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Put to the direct question, as, for example, on the witness stand, Mr. Ely Ives would, before his connection with Tertius Marrineal, have probably identified himself as a press-agent. In that capacity he had acted, from time to time, for a railroad with many axes to grind, a widespread stock-gambling enterprise, a minor political ring, a liquor combination, and a millionaire widow from the West who innocently believed that publicity, as manipulated by Mr. Ives, could gain social prestige for her in the East.
In every phase of his employment, the ex-medical student had gathered curious and valuable lore. In fact he was one of those acquisitive persons who collect and hoard scandals, a miser of private and furtive information. His was the zeal of the born collector; something of the genius, too: he boasted a keen instinct. In his earlier and more precarious days he had formed the habit of watching for and collating all possible advices concerning those whom he worked for or worked against and branching from them to others along radiating lines of business, social, or family relationships. To him New York was a huge web, of sinister and promising design, dim, involved, too often impenetrable in the corners where the big spiders spin. He had two guiding maxims: "It may come in handy some day," and "They'll all bear watching." Before the prosperous time, he had been, in his devotion to his guiding principles, a practitioner of the detective arts in some of their least savory phases; had haunted doorsteps, lurked upon corners, been rained upon, snowed upon, possibly spat upon, even arrested; all of which he accepted, mournful but uncomplaining. One cannot whole-heartedly serve an ideal and come off scatheless. He was adroit, well-spoken, smooth of surface, easy of purse, untiring, supple, and of an inexhaustible good-humor. It was from the ex-medical student that Marrineal had learned of Banneker's offer from the Syndicate, also of his over-prodigal hand in money matters.
"He's got to have the cash," was the expert's opinion upon Banneker. "There's your hold on him.... Quit? No danger. New York's in his blood. He's in love with life, puppy-love; his clubs, his theater first-nights, his invitations to big houses which he seldom accepts, big people coming to his House with Three Eyes. And, of course, his sense of power in the paper. No; he won't quit. How could he? He'll compromise."
"Do you figure him to be the compromising sort?" asked Marrineal doubtfully.
"He isn't the journalistic Puritan that he lets on to be. Look at that Harvey Wheelwright editorial," pointed out the acute Ives. "He don't believe what he wrote about Wheelwright; just did it for his own purposes. Well, if the oracle can work himself for his own purposes, others can work him when the time comes, if it's properly managed."
Marrineal shook his head. "If there's a weakness in him I haven't found it."
Ives put on a look of confidential assurance. "Be sure it's there. Only it isn't of the ordinary kind. Banneker is pretty big in his way. No," he pursued thoughtfully; "it isn't women, and it isn't Wall Street, and it isn't drink; it isn't even money, in the usual sense. But it's something. By the way, did I tell you that I'd found an acquaintance from the desert where Banneker hails from?"
"No." Marrineal's tone subtly indicated that he should have been told at once. That sort of thing was, indeed, the basis on which Ives drew a considerable stipend from his patron's private purse, as "personal representative of Mr. Marrineal" for purposes unspecified.
"A railroad man. From what he tells me there was some sort of love-affair there. A girl who materialized from nowhere and spent two weeks, mostly with the romantic station-agent. Might have been a princess in exile, by my informant, who saw her twice. More likely some cheap little skate of a movie actress on a bust."
"A station-agent's taste in women friends--" began Marrineal, and forbore unnecessarily to finish.
"Possibly it has improved. Or--well, at any rate, there was something there. My railroad man thinks the affair drove Banneker out of his job. The fact of his being woman-proof here points to its having been serious."
"There was a girl out there about that time visiting Camilla Van Arsdale," remarked Marrineal carelessly; "a New York girl. One of the same general set. Miss Van Arsdale used to be a New Yorker and rather a distinguished one."
Too much master of his devious craft to betray discomfiture over another's superior knowledge of a subject which he had tried to make his own, Ely Ives remarked:
"Then she was probably the real thing. The princess on vacation. You don't know who she was, I suppose," he added tentatively.
Marrineal did not answer, thereby giving his factotum uncomfortably to reflect that he really must not expect payment for information and the information also.
"I guess he'll bear watching." Ives wound up with his favorite philosophy.
It was a few days after this that, by a special interposition of kindly chance, Ives, having returned from a trip out of town, saw Banneker and Io breakfasting in the station restaurant. To Marrineal he said nothing of this at the time; nor, indeed, to any one else. But later he took it to a very private market of his own, the breakfast-room of a sunny and secluded house far uptown, where lived, in an aroma of the domestic virtues, a benevolent-looking old gentleman who combined the attributes of the ferret, the leech, and the vulture in his capacity as editor of that famous weekly publication, The Searchlight. Ives did not sell in that mart; he traded for other information. This time he wanted something about Judge Willis Enderby, for he was far enough on the inside politically to see in him a looming figure which might stand in the way of certain projects, unannounced as yet, but tenderly nurtured in the ambitious breast of Tertius C. Marrineal. From the gently smiling patriarch he received as much of the unwritten records as that authority deemed it expedient to give him, together with an admonition, thrown in for good measure.
"Dangerous, my young friend! Dangerous!"
The passionate and patient collector thought it highly probable that Willis Enderby would be dangerous game. Certainly he did not intend to hunt in those fields, unless he could contrive a weapon of overwhelming caliber.
Ely Ives's analysis of Banneker's situation was in a measure responsible for Marrineal's proposition of the new deal to his editor.
"He has accepted it," the owner told his purveyor of information. "But the real fight is to come."
"Over the policy of the editorial page," opined Ives.
"Yes. This is only a truce."
As a truce Banneker also regarded it. He had no desire to break it. Nor, after it was established, did Marrineal make any overt attempt to interfere with his conduct of his column.
After awaiting gage of battle from his employer, in vain, Banneker decided to leave the issue to chance. Surely he was not surrendering any principle, since he continued to write as he chose upon whatever topics he selected. Time enough to fight when there should be urged upon him either one of the cardinal sins of journalism, the suppressio veri or the suggestio falsi, which he had more than once excoriated in other papers, to the pious horror of the hush-birds of the craft who had chattered and cheeped accusations of "fouling one's own nest."
Opportunity was not lacking to Marrineal for objections to a policy which made powerful enemies for the paper; Banneker, once assured of his following, had hit out right and left. From being a weak-kneed and rather apologetic defender of the "common people," The Patriot had become, logically, under Banneker's vigorous and outspoken policy, a proponent of the side of labor against capital. It had hotly supported two important and righteous local strikes and been the chief agent in winning one. With equal fervor it had advocated a third strike whose justice was at best dubious and had made itself anathema, though the strike was lost, to an industrial group which was honestly striving to live up to honorable standards. It had offended a powerful ring of bankers and for a time embarrassed Marrineal in his loans. It had threatened editorial reprisals upon a combination of those feared and arrogant advertisers, the department stores, for endeavoring, with signal lack of success, to procure the suppression of certain market news. It became known as independent, honest, unafraid, radical (in Wall Street circles "socialistic" or even "anarchistic"), and, to the profession, as dangerous to provoke. Advertisers were, from time to time, alienated; public men, often of The Patriot's own trend of thought, opposed. Commercial associations even passed resolutions, until Banneker took to publishing them with such comment as seemed to him good and appropriate. Marrineal uttered no protest, though the unlucky Haring beat his elegantly waistcoated breast and uttered profane if subdued threats of resigning, which were for effect only; for The Patriot's circulation continued to grow and the fact to which every advertising expert clings as to the one solid hope in a vaporous calling, is that advertising follows circulation.
Seldom did Banneker see his employer in the office, but Marrineal often came to the Saturday nights of The House With Three Eyes, which had already attained the fame of a local institution. As the numbers drawn to it increased, it closed its welcoming orbs earlier and earlier, and, once they were darkened, there was admittance only for the chosen few.
It was a first Saturday in October, New York's homing month for its indigenous social birds and butterflies, when The House triply blinked itself into darkness at the untimely hour of eleven-forty-five. There was the usual heterogeneous crowd there, alike in one particular alone, that every guest represented, if not necessarily distinction, at least achievement in his own line. Judge Willis Enderby, many times invited, had for the first time come. At five minutes after midnight, the incorruptible doorkeeper sent an urgent message requesting Mr. Banneker's personal attention to a party who declined politely but firmly to be turned away. The host, answering the summons, found Io. She held out both hands to him.
"Say you're glad to see me," she said imperatively.
"Light up the three eyes," Banneker ordered the doorman. "Are you answered?" he said to Io.
"Ah, that's very pretty," she approved. "It means 'welcome,' doesn't it?"
"Welcome," he assented.
"Then Herbert and Esther can come in, can't they? They're waiting in the car for me to be rejected in disgrace. They've even bet on it."
"They lose," answered Banneker with finality.
"And you forgive me for cajoling your big, black Cerberus, because it's my first visit this year, and if I'm not nicely treated I'll never come again."
"Your welcome includes full amnesty."
"Then if you'll let me have one of my hands back--it doesn't matter which one, really--I'll signal the others to come in."
Which, accordingly, she did. Banneker greeted Esther Forbes and Cressey, and waited for the trio until they came down. There was a stir as they entered. There was usually a stir in any room which Io entered. She had that quality of sending waves across the most placid of social pools. Willis Enderby was one of the first to greet her, a quick irradiation of pleasure relieving the austere beauty of his face.
"I thought the castle was closed," he wondered. "How did you cross the inviolable barriers?"
"I had the magic password," smiled Io.
"Youth? Beauty? Or just audacity?"
"Your Honor is pleased to flatter," she returned, drooping her eyes at him with a purposefully artificial effect. From the time when she was a child of four she had carried on a violent and highly appreciated flirtation with "Cousin Billy," being the only person in the world who employed the diminutive of his name.
"You knew Banneker before? But, of course. Everybody knows Banneker."
"It's quite wonderful, isn't it! He never makes an effort, I'm told. People just come to him. Where did you meet him?"
Enderby told her. "We're allies, in a way. Though sometimes he is against us. He's doing yeoman work in this reform mayoralty campaign. If we elect Robert Laird, as I think we shall, it will be chiefly due to The Patriot's editorials."
"Then you have confidence in Mr. Banneker?" she asked quickly.
"Well--in a way, I have," he returned hesitantly.
"But with reservations," she interpreted. "What are they?"
"One, only, but a big one. The Patriot itself. You see, Io, The Patriot is another matter."
"Why is it another matter?"
"Well, there's Marrineal, for example."
"I don't know Mr. Marrineal. Evidently you don't trust him."
"I trust nobody," disclosed the lawyer, a little sternly, "who is represented by what The Patriot is and does, whether it be Marrineal, Banneker, or another." His glance, wandering about the room, fell on Russell Edmonds, seated in a corner talking with the Great Gaines. "Unless it be Edmonds over there," he qualified. "All his life he has fought me as a corporation lawyer; yet I have the queer feeling that I could trust the inmost secret of my life to his honor. Probably I'm an old fool, eh?"
Io devoted a moment's study to the lined and worn face of the veteran. "No. I think you're right," she pronounced.
"In any case, he isn't responsible for The Patriot. He can't help it."
"Don't be so cryptic, Cousin Billy. Can't help what? What is wrong with the paper?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"But I want to understand," said imperious Io.
"As a basis to understanding, you'd have to read the paper."
"I have. Everyday. All of it."
He gave her a quick, reckoning look which she sustained with a slight deepening of color. "The advertisements, too?" She nodded. "What do you think of them?"
"Some of them are too disgusting to discuss."
"Did it occur to you to compare them with the lofty standards of our young friend's editorials?"
"What has he to do with the advertisements?" she countered.
"Assume, for the sake of the argument, that he has nothing to do with them. You may have noticed a recent editorial against race-track gambling, with the suicide of a young bank messenger who had robbed his employer to pay his losses as text."
"Well? Surely that kind of editorial makes for good."
"Being counsel for that bank, I happen to know the circumstances of the suicide. The boy had pinned his faith to one of the race-track tipsters who advertise in The Patriot to furnish a list of sure winners for so much a week."
"Do you suppose that Mr. Banneker knew that?"
"Probably not. But he knows that his paper takes money for publishing those vicious advertisements."
"Suppose he couldn't help it?"
"Probably he can't."
"Well, what would you have him do? Stop writing the editorials? I think it is evidence of his courage that he should dare to attack the evils which his own paper fosters."
"That's one view of it, certainly," replied Enderby dryly. "A convenient view. But there are other details. Banneker is an ardent advocate of abstinence, 'Down with the Demon Rum!' The columns of The Patriot reek with whiskey ads. The same with tobacco."
"But, Cousin Billy, you don't believe that a newspaper should shut out liquor and tobacco advertisements, do you?"
The lawyer smiled patiently. "Come back on the track, Io," he invited. "That isn't the point. If a newspaper preaches the harm in these habits, it shouldn't accept money for exploiting them. Look further. What of the loan-shark offers, and the blue-sky stock propositions, and the damnable promises of the consumption and cancer quacks? You can't turn a page of The Patriot without stumbling on them. There's a smell of death about that money."
"Don't all the newspapers publish the same kind of advertisements?" argued the girl.
"Certainly not. Some won't publish an advertisement without being satisfied of its good faith. Others discriminate less carefully. But there are few as bad as The Patriot."
"If Mr. Banneker were your client, would you advise him to resign?" she asked shrewdly.
Enderby winced and chuckled simultaneously. "Probably not. It is doubtful whether he could find another rostrum of equal influence. And his influence is mainly for good. But since you seem to be interested in newspapers, Io"--he gave her another of his keen glances--"from The Patriot you can make a diagnosis of the disease from which modern journalism is suffering. A deep-seated, pervasive insincerity. At its worst, it is open, shameless hypocrisy. The public feels it, but is too lacking in analytical sense to comprehend it. Hence the unformulated, instinctive, universal distrust of the press. 'I never believe anything I read in the papers.' Of course, that is both false and silly. But the feeling is there; and it has to be reckoned with one day. From this arises an injustice, that the few papers which are really upright, honest, and faithful to their own standards, are tainted in the public mind with the double-dealing of the others. Such as The Patriot."
"You use The Patriot for your purposes," Io pointed out.
"When it stands for what I believe right. I only wish I could trust it."
"Then you really feel that you can't trust Mr. Banneker?"
"Ah; we're back to that!" thought Enderby with uneasiness. Aloud he said: "It's a very pretty problem whether a writer who shares the profits of a hypocritical and dishonest policy can maintain his own professional independence and virtue. I gravely doubt it."
"I don't," said Io, and there was pride in her avowal.
"My dear," said the Judge gravely, "what does it all mean? Are you letting yourself become interested in Errol Banneker?"
Io raised clear and steady eyes to the concerned regard of her old friend. "If I ever marry again, I shall marry him."
"You're not going to divorce poor Delavan?" asked the other quickly.
"No. I shall play the game through," was the quiet reply.
For a space Willis Enderby sat thinking. "Does Banneker know your--your intentions?"
"You mustn't let him, Io."
"He won't know the intention. He may know the--the feeling back of it." A slow and glorious flush rose in her face, making her eyes starry. "I don't know that I can keep it from him, Cousin Billy. I don't even know that I want to. I'm an honest sort of idiot, you know."
"God grant that he may prove as honest!" he half whispered.
Presently Banneker, bearing a glass of champagne and some pate sandwiches for Io, supplanted the lawyer.
"Are you the devotee of toil that common report believes, Ban?" she asked him lazily. "They say that you write editorials with one hand and welcome your guests with the other."
"Not quite that," he answered. "To-night I'm not thinking of work. I'm not thinking of anything but you. It's very wonderful, your being here."
"But I want you to think of work. I want to see you in the very act. Won't you write an editorial for me?"
He shook his head. "This late? That would be cruelty to my secretary."
"I'll take it down for you. I'm fairly fast on the typewriter."
"Will you give me the subject, too?"
"No more than fair," she admitted. "What shall it be? It ought to be something with memories in it. Books? Poetry?" she groped. "I've got it! Your oldest, favorite book. Have you forgotten?"
"The Sears-Roebuck catalogue? I get a copy every season, to renew the old thrill."
"What a romanticist you are!" said she softly. "Couldn't you write an editorial about it?"
"Couldn't I? Try me. Come up to the den."
He led the way to the remote austerities of the work-room. From a shelf he took down the fat, ornate pamphlet, now much increased in bulk over its prototype of the earlier years. With random finger he parted the leaves, here, there, again and still again, seeking auguries.
"Ready?" he said. "Now, I shut my eyes--and we're in the shack again--the clean air of desert spaces--the click of the transmitter in the office that I won't answer, being more importantly engaged--the faint fragrance of you permeating everything--youth--the unknown splendor of life--Now! Go!"
Of that editorial, composed upon the unpromising theme of mail-order merchandising, the Great Gaines afterward said that it was a kaleidoscopic panorama set moving to the harmonic undertones of a song of winds and waters, of passion and the inner meanings of life, as if Shelley had rhapsodized a catalogue into poetic being and glorious significance. He said it was foolish to edit a magazine when one couldn't trust a cheap newspaper not to come flaming forth into literature which turned one's most conscientious and aspiring efforts into tinsel. He also said "Damn!"
Io Welland (for it was Io Welland and not Io Eyre whom the soothsayer saw before him as he declaimed), instrument and inspiration of the achievement, said no word of direct praise. But as she wrote, her fingers felt as if they were dripping electric sparks. When, at the close, he asked, quite humbly, "Is that what you wanted?" she caught her breath on something like a sob.
"I'll give you a title," she said, recovering herself. "Call it 'If there were Dreams to Sell.'"
"Ah, that's good!" he cried. "My readers won't get it. Pinheads! They get nothing that isn't plain as the nose on their silly faces. Never mind. It's good for 'em to be puzzled once in a while. Teaches 'em their place.... I'll tell you who will understand it, though," he continued, and laughed queerly.
"All the people who really matter will."
"Some who matter a lot to The Patriot will. The local merchants who advertise with us. They'll be wild."
"They hate the mail-order houses with a deadly fear, because the cataloguers undersell them in a lot of lines. Won't Rome howl the day after this appears!"
"Tell me about the relation between advertising and policy, Ban," invited Io, and summarized Willis Enderby's views.
Banneker had formulated for his own use and comfort the fallacy which has since become standard for all journalists unwilling or unable to face the issue of their own responsibility to the public. He now gave it forth confidently.
"A newspaper, Io, is like a billboard. Any one has a right to hire it for purposes of exploiting and selling whatever he has to sell. In accepting the advertisement, provided it is legal and decent, the publisher accepts no more responsibility than the owner of the land on which a billboard stands. Advertising space is a free forum."
"But when it affects the editorial attitude--"
"That's the test," he put in quickly. "That's why I'm glad to print this editorial of ours. It's a declaration of independence."
"Yes," she acquiesced eagerly.
"If ever I use the power of my editorials for any cause that I don't believe in--yes, or for my own advantage or the advantage of my employer--that will be the beginning of surrender. But as long as I keep a free pen and speak as I believe for what I hold as right and against what I hold as wrong, I can afford to leave the advertising policy to those who control it. It isn't my responsibility.... It's an omen, Io; I was waiting for it. Marrineal and I are at a deadlock on the question of my control of the editorial page. This ought to furnish a fighting issue. I'm glad it came from you."
"Oh, but if it's going to make trouble for you, I shall be sorry. And I was going to propose that we write one every Saturday."
"Io!" he cried. "Does that mean--"
"It means that I shall become a regular attendant at Mr. Errol Banneker's famous Saturday nights. Don't ask me what more it means." She rose and delivered the typed sheets into his hands. "I--I don't know, myself. Take me back to the others, Ban."
To Banneker, wakened next morning to a life of new vigor and sweetness, the outcome of the mail-order editorial was worth not one troubled thought. All his mind was centered on Io.
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