When the Black Widowers opened the new season with their September banquet, following hard upon the national conventions, it was not surprising that the talk turned to politics.

Emmanuel Rubin, who was host, had (as might be expected) considerable fault to find with both candidates, and a minute analysis of their shortcomings left each sounding highly unacceptable.

Thomas Trumbull scowled. He said, "Who's your write - in candidate, then?"

"Himself," said Mario Gonzalo quickly, smoothing the lapel of a jacket that bore the pattern of a patchwork quilt of the louder sort. "Manny has voted the straight Rubin ticket for years."

Rubin said, "It certainly doesn't make sense to vote for someone I know to be less capable than I am. If, for the sake of argument, I admit I lack the capacity to be President of the United States, then any lesser man, ipso facto, should not get my vote, or anyone's."

Geoffrey Avalon, sipping slowly at his second drink, which had not yet reached the midpoint at which he automatically stopped, said austerely, "All things being equal, I don't think it good practice to oust a sitting President. Experience and continuity count for a great deal."

James Drake, peering through cigarette smoke, cleared his throat and said softly, "How much experience did he have two years ago when . . ."

Rubin interrupted and overrode Drake. "Don't reason with him, Jim. Geoff voted for Nixon in '72." His straggly beard lifted and he glared through the thick lenses of his eyeglasses.

Avalon stood more stiffly than usual and a faint flush rose to his cheeks. "I'm not ashamed of that. The chief issue in '72 was foreign policy, and I believe to this day that Nixon's foreign policy was a rational and useful one."

"He was corrupt," said Rubin.

"That was not known at the time. I cannot vote on the basis of future knowledge."

"What future knowledge? I've known he was not to be trusted ever since he entered Congress in 1947."

"We don't all have your 20 - 20 hindsight vision, Manny," said Avalon with wounded dignity.

"Hindsight, hell," said Rubin. "I can produce a hundred witnesses who heard me denounce Nixon over a period of thirty years."

"We all heard you many times right here at the Black Widowers," said Roger Halsted, looking over the hors d'oeuvres tray critically.

Avalon, reaching the halfway mark of his drink, put it down firmly and said, "I believe we're allowed our political differences, Manny. Membership in the Black Widowers does not deprive me of my civil rights."

"Vote as you please," said Rubin, "but I would like to remind you that you were the only Black Widower to vote Republican that year."

Avalon touched his neat graying mustache as though to convince himself his drink had not wetted it and said, "Does that include Henry?"

Gonzalo said eagerly, "Whom did you vote for in '72, Henry?"

Avalon said, "You needn't answer, Henry. Your political opinions are your own."

Henry, the invaluable waiter at the Black Widower banquets, was putting the final touches at the table. He said, "I have no reason to keep it secret, Mr. Avalon. Like Mr. Rubin, I distrusted the President and so, with some misgiving, I voted for the other man."

"Six to one against you, Geoff," said Rubin, grinning widely.

Avalon said, "What about your guest?" With perhaps just a touch of spite, he added, "For whom, after all, you're putting on this show."

"Because he's interviewing me?" began Rubin indignantly.

The guest closed his notebook with a snap, loudly enough to draw all eyes, and said, in a surprisingly gentle voice, "Actually, I voted for Nixon. I'm not really keyed into politics, but I generally vote Republican."

"Six to two," said Avalon, in low - voiced satisfaction, shooting a swift glance at Rubin, who looked a little put out.

Gonzalo said, looking up from the portrait he was quickly sketching of the guest, "How can you be a reporter and not be keyed in to politics?"

"I'm not exactly a ..."

Trumbull lifted his voice. "Save it for the grilling, Mario, damn you. If you'd come on time, you could have been introduced to Mr. Gardner."

"I don't have to take lessons in early arrival from you, Tom," said Gonzalo, hurt. "They're paving Park Avenue, and my taxi. . ."

Henry, waiting patiently, sent his voice through a momentary hole in the conversation. "Gentlemen, at the request of Mr. Rubin, tonight's host, our chef has been pleased to prepare a smorgasbord. If you will all be kind enough to help yourselves from the dishes on the sideboard . . ."

They lined up with the avidity of healthy trenchermen and Halsted, whose incipient paunch was eloquent evidence of his brotherly affection for calories, said, "We've never had a smorgasbord before, Manny."

"Nothing wrong with trying something new," said Rubin.

"Oh I approve - I approve." Halsted's eyes wandered avidly over the selection.

Gonzalo said, "That leaves you only semi - employed tonight, Henry." Henry smiled paternally and said, "I shall try to keep myself occupied, Mr. Gonzalo."

The sideboard's contents had been reduced to fragments, coffee was at its second cup, and brandy was being served, when Rubin clattered spoon on water glass and said, "Brother Black Widowers, it is time for the grilling, and Mario has clamored for the chance. Very much against my better judgment, I'm going to let him. Mario . . ."

Gonzalo smiled and leaned back in his seat, draping an arm negligently over the back. He said, "Mr. Gardner, I apologize for having been late. Park Avenue was being paved. . . ."

"We know all that," said Rubin. "Get on with it."

"I managed to catch up over the meal, however. You are Arthur Gardner, and you work on a free - lance basis for Personalities magazine. Am I correct so far?"

"Yes, sir." Gardner's gray hair, thick, moderately long, and well arranged, made him look the fiftyish he was, but none of his other features concurred. With a bit of hair dye he could easily have passed for something under forty. His teeth were good but his smile was uneasy. He didn't seem quite at home with the company.

Gonzalo said, "I further gather that your current assignment is that of interviewing Manny Rubin for a piece in Personalities."

"That's right. Front - of - the - book piece."

"And you've come to this dinner, as Manny's guest, as part of the assignment."

"Yes," said Gardner. "I do not conduct a simple interview. I try to sample Mr. Rubin's activities, so to speak."

"Ah," said Gonzalo, "that brings us to the key question. If your activities are concerned with presenting Manny to the public, how can you possibly justify your existence?"

Gardner said, "If Mr. Rubin can justify his, then mine is automatically justified."

Avalon laughed loudly. "That's a good answer. You're squelched, Mario."

"He was primed," said Gonzalo indignantly, "but never mind. Mr. Gardner, before dinner you said you weren't familiar with politics. Isn't that a handicap in your line of work?"

"No, sir. If I were a political reporter, it would be, but I deal with personalities."

"What if your personality is a politician?"

"I know enough for that."

"Have you ever messed up an assignment because of your ignorance of politics?"

"I'm not ignorant of politics," said Gardner softly, and not noticeably annoyed. "I have never needed more than I have, even when - I have done an interview, for instance, with Hubert Hum -"

Trumbull broke in, "Hold it, Mario. Mr. Gardner, we of the Black Widowers have grown sensitive over small things. You said, 'even when - ' then paused, and changed subjects on us. Please unchange. Even when what?"

Gardner looked genuinely puzzled, "I don't understand."

"You were about to say something and didn't. Now, what were you about to say?"

Gardner comprehended. "Oh - that's a war story that seems to bother me a bit every presidential election year. It's not important."

"Could you tell us just the same?"

"But it happened a quarter of a century ago. It's all over."

"Even so, that's the turn the grilling has taken. I'm afraid it's part of the requirements of the game that you must answer. I assure you everything said here is confidential."

Gardner looked about him, rather helplessly. "There's nothing confidential about it. It was the winter of 1950. In Korea, the army under General MacArthur had reached the Manchurian border in late November and we were all going to be home by Christmas."

"I know," said Drake, with dry reminiscence. "Then the Chinese came pouring south and caught us with our pants down."

"You're so right," said Gardner bitterly. "To this day, I don't know how we could have been caught so flat - footed. Anyway, the South Korean divisions just melted away. After all, they could become part of the countryside. Take off the uniform and each of them is just another local peasant. For Americans and the few western Allies, it was another thing. We just had to scurry south as fast as we could and stay together as best we could till we had built a line that would hold.

"Lots of us were separated from our units. I was. For five days I made my way southward wondering when some Chinese unit might spot me or when some Korean peasants might trap me for what I wore and carried.

"I hid by day and moved on by night. My rations were gone and after a while I went hungry. I didn't know what was ahead or if there was an American army anywhere at all. It was the worst defeat in the field an American army had ever suffered since the Civil War.

"The third day I came across another American soldier. I nearly shot him before I recognized him as one of us. He nearly shot me, for that matter. He was wounded and had difficulty moving. I helped him along but that slowed me down quite a bit and a dozen times I thought of leaving him behind. I couldn't quite make myself do that. I'd like to say it was a humanitarian impulse but he was another pair of eyes and he might see something that I alone would see too late. Besides that, he was company. God, I would do anything for company.

"The fifth night, he was dying. I knew it and he knew it. I didn't know what to do to help him, or to just make it easier for him. So I stayed with him and he talked. I didn't really listen, you know. I just kept trying to watch all sides at once and was half wishing he would die so that I could move on, and half wishing he wouldn't die and leave me alone.

"He was lightheaded and rambled on from topic to topic. He talked American politics. He said Truman was through and the Republicans would probably put Taft in the White House in '52. I remember he said that would be the fourth set of relatives to become Presidents and the second father - son combination. That rather stuck in my mind - I don't know why - but everything else he said is just gone, except that it was all about Presidents. I think he must have been a presidential buff and that he knew everything about them.

"Just before the end, he talked about himself and his family. He was married and had a kid, a little girl two months old whom he had never seen. He managed to get something out of a pocket and give it to me. 'Get it to her,' he said, 'please. She'll know I at least saw her holding the little girl; that I thought of them at the last.' He tried to kiss it. It was the photograph of a woman and a baby and I suppose it had reached him just before the army had fallen apart.

"I said, 'Okay. What's your name? Where do you live?' In the two days we had been together, we hadn't exhanged names. Names hadn't been important those two days.

"His eyes were glazing and he was mumbling. He said, 'My name? A good name. Presidential name. No relative, of course. Second - best vote - getter on the list. They love him.' His voice trailed away, but I remember his exact words. I thought of it a lot, you see.

"I shook him, but he was dead. Well, what could I do? I certainly wasn't going to linger behind to give him a Christian burial or anything like that. I just wanted out. But I did try to reach for his dog tags so I could hand them in if I ever got back to any American line. Also to get his name so I could deliver the photo. I thought that if I ever got back I had the obligation to try to do that.

"My hand never touched him. I heard the sound of Chinese - I guess it was Chinese - and someone was on top of me. I think he tripped over me. I tore away, using my rifle as a club, and then I ran. I heard shots but nothing hit me, and I kept running. Then up ahead I heard someone swearing in English and I raised my hand, shouting, "American! American!'

"I was with an American company and that was it. It was two more days before I got my thoughts sorted out, and part of that time I think I was on a stretcher."

There was a pause and Halsted said, "So you never got the soldier's dog tags."

"No, sir," said Gardner emphatically. "We were retreating. We didn't stop and turn till we were well south of Seoul, and then we came back only to the boundary between the two Koreas more or less. My buddy, whoever he was, died deep in North Korea, and he remains in North Korea to this day."

"Then you couldn't deliver the photo?" said Halsted.

Gardner said, "I tried. The trouble was I didn't even know what his unit was and we lost a great many men in that retreat. I checked as far as I could. I suppose I could have run a copy of the picture in some national magazine and waited for a woman to come and claim it, but that took more money than I was willing to spend.

"It bothers me a bit. His daughter should be in her late twenties now, and his wife should be my age. His wife might be dead or married again; his daughter may be a mother herself and she may never give a thought to a father she's never seen. Still - it's just possible it might be nice for them to have some little thing he touched as he was dying, some assurance they filled his dying thoughts. But what can I do? Still, when presidential elections are in the air, I think of it more than I usually do."

Avalon said, "One can't blame one's self for something that is completely outside one's control."

Halsted said, "But you said you tried, Mr. Gardner. How could you possibly have tried? You had nothing to go on."

Gardner said, "Sure I did. He said he had the name of one of the American Presidents. It was probably the accident of his name that made him such a presidential buff. And he said the President was the second  -  best vote - getter in the list and that the people loved him. That seemed clear enough to me. After I got out, I wrote to Washington and I was able to have them run a check on the names of those missing in action in the course of the retreat. It seemed certain to me that his body was never recovered so he wouldn't be listed as killed in action, and that cut down on the numbers a bit."

"I take it you didn't find anything," said Drake, lighting a fresh cigarette.

"Nothing. There wasn't a single Roosevelt on the list."

Rubin exploded. "Roosevelt? Why Roosevelt?"

Gardner looked surprised. "Why not Roosevelt? It's the obvious name considering what he said. The only name. I don't know why there wasn't someone by that name missing in action. It could be typical Army snafu, but since there wasn't I came to a dead end."

"How do you make out Roosevelt?" said Rubin.

"Surely you're old enough to remember the 1936 election. I was ten years old then, but I remember the fuss it made. Franklin Roosevelt carried forty - six of the forty - eight states and left poor Alf Landon with Maine and Vermont only - eight electoral votes."

"And that made him second best?"

"Well, Washington was elected twice by unanimous vote of the electoral college, in 1788 and in 1792. That put him in first place. You can't do better than unanimous. And FDR is in second place."

Avalon, sitting bolt upright, his neat little pepper - and - salt beard giving him the air of a sage whenever he drew his eyebrows together and grew portentous, said, "Actually not. In 1820, James Monroe, our fifth President, was running for re - election. The United States was practically a one - party nation at the time. The Federalist Party had virtually committed suicide by engaging injudiciously in what came to be considered treasonable activity during the War of 1812. Everyone who counted politically, therefore, called himself a Democratic - Republican. Later on new factions and new parties formed about several of the dominant personalities, but that time had not yet come. Therefore, Monroe ran for re - election with no formal opposition." He paused and gazed about at the others with a touch of complacence fr

Tom Trumbull said, "Come on, Geoff, you just happened to read all about this recently, so don't make it sound as though you're dredging it up from some deep well of remembered knowledge. What are you getting at?"

"I did not read about it recently. These are facts every schoolchild knows, or would know if schools were worth anything these days. The point is that Monroe got every electoral vote but one. The lone dissenter - from New Hampshire, I believe - cast his vote for John Quincy Adams, for the express purpose of keeping it from being unanimous. No man but Washington, he said, should be elected unanimously.

"You see, then," Avalon continued, "that if Washington is in first place as a vote - getter, Monroe is in second place, F.D.R is only in third. That is why you found no Roosevelts among the missing in action. The dead soldier's name must have been Monroe. . . ."

Gardner stared about him with astonishment. "Incredible!" he said. "I can't believe it. I never thought for one minute there was anyone other than Roosevelt that it could be. Are you sure?"

Avalon shrugged. "We can look it up. We have a couple of almanacs on the reference shelf."

"Don't bother to get the almanac, Henry," said Rubin. "Geoff is right; at least in this case."

Gardner said, "I suppose I can get back to Washington on this. The army must keep its records forever. You know, I feel rotten. If I hadn't been so cocksure, I might have found the wife and child a quarter of a century ago."

"I don't know," said Drake thoughtfully. "It seems to me there are two parts to the identification. The President was the second - best vote - getter, and the people loved him. I'll grant Roosevelt's popularity, but how did Monroe stand?"

"Nowhere," said Rubin at once. "Nowhere. He inherited the presidency because it had become almost traditional at the time to have it go to a Virginian. He was the fourth Virginian out of five Presidents, the four being Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Monroe was the last and the least of them. His only great accomplishment was the Monroe Doctrine, and that was really the product of John Quincy Adams, his Secretary of State."

"Well, then, was it Monroe or wasn't it Monroe?" said Gardner. "You've got me completely mixed up. What's the answer?"

"I'm not sure," said, Rubin, "but I'm positive it wasn't Monroe. Look, the Constitution gives the right to elect the President to the electoral college, and for the first eight elections or so there aren't even any records of any popular vote. No Presidential candidate had to squeeze votes out of the general public in those years; he had to intrigue for the votes of a few electors. That wasn't vote - getting in our modern sense and if we're going to try to figure out first and second place in vote - getting, we'll have to eliminate the early Presidents. I'm sure the soldier never thought of either Washington or Monroe in any vote - getting capacity."

Gardner rubbed the line of his jawbone. "When did the vote - getting start?"

Rubin said, frowning, 'The first modern election campaign, a libelous circus featuring dirty tricks, was in 1840. That was William Henry Harrison winning over Martin Van Buren. I suspect we ought to start with him."

Avalon said, "No, Manny. The 1840 election may have set the style but I think we've got to start with Andrew Jackson back in 1832."

"All right," said Rubin, casting his right hand upward as though negligently tossing away a point. "Start with Andy Jackson."

Drake, sitting back in his chair, peered at the rest out of his contact lenses and said, "Johnson got a landslide vote in 1964 and Nixon got one in 1972, but the soldier died in late 1950. . . ."

"Right," said Gardner. "Truman was President then, so we have to stop with him."

Avalon said, "I'm pretty sure that if we restrict ourselves to the Presidents between Jackson and Truman, both included, then the greatest vote - getter was Roosevelt in 1936 and the second greatest - and I'm certain of this - was Warren Harding over James Cox in 1920."

Gardner said, "Are you saying then it's Harding?"

"No, we're not," said Rubin quickly. "No one in their right mind can possibly suppose that your soldier friend would be proud of the presidential aspect of his name if he were named Harding."

Drake said, "If Geoff is right and Harding won by the second biggest landslide in terms of percentages, then Harding it is. You can't argue with figures."

"Yes, you can," said Rubin. "You can deny that one particular set of figures is the basis of the judgment. The fact is that in all the history of the presidency no one can possibly be considered for the top mark as a vote - getter but Roosevelt; that's why I was so astonished when Gardner decided on him as second - best. But why is Roosevelt considered tops? Not through percentage points, but because he was elected in four successive presidential years, 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944, and no other President has been elected more than twice. It's the number of elections that counts."

Gardner said, "That doesn't do any good. Who's in second place, then?"

Rubin said, "Well, I don't know. It should be one of the two - term Presidents, but how can we say which? It depends on your soldier friend's prejudices and predilections."

"Perhaps not," said Avalon. "If he was a presidential buff, he must have had some logical criterion for his choice and we ought to be able to find it."

Gonzalo said, "There's the bit about his being loved. Which President was most loved by the people after Roosevelt? That should tell us."

Rubin said, "I don't think so. All Presidents were loved by most of those who voted for him. It's a kind of automatic reflex. Hell, I would say that right now there is a quarter of the electorate that think Nixon was done dirt and that love him still. I think we ought to be careful how we use that criterion."

Avalon said, "Well, let's not talk aimlessly. Roosevelt was our only four - term winner and there were no three - term winners. Therefore we have to pick our second - best vote - getter out of those Presidents who won two elections. From Jackson to Truman there were six two - election winners, if I count correctly. I'll name them and you check me off, Manny, and if we get into an argument, we'll refer to the almanac. The two - term winners are Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Woodrow Wilson.

"Now we can start eliminating, and Manny, you continue to correct me, if necessary. Lincoln's first election in 1860 was a fluke and no tribute really to his vote - getting ability. It so happened that he faced a disunited Democratic Party, which ran both Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge against him. I think a fellow called Bell also ran. Had Lincoln faced a united opposition, he'd have been snowed under. As it was, he managed to get a majority of the electoral votes with a minority of the popular vote.

"The same is true of Woodrow Wilson, who faced both Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1912. If the Republican Party had been united, Wilson would have been badly beaten. As for Grover Cleveland, he won twice but not in successive election years. He beat James Blaine in 1884 and Benjamin Harrison in 1892, but was defeated in 1888. That makes him both twenty - second and twenty - fourth President, the only man in American history to get two presidential numbers.

"That leaves just three Presidents who won two successive elections without benefit of a major split in the opposition, and they were Jackson, Grant, and McKinley. The second best has to be one of them."

Avalon stopped for a few minutes, then said, "Only I'm not sure which."

Trumbull said, "What's the good of an analysis that leaves us with three candidates?"

Gonzalo said, "I still say we've got to remember that the soldier said the people loved him. It has to play some part."

Rubin shrugged. "I don't know; I mistrust that. But let's see. For instance, McKinley was a gentle and lovable soul in his private life, but he was a weak President and stirred few hearts. In fact, it was his losing opponent, William Jennings Bryan, who received the fanatical adoration of his followers."

Gonzalo said, "That makes McKinley all the better as a vote - getter, if he ran against a strong opponent."

"Maybe," said Rubin, "but we're working now on the supposition that the man we're after won and was loved. So it's not McKinley. Grant was a war hero, so there were plenty of people to idolize him. However, his victories were over another part of the nation, and they didn't love him in the southern states."

"Besides, he was corrupt, wasn't he?" said Gonzalo.

"Not he himself. Those around him. And that was not fully realized till after the re - election victory of 1872, so it has nothing to do with the case. That leaves us Andrew Jackson, a strong vote - getter, idolized by many of those who were for him and with his popularity spread widely over the nation."

"He was well hated by some," growled Trumbull.

"Every President is. Even F.D.R. No, I'm pretty sure that second best would have to be Jackson. And it's a common name, too. I'll bet there were a number of Jacksons missing in action in that winter retreat in Korea."

There was a longish silence, and then Gardner said, "Well, I'll try to track down the Jacksons. Maybe to play it safe I ought to get names and addresses on the Hardings and Monroes and McKinleys too."

Avalon said, "Maybe you'll have to make a list of anyone with a presidential name. Manny's argument is ingenious, but it's too refined to carry conviction. I suspect Manny realizes that, too."

Rubin was stung into instant defense. "No such thing. There is no other sensible way of working out the problem, given the data. If anyone can supply one, I should like to hear it, that's all."

"Is that a general challenge?" said Gonzalo.

"It is," said Rubin.

"Even to Henry?"

"Even to Henry," said Rubin, after a slight hesitation. "I don't see how he can improve it."

"That's your cue, Henry," said Gonzalo, grinning. "Knock him dead."

Henry, who had long since cleared the sideboard and who had been listening with the greatest interest, said, "I can scarcely claim to know more of American history than Mr. Rubin or Mr. Avalon."

Gonzalo said, "Come on, Henry, they'll tell you any history you want to know. Just improve on Manny's argument."

"I'm not sure that I can," said Henry cautiously, "but I have a question of Mr. Gardner, if I may."

Gardner, who looked puzzled at the sudden entry of the waiter into the argument, said, "Yes, of course."

Several of the gentlemen, and you yourself, have spoken of the second - best vote - getter having been loved by the people. That, however, is not my recollection of the wording in your account. Did the dying soldier say, 'The people loved him'?"

Gardner thought for a moment. "No. He said, 'They love him.'"

"Are you sure, sir? It was years ago."

"I admit that. But I thought about it a lot that first year and it was 'They love him.'"

Gonzalo said, "I see what Henry's driving at. The 'they' doesn't refer to people generally, and once we figure out to whom it does refer, we've got it. Right, Henry?"

"Well, no, Mr. Gonzalo," said Henry. "I rather imagine it does refer to the people; I just wanted to get the exact wording. Mr. Gardner, was it a complete statement, or was the soldier trying to add something to it?"

"There you've got me, Henry. I don't know."

"But it was the last thing he said. 'They love him.' He didn't say anything after that? He might have intended to say something more, to add to the statement, but couldn't make it?"

"I suppose so, but I don't know."

Trumbull said impatiently, "What's all this about, Henry?"

Henry said, "I'm not quite certain, yet. I am curious, however, about something Mr. Rubin said. Sir, did you say that Grover Cleveland was elected for two nonconsecutive terms?"

"That's right, Henry," said Rubin, "in 1884 and 1892."

"And he was defeated in 1888?"

"Yes, by Benjamin Harrison, on whom he turned the tables in 1892. It was very unusual. A President in office was defeated for re - election in two elections running, and the same two candidates in those elections swapped victory and defeat."

Henry said patiently, "Yes, Mr. Rubin, but the point is that Grover Cleveland ran as a candidate of one of the major parties three times in succession."

"So he did. But he only won twice."

"I understand. Of the other five two - term candidates, did any other run a third time?"

"Andrew Jackson did. He ran three times and was elected only twice."

Avalon said, "Henry Clay and William Jennings Bryan ran three times each and each lost every time. Henry Clay . . ."

Trumbull overrode him hastily, "Nixon ran three times and won twice but that was after Truman."

Henry said, "How did Cleveland do in the middle race? The one he lost?"

Rubin said, "I can't give you the exact figures, but I think it was a narrow loss."

Henry said, "Perhaps we should now turn to the almanac." He went to the reference shelf and brought it back.

Rubin said, "Let me look it up. I know about where it is."

He riffled the pages, then ran his fingers down one page, whistling softly. "Here it is. Oh good God, he lost in the electoral college 233 to 168 but he had the lead in the popular vote. He was nearly 400,000 votes ahead of Harrison. Not an absolute majority because there were a couple of minor candidates in the field, Prohibitionists and Laborites."

Henry said, "Then it seems to me that if Franklin D. Roosevelt led the field in four successive elections, Grover Cleveland led the field in three successive elections and he can be considered the second - best vote - getter."

Avalon, however, said, "Hold on." He had been running through the almanac's pages. "Manny said Jackson ran a third time, too. He ran and was defeated in 1824, but he had the plurality in that year. Jackson also led the field in three successive elections." He held the page up before Henry's eyes.

"That is so, sir," said Henry, "but Mr. Rubin had discarded victories over a split opposition. In 1824, Jackson ran against three major opponents. Cleveland led the field three times in a row against a single unified opposition each time. He's still second best."

Rubin said, "Well, Henry, you convince me. But how did you know? Did you just happen to know that Cleveland led Harrison in the popular vote the time Cleveland lost?"

Gonzalo said, "It's no mystery. While we were all arguing. Henry just looked up all the statistics in the almanac. Right, Henry?"

"No, sir," said Henry, "it wasn't necessary to go to the almanac."

"Frankly," said Gardner impatiently, "I don't think that Henry's analysis is any more convincing than the others."

"It would not be," said Henry, "if it depended on the election statistics, but I just used those to confirm a decision made on other grounds."

"On what other grounds, Henry?" said Avalon sternly. "Don't play games with us."

"It did occur to me, Mr. Avalon, when Mr. Gardner told his story, that it was possible the dying soldier was not merely making a statement when he said. They love him,' but was attempting to complete a quotation. This is especially so since, if Mr. Gardner's memory is right, he used the present tense."

"Well, Henry?"

"I seemed to recall that there is a well - known quotation in the history of politics that goes, 'They love him most for the enemies he has made.' I thought the reference might have been to Franklin Roosevelt, but I didn't really know. While you were arguing, therefore, I consulted Bartlett. The remark was made on July 9, 1884, by one Edward Stuyvesant Bragg, who was, at the time, seconding the nomination of Grover Cleveland."

And the awed silence that followed was broken by Gardner, who said softly, "You've sold me, Henry. Mind if I do an article on you someday?"

Henry smiled and shook his head. "I'd rather you didn't, sir. I value my anonymity."

"Second Best" - Afterword

"Second Best" was written in August 1976 in the heat of a presidential campaign. I suppose it was inevitable that, with my mind on what was taking place, I would do a Black Widowers story that dealt with elections.

That was not very bright of me. I am experienced enough to understand that one should not deal with things that are topical at the time of writing - but at the time of publishing. After all, it takes about nine months between the time a story is accepted by EQMM and the time it is published.

Though I submitted the story quite confidently (since I was fond of it), Fred Dannay shot it right back. It would have to appear after the election, and the readers would be sated with the subject by then.

It was embarrassing to make so elementary a mistake, but it had its advantage, too. In each of the first two books of this series, I included three stories that had not appeared in any form prior to book publication, and I intended to have three such stories in this third book as well. "Second Best" was hied away cheerfully as the first of them.

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