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A Hoosier Chronicle by Meredith Nicholson

Ridgefield to the remote arm of the Chesapeake

The senator was unusually deliberate. Even when he had secured the undivided attention 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 personal friend in Washington: 'The Honorable Roger B. Ridgefield, United States Senator from Indiana, while on a hunting trip in Chesapeake Bay with a party of Baltimore friends, died suddenly this morning. The death occurred at a point remote from the telegraph. No particulars have yet been received at Washington.' It is with profound sorrow, Mr. President, that I make this announcement. Though Senator Ridgefield had long been my political antagonist, he had also been, for many years, a valued personal friend. The Republican Party has lost one of its great leaders, and the State of Indiana a son to whom 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-morrow morning."

Even before the motion could be put, Bassett was passing about among the desks. The men he spoke to nodded understandingly. A mild, subdued excitement reigned in the chamber. It flashed through the mind of every Democratic member that that death in the Chesapeake had brought a crisis in the war between Bassett and Thatcher. In due course the assembly, convened in joint session, would mourn decorously the death of a statesman who had long and honorably represented the old Hoosier State in the greatest tribunal on earth; and his passing would be feelingly referred to in sonorous phrases as an untoward event, a deplorable and irreparable loss to the commonwealth. To Republicans, however, it was a piece of stupendous ill-luck that the Senator should have indulged in the childish pastime of duck shooting at an inconvenient season when the Democratic majority in the general assembly would be able to elect a successor to complete his term of office.

When the gavel fell, adjourning the senate, gentlemen were already seeking in the Federal Constitution for the exact language of the section bearing upon this emergency. If the Republican governor had not so gayly summoned the legislature he might have appointed a Senator of his own political faith to serve until the next regular session, following the elections a year hence. It was ungenerous and disloyal of Roger B. Ridgefield to have taken himself out of the world in this abrupt fashion. Before the first shock had passed, there were those about the State House who, scanning the newspaper extras, were saying that a secret fondness for poker and not an enthusiasm for ducks had led 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 house of Congress was notoriously pernicious. This did not, however, alter the immediate situation. The language of the Federal and State Constitutions was all too explicit for the Republican minority; it was only in recess that a governor might fill a vacancy; and beyond doubt the general assembly was in town, lawfully brought from the farm, the desk, the mine, and the factory, as though 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 his followers and stanch adherents. Thatcher men had gone forth to seek their chief. The Democrats would gain a certain moral strength through the possession of a Senator in Congress. The man chosen to fill the vacancy would have an almost irresistible claim upon the senatorship if the Democrats should control the next legislature. It was worth fighting for, that dead man's seat!

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