Chapter XVI. Walter Goes into a New Business
 

One swallow doesn't make a summer, and one policy doesn't establish the success of an insurance agent. Walter received from Mr. Perkins five dollars commission on the policy he had written at Elm Bank, and this encouraged him to renewed efforts. But in the fortnight following he only succeeded in writing a policy for two hundred and fifty dollars, for a man who designed it to meet his funeral expenses. For this Walter received one dollar and a quarter. He made numerous other attempts, but he found, though he understood the subject thoroughly, that his youth operated against him. He decided that he was wasting his time, and one morning he waited on Mr. Perkins and resigned his agency.

"Have you anything else in view?" asked that gentleman.

"No, sir."

"Then why don't you keep on till you have secured another position?"

"Because it takes up my time, and prevents my getting anything else."

"I don't know but you are right, Mr. Sherwood. You have made a good beginning, and if you were ten years older I think you would make a successful agent."

"I can't afford to wait ten years," returned Walter, with a smile.

"If ever you want to come back, I will start you again."

Walter thanked Mr. Perkins, and left the office.

He now began to explore the columns of the daily papers, in the hope of finding some opening, but met with the usual rebuffs and refusals when he called upon advertisers.

At length he saw the following advertisement in the Chicago Tribune:

"WANTED--A confidential clerk at a salary of fifteen dollars per week. As a guarantee of fidelity, a small deposit will be required. LOCKE & GREEN, No. 257 1-2 State Street."

"Fifteen dollars a week!" repeated Walter hopefully. "That will support me very comfortably. If I get it I will change my boarding- place, for I don't like Mrs. Canfield's table. I shall feel justified in paying a little more than I do now."

The only thing that troubled him was as to the deposit. Though he had economized as closely as he knew how, he had made quite an inroad upon his small capital, and had only forty-six dollars left. He had been in Chicago four weeks, and had not yet been able to write home that he had found a permanent position. He had written about his insurance agency, and had not failed to chronicle his first success.

This letter Doctor Mack had read to his housekeeper, Miss Nancy Sprague.

"Well, Nancy," he said, "Walter is at work."

"You don't say so, doctor! What is he doing?"

"He is a life-insurance agent."

"Is that a good business?"

"Walter writes that one agent is making a hundred and twenty-five dollars a week," answered the doctor, with a humorous twinkle in his eye.

"I'm glad Master Walter has got such a good business," said the housekeeper, brightening up. "That's a great sum for a boy like him to make."

"It isn't he that has made it, Nancy. There are very few that do, and those have to be old and experienced men."

"Well, he'll make a good living, anyhow."

"Perhaps so," answered the doctor dubiously, for he understood better than Nancy how precarious were the chances of an inexperienced agent. He was not at all surprised when Walter wrote later that though he had met with some success, he thought it better to look for a situation with a regular salary attached.

"He's gaining a little knowledge of the world," thought the guardian. "I don't think he'll be able to indulge in luxurious living for the present. It won't be long, probably, before he runs out of money."

It was with a hopeful spirit that Walter started for the office of Locke & Green. He was pretty well acquainted with Chicago by this time, and had no difficulty in locating any office in the business part of the city.

No indication was given in the advertisement of the business carried on by Locke & Green. As to that, however, Walter felt indifferent. His chief concern was the weekly salary of fifteen dollars, which he needed very much.

Arrived at the number indicated, Walter ran upstairs, and with some difficulty found the office in a small room on the fourth floor. A card on the door bore the names:

LOCKE & GREEN

Again there was no clue to the business carried on by the firm.

Walter was not sure whether he ought to knock, but finally decided to open the door and enter. He found himself in a room scarcely larger than a small bedroom, with a small desk in one corner. At this sat a man with long hair, industriously writing in a large blank book. He glanced at Walter as the door opened.

"Wait a moment, young man!" he said, in a deep bass voice. "I will be at leisure in two minutes."

He wrinkled up his face, turned back several pages, appeared thoughtfully considering some problem, and then wrote again rapidly.

Finally he turned--he was seated in a revolving chair--and placing his two hands together, palms inward, said abruptly: "Well, young man, what can I do for you?"

"I believe you advertised in the Tribune this morning for a confidential clerk?"

"Yes."

"I should like to apply for the position, if it is still vacant."

"We have not yet filled the place," said Mr. Locke. "We have had several applications, but the post is a very responsible one, and we are, of course, very particular."

"I am afraid my chance is very small, then," thought Walter.

"Still, I like your appearance, and it is possible that you may suit. Have you business experience?"

"Not much, sir. Indeed, till a short time since I was a college student."

"Yale or Harvard?"

"No, sir; Euclid College."

"Ahem; small, but very respectable. Your name?"

"Walter Sherwood."

"How long were you in college?"

"Two years."

"Left of your own accord?" "Oh, yes, sir."

"Just so. I thought perhaps you might have been suspended or expelled."

"I can refer you on that point to the president or any of the professors."

"Oh, I will take your word for it."

"I left college on account of losing my property."

"Ah, indeed!" said Mr. Locke doubtfully. "Perhaps you noticed that we require a small deposit as a guarantee of fidelity."

"Yes, sir. I have a little money."

Mr. Locke looked relieved.

"Of course," continued he loftily, "doing the business we do, money is of comparatively little importance to us, except as a guarantee of fidelity. How much did you say you had?"

"I didn't say, sir. I could deposit twenty-five dollars with you."

Mr. Locke shrugged his shoulders.

"That is very little," he said.

"True, sir, but it is a good deal to me. It will be enough to insure my fidelity."

"We had a young man here this morning," said Mr. Locke musingly, "who was willing to deposit a hundred dollars with us."

"Indeed, sir! I wonder you did not take him."

"We should, so far as the money went, but I could see by his appearance that there was no business in him. Our clerk must be quick, sharp, alert. The young man was very much disappointed."

"I couldn't deposit any such sum as that, Mr. Locke."

"It will not be necessary. Still, twenty-five dollars is very small. You couldn't say thirty, could you? That is merely equal to two weeks' salary."

"Yes, sir. I might be willing to deposit thirty dollars. May I ask what business you are interested in?"

"We have control for the Western States of a valuable patent--a folding-table--and we have several hundred agents out, who report in general by letter." "That accounts for the small office," thought Walter.

"Come here a moment, and I will give you an idea how we carry on business. Here, for instance, is a page devoted to B. Schenck. He is operating for us in Minnesota. You will observe that his remittances for the last four weeks aggregate three hundred and sixty-seven dollars. He has been doing very well, but we have others who do better. On the next page is our account with G. Parker. His month's work amounts to two hundred and eighty-nine dollars."

"What would my duties be, sir?"

"To keep the office when I am out, receive letters, and answer them, and see agents."

"I think I could do that, sir."

"Hours from nine to five. I think you will suit me. If at the end of the week I don't find you satisfactory, I will pay you your wages and return your money."

"Very well, sir. I accept the position."

"You may as well hand me the money, and go to work to-day." Walter drew out thirty dollars, the greater part of his little store, and handed it to Mr. Locke.

Mr. Locke tucked it carelessly into his vest pocket, and taking his hat said: "Sit down here, and if any agents come in, tell them I will be back at one o'clock. That is all you will need to do to-day."