Chapter XII. In Search of Employment
 

"Wanted--A young man of seventeen or eighteen in an insurance office, No. 169 La Salle Street."

This notice attracted the attention of Walter as he ran his eyes over the advertising columns of the Chicago Times on the second day after his arrival in the city.

"I think that will suit me," he said to himself. "It is a nice, respectable business, and I think I should like it. I will go to the office and make inquiries."

He entered a large building, devoted to offices, and ascended to the third story, where he found the office of Perkins & Windermere, the names given in the advertisement. A young man of about his own age was coming out of the office as he entered--an unsuccessful applicant, Walter inferred.

Opening the door, he saw a man of about forty seated in a revolving chair at a desk.

"I believe you advertised for an assistant," began Walter, as the occupant of the chair turned round.

"Yes," replied Mr. Perkins--for it was he--eying Walter with a scrutinizing glance.

"I would like to apply for the position."

"Humph! Do you know anything of the insurance business?"

"Not practically, sir."

"That's against you."

"I think I could soon familiarize myself with it so as to make myself useful."

"How old are you?"

"Very nearly eighteen."

"Do you live in Chicago?"

"I do now. I have recently come from the East."

"What education have you?"

"I spent two years at Euclid College," answered Walter, with conscious pride.

"So you are a college student?"

"Yes, sir." "Humph! That won't do you any good."

"I hope it won't do me any harm, sir," said Walter, somewhat nettled.

"No, unless it has made you conceited. I am a graduate of the People's College."

"I don't think I have heard of that, sir."

"I mean the common school. Don't think much of college myself. They don't help in our business. They didn't have any insurance companies in Greece or Rome, did they?"

"I never heard of any, sir."

"I thought not. You see, we of to-day are rather ahead of Demosthenes and Cicero, and those old fellows. I suppose Rome was quite a sizable place."

"I have always heard so," answered Walter.

"I'll bet a quarter it wasn't as big or as smart a place as Chicago. I don't believe they had any such hotel there as the Palmer House, or any dry-good store as big as Marshall Field's."

"I don't believe they did," Walter admitted.

"Did Rome ever win the baseball championship?" demanded Mr. Perkins.

"No, sir."

"I thought not. Then what's the use in spending four years over those old fellers? How is it going to help you?"

"I don't expect it will help me to earn a living, sir. Do you think you can employ me?"

"What are your ideas as to a salary, young man?"

"I thought of ten dollars," said Walter, hesitatingly.

"Ten dollars!" ejaculated Mr. Perkins. "Just what I thought. Because you've been to college you think you are worth a big salary."

"Do you call that a big salary, sir?" asked Walter, disconcerted.

"It wouldn't be if you had a couple of years' experience, but for a beginner it is simply--enormous."

"What did you expect to pay?" asked Walter, in a depressed tone.

"Five dollars is about the figure."

"I couldn't work for that, sir. It wouldn't pay my board."

"Where are you boarding--at the Palmer House?" inquired Perkins, rather sarcastically.

"No, sir. I am at a cheap boarding-house on Harrison Street, where I pay six dollars a week," answered Walter, with spirit.

"Then I don't think we can make a bargain, although I rather like your looks."

This, at any rate, was a little encouraging.

"But I can't pay your figure. I'll tell you what you'd better do."

"I shall be glad of any advice."

"Become an agent. You look as if you had a gift of the gab. A successful life insurance agent will make a good deal more than ten dollars a week."

"Can I get such a position?" asked Walter, hopefully.

"Yes. I'll employ you myself, on a commission, of course. You'll be paid according to your work I've known an agent to make a hundred and twenty-five dollars in a single week."

"If you think I can do it, sir, I'll try."

"Very well. Hare you ever studied life insurance?"

"No, sir, but I have a general idea of it."

"I will give you some documents--instructions to agents, etc. Take these home, study them, and come to me when you think you understand it well enough to talk people into it."

Mr. Perkins opened his desk, and selecting some papers handed them to Walter.

"When you come again, if there is anything you don't see into, let me know, and I'll explain it to you."

"Thank you, sir."

Walter went home and set himself to studying the insurance documents given him by Mr. Perkins. Here he found his college training of service. It was like studying a science, and Walter, who went to work systematically, soon came to understand the system, with the arguments for and against it. He made calculations of the expenses attending the different classes of life insurance, selecting the ages of thirty, forty and fifty as illustrations. The result was that when he went round to the office the next day he felt considerable confidence in his ability to talk up insurance.

Mr. Perkins seemed surprised to see him so soon.

"Do you think you understand the duties of a canvasser?" he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"You haven't devoted much time to it. You only took the documents yesterday."

"True, sir; but I have spent several hours in examining them."

"Were there any things you did not understand?"

Walter mentioned one or two points.

"Now, that I may get an idea of your working ability, suppose you try to insure me. I will take the part of an ordinary business man who is unfamiliar with the subject."

Walter was not bashful, and saw at once the value of this suggestion.

Without going into details, it may be stated that he acquitted himself very creditably.

"You surprise me," Mr. Perkins admitted. "You seem to have made yourself quite familiar with the subject. I will take you into my employment as an agent and allow you half commission."

"Do you wish me to operate in the city?"

"It will be better for you to start outside. I will send you to Elm Bank, about fifteen miles distant. Once there, I shall leave you to your own discretion. I will pay your fare there and back, and trust to your doing something to repay me for the outlay."

"Very well, sir."

Walter took the necessary directions, and after dinner took a train out to the suburban town which I have called Elm Bank, though this is not the real name. He congratulated himself on so soon obtaining employment, though it remained to be seen how he would succeed. However, Walter was sanguine, not as yet having put himself in a position to meet the rebuffs which are sure to lie in wait for agents of any kind. He thought over his prospects with pleased anticipations. He felt that the position was much higher than that of a boy in an office. It was one usually filled by men of maturity and business experience. Besides, if successful, the rewards would be ample. The thought of the agent who made a hundred and twenty-five dollars in a single week occurred to him and encouraged him. He would have been content with a salary of ten dollars a week, but here was a business which might lead to a great deal more.

He seated himself next to a girl of sixteen, with a pleasant face and frank, cordial manner.

Presently the girl tried to raise the window--she occupied the seat next to it--but it resisted her efforts.

"Will you allow me to try?" asked Walter, politely.

"Thank you. You are very kind."

Walter leaned over and succeeded in raising it.

"Thank you," said the young lady. "I am only going to Elm Bank, but I like the fresh air, even for a short distance."

Here was a surprise for Walter.

"Are you going to Elm Bank?" he said. "So am I."