A Masterly Insult

Elliott Flower July 1 1907

A Masterly Insult

Elliott Flower July 1 1907

A Masterly Insult

Elliott Flower

in the Cosmopolitan

IT sometimes happens that a man disobeys instructions and is thereafter commended for his wisdom by his employer. It may be that the employer was misinformed as to conditions, or that there has been an unexpected change in the situation, or that, being no more infallible than any other mortal, he himself has made an error, and it thereupon becomes the duty of the employee to act with discretion and demonstrate that he has a brain of his own.

Thus Dick Whitlow reasoned, but it was soon made clear to him that he was entirely wrong. Being instructed to prepare the copy for certain advertisements, of which a rough outline was given him, he had discovered some errors in the prices quoted ; and, having demonstrated the erroneous nature of these prices by reference to the office price list, there being no one to whom he could appeal at the moment and time being short, he had thoughtfully corrected them. The result was that Grissman & Company paid for considerable advertising that was of no great value. True, the exploiting of the firm name did some good, but the fact that they were putting a certain line of cigars on the market at a new and marvelously low price did not apear at all.

Grissman explained this to Whitlow with much emphasis and sarcasm. He made it quite clear that the main reason for taking so much space was to exploit the new prices, and that the general announcement that they were in the tobacco business and handling other brands at the usual prices was intended to be only an incidental feature of the big card. Whitlow pleaded in extenuation that the prices given to him bore every evidence of having been hastily scribbled on a scratch pad, and that he was justified in believing a mistake had been made when he discovered that certain of them did

not correspond with the office price list.

As a matter of fact, Grissman was largely at fault in not making his purpose clear to his subordinate, but it is not always easy or wise for an employee to make a thing of this sort clear to his employer. In this case it was not. Grissman had supplied the correct figures. In the hurry of the moment, there being other matters awaiting his attention, he had taken too much for granted, but he had supplied the correct figures, and Whitlow had changed them. Young men, he maintained, were getting so smart that they could not obey orders ; they knew too much; they couldn’t get a thing right when they had a diagram of it in front of them ! they all wanted to be bosses.

“What I’m looking for,” he declared, “is a man who will let me be the boss of my own business, but it’s hard to find one. Every young whippersnapper these days is so impressed with the idea of using his own head that he thinks there’s no other head worth having. I just want to find one man who’ll obey orders.”

Whitlow was very sorry. He was also very mad, but he did not mention that. If he had understood the purpose—

“That’s it!” broke in Grissman. Even the office boys want reasons these days. It isn’t enough to tell one of them you’re going out for an hour or so; you’ve got to tell him where you are going and why, or else he’ll use his head and spread the report that you’ve started for Europe. Why can’t you let me do my own thinking?”

“I’ll try to, sir, after this,” replied Whitlow, with outward meekness and inward indignation.

“You bet you will!” exclaimed Grissman. “I’ve got a job for you that won’t give you any chance to

use that marvelous head of yours. Now, see if you can get this straight.

Whitlow made no reply; he was considering the advisability of resigning.

“Baxter will turn over to you some thousands of sample packages of that new brand of straight-cut that we are putting out,” Grissman went on with aggravating deliberation and emphasis. “It is all neatly boxed, with about a pipeful to each box. I want those addressed and sent out.”

Whitlow decided that he would resign.

“In order that there may be no misunderstanding,” continued Grissman sarcastically, “I will explain to you now that, in addition to the tobacco, there is in each box one of these little cards.”

Whitlow was sure that he would resign, but his curiosity impelled him to glance at the card. It was a neat little affair, bearing the compliments of Grissman & Company and the following advice:

“Put this in your pipe and smoke it. We are sending it to you because we know you to be a good jddge of tobae-

rt/. n CO*

“These samples, with the enclosed cards,” Grissman explained with great care, “are to go to club members all over the country; but there is still no chance for you to make an error of judgment, for the lists have been ordered from the Gibbs Addressing Company. You will go to the office of the company, ask for Mr. Gibbs, and tell him that you want the club membership lists that I ordered; then you will retire to your office and proceed to send these samples off. I think it will take you a week or two, during which time you will have ample opportunity to reflect upon the folly of knowing too much.”

Whitlow had the caustic terms of his resignation formulated in his mind, and was now prepared to start a flow of burning words that would make his position and his views wholly clear.

“You may ask Miss Sanders to help you,” Grissman added, before the young man could get his verbal bat-

tery in action. “She is relieved of other duties and assigned to this for the present. It would take too long for you to do it alone.”

Whitlow decided that he would not resign just yet. Miss Bessie Sanders was a charming girl, with whom it would be a decided pleasure to be associated for a week or longer in almost any occupation,, and there were reasons why this association would be especially pleasing at this time. Wherefore the resignation could wait. A man could resign at any time, but he could expect to have a week alone with Miss Bessie Sanders in a cubby hole of an office only once in a lifetime.

Whitlow whispered to Miss Sanders when he went out. “I'm to have you for a week or ten days,” he said.

It was rather surprising information for a girl to get from a yo.ung man. Miss Sanders seemed startled. “Who said so?” she demanded.

“Oh, if you’re going to be cross about it,” he returned resentfully, “I’ll go back and resign. Getting you was the only thing that stopped me."

This was both surprising and mystifying. She intimated, with some dignity, that it was her first experience in being a gift, and then she intimated, with less dignity, that she would like to know what it was all about.

“Come into my office,” he said, “and I’ll tell you. It will have to be your office, too, until further notice.

Once in the office, which was a small partitioned space at the end of a row of similar cubby holes, he told her what had happened. “I intended to resign on the spot,” he explained in conclusion, “but I decided to let the resignation wait until our joint task is finished.”

“Why?” she asked.

“If you don’t know,” he returned reproachfully, “I’m sorry I waited.” She shifted very quickly to a consideration of the fact that he had been treated shamefully, from which it may be inferred that her curiosity was satisfied by his ambiguous reply. At any rate, she became both indignant and sympathetic over the injustice of blaming him for what he had done

with such excellent intentions, and she was particularly provoked that he should be insulted by being assigned to such trivial work as addressing sample packages of tobacco.

“How about you?” he inquired.

“Oh, that’s all I’m good for,” she replied.

“I think not,” he returned, with such emphasis that she changed the subject again. She was not sure that she liked to have him speak with such deep personal significance on every possible occasion, but neither was she sure she did not like it. She had not been sure, either way, for a considerable time, during which period Whitlow had been at some pains to see a good deal of her out of office hours.

She was sure, however, that Whitlow had been treated with scandalous injustice by Grissman, and there seemed to be no reason of maidenly modesty why she should not give her feeling toward Grissman full vent. She did so when Whitlow left to get the lists of names, and succeeded in working up a delightfully complex feeling of sympathy for the one and indignation for the other. Incidently she transferred pens, ink, and her own particular chair from her desk to Whitlow’s office, and arranged them so that she would sit opposite to him at his flap top desk. They were going to be rather crowded, for room and desk were small, but no other arrangement was possible.

Whitlow did not seem to be in any great need of sympathy when he returned; on the contrary, while still bitter toward Grissman, he seemed to be quite reconciled to the situation.

“I’m going to like this job,” he remarked cheerfully, as he seated himself on his side of the desk. “I don’t like the wáy it was given to me, but the partnership is fine.”

“He’s a brute !” she declared.

“Glad you think so,” he returned, and she was immediately conscious of the fact that she had spoken with unnecessary earnestness. However, he now turned his attention to some printed slips which he had spread out

on the desk. “Thunder!” he ejaculated, as he glanced at the first one.

“Anything wrong?” she asked.

He made no answer, but turned from one to another of the slips in a puzzled way ; then his face brightened, and he laughed. “That’s good,” he said to himself rather than to her, after which he laughed more heartily.

“What is it?” she inquired.

“That’s great,” he commented, still referring to the slips ; then to her, “Of course you understand that I am to follow instructions.” .

“Of course,” she agreed.


“I imagine he made that clear.”

“Well, what do you think of that?” he asked, handing her one of the lists.

“Oh, mercy !” she cried, the moment her eyes rested on it.

“Fve got to obey orders, haven’t I?” he demanded.

“Yes,” she answered slowly, and a moment later, her eyes beginning to sparkle: “Why, certainly. What else can you do?”

“Well, let’s get to work,’’ he said briskly.

She felt instinctively that retribution for Grissman was at hand, but the situation was so amazing that she could not grasp all the details and possibilities at once. She pondered as she worked, and slowly the affair grew to awesome proportions. When she spoke again it was in almost a whisper, as one may in the presence of an unseen power that has silently taken control of events and is working its will in a marvelous way.

“We’re sending,” she said, with the hesitation of one who has stumbled upon an unbelievable truth, “we're sending samples of smoking tobacco to women and girls.”

“We are,” Whitlow agreed cheerfully.

“We’re asking them to try it,” she went on doubtfully.

“ ‘Put this in your pipe and smoke it,’” he quoted.

“We’re referring to them as good judges of tobacco,” she persisted.

“What do you think they will say ?” he asked.

She shook her head solemnly, but

vent at her work of addressing samples with renewed energy ; and presently, having gained familiarity with the surprising possibilities, the feeling of awe gave away to one of amusement and satisfaction.

“How did it happen?” she inquired finally.

“I can only guess,” he answered, “and I guess Grissman didn’t make it entirely clear what kind of club membership lists he wanted. I guess he was as careless with Gibbs in this matter as he was with me in the matter of the advertising. Anyhow it seems to be a safe bet that he has been furnished with the membership lists of about all the women’s clubs in the country.”

“Won’t the women be mad, though !” she exclaimed.

“That’s what I think,” he returned, “but Grissman doesn’t want a man to think.”

“They’ll see a horrible insult in it,” she suggested.

“That’s the way it looks to me,” he said, “but Grissman is looking for a man who follows instructions. And he’s got one now.”

“It’s splendid!” she declared. “I didn’t suppose anything could happen so beautifully except in a book.”

They worked in silence for a time, each occupied with thoughts that were occasionally amusing enough to justify a smile or a chuckle. The possibilities grew greater and more complicated as they reviewed the situation, and they were able to imagine many diverting scenes arising from this wholesale insult to the sex.

“We’ve got to hustle,” he urged. “We want to get as many as these off as possible before the explosion comes.”

That started her thoughts in a different channel. What would the “explosion” be like? She mentioned her curiosity to him.

“Fireworks,” he replied, “and skyrockets and Roman candles and bombs and bad language! But it won’t touch you. You were simply told to help me, and you’re doing it.”

“I was thinking of you,” she said.

“Glad to hear it,” he returned

promptly, whereat she colored. “But you needn’t worry about me,” he added. “I was going to quit, anyhow, as soon as this job was done—unless he gave me another one with you. This only makes it more certain.”

“Perhaps it isn’t wise,” she suggested.

“Well, in one way it isn’t pleasant,” he conceded. “I don’t like to leave you here. Why can’t you go with me ?”

“Why should I ?” she asked.

“Why shouldn’t you?” he retorted.

“Because it would be silly,” she replied, which jarred him into rueful silence.

Nevertheless, he returned to that point at intervals during the next three days. He spoke lightly, yet half seriously, and back of it all there was always a suggestion of a desire to be serious. He seemed to be asking, “Why don’t you give me a little encouragement?” but she persisted in either misunderstanding his indirect appeals or regarding them as silly. Being a woman, she certainly knew what he wanted to say, but she would not let him say it plainly. It developed into a sparring match for points, and she got the points.

Can’t you imagine any circumstances under which you would quit?” he asked insinuatingly on one occasion.

“Why, yes,” she answered frankly.

There seemed to be no hope here. Just a coy refusal to explain more fully would make him hopeful enough to proceed.

“What are they?” he asked eager-

“If I should be discharged,” she replied.

Yes, she got all the points. He felt as if some one had upset a pitcher of ice water on him, but he tried not to show it.

“Nothing else?” he persisted.

“I don’t think of anything,” she returned.

Yet, when he kept away from this troublesome subject, she was truly delightful and considerate in every way, which only served to lure him the more certainly back to the one

troublesome subject. She was sympathetic and vivacious, and as deeply and humorously interested in the affair of the samples as he was. There was plenty in that to keep them from ennui, too. No one could tell when the explosion would come or what form it would take. They watched the newspapers closely, they were alert when strangers called at the office, and they held themselves in readiness for trouble after every mail delivery. It was Whitlow’s idea that the story would creep into the men’s clubs as a joke first, after which the newspapers would extract some humor from it, and then the women, finding how generally and deliberately they had been offered a pipeful of tobacco, would let their indignation loose; but there was no certainty that it would happen in this way.

“All that’s sure,” Whitlow told Miss Sanders, “is that some thousands of women—club women—can’t get these unkindly insinuations without some of them getting mad about it, and trouble is going to come fast when it starts.”

He was right, and it started on the third day. The first intimation of it came when a delegation of women called to see Mr. Grissman. This indicated a sudden attack of wholly unexpected proportions, and Whitlow gasped as he saw the delegation ushered into Grissman’s room. Then he slipped out and sought information from an office boy.

“Dunno wot’s eatin’ ’em,” said the boy, “but they’re pipin’ hot! I bet they scalp the boss. Who is it? W’y, it’s a bunch from some women’s club. I fergit the name.”

Whitlow slipped back into his office and reached for his coat and hat.

“What’s the matter?” asked Miss Sanders.

“I don’t think I’ll wait to be discharged,” he said.

He lingered a moment undecidedly, while she calmly went on with her work. No possible blame could attach to her, and both of them knew it. Still he lingered, as if he would say something that he dared not. A great deal depended upon her at that

moment, but she seemed to be wholly unconscious of it.

“No use giving him the satisfaction of kicking me out,” he said, which wasn’t at all what he wanted to say.

“I suppose not,” she returned, still busy with her pen.

He sighed and turned to the door. “I suppose I can still see you occasionally,” he remarked.

“Oh!” she exclaimed in surprise, “are you going without me?”

He turned back so quickly that he caught the tantalizing smile and the invitation in her eyes. “Will you, Bessie?” he cried, and he evidently read her answer, for he added quickly, “Get your things.”

Two minutes later they were gone, and two minutes after that an office boy looked into the deserted room. After the manner of his kind, he expressed no surprise, but sauntered back to Grissman’s office.

Grissman was in a perturbed state of mind. He was facing five ladies who seemed to be very indignant about something, and he was assuring them that it was the most amazing and unaccountable thing that had ever been brought to his attention.

“Ain’t there,” announced the boy at which the ladies exchanged significant glances.

“Not there!” repeated Grissman. “That’s most extraordinary.”

“It is,” agreed one of the ladies sarcastically.

“Then ask Miss Sanders to come here,” said Grissman to the boy.

“She ain’t there, either,” returned the boy, whereat the ladies again exchanged significant glances.

Grissman thereupon offered the ladies a varied assortment of apologies, none of which they were disposed to accept. On the contrary, the head of the delegation informed him that the ladies of the Emerson Club, of which they were members, had passed scathing resolutions of censure, and that these resolutions had been given to the press.

“To the press !” gasped Grissman.

“Yes, sir, to the press,” she repeated. “It may be good business to put this indignity upon womankind in

general, but it shows an appalling lack of consideration and respect for the sex, and we intend to make it clear to you that it’s no joke.”

“I—I never thought it was,” pleaded Grissman.

“How would you like to have your wife and daughter appealed to as good judges of tobacco—pipe tobacco, at that?” she persisted.

“Think of the Emerson Club being asked to try a certain brand of the nasty stuff !” added another of the delegation.

“It’s horrible!” put in a third. “There’s that sweet little Mrs. Grandin—a bride—who was told to put this in her pipe and smoke it! She asked me with tears in her eyes how she was never going to explain ’.t to her husband.”

“It humiliates the club,” still another declared. “My husband was brutal enough to laugh.”

“It’s shameful, positively shameful, ladies !” Grissman assured them with nervous energy. “I am sorry the man who is responsible for this disgraceful thing is not here. I would discharge him on the spot in your presence.”

“And hire him back again when we’re gone !” was the scornful retort.

There was no appeasing them, and Grissman was finally left with the consciousness that there was no escape from the penalty of this dreadful affair. He hurried to Whitlow’s office, but Whitlow was still absent, and no one knew where he was.

“I want to see him the moment he comes in,” said Grissman excitedly. “He needn’t bother to take off his coat.” Grissman was very warm, physically and mentally; he mopped his face with his handkerchief and he muttered much to himself. He also inquired at intervals of about five minutes whether Whitlow had returned.

The afternoon papers made the matter worse. They all had the story. Some of them treated it humorously, and some of them were harsh in their condemnation of such a brutal indignity. The first that Grissman saw had

this in big head-lines, DEBUTANTES ASKED TO SMOKE UP! The discharge of Whitlow, with appropriate verbal pyrotechnics, was the only consolation left him, and Whitlow merely sent in his resignation by mail. There also were protests in the mail, and other women’s clubs were following the example of the one named after the illustrious Emerson. They were of all kinds—social, philosophic, and philanthropic. Even Grissman, in his great perturbation, had to smile when the Psyche Club protested that the judgment of tobacco was wholly out of its line.

It was almost a week before he dared go to his club. The news and the samples had circulated far and wide, and every day brought reports of further action of one sort or another. Many who had given the matter no thought at first followed in the wake of those who had taken up the subject immediately; every newspaper humorist had his little joke, and nearly every club woman her little speech. So Grissman thought it a good time to avoid his acquaintances.

But he was finally given courage to seek them out by two or three extraordinary incidents. A business acquaintance casually remarked that he was sorry the new brand was not a cigar instead of pipe tobacco. “I never smoke a pipe,” he said, “but I have been mightily tempted to begin, to show my appreciation of a good thing.” Then a retail dealer commended the sagacity and enterprise of the firm. “That’s the greatest ever !” was his comment. “Everybody’s talking about it.” Grissman already knew that, but the man’s tone indicated genuine enthusiasm. And one morning the manager of the sales department informed him that there was “an awful run on that new brand.” So Grissman decided at last that he could brave the jeers of his club associates.

The first man he met, upon entering extended his congratulations ; it was, he said, the cleverest thing that had been sprung in the business world in a decade. “You’ve waked up the whole country,” he declared.

“I should think I had!” retorted Grissman ; “and they’re howling mad.


“The women.”

The club man laughed. “What do you care?” he demanded. “The women don’t smoke.”

That was a new point of view, and it began to impress Grissman that he heard the new brand mentioned on every side. He never had put out anything else that attained such instant notoriety, if not popularity, and some of the men hastened to inform him that they were showing their appreciation by smoking the tobacco.

“That was a glorious idea of yours,” said one.

“It wasn’t my idea,” protested Grissman.

“What!” was the astonished reply. “Well, I hope you did something handsome for the man that turned it up.”

“He’s quit,” said Grissman.

“Quit! You let him quit?” The man seemed to find it incredible. “Lack of appreciation, I suppose. There must have been a dozen trying to get him.”

Here was still another point of view. Whitlow, the disgraced and reprimanded, had done a big thing to prove his worth, and an outsider, possibly a rival, had been the first to recognize its cleverness.

Grissman walked back to the office in deep thought, and then made specific inquiry as to the new brand.

“A million dollars’ worth of advertising couldn’t have started it better,” his manager told him.

Grissman was beginning to hate himself for a short-sighted fool. “Do you know what’s become of Whitlow?” he asked.

“I understand he’s gone to work for Dempster.”

Grissman scowled. Dempster was the head of a rival house, and he was always reaching out after good men. Grissman started for his private office, paused, and turned back.

“Is Miss Sanders there, too?” he inquired.

“She’s Mrs. Whitlow now,” answered the manager.

Here was confirmation of everything. Whitlow had married on the strength of his improved position and prospects ; he probably had been waiting for the opportunity, and Dempster had given it to him.

“He ought not to have left in that way,” Grissman complained. “If he wanted more money, he should have come to me.” There was much unconscious humor in this, but Grissman was too absorbed to think of humor. “I wonder what kind of an offer Dempster made him,” he went on thoughtfully. “It must have been a pretty stiff one.” As a matter of fact, Whitlow was working for less than before, and wondering how soon he would be able to get back to the old figure, but the things we don’t know are constantly changing history. “Anyhow,” Grissman concluded, “we can’t let Dempster have him. You can get word to him, I suppose?”

“Easily,” returned the manager.

“He’ll come high, of course,” reflected Grissman, “but we can’t afford to lose an advertising genius. Offer him double his former salary to come back. If that isn’t enough, add to it until you get him.”

Then he retired to his private office, closed the door, and devoted an hour to wondering how he could have been so blind.