Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XXI
At seven o'clock the next morning Paul stood before Smith & Thompson's store.
As he came up on one side, another boy came down on the other, and crossed the street.
"Are you the new boy?" he asked, surveying Paul attentively.
"I suppose so," said Paul. "I've engaged to work for Smith & Thompson."
"All right. I'm glad to see you," said the other.
This looked kind, and Paul thanked him for his welcome.
"O." said the other, bursting into a laugh, "you needn't trouble yourself about thanking me. I'm glad you've come, because now I shan't have to open the store and sweep out. Just lend a hand there; I'll help you about taking down the shutters this morning, and to-morrow you'll have to get along alone."
The two boys opened the store.
"What's your name?" asked Paul's new acquaintance.
"Paul Prescott. What is yours?"
"Nicholas Benton. You may call me MR. Benton."
"Mr. Benton?" repeated Paul in some astonishment.
"Yes; I'm a young man now. I've been Smith & Thompson's boy till now. Now I'm promoted."
Paul looked at MR. Benton with some amusement. That young man was somewhat shorter than himself, and sole proprietor of a stock of pale yellow hair which required an abundant stock of bear's grease to keep it in order. His face was freckled and expressionless. His eyebrows and eyelashes were of the same faded color. He was dressed, however, with some pretensions to smartness. He wore a blue necktie, of large dimensions, fastened by an enormous breast-pin, which, in its already tarnished splendor, suggested strong doubts as to the apparent gold being genuine.
"There's the broom, Paul," said Mr. Benton, assuming a graceful position on the counter.
"You'll have to sweep out; only look sharp about raising a dust, or Smith'll be into your wool."
"What sort of a man is Mr. Smith?" asked Paul, with some curiosity.
"O, he's an out and outer. Sharp as a steel trap. He'll make you toe the mark."
"Do you like him?" asked Paul, not quite sure whether he understood his employer's character from the description.
"I don't like him well enough to advise any of my folks to trade with him," said Mr. Benton.
"He'd cheat 'em out of their eye teeth if they happened to have any," said the young man coolly, beginning to pick his teeth with a knife.
Paul began to doubt whether he should like Mr. Smith.
"I say," said Mr. Benton after a pause, "have you begun to shave yet?"
Paul looked up to see if his companion were in earnest.
"No," said he; "I haven't got along as far as that. Have you?"
"I," repeated the young man, a little contemptuously, "of course I have. I've shaved for a year and a half."
"Do you find it hard shaving?" asked Paul, a little slyly.
"Well, my beard is rather stiff," said the late BOY, with an important air, "but I've got used to it."
"Ain't you rather young to shave, Nicholas?" asked Paul.
"Mr. Benton, if you please."
"I mean, Mr. Benton."
"Perhaps I was when I begun. But now I am nineteen."
"Yes, that is to say, I'm within a few months of being nineteen. What do you think of my moustache?"
"I hadn't noticed it."
"The store's rather dark," muttered Mr. Benton, who seemed a little annoyed by this answer. "If you'll come a little nearer you can see it."
Drawing near, Paul, after some trouble, descried a few scattering hairs.
"Yes," said he, wanting to laugh, "I see it."
"Coming on finely, isn't it?" asked Mr. Nicholas Benton, complacently.
"Yes," said Paul, rather doubtfully.
"I don't mind letting you into a secret," said Benton, affably, "if you won't mention it. I've been using some of the six weeks' stuff."
"The what?" asked Paul, opening his eyes.
"Haven't you heard of it?" inquired Benton, a little contemptuously. "Where have you been living all your life? Haven't you seen it advertised,--warranted to produce a full set of whiskers or moustaches upon the smoothest face, etc. I got some a week ago, only a dollar. Five weeks from now you'll see something that'll astonish you."
Paul was not a little amused by his new companion, and would have laughed, but that he feared to offend him.
"You'd better get some," said Mr. Benton. "I'll let you just try mine once, if you want to."
"Thank you," said Paul; "I don't think I want to have a moustache just yet."
"Well, perhaps you're right. Being a boy, perhaps it wouldn't be advisable."
"When does Mr. Smith come in?"
"Not till nine."
"And the other clerks?"
"About eight o'clock. I shan't come till eight, to-morrow morning."
"There's one thing I should like to ask you," said Paul. "Of course you won't answer unless you like."
"Out with it."
"How much does Mr. Smith pay you?"
"Ahem!" said Benton, "what does he pay you?"
"A dollar and a quarter a week."
"He paid me a dollar and a half to begin with."
"Did he? He wanted me to come first at a dollar."
"Just like him. Didn't I tell you he was an out and outer? He'll be sure to take you in if you will let him."
"But," said Paul, anxiously, "he said he'd raise it in a month or two."
"He won't offer to; you'll have to tease him. And then how much'll he raise it? Not more than a quarter. How much do you think I get now?"
"How long have you been here?"
"A year and a half."
"Five dollars a week," guessed Paul.
"Five! he only gives me two and a half. That is, he hasn't been paying me but that. Now, of course, he'll raise, as I've been promoted."
"How much do you expect to get now?"
"Maybe four dollars, and I'm worth ten any day. He's a mean old skinflint, Smith is."
This glimpse at his own prospects did not tend to make Paul feel very comfortable. He could not repress a sigh of disappointment when he thought of this mortifying termination of all his brilliant prospects. He had long nourished the hope of being able to repay the good sexton for his outlay in his behalf, besides discharging the debt which his father had left behind him. Now there seemed to be little prospect of either. He had half a mind to resign his place immediately upon the entrance of Mr. Smith, but two considerations dissuaded him; one, that the sum which he was to receive, though small, would at least buy his clothes, and besides, he was not at all certain of obtaining another situation.
With a sigh, therefore, he went about his duties.
He had scarcely got the store ready when some of the clerks entered, and the business of the day commenced. At nine Mr. Smith appeared.
"So you're here, Peter," remarked he, as he caught sight of our hero.
"Paul," corrected the owner of that name.
"Well, well, Peter or Paul, don't make much difference. Both were apostles, if I remember right. All ready for work, eh?"
"Yes, sir," said Paul, neither very briskly nor cheerfully.
"Well," said Mr. Smith, after a pause, "I guess I'll put you into the calico department. Williams, you may take him under your wing. And now Peter,--all the same, Paul,--I've got a word or two to say to you, as I always do to every boy who comes into my store. Don't forget what you're here for? It's to sell goods. Take care to sell something to every man, woman, and child, that comes in your way. That's the way to do business. Follow it up, and you'll be a rich man some day."
"But suppose they don't want anything?" said Paul.
"Make 'em want something," returned Smith, "Don't let 'em off without buying. That's my motto. However, you'll learn."
Smith bustled off, and began in his nervous way to exercise a general supervision over all that was going on in the store. He seemed to be all eyes. While apparently entirely occupied in waiting upon a customer, he took notice of all the customers in the store, and could tell what they bought, and how much they paid.
Paul listened attentively to the clerk under whom he was placed for instruction.
"What's the price of this calico?" inquired a common-looking woman.
"A shilling a yard, ma'am," (this was not in war times.)
"It looks rather coarse."
"Coarse, ma'am! What can you be thinking of? It is a superfine piece of goods. We sell more of it than of any other figure. The mayor's wife was in here yesterday, and bought two dress patterns off of it."
"Did she?" asked the woman, who appeared favorably impressed by this circumstance.
"Yes, and she promised to send her friends here after some of it. You'd better take it while you can get it."
"Will it wash?"
"To be sure it will."
"Then I guess you may cut me off ten yards."
This was quickly done, and the woman departed with her purchase.
Five minutes later, another woman entered with a bundle of the same figured calico.
Seeing her coming, Williams hastily slipped the remnant of the piece out of sight.
"I got this calico here," said the newcomer, "one day last week. You warranted it to wash, but I find it won't. Here's a piece I've tried."
She showed a pattern, which had a faded look.
"You've come to the wrong store," said Williams, coolly. "You must have got the calico somewhere else."
"No, I'm sure I got it here. I remember particularly buying it of you."
"You've got a better memory than I have, then. We haven't got a piece of calico like that in the store."
Paul listened to this assertion with unutterable surprise.
"I am quite certain I bought it here," said the woman, perplexed.
"Must have been the next store,--Blake & Hastings. Better go over there."
The woman went out.
"That's the way to do business," said Williams, winking at Paul.
Paul said nothing, but he felt more than ever doubtful about retaining his place.