Both the name and the position of the editorial were immediately disappointing to her. It was not in the leading place, and its caption was simply “As to the Reformatory,” which seemed to her too colorless and weak. Subconsciously, she passed the same judgment upon the opening sentences of the text, which somehow failed to ring out that challenge to the obstructionists she had confidently expected. As she read further, her vague disappointment gave way to a sudden breathless incredulity; that to a heartsick rigidity of attention; and when she went back, and began to read the whole article over, slowly and carefully, from the beginning, her face was about the color of the pretty white collar she wore. For what she was looking on at was, so it seemed to her, not simply the killing of the chief ambition of her two years’ work, but the treacherous murder of it in the house of its friends.
As she reread “As to the Reformatory,” she became impressed by its audacious cleverness. It would have been impossible to manage a tremendous shift in position with more consummate dexterity. Indeed, she was almost ready to take the Post’s word for it that no shift at all had been made. From beginning to end the paper’s unshakable loyalty to the reformatory was everywhere insisted upon; that was the strong keynote; the ruinous qualifications were slipped in, as it were, reluctantly, hard-wrung concessions to indisputable and overwhelming evidence. But there they were, scarcely noticeable to the casual reader, perhaps, but to passionate partisans sticking up like palm-trees on a plain. In a backhanded, sinuous but unmistakable way, the Post was telling the legislature that it had better postpone the reformatory for another two years. It was difficult to say just what phrase or phrases finally pushed the odious idea out into the light; but Sharlee lingered longest on a passage which, after referring to the “list of inescapable expenditures published elsewhere,” said:
Immediacy, of course, was never the great question; but it was a question; and the Post has therefore watched with keen regret the rolling up of absolutely unavoidable expenses to the point where the spending of another dollar for any cause, however meritorious in itself, must be regarded as of dubious wisdom.
That sentence was enough. It would be as good as a volume to the powerful opposition in the House, hardly repressed heretofore by the Post’s thunders. The reformatory, which they had labored for so long, was dead.
The thought was bitter to the young assistant secretary. But from the first, her mind had jumped beyond it, to fasten on another and, to her, far worse one, a burning personal question by the side of which the loss of the reformatory seemed for the moment an unimportant detail.
Which of the two men had done it?