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   Chapter 5 THE SUFFRAGETTE SECRETARY

The Ear in the Wall By Arthur B. Reeve Characters: 17921

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Carton took us directly to the campaign headquarters of the Reform

League, where his fight for political life was being conducted.

We found the offices in the tower of a skyscraper, whence was pouring forth a torrent of appeal to the people, in printed and oral form of every kind, urging them to stand shoulder to shoulder for good government and vote the "ring" out of power.

There seemed to me to be a different tone to the place from that which I had ordinarily associated with political headquarters in previous campaigns. There was a notable absence of the old-fashioned politicians and of the air of intrigue laden with tobacco.

Rather, there was an air of earnestness and efficiency, which was decidedly encouraging and hopeful. It seemed to speak of a new era in politics when things were to be done in the open instead of at secret meetings and scandalous dinners, as Dorgan did them at Gastron's.

Maps of the city were hanging on the walls, some stuck full of various coloured pins, denoting the condition of the canvass. Other maps of the city in colours, divided into all sorts of districts, told how fared the battle in the various strongholds of Boss Dorgan and Sub-boss Murtha.

Huge systems of card indexes, loose leaf devices, labour-saving appliances for getting out a vast amount of campaign "literature" in a hurry; in short, a perfect system, such as a great, well-managed business might have been proud of, were in evidence everywhere one looked.

Work was going ahead in every department under high pressure, for the campaign, which had been more than usually heated, was now drawing to a close. Indeed, it would have taken no great astuteness, even without one's being told, to deduce merely from the surroundings that the people here were engaged in the annual struggle of seeking the votes of their fellow-citizens for reform and were nearly worn out by the arduous endeavour.

It had been, as I have said, the bitterest campaign in years. Formerly the reformers had been of the "silk-stocking" type, but now a new and younger generation was coming upon the stage, a generation which had been trained to achieve results, ambitious to attain what in former years had been considered impossible. The Reform League was making a stiff campaign and the System was, by the same token, more frightened than ever before.

Carton was fortunate in having shaken off the thralldom of the old bosses even before the popular uprising against them had assumed such proportions as to warrant anyone in taking his political life in his hands by defying the powers that ruled behind the scenes. In fact, the Reform League itself owed its existence to a fortunate conjunction of both moral and economic conditions which demanded progress.

Of course, the League did not have such a big "barrel" as their opponents under Dorgan. But, at least they did have many willing workers, men and women, who were ready to sacrifice something for the advancement of the principles for which they stood.

In one part of the suite of offices which had been leased by the League, Carton had had assigned to him an office of his own, and it was to this office that he led us, after a word with the boy who guarded the approach to the door, and an exchange of greetings with various workers and visitors in the outside office.

We seated ourselves while Carton ran his eye through some letters that had been left on his desk for his attention.

A moment later the door of his office opened and a young lady in a very stunning street dress, with a pretty little rakish hat and a tantalizing veil, stood a moment, hesitated, and then was about to turn back with an apology for intruding on what looked like a conference.

"Good-morning, Miss Ashton," greeted Carton, laying down the letters instantly. "You're just the person I want to see."

The girl, with a portfolio of papers in her hand, smiled and he quickly crossed the room and held the door open, as he whispered a word or two to her.

She was a handsome girl, something more than even pretty. The lithe gracefulness of her figure spoke of familiarity with both tennis and tango, and her face with its well-chiselled profile denoted intellectuality from which no touch of really feminine charm had been removed by the fearsome process of the creation of the modern woman. Sincerity as well as humour looked out from the liquid depths of her blue eyes beneath the wavy masses of blonde hair. She was good to look at and we looked, irresistibly.

"Let me introduce Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, Miss Ashton," began Carton, adding: "Of course you have heard of Miss Margaret Ashton, the suffragist leader? She is the head of our press bureau, you know. She's making a great fight for us here-a winning fight."

It seemed from the heightened look of determination which set Carton's face in deeper lines that Miss Ashton had that indispensable political quality of inspiring both confidence and enthusiasm in those who worked with her.

"It is indeed a great pleasure to meet you," remarked Kennedy. "Both Mr. Jameson and myself have heard and read a great deal about your work, though we seem never before to have had the pleasure of meeting you."

Miss Ashton, I recalled, was a very clever girl, a graduate of a famous woman's college, and had had several years of newspaper experience before she became a leader in the cause of equal suffrage.

The Ashtons were well known in society and it was a sore trial to some of her conservative friends that she should reject what they considered the proper "sphere" for women and choose to go out into life and devote herself to doing something that was worth while, rather than to fritter her time and energy away on the gaiety and inconsequentiality of social life.

Among those friends, I had understood, was Hartley Langhorne himself. He was older than Miss Ashton, but had belonged to the same social circle and had always held her in high regard. In fact the attentions he paid her had long been noticeable, the more so as she seemed politely unaffected by them.

Carton had scarcely more than introduced us, yet already I felt sure that I scented a romance behind the ordinarily prosaic conduct of a campaign press bureau.

It is far from my intention even to hint that the ability or success of the head of the press bureau were not all her own or were in any degree overrated. But it struck me, both then and often later, that the candidate for District Attorney had an extraordinary interest in the newspaper campaign, much more, for instance, than in the speakers' bureau. I am sure that it was not wholly accounted for by the fact that publicity is playing a more and more important part in political campaigning.

Nevertheless, as we came to know afterwards such innovations as her card index system by election districts all over the city, showing the attitude of the various newspaper editors, local leaders, and other influential citizens, recording changes of sentiment and possible openings for future work, all were very full and valuable. Kennedy, who had a regular pigeon-hole mind for facts himself, was visibly impressed by the huge mechanical memory built up by Miss Ashton.

Though he said nothing to me, I knew that Craig also had observed the state of affairs between the reform candidate and the suffrage leader.

"You see, Miss Ashton," explained Carton, "someone has placed a detectaphone in the private dining-room of Dorgan at Gastron's. I heard of it first through Mrs. Ogleby, who attended one of the dinners and was terribly afraid her name would be connected with them if the record should ever be published."

"Mrs. Ogleby?" cried Miss Ashton quickly. "She-at a dinner-with Mr.

Murtha? I-I can't believe it."

Carton said nothing. Whether he knew more about Mrs. Ogleby than he cared to tell, I could not even guess.

As he went on briefly summarizing the story, Miss Ashton shot a quick glance or two at him.

Carton noticed it, but appeared not to do so. "I suppose," he concluded, "that she thought I was the only person capable of eavesdropping. As a matter of fact, I think the instrument was put in by Hartley Langhorne as part of the fight that is going on fiercely under the surface in the organization."

It was Carton's turn now, I fancied, to observe Miss Ashton more closely. As far as I could see, the information was a matter of perfect indifference to her.

Carton did not say it in so many words, but one could not help gathering that rather than seem to be pursuing a possible rival and using his official position in order to do it, he was not considering Langhorne in any other light than as a mere actor in the drama between himself and Dorgan and Murtha.

"Now," he concluded, "the point of the whole thing is this, Miss Ashton. We have learned that Betty Blackwell-you know the case-who took the notes over the detectaphone for t

he Black Book, has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. If she is gone, it may be difficult to prove anything, even if we get the book. Miss Blackwell happens to be a stenographer in the office of Langhorne & Westlake."

For the first time, Miss Ashton seemed to show a sign of embarrassment. Evidently she would just as well have had Miss Blackwell in some other connection.

"Perhaps you would rather have nothing to do with it," suggested Carton, "but I know that you were always interested in things of the sort that happen to girls in the city and thought perhaps you could advise us, even if you don't feel like personally taking up the case."

"Oh, it doesn't-matter," she murmured. "Of course, the first thing for us to do is, as you say, to find what has become of Betty Blackwell."

Carton turned suddenly at the word "us," but Miss Ashton was still studying the pattern of the rug.

"Do you know any more about her?" she asked at length.

As fully as possible the District Attorney repeated what he had already told us. Miss Ashton seemed to be more than interested in the story of the disappearance of Langhorne's stenographer.

As Carton unfolded the meagre details of what we knew so far, Miss Ashton appeared to be torn by conflicting opinions. The more she thought of what might possibly have happened to the unfortunate girl, the more aroused about the case she seemed to become.

Carton had evidently calculated on enlisting her sympathies, knowing how she felt toward many of the social and economic injustices toward women, and particularly girls.

"If Mr. Murtha or Mr. Dorgan is responsible in any way for any harm to her," she said finally, her earnest eyes now ablaze with indignation, "I shall not rest until someone is punished."

Kennedy had been watching her emotions keenly, I suspect, to see whether she connected Langhorne in any way with the disappearance. I could see it interested him that she did not seem even to consider that Langhorne might be responsible. Whether her intuition was correct or not, it was at least better at present than any guess that we three might have made.

"They control so many forces for evil," she went on, "that there is no telling what they might command against a defenceless girl like her when it is a question of their political power."

"Then," pursued Kennedy, pacing the floor thoughtfully, "the next question is, How are we to proceed? The first step naturally will be the investigation of this Little Montmartre. How is it to be done? I presume you don't want to go up there and look the place over yourself, do you, Carton?"

"Most certainly not," said Carton emphatically. "Not if you want this case to go any further. Why, I can't walk around a corner now without a general scurry for the cyclone cellars. They all know me, and those who don't are watching for me. On the contrary, if you are going to start there I had better execute a flank movement in Queens or Jersey to divert attention. Really, I mean it. I had better keep in the background. But I'll tell you what I would like to do."

Carton hesitated and came to a full stop.

"What's the matter?" asked Kennedy quickly, noticing the hesitation.

"Why-I-er-didn't know just how you'd take a suggestion-that's all."

"Thankfully. What is it?"

"You know young Haxworth?"

"You mean the son of the millionaire who is investigating vice and whom the newspapers are poking fun at?"

"Yes. Those papers make me tired. He has been working, you know, with me in this matter. He is really serious about it, too. He has a corps of investigators of his own already. Well, there is one of them, a woman detective named Clare Kendall, who is the brains of the whole Haxworth outfit. If you would be willing to have them-er-to have her co-operate with you, I think I could persuade Haxworth--"

"Oh," broke in Kennedy with a laugh. "I see. You think perhaps there might be some professional jealousy? On the contrary, it solves a problem I was already considering. Of course we shall need a woman in this case, one with a rare amount of discretion and ability. Yes, by all means let us call in Miss Kendall, and let us take every advantage we can of what she has already accomplished."

Carton seized the telephone.

"Tell her to meet us at my laboratory in half an hour," interposed

Kennedy. "You will come along?"

"I can't. Court opens in twenty minutes and there is a motion I must argue myself."

Miss Ashton appeared to be greatly gratified at Craig's reception of the suggestion, and Carton noticed it.

"Oh, yes," recollected Carton, "by the way, as I was on my way down here, my office called up and told me that they had succeeded in locating and arresting Dopey Jack. That ought to please you,-it will mean cutting down the number of those East Side 'rackets' considerably if we succeed with him."

"Good!" she exclaimed. "Yes, I don't think there were any worse affairs than the dances of that Jack Rubano Association. They have got hold of more young girls and caused more tragedies than any other gang. If you need any help in getting together evidence, Mr. Carton, I shall be only too glad to help you. I have several old scores myself to settle with that young tough."

"Thank you," said Carton. "I shall need your help, if we are to do anything. Of course, we can hold him only for primary frauds just now, but I may be able to do something about that dance that he broke up as a shooting affray."

Miss Ashton nodded encouragingly.

"And," he went on, "it's barely possible that he may know something, or some of his followers may, about the robbery of Mr. Langhorne's safe,-if not about the complete and mysterious disappearance of Betty Blackwell."

"They'd stop at nothing to save their precious skins," commented Miss Ashton. "Perhaps that is a good lead. At any rate I can suggest that to the various societies and other agencies which I intend to set in motion trying to trace what has happened to her. You can have him held until they have time to report?"

"I shall make it a point to do so at any cost," he returned, "and I can say only this, that we are all deeply indebted to you for the interest you have shown in the case."

"Not at all," she replied enthusiastically, evidently having overcome the first hesitation which had existed because Miss Blackwell had been Langhorne's stenographer.

Miss Ashton had quickly jotted down in her notebook the best description we could give of the missing girl, her address, and other facts about her, and a list of those whom she meant to start at work on the case.

For a moment she hesitated over one name, then with a sudden resolution wrote it down.

"I intend to see Hartley Langhorne about it, too," she added frankly.

"Perhaps he may tell something of importance, after all."

I am sure that this final resolution cost her more than all the rest. Carton would never have asked it of her, yet was gratified that she saw it to be her duty to leave nothing undone in tracing the girl, not even considering the possibility of offending Langhorne.

"Decent people don't seem to realize," she remarked as she shut her little notebook and slipped it back into her chatelaine, "how the System and the underworld really do affect them. They think it is all something apart from the rest of us, and never consider how closely we are all bound together and how easy it is for the lowest and most vicious stratum in the social order to pass over and affect the highest."

"That's exactly the point," agreed Carton. "Take this very case. It goes from Wall Street to gangland, from Gastron's down to the underworld gambling joints of Dopey Jack and the rest."

"Society-gambling," mused Miss Ashton, taking out her notebook again. "That reminds me of Martin Ogleby. I must see Mary and try to warn her against some of those sporty friends of her husband's."

"Please, Miss Ashton," put in Carton quickly, "don't mention that I have told you of the detectaphone record. It might do more harm than good, just at present. For a time at least, I think we should try to keep under cover."

Whether or not that was his real reason, he turned now to Kennedy for support. We had been, for the most part, silent spectators of what had been happening.

"I think so-for the present-at least as far as our knowledge of the Black Book goes," acquiesced Craig. He had turned to Miss Ashton and made no effort to conceal the admiration which he felt for her, after even so brief an acquaintance. "I think Miss Ashton can be depended upon to play her part in the game perfectly. I, for one, want to thank her most heartily for the way in which she has joined us."

"Thank you," she smiled, as she rose to go to her own office. "Oh, you can always depend on me," she assured us as she gathered up her portfolio of papers, "where there are the interests of a girl like Betty Blackwell involved!"

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