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   Chapter 30 ILLUMINATION

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 19036

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Certina Charley, plus an indeterminate quantity of alcohol, had acted upon Hal's mind as a chemical precipitant. All the young man's hitherto suppressed or unacknowledged doubts of the Certina trade and its head were now violently crystallized. Hal hurried out of the hotel, the wrath in his heart for the deception so long wrought upon him chilled by a profounder feeling, a feeling of irreparable loss. He thought in that moment that his love for his father was dead. It was not. It was only his trust that was dying, and dying hard.

Since that day of his first visit to the Certina factory, Hal's standards had undergone an intrinsic but unconscious alteration. Brought up to the patent medicine trade, though at a distance, he thought of it, by habit, as on a par with other big businesses. One whose childhood is spent in a glue factory is not prone to be supersensitive to odors. So, to Harrington Surtaine, those ethical and moral difficulties which would have bulked huge to one of a different training, were merely inherent phases of a profitable business. Misgivings had indeed stirred, at first. For these he had chided himself, as for an over-polite revulsion from the necessary blatancy of a broadly advertised enterprise. More searching questions, as they arose within him, he had met with the counter-evidence of the internal humanism and fair-dealing of the Certina shop, and of the position of its beloved chief in the commercial world.

In the face of the Relief Pills exposure, Hal could no longer excuse his father on the ground that Dr. Surtaine honestly credited his medicines with impossible efficacies. Still, he had reasoned, the Doctor had been willing instantly to abandon this nostrum when the harm done by it was concretely brought home to him. Though this argument had fallen far short of reconciling Hal to the Surtaine standards, nevertheless it had served as a makeshift to justify in part his abandonment of the hard-won principles of the "Clarion," a surrender necessary for the saving of a loved and honored father in whose essential goodness he had still believed.

Now the edifice of his faith was in ruins. If Certina itself, if the tutelary genius of the House of Surtaine, were indeed but a monstrous quackery cynically accepted as such by those in the secret, what shred of defense remained to him who had so prospered by it? Through the wreckage of his pride, his loyalty, his affection, Hal saw, in place of the glowing and benign face of Dr. Surtaine, the simulacrum of Fraud, sleek and crafty, bloated fat with the blood of tragically hopeful dupes.

One great lesson of labor Hal had already learned, that work is an anodyne. From his interview with Certina Charley he made straight for the "Clarion" office. As he hurried up the stairs, the door of Shearson's room opened upon him, and there emerged therefrom a brick-red, agile man who greeted him with a hard cordiality.

"Your paper certainly turned the trick. I gotta hand it to you!"

"What trick?" asked Hal, not recognizing the stranger.

"Selling my stock. Streaky Mountain Copper Company. Don't you remember?"

Hal did remember now. It was L.P. McQuiggan.

"More of the same for me, if you please," continued the visitor. "I've just made the deal with Shearson. He's stuck me up on rates a little. That's all right, though. The 'Clarion' fetches the dough. I want to start the new campaign with an interview on our prospects. Is it O.K.?"

"Come up and see Mr. Ellis," said Hal.

Having led him to the editorial office, Hal sat down to work, but found no escape from his thoughts. There was but one thing to do: he must have it out at once with Dr. Surtaine. He telephoned the factory for an appointment. Sharp-eared McQuiggan caught the call.

"That my old pal, Andy?" said he. "Gimme a shot at him while you've got him on the wire, will you?"

Cheery, not to say chirpy, was the mining promoter's greeting projected into the transmitter which Hal turned over to him. Straightway, however, a change came o'er his blithe spirit.

"Something's biting the old geezer," he informed Hal and Ellis. "Seems to have a grouch. Says he's coming over, pronto-right quick."

Five minutes later, while Mr. McQuiggan was running over some proofs which he had brought with him, Dr. Surtaine walked into the office. There was about him a formidable smoothness, as of polished metal. He greeted his old friend with a nod and a cool "Back again, I see, Elpy."

"And doing business at the old stand," rejoined his friend. "Worthington's the place where the dollars grow, all right."

"Grow, and stay," said Dr. Surtaine.

"Meaning?" inquired McQuiggan solicitously.

"That you've over-medicated this field."

"Have I got any dollars away from you, Andy?"

"No. But you have from my people."

"Well, their money's as good to buy booze with as anybody else's, I reckon."

Dr. Surtaine had sat down, directly opposite the visitor, fronting him eye-to-eye. Nothing loath, McQuiggan accepted the challenge. His hard, brisk voice, with a sub-tone of the snarl, crossed the Doctor's strong, heavy utterance like a rapier engaging a battle-axe. Both assumed a suavity of manner felt to be just at the breaking point. The two spectators sat, surprised and expectant.

"I don't suppose," said Dr. Surtaine, after a pause, "there's any use trying to get you to refund."

"Still sticking out for the money-back-if-not-satisfied racket-in the other fellow's business, eh, Andy? Better practice it in your own."

"Hal,"-Dr. Surtaine turned to his son,-"has McQuiggan brought in a new batch of copy?"

"So I understand."

"The 'Clarion' mustn't run it."

"The hell it mustn't!" said McQuiggan.

"It's crooked," said the quack bluntly.

The promoter laughed. "A hot one, you are, to talk about crookedness."

"He's paying his advertising bills out of my people's pay envelopes!" accused Dr. Surtaine.

"How's that, Doc?" asked Ellis.

"Why, when he was here before, he spent some time around the Certina plant and got acquainted with the department managers and a lot of the others, and damn me!" cried Dr. Surtaine, grinning in spite of his wrath, "if he didn't sting 'em all for stock."

"How do you know they're stung?" inquired Ellis.

"From an expert on the ground. I got anxious when I found my own people were in it, and had a man go out there from Phoenix. He reports that the Streaky Mountain hasn't got a thing but expectations and hardly that."

"Well, you didn't say there was anything more, did you?" inquired the bland McQuiggan.

"I? I didn't say?"

"Yes, you. You got up the ads."

"Well-well-well, of all the nerve!" cried Dr. Surtaine, grievously appealing to the universe at large. "I got 'em up! You gave me the material, didn't you?"

"Sure, did I. Hot stuff it was, too."

"Hot bunk! And to flim-flam my own people with it, too!"

"Anybody that works in your joint ought to be wise to the bunk game," suggested McQuiggan.

"I'll tell you one thing: you don't run any more of it in this town."

"Maybe I don't and then again maybe I do. It won't be as good as your copy, p'r'aps. But it'll get some coin, I reckon. Take a look," he taunted, and tossed his proofs to the other.

The quack broke forth at the first glance. "Look here! You claim fifty thousand tons of copper in sight."

"So there is."

"With a telescope, I suppose."

"Well, telescope's sight, ain't it? You wouldn't try to hear through one, would you?"

"And $200,000.00 worth, ready for milling," continued the critic.

"Printer's error in the decimal point," returned the other, with airy impudence. "Move it two to the left. Keno! There you have it: $2000.00."

"Very ingenious, Mr. McQuiggan," said Hal. "But you're practically admitting that your ads. are faked."

"Admittin' nothin'! I offer you the ads. and I've got the ready stuff to pay for 'em."

"And you think that is all that's necessary?"

"Sure do I!"

"Mr. McQuiggan," remarked Ellis, "has probably been reading our able editorial on the reformed and chastened policy of the 'Clarion.'"

Hal turned an angry red. "That doesn't commit us to accepting swindles."

"Don't it?" queried McQuiggan. "Since when did you get so pick-an'-choosy?"

"Straight advertising," announced Dr. Surtaine, "has been the unvarying policy of this paper since my son took it over."

"Straight!" vociferated McQuiggan. "Straight? Ladies and gents: the well-known Surtaine Family will now put on their screamin' farce entitled 'Honesty is the Best Policy.'"

"When you're through playing the clown-" began Hal.

"Straight advertising," pursued the other. "Did I really hear them sweet words in Andy Certain's voice? No! Say, somebody ring an alarm-clock on me. I can't wake up."

"I think we've heard enough from you, McQuiggan," warned Hal.

"Do you!" The promoter sprang from his chair and all the latent venom of his temper fumed and stung in the words he poured out. "Well, take another think. I've got some things to tell you, young feller. Don't you come the high-and-holy on me. You and your smooth, big, phony stuffed-shirt of a father."

"Here, you!" shouted the leading citizen thus injuriously designated, but the other's voice slashed through his protest like a blade through pulp.

"Certina! Ho-oh! Warranted to cure consumption, warts, heart-disease, softening of the brain, and the bloody pip! And what is it? Morphine and booze."

"You're a liar," thundered the ou

traged proprietor: "Ten thousand dollars to any one who can show a grain of morphine in it."

"Changed the formula, have you? Pure Food Law scared you out of the dope, eh? Well, even at that it's the same old bunk. What about your testimonials? Fake 'em, and forge 'em, and bribe and blackmail for 'em and then stand up to me and pull the pious plate-pusher stuff about being straight. Oh, my Gawd! It'd make a straddle-bug spit at the sun, to hear you. Why, I'm no saint, but the medical line was too strong for my stomach. I got out of it."

"Yes, you did, you dirty little dollar-snatcher! You got put of it into jail for peddling raw gin-."

"Don't you go raking up old muck with me, you rotten big poisoner!" roared McQuiggan: "or you'll get the hot end of it. How about that girl that went batty after taking Cert-"

"Wait a moment! Father! Please!" Hal broke in, aghast at this display. "We're not discussing the medical business. We're talking advertising. McQuiggan, yours is refused. We don't run that class of matter in the 'Clarion.'"

"No? Since when? You'd better consult an oculist, young Surtaine."

"If ever this paper carried such a glaring fake as your Streaky Mountain-"

"Stop right there! Stop! look! and listen!" He caught up the day's issue from the floor and flaunted it, riddling the flimsy surface with the stiffened finger of indictment. "Look at it! Look at this ad.-and this-and this." The paper was rent with the vehemence of his indication. "Put my copy next to that, and it'd come to life and squirm to get away."

"Nothing there but what every paper takes," defended Ellis.

"Every paper'd be glad to take my stuff, too. Why, Streaky Mountain copy is the Holy Bible compared to what you've got here. Take a slant at this: 'Consumption Cured in Three Months.'-'Cancer Cured or your Money Back.'-Catarrh dopes, headache cures, germ-killers, baby-soothers, nerve-builders,-the whole stinkin' lot. Don't I know 'em! Either sugar pills that couldn't cure a belly-ache, or hell's-brew of morphine and booze. Certina ain't the worst of 'em, any more than it's the best. I may squeeze a few dollars out of easy boobs, but you, Andy Certain, you and your young whelp here, you're playin' the poor suckers for their lives. And then you're too lily-fingered to touch a mining proposition because there's a gamble in it!"

He crumpled the paper in his sinewy hands, hurled it to the floor, kicked it high over Dr. Surtaine's head, and stalking across to Hal's desk, slapped down his proofs on it with a violence that jarred the whole structure.

"You run that," he snarled, "or I'll hire the biggest hall in Worthington and tell the whole town what I've just been telling you."

His face, furrowed and threatening, was thrust down close to Hal's. Thus lowered, the eyes came level with a strip of print, pasted across the inner angle of the desk.

"'Whose Bread I Eat, his Song I Sing,'" he read. "What's that?"

"A motto," said McGuire Ellis. "The complete guide to correct journalistic conduct. Put there, lest we forget."

"H'm!" said McQuiggan, puzzled. "It's in the right place, all right, all right. Well, does my ad. go?"

"No," said Hal. "But I'm much obliged to you, McQuiggan."

"You go to hell. What're you obliged to me for?" said the visitor suspiciously.

"For the truth. I think you've told it to me. Anyway you've made me tell it to myself."

"I guess I ain't told you much you don't know about your snide business."

"You have, though. Go ahead and hire your hall. But-take a look at to-morrow's 'Clarion' before you make your speech. Now, good-day to you."

McQuiggan, wondering and a little subdued by a certain quiet resolution in Hal's speech, went, beckoning Ellis after him for explication. Hal turned to his father.

"I don't suppose," he began haltingly, "that you could have told me all this yourself."

"What?" asked Dr. Surtaine, consciously on the defensive.

"About the medical ads."

"McQuiggan's a sore-head"-began the Doctor.

"But you might have told me about Certina, as I've been living on Certina money."

"There's nothing to tell." All the self-assurance had gone out of the quack's voice.

"Father, does Certina cure Bright's disease?"

"Cure? Why, Boyee, what is a cure?"

"Does it cure it?" insisted Hal.

"Sit down and cool off. You've let that skunk, McQuiggan, get you all excited."

"This began before McQuiggan."

"Then you've been talking to some jealous doctor-crank."

"For God's sake, Father, answer my plain question."

"Why, there's no such thing as an actual cure for Bright's disease."

"Don't you say in the advertisements that Certina will cure it?"

"Oh, advertisements!" returned the quack with an uneasy smile. "Nobody takes an advertisement for gospel."

"I'm answered. Will it cure diabetes?"

"No medicine will. No doctor can. They're incurable diseases. Certina will do as much-"

"Is it true that alcohol simply hastens the course of the disease?"

"Authorities differ," said the quack warily. "But as the disease is incurable-"

"Then it's all lies! Lies and murder!"

"You're excited, Boy-ee," said the charlatan with haggard forbearance. "Let me explain for a moment."

"Isn't it pretty late for explanations between you and me?"

"This is the gist of the proprietary trade," said the Doctor, picking his words carefully. "Most diseases cure themselves. Medicine isn't much good. Doctors don't know a great deal. Now, if a patent medicine braces a patient up and gives him courage, it does all that can be done. Then, the advertising inspires confidence in the cure and that's half the battle. There's a lot in Christian Science, and a lot in common between Christian Science and the proprietary business. Both work on the mind and help it to cure the body. But the proprietary trade throws in a few drugs to brace up the system, allay symptoms, and push along the good work. There you have Certina."

Hal shook his head in dogged misery. "It can't cure. You admit it can't cure. And it may kill, in the very cases where it promises to cure. How could you take money made that way?"

A flash of cynicism hardened the handsome old face. "Somebody's going to make a living off the great American sucker. If it wasn't us, it'd be somebody else." He paused, sighed, and in a phrase summed up and crystallized the whole philosophy of the medical quack: "Life's a cut-throat game, anyway."

"And we're living on the blood," said Hal. "It's a good thing," he added slowly, "that I didn't know you as you are before Milly Neal's death."

"Why so?"

"Because," cried the son fiercely, "I'd have published the whole truth of how she died and why, in the 'Clarion.'"

"It isn't too late yet," retorted Dr. Surtaine with pained dignity, "if you wish to strike at the father who hasn't been such a bad father to you. But would you have told the truth of your part in it?"

"My part in it?" repeated Hal, in dull puzzlement. "You mean the ad?"

"You know well enough what I mean. Boy-ee, Boy-ee,"-there was an edge of genuine agony in the sonorous voice,-"we've drawn far apart, you and I. Is all the wrong on my side? Can you judge me so harshly, with your own conscience to answer?"

"What I've got on my conscience you've put there. You've made me turn back on every principle I have. I've dishonored myself and my office for you. You've cost me the respect of the men I work with, and the faith of the best friend I've got in the world."

"The best friend, Boy-ee?" questioned the Doctor gently.

"The best friend: McGuire Ellis."

Hal's gaze met his father's. And what he saw there all but unmanned him. From the liquid depths of the old quack's eyes, big and soft like an animal's, there welled two great tears, to trickle slowly down the set face.

Hal turned and stumbled from the office.

Hardly knowing whither he went, he turned in at the first open door, which chanced to be Shearson's. There he sat until his self-control returned. As the aftermath of his anger there remained with him a grim determination. It was implicit in his voice, as he addressed Shearson, who walked in upon him.

"Cut out every line of medical from the paper."

"When?" gasped Shearson.

"Now. For to-morrow's paper."

"But, Mr. Surtaine-"

"Every-damned-line. And if any of it ever gets back, the man responsible loses his job."

"Yes, sir," said the cowed and amazed Shearson.

Hal returned to his sanctum, to find Ellis in his own place and Dr. Surtaine gone.

"Ellis, you put that motto on my desk."

"Yes."

"What for?"

"Lest we forget," repeated Ellis.

"Not much danger of that," replied his employer bitterly. "Now, I want you to take it down."

"Is that an order?"

"Would you obey it if it were?"

"No."

"You'd resign first?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll take it down myself."

With his letter-opener he pried the offensive strip loose, tore it across thrice, and scattered the pieces on the floor.

"Mr. Ellis," said he formally, "hereafter no medical advertising will be accepted for or published in the 'Clarion.' The same rule applies to fraudulent advertising of any kind. I wish you and the other members of the staff to act as censors for the advertising."

"Yes, sir," said McGuire Ellis.

He turned back to his desk, and sprawled his elbows on it. His head lapsed lower and lower until it attained the familiar posture of rest. But McGuire Ellis was not sleeping. He was thinking.

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