W. REDVERS DENT
There’s efficiency in business, efficiency in love—but what are you to do when your lady fair denies them both?
JOSIAH COTTON gazed out of the lonely looking store at the hurrying passers-by.
His chin was drooping just a little, and Josiah’s chin had not drooped for many a year. Every little while his face would light up with an eager smile of welcome, only to have it fade again into shadow. For most of the people w'ho passed by his shop so hurriedly were old customers, old friends as he had remembered them. Yes, all old familiar faces; worried mothers, exuberant fathers; and none who cared about the drama of loneliness being enacted before them.
He knew them all, had congratulated them years before on their marriage, had given them unlimited credit to tide them over the difficult periods.
Often, too, when sickness or a new baby had invaded the house and upset the family budget, Josiah had forgotten to send his bill for a month or two until they were on their feet again. Yes, he knew them all, loved them all, and had taken for granted that they would stay with him until he died and mayhap strange hands would take over the old grocery store —hands which they w'ould resent as much as Josiah himself would.
He turned with a sigh and surveyed his empty store. Hardly any business now since that chain store had opened, except occasionally when an old customer, still loyal, would drop in for some paltry purchase and a chat.
They felt, even as they did so, that they were merely being charitable.
He surveyed the store gravely. The old soft wood floor which was freshly oiled every morning looked dirty and forlorn, contrasted with the bright linoleum of the chain store.
The old pickle tub, always open, and on which Josiah really lost money because so many customers, as they waited, would pick a pickle and chew it nonchalantly, seemed to feel the loneliness of the place too; and the general "
hodgepodge of green stuffs drooped and withered because of the lack of buyers.
“I guess I should have put in bright lights after all,” thought Josiah. “People seem to gather around light as moths to a flame.”
There was no doubt about it; his store was old-fashioned and far behind the times. People didn’t have large families any more and seemed always to have enough cash to pay for their goods in the chain store.
His canned goods, too, were out of date. No bright, attractive labels; just the old standard quality lines, good lines, that had kept their reputation steadfast throughout the years.
He stopped at a sack of brooms. You could buy brooms in the chain store for as low as forty-nine cents, while Josiah’s were seventy-five cents and a dollar— good brooms that would outlast two of the others.
That was the trouble; people didn’t want to pay for quality. They chose cheap shoddy stuff that wore out quickly. He could remember the days when women would pick and choose for a long time, not worrying about the price but rather whether the article was good and would last. These modern women didn’t know the difference between anything, but merely took what had been most vividly brought before their attention.
Twenty days more and the old store would close its doors; for the wholesale grocers, much as they liked the old man, could wait no longer for their money and were determined to shut him up unless he met their drafts.
Efficiency again; drafts now. In the old days they trusted you. But today—“if the account is not paid we will draw on you at sight.”
Tired old man, he felt for his favorite seat on a convenient sack of potatoes and there fell prey to the despondency that was in him. The next day Josiah
had two visitors. One was his niece, a super-modernist production of the year 1930, so up-to-date that she was old-fashioned, so modern that she believed no longer in her parents and their methods but longed, as young people do, for a different and better era. She would have been tremendously surprised had she been told that her ideas were Victorian ones made over.
Her parents had been modern in their day; in fact they still spoke of themselves as modern, just as the product of the Victorian age could not see himself as behind the times in 1918.
Her parents believed in efficiency to the nth degree. They did not believe in fairy stories or dreams or the thousand and one things that make this world delightful, but rather in the creed that everything should be practical and that truth is more to be desired than all else. And, of course, they believed in the equality of women.
Naturally Carol, being brought up under these conditions and standards, revolted against them as every youngster will against the ideas of parents. She did not believe in the equality of women because, as she said naively, it didn’t work. What woman wants to be as low as a man? She believed in freedom but she believed in privileges also.
She liked to have men make love to her, raise their hats, and be as courteous to her as they would be to some superior being of their own sex.
She didn’t believe in truth, and taking all the joy out of children’s lives by telling them the details as to how they were born and so forth.
No. She did not believe in efficiency either, for where there is efficiency there is usually cold-heartedness and disinterestedness, and she liked warmth, leisure, and a chance to be friends. That was why she and her generation had reverted to long dresses and all the feminine
tricks of a bygone era.
So petite, brown-eyed Carol shocked her parents by her very conservatism.
JOSIAH’S second visitor, on the other hand, was an efficiency expert of the first water. At least he had a diploma from the university stating that he was ninety-nine per cent so, having gained that rating in his examinations. He was the ultimate expression of a dying age.
As he had just graduated from college, John had not as yet settled down to an ordinary business. But with that divine ego that youth possesses, he had started out to reform the world and make it run smoothly, efficiently and in a laborsaving manner to its destined end.
He had chosen as his first field of conquest the sleepy town of Oakmound that bathes somnolently in the sun on the banks of Lake Couchiching. On the evening of his arrival he strode up and down the main streets marking out places of business which he was sure would need his guiding hand. That was why he strode into the store of Josiah the following morning, ready to give his valuable services for the resurrection of the dead.
He entered as if already he owned the world. “Good morning, Mr. Cotton, I’m glad to mept you. My card, Mr. Cotton.” Josiah took the card dumbly.
“You will see by that card, Mr. Cotton, that my business is to make business. My business is to assist the retailer in effecting better and greater sales. My business is to—”
“What is your name? You see, I haven’t got my
specs, with me yet this morning,” broke in Josiah humbly.
“Mulhall, John Mulhall. Now, Mr. Cotton, last night as soon as I entered Oakmound I wasted no time— no, sir, any man who wastes time is a—well, anyway, I marked out your store as one possibly needing my services. I tell you, Mr. Cotton—”
“What is your business?”
“My business, sir, is to put more efficiency into the art of selling. My business is to act as an adviser to the retailer and to assist him in making greater sales. My business, in other words, is to show him how to save time, money and labor, and at the same time make some money.”
“Yes, sir. Now, Mr. Cotton, if you will give me five minutes of your valuable time I will show you that ...” Ten minutes later Josiah found himself engulfed in a flood of words and merely interjecting “Yes, yes” at intervals.
Somehow Josiah’s befogged brain realized that there was a possibility of this young, eager man helping him to reinstate his business in its old-time prosperity, and for once in many months he grabbed gladly at the straws of hope held eagerly out to him. At last he managed to get a few words in.
“The only thing I can see about all these changes, Mr.—”
“Call me John; just plain John.”
“—is that it needs money and I am afraid I haven’t any.”
“That’s quite all right, sir. I think we can arrange all the credit necessary.”
“Credit? But I am in debt now.”
“That is your only solution, sir—to go in deeper. You must go in deeper before you can get out.”
JUST what are you trying to do with my uncle?”
The men turned, and Josiah walked eagerly toward the new and hitherto silent listener to their conversation.
“Carol! Why, Carol, where did you come from? My, I am glad to see you.”
“Hello, uncle, you old muggins. Just arrived home today and simply had to come to see how you were.” And Carol reached up on her tiptoes and planted a kiss on her uncle’s head.
John Mulhall could see her now for the first time in the half gloom of the badly lighted store, and immediately his carefully prepared speeches left him and were lost in oblivion.
The white dress, the softly oval face, and the calm, steadfast brown eyes looked at him coolly. On the other hand, he felt his heart rapidly increase its tempo.
The kiss had completed his confusion. It was such a fervent kiss and from such a beautiful mouth. One that you wanted to linger over, forgetful of everything in the sheer delight of it.
“Just what are you trying to get my uncle to do?” Carol repeated, turning to John.
“You see, dear, this man is an expert,” began Josiah placatingly; “an efficiency expert, and he is going to help me get my business back again.”
“I forgot . . . my, my! I must be getting old; this is my niece Carol Cotton, Mr. John ah—ah—”
“Yes, that’s it; Mr. Mulhall.”
“Yes?” was Carol’s only comment.
John pulled at his collar desperately.
“Well, you see, I—ah—”
“Just what are you going to do, and where has your business gone, uncle?”
Yes, Carol was a nice name; Carol, Carol sweetly, Carol,” thought John, lost in a haze of maudlin emotion. Already he was visualizing a pretty bungalow and himself coming back from his day of efficiency work, with Carol—what a lovely name!—Carol . . .
Josiah hastened to explain.
“Well, you see, dear, these chain stores have sort of taken my business away—”
“Why, are there many in town?”
“There have been three start up in the last few months.”
“You see, dear, these stores don’t have any local connections at all. They just sell groceries very efficiently, and, of course, much cheaper than I can.” “Why can they?”
“Well, they cut out the middleman, but that isn’t all. They don’t give credit; they just have a manager and one or two girls to run it.”
“What difference does that make?”
“Well, you see, when hard times come, in my store all the customers are personal friends, so I just tide them over until better times come.”
“I see. Do those people owe you much money?”
“Oh, yes, quite a bit. In fact, if it were all paid I would be out of debt and even have a nest egg besides.” “Oh. And why don’t they pay it?”
“Well, you see, since these chain stores came they go there and pay cash, and of course they haven’t any money left to pay me.”
There was a long silence as the three digested these facts. By this time John Mulhall’s customary aplomb was once more back to normal.
“Well, sir,” he said heartily, “we will darn soon put a collectors' agency after those old accounts, then we’ll remodel the store, make it up to date, and install a C.O.D. system. We sure will show these chain stores something and stop giving away money, too.”
John stopped in his stride.
“Don’t you like the idea, Miss Cotton?”
“I don’t know.”
“I simply couldn’t put a collection agency after those people,” protested Josiah. “Why, they’re all friends of mine.”
“You simply must, Mr. Cotton. Why—”
“How much will the collection cost?” asked Carol. “About ten or fifteen per cent.”
John didn’t like those “Ohs.”
“We must do something.”
“Yes, I suppose we must,” echoed Josiah doubtfully. “What will uncle do when you have remodelled the store?”
“It will be too busy for him then, won’t it?”
“Why, I guess it might. I suppose we will have to put a younger man in to make it more efficient.”
“Efficient, efficient! I am sick and tired of efficiency. All I have heard since I grew up is efficiency and I tell you I won’t have it,” said Carol vehemently.
“But efficiency saves time and labor.”
“I’m sick of saving time. What do we do with it anyway when we do save it?”
Continued on page 34
Continued from page 11
“We save labor and get indigestion, and then have to labor harder at golf or something to keep normal.”
“Hang money !”
“But—but—” stuttered John feebly. “Oh, uncle, listen to me.” Very sweetly and clingingly Carol took hold of Josiah’s lapels. “Just give me a day to think this thing over before you say yes. You wouldn’t like it anyway.”
“But what can you do, Carol?”
“I don’t know yet. I might think of something, though. I’d rather have anything than these chain stores,” she finished glumly.
She walked slowly toward the front of the store, and naturally, just as she had done on every other occasion when she visited her uncle there, she headed for the keg of pickles. Diving her hand into the keg, she drew out a pickle and began to munch.
Josiah’s and John’s eyes followed her wistfully, one washing he were young again like that, and the other wishing . . . Suddenly Carol gave a gurgle of delight. “I have it! I have it!” she yelled excitedly.
“Have what?” Josiah asked hopefully. “An idea. Just the thing. It will work, too. I am sure of it !” She turned to John. “Can you help me?”
"Oh, yes, I could. I’d be delight—”
“I knew you would. Pick a pickle, pick a pickle !”
“Pick a what?”
“Uncle, I’m going out with this man and I’ll bet we’ll do it. Won’t we?”
“Sure we will. What is it?”
“It doesn’t matter; come on.” And in sheer excitement she took hold of his hand and pulled him out of the store. Old Josiah’s eyes followed them, still wistful and enquiring.
NOW what is this wonderful idea of yours?” asked John as they walked slowly down the main street. He still was more or less in a daze from the discovery that she was the most wonderful, the most supreme, the most exalted girl he had ever met.
“I’m not going to tell it to you yet. Wait till we eat. I’m starving.”
“You’re just from college too, I see,” said John.
Carol laughed gurglingly. “I refuse to be insulted even by an efficiency expert.” “But honestly, I never thought, never dreamed of the connection,” said John hastily.
“Oh, yes, you did, but I’ll forgive you. At that, it was rather clever. But I’ll eat just twice as much now.”
“Go ahead, go ahead; it will make me happy to see you eat,” said John fatuously.
“Why, haven’t you ever seen a girl eat before?”
“Sure, but not with such nice teeth, and . . . ah . . ”
“That’s enough,” said Carol primly. “This is a strictly business conference.” “So be it,” said John cheerfully. “But I didn’t start it.”
“Start it being anything else.” “Humph.”
By this time they were at the Plaza restaurant where all Oakmound meets, and having found that the place was nearly empty, they took a secluded nook in a dim corner and Carol started immediately on business.
“I suppose you know all about publicity?” she asked John.
“Publicity? My dear woman—I mean, why certainly, Miss Cotton.”
“That’s better. Of course you believe in efficiency and all that sort of rot?” “But it isn’t rot. If modern business could be conducted on the most modern efficiency basis—”
“Oh, yes, I know. But you see I don’t believe in efficiency.”
“No, I’m fed up with it. I’m sick of it;
I never want to hear the word again.” “But why?”
“Simply because I’m a human being and like to have a little individuality. I’m sick of going into stores and of being directed here and shunted there like some sort of animal. I want to go where I want to go, and take my time. I don’t want to be hurried on by someone pushing in the line behind. I’m sick of sitting at lunch counters like a lumberjack.”
“I tell you this efficiency idea is badly overworked, and I want to be a human being.”
“But, my dear—”
“Don’t dear me,” said Carol grimly. “Nowadays everything is made so efficient that you are brought into the world like a motor car on an assembly line and taken out the same way—by numbers.” “That’s rather exaggerating.”
“It isn’t. All through life you are marked, branded, inoculated, taught, married, and even have stomach trouble just like a million others. I want something different.”
“But it makes things run smoothly and freely,” interjected John as Carol paused for breath.
“That’s just the trouble. You are born by the clock; and if you don’t die when the doctors say you will they are as mad as the dickens.”
John laughed. “So be it, then. But what has all this to do with your uncle’s store?”
“Well, I want to see uncle cater to the few discerning people in the world who want to be leisurely and take their time. I want to see uncle happy and content, and I don’t want one single thing changed in that store.”
“But that can’t be done. The store is poorly lit; everything is thrown haphazard—”
“I know, and I want it to stay that way.”
“All right, but how are we going to do it?”
“Just listen to me.” And forthwith Carol launched into a long and impressive argument.
At first John looked doubtful, then less so. Finally he began to grin and at last he laughed aloud.
“By Jove, I believe it can be done.” “Certainly it can be done,” said Carol warmly.
John thought it over. “Do you know Carol—I mean Miss Cotton—that would make a wonderful business?”
“To make yourself an expert of inefficiency instead of efficiency.”
“Say, let you and me start in the business."
“Inefficiency, Incorporated!” exclaimed Carol delightedly.
“Inefficiency, Incorporated!” echoed John, “and we’ll shake hands on it.”
Very solemnly they shook hands and as their eyes met, a message flickered back and forth that signified more than a business arrangement.
THE following day the citizens of Oakmound awoke with a shock when they read in their local paper a flamboyant paragraph;
PICK A PICKLE Shop at Cottons’
Cottons’ are proud of the fact that they do not treat their clientele like a flock of sheep.
There are no wickets, gates or barriers.
Continued from page 34
Each one is waited on personally by Mr. Cotton himself.
Each customer is willing to sit on a stool in Cotton’s and wait patiently for his turn to be served.
“It’s the only opportunity given me to meet my friends and still have time for meditation,” states one of Oakmound’s leading hostesses.
“Shopping is a personal thing, wherein I want time to think and plan the day’s menu,” says a popular young bride.
“There are no bargains; everything is higher priced than at the chain stores; there is no efficiency or glib explanations. Everything is different, surprisingly and delightfully different,” remarks another young matron.
If you would rather enjoy your shopping than save a few pennies, come to Cotton’s.
If you are in a desperate hurry, stay away from Cotton’s but if you enjoy pleasant conversation, if you enjoy a place where you can shop at leisure, shop at Cotton’s.
The pickle tub is still there. PICK A PICKLE AND WAIT YOUR TURN.
YOU WILL MEET YOUR FRIENDS AT COTTON’S
PEOPLE chuckled and laughed over the quaint advertisement. Husbands turned to wives with, “I thought that old man was dead,” and from comment the strain of conversation flowed into reminiscence.
The older matrons remembered with a sigh the days of their shopping in the old gloomy store. “We used to meet there every morning and get the news of the town,” said one.
“Yes, I would just sit there comfortably and wait my turn and nibble at the pickles,” echoed another.
“That was where I first heard that my daughter was going to have a baby,” someone else said. “That old store has memories.”
“By gosh, I remember the time back ; in ’83 when they used to have a keg of | rum right in the centre and you could help l yourself,” chuckled another old-timer.
And so it went, the whole town arguing pro and con. A few still stuck to efficiency and economy, but they were the middle-aged. The old and the younger matrons were all in favor of it. To the old it had memories; to the young, novelty.
The next morning John and Carol peeked from the back of the store while Old Josiah, happy as a king, watched many of his old friends and several new ones wend their way in.
He hustled to and fro; he hurried and scurried hither and yon; and all the time he carried on a conversation with each different one.
The customers seemed reluctant to leave once their purchases had been made. It all seemed so jolly, so comfortable, so leisurely. They would find themselves lolling against the counter or sitting on a sack of potatoes, munching a pickle or an apple and airily relaxing for the first time in years.
“The buzz of conversation sounds like a successful afternoon tea,” chuckled John.
“It’s more than that, for it gives the people better value.”
“Yes; it shows them there is more in this world than mere trade and commerce.”
“It is successful anyway,” said John, and, groping through the gloom he found Carol’s hand. “How about forming that Inefficiency, Incorporated, eh?”
She turned in the gloom and her eyes were shining.
“Inefficiency, Incorporated, it is. And maybe ...”
John squeezed her hand and felt the slightest tremor in return.
“I love you very inefficiently,” he whispered.
They seemed very happy about that, too.