“Yes; I don’t know but what you have. What’s puzzlin’ me right now, son, is where you got it.”
Tom’s laugh was a tonic for sore nerves.
“I’d like to know what you’ve been spending your good money on me for if it wasn’t to give me a chance to get it. Do you think I’ve been playing foot-ball all the time?”
“No; but—well, Tom, the last I knew of you, you was just a little shaver, spattin’ around barefooted in the dust o’ the Paradise pike, and I can’t seem to climb up to where you’re at now.”
Tom laughed again.
“You’ll come to it, after while. I reckon I haven’t much more sense, in some ways, than the little shaver had; but I’ve been trying my level best to learn my trade. There is only one thing about this tangle that is worrying me: that’s the labor end of it.”
“We can get all the labor we want,” said Caleb.
“Yes; but didn’t you write me that the men were on strike?”
“I said the white miners were likely to make trouble if they got hungry enough.”
“Was there any pay in arrears when you shut down?”
“No. Farley wanted to scale the men, but I fought him out o’ that.”
“Good! Then what are they kicking about?”
“Oh, because they’re out of a job. There are always a lot of keen noses in a crowd the size of ours, and they’ve smelled out some o’ the Farley doin’s. Of course, they don’t believe in the cry of hard times; laborin’ men are always the last to believe that.”
The train was tracking thunderously around the nose of Lebanon, and Tom was looking out of the window again, this time for the first glimpse of the Gordonia chimney-stacks and the bounding hills of the home valley.
“That is where you will have to put your shoulder into the collar with me, pappy,” he said. “Most of the older men know me as a boy who has grown up among them. When I spring my proposition, they’ll howl, if only for that reason.”
But now Caleb was shaking his gray head more dubiously than ever.
“You won’t get any help from the men, Buddy, more ’n what you pay for. You know the whites—Welshmen, Cornishmen, and a good sprinklin’ o’ ‘huckleberries.’ And the blacks don’t count, one way or the other.”
The engineer of the accommodation had whistled for Gordonia, and Tom was gathering his dunnage.
“Our scramble is going to depend very largely on the outcome of the meeting which I’m going to ask you to call for say, two o’clock this afternoon on the floor of the foundry building,” he said. “Will you stay in town and get the men together, while I go home and see mother and shape up my talk?”
Caleb Gordon acquiesced, glad of a chance to have somewhat to do. And so, in the very beginning of things, it was the son and not the father who took the helm of the tempest-driven ship.