So Surface died, and was gathered to his fathers. The embargo of secrecy was lifted; and the very first step toward righting the ancient wrong was to let the full facts be known. Henry G. Surface, Jr., took this step, in person, by at once telephoning all that was salient to the Post. Brower Williams, the Post’s city editor, at the other end of the wire, called the name of his God in holy awe at the dimensions of the scoop thus dropped down upon him as from heaven; and implored the Doc, for old time’s sake, by all that he held most sacred and most dear, to say not a word till the evening papers were out, thus insuring the sensation for the Post.
Mr. Williams’s professional appraisement of the scoop proved not extravagant. The Post’s five columns next morning threw the city into something like an uproar. It is doubtful if you would not have to go back to the ’60’s to find a newspaper story which eclipsed this one in effect. For a generation, the biography of Henry G. Surface had had, in that city and State, a quality of undying interest, and the sudden denouement, more thrilling than any fiction, captured the imagination of the dullest. Nothing else was mentioned at any breakfast-table where a morning paper was taken that day; hardly anything for many breakfasts to follow. In homes containing boys who had actually studied Greek under the mysterious Professor Nicolovius at Mimer’s School, discussion grew almost hectic; while at Mrs. Paynter’s, where everybody was virtually a leading actor in the moving drama, the excitement closely approached delirium.
Henry G. Surface, Jr., was up betimes on the morning after his father’s death—in fact, as will appear, he had not found time to go to bed at all—and the sensational effects of the Post’s story were not lost upon him. As early as seven o’clock, a knot of people had gathered in front of the little house on Duke of Gloucester Street, staring curiously at the shut blinds, and telling each other, doubtless, how well they had known the dead man. When young Surface came out of the front door, an awed hush fell upon them; he was aware of their nudges, and their curious but oddly respectful stare. And this, at the very beginning, was typical of the whole day; wherever he went, he found himself an object of the frankest public curiosity. But all of this interest, he early discovered, was neither cool nor impersonal.
To begin with, there was the Post’s story itself. As he hurried through it very early in the morning, the young man was struck again and again with the delicacy of the phrasing. And gradually it came to him that the young men of the Post had made very special efforts to avoid hurting the feelings of their old associate and friend the Doc. This little discovery had touched him unbelievably. And it was only part with other kindness that came to him to soften that first long day of his acknowledged sonship. Probably the sympathy extended to him from various sources was not really so abundant, but to him, having looked for nothing, it was simply overwhelming. All day, it seemed to him, his door-bell and telephone rang, all day unexpected people of all sorts and conditions stopped him on the street—only to tell him, in many ways and sometimes without saying a word about it, that they were sorry.