Worthington’s Old Home Week is a gay, gaudy, and profitable institution. During the six days of its course the city habitually maintains the atmosphere of a three-ringed circus, the bustle of a county fair, and the business ethics of the Bowery. Allured by widespread advertising and encouraged by special rates on the railroads, the countryside for a radius of one hundred miles pours its inhabitants into the local metropolis, their pockets filled with greased dollars. Upon them Worthington lavishes its left-over and shelf-cluttering merchandise, at fifty per cent more than its value, amidst general rejoicings. As Festus Willard once put it, “There is a sound of revelry by night and larceny by day.” But then Mr. Willard, being a manufacturer and not a retailer, lacks the subtler sympathy which makes lovely the spirit of Old Home hospitality.
This year the celebration was to outdo itself. Because of the centennial feature, no less a person than the President of the United States, who had spent a year of his boyhood at a local school, was pledged to attend. In itself this meant a record crowd. Crops had been good locally and the toil-worn agriculturist had surplus money wherewith to purchase phonographs, gold teeth, crayon enlargements of self and family, home instruction outfits for hand-painting sofa cushions, and similar prime necessities of farm life. To transform his static savings into dynamic assets for itself was Worthington’s basic purpose in holding its gala week. And now this beneficent plan was threatened by one individual, and he young, inexperienced, and a new Worthingtonian, Mr. Harrington Surtaine. This unforeseen cloud upon the horizon of peace, prosperity, and happiness rose into the ken of Dr. Surtaine the day after the appearance of the sewing-girl editorial.
Dr. Surtaine hadn’t liked that editorial. With his customary air of long-suffering good nature he had told Hal so over his home-made apple pie and rich milk, at the cheap and clean little luncheon place which he patronized. Hal had no defense or excuse to offer. Indeed, his reference to the topic was of the most casual order and was immediately followed by this disconcerting question:
“What about the Rookeries epidemic, Dad?”
“Epidemic? There’s no epidemic, Boyee.”
“Well, there’s something. People are dying down there faster than they ought to. It’s spread beyond the Rookeries now.”
This was no news to the big doctor. But it was news to him that Hal knew it.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“I’ve been down there and ran right upon it.”
The father’s affection and alarm outleapt his caution at this. “You better keep away from there, Boyee,” he warned anxiously.
“If there’s no epidemic, why should I keep away?”
“There’s always a lot of infection down in those tenements,” said Dr. Surtaine lamely.