Looms of Conflict
In which crisis strikes at Rainbow Mills and a young man in love discovers romance can be bitter sweet
BURTON L. SPILLER
The story: Kent Harmon, ousted from Nationwide Woollens Co. when Charles Daggett achieves control, is on a fishing trip with his one-time assistant, Jim Bradley, and an Indian guide who has become ill, when he arrives at Rainbow, an isolated Northern village built around an idle textile plant owned by an oldish man, David Holcomb. Holcomb's attractive daughter, Nancy, is mill superintendent.
Harmon contracts with Holcomb to manage the mill for a year provided he can secure capital. Trying to do this in the city, he finds that textile wholesalers have been warned by Daggett not to do business with him. A small dealer, Moe Eckelstein, enables him to secure $60,000, however; and this, with Harmon's $10,000 and Bradley’s $8,000, enables Harmon to hire workers and start production.
Harmon believes that Daggett, in his underhanded efforts to control the whole industry, has closed Holcomb's market; so he is amazed to learn that Nancy is engaged to marry Daggett, and that both she and her father believe Daggett is trying to help them.
Harmon is discussing the situation with Bradley and Lute Griggs, the master mechanic whose wife conducts a boardinghouse, when Daggett arrives in a sleek motor car and enters the mill office. In a few minutes he emerges with Mr. Holcomb and Nancy and all three drive away.
MUST BE goin’ up to Holcomb’s house,” said Lute. “Well,” remarked Bradley, with a glance at Kent Harmon, “it Likes all kinds of meat to make a sausage and all kinds of people to make a world, but if I was in your place I’d go up there with a bottle of rat poison in one hand and a gun in the other.” “Dunno as rat poison is any good fer skunks,” sniffed Lute Griggs.
“I’d get a big kick out of handing Daggett a punch on the nose,” Harmon admitted, “but what good would that do?”
“Why don’t you turn me loose?” asked Bradley. “You just give me leave and I’ll go up there and tell ’em both something. I’ll tell him where to get off, and put Nancy wise to a few* facts that’ll be for her own good.”
“We’re here and we’re operating,” Harmon said. “He won’t find it so easy to stop us now.”
“And he’d better not try either,” muttered Lute ominously.
“It wouldn’t take much urgin’ to get me to go up to Holcomb’s and take that fellow apart.” Bradley insisted. “He’s up to some devilment. He ain't in Rainbow for nothing.”
There was something heartening about the baleful mutterings of the pair. At least, reflected Harmon, he had two allies whose loyalty was beyond question. Daggett’s presence in Rainbow disturbed him chiefly because of its possible effect on Nancy and her father. Harmon did not feel he could cownt on loyalty there. More disturbing than anything else, however, was the very fact of seeing Daggett and Nancy together. Harmon wasn’t in the habit of analyzing his emotions, but he couldn’t blind himself to the fact that business enmity was not the only reason for his resentment of Daggett’s presence.
At supjx*r that evening. Bradley struck a more serious note. He had been for a walk and had seen Daggett’s car still parked in front of Holcomb’s house. Ma Griggs’ dining room was crowded, for with the influx of workers every room in the boardinghouse and every seat at the tables was in demand. Harmon, from his place at a small table near the window, was aware of the buzz of speculation that had been created by Daggett’s visit. It dominated the conversation to the exclusion of talk about the first shipment of cloth.
“Can’t blame ’em for talking,” grunted Bradley. “They’re wondering if they’ll still have jobs this time next week. That’s what it means for Daggett to walk into a mill town. Just like the advance agent for a famine. I don't like it, Kent. He’s engaged to that girl and lie’s a personal friend of the old man. 1 le can get all the information he wants, just by asking them. How is our agreement with Holcomb?”
“Airtight!” said Harmon curtly. “And it’s going to stay that way."
"Well,” Bradley remarked dubiously. “I hope it’s just a social call, but I’m betting it’s not.”
Harmon wanted to get Daggett out of his mind. After supper he slipped away from the boardinghouse, fly nxl in hand, and went dow*n to the river, where his canoe lay upturned on the bank. He paddled upstream toward the rapids, anchored just below the rocks.
The sun was setting behind the hills. It was an ideal hour for fishing, but a score of casts were unrewarded. I le changed to another fly and tried again.
This time he hooked a trout on his first cast, an active two-pounder that jumped once in its first wild effort to eseaix* and then settled down to a series of underwater rushes and bulldog shakings which taxed Harmon’s frail rod to the limit. He was in a frame of mind to accept anything which might even remotely resemble a battle, and he settled down to the task of playing the fish.
Some minutes later he heard the splash of a paddle, and darted a hasty glance over his shoulder. The movement cost him the fish, for his muscles tensed as he
recognized the lone figure in the canoe. The line twanged like a taut fiddle string and the delicate leader parted. The fish jumped once in a futile effort to shake out the deeply embedded barb, but Harmon neither saw it nor heard the resultant splash, for he had swung more fully about and was gazing, with suddenly narrowed eyes, into the face of Daggett.
HIS FIRST thought was that the encounter was accidental, but Daggett speedily convinced him to the contrary. With a sweeping thrust of his paddle the man drove his canoe alongside, checked his forward progress by grasping the gunwale of Harmon’s frail craft, and surveyed him with a cool stare.
“They told me you had gone up the river,” DaggeU said evenly. “Hope I didn’t chase you out of town.”
“No one,” said Harmon, “can chase me out of Rainbow.”
Daggett smiled thinly. “That remains to be seen. I wanted to talk to you privately and there was no telling when you’d be back, so here I am. Sorry I frightened you. That was a nice trout.”
“What do you want, Daggett?” “Harmon, I’m going to give you a break. I’m going to give you a chance to get out while the getting is good.” “That’s mighty considerate of you, Daggett—” “It’s through no consideration for you,” shot back the other. “It’s simply because I have a very deep concern for the welfare of Dave Holcomb and Nancy. If I had suspected for a minute, when I saw you in the city, that they were the people you were swindling, I’d have blocked you in five minutes. However, it’s done now, and the Ixst thing I can do is step in before it’s too late.”
Harmon drew back his rod and sent a long cast out over the pool.
“We shipped the first load of cloth from Rainbow this afternoon, Daggett,” he said. “Does that look like a swindle?”
“It does to me,” returned Daggett. “It looks like a colossal bluff. You know as well as I do, Harmon, that you can’t possibly sell the output of a mill of this size. You’ve talked some deluded sucker into putting up some money. Now you’re spending it, shooting the bankroll.” “Why?”
The big, fair-haired man’s mouth twisted contemptuously.
"Because you figure it’s easier to make a killing with an operating concern than a dead one. I suppose the idea is that jxxir old Holcomb will get all steamed up when he sees his mill running again, apparently at a profit, so he’ll gallop out and borrow money when your shoestring runs out. Then you’ll clear out with the swag. Or is it your backer who is to make the donation? Whatever happens, I lolcomb is going to wake up one of these fine mornings and find out that you’ve been making a big shot of yourself turning out cloth at a dead loss. Because I know, Hannon. It’s my business to know market conditions, and you can’t sell the output of this mill.”
I larmon flung out another cast.
“Looks as if I’m not the only one who’s fishing," he remarked. “I’m selling the cloth all right, Daggett. You don’t know the market as well as you think you do if you
haven’t been able to find out where the stuff is going.” “Bluff.” “What are you going to do about it?” “Tear up your agreement with Holcomb,” advised Daggett, “and leave town.” Harmon laughed. “As easy as that? How about my investment?”
“It will be returned to you. It’s a better break than you deserve.”
“You must think you have a lot of aces up your sleeve if you imagine I’ll listen to that suggestion.”
“A court injunction shutting down the mill would put you in a fine jam,” Daggett snapped.
“That the best you can do?” “It will be plenty. But if it isn’t enough, I have the aces you were talking about. Make up your mind, Harmon. I’m giving you a chance to pull out before it’s too late.”
Harmon flicked the fly across the water, whipped back the rod, cast again.
“Calling your bluff. Daggett. You haven’t any grounds for an injunction. And I don’t think you have those aces either.”
Their eyes met. Harmon’s gaze was cool and challenging; Daggett’s was ruthless and confident. They faced each other for a moment. Then Daggett thrust his canoe out into the current, picked up his paddle, swung the bow downstream. Harmon went on fishing. Somehow*, he didn’t think Daggett w'ould seek an injunction, but he decided to get in touch with Bliss, the young lawyer at Bolton, and warn him to keep his eyes open. And it mightn’t be a bad idea, Harmon considered, to have a private detective sent up to mingle with the mill workers.
HOLCOMB telephoned. He wants to see you,” said Jim Bradley, when Harmon came back to the boardinghouse that evening. “I guess the war is on.”
“I was expecting that.” Harmon told his friend about the interview with Daggett. “By this time. I’ll bet Holcomb is scared to death. Daggett has probably sold him the idea that I’m the biggest crook outside the penitentiary.”
“Why didn’t you dump Daggett’s canoe when you had the chance?” grumbled the other. “Somebody could have pulled his carcass off the dam before it polluted the water too much.”
Harmon walked down to the Holcomb house. He was pretty sure he knew what Holcomb wanted and he was determined to take a firm stand. He certainly couldn’t give up now, even at the expense of the old man’s friendship.
The mill owner met him at the door, greeted him curtly and ushered him into the room where, such a short time before, Harmon had been welcomed so warmly. Nancy was there. She nodded briefly without smiling, but continued to regard him narrowly, as though she hoped to read in his face the answer to some problem which baffled her.
“Won’t you sit down?” she asked, to break the awkward silence.
Holcomb cleared his throat noisily, and Kent forced his glance to turn from the girl and focus on her father’s face. What he saw there was not reassuring. The man had
taken his stand before the fireplace, but there was no longer any air of geniality in his attitude. His bushy brows were lowered in what he believed to be a portentous frown, while his lips were so tightly compressed that two wrinkles bisected his puffy jowls.
“Please sit down,” Nancy said. She was plainly ill at ease, a fact which verified Kent’s suspicion that the interview was not destined to be a pleasant one. He answered her with just a trace of irony in his voice.
“Thanks, but if I am about to face the firing squad. I prefer to take it standing.” He turned to Holcomb. “You wished to see me, sir?”
“Shall we say, rather, that I deemed it necessary to see you. Mr. Harmon, I have been deeply hurt. I have been astonished and pained to learn that you are masquerading under false colors. I accepted you in good faith—upon your own representation of your honesty and integrity. It has been in the nature of a distinct shock to learn that you did not tell me the truth concerning yourself. A distinct and disturbing shock. I assure you. It has been brought to my attention that you have been involved in a business scandal which renders it impossible for your name to be linked with that of Rainbow Mills. Utterly impossible, sir. It is my duty to ask you to cancel our agreement at once.” He drew himself a bit more stiffly erect and thrust a hand within his coat front in a Napoleonic gesture, and repeated for emphasis, “At once.”
“I presume your—er—informant made some specific charge.” Harmon said steadily. “Do you mind repeating it?”
“Not at all. I have been informed that you were dis-
charged from your capacity of general superintendent of the Nationwide Woollens Company. That is true, is it not?”
“Entirely true,” Harmon admitted.
“You were discharged because of something which reflected on your integrity, were you not?”
“You admit it, then?”
“Certainly. Why shouldn’t I? It is nothing of which I am ashamed.”
“Not ashamed !” The hand came from its concealment to wag a forefinger disapprovingly. “You have the effrontery to stand there and tell me you are not ashamed of such a nefarious action?”
T-IARMON smiled wearily. “Did your informant tell you that the charges were unsupported except by one man’s testimony?” he asked.
“Yes. He said that, unfortunately, justice could not be meted out to you, sir, but that you should be behind prison bars. You must realize that you have placed me in an unenviable position. Any relation such as this which exists between us will jeopardize my reputation when it becomes known. Under the circumstances, it is unthinkable to consider any such arrangement. I must ask you to release me from my agreement.”
The man was weak and evidently badly frightened. Notwithstanding the deliberate affront, Harmon found himself incapable of anger, for it was easy to visualize the picture that Daggett had drawn. The fellow would cleverly distort the facts, and depict him as a ruthless and clever crook who would balk at nothing to further his own interests, even though it might mean ruin to others. He said: “Nobody has justly criticized my ability to make cloth at a cost which will guarantee it a market. Can you afford to take a chance without me?”
“Of two evils, I shall choose what I believe to be the lesser,” Holcomb said grandiloquently.
“How about you, Nancy?” Harmon asked.
“Young man,” interrupted Holcomb, “I am glad to say that my daughter and I are of the same mind in this matter. Even if we were not, it could have no effect on this situation. The agreement is between us and does not concern her.”
“We’re using her cloth designs. Don’t forget that.”
“Exactly. And if you refuse to tear up our agreement, we shall be obliged to refuse you permission to continue using the designs,” declared Ilolcomb triumphantly.
“Take another look at your agreement,” countered Harmon, “and you'll find a clause covering the designs.” He blessed the shrewd Eckelstein for insisting on that clause in the document. Without that saving clause, he might have been in a jam now.
Holcomb snatched the document from his pocket and studied it incredulously. His face turned red, then purplish. “Mr. Harmon,” he said hoarsely, “if you are a gentleman, you will relinquish this agreement. You will be reimbursed for your time and trouble. Your invest________ ment and that of your backer will l)e guaranteed.”
“And I’ll be taking a licking. Nothing doing, Mr. Holcomb. Nancy gave you a chance to back out of this but you wouldn’t listen to her. You couldn’t sign that agreement fast enough.”
“She didn’t tell me what I know now. That you are a scoundrel, Harmon; a crook and a swindler—”
“Go easy ! Daggett has stuffed you with a lot of lies. I hate to quarrel with you. but you’ve given me authority in Rainbow and I’m going to use it. Nothing but a court order will get me out.” Harmon looked at the girl. “Sorry, Nancy.”
He turned abruptly and strode to the door, opened it and stepped out onto the verandah. But Nancy was dose behind him.
He turned. She came over to him, and when he looked down at her he saw that her eyelashes were wet. Harmon could sympathize with her position; with Nancy, loyalty to her father and to Rainbow had always been one and the same thing.
“I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, Nancy.” he said gently. “But I can’t quit now. You understand that, don’t you? At least we can be friendly enemies?”
Nancy looked steadily into his eyes. “We can never be enemies, Kent. I’m afraid it’s hopeless—with father against you—but if I can’t be for you, I want you to know that at least I’ll never do anything or utter a word against you, to injure your chances.”
“You’re a good scout, Nancy,” he told her, and knew more lightness of spirit than the occasion seemed to warrant. “I’m sorry things have turned out this way.”
It was going to be difficult, he knew, with Holcomb definitely on the side of the enemy and yet maintaining an
office in the mill, under the terms of the agreement. But as he went down the steps and up the walk to the street he would have been surprised if he liad known that Nancy, watching him go, was thinking that he did not behave like a scoundrel.
THERE’S a nigger in the woodpile somewhere,” Bradley said to Harmon, some ten days later, “and I don’t know where he is. We fell off almost a hundred pieces this week.”
“I know it,” Harmon admitted, ‘‘and I can’t understand why, either. The work failed to come through, but 1 can’t trace the cause. The weavers say the threads break and the fault lies in the spinning room, but the spinners insist the trouble is in the carding. The carders will swear the stock is not coming to them properly mixed, but that is not true. We have made no changes there. It is mixed exactly as it has been from the first.”
‘‘And it is the same class of stock, too. The fault isn’t there. Neither is the help loafing on the job. I’ve been watching for that, but they’re not doing it. It’s almost as if they were trying too hard. They seem keyed up and nervous.”
‘‘That is the only thing that Atkins has reported so far,” Harmon said. Atkins was a private detective he had engaged after his interview with Daggett. “He swears there is no trouble in the weave room. Perhaps I should have put him somewhere else-but that is where labor difficulties usually begin. I’ll transfer him to the spinning department as soon as I can without arousing suspicion.”
“How about the boss weaver? Are you sure of him? I’m sorry we couldn't get Clayton. I’d feel a lot easier with someone in there I knew we could trust.”
“So would I. but Clayton has a better job than I could offer him. 1 don’t blame him for not accepting. I think this man is all right. At least, he has never been a Nationwide man. 1 checked back on that.”
“Well, that’s somethin’ in his favor,” Bradley said, “but I don't trust nobody* -except you and Lute. Just between you and me, I think Holcomb would bear watching. He’s sore as a boil because he couldn’t break that agreement.”
“He insisted on signing it,” Harmon said. “If he failed to provide a loophole for himself, it’s his fault and not mine.” “Holcomb could do a lot of damage if he tried,” Bradley insisted gloomily. “A lot of the help worked for him before, and no matter if you are runnin’ the business, he owns the mill and houses. If it comes to a real showdown, 1 don’t know but he’d have as much influence with them as you.” “Well, what can we do aix>ut it?” Harmon demanded. "He hasn’t even been down to the office since we quarrelled. So far as I know, he hasn't interfered.” “He’s in with Daggett, though, hand and glove. You know that as well as I do. They’ll lift your scalp if they can.”
“Yes, that is true but so long as he stays away from the mill we can do nothing about it. I hate this underhand fighting.
I wish they would come out in the open so we would know what we’re up against.” The shortage, although not in itself immediately disastrous, gave Harmon cause to worry, for in the extra yardage lay his only hope of profit. He had allowed for a margin of error as well as for the inevitable breakage of machinery that is bound to occur when it is run at high speeds for days on end, but, try as he would, he could find no error in his figures. Theoretically, the mill was capable of producing a full ten per cent more than it was now doing. In fact, during the first few weeks, it had closely approximated that hypothetical figure. But it had steadily declined since then.
A cold analysis of the facts seemed to indicate that the trouble lay in the weaving department, for the cloth was not being woven as fast as the schedule called for; but Harmon well knew that a poorly dressed warp, or improperly spun filling, could so handicap a weaver that his
best endea >r would be almost futile.
In addition to that, Harmon also knew that in no other department could a shrewd and unscrupulous person do so much damage with so slight a chance of detection, for, despite its weight and ungainly bulk, a loom is as delicately adjusted as a fine watch. The least error in turning the speeding shuttles can balk the efforts of any weaver to get the utmost from his machine.
ABSORBED m these reflections, Harmon crosiÄ the mill yard shortly before one o’clock, on his way to the boardinghouse for a late lunch. A group of workmen had gathered near the gate, and as Harmon approached, unnoticed, there was a burst of laughter followed by a booming voice:
“—and I’m tellin’ ye, lads, I’m no agitator but there’s a lot in what the man was sayin’. There’s too many Simon Legrees in the textile industry, robbin’ the workers of their wages and jnakin’ slaves of them as well.”
“That’s right, Con;” declared one of the men approvingly.
“They’ll nive*ve a slave of Con Reardon!” a »üed the booming voice. “I was born Lee and I’ll die free ...”
Harmon thrust his way through the crowd. A few of the workmen ducked hastily around the gate when they saw him. The orator, a huge, broad-shouldered Irishman, gaped when he recognized Harmon.
“What’s it all about? Making a stump speech. Con?”
Harmon’s grin was friendly. But big Con Reardon didn’t know how to take it. At least he wasn’t going to back down in front of his friends.
“And what if I am?” he demanded truculently.
“That’s all right. As long as you don’t start waving any red flag around here—”
“I ain’t got no red flag.” countered Reardon, “but, begorra, if I had one I’d wave it, just to see what you’d do about it.”
Harmon laughed. “I’ll bet you would. I know your type. You’re no more a Red than I am, but you’d rather fight than eat.”
Con Reardon looked suspicious. “Just now,” he said, “I’m the reddest Red you ever saw. And what are you goin’ to do about that?” He came a step closer and thrust his chin out. “Just take a crack at that, Mr. Hannon, and see what happens.”
Authority must be preserved. And Harmon knew that there had been signs of revolt in the mill. This sort of challenge had to be taken up. He obliged Con Reardon—obliged with a short, choppy left hook that cracked smartly on the Reardon jaw and sent the big fellow into the dust of the mill yard, on his haunches.
“All right, Con. Now what’s going to happen?”
The astonished Reardon uttered a roar. He heaved himself to his feet and came in swinging. A loping left would have knocked Hannon halfway across the yard if it had connected, but Hannon ducked under it, snapped a straight left to Reardon’s chin. The Irishman slammed a right to Harmon’s body. It was a blow like the kick of a horse. Harmon knew that he couldn’t take many of those. He stepped back. Reardon raged in again, but Harmon stabbed him off balance with a long left. Reardon swung again. Harmon slid inside the blow and hooked another left to the big fellow’s chin. It landed fair and square. Reardon’s head jolted back. Harmon set himself and drove a right-hand punch at the big man’s jaw.
Reardon went down as if he had been hit over the head with a mallet. He went down, sprawled in the dust, motionless, knocked out.
Harmon looked around. The workmen were open-mouthed.
“Scatter!” said Harmon. “Ill attend to this fellow.”
The workers scattered. A moment later the mill whistle blew. Harmon sat down in the shade of the fence. Con Reardon
Continued on page 21
Continued from page 18
Starts on page 16
groaned and finally sat up, blinking and rubbing his jaw. Then he saw Harmon. They stared at each other for a full five seconds.
Con Reardon nodded his head slowly.
“It’s a sweet wallop you’ve got, Mr. Harmon.”
“And you have a cast-iron jaw. My arm aches all the way to the shoulder. Come on. Let’s go inside and wash up.”
“Ain’t you going to fire me?” demanded Con.
Con Reardon got to his feet. So did Harmon. The big Irishman rubbed his jaw again, then extended his hand. “Any time you want any fightin’ done around here, boss, just call on me,” he said.
They shook hands. From that moment Harmon knew that he had no more loyal employee in Rainbow than big Con Reardon.
AFTER LUNCH, Harmon went to the 7T weave room. He walked down between the long rows of hammering machines and stood for a few moments near Atkins’ loom; he watched the lightning play of the shuttles and the hammering blows of the “beam” which forced each thread down upon its fellows in the brief moment before the next shuttle flashed back across the polished steel.
Harmon came a little closer. It wasn’t the first time that Atkins, one-time weaver, had been assigned to undercover work in a textile mill. He leaned over the detective’s shoulder.
Atkins thrust a bobbin home on its spindle with a dextrous movement, locked it into position.
“See you tonight,” he replied, scarcely moving his lips. Harmon strolled away.
Atkins lived at Ma Griggs’ boardinghouse. That night he slipped into Harmon’s room, where Harmon awaited him with Jim Bradley.
“Well, I’ve found your man,” the detective said quietly. “What’s more, I’ve checked up on him. It wasn’t so hard to find where the agitation was coming from, but it wasn’t so easy to find out if it meant anything. Some of those fellows will do a lot of talking and whispering but they haven’t any influence. This guy’s name is Anstein.”
“Weave room. He’s on Loom 122. Black-haired fellow, with high cheek-bones. You’ve seen him around.”
"I know him,” grunted Bradley.
"What’s he telling them?” Harmon wanted to know.
“Partly, it’s the usual strike talk,” said Atkins, “but there’s a new angle to it. He’s telling them that you gypped Holcomb out of control. Unless you’re frozen out, he says, the whole blamed mill will close up in a couple of weeks and the company will go bust. Then nobody will have a job. He’s hinting around that you’re a crook and that you don’t want the mill to make money.”
“Gosh!” snorted Bradley. “It’s a wonder he ain’t tellin’ ’em that Nationwide hired Kent to come in here and run the mill into the ground.”
“Is he getting anywhere with this propaganda?” Harmon asked.
“If it was anybody else but Anstein he wouldn’t get to first base,” the detective said. “But this guy is smart, Mr. Harmon. He’s a professional, see. He has done more to help Nationwide get control than any other half-dozen men. He’s paved the way for a dozen strikes in plants that might have pulled through. To my knowledge, he’s been shot at twice. A bad actor, and dangerous.”
“Well, he will get his the first thing tomorrow morning,” said Harmon.
“You’d better move carefully,” Atkins advised. “I tell you he has a strong following. If you fire him you may start trouble.” “It’s bound to come anyway,” Harmon insisted. “I refuse to pay a man to cut my throat. The sooner we act, the better it will be for us. These people are not fools. I’ve given them everything. There are no better textile jobs in the country. They must know that.”
“Some of them do,” Atkins admitted. “There are a lot of level-headed ones who know they ^ave a good thing and wish to keep it, buc there are lots more wrho are never satisfied. Anstein has that class hooked solid. I should imagine they were about equally divided, but there are always a few who will try to sit on the fence so they can jump either way. If it comes to a showdown he will get them, for that is his strong point—to win over the weaklings. I’m afraid you are in for a bit of trouble.” “But the weavers represent only about one third of the employees,” Harmon said. “It isn’t a fair deal. The wish of the majority should prevail.”
“Of course it isn’t fair, but if the weavers walk out it will tie you up as effectually as though all the rest were with them. It looks to me as though you were on the spot.”
“It looks that way,” Harmon admitted. “It’s Daggett’s work, of course. I’ll discharge Anstein in the morning.”
“You can’t fire him without causing trouble,” Atkins warned. “His work is perfect—he is shrewd enough to see to that. You’ll start something if you let him go now.”
“It may as well be now as a month from now,” Harmon insisted doggedly. “If we must have war, I’m going to strike the first blow.”
“Well, you may as well strike, then,” Atkins said, “for you are in for a little Donnybrook, whether you do or not,” and with this pessimistic prophecy he walked out, leaving Harmon with another problem with which to wrestle.
JOE, the guide, was sitting on the boardinghouse verandah in the sunshine when Harmon went out next morning.
“You want the car today, Mr. Harmon?” the guide asked hopefully.
He asked the same question every morning. The chauffeur’s job was more honorary than active, for Joe was still too weak for continuous exertion, but Harmon hated to disappoint him. This morning the guide’s eyes lit up when Harmon said: “Ÿes, I’ll be needing you today. We’ve got a little job on hand.”
“Good. What time?”
Harmon gave the man some instructions that made Joe grin broadly. Then, satisfied that they would be carried out to the letter, he went down the steps and strode off to the mill. He occupied himself with routine matters for about an hour. At length, from the office window, he saw the big car roll into the yard. Joe, resplendent in a check shirt which was his notion of the ultimate glory in chauffeur’s uniforms, was at the wheel.
Harmon dialled the weave room.
“Send Anstein to the office,” he ordered curtly.
The man appeared in a few minutes. He was a lean, swarthy fellow with eyes like pools of ink.
“You sent for me, sir?”
Harmon nodded, got up and put on his hat.
“So you’re Anstein?” he said leisurely. His eyes travelled over the man from head to toes. “Yes, I sent for you. I want to take you for a little ride. Come on. The car is outside.”
Anstein looked puzzled.
“That’s what I said. Come along.” Anstein’s eyes narrowed. However, he
preceded Harmon obediently out of the office and down the steps. Harmon gestured him into the car. The man gave him a cold stare, hesitated a moment as if he was about to refuse. Then he shrugged and climbed into the back seat.
“Got everything, Joe?'1 Harmon ash -d the guide.
“Fine.” Harmon got in and closed the door. Joe, with the air of a man who needed no further instructions, let in the clutch and drove the big car < it of the yard. Harmon had a fleeting glimpse of curious faces in the . ; windows.
“What’s it 'll aoout?” demanded Anstein. But Fu.rmon ignored him. The man settled b .ck in the corner, with his arms folded, an1 gazed sullenly ahead. Not another word was spoken until Joe finally drove the car down the hill into Bolton and pulled to a sto; beside the railway station. Then the Indian got out, opened the luggage compartment and deposited two heavy grips on the platform.
“There is your luggage,” Harmon said to Anstein. “I think you will find everything there—including your unmailed report. You rmglT -five it to Daggett personally, with my compliments. And here is your pay envelope. There will be a train in a few minutes. Don’t let me see you in Rainbow again.”
Anstein’s eyes flickered. He took the envelope.
“What’s the idea? Is my work unsatisfactory?” he asked.
“You know why you’re being fired,” Harmon told him. “Get out and stay out.”
“You’re the boss. Thanks for the car ride. But if you think you’ve seen the last of me, you’re cockeyed. I’ll be back, Harmon.”
“Show your nose in Rainbow again and I’ll have you run out of town.”
Anstein laughed shortly.
“Better check up on that, Harmon,” he advised. “If I wanted to make plenty of trouble for you right now I could go back to Rainbow and you’d learn that you haven’t got the power to kick me out.”
Indian Joe stepped forward, a big brown fist doubled.
“Me sock him, boss?” he begged.
“I’ll do any socking that’s necessary. Joe.” Harmon turned to Anstein. “Have you got the gall to say I haven’t the power to keep you out of Rainbow?”
• “I’m not only saying it,” snapped the agitator, “but I’ll be back to prove it. You may control the mill, Harmon, but old man Holcomb still owns the town.”
The train roared in. Anstein picked up his grips and climbed on board. Harmon got back into the car beside the grinning Joe.
“No see him again, huh?” grünteJ the guide.
T_T ARMON looked worried. He wasn’t so sure they had seen the last of Anstein. He had an uncomfortable suspicion that there might be a good deal of truth in the man’s assertion—that his control of Rainbow Mills didn’t extend to Rainbow Village.
“Legal advice won’t be amiss here,” Harmon said to himself. So he paid a call on Bliss. To that red-headed fledgling he explained the whole situation. He outlined the provisions of his agreement with Holcomb, and told how he came to be at outs with the builder and founder of Rainbow. The expression on the lawyer’s face became serious.
“Rainbow isn’t incorporated,” Bliss said. “It must be regarded as private property, just as if it were a single dwelling.”
“Holcomb has the power to refuse entrance to anyone he doesn’t like?”
“It’s his castle. It’s fortunate that your agreement was drawn up by a good lawyer. From what you tell me. the point is covered, but otherwise Holcomb might have been able to close the village to your employees.”
“That wouldn’t help much,” said Harmon grimly.
“The point is, Holcomb owns Rainbow and he is the only man who has the power to eject undesirables. You really didn t have the right to run Anstein out of town. If a strike develops, you’re going to be in a peculiar position. Seems to me,” remarked Bliss, “that all your contract has accomplished is to allow you and Holcomb to tie each other’s hands. Usually, in a company town, if a worker goes on strike the company can put him out of his house. It’s a mighty effective weapon. In your cas^, yc J can’t. And if you bring in strikebreakers, where are they to live? But you have one real weapon.”
“Your company store. Starve ’em out. They can’t buy food in Bolton without cash. Cut off their credit at the store and where are they?”
“The sort of weapon I don’t like to use. I want to fight fair, Bliss. I know the opposition won’t stop at anything, but at least I ’ll fight clean. The worst of it is that a few workers could tie up the whole plant as effectively as if they all walked out. However, the talk may die down now that Anstein’s gone.”
“I hope so. But I’d strongly advise you, Mr. Harmon, to try and get Holcomb back on your side. If you have any labor trouble he can make things uncomfortable for you.”
“I’m beginning to realize that. I was wondering why the old chap was so quiet. I haven’t seen him since we had our row.” This was a fact. Although Holcomb was legally free to retain his office in the mill, the old man had not passed the gates since the evening of his show'down with Harmon. Nor had Nancy. Harmon had seen her at a distance several times, but that was all.
He saw now that Holcomb’s silence and apparent inactivity did not mean defeat. The old man w'as simply waiting.
“How long could you hold out if you had to shut dowm the mill?” asked Bliss.
“I can’t afford any sort of shutdown. A few' days, maybe, but a couple of weeks would finish me. It cost a lot of money to get that plant into operation. My backer warned me that we’d be operating on a hand-to-mouth basis for the first three months. I’ve got to keep turning out cloth.”
“Then,” grinned Bliss, “you’d better keep your workers contented.”
“I should say so. Anything up to free beer on pay days and gumdrops for the kiddies every Saturday afternoon,” said Harmon, and hustled out.
"Y\ TELL, you’ve started somethin’ all ’ ’ right,” Bradley informed him, w’hen Harmon stepped from the car to confront his friend who stood on the office steps. “There’s hell to pay.”
“What’s wrong?” Harmon asked, and even as he spoke, he sensed some unusual thing about the place. “What has happened?”
“Listen,” Bradley advised, “and see if you can tell what it is you don’t hear.” Harmon listened. Through the open windows came the whining song of the “jacks,” the monotonous grind of the cards as they straightened the myriad wool fibres, and the hissing roar of steam in the dyeing kettles. He segregated the sounds and checked them off, one by one. “Card room, spinning room, dye house. The looms,” he cried, then. “Why are they stopped?”
“They’re stopped because the weavers are having a pow'wow. Every mother’s son of ’em. As near as I can get it, they want to know’ why you fired a man without just cause.”
“Let them ask me and I’ll tell them. The fellow is a professional troublemaker.” “Why didn’t you wait until night to run him out, instead of doin’ it in broad daylight where everyone could see what you was doin’?”
“I wanted them to see it,” Harmon said grimly. “The scoundrel is crooked. He was taking our money and knifing us at the same time. I’ll take that from no man.” “Well, you certainly are the prize
chump.” Bradley said disgustedly. “You carted him into town and gave him his pay besides. Why didn't you tip me and Lute off? We’d have rode him out on a rail.”
“He’s gone—and he won’t bother us again. I don’t want any violence.”
“We’re in this thing together,” said Bradley. “Come on, let’s go up in the weave room and bust a few thick heads. Then maybe the rest of ’em will wake up. What do you say?”
“You keep out of it,” Harmon warned. “Go back in your own department, talk straight to your men and hold them in line. I’ll tell the overseers to do the same. If we can keep the thing confined to one department, it won’t be so serious. They’ll probably go back to work anyway in a few minutes.”
Harmon was mistaken. At ten o’clock he was waited upon by a committee representing the weavers. The spokesman, a shaggy-haired and temperamental-appearing fellow, stated that a vote had been taken, and that the committee reauested the reinstatement of Anstein, whom, they felt, had been unjustly discharged. He stated it pleasantly enough, even stressing the “request,” but Harmon knew it to be an ultimatum of, “Either put him back to work—or else.”
“I expected your visit,” he told them, “and my answer is ready. I know the man’s record. He is a menace. He is a rascal and a crook, and so long as I am in authority he will never find another moment’s work here in any capacity.”
The spokesman received the news quietly. Almost too quietly, Harmon thought, and the committee departed, while he fell to pacing the floor, hoping to hear again the clatter of the looms. But in this, too, he was disappointed. Fifteen minutes sped, then the exodus began—a line of hurrying, jostling men and women who pushed out through the double doors and made their way through the mill yard to the street. Harmon went outside and stood on the steps to scan their faces as they passed.
That they were divided in their opinions he was quite certain. He could distinguish the disturbing element easily enough. They were the excited ones, the grim-faced, talkative and gesticulating individuals who had attached themselves to the less enthusiastic disciples. Then there were little groups of younger workers with no family responsibilities who looked upon the whole thing as a lark. They would follow any adventure that promised a measure of excitement.
In the majority, he thought, were the sober-faced, thinking people who realized the value of their jobs, who appreciated steady employment at fair wages. If there were enough of them, common sense would prevail. But were there enough?
The mill workers thronged noisily up the street and crowded into the community hall. Harmon’s mouth tightened bitterly. Surely they wouldn’t be foolish enough to throw themselves out of work for the sake of a man who neither wanted nor needed the job from which he had been dismissed. Surely they wouldn’t sacrifice themselves for a man who was one of their most insidious enemies !
'^TANCY HOLCOMB lowered a window shade by a fraction of an inch. She straightened some flowers in a vase, picked up a magazine and idly flipped the pages. She went over to the window, gazed out across the green lawn. Restlessly, she opened the French doors and strolled out onto the sun porch. Her father, lolling in an easy chair with a newspaper, squinted at her over his spectacles. He knew the reason for her discontent. Away from the mill she felt like an exile.
Nancy’s obvious unhappiness made Holcomb feel guilty, because he knew that at heart she wasn’t wholly in sympathy with his stand against Kent Harmon. The distant throbbing of machinery, the clacking of the looms, intensified her wretchedness. The mill was part of her life. A score
of times she had felt the impulse to go back. After all. it was not her quarrel; nominally, she was still superintendent of the plant. But loyalty to the stout, bald, fussy little man restrained her. She believed he was wrong in his attitude. Even the glib explanations of Charles Daggett had iailed to shake her confidence in Kent Harmon. But. right or wrong, she couldn’t desert David Holcomb in this crisis.
She went out onto the lawn. The spring air was warm and sweet. There seemed to be a strange, expectant silence. It puzzled her for a moment. Then, with a shock, she realized the cause.
The distant clatter of the mill had
With the opening of the porch door, Holcomb had noticed the odd silence too. He came to the head of the steps, newspaper in hand.
“I wonder what has happened!” exclaimed Nancy. “The looms have stopped.” The expression of malevolent triumph on her father’s face shocked her.
“Good ! Good !” beamed Holcomb. “I’ve been expecting that. I knew Anstein would— ”
He checked himself, coughed, cleared his throat noisily.
“Anstein? Who is Anstein?” asked Nancy. “What were you expecting?” “Never mind, never mind,” muttered Holcomb, who had not been able to get out of the habit of treating his daughter as if she were a child. “But I expected Harmon would run into trouble. I’ll warrant he’ll be coming up that walk before the afternoon is out, begging me to use my influence with the men.”
“Do you mean they’ve gone on strike?” “How should I know?” demanded Holcomb testily. “But there’s been a lot of talk, naturally. I knew the old Rainbow employees wouldn’t put up with this situation. An outsider running the mill and me —the founder—sitting at home!”
The delivery boy from the company store swung into the driveway on his bicycle just then, flushed with his importance as a purveyor of hot news. As he handed over the groceries Nancy had ordered early that morning, he panted explanations:
“Yes’m, the mill’s stopped—they’re holdin’ a meetin’ in community hall right now—gonna go on strike, everybody says—”
“But why?” she demanded.
“Boss fired one of the weavers for no reason at all—not only fired him but run him outa town—some of the men are pretty sore about it—unless the boss takes the guy back the weavers are sure to go on strike—-everybody else will prob’ly walk out toothey all say Anstein was one of the best weavers in the mill—”
“Yeah.” The boy scrambled back onto his bicycle. “S’long, Miss Holcomb. I want to get down to the hall and hear how the meeting turns out.”
Crouched over the handlebars, the excited youngster skidded past a tree, bounced out onto the road and vanished in a cloud of dust.
Mechanically, Nancy carried the parcels into the house and put them on the kitchen table. She could not forget her father’s unfinished remark: “I knew Anstein
And Anstein was the name of the weaver whose dismissal had precipitated the trouble.
Nancy went outside again. The mill had been the centre of her life for so long that a blow to its welfare was like a thrust at her heart. She had withdrawn so completely from the life of the village in the past ten days that she did not know of the whispering campaign against Harmon; she felt that he was going to win. And when he won, the breach with her father would be healed. The steady pulse of machinery had been reassuring. Now it was still. It was as if the heart of the village had stopped beating.
She walked slowly down the street under the trees. A deep hush hung over Rainbow.
In the yards and on the verandahs of the bright little company houses, she saw housewives standing in little groups.
“It’s ridiculous!” Nancy said to herself angrily. There was a bright flush in her cheeks. “They were glad enough to get work a few weeks ago. Nobody wants a strike.”
She went on past the community hall, down the sloping street toward the mill and the river. It was as if she was drawn irresistibly by a magnet. Her father, she knew, would be incoherent with anger if he knew what she was doing, hut she couldn’t help herself. She walked across the mill yard, up the steps into the office. A filing clerk and a stenographer glanced up at her curiously. The door of Kent Harmon’s office was partly open. She could see him at his desk, gazing moodily at a calendar on the wall. Nancy walked over and tapped lightly at the door.
IS FACE lit up when he saw her. “Nancy !” He thrust back his chair, leaped to his feet. “You blessed stranger. Come in !”
There was no stiffness nor restraint, just unaffected delight at seeing her again. It was like old times, she thought, smiling at him.
“I had to come, Kent,” she said. “What is happening? What has gone wrong?” “Just at present,” he answered, “I’m waiting to find out just how wrong things have gone. Tell me, Nancy, do I look like a bloated capitalist? You know—one of those silk-hatted, cigar-smoking ogres who go around grinding the necks of the workers under their heels?”
Nancy laughed. “You aren’t fat enough. Besides, you never wear a silk hat.”
“Well then, do I look like a crook?” Nervously, Nancy twisted the ring on her finger.
“Please, Kent!” she begged. ‘Tm sure dad and—and Charles—are sincere. Maybe I’m foolish and terribly wrong—I know dad thinks so -but I’ve always had faith in you. I think you’re honestly trying to put Rainbow on its feet, and I don’t believe you’re trying to swindle anyone. What has happened? Do you think the men will really go on strike? It would ruin you, wouldn’t it?”
“I could stand a two weeks tie-up, Nancy. After that, I would be out ten thousand dollars. Jim Bradley would be out eight thousand and my backer in the city would be out sixty thousand and would be sorry he ever knew me. I’m hoping the workers won’t strike. They want me to reinstate a man I fired this morning. I won’t reinstate him because he’s a professional agitator. If he came back he would foment a strike eventually, so I have to gamble on this method of heading him off. That’s the situation.” Harmon’s voice was steady. Nancy found herself admiring his calmness. He was facing a crisis that might mean ruin and crushing defeat, but he was facing it with nerve.
What hurt most was the knowledge that her father had a hand in the situation. He had known about Anstein, had expected this. It wasn’t fair, she reflected hotly. An underhanded way of fighting.
“Oh, Kent.” she cried, and her voice broke. “Don’t think too badly of me. I should be helping you, fighting with you.” She was standing very close to him, looking up at him, her slim fingers impulsively clutching the rough tweed of his coat sleeve. “But you understand, don’t you?” "I understand your loyalty to your father,” Harmon said. And then, suddenly he yielded to the impulse that had possessed him ever since the office door closed behind her. Roughly, he took Nancy in his arms; she was too astonished to struggle, and when he kissed her she clung to him for a breathless, reeling moment. Then Nancy tore herself free. There was a high spot of color on each cheek; she whirled swiftly toward the window.
Trembling and confused, she stood gazing ! out over the mill yard. Harmon came up behind her.
“I’m not sorry,” he said. “Are you?” “Please, Kent.” The diamond on Nancy’s finger sparkled in the sunlight. “You know you shouldn’t have done that —oh, I don’t want to seem silly and prudish and—but it’s so impossible.” Nancy was regaining her self-possession. “I know you don’t like Charles,” she said with a pathetic attempt at dignity, “but after all, I’m engaged to him.”
"You’re dead right I don’t like him!” said Harmon flatly. “I think he’s a crook and I think you’re pretty dumb not to see it. I’ve liked him even less since you told me you were engaged to him. I want to marry you myself.”
ENT!” Nancy’s eyes were stormy. “Now don’t get indignant. I’m crazy about you and I’ve just found it out.
If you happen to be in love with a fellow I detest, that’s my hard luck and doesn’t call for apologies. Personally I don’t think you’re in love with him at all. He probably blew into town one day when you were bored and fed up with living in a deserted village, and after he put on his act you simply swooned. He was probably the first eligible object in pants you had seen around these parts in months—”
“Kent !” Nancy was furious now. “Don’t you dare! Why you insulting—you take that back—every word of it—”
“I’ll take nothing back! It’ll do you good. Anyhow I think you’ve got a lot of nerve coming around here and telling me how much you believe in me and how you hope I’ll win this fight and all the rest of it. If you think Daggett and your father have the wrong slant on me, why aren’t you helping me instead of sitting at home and letting your menfolk cut the ground out from under my feet? Where do you stand? If you’re so loyal to them, you shouldn’t even be in this office right now.”
“How could I help you, even if I wanted to?” flared Nancy. “Kent, don’t be so mean. And don’t shout. I’d do anything in the world to help you Keep the mill running—”
“You know I would. But there’s nothing I can do—”
“You can do plenty. You can march right out of here and go down to the community hall. The men are having a meeting there, voting on a walkout. If you step into that meeting and tell them what you think, you can swing every man-jack of them into line behind you. Go on down and tell them you believe I’m honest. Tell them your father wasn’t frozen out; that he’s still at liberty to come into this mill at any hour of the day or night. Tell them that Nancy Holcomb and her father don’t see eye to eye on this business. That will knock this strike on the head.”
Nancy’s face was drained of color. Her eyes pleaded with Harmon. She shook her head slowly.
“I can’t do that, Kent. You can see why
In a changed voice, Harmon said: “Don’t take me too seriously, Nancy.” “It’s what I should do, Kent. Do you think I’m being a coward? I should go down there, as you say—”
“It would simply kill dad if I turned against him like that. He would regard it as the worst, the lowest, sort of treachery. He wouldn’t believe me capable of it.” “I know,” Harmon said. “And anyhow, the meeting is over.”
He gestured toward the window. Nancy looked around. The street in front of the community hall was black with people. They were pouring out of the building, swarming back to the mill yard.
“The jury returns,” Harmon remarked calmly. “We’ll soon know the verdict.”
To be Continued