"The subscription lists are closed, on the old terms," he said crisply.
"Oh, you couldn't have thought I meant that!" she whispered; but he was already halfway down the room, on the echo of his "Good-afternoon, Miss Elliot."
As before, he turned at the door. And he carried with him, to muse over in the depths of his outraged heart once more, the mystery of that still and desperate smile. Any woman could have solved it for him. Any, except, possibly, Esme Elliot.
"It didn't come out as I hoped, Festus," said the sorrowful little Mrs. Willard to her husband that evening. "I don't know that Hal will ever believe in her again. How can he be so—so stupidly unforgiving!"
"Always the man's fault, of course," said her big husband comfortably.
"No. She's to blame. But it's the fault of men in general that Norrie is what she is; the men of this town, I mean. No man has ever been a man with Norrie Elliot."
"What have they been?"
"Mice. It's a tradition of the place. They lie down in rows for her to trample on. So of course she tramples on them."
"Well, I never trampled on mice myself," observed Festus Willard. "It sounds like uncertain footing. But I'll bet you five pounds of your favorite candy against one of your very best kisses, that if she undertakes to make a footpath of Hal Surtaine she'll get her feet hurt."
"Or her heart," said his wife. "And, oh, Festus dear, it's such a real, warm, dear heart, under all the spoiled-childness of her."
Between Dr. Surtaine and his son had risen a barrier built up of reticences. At the outset of their reunion, they had chattered like a pair of schoolboy friends, who, after long separation, must rehearse to each other the whole roster of experiences. The Doctor was an enthusiast of speech, glowingly loquacious above knife and fork, and the dinner hours were enlivened for his son by his fund of far-gathered business incidents and adventures, pointed with his crude but apt philosophy, and irradiated with his centripetal optimism. He possessed and was conscious of this prime virtue of talk, that he was never tiresome. Yet recently he had noted a restlessness verging to actual distaste on Hal's part, whenever he turned the conversation upon his favorite topic, the greatness of Certina and the commercial romance of the proprietary medicine business.
In his one close fellowship, the old quack cultivated even the minor and finer virtues. With Hal he was scrupulously tactful. If the boy found his business an irksome subject, he would talk about the boy's business. And he did, sounding the Paean of Policy across the Surtaine mahogany in a hundred variations supported by a thousand instances. But here, also, Hal grew restive. He responded no more willingly to leads on journalism than to encomiums of Certina. Again the affectionate diplomat changed his ground. He dropped into the lighter personalities; chatted to Hal of his new friends, and was met halfway. But in secret he puzzled and grieved over the waning of frankness and freedom in their intercourse. Dinner, once eagerly looked forward to by both as the best hour of the day, was now something of an ordeal, a contact in which each must move warily, lest, all unknowing, he bruise the other.
Of the underlying truth of the situation Dr. Surtaine had no inkling. Had any one told him that his son dared neither speak nor hear unreservedly, lest the gathering suspicions about his father, against which he was fighting while denying to himself their very existence, should take form and substance of unescapable facts, the Doctor would have failed utterly of comprehension. He ascribed Hal's unease and preoccupation to a more definite cause. Sedulous in everything which concerned his "Boyee," he had learned something of the affair with Esme Elliot, and had surmised distressfully how hard the blow had been: but what worried him much more were rumors connecting Hal's name with Milly Neal. Several people had seen the two on the day of the road-house adventure. Milly, with her vivid femininity was a natural mark for gossip. The mere fact that she had been in Hal's runabout was enough to set tongues wagging. Then, sometime thereafter, she had resigned her position in the "Clarion" office without giving any reason, so Dr. Surtaine understood. The whole matter looked ugly. Not that the charlatan would have been particularly shocked had Hal exhibited a certain laxity of morals in the matter of women. For this sort of offense Dr. Surtaine had an easy toleration, so long as it was kept decently under cover. But that his son should become entangled with one of his—Dr. Surtaine's—employees, a woman under the protection of his roof, even though it were but the factory roof—that, indeed, would be a shock to his feudal conception of business honor.
Such dismal considerations the Doctor had suppressed during an unusually uncomfortable dinner, on a hot and thunder-breeding evening when both of the Surtaines had painfully talked against time. Immediately after the meal, Hal, on pretext of beating the storm to the office, left. His father took his forebodings to the club and attempted to lose them along with several rubbers of absent-minded bridge. Meantime the woman for whom his loyalty was concerned as well as for his son, was stimulating a resolution with the slow poison of liquor around the corner from the "Clarion" office.
Nine P.M. is slack tide in a morning newspaper office. The afternoon news is cleared up; the night wires have not yet begun to buzz with outer-world tidings of importance; the reporters are still afield on the evening's assignments. As the champion short-distance sleeper of his craft, which distinction he claimed for himself without fear of successful contradiction, McGuire Ellis was wont to devote half an hour or more, beginning on the ninth stroke of the clock, to the cultivation of Morpheus. Intruders were not popular at that hour.
To respect for this habitude, Reginald Currier, known to mortals as Bim, Guardian of the Sacred Gates, had been rigorously educated. But Bim had a creed of his own which mollified the rigidity of specific standards, and one tenet thereof was the apothegm, "Once a 'Clarion' man, always a 'Clarion' man," the same applying to women. Therefore, when Milly Neal appeared at the gate at 9.05 in the evening, the Cerberus greeted her professionally with a "How goes it, Miss Cutie?" and passed her in without question. She went straight to the inner office.
"Hoong!" grunted McGuire Ellis, rubbing his eyes in a desperate endeavor to disentangle dreams from actualities. "What are you doing here?"
"I want to see Mr. Surtaine."
Something in the girl's aspect put Ellis on his guard. "What do you want to see him about?" he asked.
"I don't see any Examination Bureau license pinned to you, Ellis," she retorted hardily.
"The Boss is out."
"I don't believe it."
"All right," said McGuire Ellis equably. "I'm a liar."
"Then you're the proper man for a 'Clarion' job," came the savage retort.
"Come off, Kitty. Don't be young!"
"I want to see Hal Surtaine," she said with sullen insistence.
Shaking himself out of his chair, the associate editor started across the room to the telephone at Hal's desk, but halted sharply in front of the girl.
"You've been drinking," he said.
"What's it to you if I have?"
The man's hand fell on her shoulder. There was no familiarity in the act; only comradeship. Comradeship in the voice, also, and concern, as he said, "Cut it, Neal, cut it. There's nothing in it. You're too good stuff to throw yourself away on that."
"Don't you worry about me." She shook off his hand, and seated herself.
"Still working at the Certina joint?"
"No. I'm not working."
"See here, Neal: what made you quit us?"
The girl withheld speech back of tight-pressed lips.
"Oh, well, never mind that. The point is, we miss you. We miss the 'Cutie' column. It was good stuff. We want you back."
"And I guess you miss us. You liked the job, didn't you?"
The girl gazed past him with ashen eyes. "Oh, my God!" she said under her breath.
"Your job back and no questions asked," pursued Ellis, with an outer cheerfulness which cost him no small effort in the face of his growing conviction of some tragic issue pending.
Now she looked directly at him, and there was a flicker of flame in her regard.
"Do you know what a Hardscrabbler is, Ellis?" she asked.
The other rubbed his head in puzzlement. "I don't believe I do," he confessed.
"Then you won't understand when I tell you that I'm one and that I'd see your 'Clarion' blazing in hell before I'd take another cent of your money." The fire died from her face, and in her former tone of dulled stolidity she repeated, "I want to see Mr. Surtaine."
With every word uttered, McGuire Ellis's forebodings had grown darker. That Hal Surtaine, carried away by the girl's vividness and allure, might have involved himself in a liaison with her was credible enough. He recalled the episode of the road-house, on that stormy spring day. That Hal would have deserted her afterward, Ellis could not believe. And yet—and yet—why otherwise should she come with the marks of fierce misery in her face, demanding an interview at this time? On one point Ellis's mind was swiftly made up: she should not see Hal.
"Miss Neal," he said quietly, "you can sit there all night, but you can't see the Boss unless you tell me your errand."
The girl rose, slowly. "Oh, I guess you all stand together here," she said. "Well, remember: I gave him his chance to square himself."
When Hal came up from a visit to the new press half an hour later, Ellis had decided to say nothing of the call. Later, he must have it out with his employer, for the sake of both of them and of the "Clarion." But it was an ordeal which he was glad to postpone. Nothing more, he judged, was to be feared that night, from Milly Neal; he could safely sleep over the problem. Having a certain sufficient religion of his own, McGuire Ellis still believes that a merciful Heaven forgives us our sins; but, looking back on that evening's decision, he sometimes wonders whether it ever fully pardons our mistakes.
While he sat reading proof on the status of a flickering foreign war, the Hardscrabbler's daughter, in a quiet back room farther down the block, slowly sipped more gin; and gin is fire and fury to the Hardscrabbler blood.
At eleven o'clock that evening, Dr. Surtaine, returning to that massive hybrid of architecture which he called home, found Milly Neal waiting in his study.
"Well, Milly: what's up?" he asked, cheerfully enough in tone, but with a sinking heart.
"I want to know what you're going to do for me?"
"You've got a right to know. I'm in trouble."
"What kind of trouble?"
"The kind you make money out of with your Relief Pills."
"Milly! Milly!" cried the quack, in honest distress. "I wouldn't have believed it of you."
"Yes: it's terrible, isn't it!" mocked the girl. "What are you going to do about it? It's up to you."
"Up to me?" queried the Doctor, bracing himself for what was coming.
"Don't you promise, with your Relief Pills to get women out of trouble?"
Dr. Surtaine's breath came a little easier. Perhaps she was not going to force the issue upon him by mentioning Hal. If this were diplomacy, he would play the game.
"Certainly not! Certainly not!" he protested with a scandalized air. "We've never made such a claim. It would be against the law."
"Look at this." She held up in her left hand a clipping, showing a line-cut of a smiling woman, over the caption "A Happy Lady"; and announcing in wide print, "Every form of suppression relieved. The most obstinate cases yield at once. Thousands of once desperate women bless the name of Relief Pills."
"I don't want to look at it," said the Doctor.
"No, I guess you don't! It's from the 'Clarion,' that clipping. And the Neverfail Company that makes the fake abortion pills is you."
"It doesn't mean—that. You've misread it."
"It does mean just that to every poor, silly fool of a girl that reads it. What else can it mean? 'The most obstinate cases'—"
"Don't! Don't!" There was a pause, then:
"Of course, you can't stay in the Certina factory after this."
A bitter access of mirth seized the girl. The sound of it
"rang cracked and thin, Like a fiend's laughter, heard in Hell, Far down."
"Of course!" she mocked. "The pious and holy Dr. Surtaine couldn't have an employee who went wrong. Not even though it was his lies that helped tempt her."
"Don't try to put it off on me. You are suffering for your own sin, my girl," accused the quack.
"I'll stand my share of it; the suffering and the disgrace, if there is any. But you've got to stand your share. You promised to get me out of this and I believed you."
"I! Promised to—"
"In plain print." She tossed the clipping at him with her left hand. The other she held in her lap, under a light wrap which she carried. "And I believed you. I thought you were square. Then when the pills didn't help, I went to a doctor, and he laughed and said they were nothing but sugar and flavoring. He wouldn't help me. He said no decent doctor would. You ain't a decent doctor. You're a lying devil. Are you going to help me out?"
"If you had come in a proper spirit—"
"That's enough. I've got my answer." She rose slowly to her feet. "After I found out what was wrong with me, I went home to my father. I didn't tell him about myself. But I told him I was quitting the Certina business. And he told me about my mother, how you sent her to her death. One word from me would have brought him here after you. This time he wouldn't have missed you. Then they'd have hung him, I suppose. That's why I held my tongue. You killed my mother, you and your quack medicines; and now you've done this to me." Her hand jerked up out of the wrap. "I don't see where you come in to live any longer," said Milly Neal deliberately.
Dr. Surtaine looked into the muzzle of a revolver.
There was a step on the soft rug outside, the curtain of the door to Dr. Surtaine's right parted, and Hal appeared. He carried a light stick.
"I thought I heard—" he began. Then, seeing the revolver, "What's this! Put that down!"
"Don't move, either of you," warned the girl. "I haven't said my say out. You're a fine-matched pair, you two! Him with his sugar-pills and you, Hal Surtaine, with your lying promises."
Lying promises! The phrase, thus used in the girl's mouth against the son, struck to the father's heart, confirming his dread. It was Hal, then. For the moment he forgot his instant peril, in his sorrow and shame.
"I don't know why I shouldn't kill you both," went on the half-crazed girl. "That'd even the score. Two Surtaines against two Neals, my mother and me."
The light of slaying was in her eyes, as she stiffened her arm. Just a fraction of an inch the arm swerved, for a streak of light was darting toward her. Hal had taken the only chance. He had flung his cane, whirling, in the hope of diverting her aim, and had followed it at a leap.
The two shots were almost instantaneous. At the second, the quack reeled back against the wall. The girl turned swiftly upon Hal, and as he seized her he felt the cold steel against his neck. The touch seemed to paralyze him. Strangely enough, the thought of death was summed up in a vast, regretful curiosity to know why all this was happening. Then the weapon fell.
"I can't kill you!" cried the girl, in a bursting sob, and fell, face down, upon the floor.
Hal, snatching up the revolver, ran to his father.
"I'm all right," declared the quack. "Only the shoulder. Just winged. Get me a drink from that decanter."
His son obeyed. With swift, careful hands he got the coat off the bulky-muscled arm, and saw, with a heart-lifting relief, that the bullet had hardly more than grazed the flesh. Meantime the girl had crawled, still sobbing, to a chair.
"Did I kill him?" she asked, covering her eyes against what she might see.
"No," said Hal.
"Listen," commanded Dr. Surtaine. "Some one's coming. Keep quiet." He walked steadily to the door and called out, "It's nothing. Just experimenting with a new pistol. Go back to your bed."
"Who was it?" asked Hal.
"The housekeeper. There's just one thing to do for the sake of all of us. This has got to be hushed up. I'm going out to telephone. Don't let her get away, Hal."
"Get away! Oh, my God!" breathed the girl.
Hal walked over to her, his heart wrung with pity.
"Why did you come here to kill my father, Milly?" he asked.
She stooped to pick up the "Happy Lady" clipping from the floor.
"That's why," she said.
"Good God!" said Hal. "Have you been taking that—those pills?"
"Taking 'em? Yes, and believing in 'em, till I found out it was all damned lies. And your fine and noble and honest 'Clarion' advertises the lies just as your fine and noble and honest father makes the pills. They're no good. Do you get that? And when I came here and told your father he'd got to help me out of my trouble, what do you think he told me? That I'd lost my job at the factory!"
"Who is the man, Milly?"
"What business is that of yours?"
"I'll go after him and see that he marries you if it takes—"
"Oh, he'd be only too glad to marry me if he could. He can't. Poor Max has got a wife somewhere—"
"Max? It's Veltman!" cried Hal. "The dirty scoundrel."
"Oh, don't blame Max," said the girl wearily. "It isn't his fault. After you threw me down"—Hal winced—"I started to run wild. It's the Hardscrabbler in me. I took to drinking and running around, and Max pulled me out of it, and I went to live with him. I didn't care. Nothing mattered, anyway. And I wasn't afraid of anything like this happening, because I thought the pills made it all safe."
Here Dr. Surtaine reappeared. "I've got a detective coming that I can trust."
"A detective?" cried Hal. "Oh, Dad—"
"You keep out of this," retorted his father, in a tone such as his son had never heard from him before. "I guess you've done enough. The question is"—he continued as regardless of Milly as if she had been deaf—"how to hush her up."
"You've had your chance to hush me up," said the girl sullenly.
"Any money within reason—"
"I don't want your money."
"Listen here, then. You tried to murder me. That's ten years in State's prison. Now, if ever I hear of you opening your mouth about this, I'll send you up. I guess that will keep you quiet. Now, then, what's your answer?"
"Give me a glass of whiskey, and I'll tell you."
Hal poured her out a glass. She passed a swift hand above it.
"Here's peace and quiet in the proprietary medicine business," she said, and drank. "I guess that'll—make—some—stir," she added, with an effect of carefully timing her words.
Her body lapsed quite gently back into the chair. The two men ran and bent over her as the glass tinkled and rolled on the floor. There was an acrid, bitter scent in the air. They lifted their heads, and their eyes met in a haggard realization. No longer was there any need of hushing up Milly Neal.
The doorbell buzzed.
"That's the detective," said Dr. Surtaine to Hal. "Stay here."
He wormed himself painfully into an overcoat which concealed his scarified shoulder, and went out. In a few moments he and the officer reappeared. The latter glanced at the body.
"Heart disease, you say?" he asked.
"Yes: valvular lesion."
"Better 'phone the coroner's office, eh?"
"Not necessary. I can give a certificate. The coroner will be all right," said Dr. Surtaine, with an assurance derived from the fact that a year before he had given that functionary five hundred dollars for not finding morphine in the stomach of a baby who had been dosed to death on the "Sure Soother" powders.
"That goes," agreed the detective. "What undertaker?"
"Any. And, Murtha, while you're at the 'phone, call up the 'Clarion' office and tell McGuire Ellis to come up here on the jump, will you?"
Left to themselves, with the body between them, father and son fell into a silence, instinct with the dread of estranging speech. Hal made the first effort.
"Your shoulder?" he said.
"Nothing," declared the Doctor. "Later on will do for that." He brooded for a time. "You can trust Ellis, can you?"
"It's the newspapers we have to look out for. Everything else is easy."
He conducted the detective, who had finished telephoning, into the library, set out drinks and cigars for him and returned. Nothing further was said until Ellis arrived. The associate editor's face, as he looked from the dead girl to Hal, was both sorrowful and stern. But he was there to act; not to judge or comment. He consulted his watch.
"Eleven forty-five," he said. "Better give out the story to-night."
"Why not wait till to-morrow?" asked Dr. Surtaine.
"The longer you wait, the more it will look like suppressing it."
"But we want to suppress it."
"Certainly," agreed Ellis. "I'm telling you the best way. Fix the story up for the 'Clarion' and the other papers will follow our lead."
"If we can arrange a story that they'll believe—" began Hal.
"Oh, they won't believe it! Not the kind of story we want to print. They aren't fools. But that won't make any difference."
"I should think it would be just the sort of possible scandal our enemies would catch at."
"You've still got a lot to learn about the newspaper game," replied his subordinate contemptuously. "One newspaper doesn't print a scandal about the owner of another. It's an unwritten law. They'll publish just what we tell 'em to—as we would if it was their dis—I mean misfortune. Come, now," he added, in a hard, businesslike voice, "what are we going to call the cause of death?"
"Miss Neal died of heart disease."
"Call it heart disease," confirmed the other. "Circumstances?"
This was a poser. Dr. Surtaine and Hal looked at each other and looked away again.
"How would this do?" suggested Ellis briskly. "Miss Neal came here to consult Dr. Surtaine on an emergency in her department at the factory, was taken ill while waiting, and was dead when he—No; that don't fit. If she died without medical attendance, the coroner would have to give a permit for removal. Died shortly after Dr. Surtaine's arrival in spite of his efforts to revive her; that's it!"
"Just about how it happened," said Dr. Surtaine gratefully.
"For publication. Now give me the real facts—under that overcoat of yours."
Dr. Surtaine started, and winced as the movement tweaked the raw nerves of his wound. "There's nothing else to tell," he said.
"You brought me here to lie for you," said the journalist. "All right, I'm ready. But if I'm to lie and not get caught at it, I must know the truth. Now, when I see a man wearing an overcoat over a painful arm, and discover what looks like a new bullet hole in the wall of the room, I think a dead body may mean something more than heart disease."
"I don't see—" began the charlatan.
But Hal cut him short. "For God's sake," he cried in a voice which seemed to gouge its way through his straining throat, "let's have done with lies for once." And he blurted out the whole story, eking out what he lacked in detail, by insistent questioning of his father.
When they came to the part about the Relief Pills, Ellis looked up with a bitter grin.
"Works out quite logically, doesn't it?" he observed. Then, walking over to the body, he looked down into the face, with a changed expression. "Poor little girl!" he muttered. "Poor little Kitty!" He whirled swiftly upon the Surtaines. "By God, I'd like to write her story!" he cried. The outburst was but momentary. Instantly he was his cool, capable self again.
"You've had experience in this sort of thing before, I suppose?" he inquired of Dr. Surtaine.
"Yes. No! Whaddye mean?" blustered the quack.
"Only that you'll know how to fix the police and the coroner."
"No call for any fixing."
"So all that I have to do is to handle the newspapers," pursued the other imperturbably. "All right. There'll be no more than a paragraph in any paper to-morrow. 'Working-Girl Drops Dead,' or something like that. You can sleep easy, gentlemen."
So obvious was the taunt that Hal stared at his friend, astounded. Upon the Doctor it made no impression.
"Say, Ellis. Do something for me, will you?" he requested. "Wire to Belford Couch, the Willard, Washington, to come on here by first train."
"Couch? Oh, that's Certina Charley, isn't it? Your professional fixer?"
"Never mind what he is. You'll be sure to do it, won't you?"
"No. Do it yourself," said Ellis curtly, and walked out without a good-night.
"Well, whaddye think of that!" spluttered Dr. Surtaine. "That fellow's getting the big-head."
Hal made no reply. He had dropped into a chair and now sat with his head between his hands. When he raised his face it was haggard as if with famine.
"Dad, I'm going away."
"Where?" demanded his father, startled.
"Anywhere, away from this house."
"No wonder you're shaken, Boyee," said the other soothingly. "We'll talk about it in the morning. After a night's rest—"
"In this house? I couldn't close my eyes for fear of what I'd see!"
"It's been a tough business. I'll give you a sleeping powder."
"No; I've got to think this out: this whole business of the Relief Pills."
Dr. Surtaine was instantly on the defensive. "Don't go getting any sentimental notions now, Hal. It's a perfectly legal business."
"So much the worse for the law, then."
"You talk like an anarchist!" returned his father, shocked. "Do you want to be better than the law?"
"If the law permits murder—I do," said Hal, very low.
Indignation rose up within Dr. Surtaine: not wholly unjustified, considering his belief that Hal was primarily responsible for the tragedy. "Are your hands so clean, then?" he asked significantly.
"God knows, they're not!" cried the son, with passion. "I didn't know. I didn't realize."
"Yet you turn on me—"
"Oh, Dad, I don't want to quarrel with you. All I know is, I can't stay in this house any more."
Dr. Surtaine pondered for a few minutes. Perhaps it was better that the boy should go for a time, until his conscience worked out a more satisfactory state of mind. His own conscience was clear. He was doing business within the limits set for him by the law and the Post Office authorities, which had once investigated the "Pills" and given them a clean bill. Milly Neal should not put the onus of her own recklessness and immorality upon him. Nevertheless, he was glad that Belford Couch was coming on; and, by the way, he must telephone a dispatch to him. Rising, he addressed his son.
"Where shall you go?"
"I don't know. Some hotel. The Dunstan."
"Very well. I'll see you at the office soon, I suppose. Good-night."
All Hal's world whirled about him as he saw his father leave the room. What seemed to him a monstrous manifestation of chance had overwhelmed and swept him from all moorings. But was it chance? Was it not, rather, as McGuire Ellis had suggested, the exemplification of an exact logic?
The closing of the door behind his father sent a current of air across the room in which a bit of paper on the floor wavered and turned. Hal picked it up. It was the clipping from the "Clarion"—his newspaper—which Milly Neal had brought as her justification. One line of print stood out, writhing as if in an uncontrollable access of diabolic glee: "Only $1 A Box: Satisfaction Guaranteed"; and above it the face of the Happy Lady, distorted by the crumpling of the paper, smirked up at him with a taunt. He thought to interpret that taunt in the words which Veltman had used, aforetime:—
"What's your percentage?"
THE GREATER TEMPTING
Journalistic Worthington ran true to type in the Milly Neal affair. No newspaper published more than a paragraph about the "sudden death." Suicide was not even hinted at in print. But newspaperdom had its own opinion, magnified and colored by the processes of gossip, over which professional courtesy exercised no control. That the girl had killed herself was generally understood: that there had been a shooting, previous to her death, was also current. Eager report recalled and exaggerated the fact that she had been seen with Hal Surtaine at a dubious road-house some months previous. The popular "inside knowledge" of the tragedy was that Milly had gone to the Surtaine mansion to force Hal's hand, failing in which she had shot him, inflicting an inconsiderable wound, and then killed herself; and that Dr. Surtaine had thereupon turned his son out of the house. Hal's removal to the hotel served to bear out this surmise, and the Doctor's strategic effort to cover the situation by giving it out that his son's part of the mansion was being remodeled—even going to the lengths of actually setting a force of men to work there—failed to convince the gossips.
Between the two men, the situation was now most difficult. Quite instinctively Hal had fallen in with his father's theory that the primal necessity, after the tragedy, was to keep everything out of print. That by so doing he wholly subverted his own hard-won policy did not, in the stress of the crisis, occur to him. Later he realized it. Yet he could see no other course of action as having been possible to him. The mere plain facts of the case constituted an accusation against Dr. Surtaine, unthinkable for a son to publish against his father. And Hal still cozened himself into a belief in the quack's essential innocence, persuading his own reason that there was a blind side to the man which rendered it impossible for him to see through the legal into the ethical phases of the question. By this method he was saving his loyalty and affection. But so profound had been the shock that he could not, for a time, endure the constant companionship of former days. Consequently the frequent calls which Dr. Surtaine deemed it expedient to make for the sake of appearances, at Hal's hotel, resulted in painful, rambling, topic-shifting talks, devoid of any human touch other than the pitiful and thwarted affection of two personalities at hopeless odds. "Least said soonest mended" was a favorite aphorism of the experienced quack. But in this tangle it failed him. It was he who first touched on the poisoned theme.
"Look here, Boy-ee," said he, a week after the burial. "We're both scared to death of what each of us is thinking. Let's agree to forget this until you are ready to talk it out with me."
"What good will talk do?" said Hal drearily.
"None at present." His father sighed. He had hoped for a clean breast of it, a confession of the intrigue that should leave the way open to a readjustment of relations. "So let's put the whole thing aside."
"All right," agreed Hal listlessly. "I suppose you know," he added, "before we close the subject, that I've ordered the Relief Pills advertising out of the 'Clarion.'"
"You needn't have bothered. It won't be offered again."
Silence fell between them. "I've about decided to quit that line," the charlatan resumed with an obvious effort. "Not that it isn't strictly legal," he added, falling back upon his reserve defense. "But it's too troublesome. The copy is ticklish; I've had to write all those ads. myself. And, at that, there's some newspapers won't accept 'em and others that want to edit 'em. Belford Couch and I have been going over the whole matter. He's the diplomat of the concern. And we've about decided to sell out. Anyway," he added, brightening, "there ain't hardly money enough in a side-line like the Pills to pay for the trouble of running it separate."
If Dr. Surtaine had looked for explicit approval of his virtuous resolution, he was disappointed. Yet Hal experienced, or tried to believe that he experienced, a certain factitious glow of satisfaction at this proof that his father was ready to give up an evil thing even without being fully convinced of its wrongfulness. This helped the son to feel that, at least, his sacrifice had been made for a worthy affection. Still, he had no word to say except that he must get to the office. The Doctor left with gloom upon his handsome face.
With McGuire Ellis, Hal's association had become even more difficult than with the Doctor. Since his abrupt and unceremonious departure from the room of death, in the belief in Hal's guilt, Ellis had maintained a purely professional attitude toward his employer. For a time, in his wretchedness and turmoil of spirit, Hal had scarcely noticed Ellis's withdrawal of fellowship, vaguely attributing his silence to unexpressed sympathy. But later, when he broached the subject of Milly's death, he was met with a stony avoidance which inspired both astonishment and resentment. Sub-normal as he now was in nervous strength and tension, he shrank from having it out with Ellis. But he felt, for the first time in his life, forlorn and friendless.
On his part McGuire Ellis brooded over a deep anger. He was not a man to yield lightly of his best; but he had given to Hal, first a fine loyalty, and later, as they grew into closer association, a warm if rather reticent affection. For the rough idealist had found in his employer an idealism not always as clear and intelligent as his own, yet often higher and finer; and along with the professional protectiveness which he had assumed over the younger man's inexperience had come an honest admiration and far-reaching hopes. Now he saw in his chief one who had betrayed his cause through a weak and selfish indulgence. The clear-sighted journalist knew that the newspaper owner with a shameful secret binds his own power in the coils of that secret. And fatally in error as he was as to the nature of the entanglement in which Hal was involved, he foresaw the inevitable effect of the situation upon the "Clarion." Moreover, he was bitterly disappointed in Hal as a man. Had his superior "gone on the loose" and contracted a liaison with some woman of the outer world, Ellis would have passed over the abstract morality of the question. But to take advantage of a girl in his own employ, and then so cruelly to leave her to her fate,—there was rot at the heart of the man who could do that. The excision of the offending "Relief Pills" ad. after the culmination of the tragedy, was simply a sop to hypocrisy.
Only once had Ellis made any reference to Milly's death. On the day of her funeral Max Veltman had disappeared, without notice. A week later he reported for duty, shaken and pallid.
"Do you want to take him back?" Ellis inquired of Hal.
Hal's first impulse was to say "No"; but he conquered it, remembering Milly Neal's pitiful generosity toward her lover.
"Where has he been?" he asked.
"Drunk, I guess."
"What do you think?"
"I think yes."
"All right, if he's sobered up. Tell him it mustn't happen again."
There was a gleam in McGuire Ellis's eye. "Suppose you tell him that it mustn't happen again. It would come with more force from you."
Hal whirled in his chair. "Mac, what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. I was just thinking of 'Kitty the Cutie.'"
"What were you thinking of her?"
"Only that Max Veltman would have gone through hell-fire for her. And, from his looks, he's been through and had the heart burned out of him."
With that he resumed his proof-reading in a dogged silence.
To Hal's great relief Veltman kept out of his way. The man seemed dazed with misery, but did his work well enough. Rumors reached the office that he was striving to gain a refuge from his sufferings by giving all his leisure hours to work in the Rookeries district, under the direction of the Reverend Norman Hale. Ellis was of the opinion that his mind was somewhat affected, and that he would bear watching a bit; and was the more disturbed in that Veltman shared the secret of the great epidemic "spread," now practically completed for the "Clarion's" publishing or suppressing. Ellis held the belief that, now, Hal would order it suppressed. The man who had shirked his responsibility to Milly Neal could hardly be relied on for the stamina necessary to such an exploitation.
The time was at hand for the decision to be made. The two physicians, Elliot and Merritt, pressed for publication. Every day, they pointed out, not only meant a further risk of life, but also increased the impending danger of a general outburst which would find the city wholly unprepared. On the other hand, the journalists, Ellis and Wayne, held out for delay. They perceived the one weak point in their case, that neither a dead body nor a living patient had as yet come to the hands of the constituted authorities for diagnosis. The sole determination had been made on corpses carried across the line and now probably impossible of identification. The committee fund was doing its work of concealment effectually. But Fate tripped the strategy board at last, using the Reverend Norman Hale as its agent.
Since Milly Neal's death, the Reverend Norman had tried to find time to call on Hal Surtaine, and had failed. He wished to talk with him about Veltman. Three days after the funeral he had hauled the "Clarion's" foreman out of the gutter, stood between him and suicide for one savage night of struggle, and listened to the remorse of a haunted soul. Being a man and a brother, the Reverend Norman forbore blame or admonition; being a physician of the inner being, he devised work for the wreck in his slums, and had driven him relentlessly that he might find peace in the service of others. Slowly the man won back to sanity. One obsession persisted, however, disturbing to the clergyman. Veltman was willing to do penance himself, in any possible way, but he insisted that, since the Surtaines shared his guilt, they, too, must make amends, before his dead mistress could rest in her grave. Apprised by Veltman of the whole wretched story, Hale secretly sympathized with this view of the Surtaines' responsibility. But he was concerned lest, in Veltman, it take some form of direct vengeance. When he learned that Veltman had returned to the "Clarion" composing-room to work, the minister, unable to spare time for a call from his almost sleepless activities, sent an urgent request to Hal to meet him at the Recreation Club. Hal being out, Ellis got the note, observed the "Immediate and Important" on the envelope, read the contents, and set out for the rendezvous.
He never got there. For at the corner of Sperry Street he was met by a messenger who knew him.
"The back room at McManey's," said the urchin. "He's in there, waitin'."
Ellis entered the place. At a table sat the Reverend Norman Hale, with an expression of radiant happiness on his gaunt face. The barkeeper, who, on his own initiative, had just brought in a steaming hot drink, stood watching him with unfeigned concern. Hale welcomed Ellis warmly, and drew a chair close for him.
"You sent for Mr. Surtaine," said Ellis.
"Did I?" asked the other vaguely. "I forget. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters, now. Ellis, I've found out the secret."
"The great secret. The solution," replied the young minister, buoyantly. "All that is necessary is to get the bodies."
"Yes, of course," agreed the other, with rising uneasiness. "But they smuggle them out as fast—"
"They won't when I've told them. McGuire Ellis,"—he gripped his companion suddenly with fingers that clamped like a burning vise,—"I can bring the dead back to life."
"Tell me about it. But take a swallow of this first." Ellis pushed the hot drink toward him. "You're cold."
"Nothing but excitement. The glory of it! All this suffering and grief and death—"
"Wait a minute. I want a drink myself."
He turned to the bartender. "Get an auto," he whispered. "Quick!"
"There's a rig outside," said the man. "I seen he was sick when he came in, so I sent for it."
"Good man!" said Ellis. "Telephone to Dr. Merritt at the Health Office to meet me instantly at the hospital. Tell him why. Now, Mr. Hale," he added, "come on. Let's get along. You can tell me on the way."
Still rapt with his vision the minister rose, and permitted himself to be guided to the carriage. Once inside he fell into a semi-stupor. Only at the hospital, where Dr. Merritt was waiting to see him safe within the isolation ward, did he come to his rightful senses, cool, and, as ever, thoughtful of everything but himself.
"You've got your chance for a diagnosis at last, Doctor," he whispered to the health officer.
Half an hour later, Dr. Merritt came out to the waiting journalist.
"Typhus," he said, with grievous exultation. "Unmistakably and officially typhus. We've got our case. Only, I wish to God it had been any of the rest of us."
"Will he die?" queried Ellis.
"God knows. I should say his chance was worse than even. He's worn out from overwork."
For assurance, Dr. Elliot was sent for and added his diagnosis. Ellis got authoritative interviews with both men, and the "Clarion's" great, potential sensation was now fully ripe for print. Denton the reporter had done the previous work well. His "story," leaded out and with subheads, ran flush to two pages of the paper, and every paragraph of it struck fire. It would, as Ellis said, set off a ton of dynamite beneath sleepy Worthington. That night Veltman "pulled" a proof, and Ellis stayed far into the morning, pasting up a dummy of the article for Hal's inspection and final judgment.
It was on Thursday that Norman Hale was taken to the hospital. Friday noon McGuire Ellis laid before his principal the carefully constructed dummy with the brief comment:
"There's the epidemic story."
Hal accepted and read it in silence. Once or twice he made a note. When he had finished, he turned to find Ellis's gaze fixed upon him.
"We ought to run it Monday," said Ellis. "We can round it all up by then."
Monday is the dead day of journalism, the day for which news articles which do not demand instant production are reserved, both to liven up a dull paper and because the sensation produced is greater. However, the sensation inevitable to the publishing of this article, as Hal instantly realized, would be enormous on any day.
"It's big stuff," said he, with a long breath.
Ellis nodded. "Shall I release it for Monday?"
"N-n-no," came the dubious reply.
"It's been held already for ten days."
"Then what does it matter if we hold it a little longer?"
"Human lives, maybe. Isn't that matter enough?"
"That's only a guess. I've got to have time on this," insisted Hal. "It's the most vital question of policy that the paper has had to face."
"Policy!" grunted Ellis savagely.
"Besides, I've given my word to the Chamber of Commerce Committee that we wouldn't publish any epidemic news without due warning to them."
"Then it's to be killed?"
"'Wait for orders' proof," said Hal stonily.
"I might have known," sneered Ellis, with an infinite depth of scorn, and went to bear the bitter message to Wayne.
While the "Clarion" policy trembled in the balance, Dr. Surtaine's Committee on Suppression was facing a new crisis brought about by the striking down of Norman Hale, of which they received early information. Should he die, as was believed probable, the news, whether or not the full facts got into print, would surely become a focus for the propagation of alarmist rumors. In their distress, the patriots of commerce paid a hasty visit to their chief, craving counsel. Having foreseen the possibility of some such contingency, Dr. Surtaine was ready with a plan. The committee would enlarge itself, call a meeting of the representative men of the town, organize an Emergency Health Committee of One Hundred, and take the field against the onset of pernicious malaria. This show of fighting force would allay public alarm, a large fund would be raised, the newspapers would be kept in thorough subjection, and the disease could be wiped out without undue publicity or the imperiling of Old Home Week.
"What about the 'Clarion'?" inquired Hollenbeck, of the committee. "They're still holding off."
"Safe as your hat," Dr. Surtaine assured the questioner with a smile.
"At the meeting you told us you couldn't answer for your son's paper," Stensland recalled.
"I can now," said the confident quack. "Just you leave it to me."
He went direct to the "Clarion" office, revolving in his mind the impending interview. For the first time since the tragedy he anticipated a meeting with his son without embarrassment, for now he had a definite topic to talk about, difficult though it might be.
Finding Hal at the editorial desk he went direct to the point.
"Boy-ee, the epidemic is spreading."
"I know it."
"I'm going to take hold of the matter personally, from now on."
"In what way?"
"By organizing a committee of one hundred to cover the city and make a scientific campaign."
"Are you going to let people know that it's typhus?"
"Sh-sh-sh! So you know, do you? Well, the important thing now is to see that others don't find out. Don't even whisper the word. Malaria's our cue; pernicious malaria. What's the use of scaring every one to death? We'll call a public meeting for next week—"
"Publicity is the last thing you want, I should think."
"Semi-public, I should have said. The epidemic has gone so far that people are beginning to take notice. We've got to reassure them and the right kind of an Emergency Health Committee is the way to do it, Belford Couch is working up the meeting now. I've kept him over on purpose for it. He's the best little diplomat in the proprietary business. And Yours Truly will be elected Chairman of the Committee. It'll cost us a ten-thousand-dollar donation to the fund, but it's worth it to the business."
"To the business? I don't quite see how."
"Simple as a pin! When it's all over and we're ready to let the account of it get into print, Dr. Surtaine, proprietor of Certina, will be the principal figure in the campaign. What's that worth in advertising to the year's business? Not that I'm doing it for that. I'm doing it to save Old Home Week."
"With a little profit on the side."
Dr. Surtaine deemed it politic to ignore the tone of the commentary.
"Why not? Nobody's hurt by it. You'll be on the Central Committee, Boy-ee."
"No; I don't think so."
"I think I'd better keep out of the movement, Dad."
"As you like. And you'll see that the 'Clarion' keeps out of it, too?"
"So that's it."
"Yes, Boy-ee: that's it. You can see, for yourself, that a newspaper sensation would ruin everything just now—and also ruin the paper that sprung it."
"So I heard from Elias M. Pierce sometime since."
"For once Pierce is right."
"Are you asking me to suppress the epidemic story?"
"To let us handle it our own way," substituted the Doctor. "We've got our campaign all figured out and ready to start. Do you know what the great danger is now?"
"Letting the infection go on without taking open measures to stop it."
"You're way wrong! Starting a panic that will scatter it all over the place is the real danger. Have you heard of a single case outside of the Rookeries district, so far?"
Hal strove to recall the death-list on the proof. "No," he admitted.
"You see! It's confined to one locality. Now, what happens if you turn loose a newspaper scare? Why, those poor, ignorant people will swarm out of the Rookeries and go anywhere to escape the quarantine that they know will come. You'll have an epidemic not localized, but general. The situation will be ten times as difficult and dangerous as it is now."
Struck with the plausibility of this reasoning, Hal hesitated. "That's up to the authorities," he said.
"The authorities!" cried the charlatan, in disdain. "What could they do? The damage would be done before they got ready to move. You see, we've got to handle this situation diplomatically. Look here, Boyee; what's the worst feature of an epidemic? Panic. You know the Bible parable. The seven plagues came to Egypt and ten thousand people died. The Grand Vizier said to the plagues, 'How many of my people have you slain?' The plagues said, 'A thousand.' 'What about the other nine thousand?' said the Grand Vizier. 'Not guilty!' said the plagues. 'They were slain by Fear.' Maybe it was in 'Paradise Lost' and not the Bible. But the lesson's the same. Panic is the killer."
"But the disease is increasing all the time," objected Hal. "Are we to sit still and—"
"Is it?" broke in the wily controversialist. "How do you account for this, then?" He drew from his pocket a printed leaflet. "Take a peek at those figures. Fewer deaths in the Rookeries this last week than in any week since March."
This was true. Not infrequently there comes an inexplicable subsidence of mortality in mid-epidemic. No competent hygienist is deceived into mistaking this phenomenon for an indication of the end. Not being a hygienist Hal was again impressed.
"The Health Bureau's own statistics," continued the argumentator, pushing his advantage. "With Dr. Merritt's signature at the bottom."
"Dr. Merritt says that the epidemic is being fostered by secrecy, suppression, and lying."
"All sentimentalism. Merritt would turn the city upside down if he had his way. Was it him that told you it was typhus?"
"No. We've got a two-page story in proof now, giving the whole facts of the epidemic."
"You can't publish it, Boy-ee," said his father firmly.
"Can't? That sounds like an order."
Adroitly Dr. Surtaine caught at the word. "An order drawn on your word of honor."
"If there's any question of honor to the 'Clarion,' it's to tell the truth plainly and take the consequences."
"Who said anything about the 'Clarion's' honor? This is between you and me."
"You'll have to speak more plainly," said Hal with a dawning dread.
"Boyee, I hate to do this, but I've got to, to save the city. You gave me your word that the day you had to suppress news for your own sake, you'd quit this Don Quixotic business and treat others as decently and considerately as you treated yourself."
"Go on," said Hal, in a half whisper.
"Well—Milly Neal." Dr. Surtaine wet his lips nervously. "You saved yourself there by keeping the story out of the papers. Of course you were right. You were dead right. You'd have been a fool to do anything else. But there you are. And there's your promise."
A nausea of the soul sickened Hal. That his father, whom he had so loved and honored, should make of the loyalty which had, at the cost of principle, protected the name of Surtaine against open disgrace, a tool wherewith to tear down his professional standards—it was like some incredible and malign jocosity of a devilish logic. Of what was going on in the quack's mind he had no inkling. He could not know that his father saw in the suppression of the suicide news, only a natural and successful effort on the part of Hal to conceal his own guilt in Milly's death. No more could Dr. Surtaine comprehend that it was the dreadful responsibility of the Surtaine quackery for which Hal had unhesitantly sacrificed the declared principle of the "Clarion." So they gazed darkly at each other across the chasm, each seeing his opponent in the blackest colors.
"You hold me to that?" demanded Hal, half choked.
"I have to, Boy-ee."
To Dr. Surtaine the issue which he had raised was but the distasteful means to a necessary end. To Hal it meant the final capitulation to the forces against which he had been fighting since his first enlightenment.
"I might as well sell the 'Clarion' now, and be done with it," he declared bitterly.
"Nonsense! If you stuck to this foolishness you'd have to sell it or lose it. You'd be ruined, both in influence and in money. How would you feel when Mac Ellis, and Wayne, and all the fellows that stuck by you found themselves out of a job because of your pig-headedness? And what harm are you doing by dropping the story, anyway? We've got this thing beaten, right now. It isn't spreading. It's dropping off. What'll the 'Clarion' look like when its great sensation peters out into thin air? But by that time the harm'll be done and the whole country will think we're a plague-stricken city. Don't do all that damage and spoil everything just for a false delusion, Boyee."
But Hal's mind was brooding on the fatal promise which he had so confidently made his father. One way out there was.
"Since it's a question of my word to you," he said, "I could still publish the truth about Milly Neal."
"No. You couldn't do that, Boyee," said his father in a tone, half sorrowful, half shamed.
"No. You're right. I couldn't—God help me!"
To proclaim his own father a moral criminal in his own paper was the one test which Hal lacked the power to meet. It was the world-old conflict between loyalty and principle—in which loyalty so often and so tragically wins the first combat.
After all, Hal forced himself to consider, he was not serving his public ill by this particular sacrifice of principle. The official mortality figures helped him to persuade himself that the typhus was indeed ebbing. For himself, as the price of silence, there was easy sailing under the flag of local patriotism, and with every success in prospect. Yet it was with sunken eyes that he turned to the tempter.
"All right," he said, with a half groan, "I give in. We won't print it."
Dr. Surtaine heaved a great sigh of relief. "That's horse sense!" he cried jovially. "Now, you go ahead on those lines and you'll make the 'Clarion' the best-paying proposition in Worthington. I'll drop a few hints where they'll do the most good, and you'll see the advertisers breaking their necks to come in. Journalism is no different from any other business, Boy-ee. Live and let live. Bear and forbear. There's the rule for you. The trouble with you, Boy-ee, has been that you've been trying to run a business on pink-tea principles."
"The trouble with me," said his son bitterly, "is that I've been trying to reform a city when I ought to have been reforming myself."
"Oh, you're all right, Boy-ee," his affectionate and admiring father reassured him. "You're just finding yourself. As for this reform—" And he was launched upon the second measure of the Paean of Policy when Hal cut him short by ringing a bell and ordering the boy to send McGuire Ellis to him. Ellis came up from the city room.
"Kill the epidemic story, Mr. Ellis," he ordered.
Red passion surged up into Ellis's face.
"Kill—" he began, in a strangled voice.
"Kill it. You understand?" The associate editor's color receded. He looked with slow contempt from father to son.
"Oh, yes, I understand," he said. "Any other orders to-day?"
Hal made no reply. His father, divining that this was no time for further speech, took his departure. McGuire Ellis went out with black despair at his heart, a soldier betrayed by his captain. And the proprietor of the "Clarion," his feet now set in the path of success and profit, turned back to his work in sodden disenchantment, sighing as youth alone sighs, and as youth sighs only when it foregoes the dream of ideals which is its immortal birthright.
"WHOSE BREAD I EAT"
Having yielded, Hal proposed to take profit by his surrender. With a cynicism born of his bitter disappointment and self-contempt, he took a certain savage and painful satisfaction in stating the new policy editorially.
"As the 'Clarion' is going to be a journalistic prostitute," said he to his father, across the luncheon table, where they were consulting on details of the new policy, "I'm going to go after the business on that basis."
Dr. Surtaine was pained. Every effort of his own convenient logic he put forth to prove that, in this instance, the path of duty and of glory (financial) was one and the same. Hal refused the proffered gloss. "At least you and I can call things by their right names now," said he.
But however Hal might talk, what he wrote met his elder's unqualified approval, as it appeared in the proof sent him by his son. It was a cunningly worded leading editorial, headed "Standards," and it dealt appreciatively, not to say reverently, with the commercial greatness of Worthington. Business, the editor stated, might have to adjust itself to new conditions and opinions in Worthington as elsewhere, but nobody who understood the character of the city's leading men could doubt their good purpose or ability to effect the change with the least damage to material prosperity. Meantime the fitting attitude for the public was one not of criticism but of forbearance and assistance. This was equally true of journalism. The "Clarion" admitted seeing a new light. Constructive rather than destructive effort was called for. And so forth, and so on. No intelligent reader could have failed, reading it, to understand that the "Clarion" had hauled down its flag.
Yet the capitulation must not, for business reasons, be too obvious. Hal spent some toilful hours over the proof, inserting plausible phrases, covering his tracks with qualifying clauses, putting the best front on the shameful matter, with a sick but determined heart, and was about to send it up with the final "O.K." when he came out of his absorption to realize that some one was standing waiting, had been standing waiting, for some minutes at his elbow. He looked around and met the intent gaze of the foreman of the composing-room.
"What is it, Veltman?" he asked sharply.
"That epidemic story."
"Well? What about it?"
"Did you order it killed?"
"Certainly. Haven't you thrown it down?"
"No. It's still in type."
"Throw it down at once."
"Mr. Surtaine, have you thought what you are doing?"
"It is no part of your job to catechize me, Veltman."
"Between man and man." He stepped close to Hal, his face blazing with exaltation. "I must speak now or forever hold my peace."
"Speak fast, then."
"It's your last chance, this epidemic spread. Your last chance to save the 'Clarion' and yourself."
"That will do, Velt—"
"No, no! Listen to me. I didn't say a word when you kept Milly's suicide out of print."
"I should think not, indeed!" retorted Hal angrily.
"That's my shame. I ought to have seen that published if I had to set it up myself."
"Perhaps you're not aware, Veltman, that I know your part in the Neal affair."
"I'd have confessed to you, if you hadn't. But do you know your own? Yours and your father's?"
"Keep my father out of this!"
"Your own, then. Do you know that the money that bought this paper for you was coined out of the blood of deceived girls? Do you know that you and I are paid with the proceeds of the ad. that led Milly Neal to her death? Do you know that?"
"And if I do, what then?" asked Hal, overborne by the man's conviction and vehemence.
"Tell it!" cried the other, beating his fist upon the desk until the blood oozed from the knuckles. "Tell it in print. Confess, man, and warn others!"
"Veltman, suppose we were to print that whole wretched story to-morrow, including the truth about your relations with her."
"Do it! Do it!" cried the other, choked with eagerness. "I'd thank you on my knees. Penance! Give me my chance to do penance! I'll make my own confession in writing. I'll write it in my own blood if need be."
"Steady, Veltman. Keep cool."
"You think I'm crazy? Perhaps I am. There's a fire at my brain since she died. I loved her, Mr. Surtaine."
"But you sacrificed her, Veltman," returned Hal in a gentler tone, for the man's face was livid with agony.
"Don't I know it! My God, don't I know it! But you can't escape the responsibility because of my sin. It was your paper that helped fool her. She believed in the paper, and in your father."
"The Relief Pills advertising is out. That much I'll tell you."
"Now that it's done its work. Not enough! You and I can't bring Milly back to life, Mr. Surtaine, but we can save other lives in peril. God has given you your chance, in this epidemic."
"How do you know about the epidemic?"
"Hasn't it taken Mr. Hale, the only friend I've got in the world? And won't it take its hundreds of other lives unless warning is given? Why doesn't the 'Clarion' speak out, Mr. Surtaine? Why is that story ordered killed?"
"Consideration of policy which—"
"Policy! Oh, my God! And the people dying! Harrington Surtaine,"—his eyes blazed into the other's with the flame of fanaticism,—"I tell you, if you don't accept this opportunity that the Lord gives you, you and your paper are damned. Do you know what it means to damn the soul of a paper? Why, man, there are people who believe in the 'Clarion' like gospel."
Hal got to his feet. "Veltman, I dare say you mean well. But you don't understand this."
"Don't I!" The face took on a sudden appalling savagery. "Don't I know you're bought and paid for! Sold out! That's what you've done. A bargain! A bargain! Pay my little price and I'll do your meanest bidding. I'd rather have hell burning at my heart as it burns now than what you've got rotting at yours, young Surtaine."
The tensity of Hal's restraint broke. With one powerful effort he sent the foreman whirling through the open door into the hall, slammed the door after him, and stood shaking. He heard and felt the jar of Veltman's body as it struck the wall, and slumped to the floor; then the slow limp of his retreating footsteps. With a seething brain he returned to his proof—and shuddered away from it. There was blood spattered over the print. Hurriedly he thrust it aside and rang for a fresh galley. But the red spots rose between his eyes and the work, like an accusation, like a prophecy. Of a sudden he beheld this great engine of print which had been, first, the caprice of his last flicker of irresponsible and headlong youth, then the very mould in which his eager and ambitious manhood was to form and fulfill itself—he beheld this vast mechanism blazingly illumined as with some inner fire, and now become a terrific genius, potent beyond the powers of humanity, working out the dire complications of men, and the tragic destruction of women. And he beheld himself, fast in its grip.
He thrust the proof into the tube, scrawled the "O.K." order on it for the morrow, and hurried away from the office as from a place accursed.
That night conscience struck at him once more, making a weapon of words from the book of a dead master. He had been reading "Beauchamp's Career"; and, seeking refuge from the torture of thought in its magic, he came upon the novelist-philosopher's damning indictment of modern journalism:
"And this Press, declaring itself independent, can hardly walk for fear of treading on an interest here, an interest there. It cannot have a conscience. It is a bad guide, a false guardian; its abject claim to be our national and popular interpreter—even that is hollow and a mockery. It is powerful only when subservient. An engine of money, appealing to the sensitiveness of money, it has no connection with the mind of the nation. And that it is not of, but apart from the people, may be seen when great crises come—in strong gales the power of the Press collapses; it wheezes like a pricked pigskin of a piper."
Hal flung the book from him. But its accusations pursued him through the gates of sleep, and poisoned his rest.
In the morning he had recovered his balance, and with it his dogged determination to see the matter through. He forced himself to read the leading editorial, finding spirit even to admire the dexterity with which he had held out the promise of good behavior to the business interests, whilst pretending to a sturdy independence. Shearson met him at the entrance to the building, beaming.
"That'll bring business," said the advertising manager. "I've had half a dozen telephones already about it."
"That's good," replied Hal half-heartedly.
"Yes, sir," pursued the advertising manager: "I can smell money in the air to-day. And, by the way, I've got a tip that, for a little mild apology, E.M. Pierce will withdraw both his suits."
"I'll think about it," promised Hal. He was rather surprised at the intensity of his own relief from the prospect of the court ordeal. At least, he was getting his price.
McGuire Ellis was, for once, not asleep, though there was no work on his desk when Hal entered the sanctum.
"Veltman's quit," was his greeting.
"I'm not surprised," said Hal.
"Then you've seen the editorial page this morning?"
"Yes. But what has that to do with Veltman's resignation?"
"Everything, I should think. Notice anything queer about the page?"
"Look it over again."
Hal took up the paper and scrutinized the sheet. "I don't see a thing wrong," he said.
"That lets me out," said Ellis grimly. "If you can't see it when you're told it's there, I guess I can't be blamed for not catching it in proof. Of course the last thing one notices is a stock line that's always been there unchanged. Look at the motto of the paper. Veltman must have chiseled out the old one, and set this in, himself, the last thing before we went to press. How do you like it? Looks to me to go pretty well with our leading editorial this morning."
There between the triumphal cocks, where formerly had flaunted the braggart boast of the old "Clarion," and more latterly had appeared the gentle legend of the martyred President, was spread in letters of shame to the eyes of the "Clarion's" owner, the cynic profession of the led captain, of the prostituted pen, of all those who have or shall sell mind and soul and honor for hire;—
"Whose Bread I Eat, his Song I Sing."
Mr. Belford Couch was a man of note. You might search vainly for the name among the massed thousands of "Who's Who in America," or even in those biographical compilations which embalm one's fame and picture for a ten-dollar consideration. Shout the cognomen the length of Fifth Avenue, bellow it up Walnut and down Chestnut Street, lend it vocal currency along the Lake Shore Drive, toss it to the winds that storm in from the Golden Gate to assault Nob Hill, and no answering echo would you awake. But give to its illustrious bearer his familiar title; speak but the words "Certina Charley" within the precincts of the nation's capital and the very asphalt would find a viscid voice wherewith to acclaim the joke, while Senate would answer House, and Department reply to Bureau with the curses of the stung ones. For Mr. Belford Couch was least loved where most laughed at.
From the nature of his profession this arose. His was a singular career. He pursued the fleeting testimonial through the mazy symptoms of disease (largely imaginary) and cure (wholly mythical). To extract from the great and shining ones of political life commendations of Certina; to beguile statesmen who had never tasted that strange concoction into asseverating their faith in the nostrum's infallibility for any and all ailments; to persuade into fulsome print solemnly asinine Senators and unwarily flattered Congressmen—that was the touchstone of his living. Some the Demon Rum betrayed into his hands. Others he won by sheer personal persuasiveness, for he was a master of the suave plea. Again, political favors or "inside information" made those his debtors from whom he exacted and extracted the honor of their names for Dr. Surtaine's upholding. Blackmail, even, was hinted at. "What does it matter?" thought the deluded or oppressed victim. "Merely a line of meaningless indorsement to sign my name to." And within a fortnight advertising print, black and looming, would inform the reading populace of the whole country that "United States Senator Gull says of Certina: 'It is, in my opinion, unrivaled as a never-failing remedy for coughs and colds,'" with a picture, coarse-screen, libelously recognizable.
Certina Charley was not a testimonial-chaser alone. Had he been, Dr. Surtaine would not have retained him at a generous salary, but would have paid him, as others of his strange species are paid, by the piece; one hundred dollars for a Representative, two hundred and fifty dollars for a Senator, and as high as five hundred for a hero conspicuous in the popular eye. The special employee of Certina was a person of diverse information and judicious counsel. His chief had not incorrectly described him as the diplomat of the trade.
No small diplomacy had been required for the planning of the Emergency Committee scheme, the details of which Mr. Couch had worked out, himself. It was, as he boasted to Dr. Surtaine, "a clincher."
"Look out for the medicos," he had said to Dr. Surtaine in outlining his great idea. "They're mean to handle. You can always buy or bluff a newspaper, but a doctor is different. Some of 'em you can grease, but they're the scrubs. The real fellers won't touch money, and the worst of 'em just seem to love trouble. Merritt's that kind. But we can fix Merritt by raising twenty or thirty thousand dollars and handing it over to him to organize his campaign against the epidemic. From all I can learn, Merritt has got the goods as a health officer. He knows his business. There's no man in town could handle the thing better, unless it's you, Chief, and you don't want to mix up in the active part of it. Merritt'll be crazy to do it, too. That's where we'll have him roped. You say to him, 'Take this money and do the work, but do it on the quiet. That's the condition. If you can't keep our secret, we'll have you fired and get some man that can.' The Mayor will chuck him if the committee says so. But it won't be necessary, if I've got Merritt sized up. He wants to get into this fight so bad that he'll agree to almost anything. His assistants we can square.
"So much for the official end of it. But what about the run of the medical profession? If they go around diagnosing typhus, the news'll spread almost as fast as through the papers. So here's how we'll fix them. Recommend the City Council to pass an ordinance making it a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, and revocation of license to practice, for a physician to make a diagnosis of any case as a pestilential disease. The Council will do it on the committee's say-so."
"Whew!" whistled the old charlatan. "That's going pretty strong, Bel. The doctors won't stand for that."
"Believe me, they will. It's been tried and it worked fine, on the Coast, when they had the plague there. That's where I got the notion: but the revocation of the license is my own scheme. That'll scare 'em out of their wits. You'll find they don't dare peep about typhus. Especially as there aren't a dozen doctors in town that ever saw a case of it."
"That's so," agreed his principal. "I guess you're right after all, Bel."
"Sure, am I! You say you've got the newspapers fixed."
"Sewed up tight."
"Keno! Our programme's complete. You and Mr. Pierce and the Mayor see Merritt and get him. Call the meeting for next week. Make some good-natured, diplomatic feller chairman. Send out the call to about three hundred of your solidest men. Then we'll elect you permanent chairman, you can pick your Emergency Committee, put the resolution about pest-diagnosis up to the City Council—and there you are. My job's done. I shall not be among those present."
"Done, and mighty well done, Bel. You'll be going back to Washington?"
"No, I guess I better stick around for a while—in case. Besides, I want a little rest."
Like so many persons of the artistic temperament, Certina Charley was subject to periods of relaxation. With him these assumed the phase of strong drink, evenly and rather thickly spread over several days. On the afternoon before the carefully planned meeting, ten days after Norman Hale was taken to the hospital, the diplomat of quackery, his shoulders eased of all responsibility, sat lunching early at the Hotel Dunston. His repast consisted of a sandwich and a small bottle of well-frapped champagne. To him, lunching, came a drummer of the patent medicine trade; a blatant and boastful fellow, from whose methods the diplomat in Mr. Belford Couch revolted. Nevertheless, the newcomer was a forceful person, and when, over two ponies of brandy ordered by the luncher in the way of inevitable hospitality, he launched upon a criticism of some of the recent Certina legislative strategy as lacking vigor (a reproach by no means to be laid to the speaker's language), Mr. Couch's tenderest feelings were lacerated. With considerable dignity for one in his condition, he bade his guest go farther and fare worse, and in mitigation of the latter's Parthian taunt, "Kid-glove fussing, 'bo," called Heaven and earth and the whole cafe to witness that, abhorrent though self-trumpeting was to him, no man had ever handled more delicately a prickly proposition than he had handled the Certina legislative interests. Gazing about him for sympathy he espied the son of his chief passing between the tables, and hailed him.
Two casual meetings with Certina Charley had inspired in Hal a mildly amused curiosity. Therefore, he readily enough accepted an invitation to sit down, while declining a coincident one to have a drink, on the plea that he was going to work.
"Say," appealed Charley, "did you hear that cough-lozenge-peddling boob trying to tell me where to get off, in the proprietary game? Me!"
"Perhaps he didn't know who you are," suggested Hal tactfully.
"Perhaps he don't know the way from his hand to his face with a glass of booze, either," retorted the offended one, with elaborate sarcasm. "Everybody in the trade knows me. Sure you won't have a drink?"
"No, thank you."
"Don't drink much myself," announced the testimonial-chaser. "Just once in a while. Weak kidneys."
"That's a poor tribute from a Certina man."
"Oh, Certina's all right—for those that want it. The best doctor is none too good for me when I'm off my feed."
"Well, they call Certina 'the People's Doctor,'" said Hal, quoting an argument his father had employed.
"One of the Chief's catchwords. And ain't it a corker! He's the best old boy in the business, on the bunk."
"Just what do you mean by that?" asked Hal coldly.
But Certina Charley was in an expansive mood. It never occurred to him that the heir of the Certina millions was not in the Certina secrets: that he did not wholly understand the nature of his father's trade, and view it with the same jovial cynicism that inspired the old quack.
"Who's to match him?" he challenged argumentatively. "I tell you, they all go to school to him. There ain't one of our advertising tricks, from Old Lame-Boy down to the money-back guarantee, that the others haven't crabbed. Take that 'People's Doctor' racket. Schwarzman copied it for his Marovian Mixture. Vollmer ran his 'Poor Man's Physician' copy six months, on Marsh-Weed. 'Poor Man's Doctor'! It's pretty dear treatment, I tell you."
"Surely not," said Hal.
"Sure is it! What's a doctor's fee? Three dollars, probably."
"And Certina is a dollar a bottle. If one bottle cures—"
"Does what? Quit your jollying," laughed Certina Charley unsteadily.
"Cures the disease," said Hal, his suspicions beginning to congeal into a cold dread that the revelation which he had been unconfessedly avoiding for weeks past was about to be made.
"If it did, we'd go broke. Do you know how many bottles must be sold to any one patron before the profits begin to come in? Six! Count them, six."
"Nonsense! It can't cost so much to make as—"
"Make? Of course it don't. But what does it cost to advertise? You think I'm a little drink-taken, but I ain't. I'm giving you the straight figures. It costs just the return on six bottles to get Certina into Mr. E.Z. Mark's hands, and until he's paid his seventh dollar for his seventh bottle our profits don't come in. Advertising is expensive, these days."
"How many bottles does it take to cure?" asked Hal, clinging desperately to the word.
"Nix on the cure thing, 'bo. You don't have to put up any bluff with me. I'm on the inside, right down to the bottom."
"Very well. Maybe you know more than I do, then," said Hal, with a grim determination, now that matters had gone thus far, to accept this opportunity of knowledge, at whatever cost of disillusionment. "Go ahead. Open up."
"A real cure couldn't make office-rent," declared the expert with conviction. "What you want in the proprietary game is a jollier. Certina's that. The booze does it. You ought to see the farmers in a no-license district lick it up. Three or four bottles will give a guy a pretty strong hunch for it. And after the sixth bottle it's all velvet to us, except the nine cents for manufacture and delivery."
"But it must be some good or people wouldn't keep on buying it," pursued Hal desperately.
"You've got all the old stuff, haven't you! The good ol' stock arguments," said Certina Charley, giggling. "The Chief has taught you the lesson all right. Must be studyin' up to go before a legislative committee. Well, here's the straight of it. Folks keep on buying Certina for the kick there is in it. It's a bracer. And it's a repeater, the best repeater in the trade."
"But it must cure lots of them. Look at the testimonials. Surely they're genuine."
"So's a rhinestone genuine—as a rhinestone. The testimonials that ain't bought, or given as a favor, are from rubes who want to see their names in print."
"At least I suppose it isn't harmful," said Hal desperately.
"No more than any other good ol' booze. It won't hurt a well man. I used to soak up quite a bit of it myself till my doc gave me an option on dyin' of Bright's disease or quittin'."
"Bright's disease!" exclaimed Hal.
"Oh, yes, I know: we cure Bright's disease, don't we? Well, if there's anything worse for old George W. Bright's favorite ailment than raw alcohol, then my high-priced physizzian don't know his business."
"Let me get this straight," said Hal with a white face. "Do I understand that Certina—"
"Say, wassa matter?" broke in Certina Charley, in concern; "you look sick."
"Never mind me. You go on and tell me the truth about this thing."
"I guess I been talkin' too much," muttered Certina Charley, dismayed. He gulped down the last of his champagne with a tremulous hand. "This's my second bottle," he explained. "An' brandy in between. Say, I thought you knew all about the business."
"I know enough about it now so that I've got to know the rest."
"You—you won't gimme away to the Chief? I didn't mean to show up his game. I'm—I'm pretty strong for the old boy, myself."
"I won't give you away. Go on."
"Whaddye want to know, else?"
"Is there anything that Certina is good for?"
"Sure! Didn't I tell you? It's the finest bracer—"
"As a cure?"
"It's just as good as any other prup-proprietary."
"That isn't the question. You say it is harmful in Bright's disease."
"Why, looka here, Mr. Surtaine, you know yourself that booze is poison to any feller with kidney trouble. Rheumatism, too, for that matter. But they get the brace, and they think they're better, and that helps push the trade, too."
"And that's where my money came from," said Hal, half to himself.
"It's all in the trade," cried Certina Charley, summoning his powers to a defense. "There's lots that's worse. There's the cocaine dopes for catarrh; they'll send a well man straight to hell in six months. There's the baby dopes; and the G-U cures that keep the disease going when right treatment could cure it; and the methylene blue—"
"Stop it! Stop it!" cried Hal. "I've heard enough."
Alcohol, the juggler with men's thoughts, abruptly pressed upon a new center of ideation in Certina Charley's brain.
"D'you think I like it?" he sniveled, with lachrymose sentimentality. "I gotta make a living, haven't I? Here's you and me, two pretty decent young fellers, having to live on a fake. Well," he added with solacing philosophy, "if we didn't get it, somebody else would."
"Tell me one thing," said Hal, getting to his feet. "Does my father know all this that you've been telling me?"
"Does the Chief know it? Does he? Why, say, my boy, Ol' Doc Surtaine, he wrote the proprietary medicine business!"
Misgivings beset the optimistic soul of Certina Charley as his guest faded from his vision; faded and vanished without so much as a word of excuse or farewell. For once Hal had been forgetful of courtesy. Gazing after him his host addressed the hovering waiter:—
"Say, Bill, I guess I been talkin' too much with my face. Bring's another of those li'l bo'ls."
Certina Charley, plus an indeterminate quantity of alcohol, had acted upon Hal's mind as a chemical precipitant. All the young man's hitherto suppressed or unacknowledged doubts of the Certina trade and its head were now violently crystallized. Hal hurried out of the hotel, the wrath in his heart for the deception so long wrought upon him chilled by a profounder feeling, a feeling of irreparable loss. He thought in that moment that his love for his father was dead. It was not. It was only his trust that was dying, and dying hard.
Since that day of his first visit to the Certina factory, Hal's standards had undergone an intrinsic but unconscious alteration. Brought up to the patent medicine trade, though at a distance, he thought of it, by habit, as on a par with other big businesses. One whose childhood is spent in a glue factory is not prone to be supersensitive to odors. So, to Harrington Surtaine, those ethical and moral difficulties which would have bulked huge to one of a different training, were merely inherent phases of a profitable business. Misgivings had indeed stirred, at first. For these he had chided himself, as for an over-polite revulsion from the necessary blatancy of a broadly advertised enterprise. More searching questions, as they arose within him, he had met with the counter-evidence of the internal humanism and fair-dealing of the Certina shop, and of the position of its beloved chief in the commercial world.
In the face of the Relief Pills exposure, Hal could no longer excuse his father on the ground that Dr. Surtaine honestly credited his medicines with impossible efficacies. Still, he had reasoned, the Doctor had been willing instantly to abandon this nostrum when the harm done by it was concretely brought home to him. Though this argument had fallen far short of reconciling Hal to the Surtaine standards, nevertheless it had served as a makeshift to justify in part his abandonment of the hard-won principles of the "Clarion," a surrender necessary for the saving of a loved and honored father in whose essential goodness he had still believed.
Now the edifice of his faith was in ruins. If Certina itself, if the tutelary genius of the House of Surtaine, were indeed but a monstrous quackery cynically accepted as such by those in the secret, what shred of defense remained to him who had so prospered by it? Through the wreckage of his pride, his loyalty, his affection, Hal saw, in place of the glowing and benign face of Dr. Surtaine, the simulacrum of Fraud, sleek and crafty, bloated fat with the blood of tragically hopeful dupes.
One great lesson of labor Hal had already learned, that work is an anodyne. From his interview with Certina Charley he made straight for the "Clarion" office. As he hurried up the stairs, the door of Shearson's room opened upon him, and there emerged therefrom a brick-red, agile man who greeted him with a hard cordiality.
"Your paper certainly turned the trick. I gotta hand it to you!"
"What trick?" asked Hal, not recognizing the stranger.
"Selling my stock. Streaky Mountain Copper Company. Don't you remember?"
Hal did remember now. It was L.P. McQuiggan.
"More of the same for me, if you please," continued the visitor. "I've just made the deal with Shearson. He's stuck me up on rates a little. That's all right, though. The 'Clarion' fetches the dough. I want to start the new campaign with an interview on our prospects. Is it O.K.?"
"Come up and see Mr. Ellis," said Hal.
Having led him to the editorial office, Hal sat down to work, but found no escape from his thoughts. There was but one thing to do: he must have it out at once with Dr. Surtaine. He telephoned the factory for an appointment. Sharp-eared McQuiggan caught the call.
"That my old pal, Andy?" said he. "Gimme a shot at him while you've got him on the wire, will you?"
Cheery, not to say chirpy, was the mining promoter's greeting projected into the transmitter which Hal turned over to him. Straightway, however, a change came o'er his blithe spirit.
"Something's biting the old geezer," he informed Hal and Ellis. "Seems to have a grouch. Says he's coming over, pronto—right quick."
Five minutes later, while Mr. McQuiggan was running over some proofs which he had brought with him, Dr. Surtaine walked into the office. There was about him a formidable smoothness, as of polished metal. He greeted his old friend with a nod and a cool "Back again, I see, Elpy."
"And doing business at the old stand," rejoined his friend. "Worthington's the place where the dollars grow, all right."
"Grow, and stay," said Dr. Surtaine.
"Meaning?" inquired McQuiggan solicitously.
"That you've over-medicated this field."
"Have I got any dollars away from you, Andy?"
"No. But you have from my people."
"Well, their money's as good to buy booze with as anybody else's, I reckon."
Dr. Surtaine had sat down, directly opposite the visitor, fronting him eye-to-eye. Nothing loath, McQuiggan accepted the challenge. His hard, brisk voice, with a sub-tone of the snarl, crossed the Doctor's strong, heavy utterance like a rapier engaging a battle-axe. Both assumed a suavity of manner felt to be just at the breaking point. The two spectators sat, surprised and expectant.
"I don't suppose," said Dr. Surtaine, after a pause, "there's any use trying to get you to refund."
"Still sticking out for the money-back-if-not-satisfied racket—in the other fellow's business, eh, Andy? Better practice it in your own."
"Hal,"—Dr. Surtaine turned to his son,—"has McQuiggan brought in a new batch of copy?"
"So I understand."
"The 'Clarion' mustn't run it."
"The hell it mustn't!" said McQuiggan.
"It's crooked," said the quack bluntly.
The promoter laughed. "A hot one, you are, to talk about crookedness."
"He's paying his advertising bills out of my people's pay envelopes!" accused Dr. Surtaine.
"How's that, Doc?" asked Ellis.
"Why, when he was here before, he spent some time around the Certina plant and got acquainted with the department managers and a lot of the others, and damn me!" cried Dr. Surtaine, grinning in spite of his wrath, "if he didn't sting 'em all for stock."
"How do you know they're stung?" inquired Ellis.
"From an expert on the ground. I got anxious when I found my own people were in it, and had a man go out there from Phoenix. He reports that the Streaky Mountain hasn't got a thing but expectations and hardly that."
"Well, you didn't say there was anything more, did you?" inquired the bland McQuiggan.
"I? I didn't say?"
"Yes, you. You got up the ads."
"Well—well—well, of all the nerve!" cried Dr. Surtaine, grievously appealing to the universe at large. "I got 'em up! You gave me the material, didn't you?"
"Sure, did I. Hot stuff it was, too."
"Hot bunk! And to flim-flam my own people with it, too!"
"Anybody that works in your joint ought to be wise to the bunk game," suggested McQuiggan.
"I'll tell you one thing: you don't run any more of it in this town."
"Maybe I don't and then again maybe I do. It won't be as good as your copy, p'r'aps. But it'll get some coin, I reckon. Take a look," he taunted, and tossed his proofs to the other.
The quack broke forth at the first glance. "Look here! You claim fifty thousand tons of copper in sight."
"So there is."
"With a telescope, I suppose."
"Well, telescope's sight, ain't it? You wouldn't try to hear through one, would you?"
"And $200,000.00 worth, ready for milling," continued the critic.
"Printer's error in the decimal point," returned the other, with airy impudence. "Move it two to the left. Keno! There you have it: $2000.00."
"Very ingenious, Mr. McQuiggan," said Hal. "But you're practically admitting that your ads. are faked."
"Admittin' nothin'! I offer you the ads. and I've got the ready stuff to pay for 'em."
"And you think that is all that's necessary?"
"Sure do I!"
"Mr. McQuiggan," remarked Ellis, "has probably been reading our able editorial on the reformed and chastened policy of the 'Clarion.'"
Hal turned an angry red. "That doesn't commit us to accepting swindles."
"Don't it?" queried McQuiggan. "Since when did you get so pick-an'-choosy?"
"Straight advertising," announced Dr. Surtaine, "has been the unvarying policy of this paper since my son took it over."
"Straight!" vociferated McQuiggan. "Straight? Ladies and gents: the well-known Surtaine Family will now put on their screamin' farce entitled 'Honesty is the Best Policy.'"
"When you're through playing the clown—" began Hal.
"Straight advertising," pursued the other. "Did I really hear them sweet words in Andy Certain's voice? No! Say, somebody ring an alarm-clock on me. I can't wake up."
"I think we've heard enough from you, McQuiggan," warned Hal.
"Do you!" The promoter sprang from his chair and all the latent venom of his temper fumed and stung in the words he poured out. "Well, take another think. I've got some things to tell you, young feller. Don't you come the high-and-holy on me. You and your smooth, big, phony stuffed-shirt of a father."
"Here, you!" shouted the leading citizen thus injuriously designated, but the other's voice slashed through his protest like a blade through pulp.
"Certina! Ho-oh! Warranted to cure consumption, warts, heart-disease, softening of the brain, and the bloody pip! And what is it? Morphine and booze."
"You're a liar," thundered the outraged proprietor: "Ten thousand dollars to any one who can show a grain of morphine in it."
"Changed the formula, have you? Pure Food Law scared you out of the dope, eh? Well, even at that it's the same old bunk. What about your testimonials? Fake 'em, and forge 'em, and bribe and blackmail for 'em and then stand up to me and pull the pious plate-pusher stuff about being straight. Oh, my Gawd! It'd make a straddle-bug spit at the sun, to hear you. Why, I'm no saint, but the medical line was too strong for my stomach. I got out of it."
"Yes, you did, you dirty little dollar-snatcher! You got put of it into jail for peddling raw gin—."
"Don't you go raking up old muck with me, you rotten big poisoner!" roared McQuiggan: "or you'll get the hot end of it. How about that girl that went batty after taking Cert—"
"Wait a moment! Father! Please!" Hal broke in, aghast at this display. "We're not discussing the medical business. We're talking advertising. McQuiggan, yours is refused. We don't run that class of matter in the 'Clarion.'"
"No? Since when? You'd better consult an oculist, young Surtaine."
"If ever this paper carried such a glaring fake as your Streaky Mountain—"
"Stop right there! Stop! look! and listen!" He caught up the day's issue from the floor and flaunted it, riddling the flimsy surface with the stiffened finger of indictment. "Look at it! Look at this ad.—and this—and this." The paper was rent with the vehemence of his indication. "Put my copy next to that, and it'd come to life and squirm to get away."
"Nothing there but what every paper takes," defended Ellis.
"Every paper'd be glad to take my stuff, too. Why, Streaky Mountain copy is the Holy Bible compared to what you've got here. Take a slant at this: 'Consumption Cured in Three Months.'—'Cancer Cured or your Money Back.'—Catarrh dopes, headache cures, germ-killers, baby-soothers, nerve-builders,—the whole stinkin' lot. Don't I know 'em! Either sugar pills that couldn't cure a belly-ache, or hell's-brew of morphine and booze. Certina ain't the worst of 'em, any more than it's the best. I may squeeze a few dollars out of easy boobs, but you, Andy Certain, you and your young whelp here, you're playin' the poor suckers for their lives. And then you're too lily-fingered to touch a mining proposition because there's a gamble in it!"
He crumpled the paper in his sinewy hands, hurled it to the floor, kicked it high over Dr. Surtaine's head, and stalking across to Hal's desk, slapped down his proofs on it with a violence that jarred the whole structure.
"You run that," he snarled, "or I'll hire the biggest hall in Worthington and tell the whole town what I've just been telling you."
His face, furrowed and threatening, was thrust down close to Hal's. Thus lowered, the eyes came level with a strip of print, pasted across the inner angle of the desk.
"'Whose Bread I Eat, his Song I Sing,'" he read. "What's that?"
"A motto," said McGuire Ellis. "The complete guide to correct journalistic conduct. Put there, lest we forget."
"H'm!" said McQuiggan, puzzled. "It's in the right place, all right, all right. Well, does my ad. go?"
"No," said Hal. "But I'm much obliged to you, McQuiggan."
"You go to hell. What're you obliged to me for?" said the visitor suspiciously.
"For the truth. I think you've told it to me. Anyway you've made me tell it to myself."
"I guess I ain't told you much you don't know about your snide business."
"You have, though. Go ahead and hire your hall. But—take a look at to-morrow's 'Clarion' before you make your speech. Now, good-day to you."
McQuiggan, wondering and a little subdued by a certain quiet resolution in Hal's speech, went, beckoning Ellis after him for explication. Hal turned to his father.
"I don't suppose," he began haltingly, "that you could have told me all this yourself."
"What?" asked Dr. Surtaine, consciously on the defensive.
"About the medical ads."
"McQuiggan's a sore-head"—began the Doctor.
"But you might have told me about Certina, as I've been living on Certina money."
"There's nothing to tell." All the self-assurance had gone out of the quack's voice.
"Father, does Certina cure Bright's disease?"
"Cure? Why, Boyee, what is a cure?"
"Does it cure it?" insisted Hal.
"Sit down and cool off. You've let that skunk, McQuiggan, get you all excited."
"This began before McQuiggan."
"Then you've been talking to some jealous doctor-crank."
"For God's sake, Father, answer my plain question."
"Why, there's no such thing as an actual cure for Bright's disease."
"Don't you say in the advertisements that Certina will cure it?"
"Oh, advertisements!" returned the quack with an uneasy smile. "Nobody takes an advertisement for gospel."
"I'm answered. Will it cure diabetes?"
"No medicine will. No doctor can. They're incurable diseases. Certina will do as much—"
"Is it true that alcohol simply hastens the course of the disease?"
"Authorities differ," said the quack warily. "But as the disease is incurable—"
"Then it's all lies! Lies and murder!"
"You're excited, Boy-ee," said the charlatan with haggard forbearance. "Let me explain for a moment."
"Isn't it pretty late for explanations between you and me?"
"This is the gist of the proprietary trade," said the Doctor, picking his words carefully. "Most diseases cure themselves. Medicine isn't much good. Doctors don't know a great deal. Now, if a patent medicine braces a patient up and gives him courage, it does all that can be done. Then, the advertising inspires confidence in the cure and that's half the battle. There's a lot in Christian Science, and a lot in common between Christian Science and the proprietary business. Both work on the mind and help it to cure the body. But the proprietary trade throws in a few drugs to brace up the system, allay symptoms, and push along the good work. There you have Certina."
Hal shook his head in dogged misery. "It can't cure. You admit it can't cure. And it may kill, in the very cases where it promises to cure. How could you take money made that way?"
A flash of cynicism hardened the handsome old face. "Somebody's going to make a living off the great American sucker. If it wasn't us, it'd be somebody else." He paused, sighed, and in a phrase summed up and crystallized the whole philosophy of the medical quack: "Life's a cut-throat game, anyway."
"And we're living on the blood," said Hal. "It's a good thing," he added slowly, "that I didn't know you as you are before Milly Neal's death."
"Because," cried the son fiercely, "I'd have published the whole truth of how she died and why, in the 'Clarion.'"
"It isn't too late yet," retorted Dr. Surtaine with pained dignity, "if you wish to strike at the father who hasn't been such a bad father to you. But would you have told the truth of your part in it?"
"My part in it?" repeated Hal, in dull puzzlement. "You mean the ad?"
"You know well enough what I mean. Boy-ee, Boy-ee,"—there was an edge of genuine agony in the sonorous voice,—"we've drawn far apart, you and I. Is all the wrong on my side? Can you judge me so harshly, with your own conscience to answer?"
"What I've got on my conscience you've put there. You've made me turn back on every principle I have. I've dishonored myself and my office for you. You've cost me the respect of the men I work with, and the faith of the best friend I've got in the world."
"The best friend, Boy-ee?" questioned the Doctor gently.
"The best friend: McGuire Ellis."
Hal's gaze met his father's. And what he saw there all but unmanned him. From the liquid depths of the old quack's eyes, big and soft like an animal's, there welled two great tears, to trickle slowly down the set face.
Hal turned and stumbled from the office.
Hardly knowing whither he went, he turned in at the first open door, which chanced to be Shearson's. There he sat until his self-control returned. As the aftermath of his anger there remained with him a grim determination. It was implicit in his voice, as he addressed Shearson, who walked in upon him.
"Cut out every line of medical from the paper."
"When?" gasped Shearson.
"Now. For to-morrow's paper."
"But, Mr. Surtaine—"
"Every—damned—line. And if any of it ever gets back, the man responsible loses his job."
"Yes, sir," said the cowed and amazed Shearson.