“Oh, well, we don’t want hard feelings,” urged Mr. Bascomb, his manner becoming more peaceable. “The plain truth is, Reade, that we’re utterly dissatisfied with your way of managing things here. When you know how the Melliston Company feels toward you, you don’t want to be impudent enough to insist on hanging on, do you?”
“I am certain that I speak for my partner, sir, when I state that we won’t drop the contract until we have fulfilled it,” Tom muttered, coolly, but with great firmness.
“What’s all this dispute about anyway, Bascomb?” a voice called cheerily from the hallway.
“Oh, it’s you, is it, Prenter?” asked Mr. Bascomb, turning and not looking overjoyed at the interruption.
Simon F. Prenter was treasurer of the Melliston Company. Tom had met him at the time of signing the engineers’ contract with the company. Now Reade sprang up to place a chair for the new arrival.
“What was all the row about?” Mr. Prenter asked affably. He was a man of about forty-five, rather stout, with light blue eyes that looked at one with engaging candor.
“I have been suggesting to Reade that he might resign,” replied Mr. Bascomb, stiffly.
“Why?” asked Prenter, opening his eyes wider.
“Because he has raised the mischief on this breakwater job. He has all the men by their ears, and the camp in open mutiny.”
“So?” asked Mr. Prenter, looking astonished.
“Exactly, and therefore I have called upon the young man to resign.”
“And he refuses?” queried the treasurer. “Most astounding obstinacy on the part of so young a man when dealing with his elder.”
“I’ll try to explain to you, Mr. Prenter,” volunteered Reade, “just what I’ve been trying to tell Mr. Bascomb.”
“I don’t know that I need trouble you,” replied Mr. Prenter, moving so that he stood more behind the irate president. “I overheard what you were telling him.”
Then the treasurer did a most unexpected thing. He winked broadly at the young engineer.
“Yes, Prenter,” Mr. Bascomb went on, “this camp is in a state of mutiny. The men are all at odds with their chief.”
“Strange,” murmured the treasurer of the Melliston Company. “When I paused on the porch, before entering, I thought I caught sight of unusual activity down at the water front. Did you notice it, too, Bascomb?”
“I noticed nothing of the sort,” replied the president stiffly. “Am I to infer, Prenter, that you are going to follow your occasional tactics and try to laugh me out of my decision as president of the company?”
“Oh, nothing of the sort, I assure you,” hastily protested the treasurer. But he found chance to drive another wink Tom Reade’s way. The young chief engineer could not but feel that an ally had suddenly come his way.
“Now, what is the nature and extent of the mutiny?” asked Mr. Prenter.