Business Narration. Part 2
And then the thunderbolt fell. Mr. Hildreth, knowing positively that he was somehow losing money at the rate of $3,000 or $4,000 a year, was dissatisfied at the result of our audit So he called in another accountant This was an old, reliable man who, from past experiences, preferred looking into things for himself to accepting assurances from principals or anyone else. Therefore he investigated the petty cash book and found that for two or three years Mr. Forsyth had made the transfers of totals of current cash receipts to the general cash book from $10 to $15 short each day, although he had not attempted to manipulate the petty cash book itself.
The Hildreth Hardware Co. refused to pay our bill, or to accept my explanation that he had told me I "need not bother with the petty cash book."
"You are pretty green yet," said Mr. Bumbleby, "and I believe this will be a lesson to you." - -E. X. Pert, in Beach's Magazine of Business.
§ 83. It is common to divide narration into two kinds: narration without plot and narration with plot. "Plot" at once suggests a work of fiction, and something complicated. Suppose we substitute "suspense" for plot. Some narratives are so constructed as to arouse much suspense, others very little.
There are many business situations which are full of nerve-racking suspense. When such a situation is over, the persons interested in the news want to hear first what the upshot was. The person who tells about it may have a novel-full of exciting events to narrate, but before they listen, his hearers want him to tell the last page. That done, they are ready enough to take the whole story, and then there may be many minor bits of suspense: how narrowly the scheme carried at this point; how at that point disaster came; how in the next move the disaster was retrieved.
Yet narration absolutely without suspense is an impossibility, and in many business stories suspense is highly desirable. The first condition of successful story-telling is to be able to keep back the great point till the right time. Let me quote a rather extreme example of suspense. The lordly secretiveness of one of the persons in this little story makes it possible for the narrative to run on for two pages without the reader's guessing what is to come.
A new general manager came recently to be the head of one of the largest manufacturing plants in the East. To him the president and directors delegated supreme authority. He was made personally responsible for the regular and profitable employment of the four thousand men on the pay-roll. The chief the thousand in every considerable city in the country. In its construction a large number of small and variously-shaped bits of brass are used.
The new manager was of a vastly curious disposition. Shortly after he took charge he learned that for ten years all the brass parts used by the company had been bought from the old and reputable house of Brown & Jones. The deal was an absolutely honest one. There was no suspicion of corruption about it. The goods furnished were always of the best quality and gave complete satisfaction in every way. The price paid seemed fair and reasonable. The personal relation between the heads of the two concerns was one of intimate friendship and complete confidence.
One of the first things the new manager did was to call in his superintendent and purchasing agent.
"I'm going to take that brass contract away from Brown & Jones," he said.
The others urged him to be careful. Why run the risk of making a change when for so many years the present arrangement had been thoroughly satisfactory? The new manager was firm. The older officials were equally determined in their disapproval.
The new manager sent for a representative of the small brass works of Smith & Robinson and laid the case before him. To make the brass parts needed required a large equipment of patterns, jigs, dies and other tools. Smith & Robinson agreed to make at their own expense the outfit of special tools. They quoted the same price as that charged by Brown & Jones. It would take them ninety days to get ready to make the first delivery.
In the mean time the head of Brown & Jones had called on the new general manager and, in an effort to hold the brass contract, had named a price which meant a saving of ten dollars on every ten thousand parts supplied. His plea was a strong one, and he called in to back him the new manager's president and several of the directors. But the best he could get was a contract to furnish half the brass parts at the new cut price. The other half of the contract went to Smith & Robinson at the old and higher price. That puzzled the superintendent and purchasing agent greatly. Using the negotiations with Smith & Robinson as a club to force down the Brown-Jones prices they could understand. But why anybody but a fool should choose to pay ten dollars per ten thousand more than was necessary for half the goods was beyond them. The general manager did not enlighten them.
The new deal went into effect, and for several months everything went as smoothly as possible. Both supply houses furnished their proportions of brass parts promptly and in good condition. Then one morning the superintendent found a telegram on his desk.
"Factory destroyed by fire," it read. "Loss total - Brown & Jones."
The superintendent took the message to the general manager, who looked up from its perusal with a smile. "Double our order with Smith & Robinson," he said, "and send for a salesman for another brass-house at once. Smith & Robinson might have a strike before Brown & Jones get their plant rebuilt. I hope you see now that so long as we have the responsibility of keeping four thousand men busy we can't afford to keep all our eggs in one basket." - Henry M. Hyde, in The Saturday Evening Post.
$ 84. By far the most common form of business narrative is the anecdote. I do not mean the irrelevant yarn which in older days was used by drummers to induce good humor. I mean the narrative of how Mr. So-and-so, in a certain situation, found such and such goods the solution of his problem. He was in suspense and the goods came to his relief. That makes a story.