Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Tips Heroism

The short story that appears below does not seem to appear anywhere else on the web, not even a title reference. Since I wanted to read the story anyway, it got digitized./drf

Tip's Heroism
Henry James
from The American Boy magazine, August 1903. Digitized by Doug Frizzle Jan 2014.

THE great works of the Danton Co-Operative Iron & Steel Company were aglow with the fires of its numerous furnaces and noisy with the hum of the industrious life within. Here at one end, the line of furnaces where the oblong blocks of iron are heated white; toward the center of the mill, the great, crunching rolls whence the glowing masses are hurried from the fires. Back and forth through the roils the iron is passed by lines of men holding great tongs in their hands. Longer and longer grow the bars, looking in the semi-darkness not unlike fiery serpents, as they bend and twist under the manipulations of the men. At length the last slot is passed and the nearly finished rail, still red hot, is taken to the whirring saws near by, where the rough ends are cut off in a twinkling and carried away by lively boys. Then the long bar is laid aside to cool.
The fiery gleams of the glowing furnaces, and the disappearing bands of light as the rolls swallow up the lengthening rails, the showers of many colored sparks as the saws do their work, all make an interesting picture this still summer night, and the visitor to the works would be inclined to observe that here, men literally earned their bread by the sweat of their brow.
By the side of the massive engine in the center of the mill, stood John O’Neil, the night engineer. He was busy oiling the machinery, now and then stopping to pat the shining steel with a loving hand. Once he glanced up at the ponderous driving wheel while a worried expression came into his face. Then he stepped quickly to the lever and shut off the steam a trifle and the great wheel ceased to revolve so swiftly.
“What’s the matter with the steam?” inquired a gruff voice a moment later.
“Nothing, sir,” replied O’Neil quietly.
“Well, I’ve got to have more power at them rolls or we won't turn off all the work we’ve got for tonight.”
“I’m afraid to give you much more, Mr. Martin, for I don’t like the looks of that fly-wheel. I wouldn’t want to take the consequences of turning on full steam.”
“What do you mean?”
“The wheel is weak, sir, and is getting worse. I reported the matter to the superintendent a week ago but nothing has been done. It wouldn’t take much to burst her, and that would mean death to some of us and ruin to the mill, sir.”
“You’re right, O’Neil, you can’t be too careful. I’ll see the matter is attended to,” and Martin, the foreman of the rolls, walked away.
John O’Neil was eating his lunch a little later when Joe Bagley, a man whose face bespoke an evil nature, approached and sat down beside the engineer.
“Well, John, an’ what was ye tellin’ the foreman?” he inquired impudently.
“About the engine,” replied O'Neil shortly, for he had never liked the man.
He seemed to feel an instinctive distrust of him.
“What’s the matter with her?” asked Bagley.
“I don’t know as it’s your business what the trouble is,” replied O’Neil.
“Oh, ye needn’t get mad, O’Neil, I didn’t mean no harm in askin’. I’ve noticed you was worrit lately about somethin’ an’ I thought mayhap I could help ye,” said Bagley.
The reply disarmed O'Neil, and in a confidential tone, he said: “I’ll tell you, Bagley. It wouldn’t do for the men to get wind of it though, or they’d all leave. You see, the fly-wheel is weak, and if a full head of steam should be turned on, she’d go to pieces mighty quick. I’ve been careful ever since I found it out, but it ought to be fixed before it gets worse.”
“No wonder you was worrit, but I’ll tell no one. But say, man,” he continued, bending toward O’Neil, and speaking cautiously, “have ye heard of the strike there’s to be?”
“Strike? Where?” asked the engineer in surprise.
“Why, right here, to be sure. Didn’t we ask for more pay a month ago, and never a word yet from Henderson, the superintendent? We’re gettin’ sick of waitin’, and tomorrow the committee of three is going to see him. If he refuses to raise us there’ll be a strike and every man will go out;” and Bagley brought his fist down on his knee decidedly.
“But I’ve no cause for complaint. I get fair wages and why should I strike?”
“To help us, of course. Don’t you see if every man goes out they’ll have to give in at once, for there’s lots of orders ahead; but if some of the men stays in we won’t win so easy.”
“Well, Bagley, there’s this about it.” said O’Neil, as he finished his coffee and closed his lunch pail, “I’ll stick by the company as long as they treat me fairly, strike or no strike.”
“If ye don’t go out with us, John O’Neil,” said Bagley, rising angrily, “it’ll be the worse for ye. Ye remember how some of the men as didn’t go out at the Columbia strike last year was treated, and they might do ye some harm here.”
“Yes, I do remember,” replied O’Neil with a shudder.
“Well, then, ye'd better think it over before ye say ‘No,’ ” were Bagley’s parting words.
“So they're talking of a strike,” thought O’Neil after Bagley left him. “Misguided fools; they’ll strike for a month, perhaps, and then when the shoe begins to pinch, they’ll beg to be taken back. Oh, no, no strike for John O’Neil; I’ve tried it once and that lesson I’ll never forget;” and he busied himself about the engine, keeping a careful eye on the revolutions of the great thirty foot driving wheel, as it whirled around half in and half out of the great pit in which it revolved.
*******
“Father, father, they’ve struck, they’ve struck!” shouted Tip O’Neil, bursting into the room where his father lay sleeping one morning, about a week afterward. Tip’s face was flushed and excited, and he gasped out the words breathlessly, for he had run all the way home from the mill with the news of the strike.
John O’Neil sat upright and rubbed his eyes while Tip went on: “I just came from the mill and all the men struck together, and they wear little curly bits of paper in their caps to show they’re strikers, and they’ve all gone to Thompson’s hall to hold a meeting, and Mr. Henderson has telegraphed to Harrisburg for men to take their places—and—and—that’s all.”
“That’s quite enough,” replied his father with a smile, which quickly gave place, however, to a grave expression, as he arose and dressed himself, and followed Tip down stairs, where were Mrs. O’Neil and baby Tim.
“John,” said his wife, coming up to him and laying her hands on his shoulders, persuasively, “you’ll not go out with the men? Remember the last time.”
“Yes, Molly,” he replied, smiling down into her anxious eyes upturned to his. “I do remember the last time, and for that reason I’ll stick by the company, come what may.”
“Oh, I’m so glad, John,” said his wife, as she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Good for you, father; don’t you strike just because the rest do. Billy Bagley said you was mean if you didn’t, but I told him you never was mean, and—”
Tipperary,” said his father, shaking a warning finger at him (John O’Neil was a true Irishman and had named his first-born for his own dear birthplace), “where did you get that cut on your chin? You’ve been fighting.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to let Billy Bagley call you mean, and besides he struck me first.”
“But what did you say to him that caused him to strike you?” inquired O’Neil.
“Why I said his father was mean because he struck,” replied Tip, a little shamefacedly.
“Ah, that’s what I thought; you were both to blame. Tip, I don’t want you to have anything more to do with the Bagley boy.”
“All right, father,” replied Tip obediently, “I’ll keep away from him after this.”
“Molly, I guess I’ll go down to the offices and assure Mr. Henderson that I’ll stand by him, or he may be after telegraphing for a new night engineer,” and John O’Neil, after kissing baby Tim, put on his cap and left the house.
He found Mr. Henderson in his private office, and the superintendent greeted him with a smile when the engineer had told him of his decision to stand by the company.
“Thank you,” said the superintendent, shaking his hand warmly, “rest assured we shall not forget your faithfulness. I’m sorry for some of the men for they can ill afford to lose even a day’s pay. I believe that Joe Bagley is at the bottom of this trouble. I find that he has been among the men urging this strike for the last week, and having won over some of the hot-headed ones, they almost compelled the others to go out with them.”
“It was Bagley who urged me to strike,” interrupted O’Neil.
“And like a sensible man, you refused,” said the superintendent, smiling. “I suppose you know that Jephson, the day engineer, has gone out, too?”
“I thought so,” replied O’Neil; “he’s easily led.”
“That being the case,” continued the superintendent, “I shall have to ask you to run the engine on night and day turn, until we can secure some one to take Jephson’s place. We have telegraphed to Harrisburg for men, and hope to have all the departments running by the day after to-morrow.”
“Shall I report for duty Thursday morning?”
“Yes, unless we should need you before.”
“Then I will bid you good morning, Mr. Henderson,” and O’Neil bowed himself out of the superintendent’s office.
Thursday morning the mill resumed operations, with the new men from Harrisburg, and the rage of the strikers knew no bounds. Many threats were made by the strikers against the new men, but their anger was directed chiefly against John O’Neil, who soon found it would not be safe to venture outside the mill. And so it came about that morning, noon and night, little Tip O’Neil trudged to the mill with his father’s dinner pail and at night he carried two, the second containing his midnight lunch.
For a whole week John O’Neil ran the great engine night and day. Every day the strikers grew more bitter against him, and they began to make open threats against his life and the company’s property. The engineer heard of these threats in a general way, but they did not disturb him in the least. He felt the need of rest, though, for the steady night and day strain began to tell on him, and when a young fellow of good appearance, applied to him for the position of assistant engineer, and show Ted his capability and thorough knowledge of steam power, he arranged with the superintendent for the young fellow’s employment. This relieved the worn-out engineer in a great measure, and a nap now and then, with young Lawson in charge of the engine, did O’Neil a world of good, and a day or so saw him fully recovered from the wear of the previous week. Still there was no sign of the company’s yielding to the demands of the strikers, and as their funds began to run low and credit was refused them at the stores in town, every day now saw them more and more desperate.
Two weeks had now passed since the inception of the strike, and John O’Neil had not ventured from the mill to visit his home. For two weeks faithful Tip had carried the dinner pail back and forth, and conveyed the daily news of home to his father. No violence had as yet been attempted by the strikers, and a feeling of security settled down over the great mill and things resumed their usual course.
Then there came a dark, stormy night. Tip had trudged through the pouring rain after supper with the two pails, and had returned home. The streets were deserted. Few cared to breast the storm of wind and rain that raged furiously without. At the mill the night “turn” had come on, and work was progressing as usual. John O’Neil sat by his engine, carefully noting its speed, for the steam was at a high pressure; for some reason higher than common. The fly-wheel had not yet been repaired and he was still very careful about running at high speed. Presently Lawson, his assistant, came on for the night, and O’Neil, bidding him keep a watchful eye on the machinery, left the engine and going to his little room close by, sat down and ate his evening meal. The coffee, he remembered afterward, tasted queerly, but he thought nothing of it at the time. His supper finished, he lay down on the rough cot and was soon asleep.
At the home of the O’Neil’s there was anxiety, not only on account of the threats made by the strikers against John O’Neil, but because baby Tim had, that very afternoon, begun to show signs of the much dreaded croup. All evening long his mother had doctored the child with the simple home remedies, but without avail. He grew worse hourly, and about nine o’clock the mother, greatly worried, decided to send Tip for the doctor.
"Tip,” she said, “you’re not afraid to go, are you?”
“I guess not,” replied Tip manfully, donning his rubber coat.
“Then hurry, dear, and tell Dr. Morse he must come at once.”
“Yes, mother,” came the cheery voice out of the darkness, and Mrs. O’Neil closed the door and went back to gasping, choking Tim and waited.
Tip hurried on through the inky blackness. On up the hill on the other side of the town to Dr. Morse’s house and rang the bell. The good doctor himself responded to the timid ring and invited the boy into his cheerful office while he told his story.
“Certainly. Tip, I’ll come right away. But here, you take this prescription”—writing—“and go round by Robbin’s drug store, and if you hurry you will reach home with the medicine about the time I shall get there.”
“What if I don’t, doctor? It’s a long way round and it’s awful dark,” said Tip.
“Oh, well, if you don’t get there just on time 1 guess we’ll manage. I’ll take some other medicine with me in case you are late.”
All right, doctor, I’ll get home just as soon as ever I can, and with this, Tip was off once more in the storm. The wind dashed the rain in his face. and at times he found it almost impossible to see his hand before him, so dark was it.
Down the hill, then on past the mill where his father was, down the long main street of the town and then Tip reached the drug store.
“This is for my father,” said Tip, as the clerk handed him the bottle of medicine.
“And who’s your father, my little man?” inquired the clerk, smiling.
“John O’Neil,” replied Tip, “and he didn’t strike either," he added proudly.
“Well, it’s all right if you mean John O'Neil the engineer of the Co-operative Company,” said the clerk. "You tell your father that as long as he don’t strike, he can have all the credit he wants at Robbins store.”
Tip tucked the bottle of medicine carefully away in the pocket of his rubber coat and hurried down the street in the direction of home. At the next corner he encountered several rough looking men. By the light of the street lamp he saw they were strikers, for in their caps, which were pulled down over their faces, they wore the small curly bits of paper, the badge adopted by them. As he passed the men, he heard his father’s name spoken in an undertone. Tip pricked up his ears. What were they saying? Perhaps there was a plot to harm his father in some way. If so, he ought to know what it was they intended to do. At any rate, there could be no harm in listening. Carefully the boy entered the gate of the corner yard and crept unobserved along the fence, close up to where the men were talking in subdued tones. Tip’s heart beat like a trip hammer as he gained a position behind the fence where he could hear every word distinctly. Crouching in the wet grass, he fairly held his breath, as bit by bit, he learned of the dastardly plot against his father and the mills. Peeping through a knothole in the high board fence, Tip recognized in the speaker, the dim outlines of the villainous face of Joe Bagley. The man was exulting over the fact that the plot had originated with him. Aided by Lawson, the new assistant engineer, the scheme was to be carried out that very night. John O’Neil's coffee was to be drugged, the lever of the great engine was to be thrown wide open by Lawson, and it was expected that the consequences would be disastrous to the mill, to O’Neil, the faithful engineer, and to the men who had taken the places of the strikers, and whom the latter scornfully dubbed “scabs.”
As the full meaning of his father’s danger broke upon Tip, he shuddered. What was that the men said? He placed his ear to the friendly knothole and listened eagerly. Ten o’clock! That was the time they had set. Why, it must be ten o’clock now. He was too late. The boy’s brain seemed on fire so fast ran his thoughts. He would try though; yes, he would try to reach the mill in time to warn his father. Slowly and cautiously he crept along the fence, back to the gate. And then how his little legs flew as he sped through the darkness toward the mill. Baby Tim, his mother, the doctor waiting for the medicine, all were forgotten in the one desire to reach the mill before the catastrophe. Soon the line of glowing furnaces came in sight. He drew nearer. The mill was still safe. The men were yet at work. He had almost reached the works when a sudden panic seemed to have seized the workmen. They ran wildly from the mill. Tip knew well the meaning of that and he redoubled his exertions. He reached the now deserted mill. He thought he saw a dark figure glide past him as he entered one of the wide doors. How the rolls roared as he passed them. What an unearthly racket the spinning machinery made. He approached the ponderous engine, the driver of which seemed like a zigzag flash of steel-blue lightning as it flew back and forth. The huge wheel whizzed round with a mighty rush that was momentarily increasing. But his father, where was he? Half wild with fear, Tip ran to the door of the little room, where his father was wont to take his naps. He lay asleep on the rough couch.
“Father, father, wake up, wake up!” Tip cried. There was no answer, save the fast increasing roar of the machinery. Tip shook him, but it was of no use. He was unconscious. Rushing out into the mill again, Tip spied one of the trucks which were used for conveying away the ends of the rails. It was but the work of a moment to draw it to where his father lay. Upon the truck, by a tremendous effort the boy placed his father, and then as fast as possible, he drew him away from the mill and danger. At a safe distance Tip paused. Why not try to save the mill? He would go back and attempt to shut off the steam. Leaving his father, he hurried back to the founding engine. Inside the mill pandemonium reigned. The clangor of the wheels, the clamor of the fast revolving rolls, the roar of the now furious engine filled his ears. Still undaunted the brave boy approached the monster. His hand was upon the bright handle of the lever. He pushed with all his might, but it did not move. He tried again. His utmost strength failed to budge it. He stooped to pick up a heavy hammer that lay near, thinking perhaps the lever might yield to blows. Suddenly there was a tremendous rending sound. The ground trembled beneath his feet. The entire engine seemed lifted through the roof of the mill. Crash succeeded crash. Tip was borne to the ground in the ruins of the mill. He felt the rush of rain drops upon his upturned face, and then—.
*********
John O'Neil will never tire of telling how they found poor Tip, the hammer still clutched in his hand, crushed under a great piece of timber among the ruins of the mill. He was unconscious and his right leg was broken just below the knee. He still used crutches when Joe Bagley and Lawson, his accomplice, were brought to justice. And it was Tip’s testimony that sent them both to state’s prison. Baby Tim recovered from the croup and did not suffer from Tip’s failure to arrive on time with the medicine.
Tip is in the big office now, under Superintendent Henderson himself, and John O’Neil is assistant superintendent of the mills.

"Tip my boy,” Mr. Henderson sometimes says, "I've often read of heroes, but I never expected to have a real live specimen working for me.” and he laughs to himself, while Tip replies—nothing.

No comments:

Blog Archive

Countries we have visited

About Me

My photo

As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.