The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
On an evening in October, returning home at an early hour, Keith found Nan indignant and excited. She held in her hand a tiny newspaper, not half the usual size, consisting only of a single sheet folded.
"Have you seen this?" she burst out as Keith entered. "Isn't it outrageous!"
Keith was tired, and sank into an easy chair with a sigh of relaxation.
"No, what is it?" he asked, reaching his hand for the paper. "Oh, the new paper. I saw them selling it on the street yesterday."
It was the Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2. Like all papers of that day, and like some of the English papers now, its first page was completely covered with small advertisements. A thin driblet of short local items occupied a column on the third and fourth pages, a single column of editorial on the second.
"Seems a piffling little sheet," he observed, "to be read in about eight seconds by any one not interested in advertisements. What is it that agitates you, Nan?"
"Read that." She pointed to the editorial.
The article in question proved to be an attack on Palmer, Cook & Co. It said nothing whatever about the Cohen-Naglee robbery. Its subject was the excessive rentals charged the public by Palmer, Cook & Co. for postal boxes. But it mentioned names, recorded specific instances, avoided generalities, and stated plainly that this was merely beginning at the beginning in an expose of the methods of these "Uriah Heeps."
"Why do they permit such things?" cried Nan, scarcely waiting for Keith to finish his reading, "What is Mr. Palmer going to do about it?"
"Survive, I guess," replied Keith, with a grin. "I take back my opinion of the paper. It certainly has life." He turned to the head of the page. "Hullo!" he cried in surprise. "James King of William running this, eh?" He whistled, then laughed. "That promises to be interesting, sure. He was in business with that crowd for some time. He ought to have information from the inside!"
"Mrs. Palmer is simply furious," said Nan.
"I'll bet she is. Are we invited out this evening?"
"The Thurstons' musicale. I thought you'd be interested in that."
"Let me off, Nan, that's a good fellow," pleaded Keith, whose weariness had vanished. "I'd be delighted to go at any other time. But this is too rich. I must see what the gang has to say."
"I suppose I could drop Ben Sansome a note," assented Nan doubtfully.
"Do! Send the Chink around with it," urged Keith, rising. "I'll get a bite downtown and not bother you."
The gang--as indeed the whole city--took it as a great joke. Of those Keith met, only Jones, the junior partner, failed to see the humour, and he passed the affair off in cavalier fashion. That did not save him from the obligation of setting up the drinks.
"I'm going to fix this thing up in the morning," he stated confidently. "Between you and me, there's evidently been a slip somewhere. Of course it ought never to have been allowed to go so far. I'll see this man King first thing in the morning, and buy him off. Undoubtedly that's about the only reason his paper exists. Wonder where he got the money to start it? He's busted. It can't last long."
"If it keeps up the present gait, it'll last," said Judge Caldwell shrewdly. "Me--I'm going to send in a subscription tomorrow. Wouldn't miss it for anything."
"It'll last as long as he does," growled Terry, "and that'll be about as long as a snowball in hell. What you ought to do, Jones, is what any man of spirit ought to do--call him out!"
"He announces definitely that he won't fight duels," said Calhoun Bennett.
"Then treat him like the cowardly hound he is," flared the uncompromising Terry. "Take the whip to him; and if that isn't effective, shoot him down as you would any other mad dog!"
"Surely, that's a little extreme, Judge," expostulated Caldwell. "He hasn't done anything worse than stir up Jonesy a little."
"But he will, sir," insisted Terry, "you mark my words. If you give him line, he'll not only hang himself, but he'll rope in a lot of bystanders as well."
"I'll bet he sells a lot of papers to-morrow, anyhow," predicted Keith.
"I hope so," bragged Jones. "There'll be the more to read his apology."
Evidently Jones fulfilled his promise, and quite as evidently Keith's prediction was verified. Every man on the street had a copy of the next day's Bulletin within twenty minutes of issue.
A roar of delight went up. Jones's visit was reported simply as an item of news, faithfully, sarcastically, and pompously. There was no comment. Even the most faithful partisans of Palmer, Cook & Co. had to grin at the effectiveness of this new way of meeting the impact of such a visit,
"It's clever journalism," Terry admitted, "but it's blackguardly; and I blame Jones for passing it over."
The fourth number--eagerly purchased--proved more interesting because of its hints of future disclosures rather than for its actual information. Broderick was mentioned by name. The attention of the city marshal was succinctly called to the disorderly houses and the statutes concerning them; and it was added, "for his information," that at a certain address a structure was actually building at a cost of $30,000 for improper purposes. Then followed a list of personal bonds and sureties for which Palmer, Cook & Co. were standing voucher, amounting to over two millions.
The expectations of disclosures, thus aroused, were not immediately gratified, except in the case of Broderick. His swindles in the matters of the Jenny Lind Theatre and the City Hall were traced out in detail. Every one knew these things were done, but nobody knew just how; so these disclosures made interesting reading if only as food for natural curiosity. However, the tension somewhat relaxed. It was generally considered that the coarse fibre of the ex-stone-cutter, the old Tammany heeler, and the thick skins of his political adherents could stand this sort of thing. Nobody with a sensitive honour to protect was assailed.
The position of the new paper was by now firmly established. It had a large subscription list; it was eagerly bought on the streets; and its advertising was increasing. King again turned his attention to Palmer, Cook & Co. Each day he treated succinctly, clearly, without rhetoric, some branch of their business. By the time he had finished with them he had not only exposed their iniquities, he had educated the public to an understanding of the financial methods of the times. His tilting at this banking firm had inevitably led him to criticism of certain of their subterfuges to avoid or take advantage of the law; and that as inevitably brought him to analysis and condemnation of the firm's legal advisers, James, Doyle, Barber & Boyd, a firm which had heretofore enjoyed a good reputation. Incidentally he called attention to duelling, venal newspapers, city sales, gambling, Billy Mulligan, Wooley Kearney, Casey, Cora, Yankee Sullivan, Martin Gallagher, Tom Cunningham, Ned McGowan, Charles Duane, and many other worthies, both of high and low degree. Never did he fear to name names and cite specific instances plainly. James King of William dealt in no innuendoes. He had found in himself the editor he had wished for, the man who would call a spade a spade.
The Bulletin twice enlarged its form. It sold by the thousand. Its weapon of defence was the same as its weapon of offence--pitiless and complete publicity. Measures of reprisal, either direct or underhand, undertaken against him, King published often without comment.
At the first some of the cooler heads thought it might be well to reason with him.
"The man has run a muck," said old Judge Girvin, "and while I am far from denying that In many--perhaps in most--cases his facts are correct, still his methods make for lawlessness among the masses. It might be well to meet him reasonably, and to expostulate."
"I'd expostulate--with a blacksnake," growled the fiery Terry.
A number waited on King. Keith was among them. They found his office in a small ramshackle frame building, situated in the middle instead of alongside one of the back streets. It had probably been one of the early small dwelling-houses, marooned by a resurvey of the streets, and never since moved. King sat in his shirtsleeves before a small flat table. He looked up at them uncompromisingly from his wide-apart steady eyes.
"Gentlemen," he greeted them tentatively.
Judge Girvin seated himself impressively, his fat legs well apart, his beaver hat and cane poised in his left hand; the others, grouped themselves back of him. The judge stated the moderate case well. "We do not deny any man the right to his opinion," he concluded, "but have you reflected on the effect such an expression often has on the minds of those not trained to control?"
King listened to him in silence.
"It seems to me, sir," he answered, when Judge Girvin had quite finished, "that if abuses exist they should be exposed until they are remedied; and that the remedy should come from the law."
"What is your impelling motive?" asked the judge. "Why have you so suddenly taken up this form of activity? Do you feel aggrieved in any way-- personally?"
"My motive in starting a newspaper, if that is what you mean, is the plain one of making an honest if modest living. And, incidentally, while doing so, I have some small idea of being of public use. I have no personal grievance; but I am aggrieved, as every decent man must be, at the way the lawyers, the big financial operators, and the other blackguards have robbed the city," stated King plainly.
Judge Girvin, flushing, arose with dignity,
"I wish you good-day, sir," he said coldly, and at once withdrew.
Keith had been watching King with the keenly critical, detached, analytical speculation of the lawyer. He carried away with him the impression of a man inspired.
At the engine house, to which the discomfited delegation withdrew, there was more discussion.
"The man is within his legal rights so far," stated Judge Girvin. "If any of his statements are libellous, it is the duty of the man so libelled to institute action in the courts."
"He's too smooth for that," growled Jones.
"He'll bite off more than he can chew, if he keeps on," said Dick Blatchford comfortably. "He's stirring up hornets' nests when he monkeys with men like Yankee Sullivan. He's about due for an awful scare, one of these days, and then he'll be good."
"Do you know, I don't believe he'll scare," said Keith suddenly, with conviction.