Looms of Conflict
The roar of the great machines opens a business battle and a certain young lady is caught in the cross-fire of divided loyalties
BURTON L. SPILLER
The story: Ousted from Nationwide Woollens Co. when Charles Daggett achieved control, Kent Harmon is on a fishing trip with his one-time assistant, Jim Bradley. They take a sick Indian guide to a village called Rainbow, and are surprised to find there an up-to-date textile plant that has ceased production.
At A la Griggs’ boardinghouse, the mill's master mechanic, Lute Griggs, informs Harmon that the mill is owned by an oldish man, David Holcomb, whose daughter Nancy is mill superintendent. Nancy is an attractive girl, and it appears that Charles Daggett is friendly to her and her father. Privately, Harmon believes that Daggett has closed their market.
Harmon makes a tentative arrangement with Holcomb to manage the mill for a year provided he can secure capital, and, with doth samples, he goes to the city. He is talking with a wholesaler named Thornton, an old-time friend, when Daggett enters the office and warns Thornton not to do business with one of Nationwide’s enemies. Daggett leaves and Thornton remarks to Harmon. "When Daggett cracks the whip nowadays-well. you can see for yourself how we hare to jump."
SORRY, Harmon. We’re buying all we can use.” I ‘Too bad. Harmon. It’s nice cloth, but we’re ' simply not in the market.” ‘‘No use, Kent. I’d like to play ball with you, but my hands are tied.”
"Not interested. Mr. Harmon.”
"Can't do business, old man, but how about having lunch with me?”
"Sorry. We’ve contracted for more cloth than we can use.”
And so it went, as Harmon trudged from office to office. In the next few days he learned something of Daggett’s power.
It was exactly as Thornton predicted. The market was closed against him. No one, not even those dealers who were not pledged to Nationwide, dared risk the combine’s wrath by talking contract with him.
A few months before, I larrnon would have declared such a situation impossible. Now he knew lx-1ter. Nationwide had consolidated its position, exerted immense power now. From the swiftness and unanimity of the rejections, he sensed a virtual dictatorship.
Strangers were curt, even contemptuous. Old friends were apologetic and regretful. But always the same dismissal: "Sorry . . .”
Incredulously, as failure followed failure in office after office, Harmon realized that Daggett’s word had gone out against him and that Daggett’s word was law. It began to look as if he were beaten before he began. But rather than wire Bradley a message of defeat he stayed over for another
day, this time going the rounds of the small fry—the little fellows who dealt in quantities as small as a single bolt. It was, he told himself, almost hopeless to expect help from Poverty Row, but at least he refused to abandon the fight while the slimmest chance remained.
A thousand to one shot. And then he ran into Moe Eckelstein.
Harmon didn’t even recall the name, painted on the door of the dingy little office, but the moment he stepped through the doorway with his parcel of cloth under his arm there was a shout of recognition.
"Why, it’s Mr. Harmon ! Such a surprise !”
Harmon stared blankly at the thin-faced little man who popped up from behind a desk and came toward him with outstretched hand.
"Don’t you remember me? Moe Eckelstein, who used to buy remnants from you at Farley’s.”
Harmon recalled him then shabby, talkative Moe. who used to pack away enormous quantities of remnants and damaged pieces in the days when Harmon was the youthful super of a small back country mill.
"Well, great Scott!” he exclaimed. "Of course I remember. And here you are. all set up in business for yourself with an office and everything. It’s swell to see you again, .Moe.”
Moe’s office was shabby and small, with one grimy window, one batten'd desk, and a row of pigeonhole compartments full of cloth samples. But Harmon hadn't talked to his old friend—Moe Eckelstein always said Kent Harmon had given him his start in his pack-peddling days — more than twenty minutes before he began to realize that more business passed through here than the office indicated. Moe. it appeared, had turned every phase of the disturbed market to his own advantage.
"Bad bargains for somebody means good bargains for somebody else.” declared Moe Eckelstein. and nearly jolted the astounded Harmon out of his chair with the calm announcement that this shabby little office was only one of many, headquarters of a network that spread over half the continent, furnishing the outlet for a staggering amount of cloth. Moe Eckelstein, all appearances to the contrary, had gone far in the world since the days Harmon used to trust him for remnants from Farley’s mill. And, with growing excitement, Harmon realized that here was the one kind of organization that Nationwide would have the greatest difficulty getting under its control.
Without reserve, then, he told Eckelstein his own story. He told how he had been forced out of the Nationwide organization, and Moe Eckelstein cluck-clucked sympathetically. He told about Rainbow Mill, and his own connection with it, his own plans. He told of the obstacles
he had encountered, frankly admitted the possibility of defeat. Then he undid the parcel and spread the sample of cloth out on the desk.
"There it is,” he said. "What do you think?”
Moe Eckelstein picked up the cloth, brought it to the window, appraised it shrewdly. Then he came back.
"What do you want, Mr. Harmon?” he said. "Money?”
"Plenty. Fifty thousand anyway. Maybe more.”
He expected to see Eckelstein’s hands go up in surrender. But the man said:
"If Nationwide gets control, I am finished. You want to fight. You are honest. Together we’ll lick Nationwide, maybe. We will go into your figures a little more, Mr. Harmon. I think I can let you have the money.”
It was as simple as that. And after spending the rest of the afternoon and a good many hours of the night in conference with the little man Harmon had befriended in the grim days when Eckelstein was struggling for a foothold, it still seemed unreal next morning. But when Harmon accompanied his backer to the bank at ten o’clock next morning, there was nothing unreal about the $60.(XX) credit Eckelstein arranged for him. That, with Jim Bradley’s $8,000 and another $10,000 that represented Harmon’s cash resources, would put Rainbow Mills into production.
"Crack your whip now, Daggett,” muttered Harmon, "and see if I jump.”
"Huh?” said Eckelstein.
“Just talking to myself, Moe. You’re a bad businessman. Do you realize you’ve just gambled sixty thousand on me, and I haven’t even got a scrap of paper to prove that I’ve got a mill?”
Eckelstein gestured expressively.
"We’ve got an appointment with my lawyer for tenthirty,” he informed Harmon. "It will take you until noon, maybe, to read all the agreements he’s got waitin’ for you. And an extra suitcase to carry home papers for Holcomb to sign.”
RUTHLESS, poker-faced Charles Daggett was no fool.
• He hadn’t fought his way to the captainship of Nationwide Woollens by underestimating his enemies. Above all, he had never made the mistake of underestimating Kent Harmon.
Daggett had never felt his position secure in Nationwide until he had thrown Harmon overboard. His encounter with Harmon in the office of Bob Thornton was disturbing, for it meant Harmon was showing fight. Daggett didn’t waste any time. As Thornton predicted, he did a lot of telephoning.
Inside twenty-four hours it was pretty generally known in the trade that friends of Kent Harmon would not be regarded as friends of Nationwide Woollens.
. and furthermore.” Daggett usually wound up these telephone conversations, “I’ll appreciate information. What’s he doing? Is he on his own or has he got a backing? If he is selling cloth, I want to know where it’s coming from. But anyone who buys a yard from him won’t get another yard from Nationwide from now until the end of time.”
So information trickled to Daggett from a dozen sources within the next few days. Harmon was quoting an astonishing price on a superlative sample. But he wasn't telling where it came from.
Daggett was curious. However, he didn’t worry. The situation, he felt, was well in hand. More reports came in. Harmon had called at this office and at that office, had been rejected. Daggett grinned to himself. By the third day he was ready to dismiss the enemy from his mind. By the end of the week he assumed that Harmon had given up.
Then came a telephone call that jolted Daggett. It came from a man in his own organization, who had been instructed to check up on Harmon’s movements.
"I don’t know what it’s all about, but it looks as if Harmon is opening up a mill somewhere. I understand he’s buying dyestuffs and chemicals.”
“On credit?” snapped Daggett.
“No. He’s paying cash. Apparently he has raised money somehow.”
“Where’s the mill? Can’t you find out?”
“I’ve done my darnedest, but I can’t seem to get anywhere on that angle. He’s working pretty quietly.”
Daggett was annoyed. He went into action, checked up on the concerns handling dyestuffs. Harmon, however, had been shrewd enough to make no purchases from sources that had contacts with Nationwide Woollens. Daggett learned nothing except that Harmon had left the city.
Then an agent tipped him off that Kent Harmon had signed a coal contract. Coal is a commodity without which no mill can function, for the immense dyeing vats and kettles, the driers and presses, are insatiable in their demands for steam. Daggett redoubled his efforts. How much coal had Harmon bought? Where was it going? Harmon, however, had covered up so thoroughly that again Daggett drew a blank.
Next day, however, Daggett discovered that Harmon
had arranged with the Wool Growers’ Association for a weekly shipment of “long staple” and had deposited a cheque for $16,000. Daggett did some more telephoning, and at length he got enough information to enable him to put two and two together and get the right answer. Harmon was bucking an organization of many eyes and ears.
“Rainbow Mills!" declared Daggett explosively. It was the only possible plant that checked with his information. Daggett sat back, rubbing his chin.
“Rainbow Mills!” he said again. “But that’s impossible.” He frowned, his eyes resting on a framed photograph on the huge glass-topped desk from which he controlled the destinies of Nationwide Woollens.
"Impossible,” Daggett repeated. “She would have told me. She would have written—telephoned . . .”
He looked at the photograph again, as if expecting it to volunteer an explanation. The clear eyes of Nancy Holcomb returned his gaze in serene silence. Abruptly, Daggett thrust his thumb against a buzzer. When his secretary appeared in the doorway, he said:
“Get me Miss Holcomb on long distance.”
77" ENT HARMON was dog-tired when he descended from the night train at Bolton and tossed his grip into a taxi, but his spirits soared above physical weariness. It had been a strenuous week, and he was jittery from lack of sleep, but he wasn’t coming back empty-handed.
“Rainbow,” he told the driver. “Holcomb’s house.” The taxi roared up the slope past the pulp mill. Harmon slumped back in the seat. Coal contract, wool contract, orders for dye, orders for chemicals—there had been a thousand and one details. But his grip was stuffed with papers that meant whirringwheels and clacking looms for Rainbow again. As yet, no one in Rainbow knew that. Harmon wanted to carry the good news himself.
He paid off the driver in front of Holcomb’s place and strode up the walk. Nancy answered his ring. Harmon’s heart jumped at the expression of surprise and delight that illuminated her face.
The note of eagerness in her voice was unmistakable. His sudden appearance had taken her off guard. For a moment Harmon had the notion that she was so glad to see him that she wanted to throw herself into his arms. And then the radiance died. Nancy’s face seemed faintly troubled.
"I wanted you to be the first to hear the news.” Harmon told her. “I raised the money.”
“Oh. Kent !” she exclaimed. “Isn't that wonderful! I’m so glad.”
She drew him into the hallway. Harmon, puzzled and disappointed, sensed something mechanical in her reception of the news. It was forced. Her smile. tt>o, as she brought him into the living room, seemed strained. For that one brief second when she answered the doorbell she had seemed the real Nancy, the gay girl who had driven him out to Bolton a week previous and bidden him good luck on his mission. Now he sensed a barrier, a difference, something wrong . . .
David Holcomb, clad in a gorgeous purple dressing gown, rose from an easy chair, newspaper in hand.
“We’re dying to know all about it. Kent!” Nancy was saying. “Dad —isn’t it splendid? Kent says he has good
Holcomb was beaming like a pleased child. His pudgy hand was outstretched in welcome.
“Hello, my boy! You’re back sooner than I expected. Take off your coat and sit down. Good news, eh? That’s what we want to hear. Sit down and tell us about it.”
There was no change in Holcomb’s manner. Whatever had gone wrong—and Harmon knew that there was something very much wrong so far as Nancy was concerned— the old man hadn’t been affected by it. He gave Nancy his coat and hat. She evaded his eyes.
“Well,” he said, “we can get going any time now.” Somehow all the glory had gone out of his triumph. “Just a matter of hiring men.”
“You don’t tell me!” exclaimed Holcomb. “But that’s splendid! Magnificent. 1 can’t say I’m surprised - I’ve had a feeling that you would hm bring home the bacon— I was saying to Nancy only this morning that I had every confidence—”
“Tell us about it, Kent,” interrupted Nancy quietly. “You look tired. Have you had supper? Would you like me to make some coffee?”
“No thanks, Nancy. I'll just tell my little story and then I’ll run along home to bed.” He leaned back in the chair and groped for his pipe. “In a nutshell, I’ve found a man who can take as much cloth as we can turn out—providing his business doesn’t go bust, and it’s to save his business that he’s willing to hook up with Rainbow. He has advanced us sixty thousand dollars.”
“Sixty thousand!” boomed Holcomb. "Who is he? Are
there any strings to the offer? You actually have the money already?”
“I’ll begin at the beginning,” Harmon said. He cast another curious glance at Nancy. He had pictured her dancing with joy. But she was sitting primly back in the shadows beyond the living-room light.
He went over the events of his journey to the city. When he told of his failure to interest Thornton and Brinkley— omitting any mention of his encounter with Daggett —his host became purple with anger.
“What?” demanded Holcomb. “You mean to say Bob Thornton wouldn't do business with you? Why, the base ingrate! That’s what he isan ingrate. Why, I gave that man his start. It was my mill put him on his feet !”
“Conditions have changed a lot,” Harmon said. "Thornton is in a position where he can’t do as he chooses. Friendship doesn’t count for very much in this game any more.”
"If there is a market for our goods, and Thornton refuses to handle them, I shall consider it a personal affront,” Holcomb stormed, “and I shall so inform him when next we meet.” He sputtered and fumed like a fractious child, and it was minutes before Harmon could go on with his story.
He told them of his meeting with the energetic Eckelstein, and of the money which had been practically thrust on him. When he had summarized his purchases of supplies and the prices he had paid, Holcomb bestowed his highest form of praise.
"Excellent! Excellent!” he said, and beamed benignly. "I doubt if I could have done better myself. Excellent, indeed.”
HARMON could not repress a wry smile. “Thanks,” he said, and then his voice unconsciously hardened. “I have done what I thought it best to do. There is nothing left but to send out word for help; but before we do that I want your assurance that I am to be in charge of production. I am risking my money and that of some of my friends, and I want full authority to say how it shall be spent. Is that asking more than you care to grant?” “Not at all ! Not at all !” Holcomb boomed. “I told you 1 would agree to that, and 1 am a man of my word.”
“I brought along an agreement for your signature. It was drafted by Eckelstein’« lawyer,” Harmon explained, “and it seems to cover everything. It covers division of profits if any, gives me power to purchase and manufacture for one year or until such time as the money is exhausted, and it guarantees Eckelstein delivery of cloth. It protects me against interference in the management of the plant.”
“But, after all, my boy—surely you can trust me."
“Personally, a verbal agreement would be enough for me,” Harmon assured him. “but Eckelstein insisted that everything be in writing. It's a three-way agreement. Eckelstein agrees to put up sixty thousand dollars and further monthly payments on delivery of cloth. I agree to take over management of the mill. You agree to give us the use of the plant and Nancy’s designs.” Harmon t(x>k the document from his pocket and handed it to Holcomb. "I think you’ll find it fair enough if you’ll read it over.”
“Just as you say,” Holcomb answered. “It’s as much for my own protection as for yours, I suppose.” He puttered about the room, looking for his spectacles. "Now where did I put those glasses? I was sure I left them right here on the table—”
“Dad!" said Nancy quietly. “Kent! Perhaps we had better not do anything about the agreement for a little v'hile. There are a few things Kent should know.” Both men stared at her in amazement. “Not do anything about the agreement !” exclaimed Holcomb. “But that’s ridiculous, Nancy! After all the work Mr. Harmon has done. And besides, isn’t it just what we’ve been praying for? It’s a godsend for Rainbow Mills.”
“I know. I wasn’t going to mention the
matter at all—but in fairness to Kent, I think I should. I wouldn’t want him to go into this and discover things later that might make him regret that he ever began it. This amounts to a fight with Nationwide Woollens, doesn’t it, Kent?”
“Oh, not necessarily,” blustered Holcomb. “Not at all. We can remain on good terms with Nationwide, surely.”
But Harmon, w-ondering what was coming, wondering why Nancy was so pale and ill at ease, said flatly: “Yes.
That’s what it amounts to.”
“And we don’t know very much about you, do we, Kent? About your own record. You have no credentials. We’re taking you on faith.”
“What do you mean by that, Nancy?” he asked quietly.
“You were once connected with Nationwide and forced to resign?”
“Under a cloud? Both you and Mr. Bradley?”
There was an empty feeling at the pit of Harmon’s stomach. He guessed what had happened.
“Has someone from Nationwide been talking to you?”
Nancy was twisting at a ring on her finger.
“Frankly, Kent, I had a telephone message warning us to have nothing to do with you. But that isn’t the point. I believe you are honest. I think dad and I can be trusted to use our own judgment without interference, and that’s what I told—” “Daggett!” snapped Harmon.
“Well, yes. You and Mr. Daggett are enemies, aren’t you, Kent?”
Harmon’s mouth tightened.
“So Daggett called you up and warned you against me!” he said slowly. “Told you I was a crook? That I had been kicked out of Nationwide as a double-crosser? That I was probably scheming to steal Rainbow from you, lock, stock and barrel?”
Nancy was distressed.
“As I’ve already told you, Kent, I don’t believe any of these things. I believe you can save Rainbow. If you can’t, I don’t think anyone can. But I thought it would be only fair to let you know the things I’ve been told.”
“So that I can give my own explanation? You want me to clear myself?” Holcomb cleared his throat gruffly. “Well, this is—harumph—all very surprising to me. You didn’t take me into your confidence, Nancy. Might have— hm—told me. If your past record w-on’t bear inspection, Harmon—this is all veryserious—comes at an unfortunate time—” “You won’t hear anything good about me from Charles Daggett!” Harmon said. “Nationwide Woollens w-asn’t big enough for both of us. He says I’m a crook and a double-crosser. I say Daggett is the biggest rascal in the textile game.”
“Kent!” Nancy cried out sharply. “Please!” Again she was twisting wretchedly at the ring. And then Harmon saw what he should have noticed before. The ring was a diamond. “I want to be friends.
I want your help. I really do. But I can’t let you say such things about Charles. I’ve been trying to tell you—in all fairness—so you’ll know where you stand. If you w-ant to back out of this fight now, it isn’t too late. But Charles Daggett and I have been engaged for the past two months.”
THERE was a long, heavy silence.
"Well,” said Harmon, dully, a little numbed by the shock of a declaration so surprising that he could scarcely believe he had heard aright, “that alters the situation, doesn’t it?”
“Alters the situation?” blurted Holcomb. “How? It doesn’t alter anything. I thougnt you knew. Surprised Nancy didn’t tell you. But why in the world should our plans be affected by the mere fact that Nancy is engaged to Charles Daggett?” He had found his spectacles and now he was reading the agreement, at the same
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Looms of Conflict
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time fumbling for his fountain pen. “We’re not fighting Nationwide Woollens.”
“Whether you like it or not, Mr. Holcomb, that’s what it amounts to. I’m sorry. If I had known the situation, I wouldn’t have come butting in.” Harmon was sick with discouragement and disappointment. “There’s no use going on with it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I have no quarrel with Daggett. One of my best friends. Nancy’s fiancé. He’s the last man in the world who would try to injure us. He’ll help us. if anything.” Holcomb uncapped his fountain pen and put the agreement on the table. “This is all in order, Harmon. Your signature, Eckelstein’s signature, and now— mine.”
Before Harmon could move to stop him, the old man had scribbled his name at the foot of the document. He fumbled among the papers for the two copies, muttering to himself.
“Can’t back out now, Harmon,” he said, thrusting one of the copies into his pocket. He signed the other. “Witness these, Nancy.” He beamed at Harmon. “Can’t let you be silly enough to back out on that agreement, my boy.”
“But. dad,” protested Nancy, “that’s not fair. Just because Mr. Harmon brought those papers here with his name already signed to them—”
“Let it ride. I’ll go through with it. But I’m warning you, Mr. Holcomb—you’re giving me complete authority. Don’t kid yourself about Charles Daggett. He wants Rainbow. I hope he leaves us alone, but I’m betting he won’t. And if he tangles with me. he’ll have to protect himself in the clinches.”
Nancy flushed angrily. Her chin went up.
“I’m sorry you feel that w'ay, Kent. But you’re wrong. You won’t have anything to fear from Mr. Daggett.”
“I quit believing in Santa Claus when I was nine years old.” Harmon told her. “And the less Daggett knows about our plans for Rainbow, the better I’ll be pleased—”
Nancy’s eyes blazed.
“Kent Harmon! Are you suggesting— do you insinuate for a minute that I can’t be trusted? Why of all the mean, despicable, insulting
Nancy was so angry that she couldn’t finish. She gave Harmon a look that should have shrivelled him, and stamped out of the room.
MA GRIGGS and Lute were thrown into a state of high excitement by Harmon’s news that Rainbow was to reopen. And Jim Bradley was jubilant.
“I knew you’d swing it!” he roared, pounding Harmon on the back. “Watch our smoke now !”
Ma Griggs had to restrain forcibly her lanky husband from setting out for the mill at midnight, “just to check up on the machinery'.” As it was, the master mechanic was out of the house and off to his beloved plant at four o’clock next morning.
The guide. Ma Griggs told Harmon, was “coming along like a house afire” and was well on the way to recovery. The course of the illness had been checked in time and the Indian’s strong constitution had done the rest.
Harmon visited the sick room early next morning. Joe grinned with pleasure. “You have good trip. Mr. Harmon?” “Swell. How are you feeling? You look plenty better than you did a week ago. Joe.”
“Big sick,” Joe said solemnly. “Plenty sore. Plenty no strong. Ask doctor when I get up.”
“Take it easy.” Harmon advised. “There’s no hurry about getting up.” “Cost much money.”
“Forget it. This isn’t costing you a cent. And don’t get any ideas about heading back for the bush as soon as you’re on your feet again. I’m going to make you my chauffeur.”
This time, Joe’s grin was radiant. “Good,” he grunted. “Me drive car fast. Quick like lightning.”
“Drive too fast and I’ll fire you.” laughed Harmon. “I’m having my car sent up from the city. So stay in bed and get strong again.”
There was plenty of work to be done. Harmon and Jim Bradley were out of the house and on their way to the mill by eight-thirty, impatient to be clearing the decks for action. At that. Harmon found Nancy had reached the office ahead of him.
She gave him a cool nod. Harmon went over to her desk.
“I’m sorry atout last night, Nancy,” he said. “I didn't mean to hurt your feelings.” He extended his hand. “Friends again?” Nancy ignored the hand, went on flipping cards from an index file.
“Of course,” she said primly. “I’m as anxious to see Rainbow in operation as you are. More, perhaps.”
Her manner was briskly remote. Harmon realized that the old comradeship was gone. The shadow of Daggett hung between them.
“That’s fine,” he said, matching her own impersonal tone. “I’ll need your help. How atout workers? Think we can get many of the old hands back.”
“I’m going through our lists now. A lot of our old workers have kept in touch with us. I'll make a list of the names and addresses and mail cards to them today. The employment office in Augusta should be notified too.”
“Right. And about your own position here. You’ll stay on as superintendent, won’t you. at superintendent’s salary? Until we get the wheels turning, however, you can help me a lot here in the office.” “You are in complete authority.” Nancy reminded him, primly as ever. “Tell me what you want done and I’ll attend to it.” “Good. I just want to be sure we understand each other. I want all the data on the operation of the company store. What’s the system? Charge accounts against the weekly pay cheques?”
Nancy indicated a bank of filing cabinets. “You’ll find all the information you want in the store file. Shall I sort it out for you?”
“No thanks. I’ll wade into it myself. Keep on at those employment cards. And you’ll see about phoning the employment office?”
“At nine o’clock.”
And so the big job of getting Rainbow into operation again got under way. Harmon was busy all morning digesting the data on the company store operation and telephoning city wholesalers. He plowed through a great deal of work, in spite of the fact that David Holcomb came doddering in at ten o’clock and spent the rest of the morning trying to be helpful. He tried to put troublesome thoughts of Nancy out of his mind, but every little while he would find himself thinking of the astounding fact of her engagement to Daggett. Even yet he could scarcely believe it. The situation was full of dynamite. Sooner or later, unless Daggett decided against interference. she would have to choose between Daggett and Rainbow.
“And knowing Daggett as I do,” reflected Harmon, ‘Tm betting he’ll figure out some way to fight without turning Nancy against him at the same time.”
nriIE P'IRST of the job-seekers arrived shortly after noon—a husky young man with his wife and two children wedged into a battered old car with a miscellaneous assortment of groceries, household goods and bedclothing.
“Well, here we are, Miss Holcomb!” he announced. “I was in the employment office when they put up the notice. We packed what we had and started. Can we have the same house as before? Our stove is in it, and a bed couch. Number eleven. Third Street. The rest of our stuff is coming by truck.”
The second car arrived half an hour later. From then on. they came in a stream. Old employees were given first consideration. By night Rainbow was beginning to live again. There were people in the once-deserted streets, lights shining in the windows of houses that had been dark for months, trucks roaring in the roads. Rainbow’s End was a clamorous hive of activity as the vacant rooms of the boardinghouse were snapped up.
Harmon found Ma Griggs bustling about the kitchen in a perfect flurry of excitement, her face flushed and perspiring.
“I don’t know how I’m ever goin’ to live through another siege of it,” she spluttered. “I nearly croaked the last time, and this will be worse. A body might as well die and be done with it.”
"Hire enough help and let them work,” suggested Harmon. “You sit around and be the boss.”
“A fat lot. of work I’d get done that way. You may be all right to run a mill, but you never tried to run a boardinghouse. Help! I never hired a girl yet that was worth half what I paid her, or wasn’t twice as much bother as she was worth. Boss, my eye ! If I hired enough help to do the work, I'd need roller skates to check up on ’em.”
Harmon laughed. “Why don’t you sell out, then?”
“Sell out!” exclaimed Ma Griggs, indignantly. “Well of all the crazy ideas ! Why, I’d as soon think of sellin’ Lute. Sooner, I guess, for I never see him anyway. Sell out, indeed! Why, I like it. I’m just bustin’ with happiness to hear feet clatterin’ on the stairs again, and see men smokin’ their pipes on the verandah and know there'll be a mob in the dining room for supper.”
Next morning the rush of job-seekers reached its height. Nancy and her father, with Bradley pressed into service to help them, were furiously busy in the office. An atmosphere of excitement permeated Rainbow. The mill town had come to life with a bang.
Harmon, wanting to make sure that all the machinery had been checked, went in search of Lute. He found the master mechanic, with target and transit, checking the alignment of a line of shafting from which a defective pulley had been removed. As seriously as an astronomer charting the course of a new star. Lute peered through the glass and made microscopic figures on a bit of smoothly planed board which he used in place of a scratch pad.
“It’s settled a bit,” Lute said, as he made a swift calculation and jotted down the result. “It always does, after the frost gets outa the ground. That southwest end’s down three sixteenths of an inch. I’ll have to jack those hangers up a mite to get it into line.”
“Better get a few good men to help you. I '11 leave it to you to pick your crew. I low many did you have during the best previous run?”
“Four, besides myself.”
“You’ll need more than that,” Harmon said, “for we’re going to run three shifts. That will mean more work. There is bound to be breakage. Hire at least two extra men. I can't risk having any machine lie idle for long. And another thing. Lute. There will be a lot more applicants for work all day—there are a dozen cars parked by the office now. I would like to have you go up there and pick out twenty or more men who know how to use an axe and saw. I want to outfit a crew and send them up the river to cut wood along the banks. There are thousands of cords there, and I want a few hundred of them floated down and stacked where we can use them in an emergency. It’s an easy matter for a
shipment of coal to be wrongly routed, and I don’t propose to be caught napping. You get the crew together and hold them here. I'll bring in supplies and equipment this afternoon and we’ll start them out tomorrow.”
“It’s an expensive way to make steam,” Lute objected, “but it can be done. All right. I'll pick ’em out.”
“Not so expensive as to be without it, Lute. We have a fight on our hands. It wouldn't take much to defeat us. A few machines crippled, a generator wrecked -anything to slow us down or keep us idle for a few weeks would turn the trick. I want to cover every possible loophole.” “I’ll do my part,” Lute promised. “I could trust every man I had in my old crew, and I think I can get them all back. As for the new ones” he paused and ground his tœthless gums together ominously—“well. if I catch one of’em shovin’a wrench in the gears or puttin’ emery in a bearin’, it’s goin’ to be just too bad for him, that’s all.”
THERE WAS something heartening in the man’s loyalty to the cause, and his fierce devotion to the inanimate macninery which he had come to look upon with an almost paternal fondness. Impulsively, Harmon extended his hand.
“It will be just a few of us against the world, Lute,” he said, “but we will try to make a fight of it. I know you’ll do your part. As long as I have charge here, your job is secure.”
Lute blinked rapidly as he accepted the proffered hand, while his Adam’s apple slid up his scrawny throat until it threatened to choke him. “Thanks,” he managed to say at last, and his shrill voice was husky with emotion. “I—I—sorta figured I wouldn’t iit in with your plans. Thought you’d probably want a younger man. I'll do my best.”
“It isn’t necessary to tell me that,” Harmon answered. “Miss Holcomb told me I could rely on you, but I hope I would have done so anyway.”
“Nancy, eh? I didn’t know whether she’d recommend me or not. She’s all right, but she’s a woman and her judgment ain’t always the best. I told her so, a spell back, and she didn’t like it very well.” “No? Well she’s a woman. She wouldn’t know much about mechanics.”
“This didn’t have nothin’ to do with mechanics,” Lute assured him. “but was just a plain, everyday lack of boss sense. I got an idea she was goin’ to marry a feller and I told her what 1 thought of him. We had quite a set to.”
“You know about him, huh? Yeah, that’s the man. He’s been up here a lot. Never could figger if he was more interested in Nancy or the mill. He’s prowled around this plant for hours. 1 bet he knows as much about it as I do almost.” Lute was evidently willing to gossip, but Harmon was in no mxd for discussing Nancy’s affairs with the master mechanic. I Ie went down to the garage, where one of the new employees had already been put in charge of the fleet of trucks that had been idle so long. Harmon took out a half-ton delivery truck and set off for Bolton. On the way he met more cars, with job-seekers heading toward Rainbow, and then a huge trailer-truck, loaded to capacity with bales of wool.
“Ten tons of it! Boy!” breathed Harmon. “I’ll bet there hasn’t been that much wool land in at Rainbow in a year.” He spent a busy morning in Bolton. An interview with the local bank manager occupied an hour, and another interview with the freight agent notified that official of activity to come. He ordered the equipment for Lute’s wood-cutting crew. There were phone calls to the wholesalers.
Then Harmon visited an office above the bank, where he found a red-headed young man tilted back in a swivel chair with a hefty legal tome propped up on his bony knees. The young man peered at I larmon through horn-rimmed spectacles.
“I thought you were the landlord,” he
said sonorously. “Don’t tell me you’re a client?”
“Your name is Bliss?”
“The bank manager recommended you.” Harmon opened his wallet, counted out five twenty-dollar bills and tossed them on the desk. “Just a retainer. My name is Harmon.”
Bliss looked solemnly and reverently at the money.
“You’ve hired a lawyer,” he said. “Providing it’s honest work.”
“It was your own reputation for honesty that brought me here.”
I larmon sat down and explained himself. I le told Bliss the nature of his enterprise at Rainbow and outlined the circumstances.
“So?” remarked Bliss when Harmon finished. “You expect trouble. And where do I come in?”
“I want someone out here in Bolton, someone with his ear to the ground for rumors of trouble. Situations may arise that will call for legal advice.”
Bliss picked up the money.
"Delighted,” he said. “Frankly, I wasn’t reading when you come in. I was just staring at this law book and wondering how in time I was going to pay my office rent. I think I understand your problem, Mr. Harmon. If I hear anything that you should know, I’ll be at the telephone in two jumps.”
“Good. And I hope you never have occasion to earn your fee.”
TN HIS private office, Charles Daggett sat scowling at a confidential report that had just reached his desk. It was entirely different from the report he had expected, and Daggett was digesting the disagreeable knowledge that he had guessed wrong.
“I don’t know what arrangements have been made with Holcomb, but Rainbow is very definitely reopening. All former employees have been notified that the mill will reopen Monday, to operate at capacity after tune-up. Wool shipments already going in, employees already reporting, workers being taken on, company houses being occupied, company store being completely stocked. Holcomb and his daughter are in the office, but Harmon is in full authority. I have been unable to learn where Harmon got his backing, but it appears to be substantial. This may be merely a bluff operating on a shoestring of a few thousand dollars and trying to give the impression of ample resources. Harmon seems to have covered up his tracks pretty well in this respect. I have no information as to where the output will go and it will be difficult to learn this until shipments begin.”
Daggett’s scowl deepened. Something had gone wrong. He had assumed that his telephone call to Nancy would settle Harmon’s hash, but apparently it had been a waste of breath. Casually, as if the whole affair was too ridiculous to be taken seriously, Daggett had told her he had heard rumors to the effect that Kent Harmon was trying to get a foothold at Rainbow. And in the same casual manner he had warned her that Harmon wasn’t to be trusted.
Daggett thought he had handled the matter very diplomatically. A word, a mere hint, he felt, would be enough. Now, it seemed, he had miscalculated. He should have talked to Holcomb himself, and his warning should have been much more vigorous.
He picked up the report, studied it again. Daggett was a clever man, and his position in regard to Rainbow Mills was one of the greatest delicacy. He had very special plans for Rainbow, and he had taken it for granted that his engagement to Nancy Holcomb would ensure the carrying out of these plans when the right time came. The time, however, would be when David Holcomb threw up his hands in surrender and Daggett came to the rescue as a prospective son-in-law should
—but using Nationwide Woollens resources to acquire the property for himself.
Daggett was looking to the future and he was not deterred by scruples of loyalty to Nationwide Woollens. He visioned a day when one swift coup would put him in control of a textile kingdom of his own. with Rainbow as the capital—when the directors of Nationwide would wake up to find themselves left with the mills Charles Daggett didn’t want.
By snatching even temporary control of Rainbow and prolonging the independent existence of the plant, Kent Harmon was threatening Daggett’s plans at a vital point.
Daggett reached for the telephone. His first impulse was to go directly to Rainbow and have a showdown with Holcomb. He could, he was confident, bully the old man into anything. Then he drew back his hand.
“No,” Daggett told himself. “My best play is to wait. This is costing Harmon plenty. Let him spend money for a few weeks. Let him get into this up to his neck. Then crack down.”
As to the outcome of the “crackingdown” process, when the time came, Daggett had no misgivings.
ONE WEEK from the following Saturday, Harmon saw his first load of cloth roll away from the shipping-room door. The street in front of the mill office was crowded with mill workers. A cheer broke out as the truck swung around a corner of the mill and started up the grade. It swelled to a roar when Harmon came out onto the office steps.
“There won’t be any ceremony about the other shipments that will follow this one,” he shouted. “But we felt the first load deserved a little good-by party of its own. It’s a big event for me, a big event for Rainbow. It means a great deal to us all. For a good many of you it means the difference between relief and a chance to earn a decent wage. It has cost a lot of money to put this mill into operation again—”
“You’ll get it back!” roared a big weaver.
“I hope so. If you have any complaints about working conditions, I’m always willing to listen. If you have any complaints about wages, keep ’em to yourselves,” grinned Harmon, “until Rainbow has a chance to make a little money.”
The crowd roared. Rainbow' w'as paying above the average scale. Many of the mill people hadn’t seen a pay envelope in months.
“We’re making our first shipment today. The mill is running smoothly. I hope it continues to run smoothly, that you’ll enjoy working here, and that cloth shipments will be rolling out of here for years to come. Thanks, folks, and let’s give the truck driver a hand.”
A deafening cheer echoed back from the mill walls as the truck moved off dowm the road. Harmon watched it with mixed emotions. It seemed too good to be true. Expecting all kinds of trouble, he had been puzzled and relieved w'hen no trouble developed.
Everything had gone without a hitch. Knowingsomethingof thethousandandone difficulties and annoyances that had beset another mill that had attempted to reopen in defiance of Nationwide, he had been prepared for everything from delayed wool shipments to sabotage. Harmon w-ondered if it meant that Daggett had decided not to fight. On Nancy’s account? Perhaps. But it wasn’t easy to credit.
“Rainbow'’s comeback!” breathed a voice at his shoulder.
Nancy stood beside him, watching the truck lurching down the road, her eyes glowing. Impulsively, she rested her hand on his arm.
“You’ve done wonders, Kent.”
“We,” he corrected. “We’ve done a lot of blamed hard work. And I’ve got a notion that the real fight hasn’t started yet.”
“You’re such a pessimist!” she ex-
claimed, giving his arm an impatient little shake. “Fight! We’re not fighting with anyone.”
Harmon looked down at her.
“I sincerely hope not,” he said. “Because if we are, there’s a time coming when your loyalty is going to be put to a terrific test. You’re a swell girl, Nancy, and a grand superintendent. I don’t know how I’d get along without you.”
“Do you think there’s a possibility that you may have to get along without me?”
“Upon what?” demanded Nancy, acidly.
“Perhaps we’d better not cross that bridge until we come to it.”
“Why do you spoil everything?” Nancy said. “I was feeling so happy ...” She turned quickly and went back into the office. Harmon felt depressed. Ever since the night he had learned of her engagement to Daggett, he had tried to keep his thoughts clear of Nancy. He wouldn’t admit to himself that he had been halfwayin love with her from the first time he saw her. but there was no gainsaying the fact that her loveliness set up strange disturbances in his mind every time he had occasion to go into the office.
“Women and business,” reflected Harmon bitterly, “don’t mix.”
HE WENT down into the mill, looking for Bradley. He found his friend in the dye-house office with the Scots bookkeeper, MacTague, hunched over a table on which was spread a sheet of brown wrapping paper covered with innumerable crude pencil sketches.
“Just the man we want!” exclaimed Bradley. “Come and take a look at this, Kent. I had an idea last night and I've been trying to explain it to Mac, but he’s too dumb to get it.”
“ Tis a lie,” grumbled MacTague.
“Oh. he understands it, all right,” admitted Bradley, “but the penny-pincher says it will cost too much. Look here, Kent, did you ever see a piece of cloth dyed different colors?”
“Why, of course. So have you—thousands of them.”
“You are thinkin’ of stock dyeing— weavin’ the colors in after the yarn isdyed. I mean piece dyein’—colorin’ a cut of white material as many different shades as you like, and keepin’ each color separate. You never saw anything like that, did yrou?”
“No, and neither did anyone else.” laughed Harmon as he thought of the immense “kettles,” each holding thousands of gallons of furiously boiling dye mixture, through which sixteen seventyyard cuts could be run at once, their ends sewed together that they might revolve over a slowly turning reel until they had absorbed the last available atom of dye in the “liquor.” “It’s impossible.”
“Maybe it is,” Bradley agreed, “and ♦hen again, maybe it ain’t. At first I thought it was. but now I ain’t so sure. Remember that shower we had the other afternoon? And the rainbow afterward? I was lookin’ at it and thinkin’ if I could dye cloth like that every woman in the country would sprain an ankle tryin’ to get a piece of it, and then the thought struck me how it might be done.”
“It came to me in a flash,” Bradley went on enthusiastically. “Look ! Suppose you ran a piece of goods over two rolls that were a foot apart, and had the back one drag enough to keep the cloth tightly stretched. Then suppose you had a tiny stream of dye—just a little stream not more than a sixteenth of an inch wide— running on the cloth as it passed under it. Suppose, right behind that, you had a jet of live steam striking on that line of color and driving it down through the cloth. What would be the result?”
“A stripe, with an indeterminate edge, running the length of the piece of goods,” Harmon answered promptly.
“All right! Even Mac, here, agrees to that. Suppose then, you had a hundred
of these streams, each a slight gradation of color from the other, runnin’ on it at once.
I mean primary colors—rainbow hues — graduatin’ from one to the other. What would you get then?”
“That would unquestionably give a —wait ! Go over that again, will you? I'm afraid I wasn’t following you very closely.” Bradley resumed, but he had not half finished his explanation before Harmon interrupted excitedly, “It might work! By Jove, Bradley, you have something there.”
“You bet he has.” Mac’s voice was unaccustomedly cheerful. “He has a chance to pour dye stuff away as if he was dumping it down a sink drain. A ten-ton truck couldn’t haul it in here fast enough. Your plan will work—but it will cost ten dollars for every yard you dye by the method.” “Not by a blame sight,” Bradley protested hotly. “I'll discharge it into separate containers and use it over and over.” “That’s right,” Harmon agreed. “A battery of small centrifugals could be piped to pump each lot backintoitsoriginal fountain. By making the cut endless and running it several times. I see no reason why you could not get a sufficient amount of color into it. It would be a ticklish job to set the colors, though. The darker shades would superimpose themselves over the light ones, I think.”
“They would, if we set them by the old method,” Bradley said, “but we won’t do that. We’ll use some such system as this. Drive the fixer into it with steam rather than water. There’s some way we can make it work.”
“Go find Lute.” Harmon advised, “and talk it over with him. If he thinks he can make the machine, I will put him to work on it. And I wouldn’t talk much about it either if I were you. If it should prove practical, there would be a fortune in it for someone—but you would have hard work to collect if someone else patented the idea.”
“I don’t want nothin’ out of it,” Bradley insisted. “If it works out, it’s yours if you want to use it. It might be a gxd idea to slap a patent on it, so Daggett can’t get hold of it. Say,” he cried delightedly as a new thought struck him. “Wouldn't the blighter be sore if we should come out with somethin’ like that? He’d crawl into his burrow then, and pull the bloomin’ ’ole in after ’im.”
THERE were, Harmon saw, possibilities in Bradley’s plan. He knew well the fickleness of fashion—that senseless thing against whose decree the manufacturer has no appeal—but he was also well aware that many a man has achieved success merely by stumbling upon something which pleased fashion’s whimsical fancy. If the idea worked it would give them a priceless advantage, for there was no question as to its patentability.
They went in search of Lute, who listened without enthusiasm and finally expressed the opinion that the whole scheme was visionary, exjxmsive. foolish, impractical and impossible.
“Not that I’m sayin’ anything against it,” he assured them hastily. “If I'm told to build a machine. I'll go ahead and build a machine, no matter if it is a waste of time and money.”
“Lots of great inventions were called crazy when they first came out,” declared Bradley.
“Sure. sure. Mr. Bradley you just keep calm and don’t go gettin’ yourself all excited. Mr. Harmon says I’m to build the machine, so I'll go ahead and build it ” Lute broke off suddenly and gaped out the window of his shabby little office.
“Derned if we ain’t got a visitor!” he exclaimed. “Yes, sir, a real distinguished visitor, up to help us celebrate the first shipment. A smile on his face and a blackjack in his pocket. I’ll bet. Have a look at him, Mr. Harmon.”
A sleek, powerful, expensive-looking car had rolled into the mill yard and was drawing to a stop in front of the office.
Harmon saw a familiar, broad-shouldered figure step out.
“Who is it?” demanded Bradley, craning his neck to see.
“Daggett,” said Harmon calmly.
Lute picked up a wrench.
“Well, what are we waitin’ for? Nobody sent that skunk an engraved invitation, that I know of. Ain’t we goin’ to throw him off the propitty?”
Daggett disappeared into the office.
“Come on,” pleaded Bradley. “Let’s give him the bum’s rush. He’s got no business around here—except monkey business.”
Harmon didn’t move. He gazed steadily out the window. A few moments later he saw Daggett emerge, with Nancy Holcomb and her father. They got into the car and drove away. To be Continued