When January, 1856, arrived, Mr. Tuttle presented me with $50 for my three months’ work, which was no doubt all that I was worth, and it was entirely satisfactory.
For the next year, with $25 a month, I kept my position, learning the details and clerical work connected with such a business. It was a wholesale produce commission and forwarding concern, my department being particularly the office duties. Just above me was the bookkeeper for the house, and he received $2,000 a year salary in lieu of his share of the profits of the firm of which he was a member. At the end of the first fiscal year when he left I assumed his clerical and bookkeeping work, for which I received the salary of $500.
As I look back upon this term of business apprenticeship, I can see that its influence was vitally important in its relations to what came after.
To begin with, my work was done in the office of the firm itself. I was almost always present when they talked of their affairs, laid out their plans, and decided upon a course of action. I thus had an advantage over other boys of my age, who were quicker and who could figure and write better than I. The firm conducted a business with so many ramifications that this education was quite extensive. They owned dwelling-houses, warehouses, and buildings which were rented for offices and a variety of uses, and I had to collect the rents. They shipped by rail, canal, and lake. There were many different kinds of negotiations and transactions going on, and with all these I was in close touch.
Thus it happened that my duties were vastly more interesting than those of an office-boy in a large house to-day. I thoroughly enjoyed the work. Gradually the auditing of accounts was left in my hands. All the bills were first passed upon by me, and I took this duty very seriously.
One day, I remember, I was in a neighbour’s office, when the local plumber presented himself with a bill about a yard long. This neighbour was one of those very busy men. He was connected with what seemed to me an unlimited number of enterprises. He merely glanced at this tiresome bill, turned to the bookkeeper, and said:
“Please pay this bill.”
As I was studying the same plumber’s bills in great detail, checking every item, if only for a few cents, and finding it to be greatly to the firm’s interest to do so, this casual way of conducting affairs did not appeal to me. I had trained myself to the point of view doubtless held by many young men in business to-day, that my check on a bill was the executive act which released my employer’s money from the till and was attended with more responsibility than the spending of my own funds. I made up my mind that such business methods could not succeed.
Passing bills, collecting rents, adjusting claims, and work of this kind brought me in association with a great variety of people. I had to learn how to get on with all these different classes, and still keep the relations between them and the house pleasant. One particular kind of negotiation came to me which took all the skill I could master to bring to a successful end.