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   Chapter 14 THE ROOKERIES

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 21488

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Two conspicuous ornaments of Worthington's upper world visited Worthington's underworld on a hot, misty morning of early June. Both were there on business, Dr. L. André Surtaine in the fulfillment of his agreement with his son-the exact purpose of the visit, by the way, would have inspired Harrington Surtaine with unpleasant surprise, could he have known it; and Miss Esmé Elliot on a tour of inspection for the Visiting Nurses' Association, of which she was an energetic official. Whatever faults or foibles might be ascribed to Miss Elliot, she was no faddist. That which she undertook to do, she did thoroughly and well; and for practical hygiene she possessed an inborn liking and aptitude, far more so than, for example, her fortuitous fellow slummer of the morning, Dr. Surtaine, whom she encountered at the corner where the Rookeries begin. The eminent savant removed his hat with a fine flourish, further reflected in his language as he said:-

"What does Beauty so far afield?"

"Thank you, if you mean me," said Esmé demurely.

"Do you see something else around here that answers the description?"

"No: I certainly don't," she replied, letting her eyes wander along the street where Sadler's Shacks rose in grime and gauntness to offend the clean skies. "I am going over there to see some sick people."

"Ah! Charity as well as Beauty; the perfect combination."

The Doctor's pomposity always amused Esmé. "And what does Science so far from its placid haunts?" she mocked. "Are you scattering the blessings of Certina amongst a grateful proletariat?"

"Not exactly. I'm down here on some other business."

"Well, I won't keep you from it, Dr. Surtaine. Good-bye."

The swinging doors of a saloon opened almost upon her, and a short, broad-shouldered foreigner, in a ruffled-up silk hat, bumped into her lightly and apologized. He jogged up to Dr. Surtaine.

"Hello, De Vito," said Dr. Surtaine.

"At the service of my distinguish' confrère," said the squat Italian. "Am I require at the factory?"

"No. I've come to look into this sickness. Where is it?"

"The opposite eemediate block."

Dr. Surtaine eyed with disfavor the festering tenement indicated. "New cases?"

"Two, only."

"Who's treating them?"

"I am in charge. Mr. O'Farrell employs my services: so the pipple have not to pay anything. All the time which I am not at the Certina factory, I am here."

"Just so. And no other doctor gets in?"

"There is no call. They are quite satisfied."

"And is the Board of Health satisfied?"

The employee shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands. "How is it you Americans say? 'What he does not know cannot hurt somebody.'"

"Is O'Farrell agent for all these barracks?" Dr. Surtaine inquired as they walked up the street.

"All. Many persons own, but Mr. O'Farrell is boss of all. This Number 4, Mr. Gibbs owns. He is of the great department store. You know. A ver' fine man, Mr. Gibbs."

"A very fine fool," retorted the Doctor, "to let himself get mixed up with such rotten property. Why, it's a reflection on all us men of standing."

"Nobody knows he is owner. And it pays twelve per cent," said the Italian mildly. He paused at the door. "Do we go in?" he asked.

An acrid-soft odor as of primordial slime subtly intruded upon the sensory nerves of the visitor. The place breathed out decay; the decay of humanity, of cleanliness, of the honest decencies of life turned foul. Something lethal exhaled from that dim doorway. There was a stab of pestilence, reaching for the brain. But the old charlatan was no coward.

"Show me the cases," he said.

For an hour he moved through the black, stenchful passageways, up and down ramshackle stairs, from human warren to human warren, pausing here to question, there to peer and sniff and poke with an exploring cane. Out on the street again he drew full, heaving breath.

"O'Farrell's got to clean up. That's all there is to that," he said decisively.

"The Doctor thinks?" queried the little physician.

Dr. Surtaine shook his head. "I don't know. But I'm sure of one thing. There's three of them ought to be gotten out at once. The third-floor woman, and that brother and sister in the basement."

"And the German family at the top?"

Dr. Surtaine tapped his chest significantly. "Sure to be plenty of that in this kind of hole. Nothing to do but let 'em die." He did not mention that he had left a twenty-dollar bill and a word of cheer with the gasping consumptive and his wife. Outside of the line of business Dr. Surtaine's charities were silent. "How many of the other cases have you had here?"

"Eleven. Seven deaths. Four I take away."

"And what is your diagnosis, Doctor?" inquired the old quack professionally of the younger ignoramus.

Again De Vito shrugged. "For public, malignant malaria. How you call it? Pernicious. For me, I do' know. Maybe-" he leaned forward and spoke a low word.

"Meningitis?" repeated the other. "Possibly. I've never seen much of the infectious kind. What are you giving for it?"

"Certina, mostly."

Dr. Surtaine looked at him sharply, but the Italian's face was innocent of any sardonic expression.

"As well that as anything," muttered its proprietor. "By the way, you might get testimonials from any of 'em that get well. Can you find O'Farrell?"

"Yes, sir."

"Tell him I want to see him at my office at two o'clock."

"Ver' good. What do you think it is, Doctor?"

Dr. Surtaine waved a profound hand. "Very obscure. Demands consideration. But get those cases out of the city. There's no occasion to risk the Board of Health seeing them."

At the corner Dr. Surtaine again met Miss Elliot and stopped her. "My dear young lady, ought you to be risking your safety in such places as these?"

"No one ever interferes. My badge protects me."

"But there's so much sickness."

"That is what brings me," she smiled.

"It might be contagious. In fact, I have reason to believe that there is-er-measles in this block."

"I've had it, thank you. May I give you a lift in my car?"

"No, thank you. But I think you should consult your uncle before coming here again."

"The entire Surtaine family seems set upon barring me from the Rookeries. I wonder why."

With which parting shot she left him. Going home, he bathed and changed into his customary garb of smooth black, to which his rotund placidity of bearing imparted an indescribably silky finish. His discarded clothes he put, with his own hands, into an old grip, sprinkled them plenteously with a powerful disinfectant, and left orders that they be destroyed. It was a phase of Dr. Surtaine's courage that he never took useless risks, either with his own life, or (outside of business) with the lives of others.

Having lunched, he went to his office where he found O'Farrell waiting. The politician greeted him with a mixture of deference and familiarity. At one stage of their acquaintance familiarity had predominated, when having put through a petty but particularly rancid steal for the benefit of the Certina business, O'Farrell had become inspired with effusiveness to the extent of addressing his patron as "Doc." He never made that particular error again. Yet, to the credit of Dr. Surtaine's tact and knowledge of character be it said, O'Farrell was still the older man's loyal though more humble friend, after the incident. To-day he was plainly apprehensive.

"Them other cases the same thing?" he asked.

"Yes, O'Farrell."

"What is it?"

"That I can't tell you."

"You went in and saw 'em?"

Dr. Surtaine nodded.

"By God, I wouldn't do it," declared O'Farrell, shivering. "I wouldn't go in there, not to collect the rent! It's catching, ain't it?"

"In all probability it is a contagious or zymotic disease."

The politician shook his head, much impressed, as it was intended he should be.

"Cleaning-up time for you, I guess, O'Farrell," pursued the other.

"All right, if you say so. But I won't have any Board o' Health snitches bossing it. They'd want to pull the whole row down."

"Exactly what ought to be done."

"What! And it averagin' better'n ten per cent," cried the agent in so scandalized a tone that the Doctor could not but smile.

"How have you managed to keep them out, thus far?"

"Haven't. There's been a couple of inspectors around, but I stalled 'em off. And we got the sick cases out right from under 'em."

"Dr. Merritt is a hard man to handle if he once gets started."

"He's got his hands full. The papers have been poundin' him because his milk regulations have put up the price. Persecution of the dairymen, they call it. Well, persecution of an honest property owner-with a pull-won't look pretty for Mr. Health Officer if he don't find nothing there. And the papers'll back me."

"Ellis of the 'Clarion' has his eye on the place."

"You can square that through your boy, can't you?"

The Doctor had his own private doubts, but didn't express them. "Leave it to me," he said. "Get some disinfectants and clean up. Your owners can stand the bill-at ten per cent. Much obliged for coming in, O'Farrell."

As the politician went out an office girl entered and announced:

"There's a man out in the reception hall, Doctor, waiting to see you. He's asleep with his elbow on the stand."

"Wake him up and ask him for his berth-check, Alice," said Dr. Surtaine, "and if he says his name is Ellis, send him in."

Ellis it was who entered and dropped into the chair pushed forward by his host.

"Glad to see you, my boy," Dr. Surtaine greeted him. "I thought you were going to send a reporter."

"Ordinarily we would have sent one. But I'm pretty well interested in this myself. I expected to hear from you long ago."

"Busy, my boy, busy. It's only been a week since I undertook the investigation. And these things take time."

"Apparently. What's the result?"

"Nothing." The quack spread his hands abroad in a blank gesture. "False alarm. Couple of cases of typhoid and some severe tonsillitis, that looked like diphtheria."

"People die of tonsillitis, do they?"

"Sometimes."

"And are buried?"

"Naturally."

"What in?"

"Why, in coffins, I suppose."

"Then why were these bodies buried in quicklime?"

"What bodies?"

"Last week's lot."

"You mean in Canadaga County? O'Farrell said nothing about quicklime."

"That's what I mean. Apparently O'Farrell did say something about more corpses smuggled out last week."

"Mr. Ellis," said the Doctor, annoyed at his slip, "I am not on the witness stand."

"Dr. Surtaine," returned the other in the same tone, "when you undertake an investigation for the 'Clarion,' you are one of my reporters and I expect a

full and frank report from you."

"Bull's-eye for you, my boy. You win. They did run those cases out. Before we're through with it they'll probably run more out. You see, the Health Bureau has got it in for O'Farrell, and if they knew there was anything up there, they'd raise a regular row and queer things generally."

"What is up?"

"Honestly, I don't know."

"Nor even suspect?"

"Well, it might be scarlet fever. Or, perhaps diphtheria. You see strange types sometimes."

"If it's either, failure to report is against the law."

"Technically, yes. But we've got it fixed to clean things up. The people will be looked after. There's no real danger of its spreading much. And you know how it is. The Rookeries have got a bad name, anyway. Anything starting there is sure to be exaggerated. Why, look at that chicken-pox epidemic a few years ago."

"I understand nobody who had been vaccinated got any of the chicken-pox, as you call it."

"That's as may be. What did it amount to, anyway? Nothing. Yet it almost ruined Old Home Week."

"Naturally you don't want the Centennial Home Week endangered. But we don't want the health of the city endangered."

"'We.' Who's we?"

"Well, the 'Clarion.'"

"Don't work the guardian-of-the-people game on me, my boy. And don't worry about the city's health. If this starts to spread we'll take measures."

By no means satisfied with this interview, McGuire Ellis left the Certina plant, and almost ran into Dr. Elliot, whom he hailed, for he had the faculty of knowing everybody.

"Not doing any doctoring nowadays, are you?"

"No," retorted the other. "Doing any sickening, yourself?"

Ellis grinned. "It's despairing weariness that makes me look this way. I'm up against a tougher job than old Diogenes. I'm looking for an honest doctor."

"You fish in muddy waters," commented his acquaintance, glancing up at the Certina Building.

"There's something very wrong down in the Twelfth Ward."

"Not going in for reform politics, are you?"

"This isn't political. Some kind of disease has broken out in O'Farrell's Rookeries."

"Delirium tremens," suggested Dr. Elliot.

"Yes: that's a funny joke," returned the other, unmoved; "but did you ever hear of any one sneaking D-T cases across the county line at night to a pest-house run by a political friend of O'Farrell's?"

"Can't say I have."

"Or burying the dead in quicklime?"

"Quicklime? What's this, 'Clarion' sensationalism?"

"Don't be young. I'm telling you. Quicklime. Canadaga County."

Not only had Dr. Elliot served his country in the navy, but he had done duty in that efficient fighting force, which reaps less honor and follows a more noble, self-sacrificing and courageous ideal than any army or navy, the United States Public Health Service. Under that banner he had fought famines, panic, and pestilence, from the stricken lumber-camps of the North, to the pent-in, quarantined bayous of the South; and now, at the hint of danger, there came a battle-glint into his sharp eyes.

"Tell me what you know."

"Now you're talking!" said the newspaper man. "It's little enough. But we've got it straight that they've been covering up some disease for weeks."

"What do the certificates call it?"

"Malaria and septic something, I believe."

"Septic?mia hemorrhagica?"

"That's it."

"An alias. That's what they called bubonic plague in San Francisco and yellow fever in Texas in the old days of concealment."

"It couldn't be either of those, could it?"

"No. But it might be any reportable disease: diphtheria, smallpox, any of 'em. Even that hardly explains the quicklime."

"Could you look into it for us; for the 'Clarion'?"

"I? Work for the 'Clarion'?"

"Why not?"

"I don't like your paper."

"But you'd be doing a public service."

"Possibly. How do I know you'd print what I discovered-supposing I discovered anything?"

"We're publishing an honest paper, nowadays."

"Are you? Got this morning's?"

Like all good newspaper men, McGuire Ellis habitually went armed with a copy of his own paper. He produced it from his coat pocket.

"Honest, eh?" muttered the physician grimly as he twisted the "Clarion" inside out. "Honest! Well, not to go any farther, what about this for honesty?"

Top of column, "next to reading," as its contract specified, the lure of the Neverfail Company stood forth, bold and black. "Boon to Troubled Womanhood" was the heading. Dr. Elliot read, with slow emphasis, the lying half-promises, the specious pretenses of the company's "Relief Pills." "No Case too Obstinate": "Suppression from Whatever Cause": "Thousands of Women have Cause to Bless this Sovereign Remedy": "Saved from Desperation."

"No doubt what that means, is there?" queried the reader.

"It seems pretty plain."

"What do you mean, then, by telling me you run an honest paper when you carry an abortion advertisement every day?"

"Will that medicine cause abortion?"

"Certainly it won't cause abortion!"

"Well, then."

"Can't you see that makes it all the worse, in a way? It promises to bring on abortion. It encourages any fool girl who otherwise might be withheld from vice by fear of consequences. It puts a weapon of argument into the hands of every rake and ruiner; 'If you get into trouble, this stuff will fix you all right.' How many suicides do you suppose your 'Boon to Womanhood' and its kind of hellishness causes in a year, thanks to the help of your honest journalism?"

"When I said we were honest, I wasn't thinking of the advertising."

"But I am. Can you be honest on one page and a crook on another? Can you bang the big drum of righteousness in one column and promise falsely in the next to commit murder? Ellis, why does the 'Clarion' carry such stuff as that?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Well, you're asking me to help your sheet," the ex-surgeon reminded him.

"Because Dr. L. André Surtaine is the Neverfail Company."

"Oh," said the other. "And I suppose Dr. L. André Surtaine is the 'Clarion,' also. Well, I don't choose to be associated with that honorable and high-minded polecat, thank you."

"Don't be too sure about the 'Clarion.' Harrington Surtaine isn't his father."

"The same rotten breed."

"Plus another strain. Where it comes from I don't know, but there's something in the boy that may work out to big ends."

Dr. Miles Elliot was an abrupt sort of person, as men of independent lives and thought are prone to be. "Look here, Ellis," he said: "are you trying to be honest, yourself? Now, don't answer till you've counted three."

"One-two-three," said McGuire Ellis solemnly. "I'm honestly trying to put the 'Clarion' on the level. That's what you really want to know, I suppose."

"Against all the weight of influence of Dr. Surtaine?"

"Bless you; he doesn't half realize he's a crook. Thinks he's a pretty fine sort of chap. The worst of it is, he is, too, in some ways."

"Good to his family, I suppose, in the intervals of distributing poison and lies."

"He's all wrapped up in the boy. Which is going to make it all the harder."

"Make what all the harder?"

"Prying 'em apart."

"Have you set yourself that little job?"

"Since we're speaking out in meeting, I have."

"Good. Why are you speaking out in meeting to me, particularly?"

"On the theory that you may have reason for being interested in Mr. Harrington Surtaine."

"Don't know him."

"Your niece does."

"Just how does that concern this discussion?"

"What business is it of mine, you mean. Well, Dr. Elliot, I'm pretty much interested in trying to make a real newspaper out of the 'Clarion.' My notion of a real newspaper is a decent, clean newspaper. If I can get my young boss to back me up, we'll have a try at my theory. To do this, I'll use any fair means. And if Miss Elliot's influence is going to be on my side, I'm glad to play it off against Dr. Surtaine's."

"Look here, Ellis, I don't like this association of my niece's name with young Surtaine."

"All right. I'll drop it, if you object. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know Miss Elliot, anyway. But sooner or later there's coming one big fight in the 'Clarion' office, and it's going to open two pairs of eyes. Old Doc Surtaine is going to discover his son. Hal Surtaine is going to find out about the old man. Neither of 'em is going to be awfully pleased. And in that ruction the fate of the Neverfail Company's ad. is going to be decided and with it the fate and character of the 'Clarion.' Now, Dr. Elliot, my cards are on the table. Will you help me in the Rookeries matter?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"Go cautiously, and find out what that disease is."

"I'll go there to-morrow."

"They won't let you in."

"Won't they?" Dr. Elliot's jaw set.

"Don't risk it. Some of O'Farrell's thugs will pick a fight with you and the whole thing will be botched."

"How about getting a United States Public Health Surgeon down here?"

"Fine! Can you do it?"

"I think so. It will take time, though."

"That can't be helped. I'll look you up in a few days."

"All right. And, Ellis, if I can help in the other thing-the clean-up-I'm your man."

Meantime from his office Dr. Surtaine had, after several attempts, succeeded in getting the Medical Office of Canadaga County on the telephone.

"Hello! That you, Doctor Simons?-Seen O'Farrell?-Yes; you ought to get in touch with him right away-Three more cases going over to you.-Oh, they're there, are they? You're isolating them, aren't you?-Pest-house? That's all right.-All bills will be paid-liberally. You understand?-What are you calling it? Diphtheria?-Good enough for the present.-Ever see infectious meningitis? I thought it might be that, maybe-No? What do you think, then?-What! Good God, man! It can't be! Such a thing has never been heard of in this part of the country-What?-Yes: you're right. We can't talk over the 'phone. Come over to-morrow. Good-bye."

Putting up the receiver, Dr. Surtaine turned to his desk and sat immersed in thought. Presently he shook his head. He scratched a few notes on a pad, tore off the sheet and thrust it into the small safe at his elbow. Proof of a half-page Certina display beckoned him in buoyant, promissory type to his favorite task. He glanced at the safe. Once again he shook his head, this time more decisively, took the scribbled paper out and tore it into shreds. Turning to the proof he bent over it, striking out a word here, amending there, jotting in a printer's direction on the margin; losing himself in the major interest.

The "special investigator" of the "Clarion" was committing the unpardonable sin of journalism. He was throwing his paper down.

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