Foster looked up with surprise, but admitted that his partner might be right. Austin was a real-estate agent who now and then speculated in lumber and mineral claims. He had some influence at the Crossing where, however, he was more feared than liked, since he lent money and bought up mortgages. On three or four occasions he had been a business rival of Foster and Featherstone’s, and the former thought he might not have forgiven them for beating him.
“It’s possible,” he said thoughtfully. “But you don’t imagine Daly told him what he knows about you?”
“I should think it most unlikely,” Featherstone rejoined. “Daly means to keep all he can get for himself, but if he gave Austin a hint that he could injure me, the fellow might be willing to help. He’s pretty often up against us; but we’ll let that go. You’re a friend of Carmen Austin’s, and as you’ll meet her at the reunion, it might be better if you didn’t tell her I have changed my plans. Of course, I don’t mean to hint that she has anything to do with her father’s schemes.”
Foster laughed. He liked Carmen Austin and was mildly flattered by the favor she showed him, but thought he knew her well enough not to attach much importance to this. Carmen was clever and ambitious, and would, no doubt, choose a husband who had wealth and influence. Though very young, she was the acknowledged leader of society at the Crossing.
“You needn’t be afraid of hurting my feelings,” he said. “To some extent I do enjoy Miss Austin’s patronage, but I know my drawbacks and don’t cherish any foolish hopes. If I did, I believe she’d tactfully nip them in the bud.”
“On the whole, I’m pleased to hear it,” Featherstone replied. “Now, if you don’t mind, there’s something I want to read.”
Big arc-lamps flared above the railroad track that crossed the yard of the Hulton factory, but except for a yellow glimmer from a few upper windows, the building rose in a huge dark oblong against the sky. The sharp clanging of a locomotive bell jarred on the silence, for the mill hands had gone home and the wheels that often hummed all night were still. It seemed to Foster, who glanced at his watch as he picked his way among the lines, that the shadow of the recent tragedy brooded over the place.
“I don’t know that I’m imaginative; but I wouldn’t like the night-watchman’s job just now,” he remarked to Featherstone. “Hulton’s illness can’t have spoiled his nerve, or he’d have asked us to meet him at his house, in view of what he probably wants to talk about.”
“I suspect that Hulton’s nerve is better than yours or mine, and although I’m sorry for the old man. It was a surprise to me when he broke down,” Featherstone replied. “This is the first time I’ve been in the mill since Fred was shot, and I’ll own that I’d sooner have come in daylight.”