The Mayor's Lamps
THE MAYOR'S LAMPS.
BY JOHN KENDRICK BANGS.
THE serpent had crept into Eden. The Perkins household for ten years had been little less than Paradise to its inmates, and then in a single night the reptile of political ambition had dragged his slimy length through those happy door-posts and sat grinning indecently at the inscription over the library mantel, a ribbon bearing the sentiment "Here Dwells Content" let into the tiles thereof. How it ever happened no man knoweth, but happen it did. Thaddeus was snatched from the arms of Peace and plunged headlong into the jaws of Political Warfare.
"They want me because they think I'm strong," he pleaded in extenuation of his acceptance of the nomination for Mayor of his town.
"But you ought to know better," returned Mrs. Perkins, failing to realize what possible misconstruction her lord and master might put upon the answer. "The idea of your meddling in politics when you've got twice as much work as you can do already! I think it's awful!"
"I didn't seek it," he said, after hesitating a moment; "they've—they've thrust it on me." Then he tried to be funny. "With me, public office is a public thrust."
"Is there any salary?" asked Mrs. Perkins, treating the jest with the contempt it merited.
"No," said Thaddeus. "Not a cent; but—"
"Not a cent?" cried Mrs. Perkins. "And you are going to give up all your career, or at least two years of it, and probably the best two years of your life, for—"
"Glory," said Thaddeus.
"Glory! Humph," said Mrs. Perkins. "I am not aware that Nations are talking of previous Mayors of Philipseburg. Mr. Jiggers's name is not a household word outside of this city, is it?"
Mr. Jiggers was the gentleman into whose shoes Thaddeus was seeking to place his feet—the incumbent of the mighty office to which he aspired.
"Who is the present Lord Mayor of London?" the lady continued.
"Haven't the slightest idea," murmured the standard-bearer of the Democratic party, hopelessly.
"Or Berlin, or Peking—or even of Chicago?" she went on.
"What has that got to do with it?" retorted the worm, turning a trifle.
"You spoke of glory—the glory of being Mayor of Philipseburg, a city of 30,000 inhabitants. This is going to send your name echoing from sea to sea, reverberating through Europe, and thundering down through the ages to come; aud yet you admit that the glories of the Mayors of London with 4,000,000 souls, of Berlin, Chicago, and Peking, with millions more, are so slight that you can't remember their names—or even to have heard them, for that matter. Really, Thaddeus, I am surprised at you. "What you expect to get out of this besides nervous prostration I must confess I cannot see."
"Lamps," said Thaddeus, clutching like a drowning man at the one emolument of the coveted office.
Mrs. Perkins gazed at her husband anxiously. The answer was so unexpected and seemingly so absurd that she for a moment feared he had lost his mind. The notion that two years' service in so important an office as that of Mayor of Philipseburg received as its sole reward nothing but lamps was to her mind impossible.
"Is—is there anything the matter with you, dear?" she asked, going over to his side and placing her hand on his brow. "You don't seem feverish."
"Feverish?" snapped the leader of his party. "Who said anything about my being feverish?"
"Nobody, Teddy dear; but what you said about lamps made me think—made me think your mind was wandering a trifle."
"Oh—that!" laughed Perkins. "No, indeed—it's true. They always give the Mayor a pair of lamps. Some of them are very swell, too. You know those wrought-iron standards that Mr. Berkeley has in front of his place?"
"The ones at the driveway entrance, on the bowlders?"
"They're beauties. I've always admired those lamps very much."
"Well—they are the rewards of Mr. Berkeley's political virtue. I paid for them, and so did all the rest of the tax-payers. They are his Mayor's lamps, and if I'm elected I'll have a pair just like them, if I want them like that."
"Oh, I do hope you'll get in, Teddy," said the little woman, anxiously, after a reflective pause. "They'd look stunning on our gate-posts."
"I don't think I shall have them there," said Thaddeus. "Jiggers has the right idea, seems to me—he's put 'em on the newel-posts of his front porch steps."
"I don't suppose they'd give us the money and let us buy one handsome cloisonné lamp from Tiffany's, would they?" Mrs. Perkins asked.
"A cloisonné lamp on a gate-post?" laughed Perkins.
"Of course not," rejoined the lady. "You know I didn't mean any such thing. I saw a perfectly beautiful lamp in Tiffany's last Wednesday, and it would go so well in the parlor—"
"That wouldn't be possible, my dear," said Thaddeus, still smiling. "You don't quite catch the idea of those lamps. They've sort of like the red, white, and blue lights in a drug-store window in intention. They are put up to show the public that that is where a political prescription for the body politic may be compounded. The public is responsible for the bills, and the public expects to use what little light can be extracted from them."
"Then all this generosity on the public's part is—"
"Merely that of the Indian who gives and takes back," said Thaddeus.
"And they must be out-of-doors?" asked Mrs. Perkins. "If I set the cloisonne lamp in the window, it wouldn't do?"
"No," said Thaddeus. "They must be out-of-doors."
"Well, I hope the nasty old public will stay there too, and not come traipsing all over my house," snapped Mrs. Perkins, indignantly.
And then for a little time the discussion of the Mayor's lamps stopped.
The campaign went on, and Thaddeus night after night was forced to go out to speak here and there and everywhere. One night he travelled five miles through mud and rain to address an organization of tax-payers, and found them assembled before the long mahogany counter of a beer-saloon, which was the "Hall" they had secured for the reception of the idol of their hopes; and among them it is safe to say there was not one who ever saw a tax bill, and not many who knew more about those luxuries of life than the delicious flunky, immortalized by Mr. Punch, who says to a brother flunky, "I say, Tummas, wot is taxes?" And he told them his principles and promised to do his best for them, and bade them good -night, and went away leaving them parched and dry and downcast. And then the other fellow came, and won their hearts and "set them up again." Another night he attended another meeting and lost a number of friends because he shone at both ends but not in the middle. If he had taken a glittering coin or two from his vest pocket in behalf of the noble working-men there assembled in great numbers and spirituous mood, they would have forgiven him his wit and patent-leather shoes—and so it went. Perkins was nightly hauled hither and yon by the man he called his "Hagenbeck," the manager of the wild animal he felt himself gradually degenerating into, and his wife and home and children saw less of him than of the unimportant floating voter whose mind was open to conviction, but could be reached only by way of the throat.
"Two o'clock last night; one o'clock the night before; I suppose it 'll be three before you are in to-night?" Mrs. Perkins said, ruefully.
"I do not know, my dear," replied Thaddeus. "There are five meetings on for to-night."
"Well, I think they ought to give you the lamps now," snapped Mrs. Perkins. "It seems to me this is when you need them most."
"True," said Thaddeus, sadly, for in his secret soul he was afraid he would be elected; and now that he saw what kind of people Mayors have to associate with, the glory of it did not seem to be worth the cost. "I'm a sort of Night-Mayor just at present, and those lamps would come in handy in the wee sma' hours." And he sighed and pined for the peaceful days of yore when he was content to walk his ways with no nation upon his shoulders.
"I never envied Atlas anyhow, " he confided to himself later, as he tossed about upon his bed and called himself names. "It always seemed to me that his revolving globe must rub the skin off his neck and back; but now, poor devil, with just one municipality hanging over me, I can appreciate more than ever the difficulties of his position—except that he doesn't have to make speeches to 'tax-payers.' Humph! Tax-payers! It's tax-makers. If I'd promised to go into all sorts of wilderness improvement for the sole and only purpose of putting these 'tax-payers' on the corporation at the expense of real laboring-men, I'd win in a canter."
"What is the matter, Thaddeus?" said Mrs. Perkins, coming in from the other room. "Can't you sleep?"
"Don't want to sleep, my dear," returned the candidate. "When I go to sleep I dream I'm addressing mass-meetings. I can't enjoy my rest unless I stay awake. Did your mother come to-day?"
"Yes—and, oh, she's so enthusiastic, Teddy!"
"At last! About me? You don't mean it."
"No—about the lamps. She says lamps are just what we need to complete the entrance. She thinks Mr. Berkeley's scheme of putting them on the stone posts is the best. There's more dignity about it. Putting them on the piazza steps, she says, looks ostentatious, and suggests a beer-saloon or a road-house."
"Well, my dear, that's about all politics seems to amount to," said the reformer. "If those lamps are to be a souvenir of the campaign, they ought to suggest road-houses and beer-saloons."
"They will not be souvenirs of a campaign," replied Mrs. Perkins, proudly. "They will be the outward and visible sign of my husband's merit; the emblem of victory."
"The red badge of triumph, eh?" smiled the candidate, wanly. "Well, my dear, have them where you please, and keep them well filled with alcohol, even if they do burn gas. They'll represent the tax-payers when they get that."
"You mustn't get so tired, Thaddeus dear," said the little woman, smoothing his forehead soothingly with her hand. "You seem unusually tired to-night."
"I am," said Thaddeus, shortly. "The debate wore me out."
"Did you debate? I thought you said you wouldn't."
"Well, I did. Everybody said I was afraid to meet Captain Haskins on the platform, so we had it out to-night over in the Tenth Ward. I talked for sixty-eight minutes, gave 'em my views, and then he got up."
"What did he say? Could he answer you?"
"No—but he won the day. All he said was: 'Well, boys, I'm not much of a talker,' but I'll say one thing—Perkins, while my adversary, is still my friend, and I'm proud of him. Now, if you'll all join me at the bar, we'll drink his health—on me.'" Thaddeus paused, and then he added, "I imagine they're cheering yet; at any rate, if I have as much health as they drink—on Haskins—I'll double discount old Methuselah in the matter of years."
The next morning at breakfast the pale and nervous standard-bearer was affectionately greeted by his mother-in-law.
"I've been thinking about those lamps all night," she said, after a few minutes. "The trouble about the gate-posts is that you have three gate-posts and only two lamps."
"Maybe they'd let us buy three lamps instead of two," suggested Mrs. Perkins.
"Well, we won't, even if they do let us," observed Perkins, with some irritation. He had just received a newspaper from a kind friend in Massachusetts with a comic biography and dissipated wood-cut of himself in it. "I'm not starting a concert-hall, and I'm not going to put a row of lamps along the front of my place."
"I quite agree with you," replied his mother-in-law. "It occurred to me we might put them, like hanging lanterns, on each of the chimneys. It would be odd."
Thaddeus muttered two syllables to himself, the latter of which sounded like M'dodd, but exactly what it was he said I can only guess. Then he added: "They won't go there. I can't get a gas-pipe up through those chimneys. It's as much as we can do to get the smoke up, much less a gas-pipe. Even if we got the gas-pipe through, it wouldn't do. A putty-blower would choke up the flues."
"Well, I don't know," said the mother-in-law, placidly. "It seems to me—"
A glance from Mrs. Perkins stopped the dear old lady. I think Mrs. Perkins's sympathetic disposition taught her that her husband was having a hard time being agreeable, and that further discussion of the lamp question was likely to prove disastrous.
Thaddeus was soon called for by his manager, and started out to meet the leading lights of the Hungarian and Italian quarters. The Germans had been made solid the day before, and as for the Irish, they were supposed to be with Perkins on principle, because Perkins was not in accord politically with the existing administration.
"It's too bad he's so nervous," said his mother-in-law as he went out. "They say women are nervous, but I must say I don't think much of the endurance of men. How absurd he was when he spoke of the gas-pipe through the chimney!"
"Well, I suppose, my dear mother," said Mrs. Perkins, sadly—"I suppose he can't be bothered with little details like the lamps now. There are other questions to be considered."
"What is the exact issue?" asked the mother-in-law, interestedly.
"Well—the tariff, and—ah—and taxes, and—ah—money, and—ah—ah—I think the saloon question enters in somehow. I believe Mr. Haskins wants more of them, and Thaddeus says there are too many of them as it is. And now they are both investigating them, I fancy, because Teddy was in one the other day."
"We ought to help him a little," said the elder woman. "Let's just relieve him of the whole lamp question; decide where to put them, go to New York and pick them out, get estimates for the laying of the pipes, and surprise him by having them all ready to put up the day after election."
"Wouldn't it be fun!" cried Mrs. Perkins, delightedly. "He'll be so surprised—poor dear boy. I'll do it. I'll send down this morning for Mr. O'Hara to come up here and see how we can make the connection and where the trenches for the pipes can be laid. Mr. O'Hara is the best-known contractor in town, and I guess he's the man we want."
And immediately O'Hara was telephoned for to come up to Mr. Perkins's, and the fair conspirators were not aware of, and probably can never realize the importance politically of that act. Mr. O'Hara refused to come, but it was hinted about that Perkins had summoned him, and there was great joy among the rank and file, and woe among the better elements, for O'Hara was a boss, and a boss whose power was one of the things Thaddeus was trying to break, and the cohorts fancied that the apostle of purity had realized that without O'Hara reform was fallen into the pit. Furthermore, as cities of the third class, like Philipseburg, live conversationally on rumors and gossipings, it was not an hour before almost all Philipseburg, except Thaddeus Perkins himself and his manager, knew that the idol had bowed before the boss's hat, and that the boss had returned the grand message that he'd see Perkins in the Hudson River before he'd go to his damned mugwump temple; and in two hours they also knew it, for they heard in no uncertain terms from the secretary of the Municipal Club, a reform organization, which had been instrumental in securing Perkins's nomination, who demanded to know in an explicit yes or no as to whether any such message had been sent. The denial was made, and then the lie was given; and many to this day wonder exactly where the truth lay. At any rate, votes were lost and few gained, and many a worthy friend of good government lost heart and bemoaned the degeneration of the gentleman into the politician.
Perkins, worn out, irritated by, if not angry at, what he termed the underhanded lying of the opposition, drove home for luncheon, and found his wife and her mother in a state of high dudgeon. They had been insulted.
"It was frightful the language that man used, Thaddeus," said Mrs. Perkins.
"He wouldn't have dared do it except by telephone," put in the mother-in-law, whose notions were somewhat old-fashioned. "I've always hated that machine. People can lie to you and you can't look 'em in the eye over it, and they can say things to your face with absolute opportunity."
The dear old lady meant impunity, but it must be remembered that she was excited.
"Well, I think he ought to be chastised," said Mrs. Perkins.
"Who? What are you talking about?" demanded Thaddeus.
"That nasty O'Hara man," said Mrs. Perkins. "He said 'he'd be damned' over the wire."
Thaddeus immediately became energetic. "He didn't blackguard you, did he?" he demanded.
"Yes, he did," said Mrs. Perkins, the water in her eyes affecting her voice so that it became mellifluous instead of merely melodious.
"But how?" persisted Perkins.
"Well—we—we—rang him up—it was only as a surprise, you know, dear—we rang him up—"
"You—you rang up—O'Hara?" cried Perkins, aghast. "It must have been a surprise."
"Yes, Teddy. We were going to settle the lamp question; we thought you were bothered enough with—well, with affairs of state—"
The candidate drew up proudly, but immediately became limp again as he realized the situation.
"And," Mrs. Perkins continued, "we thought we'd relieve you of the lamp question; and as Mr. O'Hara is a great contractor—the most noted in all Philipseburg—isn't he?"
"Yes, yes, yes! he is!" said Perkins, furiously; "but what of that?"
"Well, that's why we rang him up," said Mrs. Perkins, with a sigh of relief to find that she had selected the right man. "We wanted Mr. O'Hara to dig the trench for the pipes, and lay the pipes—"
"He's a great pipe-layer!" ejaculated Perkins, the professional humorist getting the better of the would-be statesman for a moment.
"Exactly." rejoined Mrs. Perkins, solemnly. "We'd heard that, and so we asked him to come up."
"But, my dear," cried Perkins, the candidate getting the upper hand again, "you didn't tell him you wanted him to put up my lamps? I'm not elected yet."
The agony of the moment for Perkins can he better imagined than portrayed.
"He didn't give us the chance," said the mother-in-law. "He merely swore."
Perkins drew a sigh of relief. He understood it all now, and in spite of the position in which he was placed he was glad. "Jove!" he said to himself, "it was a narrow escape. Suppose O'Hara had come! He'd have enjoyed laying pipes for a Mayor's lamps—two weeks before election."
And for the first time in weeks Perkins was faintly mirthful. The narrowness of his escape had made him hysterical, and he actually emitted a nervous laugh.
"That accounts for the rumor," he said to himself, and then his heart grew heavy again. "The rumor is true, and— Oh, well, this is what I get for dabbling in politics. If I ever get out of this alive, I vow by all the gods politics shall know me no more."
"It was all right—my asking O'Hara, Thaddeus?" asked Mrs. Perkins.
"Oh yes, certainly, my dear—perfectly right. O'Hara is indeed, as you thought, the most noted, not to say notorious, contractor in town, only he's not laying pipes just now. He's pulling wires."
"For telephones, I presume?" said the old lady, placidly.
"Well, in a way," replied Thaddeus. "There's a great deal of vocality about O'Hara's wires. But, Bess," he added, seriously, "just drop the lamps until we get 'em, and confine your telephoning to your intimate friends. An Irishman on a telephone in political times is apt to be a trifle—er—artless in his choice of words. If you must talk to one of 'em, remember to put in the lightning plug before you begin."
With which injunction the candidate departed to address the Mohawks, an independent political organization in the Second Ward, which was made up of thinking men who never endorsed a candidate without knowing why, and rarely before three o'clock of the afternoon of election day at that, by whom he was received with cheers and back-slapping and button-holings which convinced him that he was the most popular man on earth, though on election day—but election day has yet to be described. It came, and with it there came to Perkins a feeling very much like that which the small boy experiences on the day before Christmas. He has been good for two months, and he knows that to-morrow the period of probation will be over and he can be as bad as he pleases for a little while anyhow.
"However it turns out, I can tell 'em all to go to the devil to-morrow," chuckled Thaddeus, rubbing his hands gleefully, as if consigning ninety per cent. of his fellow-citizens to his Satanic Majesty was his devoutest wish.
"I don't think you ought to forget the lamps, Thaddeus," observed the mother-in-law at breakfast. "Here it is election day and you haven't yet decided where they shall go. Now I really think—"
"Never mind the lamps, grandma," returned Thaddeus. "Let's talk of ballot-boxes to-day. To-morrow we can place the lamps."
"Very well, if you say so," said the old lady; "only I marvel at you latter-day boys. In my young days a small matter like that would have been settled long ago."
"Well, I'll compromise with you, grandma," said Thaddeus. "We won't wait until to-morrow. I'll decide the question to-night—I'm really too busy now to think of them."
"I shall be glad when we don't have to think about 'em," sighed Mrs. Perkins, pouring out the candidate's coffee. "They've really been a care to me. I don't like the idea of putting them on the porch, or on the gate-posts either. They'll have to be kept clean, and goodness knows I can't ask the girls to go out in the middle of winter to clean them if they are on the gate-posts."
"Mike will clean them," said Thaddeus.
Mrs. Perkins sniffed when Mike's name was mentioned. "I doubt it," she said. "He's been lots of good for two weeks."
"Mike has been lots of good for two weeks," echoed Thaddeus, with the accent on the has. "He's kept all the hired men in line, my dear."
"I've no doubt he's been of use politically, but from a domestic point of view he's been awful. He's been drunk for the last week."
"Well, my love," said the candidate, despairingly, "some member of the family had to do it, and I'd rather it was Mike than you or any of the children. Mike's geniality has shed a radiance about me among the hired men of this town that fills me with pride."
"I don't see, to go back to what I said in the very beginning, why we can't have the lamps in -doors," returned Mrs. Perkins.
"I told you why not, my dear," said Perkins. "They are the perquisite of the Mayor, but for the benefit of the public, because the public pays for them."
"And hasn't the public, as you call it, taken possession of the inside of your house?" demanded the mother-in-law. "I found seven gentlemen sitting in the white and gold parlor only last night, and they hadn't wiped their feet either."
"You don't understand," faltered the standard-bearer. "That business isn't permanent. To-morrow I'll tell them to go round to the back door and ask the cook."
"Humph!" said the mother-in-law. "I'm surprised at you. For a few paltry votes you—"
Just here the front door bell rang, and the business of the day beginning stopped the conversation, which bade fair to become unpleasant.
Night came. The votes were being counted, and at six o'clock Perkins was informed that everything was going his way.
"Get your place ready for a brass band and a serenade," his manager telephoned.
"I sha'n't!" ejaculated the candidate to himself—and he was right. He didn't have to. The band did not play in his front yard, for at eight o'clock the tide that had set in strong for Perkins turned. At ten, according to votes that had been counted, things were about even, and the ladies retired. At twelve, Perkins turned out the gas.
"That settles the lamp question, anyhow," he whispered to himself as he went up stairs, and then he went into Mrs. Perkins's room.
"Well, Bess," he said, "it's all over, and I've made up my mind as to where the lamps are to go."
"Good!" said the little woman. "On the gate-posts?"
"No, dear. In the parlor—the cloisonné lamps from Tiffany's."
"Why, I thought you said we couldn't—"
"Well, we can. Our lamps can go in there whether the public likes it or not. We are emancipated."
"But I don't understand," began Mrs. Perkins.
"Oh, it's simple," said Thaddeus, with a sigh of mingled relief and sadness. "It's simple enough. The other lamps are to be put—er—on Captain Haskins's place."