The Air Trust
George Allan England
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders
[Illustration: "Visions!" She said softly, "Do you behold them too?"]
THE AIR TRUST
By George Allan England
"Darkness and Dawn," "Beyond the Great Oblivion,"
"The Afterglow," etc., etc.
TO EUGENE V. DEBS
Lover of All Mankind and
Apostle of the World's Emancipation,
This book is the result of an attempt to carry the monopolistic
principle to its logical conclusion. For many years I have entertained
the idea that if a monopoly be right in oil, coal, beef, steel or what
not, it would also be right in larger ways involving, for example, the
use of the ocean and the air itself. I believe that, had capitalists
been able to bring the seas and the atmosphere under physical control,
they would long ago have monopolized them. Capitalism has not refrained
from laying its hand on these things through any sense of decency, but
merely because the task has hitherto proved impossible.
Granting, then, the premise that some process might be discovered
whereby the air-supply of the world could be controlled, the Air Trust
logically follows. I have endeavored to show how such a Trust would
inevitably lead to the utter enslavement of the human race, unless
overthrown by the only means then possible, i.e., violence. This book is
not a brief for "direct action." Doubtless the capitalist press (if it
indeed notice the work at all) will denounce it as a plea for
"bomb-throwing" and apply the epithet of "Anarchist" to me; but at this
the judicious and the intelligent will only smile; and as for our
friends the enemy, we esteem their opinion at its precise real value,
Given the conditions supposed in this book, I repeat--a complete
monopoly of the air, with an absolute suppression of all political
rights--no other outcomes are possible than slavery or violent, physical
revolution. As I have made Gabriel Armstrong say: "The masters would
have it so. Academic discussion becomes absurd, in the face of
plutocratic savagery. And in a case of self-defense, no measures are
I believe in political action. I hope for a peaceful and bloodless
revolution. But if that be impossible, then by all means let us have
revolution in its other sense. And with the hope that this book may
perhaps revive some fainting spirit or renew the vision of emancipation
in some soul where it has dimmed, I give "The Air Trust" to the workers
of America and of the world.
GEORGE ALLAN ENGLAND.
Boston, Mass., November 1, 1915.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA
II. THE PARTNERS
III. THE BAITING OF HERZOG
IV. AN INTERLOPER
V. IN THE LABORATORY
VI. OXYGEN, KING OF INTOXICATORS
VII. A FREAK OF FATE
VIII. ONE UNBIDDEN, SHARES GREAT SECRETS
X. A GLIMPSE OF THE PARASITES
XI. THE END OF TWO GAMES
XII. ON THE GREAT HIGHWAY
XIV. THE RESCUE
XV. AN HOUR AND A PARTING
XVI. TIGER WALDRON "COMES BACK"
XVIII. FLINT AND WALDRON PLAN
XIX. CATHERINE'S DEFIANCE
XX. THE BILLIONAIRE'S PLOT
XXI. GABRIEL, GOOD SAMARITAN
XXII. THE TRAP IS SPRUNG
XXIII. THE BEAST GLOATS
XXIV. CATHERINE'S SUPREME DECISION
XXV. THROUGH STEEL BARS
XXVII. BACK IN THE SUNLIGHT
XXVIII. IN THE REFUGE
XXIX. "APRES NOUS LE DELUGE!"
XXXII. OMINOUS DEVELOPMENTS
XXXIII. "NOW COMES THE HOUR SUPREME"
XXXIV. THE ATTACK
XXXV. TERROR AND RETREAT
XXXVI. THE STORMING OF THE WORKS
XXXVII. DEATH IN THE PIT OF STEEL
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"VISIONS!" SHE SAID SOFTLY, "DO YOU BEHOLD THEM TOO?"
"CAN'T BE DONE, EH?" SAID FLINT
HE GATHERED HER UP AS THOUGH SHE HAD BEEN A CHILD
AIMING AT THE BASE OF THE SKULL SHE STRUCK
THE SPY'S BODY BURST INTO A SHEAF OF FIRE
HIS FINGERS LOST THEIR HOLD--HE DROPPED LIKE A PLUMMET
THE AIR TRUST
THE BIRTH OF AN IDEA.
Sunk far back in the huge leather cushions of his morris chair, old
Isaac Flint was thinking, thinking hard. Between narrowed lids, his
hard, gray eyes were blinking at the morning sunlight that poured into
his private office, high up in the great building he had reared on Wall
Street. From his thin lips now and then issued a coil of smoke from the
costly cigar he was consuming. His bony legs were crossed, and one foot
twitched impatiently. Now and again he tugged at his white mustache. A
frown creased his hard brow; and, as he pondered, something of the
glitter of a snake seemed reflected in his pupils.
"Not enough," he muttered, harshly. "It's not enough--there must be
more, more, more! Some way must be found. Must be, and shall be!"
The sunlight of early spring, glad and warm over Manhattan, brought no
message of cheer to the Billionaire. It bore no news of peace and joy to
him. Its very brightness, as it flooded the metropolis and mellowed his
luxurious inner office, seemed to offend the master of the world. And
presently he arose, walked to the window and made as though to lower
the shade. But for a moment he delayed this action. Standing there at
the window, he peered out. Far below him, the restless, swarming life of
the huge city crept and grovelled. Insects that were men and women
crowded the clefts that were streets. Long lines of cars, toy-like,
crept along the "L" structures. As far as the eye could reach, tufted
plumes of smoke and steam wafted away on the April breeze. The East
River glistened in the sunlight, its bosom vexed by myriad craft, by
ocean liners, by tugs and barges, by grim warships, by sailing-vessels,
whose canvas gleamed, by snow-white fruitboats from the tropics, by
hulls from every port. Over the bridges, long slow lines of traffic
crawled. And, far beyond to the dim horizon, stretched out the hives of
men, till the blue depths of distance swallowed all in haze.
And as Flint gazed on this marvel, all created and maintained by human
toil, by sweat and skill and tireless patience of the workers, a hard
smile curved his lips.
"All mine, more or less," said he to himself, puffing deep on his cigar.
"All yielding tribute to me, even as the mines and mills and factories I
cannot see yield tribute! Even as the oil-wells, the pipe-lines, the
railroads and the subways yield--even as the whole world yields it. All
this labor, all this busy strife, I have a hand in. The millions eat and
drink and buy and sell; and I take toll of it--yet it is not enough. I
hold them in my hand, yet the hand cannot close, completely. And until
it does, it is not enough! No, not enough for me!"
He pondered a moment, standing there musing at the window, surveying
"all the wonders of the earth" that in its fulness, in that year of
grace, 1921, bore tribute to him who toiled not, neither spun; and
though he smiled, the smile was bitter.
"Not enough, yet," he reflected. "And how--how shall I close my grip?
How shall I master all this, absolutely and completely, till it be mine
in truth? Through light? The mob can do with less, if I squeeze too
hard! Through food? They can economize! Transportation? No, the traffic
will bear only a certain load! How, then? What is it they all must have,
or die, that I can control? What universal need, vital to rich and poor
alike? To great and small? What absolute necessity which shall make my
rivals in the Game as much my vassals as the meanest slave in my steel
mills? What can it be? For power I must have! Like Caesar, who preferred
to be first in the smallest village, rather than be second at Rome, I
can and will have no competitor. I must rule _all_, or the game is
worthless! But how?"
Almost as in answer to his mental question, a sudden gust of air swayed
the curtain and brushed it against his face. And, on the moment,
inspiration struck him.
"What?" he exclaimed suddenly, his brows wrinkling, a strange and eager
light burning in his hard eyes. "Eh, what? Can it--could it be possible?
My God! If so--if it might be--the world would be my toy, to play with
as I like!
"If _that_ could happen, kings and emperors would have to cringe and
crawl to me, like my hordes of serfs all over this broad land. Statesmen
and diplomats, president and judges, lawmakers and captains of industry,
all would fall into bondage; and for the first time in history one man
would rule the earth, completely and absolutely--_and that man would be
Staggered by the very immensity of the bold thought, so vast that for a
moment he could not realize it in its entirety, the Billionaire fell to
pacing the floor of his office.
His cigar now hung dead and unnoticed between his thinly cruel lips. His
hands were gripped behind his bent back, as he paced the priceless
Shiraz rug, itself having cost the wage of a hundred workmen for a
year's hard, grinding toil. And as he trod, up and down, up and down the
rich apartments, a slow, grim smile curved his mouth.
"What editor could withstand me, then?" he was thinking. "What clergyman
could raise his voice against my rule? Ah! Their 'high principles' they
prate of so eloquently, their crack-brained economics, their rebellions
and their strikes--the dogs!--would soon bow down before _that_ power!
Men have starved for stiff-necked opposition's sake, and still may do
so--but with my hand at the throat of the world, with the world's very
life-breath in my grip, what then? Submission, or--ha! well, we shall
see, we shall see!"
A subtle change came over his face, which had been growing paler for
some minutes. Impatiently he flung away his cigar, and, turning to his
desk, opened a drawer, took out a little vial and uncorked it. He shook
out two small white tablets, on the big sheet of plate-glass that
covered the desk, swallowed them eagerly, and replaced the vial in the
desk again. For be it known that, master of the world though Flint was,
he too had a master--morphine. Long years he had bowed beneath its whip,
the veriest slave of the insidious drug. No three hours could pass,
without that dosage. His immense native will power still managed to
control the dose and not increase it; but years ago he had abandoned
hope of ever diminishing or ceasing it. And now he thought no more of it
than of--well, of breathing.
Breathing! As he stood up again and drew a deep breath, under the
reviving influence of the drug, his inspiration once more recurred to
"Breath!" said he. "Breath is life. Without food and drink and shelter,
men can live a while. Even without water, for some days. But without
_air_--they die inevitably and at once. And if I make the air my own,
then I am master of all life!"
And suddenly he burst into a harsh, jangling laugh.
"Air!" he cried exultantly, "An Air Trust! By God in Heaven, it can be!
It shall be!--it must!"
His mind, somewhat sluggish before he had taken the morphine, now was
working clearly and accurately again, with that fateful and undeviating
precision which had made him master of billions of dollars and uncounted
millions of human lives; which had woven his network of possession all
over the United States, Europe and Asia and even Africa; which had
drawn, as into a spider's web, the world's railroads and steamship
lines, its coal and copper and steel, its oil and grain and beef, its
every need--save air!
And now, keen on the track of this last great inspiration, the
Billionaire strode to his revolving book-case, whirled it round and from
its shelves jerked a thick volume, a smaller book and some pamphlets.
"Let's have some facts!" said he, flinging them upon his desk, and
seating himself before it in a costly chair of teak. "Once I get an
outline of the facts and what I want to do, then my subordinates can
carry out my plans. Before all, I must have facts!"
For half an hour he thumbed his references, noting all the salient
points mentally, without taking a single note; for, so long as the drug
still acted, his brain was an instrument of unsurpassed keenness and
A sinister figure he made, as he sat there poring intently over the
technical books before him, contrasting strangely with the beauty and
the luxury of the office. On the mantel, over the fireplace of Carrara
marble, ticked a Louis XIV clock, the price of which might have saved
the lives of a thousand workingmen's children during the last summer's
torment. Gold-woven tapestries from Rouen covered the walls, whereon
hung etchings and rare prints. Old Flint's office, indeed, had more the
air of an art gallery than a place where grim plots and deals
innumerable had been put through, lawmakers corrupted past counting, and
the destinies of nations bent beneath his corded, lean and nervous hand.
And now, as the Billionaire sat there thinking, smiling a smile that
boded no good to the world, the soft spring air that had inspired his
great plan still swayed the silken curtains.
Of a sudden, he slammed the big book shut, that he was studying, and
rose to his feet with a hard laugh--the laugh that had presaged more
than one calamity to mankind. Beneath the sweep of his mustache one
caught the glint of a gold tooth, sharp and unpleasant.
A moment he stood there, keen, eager, dominant, his hands gripping the
edge of the desk till the big knuckles whitened. He seemed the
embodiment of harsh and unrelenting Power--power over men and things,
over their laws and institutions; power which, like Alexander's, sought
only new worlds to conquer; power which found all metes and bounds too
"Power!" he whispered, as though to voice the inner inclining of the
picture. "Life, air, breath--the very breath of the world in my
hands--power absolutely, at last!"
Then, as was his habit, translating ideas into immediate action, he
strode to a door at the far end of the office, flung it open and said:
"See here a minute, Wally!"
"Busy!" came an answering voice, from behind a huge roll-top desk.
"Of course! But drop it, drop it. I've got news for you."
"Urgent?" asked the voice, coldly.
"Very. Come in here, a minute. I've got to unload!"
From behind the big desk rose the figure of a man about five and forty,
sandy-haired, long-faced and sallow, with a pair of the coldest,
fishiest eyes--eyes set too close together--that ever looked out of a
flat and ugly face. A man precisely dressed, something of a fop, with
just a note of the "sport" in his get-up; a man to fear, a man cool,
wary and dangerous--Maxim Waldron, in fact, the Billionaire's right-hand
man and confidant. Waldron, for some time affianced to his eldest
daughter. Waldron the arch-corruptionist; Waldron, who never yet had
been "caught with the goods," but who had financed scores of industrial
and political campaigns, with Flint's money and his own; Waldron, the
smooth, the suave, the perilous.
"What now?" asked he, fixing his pale blue eyes on the Billionaire's
"Come in here, and I'll tell you."
"Right!" And Waldron, brushing an invisible speck of dust from the
sleeve of his checked coat, strolled rather casually into the
Flint closed the door.
"Well?" asked Waldron, with something of a drawl. "What's the
"See here," began the great financier, stimulated by the drug. "We've
been wasting our time, all these years, with our petty monopolies of
beef and coal and transportation and all such trifles!"
"So?" And Waldron drew from his pocket a gold cigar-case, monogrammed
with diamonds. "Trifles, eh?" He carefully chose a perfecto. "Perhaps;
but we've managed to rub along, eh? Well, if these are trifles, what's
"Air?" Waldron's match poised a moment, as with a slight widening of the
pale blue eyes he surveyed his partner. "Why--er--what do you mean,
"The Air Trust!"
"Eh?" And Waldron lighted his cigar.
"A monopoly of breathing privileges!"
"Ha! Ha!" Waldron's laugh was as mirthful as a grave-yard raven's croak.
"Nothing to it, old man. Forget it, and stick to--"
"Of course! I might have expected as much from you!" retorted the
Billionaire tartly. "You've got neither imagination nor--"
"Nor any fancy for wild-goose chases," said Waldron, easily, as he sat
down in the big leather chair. "Air? Hot air, Flint! No, no, it won't
do! Nothing to it nothing at all."
For a moment the Billionaire regarded him with a look of intense
irritation. His thin lips moved, as though to emit some caustic answer;
but he managed to keep silence. The two men looked at each other, a long
minute; then Flint began again:
"Listen, now, and keep still! The idea came to me not an hour ago, this
morning, looking over the city, here. We've got a finger on everything
but the atmosphere, the most important thing of all. If we could control
"Of course, I understand," interrupted the other, blowing a ring of
smoke. "Unlimited power and so on. Looks very nice, and all. Only, it
can't be done. Air's too big, too fluid, too universal. Human powers
can't control it, any more than the ocean. Talk about monopolizing the
Atlantic, if you will, Flint. But for heaven's sake, drop--"
"Can't be done, eh?" exclaimed Flint, warmly, sitting down on the
desk-top and levelling a big-jointed forefinger at his partner. "That's
what every new idea has had to meet. It's no argument! People scoffed at
the idea of gas lighting when it was new. Called it 'burning smoke,' and
made merry over it. That was as recently as 1832. But ten years later,
gas-illumination was in full sway.
"Electric lighting met the same objection. And remember the objection to
the telephone? When Congress, in 1843, granted Morse an appropriation of
$30,000 to run the first telegraph line from Baltimore to Washington,
one would-be humorist in that supremely intelligent body tried to
introduce an amendment that part of the sum should be spent in surveying
a railroad to the moon! And--"
[Illustration: "Can't be done, Eh?" said Flint.]
"Granted," put in Waldron, "that my objection is futile, just what's
"This!" And Flint stabbed at him with his forefinger, while the other
financier regarded him with a fishily amused eye. "Every human being in
this world--and there are 1,900,000,000 of them now!--is breathing, on
the average, 16 cubic feet of air every hour, or about 400 a day. The
total amount of oxygen actually absorbed in the 24 hours by each person,
is about 17 cubic feet, or _over 30 billions of cubic feet of oxygen_,
each day, in the entire world. Get that?"
"Well?" drawled the other.
"Don't you see?" snapped Flint, irritably. "Imagine that we extract
oxygen from the air. Then--"
"You might as well try to dip up the ocean with a spoon," said Waldron,
"as try to vitiate the atmosphere of the whole world, by any means
whatsoever! But even if you could, what then?"
"Look here!" exclaimed the Billionaire. "It only needs a reduction of 10
per cent. in the atmospheric oxygen to make the air so bad that nobody
can breathe it without discomfort and pain. Take out any more and people
will die! We don't have to monopolize _all_ the oxygen, but only a very
small fraction, and the world will come gasping to us, like so many fish
out of water, falling over each other to buy!"
"Possibly. But the details?"
"I haven't worked them out yet, naturally. I needn't. Herzog will take
care of those. He and his staff. That's what they're for. Shall we put
it up to him? What? My God, man! Think of the millions in it--the
billions! The power! The--"
"Of course, of course!" interposed Waldron, calmly, eyeing his smoke.
"Don't get excited, Flint. Rome wasn't built in a day. There may be
something in this; possibly there may be the germ of an idea. I don't
say it's impossible. It looks visionary to me; but then, as you well
say, so has every new idea always looked. Let me think, now; let me
"Go ahead and think!" growled the Billionaire. "Think and be hanged to
you! _I'm_ going to act!"
Waldron vouchsafed no reply, but merely eyed his partner with cold
interest, as though he were some biological specimen under a lens, and
smoked the while.
Flint, however, turned to his telephone and pulled it toward him, over
the big sheet of plate glass. Impatiently he took off the receiver and
held it up to his ear.
"Hello, hello! 2438 John!" he exclaimed, in answer to the query of
Silence, a moment, while Waldron slowly drew at his cigar and while the
Billionaire tugged with impatience at his gray mustache.
"Hello! That you, Herzog?"
* * * * *
"All right. I want to see you at once. Immediately, understand?"
* * * * *
"Very well. And say, Herzog!"
"Bring whatever literature you have on liquid air, nitrogen extraction
from the atmosphere, and so on. Understand? And come at once!"
* * * * *
"That's all! Good-bye!"
Smiling dourly, with satisfaction, he hung up and shoved the telephone
away again, then turned to his still reflecting partner, who had now
hoisted his patent leather boots to the window sill and seemed absorbed
in regarding their gloss through a blue veil of nicotine.
"Herzog," announced the Billionaire, "will be here in ten minutes, and
we'll get down to business."
"So?" languidly commented the immaculate Waldron. "Well, much as I'd
like to flatter your astuteness, Flint, I'm bound to say you're barking
up a false trail, this time! Beef, yes. Steel, yes. Railroads,
steamships, coal, iron, wheat, yes. All tangible, all concrete, all
susceptible of being weighed, measured, put in figures, fenced and
bounded, legislated about and so on and so forth. But _air_--!"
He snapped his manicured fingers, to show his well-considered contempt
for the Billionaire's scheme, and, throwing away his smoked-out cigar,
chose a fresh one.
Flint made no reply, but with an angry grunt flung a look of scorn at
the calm and placid one. Then, furtively opening his desk drawer, he
once more sought the little vial and took two more pellets--an action
which Waldron, without moving his head, complacently observed in a
heavily-bevelled mirror that hung between the windows.
"Air," murmured Waldron, suavely. "Hot air, Flint?"
No answer, save another grunt and the slamming of the desk-drawer.
And thus, in silence, the two men, masters of the world, awaited the
coming of the practical scientist, the proletarian, on whom they both,
at last analysis, had to rely for most of their results.
THE BAITING OF HERZOG.
Herzog was not long in arriving. To be summoned in haste by Isaac Flint,
and to delay, was unthinkable. For eighteen years the chemist had
lickspittled to the Billionaire. Keen though his mind was, his character
and stamina were those of a jellyfish; and when the Master took snuff,
as the saying is, Herzog never failed to sneeze.
He therefore appeared, now, in some ten minutes--a fat, rubicund,
spectacled man, with a cast in his left eye and two fingers missing, to
remind him of early days in experimental work on explosives. Under his
arm he carried several tomes and pamphlets; and so, bowing first to one
financier, then to the other, he stood there on the threshold, awaiting
his masters' pleasure.
"Come in, Herzog," directed Flint. "Got some material there on liquid
air, and nitrogen, and so on?"
"Yes, sir. Just what is it you want, sir?"
"Sit down, and I'll tell you,"--for the chemist, hat in hand, ventured
not to seat himself unbidden in presence of these plutocrats.
Herzog, murmuring thanks for Flint's gracious permission, deposited his
derby on top of the revolving book-case, sat down tentatively on the edge
of a chair and clutched his books as though they had been so many
shields against the redoubted power of his masters.
"See here, Herzog," Flint fired at him, without any preliminaries or
beating around the bush, "what do you know about the practical side of
extracting nitrogen from atmospheric air? Or extracting oxygen, in
liquid form? Can it be done--that is, on a commercial basis?"
"Why, no, sir--yes, that is--perhaps. I mean--"
"What the devil _do_ you mean?" snapped Flint, while Waldron smiled
maliciously as he smoked. "Yes, or no? I don't pay you to muddle things.
I pay you to _know_, and to tell me! Get that? Now, how about it?"
"Well, sir--hm!--the fact is," and the unfortunate chemist blinked
through his glasses with extreme uneasiness, "the fact of the matter is
that the processes involved haven't been really perfected, as yet.
Beginnings have been made, but no large-scale work has been done, so
far. Still, the principle--"
"Yes, sir. I imagine--"
"Cut that! You aren't paid for imagining!" interrupted the Billionaire,
stabbing at him with that characteristic gesture. "Just what do you know
about it? No technicalities, mind! Essentials, that's all, and in a few
"Well, sir," answered Herzog, plucking up a little courage under this
pointed goading, "so far as the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen goes,
more progress has been made in England and Scandinavia, than here.
They're working on it, over there, to obtain cheap and plentiful
fertilizer from the air. Nitrogen _can_ be obtained from the air, even
now, and made into fertilizers even cheaper than the Chili saltpeter.
Oxygen is liberated as a by-product, and--"
"Oh, it is, eh? And could it be saved? In liquid form for instance?"
"I think so, sir. The Siemens & Halske interests, in Germany, are doing
it already, on a limited scale. In Norway and Austria, nitrogen has been
manufactured from air, for some years."
"On a paying, commercial basis?" demanded Flint, while Waldron, now a
trifle less scornful, seemed to listen with more interest as his eyes
rested on the rotund form of the scientist.
"Yes, sir, quite so," answered Herzog. "It's commercially feasible,
though not a very profitable business at best. The gas is utilized in
chemical combination with a substantial base, and--"
"No matter about that, just yet," interrupted Flint. "We can have
details later. Do you know of any such business as yet, in the United
"Well, sir, there's a plant building at Great Falls, South Carolina, for
the purpose. It is to run by waterpower and will develop 5000 H.P."
"Hear that, Waldron?" demanded the Billionaire. "It's already beginning
even here! But not one of these plants is working for what I see as the
prime possibility. No imagination, no grasp on the subject! No wonder
most inventors and scientists die poor! They incubate ideas and then
lack the warmth to hatch them into general application. It takes men
like us, Wally--practical men--to turn the trick!" He spoke a bit
rapidly, almost feverishly, under the influence of the subtle drug. "Now
if _we_ take hold of this game, why, we can shake the world as it has
never yet been shaken! Eh, Waldron? What do you think now?"
Waldron only grunted, non-committally. Flint with a hard glance at his
unresponsive partner, once more turned to Herzog.
"See here, now," directed he. "What's the best process now in use?"
"For what, sir?" ventured the timid chemist.
"For the simultaneous production of nitrogen and oxygen, from the
"Well, sir," he answered, deprecatingly, as though taking a great
liberty even in informing his master on a point the master had expressly
asked about, "there are three processes. But all operate only on a small
"Who ever told you I wanted to work on a large scale?" demanded Flint,
"I--er--inferred--beg pardon, sir--I--" And Herzog quite lost himself
and floundered hopelessly, while his mismated eyes wandered about the
room as though seeking the assurance he so sadly lacked.
"Confine yourself to answering what I ask you," directed Flint, crisply.
"You're not paid to infer. You're paid to answer questions on chemistry,
and to get results. Remember _that_!"
"Yes, sir," meekly answered the chemist, while Waldron smiled with
cynical amusement. He enjoyed nothing so delightedly as any grilling of
an employee, whether miner, railroad man, clerk, ship's captain or
what-not. This baiting, by Flint, was a rare treat to him.
"Go on," commanded the Billionaire, in a badgering tone. "What are the
processes?" He eyed Herzog as though the man had been an ox, a dog or
even some inanimate object, coldly and with narrow-lidded condescension.
To him, in truth, men were no more than Shelley's "plow or sword or
spade" for his own purpose--things to serve him and to be ruled--or
broken--as best served his ends. "Go on! Tell me what you know; and no
"Yes, sir," ventured Herzog. "There are three processes to extract
nitrogen and oxygen from air. One is by means of what the German
scientists call _Kalkstickstoff_, between calcium carbide and nitrogen,
and the reaction-symbols are--"
"No matter," Flint waived him, promptly. "I don't care for formulas or
details. What I want is results and general principles. Any other way to
extract these substances, in commercial quantities, from the air we
"Two others. But one of these operates at a prohibitive cost. The
"Yes, yes. What is it?" Flint slid off the edge of the table and walked
over to Herzog; stood there in front of him, and bored down at him with
eager eyes, the pupils contracted by morphine, but very bright. "What's
the best way?"
"With the electric arc, sir," answered the chemist, mopping his brow.
This grilling method reminded him of what he had heard of "Third Degree"
torments. "That's the best method, sir."
"Now in use, anywhere?"
"In Notodden, Norway. They have firebrick furnaces, you understand, sir,
with an alternating current of 5000 volts between water-cooled copper
electrodes. The resulting arc is spread by powerful electro-magnets,
so." And he illustrated with his eight acid-stained fingers. "Spread
out like a disk or sphere of flame, of electric fire, you see."
"Yes, and what then?" demanded Flint, while his partner, forgetting now
to smile, sat there by the window scrutinizing him. One saw, now, the
terribly keen and prehensile intellect at work under the mask of assumed
foppishness and jesting indifference--the quality, for the most part
masked, which had earned Waldron the nickname of "Tiger" in Wall Street.
"What then?" repeated Flint, once more levelling that potent forefinger
at the sweating Herzog.
"Well, sir, that gives a large reactive surface, through which the air
is driven by powerful rotary fans. At the high temperature of the
electric arc in air, the molecules of nitrogen and oxygen dissociate
into their atoms. The air comes out of the arc, charged with about one
per cent. of nitric oxide, and after that--"
"Jump the details, idiot! Can't you move faster than a paralytic snail?
What's the final result?"
"The result is, sir," answered Herzog, meek and cowed under this
harrying, "that calcium nitrate is produced, a very excellent
fertilizer. It's a form of nitrogen, you see, directly obtained from
"At what cost?"
"One ton of fixed nitrogen in that form costs about $150 or $160."
"Indeed?" commented Flint. "The same amount, combined in Chile
saltpeter, comes to--?"
"A little over $300, sir."
"Hear that, Wally?" exclaimed the Billionaire, turning to his now
interested associate. "Even if this idea never goes a step farther,
there's a gold mine in just the production of fertilizer from air! But,
after all, that will only be a by-product. It's the oxygen we're after,
and must have!"
He faced Herzog again.
"Is any oxygen liberated, during the process?" he demanded.
"At one stage, yes, sir. But in the present process, it is absorbed,
Flint's eyebrows contracted nervously. For a moment he stood thinking,
while Herzog eyed him with trepidation, and Waldron, almost forgetting
to smoke, waited developments with interest. The Billionaire, however,
wasted but scant time in consideration. It was not money now, he lusted
for, but power. Money was, to him, no longer any great desideratum. At
most, it could now mean no more to him than a figure on a check-book or
a page of statistics in his private memoranda. But power, unlimited,
indisputable power over the whole earth and the fulness thereof, power
which none might dispute, power before which all humanity must bow--God!
the lust of it now gripped and shook his soul.
Paling a little, but with eyes ablaze, he faced the anxious scientist.
"Herzog! See here!"
"I've got a job for you, understand?"
"Yes, sir. What is it?"
"A big job, and one on which your entire future depends. Put it through,
and I'll do well by you. Fail, and by the Eternal, I'll break you! I
can, and will, mark that! Do you get me?"
"I--yes, sir--that is, I'll do my best, and--"
"Listen! You go to work at once, immediately, understand? Work out for
me some process, some practicable method by which the nitrogen and
oxygen can both be collected in large quantities from the air.
Everything in my laboratories at Oakwood Heights is at your disposal.
Money's no object. Nothing counts, now, but _results_!
"I want the process all mapped out and ready for me, in its essential
outlines, two weeks from today. If it isn't--" His gesture was a menace.
"If it is--well, you'll be suitably rewarded. And no leaks, now. Not a
word of this to any one, understand? If it gets out, you know what I can
do to you, and will! Remember Roswell; remember Parker Hayes. _They_ let
news get to the Dillingham-Saunders people, about the new Tezzoni
radio-electric system--and one's dead, now, a suicide; the other's in
Sing-Sing for eighteen years. Remember that--and keep your mouth shut!"
"Yes, sir. I understand."
"All right, then. A fortnight from today, report to me here. And mind
you, have something to report, or--!"
"Very well! Now, go!"
Thus dismissed, Herzog gathered together his books and papers, blinked a
moment with those peculiar wall-eyes of his, arose and, bowing first to
Flint and then to the keenly-watching Waldron, backed out of the office.
When the door had closed behind him, Flint turned to his partner with a
"That's the way to get results, eh?" he exclaimed. "No dilly-dallying
and no soft soap; but just lay the lash right on, hard--they jump then,
the vermin! Results! That fellow will work his head off, the next two
weeks; and there'll be something doing when he comes again. You'll see!"
Waldron laughed nonchalantly. Once more the mask of indifference had
fallen over him, veiling the keen, incisive interest he had shown during
"Something doing, yes," he drawled, puffing his cigar to a glow. "Only I
advise you to choose your men. Some day you'll try that on a real
man--one of the rough-necks you know, and--"
Flint snapped his fingers contemptuously, gazed at Waldron a moment with
unwinking eyes and tugged at his mustache.
"When I need advice on handling men, I'll ask for it," he rapped out.
Then, glancing at the Louis XIV clock: "Past the time for that C.P.S.
board-meeting, Wally. No more of this, now. We'll talk it over at the
Country Club, tonight; but for the present, let's dismiss it from our
"Right!" answered the other, and arose, yawning, as though the whole
subject were of but indifferent interest to him. "It's all moonshine,
Flint. All a pipe-dream. Defoe's philosophers, who spent their lives
trying to extract sunshine from cucumbers, never entertained any more
fantastic notion than this of yours. However, it's your funeral, not
mine. You're paying for it. I decline to put in any funds for any such
purpose. Amuse yourself; you've got to settle the bill."
Flint smiled sourly, his gold tooth glinting, but made no answer.
"Come along," said his partner, moving toward the door. "They're waiting
for us, already, at the board meeting. And there's big business coming
up, today--that strike situation, you remember. Slade's going to be on
deck. We've got to decide, at once, whether or not we're going to turn
him loose on the miners, to smash that gang of union thugs and Socialist
fanatics, and do it right. _That's_ a game worth playing, Flint; but
this Air Trust vagary of yours--stuff and nonsense!"
Flint, for all reply, merely cast a strange look at his partner, with
those strongly-contracted pupils of his; and so the two vultures of prey
betook themselves to the board room where already, round the long
rosewood table, Walter Slade of the Cosmos Detective Company was laying
out his strike-breaking plans to the attentive captains of industry.
On the eleventh day after this interview between the two men who,
between them, practically held the whole world in their grasp, Herzog
telephoned up from Oakwood Heights and took the liberty of informing
Flint that his experiments had reached a point of such success that he
prayed Flint would condescend to visit the laboratories in person.
Flint, after some reflection, decided he would so condescend; and
forthwith ordered his limousine from his private garage on William
Street. Thereafter he called Waldron on the 'phone, at his Fifth Avenue
"Mr. Waldron is not up, yet, sir," a carefully-modulated voice answered
over the wire. "Any message I can give him, sir?"
"Oh, hello! That you, Edwards?" Flint demanded, recognizing the suave
tones of his partner's valet.
"All right. Tell Waldron I'll call for him in half an hour with the
limousine. And mind, now, I want him to be up and dressed! We're going
down to Staten Island. Got that?"
"Yes, sir. Any other message, sir?"
"No. But be sure you get him up, for me! Good-bye!"
Thirty minutes later, Flint's chauffeur opened the door of the big
limousine, in front of the huge Renaissance pile that Waldron's
millions had raised on land which had cost him more than as though he
had covered it with double eagles; and Flint himself ascended the steps
of Pentelican marble. The limousine, its varnish and silver-plate
flashing in the bright spring sun, stood by the curb, purring softly to
itself with all six cylinders, a thing of matchless beauty and rare
cost. The chauffeur, on the driver's seat, did not even bother to shut
off the gas, but let the engine run, regardless. To have stopped it
would have meant some trifling exertion, in starting again; and since
Flint never considered such details as a few gallons of gasoline, why
should _he_ care? Lighting a Turkish cigarette, this aristocrat of labor
lolled on the padded leather and indifferently--with more of contempt
than of interest--regarded a swarm of iron-workers, masons and laborers
at work on a new building across the avenue.
Flint, meanwhile, had entered the great mansion, its bronze
doors--ravished from the Palazzo Guelfo at Venice--having swung inward
to admit him, with noiseless majesty. Ignoring the doorman, he addressed
himself to Edwards, who stood in the spacious, mahogany-panelled hall,
washing both hands with imaginary soap.
"Waldron up, yet, Edwards?"
"No, sir. He--er--I have been unable--"
"The devil! Where is he?"
"In his apartments, sir."
"Take me up!"
"He said, sir," ventured Edwards, in his smoothest voice. "He said--"
"I don't give a damn what he said! Take me up, at once!"
"Yes, sir. Immediately, sir!" And he gestured suavely toward the
Flint strode down the hall, indifferent to the Kirmanshah rugs, the rare
mosaic floor and stained-glass windows, the Parian fountain and the
Azeglio tapestries that hung suspended up along the stairway--all old
stories to him and as commonplace as rickety odds and ends of furniture
might be to any toiler "cribbed, cabin'd and confined" in fetid East
Side tenement or squalid room on Hester Street.
The elevator boy bowed before his presence. Edwards hesitated to enter
the private elevator, with this world-master; but Flint beckoned him to
come along. And so, borne aloft by the smooth force of the electric
motor, they presently reached the upper floor where "Tiger" Waldron
laired in stately splendor, like the nabob that he was.
Without ceremony, Flint pushed forward into the bed-chamber of the
mighty one--a chamber richly finished in panels of the rare sea-grape
tree, brought from Pacific isles at great cost of money and some
expenditure of human lives; but this latter item was, of course, beneath
By the softened light which entered through rich curtains, one saw the
famous frieze of De Lussac, that banded the apartment, over the
panelling--the frieze of Bacchantes, naked and unashamed, revelling with
Satyrs in an abandon that bespoke the age when the world was young.
Their voluptuous forms entwined with clustering grapes and leaves, they
poured tipsy libations of red wine from golden chalices; while old
Silenus, god of drink, astride a donkey, applauded with maudlin joy.
Flint, however, had no eyes for this scene which would have gladdened a
voluptuary's heart--and which, for that reason was dear to Waldron--but
walked toward the huge, four-posted bed where Wally himself, now rather
paler than usual, with bloodshot eyes, was lying. This bed, despite the
fact that it had been transported all the way from Tours, France, and
that it once had belonged to an archbishop, had only too often witnessed
its owner's insomnia.
"Hm! You're a devil of a man to keep an appointment, aren't you?" Flint
sneered at the master of the house. "Eleven o'clock, and not up, yet!"
"Pardon me for remarking, my dear Flint," replied Waldron, stretching
himself between the silken sheets and reaching for a cigarette, "that
the appointment was not of my making. Also that I was up, last
night--this morning, rather--till three-thirty. And in the next place,
that scoundrel Hazeltine, trimmed me out of eighty-six thousand in four
"Roulette again, you idiot?" demanded Flint.
"And in conclusion," said Wally, "that the bigness of my head and the
brown taste in my mouth are such as no 'soda and sermons, the morning
after' can possibly alleviate. So you understand my dalliance.
"Damn those workmen!" he exclaimed, with sudden irritation, as a louder
chattering of pneumatic riveters from the new building all at once
clattered in at the window. "A free country, eh? And men are permitted
to make _that_ kind of a racket when a fellow wants to sleep! By God, if
"Drop that, Wally, and get up!" commanded Flint. "There's no time for
this kind of thing today. Herzog has just informed me his experiments
have brought results. We're going down to Oakwood Heights to sea a few
things for ourselves. And the quicker you get dressed and in your right
mind, the better. Come along, I tell you!"
"Still chasing sunbeams from cucumbers, eh?" drawled the magnate,
inhaling cigarette smoke and blowing a thin cloud toward the wanton
Bacchantes. He affected indifference, but his dull eyes brightened a
trifle in his wan face, deep-lined by the savage dissipations of the
previous night. "And you insist on dragging me out on the same fatuous
"Don't be an ass!" snapped the Billionaire. "Get up and come along. The
sooner we have this thing under way, the better."
"All right, anything to oblige," conceded Waldron, inwardly stirred by
an interest he took good care not to divulge in word or look. "Give me
just time for a cold plunge, a few minutes with my masseur and my
barber, a bite to eat and--"
Flint laid hold on his partner and shook him roughly.
"Move, you sluggard!" he commanded. And Tiger Waldron obeyed.
Forty-five minutes later, the two financiers were speeding down the
asphalt of the avenue at a good round clip. Flint's gleaming car formed
one unit of the never-ending procession of motors which, day and night,
year in and year out, spin unceasingly along the great, hard, splendid,
"I tell you," Flint was asserting as they swung into Broadway, at
Twenty-third Street, and headed for South Ferry, "I tell you, Wally,
the thing is growing vaster and more potent every moment. The longer I
look at it, the huger its possibilities loom up! With air under our
control, as a source of manufacturing alone, we can pull down perfectly
inconceivable fortunes. We shan't have to send anywhere for our raw
material. It will come to us; it's everywhere. No cost for
transportation, to begin with.
"With oxygen, nitrogen and liquid air as products, think of the
possibilities, will you? Not an ice-plant in the country could compete
with us, in the refrigerating line. With liquid air, we could sweep that
market clean. By installing it on our fruit cars and boats, and our beef
cars, the saving effected in many ways would run to millions. The sale
of nitrogen, for fertilizer, would net us billions. And, above all, the
control of the world's air supply, for breathing, would make us the
absolute, undisputed masters of mankind!
"We'd have the world by the windpipe. Its very life-breath would be at
our disposal. Ha! What about revolution, then? What about popular
discontent, and stiff-necked legislators, and cranky editors? What about
commercial and financial rivals? What about these damned Socialists,
with their brass-lunged bazoo, howling about monopoly and capitalism and
all the rest of it? Eh, what? Just one squeeze," here Flint closed his
corded, veinous fingers, "just one tightening of the fist, and--all
over! We win, hands down!"
"Like shutting the wind off from a runaway horse, eh?" suggested
Waldron, squinting at his cigar as though to hide the involuntary gleam
of light that sparkled in his narrow-set eyes.
"Precisely!" assented Flint, smiling his gold-toothed smile. "The
wildest bolter has got to stop, or fall dead, once you close his
nostrils. That's what we'll do to the world, Wally. We'll get it by the
throat--and there you are!"
"Yes, there we are," repeated Waldron, "but--"
"But what, now?"
Waldron did not answer, for a moment, but squinted up at the tall
buildings, temples of Mammon and of Greed, filled from pave to cornice
with toiling, sweated hordes of men and women, all laboring for
Capitalism; many of them, directly or indirectly, for him. Then, as the
limousine slowed at Spring Street, to let a cross-town car pass--a car
whose earnings he and Flint both shared, just as they shared those of
every surface and subway and "L" car in the vast metropolis--he said:
"Have you weighed the consequences carefully, Flint? Quite carefully?
This thing of cornering all the oxygen is a pretty big proposition. Do
you think you really ought to undertake it?"
"Have you considered the frightful suffering and loss of life it might
entail? Almost certainly would entail? Are you quite sure you _want_ to
take the world by the throat and--and choke it? For money?"
"No, not for money, Waldron. We're both staggering under money, as it
is. But power! Ah, that's different!"
"I know," admitted Waldron. "But ought we--you--to attempt this, even
for the sake of universal power? Your plan contemplates a monopoly such
that everybody who refused or was unable to buy your product would, at
best, have to get along with vitiated air, and at worst would have to
stifle. Do you really think we ought to undertake this?"
Keenly he eyed Flint, as he thus sounded the elder man's inhuman
determination. Flint, fathoming nothing of his purpose, retorted with
"Ha! Getting punctilious, all at once, are you? Talk ethics, eh? Where
were your scruples, a year ago, when people were paying 25 cents a loaf
for bread, because of that big wheat pool you put through? How about the
oil you've just lately helped me boost by a 20 per cent. increase? And
when the papers--though mostly those infernal Socialist or Anarchist
papers, or whatever they were--shouted that old men and women were
freezing in attics, last winter, what then? Did you vote to arbitrate
the D.K. coal strike? Not by a jugful! You stood shoulder to shoulder
with me, then, Wally, while _now_--!"
"It's a bit different, now," interposed "Tiger," with an evil smile,
still leading his partner along. "Since then I've had the--ah--the
extreme happiness to become engaged to your daughter, Catherine. New
thoughts have entered my mind. I've experienced a--a--"
"You quitter!" burst out Flint. "No, by God! you aren't going to put
this thing over on me. I'll have no quitter for _my_ son-in-law! Wally,
I'm astonished at you. Astonished and disappointed. You're not yourself,
this morning. That eighty-six thousand you dropped last night, has
shaken your heart. Come, come, pull together! Where's your nerve, man?
Where's your nerve?"
Waldron answered nothing. In silence the partners watched the press of
traffic, each busy with his own thoughts, Waldron waiting for Flint to
reopen fire on him, and the Billionaire decided to say no more till his
associate should make some move. Thus the limousine reached the Staten
Island ferry, that glorious monument of municipal ownership wrecked by
Tammany grafting. In silence they smoked while the car rolled down the
incline and out onto the huge ferry boat. Then, as the crowded craft got
under way, a minute later, both men left the car and strolled to the
rail to watch the glittering sparkle of the sunlight on the harbor; the
teeming commerce of the port; the creeping liners and busy tugs; the
towering figure of Liberty, her flameless torch held far aloft in
Suddenly Waldron spoke.
"You can't do it, I tell you!" said he, waving an eloquent hand toward
the sky. "It's too big, the air is, as I said before. Too damned big!
Own coal and copper, if you will, and steel and ships, here; own those
buildings back there," with a gesture at the frowning line of
skyscrapers buttressing Manhattan, "but don't buck the impossible! And
incidentally, Flint, don't misunderstand me, either. When I asked you if
we _ought_ to try it, I merely meant, would it be _safe_? The world,
Flint, is a dangerous toy to play with, too hard. The people are
perilous baubles, if you step on their corns a bit too often or too
heavily. Every Caesar has a Brutus waiting for him somewhere, with a
"Once let the unwashed get an idea into their low brows, and you can't
tell where it may lead them. Even a rat fights, in its last corner.
These human rats of ours have been getting a bit nasty of late. True,
they swallowed the Limited Franchise Bill, three years ago, with only a
little futile protest, so that now we've got them politically hamstrung.
True, there's the Dick Military Bill, recently enlarged and perfected,
so they can't move a hand without falling into treason and
court-martial. True again, they've stood for the Censorship and the
National Mounted Police--the Grays--all in the last year. But how much
more will they stand, eh? You close your hand on their windpipes, and by
God! something may happen even yet, after all!"
Flint snapped his fingers with contempt.
"Machine guns!" was all he said.
"Yes, of course," answered Waldron. "But there may be life in the old
beast yet. They may yet kick the apple cart over--and us with it. You
never can tell. And those infernal Socialists, always at it, night and
day, never letting up, flinging firebrands into the powder magazine!
_Sometime_ there's going to be one hell of a bang, Flint! And when it
comes, _suave qui peut_! So go slow, old man--go damned slow, that's all
I've got to say!"
"On the contrary," said Flint, blinking in the golden spring sunshine as
he peered out over the swashing brine at a raucous knot of gulls, "on
the contrary, Wally, I'm going to push it as fast as the Lord will let
me. You can come in, or not, as you see fit--but remember this, no
quitter ever gets a daughter of mine! And another thing; we're in the
year 1921, now, not 1910 or 1915. Developments, political and otherwise,
have moved swiftly, these few years past. Then, there might have been
trouble. To-day, there can't be. We've got things cinched too tight for
"Ten years ago, they might have had our blood, the people might, or
given us a hemp-tea party in Wall Street. today, all's safe. Come, be
a man and grip your courage! We can put the initial stages through in
absolute secrecy--and then, once we get our clutch on the world's
breath, what have we to fear?"
"Go slow, Flint!"
"Nonsense! Oxygen is life itself. There's no substitute. Vitiate the air
by removing even 10 per cent. of it, and the world will lick our boots
for a chance to breathe! Everybody's got to have oxygen, all the way
from kings and emperors down to the toiling cattle, the Henry Dubbs, as
I believe they're commonly called in vulgar speech. Shut off the air,
and 'the captains and the kings' will run to heel like the rabble
itself. Run to heel, and pay for the privilege of doing it! We've got
the universities, press, churches, laws, judges, army and navy and
everything already in our hands. We'll be secure enough, no fear!"
"Shhhhh!" And Waldron nudged the Billionaire with his elbow.
In his excitement, Flint had permitted his voice to rise, a little. Not
far from him, leaning on the rail, a stockily built young fellow in
overalls, a cap pulled down firmly over his well-shaped head, was
apparently watching the gulls and the passing boats, with eyes no less
blue than the bay itself; eyes no less glinting than the sunlight on the
waves. He seemed to be paying no heed to anything but what lay before
him. But "Tiger" Waldron, possessed of something of the instinct of the
beast whose name he bore, subconsciously sensed a peril in his nearness.
The man's ear--if unusually quick--might, just _might_ possibly have
caught a word or two meant for no interloper. And at that thought,
Waldron once more nudged his partner.
"Shhh!" he repeated, "Enough. We can finish this, in the limousine."
Flint looked at him a moment, in silence, then nodded.
"Right you are," said he. And both men climbed back into the closed car.
"You never can tell what ears are primed for news," said Waldron.
"Better take no chances."
"Before long, we can throw away all subterfuge," the Billionaire replied
as he shut the door. "But for now, well, you're correct. Once our grasp
tightens on the windpipe of the world, we're safe. From our office in
Wall Street you and I can play the keys of the world-machine as an
organist would finger his instrument. But there must be no leak; no
publicity; no suspicion aroused. We'll play our music _pianissimo_,
Wally, with rare accompaniments to the tune of 'great public utility,
benefit to the public health,' and all that--the same old game, only on
a vastly larger scale.
"Every modern composer in the field of Big Business knows that score and
has played it many times. _We_ will play it on a monstrous pipe organ,
with the world's lungs for bellows and the world's breath to vibrate our
reeds--and all paying tribute, night and day, year after year, all over
the world, Wally, all over the world!
"God! What power shall be ours! What infinite power, such as, since time
began, never yet lay in mortal hands! We shall be as gods, Waldron, you
and I--and between us, we shall bring the human race wallowing to our
feet in helpless bondage, in supreme abandon!"
The ferry boat, nearing the Staten Island landing, slowed its ponderous
screws. The chauffeur flung away his cigarette, drew on his gauntlets
and accelerated his engine. Forward the human drove began to press,
under the long slave-driven habit of haste, of eagerness to do the
The young mechanic by the rail--he of the overalls and keen blue
eyes--turned toward the bows, picked up a canvas bag of tools and stood
there waiting with the rest.
For a moment his glance rested on the limousine and the two half-seen
figures within. As it did so, a wanton breeze from off the Island
flapped back the lapel of his jumper. In that brief instant one might
have seen a button pinned upon his blue flannel shirt--clasped hands,
surrounded by the legend: "Workers of the World, Unite!"
But neither of the plutocrats observed this; nor, had they seen, would
they have understood.
And whether the sturdy toiler had overheard aught of their infernal
conspiring--or, having heard it, grasped its dire and criminal
significance--who, who in all this weary and toil-burdened world, could
IN THE LABORATORY.
Half an hour's run down Staten Island, along smooth roads lined with
sleepy little towns and through sparse woods beyond which sparkled the
shining waters of the harbor, brought the two plutocrats to the quiet
settlement of Oakwood Heights.
Now the blase chauffeur swung the car sharply to the left, past the
aviation field, and so came to the wide-scattered settlement--almost a
colony--which, hidden behind high, barb-wire-topped fences, carried on
the many and complex activities of the partners' experiment station.
Here were the several laboratories where new products were evolved and
old ones refined, for Flint's and Waldron's greater profit. Here stood a
complete electric power plant, for lighting and heating the works, as
well as for current to use in the retorts and many powerful machines of
the testing works.
Here, again, were broad proving grounds, for fuel and explosives; and,
at one side, stood a low, skylighted group of brick buildings, known as
the electro-chemical station. Dormitories and boarding-houses for the
small army of employees occupied the eastern end of the enclosure,
nearest the sea. Over all, high chimney stacks and the aerials of a
mighty wireless plant dominated the entire works. A private railroad
spur pierced the western side of the enclosure, for food and coal
supplies, as well as for the handling of the numerous imports and
exports of this wonderfully complete feudal domain. As the colony lay
there basking in the sunshine of early spring, under its drifting
streamers of smoke, it seemed an ideal picture of peaceful activities.
Here a locomotive puffed, shunting cars; there, a steam-jet flung its
plumes of snowy vapor into air; yonder, a steam hammer thundered on a
massive anvil. And forges rang, and through open windows hummed sounds
And yet, not one of all those sounds but echoed more bitter slavery for
men. Not one of all those many activities but boded ill to humanity. For
the whole plan and purpose of the place was the devising of still wider
forms of human exploitation and enslavement. Its every motive was to
serve the greed of Flint and Waldron. Outwardly honest and industrious,
it inwardly loomed sinister and terrible, a type and symbol of its
masters' swiftly growing power. Such, in its essence, was the great
experiment station of these two men who lusted for dominion over the
As the long, glittering car drew up at the main gate of the enclosure, a
sharp-eyed watchman peered through a sliding wicket therein. Satisfied
by his inspection, he withdrew; and at once the big gate rolled back,
smoothly actuated by electricity. The car purred onward, into the
enclosure. When the gate had closed noiselessly behind it, the chauffeur
ran it down a splendidly paved roadway, swung to the right, past the
machine shops, and drew it to a stand in front of the administration
Flint and his partner alighted, and stood for a moment surveying the
scene with satisfaction. Then Flint turned to the chauffeur.
"Put the car in the garage," he directed. "We may not want it till
The blase one touched his cap and nodded, in obedience. Then, as the car
withdrew, the partners ascended the broad steps.
"Good chap, that Herrick," commented Waldron, casting a glance at the
retreating chauffeur. "Quick-witted, and mum. Give me a man who knows
how to mind _and_ keep still about it, every time!"
"Right," assented Flint. "Obedience is the first of all virtues, and the
second is silence. Well, it looks to me as though we had the whole world
coming our way, now, along that very same path of virtue. Once we get
this air proposition really to working, the world will obey. It will
have to! And as for silence, we can manage that, too. The mere turn of a
Waldron smiled grimly, as though in derision of what he seemed to think
his partner's chimerical hopes, but made no answer. Together they
entered the administration building. Five minutes later, Herzog, their
servile experimenter, stood bowing and cringing before them.
"Got it, Herzog?" demanded Flint, while Waldron lighted still another of
those costly cigars--each one worth a good mechanic's daily wage.
"Yes, sir, I believe so, sir," the scientist replied, depreciatingly.
"That is, at least, on a small scale. Two weeks was the time you allowed
me, sir, but--"
"I know. You've done it in eleven days," interrupted, the Billionaire.
"Very well. I knew you could. You'll lose nothing by it. So no more of
that. Show us what you've done. Everything all ready?"
"Quite ready, sir," the other answered. "If you'll be so good as to step
into the electro-chemical building?"
Flint very graciously signified his willingness thus to condescend; and
without delay, accompanied by the still incredulous Waldron, and
followed by Herzog, he passed out of the administration building,
through a covered passage and into the electro-chemical works.
A variety of strange odors and stranger sounds filled this large brick
structure, windowless on every side and lighted only by broad skylights
of milky wire-glass--this arrangement being due to the extreme secrecy
of many processes here going forward. The partners had no intention that
any spying eyes should ever so much as glimpse the work in this
department; work involving foods, fuels, power, lighting, almost the
entire range of the vast network of exploiting media they had already
flung over a tired world.
"This way, gentlemen," ventured Herzog, pointing toward a metal door at
the left of the main room. He unlocked this, which was guarded by a
combination lock, like that of a bank vault, and waited for them to
enter; then closed it after them, and made quite sure the metal door was
A peculiar, pungent smell greeted the partners' nostrils as they glanced
about the inner laboratory. At one side an electric furnace was glowing
with graphite crucibles subjected to terrific heat. On the other a
dynamo was humming. Before them a broad, tiled bench held a strange
assortment of test tubes, retorts and complex apparatus of glass and
gleaming metal. The whole was lighted by a strong white light from
above, through the milk-hued glass--one of Herzog's own inventions, by
the way; a wonderful, light-intensifying glass, which would bend but not
break; an invention which, had he himself profited by it, would have
brought him millions, but which the partners had exploited without ever
having given him a single penny above his very moderate salary.
"Is that it?" demanded Flint, a glitter lighting up his
morphia-contracted pupils. He jerked his thumb at a complicated nexus of
tubes, brass cylinders, coiled wires and glistening retorts which stood
at one end of the broad work-bench.
"That is it, sir," answered Herzog, apologetically, while "Tiger"
Waldron's hard face hardened even more. "Only an experimental model, you
understand, sir, but--"
"It gets results?" queried Flint sharply. "It produces oxygen and
nitrogen on a scale that indicates success, with adequate apparatus?"
"Yes, sir. I believe so, sir. No doubt about it; none whatever."
"Good!" exclaimed the Billionaire. "Now show us!"
"With pleasure, sir. But first, let me explain, a little."
"Well, what?" demanded Flint. His partner, meanwhile, had drawn near the
apparatus, and was studying it with a most intense concentration. Plain
to see, beneath this man's foppish exterior and affected cynicism, dwelt
powerful purposes and keen intelligence.
"Explain what?" repeated the Billionaire. "As far as details go, I'm not
interested. All I want is results. Go ahead, Herzog; start your machine
and let me see what it can do."
"I will, sir," acceded the scientist. "But first, with your permission,
I'll point out a few of its main features, and--"
"Damn the main features!" cried Flint. "Get busy with the
"Hold on, hold on," now interrupted Waldron. "Let him discourse, if he
wants to. Ever know a scientist who wasn't primed to the muzzle with
expositions? Here, Herzog," he added, turning to the inventor, "I'll
listen, if nobody else will."
Undecided, Herzog smiled nervously. Even Flint had to laugh at his
"All right, go on," said the Billionaire. "Only for God's sake, make it
Herzog, thus adjured, cleared his throat and blinked uneasily.
"Oxygen," he said. "Yes, I can produce it quickly, easily and in large
quantities. As a gas, or as a liquid, which can be shipped to any
desired point and there transformed into gaseous form. Liquid air can
also be produced by this same machine, for refrigerating purposes. You
understand, of course, that when liquid air evaporates, it is only the
nitrogen that goes back into the atmosphere at 313 degrees below zero.
The residue is pure liquid oxygen. In other words, this apparatus will
make money as a liquid air plant, and furnish you oxygen as a
"It will also turn out nitrogen, for fertilizing purposes. The income
from a full-sized machine, on this pattern, from all three sources,
should be very large indeed."
"Good," put in Waldron. "And liquid air, for example, would cost how
much to produce?"
"With power-cost at half a cent per H.P. hour, about $2.50 a ton. The
oxygen by-product alone will more than pay for that, in purifying and
cooling buildings, or used to promote combustion in locomotives and
other steam engines. The liquid air itself can be used as a motive power
for a certain type of expansion engine, or--"
"There, there, that's enough!" interposed Flint, brusquely. "We don't
need any of your advice or suggestions, Herzog. As far as the disposal
of the product is concerned, we can take care of that. All we want from
you is the assurance that that product can be obtained, easily and
cheaply, and in unlimited quantities. Is that the case?"
"It is, sir."
"All right. And can liquid oxygen be easily transported any considerable
"Yes, sir. In what is known as Place's Vacuum-jacketed Insulated
Container, it can be kept for weeks at a time without any appreciable
Flint pondered a moment, then asked, again:
"Could large tanks, holding say, a million gallons, be built on that
principle, for wholesale storage? And could vacuum-jacketed pipes be
laid, for conveying liquid oxygen or its gas?"
"No reason why not, sir. Yes, I may say all that is quite feasible."
"Very well, then," snapped Flint. "That's enough for the present. Now,
show us your machine at work! Start it Herzog. Let's see what you can
The Billionaire's eyes glittered as Herzog laid a hand on a gleaming
switch. Even Waldron forgot to smoke.
"Gentlemen, observe," said Herzog, as he threw the lever.
OXYGEN, KING OF INTOXICATORS.
A soft humming note began to vibrate through the inner laboratory--a
note which rose in pitch, steadily, as Herzog shoved the lever from one
copper post to another, round the half-circle.
"I am now heating the little firebrick furnace," said the scientist. "In
Norway, they use an alternating current of only 5,000 volts, between
water-cooled copper electrodes, as I have already told you. I am using
30,000 volts, and my electrodes, my own invention, are--"
"Never mind," growled Flint. "Just let's see some of the product--some
liquid oxygen, that's all. The why and wherefore is your job, not ours!"
Herzog, with a pained smile, bent and peered through a red glass
bull's-eye that now had begun to glow in the side of his apparatus.
"The arc is good," he muttered, as to himself. "Now I will throw in the
electro-magnets and spread it; then switch in my intensifying condenser,
and finally set the turbine fans to work, to throw air through the
field. Then we shall see, we shall see!"
Suiting the action to the words, he deftly touched here a button, there
a lever; and all at once a shrill buzzing rose above the lower drone of
the induction coils.
"Gentlemen," said Herzog, straightening up and facing his employers,
"the process is now already at work. In five minutes--yes, in three--I
shall have results to show you!"
"Good!" grunted Waldron. "That's all we're after, results. That's the
only way you hold your job, Herzog, just getting results!"
He relighted his cigar, which had gone out during Herzog's
explanation--for "Tiger" Waldron, though he could drop thousands at
roulette without turning a hair, never yet had been known to throw away
a cigar less than half smoked. Flint, meanwhile, took out a little
morocco-covered note book and made a few notes. In this book he had kept
an outline of his plan from the very first; and now with pleasure he
added some memoranda, based on what Herzog had just told him, as well as
observations on the machine itself.
Thus two minutes passed, then three.
"Time's up, Herzog!" exclaimed Waldron, glancing at the electric clock
on the wall. "Where's the juice?"
"One second, sir," answered the scientist. Again he peeked through the
glowing bull's-eye. Then, his face slightly pale, his bulging eyes
blinking nervously, he took two small flint glass bottles, set them
under a couple of pipettes, and deftly made connections.
"Oxygen cocktail for mine," laughed Waldron, to cover a certain emotion
he could not help feeling at sight of the actual operation of a process
which might, after all, open out ways and means for the utter
subjugation of the world.
Neither Flint nor the inventor vouchsafed even a smile. The Billionaire
drew near, adjusted a pair of pince-nez on his hawk-like nose, and
peered curiously at the apparatus. Herzog, with a quick gesture, turned
a small silver faucet.
"Oxygen! Unlimited oxygen!" he exclaimed. "I have found the process,
gentlemen, commercially practicable. Oxygen!"
Even as he spoke, a lambent, sparkling liquid began to flow through the
pipette, into the flask. At sight of it, the Billionaire's eyes lighted
up with triumph. Waldron, despite his assumed nonchalance, felt the
hunting thrill of Wall street, the quick stab of exultation when victory
seemed well in hand.
"These bottles," said Herzog, "are double, constructed on the principle
of the Thermos bottle. They will keep the liquid gases I shall show you,
for days. Huge tanks could be built on the same principle. In a short
time, gentlemen, you can handle tons of these gases, if you
like--thousands of tons, unlimited tons.
"The Siemens and Halske people, and the Great Falls, S.C., plant, will
be mere puttering experimenters beside you. For neither they nor any
other manufacturers have any knowledge of the vital process--my secret,
polarizing transformer, which does the work in one-tenth the time and at
one-hundredth the cost of any other known process. For example, see
He turned the faucet, disconnected the flask and handed it to Flint.
"There, sir," he remarked, "is a half-pint of pure liquid oxygen, drawn
from the air in less than eight minutes, at a cost of perhaps two-tenths
of a cent. On a large scale the cost can be vastly reduced. Are you
Flint nodded, curtly.
"You'll do, Herzog," he replied--his very strongest form of
commendation. "You're not half bad, after all. So this is liquid oxygen,
eh? Very cheap, and very cold?"
His eyes gleamed with joy at sight of the translucent potent stuff--the
very stuff of life, its essence and prime principle, without which
neither plant nor animal nor man can live--oxygen, mother of all life,
sustainer of the world.
"Very cheap, yes, sir," answered the scientist. "And cold, enormously
cold. The specimen you hold in your hand, in that vacuum-protected
flask, is more than three hundred degrees below zero. One drop of it on
your palm would burn it to the bone. Incidentally, let me tell you
"And that is?"
"This specimen is the allotropic or condensed form of oxygen, much more
powerful than the usual liquified gas."
"Ozone, you mean?"
"Precisely. Would you like to sense its effect as a ventilating agent?"
"None, sir. Here, allow me."
Herzog took the flask, pressed a little spring and liberated the top. At
once a whitish vapor began to coil from the neck of the bottle.
"Hm!" grunted Waldron, smiling. "Mountain winds and sea breezes have
nothing on that!" He sniffed with appreciation. "Some gas, all right!"
"You're right, Wally," answered the Billionaire. "If this works out on a
large scale, in all its details--well--I needn't impress its importance
Yielding to the influence of the wonderful, life-giving gas, the rather
close air of the laboratory, contaminated by a variety of chemical
odors, and vitiated by its recent loss of oxygen, had begun to freshen
and purify itself in an astonishing manner. One would have thought that
through an open window, close at hand, the purest ocean breeze was
blowing. A faint tinge of color began to liven the somewhat pasty cheek
of the Billionaire. Waldron's big chest expanded and his eye brightened.
Even the meek Herzog stood straighter and looked more the man, under the
stimulus of the life-giving ozone.
"Fine!" exclaimed Flint, with unwonted enthusiasm, and nearly yielded to
a laugh. Waldron went so far as to slap Herzog on the shoulder.
"You're some wizard, old man!" he exclaimed, with a warmth hitherto
never known by him--for already the subtle gas was beginning to
intoxicate his senses. "And you can handle nitrogen with the same ease
"Exactly," answered Herzog. "This other vial contains pure nitrogen.
With enlarged apparatus, I can supply it by the trainload. The world's
fertilizer problem is solved!"
"Great work!" ejaculated Waldron, even more excited than before, but
Flint, his natural sourness asserting itself, merely growled some
"Nitrogen can go hang," said he. "It's oxygen we're after, primarily.
Once we get our grip on that, the world will be--"
Waldron checked him just in time.
"Enough of this," he interrupted sharply. "I admit, I'm not myself, in
this rich atmosphere. I know _you're_ feeling it, already, Flint. Come
along out of this, where we can regain our aplomb. We've seen enough,
He turned to Herzog.
"For God's sake, man," cried he, "cork that magic bottle of yours,
before all the oxygen-genii escape, or you'll have us both under the
table! And, see here," he added, pulling out his check-book, while Flint
stared in amazed disgust. "Here, take a blank check." He took his
fountain pen and scrawled his name on one. "The amount? That's up to
you. Now, let us out," he bade, as Herzog stood there regarding the
check with entire uncomprehension. "Out, I say, before I get
Herzog, perfectly comprehending the magnates' unusual conduct as due to
oxygen-intoxication in its initial stage, made no comment, but walked to
the door, spun the combination and flung it open.
"Glad to have had the pleasure of demonstrating the process to you,
gentlemen," said he. "If you're convinced it's practicable, I'm at your
orders for any larger extension of the work. Have you any other question
Neither magnate answered. Flint was trying hard to hold his
self-control. Waldron, red-faced now and highly stimulated, looked as
though he had been drinking even more than usual.
Both passed out of the laboratory with rather unsteady steps. Together
they retraced their way to the administration building; and there, safe
at last in the private inner office, with the door locked, they sat down
and stared at each other with expressions of amazement.
A FREAK OF FATE.
Waldron was the first to speak. With a sudden laugh, boisterous and
wild, he cried:
"Flint, you old scoundrel, you're drunk!"
"Drunk yourself!" retorted the Billionaire, half starting from his
chair, his fist clenched in sudden passion. "How dare you--?"
"Dare? I dare anything!" exclaimed Waldron. "Yes, I admit it--I _am_
half seas over. That ozone--God! what a stimulant! Must be some
wonderfully powerful form. If we--could market it--"
Flint sank back in his chair, waving an extravagant hand.
"Market it?" he answered. "Of course we can market it, and will! Drunk
or sober, Wally, I know what I'm talking about. The power now in our
grasp has never yet been equalled on earth. On the one side, we can
half-stifle every non-subscriber to our service, or wholly stifle every
rebel against us. On the other, we can simply saturate every subscriber
with health and energy, or even--if they want it--waft them to paradise
on the wings of ozone. The old Roman idea of 'bread and circus' to rule
the mob, was child's play compared to this! Science has delivered the
whole world into our hands. Power, man, power! Absolute, infinite power
over every living, breathing thing!"
He fell silent, pondering the vast future; and Waldron, gazing at him
with sparkling eyes, nodded with keen satisfaction. Thus for a few
moments they sat, looking at each other and letting imagination ran
riot; and as they sat, the sudden, stimulating effect of the condensed
oxygen died in their blood, and calmer feelings ensued.
Presently Waldron spoke again.
"Let's get down to brass tacks," said he, drawing his chair up to the
table. "I'm almost myself again. The subtle stuff has got out of my
brain, at last. Generalities and day-dreams are all very well, Flint,
but we've got to lay out some definite line of campaign. And the sooner
we get to it the better."
"Hm!" sneered Flint. "If it's not more practical than your action in
giving Herzog that blank check, it won't be worth much. As an
extravagant action, Wally, I've never seen it equalled. I'm astonished,
indeed I am!"
Waldron laughed easily.
"Don't worry," he answered his partner. "That temporary aberration of
judgment, due to oxygen-stimulus, will have no results. Herzog won't
dare fill out the check, anyhow, because he knows he'd get into trouble
if he did; and even though he should, he can collect nothing. I'll have
payment stopped, at once, on that number. No danger, Flint!"
"I don't know," mused the Billionaire. "It may be that this man has us
just a little under his thumb. He, and he alone, understands the
process. We've got to treat him with due consideration, or he may leave
us and carry his secret to others--to Masterson, for instance, or the
Amalgamated people, or--"
"Nothing doing on that, old man!" interrupted "Tiger." "Have no fear.
The first move he makes, off to Sing Sing he goes, the way we jobbed
Parker Hayes. Slade and the Cosmos Agency can take care of _him_, all
right, if he asserts himself!"
"Very likely," answered Flint, who had now at last entirely recovered
his sang-froid. "But in that event, our work would be at a standstill.
No, Waldron, we mustn't oppose this fellow. Better let the check go
through, if he has nerve enough to fill it out and cash it. He won't
dare gouge very deep; and no matter what he takes, it won't be a drop in
the ocean, compared to the golden flood now almost within our grasp!"
Waldron pondered a moment, then nodded assent.
"All right. Correct," he finally answered. "So then, we can dismiss that
trifle from our minds. Now, to work! We've got the process we were
after. What next?"
"First of all," answered the Billionaire, "we'll let this Herzog
understand that he's to have a share in the results; that in this, as in
everything so far, he's merely a tool--and that when tools lose their
cutting edge we break 'em. He's a meek devil. We can hold _him_ easily
"Right. And then?" asked Waldron.
"Then? First of all, a good, big, wide-sweeping publicity campaign. That
must begin today, to prepare opinion for the forthcoming development of
the new idea."
"Henderson can handle that, all right," said Wally, leaning forward in
his chair. "Give him the idea, and turn him loose, and he'll get
results. A clever dog, that. He and his press bureau, working through
all the big dailies and many of the magazines, can turn this country
upside down in six months. Let him get on this job, and before you know
it the public will be demanding, be fighting for a chance to subscribe
to the new ventilating-service. That part of it is easy!"
"Yes, you're right," replied Flint. "We'll see Henderson no later than
this afternoon. He and his writers can lay out a series of popular
articles and advertisements, to be run as pure reading matter, with no
distinguishing mark that they _are_ ads, which will get the country--the
whole world, in fact--coming our way."
"Good," the other assented. "Meantime, we can begin installing oxygen
machines on a big scale, a huge scale, to supply the demand that's bound
to arise. Where do you think we'd best manufacture? Herzog says water
power is the correct thing. We might use Niagara--use some of the
surplus power we already own there."
"Niagara would do, very well," answered Flint. He had once more taken
out his little morocco-covered note book, and was now jotting down some
further memoranda. "It's a good location. Pipe-lines could easily be
extended, from it, to cover practically a quarter to a third of the
United States. Eventually we'll put in another plant in Chicago, one in
Denver and one on the Pacific Coast. Then, in time, there must be
distributing centers in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. But for the
present, we'll begin with the Niagara plant. After we get that under
full operation, the others will develop in due course of time."
"Our charter covers this new line of work. There will be no need of any
legal technicalities," said Waldron, with a smile. "Some charter, if I
do say it, who shouldn't. I drew it, you remember. Nothing much in the
way of possible business-extension got past _me_!"
"You're right," he answered. "Nothing stands in our way, now. Positively
nothing. We have land, power and capital without limit. We have the
process. We control press, law, courts, judges, military and every other
form of government. All we need look out for is to secure public
confidence and keep the bandage on the eyes of the world till our system
is actually in operation--then there will be no redress, no come back,
no possible rebellion. As I've already said, Wally, we'll have the whole
world by the windpipe; and let the mob howl _then_, if they dare!"
"Yes, let 'em howl!" chimed in "Tiger," with a snarl that proved his
nickname no misnomer. "Inside of a year we'll have them all where we
want them. You were right, Flint, when you called oil, coal, iron and
all the rest of it mere petty activities. Air--ah! that's the talk! Once
we get the _air_ under our control, we're emperors of all life!"
His words rang frank and bold, but something in his look, as he blinked
at his partner, might have given Flint cause for uneasiness, had the
Billionaire noticed that oblique and dangerous glance. One might have
read therein some shifty and devious plan of Waldron's to dominate even
Flint himself, to rule the master or to wreck him, and to seize in his
own hands the reins of universal power. But Flint, bending over his
note-book and making careful memoranda, saw nothing of all this.
Waldron, an inveterate smoker, lighted a fresh cigar, leaned back,
surveyed his partner and indulged in a short inner laugh, which hardly
curved his cruel lips, but which hardened still more those pale-blue,
steely eyes of his.
"All right," said he, at last. "Enough of this, Flint. Let's get back to
town, now, and have a conference with Henderson. That's the first step.
By tonight, the whole campaign of publicity must be mapped out. Come,
come; you can finish your memoranda later. I'm impatient to be back in
Wall Street. Come along!"
Five minutes later, having left orders that Herzog was to attend upon
them in their private offices, next morning, they had ordered the
limousine and were making way along the hard road toward the gate of the
The gate opened to let them pass, then swung and locked again, behind
them. At a good clip, the powerful car picked up speed on the homeward
way. The two magnates, exultant and flushed with the consciousness of
coming victory, lolled in the deeply-cushioned seat and spoke of power.
As they swung past the aviation field and neared the Oakwood Heights
station, a train pulled out. Down the road came tramping a workingman in
overalls and jumper, with a canvas bag of tools swinging from his brawny
right hand. As he walked, striding along with splendid energy, he
whistled to himself--no cheap ragtime air, but Handel's Largo, with an
appreciation which bespoke musical feeling of no common sort.
The Billionaire caught sight of him, just as the car slowed to take the
sharp turn by the station. Instant recognition followed. Flint's eyes
"Hm! The same fellow," he grunted to himself. "The same rascal who stood
beside us on the ferry boat, as we were talking over our plans. Now,
what the devil?"
Shadowed by a kind of instinctive uneasiness, not yet definite or clear
but more in the nature of a premonition of trouble, Flint gazed fixedly
at the mechanic as the car swung round the bend in the road. The glance
Yielding to some kind of imperative curiosity, the Billionaire leaned
over the side of the car--leaned out, with his coat flapping in the
stiff wind--and for a moment peered back at the disquieting workman.
Then the car swept him out of sight, and Flint resumed his seat again.
He did not know--for he had not seen it happen--that in that moment the
slippery, leather-covered note-book had slid from his lolling coat
pocket and had fallen with a sharp slap on the white macadam, skidded
along and come to rest in the ditch.
The workingman, however, who had paused and turned to look after the
speeding car, _he_ had seen all this.
A moment he stood there, peering. Then, retracing his steps with
resolution he picked up the little book and slid it into the pocket of
Deserted was the road. Not a soul was to be seen, save the crossing
flagman, musing in his chair beside his little hut, quite oblivious to
everything but a rank cob pipe. The workman's act had not been noticed.
Nobody had observed him. Nobody knew. Not a living creature had
witnessed the slight deed on which, by a strange freak of fate, the
history of the world was yet to turn.
ONE UNBIDDEN, SHARES GREAT SECRETS.
Immediately on discovering his loss--which was soon after having reached
his office--Flint, in something like a fright, telephoned down to the
Oakwood Heights laboratory and instructed Herzog, in person, to make a
careful search for it and to report results inside an hour. Even though
some of the essentials of his plan were written in a code of his own
devising, Flint paled before the possible results should the book fall
into the hands of anybody intelligent enough to fathom its meaning.
"Damn the luck!" he ejaculated, pacing the office floor, his fists
knotted. "If it had been a pocket book with a few thousand inside, that
would have been a trifle. But to lose my plan of campaign--God grant no
harm may come of it!"
Waldron, slyly observing him, could not suppress a smile.
"Calling on God, eh?" sneered he. "You _must_ be agitated. I haven't
heard that kind of entreaty on your lips, Flint, since the year of the
big coal strike, when you prayed God the gun-men might 'get' the
strikers before they could organize. Come, come, man, brace up! Your
book will turn up all right; and even if it doesn't there's no cause for
alarm. It would take a man of extraordinary acumen to read _your_
hieroglyphics! Cheer up, Flint. There's really nothing to excite you."
The Billionaire thus adjured, sat down and tried to calm his agitation.
"Rotten luck, eh?" he queried. "But after all, Herzog is likely to find
the book. And even if he doesn't, I guess we're safe enough. The very
boldness of the plan--supposing even that the finder could grasp
it--would put it outside the seeming range of the possible. It's hardly
a hundred to one shot any harm may come of it."
"All right, then, let it go at that," said Waldron. "And now, to
business. Suppose, for example, you've got a perfectly unlimited supply
of oxygen-gas and liquid. How are you going to market it? Just what
details have you worked out?"
Flint pondered a moment, before replying. At last he said:
"Of course you understand, Wally, I can't give you every point. The
whole thing will be an evolution, and new ideas and processes, new uses
and demands will develop as time passes. But in the main, my idea is
this: The big producing stations will steadily extract oxygen from the
atmosphere, thus leaving the air increasingly poorer and less adapted to
sustaining human life.
"I shall store the oxygen in vast tanks, like the ordinary gas-tanks to
be found in every city, only much bigger. These tanks will be fed by
pipe-lines from the central stations, thus."
Flint drew toward him a sheet of his heavily embossed letter-paper, and,
picking up a pencil, began to sketch a rough diagram. Waldron, making no
comment, followed every stroke with keen interest.
"From these tanks," the Billionaire continued, "smaller pipes will
convey the gaseous oxygen to every house taking our service."
"Just like ordinary gas?"
"Precisely. Each room will be fitted with an oxygen jet apparatus,
something like a gas burner, with a safety device to prevent over supply
and avoid the dangers of combustion."
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