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Forty Modern Fables, by George Ade, [1901], at

The Fable of The People's Choice Who Answered the Call of Duty & Took Seltzer

    THE King-Pins of a Great Party decided that the City Ticket could not be elected, so they decided to Recognize the Better Element. If it had been an air-tight certainty, the Nominations would have gone to the Boys who do the Fine Work.

    In a Residence Street which had a Cast-Iron Deer in nearly every Front Yard, as a slight Concession to Art, there lived a Nice Man who was in the Garden Seed Business. He said "Whom," and wore Nose Glasses. He never had dallied with the political Buzz-Saw, although he had Convictions on the National Issues and had written one or two Open Letters on Municipal Ownership, signed "Justitia."

    By some Chance, the Bosses singled out the Garden Seed Man as the Victim for the Off Year Sacrifice. They did not like to see a Good Fellow stand in the Breach and take the Gaff right in the Wish-Bone. If any one had to be Speared, they preferred that it should be some Dead Card who wore Congress Gaiters and Throat Warmers. The Nice Man who dealt in Leeks and Early Peas, seemed to meet all the Requirements. He was due to get the Double Cross on General Principles. In speaking of him they called him The Stiff.

    When they talked it over in a Wine Room, it was reported that the Garden Seed Man was suspected of being a Lily White, who seldom stood by the Straight Ticket, that he carried a little Sack of Wintergreen Lozenges and that he never had been known to call Anybody by his First Name. So they took a Vote to see if he should be Butchered to make a Municipal Holiday. A Low Growl of Approval ran around the Table.

    Two Committeemen who carried an overweight of Jowl and wore Cameos a little smaller than the Home-Plate, went lip to the Garden Seed Office and told the Nice Man that the People all over Town were sick with Anxiety to know would he be their Next City Clerk.

    If he had stopped to Count Up he would have known that not more than 14 Persons had ever heard of him. But you can always convince a Nice Man that he is Prominent, and if the Ointment is properly applied and rubbed in so as to get all through the System, he will think he is real Popular, too.

    The Committeemen had worked the little Ball in and out of the English Walnuts before shifting to Politics, and they could sit down beside a trusting, unsophisticated Unitarian with an Open-Work Mind and convince him that Red was Yellow.

    By the time they were through Pumping it into him, he was sure that if he did not accept the Nomination, the Lights would burn Low all over the City and the Little Children would moan in their Trundle Beds. So he put on the Corrugated Brow and tried to look like Caesar at the Lupercal. He said he would have to Knock Under to the Universal Demand. The Committeemen said they would need a little Money right away to get out some Printing. They did not say what kind of Printing, but they relieved him of enough to issue a Public Library.

    His Wife and her Sister and the Man who took care of the Furnace and his other Friends heard what he was up to. They tried to get a firm Hand-Hold on his Coat-Tails and pull him out of Danger, but he knew better. He said the Populace was Calling for him. No one else heard the Call. It must have come over a Private Wire.

    The Man who takes the Bit in his Teeth and starts out to try the entire 33 Degrees of Chumpery can always find plenty of Good Excuses. He said the Campaign would advertise the Garden Seeds and bring him into Touch with his Fellow-Man. Later on he got into many a Touch.

    It was surprising how the Voters rallied to him. He was swamped with Pledges of Support. When he was Nominated, he thought he had a Chance. A Week later he began to make a List of the Plums to be distributed. Three Days before Election, it had all the Ear-Marks of a Landslide. It was only a Question of Majorities. He had the Job nailed down on four Sides and then clinched underneath. It was All Over except a few faint Cries of Fraud and then being Sworn In.

    He was out every Night with a lot of Bag-Punchers who showed him how to convert his Ready Money into Popularity. He was not a Stayer, so he had to take Seltzer at every Stop. He would come Home Carbonated worse than a Soda Fountain and with his Pockets full of pale, dangerous-looking Cigars that his Wife had to remove from his Clothes with a Pair of Tweezers.

    Sometimes he wondered if the Other Fellow would get any Votes at all.

    The whole Body of Registered Voters seemed to be falling over one another in their Mad Rush to get into Line for him. Entire Families were flopping to his Support and working for him stronger than an Ox.

    The Campaign Committee gave it to him Raw two or three times a Week. They could get him into a Back Room at Headquarters and pull down the Blinds and plug Cotton in the Key-Holes and Talk to him in a Stage Whisper. What they had to say could have been talked through a Megaphone at the Street Corner.

    Once or twice he Bucked a little and said that inasmuch as 95 per cent of the Voters had Declared for him, he did not see the Necessity of Coughing so frequently. They said it was for more Printing. He never saw the Printing, but they rubbed his Shoulders for him and gave him the Hoopteree and assured him it was All Right.

    As he saw his Balance melt, he was cheered by the Knowledge that he would get it back several times over in Salary and Fees, and probably be able to turn a few Tricks on the Side.

    Just before Election everybody runs around in a Circle and kicks up so much Dust that no one but a Clairvoyant can size up the Situation. Even the Garden Seed Man, who had kept his Finger on the Public Pulse, could not accurately estimate his Majorities, but he had a little Table that he had made with a Fountain Pen and a Ruler. It showed that he was merely a few Votes shy of the Unanimous. He was expecting that some one would get up and Move to make him City Clerk by Acclamation.

    The Ballots were counted and the Garden Seed Man carried one Precinct in the Second Ward and two in the Seventh.

    At eleven o'clock on Election Night he sat at Headquarters, whence all but him had fled, and tried to figure out that it would require the Official Count to decide. They had to lead him Home. He did not want to face his Wife. The Other Man was 17,000 ahead and still Running.

    Instead of taking it as a Joke, the same as Other People did, he got Sore on Humanity in General and joined a Third Party, that was Opposed to everything.

MORAL: Draw your Salary before Spending it.

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