The Minister for Fine Arts (to whose Department had been lately added the new sub-section of Electoral Engineering) paid a business visit to the Grand Vizier. According to Eastern etiquette they discoursed for a while on indifferent subjects. The minister only checked himself in time from making a passing reference to the Marathon Race, remembering that the Vizier had a Persian grandmother and might consider any allusion to Marathon as somewhat tactless. Presently the Minister broached the subject of his interview.
“Under the new Constitution are women to have votes?” he asked suddenly.
“To have votes? Women?” exclaimed the Vizier in some astonishment. “My dear Pasha, the New Departure has a flavor of the absurd as it is; don’t let’s try and make it altogether ridiculous. Women have no souls and no intelligence; why on earth should they have votes?”
“I know it sounds absurd,” said the Minister, “but they are seriously considering the idea in the West.”
“Then they must have a larger equipment of seriousness than I gave them credit for. After a lifetime of specialized effort in maintaining my gravity I can scarcely restrain an inclination to smile at the suggestion. Why, our womenfolk in most cases don’t know how to read or write. How could they perform the operation of voting?”
“They could be shown the names of the candidates and where to make their cross.”
“I beg your pardon?” interrupted the Vizier.
“Their crescent, I mean,” corrected the Minister. “It would be to the liking of the Young Turkish Party,” he added.
“Oh, well,” said the Vizier, “if we are to do the thing at all we may as well go the whole h-” he pulled up just as he was uttering the name of an unclean animal, and continued, “the complete camel. I will issue instructions that womenfolk are to have votes.”
The poll was drawing to a close in the Lakoumistan division. The candidate of the Young Turkish Party was known to be three or four hundred votes ahead, and he was already drafting his address, returning thanks to the electors. His victory had been almost a foregone conclusion, for he had set in motion all the approved electioneering machinery of the West. He had even employed motorcars. Few of his supporters had gone to the poll in these vehicles, but, thanks to the intelligent driving of his chauffeurs, many of his opponents had gone to their graves or to the local hospitals, or otherwise abstained from voting. And then something unlooked-for happened. The rival candidate, Ali the Blest, arrived on the scene with his wives and womenfolk, who numbered, roughly, six hundred. Ali had wasted little effort on election literature, but had been heard to remark that every vote given to his opponent meant another sack thrown into the Bosphorus. The Young Turkish candidate, who had conformed to the Western custom of one wife and hardly any mistresses, stood by helplessly while his adversary’s poll swelled to a triumphant majority.
“Cristabel Columbus!” he exclaimed, invoking in some confusion the name of a distinguished pioneer; “who would have thought it?”
“Strange,” mused Ali, “that one who harangued so clamorously about the Secret Ballot should have overlooked the Veiled Vote.”
And, walking homeward with his constituents, he murmured in his beard an improvisation on the heretic poet of Persia:
One, rich in metaphors, his Cause contrives
To urge with edged words, like Kabul knives;
And I, who worst him in this sorry game,
Was never rich in anything but—wives.
Adapted from Wikipedia: Hector Hugh Munro (December 18, 1870 – November 13, 1916), better known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer, whose witty and sometimes macabre stories satirised Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. His tales feature delicately drawn characters and finely judged narratives. “The Open Window” may be his most famous, with a closing line (“Romance at short notice was her speciality”) that has entered the lexicon.
This story is in the public domain.