He paused as a dozen unspoken questions framed themselves in my mind. “I don’t hesitate to admit,” he added, “that a few months ago I knew Mrs. Ogleby—socially. But there was nothing to it. I never knew Murtha well, and the other woman I never saw. At various times I have been present at affairs where she was, but I know that no pictures were ever taken, and even if there had been, I would not care, provided they told the truth about them. What I do care about is the sworn allegation that, I understand, is to accompany these—these fakes.”
His voice broke. “It’s a lie from start to finish, but just think of it, Kennedy,” he went on. “Here is the story, and here, too, are the pictures—at least they will be, in print, to-morrow. Now, you know nothing could hurt the reform ticket worse than to have a scandal like this raised at this time. There may be just enough people to believe that there is some basis for the suspicion to turn the tide against me. If it were earlier in the campaign, I might accept the issue, fight it out to a finish, and in the turn of events I should have really the best sort of campaign material. But it is too late now to expose such a knavish trick on the Saturday before election.”
“Can’t we buy them off?” I ventured, perplexed beyond measure at this new and unexpected turn of events.
“No, I won’t,” persisted Carton, shutting his square jaw doggedly. “I won’t be held up—even if that is possible.”
“Miss Ashton on the wire,” announced a boy from the outer office.
The look on Carton’s face was a study. I saw directly what was the trouble—far more important to him than a mere election.
“Tell her—I’m out—will be back soon,” he muttered, for the first time hesitating to speak to her.
“You see,” he continued blackly, “I’ll fight if it takes my last dollar, but I won’t allow myself to be blackmailed out of a cent— no, not a cent,” he thundered, a heightened look of determination fixing the lines on his face as he brought his fist down with a rattling bang on the desk.
Kennedy was saying nothing. He was letting Carton ease his mind of the load which had been suddenly thrust upon it. Carton was now excitedly pacing the floor.
“They believe plainly,” he continued, growing more excited as he paced up and down, “that the pictures will of course be accepted by the public as among those stolen from me, and in that, I suppose, they are right. The public will swallow it. If I say I’ll prosecute, they’ll laugh and tell me to go ahead, that they didn’t steal the pictures. Our informant tells us that a hundred copies have been made of each and that they have them ready to drop into the mail to the leading hundred papers, not only of this city but of the state, in time for them to appear Sunday. They think that no amount of denying on our part can destroy the effect.”
“That’s it,” I persisted. “The only way is to buy them off.”