Three Elephant Power and Other Stories
The Cast-iron Canvasser
The firm of Sloper and Dodge, publishers and printers, was in great distress. These two
enterprising individuals had worked up an enormous business in time-payment books,
which they sold all over Australia by means of canvassers. They had put all the money
they had into the business; and now, just when everything was in thorough working
order, the public had revolted against them.
Their canvassers were molested by the country folk in divers strange bush ways. One was
made drunk, and then a two-horse harrow was run over him; another was decoyed into
the ranges on pretence of being shown a gold-mine, and his guide galloped away and left
him to freeze all night in the bush. In mining localities the inhabitants were called
together by beating a camp-oven lid with a pick, and the canvasser was given ten minutes
in which to get out of the town alive. If he disregarded the hint he would, as likely as not,
fall accidentally down a disused shaft.
The people of one district applied to their M.P. to have canvassers brought under the
"Noxious Animals Act", and demanded that a reward should be offered for their scalps.
Reports appeared in the country press about strange, gigantic birds that appeared at
remote selections and frightened the inhabitants to death -- these were Sloper and
Dodge's sober and reliable agents, wearing neat, close-fitting suits of tar and feathers.
In fact, it was altogether too hot for the canvassers, and they came in from North and
West and South, crippled and disheartened, to tender their resignations. To make matters
worse, Sloper and Dodge had just got out a large Atlas of Australasia, and if they couldn't
sell it, ruin stared them in the face; and how could they sell it without canvassers?
The members of the firm sat in their private office. Sloper was a long, sanctimonious
individual, very religious and very bald. Dodge was a little, fat American, with bristly,
black hair and beard, and quick, beady eyes. He was eternally smoking a reeking black
pipe, and puffing the smoke through his nose in great whiffs, like a locomotive on a steep
grade. Anybody walking into one of those whiffs was liable to get paralysis.
Just as things were at their very blackest, something had turned up that promised to
relieve all their difficulties. An inventor had offered to supply them with a patent cast-
iron canvasser -- a figure which (he said) when wound up would walk, talk, collect
orders, and stand any amount of ill-usage and wear and tear. If this could indeed be done,
they were saved. They had made an appointment with the genius; but he was half-an-hour
late, and the partners were steeped in gloom.
They had begun to despair of his appearing at all, when a cab rattled up to the door.
Sloper and Dodge rushed unanimously to the window. A young man, very badly dressed,
stepped out of the cab, holding over his shoulder what looked like the upper half of a