People Must Eat
You can’t stifle the creative instinct, even in the grocery business
THAT October afternoon, as Spencer Flook crossed River Park toward Englewood Avenue, the circumambient atmosphere showed no hint of volcanic eruption. Not a single premonitory whiff of ash, not a forewarning sulphur smell, not the slightest of seismic tremors, no tiniest vestige of smoke, let alone flame.
What flame there was came from Newt Bellair’s autumn bonfire. The park caretaker, nodding to Spencer^Flook, dumped a barrow of wet leaves on the crackling pyre. Then came pungent smoke in plenty.
But Spencer Flook continued quiescent. Indeed, even a casual observer would have realized that he was extinct.
He did not see Newt Bellair’s appraising glance he could not read Newt Bellair’s speculatively pitying thoughts.
“Wonder if I could hit Pen Flook up for a dime?
Guess not. His coat’s wore pretty thin ...”
Other people, that selfsame day, thought and talked of Spencer Flook— not that Spencer Flook was much to talk of, but small things amuse small minds, and sometimes great ones.
“I rather like that clerk in Grant’s grocery,” Mrs. Nathaniel Egremont confided to Miss Sally Harrington. “You know, the gray-haired little fellow that’s been there so long. Peek or Spook, I think his name is. He can answer anything you ask him.” “But,” commented Miss Harrington, “he’s so shabby!” Red Tenney, Grant’s junior, whispered to Joe Cornish, the second clerk: “Wonder how Flooky ’ll take it?”
“He’ll just have to take it.”
“Bet you a nickel, he’s that dumb, he’ll never even notice.”
“I shouldn’t wonder,” agreed Cornish.
In his office, Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant, owner of Grant’s Grocery, talked confidentially to Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto.
“Joe Cornish is a wide-awake young fellow. As for Red Tenney—oh, he’s not bad for a junior!”
“But this head clerk? I’d think—at his age—”
“I’m really sorry for him,” said Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant. “You see, he has a wife and family. Of course, he’s dependable, my dear Mr. Wintermute—honest—and contented. In his position, he has to be. Now and then he gets impractical ideas; but I handle him tactfully and he forgets them.”
“Dead wood, I guess,” indifferently commented Wintermute. “How much do you pay him?”
“Thirty a week . . but he’s been here so long
At 116 Englewood Avenue, Mrs. Jorrey, taking in the last of her washing, leaned on the line fence.
“Really, Mrs. Jones, it’s simply awful the way Mr. Flook just sits back and lets those children sauce him. Says he believes in letting a child have room to develop its individuality. Just listen, now . . . you can hear them wrangling around the supper table like pigs at a trough . . . Oh!”
For Mrs. Jorrey, at that precise moment, glimpsed Mr. Spencer Flook in his shabby coat, turning in at his front door. But Mrs. Jones did not see Mr. Flook. She shrilled at the top of her voice:
“I tell you what, if I had them Flook kids, I’d develop their individuality with a switch.”
MR. FLOOK, ascending the steps of 118 Englewood Avenue, heard Mrs. Jones’ shrill words; yet in his placid pinkness and his grave grayness there was, even now, no hint of lava-producing qualities.
For twenty years, he had traversed this same careful, quiet, conscientious way; and not even an astrologer, familiar with the eternal and immutable stars, could have read any variation or shadow of turning in Mr. Flook’s course, till the inevitable day when six humble friends carried him. feet foremost, down these same steps.
Mr. Flook might have earthquaked a path through the kiddie kar, the two empty ash boxes and the detruncated doll buggy cluttering the porch. Instead, he pushed them gently aside.
He opened the door upon earthquake and eruption; but it was quite the customary earthquake and eruption of five young Flooks, flocking to be fed. Mr. Flook’s seismograph never even registered.
Baby Freddie, bawling from his high chair, dominated the suppertime riot. Four-year-old Buster, perched on the table, with cautious glances at his mother, purloined a ginger-snap.
“Buster, put thaï back!”
Buster placidly tucked the ginger-snap away. Tired Mrs. Flook’s attention was distracted by Margaret. “Mom! Just look at Jack! How elegant!”
Margaret, at sixteen, had clear-cut ideas of elegance. She dressed her hair like Mae Murray, and wore clothes of her own designing, reminiscent in cut, if not in quality, of Gloria Swanson.
Jack, defying his sister’s reproof, ostentatiously picked his teeth with a fork.
Mrs. Flook made ho comment on her husband’s entrance. Her attention was diverted elsewhere.
“Doll-rus! Leave that corn-syrup alone. You’re getting your dress all sticky. Doll-rus! Do you want me to skin you alive?”
Dolores was seven, and hungry.
Mr. Flook washed 1 if hands at the kitchen tap,
sprinkled a few drops of cold water on his face, slapped the result sketchily with a dish-towel from the clothes line hung above the range; then slumped into the vacant chair and let the clamor go on.
Far from indulging in volcanic eruption, a volcanic eruption would hardly have attracted his attention.
His thoughts were engrossed with more serious matters; most, with the perplexing and perpetual problem of making both ends meet.
Mr. Flook had the common human capacity of thinking all over a subject, and around it, and under it, and above it, and on both sides of it, and clear through it;
and then doing nothing about it. So, his perplexing
and perpetual problem had been thoroughly canvassed. Which done, the problem remained, perplexing and perpetual.
Until this selfsame afternoon. Then, for the first time in years, light glimmered on Mr. Flook’s horizon. Not eruptively, like the untimely outburst of a Popocatapetl, but quietly, like the slow, inevitable resurgence of dawn.
Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant, between spells of conferring with Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto, had spoken to Mr. Flock with unwonted friendliness:
“Ah, Pen, I’m not as young as I used to be. In no great time, I’ll be the silent partner here, if I remain partner at all.” Mr. Grant uttered the cryptic words with dignified finality. But instantly there flashed back to Mr. Flook’s mind their talk, twenty years before, when, as a young man, he had come to Grant’s.
Spencer Flook had plotted his own future, not haphazardly, but with shrewd care; after patterns laid down by H. Payson Pepys in his famous works, ‘Annals of Achievement’ and ‘Sixteen Secrets of Success.’
Next to death and taxes, the grocery business was the surest thing in the world. People must eat. People might wear rags, go barefoot, work with their bare hands, be the healthier without drugs and the prettier without cosmetics—but every day and three times a day they must have food.
Kensington was a growing community. Grant’s Grocery was the finest, best-located store in Kensington. Young Spencer Flook loved the grocery business. He keenly admired Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant.
He had indeed wavered just an instant when his predecessor, fired by Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant after a dignified altercation, had whispered a disquieting suggestion :
“Oh, you can work for Grant if you like; but don’t take his promises too seriously or his say-so about the grocery business as gospel.”
But, looking into the mild, benevolent eyes of Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant that now distant day, young Spencer Flook had realized his predecessor’s animus. And Grant’s tragic words had clinched things.
"Young man, I am growing oM, and have no one in the world to whom I can hand down the business. Some of these days some boy I train will step into my shoes
The possibility of partnership had loomed big when Mr. Spencer Flook had married, eighteen years, ago. He had set himself sedulously to earn it. He had been diligent and honest. He had learned all there was to know about groceries. He had made himself a good salesman. Above all things, he had been loyal to Grant’s Grocery, and to Grant himself . . .
He had turned down a chance to go on the road for a big firm. Grace had agreed with him, then. She had wept bitter tears, though, when he passed up the chance to buy the corner store at Englewood and Eighteenth, whose turnover, now, was almost as big as Grant's.
Always, at the crucial moment, some vague hint had reminded him that Grant had not forgotten that promised
partnership. So, he had stuck loyally to the one line, the one community, the one store.
And now . . . Grant’s words were unmistakable.
Into Mr. Flook’s triumphant thoughts cut some words from Margaret:
“It’s so boring around this house! Relatives were certainly created to teach you to appreciate strangers. Kensington’s a bum town, anyway. Dad, why don’t you move to Florida?”
With a benignantly satisfied smile, Dad disregarded the rhetorical question. Jack sought to jeer; but a shrilly inconsequential yell from Dolores drowned her brother’s scoffing words,
Spencer Flook oblivious to the ear-splitting shriek, buttered bread, speared a slice of cold chicken across the table, and made himself a sandwich. Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto, had not impressed him favorably. In his brisk, snappy, undignified, impertinent way he was the absolute antithesis of Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant. Which made Mr. Grant’s solicitous attention to Mr. Wintermute all the more a mystery.
A sleek black cat leapt to Mr. Flook’s lap and nibbled the sandwich.
“Get down, Kayo!” Mr. Flook petted the cat; gently replaced it on the floor and then resumed his thoughts.
It was just like Grant to keep his own counsel, till at last the actual partnership came as a surprise. Mr. Flook remembered with what considerate politeness Grant had discouraged his first timid suggestions for the good of the business, tactfully gratifying Mr. Flook’s pride with the assurance that his ideas were splendid, but, alas, not suited to a store with the peculiar traditions and constituency of Grant’s Grocery.
Dolores interrupted with a sing-song monotone, “Spread this bread, someone! Spread this bread, someone!”
“Here, give me the bread,” invited Margaret. “No, don’t throw it you little fool. There, you’ve got it in the peaches.”
The black cat was on Jack’s lap now, nosing his plate: “Aaaaaaaawft!” growled Jack. “Kayo, I’ll chop your
head off. Get down, or I’ll throw you so far, it’ll take you a year of Sundays to get back.” Malevolently, he regarded little Dolores. “I guess to-night I’ll wheel out to the country and leave the cats, all three of them.”
Dolores burst into noisy grief.
“Aw, cry, will you? The cats ain’t no good.” Jack complacently poured corn syrup on a slice of bread; then licked his sticky fingers.
From the high chair, a knife came hurtling among the dishes. Thus, vigorously, Freddie resented being ignored. Mrs. Flook anxiously scrutinized the table.
“Nothing broken!” she ejaculated, with relief. “Freddie mustn’t! Naughty!” Then, letting Freddie escape from her thoughts, “Doll-rus! Stop that! That’s no way to sit on a chair. Doll-rus.”
Mrs. Flook addressed her husband for the first time since his arrival. “Anything special happen at the store?”
Mr. Flook’s non-committal tone, his absent rejoinder, were inevitable as ‘Mother Machree’ over the radio. He had said the same thing when Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant took the first of his many trips to Florida and left him in full charge; and he had said the same thing when the big fire gutted the basement. “Nothing much,” he repeated.
And, indeed, nothing much had happened—even though the biggest thing of all their lives was imminent.
Grace pushed the subject no further. “My coat looks a fright,” she said.
Spencer Flook knew it. He himself wore his winter coat in October; because it was already too cold to go without an overcoat, and he had no other. The coat was three years old; the cuffs looked twenty; the pocket flaps were frayed out of existence. Yet Grace’s coat was three years older and frayed still more.
“I’ll trade coats,” he proffered; and let that bit of jocularity hermetically seal his secret thoughts. Mostly, of white-haired, white-moustached, benevolent Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant, at last, and most unexpectedly, making new winter coats practical for both of them.
Mr. Flook felt relief. He had, after all, been right
. . . right, in sticking to Kensington, to Grant’s grocery, to Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant.
“Pen! Can’t you make these children behave?”
Mr. Flook realized a bigger riot than usual was going on about him. “For heaven’s sake, kids, be quiet. If you don’t, I—I’ll tan you.”
No one noticed the ultimatum; so Mr. Flook himself, next moment, forgot it. He could picture himself bringing beautiful order and serene quiet out of this perpetual anarchy. He could picture so many things, here and at the store, that he could do. But, somehow, he never did them.
Why, it was only last night Grace had acutely observed “We’re dipping into the money you saved to buy the partnership. Instead of putting your savings into the business for yourself, you’re spending them to keep Mr. Grant in business . . . just because he’s too mean to pay you enough to live on.”
He hadn’t found an answer, last night. The charge was too disquietingly true. But Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant, so uncharitably misjudged by Grace, was now about to furnish the answer.
Nothing volcanic about Mr. Spencer Flook, even at the eruptive supper table. He was as extinct, as devoid cf eruptive menace, as accustomed to being trod upon, as Mount Tom.
^TEXT morning Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto, was once more in briskly impertinent conference with ponderous, slow-moving Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant.
Mr. Spencer Flook immersed himself joyously in his day’s work. He loved the foodstuffs of all sorts he sold so readily and the less expensive varieties of which he ate amid such disorder. He took pride in knowing so tremendously much about them. He thrilled with triumph when skilful salesmanship ran a twenty-cent sale into a five dollar order; or when he could induce a skeptical housewife to try a new fancy biscuit.
This morning, Mr. Flook’s immersion was not complete; for even as he waited on customers, his mind
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reached out to the vaster spaces of the grocery business; while he visualized things to be done by the man of ideas who, after long waiting, came into a partnership.
He tore off a long, narrow strip of wrapping paper; and, having rung up a sale, began to get down the ideas which came crowding into his head. Grant, in these twenty years, had over-ruled a multitude of ideas Mr. Flook thought promising.
Red Tenney, finishing some sketchy sweeping in the back store, edged up to Mr. Flook. His manner was portentious. He winked. He joggled his shoulder toward the office enclosure. He at last found voice: “Say, Flooky, what d’you think of the new boss?”
“Eh? What?” Mr. Flook was still daydreaming.
“He looks like he’d starve even the rats in the basement. Well, if he’s that sort, I ain’t tied to Kensington.”
Mr. Flook was awake now. “What d’you mean?” he demanded.
But, he knew. He stared down the long, bright store at the railed-in office enclosure. He saw Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant, white-moustached, ruddy-cheeked, dignified, and Mr. George A. Wintermute, sharp-eyed, thin-faced, hook-nosed, and irritatingly alert. The buzz of their voices, a moment earlier devoid of significance, now came to Mr. Flook like the musical activities of a persistent mosquito.
Yet Mr. Flook did not erupt, beyond a mild suggestion:
“Suppose you finish that sweeping, Red?”
“Oh, I’ve heard enough,” cheerily retorted Red. “So’s Cornish. The only person around this dump who never hears anything is Mister Spencer Flook. Because,” he added, bent on irritation, “you spend so much time toiling upward in the night, you never wake up in the daytime.
Mr. Spencer Flook, had he questioned the inquisitive underling, would have
despised himself. He despised himself, anyway, for hungering to question him.
His eye fell on a long, narrow strip of wrapping paper, headed in his own neat chirography:
Ideas of Partnership
And the ideas had got this far:
Xmas Cake in Oct.
Coffee Special Customers Select Ribbon Recipes
Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant did not see Mr. Flook crumple the sheet. Mr. George A. Wintermute missed the sudden little gesture. Their interminable mosquito buzz went on and on; disregarding Mr. Spencer Flook who turned to greet a customer with a mechanical smile, and, a moment later, cut a pound of cheese instead of a half-pound.
Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant was not meditating a partnership in which the patient, long-suffering, self-trained and grocer-minded Mr. Spencer Flook would dominate. Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant was selling out, body and boots, to Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto. In the deal, Mr. Spencer Flook, with his wealth of carefully accumulated knowledge regarding Valencias, pomegranates, macaroni and gorgonzola, was treated as a fixture, a little more useful than the meat sheer, and a little less intelligent than the refrigerator.
Mr. Spencer Flook gazed down the long, bright store at the railed office enclosure. He disliked Mr. George A. Wintermute more than ever; but, for the first time in his life, he hated a fellowbeing. And that fellow-being was, like himself, a grocer, and his name was Hugh Pemberton Grant.
AN UNSEASONABLE pelting of sudden rain that morning had driven Grace’s washing indoors. The thinscented steam of clothes drying on the radiators filled the house to overflowing; that, and the clamor of the brawling brood at table.
Three simultaneous arguments deafened Mr. Flook:
“Mom! Doesn’t Jack look real chick . . . Shut up . . with that jam on his face? . . Peggy, you’re an old
hen . . . Mamma, Buster’s sticking his finger in the jam., Shut up, you Doll-rus! . . . You pig! . . . Shut up, you! . . . Mom!”
Mr. Spencer Flook sat down, heavily. At forty, he felt like a centenarian. The minute Grace knew, she’d tell him; “I just knew you’d never get that partnership! Why, didn’t I tell you . . . ?”
So he’d tell her nothing . . . till he conjured up some sort of answer to her inevitable reproaches.
Get another job? ‘Experienced grocery salesman ... in a rut for twenty years’. A traveler, perhaps . . . ‘Unaggressive order-taker, twenty years experience as champion goat. Reference, Hugh Pemberton Grant.’
Or go in business for himself . . . with capital sadly depleted to make up the difference between what it cost to live and what Grant paid him?
That problem, though, could wait. The desperate, the pressing, the immediate problem was to keep Grace from guessing ... to postpone, as long as he could, the inevitable, ‘Didn’t I tell you, Pen Flook?’
Dolores and Buster were fighting, crying loudly, kicking vigorously. The origin of their feud lay in the dim, forgotten past.
“Aw, Mamma. Look at Freddie. He’s got a plate,” shrieked Margaret.
Grace gazed resignedly at Freddie. If a plate, or even two plates, kept Freddie from climbing out of his high-chair, well and good. Maybe, he wouldn’t break the plate . . .
But he did. The resounding crash brought a momentary lull to the tumult. Spencer Flook wondered if his immin-
ent crash, when it came, would be audible above this ceaseless turmoil.
He felt cheered, somehow, by the breaking of the plate. It relieved a certain tension, that grew and grew so long as the plate hung poised over the edge of the high chair. It represented action—or destructive action, a type of action ‘Sixteen Secrets of Success’ and ‘Annals of Achievement’ never approved—yet action of some sort.
But action for himself—no! Mr. Flook escaped to his thoughts. He tried, calmly, to analyze his situation, to determine just why he had failed. In his younger years, he had thrilled with calm certitude that his day would come. Let the baby brawl—he could, if he choose to exert himself, quiet the brawling. Let Hugh Pemberton Grant scoff at his impractical ideas and the other clerks laugh at his plodding study—when his chance came, he’d show them.
But he hadn’t shown them, then! They’d got into the habit at the store of regarding him as quite negligible; just as five younger Flooks for lack of discipline had grown up to disregard his existence. With business, as with the younger Flooks the habit was set now; since others refused to take him at his own estimate, he took himself at theirs.
It was all clear as noonday.
A fierce altercation broke forth at Mr. Flook’s elbow.
“Pen,” shrilled Grace, “can’t you make this Doll-rus behave?”
Mr. Flook, interrupted at the crucial moment when, his problem analyzed, he was about to seek a remedy, glared at the disputants.
“What is it?” he barked.
Instantly, he was the target for a deafening volley of explanation, protest and denial. Dolores and Buster each presenting a case, with corroborative evidence of fierce dispute from the others.
“She hit me! I wasn’t doing a thing to her!” Buster stuck out a defiant tongue.
“Buster says currants are just dead bugs,” shrilled Dolores. “He’s a liar. They come off bushes. I wouldn’t eat them if they were dead bugs.”
“They’re dead bugs and you did eat them.”
“Liar! Liar! They come off bushes. Say they come off bushes, Daddy?”
“They don’t come off bushes. Do they, Daddy? They’re dead bugs.” Then, in derisive sing-song, “Dollrus, Dollrus, ate a walrus.”
Mr. Spencer Flook glanced at the clock. In twenty minutes more, he had to— positively had to—tear himself away from this restful domestic haven and return to the grinding toil of Grant’s grocery. Twenty minutes . . . twenty long minutes. If he could only, in some way, bridge those twenty minutes . . . why, then he could postpone explanations and announcements to Grace until that evening.
By dint of superhuman effort he made himself heard. “I’ll tell you the exact truth about currants. They aren’t dead bugs.” A shrill of triumph from Dolores. “And they don’t grow on bushes but on vines.” Buster whooped.
Currants? Mr. Spencer Flook had been learning about currants for twenty years.
Where were currants grown? And how? Where did they get their name? From Corinth—the famous city in Ancient Greece. How were currants grown and harvested and processed and got to Kensington, Ontario?. . . With ever in his mind’s eye the hope of postponing uncomfortable explanations, with ever before his physical eye the hands of that clock, creeping, snail-like, from minute to minute . . . Mr. Spencer Flook even ventured digression beyond the realm of exact knowledge, to St. Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians.
Not till he finished his dramatic monologue did he realize it was monologue . . . that for the first time in years the Flook feeding-trough had become an orderly dinner-table. Quite without threats, by mere dint of taking his right-
fully dominant place, he had silenced the entire brawling brood.
He experienced amazement, triumph, and a certain curiosity. “I’ve got to go now,” he said.
“Anything doing at the store?” Grace asked, perfunctorily.
Mr. Spencer Flook regarded her; gazed oddly at the children in their well-worn coats making ready for school; and then did the very thing from which, twenty minutes earlier, he had been desperately shrinking.
“Grant,” he said, “is selling out to a chap named Wintermute.”
“And,” exclaimed Grace, “you don’t get your partnership?”
“I’ll be lucky,” grinned Mr. Flook, “if I’m not fired.”
An awed gasp went up from the children. With all his weaknesses Mr. Spencer Flook was at least their tower of strength.
“Oh, Dad!” exclaimed Margaret.“ What will we do?”
“That old liar, Grant,” commented Jack; “he’s nothing but a big tub of lard, anyway. I’ll bust his old head for him.”
Dolores was silent; a silence eloquent of feeling.
Mr. Spencer Flook laughed. “We’ll take a holiday and then start new. Eh, Grace?”
Grace was amazingly serene. “Well,” she said, “you’ve always had ideas, Pen. Now, perhaps, we’ll get ahead.”
ATRSPENCER FLOOK whistled his -Lvlway back to work. He no longer hated Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant. He hardly disliked Mr. George A. Wintermute, even.
Entering the back store, he decorously stilled his whistle. As he hung up his coat and hat, Mr. George A. Wintermute bustled aggressively into the railed enclosure; Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant lumbering sedately after him.
“What’s this?” barked Mr. Wintermute.
He picked up a long, narrow sheet of wrapping paper from Grant’s desk.
“Some of Flook’s nonsense,” laughed Grant. “I found it on the counter just now. I suppose Flook’s heard you’re taking over the store, and he means to spring his impractical ideas on you.”
Mr. Flook’s hat, poised midway to the hook, somehow found its way back to his head. Except for that, he did not move. He hardly breathed. He experienced every emotion, most of all the smart of Mr. Grant’s derision. Every emotion— except shame at thus listening in.
“About Flook?” briskly questioned Mr. Wintermute.
“You’ll speak to him?”
“But—you see, he’s been with me so long—”
“So long,” scoffed Wintermute, “you’d rather unload on me the odium of letting him go? My dear Grant, I appreciate your outlook, but ... we threshed all that out. You said, and I agreed, he was mere dead wood. And I’m the one who has to carry on in Kensington and build up the business. I insist on you lifting the millstones off its neck.”
“But . . . How can I . . .?”
“You want a pretext? Take this.” Mr. Wintermute fingered the long, narrow slip of wrapping paper headed, ‘Ideas fo r Partnership’. “Call Flook in, when he gets back from dinner, show him this, and make it the text for a little sermon on minding his own business.”
Mr. Flook’s frayed, three-year-old winter coat followed his hat from hook to Flook. He slipped out the back door.
Five minutes later, he entered Grant’s grocery at the front door. He came in whistling, and he was whistling when he got to the office; he went inside, still whistling; and, still whistling, and without doffing his hat, he regarded Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant. Not as a cat looking at a king, but as one grocer looking at another.
Then his eyes, as if by chance, shifted to
that long, narrow slip of wrapping paper headed,
‘Ideas for Partnership’
“Mine,” he said. “No use to you, Grant. Good ideas. Live ideas. No possible interest to the sexton of a business cemetery like this.”
The extinct volcano was erupting with true Vesuvian suddenness. Mr. Grant looked like Herculaneum; also Pompeii. He grew red. He grew purple. He grew at last a beautiful red brown. Even his white hair and white moustache and pale eyes seemed to take on color.
But, even more astounding was the change in Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto. Mr. Wintermute half turned, regarding Mr. Spencer Flook with head cocked to one side, very much like a bright little bird—an alert, amused bird who very much enjoyed the sight of volcanoes in eruption and stout, elderly grocers suddenly turning the hue of red beets.
TWENTY years, Mr. Spencer Flook had worked and waited. Through twenty years he had accumulated a fund of knowledge about the foodstuffs he sold and the best ways to sell them. Twenty years he had spent mastering the idiosyncrasies of People Who Must Eat, but whose appetites were often precarious and capricious.
Twenty years—for this?
No. Rather for the glowing, triumphant climax of a promised partnership come true. But, failing partnership, Vesuvian eruption relieved his soul.
“Eh? Eh?” sputtered Grant. Then remembering his sixty-seven years of somnolent dignity, “You forget, sir, to, whom you are speaking. You forget that you are in my employ.”
“Not at all. I remember that I was in your employ. I remember, very distinctly, that I am speaking to the biggest fourflusher in Ontario, a man as devoid even of old ideas as he is impervious to new ones. And, now, Mr. Giant, if you 1 hand me that slip—?”
Mr. Grant stretch0 i fo' ch a shaking hand; but Mr. George A. Wintermute with a characteristic quick movement intercepted the slip.
“What’s all this?” he demanded.
Mr. Flook’s pent up dislike became vocal: “If it’s any of your business—” “It happens,” said Mr. Wintermute, with surprising equanimity, “to be some of the wrapping paper I use in my business.” He smoothed out the long, narrow strip. “Ideas for partnership?’ Whose partnership?”
Mr. Grant had recovered his importance. “Rather presumptuous to expect—” “Especially,” cut in Flook, “after you’d promised me.”
“Ah—I see, Mr. Flook. Mr. Grant promised to take you into partnership. When?”
“He talked of it as long as twenty years ago.”
Mr. Wintermute shook his head. “Anyone who waits twenty years for a partnership is a fool. Well—‘Xmas Cake in Oct.?”
Mr. Spencer Flook disliked Mr. George A. Wintermute; but, somehow, he found Mr. Wintermute rather compelling.
“Grant’s grocery,” he explained, “never tries to sell Christmas currants and raisins and peels till the end of November. I suggest starting to push their sale in October—”
“You see,” said Mr. Grant, “how impractical—”
“Decidedly impractical,” agreed Mr. Wintermute. “It’s just an old superstition that Christmas Cake and Christmas pudding are the better for standing a month or two. My mother had that silly idea. I agree with you, Grant—such an idea would never do^for Grant’s grocery. But . . . ‘Ribbon recipes’?”
Mr. Flook, rebuffed, was reluctant. Yet the mind behind the hooked nose was compelling as ever. -*
“Oh,” Mr. Flook hurried, “the idea is, get a string of good, tested recipes for Christmas cake and pudding and candy and bulletin them in a ribbon across the window, on a level with the eye. Yes, and maybe, a cook book, to send to a mailing list with a letter inviting folks to make these things early.”
“That,” said Mr. Wintermute, practically, “would cost money. For printing. And postage. Eh, Grant?”
“I certainly wouldn’t think of it.” “And . . . let’s see , . . ‘Coffee Special’?”
Flook gripped his waning courage, spurred it to one last hurdle. That had been his pet idea all these years. Again and again, Grant had scoffed at it, yet he had most persistently come back. As he did now.
“Do you realize, Mr. Wintermute, how Kensington regards this store? It’s reputation for quality helps with a few select customers—”
“. . . but its reputation for high prices repels the average customer. And most folks nowadays figure close. They have to. We should have a special feature at an attractive price to reach every person in Kensington. Now, see, Mr. Wintermute. Every home in Kensington uses coffee. I’d feature one popular blend
Grant sadly shook his head.
“—at one popular price. The best coffee in Kensington at the lowest price. If we make the price and maintain the quality we’ll sell carloads where we now sell bags.”
“But,” argued Grant, contemptuously, “what blend can you sell by carloads?” “Let our customers select the blend.” “How?”
“I’ve experimented. I’ve worked out nine good blends, and a tenth that will knock the spots off all the others. Get up an assortment, ten different blends in ten little packages, all numbered. Sell the assortment at a feature price; and give each customer a cash refund when he turns in a coupon indicating his preference. I’m betting my chosen blend will swamp all the others. Kensington selects the popular coffee; the contest advertises it; and we sell it. That’s all.”
“Yes,” scoffed Grant, “but think of the work—”
“Think,” said Mr. Flook, “of the advertisement for Dempsey’s or McWhirr’s when they realize it’s worth the work.” Mr. Hugh Pemberton Grant sat rigid. Mr. George A. Wintermute, his black eyes agleam, got up and paced the railed enclosure.
“That,” he snapped, “is what you mean by ‘Customers Select’?”
Mr. Wintermute went on pacing.
“Ever suggest this to Grant?”
“A score of times.”
“Why didn’t he fire you?”
Grant spoke up. “Well, you see, Wintermute, I had to consider ... a man with a family . . . worked for me a long time . . .but,” he beamed with sudden relief, “you . . . er . . . you referred to your employment here, Flook, in the past tense? Implying you were . . . er . . . thinking of . . . had actually . . . quit? Now, while I regret that the friendly relations so long maintained between us are to be thus suddenly terminated ...”
Mr. Grant’s dignity was reasserting itself, despite Mr. Spencer Flook’s fateful eruption. Herculaneum and Pompeii were being uncovered once more.
But a new volcano erupted with bewildering suddenness.
The new volcano was Mr. George A. Wintermute, of Toronto.
“Cut out that nonsense, Grant, and telephone that lawyer I want to see him again, right away. Tell him—tell him I’ve found what I despaired of finding—a man of ideas to run my Kensington branch for me . . . and I want to see him p.d.q. about drawing up a partnership agreement.” -