JIMMY CATCHES THE BOSS'S EYE
When Jimmy arrived at Mr. Pett's office on Pine Street at
ten-thirty the next morning--his expressed intention of getting
up early enough to be there by nine having proved an empty
boast--he was in a high state of preparedness. He had made ready
for what might be a trying interview by substituting a
combination of well-chosen dishes at an expensive hotel for the
less imaginative boarding-house breakfast with which he had of
late been insulting his interior. His suit was pressed, his shoes
gleamed brightly, and his chin was smoothly shaven. These things,
combined with the perfection of the morning and that vague
exhilaration which a fine day in down-town New York brings to the
man who has not got to work, increased his natural optimism.
Something seemed to tell him that all would be well. He would
have been the last person to deny that his position was a little
complicated--he had to use a pencil and a sheet of paper to show
himself just where he stood--but what of that? A few
complications in life are an excellent tonic for the brain. It
was with a sunny geniality which startled that unaccustomed
stripling considerably--and indeed caused him to swallow his
chewing gum--that he handed in his card to Mr. Pett's watchfully
"This to the boss, my open-faced lad!" he said. "Get swiftly off
The boy departed dumbly.
From where he stood, outside the barrier which separated visitors
to the office from the workers within, Jimmy could see a vista of
efficient-looking young men with paper protectors round their
cuffs working away at mysterious jobs which seemed to involve the
use of a great deal of paper. One in particular was so surrounded
by it that he had the appearance of a bather in surf. Jimmy eyed
these toilers with a comfortable and kindly eye. All this
industry made him feel happy. He liked to think of this sort of
thing going on all round him.
The office-boy returned. "This way, please."
The respectfulness of the lad's manner had increased noticeably.
Mr. Pett's reception of the visitor's name had impressed him. It
was an odd fact that the financier, a cipher in his own home,
could impress all sorts of people at the office.
To Mr. Pett, the announcement that Mr. James Crocker was waiting
to see him had come like the announcement of a miracle. Not a day
had passed since their return to America without lamentations
from Mrs. Pett on the subject of their failure to secure the
young man's person. The occasion of Mrs. Pett's reading of the
article in the _Sunday Chronicle_ descriptive of the Lord Percy
Whipple affair had been unique in the little man's domestic
history. For the first time since he had known her the
indomitable woman had completely broken down. Of all sad words of
tongue or pen the saddest are these "It might have been!" and the
thought that, if she had only happened to know it, she had had in
her hands during that interview with her sister in London a
weapon which would have turned defeat into triumph was more than
even Mrs. Pett's strong spirit could endure. When she looked back
on that scene and recalled the airy way in which Mrs. Crocker had
spoken of her step-son's "best friend, Lord Percy Whipple" and
realised that at that very moment Lord Percy had been recovering
in bed from the effects of his first meeting with Jimmy Crocker,
the iron entered into her soul and she refused to be comforted.
In the first instant of realisation she thought of six separate
and distinct things she could have said to her sister, each more
crushing than the last--things which now she would never be able
And now, suddenly and unaccountably, the means was at hand for
restoring her to her tranquil self-esteem. Jimmy Crocker, despite
what his stepmother had said, probably in active defiance of her
commands, had come to America after all. Mr. Pett's first thought
was that his wife would, as he expressed it to himself, be
"tickled to death about this." Scarcely waiting for the
office-boy to retire, he leaped towards Jimmy like a gambolling
lamb and slapped him on the back with every evidence of joy and
"My dear boy!" he cried. "My dear boy! I'm delighted to see you!"
Jimmy was surprised, relieved, and pleased. He had not expected
this warmth. A civil coldness had been the best he had looked
for. He had been given to understand that in the Pett home he was
regarded as the black sheep: and, while one may admit a black
sheep into the fold, it does not follow that one must of
necessity fawn upon him.
"You're very kind," he said, rather startled.
They inspected each other for a brief moment. Mr. Pett was
thinking that Jimmy was a great improvement on the picture his
imagination had drawn of him. He had looked for something
tougher, something flashy and bloated. Jimmy, for his part, had
taken an instant liking to the financier. He, too, had been
misled by imagination. He had always supposed that these
millionaires down Wall Street way were keen, aggressive fellows,
with gimlet eyes and sharp tongues. On the boat he had only seen
Mr. Pett from afar, and had had no means of estimating his
character. He found him an agreeable little man.
"We had given up all hope of your coming," said Mr. Pett.
A little manly penitence seemed to Jimmy to be in order.
"I never expected you would receive me like this. I thought I
must have made myself rather unpopular."
Mr. Pett buried the past with a gesture.
"When did you land?" he asked.
"This morning. On the _Caronia_ . . ."
There was a silence. It seemed to Jimmy that Mr. Pett was looking
at him rather more closely than was necessary for the actual
enjoyment of his style of beauty. He was just about to throw out
some light remark about the health of Mrs. Pett or something
about porpoises on the voyage to add local colour and
verisimilitude, when his heart missed a beat, as he perceived
that he had made a blunder. Like many other amateur plotters, Ann
and he had made the mistake of being too elaborate. It had struck
them as an ingenious idea for Jimmy to pretend that he had
arrived that morning, and superficially it was a good idea: but
he now remembered for the first time that, if he had seen Mr.
Pett on the _Atlantic_, the probability was that Mr. Pett had seen
him. The next moment the other had confirmed this suspicion.
"I've an idea I've seen you before. Can't think where."
"Everybody well at home?" said Jimmy.
"I'm sure of it."
"I'm looking forward to seeing them all."
"I've seen you some place."
"I'm often there."
Mr. Pett seemed to be turning this remark over in his mind a
trifle suspiciously. Jimmy changed the subject.
"To a young man like myself," he said, "with life opening out
before him, there is something singularly stimulating in the
sight of a modern office. How busy those fellows seem!"
"Yes," said Mr. Pett. "Yes." He was glad that this conversational
note had been struck. He was anxious to discuss the future with
this young man.
"Everybody works but father!" said Jimmy.
Mr. Pett started.
Mr. Pett was vaguely ruffled. He suspected insult, but could not
pin it down. He abandoned his cheeriness, however, and became the
man of business.
"I hope you intend to settle down, now that you are here, and
work hard," he said in the voice which he vainly tried to use on
Ogden at home.
"Work!" said Jimmy blankly.
"I shall be able to make a place for you in my office. That was
my promise to your step-mother, and I shall fulfil it."
"But wait a minute! I don't get this! Do you mean to put me to
"Of course. I take it that that was why you came over here,
because you realised how you were wasting your life and wanted a
chance of making good in my office."
A hot denial trembled on Jimmy's tongue. Never had he been so
misjudged. And then the thought of Ann checked him. He must do
nothing that would interfere with Ann's plans. Whatever the cost,
he must conciliate this little man. For a moment he mused
sentimentally on Ann. He hoped she would understand what he was
going through for her sake. To a man with his ingrained distaste
for work in any shape the sight of those wage-slaves outside
there in the outer office had, as he had told Mr. Pett, been
stimulating: but only because it filled him with a sort of
spiritual uplift to think that he had not got to do that sort of
thing. Consider them in the light of fellow-workers, and the
spectacle ceased to stimulate and became nauseating. And for her
sake he was about to become one of them! Had any knight of old
ever done anything as big as that for his lady? He very much
"All right," he said. "Count me in. I take it that I shall have a
job like one of those out there?"
"Not presuming to dictate, I suggest that you give me something
that will take some of the work off that fellow who's swimming in
paper. Only the tip of his nose was above the surface as I passed
through. I never saw so many fellows working so hard at the same
time in my life. All trying to catch the boss's eye, too, I
suppose? It must make you feel like a snipe."
Mr. Pett replied stiffly. He disliked this levity on the sacred
subject of office work. He considered that Jimmy was not
approaching his new life in the proper spirit. Many young men had
discussed with him in that room the subject of working in his
employment, but none in quite the same manner.
"You are at a serious point in your career," he said. "You will
have every opportunity of rising."
"Yes. At seven in the morning, I suppose?"
"A spirit of levity--" began Mr. Pett.
"I laugh that I may not weep," explained Jimmy. "Try to think
what this means to a bright young man who loathes work. Be kind
to me. Instruct your floor-walkers to speak gently to me at
first. It may be a far, far better thing that I do than I have
ever done, but don't ask me to enjoy it! It's all right for you.
You're the boss. Any time you want to call it a day and go off
and watch a ball-game, all you have to do is to leave word that
you have an urgent date to see Mr. Rockerfeller. Whereas I shall
have to submerge myself in paper and only come up for air when
the danger of suffocation becomes too great."
It may have been the mention of his favourite game that softened
Mr. Pett. The frostiness which had crept into his manner thawed.
"It beats me," he said, "why you ever came over at all, if you
feel like that."
"Duty!" said Jimmy. "Duty! There comes a time in the life of
every man when he must choose between what is pleasant and what
"And that last fool-game of yours, that Lord Percy Whipple
business, must have made London pretty hot for you?" suggested
"Your explanation is less romantic than mine, but there is
something in what you say."
"Had it occurred to you, young man, that I am taking a chance
putting a fellow like you to work in my office?"
"Have no fear. The little bit of work I shall do won't make any
"I've half a mind to send you straight back to London."
"Couldn't we compromise?"
"Well, haven't you some snug secretarial job you could put me
into? I have an idea that I should make an ideal secretary."
"My secretaries work."
"I get you. Cancel the suggestion."
Mr. Pett rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"You puzzle me. And that's the truth."
"Always speak the truth," said Jimmy approvingly.
"I'm darned if I know what to do with you. Well, you'd better
come home with me now, anyway, and meet your aunt, and then we
can talk things over. After all, the main thing is to keep you
out of mischief."
"You put things crudely, but no doubt you are right."
"You'll live with us, of course."
"Thank you very much. This is the right spirit."
"I'll have to talk to Nesta about you. There may be something you
"I shouldn't mind being a partner," suggested Jimmy helpfully.
"Why don't you get work on a paper again? You used to do that
"I don't think my old paper would welcome me now. They regard me
rather as an entertaining news-item than a worker."
"That's true. Say, why on earth did you make such a fool of
yourself over on the other side? That breach-of-promise case with
the barmaid!" said Mr. Pett reproachfully.
"Let bygones be bygones," said Jimmy. "I was more sinned against
than sinning. You know how it is, uncle Pete!" Mr. Pett started
violently, but said nothing. "You try out of pure goodness of
heart to scatter light and sweetness and protect the poor
working-girl--like Heaven--and brighten up her lot and so on, and
she turns right around and soaks it to you good! And anyway she
wasn't a barmaid. She worked in a florist's shop."
"I don't see that that makes any difference."
"All the difference in the world, all the difference between the
sordid and the poetical. I don't know if you have ever
experienced the hypnotic intoxication of a florist's shop? Take
it from me, uncle Pete, any girl can look an angel as long as she
is surrounded by choice blooms. I couldn't help myself. I wasn't
responsible. I only woke up when I met her outside. But all that
sort of thing is different now. I am another man. Sober, steady,
Mr. Pett had taken the receiver from the telephone and was
talking to some one. The buzzing of a feminine voice came to
Jimmy's ears. Mr. Pett hung up the receiver.
"Your aunt says we are to come up at once."
"I'm ready. And it will be a good excuse for you to knock off
work. I bet you're glad I came! Does the carriage await or shall
we take the subway?"
"I guess it will be quicker to take the subway. Your aunt's very
surprised that you are here, and very pleased."
"I'm making everybody happy to-day."
Mr. Pett was looking at him in a meditative way. Jimmy caught his
"You're registering something, uncle Pete, and I don't know what
it is. Why the glance?"
"I was just thinking of something."
"Jimmy," prompted his nephew.
"Add the word Jimmy to your remarks. It will help me to feel at
home and enable me to overcome my shyness."
Mr. Pett chuckled.
"Shyness! If I had your nerve--!" He broke off with a sigh and
looked at Jimmy affectionately. "What I was thinking was that
you're a good boy. At least, you're not, but you're different
from that gang of--of--that crowd up-town."
"Your aunt is literary, you know. She's filled the house with
poets and that sort of thing. It will be a treat having you
around. You're human! I don't see that we're going to make much
of you now that you're here, but I'm darned glad you've come,
"Put it there, uncle Pete!" said Jimmy. "You're all right.
You're the finest Captain of Industry I ever met!"