Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On The Rocks of Success, Top Notch March 1, 1913

Here is another story from the Top Notch Twice-a-Month Magazine,  March 1, 1913 issue.

It's an average length short story, but it was published with the notation: "(Complete in this Issue)."  Why? I think it's because it's got chapters. Most of the pulps of this time had many different lengths of story, and nearly every issue had a serial story tucked in.  The serials always had chapter headings, the shorts and novelettes might or might not. This was a way of keeping it clear.

This story is about a shop keeper who is a little too greedy for his own good....

* * *

On the Rocks of Success
by Howard Dwight Smiley
(illustrator unknown)


THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND dollars was a lot of money to fall into as once.  When Hugh Cranson received Lawyer Patterson's letter apprising him of his good fortune he experienced much the same sensation of surprise as one would diving into a warm lake in August and striking cold spring water, except that the shock was decidedly pleasant.

Still, he never could have endured that old, dark store; the stuffy, old-fashioned counters, piled half to the ceiling with dusty good; the space between the ounters set with ungainly benches that nearly filled it and made it impossible for two people to pass in the aisle without turning sideways; the dingy kerosene lamps that served dimly to illuminate the place in the evening, and the general haphazard, jumbled-up arrangement of everything.

But he was going to change all that now.  He would throw out those dusty old counters that had done service for nearly half a century, and replace them with double-deck plate-glass show cases.  He would install electric lights, and give the whole interior a vigorous redecorating that would brighten it up.

Of course, Mr. Potts would object to all this; that was to be expected. But Hugh now owned a half interest in that store, and if he was to take an active part in the management there were certainly going to be some improvements made.

The train stopped at Brookton, and Hugh stepped off.  Old Jim Carpenter, who had driven the hotel bus for twenty years, greeted him cordially, and invited him to ride on the driver's seat as far as the hotel.

He left his bag at the hotel and walked directly to the store. He told himself as he entered that it was like reviewing an old picture.  Even a dead fly that hung dejectedly to the wire that was suspended from the ceiling and supported a smoky old kersene lamp looked strangely familiar.  Hugh assured himself that it was the same one that had hung there when he left the town, five years before.

The store was free from customers, and he found Mr. Potts going over the contents of a large cash register.  The young man gasped at the sight of this fixture.  Well, well!  They had actually acquired a cash register!  He could hardly believe it.

He advanced on Mr. Potts with a friendly smile and outstretched hand.  The old man glanced up from his money counting, bestowed on Hugh a grim, perfunctory nod, then jerked his head toward the rear of the store.

"Busy," he grunted shortly.  "Be back in a minute."

Hugh was taken aback by the curtness of the other's greeting, but walked, wondering, to the rear of the store, where the old high desk, the ponderous, antiquated safe, and a few rickety chairs gave it the semblance of an office.

He was still wondering at the other's coolness hwen the old man sauntered back and inspected Hugh from head to foot for a minute before speaking.

"Regular dude, aint you?" he observed, in a tone that startled the young man into surprised resentment.

"Mr. Potts--" he began.

"I been expecting you any minute," the storekeeper interrupted laconically.  "Knew you wouldn't lose no time getting here to spend your poor dead uncle's moneu, evem if the town wasn't good enough for you during his lifetime."

"Why, Mr. Potts!" cried Hugh, in a hurt tone. "What do you mean?"

"Be them all the clothes you've got here?" questioned the storekeeper, ignoring Hugh's question.

"Yes.  I--"

"Well, you'd better do down to Dobbins' and get something that's fit to wear.  I don't want no dudes hangin' 'round this store."

"These clothes are as good as yours!" retorted Hugh, angered at last by the other's manner.

"There now, don't go gettin' sassy 'round here," adminished Mr. Potts sternly.  "You go get some clothes, like I told you, and then get back to earn your way if you hang 'round here."

"Earn my way?" gasped the astonished Hugh.

"You bet you!  If you show you're worth it, I am goin' to pay you five dollars a week; otherwise you don't get nothin'."

"I wish you would tell me what you are talking about!" exclaimed Hugh, by now thoroughly exasperated by the other's attitude.  "I own half this store!"

"Mebbe you don't," retorted Mr. Potts mysteriously.  "Read the will yet?"

"Certainly not!  I've been in town only about a half an hour!"

"Well, you'd better go up and see Lawyer Patterson, then; he's executor," dryly suggested Mr. Potts.  "You won't be so sassy when you see how things are fixed."

"I gather from that, that there is a string attached to this property," said Hugh.

"Gather anything you like," grunted Mr. Potts.  "One thing you ay as well understand first as last is, that I'm boss of this store, and you're under my orders.  You can obey 'em, or get out and stay out, just as you like!"

"I am entirely at loss to understand you!" returned Hugh.  "On thing is certain, however, and that is, if I have anything to say about the management of this store--and I see no reason why I haven't--I am going to make you dance for the manner in which you have treated me!  It is entirely uncalled for, and I assure you I won't overlook it!"

"You're welcome to all the dancing you get out of me," growled the storekeeper, as Hugh stalked indignantly out.

Lawyer Patterson greeted his visitor heartily, and invited him to a seat.

Hugh then related to the lawyer the conversation that had taken place between himself and Mr. Potts.

"Well, well, so that is the attitude he is taking, eh?" said Mr. Patterson, when he had concluded.  "I was expecting something of the sort, but I hardly thought he would begin so soon."

"I wish you would tell me what it is all about," said Hugh.

"My friend," said the old lawyer kindly, "I am afraid you are up a stump.  Your Uncle Andrew's will gives Potts absolute control of the store.  He holds your share in trust, to be turned over to you when, in his estimation, you are capable of taking charge of it.  In the meantime you are to work under his orders at whatever wages he considers you are worth, for a term of at least five years, after which, if you have not fulfilled the requirements of the will, your interest reverts to him.

"What did Uncle Andrew do that for?" exclaimed Hugh, in surprise.

"I might have told you this in my letter," said the lawyer, "but I thought it better ot wait until I saw you.  Now I am going to talk frankly with you, and waht I say must be kept in confidence

"In the first place," he continued, "you incurred your uncle's displeasure when you left the store for the city several years ago.  He had hoped that you would grow into his place, but I am in a position to know that he was more hurt than angered; yet his old-fashioned ideas of dignity were such that he would not show that side of his feelings to you.  Now, between you and me, Potts had kown for some time that Mr. Collins intended willing you a half interest in the store. Potts wanted it himself, and tried to induce your uncle to turn it over to him, on the plea that they had built up the business, and had been associated for nearly half a century, and it was no more than fair that the survivor should own the store.  He argued that you deserved nothing after the way you had deserted them.  Your uncle was firm on that point, however, and when Potts found he could not influence him in that way, he resorted to other methods that were more successful."

"For instance?" asked Hugh interestedly.

"Well, the report reached your uncle that you were leading a dissolute, riotous life in the city-- drinking, and gambling, and having a gay time generally."

"Why, there isn't a word of truth in that!" cried Hugh indignantly.

"Of course there isn't!" replied the lawyer.  "I know you too well for that.  This information was given to your uncle to induce him to leave your interest in the store so that Potts would have absolute control.  Of course, you understand that Potts is under bonds to the probate judge to keep your share, valued at twenty thousand dollars, intact until the expiration of the five years, when it reverts to him if you have not lived up to the requirements."

"And what he intends to do is to make it so uncomfortable for me that I will throw up my hands before the expiration of that time!" exclaimed Hugh, beginning to see the light.

"Exactly," answered the lawyer.  "I realized what was coming at the time your uncle made his will, and had he sought my counsel I would have done waht I could to avert this more deplorable stat of affairs.  As it was, Mr. Potts was present when the will was made, and I could say nothing."

"I'll make him dance for this or know the reason why!" exclaimed Hugh.

"What are you going to do?" asked the lawyer curiously.

"Can't you take this matter up with the judge of probate?  He ought to be able to straighten it out when he finds how matters stand."

"I could try," answered Mr. Patterson doubtfully.

"All right; you do it!  In the meantime, I'll go back to my job in the city.  That is still open for me.  Has Potts got a string on the rest of Uncle Andrew's bequest?"

"No," answered the lawyer; "I have the deed to your uncle's old home, which is valued at five thousand dollars, also the ten thousand dollars life insurance.  You can have these any time."

"I'll take them now," answered Hugh promptely.


A MONTH AFTER Hugh's return to the city, Billy Donaldson, the grocery drummer, dropped into the old store.  Mr. Potts greeted him with surprise.

"Thought you'd quit the Rockford Grocery Company," he said.

"I have," answered Billy.  "Haven't been with them for three months. I am now representing the Quality Products Company, of Chicago, and I dropped in to see about your handling our goods in your town."

"I dunno," said Mr. Potts, with sudden coolness; "I ain't taking on any new brands. They're too hard to sell."

"Ours won't be," Billy assured him.  "We've got a very alluring proposition to make.  You see, this is a brand-new company, and our goods are all new and practically unknown to the public, but we have a system of introducing the goods that will no doubt be a winner."

"What is your system?" inquired Mr. Potts curiously.

"Well, we propose to give one of the stores here the exclusive agency for all our goods, and then sample the town and country with full-size packages of eery article we carry.  We will sample one article at a time, by mailing the customer a neat little letter, inclosing a coupon which will entitle him to a full-size package of one of our commodities, when presented at the store.  One advantage of this is that it will bring to your store many people who would not come here ordinarily.  Bring them not once, but many times, which may result in their becoming permanent patrons.  We furnish the samples to you absolutely free, the only expense to you being the cost of cartage from the depot, and the time consumed in passing out the samples.  You are not required to lay in a stock of our goods until the sampling is over, and you are satisfied as to the popularity of the Quality Products."

"That sounds pretty good," said Mr. Potts reflectively.  "You say you would give me exclusive agency if I took it up?"

"Yes, sir.  We will go under ten-thousand-dollar bonds to fulfill our part of the agreement, and we expect you to do the same."

"Me go under bonds!  What for?"

"Merely to guarantee that you will handle our goods conscientiously, and carry them for a period of at least two years; it being understood that this does not interfere with your carrying any other brands that you care to, and that we furnish you with our goods only after we have created a demand for them, and then only in such quantities as you may require.  The company further agrees to take back all unsold goods and refund the money, if you are dissatisfied at the expirations of the contract."

"Say, I'll take up that proposition!" exclaimed Mr. Potts.  "It's the best I ever had put up to me!"

"I knew you'd do it when you saw what we had to offer," said Billy.  "We'll go right out and have a lawyer draw up the contract.  I have some blanks with me."

Ten days later a consignment of coffee arrived for Mr. Potts. It was put up in one-pound tin cans, with attractive red labels, and made a handsome addition to the store shelves.

The next morning Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Addison, and Mrs. Shippy entered the store simultaneously.  Mrs. Shippy had been a regular customer for thirty years.  The other two women traded at Cromin's, on the corner.

Mr. Potts, who was presiding behind the grocery counter, noted this with gratification.  Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Addison fluttered up and presented yellow slips of paper, and after Mr. Potts had adjusted his spectacles, he found these to be coupons issued by the Quality Products Company, and that each entitled the bearer to one full-size can of Quality Coffee, absolutely free of charge.

Mr. Potts wrapped up the coffee, and watched the ladies depart, with a broad smile.  This trick was going to bring him a lot of new customer, he was sure.  Then he reached for Mrs. Shippy's coupon.

Mrs. Shippy had none. She had heard that a great many others received letters through the post office the night before, containing coupons, but none had come for her.

"Now, that's strange!" exclaimed Mr. Potts, in a distressed tone.  "I'm sure I sent your address in!  Oh, it will surely be along to-day or to-morrow, Mrs. Shippy.  Is there anything else I can help you to?"

"I came in for a pound of coffee," answered Mrs. Shippy, a bit coldly.

"Well, now, that's too bad!" said the storekeeper. "I'd give you a sample if I could, but I'm under contract not to give out any without the coupon."

"Then I guess I'll wait until mine comes," decided Mrs. Shippy.  "But," she added, with a suggestion of sarcasm in her tone, "it seems to me you'd see to it that your own customers get theirs firrst, instead of folks who never trade here."

Mr. Potts watched her leave the store with an expression of dismay.  He had probably offended her.  Well, it was the fault of the Quality Company; he must write them at once, and tell them to be more careful.  He had sent in the addresses in two separate lists, just as Billy Donaldson instructed him to do; one of his own customers, and one of the outsiders.  There was no excuse for such a blunder.

Mr. Potts did not write, however -- he telegraphed.  Following the exit of Mrs. Shippy the women began to flow in, and before noon he had exchanged three hundred and ten cans of coffee for coupons, and in every instance, as he noted with growing alarm, to outsiders.  Not one of his own customers received a sample, for the simple reason that they had no coupons.

At noon he rushed to the telegraph office and wired the company again.

Two hours later, he recieved his laconic and brief reply, sent collect:

Nothing in the contract binds us to send coupons to any one except those we choose.

The boy who delivered the message also brought notice that a shipment of baking powder had just arrived by freight for Mr. Potts.


BY NOON THE next day, Mr. Potts had distributed all of the coffee, and  as no more coupons were presented, it became apparent to him that the company had sent him exactly the number of cans required by the issue of coupons.  Not one of his regular customs had received a coupon.

Furthermore, he was now passing out pound cans of Quality Baking Powder to presenters of coupons, and while several hundred people had been in and carried away their cans, not one among them was a customer of the store.  His own customers came in, it is true, but it was to inquire indignantly why they were excluded from this remarkable free sampling.

Mr. Potts tried to explain, but seemed to be unable to make any one understand.  One or two left the store satisfied with his assurance that they would surely receive their coupons later, but the majority departed indignant, with the conviciton that they were being flimflammed by the store which they had stood by for years.

A remarkable change took place.  The town turned over, as it were.  For years, the firm of Collins & Potts had carried fifty percent of the trade of the community.  The rest was divided between three smaller stores in the town.

A highly indignant fifty percent suddenly ceased trading at Collins & Potts, and invaded the three smaller stores, almost swamping them.  The other fifty percent breezed cheerfully into the old store, received free samples of coffee and baking powder, and breezed out again -- and purchased the balance of their necessities at their usual trading places.

The day following the arrival of the baking powder, a consignment of soap was received.  This was distributed, six cakes for each coupon.  The next day brought yeast cakes, and the next tea, and so on.

Mr. Potts was frantic.  He wired the company repeatedly, and wrote them long letters at night, telling them his woes, and in every instance he received curt and brief replies to the effect that the company was living up to its part of the contract, and that Mr. Potts was expected to do the same.  Not once did they offer any explanation for their extraordinary conduct.

Mr. Potts had a stormy interivew with Lawyer Patterson in the latter's office.  The contract was carefully gone over, and the lawyer assured the frantic storekeeper that he was nailed up tighter than a sheep's hide to the side of of a barn.  There was nothing that withheld the company from sampling the public with their products. There was no clause that compelled them to send coupons to any except those they chose.  They could continue distributing samples for two years if they cared to, and Mr. Potts was bound to deliver the samples or forfeit his contract and the ten-thousand-dollar bond.

Mr. Potts returned to the store a saddened man.  He locked his doors, and went home and sent for a doctor.  Then the rumor started that the storekeeper was in bed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It became evident that the ordeal had become too much for him.

Two days later he received a letter from the Quality Products Company calling his attention to the fact that he was not living up to his part of the contract.  Two consignments of goods, one of Quality Oatmeal, and the other of Quality Pancake Flour, were waiting on the siding for distribution.  Unless he attended to these at once, the company would consider the contract broken, and would take immediate measures to collect the ten thousand dollars.

Tearing his hear in despair, Mr. Potts dragged himself from his house to the store and reopened it.  He had to admit, even to himself, that the company had him "nailed to the barn."  Why they were doing it, he couldn't imagine.

In the meantime, Lawyer Patterson had been viewing the proceedings with an apprehensive eye.  In his estimation, everything had gone to smash, and the trade at the store was irretrievably ruined.  He felt that it was his duty to apprise Hugh Cranson of the situation.

Two days later Hugh arrived in town in high dudgeon.

"What right have you got to sign such a contract without my sanction?" he indignantly demanded of Mr. Potts.

"Ain't it been pointed out to you that I'm boss of this store?" retorted Potts.  "It ain't none of your business what I do!"

"Is that so?" returned Hugh, with considerable heat.  "You evidently overlook the fact that you are under forty-thousand-dollar bonds to the judge of probate to see that my interest in this establishement is kept intact until it is either turned over to me or forfeited!  I think it is decidedly my business, when I come back here and find the store gone to smash, and the trad cleaned out!  My interest is--or rather was-- worth twenty thousand dollars, and it is up to you to make good!"

This phase of the situation hadn't occurred to Mr. Potts.  He was liable for Hugh's interst, and would have to make it good out of his own pocket in case the business failed.  The trade was indeed ruined; not a customer remained, and as each of them held a personal grudge against him, he doubted if he would ever be able to get them back.  The stock wouldn't bring forty cents on the dollar at a forced sale, and, even if it did, there would not be enough to pay Hugh his share.  Mr. Potts was indeed in desperate straits; he thought deeply for a minute, then turned to the young man.

"I reckon I'm licked so far as the store is concerned," he said.  "I can never get back the trade I've lost, and there is no use trying.  You're a bright young man, and mebbe you could do something, so if you'll agree to it, I'll turn the whole shootin' match over you and get out."

"Do I understand by that that if I release you from all liabilities so far as my interest in the store is concerned, that you will turn it over to me absolutely, and step down and out?"

"I do," averred Mr. Potts, glad to get out of the muddle on any terms.

"Come along up to Lawyer Patteron's office," said Hugh promptly.


MR. POTTS HEAVED a sigh of relief when the papers were at last signed that released him from all responsibilities, so far as the store was concerned.  It was true that he had lost his business, and that he didn't have much money left, but if he had had to make that twenty thousand dollars good out of his own pocket it woudl have ruined him absolutely.  As the matter stood, he felt that he had got out extremely easy, for he was convinced that the store was not not worth a dollar, so far as trade was concerned.  He felt that he had got the best of Hugh, after all.

His trouble were not over by any means, however.  Three days later a young man dropped off the train from Chicago, and hunted him up.

"I am an attorney representing the Quality Products Company," he informed Mr. Potts.  "I am here in the matter of that contract."

"I ain't got nothin' to do with it," averred Mr. Potts.  "I've turned over my store and all my interests in it to Hugh Cranson.  You'll have to see him."

"You gave your personal bond in that contract," answered the lawyer coldly. "Mr. Cranson is not in any way responsible for it.  You'll have to make good."

After they had threshed this out at great length, and with much heat, in Mr. Patterson's office, Mr. Potts began to see where the lawyers were right.  He was still nailed to the barn.

"I ain't got ten thousand dollars," groaned the old man brokenly.  "I'm cleaned out.  Why can't you fellers let me alone?"

"We can't afford to lose the cost of free sampling we have done," the lawyer informed him.  "But we don't want to be too hard on you, Mr. Potts, and if you will make good the amount the company has expended, together with my fee, I think they will let the matter drop."

"How much will that be?" asked Mr. Potts.

"About thirty-three hundred dollars."

"I reckon I'll have to pay it," said the old man resignedly.  "I'll have the money ready for you at three o'clock."

He went to the bank and put a mortgages on his home, and paid the company's claim.  It cleaned him out, but he was glad to get away with even a mortgaged roof to sleep under.  Truly the Fates had been exrtremely hard on the parsimonious old man.

One day, two months after these events, Mr. Potts timidly entered his old store.  A wonderful change had taken place.  The old counters and benches had vanished, and in their place were double-decked plate-glass show cases.  Electric lights had replaced the old, smoky lamps, and the whole interior had been redecorated until Mr. Potts hardly recognized the place.

The store was well filled with customers, and the clerks were busy.  Mr. Potts made his way to the rear, where he found Hugh seated at a roll-top desk, writing a letter.

"Good morning, Hugh," began the old man hesitatingly.

The new proprietor glanced up with a show of irritation.  "Busy!" he said shortly.  "Sit down! I'll be through in a minute."

Mr. Potts winced, but seated himself in one of the new oak office chairs, and waited until Hugh had finished writing his letter.

"Well?" said the young man suddenly, spinning around in his swivel chair.

"I--I was thinkin' that mebbe you needed another clerk," faltered Mr. Potts.  "If you do, I'd be mighty glad to get the job."

"Are those all the clothes you have?" questioned Hugh coldly.

"Why--er--yes.  What's the matter with 'em?" answered Mr. Potts, looking down at his shappy garments.

"They're old and baggy and slovenly.  Go down to Dobbins' and get yourself a decent suit, then come back here and hang up your coat and get to work.  Tell Dobbins that I'll stand for the suit, in case he won't trust you."

"Then you'll give me a job?" cried Mr. Potts eagerly.

Hugh contemplated the old man silently for a minute, then his manner changed.

"Yes, Mr. Potts, I am going to give you a job, and I am going to do better than that," he answered kindly.  "I think you have been punished enough, and I have not forgotten the fact that you are my uncle's old partner, and that you and he were associated in this business for over forty years, even if you tried to fleece me out of my share of this story by despicable methods.  I matched my wits against yours, Mr. Potts, and I won.  I am the Quality Products Company.  I bought those goods from the wholesale houses, and had them packed and labeled for me, and it was I who sent Billy Donaldson down here to get that contract form you.  I knew you would fall for it.  I have beaten you and made you pay all the expenses of the beating in the bargain.

"Now," he went on, "I am not going to nag your any further, but we are going to forget everything.  You can take a position in the store and show me!"  Hugh put a strong emphsis on the "me."  "And at the end of one year, if you show yourself to be square and fair with me, I am going to give you back your half interest in this store.  The trade is building up again very nicely since the change of management."

Mr. Potts could hardly believe his ears.

"Goin' to give me back my store?" he murmured ecstatically.  "Goin' to give me back my store!  You don't mean it, Hugh!"

"Yes, I do; every word of it," the young merchant assured him.  "And now," he said, with a wave of his hand, "you go along and get that new suit and get into harness again."


This story is from the March 1, 1913 issue of Top-Notch Twice-a-Month Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and the actual collection of page links here.

* * * * * This story brought to you by * * * * *

Find The Man Who Did Too Much, a Starling and Marquette mystery, at these online ebook stores:
Amazon.com. (Amazon International Stores: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain), Barnes & Nobel Nook Store, Kobo Books, Apple iBookstore, Diesel eBook Store, Sony eReader (coming soon), or get it in all formats at Smashwords.