Chapter XXXIV

These activities gave Keith just the required door out into a world other than his own. Were it not for something of the sort he might, like many modern corporation lawyers, have confined himself entirely to his own class. And this, of course, would eventually have meant narrowness.

But through Krafft, and especially through his desire to help Krafft's work, he came in contact with all sorts of people; and, what was more important, he found that he liked a great many of them. So it happened that when it seemed expedient to the ruling caste to put him in as Assistant District Attorney, his inevitable election met with wider approval than such elections usually enjoy.

For it must be understood that in the fifties any candidate selected by the ruling caste was absolutely sure of election. The machinery was thoroughly in their hands. Diplomacy in party caucuses, delicate manipulation at primaries, were backed by cruder methods if need be. Associations were semi-publically formed for the sale of votes; gangs of men were driven from one precinct to another, voting in all; intimidation, and, indeed, open violence, was freely used. Only the most adventurous or the most determined thought it worth while even to try to vote in the rough precincts. And if the first and second lines of defence failed, there was still the third to fall back on when the booths were dosed and the ballots counted: the boxes could still be "stuffed," the count could still be scientifically juggled to bring about any desired result.

This particular election was one of the worst in the history of the place. All day fighting was kept up, and the rowdies swaggered everywhere. Whiskey was to be had for the asking; and the roughs who surrounded the polls fired shots, and in some places started what might fairly be called riots. Yankee Sullivan returned James Casey as elected supervisor, which was probably a mistake, for Casey was not a candidate, his name was on none of the official ballots, and nobody could be found who had voted for him. Everybody was surprised, Casey most of all! The sixth ward count was delayed unconscionably, its returns being withheld until nearly morning. It was more than hinted that this delay was prolonged until the returns had been received from all other precincts, so that any deficiencies might be made up by the sixth. The "slate" went through unbroken.

Of all the candidates, Keith received the most votes, for the simple reason that his total included both the honest and dishonest ballots. Blanchford, Neil, Palmer, Adams, all the political overlords of the city were satisfied, as well they might be, for they had issued the fiat that he be chosen.

"He's one of us," said they.

But what was more unusual, the rank and file of decent, busy, hard-working citizens approved, too.

"Keith is not stuck up," they told each other. "He is the commonest man in that bunch. And he's square."

The position carried some social as well as political significance. Society made another effort to take him up. His rare appearances were rather in the nature of concessions. They served to make him more regretted, for he had an easy, jolly way of moving from one group or one woman to another, of paying flattering, monopolizing, brief attention to each in turn, and then disappearing, very early! His bold rather florid countenance radiated energy and quizzical good humour; his tight, closely curled hair crisped with virile alertness; he carried himself taut and eager--altogether a figure to engage the curiosities of women or the interest of men.

Mrs. Sherwood alone was shrewd enough to penetrate to his true feelings. She had experienced no difficulty in pushing to a social leadership shared --indolently and indifferently--with Nan Keith. Already her past was growing dim in a tradition kept alive only by a few whisperers. Her wealth, her natural tact and poise, her calm assumption of the right to rule, her great personal charm, beauty, and taste were more than sufficient to get her what she wanted. The game was almost too easy, when one held the cards.

"Yes, he's very charming," she told her husband, "but that manner of his does not impress me. As a matter of fact, he doesn't care a snap of his finger about any of them. He does it too well. It's a stencil. Only the outside of him does it. He's just as bad as you are; only he doesn't hold up a corner of the doorway all the evening, and beam vaguely in general, like a good-natured, dear old owl."