-- I should be very glad to hear them.
Old Eaker said, -- Before we begin, boys, you might like to know Hubbard here is from Gideon Welles's hometown.
-- From Hartford, eh? Do you know the secretary, Mr. Hubbard?
-- I have had the pleasure of corresponding with him.
Theo didn't add that it had been in the form of a letter to the then editor of the Hartford Times. From his first startle he was beginning to feel more comfortable. This was the sort of personal examination wealthy, powerful men liked to have with underlings. Which was fine with him.
One day he intended to be one of them.
Theodorus Coggswell Hubbard had been born on a farm in Weatogue. At twelve he'd walked to Hartford and signed on as a machinery oiler at the Hanbury cotton mill. Hard work, respectful address, and natural ability made him assistant foreman at fifteen, foreman at sixteen, and journeyman machinist and head of loom maintenance at seventeen. On his eighteenth birthday he applied to the best school he could afford, living on his savings as he completed his education.
When he graduated, the largest toolmaker in town hired him as a master machinist. When the company failed in '55, a notice in the Courant of a board to hire steam engineers in government service caught his eye.
He'd taken the next morning's train to Washington, changing at New Haven, New York, and Philadelphia, sitting up all night on a hard bench seat. The questions were practical ones, easily answered by anyone who'd run a stationary engine. He was assigned as third assistant engineer in the old paddle wheeler Susquehanna. He went from there to first assistant in Mississippi after her return from shelling the Chinese at Pei Ho, then to Owanee as first engineer. He'd been about to resign and seek a position in engine design when the war had come.
Clever men with vision, such as Drake and Morse and Rockefeller, were changing the face of the country. America would bring the world wheels of steel and wings of bronze, nerved by electricity and powered by steam. Men like Cyrus McCormick, Eli Whitney, and Joseph Henry were famous and rich. Theo Hubbard wanted these things with the desperation of a man born poor and nearing thirty.
He had one more reason for bidding farewell to the ocean waves. There were no applicants for the position at present, but he had no doubt of his eligibility for marriage should a suitable candidate appear.
Barnes said vigorously, -- A fine figure of a man, Welles. Sees to the heart of a matter.
When the others murmured agreement, Bushnell took up the thread. -- When I presented Captain Ericsson's proposal, he saw at once how revolutionary it was. My own plan looked unimaginative beside it. But we have ironmaking capacity for both and for many more.
-- Quite so, said Barnes. Then, to Theo, -- Now you, sir, are a protégé, one might say, of Mister Isherwood. Not so?
-- I work for the chief engineer.
-- Who has great confidence in you. You're a loyal employee.
-- My previous masters have thought so.
-- And your opinion of him?
Theo hesitated, searching the hard faces. Poker would be a child's game to these shrewd financiers, lobbyists, political fixers. -- We worked together, trying to save Merrimack in Norfolk. His "Experiments in Steam Engineering" is a masterpiece. I'm proud to follow where he leads.
-- Well said.
-- Quite so.
Eaker patted his shoulder. -- Well, sir, you leave no doubt where you stand. Let us inquire further. You have seen considerable service afloat. What is your opinion of Captain Ericsson's design? Not so much as to its buildability but as to its...seaworthiness?
They were all eyeing him now. Theo said, -- I've only seen sketches. There are many good points. But I cannot say I've fully matured my opinion.
From That Anvil of Our Souls by David Poyer. Copyright © 2005 by David Poyer. All rights reserved.
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