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Merton of the Movies

3. Western Stuff
Saturday proved all that his black forebodings had pictured it--a day of sordid,
harassing toil; toil, moreover, for which Gashwiler, the beneficiary, showed but
the scantest appreciation. Indeed, the day opened with a disagreement between
the forward-looking clerk and his hide-bound reactionary. Gashwiler had reached
the store at his accustomed hour of 8:30 to find Merton embellishing the bulletin
board in front with legends setting forth especial bargains of the day to be had
within.
Chalk in hand, he had neatly written, "See our new importation of taffetas, $2.59
the yard." Below this he was in the act of putting down, "Try our choice Honey-
dew spinach, 20 cts. the can." "Try our Preferred Chipped Beef, 58 cts. the
pound."
He was especially liking that use of "the." It sounded modern. Yet along came
Gashwiler, as if seeking an early excuse to nag, and criticized this.
"Why don't you say 'a yard,' 'a can,' 'a pound'?" he demanded harshly. "What's
the sense of that there 'the' stuff? Looks to me like just putting on a few airs. You
keep to plain language and our patrons'll like it a lot better." Viciously Merton Gill
rubbed out the modern "the" and substituted the desired "a."
"Very well," he assented, "if you'd rather stick to the old- fashioned way; but I can
tell you that's the way city stores do it. I thought you might want to be up to date,
but I see I made a great mistake."
"Humph!" said Gashwiler, unbitten by this irony. "I guess the old way's good
enough, long's our prices are always right. Don't forget to put on that canned
salmon. I had that in stock for nearly a year now--and say it's twenty cents 'a'
can, not 'the' can. Also say it's a grand reduction from thirty-five cents."
That was always the way. You never could please the old grouch. And so began
the labour that lasted until nine that night. Merton must count out eggs and weigh
butter that was brought in. He must do up sugar and grind coffee and measure
dress goods and match silks; he must with the suavest gentility ask if there would
not be something else to-day; and he must see that babies hazardously left on
counters did not roll off.
He lived in a vortex of mental confusion, performing his tasks mechanically.
When drawing a gallon of kerosene or refolding the shown dress goods, or at any
task not requiring him to be genially talkative, he would be saying to Miss
Augusta Blivens in far-off Hollywood, "Yes, my wife is more than a wife. She is
my best pal, and, I may also add, my severest critic."
There was but one break in the dreary monotony, and that was when Lowell
Hardy, Simsbury's highly artistic photographer, came in to leave an order for
groceries. Lowell wore a soft hat with rakish brim, and affected low collars and
flowing cravats, the artistic effect of these being heightened in his studio work by
a purple velvet jacket. Even in Gashwiler's he stood out as an artist. Merton
received his order, and noting that Gashwiler was beyond earshot bespoke his
services for the following afternoon.
 
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