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- A Man of Samples - 1/28 -
A MAN OF SAMPLES
SOMETHING ABOUT THE MEN HE MET
"ON THE ROAD"
BY WM. H. MAHER
"ON THE ROAD TO RICHES"
"When do you start, Tom?"
"Well, good-by; sock it to 'em; send us in some fat orders."
"I'll do it, or die; good-by."
And then I sat down to think it all over. Our traveling man was off on a wedding tour, and I had agreed to take his place for this one trip. As the hour drew near for me to start, my courage proportionately sank, until I now heartily wished that I had never consented to go. What if I failed? I had been stock clerk and house salesman for three years; I had been successful; my position was a good one, and one that would grow better; there was nothing to be made by success on the road, as I had no intention of continuing there, and failure might be the means of making my place in the house less secure. What an infernal fool I was! If there had been any way under heaven for me to get out of it I would have hailed the opening with delight. I would have blessed any accident that would have been the means of sending me to bed for a week or two, and I would have taken the small-pox thankfully. But there was no release. Like an ass, as I was, I had agreed to take Mallon's trip, and I must go ahead if it made or unmade me.
I ate my supper with a heavy heart, bade my landlady and her daughters a solemn good-by, then went to the theater to forget my sorrows. At midnight I was checking my sample-trunk for Albany, and persuading the baggagemaster that 218 pounds were exactly 120. I succeeded; but it took three ten-cent cigars to do it.
The reason I call the town Albany is because that is not its name, and I may as well say here that as I write about actual incidents I don't propose to "lay myself liable" by giving the name of any town or any dealer. If I call him Smith it will naturally follow that he was not Smith.
If Albany had been a hundred or more miles away I would have taken a berth in the sleeper, but we were due there at 2 o'clock, so I dozed and nodded and swore to myself during the two hours' ride. I wanted to get there, but I dreaded it, too. Stories I had heard traveling men tell about poor beds, mean men, dirty food, and unprincipled competitors all came back to me in a distorted fashion, and if I didn't have a nightmare I must have experienced a slight touch of delirium tremens.
"How much of a town is Albany?" I asked the conductor.
"No town at all; just a crossing."
"No hotel there?"
"Oh, yes; they call it a hotel."
This was exactly what I expected. Probably no one would be up and I could walk around the town for the next four hours. What an idiot I was! By thunder, I would break my leg or my arm the first thing I did and get out of this foolish--
What, so soon! Those were the two shortest hours I had ever known.
No lights anywhere; no one about; nothing but--
Good; here was a ray of comfort. "Hotel? Well, I should say so. Where is your light?"
"Here it is." And a lantern came around a corner as the train dashed off on its way.
"Don't mind your trunk; that will be taken care of and I'll get it in the morning. Here, Dan, lead the way,"
We walked a square or two and went into a neat appearing office. Bed? Yes, I might as well get a few hours' sleep. And I was given a very comfortable room. I lay in bed trying to recall our customer's name, and preparing my speech of introduction when--. Some one was rapping at the door. What's up? Breakfast! What, breakfast already? Why, I hadn't thought I was asleep at all.
As I looked over the register, after breakfast, dreading to start out, I asked the clerk;
"Been any gun men here lately?"
"None since last week. Layton was here from Pittsburg on the 22d."
"Did he sell anything?"
"I think he did sell Cutter a small bill"
"How many stores are there here?"
"Three that sell guns. Are you in the gun business!"
"Yes. I am from Pittsburg."
I hung back as long as I dared; found out all about the trains; picked up facts and fancies about the merchants; got my cards and price-book handy; stuck four revolvers (samples) in my pockets; pulled my hat down solidly on my head, and started out. And every step I took I, figuratively, kicked myself for being there, and for being a blasted fool generally. "JOHN O. JORDAN, GUNS AND REVOLVERS."
This was the legend that attracted my attention, and toward it I took my way. I stopped at the window long enough to take a hasty inventory of its contents, and from it I sized up my man. There were some goods there that came from our store; this cheered me, I took courage, walked in, and handed Mr. Jordan my card.
"We have done some business with you," I said, in my blandest tones, "and Mr. Mallon always spoke pleasantly of you [this was a random shot]; he has taken a wife unto himself, and I am making his trip."
"Why the devil don't you send me the goods I ordered last time from him? Where are those British bull-dogs? Did he sell them too low, or is my credit poor?"
Phew! There it was. I must first close up an old sore before I could do anything else. I might have known it would be just so, but I was such a pig-headed fool I hadn't thought of this.
"Tell me all about it, Mr. Jordan;" and he told it, with fire in his eye. But he felt better for having told it. I knew nothing of it till now, but I took out my book and said:
"Mr. Jordan, the goods will come now. You may depend upon it. How many bull-dogs do you want?"
"I don't want any. I got some of Layton. The house can't fool me again."
I sat down on the counter and gave him fourteen reasons for his order not having been filled (I hope some of them were true), and then I pulled out a "Pet" revolver and asked him if seventy-five cents was not mighty low for that.
He admitted that it was, but he had bought of Layton five cents lower. Then I explained wherein Layton's was ten cents poorer than mine (I hadn't seen his), and why he ought to give mine the preference. What had he paid for 32-caliber?
I drew out mine at $1.20, and I convinced him that mine was a better pistol than his, although he said he had already more than he ought to have and he would not buy more. Then I placed an automatic ejector under his eyes, threw out the shells, cocked it and snapped it, and explained how, though it cost us $6.70, I was going to sell him some at $6.
"No, you ain't," said he, "I've got two on hand and can't give them away."
By this time it struck me I was making but little headway and was wasting my breath in praising goods he already had, so I concluded the best plan to go on was to see what he had, and govern myself accordingly. He seemed to have everything, confound him! There was nothing he had not bought in the thirty days, and I began to think I could use my time better somewhere else, when a man came in to buy a gun, and I stepped aside to watch the subsequent proceedings.
The story told by that retailer about those guns would have made a dog howl, if it were not for the fact that he believed every word of it. The farmer wanted a good muzzle loader, but wanted it choke-bored! The retailer brought down seven different guns, all of them choke-bored! and expatiated upon their cheapness and good qualities. Some reference was made to me, as being a gun man, and I was drawn into the conversation. I explained the merits of guns to that farmer in a way that pleased him mightily. I could see that, but he finally said he didn't intend to buy a gun that day, but would some time in the fall, and he passed calmly out.
I looked at Mr. Jordan, and he looked at me. "Are you mad?" I asked.
"No; I'm used to it."
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