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CHAPTER XXIV THE LAST STAND
Barry Wynn awoke the following morning with a confused recollection of what he had heard behind the big column in the Cosmopolis Hotel. But in the clear light of day it did not take him long to determine what he should do. He resolved to tell the story to Mr. Carlton for just what it was worth.

Immediately after breakfast he hastened to the Capitol, but was disappointed to learn that the Congressman would not be in his office until noon. Barry waited until that hour only to find that it would not be possible for Mr. Carlton to see anyone until later in the day. The boy was in a fever of impatience by this time. He hardly knew what to do. He knew that the Committee on Naval Affairs was to meet at three o'clock and he resolved to stand at the door of the Committee room and [Pg 310]intercept Mr. Carlton as he went into the meeting. It was a minute after the appointed time when the familiar form of the Congressman came swinging down the corridor in double-quick time.

"Mr. Carlton! Mr. Carlton!" cried the boy.

"Hello, Barry," responded the statesman, but without stopping.

The young page ran after him and caught him by the sleeve.

"There is something I want to tell you—something important," he panted.

The Congressman slackened his pace without stopping.

"Well, what is it? You must speak quickly. I'm in a mighty big hurry."

"I heard—I heard," gasped Barry, trying to talk and keep pace with his friends at the same time, "I heard that Mr. Hudson was going to try and defeat your bill today."

John Carlton laughed.

"I've heard that myself a dozen times. I can't say it's news."

[Pg 311]

"But they talked it over last night," persisted the boy. "I heard them—while I was at the hotel."

"I don't doubt it," retorted the other, wearily, "and if I stay here talking to you any longer they'll cook my goose sure enough."

"But I have more I must tell you. I'm sure—"

"Not now," interrupted Carlton.

With that he hurried into the room where nearly all of the members of the Committee had assembled. Barry was in despair. He tried to tell his news and failed. In the meantime Joel Phipps, the clerk, was calling the roll to ascertain whether a quorum of the Committee was in attendance. Barry, at his post in the doorway, could see Mr. Carlton flitting about from one member to another.

While he stood there Felix Conway came along and greeted him cordially. The sight of that beaming countenance was to the boy like a grateful rain upon a parched desert. What he had tried to tell the Congressman he could[Pg 312] impart to Conway's receptive ears. Felix listened in silence. At the conclusion of the narrative he gave a prolonged whistle.

"Did you tell this to John Carlton?" he demanded.

"I tried to, but I couldn't get him to listen."

"Oh. I suppose he was so busy that he didn't know what you were talking about."

"That's right. I don't think he knew what I meant."

"I wonder how we can reach him?" asked Felix; then almost immediately answering his own question, he said:

"Thank goodness, he's coming out now."

Carlton was slowly making his way to the door. It was evident from his looks and his manner that something was wrong. His forehead was drawn and his eyebrows contracted with a frown. There was a grayish look about the corners of his mouth. It was rare indeed for this self-contained man to show such emotion.

"Well," exclaimed Conway, anticipating[Pg 313] him, "how are things going? Have you got your majority of three?"

The Congressman shook his head with a gesture of disgust.

"No—they've got Curwood. I was sure he was with me last night, but he tells me now that he is going to vote against the bill."

"But that still leaves you a majority of one."

Carlton wagged his head again.

"It would if all my supporters were here—but one's away."

"Who is he?"

"Warrington."

Conway slapped Barry on the back.

"That proves your story, my boy."

"What story?" asked Carlton, quickly.

"The story Wynn was trying to tell you when you went into the meeting."

He smiled in a melancholy way.

"I was so distracted that I didn't really know what Barry was trying to say."

Prompted by the journalist, the page boy himself repeated what he had heard in the[Pg 314] hotel lobby the night before. As he concluded, Conway exclaimed:

"What do you think of that?"

"I'm fighting a resourceful crowd," admitted Carlton, sorrowfully.

Before he had finished the sentence, Conway had rushed over to a telephone booth and had the receiver at his ear. He was back in a minute, his face flushed.

"I've had Warrington's apartments. His housekeeper tells me that he went to Wynnwood this morning. He told her he would take dinner there and return in time for the meeting of your Committee this afternoon. Barry," he concluded, "get me a suburban timetable."

Quickly the page boy returned with a railroad schedule. Conway looked it over feverishly. He gave a groan.

"What's the matter?" asked Carlton.

"There's only one train out of that one-horse town this afternoon."

"I guess one train is sufficient to carry Warrington," retorted Carlton, with forced gaiety.

[Pg 315]

"Yes," said the other, dropping the timetable with a gesture of disgust, "but it won't leave Wynnwood until half-past four. That means that he can't get here until after five o'clock."

"What does that mean?" asked the Congressman, anxiously.

"It means that your bill is beaten unless you can have it amended tomorrow."

"That's out of the question," admitted the other, "tomorrow is the last day of the session, and it will be a physical impossibility to have the general bill reopened for changes of any kind."

"Do you believe in Warrington?" asked the journalist.

"As I believe in myself. He's careless, but he's as true as steel. He's gone away in the full belief that he would get back in time. I'd stake my life on his loyalty."

"When will the Committee reach your bill?"

"By four o'clock at the latest. There are only two bills ahead of it."

[Pg 316]

"How long will it take to dispose of it?"

"I should say it will either be passed or killed by half-past four."

Conway shook his fist at an imaginary foe.

"The rascals! They've timed it perfectly."

"How?"

"Warrington will only be taking the train for Washington at that time."

Conway paced the width of the corridor two or three times. Suddenly he paused, a look of resolution in his eyes.

"Is debate restricted to the Committee?" he asked, unexpectedly.

"No."

"Then, by Jove, I think I have it. It's only a chance in a thousand, but it's worth trying."

During the next few minutes the journalist showed the latent possibilities that reposed beneath his placid exterior. He hustled Barry to his rooms for certain papers. Joe Hart, who happened along, was hurried off on another errand. All the while Conway was talking in quick, jerky, excited whispers to John Carlton.[Pg 317] Barry and Joe returned about the same time, loaded down with reports and pamphlets. These were placed in the arms of the astonished Congressman.

"Now, Carlton," was the farewell greeting of the correspondent, "I'm going to take Barry with me. I may need him. Joe Hart will stay here in case you need his services. In the meantime, good-bye and good luck."

He was off like a flash. John Carlton returned to the Committee room and silently took his seat. His quiet demeanor surprised Hudson. He looked for an outbreak of some sort. But, instead the man from Maine sat there as mute as though he had been deprived of the power of speech.

"Takes defeat better than I expected," whispered Hudson to his neighbor.

"Oh," was the confident rejoinder, "he sees he's up against it and knows there's no use in making a fight."

The Committee proceeded with its work mechanically. The two bills that were ahead of[Pg 318] the Cleverly measure were taken up in their order. The sponsor of the first one was about to make some remarks in its favor when the Chairman said that as there did not appear to be any opposition to the bill, there was scarcely any need for debate. Carlton was on his feet at once.

"I think the gentleman should have the privilege of saying what he pleases."

No one objected, and the legislator proceeded to orate for the space of fifteen minutes. It was that much time killed. The Committee voted unanimously to incorporate his measure in the naval programme, which would afterwards have to go in the general appropriation bill. The second bill was favorably reported without debate.

The hands of the clock pointed to four when the Committee took up the Cleverly measure. Carlton made a masterly speech in its favor. But the speech consumed a half hour, which many of the Committee considered an insufferably long time. After that Hudson and two of[Pg 319] his friends made short, snappy three-minute speeches against the bill. As the last man sat down Hudson called for a vote on the proposition.

But Carlton was on his feet, holding aloft a protesting arm.

"One minute, Mr. Chairman," he cried, "I can't permit the remarks of these gentlemen to go unanswered. It would not be fair to my constituents to do so. I am told that you propose to defeat this bill. Very well. But, before you do so, I demand the right to place myself on record."

Cries of "Hear! hear! Go on" and "Give the man a chance," greeted this opening.

The Chairman nodded a reluctant consent, and John Carlton began his speech against time. His desk was piled high with papers, pamphlets, and books. Thus fortified, he gave the members an exhibition of old-fashioned, backwoods oratory. Whenever he was at a loss for a new idea he would reach over, pick up a book and begin to read extracts from some[Pg 320] ancient report. He sketched the art of building navies from its beginning down to the present era. He read portions of messages from the great architects of the past and present. Finally, he discussed the character of naval stations which should be erected by the United States Government.

The opposition members were becoming restless. Already three quarters of an hour had been consumed, and they wanted to bring the matter to a conclusion. They knew that they had the votes and they wanted to defeat the bill and have done with it.

"I call time," shouted one of them, "the gentleman is talking in the most trivial manner."

Carlton simulated intense indignation.

"The member is insulting," he shouted.

"I call for a vote," retorted the other.

"That's gag law," declared the member from Cleverly in his most dramatic style, "and I hope that it will never be said that such law was ever invoked by this Committee."

[Pg 321]

The result of this tirade was an extension of time. He talked until his voice became husky, all the while watching the hands of the clock. They seemed to crawl around at a snail's pace. But time moves on in spite of men and mice. Soon the timepiece pointed to ten minutes of five. Carlton talked on. The hands reached five minutes of five. The statesman continued his rambling discourse. The clock struck five. At that Hudson arose in a rage. He could risk no more delay.

"I insist upon an immediate vote," he shouted.

"And I demand a roll call on the request," retorted Carlton.

Everybody knew that this was a dilatory motion. But the purpose was accomplished. Three or four more minutes were wasted. Then the inevitable came. The final call of the roll on whether Cleverly was to have its Naval Repair Station was ordered.

Carlton sank in his seat exhausted. He had come to the end of his resources. He knew[Pg 322] only too well that he was short one vote. Joel Phipps with his sing-song voice did his work expeditiously. Four-fifths of the names had been called and Conway had not come with his promised relief. Carlton gave one last anxious look at the door. No one was in sight. He gave a sigh—the sigh of a defeated man, and waited in a perfunctory way for the conclusion of the roll call.



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