It was characteristic of him that the tone of the letter should be uniformly cheerful, that he should say nothing whatever of the blow this must be to his ambitions and hopes; and my agitation at the new and disturbing prospect thus opened up for me was momentarily swept away by feelings of affection and sorrow. A sharp realization came to me of how much I admired and loved this man, and this was followed by a pang at the thought of the disappointment my refusal would give him. Complications I did not wish to examine were then in the back of my mind; and while I still sat holding the letter in my hand the telephone rang, and a message came from Leonard Dickinson begging me to call at the bank at once.
Miller Gorse was there, and Tallant, waving a palm-leaf while sitting under the electric fan. They were all very grave, and they began to talk about the suddenness of Mr. Watling’s illness and to speculate upon its nature. Leonard Dickinson was the most moved of the three; but they were all distressed, and showed it—even Tallant, whom I had never credited with any feelings; they spoke about the loss to the state. At length Gorse took a cigar from his pocket and lighted it; the smoke, impelled by the fan, drifted over the panelled partition into the bank.
“I suppose Mr. Watling mentioned to you what he wrote to us,” he said.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Well,” he asked, “what do you think of it?”
“I attribute it to Mr. Watling’s friendship,” I replied.
“No,” said Gorse, in his businesslike manner, “Watling’s right, there’s no one else.” Considering the number of inhabitants of our state, this remark had its humorous aspect.
“That’s true,” Dickinson put in, “there’s no one else available who understands the situation as you do, Hugh, no one else we can trust as we trust you. I had a wire from Mr. Barbour this morning—he agrees. We’ll miss you here, but now that Watling will be gone we’ll need you there. And he’s right—it’s something we’ve got to decide on right away, and get started on soon, we can’t afford to wobble and run any chances of a revolt.”
“It isn’t everybody the senatorship comes to on a platter—especially at your age,” said Tallant.
“To tell you the truth,” I answered, addressing Dickinson, “I’m not prepared to talk about it now. I appreciate the honour, but I’m not at all sure I’m the right man. And I’ve been considerably upset by this news of Mr. Watling.”