"That sounds mighty like Ed. Butler," said the dry-goods man.
Occasionally a traveling salesman meets at the hotel or on the train the head of some large house, who is making a trip for special reasons of his own. Such a man is always sure to be affable with every one, but he is especially conciliatory to the salesmen he meets on his route. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he is a stranger and these old travelers can help him, if they are so inclined, or it may be for the purpose of leading them to be talkative with him, and in that talk he can gather points that will be of value to him. Whatever the cause may be, there is no question as to the fact. But the talkativeness is not always on one side. I have met wholesale merchants on the road who would talk freely and tell me more about themselves and their business in one evening, while we sat in a country hotel, than they would have done in five years of ordinary intercourse in the city.
The man who sits in the house all the year falls into several errors. One is in thinking that people are anxious to buy of him, and that his traveling men ought to find it very easy to get an order in almost every store. Another error is in believing that the orders come solely because of the firm's popularity, rather than of any merit in the salesman. I suppose there are goods so well advertised that, in a large measure, they sell themselves; but, outside of patent medicines, I can not now recall one such item.
We were talking of this, half a dozen of us, while in the smoking- room Sunday evening, and one of us said: "The best man to work for, if you do your level best, is a man who has been on the road himself. Such a man always knows where and when allowances must be made for dull trade, and for cutting of prices. The man who always makes the most trouble, and who was fore-ordained to be a dashed fool, is the book-keeper. The balancing of his little gods of books is of more account, in his eyes, than is the sale of a bill of goods. And having the ear of the firm he usually gets permission to do any piece of dashed foolishness that he suggests. But next to him is the merchant, who never steps out of his own door to try to sell a bill, or the manufacturer who runs his little shop in a one-horse way and never goes out to see what others are doing, or learn what consumers are saying about his goods. I once traveled for such an old block-head, and, as I started off on a trip, I advised him to discontinue making a certain article, telling him it was out of date and could only be worked off on greenhorns in business. I guess I was as much interested in getting them off as if they were my own, and I lost no chance of working in a few wherever I could. The same amount of work on salable goods would have paid big money. Well, when I got home, may I never breathe, if that old ass hadn't taken my sales as evidence of the big demand for the goods and was piling up the store-house with the same stock!"
"Yes," said another, "but the man who sits in his office usually makes the biggest mistake in supposing that he is a great deal smarter than the men he sells. Because he is a peg higher in trade, as jobber, importer, or manufacturer, he imagines he is also greater in ability, and he has no hesitancy in advising these poor devils about their business. I was selling scythes several years ago, and worked for just such a man as I have been describing. He was a good mechanic, but pig-headed; goods must be made and finished a certain way, because that was the way they had been made for thirty years. The result was we were losing our trade. I knew he was blaming me for the trade falling off, so I persuaded him to make a flying trip with me to Buffalo, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit and Chicago. The dealers at Buffalo were rather old fogy, and we got our order there from our regular customer, but when we struck Cleveland I saw the old man open his eyes. It was one of Blossom's off-days, so he didn't waste much time on us, but said he didn't want any of our goods. Deming hadn't got into silver mining, so we couldn't get an order from him by buying a share of stock, but Van was about half-full, and he opened up on us. Then Toledo piled it on. There were four jobbing houses there in our line, but not one would buy. I knew one buyer pretty well. After we had been the rounds we came back to his place, and I asked him to tell us frankly how we could get some of his trade. He gave in detail the ideas that were current among retailers and consumers regarding shape and finish of scythes, putting it down in a clear-headed way, so that a baby could have understood him, but showing the shrewdness of a man who was studying all the points in connection with his trade. It did the business. We went up to Detroit, and had a long talk with Charlie Fletcher, and the old man bought a lot of samples and went home. On my next trip, you can bet, I had salable goods."
"You can study a man as he is only when you see him in his own store," said a third. "When a country merchant comes into Chicago, and walks into your store, he is very desirous that you shall be pleasantly impressed by him; so he puts on his best manners. You are on your native heath, you are surrounded by your clerks, and you are considerable of a man in a city of big men, while he realizes he is a very small toad in a little country puddle. But just put the shoe on the other foot, and go into his store. Now, he is on his own ground; you are asking favors of him in the shape of orders, and all the petty smartness comes out, if there is any in him. It is an opportunity that permits a mean man to be his meanest, and draws out of a generous, kindly soul all the milk of human kindness there is in his heart."
"Well," said a dry-goods man, "there are a good many kinds of men in the world, but the man who makes me fighting mad is in Pittsburg. He's most infernally polite, but he never wants anything. As I go back to his desk he is either reading or writing. I say: 'Good morning, Mr. Blane,' and hand him my card. He scarcely looks at it, but in the most solemn and dignified way says: 'We do not need anything in your line to-day.' Then I open up on my leading items: 'I have a very nice line of novelties in so-and-so.' He looks off from his paper to say: 'We are full of so-and-so to-day,' then goes to reading again. 'I have some desirable patterns in new goods in silks.' He looks up to say, 'We have enough silks for the present.' 'I can give you special prices on hairpins.' He looks up again to say: 'Our stock of hairpins is full.' And then I bow myself out. I asked the boss one day if he ever sold the firm when he was on the road. He said he did once. Blane was out of town and he sold his partner. Still, I call on him every time I go to Pittsburg."
"Pittsburg? Oh, that's where Joe Horne hangs out."
"Who's Joe Horne?"
"Why, Joe is the man whose orders are as well known in the west as Willimantie thread. Every New York drummer stops at Pittsburg, and every dry-goods man sells Joe Horne, or says he does, so that now, west of the Mississippi, the first greeting given a drummer is, 'Show us Joe Horne's order.' Joe must be a very good fellow to give his orders so impartially."
"Did you know Luce?" one dry-goods man asked the other.
"Luce, of Toledo? I should say I did."
"He was a tough man to tackle unless he felt just right. They tell of a put-up job on a drummer who used to call on him. He couldn't manage ever to get an order out of Luce. One day he said to a friend, who always sold Luce, 'How is it that you succeed and I fail? I sell the best trade in the country and to a good many men that you don't sell; now, why is it I can't catch on to Luce?' The other asked, 'Do you ever talk politics to him?' 'No.' 'Well, that's his soft side. He's a regular old moss-back, Vallandigham Democrat. If you want to succeed, go in on that line.' His friend thanked him, and the next time he went to Toledo he felt better. Luce wanted no goods, as usual. Then Mr. Traveling Man opened on politics. He remarked that all over the State there was a good show for burying the d—d Republicans that election. Luce glared at him in speechless wonder. Then Mr. Drummer launched out on the infernal meanness of the Republican leaders, but by this time Luce was ready for him, and the way that poor devil was talked to would make you sorry. When he next saw his friend there came pretty near being a fight, but the friend thought it too good a joke to keep and told Luce. No one enjoyed a joke better than Mr. Luce, and, by thunder, the next time the man called on him he gave him a good order, and they were the best of friends afterwards."
"I often wonder if any one ever fools a man equal to the way he fools himself. I always laugh over a customer of mine in Cincinnati who always insists he must have 'a leetle adwantage.' The boys on the road like Old Pap and laugh over his 'leetle adwantage.' He says: 'I must haf a leetle adwantage ofer New York and Philadelphy. They ton't pay no freight. They get their goods at their door; I must haf a leetle adwantage to cover the freight.' The old man has this so firmly fixed in his head that we have to humor him by giving him 'a leetle adwantage.'"
"Some men think that in giving an order all they need to do is to state their own terms and time, and every one will dance to their tune. A concern in the Northwest that failed (and they ought to), used to write their orders on a blank that was headed:
All prices guaranteed. Privilege of increasing, decreasing, or countermanding No charge for boxing or drayage.
"How was that for smartness?"
"You say they failed?"
"They ought to have got rich!"
"Yes, they are a fair type of the average buyer; it's cut here, screw down there, pare over yonder. No matter what your price may be, it's always, 'What are you going to do for me?' as if he must have a special cut. I showed Hibbard & Spencer's buyer a new tool the other day, and gave him my price. 'What's the best you can do?' I told him that was the best I could do. 'But what is your price to Hibbard & Spencer?' As though every salesman must have laid away in a snug corner, a special price for that important firm! 'I have given you my price; it is the best I can do with anyone.' They are not willing anyone shall make a cent but themselves; they want the whole apple, and are not willing to give the manufacturer the core."
When I reached T. I had a very disagreeable duty before me, namely, to fix a misunderstanding with a customer. The house had written me: "Atkinsen & Co. bought a bill last October from Ned on 60 days' time; goods went exactly as ordered. When the bill became due we sent a statement, with a mem. that if not heard from in ten days we would draw. In reply they sent us a letter saying the goods were sold them under arrangement by which they are to be paid for when sold, and that we had better hold our draft, etc. We wrote that we did not do that kind of business; that our terms were plainly stated on the invoice, and that upon receipt of that, if not correct, they should have notified us at once. To this they sent a 'Smart Aleck' letter, and when we drew on them allowed our draft to be returned. Settle the matter up; take back the goods, if no better way suggests itself, but close it up. And close up our deal with them; they are the kind of men we do not want to do business with."
To be ordered to get money out of a slow customer is bad enough, but to have to settle an account with a mean one is a thousand times worse. The slow customer is usually ready to dun himself, and full of apologies for his slowness, but the "Smart Aleck" who wants to be small has a hundred arguments ready at hand to prove that he is a very superior person who proposes to stand on his rights. Every traveling man has such customers as this "on his list," and is occasionally called upon to tackle them.
I had made up my mind that I would find Atkinson rather tall and slim, but he wasn't; he was a pleasant-looking man, and I handed out my card as if I had called around to sell him a big bill. His face lost some of the smile when he saw the firm's name, but I began to talk of trade and the weather, and kept it up until I had forced him into an appearance of being sociable. Eventually I led the talk around to his stock and was fully prepared for his decisive "We do not need any." I mentioned guns, rifles, cartridges, caps—everything—but he was full. I was determined that he should introduce the subject of the account, and this he did when I made a move as if to go.
"Did your house tell you about our account?"
"They told me to stick to all the money I could get," I said, pleasantly.
"Have you a statement of our account with you?"
"I think I have." And I appeared to be searching for it, though, of course, I knew the exact page and line it was on. "Here it is: $43.30."
He went to his ledger, found it correct, I suppose, and then from his cash drawer counted out the amount and asked for a receipt. I gave him one, thanked him for the money, and then remarked that I was sorry there had been any misunderstanding about the terms.
"I like to see a house live up to its agreement," he said, in a surly tone.
"No, sir; these goods were to be paid for when sold."
"But the invoice is plainly marked sixty days; why didn't you report such an agreement when you received the invoice?"
"I don't care for the invoice. Don't I get any amount of invoices where all of the discount does not show? When I pay them I deduct the extra, and that is the end of it."
I concluded a little plain talk would neither do us or him any harm; he was probably in a state of mind that would prevent him buying of us very soon again. I said: "I am satisfied that you have been long enough in business to know that staple goods, such as you had from us, are never sold on any such terms as you state you bought these at. I made inquiries about you of your neighbors, and every one said they had misunderstandings with you, and are not on good terms with you, and if I could see your correspondence I am pretty sure I would find we are not the only house out of town that you have had just such disputes with. I simply say to you, and for your own good, Mr. Atkinson, that you are making a mistake. My orders from my house were not to sell you, and while I know you can get along without us, you can't afford to keep driving houses away from you without hurting yourself. I'm obliged to you for paying me; that is all I came in here for."
He told me that I and my house could go to the devil, and in that pleasant frame of mind we parted. I suppose I cut down the bridge between him and us, but I venture to say other houses had the benefit of my frankness.
I spoke of this to an old traveling man whom I met at the hotel. "Yes," said he, "there's too much coddling among us all. We smooth over this, and give in on that, and the result is we make it all the easier for the fellow to be small the next time. I'm selling axes, and, of course, I have to warrant them. Do you warrant guns?"
"Not to speak of."
"Then you ought to thank your stars. Warranting is the most infernal device ever brought out to make men mean and dishonest. I put it down to the dealer, when I sell him, in the plainest way I know how, that we warrant an ax only against being soft or breaking from a plain flaw. When I come around in the spring he pulls from under the counter two or three or more rusty axes that he hands to me, with the remark that "here are some poor ones." I pick up an ax and find some idiot ground it as thin as a razor, and the edge broke out so that it looks like a saw, I ask him what is the matter with it.'Too hard; brittle as glass.' 'But I didn't warrant against being too hard.' 'But you expect your axes to stand, don't you?' 'This would stand if ground properly.' 'Oh, yes; you fellows always have some loop-hole to get out of your warrant.' This rather staggers me, so I pick up the next one. 'What is the matter with this?' 'Soft.' As I hold the edge to the light I can see a slight bend in the bit. The man who used it had it stick, and in his efforts to loosen it, he had given it such a terrible wrench that the edge had bent a trifle. To a man knowing anything of the proper temper of an ax the fact of that slight bend is in its favor, and the work of grinding it out would have been much less than it was to remove the helve. But I pass that, as there is no use to argue that a slight twist does not show soft temper, and I pick up the third one. It has a corner broken off; the break is still bright, but I am calmly told there was a bad flaw there. I start to explain why I know, from the shape of the break that there was no flaw, but he twits me again with wanting to go back on my warrant, and I stop right there. Now, this is the history of nine out of ten transactions. The retailer takes back everything a customer brings back for fear of losing that customer's trade. The jobber takes back from the retailer, knowing it is unjust, but he is afraid that any hesitancy on his part will damage his trade. And the poor devil of a manufacturer takes it off the jobber's hands and cannot help himself. There is a deuced lot of cowardice in business nowadays. It goes back through the dealers till it reaches the consumer, and it encourages him to make any kind of claim he sees fit to cover his negligence, ignorance, or maliciousness."
Sitting in the cars that evening, I overheard a traveling man say: "I find it a little bit harder each week to leave home. I have a little girl of three, and I see so little of her it makes me discontented. Her mother knows just what time I ought to come up the street, and she and the baby are watching for me at that hour every Saturday evening. When they see me the little one comes running to meet me. Her excitement and her running just take her breath away, so that when she gets to me she cannot speak a word. But she can squeeze me and kiss me. How I do hang on to her all the time I'm at home! I go to bed two nights in the week like a man should. I wake up to find those little arms around me! And on Monday morning I have to pull myself away. I tell you it's almighty hard."
His voice had a tremor in it, as if a very little encouragement would bring tears.
"Yes," said the other, "it is hard. I've been there. I had a girl six years old that was to me all yours is to you, and all she ever can be. I started off one Monday morning leaving her as happy as a lark. On Wednesday I was telegraphed to come in, and when I got home Thursday morning she didn't know me. Just as long as she could speak she kept asking for me. I never start out on a Monday morning but that I think of her, and I never walk toward the house Saturday night that I do not miss her. I don't know, but it seems to me that a traveling man has no business to have a wife and family."
"I never knew you had lost a child," said the other; "if I should lose my baby I believe I would go insane."
"Oh, no, you wouldn't; you would do just as every one else does; you'd go on and suffer. But the men that can be with their families seven days in the week ought to thank their God every hour of the day."
"I travel a good deal by team," said a third, "and am frequently driving as late as 10 or 11 o'clock at night. As I go along the road and see the light shining out of the windows, and see family groups in their homes, gathered around the lamp, I tell you, boys, I get homesick. It's the time of day I want to be at home with my family. I envy every man I see in such a home, and I contrast his condition, surrounded with his wife and children, and a long night of rest before him, with my work. I finish up my day at a late hour at night, then perhaps have to get up at an unearthly hour in the morning to catch a train. There's mighty little poetry in this kind of a life."
"But, after all," said the first speaker, "our wives suffer the most. They have the responsibility of the home and children on their shoulders all the time, and they worry more or less over us. My wife never sees a boy coming to the door with a circular but she thinks he has a dispatch saying I am either maimed or killed in a railroad accident. Then if the children are sick she has to shoulder the burden alone, and it is all the greater because she always tortures herself by believing that she must be in some way to blame. I tell you our wives have the hardest part to bear."
"That's so," came from several.
In a traveling man's experience no two days are exactly alike, and yet there is a monotony in the story of a trip because the history of one day is so much like the history of everyday. We sell to different men in different towns but the arguments on both sides are very much the same with all men. It is but rarely that a merchant admits that he needs anything in our line until after a certain amount of preliminary coaxing, and he never admits that prices are low enough.
Some buyers meet one pleasantly, and are perhaps all the more disappointing. Their manner seems to promise success, but the result is failure. Other men start in rather snappish, as if the salesman was a nuisance, but gradually grow sociable, and if they give him an order he is forever their friend. He can not take "no" for an answer, because his experience tells him that the majority of buyers start out with a "no," and end by buying a bill. He must be persistent, because he has heard numberless times, "I will look at your samples if it is any comfort to you, but I won't buy," and in nine cases out of ten he has taken the man's order after all.
The longer he is out on the road the easier his work grows, but it is not always true that his orders continue to grow larger. Friendship with buyers work two ways: the salesman may be able to press them to buy in a stronger manner than a stranger would dare do, and on the other hand the buyer can the easier put the salesman off. When he says: "You know well that if there was a thing in your line that we wanted you would get the order, but there is none," the salesman has to take it gracefully and hope for better luck next time. But a stranger, in the same line, calling there the next day, and mentioning each item in his list, may secure an order, and at no better price than the buyer's acquaintance would have given.
For these reasons I have not given details of my trip so far as they concerned my own sales. It is enough to say that I was doing fairly well, not only in selling goods, but in making "valuable acquaintances." My house wrote me very pleasant letters, praising the character as well as the amount of my orders, and I looked to my going in with such anticipations of pleasure that the last six days of the trip seemed to have more hours than any arithmetic table of time ever put into them. Partly to kill time, and partly to make myself more "solid" with buyers, I spent nearly every evening with some of my customers, and listened to many bits of experiences that were worth more than money to me.
One merchant said to me in his talk: "I have bought a great many goods of Wiebusch, and feel as much at home in his store as I do in any place outside of my own. And, while I do it because of dollars and cents, still there is something back of these that always turns the scales in his favor when his prices are no lower than his competitors. Twenty years ago I was clerk for a hardware house in the West, and about as ordinary a one as could be. One summer I made a trip East to visit some friends, and concluded to give myself a treat by taking a day or two in New York. I knew no one in the city personally; I knew the names of the houses my employers bought from, and for some reason that of F. Weibusch seemed most familiar. I put up at the Hoffman House. I laugh every time I think of it."
"Did you feel overpowered?"
"That's exactly the word. I was awfully overpowered. I had been used to dropping into the little country hotels where the landlord and clerk were at your service, and where you had to black your own boots, and carry your baggage around. When I dropped into the Hoffman with my grip in hand, and wrote my name in the register, and saw the overwhelming indifference in the eyes of the lordly clerk, I assure you I felt as small a potato as ever grew in a hill. I never felt quite so small and mean in all my life."
"How did you get around?"
"I got to the hotel about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I sat down in the office and tried to get my spirits up to the pitch of my surroundings, but it was a dismal failure. I felt that I was 'country' from crown to heel, and I was terribly uncomfortable. I happened to think of some familiar names, and among others of Mr. Wiebusch. The directory gave me his address, a porter posted me on street-cars and the way to Beekman street, and in due time I presented myself at the door. I felt timid about going in. I was only a clerk; I had no business on hand; I would simply be taking up some of their time in the store, and with no profit to them. But I went up stairs, and after telling a clerk who I was and whom I was connected with, was by him introduced to Mr. Wiebusch."
"And your reception was a pleasant one?"
"You may judge so when I assure you that I remember it vividly and kindly to this day, and shall always do so. He could not have been more cordial to the head of the largest house he dealt with. 'Cordial,' mind you; not simply polite or pleasant. I was made to feel that I had paid him a compliment by calling upon him; that everything about the place was at my disposal; and that I could do him a still greater favor by permitting him to do something more for me. Now that was real kindness of heart; it was genuine courtesy, and I went back to my hotel not caring a continental d—m whether the clerk saw me or not."
"Did you make other calls?"
"Yes; the next day I called on a dozen houses, more or less, and was pleasantly met everywhere; I remember that; but I don't recall the name of a single one of them! You can see by this, from the distinctness with which I recall everything connected with my visit to Mr. Wiebusch, what a relief to me his kindness was."
"Do you still go to the Hoffman?"
"Not a bit of it. When next I went to New York I was partner in the house and the Cosmopolitan or French's were plenty good enough for me then."
"Are there many men on the road now that were traveling then?"
"Not a great many. Sam Disston was here to-day; he's one of the old stand-bys, and he doesn't look a day older now. These red whiskered men have the advantage of such fellows as you and I. I've grown gray in spots, but here's Sam still as red as when he first came out snapping a Disston saw. I'd like to have Sam to myself some Sunday afternoon and get him to tell the ups and downs of his goods. Henry used to talk saw and shout saw and swear saw, but he always sold them. I hung on to Spear & Jackson about as long as anyone did in this section, but I had to finally give in, and I was an ass for not taking hold of the Disston saw sooner."
"It's a high-priced saw, isn't it?"
"The Disston factory makes all kinds of saws. Look at this saw— pretty neat, isn't it? Full size, 26-inch blade; good handle; what do you suppose it is worth?"
"I know nothing of saws; I couldn't guess."
"Yes, you can guess. You know whether it looks worth 5 cents or $5."
"Well, say $1.50."
"That's close. You are a good guesser on saws. I buy that of Disston for $3 per dozen."
"What! A Disston saw?"
"I didn't say a Disston saw. It is made by Disston, but their name is not on it, nor is it any such quality as they would brand with their name. But they have a tremendous trade in goods on which their name never appears. I guess they are the largest saw manufacturers in the world."
"Disston must have an easy job."
"Don't you fool yourself. Sam has just as hard a job as you have. In the first place much is expected from him; then his goods being standard, are sold close by all jobbers, and they are inclined to push other makes, which can be bought cheaper. And on cheap goods it is entirely a matter of price, so he has to meet all the competition of every saw-maker in the country. I don't believe he has any easier job than you, or any other traveling man has."
After selling a couple of cases of cartridges to a wholesale grocer one evening, he was led to tell of his early days, and I learned that no one trade contained all the shrewd men. Said he, "I once felt that our house was a very important one, and about as large as the State of Michigan. But one July I went down to New York, and sauntered into Thurber's, on West Broadway. I didn't expect to buy anything, but I thought Thurber would feel complimented by such a man as myself calling upon him. Their lower room looked rather busy, but not any more so than I expected, but when I got up stairs and found myself facing from fifty to seventy-five clerks I began to think Thurber's was a bigger business than mine. A boy led me to H. K. Thurber's private office, but there were several men ahead of me and I waited my turn. The longer I waited the smaller I kept growing. Mr. Thurber's face was one that you could study. One moment it lit up with a smile or happy thought, the next his mouth closed with a snap as if it was the combination lock of a safe-door. At his table was a chair for 'the next,' and I felt as if 'next' was going to be called out whenever I saw a man getting ready to arise. It was a pleasure to watch Thurber. The new-comer took his place in the vacated chair, told who he was, what was his business, and Thurber had a 'yes' or a 'no' ready before the man was through. 'We don't want it' came out sharp and decisive. 'But if I could—.' 'We don't want it;' and this time the mouth closed tighter, and the man saw there was no 'buts,' and bowed himself out. Then to the next, and if his luck was better the bell was touched, and the boy who answered told: 'Show this gentleman to Mr. Whyland.' Here a letter was placed before him by a clerk, and after a glance at it an answer was dictated to the stenographer, who sat in a corner nearby. Long before it was my turn to bother him I felt so cheap that I would have sneaked off, but I was afraid some of the boys would take me by the collar and drag me back. Mr. Thurber met me pleasantly, and said a few words about our business that told me he knew something about us, and professed to be very much pleased at my call. Then he sent for Mr. Whyland and insisted upon my allowing him to show me about the store. Whyland had but lately returned from his European trip, and was just aching all over to sell goods. You know how that is, don't you? Take any good salesman who has been out of the harness for awhile and when he gets back again to work there's more enjoyment in selling a bill of goods than in drinking a bottle of champagne. I swore to myself that I wouldn't buy a cent's worth, but before I got away from Whyland I was down for $13,000 worth of goods."
"Whew! It was a dear visit."
"Not at all. I needed the goods and bought them low, so that it was all right. But Whyland turned me over to Frank Thurber. Frank is the politician of the concern; the greenback, anti-monopoly, mugwump man! He beamed on me as if he was Venus rising out of the sea; patted me on the back; said I would own all of Michigan in a few years, and he was coming out to get some points from us wide-awake Westerners; then filled my pockets with his anti-monopoly speeches and papers, led me to the top of the stairs, gave me his benediction, and I left. It was an experience. No opera that I ever listened to, no ball that I ever attended, contained so much genuine pleasure for me as I got out of that visit. But I went away satisfied that our house had still room to grow before it would be the biggest in the trade. It does a man good to see what a small concern he is occasionally."
"I can tell you one thing," said a hardware man to me, "there is a good deal of forcing down of prices done by traveling men that is entirely uncalled for. Here comes a man to me selling auger-bits. I am full, and I tell him so. He enlarges on the superior quality of his goods. I admit them to be good, but my stock is too full for me to think of adding to it. He thinks it possible there will be an advance, as at 70 and 5 per cent. off the list there is a positive loss to the maker. I have no fears of an immediate advance, and say so. Then he says: 'Mr. X., I am very anxious to get a small order from you; trade is not very brisk with me, and, as an inducement, I will give you an extra 5 per cent.' Knowing this to be lower than others are quoting, and feeling well satisfied that the goods are liable to advance rather than decline, when they change, I make out an order for him. But how is he going to justify that cut to his factory? It was absolutely uncalled for. It was not done to meet competition, but to beat competition, and was simply a bait to lead me to order when otherwise I would not have ordered."
"But," said another man, "go back of that a little. At 70 per cent. discount the maker is barely getting back 100 cents for what actually costs him one dollar. He is trimming as close as he can in everything to keep him from loss; wages are cut down, economy in material practiced, and every detail scrimped to the last possible limit Then this order comes in from the salesman at a still lower figure. No further scrimping can be done in material—that has a limit that cannot be passed—where, then, can any saving be made? Only in the wages. The workmen are shown the prices that the goods are now sold at, and told that there is but one thing for the factory to do: to meet this 'competition,' or close up. And, of course, the meaning of this is another reduction in the already well-reduced wages. I declare, a man must have a good deal of gall to be drawing a salary of from $1,800 to $3,500 per year and ask a workman to take 10 per cent. off his wages of $1 per day."
"Yes, and you will notice," said the first speaker, "that all this was done that the traveling man might have an order to send in, and not because of any requirements of competition or of demand and supply. When I read of workingmen striking I think of these things and wonder what they would do if they could see what we merchants see of unnecessary cutting in prices. Manufacturers and jobbers send men out to present the merits of their goods, but their sole idea of a 'smart' man is one whose sales are large. If they have a dozen men on the road, the man who sells the most goods is the champion man. He sells big bills and is expected to cut prices. But one of the men who makes less show may be much the most profitable for them."
"You would keep account of profits rather than of sales?"
"Certainly I would, and pay salaries on that basis. Then the salesman would have strong inducements to get good prices. As it is now all he need ask himself is: 'Will the old man stand the cut?' and if he does it is as much a feather in his cap to make the sale as if it was at better prices. Take the matter of steel squares. One of my men writes in that a Cleveland jobber is selling them to the smallest trade at 75 and 10 per cent. off. I investigate and find that they can be bought at 80 off. But the several manufacturers shake their heads and say this price is a positive loss, etc., etc. Then what the d—l do they sell at that price for? Neither dealers nor consumers were complaining of the old prices, and all the extra stock that is sold by the cut goes on to the dealers' shelves. The decline is made to a few jobbers, and they at once start out their men to give it to the retailers, and to use it as a bait, and when other jobbers learn it they combine to squeeze the price down so that all can get it. This is a sample of generalship that the square makers ought to be ashamed of."
"Yes, but the carriage-bolt men of the country have been playing just that same kind of a fool game for several years. Who is benefited? No one, unless it is the big wagon concerns, or the big machine men. I am told that men in bolt factories at present prices do not make $1 a day. Why should they work for starvation wages so that the concerns using bolts can save 40 per cent on their purchase? It's a cursed outrage! The older manufacturers can stand it, because they just coined money a few years ago, but now they must squeeze their poor devils of workmen down in order that they can sell goods at nothing. If the Knights of Labor were devoting themselves to righting wrongs of this kind, the whole country would back them up."
"I often feel sorry for some of the concerns," said the other, "when I have met the 'managers.' I came back from New York three years ago and told my partner if Lawson & Goodrow could make money as their New York office was run, that no one else need worry about his business. Here was an old concern, with every facility for making goods cheap, with a reputation for quality second to none in the country, with experienced workmen, and a good hold on the trade, yet they failed a year or two ago, and made so bad a failure I supposed they were swamped forever."
"But they are going on."
"Yes; I'm glad to see it, and understand that new brains have taken hold of it. But think of putting in as manager of such a business a young man just out of college! He was a very pleasant gentleman; I remember him with a warm sense of his courtesy, but he did not know the A, B, C of business. Fancy such a man competing with Oakman or Charley Landers!"
"You've got to get up early to get ahead of Landers.'
"Yes, Landers is a man of resources and thoroughly understands human nature. I rode down on the New Haven boat with him one night, and I spent two very pleasant hours on deck talking with him. He makes a good impression on you, both as to his shrewdness and his breadth. You get the idea that he is not small in his methods, and that he has an active mind. I imagine that when he took hold of the management of his concern, after Jim Frary had stepped down and out, he had about as unpromising a job on his bands as a man could have. Frary was a terrible cuss to pile up goods, I'm told, and the stock was in horrible shape. But Landers rode through the storm, and his business has seen some mighty prosperous years."
"Did you know Rubel?"
"Of Chicago? Yes, indeed. Poor fellow, I received a card a day or two ago announcing his death. He ought to have been good for twenty years yet. I bought some of his patent goods sixteen or eighteen years ago, and sold more or less of his brand ever since. His plant in Chicago shows what was in him. I hated, like thunder, to sell his goods when they were branded 'Chicago,' but when he changed that to 'American' I bought as freely of him as from others. He was jovial, sociable, and wide awake. I wish he might have lived to enjoy his well-earned success."
"What has become of Jim Frary?"
"I have lost sight of him. If any man ever had a good chance to make a strike I think Frary is the man. With Weibusch back of him, furnishing money and brains, with a combination in prices on a profitable basis, and with the boom in business, that concern ought to have made piles of money. But it is not generally supposed that they did. Frary has become temporarily eclipsed, and General Trunk manages it as if it was an orchestra. I don't know if he gets much music out, but he probably enjoys bossing things; that's worth a great deal to him." [Footnote: As is known to the trade, within a very few weeks after the above article was written the Frary Cutlery Co. failed, and have since been sold out under the hammer. And prices of table cutlery are once more "booming."]
"Don't you like Trunk?"
"Like him? Of course I do. You would if you were to meet him. He's one of the most unassuming and gentle-mannered men you ever met. If he only had a little confidence in himself he would be the Napoleon of the table cutlery trade, but he is inclined to listen to everybody's advice and not assert himself."
"I had a deal with Frary once that amused me. I had been handling a small, one-bladed knife that we paid about 40 cents per dozen for. We made quite a leader of it, but were told, in answer to our last order sent, that the stock was out. We tried to get it two or three times afterward, but without success. The next time I saw one of the men I asked him why the dickens we couldn't get that knife again. 'We have given it up,' I was told; our cost book showed the cost to be 36 cents per dozen, so we supposed we were getting our money back, but somebody had the curiosity to foot up the items not long ago, and found an error in adding of 20 cents; the knife had really cost 56 cents! Fancy a concern doing business in that way!"
"There are any numbers of just such concerns. Every little while you see changes made in prices to correct errors. There's a deal of guessing done around factories, and also a good deal of figuring on what a competitor does. One man learns of a competitor making a certain price, and says, 'If he can sell at that, I can,' and that becomes his price, without his even knowing that he is making money or losing at these figures."
"I think a good many dealers sell goods by guess, as well as the manufacturers. This is especially true of retailers. A level-headed man, named Root, has got up a series of cost cards that will be of help to the hardware trade, but other lines need them just as much."
"But all the cards in the world will not keep the blank fools from selling goods at cost. Here is an item in an Eastern paper about two Connecticut concerns who sold 'crazy cloth' (whatever that is) under each other's price, till at last one fool offered it at 1 cent a yard, and then the other came down to ten yards for 5 cents. That was in Sargent's town; probably they had been listening to his free trade slush."
I fell in with a jolly crowd of commercial men, some salesmen and some heads of houses, at the Tremont, and I have rarely enjoyed an evening more. Of course there were any number of stories told, many jokes cracked, and a deal of chaffing of each other. But if I could have written down all the points made about business they would have been eagerly read by my present audience. One man was cursing the book-keeper, as is usual, when a merchant said:
"There are always two sides to every question, and there is a good deal to be said from the book-keeper's stand-point. Other things being equal, a man who has had office experience makes the best man on the road. Very much of the trouble caused by the book-keeper's letters might be avoided if the traveling man knew enough, or had a little forethought. You say things to your customers ten times worse than the book-keeper ever writes, but a letter looks much more severe than the words you said sounded to the ear. One salesman when collecting will take pains to get certain bills balanced. If the customer offers to pay $50 on account and there is a bill of $53.36 due, or two bills of that sum, he suggests that it would be a good thing to make the payment that amount and wipe these out. Such a man helps the office at home. Another man takes the $50, and does not care a cent if anything is balanced or not. It may be necessary to have a scapegoat in every concern, but the traveler who runs down his office for doing its duty is not smart, and is sowing seed that will grow up to bother him in the near future."
"Yes," said another merchant, "and there's a sight more book-keeping than there is any need of. Every little item has to be charged, bill sent, statement sent, and then receipted for when paid. If a jobber wants an ax of a special size, just one, and has to order it from the factory, although he knows the exact cost, it never enters his head to send in cash with the order. He must have as much red-tape over it as if the order was a thousand dozen axes. So the retailer; if a customer wants a gross of screws sent on at once by express, the charge of 22 cents has to go through all the departments. There's too much of it. It's expensive in time, and foolish."
"Don't talk of paying in advance," said a salesman, "we're mighty glad to get the money after it's due."
"Yes, I know; there's too much work there, too. Although the buyer knows the exact time that his bill is due, he is getting so of late that he will pay nothing until a statement is sent, and not then till it pleases him. Your small man, not in the amount of business, but small-minded, dearly loves to hold back until you have sent him notice of draft made on him; he at once sends on a remittance then and his little soul takes comfort in telling, when the draft on him is presented, 'I do not owe them anything; their bill is paid.' Or else he waits till the draft is presented and dishonors it because it is drawn 'with exchange.' But there ought to be a keener sense of the honor to be won in paying bills promptly. If Dun and Bradstreet were to put in a third rating to show whether dealers paid promptly or not, and whether mean in little things or not, it would be of vast help."
"How would you have it?"
"Why, as it now is, we are told that John Smith is worth $2,000 to $5,000, and his credit good. I would add another column, and show prompt pay, slow pay, unpleasant in collecting, etc. You now trust a man on the basis of his capital and credit, but if you knew he was a smart Aleck you would not care to sell him no matter how much he was worth."
"Well, boys," said a New York man, "I don't have anything to do with the collecting, and I'm mighty glad of it. It's bad enough to sell goods without having to squeeze the pay out too. But I had a case the other day that surprised me a little. Last October I sold a bill to a concern in Canton, Ohio, on 60 days. When I started out this spring the book-keeper told me the bill was still unpaid. He said he sent statement in January, then drew through the Canton bank in February, but draft was returned unpaid. I told him the concern was good, and I didn't understand it. I was in Canton in April and intended to speak to the concern about our bill; but when I went into the store one of them met me very cordially, said our goods had gone well and he wanted some more. I took it for granted they had paid up, or they would not be so ready with another order, so sold them a bill and said nothing about the old one. But here is a letter from my house asking if anything was done about the October bill, and telling me it has not yet been remitted to them. Blest if I understand it! The longer I travel the more I get puzzled."
"Well, quit cutlery and go selling coffee."
"Yes, coffee. There are three things that must be selling well in these days: soap, tobacco, and coffee. Just look at the advertising pages of the papers and magazines. You see nothing but these three things and patent medicines. But then you expect patent medicines, so they don't count. Soap! Great Caesar! It's in everything. 'Queen Soap, 'Sulphur Soap, 'Ivory Soap', 'Pears' Soap,' and all the other soaps. The advertising is by all odds the largest expense, and the poor devil of a retailer is expected to sell at about 5 per cent. margin. Then see the whole country painted red on tobacco. And now we're catching it on coffee. If Arbuckle isn't a nephew of Barnum's he ought to be, for he knows how to advertise. I long ago gave up eating bread made from baking powder, because each manufacturer proved the other fellow's goods were poisonous, and I don't know but I must give up coffee since the advertisements expose how easy it is to doctor it. But at present I'm sort of holding on to Arbuckle's, and when my confidence in that goes then I'm done for."
"You are right," said a grocer. "Arbuckle has made an immense business in coffee, and made it by his brains. It's encouraging to see a concern get out of the rut and show folks that the end of everything hasn't been reached yet."
"Seems to me," said a manufacturer, "that you grocers have done more to demoralize business, by your gift enterprises, than any other class has done. Is the thing holding its own?"
"No, there is a decided feeling growing against it. The large wholesale grocers of New York, Austin, Nichols & Co., say, in a recently published letter:
"'We do not believe in "gift schemes" of any sort, and are not in the "give away" business. When the time arrives (if it ever does) when we are unable to sell good goods on their respective merits we will quietly retire from business.'"
"And a Ypsilanti, Mich., grocer writes: 'One fellow carries a shotgun around with him, another a saw, but they principally run to clocks. Of course you don't have to pay anything for these fine articles, provided you buy the goods which call for them (in your mind). The retailers, too, now are striving their very best to see which can give the most with a pound of baking powder. That is, a great many retailers are. They do not seem to care anything about the quality, if they can only give the largest prize. Quality is not considered at all. They buy the thing for the great prize offered. When the retail merchants of this country shut down on this despicable way of doing business and sell goods on their merits, without a prize package attached, just so soon will a blow have been struck at the root of the whole matter.' These pretty fairly represent the growing sentiment among large and small traders of brains. They see that the moment an article ceases to be sold on its merit, just that moment a dealer is losing his hold on trade. I met a man from Ohio on the cars a day or two ago. He had been sent out to Iowa by his house to sell coffee and spices on the prize-package basis. He said he was almost turned out of doors by the Iowa merchants as soon as be had told his story. The dealers there said they wanted no goods that had to be worked off in that way, and had no confidence in goods that could not sell themselves. Now that was a healthy sign."
"When I see it," said another grocer, "I at once assume that the concern is sending out cheap goods, or that it has been losing trade and catches at this straw to save itself. When an old and reliable house like Lorillard goes into the give-a-prize-away-with-every- package business, it only goes to show to what an extent this matter is carried on. The Lorillards are now introducing a tobacco called 'Splendid.' They say it is a 'splendid' thing, makes one feel 'splendid,' etc. If it is, why not sell it on its merits; advertise it in a legitimate way; make the price an inducement, and if it is a splendid article the public will soon find it out. Lately they have been offering a pack of cards with every 10-cent piece, besides giving a first-class cutter to the retailer with a single box, and a combination truck and ladder with five boxes."
"It is really one sign of the hard times. When business recovers itself, and that time is not so far distant, consumers will not be attracted by the cheap gifts. Every day they are being educated to understand that they pay for all their 'gifts,' and pay well, too."
"In times like these you can't blame men for jumping at everything. Every buyer wants 'a leetle adwantage,' and, like a Chicago man that the boys tell of, tells you your price is 'stereotyped' unless you cut down below every one else. So dealers try low prices and try gifts, but by and by they will have to sell on a rising market, and things will change."
"You think prices will go up?"
"They must go up, and it is right that they should. There is no reason why the girl at work at a loom should starve just that your wife should save a cent or two a yard on her gingham dress. Wages must go up, and goods advance too."
"But if wages advance and the cost of living advances too, where is the girl to be benefited?"
"Don't fool yourself on that stuff; that is the stale argument of some of the smart young men who write for posterity. Rent is probably as high to-day as it was when wages were twice as high. The prices of flour, pork, and beef are regulated by the crop, not by the buyers' wages. If I were hammering at an anvil I would take my increased wages and pay increased prices if I had to, and feel pretty sure I was going to be benefited. There are some theories, like this one and free-trade, that sound very plausible, but do not stand any chance when actual tests are made in every day life. The cry of all merchants to-day should be, 'Pay decent wages to your help and add it to your goods.' And any factory that held out ought to be boycotted. I know it's a mean word, but it is a good one for use with mean men."
The last day on the road must always seem a long day. One figures out just what train he will take, the hour he will arrive at the end of the journey, and the minute he will be with his family or in the store. I had reached my last day and was putting in my "best licks" so as to have a good batch of orders to carry in with me, to make my welcome all the greater. But as luck would have it no day of my trip had been so uncertain and tantalizing.
I spread out my revolvers before four concerns and enlarged upon their remarkable qualities and low prices. "Bulldogs" had stiffened in price at the factories to $2.25, less 10 per cent., and our stock was large and bought at low prices. I used this as a bait wherever I could, but every other man had been throwing out offers of the same kind, and mine were not so greedily taken as I would like to have had them.
"No use of your offering baits," said one party "there's no life in the gun business any more. Here's Lafoucheaux guns at $7, Flobert rifles at $2, Smith & Wesson revolvers at $8, and the deuce knows where it will stop. Things must be mighty dubious when S. & W. have to cut their prices. Here's Reachum's last billet doux on rifles, quoting them at about 5 per cent, above cost, and yet you expect me to give you an order. No, it's no use; I must wait till somebody wants to buy something that I have."
"Do you say that about all your lines?"
"Well, it's mighty near it in everything. Here's an order from my man on the Central for a quarter dozen steel squares at 75 and 10 off; cost me that a month ago. Here's strap hinges at 65 and 5 off; I paid that for them. There's a milk-strainer, sold at $1.25 per dozen, cost me $1.20; carpet tacks sold at $1.50 gross, cost me $1.44. All these things in one bill. I tell you I am getting rich fast."
"I am going in to-night," I said, "and would be glad to carry in a little order for you. I'll get it out myself and see that nice goods are sent you."
"No, I don't want anything."
I heard almost a similar complaint from the next one I saw, but I managed to secure two orders for my day's work, and then I was done. I never paid a hotel bill so gladly or bought a railroad ticket with happier feelings. There was a pleasure in getting my baggage checked home, and no car ever seemed to me quite so comfortable and inviting as the one I rode home in.
When I walked into the store it was difficult to believe that I had been out of it more than twenty-four hours. The bill of goods on the floor looked exactly like the one I saw there the day I started away. The porter and drayman seemed to be talking about the same accident or "wake" that they were engaged in when I last saw them together, and the white head of the "old man" was bent over his books as if it had never moved. I couldn't help saying to myself, "How glad they ought to be that they have only to do the work that comes to them, instead of feeling the responsibility of creating new business."
They met me as if I had been off on a lark, and ought to feel grateful to them for doing my work while I was away. I wondered if I was ever ass enough to meet our old travelers in any such way. I guess I was.
"Well, old boy, had a good time?"
This from stock clerk, from salesman, from the packer, and from the book-keeper.
Good time! Great Caesar!
Good time! With a constant dread about you that you are going to fail! Pushing yourself boldly into men's offices a dozen times a day, yet always nervously dreading the reception they may give you. Catching late trains and early trains; missing meals or sitting down to tables where things are so uninviting you cannot eat. And all the time, day and night, wondering if your employers are satisfied with your sales and if they recognize the necessity of your cutting prices. A good time! If there is any business in the world that is so little of a "good time" I would like to know what it is. The firm met me very pleasantly. They joked me a little about my new beard and the extra fat they declared they saw on me, and then the welcomings were over.
I took my place at my old desk with a firm resolution to let other men do the traveling; I would stick to the store.
"Come home to supper with me," said the head of the house; "I'd like to talk over your trip with you, and we can do it better at home this evening."
This was an honor I had not had before. The other boys looked at me with envy.
"How have things gone? Has business been good?" I asked my old assistant in the stock.
"Things have gone so-so; trade has been only middling. But you did first rate, old fellow. I heard the old man say you were a success."
"Did he say that?"
"Yes, and lots more. You made a strike."
This was pleasant news.
After our tea that evening the head of the house began to question me about my trip, and I saw that a detailed story of it was what he wanted. So I began with the first town that I had stopped at, and gave him a history of the trip. He seemed to enjoy it, and to pick up a good many items from it.
"Yes," he said, "business is becoming less profitable every year. The idiots who are going to get rich by selling flour at 25 cents a barrel less than cost, simply by doing a h—l of a business, are multiplying. Reachum can probably sell goods close and make money, as he has no traveling men; his principal expense is his postal cards. Simmons & Hibbard can sell our goods low because it is only one department of a large business with them, and its proportion of expenses is not great. We will be compelled to do either less or more; either do a smaller business in guns and ammunition and at less expense, or to put in other goods and drum a larger variety of trade. We have pretty much decided to do the latter. What do you think of it?"
I laughingly suggested that in Cleveland and Indianapolis some of the houses were adding a silver mine to their stock, and that we ought to have one too.
"And then compel the traveling-men to buy or not give them orders? That would be a good scheme. But I had not thought of that. Our plan is to lay in a line of goods that will work in well with general trade and sell all the year round."
I said I thought it was a capital idea.
"Will you give up the stock and go on the road regularly?"
What? Go on the road regularly? Not a bit of it. Keep on, month after month, year after year, hammering after orders? No, oh, no!
"Then you don't like it?"
No, I did not. There was altogether too much anxiety about it for me. There were men so constituted that they did not feel worried whether they got an order or not. They were the proper men to travel. But I was nervous and anxious, and worried when I had no order for fear I was not going to get one; and then worried after I had one, fearing I would not get any more. No, I was not made of the right kind of stuff for a traveling man.
"If I did not see that you are so thoroughly in earnest I would say you are sarcastic. You evidently believe what you say, but you do not seem to understand that the very reason why you will make a successful salesman is this nervous dread of failure. When you meet a man who doesn't care a copper cent whether trade is good or not you have met a second-rate man. Trade can only be secured by persistent and hard work. A man of your disposition will be pulling wires and ingratiating himself into the good will of his customers, while your contented man is playing billiards or making acquaintance of a sport of the town. Taking into consideration the times and the condition of business, your trip has been a remarkably successful one, but the second one will be a better one for the house, and a pleasanter one for you. You will then call on acquaintances, not on strangers, and you will find your task easier and your trade better. Think it over. You will be more valuable to us on the road and it will pay you better."
But I swore I would not consider it. Afterwards I fancied I might think of it. Then I did consider it, and yes, here I am. I represent the firm of Blank & Blank, Guns and Ammunition. If you are in need of anything in my line I would be glad to figure with you, for I am
A MAN OF SAMPLES.
HIS LAST TRIP.
Morgan had been on the road for one house about 20 years. This is a long period of travel. In less time than that most men work up or work down. No man can continue on a dead level as a salesman during that time, even if his habits are good. If he has ability he is sure, with rare exception, to work himself off the road. If he is mediocre no one house can afford to carry him for twenty years. Morgan was the rare exception just mentioned. He was an excellent salesman, and his ability and success but served to weld him the closer to his work. The house had made him a partner long since, but the business he controlled was so large and so profitable, that they all knew, and he best, that to withdraw him and experiment with a new man would be but playing with fire over a magazine of powder. So he went on his way year after year, making no plans for the future that would change his work or his life.
But his family, consisting of his wife and their one daughter, Mary, a romping girl of twelve, was not of his disposition, These two could not see husband and father start off without a protest. The wife had always on her heart a burden of anxiety about him; of dangers on railroads, of his possible robbery and murder; of the discomforts of hotels, and the fear of his falling sick among strangers. She was naturally a timid woman, and the responsibility of the house weighed upon her. The whole burden of Mary's growth in body and mind, her training, her companions, and her pleasures were matters the mother would gladly have shared with the father, but she was generally compelled to decide them alone.
The father's continued absence was a constant pain and grievance to Mary. There was never a week but that she felt deprived of some special outing because he was not at home to go with her. Saturday night and Sunday, if he was where he could run home, were so many solid hours of happiness to them all, but to Mary they were full of perfect bliss.
Morgan was known to all his friends as a man who never worried. If a train was late he sat down and waited; if a customer failed he always signed a compromise; if he didn't get the best room in the hotel, he took what he could get; and he lost no sleep in picturing how his competitors might get ahead of him. He always left home with the assurance that everything would go on all right until he returned, and when he went away he thought of the two he loved as being happy and well.
But as he started on this trip, he could not shake off a slight feeling of anxiety that had possessed him all the night, and had grown since he awoke. Their talk the previous day had been about the entrance Of diphtheria into the neighborhood, and of the fatal case but two blocks away from their door. Mary had complained of a slightly sore throat, but on Monday morning declared it was entirely well again, kissing him good-by with more spirit than usual, as if trying to convince him of the truth of her words, and send him away assured and happy.
When he was seated in the cars the shadows came over his spirits again and began to torture him with doubts and possibilities. It might be, he thought, that her sprightliness of the morning was due to fever, rather than to health. He wished he had looked into her throat, and he regretted that he had not cautioned his wife about her. He nursed these fears until he felt himself becoming wild with apprehension, and then he resolutely put the thoughts aside, declared he was foolish and would have no more of it, and devoted himself to a companion and to his papers.
Men cannot always govern their minds. These are kingdoms that frequently rebel against all government. Several times during the day Morgan caught himself going back to his morning thoughts and he resolutely changed the current. But at night, try as he would, he could not conquer them. Even his dreams took up the forebodings of the day, exaggerated and intensified them, and tortured him. Next morning found him out of sorts, nervous, and miserable. He had a long drive to take in the country, but he shrank from it as if he saw danger in his track. All his intuitions seemed to be crying to him to go home, but what he thought was his common sense kept insisting that he should go on with his business, and not cross the bridge of trouble until he came to it.
The day was one of the loveliest October days he had ever seen. His drive was through twenty miles of the best corn land of Illinois. The black road was as dry as a board, and as level as only a prairie can be. The first effect of the beautiful day and pure air was invigorating. He enjoyed the drive through the street into the country road. Then the broad fields, the pleasant farm houses, the herds of horses and cattle, the long Osage hedges, the perpetual but always surprised rabbit at the road side, all these attracted and entertained him, and his ride was successful in driving away his blues. His customer seemed especially glad to see him; took him to his house to dinner; talked with him of important personal matters, and gave him a large order for goods. He turned back to the railroad feeling as happy as he had ever done; took out his order-book and figured up the amount of the bill and the profit, as was his custom, and then began to sing.
Suddenly there came across him a wave of anxious worry, and all his thoughts flew back to the daughter's sore throat, and the funeral he saw last Sunday. He could not drive these away. They clung to him; they whispered to him; they unfolded themselves like a panorama, and on the canvas he saw Mary sick, then worse, and then dead! It was the longest twenty-mile ride that he had ever taken, and his old friend, the landlord, concluded from his face that Morgan had met with bad luck in sales that day.
He had a night run to Decatur and determined that he would telegraph to the house, and quiet these nervous apprehensions that were so cruel, though probably so absurd. It would cost but little, he reasoned, and though foolish, it was wiser than to continue to be torn by doubts. So before going to bed he gave the operator a half rate message, for morning delivery, as follows:
To Manning, Morgan & Co., Chicago, Ill.: Is my wife or daughter sick? Answer, care Gilsey.
He felt easier having done this, and passed a better night than the previous one, although there was in all his sleeping and waking thoughts an under current of solicitude over impending danger to Mary.
With an attempt not to be anxious, yet terribly apprehensive at heart, he tore open the telegram that reached him about 9 o'clock:
To C. Morgan, care Gilsey & Co., Decatur: Come home first train.
Good God, what was this! Were his forebodings indeed true? If so he was all the more totally unprepared for the truth. His constant comfort had been that his fears had not the slightest foundation to rest upon, and the more they crowded upon him the surer he had been that they were flimsier than dreams. But here staring him in the face were those four ominous words:
"Come home first train."
Why had they not given him the whole story? He started for the telegraph office to send for further particulars, but stopped. Suppose Mary was dead! Did he want to learn it here, so far from his wife? No; he would wait. Such a story would unfold soon enough. There were several hours before a train went his way; the discipline of twenty years asserted itself, and he attended to his business.
The ride home was one that can be understood in its depths only by those who have been similarly circumstanced. The train seemed to creep. The minutes were like hours. The stops seemed to be interminable, and every mile nearer home seemed to be proportionately longer than the previous one. He reached the city at dark. The store was closed. He had expected to find Manning there, but he suddenly remembered that he had not telegraphed to him the time of his arrival. As he neared his home the first glance showed him there was a change. The lower part of the house was in darkness, and only a dim light shone in the front chamber, which was but rarely occupied.
"They have laid her there," he said to himself, and all his soul cried within him in anguish. His poor wife! How she must have suffered, to have gone through all this alone! What a brute he was to go away Monday, when he ought to have known, and did know, that something dreadful was upon them! He reached the door; it was fastened; he would go to the other side and enter quietly. But some one heard his step, and, opening the door, called him back.
"Is it Mr. Morgan?" The voice was that of a neighbor.
"Yes." He passed in, expecting to see or hear his wife. The friend closed the door and turned to him.
"Have you heard—," she began.
"I have heard nothing; is Mary—," he broke down. The door beside him opened.
Give him air! What mystery was this?
"Mary, is it you? Are you alive? Why, I thought—I feared—Oh, darling, is it you?"
Yes, it was Mary. Oh, thank God! Thank God!
"Tell me again, dear, are you well?"
"Oh, yes, papa, but poor mamma!"
"Mamma! What of her? Is she sick? What is it? Tell me quick!" And again he was pushed from the heaven of happiness to the bottomless pit of doubt. "Is mamma sick? where is she?"
"Oh, papa, the doctor says she is going to—"
"Hush," said the neighbor. "Step inside, sir; the doctor is with her now; he will soon be down. Prepare yourself, Mr. Morgan; your wife is very low. The servant's carelessness caused an explosion in the kitchen, setting herself on fire; your wife ran to her assistance and saved her life, but, I fear, at the expense of her own."
"I must see her."
"No, sir, not now; be guided by me for a moment. The doctor will soon be down."
He took Mary in his arms and they wept together. Oh, if his wife, his darling wife! were to be taken from him! It was the cruelest blow God ever struck! And she saving another's life, too! He cursed and raved, but it was in his own heart; and Mary, crying on his breast, only knew what comfort it was to have her papa once more with her.
The physician came down with manner so grave that it told its own story. "There is scarcely a chance," he said; "you can go to her; she will not know you."
"When did this happen?"
"Have you consulted others? Can nothing more be done?"
"Nothing except to help her to die easy."
* * * * * * *
But she did not die. She knew her husband. He begged of her to live, as only a man can plead whose soul is bound up in a woman's life, and whether love, or whether medicine, or whether care saved her, I do not know. But she lived. But Morgan informed Manning that his traveling days were over; that a new man must be engaged for that route. They found him, after diligent search, and much to the surprise of everyone connected with the house, he sold more goods for the firm than Morgan had ever done. The one who rejoices most at this is Morgan, who says he has made his last trip.
"LET US KICK."
[The following sketch by M. Quad in the Detroit Free Press, will be new to some of our readers, and will, we think, be appreciated by them all.]
I really and truly believe that the day will come when the kicker will be classed where he belongs and be entitled to the reverence due him. I look upon him as a philosopher and a philanthropist. He stands forth one man out of ten thousand. He is actuated by the most unselfish motives. He is the real reformer.
I am not a kicker. I am simply taking the preparatory lessons to enable me to blossom out. The other day when I bought a ticket to go east they told me at the ticket office:
"While the train does not leave until about eleven, the sleeper is open at nine, and you can go right to bed and wake up at Niagara Falls next morning."
I entered the sleeper at half-past nine and went to bed. That is, it is called going to bed. You are boxed up, boxed in, surrounded and smothered and charged two dollars for the misery. A sleeping-car is a mockery, a fraud and a deception. The avarice of the companies results in misery for the passengers. Four other persons had gone to bed, and at ten o'clock we were all asleep. At that hour two men entered with a great clatter. They were talking loudly, and they sat down and continued. I waited fifteen minutes for one of the other sleepers to kick. No one uttered a protest Then I rose up and asked:
"Do you men know that this is a sleeping-car?"
"We do," they answered.
"And do you propose to continue this disturbance?"
"We propose to talk as long and as loud as we please!"
I called the conductor and inquired:
"I have paid for a berth in which to sleep. I can't sleep for this disturbance. Will you stop it?"
"Really, I can't," he answered.
"Are there no rules?"
"Yes, but people in a sleeping-car must expect to be disturbed."
"Oh, they must. Very well—see me later."
Four others came in with just as much racket, and they kept their chattering going until eleven o'clock. At half-past eleven the lights were turned down and everybody was ready for sleep. I had been patiently waiting for this. Lying on my back, arms locked over my head and my palate down, I brought a snore which went thundering over that car in a way to open every eye. After two more a man called out.
"Thunder and blazes, but we've got a whale aboard!"
After three more they began to yell at me from every berth. I put in two extra ones, and the porter came down and shook my arm and said:
"Colored man!" I said, as I looked up at him, "if you come here and do that again I may fire upon you!"
As soon as he had gone I went back to business. When a man sets out to snore for revenge you'd be surprised to know what a success he can make of it. In five minutes they were calling for the conductor. He came down and parted the curtains and said:
"Hey—you—wake up! You are disturbing the car.
"Conductor, haven't I paid for this berth?" I asked.
"Is there any rule which prohibits snoring?"
"Then you keep away from me! I have a revolver, and I might take you for a robber!"
Then I returned to the main question. I snored in every key of the scale. I snored for blood. I had every person in the car swearing mad and ready to fight, and they sent for the passenger conductor. He refused to interfere. Several chaps volunteered to "pull me out o' that," but when they came close enough to see the muzzle of a revolver they fell back. At two o'clock in the morning they held a convention, and as the result one of them asked:
"Stranger, can we buy you off?"
"Is there any way on earth to stop that bazoo of yours?"
"The four of you who came in last were grossly selfish. You had no care for the rights of others. The four who were here before I came were disturbed but hadn't the grit to kick. Now, then, promise me on your solemn words that if you ever enter a sleeping-car again you will respect; the situation, and I will let you off."
Every soul in that car made the promise, and half an hour later we were all asleep.