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The Best Man
by [?]


DUSK had fallen, and the circle of light shed by the lamp of Governor Mornway’s writing-table just rescued from the surrounding dimness his own imposing bulk, thrown back in a deep chair in the lounging attitude habitual to him at that hour.

When the Governor of Midsylvania rested he rested completely. Five minutes earlier he had been bowed over his office desk, an Atlas with the State on his shoulders; now, his working hours over, he had the air of a man who has spent his day in desultory pleasure, and means to end it in the enjoyment of a good dinner. This freedom from care threw into relief the hovering fidgetiness of his sister, Mrs. Nimick, who, just outside the circle of lamplight, haunted the warm gloom of the hearth, from which the wood fire now and then sent up an exploring flash into her face.

Mrs. Nimick’s presence did not usually minister to repose; but the Governor’s serenity was too deep to be easily disturbed, and he felt the calmness of a man who knows there is a mosquito in the room, but has drawn the netting close about his head. This calmness reflected itself in the accent with which he said, throwing himself back to smile up at his sister: “You know I am not going to make any appointments for a week.”

It was the day after the great reform victory which had put John Mornway for the second time at the head of his State, a triumph compared with which even the mighty battle of his first election sank into insignificance, and he leaned back with the sense of unassailable placidity which follows upon successful effort.

Mrs. Nimick murmured an apology. “I didn’t understand–I saw in this morning’s papers that the Attorney-General was reappointed.”

“Oh, Fleetwood–his reappointment was involved in the campaign. He’s one of the principles I represent!”

Mrs. Nimick smiled a little tartly. “It seems odd to some people to think of Mr. Fleetwood in connection with principles.”

The Governor’s smile had no answering acerbity; the mention of his Attorney-General’s name had set his blood humming with the thrill of the fight, and he wondered how it was that Fleetwood had not already been in to clasp hands with him over their triumph.

“No,” he said, good-humoredly, “two years ago Fleetwood’s name didn’t stand for principles of any sort; but I believed in him, and look what he’s done for me! I thought he was too big a man not to see in time that statesmanship is a finer thing than practical politics, and now that I’ve given him a chance to make the discovery, he’s on the way to becoming just such a statesman as the country needs.”

“Oh, it’s a great deal easier and pleasanter to believe in people,” replied Mrs. Nimick, in a tone full of occult allusion, “and, of course, we all knew that Mr. Fleetwood would have a hearing before any one else.”

The Governor took this imperturbably. “Well, at any rate, he isn’t going to fill all the offices in the State; there will probably be one or two to spare after he has helped himself, and when the time comes I’ll think over your man. I’ll consider him.”

Mrs. Nimick brightened. “It would make sucha difference to Jack–it might mean anything to the poor boy to have Mr. Ashford appointed!”

The Governor held up a warning hand.

“Oh, I know, one mustn’t say that, or at least you mustn’t listen. You’re so dreadfully afraid of nepotism. But I’m not asking for anything for Jack–I have never asked for a crust for any of us, thank Heaven! No one can point to me–” Mrs. Nimick checked herself suddenly and continued in a more impersonal tone: “But there’s no harm, surely, in my saying a word for Mr. Ashford, when I know that he’s actually under consideration, and I don’t see why the fact that Jack is in his office should prevent my speaking.”