Slow and Sure
by Timothy Shay Arthur
"You'd better take the whole case. These goods will sell as fast as they can be measured off."
The young man to whom this was said by the polite and active partner in a certain wholesale house in Philadelphia, shook his head and replied firmly —
"No, Mr. Johnson. Three pieces are enough for my sales. If they go off quickly, I can easily get more."
"I don't know about that, Mr. Watson," replied the wholesaler. "I shall be greatly mistaken if we have a case of these goods left by the end of a week. Everyone who looks at them, buys. Miller bought two whole cases this morning. In the original packages, we sell them at a half cent per yard, lower than by the piece."
"If they are gone, I can buy something else," said the cautious purchaser.
"Then you won't let me sell you a case?"
"No thanks, sir."
"You buy too cautiously," said Johnson.
"Do you think so?"
"I know so. The fact is, I can sell some of your neighbors as much in an hour — as I can sell you in a week. We wholesalers would starve, if there were no more active men in the trade than you are, friend Watson."
Watson smiled in a quiet, self-satisfied way as he replied —
"The number of wholesale dealers might be diminished; but failures among them would be of less frequent occurrence. Slow and sure, is my motto."
"Slow and sure doesn't make much headway in these times. Enterprise is the word. A man has to be swift-footed, to keep up with the general movement."
"I don't expect to get rich in a day," said Watson.
"You'll hardly be disappointed in your expectation," remarked Johnson, a little sarcastically. His customer did not notice the feeling his tones expressed, but went on to select a piece or two of goods, here and there, from various packages, as the styles happened to suit him.
"Five percent off for cash, I suppose," said Watson, after completing his purchase.
"Oh, certainly," replied the dealer. "Do you wish to pay the bill?"
"Yes, I wish to do a cash business as far as I can. It is rather slow work at first; but it is safest, and sure to come out right in the end."
"You're behind the times, Watson," said Johnson, shaking his head. "Tell me — who can do the most profitable business, a man with a capital of five thousand dollars, or a man with twenty thousand?"
"The latter, of course."
"Very well. Don't you understand that credit is capital?"
"It isn't cash capital."
"What is the difference, please, between the profit on ten thousand dollars' worth of goods purchased on credit — or purchased for cash?"
"Just five hundred dollars," said Watson.
"How do you make that out?" The wholesaler did not see the meaning of his customer.
"You discount five percent for cash, don't you?" replied Watson, smiling.
"True. But, if you don't happen to have the ten thousand dollars cash, at the time you wish to make a purchase, don't you see what an advantage credit gives you? Estimate the profit at twenty percent on a cash purchase, and your credit enables you to make fifteen percent, where you would have made nothing."
"All very good theory," said Watson. "It looks beautiful on paper. Thousands have figured themselves out rich in this way, but, alas! discovered themselves poor in the end. If all would work out just right — if the thousands of dollars of goods bought on credit would invariably sell at good profit and in time to meet the purchase notes — then your credit business would be first rate. But, my little observation tells me that this isn't always the case — that your large credit men are forever on the street, money hunting, instead of in their stores looking after their business. Instead of getting discounts which add to their profits, they are constantly suffering losses; and, too often, these, and the accumulating stock of unsaleable goods — the consequence of credit temptations in purchasing — reduce the fifteen percent. you speak of down to ten, and even five percent. A large business makes large store-expenses; and these eat away a serious amount of small profits on large sales. Better sell twenty thousand dollars' worth of goods at twenty percent profit, than eighty thousand at five percent. You can do it with less labor, less anxiety, and at less cost for rent and clerk hire. At least, Mr. Johnson, this is my mode of reasoning."
"Well, plod along," replied Johnson. "Little boats keep near the shore. But, let me tell you, my young friend, your mind is rather too limited, for a merchant of this day. There is Mortimer, who began business about the time you did. How much do you think he has made by a good credit?"
"I'm sure I don't know."
"Fifty thousand dollars!"
"And by the next turn of fortune's wheel — may lose it all."
"Not he. Mortimer, though young, is too shrewd a merchant for that. Do you know that he made ten thousand by the late rise in cotton; and all without touching a dollar in his business?"
"I heard something of it. But, suppose prices had receded instead of advancing? What of this good credit, then?"
"You're too timid — too prudent, Watson," said the merchant, "and will be left behind in the race for prosperity, by men of half your ability."
"No matter — I will be content," was the reply of Watson.
It happened, a short time after this little interchange of views on business matters, that Watson met the daughter of Mr. Johnson in a company where he chanced to be. She was an accomplished and interesting young woman, and pleased Watson particularly; and it is but truth to say, that she was equally well pleased with him.
The father, who was present, saw, with a slight feeling of disapprobation, the lively conversation that passed between the young man and his daughter; and when an occasion offered, a day or two afterwards, made it a point to refer to him in a way to give the impression that he held him in light estimation. Flora, that was the daughter's name, did not appear to notice his remark. One evening, not long after this, as the family of Mr. Johnson were about leaving the tea-table, where they had remained later than usual, a servant announced that there was a gentleman in the parlor.
"Who is it?" inquired Flora.
"Mr. Mortimer," was answered.
An expression of dislike came into the face of Flora, as she said —
"He didn't ask for me, did he?"
"Yes," was the servant's reply.
"Tell him that I'm engaged, Nancy."
"No, no!" said Mr. Johnson, quickly. "This would not be right. Are you engaged?"
"That means, father, that I don't wish to see him; and he will so understand me."
"Don't wish to see him? Why not?"
"Because I don't like him."
"Don't like him?" Mr. Johnson's manner was slightly impatient. "Perhaps you don't know him."
The way in which her father spoke, rather embarrassed Flora. She cast down her eye and stood for a few moments.
"Tell Mr. Mortimer that I will see him in a little while," she then said, and, as the servant retired to give the answer, she ascended to her chamber to make some slight additions to her dress.
To meet the young man by constraint, as it were, was only to increase in Flora's mind the dislike she had expressed. So coldly and formally was Mortimer received, that he found his visit rather unpleasant than agreeable, and retired, after sitting an hour, somewhat puzzled as to the real estimation in which he was held by the lady, for whom he felt more than a slight preference.
Mr. Johnson was very much inclined to estimate others by a money-standard of evaluation. A man was a man, in his eyes, when he possessed those qualities of mind that would enable him to make his way in the world — in other words, to get rich. It was this ability in Mortimer that elevated him in his regard, and produced a feeling of pleasure when he saw him inclined to pay attention to his daughter. And it was the apparent lack of this ability in Watson, that caused him to be lightly esteemed.
Men like Mr. Johnson are never very wise in their estimates of character; nor do they usually adopt the best means of attaining their ends, when they meet with opposition. This was illustrated in the present case. Mortimer was frequently referred to in the presence of Flora, and praised in the highest terms; while the bare mention of Watson's name was sure to occasion a series of disparaging remarks. The effect was just the opposite of what was intended. The more her father said in favor of the rich young merchant — the stronger was the repugnance felt towards him by Flora; and the more he had to say against Watson — the better she liked him. This went on until there came a formal application from Mortimer for the hand of Flora. It was made to Mr. Johnson first, who replied to the young man that if he could win the maiden's favor — he had his full approval. But to win the maiden's favor was not so easy a task, as the young man soon found. His offered hand was firmly declined.
"Am I to consider your present decision as final?" said the young man, in surprise and disappointment.
"I wish you to do so, Mr. Mortimer," said Flora.
"Your father approves my suit," said he. "I have his full consent to make you this offer of my hand."
"I cannot but feel flattered at your preference," returned Flora; "but, to accept your offer, would not be just either to you or myself. I, therefore, wish you to understand me as being entirely in earnest."
This closed the interview, and definitely settled the question. When Mr. Johnson learned that the offer of Mortimer had been declined, he was very angry with his daughter, and, in the passionate excitement of his feelings, committed a piece of folly for which he felt an immediate sense of shame and regret.
The interview between Mr. Mortimer and Flora took place during the afternoon, and Mr. Johnson learned the result from a note received from the disappointed young man, just as he was about leaving his store to return home. Flora did not join the family at the tea-table on that evening, for her mind was a good deal disturbed, and she wished to regain her calmness and self-possession, before meeting her father.
Mr. Johnson was sitting in a moody and angry state of mind about an hour after supper, when a servant came into the room and said that Mr. Watson was in the parlor.
"What does he want here?" asked Mr. Johnson, in a rough, excited voice.
"He asked for Miss Flora," returned the servant.
"Where is she?"
"In her room."
"Well, let her stay there. I'll see him myself."
And without taking time for reflection, Mr. Johnson descended to the parlor.
"Mr. Watson," said he, coldly, as the young man arose and advanced towards him.
His manner caused the visitor to pause, and let the hand he had extended fall to his side.
"Well, what is your wish?" asked Mr. Johnson. He looked with knit brows into Watson's face.
"I have called to see your daughter Flora," returned the young man, calmly.
"Then, I wish you to understand that your call is not agreeable," said the father of the young lady, with great rudeness of manner.
"Not agreeable to whom?" asked Watson, manifesting no excitement.
"Not agreeable to me," replied Mr. Johnson. "Nor agreeable to anyone in this house."
"Do you speak for your daughter?" inquired the young man.
"I have a right to speak for her, if anyone has," was the evasive answer.
Watson bowed respectfully, and, without a word more, retired from the house.
The calm dignity with which he had received the rough treatment of Mr. Johnson, rebuked the latter, and added a feeling of shame to his other causes of mental disquietude.
On the next day, Flora received a letter from Watson, in part in these words —
"I called, last evening, but was not so fortunate as to see you. Your father met me in the parlor, and on learning that my visit was to you, told me not to come again. This circumstance makes it imperative on me to declare what might have been sometime longer delayed — my sincere regard for you. If you feel towards me as your father does, then I have not a word more to say; but I do not believe this, and, therefore, I cannot let his disapproval, in a matter so intimately concerning my happiness, and it may be yours — influence me to the formation of a hasty decision. I deeply regret your father's state of feeling. His full approval of my suit, next to yours, I feel to be in every way desirable.
"But, why need I multiply words? Again, I declare that I feel for you, a sincere affection. If you can return this, say so with as little delay as possible; and if you cannot, be equally frank with me."
Watson did not err in his belief that Flora reciprocated his tender sentiments; nor was he kept long in suspense. She made an early reply, avowing her own attachment, but urging him, for her sake, to do all in his power to overcome her father's prejudices. But this was no easy task. In the end, however, Mr. Johnson, who saw, too plainly, that opposition on his part would be of no avail, yielded a kind of forced consent that the plodding, behind-the-age young merchant, should lead Flora to the altar. That his daughter should be content with such a man, was to him a source of deep mortification. His own expectations in regard to her, had been of a far higher character.
"He'll never set the world on fire!" "A man of no enterprise!" "A dull plodder!" with similar allusions to his son-in-law, were overheard by Mr. Johnson on the night of the wedding party, and added no little to the ill-concealed chagrin from which he suffered. They were made by individuals who belonged to the new school of business men, of whom Mortimer was a representative. He, too, was present. His disappointment in not obtaining the hand of Flora, had been solaced in the favor of one whose social standing and money-value was regarded as considerably above that of the maiden who had declined the offer of his hand. Mortimer saw Flora given to another, without a feeling of regret. A few months afterwards, he married the daughter of a gentleman who considered himself fortunate in obtaining a son-in-law who promised to be one of the richest men in the city.
It was with a very poor grace, that Mr. Johnson bore his disappointment; so poor, that he scarcely treated the husband of his daughter with befitting respect. To add to his uncomfortable feelings by contrast, Mortimer built himself a splendid dwelling almost beside the modest residence of Mr. Watson, and after furnishing it in the most costly and elegant style — gave a grand entertainment. Invitations to this were not extended to either Mr. Johnson's family, or to that of his son-in-law — an omission that was particularly galling to the former.
A few weeks following this, Mr. Johnson stood beside Mr. Watson in an auction room. To the latter, a sample of new goods, just introduced, was knocked down, and when asked by the auctioneer how many cases he would take, he replied "Two."
"Say ten," whispered Mr. Johnson in his ear.
"Two cases are enough for my sales," quietly returned the young man.
"But they're a great bargain. You can sell them at a great profit," urged Mr. Johnson.
"Perhaps so. But I'd rather not go out of my regular line of business."
By this time, the auctioneer's repeated question of "Who'll take another case?" had been responded to by half a dozen voices, and the lot of goods was gone.
"You're too prudent," said Mr. Johnson, with some impatience in his manner.
"No," replied the young man, with his usual calm tone and quiet smile. "Slow and sure — that is my motto. I only buy the quantity of an article, that I am pretty sure will sell. Then I get a certain profit, and am not troubled with paying for goods that are lying on my shelves, and depreciating in value daily."
"But these wouldn't have lain on your shelves. You could have sold them at a profit tomorrow, and thus cleared sixty or seventy dollars."
"That is mere speculation."
"Call it what you will; it makes no difference. The chance of making a good operation was before you, and you did not improve it. You will never get along at your snail's pace."
There was, in the voice of Mr. Johnson, a tone of contempt which stung Watson more than any previous remark or action of his father-in-law. Thrown, for a moment, off his guard, he replied with some warmth —
"You may be sure of one thing, at least."
"That I shall never embarrass you with any of my fine operations."
"What do you mean by that?" asked Mr. Johnson.
"Time will explain the remark," replied Watson, turning away, and retiring from the auction room.
A coolness of some months was the consequence of this little interview.
Time proves all things. At the end of fifteen years, Mortimer, who had gone on in the way he had begun, was reputed to be worth two hundred thousand dollars. Everything he touched, turned to money; at least, so it appeared. His whole conversation was concerning handsome operations in trade; and not a day passed in which he had not some story of gains to tell. Yet, with all his heavy accumulations, he was always engaged in money raising, and his line of debts was enormous. Such a thing as proper attention to business, was almost out of the question, for nearly his whole time was taken up in financiering — and some of his financial schemes were on a pretty grand scale.
Watson, on the other hand, had kept plodding along in the old way, making his regular business purchases, and gradually extending his operations, as his profits, changing into capital, enabled him to do so. He was not anxious to get rich fast; at least, not so anxious as to allow himself to be tempted from a safe and prudent course; and was, therefore, content to do well.
By this time, his father-in-law began to understand him a little better than at first, and to appreciate him more highly. On more than one occasion, he had been in need of a few thousand dollars in an emergency, when the check of Watson promptly supplied the pressing need.
As to the real ability of Watson, few were apprised, for he never made a display for the sake of establishing a credit. But it was known to some, that he generally had a comfortable balance in the bank, and to others that he never exchanged notes, nor asked an endorser on his business paper. He always purchased for cash, and thus obtained his goods from five to seven percent cheaper than his neighbors; and rarely put his business paper in bank for discount, at a longer date than sixty days. Under this system, his profits were, usually, ten percent more than the profits of many who were engaged in the same branch of trade. His credit was so good, that the bank where he kept his account readily gave him all the money he asked on his regular paper, without requiring other endorsements; while many of his more dashing neighbors, who were doing twice as much business, were often obliged to go upon the street to raise money at from one to two percent a month. Moreover, as he was always to be found at his store, and ready to give his personal attention to customers, he was able to make his own discriminations and to form his own estimates of men — and these were generally correct. The result of this, was that he gradually attracted a class of buyers who were substantial men; and, in consequence, was little troubled with bad sales.
Up to this time, there had been but few changes in the external domestic arrangements of Mr. Watson. He had moved twice, and, each time, into a larger house. His increasing family made this necessary. But, while all was comfortable and even elegant in his dwelling — there was no display whatever.
One day, about this period, as Watson was walking with his father-in-law, they both paused to look at a handsome house that was going up in a fashionable part of Walnut street. By the side of it was a large building lot.
"I have about made up my mind to buy this lot," remarked Watson.
"You?" Mr. Johnson spoke in a tone of surprise.
"Yes. The price is ten thousand dollars. Rather high; but I like the location."
"What will you do with it?" inquired Mr. Johnson.
"Build upon it."
"As an investment?"
"No. I want a dwelling for myself."
"Indeed! I was not aware that you had any such intentions."
"Oh, yes. I have always intended to build a house as soon as I felt able to do it."
Mr. Johnson felt a good deal surprised at this. No more was said, and the two men walked on.
"How's this? For sale!" said Mr. Johnson. They were opposite the elegant dwelling of Mr. Mortimer, upon which was posted a notice saying that the property was for sale.
"So it seems," was Watson's quiet answer.
"Why should he sell out?" added Mr. Johnson. "Perhaps he is going to Europe to take a tour with his family," he suggested.
"It is more probable," said Watson, "that he has got to the end of his rope."
"What do you mean by that remark?"
"Is obliged to sell, in order to save himself."
"Oh, no! Mortimer is rich."
"So it is said. But I never call a man rich whose paper is floating about by thousands on the street seeking purchasers at two percent a month."
Just then, the carriage of Mortimer drove up to his door, and Mrs. Mortimer descended to the pavement and passed into the house. Her face was pale, and had a look of deep distress. It was several years since Mr. Johnson remembered to have seen her, and he was almost startled at the painful change which had taken place.
A little while afterwards, he looked upon the cheerful, smiling face of his daughter Flora, and there arose in his heart, almost involuntarily, an emotion of thankfulness that she was not the wife of Mortimer. Could he have seen what passed a few hours afterwards, in the dwelling of the latter — he would have been more thankful than ever.
It was after eleven o'clock when Mortimer returned home that night. He had been away since morning. It was rarely that he dined with his family, but usually came home early in the evening. Since seven o'clock, the tea-table had been awaiting his return. At eight o'clock, as he was still absent, supper was served to the children, who, soon after, retired for the night. It was after eleven o'clock as we have said, before Mortimer returned. His face was pale and haggard. He entered quietly, by means of his night-key, and went noiselessly up to his chamber. He found his wife lying across the bed, where, wearied with watching, she had thrown herself and fallen asleep. For a few moments he stood looking at her, with a face in which agony and affection were blended. Then he clasped his hands suddenly against his temples, and groaned aloud. That groan penetrated the ears of his sleeping wife, who startled up with an exclamation of alarm, as her eyes saw the gesture and expression of her husband.
"Oh, Henry! what is the matter? Where have you been? Why do you look so?" she eagerly inquired.
Mortimer did not reply; but continued standing like a statue of despair.
"Henry! Henry!" cried his wife, springing towards him, and laying her hands upon his arm. "Dear husband! what is the matter?"
"Ruined! Ruined!" now came hoarsely from the lips of Mortimer, and, with another deep groan, he threw himself on a sofa, and wrung his hands in uncontrollable anguish.
"Oh, Henry! speak! What does this mean?" said his wife, the tears now gushing from her eyes. "Tell me what has happened."
But, "Ruined! Ruined!" was all that the wretched man would say for a long time. At last, however, he made a few vague explanations, to the effect that he would be compelled to stop payment on the next day.
"I thought," said Mrs. Mortimer, "that the sale of this house was to afford you all the money you needed."
"It is not sold yet," was all his reply to this. He did not explain that it was under a heavy mortgage, and that, even if sold, the amount realized would be a trifle compared with his need on the following day. During the greater part of the night, Mortimer walked the floor of his chamber; and, for a portion of the time, his wife moved like a shadow by his side. But few words passed between them.
When the day broke, Mrs. Mortimer was lying on the bed, asleep. Tears were on her cheeks. In a crib, beside her, was a fair-haired child, two years old, breathing sweetly in his innocent slumber; and over this crib, bent the husband and father. His face was now calm, but very pale, and its expression of sadness, as he gazed upon his sleeping child, was heart-touching. For many minutes, he stood over the unconscious slumberer; then stooping down, he touched its forehead lightly with his lips, while a low sigh struggled up from his bosom. Turning, then, his eyes upon his wife, he gazed at her for some moments, with a sad, pitying look. He was bending to kiss her, when a movement, as if she were about to awaken, caused him to step back, and stand holding his breath, as if he feared the very sound would disturb her. She did not open her eyes, however, but turned over, with a low moan of suffering, and an indistinct murmur of his name.
Mortimer did not again approach the bedside, but stepped noiselessly to the chamber door, and passed into the next room, where three children, who made up the full number of his household treasures, were buried in tranquil sleep. He did not linger long here. A hurried glance was taken of each beloved face, and a kiss laid lightly upon the cheek of each. Then he left the room, moving down the stairs with a step of fear. A moment or two more, and he was beyond the threshold of his dwelling.
When Mrs. Mortimer started up from unquiet slumber, as the first beams of the morning sun fell upon her face, she looked around, eagerly, for her husband. Not seeing him, she called his name. No answer was received, and she sprang from the bed. As she did so, a letter placed conspicuously on the bureau met her eyes. Eagerly breaking the seal, she read this brief sentence:
"Circumstances make it necessary for me to leave the city by the earliest conveyance. Say not a word of this to anyone — not even to your father. My safety depends on your silence. I will write to you in a little while. May Heaven give you strength to bear the trials through which you are about to pass!"
But for the instant fear for her husband, which this communication brought into the mind of Mrs. Mortimer, the shock would have rendered her insensible. He was in danger, and upon her discretion, depended his safety. This gave her strength for the moment. Her first act was to destroy the note. Next she strove to repress the wild throbbings of her heart, and to assume a calm exterior. Vain efforts! She was too weak for the trial; and who can wonder that she was?
Mr. Johnson was sitting in his store about half past three that afternoon, when a man came in and asked him for the payment of a note of five thousand dollars. He was a Notary.
"A protest!" exclaimed Mr. Johnson, in astonishment. "What does this mean?"
"I don't understand this," said he, after a moment or two. "I have no paper out for that amount, falling due today. Let me see it?"
The note was handed to him.
"It's a forgery!" said he, promptly. "To whom is it payable?" he added. "To Mortimer, as I live!"
And he handed it back to the Notary, who departed.
Soon after he saw the father-in-law of Mortimer go hurriedly past his store. A glimpse of his countenance showed that he was strongly agitated.
"Have you heard the news?" asked his son-in-law, coming in, half an hour afterwards.
"Mortimer has been detected in a forgery!"
"He has forged my name also."
"Yes. A note for five thousand dollars was presented to me by the Notary a little while ago."
"Is it possible? But this is no loss to you."
"If he has resorted to forgery to sustain himself," replied Mr. Johnson, looking serious, "his affairs are, of course, in a desperate condition."
"I am on his paper, for at least twenty thousand dollars."
"Such, I am sorry to say, is the case. And to meet that paper will try me severely. Oh, dear! How little I dreamed of this! I thought him one of the soundest men in the city."
"I am pained to hear that you are so deeply involved," said Mr. Watson. "But, do not let it trouble you too much. I will defer my building intentions to another time, and let you have whatever money you may need."
Mr. Johnson made no answer. His eyes were upon the floor and his thoughts way back to the time when he had suffered the great disappointment of seeing his daughter marry the slow, plodding Watson, instead of becoming the wife of the enterprising Mortimer.
"I will try, my son," said he, at length, in a subdued voice, "to get through without drawing upon you too largely. Ah, me! How blind I have been."
"You may depend on me for at least twenty thousand dollars," replied Watson, cheerfully; "and for even more, if it is needed."
It was soon known that Mortimer had committed extensive forgeries upon various people, and that he had left the city. Officers were immediately despatched for his arrest, and in a few days, he was brought back as a criminal. In his ruin, many others were involved. Among these was his father-in-law, who was stripped of every dollar in his old age.
"Slow and sure — slow and sure. Yes, Watson was right." Thus mused Mr. Johnson, a few months afterwards, on hearing that Mortimer was arraigned before the criminal court, to stand his trial for forgery. "It is the safest and the best way, and certainly leads to prosperity. Ah, me! How are we drawn aside into false ways, through our eagerness to obtain wealth by a nearer road, than that of patient industry in legitimate trade. Where one is successful — a dozen are ruined by this error. Slow and sure! Yes, that is the true doctrine. Watson was right, as the result has proved. Happy for me that his was a better experiment, than that of the envied Mortimer!"