It was the office building of the pipe foundry that burned on the night of July fifteenth, and the fire was incendiary. Suspicion, put on the scent by the night-watchman’s story, pointed to Tike Bryerson as the criminal. The old moonshiner, in the bickering stage of intoxication, had been seen hanging about the new plant during the day, and had made vague threats in the hearing of various ears in Gordonia.
Wherefore the small world of Paradise and its environs looked to see a warrant sworn out for the mountaineer’s arrest; and when nothing was done, gossip reawakened to say that Tom Gordon did not dare to prosecute; that Bryerson’s crime was a bit of wild justice, so recognized by the man whose duty it was to invoke the law.
It was remarked, also, that neither of the Gordons had anything to say, and that an air of mystery enveloped the little that they did. The small wooden office building was a total loss, but the night shift at the Chiawassee had saved most of the contents; everything of value except the small iron safe which had stood behind the manager’s desk in the private office. The safe, as the onlookers observed, was taken from the debris and conveyed, unopened, across the road to the Chiawassee laboratory and yard office. Whether or not its keepings were destroyed by the fire, was known only to the younger Gordon, who, as the foreman of the Chiawassee night shift informed a Tribune reporter, had broken it open himself, deep in the small hours of the night following the fire, and behind the locked door of the furnace laboratory.
At another moment South Tredegar newspaperdom might have made something of the little mystery. But there were more exciting topics to the fore. The great strike, with Chicago and Pullman as its storm-centers, was gripping the land in its frenzied fist, and the press despatches were greedy of space. Hence, young Gordon was suffered to open his safe in mysterious secrecy; to rebuild his burned office; and to let the incendiary, sufficiently identified by the watchman, it was believed, go scot-free.
With the greater land-wide interest to divert it, even Paradise failed to note the curious change that had come over the younger of the Gordons, dating from the night of burnings. But the few who came in contact with him in the business day saw and felt it. Miss Ackerman, the pipe-works stenographer, quit when her week was up. It was nothing that the young manager had said or done; but, as she confided to her sister, more fortunately situated in town, it was like being caged with a living threat. Even Norman, the trusted lieutenant, was cut out of his employer’s confidence; and for hours on end in the business day the card “Not in” would be displayed on the glass-paneled door of the private room in the rebuilt office.