Looms of Conflict
Strike! The song of the loom gives place to hymns of hate and Rainbow discovers the meaning of blackjack rule
BURTON L. SPILLER
The story: Kent Harmon, on a fishing trip with Jim Bradley, paddles a sick Indian guide over a dangerous route to Rainbow, an isolated Northern village built around an idle 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 wholesalers have been warned by Charles Daggett, head of Nationwide Woollens Company, not to do business with him. Harmon had been ousted from Nationwide by Daggett because he refused to condone the latter's business methods. However, a small dealer named Eckelstein, who is associated with many other small dealers, enables Harmon to borrow $60,000; and this, with his own $10,000 and Bradley's $8,000, enables him to hire workers and start production.
Harmon believes that Daggett, in his underhanded efforts to control the whole industry, has closed Holcomb’s market; so he is amazed to learn that Nancy is engaged to marry Daggett, and that both she and her father believe Daggett is trying to help them.
Daggett comes to visit the Holcombs, and after he leaves, Holcomb 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 f riend.
Learning that a worker named Anstein has been placed in the mill by Daggett to foment a strike, Harmon runs the man out of town. The workers resent this and call a meeting to discuss the matter. When Harmon lets Nancy know that he loves her, she reminds him that she's engaged to marry Daggett, and refuses to use her influence to keep the men at work. Looking out a window, Harmon sees the workers pouring out of the hall; their meeting is over.
THE MEMBERS of the weavers' committee were ascending the office steps. "Wait here," Harmon said to Nancy. He went out of the private office and closed the door behind him. As the hall-dozen weavers came stamping into the building, he read the verdict in their faces. They looked guilty, hall-ashamed, but stubExrnlv defiant.
“Well?” said Harmon.
The spokesman of the committee, a sandy-haired, lantern-jawed man named Davis, stepped a pace forward.
"We’re hoping you’ve reconsidered your decision about Anstein, sir.”
Harmon shook his head gravely.
"Anstein is out."
“Then I’m sorry, Mr. Harmon. We’ve had a meeting. Either Anstein comes back or we go out."
"I resirect your loyalty to Anstein as a weaver, but not as a man. 1 le’s a trouble-maker. That’s why he came here. There is no place for him in this mill.”
"It means strike. Mr. Harmon.”
"You know what a strike means. You weavers can tie• up the mill. A lot of workers who may not lx* in sympathy with you at all. will have to lx* laid off. And in this case, if you succeed in shutting down the mill for two or three weeks, it will stay shut. It wouldn't do you any gcxxl to win the strike after that because there wouldn't lx* any jobs for you. We all stand to lost*. The only man who will win will lx* Anstein. He was paid to come here and force a shutdown if he could. Think it over.”
"That sounds pretty bad. Mr. Harmon." smiled Davis, "but we don’t think it will lx* quite as bad as all that. Mr. Holcomb wouldn’t sex* the mill shut dow n permanently. And if it is as bad as you say. it’s in your interest to take Anstein back and stay open.”
“We’re sorry too, Mr. Harmon.”
They filed out.
Harmon went back into the private office. Nancy’s eyes questioned him.
"Well.” he said wryly, “it was fun while it lasted.” “Strike?”
"Kent —you’re not beaten so easily as that.”
"I’m not beaten at all. Not yet. But I don’t mind telling you. Nancy, that I figure my chances of breaking this strike are pretty slim. Your boy friend holds t;x> many aces.”
THE MILL was silent that afternoon. Harmon called Eckelstein on long distance and told him what had happened. Eckelstein was badly upset. Everything, he said, depended on the regularity of deliveries.
If the tie-up lasted for a week, it would throw all his arrangements into confusion. Eckelstein’s loosely organized system demanded absolute guarantee of steady production. Almost tearfully he pleaded with Harmon to do everything possible to get out the weekly shipment, no matter how small.
It was not Harmon’s intention to sit with his hands folded and wait for the situation to solve itself. He was too much of a fighter for that. For the moment, however, inaction seemed the better course. Do nothing to antagonize the workers, give them time to talk things over, and they might realize their own folly, come back of their own accord. After a day or so, if the deadlock remained unbroken, it would be time to act.
Harmon left the office and went down to the dye room in search of Bradley. The sighing of steam in the kettles, and the whine of the presses ironing the few remaining pieces with the speed of a hundred tailors, were the only sounds in the mill.
He found Bradley engaged in squirting alternate and irregular rows of various-colored dyes upon the surface of a piece of white cloth.
“Now that you’ve succeeded in shutting us down,” the Englishman said cheerfully, "I thought I might as well get to work on that patent of mine. If we go busted here, I’ll have somethin’ to fall back on.” He coupled a short length of rubber hose to a convenient steam pipe, opened the valve, and proceeded to spray the inharmonious design with the resultant hissing jet of live steam.
Watching, Harmon saw a transformation take place before his eyes. The dyes spread and softened, the jarring colors faded and merged almost imperceptibly together until their [x>ints of contact were indistinguishable.
With a gesture of triumph, Bradley closed the valve, tossed the hot hose aside and stepped back to view his handiwork. It was not only revolutionary in principle, but startling in its flawless beauty. From a deep ultramarine blue, the color faded by minute degrees until it was but the merest suggestion of its former self. Then, so gradually that the eye could not detect the point of change, it took on a greenish cast which grew ever more distinct, until it assumed the brilliant hue of lush-growing meadow grass.
"I 've seen some examples of fancy dyein’,” Bradley said
complacently as he looked down on the resultant riot of color, "but there’s somethin’ that ain’t to be sneezed at. It ain’t goin’ to be an easy job to set the colors—the liquor will have to be sprayed on first —but it can be done, and without much added expense either. What do you think of it? Won’t that set them up on their ears, huh?”
"It’s marvellous!” Harmon ejaculated. “Marvellous! Why, you can produce any combination of colors in the spectrum. They blend like the shades in a rainbow.”
“Rainbow ! Say, what’s the matter with that for a trade name, eh? Rainbow cloth from the Rainbow Mills. Not bad, what?”
“If we put that on the market it would start a riot among the women,” Harmon said enthusiastically. “Just imagine the effect a good tailor could work out with even that much coloring. Come on! We’ll go find Lute and put him to work on it at once.”
They found the lanky mechanic at a long work bench, on which he sat with a miscellaneous assortment of scrapers, files, knives and emery cloth beside him. In his left hand he held his upper "false plate,” the white teeth gleaming from between his fingers like the incisors of a snarling wolf, while with a not-too-clean forefinger he was gingerly exploring the interior of his cavernous mouth.
"The darn things have give me a gumboil,” he explained, in answer to Harmon’s questioning look. “That’s the third pair I’ve had, and every one of ’em is alike. I’ve filed and whittled and sandpapered ’em, but it ain’t no use. Look at that, will you?”
He stretched his jaws wide, and indicated, with pointing finger, a pronounced swelling on his otherwise shrunken gums. “He ’at? At ’oil air?
It ’orer’n ell.” He closed the cavern with an air of finality, winced, seized a piece of emery cloth and fell to scouring the cupped surface of the offending plate, as though by the very vigor of his attack he would take toil for the pain it had inflicted on him.
"Easy,” Harmon advised, for the biting emery was scouring off a continuous stream of red dust.
"You’ll ruin them.”
“What of it? They’ve mined me.” Lute subjected the offending surface to another vindictive
assault, wiped off the dust with a piece of waste, popped the plate in his mouth, grimaced and removed it hurriedly.
“It ain’t no use,” he said hopelessly. “I’m goin’ out and have one more set made. If that don’t fit, I’m through.” He thrust the plate into his pocket. “What’s up?”
“Jim has been doing a few experiments. I want you to have a look at what he’s done, Lute. He’ll need your help.”
“Experiments, huh? Wish he’d experiment on a way to drive some sense into the heads of a few weavers,” commented Lute. “It took me blamed near a year to get used to the quietness around here. Now I’ve got to start and get used to it all over again.”
ANSTEIN came back to Rainbow next day, and this time he was accompanied by a swarthy, glib-tongued individual named Marehette. Almost simultaneous with Anstein’s return. Harmon had a telephone call from David Holcomb.
“Have you, by any chance, altered your mind about tearing up our agreement?” enquired the mill owner in his pompous way.
“When I make an agreement, I stick to it,” snapped Harmon. “I’m sticking to this one and I expect you to do the same.”
“You are an obstinate and stubborn young man,” fumed Holcomb. “I can’t see what you expect to gain by it.”
“Maybe 1 won’t gain anything by it. Maybe I 11 lose my shirt.”
“You will,” Holcomb assured him. “And by the way, Harmon, I understand you t;x>k it u[x>n yourself to escort one of your discharged employees out of town the other day. I want you to understand that I—ah-—I refuse to tolerate any such—ah—highhanded conduct in Rainbow. I admit your control over the mill, for the time being, but it is not for you to say who shall and who shall not live in Rainbow Village.”
“You’re talking about Anstein, aren't you? Why don’t
you say what you mean. Holcomb, instead of beating about the bush? Sure, 1 threw Anstein out on his ear. 1 understand he’s back in town again. So far as I’m concerned, Holcomb, if you want that sort of scoundrel in town, go ahead. But 1 always thought you said Rainbow was a model village.”
Hannon slammed the receiver smartly on Holcomb’s wrathful spluttering. The veiled purpose of the phone call, he realized, was to warn him against any interference with Anstein. but the warning was unnecessary. Harmon resm'cted the legal advice of young Bliss sufficiently to realize that he would be bringing plenty of trouble on himself if he tried to nin Anstein out of town again.
“Poor old Holcomb isn’t very smart,” he reflected. “Instead of warning me, he should have been sitting tight and hoping I’d put my neck in the noose.”
That night there was a mass meeting in the community hall. Atkins, the private detective, was in the front row cheering the fiery utterances of Marehette and Anstein as loudly as the most disgruntled weaver, but less than twenty minutes after the meeting ended, Atkins was in Harmon’s room at the boardinghouse reporting to Harmon and Jim Bradley, with the dooi locked.
The situation, Atkins said, was serious enough, although the mill workers were by no means united. A gixxl many of the men were anxious to get back to work. If Anstein had not returned it was probable that the strike might have fizzled out. but Atkins reluctantly admitted that Anstein and Marehette were “a couple of the slickest spellbinders in the game.” Their impassioned utterances had swept the crowd off its feet and knit together the wavering ranks. Harmon had been called everything from a crook to an octopus. Holcomb had been depicted asa kindly, righteous old gentleman who had fallen victim to an unscrupulous swindler.
“Darned if I ain’t almost ashamed to be talking to you, after all the things they said about you, Mr. Harmon,” grinned the detective.
The meeting, Atkins thought, was not as enthusiastic as it might have been. He sensed an undercurrent of dissatisfaction. Too many of the workers could remember weeks and months of unemployment.
“Both Anstein and Marehette seemed kind of puzzled that you haven’t done anything. They kept harping away on the same note, that you just sit in your office and twiddle your thumbs while the workers starve, and all that rot."
“The workers would start starving a lot quicker if I closed down the company store.” Harmon snapped grimly.
“I’ve been wondering what you plan to do alxnit that,” Bradley said. “I don’t see why we should keep on selling fixxl at cost to an ungrateful pack that’s trying to ruin us. Close down that store, Kent. That’ll bring ’em to their senses.”
Harmon shook his head.
"I don’t fight that way.”
“It’s what Daggett would do, if the situation was the other way around.”
"I know it. Daggett’s way isn't my way. It would work hardship on the women and kids. Jim, and the strike isn't their fault. It would lxa hardship on the workers who don’t want the strike, as well as on the workers who do.”
“Can’t make an omelet without busting a few eggs. With eight thousand dollars of my money sunk in this business. Kent, I’m not too particular just how you bust this strike as long as you bust it.”
"1 am. 1 told you at the beginning that if trouble came we’d be under a big handicap. We’d be fighting foul means with fair.”
Bradley lcxiked sulky. This was the first time he had brought up the company store issue, but there was no doubt that it had been in his mind since the mill closed. For the first time, there was tension between I larmon and his partner.
“Strikes me.” ventured Atkins quietly, “that you re missing your best bet. Mr. Harmon. The company store is your biggest weapon.”
“The store stays open!” Harmon said. There was finality in his voice. Bradley sniffed disapproval but he didn’t argue. I íe knew 1 larmon.
WHEN HE reached the office next morning. Harmon sat down and typed a brief notice. It consisted of only two lines but it was packed with dynamite. There wrere only a few idlers hanging about when he nailed the paper to the mill-yard gate, but in less than ten minutes the terse statement had attracted a growing crowd. It read :
“This mill will resume operations tomorrow morning.
Kent Harmon, General Manager.”
“Now you’ve started something!” roared Bradley, when he came in. tt
“About time we were carrying the battle to the enemy, Harmon said. “Separate the sheep from the goats.
“It’ll separate ’em, all right. They’ll be fighting among themselves now.”
"That,” Harmon answered, "is the idea.”
It didn’t take long for the fighting to materialize. Mill
workers came hustling from all parts of the village to read the notice for themselves. Inevitably arguments broke out between those who were resolved to go back to work and those to whom that tyixnvritten statement was a flat challenge. Three or four sjjoradic fist fights developed into a general melee. Bradley, whooping with joy, would have rushed down the ste(>s and waded into the battle, but Harmon held him back.
“You won’t help any by getting your head split open. Get inside before the bricks start flying.’’
The d;x>r had scarcely closed behind them when a rock smashed through the panel, showering them with splinters of glass. But that one flying rock wasn’t the preface to a general attack on the mill. The surging tumult down there in the yard was a straight hand-to-hand battle between loyal workers and Anstein men. Harmon could see the big red-headed Irishman, Con Reardon, roaring gleefully and swinging a pair of hamlike fists as he bellowed defiance to anyone who disputed his sacred right to go back to work if he felt like it.
The uproar didn’t last very long. Anstein and Marchette appeared on the scene and ordered their followers to calm down. Lute Griggs helped this grxxl work along by striding across the yard armed with a huge wrench. Anstein didn’t want violence at this stage of the game. He certainly didn’t want projxirty damage; no one knew better than he that the workers were far from united on the strike issue, and he didn’t want any disturbance that would split Rainbow into two camps. The melee gradually died down. Quiet was restored and the crowd dwindled.
"We’ll know what to expect, tomorrow,” Harmon said.
“1 know what to ex¡x*ct. Blood on the moon,” remarked Bradley.
“I'm going down to see Lute. We’ll need a few extra watchmen tonight. Some hothead may try to get in and wreck a few machines.”
“Better slide this piece of lead pi|x* up your sleeve if you're going outside,” Bradley advised, but Harmon laughed at him.
The mill yard was almost deserted by now. He saw the red-headed Con Reardon near the gate. On impulse, Harmon went over to him. One of Reardon’s eyes was tightly closed, and the side of his face was so swollen that it drew the corner of his mouth down in a leer, but the other corner quirked up in a travesty of a grin.
“I’d like to see the other fellow.” 11armón said.
Reardon looked down at his battered right fist.
“Aw, that little scrap didn’t amount to anything.”
“Why not try mixing among them instead of mixing it with them. Reardon? Get some of the loyal crowd lined up. It would help me plenty."
“I’d rather argue with me fists instead of me tongue, boss, but if it’s help ye want. Con Reardon is your man. I'm comm’ back to work in the morning, and hivin help the man who tries to stop me. And ye’ll lx* surprised how many feel the same way.”
“Round them up. Hammer some enthusiasm into them. We can break this strike if we can get the wheels turning again. Full pay for everyone who shows up, whether there’s work for him or not.”
"That'll get some of ’em in,” Reardon declared. “I’ll talk to 'em, boss.” And whistling as well as he could through his batterer! lips, he shambled off into the village.
“What ails the fools?” complained Lute Griggs when Harmon located him. “Here they’ve been loafin’ for months, and the first decent job they get, they don’t know enough to keep it.”
“They’ve been hypnotized, Lute. Those agitators are professionals.”
"That guy Anstein had better not try to hypnotize me.” said Lute grimly, "or I'll take a hammer to him and drive his head down so far that he’ll think his ears are the tongues to his shoes. I’ve been bangin’ around here long enough, waitin’ for this mill to get going again.” Lute hesitated, then continued in evident embarrassment: “I don't know just how you’re fixed, Mr. Harmon, but if you get tied up and need a little ready cash. I can dig up a few hundred dollars. It ain’t much but it might help. 1 want to see this mill run.”
“I won't forget that, Lute.” Harmon told him gravely. “If I need it I’ll let you know. And, Lute will you rig up a few floodlights and put on a couple of night watchmen? We don’t want anyone sneaking in here and crippling that machinery so we won’t be able to run even if we do break the strike.”
“The floodlights,” Lute said, “are as good as up. And the watchmen as gocxl as on the job.”
THF.RK was an electric quality in the air when Hannon came into the dining room next morning. Ma Griggs looked grim; lier boarders looked sheepish and nervous. Ma had just put the quietus on a violent argument between two weavers.
“If anybody wants to know who is lx»ss around here from nowon,” she was telling them, “just let ’em start somethin’. I’ve strxxl all this nonsense I’m goin’ to.” She turned and faced the assembled guests, a militant and determined-faced figure with primly pursed lips. "That goes for everybody here—and you can spread the news to
the rest. The next jxrson that starts anything in my house gets thrower! out on his ear and his baggage throwed out after him.”
“Every man’s home is his castle,” joked Harmon when she served his breakfast.
“I don’t know nothing about castles,” she said, “but I know I’m sick of this hell-raisin’ round here. 1 won’t have it!” She bent to rearrange a plate before him, and while her lips were close to his ear murmured; “You watch out when you go down to the mill.”
“Why?” he asked casually as he pressed a napkin to his lips.
“I’ve heard talk,” she whispered. “They say if they got rid of you, Holcomb would take the mill over.”
“Don’t, worry,” he reassured her. “They don’t dare try anything like that in daylight.”
“You be careful just the same,” she insisted.
Harmon laughed, but he ate his breakfast thoughtfully. It was jxissible that Ma’s warning had a basis in sound fact. He preferred to regard it as a bluff, an attempt to frighten him out of Rainbow, by a rumor skilfully planted where it would do the most gcxxl. But the Anstein crowd would find that he didn’t scare easily.
When he went out, Joe was waiting on the verandah as usual.
“You want car, Mr. Harmon?” the Indian asked hopefully.
Harmon hesitated. There would be a crowd at the mill gates. Trouble maybe. Perhaps it would be safer . . .
“Not this morning, Joe. I’ll walk.”
This was no time for playing safe. A boss who let his men think he was afraid would be boss no longer.
Joe’s inky eyes were fixed on him.
“Plenty pipes in mill, Mr. Harmon? Pipes wit’ water. Big fire comes, pipes all squirt water, swoosh-swoosh?”
Harmon was puzzled. Then he understood.
“The sprinkler system? Sure, that’s how it works, Joe. If a fire breaks out in the mill, the heat opens the system. Plenty swoosh-swoosh, you bet. Who’s been telling you about it?”
“Sometime no fire, pipes go swoosh-swoosh anyway, spoil everything.”
“No, the pipes won’t go swoosh-swoosh unless there’s a fire. What’s all this about?”
Jix* grunted. “No fire, no swoosh-swoosh,” he said enigmatically.
“Why? What’s behind this sudden interest in the sprinkler system?”
Joe grunted again, became deaf and dumb.
A BIG crowd had gathered outside the mill gates. As Harmon strode toward them, he was aware of mutterings and grumblings. It was difficult to judge the temper of the mob. Some seemed friendly enough; others were surly and scowling. He saw Anstein in the middle of a knot of men near the wall ; Marchette was talking to another group in front of the gate. I íe didn't see Con Reardon. He didn’t see any of the workers he had been depending upon for support.
When he drew closer, the crowd greeted him with a chorus of booing. They made no move to bar his way into the mill yard, however. The crowd opened before him, closed in behind him. It was hard to resist the temptation to kx)k back, once he was in the yard. Momentarily he expected to feel the impact of a stick or stone. But nothing happened. The yelling and booing became louder, but that was all.
He went up into the office. It had been a ticklish experience. From the fact that the crowd at the gate was obviously one hundred per cent insurgent, he judged that it was there under Anstein’s orders presumably to prevent loyal workers from entering the plant.
Harmon stood at the office window. The whistle would blow in a few minutes. The crowd at the gates grew larger. No worker had entered the mill yard to report for work. No one had even attempted to run the gantlet. Harmon’s spirits sank to a new low. It seemed impossible that anyone could win through that cordon.
Then he heard a rhythmic beat, a martial thudding. He saw the besiegers turn, facing the hill, in the direction of the swelling sound.
A low and menacing growl arose from the men as they grasped the full significance of the thing which made I larmon’s heart leap with a new hope.
Down the tree-lined street Reardon came, a bass drum outthrust before him, its supporting straps encircling his massive shoulders and leaving his hamlike hands free. In each of these he carried a businesslike drumstick, the padding of which had been supplemented with a wrapping of sheet lead, and with them he executed a rolling beat on the taut drumhead that no man but a wild, lighting Irishman could emulate.
Flanking the huge bulk of his advancing form, a sturdy army marched, accenting the tempo of the drumbeat not only by their militant march but by a suggestive twirl of the two-foot clubs each man carried.
Whether Reardon's coup had been formulated by accident or design, Harmon could not surmise, but he knew the ruse was a clever bit of strategy, for no sound
is so potent to stir men to action as the measured beat of a drum. In this instance many a man had fallen into line who otherwise would never have dared to venture from his own dooryard.
On they came, a solid phalanx, 200 strong, and so purposeful was their advance that the unorganized ranks of the enemy wavered and gave way Before them; while their leaders, nonplussed for the moment by the unexjiected display of massed strength, scuttled back and forth on the edge of the milling horde, trying to incite them to attack.
Con Reardon’s huge arms swung the big drumsticks. Those in the front rank of the insurgents wavered, drew back out of range of those ugly-looking clubs. Reardon looked neither to right nor left; his stride did not falter. The strikers gave way before him, as they had given way for Harmon.
“Boom - b(x>m - boom - bcomety - boom - boom - boom !” banged the resounding drum.
Reardon was right up to the open gate now, with no more than half a dozen men barring his path. For a moment it looked as if they would hold firm. One blow and the two forces would have been at each other’s throats. Harmon heard Anstein shrieking;
“Keep them out! Don’t let the scabs get past that gate.”
“Boom-boom!” thudded the drum.
One of the drumsticks whizzed in its arc within an inch of a striker’s head. The man ducked so hastily that he blundered against one of his companions, tripped and fell, scrambled wildly out of the way. The half-dozen strikers in front of Reardon scattered. Con Reardon, with the sun shining on his flaming hair, his freckled face split by a radiant grin, marched through the gates with his men behind him, to the boom of the big bass drum.
THERE weren’t enough men to re-establish production.
Harmon hadn’t hoped for that. He did hope, however, that with some workers back at their jobs, others would follow. That had been his aim in posting the recall notice. But if there was going to be intimidation and perhaps violence at the gates, the outlook wasn’t promising.
He went down into the mill. Conditions were as disquieting as he had expected them to be.
Like many another form of manufacturing, a woollen mill consists of a group of highly specialized units, so accurately timed that the product of one is assimilated by the next with uncanny accuracy. Any deviation from that smoothly working system must result in confusion, and this was the condition that Harmon found as he made his way through the various rooms.
Men hurried frantically in some departments, trying to dig their way through the pile of work in which they were helplessly submerged, while in other sections whole groups waited for the material without which they could do nothing. In such a confused condition production became negligible, while it needed no expert accountant to determine that the daily overhead must soon swallow their meagre resources.
“A week of this and they’ll toss us in the ash can,” Bradley observed, when Harmon came in to check up on the dyeing department. “We won’t get a dozen pieces today. Not enough to pay for the steam we use. And it’s goin’ to be worse instead of better. There’ll be a lot of ’em that won’t be able to get in here tomorrow. You’ll see some heads busted before mornin’.”
“What shall we do? Give it up and close the mill?” “Of course not. They’d last longer than we could. We’ve got to get rid of those two birds that’s eggin’ ’em on.” “You mean Anstein and Marchette?”
“They’re the guys. Run ’em out, and this trouble won’t last two hours.”
“But how? We haven’t a single legal hold upon them. I was a fool not to make some provision for a thing like this. I can't drive them away. They have as much right here as we.”
“Yes,” Bradley said as he moved away. “Yes, I guess there’s no question but what they have a legal right—but it’s a poor law that’ll let ’em come in here and run our
business for us.”
Disconsolately, Harmon went his way, hopelessly trying to evoke some semblance of order from the chaos, but he desisted in time to witness the exit of the workmen as they departed for their noonday meal. This time the clash which he had anticipated, materialized, but Reardon had strategically placed his strongest men on the outer edge of the group, and they emerged with their ranks unbroken.
They encountered a stiffer opposition when they returned. and again when they came out at the closing hour. I'p the street the battle raged, and the forest flung back the startled echoes of blows and shouts.
There were dozens of hand-to-hand fights in Rainbow after the mill whistle blew. Men who had worked peacefully side by side at the same looms smashed and slugged at each other, sweating and cursing, sprawling in the dusty road. Those who had worked that day fought those who had not; neighbor against neighbor.
Harmon, going home with Jim Bradley, was not molested. He would have welcomed a fight. He was profoundly discouraged. The ill-will, the bitterness and
the strife that had broken loose in Rainbow saddened him.
“Rather than have this go on,” he told Bradley, “we'll quit. 1 never thought I'd know the meaning of the word. But it’s no use. Too many workers are against us. Too many are lined up behind Anstein. Too many of our own crowd are afraid to come to the mill. We'll probably lose half of those who came today.”
They had supper in gloomy silence. Bradley was reflecting that he hadn't had much of a run for his $8.(XX). When he was out of a job he hadn’t worried very much, sustained by the knowledge that at least he wasn’t broke. Now he felt extraordinarily helpless, facing a bleak future.
Harmon was thinking about Eckelstein. He was thinking about Jim Bradley. Also about Daggett, and when he thought of Daggett he thought of Nancy Holcomb. None of his thoughts were pleasant.
WHEN he got up from the table in the quiet dining room he caught sight of Joe, standing in the hall. The Indian was beckoning to him. Joe’s face was serious.
“You come,” muttered Joe mysteriously. And without further explanation, he shuffled out onto the verandah and down the steps.
Puzzled, Harmon followed. He overtook the man at the end of the walk. “What’s up, Joe?” he demanded.
“By-an’-by you find out. You come,” grunted Joe, and Harmon could get no more out of him. They went down the street in the spring twilight. Lights were beginning to gleam in the houses of Raintow. The dusk was heavy with the fragrance of springtime.
They came to the end of the sidewalk on the outskirts of the village, not far from the fcx)t of the wooded hillside. Joe peered into the gloom. Harmon began to have misgivings. He recalled the warning Ma Griggs had given him that day. Unarmed, out on the edge of the village in deepening twilight—if this was a trap, he wouldn’t have a chance. Then he laughed at himself. If he couldn’t trust Joe, whom could he trust?
Then the Indian grunted with satisfaction. “Good.”
His sharp ears had caught the light footfalls before Harmon heard them. Harmon turned. A slim figure was coming toward him in the twilight.
“She come now,” said Joe. “I wait down road a bit.”
He shuffled off. A moment later Nancy Holcomb, her face pale and strained and anxious, confronted Harmon in the dusk. She was breathing quickly, as if she had hurried.
“Nancy!” he exclaimed sharply. “You shouldn’t have done this. If anyone saw you—”
“I had to, Kent. I asked Joe to bring you here—just for a few minutes. It would cause so much trouble and talk if I met you openly. But I had to see you. Kent—this strike can’t go on.”
“Not much longer,” admitted Harmon. “I can hold out for a couple of weeks maybe.”
“Oh, I don’t mean that, Kent.” Her fingers grasped his sleeve urgently. “That fighting today, Kent. I saw it. Men fighting in the streets. Our people. Our workers. Fighting with clubs and stones. It has never happened in Rainbow before. It’s got to stop, Kent. Someone will be seriously hurt, or killed. You’ve got to stop it.” “I’ve got to stop it !” exclaimed Harmon, astonished. “How can I? Tell your father to order Anstein out of town and there’ll be no more fighting.”
“Don't you see, Kent? You’re beaten. You can’t win. I thought, at first, that you might have a chance, but now I see that it’s impossible. And when it comes to fighting in the streets of Rainbow— please, Kent, be sensible and quit now before it’s too late.”
Early that evening Harmon had been so discouraged that he had been considering the advisability of throwing in his hand and admitting his defeat. Nancy’s appeal.
instead of confirming him in this halt| formed resolution, only awakened his resistance. It aroused every bit of obstinacy in his make-up.
“Your father sent you,” he said.
“No. No, Kent. île didn't. But that fighting today upset him as much as it did me.”
“It upset him just so much that he realizes this strike isn't the simple affair he thought it would be. He wants to see it ; stopped but he doesn’t want to do the stopping. So lie sent you out to play on my sympathies.”
Nancy stepped back as if he had struck her.
“That’s not true,” she said with dignity.
“I came to see you of my own accord, on my own initiative. I thought I could make you see that b ’s senseless on your part to risk further trouble, perhaps even bloodshed, when you haven’t any chance of winning the strike.”
“Who says I haven’t a chance?”
“I do. Please believe me, Kent. I realize what you are up against, perhaps better than you do yourself. Even if you did break the strike, there would be something else. Why not give in now, before you’ve spent all your money—”
“So they elected you to sound me out on the peace terms!” said Harmon bitterly. “Sent you out to talk me into surrender. Listen, Nancy, you go back and tell your father—nothing doing. And when Daggett calls up on long distance to ask how you made out. tell him the same thing. And if your father's so squeamish atout seeing his model village turned into a battleground, tell him to kick Anstein out. He's got the authority. I haven’t.”
“I’m sorry you misjudge me, Kent,” replied Nancy quietly. “You won’t have the opportunity again.”
SWIFTLY she turned and hurried off into the darkness. Harmon, scowling, made a move to follow. Then he checked himself. He didn’t think he had misjudged her. It was too obvious. Holcomb's j daughter—Daggett’s fiancée coming to him and advising him to surrender. Perhaps she had acted in good faith. But they had put her up to it.
“Maybe they’re not so sure of themselves after all,” he said to himself. “If I’m so badly licked as all that, what do they gain by hurrying me? Darned if I'll quit now.”
Joe loomed up out of the shadows.
“Girl go ’way?”
“Yes. She went home.”
Joe grunted. They went back down the street.
“These man. Marchette and Anstein, make plenty trouble in town, yes?”
“Yes, they’re the lads who are making the trouble, Joe.”
“Why they mad at you? You hurt him some time?”
“No. They’re fighting me because they’re paid. That’s their business.”
The Indian digested this. Then a scornful sniff indicated his opinion of this explanation.
“Bad business. Make others fight too? Not goto for mill, eh?”
“It’s a strike, Joe. If the mill stays shut, I go broke. That’s what they want.” “If you go broke, nobcxlv get job. Gcxxl thing maybe if this—who you say? Anstein and Marchette go away from here. Why you no throw him out?”
“Can’t be done, Joe. I'm toss in the mill, but not toss in the town.”
Joe grunted again but asked no further j questions. When they returned to the j boardinghouse, the Indian did not go i inside. After he bade Harmon goto night j he stood motionless under the trees for a j long time. He knew where Marchette j and Anstein were rooming— in a weaver’s house about two blocks away.
Jrx? moved off into the shadows, as silently as a creature of the wild. No one saw him stealing down a lane, into a backyard. No one saw him waiting that evening in the shelter of the bushes. Neither Anstein nor Marchette saw the
dark figure when they came up the walk late that night and went into the house. But when a rear window sprang into light, Joe stole softly across the lawn.
He saw Anstein come to the window and draw the shade. Back in the darkness, Joe’s face was expressionless. The window was half-open, for the night was warm.
He came a little closer. Now he could hear the voices of the men in the room. Beneath the shade he could catch glimpses of them. For a long time he waited there, listening. When the light flicked out at last, the Indian stole away as silently as he had come. This was not the first night he had stood vigil at the window.
/CONDITIONS at the mill were no better next day. Again big Con Reardon led his brigade to work and the big drum awakened echoes in Rainbow7. But this time there weren’t so many men behind Reardon, and this time they did not get through without a fight.
And again, w7hen the men were inside the mill, they achieved little or nothing in the way of production. Harmon was paying out wages for loyalty and willingness. Bradley drove out to Bolton that morning with the plans for his piece-dyeing invention, for an interview with young Bliss, the red-headed lawyer. If the process could be patented they might, at least, be able to save something from the wreck. Harmon had another telephone conversation w7ith Eckelstein.
Later he had a call from Bliss.
“Your man Bradley w7as just in here,” reported the lawyer, “and I’ll get after that patent. He may have something.” “We think so. It sounds crazy,” said Harmon, “but it won’t be the first invention that did. We don’t want to take any chances on having it stolen or tied up.” “Have your man Griggs get to w7ork on a model, and I’ll see that you’re protected to the limit. But I really called you about another matter, Mr. Harmon. Do you know7 anything about Holcomb’s wrater rights? Can he lawfully regulate the flow of water in your river, or, more properly, is an adequate flow guaranteed him?”
“I don’t know. Why do you ask?” “Merely curiosity—aroused by the fact that I chanced to see in the morning paper that Nationwide Woollens have petitioned for an extension of their water rights on the Kennebec. I wondered if that could affect you in any way.”
“I fail to see how it can. We are not located on the Kennebec,” said Harmon.
“I know that, hut if my fishing memory does not fail me it’s a mighty short portage between the streams at one point. They almost touch each other.”
“Then, if they raise the w7ater level, it will merely overflow7 into our stream. That can’t hurt it.”
“No. But suppose they dammed yours and turned the flow7 into the Kennebec? That might cause you some annoyance.” “Annoyance!” yelped Harmon. “Without water we couldn’t generate enough power to run a sewing machine. Good heavens, man ! Don’t worry me with that. They wouldn’t try such a thing. The law7 wouldn’t allow it.”
“No? Well, my experience with law has been brief, but I’ve seen some peculiar decisions. With other factors being equal, I’ll bet on the side that has the most money. Not that I wish to worry you, you understand.”
“Oh no, of course not. By all means, don’t worn7 me. For that matter, Bliss, I’ve got so many worries right now that one more doesn’t matter. Perhaps in a few7 more days it won’t matter to me one way or the other if the whole blamed river dries up at the source. But in the meantime—just in case we do break this strike— what are you doing about this water rights extension?”
“Nothing,” returned Bliss. “I’m sitting perfectly tight and I advise you to do the same. There may not be anything to it, in the first place. And in the second place, if I lolcomb does control the water rights and
happens to think of it, he may cut you off, just for spite.”
“You’ll never know how happy you’ve made me,” groaned Harmon, and slammed the receiver back on its hook.
He slumped back in his chair. Labor and water power had been the two great assets of Rainbow. The labor had failed him. Now, it seemed, he couldn’t even depend on the water.
Lute sidled into the office.
“Thought maybe you’d like to know, Mr. Harmon,” he said. “They’re havin’ another meeting tonight in the community hall.”
“Let ’em meet. Anstein will get up and jaw and jaw for an hour. Then Marchette will jaw at them for another hour. Then they’ll all go home telling each other what fine fellows Anstein and Marchette are. But talk won’t fill their stomachs when the mill shuts down for good.”
Lute clicked his false teeth approvingly. “Reardon tells me they’ve got a new line to spring on the boys tonight. Anybody who shows up to work here tomorrow morning is liable to find himself kicked out of his house.”
Harmon wasn’t surprised.
“I’ll bet Holcomb didn’t think that one up all by himself.”
“Mean to tell me he can do it?” demanded Lute.
“No. It’s covered in my agreement. But plenty of the workers don’t know that. Anstein is bluffing.”
“Darn good bluff, then,” grunted Lute. “All the boys down in the mill are scared pink. Three of ’em went home already.” “Tell the others not to worry. My agreement with Holcomb guarantees me housing for my employees. He can throw out the men who aren’t working, but he can’t dispossess the men who are. And— Lute—”
“What time is that meeting called for?” “Eight o’clock.”
“I’m going to it.”
Lute’s jaw dropped so far that his upper plate fell out. He snatched at it hastily.
“By Godfrey, Mr. Harmon, they’ll tear you apart !”
“We’ll see. They’ve been listening to so much imported oratory these past few days that maybe they’ll be in the mood to listen to some of the homemade brand.”
nPHERE were no fights when the mill Z workers went home that evening. It meant, so far as Harmon could judge, that the insurgents felt pretty sure of themselves. The meeting that night would settle the issue definitely.
Harmon had made up his mind to stake everything on his own ability to swing the men in behind him again. If that failed, he would have to quit. The odds were very heavily against him, he knew. In the first place, he would have to fight for a hearing at all. And if he got it he would be confronting a hostile crowd. Bradley, when told of Harmon’s plan, declared that it was insane. It would be like stepping into a den of man-eating tigers, he insisted. Bradley had been in other strikes.
“They ain’t human once them organizers get them all hopped up,” he warned. “Cross ’em and you’ll get yours.”
“It’s our only chance, Jim.”
“There’ll be a riot,” Bradley predicted. Lute Griggs, Con Reardon and Bradley accompanied Harmon to the hall that night. Lute’s hip pocket sagged with the weight of a wrench and Con Reardon had thoughtfully slipped a short length of lead pipe into his pocket, “just in case of accidents.” Bradley had gone looking for Joe, the guide, to press him into service as a bodyguard, but Joe had mysteriously disappeared.
“He smelt trouble coming,” declared Bradley sagely. “Save a man’s life, and just when you need him he can’t be found. Joe must have took to the tall timber.” The hall was packed to the doors. As they entered they could hear the strident voice of Anstein:
“—and I tell you men, this strike is as
good as over, right now. There must be no weakening, with victory' already in our grasp. This man Harmon, this unscrupulous industrial pirate who thought he could come in here and steal a t’our-million-dollar enterprise right from under the nose of the lawful owner—this man Harmon must go! He is on his way out now—”
“Sez you!” bawled Con Reardon, shouldering a way through the crowd near the doorway. “He’s on his way in ! Gangway, folks!”
A great roar went up. It drowned out the voice of the gesticulating Anstein on the platform. Some of the men in the seats near the door sprang to their feet and would have crowded around, but Con Reardon’s hard, level gaze subdued them. They sank back, muttering.
“Want to make anything out of it, boys?” invited Reardon, sweetly.
No one did. A woman in the back row said clearly to her husband :
“He’s got a right to be heard, hasn’t he? It’s a free country.”
That did it. Harmon noticed that there were a good many women in the audience. Several of them nodded their heads vigorously. A rising tide of feminine whispers swept the hall. It struck Harmon at the time that the presence of so many women could not be wholly accidental. At any rate, their attitude kept the men in hand.
Con Reardon led the way down the aisle. Harmon’s eyes scanned the crowd. Some were openly hostile, looking at him with keen, hard eyes, as if he were an interloper. Others were curious. Some refused to meet his gaze, in the manner of people who had found themselves drawn into something of which they were ashamed.
Anstein resumed his harangue. Redfaced and hoarse, the agitator strode up and down the platform.
“I’m surprised that he has the gall, the impudence to show himself before you!” he shouted. “Who invited him? Nobody. Take a look at him, my friends. This is the despot who would crush you under his heel if he could.”
Someone booed. Someone hissed. Someone else uttered a catcall. The noise grew in volume as Harmon strode steadily down the aisle to the platform. Anstein made no attempt to quell the rising uproar.
“Let ’em holler,” said Bradley. “They’ll get tired of it.”
Anstein stood on the platform, arms folded Napoleonically. In a momentary lull Harmon called up to him:
“When you’re finished, Anstein, I’d like to say a few words.”
Anstein was a good judge of the mob. That was his business. But now he made a mistake. It had been a most unorthodox strike, with a complete absence of negotiations between employer and men, for the simple reason that Harmon refused to talk to any committee of which Anstein was a member. This had suited Anstein, who didn’t want any negotiations at all. But the workers had not heard directly from Harmon, the community hall was a public place and Harmon was entitled to a hearing.
“You’ll speak when we’re ready to listen to you,” Anstein snapped.
He would have made a better impression with the fairer-minded members of the crowd if he had relinquished the platform to Harmon at once. As it was, he spoke on for another ten minutes, then called Marchette, who also launched into an oration. Con Reardon grew restive.
“Say the word,” he growled, “and I’ll throw him out.”
“Let him rave,” advised Harmon.
For the workers were curious. They were wondering what Harmon had to say to them. And the longer Marchette talked, the more he filibustered, the more he weakened his own control over the audience. This was old stuff to them by now. Finally Anstein began to realize that the affair was not going well. There was a good deal of coughing, shuffling of feet. He caught Marchette’s eye and gave him a
signal to wind up his speech, which Marchette did with ill grace.
The moment Harmon stepped onto the platform he was greeted by another storm of booing. He made no attempt to speak against it. simply waited, knowing that it would react in his favor with the better element. It subsided at last.
“A month ago,” shouted Harmon, “I was out of a job.”
THAT caught their attention. He was speaking, not as the bloated capitalist he had been pictured by Anstein and Marchette, but as one workman to others.
“A month ago,” he continued. “Rainbow wasn’t running. It was dead. A month ago, very few of you had jobs. We got together. I thought it was a sound idea at the time. I still think so. One man out of work and a lot of other fellows out of work got together and put a dead mill to work, made jobs for themselves. That’s what we did.”
A man in the crowd bellowed :
“You’ve still got your job.”
“And you’ve still got yours, any time you care to come back to the mill and work at it,” shot back Harmon. “As for my job, it’s costing me about $300 a day of my own money, to say nothing of the money of my friends.”
“Attaboy, Kent!” whooped Bradley. “You tell ’em !”
“I fired Anstein!” shouted Harmon. “That’s the issue. At least, it’s supposed to be the issue. It isn’t. Anstein doesn’t care about his mill job. And he certainly doesn’t care about your jobs. He came here to shut down this mill and he’s done it. He’d be the most disappointed man in Rainbow if I invited him to come back to work tomorrow. But he needn’t worry. I won’t.”
Harmon went on to tell them something of his own background. He told how he had come to Rainbow, how he had sought financial backing. He told them how he had finally raised the money, how he had sunk his own savings and Bradley’s cash in the venture, how Holcomb had insisted on signing the agreement turning the mill over to him for a year.
“If Mr. Holcomb is dissatisfied with his agreement, if he now thinks he could have made a better deal, that’s not my fault. Nor is it yours.”
“You froze Holcomb out!” yelled Anstein.
And as if this had been a signal, shouts rose from a dozen parts of the hall.
“Holcomb built Rainbow. You didn’t.” “We want Anstein !”
“You’re a swindler !”
“We’re not helping you gyp Holcomb out of his mill.”
Anstein had the hotheads in the crowd well primed. Pandemonium broke out. Some who had been impressed by Harmon’s words, demanded that he be allowed to continue. Anstein’s crowd tried to shout them down. A big weaver made the tactical error of yelling “Scab!” at Con Reardon.
That was the match to the powder keg. Reardon replied with an overhand right that sent the big weaver into a tailspin. Instantly he was surrounded by struggling, howling men. Both Anstein and Marchette rushed Harmon, tried to hustle him off the platform.
“Now see what you’ve started!” screamed Anstein. “Take your paid bullies out of here.”
Harmon knew that the meeting was lost. There was no hope of finishing his speech now. But at least he would get some satisfaction out of it. Anstein and Marchette each had hold of an arm. He twisted, shook them off, drove a short, choppy left to Anstein’s jaw.
The agitator’s head flew back. He went down as if he had been clubbed. Harmon had a glimpse of Marchette whipping a blackjack from his pocket as Anstein went sprawling on the platform. Marchette’s arm went up; the blackjack described an arc as it descended with savage force. Harmon ducked, sidestepped -but he
wasn’t quick enough. The blackjack grazed the side of his head, smashed down against his shoulder. His right arm felt suddenly numb and useless. He swung a left hook into Marchette’s swarthy face. It staggered Marchette, but the blackjack
came swinging through the air again. Harmon felt a stunning blow on the back of the head ; he stumbled and pitched over the side of the platform, down into the struggling, roaring crowd.
To be Continued