A Floral Hold-Up
by Charles Hoy Fort
Erastus Stickpin was not a mere florist. He was a clerk in McGallum's.
McGallum might have been a florist, but Erastus Stickpin, his clerk, was a "floral artist." Thus he described himself.
McGallum wore beautiful white waistcoats; but McGallum was very coarse.
Erastus was making a bouquet of roses. Daintily, with thumb and forefinger upon its stem, he drew a rose into place and held out a bouquet to survey the effect; he splashed in a spray of fern.
"Cut that out!" shouted McGallum. "Get busy there, youse! Get busy with them plants!"
He drove the brass-buttoned boy from the door, called to the porter, commanded the cashier to hop from her perch.
Everybody seized a plant and ran with it out to the yard. Everybody back again; then out to the yard with another plant. For it had started to rain, and McGallum believed in vivifying properties in rain.
And the artistic soul of Erastus Stickpin rebelled, as he had to run, at top speed, with rubber plants in his arms. Then he made up violets, tying ribbons into festooning bows, clipping off the ends of ribbons, most ostentatiously holding out bunches to survey.
"Never mind all that!" snarled McGallum. "Bring back them plants; it ain't raining now."
From violets, Erastus went back to rubber plants, and back came rebellion to his soul. But he was learning that soulfulness is not a quality held very high in the regard of business men; he was learning that the way to advance oneself is to increase one's value to one's employer.
So, when Erastus wired autumn leaves upon toothpicks and patted and pecked and picked at them until satisfied with the effect and was then snarled at for wasting his time--why, then all at once, Erastus threw soulfulness overboard and began to think and plan and scheme, for he was sure he was born to be no mere clerk.
One afternoon McGallum was out. There were seven orders for "birds' nests." Bird-nest baskets of flowers, you know.
And Erastus was paying no attention to the flowers heaped for him by the porter upon his marble slab. He was spending an hour at the telephone instead.
He was telephoning to other florists. Had they in stock this afternoon, rhododendron? Yes? Had they japonica, dahlia, hydrangea? Some had; one could not supply japonica; another could, but had no hydrangea.
Erastus continued to telephone until he learned that no another florist had goldenrod in stock. And McGallum had.
"Say," shouted McGallum, "is this what you been doing while I was out? And seven orders waiting for you?"
"Mr. McGallum," replied Erastus, with dignity, "I may have neglected my appointed tasks, but the diversion was in your interest, I assure you."
"You do? Oh, you do, hey?" with such scorn that roses and violets should have withered right then and there. "I'd like to know what you could do for me! You!"
Still bearing himself with admirable dignity, Erastus answered:
"I can sell for you all the goldenrod you have in stock."
"You can? Who ever heard of any demand for goldenrod, which I only got left over from that up-state society and its banquet?"
"He can sell goldenrod for me!" jeered McGallum, who was not above turning his cashier and his porter and his boy at the door into his audience when he had anybody to ridicule.
And the audience laughed heartily at the thought of a demand for such a plebeian weed as goldenrod in New York.
The next day Erastus cut off stems with his long-handled shears and tied up lilies-of-the-valley, not so much with his former artistic feeling as with an expectant air. At noon, the cashier asked, brightly:
"Sold much of that goldenrod yet, 'Raptus?" The porter thought it humorous to grumble: "I suppose we'll be kept here all night filling orders for goldenrod!"
The boy at the door was pleased to giggle: "Gee, ain't that goldenrod selling something fierce!" But Erastus maintained his expectant air. Toward evening a youth sauntered breezily into the store.
"Hello!" he said impartially to everybody. "Got a nice place here, ain't you? Mosaic floor and everything, hey? Nice day, ain't it? I don't suppose you got what I want, but if you have, trot it out."
"We have 'most everything." said McGallum stiffly.
"Well, then, trot out some goldenrod!"
"Goldenrod!" McGallum was angry.
For a prophet is always without honor in his own land, and it is not pleasant to ridicule a prediction of one's clerk and then see the prediction verified.
"Oh, yes, we have goldenrod--"
"Trot her out, then! What! Some one else wants some, too?" For a dandified old person had just entered the store and had exclaimed: "Ah, got goldenrod? I've been looking all over town for some!"
As McGallum sold tufts of goldenrod to both customers he was struck with the suspicious and unfriendly way in which they eyed each other. And at each other they glanced suspiciously as they went.
"Oh, well," snapped McGallum, "that's only one of them coincidences you read of! It wouldn't happen again in a--"
"Have you goldenrod here?" asked a man of military appearance, for whom the boy had just opened the door.
"One of them coincidences!" repeated McGallum angrily, having sold a third plume of the despised weed.
He turned to a meek little man, timidly waiting until his irritation should pass away.
"I don't suppose you have what I want," said the meek little man, "so I'm sorry to bother you. If you can let me have some goldenrod, just one little sprig would do."
"Look here, Erastus," cried McGallum, when he had sold the last of the goldenrod. "I ain't saying this ain't nothing but a coincidence, but--say, there's something uncanny about you! How'd you know about this?"
But Erastus was at the telephone and pretended not to hear.
Some one else came into the store.
"Have you any goldenrod?"
But the goldenrod was all gone.
"Oh!" said Erastus, looking up from the telephone. "You were speaking to me, Mr. McGallum? Pardon me, but I have been finding out about canterbury-bells. You have some; I find yours is the only supply in town."
"What about it?" demanded McGallum.
"Oh, nothing, except that there will be a run on it tomorrow. You had better shoot up the price; you could have got ten times the price you did for goldenrod."
"Canterbury-bells! Who'd want canterbury-bells?" cried McGallum, his porter, his cashier, and his boy at the door.
But Erastus only smiled wisely and went home that night without clearing away the petals and stems and leaves with which he had littered his marble slab. McGallum frowned at this neglect but motioned to the porter to sweep the rubbish away.
And every one wore an expectant air next day; an expectant air, a derisive air, then the expectant air again. And McGallum was nervous; he was irritable; he snapped and growled at the porter, at the boy, and at the cashier; but with Erastus his manner was queerly and reluctantly respectful.
It was toward evening. McGallum was at his worst, shouting at the porter for leaving the greenhouse door open.
The cashier was saying scornfully to the boy: "Well, I don't see any particular rush for that canterbury-bells!"
It was then that a foreign person of most engaging figure and most wondrous mustache came into the store. He asked:
"Have you ze canterbury-bells?"
"We have!" answered half-prepared and half-astonished McGallum.
"Ah, ver' good! I have search far and wide."
And, with a troubled look, McGallum was saying to his cashier, "Do you think there's anything in witchcraft or not?" when an elderly person came in and interrupted with:
"I'd like to see some canterbury-bells."
Said a third customer: "I'll pay you what you like for it. I never heard tell of it before, but if there is such a flower as I want, let me have it, and I don't care what it costs--"
Said half-superstitious McGallum.
"I suppose you want--"
"I want canterbury-bells."
A few minutes later, a tired-looking man, with an appearance of exhaustion, opened the door and, without entering, called out: "No use asking, I suppose! Been all over for it. You haven't it, have you? I'm looking for some--"
"Exactly!" cried the man, running into the store. "How'd you know? You have some?"
"Yes; we have almost anything you could name, in stock. But say; what's all this sudden demand about? May I ask all youse people want of such a flower, so little called for?"
"What?" asked the man, with a look of chagrin. "Have there been other orders? The deuce! Oh, I just want--I'm getting it for a friend of mine."
And when McGallum said to another customer: "May I ask what you want of canterbury-bells?" This customer flushed and stammered and answered that he did not know, which was a most unsatisfactory answer.
"Erastus--," said McGallum desperately.
But Erastus was at the telephone. When he was quite ready to speak to his employer, he turned and said: "Well, Mr. McGallum, I've learned that we are the only dealers in town with any Solomon's-seal."
"Look here, young man, what is the meaning of all this?" McGallum demanded.
Erastus answered carelessly: "Oh, I couldn't tell that, you know. Now, if we were partners it would, of course, be different. I'd have to tell my partner everything, of course."
"Partners?" shouted McGallum. "I'd see you--" But he had to calm himself to ask the pleasure of another customer who had just come in.
Said the customer: "Have you any canterbury-bells?"
As Erastus was going home that evening, leaving the store early, not asking permission and having ordered the porter to make up a rush order for a bouquet, McGallum called him aside and said:
"I can't understand you, Erastus, to save me; I couldn't think of taking you into partnership, even if you are becoming pretty valuable to me; a young fellow must work his way up first; but just tell me the meaning of all this; and I don't mind doubling your wages, because, I must admit, you're worth it to me."
"I'm sorry," answered Erastus, thoughtfully; "but I've made it a rule to confide in my partner only. I might mention that I have hopes of sufficient backing to start up a store of my own, up on the next block, pretty soon."
"Oh, here, Erastus, don't go for to do that! You and me always got along so well, you know. Now, twenty dollars a week ain't to be despised by a young fellow like you, and I took a liking to you the first time you ever come in here. Now, like a nice lad, what is the meaning of all this?"
"I think," said Erastus absently, "that the gent's furnisher is going to move on the first; I might open up there."
"I don't care!" shouted McGallum, "I ain't going for to have partners forced on to me like this!"
Erastus went home calmly, remarking first: "Well, be ready for a nice little rush on Solomon's-seal."
The next morning the boy at the door greeted him with:
"Good morning, Mr. Stickpin!"
"Good morning, Mr.Stickpin!" greeted porter and cashier.
Erastus made up a few bouquets; the rest of the day he spent sitting in McGallum's own green wickerwork chair. And he wore a white waistcoat, too!
Then old men came into the store; young men; distinguished-looking persons; shabby-looking persons. All asked: "Have you any Solomon's-seal?"
"I gotter give in!" groaned McGallum, when the last spring of Solomon's-seal had been sold. "Erastus, you're driving a hard bargain, but I gotter do like you ask. Now, tell me the meaning of this!"
"Certainly!" agreed calm and pleasant Erastus. "But let us call in a notary public first. From my partner I have nothing to conceal."
There were groans, but the notary was called in. More groans, but articles of partnership were drawn up and signed.
"Why, I'll tell you, partner," said Erastus, when the firm of Stickpin & McGallum was in its private office, "you're a good business man, but you have one fault; you don't read the newspapers enough. By the way, we may expect a rush for zinnia tomorrow. We'll push the price away up. Here's the advertisement I'm going to insert in the morning newspapers."
McGallum took the scrap of paper and read:
At 8 P.M., corner Fifth Avenue and Thirtieth Street; wealthy young widow, considered beautiful, would like to make acquaintance of gentleman matrimonially inclined; age and means no consideration; will recognize by bunch of zinnia in right hand.
Said McGallum: "------ ------ ------!"
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