Lyte came to the conference exultantly. He was fond of Babbitt, this morning, and called him “old hoss.” Purdy, the grocer, a long-nosed man and solemn, seemed to care less for Babbitt and for Vision, but Babbitt met him at the street door of the office and guided him toward the private room with affectionate little cries of “This way, Brother Purdy!” He took from the correspondence-file the entire box of cigars and forced them on his guests. He pushed their chairs two inches forward and three inches back, which gave an hospitable note, then leaned back in his desk-chair and looked plump and jolly. But he spoke to the weakling grocer with firmness.
“Well, Brother Purdy, we been having some pretty tempting offers from butchers and a slew of other folks for that lot next to your store, but I persuaded Brother Lyte that we ought to give you a shot at the property first. I said to Lyte, ‘It’d be a rotten shame,’ I said, ’if somebody went and opened a combination grocery and meat market right next door and ruined Purdy’s nice little business.’ Especially—” Babbitt leaned forward, and his voice was harsh, “—it would be hard luck if one of these cash-and-carry chain-stores got in there and started cutting prices below cost till they got rid of competition and forced you to the wall!”
Purdy snatched his thin hands from his pockets, pulled up his trousers, thrust his hands back into his pockets, tilted in the heavy oak chair, and tried to look amused, as he struggled:
“Yes, they’re bad competition. But I guess you don’t realize the Pulling Power that Personality has in a neighborhood business.”
The great Babbitt smiled. “That’s so. Just as you feel, old man. We thought we’d give you first chance. All right then—”
“Now look here!” Purdy wailed. “I know f’r a fact that a piece of property ’bout same size, right near, sold for less ’n eighty-five hundred, ’twa’n’t two years ago, and here you fellows are asking me twenty-four thousand dollars! Why, I’d have to mortgage—I wouldn’t mind so much paying twelve thousand but—Why good God, Mr. Babbitt, you’re asking more ’n twice its value! And threatening to ruin me if I don’t take it!”
“Purdy, I don’t like your way of talking! I don’t like it one little bit! Supposing Lyte and I were stinking enough to want to ruin any fellow human, don’t you suppose we know it’s to our own selfish interest to have everybody in Zenith prosperous? But all this is beside the point. Tell you what we’ll do: We’ll come down to twenty-three thousand-five thousand down and the rest on mortgage—and if you want to wreck the old shack and rebuild, I guess I can get Lyte here to loosen up for a building-mortgage on good liberal terms. Heavens, man, we’d be glad to oblige you! We don’t like these foreign grocery trusts any better ’n you do! But it isn’t reasonable to expect us to sacrifice eleven thousand or more just for neighborliness, is it! How about it, Lyte? You willing to come down?”