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   Chapter 4 THE SHOP

The Clarion By Samuel Hopkins Adams Characters: 21938

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Certina had found its first modest home in Worthington on a side street. As the business grew, the staid tenement which housed it expanded and drew to itself neighboring buildings, until it eventually gave way to the largest, finest, and most up-to-date office edifice in the city. None too large, fine, or modern was this last word in architecture for the triumphant nostrum and the minor medical enterprises allied to it. For though Certina alone bore the name and spread the fame and features of its inventor abroad in the land, many lesser experiments had bloomed into success under the fertilizing genius of the master-quack.

Inanimate machinery, when it runs sweetly, gives forth a definite tone, the bee-song of work happily consummated. So this great human mechanism seemed, to Harrington Surtaine as he entered the realm of its activities, moving to music personal to itself. Through its wide halls he wandered, past humming workrooms, up spacious stairways, resonant to the tread of brisk feet, until he reached the fifth floor where cluster the main offices. Here through a succession of open doors he caught a glimpse of the engineer who controlled all these lively processes, leaning easily back from his desk, fresh, suavely groomed, smiling, an embodiment of perfect satisfaction. Before Dr. Surtaine lay many sheaves of paper, in rigid order. A stenographer sat in a far corner, making notes. From beyond a side door came the precise, faint clicking of a typewriter. The room possessed an atmosphere of calm and poise; but not of restfulness. At once and emphatically it impressed the visitor with a sense that it was a place where things were done, and done efficiently.

Upon his son's greeting, Dr. Surtaine whirled in his chair.

"Come down to see the old slave at work, eh?" he said.

"Yes, sir." Hal's hand fell on the other's shoulder, and the Doctor's fingers went up to it for a quick pressure. "I thought I'd like to see the wheels go 'round."

"You've come to the right spot. This is the good old cash-factory, and yours truly is the man behind the engine. The State, I'm It, as Napoleon said to Louis the Quince. Where McBeth sits is the head of the table."

"In other words, a one-man business."

"That's the secret. There's nothing in this shop that I can't do, and don't do, every now and then, just to keep my hand in. I can put more pull into an ad. to-day than the next best man in the business. Modesty isn't my besetting sin, you see, Hal."

"Why should it be? Every brick in this building would give the lie to it."

"Say every frame on these four walls," suggested Dr. Surtaine with an expansive gesture.

Following this indication, Hal examined the decorations. On every side were ordinary newspaper advertisements, handsomely mounted, most of them bearing dates on brass plates. Here and there appeared a circular, or a typed letter, similarly designated.

Above Dr. Surtaine's desk was a triple setting, a small advertisement, a larger one, and a huge full-newspaper-page size, each embodying the same figure, that of a man half-bent over, with his hand to his back and a lamentable expression on his face.

Certain strongly typed words fairly thrust themselves out of the surrounding print: "Pain-Back-Take Care-Means Something-Your Kidneys." And then in dominant presentment-

CERTINA

CURES.

"What do you think of Old Lame-Boy?" asked Dr. Surtaine.

"From an ?sthetic point of view?"

"Never mind the ?sthetics of it. 'Handsome is as handsome does.'"

"What has that faded beauty done, then?"

"Carried many a thousand of our money to bank for us, Boyee. That's the ad. that made the business."

"Did you design it?"

"Every word and every line, except that I got a cheap artist to touch up the drawing a little. Then I plunged. When that copy went out, we had just fifty thousand dollars in the world, you and I. Before it had been running three months, I'd spent one hundred thousand dollars more than we owned, in the newspapers, and had to borrow money right and left to keep the manufacturing and bottling plant up to the orders. It was a year before we could see clear sailing, and by that time we were pretty near quarter of a million to the good. Talk about ads. that pull! It pulled like a mule-team and a traction engine and a fifty-cent painless dentist all in one. I'm still using that copy, in the kidney season."

"Do kidneys have seasons?"

"Kidney troubles do."

"I'd have thought such diseases wouldn't depend on the time of year."

"Maybe they don't, actually," admitted the other. "Maybe they're just crowded out of the public mind by the pressure of other sickness in season, like rheumatism in the early winter, and pneumonia in the late. But there's no doubt that the kidney season comes in with the changes of the spring. That's one of my discoveries, too. I tell you, Boyee, I've built my success on things like that. It's psychology: that's what it is. That's what you've got to learn, if you're going into the concern."

"I'm ready, Dad. It sounds interesting. More so than I'd have thought."

"Interesting! It's the very heart and core of the trade." Dr. Surtaine leaned forward, to tap with an earnest finger on his son's knee, a picture of expository enthusiasm. "Here's the theory. You see, along about March or April people begin to get slack-nerved and out-of-sortsy. They don't know what ails 'em, but they think there's something. Well, one look at that ad. sets 'em wondering if it isn't their kidneys. After wonder comes worry. He's the best little worrier in the trade, Old Lame-Boy is. He just pesters folks into taking proper care of themselves. They get Certina, and we get their dollars. And they get their money's worth, too," he added as an afterthought for Hal's benefit, "for it's a mighty good thing to have your kidneys tonicked up at this time of year."

"But, Dad," queried Hal, with an effort of puzzled reminiscence, "in the old days Certina wasn't a kidney remedy, was it?"

"Not specially. It's always been good for the kidneys. Good for everything, for that matter. Besides, the formula's been changed."

"Changed? But the formula's the vital thing, isn't it?"

"Yes, yes. Of course. Certainly it's the vital thing: certainly. But, you see,-well,-new discoveries in medicine and that sort of thing."

"You've put new drugs in?"

"Yes: I've done that. Buchu, for instance. That's supposed to be good for the kidneys. Dropped some things out, too. Morphine got sort of a bad name. The muckrakers did that with their magazine articles."

"Of course I don't pretend to know about such things, Dad. But morphine seems a pretty dangerous thing for people to take indiscriminately."

"Well, it's out. There ain't a grain of it in Certina to-day."

"I'm glad of it."

"Oh, I don't know. It's useful in its place. For instance, you can't run a soothing-syrup without it. But when the Pure Food Law compelled us to print the amount of morphine on the label, I just made up my mind that I'd have no government interference in the Certina business, so I dropped the drug."

"Did the law hurt our trade much?"

"Not so far as Certina goes. I'm not even sure it didn't help. You see, now we can print 'Guaranteed under the U.S. Food and Drugs Act' on every bottle. In fact we're required to."

"What does the guaranty mean?"

"That whatever statement may be on the label is accurate. That's all. But the public takes it to mean that the Government officially guarantees Certina to do everything we claim for it," chuckled Dr. Surtaine. "It's a great card. We've done more business under the new formula than we ever did under the old."

"What is the formula now?"

"Prying into the secrets of the trade?" chuckled the elder man.

"But if I'm coming into the shop, to learn-"

"Right you are, Boyee," interrupted his father buoyantly. "There's the formula for making profits." He swept his hand about in a spacious circle, grandly indicating the advertisement-bedecked walls. "There's where the brains count. Come along," he added, jumping up; "let's take a turn around the joint."

Every day, Dr. Surtaine explained to his son, he made it a practice to go through the entire plant.

"It's the only way to keep a business up to mark. Besides, I like to know my people."

Evidently he did know his people and his people knew and strongly liked him. So much Hal gathered from the offhand and cheerily friendly greetings which were exchanged between the head of the vast concern and such employees, important or humble, as they chanced to meet in their wanderings. First they went to the printing-plant, the Certina Company doing all its own printing; then to what Dr. Surtaine called "the literary bureau."

"Three men get out all our circulars and advertising copy," he explained in an aside. "One of 'em gets five thousand a year; but even so I have to go over all his stuff. If I could teach him to write ads. like I do it myself, I'd pay him ten thousand-yes, twenty thousand. I'd have to, to keep him. The circulars they do better; but I edit those, too. What about that name for the new laxative pills, Con? Hal, I want you to meet Mr. Conover, our chief ad.-man."

Conover, a dapper young man with heavy eye-glasses, greeted Hal with some interest, and then turned to the business in hand.

"What'd you think of 'Anti-Pellets'?" he asked. "Anti, opposed to, you know. In the sub-line, tell what they're opposed to: indigestion, appendicitis, and so on."

"Don't like it," returned Dr. Surtaine abruptly. "Anti-Ralgia's played that to death. Lemme think, for a moment."

Down he plumped into Conover's chair, seized a pencil and made tentative jabs at a sheet of paper. "Pellets, pellets," he muttered. Then, in a kind of subdued roar, "I've got it! I've got it, Con! 'Pro-Pellets.' Tell people what they're for, not what they're against. Besides, the name has got the idea of pro-pulsion. See? Pro-Pellets, pro-pel!" His big fist shot forward like a piston-rod. "Just the idea for a laxative. Eh?"

"Fine!" agreed Conover, a little ruefully, but with genuine appreciation of the fitness of the name. "I wish I'd thought of it."

"You did-pretty near. Anyway, you made me think of it. Anti-Pellets, Pro-Pellets: it's just one step. Like as not you'd have seen it yourself if I hadn't butted in. Now, go to it, and figure out your series on that."

With kindly hands he pushed Conover back into his chair, gave him a hearty pat on the shoulder, and passed on. Hal began to have an inkling of the reasons for his father's popularity.

"Have we got other medicines besides Certina?" he asked.

"Bless you, yes! This little laxative pills business I took over from a concern that didn't have the capital to advertise it. Across the hall there is the Sure Soother department. That's a teething syrup: does wonders for restless babies. On the floor below is the Cranicur

e Mixture for headaches, Rub-it-in Balm for rheumatism and bruises, and a couple of small side issues that we're not trying to push much. We're handling Stomachine and Relief Pills from here, but the pills are made in Cincinnati, and we market 'em under another trade name."

"Stomachine is for stomach troubles, I assume," said Hal. "What are the Relief Pills?"

"Oh, a female remedy," replied his father carelessly. "Quite a booming little trade, too. Take a look at the Certina collection of testimonials."

In a room like a bank vault were great masses of testimonial letters, all listed and double-catalogued by name and by disease.

"Genuine. Provably genuine, every one. There's romance in some of 'em. And gratitude; good Lord! Sometimes when I look 'em over, I wonder I don't run for President of the United States on a Certina platform."

From the testimonial room they went to the art department where Dr. Surtaine had some suggestions to make as to bill-board designs.

"You'll never get another puller like Old Lame-Boy," Hal heard the head designer say with a chuckle, and his father reply: "If I could I'd start another proprietary as big as Certina."

"Where does that lead to?" inquired Hal, as they approached a side passage sloping slightly down, and barred by a steel door.

"The old building. The manufacturing department is over there."

"Compounding the medicine, you mean?"

"Yes. Bottling and shipping, too."

"Aren't we going through?"

"Why, yes: if you like. You won't find much to interest you, though."

Nor, to Hal's surprise, did Dr. Surtaine himself seem much concerned with this phase of the business. Apparently his hand was not so close in control here as in the other building. The men seemed to know him less well.

"All this pretty well runs itself," he explained negligently.

"Don't you have to keep a check on the mixing, to make sure it's right?"

"Oh, they follow the formula. No chance for error."

They walked amidst chinking trucks, some filled with empty, some with filled and labeled bottles, until they reached the carton room where scores of girls were busily inserting the bottles, together with folded circulars and advertising cards, into pasteboard boxes. At the far end of this room a pungent, high-spiced scent, as of a pickle-kitchen with a fortified odor underlying it, greeted the unaccustomed nose of the neophyte.

"Good!" he sniffed. "How clean and appetizing it smells!"

Enthusiasm warmed the big man's voice once more.

"Just what it is, too!" he exclaimed. "Now you've hit on the second big point in Certina's success. It's easy to take. What's the worst thing about doctors' doses? They're nasty. The very thought of 'em would gag a cat. Tell people that here's a remedy better than the old medicine and pleasant to the taste, and they'll take to it like ducks to water. Certina is the first proprietary that ever tasted good. Next to Old Lame-Boy, it's my biggest idea."

"Are we going into the mixing-room?" asked his son.

"If you like. But you'll see less than you smell."

So it proved. A heavy, wet, rich vapor shrouded the space about a huge cauldron, from which came a sound of steady plashing. Presently an attendant gnome, stripped to the waist, appeared, nodded to Dr. Surtaine, called to some one back in the mist, and shortly brought Hal a small glass brimming with a pale-brown liquid.

"Just fresh," he said. "Try it."

"My kidneys are all right," protested Hal. "I don't need any medicine."

"Take it for a bracer. It won't hurt you," urged the gnome.

Hal looked at his father, and, at his nod, put his lips to the glass.

"Why, it tastes like spiced whiskey!" he cried.

"Not so far out of the way. Columbian spirits, caramel, cinnamon and cardamom, and a touch of the buchu. Good for the blues. Finish it."

Hal did so and was aware of an almost instantaneous glow.

"Strong stuff, sir," he said to his father as they emerged into a clearer atmosphere.

"They like it strong," replied the other curtly. "I give 'em what they like."

The attendant gnome followed. "Mr. Dixon was looking for you, Dr. Surtaine. Here he comes, now."

"Dixon's our chief chemist," explained Dr. Surtaine as a shabby, anxious-looking man ambled forward.

"We're having trouble with that last lot of cascara, sir," said he lugubriously.

"In the Number Four?"

"Yes, sir. It don't seem to have any strength."

"Substitute senna." So offhand was the tone that it sounded like a suggestion rather than an order.

As the latter, however, the chemist contentedly took it.

"It'll cost less," he observed; "and I guess it'll do the work just as well."

To Hal it seemed a somewhat cavalier method of altering a medical formula. But his mind, accustomed to easy acceptance of the business which so luxuriously supplied his wants, passed the matter over lightly.

"First-rate man, Dixon," remarked Dr. Surtaine as they passed along. "College-bred, and all that. Boozes, though. I only pay him twenty-five a week, and he's mighty glad to get it."

On the way back to the offices, they traversed the checking and accounting rooms, the agency department, the great rows of desks whereat the shipping and mailing were looked after, and at length stopped before the door of a small office occupied by a dozen women. One of these, a full-bosomed, slender, warm-skinned girl with a wealth of deep-hued, rippling red hair crowning her small, well-poised head, rose and came to speak to Dr. Surtaine.

"Did you get the message I sent you about Letter Number Seven?" she asked.

"Hello, Milly," greeted the presiding genius, pleasantly. "Just what was that about Number Seven?"

"It isn't getting results."

"No? Let's see it." Dr. Surtaine was as interested in this as he had been casual about the drug alteration.

"I don't think it's personal enough," pursued the girl, handing him a sheet of imitation typewriter print.

"Oh, you don't," said her employer, amused. "Maybe you could better it."

"I have," said the girl calmly. "You always tell us to make suggestions. Mine are on the back of the paper."

"Good for you! Hal, here's the prettiest girl in the shop, and about the smartest. Milly, this is my boy."

The girl looked up at Hal with a smile and brightened color. He was suddenly interested and appreciative to see to what a vivid prettiness her face was lighted by the raised glance of her swift, gray-green eyes.

"Are you coming into the business, Mr. Surtaine?" she asked composedly, and with almost as proprietary an air as if she had said "our business."

"I don't know. Is it the sort of business you would advise a rather lazy person to embark in, Miss-"

"Neal," she supplied; adding, with an illustrative glance around, upon her busy roomful, all sorting and marking correspondence, "You see, I only give advice by letter."

She turned away to answer one of the subordinates, and, at the same time, Dr. Surtaine was called aside by a man with a shipping-bill. Looking down the line of workers, Hal saw that each one was simply opening, reading, and marking with a single stroke, the letters from a distributing groove. To her questioner Milly Neal was saying, briskly:

"That's Three and Seven. Can't you see, she says she has spots before her eyes. That's stomach. And the lameness in the side is kidneys. Mark it 'Three pass to Seven.' There's a combination form for that."

"What branch of the work is this?" asked Hal, as she lifted her eyes to his again.

"Symptom correspondence. This is the sorting-room."

"Please explain. I'm a perfect greenhorn, you know."

"You've seen the ads. of course. Nobody could help seeing them. They all say, 'Write to Professor Certain'-the trade name, you know. It's the regular stock line, but it does bring in the queries. Here's the afternoon mail, now."

Hundreds upon hundreds of letters came tumbling from a bag upon the receiving-table. All were addressed to "Prof." or "Dr." Certain.

"How can my father hope to answer all those?" cried Hal.

The girl surveyed him with a quaint and delicious derision. "He? You don't suppose he ever sees them! What are we here for?"

"You do the answering?"

"Practically all of it, by form-letters turned out in the printing department. For instance, Letter One is coughs and colds; Two, headaches; Three, stomach; and so on. As soon as a symp-letter is read the girl marks it with the form-letter number, underscores the address, and it goes across to the letter room where the right answer is mailed, advising the prospect to take Certina. Orders with cash go direct to the shipping department. If the symp-writer wants personal advice that the form-letters don't give, I send the inquiry upstairs to Dr. De Vito. He's a regular graduate physician who puts in half his time as our Medical Adviser. We can clear up three thousand letters a day, here."

"I can readily see that my father couldn't attend to them personally," said Hal, smiling.

"And it's just as good this way. Certina is what the prospects want and need. It makes no difference who prescribes it. This is the Chief's own device for handling the correspondence."

"The Chief?"

"Your father. We all call him that, all the old hands."

Hal's glance skimmed over the fresh young face, and the brilliant eyes. "You wouldn't call yourself a very old hand, Miss Neal."

"Seven years I've worked for the Chief, and I never want to work in a better place. He's been more than good to me."

"Because you've deserved it, young woman," came the Doctor's voice from behind Hal. "That's the one and only reason. I'm a flint-livered old divvle to folks that don't earn every cent of their wages."

"Don't you believe him, Mr. Surtaine," controverted the girl, earnestly. "When one of my girls came down last year with tuber-"

"Whoof! Whoof! Whoof!" interrupted the big man, waving his hands in the air. "Stop it! This is no experience meeting. Milly, you're right about this letter. It's the confidential note that's lacking. It'll work up all right along the line of your suggestion. I'll have to send Hal to you for lessons in the business."

"Miss Neal would have to be very patient with my stupidity."

"I don't think it would be hard to be patient with you," she said softly; and though her look was steady he saw the full color rise in her cheeks, and, startled, felt an answering throb in his pulses.

"But you mustn't flirt with her, Hal," warned the old quack, with a joviality that jarred.

Uncomfortably conscious of himself and of the girl's altered expression, Hal spoke a hasty word or two of farewell, and followed his father out into the hallway. But the blithe and vivid femininity of the young expert plucked at his mind. At the bend of the hall, he turned with half a hope and saw her standing at the door. Her look was upon him, and it seemed to him to be both troubled and wistful.

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