“Sounded straight. Pretty straight boy he looked like to me, anyway.”
“Pretty fresh kid, I think. And a good deal of a pin-head. Distributing agency for the old man’s money, I guess. He won’t get anywhere.”
“Well, I’m not so sure,” said Ellis contemplatively. “Of course he acts gosh-awful young. But did you notice him when he went?”
“He was smiling.”
“Always look out for a guy that smiles when he’s licked. He’s got a come-back to him.”
Eleven o’clock that night saw McGuire Ellis lift his head from the five-minute nap which he allowed himself on evenings of light pressure after the Washington copy was run off, and blink rapidly. At the same moment Mr. David Sterne gave utterance to an exclamation, partly of annoyance, partly of surprise. Mr. Harrington Surtaine, wearing an expression both businesslike and urbane stood in the doorway.
“Good-evening, gentlemen,” he remarked.
Mr. Sterne snorted. Mr. Ellis’s lips seemed about to form the reproachful monosyllable “young.” Without further greeting the visitor took off his hat and overcoat and hung them on a peg. “You make yourself at home,” growled Sterne.
“I do,” agreed Hal, and, discarding his coat, hung that on another peg. “I’ve got a right to.”
Tilting a slumber-burdened head, McGuire Ellis released his adjuration against youthfulness.
“What’s the answer?” demanded Sterne.
“I’ve just bought out the ‘Clarion,’” said Hal.
Some degree of triumph would perhaps have been excusable in the new owner. Most signally had he turned the tables on his enemies. Yet it was with no undue swagger that he seated himself upon a chair of problematical stability, and began to study the pages of the morning’s issue. Sterne regarded him dubiously.
“This isn’t a bluff, I suppose?” he asked.
“Ask your lawyers.”
“Mac, get Rockwell’s house on the ’phone, will you, and find out if we’ve been sold.”
Presently the drawl of Mr. Ellis was heard, pleading with a fair and anonymous Central, whom he addressed with that charming impersonality employed toward babies, pet dogs, and telephone girls, as “Tootsie,” to abjure juvenility, and give him 322 Vincent, in a hurry.
“You’ll excuse me, Mr. Surtaine,” said Sterne, in a new and ingratiating tone, for which Hal liked him none the better, “but verifying news has come to be an instinct with me.”
“It’s straight,” said Ellis, turning his heavy face to his principal, after a moment’s talk over the wire. “Bought and sold, lock, stock, and barrel.”
“Have you had any newspaper experience, Mr. Surtaine?” inquired Sterne.
“Not on the practical side.”
“As owner I suppose you’ll want to make changes.”