The Wrecker

Page 39

The office which was (or should have been) the point of rest for so many evolving dollars stood in the heart of the city: a high and spacious room, with many plate-glass windows. A glazed cabinet of polished redwood offered to the eye a regiment of some two hundred bottles, conspicuously labelled. These were all charged with Pinkerton's Thirteen Star, although from across the room it would have required an expert to distinguish them from the same number of bottles of Courvoisier. I used to twit my friend with this resemblance, and propose a new edition of the pamphlet, with the title thus improved: _Why Drink French Brandy, when we give you the same labels?_ The doors of the cabinet revolved all day upon their hinges; and if there entered any one who was a stranger to the merits of the brand, he departed laden with a bottle. When I used to protest at this extravagance, "My dear Loudon," Pinkerton would cry, "you don't seem to catch on to business principles! The prime cost of the spirit is literally nothing. I couldn't find a cheaper advertisement if I tried." Against the side post of the cabinet there leaned a gaudy umbrella, preserved there as a relic. It appears that when Pinkerton was about to place Thirteen Star upon the market, the rainy season was at hand. He lay dark, almost in penury, awaiting the first shower, at which, as upon a signal, the main thoroughfares became dotted with his agents, vendors of advertisements; and the whole world of San Francisco, from the businessman fleeing for the ferry-boat, to the lady waiting at the corner for her car, sheltered itself under umbrellas with this strange device: Are you wet? Try Thirteen Star. "It was a mammoth boom," said Pinkerton, with a sigh of delighted recollection. "There wasn't another umbrella to be seen. I stood at this window, Loudon, feasting my eyes; and I declare, I felt like Vanderbilt." And it was to this neat application of the local climate that he owed, not only much of the sale of Thirteen Star, but the whole business of his advertising agency.

The large desk (to resume our survey of the office) stood about the middle, knee-deep in stacks of handbills and posters, of _Why Drink French Brandy?_ and _The Advertiser's Vade- Mecum._ It was flanked upon the one hand by two female type-writers, who rested not between the hours of nine and four, and upon the other by a model of the agricultural machine. The walls, where they were not broken by telephone boxes and a couple of photographs--one representing the wreck of the James L. Moody on a bold and broken coast, the other the Saturday tug alive with amateur fishers--almost disappeared under oil-paintings gaudily framed. Many of these were relics of the Latin Quarter, and I must do Pinkerton the justice to say that none of them were bad, and some had remarkable merit. They went off slowly but for handsome figures; and their places were progressively supplied with the work of local artists. These last it was one of my first duties to review and criticise. Some of them were villainous, yet all were saleable. I said so; and the next moment saw myself, the figure of a miserable renegade, bearing arms in the wrong camp. I was to look at pictures thenceforward, not with the eye of the artist, but the dealer; and I saw the stream widen that divided me from all I loved.

"Now, Loudon," Pinkerton had said, the morning after the lecture, "now Loudon, we can go at it shoulder to shoulder. This is what I have longed for: I wanted two heads and four arms; and now I have 'em. You'll find it's just the same as art--all observation and imagination; only more movement. Just wait till you begin to feel the charm!"

I might have waited long. Perhaps I lack a sense; for our whole existence seemed to me one dreary bustle, and the place we bustled in fitly to be called the Place of Yawning. I slept in a little den behind the office; Pinkerton, in the office itself, stretched on a patent sofa which sometimes collapsed, his slumbers still further menaced by an imminent clock with an alarm. Roused by this diabolical contrivance, we rose early, went forth early to breakfast, and returned by nine to what Pinkerton called work, and I distraction. Masses of letters must be opened, read, and answered; some by me at a subsidiary desk which had been introduced on the morning of my arrival; others by my bright-eyed friend, pacing the room like a caged lion as he dictated to the tinkling type-writers. Masses of wet proof had to be overhauled and scrawled upon with a blue pencil--"rustic"--"six-inch caps"--"bold spacing here"--or sometimes terms more fervid, as for instance this, which I remember Pinkerton to have spirted on the margin of an advertisement of Soothing Syrup: "Throw this all down. Have you never printed an advertisement? I'll be round in half an hour." The ledger and sale-book, besides, we had always with us.

The Wrecker Page 40

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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