“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.
“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?”
“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.
THE GOOD FIGHT
Earthquake or armed invasion could scarce have shocked staid Worthington more profoundly than did the “Clarion’s” exposure. Of the facts there could be no reasonable doubt. The newspaper’s figures were specific, and its map of infection showed no locality exempt. The city had wakened from an untroubled sleep to find itself poisoned.