Hal returned to his sanctum, to find Ellis in his own place and Dr. Surtaine gone.
"Ellis, you put that motto on my desk."
"Lest we forget," repeated Ellis.
"Not much danger of that," replied his employer bitterly. "Now, I want you to take it down."
"Is that an order?"
"Would you obey it if it were?"
"You'd resign first?"
"Then I'll take it down myself."
With his letter-opener he pried the offensive strip loose, tore it across thrice, and scattered the pieces on the floor.
"Mr. Ellis," said he formally, "hereafter no medical advertising will be accepted for or published in the 'Clarion.' The same rule applies to fraudulent advertising of any kind. I wish you and the other members of the staff to act as censors for the advertising."
"Yes, sir," said McGuire Ellis.
He turned back to his desk, and sprawled his elbows on it. His head lapsed lower and lower until it attained the familiar posture of rest. But McGuire Ellis was not sleeping. He was thinking.
THE VOICE OF THE PROPHET
Two hundred and fifty representative citizens, mostly of the business type, with a sprinkling of other occupations not including physicians, sat fanning themselves into a perspiration in the Chamber of Commerce assembly rooms, and wondering what on earth an Emergency Health Meeting might be. Congressman Brett Harkins, a respectable nonentity, who was presiding, had refrained from telling them: deliberately, it would appear, as his speech had dealt vaguely with the greatness of Worthington's material prosperity, now threatened—if one might credit his theory—by a combination of senseless panic and reckless tongues; and had concluded by stating that Mr. William Douglas, one of the leaders of our bar, as all the chairman's hearers well knew, would explain the situation and formulate a plan for the meeting's consideration.
Explanation, however, did not prove to be Mr. William Douglas's forte. Coached by that practiced diplomat, Certina Charley, he made a speech memorable chiefly for what it did not say. The one bright, definite gleam, amidst rolling columns of oratory, was the proposal that an Emergency Committee of One Hundred be appointed to cope with the situation, that the initial sum of twenty-five thousand dollars be pledged by subscription, and that their distinguished fellow citizen, Dr. L. Andre Surtaine, be permanent chairman of said committee, with power to appoint. Dr. Surtaine had generously offered to subscribe ten thousand dollars to the fund. (Loud and prolonged applause; the word "thousand" preceding the word "dollars" and itself preceded by any numeral from one to one million, inclusive, being invariably provocative of acclaim in a subscription meeting of representative citizens.) Mr. Douglas took pride in nominating that Midas of Medicine, Dr. Surtaine. (More and louder applause.) The Reverend Dr. Wales, of Dr. Surtaine's church, sonorously seconded the nomination. So did Hollis Myers, of the Security Power Products Company. So, a trifle grumpily, did Elias M. Pierce. Also Col. Parker, editor of the "Telegram," Aaron Scheffler, of Scheffler and Mintz, and Councilman Carlin. The presiding officer inquired with the bland indifference of the assured whether there were any further nominations. There were not. But turning in his second-row seat, Festus Willard, who was too important a figure commercially to leave out, though Dr. Surtaine had entertained doubts of his "soundness," demanded of McGuire Ellis, seated just behind him, what it was all about.
"Ask the chairman," suggested Ellis.
"I will," said Willard. He got up and did.
The Honorable Brett Harkins looked uncomfortable. He didn't really know what it was all about. Moreover, it had been intimated to him that he'd perhaps better not know. He cast an appealing glance at Douglas.
"That is not exactly the question before the meeting," began Douglas hastily.
"It is the question I asked," persisted Willard. "Before we elect Dr. Surtaine or any one else chairman of a committee with a fund to spend, I want to know what the committee is for."
"To cope with the health situation of the city."
"Very well. Now we're getting somewhere. Where's Dr. Merritt? I think we ought to hear from him on that point."
Murmurs of assent were heard about the room. Dr. Surtaine rose to his feet.
"If I may be pardoned for speaking to a motion of which I am a part," he said in his profound and mellow voice.
"I think I can throw light upon the situation. Quite a number of us have observed with uneasiness the increase of sickness in Worthington. Sensationalists have gone so far as to whisper that there is an epidemic. I have myself made a rigid investigation. More than this, my son, Mr. Harrington Surtaine, has placed the resources of the 'Clarion' staff at our disposal, and on the strength of both inquiries, I am prepared to assure this gathering that nothing like an epidemic exists."
"Well, I am damned!" was McGuire Ellis's astounded and none too low-voiced comment upon this bold perversion of the "Clarion" enterprise. Stretching upward from his seat he looked about for Hal. The young editor sat in a far corner, his regard somberly intent upon the speaker.
"Alarm there has undoubtedly been, and is," pursued Dr. Surtaine. "To find means to allay it is the purpose of the meeting. We must remove the cause. Both our morbidity and our mortality rate, though now retrograding, have been excessive for several weeks, especially in the Rookeries district. There has been a prevalence of malaria of a severe type, which, following last winter's epidemic of grip, has proven unusually fatal. Dr. Merritt believes that he can wipe out the disease quietly if a sufficient sum is put at his disposal."
This was not authoritative. Merritt had declined to commit himself, but Dr. Surtaine was making facts of his hopes.
"In this gathering it is hardly necessary for me to refer to the municipal importance of Old Home Week and to the damage to its prospects which would be occasioned by any suspicion of epidemic," continued the speaker. "Whatever may be the division of opinion as to methods, we are surely unanimous in wishing to protect the interests of the centennial celebration. And this can best be done through a committee of representative men, backing the constituted health authorities, without commotion or disturbance. Have I answered your doubts, Mr. Willard?" he concluded, turning a brow of benign inquiry upon that gentleman.
"Not wholly," said Festus Willard. "I've heard it stated on medical authority that there is some sort of plague in the Rookeries."
A murmur of inquiry rose. "Plague? What kind of plague?"—"Who says so?"—"Does he mean bubonic?"—"No doctor that knows his business—"—"They say doctors are shut out of the Rookeries."—"Order! Order!"
Through the confusion cleaved the edged voice of E.M. Pierce, directed to the chairman:
"Shut that off."
A score took the cue. "Question! Question!" they cried.
"Do I get an answer to my question?" persisted Willard.
"What is your question?" asked the harassed chairman.
"Is there a pestilence in the Rookeries? If so, what is its nature?"
"There is not," stated Dr. Surtaine from his seat. "Who ever says there is, is an enemy to our fair and healthy city."
This noble sentiment, delivered with all the impressiveness of which the old charlatan was master, roused a burst of applause. To its rhythm there stalked down the side aisle and out upon the rostrum the gaunt figure of the Reverend Norman Hale.
"Mr. Chairman," he said.
"How did that fellow get here?" Dr. Surtaine asked of Douglas.
"We invited all the ministers," was the low response. "I understood he was seriously ill."
"He is a trouble-maker. Tell Harkins not to let him talk."
Douglas spoke a word in the chairman's ear.
"There's a motion before the house—I mean the meeting," began Congressman Harkins, when the voice behind him cut in again, hollow and resonant:
"Do you wish to speak to the question?" asked the chairman uncertainly.
"No, no!" called Douglas. "Out of order. Question!"
Voices from the seats below supported him. But there were other calls for a hearing for the newcomer. Curiosity was his ally. The meeting anticipated a sensation. The chairman, lacking a gavel, hammered on the stand with a tumbler, and presently produced a modified silence, through which the voice of the Reverend Norman Hale could be heard saying that he wished but three minutes.
He stepped to the edge of the platform, and the men below noticed for the first time that he carried in his right hand a wreath of metal-mounted, withered flowers. There was no mistaking the nature of the wreath. It was such as is left lying above the dead for wind and rain to dissipate. Hale raised it slowly above his head. The silence in the hall became absolute.
"I brought these flowers from a girl's grave," said the Reverend Norman Hale. "The girl had sinned. Death was the wage of her sin. She died by her own hand. So her offense is punished. That account is closed."
"What has all this to do—" began the chairman; but he stopped, checked by a wave of sibilant remonstrance from the audience.
The speaker went on, with relentless simplicity, still holding the mortuary symbol aloft:—
"But there is another account not yet closed. The girl was deceived. Not by the father of her unborn child. That is a different guilt, to be reckoned with in God's own time. The deception for which she has paid with her life was not the deception of hot passion, but of cold greed. A man betrayed her, as he has betrayed thousands of other unfortunates, to put money into his own pockets. He promised her immunity. He said to her and to all women, in print, that she need not fear motherhood if she would buy his medicine. She believed the promise. She paid her dollar. And she found, too late, that it was a lie.
"So she went to the man. She knew him. And she determined either that he should help her or that she would be revenged on him. All this she told me in a note, to be opened in case of her death. He must have refused to help. He had not the criminal courage to produce the abortion which he falsely promised in his advertisements. What passed between them I do not know. But I believe that she attempted to kill him and failed. She attempted to kill herself and succeeded. The blood of Camilla Neal is on every cent of Dr. Surtaine's ten-thousand-dollar subscription."
He tossed the wreath aside. It rolled, clattering and clinking, and settled down at the feet of the Midas of Medicine who stared at it with a contorted face.
The meeting sat stricken into immovability. It seemed incredible that the tensity of the silence should not snap. Yet it held.
"I shall vote 'No' on the motion," said the Reverend Norman Hale, still with that quiet and appalling simplicity. "I came here from a hand-to-hand struggle with death to vote 'No.' I have strength for only a word more. The city is stricken with typhus. It is no time for concealment or evasion. We are at death-grips with a very dreadful plague. It has broken out of the Rookeries district. There are half a dozen new foci of infection. In the face of this, silence is deadly. If you elect Dr. Surtaine and adopt his plan, you commit yourself to an alliance with fraud and death. You deceive and betray the people who look to you for leadership. And there will be a terrible price to pay in human lives. I thank you for hearing me patiently."
No man spoke for long seconds after the young minister sat down, wavering a little as he walked to a chair at the rear. But through the representative citizenship of Worthington, in that place gathered, passed a quiver of sound, indeterminate, obscure, yet having all the passion of a quelled sob. Eyes furtively sought the face of Dr. Surtaine. But the master-quack remained frozen by the same bewilderment as his fellows. Perhaps alone in that crowd, Elias M. Pierce remained untouched emotionally. He rose, and his square granite face was cold as abstract reason. There was not even feeling enough in his voice to give the semblance of a sneer to his words as he said:
"All this is very well in its place, and doubtless does credit to the sentimental qualities of the speaker. But it is not evidence. It is an unsupported statement, part of which is admittedly conjecture. Allowing the alleged facts to be true, are we to hold a citizen of Dr. Surtaine's standing and repute responsible for the death of a woman caused by her own immorality? The woman whose death Mr. Hale has turned to such oratorical account was, I take it, a prostitute—"
"That is a damned lie!"
Hal Surtaine came down the aisle in long strides, speaking as he came.
"Milly Neal was my employee and my father's employee. If she went astray once, who are you to judge her? Who are any of us to judge her? I took part of that blood-money. The advertisement was in my paper, paid for with Surtaine money. What Mr. Hale says is the living truth. No man shall foul her memory in my hearing."
"And what was she to you? You haven't told us that yet?" There was a rancid sneer in Pierce's insinuation.
Hal turned from the aisle and went straight for him. A little man rose in his way. It was Mintz, who had given him the heartening word after the committee meeting. In his blind fury Hal struck him a staggering blow. But the little Jew was plucky. He closed with the younger man, and clinging to him panted out his good advice.
"Don'd fighd 'im, nod here. It's no good. Go to the pladform an' say your say. We'll hear you."
But it was impossible to hear any one now. Uproar broke loose. Men shouted, stormed, cursed; the meeting was become a rabble. Above the din could be distinguished at intervals the voice of the Honorable Brett Harkins, who, in frantic but not illogical reversion to the idea of a political convention, squalled for the services of the sergeant-at-arms. There was no sergeant-at-arms.
Mintz's pudgy but clogging arms could restrain an athlete of Hal's power only a brief moment; but in that moment sanity returned to the fury-heated brain.
"I beg your pardon, Mintz," he said; "you're quite right. I thank you for stopping me."
He returned to the aisle, pressing forward, with what purpose he could hardly have said, when he felt the sinewy grasp of McGuire Ellis on his shoulder.
"Tell 'em the whole thing," fiercely urged Ellis. "Be a man. Own up to the whole business, between you and the girl."
"I don't know what you mean!" cried Hal.
"Don't be young," groaned Ellis; "you've gone halfway. Clean it up. Then we can face the situation with the 'Clarion.' Tell 'em you were her lover."
"Milly's? I wasn't. It was Veltman."
"Good God of Mercy!"
"Did you think—"
"Yes;—Lord forgive me! Why didn't you tell me?"
"How could I tell you suspected—"
"All right! I know. We'll talk it out later. The big thing now is, what's the paper going to do about this meeting?"
Into Ellis's face flashed the fervor of the warrior who sees victory loom through the clouds of hopeless defeat.
"You mean that?"
"Every word of it. And run the epidemic spread—"
Before he could finish, Ellis was fighting his way to a telephone.
Hal met his father's eyes, and turned away with a heartsick sense that, in the one glance, had passed indictment, conviction, a hopeless acquiescence, and the dumb reproach of the trapped criminal against avenging justice. He turned and made for the nearest exit, conscious of only two emotions, a burning desire to be away from that place and a profound gladness that, without definite expression of the change, the bitter alienation of McGuire Ellis was past.
As Hal left, there arose, out of the turmoil, one clear voice of reason: the thundering baritone of Festus Willard moving an adjournment. It passed, and the gathering slowly dispersed. Avoiding the offered companionship of Congressman Harkins and Douglas, Dr. Surtaine took himself off by a side passage. At the end of it, alone, stood the Reverend Norman Hale, leaning against the sill of an open window. The old quack rushed upon him.
"Keep off!" warned the young minister, throwing himself into an attitude of defense.
"No, no," protested Dr. Surtaine: "don't think I meant that. I—I want to thank you."
"Thank me?" The minister put his hand to his head. "I don't understand."
"For leaving my boy out of it."
"Oh! That. I didn't see the necessity of dragging him in."
"That was kind. You handled me pretty rough. Well, I'm used to rough work. But the boy—look here, you knew all about this Milly Neal business, didn't you?"
"Maybe you could tell me," went on the old quack miserably. "I can understand Hal's getting into a—an affair with the girl—being kinda carried away and losing his head. What I can't get is his—his quittin' her when she was in trouble."
"I still don't understand," protested the minister. "My head isn't very good. I've been ill, you know."
"You let him off without telling his name to-night. And that made me think maybe he wasn't in wrong so far as I thought. Maybe there were—what-ye-call-'em?—mitigating circumstances. Were there?"
A light broke in upon the Reverend Norman Hale. "Did you think your son was Milly Neal's lover? He wasn't."
"Are you sure?" gasped the father.
"As sure as of my faith in Heaven."
The old man straightened up, drawing a breath so profound that it seemed to raise his stature.
"I wouldn't take a million dollars for that word," he declared.
"But your own part in this?" queried the other in wonderment. "I hated to have to say—"
"What does it matter?"
"You have no concern for yourself?" puzzled the minister.
"Oh, I'll come out on top. I always come out on top. What got to my heart was my boy. I thought he'd gone wrong. And now I know he hasn't."
The old charlatan's strong hand fell on his assailant's shoulder, then slipped down supportingly under his arm.
"You look pretty shaky," said he with winning solicitude. "Let me take you home in my car. It's waiting outside."
The Reverend Norman Hale accepted, marveling greatly over the complex miracle of the soul of man—who is formed in the image of his Maker.
Tradition of the "Clarion" office embalms "the evening the typhus story broke" as a nightmare out of which was born history. Chronologically, according to the veracious records of Bim the Guardian of Portals, the tumult began at exactly 10.47, with the arrival of Mr. McGuire Ellis, traveling up the staircase five steps at a jump and calling in a strangled voice for Wayne. That usually controlled journalist rushed out of an inner room in alarm, demanding to know whether New York City had been whelmed with a tidal wave or the King of England murdered in his bed, and in an instant was struggling in the grasp of his fellow editor.
"What's left of the epidemic spread?" demanded the new arrival breathlessly.
"The killed story?"
"What's left of it?" clamored Ellis, dancing all over his colleague's feet. "Can you find the copy? Notes? Anything?"
"Proofs," said Wayne. "I saved a set."
Ellis sat down in a chair and regarded his underling with an expression of stupefied benevolence.
"Wayne," he said, "you're a genius. You're the fine flower and perfect blossom of American journalism. I love you, Wayne. With passionate fervor, I love you. Now, gitta move on!!!" His voice soared and exploded. "We're going to run it to-morrow!"
"To-morrow? How? It isn't up to date. Nobody's touched it since—"
"Bring it up to date! Fire every man in the office out on it. Tear the hide off the old paper and smear the story all over the front page. Haul in your eyes and start!"
The whirl of what ensued swamped even Bim's cynic and philosophic calm. Amidst a buzz of telephones and a mighty scurrying of messengers the staff of the "Clarion" was gathered into the fold, on a "drop-everything" emergency call, and instantly dispersed again to the hospitals, the homes of the health officials, the undertakers' establishments, the cemeteries, and all other possible sources of information. The composing-room seethed and clanged. Copy-readers yelled frantically through tubes, and received columns of proofs which, under the ruthless slaughter of their blue pencils, returned as "stickfuls," that room might be made for the great story. Cable news was slashed right and left. Telegraph "skeletons" waited in vain for their bones to be clothed with the flesh of print. The Home Advice Department sank with all on board, and the most popular sensational preacher in town, who had that evening made a stirring anti-suffrage speech full of the most unfailing jokes, fell out of the paper and broke his heart. The carnage in news was general and frightful. Two pages plus of a story that "breaks" after 10 P.M. calls for heroic measures.
At 10.53 Mr. Harrington Surtaine arrived, hardly less tempestuously than his predecessor. He did not even greet Bim as he passed through the gate, which was unusual; but went direct to Ellis.
"Can we do it, Mac?"
"The epidemic story? Yes. There was a proof saved."
"Good. Can you do the story of the meeting?"
Ellis hesitated. "All of it?"
"Every bit. Leave out nothing."
"Hadn't you better think it over?"
"It'll hit the old—your father pretty hard."
"I can't help it."
A surge of human pity overswept Ellis's stimulated journalistic keenness. "You don't have to do this, Hal," he suggested. "No other paper—"
"I do have to do it," retorted the other. "And worse."
"I've got to print the story of Milly's death: the facts just as they happened. And I've got to write it myself."
The professional zest surged up again in McGuire Ellis. "My Lord!" he exclaimed. "What a paper to-morrow's 'Clarion' will be! But why? Why? Why the Neal story—now?"
"Because I can't print the epidemic spread unless I print the other. I've given my word. I told my father if ever I suppressed news for my own protection, I'd give up the fight and play the game like all the other papers. I've tried it. Mac, it isn't my game."
"No," replied his subordinate in a curious tone, "it isn't your game."
"You'll write the meeting?"
"Save out a column for my story."
Ellis returned to Wayne at the news desk. "Hell's broke loose at the Emergency Health meeting," he remarked, employing the conventional phrasing of his craft.
And Wayne, in the same language, inquired:
"Two columns. And a column from the Boss on another story."
"Whew!" whistled Wayne. "We shall have some paper."
From midnight until 2.30 in the morning the reporters on the great story dribbled in. Each, as he arrived, said a brief word to Wayne, got a curt direction, slumped into his seat, and silently wrote. It was all very methodical and quiet and orderly. A really big news event always is after the first disturbance of adjustment. Newspaper offices work smoothest when the tension is highest.
At 12.03 A.M. Bim received two flurried Aldermen and the head of a city department. At 12.35 he held spirited debate with the Deputy Commissioner of Health. Just as the clock struck one, two advertising managers, arriving neck and neck, merged their appeals in an ineffectual attempt to obtain information from the youthful Cerberus, which he loftily declined to furnish, as to the whereabouts of anyone with power to ban or bind, on the "Clarion." At 1.30 the Guardian of the Gate had the honor and pleasure of meeting, for the first time, his Honor the Mayor of the City. Finally, at 1.59 he "took a chance," as he would have put it, and, misliking the autocratic deportment of a messenger from E.M. Pierce, told that emissary that he could tell Mr. Pierce exactly where to go to—and go there himself. All the while, unmoved amidst protestation, appeal, and threat, the steady news-machine went on grinding out unsuppressible history for itself and its city.
Sharp to the regular hour, the presses clanged, and the building thrilled through its every joint to the pulse of print. Hal Surtaine rose from his desk and walked to the window. McGuire Ellis also rose, walked over and stood near him.
"Three pretty big beats to-morrow," he said awkwardly, at length.
"The Milly Neal story won't be a beat," replied Hal.
"No? How's that?"
"I've sent our proofs to all the other papers."
"Well, I'm—What's the idea?
"We lied to them about the story in the first instance. They played fair, according to the rules, and took our lie. We can't beat 'em on our own story, now."
"Right you are. Bet none of 'em prints it, though." Wherein he was a true prophet.
There was a long, uneasy pause.
"Hal," said Ellis hesitantly.
"I'm a fool."
The white weariness of Hal's face lit up with a smile. "Why, Mac—" he began.
"A pin-head," persisted the other stubbornly. "A block of solid ivory from the collar up. I'm—I'm young in the head," he concluded, with supreme effort of self-condemnation.
"It's all right," said his chief, perfectly knowing what Ellis meant.
"Have I said enough?"
"You didn't put Veltman in your story?"
"No. What was the good?"
"That's right, too."
"Good-night, Mac, I'm for the hotel."
"Good-night, Hal. See you in the morning."
"Yes. I'll be around early."
Ellis's eyes followed his chief out through the door. He returned to his desk and sat thinking. He saw, with pitiless clearness, the storm gathering over the "Clarion": the outburst of public hostility, the depletion of advertisers and subscribers, the official opposition closing avenues of information, the disastrous probabilities of the Pierce libel suits, now soon to be pushed; and his undaunted spirit of a crusader rose and lusted for the battle.
"They may lick us," he said to his paste-pot, the recipient of many a bitter confidence and thwarted hope in the past; "but we'll show 'em what a real newspaper is, for once. And"—his eyes sought the door through which Hal Surtaine had passed—"I've got this much out of it, anyway: I've helped a boy make himself a Man."
Ten thousand extra copies sped from the new and wonder-working press of the "Clarion" that night, to be absorbed, swallowed, engulfed by a mazed populace. In all the city there was perhaps not a man, woman, or child who, by the following evening, had not read or heard of the "Clarion's" exposure of the epidemic—except one. Max Veltman lay, senseless to all this, between stupor and a fevered delirium in which the spirit of Milly Neal called on him for delayed vengeance.
THE GOOD FIGHT
Earthquake or armed invasion could scarce have shocked staid Worthington more profoundly than did the "Clarion's" exposure. Of the facts there could be no reasonable doubt. The newspaper's figures were specific, and its map of infection showed no locality exempt. The city had wakened from an untroubled sleep to find itself poisoned.
As an immediate result of the journalistic tocsin, the forebodings of Dr. Surtaine and his associates as to the effects of publicity bade fair to be justified. Undeniably there was danger of the disease scattering, through the medium of runaways from the stricken houses. But the "Clarion" had its retort pat for the tribe of "I-told-you-so," admitting the prospect of some primary harm to save a great disaster later. More than one hundred lives, it pointed out, giving names and dates, had already been sacrificed to the shibboleth of secrecy; the whole city had been imperiled; the disease had set up its foci of infection in a score of places, and there were some three hundred cases, in all, known or suspected. One method only could cope with the situation: the fullest public information followed by radical hygienic measures.
Of information there was no lack. So tremendous a news feature could not be kept out of print by the other dailies, all of whom now admitted the presence of the pestilence, while insisting that its scope had been greatly exaggerated, and piously deprecating the "sensationalism" of their contemporary. Thus the city administration was forced to action. An appropriation was voted to the Health Bureau. Dr. Merritt, seizing his opportunity, organized a quarantine army, established a detention camp and isolation hospital, and descended upon the tenement districts, as terrible (to the imagination of the frantic inhabitants) as a malevolent god. The Emergency Health Committee, meantime, died and was forgotten overnight.
Something not unlike panic swept the Rookeries. Wild rumors passed from mouth to mouth, growing as they went. A military cordon, it was said, was to be cast about the whole ward and the people pent up inside to die. Refugees were to be shot on sight. The infected buildings were to be burned to the ground, and the tenants left homeless. The water-supply was to be poisoned, to get rid of the exposed—had already been poisoned, some said, and cited sudden mysterious deaths. Such savage imaginings of suspicion as could spring only from the ignorant fears of a populace beset by a secret and deadly pest, roused the district to a rat-like defiance. Such of the residents as were not home-bound by the authorities, growled in saloon back rooms and muttered in the streets. Hatred of the "Clarion" was the burden of their bitterness. Two of its reporters were mobbed in the hard-hit ward, the day after the publication of the first article.
Nor was the paper much better liked elsewhere. It was held responsible for all the troubles. Though the actuality of the quarantine fell far short of the expectant fears, still there was a mighty turmoil. Families were separated, fugitives were chased down and arrested, and close upon the heels of the primary harassment came the threat of economic complications, as factories and stores all over the city, for their own protection, dismissed employees known to live within the near range of the pestilence. In the minds of the sufferers from these measures and of their friends, the "Clarion" was an enemy to the public. But it was read with avid impatience, for Wayne, working on the principle that "it is news and not evil that stirs men," contrived to find some new sensational development for every issue. Do what the rival papers might, the "Clarion" had and held the windward course.
Representative Business, that Great Mogul of Worthington, was, of course, outraged by the publication. Hal Surtaine was an ill bird who had fouled his own nest. The wires had carried the epidemic news to every paper in the country, and Worthington was proclaimed "unclean" to the ears of all. The Old Home Week Committee on Arrangements held a hasty meeting to decide whether the celebration should be abandoned or postponed, but could come to no conclusion. Denunciation of the "Clarion" for its course was the sole point upon which all the speakers agreed. Also there was considerable incidental criticism of its editor, as an ingrate, for publishing the article on Milly Neal's death which reflected so severely upon Dr. Surtaine. As the paper had been bought with Dr. Surtaine's hard cash, the least Hal could have done, in decency, was to refrain from "roasting" the source of the money. Such was the general opinion. The representative business intellect of Worthington failed to consider that the article had been confined rigidly to a statement of facts, and that any moral or ethical inference must be purely a derivative of those facts as interpreted by the reader. Several of those present at the meeting declared vehemently that they would never again either advertise in or read the "Clarion." There was even talk of a boycott. One member was so incautious as to condole with Dr. Surtaine upon his son's disloyalty. The old quack's regard fell upon his tactless comforter, dull and heavy as lead.
"My son is my son," said he; "and what's between us is our own business. Now, as to Old Home Week, it'll be time enough to give up when we're licked." And, adroit opportunist that he was, he urged upon the meeting that they support the Health Bureau as the best hope of clearing up the situation.
Amongst the panic-stricken, meanwhile, moved and worked the volunteer forces of hygiene, led by the Reverend Norman Hale. Weakened and unfit though he was, he could not be kept from the battle-ground, notwithstanding that Dr. Merritt, fearing for his life, had threatened him with kidnaping and imprisonment in the hospital. At Hale's right hand were Esme Elliot and Kathleen Pierce. There had been one scene at Greenvale approaching violence on Dr. Elliot's part and defiance on that of his niece when her guardian had flatly forbidden the continuance of her slum work. It had ended when the girl, creeping up under the guns of his angry eyes, had dropped her head on his shoulder, and said in unsteady tones:—
"I—I'm not a very happy Esme, Uncle Guardy. If I don't have something to do—something real—I'll—I'll c-c-cry and get my pretty nose all red."
"Quit it!" cried the gruff doctor desperately. "What d'ye mean by acting that way! Go on. Do as you like. But if Merritt lets anything happen to you—"
"Nothing will happen, Guardy. I'll be careful," promised the girl.
"Well, I don't know whatever's come over you, lately," retorted her uncle, troubled.
"Neither do I," said Esme.
She went forth and enlisted Kathleen Pierce, whose energetic and restless mind was ensnared at once by what she regarded as the romantic possibilities of the work, and the two gathered unto themselves half a dozen of the young males of the species, who readily volunteered, partly for love and loyalty to the chieftainesses of their clan, partly out of the blithe and adventurous spirit of youth, and of them formed an automobile corps, for scouting, messenger service, and emergency transportation, as auxiliary to Hale and Merritt; an enterprise which subsequently did yeoman work and taught several of the gilded youth something about the responsibilities of citizenship which they would never have learned in any other school.
Tip O'Farrell was another invaluable aide. He had one brief encounter, on enlistment, with the health officer.
"You ought to be in jail," said Dr. Merritt.
"What fer?" demanded O'Farrell.
"Smuggling out bodies without a permit."
"Ferget it," advised the politician. "I tried my way, an' it wasn't good enough. Now I'll try yours. You can't afford to jug me."
"Why can't I?"
"I'm too much use to you."
"So far you've been just the other thing."
"Ain't I tellin' you I'm through with that game? On the level! Doc, these poor boobs down here know me. They'll do as I tell 'em. Gimme a chance."
So O'Farrell, making his chance, did his work faithfully and well through the dismal weeks to follow. It takes all kinds of soldiers to fight an epidemic.
Those two sturdy volunteers, Miss Elliot and Miss Pierce, were driving slowly along the fringe of the Rookeries,—yes, slowly, notwithstanding that Kathleen Pierce was acting as her own chauffeur,—having just delivered a consignment of emergency nurses from a neighboring city to Dr. Merritt, when the car slowed down.
"Did you see that?" inquired Miss Pierce, indicating, with a jerk of her head, the general topography off to starboard.
"See what?" inquired her companion. "I didn't notice anything except a hokey-pokey seller, adding his mite to the infant mortality of the district."
"Esme, you talk like nothing human lately!" accused her friend. "You're a—a—regular health leaflet! I meant that man going into the corner tenement. I believe it was Hal Surtaine."
"And you needn't say, 'Was it?' in that lofty, superior tone, like an angel with a new halo, either," pursued her aggrieved friend. "You know it was. What do you suppose he's doing down here?"
"The epidemic is the 'Clarion's' special news. He spends quite a little time in this district, I believe."
"Oh, you believe! Then you've seen him lately?"
Miss Pierce stared rigidly in front of her and made a detour of magnificent distance to avoid a push-cart which wasn't in her way anyhow. "Esme," she said.
"Did you give me away to him?"
"No. He didn't give me an opportunity."
"Oh!" There was more silence. Then, "Esme, I was pretty rotten about that, wasn't I?"
"Why, Kathie, I think you ought to have written to him."
"I meant to write and own up, no matter if I did tell you I wouldn't. But I kept putting it off. Esme, did you notice how thin and worn he looks?"
The other winced. "He's had a great deal to worry him."
"Well, he hasn't got our lawsuit to worry him any more. That's off."
"Off?" A light flashed into Esme's face. "Your father has dropped it?"
"Yes. He had to. I told him the accident was my fault, and if I was put on the stand I'd say so. I'm not so popular with Pop as I might be, just now. But, Esme, I didn't mean to run away and leave her in the gutter. I got rattled, and Brother was crying and I lost my head."
"That will save the 'Clarion,'" said Esme, with a deep breath.
Kathleen looked at her curiously, and then made a singular remark. "Yes; that's what I did it for."
"But what interest have you in saving the 'Clarion'?" demanded Esme, bewildered.
"The failure of the 'Clarion' would be a disaster to the city," observed Miss Pierce in copy-book style.
"Kathie! You should make two jabs in the air with your forefinger when you quote. Otherwise you're a plagiarist. Let me see." Esme pondered. "Hugh Merritt," she decided.
Kathleen kept her eyes steady ahead, but a flood of color rose in her face.
"I had an awful fight over it with him before—before I gave in," she said.
"Are you going to marry Hugh?" demanded Esme bluntly.
The color deepened until even the velvety eyes seemed tinged with it. "I don't know. He isn't exactly popular with Pop, either."
Esme reached over and gave her friend a surreptitious little hug, which might have cost a crossing pedestrian his life if he hadn't been a brisk dodger.
"Hugh Merritt is a man," said she in a low voice: "He's brave and he's straight and he's fine. And oh, Kathie, dearest, if a man of that kind loves you, don't you ever, ever let anything come between you."
"Hello!" said Kathleen in surprise. "That don't sound much like the Great American Man-eating Pumess of yore. There's been a big change in you since you sidetracked Will Douglas, Esme. Did you really care? No, of course, you didn't," she answered herself. "He's a nice chap, but he isn't particularly brave or fine, I guess."
A light broke in upon her:
"Esme! Is it, after all—"
"No, no, no, no, NO!" cried the victim of this highly feminine deduction, in panic. "It isn't any one."
"No, of course it isn't, dear. I didn't mean to tease you. Hello! what have we here?"
The car stopped with a jar on a side street, some distance from the quarantined section. Seated on the curb a woman was wailing over the stiffened form of a young child. The boy's teeth were clenched and his face darkly suffused.
"Convulsions," said Esme.
The two girls were out of the car simultaneously. The agonized mother, an Italian, was deaf to Esme's persuasions that the child be turned over to them.
"What shall we do?" she asked, turning to Kathleen in dismay. "I think he's dying, and I can't make the woman listen."
Something of her father's stern decisiveness of character was in Kathleen Pierce.
"Don't be a fool!" she said briskly to the mother, and she plucked the child away from her. "Start the car, Esme."
The woman began to shriek. A crowd gathered. O'Farrell providentially appeared from around a corner. "Grab her, you," she directed O'Farrell.
The politician hesitated. "What's the game?" he began. Then he caught sight of Esme. "Oh, it's you, Miss Elliot. Sure. Hi! Can it!" he shouted, fending off the distracted mother. "They'll take the kid to the hospital. See? You go along quiet, now."
Speeding beyond all laws, but under protection of their red cross, they all but ran down Dr. Merritt and stopped to take him in. He confirmed Esme's diagnosis.
"It'll be touch and go whether we save him," said he.
Esme carried the stricken child into the hospital ward. The two volunteers waited outside for word. In an hour it came. The boy would probably live, thanks to their promptitude.
"But you ought not to be picking up chance infants around the district," he protested. "It isn't safe."
"Oh, we belong to the St. Bernard tribe," retorted Miss Pierce. "We take 'em as we find 'em. Hugh, come and lunch with us."
The grayish young man looked at her wistfully. "Haven't time," he said.
"No: I didn't suppose you'd step aside from the thorny path, even to eat," she retorted; and Esme, hearing the new tone under the flippant words, knew that all was well with the girl, and envied her with a great and gentle envy.
These were the days when Hal Surtaine worked with a sense of wild freedom from all personal bonds. He had definitely broken with his father. He had challenged every interest in Worthington from which there was anything to expect commercially. He had peremptorily banished Esme Elliot from his heart and his hopes, though she still forced entrance to his thoughts and would not be denied, there, the precarious rights of an undesired guest. He was now simply and solely a journalist with a mind single to his purpose, to go down fighting the best fight there was in him. Defeat, he believed, was practically certain. He would make it a defeat of which no man need be ashamed.
The handling of the epidemic news, Hal left to his colleagues, devoting his own pen to a vigorous defense of the "Clarion's" position and assertion of its policy, in the editorial columns. Concealment and suppression, he pointed out, had been the chief factor in the disastrous spread of the contagion. Early recognition of the danger and a frank fighting policy would have saved most of the sacrificed lives. The blame lay, not with those who had disclosed the peril, but with those who had fostered it by secrecy; probing deeper into it, with those who had blocked such reform of housing and sanitation as would have checked a filth disease like typhus. In time this would be indicated more specifically. Tenements which netted twelve per cent to their owners and bred plagues, the "Clarion" observed editorially, were good private but poor public investments. Whereupon a number of highly regarded Christian citizens began to refer to the editor as an anarchist.
The "Clarion" principle of ascertaining "the facts behind the news" had led naturally to an inquiry into ownership of the Rookeries. Wayne had this specifically in charge and reported sensational results from the first.
"It'll be a corking follow-up feature," he said. "Later we can hitch it up to the Housing Reform Bill."
"Make a fifth page full spread of it for Monday."
"With pictures of the owners," suggested Wayne.
"Why not this way? Make a triple lay-out for each one. First, a picture of the tenement with the number of deaths and cases underneath. Then the half-tone of the owner. And, beyond, the picture of the house he lives in. That'll give contrast."
"Good!" said Wayne. "Fine and yellow."
By Sunday, four days after the opening story, all the material for the second big spread was ready except for one complication. Some involution of trusteeship in the case of two freeholds in Sadler's Shacks, at the heart of the Rookeries, had delayed access to the records. These two were Number 3 and Number 9 Sperry Street, the latter dubbed "the Pest-Egg" by the "Clarion," as being the tenement in which the pestilence was supposed to have originated. These two last clues, Wayne was sure, would be run down before evening. Already the net of publicity had dragged in, among other owners of the dangerous property, a high city official, an important merchant, a lady much given to blatant platform philanthropies, and the Reverend Dr. Wales's fashionable church. It was, indeed, a noble company of which the "Clarion" proposed to make martyrs on the morrow.
One man quite unconnected with any twelve per cent ownership, however, had sworn within his ravaged soul that there should be no morrow's "Clarion." Max Veltman, four days previously, had crawled home to his apartment after a visit to the drug store where he had purchased certain acids. With these he worked cunningly and with complete absorption in his pursuit, neither stirring out of his own place nor communicating with any fellow being. Consequently he knew nothing of the sensation which had convulsed Worthington, nor of the "Clarion's" change of policy. To his inflamed mind the Surtaine organ was a noxious thing, and Harrington Surtaine the guilty partner in the profits of Milly's death who had rejected the one chance to make amends.
Carrying a carefully wrapped bundle, he went forth into the streets on Sunday evening, and wandered into the Rookeries district. A red-necked man, standing on a barrel, was making a speech to a big crowd gathered at one of the corners. Dimly-heard, the word "Clarion" came to Veltman's ears.
"What's he saying?" he asked a neighbor.
"He's roastin' the —— —— 'Clarion,'" replied the man. "We ought to go up there an' tear the buildin' down."
To Veltman it seemed quite natural that popular rage should be directed toward the object of his hatred. He sat down weakly upon the curb and waited to see what would happen.
Another chance auditor of that speech did not wait. McGuire Ellis stayed just long enough to scent danger, and hurried back to the office.
"Trouble brewing down in the Rookeries," he told Hal.
"More than usual?"
"Different from the usual. There's a mob considering paying us a visit."
"The new press!" exclaimed Hal.
"Just what I was thinking. A rock or a bullet in its pretty little insides would cost money."
"We'd better notify Police Headquarters."
"I have. They gave me the laugh. Told me it was a pipe-dream. They're sore on us because of our attack on the department for dodging saloon law enforcement."
"I don't like this, Mac," said Hal. "What a fool I was to put the press in the most exposed place."
Print-paper comes from the pulp-mills in huge cylinders, seven feet long by four in diameter. The highest-powered small arm could not send a bullet through the close-wrapped fabric. Ellis's plan offered perfect protection if there was enough material to build the fortification. The entire pressroom force was at once set to work, and in half an hour the delicate and costly mechanism was protected behind an impenetrable barrier which shut it off from view except at the south end. The supply of rolls had fallen a little short.
"Let 'em smash the window if they like," said Ellis. "Plate-glass insurance covers that. I wish we had something for that corner."
"With a couple of revolvers we could guard it from these windows," said Hal. "But where are we to get revolvers on a Sunday night?"
"Leave that to me," said Ellis, and went out.
Hal, standing at the open second-story window, surveyed the strategic possibilities of the situation. His outer office jutting out into a narrow L overlooked, from a broad window, the empty space of the street. From the front he could just see the press, behind its plate-glass. This was set back some ten feet from the sidewalk line proper, and marking the outer boundary stood a row of iron posts of old and dubious origin, formerly connected by chains. Hal had a wish that they were still so joined. They would have served, at least, as a hypothetical guard-line. The flagged and slightly depressed space between these and the front of the building, while actually of private ownership, had long been regarded as part of the thoroughfare. Overlooking it from the north end, opposite Hal's office, was another window, in the reference room. Any kind of gunnery from those vantage-spots would guard the press. But would the mere threat of firing suffice? That is what Hal wished to know. He had no desire to pump bullets into a close-packed crowd. On the other hand, he did not propose to let any mob ruin his property without a fight. His military reverie was interrupted by the entrance of Bim Currier, followed by Dr. Elliot.
"Why the fortification?" asked the latter.
"We've heard rumors of a mob attack."
"So've I. That's why I'm here. Want any help?"
"Why, you're very kind," began Hal dubiously; "but—"
"Rope off that space," cut in the brisk doctor, seizing, with a practiced eye, upon the natural advantage of the sentinel posts. "Got any rope?"
"Yes. There's some in the pressroom. It isn't very strong."
"No matter. Moral effect. Mobs always stop to think, at a line. I know. I've fought 'em before."
"This is very good of you, to come—"
"Not a bit of it. I noticed what the 'Clarion' did to its medical advertisers. I like your nerve. And I like a fight, in a good cause. Have 'em paint up some signs to put along the ropes. 'Danger.'—'Keep Out.'—'Trespassers Enter Here at their Peril'; and that sort of thing."
"I'll do it," said Hal, going to the telephone to give the orders.
While he was thus engaged, McGuire Ellis entered.
"Hello!" the physician greeted him. "What have you got there? Revolvers?"
"Count 'em; two," answered Ellis.
"Gimme one," said the visitor, helping himself to a long-barreled .45.
"Here! That's for Hal Surtaine," protested Ellis.
"Not by a jug-ful! He's too hot-headed. Besides, can he afford to be in it if there should be any serious trouble? Think of the paper!"
"You're right there," agreed Ellis, struck by the keen sense of this view. "If they could lay a killing at his door, even in self-defense—"
"Pree-cisely! Whereas, I don't intend to shoot unless I have to, and probably not then."
They explained the wisdom of this procedure to Hal, who reluctantly admitted it, agreeing to leave the weapons in the hands of Dr. Elliot and McGuire Ellis.
"Put Ellis here in this window. I'll hold the fort yonder." He pointed across the space to the reference room in the opposite L. "Nine times out of ten a mob don't really—" He stopped abruptly, his face stiffening with surprise, and some other emotion, which Hal for the moment failed to interpret. Following the direction of his glance, the two other men turned. Dr. Surtaine, suave and smiling, was advancing across the floor.
"Ellis, how are you? Good-evening, Dr. Elliot. Ah! Pistols?"
"Yes. Have one?" invited Ellis smoothly.
"I brought one with me." He tugged at his pocket, whence emerged a cheap and shiny weapon. Hal shuddered, recognizing it. It was the revolver which Milly Neal had carried.
"So you've heard?" asked Ellis.
"Ten minutes ago. I haven't any idea it will amount to much, but I thought I ought to be here in case of danger."
Dr. Elliot grunted. Ellis, suggesting that they take a look at the other defense, tactfully led him away, leaving father and son together. They had not seen each other since the Emergency Health Committee meeting. Something of the quack's glossy jauntiness faded out of his bearing as he turned to Hal.
"Boy-ee," he began diffidently, "there's been a pretty bad mistake."
"There's been worse than that," said Hal sadly.
"About Milly Neal. I thought—I thought it was you that got her into trouble."
"Why? For God's sake, why?"
"Don't be too hard on me," pleaded the other. "I'd heard about the road-house. And then, what she said to you. It all fitted in. Hale put me right. Boy-ee, I can sleep again, now that I know it wasn't you."
The implication caught at Hal's throat.
"Why, Dad," he said lamely, "if you'd only come to me and asked—"
"Somehow I couldn't. I was waiting for you to tell me." He slid his big hand over Hal's shoulder, and clutched him in a sudden, jerky squeeze, his face averted.
"Now, that's off our minds," he said, in a loud and hearty voice. "We can—"
"Wait a minute. Father, you saw the story in the 'Clarion,'—the story of Milly's death?"
"Yes, I saw that."
"I suppose you did what you thought was right, Boy-ee."
"I did what I had to do. I hated it."
"I'm glad to know that much, anyway."
"But I'd do it again, exactly the same."
The Doctor turned troubled eyes on his son. "Hasn't there been enough judging of each other between you and me, Boy-ee?" he asked sorrowfully.
In wretched uncertainty how to meet this appeal, Hal hesitated. He was saved from decision by the return of McGuire Ellis.
"No movement yet from the enemy's camp," he reported. "I just had a telephone from Hale's club."
"Perhaps they won't come, after all," surmised Hal.
"There's pretty hot talk going. Somebody's been helping along by serving free drinks."
"Now who could that be, I wonder?"
"Maybe some of our tenement-owning politician friends who aren't keen about having to-morrow's 'Clarion' appear."
"We ought to have a reporter down there, Mac."
"Denton's there. Well, as there's nothing doing, I'll tackle a little work." And seating himself at his desk beside the broad window Ellis proceeded to annihilate some telegraph copy, fresh off the wire. With the big tenement story spread, the morrow's paper would be straitened for space. Excusing himself to his father, Hal stepped into his private office—and recoiled in uttermost amazement. There, standing in the further doorway, lovely, palpitant, with the color flushing in her cheeks and the breath fluttering in her throat, stood Esme Elliot.
"Oh!" she gasped, stretching out her hands to him. "I've tried so to get you by 'phone. There's a mob coming—"
"Yes, I know," said Hal gently. He led her to a chair. "We're ready for them."
"Are you? I'm so glad. I was afraid you wouldn't know in time."
"How did you find out?"
"I've been working with Mr. Hale down in the district. I heard rumors of it. Then I listened to what the people said, and I hurried here in my car to warn you. They're drunk, and mean trouble."
"That was good of you! I appreciate it."
"No. It was a debt. I owed it to the 'Clarion.' You've been—splendid about the typhus."
"Worthington doesn't look at it that way," returned Hal, with a rather grim smile.
"When they understand, they will."
"Perhaps. But, see here, you can't stay. There may be danger. It's awfully good of you to come. But you must get away."
She looked at him sidelong. In her coming she had been the new Esme, the Esme who was Norman Hale's most unselfish and unsparing worker, the Esme who thought for others, all womanly. But, now that the strain had relaxed, she reverted, just a little, to her other self. It was, for the moment, the Great American Pumess who spoke:—
"Won't you even say you're glad to see me?"
"Glad!" The echo leaped to his lips and the fire to his eyes as the old unconquered longing and passion surged over him. "I don't think I've known what gladness is since that night at your house."
Her eyes faltered away from his. "I don't think I quite understand," she said weakly; then, with a change to quick resolution:—
"There is something I must tell you. You have a right to know it. It's about the paper. Will you come to see me to-morrow?"
"Yes. But go now. No! Wait!"
From without sounded a dull murmur pierced through with an occasional whoop, jubilant rather than threatening.
"Too late," said Hal quietly. "They're coming."
"I'm not afraid."
"But I am—for you. Stay in this room. If they should break into the building, go up those stairs and get to the roof. They won't come there."
He went into the outer room, closing the door behind him.
From both directions and down a side street as well the dwellers in the slums straggled into the open space in front of the "Clarion" office. To Hal they seemed casual, purposeless; rather prankish, too, like a lot of urchins out on a lark. Several bore improvised signs, uncomplimentary to the "Clarion." They seemed surprised when they encountered the rope barrier with its warning placards. There were mutterings and queries.
"No serious harm in them," opined Dr. Elliot, to whom Hal had gone to see whether he wanted anything. "Just mischief. A few rocks maybe, and then they'll go home. Look at old Mac."
Opposite them, at his brilliantly lighted window desk, sat McGuire Ellis, in full view of the crowd below, conscientiously blue-penciling telegraph copy.
"Hey, Mac!" yelled an acquaintance in the street. "Come down and have a drink."
The associate editor lifted his head. "Don't be young," he retorted. "Go home and sleep it off." And reverted to his task.
"What are we doin' here, anyway?" roared some thirster for information.
Nobody answered. But, thus recalled to a purpose, the mob pressed against the ropes.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" A great, rounded voice boomed out above them, drawing every eye to the farthermost window where stood Dr. Surtaine, his chest swelling with ready oratory.
"Hooray!" yelled the crowd. "Good Old Doc!"—"He pays the freight."—"Speech!"
"Say, Doc," bawled a waggish soul, "I gotta corn, marchin' up here. Will Certina cure it?"
And another burst into the final lines of a song then popular; in which he was joined by several of his fellows:
"Father, he drinks Seltzer. Redoes, like hell! (Crescendo.) He drinks Cer-tee-nah!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," boomed the wily charlatan. "Unaccustomed as I am to extempore speaking, I cannot let pass this opportunity to welcome you. We appreciate this testimonial of your regard for the 'Clarion.' We appreciate, also, that it is a warm night and a thirsty one. Therefore, I suggest that we all adjourn back to the Old Twelfth Ward, where, if the authorities will kindly look the other way, I shall be delighted to provide liquid refreshments for one and all in which to drink to the health and prosperity of an enlightened free press."
The crowd rose to him with laughter. "Good old Sport!"—"Mine's Certina."—"Come down and make good."—"Free booze, free speech, free press!"—"You're on, Doc! You're on."
"He's turned the trick," growled Dr. Elliot to Hal. "He's a smooth one!"
Indeed, the crowd wavered, with that peculiar swaying which presages a general movement. At the south end there was a particularly dense gathering, and there some minor struggle seemed to be in progress. Cries rose: "Let him through."—"What's he want?"
"It's Max Veltman," said Hal, catching sight of a wild, strained face. "What is he up to?"
The former "Clarion" man squirmed through the front rank and crawled slowly under the ropes. Above the murmur of confused tones, a voice of terror shrilled out:
"He's got a bomb."
The mass surged back from the spot. Veltman, moving forward upon the unprotected south end of the press, was fumbling at his pocket. "I'll fix your free and enlightened press," he screamed.
Dr. Elliot turned on Hal with an imperative question.
"Is it true, do you think? Will he do it? Quick!"
"Crazy," said Hal.
"God forgive me!" prayed the ex-navy man as his arm whipped up.
There were two quick reports. At the second, Veltman stopped, half turned, threw his arms widely outward, and vanished in a blinding glare, accompanied by a gigantic snap! as if a mountain of rock had been riven in twain.
To Hal it seemed that the universe had disintegrated in that concussion. Blackness surrounded him. He was on the floor, half crouching, and, to his surprise, unhurt. Groping his way to the window he leaned out above an appalling silence. It endured only a moment. Then rose the terrible clamor of a mob in panic-stricken flight, above an insistent undertone of groans, sobs, and prayers.
"I had to kill him," muttered Dr. Elliot's shaking voice at Hal's ear. "There was just the one chance before he could throw his bomb."
Every light in the building had gone out. Guiding himself by the light of matches, Hal hurried across to his den. He heard Esme's voice before he could make her out, standing near the door. "Is any one hurt?"
Hal breathed a great sigh. "You're all right, then! We don't know how bad it is."
"Veltman threw a bomb. He's killed."
"Boy-ee!" called Dr. Surtaine.
"Here, Dad. You're safe?"
"Thank God! Careful with that match! The place is strewn with papers."
Men from below came hurrying in with candles, which are part of every newspaper's emergency equipment. They reported no serious injuries to the staff or the equipment. Although the plate-glass window had been shattered into a million fragments and the inner fortification toppled over, the precious press had miraculously escaped injury. But in a strewn circle, outside, lay rent corpses, and the wounded pitifully striving to crawl from that shambles.
With the steadiness which comes to nerves racked to the point of collapse, Hal made the rounds of the building. Two men in the pressroom were slightly hurt. Their fellows would look after them. Wayne, with his men, was already in the street, combining professional duty with first aid. The scattered and stricken mob had begun to sift back, only a subdued and curious crowd now. Then came the ambulances and the belated police, systematizing the work.
Quarter of an hour had passed when Dr. Surtaine, Esme Elliot, her uncle—much surprised at finding her there—and Hal stood in the editorial office, hardly able yet to get their bearings.
"I shall give myself up to the authorities," decided Dr. Elliot. He was deadly pale, but of unshaken nerve.
"Why?" cried Hal. "It was no fault of yours."
"Rules of the game. Well, young man, you have a paper to get out for to-morrow, though the heavens fall. Good-night."
Hal gripped at his hand. "I don't know how to thank you—" he began.
"Don't try, then," was the gruff retort. "Where's Mac?"
He turned to McGuire Ellis's desk to bid that sturdy toiler good-night. There, dimly seen through the flickering candlelight, the undisputed Short-Distance Slumber Champion of the World sat, his head on his arms, in his familiar and favorite attitude of snatching a few moments' respite from a laborious existence.
"Will you look at that!" cried the physician in utmost amazement.
At the sight a wild surge of mirth overwhelmed Hal's hair-trigger nerves. He began to laugh, with strange, quick catchings of the breath: to laugh tumultuously, rackingly, unendurably.
"Stop it!" shouted Dr. Elliot, and smote him a sledge-blow between the shoulders.
For the moment the hysteria was jarred out of Hal. He gasped, gurgled, and took a step toward his assistant.
"Hey, Mac! Wake up! You've spilled your ink."
Before he could speak or move further, Esme Elliot's arms were about him. Her face was close to his. He could feel the strong pressure of her breast against him as she forced him back.
"No, no!" she was pleading, in a swift half-whisper. "Don't go near him. Don't look. Please don't. Come away."
He set her aside. A candlelight flared high. From Ellis's desk trickled a little stream. Dr. Elliot was already bending over the slackened form.
"So it wasn't ink," said Hal slowly. "Is he dead, Dr. Elliot?"
"No," snapped the other. "Esme, bandages! Quick! Your petticoat! That'll do. Get another candle. Dr. Surtaine, help me lift him. There! Surtaine, bring water. Do you hear? Hurry!"
When Hal returned, uncle and niece were working with silent deftness over Ellis, who lay on the floor. The wounded man opened his eyes upon his employer's agonized face.
"Did he get the press?" he gasped.
"Keep quiet," ordered the Doctor. "Don't speak."
"Did he get the press?" insisted Ellis obstinately.
"Mac! Mac!" half sobbed Hal, bending over him. "I thought you were dead." And his tears fell on the blood-streaked face.
"Don't be young," growled Ellis faintly. "Did—he—get—the—press?"
The wounded man's eyes closed. "All right," he murmured.
Up to the time that the ambulance surgeons came to carry Ellis away, Dr. Elliot was too busy with him even to be questioned. Only after the still burden had passed through the door did he turn to Hal.
"A piece of metal carried away half the back of his neck," he said. "And we let him sit there, bleeding his life away!"
"Is there any chance?" demanded Hal.
"I doubt if they'll get him to the hospital alive."
"The best man in Worthington!" said Hal passionately. "Oh!" He shook his clenched fists at the outer darkness. "I'll make somebody pay for this."
Esme's hand fell upon his arm. "Do you want me to stay?" she asked.
"No. You must go home. It's been a terrible thing for you."
"I'll go to the hospital," she said, "and I'll 'phone you as soon as there is any news."
"Better come home with me, Hal," said his father gently.
The younger man turned with an involuntary motion toward the desk, still wet with his friend's blood.
"I'll stay on the job," he said.
Understanding, the father nodded his sympathy. "Yes; I guess that would have been Mac's way," said he.
Work pressing upon the editor from all sides came as a boon. The paper had to be made over for the catastrophe which, momentarily, overshadowed the typhus epidemic in importance. In hasty consultation, it was decided that the "special" on the ownership of the infected tenements should be set aside for a day, to make space. Hal had to make his own statement, not alone for the "Clarion," but for the other newspapers, whose representatives came seeking news and also—what both surprised and touched him—bearing messages of sympathy and congratulation, and offers of any help which they could extend from men to pressroom accommodations. Not until nearly two o'clock in the morning did Hal find time to draw breath over an early proof, which stated the casualties as seven killed outright, including Veltman who was literally torn to pieces, and twenty-two seriously wounded.
From his reading Hal was called to the 'phone. Esme's voice came to him with a note of hope and happiness.
"Oh, Hal, they say there's a chance! Even a good chance! They've operated, and it isn't as bad as it looked at first. I'm so glad for you."
"Thank you," said Hal huskily. "And—bless you! You've been an angel to-night."
There was a pause: then, "You'll come to see me—when you can?"
"To-morrow," said he. "No—to-day. I forgot."
They both laughed uncertainly, and bade each other good-night.
Hal stayed through until the last proof. In the hallway a heavy figure lifted itself from a chair in a corner as he came out.
"Dad!" exclaimed Hal.
"I thought I'd wait," said the charlatan wistfully.
No other word was necessary. "I'll be glad to be home again," said Hal. "You can lend me some pajamas?"
"They're laid out on your bed. Every night."
The two men passed down the stairs, arm in arm. At the door they paused. Through the building ran a low tremor, waxing to a steady thrill. The presses were throwing out to the world once again their irrevocable message of fact and fate.
Monday's newspapers startled Hal Surtaine. Despite the sympathetic attitude expressed after the riot by the other newspaper men, he had not counted upon the unanimous vigor with which the local press took up the cudgels for the "Clarion." That potent and profound guild-fellowship of newspaperdom, which, when once aroused, overrides all individual rivalry and jealousy, had never before come into the young editor's experience.
To his fellow editors the issue was quite clear. Here was an attack, not upon one newspaper alone, but upon the principle of journalistic independence. Little as the "Banner," the "Press," the "Telegram," and their like had practiced independence of thought or writing, they could both admire and uphold it in another. Their support was as genuine as it was generous. The police department, and, indeed, the whole city administration of Worthington, came in for scathing and universal denunciation, in that they had failed to protect the "Clarion" against the mob's advance.
The evening papers got out special bulletins on McGuire Ellis. None too hopeful they were, for the fighting journalist, after a brief rally, had sunk into a condition where life was the merest flicker. Always a picturesque and well-liked personality, Ellis now became a species of popular hero. Sympathy centralized on him, and through him attached temporarily to the "Clarion" itself, which he now typified in the public imagination. His condition, indeed, was just so much sentimental capital to the paper, as the Honorable E.M. Pierce savagely put it to William Douglas. Nevertheless, the two called at the hospital to make polite inquiries, as did scores of their fellow leading citizens. Ellis, stricken down, was serving his employer well.
Not that Hal knew this, nor, had he known it, would have cared. Sick at heart, he waited about the hospital reception room for such meager hopes as the surgeons could give him, until an urgent summons compelled him to go to the office. Wayne had telephoned for him half a dozen times, finally leaving a message that he must see him on a point in the tenement-ownership story, to be run on the morrow.
Wayne, at the moment of Hal's arrival, was outside the rail talking to a visitor. On the copy-book beside his desk was stuck an illustration proof, inverted. Idly Hal turned it, and stood facing his final and worst ordeal of principle. The half-tone picture, lovely, suave, alluring, smiled up into his eyes from above its caption:—
"Miss Esme Elliot, Society Belle and Owner of No. 9 Sadler's Shacks, Known as the Pest-Egg."
"You've seen it," said Wayne's voice at his elbow.
"Well; it was that I wanted to ask you about."
"Ask it," said Hal, dry-lipped.
"I knew you were a—a friend of Miss Elliot's. We can kill it out yet. It—it isn't absolutely necessary to the story," he added, pityingly.
He turned and looked away from a face that had grown swiftly old under his eyes. In Hal's heart there was a choking rush of memories: the conquering loveliness of Esme; her sweet and loyal womanliness and comradeship of the night before; the half-promise in her tones as she had bid him come to her; the warm pressure of her arms fending him from the sight of his friend's blood; and, far back, her voice saying so confidently, "I'd trust you," in answer to her own supposititious test as to what he would do if a news issue came up, involving her happiness.
Blotting these out came another picture, a swathed head, quiet upon a pillow. In that moment Hal knew that he was forever done with suppressions and evasions. Nevertheless, he intended to be as fair to Esme as he would have been to any other person under attack.
"You're sure of the facts?" he asked Wayne.
"How long has she owned it?"
"Oh, years. It's one of those complicated trusteeships."
Hope sprang up in Hal's soul. "Perhaps she doesn't know about it."
"Isn't she morally bound to know? We've assumed moral responsibility in the other trusteeships. Of course, if you want to make a difference—" Wayne, again wholly the journalist, jealous for the standards of his craft, awaited his chief's decision.
"No. Have you sent a man to see her?"
"Yes. She's away."
"That's what they said at the house. The reporter got the notion that there was something queer about her going. Scared out, perhaps."
Hal thought of the proud, frank eyes, and dismissed that hypothesis. Whatever Esme's responsibility, he did not believe that she would shirk the onus of it.
"Dr. Elliot?" he enquired.
"Refused all information and told the reporter to go to the devil."
Hal sighed. "Run the story," he said.
"And the picture?"
"And the picture."
Going out he left directions with the telephone girl to try to get Miss Elliot and tell her that it would be impossible for him to call that day.
"She will understand when she sees the paper in the morning," he thought. "Or think she understands," he amended ruefully.
The telephone girl did not get Miss Elliot, for good and sufficient reasons, but succeeded in extracting a promise from the maiden cousin at Greenvale that the message would be transmitted.
Through the day and far into the night Hal worked unsparingly, finding time somehow to visit or call up the hospital every hour. At midnight they told him that Ellis was barely holding his own. Hal put the "Clarion" to bed that night, before going to the Surtaine mansion, hopeless of sleep, yet, nevertheless, so worn out that he sank into instant slumber as soon as he had drawn the sheets over him. On his way to the office in the morning, he ran full upon Dr. Elliot. For a moment Hal thought that the ex-officer meant to strike him with the cane which he raised. It sank.
"You miserable hound!" said Dr. Elliot.
Hal stood, silent.
"What have you to say for yourself?"
"My niece came to your office to save your rag of a sheet. I shot down a poor crazy devil in your defense. And this is how you repay us."
Hal faced him, steadfast, wretched, determined upon only one thing: to endure whatever he might say or do.
"Do you know who's really responsible for that tenement? Answer me!"
"I! I! I!" shouted the infuriated man.
"You? The records show—"
"Damn the records, sir! The property was trusteed years ago. I should have looked after it, but I never even thought of its being what it is. And my niece didn't know till this morning that she owned it."
"Why didn't you say so to our reporter, then?" cried Hal eagerly. "Let us print a statement from you, from her—"
"In your sheet? If you so much as publish her name again—By Heavens, I wish it were the old days, I'd call you out and kill you."
"Dr. Elliot," said Hal quietly, "did you think I wanted to print that about Esme?"
"Wanted to? Of course you wanted to. You didn't have to, did you?"
"What compelled you?" demanded the other.
"You won't understand, but I'll tell you. The 'Clarion' compelled me. It was news."
"News! To blackguard a young girl, ignorant of the very thing you've held her up to shame for! The power of the press! A power to smirch the names of decent people. And do you know where my girl is now, on this day when your sheet is smearing her name all over the town?" demanded the physician, his voice shaking with wrath and grief. "Do you know that—you who know everybody's business?"
Chill fear took hold upon Hal. "No," he said.
"In quarantine for typhus. Here! Keep off me!"
For Hal, stricken with his first experience of that black, descending mist which is just short of unconsciousness, had clutched at the other's shoulder to steady himself.
"Where?" he gasped.
"I won't tell you," retorted the Doctor viciously. "You might make another article out of that, of the kind you enjoy so much."
But this was too ghastly a joke. Hal straightened, and lifted his head to an eye-level with his denouncer. "Enjoy!" he said, in a low tone. "You may guess how much when I tell you that I've loved Esme with every drop of my blood since the first time I ever spoke with her."
The Doctor's grim regard softened a little. "If I tell you, you won't publish it? Or give it away? Or try to communicate with her? I won't have her pestered."
"My word of honor."
"She's at the typhus hospital."
"And she's got typhus?" groaned Hal.
"No. Who said she had it? She's been exposed to it."
Hardly was the last word out of his mouth when he was alone. Hal had made a dash for a taxi. "Health Bureau," he cried.
By good fortune he found Dr. Merritt in.
"You've got Esme Elliot at the typhus hospital," he said breathlessly.
"Yes. In the isolation ward."
"She's been exposed. She carried a child, in convulsions, into the hospital. The child developed typhus late Saturday night; must have been infected at the time. As soon as I knew, I sent for her, and she came like the brave girl she is, yesterday morning."
"Will she get the fever?"
"God forbid! Every precaution has been taken."
"Merritt, that's an awful place for a girl like Miss Elliot. Get her out."
"Don't ask me! I've got to treat all exposed cases alike."
"But, Merritt," pleaded Hal, "in this case an exception can't injure any one. She can be completely quarantined at home. You told Wayne you owed the 'Clarion' and me a big debt. I wouldn't ask it if it were anything else; but—"
"Would you do it yourself?" said the young health officer steadily. "Have you done it in your paper?"
"But this may be her life," argued the advocate desperately. "Think! If it were your sister, or—or the woman you cared for."
Dr. Merritt's fine mouth quivered and set. "Kathleen Pierce is quarantined with Esme," he said quietly.
The pair looked each other through the eyes into the soul and knew one another for men.
"You're right, Merritt," said Hal. "I'm sorry I asked."
"I'll keep you posted," said the official, as his visitor turned away.
Meantime, Esme had volunteered as an emergency nurse, and been gladly accepted. In the intervals of her new duties she had received from her distracted cousin, who had been calling up every half-hour to find out whether she "had it yet," Hal's message that he would not be able to see her that day, and, not having seen the "Clarion," was at a loss to understand it.
Chance, by all the truly romantic, is supposed to be a sort of matrimonial agency, concerned chiefly in bringing lovers together. In the rougher realm of actuality it operates quite as often, perhaps, to keep them apart. Certainly it was no friend to Esme Elliot on this day. For when later she learned from her guardian of his attack upon Hal (though he took the liberty of editing out the finale of the encounter as he related it), she tried five separate times to reach Hal by 'phone, and each time Chance, the Frustrator, saw to it that Hal was engaged. The inference, to Esme's perturbed heart, was obvious; he did not wish to speak to her. And to a woman of her spirit there was but one course. She would dismiss him from her mind. Which she did, every night, conscientiously, for many weary days.
Nation-wide sped the news, branding Worthington as a pest-ridden city. Every newspaper in the country had a conspicuous dispatch about it. The bulletin of the United States Public Health Service, as in duty bound, gave official and statistical currency to the town's misfortune. Other cities in the State threatened a quarantine against Worthington. Commercial travelers and buyers postponed their local visits. The hotel registers thinned out notably. Business drooped. For all of which the "Clarion" was vehemently blamed by those most concerned.
Conversely, the paper should have received part credit for the extremely vigorous campaign which the health authorities, under Dr. Merritt, set on foot at once. Using the "Clarion" exposure as a lever, the health officer pried open the Council-guarded city tills for an initial appropriation of ten thousand dollars, got a hasty ordinance passed penalizing, not the diagnosing of typhus, but failure to diagnose and report it,—not a man from the Surtaine army of suppression had the temerity to oppose the measure,—organized a medical inspection and detection corps, threw a contagion-proof quarantine about every infected building, hunted down and isolated the fugitives from the danger-points who had scattered at the first alarm, inspired the county medical society to an enthusiastic support, bullied the police into a state of reasonable efficiency, and with a combined volunteer and regular force faced the epidemic in military form. Not least conspicuous among the volunteers were Miss Esme Elliot and Miss Kathleen Pierce, who had been released from quarantine quite as early as the law allowed, because of the need for them at the front.
"We could never have done our job without you," said Dr. Merritt to Hal, meeting him by chance one morning ten days after the publication of the "spread." "If the city is saved from a regular pestilence, it'll be the Clarion's' doing."
"That doesn't seem to be the opinion of the business men of the place," said Hal, with a rather dreary smile. He had just been going over with the lugubrious Shearson a batch of advertising cancellations.
"Oh, don't look for any credit from this town," retorted the health officer. "I'm practically ostracized, already, for my share in it."
"But are you beating it out?"
"God knows," answered the other. "I thought we'd traced all the foci of infection. But two new localities broke out to-day. That's the way an epidemic goes."
And that is the way the Worthington typhus went for more than a month. Throughout that month the "Clarion" was carrying on an anti-epidemic campaign of its own, with the slogan "Don't Give up Old Home Week." Wise strategy this, in a double sense. It rallied public effort for victory by a definite date, for the Committee on Arrangements, despite the arguments of the weak-kneed among its number, and largely by virtue of the militant optimism of its chairman, had decided to go on with the centennial celebration if the city could show a clean bill of health by August 30, thus giving six weeks' leeway.
Furthermore, it put the "Clarion" in the position of champion of the city's commercial interests and daily bade defiance to those who declared the paper an enemy and a traitor to business. In editorials, in interviews, in educational articles on hygiene and sanitation, in a course of free lectures covering the whole city and financed by the paper itself, the "Clarion" carried on the fight with unflagging zeal. Slowly it began to win back general confidence and much of the popularity which it had lost. One of its reporters in the course of his work contracted the fever and barely pulled through alive, thereby lending a flavor of possible martyrdom to the cause. McGuire Ellis's desperate fight for life also added to the romantic element which is so potent an asset with the sentimental American public. Business, however, still sulked. The defiance to its principles was too flagrant to be passed over. If the "Clarion" pulled through, the press would lose respect for the best interests and the vested privileges of commercial Worthington. Indeed, others of the papers, since the "Clarion's" declaration of independence, had exhibited a deplorable tendency to disregard hints hitherto having the authority of absolutism over them.
In withholding advertising patronage from the Surtaine daily, the business men were not only seeking reprisals, but also following a sound business principle. For according to information sedulously spread abroad, it was doubtful whether the "Clarion" would long survive. Elias M. Pierce's boast that he would put it out of business gained literal interpretation, as he had intended that it should. Contrary to his accustomed habit of reticence, he had sought occasion to inform his friends that he expected verdicts against the libeler of his daughter which would throw the concern into bankruptcy, and, perhaps, its proprietor into jail. No advertiser cares to put money into a publication which may fail next week. Hence, though the circulation of the "Clarion" went up pretty steadily, the advertising patronage did not keep pace. Hal found himself hard put to it, at times, to cling to his dogged hopes. But it was worth while fighting it out to the last dollar. So much he was assured of by the messages of praise and support which began to come in to him, not from "representative citizens," but from the earnest, thoughtful, and often obscure toilers and thinkers of the city: clergymen, physicians, laboring-men, working-women, sociological workers—his peers.
Then, too, there was the profound satisfaction of promised victory over the pest. For at the end of six weeks the battle was practically won; by what heroisms, at the cost of what sacrifices, through what disappointments, reversals, and set-backs, against the subtleties of what underground opposition of political influence and twelve per cent finance, is not to be set down here. The government publications tell, in their brief and pregnant records, this story of one of the most complete and brilliant victories in the history of American hygiene. My concern is with the story, not of the typhus epidemic, but of a man who fought for and surrendered and finally retrieved his own manhood and the honor of the paper which was his honor. His share, no small one, in the wiping-out of the pestilence was, to him, but part of the war for which he had enlisted.
But though the newspapers, with one joyous voice, were able to announce early in August, on the authority of the federal reports, "No new case in a week," the success of Old Home Week still swayed in the balance. Outside newspapers, which had not forgotten the scandal of the smallpox suppression years before, hinted that the record might not be as clear as it appeared. The President of the United States, they pointed out, who was to be the guest of honor and the chief feature of the celebration, would not be justified in going to a city over which any suspicion of pestilence still hovered. In fact, the success or failure of the event practically hung upon the Chief Executive's action. If, now, he decided to withdraw his acceptance, on whatever ground, the country would impute it to a justified caution, and would maintain against the city that intangible moral quarantine which is so disastrous to its victim. Throughout, Hal Surtaine in his editorial columns had vigorously maintained that the President would come. It was mostly "bluff." He had nothing but hope to build on.
Two more "clean" weeks passed. At the close of the second, Hal stopped one day at the hospital to see McGuire Ellis, who was finally convalescent and was to be discharged on the following week. At the door of Ellis's room he met Dr. Elliot. Somewhat embarrassed, he stepped aside. The physician stopped.
"Er—Surtaine," he said hesitantly.
"I've had time to think things over. And I've had some talks with Mac. I—I guess I was wrong."
"You were right enough from your point of view."
"Think so?" said the other, surprised.
"Yes. And I know I was right, from mine."
"Humph!" There was an uncomfortable pause. Then: "I called names. I apologize."
"That's all right, then," returned Hal heartily.
"Woof!" exhaled the physician. "That's off my chest. Now, I've got an item for you."
"For the 'Clarion'?"
"Yep. The President's coming."
"Coming? To Old Home Week?"
"To Old Home Week."
"An item! Great Caesar! A spread! A splurge!! A blurb!!! Where did you get it?"
"From Washington. Just been there."
"Tell me all of it."
"Know Redding? He and I saw some tough service together in the old M.H.S. That's the United States Public Health Service now. Redding's the head of it; Surgeon-General. First-class man, every way. So I went to see him and told him we had to have the President, and why. He saw it in a minute. Knew all about the 'Clarion's' fight, too. He went to the White House and explained the whole business. The President said that a clean bill of health from the Service was good enough for him, and he'd come, sure. Here's his letter to the Surgeon-General. It goes out for publication to-morrow. There's a line in it speaking of the 'Clarion's' good work."
"Great Caesar!" said Hal again, rather weakly.
"Does that square accounts between us?"
"More! A hundred times more! That's the biggest indorsement any paper in this town ever had. Old Home Week's safe. Did you tell Mac?"
"Yes. He's up there cursing now because they won't let him go to the office to plan out the article."
To the "Clarion," the presidential encomium was a tremendous boom professionally. Financially, however, it was of no immediate avail. It did not bring local advertising, and advertising was what the paper sorely needed. Still, it did call attention to the paper from outside. A few good contracts for "foreign" advertising, a department which had fallen off to almost nothing when Hal discarded all medical "copy," came in. With these, and a reasonable increase in local support which could be counted upon, now that commercial bitterness against the paper was somewhat mollified, Hal reckoned that he could pull through—if it were not for the Pierce suits. There was the crux of the situation. Nothing was being done about them. They had been postponed more than once, on motion of Pierce's counsel. Now they hung over Hal's head in a suspense fast becoming unbearable. At length he decided that, in fairness to his staff, he should warn them of the situation.
He chose, for the explanation, one of the Talk-It-Over Breakfasts, the first one which McGuire Ellis, released temporarily from the hospital for the occasion, had attended since his wound. He sat at Hal's right, still pale and thin, but with his look of bulldog obstinacy undiminished; enhanced, rather, by the fact that one ear had been sharpened to a canine pointedness by the missile which had so narrowly grazed his life. Ellis had been goaded to a pitch of high exasperation by the solicitude and attentions of his fellows. It was his emphatically expressed opinion that the whole gathering lay under a blight of superlative youthfulness. In his mind he exempted Hal, over whose silence and distraction he was secretly worried. The cause was explained when the chairman rose to close the meeting.
"There is something I have to say," he said. "I've put it off longer than I should. I may have to give up the 'Clarion.' It depends upon the outcome of the libel suits brought by E.M. Pierce. If, as we fear, Miss Cleary, the nurse who was run over, testifies for the prosecution, we can't win. Then it's only a question of the size of the damages. A big verdict would mean the ruin of the paper, I'm telling you this so that you may have time to look for new jobs."
There was a long silence. Then a melancholy, musing voice said: "Gee! That's tough! Just as the paper pulled off the Home Week stunt, too."
"How much of a verdict would bust us?" asked another.
"Twenty-five thousand dollars," said Hal, "together with lawyers' fees. I couldn't go on."
"Say, I know that old hen of a nurse," said one of the sporting writers, with entire seriousness. "Wonder if it'd do any good to marry her?"
A roar went up from the table at this, somewhat relieving the tension of the atmosphere.
Shearson, the advertising manager, lolling deep in his chair, spoke up diffidently, as soon as he could be heard:
"I ain't rich. But I've put a little wad aside. I could chip in three thou' if that'd help."
"I've got five hundred that isn't doing a stitch of work," declared Wainwright.
"Some of my relations have wads of money," suggested young Denton. "I wouldn't wonder if—"
"No, no, no!" cried Hal, in a shaken voice. "I know how well you fellows mean it. But—"
"As a loan," said Wainwright hopefully. "The paper's good enough security."
"Not good enough," replied Hal firmly. "I can't take it, boys. You—you're a mighty good lot, to offer. Now, about looking for other places—"
"All those that want to quit the 'Clarion,' stand up," shouted McGuire Ellis.
Not a man moved.
"Unanimous," observed the convalescent. "I thought nobody'd rise to that. If anybody had," he added, "I'd have punched him in the eye."
The gathering adjourned in gloom.
"All this only makes it harder, Mac," said Hal to his right-hand man afterward. "They can't afford to stick till we sink."
"If a sailor can do it, I guess a newspaper man can," retorted the other resentfully. "I wish I could poison Pierce."
At dinner that night Hal found his father distrait. Since the younger man's return, the old relations had been resumed, though there were still, of necessity, difficult restraints and reservations in their talk. The "Clarion," however, had ceased to be one of the tabooed subjects. Since the publication of the President's letter and the saving of Old Home Week, Dr. Surtaine had become an avowed Clarionite. Also he kept in personal touch with the office. This evening, however, it was with an obvious effort that he asked how affairs were going. Hal answered listlessly that matters were going well enough.
"No, they aren't, Boy-ee. I heard about your talk to-day."
"Did you? I'm sorry. I don't want to worry you."
"Boy-ee, let me back you."
"I can't, Dad."
"Because of that old agreement?"
"Call it a loan, then. I can't stand by and see the paper licked by Pierce. Fifty thousand won't touch me. And it'll save you."
"Please, Dad, I can't do it."
"Is it because it's Certina money?"
Hal turned miserable eyes on his father. "Hadn't we better keep away from that?"
"I don't get you at all on that," cried the charlatan. "Why, it's business. It's legal. If I didn't sell 'em the stuff, somebody else would. Why shouldn't I take the money, when it's there?"
"There's no use in my trying to argue it with you, Dad. We're miles apart."
"That's just it," sighed the older man. "Oh, well! You couldn't help my paying the damages if Pierce wins," he suggested hopefully.
"Yes. I could even do that."
"What do you want me to do, Boy-ee?" cried his father, in desperation. "Give up a business worth half a million a year, net?"
"I'm not asking anything, sir. Only let me do the best I can, in the way that looks right to me. I've got to go back to the office now. Good-night, Dad."
The arch-quack looked after his son's retreating figure, and his big, animal-like eyes were very tender.
"I don't know," he said to himself uncertainly,—"I don't know but what he's worth it."
McGUIRE ELLIS WAKES UP
On implication of the Highest Authority we have it that the leopard cannot change his spots. The Great American Pumess is a feline of another stripe. Stress of experience and emotion has been known to modify sensibly her predatory characteristics. In the very beautiful specimen of the genus which, from time to time, we have had occasion to study in these pages, there had taken place, in a few short months, an alteration so considerable as to be almost revolutionary.
Many factors had contributed to the result. No woman of inherent fineness can live close to human suffering, as Esme had lived in her slum work, without losing something of that centripetal self-concern which is the blemish of the present-day American girl. Constant association with such men as Hugh Merritt and Norman Hale, men who saw in her not a beautiful and worshipful maiden, but a useful agency in the work which made up their lives, gave her a new angle from which to consider herself. Then, too, her brief engagement to Will Douglas had sobered her. For Douglas, whatever his lack of independence and manliness in his professional relations, had endured the jilting with quiet dignity. But he had suffered sharply, for he had been genuinely in love with Esme. She felt his pain the more in that there was the same tooth gnawing at her own heart, though she would not acknowledge it to herself. And this taught her humility and consideration. The Pumess was not become a Saint, by any means. She still walked, a lovely peril to every susceptible male heart. But she no longer thirsted with unquenchable ardor for conquests.
Meek though a reformed pumess may be, there are limits to meekness. When Miss Eleanor Stanley Maxwell Elliot woke up to find herself pilloried as an enemy to society, in the very paper which she had tried to save, she experienced mingled emotions shot through with fiery streaks of wrath. Presently these simmered down to a residue of angry amazement and curiosity. If you have been accustomed all your life to regard yourself as an empress of absolute dominance over slavish masculinity, and are suddenly subjected to a violent slap across the face from the hand of the most highly favored slave, some allowance is due you of outraged sensibilities. Chiefly, however Esme wondered WHY. WHY, in large capitals, and with an intensely ascendant inflection.
Her first impulse had been to telephone Hal a withering message. More deliberate thought suggested the wisdom of making sure of her ground, first. The result was a shock. From her still infuriated guardian she had learned that, technically, she was the owner, with full moral responsibility for the "Pest-Egg." The information came like a dash of extremely cold water, which no pumess, reformed or otherwise, likes. Miss Elliot sat her down to a thoughtful consideration of the "Clarion." She found she was in good company. Several other bright and shining lights of the local firmament, social, financial, and commercial, shared the photographic notoriety. Slowly it was borne in upon her open mind that she had not been singled out for reprehension; that she was simply a part of the news, as Hal regarded news—no, as the "Clarion" regarded news. That Hal would deliberately have let this happen, she declined to believe. Unconsciously she clung to her belief in the natural inviolability of her privilege. It must have been a mistake. Hal would tell her so when he saw her. Yet if that were so, why had he sent word, the day after, that he couldn't keep his appointment? Would he come at all, now?
Doubt upon this point was ended when Dr. Elliot, admitted on the strength of his profession to the typhus ward, and still exhibiting mottlings of wrath on his square face, had repeated his somewhat censored account of his encounter with "that puppy." Esme haughtily advised her dear Uncle Guardy that the "puppy" was her friend. Uncle Guardy acidulously counseled his beloved Esme not to be every species of a mildly qualified idiot at one and the same time. Esme elevated her nose in the air and marched out of the room to telephone Hal Surtaine forthwith. What she intended to telephone him (very distantly, of course) was that her uncle had no authority to speak for her, that she was quite capable of speaking for herself, and that she was ready to hear any explanation tending to mitigate his crime—not in those words precisely, but in a tone perfectly indicative of her meaning. Furthermore, that the matter on which she had wished to speak to him was a business matter, and that she would expect him to keep the broken appointment later. None of which was ever transmitted. Fate, playing the role of Miching Mallecho, prevented once again. Hal was out.
In the course of time, Esme's quarantine (a little accelerated, though not at any risk of public safety) was lifted and she returned to the world. The battle of hygiene vs. infection was now at its height. Esme threw herself into the work, heart and soul. For weeks she did not set eyes on Hal Surtaine, except as they might pass on the street. Twice she narrowly missed him at the hospital where she found time to make an occasional visit to Ellis. A quick and lively friendship had sprung up between the spoiled beauty and the old soldier of the print-columns, and from him, as soon as he was convalescent, she learned something of the deeper meanings of the "Clarion" fight and of the higher standards which had cost its owner so dear.