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Old Gorgon Graham More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son online

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deeper you hide them in the case the longer they stay in circulation,
and the worse impression they make when they finally come to the
breakfast-table. A mistake sprouts a lie when you cover it up. And one
lie breeds enough distrust to choke out the prettiest crop of confidence
that a fellow ever cultivated.

Of course, it's easy to have the confidence of the house, or the
confidence of the buyer, but you've got to have both. The house pays you
your salary, and the buyer helps you earn it. If you skin the buyer you
will lose your trade; and if you play tag with the house you will lose
your job. You've simply got to walk the fence straight, for if you step
to either side you'll find a good deal of air under you.

Even after you are able to command the attention and the confidence of
your buyers, you've got to be up and dressed all day to hold what trade
is yours, and twisting and turning all night to wriggle into some of
the other fellow's. When business is good, that is the time to force it,
because it will come easy; and when it is bad, that is the time to force
it, too, because we will need the orders.

Speaking of making trade naturally calls to my mind my old acquaintance,
Herr Doctor Paracelsus Von Munsterberg, who, when I was a boy, came to
our town "fresh from his healing triumphs at the Courts of Europe," as
his handbills ran, "not to make money, but to confer on suffering
mankind the priceless boon of health; to make the sick well, and the
well better."

Munsterberg wasn't one of your common, coarse, county-fair barkers. He
was a pretty high-toned article. Had nice, curly black hair and didn't
spare the bear's grease. Wore a silk hat and a Prince Albert coat all
the time, except when he was orating, and then he shed the coat to get
freer action with his arms. And when he talked he used the whole
language, you bet.

[Illustration: "_Herr Doctor Paracelsus Von Munsterberg was a pretty
high-toned article._"]

Of course, the Priceless Boon was put up in bottles, labeled
Munsterberg's Miraculous Medical Discovery, and, simply to introduce it,
he was willing to sell the small size at fifty cents and the large one
at a dollar. In addition to being a philanthropist the Doctor was quite
a hand at card tricks, played the banjo, sung coon songs and imitated a
saw going through a board very creditably. All these accomplishments,
and the story of how he cured the Emperor of Austria's sister with a
single bottle, drew a crowd, but they didn't sell a drop of the
Discovery. Nobody in town was really sick, and those who thought they
were had stocked up the week before with Quackenboss' Quick Quinine Kure
from a fellow that made just as liberal promises as Munsterberg and sold
the large size at fifty cents, including a handsome reproduction of an
old master for the parlor.

Some fellows would just have cussed a little and have moved on to the
next town, but Munsterberg made a beautiful speech, praising the
climate, and saying that in his humble capacity he had been privileged
to meet the strength and beauty of many Courts, but never had he been in
any place where strength was stronger or beauty beautifuller than right
here in Hoskins' Corners. He prayed with all his heart, though it was
almost too much to hope, that the cholera, which was raging in Kentucky,
would pass this Eden by; that the yellow fever, which was devastating
Tennessee, would halt abashed before this stronghold of health, though
he felt bound to add that it was a peculiarly malignant and persistent
disease; that the smallpox, which was creeping southward from Canada,
would smite the next town instead of ours, though he must own that it
was no respecter of persons; that the diphtheria and scarlet-fever,
which were sweeping over New England and crowding the graveyards, could
be kept from crossing the Hudson, though they were great travelers and
it was well to be prepared for the worst; that we one and all might
providentially escape chills, headaches, coated tongue, pains in the
back, loss of sleep and that tired feeling, but it was almost too much
to ask, even of such a generous climate. In any event, he begged us to
beware of worthless nostrums and base imitations. It made him sad to
think that to-day we were here and that to-morrow we were running up an
undertaker's bill, all for the lack of a small bottle of Medicine's
greatest gift to Man.

I could see that this speech made a lot of women in the crowd powerful
uneasy, and I heard the Widow Judkins say that she was afraid it was
going to be "a mighty sickly winter," and she didn't know as it would do
any harm to have some of that stuff in the house. But the Doctor didn't
offer the Priceless Boon for sale again. He went right from his speech
into an imitation of a dog, with a tin can tied to his tail, running
down Main Street and crawling under Si Hooper's store at the far end of
it - an imitation, he told us, to which the Sultan was powerful partial,
"him being a cruel man and delighting in torturing the poor dumb beasts
which the Lord has given us to love, honor and cherish."

He kept this sort of thing up till he judged it was our bedtime, and
then he thanked us "one and all for our kind attention," and said that
as his mission in life was to amuse as well as to heal, he would stay
over till the next afternoon and give a special matinée for the little
ones, whom he loved for the sake of his own golden-haired Willie, back
there over the Rhine.

Naturally, all the women and children turned out the next afternoon,
though the men had to be at work in the fields and the stores, and the
Doctor just made us roar for half an hour. Then, while he was singing an
uncommon funny song, Mrs. Brown's Johnny let out a howl.

The Doctor stopped short. "Bring the poor little sufferer here, Madam,
and let me see if I can soothe his agony," says he.

Mrs. Brown was a good deal embarrassed and more scared, but she pushed
Johnny, yelling all the time, up to the Doctor, who began tapping him on
the back and looking down his throat. Naturally, this made Johnny cry
all the harder, and his mother was beginning to explain that she
"reckoned she must have stepped on his sore toe," when the Doctor struck
his forehead, cried "Eureka!", whipped out a bottle of the Priceless
Boon, and forced a spoonful of it into Johnny's mouth. Then he gave the
boy three slaps on the back and three taps on the stomach, ran one hand
along his windpipe, and took a small button-hook out of his mouth with
the other.

Johnny made all his previous attempts at yelling sound like an imitation
when he saw this, and he broke away and ran toward home. Then the Doctor
stuck one hand in over the top of his vest, waved the button-hook in
the other, and cried: "Woman, your child is cured! Your button-hook is

Then he went on to explain that when baby swallowed safety-pins, or
pennies, or fish-bones, or button-hooks, or any little household
articles, that all you had to do was to give it a spoonful of the
Priceless Boon, tap it gently fore and aft, hold your hand under its
mouth, and the little article would drop out like chocolate from a slot

Every one was talking at once, now, and nobody had any time for Mrs.
Brown, who was trying to say something. Finally she got mad and followed
Johnny home. Half an hour later the Doctor drove out of the Corners,
leaving his stock of the Priceless Boon distributed - for the usual
consideration - among all the mothers in town.

It was not until the next day that Mrs. Brown got a chance to explain
that while the Boon might be all that the Doctor claimed for it, no one
in her house had ever owned a button-hook, because her old man wore
jack-boots and she wore congress shoes, and little Johnny wore just
plain feet.

I simply mention the Doctor in passing, not as an example in morals, but
in methods. Some salesmen think that selling is like eating - to satisfy
an existing appetite; but a good salesman is like a good cook - he can
create an appetite when the buyer isn't hungry.

I don't care how good old methods are, new ones are better, even if
they're only just as good. That's not so Irish as it sounds. Doing the
same thing in the same way year after year is like eating a quail a day
for thirty days. Along toward the middle of the month a fellow begins to
long for a broiled crow or a slice of cold dog.

Your affectionate father,

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| No. 13 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| From John Graham, at |
| the Union Stock Yards |
| in Chicago, to his son, |
| Pierrepont, care of The |
| Hoosier Grocery Co., |
| Indianapolis, Indiana. |
| Mr. Pierrepont's orders |
| have been looking up, so |
| the old man gives him a |
| pat on the back - but not |
| too hard a one. |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +


CHICAGO, May 10, 189-

_Dear Pierrepont:_ That order for a carload of Spotless Snow Leaf from
old Shorter is the kind of back talk I like. We can stand a little more
of the same sort of sassing. I have told the cashier that you will draw
thirty a week after this, and I want you to have a nice suit of clothes
made and send the bill to the old man. Get something that won't keep
people guessing whether you follow the horses or do buck and wing dancing
for a living. Your taste in clothes seems to be lasting longer than the
rest of your college education. You looked like a young widow who had
raised the second crop of daisies over the deceased when you were in here
last week.

Of course, clothes don't make the man, but they make all of him except
his hands and face during business hours, and that's a pretty
considerable area of the human animal. A dirty shirt may hide a pure
heart, but it seldom covers a clean skin. If you look as if you had
slept in your clothes, most men will jump to the conclusion that you
have, and you will never get to know them well enough to explain that
your head is so full of noble thoughts that you haven't time to bother
with the dandruff on your shoulders. And if you wear blue and white
striped pants and a red necktie, you will find it difficult to get close
enough to a deacon to be invited to say grace at his table, even if you
never play for anything except coffee or beans.

Appearances are deceitful, I know, but so long as they are, there's
nothing like having them deceive for us instead of against us. I've seen
a ten-cent shave and a five-cent shine get a thousand-dollar job, and a
cigarette and a pint of champagne knock the bottom out of a
million-dollar pork corner. Four or five years ago little Jim Jackson
had the bears in the provision pit hibernating and living on their own
fat till one morning, the day after he had run the price of mess pork up
to twenty dollars and nailed it there, some one saw him drinking a small
bottle just before he went on 'Change, and told it round among the
brokers on the floor. The bears thought Jim must have had bad news, to
be bracing up at that time in the morning, so they perked up and
everlastingly sold the mess pork market down through the bottom of the
pit to solid earth. There wasn't even a grease spot left of that corner
when they got through. As it happened, Jim hadn't had any bad news; he
just took the drink because he felt pretty good, and things were coming
his way.

But it isn't enough to be all right in this world; you've got to look
all right as well, because two-thirds of success is making people think
you are all right. So you have to be governed by general rules, even
though you may be an exception. People have seen four and four make
eight, and the young man and the small bottle make a damned fool so
often that they are hard to convince that the combination can work out
any other way. The Lord only allows so much fun for every man that He
makes. Some get it going fishing most of the time and making money the
rest; some get it making money most of the time and going fishing the
rest. You can take your choice, but the two lines of business don't gee.
The more money, the less fish. The farther you go, the straighter you've
got to walk.

I used to get a heap of solid comfort out of chewing tobacco. Picked up
the habit in Missouri, and took to it like a Yankee to pie. At that time
pretty much every one in those parts chewed, except the Elder and the
women, and most of them snuffed. Seemed a nice, sociable habit, and I
never thought anything special about it till I came North and your Ma
began to tell me it was a vile relic of barbarism, meaning Missouri, I
suppose. Then I confined operations to my office and took to fine cut
instead of plug, as being tonier.

Well, one day, about ten years ago, when I was walking through the
office, I noticed one of the boys on the mailing-desk, a mighty
likely-looking youngster, sort of working his jaws as he wrote. I didn't
stop to think, but somehow I was mad in a minute. Still, I didn't say a
word - just stood and looked at him while he speeded up the way the boys
will when they think the old man is nosing around to see whose salary he
can raise next.

I stood over him for a matter of five minutes, and all the time he was
pretending not to see me at all. I will say that he was a pretty game
boy, for he never weakened for a second. But at last, seeing he was
about to choke to death, I said, sharp and sudden - "Spit."

Well, sir, I thought it was a cloudburst. You can bet I was pretty hot,
and I started in to curl up that young fellow to a crisp. But before I
got out a word, something hit me all of a sudden, and I just went up to
the boy and put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Let's swear off, son."

Naturally, he swore off - he was so blamed scared that he would have quit
breathing if I had asked him to, I reckon. And I had to take my stock of
fine cut and send it to the heathen.

I simply mention this little incident in passing as an example of the
fact that a man can't do what he pleases in this world, because the
higher he climbs the plainer people can see him. Naturally, as the old
man's son, you have a lot of fellows watching you and betting that you
are no good. If you succeed they will say it was an accident; and if you
fail they will say it was a cinch.

There are two unpardonable sins in this world - success and failure.
Those who succeed can't forgive a fellow for being a failure, and those
who fail can't forgive him for being a success. If you do succeed, though,
you will be too busy to bother very much about what the failures think.

I dwell a little on this matter of appearances because so few men are
really thinking animals. Where one fellow reads a stranger's character
in his face, a hundred read it in his get-up. We have shown a dozen
breeds of dukes and droves of college presidents and doctors of divinity
through the packing-house, and the workmen never noticed them except to
throw livers at them when they got in their way. But when John L.
Sullivan went through the stock yards it just simply shut down the
plant. The men quit the benches with a yell and lined up to cheer him.
You see, John looked his job, and you didn't have to explain to the men
that he was the real thing in prize-fighters. Of course, when a fellow
gets to the point where he is something in particular, he doesn't have
to care because he doesn't look like anything special; but while a young
fellow isn't anything in particular, it is a mighty valuable asset if he
looks like something special.

Just here I want to say that while it's all right for the other fellow
to be influenced by appearances, it's all wrong for you to go on them.
Back up good looks by good character yourself, and make sure that the
other fellow does the same. A suspicious man makes trouble for himself,
but a cautious one saves it. Because there ain't any rotten apples in
the top layer, it ain't always safe to bet that the whole barrel is

[Illustration: "_When John L. Sullivan went through the stock yards, it
just simply shut down the plant._"]

A man doesn't snap up a horse just because he looks all right. As a
usual thing that only makes him wonder what really is the matter that
the other fellow wants to sell. So he leads the nag out into the middle
of a ten-acre lot, where the light will strike him good and strong, and
examines every hair of his hide, as if he expected to find it near-seal,
or some other base imitation; and he squints under each hoof for the
grand hailing sign of distress; and he peeks down his throat for dark
secrets. If the horse passes this degree the buyer drives him twenty or
thirty miles, expecting him to turn out a roarer, or to find that he
balks, or shies, or goes lame, or develops some other horse nonsense.
If after all that there are no bad symptoms, he offers fifty less than
the price asked, on general principles, and for fear he has missed

Take men and horses, by and large, and they run pretty much the same.
There's nothing like trying a man in harness a while before you bind
yourself to travel very far with him.

I remember giving a nice-looking, clean-shaven fellow a job on the
billing-desk, just on his looks, but he turned out such a poor hand at
figures that I had to fire him at the end of a week. It seemed that the
morning he struck me for the place he had pawned his razor for fifteen
cents in order to get a shave. Naturally, if I had known that in the
first place I wouldn't have hired him as a human arithmetic.

Another time I had a collector that I set a heap of store by. Always
handled himself just right when he talked to you and kept himself
looking right up to the mark. His salary wasn't very big, but he had
such a persuasive way that he seemed to get a dollar and a half's worth
of value out of every dollar that he earned. Never crowded the fashions
and never gave 'em any slack. If sashes were the thing with summer
shirts, why Charlie had a sash, you bet, and when tight trousers were
the nobby trick in pants, Charlie wore his double reefed. Take him fore
and aft, Charlie looked all right and talked all right - always careful,
always considerate, always polite.

One noon, after he had been with me for a year or two, I met him coming
in from his route looking glum; so I handed him fifty dollars as a
little sweetener. I never saw a fifty cheer a man up like that one did
Charlie, and he thanked me just right - didn't stutter and didn't slop
over. I earmarked Charlie for a raise and a better job right there.

Just after that I got mixed up with some work in my private office and I
didn't look around again till on toward closing time. Then, right
outside my door I met the office manager, and he looked mighty glum,

"I was just going to knock on your door," said he.

"Well?" I asked.

"Charlie Chasenberry is eight hundred dollars short in his collections."

"Um - m," I said, without blinking, but I had a gone feeling just the

"I had a plain-clothes man here to arrest him this evening, but he
didn't come in."

"Looks as if he'd skipped, eh?" I asked.

"I'm afraid so, but I don't know how. He didn't have a dollar this
morning, because he tried to overdraw his salary account and I wouldn't
let him, and he didn't collect any bills to-day because he had already
collected everything that was due this week and lost it bucking the

I didn't say anything, but I suspected that there was a sucker somewhere
in the office. The next day I was sure of it, for I got a telegram from
the always polite and thoughtful Charlie, dated at Montreal:

"Many, many thanks, dear Mr. Graham, for your timely assistance."

Careful as usual, you see, about the little things, for there were just
ten words in the message. But that "Many, many thanks, dear Mr. Graham,"
was the closest to slopping over I had ever known him to come.

I consider the little lesson that Charlie gave me as cheap at eight
hundred and fifty dollars, and I pass it along to you because it may
save you a thousand or two on your experience account.

Your affectionate father,

+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| No. 14 |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
| From John Graham, at the |
| Union Stock Yards in |
| Chicago, to his son, |
| Pierrepont, at The |
| Travelers' Rest, New |
| Albany, Indiana. Mr. |
| Pierrepont has taken a |
| little flyer in short |
| ribs on 'Change, and has |
| accidentally come into |
| the line of his father's |
| vision. |
+ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +


CHICAGO, July 15, 189-

_Dear Pierrepont:_ I met young Horshey, of Horshey & Horter, the grain
and provision brokers, at luncheon yesterday, and while we were talking
over the light run of hogs your name came up somehow, and he congratulated
me on having such a smart son. Like an old fool, I allowed that you were
bright enough to come in out of the rain if somebody called you, though I
ought to have known better, for it seems as if I never start in to brag
about your being sound and sweet that I don't have to wind up by allowing
a rebate for skippers.

Horshey was so blamed anxious to show that you were over-weight - he
wants to handle some of my business on 'Change - that he managed to prove
you a light-weight. Told me you had ordered him to sell a hundred
thousand ribs short last week, and that he had just bought them in on a
wire from you at a profit of four hundred and sixty-odd dollars. I was
mighty hot, you bet, to know that you had been speculating, but I had to
swallow and allow that you were a pretty sharp boy. I told Horshey to
close out the account and send me a check for your profits and I would
forward it, as I wanted to give you a tip on the market before you did
any more trading.

I inclose the check herewith. Please indorse it over to the treasurer of
The Home for Half Orphans and return at once. I will see that he gets it
with your compliments.

Now, I want to give you that tip on the market. There are several
reasons why it isn't safe for you to trade on 'Change just now, but the
particular one is that Graham & Co. will fire you if you do. Trading on
margin is a good deal like paddling around the edge of the old swimming
hole - it seems safe and easy at first, but before a fellow knows it he
has stepped off the edge into deep water. The wheat pit is only thirty
feet across, but it reaches clear down to Hell. And trading on margin
means trading on the ragged edge of nothing. When a man buys, he's
buying something that the other fellow hasn't got. When a man sells,
he's selling something that he hasn't got. And it's been my experience
that the net profit on nothing is nit. When a speculator wins he don't
stop till he loses, and when he loses he can't stop till he wins.

You have been in the packing business long enough now to know that it
takes a bull only thirty seconds to lose his hide; and if you'll believe
me when I tell you that they can skin a bear just as quick on 'Change,
you won't have a Board of Trade Indian using your pelt for a rug during
the long winter months.

Because you are the son of a pork packer you may think that you know a
little more than the next fellow about paper pork. There's nothing in
it. The poorest men on earth are the relations of millionaires. When I
sell futures on 'Change, they're against hogs that are traveling into
dry salt at the rate of one a second, and if the market goes up on me
I've got the solid meat to deliver. But, if you lose, the only part of
the hog which you can deliver is the squeal.

I wouldn't bear down so hard on this matter if money was the only thing
that a fellow could lose on 'Change. But if a clerk sells pork, and the

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Online LibraryGeorge Horace LorimerOld Gorgon Graham More Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son → online text (page 7 of 12)