Tom Grogan/Chapter 10


ABOUT this time the labor element in the village and vicinity was startled by an advertisement in the Rockville “Daily News,” signed by the clerk of the Board of Village Trustees, notifying contractors that thirty days thereafter, closing at nine p.m. precisely, separate sealed proposals would be received at the meeting-room of the board, over the post-office, for the hauling of twenty thousand cubic yards of fine crushed stone for use on the public highways; bidders would be obliged to give suitable bonds, etc.; certified check for five hundred dollars to accompany each bid as guaranty, etc.

The news was a grateful surprise to the workingmen. The hauling and placing of so large an amount of material as soon as spring opened meant plenty of work for many shovelers and pickers. The local politicians, of course, had known all about it for weeks; especially those who owned property fronting on the streets to be improved: they had helped the appropriation through the finance committee. McGaw, too, had known about it from the first day of its discussion before the board. Those who were inside the ring had decided then that he would be the best man to haul the stone. The “steal,” they knew, could best be arranged in the tally of the carts—the final check on the scow measurement. They knew that McGaw's accounts could be controlled, and the total result easily “fixed.” The stone itself had been purchased of the manufacturers the year before, but there were not funds enough to put it on the roads at that time.

Here, then, was McGaw's chance. His triumph at obtaining the brewery contract was but short-lived. Schwartz had given him the work, but at Tom's price, not at his own. McGaw had accepted it, hoping for profits that would help him with his chattel mortgage. After he had been at work for a month, however, he found that he ran behind. He began to see that, in spite of its boastings, the Union had really done nothing for him, except indirectly with its threatened strike. The Union, on the other hand, insisted that it had been McGaw's business to arrange his own terms with Schwartz. What it had done was to kill Grogan as a competitor, and knock her non-union men out of the job. This ended its duty.

While they said this much to McGaw; so far as outsiders could know, the Union claimed that they had scored a brilliant victory. The Brooklyn and New York branches duly paraded it as another triumph over capital, and their bank accounts were accordingly increased with new dues and collections.

With this new contract in his possession, McGaw felt certain he could cancel his debt with Crane and get even with the world. He began his arrangements at once. Police-Justice Rowan, the prospective candidate for the Assembly, who had acquired some landed property by the purchase of expired tax titles, agreed to furnish the certified check for five hundred dollars and to sign McGaw's bond for a consideration to be subsequently agreed upon. A brother of Rowan's, a contractor, who was finishing some grading at Quarantine Landing, had also consented, for a consideration, to loan McGaw what extra teams he required.

The size of the contract was so great, and the deposit check and bond were so large, that McGaw concluded at once that the competition would be narrowed down between himself and Rowan's brother, with Justice Rowan as backer, and perhaps one other firm from across the island, near New Brighton. His own advantage over other bidders was in his living on the spot, with his stables and teams near at hand.

Tom, he felt assured, was out of the way. Not only was the contract very much too large for her, requiring twice as many carts as she possessed, but now that the spring work was about to begin, and Babcock's sea-wall work to be resumed, she had all the stevedoring she could do for her own customers, without going outside for additional business.

Moreover, she had apparently given up the fight, for she had bid on no work of any kind since the morning she had called upon Schwartz and told him, in her blunt, frank way, “Give the work to McGaw at me price. It's enough and fair.”

Tom, meanwhile, made frequent visits to New York, returning late at night. One day she brought home a circular with cuts of several improved kinds of hoisting-engines with automatic dumping-buckets. She showed them to Pop under the kerosene lamp at night, explaining to him their advantages in handling small material like coal or broken stone. Once she so far relaxed her rules in regard to Jennie's lover as to send for Carl to come to the house after supper, questioning him closely about the upper rigging of a new derrick she had seen. Carl's experience as a sailor was especially valuable in matters of this kind. He could not only splice a broken “fall,” and repair the sheaves and friction-rollers in a hoisting-block, but whenever the rigging got tangled aloft he could spring up the derrick like a cat and unreeve the rope in an instant. She also wrote to Babcock, asking him to stop at her house some morning on his way to the Quarantine Landing, where he was building a retaining-wall; and when he arrived, she took him out to the shed where she kept her heavy derricks. That more experienced contractor at once became deeply interested, and made a series of sketches for her, on the back of an envelope, of an improved pintle and revolving-cap which he claimed would greatly improve the working of her derricks. These sketches she took to the village blacksmith next day, and by that night had an estimate of their cost. She was also seen one morning, when the new trolley company got rid of its old stock, at a sale of car-horses, watching the prices closely, and examining the condition of the animals sold. She asked the superintendent to drop her a postal when the next sale occurred. To her neighbors, however, and even to her own men, she said nothing. The only man in the village to whom she had spoken regarding the new work was the clerk of the board, and then only casually as to the exact time when the bids would be received.

The day before the eventful night when the proposals were to be opened, Mr. Crane, in his buggy, stopped at her house on his way back from the fort, and they drove together to the ferry. When she returned she called Pop into the kitchen, shut the door, and showed him the bid duly signed and a slip of pink paper. This was a check of Crane & Co.'s to be deposited with the bid. Then she went down to the stable and had a long conference with Cully.

The village Board of Trustees consisted of nine men, representing a fair average of the intelligence and honesty of the people. The president was a reputable hardware merchant, a very good citizen, who kept a store largely patronized by local contractors. The other members were two lawyers,—young men working up in practice with the assistance of a political pull,—a veterinary surgeon, and five gentlemen of leisure, whose only visible means of support were derived from pool-rooms and ward meetings. Every man on the board, except the surgeon and the president, had some particular axe to grind. One wished to be sheriff; another, county clerk. The five gentlemen of leisure wished to stay where they were. When a pie was cut, these five held the knife. It was their fault, they said, when they went hungry.

In the side of this body politic the surgeon was a thorn as sharp as any one of his scalpels. He was a hard-headed, sober-minded Scotchman, who had been elected to represent a group of his countrymen living in the eastern part of the village, and whose profession, the five supposed, indicated without doubt his entire willingness to see through a cart-wheel, especially when the hub was silver-plated. At the first meeting of the board they learned their mistake, but it did not worry them much. They had seven votes to two.

The council-chamber of the board was a hall—large for Rockville—situated over the post-office, and only two doors from O'Leary's barroom. It was the ordinary village hall, used for everything from a Christmas festival to a prize-fight. In summer it answered for a skating-rink.

Once a month the board occupied it. On these occasions a sort of rostrum was brought in for the president, besides a square table and a dozen chairs. These were placed at one end, and were partitioned off by a wooden rail to form an inclosure, outside of which always stood the citizens. On the wall hung a big eight-day clock. Over the table, about which were placed chairs, a kerosene lamp swung on a brass chain. Opposite each seat lay a square of blotting-paper and some cheap pens and paper. Down the middle of the table were three inkstands, standing in china plates.

The board always met in the evening, as the business hours of the members prevented their giving the day to their deliberations.

Upon the night of the letting of the contract the first man to arrive was McGaw. He ran up the stairs hurriedly, found no one he was looking for, and returned to O'Leary's, where he was joined by Justice Rowan and his brother John, the contractor, Quigg, Crimmins, and two friends of the Union. During the last week the Union was outspoken in its aid of McGaw, and its men had quietly passed the word of “Hands off this job!” about in the neighborhood. If McGaw got the work—and there was now not the slightest doubt of it—he would, of course, employ all Union men. If anybody else got it—well, they would attend to him later. “One thing was certain: no 'scab' from New Brighton should come over and take it.” They'd do up anybody who tried that game.

When McGaw, surrounded by his friends entered the board-room again, the place was full. Outside the rail stood a solid mass of people. Inside every seat was occupied. It was too important a meeting for any trustee to miss.

McGaw stood on his toes and looked over the heads. To his delight, Tom was not in the room, and no one representing her. If he had had any lingering suspicion of her bidding, her non-appearance allayed it. He knew now that she was out of the race. Moreover, no New Brighton people had come. He whispered this information to Justice Rowan's brother behind his big, speckled hand covered with its red, spidery hair. Then the two forced their way out again, reëntered the post-office, and borrowed a pen. Once there, McGaw took from his side pocket two large envelopes, the contents of which he spread out under the light.

“I'm dead roight,” said McGaw. “I'll put up the price of this other bid. There ain't a man round here that dares show his head. The Union's fixed 'em.”

“Will the woman bid?” asked his companion.

“The woman! What'd she be a-doin' wid a bid loike that? She c'u'dn't handle the half of it. I'll wait till a few minutes to nine o'clock. Ye kin fix up both these bids an' hold 'em in yer pocket. Thin we kin see what bids is laid on the table. Ours'll go in last. If there's nothin' else we'll give'em the high one. I'll git inside the rail, so's to be near the table.”

When the two squeezed back through the throng again into the board-room, even the staircase was packed. McGaw pulled off his fur cap and struggled past the rail, bowing to the president. The justice's brother stood outside, within reach of McGaw's hand. McGaw glanced at the clock and winked complacently at his prospective partner—not a single bid had been handed in. Then he thrust out his long arm, took from Rowan's brother the big envelope containing the higher bid, and dropped it on the table.

Just then there was a commotion at the door. Somebody was trying to force a passage in. The president rose from his chair, and looked over the crowd. McGaw started from his chair, looked anxiously at the clock, then at his partner. The body of a boy struggling like an eel worked its way through
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"Dat was a close shave!"

the mass, dodged under the wooden bar, and threw an envelope on the table.

“Dat's Tom Grogan's bid,” he said, looking at the president. “Hully gee! but dat was a close shave! She telled me not ter dump it till one minute o' nine, an' de bloke at de door come near sp'ilin' de game till I give him one in de mug.”

At this instant the clock struck nine, and the president's gavel fell.

“Time's up,” said the Scotchman.