"The Best Man" is a political thriller about the governor of Midsylvania. Governor Mornway has just been reelected to office. His choice of Attorney General, Fleetwood is however proving to be quite controversial. And now a former employee is threatening to lay bare some uncomfortable truths about the matter, unless the Governor gives him back his job.
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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 _such_a 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."
"On the contrary," said the Governor, "it implies, on your part, a personal knowledge of Mr. Ashford's qualifications which may be of great help to me in reaching a decision."
Mrs. Nimick never quite knew how to meet him when he took that tone, and the flickering fire made her face for a moment the picture of uncertainty; then at all hazards she launched out: "Well, I have Ella's promise, at any rate."
The Governor sat upright. "Ella's promise?"
"To back me up. She thoroughly approves of him!"
The Governor smiled. "You talk as if Ella had a political _salon_and distributed _lettres de cachet!_I'm glad she approves of Ashford; but if you think my wife makes my appointments for me--" He broke off with a laugh at the superfluity of such a protest.
Mrs. Nimick reddened. "One never knows how you will take the simplest thing. What harm is there in my saying that Ella approves of Mr. Ashford? I thought you liked her to take an interest in your work."
"I like it immensely. But I shouldn't care to have it take that form."
"That of promising to use her influence to get people appointed. But you always talk of politics in the vocabulary of European courts. Thank Heaven, Ella has less imagination. She has her sympathies, of course, but she doesn't think they can affect the distribution of offices."
Mrs. Nimick gathered up her furs with an air at once crestfallen and resentful. "I'm sorry--I always seem to say the wrong thing. I'm sure I came with the best intentions--it's natural that your sister should want to be with you at such a happy moment."
"Of course it is, my dear," exclaimed the Governor genially, as he rose to grasp the hands with which she was nervously adjusting her wraps.
Mrs. Nimick, who lived a little way out of town, and whose visits to her brother were apparently achieved at the cost of immense effort and mysterious complications, had come to congratulate him on his victory, and to sound him regarding the nomination to a coveted post of the lawyer in whose firm her eldest son was a clerk. In the urgency of the latter errand she had rather lost sight of the former, but her face softened as the Governor, keeping both her hands in his, said in the voice which always seemed to put the most generous interpretation on her motives: "I was sure you would be one of the first to give me your blessing."
"Oh, your success--no one feels it more than I do!" sighed Mrs. Nimick, always at home in the emotional key. "I keep in the background. I make no noise, I claim no credit, but whatever happens, no one shall ever prevent my rejoicing in my brother's success!"
Mrs. Nimick's felicitations were always couched in the conditional, with a side-glance at dark contingencies, and the Governor, smiling at the familiar construction, returned cheerfully: "I don't see why any one should want to deprive you of that privilege."
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