Clara Butterworth left Bidwell, Ohio, in September of the year in which Steve
Hunter's plant-setting machine company went into the hands of a receiver, and in
January of the next year that enterprising young man, together with Tom
Butterworth, bought the plant. In March a new company was organized and at
once began making Hugh's corn-cutting machine, a success from the beginning.
The failure of the first company and the sale of the plant had created a furor in
the town. Both Steve and Tom Butterworth could, however, point to the fact that
they had held on to their stock and lost their money in common with every one
else. Tom had indeed sold his stock because he needed ready money, as he
explained, but had shown his good faith by buying again just before the failure.
"Do you suppose I would have done that had I known what was up?" he asked
the men assembled in the stores. "Go look at the books of the company. Let's
have an investigation here. You will find that Steve and I stuck to the rest of the
stockholders. We lost our money with the rest. If any one was crooked and when
they saw a failure coming went and got out from under at the expense of some
one else, it wasn't Steve and me. The books of the company will show we were
game. It wasn't our fault the plant-setting machine wouldn't work."
In the back room of the bank, John Clark and young Gordon Hart cursed Steve
and Tom, who, they declared, had sold them out. They had lost no money by the
failure, but on the other hand they had gained nothing. The four men had sent in
a bid for the plant when it was put up for sale, but as they expected no
competition, they had not bid very much. It had gone to a firm of Cleveland
lawyers who bid a little more, and later had been resold at private sale to Steve
and Tom. An investigation was started and it was found that Steve and Tom held
large blocks of stock in the defunct company, while the bankers held practically
none. Steve openly said that he had known of the possibility of failure for some
time and had warned the larger stock-holders and asked them not to sell their
stock. "While I was working my head off trying to save the company, what were
they up to?" he asked sharply, and his question was repeated in the stores and in
the homes of the people.
The truth of the matter, and the thing the town never found out, was that from the
beginning Steve had intended to get the plant for himself, but at the last had
decided it would be better to take some one in with him. He was afraid of John
Clark. For two or three days he thought about the matter and decided that the
banker was not to be trusted. "He's too good a friend to Tom Butterworth," he told
himself. "If I tell him my scheme, he'll tell Tom. I'll go to Tom myself. He's a
money maker and a man who knows the difference between a bicycle and a
wheelbarrow when you put one of them into bed with him."
Steve drove out to Tom's house late one evening in September. He hated to go
but was convinced it would be better to do so. "I don't want to burn all my bridges
behind me," he told himself. "I've got to have at least one friend among the solid
men here in town. I've got to do business with these rubes, maybe all my life. I
can't shut myself off too much, at least not yet a while."