What the Dormouse Said (pt 3)

Part 1

Part 2

When last we left off in this serial, James Garfield and Charles Dodgson were heading in search of information about a column in the evening paper, claiming a huge cache of silver. The money question was heating up and the US treasury’s balance sheet more dire than most expected.


Walking the streets of DC with James Garfield was a somewhat different experience than what Charles Dodgson was used to in the city, and especially different than what he’d been used to in England. Sometimes even strangers were calling out “Hullo!” Already groups were singing on porches or marching along. As he started to pick out a melody, oftentimes it sounded like “God save the queen” but was some Americanization of the songs. Many of them he had no recognition for. Every so often, Garfield would call out to someone and they stopped once, because, James said, “General Sherman is an ally, you’ll need to recognize him if you should need to call on him.”

Sherman was much stiffer than James, but the two men spoke warmly and Charles came away with some reverence for the man.

The Evening’s main office was situated nearby the heart of politics, right on Pennsylvania Avenue, and on the way James described that they were on what was called, rather bluntly “newspaper row”.

“That’s terribly unimaginative, don’t you think?” Said Charles.

“Well of course, what do you expect? They’re newspapermen.”

“The problem I see, is that particularly with this edition there are never any by-lines! How will we figure out who we’re after?” Dodgson was just trying to keep up with the quick pace James had set now.

“Indeed, some of these papers don’t want to spare an inch of newsprint.” James said in reply, “but i do have an idea.”

“Here we are, eleven-oh-two” said Garfield. The sun was beginning to set and the street lamps began to shine with the light of kerosene. This kind of light played upon the building, giving it’s grey bulk a golden appearance. Still, the door to such an office was always open, work was beginning in earnest on the morning edition. Within the doors, sat a concierge desk – and James approached confidently. Charles practically laughed at the airs his friend suddenly had, “My name is General James Garfield, Congressman from Ohio’s 19th, and I have an appointment with a Mr Carroll?”

The desk secretary looked briefly at his book of notes and said “ah I haven’t seen a Mr Carroll before, but…” he raised his index finger into the air triumphantly, “I was told that you might be by to ask about a reporter. He’s just left for dinner, only minutes ago. You could leave your calling card here with me, or you could probably still catch him there, he said it would be ok to tell you. It’s the Old Ebbitt Grille. Do you know it?”

James nodded and thanked the man, passing him a penny, who reacted with a surprised smile. “Many thanks my good man, and tell me, who am I asking after when I get to the Old Ebbit Grille?”

Brightly, came the reply, “Yes of course General, the reporter is non other than Mr Stilson Hutchins. A true friend and gentlemen like yourself. You just let me know if there’s anything you need and I’m at your service.”

Back out on the streets of newspaper row, Garfield guided his friend, “just this way, won’t take us 10 minutes walk. Have we not dined there yet?”

“Of course not, but I tell you, jolly good show asking after our old pal Lewis. I was wondering how we’d get an inside track when they don’t seem to print a by-line on these stories.” The din of the streets had picked up, as people hustled to and from their dinner hour, or home from a day’s work. The night air crisp and filling with more distant melodies as the American people entertained one another. “Tell me, have you ever heard of this reporter, what was his name again?”

“Stilson Hutchins? Yes actually I’ve crossed paths with him before,” James said, again setting a faster pace than Charles was accustomed to. “He recently moved here from out west… and he’s a silverite in the Democratic party. It’s very strange that he was the one to publish this.” James looked at his friend and the two continued on. “Shall I buy us dinner at the Old Ebbitt, I wonder if you should be able to order some fish and chips?”

Charles looked hopefully at his friend, with his brows held high for a moment. “Do you think, truly?”

James laughed and slapped his friend on the back, “You have my sympathy Charles! Here you are in a strange land with our strange food.”

“I rather like it here,” he said “besides, the first time I had ‘fish and chips’ was only a few years ago. I doubt they’ll have it here, but once you try it, you’ll want it every day.”

They arrived at the Old Ebbit Grille and Garfield greeted the host as though they’d known each other since childhood.

“James!” A voice called out to them as they came in, and the host stepped aside to let them pass on to the person waving. They walked through the restaurant and Charles’ mouth watered at the smells. “James, come, you got my invitation! Sit down and sup with us, please!”

“Stilson!” He clasped hands as though they weren’t political enemies. “My friend Charles will be joining us, please, let me buy us all dinner. And who is this charming lady you’re dining with tonight.”

“James, and ..Charles? Is it? Charmed. Gentlemen, please allow me to introduce, Ms Lewis. Miss Carroll Lewis.” The two men stood looking at the woman who now stood to greet them. Turning to one another, each saw the same dumbfounded expression of surprise. “I suspect we should let Miss Lewis buy us dinner to-nite, especially after you’ve had a chance to see the article I published in the newspaper this evening.”


 

Imagine walking from Newspaper row to the Old Ebbitt Grille in late November 1872, the kerosene lanterns coming on, the jostling and the noise from people singing, talking and greeting one another much as in a small town Occasionally a horse and carriage coming through. Before the age of phones, when you would happen upon the same people day after day, and people had to structure their societal connections by constantly keeping in personal contact, leaving calling cards if missing a friend, having to really know people. The world was a lot bigger, and a lot smaller.

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