MoboReader > Literature > Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock


Personality Plus: Some Experiences of Emma McChesney and Her Son, Jock By Edna Ferber Characters: 26054

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

There are seven stages in the evolution of that individual whose appearance is the signal for a listless "Who-do-you-want-to-see?" from the white-bloused, drab-haired, an?mic little girl who sits in the outer office forever reading last month's magazines. The badge of fear brands the novice. Standing hat in hand, nervous, apprehensive, gulpy, with the elevator door clanging behind him, and the sacred inner door closed before him, he offers up a silent and paradoxical "Thank heaven!" at the office girl's languid "Not in," and dives into the friendly shelter of the next elevator going down. When, at that same message, he can smile, as with a certain grim agreeableness he says, "I'll wait," then has he reached the seventh stage, and taken the orders of the regularly ordained.

Jock McChesney had learned to judge an unknown prospective by glancing at his hall rug and stenographer, which marks the fifth stage. He had learned to regard office boys with something less than white-hot hate. He had learned to let the other fellow do the talking. He had learned to condense a written report into twenty-five words. And he had learned that there was as much difference between the profession of advertising as he had thought of it and advertising as it really was, as there is between a steam calliope and a cathedral pipe organ.

In the big office of the Berg, Shriner Advertising Company they had begun to chuckle a bit over the McChesney solicitor's reports. Those same reports indicated that young McChesney was beginning to find the key to that maddening jumble of complexities known as human nature. Big Sam Hupp, who was the pet caged copy-writing genius of the place, used even to bring an occasional example of Jock's business badinage into the Old Man's office, and the two would grin in secret. As when they ran thus:

Pepsinale Manufacturing Company:

Mr. Bowser is the kind of gentleman who curses his subordinates in front of the whole office force. Very touchy. Crumpled his advertising manager. Our chance to get at him is when he is in one of his rare good humors.


E.V. Kreiss Company:

Kreiss very difficult to reach. Permanent address seems to be Italy, Egypt, and other foreign ports. Occasionally his instructions come from Palm Beach.

At which there rose up before the reader a vision of Kreiss himself-baggy-eyed, cultivated English accent, interested in polo, fast growing contemptuous of things American.

Or still another:

Hodge Manufacturing Company:

Mr. Hodge is a very conservative gentleman. Sits still and lets others do the talking. Has gained quite a reputation for business acumen with this one attribute. Spent $500 last year. Holding his breath preparatory to taking another plunge.

It was about the time that Jock McChesney had got over the novelty of paying for his own clothes, and had begun to talk business in a slightly patronizing way to his clever and secretly amused mother, Mrs. Emma McChesney, secretary of the T.A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company, that Sam Hupp noticed a rather cocky over-assurance in Jock's attitude toward the world in general. Whereupon he sent for him.

On Sam Hupp's broad flat desk stood an array of diminutive jars, and bottles, and tiny pots that would have shamed the toilette table of a musical comedy star's dressing-room. There were rose-tinted salves in white bottles. There were white creams in rose-tinted jars. There were tins of ointment and boxes of fragrant soap.

Jock McChesney, entering briskly, eyed the array in some surprise. Then he grinned, and glanced wickedly at Sam Hupp's prematurely bald head.

"No use, Mr. Hupp. They say if it's once gone it's gone. Get a toupee."

"Shut up!" growled Sam Hupp, good-humoredly. "Stay in this game long enough and you'll be a hairless wonder yourself. Ten years ago the girls used to have to tie their hands or wear mittens to keep from running their white fingers through my waving silken locks. Sit down a minute."

Jock reached forward and took up a jar of cream. He frowned in thought. Then: "Thought I recognized this stuff. Mother uses it. I've seen it on the bathroom shelf."

"You bet she uses it," retorted Sam Hupp. "What's more, millions of other women will be using it in the next few years. This woman," he pointed to the name on the label, "has hit upon the real thing in toilette flub-dub. She's made a little fortune already, and if she don't look out she'll be rich. They've got quite a plant. When she started she used to put the stuff together herself over the kitchen stove. They say it's made of cottage cheese, stirred smooth and tinted pink. Well, anyway they're nationally known now-or will be when they start to advertise right."

"I've seen some of their stuff advertised-somewhere," interrupted Jock, "but I don't remember-"

"There you are. You see the head of this concern is a little bit frightened at the way she seems slated to become a lady cold cream magnate. They say she's scared pink for fear somebody will steal her recipes. She has a kid nephew who acts as general manager, and they're both on the job all the time. They say the lady herself looks like the spinster in a b'gosh drama. You can get a boy to look up your train schedule."

Train! Schedule! Across Jock McChesney's mind there flashed a vision of himself, alert, confident, brisk, taking the luxurious nine o'clock for Philadelphia. Or, maybe, the Limited to Chicago. Dashing down to the station in a taxi, of course. Strolling down the car aisle to take his place among those other thoroughbreds of commerce-men whose chamois gloves and walking sticks, and talk of golf and baseball and motoring spelled elegant leisure, even as their keen eyes and shrewd faces and low-voiced exchange of such terms as "stocks," and "sales" and "propositions" proclaimed them intent on bagging the day's business. Sam Hupp's next words brought him back to reality with a jerk.

"I think you have to change at Buffalo. It gets you to Tonawanda in the morning. Rotten train."

"Tonawanda!" repeated Jock.

"Now listen, kid." Sam Hupp leaned forward, and his eyes behind their great round black-rimmed glasses were intent on Jock. "I'm not going to try to steer you. You think that advertising is a game. It isn't. There are those who think it's a science. But it isn't that either. It's white magic, that's what it is. And you can't learn it from books, any more than you can master trout fishing from reading 'The Complete Angler.'" He swung about and swept the beauty lotions before him in a little heap at the end of his desk. "Here, take this stuff. And get chummy with it. Eat it, if necessary; learn it somehow."

Jock stood up, a little dazed. "But, what!-How?-I mean-"

Sam Hupp glanced up at him. "Sending you down there isn't my idea. It's the Old Man's. He's got an idea that you-" He paused and put a detaining hand on Jock McChesney's arm. "Look here. You think I know a little something about advertising, don't you?"

"You!" laughed Jock. "You're the guy who put the whitening in the Great White Way. Everybody knows you were the-"

"M-m-m, thanks," interrupted Sam Hupp, a little dryly. "Let me tell you something, young 'un. I've got what you might call a thirty-horse-power mind. I keep it running on high all the time, with the muffler cut out, and you can hear me coming for miles. But the Old Man,"-he leaned forward impressively,-"the Old Man, boy, has the eighty-power kind, built like a watch-no smoke, no dripping, and you can't even hear the engine purr. But when he throws her open! Well, he can pass everything on the road. Don't forget that." He turned to his desk again and reached for a stack of papers and cuts. "Good luck to you. If you want any further details you can get 'em from Hayes." He plunged into his work.

There arose in Jock McChesney's mind that instinct of the man in his hour of triumph-the desire to tell a woman of his greatness. He paused a second outside Sam Hupp's office, turned, and walked quickly down the length of the great central room. He stopped before a little glass door at the end, tapped lightly, and entered.

Grace Galt, copy-writer, looked up, frowning a little. Then she smiled. Miss Galt had a complete layout on the desk before her-scrap books, cuts, copy, magazines. There was a little smudge on the end of her nose. Grace Galt was writing about magnetos. She was writing about magnetos in a way to make you want to drop your customer, or your ironing, or your game, and go downtown and buy that particular kind of magneto at once. Which is the secretest part of the wizardry of advertising copy. To look at Grace Galt you would have thought that she should have been writing about the rose-tinted jars in Jock McChesney's hands instead of about such things as ignition, and insulation, and ball bearings, and induction windings. But it was Grace Galt's gift that she could take just such hard, dry, technical facts and weave them into a story that you followed to the end. She could make you see the romance in condensers and transformers. She had the power that caused the reader to lose himself in the charm of magnetic poles, and ball bearings, and high-tension sparks.

"Just dropped in to say good-by," said Jock, very casually. "Going to run up-state to see the Athena Company-toilette specialties, you know. It ought to be a big account."

"Athena?" Grace Galt regarded him absently, her mind still on her work. Then her eyes cleared. "You mean at Tonawanda? And they're sending you! Well!" She put out a congratulatory hand. Jock gripped it gratefully.

"Not so bad, eh?" he boasted.

"Bad!" echoed Grace Galt. Her face became serious. "Do you realize that there are men in this office who have been here for five years, six years, or even more, and who have never been given a chance to do anything but stenography, or perhaps some private secretarying?"

"I know it," agreed Jock. But there was no humbleness in his tone. He radiated self-satisfaction. He seemed to grow and expand before her eyes. A little shadow of doubt crept across Grace Galt's expression of friendly interest.

"Are you scared," she asked; "just the least bit?"

Jock flushed a little. "Well," he confessed ruefully, "I don't mind telling you I am-a little."



"Yes. The head of that concern is a woman. That's one reason why they didn't send me, I suppose. I-I'd like to say something, if you don't mind."

"Anything you like," said Jock graciously.

"Well, then, don't be afraid of being embarrassed and fussed. If you blush and stammer a little, she'll like it. Play up the coy stuff."

"The coy stuff!" echoed Jock. "I hadn't thought much about my attitude toward the-er-the lady,"-a little stiffly.

"Well, you'd better," answered Miss Galt crisply. She put out her hand in much the same manner as Sam Hupp had used. "Good luck to you. I'll have to ask you to go now. I'm trying to make this magneto sound like something without which no home is complete, and to make people see that there's as much difference between it and every other magneto as there is between the steam shovels that dug out the Panama Canal and the junk that the French left there-" She stopped. Her eyes took on a far-away look. Her lips were parted slightly. "Why, that's not a bad idea-that last. I'll use that. I'll-"

She began to scribble rapidly on the sheet of paper before her. With a jolt Jock McChesney realized that she had forgotten all about him. He walked quietly to the door, opened it, shut it very quietly, then made for the nearest telephone. He knew one woman he could count on to be proud of him. He gave his number, waited a little eager moment, then:

"Featherloom Petticoat Company? Mrs. McChesney." And waited again. Then he smiled.

"You needn't sound so official," he laughed; "it's only your son. Listen. I"-he took on an elaborate carelessness of tone-"I've got to take a little jump out of town. On business. Oh, a day or so. Rather important though. I'll have time to run up to the flat and throw a few things into a bag. I'll tell you, I really ought to keep a bag packed down here. In case of emergency, you know. What? It's the Athena Toilette Preparations Company. Well, I should say it is! I'll wire you. You bet. Thanks. My what? Oh, toothbrush. No. Good-by."

So it was that at three-ten Jock McChesney took himself, his hopes, his dread, and his smart walrus bag aboard a train that halted and snuffed and backed, and bumped and halted with maddening frequency. But it landed him at last in a little town bearing the characteristics of all American little towns. It was surprisingly full of six-cylinder cars, and five and ten-cent stores, and banks with Doric columns, and paved streets.

After he had registered at the hotel, and as he was cleaning up a bit, he passed an amused eye over the bare, ugly, fusty little hotel bedroom. But somehow, as he stood in the middle of the room, a graceful, pleasin

g figure of youth and confidence, the smile faded. Towel in hand he surveyed the barrenness of it. He stared at the impossible wall paper, at the battered furniture, the worn carpet. He sniffed the stuffy smell of-what was that smell, anyhow?-straw, and matting, and dust, and the ghost-odor of hundreds who had occupied the room before him. It came over him with something of a shock that this same sort of room had been his mother's only home in the ten years she had spent on the road as a traveling saleswoman for the T.A. Buck Featherloom Petticoat Company. This was what she had left in the morning. To this she had come back at night. As he stared ahead of him there rose before him a mental picture of her-the brightness of her, the sunniness, the indomitable energy, and pluck, and courage. With a sudden burst of new determination he wadded the towel into a moist ball, flung it at the washstand, seized hat, coat, and gloves, and was off down the hall. So it was with something of his mother's splendid courage in his heart, but with nothing of her canny knowledge in his head, Jock McChesney fared forth to do battle with the merciless god Business.

It was ten-thirty of a brilliant morning just two days later that a buoyant young figure swung into an elevator in the great office building that housed the Berg, Shriner Advertising Company. Just one more grain of buoyant swing and the young man's walk might have been termed a swagger. As it was, his walrus bag just saved him.

Stepping out of the lift he walked, as from habit, to the little unlettered door which admitted employes to the big, bright, inner office. But he did not use it. Instead he turned suddenly and walked down the hall to the double door which led into the reception room. He threw out his legs stiffly and came down rather flat-footed, the way George Cohan does when he's pleased with himself in the second act.

"Hel-lo, Mack!" he called out jovially.

Mack, the usher, so called from his Machiavellian qualities, turned to survey the radiant young figure before him.

"Good morning, Mr. McChesney," he made answer smoothly. Mack never forgot himself. His keen eye saw the little halo of self-satisfaction that hovered above Jock McChesney's head. "A successful trip, I see."

Jock McChesney laughed a little, pleased, conscious laugh. "Well, raw-thah!" he drawled, and opened the door leading into the main office. He had been loath to lose one crumb of the savor of it.

Still smiling, he walked to his own desk, with a nod here and there, dropped his bag, took off coat and hat, selected a cigarette, tapped it smartly, lighted it, and was off down the big room to the little cubby-hole at the other end. But Sam Hupp's plump, keen, good-humored face did not greet him as he entered. The little room was deserted. Frowning, Jock sank into the empty desk chair. He cradled his head in his hands, tilted the chair, pursed his mouth over the slender white cylinder and squinted his eyes up toward the lazy blue spirals of smoke-the very picture of content and satisfaction.

Hupp was in attending some conference in the Old Man's office, of course. He wished they'd hurry. The business of the week was being boiled-down there. Those conferences were great cauldrons into which the day's business, or the week's, was dumped, to be boiled, simmered, stirred, skimmed, cooled. Jock had never been privileged to attend one of these meetings. Perhaps by this time next week he might have a spoon in the stirring too-

There came the murmur of voices as a door was opened. The voices came nearer. Then quick footsteps. Jock recognized them. He rose, smiling. Sam Hupp, vibrating electric energy, breezed in.

"Oh-hello!" he said, surprised. Jock's smile widened to a grin. "You back?"

"Hello, Hupp," he said, coolly. It was the first time that he had omitted the prefix. "You just bet I'm back."

There flashed across Sam Hupp's face a curious little look. The next instant it was gone.

"Well," said Jock, and took a long breath.

"Mr. Berg wants to see you."

Hupp plunged into his work.

"Me? The Old Man wants to see me?"

"Yes," snapped Hupp shortly. Then, in a new tone, "Look here, son. If he says-" He stopped, and turned back to his work again.

"If he says what?"

"Nothing. Better run along."

"What's the hurry? I want to tell you about-"

"Better tell him."

"Oh, all right," said Jock stiffly. If that was the way they treated a fellow who had turned his first real trick, why, very well. He flung out of the little room and made straight for the Old Man's office.

Seated at his great flat table desk, Bartholomew Berg did not look up as Jock entered. This was characteristic of the Old Man. Everything about the chief was deliberate, sure, unhurried. He finished the work in hand as though no other person stood there waiting his pleasure. When at last he raised his massive head he turned his penetrating pale blue eyes full on Jock. Jock was conscious of a little tremor running through him. People were apt to experience that feeling when that steady, unblinking gaze was turned upon them. And yet it was just the clear, unwavering look with which Bartholomew Berg, farmer boy, had been wont to gaze out across the fresh-plowed fields to the horizon beyond which lay the city he dreamed about.

"Tell me your side of it," said Bartholomew Berg tersely.

"All of it?" Jock's confidence was returning.

"Till I stop you."

"Well," began Jock. And standing there at the side of the Old Man's desk, his legs wide apart, his face aglow, his hands on his hips, he plunged into his tale.

"It started off with a bang from the minute I walked into the office of the plant and met Snyder, the advertising manager. We shook hands and sparked-just like that." He snapped thumb and finger. "What do you think! We belong to the same frat! He's '93. Inside of ten minutes he and I were Si-washing around like mad. He introduced me to his aunt. I told her who I was, and all that. But I didn't start off by talking business. We got along from the jump. They both insisted on showing me through the place. I-well,"-he laughed a little ruefully,-"there's something about being shown through a factory that sort of paralyzes my brain. I always feel that I ought to be asking keen, alert, intelligent questions like the ones Kipling always asks, or the Japs when they're taken through the Stock Yards. But I never can think of any. Well, we didn't talk business much. But I could see that they were interested. They seemed to,"-he faltered and blushed a little,-"to like me, you know. I played golf with Snyder that afternoon and he beat me. Won two balls. The next morning I found there's been a couple of other advertising men there. And while I was talking to Snyder-he was telling me about the time he climbed up and muffled the chapel bell-that fellow Flynn, of the Dowd Agency, came in. Snyder excused himself, and talked to him for-oh, half an hour, perhaps. But that was all. He was back again in no time. After that it looked like plain sailing. We got along wonderfully. When I left I said, 'I expect to know you both better-'"

"I guess," interrupted the Old Man slowly, "that you'll know them better all right." He reached out with one broad freckled hand and turned back the page of a desk memorandum. "The Athena account was given to the Dowd Advertising Agency yesterday."

It took Jock McChesney one minute-one long, sickening minute-to grasp the full meaning of it all. He stared at the massive figure before him, his mouth ludicrously open, his eyes round, his breath for the moment suspended. Then, in a queer husky voice:

"D'you mean-the Dowd-but-they couldn't-"

"I mean," said Bartholomew Berg, "that you've scored what the dramatic critics call a personal hit; but that doesn't get the box office anything."

"But, Mr. Berg, they said-"

"Sit down a minute, boy." He waved one great heavy hand toward a near-by chair. His eyes were not fixed on Jock. They gazed out of the window toward the great white tower toward which hundreds of thousands of eyes were turned daily-the tower, four-faced but faithful.

"McChesney, do you know why you fell down on that Athena account?"

"Because I'm an idiot," blurted Jock. "Because I'm a double-barreled, corn-fed, hand-picked chump and-"

"That's one reason," drawled the Old Man grimly. "But it's not the chief one. The real reason why you didn't land that account was because you're too darned charming."

"Charming!" Jock stared.

"Just that. Personality's one of the biggest factors in business to-day. But there are some men who are so likable that it actually counts against them. The client he's trying to convince is so taken with him that he actually forgets the business he represents. We say of a man like that that he is personality plus. Personality is like electricity, McChesney. It's got to be tamed to be useful."

"But I thought," said Jock, miserably, "that the idea was not to talk business all the time."

"You've got it," agreed Berg. "But you must think it all the time. Every minute. It's got to be working away in the back of your head. You know it isn't always the biggest noise that gets the biggest result. The great American hen yields a bigger income than the Steel Trust. Look at Miss Galt. When we have a job that needs a woman's eye do we send her? No. Why? Because she's too blame charming. Too much personality. A man just naturally refuses to talk business to a pretty woman unless she's so smart that-"

"My mother," interrupted Jock, suddenly, and then stopped, surprised at himself.

"Your mother," said Bartholomew Berg slowly, "is one woman in a million. Don't ever forget that. They don't turn out models like Emma McChesney more than once every blue moon."

Jock got to his feet slowly. He felt heavy, old. "I suppose," he began, "that this ends my-my advertising career."

"Ends it!" The Old Man stood up and put a heavy hand on the boy's shoulder. "It only begins it. Unless you want to lie down and quit. Do you?"

"Quit!" cried Jock McChesney. "Quit! Not on your white space!"

"Good!" said Bartholomew Berg, and took Jock McChesney's hand in his own great friendly grasp.

An instinct as strong as that which had made him blatant in his hour of triumph now caused him to avoid, in his hour of defeat, the women-folk before whom he would fain be a hero. He avoided Grace Galt all that long, dreary afternoon. He thought wildly of staying down-town for the evening, of putting off the meeting with his mother, of avoiding the dreaded explanations, excuses, confessions.

But when he let himself into the flat at five-thirty the place was very quiet, except for Annie, humming in a sort of nasal singsong of content in the kitchen.

He flicked on the light in the living-room. A new magazine had come. It lay on the table, its bright cover staring up invitingly. He ran through its pages. By force of habit he turned to the back pages. Ads started back at him-clothing ads, paint ads, motor ads, ads of portable houses, and vacuum cleaners-and toilette preparations. He shut the magazine with a vicious slap.

He flicked off the light again, for no reason except that he seemed to like the dusk. In his own bedroom it was very quiet.

He turned on the light there, too, then turned it off. He sat down at the edge of his bed. How was it in the stories? Oh, yes! The cub always started out on an impossibly difficult business stunt and came back triumphant, to be made a member of the firm at once.

A vision of his own roseate hopes and dreams rose up before him. It grew very dark in the little room, then altogether dark. Then an impudent square of yellow from a light turned on in the apartment next door flung itself on the bedroom floor. Jock stared at it moodily.

A key turned in the lock. A door opened and shut. A quick step. Then: "Jock!" A light flashed in the living-room.

Jock sat up suddenly. He opened his mouth to answer. There issued from his throat a strange and absurd little croak.

"Jock! Home?"

"Yes," answered Jock, and straightened up. But before he could flick on his own light his mother stood in the doorway, a tall, straight, buoyant figure.

"I got your wire and-Why, dear! In the dark! What-"

"Must have fallen asleep, I guess," muttered Jock. Somehow he dreaded to turn on the lights.

And then, very quietly, Emma McChesney came in. She found him, there in the dark, as surely as a mother bear finds her cubs in a cave. She sat down beside him at the edge of the bed and put her hand on his shoulder, and brought his head down gently to her breast. And at that the room, which had been a man's room with its pipe, its tobacco jar, its tie rack filled with cravats of fascinating shapes and hues, became all at once a boy's room again, and the man sitting there with straight, strong shoulders and his little air of worldliness became in some miraculous way a little boy again.

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