Helen in the Editor's Chair
Ruthe S. Wheeler
Helen in the Editor's Chair
The Weekly Herald
Helen Blair anxiously watched the clock on the wall of the assembly room. Five more minutes and school would be dismissed for the day. How those minutes dragged. She moved her books impatiently.
Finally the dismissal bell sounded. Helen straightened the books in her desk and, with the 162 others in the large assembly of the Rolfe High School, rose and marched down to the cloak room. She was glad that school was over for, to her, Thursday was the big day of the week.
What magic lay in those two words.
By supper time the Rolfe Herald would be in every home in town and, when families sat down to their evening meal, they would have the paper beside them.
Helen’s father, Hugh Blair, was the editor and publisher of the Herald. Her brother, Tom, a junior in high school, wrote part of the news and operated the Linotype, while Helen helped in the office every night after school and on Saturdays.
On Thursday her work comprised folding the papers as they came off the clanking press. Her arms ached long before her task was done, but she prided herself on the neatness of the stacks of papers that grew as she worked.
“Aren’t you going to stay for the final sophomore debate tryouts?” asked Margaret Stevens. Margaret, daughter of the only doctor in Rolfe, lived across the street from the Blairs.
“Not this afternoon,” smiled Helen, “this is press day.”
“I’d forgotten,” laughed Margaret. “All right, hurry along and get your hands covered with ink.”
“Come over after supper and tell me about the tryouts,” said Helen.
“I will,” promised Margaret as she turned to the classroom where the tryouts were to be held.
The air was warm and Helen, with her spring coat over her arm, hurried from the high school building and started down the long hill that led to the main street.
Rolfe was a pretty midwestern village tucked away among the hills bordering Lake Dubar, a long, narrow body of water that attracted summer visitors from hundreds of miles away.
The main street, built along a valley that opened out on the lake shore, was a broad, graveled street, flanked by a miscellaneous collection of stores and shops. Some of them were of weather-beaten red brick, others were of frame and a few of them, harking back to pioneer days, had false fronts. In the afternoon sun, it presented a quiet, friendly scene.
Helen reached the foot of the school house hill and turned on to the main street. On the right of the street and just two blocks from the lake shore stood the one-story frame structure housing the postoffice and her father’s printing plant. The postoffice occupied the front half of the building and the Herald office was the rear.
Helen walked down the alleyway between the postoffice and the Temple furniture store. She heard the noise of the press before she reached the office and knew that her father had started the afternoon run.
The Herald, an eight page paper, used four pages of ready print and four pages of home print. Each week’s supply of paper was shipped from Cranston, where four pages filled with prepared news and pictures, were printed. The other four, carrying local advertisements and news of Rolfe and vicinity were printed on the aged press in the Herald office.
Helen hurried up the three steps leading to the editorial office. Its one unwashed window shut out the sunlight, and the office lay in a semi-shadow. Unable to see clearly after the brightness of the sunlight, she did not see her father at his desk when she entered the office.
“Hello, Dad,” she called as she took off her tam and sailed it along the counter where it finally came to rest against a stack of freshly printed Heralds.
Her father did not answer and Helen was on the point of going on into the composing room when she turned toward him. His head still rested on his arms and he gave no sign of having heard her.
Concerned over his silence, she hurried to his desk.
“Dad, Dad!” she cried. “What’s the matter! Answer me!”
Her father’s head moved and he looked up at her. His face was pale and there were dark hollows under his eyes.
“I’m all right, Helen,” he said, but the usual smile was missing. “Just felt a little faint and came in here to take a few minutes rest. I’ll be all right shortly. You go on and help Tom. I’ll be with you in a while.”
“But if you don’t feel well, Dad, you’d better go home and rest,” insisted Helen. “You know Tom and I can finish getting out the paper. Now you run along and don’t worry about things at the office.”
She reached for his hat and coat hanging on a hook at one side of the desk. He remonstrated at the prospect of going home with the work only half done, but Helen was adamant and her father finally gave in.
“Perhaps it will be best,” he agreed as he walked slowly toward the door.
Helen watched him descend the steps; then saw him reach the street and turn toward home.
She was startled by the expression she had just seen on her father’s face. He had never been particularly robust and now he looked as though something had come upon him which was crushing his mind and body. Illness, worry and apprehension had carved lines in his face that afternoon.
Helen went into the composing room where the Linotype, the rows of type cases, the makeup tables, the job press and the newspaper press were located. At the back end of the room was the large press, moving steadily back and forth as Tom, perched on a high stool, fed sheets of paper into one end. From the other came the freshly printed papers of that week’s edition of the Herald.
“Shut off the press,” called Helen, shouting to make herself heard above the noise of the working machinery.
“What say?” cried Tom.
“Shut it off,” his sister replied.
Tom scowled as he reached for the clutch to stop the press. He liked nothing better than running the press and when he had it well under way, usually printed the whole edition without a stop unless the paper became clogged or he had to readjust the ink rollers.
“What’s the idea?” he demanded. “I’m trying to get through so I can play some baseball before dark.”
“Dad’s sick,” explained Helen, “and I made him go home. Do you know what’s the matter?”
“Gosh, no,” said Tom as he climbed down from his stool. “He wasn’t feeling very well when I came down from school and said he was going in the office to rest, but I didn’t know he felt that badly.”
“Well, he did,” replied Helen, “and I’m worried about him.”
“We always take him more or less for granted. He goes on year after year working in the office, getting enough together to make us all comfortable and hoping that he can send us to college some day. We help him when we can, but he plugs away day after day and I’ve noticed lately that he hasn’t been very perky. Mother has been worried, too. I can tell from the way she acts when Dad comes home at night. She’s always asking him how he feels and urging him to get to bed early. I tell you, Tom, something’s wrong with Dad and we’ve got to find out and help him.”
“Let’s go get Doctor Stevens right now,” said the impetuous Tom, and he reached to shut off the motor of the press.
“Not now,” said Helen. “If Dad thought we weren’t getting the paper out on time he’d worry all the more. We’ll finish the paper and then have Doctor Stevens come over this evening. We can fix it so he’ll just drop in for a social call.”
“Good idea,” said Tom as he climbed back on his stool and threw in the clutch.