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CHAPTER XX HUDSON PLAYS POLITICS
At ten o'clock the next morning Barry Wynn walked into the rooms of the Committee on Public Buildings, and coolly handed Joel Phipps the missing bill.

"Here is a document that belongs to the Committee," he said.

Phipps looked at the bill and gasped.

"What? The Cleverly bill?"

"Yes; Mr. Carlton gave it to me to return to you before the meeting of the Committee. I forgot all about it. I found it in my coat pocket last night and went and told him. He instructed me to hand it to you this morning. I'm sorry it happened."

The clerk seemed too stunned to speak. When he recovered his breath he broke out into a string of adjectives.

"Well, of all the cheeky kids, you're[Pg 268] about the worst I ever met," was the peroration.

"I said I was sorry," said Barry, half resentfully.

Joel sneered.

"You don't suppose you can get anyone to believe that, do you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that it looks like a bit of tricky business on the part of Mr. Carlton and yourself."

Barry's eyes blazed.

"Don't you dare to reflect on Mr. Carlton," he cried. "He didn't know a thing about it. Besides, he defended you before the Committee. Have you forgotten that?"

Joel was mollified.

"That's so. I take back what I said about him. But it looks bad for you."

The return of the bill caused a mild sensation in Congressional circles. Most of Mr. Carlton's associates accepted the explanation by the young page. But a number of others,[Pg 269] who desired to make political capital out of the incident, magnified its importance and tried to make it appear that the Congressman had been guilty of the folly of stealing his own bill.

When Barry heard this he was very much perturbed. He hurried to the office of his benefactor.

"I can't tell you how badly I feel, Mr. Carlton," he said; "isn't there anything I can do to make reparation for my folly?"

"No," was the mild reply, "you can do nothing more than you have done. It will be a nine days' wonder and after that it will be forgotten."

"I'll not forget it very soon," said the boy, soberly.

"No," admitted the Congressman, "and Barry, that's the worst of our faults. They leave marks that are sometimes never entirely eliminated by time. My father tried to illustrate the fact for me when I was a boy. He had a fine piece of walnut that he intended to[Pg 270] utilize in making a piece of furniture. It was smoothly planed and polished. One rainy day, with the destructiveness of youth, I hammered it full of nails. I was not a vicious boy, but I knew that I was doing wrong."

"What did he say?" asked Barry eagerly.

"He was very much grieved, but instead of thrashing me, as I expected, he made me pull the nails out one by one. After that he gave me a plane and bade me smooth the board off as best I could. Finally I was told to putty up the holes. After that he asked me if I thought the board was as good as it had been before I disfigured it."

"Of course, it wasn't," commented Barry.

"No, it was not. The marks of the nails were still there. And he used the fact to convey a moral lesson. He told me the same thing happened every time a boy was guilty of a fault or a sin,—he damaged his character to that extent. The inference is plain. While we must do our best to repair the wrongs we do, we cannot forget that the scars still remain."

[Pg 271]

If Mr. Carlton and Barry imagined that the incident of the missing bill was closed, they were doomed to disappointment. While they were still talking, the door opened and Felix Conway came in, his forehead wrinkled with indignation. The Congressman, who was a self-contained man, could not help smiling.

"What's the matter now?"

"Matter enough," retorted the correspondent, "Hudson's playing peanut politics."

"It's the only kind he knows," was the placid retort.

"But you wouldn't think he'd fight a boy."

"What is it?" asked Carlton, with a trace of impatience. "What's he doing now?"

"He's written a letter to the Sergeant-at-Arms, demanding the dismissal of Barry Wynn on the charge of conduct unbecoming an employé of the Government. In a word, he's after the official scalp of our young friend."

John Carlton sprang from his chair, his honest face red with anger. He brought his[Pg 272] big fist down on the desk in front of him with such force that the ink bottles danced in sympathy with his passion.

"Well, he won't get it—and you can tell him that for me."

Conway laughed in spite of himself.

"You're not taking this thing seriously too, are you?"

"So much so that I'll stake my reputation on beating Hudson."

But the journalist held up a restraining hand.

"One moment, please," he said, "this is my business, and I'd like you to keep out of it—for the present, at least."

"I'd like to know why."

"Because I have my own notion of the way in which it should be handled."

"All right, go ahead; but I don't propose to sit still and see him hurt the boy."

Barry intervened at this stage of the conversation.

"Mr. Carlton," he said, very earnestly,[Pg 273] "I'm very grateful for your good will and your friendship, but I hope you will not permit me to stand in your way politically. I'm not blind. I know that I've brought this thing on myself, and I'm willing to take the consequences. It's not fair to ask you to bear the brunt of my faults, and I don't expect it."

"My dear Barry," said the Congressman, soothingly, "Jesse Hudson's not after you; he's after me. Now, I must either fight him or turn tail and run. Surely you wouldn't ask me—"

"No, no," said the boy, eagerly, "I never thought of that side of it."

"By the way, Conway," remarked Carlton, turning to the correspondent, "did Hudson write privately to the Sergeant-at-Arms?"

The journalist laughed.

"Not much. He gave his letter to all the newspapers. That's what made me hot. He's courting publicity, and I'll bet he gets all he wants before he is through."

"Well," said the Congressman, "what is[Pg 274] your desire with me? I know you didn't come here just for the pleasure of denouncing Hudson."

"I want a short, snappy interview with you defending Barry from the charge of intentional wrong. Then I want a few sharp comments on what you think of a Congressman who will strike at a boy in order to revenge himself on a political opponent."

"You know how I feel."

"Yes."

"Well, make me say anything you want. Go as far as you like."

Felix Conway was not the man to do things by halves. He took John Carlton at his word and evolved an interview that was a mixture of brimstone and vitriol. It made the oldest members of the House sit up and gasp with wonder. The resourceful journalist did not stop at this. He had interviews with half a dozen Congressmen, all denouncing Hudson for his cowardice. Finally, there was a cartoon on the front page of his paper. It [Pg 275]depicted Hudson as a giant lifting a big club marked "Revenge" against a very small page boy.

Conway made it his business to see that a copy of his paper was placed on the desk of every member. When Carlton entered the House he was surrounded by a group of members who shook hands with him, heartily congratulating him on the forceful interview they had read in the morning paper.

"It was right to the point," said one enthusiastic Westerner, "it was what we call 'hot stuff.'"

Carlton smiled at the recollection of his talk with Conway.

"I only deserve part of the praise," he said; "most of it belongs to our friend Felix. He's the brightest reporter in Washington."

Hudson, on his entrance, found that he was looked upon with coldness. He realized before long that his latest move against Carlton had been a mistake. He was furious over the counter attack which had been made against[Pg 276] him by Felix Conway, but he was helpless to resist it. Moreover, such members as did not openly condemn his own charge against Barry Wynn, slyly ridiculed him. He could not stand that. Few public men can stand up against ridicule. So, at the first opportunity, Hudson slipped out of the House and disappeared from view.

During a lull in the proceedings Mr. Carlton left his desk and started for the office of the Sergeant-at-Arms. He met Conway in the corridor.

"Hello, where are you bound for?" asked the journalist.

"To thrash out this threat of Hudson's," was the response. "I'm going to get a copy of the charges, and then it will be a fight to the finish."

"I reckon you won't have much trouble," said Conway, with the Southern drawl that he used occasionally.

"Won't you go along to see fair play?" laughed the Congressman.

[Pg 277]

"No," was the reply, with a curious laugh. "I've got all sorts of confidence in your ability to take care of yourself, and I have no sympathy with the other fellow."

Five minutes later Carlton was facing the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House. That official, who knew him well, greeted him most hospitably.

"McDonald," said the Congressman, "I understand that charges were filed with you against Barry Wynn. Is that correct?"

"Yes, sir; it is."

"Well, sir, I'm here to answer in his behalf. I'd like to have a copy of the charges. I'm ready to answer them."

"Very sorry," said the other, with a strange smile, "but I can't oblige you."

"Why not," asked Carlton, bristling up at once.

"Because there are no charges now."

"No charges now? What do you mean?"

The Sergeant-at-Arms did an amazing thing. He winked at the Congressman.[Pg 278] After that he spoke with a significant emphasis.

"Hudson beat you by about ten minutes; he's withdrawn the charges, and says I'm to consider them as never having been made."

Carlton looked at him blankly.

"Well, that beats the old Harry," he said, finally; "how do you account for it."

"I should say," said the other, slowly, "that Hudson's action was prompted by the force of public opinion."

"The force of public opinion?" echoed the Congressman.

"Yes," repeated McDonald, slyly, "the force of public opinion as represented by Mr. Felix Conway."


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