Hold the Sweep Line!
A bit of breath-taking drama from the newsroom where Romance sits cheek by jowl with Cynical Realism
G. H. SALLANS
BUZZ! Three quick, angry rings.
That was Joe’s signal to the news desk from the composing room upstairs. Joe was the mechanical foreman.
“Now, what’s the grief?” Hardy Waring picked up the receiver of the private phone. He got what he expected—an earful.
“Blazes! All right, Joe.” He slammed up the receiver.
“Hold down, boys,” he hollered to the news room. “Boil it. We got no space. Tabloid. You got that, Buck?”
When he said that, he meant everybody—copy readers, reporters, city editor—must cut all stories short.
“Yeh.” Buck Johnson, the imperturbable city editor, drew his pencil unconcernedly through a half page of civic report. “Gonna jump it, Hardy?”
To “jump it” meant to increase the paper by two pages.
“Can’t,” barked Hardy, the energetic, middle-sized, sleuth-faced and rather nervous news editor of the Melton Daily Argus. “Too late to go up two for the first edition.”
With critical vigor Hardy fell on sundry stories thrown in the news basket by copy readers and by Bert Wade, the sardonic telegraph operator. Half an hour till deadline. Half an hour to find news worth those sensational headlines the Argus used in its first edition for this bustling mid-western Canadian city.
A bay brought grief from the advertising department in the shape of two free “readers” for advertisers. McNeill, the boss, had put his “O.K.” on them and had sent some “sacred cow” along for good measure. That meant the entire ensemble had to be used. “Sacred cow” is so labelled out of the boss’s hearing, for it is material not in the regular day’s news. It is an elastic term which applies to various types of feature stories. Hardy eyed both “sacred cow” and “readers” askance.
“How the devil do I get room for deadheads?” he groaned. “Got a mile of news now to jam in and no place to put it. Boy, copy!” An office boy took accumulated copy to the printers.
Hardy turned to the telegraph editor with relief. “How’s that hold-up story? Three shot—nobody killed. Too bad. That’s the hottest we got? What’s this? Ten burned to death. Pretty good— damn, it’s in Poland!”
CUCH was a busy morning on the ^ Argus. Copy coming from all sides. Typewriters clacking. Telegraph editor cutting dispatches to pieces. A reporter scratching a match on a “no-smoking” sign.
“Now here’s more trouble!” But this time Hardy’s face changed and he seemed to welcome it. Two girls emerged from the society editor’s office. Hardy’s pulse quickened. Past and present, he called them, in relation to his heart. He pretended an errand that took him away from the big horseshoeshaped news desk, and near to them.
What a difference between the two! The thought was inevi' table when he saw them together. Both about twenty-three, but there the likeness ended. Miriam Bennett, demure and blonde, his confiding, sometimes appealing, but altogether capable and fascinating society editor; could handle matrons or flappers with equal ease. And Sidney Louise—there was a girl for you. A brunette in appearance and nature. Stunning. Eyes that blazed or melted but were never dull. A candid, modern girl who would talk about anything — and nothing else, unless she herself chose to. Miriam would gain her ends by that almost plaintive reliance of hers, which was really a pose. But Sidney was herself in any mood; no dissimulation. If you didn’t like it—well, she, too, seemed to gain her own way, invariably.
And her dad was the richest man in town. That fur she wore must have cost a thousand .
She promoted some charity organization on a one-girl dictatorship basis, and publicity for it was the business that brought her here so early in the morning, Hardy knew. The two girls talked briskly for a moment. Hardy contrived to pass them busily, just as they parted. He got the full force of Miss Millet’s smile as she turned, and in spite of a blasé front he caught his breath. As dazzling as ever. To think they’d been engaged once! It had lasted three weeks.
“Good morning, Sidney,” he said, unemotionally, as if he had just become aware of her. And her smile vanished.
“How do you do?” she returned, nodding curtly. When Sidney made a nod curt it stayed curt. It was curt to the quick. Then she elevated her chin slightly and swept past him. Hardy went back to the desk pretending to himself it wasn’t a rebuff.
Miriam followed him. “I’ll need some extra space,” she cooed to Hardy. “About two columns, I think.”
“Two columns!’’ Hardy glared with mock impressiveness. “Say, space this morning’s like hen’s teeth
. . .” And then, as she knew he would, he rang for the foreman upstairs.
“Say, give—yes, I want Joe. Who the —yes, Joe. Give society some slopover space—lemmesee. Page sixteen—Well, it’s got to go!”
Miriam flashed him a beaming smile and retired triumphant. Hardy’s glare softened when she smiled like that. He permitted himself two seconds to follow her with an approving glance. Irresistible girl, Miriam. Pliable nature, too. She comforted you, flattered you. Their engagement was inevitable, of course—some day, he felt convinced. They’d been together a long time in the office. He’d propose eventually . . .
“XTE SNAPPED out of it suddenly, for the city editor was on the phone. Excited—Buck Johnson excited! Hardy listened. Copy went through his hands automatically.
The city editor hung up. “Looks like a good one, Hardy. Young Bill Millet . . .”
“What, him again?” Sarcasm from Hardy. For his near-awe of Sidney Louise was only exceeded by his contempt for her brother.
“Yeh. Slim Dill just phoned it from the police station. Fight in a gambling joint. Happened shortly after midnight. Police were hushing it. Old man Millet made them after he bailed Bill out. Bill says he was alone. Witnesses say there was a young woman with him. She disappeared. Over on Fourteenth Street—tough district—hang-out for yeggs—dozen arrested, some of ’em well known. I got George taking it over the phone from Slim.”
George was a “rewrite” man who took stories over the phone from reporters and wrote them in the office.
Hardy hesitated a second. Millet! Owned department store, director in banks and corporations. Prominent in clubs and church. Heavy advertiser. Father of Sidney Louise and Bill—
He rang for the foreman again. “Joe, hold the sweep line! Hot story coming,” he bawled into the phone. “Let’s have it fast,” this to the city editor.
George rolled in the story in double-quick time. The city editor scanned it and passed it on to Hardy. “Worth a play,” he suggested, meaning a big headline.
“I’ll say so,” breathed Hardy, elated. “Boy, copy!”
A bumptious young devil, Bill Millet, he thought. Sleek looking, the kind that liked a good time and knew how to get it. Came around the Argus a lot, and too familiar with Miriam. Darnedest family to hang around newspaper offices anyway. “Why don’t they get a job here,” Hardy would often fume. He longed to humble Bill. Wished Miriam would tell him off. It was no use, though. Miriam wouldn’t. And stuff like that rolled off Bill, anyway. Different from his sister, he was.
But Hardy stifled the painful thought. It was irony that he had never been able to fight with Bill, with whom he craved strife, and that he couldn’t help fighting with Sidney Louise, with whom he craved peace.
And he had to confess he liked that trait in her. She was imperious. She might stamp her foot, but she would never pout or implore, he felt. First time she saw him, in the society editor’s office, she high-hatted him. And Hardy, quick to respond, had out-high-hatted her. They disputed on every possible occasion afterward, and that mutuality of conflict seemed to draw them together. Anyway, he’d fallen completely and smartly in love with her. Asked her to marry him. To his amazement she said she would, for Sidney Louise was smitten as hard as he was. But one day they fought harder than usual, and she said she wouldn’t marry him, not if he was the last man on earth. And Hardy retorted that he’d take good care he’d always have company. Then he had committed the fatal mistake of assuming it was over.
Well, he realized now, you might make Sidney mad, might even box her ears, and still she’d like you. But you couldn’t snub her . . .
He thrilled in anticipation of the headline on Bill. If it wasn’t for Sidney Louise . . .
Oh, devil take Sidney Louise! He swore vengefully he didn’t love her.
The boss brought him out of his reverie with a bang by coming up from his office on the dead run. The boss wore glasses, and when critical he lifted his head and seemed to look under them.
“Hardy,” he puffed, “what’s that story about Bill Millet?”
Hardy told him succinctly. “We got all the names of those arrested,” he added. And the boss nodded sympathetically but firmly.
V\ TE’LL have to kill the story, Hardy,” he announced * * with devastating calmness.
Hardy’s eyes popped, but they unpopped at once. Such bombs are the usual thing. One must be used to them.
“Mr. Millet’s told me the whole affair,” said the boss, looking under his glasses. “Under the circumstances we’d better smother it.”
“The page is made up by now!” Hardy exploded, though he knew it was futile. He was smaller than the boss, but more aggressive.
“Well, we’ll have to hold the paper a few minutes. Got any other story you can put a line on?” This was the boss’s sop to professional pride, like socking a man with a hammer and then congratulating him on his hard head.
Hardy barked an earful through the phone to the foreman, and got an earful in return.
“The old man’s a good friend of ours,” the boss went on. “He argues that such publicity is bad for young people and does nobody any good. Says this is his son’s first offense.”
“First offense!” snorted Hardy wrathfully, “That bird’s first offense was in being born.”
The boss grinned indulgently, as if to say: “Yes, I know how you feel. I passed through that stage once myself.”
T—TARDY took Miriam to a dinner-dance that night.
Really a girl of parts, he thought, admiring her. Good looking, snappy clothes, knew the smart people in town. Had grey eyes and a mouth that drooped without pouting. Lips to be kissed. She leaned flatteringly close, and talked animatedly of the people they saw. She had that knack of intimacy, of tête-à-tête, that pleased Hardy.
Under the glow of music, soft lights, relaxation, he appreciated her even more than in the office. Friendly without being effusive. Didn’t thrill him like Sidney
. . he brought himself up sharply. No languishing glances, but the quick response of a girl who can mix affection with business. Her hand would touch his impulsively to emphasize a remark, Like a child she seemed . . . did she regard him as a brother? Was their friendship platonic? He determined it should not be, for the sake of revenge on . . . again he caught himself. She was extraordinarily pretty tonight.
It was the city’s leading hotel, and they called this the Egyptian Grill. The best people went, including Sidney Louise Millet.
Hardy realized that with a shock when Miriam touched his arm as they sat at their table between numbers.
“Look who’s here,” Miriam whispered without enthusiasm. Hardy looked guardedly. Sidney Louise wore a ravishing gown and a new escort. The gown was like a flame. The escort was tanned, tall and dressed immaculately. He dangled a monocle and spoke with a raised eyebrow.
“What is it?” Hardy whispered irreverently, just to show he felt casual. In truth he felt no such thing. One didn’t, when Sidney Louise was near.
Their glances met. Hardy arose and bowed almost imperceptibly. Sidney Louise flashed a smile, triumphant, arrogant. She was enjoying her triumph as people nudged and surveyed this handsome newcomer with her. For a moment she seemed about to bring her friend over to the table. Then her eyes went to Miriam and her smile froze. She tilted her head, took his arm a little more possessively, treated Hardy to a short, cold glance, and they passed on to a table at some distance.
Hardy shook off the spell, sat down, took a deep breath.
“She sort of cut us, didn’t she?” suggested Miriam, without rancour, and her eyes laughed into Hardy’s.
“Two column cut,” Hardy assented absently.
“You know why,” Miriam added, with a hint of mischief as she saw his face darken.
“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Hardy rather shortly.
He wondered why Miriam didn’t show some hostility. She had reason, he thought, and she didn’t have to take anything from Sidney Louise. She knew his feelings, too.
He plunged into talk to hide his brief confusion. Miriam, still mischievous, took an opportunity to mention Bill Millet.
Hardy indulged in a mild explosion.
“Why, there’s nothing wrong with Bill,” Miriam purred, looking up at him from under long lashes.
“Give me mayhem when I think of that guy,” said Hardy impressively. “He’s one case where murder should not only be permissible; it oughta be compulsory.”
MIRIAM laughed gaily. “You goose,” she chided him affectionately. “Bill’s just a rich man’s son. He likes a good time and he’s really a nice boy.”
“So you women all say,” countered Hardy crossly. He drummed with his fingers. “Wonder who that guy is she’s with.” He came back to Sidney Louise again.
“Oh, don’t you know? That’s the Honorable Burtson Manford. He’s the eldest son of the Earl of Egglespur. Been visiting with his cousin, that Duke who has a ranch out in Alberta. Now he’s a guest of the Millets. They’re no end excited about him. Reception in his honor tomorrow evening.”
“Oh, yeh.” Hardy nodded, vaguely remembering an item about the future earl. “How come the Millets hooked up with him?”
“Why, it seems that old Mr. Millet knew the Duke in some way, and that Manford wrote them from Calgary that he was stopping in Melton. He’s travelling incognito in Canada. He’s really Lord Manford and he comes into the earldom when his father dies.”
“Hum. Have his picture?” Hardy looked bored.
“No, he had none. Begged off and said he hated having his picture in the papers and wanted to remain unmolested as he’d been all through his trip.”
“Old stuff,” Hardy scoffed. “They all hand out that line. Just ignore them and see what they say.”
“No, he’s honestly exclusive. By the way, speaking of pictures, I’ll need some space . . ”
“There you go again!” Hardy protested good naturedly. And shop talk intruded.
Their animation intrigued Sidney Louise. She looked their way. She softened. Passing their table after a dance, she tugged at her titled partner and brought him over.
Introductions. Hardy suggested politely that they join. The eldest son of an earl was practically human, he found. And he didn’t tell Hardy that he was charmed with the city, or that he found economic conditions splendid, or that Melton was destined to be the biggest city in Canada. Which was reason enough for any newspaperman to like him. Hardy failed to get excited. But Sidney Louise was obviously thrilled within an inch of her life. Out of all proportion, he thought.
The Honorable Burtson asked Miriam to dance. Hardy saw them go uneasily, feeling as if this were a frame, with Sidney Louise as chief framer. He suddenly had no conversation. She accepted his strained mood instantly and watched the dancers. Hardy asked her stiffly to dance, escorted her formally to the floor, worked at small talk.
“You never pay any attention to me any more,” she said all at once, ignoring his trite remarks and bending on him a look full of high voltage. He looked down into her eyes and felt himself slipping. For when Sidney Louise looked at him like that, there was only one hope—a sort of newspaperman’s prayer:
“Oh, Lord, give me more space!”
“I never have a chance,” Hardy stalled aloud, secretly revelling in the thrill of close contact, even while he fought against it. His cheek brushed a wave of her hair lightly.
“You mean you never take one,” she breathed tantalizingly.
“Not when you have lords around.”
She made a gesture of impatience. Was she tired of him, then? Hardy exulted.
“But he’s not around—just at this minute,” she whispered.
“He’s a guest,” Hardy sulked.
“You were a guest, too—until you were naughty and quarrelled.”
“That’s because I don’t like your father,” objected Hardy with harsh irrelevance. “Or your mother,” he put in for good measure.
And then in a rush of remorse he apologized for being rude. But she laughed at him. “I don’t blame you for not getting on with father,” she allowed, dropping coquetry. “I’m the only one he’s actually afraid of. And mother’s a fearful nonentity.”
You had to hand it to Sidney, he conceded. She wasn’t narrow, and there was something powerfully alluring about her. At times he felt he hated her. But not now. Not in this mood. If it hadn’t been for Lord Egglespur’s firstborn, Hardy would have been happy. He thawed out extensively and they became friendly. Some of the raillery of other days came back, and Hardy felt a glow of happiness.
But when the dance was over, Sidney Louise, always capricious, suddenly bade Hardy and Miriam a cool good evening, flashed a dazzling smile on Manford and suggested that they mustn’t intrude on hospitality. She did it subtly, cruelly, as only she could do it.
Hardy was puzzled. Perhaps he hadn’t played up to her mood . . . But which mood? She had so many . . . Oh, the devil with all the Millets!
His evening was spoiled.
TRY to get a picture of that bird and run it with the reception story,” Hardy advised Miriam next day, and was too busy to notice the queer look she gave him. Perhaps she was thinking about the evening before.
His eye fell on the weather “probs” that lay on his desk. “Fair and mild indicated.” That was Miriam, fair and mild. Not Sidney Louise, he decided comfortlessly. Frosts there. Frosts or hot weather—blistering hot. He wished suddenly that he had more money, more prominence, not so that he could coax her to marry, but so that he could get more kick out of ignoring her. He had an invitation to the reception tonight. Wasn’t going. Pleaded work and sent a formal reply. He hoped it would hurt, but feared it wouldn’t.
The thought made him vicious. An unoffending story about disarmament came under his hand at that moment. He took his feelings out on it. “Here, this cussed thing’s too long! Chop it. Chop the gizzard out of it. Boy, copy!”
The managing editor was on his holidays and Hardy had a busy time. But his staff worked like a well-oiled machine. That was the boss’s policy of putting every man on his own responsibility, and Hardy used the same principle. Miriam, for instance. He hardly knew what she had till the paper came off the press.
No wonder the storm caught him off his guard, then, when it broke next day. The “home” edition had just appeared when an excited boss called him on the phone from his downstairs office.
“What happened to that story about the Millets’ reception, Hardy?” the boss demanded, and even through the phone Hardy could see him looking under his glasses.
Hardy felt an area of low pressure descend on him. “Why, isn’t it all right?” he stalled, holding the receiver with one hand while he pawed a paper with the other to get the society page.
“There isn’t any story,” said the boss coldly. “Millet’s on the phone raising the dickens. Is Miss Bennett there? Better bring her right down.”
“My hat!” Hardy gasped, and dived for the society room. “What’s the idea?” he demanded. “No Millet story!”
Miriam looked up under big lashes and nodded demurely. “Yes, there is.” And she pointed to the “Social and Personal” column. A brief paragraph mentioned the reception. No mention of the guest of honor, no details. Hardy stared incredulously, first at the paper, then at Miriam.
“But that’s no story!” he burst out.
“It’s all it was worth,” said Miriam serenely.
“All it was—say, let’s hear you say that to the boss. He’s wild. I don’t get you, Miriam. You lost your nose for news or something?”
They had it hot and heavy in the boss's office.
“Millet’s especially sore,” said the boss, frowning under his glasses, “because he had an announcement to make. He intimated that it was the engagement of his daughter to Manford.”
Hardy suppressed a gasp, but professional wont overcame the personal shock. This was news, big news and the Argus had missed it.
“Melton girls don’t marry earl’s sons every day, you know,” said the boss sarcastically. “Millet demands you be dismissed. You didn’t even attend the reception.”
Hardy threw one startled, sorrowful look at Miriam, then came loyally to her defense. His heart sank, though, when the boss added that Millet had complained of being frequently neglected in the society page accounts of social events.
“Henceforth, Hardy, you’ve got to see these stories get in the paper.”
“It wasn’t Hardy’s fault, Mr. McNeill,” Miriam put in sweetly. “He took my word for it. The blame’s on me alone.”
“Well, you’ll have to take the consequences,” said the boss, and Hardy started a sigh of relief. For that, with McNeill, meant that the episode was over.
But Miriam’s eyes blazed in sudden unaccountable anger. “Do you mean I’m dismissed over that miserable affair?” she asked. “If that’s the case you’re too late. I quit five minutes ago!”
Hardy leaped to his feet, started to speak, sat down again. What in the name of insanity ailed Miriam !
He tried to patch it up. But Miriam bit her lip and the boss looked under his glasses, and the best Hardy could do was arrange for her to finish out the week.
He followed her out of the office. “Why in heck did you fall down on that?” he began in the bluff way they often spoke to each other. But she threw him an incomprehensible glance over her shoulder, fled to her office and closed the door.
Conscience smote Hardy. He hadn’t needed to talk like that. Now the poor kid was likely sobbing, thought nobody loved her. He went firmly to her office and opened the door.
MIRIAM was laughing as if she hadn’t a care in the world. And there, with a broad grin, was Bill Millet, the detestable youth whose first offense had been in being born.
“Hello, Waring,” Bill said.
“How are you?” returned Hardy shortly. “Beg pardon,” he said stiffly to Miriam. “I’d like to see you a moment, when you have time.” With his last ounce of sarcasm in the last four words, he backed out, puzzled and hot.
His conscience bothered him all that evening. It made him frantic to see Miriam lose her job over such an affair. But when she was so superior and blasé about it and had that young pup around, what could he do? For a moment he spitefully suspected her of being the young woman with Bill when the gambling joint was raided. But the idea was so grotesque, it hurt and he discarded it in sheer self-protection. Yes, he was jealous, he admitted fiercely.
HE WAS in a black humor next morning and was glad Miriam didn’t appear to ask for extra space. Let her try and get it this morning!
He was surrounded at once by the city editor and Slim Dill, the long-legged police reporter who worked with his hat on.
“Say, Hardy,” said Buck. “Slim’s been working on this bird Manford. Bill Millet gave him the tip. He’s not the Earl of Egglespur’s son at all. Slim says he’s a con’ man.”
“What!” Hardy’s heart leaped. “Where did you get that?”
Slim drew a diagram on a sheet of paper. He always drew a diagram when he explained anything. “I remember that bird over in Minnesota. He did a jail term. I was working in Duluth when he got away with a fake-stock deal there. I’d know him in a million.”
“Do the police know?”
“Sure. They got this guy’s record and his prints. I tipped ’em off. They got the goods on him. Warned Millet, and the old man’s sworn out a warrant. I’m gonna beat it down to the police station now. Police won’t talk, but I’ll dig it up and phone you the whole story.”
Slim shifted his hat. There was no “if” about him when he did that. It was either “I got it” or “I’ll get it.”
“Keep Slim right on it,” cried Hardy excitedly to the city editor. “Put the whole staff on it if you have to.” Then in a burst of caution: “But for Pete’s sake be careful. This is dynamite where Millet’s concerned!”
“Good one on Miss Bennett,” grinned Buck. “She’ll be tickled to death to hear this. By the way, Hardy, what happened to her? She’s not in yet.”
“What—no society!” Hardy shouted. And her deadline nine o’clock, a few minutes away. She had to have her stories all in by then. He found no trace of her in her office. Then he dashed for the composing room. Followed an exciting and profane session, sorting out the type of all the society news sent up the evening before. He returned to the editorial office in a terrific mood.
An agitated city editor hailed him. “Hey, Hardy, Miss Bennett’s been arrested!”
“Arrested?” roared Hardy. “Where? Why?”
“Yep. Bill Millet and her. His old man bailed them out. Speeding. Cop ordered them to stop and Bill stamped on it. Cop shot a hole in his tire. Musta thought he was a hijacker.”
“Local girl makes good,” commented Bert Wade, the sardonic telegraph editor, without looking up.
Hardy snorted, unable to do anything else.
“They were out to the Red Fox roadhouse. Raided. Made their getaway,” Buck added. Then his phone rang.
“Hello—that you, Slim?”
An electric thrill shot through Hardy. Now for it!
Buck on the phone: “Yeh, shoot. Eh —What’s that? Holy smoke!”
Hardy ran toward him, glared at him as if to read in his face what he was hearing, then peered at the meaningless notes the city editor was making.
"DOY, it’s real stuff,” cried Buck, after switching Slim’s call to a rewrite man’s phone. “This guy, Manford. They went to serve a warrant on him late last night, and he’d eloped with Mrs. Millet’s oil stock, some the old man gave her last Christmas. Don’t know how much else yet. Plenty. Went to the Red Fox last night with Sidney Louise in the old man’s Rolls.
“Cops figured they’d get him when he returned. Millet had them waiting. Then the provincial police raided the Red Fox.
Looking for liquor and roulette. Manford thought they were after him. Beat it with Sidney Louise and they headed for the border. Haven’t been seen since. Bill Millet and Miriam were there in Bill’s car. They knew what was up, or say they did. They went after him. They were caught. Manford’s away. So is Miss Millet.” “Rush the story,” yelped Hardy. “We got twenty minutes to get thepaper away.” Buck looked at him queerly, his brief, unwonted excitement gone now. “Hey,” he objected, “we’ll get in wrong with this. Better see the boss, hadn’t we?”
“Sure, tell him the whole thing. But shoot me that story fast.” Hardy rang for the mechanical foreman.
“Hold the sweep line!” he bawled into the phone, and Joe swore at him through the phone as only a foreman can swear when an eight column headline on the front page is changed at the last minute. That was Joe’s way—swear till the air was scarlet, then go ahead and do what he had just vowed by all the forms of life could not bo done.
Hardy barked instructions to Buck about tbe story.
“The boss ain’t in,” Buck reported, breaking in.
“Let ’er go anyway,” roared Hardy. And he dived for the stairs to the composing room.
“What the devil we gonna tell Millet?” “Tell him to go to blazes, if he calls,” snapped Hardy over his shoulder. “I’m editor here!”
Upstairs Hardy saw the line go into type across the steel from where the front page was being put together:
BOGUS EARL’S SON ROBS
MELTON HOSTESS, FLEES
The city editor sent him the story paragraph by paragraph, as fast as the rewrite man tore if off his typewriter. Hardy danced around on his toes. Then the phone, Buck’s voice from the editorial room:
“Hardy! Flash! They got Manford at the boundary line. Goods on him!” “Sidney Louise with him?”
“No. No sign of her.”
Hardy gave orders how to handle the new development, then rushed for the printer’s proof of the headlines. He drew his pencil through them and wrote:
FAKE LORD ARRESTED AS THIEF, HEIRESS MISSING
Another breathless few minutes and it was over. Hardy relaxed. And then for the first time the enormity of what he had done had a chance to sink in.
He had defied them. It meant his job, likely. He knew that story would never run as it was if the boss and Millet had been consulted.
Well, let them fire him. But oh, boy, what a sweet story! What a luscious revenge! And Sidney Louise—he caught his breath. What had happened to her?
Then he saw Miriam and Bill Millet enter the editorial room and make swiftly for the society office. He half rose, a queer pain in his heart at sight of her. Miriam, the demure, the hopelessly indispensable, sneaking in here from jail, with that mistake of creation tagging along.
The papers came from the press room, blazoned his story to the world. The first yelp of a newsboy sounded his knell. He waited to see the paper, then headed for Miriam’s office. Bill sat close to her. She was clearing odds and ends out of her desk. She looked up defiantly as Hardy stormed in.
“Of all the dumb tricks!” he exploded. “Why didn’t you phone the police if you wanted to stop him? A fine mess you got into—and left us in!”
“We had no time. Bill said . .
“Bill!” Hardy chopped out the word and withered that person with a look. Bill blew cigarette smoke out of his nose. “Do you have to do what Bill tells you?” “You don’t know the real story, Waring,” Bill began, cupping a knee in his hands.
An uproar in the editorial office interrupted him. Millet’s voice. Bill looked for a place to hide, found none, shrugged complacently and awaited developments.
' 1 'HERE’S DAD, ”he observed tranL quilly, and grinned. “What’ll we do?” “You’ve done plenty,” Hardy blazed at him. “You two been in jail and your dad bailed you out. And Sidney Louise is missing.”
“Oh, Sis is O.K.,” Bill scoffed. “I’m sorry for anybody that kidnaps her.” Millet, outside the door, was demanding to see Hardy. Hardy braced himself. Here was his stance and he’d stick to it.
Miriam started to speak, eyes opened wide, the picture of innocence. But Millet broke in apoplectically and thunderously. His face was red right up to the roots of his grey hair. His hard blue eyes stuck out like peeled onions. His hat was crooked.
“Where’s Waring?” he demanded, and rushed at him. Hardy shifted to the over-my-dead-body defense position.
“I’ll have you fired for this,” Millet said in a terrible voice. “I told McNeill to keep this quiet. Fine mess of notoriety for me. I’ll be the laughingstock of the town!”
“That’s a lotta hooey, Dad,” put in Bill calmly. “You can’t keep a story like that outa the papers.”
“You keep quiet!” Millet whirled furiously on his offspring. “Get out of here. You’ve made enough trouble now.” He turned back to Hardy.
“Where’s McNeill? We’ll get to the bottom of this thing, right now. Fake lord—securities stolen—heiress missing— Bah !” With an inarticulate howl he tore the paper he held into shreds.
“It’s all true,” Hardy defended stoutly. “True be damned. It’s blithering nonsense and you know it. I know where my daughter is ...”
“You do!” Hardy cried eagerly.
“Why, she’s—none of your business. There was no elopement—nothing of the kind.”
“We never said there was an elopement.”
“Well, you left that impression, you yellow ...”
“That’s enough, Millet!” Hardy broke in sternly. “Don’t be personal.”
“Personal!” howled Millet, shaking with rage. “What’s this but personal? All this rubbish about my daughter ...” “How do you know it’s rubbish?” A shrill voice behind them. They whirled as if on pivots. It was Sidney Louise, slightly dishevelled, muddy and mad, hopping mad. Her black eyes blazed. Her party dress was torn. The very fur in her wrap bristled. She held a torn front page of the Argus. She waved it in her father’s face.
“Sidney!” he ejaculated, and bounded at her. “Where did you come from?”
She dodged the embrace. “I came in a rural taxicab,” she flared. “A fine lot you cared whether I ever got home.”
“The whole police force is looking for you,” her father broke in. “We thought you’d been kidnapped.”
“Kidnapped!” Sidney’s scorn was the finest thing Hardy had seen. “And what do you suppose I’d be doing about that time?”
“Well, what did happen?” thundered her father.
^ “Nothing, except that we went to the Red Fox and they raided it for liquor, and Burtson thought they were after him. He told me to come on, that we didn’t want to be caught there. Bill and Miriam were there, too.” She swept them with a resentful and defiant glance.
“We got in the car. I thought we were coming back to town, but he headed the other way and drove like a fiend. I told him to turn around at once and he wouldn’t. So I fought with him . . . and he whirled up a sideroad and stopped. And I got out.” She swallowed, caught her breath and rushed on:
“I told him I wouldn’t get in again till he promised to turn and come home. His answer was to drive away and leave me. I knew Bill was chasing us. But before I got back to the highway he must have passed. I walked a mile before I found a gas station, and sat there for hours till they found a car to bring me back. And then you ask me where I’ve been !”
“A fine adventure,” Millet burst out, with what was left of a first-rate fatherly bluster. “Fine for my daughter—• dumped out on the road by a criminal!”
“And if it hadn’t been for me he’d have been across the line,” Sidney blazed. “He wanted me to go with him to the roadhouse after that reception, and I would not.”
“I told you he was a fake, Sis,” observed Bill, composedly, with a wary eye on his father and a touch of admiration for his sister.
“As if I didn’t know!” Sidney’s scorn was shrivelling.
“Well, that’s got nothing to do with the story in this paper,” her father threatened, brushing the dispute aside with fresh vigor. “I’ll fix this young . . .” “You’ll do nothing of the sort,” Sidney exclaimed, and shook a slim finger in his face. He stepped back before her torrent of words. “You may be thankful it’s not a lot worse. It gives you credit for setting the police on Manford and helping to catch a criminal—which you never did. What more do you want?”
“Gives me the credit?” Millet’s face changed to a deeper hue. “I didn’t see that. Where?” He dived into the torn paper. “They called me and I wouldn’t tell them a thing. Told the reporter there was nothing to it.”
Hardy indulged in a smile, thinking of Slim Dill’s third-degree methods.
“You’d better read the story before you make any more fuss about it,” Sidney advised him with searing sarcasm. “No, thanks to you the paper didn’t print that silly rumor about us being engaged. You tried to bully me into it. You wanted it. And if it hadn’t been for the Argus, the police would never have caught Manford at all.
“I wish they hadn’t,” Millet groaned. “I’d sooner he got away with the oil stock than have this get out. It could have been traced, anyway.”
“Yes, and perhaps you could trace mama’s jewels and mine,” Sidney cried.
Millet bounced off the floor. “Jewels!” he gasped. “What jewels?”
“Mama’s diamond necklace and her pendant,” Sidney said with sudden ominous calm, now that she had the floor. “And a brooch and two of my rings.” “Good lord!” Millet gasped in horror. “Does McNeill know about it . . . where the devil is McNeill anyway? I’ve got to see him, or they’ll publish that, too.”
He bounded out of the office. A masterly retreat, with colors flying. Sidney Louise flashed defiance at Hardy.
T GUESS that will hold him,” she said, *with a “don’t thank me” look.”
“I give up,” Hardy confessed. “I’m just waiting till the axe falls, anyway.” “It won’t fall, not on father’s account,” said Sidney Louise more softly. And the suspicion of a smile lighted her eyes at his puzzled look. “He’s so pleased about the paper saying he knew all about Manford. He didn’t know a thing, really, till someone else told him. And then it might have been too late.”
“But that story about Bill being in jail. We ran all that. How come he never even mentioned it?”
“And he won’t. You see, father thought they’d eloped . .
“Eloped !” It was Hardy’s turn to gasp. He whirled on Bill and Miriam. They were shamelessly in each other’s arms by now. Miriam wriggled free and blushed.
“You see, Mr. Millet was hot about my going with Bill,” she explained, a little breathlessly, now that she had a chance to talk, as if hurrying to finish before she was stopped. “He thought all the girls were just playing Bill for what they could get out of him, and mostly getting him into trouble. He said Bill was hopeless and it was time he was taken in hand.” “Not such a bad guess. Well, you made a fine start, anyway,” Hardy said with considerable sarcasm.
“Yes, pretty good,” assented Miriam, with a mock sigh, and drooped long lashes over her eyes. “I—I married him. We were just celebrating it, that’s all.” Hardy sat down suddenly. “Well, you’re good!” he marvelled, and mopped his forehead. “Some alibi !”
All at once he came to his Jeet with a whoop. “Alibi!” he shouted. “I got it! Do you know who’s got the finest little alibi in town? McNeill—the boss himself!” His eyes popped at the enormity of the idea. “He’s been out of the office for two hours. Long enough to let me have carte blanche with this story !”
He broke off and stared with an odd expression at Bill and Miriam—they were all but oblivious. Then at Sidney Louise. Laughed weakly.
“Bill’s given us a few good stories, even if your dad did kill them for us,” he said resignedly. “This partly makes it up. But it’s no recompense for taking away a perfectly good society editor.”
“Well, father gave the Argus a story about me and you didn’t use it,” Sidney flashed back, and there was a sudden suspicious catch in her voice. “I’d be mortified to death if any report like that got around.”
“It won’t,” Hardy vowed. “And I know a darned good way to stop it.”
Her eyes widened hopefully. “What is that?”
Hardy took her grimly in his arms. “Start a better one.”