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- Tales of the Road - 10/44 -
that same day in the hotel. I sent for him, never letting my yokel friend get away from me a foot. I saw the other man, at whose line my friend wished to look, sitting in the office; but I knew he would obey the rule of the road and not come up to the merchant until I had let him go.
[Illustration: "I listened to episodes in the lives of all those seven children"]
"My partner was a deuce of a long time coming. I listened to episodes in the lives of all of those seven children. I took down notes on good remedies for whooping cough, croup, measles, and all the ills that flesh is heir to--and thanked Heaven we had struck that subject! Finally my partner, Sam, came. As he drew near I gave him the wink, and, introducing my friend to him, said: 'Now, Mr. Anderson is in town to buy clothing. I have shown him my line, but he feels he ought to look around. Maybe I haven't all the patterns he wants, and if I can get only a part of the order there is no one I'd rather see get the other than you. Whatever the result, you'll bring Mr. Anderson to my room, 112, when you get through. Show him thoroughly. I'm in no hurry.'
"Sam marched Anderson up to his room. He caught onto my game all right. I knew he would hold him four hours, if necessary, and tell him all about his family history for seven generations.
"When Sam left, I went over to the cigar stand, pulled out my order book and figured about long enough to add up a bill. I filled my cigar case and going over to my competitor, at whose line Anderson had promised to look, offered him one. He had made a sort of 'body snatch' from me anyway and was ashamed to say anything about Anderson, but he asked: 'How's business?'
"'Coming in carriages today,' said I. 'My city customer was over early this morning and, no sooner had he gone than a man from the country came in. Two clothing bills in one day is all right, isn't it? I just turned my country customer over to Sam, as he has a few new patterns in his line I want him to show. Guess I'll go pack up shortly.'
"I hadn't told a point blank lie, and my competitor had no right to ask about my affairs, anyway. He also went to pack up.
"I let Sam entertain Anderson until I knew my competitor was out of the way. Then I sent a note up to him. In due time he brought the merchant down and soon excused himself.
"'That's a mighty nice fellow,' said Anderson, 'but my! his goods are dear. Why, his suits are two to three dollars higher than yours. You'll certainly get my bill. I told my partner I believed your house would be all right to buy from.'
"I took the order from Anderson, but I was half glad when I heard that he had died a few months afterward; for if he had lived he would have been sure to catch up with me when Sam and I were both in market. And then my goose would have been cooked for all time with him, sure."
And so it would.
THE HELPING HAND.
The helping hand is often held out by the man on the road. Away from home he is dependent upon the good will of others; he frequently has done for him an act of kindness; he is ever ready to do for others a deed of friendship or charity. Road life trains the heart to gentleness. It carries with it so many opportunities to help the needy. Seldom a day passes that the traveling salesman does not loosen his purse strings for some one in want--no, not that; he carries his money in his vest pocket. Doing one kind act brings the doer such a rich return that he does a second generous deed and soon he has the habit. The liberality of the traveling man does not consist wholly of courting the favor of his merchant friends--he is free with them, but mainly because it is his nature; it is for those from whom he never expects any return that he does the most.
A friend of mine once told this story:
"It was on the train traveling into Lincoln, Nebraska, many years ago. It was near midnight. It was, I believe, my first trip on the road. Just in front of me, in a double seat, sat a poor woman with three young children. As the brakeman called 'Lincoln, the next station! Ten minutes for lunch!' I noticed the woman feeling in her pockets and looking all around. She searched on the seats and on the floor. A companion, Billie Collins, who sat beside me leaned over and asked: 'Madam, have you lost something?'
"Half crying, she replied, 'I can't find my purse--I want to get a cup of coffee; it's got my ticket and money in it and I'm going through to Denver.'
"'We'll help you look for it,' said Billy.
"We searched under the seats and up and down the aisle, but could not find the pocket book. The train was drawing near Lincoln. The poor woman began to cry.
"'It's all the money I've got, too,' she said pitifully. 'I've just lost my husband and I'm going out to my sister's in Colorado. She says I can get work out there. I know I had the ticket. The man took it at Ottumwa and gave it back to me. And I had enough money to buy me a ticket up to Central City where my sister is. They won't put me off, will they? I know I had the ticket. If I only get to Denver, I'll be all right. I guess my sister can send me money to come up to her. I've got enough in my basket for us to eat until she does. I can do without coffee. They won't put me off, wi--ll--?'
"The woman couldn't finish the sentence.
"One of the boys--Ferguson was his name--who sat across the aisle beside a wealthy looking old man, came over. 'Don't you worry a bit, Madam,' said he. 'You'll get through all right. I'll see the conductor.' The old man--a stockholder in a big bank, I afterward learned--merely twirled his thumbs.
"The conductor came where we were and said: 'Yes, she had a ticket when she got on my division. I punched it and handed it back to her. That's all I've got to do with the matter.'
"'But,' spoke up Collins, 'this woman has just lost her husband and hasn't any money either. She's going through to Colorado to get work. Can't you just say to the next conductor that she had a ticket and get him to take care of her and pass her on to the next division?' "'Guess she'll have to get off at Lincoln,' answered the conductor gruffly, 'our orders are to carry no one without transportation.' All railroad men have not yet learned that using horse sense and being polite means promotion.
"The poor woman began to cry but my friend Billie, said: 'Don't cry, Madam, you shall go through all right. Just stay right where you are.'
"The conductor started to move on. 'Now, you just hold on a minute, sir,' said Collins. 'When this train stops you be right here--_right here, I say_--and go with me to the superintendent in the depot. If you don't you won't be wearing those brass buttons much longer. It's your business, sir, to look after passengers in a fix like this and I'm going to make it my business to see that you attend to yours.'
"The conductor was lots bigger than my friend; but to a coward a mouse seems as big as an elephant and 'brass buttons' said: 'All right, I'll be here; but it won't do no good.'
"As the conductor started down the aisle, Ferguson turned to the woman and said: 'You shall go through all right, Madam; how much money did you have?'
"'Three dollars and sixty-five cents,' she answered--she knew what she had to a penny--three dollars and sixty-five cents; And I'll bet she knew where every nickel of it came from! A cruel old world this to some people, for a while!
"The train had whistled for Lincoln. Ferguson took off his hat, dropped in a dollar, and passed it over to Billie and me. Then he went down the aisle, saying to the boys, 'Poor woman, husband just died, left three children, going to hunt work in Colorado, lost her purse with ticket and all the money she had.' He came back with nearly enough silver in his hat to break out the crown--eighteen dollars!
"'Will you chip in, Colonel?' said Ferguson to the old man who had been his traveling companion?
"'No,' answered the old skinflint, 'I think the railroad company ought to look after cases of this kind. Ahem! Ahem!'
"'Well,' said Ferguson, snatching the valise out of his seat--I never saw a madder fellow--'We've enough without yours even if you are worth more than all of us. You're so stingy I won't even let my grip stay near you.' "When the train stopped at Lincoln, Billie and Ferguson took the conductor to the superintendent's office. They sent me to the lunch counter. I got back first with a cup of coffee for the mother and a bag for the children. But pretty soon in bolted Billy and Ferguson. Billie handed the woman a pass to Denver, and Ferguson dumped the eighteen dollars into her lap.
"'Oh, that's too much! I'll take just three dollars and give me your name so that I can send that back,' said the woman, happier than any one I ever saw.
"But we all rushed away quickly, Billy saying: 'Oh, never mind our names, madam. Buy something for the children; Good-bye, God bless you!'"
Not the poor widow, alone, but even the big, able-bodied, hungry tramp comes in often to share the drummer's generosity. A friend once told me of a good turn he did for a "Weary Willie" in Butte.
Now if there is any place on earth where a man is justified in being mean, it is in Butte. It is a mining camp. It rests upon bleak, barren hills; the sulphuric fumes, arising from roasting ores, have long since killed out all vegetation. It has not even a sprig of grass. This smoke, also laden with arsenic, sometimes hovers over Butte like a London fog. More wealth is every year dug out of the earth in Butte, and more money is squandered there by more different kinds of people, than in any place of its size on earth. The dictionary needs one adjective which should qualify Butte and no other place. Many a time while there I've expected to see Satan rise up out of a hole. Whenever
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