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   Chapter 28 WHOSE BREAD I EAT

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 10486

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Having yielded, Hal proposed to take profit by his surrender. With a cynicism born of his bitter disappointment and self-contempt, he took a certain savage and painful satisfaction in stating the new policy editorially.

"As the 'Clarion' is going to be a journalistic prostitute," said he to his father, across the luncheon table, where they were consulting on details of the new policy, "I'm going to go after the business on that basis."

Dr. Surtaine was pained. Every effort of his own convenient logic he put forth to prove that, in this instance, the path of duty and of glory (financial) was one and the same. Hal refused the proffered gloss. "At least you and I can call things by their right names now," said he.

But however Hal might talk, what he wrote met his elder's unqualified approval, as it appeared in the proof sent him by his son. It was a cunningly worded leading editorial, headed "Standards," and it dealt appreciatively, not to say reverently, with the commercial greatness of Worthington. Business, the editor stated, might have to adjust itself to new conditions and opinions in Worthington as elsewhere, but nobody who understood the character of the city's leading men could doubt their good purpose or ability to effect the change with the least damage to material prosperity. Meantime the fitting attitude for the public was one not of criticism but of forbearance and assistance. This was equally true of journalism. The "Clarion" admitted seeing a new light. Constructive rather than destructive effort was called for. And so forth, and so on. No intelligent reader could have failed, reading it, to understand that the "Clarion" had hauled down its flag.

Yet the capitulation must not, for business reasons, be too obvious. Hal spent some toilful hours over the proof, inserting plausible phrases, covering his tracks with qualifying clauses, putting the best front on the shameful matter, with a sick but determined heart, and was about to send it up with the final "O.K." when he came out of his absorption to realize that some one was standing waiting, had been standing waiting, for some minutes at his elbow. He looked around and met the intent gaze of the foreman of the composing-room.

"What is it, Veltman?" he asked sharply.

"That epidemic story."

"Well? What about it?"

"Did you order it killed?"

"Certainly. Haven't you thrown it down?"

"No. It's still in type."

"Throw it down at once."

"Mr. Surtaine, have you thought what you are doing?"

"It is no part of your job to catechize me, Veltman."

"Between man and man." He stepped close to Hal, his face blazing with exaltation. "I must speak now or forever hold my peace."

"Speak fast, then."

"It's your last chance, this epidemic spread. Your last chance to save the 'Clarion' and yourself."

"That will do, Velt-"

"No, no! Listen to me. I didn't say a word when you kept Milly's suicide out of print."

"I should think not, indeed!" retorted Hal angrily.

"That's my shame. I ought to have seen that published if I had to set it up myself."

"Perhaps you're not aware, Veltman, that I know your part in the Neal affair."

"I'd have confessed to you, if you hadn't. But do you know your own? Yours and your father's?"

"Keep my father out of this!"

"Your own, then. Do you know that the money that bought this paper for you was coined out of the blood of deceived girls? Do you know that you and I are paid with the proceeds of the ad. that led Milly Neal to her death? Do you know that?"

"And if I do, what then?" asked Hal, overborne by the man's conviction and vehemence.

"Tell it!" cried the other, beating his fist upon the desk until the blood oozed from the knuckles. "Tell it in print. Confess, man, and warn others!"

"Veltman, suppose we were to print that whole wretched story to-morrow, including the truth about your relations with her."

"Do it! Do it!" cried the other, choked with eagerness. "I'd thank you on my knees. Penance! Give me my chance to do penance! I'll make my own confession in writing. I'll write it in my own blood if need be."

"Steady, Veltman. Keep cool."

"You think I'm crazy? Perhaps I am. There's a fire at my brain since she died. I loved her, Mr. Surtaine."

"But you sacrificed her, Veltman," returned Hal in a gentler tone, for the man's face was livid with agony.

"Don't I know it! My God, don't I know it! But you can't escape the responsibility because of my sin. It was your paper that helped fool her. She believed in the paper, and in your father."

"The Relief Pills advertising is out. That much I'll tell you."

"Now that it's done its work. Not enough! You and I can't bring Milly back to life, Mr. Surtaine, but we can save other lives in peril. God has given you your chance, in this epidemic."

"How do you know about the epidemic?"

"Hasn't it taken Mr. Hale, the only friend I've got in the world? And won't it take its hundreds of other lives unless warning is given? Why doesn't the 'Clarion' speak out, Mr. Surtaine? Why is that story ordered killed?"

"Consideration of policy which-"

"Policy! Oh, my God! And the people dying! Harrington Surtaine,"-his eyes blazed into the other's with t

he flame of fanaticism,-"I tell you, if you don't accept this opportunity that the Lord gives you, you and your paper are damned. Do you know what it means to damn the soul of a paper? Why, man, there are people who believe in the 'Clarion' like gospel."

Hal got to his feet. "Veltman, I dare say you mean well. But you don't understand this."

"Don't I!" The face took on a sudden appalling savagery. "Don't I know you're bought and paid for! Sold out! That's what you've done. A bargain! A bargain! Pay my little price and I'll do your meanest bidding. I'd rather have hell burning at my heart as it burns now than what you've got rotting at yours, young Surtaine."

The tensity of Hal's restraint broke. With one powerful effort he sent the foreman whirling through the open door into the hall, slammed the door after him, and stood shaking. He heard and felt the jar of Veltman's body as it struck the wall, and slumped to the floor; then the slow limp of his retreating footsteps. With a seething brain he returned to his proof-and shuddered away from it. There was blood spattered over the print. Hurriedly he thrust it aside and rang for a fresh galley. But the red spots rose between his eyes and the work, like an accusation, like a prophecy. Of a sudden he beheld this great engine of print which had been, first, the caprice of his last flicker of irresponsible and headlong youth, then the very mould in which his eager and ambitious manhood was to form and fulfill itself-he beheld this vast mechanism blazingly illumined as with some inner fire, and now become a terrific genius, potent beyond the powers of humanity, working out the dire complications of men, and the tragic destruction of women. And he beheld himself, fast in its grip.

He thrust the proof into the tube, scrawled the "O.K." order on it for the morrow, and hurried away from the office as from a place accursed.

That night conscience struck at him once more, making a weapon of words from the book of a dead master. He had been reading "Beauchamp's Career"; and, seeking refuge from the torture of thought in its magic, he came upon the novelist-philosopher's damning indictment of modern journalism:

"And this Press, declaring itself independent, can hardly walk for fear of treading on an interest here, an interest there. It cannot have a conscience. It is a bad guide, a false guardian; its abject claim to be our national and popular interpreter-even that is hollow and a mockery. It is powerful only when subservient. An engine of money, appealing to the sensitiveness of money, it has no connection with the mind of the nation. And that it is not of, but apart from the people, may be seen when great crises come-in strong gales the power of the Press collapses; it wheezes like a pricked pigskin of a piper."

Hal flung the book from him. But its accusations pursued him through the gates of sleep, and poisoned his rest.

In the morning he had recovered his balance, and with it his dogged determination to see the matter through. He forced himself to read the leading editorial, finding spirit even to admire the dexterity with which he had held out the promise of good behavior to the business interests, whilst pretending to a sturdy independence. Shearson met him at the entrance to the building, beaming.

"That'll bring business," said the advertising manager. "I've had half a dozen telephones already about it."

"That's good," replied Hal half-heartedly.

"Yes, sir," pursued the advertising manager: "I can smell money in the air to-day. And, by the way, I've got a tip that, for a little mild apology, E.M. Pierce will withdraw both his suits."

"I'll think about it," promised Hal. He was rather surprised at the intensity of his own relief from the prospect of the court ordeal. At least, he was getting his price.

McGuire Ellis was, for once, not asleep, though there was no work on his desk when Hal entered the sanctum.

"Veltman's quit," was his greeting.

"I'm not surprised," said Hal.

"Then you've seen the editorial page this morning?"

"Yes. But what has that to do with Veltman's resignation?"

"Everything, I should think. Notice anything queer about the page?"

"No."

"Look it over again."

Hal took up the paper and scrutinized the sheet. "I don't see a thing wrong," he said.

"That lets me out," said Ellis grimly. "If you can't see it when you're told it's there, I guess I can't be blamed for not catching it in proof. Of course the last thing one notices is a stock line that's always been there unchanged. Look at the motto of the paper. Veltman must have chiseled out the old one, and set this in, himself, the last thing before we went to press. How do you like it? Looks to me to go pretty well with our leading editorial this morning."

There between the triumphal cocks, where formerly had flaunted the braggart boast of the old "Clarion," and more latterly had appeared the gentle legend of the martyred President, was spread in letters of shame to the eyes of the "Clarion's" owner, the cynic profession of the led captain, of the prostituted pen, of all those who have or shall sell mind and soul and honor for hire;-

"Whose Bread I Eat, his Song I Sing."

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