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CHAPTER XIX SORELY TEMPTED
It was late when Barry Wynn returned from his errand to Georgetown. The mission he had undertaken for the Sergeant-at-Arms took much longer than he anticipated. When he reached his boarding house that evening, Joe Hart and most of the other boarders had finished dinner. Barry was greatly disappointed, for he counted upon news from Joe Hart concerning the action of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

Barry, it will be remembered, had not read the evening papers or he would not have been in ignorance of the rapid-fire course of events during his absence. Indeed, it must be confessed that the matter of the Cleverly bill, of itself, did not cut much figure in the affairs of the national Capitol. It was really only in its relation to other and greater issues, that[Pg 253] it had attracted the attention of the bright young men who supply the metropolitan newspapers with information concerning the latest moves on the national checker board.

After dinner Barry found a letter from home awaiting him. He went to his room so that he could read it in uninterrupted silence. It was a long, gossipy communication, and his mother had evidently been at great pains to give him all the news about the people of Cleverly. She was well and happy, and Hiram Blake was proving himself a most devoted brother. In fact, he had gone down into his own pocketbook on more than one occasion in order to supply her not only with the necessities but the comforts of life.

Mrs. Wynn dwelt with much satisfaction on the letters she had received from Barry. She said she had heard about him in many indirect ways. She alluded to the visit of the Cleverly delegation to Washington, and said that the men were all warmly enthusiastic about the young page boy.

[Pg 254]

Daniel Smithers had called upon her and assured her with the utmost sincerity that her son would eventually become the President of the United States. When she raised her eyebrows, he had modified his prediction by saying that the boy would at least become Governor of his native state. Then, still seeing some signs of skepticism in her eyes, he had feebly expressed the hope that Barry would at least become the Mayor of Cleverly.

And so the letter went on in an impulsive, good-natured way. It sounded like a chat by the fireside; it was all so familiar and so natural. Finally, the fond mother assured Barry that he was the biggest kind of a success, and that the few little faults, which had insisted upon popping out at inopportune moments, should be utilized by him as the means of arriving at perfection. Barry was sensible enough to realize that his mother was a partial judge, but all the same her letter gave him immense satisfaction. He felt a curious glow of contentment in his heart and he[Pg 255] thought, as he stood before the glass combing his hair, that he was a pretty good sort of a fellow after all.

At that moment, of all others, his glance happened to fall upon an evening newspaper that had been thrown across the bed. He began to read the headlines in a perfunctory sort of way. The Cleverly bill had been postponed and possibly beaten. He ceased combing his hair and sat down on the side of the bed like a person who had been suddenly stricken with some physical ailment. Presently, he recovered his breath and read the article through. The statements they contained brought the hot blush of indignation to his cheeks. He felt in a vague sort of way that Joel Phipps must be at the bottom of all this trickery.

Mechanically he finished his toilet, thinking in a numbed way of the misfortune that had befallen Mr. Carlton. One thing he regretted, and that was the fact that he had not been there. He was not foolish enough to think[Pg 256] it would have made any difference, but he felt somehow or other that it might have softened the blow to his benefactor.

He was preparing to go to the business school where he had made such progress in stenography and typewriting that he was almost ready to graduate. He was a tidy boy, and tonight, as on other occasions, he changed his suit so that he would make a good appearance before his fellow students. He reached for his coat, in the closet, and put it on. As he did so his attention was attracted by some crinkly substance in the inside pocket; it was bulky, too. He put his hand in and drew out the paper. The sight that met his eyes drew forth a groan of despair.

It was the missing bill—the Cleverly Naval Repair Station bill!

The whole miserable business came to him with a certainty and directness that left no room for doubt. He remembered receiving the bill from Mr. Carlton and he recalled, only too vividly, the message of the Congressman.[Pg 257] He was to return the bill to Joel Phipps on his way to luncheon. And he had failed to do so. That was the great, big irritating fact that stuck out like a sore finger.

He thought of the consequences of his carelessness, and he actually moaned. To have failed in his duty would have been bad enough under any circumstances, but to involve the fortunes and the reputations of others was almost too dreadful to think about. He picked up the newspaper and read it through again. Every sentence was like a knife to the sensitive boy.

He remembered with a pang of remorse that Joel Phipps had been accused—at least by innuendo—of trickery. He had thought so himself. What an injustice to a man who was probably better in every way than himself! He looked on the very darkest side of the picture. Suppose, as seemed probable, that the people of Cleverly should lose the coveted Naval Station. They could charge their loss to an insignificant page boy. But that, bad[Pg 258] as it sounded, was only one phase of the case. The incident might be the means of ending the public career of John Carlton. The thought brought tears to his eyes.

The newspapers had hinted that the disappearance of the bill would prove to be the beginning of a bitter factional warfare. He tried to dismiss the notion as absurd. And yet, greater events have proceeded from smaller causes. He remembered reading how a stupid cow, by kicking over an oil lamp in a stable, had caused the burning of the great city of Chicago.

At this point in his reflections a new and alarming question presented itself to his mind. Now that he had found the missing bill, what should he do with it? The thought made his heart beat violently. To confess that he was responsible for all the trouble seemed too humiliating to contemplate. The story had become public property. He would be drawn into the limelight. What would Mr. Carlton think? What would he say? How would the[Pg 259] announcement of the truth be received by his opponents? They would gloat over it beyond a doubt. Already he could see the jeering face of Joel Phipps.

Suddenly an idea flashed in his mind—an idea so unexpected and yet so plausible that it made him throw himself on the bed. It was simple, and yet, at first, it was awful. It entered his mind in the shape of a question. Why should he say anything about finding the bill? Why not destroy it, or if not that, why not slip it back with the other bills without the knowledge of Joel Phipps or the members of the Committee. It would require a little ingenuity, but it could be accomplished.

He lay there on his back on the bed gazing at the ceiling, and revolving the question in his mind. There hardly seemed to be any room for debate. He had just about convinced himself that he should remain silent concerning his discovery when a clear, small voice cried out:

"Would it be square? Would it be [Pg 260]honest? Could you look yourself in the face afterward?"

He roused himself and sat up straight in bed. He looked about him. No one was in the room. The voice that he heard was evidently the voice of his inner consciousness.

Immediately another voice, lower and more persuasive, attracted his attention. It was argumentative. What good would it do anyone, said this voice, to humiliate yourself? The harm has been done. It cannot be repaired. You only injure yourself without benefiting Mr. Carlton. Just forget that you found the bill and that will be the end of the whole, ugly business.

"But could you ever forget it?" warned the small, clear voice. "Wouldn't the remembrance of it hang over you like a heavy cloud? Beside that, wouldn't you put yourself in the position of deliberately deceiving the best friend you ever had?"

Barry jumped from the bed with a physical determination which meant that he had arrived[Pg 261] at his decision. In his excitement and eagerness, he spoke aloud:

"I'll go to Mr. Carlton and tell him the whole story."

It had been a hard battle. It showed in his face. But the small, clear voice of conscience had won a decisive victory over the low, persuasive one of temptation. Barry was surprised at the great relief he experienced the moment he arrived at his decision. He still felt very sorry, of course, at his sin of omission, and he was wondering how he should phrase his confession. But outside of these details, his mind was no longer troubled. He had a feeling of mental tranquillity that it would be difficult to put into words.

It was hardly nine o'clock, but he resolved to find Mr. Carlton if he had to tramp the entire city of Washington to do so. He hastily finished his dressing and left the house. Mrs. Johnson was standing at the door. She noticed that his face was pale and his manner determined.

[Pg 262]

"Is there anything I can do for you, Barry?" she asked.

"No, Mrs. Johnson," he replied, lightly.

But down in his heart of hearts there was an unutterable desire to throw himself upon her bosom and tell her his troubles. How he longed at that moment for five minutes with his mother. But it was decreed that he should bear his burden alone.

He went first to John Carlton's hotel, where he was told that the Congressman had gone out an hour before, leaving word that he would not return until late that night. Barry proceeded on his way to the office building of the members of the House of Representatives. He noticed a light in Mr. Carlton's room. He was shaking now with a nervousness that he could not understand. But his purpose to make a clean breast of the mystery was unaltered and unalterable.

He paused for a moment and then knocked on the door. There was no response. The boy,[Pg 263] waiting there like a culprit, began to hope that after all his friend might not be in his office. But he screwed up his courage to the sticking point and knocked again. A familiar voice called out:

"Come in."

The page boy opened the door and walked in the room. Mr. Carlton merely raised his eyes and said pleasantly:

"Hello, Barry; how are you?"

The boy was silent. The Congressman was so absorbed in his work that he did not notice the long pause in the conversation. When he looked up the second time he was startled at the sight that met his gaze. Barry's face was the color of chalk. He appeared to have shrivelled so much that his clothes hung from his body.

"Are you ill?" asked the statesman, with real concern in his voice.

"No," said Barry, huskily; "I've found the bill!"

"Well," laughing and surprised in the same[Pg 264] breath, "I'm glad to hear that, but you needn't be so solemn about it."

The boy was tongue-tied. He stood on one foot and then on the other.

"Where was it found?" finally asked the Congressman.

"Where it was not lost," blurted out Barry. "I found it in my coat pocket!"

Carlton's face clouded.

"You come here to tell me this?" he said, sternly.

"Yes," nodded Barry, his eyes on the floor. "It's been an awful struggle, but I had to tell you."

John Carlton was silent for a long, long while. His eyes were never removed from the boy's face for a moment. His own jaws were set in an ugly fashion. But presently it dawned upon him that Barry was very worn and haggard. At once he relented. He spoke mildly:
His eyes were never removed from the boy's face for a moment

His eyes were never removed from the boy's face for a moment.

See page 264

"You know all the trouble you have caused?"

"Only too well," exclaimed the boy. "It[Pg 265] was utter carelessness on my part. I would not have had it happen for the world! I—"

"You never returned the bill," interrupted Carlton.

"No; I forgot it. I changed my coat. The bill was in the inside pocket. I found it there tonight. I'm ready to pay the penalty. I'll resign my position if—"

"Barry—" began the Congressman.

"Yes, sir; yes, sir," cried the young page in his agitation, breaking into the other's remarks.

"Barry," resumed Carlton, in a voice that was singularly gentle, "you've already paid the penalty."

"Already paid it?"

"Yes—you've suffered, and you've done the manly thing by coming right to me and telling the truth."

Barry looked at him with gratitude beaming from his eyes.

"You think so?"

"I know it. We all have to pay for our[Pg 266] sins of omission and our sins of commission. You've done the only thing that mortal can do. You're sorry; you've confessed—and, I'm sure it will be the lesson of a lifetime."

"I'm positive of that," was the fervent response.

"Well," said Carlton, rising and putting his arm about the boy's shoulder, "you can go home now and go to sleep with a good conscience."


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