"I suppose," he said, "the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life was to print your picture."
"Did he have to print it?"
"Didn't he? It was news."
"And that's your god, isn't it, Mr. Mac?" said his visitor, smiling.
"It's only a small name for Truth. Good men have died for that."
"Or killed others for their ideal of it."
"Miss Esme," said the invalid, "Hal Surtaine has had to face two tests. He had to show up his own father in his paper."
"Yes. I read it. But I've only begun to understand it since our talks."
"And he had to print that about you. Wayne told me he almost killed the story himself to save Hal. 'I couldn't bear to look at the boy's face when he told me to run it,' Wayne said. And he's no sentimentalist. Newspapermen generally ain't."
"Aren't you?" said Esme, with a catch in her breath. "I should think you were, pretty much, at the 'Clarion' office."
From that day she knew that she must talk it out with Hal. Yet at every thought of that encounter, her maidenhood shrank, affrighted, with a sweet and tremulous fear. Inevitable as was the end, it might have been long postponed had it not been for a word that Ellis let drop the day when he left the hospital. Mrs. Festus Willard, out of friendship for Hal, had insisted that the convalescent should come to her house until his strength was quite returned, instead of returning to his small and stuffy hotel quarters, and Esme had come in her car to transfer him. It was the day after the Talk-It-Over Breakfast at which Hal had announced the prospective fall of the "Clarion."
"I'll be glad to get back to the office," said Ellis to Esme. "They certainly need me."
"You aren't fit yet," protested the girl.
"Fitter than the Boss. He's worrying himself sick."
"Isn't everything all right?"
"All wrong! It's this cussed Pierce libel case that's taking the heart out of him."
"Oh!" cried Esme, on a note of utter dismay. "Why didn't you tell me, Mr. Mac?"
"Tell you? What do you know about it?"
"Lots! Everything." She fell into silent thoughtfulness. "I supposed that you had heard from Mr. Pierce, or his lawyer, at the office. I must see Hal—Mr. Surtaine—now. Does he still come to see you?"
"Send word to him to be at the Willards' at two to-morrow. And—and, please, Mr. Mac, don't tell him why."
"Now, what kind of a little game is this?" began Ellis, teasingly. "Am I an amateur Cupid, or what's my cue?" He looked into the girl's face and saw tears in the great brown eyes. "Hello!" he said with a change of voice. "What's wrong, Esme? I'm sorry."
"Oh, I'm wrong!" she cried. "I ought to have spoken long ago. No, no! I'm all right now!" She smiled gloriously through her tears. "Here we are. You'll be sure that he's there?"
"Fear not, but lean on Dollinger And he will fetch you through"—
quoted the other in oratorical assurance, and turned to Mrs. Willard's greeting.
At one-thirty on the following day, Mr. McGuire Ellis was where he shouldn't have been, asleep in a curtained alcove window-seat of the big Willard library. At one minute past two he was where he should have been still less; that is, in the same place and condition. Now Mr. Ellis is not only the readiest hair-trigger sleeper known to history, but he is also one of the most profound and persistent. Entrances and exits disturb him not, nor does the human voice penetrate to the region of his dreams. To everything short of earthquake, explosion, or physical contact, his slumber is immune. Therefore he took no note when Miss Esme Elliot came in, nor when, a moment later, Mr. Harrington Surtaine arrived, unannounced. Nor, since he was thoroughly shut in by the draperies, was either of them aware of his presence.
Esme rose slowly to her feet as Hal entered. She had planned a leading-up to her subject, but at sight of him she was startled out of any greeting, even.
"Oh, how thin you look, and tired!" she exclaimed.
"Strenuous days, these," he answered. "I didn't expect to see you here. Where's Ellis?"
"Upstairs. Don't go. I want to speak to you. Sit down there."
At her direction Hal drew up a chair. She took the corner of the lounge near by and regarded him silently from under puckered brows.
"Is it about Ellis?" said Hal, alarmed at her hesitation.
"No. It is about Mr. Pierce. There won't be any libel suit."
"No." She shook her head in reassurance of his evident incredulity. "You've nothing to worry about, there."
"How can you know?"
"Did her father tell her?"
"She told her father. There's a dreadful quarrel."
"I don't understand at all."
"Kathie absolutely refuses to testify for her father. She says that the accident was her own fault, and if there's a trial she will tell the truth."
Before she had finished, Hal was on his feet. Her heart smote her as she saw the gray worry pass from his face and his shoulders square as from the relief of a burden lifted, "Has it lain so heavy on your mind?" she asked pitifully.
"If you knew!" He walked half the length of the long room, then turned abruptly. "You did that," he said. "You persuaded her."
"No. I didn't, indeed."
The eager light faded in his face. "Of course not. Why should you after—Do you mind telling me how it happened?"
"It isn't my secret. But—but she has come to care very much for some one, and it is his influence."
"Wonderful!" He laughed boyishly. "I want to go out and run around and howl. Would you mind joining me in the college yell? Does Mac know?"
"Nobody knows but you."
"That's why Pierce kept postponing. And I, living under the shadow of this! How can I thank you!"
"Don't thank me," she said with an effort. "I—I've known it for weeks. I meant to tell you long ago, but I thought you'd have learned it before now—and—and it was made hard for me."
"Was that what you had to tell me about the paper, when you asked me to come to see you?"
"But how could I come?" he burst out. "I suppose there's no use—I must go and tell Mac about this."
"Wait," she said.
He stopped, gazing at her doubtfully.
"I'm tearing down the tenement at Number 9."
"Tearing it down?"
"As a confession that—that you were right. But I didn't know I owned it. Truly I didn't. You'll believe that, won't you?"
"Of course," he cried eagerly. "I did know it, but too late."
"If you'd known in time would you have—"
"Left that out of the paper?" he finished, all the life gone from his voice. "No, Esme. I couldn't have done that. But I could have said in the paper that you didn't know."
"I thought so," she said very quietly.
He misinterpreted this. "I can't lie to you, Esme," he said with a sad sincerity. "I've lived with lies too long. I can't do it, not for any hope of happiness. Do I seem false and disloyal to you? Sometimes I do to myself. I can't help it. All a man can do is to follow his own light. Or a woman either, I suppose. And your light and mine are worlds apart."
Again, with a stab of memory, he saw that desperate smile on her lips. Then she spoke with the clear courage of her new-found womanliness.
"There is no light for me where you are not."
He took a swift step toward her. And at the call, sweetly and straightly, she came to meet his arms and lips.
"Poor boy!" she said, a few minutes later, pushing a lock of hair from his forehead. "I've let you carry that burden when a word from me would have lifted it."
"Has there ever been such a thing as unhappiness in the world, sweetheart?" he said. "I can't remember it. So I don't believe it."
"I'm afraid I've cost you more than I can ever repay you for," she said. "Hal, tell me I've been a little beast!—Oh, no! That's no way to tell it. Aren't you sorry, sir, that you ever saw this room?"
"Finest example of interior architecture I know of. Exact replica of the plumb center of Paradise."
"It's where all your troubles began. You first met me here in this very room."
"Oh, no! My troubles began from the minute I set eyes on you, that day at the station."
"Don't contradict me." She laid an admonitory finger on his lips, then, catching at his hand, gently drew him with her. "Right in that very window-seat there—" She whisked the hangings aside, and brushed McGuire Ellis's nose in so doing.
"Hoong!" snorted McGuire Ellis.
"Oh!" cried Esme. "Were you there all the time? We—I—didn't know—Have you been asleep?"
"I have been just that," replied the dormant one, yawning.
"I hope we haven't disturbed—" began Esme in the same breath with Hal's awkward "Sorry we waked you up, Mac."
"Don't be—" Ellis checked his familiar growl, looked with growing suspicion from Esme's flushed loveliness to Hal's self conscious confusion, leaped to his feet, gathered the pair into a sudden, violent, impartial embrace, and roared out:—
"Go ahead! Be young! You can only be it once in a lifetime."
Old Home Week passed in a burst of glory and profit. True to its troublous type, the "Clarion" had interfered with the profit, in two brief, lively, and effective campaigns. It had published a roster of hotels which, after agreeing not to raise rates for the week, had reverted to the old, tried and true principle of "all the traffic can bear," with comparative tables, thereby causing great distress of mind and pocket among the piratical. Backed by the Consumers' League, it had again taken up the cudgels for the store employees, demanding that they receive pay for overtime during the celebration and winning a partial victory. No little rancor was, of course, stirred up among the advertisers. The usual threats were made. But the business interests of Worthington had begun to learn that threatening the "Clarion" was a futile procedure, while advertisers were coming to a realization of the fact that they couldn't afford to stay out of so strong a medium, even at increased rates.
The raise in the advertising schedule had been partly Esme Elliot's doing. As a condition of her engagement to Hal, she demanded a resumption of the old partnership. Entered into lightly, it soon became of serious moment, for the girl had a natural gift for affairs. When she learned that on the basis of circulation the "Clarion" would be justified in increasing its advertising card by forty per cent, but dared not do so because of the narrow margin upon which it was working, she insisted upon the measure, supporting her argument with a considerable sum of money of her own. Hal revolted at this, but she pleaded so sweetly that he finally consented to regard it as a reserve fund. It was never called for. The turn of the tide had come for the paper. It lost few old advertisers and put on new ones. It was a success.
No one was more delighted than Dr. Surtaine. Forgetting his own prophecies of disaster he exalted Hal to the skies as a chip of the old block, an inheritor of his own genius for business.
"Knew all along he had the stuff in him," he would declare buoyantly. "Look at the 'Clarion' now! Most independent, you-be-damned sheet in the country. And what about the chaps that were going to put it out of business? Eating out of its hand!"
Of Esme the old quack was quite as proud as of Hal. To him she embodied and typified, in its extreme form, those things which all his money could not buy. That she disliked the Certina business and made no secret of the fact did not in the least interfere with a genuine liking between herself and its proprietor. Dr. Surtaine could not discuss Certina with Hal: there were too many wounds still open between them. But with Esme he could, and often did. Her attitude struck him as nicely philosophic and impersonal, if a bit disdainful. And in these days he had to talk to some one, for he was swollen with a great and glorious purpose.
He announced it one resplendent fall day, having gone out to Greenvale with that particular object in view, at an hour when he was sure that Hal would be at the office.
"Esme, I'm going to make you a wedding present of Certina," he said.
"Never take it, Doctor," she replied, smiling up at him in friendly recognition of what had come to be a subject of stock joke between them.
"I'm serious. I'm going to make you a wedding present of the Certina business. I guess there aren't many brides get a gift of half a million a year. Too bad I can't give it out to the newspapers, but it wouldn't do."
"What on earth do you mean?" cried the astonished girl. "I couldn't take it. Hal wouldn't let me."
"I'm going to give it up, for you. You think it ain't genteel and high-toned, don't you?"
"I think it isn't honest."
"Not discussing business principles, to-day," retorted the Doctor good-humoredly. "It's a question of taste now. You're ashamed of the proprietary medicine game, aren't you, my dear?"
Esme laughed. Embarrassment with Dr. Surtaine was impossible. He was too childlike. "A little," she confessed.
"You'd be glad if I quit it."
"Of course I would. I suppose you can afford it."
As if responding to the touch of a concealed spring, the Surtaine chest protruded. "You find me something I can't afford, and I'll buy it!" he declared. "But this won't even cost me anything in the long run. Esme, did I ever tell you my creed?"
"'Certina Cures,'" suggested the girl mischievously.
"That's for business. I mean for everyday life. My creed is to let Providence take care of folks in general while I look after me and mine."
"It's practical, at least, if not altruistic."
"Me, and mine," repeated the charlatan. "Do you get that 'and mine'? That means the employees of the Certina factory. Now, if I quit making Certina, what about them? Shall I turn them out on the street?"
"I hadn't thought of that," admitted the girl blankly.
"Business can be altruistic as well as practical, you see," he observed. "Well, I've worked out a scheme to take care of that. Been working on it for months. Certina is going to die painlessly. And I'm going to preach its funeral oration at the factory on Monday. Will you come, and make Hal come, too?"
In vain did Esme employ her most winning arts of persuasion to get more from the wily charlatan. He enjoyed being teased, but he was obdurate. Accordingly she promised for herself and Hal.
But Hal was not as easily persuaded. He shrank from the thought of ever again setting foot in the Certina premises. Only Esme's most artful pleading that he should not so sorely disappoint his father finally won him over.
At the Certina "shop," on the appointed day, the fiances were ushered in with unaccustomed formality. They found gathered in the magnificent executive offices all the heads of departments of the vast concern, a quiet, expectant crowd. There were no outsiders other than Hal and Esme. Dr. Surtaine, glossy, grave, a figure to fill the eye roundly, sat at his glass-topped table facing his audience. Above him hung Old Lame-Boy, eternally hobbling amidst his fervid implications.
Waving the newcomers to seats directly in front of him, the presiding genius lifted a benign hand for silence.
"My friends," he said, in his unctuous, rolling voice, "I have an important announcement to make. The Certina business is finished."
There was a silence of stunned surprise as the speaker paused to enjoy his effect.
"Certina," he pursued, "has been the great triumph of my career. I might almost say it has been my career. But it has not been my life, my friends. The whole is greater than the part: the creator is greater than the thing he creates. They say, 'Surtaine of Certina.' It should be, 'Certina of Surtaine.' There's more to come of Surtaine."
His voice dropped to the old, pleading, confidential tone of the itinerant; as if he were beguiling them now to accept the philosophy which he was to set forth.
"What is life, my dear friends? Life is a paper-chase. We rush from one thing to another, Little Daisy Happiness just one jump ahead of us and Old Man Death grabbing at our coat-tails. Well, before he catches hold of mine,"—the splendid bulk and vitality of the man gave refutation to the hint of pathos in the voice,—"I want to run my race out so that my children and my children's children can point to me and say, 'One crowded hour of glorious life is worth a cycle of Cathay.'"
With a superb gesture he indicated Hal and Esme, who, he observed with gratification, seemed quite overcome with emotion.
"That is why, my friends, I am withdrawing certina, and turning to fresh fields; if I may say so, fields of more genteel endeavor. Certina has made millions. It could still make millions. I could sell out for millions to-day. But, in the words of the sweet singer, I come to bury it, not to praise it. Certina has done its grand work. The day of medicine is almost over. Interfering laws are being passed. The public is getting suspicious of drugs. Whether this is just or unjust is not the question which I am considering. I've always wanted my business to be high-class. You can't run a high-class business when the public is on to you.
"Don't think, any of you, that I'm going to retire and leave you in the lurch. No. I'm looking ahead, for you as well as for me. What's the newest thing in science? Foods! Specific foods, to build up the system. That's the big thing of the future here in America. We're a tired nation, a nerve-wracked nation, a brain-fagged nation. Suppose a man could say to the public, 'Get as tired as you like. Work to your limit. Play to your limit. Go the pace. When you're worn out, come to us and we'll repair the waste for a few dollars. We've got a food—no drugs, no medicines—that builds up brain and nerve as good as new. The greatest authorities in the world agree on it.' Is there any limit to the business that food could do?
"Well, I've got it! And I've got the backing for it. Mr. Belford Couch will tell you of our testimonials. Tell 'em the whole thing, Bel: we're all one family here."
"I've been huntin' in Europe," said Certina Charley, rising, in accents of pardonable pride: "and I've got the hottest bunch of signed stuff ever. You all know how hard it is to get any medical testimonials here. They're all afraid, except a few down-and-outers. Well, there's none of that in Europe. They'll stand for any kind of advertising, so long as it's published only in the United States—provided they get their price. And it ain't such an awful price either. I got the Emperor's own physician for one thousand five hundred dollars cash. And a line of court doctors and swell university professors anywhere from one thousand dollars way down to one hundred. It's the biggest testimonial stunt ever pulled."
"And every mother's son of 'em," put in Dr. Surtaine, "staking a high-toned scientific reputation that the one sure, unfailing, reliable upbuilder for brain-workers, nervous folks, tired-out, or broken-down folks of any kind at all is"—here Dr. Surtaine paused, looked about his entranced audience, and delivered himself of his climax in a voice of thunder:
The word passed from mouth to mouth, in accents of experimentation, admiration, and acceptance.
"Cere, from cerebellum, the brain, and bread the universal food. I doped it out myself, and as soon as I hit on it I shipped Belford Couch straight to Europe to get the backing. I wouldn't take a million for that name, to-day.
"See what you can do with a proposition of that sort! It hasn't got any drugs in it, so we won't have to label it under the law. It ain't medical; so the most particular newspaper and magazines won't kick on the advertising. Yet, with the copy I'm getting up on it, we can put it over to cure more troubles than Certina ever thought of curing. Only we won't use the word 'cure,' of course. All we have to do is to ram it into the public that all its troubles are nervous and brain troubles. 'Cerebread' restores the brain and rebuilds the nerves, and there you are, as good as new. Is that some plan? Or isn't it!"
There was a ripple of applausive comment.
"What's in it?" inquired Lauder, the factory superintendent.
"Millions in it, my boy," cried the other jubilantly. "We'll be manufacturing by New Year's."
"That's the point. What'll we be manufacturing?"
"By crikey! That reminds me. Haven't settled that yet. Might as well do it right now," said the presiding genius of the place with Olympian decision. "Dr. De Vito, what's the newest wrinkle in brain-food?"
"Brain-food?" hesitated the little physician. "Something new?"
"Yes, yes!" cried the charlatan impatiently. "What's the fad now? It used to be phosphorus."
"Ye-es. Phosphorus, maybe. Maybe some kind of hypophosphite, eh?"
"Sounds all right. Could you get up a preparation of it that looks tasty and tastes good?"
"Fine! I'll send you down the advertising copy, so you'll have that to go by. And now, gentlemen, we're the Cerebread factory from now on. Keep all your help; we'll need 'em. Go on with Certina till we're sold out; but no more advertising on it. And, all of you, from now on, think, dream, and live Cerebread. Meeting's adjourned."
The staff filed out, chattering excitedly. "He'll put it over."—"You can't beat the Chief."—"Is'n't he a wonder!"—"Cerebread; it's a great name to advertise."—"No come-back to it, either. Nobody can kick on a food."—"It's a sure-enough classy proposition, with those swell European names to it!"—"Wish he'd let us in on the stock."
Success was in the air. It centered in and beamed from the happy eyes of the reformed enthusiast, as, crossing over the room with hands extended to Esme and Hal, he cried in a burst of generous emotion:
"It was you two that converted me."