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The Campaign Grafter
by [?]

“But I repeat. They are false. For all I know, it is a plot of McLoughlin’s, the last fight of a boss for his life, driven into a corner. And it is meaner than if he had attempted to forge a letter. Pictures appeal to the eye and mind much more than letters. That’s what makes the thing so dangerous. Billy McLoughlin knows how to make the best use of such a roorback on the eve of an election, and even if I not only deny but prove that they are a fake, I’m afraid the harm will be done. I can’t reach all the voters in time. Ten see such a charge to one who sees the denial.”

“Just so,” persisted Bennett coolly. “You admit that we are practically helpless. That’s what I have been saying all along. Get control of the prints first, Travis, for God’s sake. Then raise any kind of a howl you want – before election or after. As I say, if we had a week or two it might be all right to fight. But we can make no move without making fools of ourselves until they are published Monday as the last big thing of the campaign. The rest of Monday and the Tuesday morning papers do not give us time to reply. Even if they were published to-day we should hardly have time to expose the plot, hammer it in, and make the issue an asset instead of a liability. No, you must admit it yourself. There isn’t time. We must carry out the work we have so carefully planned to cap the campaign, and if we are diverted by this it means a let-up in our final efforts, and that is as good as McLoughlin wants anyhow. Now, Kennedy, don’t you agree with me? Squelch the pictures now at any cost, then follow the thing up and, if we can, prosecute after election?”

Kennedy and I, who had been so far little more than interested spectators, had not presumed to interrupt. Finally Craig asked, “You have copies of the pictures?”

“No,” replied Bennett. “This Hanford is a brazen fellow, but he was too astute to leave them. I saw them for an instant. They look bad. And the affidavits with them look worse.”

“H’m,” considered Kennedy, turning the crisis over in his mind. “We’ve had alleged stolen and forged letters before, but alleged stolen and forged photographs are new. I’m not surprised that you are alarmed, Bennett, nor that you want to fight, Travis.”

“Then you will take up the case?” urged the latter eagerly, forgetting both his campaign manager and his campaign manners, and leaning forward almost like a prisoner in the dock to catch the words of the foreman of the jury. “You will trace down the forger of those pictures before it is too late?”

“I haven’t said I’ll do that yet,” answered Craig measuredly. “I haven’t even said I’d take up the case. Politics is a new game to me, Mr. Travis. If I go into this thing I want to go into it and stay in it – well, you know how you lawyers put it, with clean hands. On one condition I’ll take the matter up, and on only one.”

“Name it,” cried Travis anxiously.

“Of course, having been retained by you,” continued Craig with provoking slowness, “it is not reasonable to suppose that if I find – how shall I put it – bluntly, yes? – if I find that the story of Hanford has some – er – foundation, it is not reasonable to suppose that I should desert you and go over to the other side. Neither is it to be supposed that I will continue and carry such a thing through for you regardless of truth. What I ask is to have a free hand, to be able to drop the case the moment I cannot proceed further in justice to myself, drop it, and keep my mouth shut. You understand? These are my conditions and no less.”