As early as one o’clock in the afternoon, the elder Helgerson, acting as day watchman at the iron-works, had opened the great yard gates, and the men began to gather by twos and threes and in little caucusing knots on the sand floor of the huge, iron-roofed foundry building. Some of the more heedful set to work making seats of the wooden flask frames and bottom boards; and in the pouring space fronting one of the cupolas they built a rough-and-ready platform out of the same materials.
As the numbers increased the men fell into groups, dividing first on the color-line, and then by trades, with the white miners in the majority and doing most of the talking.
“What’s all this buzzin’ round about young Tom?” queried one of the men in the miners’ caucus. “Might’ nigh every other word with old Caleb was, ‘Tom; my son, Tom.’ Why, I riccollect him when he wasn’t no more’n knee-high to a hop-toad!”
“Well, you bet your life he’s a heap higher’n that now,” said another, who had chanced to be at the station when the Gordons, father and son, left the train together. “He’s a half a head taller than the old man, an’ built like one o’ Maje’ Dabney’s thoroughbreds. But I reckon he ain’t nothin’ but a school-boy, for all o’ that.”
“Gar-r-r!” spat a third. “We’ve had one kid too many in this outfit, all along. I’ll bet, if the truth was knowed, th’t that young Farley’d skin a louse for the hide and tallow.”
“Yes,” chimed in a fourth, a “huckleberry” miner from the Bald Mountain district, “and I reckon whar thar’s sich a hell of a smoke, thar’s a right smart heap o’ fire, ef it could on’y be onkivered.”
But all of this was in a manner beside the mark, and there were many to inquire what the Gordons were going to do. Ludlow, check weigher in Number Two entry, and the head of the local union, took it on himself to reply.
“B’gosh! I don’t b’lieve the old man knows, himself. He fit around and fit around, talkin’ to me, and never said nothin’ more’n that there was goin’ to be a meetin’ here at two o’clock, and Tom—his son Tom—was goin’ to speak to it.”
“All right; we’re a-waitin’ on son Tom right now,” said a grizzled old coal-digger on the outer edge of the group. “And ef he’s got anything to say, he cayn’t say hit none too sudden. My ol’ woman told me this mornin’ she was a-hittin’ the bottom o’ the meal bar’l, kerchuck! ever’ time she was dippin’ into hit. Hit’s erbout time there was somepin doin’, ez I allow.”
“Saw it off!” warned Ludlow. “Here they come, both of ’em.”
Tom and his father had entered the building from the cupola side, and Tom mounted the flask-built platform while the men were scattering to find seats. He made a goodly figure of young manhood, standing at ease on the pile of frames until quiet should prevail, and the glances flung up from the throng of workmen were friendly rather than critical. When the time came, he began to speak quietly, but with a certain masterful quality in his voice that unmistakably constrained attention.