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.
"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.