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His Stock In Trade
by [?]

“The science of salesmanship is quite as exact as the science of astronomy,” said Mr. Gross, casting his eyes down the table to see that he had the attention of the other boarders, “and much more intricate. The successful salesman is as much an artist in his line as the man who paints pictures or writes books.”

“Oh, there’s nothing so artistic as writing books,” protested Miss Harris, the manicurist. “Nothing except acting, perhaps. Actors are artistic, too. But salesmen! I meet lots in my business, and I’m not strong for them.”

Mr. Gross smiled at her indulgently; it was an expression that became him well, and he had rehearsed it often.

“The power to sell goods is a talent, my dear Miss Harris, just like the power to invent machinery or to rule a city, or–or–to keep a set of books. Don’t you agree with me, Mrs. Green?”

Mrs. Green, the landlady, a brown, gray woman in black, smiled frigidly. “You’re so original, Mr. Gross,” said she, “it’s a pleasure to hear you, I’m sure.”

Gross was an impressive talker, due to the fact that he plagiarized office platitudes; he ran on pompously, dropping trade mottoes and shop-worn bits of philosophy until young Mitchell, unable longer to endure the light of admiration he saw in Miss Harris’s eyes, rolled up his napkin to the size of a croquette and interrupted by noisily shoving back his chair and muttering under his breath:

“That stuff comes on printed cards. They give it away.”

Mrs. Green called to him, “It’s bread pudding, Mr. Mitchell, and very nice.”

“Thanks! My gout is bad again,” he said, at which some of the more frivolous-minded boarders snickered.

“Mitchell is a bright boy–in many ways,” Gross remarked, a moment later, “but he’s too fresh. I don’t think he’ll last long at the office.”

Instead of climbing to his hall kennel on the fourth floor rear, Louis Mitchell went out upon the rusty little porch of the boarding-house and sat down on the topmost step, reflecting gloomily that a clerk has small chance against a head bookkeeper.

Life at Mrs. Green’s pension–she called it that, rates six dollars up, terms six dollars down–had not been the same for the youthful hermit of the hall bedroom since Gross had met him and Miss Harris in the park a few Sundays before and, falling under the witchery of the manicurist’s violet eyes, had changed his residence to coincide with theirs. Gross now occupied one of the front rooms, and a corresponding place in the esteem of those less fortunate boarders to whom the mere contemplation of ten dollars a week was an extravagance. Mitchell had long adored the blonde manicurist, but once the same roof sheltered her and the magnificent head bookkeeper, he saw his dream of love and two furnished rooms with kitchenette go glimmering.

Time was when Miss Harris had been content with Sundays in the park, vaudeville–first balcony–on Wednesdays, and a moving picture now and then. These lavish attentions, coupled with an occasional assault upon some delicatessen establishment, had satisfied her cravings for the higher life. Now that Gross had appeared and sown discord with his prodigality she no longer cared for animals and band concerts, she had acquired the orchestra-seat habit, had learned to dance, and, above all, she now possessed a subtle refinement in regard to victuals. She criticized Marlowe’s acting, and complained that cold food gave her indigestion. No longer did she sit the summer evenings out with Mitchell, holding his hand in her lap and absent-mindedly buffing his nails, warning him in sweet familiarity that his cuticle was “growing down.” In consequence of her defection, fierce resentment smoldered in the young man’s breast. He was jealous; he longed to out-squander the extravagant Mr. Gross; he lusted to spend money in unstinted quantities, five dollars an evening if or when necessary.

But there seemed little hope of his ever attaining such a purse-proud position, for while he loomed fairly large in the boarding-house atmosphere of Ohio Street–or had so loomed until the advent of the reckless bookkeeper–he was so small a part of the office force of Comer & Mathison, jobbers of railway supplies, as to resemble nothing multiplied by itself. He received twelve dollars a week, to be sure, for making telephone quotations and extending invoices between times; but when, as the evening shadows of pay-day descended and he drew his envelope, the procedure reminded him vaguely of blackmail, for any office-boy who did not stutter could have held his job.