"Guess I'll go look up this Shearson person," said Mr. McQuiggan, a trifle less jauntily. "See you all later."
"I'd no notion you were the writer of the Cutie paragraphs, Milly," said Dr. Surtaine. "They're lively stuff."
"Nobody has. I'm keeping it dark. It's only a try-out. You did send for me, didn't you?" she added, turning to Hal.
"Yes. What I had in mind to say to you—that is, to the author—the writer of the paragraphs," stumbled Hal, "is that they're a little too—too—"
"Too flip?" queried his father. "That's what makes 'em go."
"If they could be done in a manner not quite so undignified," suggested the editor-in-chief.
Color rose in the girl's smooth cheek. "You think they're vulgar," she charged.
"That's rather too harsh a word," he protested.
"You do! I can see it." She flushed an angry red. "I'd rather stop altogether than have you think that."
"Don't be young," put in McGuire Ellis, with vigor. "Kitty has caught on. It's a good feature. The paper can't afford to drop it."
"That's right," supplemented Dr. Surtaine. "People are beginning to talk about those items. They read 'em. I read 'em myself. They've got the go, the pep. They're different. But, Milly, I didn't even know you could write."
"Neither did I," said the girl staidly, "till I got to putting down some of the things I heard the girls say, and stringing them together with nonsense of my own. One evening I showed some of it to Mr. Veltman, and he took it here and had it printed."
"I was going to suggest, Mr. Surtaine," said McGuire Ellis formally, "that we put Miss Kitty on the five-dollar-a-column basis and make her an every-other-day editorial page feature. I think the stuff's worth it."
"We can give it a trial," said his principal, a little dubiously, "since you think so well of it."
"Then, Milly, I suppose you'll be quitting the shop to become a full-fledged writer," remarked Dr. Surtaine.
"No, indeed, Chief." The girl smiled at him with that frank friendliness which Hal had noted as informing every relationship between Dr. Surtaine and the employees of the Certina plant. "I'll stick. The regular pay envelope looks good to me. And I can do this work after hours."
"How would it be if I was to put you on half-time, Milly?" suggested her employer. "You can keep your department going by being there in the mornings and have your afternoons for the writing."
The girl thanked him demurely but with genuine gratitude.
"Then we'll look for your copy here on alternate days," said Hal. "And I think I'll give you a desk. As this develops into an editorial feature I shall want to keep an eye on it and to be in touch with you. Perhaps I could make suggestions sometimes."
She rose, thanking him, and Hal held open the door for her. Once again he felt, with a strange sensation, her eyes take hold on his as she passed him.
"Pretty kid," observed Ellis. "Veltman is crazy about her, they say."
"Good kid, too," added Dr. Surtaine, emphasizing the adjective. "You might tell Veltman that, whoever he is."
"Tell him, yourself," retorted Ellis with entire good nature. "He isn't the sort to offer gratuitous information to."
Upon this advice, L.P. McQuiggan reentered. "All fixed," said he, with evident satisfaction. "We went to the mat on rates, but Shearson agreed to give me some good reading notices. Now, I'll beat it. See you to-night, Andy?"
Dr. Surtaine nodded. "You owe me a commission, Boyee," said he, smiling at Hal as McQuiggan made his exit. "But I'll let you off this time. I guess it won't be the last business I bring in to you. Only, don't you and Ellis go looking every gift horse too hard in the teeth. You might get bit."
"Shut your eyes and swallow it and ask no questions, if it's good, eh, Doctor?" said McGuire Ellis. "That's the motto for your practice."
"Right you are, my boy. And it's the motto of sound business. What is business?" he continued, soaring aloft upon the wings of a Paean of Policy. "Why, business is a deal between you and me in which I give you my goods and a pleasant word, and you give me your dollar and a polite reply. Some folks always want to know where the dollar came from. Not me! I'm satisfied to know that its coming to me. Money has wings, and if you throw stones at it, it'll fly away fast. And you want to remember," he concluded with the fervor of honest conviction, "that a newspaper can't be quite right, any more than a man can, unless it makes its own living. Well. I'm not going to preach any more. So long, boys."
"What do you think of it, Mr. Surtaine?" inquired McGuire Ellis, after the lecturer had gone his way. "Pretty sound sense, eh?"
"I wonder just what you mean by that, Ellis. Not what you say, certainly."
But Ellis only laughed and turned to his "flimsy."
Meantime the editor of the "Clarion" was being quietly but persistently beset by another sermonizer, less cocksure of text than the Sweet Singer of Policy, but more subtle in influence. This was Miss Esme Elliot. Already, the half-jocular partnership undertaken at the outset of their acquaintance had developed into a real, if somewhat indeterminate connection. Esme found her new acquaintance interesting both for himself and for his career. Her set in general considered the ripening friendship merely "another of Esme's flirtations," and variously prophesied the denouement. To the girl's own mind it was not a flirtation at all. She was (she assured herself) genuinely absorbed in the development of a new mission in which she aspired to be influential. That she already exercised a strong sway of personality over Hal Surtaine, she realized. Indeed, in the superb confidence of her charm, she would have been astonished had it been otherwise. Just where her interest in the newly adventured professional field ended, and in Harrington Surtaine, the man, began, she would have been puzzled to say. Kathleen Pierce had bluntly questioned her on the subject.
"Yes, of course I like him," said Esme frankly. "He's interesting and he's a gentleman, and he has a certain force about him, and he's"—she paused, groping for a characterization—"he's unexpected."
"What gets me," said Kathleen, in her easy slang, "is that he never pulls any knighthood-in-flower stuff, yet you somehow feel it's there. Know what I mean? There's a scrapper behind that nice-boy smile."
"He hasn't scrapped with me, yet, Kathie," smiled the beauty.
"Don't let him," advised the other. "It mightn't be safe. Still, I suppose you understand him by now, down to the ground."
"Indeed I do not. Didn't I tell you he was unexpected? He has an uncomfortable trick," complained Miss Elliot, "just when everything is smooth and lovely, of suddenly leveling those gray-blue eyes of his at you, like two pistols. 'Throw up your hands and tell me what you really mean!' One doesn't always want to tell what one really means."
"Bet you have to with him, sooner or later," returned her friend.
This conversation took place at the Vanes' al fresco tea, to which Hal came for a few minutes, late in the afternoon of his father's visit with McQuiggan, mainly in the hope of seeing Esme Elliot. Within five minutes after his arrival, Worthington society was frowning, or smiling, according as it was masculine or feminine, at their backs, as they strolled away toward the garden. Miss Esme was feeling a bit petulant, perhaps because of Kathie Pierce's final taunt.
"I think you aren't living up to our partnership," she accused.
"Is it a partnership, where one party is absolute slave to the other's slightest wish?" he smiled.
"There! That is exactly it. You treat me like a child."
"I don't think of you as a child, I assure you."
"You listen to all I say with pretended deference, and smile and—and go your own way with inevitable motion."
"Wherein have I failed in my allegiance?" asked Hal, courteously concerned. "Haven't we published everything about all the charities that you're interested in?"
"Oh, yes. So far as that goes. But the paper itself doesn't seem to change any. It's got the same tone it always had."
"What's wrong with its tone?" The eyes were leveled at her now.
"Speaking frankly, it's tawdry. It's lurid. It's—well, yellow."
"A matter of method. You're really more interested, then, in the way we present news than in the news we present."
"I don't know anything about news, itself. But I don't see why a newspaper run by a gentleman shouldn't be in good taste."
"Nor do I. Except that those things take time. I suppose I've got to get in touch with my staff before I can reform their way of writing the paper."
"Haven't you done that yet?"
"I simply haven't had time."
"Then I'll make you a nice present of a very valuable suggestion. Give a luncheon to your employees, and invite all the editors and reporters. Make a little speech to them and tell them what you intend to do, and get them to talk it over and express opinions. That's the way to get things done. I do it with my mission class. And, by the way, don't make it a grand banquet at one of the big hotels. Have it in some place where the men are used to eating. They'll feel more at home and you'll get more out of them."
"Will you come?"
"No. But you shall come up to the house and report fully on it."
Had Miss Esme Elliot, experimentalist in human motives, foreseen to what purpose her ingenious suggestion was to work out, she might well have retracted her complaint of lack of real influence; for this casual conversation was the genesis of the Talk-it-Over Breakfast, an institution which potently affected the future of the "Clarion" and its young owner.
Within a month after Hal's acquisition of the "Clarion," Dr. Surtaine had become a daily caller at the office. "Just to talk things over," was his explanation of these incursions, which Hal always welcomed, no matter how busy he might be. Advice was generally the form which the visitor's talk took; sometimes warning; not infrequently suggestions of greater or less value. Always his counsel was for peace and policy.
"Keep in with the business element, Boyee. Remember all the time that Worthington is a business city, the liveliest little business city between New York and Chicago. Business made it. Business runs it. Business is going to keep on running it. Anybody who works on a different principle, I don't care whether it's in politics or journalism or the pulpit, is going to get hurt. I don't deny you've braced up the 'Clarion.' People are beginning to talk about it already. But the best men, the moneyed men, are holding off. They aren't sure of you yet. Sometimes I'm not sure myself. Every now and then the paper takes a stand I don't like. It goes too far. You've put ginger into it. I have to admit that. And ginger's a good thing, but sugar catches more flies."
The notion of a breakfast to the staff met with the Doctor's instant approval.
"That's the idea!" said he "I'll come to it, myself. Lay down your general scheme and policy to 'em. Get 'em in sympathy with it. If any of 'em aren't in sympathy with it, get rid of those. Kickers never did any business any good. You'll get plenty of kicks from outside. Then, when the office gets used to your way of doing things, you can quit wasting so much time on the news and editorial end."
"But that's what makes the paper, Dad."
"Get over that idea. You hire men to get out the paper. Let 'em earn their pay while you watch the door where the dollars come in. Advertising, my son: that's the point to work at. In a way I'm sorry you let Sterne out."
The ex-editor had left, a fortnight before, on a basis agreeable to himself and Hal, and McGuire Ellis had taken over his duties.
"Certainly you had no reason to like Sterne, Dad."
"For all that, he knew his job. Everything Sterne did had a dollar somewhere in the background. Even his blackmailing game. He worked with the business office, and he took his orders on that basis. Now if you had some man whom you could turn over this news end to while you're building up a sound advertising policy—"
"How about McGuire Ellis?"
Dr. Surtaine glanced over to the window corner where the associate editor was somnambulantly fighting a fly for the privilege of continuing a nap.
"Too much of a theorist: too much of a knocker."
"He's taught me what little I know about this business," said Hal. "Hi! Wake up, Ellis. Do you know you've got to make a speech in an hour? This is the day of the Formal Feed."
"Hoong!" grunted Ellis, arousing himself. "Speech? I can't make a speech. Make it yourself."
"I'm going to."
"What are you going to talk about?"
"Well, I might borrow your text and preach them a sermon on honesty in journalism. Seriously, I think the whole paper has degenerated to low ideals, and if I put it to them straight, that every man of them, reporter, copy-reader, or editor, has got to measure up to an absolutely straight standard of honesty—"
"They'll throw the tableware at you," said McGuire Ellis quietly: "at least they ought to, if they don't."
The two Surtaines stared at him in surprise.
"Who are you," continued the journalist, "to talk standards of honesty in journalism to those boys?"
"He's their boss: that's all he is," said Dr. Surtaine weightily.
"Let him set the example, then, jack the paper up where it belongs, and there'll be no difficulty with the men who write it."
"But, Mac, you've been hammering at me about the crookedness of journalism in Worthington from the first."
"All right. Crookedness there is. Where does it come from? From the men in control, mostly. Let me tell you something, you two: there's hardly a reporter in this city who isn't more honest than the paper he works for."
"Hifalutin nonsense," said Dr. Surtaine.
"From your point of view. You're an outsider. It's outsiders that make the newspaper game as bad as it is. Look at 'em in this town. Who owns the 'Banner'? A political boss. Who owns the 'News'? A brewer. The 'Star'? A promoter, and a pretty scaly one at that. The 'Observer' belongs body and soul to an advertising agency, and the 'Telegraph' is controlled by the banks. And one and all of 'em take their orders from the Dry Goods Union, which means Elias M. Pierce, because they live on its advertising."
"Why not? That's business," said Dr. Surtaine.
"Are we talking about business? I thought it was standards. What do those men know about the ethics of journalism? If you put the thing up to him, like as not E.M. Pierce would tell you that an ethic is something a doctor gives you to make you sleep."
"How about the 'Clarion,' Mac?" said Hal, smiling. "It's run by an outsider, too, isn't it?"
"That's what I want to know." There was no answering smile on Ellis's somber and earnest face. "I've thought there was hope for you. You've had no sound business training, thank God, so your sense of decency may not have been spoiled."
"You don't seem to think much of business standards," said the Doctor tolerantly.
"Not a great deal. I've bumped into 'em too hard. Not so long ago I was publisher of a paying daily in an Eastern city. The directors were all high-class business men, and the chairman of the board was one of those philanthropist-charity-donator-pillar-of-the-church chaps with a permanent crease of high respectability down his front. Well, one day there turned up a double murder in the den of one of these venereal quacks that infest every city. It set me on the trail, and I had my best reporter get up a series about that gang of vampires. Naturally that necessitated throwing out their ads. The advertising manager put up a howl, and we took the thing to the board of directors. In those days I had all my enthusiasm on tap. I had an array of facts, too, and I went at that board like a revivalist, telling 'em just the kind of devil-work the 'men's specialists' did. At the finish I sat down feeling pretty good. Nobody said anything for quite a while. Then the chairman dropped the pencil he'd been puttering with, and said, in a kind of purry voice: 'Gentlemen: I thought Mr. Ellis's job on this paper was to make it pay dividends, and not to censor the morals of the community.'"
"And, by crikey, he was right!" cried Dr. Surtaine.
"From the business point of view."
"Oh, you theorists! You theorists!" Dr. Surtaine threw out his hands in a gesture of pleasant despair. "You want to run the world like a Sunday-school class."
"Instead of like a three-card-monte game."
"With your lofty notions, Ellis, how did you ever come to work on a sheet like the 'Clarion'?"
"A man's got to eat. When I walked out of that directors' meeting I walked out of my job and into a saloon; and from that saloon I walked into a good many other saloons. Luckily for me, booze knocked me out early. I broke down, went West, got my health and some sense back again, drifted to this town, found an opening on the 'Clarion,' and took it, to make a living."
"You won't continue to do that," advised Dr. Surtaine bluntly, "if you keep on trying to reform your bosses."
"But what makes me sick," continued Ellis, disregarding this hint, "is to have people assume that newspaper men are a lot of semi-crooks and shysters. What does the petty grafting that a few reporters do—and, mind you, there's mighty little of it done—amount to, compared with the rottenness of a paper run by my church-going reformer with the business standards?"
A call from the business office took Hal away. At once Ellis turned to the older man.
"Are you going to run the paper, Doc?"
"No: no, my boy. Hal owns it, on his own money."
"Because if you are, I quit."
"That's no way to talk," said the magnate, aggrieved. "There isn't a man in Worthington treats his employees better or gets along with 'em smoother than me."
"That's right, too, I guess. Only I don't happen to want to be your employee."
"You're frank, at least, Mr. Ellis."
"Why not? I've laid my cards on the table. You know me for what I am, a disgruntled dreamer. I know you for what you are, a hard-headed business man. We don't have to quarrel about it. Tell you what I'll do: I'll match you, horse-and-horse, for the soul of your boy."
"You're a queer Dick, Ellis."
"Don't want to match? Then I suppose I've got to fight you for him," sighed the editor.
The big man laughed whole-heartedly. "Not a chance, my friend! Not a chance on earth. I don't believe even a woman could come between Hal and me, let alone a man."
"Or a principle?"
"Ah—ah! Dealing in abstractions again. Look out for this fellow, Boyee," he called jovially as Hal came back to his desk. "He'll make your paper the official organ of the Muckrakers' Union."
"I'll watch him," promised Hal. "Meantime I'll take your advice about my speech, Mac, and blue-pencil the how-to-be-good stuff."
"Now you're talking! I'll tell you, Boss: why not get some of the fellows to speak up. You might learn a few things about your own paper that would interest you."
"Good idea! But, Mac, I wish you wouldn't call me 'Boss.' It makes me feel absurdly young."
"All right, Hal," returned Ellis, with a grin. "But you've still got some youngness to overcome, you know."
An hour later, looking down the long luncheon table, the editor-owner felt his own inexperience more poignantly. With a very few exceptions, these men, his employees, were his seniors in years. More than that, he thought to see in the faces an air of capability, of assurance, of preparedness, a sort of work-worthiness like the seaworthiness of a vessel which has passed the high test of wind and wave. And to him, untried, unformed, ignorant, the light amateur, all this human mechanism must look for guidance. Humility clouded him at the recollection of the spirit in which he had taken on the responsibility so vividly personified before him, a spirit of headlong wrath and revenge, and he came fervently to a realization and a resolve. He saw himself as part of a close-knit whole; he visioned, sharply, the Institution, complex, delicate, almost infinitely powerful for good or evil, not alone to those who composed it, but to the community to which it bore so subtle a relationship. And he resolved, with a determination that partook of the nature of prayer and yet was more than prayer, to give himself loyally, unsparingly, devotedly to the common task. In this spirit he rose, at the close of the luncheon, to speak.
No newspaper reported the maiden speech of Mr. Harrington Surtaine to the staff of the Worthington "Clarion." Newspapers are reticent about their own affairs. In this case it is rather a pity, for the effort is said to have been an eminently successful one. Estimated by its effect, it certainly was, for it materialized with quite spiritistic suddenness, from out the murk of uncertainty and suspicion, the form and substance of a new esprit de corps, among the "Clarion" men, and established the system of Talk-it-Over Breakfasts which made a close-knit, jealously guarded corporation and club out of the staff. Free of all ostentation or self-assertiveness was Hal's talk; simple, and, above all virtues, brief. He didn't tell his employees what he expected of them. He told them what they might expect of him. The frankness of his manner, the self-respecting modesty of his attitude toward an audience of more experienced subordinates, his shining faith and belief in the profession which he had adopted; all this eked out by his ease of address and his dominant physical charm, won them from the first. Only at the close did he venture upon an assertion of his own ideas or theories.
"It is the Sydney 'Bulletin,' I think, which preserves as its motto the proposition that every man has at least one good story in him. I have been studying newspaper files since I took this job,—all the files of all the papers I could get,—and I'm almost ready to believe that much news which the papers publish has got realer facts up its sleeve: that the news is only the shadow of the facts. I'd like to get at the Why of the day's news. Do you remember Sherlock Holmes's 'commonplace' divorce suit, where the real cause was that the husband used to remove his front teeth and hurl 'em at the wife whenever her breakfast-table conversation wasn't sprightly enough to suit him? Once out of a hundred times, I suppose, the everyday processes of our courts hide something picturesque or perhaps important in the background. Any paper that could get and present that sort of news would liven up its columns a good deal. And it would strike a new note in Worthington. I'll give you a motto for the 'Clarion,' gentlemen: 'The Facts Behind the News.' And now I've said my say, and I want to hear from you."
Here for the first time Hal struck a false note. Newspaper men, as a class, abhor public speaking. So much are they compelled to hear from "those bores who prate intolerably over dinner tables," that they regard the man who speaks when he isn't manifestly obliged to, as an enemy to the public weal, and are themselves most loath thus to add to the sum of human suffering. Merely by way of saving the situation, Wayne, the city editor, arose and said a few words complimentary to the new owner. He was followed by the head copy-reader in the same strain. Two of the older sub-editors perpetrated some meaningless but well-meant remarks, and the current of events bade fair to end in complete stagnation, when from out of the ruck, midway of the table, there rose the fringed and candid head of one William S. Marchmont, the railroad and markets reporter.
Marchmont was an elderly man, of a journalistic type fast disappearing. There is little room in the latter-day pressure of newspaper life for the man who works on "booze." But though a steady drinker, and occasionally an unsteady one, Marchmont had his value. He was an expert in his specialty. He had a wide acquaintance, and he seldom became unprofessionally drunk in working hours. To offset the unwonted strain of rising before noon, however, he had fortified himself for this occasion by several cocktails which were manifest in his beaming smile and his expansive flourish in welcoming Mr. Surtaine to the goodly fellowship of the pen.
"Very good, all that about the facts behind the news," he said genially. "Very instructive and—and illuminating. But what I wanta ask you is this: We fellows who have to write the facts behind the news; where do we get off?"
"I don't understand you," said Hal.
"Lemme explain. Last week we had an accident on the Mid-and-Mud. Engineer ran by his signals. Rear end collision. Seven people killed. Coroner's inquest put all the blame on the engineer. Engineer wasn't tending to his duty. That's news, isn't it, Mr. Surtaine?"
"Yes: but here's the facts. That engineer had been kept on duty forty-eight hours with only five hours off. He was asleep when he ran past the block and killed those people."
"Is he telling the truth, Mac?" asked Hal in a swift aside to Ellis.
"If he says so, it's right," replied Ellis.
"What do you call that?" pursued the speaker.
"Murder. I call it murder." Max Veltman, who sat just beyond the speaker, half rose from his chair. "The men who run the road ought to be tried for murder."
"Oh, you can call it that, all right, in one of your Socialist meetings," returned the reporter genially. "But I can't."
"Why can't you?" demanded Hal.
"The railroad people would shut down on news to the 'Clarion.' I couldn't get a word out of them on anything. What good's a reporter who can't get news? You'd fire me in a week."
"Can you prove the facts?"
"Write it for to-morrow's paper. I'll see that you don't lose your place."
Marchmont sat down, blinking. Again there was silence around the table, but this time it was electric, with the sense of flashes to come. The slow drawl of Lindsay, the theater reporter, seemed anti-climatic as he spoke up, slouched deep in his seat.
"How much do you know of dramatic criticism in this town, Mr. Surtaine?"
"Maybe, then, you'll be pained to learn that we're a set of liars—I might even go further—myself among the number. There hasn't been honest dramatic criticism written in Worthington for years."
"That is hard to believe, Mr. Lindsay."
"Not if you understand the situation. Suppose I roast a show like 'The Nymph in the Nightie' that played here last week. It's vapid and silly, and rotten with suggestiveness. I wouldn't let my kid sister go within gunshot of it. But I've got to tell everybody else's kid sister, through our columns, that it's a delightful and enlivening melange of high class fun and frolic. To be sure, I can praise a fine performance like 'Kindling' or 'The Servant in the House,' but I've got to give just as clean a bill of health to a gutter-and-brothel farce. Otherwise, the high-minded gentlemen that run our theaters will cut off my tickets."
"Buy them at the box-office," said Hal.
"No use. They wouldn't let me in. The courts have killed honest criticism by deciding that a manager can keep a critic out on any pretext or without any. Besides, there's the advertising. We'd lose that."
"Speaking of advertising,"—now it was Lynch, a young reporter who had risen from being an office boy,—"I guess it spoils some pretty good stories from the down-town district. Look at that accident at Scheffer and Mintz's; worth three columns of anybody's space. Tank on the roof broke, and drowned out a couple of hundred customers. Panic, and broken bones, and all kinds of things. How much did we give it? One stick! And we didn't name the place: just called it 'a Washington Street store.' There were facts behind that news, all right. But I guess Mr. Shearson wouldn't have been pleased if we'd printed 'em."
In fact, Shearson, the advertising manager, looked far from pleased at the mention.
"If you think a one-day story would pay for the loss of five thousand a year in advertising, you've got another guess, young man," he growled.
"He's right, there," said Dr. Surtaine, on one side of Hal; and from the other, McGuire Ellis chirped:—
"Things are beginning to open up, all right, Mr. Editor."
Two aspirants were now vying for the floor, the winner being the political reporter for the paper.
"Would you like to hear some facts about the news we don't print?" he asked.
"Go ahead," replied Hal. "You have the floor."
"You recall a big suffrage meeting here recently, at which Mrs. Barkerly from London spoke. Well, the chairman of that meeting didn't get a line of his speech in the papers: didn't even get his name mentioned. Do you know why?"
"I can't even imagine," said Hal.
"Because he's the Socialist candidate for Governor of this State. He's blackballed from publication in every newspaper here."
"By whom?" inquired Hal.
"By the hinted wish of the Chamber of Commerce. They're so afraid of the Socialist movement that they daren't even admit it's alive."
"Not at all!" Dr. Surtaine's rotund bass boomed out the denial. "There are some movements that it's wisest to disregard. They'll die of themselves. Socialism is a destructive force. Why should the papers help spread it by noticing it in their columns?"
"Well, I'm no Socialist," said the political reporter, "but I'm a newspaper man, and I say it's news when a Socialist does a thing just as much as when any one else does it. Yet if I tried to print it, they'd give me the laugh on the copy-desk."
"It's a fact that we're all tied down on the news in this town," corroborated Wayne; "what between the Chamber of Commerce and the Dry Goods Union and the theaters and the other steady advertisers. You must have noticed, Mr. Surtaine, that if there's a shoplifting case or anything of that kind you never see the name of the store in print. It's always 'A State Street Department Store' or 'A Warburton Avenue Shop.' Ask Ellis if that isn't so."
"Correct," said Ellis.
"Why shouldn't it be so?" cried Shearson. "You fellows make me tired. You're always thinking of the news and never of the advertising. Who is it pays your salaries, do you think? The men who advertise in the 'Clarion.'"
"Hear! Hear!" from Dr. Surtaine.
"And what earthly good does it do to print stuff like those shoplifting cases? Where's the harm in protecting the store?"
"I'll tell you where," said Ellis. "That McBurney girl case. They got the wrong girl, and, to cover themselves, they tried to railroad her. It was a clear case. Every paper in town had the facts. Yet they gave that girl the reputation of a thief and never printed a correction for fear of letting in the store for a damage suit."
"Did the 'Clarion' do that?" asked Hal.
"Get me a full report of the facts."
"What are you going to do?" asked Shearson.
"Oh, my Lord!" groaned Shearson.
The circle was now drawing in and the talk became brisker, more detailed, more intimate. To his overwhelming amazement Hal learned some of the major facts of that subterranean journalistic history which never gets into print; the ugly story of the blackmail of a President of the United States by a patent medicine concern (Dr. Surtaine verified this with a nod); the inside facts of the failure of an important senatorial investigation which came to nothing because of the drunken debauchery of the chief senatorial investigator; the dreadful details of the death of a leading merchant in a great Eastern city, which were so glossed over by the local press that few of his fellow citizens ever had an inkling of the truth; the obtainable and morally provable facts of the conspiracy on the part of a mighty financier which had plunged a nation into panic; these and many other strange narratives of the news, known to every old newspaper man, which made the neophyte's head whirl. Then, in a pause, a young voice said:
"Well, to bring the subject up to date, what about the deaths in the Rookeries?"
"Shut up," said Wayne sharply.
There followed a general murmur of question and answer. "What about the Rookeries?"—"Don't know."—"They say the death-rate is a terror."—"Are they concealing it at the City Hall?"—"No; Merritt can't find out."—"Bet Tip O'Farrell can."—"Oh, he's in on the game."—"Just another fake, I guess."
In vain Hal strove to catch a clue from the confused voices. He had made a note of it for future inquiry, when some one called out: "Mac Ellis hasn't said anything yet." The others caught it up. "Speech from Mac!"—"Don't let him out."—"If you can't speak, sing a song."—"Play a tune on the bazoo."—"Hike him up there, somebody."—"Silence for the MacGuire!!"
"I've never made a speech in my life," said Ellis, glowering about him, "and you fellows know it. But last night I read this in Plutarch: 'Themistocles said that he certainly could not make use of any stringed instrument; could only, were a small and obscure city put into his hands, make it great and glorious.'"
Ellis paused, lifting one hand. "Fellows," he said, and he turned sharply to face Hal Surtaine, "I don't know how the devil old Themistocles ever could do it—unless he owned a newspaper!"
Silence followed, and then a quick acclaiming shout, as they grasped the implicit challenge of the corollary. Then again silence, tense with curiosity. No doubt of what they awaited. Their expectancy drew Hal to his feet.
"I had intended to speak but once," he said, in a constrained voice, "but I've learned more here this afternoon—more than—than I could have thought—" He broke off and threw up his hand. "I'm no newspaper man," he cried. "I'm only an amateur, a freshman at this business. But one thing I believe; it's the business of a newspaper to give the news without fear or favor, and that's what the 'Clarion' is going to do from this day. On that platform I'll stand by any man who'll stand by me. Will you help?"
The answer rose and rang like a cheer. The gathering broke into little, excited, chattering groups, sure symptom of the success of a meeting. Much conjecture was expressed and not a little cynicism. "Compared to us Ishmael would be a society favorite if Surtaine carries this through," said one. "It means suspension in six months," prophesied Shearson. But most of the men were excitedly enthusiastic. Your newspaper man is by nature a romantic; otherwise he would not choose the most adventurous of callings. And the fighting tone of the new boss stimulated in them the spirit of chance and change.
Slowly and reluctantly they drifted away to the day's task. At the close Hal sat, thoughtful and spent, in a far corner when Ellis walked heavily over to him. The associate editor gazed down at his bemused principal for a time. From his pocket he drew the thick blue pencil of his craft, and with it tapped Hal thrice on the shoulder.
"Rise up, Sir Newspaper Man," he pronounced solemnly. "I hereby dub thee Knight-Editor."
THE THIN EDGE
Across the fresh and dainty breakfast table, Dr. Miles Elliot surveyed his even more fresh and dainty niece and ward with an expression of sternest disapproval. Not that it affected in any perceptible degree that attractive young person's healthy appetite. It was the habit of the two to breakfast together early, while their elderly widowed cousin, who played the part of Feminine Propriety in the household in a highly self-effacing and satisfactory manner, took her tea and toast in her own rooms. It was further Dr. Elliot's custom to begin the day by reprehending everything (so far as he could find it out) which Miss Esme had done, said, or thought in the previous twenty-four hours. This, as he frequently observed to her, was designed to give her a suitably humble attitude toward the scheme of creation, but didn't.
"Out all night again?" he growled.
"Pretty nearly," said Esme cheerfully, setting a very even row of very white teeth into an apple.
"Humph! What was it this time?"
"A dinner-dance at the Norris's."
"Have a good time?"
"Beautiful! My frock was pretty. And I was pretty. And everybody was nice to me. And I wish it were going to happen right over again to-night."
"Whom did you dance with mostly?"
"Anybody that asked me."
"Dare say. How many new victims?" he demanded.
"Don't be a silly Guardy. I'm not a man-eating tiger or tigress, or the Great American Puma—or pumess. Don't you think 'pumess' is a nice lady-word, Guardy?"
"Did you dance with Will Douglas?" catechised the grizzled doctor, declining to be shunted off on a philological discussion. Next to acting as legal major domo to E.M. Pierce, Douglas's most important function in life was apparently to fetch and carry for the reigning belle of Worthington. His devotion to Esme Elliot had become stock gossip of the town, since three seasons previous.
"Almost half as often as he asked me," said the girl. "That was eight times, I think."
"Nice boy, Will."
"Boy!" There was a world of expressiveness in the monosyllable.
"Not a day over forty," observed the uncle. "And you are twenty-two. Not that you look it"—judicially—"like thirty-five, after all this dissipation."
Esme rose from her seat, walked with great dignity past her guardian, and suddenly whirling, pounced upon his ear.
"Do I? Do I?" she cried. "Do I look thirty-five? Quick! Take it back."
"Ouch! Oh! No. Not more'n thirty. Oo! All right; twenty-five, then. Fifteen! Three!!!"
She kissed the assaulted ear, and pirouetted over to the broad window-seat, looking in her simple morning gown like a school-girl.
"Wonder how you do it," grumbled Dr. Elliot. "Up all night roistering like a sophomore—"
"I was in bed at three."
"Down next morning, fresh as a—a—"
"Rose," she supplied tritely.
"—cake o' soap," concluded her uncle. "Now, as for you and Will Douglas, as between Will's forty—"
"Marked down from forty-five," she interjected.
"And your twenty-two—"
"Looking like thirty-something."
"Never mind," said Dr. Elliot in martyred tones. "I don't want to finish any sentence. Why should I? Got a niece to do it for me."
"Nobody wants you to finish that one. You're a matchmaking old maid," declared Esme, wrinkling her delicate nose at him, "and if you're ever put up for our sewing-circle I shall blackball you. Gossip!"
"Oh, if I wanted to gossip, I'd begin to hint about the name of Surtaine."
The girl's color did not change. "As other people have evidently been doing to you."
"A little. Did you dance with him last night?"
"He wasn't there. He's working very hard on his newspaper."
"You seem to know a good deal about it."
"Naturally, since I've bought into the paper myself. I believe that's the proper business phrase, isn't it?"
"Bought in? What do you mean? You haven't been making investments without my advice?"
"Don't worry, Guardy, dear. It isn't strictly a business transaction. I've been—ahem—establishing a sphere of influence."
"Over Harrington Surtaine?"
"Over his newspaper."
"Look here, Esme! How serious is this Surtaine matter?" Dr. Elliot's tone had a distinct suggestion of concern.
"For me? Not serious at all."
"But for him?"
"How can I tell? Isn't it likely to be serious for any of the unprotected young of your species when a Great American Pumess gets after him?" she queried demurely.
"But you can't know him very well. He's been here only a few weeks, hasn't he?"
"More than a month. And from the first he's gone everywhere."
"That's quite unusual for your set, isn't it? I thought you rather prided yourselves on being careful about outsiders."
"No one's an outsider whom Jinny Willard vouches for. Besides every one likes Hal Surtaine for himself."
"You among the number?"
"Yes, indeed," she responded frankly. "He's attractive. And he seems older and more—well—interesting than most of the boys of my set."
"And that appeals to you?"
"Yes: it does. I get awfully bored with the just-out-of-college chatter of the boys. I want to see the wheels go round, Guardy. Real wheels, that make up real machinery and get real things done. I'm not quite an ingenue, you know."
"Thirty-five, thirty, twenty-five, fifteen, three," murmured her uncle, rubbing his ear. "And does young Surtaine give you inside glimpses of the machinery of his business?"
"Sometimes. He doesn't know very much about it himself, yet."
"It's a pretty dirty business, Honey. And, I'm afraid, he's a pretty bad breed."
"The father is rather impossible, isn't he?" she said, laughing. "But they say he's very kindly, and well-meaning, and public-spirited, and that kind of thing."
"He's a scoundrelly old quack. It's a bad inheritance for the boy. Where are you off to this morning?"
"To the 'Clarion' office."
"What! Well, but, see here, dear, does Cousin Clarice approve of that sort of thing?"
"Wholly," Esme assured him, dimpling. "It's on behalf of the Recreation Club. That's the Reverend Norman Hale's club for working-girls, you know. We're going to give a play. And, as I'm on the Press Committee, it's quite proper for me to go to the newspapers and get things printed."
"Humph!" grunted Dr. Elliot. "Well: good hunting—Pumess."
After the girl had gone, he sat thinking. He knew well the swift intimacies, frank and clean and fine, which spring up in the small, close-knit social circles of a city like Worthington. And he knew, too, and trusted and respected the judgment of Mrs. Festus Willard, whose friendship was tantamount to a certificate of character and eligibility. As against that, he set the unforgotten picture of the itinerant quack, vending his poison across the countryside, playing on desperate fears and tragic hopes, coining his dollars from the grimmest of false dies; and now that same quack,—powerful, rich, generous, popular, master of the good things of life,—still draining out his millions from the populace, through just such deadly swindling as that which had been lighted up by the flaring exploitation of the oil torches fifteen years before. Could any good come from such a stock? He decided to talk it out with Esme, sure that her fastidiousness would turn away from the ugly truth.
Meantime, the girl was making a toilet of vast and artful simplicity wherewith to enrapture the eye of the beholder. The first profound effect thereof was wrought upon Reginald Currier, alias "Bim," some fifteen minutes later, at the outer portals of the "Clarion" office.
"Hoojer wanter—" he began, and then glanced up. Almost as swiftly as he had aforetime risen under Hal's irate and athletic impulsion, the redoubtable Bim was lifted from his seat by the power of Miss Elliot's glance. "Gee!" he murmured.
The Great American Pumess, looking much more like a very innocent, soft, and demurely playful kitten, accepted this ingenuous tribute to her charms with a smile. "Good-morning," she said. "Is Mr. Surtaine in?"
"Same t'you," responded the courteous Mr. Currier. "Sure he is. Walk this way, maddim!"
They found the editor at his desk. His absorbed expression brightened as he jumped up to greet his visitor.
"You!" he cried.
Esme let her hand rest in his and her glance linger in his eyes, perhaps just a little longer than might have comported with safety in one less adept.
"How is the paper going?" she inquired, taking the chair which he pulled out for her.
"Completely to the dogs," said Hal.
"No! Why I thought—"
"You haven't given any advice to the editor for six whole days," he complained. "How can you expect an institution to run, bereft of its presiding genius? Is it your notion of a fair partnership to stay away and let your fellow toilers wither on the bough? I only wonder that the presses haven't stopped."
"Would this help at all?" The visitor produced from her shopping-bag the written announcement of the Recreation Club play.
"Undoubtedly it will save the day. Lost Atlantis will thrill to hear, and deep-sea cables bear the good news to unborn generations. What is it?"
She frowned upon his levity. "It is an interesting item, a very interesting item of news," she said impressively.
"Bring one in every day," he directed: "in person. We can't trust the mails in matters of such vital import." And scrawling across the copy a single hasty word in pencil, he thrust it into a wire box.
"What's that you've written on it?"
"The mystic word 'Must.'"
"Does it mean that it must be printed?"
"Precisely, O Fountain of Intuition. It is one of the proud privileges which an editor-in-chief has. Otherwise he does exactly what the city desk or the advertising manager or the head proof-reader or the fourth assistant office boy tells him. That's because he's new to his job and everybody in the place knows it."
"Yet I don't think it would be easy for any one to make you do a thing you really didn't want to do," she observed, regarding him thoughtfully.
"When you lift your eyebrows like that—"
"I thought you weren't to make pretty speeches to me in business hours," she reproached him.
"Such a stern and rock-bound partner! Very well. How does the paper suit your tastes?"
"You've got an awfully funny society column."
"We strive to amuse. But I thought only people outside of society ever read society columns—except to see if their names were there."
"I read all the paper," she answered severely. "And I'd like to know who Mrs. Wolf Tone Maher is."
"Ring up 'Information,'" he suggested.
"Don't be flippant. Also Mr. and Mrs. B. Kirschofer, and Miss Amelia Sproule. All of which give teas in the society columns of the 'Clarion.' Or dances. Or dinners. And I notice they're always sandwiched in between the Willards or the Vanes or the Ellisons or the Pierces, or some of our own crowd. I'm curious."
"So am I. Let's ask Wayne."
Accordingly the city editor was summoned and duly presented to Miss Elliot. But when she put the question to him, he looked uncomfortable. Like a good city editor, however, he defended his subordinate.
"It isn't the society reporter's fault," he said. "He knows those people don't belong."
"How do they get in there, then?" asked Hal.
"Mr. Shearson's orders."
"Is Mr. Shearson the society editor?" asked Esme.
"No. He's the advertising manager."
"Forgive my stupidity, but what has the advertising manager to do with social news?"
"A big heap lot," explained Wayne. "It's the most important feature of the paper to him. Wolf Tone Maher is general manager of the Bee Hive Department Store. We get all their advertising, and when Mrs. Maher wants to see her name along with the 'swells,' as she would say, Mr. Shearson is glad to oblige. B. Kirschofer is senior partner in the firm of Kirschofer & Kraus, of the Bargain Emporium. Miss Sproule is the daughter of Alexander Sproule, proprietor of the Agony Parlors, three floors up."
"Agony Parlors?" queried the visitor.
"Painless dentistry," explained Wayne. "Mr. Shearson handles all that matter and sends it down to us."
"Marked 'Must,' I suppose," remarked Miss Elliot, not without malice. "So the mystic 'Must' is not exclusively a chief-editorial prerogative?"
The editor-in-chief looked annoyed, thereby satisfying his visitor's momentary ambition. "Hereafter, Mr. Wayne, all copy indorsed 'Must' is to be referred to me," he directed.
"That kills the 'Must' thing," commented the city editor cheerfully. "What about 'Must not'?"
"Another complication," laughed Esme. "I fear I'm peering into the dark and secret places of journalism."
"For example, a story came in last night that was a hummer," said Wayne; "about E.M. Pierce's daughter running down an apple-cart in her sixty-horse-power car, and scattering dago, fruit, and all to the four winds of Heaven. Robbins saw it, and he's the best reporter we have for really funny stuff."
"Kathleen drives that car like a demon out on a spree," said Esme. "But of course you wouldn't print anything unpleasant about it."
"Why not?" asked Wayne.
"Well, she belongs to our crowd,—Mr. Surtaine's friends, I mean,—and it was accidental, I suppose, and so long as the man wasn't hurt—"
"Only a sprained shoulder."
"—and I'm sure Agnes would be more than willing to pay for the damage."
"Oh, yes. She asked the worth of his stock and then doubled it, gave him the money, and drove off with her mud guards coquettishly festooned with grapes. That's what made it such a good story."
"But, Mr. Wayne"—Esme's eyes were turned up to his pleadingly: "those things are funny to tell. But they're so vulgar, in the paper. Think, if it were your sister."
"If my sister went tearing through crowded streets at forty miles an hour, I'd have her examined for homicidal mania. That Pierce girl will kill some one yet. Even then, I suppose we won't print a word of it."
"What would stop us?" asked Hal.
"The fear of Elias M. Pierce. His 'Must not' is what kills this story."
"Let me see it."
"Oh, it isn't visible. But every editor in town knows too much to offend the President of the Consolidated Employers' Organization, let alone his practical control of the Dry Goods Union."
"You were at the staff breakfast yesterday, I believe, Mr. Wayne."
"What? Yes; of course I was."
"And you heard what I said?"
"Yes. But you can't do that sort of thing all at once," replied the city editor uneasily.
"We certainly never shall do it without making a beginning. Please hold the Pierce story until you hear from me."
"Tell me all about the breakfast," commanded Esme, as the door closed upon Wayne.
Briefly Hal reported the exchange of ideas between himself and his staff, skeletonizing his own speech.
"Splendid!" she cried. "And isn't it exciting! I love a good fight. What fun you'll have. Oh, the luxury of saying exactly what you think! Even I can't do that."
"What limits are there to the boundless privileges of royalty?" asked Hal, smiling.
"Conventions. For instance, I'd love to tell you just how fine I think all this is that you're doing, and just how much I like and admire you. We've come to be real friends, haven't we? And, you see, I can be of some actual help. The breakfast was my suggestion, wasn't it? So you owe me something for that. Are you properly grateful?"
"Then, august and terrible sovereign, spare the life of my little friend Kathie."
Hal drew back a bit. "I'm afraid you don't realize the situation."
The Great American Pumess shot forth a little paw—such a soft, shapely, hesitant, dainty, appealing little paw—and laid it on Hal's hand.
"Please," she said.
"But, Esme,"—he began. It was the first time he had used that intimacy with her. Her eyes dropped.
"We're partners, aren't we?" she said.
"Then you won't let them print it!"
"If Miss Pierce goes rampaging around the streets—"
"Please. For me,—partner."
"One would have to be more than human, to say no to you," he returned, laughing a little unsteadily. "You're corrupting my upright professional sense of duty."
"It can't be a duty to hold a friend up to ridicule, just for a little accident."
"I'm not so sure," said Hal, again. "However, for the sake of our partnership, and if you'll promise to come again soon to tell us how to run the paper—"
"I knew you'd be kind!" There was just the faintest pressure of the delicate paw, before it was withdrawn. The Great American Pumess was feeling the thrill of power over men and events. "I think I like the newspaper business. But I've got to be at my other trade now."
"What trade is that?"
"Didn't you know I was a little sister of the poor? When you've lost all your money and are ill, I'll come and lay my cooling hand on your fevered brow and bring wine jelly to your tenement."
"Aren't you afraid of contagious diseases?" he asked anxiously. "Such places are always full of them."
"Oh, they placard for contagion. It's safe enough. And I'm really interested. It's my only excuse to myself for living."
"If bringing happiness wherever you go isn't enough—"
"No! No!" She smiled up into his eyes. "This is still a business visit. But you may take me to my car."
On his way back Hal stopped to tell Wayne that perhaps the Pierce story wasn't worth running, after all. Unease of conscience disturbed his work for a time thereafter. He appeased it by the excuse that it was no threat or pressure from without which had influenced his action. He had killed the item out of consideration for the friend of his friend. What did it matter, anyway, a bit of news like that? Who was harmed by leaving it out? As yet he was too little the journalist to comprehend that the influences which corrupt the news are likely to be dangerous in proportion as they are subtle.
Wayne understood better, and smiled with a cynical wryness of mouth upon McGuire Ellis, who, having passed Hal and Esme on the stairs, had lingered at the city desk and heard the editor-in-chief's half-hearted order.
"Still worrying about Dr. Surtaine's influence over the paper?" asked the city editor, after Hal's departure.
"Yes," said Ellis.
"Did you happen to notice about the prettiest thing that ever used eyes for weapons, in the hall?"
"Something of that description."
"Let me present you, in advance, to Miss Esme Elliot, the new boss of our new boss," said Wayne, with a flourish.
"God save the Irish!" said McGuire Ellis.
Echoes of the Talk-it-Over Breakfast rang briskly in the "Clarion" office. It was suggested to Hal that the success of the function warranted its being established as a regular feature of the shop. Later this was done. One of the participants, however, was very ill-pleased with the morning's entertainment. Dr. Surtaine saw, in retrospect and in prospect, his son being led astray into various radical and harebrained vagaries of journalism. None of those at the breakfast had foreseen more clearly than the wise and sharpened quack what serious difficulties beset the course which Hal had laid out for himself.
Trouble was what Dr. Surtaine hated above all things. Whatever taste for the adventurous he may have possessed had been sated by his career as an itinerant. Now he asked only to be allowed to hatch his golden dollars peacefully, afar from all harsh winds of controversy. That his own son should feel a more stirring ambition left him clucking, a bewildered hen on the brink of perilous waters.
But he clucked cunningly. And before he undertook his appeal to bring the errant one back to shore he gave himself two days to think it over. To this extent Dr. Surtaine had become a partisan of the new enterprise; that he, too, previsioned an ideal newspaper, a newspaper which, day by day, should uphold and defend the Best Interests of the Community, and, as an inevitable corollary, nourish itself on their bounty. By the Best Interests of the Community—he visualized the phrase in large print, as a creed for any journal—Dr. Surtaine meant, of course, business in the great sense. Gloriously looming in the future of his fancy was the day when the "Clarion" should develop into the perfect newspaper, the fine flower of journalism, an organ in which every item of news, every line of editorial, every word of advertisement, should subserve the one vital purpose, Business; should aid in some manner, direct or indirect, in making a dollar for the "Clarion's" patrons and a dime for the "Clarion's" till. But how to introduce these noble and fortifying ideals into the mind of that flighty young bird, Hal?
Dr. Surtaine, after studying the problem, decided to employ the instance of the Mid-State and Great Muddy River Railroad as the entering wedge of his argument. Hal owned a considerable block of stock, earning the handsome dividend of eight per cent. Under attacks possibly leading to adverse legislation, this return might well be reduced and Hal's own income suffer a shrinkage. Therefore, in the interests of all concerned, Hal ought to keep his hands off the subject. Could anything be clearer?
Obviously not, the senior Surtaine thought, and so laid it before the junior, one morning as they were walking down town together. Hal admitted the assault upon the Mid-and-Mud; defended it, even; added that there would be another phase of it presently in the way of an attempt on the part of the paper to force a better passenger service for Worthington. Dr. Surtaine confessed a melancholious inability to see what the devil business it was of Hal's.
"It isn't I that's making the fight, Dad. It's the 'Clarion.'"
"The same thing."
"Not at all the same thing. Something very much bigger than I or any other one man. I found that out at the breakfast."
That breakfast! Socialistic, anarchistic, anti-Christian, were the climactic adjectives employed by Dr. Surtaine to signify his disapproval of the occasion.
"Sorry you didn't like it, Dad. You heard nothing but plain facts."
"Plain slush! Just look at this railroad accident article broad-mindedly, Boyee. You own some Mid-and-Mud stock."
"Thanks to you, Dad."
"Paying eight per cent. How long will it go on paying that if the newspapers keep stirring up trouble for it? Anti-railroad sentiment is fostered by just such stuff as the 'Clarion' printed. What if the engineer was worked overtime? He got paid for it."
"And seven people got killed for it. I understand the legislature is going to ask why, mainly because of our story and editorial."
"There you are! Sicking a pack of demagogues onto the Mid-and-Mud. How can it make profits and pay your dividends if that kind of thing keeps up?"
"I don't know that I need dividends earned by slaughtering people," said Hal slowly.
"Maybe you don't need the dividends, but there's plenty of people that do, people that depend on 'em. Widows and orphans, too."
"Oh, that widow-and-orphan dummy!" cried Hal. "What would the poor, struggling railroads ever do without it to hide behind!"
"You talk like Ellis," reproved his father. "Boyee, I don't want you to get too much under his influence. He's an impractical will-o'-the-wisp chaser. Just like all the writing fellows."
By this time they had reached the "Clarion" Building.
"Come in, Dad," invited Hal, "and we'll talk to Ellis about Old Home Week. He's with you there, anyway."
"Oh, he's all right aside from his fanatical notions," said the other as they mounted the stairs.
The associate editor nodded his greetings from above a pile of left-over copy.
"Old Home Week?" he queried. "Let's see, when does it come?"
"In less than six months. It isn't too early to give it a start, is it?" asked Hal Surtaine.
"No. It's news any time, now."
"More than that," said Dr. Surtaine. "It's advertising. I can turn every ad. that goes out to the 'Clarion.'"
"Last year we got only the pickings," remarked Ellis.
"Last year your owner wasn't the son of the committee's chairman."
"By the way, Dad, I'll have to resign that secretaryship. Every minute of my spare time I'm going to put in around this office."
"I guess you're right. But I'm sorry to lose you."
"Think how much more I can do for the celebration with this paper than I could as secretary."
"Some one at the breakfast," observed Hal, "mentioned the Rookeries, and Wayne shut him up. What are the Rookeries? I've been trying to remember to ask."
The other two looked at each other with raised eyebrows. As well might one have asked, "What is the City Hall?" in Worthington. Ellis was the one to answer.
"Hell's hole and contamination. The worst nest of tenements in the State. Two blocks of 'em, owned by our best citizens. Run by a political pull. So there's no touching 'em."
"What's up there now; more murders?" asked the Doctor.
"Somebody'll be calling it that if it goes much further," replied the newspaper man. "I don't know what the official alias of the trouble is. If you want details, get Wayne."
In response to a telephone call the city editor presented his lank form and bearded face at the door of the sanctum. "The Rookeries deaths?" he said. "Oh, malaria—for convenience."
"Malaria?" repeated Dr. Surtaine. "Why, there aren't any mosquitoes in that locality now."
"So the health officer, Dr. Merritt, says. But the certificates keep coming in. He's pretty worried. There have been over twenty cases in No. 7 and No. 9 alone. Three deaths in the last two days."
"Is it some sort of epidemic starting?" asked Hal. "That would be news, wouldn't it?"
At the word "epidemic," Dr. Surtaine had risen, and now came forward flapping his hand like a seal.
"The kind of news that never ought to get into print," he exclaimed. "That's the sort of thing that hurts a whole city."
"So does an epidemic if it gets a fair start," suggested Ellis.
"Epidemic! Epidemic!" cried the Doctor. "Ten years ago they started a scare about smallpox in those same Rookeries. The smallpox didn't amount to shucks. But look what the sensationalism did to us. It choked off Old Home Week, and lost us hundreds of thousands of dollars."
"I was a cub on the 'News' then," said Wayne. "And I remember there were a lot of deaths from chicken-pox that year. I didn't suppose people—that is, grown people—died of chicken-pox very often: not more often, say, than they die of malaria where there are no mosquitoes."
"Suspicion is one thing. Fact is another," said Dr. Surtaine decisively. "Hal, I hope you aren't going to take up with this nonsense, and risk the success of the Centennial Old Home Week."
"I can't see what good we should be doing," said the new editor.
"It's big news, if it's true," suggested Wayne, rather wistfully. "Suppression of a real epidemic."
"Ghost-tales and goblin-shine," laughed the big doctor, recovering his good humor. "Who's the physician down there?"
"Dr. De Vito, an Italian. Nobody else can get into the Rookeries to see a case. O'Farrell's the agent, and he sees to that."
"Tip O'Farrell, the labor politician? I know him. And I know De Vito well. In fact, he does part-time work in the Certina plant. I'll tell you what, Hal. I'll just make a little expert investigation of my own down there, and report to you."
"The 'Clarion's' Special Commissioner, Dr. L. Andre Surtaine," said Ellis sonorously.
"No publicity, boys. This is a secret commission. And here's your chance right now to make the 'Clarion' useful to the committee, Hal, by keeping all scare-stuff out of the paper."
"If it really does amount to anything, wouldn't it be better," said Hal, "to establish a quarantine and go in there and stamp the thing out? We've plenty of time before Old Home Week."
"No; no!" cried the Doctor. "Think of the publicity that would mean. It would be a year before the fear of it would die out. Every other city that's jealous of Worthington would make capital of it and thousands of people whose money we want would be scared away."
Ellis drew Wayne aside. "What does Dr. Merritt really think? Smallpox?"
"No. The place has been too well vaccinated. It might be scarlet fever, or diphtheria, or even meningitis. Merritt wants to go in there and open it up, but the Mayor won't let him. He doesn't dare take the responsibility without any newspaper backing. And none of the other papers dares tackle the ownership of the Rookeries."
"Then we ought to. A good, rousing sensation of that sort is just what the paper needs."
"We won't get it. There's too many ropes on the Boy Boss. First the girl and now the old man."
"Wait and see. He's got good stuff in him and he's being educated every day. Give him time."
"Mr. Wayne, I'd like to see the health office reports," called Hal, and the two went out.
Selecting one of his pet cigars, Dr. Surtaine advanced upon McGuire Ellis, extending it. "Mac, you're a good fellow at bottom," he said persuasively.
"What's the price," asked Ellis, "of the cigar and the compliment together? In other words, what do you want of me?"
"Keep your hands off the boy."
"Didn't I offer fair and square to match you for his soul? You insisted on fight."
"If you'd just let him alone," pursued the quack, "he'd come around right side up with care. He's sound and sensible at bottom. He's got a lot of me in him. But you keep feeding him up on your yellow journal ideas. What'll they ever get him? Trouble; nothing but trouble. Even if you should make a sort of success of the paper with your wild sensationalism it wouldn't be any real good to Hal. It wouldn't get him anywhere with the real people. It'd be a sheet he'd always have to be a little ashamed of. I tell you what, Mac, in order to respect himself a man has got to respect his business."
"Just so," said McGuire Ellis. "Do you respect your business, Doc?"
"Do I!! It makes half a million a year clear profit."
The associate editor turned to his work whistling softly.
Two conspicuous ornaments of Worthington's upper world visited Worthington's underworld on a hot, misty morning of early June. Both were there on business, Dr. L. Andre Surtaine in the fulfillment of his agreement with his son—the exact purpose of the visit, by the way, would have inspired Harrington Surtaine with unpleasant surprise, could he have known it; and Miss Esme Elliot on a tour of inspection for the Visiting Nurses' Association, of which she was an energetic official. Whatever faults or foibles might be ascribed to Miss Elliot, she was no faddist. That which she undertook to do, she did thoroughly and well; and for practical hygiene she possessed an inborn liking and aptitude, far more so than, for example, her fortuitous fellow slummer of the morning, Dr. Surtaine, whom she encountered at the corner where the Rookeries begin. The eminent savant removed his hat with a fine flourish, further reflected in his language as he said:—
"What does Beauty so far afield?"
"Thank you, if you mean me," said Esme demurely.
"Do you see something else around here that answers the description?"
"No: I certainly don't," she replied, letting her eyes wander along the street where Sadler's Shacks rose in grime and gauntness to offend the clean skies. "I am going over there to see some sick people."
"Ah! Charity as well as Beauty; the perfect combination."
The Doctor's pomposity always amused Esme. "And what does Science so far from its placid haunts?" she mocked. "Are you scattering the blessings of Certina amongst a grateful proletariat?"
"Not exactly. I'm down here on some other business."
"Well, I won't keep you from it, Dr. Surtaine. Good-bye."
The swinging doors of a saloon opened almost upon her, and a short, broad-shouldered foreigner, in a ruffled-up silk hat, bumped into her lightly and apologized. He jogged up to Dr. Surtaine.
"Hello, De Vito," said Dr. Surtaine.
"At the service of my distinguish' confrere," said the squat Italian. "Am I require at the factory?"
"No. I've come to look into this sickness. Where is it?"
"The opposite eemediate block."
Dr. Surtaine eyed with disfavor the festering tenement indicated. "New cases?"
"Who's treating them?"
"I am in charge. Mr. O'Farrell employs my services: so the pipple have not to pay anything. All the time which I am not at the Certina factory, I am here."
"Just so. And no other doctor gets in?"
"There is no call. They are quite satisfied."
"And is the Board of Health satisfied?"
The employee shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands. "How is it you Americans say? 'What he does not know cannot hurt somebody.'"
"Is O'Farrell agent for all these barracks?" Dr. Surtaine inquired as they walked up the street.
"All. Many persons own, but Mr. O'Farrell is boss of all. This Number 4, Mr. Gibbs owns. He is of the great department store. You know. A ver' fine man, Mr. Gibbs."
"A very fine fool," retorted the Doctor, "to let himself get mixed up with such rotten property. Why, it's a reflection on all us men of standing."
"Nobody knows he is owner. And it pays twelve per cent," said the Italian mildly. He paused at the door. "Do we go in?" he asked.
An acrid-soft odor as of primordial slime subtly intruded upon the sensory nerves of the visitor. The place breathed out decay; the decay of humanity, of cleanliness, of the honest decencies of life turned foul. Something lethal exhaled from that dim doorway. There was a stab of pestilence, reaching for the brain. But the old charlatan was no coward.
"Show me the cases," he said.
For an hour he moved through the black, stenchful passageways, up and down ramshackle stairs, from human warren to human warren, pausing here to question, there to peer and sniff and poke with an exploring cane. Out on the street again he drew full, heaving breath.
"O'Farrell's got to clean up. That's all there is to that," he said decisively.
"The Doctor thinks?" queried the little physician.
Dr. Surtaine shook his head. "I don't know. But I'm sure of one thing. There's three of them ought to be gotten out at once. The third-floor woman, and that brother and sister in the basement."
"And the German family at the top?"
Dr. Surtaine tapped his chest significantly. "Sure to be plenty of that in this kind of hole. Nothing to do but let 'em die." He did not mention that he had left a twenty-dollar bill and a word of cheer with the gasping consumptive and his wife. Outside of the line of business Dr. Surtaine's charities were silent. "How many of the other cases have you had here?"
"Eleven. Seven deaths. Four I take away."
"And what is your diagnosis, Doctor?" inquired the old quack professionally of the younger ignoramus.
Again De Vito shrugged. "For public, malignant malaria. How you call it? Pernicious. For me, I do' know. Maybe—" he leaned forward and spoke a low word.
"Meningitis?" repeated the other. "Possibly. I've never seen much of the infectious kind. What are you giving for it?"
Dr. Surtaine looked at him sharply, but the Italian's face was innocent of any sardonic expression.
"As well that as anything," muttered its proprietor. "By the way, you might get testimonials from any of 'em that get well. Can you find O'Farrell?"
"Tell him I want to see him at my office at two o'clock."
"Ver' good. What do you think it is, Doctor?"
Dr. Surtaine waved a profound hand. "Very obscure. Demands consideration. But get those cases out of the city. There's no occasion to risk the Board of Health seeing them."
At the corner Dr. Surtaine again met Miss Elliot and stopped her. "My dear young lady, ought you to be risking your safety in such places as these?"
"No one ever interferes. My badge protects me."
"But there's so much sickness."
"That is what brings me," she smiled.
"It might be contagious. In fact, I have reason to believe that there is—er—measles in this block."
"I've had it, thank you. May I give you a lift in my car?"
"No, thank you. But I think you should consult your uncle before coming here again."
"The entire Surtaine family seems set upon barring me from the Rookeries. I wonder why."
With which parting shot she left him. Going home, he bathed and changed into his customary garb of smooth black, to which his rotund placidity of bearing imparted an indescribably silky finish. His discarded clothes he put, with his own hands, into an old grip, sprinkled them plenteously with a powerful disinfectant, and left orders that they be destroyed. It was a phase of Dr. Surtaine's courage that he never took useless risks, either with his own life, or (outside of business) with the lives of others.
Having lunched, he went to his office where he found O'Farrell waiting. The politician greeted him with a mixture of deference and familiarity. At one stage of their acquaintance familiarity had predominated, when having put through a petty but particularly rancid steal for the benefit of the Certina business, O'Farrell had become inspired with effusiveness to the extent of addressing his patron as "Doc." He never made that particular error again. Yet, to the credit of Dr. Surtaine's tact and knowledge of character be it said, O'Farrell was still the older man's loyal though more humble friend, after the incident. To-day he was plainly apprehensive.
"Them other cases the same thing?" he asked.
"What is it?"
"That I can't tell you."
"You went in and saw 'em?"
Dr. Surtaine nodded.
"By God, I wouldn't do it," declared O'Farrell, shivering. "I wouldn't go in there, not to collect the rent! It's catching, ain't it?"
"In all probability it is a contagious or zymotic disease."
The politician shook his head, much impressed, as it was intended he should be.
"Cleaning-up time for you, I guess, O'Farrell," pursued the other.
"All right, if you say so. But I won't have any Board o' Health snitches bossing it. They'd want to pull the whole row down."
"Exactly what ought to be done."
"What! And it averagin' better'n ten per cent," cried the agent in so scandalized a tone that the Doctor could not but smile.
"How have you managed to keep them out, thus far?"
"Haven't. There's been a couple of inspectors around, but I stalled 'em off. And we got the sick cases out right from under 'em."
"Dr. Merritt is a hard man to handle if he once gets started."
"He's got his hands full. The papers have been poundin' him because his milk regulations have put up the price. Persecution of the dairymen, they call it. Well, persecution of an honest property owner—with a pull—won't look pretty for Mr. Health Officer if he don't find nothing there. And the papers'll back me."
"Ellis of the 'Clarion' has his eye on the place."
"You can square that through your boy, can't you?"
The Doctor had his own private doubts, but didn't express them. "Leave it to me," he said. "Get some disinfectants and clean up. Your owners can stand the bill—at ten per cent. Much obliged for coming in, O'Farrell."
As the politician went out an office girl entered and announced:
"There's a man out in the reception hall, Doctor, waiting to see you. He's asleep with his elbow on the stand."
"Wake him up and ask him for his berth-check, Alice," said Dr. Surtaine, "and if he says his name is Ellis, send him in."
Ellis it was who entered and dropped into the chair pushed forward by his host.
"Glad to see you, my boy," Dr. Surtaine greeted him. "I thought you were going to send a reporter."
"Ordinarily we would have sent one. But I'm pretty well interested in this myself. I expected to hear from you long ago."
"Busy, my boy, busy. It's only been a week since I undertook the investigation. And these things take time."
"Apparently. What's the result?"
"Nothing." The quack spread his hands abroad in a blank gesture. "False alarm. Couple of cases of typhoid and some severe tonsillitis, that looked like diphtheria."
"People die of tonsillitis, do they?"
"And are buried?"
"Why, in coffins, I suppose."
"Then why were these bodies buried in quicklime?"
"Last week's lot."
"You mean in Canadaga County? O'Farrell said nothing about quicklime."
"That's what I mean. Apparently O'Farrell did say something about more corpses smuggled out last week."
"Mr. Ellis," said the Doctor, annoyed at his slip, "I am not on the witness stand."
"Dr. Surtaine," returned the other in the same tone, "when you undertake an investigation for the 'Clarion,' you are one of my reporters and I expect a full and frank report from you."
"Bull's-eye for you, my boy. You win. They did run those cases out. Before we're through with it they'll probably run more out. You see, the Health Bureau has got it in for O'Farrell, and if they knew there was anything up there, they'd raise a regular row and queer things generally."
"What is up?"
"Honestly, I don't know."
"Nor even suspect?"
"Well, it might be scarlet fever. Or, perhaps diphtheria. You see strange types sometimes."
"If it's either, failure to report is against the law."
"Technically, yes. But we've got it fixed to clean things up. The people will be looked after. There's no real danger of its spreading much. And you know how it is. The Rookeries have got a bad name, anyway. Anything starting there is sure to be exaggerated. Why, look at that chicken-pox epidemic a few years ago."
"I understand nobody who had been vaccinated got any of the chicken-pox, as you call it."
"That's as may be. What did it amount to, anyway? Nothing. Yet it almost ruined Old Home Week."
"Naturally you don't want the Centennial Home Week endangered. But we don't want the health of the city endangered."
"'We.' Who's we?"
"Well, the 'Clarion.'"
"Don't work the guardian-of-the-people game on me, my boy. And don't worry about the city's health. If this starts to spread we'll take measures."
By no means satisfied with this interview, McGuire Ellis left the Certina plant, and almost ran into Dr. Elliot, whom he hailed, for he had the faculty of knowing everybody.
"Not doing any doctoring nowadays, are you?"
"No," retorted the other. "Doing any sickening, yourself?"
Ellis grinned. "It's despairing weariness that makes me look this way. I'm up against a tougher job than old Diogenes. I'm looking for an honest doctor."
"You fish in muddy waters," commented his acquaintance, glancing up at the Certina Building.
"There's something very wrong down in the Twelfth Ward."
"Not going in for reform politics, are you?"
"This isn't political. Some kind of disease has broken out in O'Farrell's Rookeries."
"Delirium tremens," suggested Dr. Elliot.
"Yes: that's a funny joke," returned the other, unmoved; "but did you ever hear of any one sneaking D-T cases across the county line at night to a pest-house run by a political friend of O'Farrell's?"
"Can't say I have."
"Or burying the dead in quicklime?"
"Quicklime? What's this, 'Clarion' sensationalism?"
"Don't be young. I'm telling you. Quicklime. Canadaga County."
Not only had Dr. Elliot served his country in the navy, but he had done duty in that efficient fighting force, which reaps less honor and follows a more noble, self-sacrificing and courageous ideal than any army or navy, the United States Public Health Service. Under that banner he had fought famines, panic, and pestilence, from the stricken lumber-camps of the North, to the pent-in, quarantined bayous of the South; and now, at the hint of danger, there came a battle-glint into his sharp eyes.
"Tell me what you know."
"Now you're talking!" said the newspaper man. "It's little enough. But we've got it straight that they've been covering up some disease for weeks."
"What do the certificates call it?"
"Malaria and septic something, I believe."
"An alias. That's what they called bubonic plague in San Francisco and yellow fever in Texas in the old days of concealment."
"It couldn't be either of those, could it?"
"No. But it might be any reportable disease: diphtheria, smallpox, any of 'em. Even that hardly explains the quicklime."
"Could you look into it for us; for the 'Clarion'?"
"I? Work for the 'Clarion'?"
"I don't like your paper."
"But you'd be doing a public service."
"Possibly. How do I know you'd print what I discovered—supposing I discovered anything?"
"We're publishing an honest paper, nowadays."
"Are you? Got this morning's?"
Like all good newspaper men, McGuire Ellis habitually went armed with a copy of his own paper. He produced it from his coat pocket.
"Honest, eh?" muttered the physician grimly as he twisted the "Clarion" inside out. "Honest! Well, not to go any farther, what about this for honesty?"
Top of column, "next to reading," as its contract specified, the lure of the Neverfail Company stood forth, bold and black. "Boon to Troubled Womanhood" was the heading. Dr. Elliot read, with slow emphasis, the lying half-promises, the specious pretenses of the company's "Relief Pills." "No Case too Obstinate": "Suppression from Whatever Cause": "Thousands of Women have Cause to Bless this Sovereign Remedy": "Saved from Desperation."
"No doubt what that means, is there?" queried the reader.
"It seems pretty plain."
"What do you mean, then, by telling me you run an honest paper when you carry an abortion advertisement every day?"
"Will that medicine cause abortion?"
"Certainly it won't cause abortion!"
"Can't you see that makes it all the worse, in a way? It promises to bring on abortion. It encourages any fool girl who otherwise might be withheld from vice by fear of consequences. It puts a weapon of argument into the hands of every rake and ruiner; 'If you get into trouble, this stuff will fix you all right.' How many suicides do you suppose your 'Boon to Womanhood' and its kind of hellishness causes in a year, thanks to the help of your honest journalism?"
"When I said we were honest, I wasn't thinking of the advertising."
"But I am. Can you be honest on one page and a crook on another? Can you bang the big drum of righteousness in one column and promise falsely in the next to commit murder? Ellis, why does the 'Clarion' carry such stuff as that?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"Well, you're asking me to help your sheet," the ex-surgeon reminded him.
"Because Dr. L. Andre Surtaine is the Neverfail Company."
"Oh," said the other. "And I suppose Dr. L. Andre Surtaine is the 'Clarion,' also. Well, I don't choose to be associated with that honorable and high-minded polecat, thank you."
"Don't be too sure about the 'Clarion.' Harrington Surtaine isn't his father."
"The same rotten breed."
"Plus another strain. Where it comes from I don't know, but there's something in the boy that may work out to big ends."
Dr. Miles Elliot was an abrupt sort of person, as men of independent lives and thought are prone to be. "Look here, Ellis," he said: "are you trying to be honest, yourself? Now, don't answer till you've counted three."
"One—two—three," said McGuire Ellis solemnly. "I'm honestly trying to put the 'Clarion' on the level. That's what you really want to know, I suppose."
"Against all the weight of influence of Dr. Surtaine?"
"Bless you; he doesn't half realize he's a crook. Thinks he's a pretty fine sort of chap. The worst of it is, he is, too, in some ways."