The Turning Of The Tide
( Originally Published 1917 )
IT was a sad and chastened little company that met in the office next morning. Peale was cast down for once in his life. Mary was pensive, and only Rodney knew that inner glow that gives the silver lining to the cloud of ill luck and poverty. Mary had kissed him: he must put that in his book of days. He thought of her going home in the elevated train, alone that night, be-cause he had had an earlier appointment up town. Usually he took the subway, but to-night he could not bear to think of burying his sacred memory of that kiss beneath the ground : he wanted to be up in the air, to see far away over roofs to the sunset skies. Besides, old Peale took the subway with, him every night, and on this special night Rodney wanted to be by himself. He made some excuse and sneaked down Rector Street as best he could alone. He thought of Mary all the way up to his rooms, which were very different ones indeed from his suite in his father's house. He thought of her kiss all night, and sweet Mary, his lode star and saving grace, was uppermost in his mind when he arrived at the office and met her dear self there next morning.
Mary looked at him anxiously and seemed relieved to find him not entirely cast down. She had been wretched herself, she said, worrying over the betrayal of her lover to the old soap king, and began again to bemoan her bad break.
" Oh, Rodney, Rodney," she said to him, " it was all my fault. Your father had no idea of the truth — I didn't understand.— I told him about our company — I did it all — betrayed you."
" But you didn't mean to; it's all right, Mary," said Rodney, reassuring her.
" You forgive me? " asked Mary, looking him in the eyes.
"Why, of course — I love you," he said sim
" Oh, Rodney, I'm so sorry," Mary began again.
" You're forgiven if you give me another kiss — there," he said; then suddenly changed his tone :
" But if father thinks just because he laced into me I'm licked, he's all wrong," he declared stoutly. " Maybe I have been a fake, but by George, I won't be any longer."
" You're really going on? " Mary asked.
" When I've got you, you bet I am," declared Rodney. " Do you really think a long speech from father and no money to work with are enough to stop me? No, sir. What father said got me for a minute, but I'm not a quitter, and I'll prove it. I'll get but of this mess the best way I can, and then I'll shine shoes or sell pea-nuts. I'll start at the bottom instead of finishing there. I'll make money -- I'll—"
" Oh, Rodney, Rodney, now I am proud of you," Mary interrupted.
Good old Ambrose Peale had been most sympathetic that morning too. He came up to the little boss, as he had taken to calling Rodney, and put his hand on his shoulder.
" Now see here, little boss," he began.
Peale, I'm sorry," said Rodney, " but you're fired."
Oh, no, little boss," said Peale, " you can't fire me. I'm just going to stick around, whatever happens."
Ambrose stuck. In fact, they all stuck. They decided to pay the balance of the month's rent out of their assets, and gave a note to McChesney, to stave him off, as Peale said. Mary protested that a note was money: that it had to be paid some time, but Peale declared that time was money too, and something was sure to happen in the next thirty or sixty days. He felt it in his bones. He pegged away at his advertising meanwhile; it was his dissipation, the liquor in. which he drowned his woes. It was his turn whenever any advertising copy began to go out, and he prepared a great deal too that never saw the light of day— by way of practice, he said. His desk fairly bristled with wire hooks and. spikes, on all of which the copy and proofs of his ads were thick as a ballet dancer's ruffles. Some of the choicest of these he would exhibit to a caller now and then, and it is even of record that one specially' clever stunt was instrumental in getting the redoubtable McChesney to accept the 13 Soap Company's note.
He had books on the science of advertising too,. spread on his desk, and may or may not have read them all. Mary's private opinion was that he had not, but that he only drew moral comfort from the outsides of them. At any rate it was astonishing to see how many there were.
" Cheer Up, and Seven Other Things," by Bates, was the title of one of them. Another was " Farrington's Retail Advertising," and then there were Sawyer's " Secrets of the Mail Order Trade," Scott's " Theory of Advertising," Mar-tin's " Commercial Value of Advertising Gratis" — there were dozens of them. There was even one written by a college professor from Missouri.
One favorite little book of Peale's was " The Ginger Cure." Great title that, Peale maintained. Ginger was a business panacea, in the estimation of Ambrose. Most everybody needed ginger, he allowed. It was positively pathetic, Mary thought, sometimes, to see him poring over this " literature," or sitting there scribbling his ads, when the business of shining shoes, which Rodney had threatened to adopt, would have produced more real money for him.
It was the irony of fate that old Cyrus Martin's five thousand dollars, meant to keep carking care from Mary's shoulders, should have been spent in two days on advertising by Ambrose Peale. The explanation of this five thousand dollars must be made to Rodney some day too. Every once in a while he grew curious about it. But Ambrose didn't measure it in dollars and cents, only in terms of space, and still less did he care where it came from. Truly he was a fiend on copy. He would study and expound the signs which they could see from the office windows, while Mary, Rodney and Miss Burke would all listen spellbound when there were no callers, as often happened. Not enough white space, he would cry of one emblazonment. Not big enough, he would say. Doesn't bring out the right point, was another criticism. Ain't clear—not true — no punch, et cetera, et cetera.
If only they had just made soap, Mary couldn't help thinking sometimes, as all this talk rang in her ears. If only they had just made soap, and made it good. Good wine needs no bush, was an ancient proverb she came to believe in. By the same token good soap would need no ads.
Now the funniest part of the whole thing, speaking of advertising, was that the 13 Soap, the old family cookbook soap, was really good. Mary had always been loyal to it, from the first time she had used it. She had given it to some friends for Christmas, and they had liked it, too, and said they would " talk it up." She had gone to Dennison's and bought a holly-covered box, and laid three cakes in it, neatly done up in tissue paper and red ribbon, with a stamp showing Santa Claus and a legend, " Not to be opened till Christmas," on the outside.
" We must spell Christmas with an X this year," said Rodney chaffingly. " Let X equal the unknown quantity."
" We'll see," said Mary, smiling.
She simply must go on hoping and smiling or she should die. It was counting your chickens before they were hatched, no doubt, but then you might never get a chance to count them later, she told herself pathetically. She had superintended the first experiments at soap-making and figured out the manufacturing costs. They must be ready, she had always maintained. She even bought a book on elementary chemistry and had dreams of a large soap works, like old Mr.. Martin's, where an army of self-supporting girls should be put to work under the best hygienic and sanitary conditions and the minimum wage should be a generous one. She did succeed in getting a few gross of 13 Soap made, after the old Earle formula. In the loft there were a few piles of it, the genuine 13, ranged alongside the pink castle in old -rose wrappers. As a matter of fact she had had to give up manufacturing on any large scale, because their advertising took all their money, but Mary cherished the idea of taking up the work in earnest some day again. She didn't really believe much in the idea of making old Mr. Martin buy them out. Already she had more ambitious designs than that for her man Rodney.
Ambrose Peale, the advertising expert, was cynical enough to maintain it did not matter. First create your demand, he would say, then make your soap. Look at the history of the Ingersoll watch people. It took six months to get any returns from advertising any way. In the end, for lack of funds, he carried the day, and Mary, being a wise virgin in her own day, said little. In truth the orders were very, very few. The whole question was the old one of which came first, the chicken or the egg. Their cakes of soap were the eggs and their advertising was the mother chicken that was to hatch out the plentiful brood, if you put it that way; but it was all too meta-physical for Mary, who felt somehow that meta-physics wouldn't help her much with 13 Soap.
This question settled, or rather left in statu quo, the soap company's days were all more or less alike. If one omits such visits as those from the Countess, Ellery Clark, and Mr. Martin, who certainly did not drop in frequently, one day was as typical as another. But there came a certain Friday at last which was to finish up in an unusual manner.
The darkest hour comes just before the dawn, and dawn came with a sudden burst of glory one morning when Ambrose Peale flew into the, office in great excitement, interrupting Mary and Rodney in a long embrace. Always discreet and tactful, he coughed and scraped his feet, as a signal to them to break away.
" Say, I didn't mean to interrupt," he apologized.
Rodney kept his arms around Mary.
" Nothing in the world can interrupt us," he said. " What is it?"
" A telegram," said Peale, " it's the first we've ever had— I was afraid to open it."
Mary came over to him and looked at it nervously.
" What awful thing can it be? " she queried.
" Gee, I wonder what it says," came from Rodney.
" Read it — read it —" said Peale, afraid to do so himself.
So then Mary opened it and read:
Rodney Martin, President 13 Soap Company, 339 Broadway --"
" Go on, we know the address," Peale broke in impatiently.
Mary went on:
" Ship at once, collect, fifty thousand cakes 13 Soap.
" Signed: Marshall Field, Chicago."
A profound silence fell upon the trio: the colossal number of fifty thousand, and the magic name of Marshall Field had overpowered them. It was far too good to be true.
" Somebody really wants to buy some of our soap," echoed Rodney stupidly.
" I don't believe it," said Peale.
" But here it is," said Mary, handing the telegram to Rodney, so that he might view it with his own eyes at close range.
" Fifty thousand cakes," said Rodney; " it's true."
Then Peale burst out joyfully; the tide had turned.
" We've started — we've begun ! " he yelled; "we're actually going to sell some soap."
" The tide's turned," said Rodney; " didn't I tell you advertising pays? We'll sweep the country — Europe — Asia — Africa. Go in with father? Not for a million dollars!"
" I'll wire Marshall Field right away," said Peale briskly.
" Go ahead, do," said Rodney.
But an exclamation from Mary made them both turn.
" What is it? " asked Peale nervously. "What's happened? asked Rodney.
" That order is no good," Mary said sadly. What ! "
" We can't fill it — we've never made any soap," said Mary with a sinking heart.
They stood staring at each other aghast. " What shall we do ? " quavered Rodney. " Let's think," said Peale hopefully.
They sat staring straight ahead dolefully, till finally Rodney remarked slowly:
" We must get some soap."
" Yes, I thought of that," said Peale.
" Where can we get it? " Mary asked them deliberately.
" From a soap factory! " Peale suggested.
" But they all belong to your father," Mary re-minded him.
Meanwhile Rodney had a ray of dawning hope.
" But he can't know about this Marshall Field order—maybe we could buy some soap before he'd have a chance to stop them selling td us—',
" Great idea — let's get busy," said Peale, taking him up promptly.
" How? " asked Mary.
" Where's the phone book?" Rodney asked, and grabbed the red classified directory from his desk.
We'll call up two or three of his branch offices."
He hurriedly began turning over pages, as Peale on one side and Mary on the other helped him.
" Skins, skates, shirts, where's soap?" he re cited.
" Skylights, slates, slides -" echoed Mary over his shoulder.
Smelters, smokestacks, snuff," went on Peale.
" Ah, here it is, soap manufacturers," said Rodney at last, skimming down the page. " 276 Broad here's one of father's factories."
" I've got one too — 374 Schuyler," said Peale.
" So have I — 480 Audubon," Mary chimed in.
With one accord they dropped the book and darted to the telephones, shouting all together: " 276 Broad."
" 480 Audubon."
" 374 Schuyler, and hurry, sweetie —"
" It'll have to be old rose," said Rodney in an aside, as he held the wire.
Castile is the cheapest," Peale suggested.
" Order small cakes," said the prudent Mary. And then they all began again together:
Hello, is this the Martin Soap Company? We want to get some soap — pink castile — small cakes — forty or fifty thousand cakes immediate delivery—what's the price?" . .
" Hello 480 Audubon. I want to find out if I can buy a lot of soap right away — old rose — castile -- fifty thousand cakes, we want it this afternoon. . ."
" Hello—son, I want to buy a lot of soap, fifty thousand cakes; got to have some of it today—smallest size castile cakes you keep — if you haven't old rose — pink'll do.— Who am I? None of your business."
This last message, with its bit of airy persiflage, came from Peale, who looked at the others and gave a large and happy wink as he surveyed them waiting at their receivers.
The tide had turned.