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AN HONEST POLITICIAN By CHARLES LOWE SWIFT
ly into a park settee and took off his hat. He had been done; done to a rich, brown crisp and he was still sizzling as he took his isolated seat beneath the stars. Done by a group of pudgy-faced politicians, who gained their daily bread by graft and greed; by a wolfish pack of gangsters in sheep's clothing who, thus disguised, had posed as his friends. This, too, after he had been of them, sworn by them, fought for them during eight long years, thinking them honest; because he had blindly believed in that parasital paradox: “an honest politician.” With the young attorney, honesty in all things was an inherent trait. His early schooling had been in a little New England town where his father had been one of the selectmen and where the body politic worked for the public good alone. Cherishing the chimerical delusion that politics everywhere might be made as clean as in Barnstable, he went through college and law school nursing the hope that some day he would enter the civil lists and shatter a lance against the forces of unrighteousness. He was graduated into the world's wide university with a succinct knowledge of law, a pliant tongue and a firm handshake, and so when he went to the People's party he was admitted to the outer circle and given a chance at speech making and vote getting. In order that he might preach the alleged “principles” of his party he was kept ignorant of its true intents, with the result that before long his sincerity compelled thoughtful consideration among some others as ignorant as himself. Vitally interested
J; HAMMOND dropped weari
in the course he was pursuing, he
worked blindly and tirelessly until as his eighth year in the ranks drew to a
close he was in line to become not only a successful lawyer, but also an honest politician. The campaign of 19— proposed the installation of a ten million dollar sewerage system and the question uppermost in the minds of citizens was whether the money should be turned over, as a cash prize to the Independent party, or whether the People's party should receive it to dispose of “honestly”—a question comparatively easy of solution to the uninitiated, but equally difficult to those acquainted with the devious bypaths of political intrigue. The slate for the People's party had been made out complete save for the office of commissioner of streets, one of the most important offices on the slate, as its holder would be forced to condemn much property. To do this meant endless litigation unless the office was skilfully managed. If it was skilfully managed according to the political construction of the term, it meant an endless source of revenue to ringsters in the acceptance of bribes for not condemning property that otherwise would be condemned. An honest man in the position might save the city thousands of dollars; one who placed profit before honesty might, with the protection of the mayor, pocket thousands of dollars for himself and the other vultures who prey on the carrion they make of public institutions. Some months before the election, Lynch, the chairman of the People's party, summoned Hammond to his of. fice. He shook hands effusively with him, pushed over a box of cigars, complimented him on the work he was doing for his party, and then came at once to business. “We've got to name the nominee for commissioner of streets to-morrow,” he began in a somewhat embarrassed manner, “and we promised you the job. If electioneering was the whole thing you'd get the place without a kick, but Hammond, there's more than that to be considered. There's a big pool at stake in the coming election and we— they—that is, the party has been working quietly for more than six years to form a circle around that pool. We've got a mayor who's onto his job and we've got to have a commissioner who can play in with him. See what I mean? So the majority has decided to put Ryan in as commissioner and—” “Not if—” broke in Hammond, bristling as he rose. “Wait a minute now,” crooned the other softly. “We'll put Ryan in as commissioner and give you twentyfive thousand dollars to go on working and make a noise like a clam, when it comes to talking about the inner circle. That's fair, ain't it?” For a full minute Hammond stood before the other in unbelieving astonishment. Twice he tried to speak and twice the words withered on the tip of his palsied tongue. Then stepping over to the chairman's desk, he spoke a little lower than his natural tone. “Lynch,” he said, eyeing the other keenly, “twenty-five thousand dollars is a big sum of money. It is more than I ever had in my life, but it's too small a price to buy this office from me.” “Well, call it fifty,” returned the other, trying to assume an easy air. “No, nor a hundred and fifty. You'll slate me for commissioner of streets or I'll show you and the others up like a floating mine under a searchlight.” “Oh! no, you won't,” said the chairman, conciliatingly. “You’ll take the money,” and, rising, he patted the lawyer on the shoulder. Hammond brushed away the hand as though it had been a scorpion. “You’ll give me the position or I'll show you up,” was the uncompromising reply. “Come now, don’t be a fool,” said Lynch, shortly. “You’ll be in line for
something better than commissioner later on, but just now—” “Just now I'm needed in the position of commissioner more than I'll need the position of governor later on. I want the place.” “Well, you can't have the place!” and the thick neck of the other swelled like a glutted leech. “Then I'll hold you up before the public gaze for the bunch of boodling vampires that you are.” “You blab and you don't get a damn cent! We've got the “World” and “Leader” with us and the rest of 'em 'll say you're a sorehead because we won't give you what you want. Now take the money and stay with us. Before long we'll boost you into something good. This city is the seat of the state government—” “With most of its brains in its seat,” exploded the attorney. “No, I'll stay square to the finish.” “Well, I see your finish coming,” sneered Lynch as the door banged.
A summer zephyr that was filtered through the flower beds of the park, sent its refreshing breath through the moist hair of Hammond in his seat on the park bench. It played about his open throat and caressed his throbbing temples until at last, as his heated brain cooled, a determined resolution crystallized itself therein. Then lighting his half-consumed cigar, he strolled slowly to his rooms, the disappointments of today behind him, the prospects of a new to-morrow ahead.
The next morning four men sat in the office of Jim Francis, cooling their heels and waiting. The Boss, who sat . behind his desk a few yards away, was one of the most unique figures in city politics. He was a boss in the most generous interpretation of the expression; an autocrat who ruled with a hand that broke wherever it could not bend, yet to those who were loyal to him he dealt favors lavishly with that same hand. A self-acknowledged spoilsman, he took all that was yielded in the political dragnet, and those who
formed the army of his adherents shared the glory and the infamy of his name. With him nothing was too sacred to sacrifice, yet all that he did was done shamelessly and openly. Of this last trait his office was typical. There was no inner sanctum and any who desired to see him and talk with him must do so before any who might be present, a fact which often made the first desire to be last and gave the last an unwilling opportunity to be first. On this particular morning the first to be called was a square shouldered, well-groomed man whose features were marred by a pair of shifting eyes and a weak mouth. When the office boy called his name he was nervously prodding the carpet with the point of his cane and he started suddenly on hearing himself spoken to. As he stepped toward the desk at the other side of the room, the man before it raised his hand and pressed a button. Instantly a big negro appeared and as he reached the side of the visitor the Boss looked up and with his eye on the latter he spoke deliberately to the negro. “Roger,” he said, “this is Mr. Fletcher, of the eleventh ward, who sells his friends at the highest figure. He has come to talk with me but as I haven’t time to hear his talk I want you to take him out there and tell him what I think of him. Then, if he lets you live after that, show him through the back entrance where we send out all of our rubbish.” Fletcher went white to his hair. “Francis, you can't—” “Roger will talk with you,” returned the Boss, waving his hand toward the door. “Tell Mr. Sheehan I'll see him,” he said to the boy, and the first, his features furrowed with a black look of hate, followed Roger through the door. Sheehan was a slick politician lawyer who, when there was any money in it, did anything for anybody and then generally hid his doings under the name of somebody else. He was quick of tongue and motion and as he stepped sprucely over to the big desk he stretched out his hand with an oily word of greeting.
The Boss sat back in his chair, ignoring the extended hand. “Did you do the job?” he asked, pointedly. “I’ve landed all of 'em,” returned the other, laying a paper on the desk. Francis looked over the paper carefully and, satisfied with its contents, reached for his checkbook. “Er—Mr. Francis, do you mind making the payment in cash?” asked the lawyer, with a smooth smile. “Don’t want the bank people to know that you and the old man are friends, eh?” flashed Francis. “Well, ah—the other's a bit safer, you know.” “Yes, I know,” dryly came the answer. “You’re willing to do my work, aren't you?” “Certainly, certainly, but—” “Then you'll take my paper,” and he handed over the check. “Tell Garland he's next,” turning to the boy. “Hello, Garland,” he said, as the other man came before him. “You look a little yellow this morning. Overtaxing your liver?” “No, it ain't my liver,” returned Garland, laughing feebly. “Guess it's my heart. Lynch has offered me a good chunk of the People's graft if I–” “Going to flop, eh?” “That's about it, Boss.” “Think you can do better by yourself than the old man's done by you?” “Not that you ain't treated me white, but it looks good the other way. You see—” “Certainly I see, my boy. It's the naked knife between us after this. If you think you can do better on the other side, try it, and if I can do you while you're trying, I’ll do it. If there's anything left of you after the polls close, come 'round and see me. You're square.” “Thanks, Boss,” and shaking the outstretched hand, Garland went Out. “I’m ready for Mr. —” Francis took another glance at the card in his hand and turned around to look: “for Mr. Hammond,” he finished, slowly. “How are you, Mr. Hammond?” he
said, nodding shortly. “What are you doing in the enemy's camp?” . . “I’m considering a change of faith,” said the other flatly, “and I want to know what prospect there is for a new recruit in the Independent ranks.” For a full minute the older politician scrutinized him sharply. “Steam roller?” he asked, at length. “Yes and no,” returned Hammond. “I wanted and was slated for the position of commissioner of streets. I was too honest for that, so they changed the slate and offered me that very excellent but unsatisfactory mediator between grafter and the honest man–cold cash. But that isn't my end in politics. I wanted enough political power to show that I'm square. It seems I can't have that. Then I want to do the next best thing and join a crowd that whatever its methods, and whatever its ends, always does what it says. For a chance to succeed in politics, for a chance to get into power, I am willing to sign body and soul into your possession; willing to take up your standard and follow your dictates; willing to lay aside principles and self-respect. Then when you agree that I have acquitted myself of my obligations toward you— if it isn't too late—I want to turn square and reclaim what I have bartered.” Francis watched the pallor overspread the face of the man before him and listened to the tremor in his voice with a calloused fascination. He knew . man, his record and his value as an ally. “Rather a risky trade both ways, isn't it?” smiled Francis. “Do you know wo the full cost will be if I take you up “Exactly what I offer for sale; body and soul, self respect, friends, principles, honor—all these go into the scale. But if they will buy me what I want more than anything else in life; what I have fought for fairly and squarely— a chance in politics—the bargain is made.” “Suppose I don't take you up.” The other's jaw set hard. “Suppose, too, without taking you
up, I give the story of this visit to the papers.” *Naturally I’d deny it by calling you a white-livered, black-hearted liar, and the other gentle epithets exchanged by warring politicians, but—” and his voice grew deeply serious, “Francis, you're going to take me up. In a close election like this I’m too good a political asset for you to put aside. The others don't know my full power, but you do. If I bolt and go into the third, fourth and -fifth wards and tell them why I bolted, I’ll swing those wards whichever way I go. They believed in the cause for which I was fighting because I believed in it myself, and if I take this story to them and tell them of the graft and rottenness in the People's party, they'll believe and go with me. If I swing in with the Reform Party there is a hope, but I don't want to risk on a hope when I can win on a certainty.” “Hammond, you're even more of a politician than I thought you were,” said the Boss, smiling. “If I take you in tow, what concessions do you want to offer your people?” “Only a fair tax rate. The men in those three wards, mostly working men, own their own homes. It would be ruinous to foist a high tax rate on them as the Lynch people are going to do in order to further their own selfish ends. Then, too, low taxes is the most potent shibboleth we can raise in these wards and if I raise it they'll believe me.” “Well, so much for the people. Now what do you want?” “Commissioner of streets.” “Too much, entirely too much.” “Well, what do you offer?” “You won't take money? seventy-five thousand, cash?” “No, I don't belong to the tip taking class. If you've got a candidacy to offer me, all right; if not—” “Suppose I offer you the tax assessorship.” “I’ll take it!” “Even though your hands are somewhat bound by commissioners who are in the organization?” “Yes.”
Say “When will you make the avowal of your change of heart?” “To-night, at the People's mass meeting in the Criterion theatre.” A glimmer of admiration sparkled in the old man's eye as he reached for the button beside his desk, but the glimmer softened to something closely akin to affection as a door opened nearby and the slender figure of a young girl stepped out. As she approached Hammond stared and started as though the wraith of his departed honor had danced before his vision, and as he continued to gaze, an irrepressible admiration that was suddenly stirred in him seemed to melt almost into affection. There was nothing about her that was suggestive of association with the type of men who daily frequented this of fice; rather she was quite the antithesis of these, suggesting character, refinement, education and the essence of pure womanhood. She was not overpoweringly beautiful but from out of the fine meshed frame of wavy chestnut hair there appeared a face of which the winsomeness combined well with the witchery of her figure. A glance at her was a revelation; a long look engendered danger to the heart of the chaste beholder and Hammond was still staring hard when she stepped over to the desk. “Miss Marion,” said the Boss in a tone that caused Hammond to glare at him. “I want you to drop a line to the leaders and tell them to meet me here to-night at eleven o’clock. That's all. Oh! I want to present to you Mr. Hammond, formerly of the People's party. He's coming with us. This young lady, Hammond, is the only stenographer in the state who can take a message and forget it as soon as she has despatched it.” Like a caress, Hammond's glance rested on the dark tresses as she slightly inclined her head in acknowledgement of the introduction and when, a half an hour later, the bargain made, he left his soul in the possession of the politician, his heart was every whit as much in the possession of the private stenographer. As he walked up the
street his truant thoughts dwelt not so much on the great sacrifice he had made to enter the political arena as on an eloquent pair of slate grey eyes which seemed to have awakened a longing greater even than his ambitions. That night a mass meeting of the People's party had been advertised for one of the theatres of the fourth ward and, as Hammond was scheduled to speak, the audience was composed mainly of his adherents from the third, fourth and fifth wards. The news of his break with the party was known only to a few of the heads who, hoping that they might keep the attorney's support, had thought best to keep the matter quiet until he took steps against them. Oysting was the only one of these who was present and a smile of satisfaction passed over his features when he saw Hammond take his place on the platform. Oysting and several of the others had spoken when Hammond's name was mentioned, and the applause that greeted him as he came to the front of the stage plainly displayed the feelings of his audience towards him. He was their favorite. Understanding them, he always said things that they understood; when he promised better pavements in Aisquith street, the people got better pavements; when he said that electric lights would be placed at the corner of the alleys, they were put there. He never promised great things, but when he said his party would do a thing he saw that it was done and, more than that, he mingled with his constituents at their socials and picnics after election as well as before. He bowed smilingly in acknowledgement of their applause and when he began to speak the men stopped smoking to listen. They laughed at his opening story; they cheered his personal sallies at some of their prominent men; they yelled wildly when he skilfully praised their desire for the best government and their loyalty to their candidates, and they leaned over the
seats in front to listen when he bent
over the speaker's table and impressively raised his long forefinger.