FICTION

Well Lathered

DAVID WILLIAM MOORE June 1 1935
FICTION

Well Lathered

DAVID WILLIAM MOORE June 1 1935

Well Lathered

DAVID WILLIAM MOORE

“A beard well lathered is half shaved.”

—Italian proverb.

THE MELLOW old eyes of George Q. Hale twinkled a challenge to the young man who had just taken a chair on the other side of his desk. For a moment he studied the visitor with cheerful curiosity.

"So you’re Hugh Stogg. Well, well.”

"And I'm ready for the job you have for me,” said the young man.

"Seems to me I did hear something about your wanting a job.” and the older man'chuckled a little at his own playfulness. But immediately his face drew down into a frown, as he remembered bis plan to be severe with this young scamp. "How many of those fool letters did you write to me, anyhow?”

"Forty-nine,” said Hugh simply.

"I can’t understand why you are so determined to have a job with me. Why are you?”

Stogg didn’t hesitate with his answer. "I heard you are hard to get along with, but that you know advertising. So I figured tliat if I could make good for you I'd be able to hold an advertising job anywhere.” Then he leaned forward in his chair with obvious eagerness. "And now, if you'll do whatever signing up is necessary, Mr. Hale, I’d like to get to work.”

“You—you—what? Say—” But George Q. Hale couldn’t find suitable words to express his amazement. Never in all his thirty years as president of the Hale Advertising Agency had he encountered anyone quite like this young man. Hugh Stogg. He had had all sorts of selling tricks played on him subterfuges, artifices and sophistries, not to mention plain old-fashioned four-flushing. And, obviously, he thought he knew a smart fast play when he saw one coming at him. Yet here was something new. This young chap was, figuratively speaking, about to take the shirt right off his welldefended back. And George Q. Hale didn’t relish the idea. He wished to keep to himself the right of saying yes or no regarding his own shirt.

Hale toyed with his gold pen which fitted into a gold holder, symbol of executive im}x>rtance. 1 Ie held a match to his already burning cigar. He stuck his forefinger into his collar and eased his neck. He smoothed back his hair. He uncrossed his legs and crossed them again. George Q. was doing a bit of fancy squirming. I íe was sold on I Iugh Stogg : he knew it, but he didn’t like it.

All of which dated back over a year. Hugh Stogg. describing himself as the general handy man of the Prince-

ville Sentinel, had written a letter each week to Mr. I Iale during this time. These letters explained not only that Hugh Stogg desired a job in the Hale office, but that he intended to have one. With arguments to match.

“I’m the best advertising salesman in Princeville,” wrote Hugh. “I’m ready for a bigger field.”

And later: “I’m willing to work on the prospects your other salesmen have failed to get.”

And again: “You think you are hard to sell, but you’re not. I imagine I have you about sold already.”

WEEK AFTER WE:E:K, Stogg’s letters whittled and hacked at the well-known sales resistance of George Q. At the end of six months, only the old advertising man’s sheer stubbornness was saving him. He simply wouldn’t be stampeded by such a high-handed young squirt. No, sir! Yet, he felt a bit ashamed of himself.

I íe knew well I Iugh Stogg’s letters had punch in them, the sort of punch an advertising agency needs. But he eased off his conscience by telling himself that if the young rascal was any good he’d keep the letters coming.

So the barrage continued, until finally there came a letter that broke through. “If everybody in the world,” wrote Stogg, “refused to admit he’s sold, as you are doing, then there wouldn't be any sense in advertising at all.”

I Iale was annoyed—and tickled— by such audacity. It really was time, he admitted to himself, either to hire Stogg or to give the nervy young pup a g(x>d dressing down and put him in his place. So he wheeled about in his chair and faced his secretary, Miss Jean Camden, so well pleased with what he was about to do that he almost smiled at her.

"Miss Camden letter Hugh Stogg Princeville Ontario dear sir you may come in for interview if you wish yours truly and use the rubber stamp to take some of the conceit out of him.”

Two days later, which was the morning when Hugh tx)k his seat across the desk from the big advertising man. Hale got the surprise of his life. He had pictured Stogg as a slick-haired, brazen young fellow, with perhaps a corresjx>ndence-schx>l diploma. He imagined Hugh would talk about the “advertising game.” too.

But Hugh Stogg was the opposite of everything Hale expected. He was big and awkward and—well, sort of friendly, like a man who would make a g(xxi pal on a fishing trip. He seemed to have the quiet assurance of a capable fullback who has just finished playing a successful

schedule of games. His deep, steady eyes looked as if they’d be bright blue in the sunlight. His hair would have stood a few more strokes of the comb, and his clothes had probably missed their last date with the pressing iron. His hands were big—so big they caused Hale to notice them particularly. Such hands couldn’t be lazy.

“What makes you think you can sell for me?” asked Hale, who had finally managed to compose himself. He was really stalling for more time. He knew about what Hugh’s answer would be.

“1 sold the business men of Princeville." said Hugh. “And I’ve sold you.”

“You think you’ve sold me, eh?” and Hale’s voice was sarcastic.

“Of course, I have.” There was nothing boastful about Hugh Stogg. He was merely stating a fact. "You wouldn’t have asked me to come here for an interview it you hadn’t been willing to give me a trial, providing. I suppose, that 1 looked all right. You see, when I sell I build up a background. My father used to say that a beard well lathered was half shaved. I’ve learned to take a heap of pains with my lathering. Lathering is what I call salesmanship.”

HALE STARED at the young man. He couldn’t quite believe the strange words he was hearing. Mostly, according to his experience, young salesmen believed selling was a sort of trick. Here was a young man talking about making sales by building a background, making them grow. Hugh Stogg seemed too good to be true, and Hale had an idea it would be a big mistake to allow the Hale Advertising Agency to miss out on such services. Yet Hale wanted to kick the young upstart out of his office.

“And so”—it was Hugh’s calm voice again—"I'll just state my projxjsition and get to work. I’ll agree to spend a year with you. By the end of the year I’ll bring in a good account. You pay me fifty dollars a week. \\ hen the account is in your office you pay me a bonus of five thousand dollars. I shall work in my own way. I shall—”

“I hope.” said Mr. Hale, with fine sarcasm, “that you’ll allow me to stay here in the office in some capacity or other. Just as a matter of sentiment, you know.”

Hugh ignored the wisecrack. "Now, please select the account you wish me to get.”

“You mean—?” George Q. Hale’s mouth and eyes were open wide. Then he burst into mock hilarity. “I knew there was a Santa Claus all the time. Say, young man, with you here I wouldn't ever have another worry. But to save my life I couldn’t possibly select a prosjxct that would lx worth your effort. You select one.”

"Well.” and Hugh was still apparently unconcerned with the older man’s kidding. "I’d really like to work on the Hardwick Range Company. I’ve been watching its advertising. And I happen to know you do not have the account.”

George Q. regarded Stogg with fine superiority. “So you think you can lather up old Tom Hardwick and make him put his name on a dotted line, do you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, perhaps I'd better explain that Tom’s electric range is a lemon, and that the man. himself, is the hardest boiled executive in the city. Just what makes you think you can sell him?”

“Oh, I don’t know anything about Mr. Hardwick. But 1 studied electrical engineering at college and I have some ideas about electric stoves.”

Mr. Hale settled back into his chair with a sigh of relaxation. He had given up at last.

"If it will make you happy, young man. just run along and start your lathering on old Tom. I'm willing to pay fifty dollars a week just to see the feathers fly. Bring back that account by the end of the year and I’ll not only jx»v you a bonus of five thousand but I’ll build a marble statue of you, and—”

Hugh got up from his chair and held out his hand. “Thank you for the opportunity.”

George Q.’s face sobered as he shook hands with his new salesman. "Good luck.” he said, and his voice was almost paternalistic. “Remember. Hardwick is tough, lie threw out the last salesman from here.”

“I’m sort of tough myself,” grinned Hugh.

HUGH STOGG turned toward the door, took a step, then hesitated at Jean Camden’s desk. Jean blushed guiltily. She hadn't realized he was conscious of her presence in the room.

“My salary cheques should be sent to 1475 Windlay Street,” he instructed. “And another thing: Maybe I’d better have your name so I could call for information without bothering Mr. Hale. Just in case.”

Jean gave him her name. Which should have concluded their affairs of the moment. But it didn’t. Hugh Stogg continued to stand there, obviously finding much of interest in this young woman. He looked at her soft brown hair, her deep brown eyes, her fiery red cheeks with their bashful little dimples. But he didn’t seem to be staring, just looking, as a connoisseur of art who has suddenly come upon a masterpiece. Then he noticed a wistful little daffodil on Jean’s desk.

“You like flowers?”

“Yes.”

"Yellow flowers?”

"Yes.”

“I’ll send you some.”

Then he really did go. And Jean sat staring at the door through which he had disappeared. She had forgotten all about her typewriter and notes. She was now sailing over a romantic sea in a ship of gold which was piloted by a big, strong -

“So he sold you. too, eh?" chuckled Mr. Hale happily, as he regarded his secretary.

“Oh!” and Jean made a miserable attempt to appear normal. "He is unusual, isn’t he?"

“Most unusual young scoundrel I ever saw," declared Hale. "If lie’s half as good as he seems to lx*. lie’ll probably lx* president one of these days. 1 hojx Tom Hardwick doesn’t kill him.”

The days began to drift by. and Hugh Stogg might have been running a street car in Tokyo for all the Hale Advertising Agency saw or heard of him. Which was entirely according to agreement, even though it caused old George Q. Hale to bite at the furniture. Of course, 1 lugh Stogg had made it plain that he was to do his lathering in his own way. If he chose to go down to the river and fish with a pinluxik for old Hardwick, then what ho!

But it just wasn’t right. It was neither business nor sjxirtsmanship. Mr. Hale had keenly anticipated a lot of gixxl clean fun and ixrhaps a fine new account. 1 le had had a notion the scrap between this young Stogg jxrson and the savage Hardwick would lx* a glorious thing to watch. But Hale wasn’t having a bit of fun. He wasn’t seeing a thing. The only evidence that Hugh Stogg was on earth was that his salary cheques were cashed regularly.

And. oh, yes, there was one other bit of evidence. Each Monday and Thursday a bouquet of yellow flowers came for Jean Camden. The flowers were not |)retentious. but they were the most thrilling blossoms Jean had ever seen. I hey seemed to whisjxr little secrets atxuit Hugh and how he loved her and would sxm be coming back to tell her the castle was ready. Silly nonsense, of course. But it could all be true, couldn’t it? And it wasn’t long Ixfore Jean felt she simply had to see 1 lugh again. She ex|xcted to hear his voice every time the telephone rang, to see him every time the door opened. She watched faces on the street. But she saw nothing of Hugh Stogg.

TENSE AS the situation became for Jean, it was much worse on George Q. His blood pressure was soon hissing like the steam in an excursion-boat boiler. He would stalk about the office, with set jaws and staring eyes. He would growl at everybody—even snap at his wife when she telephoned.

But the old man had a pretty good chin, and he continued to. stagger along. For six months he tolerated Hugh s silliness, then one morning he came stamping into the office and Jean saw immediately he had blood in his eye. He d jxobablv slumped in his golf, or one of his dentures had begun to droop. But no matter what the immediate trouble it promised ill for one Hugh Stogg.

Hale regarded Jean with all the righteous indignation one human countenance could manage. “That scoundrel, Stogg, is getting on my nerves.”

Jean couldn’t think of a fitting reply.

“I said,” thundered Hale, "that Stogg is getting on my nerves.”

“Well,” and Jean registered a frightened little smile in sjfite of herself; “so what?”

“So what! I tell you I’m worried nearly to death by a crook and you say so what. Can’t you suggest something? Can’t you understand what a worry he is?”

“I thought,” said Jean as gently as she could, "that he was working on a year’s agreement; that he was to—er, lather in his own way.”

“Lathering! Bah! Foolishness! Just a trick to make a fx>l of me. Talked me into paying him a salary and jxobably isn’t doing a lick of work.” Then he noticed the bouquet on jean’s desk. He glared at it ferociously. “And he sends jx)sies to you. Steals my money and send flowers to my secretary. I won’t stand for it.”

“I didn’t ask him to send flowers to me, Mr. Hale,” said Jean. She resented his picking on her flowers. Somehow they had come to seem almost sacred to her. “However, I think it’s a nice thing for him to do. Further. I think there is a chance that you are mistaken about him. Hasn t he fulfilled his agreement with you?”

“Hmph!” and the chief subsided a bit. “He has fulfilled the letter of the agreement, I supjxjse. But you know and I know he isn’t doing right. He isn't working as a salesman should. We never had any such salesman belore who— ’ “We never had a salesman who got the 1 lardwick account, did we?”

"Bah!” and Hale walked back to his desk and slumped down on his chair with a heavy sigh.

Jean knew very well that some sort of trouble was brewing for Hugh Stogg. George Q. Hale wouldn’t ever give up on the idea that Hugh was dishonest, unless, of course, Hugh got the Hardwick account. Sooner or later, there d be another outburst. Jean decided that Hugh ought to know. So she telephoned, from the comer drug store.

“Hello, Jean.” His voice sounded quite natural when finally she managed to get him. “What is up? You sound half scared to death.”

“Oh, I am scared, Mr.—er—Hugh. Mr. Hale thinks you aren’t working. He’s very angry.”

“I suspected he might lx squirming a little,” laughed Hugh. “But I am working, very hard. Please tell him, won’t you? I’m working every day at lathering.”

“But why—how—?”

“It takes time. Jean. You see, one has to get the victim composed, then moisten his face, apply soap, work around with the brush, and—”

“Thank you for the flowers,” laughed Jean, as she realized he was kidding. “I’ve enjoyed them.”

“And that makes up for everything,” he said, more solemnly. “I’ll be seeing you—at the end of the year. You won’t forget?”

“No, I won’t forget.”

' I "'HE NEXT MORNING Jean made her report. Mr. Hale scowled dreadfully at her mention of Hugh, but he seemed to lx: somewhat impressed. “I still haven’t any faith in him, but I’ll wait awhile and see what happens.”

And so the office of the Hale Advertising Agency again settled down almost to its normal routine. Mr. Hale was even a bit cheerful at times, and occasionally Jean actually heard him speaking of putts and pitch shots. However, there would be times also when he would sit staring vacantly into space.

The weeks dragged by, and now there were only two months left of Hugh’s year. And still the only tangible evidence of Hugh’s presence on earth was the little lx>uquet of yellow flowers he kept on Jean’s desk. They seemed to whisper to her to have faith.

And Jean believed. Oh. she did believe in him. If the chief would only wait ! But this was too much to ask. The affair with Hugh Stogg was undoubtedly the most trying experience in George Q. Hale’s dealings with salesmen.

One morning the old man stalked into the office, placed himself belligerently at Jean’s desk, and without a word of warning, barked :

“Get Stogg. You’ve got his number.”

“Yes, Mr. Hale.” Tremblingly Jean got the connection, was given a second number which she called in a daze. “Mr. Stogg— Mr. Hale calling.”

The receiver was almost snatched from her fingers. “Hale speaking. You’re fired !” Bang went the receiver. Then:

“Take letter Stogg confirming our telephone conversation you’re fired no more cheques if you come back here I ’ll have you clapped in jail and use the rubber stamp of course the dirty crook.” All in one vicious, hissing breath!

“I should have known all along he was playing me for a sucker. Tom Hardwick told me last night at the club that he hadn't seen a salesman from our office at all.”

Whereupon, without waiting for Jean to reply, George Q. tossed his hat toward the top of his desk, missing the target by a wide margin and planted himself on his chair with vigorous finality.

“I should have realized,” he growled more to himself than to Jean, “that a freak like Stogg couldn’t be anything else but a rascal.”

Jean said nothing. Of course, she should have agreed with Mr. Hale as a matter of diplomacy. She knew well he expected his profound judgments confirmed by those on his payroll. But Jean was busy keeping back tears. She had no time for George Q. ’s pride. However, she wasn’t sobby because she thought Hugh Stogg was a crook, but because she knew he wasn’t. She hurriedly typed off Hale’s message, lifting her eyes now and then in apology to the yellow flowers. She felt like a murderess as she pressed the rubber signature stamp on the paper. Then an idea came to her. She took her pen and wrote below where the purple contours of Hale’s stem signature smeared the sheet:

“The flowers and I are still loyal. J.C.”

A reply to Hale’s letter came promptly from Hugh Stogg.

“I was afraid you wouldn’t stick,” wrote Hugh. “But I’m going ahead as I agreed. If you care to continue with me. I’ll deliver the Hardwfick account as planned. If you don’t, then I should have little difficulty in persuading some other agency to accept it.”

Hale glared at the letter, then glanced shyly at Jean, as if trying to evoke some sort of remark from her. He knew she had read the message, of course, when she opened the mail. But Jean didn’t let on that she knew the letter was in the office. Then Hale sighed, crushed the letter in his hand and threw' it savagely into the w'astepaper basket.

All day long he stalked around as if he w'as being terribly abused. High dudgeon and such. But it wras silly pretense, of course. Jean knew him well enough to know that he felt small and mean, that he probably was needing a stepladder to get on his chair. A couple of times he caught Jean grinning into her typewriter, but he couldn’t do a blessed thing about it. She had a right to grin at her typewriter if she wished, hadn’t she? Finally, along about five o’clock, he turned to Jean.

“By the way, I reckon w'e’d better send the rest of the cheques to that Stogg fellow. He’d probably sue us if we didn’t.”

Again there was a measure of calm in the I Iale office. Mr. Hale sulked, but Jean didn’t mind him. She was busy counting the days until Hugh would be coming back. No word from Hugh; only the flow'ers.

Then there was only one more wreek. Next Monday would be the day. Four more days. Three more days.

She spent all of Saturday afternoon picking out a new frock, one that had gay yellow flowers on it. And she spent nearly all of Sunday putting on and taking off this new dress, assuring herself that she was going to look exactly right. And she thought of wfiat she’d say, of how she’d smile at him, and . . .

"X/fONDAY MORNING she was at the -*“*1. office ages before Mr. Hale arrived. She was satisfied that her dress looked stunning, and she knew this was going to be a w'onderful day. Before eight o’clock she w'as standing at the window w'atching.

By nine o’clock, w'hen George Q. ambled in, Jean was so excited she couldn’t sit still for more than a minute at a time. She’d take a few miscellaneous whacks at her keyboard, then stroll over to the window, pretending she was looking for something in the file or getting a drink. Nearly a dozen times she adjusted the yellow flowers. A year had passed, and they were daffodils again.

She struggled to get herself calm. “Silly fool,” she scolded. But her chattering teeth mocked her. “Why,” she meditated, “he might even be an escaped lunatic.”

She thought of lathering. A beard well lathered was half shaved. It didn’t occur to Jean that Hugh had done some very fancy lathering on her.

Ting-a-ling! Jean nearly fell off her chair. She grabbed the receiver, listened, then turned to Mr. Hale. “Mr. Stogg to see you. He says to tell you his year is up.” Jean hoped the chief didn’t notice her excitement.

Apparently he didn’t. Hale drew his face down into a terrible scowl. “That Stogg again, eh? Bah ! Wants to waste more of my time. All right, I’ll listen to his alibi. Tell him to come in.”

Hugh Stogg didn’t get much of a welcome on this second call of his at the Hale office. Jean was trying to act as if nothing unusual w'as happening, her eyes following her fingers over the keys of her typewriter. And old George Q. was pretending high-class executive concentration by holding his face down close to a form letter from a poultry journal. His broad back w'as deliberately focused in the direction of Hugh’s entry.

The prodigal walked past Jean without a word. He came to the chief’s desk, and stood respectfully for a moment in the managerial aura. After a tense interval, Hale suddenly

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swung himself around and pointed a devastating glare at Hugh.

“Well, I presume you have the Hardwick account with you, eh?”

“No, but 1 think I have it ready to close this morning,” said Hugh. He was neither apologetic nor exultant.

“That’s nice,” sneered Hale. “That’s just lovely. And may I be so bold as to enquire whether you have taken the trouble to discuss advertising with Tom Hardwick?”

“No, I have never talked advertising with him at all,” replied Hugh. “But I happen to know he’s ready to sign up with an agency. So if you will go with me out there ...”

Across the room, Jean’s heart was sinking. She should have known Hugh was too good to be true. Her eight years in an advertising agency had taught her that it takes more for a salesman to get an account than merely to know when it’s ready to close. But she was going to be charitable. Even if Hugh had failed, he wouldn’t be the first salesman to fail on a prospect.

But George Q. Hale, for twelve tedious months, had been storing up his choicest razzberries for this Stogg pest. He was now ready to let go with the whole works.

“You’re a queer scoundrel, Stogg,” he said slowly, eyeing the young man as he would a rattlesnake. “You say big things, but you do nothing. Your line about lathering was a smart gag. But it didn’t mean a thing. You roped me in, then went off somewhere and loafed while you gave me a horse laugh. But just out of curiosity, before I kick you out of here, I’d like to hear what you may have to say in your defense.”

Hugh’s face showed no emotion whatever, unless it was a faint touch of amusement.

“I hadn’t planned to use a defense,” he replied. “I told you I thought I could get the Hardwick account, and I think I have it.

I told you about lathering, and that’s what I’ve been doing. For a whole year I’ve been working in the Hardwick factory. I know the Hardwick range. I know it better than Mr. Hardwick himself. In fact, he told me so, not more than an hour ago.”

‘ ‘ H e—he—w ha t ? ”

“Why, he told me that I know more about his range than he does. You see, as I said to you last year, I studied electrical engineering at college. I had an idea about how to cut down the current used by such a range. So I designed a new circuit, one that cuts the expense of operation by nearly one-fourth. He liked that. In fact, he told me he was so well pleased with what I had done that he wanted me to handle his advertising.”

“But—but—” gasped Hale, struggling to I make himself believe what he was hearing, “you said you hadn’t talked advertising to him—and I thought you hadn’t been out there at all—and—”

“I said nothing about being out there, and you didn’t ask me. Further, the subject of advertising never came up until this morning. When he said he wanted me to handle the advertising, I told him I’d be back in an hour with my decision. And so, if you wish to go out there with me . .

George Q. already had his hat on and was halfway through the door.

LATE THAT afternoon, when Hugh * Stogg had placed in his pocket a cheque for $5,000, and had been patted on the back a hundred or so times by Mr. Hale, it seemed that the day was over. Hugh stood up and shook hands with the chief, said good night and started for the door.

Jean’s heart just about stopjied at this moment, because not once during the day had he so much as glanced in her direction. She had decided—that is, she had almost decided—that he must have placed an order I with a florist for the flowers and then had 1 forgotten the whole idea, including herself. He must have forgotten.

But now, halfway to the door, he suddenly

stopped and leaned down over her desk. As he s]X)ke, his voice was soft and warm, hardly more than a whisper.

“The end of the year has come. And I still have to close up one very important contract. Couldn’t we go somewhere and talk it over —while we have dinner?”

She nodded, her eyes bright. He seemed about to snatch her into his arms. But he didn’t. Instead, he pointed to the bouquet on her desk.

‘‘Couldn’t you pin that on? It’d look well with that gown you’re wearing. Somehow. I think it ought to help us celebrate, don’t you?”

George Q. Hale sat alone in his office for perhaps an hour after the two young people had gone. He simply had to stay and revel in satisfaction. “A beard well lathered! Hah, hah ! What a boy ! I knew all the time he was coming through. If I’d only had him thirty years ago.”