Looms of Conflict
In which a strike reaches its climax, new dangers threaten the whirring looms, and a Bradley marches on the Holcombs
The story: Kent Harmon, ousted from Nationwide
Woollens Co. when Charles Daggett achieved control, is on a fishing trip with his one-time assistant, Jim Bradley, and an Indian guide who lias become ill, when he arrives at Rainbow, an isolated Northern village built around a now inoperative textile plant owned by 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 wholesa’ers have been warned by Daggett not to do business with him. However, a small dealer named Eckel stein, who is associated with many other small dealers, enables him to secure $60,000; and this, with Harmon s own $10.000 and Bradley's $¡6',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 he is trying to help them.
After Daggett visits the Holcombs, the old gentleman tells Harmon he has learned about his record and wants him to quit. Harmon declines.
In an altercation with a big Irishman named Reardon, Harmon knocks him down, and thereafter Reardon becomes his friend.
Learning that a icorker named Anstein has been placed in the milI by Daggett to foment a strike, Harmon runs the man out of town. Anstein returns and leads the strike. When the men are debating in a hall, Harmon enters and addresses them. A fight, with Reardon participating, follows; and Harmon is Jelled by a blackjack.
CON REARDON saw Harmon toppling from the platform. The semiconscious Harmon might have been badly trampled by the surging mob. but with a bull-like roar, Reardon leaped forward. A sweep of one huge arm hurled a trouble-seeking mill man out of his way. and then he was standing astride of Harmon’s body. Even in the few moments since the fight began, Reardon's shirt had been torn to shreds. He stood there, legs braced, big shoulders swaying.
“Get back, ye scum!” he roared.
Lute Griggs and Jim Bradley struggled to his side. “By Godfrey, this is a fine state of affairs!” piped Lute Griggs. “What kind of folk are you, that won't give a man a fair hearin’?”
1 larmon, dizzy, his right arm hanging limp, shook his head like a dog coming out of water. His brain cleared. He crawled slowly to his feet. The incident, followed by Reardon’s threatening stand, had sobered the crowd a little. The arguments that had broken out in all parts of the hall, subsided.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” growled Bradley. “If we can.”
Harmon tried to move his right arm. A violent twinge of pain shot through his shoulder, but he was satisfied that no bones were broken. His head was throbbing
with pain from the grazing impact of the blackjack.
“You okay, chief?” asked Reardon.
Harmon nodded. “Thanks, Con. Let’s go.”
Worse than the physical pain was the knowledge that he had failed in his attempt to make the strikers listen to reason. The angry faces that confronted him were dark with hatred. He would only stir them to fresh fury if he tried to reach the platform again. He would be lucky, in fact, if he reached the door of the hall without a new outbreak of violence.
Con Reardon moved forward.
“Gangway!” snarled the Irishman.
“Yessir, it’s a fine state of affairs,” bleated Lute Griggs again. “Never thought I’d see the like of this in Rainbow.”
“Lute Griggs!” commanded a strident and familiar voice. “You keep that big mouth of yours closed or your teeth are liable to fall out. I’ll do the talkin’ for our family.”
Wading through the crowd came Ma Griggs, like a schooner under full canvas. Red-faced and determined, she used her weight and elbows vigorously as she thrust her way toward them.
“Now look here, Ma!” piped Lute Griggs. “You better keep out of this. It ain’t no place for a woman—”
“Isn’t it?” snapped Ma Griggs. “A fine mess you men have made of it.” Ma was mad. She hitched up her skirts and waddled up the steps to the platform. Then, puffing, she brushed a strand of hair off her forehead and faced the
crowd. A delighted workman gave an incredulous yell:
“Hurray! Ma’s gonna make a speech.”
There was a roar of laughter. The women in the audience shrieked applause.
“I’m making no speech,” declared Ma Griggs sharply. “I’ve never made one in my life and I’m not starting now. But I'm going to tell you folks a thing or two. That man of mine says this is no place for a woman. All I can say is that it’s high time the women of this town took a hand in things. I don’t notice that you men”—she favored the nearest group of workers with a withering glare—“have made such a howling success.”
“Good for you, Mrs. Griggs!” screamed a weaver’s wife. “Go right after them.”
“And if you had done a little more talking at home,” Ma Griggs told her crisply, “maybe you’d have been able to keep your husband from making a fool of himself by going on strike.”
The crowd howled. Ma Griggs had them in a good humor now. “By Godfrey,” muttered Lute in admiration, “she’s got ’em eatin’ right out of her hand. She could run for government and win hands down.”
“Now listen here!” declared Ma Griggs, putting her hands on her hips. “I’ve lived in Rainbow longer than any of you. I came here when they started building the mill and I’ve been here ever since. I lived in a company town before I came here, and I lived through a strike in that town. It was the company won that strike. And why? Because
they starved the workers out. And how did they do it? They just closed down the company store.”
"K yf A PAUSED for a moment to let this sink in. Then J. she waggled a fat forefinger at them.
“Did any of you go without supper tonight? No ! The company store was open, doin’ business as usual. Most of it on credit. You take it for granted. Mr. Harmon could have closed up that store tighter than a drum the very minute you quit work. He was advised to do it. Ninetynine managers out of a hundred would have done it. But he kept the store open because he didn’t want the women and kids of this town to suffer any hardships on account of the menfolk making fools of themselves. Now get that, you ungrateful dumbbells. He kept that store open—
“It’s a lie!” shouted Anstein from the back of the platform. “The store is no part of the mill proi>erty. Holcomb should get the credit for keeping the store open.” Ma Griggs turned.
“You dare!” she exclaimed, her voice quivering with indignation. “You dare give me the lie! It’s you that’s lyin’, you snake in the grass. I’ve forgotten more about this town than you’ll ever learn in a hundred years, and when I say Mr. Harmon has the power to close that store, I know what I’m talking about.”
A contemptuous sniff disposed of Anstein. Someone whooped. “We believe you, Ma. Go ahead.”
“As for this,” and Ma flicked her thumb at Anstein.
Burton L. Spiller
“I’ve seen his kind before. It doesn’t matter to him that a lot of women and kids will go hungry.
It matters to Mr. Harmon. But not to him. And if it’s a choice between the two men, the man who’s decent enough to risk being licked just because lie’s too much of a gentleman to work hardship on the innocent—and between the man who talks you into quitting good jobs when you ought to be mighty glad to have work at all— well, there just isn't any choice. Why don’t you women wake up? Haven’t you got any influence at all over these husbands of yours? 1 tell you what, if I heard my Lute talking any nonsense about going on strike, I’d have something to say about it—”
“Now you look here, Ma. I’m still wearing the pants in our house,” objected Lute in a plaintive bleat.
“That’s what you think!” rapped out Ma Griggs, and her retort was almost drowned out in a roar of laughter. Men slapped each other on the back. Women rocked with mirth. The hatred and suspicion that had consumed the crowd was washed away in a wave of glee. And they roared the louder when they glimpsed Lute Griggs’ crestfallen face. It broke up the meeting. Ma Griggs shrewdly ended her speech then and there. Her quick tongue and warm personality had changed a bitter, hypnotized mob into chuckling, guffawing human beings. She had put them in good humor and given them something to think about.
“She’s a wonder,” exclaimed Harmon as he saw the laughing workers stampeding toward the door. “Why, she did more with that crowd in two minutes than I could have done in a week.”
“Yeah, but they’re not back at work yet,” said Bradley. He cast a sour glance back toward the platform where Anstein, rubbing a sore jaw, was arguing heatedly with Marchette.
MA GRIGGS hadn’t broken the strike, but she had put a severe dent in it. Her argument that Harmon had refused to use the most effective weajxm at his command—the company store—because it would work hardship on women and children, registered strongly. And for all the booing and jeering that had greeted Harmon, his speech had not been entirely in vain. Marchette’s vicious attack on him had not gone down very well with the soberer element, and after the meeting some of the men who had jeered the loudest found themselves remembering Harmon’s talk and comparing it with the rabid fulminations of Anstein and Marchette—to Harmon’s advantage.
No one knew better than the agitators that the meeting had weakened their control. Back in their room that night, Anstein and Marchette faced the facts.
“We’d be sitting pretty if it hadn’t been for that meddlesome old woman,” growled Marchette. “We’ve got to do something and do it quick. I don’t know how we stand with these men now.”
“They’re slipping,” snapped Anstein. “If more of them go back to work in the morning, we’ll lose ’em all. I know the signs.”
“Cripple the mill.”
Marchette licked his lips nervously. The idea of risking his own hide had never appealed to him.
“Maybe we’d better wait. I don’t think she swung very many of them away from us.”
“I’m taking no chances. Daggett said to shut that mill and keep it shut. The quicker Harmon folds up. the bigger bonus we get. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to run the risk of going into the mill, but we’ve got to do it.” “They’ve got floodlights. And extra watchmen.” “You turning yellow on me?” snarled Anstein. The two men glared at each other. Then Marchette looked sulkily at the floor.
“When do we start?” he muttered.
Anstein looked at his watch.
“It’s eleven o’clock now. We’ll wait a few hours.” Rainbow was silent, its homes in darkness, when the pair lowered themselves over the windowsill of their ground-floor room. One brilliant splash of light sUxxJ out in sharp relief against the blackness of the river valley. Floodlights glared down on the deserted mill yard; in their blinding radiance Lute Griggs, sitting drowsily at one of the windows in the machine shop, could distinguish every stick, stone and blade of grass from the mill wall to the fence.
Anstein, however, was not following any hastily conceived plan. He had outlined his program w ell in advance. His present mission was a last resort, to be undertaken
only if he felt that there was a danger of the strike being broken.
Silently, the two men stole down a dark lane below the mill until they reached the river bank below the dam. Then they m a d e their w a y quietly toward the great mass of buildings. They were back of the floodlights now, well under cover of darkness. The rank, wet grass was springy under their feet. The steady roar of the falls boomed in their ears.
The south wall of the mill loomed high and dark ahead. Anstein had chosen to approach from this direction, because the yard fence did not run all the way to the river bank here but stopped at the mill wall. He had taken advantage of his brief period of employment at Rainbow to learn the layout of the big plant thoroughly.
They halted beneath one of the windows. Anstein fumbled for a moment. A protesting creak, and the window swning open.
“I unsnapped that catch from the inside two weeks ago,” Anstein whispered. “Thought it might come in handy.”
He scrambled onto the sill, disappeared inside. Marchette, after a moment of hesitation, followed. Marchette didn’t care for this venture. He could put up a good pretense of bravery with a couple of hundred strikers behind him, but this particular errand carried too many possibilities of a bullet from the dark.
Reflected illumination from the radiance of the fhxxllights, carne through the side windows that overlooked the yard and revealed the shadowy hulks of machines in the long room. Anstein led the way.
“The chief thing.” he whisjx'red to Marchette, "is that it’s got to look like an accident. We could start a lire or bust up a few machines with a crowbar, but they’d know right away who did it. This way, a lot of damage is done and nobody can prove a thing.”
They were approaching the part of the mill that sheltered the great looms. Above the intricate machines ran the pi|X's of the sprinkler system. Anstein and his companion st;xxl motionless for a moment, listening. There was no sound but the steady, distant rumble of the falls, the humming of machinery in the powerhouse.
Heat just enough to expand the delicate mechanism of the sprinkler system into ojx-ration would be enough to send gallons of water showering into the room. Water that would damage the looms to such an extent that even if the men did return to work in the morning, they would find the mill paralyzed for days. Anstein took matches from his pocket.
"Climb up on that loom,” he ordered Marchette in a whisper, “i’ll take the other side. You know how the system works
“Don’t move!” ordered a gruff voice from the darkness beyond the looms. “I got gun. Put your hands up!”
MARCHETTE uttered a yelp of sheer startled fright.
Anstein froze. Slowly he raised his arms. The matches dribbled from his nerveless fingers and fell to the floor. Out of the shadows came a man armed with a rifle.
“Try make water swoosh-swoosh, make big mess, ruin machines, huh?” grunted Indian JCXÍ. “I wait here one night, two night—now you come. Now you go!”
Anstein eyed the rifle barrel, glimmering in a ray of light from the windows. He discarded the notion of making a break for liberty. This Indian was too ominous, his voice too grim.
Suddenly Joe flung back his head, uttered a horrible, ear-splitting shriek. It was like the war whoop of his forebears. Its screeching echoes rang through the mill. Marchette, sweating with terror, his knees shaking, gave a despairing groan.
The shriek was answered by a distant shout. There was a clattering of heavy boots on cement.
“Hold ’em. Joe!” bawled Lute Griggs. “I’m a-comin’!” A moment later Lute came storming into the room, armed with the inevitable wrench. And not long after that, the soaring screech of the mill whistle shattered the deep night silence of Rainbow. Never since the village was built had the deafening whistle blast been heard at that unearthly hour. It was so loud, so prolonged, that it would have aroused a graven image or a stone dog. Gabriel’s trumpet couldn’t have sent the inhabitants of Rainbow scrambling out of their beds with greater haste or unanimity.
Harmon was one of the first to reach the mill yard, with Jim Bradley, hatless and coatless, hard on his heels. Harmon’s first thought, when the frantic screeching of the whistle had awakened him, was that the mill had been set afire. But there was no lurid glare in the sky, no rolling cloud of smoke.
Under the floodlights stood a little group of men— Anstein, tight-mouthed and defiant; Marchette, quaking with fear; Indian Joe, imperturbable as ever; the two extra watchmen in a state of high excitement ; and Lute Griggs, capering about like a gaunt scarecrow imbued with life and speech.
‘Tryin’ to ruin the machinery, hey?” clamored Lute. “By Godfrey, so that’s the way you help the poor workingman, is it? A-feared they’d be goin’ back to their jobs in the morning . . .”
Harmon trx>k in the situation at a glance. For once, Anstein and Marchette had overstepped themselves. "What’s it all about, Lute?” he asked quietly.
Lute told him at length. More men came running up. And as the crowd gathered, Marchette and Anstein became uneasy. To a mill worker, the looms are sacred. The very men who had cheered the loudest when the agitators declaimed against Harmon, now muttered grimly among themselves when they learned that their two leaders had been caught red-handed at the looms with matches in their hands. Some jumped to the conclusion that Anstein had been trying to burn down the plant.
Rainbow was ablaze with lights. Men and women were hastening down the roads toward the mill.
“You’re through, Anstein,” snapped Harmon. “Better get going. All the oratory in the world won’t save you from a ducking in the river when these people realize what you’ve been up to.”
“Scram,” advised Bradley. “You’re gettin’ off easy. If you’re not out of Rainbow in five minutes, it’ll be just too bad for you.”
"Hey !” yelped the aggrieved Lute. “You’re not going to let ’em go! After all the trouble I had catchin’ ’em? By Godfrey, they ought to be locked up. Ten years in penitentiary would be too good for them—”
“Throw ’em in river.” grunted Joe.
Anstein and Marchette fled. They didn’t even call at their room to pack. In considerably less than the five minutes Bradley had allowed, their car was rocketing down the road to Bolton.
The strike was broken.
There was no further doubt about that next morning. And Ma Griggs and Indian J;x; shared the credit. The agitators might have been able to counteract the effect of Ma Griggs' speech, but the most stubborn dissenter could not laugh off the fact that the strikers were now leaderless. A few of them hung back, muttering darkly that Anstein and Marchette had been “framed,” but as seven o’clock drew near they found themselves so badly outnumbered that they gave in, hustled to get back in line with the returning workers before it would be too late.
They came, to the last man. When Harmon went down to the office that morning, he found the mill yard crowded. Again he had to thrust his way through a group massed around the gate. No longer, though, was there any arrogance about them. One by one, with downcast looks and sheepish eyes, they filed into the mill office and asked to be reinstated.
“Now,” said Harmon, “we can get together and show the world how to make cloth.”
TJT ARMON was too jubilant over the sudden turn of events to cherish any resentment, and he lost nothing by his generous attitude, for many a man who had entered the room with animosity still rankling in his heart, went out swearing fealty to his employer.
“Well, it was just a dud after all,” Bradley said. “A lot of sputterin’ and fizzin’, but no real fireworks. It’ll be a long time before they try that again.”
“I hope so. I don’t see how Daggett can hurt us now. He has always played a strike for his trump card. It looks now as though we were going to win.”
“It d(xis, don’t it? I was hopin’ they’d hold off a few more days, though, and give Lute a chance to get that dyein’ machine together. He’s got a gtxxl start on it.” "There’ll be time enough to play with it after we get this straightened out. We’re going to hit our stride this time, and I'll bury you with cloth.”
"Well, let it come.” Bradley cheerfully returned. “We’ll take care of it. We’re organized down here. I’ve got some good men.”
"You have a good one in Reardon. I owe him something for what he has done. Sound him out and see if he cares to advance. 1 f he does, we can push him up a little right here.” “I’ve been watchin’ him, and he’s takin’ hold. He’ll be ready for a floor job in a month or two.”
“See that he gets it,” said Harmon. “And tell him about it when he comes in. I should like him to know I appreciate what he has done for us,” and he hurried off to the picker room.
“Get ready to give me a thousand extra pounds of stock each day,” he said to the foreman, and his voice was
jubilant. “We’re going to find out what this plant is capable of doing.”
A few days elapsed before the disrupted balance was again restored, but when it was once established and the excitement of the past few days had been in a measure forgotten, they began, for the first time, really to tax the capacity of the mill. Through the long hours of the night the machines whirred and clanked, filling the air with a vibrant tremor that was music to Harmon’s ears, while the winding road to Bolton became jxjpulous with speeding vehicles. From morning until night the fleet of trucks rolled back and forth across the twenty-mile stretch, in the endless task of transporting the necessary supplies; while mammoth, trailer-equipped lorries, each with the capacity of a freight car, toiled up the long grades, loaded to their limits with wool with which to feed the rapacious monster that whined and growled as it sucked the mass into its vitals.
CHARLES DAGGETT received a distinct shock when he read the black one-line heading over that short item in his morning paper.
RAINBOW STRIKE ENDS
Bolton, May 14: Employees of Rainbow Mills, textile plant at Rainbow Village, twenty miles north of here, went back to work yesterday after a strike of less than a week’s duration. The walkout was occasioned by the dismissal of an employee. Demands of the employees were not met. “Just a little difference of opinion,” stated Kent Harmon, manager of the plant. Mr. Harmon declined to comment further. Rainbow has been running on a twenty-four-hour schedule.
Daggett, reading that, could scarcely believe his eyes. It was his first intimation of Anstein’s failure.
“Why didn’t the fool let me know'? Why hasn’t he telephoned? What’s happened to Holcomb?” he fumed. The big blond man was shaken out of his usual iron composure. He couldn’t understand how Anstein had been defeated; the last report from that henchman had been to the effect that the Rainbow plant would be closed for w'eeks. Above all, he couldn’t understand why Anstein hadn’t informed him instantly of this drastic setback.
Daggett was just reaching for the telephone, planning to put through a long-distance call to David Holcomb, in Rainbow, when his secretary came in to announce Anstein himself.
“He’s been waiting in the reception room for the past twenty minutes; ever since the office opened this morning.” “Send him in,” growled Daggett.
Anstein. sullen and gloomy, stood before him a moment later. Under Daggett’s cold stare, the man wilted.
“So you messed everything up,” Daggett rapped out contemptuously. He indicated the newspaper on the desk. “I have to depend on the paper for my information. Why didn’t you send a telegram? Why didn’t you phone? What happened?” He fired the questions at the wretched Anstein like bullets.
“I got here as fast as I could,” muttered the man. “There wasn’t any use telephoning. You couldn’t have done anything.”
“Who are you to say whether I could have done anything or not?” demanded Daggett harshly. “They broke the strike, I gather. Well, how did it happen? Tell your story.” Anstein told it. Daggett was pale with irritation.
“You pair of bunglers !” he exploded. “Let yourselves be outtalked by a blithering old woman and outsmarted by an ignorant redskin. Why did you try to meddle with the sprinkler system anyhow?”
“I had to do something,” Anstein retorted defensively. “We’d lost our hold on the men. I could see that. If I could have kept the mill shut for a couple of days, I’d have talked the men into line again.”
“Get out!” growled Daggett, white with fury. “Get out of my sight. Your cheque will be mailed to you. The easiest job you ever had, and you bungled it like an amateur. Count yourself lucky that Harmon didn’t have you thrown in jail.”
“Count yourself lucky on that score,” Anstein replied. “If I’d gone to jail, I’d have done some talking that wouldn’t have helped your reputation any.”
“Any talking you could do wouldn’t hurt me very much. Get out.”
“Okay,” answered Anstein. He was just opening the door when he glanced back. “Harmon blurted out at the meeting that the Rainbow output is going to a fellow named Eckelstein. Take the tip for what it’s worth.”
He went out.
Daggett was very thoughtful. Then he pressed a buzzer, and when his secretary appeared, he asked for all available information on Eckelstein. After that he put through a call to a contracting firm.
“About that water diversion project we were discussing the other day,” said Daggett into the telephone. “On Rainbow River. Right. I told you to wait until I gave the word—well, go ahead.”
Daggett was a firm believer in the adage that there is more than one way of killing a cat.
'T'HREE DAYS later, young Bliss warned Harmon by telephone that a river steamer had just started up the Kennebec, towing a lighter loaded with lumber and heavy timber.
“I made some enquiries,” Bliss said, “but they are pretty secretive about it; too much so to suit me. I learned, though, that they had been chartered by an H. C. Kranz, of Boston. I can find no firm listed under that name. It smells pretty fishy to me.”
“It’s probably a contractor engaged to build a camp somewhere up in the bush,” Harmon suggested.
“He could also be building a dam across a river.”
“They would never do a thing like that. The law wouldn’t permit it.”
“Once let them put a dam across your stream and they could fight you through the courts for years, unless you could get a restraining injunction. There’s been many an outrage committed in the name of the law.”
“There’ll be something more than an outrage committed if they try to block us of water,” Harmon promised darkly. “It will be more in the nature of a massacre. What did you learn concerning our rights? Have we any?”
“Yes, indeed. I looked up the records. You are granted the sole and unrestricted use of the water that flows past your holdings,” said Bliss.
“We’re all right, then. That ‘unrestricted use’ protects us.”
“Not as I see it. You have the unrestricted use of what flows past your property. If it ceases to flow, that’s your hard luck.”
“But there is no justice in that. Think of the town, and the money invested here. We could win a verdict in any court if it came to a trial.”
“I’ll grant that,” replied the lawyer. “You could, unquestionably—if you were in a position to fight. But suppose they succeeded in shutting your plant down for a month or two. Could you fight then?”
“With tooth and claw,” Harmon answered dryly. “I’d have nothing else left. See here, you young kill-joy, why are you worrying me? You are my lawyer. Why don’t you do something about it?”
“That is what I am doing. I thought you might like to put a man in the field to learn what they are up to.”
“A good idea,” Harmon agreed. “I’ll send Joe up there tomorrow. I’ll call you when he reports to me.”
He hung up the receiver, fully resolved to communicate his wishes to the guide that night, but Joe had gone out to the river to try his luck on the evening rise of trout, and had not returned when Harmon departed for a few hours extra labor in the office.
It was the end of June, and the days had reached their greatest length. The reflected light from the flaming west extended the hour of twilight, and the clock had struck eight before Harmon found it necessary to press the switch that lighted the office. He had barely resumed his seat when the lamps flared brightly for a moment, then gradually faded to a rosy glow and flickered out. Glancing from the window, he saw that not only the mill but the entire village was in darkness. Something had gone wrong in the power plant. Hurrying out, he encountered Lute, a bobbing flashlight in his hand.
“It’s in the hydro-electric generator,” Lute said.
“Well, let’s find the trouble. Thank heaven, it didn’t happen a few nights ago. They could have wrecked the plant in the dark.”
The trouble, when Lute had pattered in out of the gloom and gone to it with uncanny accuracy, proved to be nothing more serious than a sheared key on the upright shaft of the generator; but it was necessary to hoist the giant armature on its spindle in order to effect the repair, and the sky was crimsoning in the east when the machine once more took up its burden.
Snatching a few hours sleep, Harmon hurried back to his task, his promise forgotten; and not until the next day, when Lute came hurrying into the office with a bit of timber in his hands, did he recall that he had intended to send Joe up the river to reconnoitre.
“Where the blazes did this come from?” Lute asked, his new teeth clacking like castanets in his excitement. “I raked it out of the rack in front of the flume. There’s a lot of chips and sawdust in the water. Where’s it coming from?”
T_T ARMON’S startled eyes surveyed the billet of wood in the mechanic’s hands. Dripping water and discolored by its contact with the shores where it had worked its way round many a bend in the river, it yet bore evidence of being freshly hewn.
“I don’t know,” Harmon replied, even as the memory of the lawyer’s warning and his own delinquency arose to fill him with apprehension, “but I’m going to find out.”
He seized his hat, paused to give a few instructions to the head bookkeeper, then hurried out in search of Joe. Twenty minutes later they were on the river, the Indian in the stem of the canoe, while Kent knelt in the bow, his eyes staring straight ahead and his lips set in a thin, defiant line.
In the quiet water above the third portage, they found the thing Harmon had feared. On either bank, piles of
new lumber gleamed while a score of men waded, half submerged in the quietly moving water, as they erected a crude cofferdam, the framework of which already extended halfway across the river.
He singled out the foreman instantly—a khaki-clad, rawboned giant who stood on the bank and directed the activities of the men who swarmed about their tasks.
“What’s going on?’’ Harmon demanded truculently. “Who gave you authority to work here?”
“What authority have you to ask?” There was no trace of ill humor in the man’s voice. He spoke rather with the assurance of one who definitely knew his rights and had already formulated a course of action. “Who are you?”
“I’m Kent Harmon, the manager at Rainbow Mills.”
The big man favored him with a brief but comprehensive scrutiny, as though he would confirm some previously formed mental picture. “Oh, yes, I’ve heard of you. I’m Bill Black, and I’m building a dam across the river.”
“By whose orders?”
Black laughed complacently. “On orders from the man who hired me.” He seemed to find something humorous in the situation. “What are you all steamed up about? You don’t own the river, do you?” “No; but I’m operating a mill on it, and I’ve got to have water to run it.”
“Oh, well,” the other said placatingly. “You have nothing to worry about. I never saw a dam so high that water wouldn’t run over it.”
“Or around it,” Harmon supplemented. “I don’t understand this. What is your purpose in building it?”
Again the big man laughed goodnaturedly. “That’s an easy one. My purpose is to earn the six thousand dollars they’re paying me.”
“But you can’t build a permanent structure for that sum, or for three times as much,” Harmon cried. “It will go out in the first spring freshet.”
“That will be the owner’s hard luck and not mine. I’m building what the contract calls for. It’s none of my business.”
“Well, I intend to make it mine,” Harmon said, his anger blazing. “Whoever is responsible for this is doing it for a purpose, and I propose to learn what the purpose is.”
“Go to it.”
1EFT TO himself, Harmon fumed * inwardly for a moment, then turned to his companion. “Drag the canoe out on the bank,” he commanded. “We’re going upstream and look round a bit.”
On either side of the river there, the shores angled steeply upward, but they had travelled scarcely 200 yards upriver before the right-hand bank began to fall off abruptly, until its highest point topped the surface of the water by only a few feet.
Standing on the lowest point, Harmon looked off across the rolling land to his right. It sloped gently downward, while in its centre an elongated winding depression lay, its scarred walls and boulder-strewn floor giving the impression that it had once been a river bed. An eighth of a mile distant through the thinning trees, a wisp of smoke lifted and hung poised in the quiet air.
“What is that?” Harmon asked of the Indian at his side. “That smoke above the trees? What makes it?”
“Boat, I think,” Joe answered. “Kennebec come close here. Short portage. Five minutes, mebbe.”
Harmon indicated the ground beneath
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his feet. “Suppose someone should dig a ditch here. Suppose they turned the water into it. What would happen?”
“She run like everything, I think,” Joe said. “Good fishing then. No need rod. Walk around and pick him up.”
“I guess you are right. With a few cases of dynamite they could cut a hole through here that would turn every drop of water and leavt the river as dry as Sahara. Bliss was right. That’s what they intend to do. They’re going to cut off our water supply.”
“You no run the mill then?”
“Without water we couldn’t run a sewing machine,” Harmon said bitterly. “Come on. Let’s get back. I must find some way to block them.”
Once more in the office, he wasted no time in calling Bliss.
“They’re at it,” he informed the lawyer when he heard the other’s voice on the wire. “They are preparing to throw a cheap wooden structure across the stream. A chap named Bill Black is in charge. Find out who he is, and for whom he is working. Then get me some action in the courts. The thing is a palpable frame-up. They are putting up a temporary dam to shunt our water into the Kennebec. Get busy and slap an injunction on them at once. I’m worried.”
“A little more won’t hurt you then,” Bliss said unfeelingly. “I’ve been over to see the commissioners. They have granted a permit to Nationwide Woollens to erect a dam and build a mill below the third falls on Rainbow River, approximately ten miles above you. That’s the place, isn’t it?”
“Yes. And you say Nationwide is behind it? That proves it is crooked. They have no intention of building a mill there. Why, there are a dozen idle plants they could pick up for almost nothing.”
“That’s true enough. They evidently hope to increase the number to thirteen, which would be unlucky for you. I’m not at all optimistic about securing an injunction. It would be necessary to show either an actual damage or an intent to injure you, and that can’t be proved until it happens.”
“But their intent is plain enough. Anyone can see that. Get the commissioners up there and let them see for themselves.”
“You forget that it is Nationwide Woollens you are bucking,” Bliss said exasperatingly. “It’s possible you might wangle the commissioners into seeing your point of view, but I doubt it. It isn’t everyone that’s fool enough to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.”
“But there must be some loophole,” Harmon said desperately. “The thing is plain enough to see. It’s a move to put us out of business.”
“So it seems. There’s something crooked about it. It’s so crooked, in fact, that I’m inclined to think there’s a bit of politics mixed up in it. It may require a lot of digging to get to the bottom of it.”
“Then get busy and dig,” Harmon snapped, his worry sharpening his tongue. “There must be some legal monkey wrench you can toss into the gears. It’s up to you to find it.”
DESPITE the inexorable rules of science, time may not always be measured by the ticking of a clock. Happiness is prone to flit away on winged hours, while impending disaster may stretch even a few moments into an eternity of waiting.
Harmon found the next few days almost endless, while the nights were a torture that he came to dread. For the first time since he had taken charge, the mill was running at its capacity, each unit merging so smoothly with the others that the effect was that of one mighty machine which roared and rumbled and whined, but spewed from its vitals ten yards of finished cloth each minute.
That this amount was slightly more than three per cent better than even his most optimistic hope should have filled him with elation, for it wras a tribute to his
thorough understanding of the business, but it only added to his suffering to realize the value of the thing he was in such imminent danger of losing. There was no slightest doubt in his mind that some sinister motive was behind the construction of the clam.
“Why don’t you go into the worryin’ business?” said Bradley. “You could advertise to do first-class worryin’ by the day or week. I’ll bet you’d make good at it. Don't get so excited. Everything is all right.”
“It’s all right now, but it won’t be if the wheels stop turning. When you come down here some morning and find the river dry, you'll worry too.”
“Well, why don’t you wait and worry' with me, instead of gettin’ steamed up all alone? They can’t stop water runnin’ down hill. It’s got to flow over the top of the dam.”
“Not if there’s a lower point somewhere else,” Harmon reminded him. “They can back it up and overflow almost every drop of it into the Kennebec.”
“Then we’ll sue ’em for damages. They can’t get away with anything like that in this day and age.”
“I'm not so sure of that,” Harmon said. "You know some of the things they have done in the past. They’ve got away with everything but murder. We could never fight them in the courts; we’d be flat broke in less than a month.”
“Then we’ll go up there some night and pull the thing down.” the irrepressible Englishman said. “We can fight if we have to, law or no law.”
“That’s the way I’m beginning to feel about it,” Harmon said.
MORE THAN ever, he felt like resorting to force when he received a telephone message from Eckelstein the following day:
“I’m having trouble down here,” Eckelstein told him plaintively. “As if it wasn’t enough to have deliveries held up these past few days—”
“But we’re running again,” declared Harmon. “The mill is hitting on all six. We can turn out cloth now without missing a beat.”
“But I can’t take it every day,” Eckelstein objected. “Something has gone wrong. I’m getting cancellations. Five pieces here, twenty pieces there, thirty somewhere else. Little stuff, but it’s coming in from all sides. This morning’s mail hit me like a sandbag over the head.” “What’s the trouble?”
“How do I know? I’ll find out. but just now I’m all balled up. I can’t take delivery every day with things as they are. I’ve got to straighten things out first.”
I iarmon was appalled.
"But gcxxl grief. Eckelstein, I can’t tie up finished cloth here indefinitely. You know the shoestring I’m working on. A month or so and we’ll lx* in the clear, but everything right now depends on turning the stuff out fast and getting the money back just as fast.”
“You’re telling me? I’m doing the best 1 can at this end. Kent. Don’t step down production unless I tell you. Turn out the cloth. But don’t ship unless you get my say-so. I may be able to straighten this mess out in a few days, but it's a matter of getting in touch with men scattered all over the country. My distribution schedule is shot full of holes.”
“I thought things were going too smoothly,” groaned Hannon.
“Now' don’t worry, son,” advised iickelstein. “Somebody has got wise to our sales outlet and he’s cracking down. I’ve been more or less expecting it. The cloth has been going over well and I have lines out for a couple of big orders— thousand-piece orders. If I can land one or two of them, we’ll lx* set. Even one might tide us over. And about that sample you sent down; that new dyeing process. 1 showed it to a big man in the trade yesterday, and he’s interested. If I can land him, our worries are over. We’ll be able to get all the money w'e need.”
“Don’t let him out of your sight.”
“His partner is in Europe. Won’t be home until next month. So w'e’ve got to hang on somehow, Kent. I don’t dare try to make a deal with anyone else, for I promised to give him first call.”
Harmon took a deep breath.
“A lot of good it will do us if he comes in after w'e’ve gone bust.” He told Eckelstein about the construction work that had been started up the river. Now it was Eckelstein’s turn to groan.
“Like a nutcracker he squeezes us!” Harmon was sweating when he put down the receiver. And even the optimistic and easygoing Bradley looked serious when he heard the news.
“Tryin’ to surround us, huh? Too bad Holcomb pulled out. I’ll bet he’d lx a lot of help to us right now. He’d be able to give us plenty of advice out of the depths of his experience.”
Harmon snorted. “A lot of help he’d be.”
“You think I’m kidding?”
“I know you are. We’ve got to do something about this, Jim. You suggested taking a whack at that dam—law or no law.” Bradley grinned.
“Now you’re talkin’, partner. We’ll go up there tomorrow and snoop around. That is—if Holcomb can’t suggest something better.”
HARMON took it for granted that Bradley was indulging his whimsical sense of humor in suggesting that the advice of David Holcomb should be sought in this emergency. In a manner of speaking, however, Bradley was in earnest. Now that the strike was broken, Bradley felt that Holcomb might be in an altered frame of mind. And if the founder and owner of Rainbow could be tempted to return to his office, could be induced to desert the enemy’s side, the danger of water stoppage would be averted.
As long as Holcomb remained passive, the construction of that dam would continue. He was the one man—aside from Daggett and the commissioners—who could stop it by raising a finger. As owner of an entire town on the river, a town that would be affected vitally by the diversion. Holcomb’s voice in protest was all that would be needed. It was the fact that Holcomb had not objected that had enabled the project to get under way.
“Yep, we’ve got to get the old gentleman back on our side,” Bradley told himself as he shaved with care that evening. “It’s about time I was doing a little missionary work.”
So it happened that Nancy and her father, sitting on the verandah in the twilight, were amazed to see Bradley sauntering up the walk as casually as if he were one of the family.
“Hi. folks,” he beamed as he ascended the steps. Nancy managed a friendly if bewildered smile. Holcomb, blinking in haughty astonishment, cleared his throat.
“Well, how is everybody?” Bradley enquired, very much at his ease. “I’ve been tellin’ Kent that we wasn’t very neighborly. Yes. sir. Just this afternoon I said to him. ‘You can stay here and figure
your head off if you want to, but I’m goin’ up to see those friends of ours.’ I couldn’t drag him out, though. He’s funny that way. He said, ‘You go up and take care of the social end of it, and I’ll stay here and try to figure out some way to make money for ’em.’ That’s him all over. Give him a tough problem like that and he’ll forget everything else.” He beamed on his listeners, accepted the chair which Nancy indicated, leaned back, crossed his ankles and continued:
“Yes, sir, he’s the boy for work—if anybody likes that kind. The only trouble with him is that he won’t stay long in one place. I thought he might be contented here, but he’s gettin’ uneasy again.” He had addressed his conversation to Holcomb, but from the corner of his eye he saw the girl stir restlessly, and decided to throw in a bit more for good measure.
“It’s somethin’ in his blood, I guess. Yeah, it was just yesterday he said, ‘Well, Jim, it won’t be long now before we can pack up and pull out of here. The business is settin’ pretty, and in another week or two we can get our stakes back without hurtin’ anybody. They don’t need us here any more.’ Oh, he’s sure gettin’ the restless foot again.”
Holcomb unbent to the extent of removing his pince-nez, with which he thoughtfully tapped his knuckles, while Nancy sat a trifle straighter in the hammock.
“Am I to understand that he contemplates leaving?” Holcomb’s dignity was succumbing to his evident surprise. “You surely don’t mean that?”
“Well, I doubt if we can hold him here much longer,” the Briton said cheerfully, although the glance with which he favored the other was shrewdly appraising. “It looks as though the excitement was all over. I don’t know of anything that can happen now to tie us up-do you?”
If he had expected to see a betraying flicker in the man’s eyes that would indicate a guilty knowledge of impending disaster, he was disappointed, for they met his with childlike innocence. In that moment he felt a sincere pity for the credulous and unworldly old man whose simple trustfulness had made him such an easy prey for the unscrupulous Daggett. He wondered what fanciful tale it was that had so blinded him to the obvious advantage which Harmon was thrusting upon him against his will.
“Yes, sir, I was sayin’ to him just this afternoon that you ought to be there lookin' out for things. ‘You’re an efficiency man. Kent.’ I said to him, ‘and you’re all right in gettin’ these manufacturin' kinks straightened out, but you ain’t no office man. You ain’t had the experience. That’s Holcomb’s job. He’s the man you ought to have for that.’ ”
The mill owner adjusted the glasses on his nose, cleared his throat and leaned forward in keen anticipation.
“Ahem ! And what was his reply?”
“Oh, he agreed with me, of course,” Bradley answered glibly. “He had to. He knew it was the truth. ‘But I can’t go up there and ask him.’ he says. ‘He thinks I’m tryin’ to put somethin’ over on him. I
Lie Detectors Unreliable
THE "truth about the ‘lie detector’ ” has been disclosed by Professor Christian A. Ruckmick of the University of Iowa, who conducted in his laboratory experiments to determine usefulness of this electric instrument often used for crime detection and for obtaining confessions from suspects.
Clever witnesses can fool the machine, Professor Ruckmick has found. But clever operators of the machine can also detect these efforts at evasion.
In the lrands of an expert who understands thoroughly the workings of the human mind and who is able, in interpreting the records of the lie detector, to make allowances for wide natural differences
between the excitability of different individuals, this technique should prove valuable for crime detection, Professor Ruckmick concluded.
But this instrument is not as reliable for purposes of identification as either facial photography or fingerprinting, he warned, and therefore is a dangerous weapon in the hands of any but competent persons.
“The situation is in the same category as are many other techniques including mental testing,” Professor Ruckmick said. “Only those who can see beyond the actual scores and interpret these scores in the frame of the individual mental life are competent to pass judgment.”—Scientific American.
know' lie’s the man for the job, but what am I goin’ to do about it? My hands are tied.’ ”
“Hm-m! Well, well!” Holcomb seemed to find ample room for thought in this disclosure. He got heavily to his feet, clasped his hands behind his back and strode across the verandah, then came back and went aimlessly down the steps and out into the garden path.
“I guess that put a bee in his bonnet,” the prevaricator congratulated himself, and watched the retreating figure with the consciousness of w'ork well done. His elation wras short lived however, for he found Nancy’s cool eyes levelled accusingly upon.him.
SHE GAVE it a rising inflection, accompanying it with a half-humorous quirk of her mouth, but her eyes did not waver.
Bradley felt as self-conscious as a boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He tried to think of something flippant to say but failed, then w'isely decided to force her to lead, for the first round at least.
“Well, what?” he asked, innocently. “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. I ain’t stole nothin’.”
Bradley fancied he could discern the faintest flicker of amusement in her eyes, but he was not sure. “You may be the world’s best dyer,” said Nancy, “but as a liar, you are just a flop.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” he admitted brightly. “I know it. That’s w’hy I stick to the truth.”
Once more he caught the momentary flicker, but it was gone instantly. “Did Mr. Harmon send you here?”
“Oh, you mean Kent? I don’t object to you callin’ him by his first name if you want to.”
“Did he send you here?” The flicker was irrevocably gone now, and something far less reassuring gleamed in its place. Bradley answered truthfully:
“Him? He’d wring my neck if he knew I was talkin’ shop up here.”
“Why? Good lord ! I guess you don’t know him very well ! He’d do it because that’s the way he’s built.”
“I don’t understand you.”
“Y'eah? Well, I’m afraid you don’t understand Kent either. He’d rather die than ask for help—especially from you folks—after the way you’ve turned against him. He’s proud, Kent is. A heck of a sight prouder than I am. I’d crawl up here on my knees if I thought it would do any good—but not him. He’ll do his darnedest to win. but if he’s gettin’ licked you won’t ever hear him squawk.”
“Why did you come here, Mr. Bradley?” Bradley looked at her.
“Kent Harmon could have bust that strike wide open if he had been tough enough to close the company store. You know that. He wouldn’t do it. because it didn’t appeal to him as a fair way of fighting. He’ll fight men—but not women and kids. That’s how he’s so different from your boy friend, Daggett.” Then, disregarding her heightened color, he continued quickly: “He’s liable to be up against something tougher than a strikf* pretty soon.”
“And what is that?”
“Some men are building a dam up the river. It looks as if there won’t be any water to run the mill. But that’s only the half of it. Did you ever see a town without water, girl? Isn’t that going to be fun for the women and kids in Rainbow? Even if it only lasts for a week cr so before the health authorities wake up and step into the picture. Maybe it’ll be too late by then. And if there’s sickness, if anybody dies, it won’t all be Daggett’s fault. Y'our father will have to take his share of the blame because he sat by and let it happen.” Bradley pulled his hat down over one eye, gave her a hard, challenging stare, and strode away.
To be Continued