The Ancient Grudge/Chapter 23

 

XXIII

FORCING THE ISSUE

In company with Dr. Edwards, Floyd spent a week in New York, acquainting himself with the requirements of a modern hospital. This was at the end of July. It was the only holiday that he proposed to allow himself. As a holiday, it was not very satisfying; he was so thorough in his investigations that he had not even time to look up the three or four college friends whom he was accustomed to see whenever he visited New York. One day, as he was coming out of St. Luke's, he met Bennett entering. "Hello!" he exclaimed in surprise, and they shook hands.

"I'm hot on the trail," Bennett said. "You see, when there are so many New York men in the competition, a fellow has to meet them on their own ground."

Floyd complimented him on his enterprise and wondered, somewhat anxiously, if Stewart would take similar precautions. It seemed to him improbable. Stewart was a theoretical kind of fellow who was too apt to get his knowledge of practical affairs at second-hand. It occurred to Floyd that when he returned to Avalon he might give Stewart a hint by telling him that Bennett had been inspecting New York hospitals and that it was a sensible proceeding. But he instantly decided that to drop such a hint as this would be unworthy of one who wished to be an impartial judge. Stewart, like the other competitors, must work out his own problems; it was not for one of the judges of the contest to supply him with initiative. Indeed, in his inhospitable frame of mind he would be more than likely to resent any suggestion that Floyd might put forward.

Floyd returned from New York with a definite idea of the needs of a modern hospital. He worked with Dr. Edwards tabulating the results of his inquiries, drawing up notes of matters to be considered in the specifications. These were arranged under the four heads: "Indispensable," "Important," "Desirable," "Small Details." It had pleased Floyd to observe the growth of the doctor's enthusiasm.

"With the money, with such a choice of architects, with such judges—in all due modesty," Dr. Edwards declared, "Avalon ought to have the finest hospitals in the country. And speaking of the judges, you'll allow me to say, Mr. Halket,that I have never before known a layman who has shown in medical matters such intelligence or taken such pains to inform himself as you have done in this. It's a pleasure to be associated with you. I confess at first I thought you would probably just make trouble; but you're a credit to your grandfather, sir."

Floyd was touched by this tribute from the old surgeon. It was one of the few pleasant things that brightened a sad summer. Not only the loneliness of his life in these days oppressed him; there was also the anxiety over an ominous condition at the mills. Almost the first instructions which Floyd in his new capacity as president of the company had sent to the superintendent had included a request for a report on the occupation and circumstances of Tibbs, the man whom Colonel Halket had discharged at the union's request. Learning from Gregg's reply that Tibbs was employed in a rolling-mill in East Liverpool, Ohio, Floyd wrote the old workman a personal letter, offering to reinstate him in his former position and expressing the hope that in spite of what had happened he would feel disposed to return. Tibbs answered the letter in person, and the next day reported to the foreman of his old mill for duty. Three hours later, Tustin and Caskey arrived at the Halket Company's offices in Avalon and asked to see the president. They pointed out to Floyd the enormity of his offense in restoring a man to the pay-roll who had been dropped by the previous management because he was personally obnoxious to his fellow workmen; and they again demanded Tibbs's discharge. They asserted that sentiment in New Rome concerning this matter had already reached "the boiling-point."

"Very well," Floyd replied. "Let it boil. Some time it will boil away."

Caskey began to threaten, and Floyd rose.

"See here," he said, "if you fellows want to make an issue of this matter and call a strike, you'll find me ready, I don't know any issue on which I'd rather go before the public. Good-day to you."

"But, Mr. Halket," interposed Tustin, "just a moment. There's a difficulty about Tibbs that I think you'll be fair enough to see. Tibbs has been dropped from the union—and as you know, it's been long understood that the works employ only union men."

"The answer to that is easy," said Floyd. "Reinstate him. Now I want to hear nothing more on this matter— from now on."

His tone was as peremptory as his words; and when his visitors did not immediately rise to depart, but sat with stubborn hostility showing in their faces, he pressed a bell. A young woman appeared at the door.

"Miss Rand, I'm ready for dictation," Floyd said, and she entered and stood with her note-book hesitatingly. Floyd stood also in silence, looking down on the two men. After a moment Tustin got to his feet, shrugging his shoulders with a sort of insolent good nature and smiling crookedly.

"Oh, very well," he said, and walked toward the door, Caskey following. At the door Tustin turned for a parting word. "I tell you, Mr. Halket, you take the wrong tone toward us."

Floyd understood a few days later from Gregg that Tibbs had been reinstated in the union and that there seemed to be no sign of trouble.

"It beats me," Gregg said. "Tustin's not the man to knuckle under without a fight."

"I think it's simply that he does n't want to risk a fight on a minor issue," said Floyd. "Now I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to push him all along the line. I'm going to put one small issue after another up to him, and he's got to swallow one after another, in which case his influence with the men will be slowly undermined, or he's got to make a fight on some one small grievance—and then it will be easy to beat him. I'm going to dethrone Tustin, Mr. Gregg. If Hugh Farrell were running the union it would n't be a bad thing; with Tustin running—it, it's a curse. Now the next move I make is this: you know how Tustin and Caskey and the others of that executive committee are always cutting loose from their job to come and interview me with some kick or other, and how they're always paid full time, same as if they were working instead of stirring up trouble? Well, I want you to give it out that hereafter they'll be docked for such absences, just like other men. Post your notices in all the mills, so that all the men can read them; and word them so that all the men will understand. A little public humiliation for Tustin will be a good thing."

The immediate result of posting this notice was another visit to Floyd of an angry delegation, which did not, however, include Tustin; he had sent two other members of the committee, and Floyd received these men genially.

"Well, it may seem a little hard to you at first," he said to them, "but try to look at it a moment from the management's point of view. Why, some of your representatives, notably Mr. Tustin, have got into the way of cooking up complaints just for the sake of having a day off; they keep coming here about all kinds of trivial matters, wasting my time as well as their own, and not doing the cause of the union the least good in the world. Now I don't want to shut off just complaints. But when a man cuts his work to come in here in the interest of the union, why should n't I cut his pay, and why should n't the union make it up to him? If the union did this, it would also see that he did n't cut his work just for the sake of a holiday; it would n't care to pay for such holidays. Don't you think that's a reasonable position for the management to take?"

Two of the men seemed wavering; at least neither of them had any counter argument. The third, who was Caskey, talked incoherently to the effect that the union was poor and the management rich, and that this scheme was just robbing the poor workingman in two ways.

Floyd ignored Caskey and addressed the other two men. "The rule is not designed to work hardship to any one except the chronic kickers," he said. "The union should cooperate with me in discouraging them. I will say, since the remarks have already become somewhat personal, that Mr. Caskey here is precisely one of the men who should be discouraged."

Caskey blinked at him angrily with bis little eyes, but said nothing, and after a further unprofitable interchange the delegation withdrew.

Floyd had reasoned rightly that an affront to the executive committee, especially one so well deserved, could not be made to rouse any unanimous or dangerous sentiment in the large body of workmen, however offensive it might be to a few individuals like Tustin and Caskey. But Gregg informed him that at "headquarters" the men were much incensed; "they feel you're looking for trouble, and they're getting ready to give it to you," he said.

"That 's exactly the mood I want to have them in," Floyd replied. "They may do something rash, and then we can break the power of that Tustin-Caskey gang once for all. Let me know if you hear of any special kind of trouble being planned."

It was not till the middle of September that Gregg was able to lay specific information before his chief. Then it was to the effect that the local lodge of the union had held a meeting and voted that at the next meeting the name of Hugh Farrell should be dropped from the rolls.

"It was mighty cleverly done," Gregg said. "That man Tustin's a shrewd one; he's got a fine Italian hand that he showed in this. The whole thing was so reluctant; they were very loath to take action—that sort of tone, you know; they'd delayed dealing with he case so that they could approach it in a truly fair and judicial spirit; why, even Farrell's best friends might have been persuaded into thinking he'd got the squarest deal possible. More in sorrow than in anger it was shown that he had n't been truly loyal to the union—his speech at the mass meeting was something that could n't be overlooked—and now that the union was threatened with the subtlest forms of persecution and subject to covert attack from without, it was necessary for its own existence that it should strengthen itself from within. The thing was done with real art—so moderate and so full of innuendo about the purposes of the new management."

"So Farrell's to go," Floyd said. "I suppose of course the news has been broken to him?"

"I understand he was n't at the meeting. But of course he knows."

"I think," Floyd remarked after a moment with a grave smile, "that the time has come for making Farrell foreman of the rod-mill."

Gregg held out his hand and his eyes sparkled with satisfaction. "That's just what I was hoping you might say," and after shaking Floyd's hand he brushed out the prongs of his beard with a sort of nervous contentment. "I don't know that I'm often spoiling for a fight—but I guess there's considerable of an accumulation in me by now."

"I have an idea that on this matter the fight will come," Floyd replied. "Of course Schneider as foreman is quite unsatisfactory; he has no business in that place, and Farrell has—but we can't expect Tustin and his crowd to admit it. I wish you'd send Farrell to me, Mr. Gregg; it's only fair to give him the chance of declining an unpleasant job if he wants to—but I don't believe he'll want to."

"No," said Grregg. "I'm sure of that."

Hugh Farrell declared himself quite ready to incur whatever odium might attend his exaltation to the position of foreman. Thereupon Floyd sent word to the superintendent of Rod-Mill Number Three to give Schneider his week's notice and to announce that Farrell would go in as foreman on Monday, September twenty-third.

The morning after this announcement was made, Floyd received through the mail the following letter:


Mr. Floyd Halket:

Sir,—I am venturing to address you in writing, since it seems to be of no good when I visit you in person. I have this a. m. been informed of your orders to put in Mr. Farrell in charge of Number 3. I would say that feeling regarding this matter is already intense, and while deprecating all violence it would seem from opinions expressed by many that it would be safe for Mr. Farrell not to accept such position but to retire permanently from the works. Have so advised him and would be pleased to have your cooperation in the matter. If appointment is adhered to, it will of course be necessary to call all employees of the works out on strike. Trusting the above meets with your approval, I remain.

Very respectfully yours,
Sam'l Tustin,
President Chap. 4, A. I. W.

 

To this Floyd dictated an immediate answer:


Mr. Sam'l Tustin,
President Chap. 4, A. I. W.

Sir,—In reply to your communication just received, let me say that any interference with Mr. Hugh Farrell, either in the discharge of his duties or in the exercise of his rights outside the works, will be promptly and properly punished. Should a general strike be ordered, as you threaten, or should the management for any reason find it necessary to declare a lockout, no workman will be readmitted to employment at the Halket Mills so long as he remains a member of a union.

Very truly yours,
Floyd Halket,
President Halket Steel Company.


Gregg telephoned that night to Floyd that in New Rome the feeling was indeed, as Tustin had expressed it, intense. The news had been spread among the men with surprising rapidity that the management was to make a fight for the extermination of the union. A mass meeting had been called for the next night.

"All right," Floyd answered. "Keep yourself as clear of trouble as you can, Gregg. Put the opprobrium for Farrell's promotion on me—and any other trouble that comes up. Are they doing things to Farrell?"

"A crowd followed him and jeered him all the way home this evening. He's not having a pleasant time."

"Any signs of his backing out?"

"Oh, you bet, no!"

"Be ready to have all the men paid off at a moment's notice. I'll be out in the morning. Telephone me if anything turns up."

Floyd's visit to New Rome the next day convinced him that there was nothing for him to do but stand by his declaration to Tustin and await developments.

"It's pretty rough on Hugh Farrell to have put him into such a position," he admitted to the superintendent. "But I don't know anybody who could give a better account of himself."

"Yes," said Gregg. "And it is n't as if he stood absolutely alone; he's got plenty of sympathizers—if they only dared to show themselves. I don't know, Mr. Halket, but what some damage may be done at that mass meeting to-night."

"I don't know that the men can do any more than decide to go on strike," Floyd said.

"That's bad enough with all the orders we're working to fill."

"We've got to make some sacrifices, of course, to get this union matter settled as we want it. And we might as well make them now as later. I'd like to go up and see Mrs. Farrell—see if there's anything I could do to make things easier for her—but I suppose it would n't be wise."

"Look too much like favoritism," commented Gregg.

"They think it's all that now. Better just write her a note. And I'll call you up to-night again and let you know what happens at the meeting."

The report of this did not indicate a yielding disposition on the part of the men. Whether the promotion of Farrell had at first been universally unpopular or not, it seemed now to have become so. Tustin, who had a native gift for forcible speaking and enjoyed using it, inflamed his audience; he swung them from fury to enthusiasm and back again to fury. He urged them to do nothing lawless, and yet to think upon this traitor who bad grown up among them and who now had been bought to make an issue for a harsh employer against the union. This man, whose expressed disloyalty had been treated with so much indulgence by his comrades, had stooped to an even lower betrayal of their interests; no one knew by what intrigue he had undermined a faithful old employee, by what cowardly subservience and abasement he had won his master's favor. It was an insult to the workmen in Number Three to put such a man over them; it was an insult that every brother workman in New Rome was bound to resent. It was indeed a matter of self-protection to resent it. For however much favoritism there was in Farrell's promotion, it was folly to pretend that it was due to favoritism alone. This was the first step in a campaign to root out unionism in New Rome, to make the laboring-man a defenseless dependent upon the generosity of an ungenerous employer, to rob him of the bulwark of his rights, the sense of freedom, the feeling that instead of writhing naked and helpless in the clutch of a cormorant capitalist, he stood armed by the weight of thousands at his back to battle for a living. The union had given to the laboring-man this most priceless spirit, and the laboring-man must guard the union as he would guard his soul. And when he beheld one who had traduced and betrayed it,—"I ask ye," shouted Tustin, raising aloft his clenched fist and holding it there quivering,—"I ask ye, shall ye suffer him? Shall ye suffer him to be your master? I advocate no violence, but I say to you now that this man should be made to see that to his neighbors he is a curse and a stench, and that in the estimation of the world he were better dead than thriving at the expense of their liberty. And if he is so rash as not to be deterred by that which he may read in the face of every man, then we must strike,—strike for the principle that gives us life, and strike—hard!"

It was a great triumph for Tustin; the meeting had broken up in cheers, the men had poured shouting and cheering into the streets. Some one had cried, "Let's show Farrell now, the — — —!" and a couple of hundred men and boys, taking up the cry, had marched to Farrell's house on the outskirts of the town. There they had stayed in the middle of the road, hooting and yelling and cursing, calling on him to show himself; at last some one had thrown a stone, breaking a window. Letty had opened the door and with the light from within streaming upon her confronted the mob. After a few cries they quieted down and she said in a voice tremulous with indignation,—

"My husband is not at home. You—"

"Where is he?" demanded voices in the crowd.

"You are frightening my little children and my mother," Letty said; and at that some one jeered,—"How about yourself?"

There was a laugh, and when it quieted down, Letty answered in her clear voice,—

"If you were brave men, I should n't be frightened. But I don't know what cowards may do."

The remark called forth an inarticulate cry of protest. Letty followed up her advantage.

"Will you please go away so that I can put my children to sleep?"

"We ain't hurting anybody's children," some one made sullen answer; and then there were exclamations, "Come on, fellows," "He ain't here," "Let her be." Gradually the crowd dispersed.

But the next afternoon Letty came in to the Avalon offices of the Halket Company and called on Floyd. She was agitated and determined and she wasted no time in stating her purpose.

"Mr. Halket," she said, "I know you thought you were doing Hugh and me a kindness. But I've got to ask you not to let Hugh have that promotion. Something will happen to him. I dread having him out of the house; there is such a feeling against him. It's against all of us. My little boy was called 'Scab' to-day by the neighbor's child—five years old. 'Scab! Scab!' she called at him across the fence. Down at the grocer's they don't like to wait on me. I don't mind that—but"—her eyes filled with tears and her face colored sensitively,—"oh, Mr. Halket, they're working up an awful feeling against Hugh. And if it comes to putting him in as foreman, there will be a riot; I know there will be—and he'll be killed!"

"What does Hugh think about it? Does he want to give it up?" Floyd asked.

"Oh, Hugh! You know what Hugh is, Mr. Halket; I've begged him, but he won't give in. He keeps saying there's no danger, and even if there is, he's not going to let it worry him; he says he's not going to be browbeaten out of his job by every man in New Rome. Of course Hugh would n't give up." She declared this proudly in spite of her distress. "But, Mr. Halket, I don't believe you know—if you insist on putting Hugh in as foreman—the morning he goes to his work—they'll beat him to death!"

"The only chance that your husband has now, Letty, lies in our wiping out the union and the gang who are running it," Floyd answered soberly. "What sort of a life do you think that you and he will lead if we surrender in this matter? He's a marked man anyway. You will all of you have to leave New Rome—where you've built your house, where you have begun to see good things ahead of you. If we fight it out—yes, I admit there's danger. I don't believe it can actually come to what you dread—but it may be bad enough. Fighting it out, our side will win in the end,—I promise you that. If we give in—what is there for Hugh but to seek a new home and a new start in life?"

"There's life!" cried Letty passionately.

Floyd was silent. At last he said with a smile,—

"Letty, we won't run that risk. We won't put Hugh in as foreman until the men are ready to have him. But we'll try to hurry that time up in coming."

She did not understand at all what he meant, but she trusted the look in his face and thanked him.

The next morning the employees of the Halket Mills on their way to work were confronted at the bridge by locked gates and the notice, "Closed. These mills will run hereafter non-union. Employees may sign at the company's offices on that basis. Until a sufficient operating force is secured, the works will remain closed."

After the first stupefaction created by this placard, most of the men turned away laughing, rejoicing in an unexpected holiday.

This was the twenty-third of September.