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   Chapter 18 MILLY

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 12504

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


All Hal's days now seemed filled with Pierce. Pierce's friends, dependents, employees, associates wrote in, denouncing the "Clarion," canceling subscriptions, withdrawing advertisements. Pierce's club, the Huron, compelled the abandonment of Mr. Harrington Surtaine's candidacy. Pierce's clergyman bewailed the low and vindictive tone of modern journalism. The Pierce newspapers kept harassing the "Clarion"; the Pierce banks evinced their financial disapproval; the Pierce lawyers diligently sought new causes of offense against the foe; while Pierce's mayor persecuted the newspaper office with further petty enforcements and exactions. Pierce's daughter, however, fled the town. With her went Miss Esmé Elliot. According to the society columns, including that of the "Clarion," they were bound for a restful voyage on the Pierce yacht.

From time to time Editor Surtaine retaliated upon the foe, employing the news of the slow progress of Miss Cleary, the nurse, to maintain interest in the topic. Protests invariably followed, sometimes from sources which puzzled the "Clarion." One of the protestants was Hugh Merritt, the young health officer of the city, who expressed his views to McGuire Ellis one day.

"No," Ellis reported to his employer, on the interview, "he didn't exactly ask that we let up entirely. But he seemed to think we were going too strong. I couldn't quite get his reasons, except that he thought it was a terrible thing for the Pierce girl, and she so young. Queer thing from Merritt. They don't make 'em any straighter than he is."

Alone of the lot of protests, that of Mrs. Festus Willard gained a response from Hal.

"You're treating her very harshly, Hal."

"We're giving the facts, Lady Jinny."

"Are they the facts? All the facts?"

"So far as human eyes could see them."

"Men's eyes don't see very far where a woman is concerned. She's very young and headstrong, and, Hal, she hasn't had much chance, you know. She's Elias Pierce's daughter."

"Thus having every chance, one would suppose."

"Every chance of having everything. Very little chance of being anything."

There was a pause. Then: "Very well, Hal, I know I can trust you to do what you believe right, at least. That's a good deal. Festus tells me to let you alone. He says that you must fight your own fight in your own way. That's the whole principle of salvation in Festus's creed."

"Not a bad one," said Hal. "I'm not particularly liking to do this, you know, Lady Jinny."

"So I can understand. Have you heard anything from Esmé Elliot since she left?"

"No."

"You mustn't drop out of the set, Hal," said the little woman anxiously. "You've made good so quickly. And our crowd doesn't take up with the first comer, you know."

Since Esmé Elliot had passed out of his life, as he told himself, Hal found no incentive to social amusements. Hence he scarcely noticed a slow but widening ostracism which shut him out from house after house, under the pressure of the Pierce influence. But Mrs. Festus Willard had perceived and resented it. That any one for whom she had stood sponsor should fail socially in Worthington was both irritating and incredible to her. Hence she made more of Hal than she might otherwise have found time to do, and he was much with her and Festus Willard, deriving, on the one hand, recreation and amusement from her sparkling camaraderie, and on the other, support and encouragement from her husband's strong, outspoken, and ruggedly honest common sense. Neither of them fully approved of his attack on Kathleen Pierce, whom they understood better than he did. But they both-and more particularly Festus Willard-appreciated the courage and honor of the "Clarion's" new standards.

Except for an occasional dinner at their house, and a more frequent hour late in the afternoon or early in the evening, with one or both of them, Hal saw almost nothing of the people into whose social environment he had so readily slipped. Because of his exclusion, there prospered the more naturally a casual but swiftly developing intimacy which had sprung up between himself and Milly Neal.

It began with her coming to Hal for his counsel about her copy. From the first she assumed an attitude of unquestioning confidence in his wisdom and taste. This flattered the pedagogue which is inherent in all of us. He was wise enough to see promptly that he must be delicately careful in his criticism, since here he was dealing out not opinion, but gospel. Poised and self-confident the girl was in her attitude toward herself: the natural consequence of early success and responsibility. But about her writing she exhibited an almost morbid timidity lest it be thought "vulgar" or "common" by the editor-in-chief; and once McGuire Ellis felt called upon to warn Hal that he was "taking all the gimp out of the 'Kitty the Cutie' stuff by trying to sewing-circularize it." Of literature the girl knew scarcely anything; but she had an eager ambition for better standards, and one day asked Hal to advise her in her reading.

Not without misgivings he tried her with Stevenson's "Virginibus Puerisque" and was delighted with the swiftness and eagerness of her appreciation. Then he introduced her by careful selection to the poets, beginning with Tennyson, through Wordsworth, to Browning, and thence to the golden-voiced singers of the sonnet, and all of it she drank in with a wistful and wondering delight. Soon her visits came to be of almost daily occurrence. She would dart in of an evening, to claim or return a book, and sit perched on the corner of the big work-table, like a little, flashing, friendly bird; always exquisitely neat, always vividly pretty and vividly alive. Sometimes the talk wandered from the status of instructor and instructed, and touched upon the progress of the "Clarion," the view which Milly's little world took of it, possible ways of making it more interesting to the women readers to whom the "Cutie" column was supposed to cater particularly. More than once the more personal note was touched, and the girl spoke of her coming to the Certina factory, a raw slip of a country creature tied up in calico, and of Dr. Surtaine's kindness and watchfulness over her.

"He wa

nted to do well by me because of the old man-my father, I mean," she caught herself up, blushing. "They knew each other when I was a kid."

"Where?" asked Hal.

"Oh, out east of here," she answered evasively.

Again she said to him once, "What I like about the 'Clarion' is that it's trying to do something for folks. That's all the religion I could ever get into my head: that human beings are mostly worth treating decently. That counts for more than all your laws and rules and church regulations. I don't like rules much," she added, twinkling up at him. "I always want to kick 'em over, just as I always want to break through the police lines at a fire."

"But rules and police lines are necessary for keeping life orderly," said Hal.

"I suppose so. But I don't know that I like things too orderly. My teacher called me a lawless little demon, once, and I guess I still am. Suppose I should break all the rules of the office? Would you fire me?" And before he could answer she was up and had flashed away.

As the intimacy grew, Hal found himself looking forward to these swift-winged little visits. They made a welcome break in the detailed drudgery; added to the day a glint of color, bright like the ripple of half-hidden flame that crowned Milly's head. Once Veltman, intruding on their talk, had glared blackly and, withdrawing, had waited for the girl in the hallway outside from whence, as she left, Hal could hear the foreman's deep voice in anger and her clear replies tauntingly stimulating his chagrin.

Having neglected the Willards for several days, Hal received a telephone message, about a month after Esmé Elliot's departure, asking him to stop in. He found Mrs. Willard waiting him in the conservatory. His old friend looked up as he entered, with a smile which did not hide the trouble in her eyes.

"Aren't you a lily-of-the-field!" admired the visitor, contemplating her green and white costume.

"It's the Vanes' dance. Not going?"

"Not asked. Besides, I'm a workingman these days."

"So one might infer from your neglect of your friends. Hal, I've had a letter from Esmé Elliot."

"Any message?" he asked lightly, but with startled blood.

There was no answering lightness in her tones. "Yes. One I hate to give. Hal, she's engaged herself to Will Douglas. It must have been by letter, for she wasn't engaged when she left. 'Tell Hal Surtaine' she says in her letter to me."

"Thank you, Lady Jinny," said Hal.

The diminutive lady looked at him and then looked away, and suddenly a righteous flush rose on her cheeks.

"I'm fond of Esmé," she declared. "One can't help but be. She compels it. But where men are concerned she seems to have no sense of her power to hurt. I could kill her for making me her messenger. Hal, boy," she rose, slipping an arm through his caressingly, "I do hope you're not badly hurt."

"I'll get over it, Lady Jinny. There's the job, you know."

He started for the office. Then, abruptly, as he went, "the job" seemed purposeless. Unrealized, hope had still persisted in his heart-the hope that, by some possible turn of circumstance, the shattered ideal of Esmé Elliot would be revivified. The blighting of his love for her had been no more bitter, perhaps less so, than the realization which she had compelled in him of her lightness and unworthiness. Still, he had wanted her, longed for her, hoped for her. Now that hope was gone. There seemed nothing left to work for, no adequate good beyond the striving. He looked with dulled vision out upon blank days. With a sudden weakening of fiber he turned into a hotel and telephoned McGuire Ellis that he wouldn't be at the office that evening. To the other's anxious query was he ill, he replied that he was tired out and was going home to bed.

Meantime, far across the map at a famous Florida hostelry, the Great American Pumess, in the first flush and pride of her engagement which all commentators agree upon as characteristic of maidenhood's vital resolution, lay curled up in a little fluffy coil of misery and tears, repeating between sobs, "I hate him! I hate him!" Meaning her fiancé, Mr. William Douglas, with whom her mind and emotions should properly have been concerned? Not so, perspicacious reader. Meaning Mr. Harrington Surtaine.

Upon his small portion of the map, that gentleman wooed sleep in vain for hours. Presently he arose from his tossed bed, dressed quietly, slipped out of the big door and walked with long, swinging steps down to the "Clarion" Building. There it stood, a plexus of energies, in the midst of darkness and sleep. Eye-like, its windows peered vigilantly out into the city. A door opened to emit a voice that bawled across the way some profane demand for haste in the delivery of "that grub"; and through the shaft of light Hal could see brisk figures moving, and hear the roar and thrill of the press sealing its irrevocable message.

Again he felt, with a pride so profound that its roots struck down into the depths of humility, his own responsibility to all that straining life and energy and endeavor. He, the small atom, alone in the night, was the "Clarion." Those men, the fighting fellowship of the office, were rushing and toiling and coordinating their powers to carry out some ideal still dimly inchoate in his brain. What mattered his little pangs? There was a man's test to meet, and the man within him stretched spiritual muscles for the trial.

"If I could only be sure what's right," he said within himself, voicing the doubt of every high-minded adventurer upon unbeaten paths. Sharply, and, as it seemed to him, incongruously, he wondered that he had never learned to pray; not knowing that, in the unfinished phrase he had uttered true prayer. A chill breeze swept down upon him. Looking up into the jeweled heavens he recalled from the far distance of memory, the prayer of a great and simple soul,-

"Make thou my spirit pure and clear

As are the frosty skies."

Hal set out for home, ready now for a few hours' sleep. At a blind corner he all but collided with a man and a woman, walking at high speed. The woman half turned, flinging him a quick and silvery "Good-evening." It was Milly Neal. The man with her was Max Veltman.

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