I guess I've been what you might call kind of an assistant boss pretty much all my life; at least, ever since I could vote; and I was something of a ward-heeler even before that. I don't suppose there's any way a man of my disposition could have put in his time to less advantage and greater cost to himself. I've never got a thing by it, all these years, not a job, not a penny—nothing but injury to my business and trouble with my wife. She begins going for me, first of every campaign.
Yet I just can't seem to keep out of it. It takes a hold on a man that I never could get away from; and when I reach my second childhood and the boys have turned me out, I reckon I'll potter along trying to look knowing and secretive, like the rest of the has-beens, letting on as if I still had a place inside. Lord, if I'd put in the energy at my business that I've frittered away on small politics! But what's the use thinking about it?
Plenty of men go to pot horse-racing and stock gambling; and I guess this has just been my way of working off some of my nature in another fashion. There's a good many like me, too; not out for office or contracts, nor anything that you can put your finger on in particular—nothing except the game. Of course, it's a pleasure, knowing you've got more influence than some, but I believe the most you ever get out of it is in being able to help your friends, to get a man you like a job, or a good contract, something he wants, when he needs it.
I tell you then's when you feel satisfied, and your time don't seem to have been so much thrown away. You go and buy a higher-priced cigar than you can afford, and sit and smoke it with your feet out in the sunshine on your porch railing, and watch your neighbour's children playing in their yard; and they look mighty nice to you; and you feel kind, and as if everybody else was.
But that wasn't the way I felt when I helped to hand over to a reformer the nomination for mayor; then it was just selfish desperation and nothing else. We had to do it. You see, it was this way: the other side had had the city for four terms, and, naturally, they'd earned the name of being rotten by that time. Big Lafe Gorgett was their best. "Boss Gorgett," of course our papers called him when they went for him, which was all the time; and pretty considerable of a man he was, too. Most people that knew him liked Lafe. I did. But he got a bad name, as they say, by the end of his fourth term as Mayor—and who wouldn't? Of course, the cry went up all round that he and his crowd were making a fat thing out of it, which wasn't so much the case as that Lafe had got to depending on humouring the gamblers and the brewers for campaign funds and so forth. In fact, he had the reputation of running a disorderly town, and the truth is, it was too wide open.
But we hadn't been much better when we'd had it, before Lafe beat us and got in; and everybody remembered that. The "respectable element" wouldn't come over to us strong enough for anybody we could pick of our own crowd; and so, after trying it on four times, we started in to play it another way, and nominated Farwell Knowles, who was already running on an independent ticket, got out by the reform and purity people....