"I tell ye there's yeast a-stirring," he told the state committee. "There's a fellow come up out of the Eleventh Ward in Marion that's some punkins in organizing. He pretends to be a law student in Arch Converse's law-office. He ain't a native. I don't know where he hails from. He ain't a registered voter as yet. But he's a man who needs to be trailed."
"Squire Converse isn't in politics, Dan. You're getting notional in your old age," said the committeeman from Breed's county.
"But good gad! there ain't any statute to keep him out. Something has happened to make him good and mad. Some of these fancy jumping-jacks can make awful leaps when the box is opened, gents! Better take warning from what I tell you!"
The committeemen exchanged smiles.
"We are going to steal a little of the kid-gloved chaps' thunder," explained the chairman. "They have been howling about machine politics and interlocking interests and air-tight methods until the people are growling about the close corporation they say we've got. So we're going to show 'em a thing or two. Nothing like frankness and open house."
"Gor-ram it, you ain't even square with me—after I have worked politics with you for twenty-five years!" He marched up to the table and rapped his hard little knuckles on it. "It's this way, gents," he said, "and I'll be short and sweet. What's the matter with politics when a man like I've always been gets pi-oogled out of the councils?"
"We don't need workers like you any more," stated the chairman.
"But there's politics to play, just the same."
"But in a different way, Breed. There are the new ideas, and new men can operate more efficiently. They won't attract attention."
"Old Maid Orne down in my town came into church late and crawled up the aisle on her hands and knees so as not to attract attention. And she broke up the meeting!"
"We've got to fall in with the new ways, Dan," said the attorney-general. "These are touchy times. We must be careful of the party."
"I 'ain't never disgraced it, have I?"
"Uncle Dan, we want you to take a good, comfortable position and settle down," affirmed Governor Alonzo Harwood, an unctuous, rubicund gentleman who had been listening, smiling his everlasting smile.
"I prefer to hold myself in readiness for a call to the field," squalled Breed. "I'm better'n three of these young snydingles. They don't know how to organize!"
"There isn't much chance for organizing," said a Congressman, placatingly. "The primaries take care of themselves pretty well."
"Yes," sneered old Dan, "a fellow thinks well of himself, or else his neighbors tell him he can save the nation, and he puts a piece in the paper saying how good he is and sets pictures of himself up in store winders like a cussed play-actor, keeps a cash account, and thinks that's politics. I don't care if there ain't ever no more caucuses. This thing ain't going to last. I want to keep in the field. I'll see chances to heave trigs into the spokes of these hallelujah chariots they're rolling to political glory in!"
The mighty ones exchanged glances—deprecating glances—apprehensive glances.
"You don't think I'm dangerous, do you, after I've been in politics as long as I have?"
"No, but we feel that the old war-horses are entitled to run to pasture with their shoes off," coaxed the chairman.
"It seems to me more like tying me up to a stanchion in a stall. I ain't ungrateful, gents. I know this younger element doesn't believe in setting hens in politics any more. It's the incubator nowadays—wholesale job of it. But, by dadder! my settings have always cracked the shells, twelve to the dozen! Then you don't want me, eh?"
"That job in the state land-office—we thought it would just about fit you," suggested the chairman.
"I'd just as soon be sent to state prison—solitary confinement. The state hasn't got any land any more. It has all been peddled out to the grabbers. I've messed and mingled with men all my life. Nobody ever comes into the land-office. You ain't afraid of me to that extent, be you?"
"What do you want?" asked the governor.
"Settled, is it, you don't want me in politics?"
"There isn't anything for you to do," declared his Excellency, and he showed a little impatience, though his smile did not fade.
"Well, then make me state liberian," said old Dan, with an air of resignation.
There was deep and horrified silence.
"I'm developing literary instinks," explained Breed. "I've got a son who owns a printing-office, and my granddaughter can take down anything in shorthand and write it off. I'm going to write a book. She'll take it down and he'll print it."
"I can't appoint you state librarian," said the governor, getting control of his emotions. "It's already tied up, that appointment. Keep it under your hat, but I have selected Reverend Doctor Fletcher, of Cornish, and have notified him."
"Giving a plum like that to a parson who never controlled but one vote, and that's his own—and then voted the way the deacon told him to? I reckon it's about as you say—there are new times in politics. All right! I'll go and climb a sumach-bush. You needn't bother about any job for me, gents. I'll settle down to my literary work."
"What is the book?" asked the chairman.
"I have your word for it that the old days in politics have all gone by," said Breed. "All the old things dead and buried! Very well. That's going to make my book valuable and interesting. No harm in putting it out in these times. I shall entitle it 'Breed's Handbook of Political Deviltry.' I shall tell the story of how it was done when politics was really politics."
"Going to tell all you know?" inquired the governor.
"Of course. Truth, and not poetry, will be my motto. And just for a test of how popular it will be, I'd like to ask you gents how many of you will subscribe for a volume?"
"I think this committee will take the whole edition," said the chairman, dryly.
"Look here, Dan," blurted the attorney-general, "you must be joking."
"I don't know what ever gave you the impression that I'm a humorist," returned Breed. "If there ain't going to be anything more like the old times, then what's the matter with having the story of how it was done? That book will sell like hot cakes. I'll go out and sell it—it will give me a chance to keep on mixing and messing with men."
"Dan, if it wasn't you talking—knowing you well—I'd say this is a piece of blackmail," declared the attorney-general. "Of course you can't put out a book of that kind in this state."
Mr. Breed blinked angrily.
"I'll take all the cases of libel against you and won't charge my clients a cent."
"Fill everybody else's little tin dipper, eh? Passing everybody else a bottle and a rubber nipple! Everybody getting his, and me left out! All right. If that's political gratitude in these new times, go on with you medinkculum! And last year I snapped the six up-country caucuses that gave you your plurality in joint convention!"
"We appreciate all your past services, Dan. If we didn't we wouldn't be trying so hard to place you," said the governor. "We're taking care of all the old boys. You mustn't embarrass us. In these days it's for the good of the party to put in each office the man who is especially fitted for it. We mustn't invite criticism. A librarian needs peculiar qualifications."
"Well, old Jaquish was liberian, wasn't he? And he wouldn't even go vote unless you went and dragged him to the polls by the scruff of his neck. What did he ever do for the party? And look at old Tomdoozle as state treasurer!"
"Jaquish was a bookman, and our state treasurer—but no matter. Now listen! I'm going to put you at the head of a new department in the State House where you won't be lonesome. More people will come there than to the library. You'll have the title of curator."
"What's that?" asked Breed, suspiciously. "And what is the department, anyway?"
"The museum of natural history in the fish-and-game rooms. We're going to make it complete—mounted specimens of all our animals. You'll be curator—you see, you will get a title that sounds well!"
"I'm of a restless and inquiring disposition, and my special forty is politics," stated Breed, sulking. "I don't believe I'm going to relish being ringmaster of a lot of stuffed animals, no matter what kind of a title I get. How much pay goes with the job?"
"Fifteen hundred," said the governor.
"Well," sighed Breed, "it will give me a chance to be around the State House during the session, and I'll take it. Then if I don't like it I can resign after the legislature adjourns."
The Big Ones understood his frame of mind and overlooked his ingratitude.
"And so I'll bid you good day, gents," he said, and straddled out with his hands under his coat-tails.
"So we've got him side-tracked and out of mischief," averred the governor. "That takes care of all of 'em, and I'm relieved. It isn't stylish any more to come to town with a lot of old hounds trotting under the tail of the political cart."
But before the end of that week the governor was obliged to call Uncle Dan to a private conference in the Executive Chamber.
"You must remember that you're a state officer," warned his Excellency. "You're a part of the administration. But you are out talking politics all the time. I want you to stay in your department. Just remember that you're curator of our museum."
"I don't like that blamed job," complained Breed. "I don't care what my title is, it only means that I have to dust off that old stuffed loon, keep moths out of that loosivee, and fleas or some kind of insecks off'n that bull moose. It ain't no job for a politician. And there's a steady stream through there asking me all kinds of questions about animals. I don't know nothing about animals. I don't know whether a live moose eats hay or chopped liver. Those questions keep me all hestered up. It puts me in a wrong position before the public. I can't tell 'em which or what, and they think I'm losing my mind."
"Post up! It will keep you busy. Get books out of the library and read. Inform yourself and have a story for the folks!"
A few days later the chairman of the state committee had an indignant report to make to the governor regarding Uncle Dan's natural-history activities.
"He has turned that museum into a circus show, your Excellency. He has named every one of those stuffed animals for somebody in politics he doesn't like, and leads a snickering mob of sight-seers around the room and lectures. When a state officer names a saucer-eyed Canadian lynx for me and then folks come up from that basement and grin at me, it's time a halt was called."
His Excellency called for Breed and called a halt, using forceful language.
"I resign," declared old Dan, nipping his little bunghole of a mouth under the hook of his nose. "Those animals are getting onto my nerves. The whole pack and caboodle are chasing me in a nightmare every time I go to sleep. Their condemned glass eyes are boring me worse than gimlets. I'm going on with that book of mine. I've got a new idea for it. I'm going to put in pictures of animals and name 'em for those tin-horn flukedubbles who could never get an office if it wasn't for the primaries."
"Look here, Breed, you're an old man and you've done a lot of good work in your day, and we're all trying to do something for you. But I have pretty nigh reached the limit of my patience. Politics isn't what it used to be. Different manners, different men. I'm the head of our party and I command you to eliminate yourself. You go back to your job, use common sense, and keep out of things! You are silly—you're senile!"
"You have taken me out of where I belong and have put me in where I don't belong and now you're blaming me because I can't learn a lot of new tricks at my age. I resign, I say!"
"If you give up that job you'll never get another one."
Uncle Dan put his hands under his coat-tails and marched out, his beak in the air.
"The trouble is," he confided to old Sturdivant in the adjutant-general's office, "this younger element that's coming along thinks men like you and I have lost all our ability and influence. They're sally-lavering all over us, telling us how they want us to have an easy job. But it's all a damnation insult—that's what it amounts to."
"All I have to do is lap sticking-paper and gum up the places where these rolls are torn," said old Sturdivant. "I'm perfectly contented."
"Then stay were you're put and swaller the insult," retorted Breed, with disgust. "I thought you had more get-up-and-get. There's a stuffed rabbit in that museum. He'll make a good chum for you in your off hour. Go and sit down with him." He went over to old Ambrose's desk. Ambrose was numbering dog's-eared pages with a rubber stamp and would not admit that he had been insulted by the state committee. "There's nobody got the right to ask me to stop being active and influential in this state," insisted Breed. "They haven't taken my pride into account. I ain't naturally a kicker. I've always obeyed orders. If I've got to go out alone and show 'em that the old guard can't be insulted, then I'll do it."
This time he took the trail of Walker Farr once more and followed that energetic young man until he cornered him.
Farr harkened with interest to the story of the scrapping of the Honorable Daniel Breed as related by that gentleman himself.
"And the moral of the tale is," added Mr. Breed, "when a gang does you dirt turn around and plaster a few gobs onto the dirt-slingers. That ain't the rule in religion, but it's the natural and correct policy in politics. I have been hurt in my tender feelings. If them animals had been alive and savage enough I would have taken 'em up to the state committee-room and ste' boyed 'em onto the ungrateful cusses who have tried to make my last days unhappy. I know every sore spot in this state. You don't know 'em unless you have got second sight. I can take you to every man who has got a political bruise on him. Good gad! I have been poulticing those sore spots for twenty-five years. You need a man like I am."
"I'll admit that I do need such a man. I am a stranger in the state. But I'm going to be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Breed. How do I know but you're a spy who wants to attach himself to me for the benefit of the ring?"
"You don't know," returned Mr. Breed, serenely. "You have to take chances in politics. I'm taking chances when I join in with you. Just who are you and how do you happen to be mixed up in our politics?"
"I am mixing into politics because the men, women, and children are being poisoned by the Consolidated water. That's platform enough, isn't it?"
"Well, I reckon it is, knowing what I know of general conditions. You have got a pretty good head for politics, even if you ain't sincere on the water question," said Breed, with a politician's ready suspicion of motives. "You've got a come-all-ye hoorah there that will make votes."
"As to my personality, that has nothing to do with the matter. I am only an agent. Will you come with me and allow Mr. Converse to ask you some questions?"
"Sure thing!" agreed the Honorable Daniel, with great heartiness. "In politics the first thing to do before you get real busy is to have a nice heart-to-heart talk with the gent who says 'How much?' and laps his forefinger and begins to count. You understand, young man, that I have been in politics a long time. And I ain't an animal-trainer—I'm a field worker and I can earn my pay."
And inside of a week Walker Farr, who had been previously struggling hard against lack of acquaintance in the state, found that Mr. Breed had spoken the truth. The two made a team which excited the full approval—the wondering admiration—of the Honorable Archer Converse.
Farr's power to control and interest men achieved astonishing results with Daniel Breed's exact knowledge of persons and conditions.
But they were rather humble citizens. There was no fanfare about their work. If Colonel Symonds Dodd knew anything at all about the fires they were setting, he made no move to turn on the Consolidated hose.
THE STAR CHAMBER IN THE OLD NATIONAL
They did not come furtively, yet they came unobtrusively—these men who drifted into the National Hotel in Marion that day.
At one side of the big rotunda of the National stood Walker Farr, his keen gaze noting the men who came dribbling in, singly, by twos and threes. They were not men of Marion city. A newspaper reporter, happening in at the National, noted that fact. He stood for a time and watched the filtering arrivals. There were some who were plainly men of affairs, others were solid men who bore the stamp of the rural sections. They went to the desk, wrote their names, and were shown up-stairs by bellhops. Most of them, as they crossed the office, nodded greeting to the tall young man who wore a frock coat and a broad-brimmed hat and stood almost motionless at one side of the rotunda.
The National was state Mecca for all kinds of conventions. The reporter studied his date-book. No convention was scheduled for that day. He managed to get a peep at the hotel register. The men who had been signing their names hailed from all portions of the state, but the reporter did not find identities which suggested political activities. It was plainly not a gathering of politicians—none of the old war-horses were in evidence.
The reporter questioned a few of the arrivals, chasing beside them. They all gave the same answer—they had come to Marion on business.
The reply was safe, succinct, and stopped further questions. The reporter did venture to pick out a little man and inquire what kind of business called him to Marion, and the little man informed him with sarcasm that he was a baker from Banbury and had come down to purchase doughnut holes.
The reporter thereupon dodged into the bar to escape the grins of some of the office crew, and his haste was such that he nearly beat the baize doors into the face of Richard Dodd, who was coming out.
"You're the first real politician I've seen in this bunch," affirmed the reporter. "What's it all about?"
"What's what about?"
"This convention that's assembling here."
"I know nothing about it," stated Mr. Dodd, with dignity. "It's nothing of a political nature, I can assure you of that."
The reporter noted that young Mr. Dodd's eyes were red and that his step wavered, and that he exhaled the peculiar odor which emanates from gentlemen who have been prolonging for some time what is known vulgarly as a "toot." In fact, the reporter remembered then the rumor in newspaper circles that the chief clerk of the state treasury had been attending to stimulants instead of to business for almost two weeks.
"I assure you that I know all that's to be known about politics," insisted Mr. Dodd. "If there's a convention here, who's running it?"
They had returned from the bar into the main office.
"I don't know—can't find out. That tall fellow over there seems to know everybody who had been coming in—all the bunch of outsiders. But I never saw him before."
Mr. Dodd closed one eye in order to focus his attention on this unknown across the office.
A deep glow of antipathy and distrust came into the eye which located and identified Walker Farr.
Mr. Dodd cursed without using names, verbs, or information.
"Oh, you know him, do you?"
"No, I don't know him." Mr. Dodd hung to his vengeful secret doggedly. He left the reporter and went and sat down in a chair and continued to stare at Farr, who remained oblivious to this inspection.
The reporter went across the office. There seemed to be more or less mystery about this man who had provoked all those curses from the secretive chief clerk of the treasury.
"Can you give me any information about these men who are meeting here to-day?"
"Meeting of the Independent Corn-Growers' Association." The reporter's gaze was frankly skeptical, but Farr met it without a flicker of the eyelids.
"I never heard of any such association."
"You have now, sir."
"Is it open to the newspapers?"
"Closed doors—absolutely private."
"Who'll give out the statement?"
Farr put his hand on the reporter's shoulder and gave him a smile.
"You see, it's to fight the packers' union and so we are not giving away our ammunition to the enemy. Keep it quiet and when the thing breaks I'll give you our side."
"All right, sir. If it's to be an exclusive for me I'll steer away the other newspaper men. But do you know just why Richard Dodd—that man over there—is damning you into shoe-strings?"
Even at that distance Farr's keen gaze detected the filmy eyes and the flushed face.
"Perhaps it's because the Corn-Growers propose to put their corn into johnny-bread instead of using it for whisky?"
The newspaper man, his suspicions dulled by Farr's radiant good nature and wholesome frankness, went away about his business, but he halted long enough beside Dodd's chair to repeat "the corn-grower's" joke regarding the young man who had been glowering on him.
Dodd got up with as much alacrity as he could command and went across to Farr. Sober, the nephew of Colonel Dodd had treated this person with rather lofty contempt; drunk, he was not so finical in matters of caste—and, besides, this man now wore the garb of a gentleman, and young Mr. Dodd always placed much emphasis on clothes.
"Look here, my fellow, now that I have you where I don't need to consider the presence of ladies, I want to ask you how you dared to mess into my private business?"
Farr, towering above him, beamed down on him with tolerant indifference and did not answer.
"That Lochinvar business may sound good in a poem, but it doesn't go here in Marion—not when it's my business and my girl."
Dodd raised his voice. He seemed about to become a bit hysterical.
Farr set slow, gripping, commanding clutch about the young man's elbow.
"If your business with me can possibly be any talk about a lady," he advised, "you'd better come along into the reading-room."
"It is about a lady," persisted Dodd when they had swung in behind a newspaper-rack. The room was apparently empty. "You understand what you came butting in upon, don't you?"
"I took it to be a rehearsal of a melodrama, crudely conceived and very poorly played."
"Say, you use pretty big words for a low-lived iceman."
"State your business with me if you have any," Farr reminded him. "I have something else to do besides swap talk with a drunken man—and your breath is very offensive."
Dodd began to tap a finger on Farr's breast.
"I want you to understand that I've got a full line on you; you have been chumming with a Canuck rack-tender, you deserted a woman, and she committed suicide, and you took the brat—"
Farr's big hand released the elbow and set itself around Mr. Dodd's neck. Thumb and forefinger bored under the jaw and Mr. Dodd's epiglottis ceased vibrating.
"I don't like to assault a man, but talk doesn't seem to fit your case and I can't stop long enough to talk, anyway. This choking is my comment on your lies." He pushed Mr. Dodd relentlessly down into the nearest chair and spanked his face slowly and deliberately with the flat of his hand. "And this will indicate to you just how much I care for your threats. You'll remember it longer than you will recollect words."
He finished and went away, leaving his victim getting his breath in the chair. Dodd, peering under the rack, saw him hasten and join the Honorable Archer Converse in the hotel lobby and they went up the broad stairs together.
The chief clerk of the state treasury sat there and smoothed his smarting face with trembling hands and worked his jaws to dislodge the grinding ache in his neck. But the stinging, malevolent rancor within him burned hotter and hotter. He started to get up out of the chair and sat back again, much disturbed.
A man who had been hidden by an adjoining rack of newspapers was now leaning forward, jutting his head past the ambuscade. He was an elderly man with an up-cocked gray mustache, and there was a queer little smile in his shrewd blue eyes. Dodd knew him; he was one Mullaney, a state detective.
"What are you doing here—practicing your sneak work?" demanded the young man. As a state official he did not entertain a high opinion of the free-lance organization to which Mullaney belonged.
"I'm here reading a paper—supposed it's what the room is for," returned Detective Mullaney. "But excuse me—I'll get out. Room seems to be reserved for prize-fighters."
"You keep your mouth shut about that—that insult."
"I never talk—it would hurt my business."
"I don't fight in a public place. I'm a gentleman. I want you to remember what you saw, Mullaney! I'll get to that cheap bum in a way he won't forget."
"Do you mind telling me who your friend is?" asked the detective.
Dodd shot him a sour side-glance and muttered profanity.
"I couldn't help wondering what particular kind of business you and he could have, seeing how it was transacted," pursued the detective.
Dodd glowered at the floor. "Look here, Mullaney! There's a whole lot about that man I want to know, if you can help me and keep your mouth closed. I haven't got much confidence in the work you fellows do—they tell me you can't detect mud on your own boots."
Mr. Mullaney pulled his chair out from behind the papers and leaned back in it and crossed his hands over his stomach and smiled without a trace of resentment.
"I might tell you something right now about that tall friend of yours that would jump you, Mr. Dodd—I'm that much of a detective!"
"Tell me, then."
"Just as it stands it's guesswork—considerable guesswork."
"What does that amount to?"
"A great deal in my business. Take this city of one hundred thousand! I'm the only man in it who is making guesswork about strangers his special line of work. The rest of the citizens rub elbows with all passers and don't give a hoot. There are a good many thousand men in this country whom the law wants and whom the law can't find. That fellow may be one of them, for all I know. I guess he is, for instance. Then I make it my business to prove guesswork."
"You must be doing a devil of a rushing business!" sneered Dodd.
"I manage to make a good living. I don't talk about my business, for if I should blow it I wouldn't have any. I say, I guess! Then I spend my spare time hunting through my books of pointers. For ten years I have read every newspaper I could get hold of. I come in here and study papers from all over. Every crime that has been committed, every man wanted, every chap who has got away, I write down all I can find out about him. Then, if anything comes up to make me guess about a man I begin to hunt my books through."
"Well, if I'm any good on a guess," snorted Dodd, "that renegade who just insulted me is down in your books, somewhere. You'd better hunt."
"It's slow work and eats up time," sighed Mr. Mullaney.
Dodd looked at him for a time and then began to pull crumpled bills from his waistcoat pocket. He straightened five ten-dollar bills, creased them into a trough, and stuck the end toward the detective.
"Follow his trail back. I never heard of your book scheme before. Take this money for a starter. If you can't find him in your books, pick out half a dozen of the worst crimes any man can commit and hitch 'em on to him somehow," urged Dodd, with fury. "Go after him. And when we get him good and proper I want to do some gloating through the bars. He's the first man who ever smacked my face for me—and I'll see that he gets his."
He left Mr. Mullaney stowing the money away in a big wallet which was stuffed with newspaper clippings. He hurried in to the bar, gulped down a drink, and then went to the office desk and examined the hotel register. Anger and zest for revenge were stimulating in him a lively interest in that meeting which Farr seemed to be promoting. Mr. Dodd did not care especially what kind of meeting it was. He had set forth to camp on Walker Farr's trail and do him what hurt he could.
Dodd was a well-posted political worker. The names of the men were not names especially prominent in state politics, but his suspicions were stirred when he saw that all counties in the state were represented. And no more were arriving. He decided that the conference must be in session.
Dodd avoided the elevator. He tramped up the broad stairs to the floor above the office. The doors of the large parlor were closed. He turned the knob cautiously; the doors were locked. He heard within the dull mumble of many voices—men in conversation. It was evident that the formal meeting, whatever it might be, had not begun its session. He tiptoed away from the door and climbed another flight of stairs.
There were no nooks and corners of the old National Hotel which Richard Dodd did not understand in all their intricacies. As his uncle's political scout it had been his business to know them.
He hunted along the corridor until he found a maid.
"Is there anybody in Number 29?" he asked.
"Two of that new crowd that just came in have it, Mr. Dodd. But they have gone down-stairs again."
He wadded a bill in his palm and jammed it into her hand. "Let me in with your pass-key, that's a good girl. It's all right. I won't disturb their stuff. I only want to listen. You understand! There's a political game on. I want to get to that ventilator in the closet—you know it!"
"Oh, if it's only politics, Mr. Dodd!" she sniffed, with the scorn of a girl who has seen many conventions come and go, knew the little tricks, and had developed for the whole herd of politicians lofty disdain; she knew them merely as loud-talking men who had little consideration for hotel maids, men who littered their rooms with cigar stubs and whisky-bottles. She started for the door, swinging the pass-key on its cord. "If it's just politics, sure you can go in. Many a buck I've let in to listen to their old palaver down in that parlor."
Dodd bolted the door behind him.
He felt entirely safe, for he understood that the rightful tenants of that room were locked into the parlor below. He climbed upon a chair in the closet and put his ear to the grating of the ventilator.
He heard only one man's voice. He recognized its crisp tones—it was the Honorable Archer Converse.
"I repeat, gentlemen, that this interest of yours would amaze me if I had not been prepared by reports from our agents who have been so well captained by Mr. Walker Farr. Remember that this is simply a conference, prior to organization. Every man of you is a chief in it. Let us be calm, discreet, sensible, and silent.
"I'm not going over the details of the unrest in this state. The fact that so many of you are present here from all sections is sufficient commentary on that unrest. We understand perfectly well that a certain clique of self-seekers has arrogated to itself supreme control of the party. A party must be controlled, I admit. If that control were in the hands of honest and patriotic men we would not be here today.
"I'm not going to bother you with details of what has been going on in departments in our State House. The employees are the tools of the ring and they have misused their power. I'm afraid of what may be uncovered there when the house-cleaning begins. But the honor of our party demands such a house-cleaning."
Richard Dodd's hands trembled as he clung to the ventilator bars.
"However, we are faced by something in the way of an issue that's bigger than graft."
Now his earnestness impressed more than ever the listener at the grating.
"Gentlemen, to a certain extent graft is bound to be fostered and protected by any party; but when a party is used to protect and aggrandize those who monopolize the people's franchise rights it's time for the honest men in that party to be men instead of partisans. Don't you allow those monopolists to hold you in line by whining about party loyalty. And don't let them whip you into line by their threats, either. I refuse, for one, as much as I love my party, to have its tag tied into my ear if that tag isn't clean!"
The assemblage applauded that sentiment.
"I'm going to call names, gentlemen. Colonel Symonds Dodd has this state by its throat. With Colonel Dodd stand all the financial interests—the railroads, the corporations, even the savings-banks. He is intrenched behind that law which limits the indebtedness of our cities and towns. Municipalities cannot own their own plants under present conditions. Those men are even using the people's own money against them! They scare depositors by threats of financial havoc if present conditions and the big interest are bothered by any legislation.
"I must warn you, gentlemen, that it's a long and difficult road ahead of us. But we must start. I have not intended to discourage you by stating the obstacles to be overcome.
"I have explained them so that, if we make slow progress at first, we shall not be discouraged.
"We will organize prevailing unrest and the innate honesty in this state. We will establish a branch of the Square Deal Club in every town and city. It must be done carefully, conservatively, and as secretly as possible." The lawyer's cautious fear of too much haste now displayed itself. "The most we can hope to do is send to the state convention some men who will leaven that lump of ring politics. Party usage and tradition are so strong that we must renominate Governor Harwood, I suppose, for a complimentary second term."
"I think we can do better," cried a voice.
"Possibly," returned Mr. Converse, dryly, "but we must do that 'better' carefully and slowly. In politics, gentlemen, we cannot transform the ogre into the saint merely by waving the magic wand and expecting the charm to operate instantly. Possibly we can control the next legislature. I do not know just what legislation we may be able to devise and pass, but I hope for inspiration.
"I will say now that I am with you. My purse is open. Command my services for all questions of law. I will establish myself at the capital for the legislative session.
"But there is one thing I will not do under any circumstances—I will not accept political office."
"You bet you won't," muttered young Dodd, at the grating. "You wouldn't be elected a pound-keeper in the town of Bean Center."
But if Mr. Dodd could have seen through that grating as well as hear he would have been greatly interested just then in the expression on the face of Walker Farr. The face was not exactly the face of a prophet, but it had a large amount of resolution written over it.
"I don't want to be the first one to throw any cold water on our prospects," declared a voice, after Mr. Converse had announced that the meeting was open for general discussion; "it really does seem to me that we stand a good show of getting control of the next legislature. But after we do get control what prospect is there of passing any legislation that will help us? Wherever there is a water system in this state the municipality has been so loaded down with debts our machine politics have plastered into it that the legal debt limit has been reached. The only way this water question can be cleared up is by taking the systems away from those monopolists—making them the property of towns and cities. But if towns and cities can't borrow any more money, just how is this to be done? Mr. Converse hasn't told us! We can clean up politics, perhaps, but it seems to me that we'll never be able to clean up the dirtiest and most dangerous mess."
On the silence that followed broke a voice which made Dodd, his ear to the grating, grate his teeth. His hatred recognized this speaker. It was Walker Farr.
"I apologize for venturing to speak in this meeting," he said. "But if that gentleman's question isn't answered here and now in some way I'm afraid men will go away discouraged. I have heard the same question, Mr. Converse, as I have traveled about the state lately. I have thought about this matter constantly, in my poor fashion. And because I went into that job of pondering with an open mind is the reason, perhaps, why a strange idea has come to me. You know they say that strange notions are born out of ignorance. The better way would have been, possibly, to submit the plan first of all to your legal mind, Mr. Converse. I will keep silence now and confer with you, sir, if you think best." His tone was wistful.
"Talk it out in open meeting," cried the cordial voice of Mr. Converse. "Free speech and all of us taken into confidence—that's the spirit of this movement of ours!"
"Has it ever occurred to anybody to form a new municipality for water purposes only? I have studied your state constitution, and the language in which the debt limit of five percent is provided I find applies strictly to towns and cities. Suppose the citizens of Marion, together with the adjoining towns of Weston and Turner, all of them now served by the Consolidated, should unite simply as individuals for the common purpose of owning and operating their own water-plant—form, say a water district?"
"An independent body politic and corporate?" It was Converse's voice and it betrayed quick interest and some astonishment.
"I suppose that would be the legal name, sir. Wouldn't it be possible to organize such a combination of the people, distinct from other municipal responsibilities? Then if we can elect the right men to our legislature we can go to the State House and ask for some legislation that will enable us to take over systems by the right of eminent domain, provide a plan of fair appraisal, give us a law which will make water-district bonds a legal investment for savings-banks. In short, gentlemen, I repeat, this plan is nothing more than an organization of the desired territory and people into a new, distinct, and separate municipality for water purposes only, leaving all other forms of municipal government to pursue their accustomed functions precisely as though the district had not been organized. That's the idea as best I can state it in few words."
There was a long period of silence.
Dodd, listening to the mutterings of a revolt which threatened the whole political fabric which protected him, his interest clearing his brain of the liquor fog, could imagine the scene below. That assemblage was staring wide-eyed at Archer Converse, the law's best-grounded man in the state.
"It is very modest to call that suggestion an idea," stated Mr. Converse, at last. "Mr. Farr, if I can find the necessary law in our statutes to back it up, it's an inspiration."
There was the ring of conviction in his tones.
Mr. Dodd left the grating and escaped from the hotel.
He fairly cantered to headquarters in the First National block; he felt a politician's frightened conviction that he had something mighty important to tell his uncle.
A GIRL AND A MATTER OF HONOR
It had been a protracted session.
Judge Ambrose Warren, corporation counsel for the Consolidated, leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling over the peak of the skeleton structure he had erected in front of his nose with his fingers.
Colonel Dodd squinted first at his nephew and then at the bouquet on his desk.
The nephew had been attempting by all the methods known to the appealing male to win only one return glance from Kate Kilgour; but the young lady held her eyes on her note-book, poised her pencil above the page, and waited for more of that conversation and statement of which she had been the silent recorder.
"You think you have given us all the main points of what you overheard, do you, Mr. Dodd?" inquired the judge, turning sharp gaze on the young man.
"I can't remember any more."
"You think you recognized voices sufficiently well to be sure that this person named Farr made that novel suggestion in regard to what was called a 'water district'?"
"There was no mistaking his voice," said Dodd, with the malevolence of bitter recollection.
Another prolonged silence. Then the judge asked, his eyes again on the ceiling, "Just who is this Walker Farr?"
Richard Dodd, keeping jealous espionage on all the girl's emotions and movements saw a flush suffuse her cheeks; her hands trembled. She raised her eyes in a quick glance and he detected eager inquiry.
"I don't know who he is," growled the colonel.
"You'd better find out," advised the corporation counsel.
"Of course this thing has been put up to me very suddenly. I can give you only a snap judgment. But that scheme has possibilities."
"As a lawyer you don't mean to tell me that a crazy idea like that can be put through in this state against the combination we control?"
"It will not be a case of combination and money and politics, Colonel, when it gets to the high court. It will be law. And I'm sorry you can't tell me any more about the man who has devised the plan. I'd like to know how he dug it out."
"But a gang of pirates can't organize like that and confiscate our property! We're going to tap the lakes. We're going ahead right away. But can that fool's scheme scoop in the Consolidated Water Company?"
"That's to be found out. I am going to tell you now that I believe an organization of citizens into an independent water district can be made legally and be independent of other debts. Colonel Dodd, if that opposition gets control of the next legislature you can depend upon it that the necessary legislation will be passed. We may as well look facts in the face: they're getting mighty restive in this state; the people have been penned in by the Machine very effectually to date—but show 'em a place now where they can jump the fence and they're going to do it."
"But what's the good of paying you twenty-five thousand dollars a year for law if you can't keep the bars up?" The tone was that of the impatient tyrant.
"You'll please remember that this thing is likely to go to the United States court. When you go in there you've got to leave your side-arms of politics—pull and pocket-book—at the door. I will say this: the Federal Constitution guarantees protection against any irregular, illegal, or confiscatory action under state authority. That is, no states shall pass any law impairing the obligation of contracts nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Now, of course, a corporation is a person in the meaning of the law, and therefore we can carry the matter to the United States Supreme Court, but I want to tell you that if the next legislature enacts law permitting water districts, and the state authorities proceed to condemn your plants, you may as well get ready to step out from under. You are a shrewd man and you understand the spirit of these times in regard to giving to the people their full rights in public utilities. I say again, you'd better get a line on this Walker Farr, because it's either a case of ignorance inspired or else he's a deep one. He has started with a plan that can be defended by law—and the judges in these days are handing the people's rights and property back to them when there is a legal opportunity."
"Why, this Farr is a nothing—nobody. Dug in our trenches for a while until he was discharged. Briggs looked him up for me. The only man in this city he has been at all intimate with is an old Canuck named Provancher who tends the rack down at Gamonic Mill. You can judge him by the company he keeps."
"Well, he seems to be fraternizing with better men just now," drawled the judge. "Archer Converse, for instance!"
"The thing to do," suggested young Dodd, still watching the girl, "is get something on that hobo and boot him out of town or put him in jail. It ought to be easy enough."
"And it will be attended to," declared the colonel, with venom. "We'll kill that one crow and hang him up in full view of the rest of those croakers! I'll put something over on that fellow and have all the papers in the state print it—and high-and-mighty Converse will be so disgusted that he'll quit and the rest of the crowd will be ashamed to keep on. Disgrace a reformer! That's the surest play in politics! We must get Farr!"
He turned his scowling gaze away from the flowers and found Miss Kilgour looking at him with an expression in her eyes he had never seen there before. Reproach and scorn seemed to mingle in the stare she gave him. He blinked, and when he looked again she was examining the point of her pencil; he decided that his eyesight had played him a strange prank.
"By the way, Miss Kilgour," he informed her, "you need not remain. Make two typewritten copies—the judge will need one."
Richard Dodd arose when she left her chair, but she did not glance at him. He began to speak before she had reached the door, unable to restrain his jealous temper longer.
"Uncle Symonds, pass the word to that old Provancher, through the superintendent of the Gamonic, that unless he comes across with all the stuff he knows about that Farr he'll be fired. And I've got a hunter out on my own account. It will be easy enough to catch the skunk and strip off his pelt."
Miss Kilgour closed the door behind her with a sharper click than she had ever given its latch before. She hurried to her typewriter in her little room and began to work with all her energy.
She was so busy and her machine clattered so viciously that she did not hear Richard Dodd when he entered. He leaned over her.
"Have you talked with your mother yet? Has she given you some advice?" he asked. His jealousy still fired him and his tone was not conciliatory.
The contempt in the glance she flung upward at him roused him to passion. In the state of mind in which he then was he made no allowances for her ignorance of conditions in her mother's case. He knew what he had done for Mrs. Kilgour's sake, and this attitude on the daughter's part pricked him like wilful ingratitude.
He put his hands on the keyboard of the typewriter and stopped her work. "I love you, Kate, and you have known it for a long time. I tried to show you how much I loved you. I know I did a foolish thing. But I loved you." He almost sobbed the protestation. "I've been in hell's torment since it happened. I've been a fool all the way through, but I won't be a fool any more if you'll take pity on me."
She did not speak. Her silent, utter contempt stung more deeply and surely than words.
"If you insist on being so high above, I'm going to bring you down a little," he sneered. "I hate to do it, but you've got to be shown where your real friends are. I have given your mother a chance to say something to you, and say it right. But she hasn't done it, and I don't propose to be made the goat." In his anger he was not choice in his language. "You go home and ask her whether or not she owes me five thousand dollars. Oh, you needn't open your eyes at me in that style! It's time we all got down to cases in this thing, Kate. I've waited for her long enough. She has simply fluffed me along. Now she has got to do her part."
"Have you lost your mind?" she demanded.
"No! But I lost five thousand dollars when I loaned it to your mother. Kate, she told me she had a stock deal on—that she would be able to pay it back. Listen! I may as well go the limit with you. I took money that wasn't mine so that I could help your mother out—it was because I loved you. Now you realize how much I have loved you. I protected your mother. And now, by the gods, if you and she don't come to the scratch in this thing and do right by me I'll show up why she had to be protected, and after that you'll never draw a happy breath again in your life. I advised you to talk with your mother once before. This time you'd better to it."
She leaned back in her chair, white and trembling, for his tones carried conviction.
"I have hated to open this thing up, Kate. I have waited a long time, hoping you'd understand that I would make a good husband—that I deserved to have you. I'm only speaking out now so that you'll wake up. You've got to stand by the man who has stood by you. Go talk with your mother!"
After he had hurried out she went back to her work, but her fingers could only fumble at the keys. By effort of will persons of strong character can compose themselves after disaster has been confirmed; but impending disaster that is hinted at—guessed at—is a menace which paralyzes. She was endeavoring to write down what Richard Dodd had revealed of the plans of Walker Farr. She understood that the mighty power of the state machine was now doubling its fist over the head of the stranger who had come into her life in such peculiar fashion. At the same moment she was cowering under the threat of something she did not fully understand.
And from the Dodds—uncle and nephew—came the menace which loomed over both of them.
Then to her came Peter Briggs, who had been summoned to a conference in the inner office; by direction of his chief he had been reading to Judge Warren certain entries penciled in the note-book which he guarded with the elastic band.
"The governor wants you to add these items to the record, so that the judge can have a copy," said Mr. Briggs to the confidential secretary. "The subject isn't a very genteel one, Miss Kilgour, but orders are orders, and you'll have to excuse me."
And Mr. Briggs kept snapping the elastic band nervously while he dictated, carefully looking away from the young woman.
In such manner Kate Kilgour learned of the existence of Zelie Dionne and of the child whom Walker Farr had protected; Mr. Briggs's zeal in the interest of his employer had made him a partisan in that affair, with easy conscience regarding the matter of the details. The bald record showed that Farr and the girl had cared for the child between them, had nursed it with grief and solicitude, had borne it to the plot of land where the little graves were crowded so closely. Mr. Briggs complacently avoided dates and age and the minuter details. He even pleaded the case, having caught a cue from Colonel Dodd; his record left the impression that Walker Farr, who had come from nowhere—nobody knew when—had lived in Marion unknown and unnoticed at the time when he had compassed the ruin of a confiding girl.
"A scalawag, and a bad one!" commented Mr. Briggs, closing his note-book. "And of course there's worse to come! Posing as a reformer—that's the way such renegades work the thing. A new game for every new place!"
And Kate Kilgour, remembering the vagrant on the broad highway, wrote down the arraignment of this person, trying to understand her emotions.
Her own eyes had seen him garbed as a tramp, plainly a homeless nomad.
Her ears had just listened to the story of his shame.
But after a time, in spite of what she had seen and heard, that strange instinct which dominates the feminine mind in spite of what the mere senses affirm took possession of her.
She had known from the first that Richard Dodd's garments, his attitude, his professions, his position did not make him what her woman's heart desired.
But, somehow, this other man, no matter what he seemed to be from outward appearance, stood forth for her from all the world. At times, in her ponderings, she had disgustedly termed her mood regarding him pure lunacy. Then she gave rein to the domination of her intuition; the man was not what he seemed to be!
She determined to put him out of her thoughts for ever.
Just then, however, writing out the story of his turpitude, she must needs have him in her mind.
She wondered whether he were honest in his attempts to help the poor people.
She had believed that he was when he had faced Colonel Dodd.
She determined that she would make some investigation of her own in regard to the mysterious person who had taken such possession of her thoughts since she had met him in the highway—whose personality had so pricked her curiosity. She comforted herself by calling her interest mere curiosity. That was it! If this man were what they claimed he was she might help in revealing him as an enemy of the poor folks.
And then to her came another thought.
She looked around the offices where she worked and bitter lines were etched in her forehead and about her mouth.
The place had become hateful. She was conscious of a passionate desire to be free from the atmosphere of that central web of the Great Spider.
She bent over her work and hurried.
What was the shadow over her home?
She realized that she was not thinking clearly in the matter. She knew that impulse was driving her. But it was impulse which was uncontrollable. For a long time she had understood the sinister influence which had radiated from that office in the First National block. But it had been rather the impersonal influence of partisan politics and she had had little knowledge of the persons concerned. But, now that the situation had been so sharply pointed by recent happenings, she understood better what had gone on in the past.
This stranger, whoever he was, seemed to be fighting for the good of the people. She had heard him declare his principles boldly; she knew the selfishness of the men who opposed him. She resolved to know more.
It was close upon six o'clock when she finished the transcription.
She had given much thought to her own affairs while she had been working. And now she allowed impulse to dominate. She resolved to leave that employment which brought her into contact with Richard Dodd and where her duties required her to prepare material for the ruin of a man who seemed to be doing an unselfish duty, no matter what they said. She did not try to analyze that quixotic impulse; she merely obeyed.
She tied up the packet of manuscript, addressed it to Colonel Dodd, and slipped under the string a sealed note. In that note she resigned her position, stating that a matter of personal honor demanded that she leave instantly. She did not qualify that statement by any explanation. But she knew in her own heart just what it meant. For when she left the office she did not hasten straight home as her anxious fears prompted her; she made a detour around by Gamonic Mill in search of one Provancher, who, she had learned, tended the rack of the canal.
The thought that dominated all other thoughts and comforted her was the reflection that she was no longer the confidential secretary of Colonel Symonds Dodd, and that now she might obey certain promptings of both curiosity and conscience.
The rumble of the big turbines was stilled when she came to the fence which surrounded the rack, and old Etienne was starting away with rake and pike-pole. But when she called he came to her—wondering, much abashed, for she was by far the prettiest lady he had ever seen.
"Are you the friend of Mr. Walker Farr?" she asked, and she was even more embarrassed than he.
"I am too poor mans to be call a friend, ma'm'selle. I can just say that he is grand mans that I love."
"Then you are the one to give him this message. Tell him that men who are fighting him in politics intend to do him great harm and that he must be very careful. Tell him that he will understand who these men are."
"Oui, ma'm'selle. But will he understand who tell me that thing?"
Her cheeks were crimson. "No, no! He mustn't know that."
"Then he will tell me, 'Poh, old Etienne, you know nottings what you talk about.' He is very bold mans, and he not scare very easy."
"But he must be cautious, for these men have power. He need not be afraid of them, but he must watch carefully. You tell him that they want to make out bad things about him so that they can print them in the papers and hurt the cause he is working for. Can you remember?"
"Oui, ma'm'selle! I never forget anything what may be for his good. I will tell him."
She hesitated for a long time and stared wistfully at the old man. She started to go away and then returned to the fence, plainly mustering her courage.
"Do you know whether there is anything—about him—which wicked men can use to hurt him?" she stammered.
"I only know about him what I know, ma'm'selle," he replied, with a gentle smile nestling in the wrinkles of his withered face.
"Could you tell me some of the things you know?" she asked, after much effort, striving to make her voice calmly inquiring.
Old Etienne set the rake and the pike-pole against the fence. "I will be quick in what I tell you, ma'm'selle, for I have no place to ask you to take the seat. But I'm sure you will listen very well to this what I say."
And he told her the story of Rosemarie.
But he did not go back as far as the pitiful figure on the canal bank, he made no mention of the water-soaked wad of paper which bore a mother's appeal to the world, he did not mention the key to Block Ten. He told the story of Walker Farr's devotion to a child. He did not dare to reveal to this stranger the identity of that child, because the telltale letter had been hidden from the coroner, and old Etienne stood in awe of the curt and domineering men who enforced the laws. But with simple earnestness and in halting speech he revealed the tenderness of Farr's nature and gave further testimony to her woman's understanding that this man who had come into her life possessed depths which she longed to probe.
"But the child!" she ventured, after Etienne had finished the story of how the two of them, voices in the wilderness of careless greed, had faced the masters of the city in the hotel de ville; "it seems strange that a man—that anybody should take a child and—" She hesitated.
"Oui, ma'm'selle, it seemed strange," agreed the old man, studying her with sharp glance of suspicion—a gaze so strange that she shifted her eyes uneasily.
Ah, Etienne told himself, the law sometimes sent queer emissaries to probe for it—and he feared the law very much.
He must be very careful how he told any of the secrets which might trouble his good friend, who was now such a friend of the mighty folks; as for himself—well, he would willingly be a martyr if the law demanded—but he did fear that law!
"But he loved the child very much," she hinted.
"So much that he will fight them because they have poisoned her—he will fight them and not be scare."
"It is strange!" she repeated.
"Oui, ma'm'selle," he said, regarding her with still more suspicion.
"But before that morning—when you found them here under the tree! He told you—"
"He walk the street with her in his arm. I don't tell you some more about dat t'ing what I do not know!"
But she knew that he was withholding something from her. She mustered her courage.
"Mr. Provancher, the bad men are making threats that they will print stories about the child—and its mamma—to hurt your friend. And the stories will make the mamma very sad."
"No stories can make her sad," said old Etienne, solemnly. But he did not say that he had raked the mother from the canal. The law must not know!
"But I have heard about her," she insisted.
The old man's mouth trembled; he was frightened. "What you hear?" he faltered.
"Only good things. That she was very tender and went with you to the grave."
"Oui," admitted Etienne, visibly relieved and grasping at this opportunity. "She's sweet and good. She's play-mamma."
"And her name is Zelie Dionne?" she asked, her face growing white in the dusk.
"Oui, ma'm'selle—she live across in the little house where there are plant in the window—she live with the good Mother Maillet what I told you about." He pointed to the cottage. "You go some time and talk with her—but not now," he added, his fears flaming. He was anxious to be the first to talk to Zelie Dionne, in order that she might help him to protect their friend. "You shall talk with her—soon—p'raps. I will tell her so that she will not be afraid. Yes, you shall hear the play-mamma say good things of poor Rosemarie."
She bowed and hurried away.
And before her tear-wet eyes the words "play-mamma" danced in letters of fire. It seemed to be only another sordid story.
But she remembered the face of Walker Farr, and in her heart she wondered why she still refused to condemn him.
THE DRIVEN BARGAIN
The Honorable Daniel Breed, "sipping" his thin lips and propping his coat-tails on his gaunt fingers, patrolled the lobby of the National Hotel and his complacency was not a whit disturbed when Richard Dodd passed in front of him and sneered in his face.
"Keep on practising making up faces," advised the old man, amiably. "Perhaps in the course of time your uncle will give you a job making up faces as his understudy, seeing that his physog is getting so tough he can't manage it very well these days."
Young Dodd whirled on his heel and returned. "We've got a line on you and your amateur angels, Breed."
"Don't consider me an amateur, do you?" asked the old politician, smacking his lips complacently.
"You're a has-been."
"Sure thing!" agreed Mr. Breed. "The state committee told me so, and the state committee never made a mistake."
"We've got so much of a line on your crowd that my uncle has called off the organizers. There's no need of our wasting money in this campaign. You're that!" He clacked a finger smartly into his palm.
"Oh yes! You're right! Some snap to us."
"I mean you're nothing."
"Run in and take another drink, sonny," advised Breed, giving slow cant of his head to denote the baize door through which Dodd had emerged. "What you have had up to date seems to be making you optimistic—and there's nothing like being optimistic in politics. I'm always optimistic—but naturally so. Don't need torching!"
"Look here, Breed, we've got enough dope on that ex-hobo who is doing your errand-boy work—we know enough about him to kill your whole sorehead proposition. But I don't believe my uncle will even use it. No need of it."
"Probably not," said Mr. Breed, without resentment. "And I wouldn't if I were he."
"We won't descend to it. Now that we have got rid of a lot of old battle-axes of politicians—and I'm calling no names—we can conduct a campaign with dignity."
"So do! So do! And it will save a lot of trouble, son; that's why the newspapers wouldn't print that stuff about Mr. Farr after your uncle got it ready. Libel cases make a lot of trouble."
Dodd grew red and scowled. "Look here, Breed, you're licked before the start, and as a good politician you know you are. My uncle wants you to drop in and see him. He told me to tell you so. This is no official order, you understand. Just drop in informally, and he'll probably have something interesting to say to you."
"I'm terribly rushed up—shall be till after convention," averred Mr. Breed, piercing the end of a cigar with a peg he had whittled from a match.
"What's the good of your being a fool any longer?"
"Always have been, so I've found out from that state committee who never told a lie—and it's comfortable to keep on being one," he said, with great serenity.
"You don't think for a minute that you are going to get control of the next legislature, do you?"
"How much money have you got—your own money, I mean?" inquired Mr. Breed, guilelessly, his eyes centered carefully on the lighted tip of his cigar.
"Say—you—you—What do you mean by that?" rasped Dodd, putting the cracker of a good round oath on the question.
"I meant that I wanted to bet something—and I wouldn't want you to go out and borrow money—or—or—anything else." From the cavernous depths where his eyes were set Mr. Breed turned a slow and solemn stare on the enraged chief clerk of the state treasury.
"What do you want to bet?"
"Any amount in reason that after the first of next January there'll be a fresh deal in the way of state officers in every department in the Capitol. Arguing futures don't get you anywhere, son. If you've got money to back that opinion you just gave me it will express your notions without any more talk. But don't go borrow—or—or anything else."
Dodd stared at the shrewd old political manipulator for a long time.
"You have money to bet, have you?" he asked.
Mr. Breed languidly drew forth a wallet which would make a valise for some men and carelessly displayed a thick packet of bills.
"There it is," he said, "and I earned it myself and so I ain't poking it down any rat-hole without being condemned sure that I'll be able to pull it all back again with just as much more sticking to it. That wouldn't be sooavable—and from what you know of me I'm always sooavable."
Dodd looked at the bills, carefully straightened in their packet, and giving every evidence of having been hoarded with an old man's caution.
There was something about that money which impressed him with the sincerity of Mr. Breed's belief in his own cause. The young man grew visibly white around the mouth.
"I'll see you later, Breed," he gulped. "I don't believe you know what you are talking about—but I'm not national bank on legs. I'll be around and cover your cash."
He went back into the bar, swallowed a glass of whisky, and went out and hailed a cab. He directed the driver to carry him to the Trelawny Apartment.
Mrs. Kilgour admitted him to the vestibule of the suite.
"Is Kate at home?" he demanded.
"Yes, Richard!" She shrank away from him, for his aspect was not reassuring. "You know—she has given up her work—she is—"
"I know all about it, Mrs. Kilgour. But I want to ask you whether she has given up her work in order to marry me at once?"
"Why, I—She said—I think it will come about all right, Dicky." She was pitifully unnerved.
"Have you told her why she must marry me?"
"It is not time to tell her—it is not right—I can't—"
He seized her arm and pulled her into the sitting-room. The daughter rose and faced them, reproof and astonishment mingling in her expression.
"This thing is going to be settled here and now," said the lover, roughly. "There is going to be no more fooling. Has your mother put this matter up to you so that you understand it, Kate?"
"She has told me that she owes you five thousand dollars," returned the girl. Her eyes flashed her contempt. "You told me that yourself. I repeated the statement to her and she admits it."
"But did she tell you how it happens that she owes me that money?"
"For God's sake, Richard, have some pity! This is my own daughter. I will sell everything. I will slave. I will pay you. Kate, for my sake—for your own sake, tell him that you will marry him."
"I will not marry this man," declared the girl. "It has been a mistake from the beginning. As to your business with him, mother, that is not my affair. You must settle it."
"You belong in the settlement," declared Dodd. "Hold on! Don't leave this room, Kate."
He reached out his hands to intercept her, and Mrs. Kilgour, released, fell upon the floor and began to grovel and cry entreaties.
But his raucous tones overrode her appeals.
"We're all together in this. I am five thousand dollars shy in the state treasury, Kate. I took that money and loaned it to your mother when she begged me to save her stocks. But she didn't have any stocks."
Mrs. Kilgour grasped his knees and shook him. But he kept on.
"She had embezzled from Dalton & Company. What I did saved her from prison and you from disgrace, Kate. And now I am in the hole! Listen here! There's hell to pay in this state just now! The soreheads are banding together. A man has just offered to bet me big money that there's going to be an overturn in the State House departments. I don't know whether it will happen—but you can understand what kind of torment I'm in. Kate, are you going to let me stand this thing all alone?"
The girl stood silent and motionless in the middle of the room.
She did not weep or faint. Her face displayed no emotion. It was as white as marble.
"Do you want to drag my daughter down with you?" cried Mrs. Kilgour.
"You'd better not talk about dragging down," he shouted, passionately. "I didn't steal for myself. Give me your love, Kate! Give me yourself to encourage me, and I'll get out of the scrape somehow. I'll find ways. But if you don't come with me I won't have the courage or the desire to fight my way through. I'll not disgrace you if you marry me—I swear I will not! With you to protect from everything I'll make good. Symonds Dodd is my uncle. He won't see the family name pulled in. But you must marry me!"
"And if I do not?" she asked.
"We'll all go to damnation together. I don't care! I'll blow it all. I won't be disgraced alone because of something I did for your mother. I may sound like a cur. I don't care, I say! I'm going to have you, and I don't care how I get you!"
"We need not be so dramatic," said the girl. Some wonderful influence seemed to be controlling her. "Mother, stop your noise and go and sit in that chair. You demand, do you, Mr. Dodd, that to save my mother from exposure as a woman who has stolen, I must be your wife?"
"Do you really want a wife who has been won in that fashion?"
"I want you."
"You realize, fully, don't you, the spirit in which I shall marry you?"
"We'll take care of that matter after we are married, Kate. You have liked me. You will care for me more when you come to your senses in this thing."
"You remember what my father did in the way of sacrifice, I suppose? It was no secret in this state."
"Yes," he muttered, abashed under her steady gaze.
"I am like my father in many ways—in many of my thoughts. Perhaps if he had not set me such an example in the way of sacrifice I should say something else to you, Mr. Dodd. But as the matter stands between us, considering the demand you make on me, I will marry you."
The concession was flung at him so suddenly—he had expected so much more of rebellion—that he staggered where he stood. He advanced toward her. But she waved him back.
"Sit down!" she commanded. "This matter has gone far outside romance. It has become one of business. It is a matter of barter. I have had some experience in business. You say that mother owes you five thousand dollars which you took from the state treasury?"
"And your books will be examined very carefully, of course, if there is an overturn in your office?"
"Yes. It won't be any mere legislative auditing."
"I know something about politics as well as about business, Mr. Dodd. I cannot very well help knowing, after my experience in your uncle's office. I suppose the next state convention will determine pretty effectually whether there will be an overturn or not?"
"If we renominate Harwood it ought to give us a good line on the control of the next legislature," he told her. "A hobo and a goody-goody," he added, with scorn, "think they have stirred up a revolution, but they have another think coming." He had been calmed by her outwardly matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation. But he did not perceive the fires of her soul gleaming deep in her eyes.
"If Governor Harwood is renominated and the next legislature is in the hands of your uncle, as usual, you will be sure to remain in your position?"
"And you can hide the discrepancy on your books from the auditing committee?"
"I am pretty sure I can."
"You appreciate fully, don't you, Mr. Dodd, why, after all my troubles in this life up till now, I should hesitate to marry a man with state prison hanging over him?"
"If Governor Harwood is not renominated I shall expect you to defer our marriage until you can work out of your difficulties. There will be danger and it is not in the bargain of my sacrifice that I shall pass through such disgrace with you; at any rate, I do not consider that added suffering is in the trade and will not agree to it. I prefer to remain as I am and share the disgrace of my mother. Do you agree to that?"
"I don't like it, but I suppose I've got to be decent in the matter."
"But if Governor Harwood is renominated at the convention I will concede a point on my part and will marry you at once, taking it for granted that you will be able to clear yourself. In that way both of us are making concessions—and such things should be considered in a bargain." She was coldly polite.
He bowed, not knowing exactly what reply to make to her.
"You have accused me of trifling in the past," she continued. "I will now try to show you that I can conduct straight business as it should be handled. Shall I make a memo of our agreement and hand it to you?"
"There is no need of it," he stammered.
"Thank you, Mr. Dodd. And now that the matter has been settled to our mutual satisfaction, I will ask you to go. I think my mother needs my attention. And I am reminded that our bargain does not dispose of the fact that my mother owes you five thousand dollars. I will reflect on how that debt may be paid—by insurance"—her face grew whiter still—"or by some arrangement."
"I wish you wouldn't say such—" But she interrupted him.
"On my part, this is strictly business, Mr. Dodd, and I must consider all sides. I will give the money matter careful thought. I'm sure we can arrange it. I have merely bought my mother's good name with myself!"
He stumbled out of the room and went on his way.
"Mother, you and I have some long, long thoughts to busy ourselves with before we attempt to talk to each other," said the girl when the two were alone. "I am going to my room. Please do not disturb me until to-morrow."
For an hour Kate Kilgour was a girl once more, sobbing her heart out against her pillow, stretched upon her bed in abandon of woe, torn by the bitter knowledge that she was alone in her pitiful fight. She was more frank with herself in her sorrow than she ever had been before. She owned to her heart that a few days before even a mother's desperate plight would hardly have won such a sacrifice as she had made.
She was ready to own that she loved that tall young man of mystery whose face had refuted the suspicion that he was a mere vagrant. It was strange—it was unaccountable. But she had ceased to wonder at the vagaries of love. In her prostration of mental energies and of hope she confessed to herself that she had loved him.
But now between his face and hers, as she shut her eyes and reproduced his features, limned in her memory, those fiery words danced—there was a "play-mamma" who with him had loved the little girl named Rosemarie.
Checking her sobs, she sighed, and her heart surrendered him.
Her sacrifice had been made both easier and yet more difficult.
Then she snuggled close to her pillows and gazed out into the gathering night, and pondered on the fact that if Walker Farr won his fight in the state convention that victory put an end to her poor little truce in the matter of Richard Dodd.
Then she was sure that she had put Walker Farr out of her heart for ever, because she found herself hoping that he would win. The girl had not yet grown into full knowledge of the dynamics of a true and unselfish love—she did not fully know herself.
A DICKER FOR A MAN'S SOUL
The populace came first and packed solidly into the galleries of the great auditorium of Marion city.
For years the state conventions of the dominant party had attracted but little public attention. They had been simple affairs of routine, indorsing the men and the principles of the Big Machine. The next governor had been groomed and announced to the patient people long months before the date of the convention; platforms protecting the interests were glued placidly and secretly and brought forth from the star chamber to be admired; and no delegate was expected or allowed to joggle a plank or nick the smooth varnish which had been smoothed over selfish privilege.
But this year came all the people who could pack themselves into galleries and aisles.
Below on the main floor were more than two thousand delegates. Every town and city sent the full number accredited. After these men had been seated the men and women who thronged the corridors and stairways were allowed to enter and stand in the rear of the great hall.
Strange stories, rumors, predictions, had been running from lip to lip all over the big commonwealth. It was reported that the throne of the tyrant was menaced at last by rebellion which was not mere vaporings of the restless and resentful; organized revolt had appeared, marching in grim silence, not revealing all its strength, and therefore all the more ominous.
A military band brayed music unceasingly into the high arches of the hall. The music served as obbligato for the mighty diapason of men's voices; the thousands talked as they waited.
The broad platform of the stage was untenanted. The speakers, the chairman, the clerks, the members of the state committee, did not appear, though the hour named as the time of calling the meeting to order arrived and passed.
In an anteroom, so far removed from the main hall that only the dull rumble of voices and the shredded echoes of the blaring music reached there, was assembled the state's oligarchy awaiting the pleasure of Colonel Symonds Dodd.
He sat in a big chair, his squat figure crowding its confines.
The state committee and the rest of his entourage were gathered about him.
There was a committeeman from every county in the state—the men who formed the motive cogs of his machine.
One after the other they had reported to him.
And each time a man finished talking the colonel drove a solid fist down on the arm of the chair and roared: "I say again I don't believe it's as bad as you figure it. It can't be as bad. Do you tell me that this party is going to be turned upside down by a kid-glove aristocrat who has hardly stirred out of his office during this campaign?"
"He has had a chap to do his stirring for him," stated one of the group.
"A hobo, scum of the rough-scruff, hailing from nowhere! Shown up in our newspapers as a ditch-digger—a fly-by-night—a nobody! I'm ashamed of this state committee, coming here and telling me that he has been allowed to influence anybody."
"Colonel Dodd, what I'm going to say to you may not sound like politics as we usually talk it," declared a committeeman, a gray-haired and spectacled person who had the grave mien of a student, "and it is not admitted very often by regular politicians who run with the machine. But we are up against something which has happened in this queer old world of ours a good many times. We have had the best organization here in this state that a machine ever put together. But in American politics it's always just when the machine is running best that something happens. Something is dropped into the gear, and it's usually done by the last man you'd expect to do it. The fellows who are tending the machine are too busy watching that part of the crowd they think is dangerous, and then the inconspicuous chap slips one over."
"I don't want any lecture on politics," snapped the boss. "Do you mean to insinuate that that low-lived Farr has put this over on us?"
"I have hunted to the bottom of things and I do say so, Colonel Dodd."
"How in blazes did that fellow ever get any influence? I haven't been able to believe that he has been accomplishing anything."
"You ought to have listened a little more closely to us, Colonel," insisted the committeeman. "Every once in a while there comes forward a man whom the people will follow. And he is never the rich man nor the proud man, but he is one who knows how to reach the hearts of the crowd. A shrewd politician can get power by building up his machine. And then some fellow in overalls who has some kind of a God-given quality that has never been explained yet so that we can understand, smashes into sight like a comet. It may be his way of talking to men, it may be his personality—it is more likely a divine spark in him that neither he himself nor other men understand. But every now and again some humble chap like that has changed the history of the world, and I reckon it's pretty easy for such a man to change the politics of a mere state."
His associates were staring at him and Colonel Dodd was giving him furious glances. He had spoken with enthusiasm. He broke off suddenly.
"I beg your pardon. I don't mean to go quite so far. But I'm a student of history and I've read a lot about natural-born leaders."
"You evidently know more about history than you do about politics," growled the colonel. "This whole state committee doesn't seem to know much politics. If you have allowed that Farr to slime his way around under cover and do you up in your own counties, I'll see to it that we have a new state committee."
"I have an idea that that convention out there will attend to the matter of a new state committee for us."
The new speaker's voice was very soft. His nickname in state politics was "Whispering Saunders." He was known as being the most artistic political "pussy-foot" in the party. It was averred that he could put on rubber boots and run twice around the State House on a fresh fall of light snow and not leave a track.
"If I'm any kind of a smeller—and I reckon it's admitted that I am," purred Saunders, "we are walloped before the start-off in every county delegation out on that floor."
"But what has been the matter with you fellows all the time?" blazed the boss. "Up to now you have been reporting simply that the soreheads were growling and were not getting together so as to be dangerous."
"Did you ever try to shovel up soft soap from a cellar floor with a knitting-needle?" inquired the politician. "That's how it's been in this case. Every man I talked with was slippery. I know slippery times when I see 'em. I've been afraid, but I hoped for the best. Now that they are here, with this convention due to be called to order, they are not slippery any longer. They don't need to be. I've just been through the convention hall. They are out and open—and they're against us."
"That Farr has a proxy from a delegate in the Eleventh Ward and is on the floor," stated another.
"But he isn't a voter."
"He wasn't a little while ago, but he is to-day, Colonel. The board of registration had to put his name on the books—he has lived here long enough to become a voter."
Colonel Dodd glared from face to face. It was plain that he was angered rather than dismayed; he was like a bull at bay, shaking the pricking darts out of his shoulders. He took a hasty glance at his watch. 'Twas twenty minutes past the hour appointed for the calling of the convention. He could hear the distant band still bellowing bravely to kill time.
A giant of a man stood up—a cool man, rather cynical. He was the chairman of the state committee.
"I have been waiting till all these gentlemen got the panic worked out of their systems—or, at least, had said all they could think of about that panic, Colonel. Now we can go ahead and do real business. We have not had a battle in this state for a long time, and this panic may be excusable. They say that the men who are the worst frightened before the battle do the best fighting after they get into the real scrap. I will admit that the situation in the state has been a little slippery, as Saunders has said. And some men have dared to do a lot of loud talking since they have arrived here in this city. It is so strange a thing that it has got everybody in a panic. The Chinese are wise—they show dragons to the enemy, but the dragons are only paper. Wouldn't think the enemy could be scared that way, eh? But look at this bunch of state committeemen! A pasteboard 'natural-born leader' set up, and Archer Converse puffing smoke through the nostrils of that effigy! Gentlemen, you ought to be ashamed of yourselves!"
Colonel Dodd snorted emphatic approval.
"You are talking like children. Guff and growls can't carry this convention. That crowd hasn't even got a candidate for governor. Have you heard one mentioned?"
"I don't suppose they would dare to go as far as that," said one of the committeemen. "Governor Harwood, by party usage, is entitled to a renomination, of course. What they figure on is a new state committee and a platform that will include reforms."
"Huh! Yes! So much striped candy! Give it to 'em. Then we've got only twenty-four men to handle in the way we have always handled state committees—and even that crowd can't find saints and archangels for their candidates! And as for a political platform—bah!"
It was the practical politician's caustic estimate of conditions.
Then the chairman joined in, bolstering this supercilious view: "As for that legislature—how many bills were ever passed in our legislature over a governor's veto after we had got in our work? We are going to have a safe man for governor. That band's lungs won't last for ever. Colonel Dodd, are you ready?"
If revolt and the spirit of resentment and rebellion did exist in that assemblage, which the magnates of the party faced when they marched upon the platform, the tumult of applause covered all sinister outward aspects. The routine of the convention was entered upon: the secretary read the convention call, the organization was perfected without protest, and the orator of the day, as president pro tem, a conservative United States Senator, began his "key-note speech." It was a document which had been in proof slips for a week, and which all the party workers from Colonel Dodd down had read and approved. Therefore, when Richard Dodd entered from one of the side doors and came tiptoeing across the platform and touched the colonel's arm and jerked energetic request for the colonel to follow, the colonel followed, glad of an excuse to be absent while the Senator fulminated.
Young Dodd's face was flushed and working with excitement. He hurried his uncle into a small retiring-room and locked the door.
"I've got your man, uncle," he declared.
"What man?" The colonel was grouchy and indifferent.
"Your man Farr."
"I don't claim him."
"But you said you wanted him. You said you wanted to hang him like a dead crow in the political bean-patch."
"Merely momentary insanity on my part, Richard. There seems to have been a little run of it in this state, and when Judge Warren caught it and gave it to me I talked like a fool, I suppose. But you must remember that a polecat can give the most level-headed man an almighty start—and then the level-headed man walks out around the polecat and goes on his way very calmly."
"But don't you consider that Farr is a dangerous man?"
The colonel held up his pudgy hand and snapped a finger into his palm. "He amounts to that in front of the muzzle of a ten-inch gun."
"But I went ahead after what you said. I have put out time and money. I hired a detective. I figured I was doing a good job for the machine." Young Dodd's voice trembled and disappointment was etched into his anxious features.
"Well, what have you found out?"
"I can't tell you. It's another man's secret, and he's got to have cash or a guaranty before he'll come across with it."
"What's the price?"
Richard Dodd exhibited confusion and hesitation. "I made some promises to him, uncle, because I know what has been paid in the past for things which didn't seem to be as important as this—judging from the way you and the judge talked. So I—well, I—"
"Price, price, I say! I'm used to hearing money talked," harked the colonel. "I've got to get back into that convention. Out with it!" He made two steps toward the door.
"Five thousand!" blurted the young man.
Colonel Dodd whirled and whipped off his eye-glasses so as to give his nephew the full effect of his contemptuous fury.
"Why, you young lunatic, I wouldn't pay that price if they were going to elect Farr the governor of this state, and make him a present of the Consolidated, and you could bring proof that he is the reincarnation of Judas Iscariot."
A roar of voices and a thunder of thudding feet announced that the Senator had finished.
Colonel Dodd hurried away.
The nephew found Detective Mullaney in the alley behind the auditorium, and the young man's air of discomfiture and the sagging shake of his head told the story of his errand without words.
"If they're getting too mean in their old age to hand me a fair price for a good job then let 'em get licked," declared the detective. "You stuck to our original figure of five hundred dollars, didn't you?"
The young man looked over the detective's head and lied. "Five hundred—that's what I told him."
"And he wouldn't consider it?"
"Something has braced him so that he isn't afraid of the man any longer. Perhaps he has got a line of his own on him. It doesn't seem to be worth anything any longer. Suppose you tell me just who he is and what about him?"
"Not on your life!" retorted Detective Mullaney, sharply. "I ain't saying anything against your family, of course, but when I give a Dodd something for nothing—even a hint—it will be when I'm talking in my sleep and don't know it. But I'll tell you what I will do. Give me my two hundred and fifty and I'll hand you the whole proposition and you may go ahead and make what you can of it. I swear to you again that I've got it on him. Seeing what he did to you, you ought to feel that the story is worth that much of a gamble even for private purposes."