Oliver Marchbanks, the youthful fox to whom Stimson had assigned the task of trapping Mr. Sluss in some legally unsanctioned act, had by scurrying about finally pieced together enough of a story to make it exceedingly unpleasant for the Honorable Chaffee in case he were to become the too willing tool of Cowperwood's enemies. The principal agent in this affair was a certain Claudia Carlstadt—adventuress, detective by disposition, and a sort of smiling prostitute and hireling, who was at the same time a highly presentable and experienced individual. Needless to say, Cowperwood knew nothing of these minor proceedings, though a genial nod from him in the beginning had set in motion the whole machinery of trespass in this respect.
Claudia Carlstadt—the instrument of the Honorable Chaffee's undoing—was blonde, slender, notably fresh as yet, being only twenty-six, and as ruthless and unconsciously cruel as only the avaricious and unthinking type—unthinking in the larger philosophic meaning of the word—can be. To grasp the reason for her being, one would have had to see the spiritless South Halstead Street world from which she had sprung—one of those neighborhoods of old, cracked, and battered houses where slatterns trudge to and fro with beer-cans and shutters swing on broken hinges. In her youth Claudia had been made to "rush the growler," to sell newspapers at the corner of Halstead and Harrison streets, and to buy cocaine at the nearest drug store. Her little dresses and underclothing had always been of the poorest and shabbiest material—torn and dirty, her ragged stockings frequently showed the white flesh of her thin little legs, and her shoes were worn and cracked, letting the water and snow seep through in winter. Her companions were wretched little street boys of her own neighborhood, from whom she learned to swear and to understand and indulge in vile practices, though, as is often the case with children, she was not utterly depraved thereby, at that. At eleven, when her mother died, she ran away from the wretched children's home to which she had been committed, and by putting up a piteous tale she was harbored on the West Side by an Irish family whose two daughters were clerks in a large retail store. Through these Claudia became a cash-girl. Thereafter followed an individual career as strange and checkered as anything that had gone before. Sufficient to say that Claudia's native intelligence was considerable. At the age of twenty she had managed—through her connections with the son of a shoe manufacturer and with a rich jeweler—to amass a little cash and an extended wardrobe. It was then that a handsome young Western Congressman, newly elected, invited her to Washington to take a position in a government bureau. This necessitated a knowledge of stenography and typewriting, which she soon acquired. Later she was introduced by a Western Senator into that form of secret service which has no connection with legitimate government, but which is profitable. She was used to extract secrets by flattery and cajolery where ordinary bribery would not avail. A matter of tracing the secret financial connections of an Illinois Congressman finally brought her back to Chicago, and here young Stimson encountered her. From him she learned of the political and financial conspiracy against Cowperwood, and was in an odd manner fascinated. From her Congressmen friends she already knew something of Sluss. Stimson indicated that it would be worth two or three thousand dollars and expenses if the mayor were successfully compromised. Thus Claudia Carlstadt was gently navigated into Mr. Sluss's glowing life.
The matter was not so difficult of accomplishment. Through the Hon. Joel Avery, Marchbanks secured a letter from a political friend of Mr. Sluss in behalf of a young widow—temporarily embarrassed, a competent stenographer, and the like—who wished a place under the new administration. Thus equipped, Claudia presented herself at the mayor's office armed for the fray, as it were, in a fetching black silk of a strangely heavy grain, her throat and fingers ornamented with simple pearls, her yellow hair arranged about her temples in exquisite curls. Mr. Sluss was very busy, but made an appointment. The next time she appeared a yellow and red velvet rose had been added to her corsage. She was a shapely, full-bosomed young woman who had acquired the art of walking, sitting, standing, and bending after the most approved theories of the Washington cocotte. Mr. Sluss was interested at once, but circumspect and careful. He was now mayor of a great city, the cynosure of all eyes. It seemed to him he remembered having already met Mrs. Brandon, as the lady styled herself, and she reminded him where. It had been two years before in the grill of the Richelieu. He immediately recalled details of the interesting occasion.
"Ah, yes, and since then, as I understand it, you married and your husband died. Most unfortunate."
Mr. Sluss had a large international manner suited, as he thought, to a man in so exalted a position.
Mrs. Brandon nodded resignedly. Her eyebrows and lashes were carefully darkened so as to sweeten the lines of her face, and a dimple had been made in one cheek by the aid of an orange stick. She was the picture of delicate femininity appealingly distressful, and yet to all appearance commercially competent.
"At the time I met you you were connected with the government service in Washington, I believe."
"Yes, I had a small place in the Treasury Department, but this new administration put me out."
She lifted her eyes and leaned forward, thus bringing her torso into a ravishing position. She had the air of one who has done many things besides work in the Treasury Department. No least detail, as she observed, was lost on Mr. Sluss. He noted her shoes, which were button patent leather with cloth tops; her gloves, which were glace black kid with white stitching at the back and fastened by dark-gamet buttons; the coral necklace worn on this occasion, and her yellow and red velvet rose. Evidently a trig and hopeful widow, even if so recently bereaved.
"Let me see," mused Mr. Sluss, "where are you living? Just let me make a note of your address. This is a very nice letter from Mr. Barry. Suppose you give me a few days to think what I can do? This is Tuesday. Come in again on Friday. I'll see if anything suggests itself."
He strolled with her to the official door, and noted that her step was light and springy. At parting she turned a very melting gaze upon him, and at once he decided that if he could he would find her something. She was the most fascinating applicant that had yet appeared.
The end of Chaffee Thayer Sluss was not far distant after this. Mrs. Brandon returned, as requested, her costume enlivened this time by a red-silk petticoat which contrived to show its ingratiating flounces beneath the glistening black broadcloth of her skirt.
"Say, did you get on to that?" observed one of the doormen, a hold-over from the previous regime, to another of the same vintage. "Some style to the new administration, hey? We're not so slow, do you think?"
He pulled his coat together and fumbled at his collar to give himself an air of smartness, and gazed gaily at his partner, both of them over sixty and dusty specimens, at that.
The other poked him in the stomach. "Hold your horses there, Bill. Not so fast. We ain't got a real start yet. Give us another six months, and then watch out."
Mr. Sluss was pleased to see Mrs. Brandon. He had spoken to John Bastienelli, the new commissioner of taxes, whose offices were directly over the way on the same hall, and the latter, seeing that he might want favors of the mayor later on, had volubly agreed to take care of the lady.
"I am very glad to be able to give you this letter to Mr. Bastienelli," commented Mr. Sluss, as he rang for a stenographer, "not only for the sake of my old friend Mr. Barry, but for your own as well. Do you know Mr. Barry very well?" he asked, curiously.
"Only slightly," admitted Mrs. Brandon, feeling that Mr. Sluss would be glad to know she was not very intimate with those who were recommending her. "I was sent to him by a Mr. Amerman." (She named an entirely fictitious personage.)
Mr. Sluss was relieved. As he handed her the note she once more surveyed him with those grateful, persuasive, appealing eyes. They made him almost dizzy, and set up a chemical perturbation in his blood which quite dispelled his good resolutions in regard to the strange woman and his need of being circumspect.
"You say you are living on the North Side?" he inquired, smiling weakly, almost foolishly.
"Yes, I have taken such a nice little apartment over-looking Lincoln Park. I didn't know whether I was going to be able to keep it up, but now that I have this position— You've been so very kind to me, Mr. Sluss," she concluded, with the same I-need-to-be-cared-for air. "I hope you won't forget me entirely. If I could be of any personal service to you at any time—"
Mr. Sluss was rather beside himself at the thought that this charming baggage of femininity, having come so close for the minute, was now passing on and might disappear entirely. By a great effort of daring, as they walked toward the door, he managed to say: "I shall have to look into that little place of yours sometime and see how you are getting along. I live up that way myself."
"Oh, do!" she exclaimed, warmly. "It would be so kind. I am practically alone in the world. Perhaps you play cards. I know how to make a most wonderful punch. I should like you to see how cozily I am settled."
At this Mr. Sluss, now completely in tow of his principal weakness, capitulated. "I will," he said, "I surely will. And that sooner than you expect, perhaps. You must let me know how you are getting along."
He took her hand. She held his quite warmly. "Now I'll hold you to your promise," she gurgled, in a throaty, coaxing way. A few days later he encountered her at lunch-time in his hall, where she had been literally lying in wait for him in order to repeat her invitation. Then he came.
The hold-over employees who worked about the City Hall in connection with the mayor's office were hereafter instructed to note as witnesses the times of arrival and departure of Mrs. Brandon and Mr. Sluss. A note that he wrote to Mrs. Brandon was carefully treasured, and sufficient evidence as to their presence at hotels and restaurants was garnered to make out a damaging case. The whole affair took about four months; then Mrs. Brandon suddenly received an offer to return to Washington, and decided to depart. The letters that followed her were a part of the data that was finally assembled in Mr. Stimson's office to be used against Mr. Sluss in case he became too obstreperous in his opposition to Cowperwood.
In the mean time the organization which Mr. Gilgan had planned with Mr. Tiernan, Mr. Kerrigan, and Mr. Edstrom was encountering what might be called rough sledding. It was discovered that, owing to the temperaments of some of the new aldermen, and to the self-righteous attitude of their political sponsors, no franchises of any kind were to be passed unless they had the moral approval of such men as Hand, Sluss, and the other reformers; above all, no money of any kind was to be paid to anybody for anything.
"Whaddye think of those damn four-flushers and come-ons, anyhow?" inquired Mr. Kerrigan of Mr. Tiernan, shortly subsequent to a conference with Gilgan, from which Tiernan had been unavoidably absent. "They've got an ordinance drawn up covering the whole city in an elevated-road scheme, and there ain't anything in it for anybody. Say, whaddye think they think we are, anyhow? Hey?"
Mr. Tiernan himself, after his own conference with Edstrom, had been busy getting the lay of the land, as he termed it; and his investigations led him to believe that a certain alderman by the name of Klemm, a clever and very respectable German-American from the North Side, was to be the leader of the Republicans in council, and that he and some ten or twelve others were determined, because of moral principles alone, that only honest measures should be passed. It was staggering.
At this news Mr. Kerrigan, who had been calculating on a number of thousands of dollars for his vote on various occasions, stared incredulously. "Well, I'll be damned!" he commented. "They've got a nerve! What?"
"I've been talking to this fellow Klemm of the twentieth," said Mr. Tiernan, sardonically. "Say, he's a real one! I met him over at the Tremont talkin' to Hvranek. He shakes hands like a dead fish. Whaddye think he had the nerve to say to me. 'This isn't the Mr. Tiernan of the second?' he says.
"'I'm the same,' says I.
"'Well, you don't look as savage as I thought you did,' says he. Haw-haw! I felt like sayin', 'If you don't go way I'll give you a slight tap on the wrist.' I'd like just one pass at a stiff like that up a dark alley." (Mr. Tiernan almost groaned in anguish.) "And then he begins to say he doesn't see how there can be any reasonable objection to allowin' various new companies to enter the street-car field. 'It's sufficiently clear,' he says, 'that the public is against monopolies in any form.'" (Mr. Tiernan was mocking Mr. Klemm's voice and language.) "My eye!" he concluded, sententiously. "Wait till he tries to throw that dope into Gumble and Pinski and Schlumbohm—haw, haw, haw!"
Mr. Kerrigan, at the thought of these hearty aldermen accustomed to all the perquisites of graft and rake-off, leaned back and gave vent to a burst of deep-chested laughter. "I'll tell you what it is, Mike," he said, archly, hitching up his tight, very artistic, and almost English trousers, "we're up against a bunch of pikers in this Gilgan crowd, and they've gotta be taught a lesson. He knows it as well as anybody else. None o' that Christian con game goes around where I am. I believe this man Cowperwood's right when he says them fellows are a bunch of soreheads and jealous. If Cowperwood's willing to put down good hard money to keep 'em out of his game, let them do as much to stay in it. This ain't no charity grab-bag. We ought to be able to round up enough of these new fellows to make Schryhart and MacDonald come down good and plenty for what they want. From what Gilgan said all along, I thought he was dealing with live ones. They paid to win the election. Now let 'em pay to pull off a swell franchise if they want it, eh?"
"You're damn right," echoed Tiernan. "I'm with you to a T."
It was not long after this conversation that Mr. Truman Leslie MacDonald, acting through Alderman Klemm, proceeded to make a count of noses, and found to his astonishment that he was not as strong as he had thought he was. Political loyalty is such a fickle thing. A number of aldermen with curious names—Horback, Fogarty, McGrane, Sumulsky—showed signs of being tampered with. He hurried at once to Messrs. Hand, Schryhart, and Arneel with this disconcerting information. They had been congratulating themselves that the recent victory, if it resulted in nothing else, would at least produce a blanket 'L' road franchise, and that this would be sufficient to bring Cowperwood to his knees.
Upon receiving MacDonald's message Hand sent at once for Gilgan. When he inquired as to how soon a vote on the General Electric franchise—which had been introduced by Mr. Klemm—could reasonably be expected, Gilgan declared himself much grieved to admit that in one direction or other considerable opposition seemed to have developed to the measure.
"What's that?" said Hand, a little savagely. "Didn't we make a plain bargain in regard to this? You had all the money you asked for, didn't you? You said you could give me twenty-six aldermen who would vote as we agreed. You're not going to go back on your bargain, are you?"
"Bargain! bargain!" retorted Gilgan, irritated because of the spirit of the assault. "I agreed to elect twenty-six Republican aldermen, and that I did. I don't own 'em body and soul. I didn't name 'em in every case. I made deals with the men in the different wards that had the best chance, and that the people wanted. I'm not responsible for any crooked work that's going on behind my back, am I? I'm not responsible for men's not being straight if they're not?"
Mr. Gilgan's face was an aggrieved question-mark.
"But you had the picking of these men," insisted Mr. Hand, aggressively. "Every one of them had your personal indorsement. You made the deals with them. You don't mean to say they're going back on their sacred agreement to fight Cowperwood tooth and nail? There can't be any misunderstanding on their part as to what they were elected to do. The newspapers have been full of the fact that nothing favorable to Cowperwood was to be put through."
"That's all true enough," replied Mr. Gilgan; "but I can't be held responsible for the private honesty of everybody. Sure I selected these men. Sure I did! But I selected them with the help of the rest of the Republicans and some of the Democrats. I had to make the best terms I could—to pick the men that could win. As far as I can find out most of 'em are satisfied not to do anything for Cowperwood. It's passing these ordinances in favor of other people that's stirring up the trouble."
Mr. Hand's broad forehead wrinkled, and his blue eyes surveyed Mr. Gilgan with suspicion. "Who are these men, anyhow?" he inquired. "I'd like to get a list of them."
Mr. Gilgan, safe in his own subtlety, was ready with a toll of the supposed recalcitrants. They must fight their own battles. Mr. Hand wrote down the names, determining meanwhile to bring pressure to bear. He decided also to watch Mr. Gilgan. If there should prove to be a hitch in the programme the newspapers should be informed and commanded to thunder appropriately. Such aldermen as proved unfaithful to the great trust imposed on them should be smoked out, followed back to the wards which had elected them, and exposed to the people who were behind them. Their names should be pilloried in the public press. The customary hints as to Cowperwood's deviltry and trickery should be redoubled.
But in the mean time Messrs. Stimson, Avery, McKibben, Van Sickle, and others were on Cowperwood's behalf acting separately upon various unattached aldermen—those not temperamentally and chronically allied with the reform idea—and making them understand that if they could find it possible to refrain from supporting anti-Cowperwood measures for the next two years, a bonus in the shape of an annual salary of two thousand dollars or a gift in some other form—perhaps a troublesome note indorsed or a mortgage taken care of—would be forthcoming, together with a guarantee that the general public should never know. In no case was such an offer made direct. Friends or neighbors, or suave unidentified strangers, brought mysterious messages. By this method some eleven aldermen—quite apart from the ten regular Democrats who, because of McKenty and his influence, could be counted upon—had been already suborned. Although Schryhart, Hand, and Arneel did not know it, their plans—even as they planned—were being thus undermined, and, try as they would, the coveted ordinance for a blanket franchise persistently eluded them. They had to content themselves for the time being with a franchise for a single 'L' road line on the South Side in Schryhart's own territory, and with a franchise to the General Electric covering only one unimportant line, which it would be easy for Cowperwood, if he continued in power, to take over at some later time.