‘Sons and Daughters of National Fraternal Body Enjoy Outing at Snapper’s Grove.’ His eyes skimmed down the lines.
Our popular picnic ground, Snapper’s Grove, was again the scene of mirth and revelry yesterday. An estimated 150 members of the Sons and Daughters of Destiny, a national fraternal body with chapters all over the Union, enjoyed the social distractions of the Grove and the beautiful weather for which our State is famous. . . . A number of interesting speeches were made, dealing with national and international problems, and an al fresco lunch was greatly enjoyed by all. The long-distance cup for the family traveling farthest to attend the convention was awarded to the Mesdames Norn, of Wisconsin, who also presided over the cake table. . . . Our popular confectioner, Ike Schaefer, supplied ten gallons of ice cream which added greatly to the festivities, and Hiram Summers, our popular custodian of the grounds, performed his duties with his customary tact and thoughtfulness.
William Riley put. down the paper and frowned a little. It was a good story, all right, a first-class story, and he felt relieved that he’d gotten Summers spelt with a u. And yet, there was something else that he ought to remember.
‘So that’s how they got around it,’ he said to himself, and then wondered what he was talking about. But whatever it was that he ought to remember still bothered him, and after he’d finished breakfast he went down to the Gazette. Mr. Slater was there, as usual, but, this not being make-up day, he had his feet cocked up on his desk.
‘Well, William,’ he said, when William came in, ‘we ran you on the front page. Nice story, too. We’ll make a newspaper man out of you yet, William.’
‘Yes, sir,’ said William, and hesitated. ‘Mr. Slater,’ he said, ‘did I turn in any other copy last night? I was pretty tired when I got back and I can’t quite remember.’
‘Oh,’ said Mr. Slater. ‘Why, yes, William, seems to me you did turn in an editorial — about future developments in the world and such. That what you’re thinking about?’
‘Yes, sir,’ said William, and waited. ‘Did you read it?’
‘Oh, sure,’ said Mr. Slater. ‘Read it all the way through. You’re improving, William. Why, some of the things you talked about might actually happen. You’ve got quite an imagination, William.’ And he chuckled. ‘Had a European war break out at some place I never heard of — Sarawitz, or something.’
‘It wasn’t Sarawitz,’ said William. ‘It was Sara — Sara—’ And then he stopped, for he couldn’t remember either. ‘Have you still got it, Mr. Slater?’ he said. ‘I’d kind of like to keep it. It might do for a school composition next year.’
Mr. Slater looked guilty. ‘I’m sorry, William,’ he said. ‘If I’d known you set any real store by it! But, as it is — well, I’m kind of afraid it got mislaid.’
William stood in front of him silent for a moment, while a chill wind blew against his cheek. He’d forget, — he was already forgetting, — but things had been shown him, all the same. And even Snapperville would be changed by those things. For a moment he hated the thought of it; then his back straightened.
‘It’s all right, sir,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t matter. Fate’s fate, but a country’s what you make it. And we’re going to need the bold and the free.’
Mr. Slater stared at him. ‘Why, William, you’re growing up,’ he said.
‘Well, I guess it was time,’ said William, and went out of the office. He knew he ought to feel terribly disappointed about something, but he didn’t. Already the last memory of that other story was fading. He supposed he’d have twinges about it the rest of his life, but he guessed he could stand the twinges.
Then he crossed the street, and down by the market square he passed a girl named Ellen Chesney and stopped to speak to her. She was a nice girl with brown eyes and brown hair, like a lot of girls in high school, and he’d known her all his life and never paid much attention.
But today, as they stood there talking, he saw that she had two little golden freckles on her nose.