JUST whether Martha Warner’s business career was a success or not a success is a moot question. It is a question that is open to controversy, according to the angle from which you happen to view the situation—a situation that was brought by a trinity of incidents. In the vernacular of the business world, she first "sold” Robert Craddick, then Bryon Wilbur — and “sold” them “big,” as the salespeople say. In the third place, Martha herself was sold— sold with her eyes wide open, in spite of herself, lock, stock and barrel. Just how that amazing thing happened is the story.
Martha Warner was the product of a small Ontario city. There was nothing unusual in that circumstance, but Martha could not help that, and there were few other things concerning her that were not a bit unusual. Even her raven black hair, and her eyes, blue as April skies in Saskatchewan—skies, by the way, which Martha had never seen—had a piquant challenging individuality all their own. It may have been a certain ascetic pallor, which Martha did not attempt to obliterate with rouge, that gave her face a Madonna-like aura when in repose, and a charming, intriguing vivacity when she became enthusiastic. She was popular with both sexes without attempting to curry popularity, and she was never overlooked in a crowd. Yet twenty-five summers had come and gone and no man had seriously made love to Martha.
THIS latter circumstance may have been Martha’s fault. At any rate, it did not appear to depress her. Secretly, her closest friends would tell you, she was ambitious for a “career.”
To begin with, Martha Warner was left to shift for herself at the age of eighteen, when both her parents were killed in an automobile accident, and at a time when her father’s affairs were so involved that she realized little or nothing from his estate.
This early tragedy might have seriously marred the life of an ordinary young woman, but Martha Warner had pluck and a certain force of character that had been, her father’s. She had imagination and native initiative — gifts which she first gave evidence of at school and later in Carr’s department store, where she started with a small table and soon expanded it to a profitable candy department.
Talent of this sort does not always remain in obscurity in this age of business and professional specialization. Martha realized the fact one day when a stranger, accompanied by Nathan Carr, president of the store company, called at her department and was introduced to her as Mr. John Sherwell, general manager of the Cronett Candy Corporation, of Toronto.
Sherwell, Mr. Carr explained, had become interested in the manner in which she had promoted and enlarged the Carr candy department. He had learned through his traveling representatives how she had more than tripled the sales of Cronett chocolates in her home town. He had made this visit personally to investigate, and now was prepared to make her a tempting offer to become a member of his Toronto staff. Good old Nathan Carr, although sincerely regretting the loss of her services, urged Martha to accept. “It is one of those opportunities that come once in a lifetime,” he declared.
Martha was too surprised to offer an immediate reply. She had often pictured herself in a large city doing big things, and had occasionally wondered if she ever would get the opportunity. Now it had dropped at her feet, like a gift from a fairy. Still she did not feel she could desert Mr. Carr that way, after all he had done to help her.
“Don’t worry about us, Miss Warner,” Carr said, evidently divining her thoughts.
“But it will upset—”
“Tut! Tut!” Carr broke in. "We’ll manage somehow. You must go—that’s if you care to.”
Martha wanted to, but her sense of loyalty held up her consent until after the two men had talked to her for half an hour. In the end, she agreed to go.
A WEEK later found her seated on an oak bench in the reception room of the Cronett Candy Corporation, waiting to see Mr. Dodd, the sales manager.
Dodd arrived at nine-thirty. He surmised who Martha was, explaining that Sherwell had written about her, introduced himself, and then invited Martha into his private office, where for the better part of an hour he asked questions and poured candy lore into her eager and attentive ears. Martha was elated over her reception. Mr. Carr couldn’t have excelled Dodd in cordiality.
“What I’d suggest,” Dodd went on, “is that you ramble around Toronto for a week and thus become acquainted with the stores and streets. I’ll pay you for the time. Don’t hesitate to call on me for incidental expenses.”
“It’s just wonderful of you to treat me this way,” Martha said, “and I only hope I’ll come up to expectations.”
“I’m quite sure of it. I’ve enough faith in you, from Mr. Sherwell’s report, later on to put you on an account that has stumped our star salesmen.”
Martha’s blue eyes grew puzzled —a bit startled.
“Don’t get frightened,” Dodd smiled. “If you fail to land it, I won’t hold that against you. There’s a thousand-dollars for the one who lands. It’s a tough nut.”
“What makes it so hard to—”
“It’s a syndicate of twenty stores which could easily sell four thousand dollars worth of our chocolates every week, but the buyer, for some reason, refuses to handle our goods. The salesmen say it’s because we won’t put goods on consignment, but I can’t swallow that, as other firms which do not consign do business with it.”
“Is there any special hurry about it?”
“No. Don’t worry over it until you get into the swing of things...If you can land it in a year, you’ll be performing wonders. We’ve hounded it for two. But remember, you don’t have to tackle it unless you care to—unless you get ambitious and want to wrestle with something that has floored the best we have.”
“I’ll try it—sooner or later,” Martha quietly announced.
Dodd rose. “Good!” he approved. “There’s just one thing more you had better know about.”
“No; it’s what you might call Nut Number Two. His real name is Byron Wilbur, but the others around here call him ‘the official nut.’ He won’t quit, and he can’t be fired. The summer before last he spent his vacation at the seashore, and while there he rescued from drowning the daughter of the president of the corporation. How he had the nerve to do it puzzles me—but he did.”
Martha’s view was that Wilbur was entitled to commendation rather than ridicule and she respectfully voiced such an opinion.
“In fiction,” Dodd smilingly conceded, “a fellow who saves a girl like that always is a hero; the two fall in love, wed, and live happily forever afterward. But this case didn’t run true to form. The president and his daughter made a fuss over him, gave him a dinner party, and, as a reward—every one thinks the girl suggested it—the president offered Wilbur a job for life, which Wilbur accepted.”
“Still, I can’t see why Mr. Wilbur should be called a nut.”
“I’ll explain. Wilbur has been obsessed with the delusion that he’s a composer, and he’s forever bothering the girls with his poems and crazy tunes. Mr. Sherwell has, confidentially, offered a five-hundred-dollar cheque to any one who can induce him to hand in his signed resignation. Personally, I haven’t anything against him, and I’m simply tipping you off so you won’t give him any unnecessary opportunities to hang around your desk. He’ll worry you sick if you do.”
Then Dodd introduced Martha to the desk force of the sales department, consisting of four men—including Byron Wilbur, a tall, brown-haired, dark-eyed young man, who certainly did not look eccentric—and three young women, one of whom was assigned by Dodd to take care of Martha’s dictation.
These formalities completed, Martha, having already arranged for board and lodging, was free to ramble about town and plan. She had visited Toronto before, but always with friends who knew it well. Now she was alone, dependent upon her own resources. She was rather thrilled by the adventure it promised. Hour after hour Martha roamed around the great city, stopping to study each window that had a candy display. Occasionally she entered a store and purchased candy or a soda. Her surplus sweets she carried to her boarding house every evening and gave them to her boarding mistress.
BY THE end of the first week Martha was convinced of two things: First, she had learned enough about Toronto and its suburban districts to tackle selling; second, the girls in the office were to blame for the time Byron Wilbur frittered away. Time and again, when Gray, the assistant sales manager, was absent, one of the girls would call Wilbur from something he was doing, and the others would immediately gather around him and chatter and giggle until Gray returned and called a halt. Wilbur usually received a reprimand.
No one appeared to take Wilbur seriously. Apparently the others thought he was best fitted to hunt through files, shift books, look after the water cooler and run errands. All he did while Martha was in the office could have been attended to by an office boy. Once when he suggested that he be permitted to call on a customer to adjust some difference over a recent shipment, Gray actually laughed in his face and assigned one of the other men to the task. What puzzled Martha was why this apparently sensitive, well bred young man so resignedly accepted open ridicule from his colleagues.
Martha set out the following Monday morning to call on the trade in the district allotted to her by Dodd. The buyers listened to her, chatted and smiled pleasantly, but they did not give her any orders. They were either too busy to stop and check up, or were sure they had a month’s stock on hand. Could she not call again—say, in a week or two?
“The buyers in this district are a lot of hard-boiled eggs,” a friendly salesman from another firm told her. “Maybe you will find it tough to break in because you’re the first woman—young or old—who ever tried to sell them.”
This information did not discourage Martha. The buyers would have to buy. She would hound them until they did. But supposing—she shuddered at the thought— at the end of several weeks she had not secured any business to speak of—what then? Would the firm ship her back home with regrets? That must never happen. Orders would have to be wrung from these “hard-boiled eggs.”
Friday noon found Martha tired and thirsty and still seeking her first order. It was rather discouraging. She was thankful that Mr. Sherwell was away on a three months, trip, and that Dodd had not inquired about orders. Speculating thus, Martha dropped in at a Roncesvalles drugstore, but one glance at the dreary-looking interior, with show cases standing around as if they had been dragged in against their will and left there by a lazy expressman, turned her against the place. She was about to make a hurried exit when a young man came from behind a partition. His clean-cut face, neatly-combed hair, and spotless jacket were at singular variance with the surroundings. Curiosity led her to order a soda.
While she waited Martha thought of several ideas to improve the appearance of the store, but she hesitated to speak to the young man about it, fearing he might resent her meddling. His good-natured smile, however, reassured her and she made the plunge. He listened attentively, and when she had finished, he said:
“That’s just bully of you! I’ve felt all along that this place wasn’t put together right, but so far I haven’t had time to get it straightened up. You’ve hit it! You see, I bought the store a few weeks ago from an old man, and I guess he wasn’t much for order and beauty. You must be in the decorating line.”
“No; candy. Maybe I can sell you some.”
“I’ll tell the world you can.”
Martha’s hopes faded out before this cheap sally of slang. He was spoofing her. What sort of a person did he take her for? She put down the glass and froze him with a look that plainly said, “You chump!”
"Pardon me, Miss," he offered. "I'm not trying to be fresh, You gave me some good ideas and I'm grateful."
He reached for a pad and pencil. “What’s more, I’ll give you—”
“Why, you don’t know the company I represent, not the kind of candy I handle.”
“You’re right,” he admitted. “Suppose you tell me. If you have anything I think I can sell I’ll order some.”
Convinced that the young man was sincere, Martha exhibited her samples and revealed the name of her company.
“So you’re with Cronett. Mighty good concern. It’s the first I knew it had lady drummers—I beg your pardon, sales-ladies.” "
“I’m the first.”
“Glad to know you, Miss—”
Martha introduced herself.
“My name is Robert Craddick. I have a sister who used to work for Cronett, so I know about your chocolates.” He scribbled on the pad. “There’s my order; fifty dollars; chocolates.”
Martha gazed at the paper dangling before her eyes. It was an order—a real order—her first, something she had lain awake nights dreaming about. On more than one occasion, after an hour’s work on some buyer, she would have considered a ten-dollar order a gift from the gods. Now, here it was, thrust at her like a transfer from a conductor, making it seem like anything but a long-sought order. With that order tucked away Martha felt as if she had made a start at conquering the business world. It gave her new confidence and an idea to stick to drug stores for the rest of the week. Before the day closed she was sure Craddick was her talisman, for she picked up five more orders, and on the next day did even better, getting nine, for a total of five hundred and seventy-five dollars. “Great work, Miss Warner, great work!” exclaimed Dodd, when she displayed the result of her efforts. “I thought you’d be lucky to get half that. Keep it up and you’ll soon be tackling the syndicate.”
FEELING certain that she had passed the most trying stage of her new venture, Martha set out the second Monday confident of bettering her first week’s sales. She put her best effort into every minute, but as late as Thursday afternoon she had not marked her order book.
In her discouragement, she called on Craddick, who always seemed to give her fresh confidence in herself. He greeted her genially and gave her a seventy-five dollar order.
“Do you happen to know how to make good fudge?” he inquired, while she was entering his order.
Martha did. In fact, it was her fudge that had helped to build up Carr’s candy department, and she told him about it.
“Fine!” Craddick exclaimed, offering Martha a card. “Go and see this fellow Saden. He opened two stores a short time ago, and he’s anxious to get a good fudge recipe. If you can give him a good recipe you ought to get some business from him.”
Martha called on Saden and found him willing to talk about fudge. All his attempts at making it had been dismal failures, he told her. Much to Saden’s surprise and delight Martha showed him how to make fudge without glucose, and how to stir it properly. Then, lest she spoil the impression she had made, she pleaded pressure of other calls and left, saying she would telephone him the next day to find out how he liked it.
“It’s great stuff!” Saden sang over the wire the following day. “I sold your batch in an hour and got a quarter more for it than any one around here gets. And I made a batch myself. That’s almost gone too. Previously I’ve steadfastly refused to handle Cronett’s candy, mostly because I didn’t like the firm and the methods of their salesmen. Don’t ask questions. I’m rushed. But you can figure on me for about five hundred dollars worth of your chocolates every week. I’ll mail you an order to-night.”
With that Saden rang off, leaving Martha to wonder just what it all meant. Her brain was whirling. Was she dreaming? Fifty-two times five hundred amounted to twenty-six thousand dollars! Then she was struck by a sudden conviction.
“I owe it all to Craddick! My life saver!” she mused.
Martha told Dodd about her good fortune, inquiring if he knew why Saden had said he would not ordinarily handle Cronett’s chocolates.
“You’re a wonder, Miss Warner!” Dodd cried. “I had figured we’d never get Saden.”
“Saden doesn’t handle Toronto-made candy—all-out-of-town stuff. How’d you get him to break his crazy rule?”
Martha explained without show of boasting.
“Can you beat it?” Dodd chuckled. “That ought to encourage you to tackle the syndicate.”
“It does,” Martha agreed. “And I’m still thinking about it.”
“Great! I’ve got a hunch you’ll land it.”
Leaving Dodd, Martha hurried to impart the good tidings to Craddick. That dapper young man was quite as pleased as if the business were all secured for him. Martha looked happy and felt happy. Craddick suggested that she celebrate her good fortune by allowing him to take her to a show that evening, and Martha, knowing of no logical reason for refusing, accepted.
That was the beginning. Craddick, encouraged by Martha’s first concession, grew bolder and before long was calling on her twice a week.
Martha’s early success was not followed by anything startling, and if it had not been for Craddick’s and Saden’s regular business she would have experienced some uneasy moments. All told, she averaged a thousand a week gross business for the first two months. Dodd assured her she was doing as well as any new salesman had ever done, and Martha wondered how her weekly average compared with that of the regular salesmen.
The information came rather unexpectedly. Entering the office one noon to get a book she had left in the drawer of her desk, she found Byron Wilbur there alone. She tried to open the drawer, but it refused to budge. Wilbur noted her difficulty and offered his assistance.
“Do you like selling, Miss Warner?” he inquired, his dreamy brown eyes looking up at her from his crouching position, as he gave the drawer a violent tug.
“Yes; it’s quite interesting.”
“You’d never think so to hear the salesmen growl at times,” he said, as he opened the drawer and stood erect.
“I suppose they get peeved when they don’t do five thousand every week,” Martha ventured.
“Five thousand! None of them does that in two weeks. Two thousand is the record. Sometimes I think I’d like to try selling myself. But I know Mr. Gray would laugh at me if I asked him. I have an idea I could land that syndicate. Did Mr. Dodd ever tell you about it?”
“He said it was a hard—”
“Hey, Wilbur!” a voice shouted, cutting Martha short. Martha looked past Wilbur and saw Gray in the doorway.
“A drawer got stuck and I asked Mr. Wilbur to help me,” she said.
Gray shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, all right then.” Wilbur cast a grateful look at Martha and moved away. Having learned the records of the salesmen, Martha no longer considered her average insignificant. Dodd was correct in saying she was doing well for a beginner, but that did not satisfy her. She wanted to eclipse his star man, and the syndicate would do it—if she could land it.
EVERY time Martha thought of the syndicate she recalled Byron Wilbur’s remark. He thought he could land it Did he have an inside tip that he would not pass on to Gray or Dodd? Martha felt she would like to see him get the account, even at her expense, if only to force the others to treat him with respect. She felt sorry for Wilbur and hoped she would get an opportunity to have a chat with him soon. Maybe she could help him.
By hard work Martha boosted her weekly average to eleven hundred and fifty, and Dodd added five dollars a week to her salary. Craddick, her only confidant, was doing unusually well, and was talking about opening another store.
Martha had kept an eye on Craddick’s business, had given him valuable suggestions from time to time, and surmised he was making money, but she had never tried to guess or estimate his profits. So she was rather surprised when he called for her one evening, in a new car—a two seater—to take her to a party a few miles outside of Toronto—at some friends of Craddick’s at Islington.
“And you never told me a word about it,” she said, with a forced pout. “Keeping secrets, eh?”
“Not from you, Martha,” Craddick replied, taking a seat beside her. “I wasn’t sure I could get it until the day before yesterday. And I wanted to surprise you. Aren’t you surprised?”
“Shocked!” she laughed. “You’ll soon be a millionaire with your own syndicate.”
“I’m headed that way. And when I open my new store I’ll give you another surprise.”
“You won’t tell me now?”
Craddick shook his head and peered out at the splash of light on the road before him.
Martha dropped the subject and talked on other matters until she was introduced to Mrs. Short, the hostess of the party.
Martha encountered a second surprise on finding Byron Wilbur among the guests, and a third on discovering that Craddick and Wilbur had met before. From Mrs. Short, Martha learned that Wilbur, who played unusually well on the piano, had volunteered his services when the regular musicians failed to show up. Martha thought how kind this was of Wilbur, and again hoped for a chat with him. As the night wore on, however, with Bob Craddick clinging to her like a shadow, it did not look as if she would get an opportunity.
Then at ten-thirty things took an unexpected turn. Mrs. Short, after suggesting that the guests seek the porch for a rest and a breath of fresh air, asked Martha's permission for a few moments’ private chat with Mr. Craddick and mentioned Wilbur as a substitute escort in the interim. Bob Craddick did not appear to be overjoyed, but he offered no objection and followed his hostess.
Wilbur lost no time in locating a secluded spot at the end of the porch.
“I never got a chance to thank you, Miss Warner, for the way you saved me from a ‘curtain call’ from Gray,” he said, pulling a chair close to her rocker. “So I want to thank you now.”
“Why, you weren’t doing anything that you should have been scolded for.”
“Gray doesn’t wait for that. He thinks he’s helping to earn his big salary by jumping on me for—well, for nothing most of the times. But that won’t go on forever. I’m working on something else.”
“That sounds interesting. Going with another firm to land the syndicate for it?”
“I have an idea for the syndicate, but I’ll give that to you.”
“Why to me?”
“Because I like you, and because you’re the only one at the office who treats me as if I were a human being. When my songs get going I won’t have to worry about business. The office people think my songs are jokes, but I know they’re good, and when they become popular I’ll get twenty thousand in royalty. Then I’ll write two hits a year and enjoy a bank president’s salary.”
“Is it as easy as all that?”
Wilbur spent five minutes explaining the simplicity of the matter as it appealed to him, once one is familiar with the “tricks of the game.”
Martha was interested, and wanted to learn more, but at that moment she heard Craddick at the other end of the porch say: “I think I’ll look up Miss Warner now.”
“I wanted to tell you about the syndicate,” Wilbur said, “but I guess I won’t get the time.”
“And I wanted to hear more about it—and about your songs.”
“Really?” Wilbur queried breathlessly.
“Then—then, why not let me call some evening?”
FOLLOWING the party, Martha saw Wilbur at the office several times, but never had a chance to talk to him alone until he called at her boarding house.
Strange it seemed to Martha, while she descended the stairs, that only the office people considered Wilbur a nut, and all because he wrote songs. Other men wrote songs, won fame and fortune, and were eulogized. Wilbur, for doing the same thing, was labeled a nut. Maybe Wilbur needed a discoverer to prove to the world that he was a genius.
Standing before her in the parlor, neatly dressed, Wilbur did not look any different from scores of other young men she had met, and who were considered sane and successful. He made no attempt to conceal his pleasure at meeting her again, and Martha discerned nothing “nutty” in his offer to play two songs, “I Want the Girl I Met in My Dreams,” and “My Star of Love is Calling To-Night.” After Byron Wilbur had played his own compositions, as well as several other selections, he came over and took a seat near her. “Do you think my songs are good?” he asked.
“They are immensely better than a lot that are sold nowadays,” she replied frankly.
“That means ever so much to me, Miss Warner,” he said. “I don’t care now what the rest think. But what you want to know is more about that syndicate, isn’t it? I don’t suppose you know that Cronett’s could sell that syndicate first class chocolates for a cent a pound less than it is paying for them now.”
“But there must be a reason?”
“There is. A friend of mine who sold to the syndicate until a month ago told me about it. He says the buyer gets a one cent per pound rake-off—gets it back from the salesman.”
“Out and out graft. Somehow, they’ve so far managed to keep the president of the syndicate from knowing anything about it.”
“But why have you remained silent about this?”
“Because I have been waiting for the chance to tell you, so that you could write the president of the syndicate direct and show him how you could supply his stores with Cronett chocolates at a cent a pound less than he is paying. Say you’re not taking it up with the buyer for reasons you prefer to explain in a private interview with him. That will pique his curiosity and he’ll be amazed when he is shown proof.”
“But can it be proved, Mr. Wilbur?”
“Beyond contradiction. My friend is to give me several of the invoices and he has offered to take affidavits, if necessary. He was double-crossed by the buyer and is mad enough to go through with the matter to the bitter end. I had a hard time keeping him from going direct to Dodd and Gray about it.”
“But why don’t you follow it up yourself?”
“Because I want to see you land the business. Why if I tried it—no, it’s out of the question. I'd have to tell Gray or Dodd what I know, then the thing would be taken from me and given to one of the other salesmen. And that would kill your chances. I’ll not miss what you make, and once my songs get going I’ll be in clover.”
MARTHA quickly saw the force of Wilbur’s argument. On the other hand, she conceded to herself, if she secured the account she could split fifty-fifty with him. Without telling him about her commission plans she agreed to go after the syndicate as soon as he secured the proof.
Byron Wilbur was plainly overjoyed, and asked for permission to call later in the week.
Martha saw nothing of Wilbur at the office in the morning, and was too busy during the day to think of the syndicate. The “hard-boiled” crowd softened and gave her a few orders. Several buyers complimented her on her tenacity, and one old grouch told her he admired her grit, her good-natured way of accepting a rejection, and her ability to come back with a pleasant smile.
Craddick called that evening Craddick was happy, too. Business was rushing, he said. Extra clerks were necessary to take care of rapidly expanding trade.
“And I owe ninety per cent, of my success to you, Martha,” he said. “I know drugs, but you taught me salesmanship.”
Martha did not wholly agree with him and tried to prove to him that he would have picked up the same ideas in time. Craddick scouted the suggestion.
“Take, for instance—” A knock at the door checked Martha went to the door and found the boarding mistress with a special delivery letter for her. Noting Wilbur’s name and address on the envelope, Martha asked her to take the letter to her room, then closed the door and returned to Craddick.
“I don’t suppose it will do any good to argue,” Craddick remarked, “but I’ll always hold to my present belief. Anyhow, as the result of your coaching, I’ve just signed a lease for my new store.”
“Oh! That’s just wonderful, Bob!” Martha cried.
“And I’ve been thinking, Martha—dreaming about it— how much more wonderful it would be for us to get married and run the two stores—you one, and I the other. What do you say?”
Martha did not say anything. She could not. She was stunned. Her first proposal! She had read about romance and in real life she had seen a bit of it, too, but had never dreamed it could be half so cold and businesslike as this.
Bob Craddick had infused about the same amount of warmth into it as if he had been selling her a box of tooth paste. Yet, when she hurriedly retraced the past she could not exactly blame him. Had she not drilled him, shaped his thoughts, and practically made him what he was then—a concrete reflection of her own “selling” ideas? From the start she had fed him little else but “salesmanship and success,” and he had been an adept pupil. Any romantic emotions he may have possessed were smothered by her own material tenets. Perhaps his aim had been to remould himself to what he thought was her ideal.
“Haven’t you anything to say, Martha?” he asked, following a moment of tense silence.
“Not much, Bob.”
“You mean you’ll never care enough to marry me?”
“I couldn’t answer that just now.”
“When will you let me know, Martha?”
“I can’t say now, Bob,” Martha answered, as calmly as she might.
“Well, I suppose I’ll have to wait then. Maybe I’ve been too sudden. Anyway, we won’t get into the dumps about it, will we?”
“No reason for it, Bob.”
“I’ll give you time, Martha, to think about it. Then I’ll ask you again.” Craddick suddenly rose to his feet and took a deep breath.
“Let’s go to the movies.”
Martha welcomed the suggestion. Craddick did not mention the subject again that evening, and they parted later the same as on other occasions.
On reaching her room Martha remembered Wilbur’s letter on her dresser, which she until now had practically forgotten.
Wilbur began his brief note by saying that he had been living in the beautiful memory of the time he had spent with her, and that the coming meeting loomed up as a great holiday to him. He enclosed a clipping from a trade paper, which announced that the president of the syndicate had left for a month’s trip to California.
“I’m sending you the special to save you unnecessary thinking about the syndicate,” he wrote near the end. “Don’t worry. The thing will keep until his return. I’ll give you details later.”
All this was quite disappointing, but Martha decided not to allow it to worry her for the present. The incident at least had proved to her that Byron Wilbur was a lot deeper and more sagacious than ordinary people gave him credit for being.
In the morning, just before she started for the office, Wilbur called her on the telephone. He asked if she were angry, and being assured she was not, invited her to take in a show that evening.
When Wilbur called it was raining. Learning that he had not yet purchased tickets, Martha decided not to go to the show, preferring to spend the evening studying Wilbur.
He offered to entertain at the piano. That suited Martha. She could sit back and study him and map out a course of action for his education.
Byron Wilbur went over to the piano and began to recite poetry, which had to do with a man and a maid and roses, while he improvised a melody.
Closing her eyes, Martha rested her head against the cushioned back and forgot about her plan to convert Wilbur into a dollar chaser. She felt herself weaned from her daily cares and wafted to fleecy drifting clouds. Cronett, chocolates, buyers, and even Craddick slipped from her thoughts.
After what seemed like years spent among rainbows listening to song birds she opened her eyes. Wilbur had ceased playing. His eyes, aglow with emotion, were searching hers.
“That was wonderful!” she murmured. “Who wrote it?”
“I did, Martha. It was my way of saying 'I love you’.” Martha sighed and mentally wished he would go on with his playing.
“I’m waiting, Martha,” he gently reminded her. Martha suddenly realized that Byron Wilbur had confessed his love, pratically proposed — and in poetry. How different from Bob Craddick! Martha secretly revelled in it; but while she did, she felt herself dragged back to earth. The clouds, the' subsets* and the birds had disappeared. Byron Wilbur, the dreamer, the butt of office ridicule, was waiting for an answer. Slowly her practical side reasserted itself.
“You shouldn’t talk to a girl like that while you’re—”
“I know,” Wilbur cut in gloomily. "I’m nobody now, I’ll admit. I’m simply drawing a pension, you think, without any future. But it won’t last long.” He pulled a long envelope from his inside coat pocket. “Read these.”
Martha took the envelope and at his suggestion, removed two papers which proved to be song contracts from The Basland Music Corporation of New York City.
According to the contracts, The Basland Corporation agreed to publish “I Want the Girl I Met in Dreams,” and “My Star of Love is Calling To-Night.” and to pay Byron Wilbur, the author and composer, twelve cents royalty on every copy sold, in addition to fifty per cent, of all royalties paid by the phonograph, player-piano, and word roll companies; all royalty to be paid on the fifth of January and July.
The phrasing was quite impressive and promised wonderful things for Wilbur. Martha knew little about the song publishing business or the methods of publishers, but Wilbur appeared to be well posted.
“And I’m getting six more songs ready for the same concern,” Wilbur proudly announced. “I’ll show those people at the office I’m not such a bonehead as they think. July is only a month off.”
There followed a period when Martha Warner, for her own peace of mind, heartily wished she had never met Byron Wilbur—nights when she tossed on a sleepless pillow trying to analyze and mentally to catalogue him—futilely trying to chase him and his dreams from her thoughts. Why—oh why, should she be so seriously concerned about him and his future? Why hadn’t he more gumption? Why didn’t he take more interest in his work at the office, where with his undeniably attractive personality and clean outlook on life a real future awaited him, if he would only make an effort to seize his opportunities? It was not Gray, it was not Dodd nor any of the others who were holding him down, she sadly realized. It was his own attitude toward the business world. His heart was not in the work he was being paid for doing—he was merely driftwood being carried along with the current, jostled and banged about in life’s stream by his more aggressive fellows whose singleness of purpose took them unerringly to their goals. He was a dreamer, a hopeless romancer. And worse, Martha had to bitterly concede, he was incurable.
Why—oh why, had she ever allowed herself to become interested in this man?
For Byron Wilbur was seriously interfering with Martha Warner’s career. Her sales suffered a decided slump. There was but one reason, she told herself over and over again. She was not giving her work the' proper interest and concentration, two things most requisite to successful selling. Byron Wilbur was undeniably the cause. Why should she not throw him over and see no more of him? Then the thought would recur to her that she had never verbally accepted him. He was outside of her life; all she had to do was forget him. But could she—could she do just that thing?
She hoped what he said was true. Byron was still an occasional caller in the evenings at her boarding-house, but Bob Craddick’s visits grew fewer and fewer. He pleaded pressure of his growing businesses, which was undoubtedly a true explanation. She greatly missed his cheery, if sometimes uncultured personality and his breezy manner of conversation. Those things had been a tonic that braced her for the next day’s activities in the business world.
MARTHA WARNER had by now come to definite conclusions about Byron. It was obvious that he was not and never could be a salesman or a business man of any sort. He lacked interest in business and he utterly lacked good judgment. What he needed was a stern manager.
The second Monday in July brought two crushing disappointments to Martha. The first came in the shape of a note from Mr. Dodd, in which, in the kindest phraseology of which he was capable, he made known to her the firm’s keen disappointment in the continued falling off in her sales. She had not lived up to their expectations nor to the wonderful record she had made in the first few weeks. He “most reluctantly” would have to take her off her territory and try out someone else there. Meanwhile, there was an inside position which he felt sure she could fill. But, he gently warned her, this inside position would not by any means command the salary of her present position.
Martha Warner turned sick at the import of this message. Its contents swam before her eyes through a mist of hot, bitter tears.
It was tantamount to a dismissal—cold proof that she, Martha Warner, of whom so much had been expected, she whose initial success had been a baffling enigma to salesmen of long experience, was a failure.
A failure! The word smote her like a bludgeon, stunned her. She wanted to get up and slip away from the office without being seen by any who knew her, then I take a train and get as far away as possible from the scene of her life’s disaster.
BUT events took place that brought a change of mind. That evening Byron Wilbur called at her boarding house. In her mood, she was minded to be rude to him, until she discovered that the boy, too, was in the depths of despondency.
The fifth of July had been the date set by the music publishing company for his debut as a “famous composer” and for his entrance into a career of fabulous wealth. The fifth had passed and he had received no word from his publishers. Repeated letters had brought him no reply. He was the picture of dejection, but Martha checked all show of sympathy for him. Instead, she asked him to hand over all the correspondence with the song publishers, which, it fortunately happened, he had brought with him. Then she dismissed him at an early hour, pleading a headache.
The first thing she did in the morning was to see Mr. Dodd and accept an inside office position at a greatly reduced salary. Dodd seemed immensely relieved at her voiced decision.
“You’re made of the right stuff, Miss Warner,” he approved. “What you need, I think, is a rest to build up. I’m afraid we allowed you to work too hard. In a couple of months, perhaps a month, you’ll be fit as ever again. Meanwhile, we will put you on publicity work that will not be too arduous, and when you say the word, we’ll let you tackle the trade again.”
The next thing that Martha did when she found spare time was to call on Bob Craddick. Craddick was more than delighted to see her. Cutting brief all formalties, Martha told him she had come for advice on behalf of Byron Wilbur.
Bob Craddick laughed softly to himself, a little bitterly Martha noted.
“So you are still interested in that dreamy-eyed jazz hound, Martha?”
The girl bit her lower lip, but hid the hurt he gave her in an engaging smile.
“Yes,” she replied. “Mr. Wilbur sorely needs practical help from someone.”
Bob Craddick listened to her explanation while he thumbed over those glowing letters Byron Wilbur had received from the publishing company.
“H’mph, h’mph,” he finally mused. “It’s clear as dry gin Friend Wilbur has been bitten by a New York song shark. A fellow who’s put in as much time as he has in the music business ought to have been wise to this stuff. You see these fellows’ ads. in the American magazines asking song-writers to give them songs and poems. When some nut like Wilbur sends them in a song, the song swindler, operating under some company’s name, writes the boob that the thing is a gem, and that if the boob will cough up seventy-five dollars for printing the first edition, the dupe will surely become rich and famous. Then when the shark gets the money he prints a couple of hundred copies, at a cost of about twenty-five dollars, and sends the copies to the dupe. Then the shark plumb forgets about the matter—he’s too busy enticing and fleecing other suckers. Martha, it’s plain young Wilbur’s been had."
“Why, Bob, how do you happen to know all this?”
“Happened to be on the ground floor once upon a time,” he replied. “I think I know who this gink, Neighbor, is, who signs the letters. That isn’t his right name, but I’ve a pretty good idea what it is."
“And do you think there is no way of recovering the money?” Martha asked. “Mr. Wilbur said he was getting six more songs ready for this same publisher.”
“Zowie!” Bob Craddick gave a ludicrous imitation of a man hit over the head with a club. “Six more at—Why, Martha, that makes four hundred and fifty dollars. I had no idea the sucker crop was so luxuriant these days. Martha, we’ve got to tie this fellow Wilbur up some place for a couple of weeks. Four hundred and fifty dollars! Why, girl, if you could only see eye to eye with me on some things, we could have a real honeymoon on that. But never mind, Martha, if you can tie up Wilbur’s hands for a week or so, so that he can’t do any more harm to himself, we’ll see this thing through and get his money back for him.”
“Oh, Bob, do you really mean that?”
"I mean every word of it, little girl. Mind you I am doing this because you are interested in this helpless piano lizard. Now here's what you do: Find out first from Wilbur just how much mazuma he's paid over to the shark. Then you write the shark and tell him that unless he refunds the money within a week, you've got friends that are going to expose the whole business in Toronto newspapers, and that it is to be wired to New York newspapers as well. The last is what has the kick in it that will bring him to time. Now this is how it works out: I've a brother-in-law who’s city editor of a New York daily that’s just yawning for a story like this backed up by facts. You write Neighbor of that publishing company to-night and tell him just what I told you. I’ll write Bell of the World-Tribune to-morrow, which will mean that shortly after Neighbor gets your letter Bell will have a reporter hounding him. Neighbor’s guilty conscience and visions of prosecution for fraud through the mails will do the rest. You get me, don’t you, sister?”
"I get you, Bob,” replied Martha.
CRADDICK came from behind the counter and stood looking at her quizzically. “If you and I could put our heads together on all life’s problems,” he mused, “it’s hard to say what we—. But, oh, pshaw, it looks as though Fate has played one of us a mean trick, and that one is me.”
Martha left with her head full of new plans. Bob Craddick always did seem to inspire her that way. Fancy a shark trying to bunco Bob Craddick as this one had Byron Wilbur! And yet.... Well, Martha did not try to further analyse why her sentiments should be as they were.
That evening Martha told Wilbur what she had discovered and what she intended to do. She asked him why he had not told her about his paying for the songs to be published.
Wilbur’s defense was that he did not want to bother her with such matters, adding that he did not see any wrong in it, as other song writers, the publisher had informed him, had done likewise. He was not keen about Martha’s new-formed plan.
“You’ve made a mess of things,” Martha said, “and you’ll have to call a halt and get started right. You say you paid out one hundred and thirty dollars. Well, I’m going to get it back, and if you object, we’ll be strangers.”
Martha’s ultimatum put Wilbur into an obedient mood.
Martha sent the letter to the Basland Music Corporation, as Bob Craddick had directed her to do, and two days later received a telegram asking her to hold off for a few days as the Corporation’s representative was leaving for Toronto, to adjust matters.
The representative called on the afternoon of the third day. The man was willing and ready to refund the money, provided he got a receipt and a promise that nothing would be said to the newspapers.
“I’ve brought along the song plates and I’ll make you a present of them,” the man offered. “You see, my boss got mixed up in this thing without knowing it was crooked, and now he wants to settle up with every one and get out.”
“What could I do with the plates?” Martha inquired.
“Print copies; sell them, and make money. You could sell thousands of copies in Toronto, Montreal, and other towns.”
“Then why didn’t you sell thousands of copies?”
“It’s a long story, Miss. In the first place we had no real salesmen. It’s good salesmanship that makes song hits. A clever salesman can sell a raft of any half way decent song, and this man Wilbur’s songs aren’t bad. Worse stuff has cleaned up fortunes. They tell me you are in the selling line. Why don’t you try it?”
Before Martha had time to make up her mind the man began to explain how she should go about seeing the buyers of the syndicate stores and how to handle demonstrations. He was anxious to leave her fully appeased. The longer he talked the more the idea appealed to her. She finally agreed to accept the plates, provided he deducted the cost from the hundred and thirty dollars in bills he held in his hand.
If salesmanship were the big factor, Martha pondered after the man had gone, and Wilbur could write fairly good songs, she should be able to turn his talent to account. This was a sales proposition into which she could throw all her energies. Wilbur approved of her idea and offered to do anything she suggested. Wilbur had one suggestion to make, that they start the ball rolling in Montreal instead of Toronto. In Montreal no one would know them. Martha left the employ of the Cronett Company the following week.
Before demonstrations could be held, however, Martha had to take three days off to interview the store managers in Montreal, arrange with the printer for copies, get Bob Craddick’s advice, see that Wilbur arranged to have his vacation begin with the second week of August, and then tell Dodd she was launching a scheme of her own.
Fortunately, everything went through without a hitch, and on Monday morning of the second week of August Martha was behind the music counter of a syndicate store on St. Catherines street, Montreal, with Wilbur at the piano. She was booked there for two days, with demonstrations to follow in other stores until the end of the week. In addition to demonstrating Wilbur’s songs, Martha had contracted to help the regular salesgirl behind the counter. Wilbur was also expected to play any song requested by a customer.
During the first day Martha sold three hundred copies of each of Wilbur’s songs, as well as hundreds of other numbers. Each copy paid her twelve and a half cents and the store an equal amount. While the demonstration was in progress customers stood five and six deep before the counter. Wilbur’s playing was marvelous. He had caught the spirit of the thing.
The second day Martha disposed of eight hundred copies of Wilbur’s songs and wired to the printer to rush a second edition. Her share of the receipts for the two days totaled $175, which was more than she and Wilbur earned in a week. Martha was becoming interested in the song game.
WILBUR had performed his part nobly, playing hour after hour without a murmur, and Martha did not hesitate to compliment him as they journeyed back to Toronto. She was beginning to dream as Wilbur had been dreaming.
“Byron,” Martha said that evening, as they discussed future plans in the parlor, “I think you should get another song ready for the printer in case we should extend this thing. Everybody seems to like your songs, and the more we have the more we’ll sell.”
Byron smiled and patted her arm affectionately.
“Didn’t I tell you all along, Martha?”
“Yes; but don’t do any telling now. Have a new song ready for the printer by Monday or the firm of Wilbur and Warner will dissolve.”
Wilbur promised to make good, and just before leaving he tried to kiss her, but Martha held him off.
“Not now,” she smiled. “Besides when you’re rich and—”
“Oh, shucks, Martha!” he moaned. “All right, I’ll wait and prove it.”
The next of the week in Montreal was a repetition of the first two days. In all Martha sold six thousand copies of Wilbur’s songs, which netted her $750. During the latter part of the week a dozen orchestra leaders had called at the counter and purchased copies. They said they had received numerous requests to play the songs for dances.
During the two weeks Martha had been so wrapped up in the song game that she had scarcely given a thought to Craddick. But he had not forgotten her, proof of it being in the form of a letter she found on her dresser when she reached her room.
At noon Saturday Martha and Wilbur completed their first week as publishers and demonstrators, and Martha had picked up a number of pointers in the way of moving music over a counter. After deducting the cost of printing, car fare, and incidental expenses, they had a profit of $550. Martha and Wilbur were keen to continue the demonstrations for another week in a different city. On returning to Toronto they parted, agreeing to meet that evening to go into details.
Bob Craddick wrote to say that he had been in New York on a business trip, had returned and was leaving immediately for Windsor, where he was setting up a branch store. He seemed cognizant of everything that had happened in Montreal.
“The news of the splash you made has even reached New York,” he wrote. “I heard about it from big music publishers down there, so don’t be surprised if the little old town on the Hudson is yelling for you next. It’s all your doings, girl, capitalizing that fellow, Wilbur, the way you have. I’m not going to do any camouflaging. So I’m going to say first I wish I was him, and second that that not being so, I wish you both all the good luck that’s going round. Yours to help out whenever you get in a jam. Bob.”
“Good, old Bob,” murmured Martha, and she had a little heartfelt cry all to herself.
At seven-thirty, while Martha was waiting for Wilbur to call, the boarding-mistress came up to say a Mr. Welman was in the front room and wanted to see her on important business. Martha did not know any one by that name and thought the man might be a store manager looking for her to stage a music demonstration.
Mr. Welman, however, proved to be a big New York music publisher.
“I’ve been hunting you for two days, Miss Warner,” Welman said, after they had been together a few minutes, “and I’d like to get the publishing rights of the two songs you demonstrated in the stores at Montreal.”
“But I don’t own them,” she said. Then as the bell rang, she added, “I think that’s the composer and owner.”
Martha went to the door and returned a minute later with Wilbur. She introduced the two men and told Wilbur what Mr. Welman had said.
“I’ll be candid with you,” Welman remarked. “Jazz is dying out, and the public wants clean love songs—like you have. Our Montreal representatives tipped us off about what you were doing. I think your songs are hits. But you can’t do much more with them in the limited Canadian market. So you better let me have the publishing rights.
I have a big plant in New York, with branches in the States and Canada, and I can get one hundred per cent, exploitation and distribution. I’ll advance five thousand dollars on the two songs, pay you three cents a copy royalty, and twenty-five per cent, of all phonograph record and roll royalties.”
Martha and Wilbur gazed at each other unable to speak.
“I’m quite sure Mr. Wilbur possesses great possibilities as a writer of love ballads,” Welman went on, “so I’d like to control his output for some years to come. I’ll give Mr. Wilbur a contract for three years, with a fifteen thousand dollar yearly guarantee, and a weekly drawing account of $275. While it would not be absolutely necessary for Mr. Wilbur to make his headquarters in New York, yet I’d expect him to spend a day at the office now and then.”
Wilbur looked as if he were still dreaming.
“What should I do?” he finally asked Martha.
“Do? Do?” Martha repeated. “Wouldn’t you rather write songs than do anything else?”
“I would, Martha, but what about—”
“Never mind about me. We’ll settle that later.”
FIFTEEN minutes later the deal was closed. Then Welman left, after getting Wilbur’s promise that he would visit New York within the next two weeks.
On a small marble top table in the centre of the room lay a five-thousand dollar certified check drawn against a well-known New York bank, a contract for the two songs, and Wilbur’s three-year contract.
Martha, looking a trifle tired, was seated in the upholstered arm-chair, while Wilbur stood near the table with his open hand resting on the top.
“Well, Martha, how about the ‘syndicate’ now?” he asked.
“Oh, botheration with all syndicates!” she ejaculated, perhaps loo petulantly. But this attitude, strangely enough, seemed not to displease Wilbur.
"Martha," Wilbur went on slowly, "you're the most wonderful girl in the world. I owe everything to you. I'm so bewildered I really don't know what to say or do."
“Just sit down and write out your resignation to the Cronett Corporation,” she suggested. “I’ll give it to Mr. Dodd.”
Wilbur walked over to Martha’s side. “You know there’s a five-hundred dollar cheque as a reward for any one who can get me to do that.”
“I’ll get that from Mr. Dodd for you,” she smiled.
“No, no, I didn’t mean that,” Wilbur protested, taking hold of the arm of the chair and lowering his head. “I’m not entitled to it. The reward belongs to you. I could accept it only under one condition.”
“What for instance?”
“I’m afraid you might not approve of my idea.”
“Tell me and see. You know I’m always open to reason.”
Wilbur dropped his head until his eyes were on a level with hers.
“I’d accept it, Martha, provided you’d let me add some more and buy you an engagement and a wedding ring at the same time. I love you, Martha, and without you all the money in the world, all the fame in the world, wouldn’t give me a moment of joy.”
“That’s a beautiful idea, Byron,” she replied.
“Next week, darling—our wedding? Then our honeymoon in New York?” Martha nodded and met him half-way for their first kiss.
“Byron,” said Martha a few moments later, “you know I don’t think Mr. Welman was allowed to tell us the whole truth. I don’t think it was his representative who first tipped him off to our success in Montreal. It all happened too quickly for that.”
“Then who, Martha?”
“I suspect—no, I know it was Bob Craddick.”
“But—but why Craddick? He always seemed to dislike me.”
“That’s just his way, Byron,” Martha replied. “Bob’s crude, terribly crude— an impossible man, some ways. But underneath it all he’s pure gold.” **