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   Chapter 31 No.31

The Wreckers By Francis Lynde Characters: 15804

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

P. S. L. Comes Home

I didn't get more than five hours' sleep after the excitement was all over, and we had ourselves driven, Mr. Norcross and I, up to the club. But by nine o'clock the next morning, as soon as I'd swallowed a hurried bite of breakfast in the grill-room I swiped a camp-stool and a magazine out of the lounge and trotted up-stairs to plant myself before the boss's door, determined that nobody should disturb him until he was good and ready to get up.

He turned out a little before twelve, looking sort of haggard and drawn, of course, and having some pretty bad burns on the side of his neck and on the backs of both hands. But he was all there, as usual, and he laid a good, brotherly hand on my shoulder when he saw what I was doing.

"They don't make many of them like you, Jimmie," he said. And then: "Have you any news?"

I had, a little, and I gave it to him. Fred May had come tip-toeing up into my sentry corridor about ten o'clock to tell me that Mr. Perkins had arranged with the strikers to have a special go east with the major and Mrs. Sheila and Collingwood's body to catch the Overland at Sedgwick; and I told the boss this, and that the train had been gone for an hour or more.

Also, I gave him a sealed package that a strange boy had brought up just a little while after May went away. We took the elevator to the grill-room for something to eat, and at table Mr. Norcross opened the package. It contained a bunch of affidavits, eleven of them in all, and there was no letter or anything to tell where they had come from.

He handed the papers over to me, after he had seen what they were, and told me to take care of them, and, when the waiter was bringing our bite-or rather after he had brought it and was gone-he sort of frowned across the table at me and said: "Do you know what it means-this surrender of those bribe affidavits, Jimmie?"

I said I guessed I did; that Hatch being dead, and Collingwood, too, there wasn't nerve enough left in the Red Tower outfit to keep up the fight; that the surrender of the affidavits was kind of a plea for a let-up on our part.

"We'll begin to show them, in just about fifteen minutes, Jimmie," was the short comment. "Reach over and get that telephone and tell Mr. Ripley and Mr. Billoughby that I want them to meet me at my office at half-past twelve. Any news from the strike?"

"Nothing," I told him, while "Central" was getting me Mr. Ripley's number. "Fred May said it was going on just the same; everything quiet and nothing doing, except that the wrecking train had gone out to pick up the scraps at Timber Mountain 'Y'. Kirgan is bossing it, and the strikers manned it for him."

Nothing more was said until after I had sent the two phone messages, and then the boss broke out in a new spot.

"Has anything been heard from Mr. Van Britt?" he asked.

"Not that I know of."

Again he gave me that queer little scowl across the table.

"Jimmie, have you found out yet why Mr. Van Britt insisted on quitting the service?"

I guess I grinned a little, though I tried not to.

"Mr. Van Britt is one of the best friends you've got," I said. "He thought you needed this strike, and he wanted to go out among the pay-roll men and sort of help it along. He couldn't do a thing like that while he was an officer of the company and drawing his pay like the rest of us."

"I might have known-he as good as told me," was the reply, made kind of half-absently; and then, short and quick: "How's the stock market? Have you seen a paper?"

I had seen both papers, at breakfast-time, but of course they had nothing startling in them except a last-minute account of the wreck at Timber Mountain "Y," grabbed off just before they went to press. They couldn't have anything later from New York than the day before. But Fred May had tipped me off when he came up to tell me about the Major Kendrick special. The newspaper offices were putting out bulletins by that time.

I told Mr. Norcross about the bulletins and was brash enough to add: "We're headed for the receivership all right, I guess; our stock has tumbled to twenty-nine, and there's a regular dog-fight going on over it at the railroad post in the Exchange. Wall Street's afire and burning up, so they say."

The chief hadn't eaten enough to keep a cat alive, but at that he pushed his chair back and reached for his hat.

"Come on, Jimmie," he snapped. "We've got to get busy. And there isn't going to be any receivership."

We reached the railroad headquarters-which were as dead and quiet as a graveyard-a little before Mr. Ripley and Billoughby got down. But Mr. Editor Cantrell was there, waiting to shoot an anxious question at the boss.

"Well, Norcross, are you ready to talk now?"

"Not just yet; to-morrow, maybe," was the good-natured rejoinder.

"All right; then perhaps you will tell me this: Do you, yourself, believe that four or five thousand railroad men have gone on strike out of sheer sympathy for a few hundred C. S. & W. employees, most of whom are merely common laborers?"

The boss spread his hands. "You have all the facts that anybody has, Cantrell."

"Can you look me in the eye and tell me that you haven't fomented this eruption on the quiet to get the better of the Red Tower crowd in some way?" demanded the editor.

"I can, indeed," was the smiling answer.

Cantrell looked as if he didn't more than half believe it.

"Being a newspaper man, I'm naturally suspicious," he put in. "There are big doings down underneath all this that I can smell, but can't dig up. Everything about this strike is too blamed good-natured. I've talked with half a dozen of the leaders, and with any number of the rank and file. They all grin and give me the wink, as if it were the best joke that was ever pulled off."

Again Mr. Norcross smiled handsomely. "If you push me to it, Cantrell, I may say that this is exactly their attitude toward me!"

"Well," said the editor, getting up to go; "it's doing one thing to you, good and proper. Your railroad stock is tumbling down-stairs so fast that it can't keep up with itself."

"I hope it will tumble still more," said the boss, pleasantly, with another sort of enigmatic smile; and with that Mr. Cantrell had to be content.

As the editor went out, Fred May brought in the bunch of forenoon telegrams and laid them on the desk. They were quickly glanced at and tossed over to me as fast as they were read. Most of them were plaintive little yips from a strike-stricken lot of people along the Short Line who seemed to think that the world had come to an end, but there were three bearing the New York date line and signed "Dunton." The earliest had been sent shortly after the opening of the Stock Exchange, and it ran thus:

"Morning papers announce strike and complete tie-up on P. S. L. Why no report from you of labor troubles threatening? Compromise at any cost and wire emphatic denial of strike. Answer quick."

The second of the series had been filed for transmission an hour later and it was still more saw-toothed.

"Later reports confirm newspaper story. Your failure to compromise instantly with employees will break stock market and subject you to investigation for criminal incompetency. Answer."

The third message had been sent still later.

"Your continued silence inexcusable. If no favorable report from you by six o'clock you may consider yourself discharged from the company's service and criminal proceedings on charge of conspiracy will be instituted at once."

There was no mention of Collingwood, and I could only imagine that Major Kendrick's telegram had not yet reached the president. I thought things were beginning to look pretty serious for us if Mr. Dunton was going to try to drag us into the courts, but Mr. Norcross was still smiling when he handed me the last and latest telegram in the bu

nch that May had brought in. It was from Mr. Chadwick, and was good-naturedly laconic.

"To G. Norcross, G. M.,

"Portal City.

"Just returned from trip to Seattle. What's doing on the Short Line?


"A couple of telegrams, Jimmie," said the chief, as he passed this last wire over, and I got my notebook ready.

"To B. Dunton, New York. Strike is sympathetic and not subject to compromise. Mails moving regularly, but all other traffic suspended indefinitely. My office closes to-day, and my resignation, effective at once, goes to you on Fast Mail to-night."

"Now one to Mr. Chadwick, and you may send it in code," he directed crisply. Then he dictated:

"See newspapers for account of strike. Hatch and eight of his associates were killed last night in railroad wreck. Dunton has demanded my resignation and I have given it. Have plan for complete reorganization along lines discussed in beginning, and need your help. At market opening to-morrow sell P. S. L. large blocks and repurchase in driblets as price goes down. Repeat until I tell you to stop. Wire quick if you are with us."

Just as I was taking the last sentence, Mr. Ripley and Billoughby came in, and Mr. Norcross took them both into the third room of the suite and shut the door. An hour later when the door opened and they came out, the boss was summing up the new orders to Billoughby: "There's a lot to do, and you have my authority to hire all the help you need. See the bankers yourself, personally, and get them to interest other local buyers along the line, the more of them, and the smaller they are, the better. I'll take care of Portal City, myself. I've had Van Britt on the wire and he is taking care of the employees-yes, that goes as it lies, and is a part of the original plan; every man who works for P. S. L. is going to own a bit of stock, if we have to carry him for it and let him pay a dollar a week. More than that, they shall have representation on the board if they want it. And while you're knocking about, take time to show these C. S. & W. folks how they can climb back into the saddle. Red Tower is down and out, now, and they can keep it out if they want to."

* * *

I suppose I might rattle this old type-machine of mine indefinitely and tell the story of the financial fight that filled the next few days; of how the boss and Mr. Ripley and Billoughby got the bankers and practically everybody together all along the Short Line and sprung the big plan upon them, which was nothing less than the snapping up, on a tumbling stock market, of the opportunity now presented to them of owning-actually owning in fee simple-their own railroad, the buying to be done quietly through Mr. Chadwick's brokers in Chicago and New York.

There was some opposition and jangling and see-sawing back and forth, of course, but the newspapers, led by the Mountaineer, took hold, and then, pretty soon, everybody took hold; after which the only trouble was to keep people-our own rank and file among them-from buying P. S. L. Common so fast that the New Yorkers would catch on and run the price up.

They didn't catch on-not until after it was too late; and the minute Mr. Chadwick wired us from Chicago that we were safe, the strike went off, as you might say, between two minutes, and Mr. Norcross called a meeting of stockholders, the same to be held-bless your heart!-in Portal City, the thriving metropolis of the region in which, counting Mr. Chadwick in as one of us, a good, solid voting majority of the stock was now held. The Mountaineer printed the call, and it spoke of the railroad as "our railroad company"!

The meeting was held in due time, and Mr. Chadwick was there to preside. He made a cracking good chairman, and the way he dilated on the fact that now the country-and the employees-had a railroad of their own, and that the whole nation would be looking to see how we would demonstrate the problem we had taken over, actually brought cheers-think of it; cheers in a railroad stockholders' meeting.

Following Mr. Chadwick's talk there was the usual routine business; reports were read and it was shown that the Short Line, notwithstanding all the stealings and mismanagements was still a good going proposition at the price at which it had been bought in. A new board of directors was chosen, and as soon as the new board got together, Mr. Norcross went back to his office in the headquarters, not as general manager, this time-not on your life!-but as the newly elected president of Pioneer Short Line. And by the same token, the first official circular that came out-a copy of which I sent, tied up with a blue ribbon, to Maisie Ann-read like this:

"To all Employees:

"Effective this day, Mr. James F. Dodds is appointed Assistant to the President with headquarters in Portal City.

"G. Norcross, President."

That's all; all but a little talk between the boss and Mr. Upton Van Britt that took place in our office on the day after Mr. Van Britt, still kicking about the hard work that the boss was always piling upon him, had been appointed general manager.

"You've made the riffle, Graham-just as I said you would," said our own and only millionaire, after he had got through abusing the fates that wouldn't let him go back East and play with his coupon shears and his yachts and polo ponies. "You're going to be the biggest man this side of the mountains, some day; and the day isn't so very far off, either."

It was just here that the boss got out of his chair and walked to the other end of the room. When he came back it was to say:

"You think I have won out, Upton, and so does everybody else. I suppose it looks that way to the man in the street. But I haven't, you know. I have lost the one thing for which I would gladly give all the business success I have ever made or hope to make."

Mr. Van Britt's smile was more than half a grin.

"It isn't lost, Graham: it's only gone before. Can't you wait a decent little while?"

"If I should wait all my life it wouldn't be long enough, Upton," was the reply. "What you said to me-that time when we first spoke of Collingwood-was true. You said she loved the other man-and so she did."

This time Mr. Van Britt's smile was a whole grin.

"I said it, and I'll say it again. She didn't realize it or admit it, even to herself you know; she's too good and clean-hearted for anything like that. But I could see it plainly enough, and so could everybody else except the two people most nearly concerned. I didn't mean Howie Collingwood: you were the 'other man,' Graham."

At this the boss whirled short around and tramped to the other end of the room again, standing for quite a little while with one foot on the low window-sill and making out like he was looking down at the traffic clattering along in Nevada Avenue. But I'll bet a quarter he never saw a single wheel of it. When he came back our way his eyes were shining and he put his hand on Mr. Van Britt's shoulder.

"It ought to have been you, Uppy," he said, dropping back to the old college nickname. "You're by long odds the better man. When-when do you think I might venture to take a little run across to New York?"

At that, Mr. Van Britt laughed out loud.

"Ho! ho!" he said. "I suppose I ought to say a year. You can wait one little year, can't you, Graham?"

"Not on your life!" rasped the boss. And then: "I'll tell you what I'll do; I'll compromise with the proprieties, or whatever it is that you're insisting on, and make it six months. But that's the limit-the absolute limit!"

And so it was.

* * *














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