Chapter VII. The Foreman
 

Grant Maitlandís business instincts and training were such as to forbid any trifling with loose management in any department of his plant. He was, moreover, too just a man to allow any of his workmen to suffer for failures not their own. His first step was to get at the facts. His preliminary move was characteristic of him. He sent for McNish.

"McNish," he said, "your figures I have examined. They tell me nothing I did not know, but they are cleverly set down. The matter of wages I shall deal with as I have always dealt with it in my business. The other matter--" Mr. Maitland paused, then proceeded with grave deliberation, "I must deal with in my own way. It will take a little time. I shall not delay unnecessarily, but I shall accept dictation from no man as to my methods."

McNish stood silently searching his face with steady eyes.

"You are a new man here, and I find you are a good workman," continued Mr. Maitland. "I donít know you nor your aims and purposes in this Grievance Committee business of yours. If you want a steady job with a chance to get on, you will get both; if you want trouble, you can get that too, but not for long, here."

Still the Scot held him with grave steady gaze, but speaking no word.

"You understand me, McNish?" said Maitland, nettled at the manís silence.

"Aye, Aíve got a heid," he said in an impassive voice.

"Well, then, I hope you will govern yourself accordingly. Good- day," said Maitland, closing the interview.

McNish still stood immovable.

"Thatís all I have to say," said Maitland, glancing impatiently at the man.

"But itís no all A have to say, if ye will pairmit me," answered McNish in a voice quiet and respectful and apparently, except for its Doric flavour, quite untouched by emotion of any kind soever.

"Go on," said Maitland shortly, as the Scot stood waiting.

"Maister Maitland," said McNish, rolling out a deeper Doric, "ye have made a promise and a threat. Yere threat is naething tae me. As tae yere job, A want it and A want tae get on, but Aím a free man the noo aní a free man A shall ever be. Good-day tae ye." He bowed respectfully to his employer and strode from the room.

Mr. Maitland sat looking at the closed door.

"He is a man, that chap, at any rate," he said to himself, "but whatís his game, I wonder. He will bear watching."

The very next day Maitland made a close inspection of his plant, beginning with the sawmill. He found McNish running one of the larger circular saws, and none too deftly. He stood observing the man for some moments in silence. Then stepping to the workmanís side he said,

"You will save time, I think, if you do it this way." He seized the levers and, eliminating an unnecessary movement, ran the log. McNish stood calmly observing.

"Aye, yere r-right," he said. "Yeíll have done yon before."

"You just bet I have," said Maitland, not a little pleased with himself.

"Aím no saw man," said McNish, a little sullenly. "A dinna ken--I don't know saws of this sort. I'm a joiner. He put me off the bench."

"Who?" said Maitland quickly.

"Yon manny," replied McNish with unmistakable disgust.

"You were on the bench, eh? What sort of work were you on?"

"A was daein' a bit counter work. A wasna fast enough for him."

Mr. Maitland called the head sawyer.

"Put a man on here for a while, Powell, will you? You come with me, McNish."

Together they went into the planing mill. Asking for the foreman he found that he was nowhere to be seen, that indeed he had not been in the mill that morning.

"Show me your work, McNish," he said.

McNish led him to a corner of the mill where some fine counter work was in process.

"That's my work," he said, pointing to a piece of oak railing.

Maitland, turning the work over in his hands, ran his finger along a joint somewhat clumsily fitted.

"Not that," said McNish hastily. "Ma work stops here."

Again Maitland examined the rail. His experienced eye detected easily the difference in the workmanship.

"Is there anything else of yours about here?" he asked. McNish went to a pile of finished work and from it selected a small swing door beautifully panelled. Maitland's eye gleamed.

"Ah, that's better," he said. "Yes, that's better."

He turned to one of the workmen at the bench near by.

"What job is this, Gibbon?" he asked.

"It's the Bank job, I think," said Gibbon.

"What? The Merchants' Bank job? Surely that can't be. That job was due two weeks ago." Maitland turned impatiently toward an older man. "Ellis," he said sharply, "do you know what job this is?"

Ellis came and turned over the different parts of the work.

"That's the Merchants' Bank job, sir," he said.

"Then what is holding this up?" enquired Maitland wrathfully.

"It's the turned work, I think, sir. I am not sure, but I think I heard Mr. Perrotte asking about that two or three days ago." Mr. Maitland's lips met in a thin straight line.

"You can go back to your saw, McNish," he said shortly.

"Ay, sir," said McNish, his tone indicating quiet satisfaction. At Gibbon's bench he paused. "Ye'll no pit onything past him, a doot," he said, with a grim smile, and passed out.

In every part of the shop Mr. Maitland found similar examples of mismanagement and lack of co-ordination in the various departments of the work. It needed no more than a cursory inspection to convince him that a change of foreman was a simple necessity. Everywhere he found not only evidence of waste of time but also of waste of material. It cut him to the heart to see beautiful wood mangled and ruined. All his life he had worked with woods of different kinds. He knew them standing in all their matchless grandeur, in the primeval forest and had followed them step by step all the way to the finished product. Never without a heart pang did he witness a noble white pine, God's handiwork of centuries, come crashing to earth through the meaner growth beneath the chopper's axe. The only thing that redeemed such a deed from sacrilege, in his mind, was to see the tree fittingly transformed into articles of beauty and worth suitable for man's use. Hence, when he saw lying here and there deformed and disfigured fragments of the exquisitely grained white spruce, which during the war, he had with such care selected for his aeroplane parts, his very heart rose in indignant wrath. And filled with this wrath he made his way to the office and straightway summoned Wickes and his son Jack to conference.

"Tony will never make a worker in wood. He cares nothing for it," he said bitterly.

"Nor in anything else, Dad," said Jack, with a little laugh.

"You laugh, but it is no laughing matter," said his father reproachfully.

"I am sorry, Father, but you know I always thought it was a mistake to put Tony in charge of anything. Why, he might have had his commission if he were not such an irresponsible, downwright lazy beggar. What he needs, as my Colonel used to profanely say, is 'a good old-fashioned Sergeant-Major to knock hell out of him'. And, believe me, Tony was a rattling fine soldier if his officer would regularly, systematically and effectively expel his own special devil from his system. He needs that still."

"What can we do with him? I simply can't and won't dismiss him, as that infernally efficient and coolheaded Scot demands. You heard about the Grievance Committee?"

"Oh, the town has the story with embellishments. Rupert Stillwell took care to give me a picturesque account. But I would not hesitate, Dad. Kick Tony a good swift kick once a week or so, or, if that is beneath your dignity, fire him."

"But, Jack, lad, we can't do that," said his father, greatly distressed, "after what--"

"Why not? He carried me out of that hell all right, and while I live I shall remember that. But he is a selfish beggar. He hasn't the instinct for team play. He hasn't the idea of responsibility for the team. He gets so that he can not make himself do what he just doesn't feel like doing. He doesn't care a tinker's curse for the other fellows in the game with him."

"The man that doesn't care for other fellows will never make a foreman," said Mr. Maitland decisively. "But can't something be done with him?"

"There's only one way to handle Tony," said Jack. "I learned that long ago in school. He was a prince of half-backs, you know, but I had regularly to kick him about before every big match. Oh, Tony is a fine sort but he nearly broke my heart till I nearly broke his back."

"That does not help much, Jack." For the first time in his life Grant Maitland was at a loss as to how he should handle one of his men. Were it not for the letter in the desk at his hand he would have made short work of Tony Perrotte. But there the letter lay and in his heart the inerasible picture it set forth.

"What is the special form that Tony's devilment has taken, may I ask?" enquired Jack.

"Well, I may say to you, what Wickes knows and has known and has tried for three months to hide from me and from himself, Tony has made about as complete a mess of the organization under his care in the planing mill as can be imagined. The mill is strewn with the wreckage of unfulfilled orders. He has no sense of time value. To-morrow is as good as to-day, next week as this week. A foreman without a sense of time value is no good. And he does not value material. Waste to him is nothing. Another fatal defect. The man to whom minutes are not potential gold and material potential product can never hope to be a manufacturer. If only I had not been away from home! But the thing is, what is to be done?"

"In the words of a famous statesman much abused indeed, I suggest, 'Wait and see.' Meantime, find some way of kicking him into his job."

This proved to be in the present situation a policy of wisdom. It was Tony himself who furnished the solution. From the men supposed to be working under his orders he learned the day following Maitland's visit of inspection something of the details of that visit. He quickly made up his mind that the day of reckoning could not long be postponed. None knew better than Tony himself that he was no foreman; none so well that he loathed the job which had been thrust upon him by the father of the man whom he had carried out from the very mouth of hell. It was something to his credit that he loathed himself for accepting the position. Yet, with irresponsible procrastination, he put off the day of reckoning. But, some ten days later, and after a night with some kindred spirits of his own Battalion, a night prolonged into the early hours of the working day, Tony presented himself at the office, gay, reckless, desperate, but quite compos mentis and quite master of his means of locomotion.

He appeared in the outer office, still in his evening garb.

"Mr. Wickes," he said in solemn gravity, "please have your stenographer take this letter."

Mr. Wickes, aghast, strove to hush his vibrant tones, indicating in excited pantomime the presence of the chief in the inner office. He might as effectively have striven to stay the East wind at that time sweeping up the valley.

"Are you ready, my dear?" said Tony, smiling pleasantly at the girl. "All right, proceed. 'Dear Mr. Maitland:' Got that? 'Conscious of my unfitness for the position of foreman in--'"

"Hush, hush, Tony," implored Mr. Wickes.

Tony waved him aside.

"What have you got, eh?"

At that point the door opened and Grant Maitland stepped into the office. Tony rose to his feet and, bowing with elaborate grace and dignity, he addressed his chief.

"Good morning, sir. I am glad to see you, in fact, I wanted to see you but wishing to save your time I was in the very act of dictating a communication to you."

"Indeed, Tony?" said Mr. Maitland gravely.

"Yes, sir, I was on the point of dictating my resignation of my position of foreman."

"Step in to the office, Tony," said Mr. Maitland kindly and sadly.

"I don't wish to take your time, sir," said Tony, sobered and quieted by Mr. Maitland's manner, "but my mind is quite made up. I--"

"Come in," said Mr. Maitland, in a voice of quiet command, throwing open his office door. "I wish to speak to you."

"Oh, certainly, sir," answered Tony, pulling himself together with an all too obvious effort.

In half an hour Tony came forth, a sober and subdued man.

"Good-bye, Wickes," he said, "I'm off."

"Where are you going, Tony?" enquired Wickes, startled at the look on Tony's face.

"To hell," he snapped, "where such fools as me belong," and, jamming his hat hard down on his head, he went forth.

In another minute Mr. Maitland appeared at the office door.

"Wickes," he said sharply, "put on your hat and get Jack for me. Bring him, no matter what he's at. That young fool who has just gone out must be looked after. The boot-leggers have been taking him in tow. If I had only known sooner. Did you know, Wickes, how he has been going on? Why didn't you report to me?"

"I hesitated to do that, sir," putting his desk in order. "I always expected as how he would pull up. It's his company, sir. He is not so much to blame."

"Well, he would not take anything I had to offer. He is wild to get away. And unfortunately he has some money with him, too. But get Jack for me. He can handle him if anybody can."

Sorely perplexed Mr. Maitland returned to his office. His business sense pointed the line of action with sunlight clearness. His sense of justice to the business for which he was responsible as well as to the men in his employ no less clearly indicated the action demanded. His sane judgment concurred in the demand of his men for the dismissal of his foreman. Dismissal had been rendered unnecessary by Tony's unshakable resolve to resign his position which he declared he loathed and which he should never have accepted. His perplexity arose from the confusion within himself. What should he do with Tony? He had no position in his works or in the office for which he was fit. None knew this better than Tony himself.

"It's a joke, Mr. Maitland," he had declared, "a ghastly joke. Everybody knows it's a joke, that I should be in command of any man when I can't command myself. Besides, I can't stick it." In this resolve he had persisted in spite of Mr. Maitland's entreaties that he should give the thing another try, promising him all possible guidance and backing. But entreaties and offers of assistance had been in vain. Tony was wild to get away from the mill. He hated the grind. He wanted his freedom. Vainly Mr. Maitland had offered to find another position for him somewhere, somehow.

"We'll find a place in the office for you," he had pleaded. "I want to see you get on, Tony. I want to see you make good."

But Tony was beyond all persuasion.

"It isn't in me," he had declared. "Not if you gave me the whole works could I stick it."

"Take a few days to think it over," Mr. Maitland had pleaded.

"I know myself--only too well. Ask Jack, he knows," was Tony's bitter answer. "And that's final."

"No, Tony, it is not final," had been Mr. Maitland's last word, as Tony had left him.

But after the young man had left him there still remained the unsolved question, What was he to do with Tony? In Mr. Maitland's heart was the firm resolve that he would not allow Tony to go his own way. The letter in the desk at his hand forbade that.

At his wits' end he had sent for Jack. Jack had made a football half-back and a hockey forward out of Tony when everyone else had failed. If anyone could divert him from that desperate downward course to which he seemed headlong bent, it was Jack.

In a few minutes Wickes returned with the report that on receiving an account of what had happened Jack had gone to look up Tony.

Mr. Maitland drew a breath of relief.

"Tony is all right for to-day," he said, turning to his work and leaving the problem for the meantime to Jack.

In an hour Jack reported that he had been to the Perrotte home and had interviewed Tony's mother. From her he had learned that Tony had left the town, barely catching the train to Toronto. He might not return for a week or ten days. He could set no time for it. He was his own master as to time. He had got to the stage where he could go and come pretty much as he pleased. The mother was not at all concerned as to these goings and comings of her son. He had an assured position, all cause for anxiety in regard to him was at an end. Tony's mother was obviously not a little uplifted that her son should be of sufficient importance to be entrusted with business in Toronto in connection with the mill.

All of which tended little toward relieving the anxiety of Mr. Maitland.

"Let him take his swing, Dad, for a bit," was Jack's advice. "He will come back when he is ready, and until then wild horses won't bring him nor hold him. He is no good for his old job, and you have no other ready that he will stick at. He has no Sergeant- Major now to knock him about and make him keep step, more's the pity."

"Life will be his Sergeant-Major, I fear," said his father, "and a Sergeant-Major that will exact the utmost limit of obedience or make him pay the price. All the same, we won't let him go. I can't Jack, anyway."

"Oh, Tony will turn up, never fear, Dad," said Jack easily.

With this assurance his father had to content himself. In a fortnight's time a letter came from Tony to his sister, rosy with the brilliance of the prospects opening up before him. There was the usual irresponsible indefiniteness in detail. What he was doing and how he was living Tony did not deign to indicate. Ten days later Annette had another letter. The former prospects had not been realised, but he had a much better thing in view, something more suitable to him, and offering larger possibilities of position and standing in the community. So much Annette confided to her mother who passed on the great news with elaborations and annotations to Captain Jack. To Captain Jack himself Annette gave little actual information. Indeed, shorn of its element of prophecy, there was little in Tony's letter that could be passed on. Nor did Annette drop any hint but that all was quite well with her brother, much less that he had suggested a temporary loan of fifty dollars but only of course if she could spare the amount with perfect convenience. After this letter there was silence as far as Tony was concerned and for Annette anxiety that deepened into agony as the silence remained unbroken with the passing weeks.

With the anxiety there mingled in Annette's heart anger at the Maitlands, for she blamed them for Tony's dismissal from his position. This, it is fair to say, was a reflection from her mother's wrath, whose mind had been filled up with rumours from the mills to the effect that her son had been "fired." Annette was wise enough and knew her brother well enough to discredit much that rumour brought to her ears, but she could not rid herself of the thought that a way might have been found to hold Tony about the mills.

"He fired the boy, did the ould carmudgeon," said Madame Perrotte in one of her rages, "and druv him off from the town."

"Nonsense, Mother," Annette had replied, "you know well enough Tony left of his own accord. Why should you shame him so? He went because he wanted to go."

This was a new light upon the subject for her mother.

"Thrue for you, Annette, gurl," she said, "an' ye said it that time. But why for did he not induce the bye to remain? It would be little enough if he had made him the Manager of the hull works. That same would never pay back what he did for his son."

"Hush, Mother," said Annette, in a shocked and angry voice, "let no one hear you speak like that. Pay back! You know, Mother, nothing could ever pay back a thing like that." The anger in her daughter's voice startled the mother.

"Oui! by gar!" said Perrotte, who had overheard, with quick wrath. "Dat's foolish talk for sure! Dere's no man can spik lak dat to me, or I choke him on his fool t'roat, me."

"Right you are, mon pere!" said Annette appeasing her father. "Mother did not think what she was saying."

"Dat's no bon," replied Perrotte, refusing to be appeased. "Sacre tonnerre! Dat's one--what you call?--damfool speech. Dat boy Tony he's carry (h)on hees back his friend, le Capitaine Jack, an' le Capitaine, he's go five mile for fin' Tony on' de shell hole an' fetch heem to le docteur and stay wit' him till he's fix (h)up. Nom de Dieu! You pay for dat! Mama! You mak' shame for me on my heart!" cried the old Frenchman, beating his breast, while sobs shook his voice.