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The Friendly Call
[Published in "Monthly Magazine Section," July, 1910.]
When I used to sell hardware in the West, I often "made" a little town called Saltillo, in
Colorado. I was always certain of securing a small or a large order from Simon Bell, who
kept a general store there. Bell was one of those six-foot, low-voiced products, formed
from a union of the West and the South. I liked him. To look at him you would think he
should be robbing stage coaches or juggling gold mines with both hands; but he would
sell you a paper of tacks or a spool of thread, with ten times more patience and courtesy
than any saleslady in a city department store.
I had a twofold object in my last visit to Saltillo. One was to sell a bill of goods; the other
to advise Bell of a chance that I knew of by which I was certain he could make a small
In Mountain City, a town on the Union Pacific, five times larger than Saltillo, a
mercantile firm was about to go to the wall. It had a lively and growing custom, but was
on the edge of dissolution and ruin. Mismanagement and the gambling habits of one of
the partners explained it. The condition of the firm was not yet public property. I had my
knowledge of it from a private source. I knew that, if the ready cash were offered, the
stock and good will could be bought for about one fourth their value.
On arriving in Saltillo I went to Bell's store. He nodded to me, smiled his broad, lingering
smile, went on leisurely selling some candy to a little girl, then came around the counter
and shook hands.
"Well," he said (his invariably preliminary jocosity at every call I made), "I suppose you
are out here making kodak pictures of the mountains. It's the wrong time of the year to
buy any hardware, of course."
I told Bell about the bargain in Mountain City. If he wanted to take advantage of it, I
would rather have missed a sale than have him overstocked in Saltillo.
"It sounds good," he said, with enthusiasm. "I'd like to branch out and do a bigger
business, and I'm obliged to you for mentioning it. But—well, you come and stay at my
house to-night and I'll think about it."
It was then after sundown and time for the larger stores in Saltillo to close. The clerks in
Bell's put away their books, whirled the combination of the safe, put on their coats and
hats and left for their homes. Bell padlocked the big, double wooden front doors, and we
stood, for a moment, breathing the keen, fresh mountain air coming across the foothills.