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Page:Stanwood Pier--The ancient grudge.djvu/67

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The work of the rollers was dexterous and pretty. The white-hot billet came hissing and menacing through the press. The roller stood close, caught it with his tongs just in front of his right leg, drew back a step, and then shot it forward and through. A misstep, a slip of the hand on the tongs, a sudden failure of the eye, and the white-hot metal would drop on the bungler's foot and sear it to the ankle. The men worked rapidly, each one seeming to hurry the next, harassed by anxiety or by eagerness to turn out a larger and yet larger number of rods, for by tonnage were they paid.

Only one did Floyd notice who seemed not only unworried, but even nonchalant and gay in the performance of his work. This was the younger of the two men at the first set of rolls, the one who received the billet from the furnace-man. The others stood tense or nervous to grapple with the steel; he displayed an easy grace, he did not crouch with tongs already open, but waited quietly erect, caught and stepped back with the same motion, passed the steel forward with a lithe swing, and fell into position, resting but ready. He was heavy and strong, and at the same time cleanly built; his weight, as Floyd could see from the outline of chest and hips and thighs, was more of muscle than of bone. Blackened as was his face, it had a cheerful look; it seemed the face of a boy to whom this work was still, in spite of his expertness, a novelty, and who found somewhat the same sport in catching hot blocks of steel as he might have found in catching a ball. He came over to the tank of greenish, scum-covered water near which Floyd was standing, and plunged his tongs into it. Floyd glanced at his bare arms; the sweat was streaming down them, the muscles seemed oiled and glistening. He looked at Floyd with a genial smile and addressed him with a particularly outrageous oath. That it was hot was the burden of his remark. Then he hastened back to his place and caught the next billet on the run.