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CHAPTER XVIII RUMORS OF WAR
Washington is a city of rumors, and for some hours after the mysterious disappearance of the Cleverly bill the air was filled with stories of an approaching political war. Some of John Carlton's bitter partisans made the emphatic assertion that Joel Phipps was at the bottom of the whole business and that he had deliberately destroyed the bill in order to prevent its passage by the Committee. The Congressman was the first one to repudiate this charge.

"There is no proof whatever," he said, "that Joel Phipps is in any way responsible for the loss of the bill. I am a believer in fair play, and I want it distinctly understood that I have not in any way impugned the good faith of my colleagues or of any employé of the Committee."

[Pg 244]

"But you put the blame on the clerk at the meeting of the Committee."

"Yes," he admitted reluctantly, "I did, but it was a case of hasty judgment on my part."

"Then you acquit Phipps?"

"I have neither acquitted or convicted anyone."

"But what do you suppose became of the bill?"

"I'm sure I don't know," was the despairing reply.

In spite of John Carlton's peaceful talk, the friends and enemies of the bill seemed determined to stir strife. Some of them went so far as to say that the disappearance of the bill was a bit of trickery which had been engineered by opponents of the Administration, who took this method of punishing the Congressman for his loyalty to the President. Carlton pooh-poohed this, but in spite of his protests, the story was flashing along newspaper row. The whole thing illustrated the[Pg 245] astonishing rapidity with which a mere rumor can grow into an accepted fact. It was like a snowball rolling down a hill. It gathered weight and momentum as it proceeded. By nightfall some of the sensational journalists were building up a story of a political war that was to involve the entire United States.

Barry missed all of this. He had been sent to Georgetown to obtain some law books for a member of Congress, and he was entirely unaware of the fate that had befallen his beloved bill. Mr. Carlton, in a half amused way, wondered how the boy would feel when he learned the news. He was at dinner in the hotel when one of the newspaper correspondents called on him to inquire whether he would make a statement concerning the great political war.

"Certainly," he said.

The young man pulled out his pencil and note book.

"It will be short," warned the Congressman.

"Very well," was the smiling rejoinder, "anything you may say will be of interest."

[Pg 246]

"Rubbish!" said the statesman.

The newspaper man looked at him curiously.

"Well, I am still waiting," he said.

"But I have given you the statement you desired," said Carlton.

"What was it?"

"Rubbish—that's all."

"Do you really mean to put that out as your answer to the charges and innuendos that are floating about Washington?"

"That is precisely what I mean. I desire to say neither more nor less. Simply state that Congressman Carlton, when questioned on this matter, said 'Rubbish.'"

While Carlton was doing his best to pour oil on the troubled waters, Hudson was, on the other hand, going about sedulously stirring up the angry passions of the legislators. Without making any direct charges, he insinuated that the proposed bill had a significance which it really did not possess. He still felt very sore over the effective manner in which Carlton had blocked the claim which he presented in[Pg 247] the House earlier in the session. A big, broad-minded man would have accepted this defeat gracefully, but Hudson was not that type of statesman. He had a grievance and he nursed it, hoping that in the end he would succeed in revenging himself upon the even-tempered Carlton.

Carlton was still at the table, placidly eating his dinner, when Felix Conway burst into the room, his face red and his eyes staring.

"Sit down, Felix," said Carlton, "and have some dinner with me."

"I don't want any dinner. I've had all the dinner I care for."

The Congressman smiled.

"Then have a plate of ice cream. It may cool you off."

"No; nothing will cool me off, and after you hear what I have got to say, you may be a little warm yourself!"

"Well, go ahead and tell me what is on your mind."

[Pg 248]

"It's just this," cried Conway, explosively. "These fellows are going around the town trying to injure you. They're putting all sorts of false constructions on your failure to get your bill through today."

"Well, that's no more than I expected;—it's a penalty a man has to pay for being in public life."

"But you don't know what they're saying."

"No," agreed the other, placidly, "and I am not very anxious to hear."

"But," said the journalist, "you've got to listen to me."

"I am listening."

Conway fumbled in his pockets and finally pulled out copies of the evening papers. He opened one of them hurriedly and turning to an inside page, began reading some of the gossip that had been printed concerning Carlton and his bill. The writer said that the whole business had been, as he phrased it, "a grandstand play." He said that it was the belief of men who were on the inside of the[Pg 249] Committee that the bill had been purposely sidetracked. He added that Carlton was credited with knowing all about it and that in all probability the bill would never be heard of again. As he finished reading, Conway exclaimed:

"What do you think of that?"

"Not much," was the even reply.

Felix Conway looked at his friend in hopeless amazement. He wondered if anything would arouse him. Then he opened the second paper and began to read from that. The insinuations of the second writer were worse than the first. He practically charged Carlton with having destroyed the bill himself, because he knew that it would be impossible to pass it at the pending session of Congress. He said that it was apparently better to lose the bill than to go home and admit to the people of Cleverly that he had been unable to pass it.

Conway threw both papers on the table with a gesture of anger.

[Pg 250]

"Now," he exclaimed, dramatically, "What do you think of that?"

Carlton smiled as the young man indignantly asked the question. He spoke very quietly.

"I think even less of that than I did of the first comment."

Conway seemed dazed.

"Why, you're the queerest man I ever met. Of course, you must strike back at these fellows. You don't propose to let these insinuations stand, do you?"

The Congressman leaned over and put his hand on the correspondent's shoulder, and, speaking in a tone that a father might use to his son, said:

"My boy, I don't propose to do a thing."

"Don't propose to do a thing?" echoed the other.

"No, I do not. If a lifetime of honesty and faithful service is not a sufficient answer to these false and malicious reports, then nothing I can say at this time would have any effect with the people of Cleverly."

[Pg 251]

Conway looked at him with genuine admiration.

"You've got splendid courage, anyhow," he admitted, "and if you won't answer these reports, I suppose there's nothing for me to do but go back and get out my nightly grind."

"No, Felix," said the other, with an air of finality, "there is nothing else that you can do."

"But," insisted Conway, "if you won't talk for publication, I suppose you will act for your own satisfaction. You will go after these fellows, won't you?"

"No," was the response, "I won't!"

"Well, what in the world are you going to do?"

"Do," smiled the other, "I am going to do nothing. I am going to let events take their natural course!"


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