from Illustrated Sunday Magazine
The Power Behind the Throne
by Ellis Parker Butler
"S. Potts," said the aged chore-boy of the Kilo Livery, Feed and Sale Stable to the lank and lean hostler, "how comes it you ain't ever been elected for President of the United States?"
S. Potts gave a final pat to the horse he had been brushing and leaned against the end of the stall.
"You'd ought to know why, Daniel," he said reproachfully. "Ain't I made my character clear enough to you these twenty years we been working together? Ain't I explained myself to you?"
"Yes, S. Potts," said Daniel.
"It ain't that I haven't been asked, Daniel," said S. Potts modestly. "I forgot to keep track how many times I've been asked to be President -- it is so many -- and sometimes it was mighty hard to refuse. When big men from all parties came and asked me, on their knees with tears in their eyes, to be President and save the country, I sometimes almost yielded. But I seen my duty and didn't. I refused, Daniel. All I could ever be got to do was to name the man that ought to be chose, and them delegations thanked me grateful and went and elected him like I said to. They went like little lambs, Daniel, sad and with tears in their eyes because I wouldn't be President myself, but hopping and skipping off in their long-tailed coats and side whiskers because I had named a man. You remember that, don't you, Daniel? Don't you remember, every time after a President has been elected how I told you he was the man I named?"
"Yes, S. Potts," said Daniel, "you told me every time."
"I did," said S. Potts. "I didn't withhold it from even you, Daniel, stupid as you be. And I never let the honors of being asked to be President make no difference between us, did I? I bossed you around just the same as usual, and swore at you like you was my own father. All I ever said to them delegations was, 'Just keep my name out of the papers. Come and ask me to be President as frequent as you please, but keep my name out of the papers. Once my name gets into the papers all is over!' So they done it. You've noticed that, Daniel -- my name ain't ever mentioned in the papers?"
"Yes, S. Potts," said Daniel.
"Mebby you thought it was queer it wasn't," said
S. Potts, rubbing a currycomb thoughtfully across the palm of his hand. "Roosevelt did the last time I seen him. 'S. Potts,' he said, 'I feel like you ain't getting your share of fame. I depend on you, S. Potts,' he said, 'and I write you day by day to learn from that big and massive brain of yours how I ought to run this country and others, and it makes me sad to see how I get all the fame and you don't get none. Your name don't get into the papers at all,' he says, 'and I wish you would let it, for such is fame,' he says. He begged me to let my name be printed, but I refused. 'Theodore Roosevelt,' I said, 'to such as likes fame I say they can be mentioned in the papers if they like it. I don't object. But keep my name hid; keep it hid, Theodore Roosevelt. Fame is much,' I says to him, 'but to me the peace and prosperity of my glorious U. S. A. is more. So long as I am Dictator, Theodore Roosevelt, I don't dare to have my name in the papers.' I said that to him, Daniel, and I meant it."
"Dictator?" said Daniel questioningly.
"That's what I said -- Dictator," replied S. Potts, picking a straw from the sleeve of his faded blue shirt.
"Dictator of the United States!" exclaimed Daniel with awe.
"Now there you go!" said S. Potts, disgustedly. "Who said Dictator of the United States? Do I look like a man that would be Dictator of the United States, Daniel?"
"No, S. Potts, you don't," said Daniel humbly.
"I wouldn't bother with it," S. Potts said. "It wouldn't be worth my while. Dictator of the World was what I was unanimous chosen to be, and am. I wouldn't bother with nothing else. 'No, Theodore Roosevelt and Emperor William and others,' I said, 'for any less job I won't bother. I know how jealous Jim Wilkins, owner of this livery stable, is and I know that if I take a side job as Dictator and he finds it out I'm liable to lose my job as hostler in this Livery Stable. I won't take no chances for less than Dictator of the World. It ain't that I'm afraid of losing my six dollars a week,' I says, 'but I'm scared when I think what Daniel would do if I was to go off and leave him. I'll be Dictator of the World if you say so, but nothing else ain't worth my while.' So they done it."
"Does Jim Wilkins know?" asked Daniel.
"No, he don't," said S. Potts, "for I ain't a fool. Jim Wilkins hasn't got a wide enough mind to think I could hostle his livery stable and Dictate to the World at one time. He's just the narrow-minded kind that would think a World Dictator would be so busy dictating that he would neglect his hostle work. Jim Wilkins can't understand a mind like mine, Daniel. He can't understand a mind that can curry down a horse with one hand whilst it decides who shall be the next President with the other hand, or that dictates to the Czar whether he shall start a new Duma while it is making a bran mash. No, Daniel, Jim Wilkins don't know. Nobody here in Kilo knows. Only Presidents and Kings and Czars and Emperors and big men can understand S. Potts. Only them can appreciate a mind like mine that is a whole human cyclopedium. And I don't say but what I lay awake some nights studying what to dictate to all those Kings and Presidents and Czars and things to do. Sometimes I'm near worn out with it but I don't dare stop. I'm afraid to."
"Are you, S. Potts?" asked Daniel.
"I am," said S. Potts. "So long as I carry the cares of all the States and Kingdoms and Empires in my head, and settle them, and dictate what to do the world has a chance, but if I gave up dictating I don't know what would happen. Half the Kings and Presidents would get sick and die, and half of them would give up hope and commit suicide. 'Keep well and strong, S. Potts, for our sakes,' they say to me, 'if not for your own. Don't overwork. Make Daniel do more, and save up your strength. All our hopes lies in the hostler of the Kilo Livery, Feed and Sale Stable. If he is lost, all is lost.' Mebby you've noticed I make you do more than your share of work sometimes, Daniel?"
"I have, S. Potts," said Daniel admiringly, "I've noticed it."
"Now you know why," said S. Potts. "It ain't because I'm lazy, Daniel. It is because Kings and Emperors and Presidents ask it of me. It pains me to see you do my work. Time and again have I said to William Cullings Bryan and the Sultan of Turkey and others, 'Don't make me make Daniel work so hard. Let me do my work and part of Daniel's too," but they won't hear of it. 'We know Daniel by reputation,' says them Emperors and Kings and silvery-tongued orators, 'and we admire and cherish him, but work is his specialty and dictating the running of the world is yours. Sacrifice your feelings, S. Potts,' they says, 'and let Daniel do more of your chores so you can be fresh for great questions of State and diplomacy and politics. We love Daniel, stupid as he is, but we ask you as a personal favor to us all to make him do some of your chores whilst you decide world-questions. Tell him,' they says, 'that if he does we will let you dictate him into power some day.' That's what they said to me, Daniel, and I wish, while I'm deciding who to dictate to be the next President of the United States, you would go and curry down Doc Weaver's mare."
Daniel took the currycomb from the hand of S. Potts and looked at it sadly, while the long hostler settled himself comfortably in an armchair and lighted his pipe.
"Well?" said S. Potts as Daniel hesitated, "Ain't you going? If I can boss Kings and Sultans and Czars around as I please, can it be that I can't ask my own chore-boy to curry down a horse? Is such things possible?"
Daniel still looked sadly at the unoffending currycomb. S. Potts tilted back his chair and raised his feet luxuriously to the seat of another chair.
"I'm going, S. Potts," said Daniel. "There ain't no need to hurry me, but I'm going. I'll curry down that mare for you and for them Kings and things if you say so, but I was just wondering --. I don't mean no harm, S. Potts, but I was wondering, so long as you don't wish to be President, if mebby you could dictate me to be it."
S. Potts let the forelegs of his chair drop to the floor with a snap and took his pipe from his lips. He stared at Daniel.
"To be President," repeated Daniel uneasily, as the eye of S. Potts bored into him, "seeing as you don't want to be it."
S. Potts continued to stare at him, and Daniel backed away a step.
"If you're going to be Dictator," said Daniel meekly, "I don't see as, it makes much difference who you have for President. I guess you could dictate to me as well as to anybody else. I'm more used to being bossed by you than anybody else is, S. Potts."
The cold eye of S. Potts still bored into him and it was more than Daniel could stand. The accumulated woes of twenty years of chores arose in revolt. He threw the currycomb on the floor and turned away.
"Daniel!" exclaimed S. Potts, and the old man stopped short and turned toward the Dictator. "Daniel," continued S. Potts, in an aggrieved tone, "is it you speaking to me that way? Is that how you appreciate all I've done for you? Have I, for years and years, begged and pleaded with them in authority not to ask me to make you President, only to have you ask me? Has it come about, just when I got the world running smooth, and Roosevelt's mind off of you as a possible President, that you go and throw a currycomb right on the floor? All right, Daniel! Hand me that currycomb! I'll make you President! After being treated this way I won't protect you no more. You can be President. But don't blame me, Daniel!"
"You ain't going to do nothing I'll be sorry for, are you, S. Potts?" pleaded the old man tremulously.
"Nothing but make you President," said S. Potts. "Nothing but put you into politics. Nothing but give you a taste of what Simon Bidder tasted."
"Don't, S. Potts!" begged Daniel. "If it ain't good for me, don't!"
"Yes, I will!" declared S. Potts. "Why should I care if it is good for you or not? Why should I care that rheumatic arms like yours wouldn't last three months with hard Presidential work? Why should I care any more than I cared that Simon Bidder didn't have the right kind of arms? Simon Bidder insisted to be President, and I made him one; and I'll make you a President."
"I never heard of a Simon Bidder that was President, S. Potts," ventured Daniel mildly.
"So I made Simon Bidder a President," continued S. Potts, paying no attention to Daniel, "and he come to me and thanked me and offered to shake hands, but I waved him away. 'No, Simon Bidder,' I says, 'I know them brittle rheumatic arms of yourn. I won't shake hands with you. You'll be hand-shaken enough.' And he was."
Daniel opened and closed his rheumatic hands.
"He was!" continued S. Potts. "The day he was elected he had to shake hands with fourteen thousand people. When the eight hundred and seventh shook hands with him I seen Simon Bidder give a look of pain and grab at his right arm, but the eight hundred and eighth hand-shaker was quicker than he was and grabbed his right hand and shook it a good shake. Number eight hundred and eight was a Methodist minister from Cohoes, New York, and by nature kind to man and beast, and I seen a look of horror cross his face as Simon Bidder's right arm come off, right at the shoulder joint. Eight hundred and eight slammed the arm down and run, and Simon Bidder hardly had time to look down at it before somebody grabbed it up for a souvenir and carried it off, and that was the last Simon Bidder ever seen of it. But he didn't have no time to mourn for his poor lost arm."
"Didn't he?" asked Daniel.
"No," said S. Potts. "Because eight hundred and nine had grabbed his left hand and was shaking it, and over thirteen thousand healthy hand-shakers was still in line, waiting to shake Simon Bidder's left hand, if it lasted out that long. But it didn't. It come off at the six hundred and twenty-eight hand-shake, and there was Simon Bidder with no arms, and over twelve thousand impatient hand-shakers clamoring aloud to shake. Mrs. Bidder come and begged with tears in her eyes that Simon would resign from being President, but he was a stubborn man, and he just said, 'No, Marthy, I will do my duty,' and he stuck out his leg."
"His leg!" exclaimed Daniel.
"His leg," said S. Potts, "his right leg. He was wearing carpet slippers, and he just kicked one off and went on shaking hands with his right leg, and if it hadn't been so sad I could have laughed to see him hopping on one leg to keep his balance while those glad American citizens shook that poor old rheumatic leg of his. So when that leg come loose and dropped down on the floor --"
"His right leg?" asked Daniel.
"Yes," said S. Potts, "when that one dropped, he begged to be excused from standing, and the eleven thousand handshakers that was still in line gave a cheer and excused him, and Simon Bidder sat down in a chair and gritted his teeth and stuck out his left leg and held on to the arms of the chair with both hands. They shook his left leg. They shook it so hearty and enthusiastic that the chair joggled all around the room, and them hand-shakers chased after it, hoping that leg would last out until all had shook it. But it didn't. It come off at shake number two thousand six hundred and one. Then Mrs. Bidder come up and kissed what was left of her poor husband on the face. 'Simon,' she says, 'hadn't you better retire into your boudoir and rest, my dear?' But he wouldn't, Daniel."
"S. Potts," said Daniel meekly, "I know what you say about Simon Bidder is true, or you wouldn't tell it to me, but I guess I misunderstood. You said that after he had his arms and one leg shook off he sat down and held onto the arm of the chair. I mean no disrespect to Simon Bidder, S. Potts, but if his arms was both off --"
"He held on by his teeth," said S. Potts, shortly. "He had powerful strong jaws, Simon Bidder had. So when his wife kissed him, he loosened his tooth-hold on the chair arm, and raised up his head, proud and haughty. His arms was gone, and his legs was gone, but he was still game. So he nodded to the next hand-shaker and held out his head, and the next hand-shaker took hold of his head and shook it a good shake --"
"S. Potts," said Daniel quickly, "hand me that there currycomb. I don't want to enter into politics."