When Governor Willie Stark tries to intimidate old Judge Irwin of Burden’s Landing, the judge stands firm against the demagogue’s threats. As a result, Willie orders Jack Burden to find a scandal in the judge’s past that could ruin the elderly man.
Jack met Willie back in 1922, when Willie, the county treasurer, and Lucy Stark, his schoolteacher wife, were fighting against a corrupt building contractor who was constructing the new schoolhouse. Sent by his newspaper, The Chronicle, to investigate, Jack found that both Willie and Lucy lost their jobs but were still fighting graft. Two years later, when the fire escape of the school collapsed during a fire drill, Willie became a hero.
He thereupon ran for governor in the Democratic primary race, in which there were two factions. Jack covered the campaign. Because it was expected to be a close race, someone from one side, that supporting Harrison, proposed that Willie be used as a dummy candidate to split one group of rural voters who supported MacMurfee. Tiny Duffy and others convinced Willie that he could save the state. By then, Willie was a lawyer and politically ambitious. Supporting him was Sadie Burke, a clever, energetic woman with political skill. Inadvertently she revealed Harrison’s plan to Willie. Crushed at this news, Willie rallied and offered to campaign for MacMurfee, who was elected. Willie practiced law until 1930; he then ran for governor with the assistance of Sadie Burke, who became his mistress, and Tiny Duffy, who was Willie’s political jackal.
Meanwhile, Jack quit his job on The Chronicle. Reared by a mother who remarried after Ellis Burden deserted her, Jack became a faithless, homeless cynic who practiced his profession without believing in its higher aims. He, in his youth, played with Anne and Adam Stanton, the children of the governor. Adam was now a famous surgeon, and Anne, still unmarried, was a welfare worker. Jack was in love with Anne, but time placed a barrier between him and the girl with whom he fell in love during the summer after he came home to Burden’s Landing from college. He was twenty-one then, she seventeen. Even then, however, Jack’s youthful cynicism damaged him in Anne’s eyes. When Jack went to work for Governor Willie Stark, Jack’s mother was deeply pained and Judge Irwin was disgusted, but Jack cared little for their opinions.
By 1933, Willie was on the verge of losing his wife, who could no longer tolerate her husband’s political maneuvers and his treatment of their son, Tom. Willie assured Jack that Lucy knew nothing about Sadie Burke. Lucy remained with Willie through his reelection, in 1934, and then retired to her sister’s farm. She appeared with Willie in public only for the sake of his reputation.
When Jack begins to dig into Judge Irwin’s financial transactions during the time when he...
(The entire section is 1179 words.)