Louis Mitchell knew what the telegram meant, even though it was brief and cryptic. He had been expecting something of the sort ever since the bottom dropped out of the steel business and prices tobogganed forty dollars a ton. Nevertheless, it came as an undeniable shock, for he had hoped the firm would keep him on in spite of hard times. He wondered, as he sadly pocketed the yellow sheet, whether he had in him the makings of a good life-insurance agent, or if he had not better “join out” with a medicine show. This message led him to think his talents must lie along the latter line. Certainly they did not lie in the direction of metal supplies.
He had plenty of time to think the situation over, however, for it is a long jump from Butte to Chicago; when he arrived at the latter place he was certain of only one thing, he would not stand a cut in salary. Either Comer & Mathison would have to fire him outright or keep him on at his present wage; he would not compromise as the other salesmen had done and were doing.
Twenty-five hundred a year is a liberal piece of money where people raise their own vegetables, but to a man traveling in the West it is about equal to “no pair.” Given two hundred dollars a month and a fair expense account a salesman can plow quite a respectable furrow around Plymouth Rock, but out where they roll their r’s and monogram their live stock he can’t make a track. Besides the loss of prestige and all that went with it, there was another reason why young Mitchell could not face a cut. He had a wife, and she was too new, too wonderful; she admired him too greatly to permit of such a thing. She might, she doubtless would, lose confidence in him if he took a step backward, and that confidence of hers was the most splendid thing in Mitchell’s life. No, if Comer & Mathison wanted to make any change, they would have to promote him. Ten minutes with the “old man,” however, served to jar this satisfactory determination to its foundation. Mr. Comer put the situation clearly, concisely.
“Business is rotten. We’ve got to lay all the younger men off or we’ll go broke,” he announced.
“But—I’m married,” protested the young salesman.
“So am I; so is Mathison; so are the rest of the fellows. But, my boy, this is a panic. We wouldn’t let you go if we could keep you.”
“I can sell goods—”
“That’s just it; we don’t want you to. Conditions are such that we can’t afford to sell anything. The less business we do the fewer losses we stand to make. Good Lord, Louis, this is the worst year the trade has ever known!”
“B-but—I’m married,” blankly repeated Mitchell.
Comer shook his head. “We’d keep you in a minute if there was any way to do it. You go home and see the wife. Of course if you can show us where you’re worth it, we’ll let you stay; but—well, you can’t. There’s no chance. I’ll see you to-morrow.”