The speaker is lumbering down the hall toward his lair in the East Front early in the evening that is to bring him vindication.
"I hear Phil Sharp is down," he says, reaching up a huge paw to push back his white mane.
Sharp, of Indiana, is of concern to the speaker was because Sharp has been redistricted into a Republican area.
The speaker enters a room where there are a bar, a buffet table and a score of old friends.
He greets the women with "Hello, dar-lin' ", claps the back of one of the men -- "ran New York for Kennedy in 1960" -- orders a Canadian Club and water and sits down under several caricatures of himself which only faintly exaggerate the bulbous nose and the considerable bulk.
He gestures toward the food. "Beef stew," he says and turns to his 33-year-old son, Christopher. "I've been eating beef stew on election night since before you were born, Kip."
The young waiter at the table looks slightly pained. "It's beef burgundy," he murmurs.
The telephone rings. It is Jimmy Carter.
The speaker croons, "Mr. President, How are you? You are doing great. We are doing beautiful, Mr. President."
He turns away from the phone. "Sharp is going down," he says gloomily.
Rita Hankin, his receptionist, comes in smiling with news from home: "Tip O'Neill has just been projected the winner." Everyone laughs, and the speaker says, in a reference to exit polls, one of those new devices he has no truck with, "Was that from the subway, or was it on the level?"
Hankin brings another bulletin, from Delaware. Thomas Carper, the Democrat, is winning, 54 to 49. "That makes 103, dear, but I'll take it, it's beautiful," the speaker says.
Around 9 o'clock, CBS is giving the speaker a gain of 34 seats. He looks dubious and then snorts, "If they went down, they would blame O'Neill, but if we win, Democratic National Committee Chairman Charles Manatt and Bobby Sen. Robert C. Byrd will get the credit."
He begins to move around restlessly. Kirk O'Donnell, his grave young political adviser, tells him that Sharp has been declared a winner. The speaker is in his inner office, where his sky-blue cable-knit coat sweater is draped over a chair. He wants to speak to Sharp.
He picks up the phone and says, "Phil, everything's over, you are all right. You are the first one I am congratulating. It was the Hail Marys that did it." He relaxes, lights a cigar and falls to reminiscing. "I remember, a year ago, they were saying, 'You ought to quit. Why not go out now and save yourself embarrassment?' "
He asks O'Donnell how Wheat, "the black fella," is doing. Alan Wheat is trying for the seat vacated by Missouri's Richard Bolling, who is about to undergo surgery. O'Donnell is reassuring about Wheat.
"Isn't that a beautiful thing for a guy lying in the hospital?" the speaker muses.
While keeping in touch with friends, he is keeping track of enemies. Two races are of vivid personal interest. One is "the little leprechaun who jumped the fence," a reference to Eugene V. Atkinson, the Pennsylvania Democrat who turned Republican. The speaker has been urged by his staff not to call him "Gyppo Nolan" after the principal character in "The Informer," which O'Neill regards as the greatest movie ever made.
The other is John LeBoutillier, the fork-tongued freshman from Long Island who called the speaker "big, fat and out of control -- like the federal government" and once pinned a "Repeal O'Neill" button on President Reagan.
The speaker's attention is called to Robert H. Michel, the House Republican leader locked in struggle with a 30-year-old Peoria lawyer. "I'm a Democrat and vote for Democrats," he sighs, "but, if Michel loses, the Republicans will turn over the leadership to the right wing and throw out all the moderates."
He talks about Reagan, the president who has tried and failed to make him the heavy in the campaign.
"He is a handsome, charismatic, articulate man. The one factor he has that is lacking is an ear that hears. That is what this guy doesn't have. I think it is because of the company he keeps. He has forgotten where he comes from," the speaker says.
His large eyes suddenly light up as he says, "I was walkin' down the street in Lynn campaigning for Nick Mavroulis, and this nun comes up to me and says, 'Stop callin' Ronald Reagan a decent man -- anyone who is doing what he is doing to old people and handicapped children!' I am praying for you."
He asks his secretary, Eleanor Kelly, "Would you call Millie for me like a good girl?"
"Hi, Mum," he says to Mrs. O'Neill. "Everything is going great. We haven't lost a Democrat that I know of."
O'Donnell comes in grinning. Atkinson is losing big.
"Gyppo has gone down the tubes," the speaker crows.
He is ushered out to Statuary Hall for a television interview. In the welter of wires and high technology chit-chat, he is silent and respectful, hands clasped over huge paunch. He makes a modest claim of 12 seats.
Back in his quarters, Leo Diehl, his companion and helper of 40 years, tells him that LeBoutillier has just conceded. The speaker waves his cigar; the staff cheers.
His big face is wreathed in smiles. "It's a great night for the Irish," he breathes.