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Chapter 30 THE KING HATH SUMMONED HIS PARLIAMENT

  • The Great Seal of the Hoosier Commonwealth, depicting a sturdy pioneer fellin_ tree while behind him a frightened buffalo gallops madly into oblivion, wa_ffixed to a proclamation of the governor convening the legislature in specia_ession on the 20th of November. It was Morton Bassett's legislature,
  • declared, the Republican press, brought back to the capital to do those thing_hich it had left undone at the regular session. The Democratic newspaper_roved conclusively that the demands of the state institutions said to be i_ire need were the fruit of a long period of Republican extravagance, fo_hich the Democratic Party, always prone to err on the side of frugality, wa_n no wise responsible. The Republican governor had caused the legislativ_alls to be reopened merely to give a false impression of Democrati_ncompetence, but in due season the people would express their opinion of tha_overnor. So reasoned loyal Democrats. Legislatures are not cheap, taken a_heir lowest valuation, and a special session, costing something like on_undred thousand of the people's dollars, is an extravagance before which _overnor may well hesitate. This particular convocation of the Hoosie_awmakers, summoned easily enough by a stroke of the pen, proved to b_xpensive in more ways than one.
  • On the third day of the special session, when the tardiest member, hailin_rom the remote fastnesses of Switzerland County, was just finding his seat,
  • and before all the others had drawn their stationery and registered a generou_omputation of their mileage, something happened. The bill for an act entitle_n act to lift the lid of the treasure chests was about to be read for th_irst time when a page carried a telegram to Morton Bassett in the senat_hamber.
  • Senator Bassett read his message once and again. His neighbors on the floo_ooked enviously upon the great man who thus received telegrams withou_motion. It seemed, however, to those nearest him, that the bit of yello_aper shook slightly in Bassett's hand The clerk droned on to an inattentiv_udience. Bassett put down the telegram, looked about, and then got upon hi_eet. The lieutenant-governor, yawning and idly playing with his gavel, sa_ith relief that the senator from Fraser wished to interrupt the proceedings.
  • "Mr. President."
  • "The senator from Fraser."
  • "Mr. President, I ask leave to interrupt the reading of the bill to make a_nnouncement."
  • "There being no objection, the senator will make his announcement."
  • Senators who had been smoking in the cloakroom, or talking to friends outsid_he railing, became attentive. The senator from Fraser was little given t_peech, and it might be that he meant at this time to indicate the attitude o_he majority toward the appropriations asked by the governor. In any event, i_as always wise to listen to anything Morton Bassett had to say.
  • The senator was unusually deliberate. Even when he had secured the undivide_ttention of the chamber he picked up the telegram and read it through again,
  • as though to familiarize himself with its contents.
  • "Mr. President, I have just received the following message from a persona_riend in Washington: 'The Honorable Roger B. Ridgefield, United State_enator from Indiana, while on a hunting trip in Chesapeake Bay with a part_f Baltimore friends, died suddenly this morning. The death occurred at _oint remote from the telegraph. No particulars have yet been received a_ashington.' It is with profound sorrow, Mr. President, that I make thi_nnouncement. Though Senator Ridgefield had long been my political antagonist,
  • he had also been, for many years, a valued personal friend. The Republica_arty has lost one of its great leaders, and the State of Indiana a son t_hom men of all parties have given their ungrudging admiration. Mr. President,
  • I move that the senate do now adjourn to meet at ten o'clock to-morro_orning."
  • Even before the motion could be put, Bassett was passing about among th_esks. The men he spoke to nodded understandingly. A mild, subdued excitemen_eigned in the chamber. It flashed through the mind of every Democratic membe_hat that death in the Chesapeake had brought a crisis in the war betwee_assett and Thatcher. In due course the assembly, convened in joint session,
  • would mourn decorously the death of a statesman who had long and honorabl_epresented the old Hoosier State in the greatest tribunal on earth; and hi_assing would be feelingly referred to in sonorous phrases as an untowar_vent, a deplorable and irreparable loss to the commonwealth. To Republicans,
  • however, it was a piece of stupendous ill-luck that the Senator should hav_ndulged in the childish pastime of duck shooting at an inconvenient seaso_hen the Democratic majority in the general assembly would be able to elect _uccessor to complete his term of office.
  • When the gavel fell, adjourning the senate, gentlemen were already seeking i_he Federal Constitution for the exact language of the section bearing upo_his emergency. If the Republican governor had not so gayly summoned th_egislature he might have appointed a Senator of his own political faith t_erve until the next regular session, following the elections a year hence. I_as ungenerous and disloyal of Roger B. Ridgefield to have taken himself ou_f the world in this abrupt fashion. Before the first shock had passed, ther_ere those about the State House who, scanning the newspaper extras, wer_aying that a secret fondness for poker and not an enthusiasm for ducks ha_ed the Honorable Roger B. Ridgefield to the remote arm of the Chesapeake,
  • where he had been the guest of a financier whose influence in the upper hous_f Congress was notoriously pernicious. This did not, however, alter th_mmediate situation. The language of the Federal and State Constitutions wa_ll too explicit for the Republican minority; it was only in recess that _overnor might fill a vacancy; and beyond doubt the general assembly was i_own, lawfully brought from the farm, the desk, the mine, and the factory, a_hough expressly to satisfy the greed for power of a voracious Democracy.
  • Groups of members were retiring to quiet corners to discuss the crisis.
  • Bassett had already designated a committee room where he would meet hi_ollowers and stanch adherents. Thatcher men had gone forth to seek thei_hief. The Democrats would gain a certain moral strength through th_ossession of a Senator in Congress. The man chosen to fill the vacancy woul_ave an almost irresistible claim upon the senatorship if the Democrats shoul_ontrol the next legislature. It was worth fighting for, that dead man's seat!
  • The full significance of the news was not wasted upon Representative Harwood.
  • The house adjourned promptly, and Dan hastened to write telegrams. He wire_olonel Ramsay, of Aurora, to come to the capital on the first train.
  • Telegrams went flying that afternoon to every part of Indiana.
  • Thatcher read the evening papers in Chicago and kept the wires hot while h_aited for the first train for Indianapolis.
  • One of his messages, addressed to Harwood, read:
  • > "Breakfast with me to-morrow morning at my house. Strictly private. This i_our big chance."
  • Harwood, locked in his office in the Law Building, received this message b_elephone, and it aroused his ire. His relations with Thatcher did not justif_hat gentleman in tendering him a strictly private breakfast, nor did h_elish having a big chance pointed out to him by Mr. Thatcher. It cannot b_enied that Dan, too, felt that Senator Ridgefield had chosen a mos_nfortunate season for exposing himself to the ravages of the pneumococcus. H_ept away from the State House and hotels that evening, having decided to tak_o part in the preliminary skirmishes until he had seen Ramsay, who woul_ring a cool head and a trained hand to bear upon this unforeseen situation.
  • He studied the newspapers as he ate breakfast alone at the University Clu_arly the next morning. The "Advertiser" had neatly divided its first pag_etween the Honorable Roger B. Ridgefield, dead in a far country, and th_onorable Morton Bassett, who, it seemed, was very much alive at the Hoosie_apital. A double column headline conveyed this intelligence:—
  • BASSETT IS HIMSELF AGAIN
  • Harwood, nibbled his toast and winnowed the chaff of speculation from th_rains of truth in this article. He had checked off the names of all th_assett men in both houses of the assembly, and listed Thatcher's supporter_nd the doubtful members. Bassett would undoubtedly make a strong showing in _aucus, but whether he would be able to command a majority remained to b_een. There were men among the doubtful who would be disposed to favo_hatcher because he had driven a wedge into the old Bassett stone wall. No on_lse had ever succeeded in imperiling the security of that impregnabl_tronghold. The thought of this made Harwood uncomfortable. It was unfortunat_rom every standpoint that the legislature should be called upon to choose _enator without the usual time for preparation. Dan had already been struck b_he general air of irresponsibility that prevailed among the legislators. Man_f the members had looked upon the special session as a lark; they seemed t_eel that their accountability to their constituents had ended with th_egular session.
  • The "Courier," Dan observed, printed an excellent biographical sketch of th_ead Senator, and its news article on the Democratic opportunity was seeml_nd colorless. The state and federal statutes bearing upon the emergency wer_uoted in full, but the names of Bassett and Thatcher did not appear, nor wer_ny possible successors to Ridgefield mentioned. Dan opened to the editoria_age, and was not surprised to find the leading article a dignified eulogy o_he dead Senator. Then his eye fastened upon an article so placed that i_ominated the whole page. It was the old "Stop, Look, Listen!" editorial,
  • reproduced with minute citation of the date of original publication.
  • Dan flinched as though a cupful of ice water had struck him in the face.
  • Whatever scandalous knowledge touching Bassett's public or private lif_hatcher might possess, it was plain that Bassett was either ignorant of it o_new and did not fear exposure. In either event, the republication of the
  • "Stop, Look, Listen!" article was an invitation to battle.
  • It was in no happy frame of mind that Harwood awaited the coming of Ramsay.