Tom Grogan/Chapter 7

VII
THE CONTENTS OF CULLY'S MAIL

WHEN Walking Delegate Crimmins had recovered from his amazement, after his humiliating defeat at Tom's hands, he stood irresolute for a moment outside her garden gate, indulged at some length in a form of profanity peculiar to his class, and then walked direct to McGaw's house.

That worthy Knight met him at the door. He had been waiting for him.

Young Billy McGaw also saw Crimmins enter the gate, and promptly hid himself under the broken-down steps. He hoped to overhear what was going on when the two went out again. Young Billy's inordinate curiosity was quite natural. He had heard enough of the current talk about the tenements and open lots to know that something of a revengeful and retaliatory nature against the Grogans was in the air; but as nobody who knew the exact details had confided them to him, he had determined upon an investigation of his own. He not only hated Cully, but the whole Grogan household, for the pounding he had received at his hands, so he was anxious to get even in some way.

After McGaw had locked both doors, shutting out his wife and little Jack, their youngest, he took a bottle from the shelf, filled two half-tumblers, and squaring himself in his chair, said:—

“Did ye see her, Crimmy?”

“I did,” replied Crimmins, swallowing the whiskey at a gulp.

“An' she'll come in wid us, will she?”

“She will, will she? She'll come in nothin'. I jollied her about her flowers, and thought I had her dead ter rights, when she up an' asked me what we was a-goin' to do for her if she jined, an' afore I could tell her she opens the front door and gives me the dead cold.”

“Fired ye?” exclaimed McGaw incredulously.

“I'm givin' it to ye straight, Dan; an' she pulled a gun on me, too,”—telling the lie with perfect composure. “That woman's no slouch, or I don't know 'em. One thing ye can bet yer bottom dollar on—all h—- can't
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"I'm givin' it to ye straight, Dan

scare her. We've got to try some other way.”

It was the peculiarly fertile quality of Crimmins's imagination that made him so valuable to some of his friends.

When the conspirators reached the door, neither Crimmins nor his father was in a talkative mood, and Billy heard nothing. They lingered a moment on the sill, within a foot of his head as he lay in a cramped position below, and then they sauntered out, his father bareheaded, to the stable-yard. There McGaw leaned upon a cart-wheel, listening dejectedly to Crimmins, who seemed to be outlining a plan of some kind, which at intervals lightened the gloom of McGaw's despair, judging from the expression of his father's face. Then he turned hurriedly to the house, cursed his wife because he could not find his big fur cap, and started across to the village. Billy followed, keeping a safe distance behind.

Tom after Patsy's sad experience forbade him the streets, and never allowed him out of her sight unless Cully or her father were with him. She knew a storm was gathering, and she was watching the clouds and waiting for the first patter of rain. When it came she intended that every one of her people should be under cover. She had sent for Carl and her two stablemen, and told them that if they were dissatisfied in any way she wanted to know it at once. If the wages she was paying were not enough, she was willing to raise them, but she wanted them distinctly to understand that as she had built up the business herself, she was the only one who had a right to manage it, adding that she would rather clean and drive the horses herself than be dictated to by any person outside. She said that she saw trouble brewing, and knew that her men would feel it first. They must look out for themselves coming home late at night. At the brewery strike, two years before, hardly a day passed that some of the non-union men were not beaten into insensibility.

That night Carl came back again to the porch door, and in his quiet, earnest way said: “We have t'ink 'bout da Union. Da men not go—not laik da union man. We not 'fraid”—tapping his hip-pocket, where, sailor-like, he always carried his knife sheathed in a leather case.

Tom's eyes kindled as she looked into his manly face. She loved pluck and grit. She knew the color of the blood running in this young fellow's veins.

Week after week passed, and though now and then she caught the mutterings of distant thunder, as Cully or some of the others overheard a remark on the ferry-boat or about the post-office, no other signs of the threatened storm were visible.

Then it broke.

One morning an important-looking envelope lay in her letter-box. It was long and puffy, and was stamped in the upper corner with a picture of a brewery in full operation. One end bore an inscription addressed to the postmaster, stating that in case Mr. Thomas Grogan was not found within ten days, it should be returned to Schwartz & Co., Brewers.

The village post-office had several other letter-boxes, faced with glass, so that the contents of each could be seen from the outside. Two of these contained similar envelopes, looking equally important, one being addressed to McGaw.

When he had called for his mail, the close resemblance between the two envelopes seen in the letter-boxes set McGaw to thinking. Actual scrutiny through the glass revealed the picture of the brewery on each. He knew then that Tom had been asked to bid for the brewery hauling. That night a special meeting of the Union was called at eight o'clock. Quigg, Crimmins, and McGaw signed the call.

“Hully gee, what a wad!” said Cully, when the postmaster passed Tom's big letter out to him. One of Cully's duties was to go for the mail.

When Pop broke the seal in Tom's presence,—one of Pop's duties was to open what Cully brought,—out dropped a type-written sheet notifying Mr. Thomas Grogan that sealed proposals would be received up to March 1st for “unloading, hauling, and delivering to the bins of the Eagle Brewery” so many tons of coal and malt, together with such supplies, etc. There were also blank forms in duplicate to be duly filled up with the price and signature of the bidder. This contract was given out once a year. Twice before it had been awarded to Thomas Grogan. The year before a man from Stapleton had bid lowest, and had done the work. McGaw and his friends complained that it took the bread out of Rockville's mouth; but as the bidder belonged to the Union, no protest could be made.

The morning after the meeting of the Union, McGaw went to New York by the early boat. He carried a letter from Pete Lathers, the yardmaster, to Crane & Co., of so potent a character that the coal-dealers agreed to lend McGaw five hundred dollars on his three-months' note, taking a chattel mortgage on his teams and carts as security, the money to be paid McGaw as soon as the papers were drawn. McGaw, in return, was to use his “pull” to get a permit from the village trustees for the free use of the village dock by Crane & Co. for discharging their Rockville coal. This would save Crane half a mile to haul. It was this promise made by McGaw which really turned the scale in his favor. To hustle successfully it was often necessary for Crane to cut some sharp corners.

This dock, as McGaw knew perfectly well, had been leased to another party—the Fertilizing Company—for two years, and could not possibly be placed at Crane's disposal. But he said nothing of this to Crane.

When the day of payment to McGaw arrived, Dempsey of the executive committee and Walking Delegate Quigg met McGaw at the ferry on his return from New York. McGaw had Crane's money in his pocket. That night he paid two hundred dollars into the Union, two hundred to his feed-man on an account long overdue, and the balance to Quigg in a poker game in the back room over O'Leary's bar.

Tom also had an interview with Mr. Crane shortly after his interview with McGaw. Something she said about the dock having been leased to the Fertilizing Company caused Crane to leave his chair in a hurry, and ask his clerk in an angry voice if McGaw had yet been paid the money on his chattel mortgage. When his cashier showed him the stub of the check, dated two days before, Crane slammed the door behind him, his teeth set tight, little puffs of profanity escaping between the openings. As he walked with Tom to the door, he said:—

“Send your papers up, Tom, I'll go bond any day in the year for you, and for any amount; but I'll get even with McGaw for that lie he told me about the dock, if it takes my bank account.”

The annual hauling contract for the brewery, which had become an important one in Rockville, its business having nearly doubled in the last few years, was of special value to Tom at this time, and she determined to make every effort to secure it.

Pop filled up the proposal in his round, clear hand, and Tom signed it, “Thomas Grogan, Rockville, Staten Island.” Then Pop witnessed it, and Mr. Crane, a few days later, duly inscribed the firm's name under the clause reserved for bondsmen. After that Tom brought the bid home, and laid it on the shelf over her bed.

Everything was now ready for the fight.

The bids were to be opened at noon in the office of the brewery.

By eleven o'clock the hangers-on and idlers began to lounge into the big yard paved with cobblestones. At half past eleven McGaw got out of a buggy, accompanied by Quigg. At a quarter to twelve Tom, in her hood and ulster, walked rapidly through the gate, and, without as much as a look at the men gathered about the office door, pushed her way into the room. Then she picked up a chair and, placing it against the wall, sat down. Sticking out of the breast pocket of her ulster was the big envelope containing her bid.

Five minutes before the hour the men began filing in one by one, awkwardly uncovering their heads, and standing in one another's way. Some, using their hats as screens, looked over the rims. When the bids were being gathered up by the clerk, Dennis Quigg handed over McGaw's. The ease with which Dan had raised the money on his notes had invested that gentleman with some of the dignity and attributes of a capitalist; the hired buggy and the obsequious Quigg indicated this. His new position was strengthened by the liberal way in which he had portioned out his possessions to the workingman. It was further sustained by the hope that he might perhaps repeat his generosities in the near future.

At twelve o'clock precisely Mr. Schwartz, a round, bullet-headed German, entered the room, turned his revolving-chair, and began to cut the six envelopes heaped up before him on his desk, reading the prices aloud as he opened them in succession, the clerk recording. The first four were from parties in outside villages. Then came McGaw's:—

“Forty-nine cents for coal, etc.”

So far he was lowest. Quigg twisted his hat nervously, and McGaw's coarse face grew red and white by turns.

Tom's bid was the last.

“Thomas Grogan, Rockville, S. I., thirty-eight cents for coal, etc.”

“Gentlemen,” said Mr. Schwartz, quietly, “Thomas Grogan gets the hauling.”