BOSS OF THE WORLD

About one-tenth of the people in Boston are British Canadians, mostly
from the Maritime Provinces, an acquisitive prudent folk who see naught
to be gained by correcting casual acquaintances who mistake them for
down-east Yankees. Often, indeed, they are descendants of Hezekiahs and
Priscillas who, having been Royalists during the War of Independence,
found subsequent emigration to a British country incumbent on their
Puritan consciences. These Americans, returned to the ancestral New
England after four or five generations of absence, commonly find Boston
ways surprisingly congenial, though they continue to cherish pride in
British origin, and a decent warmth of regard for fellow natives of the
Maritime Provinces. Hence a known Canadian is frequently addressed by
an unsuspected one with, “I am from Canada, too.” Having learned this
from ten years’ experience, I was little surprised when old Adam Bemis,
meeting me on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, in May, 1915,
stopped and stealthily whispered, “I am from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.”

“Really! I have always taken you for one of the prevalent minority, a
man from the State of Maine.”

“Most folks do. It doesn’t vex me any more. But I’ve wanted to tell
you any time the last ten years.”

“Then, why didn’t you?”

“It’s not my way to hurry. You will understand that well when I
explain. I’m needing friendly advice.”

He had ever worn the air of preoccupation during our twelve years’
acquaintance, but that seemed proper to an inventor burdened with the
task of devising and selecting novelties for the Annual Announcement by
which Miss Minnely’s Prize Package Department furthers the popularity of
her famous Family Blessing. The happy possessor of five new subscription
certificates, on remitting them to Adam’s Department, receives by mail,
prepaid, Number 1 Prize Package. Number 2 falls to the collector of ten
such certificates; and so on, in gradations of Miss Minnely’s shrewd
beneficence. The magnifico of one thousand certificates obtains choice
between a gasoline auto-buggy and a New England farm. To be ever adding
to or choosing from the world’s changing assortment of moral mechanical
toys, celluloid table ornaments, reversible albums, watches warranted
gold filled, books combining thrill with edification, and more or less
similar “premiums” to no calculable end, might well account for Old
Adam’s aspect, at once solemn and unsettled.

“What is your trouble?” I enquired.

“The Odistor. My greatest discovery!” he whispered.

“Indeed! For your Department?”

“We will see about that. It is something mighty wonderful—I don’t know
but I should say almighty.”

“Goodness! What is its nature?”

“I won’t say—not here. You couldn’t believe me without seeing it work—I
wouldn’t have believed it myself on anybody’s word. I will bring it on
to your lodgings—that’s a good place for the exhibition. No—I won’t
even try to explain here—we might be overheard.” He glanced up and down
Tremont Street, then across—”Sh—there she is herself!” He dodged into a
drug store opposite the Touraine.

Miss Mehitable Minnely, sole proprietor of The Family Blessing, was
moving imposingly from the Boylston Street front of the hotel toward her
auto-brougham. At the top step she halted and turned her cordial,
broad, dominant countenance in both directions as if to beam on streets
crowded with potential prize-package takers. She then spoke the
permitting word to two uniformed deferential attendants, who proceeded
to stay her carefully by the elbows, in her descent of the stone steps.
Foot passengers massed quickly on both sides of her course, watching her
large, slow progress respectfully. When the porters had conveyed her
across the pavement, and with deferential, persistent boosting made of
her an ample lading for the “auto,” the chauffeur touched his
wide-peaked cap, and slowly rolled her away towards Brimstone Corner _en
route_ to the Blessing Building. Adam came out of the drug store
looking relieved.

“She doesn’t like to see any of us on the street, office hours,” he
explained with lips close to my ear. “Not that I ought to care one
mite.” He smiled somewhat defiantly and added, “To see me dodging the
old lady’s eye you’d never guess I’m _her_ boss. But I am.” He eyed my
wonder exultantly and repeated, “It’s so. She doesn’t know it. Nobody
knows, except me. But I _am_ her boss. Just whenever I please.”

On my continued aspect of perturbation he remarked, coolly:—”Naturally
you think my head is on wrong. But you will know better this evening.
I’m the World’s boss whenever I choose to take the responsibility. If I
don’t choose, _she_ goes on being my boss, and, of course, I’ll want to
hold down my job. Well, good-day for the present. Or, say—I
forgot—will it suit you if I come about half-past-five? I can’t get
there _much_ earlier. She’s not too well pleased if any of us leave
before Park Street clock strikes five.”

“Very well, Mr. Bemis—half past. I shall expect you.”

“Expect a surprise, too.”

He walked circumspectly across Boylston Street through the contrary
processions of vehicles, to the edging pavement of the Common, on his
way toward the new Old State House, and Miss Minnely’s no less immense
Family Blessing Building.

It was precisely twenty-six minutes past five when Adam entered my
private office in the rear room of the ground floor of a sky-scraper
which overlooks that reach of Charles River lying between the Union Boat
Club House and the long, puritanic, impressive simplicity of Harvard
Bridge. He did not greet me, being preoccupied with the brown
paper-covered package under his left arm. With a certain eagerness in
his manner, he placed this not heavy burden on the floor, so that it was
hidden by the broad table-desk at which I sat. He stooped. I could
hear him carefully untie the string and open the clattering paper.

He then placed on the green baize desk-cover a bulbous object of some
heavy metal resembling burnished steel. It was not unlike a large white
Bermuda onion with a protuberant stem or nozzle one inch long,
half-an-inch in diameter, and covered by a metal cap. Obviously; the
bulb was of two equal parts, screwed together on a plane at right angles
to the perpendicular nozzle. An inch of the upper edge of the lower or
basic part was graduated finely as a vernier scale. The whole lower
edge of the upper half was divided, apparently into three hundred and
sixty degrees, as is the horizontal circle of a theodolite. The parts
were fitted with a clamp and tangent screw, by which the vernier could
be moved with minutest precision along the graduated circle.

“I was four years experimenting before I found out how to confine it,”
said Adam.

“What? A high explosive!”

“No—nothing to be nervous about. But what it is I can’t exactly say.”

“A scientific mystery, eh?”

“It might be called so, seeing as I don’t myself know the real nature of
the force any more than electricians know what electricity is. They
understand how to generate and employ it, that’s all. Did you ever see
a whirlwind start?”

“No.”

“Think again. Not even a little one?”

“Of course I have often seen little whirlwinds on the street carrying up
dust and scraps of paper, sometimes dropping them instantly, sometimes
whirling them away.”

“On calm days?”

“Really I can’t remember. But I think not. It doesn’t stand to reason.”

“That’s where you are mistaken. It is in the strongest kind of sunshine
on dead calm days that those little whirlwinds do start. What do you
suppose starts them?”

“I never gave it a thought.”

“Few do. I’ve given it years of close thinking. You have read of ships
on tropic seas in dead calm having top-sails torn to rags by whirlwinds
starting ’way up there, deck and sea quiet as this room?”

“I’ve read of that. But I don’t believe all the wonderful items I read
in the papers.”

“There are more wonders than the papers print. I saw that happen twice
in the Indian Ocean, when I was a young man. I have been studying more
or less on it ever since. Now I will show you the remainder of my
Odistor. I call it that because folks when I was young used to talk of
a mysterious Odic force.”

To the desk he lifted a black leather grip-sack, as narrow, as low, and
about twice as long as one of those in which surgeons carry their
implements. From this he extracted a simple-seeming apparatus which I
still suppose to have been of the nature of an electric machine.
Externally it resembled a rectangular umbrella box of metal similar to
that of the bulb. It was about four feet in length and four inches in
height and in breadth. That end which he placed nearest the window was
grooved to receive one-half the bulb accurately. Clamped longitudinally
to the top of the box was a copper tube half-an-inch in exterior
diameter, and closed, except for a pinhole sight, at the end farthest
from the window. The other, or open end, was divided evenly by a
perpendicular filament apparently of platinum.

Adam placed this sighted box on the green baize, its longer axis
pointing across the Charles River to Cambridge, through the window. He
carefully propped up the wire-net sash. Stooping at the desk he looked
through the pin-hole sight and shifted the box to his satisfaction.

“Squint along the line of sight,” he said, giving place to me. I
stooped and complied.

“You see Memorial Hall tower right in the line?”

“Precisely.”

“But what is nearest on the Cambridge shore?”

“The stone revetment wall.”

“I mean next beyond that.”

“The long shed with the big sign ’Builders’ in black letters.”

“All right. Sit here and watch that shed. No matter if it blows away.
They were going to tear it down anyway.” He placed my chair directly
behind the sighted tube.

With an access of eagerness in his countenance, and something of tremor
apparent in his clutching fingers, he lifted the bulb, unscrewed its
metal cap and worked the tangent screw while watching the vernier
intently. He was evidently screwing the basal half closer to the
nozzle-bearing upper portion.

From a minute orifice in the nozzle or stem something exuded that
appeared first as a tiny, shimmering, sunbright, revolving globule. At
that instant he placed the bulb on its base in its niche or groove at
the outer or window end of the sighted box. Thus the strange revolving
globule was rising directly in the line of sight.

“Watch that shed,” Adam ordered hoarsely.

I could not wholly take my eyes off the singular sphere, which resembled
nothing that I have elsewhere seen so much as a focus of sun rays from a
burning glass. But this intensely bright spot or mass—for it appeared
to have substance even as the incandescent carbon of an Edison lamp
seems to possess substance exterior to the carbon—rose expanding in an
increasing spiral within an iridescent translucent film that clung by a
tough stem to the orifice of the nozzle, somewhat as a soap-bubble
clings to the pipe whence it is blown. Yet this brilliant, this
enlarging, this magic globule was plainly whirling on its perpendicular
axis as a waterspout does, and that with speed terrific. The mere
friction of its enclosing film on the air stirred such wind in the room
as might come from an eighteen-inch electric fan. In shape the infernal
thing rapidly became an inverted cone with spiral convolutions. It
hummed like a distant, idly-running circular saw, a great top, or the
far-off, mysterious forewarning of a typhoon.

“Now!” Adam touched a button on the top of the metal box.

The gleaming, whirling, humming, prismatic spiral was then about
eighteen inches high. It vanished without sound or spark, as if the
film had been totally destroyed and the contained incandescence quenched
on liberation. For one instant I experienced a sense of suffocation, as
if all the air had been drawn out of the room. The inner shutters
clashed, the holland sunshade clattered, the door behind me snicked
open, air from the corridor rushed in.

“See the river!” Adam was exultant, but not too excited to replace the
metal cap on the nozzle.

Certainly the Charles River was traversed by a gust that raised white
caps instantly. A bulk-headed sailing-dory, owned by a Union Boat
Clubman whom I knew, lay over so far that her sail was submerged, and
her centre-board came completely out of water. Only the head and
clutching forearms of the two men aboard her could be seen. Afterward
they told me they had been quite surprised by the squall. Beyond the
Cambridge revetment wall a wide cloud of dust sprang up, hiding the
“Builders” shed.

When this structure reappeared Adam gasped, then stood breathless, his
countenance expressive of surprise.

He looked down at the Odistor, pondering, left hand fingers pressing his
throbbing temple. Lifting the bulb he inspected the vernier, laid it
down again, put on his spectacles and once more peered intently at the
graduated scale.

“I see,” he said, “I was the least thing too much afraid of doing damage
in Cambridge back of the shed. But you saw the wind?”

“Certainly I saw wind.”

“You know how it started?”

“I don’t know what to think. It was very strange. What is the stuff?”

“Tell me what starts the whirlwind or the cyclone, and I can tell you
that. All I’m sure of is that I can originate the force, control it,
and release it in any strength I choose. Do you remember the chap
called Æolus we used to read about in the Latin book at school, he that
bagged up the winds long ago? I guess there was truth at the back of
that fable. He found out the secret before me, and he used it to some
extent. It died with him, and they made a god out of his memory—they
had some right to be grateful that he spared them. It must go to the
grave with me—so far as I’ve reasoned on the situation. But that’s all
right. What’s worrying me is the question—Shall I make any use of it?”

“I can see no use for it.”

“What! Think again. It is the Irresistible Force. There is no
withstanding it. I can start a stronger hurricane than ever yet blew.
You remember what happened to that Hawaiian Island in the tornado last
year? That was a trifle to what I can do. It is only a matter of
confining a larger quantity in a stronger receiver and giving it a
swifter send off with a more powerful battery. I can widen the track
and lengthen the course to any extent.”

“Suppose you can. Still it is only a destroyer. What’s the good of
it?”

“What’s the good of a Krupp gun. Or a shell. Or a bullet?”

“They are saleable.”

He looked keenly at me for some seconds. “Do you see that far, or do you
only not see how it could be used as a weapon? That’s it, eh! Well,
I’ll tell you. There’s England spending more’n ten million dollars a
day in the war. Suppose I go to Lord Kitchener. He’s a practical, quick
man—in half an hour he sees what I can do. ’What will you give,’ I ask
him, ’to have the Crown Prince and the rest of them Prussians blown
clear away?’ ’What is your price?’ he inquires. ’Ten million pounds
would be cheap,’ I reply. ’Take five,’ he says, ’we are not made of
money.’ ’Well, seeing it’s you,’ I tell him.”

“It is a considerable discount, Adam. But then you are a British
subject.”

“Yes—kind of. But the conversation was imaginary. Discount or no
discount, I feel no special call to blow away whole armies of Germans.
If I could set the Odistor on the Kaiser, and the Crown Prince, and a
dozen or so more of the Prussian gang, I’d do it, of course. But how
could I find just where they were? Blowing away whole armies of men
don’t seem right to me.”

“But you needn’t do that yourself. Sell your secret outright to the
British Government.”

Adam stared as one truly astonished.

“Now what you think you’re talking about?” he remonstrated. “Can’t you
see farther than that? Suppose I sell the secret to Kitchener. Suppose
he clears out all the Germans with it. What next? Why, Ireland!
Kitchener is a Jingo Imperialist, which I never was and never will be.
I’ve heard of Jingoes saying time and again that England’s interests
would be suited if Ireland was ten feet under water. Or suppose he only
blows the Irish out of Connaught, just to show the others they’d better
cut out the Sinn Finn. What then? First place, I like the Irish. My
wife’s Irish. Next, consider all the world. Suppose England has got
the irresistible weapon. There’s no opposing it. Suppose France was to
try, some time after this war is over. Away go her cities, farms,
vineyards, people, higher than Gilroy’s kite. What next? All the rest
of the world then know they must do what the English say—Germans,
Italians, Russians, Yankees, Canadians. Now I’m a cosmopolitan, I am.
All kind of folk look good to me.”

“But England ruling the world means universal peace,” I said
enthusiastically. “Free trade, equal rights, all the grand altruistic
English ideals established forever and ever! Adam, let England have it!
You’ll be remembered as the greatest benefactor of humanity. A Bemis
statue in Trafalgar Square, London! Sure! Think of that glory, Adam.”

“For putting the English on top,” he replied dryly. “I can’t seem to
want to. Not but what the English are all right. But my kind of
Maritime Province Canadians are considerably more American than English,
though they never rightly know it till they’ve lived here and in the old
country. We’re at home with Yankee ways and Yankee notions. In England
we’re only colonials. Not but what the war may change that a bit.”

“Take your secret to Washington then. President Wilson will see that you
get all that you can reasonably ask for it.”

“Sure—but while the pro-German microbe is active in Washington, I will
not offer the thing there. Yet my first notion was to let the United
States have it—on conditions.”

“What conditions?”

“Well, I’d bargain they must leave Canada alone. Woodrow would boss the
rest of the world, I was thinking, just the way I’ll do it myself if
ever I _do_ make up my mind. _No_ bossing—everybody free and equal and
industrious—no aristocracy, except just enough to laugh at—no
domineering. But I ain’t so pleased with Woodrow as I was when he
started presidenting. He ain’t set the Filipinos free yet. And he
knowing how bad they was treated by this Republic. Why, the worst grab
ever England made wasn’t a circumstance to Yankees allying with
Aguinaldo, and then seizing his country.”

“To what government will you sell?” I inquired patiently.

“Well, now, if I was going to sell to any government it would be Sir
Wilfrid Laurier’s. But he’s got no government, now. Ontario folks beat
him last election, for being too reasonable. If ever there was the
makings of a good benevolent Despot, Laurier’s the man. I used to be
saying to myself while I was perfecting the Odistor, says I inwardly,
’I’ll give it to Laurier.’ Of course, I was calculating he’d use it
first thing to annex the United States to Canada. That would be good
for both countries—if Laurier was on top. He’d give this Republic
Responsible Government, stop letting it be run by hole-and-corner
committees and trusts and billionaires, and, first of all, he’d
establish Free Trade all over the continent. That would be good for Nova
Scotia apple-growers, and, mind you, I’d like to do something for my
native Province before I die. Statue in Trafalgar Square, says you.
Think of a statue in Halifax—erected to me! ’ADAM BEMIS, BENEFACTOR OF
NOVA SCOTIA!’ And a big apple-tree kind of surrounding my figure with
blessings! Sounds kind of good, eh. Why don’t I give it to Laurier?
Well he’s getting old. He ain’t any too strong in health, either. He
mightn’t live long enough to get things running right. And he’d be sure
to tell his colleagues how the Odistor is worked—he’s such a strong
party man. That’s the only fault he’s got. Well, now, think what
happens after he drops out. Why, some ordinary cuss of his Party takes
over the Bossdom of the world. Now, all ordinary Canadian politicians
are hungry to be knighted, or baroneted. Laurier’s successor, likely
enough, would give away the Odistor to England, in return for a handle
to his name. And once England got the Odistor—why, you know what I told
you before.”

“Well, what Government will you sell to?”

“To none. Germany’s out of the question, of course. France, Russia,
Italy, Japan—they’re all unfitter than England, Canada or the States.
Once I planned to raise up the people that are down—the Poles, Irish,
Armenians, Filipinos, and so on. Then I got to fancying the Irish with
power to blow everything above rock in England out to sea. Would they
be satisfied with moving the Imperial Parliament to College Green,
giving England a Viceroy and local councils, putting a Catholic King in
George’s shoes and fixing the coronation oath to abjuring Protestant
errors? I can’t seem to think they’d be so mild. What would the Poles
do to the Prussians, Austrians, and Russians; or the Armenians to the
Turks, if I gave them the Odistor? No—I won’t take such risks. If I
gave the thing to one Nation the only fair deal would be to give it to
all, big and little alike, making the smallest as powerful as the
biggest, everyone with power to blow all the others off the footstool.
What then? Would mutual fear make them live peaceably? I’m feared not.
Probably every one would be so afraid of every other that each would be
for getting its Odistors to work first. There’d be cyclones jamming
into cyclones all over outdoors, a teetotal destruction of crops, and
everything and everybody blown clean away at once. Wonder where they’d
light?”

His query, did not divert me from the main matter. “If you won’t sell,
how can you get any money out of it?” I asked.

“No difficulty getting money out of it. Here I am able to blow
everything away—say Berlin and thereabouts for a starter, just to show
how the thing works. Then all hands would know I could blow away all
Europe—except maybe the Alps. I don’t know exactly how strong the
Odistor could blow. Wouldn’t all the Governments unite to pay me _not_
to do it. See? All the money John Rockefeller ever handled wouldn’t pay
five minutes’ interest on what I ought to get for just _not_ doing it.
No harm in not hurting anybody—see? And me working for Miss Minnely for
forty-five dollars a week!”

“Resign, Adam,” I said earnestly, for the financial prospect was
dazzling. “Take me in as junior partner. Let us get at this thing
together.”

“What? Blackmailing the nations! And you a professional Liberal like
myself! No! It wouldn’t be straight. I can’t have a partner—you’ll see
that before I get through. But now I suppose that you will admit that I
_could_ get any amount of money out of the thing?”

“You have thought it all out wonderfully, Adam.”

“Wish I could stop thinking about it. I’m only taking you gradually
over the field—not telling my conclusions yet—but only some of my
thoughts by the way. In fact it’s years since I gave up the notion of
opening the secret to any nation, or to all nations. For one thing I
couldn’t get into any nation’s possession if I wanted to. Suppose, for
instance, I offered it to the Washington Administration. Naturally the
President orders experts to report on it—say six army engineers. I show
them how. What happens? Why, those six men are bosses of the
Administration, the nation and all the world. They can’t but see that
right away if they’ve got any gumption. Will they abstain from using
the power? Scarcely. Will they stick together _and_ boss? They won’t,
because they can’t. It is not in human nature. Common sense, common
logic, would compel each one to try to get his private Odistor going
first, for fear each of the others might be for blowing him and the
other four away in order to boss alone. Fact is, the moment I showed
the process to any other man—and this is why I can’t take you in as
partner—I’d have to blow him straight away out beyond Cape Cod, for fear
he would send me flying soon as he saw universal Bossdom in his hands.”

“That seems inevitable,” I admitted.

“Certainly. I can’t risk the human race under any Boss except myself—or
somebody that I am sure means as well as I do.”

“Our political principles are in many respects the same,” I suggested,
hopefully.

“Will you—will any man except me—would even Laurier stay Liberal if he
had absolute power? What would _you_ do with the Odistor anyway?”

“Get a fortune out of it.”

“How?”

“Well, we might try this scheme—detain ocean liners in port until the
Companies agreed to pay what the traffic will bear.”

“Gosh—you think I’ve got the conscience of a Railway Corporation? No,
sir! But what use in prolonging this part of our talk? I have thought
of a thousand ways of using the thing on a large scale, but they are all
out of the question, for one good and sufficient reason—folks would lock
me up or kill me if I once convinced ’em of the power I possess. I
couldn’t blame them, they _must_ do it to feel safe themselves. The only
sure way for me to get big money out of it safely would be by retiring
to a lonely sea island and advertising what I intended to do on a
specified day—blow away some forest on the mainland, say, or send a
blast straight overland to the Rockies and clear them of snow in a path
fifty miles wide. Of course, folks would laugh at the advertisement—to
say nothing of the expense of inserting it—and to convince them I’d have
to _do_ it. After that I might call on the civilised governments to
send me all the gold, diamonds, and fine things I could think of. But
what good would fine things do me? I should be afraid to let any ship
land its cargo, or any other human being come on the island. I couldn’t
even have a cook, for fear she might be bribed to poison me or bust the
Odistor—and I’ve got no fancy to do my own cooking. What good to Boss
the World at that price? The Kaiser himself wouldn’t pay it.
Universally feared as he is already hated—but not bound to live alone.
For a while I was thinking to seclude myself that way in self-sacrifice
to the general good. I thought of issuing an order to all governments
to stop fighting, stop governing and just let real freedom be
established—the brotherhood of man, share and share alike, equal wages
all round, same kind of houses and grub and clothes, perfect democracy!
But suppose the Governments didn’t obey? Politicians are smart—they’d
soon see I dursn’t leave my island to go travelling and inspecting what
was going on all over. I couldn’t receive deputations coming to me for
redress of grievances, for fear they might be coming to rid the world of
its benevolent despot. Shrewd folks ashore would soon catch on to my
fix—me there all alone, busy keeping ten or a dozen Odistors blowing
gales off shore for fifty miles or so to keep people out of any kind of
striking distance, and everlastingly sending hurricanes upward to clear
the sky of Zeppelins and aeroplanes that might be sent to drop
nitro-glycerine on me. Next thing some speculator would be pretending
to be my sole agent, and ordering the world to fetch _him_ the wealth.
How could I know, any more than God seems to, what things were done in
my name?”

“Employ Marconi,” I suggested; “have him send you aerial news of what’s
going on everywhere. Then you could threaten wrong-doers everywhere with
the Odistor.

“Marconi is a good man, mebby, but think of the temptation to him. How
could I be sure he was giving me facts. He could stuff me with good
reports, and all the time be bossing the world himself, forcing the
nations to give up to him by the threat that I’d back him and blow the
disobedient to Kingdom Come. Besides, I don’t know how to operate
Marconi’s instruments, and, if I did, all my time would be taken up
receiving his reports. No, _sir_. There is no honest, safe,
comfortable way for me to get rich out of the Odistor. I have known
that for a considerable time.”

“Then, why did you wish to consult me?”

“Well, first place, I wanted some friend to know what kind of a
self-denying ordinance I’m living under. To be comprehended by at least
one person is a human need. Besides that, I want your opinion on a
point of conscience. Is the Odistor mine?”

“Yours? Isn’t it your exclusive discovery?”

“But isn’t it Miss Minnely’s property? I experimented in her time.”

“During office hours?”

“Mostly. And did all the construction in her workshop with her
materials. She supposed I was tinkering up a new attraction for the
Annual Announcement. Isn’t it hers by rights? She’s been paying me
forty-five dollars a week right along. When she hired me she told me
she expected exclusive devotion to the interests of the Family Blessing.
And I agreed. Seems I’m bound in honour to give it up to her.”

“For nothing?”

“Well, she’s dead set against raising wages. But I was thinking she
might boost me up to fifty a week.”

“That seems little for making her Boss of the World.”

“Oh, Miss Minnely wouldn’t go in for _that_. A man would. A woman is
too conservative. Miss Minnely’s one notion is the _Blessing_. It’s not
money she is after, but doing good. She’s sure the way to improve the
world is to get the Blessing regularly into every family. I don’t know
but she’s right too. It’s harmless, anyway.”

I could not but regard Adam’s conscience as too tender. Yet it was
pathetic to see this old man, potentially master of mankind (if he were
not mistaking the Odistor’s powers), feeling morally so bound by the
ethics of the trusty employee. I had perused thousands of editorials
designed to imbue the proletariat with precisely Adam’s idea of duty to
Capital. How to advise him was a serious problem.

“What would Miss Minnely do with it?” I inquired, to gain time.

“She would put it on the list of attractions in the Prize Package
Department.”

“Good heavens! And place absolute power in the hands of subscribers to
the Blessing! Anarchy would ensue! They would all set about bossing the
world.”

“Not they,” said Adam. “She would send out Odistors gauged to only
certain specified strengths. For five subscription certificates the
subscriber would get a breeze to dry clothes or ventilate cellars.
Prize Odistor number two might clear away snow; number three might run
the family windmill. Clubs of fifty new subscribers could win a machine
that would clear fog away from the bay or the river, mornings.
Different strengths for different premiums. See? It would prove a
first-class attraction for the Announcement.”

“Adam,” I remonstrated, for the financial prospect was too alluring,
“you are not required to give this thing to Miss Minnely. Resign. Remit
a million as conscience money to her. Let us go into the manufacture
together. You gauge the Odistors. I will run the business end of the
concern.”

“No! Miss Minnely has the first right. If anybody gets it she must.
What bothers me most is this—will she bounce me if I tell her?”

“Bounce you? Why?”

“Think me crazy. I tell you she is _conservative_. And she is ready to
throw me out—thinks I’m a back number. I can hardly blame her. Fact
is, I have given so much time and thought to the Odistor of late years
that I haven’t found or invented half enough attractions for the
Announcement. Last week she gave me an assistant—a Pusher. That means
she is intending him to supersede me about two years from now. Yet I
could invent a man with twice his brains in half the time. Sometimes I
am tempted to put the Odistor on the small job of blowing him out into
Massachusetts Bay. But he is not to blame for being as God made him.
Then, again, I think how I could down him by simply showing the thing to
Miss Minnely. But the cold fit comes again—what if she thinks me crazy?
I’d lose my forty-five dollars a week and might be driven to Bossing the
World. It’s hard for old men to get new jobs in Boston. They draw the
dead-line at fifty. Just when a man’s got some experience they put a
boy of twenty-six on top of him. On the other hand, suppose she _does_
consider it, and _does_ see the whole meaning of it. First thing she
might do with _her_ Odistor would be to put a cyclone whirling me.” He
sighed heavily. “Fact is I’ve got myself into a kind of hole. What do
you advise?”

“Bury the Odistor. Forget it, Adam. Then, with your mind free, you can
invent new things for the Announcement. I see no other escape from your
predicament.”

“I expected you to advise that in the end,” said Adam, and began
repacking his singular mechanism. “Bury it I will. But how can I
forget it? May be it has exhausted my inventive powers. What then?
I’m bounced. It’s tough to have to begin all over again at sixty-three,
and me Boss of the World if I could only bring myself _to_ boss. If I
do get bounced and do get vexed, maybe I’ll unbury it and show Miss
Minnely what it _can_ do. Well, good evening, and thank you for your
interest and advice.”

He departed with the old, solemn unsettled look on his honest Nova
Scotian countenance.

Since that day I have frequently seen Adam, but he gives me no
recognition. He goes about with eyes on the ground, probably studying
the complicated and frightful situation of a World Power animated by
liberalism and dominated by conscience. Some in the Blessing office
tell me that Miss Minnely’s disapproving eye is often on her old
employee. They say she will soon lift the Pusher over Adam’s white
head.

What will he do then? I remember with some trepidation the vague threat
with which he left me. At night, when a high gale happens to be
blowing, I listen in wild surmise that Adam was bounced yesterday, and
that the slates, bricks and beams of the Family Blessing Building are
hurtling about the suburbs as if in signal that he has liberated a large
specimen of the mysterious globule and embarked, of necessity, on the
woeful business of bossing the world.