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CHAPTER IV VISIONS OF GREATNESS

When Barry Wynn and Joe Hart reached their Washington home they found Mrs. Johnson, the landlady, waiting for them. It did not take Barry long to discover that Mrs. Johnson was a very motherly person indeed, and one well calculated to take the place of his mother during the time that he was compelled to be away from home.

Mrs. Johnson, who was small of stature and very neat in appearance, was the widow of a clerk in the Treasury Department. She had been left with a large family and small means, but, being a capable woman, had been able to survive a crisis which would have shipwrecked the life of a weaker woman. Indeed, she had been able to educate her children through the profits of her enterprise. She had made a [Pg 46]success of a boarding house, and in Washington this is saying a great deal.

Dinner was served at half-past six in a large, airy, and well-lighted dining-room. The atmosphere of the place was very pleasant and homelike. A big glass dish, filled with apple butter, stood in the centre of the table, and the mere sight of it filled Barry's mind with memories of home. The table was covered with clean linen and held a vase of freshly cut flowers. The dinner itself was good. The food was plain but wholesome, and the guests were all very friendly with Barry. There were nine or ten in all; three of the ladies were school teachers in the District of Columbia; two of the men were clerks in the Treasury Department, and another one held a position in the Patent Office. He was a very lively talker, and he managed to keep the guests at the table in a roar of laughter with the funny incidents which came to his attention in the course of the day's work.

After dinner most of the guests assembled[Pg 47] in the large parlor and talked and chatted with all of the freedom that one usually finds in an affectionate family circle. One of the school teachers played the piano, while the Patent Office clerk, who had a good voice, treated his fellow guests to several selections from the popular songs of the day. It was all very chummy and very homelike, and Barry, who had feared that he might feel like a stranger in a strange land was, on the contrary, quite comfortable in his new home.

During the course of the evening Mrs. Johnson had a long conversation with him and asked him all sorts of questions concerning his home and his mother. She was very much interested in his replies and promised that when he returned home Mrs. Wynn would never have any cause to regret his selection of a boarding house in Washington. Barry's reference to his mother's widowhood brought tears to Mrs. Johnson's eyes.

"I had splendid prospects myself once," she said, "but the sudden and unexpected death[Pg 48] of my husband dashed them to the ground and put me to the necessity of earning a living for myself and children. I thank a kind Providence that I have been successful, but the struggle has been a severe one and I know that it has aged me very much."

"I noticed a picture of President Garfield in the hallway," said Barry. "Did you know him?"

"He was one of our best friends," said the widow. "My husband was a classmate of President Garfield at Hiram College, and was one of his friends and supporters in nearly all of his political campaigns. After the General became President, one of his first acts was to appoint my husband a clerk in the Treasury Department. That was intended as a beginning. We both knew that he was to be promoted to a more important position as soon as possible, but Death intervened and that ended it all. However, the friendship of the President was deeply appreciated by John and myself. He called on us one day soon after he[Pg 49] was inaugurated, and he was the same big-hearted, unaffected friend that we had known in Ohio. I could not help but think of him tonight at dinner. On the occasion of his call there was a big bowl of apple butter on the table. He called for a helping of home-made bread and then, in his big, boyish way, started in and ate the bread and the apple butter. He said that it reminded him of the days when he worked on the farm."

At about ten o'clock, during a lull in the conversation, Barry managed to leave the parlor unobserved and hurried up to his modest little bedroom. He had two reasons for doing this: the first was his desire to write a letter to his mother, and the second was the need which he felt for a good night's rest. He lit the gas, and was pleased to find a desk in the room with pen, ink and paper. On the first night he had only got a glimpse of his new quarters, and he now looked around and was delighted with the cozy appearance of his apartment. It was perfectly clean; the paint[Pg 50] seemed fresh, and the paper was new. Two or three tastefully framed pictures adorned the walls, and an iron bedstead in the corner of the room was covered with a counterpane that was as white as snow.

Barry seated himself at the desk and started the letter to his mother. He had so much to tell that he scarcely knew where to begin, but presently his pen began to scratch the paper and he was fairly started. At intervals he paused and bit the end of the penholder, or scratched his head, or gazed up at the ceiling, in his efforts to think of the proper word that he should use in his correspondence. It proved to be quite a lengthy letter. He told his mother all that happened from the time he reached Washington until the moment he had begun his epistle. He told her about Congressman Carlton, Felix Conway, the journalist, Mrs. Johnson, his kind landlady, and last, but not least, he related all that he was able to tell about Joe Hart, his fellow page.

After he had concluded he sealed and[Pg 51] stamped the letter and carried it out and dropped it in a letter box at the corner of the street. He was about to prepare to go to bed on his return, when his attention was attracted by a modest-looking shelf in one corner of the room. His love for reading caused him to make a closer examination. He found that one shelf contained a copy of the Bible, a set of Shakespeare in one big volume, a history of the United States, a Congressional directory, a condensed history of the nations, and a life of James A. Garfield, the martyred President of the United States. It seemed to Barry, young as he was, that these six volumes might be said to contain a liberal education in themselves.

Every one of them was worth careful perusal, but boy-like, he turned to the life of Garfield and began to skim it over. Before he realized it he was thoroughly absorbed in the volume. He read of the boy who was born in poverty, and who, through his own efforts, had risen to the highest position in the[Pg 52] gift of the American people. The story was a reality to Barry Wynn. He could see young Garfield when he was scarcely twelve years of age, driving in the cattle, carrying wood, hoeing potatoes, building fires, and doing whatever else there was for willing hands to do. He could see the future President lying flat on the floor of the barn, reading the life of Napoleon, and he could see that same boy exclaiming to his mother with youthful enthusiasm: "Mother, when I get to be a man, I'm going to be a soldier," and then later on in the book, he read about the boy, after he reached manhood, who became one of the bravest soldiers in the Civil War.

But the most interesting part of the magic volume, so far as Barry was concerned, were the pages that told of the future President of the United States working as a mule driver on the narrow banks of the canal. Young Garfield once thought that he would like to become a pirate, but as his reasoning powers became stronger, he discarded this romantic idea and[Pg 53] settled down to the unpoetic work of everyday life, and although he did not become a pirate, he managed to secure employment on a canal boat in his own State, and during his first night's work became involved in a quarrel with a bully of a deck hand, and thrashed the fellow within an inch of his life. After that, James A. Garfield went to school for a while, and finally became a student in Hiram College, Ohio. Later he was promoted to the proud position of a teacher in the institution in which he had started as a pupil. Barry read on and on, following his hero from one position to another, until he reached the Presidency, only to become the victim of an assassin's bullet.

Finally Barry reached the last page of this wonderful book, and he laid it down with a sigh of relief and yet of regret. He happened to glance at the small clock which was ticking on the mantle. It pointed to fifteen minutes of two in the morning. It startled the boy. He had no idea that the time had passed so[Pg 54] rapidly. He undressed quickly and put out the light, and was just about to jump into bed when he heard the sound of footsteps in the hallway. He opened his door cautiously and as he did so he saw Joe Hart going into his room on the other side of the corridor. Barry was too sleepy to feel very inquisitive, but in a vague sort of way, he thought that Joe Hart was certainly keeping very bad hours.

After that he threw himself into bed. He lay thinking for some time. The thought of the book he had just read kept running through his mind. One sentence in it came to him as clearly as if it had been committed to memory. It was an extract from an address which Garfield had delivered to the students at Hiram College. The President, on that occasion, had said:

    "Poverty is uncomfortable, as I can testify, but nine times out of ten the best thing that can happen to a young man is to be tossed overboard and compelled to sink or swim for himself. In all my acquaintance I never knew a man to be drowned who was worth saving."
 
Barry felt, in an incoherent, drowsy way, that he had been tossed overboard. He wondered whether he could sink or swim, but before the answer came he was sound asleep.


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