Tom Grogan/Chapter 11
THE excitement over the outcome of the bidding was intense. The barroom at O'Leary's was filled with a motley crowd of men, most of whom belonged to the Union, and all of whom had hoped to profit in some way had the contract fallen into the hands of the political ring who were dominating the affairs of the village. The more hot-headed and outspoken swore vengeance; not only against the horse-doctor, who had refused to permit McGaw to smuggle in the second bid, but against Crane & Co. and everybody else who had helped to defeat their schemes. They meant to boycott Crane before tomorrow night. He should not unload or freight another cargo of coal until they allowed it. The village powers, they admitted, could not be boycotted, but they would do everything they could to make it uncomfortable for the board if it awarded
the contract to Grogan. Neither would they forget the trustees at the next election. As to that “smart Alec” of a horse-doctor, they knew how to fix him. Suppose it had struck nine and the polls had closed, what right had he to keep McGaw from handing in his other bid? (Both were higher than Tom's. This fact, however, McGaw had never mentioned.)
A TWO-DOLLAR BILL
Around the tenements the interest was no less marked. Mr. Moriarty had sent the news of Tom's success ringing through O'Leary's, and Mrs. Moriarty, waiting outside the barroom door for the pitcher her husband had filled for her inside, had spread its details through every hallway in the tenement.
“Ah, but Tom's a keener,” said that gossip. “Think of that little divil Cully jammed behind the door with her bid in his hand, a-waitin' for the clock to get round to two minutes o' nine, an' that big stuff Dan McGaw sittin' inside wid two bids up his sleeve! Oh, but she's cunnin', she is! Dan's clean beat. He'll niver haul a shovel o' that stone.”
“How'll she be a-doin' a job like that?” came from a woman listening over the banisters.
“Be doin'?” rejoined a red-headed virago. “Wouldn't ye be doin' it yerself if ye had that big coal-dealer behind ye?”
“Oh, we hear enough. Who says they're in it?” rejoined a third listener.
“Pete Lathers says so—the yard boss. He was a-tellin' me man yisterday.”
On consulting Justice Rowan the next morning, McGaw and his friends found but little comfort. The law was explicit, the justice said. The contract must be given to the lowest responsible bidder. Tom had deposited her certified check of five hundred dollars with the bid, and there was no informality in her proposal. He was sorry for McGaw, but if Mrs. Grogan signed the contract there was no hope for him. The horse-doctor's action was right. If McGaw's second bid had been received, it would simply have invalidated both of his, the law forbidding two from the same bidder.
Rowan's opinion sustaining Tom's right was a blow he did not expect. Furthermore, the justice offered no hope for the future. The law gave Tom the award, and nothing could prevent her hauling the stone if she signed the contract. These words rang in McGaw's ears—if she signed the contract. On this if hung his only hope.
Rowan was too shrewd a politician, now that McGaw's chances were gone, to advise any departure, even by a hair-line, from the strict letter of the law. He was, moreover, too upright as a justice to advise any member of the defeated party to an overt act which might look like unfairness to any bidder concerned. He had had a talk, besides, with his brother over night, and they had accordingly determined to watch events. Should a way be found of rejecting on legal grounds Tom's bid, making a new advertisement necessary, Rowan meant to ignore McGaw altogether, and have his brother bid in his own name. This determination was strengthened when McGaw, in a burst of confidence, told Rowan of his present financial straits.
From Rowan's the complaining trio adjourned to O'Leary's barroom. Crimmins and McGaw entered first. Quigg arrived later. He closed one eye meaningly as he entered, and O'Leary handed a brass key to him over the bar with the remark, “Stamp on the floor three toimes, Dinny, an' I'll send yez up what ye want to drink.” Then Crimmins opened a door concealed by a wooden screen, and the three disappeared upstairs. Crimmins reappeared within an hour, and hurried out the front door. In a few moments he returned with Justice Rowan, who had adjourned court. Immediately after the justice's arrival there came three raps from the floor above, and O'Leary swung back the door, and disappeared with an assortment of drinkables on a tray.
The conference lasted until noon. Then the men separated outside the barroom. From the expression on the face of each one as he emerged from the door it was evident that the meeting had not produced any very cheering or conclusive results. McGaw had that vindictive, ugly, bulldog look about the eyes and mouth which always made his wife tremble when he came home. The result of the present struggle over the contract was a matter of life or death to him. His notes, secured by the chattel mortgage on his live stock, would be due in a few days. Crane had already notified him that they must be paid, and he knew enough of his moneylender, and of the anger which he had roused, to know that no extension would be granted him. Losing this contract, he had lost his only hope of paying them. Had it been awarded him, he could have found a dozen men who would have loaned him the money to take up these notes and so to pay Crane. He had comforted himself the night before with the thought that Justice Rowan could find some way to help him out of his dilemma; that the board would vote as the justice advised, and then, of course, Tom's bid would be invalidated. Now even this hope had failed him. “Whoever heard of a woman's doing a job for a city?” he kept repeating mechanically to himself.
Tom knew of none of these conspiracies. Had she done so they would not have caused her a moment's anxiety. Here was a fight in which no one would suffer except the head that got in her way, and she determined to hit that with all her might the moment it rose into view. This was no brewery contract, she argued with Pop, where five hundred men might be thrown out of employment, with all the attendant suffering to women and children. The village was a power nobody could boycott. Moreover, the law protected her in her rights under the award. She would therefore quietly wait until the day for signing the papers arrived, furnish her bond, and begin a work she could superintend herself. In the she would continue her preparations. One thing she was resolved upon—she would have nothing to do with the Union. Carl could lay his hand on a dozen of his countrymen who would be glad to get employment with her. If they were all like him she need have no fear in any emergency.
She bought two horses—great strong ones,—at the trolley sale, and ordered two new carts from a manufacturer in Newark, to be sent to her on the first of the coming month.
Her friends took her good fortune less calmly. Their genuine satisfaction expressed itself in a variety of ways. Crane sent her this characteristic telegram:—
“Bully for you!”
Babcock came all the way down to her home to offer her his congratulations, and to tender her what assistance she needed in tools or money.
The Union, in their deliberations, insisted that it was the “raised bid” which had ruined the business with McGaw and for them. It was therefore McGaw's duty to spare no effort to prevent her signing the contract. They had stuck by him in times gone by; he must now stick by them. One point was positively insisted upon: Union men must be employed on the work, whoever got it.
McGaw, however, was desperate. He denounced Tom in a vocabulary peculiar to himself and full of innuendoes and oaths, but without offering any suggestion as to how his threats against her might be carried out.
With his usual slyness, Quigg said very little openly. He had not yet despaired of winning Jennie's favor, and until that hope was abandoned he could hardly make up his mind which side of the fence he was on. Crimmins was even more indifferent in regard to the outcome—his pay as walking delegate went on, whichever side won; he could wait.
In this emergency McGaw again sought Crimmins's assistance. He urged the importance of his getting the contract, and he promised to make Crimmins foreman on the street, and to give him a share in the profits, if he would help him in some way to get the work now. The first step, he argued, was the necessity of crushing Tom. Everything else would be easy after that. Such a task, he felt, would not be altogether uncongenial to Crimmins, still smarting under Tom's contemptuous treatment of him the day he called upon her in his capacity of walking delegate.
McGaw's tempting promise made a deep impression upon Crimmins. He determined then and there to inflict some blow on Tom Grogan from which she could never recover. He was equally determined on one other thing—not to be caught.
Early the next morning Crimmins stationed himself outside O'Leary's where he could get an uninterrupted view of two streets. He stood hunched up against the jamb of O'Leary's door in the attitude of a corner loafer, with three parts of his body touching the wood—hip, shoulder, and cheek. For some time no one appeared in sight either useful or inimical to his plans, until Mr. James Finnegan, who was filling the morning air with one of his characteristic songs, brightened the horizon up the street to his left.
Cully's unexpected appearance at that moment produced so uncomfortable an effect upon Mr. Crimmins that that gentleman fell instantly back through the barroom door.
The boy's quick eye caught the movement, and it also caught a moment later, Mr. Crimmins's nose and watery eye peering out again when their owner had assured himself that his escape had been unseen. Cully slackened his pace to see what new move Crimmins would make—but without the slightest sign of recognition on his face—and again broke into song. He was on his way to get the mail, and had passed McGaw's house but a few moments before, in the hope that that worthy Knight might be either leaning over the fence or seated on the broken-down porch. He was anxious McGaw should hear a few improvised stanzas of a new ballad he had composed to that delightful old negro melody, “Massa's in de cold, cold ground,” in which the much-beloved Southern planter and the thoroughly hated McGaw changed places in the cemetery.
That valiant Knight was still in bed, exhausted by the labors of the previous evening. Young Billy, however, was about the stables, and so Mr. James Finnegan took occasion to tarry long enough in the road for the eldest son of his enemy to get the stanza by heart, in the hope that he might retail it to his father when he appeared.
Billy dropped his manure-fork as soon as Cully had moved on again, and dodging behind the fence, followed him toward the post-office, hoping to hit the singer with a stone.
When the slinking body of McGaw's eldest son became visible to Mr. Crimmins, his face broke into creases so nearly imitative of a smile that his best friend would not have known him. He slapped the patched knees of his overalls gayly, bent over in a subdued chuckle, and disported himself in a merry and much satisfied way. His rum-and-watery eyes gleamed with delight, and even his chin-whisker took on a new vibration. Next he laid one finger along his nose, looked about him cautiously, and said to himself, in an undertone:—
“The very boy! It'll fix McGaw dead to rights, an' ther' won't be no squealin' after it's done.”
Here he peered around the edge of one of O'Leary's drawn window-shades, and waited until Cully had passed the barroom, secured his mail, and started for home, his uninterrupted song filling the air. Then he opened the blind very cautiously, and beckoned to Billy.
Cully's eye caught the new movement as he turned the corner. His song ceased. When Mr. Finnegan had anything very serious on his mind he never sang.
When, some time after, Billy emerged from O'Leary's door, he had a two-dollar bill tightly squeezed in his right hand. Part of this he spent on his way home for a box of cigarettes; the balance he invested in a mysterious-looking tin can. The can was narrow and long and had a screw nozzle at one end. This can Cully saw him hide in a corner of his father's stable.