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"Since we are in for it," said Mr. Slocum the next morning, "put the case to them squarely."
Mr. Slocum's vertebrę had stiffened over night.
"Leave that to me, sir," Richard replied. "I have been shaping out in my mind a little speech which I flatter myself will cover the points. They have brought this thing upon themselves, and we are about to have the clearest of understandings. I never saw the men quieter."
"I don't altogether admire that. It looks as if they hadn't any doubt as to the issue."
"The clearest-headed have no doubt; they know as well as you and I do the flimsiness of those resolutions. But the thick heads are in a fog. Every man naturally likes his pay increased; if a simple fellow is told five or six hundred times that his wages ought to be raised, the idea is so agreeable and insidious that by and by he begins to believe himself grossly underpaid, though he may be getting twice what he is worth. He doesn't reason about it; that's the last thing he'll do for you. In this mood he lets himself be flown away by the breath of some loud-mouthed demagogue, who has no interest in the matter beyond hearing his own talk and passing round the hat after the meeting is over. That is what has happened to our folks below. But they are behaving handsomely."
"Yes, and I don't like it."
Since seven o'clock the most unimpeachable decorum had reigned in the workshops. It was now nine, and this brief dialogue had occurred between Mr. Slocum and Richard on the veranda, just as the latter was on the point of descending into the yard to have his talk with the men.
The workshops--or rather the shed in which the workshops were, for it was one low structure eighteen or twenty feet wide and open on the west side--ran the length of the yard, and with the short extension at the southerly end formed the letter L. There were no partitions, an imaginary line separating the different gangs of workers. A person standing at the head of the building could make himself heard more or less distinctly in the remotest part.
The grating lisp of the wet saws eating their way into the marble bowlder, and the irregular quick taps of the seventy or eighty mallets were not suspended as Richard took his stand beside a tall funereal urn at the head of the principal workshop. After a second's faltering he rapped smartly on the lip of the ukrn with the key of his studio-door.
Instantly every arm appeared paralyzed, and the men stood motionless, with the tools in their hands.
Richard began in a clear but not loud voice, though it seemed to ring on the sudden silence:--
"Mr. Slocum has asked me to say a few words to you, this morning, about those resolutions, and one or two other matters that have occurred to him in this connection. I am no speech-maker; I never learned that trade"--
"Never learned any trade," muttered Durgin, inaudibly.
--"but I think I can manage some plain, honest talk, for straight-forward men."
Richard's exordium was listened to with painful attention.
"In the first place," he continued, "I want to remind you, especially the newer men, that Slocum's Yard has always given steady work and prompt pay to Stillwater hands. No hand has ever been turned off without sufficient cause, or kept on through mere favoritism. Favors have been shown, but they have been shown to all alike. If anything has gone crooked, it has been straightened out as soon as Mr. Slocum knew of it. That has been the course of the yard in the past, and the Proprietor doesn't want you to run away with the idea that that course is going to be changed. One change, for the time being, is going to be made at our own suggestion. From now, until the 1st of September, this yard will close gates on Saturdays at five P.M. instead of six P.M."
Several voices cried, "Good for Slocum!" "Where's Slocum?" "Why don't Slocum speak for himself?" cried one voice.
"It is Mr. Slocum's habit," answered Richard, "to give his directions to me, I give them to the foremen, and the foremen to the shops. Mr. Slocum follows that custom on this occasion. With regard to the new scale of wages which the Association has submitted to him, the Proprietor refuses to accept it, or any modification of it."
A low murmur ran through the workshops.
"What's a modificashun, sir?" asked Jemmy Willson, stepping forward, and scratching his left ear diffidently.
"A modification," replied Richard, considerably embarrassed to give an instant definition, "is a--a"--
"A splitting of the difference, by--!" shouted somebody in the third shop.
"Thank you," said Richard, glancing in the direction of his impromptu Webster's Unabridged. "Mr. Slocum does not propose to split the difference. The wages in every department are to be just what they are,--neither more nor less. If anybody wishes to make a remark," he added, observing a restlessness in several of the men, "I beg he will hold on until I get through. I shall not detain you much longer, as the parson says before he has reached the middle of his sermon.
"What I say now, I was charged to make particularly clear to you. It is this: In future Mr. Slocum intends to run Slocum's Yard himself. Neither you, nor I, nor the Association will be allowed to run it for him. [Sensation.] Until now the Association has tied him down to two apprentices a year. From this hour, out, Mr. Slocum will take on, not two, or twenty, but two hundred apprentices if the business warrants it."
The words were not clearly off Richard's lips when the foreman of the shop in which he was speaking picked up a couple of small drills, and knocked them together with a sharp click. In an instant the men laid aside their aprons, bundled up their tools, and marched out of the shed two by two, in dead silence. That same click was repeated almost simultaneously in the second shop, and the same evolution took place. Then click, click, click! went the drills, sounding fainter and fainter in the distant departments; and in less than three minutes there was not a soul left in Slocum's Yard except the Orator of the Day.
Richard had anticipated some demonstration, either noisy or violent, perhaps both; but this solemn, orderly desertion dashed him.
He stepped into the middle of the yard, and glancing up beheld Margaret and Mr. Slocum standing on the veranda. Even at that distance he could perceive the pallor on one face, and the consternation written all over the other.
Hanging his head with sadness, Richard crossed the yard, which gave out mournful echoes to his footfalls, and swung to the large gate, nearly catching old Giles by the heel as he did so. Looking through the slats, he saw Lumley and Peterson hobbling arm in arm down the street,--after more than twenty-five years of kindly treatment.
"Move number one," said Richard, lifting the heavy cross-piece into its place and fastening it with a wooden pin. "Now I must go and prop up Mr. Slocum."
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