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Chapter 115: Bumpkin

January 18, 1906
Van Sant & Wilson
Sterling, Illinois

… I must admit it. The trip to Morrison didn’t go well at all. 

The entire train ride home, I tried to be philosophical about it.  I’m still new here. I don’t know everyone here. It is going to take more than one meeting with these fellows in Morrison to make friends, to get to know them. I surely don’t expect Rome to be built in a day; I don’t expect to build my practice with Van Sant in one quick visit with my new colleagues. 

And, I think part of this disappointment has to do with the fact that I can’t practice law here until I pass the bar — so, I’m waiting — feeling much like I was back when I worked with Cephas. 

Cephas liked to keep tabs on what people were saying about him, and what the rumors were among the important folks in Tallahassee. He used to tell me that gossip had its usefulness on occasion. But I’ve never been one to listen to gossip; it is the purview of the idle-minded. I never cared about it. I don’t have time for it. 


But while I was in Morrison, I was in the courthouse, seated in the corridor outside of Judge Frank Ramsey’s chambers, reading a file before my next meeting. It was after lunch, and I had been in meetings all morning long, getting to know our clients. The meetings with our clients went well; the meetings with the Illinois delegation also went as planned, but there was a definite feeling of awkwardness; a few times, it seemed that there was a joke being told in the rooms, and I was the only one not aware of it. Everyone seemed friendly, though, perhaps it was just because I don’t know these fellows yet, I told myself and dismissed the thought.

This is the courthouse in Morrison, Whiteside County, Illinois that Emmett would have visited in 1906. The current courthouse is a modern building. Source:

This is the current Morrison, Whiteside County, Illinois courthouse, built in 1987. Source:

As I went through the folder, two men I did not know came into the corridor and sat on a bench opposite me. They began talking quietly; they were obviously lawyers also waiting to meet with Judge Ramsay. I paid them no attention until I heard them mention Nick’s name. 

“Interesting news going around at the Club about Van Sant and his new partner; don’t know the fellow. Do you?

“Can’t say that I do. The scuttlebutt is that he’s a special friend of the old man; another ‘project’ he’s taking on, of sorts; a young refugee from the South.

“So. Old Nick’s got himself a new pet. What’s so special about this one?

“The new fellow seems quite smart, until he opens his mouth. Sounds like a complete bumpkin, what with his accent and all. Makes our own rustic population sound cosmopolitan. The men laugh uproariously.

“Where’s he from?

“Florida. Just got here, in fact, a few weeks ago. Several of the fellows said he’s an interesting outsider, but the accent makes it hard to take him seriously.  And he’s a Democrat. 

The second man made a slight face. “As in old slaveholding family? Ancestors fought for the ‘glorious cause’?” making quotation marks with his fingers as he spoke.

“The same.”

The second man smirked. “That’s unfortunate.”

“Mm-hm. He’s going to have a rough time breaking in because of that, you know. It’s a shame, too, a young fellow like that coming all the way up here to carve out his own practice.”

The second man shook his head. “Why in the world would a man leave Florida of all places for this frozen iceberg in January, and to start over in a place where he’s going to spend most of his time just trying to get a foot in the door?”

The first man just shrugged. “Like I said. Bumpkin.”

Judge Frank. D. Ramsay. Source:

At that point, a secretary came out and waved me into Judge Ramsay’s chambers. I was a bit unnerved, but I simply nodded — making sure not to respond out loud —  and followed the secretary in for my meeting. The two men who were talking about Nick and myself were gone when I left the meeting about an hour later.

I remember the Judge was quite cordial and welcoming to me, but I was cautious; I found myself tense and on edge the entire rest of my visit to Morrison. I couldn’t wait to get back on the train, and then, to the office as soon as I was done.

I told myself over and over on the ride back to Sterling: Pay no mind to gossip. I never have before, and I shouldn’t start now. 

But I couldn’t forget the conversation I had overheard. It bothered me; and I don’t like admitting that. 


I picked up one of the fine crystal water glasses that sat on a tray on a side table. I brought it to my desk and placed it next to the bottle of Scotch. 

It was then that I noticed a package on the other side of my desk; I hadn’t seen it. It was about the size of a man’s dress shirt box — wrapped in brown paper, securely tied with string. 

The return address was Marianna, Florida, in Lula’s handwriting. I hadn’t shared my address with many people; only Lula, my Father, Paul Carter, and Walter Kehoe. I had given them my office address and not my home address on purpose — I didn’t want a lot of questions about my family or friends from the Annings. I was also proud — I wanted to respond to everyone I knew back home on my office stationery; something about it confirming that I had rise to prominence in this place where my skills and talents had not been recognized elsewhere. 

Also — I had a feeling that I was being spied on, and that Luella Anning, and perhaps Miss Delp, were reporting back to Ella Van Sant about me. I don’t know. Call it a hunch, but I didn’t want to share anything personal about myself. I was still feeling my way around, trying to fit in in a place that still felt alien to me, and I suppose this was my way of protecting myself as much as possible. Even though everyone was polite to me, the experience in Morrison seemed to confirm my hunch, and I felt on edge and untrusting of everyone.

This box from home was a surprise, though. I had been working so hard these past few weeks that I’d forgotten all about Marianna, and the discontent that had brought me here in the first place.

I broke the string on the box, and unwrapped it.

There were several letters — I picked up the top envelope and smiled as I read the return address: Dood Wilson. It was from Lula.  “Dood” was the name we kids used to call her back when she was a kid herself, living in Chipley, before she was courting Cephas. I think she got that name from her siblings; and then, growing up, she was always at our house with my sisters and my mother —

A pang of  homesickness washed over me. I pushed it away, picked up Dood’s letter and began to read it.

Categories: Addiction Book Congressman In Emmett's Words Interesting & Odd

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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