Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
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 Esmé 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 Esmé; 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 Esmé 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 Esmé'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 Esmé?"
"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 Esmé 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 Esmé 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 Esmé," 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, Esmé 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 Esmé 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 Esmé'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.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.