Thursday, May 04, 2017
King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 2 Part 2
Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941
King News by Moses Koenigsberg
A Don Quixote of the West (part 2)link to previous installment link to next installment
Muscular development was favored by a farther expansion of the paternal business enterprises. A mattress factory, a dyeing plant, a hauling and trucking business, and a traffic in metals jointly developed a miniature industrial center on Alazan Creek. Wooden shacks housed a score of Mexican workmen and some of their families. Among the artisans was Eusebio Barrera. Twenty-five, unmarried, with the lithe muscles of a mountain lion, he shuttled between lively humor and burning zealotry. A warm friendship sparked at our first meeting. Immediately, he took charge of my physical training. We began with wrestling, running and the moving back and forth of crated scrap-iron.
Eusebio carved a large machete out of a discarded block of mahogany. It would be excellent to develop the sinews, he explained. It must be used on the sorghum cane that choked a three-acre field beyond the corral. Three times more exertion would be required than if I used a scythe or a sickle. And as I hacked at the cane, I could think each slash was a stroke against the forces of injustice. Eusebio was sure there burned in me the same rebel spirit that lighted his own fiery temperament. He would teach me how to use a steel machete in battle. Then we could be comrades in arms when the great day came to liberate his beloved Mexico from the tyrant, Diaz.
The prospect of a marching army of liberation meant more than Eusebio understood. Wouldn’t that be a short-cut to the job of a full-fledged newspaperman? Of course, Eusebio mustn’t know that while he dreamed of fighting I was bent on writing. I would start out as his comrade because that was the only way to reach the scene of action. Then, amid the crash of arms, when the battle raged fiercest, a brand-new war correspondent would come into his own. And Eusebio would be proud of his contribution to journalism.
There could be no preparatory work too onerous for the achievement of such a glorious outcome. But there were annoyingly commonplace impediments. Vulgarizing compulsion into servile chores was depressing.
A schoolroom incident snapped the chain of ignoble tedium. It came through a momentary petulance of the teacher, Miss Crider. Unaware of my extensive literary experience, she questioned the authorship of a composition. It was during my turn to read aloud an essay on a subject that had been assigned to the whole class.
“You copied that out of some book,” she interrupted. Then, in a tone of withering scorn, “Sit down! We’ll listen to original compositions only.”
The injustice and the manner of the reprimand were stunning. There was a retort, not in words but in demeanor. My feet scraped the floor as I sat down. The gesture nettled Miss Crider. She wrote a complaint to the principal, suggesting that I be punished for the offense of which she had accused me and for a show of insubordination. The note was addressed to a functionary who reveled in disciplinary activities.
Prof. Emil Schoch, not yet in his thirties, had been brought from the little town of Castroville in Medina County to preside over the San Antonio High School. He exhaled appreciation of the honor and of the outstanding qualities that had earned it over the heads of all the instructors in the then leading city of Texas. Six feet two, with a luxuriant blond beard and steel-blue eyes, this Prussian martinet presented an impressive figure in the classroom that afternoon. And to me came the uncomfortable distinction of sole responsibility for his presence.
The principal was in high dudgeon. At the acme of pious wrath, Professor Schoch announced that he would ask my father for permission to administer corporal punishment. That afternoon the principal intrusted to me for delivery to my parent a formal note transmitting the request.
It was a message from one disciplinarian to another. The next morning I handed to Professor Schoch the written parental assent. He instructed me to remain after the dismissal of my class in the afternoon.
Miss Crider sat at her desk while I awaited the principal. It was an awkward interlude. She was obviously unhappy. Several of the pupils had meanwhile acquainted her with my work as editor of The Amateur. They were sure my composition had not been cribbed.
Schoch used a full-sized horsewhip. He plied it with lusty vigor. For this ordeal, I had planned an exhibition of stoicism during which I would gaze accusingly at Miss Crider. The vim of Schoch’s technique interfered somewhat with that program. The simulation of stolidity did not match the standard I had set. But I did eye Miss Crider. She wept copiously.
I never returned to school.
Fourteen years later, Prof. Emil Schoch called on me as city editor of the Chicago American. He had moved to Chicago and was principal of a west side public school. He wanted advancement. He felt that as city editor of a leading newspaper I might apply some pressure on the school board in his behalf. I didn’t tell him that I believed such a procedure would be unethical. He wouldn’t have understood.
The last lash of Schoch’s horsewhip stung into vital energy the latent spirit of a rebel. Until then, the world had required the services of journalism for the upbuilding of truth and the spread of wisdom; but now it was clear that Herculean tasks were at hand to overcome the agencies of evil. How could civilization progress, how could truth move forward if the law continued to sanction the infliction of injustice and abasement at the end of a horsewhip? It was a swift dash from Emil Schoch to Eusebio Barrera.
Hereafter the comradeship with Eusebio would have much richer portent. He was a rebel not only against the oppressor of Mexico, but against tyranny of every sort everywhere. We must get into action at once.
No sustained effort was made to persuade a resumption of school attendance. The first suggestion evoked such a vehement rebuff that my parents agreed to temporize. There was no truant law to invoke. But idleness was unthinkable in the paternal view. Reading without expert direction was little better. In a few days grave discussions of a career were initiated. There was no thought of mercantile activity. My unfitness for business was apodictic. There were too many unexplainable twists of my mind, in the paternal judgment, to permit the possibility of success in trade. But my father did believe I should take up law or medicine. Indeed, my irrepressible eagerness to argue, which he so continually chided, might well be a covert blessing. Perhaps it held the key to forensic triumphs.
These family conferences offered rich opportunity for the verbal exposition of an editor’s views. No calling was sufficiently attractive, expounded the unregenerate and unabashed champion of journalism, unless the work touched upon the interests of the entire community. Medicine dealt only with that part of the population that was unhealthy. If there were no evils of the flesh there would be no need for physicians. The practice of the law applied chiefly to those who violated it or sought to violate it. If there were no evils of the mind there would be no actual need for lawyers.
I was interested only in such a vocation as would make my service valuable to both the healthy and the unhealthy, to those who invoked the law and to those who didn’t—to everybody, men and women, no matter what their religion, politics, business, pursuits or engagements might be. My father threw up his hands.
A herd of goats butted a climax into this debate. The flock had been added to the string of variegated Koenigsberg undertakings. A herder was needed. Of course, the job was assigned to me. It was a bitter pill—a sheer abasement. I didn’t like goats. Their mere proximity was disgusting. How could a goatherd ever gain the high plane of idealism along which must walk the soul of the true journalist ? An answer came at sundown.
Bulwer-Lytton’s Zanoni. The goats were completely engrossed in their own affairs. They were disposed not to bother me and I reciprocated the disposition. In mid-afternoon I found an especially convenient coign for reading. The book absorbed every sense and thought. The night that often pounces out of a gleaming Texas sunshine jerked me back to reality. Even if the goats were at hand, they would be indiscernible in the inky blackness that had swooped down on the prairie. How were they to be found?
A crestfallen boy, hungry, thirsty, tired, and torn by cactus thorns, at midnight tapped on the window of Eusebio Barrera’s pinewood hut. There was no response. But there was a way to get inside. The window was opened with a pressure and twist simultaneously applied at both ends. A minute later I passed into the sleep of utter exhaustion.
Eusebio came just before daybreak. He was delighted.
“Great things have happened!” he beamed.
Several moments were required to segregate his exultation from my consciousness of calamity. The errant flock of goats was still entangled in the webs of unfinished sleep. Could he possibly find reason for rejoicing in my father’s loss? No; Eusebio wished no harm for anyone except the enemies of the people.
“But the goats are gone,” I groaned.
“Oh, that!” He snapped his fingers. “They caught some of them in the Alazan before I left last night. They were searching for you with lanterns. Didn’t you hear them shouting?” And then, without waiting for an answer, he rattled on. “That doesn’t count now. It is to be forgotten. Such filings are too trifling to think about. Nothing matters now except the work of real men. The call has come. We shall go as comrades in a glorious cause. We shall make history together. Salute the liberation!”
And Eusebio Barrera, his right hand aloft, drew himself up to his full five feet and six inches in the stance of a heroic statue. An indulgent providence guarded the scene from cynical eyes. A Don Quixote of the western world stood before his Sancho Panza. There was a pathetic clash between the noble posture and its background. The rough floor boarding was only partly hidden by a tattered fiber matting. Not one luxury graced the raw interior of the one-room shack. The single window was draped with a strip of nondescript oilcloth in lieu of a curtain. The iron bedstead was covered with a brown blanket. There was not even a mirror. Eusebio wasted no savings on elegance. They were needed for the Supreme Cause of Liberation.
Eusebio’s moods were as swift as his muscles were flexible. Before his hand had fallen from the gesture of salutation, he was putting into effect a plan of campaign.
“Nobody here must know what we do,” he cautioned. It was necessary to conceal our movements lest premature disclosure circumvent the Army of Liberation. “And nip in the bud the career of a war correspondent,” I silently added. It was our duty to safeguard the making of history. This was a military problem. Flawless strategy must be employed.
During the night Eusebio had arranged for our separate reception at the home of his cousin on San Jacinto Street. There would be awaiting us all the accoutrements of war. We must take along nothing by which we might be traced. Meanwhile, it was imperative that his departure be so orderly and logical as to preclude any speculation concerning his mission. He would settle his accounts with the master, pay all his bills and explain that he was peremptorily summoned to the bedside of a dying kinsman in Bandera County.
Our first move must be to quell the alarm and stop the search for the missing boy. That was necessary for the getaway. At the same time, we must obviate any suspicion of a connection between Eusebio’s departure and my disappearance. We must appear to have gone separate ways.
All this could be accomplished, we agreed, by assuring my father of his son’s safety. After that we could feel fairly safe from interference at his hands. Wasn’t it only yesterday that he announced: “The boy that makes his bed must lie in it”? Word to my parents should be contained in a note over my signature. Eusebio would place the missive under the front door before the household awoke.
Time tugged us into feverish haste. In another hour the whole hacienda would be astir. The search for the missing boy would be resumed. It might come pell-mell to the Barrera cabin. My exit must be effected before there was any danger of discovery. Barrera would follow later in the forenoon. While Eusebio slapped together a meal of tortillas, frijoles and black coffee, I wrote a message to my father.
This must be a convincing and satisfying document. It must be a Napoleonic coup to forestall pursuit. Here the talents of a Talleyrand and a Machiavelli must collaborate. The note began with an avowal of regret over the mishap with the wayward goats. A hint followed of contrition over general ineptitude. Then came the clincher—the regretful and chastened son was going away for a period of secluded penitence at the home of a friend, whose name was withheld, for patent reasons.
Eusebio was sure the message would accomplish our purposes.
I handed it to him—the valedictory of my boyhood.
Chapter 2 Part 3 next week link to previous installment link to next installment
PS -- Thanks to Alex Jay, who sent this MUCH better portrait of Mr. Koenigsberg, found in a 1919 issue of Editor & Publisher. We'll use it for the masthead from here on.
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