by F. Hopkinson Smith
I. BABCOCK'S DISCOVERY
Something worried Babcock. One could see that from the impatient gesture with which he turned away from the ferry window on learning he had half an hour to wait. He paced the slip with hands deep in his pockets, his head on his chest. Every now and then he stopped, snapped open his watch and shut it again quickly, as if to hurry the lagging minutes.
For the first time in years Tom Grogan, who had always unloaded his boats, had failed him. A scow loaded with stone for the sea-wall that Babcock was building for the Lighthouse Department had lain three days at the government dock without a bucket having been swung across her decks. His foreman had just reported that there was not enough material to last the concrete-mixers two hours. If Grogan did not begin work at once, the divers must come up.
Heretofore to turn over to Grogan the unloading of material for any submarine work had been like feeding grist to a mill—so many tons of concrete stone loaded on the scows by the stone crushing company had meant that exact amount delivered by Grogan on Babcock's mixing-platforms twenty-four hours after arrival, ready for the divers below. This was the way Grogan had worked, and he had required no watching.
Babcock's impatience did not cease even when he took his seat on the upper deck of the ferry-boat and caught the welcome sound of the paddles sweeping back to the landing at St. George. He thought of his men standing idle, and of the heavy penalties which would be inflicted by the Government if the winter caught him before the section of wall was complete. It was no way to serve a man, he kept repeating to himself, leaving his gangs idle, now when the good weather might soon be over and a full day's work could never be counted upon. Earlier in the season Grogan's delay would not have been so serious.
But one northeaster as yet had struck the work. This had carried away some of the upper planking—the false work of the coffer-dam; but this had been repaired in a few hours without delay or serious damage. After that the Indian summer had set in—soft, dreamy days when the winds dozed by the hour, the waves nibbled along the shores, and the swelling breast of the ocean rose and fell as if in gentle slumber.
But would this good weather last? Babcock rose hurriedly, as this anxiety again took possession of him, and leaned over the deck-rail, scanning the sky. He did not like the drift of the low clouds off to the west; southeasters began that way. It looked as though the wind might change.
Some men would not have worried over these possibilities. Babcock did. He was that kind of man.
When the boat touched the shore, he sprang over the chains, and hurried through the ferry-slip.
"Keep an eye out, sir," the bridge-tender called after him,—he had been directing him to Grogan's house,—"perhaps Tom may be on the road."
Then it suddenly occurred to Babcock that, so far as he could remember, he had never seen Mr. Thomas Grogan, his stevedore. He knew Grogan's name, of course, and would have recognized his signature affixed to the little cramped notes with which his orders were always acknowledged, but the man himself might have passed unnoticed within three feet of him. This is not unusual where the work of a contractor lies in scattered places, and he must often depend on strangers in the several localities.
As he hurried over the road he recalled the face of Grogan's foreman, a big blond Swede, and that of Grogan's daughter, a slender fair-haired girl, who once came to the office for her father's pay; but all efforts at reviving the lineaments of Grogan failed.
With this fact clear in his mind, he felt a tinge of disappointment. It would have relieved his temper to unload a portion of it upon the offending stevedore. Nothing cools a man's wrath so quickly as not knowing the size of the head he intends to hit.
As he approached near enough to the sea-wall to distinguish the swinging booms and the puffs of white steam from the hoisting-engines, he saw that the main derrick was at work lowering the buckets of mixed concrete to the divers. Instantly his spirits rose. The delay on his contract might not be so serious. Perhaps, after all, Grogan had started work.
When he reached the temporary wooden fence built by the Government, shutting off the view of the depot yard, with its coal-docks and machine-shops, and neared the small door cut through its planking, a voice rang out clear and strong above the din of the mixers:—
"Hold on, ye wall-eyed macaroni! Do ye want that fall cut? Turn that snatch-block, Cully, and tighten up the watch-tackle. Here, cap'n; lend a hand. Lively now, lively, before I straighten out the hull gang of ye!"
The voice had a ring of unquestioned authority. It was not quarrelsome or abusive or bullying—only earnest and forceful.
"Ease away on that guy! Ease away, I tell ye!" it continued, rising in intensity. "So—all gone! Now, haul out, Cully, and let that other team back up."
Babcock pushed open the door in the fence and stepped in. A loaded scow lay close beside the string-piece of the government wharf. Alongside its forward hatch was rigged a derrick with a swinging gaff. The "fall" led through a snatch-block in the planking of the dock, and operated an iron bucket that was hoisted by a big gray horse driven by a boy. A gang of men were filling these buckets, and a number of teams being loaded with their dumped contents. The captain of the scow was on the dock, holding the guy.
At the foot of the derrick, within ten feet of Babcock, stood a woman perhaps thirty-five years of age, with large, clear gray eyes, made all the more luminous by the deep, rich color of her sunburnt skin. Her teeth were snow-white, and her light brown hair was neatly parted over a wide forehead. She wore a long ulster half concealing her well-rounded, muscular figure, and a black silk hood rolled back from her face, the strings falling over her broad shoulders, revealing a red silk scarf loosely wound about her throat, the two ends tucked in her bosom. Her feet were shod in thick-soled shoes laced around her well-turned ankles, and her hands were covered by buckskin gauntlets creased with wear. From the outside breast-pocket of her ulster protruded a time-book, from which dangled a pencil fastened to a hempen string. Every movement indicated great physical strength, perfect health, and a thorough control of herself and her surroundings. Coupled with this was a dignity and repose unmistakable to those who have watched the handling of large bodies of workingmen by some one leading spirit, master in every tone of the voice and every gesture of the body. The woman gave Babcock a quick glance of interrogation as he entered, and, receiving no answer, forgot him instantly.
"Come, now, ye blatherin' Dagos,"—this time to two Italian shovelers filling the buckets,—"shall I throw one of ye overboard to wake ye up, or will I take a hand meself? Another shovel there—that bucket's not half full"—drawing one hand from her side pocket and pointing with an authoritative gesture, breaking as suddenly into a good-humored laugh over the awkwardness of their movements.
Babcock, with all his curiosity aroused, watched her for a moment, forgetting for the time his own anxieties. He liked a skilled hand, and he liked push and grit. This woman seemed to possess all three. He was amazed at the way in which she handled her men. He wished somebody as clearheaded and as capable were unloading his boat. He began to wonder who she might be. There was no mistaking her nationality. Slight as was her accent, her direct descent from the land of the shamrock and the shilla-lah was not to be doubted. The very tones of her voice seemed saturated with its national spirit—"a flower for you when you agree with me, and a broken head when you don't." But underneath all these outward indications of dominant power and great physical strength he detected in the lines of the mouth and eyes a certain refinement of nature. There was, too, a fresh, rosy wholesomeness, a sweet cleanliness, about the woman. These, added to the noble lines of her figure, would have appealed to one as beauty, and only that had it not been that the firm mouth, well-set chin, and deep, penetrating glance of the eye overpowered all other impressions.
Babcock moved down beside her.
"Can you tell me, madam, where I can find Thomas Grogan?"
"Right in front of ye," she answered, turning quickly, with a toss of her head like that of a great hound baffled in hunt. "I'm Tom Grogan. What can I do for ye?"
"Not Grogan the stevedore?" Babcock asked in astonishment.
"Yes, Grogan the stevedore. Come! Make it short,—what can I do for ye?"
"Then this must be my boat. I came down"—
"Ye're not the boss?"—looking him over slowly from his feet up, a good-natured smile irradiating her face, her eyes beaming, every tooth glistening. "There's me hand, I'm glad to see ye. I've worked for ye off and on for four years, and niver laid eyes on ye till this minute. Don't say a word. I know it. I've kept the concrete gangs back half a day, but I couldn't help it. I've had four horses down with the 'zooty, and two men laid up with dip'thery. The Big Gray Cully's drivin' over there—the one that's a-hoistin'—ain't fit to be out of the stables. If ye weren't behind in the work, he'd have two blankets on him this minute. But I'm here meself now, and I'll have her out to-night if I work till daylight. Here, cap'n, pull yerself together. This is the boss."
Then catching sight of the boy turning a handspring behind the horse, she called out again:—
"Now, look here, Cully, none of your skylarkin'. There's the dinner whistle. Unhitch the Big Gray; he's as dry as a bone."
The boy loosened the traces and led the horse to water, and Babcock, after a word with the Captain, and an encouraging smile to Tom, turned away. He meant to go to the engineer's office before his return to town, now that his affairs with Grogan were settled. As he swung back the door in the board fence, he stumbled over a mere scrap of humanity carrying a dinner-pail. The mite was peering through the crack and calling to Cully at the horse-trough. He proved to be a boy of perhaps seven or eight years of age, but with the face of an old man—pinched, weary, and scarred all over with suffering and pain. He wore a white tennis-cap pulled over his eyes, and a short gray jacket that reached to his waist. Under one arm was a wooden crutch. His left leg was bent at the knee, and swung clear when he jerked his little body along the ground. The other, though unhurt, was thin and bony, the yarn stocking wrinkling over the shrunken calf.
Beside him stood a big billy-goat, harnessed to a two-wheeled cart made of a soap-box.
As Babcock stepped aside to let the boy pass he heard Cully shouting in answer to the little cripple's cries. "Cheese it, Patsy. Here's Pete Lathers comin' down de yard. Look out fer Stumpy. He'll have his dog on him."
Patsy laid down the pail and crept through the door again, drawing the crutch after him. The yardmaster passed with a bulldog at his heels, and touching his hat to the contractor, turned the corner of the coal-shed.
"What is your name?" said Babcock gently. A cripple always appealed to him, especially a child.
"My name's Patsy, sir," looking straight up into Babcock's eyes, the goat nibbling at his thin hand.
"And who are you looking for?"
"I come down with mother's dinner, sir. She's here working on the dock. There she is now."
"I thought ye were niver comin' wid that dinner, darlint," came a woman's voice. "What kept ye? Stumpy was tired, was he? Well, niver mind."
The woman lifted the little fellow in her arms, pushed back his cap and smoothed his hair with her fingers, her whole face beaming with tenderness.
"Gimme the crutch, darlint, and hold on to me tight, and we'll get under the shed out of the sun till I see what Jennie's sent me." At this instant she caught Babcock's eye.
"Oh, it's the boss. Sure, I thought ye'd gone back. Pull the hat off ye, me boy; it's the boss we're workin' for, the man that's buildin' the wall. Ye see, sir, when I'm driv' like I am to-day, I can't go home to dinner, and me Jennie sends me—big—man—Patsy—down"—rounding out each word in a pompous tone, as she slipped her hand under the boy's chin and kissed him on the cheek.
After she had propped him between two big spars, she lifted the cover of the tin pail.
"Pigs' feet, as I'm alive, and hot cabbage, and the coffee a-b'ilin' too!" she said, turning to the boy and pulling out a tin flask with a screw top, the whole embedded in the smoking cabbage. "There, we'll be after puttin' it where Stumpy can't be rubbin' his nose in it"—setting the pail, as she spoke, on a rough anchor-stone.
Here the goat moved up, rubbing his head in the boy's face, and then reaching around for the pail.
"Look at him, Patsy! Git out, ye imp, or I'll hurt ye! Leave that kiver alone!" She laughed as she struck at the goat with her empty gauntlet, and shrank back out of the way of his horns.
There was no embarrassment over her informal dinner, eaten as she sat squat in a fence-corner, an anchor-stone for a table, and a pile of spars for a chair. She talked to Babcock in an unabashed, self-possessed way, pouring out the smoking coffee in the flask cup, chewing away on the pigs' feet, and throwing the bones to the goat, who sniffed them contemptuously. "Yes, he's the youngest of our children, sir. He and Jennie—that's home, and 'most as tall as meself—are all that's left. The other two went to heaven when they was little ones."
"Can't the little fellow's leg be straightened?" asked Babcock, in a tone which plainly showed his sympathy for the boy's suffering.
"No, not now; so Dr. Mason says. There was a time when it might have been, but I couldn't take him. I had him over to Quarantine again two years ago, but it was too late; it'd growed fast, they said. When he was four years old he would be under the horses' heels all the time, and a-climbin' over them in the stable, and one day the Big Gray fetched him a crack, and broke his hip. He didn't mean it, for he's as dacint a horse as I've got; but the boys had been a-worritin' him, and he let drive, thinkin', most likely, it was them. He's been a-hoistin' all the mornin'." Then, catching sight of Cully leading the horse back to work, she rose to her feet, all the fire and energy renewed in her face.
"Shake the men up, Cully! I can't give 'em but half an hour to-day. We're behind time now. And tell the cap'n to pull them macaronis out of the hold, and start two of 'em to trimmin' some of that stone to starboard. She was a-listin' when we knocked off for dinner. Come, lively!"
II. A BOARD FENCE LOSES A PLANK
The work on the sea-wall progressed. The coffer-dam which had been built by driving into the mud of the bottom a double row of heavy tongued and grooved planking in two parallel rows, and bulkheading each end with heavy boards, had been filled with concrete to low-water mark, consuming not only the contents of the delayed scow, but two subsequent cargoes, both of which had been unloaded by Tom Grogan.
To keep out the leakage, steam-pumps were kept going night and day.
By dint of hard work the upper masonry of the wall had been laid to the top course, ready for the coping, and there was now every prospect that the last stone would be lowered into place before the winter storms set in.
The shanty—a temporary structure, good only for the life of the work—rested on a set of stringers laid on extra piles driven outside of the working-platform. When the submarine work lies miles from shore, a shanty is the only shelter for the men, its interior being arranged with sleeping-bunks, with one end partitioned off for a kitchen and a storage-room. This last is filled with perishable property, extra blocks, Manila rope, portable forges, tools, shovels, and barrows.
For this present sea-wall—an amphibious sort of structure, with one foot on land and the other in the water—the shanty was of light pine boards, roofed over, and made water-tight by tarred paper. The bunks had been omitted, for most of the men boarded in the village. In this way increased space for the storage of tools was gained, besides room for a desk containing the government working drawings and specifications, pay-rolls, etc. In addition to its door, fastened at night with a padlock, and its one glass window, secured by a ten-penny nail, the shanty had a flap-window, hinged at the bottom. When this was propped up with a barrel stave it made a counter from which to pay the men, the paymaster standing inside.
Babcock was sitting on a keg of dock spikes inside this working shanty some days after he had discovered Tom's identity, watching his bookkeeper preparing the pay-roll, when a face was thrust through the square of the window. It was not a prepossessing face, rather pudgy and sleek, with uncertain, drooping mouth, and eyes that always looked over one's head when he talked. It was the property of Mr. Peter Lathers, the yardmaster of the depot.
"When you're done payin' off maybe you'll step outside, sir," he said, in a confiding tone. "I got a friend of mine who wants to know you. He's a stevedore, and does the work to the fort. He's never done nothin' for you, but I told him next time you come down I'd fetch him over. Say, Dan!" beckoning with his head over his shoulder; then, turning to Babcock,—"I make you acquainted, sir, with Mr. Daniel McGaw."
Two faces now filled the window—Lathers's and that of a red-headed man in a straw hat.
"All right. I'll attend to you in a moment. Glad to see you, Mr. McGaw," said Babcock, rising from the keg, and looking over his bookkeeper's shoulder.
Lathers's friend proved to be a short, big-boned, square-shouldered Irishman, about forty years of age, dressed in a once black broadcloth suit with frayed buttonholes, the lapels and vest covered with grease-spots. Around his collar, which had done service for several days, was twisted a red tie decorated with a glass pin. His face was spattered with blue powder-marks, as if from some quarry explosion. A lump of a mustache dyed dark brown concealed his upper lip, making all the more conspicuous the bushy, sandy-colored eyebrows that shaded a pair of treacherous eyes. His mouth was coarse and filled with teeth half worn off, like those of an old horse. When he smiled these opened slowly like a vise. Whatever of humor played about this opening lost its life instantly when these jaws clicked together again.
The hands were big and strong, wrinkled and seamed, their rough backs spotted like a toad's, the wrists covered with long spidery hairs.
Babcock noticed particularly his low, flat forehead when he removed his hat, and the dry, red hair growing close to the eyebrows.
"I wuz a-sp'akin' to me fri'nd Mister Lathers about doin' yer wurruk," began McGaw, resting one foot on a pile of barrow-planks, his elbow on his knee. "I does all the haulin' to the foort. Surgint Duffy knows me. I wuz along here las' week, an' see ye wuz put back fer stone. If I'd had the job, I'd had her unloaded two days befoore."
"You're dead right, Dan," said Lathers, with an expression of disgust. "This woman business ain't no good, nohow. She ought to be over her tubs."
"She does her work, though," Babcock said, beginning to see the drift of things.
"Oh, I don't be sayin' she don't. She's a dacint woman, anough; but thim b'ys as is a-runnin' her carts is raisin' h—ll all the toime."
"And then look at the teams," chimed in Lathers, with a jerk of his thumb toward the dock—"a lot of staggering horse-car wrecks you couldn't sell to a glue-factory. That big gray she had a-hoistin' is blind of an eye and sprung so forrard he can't hardly stand."
At this moment the refrain of a song from somewhere near the board fence came wafting through the air,—
"And he wiped up the floor wid McGeechy."
McGaw turned his head in search of the singer, and not finding him, resumed his position.
"What are your rates per ton?" asked Babcock.
"We're a-chargin' forty cints," said McGaw, deferring to Lathers, as if for confirmation.
"The Stevedores' Union."
"But Mrs. Grogan is doing it for thirty," said Babcock, looking straight into McGaw's eyes, and speaking slowly and deliberately.
"Yis, I heared she wuz a-cuttin' rates; but she can't live at it. If I does it, it'll be done roight, an' no throuble."
"I'll think it over," said Babcock quietly, turning on his heel. The meanness of the whole affair offended him—two big, strong men vilifying a woman with no protector but her two hands. McGaw should never lift a shovel for him.
Again the song floated out; this time it seemed nearer,—
". . . wid McGeechy— McGeechy of the Fourth."
"Dan McGaw's giv'n it to you straight," said Lathers, stopping for a last word, his face thrust through the window again. "He's rigged for this business, and Grogan ain't in it with him. If she wants her work done right, she ought to send down something with a mustache."
Here the song subsided in a prolonged chuckle. McGaw turned, and caught sight of a boy's head, with its mop of black hair thrust through a crownless hat, leaning over a water cask. Lathers turned, too, and instantly lowered his voice. The head ducked out of sight. In the flash glance Babcock caught of the face, he recognized the boy Cully, Patsy's friend, and the driver of the Big Gray. It was evident to Babcock that Cully at that moment was bubbling over with fun. Indeed, this waif of the streets, sometimes called James Finnegan, was seldom known to be otherwise.
"Thet's the wurrst rat in the stables," said McGaw, his face reddening with anger. "What kin ye do whin ye're a-buckin' ag'in' a lot uv divils loike him?"—speaking through the window to Babcock. "Come out uv thet," he called to Cully, "or I'll bu'st yer jaw, ye sneakin' rat!"
Cully came out, but not in obedience to McGaw or Lathers. Indeed, he paid no more attention to either of those distinguished diplomats than if they had been two cement-barrels standing on end. His face, too, had lost its irradiating smile; not a wrinkle or a pucker ruffled its calm surface. His clay-soiled hat was in his hand—a very dirty hand, by the way, with the torn cuff of his shirt hanging loosely over it. His trousers bagged everywhere—at knees, seat, and waist. On his stockingless feet were a pair of sun-baked, brick-colored shoes. His ankles were as dark as mahogany. His throat and chest were bare, the skin tanned to leather wherever the sun could work its way through the holes in his garments. From out of this combination of dust and rags shone a pair of piercing black eyes, snapping with fun.
"I come up fer de mont's pay," he said coolly to Babcock, the corner of his eye glued to Lathers. "De ole woman said ye'd hev it ready."
"Mrs. Grogan's?" asked the bookkeeper, shuffling over his envelopes.
"Yep. Tom Grogan."
"Can you sign the pay-roll?"
"You bet"—with an eye still out for Lathers.
"Where did you learn to write—at school?" asked Babcock, noting the boy's independence with undisguised pleasure.
"Naw. Patsy an' me studies nights. Pop Mullins teaches us—he's de ole woman's farder what she brung out from Ireland. He's a-livin' up ter de shebang; dey're all a-livin' dere—Jinnie an' de ole woman an' Patsy—all 'cept me an' Carl. I bunks in wid de Big Gray. Say, mister, ye'd oughter git onter Patsy—he's de little kid wid de crutch. He's a corker, he is; reads po'try an' everythin'. Where'll I sign? Oh, I see; in dis'ere square hole right along-side de ole woman's name"—spreading his elbows, pen in hand, and affixing "James Finnegan" to the collection of autographs. The next moment he was running along the dock, the money envelope tight in his hand, sticking out his tongue at McGaw, and calling to Lathers as he disappeared through the door in the fence, "Somp'n wid a mustache, somp'n wid a mustache," like a news-boy calling an extra. Then a stone grazed Lathers's ear.
Lathers sprang through the gate, but the boy was half way through the yard. It was this flea-like alertness that always saved Mr. Finnegan's scalp.
Once out of Lathers's reach, Cully bounded up the road like a careering letter X, with arms and legs in air. If there was any one thing that delighted the boy's soul, it was, to quote from his own picturesque vocabulary, "to set up a job on de ole woman." Here was his chance. Before he reached the stable he had planned the whole scene, even to the exact intonation of Lathers's voice when he referred to the dearth of mustaches in the Grogan household. Within a few minutes of his arrival the details of the whole occurrence, word for word, with such picturesque additions as his own fertile imagination could invent, were common talk about the yard.
Lathers meanwhile had been called upon to direct a gang of laborers who were moving an enormous iron buoy-float down the cinder-covered path to the dock. Two of the men walked beside the buoy, steadying it with their hands. Lathers was leaning against the board fence of the shop whittling a stick, while the others worked.
Suddenly there was an angry cry for Lathers, and every man stood still. So did the buoy and the moving truck.
With head up, eyes blazing, her silk hood pushed back from her face, as if to give her air, her gray ulster open to her waist, her right hand bare of a glove, came Tom Grogan, brushing the men out of her way.
"I knew I'd find you, Pete Lathers," she said, facing him squarely; "why do ye want to be takin' the bread out of me children's mouths?"
The stick dropped from Lathers's hand: "Well, who said I did? What have I got to do with your"—
"You've got enough to do with 'em, you and your friend McGaw, to want 'em to starve. Have I ever hurt ye that ye should try an' sneak me business away from me? Ye know very well the fight I've made, standin' out on this dock, many a day an' night, in the cold an' wet, with nothin' between Tom's children an' the street but these two hands—an' yet ye'd slink in like a dog to get me"—
"Here, now, I ain't a-goin' to have no row," said Lathers, twitching his shoulders. "It's against orders, an' I'll call the yard-watch, and throw you out if you make any fuss."
"The yard-watch!" said Tom, with a look of supreme contempt. "I can handle any two of 'em, an' ye too, an' ye know it." Her cheeks were aflame. She crowded Lathers so closely his slinking figure hugged the fence.
By this time the gang had abandoned the buoy, and were standing aghast, watching the fury of the Amazon.
"Now, see here, don't make a muss; the commandant'll be down here in a minute."
"Let him come; he's the one I want to see. If he knew he had a man in his pay that would do as dirty a trick to a woman as ye've done to me, his name would be Dinnis. I'll see him meself this very day, and"—
Here Lathers interrupted with an angry gesture.
"Don't ye lift yer arm at me," she blazes out, "or I'll break it at the wrist!"
Lathers's hand dropped. All the color was out of his face, his lip quivering.
"Whoever said I said a word against you, Mrs. Grogan, is a—liar." It was the last resort of a cowardly nature.
"Stop lyin' to me, Pete Lathers! If there's anythin' in this world I hate, it's a liar. Ye said it, and ye know ye said it. Ye want that drunken loafer Dan McGaw to get me work. Ye've been at it all summer, an' ye think I haven't watched ye; but I have. And ye say I don't pay full wages, and have got a lot of boys to do men's work, an' oughter be over me tubs. Now let me tell ye"—Lathers shrank back, cowering before her—"if ever I hear ye openin' yer head about me, or me teams, or me work, I'll make ye swallow every tooth in yer head. Send down somethin' with a mustache, will I? There's not a man in the yard that's a match for me, an' ye know it. Let one of 'em try that."
Her uplifted fist, tight-clenched, shot past Lathers's ear. A quick blow, a plank knocked clear of its fastenings, and a flood of daylight broke in behind Lathers's head!
"Now, the next time I come, Pete Lathers," she said firmly, "I'll miss the plank and take yer face."
Then she turned, and stalked out of the yard.
III. SERGEANT DUFFY'S LITTLE GAME
The bad weather so long expected finally arrived. An afternoon of soft, warm autumn skies, aglow with the radiance of the setting sun, and brilliant in violet and gold, had been followed by a cold, gray morning. Of a sudden a cloud the size of a hand had mounted clear of the horizon, and called together its fellows. An unseen herald in the east blew a blast, and winds and sea awoke.
By nine o'clock a gale was blowing. By ten Babcock's men were bracing the outer sheathing of the coffer-dam, strengthening the derrick-guys, tightening the anchor-lines, and clearing the working-platforms of sand, cement, and other damageable property. The course-masonry, fortunately, was above the water-line, but the coping was still unset and the rubble backing of much of the wall unfinished. Two weeks of constant work were necessary before that part of the structure contained in the first section of the contract would be entirely safe for the coming winter. Babcock doubled his gangs, and utilized every hour of low water to the utmost, even when the men stood waist-deep. It was his only hope for completing the first section that season. After that would come the cold, freezing the mortar, and ending everything.
Tom Grogan performed wonders. Not only did she work her teams far into the night, but during all this bad weather she stood throughout the day on the unprotected dock, a man's sou'wester covering her head, a rubber waterproof reaching to her feet. She directed every boat-load herself, and rushed the materials to the shovelers, who stood soaking wet in the driving rain.
Lathers avoided her; so did McGaw. Everybody else watched her in admiration. Even the commandant, a bluff, gray-bearded naval officer,—a hero of Hampton Roads and Memphis,—passed her on his morning inspection with a kindly look in his face and an aside to Babcock: "Hire some more like her. She is worth a dozen men."
Not until the final cargo required for the completion of the wall had been dumped on the platforms did she relax her vigilance. Then she shook the water from her oilskins and started for home. During all these hours of constant strain there was no outbreak of bravado, no spell of ill humor. She made no boasts or promises. With a certain buoyant pluck she stood by the derricks day after day, firing volleys of criticism or encouragement, as best suited the exigencies of the moment, now she sprang forward to catch a sagging bucket, now tended a guy to relieve a man, or handled the teams herself when the line of carts was blocked or stalled.
Every hour she worked increased Babcock's confidence and admiration. He began to feel a certain pride in her, and to a certain extent to rely upon her. Such capacity, endurance, and loyalty were new in his experience. If she owed him anything for her delay on that first cargo, the debt had been amply paid. Yet he saw that no such sense of obligation had influenced her. To her this extra work had been a duty: he was behind-hand with the wall, and anxious; she would help him out. As to the weather, she reveled in it. The dash of the spray and the driving rain only added to her enjoyment. The clatter of rattling buckets and the rhythmic movement of the shovelers keeping time to her orders made a music as dear to her as that of the steady tramp of men and the sound of arms to a division commander.
Owing to the continued bad weather and the difficulty of shipping small quantities of fuel, the pumping-engines ran out of coal, and a complaint from Babcock's office brought the agent of the coal company to the sea-wall. In times like these Babcock rarely left his work. Once let the Old Man of the Sea, as he knew, get his finger in between the cracks of a coffer-dam, and he would smash the whole into wreckage.
"I was on my way to see Tom Grogan," said the agent. "I heard you were here, so I stopped to tell you about the coal. There will be a load down in the morning. I am Mr. Crane, of Crane & Co., coal-dealers."
"You know Mrs. Grogan, then?" asked Babcock, after the delay in the delivery of the coal had been explained. He had been waiting for some such opportunity to discover more about his stevedore. He never discussed personalities with his men.
"Well, I should say so—known her for years. Best woman on top of Staten Island. Does she work for you?"
"Yes, and has for some years; but I must confess I never knew Grogan was a woman until I found her on the dock a few weeks ago, handling a cargo. She works like a machine. How long has she been a widow?"
"Well, come to think of it, I don't know that she is a widow. There's some mystery about the old man, but I never knew what. But that don't count; she's good enough as she is, and a hustler, too."
Crane was something of a hustler himself—one of those busy Americans who opens his daily life with an office-key and closes it with a letter for the late mail. He was a restless, wiry, black-eyed little man, never still for a moment, and perpetually in chase of another eluding dollar,—which half the time he caught.
Then, laying his hand on Babcock's arm: "And she's square as a brick, too. Sometimes when a chunker captain, waiting to unload, shoves a few tons aboard a sneak-boat at night, Tom will spot him every time. They try to fool her into indorsing their bills of lading in full, but it don't work for a cent."
"You call her Tom Grogan?" Babcock asked, with a certain tone in his voice. He resented, somehow, Crane's familiarity.
"Certainly. Everybody calls her Tom Grogan. It's her husband's name. Call her anything else, and she don't answer. She seems to glory in it, and after you know her a while you don't want to call her anything else yourself. It comes kind of natural—like your calling a man 'colonel' or 'judge."
Babcock could not but admit that Crane might be right. All the names which could apply to a woman who had been sweetheart, wife, and mother seemed out of place when he thought of this undaunted spirit who had defied Lathers, and with one blow of her fist sent the splinters of a fence flying about his head.
"We've got the year's contract for coal at the fort," continued Crane. "The quarter-master-sergeant who inspects it—Sergeant Duffy—has a friend named McGaw who wants to do the unloading into the government bins. There's a low price on the coal, and there's no margin for anybody; and if Duffy should kick about the quality of the coal,—and you can't please these fellows if they want to be ugly,—Crane & Co. will be in a hole, and lose money on the contract. I hate to go back on Tom Grogan, but there's no help for it. The ten cents a ton I'd save if she hauls the coal instead of McGaw would be eaten up in Duffy's short weights and rejections. I sent Sergeant Duffy's letter to her, so she can tell how the land lies, and I'm going up now to her house to see her, on my way to the fort. I don't know what Duffy will get out of it; perhaps he gets a few dollars out of the hauling. The coal is shipped, by the way, and ought to be here any minute."
"Wait; I'll go with you," said Babcock, handing him an order for more coal. "She hasn't sent down the tally-sheet for my last scow." There was not the slightest necessity, of course, for Babcock to go to Grogan's house for this document.
As they walked on, Crane talked of everything except what was uppermost in Babcock's mind. Babcock tried to lead the conversation back to Tom, but Crane's thoughts were on something else.
When they reached the top of the hill, the noble harbor lay spread out beneath them, from the purple line of the great cities to the silver sheen of the sea inside the narrows. The clearing wind had hauled to the northwest. The sky was heaped with soft clouds floating in the blue. At the base of the hill nestled the buildings and wharves of the Lighthouse Depot, with the unfinished sea-wall running out from the shore, fringed with platforms and bristling with swinging booms—the rings of white steam twirling from the exhaust-pipes.
On either side of the vast basin lay two grim, silent forts, crouched on grassy slopes like great beasts with claws concealed. Near by, big lazy steamers, sullen and dull, rested motionless at Quarantine, awaiting inspection; while beyond, white-winged graceful yachts curved tufts of foam from their bows. In the open, elevators rose high as church steeples; long lines of canal-boats stretched themselves out like huge water-snakes, with hissing tugs for heads; enormous floats groaned under whole trains of cars; big, burly lighters drifted slowly with widespread oil-stained sails; monster derricks towered aloft, derricks that pick up a hundred-ton gun as easily as an ant does a grain of sand—each floating craft made necessary by some special industry peculiar to the port of New York, and each unlike any other craft in the harbor of any other city of the world.
Grogan's house and stables lay just over the brow of this hill, in a little hollow. The house was a plain, square frame dwelling, with front and rear verandas, protected by the arching branches of a big sycamore-tree, and surrounded by a small garden filled with flaming dahlias and chrysanthemums. Everything about the place was scrupulously neat and clean.
The stables—there were two—stood on the lower end of the lot. They looked new, or were newly painted in a dark red, and appeared to have accommodations for a number of horses. The stable-yard lay below the house. In its open square were a pump and a horse-trough, at which two horses were drinking. One, the Big Gray, had his collar off, showing where the sweat had discolored the skin, the traces crossed loosely over his back. He was drinking eagerly, and had evidently just come in from work. About, under the sheds, were dirt-carts tilted forward on their shafts, and dust-begrimed harnesses hanging on wooden pegs.
A strapping young fellow in a red shirt came out of the stable door leading two other horses to the trough. Babcock looked about him in surprise at the extent of the establishment. He had supposed that his stevedore had a small outfit and needed all the work she could get. If, as McGaw had said, only boys did Grogan's work, they at least did it well.
Crane mounted the porch first and knocked. Babcock followed.
"No, Mr. Crane," said a young girl, opening the door, "she's not at home. I'm expecting her every minute. Mother went to work early this morning. She'll be sorry to miss you, sir. She ought to be home now, for she's been up 'most all night at the fort. She's just sent Carl up for two more horses. Won't you come in and wait?"
"No; I'll keep on to the fort," answered Crane. "I may meet her on the road."
"May I come in?" Babcock asked, explaining his business in a few words.
"Oh, yes, sir. Mother won't be long now. You've not forgotten me, Mr. Babcock? I'm her daughter Jennie. I was to your office once. Gran'pop, this is the gentleman mother works for."
An old man rose with some difficulty from an armchair, and bowed in a kindly, deferential way. He had been reading near the window. He was in his shirt-sleeves, his collar open at the throat. He seemed rather feeble. His legs shook as if he were weak from some recent illness. About the eyes was a certain kindliness that did not escape Babcock's quick glance; they were clear and honest, and looked straight into his—the kind he liked. The old man's most striking features were his silver-white hair, parted over his forehead and falling to his shoulders, and his thin, straight, transparent nose, indicating both ill health and a certain refinement and sensitiveness of nature. Had it not been for his dress, he might have passed for an English curate on half pay.
"Me name's Richard, sor—Richard Mullins," said the old man. "I'm Mary's father. She won't be long gone now. She promised me she'd be home for dinner." He placed a chair for Babcock, and remained standing.
"I will wait until she returns," said Babcock. He had come to discover something more definite about this woman who worked like a steam-engine, crooned over a cripple, and broke a plank with her fist, and he did not intend to leave until he knew. "Your daughter must have had great experience. I have never seen any one man handle work better," he continued, extending his hand. Then, noticing that Mullins was still standing, "Don't let me take your seat."
Mullins hesitated, glanced at Jennie, and, moving another chair from the window, drew it nearer, and settled slowly beside Babcock.
The room was as clean as bare arms and scrubbing-brushes could make it. Near the fireplace was a cast-iron stove, and opposite this stood a parlor organ, its top littered with photographs. A few chromos hung on the walls. There were also a big plush sofa and two haircloth rocking-chairs, of walnut, covered with cotton tidies. The carpet on the floor was new, and in the window, where the old man had been sitting, some pots of nasturtiums were blooming, their tendrils reaching up both sides of the sash. Opening from this room was the kitchen, resplendent in bright pans and a shining copper wash-boiler. The girl passed constantly in and out the open door, spreading the cloth and bringing dishes for the table.
Her girlish figure was clothed in a blue calico frock and white apron, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, showing some faint traces of flour clinging to her wrists, as if she had been suddenly summoned from the bread-bowl. She was fresh and sweet, strong and healthy, with a certain grace of manner about her that pleased Babcock instantly. He saw now that she had her mother's eyes and color, but not her air of fearlessness and self-reliance—that kind of self-reliance which comes only of many nights of anxiety and many days of success. He noticed, too, that when she spoke to the old man her voice was tempered with a peculiar tenderness, as if his infirmities were more to be pitied than complained of. This pleased him most of all.
"You live with your daughter, Mrs. Grogan?" Babcock asked in a friendly way, turning to the old man.
"Yis, sor. Whin Tom got sick, she sint fer me to come over an' hilp her. I feeds the horses whin Oi'm able, an' looks after the garden, but Oi'm not much good."
"Is Mr. Thomas Grogan living?" asked Babcock cautiously, and with a certain tone of respect, hoping to get closer to the facts, and yet not to seem intrusive.
"Oh, yis, sor: an' moight be dead fer all the good he does. He's in New Yorruk some'er's, on a farm"—lowering his voice to a whisper and looking anxiously toward Jennie—"belongin' to the State, I think, sor. He's hurted pretty bad, an' p'haps he's a leetle off—I dunno. Mary has niver tould me."
Before Babcock could pursue the inquiry further there was a firm tread on the porch steps, and the old man rose from the chair, his face brightening.
"Here she is, Gran'pop," said Jennie, laying down her dish and springing to the door.
"Hold tight, darlint," came a voice from the outside, and the next instant Tom Grogan strode in, her face aglow with laughter, her hood awry, her eyes beaming. Patsy was perched on her shoulder, his little crutch fast in one hand, the other tightly wound about her neck. "Let go, darlint; ye're a-chokin' the wind out of me."
"Oh, it's ye a-waitin', Mr. Babcock—me man Carl thought ye'd gone. Mr. Crane I met outside told me you'd been here. Jennie'll get the tally-sheet of the last load for ye. I've been to the fort since daylight, and pretty much all night, to tell ye God's truth. Oh, Gran'pop, but I smashed 'em!" she exclaimed as she gently removed Patsy's arm and laid him in the old man's lap. She had picked the little cripple up at the garden gate, where he always waited for her. "That's the last job that sneakin' Duffy and Dan McGaw'll ever put up on me. Oh, but ye should'a' minded the face on him, Gran'pop!"—untying her hood and breaking into a laugh so contagious in its mirth that even Babcock joined in without knowing what it was all about.
As she spoke, Tom stood facing her father, hood and ulster off, the light of the windows silhouetting the splendid lines of her well-rounded figure, with its deep chest, firm bust, broad back, and full throat, her arms swinging loose and free.
"Ye see," she said, turning to Babcock, "that man Duffy tried to do me,—he's the sergeant at the fort—and Dan McGaw—ye know him—he's the divil that wanted to work for ye. Ye know I always had the hauling of the coal at the fort, an' I want to hold on to it, for it comes every year. I've been a-watchin' for this coal for a month. Every October there's a new contractor, and this time it was me friend Mr. Crane I've worked for before. So I sees Duffy about it the other day, an' he says, 'Well, I think ye better talk to the quartermaster, who's away, but who'll be home next week.' An' that night when I got home, there lay a letter from Mr. Crane, wid another letter inside it Sergeant Duffy had sent to Mr. Crane, sayin' he'd recommend Dan McGaw to do the stevedorin'—the sneakin' villain—an' sayin' that he—Duffy—was a-goin' to inspect the coal himself, an' if his friend Dan McGaw hauled it, the quality would be all right. Think of that! I tell ye, Mr. Babcock, they're divils. Then Mr. Crane put down at the bottom of his letter to me that he was sorry not to give me the job, but that he must give it to Duffy's friend McGaw, or Duffy might reject the coal. Wait till I wash me hands and I'll tell ye how I fixed him," she added suddenly, as with a glance at her fingers she disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing a moment later with her bare arms as fresh and as rosy as her cheeks, from their friction with a clean crash towel.
"Well!" she continued, "I jumps into me bonnet yisterday, and over I goes to the fort; an' I up an' says to Duffy, 'I can't wait for the quartermaster. When's that coal a-comin'?' An' he says, 'In a couple of weeks.' An' I turned onto him and says: 'Ye're a pretty loafer to take the bread out of Tom Grogan's children's mouths! An' ye want Dan McGaw to do the haulin', do ye? An' the quality of the coal'll be all right if he gits it! An' there's sure to be twenty-five dollars for ye, won't there? If I hear a word more out of ye I'll see Colonel Howard sure, an' hand him this letter.' An' Duffy turned white as a load of lime, and says, 'Don't do it, for God's sake! It'll cost me m' place.' While I was a-talkin' I see a chunker-boat with the very coal on it round into the dock with a tug; an' I ran to the string-piece and catched the line, and has her fast to a spile before the tug lost head-way. Then I started for home on the run, to get me derricks and stuff. I got home, hooked up by twelve o'clock last night, an' before daylight I had me rig up an' the fall set and the buckets over her hatches. At six o'clock this mornin' I took the teams and was a-runnin' the coal out of the chunker, when down comes Mr.—Daniel—McGaw with a gang and his big derrick on a cart." She repeated this in a mocking tone, swinging her big shoulders exactly as her rival would have done.
"'That's me rig,' I says to him, p'intin' up to the gaff, 'an' me coal, an' I'll throw the fust man overboard who lays hands on it!' An' then the sergeant come out and took McGaw one side an' said somethin' to him, with his back to me; an' when McGaw turned he was white too, an' without sayin' a word he turned the team and druv off. An' just now I met Mr. Crane walkin' down, lookin' like he had lost a horse. 'Tom Grogan,' he says,'I hate to disappoint ye, an' wouldn't, for ye've always done me work well; but I'm stuck on the coal contract, an' the sergeant can put me in a hole if ye do the haulin'.' An' I says, 'Brace up, Mr. Crane, there's a hole, but ye ain't in it, an' the sergeant is. I'll unload every pound of that coal, if I do it for nothin', and if that sneak in striped trousers bothers me or you, I'll pull him apart an' stamp on him!'"
Through all her talk there was a triumphant good humor, a joyousness, a glow and breeziness, which completely fascinated Babcock. Although she had been up half the night, she was as sweet and fresh and rosy as a child. Her vitality, her strength, her indomitable energy, impressed him as no woman's had ever done before.
When she had finished her story she suddenly caught Patsy out of her father's arms and dropped with him into a chair, all the mother-hunger in her still unsatisfied. She smothered him with kisses and hugged him to her breast, holding his pinched face against her ruddy cheek. Then she smoothed his forehead with her well-shaped hand, and rocked him back and forth. By and by she told him of the stone that the Big Gray had got in his hoof down at the fort that morning, and how lame he had been, and how Cully had taken it out with—a—great—big—spike!—dwelling on the last words as if they belonged to some wonderful fairy-tale. The little fellow sat up in her lap and laughed as he patted her breast joyously with his thin hand. "Cully could do it," he shouted in high glee; "Cully can do anything." Babcock, apparently, made no more difference to her than if he had been an extra chair.
As she moved about her rooms afterward, calling to her men from the open door, consulting with Jennie, her arms about her neck, or stopping at intervals to croon over her child, she seemed to him to lose all identity with the woman on the dock. The spirit that enveloped her belonged rather to that of some royal dame of heroic times, than to that of a working woman of to-day. The room somehow became her castle, the rough stablemen her knights.
On his return to his work she walked back with him part of the way. Babcock, still bewildered, and still consumed with curiosity to learn something of her past, led the talk to her life along the docks, expressing his great surprise at discovering her so capable and willing to do a man's work, asking who had taught her, and whether her husband in his time had been equally efficient and strong.
Instantly she grew reticent. She did not even answer his question. He waited a moment, and, realizing his mistake, turned the conversation in another direction.
"And how about those rough fellows around the wharves—those who don't know you—are they never coarse and brutal to you?"
"Not when I look 'em in the face," she answered slowly and deliberately. "No man ever opens his head, nor dar'sn't. When they see me a-comin' they stops talkin', if it's what they wouldn't want their daughters to hear; an' there ain't no dirty back talk, neither. An' I make me own men civil, too, with a dacint tongue in their heads. I had a young strip of a lad once who would be a-swearin' round the stables. I told him to mend his manners or I'd wash his mouth out, an' that I wouldn't have nobody hit me horses on the head. He kep' along, an' I see it was a bad example for the other drivers (this was only a year ago, an' I had three of 'em); so when he hit the Big Gray ag'in, I hauled off and give him a crack that laid him out. I was scared solid for two hours, though they never knew it."
Then, with an almost piteous look in her face, and with a sudden burst of confidence, born, doubtless, of a dawning faith in the man's evident sincerity and esteem, she said in a faltering tone:—
"God help me! what can I do? I've no man to stand by me, an' somebody's got to be boss."
IV. A WALKING DELEGATE LEARNS A NEW STEP
McGaw's failure to undermine Tom's business with Babcock, and his complete discomfiture over Crane's coal contract at the fort, only intensified his hatred of the woman.
Finding that he could make no headway against her alone, he called upon the Union to assist him, claiming that she was employing non-union labor, and had thus been able to cut down the discharging rates to starvation prices.
A meeting was accordingly called by the executive committee of the Knights, and a resolution passed condemning certain persons in the village of Rockville as traitors to the cause of the workingman. Only one copy of this edict was issued and mailed. This found its way into Tom Grogan's letter-box. Five minutes after she had broken the seal, her men discovered the document pasted upside down on her stable door.
McGaw heard of her action that night, and started another line of attack. It was managed so skillfully that that which until then had been only a general dissatisfaction on the part of the members of the Union and their sympathizers over Tom's business methods now developed into an avowed determination to crush her. They discussed several plans by which she could be compelled either to restore rates for unloading, or be forced out of the business altogether. As one result of these deliberations a committee called upon the priest, Father McCluskey, and informed him of the delicate position in which the Union had been placed by her having hidden her husband away, thus forcing them to fight the woman herself. She was making trouble, they urged, with her low wages and her unloading rates. "Perhaps his Riverence c'u'd straighten her out." Father McCluskey's interview with Tom took place in the priest's room one morning after early mass. It had gone abroad, somehow, that his Reverence intended to discipline the "high-flyer," and a considerable number of the "tenement-house gang," as Tom called them, had loitered behind to watch the effect of the good father's remonstrances.
What Tom told the priest no one ever knew: such conferences are part of the regime of the church, and go no farther. It was noticed, however, as she came down the aisle, that her eyes were red, as if from weeping, and that she never raised them from the floor as she passed between her enemies on her way to the church door. Once outside, she put her arm around Jennie, who was waiting, and the two strolled slowly across the lots to her house.
When the priest came out, his own eyes were tinged with moisture. He called Dennis Quigg, McGaw's right-hand man, and in a voice loud enough to be heard by those nearest him expressed his indignation that any dissension should have arisen among his people over a woman's work, and said that he would hear no more of this unchristian and unmanly interference with one whose only support came from the labor of her hands.
McGaw and his friends were not discouraged. They were only determined upon some more definite stroke. It was therefore ordered that a committee be appointed to waylay her men going to work, and inform them of their duty to their fellow-laborers.
Accordingly, this same Quigg—smooth-shaven, smirking, and hollow-eyed, with a diamond pin, half a yard of watch-chain, and a fancy shirt—ex-village clerk with his accounts short, ex-deputy sheriff with his accounts of cruelty and blackmail long, and at present walking delegate of the Union—was appointed a committee of one for that duty.
Quigg began by begging a ride in one of Tom's return carts, and taking this opportunity to lay before the driver the enormity of working for Grogan for thirty dollars a month and board, when there were a number of his brethren out of work and starving who would not work for less than two dollars a day if it were offered them. It was plainly the driver's duty, Quigg urged, to give up his job until Tom Grogan could be compelled to hire him back at advanced wages. During this enforced idleness the Union would pay the driver fifty cents a day. Here Quigg pounded his chest, clenched his fists, and said solemnly, "If capital once downs the lab'rin' man, we'll all be slaves."
The driver was Carl Nilsson, a Swede, a big, blue-eyed, light-haired young fellow of twenty-two, a sailor from boyhood, who three years before, on a public highway, had been picked up penniless and hungry by Tom Grogan, after the keeper of a sailors' boarding-house had robbed him of his year's savings. The change from cracking ice from a ship's deck with a marlinespike, to currying and feeding something alive and warm and comfortable, was so delightful to the Swede that he had given up the sea for a while. He had felt that he could ship again at anytime, the water was so near. As the months went by, however, he, too, gradually fell under the spell of Tom's influence. She reminded him of the great Norse women he had read about in his boyhood. Besides all this, he was loyal and true to the woman who had befriended him, and who had so far appreciated his devotion to her interests as to promote him from hostler and driver to foreman of the stables.
Nilsson knew Quigg by sight, for he had seen him walking home with Jennie from church. His knowledge of English was slight, but it was enough to enable him to comprehend Quigg's purpose as he talked beside him on the cart. After some questions about how long the enforced idleness would continue, he asked suddenly:—
"Who da horse clean when I go 'way?"
"D—n her! let her clean it herself," Quigg answered angrily.
This ended the question for Nilsson, and it very nearly ended the delegate. Jumping from the cart, Carl picked up the shovel and sprang toward Quigg, who dodged out of his way, and then took to his heels.
When Nilsson, still white with anger, reached the dock, he related the incident to Cully, who, on his return home, retailed it to Jennie with such variety of gesture and intonation that that young lady blushed scarlet, but whether from sympathy for Quigg or admiration for Nilsson, Cully was unable to decide.
Quigg's failure to coax away one of Tom's men ended active operations against Tom, so far as the Union was concerned. It continued to listen to McGaw's protests, but, with an eye open for its own interests, replied that if Grogan's men would not be enticed away it could at present take no further action. His trouble with Tom was an individual matter, and a little patience on McGaw's part was advised. The season's work was over, and nothing of importance could be done until the opening of the spring business. If Tom's men struck now, she would be glad to get rid of them. It would, therefore, be wiser to wait until she could not do without them, when they might all be forced out in a body. In the interim McGaw should direct his efforts to harassing his enemy. Perhaps a word with Slattery, the blacksmith, might induce that worthy brother Knight to refuse to do her shoeing some morning when she was stalled for want of a horse; or he might let a nail slip in a tender hoof. No one could tell what might happen in the coming months. At the moment the funds of the Union were too low for aggressive measures. Were McGaw, however, to make a contribution of two hundred dollars to the bank account in order to meet possible emergencies, something might be done. All this was duly inscribed in the books of the committee,—that is, the last part of it,—and upon McGaw's promising to do what he could toward improving the funds. It was thereupon subsequently resolved that before resorting to harsher measures the Union should do all in its power toward winning over the enemy. Brother Knight Dennis Quigg was thereupon deputed to call upon Mrs. Grogan and invite her into the Union.
On brother Knight Dennis Quigg's declining for private reasons the honorable mission intrusted to him by the honorable board (Mr. Quigg's exact words of refusal, whispered in the chairman's ear, were, "I'm a-jollyin' one of her kittens; send somebody else after the old cat"), another walking delegate, brother Knight Crimmins by name, was selected to carry out the gracious action of the committee.
Crimmins had begun life as a plumber's helper, had been iceman, night-watchman, heeler, and full-fledged plumber; and having been out of work himself for months at a time, was admirably qualified to speak of the advantages of idleness to any other candidate for like honors.
He was a small man with a big nose, grizzled chin-whiskers, and rum-and-watery eyes, and wore constantly a pair of patched blue overalls as a badge of his laborship. The seat of these outside trousers showed more wear than his hands.
Immediately upon his appointment, Crimmins went to McGaw's house to talk over the line of attack. The conference was held in the sitting-room and behind closed doors—so tightly closed that young Billy McGaw, with one eye in mourning from the effect of a recent street fight, was unable, even by the aid of the undamaged eye and the keyhole, to get the slightest inkling of what was going on inside.
When the door was finally opened and McGaw and Crimmins came out, they brought with them an aroma the pungency of which was explained by two empty glasses and a black bottle decorating one end of the only table in the room.
As Crimmins stepped down from the broken stoop, with its rusty rain-spout and rotting floor-planks, Billy overheard this parting remark from his father: "Thry the ile furst, Crimmy, an' see what she'll do; thin give her the vinegar; and thin," with an oath, "ef that don't fetch'er, come back here to me and we'll give 'er the red pepper."
Brother Knight Crimmins waved his hand to the speaker. "Just leave'er to me, Dan," he said, and started for Tom's house. Crimmins was delighted with his mission. He felt sure of bringing back her application within an hour. Nothing ever pleased him so much as to work a poor woman into an agony of fright with threats of the Union. Wives and daughters had often followed him out into the street, begging him to let the men alone for another week until they could pay the rent. Sometimes, when he relented, the more grateful would bless him for his magnanimity. This increased his self-respect.
Tom met him at the door. She had been sitting up with a sick child of Dick Todd, foreman at the brewery, and had just come home. Hardly a week passed without some one in distress sending for her. She had never seen Crimmins before, and thought he had come to mend the roof. His first words, however, betrayed him:—
"The Knights sent me up to have a word wid ye."
Tom made a movement as if to shut the door in his face; then she paused for an instant, and said curtly, "Come inside."
Crimmins crushed his slouch-hat in his hand, and slunk into a chair by the window. Tom remained standing.
"I see ye like flowers, Mrs. Grogan," he began, in his gentlest voice. "Them geraniums is the finest I iver see"—peering under the leaves of the plants. "Guess it's 'cause ye water 'em so much."
Tom made no reply.
Crimmins fidgeted on his chair a little, and tried another tack. "I s'pose ye ain't doin' much just now, weather's so bad. The road's awful goin' down to the fort."
Tom's hands were in the side pockets of her ulster. Her face was aglow with her brisk walk from the tenements. She never took her eyes from his face, and never moved a muscle of her body. She was slowly revolving in her mind whether any information she could get out of him would be worth the waiting for.
Crimmins relapsed into silence, and began patting the floor with his foot. The prolonged stillness was becoming uncomfortable.
"I was tellin' ye about the meetin' we had to the Union last night. We was goin' over the list of members, an' we didn't find yer name. The board thought maybe ye'd like to come in wid us. The dues is only two dollars a month. We're a-regulatin' the prices for next year, stevedorin' an' haulin', an' the rates'll be sent out next week." The stopper was now out of the oil-bottle.
"How many members have ye got?" she asked quietly.
"Hundred an' seventy-three in our branch of the Knights."
"All pay two dollars a month?"
"That's about the size of it," said Crimmins.
"What do we git when we jine?"
"Well, we all pull together—that's one thing. One man's strike's every man's strike. The capitalists been tryin' to down us, an' the laborin'-man's got to stand together. Did ye hear about the Fertilizer Company's layin' off two of our men las' Friday just fer bein' off a day or so without leave, and their gittin' a couple of scabs from Hoboken to"—
"What else do we git?" said Tom, in a quick, imperious tone, ignoring the digression. She had moved a step closer.
Crimmins looked slyly up into her eyes. Until this moment he had been addressing his remarks to the brass ornament on the extreme top of the cast-iron stove. Tom's expression of face did not reassure him; in fact, the steady gaze of her clear gray eye was as uncomfortable as the focused light of a sun lens.
"Well—we help each other," he blurted out.
"Do you do any helpin'?"
"Yis;" stiffening a little. "I'm the walkin' delegate of our branch."
"Oh, ye're the walkin' delegate! You don't pay no two dollars, then, do ye!"
"No. There's got to be somebody a-goin' round all the time, an' Dinnis Quigg and me's confidential agents of the branch, an' what we says goes"—slapping his overalls decisively with his fist. McGaw's suggested stopper was being loosened on the vinegar.
Tom's fingers closed tightly. Her collar began to feel small. "An' I s'pose if ye said I should pay me men double wages, and put up the price o' haulin' so high that me customers couldn't pay it, so that some of yer dirty loafers could cut in an' git it, I'd have to do it, whether I wanted to or not; or maybe ye think I'd oughter chuck some o' me own boys into the road because they don't belong to yer branch, as ye call it, and git a lot o' dead beats to work in their places who don't know a horse from a coal-bucket. An' ye'll help me, will ye? Come out here on the front porch, Mr. Crimmins"—opening the door with a jerk. "Do ye see that stable over there! Well, it covers seven horses; an' the shed has six carts with all the harness. Back of it—perhaps if ye stand on yer toes even a little feller like you can see the top of another shed. That one has me derricks an' tools."
Crimmins tried to interrupt long enough to free McGaw's red pepper, but her words poured out in a torrent.
"Now ye can go back an' tell Dan McGaw an' the balance of yer two-dollar loafers that there ain't a dollar owin' on any horse in my stable, an' that I've earned everything I've got without a man round to help 'cept those I pays wages to. An' ye can tell 'em, too, that I'll hire who I please, an' pay 'em what they oughter git; an' I'll do me own haulin' an' unloadin' fer nothin' if it suits me. When ye said ye were a walkin' delegate ye spoke God's truth. Ye'd be a ridin' delegate if ye could; but there's one thing ye'll niver be, an' that's a workin' delegate, as long as ye kin find fools to pay ye wages fer bummin' round day 'n' night. If I had me way, ye would walk, but it would be on yer uppers, wid yer bare feet to the road."
Crimmins again attempted to speak, but she raised her arm threateningly: "Now, if it's walkin' ye are, ye can begin right away. Let me see ye earn yer wages down that garden an' into the road. Come, lively now, before I disgrace meself a-layin' hands on the likes of ye!"
V. A WORD FROM THE TENEMENTS
One morning Patsy came up the garden path limping on his crutch; the little fellow's eyes were full of tears. He had been out with his goat when some children from the tenements surrounded his cart, pitched it into the ditch, and followed him half way home, calling "Scab! scab!" at the top of their voices. Cully heard his cries, and ran through the yard to meet him, his anger rising at every step. To lay hands on Patsy was, to Cully, the unpardonable sin. Ever since the day, five years before, when Tom had taken him into her employ, a homeless waif of the streets,—his father had been drowned from a canal-boat she was unloading,—and had set him down beside Patsy's crib to watch while she was at her work, Jennie being at school, Cully had loved the little cripple with the devotion of a dog to its master. Lawless, rough, often cruel, and sometimes vindictive as Cully was to others, a word from Patsy humbled and softened him.
And Patsy loved Cully. His big, broad chest, stout, straight legs, strong arms and hands, were his admiration and constant pride. Cully was his champion and his ideal. The waif's recklessness and audacity were to him only evidences of so much brains and energy.
This love between the lads grew stronger after Tom had sent to Dublin for her old father, that she might have "a man about the house." Then a new blessing came, not only into the lives of both the lads, but into the whole household as well. Mullins, in his later years, had been a dependent about Trinity College, and constant association with books and students had given him a taste for knowledge denied his daughter. Tom had left home when a girl. In the long winter nights during the slack season, after the stalls were bedded and the horses were fed and watered and locked up for the night, the old man would draw up his chair to the big kerosene lamp on the table, and tell the boys stories—they listening with wide-open eyes, Cully interrupting the narrative every now and then by such asides as "No flies on them fellers, wuz ther', Patsy? They wuz daisies, they wuz. Go on, Pop; it's better'n a circus;" while Patsy would cheer aloud at the downfall of the vanquished, with their "three thousand lance-bearers put to death by the sword," waving his crutch over his head in his enthusiasm.
Jennie would come in too, and sit by her mother; and after Nilsson's encounter with Quigg—an incident which greatly advanced him in Tom's estimation—Cully would be sent to bring him in from his room over the stable and give him a chair with the others, that he might learn the language easier. At these times it was delightful to watch the expression of pride and happiness that would come over Tom's face as she listened to her father's talk.
"But ye have a great head, Gran'pop," she would say. "Cully, ye blatherin' idiot, why don't ye brace up an' git some knowledge in yer head? Sure, Gran'pop, Father McCluskey ain't in it wid ye a minute. Ye could down the whole gang of 'em." And the old man would smile faintly and say he had heard the young gentlemen at the college recite the stories so many times he could never forget them.
In this way the boys grew closer together, Patsy cramming himself from books during the day in order to tell Cully at night all about the Forty Thieves boiled in oil, or Ali Baba and his donkey, or poor man Friday to whom Robinson Crusoe was so kind; and Cully relating in return how Jimmie Finn smashed Pat Gilsey's face because he threw stones at his sister, ending with a full account of a dog-fight which a "snoozer of a cop" stopped with his club.
So when Patsy came limping up the garden path this morning, rubbing his eyes, his voice choking, and the tears streaming, and, burying his little face in Cully's jacket, poured out his tale of insult and suffering, that valiant defender of the right pulled his cap tight over his eyes and began a still-hunt through the tenements. There, as he afterwards expressed it, he "mopped up the floor" with one after another of the ringleaders, beginning with young Billy McGaw, Dan's eldest son and Cully's senior.
Tom was dumfounded at the attack on Patsy. This was a blow upon which she had not counted. To strike her Patsy, her cripple, her baby! The cowardice of it incensed her, She knew instantly that her affairs must have been common talk about the tenements to have produced so great an effect upon the children. She felt sure that their fathers and mothers had encouraged them in it.
In emergencies like this it was never to the old father that she turned. He was too feeble, too much a thing of the past. While to a certain extent he influenced her life, standing always for the right and always for the kindest thing she could do, yet when it came to times of action and danger she felt the need of a younger and more vigorous mind. It was on Jennie, really more her companion than her daughter, that she depended for counsel and sympathy at these times.
Tom did not underestimate the gravity of the situation. Up to that point in her career she had fought only the cold, the heat, the many weary hours of labor far into the night, and now and then some man like McGaw. But this stab from out the dark was a danger to which she was unused. She saw in this last move of McGaw's, aided as he was by the Union, not only a determination to ruin her, but a plan to divide her business among a set of men who hated her as much on account of her success as for anything else. A few more horses and carts and another barn or two, and she herself would become a hated capitalist. That she had stood out in the wet and cold herself, hours at a time, like any man among them; that she had, in her husband's early days, helped him feed and bed their one horse, often currying him herself; that when she and her Tom had moved to Rockville with their savings and there were three horses to care for and her husband needed more help than he could hire, she had brought her little baby Patsy to the stable while she worked there like a man; that during all this time she had cooked and washed and kept the house tidy for four people; that she had done all these things she felt would not count now with the Union, though each member of it was a bread-winner like herself.
She knew what power it wielded. There had been the Martin family, honest, hardworking people, who had come down from Haverstraw—the man and wife and their three children—and moved into the new tenement with all their nice furniture and new carpets. Tom had helped them unload these things from the brick-sloop that brought them. A few weeks after, poor Martin, still almost a stranger, had been brought home from the gas-house with his head laid open, because he had taken the place of a Union man discharged for drunkenness, and lingered for weeks until he died. Then the widow, with her children about her, had been put aboard another sloop that was going back to her old home. Tom remembered, as if it were yesterday, the heap of furniture and little pile of kitchen things sold under the red flag outside the store near the post-office.
She had seen, too, the suffering and misery of her neighbors during the long strike at the brewery two years before, and the moving in and out from house to tenement and tenement to shanty, with never a day's work afterward for any man who left his job. She had helped many of the men who, three years before, had been driven out of work by the majority vote of the Carpenters' Union, and who dared not go back and face the terrible excommunication, the social boycott, with all its insults and cruelties. She shuddered as she thought again of her suspicions years ago when the bucket had fallen that crushed in her husband's chest, and sent him to bed for months, only to leave it a wrecked man. The rope that held the bucket had been burned by acid, Dr. Mason said. Some grudge of the Union, she had always felt, was paid off then.
She knew what the present trouble meant, now that it was started, and she knew in what it might end. But her courage never wavered. She ran over in her mind the names of the several men who were fighting her—McGaw, for whom she had a contempt; Dempsey and Jimmie Brown, of the executive committee, both liquor-dealers; Paterson, foreman of the gas-house; and the rest—dangerous enemies, she knew.
That night she sent for Nilsson to come to the house; heard from him, word for word, of Quigg's effort to corrupt him; questioned Patsy closely, getting the names of the children who had abused him; then calling Jennie into her bedroom, she locked the door behind them.
When they reentered the sitting-room, an hour later, Jennie's lips were quivering. Tom's mouth was firmly set. Her mind was made up.
She would fight it out to the bitter end.
VI. THE BIG GRAY GOES HUNGRY
That invincible spirit which dwelt in Tom's breast—that spirit which had dared Lathers, outwitted Duffy, cowed Crimmins, and braved the Union, did not, strange to say, dominate all the members of her own household. One defied her. This was no other than that despoiler of new-washed clothes, old harness, wagon-grease, time-books, and spring flowers, that Arab of the open lot, Stumpy the goat.
This supremacy of the goat had lasted since the eventful morning when, only a kid of tender days, he had come into the stable-yard and wobbled about on his uncertain legs, nestling down near the door where Patsy lay. During all these years he had ruled over Tom. At first because his fuzzy white back and soft, silky legs had been so precious to the little cripple, and later because of his inexhaustible energy, his aggressiveness, and his marvelous activity. Brave spirits have fainted at the sight of spiders, others have turned pale at lizards, and some have shivered when cats crossed their paths. The only thing Tom feared on any number of legs, from centipedes to men, was Stumpy.
"Git out, ye imp of Satan!" she would say, raising her hand when he wandered too near; "or I'll smash ye!" The next instant she would be dodging behind the cart out of the way of Stumpy's lowered horns, with a scream as natural and as uncontrollable as that of a schoolgirl over a mouse. When he stood in the path cleared of snow from house to stable door, with head down, prepared to dispute every inch of the way with her, she would tramp yards around him, up to her knees in the drift, rather than face his obstinate front.
The basest of ingratitude actuated the goat. When the accident occurred that gained him his sobriquet and lost him his tail, it was Tom's quickness of hand alone that saved the remainder of his kidship from disappearing as his tail had done. Indeed, she not only choked the dog who attacked him, until he loosened his hold from want of breath, but she threw him over the stable-yard fence as an additional mark of her displeasure.
In spite of her fear of him, Tom never dispossessed Stumpy. That her Patsy loved him insured him his place for life.
So Stumpy roamed through yard, kitchen, and stable, stalking over bleaching sheets, burglarizing the garden gate, and grazing wherever he chose.
The goat inspired no fear in anybody else. Jennie would chase him out of her way a dozen times a day, and Cully would play bullfight with him, and Carl and the other men would accord him his proper place, spanking him with the flat of a shovel whenever he interfered with their daily duties, or shying a corn-cob after him when his alertness carried him out of their reach.
This afternoon Jennie had missed her blue-checked apron. It had been drying on the line outside the kitchen door five minutes before. There was no one at home but herself, and she had seen nobody pass the door. Perhaps the apron had blown over into the stable-yard. If it had, Carl would be sure to have seen it. She knew Carl had come home; she had been watching for him through the window. Then she ran in for her shawl.
Carl was rubbing down the Big Gray. He had been hauling ice all the morning for the brewery. The Gray was under the cart-shed, a flood of winter sunlight silvering his shaggy mane and restless ears. The Swede was scraping his sides with the currycomb, and the Big Gray, accustomed to Cully's gentler touch, was resenting the familiarity by biting at the tippet wound about the neck of the young man.
Suddenly Carl raised his head—he had caught a glimpse of a flying apron whipping round the stable door. He knew the pattern. It always gave him a lump in his throat, and some little creepings down his back when he saw it. Then he laid down the currycomb. The next instant there came a sound as of a barrel-head knocked in by a mixing-shovel, and Stumpy flew through the door, followed by Carl on the run. The familiar bit of calico was Jennie's lost apron. One half was inside the goat, the other half was in the hand of the Swede.
Carl hesitated for a moment, looked cautiously about the yard, and walked slowly toward the house, his eyes on the fragments. He never went to the house except when he was invited, either to hear Pop read or to take his dinner with the other men. At this instant Jennie came running out, the shawl about her head.
"Oh, Carl, did you find my apron? It blew away, and I thought it might have gone into the yard."
"Yas, mees; an' da goat see it too—luke!" extending the tattered fragments, anger and sorrow struggling for the mastery in his face.
"Well, I never! Carl, it was a bran'-new one. Now just see, all the strings torn off and the top gone! I'm just going to give Stumpy a good beating."
Carl suggested that he run after the goat and bring him back; but Jennie thought he was down the road by this time, and Carl had been working all the morning and must be tired. Besides, she must get some wood.
Carl instantly forgot the goat. He had forgotten everything, indeed, except the trim little body who stood before him looking into his eyes. He glowed all over with inward warmth and delight. Nobody had ever cared before whether he was tired. When he was a little fellow at home at Memlo his mother would sometimes worry about his lifting the big baskets of fish all day, but he could not remember that anybody else had ever given his feelings a thought. All this flashed through his mind as he returned Jennie's look.
"No, no! I not tire—I brang da wood." And then Jennie said she never meant it, and Carl knew she didn't, of course; and then she said she had never thought of such a thing, and he agreed to that; and they talked so long over it, standing out in the radiance of the noonday sun, the color coming and going in both their faces,—Carl playing aimlessly with his tippet tassel, and Jennie plaiting and pinching up the ruined apron,—that the fire in the kitchen stove went out, and the Big Gray grew hungry and craned his long neck around the shed and whinnied for Carl, and even Stumpy the goat forgot his hair-breadth escape, and returned near enough to the scene of the robbery to look down at it from the hill above.
There is no telling how long the Big Gray would have waited if Cully had not come home to dinner, bringing another horse with Patsy perched on his back. The brewery was only a short distance, and Tom always gave her men a hot meal at the house whenever it was possible. Had any other horse been neglected, Cully would not have cared; but the Big Gray which he had driven ever since the day Tom brought him home,—"Old Blowhard," as he would often call him (the Gray was a bit wheezy),—the Big Gray without his dinner!