The new munition plant was nearing completion. Situated on the outskirts of the
city, it spread over a vast area of what had once been waste land. Of the three
long buildings, two were already in operation and the third was well under way.
To Clayton Spencer it was the realization of a dream. He never entered the great
high-walled enclosure without a certain surprise at the ease with which it had all
been accomplished, and a thrill of pride at the achievement. He found the work
itself endlessly interesting. The casts, made of his own steel, lying in huge rusty
heaps in the yard; the little cars which carried them into the plant; the various
operatons by which the great lathes turned them out, smooth and shining, only to
lose their polish when, heated again, they were ready for the ponderous hammer
to close their gaping jaws. The delicacy of the work appealed to him, the
machining to a thousandth of an inch, the fastidious making of the fuses, tiny
things almost microscopic, and requiring the delicate touch of girls, most of whom
had been watchmakers and jewelry-workers.
And with each carload of the finished shells that left the plant he felt a fine glow
of satisfaction. The output was creeping up. Soon they would be making ten
thousand shells a day. And every shell was one more chance for victory against
the Hun. It became an obsession with him to make more, ever more.
As the work advanced, he found an unexpected enthusiasm in Graham. Here
was something to be done, a new thing. The steel mill had been long
established. Its days went on monotonously. The boy found it noisy, dirty, without
appeal to his imagination. But the shell plant was different. There were new
problems to face, of labor, of supplies, of shipping and output.
He was, however, reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the break with
Germany was the final step that the Government intended to take. That it would
not declare war.
However, the break had done something. It had provided him with men from the
local National Guard to police the plant, and he found the government taking a
new interest, an official interest, in his safety. Agents from the Military Intelligence
and the Department of Justice scanned his employment lists and sent agents into
the plant. In the building where men and women were hired, each applicant
passed a desk where they were quietly surveyed by two unobstrusive gentlemen
in indifferent business suits who eyed them carefully. Around the fuse
department, where all day girls and women handled guncotton and high-
explosive powder, a special guard was posted, day and night.
Early in March Clayton put Graham in charge of the first of the long buildings to
be running full, and was rewarded by a new look in the boy's face. He was almost
startled at the way he took it.
"I'll do my very best, sir," he said, rather huskily. "If I can't fight, I can help put the
swine out of business, anyhow."