Having arranged the preliminaries to his entire satisfaction, Colonel Duxbury had struck true and hard. The pipe foundry might be taken into the parent company at a certain nominal figure payable in a new issue of Chiawassee Limited stock, or three several things were due to happen simultaneously: the furnace would be shut down indefinitely “for repairs,” thus cutting off the iron supply and making a ruinous forfeiture of pipe contracts inevitable; suit would be brought to recover damages for the alleged mismanagement of Chiawassee Consolidated during the absence of the majority stock-holders; and the validity of the pipe-pit patents would be contested in the courts. This was the ultimatum.
The one-sided battle had been fought to a finish. Hanchett, hewing away in the dark, had made every double and turn that keen legal acumen and a sharp wit could suggest to gain time. But Mr. Farley was inexorable. The business must be concluded at the present sitting; otherwise the papers in the two suits, which were already prepared, would be filed before noon. Hanchett took his principal into the laboratory for a private word.
“It’s for you to decide, Mr. Gordon,” he said. “If you want to follow them into the court, we’ll do the best we can. But as a friend I can’t advise you to take that course.”
“If we could only make out to find out what Tom’s holdin’ over ’em!” groaned Caleb helplessly.
“Yes; but we can’t,” said the lawyer. “And whatever it may be, they are evidently not afraid of it.”
“We’ll never see a dollar’s dividend out o’ the stock, Cap’n Hanchett. I might as well give ’em the foundry free and clear.”
“That’s the chance you take, of course. But on the other hand, they can force you to the wall in a month and make you lose everything you have. I’ve been over the books with Norman: if you can’t fill your pipe contracts, the forfeitures will ruin you. And you can’t fill them unless you can have Chiawassee iron, and at the present price.”
The old iron-master led the way back to the room of doom and took his place at the end of the trestle-board table.
“Give me the papers,” he said gloomily; and the Farleys’ attorney passed them across, with his fountain-pen.
There was a purring of wheels in the air and the staccato clatter of a horse’s hoofs on the hard metaling of the pike. Vincent Farley rose quietly in his place and tiptoed to the door. He was in the act of snapping the catch of the spring-latch, when the door flew inward and he fell back with a smothered exclamation. Thereupon they all looked up, Caleb, the tremulous, with the pen still suspended over the signatures upon which the ink was still wet.
Tom was standing in the doorway, deathly sick and clinging to the jamb for support. In putting on his hat he had slipped the bandages, and the wound was bleeding afresh. Dyckman yelped like a stricken dog, overturning his chair as he leaped up and backed away into a corner. Only Mr. Duxbury Farley and his attorney were wholly unmoved. The lawyer had taken his fountain-pen from Caleb’s shaking fingers and was carefully recapping it; and Mr. Farley was pocketing the agreement, by the terms of which the firm of Gordon and Gordon had ceased to exist.