Counsel for the defense, p.24
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       Counsel for the Defense, p.24

           Leroy Scott
 
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  CHAPTER XXIV

  BILLY HARPER WRITES A STORY

  As Katherine crossed the porch and went down the steps she saw,entering the yard, a tall, square-hatted apparition.

  "Is that you, Miss Katherine?" it called softly to her.

  "Yes, Mr. Hollingsworth."

  "I was looking for you." He turned and they walked out of the yardtogether. "I went to your house, and your aunt told me you were here.I've got it!" he added excitedly.

  "Got what?"

  "The agreement!"

  She stopped short and seized his arm.

  "You mean between Blake, Peck, and Manning?"

  "Yes. I've got it!"

  "Signed?"

  "All signed!" And he slapped the breast pocket of his old frock-coat.

  "Let me see it! Please!"

  He handed it to her, and by the light of a street lamp she glanced itthrough.

  "Oh, it's too good to believe!" she murmured exultantly. "Oh, oh!" Shethrust it into her bosom, where it lay beside Doctor Sherman'sconfession. "Come, we must hurry!" she cried. And with her arm throughhis they set off in the direction of the Square.

  "When did Mr. Manning get this?" she asked, after a moment.

  "I saw him about an hour ago. He had then just got it."

  "It's splendid! Splendid!" she ejaculated. "But I have something,too!"

  "Yes?" queried the old man.

  "Something even better." And as they hurried on she told him of DoctorSherman's confession.

  Old Hosie burst into excited congratulations, but she quickly checkedhim.

  "We've no time now to rejoice," she said. "We must think how we aregoing to use these statements--how we are going to get thisinformation before the people, get it before them at once, and get itbefore them so they must believe it."

  They walked on in silent thought. From the moment they had left theShermans' gate the two had heard a tremendous cheering from thedirection of the Square, and had seen a steady, up-reaching glow, atintervals brilliantly bespangled by rockets and roman candles. Now, asthey came into Main Street, they saw that the Court House yard wasjammed with an uproarious multitude. Within the speakers' stand wasthroned the Westville Brass Band; enclosing the stand in an imposingsemicircle was massed the Blake Marching Club, in uniforms, theirflaring torches adding to the illumination of the festoons ofincandescent bulbs; and spreading fanwise from this uniformed nucleusit seemed that all of Westville was assembled--at least all ofWestville that did not watch at fevered bedsides.

  At the moment that Katherine and Old Hosie, walking along the southernside of Main Street, came opposite the stand, the first speakerconcluded his peroration and resumed his seat. There was an outburstof "Blake! Blake! Blake!" from the enthusiastic thousands; but theWestville Brass Band broke in with the chorus of "Marching ThroughGeorgia." The stirring thunder of the band had hardly died away, whenthe thousands of voices again rose in cries of "Blake! Blake! Blake!"

  The chairman with difficulty quieted the crowd, and urged them to havepatience, as all the candidates were going to speak, and Blake was notto speak till toward the last. Kennedy was the next orator, and hetold the multitude, with much flinging heavenward of loose-jointedarms, what an unparalleled administration the officers to be electedon the morrow would give the city, and how first and foremost it wouldbe their purpose to settle the problem of the water-works in such amanner as to free the city forever from the dangers of anotherepidemic such as they were now experiencing. As supreme climax to hisspeech, he lauded the ability, character and public spirit of Blaketill superlatives could mount no higher.

  When he sat down the crowd went well-nigh mad. But amid the cheeringfor the city's favourite, some one shouted the name of Doctor West andwith it coupled a vile epithet. At once Doctor West's name sweptthrough the crowd, hissed, jeered, cursed. This outbreak made clearone ominous fact. The enthusiasm of the multitude was not justordinary, election-time enthusiasm. Beneath it was smouldering adesire of revenge for the ills they had suffered and were suffering--adesire which at a moment might flame up into the uncontrollable furyof a mob.

  Katherine clutched Old Hosie's arm.

  "Did you hear those cries against my father?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, I know now what I shall do!"

  He saw that her eyes were afire with decision.

  "What?"

  "I am going across there, watch my chance, slip out upon the speakers'stand, and expose and denounce Mr. Blake before Mr. Blake's ownaudience!"

  The audacity of the plan for a moment caught Old Hosie's breath. Thenits dramatic quality fired his imagination.

  "Gorgeous!" he exclaimed.

  "Come on!" she cried.

  She started across the street, with Old Hosie at her heels. But beforeshe reached the opposite curb she paused, and turned slowly back.

  "What's the matter?" asked Old Hosie.

  "It won't do. The people on the stand would pull me down before I gotstarted speaking. And even if I spoke, the people would not believeme. I have got to put this evidence"--she pressed the documents withinher bosom--"before their very eyes. No, we have got to think of someother way."

  By this time they were back in the seclusion of the doorway of the_Express_ Building, where they had previously been standing. Forseveral moments the hoarse, vehement oratory of a tired throat raspedupon their heedless ears. Once or twice Old Hosie stole a glance atKatherine's tensely thoughtful face, then returned to his ownmeditation.

  Presently she touched him on the arm. He looked up.

  "I have it this time!" she said, with the quiet of suppressedexcitement.

  "Yes?"

  "We're going to get out an extra!"

  "An extra?" he exclaimed blankly.

  "Yes. Of the _Express_!"

  "An extra of the _Express_?"

  "Yes. Get it out before this crowd scatters, and in it reproductionsof these documents!"

  He stared at her. "Son of Methuselah!" Then he whistled. Then his lookbecame a bit strange, and there was a strange quality to his voicewhen he said:

  "So you are going to give Arnold Bruce's paper the credit of theexposure?"

  His tone told her the meaning that lay behind his words. He had knownof the engagement, and he knew that it was now broken. She flushed.

  "It's the best way," she said shortly.

  "But you can't do it alone!"

  "Of course not." Her voice began to gather energy. "We've got to getthe _Express_ people here at once--and especially Mr. Harper.Everything depends on Mr. Harper. He'll have to get the paper out."

  "Yes! Yes!" said Old Hosie, catching her excitement.

  "You look for him here in this crowd--and, also, if you can see to it,send some one to get the foreman and his people. I'll look for Mr.Harper at his hotel. We'll meet here at the office."

  With that they hurried away on their respective errands. Arrived atthe National House, where Billy Harper lived, Katherine walked intothe great bare office and straight up to the clerk, whom themass-meeting had left as the room's sole occupant.

  "Is Mr. Harper in?" she asked quickly.

  The clerk, one of the most prodigious of local beaux, was startled bythis sudden apparition.

  "I--I believe he is."

  "Please tell him at once that I wish to see him."

  He fumbled the white wall of his lofty collar with an embarrassedhand.

  "Excuse me, Miss West, but the fact is, I'm afraid he can't see you."

  "Give him my name and tell him I simply _must_ see him."

  The clerk's embarrassment waxed greater.

  "I--I guess I should have said it the other way around," he stammered."I'm afraid you won't want to see him."

  "Why not?"

  "The fact is--he's pretty much cut up, you know--and he's been soworried that--that--well, the plain fact is," he blurted out, "Mr.Harper has been drinking."

  "To-night?"

  "Yes."

  "Much?"

  "Well--I'm afraid quite a
little."

  "But he's here?"

  "He's in the bar-room."

  Katherine's heart had been steadily sinking.

  "I must see him anyhow!" she said desperately. "Please call him out!"

  The clerk hesitated, in even deeper embarrassment. This affair wasquite without precedent in his career.

  "You must call him out--this second! Didn't you hear me?"

  "Certainly, certainly."

  He came hastily from behind his desk and disappeared through a pair ofswinging wicker doors. After a moment he reappeared, alone, and hismanner showed a degree of embarrassment even more acute.

  Katherine crossed eagerly to meet him.

  "You found Mr. Harper?"

  "Yes."

  "Well?"

  "I couldn't make him understand. And even if I could,he's--he's--well," he added with a painful effort, "he's in nocondition for you to talk to, Miss West."

  Katherine gazed whitely at the clerk for a moment. Then without a wordshe stepped by him and passed through the wicker door. With a glanceshe took in the garishly lighted room--its rows of bottles, itsglittering mirrors, its white-aproned bartender, its pair of toperswhose loyalty to the bar was stronger than the lure of oratory andmusic at the Square. And there at a table, his head upon his arms, satthe loosely hunched body of him who was the foundation of all herpresent hopes.

  She moved swiftly across the sawdusted floor and shook the actingeditor by the shoulder.

  "Mr. Harper!" she called into his ear.

  She shook him again, and again she called his name.

  "Le' me 'lone," he grunted thickly. "Wanter sleep."

  She was conscious that the two topers had paused in mid-drink and werelooking her way with a grinning, alcoholic curiosity. She shook theeditor with all her strength.

  "Mr. Harper!" she called fiercely.

  "G'way!" he mumbled. "'M busy. Wanter sleep."

  Katherine gazed down at the insensate mass in utter hopelessness.Without him she could do nothing, and the precious minutes wereflying. Through the night came a rumble of applause and fast upon itthe music of another patriotic air.

  In desperation she turned to the bartender.

  "Can't you help me rouse him?" she cried. "I've simply _got_ to speakto him!"

  That gentleman had often been appealed to by frantic women as againstcustomers who had bought too liberally. But Katherine was a newvariety in his experience. There was a great deal too much of himabout the waist and also beneath the chin, but there was good-naturein his eyes, and he came from behind his counter and bore himselftoward Katherine with a clumsy and ornate courtesy.

  "Don't see how you can, Miss. He's been hittin' an awful pace lately.You see for yourself how far gone he is."

  "But I must speak to him--I must! Surely there is some extreme measurethat would bring him to his senses!"

  "But, excuse me; you see, Miss, Mr. Harper is a reg'lar guest of thehotel, and I wouldn't dare go to extremes. If I was to make himmad----"

  "I'll take all the blame!" she cried. "And afterward he'll thank youfor it!"

  The bartender scratched his thin hair.

  "Of course, I want to help you, Miss, and since you put it that way,all right. You say I can go the limit?"

  "Yes! Yes!"

  The bartender retired behind his bar and returned with a pail ofwater. He removed the young editor's hat.

  "Stand back, Miss; it's ice cold," he said; and with a swing of hispudgy arms he sent the water about Harper's head, neck, and upperbody.

  The young fellow staggered up with a gasping cry. His blinking eyessaw the bartender, with the empty pail. He reached for the tumblerbefore him.

  "Damn you, Murphy!" he growled. "I'll pay you----"

  But Katherine stepped quickly forward and touched his dripping sleeve.

  "Mr. Harper!" she said.

  He slowly turned his head. Then the hand with the upraised tumblersank to the table, and he stared at her.

  "Mr. Harper," she said sharply, slowly, trying to drive her words intohis dulled brain, "I've got to speak to you! At once!"

  He continued to blink at her stupidly. At length his lips opened.

  "Miss West," he said thickly.

  She shook him fiercely.

  "Pull yourself together! I've got to speak to you!"

  At this moment Mr. Murphy, who had gone once more behind his bar,reappeared bearing a glass. This he held out to Harper.

  "Here, Billy, put this down. It'll help straighten you up."

  Harper took the glass in a trembling hand and swallowed its contents.

  "And now, Miss," said the bartender, putting Harper's dry hat on him,"the thing to do is to get him out in the cold air, and walk him rounda bit. I'd do it for you myself," he added gallantly, "but everybody'sdown at the Square and there ain't no one here to relieve me."

  "Thank you very much, Mr. Murphy."

  "It's nothing at all, Miss," said he with a grandiloquent gesture of ahairy, bediamonded hand. "Glad to do it."

  She slipped her arm through the young editor's.

  "And now, Mr. Harper, we must go."

  Billy Harper vaguely understood the situation and there was a trace ofawakening shame in his husky voice.

  "Are you sure--you want to be seen with me--like this?"

  "I must, whether I want to or not," she said briefly; and she led himthrough the side door out into the frosty night.

  The period that succeeded will ever remain in Katherine's mind asmatchless in her life for agonized suspense. She was ever crying outfrantically to herself, why did this man she led have to be in such acondition at this the time when he was needed most? While she rapidlywalked her drenched and shivering charge through the deserted backstreets, the enthusiasm of Court House Square reverberated maddeninglyin her ears. She realized how rapidly time was flying--and yet, aflamewith desire for action as she was, all she could do was to lead thisbrilliant, stupefied creature to and fro, to and fro. She wondered ifshe would be able to bring him to his senses in time to be of service.To her impatience, which made an hour of every moment, it seemed shenever would. But her hope was all on him, and so doggedly she kept himgoing.

  Presently he began to lurch against her less heavily and lessfrequently; and soon, his head hanging low in humiliation, he startedshiveringly to mumble out an abject apology. She cut him short.

  "We've no time for apologies. There's work to be done. Is your headclear enough to understand?"

  "I think so," he said humbly, albeit somewhat thickly.

  "Listen then! And listen hard!"

  Briefly and clearly she outlined to him her discoveries and told himof the documents she had just secured. She did not realize it, butthis recital of hers was, for the purpose of sobering him, better farthan a douche of ice-water, better far than walking in the tinglingair. She was appealing to, stimulating, the most sensitive organ ofthe born newspaper man, his sense of news. Before she was through hehad come to a pause beneath a sputtering arc light, and wasinterrupting her with short questions, his eyes ablaze withexcitement.

  "God!" he ejaculated when she had finished, "that would make thegreatest newspaper story that ever broke loose in this town!"

  She trembled with an excitement equal to his own.

  "And I want you to make it into the greatest newspaper story that everbroke loose in this town!"

  "But to-morrow the voting----"

  "There's no to-morrow about it! We've got to act to-night. You mustget out an extra of the _Express_."

  "An extra of the _Express_!"

  "Yes. And it must be on the streets before that mass-meeting breaksup."

  "Oh, my God, my God!" Billy whispered in awe to himself, forgettinghow cold he was as his mind took in the plan. Then he started awayalmost on a run. "We'll do it! But first, we've got to get thepress-room gang."

  "I've seen to that. I think we'll find them waiting at the office."

  "You don't say!" ejaculated Billy. "Miss West, to-morrow, when there'smore
time, I'm going to apologize to you, and everybody, for----"

  "If you get out this extra, you won't need to apologize to anybody."

  "But to-night, if you'll let me," continued Billy, "I want you to letme say that you're a wonder!"

  Katherine let this praise go by unheeded, and as they hurried towardthe Square she gave him details she had omitted in her outline. Whenthey reached the _Express_ office they found Old Hosie, who told themthat the foreman and the mechanical staff were in the press-room. Ashout from Billy down the stairway brought the foreman running up.

  "Do you know what's doing, Jake?" cried Billy.

  "Yes. Mr. Hollingsworth told me."

  "Everything ready?"

  "Sure, Billy. We're waiting for your copy."

  "Good! First of all get these engraved." He excitedly handed theforeman Katherine's two documents. "Each of 'em three columns wide.We'll run 'em on the front page. And, Jake, if you let those get lost,I'll shoot you so full of holes your wife'll think she's married to ascreen door! Now chase along with you!"

  Billy threw off his drenched coat, slipped into an old one hanging ona hook, dropped into a chair before a typewriter, ran in a sheet ofpaper, and without an instant's hesitation began to rattle off thestory--and Katherine, in a sort of fascination, stood gazing at thatworth-while spectacle, a first-class newspaperman in full action.

  But suddenly he gave a cry of dismay and his arms fell to his sides.

  "My mind sees the story all right," he groaned. "I don't know whetherit's that ice-water or the drink, but my arms are so shaky I can't hitthe keys straight."

  On the instant Katherine had him out of the chair and was in hisplace.

  "I studied typewriting along with my law," she said rapidly. "Dictateit to me on the machine."

  There was not a word of comment. At once Billy began talking, and thekeys began to whir beneath Katherine's hands. The first page finished,Billy snatched it from her, gave a roar of "Copy!" glanced it throughwith a correcting pencil, and thrust it into the hands of anin-rushing boy.

  As the boy scuttled away, a thunderous cheering arose from the CourtHouse yard--applause that outsounded a dozen-fold all that had gonebefore.

  "What's that?" asked Katherine of Old Hosie, who stood at the windowlooking down upon the Square.

  "It's Blake, trying to speak. They're giving him the ovation of hislife!"

  Katherine's face set. "H'm!" said Billy grimly, and plunged again intohis dictation. Now and then the uproar that followed a happy phrase ofBlake almost drowned the voice of Billy, now and then Old Hosie fromhis post at the window broke in with a sentence of description of thetumultuous scene without; but despite these interruptions the storyrattled swiftly on. Again and again Billy ran to the sink at the backof the office and let the clearing water splash over his head; hiscollar was a shapeless rag; he had to keep thrusting his dripping hairback from his forehead; his slight, chilled body was shivering inevery member; but the story kept coming, coming, coming, a living,throbbing creation from his thin and twitching lips.

  As Katherine's flying hands set down the words, she thrilled as thoughthis story were a thing entirely new to her. For Billy Harper,whatever faults inheritance or habit had fixed upon him, was areporter straight from God. His trained mind had instantly seized uponand mastered all the dramatic values of the complicated story, and hisEnglish, though crude and rough-and-tumble from his haste, was vividpassionate, rousing. He told how Doctor West was the victim of a plot,a plot whose great victim was the city and people of Westville, andthis plot he outlined in all its details. He told of Doctor Sherman'spart, at Blake's compulsion. He told of the secret league betweenBlake and Peck. He declared the truth of the charges for which Brucewas then lying in the county jail. And finally--though this he did atthe beginning of his story--he drove home in his most nerve-twangingwords the fact that Blake the benefactor, Blake the applauded, was thedirect cause of the typhoid epidemic.

  As a fresh sheet was being run into the machine toward the end of thestory there was another tremendous outburst from the Square,surpassing even the one of half an hour before.

  "Blake's just finished his speech," called Old Hosie from the window."The crowd wants to carry him on their shoulders."

  "They'd better hurry up; this is one of their last chances!" criedBilly.

  Then he saw the foreman enter with a look of concern. "Any thingwrong, Jake?"

  "One of the linotype men has skipped out," was the answer.

  "Well, what of that?" said Harper. "You've got one left."

  "It means that we'll be delayed in getting out the paper. I hadn'tnoticed it before, but Grant's been gone some time. We're quite a bitbehind you, and Simmons alone can't begin to handle that copy as fastas you're sending it down."

  "Do the best you can," said Billy.

  He started at the dictation again. Then he broke off and calledsharply to the foreman:

  "Hold on, Jake. D'you suppose Grant slipped out to give the storyaway?"

  "I don't know. But Grant was a Blake man."

  Billy swore under his breath.

  "But he hadn't seen the best part of the story," said the foreman."I'd given him only that part about Blake and Peck."

  "Well, anyhow, it's too late for him to hurt us any," said Billy, andonce more plunged into the dictation.

  Fifteen minutes later the story was finished, and Katherine leanedback in her chair with aching arms, while Billy wrote a lurid headlineacross the entire front page. With this he rushed down into thecomposing-room to give orders about the make-up. When he returned hecarried a bunch of long strips.

  "These are the proofs of the whole thing, documents and all, exceptthe last part of the story," he said. "Let's see if they've got it allstraight."

  He laid the proofs on Katherine's desk and was drawing a chair upbeside her, when the telephone rang.

  "Who can want to talk to us at such an hour?" he impatientlyexclaimed, taking up the receiver.

  "Hello! Who's this?... What!... All right. Hold the wire."

  With a surprised look he pushed the telephone toward Katherine.

  "Somebody to talk to you," he said.

  "To talk to me!" exclaimed Katherine. "Who?"

  "Harrison Blake," said Billy.

 
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