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His Stock In Trade








From: Laughing Bill Hyde And Other Stories

"The science of salesmanship is quite as exact as the science of
astronomy," said Mr. Gross, casting his eyes down the table to see
that he had the attention of the other boarders, "and much more
intricate. The successful salesman is as much an artist in his line as
the man who paints pictures or writes books."

"Oh, there's nothing so artistic as writing books," protested Miss
Harris, the manicurist. "Nothing except acting, perhaps. Actors are
artistic, too. But salesmen! I meet lots in my business, and I'm not
strong for them."

Mr. Gross smiled at her indulgently; it was an expression that became
him well, and he had rehearsed it often.

"The power to sell goods is a talent, my dear Miss Harris, just like
the power to invent machinery or to rule a city, or--or--to keep a set
of books. Don't you agree with me, Mrs. Green?"

Mrs. Green, the landlady, a brown, gray woman in black, smiled
frigidly. "You're so original, Mr. Gross," said she, "it's a
pleasure to hear you, I'm sure."

Gross was an impressive talker, due to the fact that he plagiarized
office platitudes; he ran on pompously, dropping trade mottoes and
shop-worn bits of philosophy until young Mitchell, unable longer to
endure the light of admiration he saw in Miss Harris's eyes, rolled
up his napkin to the size of a croquette and interrupted by noisily
shoving back his chair and muttering under his breath:

"That stuff comes on printed cards. They give it away."

Mrs. Green called to him, "It's bread pudding, Mr. Mitchell, and very
nice."

"Thanks! My gout is bad again," he said, at which some of the more
frivolous-minded boarders snickered.

"Mitchell is a bright boy--in many ways," Gross remarked, a moment
later, "but he's too fresh. I don't think he'll last long at the
office."

Instead of climbing to his hall kennel on the fourth floor rear, Louis
Mitchell went out upon the rusty little porch of the boarding-house
and sat down on the topmost step, reflecting gloomily that a clerk has
small chance against a head bookkeeper.

Life at Mrs. Green's pension--she called it that, rates six dollars
up, terms six dollars down--had not been the same for the youthful
hermit of the hall bedroom since Gross had met him and Miss Harris in
the park a few Sundays before and, falling under the witchery of the
manicurist's violet eyes, had changed his residence to coincide with
theirs. Gross now occupied one of the front rooms, and a corresponding
place in the esteem of those less fortunate boarders to whom the mere
contemplation of ten dollars a week was an extravagance. Mitchell had
long adored the blonde manicurist, but once the same roof sheltered
her and the magnificent head bookkeeper, he saw his dream of love and
two furnished rooms with kitchenette go glimmering.

Time was when Miss Harris had been content with Sundays in the park,
vaudeville--first balcony--on Wednesdays, and a moving picture now and
then. These lavish attentions, coupled with an occasional assault upon
some delicatessen establishment, had satisfied her cravings for the
higher life. Now that Gross had appeared and sown discord with his
prodigality she no longer cared for animals and band concerts, she had
acquired the orchestra-seat habit, had learned to dance, and, above
all, she now possessed a subtle refinement in regard to victuals. She
criticized Marlowe's acting, and complained that cold food gave her
indigestion. No longer did she sit the summer evenings out with
Mitchell, holding his hand in her lap and absent-mindedly buffing his
nails, warning him in sweet familiarity that his cuticle was "growing
down." In consequence of her defection, fierce resentment smoldered in
the young man's breast. He was jealous; he longed to out-squander
the extravagant Mr. Gross; he lusted to spend money in unstinted
quantities, five dollars an evening if or when necessary.

But there seemed little hope of his ever attaining such a purse-proud
position, for while he loomed fairly large in the boarding-house
atmosphere of Ohio Street--or had so loomed until the advent of the
reckless bookkeeper--he was so small a part of the office force of
Comer & Mathison, jobbers of railway supplies, as to resemble nothing
multiplied by itself. He received twelve dollars a week, to be sure,
for making telephone quotations and extending invoices between times;
but when, as the evening shadows of pay-day descended and he drew his
envelope, the procedure reminded him vaguely of blackmail, for any
office-boy who did not stutter could have held his job.

When at seven forty-five Miss Harris appeared upon the porch with her
hat and gloves and two-dollar-ticket air, and tripped gaily away in
company with Mr. Gross, young Mitchell realized bitterly that the cost
of living had increased and that it was up to him to raise his salary
or lose his lady.

He recalled Gross's words at supper-time, and wondered if there really

could be a science to business; if there could be anything to success
except hard work. Mr. Comer, in his weekly talks to the office
force, had repeatedly said so--whence the origin of the bookkeeper's
warmed-over wisdom--but Mitchell's duties were so simple and so
constricted as to allow no opening for science, or so, at least, it
seemed to him. How could he be scientific, how could he find play for
genius when he sat at the end of a telephone wire and answered routine
questions from a card? Every day the General Railway Sales Manager
gave him a price-list of the commodities which C. & M. handled, and
when an inquiry came over the 'phone all he was required, all he
was permitted, to do was to read the figures and to quote time of
delivery. If this resulted in an order the Sales Manager took the
credit. An open quotation, on the other hand, made Mitchell the
subject of brusque criticism for offering a target to competitors, and
when he lost an order he was the goat, not the General Railway Sales
Manager.

No one around the office was too lowly to exact homage from the
quotation clerk, and no one was tongue-tied in the matter of
criticism, hence his position was neither one of dignity nor one
that afforded scope for talent in the money-making line. And yet if
salesmanship really were a science, Mitchell reasoned, there must
be some way in which even a switchboard operator could profit by
acquiring it. What if he were buckled to the end of a wire? Human
nature is the same, face to face or voice to voice; surely then, if
he set his mind to the task, he could make himself more than a mere
string of words over a telephone. Heretofore he had been working
wholly with his fingers, his ear-drums, and his vocal cords; he
determined henceforth to exercise his intelligence, if he had any. It
was indeed high time, for Miss Harris was undoubtedly slipping away,
lured by luxuries no clerk could afford, and, moreover, he, Mitchell,
was growing old; in a scant two years he would be able to vote. He
began forthwith to analyze the situation.

There wasn't much to it. His telephone calls came almost wholly
from the purchasing departments of the various railroads. Daily
requisitions were filled by the stenographers in those railway
offices, young ladies who through their long experience were allowed
to attend to the more unimportant purchases. It was in quoting prices
on these "pick-ups" that Mitchell helloed for eight hours a day.
Of course no large orders ever came over his wire, but this small
business carried an unusual profit for supply houses like Comer &
Mathison, and in consequence it was highly prized.

After a period of intense and painful thought the young man realized,
for the first time, that it was not the telephone itself which asked
for price and time of delivery, but a weak, imaginative human being,
like himself, at the other end of the wire. He reasoned further that
if he could convince that person that the voice from Conner & Mathison
likewise issued from a human throat, then it might be possible to get
away, in a measure at least, from the mechanical part of the business
and establish altogether new relations. If there were really a
science to salesmanship, it would work at long distance as well as at
collar-and-elbow holds, and Mitchell's first task, therefore, should
be to project his own personality into the railroad offices. He went
to bed still trying to figure the matter out.

His opportunity to test his new-born theory came on the following
morning when an irritable female voice over at the Santa Fe asked the
price on twenty kegs of rivets.

"Good morning, Santa Fe-male," he answered, cheerily.

There was a moment of amazed silence, then the young lady snapped:
"'Good morning'? What is this, the Weather Bureau? I want Comer &
Mathison."

"Gee! Can't a fellow display a little courtesy in business?" Mitchell
inquired. "I'd rather be nice to you than not."

"All right, Mr. Comer," the voice replied, sarcastically. "Make a nice
price on those rivets--and cut out the kidding."

"Listen; my name's not Comer; it's Mitchell. I'm not kidding, either.
I want you to ask for me whenever you call up. Every little bit helps,
you know."

"Oh, I see. You want the carriage man to call your number. All right,
Mitch. If you're out at lunch with Mr. Carnegie the next time I want a
dozen number ten sheets I'll have you paged at the Union League Club."

If the speaker liked this kind of blank verse, she had called up the
right supply house, for Mitchell came back with:

"Say, if I ever get your number, I'll do the calling, Miss Santa
Fe."

"W-what?" came the startled reply.

"I mean what I say. I'd love to call--"

"Is that so? Well, I do all the calling for our, family, and I'm going
to call you right now. What's the price of those rivets?"

"Two sixty-five."

"Too high! Good-by."

"Wait a minute." Mitchell checked the lady before she could "plug out"
on him. "Now that you've got those rivets out of your system, may I
get personal for an instant?"

"Just about an instant."

"I could listen to you all day."

"Oops, Horace; he loves me!" mocked the lady's voice.

"See here, I'm a regular person--with references. I've been talking to
you every day for six months, so I feel that we're acquainted. Some
pleasant evening, when your crew of hammock gladiators palls on you,
let me come around and show you the difference."

"What difference?"

"I'll show you what a real porch-climber is like."

"Indeed! I'll think it over."

Ten minutes later Miss Santa Fe called up again.

"Hello! I want Mitchell, the junior partner."

"This is Mitchell."

"Did you say those rivets were two-fifty?"

"Should they be?"

"They should."

"They are."

"Ship them to Trinidad."

"That's bully of you, Miss Santa Claus. I want to--" But the wire was
dead.

Mitchell grinned. Personality did count after all, and he had proved
that it could be projected over a copper wire.

An hour later when Miss Northwestern called him for a price on
stay-bolt iron she did not ring off for fifteen minutes, and at the
end of that time she promised to take the first opportunity of having
another chat. In a similar manner, once the ice had been broken at
the C. & E.I., Mitchell learned that the purchasing agent was at West
Baden on his vacation; that he had stomach trouble and was cranky;
that the speaker loved music, particularly Chaminade and George Cohan,
although Beethoven had written some good stuff; that she'd been to
Grand Haven on Sunday with her cousin, who sold hats out of Cleveland
and was a prince with his money, but drank; and that the price on
corrugated iron might be raised ten cents without doing any damage.

On the following afternoon Murphy, the Railroad Sales Manager, stopped
on his way past Mitchell's desk to inquire:

"Say, have you been sending orchids to Miss Dunlap over at the Santa
Fe? I was in there this morning, and she wanted to know all about
you."

"Did you boost me?" Louis inquired. "It won't hurt your sales to plug
my game."

"She said you and she are 'buddies' over the wire. What did she mean?"

"Oh, wire pals, that's all. What kind of a looker is she, Mr. Murphy?"

The Sales Manager shrugged his shoulders. "She looks as if she was
good to her mother." Then he sauntered away.

Mitchell, in the days that followed, proceeded to become acquainted
with the Big Four, and in a short time was so close to the Lackawanna
that he called her Phoebe Snow. The St. Paul asked for him three times
in one afternoon, and the Rock Island, chancing to ring up while he
was busy, threatened to hang crepe on the round-house if he were not
summoned immediately to enter an order for a manhole crab.

Within a week he became the most thoroughly telephoned person in the
office, and had learned the tastes, the hopes, the aims, and the
ambitions of his respective customers. Miss C. & E.I., for instance,
whose real name was Gratz, was a bug on music; Miss Northwestern was
literary. She had read everything Marion Crawford ever wrote, and
considered her the greatest writer Indiana had produced, but was sorry
to learn from Mitchell that her marriage to Capt. Jack Crawford had
turned out so unhappily--some men were brutes, weren't they? There was
a hidden romance gnawing at the Big Four's heart, and Phoebe Snow
had a picture of James K. Hackett on her desk and wanted to start a
poultry farm. The Santa Fe had been married once, but had taken her
maiden name, it was so much pleasanter in business.

As Mitchell's telephone orders piled up, day after day, Murphy began
to treat him more like an employee than a "hand," and finally offered
him a moderate expense account if he cared to entertain his railroad
trade. When the young man's amazement at this offer had abated
sufficiently for him to accept he sent the office-boy around to the
Santa Fe on the run, instructing him to size up Miss Dunlap and
report. It was the first order he had ever issued in the office, and
the news spread quickly that he had been "raised."

Mr. Gross took occasion to congratulate the despised underling with
pompous insincerity, whereat Louis admonished him scowlingly to beat
it back to his trial balance or he'd bounce a letter-press on his
dome.

When the office-boy reappeared he turned in a laconic report, "She's a
peach!"

Mitchell sweated the lad for further details, then nearly strained a
tendon in getting to the telephone booth.

"Hello, Miss Dunlap," he called. "Are you tied up for to-night?"

"I'm knot. The k is silent."

"Will you go to the theater with me?"

"Nickelodeon?"

"No, Montgomery and Stone."

The lady muttered something unintelligible, then she tittered
nervously. "Those top balconies make me dizzy."

"How about the orchestra--sixth row? Could you keep your head there?"

"You must own a bill-board."

"No, it's a bank-book; same initials, you see. I'm an heiress."

"See here, Mitch"--Miss Dunlap became serious--"you're a good little
copper-wire comedian, but I don't know you nor your people."

"Well, I come from one of the oldest families in Atwood, Michigan, and
that town was settled over thirty years ago."

"But you don't know me," the lady demurred.

"I do, too. You're a tall blonde, gray eyes, blue dress; you have a
dimple--"

"Well, I declare! All right, then; seven-thirty to-night, six hundred
and twelve Filbert Street, fourth apartment, and many thanks."

Fifteen minutes before the appointed time Louis Mitchell was fidgeting
nervously outside the Filbert Street cold-water "walk-up" known as
Geraldine Manor, wondering if Miss Dunlap would notice his clothes.
Twelve dollars a week had starved his wardrobe until it resembled the
back-drop for a "Pity the Blind" card; but promptly on the minute
he punched the button at the fourth apartment. An instant later he
realized that no matter how he looked he had it on Miss Dunlap by
eighty per cent.

She was a blonde, to be sure, for the time being, and by the grace of
H{2}O{2}. One glance convinced her caller of two things--viz.,
that his office-boy did not care much for peaches, and that the Santa
Fe purchasing agent had a jealous wife. The most that possibly could
be said in praise of Miss Dunlap's appearance was that she was the
largest stenographer in Chicago. Then and there, however, her caller
qualified as a salesman; he smiled and he chatted in a free and easy
way that had the lady roped, thrown, and lashed to his chariot in
three minutes by her alarm-clock.

They went to the theater, and when Montgomery sprang a joke or Stone
did a fall Miss Dunlap showed her appreciation after the fashion of a
laughing hyena. Between times she barked enthusiastically, giving vent
to sounds like those caused when a boy runs past a picket fence with a
stick in his hand. She gushed, but so does Old Faithful. Anyhow, the
audience enjoyed her greatly.

At supper Mitchell secured parking space for his companion at the
Union Cafe, and there he learned how a welsh rabbit may be humiliated
by a woman. During the debacle he fingered the money in his pocket,
then shut his eyes and ordered a bottle of champagne, just to see if
it could be done. Contrary to his expectation, the waiter did not
swoon; nor was he arrested. Root-beer had been Mitchell's main
intoxicant heretofore, but as he and the noisy Miss Dunlap sipped the
effervescing wine over their ice-cream, they pledged themselves to
enjoy Monday evenings together, and she told him, frankly:

"Mitch, you're the nickel-plated entertainer, and I'll never miss
another Monday eve unless I'm in the shops or the round-house. You
certainly have got class."

At breakfast Miss Harris regarded Lotus darkly, for Mr. Gross had told
her just enough to excite her curiosity.

"Where were you last night?" she inquired.

"I went to a show."

"Were the pictures good?"

"They don't have pictures at the Grand."

"Oh--h!" The manicurist's violet eyes opened wide. "Louis--you drank
something. You're awful pale. What was it?"

"Clicquot! That's my favorite brand."

Miss Harris clutched the table-cloth and pulled a dish into her lap.
After a moment she said: "Maybe you'll take me somewhere to-night. We
haven't been out together for the longest time."

"Oh, I see! This is Gross's night at the Maccabbees', isn't it?" Louis
gloated brutally over her confusion. "Sorry, but I'll probably have to
entertain some more customers. The firm is keeping me busy."

At the office things went most pleasantly for the next few weeks;
sixty per cent. of the city's railroad business came to Comer &
Mathison; the clerks began to treat Mitchell as if he were an equal;
even Gross lost his patronizing air and became openly hateful, while
Murphy--Louis no longer called him Mister--increased his assistant's
expense account and confided some of his family affairs to the latter.
Mr. Comer, the senior partner, began to nod familiarly as he passed
the quotation clerk's desk.

Nor were Louis's customers all so eccentric as Miss Dunlap. Phoebe
Snow, for instance, was very easy to entertain, and the Northwestern
took to his custody like a hungry urchin to a barbecue. He gave them
each one night a week, and in a short time all his evenings were
taken, as a consequence of which he saw less and less of Miss Harris.
But, although he and his manicurist were becoming strangers, he soon
began to call the waiters at Rector's by their given names, and a
number of the more prominent cab-drivers waved at him.

One morning when, for the tenth successive time, he slid into his
desk-chair an hour late, Mr. Comer bowed to him, not only familiarly,
but sarcastically, then invited him to step into his private office
and see if he could locate the center of the carpet. It was a
geometrical task that Louis had been wishing to try for some time.

The senior partner began with elaborate sarcasm. "I notice you're
not getting down until nine o'clock lately, Mr. Mitchell. Is your
automobile out of order?"

"I have no automobile, Mr. Comer," the youth replied, respectfully.

"No? I'm surprised. Well, if eight sharp is too early, you may set
your time."

Mitchell tried his best to appear disconcerted. "You know I'm busy
every evening with my trade," said he.

"Nonsense. I've seen you out with a different dressmaker every night
that I've been down-town."

"Those are not dressmakers, they are stenographers from the railroad
offices. I'm sorry you're not satisfied with me, but I'm glad you
called me in, for I've been meaning to speak to you about this very
thing. You see, I have practically all the railroad business in the
city, and it takes too much of my time keeping it lined up. I have no
leisure of my own. I'll quit Saturday night, if convenient."

Mr. Comer grunted like a man who has stepped off a flight of stairs
one step too soon. "I didn't know it was really business. Of course,
if it is, why, you needn't quit--exactly--"

"I'm afraid I'll have to." Mitchell dropped his eyes demurely. "I've
had a number of offers, and in justice to myself--"

"Offers? You? How much?"

"One hundred a month and expenses."

Mr. Comer removed his glasses, he polished them carefully, then he
readjusted them and leaned forward, looking the young man over from
head to foot, as if he had never until this moment seen more than his
vague outlines.

"Um-m! You're nineteen years old, I believe!"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, then, an hour's delay won't be serious. Now you go back to
your desk and send Mr. Murphy here. I'll let you know shortly whether
Saturday night or this noon will be convenient."

It was perhaps a half-hour before lunch-time when Mr. Comer again
called for Mitchell, greeting him with the gruff inquiry:

"See here, do you think I'm going to advance you from twelve to
twenty-five a week at one clip?"

"No, sir."

"Humph! I'm not. I had a talk with Murphy. I think he's a liar, but
I'm going to make it fifteen hundred a year and expenses. Now get busy
and work your 'trade' for all it's worth."

Young Mitchell's knees wabbled, but, having learned the value of a
black mask and a gun, he went through his victim thoroughly while he
had him down.

"I'd like a traveling position the first of the year, sir, if you
don't mind."

"All right! If you hold your present gait I'll give you the Western
roads. Anything else you'd like? Well, then, git!"

That day Louis switched from the narrow-countered bakery-lunch route
to regular standard-gauge restaurants; he ordered clothes like a
bookmaker's bride and he sent a cubic foot of violets to Miss Harris.
At dinner-time he patronized Mr. Gross so tantalizingly that the
latter threatened to pull his nose out until it resembled a yard of
garden hose.

The whole boarding-house was agog at Mitchell's good fortune and
Miss Harris smiled on him in a manner reminiscent of the good old
ante-bookkeeper--one might say "ante-vellum"--days. She hinted that
Mr. Gross's company did not wholly satisfy her soul-hunger, and even
confessed that she was lonely; but this was Mitchell's Rock Island
evening, and although the frank surrender in Miss Harris's eyes caused
him to gasp as if he were slowly settling into a barrel of ice-water,
he tore himself from her side.

Louis's batting average would have reached one thousand had it not
been for the Monon. Miss Day, the young lady there, had a vocabulary
limited to "Hello," "Too high," and "Good-by," and it became
particularly galling to learn that the fellow at James & Naughten's
was pulling down the business, so Mitchell went to Murphy with a
proposition which showed that his mental growth had kept pace with his
financial advancement.

"You need a new stenographer," he declared.

"Oh, do I? Why do I need a new stenographer, Mr. Bones?"

"Well, it would be a good investment, and I know a corker."

"Who is she?"

"Miss Day, of the Monon."

"I didn't know you cared for Miss Day."

"I don't. That's the reason I want her to work for you."

Murphy coughed slightly, then he agreed. "You're learning the game.
We'll give her a three-dollar raise, and take her on."

Shortly thereafter Mitchell began to get acquainted with the new Miss
Monon along the right lines, and gave her Thursday nights. She was a
great improvement over Miss Day; she was, in fact, quite different
from any of the others. She was small and winsome, and she didn't care
to run around. She liked her home, and so did Mitchell after he had
called a few times. Before long he began to look forward eagerly
to Thursday nights and Miss Monon's cozy corner with its red-plush
cushions--reminiscent of chair-cars, to be sure--and its darkness
illumined dimly by red and green signal lamps. Many a pleasant evening
the two spent there, talking of locomotive planished iron, wire
nails, and turnbuckles, and the late lunch Miss Monon served beat the
system's regular buffet service a city block. Of course they lit the
red fire in front of James & Naughten's and turned the green light
Mitchell's way. He had the right of way on the Monon after that, and
other salesmen were side-tracked.

But this was too easy to last. Human affairs never run smoothly; it is
a man's ability to surmount the hummocks and the pressure ridges that
enables him to penetrate to the polar regions of success. The first
inkling of disaster came to Mitchell when Miss Dunlap began to tire
of the gay life and chose to spend her Monday evenings at home, where
they might be alone together. She spoke of the domestic habits she had
acquired during her brief matrimonial experience; she boldly declared
that marriage was the ideal state for any man, and that two could live
as cheaply as one, although personally she saw no reason why a girl
should quit work the instant she became a wife, did he? She confessed
that Monday evenings had become so pleasant that if Louis could
arrange to drop in on Fridays also, the week would be considerably
brightened thereby and her whole disposition improved. Now Fridays
were cinched tightly to the Big Four, but the young man dared not
acknowledge it, so he confessed that all his evenings except Monday
were taken up with night school, whereupon Miss Dunlap, in order
to keep abreast of his mental development, decided to take a
correspondence course in Esperanto.

It transpired also that his attentions toward the Lackawanna had
been misconstrued, for one night when Phoebe bade him adieu in the
vestibule she broke down and wept upon his shoulder, saying that his
coldness hurt her. She confessed that a rate clerk in the freight
department wanted to marry her, and she supposed she'd have to accept
his dastardly proposal because a girl couldn't go on working all
her life, could she? Then Miss Gratz, of the C. & E.I., following a
red-letter night at Grand Opera, succeeded by a German pancake and a
stein at the Edelweiss and a cab-ride home, took Louis gravely to task
for his extravagance and hinted that he ought to have a permanent
manager who took an interest in him, one who loved music as he did and
whose tastes were simple and Teutonic.

When the literary lady of the Northwestern declined a trip to the
White City and began to read Marion Crawford aloud to him Louis awoke
to the gravity of the situation.

But before he had worked the matter out in his own mind that rate
clerk of whom Miss Lackawanna had spoken dropped in at Comer &
Mathison's, introduced himself to Mitchell and told him, with a degree
of firmness which could not be ignored, that his attentions to Miss
Phoebe Snow were distasteful. He did not state to whom. Louis's caller
had the physical proportions of a "white hope," and he wasted few
words. He had come to nail up a vacate notice, and he announced simply
but firmly that Miss Snow's Wednesday evenings were to be considered
open time thereafter, and if Mitchell elected to horn his way in it
was a hundred-to-one shot that he'd have to give up solid foods for a
month or more and take his nourishment through a glass tube.

Nor were the young man's troubles confined to the office. Miss Harris,
it seemed, had seen him with a different lady each night she and Mr.
Gross had been out, and had drawn her own conclusions, so, therefore,
when he tried to talk to her she flared up and called him a dissipated
roue, and threatened to have the head bookkeeper give him a thrashing
if he dared to accost her again.

Now the various apartments where Mitchell had been calling, these past
months, were opulently furnished with gifts from the representatives
of the various railway supply houses of the city, each article being
cunningly designed to cement in the mind of the owner a source of
supply which, coupled with price and delivery, would make for good
sales service. He was greatly surprised one day to receive a brass
library lamp from the Santa Fe the initial destination of which had
evidently been changed. Then came a mission hall-clock in the original
package, redirected in the hand of Miss Gratz, of the C. & E.I., and
one day the office-boy from the Lackawanna brought him a smoking-set
for which Miss Phoebe Snow had no use. Gifts like these piled
up rapidly, many of them bearing witness to the fact that their
consignment originated from Mitchell's very rivals in the railroad
trade. Judging from the quantity of stuff that ricocheted from the
Santa Fe it was Miss Dunlap's evident desire to present him with a
whole housekeeping equipment as quickly as possible. Louis's desk
became loaded with ornaments, his room at Mrs. Green's became filled
with nearly Wedgwood vases, candlesticks, and other bric-a-brac. He
acquired six mission hall-clocks, a row of taborets stood outside of
his door like Turkish sentinels, and his collection of ash-receivers
was the best in Chicago.

Miss Harris continued to ignore him, however, and he learned with a
jealous pang that she was giving Mr. Gross a gratuitous course of
facial massage and scalp treatments. No longer did Mitchell entertain
his trade; they entertained him. They tried to help him save his
money, and every evening he was forced to battle for his freedom.

In desperation he finally went to Murphy begging quick promotion to a
traveling position, but the Sales Manager told him there was no chance
before the first of the year, then asked him why he had lost his grip
on the Lackawanna business.

As a matter of fact, since Miss Phoebe's rate clerk had declared
himself Mitchell had slipped a few Wednesday nights, trusting to
hold the Lackawanna trade by virtue of his past performances, but he
realized in the light of Murphy's catechism that eternal visiting is
the price of safety. He sighed, therefore, and called up the lady,
then apprehensively made a date.

That visit issued in disaster, as he had feared. The rate clerk,
gifted with some subtle second sight, had divined his treachery and
was waiting. He came to meet the caller gladly, like a paladin. Louis
strove to disarm the big brute by the power of the human eye, then
when that did not work he explained, politely, earnestly, that his
weekly calls were but part and parcel of his business, and that there
was nothing in his mind so remote as thoughts of matrimony. But the
rate clerk was a stolid, a suspicious person, and he was gnawed by
a low and common jealousy. Reason failing, they came together,
amalgamating like two drops of quicksilver.

On the following morning Mitchell explained to Mr. Comer that
in stepping out of the bathtub he had slipped and wrenched both
shoulders, then while passing through the dark hall had put his face
into mourning by colliding with an open door. His ankles he had
sprained on the way down-town.

About nine-thirty Miss Dunlap called up, but not to leave an order.
When she had finally rung off Louis looked dazedly at the wire to see
if the insulation had melted. It seemed impossible that rubber and
gutta-percha could withstand such heat as had come sizzling from the
Santa Fe. From what the lady had said it required no great inductive
powers to reason that the rate clerk had told all. Coming victorious
to Miss Lackawanna's door to have his knuckles collodionized he had
made known in coarse, triumphant language the base commercialism of
his rival.

The result had been that Phoebe arose in her wrath. Just to verify the
story she had called up the other railroad offices this morning,
and the hideous truth had come out. It had come out like a herd of
jack-rabbits ahead of a hound. Miss Dunlap was shouting mad, but
Phoebe herself, when she called up, was indignant in a mean, sarcastic
manner that hurt. The Northwestern rang Mitchell to say good-by
forever and to hope his nose was broken; the Big Four promised that
her brother, who was a puddler in the South Chicago steel mills, would
run in and finish the rate clerk's job; Miss Gratz, of the C.&E.I.,
was tearfully plaintive and, being German, spoke of suicide. Of course
all business relations with these offices were at an end.

During that whole day but one 'phone order came, and that was from
Miss Monon. Mitchell had been steeling himself to hear from her, but
it seemed that she took the whole thing as rather a good joke. She
told him she had known all the time why he came to see her, and when
he reminded her that it was Thursday she invited him to call if he
thought it worth while.

When he saw Miss Harris at supper-time and undertook to explain his
black eyes she assured him coldly that he and his ebony gig-lamps
mattered nothing in her young life, as evidence of which she flashed a
magnificent three-quarter carat diamond solitaire on her third finger.
She and Mr. Gross expected to be married inside of two or three years
if all went well, she told him.

At eight o'clock, disguised behind a pair of blue goggles, Louis
headed for Miss Monon's door, glad that the cozy corner was so dimly
lighted. When he arrived she bathed his battle-scarred features with
hamamelis, which is just the same as Pond's Extract, but doesn't cost
so much, and told him the other girls had acted foolishly. She was
very sweet and gentle with him and young Mitchell, imperfect as was
his vision, saw something in her he had never seen before.

A week went by, during which it seemed that all the railroads except
the Monon had suddenly gone out of business. It was as if a strike had
been declared. Another week passed and Mitchell's sales were scarcely
noticeable, so Mr. Comer called him in to ask:

"Is your 'phone disconnected?"

"No, sir."

"Do you know the price of our goods?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't you sleep well at home?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then what has become of those pick-ups?"

"I seem to have lost--my trade."

"Your 'trade'! Bah! Young man, you've been dissipating. That expense
account turned your head. You've been blowing in our money on your
friends and you've let your customers go. If you can't hold the
railroad business we'll get some fellow who can. Cut out your
sewing-circle wine suppers and your box parties to the North Shore
debutantes and get busy. You've got a week to make good. One week."

There wasn't the slightest chance, and Mitchell told Miss Monon
so when Thursday came around. He told her all about that promised
position on the road and what it meant to him, and then he told her
that beginning Monday he'd have to hunt a new berth at twelve dollars
per. She was very quiet, very sympathetic--so sympathetic, in fact,
that he told her some other things which no young man on a diminishing
salary should tell. She said little at the moment, but she did
considerable thinking, and she got busy on her 'phone early the next
morning. The first number she called was the Santa Fe's. When she had
finished talking with Miss Dunlap that hempen-haired sentimentalist
was dabbing her eyes with her handkerchief and blowing her nose,
assuring Miss Monon, at the same time, that she was a dear and that
it was all right now that she knew the truth. Miss Monon blushed
prettily, thanked her, and confessed that she had felt it coming on
for some time. Thereupon they took turns calling the others, from the
Big Four to the C.&E.I., with the result that Mitchell's wire began to
heat up.

Phoebe Snow called him to say that she hadn't meant what she said,
that he was a good old scout, and that the rate clerk was sorry also,
and wanted to stand treat for a Dutch lunch. Then she left an order
for a ton and a half of engine bolts.

Miss Gratz cried a little when she heard Mitchell's voice and told him
to make his own price on forty kegs of washers and suit himself about
delivery.

Miss Dunlap confessed that it was her pride which had spoken, and,
anyhow, she knew altogether too much about marriage to take another
chance. She'd rather have one man friend than three husbands.

One by one the flock returned, and Saturday night Mitchell sent five
pounds of chocolates and a sheaf of red roses to the one who had made
it all come out right. He got his share of business after that, and
when the holidays came they brought him his promotion.

Murphy, who knew most of the facts, was the first to congratulate him.
"Jove!" he said, "that little Monon lady saved your bacon, didn't she?
By. the way, you never told me what her name was."

Young Mitchell's cheeks assumed a shell-pink shade as he replied: "It
doesn't matter what her name was, it's Mitchell now. We were married
yesterday and--all the roads were represented at the wedding."





Next: With Bridges Burned

Previous: The North Wind's Malice



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