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CHAPTER XXI CONWAY MAKES A HIT
In less than a week the incident of the missing bill was relegated to the lumber room of forgotten events. As Mr. Carlton had predicted, other and more important things arose to occupy the minds of the national legislators.

But Barry Wynn did not forget the disastrous affair quite so readily. It remained in his mind as a warning for the future. It was a red light waving him away from the edge of many a dangerous precipice. But blessings often come in disguise, and eventually this lapse proved to be a good thing for the young page boy. He became more careful, accurate and painstaking. He never again postponed until "after a while" the task that could be done at once.

But in the meantime, the incident itself, while forgotten by Congressmen, led to unexpected[Pg 280] complications. What had been a single-handed battle between Hudson and Carlton now broadened out until it became a spirited contest between those who favored the reform bills of the Administration and those who opposed them. Like most contentions of this kind, what had been a trivial matter grew to great proportions. The incident of the missing bill might have been likened to a pebble thrown into a placid stream, creating circle after circle until all of the waters were in commotion.

For the next few weeks there was a ferment of factional politics. Even those who tried to keep out of the unpleasant muss were drawn into it as the peaceful waters are sometimes sucked into a fierce eddy. Meetings, large and small, were being held every day. There were conferences, caucuses, and secret gatherings of all kinds. One morning Felix Conway sent for Barry Wynn in a great hurry.

"Barry," he said, when the boy appeared, "there is to be a very important meeting this afternoon, composed of the men who are [Pg 281]fighting the reform measures of the Administration. I want to get a good report of that gathering, but I am afraid that if I go to the meeting the members who know me will shut up like clams and I will have my labor for my pains."

"Well," questioned Barry, "how can I help you?"

"Very easily," was the quick reply. "Your shorthand is good, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I think I have accuracy and speed."

"Well, you're just the boy I want. First of all, I want a list of those who are present, and after that I would like very much to get a verbatim report of the remarks of some of the principal speakers. Will you help me?"

Barry thought for a moment before replying.

"Well," he said, finally, "if you think that I am competent to do the work, I am willing to undertake it."

Conway laughed.

"There is no question at all about your [Pg 282]competency. The only point to consider now is your courage."

"My courage?" echoed Barry.

"Yes, your courage. Some pretty hot-headed men expect to attend that meeting. If they thought that you were there to report it, they would not hesitate to take you up by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the trousers and toss you out of a convenient window."

Barry laughed at this description, and then was silent for a moment.

"Well, my boy," cried the journalist, "if you're not game I won't press the proposition."

"I am game enough," retorted Barry, "but I wouldn't want to do anything that wasn't decent."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that I would not like the notion of any underhand work. I don't take much stock in this business of peeping through keyholes and things of that kind."

Conway's face flushed.

"You don't suppose I would ask you to do[Pg 283] anything that I wouldn't do myself, do you?"

"No."

"Well, then there is no more to be said. This is a meeting of public men to consider public business, and the public has a right to know all about it."

"But you don't care to go there yourself?" suggested Barry.

"No. For the reason that I have already told you. The sight of me would frighten those fellows, and the public would thereby be deprived of information which it has a right to."

"I'll go," cried Barry, ending the parley, "and I will promise to do the best I can for you."

The meeting was held in a secluded Committee room on the ground floor of the Capitol. There were thirty or forty men present, and when Barry reached the door of the room it was pretty well filled. Joel Phipps stood at the entrance scanning the members as they came in. Just as Barry arrived someone called[Pg 284] Phipps to the other end of the room, and in the interval while the door was unguarded, the boy slipped in and made his way through the crowd to the last row of chairs. A tall, good-natured member, seeing him, cried out:

"What district do you represent, my boy?"

Before Barry had time to respond, another member, glancing at him, replied carelessly:

"Oh, that's one of the page boys."

When the meeting was called to order a few minutes later, Barry found himself almost hidden in a corner of the room. The men around him were so large and he was so small and so quiet that he was completely unnoticed. Joel Phipps called the roll and Barry was able to take the names down. After the members had responded to their names there was a general discussion of the various bills that were pending in the House of Representatives. Mention was made of the fact that the Administration was beginning to bring pressure to bear upon certain members in order to enact various reform measures into law.

[Pg 285]

The sensation of the meeting came when Jesse Hudson arose and made a spirited attack upon the Administration. He did not mince words. He said just what he thought, and some of his thoughts were not very pleasant. He concluded by saying that he was firmly opposed to certain reform measures that were being backed by the Administration, and that he would vote against them and hoped that other members would do the same.

One or two Congressmen followed Hudson, and spoke in a similar vein. Finally, resolutions were adopted pledging all those present to work together. The meeting adjourned after the appointment of three members for the purpose of gaining recruits among those who had not attended the meeting.

Barry, who had been taking down the proceedings in shorthand, managed to slip out of the room unobserved. He took a trolley car and went to his own room in order that he might be able to transcribe his notes without interruption. In two hours his report was in[Pg 286] the hands of Felix Conway. They proved to be the groundwork for one of the biggest political articles that had been written for many a long day.

The following morning Conway's newspaper appeared with a great, big, exclusive story which took the Capitol by storm. It told in detail, not only the story of the meeting, but also the plans that had been formulated for the balance of the session of Congress. The rival newspaper men were furious because they realized that Conway had secured what everybody in journalistic circles call "the scoop of the session." The Congressmen who participated in the meeting were angry at this unexpected exposure, but the President and his supporters, who were backing the reform bills, were delighted beyond measure, and before nightfall Conway was complimented by a letter in the handwriting of the Chief Executive of the nation, inviting him to call at the White House.


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