The Conflict

Author: David Graham Phillips


In America we have been bringing up our women like men, and treating them like children. They have active minds with nothing to act upon. Thus they are driven to think chiefly about themselves. With Jane Hastings, self-centering took the form of self-analysis most of the time. She was intensely interested in what she regarded as the new development of her character. This definite and apparently final decision for the narrow and the ungenerous. In fact, it was no new development, but simply a revelation to herself of her own real character. She was seeing at last the genuine Jane Hastings, inevitable product of a certain heredity in a certain environment. The high thinking and talking, the idealistic aspiration were pose and pretense. Jane Hastings was a selfish, self-absorbed person, ready to do almost any base thing to gain her ends, ready to hate to the uttermost any one who stood between her and her object.

"I’m certainly not a lovely person—not a lovable person," thought she, with that gentle tolerance wherewith we regard our ownselves, whether in the dress of pretense or in the undress of deformed humanness. "Still—I am what I am, and I’ve got to make the best of it."

As she thought of Selma’s declaration of war she became less and less disturbed about it. Selma neither would nor could do anything sly. Whatever she attempted in the open would only turn Victor Dorn more strongly toward herself. However, she must continue to try to see him, must go to see him in a few days if she did not happen upon him in her rides or walks. How poorly he would think of her if he knew the truth about her! But then, how poor most women—and men, too—would look in a strong and just light. Few indeed could stand idealizing; except Victor, no one she knew. And he was human enough not to make her uncomfortable in his presence.

But it so happened that before she could see Victor Dorn her father disobeyed Dr. Charlton and gave way to the appetite that was the chief cause of his physical woes. He felt so well that he ate the family dinner, including a peach cobbler with whipped cream, which even the robust Jane adventured warily. Martha was dining with them. She abetted her father. "It’s light," said she. "It couldn’t harm anybody."

"You mustn’t touch it, popsy," said Jane.

She unthinkingly spoke a little too commandingly. Her father, in a perverse and reckless mood, took Martha’s advice. An hour later Dr. Charlton was summoned, and had he not arrived promptly----

"Another fifteen or twenty minutes," said he to the old man when he had him out of immediate danger, "and I’d have had nothing to do but sign a certificate of natural death."

"Murder would have been nearer the truth," said Martin feebly. "That there fool Martha!"

"Come out from behind that petticoat!" cried Charlton. "Didn’t I spend the best part of three days in giving you the correct ideas as to health and disease —in showing you that ALL disease comes from indigestion— ALL disease, from falling hair and sore eyes to weak ankles and corns? And didn’t I convince you that you could eat only the things I told you about?"

"Don’t hit a man when he’s down," groaned Hastings.

"If I don’t, you’ll do the same idiotic trick again when I get you up—if I get you up."

Hastings looked quickly at him. This was the first time Charlton had ever expressed a doubt about his living. "Do you mean that?" he said hoarsely. "Or are you just trying to scare me?"

"Both," said Charlton. "I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise.

I’ve lost confidence in you. No wonder doctors, after they’ve been in practice a few years, stop talking food and digestion to their patients. I’ve never been able to convince a single human being that appetite is not the sign of health, and yielding to it the way to health. But I’ve made lots of people angry and have lost their trade. I had hopes of you. You were such a hopeless wreck. But no. And you call yourself an intelligent man!"

"I’ll never do it again," said Hastings, pleading, but smiling, too—Charlton’s way of talking delighted him.

"You think this is a joke," said Charlton, shaking his bullet head. "Have you any affairs to settle? If you have, send for your lawyer in the morning."

Fear—the Great Fear—suddenly laid its icy long fingers upon the throat of the old man. He gasped and his eyes rolled. "Don’t trifle with me, Charlton," he muttered. "You know you will pull me through."

"I’ll do my best," said Charlton. "I promise nothing. I’m serious about the lawyer."

"I don’t want no lawyer hanging round my bed," growled the old man. "It’d kill me. I’ve got nothing to settle. I don’t run things with loose ends. And there’s Jinny and Marthy and the boy—share and share alike."

"Well—you’re in no immediate danger. I’ll come early to-morrow."

"Wait till I get to sleep."

"You’ll be asleep as soon as the light’s down. But I’ll stop a few minutes and talk to your daughter."

Charlton found Jane at the window in the dressing room next her father’s bedroom. He said loudly enough for the old man to overhear:

"Your father’s all right for the present, so you needn’t worry. Come downstairs with me. He’s to go to sleep now."

Jane went in and kissed the bulging bony forehead. "Good night, popsy."

"Good night, Jinny dear," he said in a softer voice than she had ever heard from him. "I’m feeling very comfortable now, and sleepy. If anything should happen, don’t forget what I said about not temptin’ your brother by trustin’ him too fur. Look after your own affairs. Take Mr. Haswell’s advice. He’s stupid, but he’s honest and careful and safe. You might talk to Dr. Charlton about things, too. He’s straight, and knows what’s what. He’s one of them people that gives everybody good advice but themselves. If anything should happen----"

"But nothing’s going to happen, popsy."

"It might. I don’t seem to care as much as I did. I’m so tarnation tired. I reckon the goin’ ain’t as bad as I always calculated. I didn’t know how tired they felt and anxious to rest."

"I’ll turn down the light. The nurse is right in there."

"Yes—turn the light. If anything should happen, there’s an envelope in the top drawer in my desk for Dr. Charlton. But don’t tell him till I’m gone. I don’t trust nobody, and if he knowed there was something waiting, why, there’s no telling----"

The old man had drowsed off. Jane lowered the light and went down to join Charlton on the front veranda, where he was smoking a cigarette. She said:

"He’s asleep."

"He’s all right for the next few days," said Charlton. "After that—I don’t know. I’m very doubtful."

Jane was depressed, but not so depressed as she would have been had not her father so long looked like death and so often been near dying.

"Stay at home until I see how this is going to turn out. Telephone your sister to be within easy call. But don’t let her come here. She’s not fit to be about an ill person. The sight of her pulling a long, sad face might carry him off in a fit of rage."

Jane observed him with curiosity in the light streaming from the front hall. "You’re a very practical person aren’t you?" she said.

"No romance, no idealism, you mean?"


He laughed in his plain, healthy way. "Not a frill," said he. "I’m interested only in facts. They keep me busy enough."

"You’re not married, are you?"

"Not yet. But I shall be as soon as I find a woman I want."

"IF you can get her."

"I’ll get her, all right," replied he. "No trouble about that. The woman I want’ll want me."

"I’m eager to see her," said Jane. "She’ll be a queer one."

"Not necessarily," said he. "But I’ll make her a queer one before I get through with her—queer, in my sense, meaning sensible and useful."

"You remind me so often of Victor Dorn, yet you’re not at all like him."

"We’re in the same business—trying to make the human race fit to associate with. He looks after the minds; I look after the bodies. Mine’s the humbler branch of the business, perhaps—but it’s equally necessary, and it comes first. The chief thing that’s wrong with human nature is bad health. I’m getting the world ready for Victor."

"You like him?"

"I worship him," said Charlton in his most matter-offact way.

"Yet he’s just the opposite of you. He’s an idealist."

"Who told you that?" laughed Charlton. "He’s the most practical, sensible man in this town. You people think he’s a crank because he isn’t crazy about money or about stepping round on the necks of his fellow beings. The truth is, he’s got a sense of proportion— and a sense of humor—and an idea of a rational happy life. You’re still barbarians, while he’s a civilized man. Ever seen an ignorant yap jeer when a neat, clean, welldressed person passed by? Well, you people jeering at Victor Dorn are like that yap."

"I agree with you," said Jane hastily and earnestly.

"No, you don’t," replied Charlton, tossing away the end of his cigarette. "And so much the worse for you. Good-night, lady."

And away he strode into the darkness, leaving her amused, yet with a peculiar sense of her own insignificance.

Charlton was back again early the next morning and spent that day—and a large part of many days thereafter—in working at the wreck, Martin Hastings, inspecting known weak spots, searching for unknown ones, patching here and there, trying all the schemes teeming in his ingenious and supremely sensible mind in the hope of setting the wreck afloat again. He could not comprehend why the old man remained alive. He had seen many a human being go who was in health, in comparison with this conglomerate of diseases and frailties; yet life there was, and a most tenacious life. He worked and watched, and from day to day put off suggesting that they telegraph for the son. The coming of his son might shake Martin’s conviction that he would get well; it seemed to Charlton that that conviction was the one thread holding his patient from the abyss where darkness and silence reign supreme.

Jane could not leave the grounds. If she had she would have seen Victor Dorn either not at all or at a distance. For the campaign was now approaching its climax.

The public man is always two wholly different personalities. There is the man the public sees—and fancies it knows. There is the man known only to his intimates, known imperfectly to them, perhaps an unknown quantity even to himself until the necessity for decisive action reveals him to himself and to those in a position to see what he really did. Unfortunately, it is not the man the public sees but the hidden man who is elected to the office. Nothing could be falser than the old saw that sooner or later a man stands revealed. Sometimes, as we well know, history has not found out a man after a thousand years of studying him. And the most familiar, the most constantly observed men in public life often round out a long career without ever having aroused in the public more than a faint and formless suspicion as to the truth about them.

The chief reason for this is that, in studying a character, no one is content with the plain and easy way of reaching an understanding of it—the way of looking only at its ACTS. We all love to dabble in the metaphysical, to examine and weigh motives and intentions, to compare ourselves and make wildly erroneous judgment inevitable by listening to the man’s WORDS—his professions, always more or less dishonest, though perhaps not always deliberately so.

In that Remsen City campaign the one party that could profit by the full and clear truth, and therefore was eager for the truth as to everything and everybody, was the Workingmen’s League. The Kelly crowd, the House gang, the Citizens’ Alliance, all had their ugly secrets, their secret intentions different from their public professions. All these were seeking office and power with a view to increasing or perpetuating or protecting various abuses, however ardently they might attack, might perhaps honestly intend to end, certain other and much smaller abuses. The Workingmen’s League said that it would end every abuse existing law did not securely protect, and it meant what it said.

Its campaign fund was the dues paid in by its members and the profits from the New Day. Its financial books were open for free inspection. Not so the others—and that in itself was proof enough of sinister intentions.

Under Victor Dorn’s shrewd direction, the League candidates published, each man in a sworn statement, a complete description of all the property owned by himself and by his wife. "The character of a man’s property," said the New Day, "is an indication of how that man will act in public affairs. Therefore, every candidate for public trust owes it to the people to tell them just what his property interests are. The League candidates do this—and an effective answer the schedules make to the charge that the League’s candidates are men who have `no stake in the community.’ Now, let Mr. Sawyer, Mr. Hull, Mr. Galland and the rest of the League’s opponents do likewise. Let us read how many shares of water and ice stock Mr. Sawyer owns. Let us hear from Mr. Hull about his traction holdings—those of the Hull estate from which he draws his entire income. As for Mr. Galland, it would be easier for him to give the list of public and semi-public corporations in which he is not largely interested. But let him be specific, since he asks the people to trust him as judge between them and those corporations of which he is almost as large an owner as is his father-in-law."

This line of attack—and the publication of the largest contributors to the Republican and Democratic- Reform campaign fund—caused a great deal of public and private discussion. Large crowds cheered Hull when he, without doing the charges the honor of repeating them, denounced the "undignified and demagogic methods of our desperate opponents." The smaller Sawyer crowds applauded Sawyer when he waxed indignant over the attempts of those "socialists and anarchists, haters of this free country and spitters upon its glorious flag, to set poor against rich, to destroy our splendid American tradition of a free field and no favors, and let the best man win!"

Sawyer, and Davy, all the candidates of the machines and the reformers for that matter, made excellent public appearances. They discoursed eloquently about popular rights and wrongs. They denounced corruption; they stood strongly for the right and renounced and denounced the devil and all his works. They promised to do far more for the people than did the Leaguers; for Victor Dorn had trained his men to tell the exact truth —the difficulty of doing anything for the people at any near time or in any brief period because at a single election but a small part of the effective offices could be changed, and sweeping changes must be made before there could be sweeping benefits. "We’ll do all we can," was their promise. "Their county government and their state government and their courts won’t let us do much. But a beginning has to be made. Let’s make it!"

David Hull’s public appearance was especially good. Not so effective as it has now become, because he was only a novice at campaigning in that year. But he looked, well—handsome, yet not too handsome, upper class, but not arrogant, serious, frank and kindly. And he talked in a plain, honest way—you felt that no interest, however greedy, desperate and powerful, would dare approach that man with an improper proposal— and you quite forgot in real affairs the crude improper proposal is never the method of approach. When Davy, with grave emotion, referred to the "pitiful efforts to smirch the personal character of candidates," you could not but burn with scorn of the Victor Dorn tactics. What if Hull did own gas and water and ice and traction and railway stocks? Mustn’t a rich man invest his money somehow? And how could he more creditably invest it than in local enterprises and in enterprises that opened up the country and gave employment to labor? What if the dividends were improperly, even criminally, earned? Must he therefore throw the dividends paid him into the street? As for a man of such associations and financial interests being unfit fairly to administer public affairs, what balderdash! Who could be more fit than this educated, high minded man, of large private means, willing to devote himself to the public service instead of drinking himself to death or doing nothing at all. You would have felt, as you looked at Davy and listened to him, that it was little short of marvelous that a man could be so selfsacrificing as to consent to run the gauntlet of low mudslingers for no reward but an office with a salary of three thousand a year. And you would have been afraid that, if something was not done to stop these mudslingers, such men as David Hull would abandon their patriotic efforts to save their country—and then WHAT would become of the country?

But Victor and his associates—on the platform, in the paper, in posters and dodgers and leaflets— continued to press home the ugly questions—and continued to call attention to the fact that, while there had been ample opportunity, none of the candidates had answered any of the questions. And presently—keeping up this line of attack—Victor opened out in another. He had Falconer, the League candidate for judge, draw up a careful statement of exactly what each public officer could do under existing law to end or to check the most flagrant of the abuses from which the people of Remsen City were suffering. With this statement as a basis, he formulated a series of questions—"Yes or no? If you are elected, will you or will you not?" The League candidates promptly gave the specific pledges. Sawyer dodged. David Hull was more adroit. He held up a copy of the list of questions at a big meeting in Odd Fellows’ Hall.

"Our opponents have resorted to a familiar trick— the question and the pledge." (Applause. Sensation. Fear lest "our candidate" was about to "put his foot in it.") "We need resort to no tricks. I promptly and frankly, for our whole ticket, answer their questions. I say, `We will lay hold of ANY and EVERY abuse, as soon as it presents itself, and WILL SMASH IT."

Applause, cheers, whistlings—a demonstration lasting nearly five minutes by a watch held by Gamaliel Tooker, who had a mania for gathering records of all kinds and who had voted for every Republican candidate for President since the party was founded. Davy did not again refer to Victor Dorn’s questions. But Victor continued to press them and to ask whether a public officer ought not to go and present himself to abuses, instead of waiting for them to hunt him out and present themselves to him.

Such was the campaign as the public saw it. And such was in reality the campaign of the Leaguers. But the real campaign—the one conducted by Kelly and House—was entirely different. They were not talking; they were working.

They were working on a plan based somewhat after this fashion:

In former and happier days, when people left politics to politicians and minded their own business, about ninety-five per cent. of the voters voted their straight party tickets like good soldiers. Then politics was a high-class business, and politicians devoted themselves to getting out the full party vote and to buying or cajoling to one side or the other the doubtful ten per cent that held the balance of power. That golden age, however, had passed. People had gotten into the habit of fancying that, because certain men had grown very, very rich through their own genius for money-making, supplemented perhaps by accidental favors from law and public officials, therefore politics in some way might possibly concern the private citizen, might account for the curious discrepancy between his labor and its reward. The impression was growing that, while the energy of the citizen determined the PRODUCTION of wealth, it was politics that determined the distribution of wealth. And under the influence of this impression, the percentage of sober, steady, reliable voters who "stood by the grand old party" had shrunk to about seventy, while the percentage of voters who had to be worried about had grown to about thirty.

The Kelly-House problem was, what shall we do as to that annoying thirty per cent?

Kelly—for he was THE brain of the bi-partisan machine, proposed to throw the election to the House- Reform "combine." His henchmen and House’s made a careful poll, and he sat up all night growing haggard and puffy-eyed over the result. According to this poll, not only was the League’s entire ticket to be elected, but also Galland, despite his having the Republican, the Democratic and the Reform nominations, was to be beaten by the League’s Falconer. He couldn’t understand it. The Sawyer meetings were quite up to his expectations and indicated that the Republican rank and file was preparing to swallow the Sawyer dose without blinking. The Alliance and the Democratic meetings were equally satisfactory. Hull was "making a hit." Everywhere he had big crowds and enthusiasm. The League meetings were only slightly better attended than during the last campaign; no indication there of the League "landslide."

Yet Kelly could not, dared not, doubt that poll. It was his only safe guide. And it assured him that the long-dreaded disaster was at hand. In vain was the clever trick of nominating a popular, "clean" young reformer and opposing him with an unpopular regular of the most offensive type—more offensive even than a professional politician of unsavory record. At last victory was to reward the tactics of Victor Dorn, the slow, patient building which for several years now had been rasping the nerves of Boss Kelly.

What should he do?

It was clear to him that the doom of the old system was settled. The plutocrats, the upper-class crowd—the "silk stockings," as they had been called from the days when men wore knee-breeches—they fancied that this nation-wide movement was sporadic, would work out in a few years, and that the people would return to their allegiance. Kelly had no such delusions. Issuing from the depths of the people, he understood. They were learning a little something at last. They were discovering that the ever higher prices for everything and stationary or falling wages and salaries had some intimate relation with politics; that at the national capitol, at the state capitol, in the county courthouse, in the city hall their share of the nation’s vast annual production of wealth was being determined—and that the persons doing the dividing, though elected by them, were in the employ of the plutocracy. Kelly, seeing and comprehending, felt that it behooved him to get for his masters—and for himself—all that could be got in the brief remaining time. Not that he was thinking of giving up the game; nothing so foolish as that. It would be many a year before the plutocracy could be routed out, before the people would have the intelligence and the persistence to claim and to hold their own. In the meantime, they could be fooled and robbed by a hundred tricks. He was not a constitutional lawyer, but he had practical good sense, and could enjoy the joke upon the people in their entanglement in the toils of their own making. Through fear of governmental tyranny they had divided authority among legislators, executives and judges, national, state, local. And, behold, outside of the government, out where they had never dreamed of looking, had grown up a tyranny that was perpetuating itself by dodging from one of these divided authorities to another, eluding capture, wearing out the not too strong perseverance of popular pursuit.

But, thanks to Victor Dorn, the local graft was about to be taken away from the politicians and the plutocracy. How put off that unpleasant event? Obviously, in the only way left unclosed. The election must be stolen.

It is a very human state of mind to feel that what one wants somehow has already become in a sense one’s property. It is even more profoundly human to feel that what one has had, however wrongfully, cannot justly be taken away. So Mr. Kelly did not regard himself as a thief, taking what did not belong to him; no, he was holding on to and defending his own.

Victor Dorn had not been in politics since early boyhood without learning how the political game is conducted in all its branches.

Because there had never been the remotest chance of victory, Victor had never made preelection polls of his party. So the first hint that he got of there being a real foundation for the belief of some of his associates in an impending victory was when he found out that Kelly and House were "colonizing" voters, and were selecting election officers with an eye to "dirty work." These preparations, he knew, could not be making for the same reason as in the years before the "gentlemen’s agreement" between the Republican and the Democratic machines. Kelly, he knew, wanted House and the Alliance to win. Therefore, the colonizations in the slums and the appointing of notorious buckos to positions where they would control the ballot boxes could be directed only against the Workingmen’s League. Kelly must have accurate information that the League was likely, or at least not unlikely, to win.

Victor had thought he had so schooled himself that victory and defeat were mere words to him. He soon realized how he had overestimated the power of philosophy over human nature. During that campaign he had been imagining that he was putting all his ability, all his energy, all his resourcefulness into the fight. He now discovered his mistake. Hope—definite hope—of victory had hardly entered his mind before he was organizing and leading on such a campaign as Remsen City had never known in all its history—and Remsen City was in a state where politics is the chief distraction of the people. Sleep left him; he had no need of sleep. Day and night his brain worked, pouring out a steady stream of ideas. He became like a gigantic electric storage battery to which a hundred, a thousand small batteries come for renewal. He charged his associates afresh each day. And they in turn became amazingly more powerful forces for acting upon the minds of the people.

In the last week of the campaign it became common talk throughout the city that the "Dorn crowd" would probably carry the election. Kelly was the only one of the opposition leaders who could maintain a calm front. Kelly was too seasoned a gambler even to show his feelings in his countenance, but, had he been showing them, his following would not have been depressed, for he had made preparations to meet and overcome any majority short of unanimity which the people might roll up against him. The discouragement in the House-Alliance camps became so apparent that Kelly sent his chief lieutenant, Wellman, successor to the fugitive Rivers, to House and to David Hull with a message. It was delivered to Hull in this form:

"The old man says he wants you to stop going round with your chin knocking against your knees. He says everybody is saying you have given up the fight."

"Our meetings these last few days are very discouraging," said Davy gloomily.

"What’s meetin’s?" retorted Wellman. "You fellows that shoot off your mouths think you’re doing the campaigning. But the real stuff is being doped up by us fellows who ain’t seen or heard. The old man says you are going to win. That’s straight. He knows. It’s only a question of the size of your majority. So pull yourself together, Mr. Hull, and put the ginger back into your speeches, and stir up that there gang of dudes. What a gang of Johnnies and quitters they are!"

Hull was looking directly and keenly at the secret messenger. Upon his lips was a question he dared not ask. Seeing the impudent, disdainful smile in Wellman’s eyes, he hastily shifted his glance. It was most uncomfortable, this suspicion of the hidden meaning of the Kelly message—a suspicion ALMOST confirmed by that mocking smile of the messenger. Hull said with embarrassment:

"Tell Mr. Kelly I’m much obliged."

"And you’ll begin to make a fight again?"

"Certainly," said Davy impatiently.

When he was alone he became once more involved in one of those internal struggles to prevent himself from seeing—and smelling—a hideous and malodorous truth. These struggles were painfully frequent. The only consolation the young reformer found was that they were increasingly less difficult to end in the way such struggles must be ended if a high-minded young man is to make a career in "practical" life.

On election day after he had voted he went for a long walk in the woods to the south of the town, leaving word at his headquarters what direction he had taken. After walking two hours he sat down on a log in the shade near where the highroad crossed Foaming Creek. He became so absorbed in his thoughts that he sprang to his feet with a wild look when Selma’s voice said, close by:

"May I interrupt a moment, Mr. Hull?"

He recovered slowly. His cheeks were pale and his voice uncertain as he replied:

"You? I beg your pardon. This campaign has played smash with my nerves."

He now noted that she was regarding him with a glance so intense that it seemed to concentrate all the passion and energy in that slim, nervous body of hers. He said uncomfortably:

"You wished to see me?"

"I wonder what you were thinking about," she said in her impetuous, direct way. "It makes me almost afraid to ask what I came to ask."

"Won’t you sit?" said he.

"No, thanks," replied she.

"Then you’ll compel me to stand. And I’m horribly tired."

She seated herself upon the log. He made himself comfortable at its other end.

"I’ve just come from Victor Dorn’s house," said she. "There was a consultation among the leaders of our party. We have learned that your people—Kelly and House—are going to steal the election on the count this evening. They are committing wholesale frauds now— sending round gangs of repeaters, intimidating our voters, openly buying votes at the polling places— paying men as much not to vote as they usually pay for votes."

Davy, though latterly he had grown so much older and graver that no one now thought of him as Davy, contrived to muster a smile of amusement. "You oughtn’t to let them deceive you with that silly talk, Miss Gordon. The losers always indulge in it. Your good sense must tell you how foolish it is. The police are on guard, and the courts of justice are open."

"Yes—the police are on guard—to protect fraud and to drive us away from the polls. And the courts are open—but not for us."

David was gentle with her. "I know how sincere you are, Selma," said he. "No doubt you believe those things. Perhaps Dorn believes them, also—from repeating them so often. But all the same I’m sorry to hear you say them."

He tried to look at her. He found that his eyes were more comfortable when his glance was elsewhere.

"This has been a sad campaign to me," he went on. "I did not appreciate before what demagogery meant —how dangerous it is—how wicked, how criminally wicked it is for men to stir up the lower classes against the educated leadership of the community.

Selma laughed contemptuously. "What nonsense, David Hull—and from YOU!" she cried. "By educated leadership do you mean the traction and gas and water and coal and iron and produce thieves?

Or do you mean the officials and the judges who protect them and license them to rob?" Her eyes flashed. "At this very moment, in our town, those thieves and their agents, the police and the courts, are committing the most frightful crime known to a free people. Yet the masses are submitting peaceably. How long the upper class has to indulge in violence, and how savagely cruel it has to be, before the people even murmur. But I didn’t come here to remind you of what you already know. I came to ask you, as a man whom I have respected, to assert his manhood—if there is any of it left after this campaign of falsehood and shifting."

"Selma!" he protested energetically, but still avoiding her eyes.

"Those wretches are stealing that election for you, David Hull. Are you going to stand for it? Or, will you go into town and force Kelly to stop?"

"If anything wrong is being done by Kelly," said David, "it must be for Sawyer."

Selma rose. "At our consultation," said she quietly and even with no suggestion of repressed emotion, "they debated coming to you and laying the facts before you. They decided against it. They were right; I was wrong. I pity you, David Hull. Good-by."

She walked away. He hesitated, observing her. His eyes lighted up with the passion he believed his good sense had conquered. "Selma, don’t misjudge me!" he cried, following her. "I am not the scoundrel they’re making you believe me. I love you!"

She wheeled upon him so fiercely that he started back. "How dare you!" she said, her voice choking with anger. "You miserable fraud! You bellwether for the plutocracy, to lead reform movements off on a false scent, off into the marshes where they’ll be suffocated." She looked at him from head to foot with a withering glance. "No doubt, you’ll have what’s called a successful career. You’ll be their traitor leader for the radicals they want to bring to confusion. When the people cry for a reform you’ll shout louder than anybody else—and you’ll be made leader—and you’ll lead—into the marshes. Your followers will perish, but you’ll come back, ready for the next treachery for which the plutocracy needs you. And you’ll look honest and respectable—and you’ll talk virtue and reform and justice. But you’ll know what you are yourself. David Hull, I despise you as much as you despise yourself."

He did not follow as she walked away. He returned to the log, and slowly reseated himself. He was glad of the violent headache that made thought impossible.

Remsen City, boss-ridden since the Civil War, had experienced many a turbulent election day and night. The rivalries of the two bosses, contending for the spoils where the electorate was evenly divided, had made the polling places in the poorer quarters dangerous all day and scenes of rioting at night. But latterly there had been a notable improvement. People who entertained the pleasant and widespread delusion that statute laws offset the habits and customs of men, restrain the strong and protect the weak, attributed the improvement to sundry vigorously worded enactments of the legislature on the subject of election frauds. In fact, the real bottom cause of the change was the "gentlemen’s agreement" between the two party machines whereunder both entered the service of the same master, the plutocracy.

Never in Remsen City history had there been grosser frauds than those of this famous election day, and never had the frauds been so open. A day of scandal was followed by an evening of shame; for to overcome the League the henchmen of Kelly and House had to do a great deal of counting out and counting in, of mutilating ballots, of destroying boxes with their contents. Yet never had Remsen City seen so peaceful an election. Representatives of the League were at every polling place. They protested; they took names of principals and witnesses in each case of real or suspected fraud. They appealed to the courts from time to time and got rulings—always against them, even where the letter of the decision was in their favor. They did all this in the quietest manner conceivable, without so much as an expression of indignation. And when the results were announced—a sweeping victory for Hull and the fusion ticket, Hugo Galland elected by five hundred over Falconer—the Leaguers made no counter demonstration as the drunken gangs of machine heelers paraded in the streets with bands and torches.

Kelly observed and was uneasy. What could be the meaning of this meek acceptance of a theft so flagrant that the whole town was talking about it? What was Victor Dorn’s "game"?

He discovered the next day. The executive committee of the League worked all night; the League’s printers and presses worked from six o’clock in the morning until ten. At half-past ten Remsen City was flooded with a special edition of the New Day, given away by Leaguers and their wives and sons and daughters—a monster special edition paid for with the last money in the League’s small campaign chest. This special was a full account of the frauds that had been committed. No indictment could have been more complete, could have carried within itself more convincing proofs of the truth of its charges. The New Day declared that the frauds were far more extensive than it was able to prove; but it insisted upon, and took into account, only those frauds that could be proved in a "court of justice —if Remsen City had a court of justice, which the treatment of the League’s protectors at the Courthouse yesterday shows that it has not." The results of the League’s investigations were tabulated. The New Day showed:

First, that while Harbinger, the League candidate for Mayor, had actually polled 5,280 votes at least, and David Hull had polled less than 3,950, the election had been so manipulated that in the official count 4,827 votes were given to Hull and 3,980 votes to Harbinger.

Second, that in the actual vote Falconer had beaten Hugo Galland by 1,230 at least; that in the official count Galland was declared elected by a majority of 672.

Third, that these results were brought about by wholesale fraudulent voting, one gang of twenty-two repeaters casting upwards of a thousand votes at the various polling places; also by false counting, the number of votes reported exceeding the number cast by between two and three thousand.

As a piece of workmanship the document was an amazing illustration of the genius of Victor Dorn. Instead of violence against violence, instead of vague accusation, here was a calm, orderly proof of the League’s case, of the outrage that had been done the city and its citizens. Before night fell the day after the election there was no one in Remsen City who did not know the truth.

The three daily newspapers ignored the special. They continued to congratulate Remsen City upon the "vindication of the city’s fame for sound political sense," as if there had been no protest against the official version of the election returns. Nor did the press of the state or the country contain any reference to the happenings at Remsen City. But Remsen City knew, and that was the main point sought by Victor Dorn.

A committee of the League with copies of the special edition and transcripts of the proofs in the possession of the League went in search of David Hull and Hugo Galland. Both were out of town, "resting in retirement from the fatigue of the campaign." The prosecuting attorney of the county was seen, took the documents, said he would look into the matter, bowed the committee out—and did as Kelly counted on his doing. The grand jury heard, but could not see its way clear to returning indictments; no one was upon a grand jury in that county unless he had been passed by Kelly or House. Judge Freilig and Judge Lansing referred the committee to the grand jury and to the county prosecutor.

When the League had tried the last avenue to official justice and had found the way barred, House meeting Kelly in the Palace Hotel cafe’, said:

"Well, Richard, I guess it’s all over." Kelly nodded. "You’ve got away with the goods."

"I’m surprised at Dorn’s taking it so quietly," said House. "I rather expected he’d make trouble."

Kelly vented a short, grunting laugh. "Trouble— hell!" ejaculated he. "If he’d ’a’ kicked up a fight we’d ’a’ had him.

But he was too ’cute for that, damn him. So next time he wins."

"Oh, folks ain’t got no memories—especially for politics," said House easily.

"You’ll see," retorted Kelly. "The next mayor of this town’ll be a Leaguer, and by a majority that can’t be trifled with. So make hay while the sun shines, Joe. After this administration there’ll be a long stretch of bad weather for haying."

"I’m trying to get hold of Hull," said House, and it was not difficult to read his train of thought. "I was a LEETLE afraid he was going to be scared by that document of Dorn’s—and was going to do something crazy."

Again Kelly emitted his queer grunting laugh. "I guess he was a LEETLE afraid he would, too, and ran away and hid to get back his nerve."

"Oh, he’s all right. He’s a pushing, level-headed fellow, and won’t make no trouble. Don’t you think so?"

"Trouble? I should say not. How can he—if he takes the job?"

To which obvious logic no assent was necessary.

Davy’s abrupt departure was for the exact reason Mr. Kelly ascribed. And he had taken Hugo with him because he feared that he would say or do something to keep the scandal from dying the quick death of all scandals. There was the less difficulty in dissuading him from staying to sun himself in the glories of his new rank and title because his wife had cast him adrift for the time and was stopping at the house of her father, whose death was hourly expected.

Old Hastings had been in a stupor for several weeks. He astonished everybody, except Dr. Charlton, by rousing on election night and asking how the battle had gone.

"And he seemed to understand what I told him," said Jane.

"Certainly he understood," replied Charlton. "The only part of him that’s in any sort of condition is his mind, because it’s the only part of him that’s been properly exercised. Most people die at the top first because they’ve never in all their lives used their minds when they could possibly avoid it."

In the week following the election he came out of his stupor again. He said to the nurse:

"It’s about supper time, ain’t it?"

"Yes," answered she. "They’re all down at din— supper. Shall I call them?"

"No," said he. "I want to go down to her room."

"To Miss Jane’s room?" asked the puzzled nurse.

"To my wife’s room," said Hastings crossly.

The nurse, a stranger, thought his mind was wandering. "Certainly," said she soothingly. "In a few minutes—as soon as you’ve rested a while."

"You’re a fool!" mumbled Hastings. "Call Jinny."

The nurse obeyed. When he repeated his request to Jane, she hesitated. The tears rolled down his cheeks. "I know what I’m about," he pleaded. "Send for Charlton. He’ll tell you to let me have my way."

Jane decided that it was best to yield. The shrunken figure, weighing so little that it was terrifying to lift it, was wrapped warmly, and put in an invalid chair. With much difficulty the chair was got out into the hall and down the stairs. Then they wheeled it into the room where he was in the habit of sitting after supper. When he was opposite the atrocious crayon enlargement of his wife an expression of supreme content settled upon his features. Said he:

"Go back to your supper, Jinny. Take the nurse woman with you. I want to be by myself."

The nurse glanced stealthily in from time to time during the next hour. She saw that his eyes were open, were fixed upon the picture. When Jane came she ventured to enter. She said:

"Do you mind my sitting with you, father?"

He did not answer. She went to him, touched him. He was dead.

As a rule death is not without mitigations, consolations even. Where it is preceded by a long and troublesome illness, disrupting the routine of the family and keeping everybody from doing the things he or she wishes, it comes as a relief. In this particular case not only was the death a relief, but also the estate of the dead man provided all the chief mourners with instant and absorbing occupation. If he had left a will, the acrimony of the heirs would have been caused by dissatisfaction with his way of distributing the property. Leaving no will, he plunged the three heirs—or, rather, the five heirs, for the husband of Martha and the wife of the son were most important factors—he plunged the five heirs into a ferment of furious dispute as to who was to have what. Martha and her husband and the daughter-in-law were people of exceedingly small mind. Trifles, therefore, agitated them to the exclusion of larger matters. The three fell to quarreling violently over the division of silverware, jewelry and furniture. Jane was so enraged by the "disgusting spectacle" that she proceeded to take part in it and to demand everything which she thought it would irritate Martha Galland or Irene Hastings to have to give up.

The three women and Hugo—for Hugo loved petty wrangling—spent day after day in the bitterest quarrels. Each morning Jane, ashamed overnight, would issue from her room resolved to have no part in the vulgar rowdyism. Before an hour had passed she would be the angriest of the disputants. Except her own unquestioned belongings there wasn’t a thing in the house or stables about which she cared in the least. But there was a principle at stake—and for principle she would fight in the last ditch.

None of them wished to call in arbitrators or executors; why go to that expense? So, the bickering and wrangling, the insults and tears and sneers went on from day to day. At last they settled the whole matter by lot—and by a series of easily arranged exchanges where the results of the drawings were unsatisfactory. Peace was restored, but not liking. Each of the three groups—Hugo and Martha, Will and Irene, Jane in a group by herself—detested the other two. They felt that they had found each other out. As Martha said to Hugo, "It takes a thing of this kind to show people up in their true colors." Or, as Jane said to Doctor Charlton, "What beasts human beings are!"

Said he: "What beasts circumstance makes of some o?? them sometimes."

"You are charitable," said Jane.

"I am scientific," replied he. "It’s very intelligent to go about distributing praise and blame. To do that is to obey a slightly higher development of the instinct that leads one to scowl at and curse the stone he stumps his toe on. The sensible thing to do is to look at the causes of things—of brutishness in human beings, for example—and to remove those causes."

"It was wonderful, the way you dragged father back to life and almost saved him. That reminds me. Wait a second, please."

She went up to her room and got the envelope addressed to Charlton which she had found in the drawer, as her father directed. Charlton opened it, took out five bank notes each of a thousand dollars. She glanced at the money, then at his face. It did not express the emotion she was expecting. On the contrary, its look was of pleased curiosity.

"Five thousand dollars," he said, reflectively. "Your father certainly was a queer mixture of surprises and contradictions. Now, who would have suspected him of a piece of sentiment like this? Pure sentiment. He must have felt that I’d not be able to save him, and he knew my bill wouldn’t be one-tenth this sum."

"He liked you, and admired you," said Jane.

"He was very generous where he liked and admired."

Charlton put the money back in the envelope, put the envelope in his pocket. "I’ll give the money to the Children’s Hospital," said he. "About six months ago I completed the sum I had fixed on as necessary to my independence; so, I’ve no further use for money—except to use it up as it comes in."

"You may marry some day," suggested Jane.

"Not a woman who wishes to be left richer than independent," replied he. "As for the children, they’ll be brought up to earn their own independence. I’ll leave only incubators and keepsakes when I die. But no estate. I’m not that foolish and inconsiderate."

"What a queer idea!" exclaimed Jane.

"On the contrary, it’s simplest common sense. The idea of giving people something they haven’t earned— that’s the queer idea."

"You are SO like Victor Dorn!"

"That reminds me!" exclaimed Charlton. "It was very negligent of me to forget. The day your father died I dropped in on Victor and told him—him and Selma Gordon—about it. And both asked me to take you their sympathy. They said a great deal about your love for your father, and how sad it was to lose him. They were really distressed."

Jane’s face almost brightened. "I’ve been rather hurt because I hadn’t received a word of sympathy from— them," she said.

"They’d have come, themselves, except that politics has made a very ugly feeling against them—and Galland’s your brother-in-law."

"I understand," said Jane. "But I’m not Galland— and not of that party."

"Oh, yes, you are of that party," replied Charlton. "You draw your income from it, and one belongs to whatever he draws his income from. Civilization means property—as yet. And it doesn’t mean men and women —as yet. So, to know the man or the woman we look at the property."

"That’s hideously unjust," cried Jane.

"Don’t be utterly egotistical," said Charlton. "Don’t attach so much importance to your little, mortal, WEAK personality. Try to realize that you’re a mere chip in the great game of chance. You’re a chip with the letter P on it—which stands for Plutocracy. And you’ll be played as you’re labeled."

"You make it very hard for any one to like you."

"Well—good-by, then."

And ignoring her hasty, half-laughing, half-serious protests he took himself away. She was intensely irritated. A rapid change in her outward character had been going forward since her father’s death—a change in the direction of intensifying the traits that had always been really dominant, but had been less apparent because softened by other traits now rapidly whithering.

The cause of the change was her inheritance.

Martin Hastings, remaining all his life in utter ignorance of the showy uses of wealth and looking on it with the eyes of a farm hand, had remained the enriched man of the lower classes, at heart a member of his original class to the end. The effect of this upon Jane had been to keep in check all the showy and arrogant, all the upper class, tendencies which education and travel among the upper classes of the East and of Europe had implanted in her. So long as plain old Martin lived, she could not FEEL the position she had—or, rather, would some day have—in the modern social system. But just as soon as he passed away, just as soon as she became a great heiress, actually in possession of that which made the world adore, that which would buy servility, flattery, awe—just so soon did she begin to be an upper-class lady.

She had acquired a superficial knowledge of business —enough to enable her to understand what the various items in the long, long schedule of her holdings meant. Symbols of her importance, of her power. She had studied the "great ladies" she had met in her travels and visitings. She had been impressed by the charm of the artistic, carefully cultivated air of simplicity and equality affected by the greatest of these great ladies as those born to wealth and position. To be gentle and natural, to be gracious—that was the "proper thing." So, she now adopted a manner that was if anything too kindly. Her pose, her mask, behind which she was concealing her swollen and still swelling pride and sense of superiority, as yet fitted badly. She "overacted," as youth is apt to do. She would have given a shrewd observer—one not dazzled by her wealth beyond the power of clear sight—the impression that she was pitying the rest of mankind, much as we all pity and forbear with a hopeless cripple.

But the average observer would simply have said: "What a sweet, natural girl, so unspoiled by her wealth!"—just as the hopeless cripple says, "What a polite person," as he gets the benefit of effusive good manners that would, if he were shrewd, painfully remind him that he was an unfortunate creature.

Of all the weeds that infest the human garden snobbishness, the commonest, is the most prolific, and it is a mighty cross breeder, too—modifying every flower in the garden, changing colors from rich to glaring, changing odors from perfumes to sickening-sweet or to stenches. The dead hands of Martin Hastings scattered showers of shining gold upon his daughter’s garden; and from these seeds was springing a heavy crop of that most prolific of weeds.

She was beginning to resent Charlton’s manner— bluff, unceremonious, candid, at times rude. He treated women exactly as he treated men, and he treated all men as intimates, free and easy fellow travelers afoot upon a dusty, vulgar highway. She had found charm in that manner, so natural to the man of no pretense, of splendid physical proportions, of the health of a fine tree. She was beginning to get into the state of mind at which practically all very rich people in a civilized society sooner or later arrive—a state of mind that makes it impossible for any to live with or near them except hirelings and dependents. The habit of power of any kind breeds intolerance of equality of level intercourse. This is held in check, often held entirely in check, where the power is based upon mental superiority; for the very superiority of the mind keeps alive the sense of humor and the sense of proportion. Not so the habit of money power. For money power is brutal, mindless. And as it is the only real power in any and all aristocracies, aristocracies are inevitably brutal and brutalizing.

If Jane had been poor, or had remained a few years longer—until her character was better set—under the restraining influence of her unfrilled and unfrillable father, her passion for power, for superiority would probably have impelled her to develop her mind into a source of power and position. Fate abruptly gave her the speediest and easiest means to power known in our plutocratic civilization. She would have had to be superhuman in beauty of character or a genius in mind to have rejected the short and easy way to her goal and struggled on in the long and hard—and doubtful—way.

She did not herself appreciate the change within herself. She fancied she was still what she had been two weeks before. For as yet nothing had occurred to enable her to realize her changed direction, her changed view of life. Thus, she was still thinking of Victor Dorn as she had thought of him; and she was impatient to see him. She was now free FREE! She could, without consulting anybody, have what she wanted. And she wanted Victor Dorn.

She had dropped from her horse and with her arm through the bridle was strolling along one of the quieter roads which Victor often took in his rambles. It was a tonic October day, with floods of sunshine upon the gorgeous autumnal foliage, never more gorgeous than in that fall of the happiest alternations of frost and warmth. She heard the pleasant rustle of quick steps in the fallen leaves that carpeted the byroad. She knew it was he before she glanced; and his first view of her face was of its beauty enhanced by a color as delicate and charming as that in the leaves about them.

She looked at his hands in which he was holding something half concealed. "What is it?" she said, to cover her agitation.

He opened his hands a little wider. "A bird," said he. "Some hunter has broken its wing. I’m taking it to Charlton for repairs and a fair start for its winter down South."

His eyes noted for an instant significantly her sombre riding costume, then sought her eyes with an expression of simple and friendly sympathy. The tears came to her eyes, and she turned her face away. She for the first time had a sense of loss, a moving memory of her father’s goodness to her, of an element of tenderness that had passed out of her life forever. And she felt abjectly ashamed—ashamed of her relief at the lifting of the burden of his long struggle against death, ashamed of her miserable wranglings with Martha and Billy’s wife, ashamed of her forgetfulness of her father in the exultation over her wealth, ashamed of the elaborately fashionable mourning she was wearing—and of the black horse she had bought to match. She hoped he would not observe these last flauntings of the purely formal character of a grief that was being utilized to make a display of fashionableness.

"You always bring out the best there is in me," said she.

He stood silently before her—not in embarrassment, for he was rarely self-conscious enough to be embarrassed, but refraining from speech simply because there was nothing to say.

"I haven’t heard any of the details of the election," she went on. "Did you come out as well as you hoped?"

"Better," said he. "As a result of the election the membership of the League has already a little more than doubled. We could have quadrupled it, but we are somewhat strict in our requirements. We want only those who will stay members as long as they stay citizens of Remsen City. But I must go on to Charlton or he’ll be out on his rounds."

She caught his glance, which was inclined to avoid hers. She gave him a pleading look. "I’ll walk with you part of the way," she said.

He seemed to be searching for an excuse to get away. Whether because he failed to find it or because he changed his mind, he said: "You’ll not mind going at a good gait?"

"I’ll ride," said she. "It’s not comfortable, walking fast in these boots."

He stood by to help her, but let her get into the saddle alone. She smiled down at him with a little coquetry. "Are you afraid to touch me—to-day?" she asked.

He laughed: "The bird IS merely an excuse," he admitted. "I’ve got back my self-control, and I purpose to keep it."

She flushed angrily. His frankness now seemed to her to be flavored with impertinent assurance. "That’s amusing," said she, with an unpleasant smile. "You have an extraordinary opinion of yourself, haven’t you?"

He shrugged his shoulders as if the subject did not interest him and set off at a gait that compelled her horse to a rapid walk. She said presently:

"I’m going to live at the old place alone for the present. You’ll come to see me?"

He looked at her. "No," he said. "As I told you a moment ago, that’s over. You’ll have to find some one else to amuse you—for, I understand perfectly, Jane, that you were only doing what’s called flirting. That sort of thing is a waste of time—for me. I’m not competent to judge whether it’s a waste for you."

She looked coldly down at him. "You have changed since I last saw you," she said. "I don’t mean the change in your manner toward me. I mean something deeper. I’ve often heard that politics makes a man deteriorate. You must be careful, Victor."

"I must think about that," said he. "Thank you for warning me."

His prompt acceptance of her insincere criticism made her straightway repentant. "No, it’s I that have changed," she said. "Oh, I’m horrid!—simply horrid. I’m in despair about myself."

"Any one who thinks about himself is bound to be," said he philosophically. "That’s why one has to keep busy in order to keep contented." He halted. "I can save a mile and half an hour by crossing these fields." He held the wounded bird in one hand very carefully while he lifted his hat.

She colored deeply. "Victor," she said, "isn’t there any way that you and I can be friends?"

"Yes," replied he. "As I told you before, by becoming one of us. Those are impossible terms, of course. But that’s the only way by which we could be of use to each other. Jane, if I, professing what I do profess, offered to be friends with you on any other terms, you’d be very foolish not to reject my offer. For, it would mean that I was a fraud. Don’t you see that?"

"Yes," she admitted. "But when I am with you I see everything exactly as you represent it."

"It’s fortunate for you that I’m not disposed to take advantage of that—isn’t it?" said he, with good-humored irony.

"You don’t believe me!"

"Not altogether," he confessed. "To be quite candid, I think that for some reason or other I rouse in you an irresistible desire to pose. I doubt if you realize it— wholly. But you’d be hard pressed just where to draw the line between the sincere and the insincere, wouldn’t you—honestly?"

She sat moodily combing at her horse’s mane.

"I know it’s cruel," he went on lightly, "to deny anything, however small, to a young lady who has always had her own way. But in self-defense I must do it."

"Why DO I take these things from you?" she cried, in sudden exasperation. And touching her horse with her stick, she was off at a gallop.


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Chicago: David Graham Phillips, "VIII," The Conflict, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in The Conflict (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022,

MLA: Phillips, David Graham. "VIII." The Conflict, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in The Conflict, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022.

Harvard: Phillips, DG, 'VIII' in The Conflict, ed. . cited in 1894, The Conflict, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from