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Chapter 118: Alone in a room full of people

March 8, 1906
11:45 p.m.
The Anning’s House

I can see the porch light on for me as Nick’s driver pulls up to the curb in front of the Anning’s house, he’s bringing me home in the Van Sant’s buggy.

Current view of 802 W. Third Street in Sterling, Illinois, courtesy of Zillow. The house was built in 1900. Obviously the house has been updated since 1900, but most of what you see was there when Emmett roomed with the Annings in 1906.

I thank him, got out of the buggy, stand on the sidewalk and wave briefly as he pulls away from the curb, heading back to the Van Sant’s house. 

Tonight’s party was a special event — Nick and Ella held an exclusive dinner at their home in my honor. I received notice last month that I’d passed the Illinois bar exam, and Nick said it was in celebration of that, but really, Nick wanted to make a big point with this dinner — he wanted to broadcast his satisfaction with my professionalism, that the reins of the law firm were now officially and firmly in my hands, and that Sterling’s business and society leaders — who had all been in attendance tonight — should celebrate the moment.

Sterling Evening Gazette, February, 1 1906. Image taken by author from microfilm.

I think Nick’s picked up on the fact that people around here are reluctant to work with me. No matter how hard I try to fit in, and to be honest, I’ve never had to work this hard in my life just to be accepted by my peers, I’m not fitting.

Nick says give it time. But I want it when I want it, and that’s now. Nick says be patient. But I’ve been patient for years, knocking myself out to get into law school, then to graduate, then to work with Cephas. Actual work, like studying, I understand. But this — getting my colleagues in Sterling to want to talk with me — I don’t understand.

You know how you can be in a room full of people and still be all alone? That’s how I feel here. And I just don’t get that.

Something else: This dinner was a lot more than what my own father would have done. Several times, as we talked with others during the dinner, Nick has his hand on my shoulder, telling his friends how much I was like a son to him — and then I think about my own father, how much I would have given for something like this from him.

Nick thinks of me as the son he never had. Now that’s something. I don’t know how I feel about that.

Nick and Ella also had carefully selected the cream of the crop of Sterling’s eligible young ladies, who were in attendance this evening.  I’ve come to understand that Ella is intent on my smooth transition into Sterling society; in addition to selecting the Anning home for me, she interviewed and vetted Miss Delp for the law office. I think she also has someone at Grace Episcopal Church looking out for me — one of the young ladies mentioned that she’d heard I was a new member but hadn’t seen me on Sundays.

Grace Episcopal Church in Sterling, Illnois; photo from 1911. Image source:

I did my part — I was charming to the ladies; I was conversational with Nick and his friends. I laughed at the right moments; I smoked the fine Cuban cigars that were circulated in the parlor. I politely answered the questions put to me about my life back in Florida — which always comes up regardless of gathering. I often say that there isn’t that much difference between Marianna and Sterling, except for the weather. I think a few of the guests were somewhat disappointed at my conversation; I think they expected me to tell fantastic or dramatic stories about life in Florida. 

I glance up at the Anning’s house — there are no other lights on; it doesn’t look as if Luella or Sidney are waiting up tonight.  I’m tired, but spiritually. Not physically. I need to do something different, to feel different.

I know what to do.

J.E. Conlon advertisement in the 1904 city directory for Sterling, Illinois. Source:

I turn and walk back the five blocks towards town. If I hurry, I ll make it to Mr. Conlon’s on First Avenue right before midnight. That’s his office’s official closing time. You see, after making some quiet investigations a few weeks ago, I learned that the proprietor, or a staff member, would sell you a bottle, discreetly. Apparently, I’m not the only local who gives lip service to the temperance movement while simultaneously supporting local bootleggers and liquor dealers.

Categories: Addiction Book In Emmett's Words

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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