On the day following the radio lecture, true to his promise, Professor Gray led Bill and Gus to the broad acres of the Hooper estate and there, with the plans before them, they went over the ground chosen for the water-power site, comprehending every detail of the engineering task. Professor Gray was more pleased than surprised by the ready manner in which both lads took hold of the problem and even suggested certain really desirable changes.
Bill indicated a better position fifty yards upstream for the dam and he sketched his idea of making a water-tight flood gate which was so ingenious that the Professor became enthusiastic and adopted it at once.
After nearly a whole day spent thus along the rocky defiles of the little stream, eating their lunch beside a cold spring at the head of a miniature gulch, the trio of engineers were about to leave the spot when a gruff voice hailed them from the hilltop. Looking up they saw another group of three: an oldish man, a slim young fellow who was almost a grown man and a girl in her middle teens. The young people seemed to be quarreling, to judge from the black looks they gave each other, but the man paid them no attention. He beckoned Professor Gray to approach and came slowly down the hill to meet him, walking rather stiffly with a cane.
“Well, Professor, you’re beginnin’ to git at it, eh? Struck any snags yit? Some job! I reckon you’re not a goin’ to make a heap outside the price you give me. When you goin’ to git at it reg’lar?”
“Right away, Mr. Hooper. To-morrow. We have been making our plans to-day and these young assistants of mine, who will principally conduct the work, are ready to start in at once. They—”
“Them boys? No, sir! I want this here work done an’ done right; no bunglin’. What’s kids know about puttin’ in water wheels an’ ’letric lights? You said you was—”
“These boys are no longer just kids, Mr. Hooper, and they know more than you think; all that is needed to make this job complete. Moreover, I am going to consult with them frequently by letter and I shall be entirely responsible. It is up to me, you know.”
Mr. Hooper evidently saw the sense in this last remark; he stood blinking his eyes at Bill and Gus and pondering. The slim youth plucked at his sleeve and said something in a low voice.
Gus suddenly remembered the fellow. The youth had come into the town a week or two before. He had, without cause, deliberately kicked old Mrs. Sowerby’s maltese cat, asleep on the pavement, out of his way, and Gus, a witness from across the street, had departed from his usually reticent mood to call the human beast down for it. But though Gus hoped the fellow would show resentment he did not, but walked on quickly instead.
Mr. Hooper listened; then voiced a further and evidently suggested opposition:
“Them lads is from the town here; ain’t they? Nothin’ but a lot o’ hoodlums down yan. You can’t expec’—”