PART III. FULFILLMENT
The House With Three Eyes sent forth into the darkness a triple glow of hospitality. Through the aloof Chelsea district street, beyond the westernmost L structure, came taxicabs, hansoms, private autos, to discharge at the central door men who were presently revealed, under the lucent globe above the lintel, to be for the most part silhouette studies in the black of festal tailoring and silk hat against the white of expansive shirt-front. Occasionally, though less often, one of the doors at either flank of the house, also overwatched by shining orbs, opened to discharge an early departure. A midnight wayfarer, pausing opposite to contemplate this inexplicable grandeur in a dingy neighborhood, sought enlightenment from the passing patrolman:
"Wot's doin'? Swell gamblin' joint? Huh?" As he spoke a huge, silent car crept swiftly to the entry, which opened to swallow up two bareheaded, luxuriously befurred women, with their escorts. The curious wayfarer promptly amended his query, though not for the better.
"Naw!" replied the policeman with scorn. "That's Mr. Banneker's house."
"Banneker? Who's Banneker?"
With augmented contempt the officer requested the latest quotations on clover seed. "He's the editor of The Patriot," he vouchsafed. "A millionaire, too, they say. And a good sport."
"Givin' a party, huh?"
"Every Saturday night," answered he of the uniform and night-stick, who, having participated below-stairs in the reflections of the entertainment, was condescending enough to be informative. "Say, the swellest folks in New York fall over themselves to get invited here."
"Why ain't he on Fi'th Avenyah, then?" demanded the other.
"He makes the Fi'th Avenyah bunch come to him," explained the policeman, with obvious pride. "Took a couple of these old houses on long lease, knocked out the walls, built 'em into one, on his own plan, and, say! It's a pallus! I been all through it."
A lithely powerful figure took the tall steps of the house three at a time, and turned, under the light, to toss away a cigar.
"Cheest!" exclaimed the wayfarer in tones of awe: "that's K.O. Doyle, the middleweight, ain't it?"
"Sure! That's nothin'. If you was to get inside there you'd bump into some of the biggest guys in town; a lot of high-ups from Wall Street, and maybe a couple of these professors from Columbyah College, and some swell actresses, and a bunch of high-brow writers and painters, and a dozen dames right off the head of the Four Hundred list. He takes 'em, all kinds, Mr. Banneker does, just so they're _somethin_'. He's a wonder."
The wayfarer passed on to his oniony boarding-house, a few steps along, deeply marveling at the irruption of magnificence into the neighborhood in the brief year since he had been away.
Equipages continued to draw up, unload, and withdraw, until twelve thirty, when, without so much as a preliminary wink, the House shut its Three Eyes. A scant five minutes earlier, an alert but tired-looking man, wearing the slouch hat of the West above his dinner coat, had briskly mounted the steps and, after colloquy with the cautious, black guardian of the door, had been admitted to a side room, where he was presently accosted by a graying, spare-set guest with ruminative eyes.
"I heard about this show by accident, and wanted in," explained the newcomer in response to the other's look of inquiry. "If I could see Banneker--"
"It will be some little time before you can see him. He's at work."
"But this is his party, isn't it?"
"Yes. The party takes care of itself until he comes down."
"Oh; does it? Well, will it take care of me?"
"Are you a friend of Mr. Banneker's?"
"In a way. In fact, I might claim to have started him on his career of newspaper crime. I'm Gardner of the Angelica City Herald."
"Ban will be glad to see you. Take off your things. I am Russell Edmonds."
He led the way into a spacious and beautiful room, filled with the composite hum of voices and the scent of half-hidden flowers. The Westerner glanced avidly about him, noting here a spoken name familiar in print, there a face recognized from far-spread photographic reproduction.
"Some different from Ban's shack on the desert," he muttered. "Hello! Mr. Edmonds, who's the splendid-looking woman in brown with the yellow orchids, over there in the seat back of the palms?"
Edmonds leaned forward to look. "Royce Melvin, the composer, I believe. I haven't met her."
"I have, then," returned the other, as the guest changed her position, fully revealing her face. "Tried to dig some information out of her once. Like picking prickly pears blindfold. That's Camilla Van Arsdale. What a coincidence to find her here!"
"No! Camilla Van Arsdale? You'll excuse me, won't you? I want to speak to her. Make yourself known to any one you like the looks of. That's the rule of the house; no introductions."
He walked across the room, made his way through the crescent curving about Miss Van Arsdale, and, presenting himself, was warmly greeted.
"Let me take you to Ban," he said. "He'll want to see you at once."
"But won't it disturb his work?"
"Nothing does. He writes with an open door and a shut brain."
He led her up the east flight of stairs and down a long hallway to an end room with door ajar, notwithstanding that even at that distance the hum of voices and the muffled throbbing of the concert grand piano from below were plainly audible. Banneker's voice, regular, mechanical, desensitized as the voices of those who dictate habitually are prone to become, floated out:
"Quote where ignorance is bliss 'tis folly to be wise end quote comma said a poet who was also a cynic period. Many poets are comma but not the greatest period. Because of their--turn back to the beginning of the paragraph, please, Miss Westlake."
"I've brought up an old friend, Ban," announced Edmonds, pushing wide the door.
Vaguely smiling, for he had trained himself to be impervious to interruptions, the editorializer turned in his chair. Instantly he sprang to his feet, and caught Miss Van Arsdale by both hands.
"Miss Camilla!" he cried. "I thought you said you couldn't come."
"I'm defying the doctors," she replied. "They've given me so good a report of myself that I can afford to. I'll go down now and wait for you."
"No; don't. Sit up here with me till I finish. I don't want to lose any of you," said he affectionately.
But she laughingly refused, declaring that he would be through all the sooner for his other guests, if she left him.
"See that she meets some people, Bop," Banneker directed. "Gaines of The New Era, if he's here, and Betty Raleigh, and that new composer, and the Junior Masters."
Edmonds nodded, and escorted her downstairs. Nicely judging the time when Banneker would have finished, he was back in quarter of an hour. The stenographer had just left.
"What a superb woman, Ban!" he said. "It's small wonder that Enderby lost himself."
Banneker nodded. "What would she have said if she could know that you, an absolute stranger, had been the means of saving her from a terrific scandal? Gives one a rather shivery feeling about the power and responsibility of the press, doesn't it?"
"It would have been worse than murder," declared the veteran, with so much feeling that his friend gave him a grateful look. "What's she doing in New York? Is it safe?"
"Came on to see a specialist. Yes; it's all right. The Enderbys are abroad."
"I see. How long since you'd seen her?"
"Before this trip? Last spring, when I took a fortnight off."
"You went clear West, just to see her?"
"Mainly. Partly, too, to get back to the restfulness of the place where I never had any troubles. I've kept the little shack I used to own; pay a local chap named Mindle to keep it in shape. So I just put in a week of quiet there."
"You're a queer chap, Ban. And a loyal one."
"If I weren't loyal to Camilla Van Arsdale--" said Banneker, and left the implication unconcluded.
"Another friend from your picturesque past is down below," said Edmonds, and named Gardner.
"Lord! That fellow nearly cost me my life, last time we met," laughed Banneker. Then his face altered. Pain drew its sharp lines there, pain and the longing of old memories still unassuaged. "Just the same, I'll be glad to see him."
He sought out the Californian, found him deep in talk with Guy Mallory of The Ledger, who had come in late, gave him hearty greeting, and looked about for Camilla Van Arsdale. She was supping in the center of a curiously assorted group, part of whom remembered the old romance of her life, and part of whom had identified her, by some chance, as Royce Melvin, the composer. All of them were paying court to her charm and intelligence. She made a place beside herself for Banneker.
"We've been discussing The Patriot, Ban," she said, "and Mr. Gaines has embalmed you, as an editorial writer, in the amber of one of his best epigrams."
The Great Gaines made a deprecating gesture. "My little efforts always sound better when I'm not present," he protested.
"To be the subject of any Gaines epigram, however stinging, is fame in itself," said Banneker.
"And no sting in this one. 'Attic salt and American pep,'" she quoted. "Isn't it truly spicy?"
Banneker bowed with half-mocking appreciation. "I fancy, though, that Mr. Gaines prefers his journalistic egg more _au naturel_."
"Sometimes," admitted the most famous of magazine editors, "I could dispense with some of the pep."
"I like the pep, too, Ban." Betty Raleigh, looking up from a seat where she sat talking to a squat and sensual-looking man, a dweller in the high places and cool serenities of advanced mathematics whom jocular-minded Nature had misdowered with the face of a satyr, interposed the suave candor of her voice. "I actually lick my lips over your editorials even where I least agree with them. But the rest of the paper--Oh, dear! It screeches."
"Modern life is such a din that one has to screech to be heard above it," said Banneker pleasantly.
"Isn't it the newspapers which make most of the din, though?" suggested the mathematician.
"Shouting against each other," said Gaines.
"Like Coney Island barkers for rival shows," put in Junior Masters.
"Just for variety how would it do to try the other tack and practice a careful but significant restraint?" inquired Betty.
"Wouldn't sell a ticket," declared Banneker.
"Still, if we all keep on yelling in the biggest type and hottest words we can find," pointed out Edmonds, "the effect will pall."
"Perhaps the measure of success is in finding something constantly more strident and startling than the other fellow's war whoop," surmised Masters.
"I have never particularly admired the steam calliope as a form of expression," observed Miss Van Arsdale.
"Ah!" said the actress, smiling, "but Royce Melvin doesn't make music for circuses."
"And a modern newspaper is a circus," pronounced the satyr-like scholar.
"Three-ring variety; all the latest stunts; list to the voice of the ballyhoo," said Masters.
"_Panem et circenses_" pursued the mathematician, pleased with his simile, "to appease the howling rabble. But it is mostly circus, and very little bread that our emperors of the news give us."
"We've got to feed what the animal eats," defended Banneker lightly.
"After having stimulated an artificial appetite," said Edmonds.
As the talk flowed on, Betty Raleigh adroitly drew Banneker out of the current of it. "Your Patriot needn't have screeched at me, Ban," she murmured in an injured tone.
"Did it, Betty? How, when, and where?"
"I thought you were horridly patronizing about the new piece, and quite unkind to me, for a friend."
"It wasn't my criticism, you know," he reminded her patiently. "I don't write the whole paper, though most of my acquaintances seem to think that I do. Any and all of it to which they take exception, at least."
"Of course, I know you didn't write it, or it wouldn't have been so stupid. I could stand anything except the charge that I've lost my naturalness and become conventional."
"You're like the man who could resist anything except temptation, my dear: you can stand anything except criticism," returned Banneker with a smile so friendly that there was no sting in the words. "You've never had enough of that. You're the spoiled pet of the critics."
"Not of this new one of yours. He's worse than Gurney. Who is he and where does he come from?"
"An inconsiderable hamlet known as Chicago. Name, Allan Haslett. Dramatic criticism out there is still so unsophisticated as to be intelligent as well as honest--at its best."
"Which it isn't here," commented the special pet of the theatrical reviewers.
"Well, I thought a good new man would be better than the good old ones. Less hampered by personal considerations. So I sent and got this one."
"But he isn't good. He's a horrid beast. We've been specially nice to him, on your account mostly--Ban, if you grin that way I shall hate you! I had Bezdek invite him to one of the rehearsal suppers and he wouldn't come. Sent word that theatrical suppers affected his eyesight when he came to see the play."
Banneker chuckled. "Just why I got him. He doesn't let the personal element prejudice him."
"He is prejudiced. And most unfair. Ban," said Betty in her most seductive tones, "do call him down. Make him write something decent about us. Bez is fearfully upset."
Banneker sighed. "The curse of this business," he reflected aloud, "is that every one regards The Patriot as my personal toy for me or my friends to play with."
"This isn't play at all. It's very much earnest. Do be nice about it, Ban."
"Betty, do you remember a dinner party in the first days of our acquaintance, at which I told you that you represented one essential difference from all the other women there?"
"Yes. I thought you were terribly presuming."
"I told you that you were probably the only woman present who wasn't purchasable."
"Not understanding you as well as I do now, I was quite shocked. Besides, it was so unfair. Nearly all of them were most respectable married people."
"Bought by their most respectable husbands. Some of 'em bought away from other husbands. But I gave you credit for not being on that market--or any other. And now you're trying to corrupt my professional virtue."
"Ban! I'm not."
"What else is it when you try to use your influence to have me fire our nice, new critic?"
"If that's being corruptible, I wonder if any of us are incorruptible." She stretched upward an idle hand and fondled a spray of freesia that drooped against her cheek. "Ban; there's something I've been waiting to tell you. Tertius Marrineal wants to marry me."
"I've suspected as much. That would settle the obnoxious critic, wouldn't it! Though it's rather a roundabout way."
"Ban! You're beastly."
"Yes; I apologize," he replied quickly. "But--have I got to revise my estimate of you, Betty? I should hate to."
"Your estimate? Oh, as to purchasability. That's worse than what you've just said. Yet, somehow, I don't resent it. Because it's honest, I suppose," she said pensively. "No: it wouldn't be a--a market deal. I like Tertius. I like him a lot. I won't pretend that I'm madly in love with him. But--"
"Yes; I know," he said gently, as she paused, looking at him steadily, but with clouded eyes. He read into that "but" a world of opportunities; a theater of her own--the backing of a powerful newspaper--wealth--and all, if she so willed it, without interruption to her professional career.
"Would you think any the less of me?" she asked wistfully.
"Would you think any the less of yourself?" he countered.
The blossoming spray broke under her hand. "Ah, yes; that's the question after all, isn't it?" she murmured.
Meantime, Gardner, the eternal journalist, fostering a plan of his own, was gathering material from Guy Mallory who had come in late.
"What gets me," he said, looking over at the host, "is how he can do a day's work with all this social powwow going on."
"A day's? He does three days' work in every one. He's the hardest trained mind in the business. Why, he could sit down here this minute, in the middle of this room, and dictate an editorial while keeping up his end in the general talk. I've seen him do it."
"He must be a wonder at concentration."
"Concentration? If he didn't invent it, he perfected it. Tell you a story. Ban doesn't go in for any game except polo. One day some of the fellows at The Retreat got talking golf to him--"
"The Retreat? Good Lord! He doesn't belong to The Retreat, does he?"
"Yes; been a member for years. Well, they got him to agree to try it. Jim Tamson, the pro--he's supposed to be the best instructor in America--was there then. Banneker went out to the first tee, a 215-yard hole, watched Jim perform his show-em-how swing, asked a couple of questions. 'Eye on the ball,' says Jim. 'That's nine tenths of it. The rest is hitting it easy and following through. Simple and easy,' says Jim, winking to himself. Banneker tries two or three clubs to see which feels easiest to handle, picks out a driving-iron, and slams the ball almost to the edge of the green. Chance? Of course, there was some luck in it. But it was mostly his everlasting ability to keep his attention focused. Jim almost collapsed. 'First time I ever saw a beginner that didn't top,' says he. 'You'll make a golfer, Mr. Banneker.'
"'Not me,' says Ban. 'This game is too easy. It doesn't interest me.' He hands Jim a twenty-dollar bill, thanks him, goes in and has his bath, and has never touched a golf-stick since."
Gardner had been listening with a kindling eye. He brought his fist down on his knee. "You've told me something!" he exclaimed.
"Going to try it out on your own game?"
"Not about golf. About Banneker. I've been wondering how he managed to establish himself as an individual figure in this big town. Now I begin to see it. It's publicity; that's what it is. He's got the sense of how to make himself talked about. He's picturesque. I'll bet Banneker's first and last golf shot is a legend in the clubs yet, isn't it?"
"It certainly is," confirmed Mallory. "But do you really think that he reasoned it all out on the spur of the moment?"
"Oh, reasoned; probably not. It's instinctive, I tell you. And the twenty to the professional was a touch of genius. Tamson will never stop talking about it. Can't you hear him, telling it to his fellow pros? 'Golf's too easy for me,' he says, 'and hands me a double sawbuck! Did ye ever hear the like!' And so the legend is built up. It's a great thing to become a local legend. I know, for I've built up a few of 'em myself.... I suppose the gun-play on the river-front gave him his start at it and the rest came easy."
"Ask him. He'll probably tell you," said Mallory. "At least, he'll be interested in your theory."
Gardner strolled over to Banneker's group, not for the purpose of adopting Mallory's suggestion, for he was well satisfied with his own diagnosis, but to congratulate him upon the rising strength of The Patriot. As he approached, Miss Van Arsdale, in response to a plea from Betty Raleigh, went to the piano, and the dwindled crowd settled down into silence. For music, at The House With Three Eyes, was invariably the sort of music that people listen to; that is, the kind of people whom Banneker gathered around him.
After she had played, Miss Van Arsdale declared that she must go, whereupon Banneker insisted upon taking her to her hotel. To her protests against dragging him away from his own party, he retorted that the party could very well run itself without him; his parties often did, when he was specially pressed in his work. Accepting this, his friend elected to walk; she wanted to hear more about The Patriot. What did she think of it, he asked.
"I don't expect you to like it," he added.
"That doesn't matter. I do tremendously admire your editorials. They're beautifully done; the perfection of clarity. But the rest of the paper--I can't see you in it."
"Because I'm not there, as an individual."
He expounded to her his theory of journalism. That was a just characterization of Junior Masters, he said: the three-ringed circus. He, Banneker, would run any kind of a circus they wanted, to catch and hold their eyes; the sensational acts, the clowns of the funny pages, the blare of the bands, the motion, the color, and the spangles; all to beguile them into reading and eventually to thinking.
"But we haven't worked it out yet, as we should. What I'm really aiming at is a saturated solution, as the chemists say: Not a saturated solution of circulation, for that isn't possible, but a saturated solution of influence. If we can't put The Patriot into every man's house, we ought to be able to put it into every man's mind. All things to all men: that's the formula. We're far from it yet, but we're on the road. And in the editorials, I'm making people stir their minds about real things who never before developed a thought beyond the everyday, mechanical processes of living."
"To what end?" she asked doubtfully.
"Does it matter? Isn't the thinking, in itself, end enough?"
"Brutish thinking if it's represented in your screaming headlines."
"Predigested news. I want to preserve all their brain-power for my editorial page. And, oh, how easy I make it for them! Thoughts of one syllable."
"And you use your power over their minds to incite them to discontent."
"But that's dreadful, Ban! To stir up bitterness and rancor among people."
"Don't you be misled by cant, Miss Camilla," adjured Banneker. "The contented who have everything to make them content have put a stigma on discontent. They'd have us think it a crime. It isn't. It's a virtue."
"Ban! A virtue?"
"Well; isn't it? Call it by the other name, ambition. What then?"
Miss Van Arsdale pondered with troubled eyes. "I see what you mean," she confessed. "But the discontent that arises within one's self is one thing; the 'divine discontent.' It's quite another to foment it for your own purposes in the souls of others."
"That depends upon the purpose. If the purpose is to help the others, through making their discontent effective to something better, isn't it justified?"
"But isn't there always the danger of making a profession of discontent?"
"That's a shrewd hit," confessed Banneker. "I've suspected that Marrineal means to capitalize it eventually, though I don't know just how. He's a secret sort of animal, Marrineal."
"But he gives you a free hand?" she asked.
"He has to," said Banneker simply.
Camilla Van Arsdale sighed. "It's success, Ban. Isn't it?"
"Yes. It's success. In its kind."
"Is it happiness?"
"Yes. Also in its kind."
"The real kind? The best kind?"
"It's satisfaction. I'm doing what I want to do."
She sighed. "I'd hoped for something more."
He shook his head. "One can't have everything."
"Why not?" she demanded almost fiercely. "You ought to have. You're made for it." After a pause she added: "Then it isn't Betty Raleigh. I'd hoped it was. I've been watching her. There's character there, Ban, as well as charm."
"She has other interests. No; it isn't Betty."
"Ban, there are times when I could hate her," broke out Miss Van Arsdale.
"You know whom well enough."
"I stand corrected in grammar as well as fact," he said lightly.
"Have you seen her?"
"Yes. I see her occasionally. Not often."
"Does she come here?"
"She has been."
"And her husband?"
"Ban, aren't you ever going to get over it?"
He looked at her silently.
"No; you won't. There are a few of us like that. God help us!" said Camilla Van Arsdale.
Others than Banneker's friends and frequenters now evinced symptoms of interest in his influence upon his environment. Approve him you might, or disapprove him; the palpable fact remained that he wielded a growing power. Several promising enterprises directed at the City Treasury had aborted under destructive pressure from his pen. A once impregnably cohesive ring of Albany legislators had disintegrated with such violence of mutual recrimination that prosecution loomed imminent, because of a two weeks' "vacation" of Banneker's at the State Capitol. He had hunted some of the lawlessness out of the Police Department and bludgeoned some decent housing measures through the city councils. Politically he was deemed faithless and unreliable which meant that, as an independent, he had ruined some hopefully profitable combinations in both parties. Certain men, high up in politics and finance at the point where they overlap, took thoughtful heed of him. How could they make him useful? Or, at least, prevent him from being harmful?
No less a potentate than Poultney Masters had sought illumination from Willis Enderby upon the subject in the days when people in street-cars first began to rustle through the sheets of The Patriot, curious to see what the editorial had to say to them that day.
"What do you think of him?" began the magnate.
"Able," grunted the other.
"If he weren't, I wouldn't be troubling my head about him. What else? Dangerous?"
"As dangerous as he is upright. Exactly."
"Now, I wonder what the devil you mean by that, Enderby," said the financier testily. "Dangerous as long as he's upright? Eh? And dangerous to what?"
"To anything he goes after. He's got a following. I might almost say a blind following."
"Got a boss, too, hasn't he?"
"Marrineal? Ah, I don't know how far Marrineal interferes. And I don't know Marrineal."
"Upright, too; that one?" The sneer in Masters's heavy voice was palpable.
"You consider that no newspaper can be upright," the lawyer interpreted.
"I've bought 'em and bluffed 'em and stood 'em in a corner to be good," returned the other simply. "What would you expect my opinion to be?"
"The Sphere, among them?" queried the lawyer.
"Damn The Sphere!" exploded the other. "A dirty, muck-grubbing, lying, crooked rag."
"Your actual grudge against it is not for those latter qualities, though," pointed out Enderby. "On questions where it conflicts with your enterprises, it's straight enough. That's it's defect. Upright equals dangerous. You perceive?"
Masters shrugged the problem away with a thick and ponderous jerk of his shoulders. "What's young Banneker after?" he demanded.
"You ought to know him as well as I. He's a sort of protégé of yours, isn't he?"
"At The Retreat, you mean? I put him in because he looked to be polo stuff. Now the young squirt won't practice enough to be certain team material."
"Found a bigger game."
"Umph! But what's in back of it?"
"It's the game for the game's sake with him, I suspect. I can only tell you that, wherever I've had contact with him, he has been perfectly straightforward."
"Maybe. But what about this anarchistic stuff of his?"
"Oh, anarchistic! You mean his attacks on Wall Street? The Stock Exchange isn't synonymous with the Constitution of the United States, you know, Masters. Do moderate your language."
"Now you're laughing at me, damn you, Enderby."
"It's good for you. You ought to laugh at yourself more. Ask Banneker what he's at. Very probably he'll laugh at you inside. But he'll answer you."
"That reminds me. He had an editorial last week that stuck to me. 'It is the bitter laughter of the people that shakes thrones. Have a care, you money kings, not to become too ridiculous!' Isn't that socialist-anarchist stuff?"
"It's very young stuff. But it's got a quality, hasn't it?"
"Oh, hell, yes; quality!" rumbled the profane old man. "Well, I will tackle your young prodigy one of these days."
Which, accordingly, he did, encountering, some days later, Banneker in the reading-room at The Retreat.
"What are you up to; making trouble with that editorial screed of yours?" he growled at the younger man.
Banneker smiled. He accepted that growl from Poultney Masters, not because Masters was a great and formidable figure in the big world, but because beneath the snarl there was a quality of--no, not of friendliness, but of man-to-man approach.
"No. I'm trying to cure trouble, not make it."
"Umph! Queer idea of curing. Here we are in the midst of good times, everywhere, and you talk about--what was the stuff?--oh, yes: 'The grinning mask of prosperity, beneath which Want searches with haggard and threatening eyes for the crust denied.' Fine stuff!"
"Not mine. I don't write as beautifully as all that. It's quoted from a letter. But I'll take the responsibility, since I quoted it. There's some truth in it, you know."
"Not a hair's-weight. If you fill the minds of the ignorant with that sort of thing, where shall we end?"
"If you fill the minds of the ignorant, they will no longer be ignorant."
"Then they'll be above their class and their work. Our whole trouble is in that; people thinking they're too good for the sort of work they're fitted for."
"Aren't they too good if they can think themselves into something better?"
Poultney Masters delivered himself of a historical profundity. "The man who first had the notion of teaching the mass of people to read will have something to answer for."
"Destructive, isn't it?" said Banneker, looking up quickly.
"Now, you want to go farther. You want to teach 'em to think."
"Exactly. Why not?"
"Why not? Why, because, you young idiot, they'll think wrong."
"Very likely. At first. We all had to spell wrong before we spelled right. What if people do think wrong? It's the thinking that's important. Eventually they'll think right."
"With the newspapers to guide them?" There was a world of scorn in the magnate's voice.
"Some will guide wrong. Some will guide right. The most I hope to do is to teach 'em a little to use their minds. Education and a fair field. To find out and to make clear what is found; that's the business of a newspaper as I see it."
"Tittle-tattle. Tale-mongering," was Masters's contemptuous qualification.
"A royal mission," laughed Banneker. "I call the Sage to witness. 'But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.'"
"But they've got to be kings," retorted the other quickly. "It's a tricky business, Banneker. Better go in for polo. We need you." He lumbered away, morose and growling, but turned back to call over his shoulder: "Read your own stuff when you get up to-morrow and see if polo isn't a better game and a cleaner."
What the Great of the city might think of his journalistic achievement troubled Banneker but little, so long as they thought of it at all, thereby proving its influence; the general public was his sole arbiter, except for the opinions of the very few whose approval he really desired, Io Eyre, Camilla Van Arsdale, and more remotely the men for whose own standards he maintained a real respect, such as Willis Enderby and Gaines. Determined to make Miss Van Arsdale see his point of view, as well as to assure himself of hers, he had extracted from her a promise that she would visit The Patriot office before she returned to the West. Accordingly, on a set morning she arrived on her trip of inspection, tall, serene, and, in her aloof _genre_, beautiful, an alien figure in the midst of that fevered and delirious energy. He took her through the plant, elucidating the mechanical processes of the daily miracle of publication, more far-reaching than was ever any other voice of man, more ephemeral than the day of the briefest butterfly. Throughout, the visitor's pensive eyes kept turning from the creature to the creator, until, back in the trim quietude of his office, famed as the only orderly working-room of journalism, she delivered her wondering question:
"And _you_ have made all this, Ban?"
"At least I've remade it."
She shook her head. "No; as I told you before, I can't see you in it."
"You mean, it doesn't express me. It isn't meant to.'
"Whom does it express, then? Mr. Marrineal?"
"No. It isn't an expression at all in that sense. It's a--a response. A response to the demand of hundreds of thousands of people who have never had a newspaper made for them before."
"An echo of _vox populi_? Does that excuse its sins?"
"I'm not putting it forth as an excuse. Is it really sins or only bad taste that offends you?"
"Clever, Ban. And true in a measure. But insincerity is more than bad taste. It's one of the primal sins."
"You find The Patriot insincere?"
"Can I find it anything else, knowing you?"
"Ah, there you go wrong again, Miss Camilla. As an expression of my ideals, the news part of the paper would be insincere. I don't like it much better than you do. But I endure it; yes, I'll be frank and admit that I even encourage it, because it gives me wider scope for the things I want to say. Sincere things. I've never yet written in my editorial column anything that I don't believe from the bottom of my soul. Take that as a basis on which to judge me."
"My dear Ban! I don't want to judge you."
"I want you to," he cried eagerly. "I want your judgment and your criticism. But you must see what I'm aiming for. Miss Camilla, I'm making people stir their minds and think who never before had a thought beyond the everyday processes of life."
"For your own purposes? Thought, as you manipulate it, might be a high-explosive. Have you thought of using it in that way?"
"If I found a part of the social edifice that had to be blown to pieces, I might."
"Take care that you don't involve us all in the crash. Meantime, what is the rest of your editorial page; a species of sedative to lull their minds? Who is Evadne Ellington?"
"One of our most prominent young murderesses."
"And you let her sign a column on your page?"
"Oh, she's a highly moral murderess. Killed her lover in defense of her honor, you know. Which means that she shot him when he got tired of her. A sobbing jury promptly acquitted her, and now she's writing 'Warnings to Young Girls.' They're most improving and affecting, I assure you. We look after that."
"Ban! I hate to have you so cynical."
"Not at all," he protested. "Ask the Prevention of Vice people and the criminologists. They'll tell you that Evadne's column is a real influence for good among the people who read and believe it."
"What class is Reformed Rennigan's sermon aimed at?" she inquired, with wrinkling nostrils. "'Soaking it to Satan'; is that another regular feature?"
"Twice a week. It gives us a Y.M.C.A. circulation that is worth a good deal to us. Outside of my double column, the page is a sort of forum. I'll take anything that is interesting or authoritative. For example, if Royce Melvin had something of value to say to the public about music, where else could she find so wide a hearing as through The Patriot?"
"No, I thank you," returned his visitor dryly.
"No? Are you sure? What is your opinion of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as a national song?"
"For every reason. The music misfits the words. It's beyond the range of most voices. The harmonies are thin. No crowd in the world can sing it. What is the value or inspiration of a national song that the people can't sing?"
"Ask it of The Patriot's public. I'll follow it up editorially; 'Wanted; A Song for America.'"
"I will," she answered impulsively. Then she laughed. "Is that the way you get your contributors?"
"Often, as the spider said to the fly," grinned Banneker the shameless. "Take a thousand words or more and let us have your picture."
"No. Not that. I've seen my friends' pictures too often in your society columns. By the way, how comes it that a paper devoted to the interests of the common people maintains that aristocratic feature?"
"Oh, the common people eat it alive. Russell Edmonds is largely responsible for keeping it up. You should hear his theory. It's ingenious. I'll send for him."
Edmonds, who chanced to be at his desk, entered the editorial den with his tiny pipe between his teeth, and, much disconcerted at finding a lady there, hastily removed it until Miss Van Arsdale suggested its restitution.
"What? The society page?" said he. "Yes; I was against dropping it. You see, Miss Van Arsdale, I'm a Socialist in belief."
"Is there a pun concealed in that or are you serious, Mr. Edmonds?"
"Serious. I'm always that on the subjects of Socialism and The Patriot."
"Then you must explain if I'm to understand."
"By whom is society news read? By two classes," expounded the veteran; "those whose names appear, and those who are envious of those whose names appear. Well, we're after the envious."
"Still I don't see. With what purpose?'
"Jim Simpson, who has just got his grocery bill for more than he can pay, reads a high-colored account of Mrs. Stumpley-Triggs's aquatic dinner served in the hundred-thousand-dollar swimming-pool on her Westchester estate. That makes Jim think."
"You mean that it makes him discontented."
"Well, discontent is a mighty leaven."
Miss Van Arsdale directed her fine and serious eyes upon Banneker. "So it comes back to the cult of discontent. Is that Mr. Marrineal's formula, too, Mr. Edmonds?"
"Underneath all his appearance of candor, Marrineal's a secret animal," said Edmonds.
"Does he leave you a free hand with your editorials, Ban?" inquired the outsider.
"Watches the circulation only," said Edmonds. "Thus far," he added.
"You're looking for an ulterior motive, then," interpreted Miss Van Arsdale.
"I'm looking for whatever I can find in Marrineal, Miss Van Arsdale," confessed the patriarch of the office. "As yet I haven't found much."
"I have," said Banneker. "I've discovered his theory of journalism. We three, Edmonds, Marrineal, and I, regard this business from three diverse viewpoints. To Edmonds it's a vocation and a rostrum. He wants really, under his guise as the most far-seeing news man of his time, to call sinners against society to repentance, or to force repentance down their throats. There's a good deal of the stern evangelist about you, you know, Pop."
"And you?" The other's smile seemed enmeshed in the dainty spiral of smoke brooding above his pursed lips.
"Oh, I'm more the pedagogue. With me, too, the game is a vocation. But it's a different one. I'd like to marshal men's minds as a generalissimo marshals armies."
"In the bonds of your own discipline?" asked Miss Van Arsdale.
"If I could chain a mind I'd be the most splendid tyrant of history. No. Free leadership of the free is good enough."
"If Marrineal will leave you free," commented the veteran. "What's your diagnosis of Marrineal, then?"
"A priest of Baal."
"With The Patriot in the part of Baal?"
"Not precisely The Patriot. Publicity, rather, of which The Patriot is merely the instrument. Marrineal's theory of publicity is interesting. It may even be true. Substantially it is this: All civilized Americans fear and love print; that is to say, Publicity, for which read Baal. They fear it for what it may do to them. They love and fawn on it for what it may do for them. It confers the boon of glory and launches the bolts of shame. Its favorites, made and anointed from day to day, are the blessed of their time. Those doomed by it are the outcasts. It sits in momentary judgment, and appeal from its decisions is too late to avail anything to its victims. A species of auto-juggernaut, with Marrineal at the wheel."
"What rubbish!" said Miss Van Arsdale with amused scorn.
"Oh, because you've nothing to ask or fear from Baal. Yet even you would use it, for your musical preachment."
As he spoke, he became aware of Edmonds staring moodily and with pinched lips at Miss Van Arsdale. To the mind's eye of the old stager had flashed a sudden and astounding vision of all that pride of womanhood and purity underlying the beauty of the face, overlaid and fouled by the inky vomit of Baal of the printing-press, as would have come to pass had not he, Edmonds, obstructed the vengeance.
"I can imagine nothing printed," said the woman who had loved Willis Enderby, "that could in any manner influence my life."
"Fortunate you!" Edmonds wreathed his little congratulation in festoons of light vapor. "But you live in a world of your own making. Marrineal is reckoning on the world which lives and thinks largely in terms of what its neighbor thinks of it."
"He once said to me," remarked Banneker, "that the desire to get into or keep out of print could be made the master-key to new and undreamed-of powers of journalism if one had the ability to find a formula for it."
"I'm not sure that I understand what he means," said Miss Van Arsdale, "but it has a sinister sound."
"Are Baal's other names Bribery and Blackmail?" glowered Edmonds.
"There has never been a hint of any illegitimate use of the paper, so far as I can discover. Yet it's pretty plain to me that he intends to use it as an instrument."
"As soon as we've made it strong enough," supplied Edmonds.
"An instrument of what?" inquired Miss Van Arsdale.
"Power for himself. Political, I suppose."
"Does he want office?" she asked.
"Perhaps. Perhaps he prefers the deeper-lying power to make and unmake politicians. We've done it already in a few cases. That's Edmonds's specialty. I'll know within a few days what Marrineal wants, if I can get a showdown. He and I are coming to a new basis of finance."
"Yes; he thinks he can't afford to keep on paying you by circulation. You're putting on too much." This from Edmonds.
"That's what he got me here for. However, I don't really believe he can. I'm eating up what should be the paper's legitimate profits. And yet"--he smiled radiantly--"there are times when I don't see how I'm going to get along with what I have. It's pretty absurd, isn't it, to feel pinched on fifty thousand a year, when I did so well at Manzanita on sixty a month?"
"It's a fairy-tale," declared Miss Van Arsdale. "I knew that you were going to arrive sooner or later, Ban. But this isn't an arrival. It's a triumph."
"Say rather it's a feat of balancing," he propounded. "A tight-rope stunt on a gilded rope. Failure on one side; debt on the other. Keep going like the devil to save yourself from falling."
"What is it making of him, Mr. Edmonds?" Banneker's oldest friend turned her limpid and anxious regard upon his closest friend.
"A power. Oh, it's real enough, all this empire of words that crumbles daily. It leaves something behind, a little residue of thought, ideals, convictions. What do you fear for him?"
"Cynicism," she breathed uneasily.
"It's the curse of the game. But it doesn't get the worker who feels his work striking home."
"Do you see any trace of cynicism in the paper?" asked Banneker curiously.
"All this blaring and glaring and froth and distortion," she replied, sweeping her hand across the issue which lay on the desk before her. "Can you do that sort of thing and not become that sort of thing?"
"Ask Edmonds," said Banneker.
"Thirty years I've been in this business," said the veteran slowly. "I suppose there are few of its problems and perplexities that I haven't been up against. And I tell you, Miss Van Arsdale, all this froth and noise and sensationalism doesn't matter. It's an offense to taste, I know. But back of it is the big thing that we're trying to do; to enlist the ignorant and helpless and teach them to be less ignorant and helpless. If fostering the political ambitions of a Marrineal is part of the price, why, I'm willing to pay it, so long as the paper keeps straight and doesn't sell itself for bribe money. After all, Marrineal can ride to his goal only on our chariot. The Patriot is an institution now. You can't alter an institution, not essentially. You get committed to it, to the thing you've made yourself. Ban and I have made the new Patriot, not Marrineal. Even if he got rid of us, he couldn't change the paper; not for a long time and only very gradually. The following that we've built up would be too strong for him."
"Isn't it too strong for you two?" asked the doubting woman-soul.
"No. We understand it because we made it."
"Frankenstein once said something like that," she murmured.
"It isn't a monster," rumbled Edmonds. "Sometimes I think it's a toy dog, with Ban's ribbon around its cute little neck. I'll answer for Ban, Miss Van Arsdale."
The smoke of his minute pipe went up, tenuous and graceful, incense devoted to the unseen God behind the strangely patterned curtain of print; to Baal who was perhaps even then grinning down upon his unsuspecting worshipers.
But Banneker, moving purposefully amidst that vast phantasmagoria of pulsing print, wherein all was magnified, distorted, perverted to the claims of a gross and rabid public appetite, dreamed his pure, untainted dream; the conception of his newspaper as a voice potent enough to reach and move all; dominant enough to impose its underlying ideal; confident enough of righteousness to be free of all silencing and control. That voice should supply the long unsatisfied hunger of the many for truth uncorrupted. It should enunciate straightly, simply, without reservation, the daily verities destined to build up the eternal structure. It should be a religion of seven days a week, set forth by a thousand devoted preachers for a million faithful hearers.
Camilla Van Arsdale had partly read his dream, and could have wept for it and him.
Io Eyre had begun to read it, and her heart went out to him anew. For this was the test of success.
It was one of those mornings of coolness after cloying heat when even the crowded, reeking, frowzy metropolis wakes with a breath of freshness in its nostrils. Independent of sleep as ever, Banneker was up and footing it briskly for the station before eight o'clock, for Camilla Van Arsdale was returning to Manzanita, having been ordered back to her seclusion with medical science's well-considered verdict wrapped up in tactful words to bear her company on the long journey. When she would be ordered on a longer journey by a mightier Authority, medical science forbore to specify; but in the higher interests of American music it was urgently pressed upon her that she be abstemious in diet, niggardly of work, careful about fatigue and excitement, and in general comport herself in such manner as to deprive the lease of life remaining to her of most of its savor and worth. She had told Ban that the physicians thought her condition favorable.
Invalidism was certainly not suggested in her erect bearing and serene face as she moved about her stateroom setting in order the books, magazines, flowers, and candy, with which Banneker had sought to fortify her against the tedium of the trip. As the time for departure drew near, they fell into and effortfully maintained that meaningless, banal, and jerky talk which is the inevitable concomitant of long partings between people who, really caring for each other, can find nothing but commonplaces wherewith to ease their stress of mind. Miss Van Arsdale's common sense came to the rescue.
"Go away, my dear," she said, with her understanding smile. "Don't think that you're obliged to cling to the dragging minutes. It's an ungraceful posture.... Ban! What makes you look like that?"
"I thought--I heard--"
A clear voice outside said, "Then it must be this one." There was a decisive tap on the door. "May I come in?"..."Come in," responded Miss Van Arsdale. "Bring them here, porter," directed the voice outside, and Io entered followed by an attendant almost hidden in a huge armful of such roses as are unpurchasable even in the most luxurious of stores.
"I've looted our conservatory," said she. "Papa will slay me. They'll last to Chicago."
After an almost imperceptible hesitation she kissed the older woman. She gave her hand to Banneker. "I knew I should find you here."
"Any other woman of my acquaintance would have said, 'Who would have expected to find you here!'" commented Miss Van Arsdale.
"Yes? I suppose so. But we've never been on that footing, Ban and I." Io's tone was casual; almost careless.
"I thought that you were in the country," said Banneker.
"So we are. I drove up this morning to bid Miss Van Arsdale _bon voyage_, and all the luck in the world. I suppose we three shall meet again one of these days."
"You prophesy in the most matter-of-fact tone a gross improbability," observed Miss Van Arsdale.
"Oh, our first meeting was the gross improbability," retorted the girl lightly. "After that anything might be logical. _Au revoir_."
"Go with her, Ban," said Miss Camilla.
"It isn't leaving time yet," he protested. "There's five whole minutes."
"Yes; come with me, Ban," said Io tranquilly.
Camilla Van Arsdale kissed his cheek, gave him a little, half-motherly pat, said, "Keep on making me proud of you," in her even, confident tones, and pushed him out of the door.
Ban and Io walked down the long platform in a thoughtful silence which disconcerted neither of them. Io led the way out of it.
"At half-past four," she stated, "I had a glass of milk and one cracker."
"Where do you want to breakfast?"
"Thanking you humbly, sir, for your kind invitation, the nearer the better. Why not here?"
They found a table in the well-appointed railroad restaurant and ordered. Over her honey-dew melon Io asked musingly:
"What do you suppose she thinks of us?"
"Miss Camilla? What should she think?"
"What, indeed? What do we think, ourselves?"
"Has it any importance?" he asked gloomily.
"And that's rather rude," she chided. "Anything that I think should, by courtesy, be regarded as important.... Ban, how often have we seen each other?"
"Since I came to New York, you mean?"
"So many? And how much have we talked together? All told; in time, I mean."
"Possibly a solid hour. Not more."
"It hasn't made any difference, has it? There's been no interruption. We've never let the thread drop. We've never lost touch. Not really."
"No. We've never lost touch."
"You needn't repeat it as if it were a matter for mourning and repentance. I think it rather wonderful.... Take our return from the train, all the way down without a word. Were you sulking, Ban?"
"No. You know I wasn't."
"Of course I know it. It was simply that we didn't need to talk. There's no one else in the world like that.... How long is it? Three years--four--more than four years.
'We twain once well in sunder What will the mad gods do For hate with me, I wond--'"
"My God, Io! Don't!"
"Oh, Ban; I'm sorry! Have I hurt you? I was dreaming back into the old world."
"And I've been trying all these years not to."
"Is the reality really better? No; don't answer that! I don't want you to. Answer me something else. About Betty Raleigh."
"What about her?"
"If I were a man I should find her an irresistible sort of person. Entirely aside from her art. Are you going to marry her, Ban?"
"Tell me why not."
"For one reason because she doesn't want to marry me."
"Have you asked her? It's none of my business. But I don't believe you have. Tell me this; would you have asked her, if it hadn't been for--if Number Three had never been wrecked in the cut? You see the old railroad terms you taught me still cling. Would you?"
"How do I know? If the world hadn't changed under my feet, and the sky over my head--"
"Is it so changed? Do the big things, the real things, ever change?... Don't answer that, either. Ban, if I'll go out of your life now, and stay out, _honestly_, will you marry Betty Raleigh and--and live happy ever after?"
"Would you want me to?"
"Yes. Truly. And I'd hate you both forever."
"Betty Raleigh is going to marry some one else."
"No! I thought--people said--Are you sorry, Ban?"
"Not for myself. I think he's the wrong man for her."
"Yes; that would be a change of the earth underfoot and the sky overhead, if one cared," she mused. "And I said they didn't change."
"Don't they!" retorted Banneker bitterly. "You are married."
"I have been married," she corrected, with an air of amiable rectification. "It was a wise thing to do. Everybody said so. It didn't last. Nobody thought it would. I didn't really think so myself."
"Then why in Heaven's name--"
"Oh, let's not talk about it now. Some other time, perhaps. Say next time we meet; five or six months from now.... No; I won't tease you any more, Ban. It won't be that. It won't be long. I'll tell you the truth: I'd heard a lot about you and Betty Raleigh, and I got to know her and I hoped it would be a go. I did; truly, Ban. I owed you that chance of happiness. I took mine, you see; only it wasn't happiness that I gambled for. Something else. Safety. The stakes are usually different for men and women. So now you know.... Well, if you don't, you've grown stupid. And I don't want to talk about it any more. I want to talk about--about The Patriot. I read it this morning while I was waiting; your editorial. Ban"--she drew a derisive mouth--"I was shocked."
"What was it? Politics?" asked Banneker, who, turning out his editorials several at a time, seldom bothered to recall on what particular day any one was published. "You wouldn't be expected to like our politics."
"Not politics. It is about Harvey Wheelwright."
Banneker was amused. "The immortally popular Wheelwright. We're serializing his new novel, 'Satiated with Sin,' in the Sunday edition. My idea. It'll put on circulation where we most need it."
"Is that any reason why you should exploit him as if he were the foremost living novelist?"
"Certainly. Besides, he is, in popularity."
"But, Ban; his stuff is awful! If this latest thing is like the earlier. ["Worse," murmured Banneker.] And you're writing about him as if he were--well, Conrad and Wells rolled into one."
"He's better than that, for the kind of people that read him. It's addressed to them, that editorial. All the stress is on his piety, his popularity, his power to move men's minds; there isn't a word that even touches on the domain of art or literary skill."
"It has that effect."
"Ah! That's my art," chuckled Banneker. "_That's_ literary skill, if you choose!"
"Do you know what I call it? I call it treason."
His mind flashed to meet hers. She read comprehension in his changed face and the shadow in her eyes, lambent and profound, deepened.
"Treason to the world that we two made for ourselves out there," she pursued evenly.
"You shattered it."
"To the Undying Voices."
"You stilled them, for me."
"Oh, Ban! Not that!" A sudden, little sob wrenched at her throat. She half thrust out a hand toward him, and withdrew it, to cup and hold her chin in the old, thoughtful posture that plucked at his heart with imperious memories. "Don't they sing for you any more?" begged Io, wistful as a child forlorn for a dream of fairies dispelled.
"I wouldn't let them. They all sang of you."
She sighed, but about the tender corners of her lips crept the tremor of a smile. Instantly she became serious again.
"If you still heard the Voices, you could never have written that editorial.... What I hate about it is that it has charm; that it imparts charm to a--to a debasing thing."
"Oh, come, Io!" protested the victim of this criticism, more easily. "Debasing? Why, Wheelwright is considered the most uplifting of all our literary morality-improvers."
Io amplified and concluded her critique briefly and viciously. "A slug!"
"No; seriously. I'm not sure that he doesn't inculcate a lot of good in his way. At least he's always on the side of the angels."
"What kind of angels? Tinsel seraphs with paint on their cheeks, playing rag-time harps out of tune! There's a sickly slaver of sentiment over everything he touches that would make any virtue nauseous."
"Don't you want a job as a literary critic Our Special Reviewer, Miss Io Wel--Mrs. Delavan Eyre," he concluded, in a tone from which the raillery had flattened out.
At that bald betrayal, Io's color waned slightly. She lifted her water-glass and sipped at it. When she spoke again it was as if an inner scene had been shifted.
"What did you come to New York for?"
"As in all the fables. And you've found it. It was almost too easy, wasn't it?"
"Indeed, not. It was touch and go."
"Would you have come but for me?"
He stared at her, considering, wondering.
"Remember," she adjured him; "success was my prescription. Be flattering for once. Let me think that I'm responsible for the miracle."
"Perhaps. I couldn't stay out there--afterward. The loneliness...."
"I didn't want to leave you loneliness," she burst out passionately under her breath. "I wanted to leave you memory and ambition and the determination to succeed."
"Oh, no; no!" She answered the harsh thought subtending his query. "Not for myself. Not for any pride. I'm not cheap, Ban."
"No; you're not cheap."
"I would have kept my distance.... It was quite true what I said to you about Betty Raleigh. It was not success alone that I wanted for you; I wanted happiness, too. I owed you that--after my mistake."
He caught up the last word. "You've admitted to yourself, then, that it was a mistake?"
"I played the game," she retorted. "One can't always play right. But one can always play fair."
"Yes; I know your creed of sportsmanship. There are worse religions."
"Do you think I played fair with you, Ban? After that night on the river?"
He was mute.
"Do you know why I didn't kiss you good-bye in the station? Not really kiss you, I mean, as I did on the island?"
"Because, if I had, I should never have had the strength to go away." She lifted her eyes to his. Her voice fell to a half whisper. "You understood, on the island?... What I meant?"
"But you didn't take me. I wonder. Ban, if it hadn't been for the light flashing in our eyes and giving us hope...?"
"How can I tell? I was dazed with the amazement and the glory of it--of you. But--yes. My God, yes! And then? Afterward?"
"Could there have been any afterward?" she questioned dreamily. "Would we not just have waited for the river to sweep us up and carry us away? What other ending could there have been, so fitting?"
"Anyway," he said with a sudden savage jealousy, "whatever happened you would not have gone away to marry Eyre."
"Should I not? I'm by no means sure. You don't understand much of me, my poor Ban."
"How could you!" he burst out. "Would that have been--"
"Oh, I should have told him, of course. I'd have said, 'Del, there's been another man, a lover.' One could say those things to him."
"Would he have married you?"
"You wouldn't, would you?" she smiled. "All or nothing, Ban, for you. About Del, I don't know." She shrugged dainty shoulders. "I shouldn't have much cared."
"And would you have come back to me, Io?"
"Do you want me to say 'Yes'? You do want me to say' Yes,' don't you, my dear? How can I tell?... Sooner or later, I suppose. Fate. The irresistible current. I am here now."
"Io." He leaned to her across the little table, his somber regard holding hers. "Why did you tell Camilla Van Arsdale that you would never divorce Eyre?"
"Because it's true."
"But why tell her? So that it should come back to me?"
She answered him straight and fearlessly. "Yes. I thought it would be easier for you to hear from her."
"Did you?" He sat staring past her at visions. It was not within Banneker's code, his sense of fair play in the game, to betray to Io his wonderment (shared by most of her own set) that she should have endured the affront of Del Eyre's openly flagitious life, even though she had herself implied some knowledge of it in her assumption that a divorce could be procured. However, Io met his reticence with characteristic candor.
"Of course I know about Del. We have a perfect understanding. He's agreed to maintain the outward decencies, from now on. I don't consider that I've the right to ask more. You see, I shouldn't have married him ... even though he understood that I wasn't really in love with him. We're friends; and we're going to remain friends. Just that. Del's a good sort," she added with a hint of pleading the cause of a misunderstood person. "He'd give me my divorce in a minute; even though he still cares--in his way. But there's his mother. She's a sort of latter-day saint; one of those rare people that you respect and love in equal parts; the only other one I know is Cousin Willis Enderby. She's an invalid, hopeless, and a Roman Catholic, and for me to divorce Del would poison the rest of her life. So I won't. I can't."
"She won't live forever," muttered Banneker.
"No. Not long, perhaps." There was pain and resolution in Io's eyes as they were lifted to meet his again. "There's another reason. I can't tell even you, Ban. The secret isn't mine.... I'm sorry."
"Haven't you any work to do to-day?" she asked after a pause, with a successful effect of lightness.
He roused himself, settled the check, and took her to her car, parked near by.
"Where do you go now?" he asked.
"Back to the country."
"When shall I see you again?"
"I wonder," said Io.
Panem et Circenses; bread and the Big Show. The diagnosis of the satyr-like mathematician had been accurate. That same method whereby the tyrants of Rome had sought to beguile the restless and unthinking multitude, Banneker adopted to capture and lead the sensation-avid metropolitan public through his newspaper. As a facture, a creation made to the mind of the creator, The Patriot was Banneker's own. True, Marrineal reserved full control. But Marrineal, after a few months spent in anxious observation of his editor's headlong and revolutionary method, had taken the sales reports for his determinative guide and decided to give the new man full sway.
Circulation had gone up as water rises in a tube under irresistible pressure from beneath. Nothing like it had ever been known in local journalism. Barring some set-back, within four years of the time when Banneker's introductory editorial appeared, the paper would have eclipsed all former records. In less than two years it had climbed to third place, and already Banneker's salary, under the percentage agreement, was, in the words of the alliterative Gardner, whose article describing The House With Three Eyes and its owner had gone forth on the wings of a far-spreading syndicate, "a stupendous stipend."
Banneker's editorials pervaded and gave the keynote. With sublime self-confidence he had adopted the untried scheme of having no set and determined place for the editorial department. Sometimes, his page appeared in the middle of the paper; sometimes on the back; and once, when a most promising scheme of municipal looting was just about to be put through, he fired his blast from the front sheet in extra heavy, double-leaded type, displacing an international yacht race and a most titillating society scandal with no more explanation than was to be found in the opening sentence:
"This is more important to YOU, Mr. New Yorker, than any other news in to-day's issue."
"Where Banneker sits," Russell Edmonds was wont to remark between puffs, "is the head of the paper."
"Let 'em look for the stuff," said Banneker confidently. "They'll think all the more of it when they find it."
Often he used inset illustrations, not so much to give point to his preachments, as to render them easier of comprehension to the unthinking. And always he sought the utmost of sensationalism in caption and in type, employing italics, capitals, and even heavy-face letters with an effect of detonation.
"Jollies you along until he can see the white of your mind, and then fires his slug into your head, point-blank," Edmonds said.
With all this he had the high art to keep his style direct, unaffected, almost severe. No frills, no literary graces, no flashes of wit except an occasional restrained touch of sarcasm: the writing was in the purest style and of a classic simplicity. The typical reader of The Patriot had a friendly and rather patronizing feeling for the editorials: they were generally deemed quite ordinary, "common as an old shoe" (with an approving accent from the commentator), comfortably devoid of the intricate elegancies practiced by Banneker's editorial compeers. So they were read and absorbed, which was all that their writer hoped or wished for them. He was not seeking the bubble, reputation, but the solid satisfaction of implanting ideas in minds hitherto unaroused to mental processes, and training the resultant thought in his chosen way and to eventual though still vague purposes.
"They're beginning to imitate you, Ban," commented Russell Edmonds in the days of The Patriot's first surprising upward leap. "Flattery of your peers."
"Let 'em imitate," returned Banneker indifferently.
"Yes; they don't come very near to the original. It's a fundamental difference in style."
"It's a fundamental difference in aim."
"They're writing at and for their owners; to make good with the boss. I'm writing at my public."
"I believe you're right. It's more difficult, though, isn't it, to write for a hundred thousand people than at one?"
"Not if you understand them from study at first hand, as I do. That's why the other fellows are five or ten-thousand-dollar men," said Banneker, quite without boastfulness "while I'm--"
"A fifty-thousand-dollar a year man," supplied Edmonds.
"Well, getting toward that figure. I'm on the target with the editorials and I'm going to hold on it. But our news policy is different. We still wobble there."
"What do you want! Look at the circulation. Isn't that good enough?"
"No. Every time I get into a street-car and see a passenger reading some other paper, I feel that we've missed fire," returned Banneker inexorably. "Pop, did you ever see an actress make up?"
"I've a general notion of the process."
"Find me a man who can make up news ready and rouged to go before the daily footlights as an actress makes up her face."
The veteran grunted. "Not to be found on Park Row."
"Probably not. Park Row is too deadly conventional."
One might suppose that the environment of religious journalism would be equally conventional. Yet it was from this department that the "find" eventually came, conducted by Edmonds. Edgar Severance, ten years older than Banneker, impressed the guiding spirit of The Patriot at first sight with a sense of inner certitude and serenity not in the least impaired by his shabbiness which had the redeeming merit of being clean.
"You're not a newspaper man?" said Banneker after the introduction. "What are you?"
"I'm a prostitute," answered the other equably.
Banneker smiled. "Where have you practiced your profession?"
"As assistant editor of Guidance. I write the blasphemous editorials which are so highly regarded by the sweetly simple souls that make up our _clientèle_; the ones which weekly give gratuitous advice to God."
"Did Mr. Edmonds find you there?"
"No," put in the veteran; "I traced him down through some popular scientific stuff in the Boston Sunday Star."
"Fake, all of it," proffered Severance. "Otherwise it wouldn't be popular."
"Is that your creed of journalism?" asked Banneker curiously.
"Why come to The Patriot, then? It isn't ours."
Severance raised his fine eyebrows, but contented himself with saying: "Isn't it? However, I didn't come. I was brought." He indicated Edmonds.
"He gave me more ideas on news-dressing," said the veteran, "than I'd pick up in a century on the Row."
"Ideas are what we're after. Where do you get yours, Mr. Severance, since you are not a practical newspaper man?"
"From talking with people, and seeing what the newspapers fail to do."
"Where were you before you went on Guidance?"
"Instructor at Harvard."
"And you practiced your--er--specified profession there, too?"
"Oh, no. I was partly respectable then.
"Why did you leave?"
"Ah? You don't build up much of a character for yourself as prospective employee."
"If I join The Patriot staff I shall probably disappear once a month or so on a spree."
"Why should you join The Patriot staff? That is what you fail to make clear to me."
"Reference, Mr. Russell Edmonds," returned the other negligently.
"You two aren't getting anywhere with all this chatter," growled the reference. "Come, Severance; talk turkey, as you did to me."
"I don't want to talk," objected the other in his gentle, scholarly accents. "I want to look about: to diagnose the trouble in the news department."
"What do you suspect the trouble to be?" asked Banneker.
"Oh, the universal difficulty. Lack of brains."
Banneker laughed, but without relish. "We pay enough for what we've got. It ought to be good quality."
"You pay not wisely but too well. My own princely emolument as a prop of piety is thirty-five dollars a week."
"Would you come here at that figure?"
"I should prefer forty. For a period of six weeks, on trial."
"As Mr. Edmonds seems to think it worth the gamble, I'll take you on. From to-day, if you wish. Go out and look around."
"Wait a minute," interposed Edmonds. "What's his title? How is his job to be defined?"
"Call him my representative in the news department. I'll pay his salary myself. If he makes good, I'll more than get it back."
Mr. Severance's first concern appeared to be to make himself popular. In the anomalous position which he occupied as representative between two mutually jealous departments, this was no easy matter. But his quiet, contained courtesy, his tentative, almost timid, way of offering suggestions or throwing out hints which subsequently proved to have definite and often surprising value, his retiring willingness to waive any credit in favor of whosoever might choose to claim it, soon gave him an assured if inconspicuous position. His advice was widely sought. As an immediate corollary a new impress made itself felt in the daily columns. With his quick sensitiveness Banneker apprehended the change. It seemed to him that the paper was becoming feminized in a curious manner.
"Is it a play for the women?" he asked Severance in the early days of the development.
"You're certainly specializing on femaleness."
"For the men. Not the women. It's an old lure."
Banneker frowned. "And not a pretty one."
"Effective, though. I bagged it from the Police Gazette. Have you ever had occasion to note the almost unvarying cover appeal of that justly popular weekly?"
"Half-dressed women," said Banneker, whose early researches had extended even to those levels.
"Exactly. With all they connote. Thereby attracting the crude and roving male eye. Of course, we must do the trick more artistically and less obviously. But the pictured effect is the thing. I'm satisfied of that. By the way, I am having a little difficulty with your art department. Your man doesn't adapt himself to new ideas."
"I've thought him rather old-fashioned. What do you want to do?"
"Bring in a young chap named Capron whom I've run upon. He used to be an itinerant photographer, and afterward had a try at the movies, but he's essentially a news man. Let him read the papers for pictures."
Capron came on the staff as an insignificant member with an insignificant salary. Personally a man of blameless domesticity, he was intellectually and professionally a sex-monger. He conceived the business of a news art department to be to furnish pictured Susannahs for the delectation of the elders of the reading public. His _flair_ for femininity he transferred to The Patriot's pages, according to a simple and direct formula; the greater the display of woman, the surer the appeal and therefore the sale. Legs and bosoms he specialized for in illustrations. Bathing-suits and boudoir scenes were his particular aim, although any picture with a scandal attachment in the accompanying news would serve, the latter, however, to be handled in such manner as invariably to point a moral. Herein his team work with Severance was applied in high perfection.
"Should Our Girls Become Artists' Models" was one of their early and inspired collaborations, a series begun with a line of "beauty pictures" and spun out by interviews with well or less known painters and illustrators, giving rich opportunity for displays of nudity, the moral being pointed by equally lavish interviews with sociologists and prominent Mothers in Israel. Although at least ninety-nine per cent of all professional posing is such as would not be out of place at a church sociable, the casual reader of the Capron-Severance presentation would have supposed that a lace veil was the extent of the protection allowed to a female model between sheer nakedness and the outer artistic world. Following this came a department devoted (ostensibly) to physical culture for women. It was conducted by the proprietress of a fashionable reducing gymnasium, who was allowed, as this was a comparatively unimportant feature, to supply the text subject to Severance's touching-up ingenuity; but the models were devised and posed by Capron. They were extremely shapely and increasingly expressive in posture and arrangement until they attained a point where the post-office authorities evinced symptoms of rising excitement--though not the type of excitement at which the Art Expert was aiming--when the series took a turn for the milder, and more purely athletic, and, by the same token, less appetizing; and presently faded away in a burst of semi-editorial self-laudation over The Patriot's altruistic endeavors to improve the physical status of the "future mothers of the nation."
Failing any other excuse for their careful lubricities, the team could always conjure up an enticing special feature from an imaginary foreign correspondent, aimed direct at the family circle and warning against the "Moral Pitfalls of Paris," or the "Vampires of High Life in Vienna." The invariable rule was that all sex-stuff must have a moral and virtuous slant. Thus was afforded to the appreciative reader a double satisfaction, physical and ethical, pruriency and piety.
It was Capron who devised the simple but effective legend which afterward became, in a thousand variants, a stock part of every news item interesting enough to merit graphic treatment, "The X Marks the Spot Where the Body Was Found." He, too, adapted, from a design in a drug-store window picturing a sponge fisherman in action, the cross-section illustration for news. Within a few weeks he had displaced the outdated art editor and was in receipt of a larger salary than the city editor, who dealt primarily in news, not sensations, _panem_ not _circenses_.
Sensationalism of other kinds was spurred to keep pace with the sex appeal. The news columns became constantly more lurid. They shrieked, yelled, blared, shrilled, and boomed the scandals and horrors of the moment in multivocal, multigraphic clamor, tainting the peaceful air breathed by everyday people going about their everyday business, with incredible blatancies which would be forgotten on the morrow in the excitement of fresh percussions, though the cumulative effect upon the public mind and appetite might be ineradicable. "Murderer Dabbles Name in Bloody Print." "Wronged Wife Mars Rival's Beauty." "Society Woman Gives Hundred-Dollar-Plate Dinner." "Scientist Claims Life Flickers in Mummy." "Cocktails, Wine, Drug, Ruin for Lovely Girl of Sixteen." "Financier Resigns After Sprightly Scene at Long Beach." Severance developed a literary genius for excitant and provocative word-combinations in the headings; "Love-Slave," "Girl-Slasher," "Passion-Victim," "Death-Hand," "Vengeance-Oath," "Lust-Fiend." The articles chosen for special display were such as lent themselves, first, to his formula for illustration, and next to captions which thrilled with the sensations of crime, mystery, envy of the rich and conspicuous, or lechery, half concealed or unconcealed. For facts as such he cared nothing. His conception of news was as a peg upon which to hang a sensation. "Love and luxury for the women: money and power for the men," was his broad working scheme for the special interest of the paper, with, of course, crime and the allure of the flesh for general interest. A jungle man, perusing one day's issue (supposing him to have been competent to assimilate it), would have judged the civilization pictured therein too grisly for his unaccustomed nerves and fled in horror back to the direct, natural, and uncomplicated raids and homicides of the decent wilds.
The Great Gaines, descending for once from the habitual classicism of his phraseology, described The Patriot of Severance's production in two terse and sufficient words.
That itch irked Banneker almost unendurably at times. He longed to be relieved of it; to scratch the irritant Severance clean off the skin of The Patriot. But Severance was too evidently valuable. Banneker did go so far as to protest.
"Aren't you rather overdoing this thing, Severance?"
"Which thing? We're overdoing everything; hence the growth of the paper."
Banneker fell back upon banality. "Well, we've got to draw the line somewhere."
Severance bestowed upon the other his well-bred and delicate smile. "Exactly my principle. I'm for drawing the line every issue and on every page, if there's room for it. '_Nulla dies sine linea_.' The line of appeal to the sensations, whether it's a pretty face or a caption that jumps out and grabs you by the eye. I want to make 'em gloat."
"I see. You were in earnest more or less when in our first talk, you defined your profession."
Severance waved a graceful hand. "Prostitution is the profession of all successful journalism which looks at itself honestly. Why not play the pander frankly?--among ourselves, of course. Perhaps I'm offending you, Mr. Banneker."
"You're interesting me. But, 'among ourselves' you say. You're not a newspaper man; you haven't the traditions."
"Therefore I haven't the blind spots. I'm not fooled by the sentimentalism of the profession or the sniveling claims of being an apostle of public enlightenment. If enlightenment pays, all very well. But it's circulation, not illumination, that's the prime desideratum. Frankly, I'd feed the public gut with all it can and will stand."
"Even to the extent of keeping the Tallman divorce scandal on the front page for a week consecutively. You won't pretend that, as news, it's worth it."
"Give me a definition of news," retorted the expert. "The Tallman story won't alter the history of the world. But it has its--well, its specialized value for our purposes."
"You mean," said Banneker, deliberately stimulating his own growing nausea, "that it makes the public's mind itch."
"It's a pretty filthy and scabby sort of animal, the public, Mr. Banneker. We're not trying to reform its morals in our news columns, I take it."
"No. No; we're not. Still--"
"That's the province of your editorials," went on the apostle of titillation smoothly. "You may in time even educate them up to a standard of decency where they won't demand the sort of thing we're giving them now. But our present business with the news columns is to catch them for you to educate."
"Quite so! You lure them into the dive where I wait to preach them a sermon."
After that conversation Banneker definitely decided that Severance's activities must be curbed. But when he set about it, he suffered an unpleasant surprise. Marrineal, thoroughly apprised of the new man's activities (as he was, by some occult means of his own, of everything going on in the office), stood fast by the successful method, and let Banneker know, tactfully but unmistakably, that Severance, who had been transferred to the regular payroll at a highly satisfactory figure, was to have a free hand. So the ex-religious editor continued to stroll leisurely through his unauthoritative and influential routine, contributing his commentary upon the news as it flowed in. He would saunter over to the make-up man's clotted desk, run his eye over the dummy of the morrow's issue, and inquire;
"Wasn't there a shooting scrape over a woman in a big West-Side apartment?... Being kept by the chap that was shot, wasn't she?... Oh, a bank clerk?... Well, that's a pretty dull-looking seventh page. Why not lift this text of the new Suburban Railways Bill and spread the shooting across three columns? Get Sanderson to work out a diagram and do one of his filmy line drawings of the girl lying on the couch. And let's be sure to get the word 'Banker' into the top head."
Or he would deliver a practical lecture from a text picked out of what to a less keen-scented news-hound might have appeared an unpromising subject.
"Can't we round out that disappearance story a little; the suburban woman who hasn't been seen since she went to New York three days ago? Get Capron to fake up a picture of the home with the three children in it grouped around Bereaved Husband, and--here, how would something like this do for caption: '"Mamma, Mamma! Come Back!" Sob Tiny Tots.' The human touch. Nothing like a bit of slush to catch the women. And we've been going a little shy on sentiment lately."
The "human touch," though it became an office joke, also took its place as an unwritten law. Severance's calm and impersonal cynicism was transmuted into a genuine enthusiasm among the copy-readers. Headlining took on a new interest, whetted by the establishment of a weekly prize for the most attractive caption. Maximum of sensationalism was the invariable test.
Despite his growing distaste for the Severance cult, Banneker was honest enough to admit that the original stimulus dated from the day when he himself had injected his personality and ideas into the various departments of the daily. He had established the new policy; Severance had done no more than inform it with the heated imaginings and provocative pictorial quality inherent in a mind intensely if scornfully apprehensive of the unsatiated potential depravities of public taste. It was Banneker's hand that had set the strings vibrating to a new tune; Severance had only raised the pitch, to the _n_th degree of sensationalism. And, in so far as the editorial page gave him a lead, the disciple was faithful to the principles and policies of his chief. The practice of the news columns was always informed by a patently defensible principle. It paeaned the virtues of the poor and lowly; it howled for the blood of the wicked and the oppressor; it was strident for morality, the sanctity of the home, chastity, thrift, sobriety, the People, religion, American supremacy. As a corollary of these pious standards it invariably took sides against wealth and power, sentimentalized every woman who found her way into the public prints, whether she had perpetrated a murder or endowed a hospital, simpered and slavered over any "heart-interest story" of childhood ("blue-eyed tot stuff" was the technical office term), and licked reprehensive but gustful lips over divorce, adultery, and the sexual complications. It peeped through keyholes of print at the sanctified doings of Society and snarled while it groveled. All the shibboleths of a journalism which respected neither itself, its purpose, nor its readers echoed from every page. And this was the reflex of the work and thought of Errol Banneker, who intimately respected himself, and his profession as expressed in himself. There is much of the paradoxical in journalism--as, indeed, in the life which it distortedly mirrors.
Every other newspaper in town caught the contagion; became by insensible degrees more sensational and pornographic. The Patriot had started a rag-time pace (based on the same fundamental instinct which the rhythm of rag-time expresses, if the psychologists are correct) and the rest must, perforce, adopt it. Such as lagged in this Harlot's Progress suffered a loss of circulation, journalism's most condign penalty. For there are certain appetites which, once stimulated, must be appeased. Otherwise business wanes!
Out of conscious nothing, as represented by the now moribund News, there was provoked one evening a large, round, middle-aged, smiling, bespectacled apparition who named himself as Rudy Sheffer and invited himself to a job. Marrineal had sent him to Severance, and Severance, ever tactful, had brought him to Banneker. Russell Edmonds being called in, the three sat in judgment upon the Big Idea which Mr. Sheffer had brought with him and which was:
"Give 'em a laugh."
"The potentialities of humor as a circulation agency," opined Severance in his smoothest academic voice, "have never been properly exploited."
"A laugh on every page where there ain't a thrill," pursued Sheffer confidently.
"You find some of our pages dull?" asked Banneker, always interested in any new view.
"Well, your market page ain't no scream. You gotta admit it."
"People don't usually want to laugh when they're studying the stock market," growled Edmonds.
"Surprise 'em, then. Give 'em a jab in the ribs and see how they like it. Pictures. Real comics. Anywhere in the paper that there's room for 'em."
"There's always a cartoon on the editorial page," pointed out Banneker.
"Cartoon? What does that get you? A cartoon's an editorial, ain't it?"
Russell Edmonds shot a side glance at Banneker, meaning: "This is no fool. Watch him."
"Makes 'em think, don't it?" pursued the visitor. "If it tickles 'em, that's on the side. It gets after their minds, makes 'em work for what they get. That's an effort. See?"
"All right. What's your aim?"
"Not their brains. I leave that to Mr. Banneker's editorials. I'm after the laugh that starts down here." He laid hand upon his rotund waistcoat. "The belly-laugh."
"The anatomy of anti-melancholy," murmured Severance. "Valuable."
"You're right, it's valuable," declared its proponent. "It's money; that's what it is. Watch 'em at the movies. When their bellies begin to shake, the picture's got 'em."
"How would you produce this desirable effect?" asked Severance.
"No trouble to show goods. I'm dealing with gents, I know. This is all under your shirt for the present, if you don't take up the scheme."
From a portfolio which he had set in a corner he produced a sheaf of drawings. They depicted the adventures, mischievous, predatory, or criminal, of a pair of young hopefuls whose physiognomies and postures were genuinely ludicrous.
"Did you draw these?" asked Banneker in surprise, for the draughtsmanship was expert.
"No. Hired a kid artist to do 'em. I furnished the idea."
"Oh, you furnished the idea, did you?" queried Edmonds. "And where did you get it?"
With an ineffably satisfied air, Mr. Sheffer tapped his bullet head.
"You must be older than you look, then. Those figures of the kids are redrawn from a last-century German humorous classic, 'Max und Moritz.' I used to be crazy over it when I was a youngster. My grandfather brought it to me from Europe, and made a translation for us youngsters."
"Sure! Those pictures'd make a reformer laugh. I picked up the book in German on an Ann Street sidewalk stand, caught the Big Idea right then and there; to Americanize the stuff and--"
"For 'Americanize,' read 'steal,'" commented Edmonds.
"There ain't no thin' crooked in this," protested the other with sincerity. "The stuff ain't copyrighted here. I looked that up particularly."
"Quite true, I believe," confirmed Severance. "It's an open field."
"I got ten series mapped out to start. Call 'em 'The Trouble-hunter Twins, Ruff and Reddy.' If they catch on, the artist and me can keep 'em goin' forever. And they'll catch."
"I believe they will," said Severance.
"Smeared across the top of a page it'll make a business man laugh as hard as a kid. I know business men. I was one, myself. Sold bar fixtures on the road for four years. And my best selling method was the laughs I got out of 'em. Used to take a bit of chalk and do sketches on the table-tops. So I know what makes 'em laugh. Belly-laughs. You make a business man laugh that way, and you get his business. It ain't circulation alone; it's advertising that the stuff will bring in. Eh?"
"What do you think, Mr. Banneker?" asked Severance.
"It's worth trying," decided Banneker after thought. "You don't think so, do you, Pop?"
"Oh, go ahead!" returned Edmonds, spewing forth a mouthful of smoke as if to expel a bad taste. "What's larceny among friends?"
"But we're not taking anything of value, since there's no copyright and any one can grab it," pointed out the smooth Severance.
Thus there entered into the high-tension atmosphere of the sensationalized Patriot the relaxing quality of humor. Under the ingenuous and acquisitive Sheffer, whose twins achieved immediate popularity, it developed along other lines. Sheffer--who knew what makes business men laugh--pinned his simple faith to three main subjects, convulsive of the diaphragmatic muscles, building up each series upon the inherent humor to be extracted from physical violence as represented in the perpetrations and punishments of Ruff and Reddy, marital infidelity as mirrored in the stratagems and errancies of an amorous ape with an aged and jealous spouse, and the sure-fire familiarity of aged minstrel jokes (mother-in-law, country constable, young married cookery, and the like) refurbished in pictorial serials through the agency of two uproarious and imbecilic vulgarians, Bonehead and Buttinsky.
Children cried for them, and laughed to exhaustion over them. Not less did the mentally exhausted business man writhe abdominally over their appeal. Spread across the top of three pages they wrung the profitable belly-laugh from growing thousands of new readers. If Banneker sometimes had misgivings that the educational influence of The Patriot was not notably improved by all this instigation of crime and immorality made subject for mirth in the mind of developing youth, he stifled them in the thought of increased reading public for his own columns. Furthermore, it was not his newspaper, anyway.
But the editorial page was still peculiarly his own, and with that clarity of view which he never permitted personal considerations to prejudice, Banneker perceived that it was falling below pitch. Or, rather, that, while it remained static, the rest of the paper, under the stimulus of Severance, Capron, Sheffer, and, in the background but increasingly though subtly assertive, Marrineal, had raised its level of excitation. Change his editorials he would not. Nor was there need; the response to them was too widespread and fervent, their following too blindly fanatic, the opposition roused by them too furious to permit of any doubt as to their effectiveness. But that portion of the page not taken up by his writings and the cartoon (which was often based upon an idea supplied by him), was susceptible of alteration, of keying-up. Casting about him for the popular note, the circus appeal, he started a "signed-article" department of editorial contributions to which he invited any and all persons of prominence in whatever line. The lure of that universal egotism which loves to see itself in the public eye secured a surprising number of names. Propagandists were quick to appreciate the opportunity of The Patriot's wide circulation for furthering their designs, selfish or altruistic. To such desirables as could not be caught by other lures, Banneker offered generous payment.
It was on this latter basis that he secured a prize, in the person of the Reverend George Bland, ex-revivalist, ex-author of pious stories for the young, skilled dealer in truisms, in wordy platitudes couched largely in plagiarized language from the poets and essayists, in all the pseudo-religious slickeries wherewith men's souls are so easily lulled into self-satisfaction. The Good, the True, the Beautiful; these were his texts, but the real god of his worship was Success. This, under the guise of Duty ("man's God-inspired ambition to be true to his best possibilities"), he preached day in and day out through his "Daily Help" in The Patriot: Be guided by me and you will be good: Be good and you will be prosperous: Be prosperous and you will be happy. On an adjoining page there were other and far more specific instructions as to how to be prosperous and happy, by backing Speedfoot at 10 to 1 in the first race, or Flashaway at 5 to 2 in the third. Sometimes the Reverend Bland inveighed convincingly against the evils of betting. Yet a cynic might guess that the tipsters' recipes for being prosperous and happy (and therefore, by a logical inversion, good) were perhaps as well based and practical as the reverend moralist's. His correspondence, surest indication of editorial following, grew to be almost as large as Banneker's. Severance nicknamed him "the Oracle of Boobs," and for short he became known as the "Booblewarbler," for there were times when he burst into verse, strongly reminiscent of the older hymnals. This he resented hotly and genuinely, for he was quite sincere; as sincere as Sheffer, in his belief in himself. But he despised Sheffer and feared Severance, not for what the latter represented, but for the cynical honesty of his attitude. In retort for Severance's stab, he dubbed the pair Mephistopheles and Falstaff, which was above his usual felicitousness of characterization. Sheffer (who read Shakespeare to improve his mind, and for ideas!) was rather flattered.
Even the platitudinous Bland had his practical inspirations; if they had not been practical, they would not have been Bland's. One of these was an analysis of the national business character.
"We Americans," he wrote, "are natural merchandisers. We care less for the making of a thing than for the selling of it. Salesmanship is the great American game. It calls forth all our native genius; it is the expression of our originality, our inventiveness, our ingenuity, our idealism," and so on, for a full column slathered with deadly and self-betraying encomiums. For the Reverend Bland believed heartily that the market was the highest test of humankind. _He_ would rather sell a thing than make it! In fact, anything made with any other purpose than to sell would probably not be successful, and would fail to make its author prosperous; therefore it must be wrong. Not the creator, but the salesman was the modern evangel.
"The Booblewarbler has given away the game," commented Severance with his slight, ironic smile, the day when this naive effusion appeared. "He's right, of course. But he thinks he's praising when he's damning."
Banneker was disturbed. But the flood of letters which came in promptly reassured him. The Reverend editorializer was hailed broadcast as the Messiah of the holy creed of Salesmanship, of the high cult of getting rid of something for more than it is worth. He was organized into a lecture tour; his department in the paper waxed ever greater. Banneker, with his swift appreciation of a hit, followed the lead with editorials; hired authors to write short stories glorifying the ennobled figure of the Salesman, his smartness, his strategy, his ruthless trickery, his success. And the salesmanhood of the nation, in trains, in hotel lobbies, at the breakfast table with its Patriot propped up flanking the egg and coffee, rose up to call him blessed and to add to his income.
Personal experiences in achieving success were a logical sequence to this; success in any field, from running a city as set forth by His Honor the Mayor, to becoming a movie star, by all the movie stars or aspirants whom their press-agents could crowd into the paper. A distinguished novelist of notably high blood-pressure contributed a series of thoughtful essays on "How to be Irresistible in Love," and a sentimental pugilist indulged in reminiscences (per a hired pen from the cheap magazine field) upon "The Influence of my Mother on my Career." An imitator of Banneker developed a daily half-column of self-improvement and inspiration upon moral topics, achieving his effects by capitalizing all the words which otherwise would have been too feeble or banal to attract notice, thereby giving an air of sublimated importance to the mildly incomprehensible. Nine tenths of The Patriot's editorial readers believed that they were following a great philosopher along the path of the eternal profundities. To give a touch of science, an amateur astronomer wrote stirring imaginative articles on interstellar space, and there were occasional "authoritative" pronouncements by men of importance in the political, financial, or intellectual worlds, lifted from public speeches or old publications. The page, if it did not actually itch, buzzed and clanged. But above the composite clamor rose ever the voice of Banneker, clear, serene, compelling.
And Banneker took his pay for it, deeming it well earned.
Life was broadening out before Banneker into new and golden persuasions. He had become a person of consequence, a force to be reckoned with, in the great, unheeding city. By sheer resolute thinking and planning, expressed and fulfilled in unsparing labor, he had made opportunity lead to opportunity until his position was won. He was courted, sought after, accepted by representative people of every sort, their interest and liking answering to his broad but fine catholicity of taste in human relationships. If he had no intimates other than Russell Edmonds, it was because he felt no need of them.
He had found Io again.
Prophecies had all failed in the matter of his rise. He thought, with pardonable exultation, of how he had confuted them, one after another. Cressey had doubted that one could be at the same time a successful journalist and a gentleman; Horace Vanney had deemed individuality inconsistent with newspaper writing; Tommy Burt and other jejune pessimists of the craft had declared genuine honesty incompatible with the higher and more authoritative phases of the profession. Almost without set plan and by an inevitable progress, as it now seemed to him, he had risen to the most conspicuous, if not yet the most important, position on Park Row, and had suffered no conscious compromise of standards, whether of self-respect, self-assertion, or honor.
Had he ever allowed monetary considerations seriously to concern him, he might have been troubled by an untoward and not easily explicable phenomenon. His bank account consistently failed to increase in ratio to his earnings. In fact, what with tempting investments, the importunities of a highly luxurious taste in life hitherto unsuspected, and an occasional gambling flyer, his balance was precarious, so to speak. With the happy optimism of one to whom the rosy present casts an intensified glow upon the future, he confidently anticipated a greatly and steadily augmented income, since the circulation of The Patriot was now the terror of its rivals. That any radical alteration could be made in his method of recompense did not occur to him. So completely had he identified himself with The Patriot that he subconsciously regarded himself as essential to its prosperity if not to its actual existence. Therein he was supported by all the expert opinion of Park Row. Already he had accepted one modification of his contract, and his takings for new circulation were now twenty-five cents per unit per year instead of fifty cents as formerly.
But Tertius Marrineal and his business manager, a shrewd and practical gentleman named Haring, had done a vast deal of expert figuring, as a result of which the owner strolled into his editor's office one noon with his casual air of having nothing else to do, and pleasantly inquired:
"If I weren't, I wouldn't be worth much," returned Banneker, in a cheerful tone.
"Well, if you can spare me fifteen minutes--"
"Sit down." Banneker swiveled his chair to face the other.
"I needn't tell you that the paper is a success; a big success," began Marrineal.
"You needn't. But it's always pleasant to hear."
"Possibly too big a success. What would you say to letting circulation drop for a while?"
"What!" Banneker felt a momentary queer sensation near the pit of his stomach. If the circulation dropped, his income followed it. But could Marrineal be serious?
"The fact is we've reached the point where more circulation is a luxury. We're printing an enormous paper, and wood-pulp prices are going up. If we could raise our advertising rates;--but Mr. Haring thinks that three raises a year is all the traffic will bear. The fact is, Mr. Banneker, that the paper isn't making money. We've run ahead of ourselves. You're swallowing all the profits."
Banneker's inner voice said warningly to Banneker, "So that's it." Banneker's outer voice said nothing.
"Then there's the matter of advertising. Your policy is not helping us much there."
"The advertising is increasing."
"Not in proportion to circulation. Nothing like."
"If the proper ratio isn't maintained, that is the concern of the advertising department, isn't it?"
"Very much the concern. Will you talk with Mr. Haring about it?"
Early in Banneker's editorship it had been agreed that he should keep free of any business or advertising complications. Experience and the warnings of Russell Edmonds had told him that the only course of editorial independence lay in totally ignoring the effect of what he might write upon the profits and prejudices of the advertisers, who were, of course, the principal support of the paper. Furthermore, Banneker heartily despised about half of the advertising which the paper carried; dubious financial proffers, flamboyant mercantile copy of diamond dealers, cheap tailors, installment furniture profiteers, the lure of loan sharks and race-track tipsters, and the specious and deadly fallacies of the medical quacks. Appealing as it did to an ignorant and "easy" class of the public ("Banneker's First-Readers," Russell Edmonds was wont to call them), The Patriot offered a profitable field for all the pitfall-setters of print. The less that Banneker knew about them the more comfortable would he be. So he turned his face away from those columns.
The negative which he returned to Marrineal's question was no more or less than that astute gentleman expected.
"We carried an editorial last week on cigarettes, 'There's a Yellow Stain on Your Boy's Fingers--Is There Another on his Character?'"
"Yes. It is still bringing in letters."
"It is. Letters of protest."
"From the tobacco people?"
"Exactly. Mr. Banneker, don't you regard tobacco as a legitimate article of use?"
"Oh, entirely. Couldn't do without it, myself."
"Why attack it, then, in your column?"
"Because my column," answered Banneker with perceptible emphasis on the possessive, "doesn't believe that cigarettes are good for boys."
"Nobody does. But the effect of your editorial is to play into the hands of the anti-tobacco people. It's an indiscriminate onslaught on all tobacco. That's the effect of it."
"And the result is that the tobacco people are threatening to cut us off from their new advertising appropriation."
"Out of my department," said Banneker calmly.
Marrineal was a patient man. He pursued. "You have offended the medical advertisers by your support of the so-called Honest Label Bill."
"It's a good bill."
"Nearly a quarter of our advertising revenue is from the patent-medicine people."
"They pay your salary," Marrineal pointed out.
"Not mine," said Banneker vigorously. "The paper pays my salary."
"Without the support of the very advertisers that you are attacking, it couldn't continue to pay it. Yet you decline to admit any responsibility to them."
"Absolutely. To them or for them."
"I confess I can't see your basis," said the reasonable Marrineal. "Considering what you have received in income from the paper--"
"I have worked for it."
"Admitted. But that you should absorb practically all the profits--isn't that a little lopsided, Mr. Banneker?"
"What is your proposition, Mr. Marrineal?"
Marrineal put his long, delicate fingers together, tip to tip before his face, and appeared to be carefully reckoning them up. About the time when he might reasonably have been expected to have audited the total and found it to be the correct eight with two supplementary thumbs, he ejaculated:
"Between the editorial page and the advertising department?"
"Perhaps I should have said profit-sharing. I propose that in lieu of our present arrangement, based upon a percentage on a circulation which is actually becoming a liability instead of an asset, we should reckon your salary on a basis of the paper's net earnings." As Banneker, sitting with thoughtful eyes fixed upon him, made no comment, he added: "To show that I do not underestimate your value to the paper, I propose to pay you fifteen per cent of the net earnings for the next three years. By the way, it won't be necessary hereafter, for you to give any time to the news or Sunday features."
"No. You've got out of me about all you could on that side," observed Banneker.
"The policy is established and successful, thanks largely to you. I would be the last to deny it."
"What do you reckon as my probable income under the proposed arrangement?"
"Of course," answered the proprietor apologetically, "it would be somewhat reduced this year. If our advertising revenue increases, as it naturally should, your percentage might easily rise above your earnings under the old arrangement."
"I see," commented Banneker thoughtfully. "You propose to make it worth my while to walk warily. As the pussy foots it, so to speak."
"I ask you to recognize the fairness of the proposition that you conduct your column in the best interests of the concern--which, under the new arrangement, would also be your own best interests."
"Clear. Limpidly clear," murmured Banneker. "And if I decline the new basis, what is the alternative?"
"Cut down circulation, and with it, loss."
"And the other, the real alternative?" queried the imperturbable Banneker.
Marrineal smiled, with a touch of appeal in his expression.
"Frankness is best, isn't it?" propounded the editor. "I don't believe, Mr. Marrineal, that this paper can get along without me. It has become too completely identified with my editorial idea. On the other hand, I can get along without it."
"By accepting the offer of the Mid-West Evening Syndicate, beginning at forty thousand a year?"
"You're well posted," said Banneker, startled.
"Of necessity. What would you suppose?"
"Your information is fairly accurate."
"I'm prepared to make you a guarantee of forty thousand, as a minimum."
"I shall make nearer sixty than fifty this year."
"At the expense of a possible loss to the paper. Come, Mr. Banneker; the fairness of my offer is evident. A generous guarantee, and a brilliant chance of future profits."
"_And_ a free hand with my editorials?"
"Surely that will arrange itself."
"Precisely what I fear." Banneker had been making some swift calculations on his desk-blotter. Now he took up a blue pencil and with a gesture, significant and not without dramatic effect, struck it down through the reckoning. "No, Mr. Marrineal. It isn't good enough. I hold to the old status. When our contract is out--"
"Just a moment, Mr. Banneker. Isn't there a French proverb, something about no man being as indispensable as he thinks?" Marrineal's voice was never more suave and friendly. "Before you make any final decision, look these over." He produced from his pocket half a dozen of what appeared to be Patriot editorial clippings.
The editor of The Patriot glanced rapidly through them. A puzzled frown appeared on his face.
"When did I write these?"
"They're dam' good."
"Also, they're dam' thievery."
"Doubtless you mean flattery. In its sincerest form. Imitation."
"Perfect. I could believe I'd written them myself."
"Yes; I've been a very careful student of The Patriot's editorial style."
"The Patriot's! Mine!"
"Surely not. You would hardly contend seriously that, having paid the longest price on record for the editorials, The Patriot has not a vested right in them and their style."
"I see," said Banneker thoughtfully. Inwardly he cursed himself for the worst kind of a fool; the fool who underestimates the caliber of his opponent.
"Would you say," continued the smooth voice of the other, "that these might be mistaken for your work?"
"Nobody would know the difference. It's robbery of the rankest kind. But it's infernally clever."
"I'm not going to quarrel with you over a definition, Mr. Banneker," said Marrineal. He leaned a little forward with a smile so frank and friendly that it quite astonished the other. "And I'm not going to let you go, either," he pursued. "You need me and I need you. I'm not fool enough to suppose that the imitation can ever continue to be as good as the real thing. We'll make it a fifty thousand guarantee, if you say so. And, as for your editorial policy--well, I'll take a chance on your seeing reason. After all, there's plenty of earth to prance on without always treading on people's toes.... Well, don't decide now. Take your time to it." He rose and went to the door. There he turned, flapping the loose imitations in his hands.
"Banneker," he said chuckling, "aren't they really dam' good!" and vanished.
In that moment Banneker felt a surge of the first real liking he had ever known for his employer. Marrineal had been purely human for a flash.
Nevertheless, in the first revulsion after the proprietor had left, Banneker's unconquered independence rose within him, jealous and clamant. He felt repressions, claims, interferences potentially closing in upon his pen, also an undefined dread of the sharply revealed overseer. That a force other than his own mind and convictions should exert pressure, even if unsuccessful, upon his writings, was intolerable. Better anything than that. The Mid-West Syndicate, he knew, would leave him absolutely untrammeled. He would write the general director at once.
In the act of beginning the letter, the thought struck and stunned him that this would mean leaving New York. Going to live in a Middle-Western city, a thousand miles outside of the orbit in which moved Io Eyre!
He left the letter unfinished, and the issue to the fates.
Put to the direct question, as, for example, on the witness stand, Mr. Ely Ives would, before his connection with Tertius Marrineal, have probably identified himself as a press-agent. In that capacity he had acted, from time to time, for a railroad with many axes to grind, a widespread stock-gambling enterprise, a minor political ring, a liquor combination, and a millionaire widow from the West who innocently believed that publicity, as manipulated by Mr. Ives, could gain social prestige for her in the East.
In every phase of his employment, the ex-medical student had gathered curious and valuable lore. In fact he was one of those acquisitive persons who collect and hoard scandals, a miser of private and furtive information. His was the zeal of the born collector; something of the genius, too: he boasted a keen instinct. In his earlier and more precarious days he had formed the habit of watching for and collating all possible advices concerning those whom he worked for or worked against and branching from them to others along radiating lines of business, social, or family relationships. To him New York was a huge web, of sinister and promising design, dim, involved, too often impenetrable in the corners where the big spiders spin. He had two guiding maxims: "It may come in handy some day," and "They'll all bear watching." Before the prosperous time, he had been, in his devotion to his guiding principles, a practitioner of the detective arts in some of their least savory phases; had haunted doorsteps, lurked upon corners, been rained upon, snowed upon, possibly spat upon, even arrested; all of which he accepted, mournful but uncomplaining. One cannot whole-heartedly serve an ideal and come off scatheless. He was adroit, well-spoken, smooth of surface, easy of purse, untiring, supple, and of an inexhaustible good-humor. It was from the ex-medical student that Marrineal had learned of Banneker's offer from the Syndicate, also of his over-prodigal hand in money matters.
"He's got to have the cash," was the expert's opinion upon Banneker. "There's your hold on him.... Quit? No danger. New York's in his blood. He's in love with life, puppy-love; his clubs, his theater first-nights, his invitations to big houses which he seldom accepts, big people coming to his House with Three Eyes. And, of course, his sense of power in the paper. No; he won't quit. How could he? He'll compromise."
"Do you figure him to be the compromising sort?" asked Marrineal doubtfully.
"He isn't the journalistic Puritan that he lets on to be. Look at that Harvey Wheelwright editorial," pointed out the acute Ives. "He don't believe what he wrote about Wheelwright; just did it for his own purposes. Well, if the oracle can work himself for his own purposes, others can work him when the time comes, if it's properly managed."
Marrineal shook his head. "If there's a weakness in him I haven't found it."
Ives put on a look of confidential assurance. "Be sure it's there. Only it isn't of the ordinary kind. Banneker is pretty big in his way. No," he pursued thoughtfully; "it isn't women, and it isn't Wall Street, and it isn't drink; it isn't even money, in the usual sense. But it's something. By the way, did I tell you that I'd found an acquaintance from the desert where Banneker hails from?"
"No." Marrineal's tone subtly indicated that he should have been told at once. That sort of thing was, indeed, the basis on which Ives drew a considerable stipend from his patron's private purse, as "personal representative of Mr. Marrineal" for purposes unspecified.
"A railroad man. From what he tells me there was some sort of love-affair there. A girl who materialized from nowhere and spent two weeks, mostly with the romantic station-agent. Might have been a princess in exile, by my informant, who saw her twice. More likely some cheap little skate of a movie actress on a bust."
"A station-agent's taste in women friends--" began Marrineal, and forbore unnecessarily to finish.
"Possibly it has improved. Or--well, at any rate, there was something there. My railroad man thinks the affair drove Banneker out of his job. The fact of his being woman-proof here points to its having been serious."
"There was a girl out there about that time visiting Camilla Van Arsdale," remarked Marrineal carelessly; "a New York girl. One of the same general set. Miss Van Arsdale used to be a New Yorker and rather a distinguished one."
Too much master of his devious craft to betray discomfiture over another's superior knowledge of a subject which he had tried to make his own, Ely Ives remarked:
"Then she was probably the real thing. The princess on vacation. You don't know who she was, I suppose," he added tentatively.
Marrineal did not answer, thereby giving his factotum uncomfortably to reflect that he really must not expect payment for information and the information also.
"I guess he'll bear watching." Ives wound up with his favorite philosophy.
It was a few days after this that, by a special interposition of kindly chance, Ives, having returned from a trip out of town, saw Banneker and Io breakfasting in the station restaurant. To Marrineal he said nothing of this at the time; nor, indeed, to any one else. But later he took it to a very private market of his own, the breakfast-room of a sunny and secluded house far uptown, where lived, in an aroma of the domestic virtues, a benevolent-looking old gentleman who combined the attributes of the ferret, the leech, and the vulture in his capacity as editor of that famous weekly publication, The Searchlight. Ives did not sell in that mart; he traded for other information. This time he wanted something about Judge Willis Enderby, for he was far enough on the inside politically to see in him a looming figure which might stand in the way of certain projects, unannounced as yet, but tenderly nurtured in the ambitious breast of Tertius C. Marrineal. From the gently smiling patriarch he received as much of the unwritten records as that authority deemed it expedient to give him, together with an admonition, thrown in for good measure.
"Dangerous, my young friend! Dangerous!"
The passionate and patient collector thought it highly probable that Willis Enderby would be dangerous game. Certainly he did not intend to hunt in those fields, unless he could contrive a weapon of overwhelming caliber.
Ely Ives's analysis of Banneker's situation was in a measure responsible for Marrineal's proposition of the new deal to his editor.
"He has accepted it," the owner told his purveyor of information. "But the real fight is to come."
"Over the policy of the editorial page," opined Ives.
"Yes. This is only a truce."
As a truce Banneker also regarded it. He had no desire to break it. Nor, after it was established, did Marrineal make any overt attempt to interfere with his conduct of his column.
After awaiting gage of battle from his employer, in vain, Banneker decided to leave the issue to chance. Surely he was not surrendering any principle, since he continued to write as he chose upon whatever topics he selected. Time enough to fight when there should be urged upon him either one of the cardinal sins of journalism, the _suppressio veri_ or the _suggestio falsi_, which he had more than once excoriated in other papers, to the pious horror of the hush-birds of the craft who had chattered and cheeped accusations of "fouling one's own nest."
Opportunity was not lacking to Marrineal for objections to a policy which made powerful enemies for the paper; Banneker, once assured of his following, had hit out right and left. From being a weak-kneed and rather apologetic defender of the "common people," The Patriot had become, logically, under Banneker's vigorous and outspoken policy, a proponent of the side of labor against capital. It had hotly supported two important and righteous local strikes and been the chief agent in winning one. With equal fervor it had advocated a third strike whose justice was at best dubious and had made itself anathema, though the strike was lost, to an industrial group which was honestly striving to live up to honorable standards. It had offended a powerful ring of bankers and for a time embarrassed Marrineal in his loans. It had threatened editorial reprisals upon a combination of those feared and arrogant advertisers, the department stores, for endeavoring, with signal lack of success, to procure the suppression of certain market news. It became known as independent, honest, unafraid, radical (in Wall Street circles "socialistic" or even "anarchistic"), and, to the profession, as dangerous to provoke. Advertisers were, from time to time, alienated; public men, often of The Patriot's own trend of thought, opposed. Commercial associations even passed resolutions, until Banneker took to publishing them with such comment as seemed to him good and appropriate. Marrineal uttered no protest, though the unlucky Haring beat his elegantly waistcoated breast and uttered profane if subdued threats of resigning, which were for effect only; for The Patriot's circulation continued to grow and the fact to which every advertising expert clings as to the one solid hope in a vaporous calling, is that advertising follows circulation.
Seldom did Banneker see his employer in the office, but Marrineal often came to the Saturday nights of The House With Three Eyes, which had already attained the fame of a local institution. As the numbers drawn to it increased, it closed its welcoming orbs earlier and earlier, and, once they were darkened, there was admittance only for the chosen few.
It was a first Saturday in October, New York's homing month for its indigenous social birds and butterflies, when The House triply blinked itself into darkness at the untimely hour of eleven-forty-five. There was the usual heterogeneous crowd there, alike in one particular alone, that every guest represented, if not necessarily distinction, at least achievement in his own line. Judge Willis Enderby, many times invited, had for the first time come. At five minutes after midnight, the incorruptible doorkeeper sent an urgent message requesting Mr. Banneker's personal attention to a party who declined politely but firmly to be turned away. The host, answering the summons, found Io. She held out both hands to him.
"Say you're glad to see me," she said imperatively.
"Light up the three eyes," Banneker ordered the doorman. "Are you answered?" he said to Io.
"Ah, that's very pretty," she approved. "It means 'welcome,' doesn't it?"
"Welcome," he assented.
"Then Herbert and Esther can come in, can't they? They're waiting in the car for me to be rejected in disgrace. They've even bet on it."
"They lose," answered Banneker with finality.
"And you forgive me for cajoling your big, black Cerberus, because it's my first visit this year, and if I'm not nicely treated I'll never come again."
"Your welcome includes full amnesty."
"Then if you'll let me have one of my hands back--it doesn't matter which one, really--I'll signal the others to come in."
Which, accordingly, she did. Banneker greeted Esther Forbes and Cressey, and waited for the trio until they came down. There was a stir as they entered. There was usually a stir in any room which Io entered. She had that quality of sending waves across the most placid of social pools. Willis Enderby was one of the first to greet her, a quick irradiation of pleasure relieving the austere beauty of his face.
"I thought the castle was closed," he wondered. "How did you cross the inviolable barriers?"
"I had the magic password," smiled Io.
"Youth? Beauty? Or just audacity?"
"Your Honor is pleased to flatter," she returned, drooping her eyes at him with a purposefully artificial effect. From the time when she was a child of four she had carried on a violent and highly appreciated flirtation with "Cousin Billy," being the only person in the world who employed the diminutive of his name.
"You knew Banneker before? But, of course. Everybody knows Banneker."
"It's quite wonderful, isn't it! He never makes an effort, I'm told. People just come to him. Where did you meet him?"
Enderby told her. "We're allies, in a way. Though sometimes he is against us. He's doing yeoman work in this reform mayoralty campaign. If we elect Robert Laird, as I think we shall, it will be chiefly due to The Patriot's editorials."
"Then you have confidence in Mr. Banneker?" she asked quickly.
"Well--in a way, I have," he returned hesitantly.
"But with reservations," she interpreted. "What are they?"
"One, only, but a big one. The Patriot itself. You see, Io, The Patriot is another matter."
"Why is it another matter?"
"Well, there's Marrineal, for example."
"I don't know Mr. Marrineal. Evidently you don't trust him."
"I trust nobody," disclosed the lawyer, a little sternly, "who is represented by what The Patriot is and does, whether it be Marrineal, Banneker, or another." His glance, wandering about the room, fell on Russell Edmonds, seated in a corner talking with the Great Gaines. "Unless it be Edmonds over there," he qualified. "All his life he has fought me as a corporation lawyer; yet I have the queer feeling that I could trust the inmost secret of my life to his honor. Probably I'm an old fool, eh?"
Io devoted a moment's study to the lined and worn face of the veteran. "No. I think you're right," she pronounced.
"In any case, he isn't responsible for The Patriot. He can't help it."
"Don't be so cryptic, Cousin Billy. Can't help what? What is wrong with the paper?"
"You wouldn't understand."
"But I want to understand," said imperious Io.
"As a basis to understanding, you'd have to read the paper."
"I have. Everyday. All of it."
He gave her a quick, reckoning look which she sustained with a slight deepening of color. "The advertisements, too?" She nodded. "What do you think of them?"
"Some of them are too disgusting to discuss."
"Did it occur to you to compare them with the lofty standards of our young friend's editorials?"
"What has he to do with the advertisements?" she countered.
"Assume, for the sake of the argument, that he has nothing to do with them. You may have noticed a recent editorial against race-track gambling, with the suicide of a young bank messenger who had robbed his employer to pay his losses as text."
"Well? Surely that kind of editorial makes for good."
"Being counsel for that bank, I happen to know the circumstances of the suicide. The boy had pinned his faith to one of the race-track tipsters who advertise in The Patriot to furnish a list of sure winners for so much a week."
"Do you suppose that Mr. Banneker knew that?"
"Probably not. But he knows that his paper takes money for publishing those vicious advertisements."
"Suppose he couldn't help it?"
"Probably he can't."
"Well, what would you have him do? Stop writing the editorials? I think it is evidence of his courage that he should dare to attack the evils which his own paper fosters."
"That's one view of it, certainly," replied Enderby dryly. "A convenient view. But there are other details. Banneker is an ardent advocate of abstinence, 'Down with the Demon Rum!' The columns of The Patriot reek with whiskey ads. The same with tobacco."
"But, Cousin Billy, you don't believe that a newspaper should shut out liquor and tobacco advertisements, do you?"
The lawyer smiled patiently. "Come back on the track, Io," he invited. "That isn't the point. If a newspaper preaches the harm in these habits, it shouldn't accept money for exploiting them. Look further. What of the loan-shark offers, and the blue-sky stock propositions, and the damnable promises of the consumption and cancer quacks? You can't turn a page of The Patriot without stumbling on them. There's a smell of death about that money."
"Don't all the newspapers publish the same kind of advertisements?" argued the girl.
"Certainly not. Some won't publish an advertisement without being satisfied of its good faith. Others discriminate less carefully. But there are few as bad as The Patriot."
"If Mr. Banneker were your client, would you advise him to resign?" she asked shrewdly.
Enderby winced and chuckled simultaneously. "Probably not. It is doubtful whether he could find another rostrum of equal influence. And his influence is mainly for good. But since you seem to be interested in newspapers, Io"--he gave her another of his keen glances--"from The Patriot you can make a diagnosis of the disease from which modern journalism is suffering. A deep-seated, pervasive insincerity. At its worst, it is open, shameless hypocrisy. The public feels it, but is too lacking in analytical sense to comprehend it. Hence the unformulated, instinctive, universal distrust of the press. 'I never believe anything I read in the papers.' Of course, that is both false and silly. But the feeling is there; and it has to be reckoned with one day. From this arises an injustice, that the few papers which are really upright, honest, and faithful to their own standards, are tainted in the public mind with the double-dealing of the others. Such as The Patriot."
"You use The Patriot for your purposes," Io pointed out.
"When it stands for what I believe right. I only wish I could trust it."
"Then you _really_ feel that you can't trust Mr. Banneker?"
"Ah; we're back to that!" thought Enderby with uneasiness. Aloud he said: "It's a very pretty problem whether a writer who shares the profits of a hypocritical and dishonest policy can maintain his own professional independence and virtue. I gravely doubt it."
"I don't," said Io, and there was pride in her avowal.
"My dear," said the Judge gravely, "what does it all mean? Are you letting yourself become interested in Errol Banneker?"
Io raised clear and steady eyes to the concerned regard of her old friend. "If I ever marry again, I shall marry him."
"You're not going to divorce poor Delavan?" asked the other quickly.
"No. I shall play the game through," was the quiet reply.
For a space Willis Enderby sat thinking. "Does Banneker know your--your intentions?"
"You mustn't let him, Io."
"He won't know the intention. He may know the--the feeling back of it." A slow and glorious flush rose in her face, making her eyes starry. "I don't know that I can keep it from him, Cousin Billy. I don't even know that I want to. I'm an honest sort of idiot, you know."
"God grant that he may prove as honest!" he half whispered.
Presently Banneker, bearing a glass of champagne and some pâté sandwiches for Io, supplanted the lawyer.
"Are you the devotee of toil that common report believes, Ban?" she asked him lazily. "They say that you write editorials with one hand and welcome your guests with the other."
"Not quite that," he answered. "To-night I'm not thinking of work. I'm not thinking of anything but you. It's very wonderful, your being here."
"But I want you to think of work. I want to see you in the very act. Won't you write an editorial for me?"
He shook his head. "This late? That would be cruelty to my secretary."
"I'll take it down for you. I'm fairly fast on the typewriter."
"Will you give me the subject, too?"
"No more than fair," she admitted. "What shall it be? It ought to be something with memories in it. Books? Poetry?" she groped. "I've got it! Your oldest, favorite book. Have you forgotten?"
"The Sears-Roebuck catalogue? I get a copy every season, to renew the old thrill."
"What a romanticist you are!" said she softly. "Couldn't you write an editorial about it?"
"Couldn't I? Try me. Come up to the den."
He led the way to the remote austerities of the work-room. From a shelf he took down the fat, ornate pamphlet, now much increased in bulk over its prototype of the earlier years. With random finger he parted the leaves, here, there, again and still again, seeking auguries.
"Ready?" he said. "Now, I shut my eyes--and we're in the shack again--the clean air of desert spaces--the click of the transmitter in the office that I won't answer, being more importantly engaged--the faint fragrance of _you_ permeating everything--youth--the unknown splendor of life--Now! Go!"
Of that editorial, composed upon the unpromising theme of mail-order merchandising, the Great Gaines afterward said that it was a kaleidoscopic panorama set moving to the harmonic undertones of a song of winds and waters, of passion and the inner meanings of life, as if Shelley had rhapsodized a catalogue into poetic being and glorious significance. He said it was foolish to edit a magazine when one couldn't trust a cheap newspaper not to come flaming forth into literature which turned one's most conscientious and aspiring efforts into tinsel. He also said "Damn!"
Io Welland (for it was Io Welland and not Io Eyre whom the soothsayer saw before him as he declaimed), instrument and inspiration of the achievement, said no word of direct praise. But as she wrote, her fingers felt as if they were dripping electric sparks. When, at the close, he asked, quite humbly, "Is that what you wanted?" she caught her breath on something like a sob.
"I'll give you a title," she said, recovering herself. "Call it 'If there were Dreams to Sell.'"
"Ah, that's good!" he cried. "My readers won't get it. Pinheads! They get nothing that isn't plain as the nose on their silly faces. Never mind. It's good for 'em to be puzzled once in a while. Teaches 'em their place.... I'll tell you who will understand it, though," he continued, and laughed queerly.
"All the people who really matter will."
"Some who matter a lot to The Patriot will. The local merchants who advertise with us. They'll be wild."
"They hate the mail-order houses with a deadly fear, because the cataloguers undersell them in a lot of lines. Won't Rome howl the day after this appears!"
"Tell me about the relation between advertising and policy, Ban," invited Io, and summarized Willis Enderby's views.
Banneker had formulated for his own use and comfort the fallacy which has since become standard for all journalists unwilling or unable to face the issue of their own responsibility to the public. He now gave it forth confidently.
"A newspaper, Io, is like a billboard. Any one has a right to hire it for purposes of exploiting and selling whatever he has to sell. In accepting the advertisement, provided it is legal and decent, the publisher accepts no more responsibility than the owner of the land on which a billboard stands. Advertising space is a free forum."
"But when it affects the editorial attitude--"
"That's the test," he put in quickly. "That's why I'm glad to print this editorial of ours. It's a declaration of independence."
"Yes," she acquiesced eagerly.
"If ever I use the power of my editorials for any cause that I don't believe in--yes, or for my own advantage or the advantage of my employer--that will be the beginning of surrender. But as long as I keep a free pen and speak as I believe for what I hold as right and against what I hold as wrong, I can afford to leave the advertising policy to those who control it. It isn't my responsibility.... It's an omen, Io; I was waiting for it. Marrineal and I are at a deadlock on the question of my control of the editorial page. This ought to furnish a fighting issue. I'm glad it came from you."
"Oh, but if it's going to make trouble for you, I shall be sorry. And I was going to propose that we write one every Saturday."
"Io!" he cried. "Does that mean--"
"It means that I shall become a regular attendant at Mr. Errol Banneker's famous Saturday nights. Don't ask me what more it means." She rose and delivered the typed sheets into his hands. "I--I don't know, myself. Take me back to the others, Ban."
To Banneker, wakened next morning to a life of new vigor and sweetness, the outcome of the mail-order editorial was worth not one troubled thought. All his mind was centered on Io.
Explosions of a powerful and resonant nature followed the publication of the fantastic, imaginative, and delightful mail-order catalogue editorial. In none of these senses, except the first, did it appeal to the advertising managers of the various department stores. They looked upon it as an outrage, an affront, a deliberate slap in the face for an established, vested, and prodigal support of the newspaper press. What the devil did The Patriot mean by it; The Patriot which sorely needed just their class of reputable patronage, and, after sundry contortions of rate-cutting, truckling, and offers of news items to back the advertising, was beginning to get it? They asked themselves, and, failing of any satisfactory answer, they asked The Patriot in no uncertain terms. Receiving vague and pained replies, they even went to the length of holding a meeting and sending a committee to wait upon the desperate Haring, passing over the advertising manager who was a mere figurehead in The Patriot office.
Then began one of those scenes of bullying and browbeating to which every newspaper, not at once powerful and honest enough to command the fear and respect of its advertisers, is at some time subjected. Haring, the victim personifying the offending organ, was stretched upon the rack and put to the question. What explanation had he to offer of The Patriot's breach of faith?
He had none, had the miserable business manager. No one could regret it more than he. But, really, gentlemen, to call it a breach of faith--
What else was it? Wasn't the paper turning on its own advertisers?
Well; in a sense. But not--
But nothing! Wasn't it trying to undermine their legitimate business?
Not intentionally, Mr. Haring was (piteously) sure.
Intentionally be damned! Did he expect to carry their advertising on one page and ruin their business on another? Did he think they were putting money into The Patriot--a doubtful medium for their business, at best--to cut their own throats? They'd put it to him reasonably, now; who, after all, paid for the getting out of The Patriot? Wasn't it the advertisers?
Certainly, certainly, gentlemen. Granted.
Could the paper run a month, a fortnight, a week without advertising?
No; no! It couldn't. No newspaper could.
Then if the advertisers paid the paper's way, weren't they entitled to some say about it? Didn't it have a right to give 'em at least a fair show?
Indeed, gentlemen, if he, Haring, were in control of the paper--
Then, why; why the _hell_ was a cub of an editor allowed to cut loose and jump their game that way? They could find other places to spend their money; yes, and get a better return for it. They'd see The Patriot, and so on, and so forth.
Mr. Haring understood their feelings, sympathized, even shared them. Unfortunately the editorial page was quite out of his province.
Whose province was it, then? Mr. Banneker's, eh? And to whom was Mr. Banneker responsible? Mr. Marrineal, alone? All right! They would see Mr. Marrineal.
Mr. Haring was sorry, but Mr. Marrineal was out of town. (Fiction.)
Well, in that case, Banneker. They'd trust themselves to show him which foot he got off on. They'd teach (two of them, in their stress of emotion, said "learn"; they were performing this in chorus) Banneker--
Oh, Mr. Banneker wasn't there, either. (Haring, very terrified, and having built up an early conception of the Wild West Banneker from the clean-up of the dock gang, beheld in his imagination dejected members of the committee issuing piecemeal from the doors and windows of the editorial office, the process being followed by an even more regrettable exodus of advertising from the pages of The Patriot.)
Striving to be at once explanatory and propitiatory to all and sundry, Haring was reduced to inarticulate, choking interjections and paralytic motions of the hands, when a member of the delegation, hitherto silent, spoke up.
He was the representative of McLean & Swazey, a college graduate of a type then new, though now much commoner, in the developing profession of advertising. He had read the peccant editorial with a genuine relish of its charm and skill, and had justly estimated it for what it was, an intellectual _jeu d'esprit_, the expression of a passing fancy for a tempting subject, not of a policy to be further pursued.
"Enough has been said, I think, to define our position," said he. "All that we need is some assurance that Mr. Banneker's wit and skill will not be turned again to the profit of our competitors who, by the way, do _not_ advertise in The Patriot."
Haring eagerly gave the assurance. He would have given assurance of Banneker's head on a salver to be rid of these persecuting autocrats. They withdrew, leaving behind an atmosphere of threat and disaster, dark, inglorious clouds of which Haring trailed behind him when he entered the office of the owner with his countenance of woe. His postulate was that Mr. Marrineal should go to his marplot editor and duly to him lay down the law; no more offending of the valuable department-store advertisers. No; nor of any others. Or he, Haring (greatly daring), would do it himself.
Beside the sweating and agonizing business manager, Marrineal looked very cool and tolerant and mildly amused.
"If you did that, Mr. Haring, do you appreciate what the result would be? We should have another editorial worse than the first, as soon as Mr. Banneker could think it out. No; you leave this to me. I'll manage it."
His management took the negative form of a profound silence upon the explicit point. But on the following morning Banneker found upon his desk a complete analytical table showing the advertising revenue of the paper by classes, with a star over the department-store list, indicating a dated withdrawal of twenty-two thousand dollars a year. The date was of that day. Thus was Banneker enabled to figure out, by a simple process, the loss to himself of any class of advertising, or even small group in a class, dropping out of the paper. It was clever of Marrineal, he admitted to himself, and, in a way, disappointing. His proffered gage of battle had been refused, almost ignored. The issue was not to be joined when he was ready, but when Marrineal was ready, and on Marrineal's own ground. Very well, Banneker could be a good waiter. Meantime he had at least asserted his independence.
Io called him up by 'phone, avid of news of the editorial, and he was permitted to take her to luncheon and tell her all about it. In her opinion he had won a victory; established a position. Banneker was far less sanguine; he had come to entertain a considerable respect for Marrineal's capacity. And he had another and more immediate complication on his mind, which fact his companion, by some occult exercise of divination, perceived.
"What else is worrying you, Ban?" she asked.
Banneker did not want to talk about that. He wanted to talk about Io, about themselves. He said so. She shook her head.
"Tell me about the paper."
"Oh, just the usual complications. There's nothing to interest you in them."
"Everything," she maintained ardently.
Banneker caught his breath. Had she given him her lips, it could hardly have meant more--perhaps not meant so much as this tranquil assumption of her right to share in the major concerns of his life.
"If you've been reading the paper," he began, and waited for her silent nod before going on, "you know our attitude toward organized labor."
"Yes. You are for it when it is right and not always against it when it is wrong."
"One can't split hairs in a matter of editorial policy. I've made The Patriot practically the mouthpiece of labor in this city; much more so than the official organ, which has no influence and a small following. Just now I'm specially anxious to hold them in line for the mayoralty campaign. We've got to elect Robert Laird. Otherwise we'll have such an orgy of graft and rottenness as the city has never seen."
"Isn't the labor element for Laird?"
"It isn't against him, except that he is naturally regarded as a silk-stocking. The difficulty isn't politics. There's some new influence in local labor circles that is working against me; against The Patriot. I think it's a fellow named McClintick, a new man from the West."
"Perhaps he wants to be bought off."
"You're thinking of the old style of labor leader," returned Banneker. "It isn't as simple as that. No; from what I hear, he's a fanatic. And he has great influence."
"Get hold of him and talk it out with him," advised Io.
"I intend to." He brooded for a moment. "There isn't a man in New York," he said fretfully, "that has stood for the interests of the masses and against the power of money as I have. Why, Io, before we cut loose in The Patriot, a banker or a railroad president was sacrosanct. His words were received with awe. Wall Street was the holy of holies, not to be profaned by the slightest hint of impiety. Well, we've changed all that! Not I, alone. Our cartoons have done more than the editorials. Every other paper in town has had to follow our lead. Even The Ledger."
"I like The Ledger," declared Io.
"I don't know. It has a sort of dignity; the dignity of self-respect."
"Hasn't The Patriot?" demanded the jealous Banneker.
"Not a bit," she answered frankly, "except for your editorials. They have the dignity of good workmanship, and honesty, and courage, even when you're wrong."
"Are we so often wrong, Io?" he said wistfully.
"Dear boy, you can't expect a girl, brought up as I have been, to believe that society is upside down, and would be better if it were tipped over the other way and run by a lot of hod-carriers and ditch-diggers and cooks. Can you, now?"
"Of course not. Nor is that what I advocate. I'm for the under dog. For fair play. So are you, aren't you? I saw your name on the Committee List of the Consumers' League, dealing with conditions in the department stores."
"That's different," she said. "Those girls haven't a chance in some of the shops. They're brutalized. The stores don't even pretend to obey the laws. We are trying to work out some sort of organization, now, for them."
"Yet you're hostile to organized labor! Who shall ever understand the feminine mind! Some day you'll be coming to us for help."
"Very likely. It must be a curious sensation, Ban, to have the consciousness of the power that you wield, and to be responsible to nobody on earth."
"To the public that reads us," he corrected.
"Not a real responsibility. There is no authority over you; no appeal from your judgments. Hasn't that something to do with people's dislike and distrust of the newspapers; the sense that so much irresponsible power is wrong?"
"Yet," he said, "any kind of censorship is worse than the evil it remedies. I've never shown you my creed, have I?"
His manner was half jocular; there was a smile on his lips, but his eyes seemed to look beyond the petty troubles and problems of his craft to a final and firm verity.
"Tell me," she bade him.
He drew his watch out and opened the back. For a moment she thought, with confused emotions, that she would see there a picture of herself of which he might have possessed himself somewhere. She closed her eyes momentarily against the fear of that anti-climax. When she opened them, it was to read, in a clear, fine print those high and sure words of Milton's noblest message:
And though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field, we do injuriously, by licensing and prohibiting, to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter? Her confuting is the best and surest suppressing.
Twice she read the pregnant message.
"I have it," said she gravely. "To keep--for always."
"Some day I'll put it at the head of The Patriot."
"Why not now?"
"Not ready. I want to be surer; absolutely sure."
"I'm sure," she declared superbly; "of you."
"You make me sure of myself, Io. But there's Marrineal."
"Yes; there's Marrineal. You must have a paper of your own, mustn't you, Ban, eventually?"
"Perhaps. If I ever get enough money to own it absolutely."
"Only four years ago," she murmured, with apparent irrelevancy. "And now--"
"When shall I see you again?" he asked anxiously as she rose. "Are you coming Saturday night?"
"Of course," said Io.
Through the agency of Russell Edmonds, McClintick, the labor leader, came to see Banneker. He was a stooping giant with a deep, melancholy voice, and his attitude toward The Patriot was one of distrustful reticence. Genuine ardor has, however, a warming influence. McClintick's silence melted by degrees, not into confidence but, surprisingly, into indignation, directed upon all the "capitalistic press" in general, but in particular against The Patriot. Why single out The Patriot, specially, Banneker asked.
"Hypocrite," muttered the giant.
At length the reason came out, under pressure: The Patriot had been (in the words of the labor man) making a big row over the arrest of certain labor organizers, in one of the recurrent outbreaks against the Steel Trust, opposed by that organization's systematic and tyrannous method of oppression. So far, so good. But why hadn't the paper said a word about the murder of strikers' wives and children out at the Veridian Lumber Company's mills in Oregon; an outrage far surpassing anything ever laid to the account of the Steel Trust? Simple reason, answered Banneker; there had been no news of it over the wires. No; of course there hadn't. The Amalgamated Wire Association (another tool of capitalism) had suppressed it; wouldn't let any strike stuff get on the wires that it could keep off. Then how, asked Banneker, could it be expected--? McClintick interrupted in his voice of controlled passion; had Mr. Banneker ever heard of the Chicago Transcript (naming the leading morning paper); had he ever read it? Well, The Transcript--which, he, McClintick, hated strongly as an organ of money--nevertheless did honestly gather and publish news, as he was constrained huskily to admit. It had the Veridian story; was still running it from time to time. Therefore, if Mr. Banneker was interested, on behalf of The Patriot--
Certainly, The Patriot was interested; would obtain and publish the story in full, if it was as Mr. McClintick represented, with due editorial comment.
"Will it?" grumbled McClintick, gave his hat a look of mingled hope and skepticism, put it on, and went away.
"Now, what's wrong with that chap's mental digestion?" Banneker inquired of Edmonds, who had sat quiet throughout the interview. "What is he holding back?"
"Plenty," returned the veteran in a tone which might have served for echo of the labor man's gloom.
"Do you know the Veridian story?"
"Yes. I've just checked it up."
"What's the milk in that cocoanut?"
"Sour!" said Edmonds with such energy that Banneker turned to look at him direct. "The principal owner of Veridian is named Marrineal.... Where you going, Ban?"
"To see the principal owner of the name," said Banneker grimly.
The quest took him to the big house on upper Fifth Avenue. Marrineal heard his editorial writer with impassive face.
"So the story has got here," he remarked.
"Yes. Do you own Veridian?"
Hope rose within Banneker. "You don't?"
"My mother does. She's in Europe. A rather innocent old person. The innocence of age, perhaps. Quite old." All of this in a perfectly tranquil voice.
"Have you seen The Chicago Transcript? It's an ugly story."
"Very. I've sent a man out to the camp. There won't be any more shootings."
"It comes rather late. I've told McClintick, the labor man who comes from Wyoming, that we'll carry the story, if we verify it."
Marrineal raised his eyes slowly to Banneker's stern face. "Have you?" he said coolly. "Now, as to the mayoralty campaign; what do you think of running a page feature of Laird's reforms, as President of the Board, tracing each one down to its effect and showing what any backward step would mean? By the way, Laird is going to be pretty heavily obligated to The Patriot if he's elected."
For half an hour they talked politics, nothing else.
At the office Edmonds was making a dossier of the Veridian reports. It was ready when Banneker returned.
"Let it wait," said Banneker.
Prudence ordained that he should throw the troublous stuff into the waste-basket. He wondered if he was becoming prudent, as another man might wonder whether he was becoming old. At any rate, he would make no decision until he had talked it over with Io. Not only did he feel instinctive confidence in her sense of fair play; but also this relationship of interest in his affairs, established by her, was the opportunity of his closest approach; an intimacy of spirit assured and subtle. He hoped that she would come early on Saturday evening.
But she did not. Some dinner party had claimed her, and it was after eleven when she arrived with Archie Densmore. At once Banneker took her aside and laid before her the whole matter.
"Poor Ban!" she said softly. "It isn't so simple, having power to play with, is it?"
"But how am I to handle this?"
"The mills belong to Mr. Marrineal's mother, you said?"
"Practically they do."
"And she is--?"
"A silly and vain old fool."
"Is that his opinion of her?"
"Necessarily. But he's fond of her."
"Will he really try to remedy conditions, do you think?"
"Oh, yes. So far as that goes."
"Then I'd drop it."
"Print nothing at all?"
"Not a word."
"That isn't what I expected from you. Why do you advise it?"
"The paralytic virtue," said Banneker with such bitterness of conviction that Io answered:
"I suppose you don't mean that to be simply clever."
"It's true, isn't it?"
"There's a measure of truth in it. But, Ban, you can't use Mr. Marrineal's own paper to expose conditions in Mr. Marrineal's mother's mills. If he'd even directed you to hold off--"
"That's his infernal cleverness. I'd have told him to go to the devil."
"You can resign now," she pointed out. "But I think you'd be foolish. You can do such big things. You _are_ doing such big things with The Patriot. Cousin Billy Enderby says that if Laird is elected it will be your doing. Where else could you find such opportunity?"
"Tell me this, Io," he said, after a moment of heavy-browed brooding very unlike his usual blithe certainty of bearing. "Suppose that lumber property were my own, and this thing had broken out."
"Oh, I'd say to print it, every word," she answered promptly. "Or"--she spoke very slowly and with a tremor of color flickering in her cheeks--"if it were mine, I'd tell you to print it."
He looked up with a transfigured face. His hand fell on hers, in the covert of the little shelter of plants behind which they sat. "Do you realize what that implies?" he questioned.
"Perfectly," she answered in her clear undertone.
He bent over to her hand, which turned, soft palm up, to meet his lips. She whispered a warning and he raised his head quickly. Ely Ives had passed near by.
"Marrineal's familiar," said Banneker. "I wonder how he got here. Certainly I didn't ask him.... Very well, Io. I'll compromise. But ... I don't think I'll put that quotation from the Areopagitica at the head of my column. That will have to wait. Perhaps it will have to wait until I--we get a paper of our own."
"Poor Ban!" whispered Io.
Once a month Marrineal gave a bachelor dinner of Lucullan repute. The company, though much smaller than the gatherings at The House With Three Eyes, covered a broader and looser social range. Having declined several of his employer's invitations in succession on the well-justified plea of work, Banneker felt it incumbent upon him to attend one of these events, and accordingly found himself in a private dining-room of the choicest of restaurants, tabled with a curiously assorted group of financiers, editors, actors, a small selection of the more raffish members of The Retreat including Delavan Eyre; Ely Ives; an elderly Jewish lawyer of unsavory reputation, enormous income, and real and delicate scholarship; Herbert Cressey, a pair of the season's racing-kings, an eminent art connoisseur, and a smattering of men-about-town. Seated between the lawyer and one of the racing-men, Banneker, as the dinner progressed, found himself watching Delavan Eyre, opposite, who was drinking with sustained intensity, but without apparent effect upon his debonair bearing. Banneker thought to read a haunting fear in his eyes, and was cogitating upon what it might portend, when his attention was distracted by Ely Ives, who had been requested (as he announced) to exhibit his small skill at some minor sleight-of-hand tricks. The skill, far from justifying its possessor's modest estimate, was so unusual as to provoke expressions of admiration from Mr. Stecklin, the lawyer on Banneker's right.
"Oh, yes; hypnotism too," said Ely Ives briskly, after twenty minutes of legerdemain. "Child's play."
"Now, who suggested hypnotism?" murmured Stecklin in his limpid and confidential undertone, close to Banneker's ear. "You? I? No! No one, _I_ think."
So Banneker thought, and was the more interested in Ives's procedure. Though the drinking had been heavy at his end of the table, he seemed quite unaffected, was now tripping from man to man, peering into the eyes of each, "to find an appropriate subject," as he said. Delavan Eyre roused himself out of a semi-torpor as the wiry little prowler stared down at him.
"What's the special idea?" he demanded.
"Just a bit of mesmerism," explained the other. "I'll try you for a subject. If you'll stand up, feet apart, eyes closed, I'll hypnotize you so that you'll fall over at a movement."
"You can't do it," retorted Eyre.
"For a bet," Ives came back.
"Double it if you like."
"You're on." Eyre, slowly swallowing the last of a brandy-and-soda, rose, reaching into his pocket.
"Not necessary, between gentlemen," said Ely Ives with a gesture just a little too suave.
"Ah, yes," muttered the lawyer at Banneker's side. "Between gentlemen. Eck-xactly."
Pursuant to instructions, Eyre stood with his feet a few inches apart and his eyes closed. "At the word, you bring your heels together. Click! And you keep your balance. If you can. For the two hundred. Any one else want in?... No?... Ready, Mr. Eyre. Now! _Hep_!"
The heels clicked, but with a stuttering, weak impact. Eyre, bulky and powerful, staggered, toppled to the left.
"Hold up there!" His neighbor propped him, and was clutched in his grasp.
"Hands off!" said Eyre thickly. "Sorry, Banks! Let me try that again. Oh, the bet's yours, Mr. Ives," he added, as that keen gambler began to enter a protest. "Send you a check in the morning--if that'll be all right."
Herbert Cressey, hand in pocket, was at his side instantly. "Pay him now, Del," he said in a tone which did not conceal his contemptuous estimate of Ives. "Here's money, if you haven't it."
"No; no! A check will be _quite_ all right," protested Ives. "At your convenience."
Others gathered about, curious and interested. Banneker, puzzled by a vague suspicion which he sought to formulate, was aware of a low runnel of commentary at his ear.
"Very curious. Shrewd; yes. A clever fellow.... Sad, too."
"Sad?" He turned sharply on the lawyer of unsavory suits. "What is sad about it? A fool and his money! Is that tragedy?"
"Comedy, my friend. Always comedy. This also, perhaps. But grim.... Our friend there who is so clever of hand and eye; he is not perhaps a medical man?"
"Yes; he is. What connection--Good God!" he cried, as a flood of memory suddenly poured light upon a dark spot in some of his forgotten reading.
"Ah? You know? Yes; I have had such a case in my legal practice. Died of an--an error. He made a mistake--in a bottle, which he purchased for that purpose. But this one--he elects to live and face it--"
"Does he know it?"
"Obviously. One can see the dread in his eyes. Some of his friends know it--and his family, I am told. But he does not know this interesting little experiment of our friend. Profitable, too, eh? One wonders how he came to suspect. A medical man, though; a keen eye. Of course."
"Damn him," said Banneker quietly. "General paralysis?"
"Eck-xactly. Twelve, maybe fifteen years ago, a little recklessness. A little overheating of the blood. Perhaps after a dinner like this. The poison lies dormant; a snake asleep. Harms no one. Not himself; not another. Until--something here"--he tapped the thick black curls over the base of his brain. "All that ruddy strength, that lusty good-humor passing on courageously--for he is a brave man, Eyre--to slow torture and--and the end. Grim, eh?"
Banneker reached for a drink. "How long?" he asked.
"As for that, he is very strong. It might be slow. One prays not."
"At any rate, that little reptile, Ives, shan't have his profit of it." Banneker rose and, disdaining even the diplomacy of an excuse, drew Ely Ives aside.
"That bet of yours was a joke, Ives," he prescribed.
Ives studied him in silence, wishing that he had watched, through the dinner, how much drink he took.
"A joke?" he asked coolly. "I don't understand you."
"Try," advised Banneker with earnestness. "I happen to have read that luetic diagnosis, myself. A joke, Ives, so far as the two hundred goes."
"What do you expect me to do?" asked the other.
"Tear up the check, when it comes. Make what explanation your ingenuity can devise. That's your affair. But don't cash that check, Ives. For if you do--I dislike to threaten--"
"You don't need to threaten me, Mr. Banneker," interrupted Ives eagerly. "If you think it wasn't a fair bet, your word is enough for me. That goes. It's off. I think just that of you. I'm a friend of yours, as I hope to prove to you some day. I don't lay this up against you; not for a minute."
Not trusting himself to make answer to this proffer, Banneker turned away to find his host and make his adieus. As he left, he saw Delavan Eyre, flushed but composed, sipping a liqueur and listening with courteous appearance of appreciation to a vapid and slobbering story of one of the racing magnates. A debauchee, a cumberer of the earth, useless, selfish, scandalous of life--and Banneker, looking at him with pitiful eyes, paid his unstinted tribute to the calm and high courage of the man.
Walking slowly home in the cool air, Banneker gave thanks for a drink-proof head. He had need of it; he wanted to think and think clearly. How did this shocking revelation about Eyre affect his own hopes of Io? That she would stand by her husband through his ordeal Banneker never doubted for an instant. Her pride of fair play would compel her to that. It came to his mind that this was her other and secret reason for not divorcing Eyre; for maintaining still the outward form of a marriage which had ceased to exist long before. For a lesser woman, he realized with a thrill, it would have been a reason for divorcing him.... Well, here was a barrier, indeed, against which he was helpless. Opposed by a loyalty such as Io's he could only be silent and wait.
In the next few weeks she was very good to him. Not only did she lunch with him several times, but she came to the Saturday nights of The House With Three Eyes, sometimes with Archie Densmore alone, more often with a group of her own set, after a dinner or a theater party. Always she made opportunity for a little talk apart with her host; talks which any one might have heard, for they were concerned almost exclusively with the affairs of The Patriot, especially in its relation to the mayoralty campaign now coming to a close. Yet, impersonal though the discussions might be, Banneker took from them a sense of ever-increasing intimacy and communion, if it were only from a sudden, betraying quiver in her voice, an involuntary, unconscious look from the shadowed eyes. Whatever of resentment he had cherished for her earlier desertion was now dissipated; he was wholly hers, content, despite all his passionate longing for her, with what she chose to give. In her own time she would be generous, as she was brave and honorable....
She was warmly interested in the election of Robert Laird to the mayoralty, partly because she knew him personally, partly because the younger element of society had rather "gone in for politics" that year, on the reform side. Banneker had to admit to her, as the day drew close, that the issue was doubtful. Though The Patriot's fervid support had been a great asset to the cause, it was now, for the moment, a liability to the extent that it was being fiercely denounced in the Socialist organ, The Summons, as treasonable to the interests of the working-classes. The Summons charged hypocrisy, citing the case of the Veridian strike.
"That is McClintick?" asked Io.
"He's back of it, naturally. But The Summons has been waiting its chance. Jealous of our influence in the field it's trying to cultivate."
"McClintick is right," remarked Io thoughtfully.
Banneker laughed. "Oh, Io! It's such a relief to get a clear view and an honest one from some one else. There's no one in the office except Russell Edmonds, and he's away now.... You think McClintick is right? So do I."
"But so are you. You had to do as you did about the story. If any one is to blame, it is Mr. Marrineal. Yet how can one blame him? He had to protect his mother. It's a fearfully complicated phenomenon, a newspaper, isn't it, Ban?"
"Io, the soul of man is simple and clear compared with the soul of a newspaper."
"If it has a soul."
"Of course it has. It's got to have. Otherwise what is it but a machine?"
"Which is The Patriot's; yours or Mr. Marrineal's? I can't," said Io quaintly, "quite see them coalescing."
"I wonder if Marrineal has a soul," mused Banneker.
"If he hasn't one of his own, let him keep his hands off yours!" said Io in a flash of feminine jealousy. "He's done enough already with his wretched mills. What shall you do about the attack in The Summons?"
"Ignore it. It would be difficult to answer. Besides, people easily forget."
"A dangerous creed, Ban. And a cynical one. I don't want you to be cynical."
"I never shall be again, unless--"
"Unless?" she prompted.
"It rests with you, Io," he said quietly.
At once she took flight. "Am I to be keeper of your spirit?" she protested. "It's bad enough to be your professional adviser. Why don't you invite a crowd of us down to get the election returns?" she suggested.
"Make up your party," assented Banneker. "Keep it small; say a dozen, and we can use my office."
On the fateful evening there duly appeared Io with a group of a dozen friends. From the first, it was a time of triumph. Laird took the lead and kept it. By midnight, the result was a certainty. In a balcony speech from his headquarters the victor had given generous recognition for his success to The Patriot, mentioning Banneker by name. When the report reached them Esther Forbes solemnly crowned the host with a wreath composed of the "flimsy" on which the rescript of the speech had come in.
"Skoal to Ban!" she cried. "Maker of kings and mayors and things. Skoal! As you're a viking or something of the sort, the Norse salutation is appropriate."
"It ought to be Danish to be accurate," he smiled.
"Well, that's a hardy, seafaring race," she chattered. "And that reminds me. Come on out to the South Seas with us."
"Charmed," he returned. "When do we start? To-morrow?"
"Oh, I'm not joking. You've certainly earned a vacation. And of course you needn't enlist for the whole six months if that is too long. Dad has let me have the yacht. There'll only be a dozen. Io's going along."
Banneker shot one startled, incredulous look at Io Eyre, and instantly commanded himself, to the point of controlling his voice to gayety as he replied:
"And who would tell the new mayor how he should run the city, if I deserted him? No, Esther, I'm afraid I'm chained to this desk. Ask me sometime when you're cruising as far as Coney Island."
Io sat silent, and with a set smile, listening to Herbert Cressey's account of an election row in the district where he was volunteer watcher. When the party broke up, she went home with Densmore without giving Banneker the chance of a word with her. It seemed to him that there was a mute plea for pardon in her face as she bade him good-night.
At noon next day she called him on the 'phone.
"Just to tell you that I'm coming as usual Saturday evening," she said.
"When do you leave on your cruise?" he asked.
"Not until next week. I'll tell you when I see you. Good-bye."
Never had Banneker seen Io in such difficult mood as she exhibited on the Saturday. She had come early to The House With Three Eyes, accompanied by Densmore who looked in just for one drink before going to a much-touted boxing-match in Jersey. Through the evening she deliberately avoided seeing Banneker alone for so much as the space of a query put and answered, dividing her attention between an enraptured master of the violin who had come after his concert, and an aged and bewildered inventor who, in a long career of secluded toil, had never beheld anything like this brilliant creature with her intelligent and quickening interest in what he had to tell her. Rivalry between the two geniuses inspired the musician to make an offer which he would hardly have granted to royalty itself.
"After a time, when zese chatterers are gon-away, I shall play for you. Is zere some one here who can accompany properly?"
Necessarily Io sent for Banneker to find out. Yes; young Mackey was coming a little later; he was a brilliant amateur and would be flattered at the opportunity. With a direct insistence difficult to deny, Banneker drew Io aside for a moment. Her eyes glinted dangerously as she faced him, alone for the moment, with the question that was the salute before the crossing of blades.
"Are you really going, Io?"
"Certainly. Why shouldn't I?"
"Say that, for one reason"--he smiled faintly, but resolutely--"The Patriot needs your guiding inspiration."
"All The Patriot's troubles are over. It's plain sailing now."
"What of The Patriot's editor?"
"Quite able to take care of himself."
Into his voice there suffused the first ring of anger that she had ever heard from him; cold and formidable. "That won't do, Io. Why?"
"Because I choose."
"A child's answer. Why?"
"Do you want to be flattered?" She raised to his, eyes that danced with an impish and perverse light. "Call it escape, if you wish."
"Or from myself. Wouldn't you like to think that I'm afraid of you?"
"I shouldn't like to think that you're afraid of anything."
"I'm not." But her tone was that of the defiance which seeks to encourage itself.
"I'd call it a desertion," he said steadily.
"Oh, no! You're secure. You need nothing but what you've got. Power, reputation, position, success. What more can heart desire?" she taunted.
She quivered under the blunt word, but rallied to say lightly: "Six months isn't long. Though I may stretch it to a year."
"It's too long for endurance."
"Oh, you'll do very well without me, Ban."
"Shall I? When am I to see you again before you go?"
Her raised eyebrows were like an affront. "Are we to see each other again? Of course, it would be polite of you to come to the train."
There was a controlled and dangerous gravity in his next question. "Io, have we quarreled?"
"How absurd! Of course not."
"If you knew how I dislike fruitless explanations!"
He rose at once. Io's strong and beautiful hands, which had been lying in her lap, suddenly interlocked, clenching close together. But her face disclosed nothing. The virtuoso, who had been hopefully hovering in the offing, bore down to take the vacated chair. He would have found the lovely young Mrs. Eyre distrait and irresponsive had he not been too happy babbling of his own triumphs to notice.
"Soon zey haf growed thin, zis crowd," said the violinist, who took pride in his mastery of idiom. "Zen, when zere remains but a small few, I play for you. You sit _zere_, in ze leetle garden of flowers." He indicated the secluded seat near the stairway, where she had sat with Ban on the occasion of her first visit to The House With Three Eyes. "Not too far; not too near. From zere you shall not see; but you shall think you hear ze stars make for you harmonies of ze high places."
Young Mackey, having arrived, commended himself to the condescending master by a meekly worshipful attitude. Barely a score of people remained in the great room. The word went about that they were in for one of those occasional treats which made The House With Three Eyes unique. The fortunate lingerers disposed themselves about the room. Io slipped into the nook designated for her. Banneker was somewhere in the background; her veiled glance could not discover where. The music began.
They played Tschaikowsky first, the tender and passionate "Melodie"; then a lilting measure from Debussy's "Faun," followed by a solemnly lovely Brahms arrangement devised by the virtuoso himself. At the dying-out of the applause, the violinist addressed himself to the nook where Io was no more than a vague, faërie figure to his eyes, misty through interlaced bloom and leafage.
"Now, Madame, I play you somezing of a American. Ver' beautiful, it is. Not for violin. For voice, contralto. I sing it to you--on ze G-string, which weep when it sing; weep for lost dreams. It is called 'Illusion,' ze song."
He raised his bow, and at the first bar Io's heart gave a quick, thick sob within her breast. It was the music which Camilla Van Arsdale had played that night when winds and forest leaves murmured the overtones; when earth and heaven were hushed to hear.
"Oh, Ban!" cried Io's spirit.
Noiseless and swift, Banneker, answering the call, bent over her. She whispered, softly, passionately, her lips hardly stirring the melody-thrilled air.
"How could I hurt you so! I'm going because I must; because I daren't stay. You can understand, Ban!"
The music died. "Yes," said Banneker. Then, "Don't go, Io!"
"I must. I'll--I'll see you before. When we're ourselves. We can't talk now. Not with this terrible music in our blood."
She rose and went forward to thank the player with such a light in her eyes and such a fervor in her words that he mentally added another to his list of conquests.
The party broke up. After that magic music, people wanted to be out of the light and the stir; to carry its pure passion forth into the dark places, to cherish and dream it over again.... Banneker sat before the broad fireplace in the laxity of a still grief. Io was going away from him. For a six-month. For a year. For an eternity. Going away from him, bearing his whole heart with her, as she had left him after the night on the river, left him to the searing memory of that mad, sweet cleavage of her lips to his, the passionate offer of her awakened womanhood in uttermost surrender of life at the roaring gates of death....
Footsteps, light, firm, unhesitant, approached across the broad floor from the hallway. Banneker sat rigid, incredulous, afraid to stir, as the sleeper fears to break the spell of a tenuous and lovely dream, until Io's voice spoke his name. He would have jumped to his feet, but the strong pressure of her hands on his shoulders restrained him.
"No. Stay as you are."
"I thought you had gone," he said thickly.
A great log toppled in the fireplace, showering its sparks in prodigal display.
"Do you remember our fire, on the river-bank?" said the voice of the girl, Io, across the years.
"While I live."
"Just you and I. Man and woman. Alone in the world. Sometimes I think it has always been so with us."
"We have no world of our own, Io," he said sadly.
"Heresy, Ban; heresy! Of course we have. An inner world. If we could forget--everything outside."
"I am not good at forgetting."
He felt her fingers, languid and tremulous, at his throat, her heart's strong throb against his shoulder as she bent, the sweet breath of her whisper stirring the hair at his temple:
Her mouth closed down upon his, flower-sweet, petal-light, and was withdrawn. She leaned back, gazing at him from half-closed, inscrutable eyes.
"That's for good-bye, Io?" With all his self-control, he could not keep his voice steady.
"There have been too many good-byes between us," she murmured.
He lifted his head, attentive to a stir at the door, which immediately passed.
"I thought that was Archie, come after you."
"Archie isn't coming."
"Then I'll send for the car and take you home."
"Won't you understand, Ban? I'm not going home."
Io Eyre was one of those women before whom Scandal seems to lose its teeth if not its tongue. She had always assumed the superb attitude toward the world in which she moved. "They say?--What do they say?--Let them say!" might have been her device, too genuinely expressive of her to be consciously contemptuous. Where another might have suffered in reputation by constant companionship with a man as brilliant, as conspicuous, as phenomenal of career as Errol Banneker, Io passed on her chosen way, serene and scatheless.
Tongues wagged, indeed; whispers spread; that was inevitable. But to this Io was impervious. When Banneker, troubled lest any breath should sully her reputation who was herself unsullied, in his mind, would have advocated caution, she refused to consent.
"Why should I skulk?" she said. "I'm not ashamed."
So they met and lunched or dined at the most conspicuous restaurants, defying Scandal, whereupon Scandal began to wonder whether, all things considered, there were anything more to it than one of those flirtations which, after a time of faithful adherence, become standardized into respectability and a sort of tolerant recognition. What, after all, is respectability but the brand of the formalist upon standardization?
With the distaste and effort which Ban always felt in mentioning her husband's name to Io, he asked her one day about any possible danger from Eyre.
"No," she said with assurance. "I owe Del nothing. That is understood between us."
"But if the tittle-tattle that must be going the rounds should come to his ears--"
"If the truth should come to his ears," she replied tranquilly, "it would make no difference."
Ban looked at her, hesitant to be convinced.
"Yes; it's so," she asseverated, nodding, "After his outbreak in Paris--it was on our wedding trip--I gave him a choice. I would either divorce him, or I would hold myself absolutely free of him so far as any claim, actual or moral, went. The one thing I undertook was that I would never involve his name in any open scandal."
"He hasn't been so particular," said Ban gloomily.
"Of late he has. Since I had Cousin Billy Enderby go to him about the dancer. I won't say he's run absolutely straight since. Poor Del! He can't, I suppose. But, at least, he's respected the bargain to the extent of being prudent. I shall respect mine to the same extent."
"Io," he burst out passionately, "there's only one thing in the world I really want; for you to be free of him absolutely."
She shook her head. "Oh, Ban' Can't you be content--with me? I've told you I am free of him. I'm not really his wife."
"No; you're mine," he declared with jealous intensity.
"Yes; I'm yours." Her voice trembled, thrilled. "You don't know yet how wholly I'm yours. Oh, it isn't _that_ alone, Ban. But in spirit and thought. In the world of shadowed and lovely things that we made for ourselves long ago."
"But to have to endure this atmosphere of secrecy, of stealth, of danger to you," he fretted. "You could get your divorce."
"No; I can't. You don't understand."
"Perhaps I do understand," he said gently.
"About Del?" She drew a quick breath. "How could you?"
"Wholly through an accident. A medical man, a slimy little reptile, surprised his secret and inadvertently passed it on."
She leaned forward to him from her corner of the settee, all courage and truth. "I'm glad that you know, though I couldn't tell you, myself. You'll see now that I couldn't leave him to face it alone."
"No. You couldn't. If you did, it wouldn't be Io."
"Ah, and I love you for that, too," she whispered, her voice and eyes one caress to him. "I wonder how I ever made myself believe that I could get over loving you! Now, I've got to pay for my mistake. Ban, do you remember the 'Babbling Babson'? The imbecile who saw me from the train that day?"
"I remember every smallest thing in any way connected with you."
"I love to hear you say that. It makes up for the bad times, in between. The Babbler has turned up. He's been living abroad for a few years. I saw him at a tea last week."
"Did he say anything?"
"Yes. He tried to be coy and facetious. I snubbed him soundly. Perhaps it wasn't wise."
"Why shouldn't it be?"
"Well he used to have the reputation of writing on the sly for The Searchlight."
"That sewer-sheet! You don't think he'd dare do anything of the sort about us? Why, what would he have to go on?"
"What does The Searchlight have to go on in most of its lies, and hints, and innuendoes?"
"But, Io, even if it did publish--"
"It mustn't," she said. "Ban, if it did--it would make it impossible for us to go on as we have been. Don't you see that it would?"
He turned sallow under his ruddy skin. "Then I'll stop it, one way or another. I'll put the fear of God into that filthy old worm that runs the blackmail shop. The first thing is to find out, though, whether there's anything in it. I did hear a hint...." He lost himself in musings, trying to recall an occult remark which the obsequious Ely Ives had made to him sometime before. "And I know where I can do it," he ended.
To go to Ives for anything was heartily distasteful to him. But this was a necessity. He cautiously questioned the unofficial factotum of his employer. Had Ives heard anything of a projected attack on him in The Searchlight? Why, yes; Ives had (naturally, since it was he and not Babson who had furnished the material). In fact, he had an underground wire into the office of that weekly of spice and scurrility which might be tapped to oblige a friend.
Banneker winced at the characterization, but confessed that he would be appreciative of any information. In three days a galley proof of the paragraph was in his hands. It confirmed his angriest fears. Publication of it would smear Io's name with scandal, and, by consequence, direct the leering gaze of the world upon their love.
"What is this; blackmail?" he asked Ives.
"Who wrote it?"
"Reads like the old buzzard's own style."
"I'll go and see him," said Banneker, half to himself.
"You can go, but I don't think you'll see him." Ives set forth in detail the venerable editor's procedure as to troublesome callers. It was specific and curious. Foreseeing that he would probably have to fight with his opponent's weapons, Banneker sought out Russell Edmonds and asked for all the information regarding The Searchlight and its proprietor-editor in the veteran's possession. Edmonds had a fund of it.
"But it won't smoke him out," he said. "That skunk lives in a deep hole."
"If I can't smoke him out, I'll blast him out," declared Banneker, and set himself to the composition of an editorial which consumed the remainder of the working day.
With a typed copy in his pocket, he called, a little before noon, at the office of The Searchlight and sent in his card to Major Bussey. The Major was not in. When was he expected? As for that, there was no telling; he was quite irregular. Very well, Mr. Banneker would wait. Oh, that was quite useless; was it about something in the magazine; wouldn't one of the other editors do? Without awaiting an answer, the anemic and shrewd-faced office girl who put the questions disappeared, and presently returned, followed by a tailor-made woman of thirty-odd, with a delicate, secret-keeping mouth and heavy-lidded, deep-hued eyes, altogether a seductive figure. She smiled confidently up at Banneker.
"I've always wanted so much to meet you," she disclosed, giving him a quick, gentle hand pressure. "So has Major Bussey. Too bad he's out of town. Did you want to see him personally?"
"Quite personally." Banneker returned her smile with one even more friendly and confiding.
"Wouldn't I do? Come into my office, won't you? I represent him in some things."
"Not in this one, I hope," he replied, following her to an inner room. "It is about a paragraph not yet published, which might be misconstrued."
"Oh, I don't think any one could possibly misconstrue it," she retorted, with a flash of wicked mirth.
"You know the paragraph to which I refer, then."
"I wrote it."
Banneker regarded her with grave and appreciative urbanity. All was going precisely as Ely Ives had prognosticated; the denial of the presence of the editor; the appearance of this alluring brunette as whipping-girl to assume the burden of his offenses with the calm impunity of her sex and charm.
"Congratulations," he said. "It is very clever."
"It's quite true, isn't it?" she returned innocently.
"As authentic, let us say, as your authorship of the paragraph."
"You don't think I wrote it? What object should I have in trying to deceive you?"
"What, indeed! By the way, what is Major Bussey's price?"
"Oh, Mr. Banneker!" Was it sheer delight in deviltry, or amusement at his direct and unstrategic method that sparkled in her face. "You surely don't credit the silly stories of--well, blackmail, about us!"
"It might be money," he reflected. "But, on the whole, I think it's something else. Something he wants from The Patriot, perhaps. Immunity? Would that be it? Not that I mean, necessarily, to deal."
"What is your proposition?" she asked confidentially.
"How can I advance one when I don't know what your principal wants?"
"The paragraph was written in good faith," she asserted.
"And could be withdrawn in equal good faith?"
Her laugh was silvery clear. "Very possibly. Under proper representations."
"Then don't you think I'd better deal direct with the Major?"
She studied his face. "Yes," she began, and instantly refuted herself. "No. I don't trust you. There's trouble under that smooth smile of yours."
"But _you're_ not afraid of me, surely," said Banneker. He had found out one important point; her manner when she said "Yes" indicated that the proprietor was in the building. Now he continued: "Are you?"
"I don't know. I think I am." There was a little catch in her breath. "I think you'd be dangerous to any woman."
Banneker, his eyes fixed on hers, played for time and a further lead with a banality. "You're pleased to flatter me."
"Aren't you pleased to be flattered?" she returned provocatively.
He put his hand on her wrist. She swayed to him with a slow, facile yielding. He caught her other wrist, and the grip of his two hands seemed to bite into the bone.
"So you're _that_ kind, too, are you!" he sneered, holding her eyes as cruelly as he had clutched her wrists. "Keep quiet! Now, you're to do as I tell you."
(Ely Ives, in describing the watchwoman at the portals of scandal, had told him that she was susceptible to a properly timed bluff. "A woman she had slandered once stabbed her; since then you can get her nerve by a quick attack. Treat her rough.")
She stared at him, fearfully, half-hypnotized.
"Is that the door leading to Bussey's office? Don't speak! Nod."
Dumb and stricken, she obeyed.
"I'm going there. Don't you dare make a movement or a noise. If you do--I'll come back."
Shifting his grasp, he caught her up and with easy power tossed her upon a broad divan. From its springy surface she shot up, as it seemed to him, halfway to the ceiling, rigid and staring, a ludicrous simulacrum of a glassy-eyed doll. He heard the protesting "ping!" and "berr-rr-rr" of a broken spring as she fell back. The traverse of a narrow hallway and a turn through a half-open door took him into the presence of bearded benevolence making notes at a desk.
"How did you get here? And who the devil are you?" demanded the guiding genius of The Searchlight, looking up irritably. He raised his voice. "Con!" he called.
From a side room appeared a thick, heavy-shouldered man with a feral countenance, who slouched aggressively forward, as the intruder announced himself.
"My name is Banneker."
"Cheest!" hissed the thick bouncer in tones of dismay, and stopped short.
Turning, Banneker recognized him as one of the policemen whom his evidence had retired from the force in the wharf-gang investigation.
"Oh! Banneker," muttered the editor. His right hand moved slowly, stealthily, toward a lower drawer.
"Cut it, Major!" implored Con in acute anguish. "Canche' see he's gotche' covered through his pocket!"
The stealthy hand returned to the sight of all men and fussed among some papers on the desk-top. Major Bussey said peevishly:
"What do you want with me?"
"Kill that paragraph."
"Don't fence with me," struck in Banneker sharply. "You know what one."
Major Bussey swept his gaze around the room for help or inspiration. The sight of the burly ex-policeman, stricken and shifting his weight from one foot to the other, disconcerted him sadly; but he plucked up courage to say:
"The facts are well authent--"
Again Banneker cut him short. "Facts! There isn't the semblance of a fact in the whole thing. Hints, slurs, innuendoes."
"Libel does not exist when--" feebly began the editor, and stopped because Banneker was laughing at him.
"Suppose you read that," said the visitor, contemptuously tossing the typed script of his new-wrought editorial on the desk. "_That's_ libellous, if you choose. But I don't think you would sue."
Major Bussey read the caption, a typical Banneker eye-catcher, "The Rattlesnake Dies Out; But the Pen-Viper is Still With Us." "I don't care to indulge myself with your literary efforts at present, Mr. Banneker," he said languidly. "Is this the answer to our paragraph?"
"Only the beginning. I propose to drive you out of town and suppress 'The Searchlight.'"
"A fair challenge. I'll accept it."
"I was prepared to have you take that attitude."
"Really, Mr. Banneker; you could hardly expect to come here and blackmail me by threats--"
"Now for my alternative," proceeded the visitor calmly. "You are proposing to publish a slur on the reputation of an innocent woman who--"
"Innocent!" murmured the Major with malign relish.
"Look out, Major!" implored Con, the body-guard. "He's a killer, he is."
"I don't know that I'm particularly afraid of you, after all," declared the exponent of The Searchlight, and Banneker felt a twinge of dismay lest he might have derived, somewhence, an access of courage. "A Wild West shooting is one thing, and cold-blooded, premeditated murder is another. You'd go to the chair."
"Cheerfully," assented Banneker.
Bussey, lifting the typed sheets before him, began to read. Presently his face flushed.
"Why, if you print this sort of thing, you'd have my office mobbed," he cried indignantly.
"It's outrageous! And this--if this isn't an incitement to lynching--You wouldn't dare publish this!"
Major Bussey's wizened and philanthropic face took on the cast of careful thought. At length he spoke with the manner of an elder bestowing wisdom upon youth.
"A controversy such as this would do nobody any good. I have always been opposed to journalistic backbitings. Therefore we will let this matter lie. I will kill the paragraph. Not that I'm afraid of your threats; nor of your pen, for that matter. But in the best interests of our common profession--"
"Good-day," said Banneker, and walked out, leaving the Major stranded upon the ebb tide of his platitudes.
Banneker retailed the episode to Edmonds, for his opinion.
"He's afraid of your gun, a little," pronounced the expert; "and more of your pen. I think he'll keep faith in this."
"As long as I hold over him the threat of The Patriot."
"And no longer?"
"No longer. It's a vengeful kind of vermin, Ban."
"Pop, am I a common, ordinary blackmailer? Or am I not?"
The other shook his head, grayed by a quarter-century of struggles and problems. "It's a strange game, the newspaper game," he opined.
All had worked out, in the matter of The Searchlight, quite as much to Mr. Ely Ives's satisfaction as to that of Banneker. From his boasted and actual underground wire into that culture-bed of spiced sewage (at the farther end of which was the facile brunette whom the visiting editor had so harshly treated), he had learned the main details of the interview and reported them to Mr. Marrineal.
"Will Banneker now be good?" rhetorically queried Ives, pursing up his small face into an expression of judicious appreciation. "He _will_ be good!"
Marrineal gave the subject his habitual calm and impersonal consideration. "He hasn't been lately," he observed. "Several of his editorials have had quite the air of challenge."
"That was before he turned blackmailer. Blackmail," philosophized the astute Ives, "is a gun that you've got to keep pointed all the time."
"I see. So long as he has Bussey covered by the muzzle of The Patriot, The Searchlight behaves itself."
"It does. But if ever he laid down his gun, Bussey would make hash of him and his lady-love."
"What about her?" interrogated Marrineal. "Do you really think--" His uplifted brows, sparse on his broad and candid forehead, consummated the question.
For reply the factotum gave him a succinct if distorted version of the romance in the desert.
"She dished him for Eyre," he concluded, "and now she's dishing Eyre for him."
"Bussey's got all this?" inquired Marrineal, and upon the other's careless "I suppose so," added, "It must grind his soul not to be able to use it."
"Or not to get paid for suppressing it," grinned Ives.
"But does Banneker understand that it's fear of his pen, and not of being killed, that binds Bussey?"
Ives nodded. "I've taken care to rub that in. Told him of other cases where the old Major was threatened with all sorts of manhandling; scared out of his wits at first, but always got over it and came back in The Searchlight, taking his chance of being killed. The old vulture really isn't a coward, though he's a wary bird."
"Would Banneker really kill him, do you think?"
"I wouldn't insure his life for five cents," returned the other with conviction. "Your editor is crazy-mad over this Mrs. Eyre. So there you have him delivered, shorn and helpless, and Delilah doesn't even suspect that she's acting as our agent."
Marrineal's eyes fixed themselves in a lifeless sort of stare upon a far corner of the ceiling. Recognizing this as a sign of inward cogitation, the vizier of his more private interests sat waiting. Without changing the direction of his gaze, the proprietor indicated a check in his ratiocination by saying incompletely:
"Now, if she divorced Eyre and married Banneker--"
Ives completed it for him. "That would spike The Searchlight's guns, you think? Perhaps. But if she were going to divorce Eyre, she'd have done it long ago, wouldn't she? I think she'll wait. He won't last long."
"Then our hold on Banneker, through his ability to intimidate The Searchlight, depends on the life of a paretic."
"Paretic is too strong a word--yet. But it comes to about that. Except--he'll want a lot of money to marry Io Eyre."
"He wants a lot, anyway," smiled Marrineal.
"He'll want more. She's an expensive luxury."
"He can get more. Any time when he chooses to handle The Patriot so that it attracts instead of offends the big advertisers."
"Why don't you put the screws on him now, Mr. Marrineal?" smirked Ives with thin-lipped malignancy.
Marrineal frowned. His cold blood inclined him to be deliberate; the ophidian habit, slow-moving until ready to strike. He saw no reason for risking a venture which became safer the further it progressed. Furthermore, he disliked direct, unsolicited advice. Ignoring Ives's remark he asked:
"How are his investments going?"
Ives grinned again. "Down. Who put him into United Thread? Do you know, sir?"
"Horace Vanney. He has been tipping it off quietly to the club lot. Wants to get out from under, himself."
"There's one thing about it, though, that puzzles me. If he took old Vanney's tip to buy for a rise, why did he go after the Sippiac Mills with those savage editorials? They're mainly responsible for the legislative investigation that knocked eight points off of United Thread."
"Probably to prove his editorial independence."
"To whom? You?"
"To himself," said Marrineal with an acumen quite above the shrewdness of an Ives to grasp.
But the latter nodded intelligently, and remarked: "If he's money-crazy you've got him, anyway, sooner or later. And now that he's woman-crazy, too--"
"You'll never understand just how sane Mr. Banneker is," broke in Marrineal coldly. He was a very sane man, himself.
"Well, a lot of the sane ones get stung on the Street," moralized Ives. "I guess the only way to beat that game is to get crazy and take all the chances. Mr. Banneker stands to drop half a year's salary in U.T. alone unless there's a turn."
Marrineal delivered another well-thought-out bit of wisdom. "If I'm any judge, he wants a paper of his own. Well ... give me three years more of him and he can have it. But I don't think it'll make much headway against The Patriot, then."
"Three years? Bussey and The Searchlight ought to hold him that long. Unless, of course, he gets over his infatuation in the meantime."
"In that case," surmised Marrineal, eyeing him with distaste, "I suppose you think that he would equally lose interest in protecting her from The Searchlight."
"Well, what's a woman to expect!" said Ives blandly, and took his dismissal for the day.
It was only recently that Ives had taken to coming to The Patriot office. No small interest and conjecture were aroused among the editorial staff as to his exact status, stimulus to gossip being afforded by the rumor that he had been, from Marrineal's privy purse, shifted to the office payroll. Russell Edmonds solved and imparted the secret to Banneker.
"Ives? Oh, he's the office sandbag."
"Translate, Pop. I don't understand."
"It's an invention of Marrineal's. Very ingenious. It was devised as a weapon against libel suits. Suppose some local correspondent from Hohokus or Painted Post sends in a story on the Honorable Aminadab Quince that looks to be O.K., but is actually full of bad breaks. The Honorable Aminadab smells money in it and likes the smell. Starts a libel suit. On the facts, he's got us: the fellow that got pickled and broke up the Methodist revival wasn't Aminadab at all, but his tough brother. If it gets into court we're stung. Well, up goes little Weaselfoot Ives to Hohokus. Sniffs around and spooks around and is a good fellow at the hotel, and possibly spends a little money where it's most needed, and one day turns up at the Quince mansion. 'Senator, I represent The Patriot.' 'Don't want to see you at all. Talk to my lawyer.' 'But he might not understand my errand. It relates to an indictment handed down in 1884 for malversasion of school funds.' 'Young man, do you dare to intimate--' and so forth and so on; bluster and bluff and threat. Says Ives, very cool: 'Let me have your denial in writing and we'll print it opposite the certified copy of the indictment.' The old boy begins to whimper; 'That's outlawed. It was all wrong, anyway.' Ives is sympathetic, but stands pat. Drop the suit and The Patriot will be considerate and settle the legal fees. Aminadab drops, ten times out of ten. The sandbag has put him away."
"But there must be an eleventh case where there's nothing on the man that's suing."
"Say a ninety-ninth. One libel suit in a hundred may be brought in good faith. But we never settle until after Ives has done his little prowl."
"It sounds bad, Pop. But is it so bad, after all? We've got to protect ourselves against a hold-up."
"Dirty work, but somebody's got to do it: ay--yes? I agree with you. As a means of self-defense it is excusable. But the operations of the sandbag have gone far beyond libel in Ives's hands."
"Have they? To what extent?"
"Any. His little private detective agency--he's got a couple of our porch-climbing, keyhole reporters secretly assigned to him at call for 'special work'--looks after any man we've got or are likely to have trouble with; advertisers who don't come across properly, city officials who play in with the other papers too much, politicians--"
"But that's rank blackmail!" exclaimed Banneker.
"Carried far enough it is. So far it's only private information for the private archives."
"Yes. He and his private counsel, old Mark Stecklin, are the keepers of them. Now, suppose Judge Enderby runs afoul of our interests, as he is bound to do sooner or later. Little Weaselfoot gets on his trail--probably is on it already--and he'll spend a year if necessary watching, waiting, sniffing out something that he can use as a threat or a bludgeon or a bargain."
"What quarrel have we got with Enderby?" inquired Banneker with lively interest.
"None, now. But we'll be after him hot and heavy within a year."
"Not the editorial page," declared Banneker.
"Well, I hope not. It would be rather a right-about, wouldn't it? But Marrineal isn't afraid of a right-about. You know his creed as to his readers: 'The public never remembers.' Of course, you realize what Marrineal is after, politically."
"No. He's never said a word to me."
"Nor to me. But others have. The mayoralty."
"Of course. He's quietly building up his machine."
"But Laird will run for reelection."
"He'll knife Laird."
"It's true Laird hasn't treated us very well, in the matter of backing our policies," admitted Banneker thoughtfully. "The Combined Street Railway franchise, for instance."
"He was right in that and you were wrong, Ban. He had to follow the comptroller there."
"Is that where our split with Enderby is going to come? Over the election?"
"Yes. Enderby is the brains and character back of the Laird administration. He represents the clean government crowd, with its financial power."
Banneker stirred fretfully in his chair. "Damn it!" he growled. "I wish we could run this paper _as_ a newspaper and not as a chestnut rake."
"How sweet and simple life would be!" mocked the veteran. "Still, you know, if you're going to use The Patriot as a blunderbuss to point at the heads of your own enemies, you can't blame the owner if he--"
"You think Marrineal knows?" interposed Banneker sharply.
"About The Searchlight matter? You can bet on one thing, Ban. Everything that Ely Ives knows, Tertius Marrineal knows. So far as Ives thinks it advisable for him to know, that is. Over and above which Tertius is no fool, himself. You may have noticed that."
"It's bothered me from time to time," admitted the other dryly.
"It'll bother both of us more, presently," prophesied Edmonds.
"Then I've been playing direct into Marrineal's hands in attacking Laird on the franchise matter."
"Yes. Keep on."
"Strange advice from you, Pop. You think my position on that is wrong."
"What of that? You think it's right. Therefore, go ahead. Why quit a line of policy just because it obliges your employes? Don't be over-conscientious, son."
"I've suspected for some time that the political news was being adroitly manipulated against the administration. Has Marrineal tried to ring you in on that?"
"No; and he won't."
"He knows that, in the main, I'm a Laird man. Laird is giving us what we asked for, an honest administration."
"Suppose, when Marrineal develops his plans, he comes to you, which would be his natural course, to handle the news end of the anti-Laird campaign. What would you do?"
Banneker sighed. "It's so easy for you."
"Not so easy as you think, son. Even though there's a lot of stuff being put over in the news columns that makes me sore and sick. Marrineal's little theory of using news as a lever is being put into practice pretty widely. Also we're selling it."
"Selling our news columns?"
"Some of 'em. For advertising. You're well out of any responsibility for that department. I'd resign to-morrow if it weren't for the fact that Marrineal still wants to cocker up the labor crowd for his political purposes, and so gives me a free hand in my own special line. By the way, he's got the Veridian matter all nicely smoothed out. Oh, my, yes! Fired the general manager, put in all sorts of reforms, recognized the union, the whole programme! That's to spike McClintick's guns if he tries to trot out Veridian again as proof that Marrineal is, at heart, anti-labor."
"He's anti-anything that's anti-Marrineal, and pro-anything that's pro-Marrineal. Haven't you measured him yet? All policy, no principle; there's Mr. Tertius Marrineal for you.... Ban, it's really you that holds me to this shop." Through convolutions of smoke from his tiny pipe, the old stager regarded the young star of journalism with a quaint and placid affection. "Whatever rotten stuff is going on in the business and news department, your page goes straight and speaks clear.... I wonder how long Marrineal will stand for it ... I wonder what he intends for the next campaign."
"If my proprietor runs for office, I can't very well not support him," said Banneker, troubled.
"Not very well. The pinch will come as to what you're going to do about Laird. According to my private information, he's coming back at The Patriot."
"For my editorials on the Combined franchise?"
"Hardly. He's too straight to resent honest criticism. No; for some of the crooked stuff that we're running in our political news. Besides, some suspicious and informed soul in the administration has read between our political lines, and got a peep of the aspiring Tertius girding himself for contest. Result, the city advertising is to be taken from The Patriot."
It needed no more than a mechanical reckoning of percentages to tell Banneker that this implied a serious diminution of his own income. Further, such a procedure would be in effect a repudiation of The Patriot and its editorial support.
"That's a rotten deal!" he exclaimed.
"No. Just politics. Justifiable, too, I should say, as politics go. I doubt whether Laird would do it of his own motion; he plays a higher game than that. But it isn't strictly within his province either to effect or prevent. Anyhow, it's going to be done."
"If he wants to fight us--" began Banneker with gloom in his eyes.
"He doesn't want to fight anybody," cut in the expert. "He wants to be mayor and run the city for what seems to him the city's best good. If he thought Marrineal would carry on his work as mayor, I doubt if he'd oppose him. But our shrewd old friend, Enderby, isn't of that mind. Enderby understands Marrineal. He'll fight to the finish."
Edmonds left his friend in a glum perturbation of mind. Enderby understood Marrineal, did he? Banneker wished that he himself did. If he could have come to grips with his employer, he would at least have known now where to take his stand. But Marrineal was elusive. No, not even elusive; quiescent. He waited.
As time passed, Banneker's editorial and personal involvements grew more complex. At what moment might a pressure from above close down on his pen, and with what demand? How should he act in the crisis thus forced, at Marrineal's slow pleasure? Take Edmonds's Gordian recourse; resign? But he was on the verge of debt. His investments had gone badly; he prided himself on the thought that it was partly through his own immovable uprightness. Now, this threat to his badly needed percentages! Surely The Patriot ought to be making a greater profit than it showed, on its steadily waxing circulation. Why had he ever let himself be wrenched from his first and impregnable system of a straight payment on increase of circulation? Would it be possible to force Marrineal back into that agreement? No income was too great, surely, to recompense for such trouble of soul as The Patriot inflicted upon its editorial mouthpiece.... Through the murk of thoughts shot, golden-rayed, the vision of Io.
No world could be other than glorious in which she lived and loved him and was his.
Sheltered beneath the powerful pen of Banneker, his idyll, fulfilled, lengthened out over radiant months. Io was to him all that dreams had ever promised or portrayed. Their association, flowering to the full amidst the rush and turmoil of the city, was the antithesis to its budding in the desert peace. To see the more of his mistress, Banneker became an active participant in that class of social functions which get themselves chronicled in the papers. Wise in her day and her protective instinct of love, Io pointed out that the more he was identified with her set, the less occasion would there be for comment upon their being seen together. And they were seen together much.
She lunched with him at his downtown club, dined with him at Sherry's, met him at The Retreat and was driven back home in his car, sometimes with Archie Densmore for a third, not infrequently alone. Considerate hostesses seated them next each other at dinners: it was deemed an evidence of being "in the know" thus to accommodate them. The openness of their intimacy went far to rob calumny of its sting. And Banneker's ingrained circumspection of the man trained in the open, applied to _les convenances_, was a protection in itself. Moreover, there was in his devotion, conspicuous though it was, an air of chivalry, a breath of fragrance from a world of higher romance, which rendered women in particular charitable of judgment toward the pair.
Sometimes in the late afternoon Banneker's private numbered telephone rang, and an impersonal voice delivered a formal message. And that evening Banneker (called out of town, no matter how pressing an engagement he might have had) sat in The House With Three Eyes, now darkened of vision, thrilling and longing for her step in the dim side passage. There was risk of disaster. But Io willed to take it; was proud to take it for her lover.
Immersed in a happiness and a hope which vivified every motion of his life, Banneker was nevertheless under a continuous strain of watchfulness; the _qui vive_ of the knight who guards his lady with leveled lance from a never-ceasing threat. At the point of his weapon cowered and crouched the dragon of The Searchlight, with envenomed fangs of scandal.
As the months rounded out to a year, he grew, not less careful, indeed, but more confident. Eyre had quietly dropped out of the world. Hunting big game in some wild corner of Nowhere, said rumor.
Io had revealed to Banneker the truth; her husband was in a sanitarium not far from Philadelphia. As she told him, her eyes were dim. Swift, with the apprehension of the lover to read the loved one's face, she saw a smothered jealousy in his.
"Ah, but you must pity him, too! He has been so game."
"Yes. This is nearly the end. I shall go down there to be near him."
"It's a long way, Philadelphia," he said moodily.
"What a child! Two hours in your car from The Retreat."
"Then I may come down?"
"May? You must!"
He was still unappeased. "But you'll be very far away from me most of the time."
She gleamed on him, her face all joyous for his incessant want of her. "Stupid! We shall see almost as much of each other as before. I'll be coming over to New York two or three times a week."
Wherewith, and a promised daily telephone call, he must be content.
Not at that meeting did he broach the subject nearest his heart. He felt that he must give Io time to adjust herself to the new-developed status of her husband, as of one already passed out of the world. A fortnight later he spoke out. He had gone down to The Retreat for the week-end and she had come up from Philadelphia to meet him, for dinner. He found her in a secluded alcove off the main dining-porch, alone. She rose and came to him, after that one swift, sweet, precautionary glance about her with which a woman in love assures herself of safety before she gives her lips; tender and passionate to the yearning need of her that sprang in his face.
"Ban, I've been undergoing a solemn preachment."
"Is Densmore here?"
"No; he came over to Philadelphia to deliver it."
She nodded. "Don't take it so gloomily. It was to be expected."
He frowned. "It's on my mind all the time; the danger to you."
"Would you end it?" she said softly.
Too confident to misconstrue his reply, she let her hand fall on his, waiting.
"Io, how long will it be, with Eyre? Before--"
"Oh; that!" The brilliance faded from her eager loveliness. "I don't know. Perhaps a year. He suffers abominably, poor fellow."
"And after--after _that_, how long before you can marry me?"
She twinkled at him mischievously. "So, after all these years, my lover makes me an offer of marriage. Why didn't you ask me at Manzanita?"
"Good God! Would it possibly--"
"No; no! I shouldn't have said it. I was teasing."
"You know that there's never been a moment when the one thing worth living and fighting and striving for wasn't you."
"And success?" she taunted, but with tenderness.
"Another name for you. I wanted it only as the reflex of your wish for me."
"Even when I'd left you?"
"Even when you'd left me."
"Poor Ban!" she breathed, and for a moment her fingers fluttered at his cheek. "Have I made it up to you?"
He bent over the long, low chair in which she half reclined. "A thousand times! Every day that I see you; every day that I think of you; with the lightest touch of your hand; the sound of your voice; the turn of your face toward me. I'm jealous of it and fearful of it. Can you wonder that I live in a torment of dread lest something happen to bring it all to ruin?"
She shook her head. "Nothing could. Unless--No. I won't say it. I want you to want to marry me, Ban. But--I wonder."
As they talked, the little light of late afternoon had dwindled, until in their nook they could see each other only as vague forms.
"Isn't there a table-lamp there?" she asked. "Turn it on."
He found and pulled the chain. The glow, softly shaded, irradiated Io's lineaments, showing her thoughtful, somber, even a little apprehensive. She lifted the shade and turned it to throw the direct rays upon Banneker. He blinked.
"Do you mind?" she asked softly. Even more softly, she added, "Do you remember?"
His mind veered back across the years, full of struggle, of triumph, of emptiness, of fulfillment, to a night in another world; a world of dreams, magic associations, high and peaceful ambitions, into which had broken a voice and an appeal from the darkness. He had turned the light upon himself then that she might see him for what he was and have no fear. So he held it now, lifting it above his forehead. Hypnotized by the compulsion of memory, she said, as she had said to the unknown helper in the desert shack:
"I don't know you. Do I?"
"Ah! I didn't mean to say that. It came back to me, Ban. Perhaps it's true. _Do_ I know you?"
As in the long ago he answered her: "Are you afraid of me?"
"Of everything. Of the future. Of what I don't know in you."
"There's nothing of me that you don't know," he averred.
"Isn't there?" She was infinitely wistful; avid of reassurance. Before he could answer she continued: "That night in the rain when I first saw you, under the flash, as I see you now--Ban, dear, how little you've changed, how wonderfully little, to the eye!--the instant I saw you, I trusted you."
"Do you trust me now?" he asked for the delight of hearing her declare it.
Instead he heard, incredulously, the doubt in her tone. "Do I? I want to--so much! I did then. At first sight."
He set down the lamp. She could hear him breathing quick and stressfully. He did not speak.
"At first sight," she repeated. "And--I think--I loved you from that minute. Though of course I didn't know. Not for days. Then, when I'd gone, I found what I'd never dreamed of; how much I could love."
"And now?" he whispered.
"Ah, more than then!" The low cry leapt from her lips. "A thousand times more."
"But you don't trust me?"
"Why don't I, Ban?" she pleaded. "What have you done? How have you changed?"
He shook his head. "Yet you've given me your love. Do you trust yourself?"
"Yes," she answered with a startling quietude of certainty. "In that I do. Absolutely."
"Then I'll chance the rest. You're upset to-night, aren't you, Io? You've let your imagination run away with you."
"This isn't a new thing to me. It began--I don't know when it began. Yes; I do. Before I ever knew or thought of you. Oh, long before! When I was no more than a baby."
"Rede me your riddle, love," he said lightly.
"It's so silly. You mustn't laugh; no, you wouldn't laugh. But you mustn't be angry with me for being a fool. Childhood impressions are terribly lasting things, Ban.... Yes, I'm going to tell you. It was a nurse I had when I was only four, I think; such a pretty, dainty Irish creature, the pink-and-black type. She used to cry over me and say--I don't suppose she thought I would ever understand or remember--'Beware the brown-eyed boys, darlin'. False an' foul they are, the brown ones. They take a girl's poor heart an' witch it away an' twitch it away, an' toss it back all crushed an' spoilt.' Then she would hug me and sob. She left soon after; but the warning has haunted me like a superstition.... Could you kiss it away, Ban? Tell me I'm a little fool!"
Approaching footsteps broke in upon them. The square bulk of Jim Maitland appeared in the doorway.
"What ho! you two. Ban, you're scampin' your polo practice shamefully. You'll be crabbin' the team if you don't look out. Dinin' here?"
"Yes," said Io. "Is Marie down?"
"Comin' presently. How about a couple of rubbers after dinner?"
To assent seemed the part of tact. Io and Ban went to their corner table, reserved for three, the third, Archie Densmore, being a prudent fiction. People drifted over to them, chatted awhile, were carried on and away by uncharted but normal social currents. It was a tribute to the accepted status between them that no one settled into the third chair. The Retreat is the dwelling-place of tact. All the conversationalists having come and gone, Io reverted over the coffee to the talk of their hearts.
"I can't expect you to understand me, can I? Especially as I don't understand myself. Don't sulk, Ban, dearest. You're so un-pretty when you pout."
He refused to accept the change to a lighter tone. "I understand this, Io; that you have begun unaccountably to mistrust me. That hurts."
"I don't want to hurt you. I'd rather hurt myself; a thousand times rather. Oh, I will marry you, of course, when the time comes! And yet--"
"Isn't it strange, that deep-seated misgiving! I suppose it's my woman's dread of any change. It's been so perfect between us, Ban." Her speech dropped to its lowest breath of pure music:
"'This test for love:--in every kiss, sealed fast To feel the first kiss and forebode the last'--
So it has been with us; hasn't it, my lover?"
"So it shall always be," he answered, low and deep.
Her eyes dreamed. "How could any man feel what he put in those lines?" she murmured.
"Some woman taught him," said Banneker.
She threw him a fairy kiss. "Why haven't we 'The Voices' here! You should read to me.... Do you ever wish we were back in the desert?"
"We shall be, some day."
She shuddered a little, involuntarily. "There's a sense of recall, isn't there! Do you still love it?"
"It's the beginning of the Road to Happiness," he said. "The place where I first saw you."
"You don't care for many things, though, Ban."
"Not many. Only two, vitally. You and the paper."
She made a curious reply pregnant of meanings which were to come back upon him afterward. "I shan't be jealous of that. Not as long as you're true to it. But I don't think you care for The Patriot, for itself."
"Oh, don't I!"
"If you do, it's only because it's part of you; your voice; your power. Because it belongs to you. I wonder if you love me mostly for the same reason."
"Say, the reverse reason. Because I belong so entirely to you that nothing outside really matters except as it contributes to you. Can't you realize and believe?"
"No; I shouldn't be jealous of the paper," she mused, ignoring his appeal. Then, with a sudden transition: "I like your Russell Edmonds. Am I wrong or is there a kind of nobility of mind in him?"
"Of mind and soul. You would be the one to see it.
'.............the nobleness that lies Sleeping but never dead in other men, Will rise in majesty to meet thine own'"--
he quoted, smiling into her eyes.
"Do you ever talk over your editorials with him?"
"Often. He's my main and only reliance, politically."
"Only politically? Does he ever comment on other editorials? The one on Harvey Wheelwright, for instance?"
Banneker was faintly surprised. "No. Why should he? Did you discuss that with him?"
"Indeed not! I wouldn't discuss that particular editorial with any one but you."
He moved uneasily. "Aren't you attaching undue importance to a very trivial subject? You know that was half a joke, anyway."
"Was it?" she murmured. "Probably I take it too seriously. But--but Harvey Wheelwright came into one of our early talks, almost our first about real things. When I began to discover you; when 'The Voices' first sang to us. And he wasn't one of the Voices, exactly, was he?"
"He? He's a bray! But neither was Sears-Roebuck one of the Voices. Yet you liked my editorial on that."
"I adored it! You believed what you were writing. So you made it beautiful."
"Nothing could make Harvey Wheelwright beautiful. But, at least, you'll admit I made him--well, appetizing." His face took on a shade. "Love's labor lost, too," he added. "We never did run the Wheelwright serial, you know."
"Because the infernal idiot had to go and divorce a perfectly respectable, if plain and middle-aged wife, in order to marry a quite scandalous Chicago society flapper."
"What connection has that with the serial?"
"Don't you see? Wheelwright is the arch-deacon of the eternal proprieties and pieties. Purity of morals. Hearth and home. Faithful unto death, and so on. Under that sign he conquers--a million pious and snuffy readers, per book. Well, when he gets himself spread in the Amalgamated Wire dispatches, by a quick divorce and a hair-trigger marriage, puff goes his piety--and his hold on his readers. We just quietly dropped him."
"But his serial was just as good or as bad as before, wasn't it?"
"Certainly not! Not for our purposes. He was a dead wolf with his sheep's wool all smeared and spotted. You'll never quite understand the newspaper game, I'm afraid, lady of my heart."
"How brown your eyes are, Ban!" said Io.
Politics began to bubble in The Patriot office with promise of hotter upheavals to come. The Laird administration had shown its intention of diverting city advertising, and Marrineal had countered in the news columns by several minor but not ineffective exposures of weak spots in the city government. Banneker, who had on the whole continued to support the administration in its reform plans, decided that a talk with Willis Enderby might clarify the position and accordingly made an evening appointment with him at his house. Judge Enderby opened proceedings with typical directness of attack.
"When are _you_ going to turn on us, Banneker?"
"That's a cheerful question," retorted the young man good-humoredly, "considering that it is you people who have gone back on The Patriot."
"Were any pledges made on our part?" queried Enderby.
Banneker replied with some spirit: "Am I talking with counsel under retainer or with a personal friend?"
"Quite right. I apologize," said the imperturbable Enderby. "Go on."
"It isn't the money loss that counts, so much as the slap in the face to the paper. It's a direct repudiation. You must realize that."
"I'm not wholly a novice in politics."
"But I am, practically."
"Not so much that you can't see what Marrineal would be at."
"Mr. Marrineal has not confided in me."
"Nor in me," stated the lawyer grimly. "I don't need his confidence to perceive his plans."
"What do you believe them to be?"
No glimmer of a smile appeared on the visage of Judge Enderby as he countered, "Am I talking with a representative of The Patriot or--"
"All right," laughed Banneker. "_Touché!_ Assume that Marrineal has political ambitions. Surely that lies within the bounds of propriety."
"Depends on how he pushes them. Do you read The Patriot, Banneker?"
The editor of The Patriot smiled.
"Do you approve its methods in, let us say, the political articles?"
"I have no control over the news columns."
"Don't answer my question," said the lawyer with a fine effect of patience, long-suffering and milky-mild, "if it in any way discommodes you."
"It all comes to this," disclosed Banneker. "If the mayor turns on us, we can't lie down under the whip and we won't. We'll hit back."
"Editorially, I mean."
"I understand. At least the editorials will be a direct method of attack, and an honest one. I may assume that much?"
"Have you ever seen anything in the editorial columns of The Patriot that would lead you to assume otherwise?"
"Answering categorically I would have to say 'No.'
"Answer as you please."
"Then I will say," observed the other, speaking with marked deliberation, "that on one occasion I have failed to see matter which I thought might logically appear there and the absence of which afforded me food for thought. Do you know Peter McClintick?"
"Yes. Has he been talking to you about the Veridian killings?"
Enderby nodded. "One could not but contrast your silence on that subject with your eloquence against the Steel Trust persecutions, consisting, if I recall, in putting agitators in jail for six months. Quite wrongly, I concede. But hardly as bad as shooting them down as they sleep, and their families with them."
"Tell me what you would have done in my place, then." Banneker stated the case of the Veridian Mills strike simply and fairly. "Could I turn the columns of his own paper on Marrineal for what was not even his fault?"
"Impossible. Absurd, as well," acknowledged the other
"Can you even criticize Marrineal?"
The jurist reared his gaunt, straight form up from his chair and walked across to the window, peering out into the darkness before he answered with a sort of restrained passion.
"God o' mercies, Banneker! Do you ask me to judge other men's acts, outside the rules of law? Haven't I enough problems in reconciling my own conscience to conserving the interests of my clients, as I must, in honor, do? No; no! Don't expect me to judge, in any matter of greater responsibilities. I'm answerable to a small handful of people. You--your Patriot is answerable to a million. Everything you print, everything you withhold, may have incalculable influence on the minds of men. You can corrupt or enlighten them with a word. Think of it! Under such a weight Atlas would be crushed. There was a time long ago--about the time when you were born--when I thought that I might be a journalist; thought it lightly. To-day, knowing what I know, I should be terrified to attempt it for a week, a day! I tell you, Banneker, one who moulds the people's beliefs ought to have the wisdom of a sage and the inspiration of a prophet and the selflessness of a martyr."
A somber depression veiled Banneker. "One must have the sense of authority, too," he said at length with an effort. "If that is undermined, you lose everything. I'll fight for that."
With an abrupt motion his host reached up and drew the window shade, as it might be to shut out a darkness too deep for human penetration.
"What does your public care about whether The Patriot loses the city advertising; or even know about it?"
"Not the public. But the other newspapers. They'll know, and they'll use it against us.... Enderby, we can beat Bob Laird for reelection."
"If that's a threat," returned the lawyer equably, "it is made to the wrong person. I couldn't control Laird in this matter if I wanted to. He's an obstinate young mule--for which Heaven be praised!"
"No; it isn't a threat. It's a declaration of war, if you like."
"You think you can beat us? With Marrineal?"
"Mr. Marrineal isn't an avowed candidate, is he?" evaded Banneker.
"I fancy that you'll see some rapidly evolving activity in that quarter."
"Is it true that Laird has developed social tendencies, and is using the mayoralty to climb?"
"A silly story of his enemies," answered Enderby contemptuously. "Just the sort of thing that Marrineal would naturally get hold of and use. In so far as Laird has any social relations, they are and always have been with that element which your society reporters call 'the most exclusive circles,' because that is where he belongs by birth and association."
"Russell Edmonds says that social ambition is the only road on which one climbs painfully downhill."
The other paid the tribute of a controlled smile to this. "Edmonds? A Socialist. He has a gnarled mind. Good, hard-grained wood, though. I suppose no man more thoroughly hates and despises what I represent--or what he thinks I represent, the conservative force of moneyed power--than he does. Yet in any question of professional principles, I would trust him far; yes, and of professional perceptions, too, I think; which is more difficult. A crack-brained sage; but wise. Have you talked over the Laird matter with him?"
"Yes. He's for Laird."
"Stick to Edmonds, Banneker. You can't find a better guide."
There was desultory talk until the caller got up to go. As they shook hands, Enderby said:
"Has any one been tracking you lately?"
"No. Not that I've noticed."
"There was a fellow lurking suspiciously outside; heavy-set, dark clothes, soft hat. I thought that he might be watching you."
For a man of Banneker's experience of the open, to detect the cleverest of trailing was easy. Although this watcher was sly and careful in his pursuit, which took him all the way to Chelsea Village, his every move was clear to the quarry, until the door of The House With Three Eyes closed upon its owner. Banneker went to bed very uneasy. On whose behoof was he being shadowed? Should he warn Io?... In the morning there was no trace of the man, nor, though Banneker trained every sharpened faculty to watchfulness, did he see him again.... While he was mentally engrossed in wholly alien considerations, the solution materialized out of nothing to his inner vision. It was Willis Enderby who was being watched, and, as a side issue, any caller upon him. That evening a taxi, occupied by a leisurely young man in evening clothes, drove through East 68th Street, where stood the Enderby house, dim, proud, and stiff. The taxi stopped before a mansion not far away, and the young man addressed a heavy-bodied individual who stood, with vacant face uplifted to the high moon, as if about to bay it. Said the young man:
"Mr. Ives wishes you to report to him at once."
"Huh?" ejaculated the other, lowering his gaze.
"At the usual place," pursued the young man.
His suspicions fully confirmed, Banneker drove away. It was now Ives's move, he remarked to himself, smiling. Or perhaps Marrineal's. He would wait. Within a few days he had his opportunity. Returning to his office after luncheon, he found a penciled note from Ives on his desk, notifying him that Miss Raleigh had called him on the 'phone.
Inquiring for the useful Ives, Banneker learned that he was closeted with Marrineal. Such conferences were regarded in the office as inviolable; but Banneker was in uncompromising mood. He entered with no more of preliminary than a knock. After giving his employer good-day he addressed Ives.
"I found a note from you on my desk."
"Yes. The message came half an hour ago."
"Through the office?"
"No. On your 'phone."
"How did you get into my room?"
"The door was open."
Banneker reflected. This was possible, though usually he left his door locked. He decided to accept the explanation. Later he had occasion to revise it.
"Much obliged. By the way, on whose authority did you put a shadow on Judge Enderby?"
"On mine," interposed Marrineal. "Mr. Ives has full discretion in these matters."
"But what is the idea?"
Ives delivered himself of his pet theory. "They'll all bear watching. It may come in handy some day."
"Anything we can get."
"What on earth could any but an insane man expect to get on Enderby?" contemptuously asked Banneker.
Shooting a covert look at his principal, Ives either received or assumed a permission. "Well, there was some kind of an old scandal, you know."
"Was there?" Banneker's voice was negligent. "That would be hard to believe."
"Hard to get hold of in any detail. I've dug some of it out through my Searchlight connection. Very useful line, that."
Ives ventured a direct look at Banneker, but diverted it from the cold stare it encountered.
"Some woman scrape," he explicated with an effort at airiness.
Banneker turned a humiliating back on him. "The Patriot is beginning to get a bad name on Park Row for this sort of thing," he informed Marrineal.
"This isn't a Patriot matter. It is private."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Banneker in disgust. "After all, it doesn't matter. You'll have your trouble for your pains," he prophesied, and returned to 'phone Betty Raleigh.
What had become of Banneker, Betty's gay and pure-toned voice demanded over the wire. Had he eschewed the theater and all its works for good? Too busy? Was that a reason also for eschewing his friends? He'd never meant to do that? Let him prove it then by coming up to see her.... Yes; at once. Something special to be talked over.
It was a genuine surprise to Banneker to find that he had not seen the actress for nearly two months. Certainly he had not specially missed her, yet it was keenly pleasurable to be brought into contact again with that restless, vital, outgiving personality. She looked tired and a little dispirited and--for she was of that rare type in which weariness does not dim, but rather qualifies and differentiates its beauty--quite as lovely as he had ever seen her. The query which gave him his clue to her special and immediate interest was:
"Why is Haslett leaving The Patriot?" Haslett was the Chicago critic transplanted to take Gurney's place.
"Is he? I didn't know. You ought not to mourn his loss, Betty."
"But I do. At least, I'm afraid I'm going to. Do you know who the new critic is?"
"No. Do you? And how do you? Oh, I suppose I ought to understand that, though," he added, annoyed that so important a change should have been kept secret from him.
With characteristic directness she replied, "You mean Tertius Marrineal?"
"That's all off."
"Betty! Your engagement to him?"
"So far as there ever was any."
"Is it really off? Or have you only quarreled?"
"Oh, no. I can't imagine myself quarreling with Tertius. He's too impersonal. For the same reason, and others, I can't see myself marrying him."
"But you must have considered it, for a time."
"Not very profoundly. I don't want to marry a newspaper. Particularly such a newspaper as The Patriot. For that matter, I don't want to marry anybody, and I won't!"
"That being disposed of, what's the matter with The Patriot? It's been treating you with distinguished courtesy ever since Marrineal took over charge."
"It has. That's part of his newspaperishness."
"From our review of your new play I judge that it was written by the shade of Shakespeare in collaboration with the ghost of Molière, and that your acting in it combines all the genius of Rachel, Kean, Booth, Mrs. Siddons, and the Divine Sarah."
"This is no laughing matter," she protested. "Have you seen the play?"
"No. I'll go to-night."
"Don't. It's rotten."
"Heavens!" he cried in mock dismay. "What does this mean? Our most brilliant young--"
"And I'm as bad as the play--almost. The part doesn't fit me. It's a fool part."
"Are you quarreling with The Patriot because it has tempered justice with mercy in your case?"
"Mercy? With slush. Slathering slush."
"Come to my aid, Memory! Was it not a certain Miss Raleigh who aforetime denounced the ruffian Gurney for that he vented his wit upon a play in which she appeared. And now, because--"
"Yes; it was. I've no use for the smart-aleck school of criticism. But, at least, what Gurney wrote was his own. And Haslett, even if he is an old grouch, was honest. You couldn't buy their opinions over the counter."
Banneker frowned. "I think you'd better explain, Betty."
"Do you know Gene Zucker?"
"Never heard of him."
"He's a worm. A fat, wiggly, soft worm from Boston. But he's got an idea."
"And that is?"
"I'll tell you in a moment." She leaned forward fixing him with the honest clarity of her eyes. "Ban, if I tell you that I'm really devoted to my art, that I believe in it as--as a mission, that the theater is as big a thing to me as The Patriot is to you, you won't think me an affected little prig, will you?"
"Of course not, Betty. I know you."
"Yes. I think you do. But you don't know your own paper. Zucker's big idea, which he sold to Tertius Marrineal together with his precious self, is that the dramatic critic should be the same identical person as the assistant advertising manager in charge of theater advertising, and that Zucker should be both."
"Hell!" snapped Banneker. "I beg your pardon, Betty."
"Don't. I quite agree with you. Isn't it complete and perfect? Zucker gets his percentage of the advertising revenue which he brings in from the theaters. Therefore, will he be kind to those attractions which advertise liberally? And less kind to those which fail to appreciate The Patriot as a medium? I know that he will! Pay your dollar and get your puff. Dramatic criticism strictly up to date."
Banneker looked at her searchingly. "Is that why you broke with Marrineal, Betty?"
"Not exactly. No. This Zucker deal came afterward. But I think I had begun to see what sort of principles Tertius represented. You and I aren't children, Ban: I can talk straight talk to you. Well, there's prostitution on the stage, of course. Not so much of it as outsiders think, but more than enough. I've kept myself free of any contact with it. That being so, I'm certainly not going to associate myself with that sort of thing in another field. Ban, I've made the management refuse Zucker admittance to the theater. And he gave the play a wonderful send-off, as you know. Of course, Tertius would have him do that."
Rising, Banneker walked over and soberly shook the girl's hand. "Betty, you're a fine and straight and big little person. I'm proud to know you. And I'm ashamed of myself that I can do nothing. Not now, anyway. Later, perhaps...."
"No, I suppose you can't," she said listlessly. "But you'll be interested in seeing how the Zucker system works out; a half-page ad. in the Sunday edition gets a special signed and illustrated feature article, a quarter-page only a column of ordinary press stuff. A full page--I don't know what he'll offer for that. An editorial by E.B. perhaps."
"Forgive me, Ban. I'm sick at heart over it all. Of course, I know you wouldn't."
Going back in his car, Banneker reflected with profound distaste that the plan upon which he was hired was not essentially different from the Zucker scheme, in Marrineal's intent. He, too, was--if Marrineal's idea worked out--to draw down a percentage varying in direct ratio to his suppleness in accommodating his writings to "the best interests of the paper." He swore that he would see The Patriot and its proprietor eternally damned before he would again alter jot or tittle of his editorial expression with reference to any future benefit.
It did not take long for Mr. Zucker to manifest his presence to Banneker through a line asking for an interview, written in a neat, small hand upon a card reading:
_The Patriot--Special Theatrical Features E. Zucker, Representative_.
Mr. Zucker, being sent for, materialized as a buoyant little person, richly ornamented with his own initials in such carefully chosen locations as his belt-buckle, his cane, and his cigarettes. He was, he explained, injecting some new and profitable novelties into the department of dramatic criticism.
"Just a moment," quoth Banneker. "I thought that Allan Haslett had come on from Chicago to be our dramatic critic."
"Oh, he and the business office didn't hit it off very well," said little Zucker carelessly.
"Oh! And do you hit it off pretty well with the business office?"
"Naturally. It was Mr. Haring brought me on here; I'm a special departmental manager in the advertising department."
"Your card would hardly give the impression. It suggests the news rather than the advertising side."
"I'm both," stated Mr. Zucker, brightly beaming. "I handle the criticism and the feature stuff on salary, and solicit the advertising, on a percentage. It works out fine."
"So one might suppose." Banneker looked at him hard. "The idea being, if I get it correctly, that a manager who gives you a good, big line of advertising can rely on considerate treatment in the dramatic column of The Patriot."
"Well, there's no bargain to that effect. That wouldn't be classy for a big paper like ours," replied the high-if somewhat naïve-minded Mr. Zucker. "Of course, the managers understand that one good turn deserves another, and I ain't the man to roast a friend that helps me out. I started the scheme in Boston and doubled the theater revenue of my paper there in a year."
"I'm immensely interested," confessed Banneker. "But what is your idea in coming to me about this?"
"Big stuff, Mr. Banneker," answered the earnest Zucker. He laid a jeweled hand upon the other's knee, and removed it because some vestige of self-protective instinct warned him that that was not the proper place for it. "You may have noticed that we've been running a lot of special theater stuff in the Sunday." Banneker nodded. "That's all per schedule, as worked out by me. An eighth of a page ad. gets an article. A quarter page ad. gets a signed special by me. Haffa page wins a grand little send-off by Bess Breezely with her own illustrations. Now, I'm figuring on full pages. If I could go to a manager and say: 'Gimme a full-page ad. for next Sunday and I'll see if I can't get Mr. Banneker to do an editorial on the show'--if I could say that, why, nothin' to it! Nothin' at-tall! Of course," he added ruminatively, "I'd have to pick the shows pretty careful."
"Perhaps you'd like to write the editorials, too," suggested Banneker with baleful mildness.
"I thought of that," admitted the other. "But I don't know as I could get the swing of your style. You certainly got a style, Mr. Banneker."
"Well, what do you say?"
"Why, this. I'll look over next Sunday's advertising, particularly the large ads., and if there is a good subject in any of the shows, I'll try to do something about it."
"Fine!" enthused the unsuspecting pioneer of business-dramatic criticism. "It's a pleasure to work with a gentleman like you, Mr. Banneker."
Withdrawing, even more pleased with himself than was his wont, Mr. Zucker confided to Haring that the latter was totally mistaken in attributing a stand-offish attitude to Banneker. Why, you couldn't ask for a more reasonable man. Saw the point at once.
"Don't you go making any fool promises on the strength of what Banneker said to you," commented Haring.
With malign relish, Banneker looked up in the Sunday advertising the leading theater display, went to the musical comedy there exploited, and presently devoted a column to giving it a terrific and only half-merited slashing for vapid and gratuitous indecency. The play, which had been going none too well, straightway sold out a fortnight in advance, thereby attesting the power of the press as well as the appeal of pruriency to an eager and jaded public. Zucker left a note on the editorial desk warmly thanking his confrère for this evidence of coöperation.
Life was practicing its lesser ironies upon Banneker whilst maturing its greater ones.
In the regular course of political events, Laird was renominated on a fusion ticket. Thereupon the old ring, which had so long battened on the corruption or local government, put up a sleek and presentable figurehead. Marrineal nominated himself amidst the Homeric laughter of the professional politicians. How's he goin' to get anywhere, they demanded with great relish of the joke, when he ain't got any organization at-tall! Presently the savor oozed out of that joke. Marrineal, it appeared, did have an organization, of sorts; worse, he had gathered to him, by methods not peculiarly his own, the support of the lesser East-Side foreign language press, which may or may not have believed in his protestations of fealty to the Common People, but certainly did appreciate the liberality of his political advertising appropriation, advertising, in this sense, to be accorded its freest interpretation. Worst of all, he had Banneker.
Banneker's editorials, not upon Marrineal himself (for he was too shrewd for that), but upon the cause of which Marrineal was standard-bearer, were persuasive, ingenious, forceful, and, to the average mind, convincing. Was Banneker himself convinced? It was a question which he resolutely refused to follow to its logical conclusion. Of the justice of the creed which The Patriot upheld, he was perfectly confident. But did Marrineal represent that creed? Did he represent anything but Marrineal? Stifling his misgivings, Banneker flung himself the more determinedly into the fight. It became apparent that he was going to swing an important fraction of the labor vote, despite the opposition of such clear-eyed leaders as McClintick. To this extent he menaced the old ring rather than the forces of reform, led by Laird and managed by Enderby. On the other hand, he was drawing from Laird, in so far as he still influenced the voters who had followed The Patriot in its original support of the reform movement. That Marrineal could not be elected, both of his opponents firmly believed; and in this belief, notwithstanding his claims of forthcoming victory, the independent candidate privately concurred. It would be enough, for the time, to defeat decisively whichever rival he turned his heaviest guns upon in the final onset; that would insure his future political prestige. Thus far, in his speeches, he had hit out impartially at both sides, denouncing the old ring for its corruption, girding at Laird as a fake reformer secretly committed to Wall Street through Judge Enderby, corporation lawyer, as intermediary.
Herein Banneker had refrained from following him. Ever the cat at the hole's mouth, the patient lurker, the hopeful waiter upon the event, the proprietor of The Patriot forbore to press his editorial chief. He still mistrusted the strength of his hold upon Banneker; feared a defiance when he could ill afford to meet it. What he most hoped was some development which would turn Banneker's heavy guns upon Laird so that, with the defeat of the fusion ticket candidate, the public would say, "The Patriot made him and The Patriot broke him."
Laird played into Marrineal's hands. Indignant at what he regarded as a desertion of principles by The Patriot, the fusion nominee, in one of his most important addresses, devoted a stinging ten minutes to a consideration of that paper, its proprietor, and its editorial writer, in its chosen role of "friend of labor." His text was the Veridian strike, his information the version which McClintick furnished him; he cited Banneker by name, and challenged him as a prostituted mind and a corrupted pen. Though Laird had spoken as he honestly believed, he did not have the whole story; McClintick, in his account, had ignored the important fact that Marrineal, upon being informed of conditions, had actually (no matter what his motive) remedied them. Banneker, believing that Laird was fully apprised, as he knew Enderby to be, was outraged. This alleged reformer, this purist in politics, this apostle of honor and truth, was holding him up to contumely, through half-truths, for a course which any decent man must, in conscience, have followed. He composed a seething editorial, tore it up, substituted another wherein he made reply to the charges, in a spirit of ingenuity rather than ingenuousness, for The Patriot case, while sound, was one which could not well be thrown open to The Patriot's public; and planned vengeance when the time should come.
Io, on a brief trip from Philadelphia, lunched with him that week, and found him distrait.
"It's only politics," he said. "You're not interested in politics," and, as usual, "Let's talk about you."
She gave him that look which was like a smile deep in the shadows of her eyes. "Ban, do you know the famous saying of Terence?"
He quoted the "Homo sum." "That one?" he asked.
She nodded. "Now, hear my version: 'I am a woman; nothing that touches _my_ man is alien to my interests.'"
He laughed. But there was a note of gratitude in his voice, almost humble, as he said: "You're the only woman in the world, Io, who can quote the classics and not seem a prig."
"That's because I'm beautiful," she retorted impudently. "_Tell_ me I'm beautiful, Ban!"
"You're the loveliest witch in the world," he cried.
"So much for flattery. Now--politics."
He recounted the Laird charges.
"No; that wasn't fair," she agreed. "It was most unfair. But I don't believe Bob Laird knew the whole story. Did you ask him?"
"Ask him? I certainly did not. You don't understand much about politics, dearest."
"I was thinking of it from the point of view of the newspaper. If you're going to answer him in The Patriot, I should think you'd want to know just what his basis was. Besides, if he's wrong, I believe he'd take it back."
"After all the damage has been done. He won't get the chance." Banneker's jaw set firm.
"What shall you do now?"
"Wait my chance, load my pen, and shoot to kill."
"Let me see the editorial before you print it."
"All right, Miss Meddlesome. But you won't let your ideas of fair play run away with you and betray me to the enemy? You're a Laird man, aren't you?"
Her voice fell to a caressing half-note. "I'm a Banneker woman--in everything. Won't you ever remember that?"
"No. You'll never be that. You'll always be Io; yourself; remote and unattainable in the deeper sense."
"Do _you_ say that?" she answered.
"Oh, don't think that I complain. You've made life a living glory for me. Yet"--his face grew wistful--"I suppose--I don't know how to say it--I'm like the shepherd in the poem,
'Still nursing the unconquerable hope, Still clutching the inviolable shade.'
Io, why do I always think in poetry, when I'm with you?"
"I want you always to," she said, which was a more than sufficient answer.
Io had been back in Philadelphia several days, and had 'phoned Banneker that she was coming over on the following Tuesday, when, having worked at the office until early evening, he ran around the corner to Katie's for dinner. At the big table "Bunny" Fitch of The Record was holding forth.
Fitch was that invaluable type of the political hack-writer, a lackey of the mind, instinctively subservient to his paper's slightest opinion, hating what it hates, loving what it loves, with the servile adherence of a medieval churchman. As The Record was bitter upon reform, its proprietor having been sadly disillusioned in youth by a lofty but abortive experiment in perfecting human nature from which he never recovered, Bunny lost no opportunity to damn all reformers.
"Can't you imagine the dirty little snob," he was saying, as Banneker entered, "creeping and fawning and cringing for their favors? Up for membership at The Retreat. Dines with Poultney Masters, Jr., at his club. Can't you hear him running home to wifie all het up and puffed like a toad, and telling her about it?"
"Who's all this, Bunny?" inquired Banneker, who had taken in only the last few words.
"Our best little society climber, the Honorable Robert Laird," returned the speaker, and reverted to his inspirational pen-picture: "Runs home to wifie and crows, 'What do you think, my dear! Junior Masters called me 'Bob' to-day!"
In a flash, the murderous quality of the thing bit into Banneker's sensitive brain. "Junior Masters called me 'Bob' to-day." The apotheosis of snobbery! Swift and sure poison for the enemy if properly compounded with printer's ink. How pat it fitted in with the carefully fostered conception, insisted upon in every speech by Marrineal, of the mayor as a Wall Street and Fifth Avenue tool and toady!
But what exactly had Bunny Fitch said? Was he actually quoting Laird? If so, direct or from hearsay? Or was he merely paraphrasing or perhaps only characterizing? There was a dim ring in Banneker's cerebral ear of previous words, half taken in, which would indicate the latter--and ruin the deadly plan, strike the poison-dose from his hand. Should he ask Fitch? Pin him down to the details?
The character-sketcher was now upon the subject of Judge Enderby. "Sly old wolf! Wants to be senator one of these days. Or maybe governor. A 'receptive' candidate! Wah! Pulls every wire he can lay hand on, and then waits for the honor to be forced upon him.... Good Lord! It's eight o'clock. I'm late."
Dropping a bill on the table he hurried out. Half-minded to stop him, Banneker took a second thought. Why should he? His statement had been definite. Anyway, he could be called up on the morrow. Dining hastily and in deep, period-building thought, Banneker returned to the office, locked himself in, and with his own hand drafted the editorial built on that phrase of petty and terrific import: "Junior Masters called me 'Bob' to-day."
After it was written he would not for the world have called up Fitch to verify the central fact. He couldn't risk it. He scheduled the broadside for the second morning following.... But there was Io! He had promised. Well, he was to meet her at a dinner party at the Forbes's. She could see it then, if she hadn't forgotten.... No; that, too, was a subterfuge hope. Io never forgot.
As if to assure the resumption of their debate, the talk of the Forbes dinner table turned to the mayoralty fight. Shrewd judges of events and tendencies were there; Thatcher Forbes, himself, not the least of them; it was the express opinion that Laird stood a very good chance of victory.
"Unless they can definitely pin the Wall Street label on him," suggested some one.
"That might beat him; it's the only thing that could," another opined.
Hugging his withering phrase to his heart, Banneker felt a growing exultation.
"Nobody but The Patriot--" began Mrs. Forbes contemptuously, when she abruptly recalled who was at her table. "The newspapers are doing their worst, but I think they won't make people believe much of it," she amended.
"Is Laird really the Wall Street candidate?" inquired Esther Forbes.
Parley Welland, Io's cousin, himself an amateur politician, answered her: "He is or he isn't, according as you look at it. Masters and his crowd are mildly for him, because they haven't any objection to a decent, straight city government, at present. Sometimes they have."
"On that principle, Horace Vanney must have," remarked Jim Maitland. "He's fighting Laird, tooth and nail, and certainly he represents one phase of Wall Street activity."
"My revered uncle," drawled Herbert Cressey, "considers that the present administration is too tender of the working-man--or, rather, working-woman--when she strikes. Don't let 'em strike; or, if they do strike, have the police bat 'em on the head."
"What's this administration got to do with Vanney's mills? I thought they were in Jersey," another diner asked.
"So they are, the main ones. But he's backing some of the local clothing manufacturers, the sweat-shop lot. They've been having strikes. That interferes with profits. Uncle wants the good old days of the night-stick and the hurry-up wagon back. He's even willing to spend a little money on the good cause."
Io, seated on Banneker's left, turned to him. "Is that true, Ban?"
"I've heard rumors to that effect," he replied evasively.
"Won't it put The Patriot in a queer position, to be making common cause with an enemy of labor?"
"It isn't a question of Horace Vanney, at all," he declared. "He's just an incident."
"When are you going to write your Laird editorial?"
"All written. I've got a proof in my pocket."
She made as if to hold out her hand; but withdrew it. "After dinner," she said. "The little enclosed porch off the conservatory."
Amused and confirmatory glances followed them as they withdrew together. But there was no ill-natured commentary. So habituated was their own special set to the status between them that it was accepted with tolerance, even with the good-humored approval with which human nature regards a logical inter-attraction.
"Are you sure that you want to plunge into politics, Io?" Banneker asked, looking down at her as she seated herself in the cushioned _chaise longue_.
Her mouth smiled assent, but her eyes were intent and serious. He dropped the proof into her lap, bending over and kissing her lips as he did so. For a moment her fingers interlaced over his neck.
"I'll understand it," she breathed, interpreting into his caress a quality of pleading.
Before she had read halfway down the column, she raised to him a startled face. "Are you sure, Ban?" she interrogated.
"Read the rest," he suggested.
She complied. "What a terrible power little things have," she sighed. "That would make me despise Laird."
"A million other people will feel the same way to-morrow."
"To-morrow? Is it to be published so soon?"
"In the morning's issue."
"Ban; is it true? Did he say that?"
"I have it from a man I've known ever since I came to New York. He's reliable."
"But it's so unlike Bob Laird."
"Why is it unlike him?" he challenged with a tinge of impatience. "Hasn't he been playing about lately with the Junior Masters?"
"Do you happen to know," she replied quietly, "that Junior and Bob Laird were classmates and clubmates at college, and that they probably always have called each other by their first names?"
"No. Have you ever heard them?" Angry regret beset him the instant the question had passed his lips. If she replied in the affirmative--
"No; I've never happened to hear them," she admitted; and he breathed more freely.
"Then my evidence is certainly more direct than yours," he pointed out.
"Ban; that charge once made public is going to be unanswerable, isn't it? Just because the thing itself is so cheap and petty?"
"Yes. You've got the true journalistic sense, Io."
"Then there's the more reason why you shouldn't print it unless you know it to be true."
"But it _is_ true." Almost he had persuaded himself that it was; that it must be.
"The Olneys are having the Junior Masters to dine this evening. I know because I was asked; but of course I wanted to be here, where you are. Let me call Junior on the 'phone and ask him."
Banneker flushed. "You can't do that, Io."
"Why, it isn't the sort of thing that one can very well do," he said lamely.
"Not ask Junior if he and Bob Laird are old chums and call each other by their first names?"
"How silly it would sound!" He tried to laugh the proposal away. "In any case, it wouldn't be conclusive. Besides, it's too late by this time."
"Yes. The forms are closed."
"You couldn't change it?"
"Why, I suppose I could, in an extreme emergency. But, dearest, it's all right. Why be so difficult?"
"It isn't playing the game, Ban."
"Indeed, it is. It's playing the game as Laird has elected to play it. Did he make inquiries before he attacked us on the Veridian strike?"
"That's true," she conceded.
"And my evidence for this is direct. You'll have to trust me and my professional judgment, Io."
She sighed, but accepted this, saying, "If he _is_ that kind of a snob it ought to be published. Suppose he sues for libel?"
"He'd be laughed out of court. Why, what is there libelous in saying that a man claims to have been called by his first name by another man?" Banneker chuckled.
"Well, it ought to be libelous if it isn't true," asserted Io warmly. "It isn't fair or decent that a newspaper can hold a man up as a boot-licker and toady, if he isn't one, and yet not be held responsible for it."
"Well, dearest, I didn't make the libel laws. They're hard enough as it is." His thought turned momentarily to Ely Ives, the journalistic sandbag, and he felt a momentary qualm. "I don't pretend to like everything about my job. One of these days I'll have a newspaper of my own, and you shall censor every word that goes in it."
"Help! Help!" she laughed. "I shouldn't have the time for anything else; not even for being in love with the proprietor. Ban," she added wistfully, "does it cost a very great deal to start a new paper?"
"Yes. Or to buy an old one."
"I have money of my own, you know," she ventured.
He fondled her hand. "That isn't even a temptation," he replied.
But it was. For a paper of his own was farther away from him than it had ever been. That morning he had received his statement from his broker. To date his losses on Union Thread were close to ninety thousand dollars.
Who shall measure the spreading and seeding potentialities of a thistle-down or a catchy phrase? Within twenty-four hours after the appearance of Banneker's editorial, the apocryphal boast of Mayor Laird to his wife had become current political history. Current? Rampant, rather. Messenger boys greeted each other with "Dearie, Mr. Masters calls me Bob." Brokers on 'Change shouted across a slow day's bidding, "What's your cute little pet name? Mine's Bobbie." Huge buttons appeared with miraculous celerity in the hands of the street venders inscribed,
"Call me Bob but Vote for Marrineal"
Vainly did Judge Enderby come out with a statement to the press, declaring the whole matter a cheap and nasty fabrication, and challenging The Patriot to cite its authority. The damage already done was irreparable. Sighting Banneker at luncheon a few days later, Horace Vanney went so far as to cross the room to greet and congratulate him.
"A master-stroke," he said, pressing Banneker's hand with his soft palm. "We're glad to have you with us. Won't you call me up and lunch with me soon?"
At The Retreat, after polo, that Saturday, the senior Masters met Banneker face to face in a hallway, and held him up.
"Politics is politics. Eh?" he grunted.
"It's a great game," returned the journalist.
"Think up that 'call-me-Bob' business yourself?"
"I got it from a reliable source."
"Damn lie," remarked Poultney Masters equably. "Did the work, though. Banneker, why didn't you let me know you were in the market?"
"In the stock-market? What has that--"
"_You_ know what market I mean," retorted the great man with unconcealed contempt. "What you don't know is your own game. Always seek the highest bidder before you sell, my boy."
"I'll take that from no man--" began Banneker hotly.
Immediately he was sensible of a phenomenon. His angry eyes, lifted to Poultney Masters's glistening little beads, were unable to endure the vicious amusement which he read therein. For the first time in his life he was stared down. He passed on, followed by a low and scornful hoot.
Meeting Willis Enderby while charge and counter-charge still rilled the air, Io put the direct query to him:
"Cousin Billy, what is the truth about the Laird-Masters story?"
"Made up out of whole cloth," responded Enderby.
"Who made it up?"
Comprehension and pity were in his intonation as he replied: "Not Banneker, I understand. It was passed on to him."
"Then you don't think him to blame?" she cried eagerly.
"I can't exculpate him as readily as that. Such a story, considering its inevitable--I may say its intended--consequences, should never have been published without the fullest investigation."
"Suppose"--she hesitated--"he had it on what he considered good authority?"
"He has never even cited his authority."
"Couldn't it have been confidential?" she pleaded.
"Io, do you know his authority? Has he told you?"
Enderby's voice was very gentle as he put his next question. "Do you trust Banneker, my dear?"
She met his regard, unflinchingly, but there was a piteous quiver about the lips which formed the answer. "I have trusted him. Absolutely."
"Ah; well! I've seen too much good and bad too inextricably mingled in human nature, to judge on part information."
Election day came and passed. On the evening of it the streets were ribald with crowds gleefully shrieking! "Call me Dennis, wifie. I'm stung!" Laird had been badly beaten, running far behind Marrineal. Halloran, the ring candidate, was elected. Banneker did it.
As he looked back on the incidents of the campaign and its culminating event with a sense of self-doubt poisoning his triumph, that which most sickened him of his own course was not the overt insult from the financial emperor, but the soft-palmed gratulation of Horace Vanney.
Ambition is the most conservative of influences upon a radical mind. No sooner had Tertius Marrineal formulated his political hopes than there were manifested in the conduct of The Patriot strange symptoms of a hankering after respectability. Essentially Marrineal was not respectable, any more than he was radical. He was simply and singly selfish. But, having mapped out for himself a career which did not stop short of a stately and deep-porticoed edifice in Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue (for his conception of the potential leverage of a great newspaper increased with The Patriot's circulation), he deemed it advisable to moderate some of the more blatant features, on the same principle which had induced him to reform the Veridian lumber mill abuses, lest they be brought up to his political detriment later. A long-distance thinker, Tertius Marrineal.
Operating through invisible channels and by a method which neither Banneker nor Edmonds ever succeeded in fathoming, his influence now began to be felt for the better tone of the news columns. They became less glaringly sensational. Yet the quality of the news upon which the paper specialized was the same; it was the handling which was insensibly altered. That this was achieved without adversely affecting circulation was another proof, added to those already accumulated, of Marrineal's really eminent journalistic capacities. The change was the less obvious, because The Patriot's competitors in the Great Three-Ringed Circus of Sensation had found themselves being conducted, under that leadership, farther along the primrose path of stimulation and salaciousness than they had realized, and had already modified their policies.
Even under the new policy, however, The Patriot would hardly have proven, upon careful analysis, more decent or self-respecting. But it was less obvious; cleverer in avoiding the openly offensive. Capron had been curbed in his pictorial orgies. The copy-readers had been supplied with a list of words and terms tabooed from the captions. But the influence of Severance was still potent in the make-up of the news. While Banneker was relieved at the change, he suspected its impermanency should it prove unsuccessful. To neither his chief editorial writer nor Russell Edmonds had the proprietor so much as hinted at the modification of scheme. His silence to these two was part of his developing policy of separating more widely the different departments of the paper in order that he might be the more quietly and directly authoritative over all.
The three men were lunching late at Delmonico's, and talking politics, when Edmonds leaned forward in his seat to look toward the entrance.
"There's Severance," said he. "What's the matter with him?"
The professional infuser of excitements approached walking carefully among the tables. His eyes burned in a white face.
"On one of his sprees," diagnosed Banneker. "Oh, Severance! Sit down here."
"I beg your p-p-pardon." Severance spoke with marked deliberation and delicacy, but with a faint stammer. "These not b-being office hours, I have not the p-pleasure of your acquaintance."
"The p-pale rictus of the damned," observed Severance. "As one damned soul to another, I c-confess a longing for companionship of m-my own sort. Therefore I accept your invitation. Waiter, a Scotch h-highball."
"We were talking of--" began Banneker, when the newcomer broke in:
"Talk of m-me. Of me and m-my work. I exult in my w-work. L-like Mr. Whitman, I celebrate myself. I p-point with pride. What think you, gentlemen, of to-day's paper in honor of which I have t-taken my few drinks?"
"If you mean the Territon story," growled Edmonds, "it's rotten."
"Precisely. I thank you for your g-golden opinion. Rotten. Exactly as intended."
"Put a woman's good name on trial and sentence it on hearsay without appeal or recourse."
"There is always the danger of going too far along those lines," pointed out Marrineal judicially.
"Pardon me, all-wise Proprietor. The d-danger lies in not going far enough. The frightful p-peril of being found dull."
"The Territon story assays too thin in facts, as we've put it out. If Mrs. Territon doesn't leave her husband now for McLaurin," opined Marrineal, "we are in a difficult position. I happen to know her and I very much doubt--"
"Doubt not at all, d-doubting Tertius. The very fact of our publishing the story will force her hand. It's an achievement, that story. No other p-paper has a line of it."
"Not more than one other would touch it, in its present form," said Banneker. "It's too raw."
"The more virtue to us. I r-regard that story as an inspiration. Nobody could have brought it off b-but me. 'A god, a god their Severance ruled,'" punned the owner of the name.
"Beelzebub, god of filth and maggots," snarled Edmonds.
"Bacchus, god of all true inspiration!" cried Severance. "Waiter, slave of B-Bacchus, where is my Scotch?"
"Severance, you're going too far along your chosen line," declared Banneker bluntly.
"Yes; we must tone down a little," agreed Marrineal.
The sensationalist lifted calmly luminous eyes to his chief. "Why?" he queried softly. "Are you meditating a change? Does the journalistic l-lady of easy virtue begin to yearn f-for the paths of respectability?"
"Steady, Severance," warned Edmonds.
At the touch of the curb the other flamed into still, white wrath. "If you're going to be a whore," he said deliberately, "play the whore's game. I'm one and I know it. Banneker's one, but hasn't the courage to face it. You're one, Edmonds--no, you're not; not even that. You're the hallboy that f-fetches the drinks--"
Marrineal had risen. Severance turned upon him.
"I salute you, Madam of our high-class establishment. When you take your p-price, you at least look the business in the face. No illusions for M-Madam Marrineal.... By the w-way, I resign from the house."
"Are you coming, Mr. Edmonds?" said Marrineal. "You'll sign the check for me, will you, Mr. Banneker?"
Left alone with the disciple of Bacchus and Beelzebub, the editor said:
"Better get home, Severance. Come in to-morrow, will you?"
"No. I'm q-quite in earnest about resigning. No further use for the damned j-job now."
"I never could see why you had any use for it in the first place. Was it money?"
"Oh, I see."
"You d-don't see at all. I wanted the m-money for a purpose. The purpose was a woman. I w-wanted to keep pace with her and her s-set. It was the set to which I rightly belonged, but I'd dropped out. I thought I p-preferred drink. I didn't after she got hold of me. I d-don't know why the d-devil I'm telling you all this."
"I'm sorry, Severance," said Banneker honestly.
The other raised his glass. "Here's to her," he said. He drank. "I wish her nothing w-worse than she's got. Her name is--"
"Wait a moment, Severance," cut in Banneker sharply. "Don't say anything that you'll regret. Naming of names--"
"Oh, there's no harm in this, n-now," said Severance wearily. "Hers is smeared in filth all over our third page. It is Maud Territon. What do you think of P-Patriotic journalism, anyway, Banneker?"
With the accession to political control of Halloran and the old ring, the influence of Horace Vanney and those whom he represented, became as potent as it was secret. "Salutary measures" had been adopted toward the garment-workers; a "firm hand" on the part of the police had succeeded in holding down the strike through the fall and winter; but in the early spring it was revived and spread throughout the city, even to the doors of the shopping district. In another sense than the geographical it was nearing the great department stores, for quiet efforts were being made by some of the strike leaders to organize and unionize the underpaid salesmen and saleswomen of the shops. Inevitably this drew into active hostility to the strikers the whole power of the stores with their immense advertising influence.
Very little news of the strike got into the papers except where some clash with the police was of too great magnitude to be ignored; then the trend of the articles was generally hostile to the strikers. The Sphere published the facts briefly, as a matter of journalistic principle; The Ledger published them with violent bias, as a matter of journalistic habit; the other papers, including The Patriot, suppressed or minimized to as great an extent as they deemed feasible.
That the troubles of some thousands of sweated wage-earners, employed upon classes of machine-made clothing which would never come within the ken of the delicately clad women of her world, could in any manner affect Io Eyre, was most improbable. But the minor fate who manipulates improbabilities elected that she should be in a downtown store at the moment when a squad of mounted police charged a crowd of girl-strikers. Hearing the scream of panic, she ran out, saw ignorant, wild-eyed girls, hardly more than children, beaten down, trampled, hurried hither and thither, seized upon and thrown into patrol wagons, and when she reached her car, sick and furious, found an eighteen-year-old Lithuanian blonde flopping against the rear fender in a dead faint. Strong as a young panther, Io picked up the derelict in her arms, hoisted her into the tonneau, and bade the disgusted chauffeur, "Home." What she heard from the revived girl, in the talk which followed, sent her, hot-hearted, to the police court where the arrests would be brought up for primary judgment.
The first person that she met there was Willis Enderby.
"If you're on this strike case, Cousin Billy," she said, "I'm against you, and I'm ashamed of you."
"You probably aren't the former, and you needn't be the latter," he replied.
"Aren't you Mr. Vanney's lawyer? And isn't he interested in the strike?"
"Not openly. It happens that I'm here for the strikers."
Io stared, incredulous. "For the strikers? You mean that they've retained you?"
"Oh, no. I'm really here in my capacity as President of the Law Enforcement Society; to see that these women get the full protection of the law, to which they are entitled. There is reason to believe that they haven't had it. And you?"
Io told him.
"Are you willing to go on the stand?"
"Certainly; if it will do any good."
"Not much, so far as the case goes. But it will force it into the newspapers. 'Society Leader Takes Part of Working-Girls,' and so-on. The publicity will be useful."
The magistrate on the bench was lenient; dismissed most of the prisoners with a warning against picketing; fined a few; sent two to jail. He seemed surprised and not a little impressed by the distinguished Mrs. Delavan Eyre's appearance in the proceedings, and sent word out to the reporters' room, thereby breaking up a game of pinochle at its point of highest interest. There was a man there from The Patriot.
With eager expectation Io, back in her Philadelphia apartment, sent out for a copy of the New York Patriot. Greatly to her disgust she found herself headlined, half-toned, described; but with very little about the occasion of her testimony, a mere mention of the strike and nothing whatsoever regarding the police brutalities which had so stirred her wrath. Io discovered that she had lost her taste for publicity, in a greater interest. Her first thought was to write Banneker indignantly; her second to ask explanations when he called her on the 'phone as he now did every noon; her third to let the matter stand until she went to New York and saw him. On her arrival, several days later, she went direct to his office. Banneker's chief interest, next to his ever-thrilling delight in seeing her, was in the part played by Willis Enderby.
"What is he doing in that galley?" he wondered.
To her explanation he shook his head. Something more than that, he was sure. Asking Io's permission he sent for Russell Edmonds.
"Isn't this a new role for Enderby?" he asked.
"Not at all. He's been doing this sort of thing always. Usually on the quiet."
"The fact that this is far from being on the quiet suggests politics, doesn't it? Making up to the labor vote?"
"What on earth should Cousin Billy care for the labor vote?" demanded Io. "Mr. Laird is dead politically, isn't he?"
"But Judge Enderby isn't. Mr. Edmonds will tell you that much."
"True enough. Enderby is a man to be reckoned with. Particularly if--" Edmonds paused, hesitant.
"If--" prompted Banneker. "Fire ahead, Pop."
"If Marrineal should declare in on the race for the governorship, next fall."
"Without any state organization? Is that probable?" asked Banneker.
"Only in case he should make a combination with the old ring crowd, who are, naturally, grateful for his aid in putting over Halloran for them. It's quite within the possibilities."
"After the way The Patriot and Mr. Marrineal himself have flayed the ring?" exclaimed Io. "It isn't possible. How could he so go back on himself?"
Edmonds turned his fine and serious smile upon her. "Mr. Marrineal's guiding principle of politics _and_ journalism is that the public never remembers. If he persuades the ring to nominate him, Enderby is the logical candidate against him. In my belief he's the only man who could beat him."
"Do you really think, Mr. Edmonds, that Judge Enderby's help to the arrested women is a political move?"
"That's the way it would be interpreted by all the politicians. Personally, I don't believe it."
"His sympathies, professional and personal, are naturally on the other side," pointed out Banneker.
"But not yours, surely Ban!" cried Io. "Yours ought to be with them. If you could have seen them as I did, helpless and panic-stricken, with the horses pressing in on them--"
"Of course I'm with them," warmly retorted Banneker. "If I controlled the news columns of the paper, I'd make another Sippiac Mills story of this." No sooner had he said it than he foresaw to what reply he had inevitably laid himself open. It came from Io's lips.
"You control the editorial column, Ban."
"It's a subject to be handled in the news, not the editorials," he said hastily.
The silence that fell was presently relieved by Edmonds. "It's also being handled in the advertising columns. Have you seen the series of announcements by the Garment Manufacturers' Association? There are four of 'em now in proof."
"No. I haven't seen them," answered Banneker.
"They're able. But on the whole they aren't as able as the strikers' declaration in rebuttal, offered us to-day, one-third of a page at regular advertising rates, same as the manufacturers'."
"Enderby?" queried Banneker quickly.
"I seem to detect his fine legal hand in it."
Banneker's face became moody. "I suppose Haring refused to publish it."
"No. Haring's for taking it."
"How is that?" said the editor, astonished. "I thought Haring--"
"You think of Haring as if Haring thought as you and I think. That isn't fair," declared Edmonds. "Haring's got a business mind, straight within its limitations. He accepts this strike stuff just as he accepts blue-sky mine fakes and cancer cures in which he has no belief, because he considers that a newspaper is justified in taking any ad. that is offered--and let the reader beware. Besides, it goes against his grain to turn down real money."
"Will it appear in to-morrow's paper?" questioned Io.
"Probably, if it appears at all."
"Why the 'if'?" said Banneker. "Since Haring has passed it--"
"There is also Marrineal."
"Haring sent it to him?"
"Not at all. The useful and ubiquitous Ives, snooping as usual, came upon it. Hence it is now in Marrineal's hands. Likely to remain there, I should think."
"Mr. Marrineal won't let it be published?" asked Io.
"That's my guess," returned the veteran.
"And mine," added Banneker.
He felt her eyes of mute appeal fixed on him and read her meaning.
"All right, Io," he promised quietly. "If Mr. Marrineal won't print it in advertising, I'll print it as editorial."
"When?" Io and Edmonds spoke in one breath.
"Day after to-morrow."
"That's war," said Edmonds.
"In a good cause," declared Io proudly.
"The cause of the independence of Errol Banneker," said the veteran. "It was bound to come. Go in and win, son. I'll get you a proof of the ad."
"Ban!" said Io with brightened regard.
"Will you put something at the head of your column for me, if that editorial appears?"
"What? Wait! I know. The quotation from the Areopagitica. Is that it?"
"Fine! I'll do it."
On the following morning The Patriot appeared as usual. The first of the Manufacturers' Association arguments to the public was conspicuously displayed. Of the strikers' reply--not a syllable. Banneker went to Haring's office; found the business manager gloomy, but resigned.
"Mr. Marrineal turned it down. He's got the right. That's all there is to it," was his version.
"Not quite," remarked Banneker, and went home to prove it.
Into the editorial which was to constitute the declaration of Errol Banneker's independence went much thinking, and little writing. The pronunciamento of the strikers, prefaced by a few words of explanation, and followed by some ringing sentences as to the universal right to a fair field, was enough. At the top of the column the words of Milton, in small, bold print. Across the completed copy he wrote "Thursday. Must."
Never had Banneker felt in finer fettle for war than when he awoke that Thursday morning. Contrary to his usual custom, he did not even look at the copy of The Patriot brought to his breakfast table; he wanted to have that editorial fresh to eye and mind when Marrineal called him to account for it. For this was a challenge which Marrineal could not ignore. He breakfasted with a copy of "The Undying Voices" propped behind his coffee cup, refreshing himself before battle with the delights of allusive memory, bringing back the days when he and lo had read and discovered together. It was noon when he reached the office.
From the boy at the entrance he learned that Mr. Marrineal had come in. Doubtless he would find a summons on his desk. None was there. Perhaps Marrineal would come to him. He waited. Nothing. Taking up the routine of the day, he turned to his proofs, with a view to laying out his schedule.
The top one was his editorial on the strikers' cause.
Across it was blue-penciled the word "Killed."
Banneker snatched up the morning's issue. The editorial was not there. In its place he read, from the top of the column: "And though all the winds of doctrine blow"--and so on, to the close of Milton's proud challenge, followed by:
"Would You Let Your Baby Drink Carbolic?"
For the strike editorial had been substituted one of Banneker's typical "mother-fetchers," as he termed them, very useful in their way, and highly approved by the local health authorities. This one was on the subject of pure milk. Its association with the excerpt from the Areopagitica (which, having been set for a standing head, was not cut out by the "Killed") set the final touch of irony upon the matter. Even in his fury Banneker laughed.
He next considered the handwriting of the blue-penciled monosyllable. It was not Marrineal's blunt, backhand script. Whose was it? Haring's? Trailing the proof in his hand he went to the business manager's room.
"Did you kill this?"
"Yes." Haring got to his feet, white and shaking. "For God's sake, Mr. Banneker--"
"I'm not going to hurt you--yet. By what right did you do it?"
With no further word, Banneker strode to the owner's office, pushed open the door, and entered. Marrineal looked up, slightly frowning.
"Did you kill this editorial?"
Marrineal's frown changed to a smile. "Sit down, Mr. Banneker."
"Marrineal, did you kill my editorial?"
"Isn't your tone a trifle peremptory, for an employee?"
"It won't take more than five seconds for me to cease to be an employee," said Banneker grimly.
"Ah? I trust you're not thinking of resigning. By the way, some reporter called on me last week to confirm a rumor that you were about to resign. Let me see; what paper? Ah; yes; it wasn't a newspaper, at least, not exactly. The Searchlight. I told her--it happened to be a woman--that the story was quite absurd."
Something in the nature of a cold trickle seemed to be flowing between Banneker's brain and his tongue. He said with effort, "Will you be good enough to answer my question?"
"Certainly. Mr. Banneker, that was an ill-advised editorial. Or, rather, an ill-timed one. I didn't wish it published until we had time to talk it over."
"We could have talked it over yesterday."
"But I understood that you were busy with callers yesterday. That charming Mrs. Eyre, who, by the way, is interested in the strikers, isn't she? Or was it the day before yesterday that she was here?"
The Searchlight! And now Io Eyre! No doubt of what Marrineal meant. The cold trickle had passed down Banneker's spine, and settled at his knees making them quite unreliable. Inexplicably it still remained to paralyze his tongue.
"We're reasonable men, you and I, Mr. Banneker," pursued Marrineal in his quiet, detached tones. "This is the first time I have ever interfered. You must do me the justice to admit that. Probably it will be the last. But in this case it was really necessary. Shall we talk it over later?"
"Yes," said Banneker listlessly.
In the hallway he ran into somebody, who cursed him, and then said, oh, he hadn't noticed who it was; Pop Edmonds. Edmonds disappeared into Marrineal's office. Banneker regained his desk and sat staring at the killed proof. He thought vaguely that he could appreciate the sensation of a man caught by an octopus. Yet Marrineal didn't look like an octopus.... What did he look like? What was that subtle resemblance which had eluded him in the first days of their acquaintanceship? That emanation of chill quietude; those stagnant eyes?
He had it now! It dated back to his boyhood days. A crawling terror which, having escaped from a menagerie, had taken refuge in a pool, and there fixed its grip upon an unfortunate calf, and dragged--dragged--dragged the shrieking creature, until it went under. A crocodile.
His reverie was broken by the irruption of Russell Edmonds. An inch of the stem of the veteran's dainty little pipe was clenched firmly between his teeth; but there was no bowl.
"Where's the rest of your pipe?" asked Banneker, stupefied by this phenomenon.
"I've resigned," said Edmonds.
"God! I wish I could," muttered Banneker.
Explanations were now due to two people, Io and Willis Enderby. As to Io, Banneker felt an inner conviction of strength. Hopeless though he was of making his course appear in any other light than that of surrender, nevertheless he could tell himself that it was really done for her, to protect her name. But he could not tell her this. He knew too well what the answer of that high and proud spirit of hers would be; that if their anomalous relationship was hampering his freedom, dividing his conscience, the only course of honor was for them to stop seeing each other at no matter what cost of suffering; let Banneker resign, if that were his rightful course, and tell The Searchlight to do its worst. Yes; such would be Io's idea of playing the game. He could not force it. He must argue with her, if at all, on the plea of expediency. And to her forthright and uncompromising fearlessness, expediency was in itself the poorest of expedients. At the last, there was her love for him to appeal to. But would Io love where she could not trust?... He turned from that thought.
As an alternative subject for consideration, Willis Enderby was hardly more assuring and even more perplexing. True, Banneker owed no explanation to him; but for his own satisfaction of mind he must have it out with the lawyer. He had a profound admiration for Enderby and knew that this was in a measure reciprocated by a patent and almost wistful liking, curious in a person as reserved as Enderby. He cherished a vague impression that somehow Enderby would understand. Or, at least, that he would want to understand. Consequently he was not surprised when the lawyer called him up and asked him to come that evening to the Enderby house. He went at once to the point.
"Banneker, do you know anything of an advertisement by the striking garment-workers, which The Patriot first accepted and afterward refused to print?"
"Are you at liberty to tell me why?"
"That is implied."
"Mr. Marrineal ordered it killed."
"Ah! It was Marrineal himself. The advocate of the Common People! The friend of Labor!"
"Admirable campaign material," observed Banneker composedly, "if it were possible to use it."
"Which, of course, it isn't; being confidential," Enderby capped the thought. "I hear that Russell Edmonds has resigned."
"That is true."
"In consequence of the rejected advertisement?"
Banneker sat silent so long that his host began: "Perhaps I shouldn't have asked that--"
"I'm going to tell you exactly what occurred," said Banneker quietly, and outlined the episode of the editorial, suppressing, however, Marrineal's covert threat as to Io and The Searchlight. "And _I_ haven't resigned. So you see what manner of man I am," he concluded defiantly.
"You mean a coward? I don't think it."
"I wish I were sure!" burst out Banneker.
"Ah? That's hard, when the soul doesn't know itself. Is it money?" The crisp, clear voice had softened to a great kindliness. "Are you in debt, my boy?"
"No. Yes; I am. I'd forgotten. That doesn't matter."
"Apparently not." The lawyer's heavy brows went up, "More serious than money," he commented.
Banneker recognized the light of suspicion, comprehension, confirmation in the keen and fine visage turned upon him. Enderby continued:
"Well, there are matters that can be talked of and other matters that can't be talked of. But if you ever feel that you want the advice of a man who has seen human nature on a good many sides, and has learned not to judge too harshly of it, come to me. The only counsel I ever give gratis to those who can pay for it"--he smiled faintly--"is the kind that may be too valuable to sell."
"But I'd like to know," said Banneker slowly, "why you don't think me a yellow dog for not resigning."
"Because, in your heart you don't think yourself one. Speaking of that interesting species, I suppose you know that your principal is working for the governorship."
"Will he get the nomination?"
"Quite possibly. Unless I can beat him for it. I'll tell you privately I may be the opposing candidate. Not that the party loves me any too much; but I'm at least respectable, fairly strong up-State, and they'll take what they have to in order to beat Marrineal, who is forcing himself down their throats."
"A pleasant prospect for me," gloomed Banneker. "I'll have to fight you."
"Go ahead and fight," returned the other heartily. "It won't be the first time."
"At least, I want you to know that it'll be fair fight."
"No 'Junior-called-me-Bob' trick this time?" smiled Enderby.
Banneker flushed and winced. "No," he answered. "Next time I'll be sure of my facts. Good-night and good luck. I hope you beat us."
As he turned the corner into Fifth Avenue a thought struck him. He made the round of the block, came up the side of the street opposite, and met a stroller having all the ear-marks of the private detective. To think of a man of Judge Enderby's character being continuously "spotted" for the mean design of an Ely Ives filled Banneker with a sick fury. His first thought was to return and tell Enderby. But to what purpose? After all, what possible harm could Ives's plotting and sneaking do to a man of the lawyer's rectitude? Banneker returned to The House With Three Eyes and his unceasing work.
The interview with Enderby had lightened his spirit. The older man's candor, his tolerance, his clear charity of judgment, his sympathetic comprehension were soothing and reassuring. But there was another trouble yet to be faced. It was three days since the editorial appeared and he had heard no word from Io. Each noon when he called on the long-distance 'phone, she had been out, an unprecedented change from her eager waiting to hear the daily voice on the wire. Should he write? No; it was too difficult and dangerous for that. He must talk it out with her, face to face, when the time came.
Meantime there was Russell Edmonds. He found the veteran cleaning out his desk preparatory to departure.
"You can't know how it hurts to see you go, Pop," he said sadly. "What's your next step?"
"The Sphere. They want me to do a special series, out around the country."
"Aren't they pretty conservative for your ideas?"
Edmonds, ruminating over a pipe even smaller and more fragile than the one sacrificed to his rage and disgust, the day of his resignation, gave utterance to a profound truth:
"What's the difference whether a newspaper is radical or conservative, Ban, if it tells the truth? That's the whole test and touchstone; to give news honestly. The rest will take care of itself. Compared to us The Sphere crowd are conservative. But they're honest. And they're not afraid."
"Yes. They're honest, and not afraid--because they don't have to be," said Banneker, in a tone so somber that his friend said quickly:
"I didn't mean that for you, son."
"Well, if I've gone wrong, I've got my punishment before me," pursued the other with increased gloom. "Having to work for Marrineal and further his plans, after knowing him as I know him now--that's a refined species of retribution, Pop."
"I know; I know. You've got to stick and wait your chance, and hold your following until you can get your own newspaper. Then," said Russell Edmonds with the glory of an inspired vision shining in his weary eyes, "you can tell 'em all to go to hell. Oh, for a paper of our own kind that's really independent; that don't care a hoot for anything except to get the news and get it straight, and interpret it straight; that don't have to be afraid of anything but not being honest!"
"Pop," said Banneker, spiritlessly, "what's the use? How do we know we aren't chasing a rainbow? How do we know people _want_ an honest paper or would know one if they saw it?"
"My God, son! Don't talk like that," implored the veteran. "That's the one heresy for which men in our game are eternally damned--and deserve it."
"All right. I know it. I don't mean it, Pop. I'm not adopting Marrineal's creed. Not just yet."
"By the way, Marrineal was asking for you this morning."
"Was he? I'll look him up. Perhaps he's going to fire me. I wish he would."
"Catch him!" grunted the other, reverting to his task. "More likely going to raise your salary."
As between the two surmises, Edmonds's was the nearer the truth. Urbane as always, the proprietor of The Patriot waved his editor to a seat, remarking, "I hope you'll sit down this time," the slightly ironical tinge to the final words being, in the course of the interview, his only reference to their previous encounter. Wondering dully whether Marrineal could have any idea of the murderous hatred which he inspired, Banneker took the nearest chair and waited. After some discussion as to the policy of the paper in respect to the strike, which was on the point of settlement by compromise, Marrineal set his delicate fingers point to point and said:
"I want to talk to you about the future."
"I'm listening," returned Banneker uncompromisingly.
"Your ultimate ambition is to own and control a newspaper of your own, isn't it?"
"Why do you think that?"
Marrineal's slow, sparse smile hardly moved his lips. "It's in character that you should. What else is there for you?"
"Have you ever thought of The Patriot?"
Involuntarily Banneker straightened in his chair. "Is The Patriot in the market?"
"Hardly. That isn't what I have in mind."
"Will you kindly be more explicit?"
"Mr. Banneker, I intend to be the next governor of this State."
"I might quote a proverb on that point," returned the editor unpleasantly.
"Yes; and I might cap your cup-and-lip proverb with another as to the effect of money as a stimulus in a horse-race."
"I have no doubts as to your financial capacity."
"My organization is building up through the State. I've got the country newspapers in a friendly, not to say expectant, mood. There's just one man I'm afraid of."
"I should think he would be an admirable nominee."
"As an individual you are at liberty to hold such opinions as you please. As editor of The Patriot--"
"I am to support The Patriot candidate and owner. Did you send for me to tell me that, Mr. Marrineal? I'm not altogether an idiot, please remember."
"You are a friend of Judge Enderby."
"If I am, that is a personal, not a political matter. No matter how much I might prefer to see him the candidate of the party"--Banneker spoke with cold deliberation--"I should not stultify myself or the paper by supporting him against the paper's owner."
"That is satisfactory." Marrineal swallowed the affront without a gulp. "To continue. If I am elected governor, nothing on earth can prevent my being the presidential nominee two years later."
Equally appalled and amused by the enormous egotism of the man thus suddenly revealed, Banneker studied him in silence.
"Nothing in the world," repeated the other. "I have the political game figured out to an exact science. I know how to shape my policies, how to get the money backing I need, how to handle the farmer and labor. It may be news to you to know that I now control eight of the leading farm journals of the country and half a dozen labor organs. However, this is beside the question. My point with you is this. With my election as governor, my chief interest in The Patriot ceases. The paper will have set me on the road; I'll do the rest. Reserving only the right to determine certain very broad policies, I purpose to turn over the control of The Patriot to you."
"To me!" said Banneker, thunderstruck.
"Provided I am elected governor," said Marrineal. "Which depends largely--yes, almost entirely--on the elimination of Judge Enderby."
"What are you asking me to do?" demanded Banneker, genuinely puzzled.
"Absolutely nothing. As my right-hand man on the paper, you are entitled to know my plans, particularly as they affect you. I can add that when I reach the White House"--this with sublime confidence--"the paper will be for sale and you may have the option on it."
Banneker's brain seemed filled with flashes of light, as he returned to his desk. He sat there, deep-slumped in his chair, thinking, planning, suspecting, plumbing for the depths of Marrineal's design, and above all filled with an elate ambition. Not that he believed for a moment in Marrineal's absurd and megalomaniacal visions of the presidency. But the governorship; that indeed was possible enough; and that would mean a free hand for Banneker for the term. What might he not do with The Patriot in that time!... An insistent and obtrusive disturbance to his profound cogitation troubled him. What was it that seemed to be setting forth a claim to divide his attention? Ah, the telephone. He thrust it aside, but it would not be silenced. Well ... what.... The discreet voice of his man said that a telegram had come for him. All right (with impatience); read it over the wire. The message, thus delivered in mechanical tones, struck from his mind the lesser considerations which a moment before had glowed with such shifting and troublous glory.
D. died this morning. Will write. I.
Work, incessant and of savage ardor, now filled Banneker's life. Once more he immersed himself in it as assuagement to the emptiness of long days and the yearning of longer nights. For, in the three months since Delavan Eyre's death, Banneker had seen Io but once, and then very briefly. Instead of subduing her loveliness, the mourning garb enhanced and enriched it, like a jet setting to a glowing jewel. More irresistibly than ever she was
"............ that Lady Beauty in whose praise The voice and hand shake still"--
but there was something about her withdrawn, aloof of spirit, which he dared not override or even challenge. She spoke briefly of Eyre, without any pretense of great sorrow, dwelling with a kindled eye on that which she had found admirable in him; his high and steadfast courage through atrocious suffering until darkness settled down on his mind. Her own plans were definite; she was going away with the elder Mrs. Eyre to a rest resort. Of The Patriot and its progress she talked with interest, but her questions were general and did not touch upon the matter of the surrendered editorial. Was she purposely avoiding it or had it passed from her mind in the stress of more personal events? Banneker would have liked to know, but deemed it better not to ask. Once he tried to elicit from her some indication of when she would marry him; but from this decision she exhibited a covert and inexplicable shrinking. This he might attribute, if he chose, to that innate and sound formalism which would always lead her to observe the rules of the game; if from no special respect for them as such, then out of deference to the prejudices of others. Nevertheless, he experienced a gnawing uncertainty, amounting to a half-confessed dread.
Yet, at the moment of parting, she came to his arms, clung to him, gave him her lips passionately, longingly; bade him write, for his letters would be all that there was to keep life radiant for her....
Through some perverse kink in his mental processes, he found it difficult to write to Io, in the succeeding weeks and months, during which she devotedly accompanied the failing Mrs. Eyre from rest cure to sanitarium, about his work on The Patriot. That interplay of interest between them in his editorial plans and purposes, which had so stimulated and inspired him, was checked. The mutual current had ceased to flash; at least, so he felt. Had the wretched affair of his forfeited promise in the matter of the strike announcement destroyed one bond between them? Even were this true, there were other bonds, of the spirit and therefore irrefragable, to hold her to him; thus he comforted his anxious hopes.
Because their community of interest in his work had lapsed, Banneker found the savor oozing out of his toil. Monotony sang its dispiriting drone in his ears. He flung himself into polo with reawakened vim, and roused the hopes of The Retreat for the coming season, until an unlucky spill broke two ribs and dislocated a shoulder. Restless in the physical idleness of his mending days, he took to drifting about in the whirls and ripples and backwaters of the city life, out of which wanderings grew a new series of the "Vagrancies," more quaint and delicate and trenchant than the originals because done with a pen under perfected mastery, without losing anything of the earlier simplicity and sympathy. In this work, Banneker found relief; and in Io's delight in it, a reflected joy that lent fresh impetus to his special genius. The Great Gaines enthusiastically accepted the new sketches for his magazine.
Whatever ebbing of fervor from his daily task Banneker might feel, his public was conscious of no change for the worse. Letters of commendation, objection, denunciation, and hysteria, most convincing evidence of an editor's sway over the public mind, increased weekly. So, also, did the circulation of The Patriot, and its advertising revenue. Its course in the garment strike had satisfied the heavy local advertisers of its responsibility and repentance for sins past; they testified, by material support, to their appreciation. Banneker's strongly pro-labor editorials they read with the mental commentary that probably The Patriot had to do that kind of thing to hold its circulation; but it could be depended upon to be "right" when the pinch came. Marrineal would see to that.
Since the episode of the killed proof, Marrineal had pursued a hands-off policy with regard to the editorial page. The labor editorials suited him admirably. They were daily winning back to the paper the support of Marrineal's pet "common people" who had been alienated by its course in the strike, for McClintick and other leaders had been sedulously spreading the story of the rejected strikers' advertisement. But, it appeared, Marrineal's estimate of the public's memory was correct: "They never remember." Banneker's skillful and vehement preachments against Wall Street, money domination of the masses, and the like, went far to wipe out the inherent anti-labor record of the paper and its owner. Hardly a day passed that some working-man's union or club did not pass resolutions of confidence and esteem for Tertius C. Marrineal and The Patriot. It amused Marrineal almost as much as it gratified him. As a political asset it was invaluable. His one cause of complaint against the editorial page was that it would not attack Judge Enderby, except on general political or economic principles. And the forte of The Patriot in attack did not consist in polite and amenable forensics. Its readers were accustomed to the methods of the prize-ring rather than the debating platform. However, Marrineal made up for his editorial writer's lukewarmness, by the vigor of his own attacks upon Enderby. For, by early summer, it became evident that the nomination (and probable election) lay between these two opponents. Enderby was organizing a strong campaign. So competent and unbiased an observer of political events as Russell Edmonds, now on The Sphere, believed that Marrineal would be beaten. Shrewd, notwithstanding his egotism, Marrineal entertained a growing dread of this outcome himself. Through roundabout channels, he let his chief editorial writer understand that, when the final onset was timed, The Patriot's editorial page would be expected to lead the charge with the "spear that knows no brother." Banneker would appreciate that his own interests, almost as much as his chief's, were committed to the overthrow of Willis Enderby.
It was not a happy time for the Editor of The Patriot.
Happiness promised for the near future, however. Wearied of chasing a phantom hope of health from spot to spot, the elder Mrs. Eyre had finally elected to settle down for the summer at her Westchester place. For obvious reasons, Io did not wish Banneker to come there. But she would plan to see him in town. Only, they must be very discreet; perhaps even to the extent of having a third person dine with them, her half-brother Archie, or Esther Forbes. Any one, any time, anywhere, Banneker wrote back, provided only he could see her again!
The day that she came to town, having arranged to meet Banneker for dinner with Esther, fate struck from another and unexpected quarter. Such was Banneker's appearance when he came forward to greet her that Io cried out involuntarily, asking if he were ill.
"_I_'m not," he answered briefly. Then, with a forced smile of appeal to the third member, "Do you mind, Esther, if I talk to Io on a private matter?"
"Go as near as you like," returned that understanding young person promptly. "I'm consumed with a desire to converse with Elsie Maitland, who is dining in that very farthest corner. Back in an hour."
"It's Camilla Van Arsdale," said Banneker as the girl left.
"You've heard from her?"
"From Mindle who looks after my shack there. He says she's very ill. I've got to go out there at once."
"I know, dearest, and after all these endless weeks of separation. But you wouldn't have me do otherwise. Would you?"
"Of course not," she said indignantly. "When do you start?"
"And your work?"
"I'll send my stuff in by wire."
"I can't tell until I get there."
"Ban, you mustn't go," she said with a changed tone.
"Not go? To Miss Camilla? There's nothing--"
"Why not? If she's seriously ill, she needs a woman, not a man with her."
"But--but, Io, you don't even like her."
"Heaven give you understanding, Ban," she retorted with a bewitching pretext of enforced patience. "She's a woman, and she was good to me in my trouble. And if that weren't enough, she's your friend whom you love."
"I oughtn't to let you," he hesitated.
"You've got to let me. I'd go, anyway. Get Esther back. She must help me pack. Get me a drawing-room if you can. If not, I'll take your berth."
"You're going to leave to-night?"
"Of course. What would you suppose?" She gave him her lustrous smile. "I'll love it," she said softly, "because it's partly for you."
The rest of the evening was consumed for Banneker in writing and wiring, arranging reservations through his influence with a local railroad official whom he pried loose from a rubber of bridge at his club; while Io and Esther, dinnerless except for a hasty box of sandwiches, were back in Westchester packing and explaining to Mrs. Eyre. When the three reconvened in Io's drawing-room the traveler was prepared for an indefinite stay.
"If her condition is critical I'll wire for you," promised lo. "Otherwise you mustn't come."
With that he must make shift to be content; that and a swift clasp of her arms, a clinging pressure of her lips, and her soft "Good-bye. Oh, good-bye! Love me every minute while I'm gone," before the tactful Esther Forbes, somewhat miscast in the temporary role of Propriety, returned from a conversation with the porter to say that they really must get off that very instant or be carried westward to the eternal scandal of society which would not understand a triangular elopement.
Loneliness no longer beset Banneker, even though Io was farther separated from him than before in the unimportant reckoning of geographical miles; for now she was on his errand. He held her by the continuous thought of a vital common interest. In place of the former bereavement of spirit was a new and consuming anxiety for Camilla Van Arsdale. Io's first telegram from Manzanita went far to appease that. Miss Van Arsdale had suffered a severe shock, but was now on the road to recovery: Io would stay indefinitely: there was no reason for Banneker's coming out for the present: in fact, the patient definitely prohibited it: letter followed.
The letter, when it came, forced a cry, as of physical pain, from Banneker's throat. Camilla Van Arsdale was going blind. Some obscure reflex of the heart trouble had affected the blood supply of the eyes, and the shock of discovering this had reacted upon the heart. There was no immediate danger; but neither was there ultimate hope of restored vision. So much the eminent oculist whom Io had brought from Angelica City told her.
Your first thought (wrote Io) will be to come out here at once. Don't. It will be much better for you to wait until she needs you more; until you can spend two or three weeks or a month with her. Now I can help her through the days by reading to her and walking with her. You don't know how happy it makes me to be here where I first knew you, to live over every event of those days. Your movable shack is almost as it used to be, though there is no absurd steel boat outside for me to stumble into.
Would you believe it; the new station-agent has a Sears-Roebuck catalogue! I borrowed it of him to read. What, oh, what should a sensible person--yes, I am a sensible person, Ban, outside of my love for you--and I'd scorn to be sensible about that--Where was I? Oh, yes; what should a sensible person find in these simple words "Two horse-power, reliable and smooth-running, economical of gasoline," and so on, to make her want to cry? Ban, send me a copy of "The Voices."
He sent her "The Undying Voices" and other books to read, and long, impassioned letters, and other letters to be read to Camilla Van Arsdale whose waning vision must be spared in every possible way.
Hour after hour (wrote Io) she sits at the piano and makes her wonderful music, and tries to write it down. There I can be of very little help to her. Then she will go back into her room and lie on the big couch near the window where the young, low pines brush the wall, with Cousin Billy's photograph in her hands, and be so deathly quiet that I sometimes get frightened and creep up to the door to peer in and be sure that she is all right. To-day when I looked in at the door I heard her say, quite softly to herself: "I shall die without seeing his face again." I had to hold my breath and run out into the forest. Ban, I didn't know that it was in me to cry so--not since that night on the train when I left you.... This all seems so wicked and wrong and--yes--wasteful. Think of what these two splendid people could be to each other! She craves him so, Ban; just the sound of his voice, a word from him; but she won't break her own word. Sometimes I think I shall do it. Write me all you can about him, Ban, and send papers: all the political matter. You can't imagine what it is to her only to hear about him.
So Banneker had clippings collected, wrote a little daily political bulletin for Io; even went out of his way editorially to pay an occasional handsome tribute to Judge Enderby's personal character, whilst adducing cogent reasons why, as the "Wall Street and traction candidate," he should be defeated. But his personal opinion, expressed for the behoof of his correspondents in Manzanita, was that he probably could not be defeated; that his brilliant and aggressive campaign was forcing Marrineal to a defensive and losing fight.
"It is a great asset in politics," wrote Banneker to Miss Camilla, "to have nothing to hide or explain. If we're going to be licked, there is no man in the world whom I'd as gladly have win as Judge Enderby."
All this, of course, in the manner of one having interesting political news of no special import to the receiver of the news, to deliver; and quite without suggestion of any knowledge regarding her personal concern in the matter.
But between the lines of Io's letters, full of womanly pity for Camilla Van Arsdale, of resentment for her thwarted and hopeless longing, Banneker thought to discern a crystallizing resolution. It would be so like Io's imperious temper to take the decision into her own hands, to bring about a meeting between the long-sundered lovers, to cast into the lonely and valiant woman's darkening life one brief and splendid glow of warmth and radiance. For to Io, a summons for Willis Enderby to come would be no more than a defiance of the conventions. She knew nothing of the ruinous vengeance awaiting any breach of faith on his part, at the hands of a virulent and embittered wife; she did not even know that his coming would be a specific breach of faith, for Banneker, withheld by his promise of secrecy to Russell Edmonds, had never told her. Nor had he betrayed to her the espionage under which Enderby constantly moved; he shrank, naturally, from adding so ignoble an item to the weight of disrepute under which The Patriot already lay, in her mind. Sooner or later he must face the question from her of why he had not resigned rather than put his honor in pawn to the baser uses of the newspaper and its owner's ambitions. To that question there could be no answer. He could not throw the onus of it upon her, by revealing to her that the necessity of protecting her name against the befoulment of The Searchlight was the compelling motive of his passivity. That was not within Banneker's code.
What, meantime, should be his course? Should he write and warn Io about Enderby? Could he make himself explicable without explaining too much? After all, what right had he to assume that she would gratuitously intermeddle in the disastrous fates of others? A rigorous respect for the rights of privacy was written into the rules of the game as she played it. He argued, with logic irrefutable as it was unconvincing, that this alone ought to stay her hand; yet he knew, by the power of their own yearning, one for the other, that in the great cause of love, whether for themselves or for Camilla Van Arsdale and Willis Enderby, she would resistlessly follow the impulse born and matured of her own passion. Had she not once before denied love ... and to what end of suffering and bitter enlightenment and long waiting not yet ended! Yes; she would send for Willis Enderby.
Thus, with the insight of love, he read the heart of the loved one. Self-interest lifted its specious voice now, in contravention. If she did send, and if Judge Enderby went to Camilla Van Arsdale, as Banneker knew surely that he would, and if Ely Ives's spies discovered it, the way was made plain and peaceful for Banneker. For, in that case, the blunderbuss of blackmail would be held to Enderby's head: he must, perforce, retire from the race on whatever pretext he might devise, under threat of a scandal which, in any case, would drive him out of public life. Marrineal would be nominated, probably elected; control of The Patriot would pass into Banneker's hands; The Searchlight would thus be held at bay until he and Io were married, for he could not really doubt that she would marry him, even though there lay between them an unexplained doubt and a seeming betrayal; and he could remould the distorted and debased policies of The Patriot to his heart's desire of an honest newspaper fearlessly presenting and supporting truth as he saw it.
All this at no price of treachery; merely by leaving matters which were, in fact, no concern of his, to the arbitrament of whatever fates might concern themselves with such troublous matters; it was just a matter of minding his own business and assuming that Io Eyre would do likewise. So argued self-interest, plausible, persuasive. He went to bed with the argument still unsettled, and, because it seethed in his mind, reached out to his reading-stand to cool his brain with the limpid philosophies of Stevenson's "Virginibus Puerisque."
"The cruellest lies are often told in silence," he read--the very letters of the words seemed to scorch his eyes with prophetic fires. "A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator. And how many loves have perished, because from--"
Banneker sprang from his bed, shaking. He dressed himself, consulted his watch, wrote a brief, urgent line to Io, after 'phoning for a taxi; carried it to the station himself, assured, though only by a few minutes' margin, of getting it into the latest Western mail, returned to bed and slept heavily and dreamlessly.... Not over the bodies of a loved friend and an honored foe would Errol Banneker climb to a place of safety for Io and triumph for himself.
Mail takes four days to reach Manzanita from New York.
Through the hot months The House With Three Eyes had kept its hospitable orbs darkened of Saturday nights. Therefore, Banneker was free to spend his week-ends at The Retreat, and his Friday and Saturday mail were forwarded to the nearest country post-office, whither he sent for it, or picked it up on his way back to town. It was on Saturday evening that he received the letter from Io, saying that she had written to Willis Enderby to come on to Manzanita and let the eyes, for which he had filled life's whole horizon since first they met his, look on him once more before darkness shut down on them forever. Her letter had crossed Banneker's.
"I know that he will come," she wrote. "He must come. It would be too cruel ... and I know his heart."
Eight-thirty-six in the evening! And Io's letter to Enderby must have reached him in New York that morning. He would be taking the fast train for the West leaving at eleven. Banneker sent in a call on the long-distance 'phone for Judge Enderby's house. The twelve-minute wait was interminable to his grilling impatience. At length the placid tones of Judge Enderby's man responded. Yes; the Judge was there. No; he couldn't be disturbed on any account; very much occupied.
"This is Mr. Banneker. I must speak to him for just a moment. It's vital."
"Very sorry, sir," responded the unmoved voice. "But Judge Enderby's orders was absloot. Not to be disturbed on any account."
"Tell him that Mr. Banneker has something of the utmost importance to say to him before he leaves."
"Sorry, sir. It'd be as much as my place is worth."
Raging, Banneker nevertheless managed to control himself. "He is leaving on a trip to-night, is he not?"
After some hesitation the voice replied austerely: "I believe he is, sir. Good-bye."
Banneker cursed Judge Enderby for a fool of rigid methods. It would be his own fault. Let him go to his destruction, then. He, Banneker, had done all that was possible. He sank into a sort of lethargy, brooding over the fateful obstacles which had obstructed him in his self-sacrificing pursuit of the right, as against his own dearest interests. He might telegraph Io; but to what purpose? An idea flashed upon him; why not telegraph Enderby at his home? He composed message after message; tore them up as saying too much or too little; ultimately devised one that seemed to be sufficient, and hurried to his car, to take it in to the local operator. When he reached the village office it was closed. He hurried to the home of the operator. Out. After two false trails, he located the man at a church sociable, and got the message off. It was then nearly ten o'clock. He had wasted precious moments in brooding. Well, he had done all and more than could have been asked of him, let the event be what it would.
His night was a succession of forebodings, dreamed or half-wakeful. Spent and dispirited, he rose at an hour quite out of accord with the habits of The Retreat, sped his car to New York, and put his inquiry to Judge Enderby's man.
Yes; the telegram had arrived. In time? No; it was delivered twenty minutes after the Judge had left for his train.
Sun-lulled into immobility, the desert around the lonely little station of Manzanita smouldered and slumbered. Nothing was visibly changed from five years before, when Banneker left, except that another agent, a disillusioned-appearing young man with a corn-colored mustache, came forth to meet the slow noon local, chuffing pantingly in under a bad head of alkali-water steam. A lone passenger, obviously Eastern in mien and garb, disembarked, and was welcomed by a dark, beautiful, harassed-looking girl who had just ridden in on a lathered pony. The agent, a hopeful soul, ambled within earshot.
"How is she?" he heard the man say, with the intensity of a single thought, as the girl took his hand. Her reply came, encouragingly.
"As brave as ever. Stronger, a little, I think."
"And she--the eyes?"
"She will be able to see you; but not clearly."
"How long--" began the man, but his voice broke. He shook in the bitter heat as if from some inner and deadly chill.
"Nobody can tell. She hoards her sight."
"To see me?" he cried eagerly. "Have you told her?"
"Is that wise?" he questioned. "The shock--"
"I think that she suspects; she senses your coming. Her face has the rapt expression that I have seen only when she plays. Has had since you started. Yet there is no possible way in which she could have learned."
"That is very wonderful," said the stranger, in a hushed voice. Then, hesitantly, "What shall I do, Io?"
"Nothing," came the girl's clear answer. "Go to her, that is all."
Another horse was led forward and the pair rode away through the glimmering heat.
It was a silent ride for Willis Enderby and Io. The girl was still a little daunted at her own temerity in playing at fate with destinies as big as these. As for Enderby, there was no room within his consciousness for any other thought than that he was going to see Camilla Van Arsdale again.
He heard her before he saw her. The rhythms of a song, a tender and gay little lyric which she had sung to crowded drawing-rooms, but for him alone, long years past, floated out to him, clear and pure, through the clear, pure balm of the forest. He slipped quietly from his horse and saw her, through the window, seated at her piano.
Unchanged! To his vision the years had left no impress on her. And Io, at his side, saw too and marveled at the miracle. For the waiting woman looked out of eyes as clear and untroubled as those of a child, softened only with the questioning wistfulness of darkening vision. Suffering and fortitude had etherealized the face back to youth, and that mysterious expectancy which had possessed her for days had touched the curves of her mouth to a wonderful tenderness, the softness of her cheek to a quickening bloom. She turned her head slowly toward the door. Her lips parted with the pressure of swift, small breaths.
Io felt the man's tense body, pressed against her as if for support, convulsed with a tremor which left him powerless.
"I have brought some one to you, Miss Camilla," she said clearly: and in the same instant of speaking, her word was crossed by the other's call:
Sightless though she was, as Io knew, for anything not close before her eyes, she came to him, as inevitably, as unerringly as steel to the magnet, and was folded in his arms. Io heard his deep voice, vibrant between desolation and passion:
"Fifteen years! My God, fifteen years!"
Io ran away into the forest, utterly glad with the joy of which she had been minister.
Willis Enderby stayed five days at Manzanita; five days of ecstasy, of perfect communion, bought from the rapacious years at the price of his broken word. For that he was willing to pay any price exacted, asking only that he might pay it alone, that the woman of his long and self-denying love might not be called upon to meet any smallest part of the debt. She walked with him under the pines: he read to her: and there were long hours together over the piano. It was then that there was born, out of Camilla Van Arsdale's love and faith and coming abnegation, her holy and deathless song for the dead, to the noble words of the "Dominus Illuminatio Mea," which to-day, chanted over the coffins of thousands, brings comfort and hope to stricken hearts.
"In the hour of death, after this life's whim, When the heart beats low, and the eyes grow dim, And pain has exhausted every limb-- The lover of the Lord shall trust in Him."
On the last day she told him that they would not meet again. Life had given to her all and more than all she had dared ask for. He must go back to his work in the world, to the high endeavor that was laid upon him as an obligation of his power, and now of their love. He must write her; she could not do without that, now; but guardedly, for other eyes than hers must read his words to her.
"Think what it is going to be to me," she said, "to follow your course; to be able to pray for you, fighting. I shall take all the papers. And any which haven't your name in shall be burned at once! How I shall be jealous even of your public who love and admire you! But you have left me no room for any other jealousy...."
"I am coming back to you," he said doggedly, at the final moment of parting. "Sometime, Camilla."
"You will be here always, in the darkness, with me. And I shall love my blindness because it shuts out anything but you," she said.
Io rode with him to the station. On the way they discussed ways and means, the household arrangements when Io should have to leave, the finding of a companion, who should be at once nurse, secretary, and amanuensis for Royce Melvin's music.
"How she will sing now!" said Io.
As they drew near to the station, she put her hand on his horse's bridle.
"Did I do wrong to send for you, Cousin Billy?" she asked.
He turned to her a visage transfigured.
"You needn't answer," she said quickly. "I should know, anyway. It's her happiness I'm thinking of. It can't have been wrong to give so much happiness, for the rest of her life."
"The rest of her life," he echoed, in a hushed accent of dread.
While Enderby was getting his ticket, Io waited on the front platform. A small, wiry man came around the corner of the station, glanced at her, and withdrew. Io had an uneasy notion of having seen him before somewhere. But where, and when? Certainly the man was not a local habitant. Had his presence, then, any significance for her or hers? Enderby returned, and the two stood in the hard morning sunlight beneath the broad sign inscribed with the station's name.
The stranger appeared from behind a freight-car on a siding, and hurried up to within a few yards of them. From beneath his coat he slipped a blackish oblong. It gave forth a click, and, after swift manipulation, a second click. Enderby started toward the snap-shotter who turned and ran.
"Do you know that man?" he asked, whirling upon Io.
A gray veil seemed to her drawn down over his features. Or was it a mist of dread upon Io's own vision?
"I have seen him before," she answered, groping.
"Who is he?"
Memory flashed one of its sudden and sure illuminations upon her: a Saturday night at The House With Three Eyes; this little man coming in with Tertius Marrineal; later, peering into the flowerful corner where she sat with Banneker.
"He has something to do with The Patriot," she answered steadily.
"How could The Patriot know of my coming here?'
"I don't know," said Io. She was deadly pale with a surmise too monstrous for utterance.
He put it into words for her.
"Io, did you tell Errol Banneker that you were sending for me?"
Even in the midst of the ruin which he saw closing in upon his career--that career upon which Camilla Van Arsdale had newly built her last pride and hope and happiness--he could feel for the agony of the girl before him.
"He couldn't have betrayed me!" cried Io: but, as she spoke, the memory of other treacheries overwhelmed her.
The train rumbled in. Enderby stooped and kissed her forehead.
"My dear," he said gently, "I'm afraid you've trusted him once too often."
Among his various amiable capacities, Ely Ives included that of ceremonial arranger. Festivities were his delight; he was ever on the lookout for occasions of celebration: any excuse for a gratulatory function sufficed him. Before leaving on his chase to Manzanita, he had conceived the festal notion of a dinner in honor of Banneker, not that he cherished any love for him since the episode of the bet with Delavan Eyre, but because his shrewd foresight perceived in it a closer binding of the editor to the wheels of the victorious Patriot. Also it might indirectly redound to the political advantage of Marrineal. Put thus to that astute and aspiring public servant, it enlisted his prompt support. He himself would give the feast: no, on better thought, The Patriot should give it. It would be choice rather than large: a hundred guests or so; mainly journalistic, the flower of Park Row, with a sprinkling of important politicians and financiers. The occasion? Why, the occasion was pat to hand! The thousandth Banneker editorial to be published in The Patriot, the date of which came early in the following month.
Had Ives himself come to Banneker with any such project, it would have been curtly rejected. Ives kept in the background. The proposal came from Marrineal, and in such form that for the recipient of the honor to refuse it would have appeared impossibly churlish. Little though he desired or liked such a function, Banneker accepted with a good grace, and set himself to write an editorial, special to the event. Its title was, "What Does Your Newspaper Mean to You?" headed with the quotation from the Areopagitica: and he compressed into a single column all his dreams and idealities of what a newspaper might be and mean to the public which it sincerely served. Specially typed and embossed, it was arranged as the dinner souvenir.
As the day drew near, Banneker had less and less taste for the ovation. Forebodings had laid hold on his mind. Enderby had been back for five days, and had taken no part whatever in the current political activity. Conflicting rumors were in the air. The anti-Marrineal group was obviously in a state of confusion and doubt: Marrineal's friends were excited, uncertain, expectant.
For three days Banneker had had no letter from Io.
The first intimation of what had actually occurred came to him just before he left the office to dress for the dinner in his honor. Willis Enderby had formally withdrawn from the governorship contest. His statement given out for publication in next morning's papers, was in the office. Banneker sent for it. The reason given was formal and brief; nervous breakdown; imperative orders from his physician. The whole thing was grisly plain to Banneker, but he must have confirmation. He went to the city editor. Had any reporter been sent to see Judge Enderby?
Yes: Dilson, one of the men frequently assigned to do Marrineal's and Ives's special work had been sent to Enderby's on the previous day with specific instructions to ask a single question: "When was the Judge going to issue his formal withdrawal": Yes: that was the precise form of the question: not, "Was he going to withdraw," but "When was he," and so on.
The Judge would not answer, except to say that he might have a statement to make within twenty-four hours. This afternoon (continued the city editor) Enderby, it was understood, had telephoned to The Sphere and asked that Russell Edmonds come to his house between four and five. No one else would do. Edmonds had gone, had been closeted with Enderby for an hour, and had emerged with the brief typed statement for distribution to all the papers. He would not say a word as to the interview. Judge Enderby absolutely denied himself to all callers. Physician's orders again.
Banneker reflected that if the talk between Edmonds and Enderby had been what he could surmise, the veteran would hardly attend the dinner in his (Banneker's) honor. Honor and Banneker would be irreconcilable terms, to the stern judgment of Pop Edmonds. Had they, indeed, become irreconcilable terms? It was a question which Banneker, in the turmoil of his mind, could not face. On his way along Park Row he stopped and had a drink. It seemed to produce no effect, so presently he had another. After the fourth, he clarified and enlarged his outlook upon the whole question, which he now saw in its entirety. He perceived himself as the victim of unique circumstances, forced by the demands of honor into what might seem, to unenlightened minds, dubious if not dishonorable positions, each one of them in reality justified: yes, necessitated! Perhaps he was at fault in his very first judgment; perhaps, had he even then, in his inexperience, seen what he now saw so clearly in the light of experience, the deadly pitfalls into which journalism, undertaken with any other purpose than the simple setting forth of truth, beguiles its practitioners--perhaps he might have drawn back from the first step of passive deception and have resigned rather than been a party to the suppression of the facts about the Veridian killings. Resigned? And forfeited all his force for education, for enlightenment, for progress of thought and belief, exerted upon millions of minds through The Patriot?... Would that not have been the way of cowardice?... He longed to be left to himself. To think it all out. What would Io say, if she knew everything? Io whose silence was surrounding him with a cold terror.... He had to get home and dress for that cursed dinner!
Marrineal had done the thing quite royally. The room was superb with flowers; the menu the best devisable; the wines not wide of range, but choice of vintage. The music was by professionals of the first grade, willing to give their favors to these powerful men of the press. The platform table was arranged for Marrineal in the presiding chair, flanked by Banneker and the mayor: Horace Vanney, Gaines, a judge of the Supreme Court, two city commissioners, and an eminent political boss. The Masters, senior and junior, had been invited, but declined, the latter politely, the former quite otherwise. Below were the small group tables, to be occupied by Banneker's friends and contemporaries of local newspaperdom, and a few outsiders, literary, theatrical, and political. When Banneker appeared in the reception-room where the crowd awaited, smiling, graceful, vigorous, and splendid as a Greek athlete, the whole assemblage rose in acclaim--all but one. Russell Edmonds, somber and thoughtful, kept his seat. His leonine head drooped over his broad shirt-bosom.
Said Mallory of The Ledger, bending over him:
"Look at Ban, Pop!"
"I'm looking," gloomed Edmonds.
"What's behind that smile? Something frozen. What's the matter with him?" queried the observant Mallory.
"Too much success."
"It'll be too much dinner if he doesn't look out," remarked the other. "He's trying to match cocktails with every one that comes up."
"Won't make a bit of difference," muttered the veteran. "He's all steel. Cold steel. Can't touch him."
Marrineal led the way out of the ante-room to the banquet, escorting Banneker. Never had the editor of The Patriot seemed to be more completely master of himself. The drink had brightened his eyes, brought a warm flush to the sun-bronze of his cheek, lent swiftness to his tongue. He was talking brilliantly, matching epigrams with the Great Gaines, shrewdly poking good-natured fun at the stolid and stupid mayor, holding his and the near-by tables in spell with reminiscences in which so many of them shared. Some wondered how he would have anything left for his speech.
While the game course was being served, Ely Ives was summoned outside. Banneker, whose faculties had taken on a preternatural acuteness, saw, when he returned, that his face had whitened and sharpened; watched him write a note which he folded and pinned before sending it to Marrineal. In the midst of a story, which he carried without interruption, the guest of honor perceived a sort of glaze settle over his chief's immobile visage; the next moment he had very slightly shaken his head at Ives. Banneker concluded his story. Marrineal capped it with another. Ives, usually abstemious as befits one who practices sleight-of-hand and brain, poured his empty goblet full of champagne and emptied it in long, eager draughts. The dinner went on.
The ices were being cleared away when a newspaper man, not in evening clothes, slipped in and talked for a moment with Mr. Gordon of The Ledger. Presently another quietly appropriated a seat next to Van Cleve of The Sphere. The tidings, whatever they were, spread. Then, the important men of the different papers gathered about Russell Edmonds. They seemed to be putting to him brief inquiries, to which he answered with set face and confirming nods. With his quickened faculties, Banneker surmised one of those inside secrets of journalism so often sacredly kept, though a hundred men know them, of which the public reads only the obvious facts, the empty shell. Now and again he caught a quick and veiled glance of incomprehension of doubt, of incredulity, cast at him.
He chattered on. Never did he talk more brilliantly.
Coffee. Presently there would be cigars. Then Marrineal would introduce him, and he would say to these men, this high and inner circle of journalism, the things which he could not write for his public, which he could present to them alone, since they alone would understand. It was to be his _magnum opus_, that speech. For a moment he had lost physical visualization in mental vision. When again he let his eyes rest on the scene before him, he perceived that a strange thing had happened. The table at which Van Cleve had sat, with seven others, was empty. In the same glance he saw Mr. Gordon rise and quietly walk out, followed by the other newspaper men in the group. Two politicians were left. They moved close to each other and spoke in whispers, looking curiously at Banneker.
What manner of news could that have been, brought in by the working newspaper man, thus to depopulate a late-hour dining-table? Had the world turned upside down?
Below him, and but a few paces distant, Tommy Burt was seated. When he, too, got slowly to his feet, Banneker leaned across the strewn, white napery toward him.
"What's up, Tommy?"
For an instant the star reporter stopped, seemed to turn an answer over in his mind, then shook his head, and, with an unfathomable look of incredulity and shrinking, went his way. Bunny Fitch followed; Fitch, the slave of his paper's conventions, the man without standards other than those which were made for him by the terms of his employment, who would go only because his proprietors would have him go: and the grin which he turned up to Banneker was malignant and scornful. Already the circle about Ely Ives, who was still drinking eagerly, had melted away. Glidden, Mallory, Gale, Andreas, and a dozen others of his oldest associates were at the door, not talking as they would have done had some "big story" broken at that hour, but moving in a chill silence and purposefully like men seeking relief from an unendurable atmosphere. The deadly suspicion of the truth struck in upon the guest of honor; they, his friends, were going because they could no longer take part in honoring him. His mind groped, terrified and blind, among black shadows.
Marrineal, for once allowing discomposure to ruffle his imperturbability, rose to check the exodus.
"Gentlemen! One moment, if you please. As soon as--"
The rest was lost to Banneker as he beheld Edmonds rear his spare form up from his chair a few paces away. Reckless of ceremony now, the central figure of the feast rose.
The veteran stopped, turning the slow, sad judgment of his eyes upon the other.
"What is it?" appealed Banneker. "What's happened? Tell me."
"Willis Enderby is dead."
The query, which forced itself from Banneker's lips, was a self-accusation. "By his own hand?"
"By yours," answered Edmonds, and strode from the place.
Groping, Banneker's fingers encountered a bottle, closed about it, drew it in. He poured and drank. He thought it wine. Not until the reeking stab of brandy struck to his brain did he realize the error.... All right. Brandy. He needed it. He was going to make a speech. What speech? How did it begin.... What was this that Marrineal was saying? "In view of the tragic news.... Call off the speech-making?" Not at all! He, Banneker, must have his chance. He could explain everything.
Brilliantly, convincingly to his own mind, he began. It was all right; only the words in their eagerness to set forth the purity of his motives, the unimpeachable rectitude of his standards, became confused. Somebody was plucking at his arm. Ives? All right? Ives was a good fellow, after all.... Yes: he'd go home--with Ives. Ives would understand.
All the way back to The House With Three Eyes he explained himself; any fair-minded man would see that he had done his best. Ives was fair-minded; he saw it. Ives was a man of judgment. Therefore, when he suggested bed, he must be right. Very weary, Banneker was. He felt very, very wretched about Enderby. He'd explain it all to Enderby in the morning--no: couldn't do that, though. Enderby was dead. Queer idea, that! What was it that violent-minded idiot, Pop Edmonds, had said? He'd settle with Pop in the morning. Now he'd go to sleep....
He woke to utter misery. In the first mail came the letter, now expected, from Io. It completed the catastrophe in which his every hope was swept away.
I have tried to make myself believe (she wrote) that you could not have Betrayed him; that you would not, at least, have let me, who loved you, be, unknowingly, the agent of his destruction. But the black record comes back to me. The Harvey Wheelwright editorial, which seemed so light a thing, then. The lie that beat Robert Laird. The editorial that you dared not print, after promising. All of one piece. How could I ever have trusted you!
Oh, Ban, Ban! When I think of what we have been to each other; how gladly, how proudly, I gave myself to you, to find you unfaithful! Is that the price of success? And unfaithful in such a way! If you had been untrue to me in the conventional sense, I think it would have been a small matter compared to this betrayal. That would have been a thing of the senses, a wound to the lesser part of our love. But this--Couldn't you see that our relation demanded more of faith, of fidelity, than marriage, to justify it and sustain it; more idealism, more truth, more loyalty to what we were to each other? And now this!
If it were I alone that you have betrayed, I could bear my own remorse; perhaps even think it retribution for what I have done. But how can I--and how can you--bear the remorse of the disaster that will fall upon Camilla Van Arsdale, your truest friend? What is there left to her, now that the man she loves is to be hounded out of public life by blackmailers? I have not told her. I have not been able to tell her. Perhaps he will write her, himself. How can she bear it! I am going away, leaving a companion in charge of her.
Camilla Van Arsdale! One last drop of bitterness in the cup of suffering. Neither she nor Io had, of course, learned of Enderby's death, and could not for several days, until the newspapers reached them. Banneker perceived clearly the thing that was laid upon him to do. He must go out to Manzanita and take the news to her. That was part of his punishment. He sent a telegram to Mindle, his factotum on the ground.
Hold all newspapers from Miss C. until I get there, if you have to rob mails. E.B.
Without packing his things, without closing his house, without resigning his editorship, he took the next train for Manzanita. Io, coming East, and still unaware of the final tragedy, passed him, halfway.
While the choir was chanting, over the body of Willis Enderby, the solemn glory of Royce Melvin's funeral hymn, the script of which had been found attached to his last statement, Banneker, speeding westward, was working out, in agony of soul, a great and patient penance, for his own long observance, planning the secret and tireless ritual through which Camilla Van Arsdale should keep intact her pure and long delayed happiness while her life endured.
A dun pony ambled along the pine-needle-carpeted trail leading through the forest toward Camilla Van Arsdale's camp, comfortably shaded against the ardent power of the January sun. Behind sounded a soft, rapid padding of hooves. The pony shied to the left with a violence which might have unseated a less practiced rider, as, with a wild whoop, Dutch Pete came by at full gallop. Pete had been to a dance at the Sick Coyote on the previous night which had imperceptibly merged itself into the present morning, and had there imbibed enough of the spirit of the occasion to last him his fifteen miles home to his ranch. Now he pulled up and waited for the slower rider to overtake him.
"How's the lady gettin' on?"
"Not too well."
"Can't see much of anythin', huh?"
"No: and never will again."
"Sho! Well, I don't figger out as I'd want to live long in that fix. How long does the doc give her, Ban?"
"Perhaps six months; perhaps a year. She isn't afraid to die; but she's hanging to life just as long as she can. She's a game one, Pete."
"And how long will you be with us, Ban?"
"Oh, I'm likely to be around quite a while yet."
Dutch Pete, thoroughly understanding, reflected that here was another game one. But he remarked only that he'd like to drop in on Miss K'miller next time he rode over, with a bit of sage honey that he'd saved out for her.
"She'll be glad to see you," returned the other. "Only, don't forget, Pete; not a word about anything except local stuff."
"Sure!" agreed Pete with that unquestioning acceptance of another's reasons for secrecy which marks the frontiersman. "Say, Ban," he added, "you ain't much of an advertisement for Manzanita as a health resort, yourself. Better have that doc stick his head in your mouth and look at your insides."
Banneker raised tired eyes and smiled. "Oh, I'm all right," he replied listlessly.
"Come to next Saturday's dance at the Coyote; that'll put dynamite in your blood," prescribed the other as he spurred his horse on.
Banneker had no need to turn the dun pony aside to the branch trail that curved to the door of his guest; the knowing animal took it by habitude, having traversed it daily for a long time. It was six months since Banneker had bought him: six months and a week since Willis Enderby had been buried. And the pony's rider had in his pocket a letter, of date only four days old, from Willis Enderby to Camilla Van Arsdale. It was dated from the Governor's Mansion, Albany, New York. Banneker had written it himself, the night before. He had also composed nearly a column of supposed Amalgamated Wire report, regarding the fight for and against Governor Enderby's reform measures, which he would read presently to Miss Van Arsdale from the dailies just received. As he dismounted, the clear music of her voice called:
"Any mail, Ban?"
"Yes. Letter from Albany."
"Let me open it myself," she cried jealously.
He delivered it into her hands: this was part of the ritual. She ran her fingers caressingly over it, as if to draw from it the hidden sweetness of her lover's strength, which must still be only half-expressed, because the words were to be translated through another's reading; then returned it to its real author.
"Read it slowly, Ban," she commanded softly.
Having completed the letter, his next process was to run through the papers, giving in full any news or editorials on State politics. This was a task demanding the greatest mental concentration and alertness, for he had built up a contemporary history out of his imagination, and must keep all the details congruous and logical. Several times, with that uncanny retentiveness of memory developed in the blind, she had all but caught him; but each time his adroitness saved the day. Later, while he was at work in the room which she had set aside for his daily writing, she would answer the letter on the typewriter, having taught herself to write by position and touch, and he would take her reply for posting. Her nurse and companion, an elderly woman with a natural aptitude for silence and discretion, was Banneker's partner in the secret. The third member of the conspiracy was the physician who came once a week from Angelica City because he himself was a musician and this slowly and courageously dying woman was Royce Melvin. Between them they hedged her about with the fiction that victoriously defied grief and defeated death.
Camilla Van Arsdale got up from her couch and walked with confident footsteps to the piano.
"Ban," she said, seating herself and letting her fingers run over the keys, "can't you substitute another word for 'muffled' in the third line? It comes on a high note--upper g--and I want a long, not a short vowel sound."
"How would 'silenced' do?" he offered, after studying the line.
"Beautifully. You're a most amiable poet! Ban, I think your verses are going to be more famous than my music."
"Never that," he denied. "It's the music that makes them."
"Have you heard from Mr. Gaines yet about the essays?"
"Yes. He's taking them. He wants to print two in each issue and call them 'Far Perspectives.'"
"Oh, good!" she cried. "But, Ban, fine as your work is, it seems a terrible waste of your powers to be out here. You ought to be in New York, helping the governor put through his projects."
"Well, you know, the doctor won't give me my release."
(Presently he must remember to have a coughing spell. He coughed hollowly and well, thanks to assiduous practice. This was part of the grim and loving comedy of deception: that he had been peremptorily ordered back to Manzanita on account of "weak lungs," with orders to live in his open shack until he had gained twenty pounds. He was gaining, but with well-considered slowness.)
"But when you can, you'll go back and help him, even if I'm not here to know about it, won't you?"
"Oh, yes: I'll go back to help him when I can," he promised, as heartily as if he had not made the same promise each time that the subject came up. There was still a good deal of the wistful child about the dying woman.
Out from that forest hermitage where the two worked, one in serene though longing happiness, the other under the stern discipline of loss and self-abnegation, had poured, in six short months, a living current of song which had lifted the fame of Royce Melvin to new heights: her fame only, for Banneker would not use his name to the words that rang with a pure and vivid melody of their own. Herein, too, he was paying his debt to Willis Enderby, through the genius of the woman who loved him; preserving that genius with the thin, lustrous, impregnable fiction of his own making against threatening and impotent truth.
Once, when Banneker had brought her a lyric, alive with the sweetness of youth and love in the great open spaces, she had said:
"Ban, shall we call it 'Io?'"
"I don't think it would do," he said with an effort.
"Where is she?"
"Traveling in the tropics."
"You try so hard to keep the sadness out of your voice when you speak of her," said Camilla sorrowfully. "But it's always there. Isn't there anything I can do?"
"Nothing. There's nothing anybody can do."
The blind woman hesitated. "But you care for her still, don't you, Ban?"
"Care! Oh, my God!" whispered Banneker.
"And she cares. I know she cared when she was here. Io isn't the kind of woman to forget easily. She tried once, you know." Miss Van Arsdale smiled wanly. "Why doesn't she ever say anything of you in her letters?"
"Very little." (Io's letters, passing through Banneker's hands were carefully censored, of necessity, to forefend any allusion to the tragedy of Willis Enderby, often to the extent of being rewritten complete. It now occurred to Banneker that he had perhaps overdone the matter of keeping his own name out of them.) "Ban," she continued wistfully, "you haven't quarreled, have you?"
"No, Miss Camilla. We haven't quarreled."
"Then _what_ is it, Ban? I don't want to pry; you know me well enough to be sure of that. But if I could only know before the end comes that you two--I wish I could read your face. It's a helpless thing, being blind." This was as near a complaint as he had ever heard her utter.
"Io's a rich woman, Miss Camilla," he said desperately.
"What of it?"
"How could I ask her to marry a jobless, half-lunged derelict?"
"_Have_ you asked her?"
He was silent.
"Ban, does she know why you're here?"
"Oh, yes; she knows."
"How bitter and desolate your voice sounds when you say that! And you want me to believe that she knows and still doesn't come to you?"
"She doesn't know that I'm--ill," he said, hating himself for the necessity of pretense with Camilla Van Arsdale.
"Then I shall tell her."
"No," he controverted with finality, "I won't allow it."
"Suppose it turned out that this were really the right path for you to travel," she said after a pause; "that you were going to do bigger things here than you ever could do with The Patriot? I believe it's going to be so, Ban; that what you are doing now is going to be your true success."
"Success!" he cried. "Are you going to preach success to me? If ever there was a word coined in hell--I'm sorry, Miss Camilla," he broke off, mastering himself.
She groped her way to the piano, and ran her fingers over the keys. "There is work, anyway," she said with sure serenity.
"Yes; there's work, thank God!"
Work enough there was for him, not only in his writing, for which he had recovered the capacity after a long period of stunned inaction, but in the constant and unwearied labor of love in building and rebuilding, fortifying and extending, that precarious but still impregnable bulwark of falsehood beneath whose protection Camilla Van Arsdale lived and was happy and made the magic of her song. Illusion! Banneker wondered whether any happiness were other than illusion, whether the illusion of happiness were not better than any reality. But in the world of grim fact which he had accepted for himself was no palliating mirage. Upon him "the illusive eyes of hope" were closed.
While Banneker was practicing his elaborate deceptions, Miss Van Arsdale had perpetrated a lesser one of her own, which she had not deemed it wise to reveal to him in their conversation about Io. Some time before that she had written to her former guest a letter tactfully designed to lay a foundation for resolving the difficulty or misunderstanding between the lovers. In the normal course of events this would have been committed for mailing to Banneker, who would, of course, have confiscated it. But, as it chanced, it was hardly off the typewriter when Dutch Pete dropped in for a friendly call while Banneker was at the village, and took the missive with him for mailing. It traveled widely, amassed postmarks and forwarding addresses, and eventually came to its final port.
Worn out with the hopeless quest of forgetfulness in far lands, Io Eyre came back to New York. It was there that the long pursuit of her by Camilla Van Arsdale's letter ended. Bewilderment darkened Io's mind as she read, to be succeeded by an appalled conjecture; Camilla Van Arsdale's mind had broken down under her griefs. What other hypothesis could account for her writing of Willis Enderby as being still alive? And of her having letters from him? To the appeal for Banneker which, concealed though it was, underlay the whole purport of the writing, Io closed her heart, seared by the very sight of his name. She would have torn the letter up, but something impelled her to read it again; some hint of a pregnant secret to be gleaned from it, if one but held the clue. Hers was a keen and thoughtful mind. She sent it exploring through the devious tangle of the maze wherein she and Banneker, Camilla Van Arsdale and Willis Enderby had been so tragically involved, and as she patiently studied the letter as possible guide there dawned within her a glint of the truth. It began with the suspicion, soon growing to conviction, that the writer of those inexplicable words was not, could not be insane; the letter breathed a clarity of mind, an untroubled simplicity of heart, a quiet undertone of happiness, impossible to reconcile with the picture of a shattered and grief-stricken victim. Yet Io had, herself, written to Miss Van Arsdale as soon as she knew of Judge Enderby's death, pouring out her heart for the sorrow of the woman who as a stranger had stood her friend, whom, as she learned to know her in the close companionship of her affliction, she had come to love; offering to return at once to Manzanita. To that offer had come no answer; later she had had a letter curiously reticent as to Willis Enderby. (Banneker, in his epistolary personification of Miss Van Arsdale had been perhaps overcautious on this point.) Io began to piece together hints and clues, as in a disjected puzzle:--Banneker's presence in Manzanita--Camilla's blindness.--Her inability to know, except through the medium of others, the course of events.--The bewildering reticence and hiatuses in the infrequent letters from Manzanita, particularly in regard to Willis Enderby.--This calm, sane, cheerful view of him as a living being, a present figure in his old field of action.--The casual mention in an early letter that all of Miss Van Arsdale's reading and most of her writing was done through the nurse or Banneker, mainly the latter, though she was mastering the art of touch-writing on the typewriter. The very style of the earlier letters, as she remembered them, was different. And just here flashed the thought which set her feverishly ransacking the portfolio in which she kept her old correspondence. There she found an envelope with a Manzanita postmark dated four months earlier. The typing of the two letters was not the same.
Groping for some aid in the murk, Io went to the telephone and called up the editorial office of The Sphere, asking for Russell Edmonds. Within two hours the veteran had come to her.
"I have been wanting to see you," he said at once.
"About Mr. Banneker?" she queried eagerly.
"No. About The Searchlight."
"The Searchlight? I don't understand, Mr. Edmonds."
"Can't we be open with each other, Mrs. Eyre?"
"Absolutely, so far as I am concerned."
"Then I want to tell you that you need have no fear as to what The Searchlight may do."
"Still I don't understand. Why should I fear it?"
"The scandal--manufactured, of course--which The Searchlight had cooked up about you and Mr. Banneker before Mr. Eyre's death."
"Surely there was never anything published. I should have heard of it."
"No; there wasn't. Banneker stopped it."
"Do you mean to say that you knew nothing of this, Mrs. Eyre?" he said, the wonder in his face answering the bewilderment in hers. "Didn't Banneker tell you?"
"Never a word."
"No; I suppose he wouldn't," ruminated the veteran. "That would be like Ban--the old Ban," he added sadly. "Mrs. Eyre, I loved that boy," he broke out, his stern and somber face working. "There are times even now when I can scarcely make myself believe that he did what he did."
"Wait," pleaded Io. "How did he stop The Searchlight?"
"By threatening Bussey with an exposé that would have blown him out of the water. Blackmail, if you like, Mrs. Eyre, and not of the most polite kind."
"For me," whispered Io.
"He held that old carrion-buzzard, Bussey, up at the muzzle of The Patriot as if it were a blunderbuss. It was loaded to kill, too. And then," pursued Edmonds, "he paid the price. Marrineal got out his little gun and held him up."
"Held Ban up? What for? How could he do that? All this is a riddle to me, Mr. Edmonds."
"Do you think you really want to know?" asked the other with a touch of grimness. "It won't be pleasant hearing."
"I've got to know. Everything!"
"Very well. Here's the situation. Banneker points his gun, The Patriot, at Bussey. 'Be good or I'll shoot,' he says. Marrineal learns of it, never mind how. He points _his_ gun at Ban. 'Be good, or I'll shoot,' says he. And there you are!"
"But what was his gun? And why need he threaten Ban?"
"Why, you see, Mrs. Eyre, about that time things were coming to an issue between Ban and Marrineal. Ban was having a hard fight for the independence of his editorial page. His strongest hold on Marrineal was Marrineal's fear of losing him. There were plenty of opportunities open to a Banneker. Well, when Marrineal got Ban where he couldn't resign, Ban's hold was gone. That was Marrineal's gun."
"Why couldn't he resign?" asked Io, white-lipped.
"If he quit The Patriot he could no longer hold Bussey, and The Searchlight could print what it chose. You see?"
"I see," said Io, very low. "Oh, why couldn't I have seen before!"
"How could you, if Ban told you nothing?" reasoned Edmonds. "The blame of the miserable business isn't yours. Sometimes I wonder if it's anybody's; if the newspaper game isn't just too strong for us who try to play it. As for The Searchlight, I've since got another hold on Bussey which will keep him from making any trouble. That's what I wanted to tell you."
"Oh, what does it matter! What does it matter!" she moaned. She crossed to the window, laid her hot and white face against the cool glass, pressed her hands in upon her temples, striving to think connectedly. "Then whatever he did on The Patriot, whatever compromises he yielded to or--or cowardices--" she winced at the words--"were done to save his place; to save me."
"I'm afraid so," returned the other gently.
"Do you know what he's doing now?" she demanded.
"I understand he's back at Manzanita."
"He is. And from what I can make out," she added fiercely, "he is giving up his life to guarding Miss Van Arsdale from breaking her heart, as she will do, if she learns of Judge Enderby's death--Oh!" she cried, "I didn't mean to say that! You must forget that there was anything said."
"No need. I know all that story," he said gravely. "That is what I couldn't forgive in Ban. That he should have betrayed Miss Van Arsdale, his oldest friend. That is the unpardonable treachery."
"To save me," said Io.
"Not even for that. He owed more to her than to you."
"I can't believe that he did it!" she wailed. "To use my letter to set spies on Cousin Billy and ruin him--it isn't Ban. It isn't!"
"He did it, and, when it was too late, he tried to stop it."
"To stop it?" She looked her startled query at him. "How do you know that?"
"Last week," explained Edmonds, "Judge Enderby's partner sent for me. He had been going over some papers and had come upon a telegram from Banneker urging Enderby not to leave without seeing him. The telegram must have been delivered very shortly after the Judge left for the train."
"Telegram? Why a telegram? Wasn't Ban in town?"
"No. He was down in Jersey. At The Retreat."
"Wait!" gasped Io. "At The Retreat! Then my letter would have been forwarded to him there. He couldn't have got it at the same time that Cousin Billy got the one I sent him." She gripped Russell Edmonds's wrists in fierce, strong hands. "What if he hadn't known in time? What if, the moment he did know, he did his best to stop Cousin Billy from starting, with that telegram?" Suddenly the light died out of her face. "But then how would that loathsome Mr. Ives have known that he was going, unless Ban betrayed him?"
"Easily enough," returned the veteran. "He had a report from his detectives, who had been watching Enderby for months.... Mrs. Eyre, I wish you'd give me a drink. I feel shaky."
She left him to give the order. When she returned, they had both steadied down. Carefully, and with growing conviction, they gathered the evidence into something like a coherent whole. At the end, Io moaned:
"The one thing I can't bear is that Cousin Billy died, believing that of Ban."
She threw herself upon the broad lounge, prone, her face buried in her arms. The veteran of hundreds of fights, brave and blind, righteous and mistaken, crowned with fleeting victories, tainted with irremediable errors, stood silent, perplexed, mournful. He walked slowly over to where the girl was stretched, and laid a clumsy, comforting hand on her shoulder.
"I wish you'd cry for me, too," he said huskily. "I'm too old."
Every Saturday the distinguished physician from Angelica City came to Manzanita on the afternoon train, spent two or three hours at Camilla Van Arsdale's camp, and returned in time to catch Number Seven back. No imaginable fee would have induced him to abstract one whole day from his enormous practice for any other patient. But he was himself an ardent vocal amateur, and to keep Royce Melvin alive and able to give forth her songs to the world was a special satisfaction to his soul. Moreover, he knew enough of Banneker's story to take pride in being partner in his plan of deception and self-sacrifice. He pretended that it was a needed holiday for him: his bills hardly defrayed the traveling expense.
Now, riding back with Banneker, he meditated a final opinion, and out of that opinion came speech.
"Mr. Banneker, they ought to give you and me a special niche in the Hall of Fame," he said.
A rather wan smile touched briefly Banneker's lips. "I believe that my ambitions once reached even that far," he said.
The other reflected upon the implied tragedy of a life, so young, for which ambition was already in the past tense, as he added:
"In the musical section. We've got our share in the nearest thing to great music that has been produced in the America of our time. You and I. Principally you."
Banneker made a quick gesture of denial.
"I don't know what you owe to Camilla Van Arsdale, but you've paid the debt. There won't be much more to pay, Banneker."
Banneker looked up sharply.
"No." The visitor shook his graying head. "We've performed as near a miracle as it is given to poor human power to perform. It can't last much longer."
"A matter of weeks. Not more. Banneker, do you believe in a personal immortality?"
"I don't know. Do you?"
"I don't know, either. I was thinking.... If it were so; when she gets across, what she will feel when she finds her man waiting for her. God!" He lifted his face to the great trees that moved and murmured overhead. "How that heart of hers has sung to him all these years!"
He lifted his voice and sent it rolling through the cathedral aisles of the forest, in the superb finale of the last hymn.
"For even the purest delight may pall, And power must fail, and the pride must fall And the love of the dearest friends grow small-- But the glory of the Lord is all in all."
The great voice was lost in the sighing of the winds. They rode on, thoughtful and speechless. When the physician turned to his companion again, it was with a brisk change of manner.
"And now we'll consider you."
"Nothing to consider," declared Banneker.
"Is your professional judgment better than mine?" retorted the other. "How much weight have you lost since you've been out here?"
"I don't know."
"Find out. Don't sleep very well, do you?"
"What do you do at night when you can't sleep? Work?"
The doctor uttered a non-professional monosyllable. "What will you do," he propounded, waving his arm back along the trail toward the Van Arsdale camp, "when this little game of yours is played out?"
"God knows!" said Banneker. It suddenly struck him that life would be blank, empty of interest or purpose, when Camilla Van Arsdale died, when there was no longer the absorbing necessity to preserve, intact and impregnable, the fortress of love and lies wherewith he had surrounded her.
"When this chapter is finished," said the other, "you come down to Angelica City with me. Perhaps we'll go on a little camping trip together. I want to talk to you."
The train carried him away. Oppressed and thoughtful, Banneker walked slowly across the blazing, cactus-set open toward his shack. There was still the simple housekeeping work to be done, for he had left early that morning. He felt suddenly spiritless, flaccid, too inert even for the little tasks before him. The physician's pronouncement had taken the strength from him. Of course he had known that it couldn't be very long--but only a few weeks!
He was almost at the shack when he noticed that the door stood half ajar.
But here, where everything had been disorder, was now order. The bed was made, the few utensils washed, polished, and hung up; on the table a handful of the alamo's bright leaves in a vase gave a touch of color.
In the long chair (7 T 4031 of the Sears-Roebuck catalogue) sat Io. A book lay on her lap, the book of "The Undying Voices." Her eyes were closed. Banneker reached out a hand to the door lintel for support.
A light tremor ran through Io's body. She opened her eyes, and fixed them on Banneker. She rose slowly. The book fell to the floor and lay open between them. Io stood, her arms hanging straitly at her side, her whole face a lovely and loving plea.
"Please, Ban!" she said, in a voice so little that it hardly came to his ears.
Speech and motion were denied him, in the great, the incredible surprise of her presence.
"Please, Ban, forgive me." She was like a child, beseeching. Her firm little chin quivered. Two great, soft, lustrous tears welled up from the shadowy depths of the eyes and hung, gleaming, above the lashes. "Oh, aren't you going to speak to me!" she cried.
At that the bonds of his languor were rent. He leapt to her, heard the broken music of her sob, felt her arms close about him, her lips seek his and cling, loath to relinquish them even for the passionate murmurs of her love and longing for him.
"Hold me close, Ban! Don't ever let me go again! Don't ever let me doubt again!"
When, at length, she gently released herself, her foot brushed the fallen book. She picked it up tenderly, and caressed its leaves as she adjusted them.
"Didn't the Voices tell you that I'd come back, Ban?" she asked.
He shook his head. "If they did, I couldn't hear them."
"But they sang to you," she insisted gently. "They never stopped singing, did they?"
"No. No. They never stopped singing."
"Ah; then you ought to have known, Ban. And I ought to have known that you couldn't have done what I believed you had. Are you sure you forgive me, Ban?"
She told him of what she had discovered, of the talk with Russell Edmonds ("I've a letter from him for you, dearest one; he loves you, too. But not as I do. Nobody could!" interjected Io jealously), of the clue of the telegram. And he told her of Camilla Van Arsdale and the long deception; and at that, for the first time since he knew her, she broke down and gave herself up utterly to tears, as much for him as for the friend whom he had so loyally loved and served. When it was over and she had regained command of herself, she said:
"Now you must take me to her."
So once more they rode together into the murmurous peace of the forest. Io leaned in her saddle as they drew near the cabin, to lay a hand on her lover's shoulder.
"Once, a thousand years ago, Ban," she said, "when love came to me, I was a wicked little infidel and would not believe. Not in the Enchanted Canyon, nor in the Mountains of Fulfillment, nor in the Fadeless Gardens where the Undying Voices sing. Do you remember?"
"Do I not!" whispered Ban, turning to kiss the fingers that tightened on his shoulder.
"And--and I blasphemed and said there was always a serpent in every Paradise, and that Experience was a horrid hag, with a bony finger pointing to the snake.... This is my recantation, Ban. I know now that you were the true Prophet; that Experience has shining wings and eyes that can lock to the future as well as the past, and immortal Hope for a lover. And that only they two can guide to the Mountains of Fulfillment. Is it enough, Ban?"
"It is enough," he answered with grave happiness.
"Listen!" exclaimed Io.
The sound of song, tender and passionate and triumphant, came pulsing through the silence to meet them as they rode on.
- - - The End - - -
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