By Greg Clark, March 10, 1928
It all started with Charles and me going down in the elevator with old Mr. Milligin of the business office.
He is not really old. But he has spent so many years sitting at his desk, never moving, that he seems old.
And now he is leaving us for a business of his own. Stepping out for himself. At his age.
But he seemed, as he stood there close to us in the elevator, to have recovered his youth. He beamed at us.
“He is starting too late,” said Charles, as we stepped out onto King street.
“Too late how?”
“He spent the best years of his life working for others; now be finds he should have been working for himself.”
“Oh, he’s been happy in his way,” I said.
“At that job!” demanded Charles.
And when we thought of Mr. Milligin and his job, sitting at a desk, never moving, year after year, we both shuddered.
“I think we both ought to start now,” said Charles.
“Start looking for a business of our own – something solid, substantial. Something we can call our own.”
“As for instance?”
“Well, let’s start in some business and work our way into it and launch out for ourselves – bonds, stocks, manufacturing, agency – anything.” said Charles.
“Why not let’s start a newspaper of our own?”
“Too costly,” said Charles. “But we could learn the bond business and then, to launch out for ourselves, all we need is a little office.”
We walked on in silence. The thought was very sweet in our minds. No more worrying. No more digging for things to write.
“How do you go about getting a job?” I asked. “How did old Mr. Milligin go about getting his job?”
“Well,” said Charles, “the simplest way is to watch the papers for advertisements and answer the ones that seem to be what we are after.”
“The papers don’t carry that sort of ad.”
“Well, let’s look.”
So we drew in out of the traffic on Yonge street, and in the shelter of a tobacco store window opened up The Star and found this ad staring us in the face:
A position demanding executive ability of a high order, with knowledge of banking, is vacant. References
necessary. Apply Box 1234, The Star.
It seemed too perfect to be true.
“Gosh, Charles, it seems to be us!”
“Salary Must Exceed $10,000”
“Us,” said Charles. “What do you know about banking?”
“My dear boy.” I replied heatedly. “I have had a bank account for nine years. And what’s more, mine is a current account and my wife’s is a saving. So I know practically all there is to be known about banking. What else is there to it?”
“And what about executive ability of a high order?” demanded Charles.
“I was adjutant of my regiment for months. It that isn’t executive ability I’d like to know what it is.”
“Ah,” said Charles, “your orderly-room clerks did everything. All you did was sit on a horse and sign your name.”
“Don’t let’s fight. Charles. Let’s consider this ad. I’m for answering it.”
“We can’t both get the one job.”
“But we can both apply, and may the best man win.”
“And then,” said Charles, “which ever of us gets this job he will work the other into the business at the earliest opportunity.”
“Right!” said I.
“Box 1234,” said Charles. “Better make a note of it. I will keep this paper.”
We walked on.
“I think,” said Charles, “the way to write this application would be to intimate that if you knew more about the job you might consider it. You know the sort of tone.”
“Personally,” I said, “I think the go-getter kind of application is what is needed in this instance.”
“Go-getter!” snorted Charles. “The business world is fed up to the teeth with them!”
“No. It’s the standard way of applying. All I have to do is make it the go-gettingest letter in the pile.”
“Well,” replied Charles, “there is no use of both of us employing the same method. You do yours and I’ll do mine.”
“And may the best man win.”
“Right,” said Charles.
We returned to the office, and at the opportune moment, when all the editors were out and none of the other boys too handy, we carefully wrote out our applications.
“What you want, I have got.
We are looking for each other.
I have never failed at any job yet.
My jobs have got bigger and better always.
Having exhausted the possibilities of my present situation I am now prepared to join your organization.
Salary does not interest me.
I await your convenience for an interview.
“I don’t like that respectfully,” said Charles.
“It’s go-getter,” I said. “Polite, you know. Suave.”
“Look mine over,” said Charles
“My Dear Sir:
I am ready to consider an offer for my services and, if you wish, will discuss the matter with you any morning this week after ten o’clock, except Thursday.
The salary, by the way, would have to exceed ten thousand dollars a year to be interesting.
“H’m!” said I.
“You see the difference?” asked Charles.
“Quite. But ten thousand dollars, Charles?”
“Quite,” said Charles.
It was with a distinct tingling sensation in our limbs that we signed our names with a flourIsh to these letters and sealed and stamped them.
“Give me yours and I’ll run downstairs and turn them in at the letter department,” I said.
“Not on your life!” exclaimed Charles. “We’ll mail them. Do you think we want to advertise our plans?”
So we put on our coats and went forth to mail our letters with singing hearts.
By the most curious coincidence, who should be in the elevator again, as we boarded it, but old Mr. Milligin!
We studied him, at close range, with a new Interest, a fellow-feeling. He seemed like a man setting forth on a journey, eager, almost gay. His greeting to us was cordial, genial, as compared with the brief monosyllable he used to give us in the old days, whenever we were not too busy to notice him around the office.
“When do you leave, Mr. Milligin?” I asked, as we reached the ground floor.
“To-morrow,” said he. “To-morrow’s the day.”
And he felt everybody was congratulating him.
We posted our letters and then I said:
“Charles, I think we ought to have a cup of coffee and talk this matter over. This is one of the most important days in our lives.”
Over the coffee cups it all seemed like a dream.
“Imagine, Charles, in a little while one of us may be sitting in a strange office in a building we now do not even know, with strange people depending on our words.”
“Possibly,” said Charles.
“If I get the job I will not rest, Charles, until I have got you in with me.”
“Most businesses do not carry many men at ten thousand a year.”
“Anything is possible. This is a great year. A boom is coming. There is opportunity for men like you and me, Charles.”
“One thing I do know,” said Charles. “If I take this executive work on it will be a great relief to be free of writing. I think I will even have a rubber stamp to sign my name.”
“What kind of an office do you like. Charles?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I like dark furniture, with a bright rug on the floor, and potted ferns about,” I said. “Not too many pictures on the wall, but good ones. I’ve got some at my house that I think I will bring down.”
“You think you’ve got this job?”
“No, Charles, I think you’ve got it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, I have a feeling, ever since I mailed that letter ten minutes ago, that neither one of us has got it. I sort of feel as if both of us had it. I don’t know. It’s just feeling I have. Maybe running into old Mr. Milligin again in the elevator was an omen. I felt a curious feeling when we stepped on the elevator with those letters in our pockets, and him standing there beaming.”
“It was curious,” admitted Charles.
On the Lap of the Gods
Neither of us did much work for the rest of the afternoon. We separated but we could not help thinking of each other, and being writing men, in the habit of constructing things in our minds, we devoted a lot of time to building up advance stories in the imagination as to how we would accept the job, with what modest assurance we would step into our now responsible posts, and how we would begin the task of working the other of us into the business to the undying gratitude of the other. Friendship is a nice thing. It is like a little bonfire in the heart that dies down to embers and flares up with fresh fuel, but never goes out.
That evening Charles phoned me to say that he wished I had not put that respectfully in.
“It’s all right, Charles. The more I think of that letter the more I like it. I can recite it off by heart.”
“I think I should have put fifteen thousand in, instead of ten,” said Charles.
“We should be getting that.”
“No, Charles, it doesn’t pay to be too grasping. This job is only a means to an end. I can see us taking trips to Europe and so forth in another ten years. And on our own money, Charles.”
“We would stay at the Savoy again,” said Charles.
“And fish in Norway.”
“You go to Norway,” said Charles, “and I’ll go down to Vienna.”
“It would be a pity to separate when we were having so much fun.”
“No Norway for me,” said Charles. “Well, old man, until to-morrow.”
We got to the office early.
But early as we were, Box 1234, which we carefully examined as we entered the office was already cleared.
“The box has been cleared,” I whispered to Charles as I sat down at my desk.
“So I noticed. Our letters will have been delivered by now.”
“We’re on the lap of the gods,” I whispered.
How curious the office seemed as we sat there looking about the familiar scene. Jimmie Frise grinning at his drawing board. The editor tearing open his mail with the familiar violence.
It was kind of sad. The old office would miss us. We had been there so long.
The phone rang and George the office boy called me.
“Mr. Harris wants you on the phone,” said George.
Mr. Harris is the business manager.
“Oh, Greg,” said Mr. Harris amiably at the far end of the phone. “I’ve got a couple of most interesting letters here on my desk from you and Charlie Vining.”
“You are applying for old Mr. Milligin’s job? Is that right?”
I do not even remember saying anything to Mr. Harris.
I hung up in a daze and staggered over where Charles was eyeing me.
“We’ve applied …”
“We’ve applied … for … old Mr. Milligin’s job!”
The familiar little sounds of the office broke clear and sharp on the silence.
“Perhaps,” I said, “we had better stick to writing.”
So we wrote this.
Editor’s Note: You can see the makings of the Greg-Jim story format in this article a few years before they got going. Greg is partnered here with fellow reporter Charles Vining.
$10,000 in 1928 would be about $146,000 in 2019.
Greg mentions in his experience that he was an adjutant. He was appointed assistant adjutant of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles in August 1917, and adjutant in April 1918.