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"Mutual Spurs, Limited" from Saturday Evening Post

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Evening Post
Mutual Spurs, Limited
by Ellis Parker Butler

The employees of the Greenstone-Higgins Company counted well above a hundred in the New York offices, to say nothing of some thousands in their factories upstate; and, so far as especial recognition went, any individual clerk like Tom Carter or Jack Dalton was pretty well lost in the crowd.

More than this, any clerk who got in a rut was apt to stay in the rut; for the ruts in such a business are so deeply cut that a clerk's head hardly sticks above it. There were men in the office who had been clerks for twenty-five years.

One day Tom Carter, at the lunch hour, walked over to Jack Dalton's desk and slapped him on the back.

"Going to work all day? Or do you eat this season the same as usual?" he asked.

"Ready in a minute," Jack said; and in less than that time he jumped up.

They went to the Porcelain Dairy, as usual, teased the waitress about the diminishing size of the butter pats, as usual, and talked of nothing in particular -- also as usual. It was only when they were ready to go that Tom said what was on his mind.

"Sit a minute," he said. "I've got one of those big ideas of mine. I've got to get it out or go dippy."

"Spill it on me; I'm harmless," grinned Jack.

"I'll take your dare," said Tom. "Here it is: I've been working for this Greenstone-Higgins Company ever since I came to New York; and the money I get from them is a shame. Five years -- that's what I've put in here."

"I've been with them four and a half," said Jack.

"Never mind that. I'm talking about myself. I've been with this G-H Company five years, and I'm getting just exactly what I got the first week! And I'm normally as good at business as any man I know. I ought to get ahead, and I ought to be ahead of where I am now. I know that. But you know how it is. A man gets up in the morning and rushes down here to the office and he has no time to think what is right with him and what is wrong. He gets deeper and deeper into the rut. Now I propose that we -- you and I -- form a tight little partnership and go into the promoting game."

Jack, who had thought his friend was going to ask advice, closed the mouth he had opened ready to speak. He stared at Tom a moment.

"But --" he faltered. "Why, we have no capital! We have no experience! We couldn't --"

"Hold on!" said Tom. "You don't get my idea yet. This partnership doesn't need capital; it doesn't need experience. It is going to be just you and I -- understand that? You and I against the world, as I might say. Carter & Dalton, Limited. It's to be a right little, tight little concern, all bound round with a woolen string. I put in all I've got, and you put in all you've got; and it is t'other for each, to the full limit. Combination is what wins these days. In union there is strength. E pluribus -- and so on!"

He laughed; but Jack could see he was in deep earnest.

"It may be a big idea," Jack said, "but I don't grasp even the fringe yet."

"I'll make it clear," Tom replied. "I'm good stuff, Jack, and I know it; but I'm not getting ahead. What's the matter? What should I do? Where am I falling down? What are my weak spots? To cut it right down to the bones, what is the matter with Carter?"

"I can tell you one thing --" Jack began.

"Fine!" said Tom sarcastically. "I suppose you think you could take me, as if I was a business, and run me so I would be ten times the success I am now. Is that it?"

"I only meant --" said Jack.

"You meant what I meant," said Carter quickly. "What's that Burns stuff -- Robert Burns, not the detective -- about seeing ourselves as others see us? Well, that's my idea. I can't see what is wrong with me; I'm too close to myself. But you can see it, and you can probably tell me what I ought to do to correct it. And maybe in a lesser degree I can see what is wrong with you. So there is my idea. We form this company or partnership, or whatever it is -- just you and yours truly; our stock in trade and capital and everything is just ourselves. Do you get my idea? We're both Managers in Chief; but you manage me and I manage you. If I'm wrong somewhere, you tell me; and if you are on the wrong track, I tell you; if either of us is slacking, the other puts the spurs into him. We'll be a couple of mutual managers and mutual spurs --"

"There's your name!" said Jack, showing by his excited tone that he was won: "Mutual Spurs, Limited."

"Then it is a go?"

"To the full limit."

"There is just one other thing," said Tom: "if we are going to make this concern a go, we can't have any slacker business. When you give me an order I've got to live up to it, or die in the attempt. The same the other way."

"Of course! I can see that."

"Then just to make a start, I want you to stop on the way back to the office and buy a new neck scarf. You've worn that one so long it makes you look like a down-and-outer."

Jack colored.

"Yesterday afternoon, Tom," he said, "when it got slack I saw you take a book out of your drawer and read a while. Tonight I want you to take it home and leave it there. The next time you have any spare minutes you come to me and I'll tell you what to do. I don't suppose you know that when you went out to cash that check for Greenstone yesterday afternoon the Old Man went to your desk and looked at the book."

"Great Scott! It was that rotten French thing!" said Tom; and this time he colored.


"Bring the wife and come over this evening," said Jack when he left Carter that evening at the Subway exit. "I've been thinking about this Mutual Spurs, Limited, all afternoon --"

"That's one thing we'll have to cut out," said Carter. "On Greenstone-Higgins Company's time we've got to think of Greenstone-Higgins Company's business exclusively. I'm as bad as you about that. I was thinking of Mutual Spurs, too, this afternoon. And look here!" he said before Jack turned away.

"I'm looking."

"We'll have to keep this from being nothing but a nag-fest. We don't want to be afraid the other partner is going to begin nagging any moment. We want to have a regular meeting day and save the orders for that. First meeting tonight -- yes?"

"Sure! And listen!"

"I've got both ears wide open."

"What about the wives? Are we to let them in on this?"

Jack thought a moment and then smiled his indecision.

"What do you think about it?" he asked.

"I'm against telling them, for the present," Tom said. "Later on it may be different. I know some of the things that have been the matter with me at the office -- things like soldiering over that novel; and you know some of the things that have been the matter with you. We haven't been topnotchers, even for the pay we've been getting. I'll tell you frankly that I don't care to have my wife know it. I don't care to have her in on this and have her hear you tell me some things. I should say we had better wait until we are up to par. When you can say to me 'Tom, you're doing work that is worth one hundred per cent of the pay you are getting, and twenty-five per cent more than that' -- and mean it -- I'll be willing to tell the girls what we are doing. They're bright, those two."

"All right; that suits me. See you after dinner."

When the two young men clung to the dining room and shooed the girls into the parlor, Millie wanted to know what all the mystery meant; and she was told she should know sometime -- probably in a month or two. Over the cleared dining-room table Carter and Dalton worked for two hours. They put their suggestions in a dozen different forms; but the sum total was that Jack was slouchy in many things, and that Tom was lazy and indifferent. Before they were through their talk resembled a mutual disparagement match.

"And you don't seem to care a hang whether you look like a tramp or not."

"And a one-eyed apple woman would get as much real work done as you do some days."

"And you leave things half finished, and never clean up a job until another piles all over it."

"And you act as if Greenstone was your worst enemy."

"And you never get back from lunch on time."

"Well, neither do you -- do you?"

"All right, put that down too: 'Must be back from lunch five minutes ahead of time.' And how about quitting in the evening? How about always being the last to leave the office?"

"Won't that look as if we were slow workers?"

"Don't you fret about that! If Greenstone sees us doing our share and an eighth of the work apiece -- and, believe me, he has the keen eye! -- He'll know we are not slow. Go on; jot it down: 'Always to be the last to leave the office.'"

Before the evening was ended their talk had passed beyond the mutual disparagement-match stage. As a matter of fact, the direct personal failings of most men may be completely listed in one half hour. An hour after they had begun talking Jack had run out of suggestions that applied to Carter only, and Tom could think of no more objections strictly personal to Dalton. Before they knew it they had reached the point where they were considering what they could do to make themselves extra valuable men; and, instead of "You must," they were saying "We will" do this or that.

"All right then," said Jack, taking the list of things he was to do and putting it into his pocket; "we will work up to this schedule this week, and when we meet next week we shall be ready to go ahead another notch or two."


If it is true that the direct personal failings of a man can be listed in half an hour, it is equally true that -- aside from ingrained habits -- those failings can be corrected in one minute; not the effect of long-standing failings, but the failings themselves. If a man has the failing of throwing his paper scraps on the floor, he can stop it any minute, and he need never begin again; if his failing is slouching over his desk, he can straighten up in less than a minute, and he need never loll again. It is twice as easy, too, to correct a failing when you know that a Jack Dalton or a Tom Carter is taking a partnership interest in you and will give you Hail Columbia, verse and chorus, if you don't look out. Even ingrained habits are more easily destroyed when two or three decide to join to destroy them. You know how a resolution to cut out smoking sweeps through a club sometimes.

The end of the week found the two members of Mutual Spurs, Limited, feeling thoroughly set up by their success. Not that anyone outside of Mutual Spurs, Limited, noticed it. Tom Carter brought this up when the members of the Mutual Spurs met in regular weekly session at the Daltons, after the best dinner Mrs. Dalton knew how to serve.

The weekly get-together dinner, inaugurated that evening, was to be a regular feature in the lives of the two couples from then on.

"Well, how was I this week?" asked Tom when the girls had gone into May's parlor. "Up to schedule?"

"You never missed a trick," said Jack. "You were a credit to little old Mutual Spurs every day and every minute. How was I?"

"I jotted down a couple of things that might be improved," Tom said; "but they are minor points. You made good, Jack. We were both right up to pitch all week. I wonder if you feel as I do? I feel strong! Let me see! How can I say it? I feel head up and pawing the ground."

"I get the idea: like a buffalo bull, instead of like a driven ox. Yes; I feel the same way. Nobody is going to poke the goad into our flanks because we are loafing on the job. We're doing our bit, plus a quarter of a bit. We're giving the boss all he pays for, and more."

"Yes," said Carter; "and that brings up something I thought of when I saw how you were beating all your records there this week. We might just keep it up until the boss happens to notice it; but, though that might do for individuals, I can't imagine a corporation sitting round and waiting for things to happen. It might be all right for you or me, but Mutual Spurs, Limited, ought to have a Publicity Department. Greenstone and Higgins are our public; how are we going to reach them? How are we going to let them know that the members of Mutual Spurs, Limited, are the office live wires?"

Dalton bent his head in thought. He put his elbows on the table and shut his eyes and covered his ears.

"I'll tell you, Tom!" he said suddenly. "We've got to take on the services of a Publicity Agency. We can't boom ourselves. If you and I put in full hours every day, and a little over -- doing our work and a little more -- we've done enough. We can't stand up and shout how good we are. If we could hire --"

"Hold on! Hold on!" said Carter. "I've almost got an idea. Yes, I have an idea! We'll use Millie and May. Higgins was out West this week and captured that big Pacific Traction order; and he feels so good about it he is going to try to get the Southern Rails order away from Durst & Longburg. He is chock-full of both of those orders right now; he wants to show Pacific Traction that we can rush things, and he wants to get out the specifications for the Southern Rails order in a big haste. I'm one of the fellows he put on the Pacific Traction job, and you told me you were at work on the Southern Rails specifications today. That's where Mutual Spurs, Limited, comes in. And the girls!"

"I don't see --" Dalton began.

"Easy enough," laughed Carter. "I'm going to stay half an hour every evening and plug at those Pacific Traction papers; and you are going to miss half of your lunch hour and speed up your work on the Southern Rails job. On Tuesday May will go to the office about three o'clock and send in word she wants to see you. You'll send out word you can't see her -- you're too busy. Wednesday she comes again; and she gets the same answer. Thursday the same thing happens. Friday she goes down to the office and asks for Higgins.

"Mr. Higgins,' she says, 'I want to know why it is my husband can't spare a few minutes to speak to me when I come to the office. I was here Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday, and again today. He sent out word he could not see me.' And so on.

"You know how Higgins is -- decentest fellow in the world, and especially nice to ladies. My guess is that he will send for you and want to know why you treat your wife so. That is your cue: 'Why, Mr. Higgins, office hours are not meant for family meetings. I'm trying to rush the Southern Rails specifications, and May can see me any evening at home.' Get the idea? "

"Yes. He will know I'm alive, anyway," said Dalton. "How will Millie work it?"

"Millie will drop in Saturday morning with her gentle complaint and ask Mr. Higgins whether it is really necessary that I must be late for dinner every night, and, on top of it, spoil her plans by working Saturday afternoon. I'll know what to say when Higgins calls me -- if he does. If I know Higgins, he will call me."

"All right! Let's go in and tell the girls."

"No; call them out here. This is the council chamber."

Millie and May, when they heard what was expected of them, were delighted. Before Jack and May went home that night the two wives had been told every detail of Mutual Spurs, Limited; and they were tremendously enthusiastic.

In order to make the proposed work of the Millie & May Publicity Agency possible, Carter and Dalton worked as they had never worked before. Mr. Higgins, himself keyed up over the possibility of rushing the Pacific Traction order, looked over Carter's shoulder Friday morning and, seeing what remarkable progress he was making, said:

"Good work, Carter!"

He had hardly turned away from Carter before Dalton came to him and said:

"Mr. Higgins, will you show me what this part of the Southern Rails specifications means?"

And Higgins went to Dalton's desk and explained.

"Keep this pace going, Dalton," he said, "and you'll be doing the firm the biggest possible favor."

That afternoon May called and made her complaint.

"My dear young lady," said Higgins, "you don't look a bit like the sort of wife who would stand in her husband's way. I know that the only trouble is, you don't understand just how important his work is at this moment. Now go home and be patient with your husband, and I am pretty sure you won't regret it."

Millie, calling on Mr. Higgins the next morning with her little complaint, received much the same answer; but when she was gone Mr. Higgins walked over to Carter. "Your wife was here complaining that you are working too late and that you are robbing her of her Saturday afternoon. I think I fixed it up with her, Carter; but I want you to know the firm appreciates the interest you are taking in this Pacific Traction order. If you are going to stay this afternoon I think I will stay too. If we work at it together we may get more done. I wonder whether Dalton would stay?"

"I know he would," said Tom.

"I'll ask him," said Higgins.


When Higgins came back from Mobile with the Southern Rails contract in his pocket he spent the morning with Greenstone in the president's private office; and when he came out the broad smile he had worn when he entered was gone, and he looked worried. He stood at the door a moment or two, with his hand on the knob, looking across the office; and his eye happened to alight on Tom Carter. He turned and entered Greenstone's office again.

"Look here, Greenstone," he said briskly, "I think I have the solution for this trouble. What do you think of the idea of creating what might be called the position of Job Chief? Here is what I mean: Instead of dumping all these big jobs, like Pacific Traction and Southern Rails, into the office and letting them sink or swim, why not pick out one live clerk to have especial supervision over each big job? Put it up to the Job Chief -- if you want to call him that -- to see that his particular job is handled promptly and properly. He keeps all the threads in his hands and concentrates on his one big job until it is on the cars."

Greenstone tapped on the edge of his desk with his silver pencil. He tapped ten times and then said: "Good idea! But have we got clerks of that size?"

"I know two; and if we get more big contracts we can get more clerks, if Carter and Dalton are not through with Pacific Traction and Southern Rails by then. If they are we can put them on other big contracts."

"Yes; I've noticed those boys lately," said Greenstone. "Well, try it out, Higgins. It sounds like a solution."

Higgins turned to the door. With his hand on the knob he turned his head toward Greenstone.

"I suppose a little more salary ought to go with the special job," he said. "They're worth it, anyway."

"Suit yourself," said Greenstone. "It's your idea. We'll see how it works."

About two years later Tom Carter, coming into the office of the Greenstone-Higgins Company with his Gladstone in his hand passed the small cubby-hole of an office the concern had set aside for him and put his head inside the small cubby-hole of an office the concern had given Dalton.

"Hello, old scout!" he said cheerfully. "I'm back from the Waterville factory. We're turning out those French munitions hand over fist. See you at lunch!"

"Tom -- one minute!" called Dalton. "May wants you to come up to dinner tonight. The baby has a new tooth and we are celebrating. Millie will come and bring your kid if you phone her. I told her I thought you would be back this morning. By the way, Greenstone has gone down to Palm Beach."

"Higgins here?" asked Tom.

"No; he won't be back until next Thursday. I'm in charge until he comes."

That evening after dinner, while the two wives were holding a mutual-admiration consultation over their babies in the blue-and-white nursery of which May was so proud, Jack dropped into one of his deep chairs and lighted a cigar.

"Know what anniversary this is, Tom? " he asked.

"Your wedding? Your birthday?"

"No; it was two years ago we held the first meeting of Mutual Spurs, Limited, at the shiny little Porcelain Dairy!" laughed Dalton.

"Well, we have made good so far," said Carter, grinning. "We had the right idea. If anyone had told me we could make the jump in two years that we have made I should not have believed it. I can't believe it yet. I don't know how we did it. It is magic, or luck -- one or the other."

"No," said Dalton slowly, "not magic; not luck. I've been thinking it over, Tom. It was getting together for mutual aid and support. And then -- do you remember what we did?"

"Boomed our little selves!" said Tom.

"No, sir!" said Dalton. "We just spruced up and did a good day's work every working day, and let Greenstone and Higgins know we were doing it. It was just the oldest commercial axiom in the world: Have the goods -- and advertise!"



Saturday, October 07 at 1:04:33am USA Central
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