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   Chapter 6 LAUNCHED

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 9936

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


For purposes of vital statistics, the head office boy of the Worthington "Daily Clarion" was denominated Reginald Currier. As this chaste cognomen was artistically incompatible with his squint eye, his militant swagger, and a general bearing of unrepressed hostility toward all created beings, he was professionally known as "Bim." Journalism, for him, was comprised in a single tenet; that no visitor of whatsoever kind had or possibly could have any business of even remotely legitimate nature within the precincts of the "Clarion" office. Tradition of the place held that a dent in the wall back of his desk marked the termination of an argument in which Reginald, all unwitting, had essayed to maintain his thesis against the lightweight champion of the State who had come to call on the sporting editor.

There had been a lull in the activities of this minor Cerberus when the light and swinging footfall of one coming up the dim stairway several steps at a time aroused his ready suspicions. He bristled forth to the rail to meet a tall and rather elegant young man whom he greeted with a growl to this effect:

"Hoojer wanter see?"

"Is the editor in?"

"Whajjer want uvvum?"

The tall visitor stepped forward, holding out a card. "Take this to him, please, and say that I'd like to see him at once."

Unwisely, Reginald disregarded the card, which fluttered to the floor. More unwisely, he ignored a certain tensity of expression upon the face of his interlocutor. Most unwisely he repeated, in his very savagest growl:

"Whajjer want uvvum, I said. Didn' chu hear me?"

Graceful and effortless as the mounting lark, Reginald Currier rose and soared. When he again touched earth, it was only to go spinning into a far corner where he first embraced, then strove with and was finally tripped and thrown by a large and lurking waste-basket. Somewhat perturbed, he extricated himself in time to see the decisive visitor disappear through an inner door. Retrieving the crumpled and rejected card from its resting-place, he examined it with interest. The legend upon it was "Mr. Harrington Surtaine."

"Huh!" grunted Reginald Currier; "I never seen that in no sporting column."

Once within the sacred precincts, young Mr. Surtaine turned into an inner room, bumped against a man trailing a kite-tail of proof, who had issued from a door to the right, asked a question, got a response, and entered the editor's den. Two littered desks made up the principal furniture of the place. Impartially distributed between the further desk and a chair, the form of one lost in slumber sprawled. At the nearer one sat a dyspeptic man of middle age waving a heavy pencil above a galley proof.

"Are you the editor?" asked Hal.

"One editor. I'm Mr. Sterne. How the devil did you get in here?"

"Are you responsible for this?" Hal held up the morning's clipping, headed "Surtaine Fakeries Explained."

"Who are you?" asked Sterne, nervously hitching in his chair.

"I am Harrington Surtaine."

The journalist whistled, a soft, long-drawn note. "Dr. Surtaine's son?" he inquired.

"Yes."

"That's awkward." "Not half as awkward as it's going to be unless you apologize privately and publicly."

Mr. Sterne looked at him estimatingly, at the same time wadding up a newspaper clipping from the desk in front of him. This he cast at the slumberer with felicitous accuracy.

"Hoong!" observed that gentleman, starting up and caressing his cheek.

"Wake up, Mac. Here's a man from the Trouble Belt, with samples to show."

The individual thus addressed slowly rose out of his chair, exhibiting a squat, gnarly figure surmounted by a very large head.

Hal's hand came up out of his pocket, with the dog-whip writhing unpleasantly after it. Simultaneously, the ex-sleeper projected himself, without any particular violence but with astonishing quickness, between the caller and his prey. Without at all knowing whence it was derived, Hal became aware of a large, black, knobby stick, which it were inadequate to call a cane, in his new opponent's grasp.

Of physical courage there was no lack in the scion of the Surtaine line. Neither, however, was he wholly destitute of reasoning powers and caution. The figure before him was of an unquestionable athleticism; the weapon of obvious weight and fiber. The situation was embarrassing.

"Please don't lick the editor," said the interrupter of poetic justice good-humoredly. "Appropriately framed and hung upon the wall, fifteen cents apiece. Yah-ah-ah-oo!" he yawned prodigiously. "Calm down," he added.

Hal stared at the squat and agile figure. "You're the office bully and bouncer, I suppose," he said.

"McGuire Ellis, at your service. Bounce only when compelled. Otherwise peaceful. And sleepy."

"My business is with this man," said Hal, indicating Sterne. "Put up your toy, then, and state it in words of one syllable."

For a moment the visitor pondered, drawing the whip

through his hands, uncertainly. "I'm not fool enough to go up against that war-club," he remarked.

Mr. McGuire Ellis nodded approval. "First sensible thing I've heard you say," he remarked.

"But neither"-here Hal's jaw projected a little-"am I going to let this thing drop."

"Law?" inquired Sterne. "If you think there's any libel in what the 'Clarion' has said, ask your lawyer. What do you want, anyway?"

Thus recalled to the more pacific phase of his errand, Hal produced his document. "If you've got an iota of decency or fairness about you, you'll print that," he said.

Sterne glanced through it swiftly. "Nothing doing," he stated succinctly. "Did Dr. Surtaine send you here with that thing?"

"My father doesn't know that I'm here."

"Oho! So that's it. Knight-errantry, eh? Now, let me put this thing to you straight, Mr. Harrington Surtaine. If your father wants to make a fair and decent statement, without abuse or calling names, over his own signature, the 'Clarion' will run it, at fifty cents a word."

"You dirty blackmailer!" said Hal slowly.

"Hard names go with this business, my young friend," said the other coolly.

"At present you've got me checked. But you don't always keep your paid bully with you, I suppose. One of these days you and I will meet-"

"And you'll land in jail."

"He talks awfully young, doesn't he?" said Mr. Ellis, shaking a solemn head.

"As for blackmail," continued Sterne, a bit eagerly, "there's nothing in that. We've never asked Dr. Surtaine for a dollar. He hasn't got a thing on us." "You never asked him for advertising either, I suppose," said Hal bitterly.

"Only in the way of business. Just as we go out after any other advertising."

"If he had given you his ads.-"

"Oh, I don't say that we'd have gone after him if he'd been one of our regular advertisers. Every other paper in town gets his copy; why shouldn't we? We have to look out for ourselves. We look out for our patrons, too. Naturally, we aren't going to knock one of our advertisers. Others have got to take their chances."

"And that's modern journalism!"

"It's the newspaper business," cried Sterne. "No different from any other business."

"No wonder decent people consider newspaper men the scum of the earth," said Hal, with rather ineffectual generalization.

"Don't be young!" besought McGuire Ellis wearily. "Pretend you're a grown-up man, anyway. You look as if you might have some sense about you somewhere, if you'd only give it a chance to filter through."

Some not unpleasant quirk of speech and manner in the man worked upon Hal's humor.

"Why, I believe you're right about the youngness," he admitted, with a smile. "Perhaps there are other ways of getting at this thing. Just for a test,-for the last time will you or will you not, Mr. Sterne, publish this apology?"

"We will not. There's just one person can give me orders."

"Who is that?"

"The owner."

"I think you'll be sorry."

McGuire Ellis turned upon him a look that was a silent reproach to immaturity.

"Anything more?" queried Sterne. "Nothing," said Hal, with an effort at courtesy. "Good-day to you both."

"Well, what about it?" asked McGuire Ellis of his chief, as the visitor's footsteps died away.

"Nothing about it. When'll the next Surtaine roast be ready?"

"Ought to be finished to-morrow."

"Schedule it for Thursday. We'll make the old boy squeal yet. Do you believe the boy when he says that his father didn't send him?"

"Sounded straight. Pretty straight boy he looked like to me, anyway."

"Pretty fresh kid, I think. And a good deal of a pin-head. Distributing agency for the old man's money, I guess. He won't get anywhere."

"Well, I'm not so sure," said Ellis contemplatively. "Of course he acts gosh-awful young. But did you notice him when he went?"

"Not particularly."

"He was smiling."

"Well?"

"Always look out for a guy that smiles when he's licked. He's got a come-back to him."

Eleven o'clock that night saw McGuire Ellis lift his head from the five-minute nap which he allowed himself on evenings of light pressure after the Washington copy was run off, and blink rapidly. At the same moment Mr. David Sterne gave utterance to an exclamation, partly of annoyance, partly of surprise. Mr. Harrington Surtaine, wearing an expression both businesslike and urbane stood in the doorway.

"Good-evening, gentlemen," he remarked.

Mr. Sterne snorted. Mr. Ellis's lips seemed about to form the reproachful monosyllable "young." Without further greeting the visitor took off his hat and overcoat and hung them on a peg. "You make yourself at home," growled Sterne.

"I do," agreed Hal, and, discarding his coat, hung that on another peg. "I've got a right to."

Tilting a slumber-burdened head, McGuire Ellis released his adjuration against youthfulness.

"What's the answer?" demanded Sterne.

"I've just bought out the 'Clarion,'" said Hal.

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