It seemed necessary that Mr. Sloan should call at the Lance home that evening. Whatever Miss Angelina might think of him, it was his duty to take counsel with her for the welfare of Willie.
He began with the least important of the grave matters upon his mind.
“Do you suppose your protege could write some essays like the one we printed?”
“Why, Mr. Sloan?”
If Miss Angelina had responded, “Why, you hyena?” she would not have cut him more deeply than with her simple, “Why, Mr. Sloan?”
“A newspaper syndicate,” he explained, “has offered D.K.T. a fortune for a series of them.”
“Poor Willie!” she sighed. “He flunked his English exam, to-day. I’m afraid I shall have him another year.”
“He is a lucky boy,” said Sloan.
“Do you think so?”
Clearly her meaning was, “Do you think he is lucky when a powerful newspaper goes out of its way to crush him?”
“There is no use approaching him with a literary contract?”
“Not with the baseball season just opening. His team beat the Watersides yesterday, sixteen nothing. He has more important business on hand than writing for newspapers.”
Since Sloan wrote for a newspaper, this was rather a dig. Nevertheless, he persevered.
“A. Lincoln Wilbram is on his trail. Do you know that Willie libelled Mrs. Wilbram?”
“Oh! Sam. Surely I know about the libel. But is—is Mr. Wilbram really——Has he discovered?”
“He came to the office to-day. We gave him no information; but he has other sources. He is bound to identify his enemy before he quits.”
“I didn’t know about the so-called slander at first,” said she, “when I—when you——”
“When I promised to change Willie’s name?”
“I found out when I went to them, on the night it came out in the paper. They were woefully frightened. They are frightened still. Mr. Downey has worked for Mr. Wilbram since he was a boy. They think of Mr. Wilbram almost as a god. It’s—it’s a tragedy, Sam, to them.”
“Would it do any good to warn them?”
“They need no warning,” said Miss Angelina. “Don’t add to their terrors.”
“I am more sorry than I can say. May I hope to be forgiven some day?”
“There’s nothing to forgive, Sam. It was an accident. But don’t you see what a dangerous weapon a newspaper is?’
“Worse than a car or a gun,” he agreed.
As he strolled homeward along a stately avenue, wondering what he could do to avert the retribution that moved toward the Downeys, and finding that his assistant city-editor’s resourcefulness availed him naught, he heard the scamper of feet behind him and whirled about with cane upraised in time to bring a snarling chow dog to a stand.
“Beat it, you brute!” he growled.
“Yeowp!” responded the chow dog, and leaped in air.
“Don’t be alarmed,” spoke a voice out of the gloom of the nearest lawn. “When he sees a man with a stick, he wants to play.”