"Good to his family, I suppose, in the intervals of distributing poison and lies."
"He's all wrapped up in the boy. Which is going to make it all the harder."
"Make what all the harder?"
"Prying 'em apart."
"Have you set yourself that little job?"
"Since we're speaking out in meeting, I have."
"Good. Why are you speaking out in meeting to me, particularly?"
"On the theory that you may have reason for being interested in Mr. Harrington Surtaine."
"Don't know him."
"Your niece does."
"Just how does that concern this discussion?"
"What business is it of mine, you mean. Well, Dr. Elliot, I'm pretty much interested in trying to make a real newspaper out of the 'Clarion.' My notion of a real newspaper is a decent, clean newspaper. If I can get my young boss to back me up, we'll have a try at my theory. To do this, I'll use any fair means. And if Miss Elliot's influence is going to be on my side, I'm glad to play it off against Dr. Surtaine's."
"Look here, Ellis, I don't like this association of my niece's name with young Surtaine."
"All right. I'll drop it, if you object. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know Miss Elliot, anyway. But sooner or later there's coming one big fight in the 'Clarion' office, and it's going to open two pairs of eyes. Old Doc Surtaine is going to discover his son. Hal Surtaine is going to find out about the old man. Neither of 'em is going to be awfully pleased. And in that ruction the fate of the Neverfail Company's ad. is going to be decided and with it the fate and character of the 'Clarion.' Now, Dr. Elliot, my cards are on the table. Will you help me in the Rookeries matter?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Go cautiously, and find out what that disease is."
"I'll go there to-morrow."
"They won't let you in."
"Won't they?" Dr. Elliot's jaw set.
"Don't risk it. Some of O'Farrell's thugs will pick a fight with you and the whole thing will be botched."
"How about getting a United States Public Health Surgeon down here?"
"Fine! Can you do it?"
"I think so. It will take time, though."
"That can't be helped. I'll look you up in a few days."
"All right. And, Ellis, if I can help in the other thing—the clean-up—I'm your man."
Meantime from his office Dr. Surtaine had, after several attempts, succeeded in getting the Medical Office of Canadaga County on the telephone.
"Hello! That you, Doctor Simons?—Seen O'Farrell?—Yes; you ought to get in touch with him right away—Three more cases going over to you.—Oh, they're there, are they? You're isolating them, aren't you?—Pest-house? That's all right.—All bills will be paid—liberally. You understand?—What are you calling it? Diphtheria?—Good enough for the present.—Ever see infectious meningitis? I thought it might be that, maybe—No? What do you think, then?—What! Good God, man! It can't be! Such a thing has never been heard of in this part of the country—What?—Yes: you're right. We can't talk over the 'phone. Come over to-morrow. Good-bye."
Putting up the receiver, Dr. Surtaine turned to his desk and sat immersed in thought. Presently he shook his head. He scratched a few notes on a pad, tore off the sheet and thrust it into the small safe at his elbow. Proof of a half-page Certina display beckoned him in buoyant, promissory type to his favorite task. He glanced at the safe. Once again he shook his head, this time more decisively, took the scribbled paper out and tore it into shreds. Turning to the proof he bent over it, striking out a word here, amending there, jotting in a printer's direction on the margin; losing himself in the major interest.
The "special investigator" of the "Clarion" was committing the unpardonable sin of journalism. He was throwing his paper down.
Misfortunes never come singly—to the reckless. The first mischance breeds the second, apparently by ill luck, but in reality through the influence of irritant nerves. Thus descended Nemesis upon Miss Kathleen Pierce. Not that Miss Pierce was of a misgiving temperament: she had too calm and superb a conviction of her own incontrovertible privilege in every department of life for that. But Esme Elliot had given her a hint of her narrow escape from the "Clarion," and she was angry. To the Pierce type of disposition, anger is a spur. Kathleen's large green car increased its accustomed twenty-miles-an-hour pace, from which the police of the business section thoughtfully averted their faces, to something nearer twenty-five. Three days after the wreck of the apple cart, she got results.
Harrington Surtaine was crossing diagonally to the "Clarion" office when the moan of a siren warned him for his life, and he jumped back from the Pierce juggernaut. As it swept by he saw Kathleen at the wheel. Beside her sat her twelve-year-old brother. A miscellaneous array of small luggage was heaped behind them.
"Never mind the speed laws," murmured Hal softly. "Sauve qui peut. There, by Heavens, she's done it!"
The car had swerved at the corner, but not quite quickly enough. There was a snort of the horn, a scream that gritted on the ear like the clamor of tortured metals, and a huddle of black and white was flung almost at Hal's feet. Equally quick with him, a middle-aged man, evidently of the prosperous working-classes, helped him to pick the woman up. She was a trained nurse. The white band on her uniform was splotched with blood. She groaned once and lapsed, inert, in their arms.
"Help me get her to the automobile," said Hal. "This is a hospital case."
"What automobile?" said the other.
Hal glanced up the street. He saw the green car turning a corner, a full block away.
"She didn't even stop," he muttered, in a paralysis of surprise.
"Stop?" said the other. "Her? That's E.M. Pierce's she-whelp. True to the breed. She don't care no more for a workin'-woman's life than her father does for a workin'-man's."
A policeman hurried up, glanced at the woman and sent in an ambulance call.
"I want your name," said Hal to the stranger.
"Publication now. Later, prosecution. I'm the editor of the 'Clarion.'"
The man took off his hat and scratched his head. "Leave me out of it," he said.
"You won't help me to get justice for this woman?'" cried Hal.
"What can you do to E.M. Pierce's girl in this town?" retorted the man fiercely. "Don't he own the town?"
"He doesn't own the 'Clarion.'"
"Let the 'Clarion' go up against him, then. I daresn't."
"You'll never get him," said a voice close to Hal's ear. It was Veltman, the foreman of the 'Clarion' composing-room. "He's a street-car employee. It's as much as his job is worth to go up against Pierce."
They were pressed back, as the clanging ambulance arrived with its white-coated commander.
"No; not dead," he said. "Help me get her in."
This being accomplished, Hal hurried up to the city room of the paper. He remembered the pile of suit-cases in the Pierce car, and made his deductions.
"Send a reporter to the Union Station to find Kathleen Pierce. She's in a green touring-car. She's just run down a trained nurse. Have him interview her; ask her why she didn't turn back after she struck the woman; whether she doesn't know the law. Find out if she's going to the hospital. Get her estimate of how fast she was going. We'll print anything she says. Then he's to go to St. James Hospital, and ask about the nurse. I'll give him the details of the accident."
News of a certain kind, of the kind important to the inner machinery of a newspaper, spreads swiftly inside an office. Within an hour, Shearson, the advertising manager, was at his chief's desk.
"About that story of Miss Pierce running over the trained nurse," he began.
"What is your suggestion?" asked Hal curiously.
"E.M. Pierce is a power in this town, and out of it. He's the real head of the Retail Dry Goods Union. He's a director in the Security Power Products Company. He's the big boss of the National Consolidated Employers' Association. He practically runs the Retail Dry Goods Union. Gibbs, of the Boston Store, is his brother-in-law, and the girl's uncle. Mr. Pierce has got a hand in pretty much everything in Worthington. And he's a bad man in a fight."
"So I have heard."
"If we print this story—"
"We're going to print the story, Mr. Shearson."
"It's full of dynamite."
"It was a brutal thing. If she hadn't driven right on—"
"But she's only a kid."
"The more reason why she shouldn't be driving a car."
"Why have you got it in for her, Mr. Surtaine?" ventured the other.
"I haven't got it in for her. But we've let her off once. And this is too flagrant a case."
"It means a loss of thousands of dollars in advertising, just as like as not."
"That can't be helped."
Shearson did the only thing he could think of in so unheard-of an emergency. He went out to call up the office of E.M. Pierce.
Left to his own thoughts, the editor-in-chief reconstructed the scene of the outrage. None too strong did that term seem to him. The incredible callousness of the daughter of millions, speeding away without a backward glance at the huddled form in the gutter, set a flame of wrath to heating his brain. He built up a few stinging headlines, and selected one which he set aside. "GIRL PLAYS JUGGERNAUT. ELIAS M. PIERCE'S DAUGHTER SERIOUSLY INJURES NURSE AND LEAVES HER LYING IN GUTTER." Not long after he had concluded, McGuire Ellis entered, slumped into his chair, and eyed his employer from under bent brows.
"Got a grip on your temper?" he asked presently.
"What's the occasion?" countered Hal.
"I think you're going to have an interview with Elias M. Pierce."
"Where and when?"
"In his office. As soon as you can get there."
"I think not."
"Not?" repeated Ellis, conning the other with his curious air.
"Why should I go to Elias M. Pierce's office?"
"Because he's sent for you."
"Don't be absurd, Mac."
"And don't you be young. In all Worthington there aren't ten men that don't jump when Elias M. Pierce crooks his finger. Who are you, to join that noble company of martyrs?" Achieving no nibble on this bait, the speaker continued: "Jerry Saunders has been keeping Wayne's telephone on the buzz, ordering the story stopped."
"Who is Jerry Saunders?"
"Pierce's man, and master of our fates. So he thinks, anyway. In other words, general factotum of the Boston Store. Wayne told him the matter was in your hands. All storm signals set, and E.M.'s secretary telephoning that the Great Man wants to see you at once. Don't you think it would be safer to go?"
Mr. Harrington Surtaine swung full around on his chair, looked at his assistant with that set and level gaze of which Esme Elliot had aforetime complained, and turned back again. A profound chuckle sounded from behind him.
"This'll be a shock to Mr. Pierce," said Ellis. "I'll break it diplomatically to his secretary." And thus was the manner of the Celt's diplomacy. "Hello,—Mr. Pierce's secretary?—Tell Mr. Pierce—get this verbatim, please,—that Mr. Harrington Surtaine is busy at present, but will try to find time to see him here—here, mind you, at the 'Clarion' office, at 4.30 this afternoon—What? Oh, yes; you understood, all right. Don't be young.—What? Do not sputter into the 'phone.—Just give him the message.—No; Mr. Surtaine will not speak with you.—Nor with Mr. Pierce. He's busy.—Good-bye."
"Two hours leeway before the storm," said Hal. "Why deliberately stir him up, Mac?"
"No one ever saw Pierce lose his temper. I've a curiosity in that direction. Besides, he'll be easier to handle, mad. Do you know Pierce?"
"I've lunched with him, and been there to the house to dinner once or twice. Wish I hadn't."
"Let me give you a little outline of him. Elias M. is the hard-shell New England type. He was brought up in the fear of God and the Poor-House. God was a good way off, I guess; but there stood the Poor-House on the hill, where you couldn't help but see it. The way of salvation from it was through the dollar. Elias M. worked hard for his first dollar, and for his millionth. He's still working hard. He still finds the fear of God useful: he puts it into everybody that goes up against his game. The fear of the Poor-House is with him yet, though he doesn't realize it. It's the mainspring of his religion. There's nothing so mean as fear; and Elias M.'s fear is back of all his meanness, his despotism in business, his tyranny as an employer. I tell you, Boss, if you ever saw a hellion in a cutaway coat, Elias M. Pierce is it, and you're going to smell sulphur when he gets here. Better let him do the talking, by the way."
Prompt to the minute, Elias M. Pierce arrived. With him came William Douglas, his personal counsel. Having risen to greet them, Hal stood leaning against his desk, after they were seated. The lawyer disposed himself on the far edge of his chair, as if fearing that a more comfortable pose might commit him to something. Mr. Pierce sat solid and square, a static force neatly buttoned into a creaseless suit. His face was immobile, but under the heavy lids the eyes smouldered, dully. The tone of his voice was lifelessly level: yet with an immanent menace.
"I do not make appointments outside my own office—" he began, looking straight ahead of him.
Mindful of Ellis's advice, Hal stood silent, in an attitude of courteous attention.
"But this is a case of saving time. My visit has to do with the accident of which you know."
Whether or not Hal knew was undeterminable from sign or speech of his.
"It was wholly the injured woman's fault," pursued Mr. Pierce, and turned a slow, challenging eye upon Hal.
Over his shoulder the editor-in-chief caught sight of McGuire Ellis laying finger on lip, and following up this admonition by a gesture of arms and hands as of one who pays out line to a fish. Douglas fidgeted on his desperate edge.
"You sent a reporter to interview my daughter. He was impertinent. He should be discharged."
Still Mr. Pierce was firing into silence. Something rattled and flopped in a chute at his elbow. He turned, irritably. That Mr. Pierce's attention should have been diverted even for a moment by this was sufficient evidence that he was disconcerted by the immobility of the foe. But his glance quickly reverted and with added weight. Heavily he stared, then delivered his ultimatum.
"The 'Clarion' will print nothing about the accident."
The editor of the "Clarion" smiled. At sight of that smile some demon-artist in faces blocked in with lightning swiftness parallel lines of wrath at right angles to the corners of the Pierce mouth. Through the lips shone a thin glint of white.
"You find me amusing?" Men had found Elias M. Pierce implacable, formidable, inscrutable, even amenable, in some circumstances, with a conscious and godlike condescension; but no opponent had ever smiled at his commands as this stripling of journalism was doing.
Still there was no reply. In his chair McGuire Ellis leaned back with an expression of beatitude. The lawyer, shrewd enough to understand that his principal was being baited, now took a hand.
"You may rely on Mr. Pierce to have the woman suitably cared for."
Now the editorial smile turned upon William Douglas. It was gentle, but unsatisfying.
"And the reporter will be discharged at once," continued Elias M. Pierce, exactly as if Douglas had not spoken at all.
"Mr. Ellis," said Hal, "will you 'phone Mr. Wayne to send up the man who covered the Pierce story?"
The summoned reporter entered the room. He was a youth named Denton, one year out of college, eager and high-spirited, an enthusiast of his profession, loving it for its adventurousness and its sense of responsibility and power. These are the qualities that make the real newspaper man. They die soon, and that is why there are no good, old reporters. Elias M. Pierce turned upon him like a ponderous machine of vengeance.
"What have you to say for yourself?" he demanded.
Up under Denton's fair skin ran a flush of pink. "Who are you?" he blurted.
"You are speaking to Mr. Elias M. Pierce," said Douglas hastily.
Six weeks before, young Denton would perhaps have moderated his attitude in the interests of his job. But now through the sensitive organism of the newspaper office had passed the new vigor; the feeling of independence and of the higher responsibility to the facts of the news only. The men believed that they would be upheld within their own rights and those of the paper. Harrington Surtaine's standards had been not only absorbed: they had been magnified and clarified by minds more expert than his own. Subconsciously, Denton felt that his employer was back of him, must be back of him in any question of professional honor.
"What I've got to say, I've said in writing."
"Show it to me." The insolence of the command was quite unconscious.
The reporter turned to Hal.
"Mr. Denton," said Hal, "did Miss Pierce explain why she didn't return after running the nurse down?"
"She said she was in a hurry: that she had a train to catch."
"Did you ask her if she was exceeding the speed limit?"
"She was not," interjected Elias M. Pierce.
"She said she didn't know; that nobody ever paid any attention to speed laws."
"What about her license?"
"I asked her and she said it was none of my business."
"Quite right," approved Mr. Pierce curtly.
"Tell the desk to run the interview verbatim, under a separate head. Will the nurse die?"
Mr. Pierce snorted contemptuously. "Die! She's hardly hurt."
"Dislocated shoulder, two ribs broken, and scalp wounds. She'll get well," said the reporter.
"Now, see here, Surtaine," said Douglas smoothly, "be reasonable. It won't do the 'Clarion' any good to print a lot of yellow sensationalism about this. There are half a dozen witnesses who say it was the nurse's fault."
"We have evidence on the other side."
"Max Veltman, of our composing-room."
"Veltman? Veltman?" repeated Elias M. Pierce, who possessed a wonderful memory for men and events. "He's that anarchist fellow. Hates every man with a dollar. Stirred up the labor troubles two years ago. I told my men to smash his head if they ever caught him within two blocks of our place."
"Speaking of anarchy," said McGuire Ellis softly.
"A prejudiced witness; one of your own employees," pointed out the lawyer.
"I wouldn't believe him under oath," said Pierce.
"Perhaps you wouldn't believe me, either. I saw the whole thing myself," said Hal quietly.
"And you intend to print it?" demanded Pierce.
"It's news. The 'Clarion's' business is to print the news."
"Then there remains only to warn you," said Douglas, "that you will be held to full liability for anything you may publish, civil and criminal."
"Take that down, Mr. Denton," said Hal.
"I've got it," said the reporter.
"That isn't all." Elias M. Pierce rose and his eyes were wells of somber fury. "You print that story—one word of it—and I'll smash your paper."
"Take that down, Mr. Denton." Hal's voice was even.
"I've got it," said Denton in the same tone.
"You don't know what I am in this city." Every word of the great man's voice rang with the ruthless arrogance of his power. "I can make or mar any man or any business. I've fought the demagogues of labor and driven 'em out of town. I've fought the demagogues of politics and killed them off. And you think with your little spewing demagoguery of newspaper filth, you can override me? You think because you've got your father's quack millions behind you, that you can stand up to me?"
"Take that down, Mr. Denton."
"I've got it."
"Then take this, too," cried Elias M. Pierce, losing all control, under the quiet remorselessness of this goading: "people like my daughter and me aren't at the mercy of scum like you. We've got rights that aren't responsible to every little petty law. By God, I've made and unmade judges in this town: and I'll show you what the law can do before I'm through with you. I'll gut your damned paper."
"Not missing anything, are you, Mr. Denton?"
"I've got it all."
Throughout, Douglas, with a strained face, had been plucking at his principal's arm. Now Elias M. Pierce turned to him.
"Go to Judge Ransome," he said sharply, "and get an injunction against the 'Clarion.'"
McGuire Ellis sauntered over. "I wouldn't," he drawled.
"I'm not asking your advice."
"And I'm not looking for gratitude. But just let me suggest this: Ransome may be one of the judges you brag of owning. But if he grants an injunction I'll advise Mr. Surtaine to publish a spread on the front page, stating that we have the facts, that we're enjoined from printing them at present, but that now or a year from now we'll tell the whole story in every phase. With that hanging over him, I don't believe Judge Ransome will care to issue any fake injunction."
"There's such a thing as contempt of court," warned Douglas.
"Making and unmaking judges, for example?" suggested Ellis.
"Just one final word to you." The Pierce face was thrust close to Hal's. "You keep your hands off my daughter if you expect to live in this town."
"My one regret for Miss Pierce is that she is your daughter," retorted Hal. "You have given me the material for a leading editorial in to-morrow's issue. I recommend you to buy the paper."
The other glared at him speechless.
"It will be called," said Hal, "'A Study in Heredity.' Good-day."
And he gave the retiring magnate a full view of his back as he sat down to write it.
"Never write with a hot pen." Thus runs one of McGuire Ellis's golden rules of journalism. Had his employer better comprehended, in those early days, the Ellisonian philosophy, perhaps the "Heredity" editorial might never have appeared. Now, as it lay before him in proof, it seemed but the natural expression of a righteous wrath.
"Neither Kathleen Pierce nor her father can claim exemption or consideration in this instance," Hal had written, in what he chose to consider his most telling passage. "Were it the girl's first offense of temerity, allowance might be made. But the city streets have long been the more perilous because of her defiance of the rights of others. Here she runs true to type. She is her father's own daughter. In the light of his character and career, of his use of the bludgeon in business, of his resort to foul means when fair would not serve, of his brutal disregard of human rights in order that his own power might be enhanced, of his ruthless and crushing tyranny, not alone toward his employees, but toward all labor in its struggle for better conditions, we can but regard the girl who left her victim crushed and senseless in the gutter and sped on because, in the words of her own bravado, she 'had a train to catch,' as a striking example of the influence of heredity. If the law which she so contemptuously brushed aside is to be aborted by the influence and position of her family, the precept will be a bitter and dangerous one. Much arrant nonsense is vented concerning the 'class-hatred' stirred up by any criticism of the rich. One such instance as the running-down of Miss Cleary bears within it far more than the extremest demagoguery the potentialities of an unleashed hate. It is a lesson in lawlessness."
Still in the afterglow of composition, Hal, tinkering lightly with the proofs, felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Well, Boy-ee," said the voice of Dr. Surtaine.
"Hello, father," returned Hal. "Sit down. What's up?"
"I've just had a message from E.M. Pierce."
"Did you obey a royal command and go to his office?"
"Neither did I."
"With you it's different. You're a younger man. And Elias M. Pierce is the most powerful—um—er—well, as powerful as any man in Worthington."
"Outside of this office, possibly."
"Don't you be foolish, Boy-ee. You can't fight him."
"Nor do I want to," said Hal, a little chilled, nevertheless, by the gravity of the paternal tone. "But when he comes in here and dictates what the 'Clarion' shall and shall not print—"
"About his own daughter."
"News, father. It's news."
"News is what you print. If you don't print it, it isn't news. Isn't that right? Well, then!"
"Not quite. News is what happens. If no paper published this, it would be current by word of mouth just the same. A hundred people saw it."
"Anyway, tone your article down, won't you, Boy-ee?"
"I'm afraid I can't, Dad."
"Of course you can. Here, let me see it."
McGuire Ellis looked up sharply, his face wrinkled into an anxious query. It relaxed when Hal handed the editorial proof to the Doctor, saying, "Look at this, instead."
Dr. Surtaine read slowly and carefully. "Do you know what you're doing?" he said, replacing the strip of paper.
"I think so."
"That editorial will line up every important business man in Worthington against you."
"I don't see why it should."
"Because they'll see that none of 'em are safe if a newspaper can do that sort of thing. It's never been done here. The papers have always respected men of position, and their business and their families, too. Worthington won't stand for that sort of thing."
"It's true, isn't it?"
"All the more harm if it is," retorted Dr. Surtaine, thus codifying the sum and essence of the outsider's creed of journalism. "Do you know what they'll call you if you print that? They'll call you an anarchist."
"Probably," agreed the journalist.
"Every friend and business associate of Pierce's will be down on you."
"The whole angry hive of capital and privilege," confirmed Ellis.
"You see," cried the pleader; "you can't print it. Publishing an article about Kathleen Pierce will be bad enough, but it's nothing to what this other roast would be. One would make Pierce hate you as long as he lives. The other will make the whole Business Interests of the city your enemy. How can you live without business?"
"Business isn't as rotten as that," averred Hal. "If it is, I'm going to fight it."
"Fight business!" It was almost a groan. "Tell him, Ellis, what a serious thing this is. You agree with me in that, don't you?"
"And that the 'Clarion' can't afford to touch the thing at all? You're with me there, too, aren't you?"
"You're going to stand by and see my boy turn traitor to his class?"
"Damn his class," said McGuire Ellis, in mild, conversational tones.
"As much as you like," agreed the other, "in talk. But when it comes to print, remember, it's our class that's got the money."
"Wouldn't it be a refreshing change," suggested Ellis, "to have one paper in Worthington that money won't buy?"
"All very well, if you were strong enough." The wily old charlatan shifted his ground. "Wait until you've built up to it. Then, when you've got the public, you can afford to be independent."
"Get your price and then reform. Is that the idea, Father?" said Hal.
"Boy-ee, I don't know what's come over you lately. Journalism seems to have got into your blood."
"Blame Ellis. He's been my preceptor."
"Both of you have got your lesson to learn."
"Well, I've learned one," asserted Hal: "that it's the business of a newspaper to print the news."
"There's only one sound business principle, success. When it costs you more to print a thing than not to print it, it's bad business to print it."
"I'm sorry, Dad, but the 'Clarion' is going to carry this to-morrow."
"In case you're nervous about Mr. Pierce," put in McGuire Ellis with Machiavellian innuendo, "I can pass it on to him that you're in no way responsible for the 'Clarion's' policy."
"Me, afraid of Elias M. Pierce?" Our Leading Citizen's prickly vanity was up in arms at once. "I'll match him or fight him dollar for dollar, as long as my weasel-skin lasts. No, sir: if Hal's going to fight, I'll stick by him as long as there's a dollar in the till."
"It's mighty good of you, Dad, and I know you'd do it. But I've made up my mind to win out or lose out on the capital you gave me. And I won't take a cent more."
"That's business, too, son. I like that. But I hate to see you lose. By publishing your editorial you're committing your paper absolutely to a policy, and a fatal one. Well, I won't argue any more. But I haven't given up yet."
"Well, that's over," said Hal, as his father departed, gently smoothing down his silk hat. "And I hope that ends it."
"Do you?" McGuire Ellis raised a tuneful baritone in song:—
'You may think you've got 'em going,' said the bar-keep to the bum. 'But cheer up And beer up. The worst is yet to come!'
"Unless my estimate of E.M. Pierce is wrong," he continued, "you'll begin to hear from the other newspapers soon."
So it proved. Advertising managers called up and talked interminably over the telephone. Editors-in-chief wrote polite notes. One fellow proprietor called. By all the canons of editorial courtesy they exhorted Mr. Surtaine to hold his hand from the contemplated sacrilege against their friend and patron, Elias M. Pierce. Equally polite, Mr. Surtaine replied that the "Clarion" would print the news. How much of the news would he print? All the news, now and forever, one and inseparable, or words to that effect. Painfully and protestingly the noble fellowship of the free and untrammeled press pointed out that if the "Clarion" insisted on informing the public, they too, in self-defense, must supply something in the way of information to cover themselves, loth though they were so to do. But the burden of sin and vengeance would rest upon the paper which forced them into such a course. Still patient, Hal found refuge in truism: to wit, that what his fellow editors chose to do was wholly and specifically their business. From the corollary, he courteously refrained.
Meantime, the object of Editor Surtaine's scathing had not been idle. To the indignant journalist, Miss Kathleen Pierce had appeared a brutal and hardened scion of wealth and injustice. This was hardly a just view. Careless she was, and unmindful of standards; but not cruel. In this instance, panic, not callousness, had been the mainspring of her apparent cruelty. She was badly scared; and when her angry father told her what she might expect at the hands of a "yellow newspaper," she became still more badly scared. In this frame of mind she fled for refuge to Miss Esme Elliot.
"I didn't mean to run over her," she wailed. "You know I didn't, Esme. She ran out just like a m-m-mouse, and I felt the car hit her, and then she was all crumpled up in the gutter. Oh, I was so frightened! I wanted to go back, but I was afraid, and Phil began to cry and say we'd killed her, and I lost my head and put on speed. I didn't mean to, Esme!"
"Of course you didn't, dear. Who says you did?"
"The newspaper is going to say so. That awful reporter! He caught me at the station and asked me a lot of questions. I just shook my head and wouldn't say a word," lied the frightened girl. "But they're going to print an awful interview with me, father says. He's furious at me."
"In what paper, Kathie?"
"The 'Clarion.' Father says the other papers won't publish anything about it, but he can't stop the 'Clarion.'"
"I can," said Miss Esme Elliot confidently.
The heiress to the Pierce millions lifted her woe-begone face. "You?" she cried incredulously. "How?"
"I've got a pull," said Esme, dimpling.
A light broke in upon her suppliant. "Of course! Hal Surtaine! But father has been to see him and he won't promise a thing. I don't see what he's got against me."
"Don't worry, dear. Perhaps your father doesn't understand how to go about it."
"No," said the other thoughtfully. "Father would try to bully and threaten. He tried to bully me!" Miss Pierce stamped a well-shod foot in memory of her manifold wrongs. Then feminine curiosity interposed a check. "Esme! Are you engaged to Hal Surtaine?"
"No, indeed!" The girl's laughter rang silvery and true.
"Are you going to be?"
"I'm not going to be engaged to anybody. Not for a long time, anyway. Life is too good as it is."
"Is he in love with you?" persisted Kathleen.
Esme lifted up a very clear and sweet mezzo-soprano in a mocking lilt of song:—
"How should my heart know What love may be?"
The visitor regarded her admiringly. "Of course he is. What man wouldn't be! And you've seen a lot of him lately, haven't you?"
"I'm helping him run his paper—with good advice."
"Oh-h-h!" Miss Pierce's soft mouth and big eyes formed three circles. "And you're going to advise him—"
"I'm going to advise him ver-ree earnestly not to say a word about you in the paper, if you'll promise never, never to do it again."
The other clasped her in a bear-hug. "You duck! I'll just crawl through the streets after this. You watch me! The police will have to call time on me to make sure I'm not obstructing the traffic. But, Esme—"
Kathleen caught her hand and snuggled it up to her childishly. "How often do you see Hal Surtaine?"
"You ought to know. There's something going on every evening now. And he goes everywhere."
"Yes: but outside of that?"
Esme laughed. "How hard you're working to make a romance that isn't there. I go to his office once in a while, just to see the wheels go 'round."
"And are you going to the office now?"
"No," said Esme, after consideration. "Hal Surtaine is coming here. This evening."
"You have an appointment with him?"
"Not yet. I'll telephone him."
"Father telephoned him, but he wouldn't come to see father. So father had to go to see him."
"Mahomet! Well, I'm the mountain in this case. Go in peace, my child." Esme patted the other's head with an absurd and delightful affectation of maternalism. "And look in the 'Clarion' to-morrow with a clear assurance. You shan't find your name there—unless in the Social Doings column. Good-bye, dear."
Having thus engaged her honor, the advisor to the editor sat her down to plan. At the conclusion of a period of silent thought, she sent a telephone message which made the heart of young Mr. Surtaine accelerate its pace perceptibly. Was he too busy to come up to Greenvale, Dr. Elliot's place, at 8.30 sharp?
Busy he certainly was, but not too busy to obey any behest of his partner.
That was very nice of him. It would take but a few minutes.
As many minutes as she could use, she might have, or hours.
Then he was to consider himself gratefully thanked and profoundly curtsied to, over the wire. By the way, if he had a galley proof of anything that had been written about Kathleen Pierce's motor accident, would he bring that along? And didn't he think it quite professional of her to remember all about galleys and things?
Highly professional and clever (albeit in a somewhat altered tone, not unnoted by the acute listener). Yes, he would bring the proof. At 8.30, then, sharp.
"The new boss of our new boss," Wayne had styled the charming interloper, on the occasion of her first visit to the "Clarion" office. Had she heard, Esme would have approved. More, she would have believed, though not without misgivings. Well she knew that she had not yet proved her power over her partner. Many and various as were the men upon whom, in the assay of her golden charm, she had exercised the arts of coquetry, this test was on a larger scale. This was the potential conquest of an institution. Could she make a newspaper change its hue, as she could make men change color, with the power of a word or the incitement of a glance? The very dubiety of the issue gave a new zest to the game.
Behold, now, Miss Esme Elliot, snarer of men's eyes and hearts, sharpening her wits and weapons for the fray; aye, even preparing her pitfall. Cunningly she made a bower of one end of the broad living-room at Greenvale with great sprays of apple blossoms from the orchard, ravishing untold spoilage of her mother and forerunner, Eve, for the bedecking of the quiet, cozy nook. Pink was ever her color; the hue of the flushing of spring, of the rising blood in the cheek of maidenhood, and the tenderest of the fruit-blooms was not more downy-soft of tint than the face it bent to brush. At the close of the task, a heavy voice startled her.
"What's all this about?"
"Uncle Guardy! You mustn't, you really mustn't come in on tiptoe that way."
"Stamped like an elephant," asserted Dr. Elliot. "But you were so immersed in your floral designs—What kind of a play is it?"
She turned upon him the sparkle of golden lights in wine-brown eyes. "It's a fairy bower. I'm going to do a bewitchment."
"Upon what victim?"
"Upon a newspaper. I'm going to be a fairy godmother sort of witch and save my foster-child by—by arointing something out of print."
"Arointing it. Don't you know, you say, 'Aroint thee, witch,' when you want to get rid of her? Well, if a witch can be arointed, why shouldn't she aroint other things?"
"All very well, if you understand the process. Do you?"
"Of course. It's done 'with woven paces and with waving arms.' 'Beware, beware; her flashing eyes, her float—'"
"Stop it! You shall not make a poetry cocktail out of Tennyson and Coleridge, and jam it down my throat; or I'll aroint myself. Besides, you're not a witch, at all. I know you for all your big cap, and your cloak, and the basket on your arm. 'Grandmother, what makes your teeth so white?'"
"No, no. I'm not that kind of a beastie, at all. Wrong guess, Guardy."
"Yet there's a gleam of the hunt about you. Is it, oh, is it, the Great American Pumess that I have the honor to address?"
She made him a sweeping bow. "In a good cause."
"About which I shall doubtless hear to-morrow?"
"Don't I always confess my good actions?"
"At what hour does the victim's dying shriek rend the quivering air?"
"Mr. Surtaine is due here at half past eight."
"Humph! Young Surtaine, eh? Shy bird, if it has taken all this time to bring him down. Well, run and dress. It's after five and that gives you less than three hours for prinking up, counting dinner in."
Whatever time and effort may have gone to the making of the Great American Pumess's toilet, Hal thought, as he came down the long room to where she stood embowered in pink, that he had never beheld anything so freshly lovely. She gave him a warm and yielding hand in welcome, and drew away a bit, surveying him up and down with friendly eyes.
"You're looking unusually smart to-night," she approved. "London clothes don't set so well on many Americans. But your tie is askew. Wait. Let me do it."
With deft fingers she twitched and patted the bow into submission. The touch of intimacy represented the key in which she had chosen to pitch her play. Sinking back into a cushioned corner of the settee, she curled up cozily, and motioned him to a chair.
"Draw it around," she directed. "I want you where you can't get away, for I'm going to cast a spell over you."
"Going to?" The accent on the first word was stronger than the reply necessitated.
"Do many people ask favors of an editor?"
"More than enough."
"And is the editor often kind and obliging?"
"That depends on the favor."
"Not a little bit on the asker?"
"Naturally, that, too."
"Your tone isn't very encouraging." She searched his face with her limpid, lingering regard. "Did you bring the proofs?"
Still holding his eyes to hers, she stretched out her hand to receive the strip of print, "Do you think I'd better read it?"
"Then I will."
Studying her face, as she read, Hal saw it change from gay to grave, saw her quiver and wince with a swiftly indrawn breath, and straightened his spine to what he knew was coming.
"Oh, it's cruel," she said in a low tone, letting the paper fall on her knee.
"It's true," said Hal.
"Oh, no! Even if it were, it ought not to be published."
"Because—" The girl hesitated.
"Because she's one of us?"
"No. Yes. It has something to do with my feeling, I suppose. Why, you've been a guest at her house."
"Suppose I have. The 'Clarion' hasn't."
"Isn't that rather a fine distinction?"
"On the contrary. Personally, I might refrain from saying anything about it. Journalistically, how can I? It's the business of the 'Clarion' to give the news. More than that: it's the honor of the 'Clarion.'"
"But what possible good will it do?"
"If it did no other good, it would warn other reckless drivers."
"Let the police look to that. It's their business."
"You know that the police dare do nothing to the daughter of Elias M. Pierce. See here, Partner,"—Hal's tone grew gentle,—"don't you recall, in that long talk we had about the paper, one afternoon, how you backed me up when I told you what I meant to do in the way of making the 'Clarion' honest and clean and strong enough to be straight in its attitude toward the public? Why, you've been the inspiration of all that I've been trying to do. I thought that was the true Esme. Wasn't it? Was I wrong? You're not going back on me, now?"
"But she's so young," pleaded Esme, shifting her ground before this attack. "She doesn't think. She's never had to think. Your article makes her look a—a murderess. It isn't fair. It isn't true, really. If you could have seen her here, so frightened, so broken. She cried in my arms. I told her it shouldn't be printed. I promised."
Here was the Great American Pumess at bay, and suddenly splendid in her attitude of protectiveness. In that moment, she had all but broken Hal's resolution. He rose and walked over to the window, to clear his thought of the overpowering appeal of her loveliness.
"How can I—" he began, coming back: but paused because she was holding out to him the proof. Across it, in pencil, was written, "Must not," and the initials, E.S.M.E.
"Kill it," she urged softly.
"And my honesty with it."
"Oh, no. It can't be so fatal, to be kind for once. Let her off, poor child."
Hal stood irresolute.
"If it were I?" she insisted softly.
"If it were you, would you ask it?"
"I shouldn't have to. I'd trust you."
The sweetness of it shook him. But he still spoke steadily.
"Others trust me, now. The men in the office. Trust me to be honest."
Again she felt the solid wall of character blocking her design, and within herself raged and marveled, and more deeply, admired. Resentment was uppermost, however. Find a way through that barrier she must and would. Whatever scruples may have been aroused by his appeal to her she banished. No integer of the impressionable sex had ever yet won from her such a battle. None ever should: and assuredly not this one. The Great American Pumess was now all feline.
She leaned forward to him. "You promised."
"Have you forgotten?"
"I have never forgotten one word that has passed between us since I first saw you."
"Ah; but when was that?"
"Seven weeks ago to-day, at the station."
"Fifteen years ago this summer," she corrected. "You have forgotten," She laughed gayly at the amazement in his face. "And the promise." Up went a pink-tipped finger in admonition. "Listen and be ashamed, O faithless knight. 'Little girl, little girl: I'd do anything in the world for you, little girl. Anything in the world, if ever you asked me.' Think, and remember. Have you a scar on your left shoulder?"
The effort of recollection dimmed Hal's face. "Wait! I'm beginning to see. The light of the torches across the square, and the man with the knife.—Then darkness.—was unconscious, wasn't I?—Then the fairy child with the soft eyes, looking down at me. Little girl, little girl, it was you! That is why I seemed to remember, that day at the station, before I knew you."
"Yes," she said, smiling up at him.
"How wonderful! And you remembered. How more than wonderful!"
"Yes, I remembered." It was no part of her plan—quite relentless, now—to tell him that her uncle had recounted to her the events of that far-distant night, and that she had been holding them in reserve for some hitherto undetermined purpose of coquetry. So she spoke the lie without a tremor. What he would say next, she almost knew. Nor did he disappoint her expectation.
"And so you've come back into my life after all these years!"
"You haven't taken back your proof." She slipped it into his hand. "What have you done with my subscription-flower?"
"The arbutus? It stands always on my desk."
"Do you see the rest of it anywhere?"
Her eyes rested on a tiny vase set in a hanging window-box of flowers, and holding a brown and withered wisp. "I tend those flowers myself," she continued. "And I leave the dead arbutus there to remind me of the responsibilities of journalism—and of the hold I have over the incorruptible editor."
"Does it weigh upon you?" He answered the tender laughter in her eyes.
"Only the uncertainty of it."
"Do you realize how strong it is, Esme?"
"Not so strong, apparently, as certain foolish scruples." A soft color rose in her face, as she half-buried it in a great mass of apple blossom. From the mass she chose a spray, and set it in the bosom of her dress, then got to her feet and moved slowly toward him. "You're not wearing my colors to-night." This was directed to the white rose in his buttonhole. He took it out and tossed it into the fireplace.
"Pink's the only wear," declared the girl gayly. With delicate fingers she detached a little luxuriant twig of the bloom from her breast, and set it in the place where the rose had been. Her face was close to his. He could feel her hands above his heart.
"Please," she breathed.
"What?" He was playing for time and reason.
"For Kathleen Pierce. Please."
His hand closed over hers. "You are bribing me."
If she said it again, she knew that he would kiss her. So she spoke, with lifted face and eyes of uttermost supplication. "For me. Please."
Men had kissed Esme Elliot before; for she had played every turn of the game of coquetry. Some she had laughed to scorn and dismissed; some she had sweetly rebuked, and held to their adoring fealty. She had known the kiss of headlong passion, of love's humility, of desperation, even of hot anger; but none had ever visited her lips twice. The game, for her, was ended with the surrender and the avowal; and she protected herself the more easily in that her pulses had never been stirred to more than the thrill of triumph.
In Hal Surtaine's arms she was playing for another stake. So intent had she been upon her purpose that the guerdon of the modern Venus Victrix, the declaration of the lover, was held in the background of her mind. For a swift, bewildering moment, she felt his lips upon hers, the gentlest, the tenderest pressure, instantly relaxed: then the sudden knowledge of him for what he was, a loyal and chivalrous gentleman thus beguiled, burned her with a withering and intolerable shame. Simultaneously she felt her heart go out to him as never yet had it gone to any man, and in that secret shock to her maidenhood, the coquette in her waned and the woman waxed.
She drew back, quivering, aghast. With all the force of this new and tumultuous emotion, she hoped for her own defeat: yearned over him that he should refuse that for which she had unworthily pressed. Yet, such is the perversity of that strange struggle against the great surrender, that she gathered every power of her sex to gain the dreaded victory. By an effort she commanded her voice, releasing herself from his arms.
"Wait. Don't speak to me for a minute," she said hoarsely.
"But I must speak, now,—dear, dearest."
"Am—am I that to you?" The feline in her caught desperately at the opportunity.
"Always. From the first."
"Let me atone with the rest of my life for that treason." He laughed happily.
"You keep your promise, then, to the little girl?" At her feet lay the galley proof. Birdlike she darted down upon it, seized, and tore it half across. "No: you do it," she commanded, thrusting it into his hand.
No longer was he master of himself. The kiss had undermined him. "Must I?" he said.
Victorious and aghast, she yet smiled into his face. "I knew I could believe in you," she cried. "You're a true knight, after all. I declare you my Knight-Editor. No well-equipped journalistic partnership should be without one."
Perhaps had the phrase been different, Hal might have yielded. So narrow a margin of chance divides the paths of honor and dishonor, to mortals groping dimly through the human maze. But the words were an echo to wake memory. Rugged, harsh, and fine the face of McGuire Ellis rose before Hal. He heard the rough voice, with its undertone of affection beneath the jocularity of the rather feeble pun, and it called him back like a trumpet summons to the loyalty which he had promised to the men of the "Clarion." He slipped the half-torn paper into his pocket.
"I can't do it, Esme."
"No." Finality was in the monosyllable.
She looked into his leveled and quiet eyes, and knew that she had lost. And the demon of perversity, raging, stung her to its purposes.
"After this, you tell me that you can't, you won't?"
"Dearest! You're not going to let it make a difference in our love for each other."
"Our love! You go far, and fast."
"Do I go too far, since you have let me kiss you?"
"I didn't," she cried.
"Then you meant nothing by it?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You are trying to take advantage of a position which you forced," she said coldly.
"Let me understand this clearly." He had turned white. "You let me make love to you, in order to entrap me and save your friend. Is that it?"
No reply came from her other than what he could read in compressed lips and smouldering eyes.
"So that is the kind of woman you are." There were both wonder and distress in his voice. "That is the kind of woman for whose promise to be my wife I would have given the heart out of my body."
At this the tumult and catastrophe of her emotion fused into a white hot, illogical anger against this man who was suffering, and by his suffering made her suffer.
"Your wife? Yours?" She smiled hatefully. "The wife of the son of a quack? You do yourself too much honor, Hal Surtaine."
"I fear that I did you too much honor," he replied quietly.
Suffocation pressed upon her throat as she saw him go to the door. For a moment the wild desire to hold him, to justify herself, to explain, even to ask forgiveness, seized her. Bitterly she fought it down, and so stood, with wide eyes and smiling lips. At the door he turned to look, with a glance less of appeal than of incredulity that she, so lovely, so alluring, so desirable beyond all the world, a creature of springtime and promise embowered amidst the springtime and promise of the apple-bloom, could be such as her speech and action proclaimed her.
Hal carried from her house, like a barbed arrow, the memory of that still and desperate smile.
Working on an empty heart is almost as severe a strain as the less poetic process of working on an empty stomach. On the morning after the failure of Esme's strategy and the wrecking of Hal's hopes, the young editor went to his office with a languid but bitter distaste for its demands. The first item in the late afternoon mail stung him to a fitter spirit, as a sharp blow will spur to his best efforts a courageous boxer. This was a packet, containing the crumbled fragments of a spray of arbutus, and a note in handwriting now stirringly familiar.
I have read your editorial. From a man dishonest enough to print deliberate lies and cowardly enough to attack a woman, it is just such an answer as I might have expected.
ELEANOR S.M. ELLIOT.
At first the reference to the editorial bewildered Hal. Then he remembered. Esme had known nothing of the editorial until she read it in the paper. She had inferred that he wrote it after leaving her, thus revenging himself upon her by further scarification of the friend for whom she had pleaded. To the charge of deliberate mendacity he had no specific clue, not knowing that Kathleen Pierce had denied the authenticity of the interview. He mused somberly upon the venomed injustice of womankind. The note and its symbol of withered sweetness he buried in his waste-basket. If he could but discard as readily the vision of a face, strangely lovely in its anger and chagrin, and wearing that set and desperate smile! Well, there was but one answer to her note. That was to make the "Clarion" all that she would have it not be!
No phantoms of lost loveliness came between McGuire Ellis and his satisfaction over the Pierce coup. Characteristically, however, he presented the disadvantageous as well as the favorable aspects of the matter to his employer.
"Some paper this morning!" he began. "The town is humming like a hive."
"Over the Pierce story?" asked Hal.
"Nothing else talked of. We were sold out before nine this morning."
"Selling papers is our line of business," observed the owner-editor.
"You won't think so when you hear Shad Shearson. He's an avalanche of woe, waiting to sweep down upon you."
"What's his trouble? The department store advertising?"
"The Boston Store advertising is gone. Others are threatening to follow. Pierce has called a meeting of the Publications Committee of the Dry Goods Union. Discipline is in the air, Boss. Have you seen the evening papers?"
"What did you think of their stories of the accident?"
"I seemed to notice a suspicious similarity."
"You can bet every one of those stories came straight from E.M. Pierce's own office. You'll see, they'll be the same in to-morrow morning's papers. Now that we've opened up, they all have to cover the news, so they've thoughtfully sent around to inquire what Elias M. would like to have printed."
"From what they say," remarked Hal flippantly, "the nurse ought to be arrested for trying to bump a sixty-horsepower car out of the roadway."
"We strive to please, in the local newspaper shops."
Ellis turned to answer the buzzing telephone. "Get on your life preserver," he advised his principal. "Shearson's coming up to weep all over you."
The advertising manager entered, his plump cheeks sagging into lugubrious and reproachful lines, speaking witnesses to a sentiment not wholly unjustifiable in his case. To see circulation steadily going up and advertising as steadily going down, is an irritant experience to the official responsible for the main income of a daily paper, advertising revenue.
"Advertisers have some rights," he boomed, in his heavy voice.
"Including that of homicide?" asked Hal.
"Let the law take care of that. It ain't our affair."
"Would it be our affair if Pierce didn't control advertising?"
Shearson's fat hands went to his fat neck in a gesture of desperation. "That's different," he cried. "I can't seem to make you see my point. Why looka here, Mr. Surtaine. Who pays for the running of a newspaper? The advertisers. Where do your profits come from? Advertising. There never was a paper could last six months on circulation alone. It's the ads. that keep every paper going. Well, then: how's a paper going to live that turns against its own support? Tell me that. If you were running a business, and a big buyer came in, would you roast him and knock his methods, and criticize his family, and then expect to sell him a bill of goods? Or would you take him out to the theater and feed him a fat cigar, and treat him the best you know how? You might have your own private opinion of him—"
"A newspaper doesn't deal in private opinions," put in Hal.
"Well, it can keep 'em private for its own good, can't it? How many readers care whether E.M. Pierce's daughter ran over a woman or not? What difference does it make to them? They'd be just as well satisfied to read about the latest kick-up in Mexico, or the scandal at Washington, or Mrs. Whoopdoodle's Newport dinner to the troupe of educated fleas. But it makes a lot of difference to E.M. Pierce, and he can make it a lot of difference to us. So long as he pays us good money, he's got a right to expect us to look out for his interests."
"So have our readers who pay us good money, Mr. Shearson."
"What are their interests?" asked the advertising manager, staring.
"To get the news straight. You've given me your theory of journalism; now let me give you mine. As I look at it, there's a contract of honor between a newspaper and its subscribers. Tacitly the newspaper says to the subscriber, 'For two cents a day, I agree to furnish you with the news of your town, state, nation, and the outside world, selected to the best of my ability, and presented without fear or favor.' On this basis, if the newspaper fakes its news, if it distorts facts, or if it suppresses them, it is playing false with its subscribers. It is sanding its sugar, and selling shoddy for all-wool. Isn't that true?"
"Every newspaper does it," grumbled Shearson. "And the public knows it."
"Doubted. The public knows that newspapers make mistakes and do a lot of exaggerating and sensationalizing. But you once get it into their heads that a certain newspaper is concealing and suppressing news, and see how long that paper will last. The circulation will drop and the very men like Pierce will be the first to withdraw their advertising patronage. Your keen advertiser doesn't waste time fishing in dead pools. So even as a matter of policy the straight way may be the best, in the long run. Whether it is or not, get this firmly into your mind, Mr. Shearson. From now on the first consideration of the 'Clarion' will be news and not advertising."
"Then, good-night 'Clarion,'" pronounced Shearson with entire solemnity.
"Is that your resignation, Mr. Shearson?"
"Do you want me to quit?"
"No; I don't. I believe you're an efficient man, if you can adjust yourself to new conditions. Do you think you can?"
"Well, I ain't much on the high-brow stuff, Mr. Surtaine, but I can take orders, I guess. I'm used to the old 'Clarion,' and I kinda like you, even if we don't agree. Maybe this virtuous jag'll get us some business for what it loses us. But, say, Mr. Surtaine, you ain't going to get virtuous in your advertising columns, too, are you?"
"I hadn't considered it," said Hal. "One of these days I'll look into it."
"For God's sake, don't!" pleaded Shearson, with such a shaken flabbiness of vehemence that both Hal and Ellis laughed, though the former felt an uneasy puzzlement.
The article and editorial on the Pierce accident had appeared in a Thursday's "Clarion." In their issues of the following day, the other morning papers dealt with the subject most delicately. The "Banner" published, without obvious occasion, a long and rather fulsome editorial on E.M. Pierce as a model of high-minded commercial emprise and an exemplar for youth: also, on the same page in its "Pointed Paragraphs," the following, with a point quite too palpably aimed:—
"It is said, on plausible if not direct authority, that one of our morning contemporaries will appropriately alter its motto to read, 'With Malice toward All: with Charity for None.'"
But it remained for that evening's "Telegram" to bring up the heavy guns. From its first edition these headlines stood out, black and bold:—
E.M. PIERCE DEFENDS DAUGHTER
* * * * *
MAGNATE INCENSED AT UNJUST ATTACKS WILL PUSH CASE AGAINST HER TRADUCERS TO A FINISH
There followed an interview in which the great man announced his intention of bringing both civil and criminal action for libel against the "Clarion." McGuire Ellis frowned savagely at the sheet.
"Dirty skunk!" he growled.
"Meaning our friend Pierce?" queried Hal.
"No. Meaning Parker, and the whole 'Telegram' outfit."
"Because they printed that interview."
"What's wrong with it? It's news."
"Don't be positively infantile, Boss. Newspapers don't print libel actions brought against other newspapers. It's unprofessional. It's unethical. It isn't straight."
"No: I don't see that at all," decided Hal, after some consideration. "That amounts simply to this, that the newspapers are in a combination to discourage libel actions, by suppressing all mention of them."
"Certainly. Why not? Libel suits are generally holdups."
"I think the 'Telegram' is right. Whatever Pierce says is news, and interesting news."
"You bet Parker would never have carried that if his holding corporation wasn't a heavy borrower in the Pierce banks."
"Maybe not. But I think we'll carry it."
"In the 'Clarion'?" almost shouted Ellis.
"Certainly. Let's have Wayne send a reporter around to Pierce. If Pierce won't give us an interview, we'll reprint the 'Telegram's,' with credit."
"We'd be cutting our own throats, and playing Pierce's game. Besides, stuff about ourselves isn't news."
Hal's inexperience had this virtue, that it was free of the besetting and prejudicial superstitions of the craft of print. "If it's interesting, it's the 'Clarion' kind of news."
Ellis, about to protest further, met the younger man's level gaze, and swallowed hard.
"All right," he said. "I'll tell Wayne."
So the "Clarion" violated another tradition of newspaperdom, to the amused contempt of its rivals, who were, however, possibly not quite so amused or so contemptuous as they appeared editorially to be. Also it followed up the interview with an explicit statement of its own intentions in the matter, which were not precisely music to the savage breast of E.M. Pierce.
Evidences of that formidable person's hostilities became increasingly manifest from day to day. One morning a fire marshal dropped casually in upon the "Clarion" office, looked the premises over, and called the owner's attention to several minor and unsuspected violations of the law, the adjustment of which would involve no small inconvenience and several hundred dollars outlay. By a curious coincidence, later in the day, a factory inspector happened around,—a newspaper office being, legally, within the definition of a factory,—and served a summons on McGuire Ellis as publisher, for permitting smoking in the city room. From time immemorial every edition of every newspaper in the United States of America has evolved out of rolling clouds of tobacco smoke: but the "Clarion" alone, apparently, had come within the purview of the law. Subsequently, Hal learned, to his amusement, that all the other newspaper offices were placarded with notices of the law in Yiddish, so that none might be unduly disturbed thereby! To give point to the discrimination, down on the street, a zealous policeman arrested one of the "Clarion's" bulk-paper handlers for obstructing the sidewalk.
"Pierce's political pull is certainly working," observed Ellis, "but it's coarse work."
Finer was to come. Two libel suits mushroomed into view in as many days, provoked, as it were, out of conscious nothing; unimportant but harassing: one, brought by a ne'er-do-well who had broken a leg while engaged in a drunken prank months before, the other the outcome of a paragraph on a little, semi-fraudulent charity.
"I'll bet that eminent legal light, Mr. William Douglas, could tell something about these," said Ellis, "though his name doesn't appeal on the papers."
"We'll print these, too,—and we'll tell the reason for them," said Hal.
But on this last point his assistant dissuaded him. The efficient argument was that it would look like whining, and the one thing which a newspaper must not do was to lament its own ill-treatment.
On top of the libel suits came a letter from the Midland National Bank, stating with perfect courtesy that, under its present organization, a complicated account like that of the "Clarion" was inconvenient to handle; wherefore the bank was reluctantly obliged to request its withdrawal.
"Bottling us up financially," remarked Ellis. "I expected this, before."
"There are other banks than the Midland that'll be glad of our business," replied Hal.
"No? Then they're curious institutions."
"There isn't one of 'em in which Elias M. Pierce isn't a controlling factor. Ask your father."
On the following day when Dr. Surtaine, who had been out of town for several days, dropped in at the office, Hal had a memorandum ready on the point. The old quack eased himself into a chair with his fine air of ample leisure, creating for himself a fragrant halo of cigar smoke.
"Well, Boyee." The tone was a mingling of warm affection and semi-humorous reproach. "You went and did it to Elias M., didn't you?"
"Yes, sir. We went and did it."
The Doctor shook his head, looking at the other through narrowing eyes. "And it's worrying you. You're not looking right."
"Oh, I'm well enough: a little sleeplessness, that's all."
He did not deem it necessary to tell his father that upon his white nights the unforgettable face of Esme Elliot had gleamed persistently from out the darkness, banishing rest.
"Suppose you let me do some of the worrying, Boyee."
"Haven't you enough troubles in your own business, Dad?" smiled Hal.
"Machinery, son. Automatic, at that. Runs itself and turns out the dollars, regular, for breakfast. Very different from the newspaper game."
"I should like your advice."
"On the take-it-or-leave-it principle, I suppose," answered Dr. Surtaine, with entire good humor. "In the Pierce matter you left it. How do you like the results?"
"Not very much."
Dr. Surtaine spread out upturned hands, in dumb, oracular illustration of his own sagacity.
"But I'd do the same thing over again if it came up for decision."
"That's exactly what you mustn't do, Hal. Banging around the shop like that, cracking people on the knuckles may give you a temporary feeling of power and importance" (Hal flushed boyishly), "but it don't pay. Now, if I get you out of this scrape, I want you to go more carefully."
"How are you going to get me out of it?"
"Square it with E.M. Pierce. He's a good friend of mine."
"Do you really like Mr. Pierce, Dad?"
"Hm! Ah—er—well, Boyee, as for that, that's another tail on a cat. In a business way, I meant."
"In a business way he's trying to be a pretty efficient enemy of mine. How would you like it if he undertook to interfere with Certina?"
By perceptible inches Dr. Surtaine's chest rounded in slow expansion. "Legislatures and government bureaus have tried that. They never got away with it yet. Elias Pierce is a pretty big man in this town, but I guess he knows enough to keep hands and tongue off me."
"If not off your line of business," amended Ellis. "Did you see his interview in the 'Telegram'?"
He tossed over a copy of the paper folded to a column wherein Mr. Pierce, with more temper than tact, had possessed himself of his adversary's editorial text, "Heredity," and proceeded to perform a variant thereon.
"If this young whippersnapper," Mr. Pierce had said, "this fledgling thug of journalism, had stopped to think of the source of his unearned money, perhaps he wouldn't talk so glibly about heredity."
Thence the interview pursued a course of indirect reflection upon the matter and method of the patent medicine trade, as exemplified in Certina and its allied industries. The top button of Dr. Surtaine's glossy morning coat, as he read, seemed in danger of flying off into infinite space. His powerful hands opened and closed slowly. Leaning forward he reached for the telephone, but checked himself.
"Mr. Pierce seems to have let go both barrels at once," he said with a strong effort of control.
"Pretty little exhibition of temper, isn't it?" said Hal, smiling.
"Temper's expensive. Perhaps we'll teach Elias M. Pierce that lesson before we're through. You remember it, too, next time you start in on a muckraking jag."
"Our muckraking, as you call it, isn't a question of temper, Dad," said Hal earnestly. "It's a question of policy. What the 'Clarion' is doing, is done because we're trying to be a newspaper. We've got to stick to that. I've given my word."
"To the men on the staff."
"What's more," put in McGuire Ellis, turning at the door on his way out to see a caller, "the fellows have got hold of the idea. That's what gives the 'Clarion' the go it's got. We're all rowing one stroke."
"And the captain can't very well quit in mid-race." Hal took up the other's metaphor, as the door closed behind him. "So you see, Dad, I've got to see it through, no matter what it costs me."
The father's rich voice dropped to a murmur. "Hasn't it cost you something more than money, already, Boyee? I understand Miss Esme is a pretty warm friend of Pierce's girl."
"All right, Boyee. I don't want to pry. But lots of things come quietly to the old man's ear. You've got a right to your secrets."
"It isn't any secret, Dad. In fact, it isn't anything any more," said Hal, smiling wanly. "Yes, the price was pretty high. I don't think any other will ever be so high."
Dr. Surtaine heaved his bulk out of the chair and laid a heavy arm across his son's shoulder.
"Boyee, you and I don't agree on a lot of things. We're going to keep on not agreeing about a lot of things. You think I'm an old fogy with low-brow standards. I think you've got a touch of that prevalent disease of youth, fool-in-the-head. But, I guess, as father and son, pal and pal, we're pretty well suited,—eh?"
"Yes," said Hal. There was that in the monosyllable which wholly contented the older man.
"Go ahead with your 'Clarion,' Boyee. Blow your fool head off. Deave us all deaf. Play any tune you want, and pay yourself for your piping. I won't interfere—any more'n I can help, being an old meddler by taste. Blood's thicker than water, they say. I guess it's thicker than printer's ink, too. Remember this, right or wrong, win or lose, Boyee, I'm with you."
All Hal's days now seemed filled with Pierce. Pierce's friends, dependents, employees, associates wrote in, denouncing the "Clarion," canceling subscriptions, withdrawing advertisements. Pierce's club, the Huron, compelled the abandonment of Mr. Harrington Surtaine's candidacy. Pierce's clergyman bewailed the low and vindictive tone of modern journalism. The Pierce newspapers kept harassing the "Clarion"; the Pierce banks evinced their financial disapproval; the Pierce lawyers diligently sought new causes of offense against the foe; while Pierce's mayor persecuted the newspaper office with further petty enforcements and exactions. Pierce's daughter, however, fled the town. With her went Miss Esme Elliot. According to the society columns, including that of the "Clarion," they were bound for a restful voyage on the Pierce yacht.
From time to time Editor Surtaine retaliated upon the foe, employing the news of the slow progress of Miss Cleary, the nurse, to maintain interest in the topic. Protests invariably followed, sometimes from sources which puzzled the "Clarion." One of the protestants was Hugh Merritt, the young health officer of the city, who expressed his views to McGuire Ellis one day.
"No," Ellis reported to his employer, on the interview, "he didn't exactly ask that we let up entirely. But he seemed to think we were going too strong. I couldn't quite get his reasons, except that he thought it was a terrible thing for the Pierce girl, and she so young. Queer thing from Merritt. They don't make 'em any straighter than he is."
Alone of the lot of protests, that of Mrs. Festus Willard gained a response from Hal.
"You're treating her very harshly, Hal."
"We're giving the facts, Lady Jinny."
"Are they the facts? All the facts?"
"So far as human eyes could see them."
"Men's eyes don't see very far where a woman is concerned. She's very young and headstrong, and, Hal, she hasn't had much chance, you know. She's Elias Pierce's daughter."
"Thus having every chance, one would suppose."
"Every chance of having everything. Very little chance of being anything."
There was a pause. Then: "Very well, Hal, I know I can trust you to do what you believe right, at least. That's a good deal. Festus tells me to let you alone. He says that you must fight your own fight in your own way. That's the whole principle of salvation in Festus's creed."
"Not a bad one," said Hal. "I'm not particularly liking to do this, you know, Lady Jinny."
"So I can understand. Have you heard anything from Esme Elliot since she left?"
"You mustn't drop out of the set, Hal," said the little woman anxiously. "You've made good so quickly. And our crowd doesn't take up with the first comer, you know."
Since Esme Elliot had passed out of his life, as he told himself, Hal found no incentive to social amusements. Hence he scarcely noticed a slow but widening ostracism which shut him out from house after house, under the pressure of the Pierce influence. But Mrs. Festus Willard had perceived and resented it. That any one for whom she had stood sponsor should fail socially in Worthington was both irritating and incredible to her. Hence she made more of Hal than she might otherwise have found time to do, and he was much with her and Festus Willard, deriving, on the one hand, recreation and amusement from her sparkling camaraderie, and on the other, support and encouragement from her husband's strong, outspoken, and ruggedly honest common sense. Neither of them fully approved of his attack on Kathleen Pierce, whom they understood better than he did. But they both—and more particularly Festus Willard—appreciated the courage and honor of the "Clarion's" new standards.
Except for an occasional dinner at their house, and a more frequent hour late in the afternoon or early in the evening, with one or both of them, Hal saw almost nothing of the people into whose social environment he had so readily slipped. Because of his exclusion, there prospered the more naturally a casual but swiftly developing intimacy which had sprung up between himself and Milly Neal.
It began with her coming to Hal for his counsel about her copy. From the first she assumed an attitude of unquestioning confidence in his wisdom and taste. This flattered the pedagogue which is inherent in all of us. He was wise enough to see promptly that he must be delicately careful in his criticism, since here he was dealing out not opinion, but gospel. Poised and self-confident the girl was in her attitude toward herself: the natural consequence of early success and responsibility. But about her writing she exhibited an almost morbid timidity lest it be thought "vulgar" or "common" by the editor-in-chief; and once McGuire Ellis felt called upon to warn Hal that he was "taking all the gimp out of the 'Kitty the Cutie' stuff by trying to sewing-circularize it." Of literature the girl knew scarcely anything; but she had an eager ambition for better standards, and one day asked Hal to advise her in her reading.
Not without misgivings he tried her with Stevenson's "Virginibus Puerisque" and was delighted with the swiftness and eagerness of her appreciation. Then he introduced her by careful selection to the poets, beginning with Tennyson, through Wordsworth, to Browning, and thence to the golden-voiced singers of the sonnet, and all of it she drank in with a wistful and wondering delight. Soon her visits came to be of almost daily occurrence. She would dart in of an evening, to claim or return a book, and sit perched on the corner of the big work-table, like a little, flashing, friendly bird; always exquisitely neat, always vividly pretty and vividly alive. Sometimes the talk wandered from the status of instructor and instructed, and touched upon the progress of the "Clarion," the view which Milly's little world took of it, possible ways of making it more interesting to the women readers to whom the "Cutie" column was supposed to cater particularly. More than once the more personal note was touched, and the girl spoke of her coming to the Certina factory, a raw slip of a country creature tied up in calico, and of Dr. Surtaine's kindness and watchfulness over her.
"He wanted to do well by me because of the old man—my father, I mean," she caught herself up, blushing. "They knew each other when I was a kid."
"Where?" asked Hal.
"Oh, out east of here," she answered evasively.
Again she said to him once, "What I like about the 'Clarion' is that it's trying to do something for folks. That's all the religion I could ever get into my head: that human beings are mostly worth treating decently. That counts for more than all your laws and rules and church regulations. I don't like rules much," she added, twinkling up at him. "I always want to kick 'em over, just as I always want to break through the police lines at a fire."
"But rules and police lines are necessary for keeping life orderly," said Hal.
"I suppose so. But I don't know that I like things too orderly. My teacher called me a lawless little demon, once, and I guess I still am. Suppose I should break all the rules of the office? Would you fire me?" And before he could answer she was up and had flashed away.
As the intimacy grew, Hal found himself looking forward to these swift-winged little visits. They made a welcome break in the detailed drudgery; added to the day a glint of color, bright like the ripple of half-hidden flame that crowned Milly's head. Once Veltman, intruding on their talk, had glared blackly and, withdrawing, had waited for the girl in the hallway outside from whence, as she left, Hal could hear the foreman's deep voice in anger and her clear replies tauntingly stimulating his chagrin.
Having neglected the Willards for several days, Hal received a telephone message, about a month after Esme Elliot's departure, asking him to stop in. He found Mrs. Willard waiting him in the conservatory. His old friend looked up as he entered, with a smile which did not hide the trouble in her eyes.
"Aren't you a lily-of-the-field!" admired the visitor, contemplating her green and white costume.
"It's the Vanes' dance. Not going?"
"Not asked. Besides, I'm a workingman these days."
"So one might infer from your neglect of your friends. Hal, I've had a letter from Esme Elliot."
"Any message?" he asked lightly, but with startled blood.
There was no answering lightness in her tones. "Yes. One I hate to give. Hal, she's engaged herself to Will Douglas. It must have been by letter, for she wasn't engaged when she left. 'Tell Hal Surtaine' she says in her letter to me."
"Thank you, Lady Jinny," said Hal.
The diminutive lady looked at him and then looked away, and suddenly a righteous flush rose on her cheeks.
"I'm fond of Esme," she declared. "One can't help but be. She compels it. But where men are concerned she seems to have no sense of her power to hurt. I could kill her for making me her messenger. Hal, boy," she rose, slipping an arm through his caressingly, "I do hope you're not badly hurt."
"I'll get over it, Lady Jinny. There's the job, you know."
He started for the office. Then, abruptly, as he went, "the job" seemed purposeless. Unrealized, hope had still persisted in his heart—the hope that, by some possible turn of circumstance, the shattered ideal of Esme Elliot would be revivified. The blighting of his love for her had been no more bitter, perhaps less so, than the realization which she had compelled in him of her lightness and unworthiness. Still, he had wanted her, longed for her, hoped for her. Now that hope was gone. There seemed nothing left to work for, no adequate good beyond the striving. He looked with dulled vision out upon blank days. With a sudden weakening of fiber he turned into a hotel and telephoned McGuire Ellis that he wouldn't be at the office that evening. To the other's anxious query was he ill, he replied that he was tired out and was going home to bed.
Meantime, far across the map at a famous Florida hostelry, the Great American Pumess, in the first flush and pride of her engagement which all commentators agree upon as characteristic of maidenhood's vital resolution, lay curled up in a little fluffy coil of misery and tears, repeating between sobs, "I hate him! I hate him!" Meaning her fiance, Mr. William Douglas, with whom her mind and emotions should properly have been concerned? Not so, perspicacious reader. Meaning Mr. Harrington Surtaine.
Upon his small portion of the map, that gentleman wooed sleep in vain for hours. Presently he arose from his tossed bed, dressed quietly, slipped out of the big door and walked with long, swinging steps down to the "Clarion" Building. There it stood, a plexus of energies, in the midst of darkness and sleep. Eye-like, its windows peered vigilantly out into the city. A door opened to emit a voice that bawled across the way some profane demand for haste in the delivery of "that grub"; and through the shaft of light Hal could see brisk figures moving, and hear the roar and thrill of the press sealing its irrevocable message.
Again he felt, with a pride so profound that its roots struck down into the depths of humility, his own responsibility to all that straining life and energy and endeavor. He, the small atom, alone in the night, was the "Clarion." Those men, the fighting fellowship of the office, were rushing and toiling and coordinating their powers to carry out some ideal still dimly inchoate in his brain. What mattered his little pangs? There was a man's test to meet, and the man within him stretched spiritual muscles for the trial.
"If I could only be sure what's right," he said within himself, voicing the doubt of every high-minded adventurer upon unbeaten paths. Sharply, and, as it seemed to him, incongruously, he wondered that he had never learned to pray; not knowing that, in the unfinished phrase he had uttered true prayer. A chill breeze swept down upon him. Looking up into the jeweled heavens he recalled from the far distance of memory, the prayer of a great and simple soul,—
"Make thou my spirit pure and clear As are the frosty skies."
Hal set out for home, ready now for a few hours' sleep. At a blind corner he all but collided with a man and a woman, walking at high speed. The woman half turned, flinging him a quick and silvery "Good-evening." It was Milly Neal. The man with her was Max Veltman.
Worthington began to find the "Clarion" amusing. It blared a new note. Common matter of everyday acceptance which no other paper in town had ever considered as news, became, when trumpeted from between the rampant roosters, vital with interest. And whithersoever it directed the public attention, some highly respectable private privilege winced and snarled. Worthington did not particularly love the "Clarion" for the enemies it made. But it read it.
Now, a newspaper makes its enemies overnight. Friends take months or years in the making. Hence the "Clarion," whilst rapidly broadening its circle of readers, owed its success to the curiosity rather than to the confidence which it inspired. Meantime the effect upon its advertising income was disastrous. If credence could be placed in the lamenting Shearson, wherever it attacked an abuse, whether by denunciation or ridicule, it lost an advertiser. Moreover the public, not yet ready to credit any journal with honest intentions, was inclined to regard the "Clarion" as "a chronic kicker." The "Banner's" gibing suggestion of a reversal of the editorial motto between the triumphant birds to read "With malice toward all," stuck.
But there were compensations. The blatant cocks had occasional opportunity for crowing. With no small justification did they shrill their triumph over the Midland & Big Muddy Railroad. The "Mid and Mud" had declared war upon the "Clarion," following the paper's statement of the true cause of the Walkersville wreck, as suggested by Marchmont, the reporter, at the breakfast. Marchmont himself had been banished from the railroad offices. All sources of regular news were closed to him. Therefore, backed by the "Clarion," he proceeded to open up a line of irregular news which stirred the town. For years the "Mid and Mud" had given to Worthington a passenger service so bad that no community less enslaved to a laissez-faire policy would have endured it. Through trains drifted in anywhere from one to four hours late. Local trains, drawn by wheezy, tin-pot locomotives of outworn pattern, arrived and departed with such casualness as to render schedules a joke, and not infrequently "bogged down" between stations until some antediluvian engine could be resuscitated and sent out to the rescue. The day coaches were of the old, dangerous, wooden type. The Pullman service was utterly unreliable, and the station in which the traveling populace of Worthington spent much of its time, a draft-ridden barn. Yet Worthington suffered all this because it was accustomed to it and lacked any means of making protest vocal.
Then the "Clarion" started in publishing its "Yesterday's Time-Table of the Midland & Big Muddy R.R. Co." to this general effect:
Day Express Due 10 A.M. Arrived 11.43 A.M. Late 1 hour 43 min. Noon Local Due 12 A.M. Arrived 2.10 P.M. Late 2 hrs. 10 min. Sunrise Limited Due 3 P.M. Arrived 3.27 P.M. Late 0 hrs. 27 min.
And so on. From time to time there would appear, underneath, a special item, of which the following is an example:
"The Eastern States Through Express of the Midland & Big Muddy Railroad arrived and departed on time yesterday. When asked for an explanation of this phenomenon, the officials declined to be interviewed."
Against this "persecution," the "Mid and Mud" authorities at first maintained a sullen silence. The "Clarion" then went into statistics. It gave the number of passengers arriving and departing on each delayed train, estimated the value of their time, and constructed tables of the money value of time lost in this way to the city of Worthington, per day, per month, and per year. The figures were not the less inspiring of thought, for being highly amusing.
People began to take an interest. They brought or sent in personal experiences. A commercial traveler, on the 7.50 train (arriving at 10.01, that day), having lost a big order through missing an appointment, told the "Clarion" about it. A contractor's agent, gazing from the windows of the stalled "Limited" out upon "fresh woods and pastures new" twenty miles short of Worthington, what time he should have been at a committee meeting of the Council, forfeited a $10,000 contract and rushed violently into "Clarion" print, breathing slaughter and law-suits. Judge Abner Halloway and family, arriving at the New York pier in a speeding taxi from the Eastern Express (five hours late out of Worthington), just in time to see the Lusitania take his forwarded baggage for a pleasant outing in Europe, hired a stenographer (male) to tell the "Clarion" what he thought of the matter, in words of seven syllables. Professor Beeton Trachs, the globe-trotting lecturer, who arrived via the "M. and M." for an eight o'clock appearance, at 9.54, gave the "Clarion" an interview proper to the occasion of having to abjure a $200 guaranty, wherein the mildest and most judicial opinion expressed by Professor Trachs was that crawling through a tropical jungle on all fours was speed, and being hurtled down a mountain on the bosom of a landslide, comfort, compared to travel on the "Mid and Mud."
All these and many similar experiences, the "Clarion" published in its "News of the M. and M." column. It headed them, "Stories of Survivors." For six weeks the railroad endured the proddings of ridicule. Then the Fourth Vice-President of the road appeared in Mr. Harrington Surtaine's sanctum. He was bland and hinted at advertising. Two weeks later the Third Vice-President arrived. He was vague and hinted at reprisals. The Second Vice-President presented himself within ten days thereafter, departed after five unsatisfactory minutes, and reported at headquarters, with every symptom of an elderly gentleman suffering from shock, that young Mr. Surtaine had seemed bored. The First Vice-President then arrived on a special train.
"What do you want, anyway?" he asked.
"Decent passenger service for Worthington," said the editor. "Just what I've told every other species and number of Vice-President on your list."
"You get it," said the First Vice-President.
Thus was afforded another example of that super-efficiency which, we are assured, marks the caste of the American railroad as superior to all others, and which consists in sending four men and spending several weeks to do what one could do better in a single day. In the course of a few weeks the Midland & Big Muddy did bring its service up to a reasonable standard, and the owner of the "Clarion" savored his first pleasant proof of the power of the press.
Vastly less important, but swifter and more definite in results and more popular in effect, was the "Clarion's" anti-hat-check campaign. The Stickler, Worthington's newest hotel, had established a coat-room with the usual corps of girl-bandits, waiting to strip every patron of his outer garments before admitting him to the restaurant, and returning them only upon the blackmail of a tip. All the other good restaurants had followed suit. Worthington resented it, as it resented most innovations; but endured the imposition, for lack of solidarity, until the "Clarion" took up the subject in a series of paragraphs.
"Do you think," blandly inquired the editorial roosters, "that when you tip the hat-check girl she gets the tip? She doesn't. It goes to a man who rents from the restaurant the privilege of bullying you out of a dime or a quarter. The girl holds you up, because if she doesn't extort fifteen dollars a week, she loses her job and her own munificent wages of seven dollars. The 'Clarion' takes pleasure in announcing a series of portraits of the high-minded pirates of finance whom you support in luxury, when you 'give up' to the check-girl. Our first portrait, ladies and gentlemen, is that of Mr. Abe Hotzenmuller, race-track bookmaker and whiskey agent, who, in the intervals of these more reputable occupations, extracts alms from the patrons of the Hotel Stickler."
Next in line was "Shirty" MacDonough, a minor politician, "appropriately framed in silver dimes," as the "Clarion" put it. He was followed by Eddie Perkins, proprietor of a dubious resort on Mail Street. By this time coat-room franchises had suffered a severe depreciation. They dropped almost to zero when the newspaper, having clinched the lesson home with its "Photo-graft Gallery of Leading Dime-Hunters," exhorted its readers: "If you think you need your change as much as these men do, watch for the coupon in to-morrow's 'Clarion,' and Stick it in Your Hat." The coupon was as follows:
I READ THE CLARION. I WILL NOT GIVE ONE CENT IN TIPS TO ANY COAT-ROOM GRAFTER. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
The enterprise hit upon the psychological moment. Every check-room bristled with hats proclaiming defiance, and, incidentally, advertising the "Clarion." The "cut-out coupon" ran for three weeks. In one month the Stickler check-room, last to surrender, gave up the ghost, and Mr. Hotzenmuller sued the proprietor for his money back!
Over the theatrical managers the paper's victory was decisive in this, that it established honest dramatic criticism in Worthington. But only at a high cost. Not a line of theater advertising appeared in the columns after the editorial announcement of independence. Press tickets were cut off. The "Clarion's" dramatic reporter was turned back from the gate of the various theaters, after paying for admittance. Nevertheless, the "Clarion" continued to publish frank criticism of current drama, through a carefully guarded secret arrangement with the critic of the "Evening News." About this time a famous star, opening a three days' engagement, got into difficulties with the scene-shifters' union over an unjust demand for extra payment, refused to be blackmailed, and canceled the second performance. One paper only gave the facts, and that was the "Clarion," generally regarded as the defender and mouthpiece of the laboring as against the capitalistic interests. Great was the wrath of the unions. Boycott was threatened; even a strike in the office. In response, the editorial page announced briefly that its policy of giving the news accurately and commenting upon it freely exempted no man or organization. The trouble soon died out, but, while making new enemies amongst the rabid organization men, strengthened the "Clarion's" growing repute for independence. One of the most violent objectors was Max Veltman, whose protest, delivered to Hal and McGuire Ellis, was so vehement that he was advised curtly and emphatically to confine his activities and opinions to his own department.
"Look out for that fellow," advised Ellis, as the foreman went away fuming. "He hates you."
"Only his fanaticism," said Hal.
"More than that. It's personal. I think," added the associate editor after some hesitancy, "it's 'Kitty the Cutie.' He's jealous, Hal. And I think he's right. That girl's getting too much interested in you."
Hal flushed sharply. "Nonsense!" he said, and the subject lapsed.
Meantime the manager of the Ralston Opera House, where the labor trouble had occurred, made tentative proffer of peace in the form of sending in the theater advertising again. Hal promptly refused to accept it, by way of an object-lesson, despite the almost tearful protest of his own business office. This blow almost killed Shearson.
In fact, the unfortunate advertising manager now lived in an atmosphere of Stygian gloom. Two of the most extensive purchasers of newspaper space, the Boston Store and the Triangle Store, had canceled their contracts immediately after the attack on the Pierces, through a "joker" clause inserted to afford such an opportunity. All the other department stores threatened to follow suit when the "Clarion" took up the cause of the Consumers' League.
Mrs. Festus Willard was president of the organization, which had been practically moribund since its inception, for the sufficient reason that no mention of its activities, designs, or purposed reforms could gain admission to any newspaper in Worthington. The Retail Union saw to that through its all-potent Publication Committee. Perceiving the crescent emancipation of the "Clarion," Mrs. Willard, after due consultation with her husband, appealed to Hal. Would he help the League to obtain certain reforms? Specifically, seats for shopgirls, and extra pay for extra work, as during Old Home Week, when the stores kept open until 10 P.M.? Hal agreed, and, in the face of the dismalest forecasts from Shearson, prepared several editorials. Moreover, "Kitty the Cutie" took up the campaign in her column, and her series of "Lunch-Time Chats," with their slangy, pungent, workaday flavor, presented the case of the overworked saleswomen in a way to stir the dullest sympathies. The event fully justified Shearson in his role of Cassandra. Half of the remaining stores represented in the Retail Union notified the "Clarion" of the withdrawal of their advertising. Thus some twelve hundred dollars a week of income vanished. Moreover, the Union, it was hinted, would probably blacklist the "Clarion" officially. And the shop-folk gained nothing by the campaign. The merchants were strong enough to defeat the League and its sole backer at every point. This was one of the "Clarion's" failures.
Coincident with the ebb of the store advertising occurred a lapse in circulation, inexplicable to the staff until an analysis indicated that the women readers were losing interest. It was young Mr. Surtaine who solved the mystery, by a flash of that newspaper instinct with which Ellis had early credited him.
"Department store advertising is news," he decided, in a talk with Ellis and Shearson.
"How can advertising be news?" objected the manager.
"Anything that interests the public is news, on the authority of no less an expert than Mr. McGuire Ellis. Shopping is the main interest in life of thousands of women. They read the papers to find out where the bargains are. Watch 'em on the cars any morning and you'll see them studying the ads. The information in those ads. is what they most want. Now that we don't give it to them, they are dropping the paper. So we've got to give it to them."
"Now you're talking," cried Shearson. "Cut out this Consumers' League slush and I'll get the stores back."
"We'll cut out nothing. But we'll put in something. We'll print news of the department stores as news, not as advertising."
"Well, if that ain't the limit!" lamented Shearson. "If you give 'em advertising matter free, how can you ever expect 'em to pay for it?"
"We're not giving it to the stores. We're giving it to our readers."
"In which case," remarked McGuire Ellis with a grin, "we can afford to furnish the real facts."
"Exactly," said Hal.
From this talk developed a unique department in the "Clarion." An expert woman shopper collected the facts and presented them daily under the caption, "Where to Find Real Bargains," and with the prefatory note, "No paid matter is accepted for this column." The expert had an allowance for purchasing, where necessary, and the utmost freedom of opinion was granted her. Thus, in the midst of a series of items, such as—"The Boston Store is offering a special sale of linens at advantageous prices"; "The necktie sale at the Emporium contains some good bargains"; and "Scheffler and Mintz's 'furniture week' is worth attention, particularly in the rocking-chair and dining-set lines"—might appear some such information as this: "In the special bargain sale of ribbons at the Emporium the prices are slightly higher than the same lines sold for last week, on the regular counter"; or, "The heavily advertised antique rug collection at the Triangle is mostly fraudulent. With a dozen exceptions the rugs are modern and of poor quality"; or, "The Boston Shop's special sale of rain coats are mostly damaged goods. Accept none without guarantee."
Never before had mercantile Worthington known anything like this. Something not unlike panic was created in commercial circles. Lawyers were hopefully consulted, but ascertained in the first stages of investigation, that wherever a charge of fraud was brought, the "Clarion" office actually had the goods, by purchase. All this was costly to the "Clarion." But it added nearly four thousand solid circulation, of the buying class, a class of the highest value to any advertiser. Only with difficulty and by exercise of pressure on the part of E.M. Pierce, were the weaker members among the withdrawing advertisers dissuaded from resuming their patronage of the "Clarion."