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CHAPTER XXV A RACE AGAINST TIME
After their talk with John Carlton, Barry and Felix left the meeting room together, and, hurrying down the corridor, emerged on the plaza fronting the Southern side of the Capitol. The boy was all a-quiver with excitement.

"What did you mean by dumping all of those reports on John Carlton?" he asked.

Conway laughed joyously.

"That's food for thought. He must feed it out to the Committee by degrees."

"What good will it do?" asked Barry, skeptically.

"It will postpone the vote on the Cleverly bill."

"But the postponement won't do any good unless Warrington gets here."

"You've hit the nail on the head."

Barry had confidence in the resourcefulness[Pg 324] of the journalist. He felt sure that he had conceived some brilliant plan by which Warrington could be instantly and miraculously—if you will—delivered to Carlton. He wondered why Conway did not tell him all about it. His hints had not given him much satisfaction. So he spoke bluntly:

"What are you trying to do?"

The honest blue eyes of Felix twinkled. Perplexity was drowned in merriment. He threw up both hands in a gesture of abandonment.

"Blest if I know!"

Barry was so amazed at this unexpected reply that he stood stock still at the foot of the Capitol steps.

"You don't know!" he interrogated in a reproachful tone.

"No," replied the other, putting his hands in his pockets, and raising himself up and down on his heels, "I don't know."

"And you left Mr. Carlton believing that you would be back with Warrington at your heels."

"It was the only thing to do. You must[Pg 325] never say die, my boy. Fight to the last ditch, but never surrender. There is always the possibility that something may turn up. The first and most important factor in this fight was delay. We've secured that. How long Carlton will hold that crowd is more than I can predict. After that we need an additional vote. The vote is at Wynnwood."

"Yes, I know all about that—but I don't see how this talk is going to help," cried Barry, irritably.

"Nor do I," responded the imperturbable Irishman, "but do you know that sometimes in the mere act of stating a difficulty you discover a way out of it."

The boy laughed in spite of himself.

"There's no way of getting to Wynnwood—no trains, I mean," he said.

"Quite right, and Wynnwood, being obstinate, won't come to us."

"If we could locate a wireless operator, we might flash a message to Warrington," said Barry, banteringly.

[Pg 326]

"Yes," assented the other, "or if we could pick up a flying machine that wasn't otherwise engaged, it might help some."

The boy gave a gesture of dismay.

"While we're out here fooling, Mr. Carlton is probably talking himself hoarse."

Conway suddenly broke away from Barry and started across the asphalted street.

"I've got it!" he shouted. "I've got it! The very thing!"

"What is it?" cried the boy, running after him.

"Look across the street," responded the correspondent, breathlessly, "do you see that big automobile, and do you see that red-haired youth in the front seat?"

"Yes, but I don't see the connection—yet."

"You will in a second. That's Danny Burns. He was in my class at Georgetown. He's the only son of one of the rubber kings. He has all kinds of wealth; money to burn, and oceans of time to consume it."

[Pg 327]

Before Barry could reply, Conway was hailing the young man in the automobile:

"Danny! Danny!"

The red-haired one turned around indolently.

"Why, hello, you rascal, what's the matter? Running a foot race, or is the world on fire?"

"Neither, you time-killer. I want you to give me a ride in your machine."

"Well, of all the cheek you—"

"You've invited me fifty times," interrupted Felix.

"Yes, and you've declined forty-nine."

"Hurry up, or I may change my mind."

"Jump in," shouted the young millionaire.

In a thrice Conway and Barry were in the machine. After the newspaper man had presented the boy, the amateur chauffeur turned to Felix:

"Where to?"

"Straight South, and I'll tell you all about it as we go."

As the big touring car whizzed along, the newspaper man told his college chum the story[Pg 328] of the Cleverly bill. He explained the plight of John Carlton and told of the mysterious disappearance of Congressman Warrington. The question was whether it would be possible to reach Wynnwood and return to Washington before the meeting of the Committee was concluded.

The love of adventure was strong in Danny Burns' veins, and he listened with eager interest. When Felix finished his story, Danny turned the steering wheel over to Conway while he consulted road maps and made calculations regarding the possibility of landing Warrington in Washington at the time appointed.

"Say, Danny," cried Felix, as he reluctantly took hold of the wheel, "I don't know a blessed thing about this machine. I wish you'd run it yourself."

"Oh, it's only for a few minutes. If a chicken or a rabbit gets in your way, run over it. If it's a cow, turn aside. We don't want to help the trusts by sending beef any higher;[Pg 329] besides it might scratch the varnish on the car."

For a man that knew nothing whatever of motoring, Felix did fairly well. Once the machine threatened to run into a barbed wire fence, and again it skidded on a slippery stretch of road, but otherwise he managed it very creditably. He was glad enough when the owner of the car relieved him.

"I figure it out that Wynnwood is nearly twenty miles from Washington. Now if we can keep up our speed both ways and do not meet with any mishaps, there is a bare possibility that we may win out—just a bare possibility."

Felix groaned.

"That means we're beaten," he said. "When a confirmed optimist becomes cautious, it makes me believe the jig's up."

"What time must you be back?" asked Burns, ignoring the reference to himself.

"Well, the bill should come up at four o'clock."

[Pg 330]

"Well, that's what I based my calculation upon. You see, it's after three o'clock now."

Barry, who had been listening to the conversation, now spoke:

"I think, Mr. Burns," he said, "that Mr. Carlton will keep the votes back until some time after four o'clock."

"Good," cried the young man, "every minute saved in that way is a minute gained."

"Sure," responded Conway, recovering his hopeful manner at once, "and if Danny could gain a few minutes more with this old tin can of a motor car, we'd come mighty near winning the race."

Danny's answer was characteristic of that spoiled darling of fortune. He pulled the lever back one or two notches and the machine shot ahead as though it were possessed of a thousand furies, each one urging the other on to greater excesses. The shock threw Conway against the cushions and made him shake his fist at his friend in pretended anger. As for[Pg 331] Barry, the sudden rush of the machine fairly took his breath away.

They were out in the open country now on a great waste of level land where speed laws could be ignored with impunity. They soon went so swiftly that intelligible conversation was out of the question. The young page boy was enjoying it to the fullest. There was something exhilarating about it that made him close his eyes and breathe a long-drawn sigh of utter contentment. He was perfectly satisfied to remain quiet and drink in the joys of this wonderful ride.
The young page boy was enjoying it to the fullest

The young page boy was enjoying it to the fullest

See page 331

But even the whizzing of the wind was not sufficient to keep the youthful owner of the car from talking. From time to time he shouted in Conway's ear, taunting him with being an old fogy and offering to bet anything from a red apple to a hundred-dollar bill that he could drive the next mile faster than he had driven the last one. Felix, who was in momentary fear that the machine would be[Pg 332] wrecked and that they would all lose their lives, permitted the jibe of his friend to go unanswered.

But the longest journeys have their end, and presently the village of Wynnwood hove in sight. Danny Burns said he knew it, because once, while suffering from temporary aberration of the mind, he had gone fishing there. He said the only house in the place was the old fisherman's cottage where unfortunate visitors were regaled with country dinners at New York prices.

So, being well acquainted with the locality, Danny kept his machine in motion until it reached the front door of the Ancient Mariner of the village. It had scarcely stopped before there was a scampering of feet within and Warrington ran out on the porch, very red in the face and too angry almost for coherent speech. The recognition of Conway caused him to emit a shriek of delight.

"Felix," he cried, "you're an angel in disguise!"

[Pg 333]

"Why?" asked the wise one, with pretended innocence.

"I've got to get back to Washington at once. I promised Carlton I'd vote for his bill. When I accepted an invitation to eat a dinner here today I had no idea that there were no trains back until four o'clock. I've been telephoning everywhere for a conveyance, but all in vain."

"It's all right," said Conway, quietly, "we came here to take you back to Washington—that is, if you want to go."

"Want to go," he retorted, angrily, "don't you dare to insinuate—"

"I insinuate nothing," was the quiet rejoinder, "but Barry Wynn heard some things last night that convinced me that you would be unable to reach the meeting today unless we came here with a motor car."

Something about Conway's manner rather than his words, caught the Congressman.

"It was a scheme on the part of Hudson's crowd then, wasn't it? I've tried hard not to think so. Conway, I thank you and the boy[Pg 334] and your friend. Please put on steam. I want to save that bill if I can. If I fail, I give you my word that I'll make all Washington howl!"

In ten minutes they had started on their return journey. Burns drove his car at a rate that was simply scandalous. The machine ate up the road. It consumed mile after mile like a glutton whose appetite grows with what it feeds upon. Astonished farmers stood at their gate posts and gazed after the queer quartette and wondered if they were escaped lunatics. And Danny Burns, whose recklessness had passed into a proverb, sat there cherubic with delight. Conway looked at his watch. He smiled his satisfaction. He leaned over to his friend and shouted in his ear:

"Keep it up! You're doing fine! You made the last mile in less than a minute."

At that moment there was a loud report, like the shot of a rifle. There was an unaccountable slowing down of speed and the machine began to limp along like a runner whose breath is exhausted.

[Pg 335]

"What's the matter?" inquired Barry.

"Nothing," was the philosophical retort, "except that we've burst a tire."

In a few minutes Danny had all of them at work. Warrington, perspiring like a stoker in a fire-room, was jacking up the axle of the machine, while Barry was pulling away on the extra tire which the discreet Burns always carried on the back of his car.

Presently everything was as good as new, but as they started off Felix happened to glance at his watch, and what he discovered made him thump his breastbone in unavailing anger. It was half-past four o'clock, and according to schedule the Committee should be through with the Cleverly bill. He said nothing, because the time for talk had passed.

Presently they came near to the city limits and instead of slowing down, the reckless driver increased his speed. On and on they whizzed until Barry's head ached from the new sensation. They bounced up and down on their seats as though they were [Pg 336]rubber balls. A clock in the steeple struck five.

Every one in the car felt that the Cleverly bill was dead and buried by this time. But they kept on with a grim taciturnity that would have been worthy of bigger men in a greater cause. Just as they came within view of the Capitol a young lady, followed by a fluffy little dog, crossed the track of the car. With a trial for homicide staring him in the face, Danny Burns acted with great promptness. He twisted the machine out of its course and undoubtedly saved the life of the girl, not to speak of the dog.

The car skidded up the side of the little park, the centre of which was ornamented with a miniature pond for the cultivation of lilies. The sudden twist of the steering gear gave the machine a terrific jolt. It did more than that. It threw Felix Conway and Congressman Warrington over the dasher and into the midst of the pond lilies. Barry, with the ingenuity of boyhood, clung desperately to his seat in the car.

[Pg 337]

By very good fortune, neither of the men were injured and they were able to continue their journey. But their personal appearance was a sight to excite the jeers of the frivolous—sopping wet and fantastically decorated with the clinging leaves of the water lilies.

A few minutes later the doors of the Committee room were thrown open and Barry Wynn and Danny Burns hurried into the meeting, closely followed by Felix Conway and Congressman Warrington. The big statesman was coatless. His hair was in disorder, and one end of his collar had been torn from the button. Add to this the fact that the water was dripping from his clothes and that he was fighting mad, and the rest of the scene may be imagined. The clerk, apparently, had just ceased calling the roll.

"Mr. Chairman," shouted Warrington, "I desire to record my vote on the Cleverly Naval Station bill."

There was a tense silence, and then, after a[Pg 338] moment's deliberation, the presiding officer said in a hard, cold tone:

"I'm very sorry, but the gentleman is too late. The vote has just been taken and the bill is defeated."

Barry felt as if he would crumple up and fall on the floor in a heap. Danny Burns made his contribution to the general grief in one sentence. He said:

"It's a beastly shame!"

But John Carlton evidently had an inspiration. He was on his feet in an instant.

"I move that the vote by which the Cleverly bill was defeated be reconsidered."

The Chairman looked at him reproachfully.

"The gentleman surely knows that a motion to reconsider can only be made by a person who has voted in the negative."

"Who voted against your bill, John?" cried Warrington, in fine disregard of parliamentary law.

"Curwood, for one."

[Pg 339]

Warrington lurched over to Curwood. He faced him in a menacing attitude.

"Move to reconsider," he shouted, hoarsely.

Before Curwood realized what he was doing, he had made the motion. The vote to reconsider carried and then the bill was once more placed before the members of the Committee. When Warrington's name was called, his loud "aye" reverberated through the capital. The clerk handed the tally to the Chairman. He put on his glasses and read it to the members:

"The new Naval Repair Station for Cleverly carries by a vote of 10 to 9."

Amid the applause that followed; John Carlton threw his arms around the lily-bespattered form of Warrington and actually hugged him. Barry, on his part, shook hands hysterically with Conway and then with Danny Burns, and all three seemed to enjoy the performance very much.


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