The Newspaper Proprietor by A. A. Milne

The great Hector Strong, lord of journalism and swayer of empires, paced the floor of his luxurious apartment with bowed head, his corrugated countenance furrowed with lines of anxiety. He had just returned from a lunch with all his favourite advertisers … but it was not this which troubled him. He was thinking out a new policy for The Daily Vane.

Suddenly he remembered something. Coming up to town in his third motor, he had glanced through the nineteen periodicals which his house had published that morning, and in one case had noted matter for serious criticism. This was obviously the first business he must deal with.

He seated himself at his desk and pushed the bell marked “38.” Instantly a footman presented himself with a tray of sandwiches.

“What do you want?” said Strong coldly.

“You rang for me, sir,” replied the trembling menial.

“Go away,” said Strong. Recognizing magnanimously, however, that the mistake was his own, he pressed bell “28.” In another moment the editor of Sloppy Chunks was before him.

“In to-day’s number,” said Strong, as he toyed with a blue pencil, “you apologize for a mistake in last week’s number.” He waited sternly.

“It was a very bad mistake, sir, I’m afraid. We did a great injustice to—-“

“You know my rule,” said Strong. “The mistake of last week I could have overlooked. The apology of this week is a more serious matter. You will ask for a month’s salary on your way out.” He pressed a button and the editor disappeared through the trap-door.

Alone again, Hector Strong thought keenly for a moment. Then he pressed bell “38.” Instantly a footman presented himself with a tray of sandwiches.

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“What do you mean by this?” roared Strong, his iron self-control for a moment giving way.

“I b-beg your pardon, sir,” stammered the man. “I th-thought—-“

“Get out!” As the footman retired, Strong passed his hand across his forehead. “My memory is bad to-day,” he murmured, and pushed bell “48.”

A tall thin man entered.

“Ah, good afternoon, Mr. Brownlow,” said the Proprietor. He toyed with his blue pencil. “Let me see, which of our papers are under your charge at the moment?”

Mr. Brownlow reflected.

“Just now,” he said, “I am editing Snippety Snips, The Whoop, The Girls’ Own Aunt, Parings, Slosh, The Sunday Sermon, and Back Chat.”

“Ah! Well, I want you to take on Sloppy Chunks too for a little while. Mr. Symes has had to leave us.”

“Yes, sir.” Mr. Brownlow bowed and moved to the door.

“By the way,” Strong said, “your last number of Slosh was very good. Very good indeed. I congratulate you. Good day.”

Left alone, Hector Strong, lord of journalism and swayer of empires, resumed his pacings. His two mistakes with the bell told him that he was distinctly not himself this afternoon. Was it only the need of a new policy for The Vane which troubled him? Or was it—-

Could it be Lady Dorothy?

Lady Dorothy Neal was something of an enigma to Hector Strong. He was making more than a million pounds a year, and yet she did not want to marry him. Sometimes he wondered if the woman were quite sane. Yet, mad or sane, he loved her.

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A secretary knocked and entered. He waited submissively for half an hour until the Proprietor looked up.

“Well?”

“Lady Dorothy Neal would like to see you for a moment, sir.”

“Show her in.”

Lady Dorothy came in brightly.

“What nice-looking men you have here,” she said. “Who is the one in the blue waistcoat? He has curly hair.”

“You didn’t come to talk about him?” said Hector reproachfully.

“I didn’t come to talk to him really, but if you keep me waiting half an hour—- Why, what are you doing?”

Strong looked up from the note he was writing. The tender lines had gone from his face, and he had become the stern man of action again.

“I am giving instructions that the services of my commissionaire, hall-boy, and fifth secretary will no longer be required.”

“Don’t do that,” pleaded Dorothy.

Strong tore up the note and turned to her. “What do you want of me?” he asked.

She blushed and looked down. “I–I have written a–a play,” she faltered.

He smiled indulgently. He did not write plays himself, but he knew that other people did.

“When does it come off?” he asked.

“The manager says it will have to at the end of the week. It came on a week ago.”

“Well,” he smiled, “if people don’t want to go, I can’t make them.”

“Yes, you can,” she said boldly.

He gave a start. His brain working at lightning speed saw the possibilities in an instant. At one stroke he could win Lady Dorothy’s gratitude, provide The Daily Vane with a temporary policy, and give a convincing exhibition of the power of his press.

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“Oh, Mr. Strong—-“

“Hector,” he whispered. As he rose from his desk to go to her, he accidentally pressed the button of the trap-door. The next moment he was alone.

. . . . .

“That the British public is always ready to welcome the advent of a clean and wholesome home-grown play is shown by the startling success of Christina’s Mistake, which is attracting such crowds to The King’s every night.” So wrote The Daily Vane, and continued in the same strain for a column.

“Clubland is keenly exercised,” wrote The Evening Vane, “over a problem of etiquette which arises in the Second Act of Christina’s Mistake, the great autumn success at The King’s Theatre. The point is shortly this. Should a woman …” And so on.

“A pretty little story is going the rounds,” said Slosh, “anent that charming little lady, Estelle Rito, who plays the part of a governess in Christina’s Mistake, for which (‘Manager’ Barodo informs me) advance booking up to Christmas has already been taken. It seems that Miss Rito, when shopping in the purlieus of Bond Street …”

Sloppy Chunks had a joke which set all the world laughing. It was called—-

“BETWEEN THE ACTS

Flossie.‘Who’s the lady in the box with Mr. Johnson?’

Gussie.‘Hush! It’s his wife!’

And Flossie giggled so much that she could hardly listen to the last Act of Christina’s Mistake, which she had been looking forward to for weeks!”

The Sunday Sermon offered free tickets to a hundred unmarried suburban girls, to which class Christina’s Mistake might be supposed to make a special religious appeal. But they had to collect coupons first for The Sunday Sermon.

And, finally, The Times, of two months later, said:

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“A marriage has been arranged between Lady Dorothy Neal, daughter of the Earl of Skye, and the Hon. Geoffrey Bollinger.”

. . . . .

Than a successful revenge nothing is sweeter in life. Hector Strong was not the man to spare anyone who had done him an injury. Yet I think his method of revenging himself upon Lady Dorothy savoured of the diabolical. He printed a photograph of her in The Daily Picture Gallery. It was headed “The Beautiful Lady Dorothy Neal.”

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