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- Tales of the Road - 5/44 -
approached, politely said to me, "Is there something I can do for you, suh?"
I caught his southern accent and in a moment was on my guard. I arose and, taking off my hat--for he was an old gentleman--replied: "That remains with you, sir," and I briefly stated my business, saying finally, "As this is my first time in your town and as my house is perhaps new to you, possibly, if you can find the time to do so, you may wish to see what I have." Recalling that one of my table companions had said he considered him a gentleman I was especially careful to be polite to the merchant. And politeness is a jewel that every traveling man should wear in his cravat.
"I shall see you at one thirty, suh. Will you excuse me now?" With this the old gentleman returned to his office. I immediately left the store. The important thing to get a merchant to do is to consent to look at your goods. When you can get him to do this, keep out of his way until he is ready to fulfil his engagement. Then, when you have done your business, pack your goods and leave town. What the merchant wants chiefly with the traveling man is to _do business_ with him. True, much visiting and many odd turns are sometimes necessary to get the merchant to the point of "looking," but when you get him there, leave him until he is ready to "look." Friendships, for sure, will develop, but don't force them.
At one twenty-nine that afternoon I started for the "old crank's" store. It was just across the street from my sample room. I met him in the middle of the street. He was a crank about keeping his engagements promptly. I respect a man who does this. The old gentleman looked carefully, but not tediously, at my goods, never questioning a price. In a little while, he said: "I shall do some business with you, suh; your goods suit me."
I never sold an easier bill in my life and never met a more pleasant gentleman. Our business finished, he offered me a cigar and asked that he might sit and smoke while I packed my samples. Yes, offered me a cigar. And I took it. It was lots better than offering him one. He enjoyed giving me one more than he would have enjoyed smoking one of mine. In fact, it flatters any man more to accept a favor from him than to do one for him. Many traveling men spend two dollars a day on cigars which they give away. They are not only throwing away money but also customers sometimes. The way for the salesman on the road to handle the man he wants to sell goods to in order to get his regard is to treat him as he does the man of whom he expects no favors. When you give a thing to a man he generally asks in his own mind, "What for?"
Before I left the town of the "old crank" I met with another of his peculiarities. I was out of money. I asked him if he would cash a sight draft for me on my firm for a hundred dollars.
"No, suh," said he. "I will not. I was once swindled that way and I now make it a rule never to do that."
Needles stuck in me all over.
"But," continued the old gentleman, "I shall gladly lend you a hundred dollars or any amount you wish."
For the many years I went to the town of the "old crank," our relationship was most cordial. I believe we became friends. More than once did he drop business and go out fishing with me. Since the first day we met I have often recalled the words of my table companion: "Those we meet are, to a great extent, but reflections of ourselves."
Recalling the predicament I was in for a moment in the town of the "old crank," reminds me of an experience I once had. As a rule, I haven't much use for the man on the road who borrows money. If he hasn't a good enough stand-in with his firm to draw on the house or else to have the firm keep him a hundred or two ahead in checks, put him down as no good. The man who is habitually broke on the road is generally the man who thinks he has the "gentle finger," and that he can play in better luck than the fellow who rolls the little ivory ball around a roulette wheel. There are not many of this kind, though; they don't last long. It's mostly the new man or the son of the boss who thinks he can pay room rent for tin horns.
Even the best of us, though, get shy at least once in a life time, and have to call on some one for chips. I've done this a few times myself. I never refused one of the boys on the road a favor in all my life. Many a time I've dug up a bill and helped out some chap who was broke and I knew, at the time, that as far as getting back the money went, I might just as well chuck it in the sewer. Few of the boys will borrow, but all of them are ever ready to lend.
The one time I borrowed was in Spokane. When I went down to the depot I learned that I could buy a baggage prepaid permit and save about fifty dollars. I did not know until I reached the station that I could do this in Spokane. Down east they haven't got on well to this system. You can prepay your excess baggage all the way from a coast point clear back to Chicago and have the right to drop your trunks off anywhere you will along the route. This makes a great saving. Well, when I went to check in I saw that I was short about four dollars. I did not have time to run back to my customer's up town or to the hotel and cash a draft. I looked to see if there was somebody around that I knew. Not a familiar face. I had to do one of three things: Lose a day, give up by slow degrees over fifty dollars to the Railroad Company, or strike somebody for four.
Right here next to me at the baggage counter stood a tall, good natured fellow--I shall always remember his sandy whiskers and pair of generous blue eyes. He was checking his baggage to Walla Walla.
"Going right through to Walla Walla?" said I.
"Yes," he said, "can I do anything for you?"
"Well, since you have mentioned it, you can," I answered.
I introduced myself, told my new friend--Mason was his name, Billie Mason--how I was fixed and that I would give him a note to my customer, McPherson, at Walla Walla, requesting him to pay back the money.
I gave Mason the order, written with a lead pencil on the back of an envelope, and he gave me the four dollars.
I got down to Walla Walla in a few days. When I went in to see McPherson the first thing I said to him, handing him four dollars, was: "Mac, I want to pay you back that four."
"What four?" said McPherson.
"What four?" said I. "Your memory must be short. Why, that four I gave a traveling man, named Mason, an order on you for!"
McPherson looked blank; but we happened to be standing near the cashier's desk, and the matter was soon cleared up.
The cashier, who was a new man in the store, spoke up and said: "Yes, last week a fellow was in here with an order on you for four dollars, but it was written with a lead pencil on the back of an envelope. I thought it was no good. I didn't want to be out the four, so I refused to pay it."
"The deuce you did," said my friend Mac, "Why, I've known this man (referring to me) and bought goods of him for ten years."
The thing happened this way: On the very day that Mason presented my order both McPherson himself and the clerk in my department were out of town. When the new cashier told Mason that he did not know me, Mason simply thought he was "done" for four, and walked out thanking himself that the amount was not more.
But it so happened that Mason himself that night told this joke on himself to a friend of mine.
My friend laughed "fit to kill" and finally said to Mason: "Why that fellow's good for four hundred;" and he gave Mason what I had failed to give him--my address.
I had also failed to take Mason's address. After he made me the loan in Spokane we sat on the train together chatting. I became well acquainted with him, and with a friend of his named Dickey, who was along with us. Yet I did not ask Mason his business, even; for, as you know, it's only the fresh, new man who wants to know what every man he meets is selling.
After McPherson's new cashier had told me that he had not paid my order, I inquired of every man I met about Mason, but could get no clew on him. He was in a specialty jewelry business and made only a few large towns in my territory. Every time I boarded a train I would look all through it for those sandy whiskers. It was lucky that he wore that color; it made the search easy. I even looked for him after midnight--not only going through the day coaches, but asking the Pullman porters if such a man was aboard. I woke up more than one red- whiskered man out of his slumbers and asked him: "Is your name Mason?" One of them wanted to lick me for bothering him, but he laughed so loudly when, in apologizing, I told him the reason for my search that he woke up the whole car. I never found him this way, and not having his address, I could only wait.
I had just about given up all hopes of getting a line on my confiding friend when, several weeks after a letter bearing the pen marks of many forwardings, caught me. I've got that letter; it reads this way:
"Walla Walla, Dec. 6th.
"My Dear Sir:
"I called on Mr. McPherson today and unfortunately found him out of the city. None of his clerks seemed to know you when I presented your request for an advance. They all began to look askance at me as if I were a suspicious character. I ought to have put on my white necktie and clerical look before going in, but unluckily I wore only my common, everyday, drummer appearance.
"I got your address from a fellow wayfarer here just minute ago. My train goes soon. I am writing you care of your house as I'm a little leery of sending it care of your friend McPherson.
"Your order for the four now reposes in the inside pocket of my vest amongst my firm's cash and will stand as an I. O. U. against me until I hear from you. Even as I write, my friend Dickey, who sits at my left, keeps singing into my ear:
"'If I should die tonight and you should come to my cold corpse and say:
"'"Here, Bill, I've brought you back that four,"
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