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   Chapter 17 REPRISALS

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 19032

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Working on an empty heart is almost as severe a strain as the less poetic process of working on an empty stomach. On the morning after the failure of Esmé's strategy and the wrecking of Hal's hopes, the young editor went to his office with a languid but bitter distaste for its demands. The first item in the late afternoon mail stung him to a fitter spirit, as a sharp blow will spur to his best efforts a courageous boxer. This was a packet, containing the crumbled fragments of a spray of arbutus, and a note in handwriting now stirringly familiar.

I have read your editorial. From a man dishonest enough to print deliberate lies and cowardly enough to attack a woman, it is just such an answer as I might have expected.

ELEANOR S.M. ELLIOT.

At first the reference to the editorial bewildered Hal. Then he remembered. Esmé had known nothing of the editorial until she read it in the paper. She had inferred that he wrote it after leaving her, thus revenging himself upon her by further scarification of the friend for whom she had pleaded. To the charge of deliberate mendacity he had no specific clue, not knowing that Kathleen Pierce had denied the authenticity of the interview. He mused somberly upon the venomed injustice of womankind. The note and its symbol of withered sweetness he buried in his waste-basket. If he could but discard as readily the vision of a face, strangely lovely in its anger and chagrin, and wearing that set and desperate smile! Well, there was but one answer to her note. That was to make the "Clarion" all that she would have it not be!

No phantoms of lost loveliness came between McGuire Ellis and his satisfaction over the Pierce coup. Characteristically, however, he presented the disadvantageous as well as the favorable aspects of the matter to his employer.

"Some paper this morning!" he began. "The town is humming like a hive."

"Over the Pierce story?" asked Hal.

"Nothing else talked of. We were sold out before nine this morning."

"Selling papers is our line of business," observed the owner-editor.

"You won't think so when you hear Shad Shearson. He's an avalanche of woe, waiting to sweep down upon you."

"What's his trouble? The department store advertising?"

"The Boston Store advertising is gone. Others are threatening to follow. Pierce has called a meeting of the Publications Committee of the Dry Goods Union. Discipline is in the air, Boss. Have you seen the evening papers?"

"Yes."

"What did you think of their stories of the accident?"

"I seemed to notice a suspicious similarity."

"You can bet every one of those stories came straight from E.M. Pierce's own office. You'll see, they'll be the same in to-morrow morning's papers. Now that we've opened up, they all have to cover the news, so they've thoughtfully sent around to inquire what Elias M. would like to have printed."

"From what they say," remarked Hal flippantly, "the nurse ought to be arrested for trying to bump a sixty-horsepower car out of the roadway."

"We strive to please, in the local newspaper shops."

Ellis turned to answer the buzzing telephone. "Get on your life preserver," he advised his principal. "Shearson's coming up to weep all over you."

The advertising manager entered, his plump cheeks sagging into lugubrious and reproachful lines, speaking witnesses to a sentiment not wholly unjustifiable in his case. To see circulation steadily going up and advertising as steadily going down, is an irritant experience to the official responsible for the main income of a daily paper, advertising revenue.

"Advertisers have some rights," he boomed, in his heavy voice.

"Including that of homicide?" asked Hal.

"Let the law take care of that. It ain't our affair."

"Would it be our affair if Pierce didn't control advertising?"

Shearson's fat hands went to his fat neck in a gesture of desperation. "That's different," he cried. "I can't seem to make you see my point. Why looka here, Mr. Surtaine. Who pays for the running of a newspaper? The advertisers. Where do your profits come from? Advertising. There never was a paper could last six months on circulation alone. It's the ads. that keep every paper going. Well, then: how's a paper going to live that turns against its own support? Tell me that. If you were running a business, and a big buyer came in, would you roast him and knock his methods, and criticize his family, and then expect to sell him a bill of goods? Or would you take him out to the theater and feed him a fat cigar, and treat him the best you know how? You might have your own private opinion of him-"

"A newspaper doesn't deal in private opinions," put in Hal.

"Well, it can keep 'em private for its own good, can't it? How many readers care whether E.M. Pierce's daughter ran over a woman or not? What difference does it make to them? They'd be just as well satisfied to read about the latest kick-up in Mexico, or the scandal at Washington, or Mrs. Whoopdoodle's Newport dinner to the troupe of educated fleas. But it makes a lot of difference to E.M. Pierce, and he can make it a lot of difference to us. So long as he pays us good money, he's got a right to expect us to look out for his interests."

"So have our readers who pay us good money, Mr. Shearson."

"What are their interests?" asked the advertising manager, staring.

"To get the news straight. You've given me your theory of journalism; now let me give you mine. As I look at it, there's a contract of honor between a newspaper and its subscribers. Tacitly the newspaper says to the subscriber, 'For two cents a day, I agree to furnish you with the news of your town, state, nation, and the outside world, selected to the best of my ability, and presented without fear or favor.' On this basis, if the newspaper fakes its news, if it distorts facts, or if it suppresses them, it is playing false with its subscribers. It is sanding its sugar, and selling shoddy for all-wool. Isn't that true?"

"Every newspaper does it," grumbled Shearson. "And the public knows it."

"Doubted. The public knows that newspapers make mistakes and do a lot of exaggerating and sensationalizing. But you once get it into their heads that a certain newspaper is concealing and suppressing news, and see how long that paper will last. The circulation will drop and the very men like Pierce will be the first to withdraw their advertising patronage. Your keen advertiser doesn't waste time fishing in dead pools. So even as a matter of policy the straight way may be the best, in the long run. Whether it is or not, get this firmly into your mind, Mr. Shearson. From now on the first consideration of the 'Clarion' will be news and not advertising."

"Then, good-night 'Clarion,'" pronounced Shearson with entire solemnity.

"Is that your resignation, Mr. Shearson?"

"Do you want me to quit?"

"No; I don't. I believe you're an efficient man, if you can adjust yourself to new conditions. Do you think you can?"

"Well, I ain't much on the high-brow stuff, Mr. Surtaine, but I can take orders, I guess. I'm used to the old 'Clarion,' and I kinda like you, even if we don't agree. Maybe this virtuous jag'll get us some business for what it loses us. But, say, Mr. Surtaine, you ain't going to get virtuous in your advertising columns, too, are you?"

"I hadn't considered it," said Hal. "One of these days I'll look into it."

"For God's sake, don't!" pleaded Shearson, with such a shaken flabbiness of vehemence that both Hal and Ellis laughed, though the former felt an uneasy puzzlement.

The article and editorial on the Pierce accident had appeared in a Thursday's "Clarion." In their issues of the following day, the other morning papers dealt with the subject most delicately. The "Banner" published, without obvious occasion, a long and rather fulsome editorial on E.M. Pierce as a model of high-minded commercial emprise and an exemplar for youth: also, on the same page in its "Pointed Paragraphs," the following, with a point quite too palpably aimed:-

"It is said, on plausible if not direct authority, that one of our morning contemporaries will appropriately alter its motto to read, 'With Malice toward All: with Charity for None.'"

But it remained for that evening's "Telegram" to bring up the heavy guns. From its first edition these headlines stood out, black and bold:-

E.M. PIERCE DEFENDS DAUGHTER

* * *

MAGNATE INCENSED AT UNJUST ATTACKS

WILL PUSH CASE AGAINST HER

TRADUCERS TO A FINISH

There followed an interview in which the great man announced his intention of bringing both civil and criminal action for libel against the "Clarion." McGuire Ellis frowned savagely at the sheet.

"Dirty skunk!" he growled.

"Meaning our friend Pierce?" queried Hal.

"No. Meaning Parker, and the whole 'Telegram' outfit."

"Why?"

"Because they printed that interview."

"What's wrong with it? It's news."

"Don't be positively infantile, Boss. Newspapers don't print libel actions brought against other newspapers. It's unprofessional. It's unethical. It isn't straight."

"No: I don't see that at all," decided Hal, after some consideration. "That amounts simply to this, that the newspapers are in a combination to discourage libel actions, by suppressing all mention of them."

"Certainly. Why not? Libel suits are generally holdups."

"I think the 'Telegram' is right. Whatever Pierce says is news, and interesting news."

"You bet Parker would nev

er have carried that if his holding corporation wasn't a heavy borrower in the Pierce banks."

"Maybe not. But I think we'll carry it."

"In the 'Clarion'?" almost shouted Ellis.

"Certainly. Let's have Wayne send a reporter around to Pierce. If Pierce won't give us an interview, we'll reprint the 'Telegram's,' with credit."

"We'd be cutting our own throats, and playing Pierce's game. Besides, stuff about ourselves isn't news."

Hal's inexperience had this virtue, that it was free of the besetting and prejudicial superstitions of the craft of print. "If it's interesting, it's the 'Clarion' kind of news."

Ellis, about to protest further, met the younger man's level gaze, and swallowed hard.

"All right," he said. "I'll tell Wayne."

So the "Clarion" violated another tradition of newspaperdom, to the amused contempt of its rivals, who were, however, possibly not quite so amused or so contemptuous as they appeared editorially to be. Also it followed up the interview with an explicit statement of its own intentions in the matter, which were not precisely music to the savage breast of E.M. Pierce.

Evidences of that formidable person's hostilities became increasingly manifest from day to day. One morning a fire marshal dropped casually in upon the "Clarion" office, looked the premises over, and called the owner's attention to several minor and unsuspected violations of the law, the adjustment of which would involve no small inconvenience and several hundred dollars outlay. By a curious coincidence, later in the day, a factory inspector happened around,-a newspaper office being, legally, within the definition of a factory,-and served a summons on McGuire Ellis as publisher, for permitting smoking in the city room. From time immemorial every edition of every newspaper in the United States of America has evolved out of rolling clouds of tobacco smoke: but the "Clarion" alone, apparently, had come within the purview of the law. Subsequently, Hal learned, to his amusement, that all the other newspaper offices were placarded with notices of the law in Yiddish, so that none might be unduly disturbed thereby! To give point to the discrimination, down on the street, a zealous policeman arrested one of the "Clarion's" bulk-paper handlers for obstructing the sidewalk.

"Pierce's political pull is certainly working," observed Ellis, "but it's coarse work."

Finer was to come. Two libel suits mushroomed into view in as many days, provoked, as it were, out of conscious nothing; unimportant but harassing: one, brought by a ne'er-do-well who had broken a leg while engaged in a drunken prank months before, the other the outcome of a paragraph on a little, semi-fraudulent charity.

"I'll bet that eminent legal light, Mr. William Douglas, could tell something about these," said Ellis, "though his name doesn't appeal on the papers."

"We'll print these, too,-and we'll tell the reason for them," said Hal.

But on this last point his assistant dissuaded him. The efficient argument was that it would look like whining, and the one thing which a newspaper must not do was to lament its own ill-treatment.

On top of the libel suits came a letter from the Midland National Bank, stating with perfect courtesy that, under its present organization, a complicated account like that of the "Clarion" was inconvenient to handle; wherefore the bank was reluctantly obliged to request its withdrawal.

"Bottling us up financially," remarked Ellis. "I expected this, before."

"There are other banks than the Midland that'll be glad of our business," replied Hal.

"Probably not."

"No? Then they're curious institutions."

"There isn't one of 'em in which Elias M. Pierce isn't a controlling factor. Ask your father."

On the following day when Dr. Surtaine, who had been out of town for several days, dropped in at the office, Hal had a memorandum ready on the point. The old quack eased himself into a chair with his fine air of ample leisure, creating for himself a fragrant halo of cigar smoke.

"Well, Boyee." The tone was a mingling of warm affection and semi-humorous reproach. "You went and did it to Elias M., didn't you?"

"Yes, sir. We went and did it."

The Doctor shook his head, looking at the other through narrowing eyes. "And it's worrying you. You're not looking right."

"Oh, I'm well enough: a little sleeplessness, that's all."

He did not deem it necessary to tell his father that upon his white nights the unforgettable face of Esmé Elliot had gleamed persistently from out the darkness, banishing rest.

"Suppose you let me do some of the worrying, Boyee."

"Haven't you enough troubles in your own business, Dad?" smiled Hal.

"Machinery, son. Automatic, at that. Runs itself and turns out the dollars, regular, for breakfast. Very different from the newspaper game."

"I should like your advice."

"On the take-it-or-leave-it principle, I suppose," answered Dr. Surtaine, with entire good humor. "In the Pierce matter you left it. How do you like the results?"

"Not very much."

Dr. Surtaine spread out upturned hands, in dumb, oracular illustration of his own sagacity.

"But I'd do the same thing over again if it came up for decision."

"That's exactly what you mustn't do, Hal. Banging around the shop like that, cracking people on the knuckles may give you a temporary feeling of power and importance" (Hal flushed boyishly), "but it don't pay. Now, if I get you out of this scrape, I want you to go more carefully."

"How are you going to get me out of it?"

"Square it with E.M. Pierce. He's a good friend of mine."

"Do you really like Mr. Pierce, Dad?"

"Hm! Ah-er-well, Boyee, as for that, that's another tail on a cat. In a business way, I meant."

"In a business way he's trying to be a pretty efficient enemy of mine. How would you like it if he undertook to interfere with Certina?"

By perceptible inches Dr. Surtaine's chest rounded in slow expansion. "Legislatures and government bureaus have tried that. They never got away with it yet. Elias Pierce is a pretty big man in this town, but I guess he knows enough to keep hands and tongue off me."

"If not off your line of business," amended Ellis. "Did you see his interview in the 'Telegram'?"

He tossed over a copy of the paper folded to a column wherein Mr. Pierce, with more temper than tact, had possessed himself of his adversary's editorial text, "Heredity," and proceeded to perform a variant thereon.

"If this young whippersnapper," Mr. Pierce had said, "this fledgling thug of journalism, had stopped to think of the source of his unearned money, perhaps he wouldn't talk so glibly about heredity."

Thence the interview pursued a course of indirect reflection upon the matter and method of the patent medicine trade, as exemplified in Certina and its allied industries. The top button of Dr. Surtaine's glossy morning coat, as he read, seemed in danger of flying off into infinite space. His powerful hands opened and closed slowly. Leaning forward he reached for the telephone, but checked himself.

"Mr. Pierce seems to have let go both barrels at once," he said with a strong effort of control.

"Pretty little exhibition of temper, isn't it?" said Hal, smiling.

"Temper's expensive. Perhaps we'll teach Elias M. Pierce that lesson before we're through. You remember it, too, next time you start in on a muckraking jag."

"Our muckraking, as you call it, isn't a question of temper, Dad," said Hal earnestly. "It's a question of policy. What the 'Clarion' is doing, is done because we're trying to be a newspaper. We've got to stick to that. I've given my word."

"Who to?"

"To the men on the staff."

"What's more," put in McGuire Ellis, turning at the door on his way out to see a caller, "the fellows have got hold of the idea. That's what gives the 'Clarion' the go it's got. We're all rowing one stroke."

"And the captain can't very well quit in mid-race." Hal took up the other's metaphor, as the door closed behind him. "So you see, Dad, I've got to see it through, no matter what it costs me."

The father's rich voice dropped to a murmur. "Hasn't it cost you something more than money, already, Boyee? I understand Miss Esmé is a pretty warm friend of Pierce's girl."

Hal winced.

"All right, Boyee. I don't want to pry. But lots of things come quietly to the old man's ear. You've got a right to your secrets."

"It isn't any secret, Dad. In fact, it isn't anything any more," said Hal, smiling wanly. "Yes, the price was pretty high. I don't think any other will ever be so high."

Dr. Surtaine heaved his bulk out of the chair and laid a heavy arm across his son's shoulder.

"Boyee, you and I don't agree on a lot of things. We're going to keep on not agreeing about a lot of things. You think I'm an old fogy with low-brow standards. I think you've got a touch of that prevalent disease of youth, fool-in-the-head. But, I guess, as father and son, pal and pal, we're pretty well suited,-eh?"

"Yes," said Hal. There was that in the monosyllable which wholly contented the older man.

"Go ahead with your 'Clarion,' Boyee. Blow your fool head off. Deave us all deaf. Play any tune you want, and pay yourself for your piping. I won't interfere-any more'n I can help, being an old meddler by taste. Blood's thicker than water, they say. I guess it's thicker than printer's ink, too. Remember this, right or wrong, win or lose, Boyee, I'm with you."

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