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   Chapter 27 THE ELECTION NIGHT

The Ear in the Wall By Arthur B. Reeve Characters: 8515

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It was election night. Kennedy and Carton had arranged between them that we were all to receive the returns at the headquarters of the Reform League, where one of the papers which was particularly interested, had installed several special wires.

The polls had scarcely closed when Kennedy and I, who had voted early, if not often, in spite of our strenuous day, hastened up to the headquarters. Already it was a scene of activity.

The first election district had come in, one on the lower East Side, which was a stronghold of Dorgan, where the count could be made quickly, for there were no split tickets there. Dorgan had drawn first blood.

"I hope it isn't an omen," smiled Carton, like a good sport.

Kennedy smiled quietly.

We looked about, but Miss Ashton was not there. I wondered why not and where she was.

The first returns had scarcely begun to filter in, though, when Craig leaned over and whispered to me to go out and find her, either at her home, or if not there, at a woman's club of which she was one of the leading members.

I found her at home and sent up my card. She had apparently lost interest in the election and it was with difficulty that I could persuade her to accompany me to the League headquarters. However, I argued the case with what ability I had and finally she consented.

The other members of the Ashton family had monopolized the cars and we were obliged to take a taxicab. As our driver threaded his way slowly and carefully through the thronged streets it gave us a splendid chance to see some of the enthusiasm. I think it did Margaret Ashton good, too, to get out, instead of brooding over the events of the past few days, as she had seen them. Her heightened colour made her more attractive than ever.

The excitement of any other night in the year paled to insignificance before this.

Distracted crowds everywhere were cheering and blowing horns. Now a series of wild shouts broke forth from the dense mass of people before a newspaper bulletin board. Now came sullen groans, hisses, and catcalls, or all together, with cheers, as the returns swung in another direction. Not even baseball could call out such a crowd as this.

Enterprising newspapers had established places at which they flashed out the returns on huge sheets on every prominent corner. Some of them had bands, and moving pictures, and elaborate forms of entertainment for the crowds.

Now and then, where the crowd was more than usually dense, we had to make a wide detour. Even the quieter streets seemed alive. On some boys had built huge bonfires from barrels and boxes that had been saved religiously for weeks or surreptitiously purloined from the grocer or the patient house-holder. About the fires, they kept an ever watchful eye for the descent of their two sworn enemies-the policeman and the rival gang privateering in the name of a hostile candidate.

Boys with armfuls of newspapers were everywhere, selling news that in the rapid-fire change of the statistics seemed almost archeologically old.

Lights blazed on every side. Automobiles honked and ground their gears. The lobster palaces, where for weeks, Francois, Carl, and William had been taking small treasury notes for tables reserved against the occasion, were thronged. In theatres people squirmed uneasily until the ends of acts, in order to listen to returns read from the stage before the curtain. Police were everywhere. People with horns, and bells, and all manner of noise-making devices, with confetti and "ticklers" pushed up on one side of Broadway and down on the other.

At every square they congested foot and vehicle traffic, as they paused ravenously to feed on the meagre bulletins of news.

Yet back of all the noise and human energy, as a newspaperman, I could think only of the silent, systematic gathering and editing of the news, of the busy scenes that each journal's office presented, the haste, the excitement, the thrill in the very smell of the printer's ink.

Miss Ashton, I was glad to note, as we proceeded downtown, fell more and more into the spirit of the adventure.

High up in the League headquarters in the tower, when we arrived, it was almost like a newspaper office, to me. A corps of clerks was ta

bulating returns, comparing official and semi-official reports. As first the city swung one way, then another, our hopes rose and fell.

I could not help noticing, however, after a while that Miss Ashton seemed cold and ill at ease. There was such a crowd there of Leaguers and their friends that it was easily possible for her not to meet Carton. But as I circulated about in the throng, I came upon him. Carton looked worried and was paying less attention to the returns than seemed natural. It was evident that, in spite of the crowd, she had avoided him and he hesitated to seek her out.

There were so many things to think of thrusting themselves into one's attention that I could follow none consistently. First I found myself wondering about Carton and Miss Ashton. Before I knew it I was delivering a snap judgment on whether the uptown residence district returns would be large enough to overcome the hostile downtown vote. I was frankly amazed, now, to see how strongly the city as a whole was turning to the Reform League.

A boy, pushing through the crowd, came upon Kennedy and myself, talking to Miss Ashton. He shoved a message quickly into Craig's hand and disappeared.

"For heaven's sake!" he exclaimed as he tore open the envelope and read. "What do you think of that? My shadows report that Martin Ogleby has been arrested and his confession will be enough, with the Black Book and Betty Blackwell, to indict Dorgan. Kahn has committed suicide! Hartley Langhorne has sailed for Paris on the French line, with Mrs. Ogleby!"

"Mary Ogleby-eloped?" repeated Miss Ashton, aghast.

The very name seemed to call up unpleasant associations and her face plainly showed it. Kennedy had said nothing to her since the day when he had pleaded with her to suspend judgment.

"By the way," he said in a low voice, leaning over toward her, "have you heard that those pictures of her were faked? It was really Dorgan, and some crook photographer cut out his face and substituted Carton's. We got the Black Book, this morning, too, and it tells the story of Mrs. Ogleby's misadventures-as well as a lot of much more important things. We got it from Mr. Murtha and--"

"Mr. Murtha?" she inquired, in surprise.

"It is a secret, but I think I can violate it to a certain extent for

Mr. Carton is a party to it and-"

Kennedy paused. He was speaking with the assurance of one who assumed that John Carton and Margaret Ashton had no secrets. She saw it, and coloured deeply.

Then he lowered his voice further to a whisper and when he finished, her face was even a deeper scarlet. But her eyes had a brightness they had lacked for days. And I could see the emotion she felt as her slight form quivered with excitement.

Kennedy excused himself and we worked our way through the press toward

Carton.

"Dorgan has lost his nerve!" ejaculated Craig as we came up with him, watching district after district which showed that the Boss's usual pluralities were being seriously reduced.

"Lost his nerve?" repeated Carton.

"Yes. I told him I would publish the whole affair of the photographs just as I knew it, not caring whom it hit. I advised him to read his revised statutes again about money in elections and I added the threat, 'There will be no "dough day" or it will be carried to the limit, Dorgan, and I will resurrect Murtha in an hour!' You should have seen his face! There was no dough day. That's what I meant when I said it was to be a fair fight. You see the effect on the returns."

Carton was absolutely speechless. The tears stood in his eyes as he grasped Kennedy's hand, then swung around to me.

A terrific cheer broke out among the clerks in the outer office. One of them rushed in with a still unblotted report.

Kennedy seized it and read:

"Dorgan concedes the city by a safe plurality to Carton, fifty-two election districts estimated. This clinches the Reform League victory."

I turned to Carton.

Behind us, through the crowd, had followed a young lady and now Carton had no ears for anything except the pretty apology of Margaret Ashton.

Kennedy pulled me toward the door.

"We might as well concede Miss Ashton to Carton," he beamed. "Let's go out and watch the crowd."

THE END

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