The Clarion by Samuel Hopkins Adams - HTML preview
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"Never write with a hot pen." Thus runs one of McGuire Ellis's golden rules of journalism. Had his employer better comprehended, in those early days, the Ellisonian philosophy, perhaps the "Heredity" editorial might never have appeared. Now, as it lay before him in proof, it seemed but the natural expression of a righteous wrath.
"Neither Kathleen Pierce nor her father can claim exemption or consideration in this instance," Hal had written, in what he chose to consider his most telling passage. "Were it the girl's first offense of temerity, allowance might be made. But the city streets have long been the more perilous because of her defiance of the rights of others. Here she runs true to type. She is her father's own daughter. In the light of his character and career, of his use of the bludgeon in business, of his resort to foul means when fair would not serve, of his brutal disregard of human rights in order that his own power might be enhanced, of his ruthless and crushing tyranny, not alone toward his employees, but toward all labor in its struggle for better conditions, we can but regard the girl who left her victim crushed and senseless in the gutter and sped on because, in the words of her own bravado, she 'had a train to catch,' as a striking example of the influence of heredity. If the law which she so contemptuously brushed aside is to be aborted by the influence and position of her family, the precept will be a bitter and dangerous one. Much arrant nonsense is vented concerning the 'class-hatred' stirred up by any criticism of the rich. One such instance as the running-down of Miss Cleary bears within it far more than the extremest demagoguery the potentialities of an unleashed hate. It is a lesson in lawlessness."
Still in the afterglow of composition, Hal, tinkering lightly with the proofs, felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Well, Boy-ee," said the voice of Dr. Surtaine.
"Hello, father," returned Hal. "Sit down. What's up?"
"I've just had a message from E.M. Pierce."
"Did you obey a royal command and go to his office?"
"Neither did I."
"With you it's different. You're a younger man. And Elias M. Pierce is the most powerful—um—er—well, as powerful as any man in Worthington."
"Outside of this office, possibly."
"Don't you be foolish, Boy-ee. You can't fight him."
"Nor do I want to," said Hal, a little chilled, nevertheless, by the gravity of the paternal tone. "But when he comes in here and dictates what the 'Clarion' shall and shall not print—"
"About his own daughter."
"News, father. It's news."
"News is what you print. If you don't print it, it isn't news. Isn't that right? Well, then!"
"Not quite. News is what happens. If no paper published this, it would be current by word of mouth just the same. A hundred people saw it."
"Anyway, tone your article down, won't you, Boy-ee?"
"I'm afraid I can't, Dad."
"Of course you can. Here, let me see it."
McGuire Ellis looked up sharply, his face wrinkled into an anxious query. It relaxed when Hal handed the editorial proof to the Doctor, saying, "Look at this, instead."
Dr. Surtaine read slowly and carefully. "Do you know what you're doing?" he said, replacing the strip of paper.
"I think so."
"That editorial will line up every important business man in Worthington against you."
"I don't see why it should."
"Because they'll see that none of 'em are safe if a newspaper can do that sort of thing. It's never been done here. The papers have always respected men of position, and their business and their families, too. Worthington won't stand for that sort of thing."
"It's true, isn't it?"
"All the more harm if it is," retorted Dr. Surtaine, thus codifying the sum and essence of the outsider's creed of journalism. "Do you know what they'll call you if you print that? They'll call you an anarchist."
"Probably," agreed the journalist.
"Every friend and business associate of Pierce's will be down on you."
"The whole angry hive of capital and privilege," confirmed Ellis.
"You see," cried the pleader; "you can't print it. Publishing an article about Kathleen Pierce will be bad enough, but it's nothing to what this other roast would be. One would make Pierce hate you as long as he lives. The other will make the whole Business Interests of the city your enemy. How can you live without business?"
"Business isn't as rotten as that," averred Hal. "If it is, I'm going to fight it."
"Fight business!" It was almost a groan. "Tell him, Ellis, what a serious thing this is. You agree with me in that, don't you?"
"And that the 'Clarion' can't afford to touch the thing at all? You're with me there, too, aren't you?"
"You're going to stand by and see my boy turn traitor to his class?"
"Damn his class," said McGuire Ellis, in mild, conversational tones.
"As much as you like," agreed the other, "in talk. But when it comes to print, remember, it's our class that's got the money."
"Wouldn't it be a refreshing change," suggested Ellis, "to have one paper in Worthington that money won't buy?"
"All very well, if you were strong enough." The wily old charlatan shifted his ground. "Wait until you've built up to it. Then, when you've got the public, you can afford to be independent."
"Get your price and then reform. Is that the idea, Father?" said Hal.
"Boy-ee, I don't know what's come over you lately. Journalism seems to have got into your blood."
"Blame Ellis. He's been my preceptor."
"Both of you have got your lesson to learn."
"Well, I've learned one," asserted Hal: "that it's the business of a newspaper to print the news."
"There's only one sound business principle, success. When it costs you more to print a thing than not to print it, it's bad business to print it."
"I'm sorry, Dad, but the 'Clarion' is going to carry this to-morrow."
"In case you're nervous about Mr. Pierce," put in McGuire Ellis with Machiavellian innuendo, "I can pass it on to him that you're in no way responsible for the 'Clarion's' policy."
"Me, afraid of Elias M. Pierce?" Our Leading Citizen's prickly vanity was up in arms at once. "I'll match him or fight him dollar for dollar, as long as my weasel-skin lasts. No, sir: if Hal's going to fight, I'll stick by him as long as there's a dollar in the till."
"It's mighty good of you, Dad, and I know you'd do it. But I've made up my mind to win out or lose out on the capital you gave me. And I won't take a cent more."
"That's business, too, son. I like that. But I hate to see you lose. By publishing your editorial you're committing your paper absolutely to a policy, and a fatal one. Well, I won't argue any more. But I haven't given up yet."
"Well, that's over," said Hal, as his father departed, gently smoothing down his silk hat. "And I hope that ends it."
"Do you?" McGuire Ellis raised a tuneful baritone in song:—
"‘You may think you've got 'em going,’ said the bar-keep to the bum. ‘But cheer up And beer up. The worst is yet to come!’
"Unless my estimate of E.M. Pierce is wrong," he continued, "you'll begin to hear from the other newspapers soon."
So it proved. Advertising managers called up and talked interminably over the telephone. Editors-in-chief wrote polite notes. One fellow proprietor called. By all the canons of editorial courtesy they exhorted Mr. Surtaine to hold his hand from the contemplated sacrilege against their friend and patron, Elias M. Pierce. Equally polite, Mr. Surtaine replied that the "Clarion" would print the news. How much of the news would he print? All the news, now and forever, one and inseparable, or words to that effect. Painfully and protestingly the noble fellowship of the free and untrammeled press pointed out that if the "Clarion" insisted on informing the public, they too, in self-defense, must supply something in the way of information to cover themselves, loth though they were so to do. But the burden of sin and vengeance would rest upon the paper which forced them into such a course. Still patient, Hal found refuge in truism: to wit, that what his fellow editors chose to do was wholly and specifically their business. From the corollary, he courteously refrained.
Meantime, the object of Editor Surtaine's scathing had not been idle. To the indignant journalist, Miss Kathleen Pierce had appeared a brutal and hardened scion of wealth and injustice. This was hardly a just view. Careless she was, and unmindful of standards; but not cruel. In this instance, panic, not callousness, had been the mainspring of her apparent cruelty. She was badly scared; and when her angry father told her what she might expect at the hands of a "yellow newspaper," she became still more badly scared. In this frame of mind she fled for refuge to Miss Esmé Elliot.
"I didn't mean to run over her," she wailed. "You know I didn't, Esmé. She ran out just like a m-m-mouse, and I felt the car hit her, and then she was all crumpled up in the gutter. Oh, I was so frightened! I wanted to go back, but I was afraid, and Phil began to cry and say we'd killed her, and I lost my head and put on speed. I didn't mean to, Esmé!"
"Of course you didn't, dear. Who says you did?"
"The newspaper is going to say so. That awful reporter! He caught me at the station and asked me a lot of questions. I just shook my head and wouldn't say a word," lied the frightened girl. "But they're going to print an awful interview with me, father says. He's furious at me."
"In what paper, Kathie?"
"The 'Clarion.' Father says the other papers won't publish anything about it, but he can't stop the 'Clarion.'"
"I can," said Miss Esmé Elliot confidently.
The heiress to the Pierce millions lifted her woe-begone face. "You?" she cried incredulously. "How?"
"I've got a pull," said Esmé, dimpling.
A light broke in upon her suppliant. "Of course! Hal Surtaine! But father has been to see him and he won't promise a thing. I don't see what he's got against me."
"Don't worry, dear. Perhaps your father doesn't understand how to go about it."
"No," said the other thoughtfully. "Father would try to bully and threaten. He tried to bully me!" Miss Pierce stamped a well-shod foot in memory of her manifold wrongs. Then feminine curiosity interposed a check. "Esmé! Are you engaged to Hal Surtaine?"
"No, indeed!" The girl's laughter rang silvery and true.
"Are you going to be?"
"I'm not going to be engaged to anybody. Not for a long time, anyway. Life is too good as it is."
"Is he in love with you?" persisted Kathleen.
Esmé lifted up a very clear and sweet mezzo-soprano in a mocking lilt of song:—
"How should my heart know What love may be?"
The visitor regarded her admiringly. "Of course he is. What man wouldn't be! And you've seen a lot of him lately, haven't you?"
"I'm helping him run his paper—with good advice."
"Oh-h-h!" Miss Pierce's soft mouth and big eyes formed three circles. "And you're going to advise him—"
"I'm going to advise him ver-ree earnestly not to say a word about you in the paper, if you'll promise never, never to do it again."
The other clasped her in a bear-hug. "You duck! I'll just crawl through the streets after this. You watch me! The police will have to call time on me to make sure I'm not obstructing the traffic. But, Esmé—"
Kathleen caught her hand and snuggled it up to her childishly. "How often do you see Hal Surtaine?"
"You ought to know. There's something going on every evening now. And he goes everywhere."
"Yes: but outside of that?"
Esmé laughed. "How hard you're working to make a romance that isn't there. I go to his office once in a while, just to see the wheels go 'round."
"And are you going to the office now?"
"No," said Esmé, after consideration. "Hal Surtaine is coming here. This evening."
"You have an appointment with him?"
"Not yet. I'll telephone him."
"Father telephoned him, but he wouldn't come to see father. So father had to go to see him."
"Mahomet! Well, I'm the mountain in this case. Go in peace, my child." Esmé patted the other's head with an absurd and delightful affectation of maternalism. "And look in the 'Clarion' to-morrow with a clear assurance. You shan't find your name there—unless in the Social Doings column. Good-bye, dear."
Having thus engaged her honor, the advisor to the editor sat her down to plan. At the conclusion of a period of silent thought, she sent a telephone message which made the heart of young Mr. Surtaine accelerate its pace perceptibly. Was he too busy to come up to Greenvale, Dr. Elliot's place, at 8.30 sharp?
Busy he certainly was, but not too busy to obey any behest of his partner.
That was very nice of him. It would take but a few minutes.
As many minutes as she could use, she might have, or hours.
Then he was to consider himself gratefully thanked and profoundly curtsied to, over the wire. By the way, if he had a galley proof of anything that had been written about Kathleen Pierce's motor accident, would he bring that along? And didn't he think it quite professional of her to remember all about galleys and things?
Highly professional and clever (albeit in a somewhat altered tone, not unnoted by the acute listener). Yes, he would bring the proof. At 8.30, then, sharp.
"The new boss of our new boss," Wayne had styled the charming interloper, on the occasion of her first visit to the "Clarion" office. Had she heard, Esmé would have approved. More, she would have believed, though not without misgivings. Well she knew that she had not yet proved her power over her partner. Many and various as were the men upon whom, in the assay of her golden charm, she had exercised the arts of coquetry, this test was on a larger scale. This was the potential conquest of an institution. Could she make a newspaper change its hue, as she could make men change color, with the power of a word or the incitement of a glance? The very dubiety of the issue gave a new zest to the game.
Behold, now, Miss Esmé Elliot, snarer of men's eyes and hearts, sharpening her wits and weapons for the fray; aye, even preparing her pitfall. Cunningly she made a bower of one end of the broad living-room at Greenvale with great sprays of apple blossoms from the orchard, ravishing untold spoilage of her mother and forerunner, Eve, for the bedecking of the quiet, cozy nook. Pink was ever her color; the hue of the flushing of spring, of the rising blood in the cheek of maidenhood, and the tenderest of the fruit-blooms was not more downy-soft of tint than the face it bent to brush. At the close of the task, a heavy voice startled her.
"What's all this about?"
"Uncle Guardy! You mustn't, you really mustn't come in on tiptoe that way."
"Stamped like an elephant," asserted Dr. Elliot. "But you were so immersed in your floral designs—What kind of a play is it?"
She turned upon him the sparkle of golden lights in wine-brown eyes. "It's a fairy bower. I'm going to do a bewitchment."
"Upon what victim?"
"Upon a newspaper. I'm going to be a fairy godmother sort of witch and save my fosterchild by—by arointing something out of print."
"Arointing it. Don't you know, you say, 'Aroint thee, witch,' when you want to get rid of her? Well, if a witch can be arointed, why shouldn't she aroint other things?"
"All very well, if you understand the process. Do you?"
"Of course. It's done 'with woven paces and with waving arms.' 'Beware, beware; her flashing eyes, her float—'"
"Stop it! You shall not make a poetry cocktail out of Tennyson and Coleridge, and jam it down my throat; or I'll aroint myself. Besides, you're not a witch, at all. I know you for all your big cap, and your cloak, and the basket on your arm. 'Grandmother, what makes your teeth so white?'"
"No, no. I'm not that kind of a beastie, at all. Wrong guess, Guardy."
"Yet there's a gleam of the hunt about you. Is it, oh, is it, the Great American Pumess that I have the honor to address?"
She made him a sweeping bow. "In a good cause."
"About which I shall doubtless hear to-morrow?"
"Don't I always confess my good actions?"
"At what hour does the victim's dying shriek rend the quivering air?"
"Mr. Surtaine is due here at half past eight."
"Humph! Young Surtaine, eh? Shy bird, if it has taken all this time to bring him down. Well, run and dress. It's after five and that gives you less than three hours for prinking up, counting dinner in."
Whatever time and effort may have gone to the making of the Great American Pumess's toilet, Hal thought, as he came down the long room to where she stood embowered in pink, that he had never beheld anything so freshly lovely. She gave him a warm and yielding hand in welcome, and drew away a bit, surveying him up and down with friendly eyes.
"You're looking unusually smart to-night," she approved. "London clothes don't set so well on many Americans. But your tie is askew. Wait. Let me do it."
With deft fingers she twitched and patted the bow into submission. The touch of intimacy represented the key in which she had chosen to pitch her play. Sinking back into a cushioned corner of the settee, she curled up cozily, and motioned him to a chair.
"Draw it around," she directed. "I want you where you can't get away, for I'm going to cast a spell over you."
"Going to?" The accent on the first word was stronger than the reply necessitated.
"Do many people ask favors of an editor?"
"More than enough."
"And is the editor often kind and obliging?"
"That depends on the favor."
"Not a little bit on the asker?"
"Naturally, that, too."
"Your tone isn't very encouraging." She searched his face with her limpid, lingering regard. "Did you bring the proofs?"
"Yes." Still holding his eyes to hers, she stretched out her hand to receive the strip of print, "Do you think I'd better read it?"
"Then I will."
Studying her face, as she read, Hal saw it change from gay to grave, saw her quiver and wince with a swiftly indrawn breath, and straightened his spine to what he knew was coming.
"Oh, it's cruel," she said in a low tone, letting the paper fall on her knee.
"It's true," said Hal.
"Oh, no! Even if it were, it ought not to be published."
"Because—" The girl hesitated.
"Because she's one of us?"
"No. Yes. It has something to do with my feeling, I suppose. Why, you've been a guest at her house."
"Suppose I have. The 'Clarion' hasn't."
"Isn't that rather a fine distinction?"
"On the contrary. Personally, I might refrain from saying anything about it. Journalistically, how can I? It's the business of the 'Clarion' to give the news. More than that: it's the honor of the 'Clarion.'"
"But what possible good will it do?"
"If it did no other good, it would warn other reckless drivers."
"Let the police look to that. It's their business."
"You know that the police dare do nothing to the daughter of Elias M. Pierce. See here, Partner,"—Hal's tone grew gentle,—"don't you recall, in that long talk we had about the paper, one afternoon, how you backed me up when I told you what I meant to do in the way of making the 'Clarion' honest and clean and strong enough to be straight in its attitude toward the public? Why, you've been the inspiration of all that I've been trying to do. I thought that was the true Esmé. Wasn't it? Was I wrong? You're not going back on me, now?"
"But she's so young," pleaded Esmé, shifting her ground before this attack. "She doesn't think. She's never had to think. Your article makes her look a—a murderess. It isn't fair. It isn't true, really. If you could have seen her here, so frightened, so broken. She cried in my arms. I told her it shouldn't be printed. I promised."
Here was the Great American Pumess at bay, and suddenly splendid in her attitude of protectiveness. In that moment, she had all but broken Hal's resolution. He rose and walked over to the window, to clear his thought of the overpowering appeal of her loveliness.
"How can I—" he began, coming back: but paused because she was holding out to him the proof. Across it, in pencil, was written, "Must not," and the initials, E.S.M.E.
"Kill it," she urged softly.
"And my honesty with it."
"Oh, no. It can't be so fatal, to be kind for once. Let her off, poor child."
Hal stood irresolute.
"If it were I?" she insisted softly.
"If it were you, would you ask it?"
"I shouldn't have to. I'd trust you."
The sweetness of it shook him. But he still spoke steadily.
"Others trust me, now. The men in the office. Trust me to be honest."
Again she felt the solid wall of character blocking her design, and within herself raged and marveled, and more deeply, admired. Resentment was uppermost, however. Find a way through that barrier she must and would. Whatever scruples may have been aroused by his appeal to her she banished. No integer of the impressionable sex had ever yet won from her such a battle. None ever should: and assuredly not this one. The Great American Pumess was now all feline.
She leaned forward to him. "You promised."
"Have you forgotten?"
"I have never forgotten one word that has passed between us since I first saw you."
"Ah; but when was that?"
"Seven weeks ago to-day, at the station."
"Fifteen years ago this summer," she corrected. "You have forgotten," She laughed gayly at the amazement in his face. "And the promise." Up went a pink-tipped finger in admonition. "Listen and be ashamed, O faithless knight. 'Little girl, little girl: I'd do anything in the world for you, little girl. Anything in the world, if ever you asked me.' Think, and remember. Have you a scar on your left shoulder?"
The effort of recollection dimmed Hal's face. "Wait! I'm beginning to see. The light of the torches across the square, and the man with the knife.—Then darkness.—was unconscious, wasn't I?—Then the fairy child with the soft eyes, looking down at me. Little girl, little girl, it was you! That is why I seemed to remember, that day at the station, before I knew you."
"Yes," she said, smiling up at him.
"How wonderful! And you remembered. How more than wonderful!"
"Yes, I remembered." It was no part of her plan—quite relentless, now—to tell him that her uncle had recounted to her the events of that far-distant night, and that she had been holding them in reserve for some hitherto undetermined purpose of coquetry. So she spoke the lie without a tremor. What he would say next, she almost knew. Nor did he disappoint her expectation.
"And so you've come back into my life after all these years!"
"You haven't taken back your proof." She slipped it into his hand. "What have you done with my subscription-flower?"
"The arbutus? It stands always on my desk."
"Do you see the rest of it anywhere?"
Her eyes rested on a tiny vase set in a hanging window-box of flowers, and holding a brown and withered wisp. "I tend those flowers myself," she continued. "And I leave the dead arbutus there to remind me of the responsibilities of journalism—and of the hold I have over the incorruptible editor."
"Does it weigh upon you?" He answered the tender laughter in her eyes. "Only the uncertainty of it."
"Do you realize how strong it is, Esmé?"
"Not so strong, apparently, as certain foolish scruples." A soft color rose in her face, as she half-buried it in a great mass of apple blossom. From the mass she chose a spray, and set it in the bosom of her dress, then got to her feet and moved slowly toward him. "You're not wearing my colors to-night." This was directed to the white rose in his buttonhole. He took it out and tossed it into the fireplace.
"Pink's the only wear," declared the girl gayly. With delicate fingers she detached a little luxuriant twig of the bloom from her breast, and set it in the place where the rose had been. Her face was close to his. He could feel her hands above his heart.
"Please," she breathed.
"What?" He was playing for time and reason.
"For Kathleen Pierce. Please."
His hand closed over hers. "You are bribing me."
If she said it again, she knew that he would kiss her. So she spoke, with lifted face and eyes of uttermost supplication. "For me. Please."
Men had kissed Esmé Elliot before; for she had played every turn of the game of coquetry. Some she had laughed to scorn and dismissed; some she had sweetly rebuked, and held to their adoring fealty. She had known the kiss of headlong passion, of love's humility, of desperation, even of hot anger; but none had ever visited her lips twice. The game, for her, was ended with the surrender and the avowal; and she protected herself the more easily in that her pulses had never been stirred to more than the thrill of triumph.
In Hal Surtaine's arms she was playing for another stake. So intent had she been upon her purpose that the guerdon of the modern Venus Victrix, the declaration of the lover, was held in the background of her mind. For a swift, bewildering moment, she felt his lips upon hers, the gentlest, the tenderest pressure, instantly relaxed: then the sudden knowledge of him for what he was, a loyal and chivalrous gentleman thus beguiled, burned her with a withering and intolerable shame. Simultaneously she felt her heart go out to him as never yet had it gone to any man, and in that secret shock to her maidenhood, the coquette in her waned and the woman waxed.
She drew back, quivering, aghast. With all the force of this new and tumultuous emotion, she hoped for her own defeat: yearned over him that he should refuse that for which she had unworthily pressed. Yet, such is the perversity of that strange struggle against the great surrender, that she gathered every power of her sex to gain the dreaded victory. By an effort she commanded her voice, releasing herself from his arms.
"Wait. Don't speak to me for a minute," she said hoarsely.
"But I must speak, now,—dear, dearest."
"Am—am I that to you?" The feline in her caught desperately at the opportunity.
"Always. From the first."
"Let me atone with the rest of my life for that treason." He laughed happily.
"You keep your promise, then, to the little girl?" At her feet lay the galley proof. Birdlike she darted down upon it, seized, and tore it half across. "No: you do it," she commanded, thrusting it into his hand.
No longer was he master of himself. The kiss had undermined him. "Must I?" he said.
Victorious and aghast, she yet smiled into his face. "I knew I could believe in you," she cried. "You're a true knight, after all. I declare you my Knight-Editor. No well-equipped journalistic partnership should be without one."
Perhaps had the phrase been different, Hal might have yielded. So narrow a margin of chance divides the paths of honor and dishonor, to mortals groping dimly through the human maze. But the words were an echo to wake memory. Rugged, harsh, and fine the face of McGuire Ellis rose before Hal. He heard the rough voice, with its undertone of affection beneath the jocularity of the rather feeble pun, and it called him back like a trumpet summons to the loyalty which he had promised to the men of the "Clarion." He slipped the half-torn paper into his pocket.
"I can't do it, Esmé."
"No." Finality was in the monosyllable.
She looked into his leveled and quiet eyes, and knew that she had lost. And the demon of perversity, raging, stung her to its purposes.
"After this, you tell me that you can't, you won't?"
"Dearest! You're not going to let it make a difference in our love for each other."
"Our love! You go far, and fast."
"Do I go too far, since you have let me kiss you?"
"I didn't," she cried.
"Then you meant nothing by it?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "You are trying to take advantage of a position which you forced," she said coldly.
"Let me understand this clearly." He had turned white. "You let me make love to you, in order to entrap me and save your friend. Is that it?"
No reply came from her other than what he could read in compressed lips and smouldering eyes.
"So that is the kind of woman you are." There were both wonder and distress in his voice. "That is the kind of woman for whose promise to be my wife I would have given the heart out of my body."
At this the tumult and catastrophe of her emotion fused into a white hot, illogical anger against this man who was suffering, and by his suffering made her suffer.
"Your wife? Yours?" She smiled hatefully. "The wife of the son of a quack? You do yourself too much honor, Hal Surtaine."
"I fear that I did you too much honor," he replied quietly.
Suffocation pressed upon her throat as she saw him go to the door. For a moment the wild desire to hold him, to justify herself, to explain, even to ask forgiveness, seized her. Bitterly she fought it down, and so stood, with wide eyes and smiling lips. At the door he turned to look, with a glance less of appeal than of incredulity that she, so lovely, so alluring, so desirable beyond all the world, a creature of springtime and promise embowered amidst the springtime and promise of the apple-bloom, could be such as her speech and action proclaimed her.
Hal carried from her house, like a barbed arrow, the memory of that still and desperate smile.