THE STORY OF LEATHER
SARA WARE BASSETT
Author of "The Story of Lumber" "The Story of Wool" "The Story of Glass" "The Story of Sugar" "The Story of Silk" "The Story of Porcelain"
Illustrated by C. P. Gray
The Penn Publishing Company Philadelphia 1927
Copyright 1915 by The Penn Publishing Company
The Story of Leather
To Mr. A. C. Lawrence whose friendship has followed me all my life and but for whose kindly aid this book could never have been written. S. W. B.
I. THE THUNDERBOLT 9 II. PETER WINS ANOTHER NAME 28 III. A NEW FRIEND 51 IV. PETER'S MAIDEN SPEECH 70 V. A CATASTROPHE 97 VI. TWO PETERS AND WHICH WON 112 VII. THE CLIMB UP THE LADDER 133 VIII. A NARROW ESCAPE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 151 IX. PETER AIDS IN A SURPRISE AND RECEIVES ONE 172 X. THE CLIMB BECOMES DIFFICULT 186 XI. TOLMAN EXPERIENCES A SHOCK 209 XII. MR. CODDINGTON TELLS A STORY 225
PAGE THE REVOLVING DRUMS Frontispiece A MATCH WAS UNDER WAY 47 "MAY I SPEAK, SIR?" 90 IN THE FINISHING DEPARTMENT 137 THE THREE MEN STEPPED FORWARD 164 HE SENT THE MAN SPINNING INTO THE CROWD 219
THE STORY OF LEATHER
Peter Coddington sat in the afternoon sunshine on the steps of his big colonial home looking absently out over the circular drive, and the quaint terraced garden, to the red-tiled roof of the garage beyond. But he was not thinking of the garage; he could not, in fact, even have told you the color of its vivid tiling. No! He had far more important things to think of than that—disquieting things which worried him and made him very unhappy. For about the twentieth time he took from his pocket his school report and ran his eye down the column of figures written upon the white card. He did not read because the reading gave him pleasure. Neither was the bit of pasteboard white any more. Instead it was thumbed and worn at the corners until it had gradually assumed a dismal grayish hue—a color quite in harmony with Peter's own mood.
Peter really did not need to look at the report at all, for already he could close his eyes and see before him in glaring type:
Algebra 40 History 20 Latin 30 French 30 Drawing 25
What a horrible fascination there was in those marks! He found himself repeating them aloud to impress upon his mind the fact that they actually were true. But what was far more tragic than these testimonials of defeat was a foot-note written in red ink in the well-known hand of Mr. Christopher, the principal of the school. It read:
"In consequence of Peter Coddington's poor scholarship and unsatisfactory deportment it is against the rules of the Milburn High School that he retain any position in school athletics until such time as both his studies and his conduct reach the standard required by the school authorities."
It was that single sentence that made Peter's face so grave. The marks alone were bad enough. He was heartily ashamed of them because he knew that if he had studied even a reasonable amount of time he could easily have passed in every subject. It was by no means difficult work for a boy of his ability. But to be put off the ball team! Why, it was on his pitching that the whole Milburn school was pinning its faith in the coming game against Leighton Academy. "Peter will save the day!" the fellows had declared. What would they say when they discovered that their hero was to be dropped from the team—that he had not passed one of the freshman examinations?
Half the pride and glory of the freshman class centered about Peter. Throughout the grammar school he had made a wonderful record in athletics; his unerring drop kick had won him fame at football long before he was out of the sixth grade, and he could pitch a ball with a speed and curve almost professional in its nicety. "Wait until Peter Coddington gets into the high school!" had been the cry. "Milburn can then wipe up the ground with every school within reach." As Peter had never been much of a student the gate of this temple of learning had been difficult to reach; but at last the day came when he managed to squeak inside the coveted portals where all the honors promised him were at once laid at his feet. He became a member of the football eleven, pitcher on the freshman nine, president of his class. Friends swarmed about him, for he had a pleasant way of greeting everybody, he treated generously, and he had a winsome little chuckle that spread merriment wherever he went.
None of these qualities, however, helped his poor scholarship, which he jauntily excused by explaining to his father at the end of the first quarter that he had not really got into the game yet. In consequence Mr. Coddington listened and was patient. When the mid-year record dropped even lower Peter's argument was that it took time to adjust one's self to novel conditions. But as spring brought no improvement Mr. Coddington, a man of few words, remarked severely: "I will give you one more chance, son."
The list of figures in Peter's hand were the fruit of that chance.
Peter had a wholesome awe of his father. He was not a man to be bamboozled. On the contrary Mr. Coddington was a keen, direct person who came straight to a point in a few terse sentences; predominant in his character was an unflinching sense of justice which was, however, fortunately tempered with enough kindness to make a misdoer mortified but never afraid in his presence. Peter admired his father tremendously and if for one reason more than another because he was so "square." Never during all the span of the lad's fifteen years could he recall a single instance when Mr. Coddington had broken his word. It was this knowledge that made Peter so uncomfortable as he glanced once more at the bedraggled report card. What had his father meant by saying he would grant him one more chance?
The boy wished now that he had considered the matter in a more serious light. He had known all along that his marks were dropping behind, and every morning he had vaguely resolved to make a spurt that day so that when examination time came he might cross the tape neck and neck with if not in advance of the other fellows. The promised spurt, however, had not been made. Instead he had drifted along, studying only enough to keep his head above water and putting all his zeal into tennis or baseball until the present climax with its direful calamity had been reached.
Unquestionably it was perfectly fair that he should forfeit his place on the team. All the boys knew the rule of the school. But somehow it did not seem real. When a fellow could kick a goal and pitch a ball as he could something must surely intervene to prevent such a fate. Nothing dreadful had ever happened to Peter before. It was not likely, he argued optimistically, that it could happen now. Considerably cheered by this logic he slipped his grimy report into its still more grimy envelope and began to whistle. Buoyed up by comfortable reveries he whistled fully five minutes, when the tune came to an abrupt end. A step on the gravel had arrested it. Looking around Peter saw his father coming along the drive toward him.
"Not at the game to-day, Peter?" exclaimed the elder man in surprise.
"How is that?"
"I did not feel like going, Father."
"Not feel like going! Why, that's something new for you. You're not sick?"
Peter was conscious of a swift scrutiny.
"I'm worried about something," he blurted out.
"I'm sorry to hear that, my boy. What is the trouble? Grass stains on your new white tennis flannels?"
Peter shook his head in reply to the smiling question.
"It is a real trouble this time," he answered.
Silently he drew from his pocket the crumpled envelope which he handed to his father. As Mr. Coddington took out the card and scanned it rapidly the quizzical expression that had lighted his face gave way to a frown of displeasure.
"Well?" he questioned.
"I'm mighty sorry, Father," began Peter. "You see I kept thinking I would make up my work before the exams came; but somehow I have been hustling more for the baseball championship than——"
A curt question cut short further apologies:
"Your studies have not been too difficult for you, then?"
"Oh, no. I can easily make them up with a tutor," was the eager response. "I guess if you ask Mr. Christopher he will let me take the examinations over again before school closes and the next time——"
"There is to be no next time," put in his father quietly.
"Wh-a-t—do—you mean, sir?"
"You will see."
Without another word the older man turned away. Peter saw him walk to the garage, and a few moments later the motor-car shot past, spun down the drive, and the music of its siren horn announced that it was turning into the street. Where had his father gone so suddenly?
He had but just come home, and it was never his custom to dash off in such an abrupt fashion. It was easy to see that he was annoyed about the school report. That was not strange—of course he would be. Peter was himself. But at least Mr. Coddington had not lost his place as pitcher of a ball team, and since he hadn't there seemed to be no reason why he should be so cut up. Then an inspiration came to the boy. Perhaps his father had gone to demand that Mr. Christopher take his son back on the nine. Ah, that must be it! His father was much interested in athletics Peter knew, and when in college had pulled the winning shell to a spectacular victory for his Alma Mater. His father would never stand by and see the star pitcher of the Milburn High School swept off the team just because of a few failures in Latin, algebra, and other such rubbish.
Peter drew a sigh of relief.
Yes, his fortunate star would rise again; he was confident of it. All would yet be well. He would tutor up for the examinations, pass them gloriously, and win back his place on the team. None of the fellows need be the wiser. His father would fix it up—nay, he probably was fixing it up at this very moment.
Until dusk Peter waited anxiously for the sound of the motor's return.
It was nearly seven when over the gravel rolled the heavy rubber-tired wheels that announced Mr. Coddington's arrival. The boy sat in precisely the spot where his father had left him and after alighting from the car the elder man made his way toward the motionless figure sitting so still in the June twilight.
"I have been to see Mr. Christopher," began Mr. Coddington when he came within speaking distance, "and have made all the arrangements for your future career."
Eagerly Peter looked up.
"I'm going back on the team?" he cried joyously.
"You are going to work!" was the sharp retort.
"I have been very busy during the last two hours," continued Mr. Coddington. "I have got for you the first, last, and only job I shall ever get. It is up to you now."
"But I don't understand," protested Peter, aghast.
"Why not? It is not a difficult thing to comprehend. You have fooled away your days and my money long enough. Life is a serious business—not a game. It is time you took it in earnest. To-morrow morning at eight o'clock you are going to work, and you must make good at the position I've found for you, or you will lose your place. If you do I shall not lift a finger to help you to find another."
A great lump rose in Peter's throat but he managed to choke it back.
"Where am I going?" he gasped when he was able to speak.
"To the tannery," was the laconic reply.
If the clouds had fallen or the earth opened Peter could not have been more astounded.
Of course he knew his father owned the vast tanneries to the west of the town, for that was the reason the Coddingtons lived at Milburn instead of migrating to the near-by city, as had so many of their prosperous neighbors; but beyond the fact that it was the tanneries which indirectly provided him with tennis racquets, skates, bicycles, motor-cars, and spending money Peter knew nothing about them. They were red brick buildings covering a wide area, and from their doors at noon and night hundreds of workmen with lunch-boxes and newspaper bundles poured out into the streets. Peter never spoke of the tanneries. Even when, on the highway, he encountered the heavy carts laden with hides and marked "H. M. Coddington, Leather," he always looked the other way and hurried past as fast as he could. Occasionally in hot weather when the wind was in a certain quarter and brought a faint odor from the beamhouses into the fashionable part of the town where Peter lived their neighbors complained, and the boy always felt with a vague sense of mortification that everybody blamed him and his family for the annoyance. Sometimes this breath of damp, steamy leather even forced itself in at the windows of the Coddington library and mingled shamelessly with the rich hangings and paintings that furnished it. Peter always resented the intrusion. How dare it follow them there!
Mr. Coddington, on the other hand, although not reveling in the unpleasant tannery smells, had a sincere respect for the industry which furnished him his living, not only because it enabled him to provide his family with a luxurious home, but also because he regarded it as a life-work that was well worth the doing. Was he not giving to the world a necessity which it could not do without? It was a self-respecting trade. Therefore why should he not feel there was dignity in the long buildings with their whirring wheels, their hundreds of busy workmen, and their ponderous green trucks which, loaded with skins, ever rumbled back and forth through the main street? His pride was the more justifiable since alone, and aided only by his brain and his perseverance, he himself had built up this mighty industry which had become the chief support of the flourishing little New England town. Milburn, in fact, had grown up around the business that he had founded. From the lowest rung of the ladder he had worked his way up to the highest. The climb had been no easy one. On the contrary it had been hard work. How could he help but feel a pride—nay, an affection, even, for the great throbbing world of labor which he had created, and which furnished thousands of people with homes, food and clothing!
Since this was his point of view it naturally was impossible for him to appreciate the horror that his words brought to the boy who sat on the steps beside him. Peter knew his father too well to offer protest at the judgment that his own misdeeds had brought. It was a perfectly fair retribution. Moreover, he had been warned—Peter clearly recalled the fact now. But he had rushed blindly on, not heeding the warning.
"The tannery?" he at last repeated aloud.
"Yes. That is where I began, Peter, and it won't hurt you to do the same."
"Shan't I go back to school at all?"
"Not for the present."
"And the school team——"
"It must get on without you as best it may."
Peter fought to keep back the tears.
"Will everybody know?" he faltered after a pause.
"No. I simply told Mr. Christopher that I had decided to take you out of school. He knows nothing more, nor does any one else. Now, Peter, I do not wish you to take this as a punishment." Stooping, Mr. Coddington put his hand kindly on the lad's shoulder. "In so far as it is the consequence of misspent, wasted time it is, to be sure, a punishment; none of us can escape the direct results of our own actions. In another sense, however, it is merely a fresh opportunity—a chance to substitute success for failure, to make good at a different kind of work. It is in this light that you must try and regard it, son. I want to make a man of you if I can. I must make a man of you. You are the only child I have, and if I stand by and allow you to make a fizzle of your life I shall be quite as much to blame as you. Remember that unhappy as you are this affair is costing me something, too."
There was a break in Mr. Coddington's voice.
As the boy raised his head and looked into the face bending over him he read in it an expression quite new—a softness and sympathy that he had never before caught in the gray eyes which, but a moment previous, had regarded him so sternly.
As a result when Peter answered much of the bitterness had crept out of his tone.
"I suppose all the men at the factory will have to know who I am," he reflected.
"I'm afraid so. I see no way that that can be avoided," assented his father.
"I hate to have them. They will all be grinning over the knowledge that I was put into the factories because I flunked at school. Isn't there any way to prevent their knowing? Couldn't I take another name when I go into the tannery and let them think I am somebody else?"
Mr. Coddington mused a few seconds before answering.
"Why, yes," he replied meditatively, "I suppose it could be done. Nobody knows you at the works, so there would be no danger of your being recognized. My plan to send you there I have kept to myself. You could easily enter under some other name if you chose. You must consider, however, that if you decide to go in simply as an ordinary boy I shall not be able to help you much; nor can you expect to be favored in any way by the men. You would have to stand on your own feet and take your own chances." Again Mr. Coddington ruminated. "That might not be a bad idea, either," he observed, half aloud.
"Oh, I would so much rather take another name, Father," pleaded Peter.
But Mr. Coddington did not heed the interruption; he was still thinking.
"I do not mean to stand behind you after you are in the tannery, anyway," he went on. "In every department there is a foreman to whom you will be accountable—not to me. Nor must you come running home and here report every real or fancied injustice. So far as business goes I am the president of the company and you are simply a boy in my employ. Out of working hours we will be father and son and will enjoy our drives, walks, and reading together just as we have in the past. One rule, however, must be strictly adhered to—we will not talk shop."
"I understand, sir," nodded Peter.
"Now just a last word," concluded Mr. Coddington. "To-morrow morning you must be prompt at the works. Eight o'clock is the hour you are to present yourself and that does not mean before eight or after eight; it means on the stroke of eight. You will carry a luncheon which your mother will see is put up for you. You are to hand to Mr. Tyler, the superintendent of Factory 1, a card bearing my signature and you are to say to him that you are the boy I telephoned him about. He does not know who you are, but he understands that I am interested in you and he will start you in wherever he thinks best. On the card I shall write your name—and by the by"—a smile flitted over Mr. Coddington's face—"what is your name to be?"
Peter hesitated; then his lips curved into a faint reflection of his father's merriment.
"I think I will enter the tannery as Peter Strong," he answered.
PETER WINS ANOTHER NAME
The next morning when, at half-past six, the small alarm clock at his bedside shot off with metallic clangor Peter raised himself drowsily on his elbow and glanced about. What had happened? What was all this jangling about? In a second more, however, he recollected. This was the day when school, fun, and friends were to be left behind, and when he was to set forth into a new world. He was going to work! Slowly, unwillingly, with a vague sinking at heart, he dragged himself to his feet and listened. It was very still. All the world appeared to have stopped and the only being alive in the great universe seemed to be himself. He prepared to dress. Half automatically he turned on the shower-bath. The chill of the cold water sent a tingle over him and quickened his awakening faculties. Pulling on his clothes he crept down over the stairs. It was bad enough to have to get up at this unearthly hour himself; he at least need not disturb the rest of the household. Of course his father would get up and start him off.
But to Peter's surprise nothing of this sort happened. Instead he sat down alone in the big dining-room to a forlorn breakfast, at the conclusion of which the waitress laid on the table beside him a carefully packed lunch-box. Now Peter detested taking a lunch. Whenever he went with his parents on motor trips or train journeys the family always stopped at hotels for their meals or patronized the dining-cars. It seemed such a vulgar thing to open a box and in the gaze of lookers on devour one's food out of it. Accordingly he eyed the lunch-box with disdain, mentally arguing that although he must, out of gratitude to his mother's thoughtfulness, carry it, he certainly should not open it. He would far rather go hungry than eat a lunch from a box!
On the porch still another unpleasant feature of this going to work greeted him. No motor-car, panting like a hound on the leash, stood waiting to carry him to the factory. Evidently his father had made no provision for him to get to the tannery. He must walk! So entirely unforeseen was this development that the boy stood a moment irresolute. It was a good mile to the tan yards; he had had no notion of walking, and there was now but scant time in which to cover the distance. Perhaps his father had forgotten to order the car. Peter had half a mind not to go. After all what difference would it make whether he went to-day or to-morrow? In fact, why wasn't it better to delay until to-morrow when he could be sure of not being late? He vacillated uneasily. Then the thought of what his father would say when he came down to breakfast and found that his son had not gone decided Peter.
Down two steps at a time he dashed and set out over the gravel drive with the even jog of a track sprinter. On he went. Running in the June sunshine was hot work; nevertheless, hat in hand, he kept up the pace. He must be there promptly at eight, his father had told him. He could feel tiny streams of perspiration trickling down his back, and he sensed that his collar was wilting into a limp band of flimsy linen. Still he ran on. Eight was just on the stroke when he presented himself at the office of Factory 1.
A stout man bending over a ledger at a desk near the door eyed the panting lad with disapproval.
"What do you want?" he demanded sharply. "Boys are not admitted in this office."
"I want to see Mr. Tyler," gasped Peter.
"Well, you can't," the bookkeeper responded acidly. "He's busy. If you are wanting a job I can tell you right now that there are none to be had. We have more boys already than we know what to do with. You better not wait. It won't do any good."
"But I must see Mr. Tyler," persisted Peter. "My fa—— I was told to give him this card."
"Why didn't you say you had a card in the first place?" was the gruff question. "Give it here. You can sit down on that bench and wait."
As the accountant held out his hand Peter delivered up the card.
"Peter Strong—hump!" read the bookkeeper. "Sent by—oh, you're sent by Mr. Coddington, are you? Some relative of his, perhaps."
"Mr. Coddington said I was to present the card to Mr. Tyler," Peter answered, ignoring the implied query.
"He shall have it right away, Strong. You'll excuse my brusqueness. I did not understand that you were sent here. We have so many young boys applying for work that we have to pack them off in short order," explained the man glibly.
It was evident that he was not a little discomfited at the chill reception he had accorded Peter, for he anxiously continued to reiterate excuses and apologies. Fortunately in the midst of his explanations an electric bell beside his desk rang and cut him short.
"That is Mr. Tyler now," he murmured. "I'll take in your card right away."
Peter watched him as he hurried down the center of the long room and disappeared into a little glass cage in the corner.
It was an oblong room in which reigned the din of typewriters. Over against the farther wall a dozen or more men were bending so intently over heavy, leather-bound ledgers that it seemed as if they must have sat in that exact spot from the beginning of the world, adding, adding, adding! Vacantly the lad's eye wandered along to the space just opposite him where, framed in neat oak, hung a printed notice headed: "Labor Laws of the State of Massachusetts." For the want of a better amusement Peter sauntered over and began to read. The length of the working day, he gathered, was ten hours except for boys under sixteen, whom the law forbade working longer than eight hours. A smile passed over the lad's face. Eight hours was surely long enough—from eight until twelve, and from one until five. What if he had been sixteen instead of fifteen, and been forced to get to the tannery at seven o'clock in the morning and work until six at night! There must be boys who did. For the first time in his life Peter was thankful that he was no older.
Just at this moment he saw the bookkeeper returning.
"If you please, Strong," said the older man with a deference that contrasted markedly with his former greeting, "will you step this way? Mr. Tyler is expecting you."
Peter followed through the central aisle of the long room and entered the small, glass-enclosed space where a man surrounded by a chaos of papers and letters was sitting at a roll-top desk.
"This, Mr. Tyler, is young Strong," announced the bookkeeper to the superintendent.
"I am glad to see you, Strong."
So sharply did his eye sweep over Peter that the boy trembled lest this oracle suddenly announce:
"I know all about you. Your name is not Strong at all. You are Peter Coddington, and you have been sent to the mill because you flunked your examinations."
Nothing of the sort happened, however. The superintendent merely remarked with a nod: "That will do, Carter. You may go."
Peter heard the latch click as Mr. Carter went out.
"Well, young man, so you want a job in the tannery?" were Mr. Tyler's next words.
"Mr. Coddington telephoned me about you. He told me that you are entirely inexperienced and with no knowledge of the business. I should say the only thing for you to do is to begin at the very bottom of the ladder, if you want to make anything of yourself."
"I suppose so, sir."
The superintendent tilted back in his chair and carefully studied the lad before him.
"You look able-bodied."
"Oh, yes, sir."
"Not afraid of work?"
"I don't mind working if I like what I'm doing, sir," he replied with naive truthfulness.
It was obvious that the honest reply pleased Mr. Tyler.
"I guess that is the way with many of us, Strong," he laughed. "But if you are to have a position here you will have to stick at your work whether you like it or not."
"I mean to try to."
"That's the proper spirit. You are not afraid of getting your hands dirty?"
Peter laughed contemptuously. Later he remembered that laugh and smiled grimly at his own ignorance.
Mr. Tyler seemed satisfied.
"Well, I can set you to work right away unloading skins," he said. "We are short-handed and can use a boy to advantage. Are you over sixteen?"
"No, sir, I am fifteen."
"That's bad. I don't like to take these eight-hour boys. The time we want workmen most is in the early morning and at closing time. Those are the very hours you under-age fellows are not here. However, since you have come at Mr. Coddington's recommendation we'll have to get on without you the best way we can. Strong, your name is! Do you know Mr. Coddington personally?"
"I've known him all my life," was the reply.
"Then you know an honest, upright gentleman," declared Mr. Tyler warmly. "His friendship is well worth having and a possession to be proud of. Take care you do not disappoint him."
"I do not mean to disappoint him," was Peter's quick reply. "He told me, though, that after he got me the place he should not do anything more for me. I've got to make good myself. He's the president of the company and I am just a boy in the works."
Unconsciously the lad repeated his father's very words.
"That's right. That's the way to go at it," the superintendent assented cordially. "It is very kind of Mr. Coddington to bother his head about you at all, for he is such a busy man that he has more things to remember in a day than most of the rest of us have ever thought of in all our lives. After you once get in here he, of course, can't take the time to follow you up. Having done you the favor of giving you a start he will drop you from his mind. You cannot expect anything else and I am glad you have common sense enough to see it."
At the thought of his father "dropping him from his mind" Peter smiled inwardly. Of course Mr. Tyler could not see the smile, and even if he had he would not have understood it. As it was he now cut short the interview by touching a bell at his elbow in response to which a messenger appeared.
"Take this boy down to the yard, Johnson," he said. "Introduce him to Carmachel and tell him he is to help unload skins. His name is Strong. Good luck to you, young man. Remember the world is a large place and there are plenty of fine positions waiting for the men who prove themselves big enough to fill them."
Peter took the superintendent's hand but he forgot to answer. Somehow Mr. Tyler's words awakened a train of thoughts which were so entirely new that he could not immediately drive them from his mind. So the great universe of work demanded that you should fill your position, not rattle round in it! The mere fact that one had a rich father did not help much then after all. It might aid you in keeping your job, to be sure, but it could not aid you in doing it. Evidently at the Coddington tanneries there were plenty of men ready to take your chance if you were not smart enough to hold on to it yourself. Peter decided that it behooved him to "hustle." It was a novel sensation to feel this spur to action.
As he thus philosophized he was following his guide, who now turned down a flight of steep steps into a yard slippery with black mud and deeply rutted by the wheels of heavy wagons. A double track with a row of freight cars flanked the building opposite, and from these cars a group of men were unloading bundles of skins and tossing them on the platform. The men were dressed in faded jumpers and overalls and some of them wore rubber aprons.
They glanced up an instant as Peter drew near.
"Carmachel," called the man who was showing the way, "this young fellow is to help at unloading and later, the boss says, he is to watch you fellows sort skins. He is a green lad and," added the messenger with a grin of enjoyment at some joke that Peter did not at all comprehend, "his name is Strong."
Carmachel, a grizzled Irishman, looked up—a twinkle in his eye.
"It's Strong he'll have to be if he is to work here," he answered with a chuckle in which the others joined. "I say, young one," he continued kindly, "you're not figuring on unloading skins in those clothes, are you?"
"I was," replied Peter, nodding.
"Well, before you begin, you better have another think. It will be the end of your glad rags. It's truth I'm tellin' you. Step inside the doorway and wriggle yourself into those brown jeans you'll see hangin' there."
Peter went in.
He took down the jeans from a peg behind the door. The clothes were dirty, sticky with salt, and in them lingered a loathsome aroma of wet hides. Instinctively he shrank from touching them. Then, gritting his teeth, he put them on. This he did more out of appreciation for the rough kindliness of the old Irishman than because he feared to injure his clothes; his father would give him plenty more suits if that one was spoiled.
When he went out on the platform Carmachel eyed him.
"That's more like it," he said. "Now get busy. We want to pull these cars out of the yard by noon. Step lively."
Peter crossed the wet, slippery platform to the car where the other men were working. The skins were folded neatly and tied with stout cord. He lifted the bundle nearest at hand, then dropped it. It was solid, sticky, and damp.
"They're wet!" he exclaimed.
"For certain they're wet!" roared the Irishman with a noisy guffaw. "You're as green as the skins themselves—greener, for you are not even salted."
The gang on the platform shouted at the joke.
Peter's anger rose, but he struggled to take their chaffing in good part.
"You see, I don't know a thing about all this business," confessed he, frankly. "You fellows who do will have to tell me."
The answer struck the right note with the men.
"How could you be expected to know, sonny?" called a red-faced Swede kindly. "Every boy who comes into the tannery has to learn."
"Pitch a few skins out of the car, lad, while I tell you some things," broke in Carmachel. "You are unloading calfskins; that's the only kind we tan at Factory 1. Over at Factory 2 they tan sheepskins, and at Factory 3 cowhides. In each of these factories the skins are treated and prepared for the trade quite differently, as you will learn by and by if you have the chance to go through the other buildings. These calfskins that we are unloading came from the Chicago slaughter-houses, where as soon as they were taken off the animals they were salted; folded with the head, tail, and small parts inside; tied in bales such as you see; and shipped. They are what we call green-salted. We also get green-salted skins from the abattoirs of the city of Paris, and from lots of other places, too. Sometimes, though, skins are salted green and are then dried like those you saw piled up in the shed; those we call dry-salted. They came from Norway, Sweden, and South America. Then we have dry hides which are dried without being salted at all. Remember now—green-salted, dry-salted, and dry."
Peter repeated the terms.
At the same time he did his share in tossing the heavy bales of moist skins to the platform. It was strenuous work. Before an hour was up his back and arms ached with the unaccustomed exercise. Tennis and football were as nothing to this! Still he went on uncomplainingly. His unflagging energy appealed to the men.
"Knock off, lad, and rest a bit," called Carmachel at last. "You're not toughened to this job as we are. It's a precious lame back you'll have to-morrow if you keep at it like this the first time."
Gratefully Peter straightened up and took a long breath. Then he glanced at his hands.
"You'll be losing your gentlemanly white hands, if that's what's worrying you," grinned Carmachel, reading his thoughts with disconcerting keenness.
"Oh, I'm not afraid of my hands," replied Peter, mortified at being detected in such a foolish reflection. "I was just thinking that they are beginning to look the part."
"If you are aiming to work up through the tannery they'll likely look the part more by the time you've got a few coats of lime and blacking on them," was Carmachel's dry response. "Now we'll let the others finish this work. You come inside and you shall have a new job. You've done enough unloading for your first day."
Obediently Peter followed into the shed, where other men were busy cutting the cords from round the skins, looking them over, and tossing some into one pile and some into another.
"These fellows that you see are sorting the calfskins according to their weight," explained Carmachel. "We get them flat—by that I mean that when the bales are made up all sizes and qualities of skins are tied in together. These men put the fine, heavy ones in one pile, the medium weight in another, the light weight in another, the imperfect ones in another, and so on."
"I do not see how they can tell so quickly," said Peter.
"They couldn't if they hadn't done it a good many times before. They are skilled men. Watch them. It does not take them many minutes to determine the value of a skin."
"And what are those other men doing?" Peter questioned, pointing to a group of workmen who were engaged in swiftly cutting off parts of the skins with long knives.
"Oh, they are taking off the heads and other good-for-nothing parts which are sold for glue stock. Nothing is wasted in a tannery, let me tell you! After the skins leave this room they will be sent to the beamhouse, where they will be soaked in water until all the dirt and salt is out of them. Usually this takes from twenty-four to forty-eight hours."
"What's the beamhouse?" was Peter's query.
"The beamhouse? I'll not be telling you. 'Twould be a sin to spoil your first sight of it." Carmachel shook his head. "No, young one, I'll tell you nothing of the beamhouse. You'll find out in time. There's many a pleasant spot awaiting you in this tannery."
A general snicker went around.
Again Peter did not understand.
"Now," declared Carmachel briskly, "you have idled long enough. Take that knife and go to cutting the twine from those bales of skins."
At this task the boy worked faithfully until the noon whistle blew. At its first blast all the men dropped what they were doing and Peter, who did the same, followed them into a washroom, where he scoured his hands with sand soap. Somehow he did not feel as scornful toward his box of lunch as he had when he had tucked it under his arm in the early morning. Instead he made his way out into the vacant field opposite where he saw the men congregating, and sitting down in the shade of one of the factories, lifted the tin cover with keenest anticipation. How good it seemed to rest, and how faint he was! He devoured the food hurriedly with the quick greed of hunger. He then glanced about him. Some boys and men were sauntering with bat and ball out into the open field. Apparently a noontide game was a part of the daily program, for two nines were quickly organized and a match was under way in the twinkling of an eye. The other workmen drew near to watch the play and so did Peter. He wondered how any one could summon energy enough to toss a ball. They couldn't be as tired as he was! The game began. Before it had proceeded beyond the first inning it was obvious that the teams were unevenly matched.
"It's the sheepskins against the calfskins—Factory 1 against Factory 2," explained a man at his elbow. "Factory 1 could do 'em if we had a decent pitcher. O'Brien, who is pitching, isn't much even when he's in the best of trim; to-day he happens to have a sprained finger, so he's worse than usual."
Instantly Peter was alert. Wasn't he Factory 1? He forgot his fatigue—forgot everything except how it felt to pitch when one had a sprained finger.
"I can pitch a ball," he ventured modestly.
"Can you then? O'Brien!" bawled the man. "Here's a lad who says he can pitch. Give him a try, won't you?"
Despite aching muscles and tired back Peter suddenly found himself on the diamond with the ball in his hands. It was the first familiar experience that had come to him that day. His blood warmed. He sent a twirler over the plate and was greeted by a roar from the Factory 1 men. The ball dropped with a smack into the hands of the catcher.
Peter tried another.
He pitched a third.
Vainly the man at the bat tried to hit them.
"Three strikes and out!" called the umpire.
The crowd cheered.
On went the game.
"Who's pitching?" asked one man of another.
"Carmachel says his name is Strong," some one at last informed the workmen.
"Hurrah for little Strong!" yelled a big Swede.
"Three cheers for the Little Giant!" piped a shrill voice.
On every hand the cry was taken up.
"Three cheers for the Little Giant!"
Then suddenly the one o'clock whistle sounded. Peter came back to the realities of life. He dropped his gloves. Already, as if the earth had opened, players and audience had vanished. In through the waiting doors of the tanneries filed the men. But Peter Coddington had won a place for himself, and with it a new name. Henceforth throughout the works he was known as "The Little Giant."
A NEW FRIEND
For a week Peter worked patiently cutting ropes from freshly received shipments of skins, trimming the skins, and learning to sort them. Every night he went home exhausted after his day's work. Sometimes it was hard to realize that he was the same boy who, but a short time before, had jauntily sauntered out to play tennis every evening with his classmates. He couldn't have played tennis now had he tried, and he was not sorry when the rumor reached him that it was commonly reported at the high school that he had been sent away to a distant military academy. So that was the reason why the fellows had not hunted him up! Perhaps it was just as well. It saved many embarrassing questions, and he was much too worn out when night came to do anything but fall into his bed. Still he did not complain of his fatigue. He was too proud to do that. Moreover had he not brought the entire situation upon himself? He would swallow his medicine in silence.
But he knew from his mother's troubled questions; from her unusual care that his luncheon be tempting and nourishing; from the solicitous gaze she fixed on him that the present ordeal worried her not a little. Once he overheard her say to his father: "The boy isn't strong enough to stand it! He will be ill."
"Don't have any anxiety about Peter," was the retort. "The young scoundrel finds energy enough, I hear, to play ball with the men every noon time. He is the star pitcher of Factory 1." A chuckle came from the older man. "It is something of a joke, too," he continued, "for I thought I had put him beyond all possible range of a bat and ball. Don't fret any more about him. Let him alone. He is showing more pluck than I dreamed he possessed."
"But suppose he should overdo."
"He won't overdo."
And the prediction was true. Tired as he was every night Peter awoke in the morning entirely refreshed. The lameness of back and muscles soon wore away. At the end of the week, when he received his first pay envelope, no boy in the wide world ever felt as rich as he. Six dollars! Six dollars of his very own! To be sure his father had often given him twice that amount; but receiving it as a present was a vastly different matter from earning it.
"I mean to save up for a motorcycle," Peter declared. "Then I could ride to the tannery every day."
"So you could," agreed Mr. Coddington. "It is not a bad idea. Don't forget, though, that you will be needing clothes now and then. You spoke last night of wanting some flannel shirts to wear to work."
"Yes, but you——"
Mr. Coddington shook his head.
"I have bought your clothes up to this time," he answered, "but now that you have a salary of your own it is time you relieved me of that expense."
"Oh—of—of—course," Peter stammered. "I guess, though, I can get the motorcycle and pay for my clothes, too, without any trouble. How much do clothes cost?"
"Let me see!" Mr. Coddington took out a small expense book and turned its pages rapidly. "Clothing for Peter. Here it is. Last year I spent for you $638."
"For me! For my clothes?" gasped the boy. "Did I spend $638? Why, I had no idea of it! I could have gone without some of those overcoats and things as well as not if I had known they cost so much. That's an awful lot for a boy to spend, isn't it?"
"It's a plenty."
"Why, it's more than I will earn in a whole year."
"Yes, I am afraid it is—at least, for the present."
Peter was thoughtful.
"I can see that it's good-bye to the motorcycle," he said at last, disappointment in every feature.
With an impulsive gesture Mr. Coddington thrust his hand into the breast pocket where his check-book lay; then resolutely took out the hand and put it behind him.
"There seems to be no way but for you to do without a motorcycle for a while, son," he replied. "Do not be discouraged, though. You are now pretty well stocked with the necessary clothing and in consequence will not require many new things for some time. If you are not too proud to wear your old suits to work you can easily put aside some money each week."
"I do not care how old and shabby my clothes are," smiled Peter. "It does not make much difference what I wear to the tannery if I can just have some flannel shirts, overalls, and rubber boots. I've packed away my white tennis suits in moth-balls, you know, since I went into the mill."
They both laughed.
As flannel shirts and overalls were inexpensive and easily obtained, and as Peter already had rubber boots it was possible to begin the saving for the motorcycle without further delay.
In the meantime orders came that Strong was to leave his task of trimming skins and present himself at the beamhouse. Reluctantly he bade farewell to Carmachel and the other men—his first friends at the tannery—and on the following Monday morning he made his way into the long, low room where he had been told the skins were tanned. The room was a revelation, and a none too pleasant one at that! If he had thought the unloading and sorting department unsavory what should he say of this? The floor of the beamhouse was slippery with water, lime, and tanning solutions; unpleasant fumes of wet skins made heavy the air; revolving paddle-wheels suspended from the ceiling dripped upon the passer-by; and men, dragging saturated skins from vats in the floor, piled them in heaps where the water oozing from them trickled out into the general sloppiness and transformed the floor into a great shallow pool of moisture. Back and forth through this wetness moved workmen who, as they wheeled barrows of freshly tanned skins, left a wake of slime behind them. Peter looked about in consternation. The steaming odor of the room was nauseating and filled him with disgust. Could he stand it? And they called this a promotion! What wonder that Carmachel had chuckled when asked what the beamhouse was!
As Peter stood hesitating, a prey to these confused impressions, a lad about his own age touched him on the shoulder.
"Bryant, the foreman, wants to speak to you," he said.
Peter roused himself and followed the boy.
In a corner of the room the foreman greeted him.
"How are you, Strong?" he began. "You see you are no stranger to me, for I have watched you play ball at noon time. I am glad we are to have you in our department."
"Thank you, sir. Yes, Mr. Tyler said I was to report here for the present."
"That's good. We can put you to work, all right. Before you begin, however, I should like to have you look about and get an idea what we do in here. A man always enjoys his work better and does it more intelligently, I contend, if he has some notion of the process in which he is to have a share. Jackson is about your age and has been in this room a long time." (He indicated the boy at Peter's elbow.) "Suppose he takes you around and shows you what happens to the skins after they are sent in here to us."
"Thank you, sir."
Jackson seemed pleased at the task assigned him.
"I'm glad you are coming into the beamhouse to work, Strong," he ventured timidly. "There are not many boys here my age. You won't like it at first, I'm afraid, but you will soon get used to it."
"I don't believe I shall like it at all," was Peter's rueful reply. "It's an awful place, isn't it?"
"Oh, it's not so bad as it seems. You won't mind it—really you won't. Of course the smell is disagreeable and it is wet and sloppy, too; but Bryant, the foreman, is a mighty white fellow and the men, although mostly foreigners, are pleasant enough. I myself was so thankful to get any work that I did not much care what it was."
"Have you been here long?" questioned Peter.
"Ever since I was old enough to go to work—a year this August."
"And you've been in this room all that time!"
"Yes. It takes quite a while to get a promotion here at the tannery. My pay has been raised to nine dollars, though. Maybe I wasn't glad to get the money! You see, I support my mother." Jackson threw back his head proudly.
"You? You support yourself and your mother?" repeated Peter incredulously.
"Sure I do! Why not?"
"But you—why, you are not much older than I am!"
"I'm sixteen. Mother and I get on very well on what I earn, even though it isn't much. Don't you have anybody to take care of?"
Jackson regarded Peter with astonishment.
"I should think you would be rich as a lord if you have all your money to yourself!" he exclaimed. "What on earth do you find to do with it?"
Once—and the time was not far passed, either—Peter would have laughed at the naive question; now he answered gravely:
"Oh, I am saving some of it."
"That's right. I can't save a cent at present, but some time I hope to get a better salary and then I shall be able to. Now let's go over to the other end of the room and see where they are putting the skins to soak in those big vats of water to get out the salt and dirt. That's the first thing they do after the skins are sent into the beamhouse. You remember how stiff and hard the dry skins were when you unloaded them. Well, they are put into the great revolving wooden drums that you see overhead and are worked about in borax and water until they become soft. They are washed, too. Then after all the skins have been washed and softened they are thrown into lime and are left there until the fibre swells and the hair is loosened. The men you see with rubber gloves on are the limers. If they did not wear gloves they would get their hands burned and raw, for the lime and the chemicals used in the tan often make the hands and arms very sore."
"But I don't see that the skins that are tossed into the lime pits come out with the hair off," objected Peter.
"Bless your heart—the lime does not take the hair off. The men who unhair them have to do that. They lay the wet skins out on boards and with sharp knives pull and scrape off all the white hair."
"Why don't they take off the brown or black hair as well?"
"Because only the white hair is removed by hand. That is kept separate and after being dried is sold to dealers for a good price. The colored hair is taken off by machinery and is sold too, but it is not so valuable."
"I suppose plasterers can use hair like that," speculated Peter.
"Yes, and upholsterers," added Jackson.
"Carmachel told me nothing in a tannery was wasted," he said. "I was surprised to find that even the lumps of fat and bits of flesh adhering to the skins, together with the parings that came off when the calfskins were trimmed down to an even thickness, were disposed of for glue stock or fertilizer."
"Every scrap of stuff is used, I can tell you!" assented Jackson. "Calfskin, you know, is never split; it is not heavy enough for that. Besides it is more nearly uniform in weight than a skin like a bull's hide, for instance, which is very much heavier about the head. No, calfskin is fairly even and therefore, while wet, is just put between rollers where a thin, sharp blade shaves from the flesh side any part of it that is thicker than any other. It comes out of equal thickness all over. Do you understand?"
"And now have you this beamhouse process straight in your head so we can go on?"
Jackson held up his hand and began to check off the successive steps on his fingers:
"The skins are washed until the dirt and salt are out; they are worked in paddle-wheels, if necessary, until soft; they are limed; unhaired; and bated, or puered. By puering I mean that they are put through a liquid that takes out all the lime; if the lime is not carefully soaked out the skins will be burned and hard and cannot be tanned properly. After the puering the short-hairers remove any remaining hairs; the skins are thoroughly washed again, and at last are ready for tanning."
"How are they tanned?"
"Why, by putting them into paddle-wheels filled with the tanning solution where they revolve as many as seven or eight hours. This solution is then changed for a weaker one, and they revolve again for a couple of hours more. Some skins are tanned in a mixture of chemicals which we buy all prepared; we call those chrome tanned. Others are soaked in a vegetable tan of hemlock, oak, chestnut, palmetto roots, gambier, or quebracho."
"Quebracho!" Jackson rolled out the long word with a gusto. "Quebracho is a tree something like the lignum-vitae and grows in South America. The hardened gum comes in barrels and looks like rosin; sometimes, instead of being hard, it is shipped in a liquid state in big tank cars. There is about fifteen per cent. of tannin in quebracho and at the tanneries it can be diluted, of course, to any strength desired. We use it altogether here instead of using other vegetable tans."
"But it says in my geography that every one uses oak or hemlock bark," objected Peter, sceptically.
"Well, the Coddington Company doesn't. Bryant says we tan so much leather here that there would be no way of disposing of the quantities of bark left after the tannin had been extracted from it. Besides bark is scarce and expensive; then, too, it takes a car-load of bark to get even a decent amount of tannin and the freighting adds to the cost. Quebracho can be shipped by water and is therefore more economical, and for the varieties of leather we tan here it answers the purpose as well. It is lots of work to get the tannin out of oak or hemlock bark. The bark has to be ground up and put in a leaching-kettle full of water; after it has boiled the liquid is drained off and the tannin extracted. Using quebracho is a much simpler method. Of course we use oak and hemlock bark, though, in the sole leather tanneries over at Elmwood."
Peter regarded Jackson intently.
"How did you come to know so much about all this business?" he asked at last.
"Oh, I don't know much," was the modest answer. "I just wanted to learn what I could while I had the chance. You can't help being curious when you work so long in one room. Bryant saw I was interested and he's explained all the things I wanted to find out."
"Then maybe you'll pass on some more of your information," laughed Peter, "and tell me why some of the skins are tanned in quebracho and some in chrome."
"As I told you," repeated Jackson good-naturedly, "quebracho is a vegetable tan and chrome a chemical tan. The effect of each of these processes on the skins is different; so the process used depends on what sort of leather is wanted. At many tanneries chrome is used almost entirely for tanning calfskins because the process is so much quicker; chrome takes but about nine hours while quebracho tanning takes two weeks or thereabouts."
"I see. And after the tanning?"
"The skins are inspected while wet and sorted for stock; they are then stamped with a letter or number so they can be identified; they are fat-liquored, and are dyed."
"What is fat-liquored?"
"Fat-liquored means working the skins about in a mixture of soap and oil until they absorb these softening ingredients and become pliable. All leather, whether chrome or vegetable tanned, has to go through this process. The liquid is put into paddle-wheels just as the tanning mixture is. The dyeing is done in paddle-wheels too, and some kinds of leather have in addition a coat of dye rubbed into them by hand. It gives them a better surface."
"What is your work, Jackson?" asked Peter.
"Oh, I've done about everything there is to do in a beamhouse. Just now I am inspecting and sorting the skins after they are tanned."
"What is Mr. Bryant going to set me at?"
"I don't know. You will have to ask him. But no matter what he gives you to do you must not be discouraged, Strong. You were lucky to get any job at all in the tannery. They have turned away lots of boys your age—they do it every day."
Peter bit his lip to keep from smiling.
"I suppose I ought to consider myself lucky," replied he.
"Well, aren't you? To be young, and well, and to know that if you do your best you have a chance to work up to something better? I think it's great! I intend to work up. Some day I may be a partner in Coddingtons'—who knows! Then I'll dress my mother in silk every day in the week and I'll buy an automobile. I'd like to ride in one of those things just once. Did you ever?"
"Yes," admitted Peter cautiously.
"Honest? Wasn't it bully? Where did you go?"
But Peter was spared the difficult task of replying. Instead, Bryant summoned him, and he was given a wheel-barrow filled with wet skins which were to be carried from the soaking vats to the lime pits. All the rest of the morning back and forth he trudged wheeling load after load. It was stupid, dirty work, and he was glad when the noon whistle blew.
"Let's eat our luncheon together, Strong," said Jackson, "that is—unless you have somebody else you want to lunch with."
Peter assented only too gladly. It was far pleasanter to have a boy his own age to speak to than to eat by himself. Besides he liked Jackson.
But even in the fresh breeze that swept the open field, even while playing ball, even at home after a hot bath and clean clothing, Peter could still scent the odor of the beamhouse. It was days before he became accustomed to it and could feel, with Nat Jackson, that he was a lucky boy to have a "job."
PETER'S MAIDEN SPEECH
Peter had been three weeks in the beamhouse and had in that time proved himself so useful that his pay had been raised from six to six dollars and a half a week. Very proud he was of his financial good fortune. With few demands in the way of clothing he was now able to lay aside quite a little sum toward the motorcycle he so much desired. The days at the tannery passed more quickly. Nat Jackson became his chum and the two lads were almost inseparable; they lunched together, played on the ball team, and often spent their Saturday afternoons in taking long walks or going to Nat's house. Peter, however, took great good care that Nat should not visit him.
The omission of this hospitality was not entirely unnoticed by young Jackson, and the conclusion he drew was that Peter lived humbly—perhaps poorly—in lodgings to which he did not consider it suitable to invite a guest. Nat thought this foolish pride on Peter's part and he meant to tell him so some time when they became better acquainted. It was a mistake, argued Nat, to be over-sensitive about one's poverty. If Peter was saving his money surely that was excuse enough. He had a right to live as he pleased. Furthermore what possible difference could it make in their friendship? Nat himself lived simply but very nicely on the meager salary that he earned. He and his mother rented two tiny bedrooms, a sunny little living-room, and a microscopic kitchen in a part of the town which, to be sure, was cheap and ugly; but Mrs. Jackson, Peter soon found, was one of the rare women who could make a home—a real home—almost anywhere. She often laughingly remarked that if she were to dwell in a snow hovel at the North Pole she believed she should cut a window in the side of it and set a pot of flowers there, and Peter could well imagine her doing it.
She was a short, bright-eyed, motherly little person, with a quick appreciation of a joke, and a wonderful knack at cooking. Incidentally she had a quiet voice and chose soft colors in preference to crude ones. Peter gathered from her manner of speech and from the delicate modeling of her hands that at some time in her life she had occupied a very different position from the one she was now filling. But whatever that past might have been he gained no inkling of it either from her or from her son. Bravely, patiently, happily, she made a home for her boy—such a home that Peter Coddington visited it with the keenest pleasure and came away with a vague wonder what it was that those three wee rooms possessed which was lacking in his own richly furnished mansion.
Perhaps if it had not been for the encouragement of Nat and his mother Peter might not have had the grit to master his work at the beamhouse. A wholesome spur these two friends were to his flagging spirits. There was some subtle quality in Nat's mother that made a fellow want to do his very best—to be as much of a man as he could. And yet she said little to urge either of the lads to their task. It was just that she was so proud and so pleased when they did win any good fortune through their own endeavors. And so Peter forged bravely on, prodded by an unformulated desire to do well not only for the sake of his own parents, but that he might not disappoint the faith that Nat and Nat's mother had in him.
Even Mr. Coddington remarked one evening at dinner (and there was a twinkle in his eye when he said it) that he was highly gratified by the reports he heard of "young Strong."
But as the summer advanced and the days grew hotter Mrs. Coddington watched her boy with anxious care and dropped more than one suggestion that it was time they all were off to the shore. None of her suggestions bore fruit, however, and by and by when she saw that Mr. Coddington had no intention of leaving Milburn she ceased to remonstrate further and Peter settled down to work and to keep as comfortable as he could during the hot weather. What a haven his home, with its green lawns and wide verandas, became, after those long, breathless hours in the tannery! Never before had he half appreciated his surroundings. Most of the houses where the men at the factory lived were huddled closely in that dingy part of the town where Nat Jackson's rooms were, and Peter soon discovered that after supper many of the workmen and their families came and sat in the ball field opposite Factory 1 where there was more air, and where some of the men actually slept when the nights were very hot. It was a blessing—that great open space! Peter wondered what they would have done without it.
He had been raising the query mentally one July morning on his way to work after a close, restless night in his big room on the hill. The day was a sultry one; no air stirred, and it was with a sigh that Peter entered the beamhouse. No sooner was he inside, however, than he at once saw that something was wrong. Knots of men were speaking together in undertones and seemed to be far more eager to talk than to take up their daily tasks. Only Bryant, who moved from one group to another, urging, coaxing, commanding, succeeded in compelling them to attend to what they had to do.
"You fellows can do all the talking you want to at noon," he said. "There will be no builders around to-day, I guess."
"They'll do well to keep away!" muttered an angry Swede, threateningly.
"You go to unhairing skins, Olsen," Bryant commanded, putting his hand firmly but kindly on the broad shoulder of the man. "You can scold your wrath all out this noon. Go on."
Sullenly the man obeyed.
"What is the matter?" Peter managed to whisper to Nat Jackson.
"The men are furious; they are threatening to strike," returned Nat in an undertone.
"To strike!" exclaimed Peter. His thoughts flew to his father. "What has happened?" he questioned insistently.
"Didn't you see last night's paper? Haven't you heard? Mr. Coddington is going to put up another tannery. He's going to build it on the ball field!"
"On the ball field! Our field!"
"So the paper says. Of course the land is his. But it does seem pretty tough!"
Peter moved on, dazed.
To take away the field—the one out-of-door spot for luncheon and exercise! To deprive hundreds of stifled creatures of fresh air and sunlight! It was monstrous! Why hadn't his father mentioned the plan? Of course he did not realize what it would mean to the men or he never would have considered it. What would become of all those tired people who nightly left their bare little dwellings and sought a cool evening breeze in the field? Peter knew Nat and his mother always sat there until bedtime and many of the other workmen brought their wives and children. Once the boy had sat there himself. It was an orderly crowd that he had seen—children tumbling over each other on the grass; women seated on the benches and exchanging a bit of gossip; tired men stretched full-length on the turf resting in the quiet of the place.
Why, it was a crime to take the field away!
All the morning while he worked Peter's mind seethed with arguments against the building of the new factory. He longed to see his father and talk it out. Surely Mr. Coddington would listen if he realized the conditions. He was a kind man—not an inhuman brute. It seemed as if the noon whistle would never blow.
With Nat Jackson and a score of agitated workmen Peter went out into the shade opposite. Luncheon was forgotten, and ball, too. Instead a crowd gathered and on every hand there were mutterings and angry protests.
"Of course Coddington can take the land. It's his. There is no law to prevent him from doing anything he wants to with it. What does he care for us?" remarked an old, gray-haired tanner.
"The working man is nothing to the rich man," grumbled another. "All the millionaire wants is more money. Another factory means just that—more money! It's money, money, money—always money with the rich. The more they have the more they want."
Sick at heart, Peter listened.
"Why don't you fellows do something about it?" blustered a red-faced Italian. "I'll bet you if we called a strike it would bring Coddington to terms. He'd a good sight rather give up building that factory than have us all walk out—'specially now when there's more work ahead than the firm can handle. I've been in five strikes in other places and we never failed yet to get what we started for."
"Do you think you could drive a man like Mr. Coddington that way?" It was Carmachel who spoke. "You can walk out, all of you, if you choose. It would make no difference to him. If he has decided it is best to put up that tannery he'll put it up. A strike would do you no good and as a result your families would be without food and a roof over their heads all winter. You're a fine man, Ristori! Coddington pays you well. You take his money and are glad to get a job from him; then the first minute anything does not go to suit you you turn against him and cry: Strike! You don't know what loyalty means. Hasn't Coddington always been square with you? Hasn't he paid you good wages? Hasn't he added an extra bit to your envelope at Christmas? I'll not strike!"
"What would you have us do?" was Ristori's hot retort. "Would you have us sit by like dumb things and let him do anything to us he pleases?"
"Coddington is a reasonable man," Carmachel replied. "Why don't some of you talk decently with him about all this?"
"Aye! And lose our jobs for our pains!" sneered a swarthy Armenian.
A shout went up.
"A strike! A strike!" yelled a hundred voices.
"Would you strike and see your families starve?" cried Nat Jackson. "I have a mother to support. I care more for her than for the field and everything on it. I shall not strike."
"You white-livered young idiot!" roared some one in the crowd.
"I tell you, men," went on Carmachel, "there is nothing to be gained by striking. Get together some of your best speakers from each factory and let them ask an interview of Mr. Coddington—now—this afternoon—before anything more is done about the new factory."
"He'll not grant it!"
"Hasn't he always been fair with you?"
"So he has!"
"He has that!"
Grudgingly the workmen admitted it, even the most rabid of them.
Drawn by an irresistible impulse Peter elbowed his way into the midst of the workmen.
"I am sure Mr. Coddington will listen to you," he ejaculated earnestly. "Choose your men and let them go to him. Give him a chance to see your side of it. He will be reasonable—I know he will."
"It's the Little Giant," said one man to another.
"Put it to vote," urged Peter. "Come! How many are for going to Mr. Coddington? You fellows do not want a strike. Think what it would mean!"
"The lad's right. Up with the hands!"
It was a crisis.
Peter trembled from head to foot.
A few hands were raised, then slowly a few more; more came. All over the field they shot into the air.
"And now choose your representatives," called Peter quickly, dreading lest the tide of sentiment should turn.
"Carmachel! He doesn't seem to fear losing his job," piped a voice. "Put on Carmachel!"
"And Jackson; he said he would not strike anyway," called somebody else.
"Bryant is a good fellow! Put Bryant on."
"Put on some men from the other factories, too," demanded a Pole aggressively.
A committee of twelve were chosen.
"Add the Little Giant as the thirteenth—just for luck!" laughed a knee-staker.
There was a cry of approval.
"The Little Giant! The Little Giant!" rose in a chorus.
"No! No, indeed! I couldn't!" Peter protested violently.
"Of course you could!" contradicted Carmachel. "Come, come! You mustn't be so modest, Strong. You are with us for keeping the field, aren't you?"
"Yes. But there are reasons that you don't understand why I couldn't——"
"Pooh! What reasons?"
"I can't tell you. But I couldn't possibly go to Mr. Coddington with the men—I couldn't, really, Carmachel," reiterated Peter miserably.
"Nonsense! The only question is this—is your sympathy with us or isn't it?"
"Of course it is!" There was no doubting the fervor of the avowal.
"Then that settles it. Although you have come here but recently, Strong, we all consider you a friend and count you as one of ourselves. You'll stand by the bunch, won't you?" Carmachel scrutinized Peter sharply.
"Yes, I will. But you don't understand the circumstances or you would never urge me to——"
Carmachel interrupted him.
"I guess I understand the circumstances better than you think," returned he, dryly. "Mr. Coddington got you your place, I've heard. Naturally you feel under obligations to him for his kindness. That's all very well. But has he ever been near you since he put you into the tannery? No! He sits in his office and opens his mail and you are just a boy in the works. Isn't that so? What's to hinder you from going respectfully to him with the rest of us and calling to his attention something which seems to us an injustice? You said yourself it was the best plan. You pleaded with us to do it."
"Then why won't you go yourself? You're not a coward, Strong, nor, unless I greatly mistake, are you the sort of chap who would point out to others a path he wouldn't dare follow himself."
"I'll go!" cried Peter suddenly. "I'll go, but I will not do any speaking."
"Nobody wants you to speak," growled an Italian who had been standing near and who had overheard the conversation. "Bryant, Carmachel, and the older men will do the speaking. It's their place."
So it was agreed.
Events shaped themselves rapidly. Within an hour Mr. Coddington, seated in his perfectly appointed office, received word that a deputation of his men respectfully requested an interview with him that afternoon.
He was thunderstruck.
What did the demand foreshadow? Was a strike brewing? The men had appeared perfectly satisfied with the working conditions at the tanneries. Wages were fairly high and the factories conformed to every requirement of the Health and Labor Laws.
He touched a bell.
"Ask Tyler to step here," said he, frowning.
Mr. Tyler entered hastily.
"What's all this, Tyler?" demanded his chief. "I hear the men want to see me."
"I know nothing about it, sir. They've kept their own council. If they have a grievance they have not told me."
"No labor agitators have been in town recently?"
"Not to my knowledge, Mr. Coddington."
"That will do."
Tyler went out.
Again Mr. Coddington rang.
"I will see the men at three o'clock," he said to a messenger.
Left alone the president paced the floor. Business was good. The books showed a quantity of unfilled orders. It would be an awkward time for a strike.
"Undoubtedly I could get strike-breakers from Chicago," he murmured aloud, "but it would take time. Besides, I do not want my men to walk out. Think of the years many of them have worked here! The town will be full of idle persons and suffering families. I have never had a strike in all the history of my business. I've always tried to do what was fair toward those who were in my employ. That is what cuts—to be square with your men and then have them meet you with ingratitude. Why, I would have staked my oath that they would have stood by me. I'm disappointed—disappointed!"
With such unpleasant reflections as companions three o'clock came none too speedily for Mr. Coddington. The men were ushered promptly into the office and the door closed. Then an awkward silence ensued. Nobody knew exactly whose place it was to speak first.
But if the tanners had expected the president of the company to break the ice and open the interview they had missed their calculations, for he did no such thing. He met their gaze firmly, courteously, but silently.
Peter, who stood at the back of the room behind the older workmen, saw in his father's face an unaccustomed sternness and felt instinctively that their mission was destined to failure.
It was Bryant who at last summoned courage to begin the conference.
"Mr. Coddington," he said, "we men have come to you because we wish to hear the truth concerning a rumor that has reached us. We come respectfully. You are our chief—the one who, in the past, has always been fair and square with us. It is because of your justice that we address you now. Is it true that you propose to take the vacant field opposite Factory 1 for the site of a new building?"
As Mr. Coddington drew a sigh of relief he inclined his head.
"You have been correctly informed," he assented. "We need more room. The land is lying idle with a tax to be paid yearly upon it. It seems to me an economic plan to utilize the space for a new factory in which the patent leather department may be housed."
"Did you realize, in deciding, that the field you intend to take is the recreation ground of the men in your mills?" asked Bryant.
"I know that some of the men play ball there," replied Mr. Coddington, smiling.
"And yet you have decided to take it in spite of that fact?"
The president stiffened.
"The land," said he, "is mine, and the taxes I annually pay on it render it rather a costly spot for a ball field. For years the lot has been nothing but an expense to me. If the case were yours and you could derive an income from property where previously all had been outgo wouldn't you do it?"
"But do you need that income, Mr. Coddington?" cut in one of the men. "Isn't the Coddington Company rich? Must rich men go on getting more and more, and never think of those who coin their money for them?"
It was an unwise speech, and its effect was electrical.
"I will try and believe that you men came here with the intention of being courteous," observed Mr. Coddington with frigid politeness. "My affairs, however, are mine and not yours. I must deal with them in the way that I consider wisest. You hardly realize, I think, that you are over-stepping the bounds of propriety when you attempt to dictate to me what I shall do with my land, or how I shall manage my tanneries."
The sternness of the answer blocked any possible reply.
Amid the silence of the room one could almost hear the heart-beats of the waiting throng.
Then some one in the crowd made his way to the front of the room and faced the president.
It was Peter Strong.
As Mr. Coddington's gaze fell on his son he started.
The boy stood erect and looked his father squarely in the eye.
"May I speak, sir?"
Mr. Coddington bowed.
Peter began gently, respectfully, and his words were without defiance.
"I hardly think you know what the field you are going to take from the men—from us all—means, sir. Not only do we play ball and go there to eat our luncheon but each noon time we have a chance to get a breath of fresh air and go back to work better in consequence. The field, moreover, is the only open lot in this part of the town. At night hundreds of men who have worked hard all day congregate there to get sight of the green grass and enjoy a little interval of quiet. They bring their families from the huddled districts where there is neither sky, tree, nor breathing space. Suppose you lived as they do? Suppose when you went home at night it was to a tenement in a crowded part of the city? You return to a big house on the top of a hill where the trees catch every breeze that passes; where there are shrubs, gardens, flowers. Who needs this space more—you or your employees?"
When he began to speak, Peter had had no clear idea of what he should say; but as he went on words came to him. Was not he himself one of these working men who knew what the heat, the odor, the noise of the tanneries meant? As he went on his voice vibrated with earnestness. There was no doubting his sincerity. It was in truth Peter Strong and not Peter Coddington who made the appeal.
As Mr. Coddington listened without comment to the speech his wordlessness was an enigma to the men. It seemed as if it was a silence of suppressed anger and in consternation Carmachel plucked Peter's sleeve.
"Say no more, lad," he whispered. "You've gone too far. You forget that it is the president himself you're talking to. You shouldn't have said what you did, even though it's true."
But Peter scarcely heard.
He was watching his father—watching his face for the gleam that did not come.
"I will consider what you have said, Strong," replied Mr. Coddington after a pause. "I will acknowledge that I was ignorant of the fact that the spot meant anything to the people of the community. If the conditions are as you say we may be able to find a solution for the problem. May we consider this interview at an end?"
Although the remark was in the form of a question the committee felt itself dismissed and uncomfortably the men filed into the corridor.
"We've gained nothing!" was Bryant's first word when they found themselves alone. "We've only succeeded in antagonizing Mr. Coddington and solidified his intention of taking the field. We might have got somewhere if Strong had not put his foot in it. What possessed you to pitch into the president like that, young fellow?"
"What made you speak at all?" put in Carmachel. "Don't you know your place better than to think a rich man like Mr. Coddington is going to stand for having a kid like you lay down the law to him? How ever did you dare? Your job is gone—that's certain. I'm sorry, too, for we all like you here at the works."
"Oh, Peter! Peter! Why did you say it?" wailed Nat Jackson. "I know you had the best of intentions, but don't you see that you've upset the whole thing?"
There was something very like a sob in Nat's tone.
Poor Peter! From every hand came reproaches. If only he had not spoken! His impulse, good at heart, had been one of mistaken zeal. It was not that he himself had lost his cause—he had lost it for hundreds of men in whom he had become interested, and whom he had struggled to serve.
Very wretched the boy was for the remainder of the day; when night came he dreaded to go home. What would his father say to him?
Peter might have saved himself this worry, for when he entered the dining-room and sat down to dinner he found the good-humor of his father quite undisturbed and no allusion was made to the day's occurrence. Surely this was carrying out to the letter the agreement they had made. Peter Coddington was his son and he treated him as such; but to Peter Strong, the boy of the tannery, he had nothing to say. Miserably Peter waited for the opportunity to offer explanation or apology. It did not come and all chance for securing it vanished when, directly after the coffee was served, Mr. Coddington rose, announced that he had an engagement, and was whirled off in the motor-car. He did not return until long after his son was asleep.
Had Peter known what this mysterious engagement was his slumbers would have been happier, for the president of the company had gone on no idle errand. Screened from view in the far corner of the big touring-car he had ridden past the tanneries and with his own eyes had seen the benches in the ball field thronged with sweltering humanity. Twice, three times he passed. He saw the boys at their games; the tired mothers resting in the twilight; the babies that toddled at their feet; and the men—his men—lying full-length on the grass drinking in the cool air. This was what he had come out to see.
The result of it was that the next morning, in the doorway of every factory of the Coddington Company, the following notice was posted:
After careful investigation Mr. Coddington has decided that it is for the interest of his men that the plan to erect a building on the ball field be abandoned. Instead the land will be laid out as a recreation ground to be known as Strong Park, and to be reserved for the Coddington employees, their families, and their friends. Negotiations have been opened for a site on Central Street, where the new patent leather factory will shortly be erected.
Signed: H. M. CODDINGTON, President.
What an ovation the men gave Peter that day! And how grateful Peter was to his father! So grateful that before going to bed he felt compelled to break their compact of silence and exclaim:
"Father, it's splendid of you to keep the field for the men! I can't thank you half enough, sir. But you ought not to name it after me."
"I'm not naming it after you," was his father's laconic reply. "I'm naming it after Peter Strong."
In an incredibly short space of time Strong Park began to be a reality. Men commenced grading its uneven turf; laying out walks and flower-beds; erecting benches and a band stand, and setting out trees and shrubs. An ample area at one end of the grounds was reserved for a ball field; and adjoining it parallel bars, traveling rings, and the apparatus necessary to an out-of-door gymnasium was put in place.
All these arrangements Peter witnessed with delight. He longed to tell his father so, but unfortunately was granted no opportunity. Once, and once only, did Mr. Coddington refer to the project and that was to inquire whimsically of Peter if his friend Strong was satisfied with the preparations, and whether he had any suggestions to make. Young Strong had no suggestions, Peter declared. He thought the park perfect. And indeed it was! Neither thought nor money had been spared to make it so.
Peter was very proud of his father those days when, on every hand, he heard the men extolling the president's generosity. More than once the great secret of his relation to the Coddingtons trembled on his lips and almost slipped from him, but he succeeded in holding it resolutely in check. Despite his intimacy with Nat and his frequent visits to the Jackson home not a hint of his real identity escaped him. His assumed role was made easier, perhaps, by the fact that he had entered so heartily into it. He was really living the career of Peter Strong, and the Peter Coddington who had idled away so many months in purposeless, irresponsible dallying was rapidly becoming but a hazy memory. There was no denying that Peter Strong's life was the far more interesting one—every day it became more absorbing.
"You see we're really doing something!" exclaimed Peter enthusiastically to Nat Jackson one Saturday afternoon when they were taking one of their long tramps together. "Washing and carting skins isn't much in itself, and it would not be any fun at all if it wasn't part of the chain. But when you think how necessary a step in the process it is, and consider that there could be no leather unless somebody did just what I am doing, it seems well worth while. I never did anything before that was actually necessary. It is rather good sport."
And, in truth, Peter was doing something. Had he doubted it the ever increasing fund toward his motorcycle would have been a tangible proof. Already it was quite a little nest-egg and the boy, who had never before earned a penny, felt justifiably proud of the crisp bills that he was able to tuck at intervals into the bank. Once more, as a recognition of his faithful work, his pay had been raised—this time to seven dollars.
It was toward the middle of August that Mr. Tyler, the superintendent, who evidently was keeping closer watch of Peter's progress than he had suspected, notified him that on the fifteenth he was to leave the beamhouse and report in the finishing department. Peter was not only astonished but a good deal distressed. He had worked not a whit harder or more faithfully than had Nat Jackson, and deserved the promotion no more—in fact not as much as his chum. It seemed grossly unfair. Peter turned the matter over and over in his mind. He would have rejoiced in the good fortune had he considered it came to him justly; but to take what belonged to somebody else—that robbed it of all its charm. He thought and thought what he should do and at last he gained courage to go to Mr. Tyler with his dilemma. An appeal for his friend could do no harm and it might do good.
When he had made his errand known the superintendent tilted back in his chair and regarded him in silence.
"Jackson is far better informed as to the processes than I am, Mr. Tyler," Peter pleaded. "Besides, he has a mother to support and needs to get on. If there is only one vacancy in the finishing department can't you give him the chance? He has been a year in the beamhouse already, and if there is a promotion it belongs by right to him."
Mr. Tyler fingered his watch-chain. He had never had precisely this experience before—to try to push a man and have him beg that you give his good luck to somebody else. Surely this Peter Strong was an extraordinary person! Mr. Tyler could now understand how even the president of the company, under the spell of his simple eloquence, had not only surrendered a valuable building lot for a park but had actually named it after the youthful enthusiast. The superintendent couldn't but admire the lad's earnestness. At the same time, however, he did not at all fancy having his plans questioned or interfered with; therefore when he spoke it was to dash Peter's demands to earth with a rebuff.
"Most men would hail with gratitude an opening that took them out of the beamhouse, Strong," replied he stiffly. "It is generous of you, no doubt, to make this plea for your friend, but you see you are the person recommended for the promotion. In this world we must take our chances as they come. Unfortunately the opportunities of life are not transferable, my boy. I will, however, bear Jackson in mind and see if anything can be done for him. Good-morning."
The nod of Mr. Tyler's head was final.
Peter turned away, heart-sick at his failure. He had done all he could unless, indeed, he broke his bond and appealed to his father, and any such breach of their contract he considered out of the question. Yet how he dreaded to tell the Jacksons of his success. Nat would be so hurt! Still, they must, of course, know it in time and how much better to hear the news from Peter himself than in cowardly fashion to leave the spread of the tidings to rumor. Accordingly he told his tale as bravely as he could.
"It isn't as if I deserved it one bit more than you, Nat," he concluded. "It has just happened to come to me—I've no idea why."
"Of course you deserve it, Peter," cried Nat. "Haven't you worked like a tiger in the beamhouse ever since you came here? You know you have. Everybody says so. There isn't a man in the works but likes you and will be glad at your good luck—I most of all. Some day I'll be making a start up the ladder myself; wait and see if I don't!"
Although he spoke with a generous heartiness and made every attempt to conceal his chagrin, Peter knew that in reality Nat honestly felt that he had failed to receive the prize that he had rightfully won. Had not the friendship of the boys been of tough fibre it would have been shattered then and there. As it was their affection for each other bridged the chasm and it would have been hard to tell which of them suffered the more—the lad who through no fault of his own had taken the award that belonged to his chum, or the lad who had won the prize only to see it handed to some one else. Peter, who was the victim of success, seemed of the two the more overwhelmed with regrets and therefore it was Nat who, despite his bitter disappointment, turned comforter.
"You mustn't be so cut up over it, Peter, old boy! Of course I know you didn't have anything to do with it. The men in a factory are like so many checkers—they are moved about just any way that those higher up choose to play the game. It is all right and I want you to know I think so. Don't start in at your new job feeling that I'm sorry you have it. I'm glad; really I am, Peter!"
"It's mighty decent of you, Nat. I wish I had the chance to show you how much I appreciate it."
"I don't want you to show me; I just want you to believe that I mean what I say. And you mustn't mind our working in different departments. We'll be together at noon time just the same. It won't make any difference."
But still Peter was not happy. Day after day he waited hopefully to see if Mr. Tyler would make good his promise and do something for young Jackson; but nothing came of it, and no course remained but to accept unwillingly the promotion and set his foot on this upward rung of the ladder.
The finishing department occupied several floors of the building devoted to calfskins, and the first task given Peter was to help stretch and tack the skins which were still wet from dyeing on boards, after which they were dried by steam in a large, hot room. In some factories, he learned, the skins were put in great rooms with open shutters on all sides, where they dried in the air. But the Coddington Company, he was told, preferred drying by steam. Peter was very slow at tacking the wet skins on the boards. The speed with which the boys worked who had been long at the job astounded him. With lightning swiftness they took up the big, flat-headed tacks, placed, and struck them. One could scarcely follow the motions of their hands. Fortunately for Peter he was released from this work after a few days and set to helping the men who measured the finished skins in an automatic measuring machine; this machine recorded the dimensions of the skins on a dial and was a wonderfully intricate contrivance. Try as he would Peter was unable to fathom how it could so quickly and exactly compute a problem that it would have taken him a long time to solve.
Incidentally he learned many other things of the workmen. Some of the very stiff calfskins, he discovered, were "dusted" or laid in bins of damp sawdust and softened before they were taken to the finishers. There were a multitude of processes, he found, for converting the leather into the special kinds desired. What a numberless variety of finishes there was! There was willow calf—a fine, soft, chrome-tanned leather which, the foreman told him, was put into the best quality of men's and women's shoes; box calf—a high grade, storm-proof leather, chrome tanned and dull finished; chrome calf—finished in tan color, and with a fine, smooth grain; boarded calf—tanned either in chrome or quebracho; wax calf—finished by polishing the flesh side until it took a hard, waxy surface; mat calf that was dull in finish; storm calf, oiled for winter wear; and French calf, which, like wax calf, was finished on the flesh side.
"How in the world could any one think of so many different things to do to the skin of a calf?" ejaculated Peter.
His head fairly ached with the information poured into it by the zealous foreman who, by the way, was an Englishman named Stuart.
"In time you'll sort out all I have told you," Stuart answered encouragingly, observing Peter's despair. "It is simple enough when you once understand the different finishing processes. First the leather is rolled by machinery until it is pliable enough for the finishers to work on. Then it goes through a 'putting out' process; by that I mean that it is laid out on benches where it is stretched and flattened by being smoothed with a piece of hard rubber; next the edges are trimmed off and the odd bits sold; some of these go to hardware dealers who use them for washers or for the thousand and one purposes that leather is needed for in making tools."