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CHAPTER XIII A LITTLE PILGRIMAGE
That night Congressman Carlton entertained the Cleverly delegation at dinner. It was a merry party, for they all felt very happy over their preliminary victory in the matter of the new Federal station. Barry was included among the dinner guests, and he conducted himself with due modesty, and yet with all of the confidence of a veteran statesman. The episode of the afternoon naturally came in for a large share of conversation. The various members of the party viewed it according to their respective methods of viewing life.

"I think we might as well go ahead and advertise for proposals," said Postmaster Ford, who had the reputation of being the most optimistic man in Cleverly. "The bill's as good as passed. It's a sure thing!"
 
Congressman Carlton laughed.

"I wish you would loan me your rose-colored glasses, Ford," was his comment; "you certainly look on the sunny side of things."

"It's the only way to succeed," was the jovial response. "I think pessimists should be suppressed by law."

"What do you think of that, Mr. Blake?" asked the legislator, turning to Barry's uncle.

Hiram was a cautious man. He paused for some moments before replying. He spoke, finally, with great deliberation:

"I think it's a great mistake for any of us, either as individuals or as a community, to count our chickens before they are hatched."

Daniel Smithers had remained silent during the interchange of views. John Carlton glanced in his direction.

"What has the philosopher of Cleverly to say on the burning subject of the hour?"

The schoolmaster modestly disclaimed the title, saying that as far as wisdom was concerned, there was safety in numbers.
 
"But what do you think of the situation?" insisted the Congressman.

"Well," said the other, "I think Ford and Blake are extremists. I see no occasion for either joy or sorrow."

"Smithers is hedging," called a voice from the other side of the table.

"Not at all," protested the teacher. "As I view the situation, we have every reason to be satisfied. We have won the skirmish, but the big battle is still to be fought. Moreover, it does not take a very bright observer to see that Mr. Carlton has a very resourceful and determined adversary in Jesse Hudson. He was very much chagrined over his setback this afternoon, and if I am not very much mistaken in my man he will do his best to keep Cleverly from getting the new Naval Repair Station."

Mr. Carlton nodded his head.

"You've sized the situation up to the dot. There's no use blinking our eyes to the truth. I'm up against the hardest fight of my life. While you're with me, gentlemen, I feel your[Pg 171] enthusiasm and strength. But when you go away you must not forget that—"

"That you'll be standing all alone against a combination of clever politicians," interrupted Hiram Blake.

The Congressman laughed.

"That's not exactly what I intended to say," he remarked, "but we'll let it go at that."

"Blake's wrong in one particular," observed Smithers.

"How?"

"You won't be alone in this fight."

"No?"

"No; you'll have Barry Wynn with you."

Barry, sitting at the far end of the table, blushed to the roots of his hair.

In the evening the delegation went to one of the theatres in Washington as the guests of John Carlton. He purchased an entire box in honor of the occasion, and thus his friends were able to see and hear to great advantage. The play was one of James M. Barrie's whimsical comedies, and to say that they all enjoyed[Pg 172] it would be putting it very mildly indeed. The company was competent and the play itself was not only humorous but wholesome as well. Cleverly, while a thriving town, did not always have the privilege of seeing the best plays, and, as a consequence, this visit to the theatre in Washington was an opportunity that was remembered a long while by each member of the delegation.

After the performance Congressman Carlton escorted his friends to their hotel, and as they were about to part for the night, he said:

"Well, gentlemen, I shall be engaged all day tomorrow with my official duties, and I am going to place you in the hands of Barry Wynn. He will act as my representative. Now, is there anything in particular that you would like to do tomorrow?"

One after another said that they had no special object in view. Finally, Mr. Carlton turned to the boy and said:

"Barry, what do you say? What suggestion have you to make?"
 
Barry, thus suddenly appealed to, was at a loss what to say. In a moment or two, however, a thought flashed into his mind and he gave it voice:

"I think a trip to Mount Vernon would come pretty nearly filling the bill."

"Good!" ejaculated the Congressman. "I can think of nothing that would be pleasanter or more profitable. A pilgrimage to the tomb of Washington! It's the very thing."

Everybody agreed to the proposition and a call was left with the night clerk at the hotel so that they would be able to have an early breakfast and start out on their trip in good season. They had all breakfasted by nine o'clock the following morning and were ready for the day's sight seeing. The trip was made by rail, and after reaching the home of the Father of his Country, the members separated and spent nearly two hours in viewing every part of the historic estate. They were all enchanted with the simplicity of Mount Vernon. Standing on the colonial porch, they could look[Pg 174] out and see the Potomac river shimmering in the distance. Mr. Smithers voiced the general opinion when he said that Washington could not have secured a more ideal residence in which to spend his honorable old age.

Although they were all men, the members of the delegation were greatly interested in the quaint dining-room, and they admired the Colonial china, the antique furniture, and the picturesque surroundings. They stood in the hallway and looked up the open staircase, which Nellie Custis had walked down one beautiful morning to become a bride. Indeed, they were all intelligent men, and all having read the life of Washington and the history of the country to advantage, they associated every part of the old mansion with some interesting anecdote.

Mr. Smithers was particularly interested in the boyish recollections of the great Washington. He gazed with particular keenness on the little bundle of books which the future President of the country had read with such[Pg 175] profit when a boy. He examined minutely the fragments of school exercises which showed the round, fair handwriting which has since become so familiar to the civilized world. He noted among the papers many copies of legal forms written by the youthful Washington, as well as the set of rules regarding behavior. It was evident that these rules, while sounding somewhat stilted, had had a remarkable effect in moulding the boy's mind and in forming his character.

"Look at this one, Barry," said the old schoolmaster, "it is worth remembering."

Barry looked over the shoulder of his old friend and read:

    "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called 'conscience.'"

Hiram Blake and Postmaster Ford, who were standing back of the other two, nodded their assent and indicated by their manner, if not in words, that a boy who would keep that maxim before him at all times could not fail to become a useful member of society.
 
"Here's another one worth hearing," called out Mr. Smithers.

"What is it?" asked Hiram.

    "Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive,"

read the schoolmaster, slowly.

"Good," cried Postmaster Ford. "That should be printed on a card and placed on the desk of every busy man. It might frighten off the bores."

All the members of the party were now straining to see the little book, which was kept out of the reach of vandals. Hiram Blake read a maxim as follows:

    "Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust."

The Postmaster recited the next one:

    "Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise."

Before they left, the attendant of the estate gave them an outline of the history of Mount Vernon. He said that it was the property of the Mount Vernon Association, which had [Pg 177]incorporated many years before for the purpose of purchasing and holding the estate in perpetuity. The association, he added, was composed of ladies of the United States and was ably managed by a Board of lady Regents. Mount Vernon descended to George Washington when he was about twenty-one years of age, from his half brother, Lawrence Washington, and from that time until his death, on the 14th of December, 1799, it was his home.

The time had passed so quickly and so pleasantly that it was now almost noon, and it was decided that if they desired to reach their hotel in time for lunch, they would have to move at once. As they were about to pass out of the grounds, a large automobile came round one corner of the property, prepared to resume its journey to the Capitol. Four gentlemen were in this party. They had been inspecting Mount Vernon at the same time as the delegation from Cleverly. The gentleman in charge, who appeared to be paying a great deal of attention to the other three, was rather[Pg 178] dignified. But he had a very agreeable manner and frequently said things that caused his companions to laugh.

Barry had been watching this gentleman for some time, and now he stood gazing at him as though he were fascinated. There was something familiar about him. Barry felt that he had met him before and yet, try as he could, the memory of such a meeting would not come to his mind.

While Barry was still engaged in this mental debate, a sudden gust of wind came along and took the stranger's hat from his head. It fell to the ground and being lifted up again by the breeze, started off toward the Potomac river, with the certainty and speed of a bird. Barry did not hesitate, not even for a fraction of a second. He started after the truant hat as fast as his legs would carry him.

It was a wild chase, but the boy won. He picked up the head-piece and started back breathless but triumphant. The gentleman came running toward him, meeting him half[Pg 179] way. The incident had not disturbed his temper. He was in the best of good humor.

"You 're a better sprinter than I," he said, jovially, "but when I was your age I think I could have beaten you."

The boy and the man stood talking for some moments. The gentleman was evidently asking many questions and Barry, very much embarrassed, was answering the best he could.

"Looks as if Barry had made a new friend," commented Mr. Smithers.

Before anyone had a chance to reply, Barry was escorting the stranger towards the delegation from Cleverly. He presented each of them in their turn, but he was so flustered that no one caught the name of the newcomer. Mr. Smithers and Postmaster Ford, however, looked at the stranger very curiously and there was something very much like reverence in their eyes. He chatted very amiably for a few moments and spoke about the historic importance of the ground on which they were standing.
 
"By the by," he said, turning to Barry, "you're a page boy; do you know Mr. John Carlton?"

"He's the member that had me appointed," replied Barry, proudly.

"Good," was the cordial response, "I'm glad to hear it. Carlton is an able man and," half musingly, "he's a coming man, too; a coming man."

The members of the delegation looked at one another significantly. It was a pleasure to them to hear anyone commend their Congressman. Presently the stranger prepared to depart.

"I am very glad to have seen you gentlemen here," he said. "I think that every man who has the opportunity to pay a pilgrimage to Mount Vernon should do so."

They agreed with him, and presently, after some more talk, he turned and said:

"Where's that little page boy?"

Barry was pushed to the front, and the stranger shook hands with him very cordially.
 
"It does me good to shake hands with you," he said. "I like all boys, but I have a special liking for boys who are bright and ambitious."

The next moment he had stepped into the automobile with his friends, and as the machine puffed out of the gateway, he turned in his seat and waved his hand, exclaiming:

"Good-bye, and good luck to you all."

It was all done so quickly that the visitors scarcely had time to get their bearings. Hiram Blake, who had been looking after the vanishing machine like a man in a stupor, was the first to speak:

"Who is that man?" he demanded.

"That," answered Barry, proudly, "is the President of the United States!"

"I thought so," commented Mr. Smithers; "he had the air of a man of authority."

"Yes," remarked Postmaster Ford, "I was sure it was he, and he looks just like his pictures."

An hour later the members were taking their lunch at the hotel in Washington, and before[Pg 182] dusk that evening, they had started on their return trip to Cleverly.

"Good-bye," cried Congressman Carlton, who was on the station platform as they boarded the train, "I will promise to do the best I can with that bill."

Mr. Smithers, who was the last one to get on the train, thought of the incident at Mount Vernon, and replied significantly:

"I am sure you won't fail us—not when you have the assistance of such a bright boy as Barry Wynn."


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