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Misfortunes never come singly--to the reckless. The first mischance breeds the second, apparently by ill luck, but in reality through the influence of irritant nerves. Thus descended Nemesis upon Miss Kathleen Pierce. Not that Miss Pierce was of a misgiving temperament: she had too calm and superb a conviction of her own incontrovertible privilege in every department of life for that. But Esmé Elliot had given her a hint of her narrow escape from the "Clarion," and she was angry. To the Pierce type of disposition, anger is a spur. Kathleen's large green car increased its accustomed twenty-miles-an-hour pace, from which the police of the business section thoughtfully averted their faces, to something nearer twenty-five. Three days after the wreck of the apple cart, she got results.
Harrington Surtaine was crossing diagonally to the "Clarion" office when the moan of a siren warned him for his life, and he jumped back from the Pierce juggernaut. As it swept by he saw Kathleen at the wheel. Beside her sat her twelve-year-old brother. A miscellaneous array of small luggage was heaped behind them.
"Never mind the speed laws," murmured Hal softly. "Sauve qui peut. There, by Heavens, she's done it!"
The car had swerved at the corner, but not quite quickly enough. There was a snort of the horn, a scream that gritted on the ear like the clamor of tortured metals, and a huddle of black and white was flung almost at Hal's feet. Equally quick with him, a middle-aged man, evidently of the prosperous working-classes, helped him to pick the woman up. She was a trained nurse. The white band on her uniform was splotched with blood. She groaned once and lapsed, inert, in their arms.
"Help me get her to the automobile," said Hal. "This is a hospital case."
"What automobile?" said the other.
Hal glanced up the street. He saw the green car turning a corner, a full block away.
"She didn't even stop," he muttered, in a paralysis of surprise.
"Stop?" said the other. "Her? That's E.M. Pierce's she-whelp. True to the breed. She don't care no more for a workin'-woman's life than her father does for a workin'-man's."
A policeman hurried up, glanced at the woman and sent in an ambulance call.
"I want your name," said Hal to the stranger.
"Publication now. Later, prosecution. I'm the editor of the 'Clarion.'"
The man took off his hat and scratched his head. "Leave me out of it," he said.
"You won't help me to get justice for this woman?'" cried Hal.
"What can you do to E.M. Pierce's girl in this town?" retorted the man fiercely. "Don't he own the town?"
"He doesn't own the 'Clarion.'"
"Let the 'Clarion' go up against him, then. I daresn't."
"You'll never get him," said a voice close to Hal's ear. It was Veltman, the foreman of the 'Clarion' composing-room. "He's a street-car employee. It's as much as his job is worth to go up against Pierce."
They were pressed back, as the clanging ambulance arrived with its white-coated commander.
"No; not dead," he said. "Help me get her in."
This being accomplished, Hal hurried up to the city room of the paper. He remembered the pile of suit-cases in the Pierce car, and made his deductions.
"Send a reporter to the Union Station to find Kathleen Pierce. She's in a green touring-car. She's just run down a trained nurse. Have him interview her; ask her why she didn't turn back after she struck the woman; whether she doesn't know the law. Find out if she's going to the hospital. Get her estimate of how fast she was going. We'll print anything she says. Then he's to go to St. James Hospital, and ask about the nurse. I'll give him the details of the accident."
News of a certain kind, of the kind important to the inner machinery of a newspaper, spreads swiftly inside an office. Within an hour, Shearson, the advertising manager, was at his chief's desk.
"About that story of Miss Pierce running over the trained nurse," he began.
"What is your suggestion?" asked Hal curiously.
"E.M. Pierce is a power in this town, and out of it. He's the real head of the Retail Dry Goods Union. He's a director in the Security Power Products Company. He's the big boss of the National Consolidated Employers' Association. He practically runs the Retail Dry Goods Union. Gibbs, of the Boston Store, is his brother-in-law, and the girl's uncle. Mr. Pierce has got a hand in pretty much everything in Worthington. And he's a bad man in a fight."
"So I have heard."
"If we print this story--"
"We're going to print the story, Mr. Shearson."
"It's full of dynamite."
"It was a brutal thing. If she hadn't driven right on--"
"But she's only a kid."
"The more reason why she shouldn't be driving a car."
"Why have you got it in for her, Mr. Surtaine?" ventured the other.
"I haven't got it in for her. But we've let her off once. And this is too flagrant a case."
"It means a loss of thousands of dollars in advertising, just as like as not."
"That can't be helped."
Shearson did the only thing he could think of in so unheard-of an emergency. He went out to call up the office of E.M. Pierce.
Left to his own thoughts, the editor-in-chief reconstructed the scene of the outrage. None too strong did that term seem to him. The incredible callousness of the daughter of millions, speeding away without a backward glance at the huddled form in the gutter, set a flame of wrath to heating his brain. He built up a few stinging headlines, and selected one which he set aside.
"GIRL PLAYS JUGGERNAUT. ELIAS M. PIERCE'S DAUGHTER SERIOUSLY INJURES NURSE AND LEAVES HER LYING IN GUTTER."
Not long after he had concluded, McGuire Ellis entered, slumped into his chair, and eyed his employer from under bent brows.
"Got a grip on your temper?" he asked presently.
"What's the occasion?" countered Hal.
"I think you're going to have an interview with Elias M. Pierce."
"Where and when?"
"In his office. As soon as you can get there."
"I think not."
"Not?" repeated Ellis, conning the other with his curious air.
"Why should I go to Elias M. Pierce's office?"
"Because he's sent for you."
"Don't be absurd, Mac."
"And don't you be young. In all Worthington there aren't ten men that don't jump when Elias M. Pierce crooks his finger. Who are you, to join that noble company of martyrs?" Achieving no nibble on this bait, the speaker continued: "Jerry Saunders has been keeping Wayne's telephone on the buzz, ordering the story stopped."
"Who is Jerry Saunders?"
"Pierce's man, and master of our fates. So he thinks, anyway. In other words, general factotum of the Boston Store. Wayne told him the matter was in your hands. All storm signals set, and E.M.'s secretary telephoning that the Great Man wants to see you at once. Don't you think it would be safer to go?"
Mr. Harrington Surtaine swung full around on his chair, looked at his assistant with that set and level gaze of which Esmé Elliot had aforetime complained, and turned back again. A profound chuckle sounded from behind him.
"This'll be a shock to Mr. Pierce," said Ellis. "I'll break it diplomatically to his secretary." And thus was the manner of the Celt's diplomacy. "Hello,--Mr. Pierce's secretary?--Tell Mr. Pierce--get this verbatim, please,--that Mr. Harrington Surtaine is busy at present, but will try to find time to see him here--here, mind you, at the 'Clarion' office, at 4.30 this afternoon--What? Oh, yes; you understood, all right. Don't be young.--What? Do not sputter into the 'phone.--Just give him the message.--No; Mr. Surtaine will not speak with you.--Nor with Mr. Pierce. He's busy.--Good-bye."
"Two hours leeway before the storm," said Hal. "Why deliberately stir him up, Mac?"
"No one ever saw Pierce lose his temper. I've a curiosity in that direction. Besides, he'll be easier to handle, mad. Do you know Pierce?"
"I've lunched with him, and been there to the house to dinner once or twice. Wish I hadn't."
"Let me give you a little outline of him. Elias M. is the hard-shell New England type. He was brought up in the fear of God and the Poor-House. God was a good way off, I guess; but there stood the Poor-House on the hill, where you couldn't help but see it. The way of salvation from it was through the dollar. Elias M. worked hard for his first dollar, and for his millionth. He's still working hard. He still finds the fear of God useful: he puts it into everybody that goes up against his game. The fear of the Poor-House is with him yet, though he doesn't realize it. It's the mainspring of his religion. There's nothing so mean as fear; and Elias M.'s fear is back of all his meanness, his despotism in business, his tyranny as an employer. I tell you, Boss, if you ever saw a hellion in a cutaway coat, Elias M. Pierce is it, and you're going to smell sulphur when he gets here. Better let him do the talking, by the way."
Prompt to the minute, Elias M. Pierce arrived. With him came William Douglas, his personal counsel. Having risen to greet them, Hal stood leaning against his desk, after they were seated. The lawyer disposed himself on the far edge of his chair, as if fearing that a more comfortable pose might commit him to something. Mr. Pierce sat solid and square, a static force neatly buttoned into a creaseless suit. His face was immobile, but under the heavy lids the eyes smouldered, dully. The tone of his voice was lifelessly level: yet with an immanent menace.
"I do not make appointments outside my own office--" he began, looking straight ahead of him.
Mindful of Ellis's advice, Hal stood silent, in an attitude of courteous attention.
"But this is a case of saving time. My visit has to do with the accident of which you know."
Whether or not Hal knew was undeterminable from sign or speech of his.
"It was wholly the injured woman's fault," pursued Mr. Pierce, and turned a slow, challenging eye upon Hal.
Over his shoulder the editor-in-chief caught sight of McGuire Ellis laying finger on lip, and following up this admonition by a gesture of arms and hands as of one who pays out line to a fish. Douglas fidgeted on his desperate edge.
"You sent a reporter to interview my daughter. He was impertinent. He should be discharged."
Still Mr. Pierce was firing into silence. Something rattled and flopped in a chute at his elbow. He turned, irritably. That Mr. Pierce's attention should have been diverted even for a moment by this was sufficient evidence that he was disconcerted by the immobility of the foe. But his glance quickly reverted and with added weight. Heavily he stared, then delivered his ultimatum.
"The 'Clarion' will print nothing about the accident."
The editor of the "Clarion" smiled. At sight of that smile some demon-artist in faces blocked in with lightning swiftness parallel lines of wrath at right angles to the corners of the Pierce mouth. Through the lips shone a thin glint of white.
"You find me amusing?" Men had found Elias M. Pierce implacable, formidable, inscrutable, even amenable, in some circumstances, with a conscious and godlike condescension; but no opponent had ever smiled at his commands as this stripling of journalism was doing.
Still there was no reply. In his chair McGuire Ellis leaned back with an expression of beatitude. The lawyer, shrewd enough to understand that his principal was being baited, now took a hand.
"You may rely on Mr. Pierce to have the woman suitably cared for."
Now the editorial smile turned upon William Douglas. It was gentle, but unsatisfying.
"And the reporter will be discharged at once," continued Elias M. Pierce, exactly as if Douglas had not spoken at all.
"Mr. Ellis," said Hal, "will you 'phone Mr. Wayne to send up the man who covered the Pierce story?"
The summoned reporter entered the room. He was a youth named Denton, one year out of college, eager and high-spirited, an enthusiast of his profession, loving it for its adventurousness and its sense of responsibility and power. These are the qualities that make the real newspaper man. They die soon, and that is why there are no good, old reporters. Elias M. Pierce turned upon him like a ponderous machine of vengeance.
"What have you to say for yourself?" he demanded.
Up under Denton's fair skin ran a flush of pink. "Who are you?" he blurted.
"You are speaking to Mr. Elias M. Pierce," said Douglas hastily.
Six weeks before, young Denton would perhaps have moderated his attitude in the interests of his job. But now through the sensitive organism of the newspaper office had passed the new vigor; the feeling of independence and of the higher responsibility to the facts of the news only. The men believed that they would be upheld within their own rights and those of the paper. Harrington Surtaine's standards had been not only absorbed: they had been magnified and clarified by minds more expert than his own. Subconsciously, Denton felt that his employer was back of him, must be back of him in any question of professional honor.
"What I've got to say, I've said in writing."
"Show it to me." The insolence of the command was quite unconscious.
The reporter turned to Hal.
"Mr. Denton," said Hal, "did Miss Pierce explain why she didn't return after running the nurse down?"
"She said she was in a hurry: that she had a train to catch."
"Did you ask her if she was exceeding the speed limit?"
"She was not," interjected Elias M. Pierce.
"She said she didn't know; that nobody ever paid any attention to speed laws."
"What about her license?"
"I asked her and she said it was none of my business."
"Quite right," approved Mr. Pierce curtly.
"Tell the desk to run the interview verbatim, under a separate head. Will the nurse die?"
Mr. Pierce snorted contemptuously. "Die! She's hardly hurt."
"Dislocated shoulder, two ribs broken, and scalp wounds. She'll get well," said the reporter.
"Now, see here, Surtaine," said Douglas smoothly, "be reasonable. It won't do the 'Clarion' any good to print a lot of yellow sensationalism about this. There are half a dozen witnesses who say it was the nurse's fault."
"We have evidence on the other side."
"Max Veltman, of our composing-room."
"Veltman? Veltman?" repeated Elias M. Pierce, who possessed a wonderful memory for men and events. "He's that anarchist fellow. Hates every man with a dollar. Stirred up the labor troubles two years ago. I told my men to smash his head if they ever caught him within two blocks of our place."
"Speaking of anarchy," said McGuire Ellis softly.
"A prejudiced witness; one of your own employees," pointed out the lawyer.
"I wouldn't believe him under oath," said Pierce.
"Perhaps you wouldn't believe me, either. I saw the whole thing myself," said Hal quietly.
"And you intend to print it?" demanded Pierce.
"It's news. The 'Clarion's' business is to print the news."
"Then there remains only to warn you," said Douglas, "that you will be held to full liability for anything you may publish, civil and criminal."
"Take that down, Mr. Denton," said Hal.
"I've got it," said the reporter.
"That isn't all." Elias M. Pierce rose and his eyes were wells of somber fury. "You print that story--one word of it--and I'll smash your paper."
"Take that down, Mr. Denton." Hal's voice was even.
"I've got it," said Denton in the same tone.
"You don't know what I am in this city." Every word of the great man's voice rang with the ruthless arrogance of his power. "I can make or mar any man or any business. I've fought the demagogues of labor and driven 'em out of town. I've fought the demagogues of politics and killed them off. And you think with your little spewing demagoguery of newspaper filth, you can override me? You think because you've got your father's quack millions behind you, that you can stand up to me?"
"Take that down, Mr. Denton."
"I've got it."
"Then take this, too," cried Elias M. Pierce, losing all control, under the quiet remorselessness of this goading: "people like my daughter and me aren't at the mercy of scum like you. We've got rights that aren't responsible to every little petty law. By God, I've made and unmade judges in this town: and I'll show you what the law can do before I'm through with you. I'll gut your damned paper."
"Not missing anything, are you, Mr. Denton?"
"I've got it all."
Throughout, Douglas, with a strained face, had been plucking at his principal's arm. Now Elias M. Pierce turned to him.
"Go to Judge Ransome," he said sharply, "and get an injunction against the 'Clarion.'"
McGuire Ellis sauntered over. "I wouldn't," he drawled.
"I'm not asking your advice."
"And I'm not looking for gratitude. But just let me suggest this: Ransome may be one of the judges you brag of owning. But if he grants an injunction I'll advise Mr. Surtaine to publish a spread on the front page, stating that we have the facts, that we're enjoined from printing them at present, but that now or a year from now we'll tell the whole story in every phase. With that hanging over him, I don't believe Judge Ransome will care to issue any fake injunction."
"There's such a thing as contempt of court," warned Douglas.
"Making and unmaking judges, for example?" suggested Ellis.
"Just one final word to you." The Pierce face was thrust close to Hal's. "You keep your hands off my daughter if you expect to live in this town."
"My one regret for Miss Pierce is that she is your daughter," retorted Hal. "You have given me the material for a leading editorial in to-morrow's issue. I recommend you to buy the paper."
The other glared at him speechless.
"It will be called," said Hal, "'A Study in Heredity.' Good-day."
And he gave the retiring magnate a full view of his back as he sat down to write it.
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