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   Chapter 21 THE POWER OF PRINT

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 18645

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Hal paid thirty-two thousand dollars for the new press. It was a delicate giant of mechanism, able not only to act, but also to think with stupendous accuracy and swiftness; lacking only articulate speech to be wholly superhuman. But in signing the check for it, Hal, for the first time in his luxurious life experienced a financial qualm. Always before there had been an inexhaustible source wherefrom to draw. Now that he had issued his declaration of pecuniary independence, he began to appreciate the perishable nature of money. He came back from his week's journey to New York feeling distinctly poorer.

Moreover there was an uncomfortable paradox connected with his purchase. That he should be put to so severe an expenditure merely for the purpose of incurring an increased current expense, struck him as a rather sardonic joke. Yet so it was. Circulation does not mean direct profit to a newspaper. On the contrary, it implies loss in many cases. For some weeks it had been costing the "Clarion," to print the extra papers necessitated by the increased demand, more than the money received from their sale. Until the status of the journal should justify a higher advertising charge, every added paper sold would involve a loss. True, an augmented circulation logically commands a higher advertising rate; it is thus that a newspaper reaps its harvest; and soon Hal hoped to be able to raise his advertising rate from fifteen to twenty-five cents a line. At that return his books would show a profit on a normal volume of advertising. Meantime he performed an act of involuntary philanthropy with every increase of issue, Nevertheless, Hal felt for his mechanical giant something of the new-toy thrill. To him it was a symbol of productive power. It made appeal to his imagination, typifying the reborn "Clarion." He saw it as a master-loom weaving fresh patterns, day by day, into the fabric of the city's life and thought. That all might view the process, he had it mounted high from the basement, behind a broad plate-glass show window set in the front wall, a highly unstrategic position, as McGuire Ellis pointed out.

"Suppose," said he, "a horse runs wild and makes a dive through that window? Or a couple of bums get shooting at each other, and a stray bullet comes whiffling through the glass and catches young Mr. Press in his delikit insides. We're out of business for a week, maybe, mending him up."

Shearson, however, was in favor of it. It suggested prosperity and aroused public interest. On Hal's return from New York, the fat and melancholious advertising manager had exhibited a somewhat mollified pessimism.

"The Boston Store is coming back," he visited Hal's sanctum to announce.

"Why, that's John M. Gibbs's store, isn't it?"

"Sure."

"And he's E.M. Pierce's brother-in-law. I thought he'd stick by his family in fighting the 'Clarion.'"

"Family is all right, but Grinder Gibbs is for business first and everything else afterwards. Our rates look good to him, with the circulation we're showing. And he knows we bring results. He's been using us on the quiet for a little side issue of his own."

"What's that?"

"Some sewing-girls' employment thing. It's in the 'Classified' department. Don't amount to much; but it's proved to him that the 'Clarion' ad does the business. I've been on his trail for two weeks. So the store starts in Sunday with half-pages. They say Pierce is crazy mad."

"No wonder."

"The best of it is that now the Retail Union won't fight us, as a body, for taking up the Consumers' League fight. They can't very well, with their second biggest store using the 'Clarion's' columns."

McGuire Ellis, too, was feeling quite cheerful over the matter.

"It shows that you can be independent and get away with it," he declared, "if you get out an interesting enough paper. By the way, that's a hot little story 'Kitty the Cutie' turned in on the Breen girl's suicide."

"It was only attempted suicide, wasn't it?"

"The first time. She had a second trial at it day before yesterday and turned the trick. You'll find Neal's copy on your desk. I held it for you."

From out of a waiting heap of mail, proof, and manuscript, Hal selected the sheets covered with Milly Neal's neat business chirography. She had written her account briefly and with restraint, building her "story" around the girl's letter. It set forth the tragedy of a petty swindle.

The scheme was as simple as it was cruel. A concern calling itself "The Sewing Aid Association" advertised for sewing-women, offering from ten to fifteen dollars a week to workers; experience not necessary. Maggie Breen answered the advertisement. The manager explained to her that the job was making children's underclothing from pattern. She would be required to come daily to the factory and sew on a machine which she would purchase from the company, the price, thirty dollars, being reckoned as her first three weeks' wages. To all this, duly set forth in a specious contract, the girl affixed her signature.

She was set to work at once. The labor was hard, the forewoman a driver, but ten dollars a week is good pay. Hoping for a possible raise Maggie turned out more garments than any of her fellow workers. For two weeks and a half all went well. In another few days the machine would be paid for, the money would begin to come in, and Maggie would get a really square meal, which she had come to long for with a persistent and severe hankering. Then the trap was sprung. Maggie's work was found "unsatisfactory." She was summarily discharged. In vain did she protest. She would try again; she would do better. No use; "the house" found her garments unmarketable. Sorrowfully she asked for her money. No money was due her. Again she protested. The manager thrust a copy of her contract under her nose and turned her into the street. Thus the "Sewing Aid Association" had realized upon fifteen days' labor for which they had not paid one cent, and the "installment" sewing-machine was ready for its next victim. This is a very pleasant and profitable policy and is in use, in one form or another, in nearly every American city. Proof of which the sufficiently discerning eye may find in the advertising columns of many of our leading newspapers and magazines.

To Maggie Breen it was small consolation that she was but one of many. Even her simple mind grasped the "joker" in the contract. She tore up that precious document, went home, reflected that she was rather hungry and likely to be hungrier, quite wretched and likely to be wretcheder; and so made a decoction of sulphur matches and drank it. An ambulance surgeon disobligingly arrived in time to save her life for once; but the second time she borrowed some carbolic acid, which is more expeditious than any ambulance surgeon.

This was the story which "Kitty the Cutie," while sticking close to the facts, had contrived to inform with a woman's wrath and a woman's pity. Reading it, Hal took fire. He determined to back it up with an editorial. But first he would look into the matter for himself. With this end in view he set out for Number 65 Sperry Street, where Maggie Breen's younger sister and bedridden mother lived. It was his maiden essay at reporting.

Sperry Street shocked Hal. He could not have conceived that a carefully regulated and well-kept city such as Worthington (he knew it, be it remembered, chiefly from above the wheels of an automobile) would permit such a slum to exist. On either side of the street, gaunt wooden barracks, fire-traps at a glance, reared themselves five rackety stories upward, for the length of a block. Across intersecting Grant Street the sky-line dropped a few yards, showing ragged through the metal cornice and sickly brick chimneys of a tenement row only a degree less forbidding than the first. The street itself was a mere refuse patch smeared out over bumpy cobbles. The visitor entered the tenement at 65, between reeking barrels which had waited overlong for the garbage cart.

He was received without question, as a reporter for the "Clarion." At first Sadie Breen, an?mic, hopeless-eyed, timorous, was reluctant to speak. But the mother proved Hal's ally.

"Let 'im put it in the paper," she exhorted. "Maybe it'll keep some other girl away from them sharks."

"Why didn't your sister sue the company?" asked Hal.

"Where'd we get the money for a lawyer?" whined Sadie.

"It's no use, anyway," said Mrs. Breen. "They've tried it in Municipal Court. The sharks always wins. Somebody ought to shoot that manager," she added fiercely.

"Yes; that's great to say," jeered Sadie, in a whine. "But look what happened to that Mason girl from Hoppers Hollow. She hit at him with a pair of scissors, an' they sent her up for a year."

"Better that than Cissy Green's way. You know what become of her. Went on the street," explained Mrs. Breen to Hal.

They poured out story after story of poor women entrapped by one or another of those lures which wring the final drop of blood from the bleakest poverty. In the midst of the recital there was a knock at the door, and a tall young man in black entered. He at once introduced himself to Hal as the Reverend Norman Hale, and went into conference with the two women about a place for Sadie. This

being settled, Hal's mission was explained to him.

"A reporter?" said the Reverend Norman. "I wish the papers would take this thing up. A little publicity would kill it off, I believe."

"Won't the courts do anything?"

"They can't. I've talked to the judge. The concern's contract is water-tight."

The two young men went down together through the black hallways, and stood talking at the outer door.

"How do people live in places like this?" exclaimed Hal.

"Not very successfully. The death-rate is pretty high. Particularly of late. There's what a friend of mine around the corner-he happens to be a barkeeper, by the way-calls a lively trade in funerals around here."

"Is your church in this district?"

"My club is. People call it a mission, but I don't like the word. It's got too much the flavor of reaching down from above to dispense condescending charity."

"Charity certainly seems to be needed here."

"Help and decent fairness are needed; not charity. What's your paper, by the way?"

"The 'Clarion.'"

"Oh!" said the other, in an altered tone. "I shouldn't suppose that the 'Clarion' would go in much for any kind of reform."

"Do you read it?"

"No. But I know Dr. Surtaine."

"Dr. Surtaine doesn't own the 'Clarion.' I do."

"You're Harrington Surtaine? I thought I had seen you somewhere before. But you said you were a reporter."

"Pardon me, I didn't. Mrs. Breen said that. However, it's true; I'm doing a bit of reporting on this case. And I'm going to do some writing on it before I'm through."

"As for Dr. Surtaine-" began the young clergyman, then checked himself, pondering.

What further he might have had to say was cut off by a startling occurrence. A door on the floor above opened; there was a swift patter of feet, and then from overhead, a long-drawn, terrible cry. Immediately a young girl, her shawl drawn about her face, ran from the darkness into the half-light of the lower hall and would have passed between them but that Norman Hale caught her by the arm.

"Lemme go! Lemme go!" she shrieked, pawing at him.

"Quiet," he bade her. "What is it, Emily?"

"Oh, Mr. Hale!" she cried, recognizing him and clutching at his shoulder. "Don't let it get me!"

"Nothing's going to hurt you. Tell me about it."

"It's the Death," she shuddered.

The man's face changed. "Here?" he said. "In this block?"

"Don't you go," she besought. "Don't you go, Mr. Hale. You'll get it."

"Where is it? Answer me at once."

"First-floor front," sobbed the girl. "Mrs. Schwarz."

"Don't wait for me," said the minister to Hal. "In fact you'd better leave the place. Good-day."

Thus abruptly discarded from consideration, Hal turned to the fugitive.

"Is some one dead?"

"Not yet."

"Dying, then?"

"As good as. It's the Death," said the girl with a strong shudder.

"You said that before. What do you mean by the Death?"

"Don't keep me here talkin'," she shivered. "I wanta go home."

Hal walked along with her, wondering. "I wish you would tell me," he said gently.

"All I know is, they never get well."

"What sort of sickness is it?"

"Search me." The petty slang made a grim medium for the uncertainty of terror which it sought to express. "They've had it over in the Rookeries since winter. There ain't no name for it. They just call it the Death."

"The Rookeries?" said Hal, caught by the word. "Where are they?"

"Don't you know the Rookeries?" The girl pointed to the long double row of grisly wooden edifices down the street. "Them's Sadler's Shacks on this side, and Tammany Barracks on the other. They go all the way around the block."

"You say the sickness has been in there?"

"Yes. Now it's broken out an' we'll all get it an' die," she wailed.

A little, squat, dark man hurried past them. He nodded, but did not pause.

"I know him," said Hal. "Who is he?"

"Doc De Vito. He tends to all the cases. But it's no good. They all die."

"You keep your head," advised Hal. "Don't be scared. And wash your hands and face thoroughly as soon as you get home."

"A lot o' good that'll do against the Death," she said scornfully, and left him.

Back at the office, Hal, settling down to write his editorial, put the matter of the Rookeries temporarily out of mind, but made a note to question his father about it.

Milly Neal's article, touched up and amplified by Hal's pen, appeared the following morning. The editorial was to be a follow-up in the next day's paper. Coming down early to put the finishing touches to this, Hal found the article torn out and pasted on a sheet of paper. Across the top of the paper was written in pencil:

"Clipped from the Clarion; a Deadly Parallel."

The penciled legend ran across the sheet to include, under its caption a second excerpt, also in "Clarion" print, but of the advertisement style:

WANTED-Sewing-girls for simple machine work. Experience not necessary.

$10 to $15 a week guaranteed. Apply in person at 14 Manning Street.

THE SEWING AID ASSOCIATION.

Below, in the same hand writing was the query:

"What's your percentage of the blood-money, Mr. Harrington Surtaine?"

Hal threw it over to Ellis. "Whose writing is that?" he asked. "It looks familiar to me."

"Max Veltman's," said Ellis. He took in the meaning of it. "The insolent whelp!" he said.

"Insolent? Yes; he's that. But the worst of it is, I'm afraid he's right." And he telephoned for Shearson.

The advertising manager came up, puffing.

Hal held out the clipping to him.

"How long has that been running?"

"On and off for six months."

"Throw it out."

"Throw it out!" repeated the other bitterly. "That's easy enough said."

"And easily enough done."

"It's out already. Taken out by early notice this morning."

"That's all right, then."

"Is it all right!" boomed Shearson. "Is it! You won't think so when you hear the rest of it."

"Try me."

"Do you know who the Sewing Aid Association is?"

"No."

"It's John M. Gibbs! That's who it is!"

"Yell louder, Shearson. It may save you from apoplexy," advised McGuire Ellis with tender solicitude.

"And we lose every line of the Boston Store advertising, that I worked so hard to get back."

"That'll hurt," allowed Ellis.

"Hurt! It draws blood, that does. That Sewing Aid Association is Gibbs's scheme to supply the children's department of his store. Why couldn't you find out who you were hitting, Mr. Surtaine?" demanded Shearson pathetically, "before you went and mucksed everything up this way? See what comes of all this reform guff."

"Are you sure that John M. Gibbs is back of that sewing-girl ad?"

"Sure? Didn't he call me up this morning and raise the devil?"

"Thank you, Mr. Shearson. That's all."

To his editorial galley-proof Hal added two lines.

"What's that, Mr. Surtaine?" asked the advertising manager curiously.

"That's outside of your department. But since you ask, I'll tell you. It's an editorial on the kind of swindle that causes tragedies like Maggie Breen's. And the sentence which I have just added, thanks to you, is this:

"'The proprietor of this scheme which drives penniless women to the street or to suicide is John M. Gibbs, principal owner of the Boston Store.'"

Words failed Shearson; also motive power, almost. For reckonable seconds he stood stricken. Then slowly he got under way and rolled through the door. Once, on the stairs, they heard from him a protracted rumbling groan. "Ruin," was the one distinguishable word.

It left an echo in Hal's brain, an echo which rang hollowly amongst misgivings.

"Is it ruin to try and run a newspaper without taking a percentage of that kind of profits, Mac?" he asked.

"Well, a newspaper can't be too squeamish about its ads." was the cautious answer.

"Do all newspapers carry that kind of stuff?"

"Not quite. Most of them, though. They need the money."

"What's the matter with business in this town? Everything seems to be rotten."

Ellis took refuge in a proverb. "Business is business," he stated succinctly.

"And it's as bad everywhere as here? This is all new to me, you know. I rather expected to find every concern as decently and humanly run as Certina."

One swift, suspicious glance Ellis cast upon his superior, but Hal's face was candor itself. "Well, no," he admitted. "Perhaps it isn't as bad in some cities. The trouble here is that all the papers are terrorized or bribed into silence. Until we began hitting out with our little shillalah, nobody had ever dared venture a peep of disapproval. So, business got to thinking it could do as it pleased. You can't really blame business much. Immunity from criticism isn't ever good for the well-known human race."

Hal took the matter of the "Sewing Aid" swindle home with him for consideration. Hitherto he had considered advertising only as it affected or influenced news. Now he began to see it in another light, as a factor in itself of immense moral moment and responsibility. It was dimly outlined to his conscience that, as a partner in the profit, he became also a partner in the enterprise. Thus he faced the question of the honesty or dishonesty of the advertising in his paper. And this is a question fraught with financial portent for the honorable journalist.

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