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   Chapter 32 THE WARNING

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 8432

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Tradition of the "Clarion" office embalms "the evening the typhus story broke" as a nightmare out of which was born history. Chronologically, according to the veracious records of Bim the Guardian of Portals, the tumult began at exactly 10.47, with the arrival of Mr. McGuire Ellis, traveling up the staircase five steps at a jump and calling in a strangled voice for Wayne. That usually controlled journalist rushed out of an inner room in alarm, demanding to know whether New York City had been whelmed with a tidal wave or the King of England murdered in his bed, and in an instant was struggling in the grasp of his fellow editor.

"What's left of the epidemic spread?" demanded the new arrival breathlessly.

"The killed story?"

"What's left of it?" clamored Ellis, dancing all over his colleague's feet. "Can you find the copy? Notes? Anything?"

"Proofs," said Wayne. "I saved a set."

Ellis sat down in a chair and regarded his underling with an expression of stupefied benevolence.

"Wayne," he said, "you're a genius. You're the fine flower and perfect blossom of American journalism. I love you, Wayne. With passionate fervor, I love you. Now, gitta move on!!!" His voice soared and exploded. "We're going to run it to-morrow!"

"To-morrow? How? It isn't up to date. Nobody's touched it since-"

"Bring it up to date! Fire every man in the office out on it. Tear the hide off the old paper and smear the story all over the front page. Haul in your eyes and start!"

The whirl of what ensued swamped even Bim's cynic and philosophic calm. Amidst a buzz of telephones and a mighty scurrying of messengers the staff of the "Clarion" was gathered into the fold, on a "drop-everything" emergency call, and instantly dispersed again to the hospitals, the homes of the health officials, the undertakers' establishments, the cemeteries, and all other possible sources of information. The composing-room seethed and clanged. Copy-readers yelled frantically through tubes, and received columns of proofs which, under the ruthless slaughter of their blue pencils, returned as "stickfuls," that room might be made for the great story. Cable news was slashed right and left. Telegraph "skeletons" waited in vain for their bones to be clothed with the flesh of print. The Home Advice Department sank with all on board, and the most popular sensational preacher in town, who had that evening made a stirring anti-suffrage speech full of the most unfailing jokes, fell out of the paper and broke his heart. The carnage in news was general and frightful. Two pages plus of a story that "breaks" after 10 P.M. calls for heroic measures.

At 10.53 Mr. Harrington Surtaine arrived, hardly less tempestuously than his predecessor. He did not even greet Bim as he passed through the gate, which was unusual; but went direct to Ellis.

"Can we do it, Mac?"

"The epidemic story? Yes. There was a proof saved."

"Good. Can you do the story of the meeting?"

Ellis hesitated. "All of it?"

"Every bit. Leave out nothing."

"Hadn't you better think it over?"

"I've thought."

"It'll hit the old-your father pretty hard."

"I can't help it."

A surge of human pity overswept Ellis's stimulated journalistic keenness. "You don't have to do this, Hal," he suggested. "No other paper-"

"I do have to do it," retorted the other. "And worse."

Ellis stared.

"I've got to print the story of Milly's death: the facts just as they happened. And I've got to write it myself."

The professional zest surged up again in McGuire Ellis. "My Lord!" he exclaimed. "What a paper to-morrow's 'Clarion' will be! But why? Why? Why the Neal story-now?"

"Because I can't print the epidemic spread unless I print the other. I've given my word. I told my father if ever I suppressed news for my own protection, I'd give up the fight and play the game like all the other papers. I've tried it. Mac, it isn't my game."

"No," replied his subordinate in a curious tone, "it isn't your game."

"You'll write the meeting?"

"Yes."

"Save out a column for my story."

Ellis returned to Wayne at the news desk. "Hell's broke loose at the Emergency Health meeting," he remarked, employing the conve

ntional phrasing of his craft.

And Wayne, in the same language, inquired:

"How much?"

"Two columns. And a column from the Boss on another story."

"Whew!" whistled Wayne. "We shall have some paper."

From midnight until 2.30 in the morning the reporters on the great story dribbled in. Each, as he arrived, said a brief word to Wayne, got a curt direction, slumped into his seat, and silently wrote. It was all very methodical and quiet and orderly. A really big news event always is after the first disturbance of adjustment. Newspaper offices work smoothest when the tension is highest.

At 12.03 A.M. Bim received two flurried Aldermen and the head of a city department. At 12.35 he held spirited debate with the Deputy Commissioner of Health. Just as the clock struck one, two advertising managers, arriving neck and neck, merged their appeals in an ineffectual attempt to obtain information from the youthful Cerberus, which he loftily declined to furnish, as to the whereabouts of anyone with power to ban or bind, on the "Clarion." At 1.30 the Guardian of the Gate had the honor and pleasure of meeting, for the first time, his Honor the Mayor of the City. Finally, at 1.59 he "took a chance," as he would have put it, and, misliking the autocratic deportment of a messenger from E.M. Pierce, told that emissary that he could tell Mr. Pierce exactly where to go to-and go there himself. All the while, unmoved amidst protestation, appeal, and threat, the steady news-machine went on grinding out unsuppressible history for itself and its city.

Sharp to the regular hour, the presses clanged, and the building thrilled through its every joint to the pulse of print. Hal Surtaine rose from his desk and walked to the window. McGuire Ellis also rose, walked over and stood near him.

"Three pretty big beats to-morrow," he said awkwardly, at length.

"The Milly Neal story won't be a beat," replied Hal.

"No? How's that?"

"I've sent our proofs to all the other papers."

"Well, I'm-What's the idea?

"We lied to them about the story in the first instance. They played fair, according to the rules, and took our lie. We can't beat 'em on our own story, now."

"Right you are. Bet none of 'em prints it, though." Wherein he was a true prophet.

There was a long, uneasy pause.

"Hal," said Ellis hesitantly.

"Well?"

"I'm a fool."

The white weariness of Hal's face lit up with a smile. "Why, Mac-" he began.

"A pin-head," persisted the other stubbornly. "A block of solid ivory from the collar up. I'm-I'm young in the head," he concluded, with supreme effort of self-condemnation.

"It's all right," said his chief, perfectly knowing what Ellis meant.

"Have I said enough?"

"Plenty."

"You didn't put Veltman in your story?"

"No. What was the good?"

"That's right, too."

"Good-night, Mac, I'm for the hotel."

"Good-night, Hal. See you in the morning."

"Yes. I'll be around early."

Ellis's eyes followed his chief out through the door. He returned to his desk and sat thinking. He saw, with pitiless clearness, the storm gathering over the "Clarion": the outburst of public hostility, the depletion of advertisers and subscribers, the official opposition closing avenues of information, the disastrous probabilities of the Pierce libel suits, now soon to be pushed; and his undaunted spirit of a crusader rose and lusted for the battle.

"They may lick us," he said to his paste-pot, the recipient of many a bitter confidence and thwarted hope in the past; "but we'll show 'em what a real newspaper is, for once. And"-his eyes sought the door through which Hal Surtaine had passed-"I've got this much out of it, anyway: I've helped a boy make himself a Man."

Ten thousand extra copies sped from the new and wonder-working press of the "Clarion" that night, to be absorbed, swallowed, engulfed by a mazed populace. In all the city there was perhaps not a man, woman, or child who, by the following evening, had not read or heard of the "Clarion's" exposure of the epidemic-except one. Max Veltman lay, senseless to all this, between stupor and a fevered delirium in which the spirit of Milly Neal called on him for delayed vengeance.

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