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Title: The Big Idea

Author: Ray Cummings

Release date: January 27, 2022 [eBook #67259]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: The Frank A. Munsey Company, 1920

Credits: Roger Frank and Sue Clark


The Big Idea

By Ray Cummings


Jimmy Rand came out of the wash-house that early April morning and took his place in the line of men dressed in their black, greasy mine-clothes. It was a long line—stretching past the power-house, past the big tower where the coal came tumbling down with a great clatter upon the sorting screens and into the waiting railroad flat cars beneath, until finally it wound itself to the little iron gate and gate-house near the mine-mouth where, through a tiny window, the men gave their numbers to be checked down in a great book.

It took Jimmy many minutes to reach the window that morning—minutes that dragged slowly by as he impatiently shuffled forward with the moving line. For this was the day he was to stop work at noon, and he and Anne were to take that long walk together they had planned. Jimmy looked up at the sky; it was a perfect day, almost cloudless, and with just a hint of chill in the air.

By birth and breeding Jimmy Rand was a coal miner. His father and grandfather before him had been miners—his father, now dead some three years, had worked in this same Fallon Brothers Mine. It was located near the little town of Menchon, Pennsylvania, in the valley of the Susquehanna.

When he was fifteen Jimmy had left school and entered the mine as a mule-boy. Now, at twenty-two, he was a full-fledged miner, and by his record was one of the best “loaders” on the books; for he was a stalwart young chap, deep of chest, and with long, powerful muscles.

His work was to clean up the coal that had been undercut and then blasted out in the little galleries down in the mine, loading it onto the waiting mule-pulled cars that took it to the bottom of the shaft, where it was hoisted to the surface and on up into the tipple-tower to be dumped upon the screens.

Jimmy did his work well; there were few other loaders who could surpass him in tonnage. This the records showed, for each car bore a little metal tag with the loader’s number, of which account was kept.

But although Jimmy was a good coal miner by heredity and training, he was by nature not a miner at all. He had known this now for many years; but only to Anne, and to his mother, had he ever said so.

Way back in the days when he was mule-boy Jimmy could remember sitting alone in the great dark silences of the mine, listening to its vague, distant, muffled sounds, and thinking of the great world outside—the world of light and air and color, the world he knew so little about, was in so seldom, and dreamed of so constantly.

Jimmy Rand was by nature a dreamer. He had imagination, which, to one who mines coal, is neither necessary nor desirable. It was not the hours of active work in the mine that proved irksome to him. Stripped to the waist, his lean torso covered with sweat and the grime of coal-dust, he would load steadily. But when the little car was filled, properly trimmed, and the last great, glistening chunk of coal heaved to its top, there was nothing more to do but sit quiet while the mule-boy took it away and brought him another “empty.”

Then Jimmy would slip on his coat and sit down in the cool, damp air to wait. He could hear his heart beat then in the sudden silence, and curious noises filled his ears. The comforting noises of his own work were gone; the distant, dull sounds of the mine seemed unreal, and always a little sinister.

He could hear trickling sounds near at hand—the gas seeping out of the newly opened coal crevices. And far off would come faintly to him the muffled thuds of the picks of the other miners.

These were the minutes that Jimmy Rand hated—minutes that seemed to drag sometimes into hours, as he waited for the dancing yellow light on the mule-boy’s cap, the welcome grind of his car-wheels, and the mule’s slow, tramping step.

This particular April morning Jimmy’s work in the mine loomed ahead of him more irksome, more confining, than ever before. But since it must be done, he was anxious to get at it. He thought his turn at the gate-house window would never come; but finally it did, and he slipped past into the yard and took his place on the waiting cage that would shortly lower him and his fellows out of the sunshine into the world of unreality of the mine several hundred feet below.

Jimmy worked hard that morning. His bunky, who worked at his side in the little gallery, wondered at his unusual silence, although Jimmy was always inclined to be silent. When the first car was loaded, Jimmy fastened to it his metal tag—they took turns in labeling the cars they jointly filled—and then sat down on a lump of coal with his cap in his hands, trimming the wick of his little pit-lamp with a nail from his pocket.

His mind was far away. He read a good deal now—books from the public library of Menchon, which he took home to read during the evenings. Books of travel and adventure interested him; but more recently he had been reading of industry, and the wonderful, gigantic projects that other men—no smarter than himself, perhaps—had planned and executed, stirred him profoundly. Some day he, too, would accomplish big things—things of which Anne and his mother and sister would be proud, things that would bring him great fame and wealth.

That morning seemed interminable to Jimmy, but finally it came to an end. His last car was loaded, and in a moment the cage had raised him back into the warmth of the noonday sunshine. He checked out, passed through the wash-house, and hurried home to lunch. Immediately after lunch he went to meet Anne, as they had agreed.

Anne Wolff was the sixteen-year-old daughter of one of the other miners in the Fallon Brothers Mine. She was still going to school in the little Menchon schoolhouse—a slender, dark-haired, shy little girl, with a curious, wild sort of beauty and unnaturally big black eyes.

Anne was “Jimmy’s girl”—accepted as such by their fellows. It was the only love that Anne had ever known, and to her it meant everything, even though she had never given it voice.

Jimmy had long since told Anne of his dreams, and in the girl’s love he had found a ready response, even though at times she could hardly understand these vague longings that he found so difficult to put into words. She believed in him and she encouraged him; and so he made her his confidant, telling her things he never told his sister or even his mother.

Anne was waiting for Jimmy this afternoon at the gate of her little frame house, dressed in her newest print frock, her long black hair in braids over her shoulders, and a gray woolen scarf wound about her throat. Her cheeks were red with the color of youth and health, and her eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of him. Jimmy kissed her in greeting, thinking as he did so that she was the most beautiful and wonderful little girl in all the world.

“Where we going?” asked Anne when he had released her.

“I don’t know. Where?”

“It’s a beautiful day,” said the girl, looking up into the blue of the sky. Then she put her hand in his. “Let’s go—anywhere.”

Walking hand in hand, they slipped past the little village—Jimmy instinctively turned away from the mines—down the road, and out into the open country. Distant blue hills lay ahead; on both sides of the road lay rolling country, and sometimes they passed fields of wild flowers.

“It ain’t that I mind the work,” said Jimmy suddenly, when they had been walking for some time. “The work’s all right. But up here—like today, Anne—under the sky—it’s different up here. Seems like a fellow had a chance to do something big up here. But down there, Anne—in the dark and damp—all shut in—”

He stopped as the girl tightened the pressure of her fingers upon his. He had often spoken this way to her before—used the very same words, perhaps—and he knew that she understood, and felt that way about it, too. But today it seemed different, more important, more pressing a problem—as though today, somehow, he must find some way out, some goal ahead toward which he could strive.

He did not care how long it might take to reach it, or what difficulties might be in the way. He knew he would overcome them some way, somehow, if only he could find some goal to head for—something definite instead of just dreams.

“Dad was a mule-boy, Anne,” he went on after a moment. “And he died still working in the same mine where he started. Your dad’s there, too. It ain’t that I’m any better than them, Anne. Only I’m—I’m different. You know that. I want to do something—something big. And all day I sit down there thinking and planning and scheming. And it’s no good, Anne. It don’t get me anything—and sometimes I wonder if it ever will.”

The little girl pressed his hand again and looked shyly up into his face.

“It will, Jimmy,” she said softly. “You’re going to be a wonderful man some day—I just know you will. And we’ll—we’ll all be so proud of you.”

Again they fell silent. The road they were following—they were now some two miles from Menchon—was taking them directly toward the burning mines that were famous throughout all that part of Pennsylvania. These were a system of coalmines that years before had been in active operation. They had caught fire, and eventually had to be abandoned.

And all these years since, far down in the great coal measures underground, the fires had been raging. From one mine to another the fire had spread, until now the whole region, several square miles in extent, was honeycombed with uncontrollable subterranean fires.

Through fissures in the ground in many places smoke and steam continually issued; in other parts the fire had broken out to the surface; it was burned out now, leaving a great, jagged, pitted hole. But mostly the coal seams lay so far beneath the surface that only the steam and the thick smoke of the partly consumed coal gases coming through holes in the ground gave evidence of their presence.

The fame of the burning mines of Menchon brought many tourists to visit them. In the summer-time especially, on Sundays, crowds of them came up from the cities of New York and Philadelphia to wander about the region, testing the heat of the ground with amazement, and picnicking beside the little holes that vomited their smoke into the air above.

To them the sight was interesting and wonderful; but to Jimmy and Anne it was an old story—something they had known all their lives and accepted without wonderment.

This afternoon, as the smoke, rising near by, reminded them where they were, they left the road, and with Anne still carrying a bunch of daisies under her arm, approached the scarred region that, as Jimmy had often said, looked for all the world like the volcano pictures in the books. He made that remark again today as they sat down on a rock to rest beside a little smoking crevice.

“You ever seen a picture of the volcano in Hawaii, Anne?” he asked. And when she told him no, he added almost eagerly: “It looks just like this, only very much more wonderful.” And then to the admiring and thrilled little girl he described the crater of the great volcano of Mauna Loa as he had read of it.

“It’s—it’s wonderful to know all those things,” said Anne when he paused a moment.

“Some day I’m going to see them all, too,” he answered. “Some day I’m going everywhere in the world and see myself all the things in the books—some day when I’m rich—when I’ve done something.”

Then, as his problem came back to him with the words, he relapsed into silence, sitting with his arm about the girl’s shoulders and staring idly at the little stream of smoke coming up from the ground before him.

For a long time he sat silent. The familiar scene around, which he had always accepted as usual and without interest, suddenly seemed remarkable and inspiring. He thought of these vast fires in the ground beneath his feet, burning away the coal year after year, and discharging their heat upward into the air uselessly. This tremendous waste seemed now suddenly appalling.

He withdrew his arm from around Anne’s shoulder, and, leaning forward, put his hand down close to the little crevice. It was hot there—hot enough to boil water in a kettle, perhaps, he thought. A picture he had seen once, in a book, of James Watt discovering the power of steam, came to his mind. He sat up again and turned to the girl.

“You ever heard of James Watt, Anne?”

Anne shook her head.

“He was the man who discovered about steam. He was just a boy, Anne. One day he was sitting beside his mother’s hearth looking at a big iron kettle that had water boiling in it. And he could see that the steam was lifting up the lid of the kettle. And then all at once it came to him how powerful the steam must be, and why couldn’t he do something with it.

“You see, Anne, nobody had ever thought of that before. It looks easy enough to us—that you can make steam and use the power—but nobody had ever thought of it then. And it was right in front of their eyes all the time, and they couldn’t see it. But James Watt saw it. And when he got the idea he wouldn’t give it up, no matter what anybody said. He worked and worked, and finally he built an engine that would use the power that steam has.

“That was the first steam-engine, Anne. Just think of it—the first steam-engine. And James Watt doped it out all by himself—just because he had noticed how the steam lifted the lid of that kettle. And he had seen it do that hundreds of times before—and so had everybody else—and never thought anything about it. Isn’t that wonderful, Anne?”

The girl’s eyes were very big and tender as she looked up into his face.

“Yes—it’s very wonderful, Jimmy. You know about so many wonderful things,” she said softly.

“I was just thinking, Anne—” He paused. “When coal burns underground, you can get the heat out of it just the same. And then if—if—” His voice trailed into silence; he sat staring straight ahead into the distance.

Anne sat quiet, gazing with awe up into his set face, as though she was in the presence of genius. The minutes passed. Then abruptly Jimmy spoke again:

“Why—why do you have to mine coal at all?” he said slowly. “If you can burn it in the ground and get the heat—why do you have to mine it at all?”

Anne did not understand, but she was thrilled by the new note of tenseness in his voice.

She put her hand over his, pressing it encouragingly. “Yes, Jimmy—yes?”

“If—if you could burn the coal right where it is in the ground—and—and put your factory over the heat—then—why, then—”

A long pause; then Jimmy suddenly sprang to his feet.

“I’ve got it, Anne!” he cried excitedly. “I’ve got it—the big idea. Why, it’s as clear as daylight, once you think of it. I’ve got it; I’ve got it!” He threw his arms around the girl, kissing her and hugging her to him with all the strength of his vigorous young arms. “It’s the big idea, Anne—what I’ve always been trying to get. And now I’ve got it!”

Anne struggled from his embrace.

“What, Jimmy?” she asked eagerly. “What is it?”

Jimmy’s face was flushed; his eyes sparkled.

“Why—why, just that, Anne! I’m going to build a factory over where the coal is and burn the coal in the ground without bothering to mine it at all, and just pipe the heat up to the boilers. Don’t you see, Anne? Nobody ever thought of that before. They mine the coal now—dig it out and bring it up to the top and take it away on railroads to factories to be burned. And all you’ve got to do is leave it where it is, and put the factory overhead. Look at the work you save, Anne! Look how easy and simple it is.

“And nobody ever thought of it before. But I’ve thought of it now, Anne. And I’m going to do it, no matter what anybody says—or how hard I have to work—or how long it takes. I’m going to do it because it’s a big idea—and nobody else thought of it, only me!”


It was some minutes before Jimmy’s excitement had abated enough for him to tell Anne his plan; or indeed to be able to formulate in his own mind just what this wonderful new idea that had so suddenly come to him would mean. He could understand now how James Watt must have felt as he planned the first steam-engine—a sort of exaltation which Jimmy could feel now in his own heart plainly.

The idea had come to him abruptly, almost full-born, as Jimmy had read such big ideas often do come. He had seized upon it at once with the feeling that it was his big idea, believing in it blindly, without stopping to reason it out.

Now with Anne sitting adoringly beside him, imploring him to explain it to her, he felt suddenly self-conscious and embarrassed. The real reason was that he had no knowledge of the subject, no technical information upon which to base an opinion of whether the idea was feasible or not.

But Jimmy did not know that. He only knew, now that he thought it over, that what he had already said was almost all he could say—all that was in his mind, in fact.

“Tell me about it, Jimmy,” Anne entreated. “How would it work?” Anne looked up to Jimmy as to a vastly superior intellect. But she had herself an acquisitive mind—untrained, immature, but naturally keenly alert. Now that the first thrill of Jimmy’s announcement had passed, she was interested in the subject not only because of Jimmy, but because of the idea itself. And so, just a little with the air of one who demanded to be convinced, Anne wanted to know how it would work.

“Why—why, you see, Anne, it’s like this,” Jimmy explained. “The way they do it now is to mine the coal—and you know all the expense and time and hell that is—then when it is mined it has to be shipped away hundreds of miles to the factories to be used. Now, if you don’t do any of that, but just burn it in the ground where it is, you save all that. Don’t you see?”

“There ain’t any factories over coalmines,” said Anne.

“No, but there could be just as easy as not. It don’t make so much difference where a factory is, so long as it’s got a railroad. That’s the idea—I’m going to build a factory where the coal is instead of taking the coal to where the factory is.”

“How you going to burn the coal in the ground?” Anne wanted to know.

Jimmy thought a moment.

“Why, just—just burn it,” he answered finally. “You see, Anne,” he hastened to add, “the heat will come up in pipes to the factory boilers at the top—just like the heat comes up.” Jimmy pointed to the smoking crevice at their feet.

“Why won’t it just get to be a big fire like this?” Anne objected. “This is burning underground—”

“It won’t.”

“Why won’t it?”

“Well, it won’t because, you see, Anne”—Jimmy was thinking fast now—“because, don’t you see, a fire can’t burn without air. I won’t give it only just so much air. This one got started and ran away with itself before they could stop it. Mine will be ’way down very deep, where there ain’t any air, only just what I pump down to it.

“If I give it lots of air, it will burn hard, and there’ll be lots of heat come up. Then if I don’t want so much heat, I won’t give it so much air. And if I shut the air all off, it’ll go out altogether. Don’t you see?”

“Yes,” said Anne, convinced. “It’s wonderful, Jimmy.” She put her hand with a sudden timidity on his shoulder.

“You’re—you’re wonderful, too, Jimmy.”

The boy kissed her abstractedly, his mind still busily groping with the flood of ideas that were surging into it. “I can control it easy, Anne, if I start it right, by the air I give it. Why, it’s just like when we have a fire here in the mine. You remember the fire started in C tunnel last fall—your father was working there. He found it when it was only in that one room. All we did was wall up that room from the main tunnel, and it went right out when it couldn’t get any air, didn’t it?”

Anne nodded.

“Besides, over in Coatesville, didn’t a whole mine get away from them a few years ago?” Jimmy continued earnestly. “The fire got to the mine-bottom before they could shut it off, and the white-damp began exploding, so they had to get out of the whole mine. All they did then was seal up the shafts at the top to shut off all the air in the whole mine. The fire went out of itself when all the air was used up.”

Again the girl nodded; his arguments seemed sound and quite unanswerable.

“Well, that’s just the way I’m going to do it. It’ll work, Anne—I know it will,” said Jimmy.

“Yes,” said Anne. “So do I, Jimmy.”

It would work. The more Jimmy thought about it, the more sure he was that it would work. For a long time he sat silent, holding Anne’s hand tightly clasped in his, planning in his mind the things he was going to do. His ideas in detail were vague, absurd almost, from a practical standpoint; but Jimmy did not realize that. They looked concise enough to him.

He would go to New York to live for a time while he was putting the idea over. All the big business men that he would have to see and convince were there. Jimmy had saved several hundred dollars from his earnings in the Fallon Brothers Mine during the last few years, so that lack of money offered no obstacle. Then, too, he realized with satisfaction, his mother and sister were not dependent on his wages. The large insurance that his father had scrupulously kept up, and the money that he had saved and carefully invested, had left Mrs. Rand, while not rich, at least comfortably independent. That made Jimmy think of his mother’s farm property; and the fact that it might be made to play a part in his big idea came to him at once.

“Why, Anne,” he exclaimed suddenly, “it’s all as clear as daylight to me now. You know mother’s old farm-land over near Coatesville? That’s where I’m going to put the first factory. There’s coal under it—don’t you remember they bored for it two or three years ago? Only it was so deep and the seam was so shallow nobody would work it.”

This piece of land—some two hundred acres—had been left Mrs. Rand by her father. It was poor farm-land, mostly sand, and of little value. Some three years before, a company in search of new coal measures around Coatesville had made borings; but the seam they located was not considered profitable to work, and the project which for a time had promised to make the Rand family rich had been abandoned.

But now, with his new idea, this coal could be used. There was a railroad spur very near the property, Jimmy remembered. It would be an ideal place for a factory. It was the only thing he needed to hook his plan together. Now he could talk convincingly to any big man.

Jimmy, with the optimism of youth, had a world of confidence in himself, and he saw no great obstacles in the way of what he wanted to do. A few weeks or months at the most in New York, and he would be back, with a big factory going up, and all the thousand details of a great enterprise under way. And he would have a part in it all—he would have been its originator. Then, when he was rich and famous, he and Anne would be married. He slipped his arm again about the girl’s shoulders and looked down into her sympathetic, eager little face.

“I love you, Anne,” he said.

“I love you, too, Jimmy,” she answered simply.

He waited a moment. “Yes, but—but this is different, Anne. We’ve always loved each other. But I’m a man now. And you’re a woman. Don’t you see that’s different?”

The girl met his glance squarely, and a little wave of color mounted to her cheeks; but she did not answer.

“I want to marry you, Anne. Some day—maybe soon—when I’ve put this idea over—when I amount to something. I want you for my wife—because—because I love you so much, and you love me. Will you, Anne—will you?”

The girl’s arms went up about his neck; her upturned face was tender with love; her eyes, glistening with tears of happiness, met his without a trace of coquetry.

“Yes, Jimmy, I will,” she whispered.

The New York offices of the Wentworth Glass Company occupied an entire floor of a large office-building on Broadway near Wall Street. At ten o’clock on the Tuesday morning following his momentous walk with Anne to the burning mines and the birth of his big idea, Jimmy entered the Wentworth Company’s offices. He passed through a door marked “Information,” and found himself in a little enclosure facing a low wooden railing and a girl at a telephone switchboard.

Behind her he could see a hundred other girls at typewriters, and the steady click of their machines filled the air with a low, confused hum. It seemed to Jimmy that all the business in the world was being transacted in that room at that moment. For an instant he stood appalled. Then he walked up to the switchboard and addressed the girl.

“I want to see Mr. Wentworth—Mr. Robert G. Wentworth,” he said. “He’s the president, isn’t he?”

The girl stared; then she smiled. Jimmy smiled, too—a frank, friendly smile, so ingenuous that it probably surprised the girl even more than his request.

“Have you got an appointment with Mr. Wentworth?”

Jimmy smiled again. “No,” he admitted. “But I’ve something to say to him—something important, that he’ll be glad to hear.”

“Whom do you represent?” If he had only known it, Jimmy was passing through a very critical moment in his business career.

“Why, I—why, just me.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jimmy—I mean, James Rand.”

The girl’s glance roved over his clothes appraisingly. “Where you from?”

“Menchon, Pennsylvania,” said Jimmy.

His engaging smile and the extraordinary mixture of diffidence and confidence in his manner won out. Besides, he was an extremely good-looking young man.

The telephone girl could not understand what he wanted, but she was on his side anyway.

“I’ll ask Mr. Cooper to see you. He’s the office manager,” she added confidentially.

Jimmy shook his head. “It’s too important for that,” he said positively. “I can’t tell it to anybody but Mr. Wentworth.”

The girl considered a moment. Then, with sudden decision, she made a connection and spoke a few rapid words into the telephone.

“I’m sorry,” she said as she turned back to Jimmy. “I thought maybe Mr. Wentworth’s secretary would see you.”

Jimmy looked blank. It had never occurred to him that any one he selected to tell his big idea to would be reluctant to see him. He had decided on the Wentworth Glass Company quite by accident—the name was engraved on the glassware of the big Broadway restaurant at which he had dined the evening before, and subsequent inquiries had convinced him it was just the sort of organization he wanted—and so he had planned to interview Robert G. Wentworth, its president, that morning. Yet now it seemed impossible for him to see Mr. Wentworth—the telephone girl seemed to think he was crazy to expect such a thing. And even the president’s secretary was too busy to bother with him! For an instant Jimmy felt his task hopeless.

“Can’t see you,” the telephone girl repeated.

“Wouldn’t Mr. Wentworth see me?”

“Certainly not,” said the girl, with some asperity. “You’d better see Mr. Cooper, if you can’t tell it to me. Maybe he would see you.”

“No,” said Jimmy. “It’s too important.”

“Then maybe if you’d come back tomorrow Mr. Wentworth’s secretary will see you. You might try, anyway—if it’s so important,” she added, at Jimmy’s helpless look of appeal.

“I will,” said Jimmy. “Thank you very much.”

And with sinking heart he turned from the first business interview he had ever had in his life, and went down into the busy city street below.


Jimmy went back despondently to his little boarding-house room. To him the rebuff had been a severe one. He thought about it for an hour; then he had lunch, and went haphazard, with renewed hope, to interview several other big business men whose names he procured.

But either his manner had lost some of its confidence, or else the telephone girls he almost invariably encountered were less favorably impressed with him than the girl at the Wentworth Company, for in no other instance did he even receive that much encouragement.

No one of importance in the whole great city of New York, it seemed to Jimmy then, cared to see him or to hear about his big idea. He thought about it that whole Tuesday evening, sitting alone in his little bedroom, with his fists clenched and his face flushed and serious.

Two conclusions he reached: one was that he would not tell his business to any telephone girl or clerk; and the other was that he would see somebody big, if he had to keep on trying till doomsday.

The next morning he was back at the Wentworth Company offices, smiling cheerfully at the girl he had seen the day before. And every day that week he was there, still asking for “Mr. Wentworth’s secretary, please.”

Finally one morning, still protesting that his business was important, and that he could not tell it either to her or to the suggested Mr. Cooper, Jimmy heard the first encouraging words of his whole week of waiting.

“Mr. Wentworth’s secretary will see you in a few minutes,” the telephone girl announced.

“What’s her name?”

“His name is Mr. Leffingwell Hope.”

“Thank you very much,” said Jimmy, and sat down on a little bench to wait.

In about ten minutes Mr. Leffingwell Hope appeared. He was a man about thirty, two or three inches shorter than Jimmy, and very much more slender of build. He was immaculately dressed; his hair was straight, slightly long, and neatly brushed; his face was thin, pale, and sharp-featured, with gray eyes, and a long, thin nose with a bump on its bridge, giving him a hawk-like expression. Jimmy disliked Mr. Leffingwell Hope the minute he saw him—there was about him something sinister, like a snake.

“Are you James Rand?” the secretary began.

If Jimmy Rand had disliked Mr. Hope from his appearance, he positively hated him when he heard his voice. It was one of those soft, curiously intoned, effeminate voices; Jimmy had never heard one before.

“Damned sissy,” he thought. “Yes,” he answered. He smiled—as friendly a smile as he could muster.

The secretary did not smile. He came through the little wooden gate and stood facing Jimmy, who had risen to meet him. Jimmy had decided to tell his idea to Mr. Hope; now that he saw him, he decided he wouldn’t. A sudden despairing courage made him decide at the same instant to see the president himself. It must be possible to work it some way.

“I want to see Mr. Wentworth—Mr. Robert G. Wentworth,” said Jimmy firmly.

“What do you want to see him about?”

Jimmy hesitated. “That’s what I’m going to tell him when I see him,” he said finally.

“Mr. Wentworth never sees anybody except by appointment.”

“I’m in no hurry,” Jimmy grinned cheerfully; his courage began coming back. This Mr. Leffingwell Hope, after all, didn’t seem so very formidable. “I’ll make an appointment, then.”

“If your business is important, I’ll hear it now.” The secretary turned slightly away, as though he were being unnecessarily detained from important work inside. “Tell it quick,” he added. “The young lady says you don’t represent any one. What is it?”

Jimmy’s anger flared up suddenly. He put out his hand and gripped Mr. Leffingwell Hope by the arm, turning him around until they were again face to face.

“Say, listen, you—you don’t understand.” He tried to keep the anger out of his voice; and when the secretary shook off his hold he let go promptly. “I came all the way from Menchon, Pennsylvania, to see Mr. Wentworth. And I’ve waited over a week. It’s an important thing—it’s something he will be glad to hear.”

“All right, then—tell it to me. If it’s important, I’ll ask Mr. Wentworth if he’ll see you.”

“I won’t tell it to you,” Jimmy said doggedly. “I won’t tell it to you or to anybody but him.”

“Then I guess you won’t tell it,” said Mr. Hope, and turned back toward the railing.

This time Jimmy was really angry. He took a swift step forward and again seized the secretary by the arm. “Look here, you—you’re not giving me a square deal.”

“Take your hands off me,” said Mr. Hope evenly. Evidently he was not a coward, for there was no alarm in his eyes.

Jimmy released the secretary reluctantly. “You’re not giving me a square deal. You tell Mr. Wentworth I want to see him, and see what he says.”

The secretary looked Jimmy over from head to foot. “I don’t know what your game is, young man, but I think you’re a damn fool.”

“If you didn’t think so much you’d get along better,” Jimmy retorted. “Will you tell him I’m here or won’t you?”

Instead of making Mr. Hope angry, this seemed to strike him as amusing, for he smiled. “If you’ll give me some idea of why you want to see him, and why he should take his time to see you, I’ll tell him, yes.”

A flash of inspiration came to Jimmy. “You tell him I know a way to make glass that will only use one-quarter as much coal for fuel as he uses now. That’s important enough, isn’t it? And tell him it won’t take me five minutes to explain it, either.”

Mr. Leffingwell Hope looked at Jimmy as if he thought the visitor was insane. Then he smiled again his nasty smile. “All right,” he said. “If he’s not too busy I’ll tell him exactly what you say. And I don’t think he’ll be interested in the least.”

“I don’t care what you think, so long as you tell him,” said Jimmy; and he sat down on the bench again to wait as the secretary departed.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope revolved this extraordinary interview in his mind as he went back to see his employer. A great curiosity consumed him to know what it was this remarkable youth from the country had to say, so that he almost hoped Mr. Wentworth would see his unknown visitor.

As luck would have it for Jimmy, the president of the Wentworth Glass Company was not in the least busy at that particular moment. As a matter of fact, he was waiting for an expected visit from his daughter. It did not promise to be particularly pleasant, for she had just telephoned him she was coming down to get a check he had only that morning at breakfast told her she could not have.

All of which had made the company’s chief executive decide that he would do no business that morning, for in his present perturbed state of mind whatever business decisions he made probably would be ill-advised. So when his secretary appeared with this unique tale of an unknown youth who promised to tell him in five minutes how to revolutionize completely his business, Mr. Wentworth welcomed the diversion. He smiled quizzically, and directed Mr. Leffingwell Hope to show the young man in at once.

“Mr. Wentworth will see you now,” said the secretary sourly, reappearing at the little wooden gate.

“Thank you very much,” said Jimmy, rising with alacrity. He grinned at Mr. Hope, but without a trace of triumph.

The secretary said nothing more, but led Jimmy past endless rows of stenographers, down a long corridor, through two or three small semiprivate offices, until at last they reached the very innermost private office of the president himself.

With his hat clutched tightly in his hand and his heart beating so it seemed about to smother him, Jimmy suddenly found himself facing a large, flat-topped mahogany desk that stood in the center of the huge office into which Mr. Hope had ushered him.

At the desk sat a gray-haired, slightly stout gentleman of about sixty. His mustache was very long and almost snow-white. His skin was clear and ruddy, and his eyes that smiled at Jimmy as he entered were very kindly. Jimmy liked him at once, but he was afraid of him just the same.

“This is the young man who wants to see you. He says his name is Rand,” said Mr. Leffingwell Hope.

“Sit down, Mr. Rand.” The president indicated a chair. “What can I do for you?”

Jimmy sat down. He expected Mr. Hope to take his departure, but instead of leaving, the secretary went to a filing-cabinet and busied himself at one of its drawers. Jimmy wondered if he dared ask him to leave the room, and then decided he had better not. After all, he had wanted to see this big business man, and here he was in his private office, and Mr. Wentworth was waiting for him to begin telling his big idea. He cleared his throat nervously. How would he begin? What was the best thing to say first?

“You were fortunate, Mr. Rand,” the president’s quiet voice interrupted his reverie. “I’m not busy just at this moment. But I will be shortly.”

Jimmy noticed that there was nothing on Mr. Wentworth’s desk except ink-well, pens, and blotter; not the slightest sign of any big business to be attended to—and yet he knew Mr. Wentworth was the biggest, most important man in the business world he had ever seen in his life. He could not understand this fact; later he found out that the higher up an executive is, the less he allows to accumulate on his desk and the more leisure time he seems to have.

“What is your business, Mr. Rand?” The president seemed slightly surprised at his visitor’s continued silence.

Jimmy drew a long breath. He felt infinitely small, insignificant. The luxurious office seemed suddenly very vast, with great empty spaces all around. He trembled at the thought of hearing his own voice in it. But he knew he must speak—must say something. This was his big chance. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak the words that trembled on his lips the door of the office opened unceremoniously and a young lady swept into the room.

She was a girl about Jimmy’s own age—a very pretty girl with blond hair, and blue eyes. She was more expensively dressed than Jimmy had ever seen a girl dressed before—except on the stage, perhaps—in big, flowing furs, a soft, sweeping, broad-brimmed hat, and with a huge bunch of violets at her waist. She carried herself with the air of a princess; and Jimmy felt suddenly abashed at being in her presence.

As she came in the young lady nodded briefly to Mr. Hope, who smiled at her easily yet with considerable deference. The president greeted her with a little frown of annoyance.

“I’m busy now, Estelle,” he said mildly, rising from his chair to face her. Jimmy stood up also, which he felt somehow was the right thing to do.

The young lady evidently had no intention of withdrawing. She looked Jimmy up and down from head to foot calmly, and then said to her father:

“Very well. Ill wait for you.” Then she turned away, and, drawing up a little chair near the filing-cabinet, entered into a low-toned conversation with Mr. Hope.

The president sighed hopelessly. For one brief instant he seemed undecided. Then he frowned.

“I— Tell your business to my secretary,” he said abruptly to Jimmy, waving his hand in dismissal. “He’ll take care of it for you. Oh, Mr. Hope—if you please. Will you see this young man in your office? Thank you. Good day, Mr. Rand.”

Jimmy stood stock-still. He could feel himself flushing. A sudden hot resentment toward this girl—this intruder—possessed him—that she should have come into the room, at this of all times, just when he had been given his big chance. And now she had spoiled it all!

“This way, Mr. Rand”—the secretary was standing by his side—“I’ll see you now.”

Jimmy nodded confusedly. Mr. Wentworth inclined his head also, and then turned aside to speak to his daughter. And Jimmy, not having spoken a word since he entered the president’s office, turned and followed Mr. Leffingwell Hope through the opened door.

The private office of Mr. Wentworth’s secretary, into which Jimmy was now ushered, was a smaller and only slightly less magnificent replica of that of the president himself.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope took a seat at his desk, and motioned Jimmy to sit down also.

“Mr. Wentworth is always very busy,” he began, in his soft, unpleasant tones. “What is it you have to say?”

Jimmy, in spite of his continued resentment at the way he had been treated, and his increasing awe of Mr. Leffingwell Hope, was thinking fast. He had decided before that he would not tell his plan to Mr. Hope. But if he did not, probably he would never be able to tell it to any one—in this company, anyway. And the other companies he had been to had treated him even more coldly.

If he did tell it to Mr. Hope, now while he had the opportunity, the secretary undoubtedly would explain it to Mr. Wentworth. And the president would be interested, of course, and then later on, he could see him again about it.

Jimmy resolutely put aside his dislike and distrust of Mr. Hope and took the plunge.

“It’s about the coal you burn in your factories for fuel, Mr. Hope,” he began. And then after a brief pause, he went on with a rush:

“I’ve been a coal miner all my life, and I’ve been thinking a lot about coal. The coal you use in your glass factories has to be mined and hauled from the mine to you. That’s what makes it cost you so much. I—I know you burn a lot of it, and this year especially, with all the labor trouble and the shortage, it is getting to be awful expensive. And—and I’ve been thinking—why couldn’t the coal be burned in the ground right where it is, and put the factory there—instead of mining it? The heat would come up from below, you know.”

Jimmy paused, a little out of breath. It wasn’t exactly what he had wanted to say; somehow it didn’t seem to sound quite as forceful as he had thought it would.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope raised his eyebrows. “Perhaps you’d better say that over again,” he suggested. “I’m afraid I don’t understand you.”

“Why, I—you see, Mr. Hope, my idea is to build a factory over some coal deposit, and then, instead of mining the coal, just burn it in the ground, and pipe the heat up to the factory boilers.”

Once Jimmy got started he found it easier. Mr. Hope listened casually—impatiently, Jimmy thought. But he did not notice the gleam of interest in the secretary’s eyes so at variance with his disinterested, almost sarcastic manner. Finally Mr. Hope interrupted him.

“Your idea is ingenious, young man, and certainly it is novel.” He laughed. “I don’t mind saying, even if it were feasible, it perhaps would be a good thing for us.”

Jimmy flushed at the secretary’s sneering tone. “You—you don’t think the idea’s any good, do you?” he asked aggressively.

Mr. Hope’s manner suddenly changed.

“You say you propose to burn this coal in the ground just where it lies?”

“Yes, sir.” Jimmy hated himself for the impulse that made him answer so deferentially.

“How would you control the fire?”

Jimmy told him in detail as well as he could how he would supply the air necessary to combustion. Mr. Hope smiled his nasty smile. But with a wave of his hand to dismiss the subject he said:

“Grant that. How far from the flames you will produce underground will the furnaces of the factory be?”

Jimmy thought a moment. “Why, maybe five hundred or a thousand feet.”

“And you propose to transport the heat that distance and then apply it to crucibles for the fusion of glass?”

“Yes, sir,” Jimmy answered promptly, although he had only a vague idea what Mr. Hope meant by these technicalities.

“What temperature do you suppose you could attain?”

“Why, I—I don’t know,” said Jimmy.

“Could you get a temperature of say sixteen hundred degrees centigrade?”

“I—I—” Jimmy suddenly remembered how he had once boiled eggs over a hole of the burning mines. “What’s the temperature of boiling water?” he asked abruptly.

Jimmy was holding his own, not by his ability to argue, but by his astounding ingenuousness. The secretary gasped a little at such a question coming at such a time.

“One hundred degrees centigrade,” he managed to reply.

One hundred degrees! And Mr. Hope had mentioned casually a temperature sixteen times as great! Jimmy’s heart sank as he realized how impossible it was. He realized, too, how little he knew about the whole proposition, for the secretary had recovered from his surprise and was saying quietly:

“You asked me if I thought your idea was any good. I do not.”

“But you’ll tell it to Mr. Wentworth?” Jimmy put in quickly.

“Yes, I’ll tell it to Mr. Wentworth—and let you know.” Mr. Hope rose to terminate the interview.

Jimmy rose also. He realized now fully for the first time that there were a thousand things about the plan that he had never even thought of, much less understood. Mr. Hope would explain the idea to the president, of course, but the way he would tell it made Jimmy feel that Mr. Wentworth wouldn’t think any more of it than his secretary did.

Jimmy’s confidence in himself and in the idea was unshaken. But he saw clearly that it would take a long time to get it into shape—for him to understand it, anyway—and he wouldn’t want any one else to go ahead with it unless he did understand it.

Jimmy saw also that he would have to know a good deal about the business of whatever company it was he was going to try and make adopt the idea. There was no use going to any other company—the Wentworth was as good as he could find. And all this time, while he was learning all these things, he would have to live.

The idea occurred to him then that perhaps he could get a job right here in this very organization. Then he could learn the glass business, and work out his idea at night. And when he was all ready and had all his facts down pat he could tackle Mr. Hope and Mr. Wentworth again. He could never find anybody better than Mr. Wentworth, he was sure of that.

All this flashed through Jimmy’s mind in an instant. Mr. Hope was holding out his hand.

“Good day, Mr. Rand. Thank you for coming in.”

Jimmy shook hands. “Mr. Hope, can I have a job with your company?” he asked abruptly.

The secretary seemed very much taken aback by the directness of this unexpected, but simple request. He hesitated; then with a curious smile on his lips, seemed to reach a sudden decision.

“What can you do? Do you know anything about the glass business?”

“Why, I—why no, I don’t,” Jimmy stammered. “I don’t know anything about any kind of business. But I can learn,” he added hopefully. “I can learn anything.”

Mr. Hope met his earnest eyes steadily. “You see Mr. Cooper as you go out—he’s the man about that. Tell him you have seen Mr. Wentworth and me this morning. Tell him I said to fix you up if he can.”

The secretary’s words surprised Jimmy greatly. Mr. Leffingwell Hope was not such a bad sort after all!

“Yes, sir. And—and thank you very much,” said Jimmy.


Mr. Leffingwell Hope concluded his interview with Jimmy in a state of mental excitement of which his calm, imperturbable demeanor gave no sign. His keen mind had seen at once the possibilities in Jimmy’s crude idea.

Mr. Hope was not a technical man. But he understood, infinitely more clearly than Jimmy possibly could, what this plan would accomplish for the Wentworth Company, assuming it would work out. Mr. Hope had imagination. He saw the technical difficulties standing in the way—some of them he had pointed out to Jimmy. But he knew, also, that probably the idea, thus crudely conceived, could be developed by some one having the necessary technical knowledge.

After Jimmy left, Mr. Hope sat alone at his desk for fully half an hour, turning these thoughts over and over in his mind. Whoever broached this plan to the Wentworth Company and proved it successful would make a fortune. A fortune in a year or two! More than he could make the way he was going in ten times that long! He could marry Estelle, then; with the money, and the prestige such accomplishment would give him, that would be easy!

Only this youth from the country standing between him and a fortune and a marriage with Estelle. And what did this boy have—nothing but an idea. And now he had the idea, too—he could develop it—put it forth as his own when the proper time came.

He would have to deal with this boy—that would be easy. Mr. Leffingwell Hope smiled his thin smile as he mused on how easy that would be. That was a clever stroke, too—helping him get a job right here in the company. He could keep his eye on him better that way—and then, when the proper time came, have him fired out of the organization.

Simplicity itself! Also, what a perfect alibi! Suppose anything did leak out? Suppose the boy did make a fuss—claim the idea as his own? Would it have been likely, then, under such circumstances, that he, Leffingwell Hope, would have assisted in getting a job right here in this same company for this boy whose idea he was about to use as his own? Certainly not—a perfect alibi. And because the boy was around the offices, that could be shown to be the way he had stolen the idea from Mr. Hope.

The thing was perfect—it couldn’t fail. All he needed now was some technical dope. Merkle would be the man. He would see Merkle. Shifty little man, but he could handle him.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope felt very pleased with himself when his meditations reached this point. He tossed his empty cigarette box into the waste-basket and went in to see Mr. Wentworth.

“About that boy who was in here just now,” he began casually, finding the president disengaged at the moment. “I thought you might be amused. A crazy, wild idea. It seems his mother or somebody owns some land up in Alberta. Somebody else struck natural gas ten or twenty miles away. He seemed to think we’d be anxious to drill on his mother’s place and put a factory there if we were lucky enough to bring in a well. Something like that, anyway—he talked so wild I couldn’t follow him exactly.”

The president smiled. “Why didn’t you tell him about the McKeesport gas wells—that’s a little nearer home. They’re bringing one in every day down there.”

“I promised him I’d tell you what he said, so I’m doing it, but you know—” Mr. Hope waved his hand vaguely.

“Earnest-looking boy,” said Mr. Wentworth. “Tell him I’m sorry—not interested.”

Isaac Merkle was a consulting chemist who did a considerable amount of work for the Wentworth Glass Company. He lived and worked in a six-room flat on the top floor of a tenement house in that somewhat unsalubrious section of New York known as Hell’s Kitchen. His laboratory consisted of one large room that had been formed by knocking down the partitions of three smaller rooms; it was in the other three rooms that Mr. Merkle, who was a bachelor, lived alone.

The laboratory was a long, bare room, with a skylight. It was furnished with two long wooden tables, littered with chemical apparatus, several small chairs, and a wooden table. There was a large soapstone sink over at one side, and a long, low shelf down one wall, with a row of villainous-looking bottles upon it.

To this laboratory, by appointment, came Mr. Leffingwell Hope that very same evening. Mr. Merkle, as agreed, was quite alone when the secretary arrived. The chemist was a fat, middle-aged little man, with a round, very red, smooth-shaven face, an over-large nose, and mouse-colored hair with a bald spot on top.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope, seating himself uncomfortably on one of the little wooden chairs, was at some trouble just how to begin the business that had brought him.

“Ike,” he said finally, “I’ve got an idea that might, if it is any good, make us a lot of money.” He hesitated; and then, feeling that frankness would be his best policy, went on:

“I’m going to tell you all about it—everything I know. I want your advice in the first place, and then, if the idea’s any good—which maybe it’s not—we’ll go in it together—share and share alike, no matter what we have to do to pull it through. That O. K.?”

“The way you talk it’s crook stuff,” said Mr. Merkle. “You couldn’t scare me if it’s to be made real money. Shoot.”

“It isn’t crooked,” the secretary hastened to assure him. “But it’s a matter requiring, for the present, absolute secrecy.”

“Shoot,” said Mr. Merkle again.

The secretary hesitated. He didn’t exactly trust Mr. Merkle. He realized that he had nothing but an idea to tell. If the idea was worth anything at all it was a big thing. He thought it best to set this forth frankly to his friend at the outset.

“To hell with that argument,” said Mr. Merkle, interrupting him, though without sign of resentment. “I ain’t never double-crossed a friend yet. If you couldn’t believe it shut up before you start.”

Feeling that he had to be satisfied with that, the secretary went ahead and recounted briefly the whole story of Jimmy’s idea. Only he did not mention Jimmy—but set it forth as his own.

The chemist listened attentively, with his eyes fixed on his companion’s feet.

“Well, go on, Ike, what about it?” said the secretary impatiently, after a moment. “I’ve been thinking about it quite a while. Is it any good?”

“You could do it,” said Mr. Merkle with deliberation.

“How?” The secretary’s eyes sparkled, but without waiting for his question to be answered he went on to name all the objections he had pointed out to Jimmy.

“You ask me could it be done and right away you tell me why you couldn’t do it,” said Mr. Merkle.

“Well, all right, then. How?”

“All what you say about piping up heat is bunk,” the chemist declared. “You couldn’t make a fire four hundred feet in the ground and melt glass with it so far away. Bunk. But listen, Leff, here is it what you could do—in the ground you start a fire—”

“How could you control it?”

“Like you said—with air. That part, it’s all right. But the heat you don’t pipe up—that’s bunk. You pipe up the gases from the coal—the products of combustion that are only part used, and you burn them in the regenerator furnace. Maybe you could get very good producer gas. How could I tell till I work it out? Maybe producer gas forty-five per cent combustible—how could I tell?”

The chemist here plunged into a long dissertation of an exceedingly technical nature, which Mr. Leffingwell Hope, even though he had some knowledge of the types of furnaces used by the Wentworth Company, followed with difficulty. But the gist of it was, he gathered, that in all probability the idea could be worked out to a practical conclusion. And as Mr. Merkle, finished, waxing enthusiastic as he developed his thoughts by voicing them: “He was just the baby to work it out, if there was enough money in it for him.”

“That’s where I come in,” said the secretary. “I’ve doped out the idea—now you work it out. I’ll see we get the money—we’ll split it fifty-fifty!”

“You could consider it done. Have you told it to the boss?”

“No, certainly not. I want it in good shape first. That’s why I told you it was a matter demanding secrecy. I haven’t told it to any one—only you.” Mr. Hope thought a moment. “How about some other company than this one—would that be better, do you think?”

The chemist considered. “What it saves is only part of the cost of coal,” he said finally. “It ain’t that every factory what you tell it to right away breaks its neck to move to where the coal is.”

“But it’s particularly good for the Wentworth Company, you mean?”

“For them when they use so much fuel, and because, don’t you know about the new plant what they expect to put up next year? For them it would be a good thing.”

Mr. Merkle referred to the fact that the Wentworth Company was considering the building of another factory for the making of optical glass. For some months they had been looking for a good location, one preferably where they could use natural gas for fuel.

“I know,” said Mr. Hope. “These new ‘gas babies’ at McKeesport got Mr. Wentworth interested last winter. But I heard him say he had about given up that locality as a possibility.”

Merkle nodded. “Your idea beats that,” he said definitely. “You could pick up a coal property cheap—where the coal was so deep you couldn’t mine it with profit.”

“Then we’ll put it through with Wentworth,” Mr. Hope announced with finality. “You work it out—how long will it take?”

“A month or two. Maybe more. You know it, Leff, I’m busy now.”

“You rush it through. I’ll do the rest. Let me know how you get on. And keep your mouth shut.”

“You could count on me,” said Mr. Merkle.

It was a big thing! All the way home that evening, the secretary’s heart beat fast at the thought of how big it was. A fortune in his grasp at last! A fortune that would give him Estelle! And no one to divide the money with except Merkle, and probably he could think of some way of getting rid of him at the last. A fortune for himself! Riches—the greatest thing in the world!


Jimmy got his job. He wouldn’t have, probably, except for the fact that his message from Mr. Hope enabled him to get an interview with Mr. Cooper, during the course of which Jimmy convinced the office manager that he was an extremely intelligent and likable young man. Since he had no business experience whatever, all Mr. Cooper could think of to give him was a sort of glorified office-boy job, at a salary of fourteen dollars a week.

Jimmy didn’t keep that job very long. Within a month he convinced the office manager that he could dictate business letters, and that his judgment on things he understood could be trusted. Also, Jimmy had made it clear by his attitude during that month that he never would tackle anything that he did not understand thoroughly; his encounter with Mr. Hope had impressed the importance of that on his mind for all time.

So Jimmy was given a desk and a dictating machine, and a steady stream of letters, comparatively unimportant letters at first, was diverted in his direction.

All that summer Jimmy worked very hard. He entered a night school where three evenings a week he studied with a view to getting “dope” on his big idea. He found this study helpful to him in general, but not very useful in giving him specific information on how to burn coal underground, especially since he was determined not to broach the subject directly to any one.

When he had been with the company about a week, Jimmy approached Mr. Hope in the office and thanked him for the job.

“All right,” said the secretary, and smiled. “I’m glad you like it.”

Jimmy felt then that his first impression of Mr. Hope had been quite a wrong one.

“I do,” he answered earnestly. “Thank you very much—did you see Mr. Wentworth yet about that—that idea of mine?”

Mr. Hope looked him steadily in the eyes. “Yes. He said to tell you he’s not interested. Sorry.”

This was hardly a blow to Jimmy, for he had expected as much. But next time he broached the subject—it would be different, then!

“Take my advice, young man,” the secretary went on, “get that foolish stuff out of your head. Stick to your job—you’ll get along—you look as though you had brains.”

“Thanks,” said Jimmy. He tried to avoid sarcasm, “I will.”

Mr. Hope nodded and left him.

That summer was a hard one for Jimmy. Even though he had an all-absorbing idea to fill his thoughts, the utter loneliness of his life was hard to bear. He worked all day at the office. Three evenings a week he spent at the night school; and the others he wandered aimlessly about, going to the movies often and to a play occasionally, and always alone.

At the office Jimmy made many business friends. Every one liked him; his ready smile and his ingenuous manner made friends easily. Jimmy’s work took him constantly into many different departments of the organization, and in each of them he soon found opportunity to learn what there was to know about that particular branch of the work. His system, as he developed it in his mind, was not only to learn about his own job, but about the jobs of as many others as he possibly could.

It wasn’t so very hard to do either, as he soon found out. There was no particular mystery about business, as he had always supposed, and among the clerks and under officials with whom he was working during this period, the competition, so far as brains was concerned, was not alarming.

Jimmy was not the least inclined to be conceited, but there were at least twenty young men in the company that he told himself he had “skinned to death for brains.”

It was just after his second visit home, and when he had been with the Wentworth Company about three months, that he first made friends with George Cooper outside of the office.

The office manager was a lanky chap of thirty-one. He was smooth-shaven, with big, rough-hewn features, piercing blue eyes, and sparse, sandy hair. His voice had a deep, booming quality, and, around the office, a vigorous note of authority that commanded respect.

But at the theater, where he and Jimmy went that first evening, he was very different—a modest, unassuming, laughing boy, years younger than he appeared during business hours. The change surprised Jimmy tremendously. He immediately lost the awe he had always unconsciously felt for his business superior, without losing any of the respect or admiration; and in consequence felt his own importance and confidence in himself enhanced.

This friendship of Jimmy and George Cooper grew rapidly; until finally, one evening in September, Jimmy felt he could no longer keep his great secret to himself. So he told his friend all about it, and just what Mr. Hope had said.

The office manager was enthusiastic. He knew no more than Jimmy about the feasibility of the plan itself—and Jimmy up to this time had learned very little—but he realized more than Jimmy possibly could how beneficial to the company it would be if it worked. Also, Mr. Cooper had a better idea of how to go about finding out the things Jimmy wanted to know than he had.

So they planned to “dope it out” together, and immediately started spending two evenings a week at the public library looking it up. After which, by Christmas at least, the office manager proposed taking Jimmy to one of the company’s technical men.

“I been thinking, George,” said Jimmy one evening, when they had been working on his idea about a month. “I told Mr. Hope all about this plan of ours that first day. He’s never said a word about it since, except to tell me Mr. Wentworth said it was rotten. It worries me sometimes to think he’s in the secret. I used to think I liked him. But I don’t. I’m afraid of him, somehow. Do you like him?”

“No, I don’t,” said Mr. Cooper decidedly.

“I’ve been wondering,” Jimmy went on, “suppose he wanted to use the idea for his own. It’s good—we know that now. And anybody who knows about it could use it. That’s what worries me—to think Hope knows all about it, too.”

The office manager deliberated on this.

“What could he do if he wanted to?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know; what could he?”

“Nothing that I know of. He told the boss about it—the boss knows it’s your idea. You can trust R. G., Jimmy; he’s as square as they come.”

“I believe you,” said Jimmy. “But just the same—”

“Just the same, Hope will bear watching. You’re right on that. I’ll watch him. But I don’t see what he could do. Probably he’s forgotten all about it by now.”

“I hope so,” said Jimmy fervently.

With the office manager to help him, Jimmy progressed rapidly with his big idea.

It hadn’t taken them more than a few days to discover that the scheme of piping up heat from a fire in the ground was impractical. Then, when they came to study the company’s furnaces, about which Mr. Cooper, being entirely an office man, was almost as ignorant as Jimmy, they found that it was the unconsumed coal gases that could be piped up, not the actual heat—a conclusion that to Isaac Merkle had been immediately obvious.

At this point in their investigations they were jubilant, for they realized that the idea was feasible. Mr. Cooper was for an immediate consultation with one of the technical men of the company, but Jimmy absolutely refused. There were too many who knew about it already. Something might happen. And so the office manager had to give up that plan, and they went ahead, studying the thing out alone.

“I’d rather it took longer,” said Jimmy. “When we get it ready ourselves we’ll put it up to Mr. Wentworth. After that, we can talk to everybody all we want.”

It was just after this—early in November—that Jimmy met Estelle Wentworth socially. And the way it came about was this:

Estelle Wentworth was typically a daughter of the rich, aptly described by that familiar alliteration: pretty, proud and petulant. In all her twenty-one years she had been cared for with that care that only a misguided, adoring mother, a father weak enough to desire peace above all else, and the character-enervating luxuries that unlimited money can give.

Estelle was neither weak, nor vicious. She was only normal—and with her environment and upbringing was just what one would have expected her to be. Her one creed, at the age of twenty-one, was to have a good time. This, somehow, she found increasingly difficult. All the usual forms of pleasure desired by young girls, were freely hers. Dances, parties, the theater and opera, were all lavished upon her.

For a time they sufficed; and yet, because she was a normal girl, no finer or less fine than thousands of others of her race, inevitably the time came when she found herself desiring something more.

Affairs of the heart, which usually play so large a part in feminine adolescence, had never seriously touched Estelle. That, too, was the inevitable result of her environment. Young men admired her, adored her, and plied her with attentions. But Estelle felt herself in some way above them all. She accepted their adulation amusedly, just a little as a princess of the middle ages might have accepted the adulation of her courtiers—or laughed at the antics of her favorite jester—but nothing more.

Perhaps Estelle had no capacity for love; or perhaps, because of what civilization had made her, those men of deeper feelings knew that she had nothing to offer them—and so went their way.

Estelle was mildly interested when she first saw Jimmy that morning in her father’s office. He was a new type to her, so obviously different from any man she had ever met. She had no thought of ever meeting him socially; indeed, the idea then would have filled her with indignation. But the sturdy manliness of him attracted her in spite of herself.

She liked Mr. Leffingwell Hope—better, perhaps, than most of the young men of her acquaintance, for the secretary, seeing in her a practical and easy route for his own self-advancement, had for nearly a year been making himself as charming as possible; but she could not help comparing him to Jimmy.

They were as different as two individuals of the same sex could well be, and although Estelle did not know it, Jimmy did not suffer by the comparison.

Estelle was mildly interested in Jimmy from the moment she first saw him. There was no sentiment in her thoughts of him, merely curiosity. She remembered, too, when he had first seen her, the look of awe that had come to his face. And later she had seen plainly his resentment at her presence in the office. Resentment from a young man was something new to Estelle. It did not make her angry; it piqued her, and she could not forget it.

When Jimmy had been with the company about two weeks Estelle came to the office again, and saw him there. Later she learned from George Cooper how he happened to be there, and what he was doing.

She felt a little ashamed of herself at the sudden realization that she was interested in one of her father’s office boys, and decided to forget all about him. Soon after that she went to the seashore with her mother for the summer.

When she returned to the city in the fall the very first time she went to the office she passed Jimmy in the corridor. The change in his appearance was startling. His hair was no longer close-cropped high over his ears. His clothes were those of the city; his whole bearing had changed. Nothing could make Jimmy look in the least foppish. He was still rugged and manly looking, but, Estelle thought, no longer uncouth.

As he passed her he smiled an answer to her nod of recognition. There was no resentment in his smile, but neither was there admiration for her, nor awe. It was just a calm, impersonal smile as though he had already forgotten her existence as soon as he passed.

This piqued Estelle still more—and made her vaguely angry. She sought out George Cooper at his desk.

“I just passed that young man—Mr. Rand, isn’t that his name?—in the corridor,” Estelle began, after they had exchanged a few remarks. “How is he getting on?”

Mr. Cooper was a little surprised at her question, but he did not show it. “He’s getting along fine, Estelle,” he replied with enthusiasm. “Have you met him—I didn’t know that.”

“No,” said Estelle carelessly. “He was in father’s office one morning—I thought he looked interesting. Why?”

“He’s a dandy chap. Not a city boy at all—used to be a coal miner. We’ve been out together a good deal—Marion likes him tremendously.” (Marion was George Cooper’s sister.)

“Oh,” said Estelle. Then, after a moment—“He was going to tell father about some plan he had. Father told me it was some foolish idea. What ever happened to it?”

The office manager hesitated. He rather liked Estelle. She was a silly, vain little thing, but he liked her—perhaps partly became his sister seemed to be her only real girl friend.

“Can you keep a secret, Estelle?”

The girl nodded.

“Honest?” Mr. Cooper’s manner was as boyish with her as it was stern and authoritative toward his office employees.


“He and I have been working on it together, and—it’s going through!” said the office manager impressively.

“What does father say?” Estelle was thrilled more by the solemnity of Mr. Cooper’s manner than by his words, for she had no idea what it was Jimmy proposed doing.

“That’s why it’s a secret, Estelle. We haven’t put it up to him yet. But we’ve got it all ready—as near as we can without having broached it to any one in the company. And we’re going to spring it in a day or two.”

The office manager was already sorry he had told the girl this much, and he hastened to add:

“You’ll be careful not to mention it, won’t you, Estelle? Not to any one. It wouldn’t be very nice to have it get to your father before we tell it to him ourselves.”

Estelle frowned. “I told you I wouldn’t say anything. I’m not a child.”

“Don’t,” said Mr. Cooper briefly; and then changing suddenly, gaily asked her when she was going to let him take her to the theater again.

“Next Tuesday or Wednesday, if you like,” she replied. Then, as another thought came to her, she added slowly: “Tomorrow’s our night at the Metropolitan. Father said I could have all six seats. I thought, perhaps, you and Marion would like to go with me?”

“Fine,” agreed Mr. Cooper cordially.

Estelle hesitated. “And if you say Marion likes this Mr. Rand, it might be all right to take him, too. He would probably enjoy it.”

The unconscious patronage in her tone was not lost on Mr. Cooper. “I’ll ask him if you want me to,” he said with a smile. “He would enjoy going, I’m sure.”

“And I’ll ask two others,” said Estelle.

“It’s ‘La Bohéme’ tomorrow night—it ought to be good.”


Mr. Leffingwell Hope, passing down the corridor this same Friday morning, saw Mr. Cooper escorting the president’s daughter to the elevator. It so happened that Jimmy, with a sheaf of papers in his hand, came through a near-by door at the same moment.

The office manager, with a heartiness of manner that surprised Mr. Hope greatly, introduced Jimmy to the girl. The secretary was too far away to hear what was said, but the friendliness of the girl’s greeting was only too apparent. Mr. Hope turned abruptly and reentered the main office.

With this visual evidence of the firm standing in the company that Jimmy Rand had reached, Mr. Leffingwell Hope cursed himself for a fool. He should never have let that boy get a job with them in the first place. It had seemed all right then; he had never supposed that a kid like that from the country would last in business. And his having been around the office would have been a good alibi.

Mr. Hope had always been convinced that something would turn up to eliminate him—he would prove inefficient and be fired or something. But that was just what Jimmy had not done—or been. On the contrary, he had made good. He was still answering correspondence—but it was the more important things that were given him now. And he had a way of poking his head into every department of the organization. Even Mr. Hope had noticed that.

In late September Jimmy had been able to arrange a trip to one of the company’s near-by factories, which was something Mr. Hope did not learn until afterward. And he never knew that the real reason why Jimmy went was so he could investigate the conditions under which glass was made and apply them to some of the theories he and George Cooper had worked out.

The secretary was furious with himself for having allowed things to go along this way. For some six months now he had been waiting for Merkle to get the idea into shape. He had his own plans perfected—had purchased with his own money a very likely coal property near Scranton which he proposed to sell, at an enormous profit, to the Wentworth Company.

Mr. Hope had never told Merkle about that. As a matter of fact the secretary was just getting ready to show Merkle that he didn’t figure in the scheme as largely as he thought he did. But first Mr. Hope wanted to be sure the chemist had finished his investigations.

Now with the realization that Jimmy Rand, the originator of the idea, was, instead of being fired, apparently in a fair way of obtaining a most unlooked-for prestige with the company, Mr. Leffingwell Hope cursed himself for a fool. Whatever he was going to do must be done quickly. He would tell the idea as his own to the president at once; after that, just let them try to prove he hadn’t originated it!

That same evening Mr. Leffingwell Hope called on the chemist in his laboratory. Mr. Merkle, it appeared, was quite ready to go to the president at any time Mr. Hope desired. He was indignant at the secretary’s implication that he had been laying down on the job.

“Any time you could ask me now, I go to R. G. and show him absolutely how this plan works to save him big money. What more could I do, I ask you? I do my part—you ain’t done nothing yet that I can see.”

“I’ll do enough,” said Mr. Leffingwell Hope. “Mr. Wentworth’s away,” he added. “He’ll be back Tuesday noon. We’ll see him Tuesday afternoon sure. About two o’clock. You’ll be there?”

“Positively I’ll be there—two o’clock,” the chemist agreed.

Mr. Hope hesitated. The time had come to show Merkle just where he stood.

“Oh, Ike,” he began thoughtfully. “Now that we’re all ready, we might as well understand each other. As we agreed at the start, I’m to handle this thing absolutely, and I’m to give you ten per cent of all I make. Right?”

The little chemist, his lower jaw dropping in astonishment, stared blankly at Mr. Hope.

“Ten per cent of any stock they give me, or anything I make on the initial deal. That’s right, isn’t it?”

It wasn’t right, and as soon as he recovered his power of speech, Mr. Merkle said so, in the most emphatic words he could think of. Fifty-fifty was what they had agreed.

Mr. Hope, with an injured air, stated a remembrance of their first agreement that was totally at variance with what Mr. Merkle’s own memory told him were the facts. And he remained obdurate—ten per cent or nothing. Hadn’t he originated the plan? Wasn’t he prepared now to handle all the business details? If Mr. Merkle didn’t like the ten per cent he needn’t accept it; Mr. Hope would consult another technical man.

The chemist, seeing that anger got him nothing, turned to appeal. He wheedled; he cajoled; he pleaded friendship—all to no avail. Ten per cent or nothing!

Then Mr. Merkle, seeing he was beaten, suddenly capitulated. “You could make it ten per cent,” he said with a sigh. “But in writing; when you say it, with me it’s no good any more—that ain’t business.”

And Mr. Hope, smiling triumphantly, wrote it out in due form.

Estelle’s opera party that next evening was a great success. Jimmy found himself, to his great surprise, liking Estelle. She was different from any girl he had ever met. She made him feel small and inadequate, somehow, and he knew he would never quite lose the awe she inspired in him. But he liked her.

Estelle, on her part, liked Jimmy, mostly because it enhanced her own self-importance to feel how she must appear to him. And so, on the surface at least, they got along famously.

During the opera Jimmy’s mind, in spite of, his efforts, wandered from the stage. He found himself once looking back over his shoulder at the wonderful “horse-shoe” over his head—that long, curving line of boxes where the most brilliant ladies of the world’s greatest city were sitting now. In the dim light he could see the little spots of color that marked them. The great, crowded auditorium awed him a little; and he felt, too, a curious exaltation that he should be there—Jimmy Rand, of the Fallon Brothers Mine, a part of all this splendor.

He wished Anne could be with him, or could see him there, in his black evening clothes sitting between these two dainty girls. It seemed to symbolize success to Jimmy. He was a success; he was going up the ladder—making himself into somebody. He was conscious of a vague pride in what he had achieved already, and he would have liked Anne to have seen this tangible evidence of it, so that she might be proud, too.

It never occurred to Jimmy that the sight of him at that moment would have caused Anne any pain. Her letters to him had always been so tenderly proud of his great accomplishments. She was always so interested and pleased at his accounts of the things he did.

When he had seen her the last time, hardly a month before, Jimmy had not noticed, nor would he have understood, the new, wistful look that was in her eyes when she had told him timidly that he was “growing up into a—a real gentleman.” Nor did he ever know that she cried over many of his letters before she sat down bravely to answer them.

Jimmy would have liked Anne to have seen him this night at the opera. He wrote her a glowing account of it the very next day. And little Anne replied that she was very glad, and proud of him; and in a postscript added simply: “I got the story of ‘La Bohéme’ out of the library, and I read it, and I like it very much.” The pathos of which was entirely lost to Jimmy.

In the office the following Monday morning George Cooper came to Jimmy in great excitement.

“You were right to be afraid of this guy, Hope,” he announced without preface. “I just found out—quite by accident—he’s bought himself a coal property up near Scranton.”


“Yes. I don’t know what it means, either. Maybe nothing. He’s got a right to buy himself anything he pleases, I suppose. But it looks suspicious. What does he want with it? From what I could learn, it’s just the sort of place for your plan, too. Not a going coal mine; just a farm with abandoned borings on it. It looks suspicious, doesn’t it?”

Jimmy agreed anxiously that it did. “We’d better see Mr. Wentworth right away, George.”

“He’s away,” said the office manager. “He won’t be back till Tuesday. We’ll see him Wednesday or Thursday; we’re all ready. Have you got that last analysis? Was it the same as the other?”

Jimmy nodded.

“Then we’ll see him sure next week.” Luck was with Cooper and Jimmy that morning, although they didn’t realize it then. Isaac Merkle happened to stroll past them at that moment. A sudden thought came to the office manager.

“There’s Isaac Merkle, Jimmy. He’s a chemist. Let’s put him on this. He may be able to advise us on something we’ve overlooked. It can’t hurt anything now. Wait, I’ll call him over.”

In spite of Jimmy’s protest Cooper summoned Merkle. The little chemist sat down at the desk with them, and the office manager started to tell him Jimmy’s idea. Mr. Merkle swallowed hard, with his eyes nearly popping from his head. Then he abruptly interrupted Mr. Cooper and began a series of swift questions, which threw both Jimmy and the office manager into utter confusion.

“Wait,” said Mr. Merkle, when finally George demanded an explanation. “What was it the date when Mr. Rand came here?”

The office manager consulted a little card-file on his desk. “He started work on April 18—the next day after he first came in.”

Mr. Merkle glanced at his little pocket notebook. Then without preamble or hesitation, and with direct words unusual to him, he told them all about his connection with Mr. Leffingwell Hope concerning this same idea.

“Well, I’ll be damned,” the office manager ejaculated, when he had recovered from his first astonishment.

Jimmy said nothing; but his lips were pressed very tight together; his face was very white, and both his fists were clenched. If Mr. Leffingwell Hope had chanced to pass by at that particular moment there would probably have been a considerable disturbance of the Monday morning office routine.

Mr. Merkle dwelt with minute detail upon his own innocence in the affair with Mr. Hope, as he had had no reason to suppose the idea had originated anywhere but with the secretary. He expanded also upon the dirty way in which he had been treated. He ended by pulling out his notebook again.

“I’m a methodical man, Mr. Cooper. Here is it the exact date Mr. Hope told me his scheme—April 17—the evening.”

“And you told Hope about it that same morning, didn’t you, Jimmy?”

Jimmy nodded; he was still too angry to speak.

“And Jimmy told it to me that same afternoon,” the office manager went on; he felt the circumstances justified this slight inaccuracy. “So you can see it’s a cinch where the idea originated, Mr. Merkle.”

They compared notes still further. When the chemist mentioned that he and Hope were to interview Mr. Wentworth the next afternoon as soon as he returned from out of town, the office manager went up in the air.

“And we were going to let it go till Wednesday or Thursday!” Mr. Cooper whistled as he thought of their narrow escape. For if Hope had broached the subject first and claimed the idea as his own, it might have been difficult to disprove him. How lucky they had gotten hold of Merkle this particular morning! And how lucky, too, that the chemist was sore at Hope—and that he had jotted down the date of his first conversation with the secretary about the scheme.

Mr. Cooper brought his fist down on the desk with a thump. “We’ll give this guy a run for his money. We’ll see the boss Tuesday afternoon, right when he does, dammit, and have it out then and there. The point is, Merkle, where do you stand?”

Mr. Merkle had decided that some minutes before. He was not by nature entirely averse to a crooked business deal—if it were not too crooked. But he had learned from experience that the best place to be, if you could choose, was on the winning side. And in this particular case his judgment told him very clearly which side that was.

“With you,” said Mr. Merkle succinctly. “You could count on me.”


The unpleasant scene that fate seemed preparing for Mr. Wentworth in his office that Tuesday afternoon was avoided by the president’s unexpected return on Tuesday morning. Mr. Leffingwell Hope, with his plans all carefully laid, had taken advantage of his employer’s supposed absence, and stayed away on business of his own.

These two occurrences caused an eleventh-hour change in the plans of Jimmy and the office manager. Jimmy was for avoiding trouble if it were possible.

“Why not go right ahead now, just as if Hope wasn’t in this at all?” he urged. They talked it over, and decided that would be the better way.

“He’ll have a fine chance coming along all alone after us.” Jimmy chuckled at the prospect. “Let’s do it right now, George, if we can see Mr. Wentworth.”

Mr. Wentworth would see them in half an hour. Then they hastily phoned Merkle; the chemist promised to hurry right down.

That half-hour of waiting was the hardest of Jimmy’s life. He went over, seemingly for the hundredth time, all he planned to say to Mr. Wentworth; and he chewed down all his finger-nails. It was decided Jimmy was to do most of the talking; he wanted it that way; wanted to put the idea over himself.

The half-hour seemed interminable; but it was over at last, and again Jimmy found himself in the president’s office ready to tell his big idea.

This second interview with Mr. Wentworth was as different from the first as it well could be. For one thing, the president was in a more receptive mood than he would have been before. Six months had put him just that much nearer completion of his plans regarding the new factory for the making of optical glass. The site had not yet been selected; indeed, it looked as though finding a satisfactory one would prove a difficult task.

This time, too, Jimmy knew what he was going to talk about. He had the facts—and he had the ability now to present them forcibly and intelligently. Also he had George Cooper with him; and the technical knowledge of Isaac Merkle to call upon.

So Jimmy tackled the president with an assurance that lent force to his arguments. The office manager sat with his chair tilted back against the wall. Mr. Wentworth occupied his usual seat at his desk, and Jimmy faced him across it.

Jimmy had expected to ignore Mr. Leffingwell Hope and the part he had played, but the secretary was injected into the conversation almost immediately. Jimmy began by announcing that he realized Mr. Wentworth had not been impressed with his idea when he had heard it before. Then he went ahead and outlined it briefly.

Whereupon the president, with a directness characteristic of business men of his type, immediately rang his buzzer to summon Mr. Hope.

“Is this what you told my secretary that first morning you were here, Mr. Rand?”

“Why—why yes, sir—nearly the same,” said Jimmy, surprised.

Mr. Hope’s secretary announced that he had not come in that morning. The president frowned, tapping his desk with a lead pencil thoughtfully. Mr. Cooper, scenting something wrong, spoke up quickly.

“Pardon me, chief. There’s something peculiar about this that you don’t exactly understand. We’d rather not speak of it now; Mr. Rand just wanted you to consider his plan in relation to our new factory. This other matter—about Mr. Hope—we know a good deal about that, too, but we’d rather let it go till some other time.”

“Strange, very strange,” said the president musingly.

“Mr. Hope did tell you what I wanted that day, didn’t he?” Jimmy ventured.

“He told me about your mother’s potential gas-well in—Alberta, I think it was.”

Jimmy gasped. “Why—what—why, I never—”

Again Mr. Cooper interposed.

“Chief, listen,” he began vigorously. “Here are the facts: Mr. Rand came into the company that morning to tell you what he has just told you. At your direction he told it to Mr. Hope.”

“How do you know what he told Mr. Hope?” the president snapped.

“He repeated it all to me ten minutes afterward,” declared the office manager unblushingly. “I was enthusiastic; I thought there was something in it. Then, later, when Mr. Hope reported that you were not interested, Rand and I thought we’d work it out together. That’s what we’ve done, and now he’s ready to ask your opinion of it again. That’s all we know about it.”

Mr. Cooper waved his hand to silence Jimmy, and went on swiftly:

“What Mr. Hope told you about it we don’t know. Evidently he didn’t describe it very accurately, but perhaps that was because he thought it unimportant, anyway. But Mr. Hope isn’t here now to explain his actions if you think they need explanation. And, chief, I happen to know that he’s coming in to consult you this afternoon on this very matter. That’s a fact, chief, he is. You wait and hear what he has to say, then you’ll understand it all. And Rand and I will both be here; just send for us if you want us.”

The president stared searchingly at his two employees an instant. Then abruptly he resumed his former manner of attentive listening.

“Go on with your scheme, Mr. Rand; you interest me.”

Jimmy suppressed with an effort the anger that this new proof of Mr. Hope’s duplicity had aroused in him, and resumed: “You understand, Mr. Wentworth,” he interrupted himself when he had been talking perhaps five minutes, “I’m not going to try and talk to you in technical language. I’ve only studied these engineering problems a little with George. I think I can make the thing clear in a general way, but I can’t talk technically.”

“I couldn’t understand you very well if you did,” the president observed. “That’s always been up to my technical men.”

“As I said, sir,” Jimmy went on, “the—”

“The first problem is how you propose to burn the coal,” Mr. Wentworth interrupted. “Tell me about that first.”

Jimmy explained how they would bore down to the coal measures, just as borings are made in prospecting. “This would be a small vertical shaft,” he added.

“How big in diameter?”

“About twelve or fourteen inches. Then this shaft would be lined with iron casing—”

“Like an oil-well,” Mr. Cooper interjected.

The president nodded.

“At the top of this shaft we put a fan—just like the fan-house of a coal mine, only very much smaller—to blow the air down. This is the air-shaft; parallel with that we bore another just like it.”

“How far away?” asked Mr. Wentworth.

“The distance wouldn’t make much difference—say fifty feet,” Mr. Cooper put in.

Again the president nodded.

Jimmy continued. “Then we blast a connection between the bottoms of the two shafts through the coal.”

This the president discussed at some length. “Why not put the shafts closer together?” he finally asked.

“No reason that we can see,” said Jimmy. “If they were closer it would make the connection down below easier. This second shaft is the one that brings up the gaseous products of combustion.

“We’re going to use your regular regenerative furnace, or one something like it. We can get you producer gas that is just as good as any you’re getting—from the coal we burn in the ground, if we control the air and steam right.”

Although this was clear to Mr. Wentworth, it may perhaps need explanation here. In modern furnaces, for the fusion of glass or other operations where great heat is necessary, the process of combustion of the fuel is carried on, not in one operation, as it is in the simple furnaces with which every one is familiar, but in two distinct, separate, progressive stages.

The first stage takes place in a subsidiary furnace known as a “gas producer.” Here part of the heat which the fuel is capable of generating is utilized for the production of a combustible gas. In other words the fuel is changed into gaseous form, but only partly burned.

A familiar example of this operation is seen in any ordinary fireplace when the fire is first lighted. There is at first an inadequate “draft.” This supplies the fire with an insufficient amount of oxygen, and although the fuel—paper, for instance—is entirely volatilized it is not entirely burned; there is smoke, which, if it could be mixed with more air, and at a sufficiently high temperature, would burst into flame.

This was the process Jimmy proposed to carry on in the ground; that is, only partly to consume the coal by supplying it with an insufficient amount of oxygen. And it was the unburned coal gases—the combustible smoke, in other words—that he proposed to pipe up to the furnace at the surface—not the actual heat. The burning mine, hundreds of feet down in the ground, was in effect to be his subsidiary furnace—his gas-producer.

These unburned gases, from the producer, pass, hot, into the furnace proper; either directly or sometimes after being conveyed a considerable distance—as they would have to be according to Jimmy’s plan. In this latter event they cool off, but are heated up again by the waste heat of the furnace.

These hot gases, entering the main furnace, meet a current of hot air, also heated by the waste heat of the furnace. The combination of hot gas and hot air burns rapidly and completely, and yields very high temperatures if properly proportioned.

To the layman it may seem surprising that when part of the combustion of the fuel takes place entirely away from the furnace—the heat of this combustion being completely wasted—that a far greater heat can subsequently be obtained. But it is a fact nevertheless.

“How would you start the fire in the ground?” suggested Mr. Wentworth.

“By dropping down incandescent coal,” Jimmy returned promptly. “And then blowing air to it. You see—”

The president raised his hand. “That’s only a detail. Then you really think you could approximate a gas-producer with this burning mine of yours?”

“Yes, sir. By forcing down the proper proportions of air and steam. You see, the hole in the burning coal-bed would gradually spread out. But that wouldn’t make any difference, because it would only have two outlets to the surface air, and both of them under control.”

“The lower ends of your casing would melt,” said Mr. Wentworth.

“What of it, chief?” Mr. Cooper interposed. “That wouldn’t hurt anything.”

The president considered. “No, I don’t suppose it would,” he admitted. “It’s an interesting idea, especially if it would work. Have you talked with any of our technical men? How about Merkle, seen him?”

“He has been—” Jimmy hesitated; then meeting Mr. Cooper’s warning glance, went on:

“Yes, sir; he’s been studying it. He says it can be done; he knows just how to do it.”

“Oh, he does?”

“Yes, sir. He’s outside now; we thought you might like to talk to him about it.”

“We’ll have him in at once.” The president reached for the button on his desk, but Jimmy stopped him.

“Just a minute, Mr. Wentworth—before you get Merkle. There’s another point I wanted to make.” Jimmy still had his trump card, and he thought this a good time to play it.

“We understand around the office that this new factory you’re planning is for the making of optical glass?”

The president inclined his head.

“And for optical glass you need a very good grade of sand; if it has less than one-twentieth of one per cent of iron, and not more than that of other impurities, it is satisfactory?” Jimmy was quoting almost verbatim what he had carefully learned.

Mr. Wentworth nodded again; his growing surprise and admiration for Jimmy were evident from his expression.

“Well, sir, when I found that out, I thought of a sand-bank that’s on mother’s farm. It’s all sandy; that’s why it’s no good for a farm.” Jimmy took a little bottle from his pocket and laid it on the desk before the president.

“There’s some of the sand, Mr. Wentworth, I had it analyzed.” He produced a folded sheet of paper. “Here’s the analysis—over ninety-nine and nine-tenths per cent pure silica.” He handed the paper to Mr. Wentworth.

“That’s mighty important, chief, as you know,” said Mr. Cooper earnestly. “If you’ve got the fuel and the sand, that’s pretty near everything, isn’t it?”

The president glanced at the paper and the little bottle of sand lying on his desk; then he sat up briskly.

“We’ll have Merkle in here at once; see what he says. You’re certainly interesting—mighty interesting. If it works—if it works—”

“It’ll work, chief,” said Mr. Cooper confidently, as the president rang his buzzer to summon Isaac Merkle.

The conference with Mr. Merkle lasted over an hour. The little chemist, forgetting the unsavory circumstances under which he had been induced to begin work on Jimmy’s plan, plunged into a discussion of it with enthusiasm. His ideas, as he outlined them now to Mr. Wentworth, did not differ in any large essential from the way in which Jimmy had explained how it should be done.

Mr. Merkle was sure that coal burning under control in the ground could be made to yield gas of a very satisfactory quality. In his opinion the main furnaces that had already been decided upon for the new optical glass factory could be used, unchanged.

The president raised the question of the saving of the cost of coal; whereupon Mr. Merkle surprised Jimmy and George Cooper greatly by producing a sheet of paper with it all figured out.

“Of course y’ understand, Mr. Wentworth, I couldn’t know what this coal property is going to cost you. But when you own it—here is the saving according to the estimate we made of the fuel consumption of this new factory. But, Mr. Wentworth, coal’s going higher next year; it would be more than this.”

Mr. Wentworth looked over the figures attentively. Then he showed the chemist the little bottle of sand on his desk, explaining briefly what Jimmy had told him about it. Mr. Merkle’s eyes nearly popped from his head. Here was something he and Hope had never thought of. He waved his hands before him expressively.

“With that and producer gas next to nothing you got a cinch, Mr. Wentworth,” he stated emphatically.

The interview ended with the president thoroughly convinced as far as he had gone. He declared himself intensely interested, and stated definitely that if the thing continued to work out theoretically as it seemed now it would—and as he himself admitted he thoroughly believed it would—he certainly would see that the company gave it a fair trial.

“Too good to pass up; we’d be the first in the field to use it, too.” He chuckled to himself. “They’d never catch up with us.”

The president then said he would go into the matter thoroughly with several of his technical men and the other officers of the company, after which the directors would pass upon it—only a technicality, for he’d “shove it through, whether they liked it or not,” if he thought it feasible himself.

Then he shook hands with Jimmy, patted him on the back, and told him he was a “good boy.” Jimmy had never been so happy before in his life. A great lump came up into his throat; he wanted to tell Mr. Wentworth how he appreciated the way he had been treated, but the words wouldn’t come. He stood staring at the president dumbly, and was able finally only to mumble: “Thank you very much.” After which Cooper clapped him on the back and pulled him through the door into the outer office.


It was half an hour before Jimmy recovered sufficiently to talk the thing over quietly with the office manager. The very imagination that had troubled him for so many years—that had made his life as a coal miner miserable, and finally had enabled him to conceive this idea—now descended upon him with overpowering force.

He forgot Mr. Hope—forgot the opposition to success that he had met—had still to meet. In his mind’s eye the plan had already been adopted, put into execution. The factory was built; the coal, lying there all these years idle underneath his mother’s farm, was burning, and yielding up its precious heat for the great furnaces. And he—Jimmy Rand, once only a mule-boy and miner in the Fallon Brothers mine—had done it all!

After a time he calmed down. First he must telegraph his mother and Anne; then he must arrange to go home for a day or two and see them. Since the man from whom he had to obtain permission to absent himself from work was Mr. Cooper, Jimmy had no difficulty in getting leave to go.

He settled that point quickly, and then went into one of the other offices to send his telegram.

At lunch that day, which the office manager, Jimmy and Mr. Merkle had together, Cooper planned what they should do that afternoon to settle Mr. Hope.

“Just let him alone,” said Jimmy. “You don’t have to do anything. He’ll settle himself if you let him alone, can’t you see that?”

Mr. Merkle was obviously worried. “What should I say if R. G. sends for me?” he wanted to know.

“Tell him the truth,” said Jimmy. “That’s the easiest thing you could do, isn’t it? You’ve nothing to hide.”

“And you make that date clear,” added Mr. Cooper. “Just as you did to us. That’s the big point—show him that Hope told you the idea the evening of the same day Jimmy first came in here.”

Merkle nodded.

“And when Hope comes to you after lunch now, don’t you put him wise. You keep mum. Act just as if nothing had happened. Tell him you’re ready to tell the chief all you know.” Jimmy chuckled at the double meaning of this. “Just let him go ahead with his plans in his own way. He’ll get his, all right, or I don’t know a thing about the chief’s methods.”

The chemist nodded again emphatically. “He tried to pull that crooked business on me—that you couldn’t do to Merkle and get away with it.”

“And listen, Merkle”—the office manager laid his hand earnestly on the little chemist’s arm—“there’s going to be a lot of money in this if it goes through—plenty for everybody. I’ll see you get what you earn—and that’ll be a good slice. You know me, and you know the chief. You don’t want that in writing, do you?” he finished with a grin as he remembered Merkle’s account of his very last business transaction with the secretary.

Mr. Merkle offered his hand. “What you say it’s like a government bond with me, Mr. Cooper,” he declared emphatically.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope had his interview with the president, just as he had planned. He went in alone, directing Merkle to wait outside until he sent for him.

Mr. Wentworth listened with his customary attention to what his secretary had to say. His eyes narrowed, and his lower jaw came out a little when Mr. Hope stated specifically that the idea was his own; but he did not interrupt.

Mr. Hope was very brief. He merely set the salient features of the scheme before his principal; then he called in Mr. Merkle.

The chemist entered and seated himself silently; his face wore an expression of grim determination.

“Explain my idea to Mr. Wentworth, Merkle,” said the secretary grandly, leaning back in his chair.

The chemist swallowed hard. This was an outcome he had not expected at all. He looked at Mr. Wentworth, wondering whether he should go all over what he had already said just that morning, or whether he should make a clean breast of the whole matter. Before he could reach a conclusion the president took the decision entirely out of his hands.

“Mr. Merkle, how long have you been working on this?” Mr. Wentworth had not changed his easy position at his desk; but his voice now was very alert—low-toned, almost soft, but tense and vibrant. It was the real Mr. Wentworth talking now: the man of action; the forceful, dominant personality that had placed him where he was in the business world.

Mr. Leffingwell Hope noticed the change at once, and opened his eyes wide with surprise.

“Be exact, Mr. Merkle; I mean exactly what date, if you can tell, did Mr. Hope first consult you about this?”

The chemist pulled out his little notebook. “I’m a methodical man, Mr. Wentworth; the exact day it was April 17 last, in the evening.”

“Thank you.” The president jotted down the date, and reached for his telephone. “Mr. Cooper, please. Oh, Mr. Cooper, Mr. Wentworth speaking. What was the date upon which Mr. James Rand was first employed by us? Yes; April 18? Thank you. Was that the day after his first interview with me, according to your remembrance? Thank you.”

The president jotted that down also, hung up the receiver, and turned briskly to his secretary.

“Mr. Hope, when you repeated to me that conversation you had on April 17 with Mr. Rand, did you repeat it correctly?”

“Why I—why, yes, sir, as near as I, could remember it,” stammered Mr. Hope.

“Thank you.” The president rang his buzzer. “Ask Mr. Rand to step in here immediately.”

The girl was back with Jimmy in less than a minute. The president did not ask him to sit down, so he stood just inside the door, looking from one to the other of the three men, and wondering what was about to happen.

“Mr. Rand, Mr. Cooper informs me that you were first employed by this company on April 18 last.”

“Yes, sir—I don’t remember.”

“His records show that. You do remember your first interview with me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is it your remembrance that it occurred on the day before you started with us?”

“Yes, sir; I’m sure of that.”

“When you left me that morning, you went directly into Mr. Hope’s office?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you told him the business that you had wanted to tell me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Was it what you told me this morning—in substance, I mean?”

“Why, yes, sir, of course.”

“Did you mention a gas-well in Alberta?”

“No, sir.”

“Has your mother any property in Alberta?”

“No, sir.”

“Thank you.” Mr. Wentworth turned again to his secretary. Mr. Hope had paled visibly.

“Half an hour after you dismissed Mr. Rand you repeated his conversation to me, Mr. Hope. It is my remembrance that it concerned a natural gas strike in Alberta, near property held by this young man’s mother. Is that correct?”

“Yes, sir, I—yes, as near as I can remember it,” said Mr. Hope.

“You said nothing to me about burning coal without mining it. I assume he said nothing to you along those lines.”

“No, sir, he did not.” Mr. Hope answered more firmly this time.

“Just a moment, Mr. Rand.” Jimmy’s anger was proving too much for him; he had taken a step forward toward Mr. Hope, with his fists clenched.

The president went on swiftly:

“Thank you, Mr. Hope. I think I understand the circumstances now. You may go, gentlemen.” The president indicated Mr. Merkle and Jimmy.

“Mr. Hope,” he went on, when they were alone, “for some years you have been my secretary. I have had no cause to criticize your work unduly, nor do I think I have treated you unfairly as an employer.

“What has just transpired needs no additional words between us. It is entirely self-evident. Explanations are futile, recriminations idle. As you know, Mr. Hope, integrity of character is one thing this company demands above all else. For a person without it there can be no place in this organization. I must ask you therefore to let me have your resignation, to take effect immediately.”

Mr. Hope stood up. He hesitated an instant, then met the president’s eyes squarely.

“Very well, sir. If that is what you wish, you shall have it at once.”

Then with a punctilious little bow, he turned and left the office.


One morning, some two years after Mr. Leffingwell Hope was thus summarily dismissed from the Wentworth company, Mr. James Rand, assistant general manager of the Wentworth Optical Glass Company, was seated in the private office of Robert G. Wentworth, president of the parent organization.

They had been two eventful years to Jimmy. For five months after his momentous second interview with the president, the technical men of the company had worked on the plan, making endless experiments. Then there was the investigation of Mrs. Rand’s property. Additional borings were made. The coal measures were estimated as to quantity and extent, and the sand was similarly valued.

With Jimmy’s mother the company dealt in a strictly businesslike manner. Her property was purchased. She received an adequate amount in cash, and a substantial block of stock in the new company.

Then the legal department of the company took the matter up, and innumerable applications for patents covering the special apparatus that had been devised were made.

Then the board of directors of the Wentworth company met, and plans for the organizing and financing of a new company were outlined.

Jimmy had not realized there were so many technical, legal, and financial things in the world to do, let alone apply them all just to one project—and especially to his project.

Jimmy, of course, had taken no active part in all this; but Mr. Wentworth seemed desirous of having him in touch with it all, and he was present at most of the conferences.

During all this time Jimmy had continued in the employ of the Wentworth Company, and at the end of the first year his salary was fifty dollars a week. He no longer answered correspondence, but at the president’s suggestion devoted his entire time to learning all there was to know about the glass business—the making of optical glass particularly.

Then one day Mr. Wentworth had handed him a neat little stock-certificate assigning to him an equal number of shares in the new company with his mother. At the same time he was informed that his position with this subsidiary company would be that of assistant general manager, at a yearly salary of eight thousand dollars—which, Mr. Wentworth said, patting him on the back, “For a kid like you, is going some.”

Mr. Cooper and Isaac Merkle both received stock, and the former a position with the new company also.

So matters stood when at last the new factory was put into successful operation. And thus, from the brain of Jimmy Rand, coal miner in the Fallon Brothers’ mine, came into being the first of the new factories for the utilizing of coal without mining it. Coal was still mined, of course, for the world had thousands of uses for it besides the needs of factories. But Jimmy’s big idea used coal that never could have been mined. And it postponed, for many years, that inevitable day when the world’s coal supply was finally to come to an end.

Mr. James Rand smiled cheerfully at his president, this morning in Mr. Wentworth’s office, and the president, lighting himself another cigar, smiled cheerfully back at his youthful protégé.

“You always thought you were going to put it over, didn’t you, Jimmy?” Mr. Wentworth was saying.

Jimmy’s smile broadened to a grin. He looked fully six years older than when he had first come to New York, a trifle heavier, and infinitely more sophisticated; but he still had his ingenuous manner.

“Yes, sir, I did,” he admitted.

The president eyed him with affectionate appraisal. “You’re a pretty smart kid—in some ways.”

“They’ve been telling me that so much I’m getting to believe it,” said Jimmy.

Mr. Wentworth paused. Then, with a quizzical smile, “You’ll be getting married I suppose, now that you’ve got a start in life.”

The telephone rang sharply, and the incident closed. But it was enough for Jimmy. With sudden realization he saw how foolish—how unfair, perhaps—he had been. For during these past two years, since that first morning Mr. Cooper introduced them, he and Estelle had become very good friends.

He had found the president’s daughter, when he got to know her better, quite a likable girl; he was ashamed of his first impression of her. As a matter of fact, Estelle was no different than she ever had been, or ever would be. But Jimmy soon became the most promising young man in her father’s company, if not of her entire acquaintance. She did not exactly “set her cap for him”—she was too proud for that—but she did seek his society upon every possible occasion.

Jimmy had always imagined somehow that Estelle knew all about Anne; but now he realized, with a sudden shock of surprise, that she didn’t—couldn’t—for certainly he could never remember any specific occasion when he had mentioned Anne—either to Estelle or to anybody else. His love for Anne had always seemed so sacred, so far removed from his business life in the city, that the impulse to tell of it never had come to him.

But now he suddenly found himself wondering what Estelle thought of him. And that led him to consider what Anne might have been thinking also. Dear little Anne! He had loved her so much always that he had sometimes forgotten to tell her much about it. Instead, he had described the wonderful business things that were happening to him—his life in the city.

And the things he and Estelle were doing—the opera, the theaters, and all that—he had told it all to Anne with a great personal pride, because it seemed to typify his own success.

How Anne must have felt! Jimmy felt himself very small and mean when his reflections reached this point. He had thought he had learned a lot; but he could see now there were many, many things in life he had yet to learn.

Jimmy took the train for Menchon that same afternoon. He stayed there three days. They were the three most important and wonderful days in his whole life, notwithstanding the wonderful things that had already happened to him.

On the afternoon of the fourth day he was back again in New York, and in Mr. Wentworth’s office. But this time he was not alone, for he held firmly by the hand the shyest, prettiest, dearest little girl in all the world.

Anne was dressed in a mart little tailor-made suit. She wore her hair up now, but her face still had that startled, shy look that always made her seem, to Jimmy, anyhow, just like a sweet, half-frightened little child.

Jimmy was somewhat a privileged character by this time in the Wentworth company, and he entered Mr. Wentworth’s office without much ceremony. It so happened that at that moment its only two occupants were the president and his daughter.

Just inside the doorway Jimmy paused abruptly, with an apology on his lips. Anne stood close beside him, holding tight to his arm.

What Jimmy said by way of introduction is unimportant. But he finished with:

“And—and this is Anne—I mean my—my wife—Mrs. Rand. We were married yesterday. And—and now we’re going away for a month—we’re going to disappear. I wanted to tell you so you’d know where I was. And I wanted you both to meet Anne.”

He paused an instant, looked down into Anne’s adoring eyes, that stared up into his face just as they always used to, and went on with a rush:

“You think I’ve put over something big with this company, don’t you, Mr. Wentworth? You’ve said so, anyway. Well, I never would have been able to do it only for Anne; she made me want to do it. She deserves all the credit.

“You’ll have to thank her, Mr. Wentworth.”

And since all his life Jimmy believed that to be so, it probably was.

(The End.)

Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the July 10, 1920 issue of The Argosy magazine.