The Elevator – Calumet “K”, Chapter 8
Five minutes after the noon whistle blew, on Saturday, every carpenter and laborer knew that Bannon had “pulled a gun” on Reilly. Those who heard it last heard more than that, for when the story had passed through a few hands it was bigger and it took longer to tell. And every man, during the afternoon, kept his eyes more closely on his work. Some were angry, but these dropped from muttering into sullenness; the majority were relieved, for a good workman is surer of himself under a firm than under a slack hand; but all were cowed. And Bannon, when after dinner he looked over the work, knew more about all of them and their feelings, perhaps, than they knew themselves. He knew, too, that the incident might in the long run make trouble. But trouble was likely in any case, and it was better to meet it after he had established his authority than while discipline was at loose ends.
But Hilda and Max were disappointed. They were in the habit of talking over the incidents and problems of the day every night after supper. And while Hilda, as Max used to say, had a mind of her own, she had fallen into the habit of seeing things much as Max saw them. Max had from the start admired, in his boyish way, Peterson’s big muscles and his easy good nature. He had been the first to catch the new spirit that Bannon had got into the work, but it was more the outward activity that he could understand and admire than Bannon’s finer achievements in organization. Like Hilda, he did not see the difference between dropping a hammer down a bin and overloading a hoist. Bannon’s distinction between running risks in order to push the work and using caution in minor matters was not recognized in their talks. And as Bannon was not in the habit of giving his reasons, the misunderstanding grew. But more than all Max felt, and in a way Hilda felt, too, that Peterson would never have found it necessary to use a revolver; his fists would have been enough for a dozen Reillys. Max did not tell Hilda about all the conversations he and Peterson had had during the last week, for they were confidential. Peterson had never been without a confidant, and though he still shared a room with Bannon, he could not talk his mind out with him. Max, who to Bannon was merely an unusually capable lumber-checker, was to Peterson a friend and adviser. And though Max tried to defend Bannon when Peterson fell into criticism of the way the work was going, he was influenced by it.
During the few days after the accident Hilda was so deeply distressed about the injured man that Max finally went to see him.
“He’s pretty well taken care of,” he said when he returned. “There’s some ribs broken, he says, and a little fever, but it ain’t serious. He’s got a couple of sneaking little lawyers around trying to get him to sue for damages, but I don’t think he’ll do it. The Company’s giving him full pay and all his doctor’s bills.”
Nearly every evening after that Max took him some little delicacy. Hilda made him promise that he would not tell who sent them.
Bannon had quickly caught the changed attitude toward him, and for several days kept his own counsel. But one morning, after dictating some letters to Hilda, he lingered.
“How’s our fund getting on?” he said, smiling. “Have you looked lately?”
“No,” she said, “I haven’t.”
He leaned over the railing and opened the box.
“It’s coming slow,” he said, shaking his head. “Are you sure nobody’s been getting away from us?”
Hilda was seated before the typewriter. She turned partly around, without taking her fingers from the keys.
“I don’t know,” she said quietly. “I haven’t been watching it.”
“We’ll have to be stricter about it,” said Bannon. “These fellows have got to understand that rules are rules.”
He spoke with a little laugh, but the remark was unfortunate. The only men who came within the railing were Max and Peterson.
“I may have forgotten it, myself,” she said.
“That won’t do, you know. I don’t know but what I can let you off this time—I’ll tell you what I’ll do, Miss Vogel: I’ll make a new rule that you can come in without wiping your feet if you’ll hand in a written excuse. That’s the way they did things when I went to school.” He turned to go, then hesitated again. “You haven’t been out on the job yet, have you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“I rather think you’d like it. It’s pretty work, now that we’re framing the cupola. If you say so, I’ll fix it for you to go up to the distributing floor this afternoon.”
She looked back at the machine.
“The view ain’t bad,” he went on, “when you get up there. You can see down into Indiana, and all around. You could see all Chicago, too, if it wasn’t for the smoke.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“Why, yes, Mr. Bannon,” she said; “I’d like to go very much.”
“All right,” he replied, his smile returning. “I’ll guarantee to get you up there somehow, if I have to build a stairway. Ninety feet’s pretty high, you know.”
When Bannon reached the elevator he stood for a moment in the well at the west end of the structure. This well, or “stairway bin,” sixteen by thirty-two feet, and open from the ground to the distributing floor, occupied the space of two bins. It was here that the stairway would be, and the passenger elevator, and the rope-drive for the transmission of power from the working to the distributing floor. The stairway was barely indicated by rude landings. For the present a series of eight ladders zigzagged up from landing to landing. Bannon began climbing; halfway up he met Max, who was coming down, time book in hand.
“Look here, Max,” he said, “we’re going to have visitors this afternoon. If you’ve got a little extra time I’d like to have you help get things ready.”
“All right,” Max replied. “I’m not crowded very hard to-day.”
“I’ve asked your sister to come up and see the framing.”
Max glanced down between the loose boards on the landing.
“I don’t know,” he said slowly; “I don’t believe she could climb up here very well.”
“She won’t have to. I’m going to put in a passenger elevator, and carry her up as grand as the Palmer House. You put in your odd minutes between now and three o’clock making a box that’s big and strong enough.”
“Say, that’s all right. She’ll like that. I can do most of it at noon.”
Bannon nodded and went on up the ladders. At the distributing floor he looked about for a long timber, and had the laborers lay it across the well opening. The ladders and landings occupied only about a third of the space; the rest was open, a clear drop of eighty feet.
At noon he found Max in an open space behind the office, screwing iron rings into the corners of a stout box. Max glanced up and laughed.
“I made Hilda promise not to come out here,” he said. He waved his hand toward the back wall of the office. Bannon saw that he had nailed strips over the larger cracks and knot holes. “She was peeking, but I shut that off before I’d got very far along. I don’t think she saw what it was. I only had part of the frame done.”
“She’ll be coming out in a minute,” said Bannon.
“I know. I thought of that.” Max threw an armful of burlap sacking over the box. “That’ll cover it up enough. I guess it’s time to quit, anyway, if I’m going to get any dinner. There’s a little square of carpet up to the house that I’m going to get for the bottom, and we can run pieces of half-inch rope from the rings up to a hook, and sling it right on the hoist.”
“It’s not going on the hoist,” said Bannon. “I wouldn’t stop the timbers for Mr. MacBride himself. When you go back, you’ll see a timber on the top of the well. I’d like you to sling a block under it and run an inch-and-a-quarter rope through. We’ll haul it up from below.”
“All right, Mr. Bannon. I’ll see to it. There’s Hilda now.”
He called to her to wait while he got his coat, and then the two disappeared across the tracks. Hilda had bowed to Bannon, but without the smile and the nod that he liked. He looked after her as if he would follow; but he changed his mind, and waited a few minutes.
The “elevator” was ready soon after the afternoon’s work had commenced. Bannon found time between two and three o’clock to inspect the tackle. He picked up an end of rope and lashed the cross timber down securely. Then he went down the ladders and found Max, who had brought the carpet for the box and was looking over his work. The rope led up to the top of the well through a pulley and then back to the working floor and through another pulley, so that the box could be hoisted from below.
“It’s all ready,” said Max. “It’ll run up as smooth as you want.”
“You’d better go for your sister, then,” Bannon replied.
“You meant for me to bring her?”
“Yes, I guess you might as well.”
Bannon stood looking after Max as he walked along the railroad track out into the open air. Then he glanced up between the smooth walls of cribbing that seemed to draw closer and closer together until they ended, far overhead, in a rectangle of blue sky. The beam across the top was a black line against the light. The rope, hanging from it, swayed lazily. He walked around the box, examining the rings and the four corner ropes, and testing them.
Hilda was laughing when she came with Max along the track. Bannon could not see her at first for the intervening rows of timbers that supported the bins. Then she came into view through an opening between two “bents” of timber, beyond a heap of rubbish that had been thrown at one side of the track. She was trying to walk on the rail, one arm thrown out to balance, the other resting across Max’s shoulders. Her jacket was buttoned snugly up to the chin, and there was a fresh color in her face.
Bannon had called in three laborers to man the rope; they stood at one side, awaiting the order to haul away. He found a block of wood, and set it against the box for a step.
“This way, Miss Vogel,” he called. “The elevator starts in a minute. You came pretty near being late.”
“Am I going to get in that?” she asked; and she looked up, with a little gasp, along the dwindling rope.
“Here,” said Max, “don’t you say nothing against that elevator. I call it pretty grand.”
She stood on the block, holding to one of the ropes, and looking alternately into the box and up to the narrow sky above them.
“It’s awfully high,” she said. “Is that little stick up there all that’s going to hold me up?”
“That little stick is ten-by-twelve,” Max replied. “It would hold more’n a dozen of you.”
She laughed, but still hesitated. She lowered her eyes and looked about the great dim space of the working story with its long aisles and its solid masses of timber. Suddenly she turned to Bannon, who was standing at her side, waiting to give her a hand.
“Oh, Mr. Bannon,” she said, “are you sure it’s strong enough? It doesn’t look safe.”
“I think it’s safe,” he replied quietly. He vaulted into the box and signalled to the laborers. Hilda stepped back off the block as he went up perhaps a third of the way, and then came down. She said nothing, but stepped on the block.
“How shall I get in?” she asked, laughing a little, but not looking at Bannon.
“Here,” said Bannon, “give us each a hand. A little jump’ll do it. Max here’ll go along the ladders and steady you if you swing too much. Wait a minute, though.” He hurried out of doors, and returned with a light line, one end of which he made fast to the box, the other he gave to Max.
“Now,” he said, “you can guide it as nice as walking upstairs.”
They started up, Hilda sitting in the box and holding tightly to the sides, Max climbing the ladders with the end of the line about his wrist. Bannon joined the laborers, and kept a hand on the hoisting rope.
“You’d better not look down,” he called after her.
She laughed and shook her head. Bannon waited until they had reached the top, and Max had lifted her out on the last landing; then, at Max’s shout, he made the rope fast and followed up the ladders.
He found them waiting for him near the top of the well.
“We might as well sit down,” he said. He led the way to a timber a few steps away. “Well, Miss Vogel, how do you like it?”
She was looking eagerly about; at the frame, a great skeleton of new timber, some of it still holding so much of the water of river and mill-yard that it glistened in the sunlight; at the moving groups of men, the figure of Peterson standing out above the others on a high girder, his arms knotted, and his neck bare, though the day was not warm; at the straining hoist, trembling with each new load that came swinging from somewhere below, to be hustled off to its place, stick by stick; and then out into the west, where the November sun was dropping, and around at the hazy flats and the strip of a river. She drew in her breath quickly, and looked up at Bannon with a nervous little gesture.
“I like it,” she finally said, after a long silence, during which they had watched a big stick go up on one of the small hoists, to be swung into place and driven home on the dowel pins by Peterson’s sledge.
“Isn’t Pete a hummer?” said Max. “I never yet saw him take hold of a thing that was too much for him.”
Neither Hilda nor Bannon replied to this, and there was another silence.
“Would you like to walk around and see things closer to?” Bannon asked, turning to Miss Vogel.
“I wouldn’t mind. It’s rather cold, sitting still.”
He led the way along one side of the structure, guiding her carefully in places where the flooring was not yet secure.
“I’m glad you came up,” he said. “A good many people think there’s nothing in this kind of work but just sawing wood and making money for somebody up in Minneapolis. But it isn’t that way. It’s pretty, and sometimes it’s exciting; and things happen every little while that are interesting enough to tell to anybody, if people only knew it. I’ll have you come up a little later, when we get the house built and the machinery coming in. That’s when we’ll have things really moving. There’ll be some fun putting up the belt gallery, too. That’ll be over here on the other side.”
He turned to lead the way across the floor to the north side of the building. They had stopped a little way from the boom hoist, and she was standing motionless, watching as the boom swung out and the rope rattled to the ground. There was the puffing of the engine far below, the straining of the rope, and the creaking of the blocks as the heavy load came slowly up. Gangs of men were waiting to take the timbers the moment they reached the floor. The foreman of the hoist gang was leaning out over the edge, looking down and shouting orders.
Hilda turned with a little start and saw that Bannon was waiting for her. Following him, she picked her way between piles of planks and timber, and between groups of laborers and carpenters, to the other side. Now they could look down at the four tracks of the C. & S. C., the unfinished spouting house on the wharf, and the river.
“Here’s where the belt gallery will go,” he said, pointing downward: “right over the tracks to the spouting house. They carry the grain on endless belts, you know.”
“Doesn’t it ever fall off?”
“Not a kernel. It’s pretty to watch. When she gets to running we’ll come up some day and look at it.”
They walked slowly back toward the well. Before they reached it Peterson and Max joined them. Peterson had rolled down his sleeves and put on his coat.
“You ain’t going down now, are you?” he said. “We’ll be starting in pretty soon on some of the heavy framing. This is just putting in girders.”
He was speaking directly to Miss Vogel, but he made an effort to include Bannon in the conversation by an awkward movement of his head. This stiffness in Peterson’s manner when Bannon was within hearing had been growing more noticeable during the past few days.
“Don’t you think of going yet,” he continued, with a nervous laugh, for Hilda was moving on. “She needn’t be in such a rush to get to work, eh, Charlie?”
Hilda did not give Bannon a chance to reply.
“Thank you very much, Mr. Peterson,” she said, smiling, “but I must go back, really. Maybe you’ll tell me some day when you’re going to do something special, so I can come up again.”
Peterson’s disappointment was so frankly shown in his face that she smiled again. “I’ve enjoyed it very much,” she said. She was still looking at Peterson, but at the last word she turned to include Bannon, as if she had suddenly remembered that he was in the party. There was an uncomfortable feeling, shown by all in their silence and in their groping about for something to say.
“I’ll go ahead and clear the track,” said Bannon. “I’ll holler up to you, Max, when we’re ready down below.”
“Here,” said Max, “let me go down.”
But Bannon had already started down the first ladder.
“The next time you come to visit us, Miss Vogel,” he called back, “I guess we’ll have our real elevator in, and we can run you up so fast it’ll take your breath away. We’ll be real swells here yet.”
When he reached the working floor, he called in the laborers and shouted to Max. But when the box, slowly descending, appeared below the bin walls, it was Peterson who held the line and chatted with Hilda as he steadied her.
The next day a lot of cribbing came from Ledyard, and Bannon at once set about reorganizing his forces so that work could go on night and day. He and Peterson would divide the time equally into twelve-hour days; but three divisions were necessary for the men, the morning shift working from midnight until eight o’clock, the day shift from eight to four, and the night shift from four to midnight.
Finally, when the whistle blew, at noon, Bannon tipped back his chair and pushed his hat back on his head.
“Well,” he said, “that’s fixed.”
“When will we begin on it?” Peterson asked.
“To-day. Have the whistle blow at four. It’ll make some of the men work overtime to-day, but we’ll pay them for it.”
Miss Vogel was putting on her jacket. Before joining Max, who was waiting at the door, she asked:—
“Do you want me to make any change in my work, Mr. Bannon?”
“No, you’d better go ahead just as you are. We won’t try to cut you up into three shifts yet awhile. We can do what letters and accounts we have in the daytime.”
She nodded and left the office.
All through the morning’s work Peterson had worn a heavy, puzzled expression, and now that they had finished, he seemed unable to throw it off. Bannon, who had risen and was reaching for his ulster, which he had thrown over the railing, looked around at him.
“You and I’ll have to make twelve-hour days of it, you know,” he said. He knew, from his quick glance and the expression almost of relief that came over his face, that this was what Peterson had been waiting for. “You’d better come on in the evening, if it’s all the same to you—at seven. I’ll take it in the morning and keep an eye on it during the day.”
Peterson’s eyes had lowered at the first words. He swung one leg over the other and picked up the list of carpenters that Max had made out, pretending to examine it. Bannon was not watching him closely, but he could have read the thoughts behind that sullen face. If their misunderstanding had arisen from business conditions alone, Bannon would have talked out plainly. But now that Hilda had come between them, and particularly that it was all so vague—a matter of feeling, and not at all of reason—he had decided to say nothing. It was important that he should control the work during the day, and coming on at seven in the morning, he would have a hand on the work of all three shifts. He knew that Peterson would not see it reasonably; that he would think it was done to keep him away from Hilda. He stood leaning against the gate to keep it open, buttoning his ulster.
“Coming on up to the house, Pete?”
Peterson got down off the railing.
“So you’re going to put me on the night shift,” he said, almost as a child would have said it.
“I guess that’s the way it’s got to work out,” Bannon replied. “Coming up?”
“No—not yet. I’ll be along pretty soon.”
Bannon started toward the door, but turned with a snap of his finger.
“Oh, while we’re at it, Pete—you’d better tell Max to get those men to keep time for the night shifts.”
“You mean you want him to go on with you in the daytime?”
“That’s just as he likes. But I guess he’ll want to be around while his sister is here. You see about that after lunch, will you?”
Peterson came in while Bannon was eating his dinner and stayed after he had gone. In the evening, when he returned to the house for his supper, after arranging with Peterson to share the first night’s work, Bannon found that the foreman’s clothes and grip had been taken from the room. On the stairs he met the landlady, and asked her if Mr. Peterson had moved.
“Yes,” she replied; “he took his things away this noon. I’m sorry he’s gone, for he was a good young man. He never give me any trouble like some of the men do that’s been here. The trouble with most of them is that they get drunk on pay-days and come home simply disgusting.”
Bannon passed on without comment. During the evening he saw Peterson on the distributing floor, helping the man from the electric light company rig up a new arc light. His expression when he caught sight of Bannon, sullen and defiant, yet showing a great effort to appear natural, was the only explanation needed of how matters stood between them.
It took a few days to get the new system to running smoothly—new carpenters and laborers had to be taken on, and new foremen worked into their duties—but it proved to be less difficult than Max and Hilda had supposed from what Peterson had to say about the conduct of the work. The men all worked better than before; each new move of Bannon’s seemed to infuse more vigor and energy into the work; and the cupola and annex began rapidly, as Max said, “to look like something.” Bannon was on hand all day, and frequently during a large part of the night. He had a way of appearing at any hour to look at the work and keep it moving. Max, after hearing the day men repeat what the night men had to tell of the boss and his work, said to his sister: “Honest, Hilda, I don’t see how he does it. I don’t believe he ever takes his clothes off.”
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17
LIVE TALK: Calumet “K”: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel by Shoshana Milgram Ph.D.
“This talk offers an introduction to the background, spirit and craft of the novel Ayn Rand called her favorite. Calumet ‘K,’ she wrote, features a ‘portrait of an efficacious man’; it reflects the sense of life of ‘a time when people were capable of admiring productive achievement.’ Dr. Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, specializes in narrative fiction and film. She has lectured on Ayn Rand at Objectivist and academic conferences, and has published on Ayn Rand, Hugo and Dostoevsky. She is editing the draft of her book-length study of Ayn Rand’s life (to 1957).
Samuel Merwin and Henry Kitchell Webster
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