Tom’s laugh was an easing of strains.
“It does me a heap of good to know that I can crack the whip where you’d be putting on the brakes, pappy; it does, for a fact. But you needn’t worry about Dyckman. He won’t quarrel with his bread and butter. I don’t care anything about his personal loyalty so long as he does his work.”
Again Caleb had to withdraw a little and look his stalwart young captain over and say: “It is Tom; it’s just Buddy, grown up and come to be a man.” But it was hard to realize.
“I reckon you’ve got it all figured out—what-all we’re goin’ to do, Tom,” he said, when they were seated in the car of the accommodation train.
“Yes, I think I have; at least, I have the beginning struck out. We are going to call a stock-holders’ meeting, vote you into the presidency, take the bull squarely by the horns and blow in the Chiawassee furnace again—dig coal, roast coke and make iron.”
“But, son! at the present price of iron, we can’t make any money; couldn’t clear a dollar a car if the buyers would push their cars right into our yard. And there ain’t any buyers.”
Tom was looking out of the window at the procession of smokeless factory chimneys. The blight had already fallen on the South Tredegar industries.
“It’s going to be a battle to the strong, to the fellow who can wait, and work while he waits,” he said, half to himself. Then, more particularly to his father’s protest: “I know, we are in pretty bad shape. When we get those exhibits we shall find that the Farleys have picked the bones, leaving them for us to bury decently out of sight. Then, when the funeral is over, they’ll come back and charge it all to the Gordon mismanagement. It’s a cinch, isn’t it?”
The old iron-master was silent for the train-speed’s measuring of a long mile. Then he said slowly:
“I don’t aim to go back on you, Buddy; not a foot ’r an inch. But it does seem to me like you put your finger in the fire when you hilt up Duxbury Farley for that proxy paper in New York. If we go under—and the good Lord only knows how we can he’p it—they’ll come out of it with clean clothes, and we’ll have to take all the mud-slingin’, just as you say.”
Tom’s smile would have stamped him as the son of the grim old ex-artilleryman in any court of inquiry.
“Did your old general ever go into battle with the idea that he was bound to be licked, pappy?” he asked.
“Who? Stonewall Jackson? Well, I reckon not, son.”
“Neither shall we,” said Tom laconically. “We are going in to win. We are in bad shape, I admit, but we are better off than a lot of these furnaces that are shutting down. We have our own ore beds, and our own coking plant. Our coal costs us seventy-five cents less than Pocahontas, our water is free, and we can hold the property as long as we can stand the sheriff off. My notion is to make iron and hold it; stack it in the yards, mortgage it for what we can get, and make more iron. Some day the country will get iron hungry; then we’ll have it to sell when the other fellows will have to make it first and sell it afterward. Have I got it straight?”