He Don’t Care What It Costs Him – Calumet “K”, Chapter 9
The direct result of the episode with the carpenter Reilly was insignificant. He did not attempt to make good his boast that he would be back at work next day, and when he did appear, on Wednesday of the next week, his bleared eyes and dilapidated air made the reason plain enough. A business agent of his union was with him; Bannon found them in the office.
He nodded to the delegate. “Sit down,” he said. Then he turned to Reilly. “I don’t ask you to do the same. You’re not wanted on the premises. I told you once before that I was through talking.”
Reilly started to reply, but his companion checked him. “That’s all right,” he said. “I know your side of it. Wait for me up by the car line.”
When Reilly had gone Bannon repeated his invitation to sit down.
“You probably know why I’ve come,” the delegate began. “Mr. Reilly has charged you with treating him unjustly and with drawing a revolver on him. Of course, in a case like this, we try to get at both sides before we take any action. Would you give me your account of it?”
Bannon told in twenty words just how it had happened. The agent said cautiously: “Reilly told another story.”
“I suppose so. Now, I don’t ask you to take my word against his. If you’d like to investigate the business, I’ll give you all the opportunity you want.”
“If we find that he did drop the hammer by accident, would you be willing to take him back?”
Bannon smiled. “There’s no use in my telling you what I’ll do till you tell me what you want me to do, is there?”
Bannon held out his hand when the man rose to go.
“Any time you think there’s something wrong out here, or anything you don’t understand, come out and we’ll talk it over. I treat a man as well as I can, if he’s square with me.”
He walked to the door with the agent and closed it after him. As he turned back to the draughting table, he found Hilda’s eyes on him.
“They’re very clean chaps, mostly, those walking delegates,” he said. “If you treat ’em half as well as you’d treat a yellow dog, they’re likely to be very reasonable. If one of ’em does happen to be a rascal, though, he’s meaner to handle than frozen dynamite. I expect to be white-headed before I’m through with that man Grady.”
“Is he a rascal?” she asked.
“He’s as bad as you find ’em. Even if he’d been handled right——”
Bannon broke off abruptly and began turning over the blue prints. “Suppose I’d better see how this next story looks,” he said. Hilda had heard how Pete had dealt with Grady at their first meeting, and she could complete the broken sentence.
Bannon never heard whether the agent from the carpenters’ union had looked further into Reilly’s case, but he was not asked to take him back on the pay roll. But that was not the end of the incident. Coming out on the distributing floor just before noon on Thursday, he found Grady in the act of delivering an impassioned oration to the group of laborers about the hoist. Before Grady saw him, Bannon had come near enough to hear something about being “driven at the point of a pistol.”
The speech came suddenly to an end when Grady, following the glances of his auditors, turned and saw who was coming. Bannon noted with satisfaction the scared look of appeal which he turned, for a second, toward the men. It was good to know that Grady was something of a coward.
Bannon nodded to him pleasantly enough. “How are you, Grady?” he said.
Seeing that he was in no danger, the delegate threw back his shoulders, held up his head, and, frowning in an important manner, he returned Bannon’s greeting with the scantest civility.
Bannon walked up and stood beside him. “If you can spare the time,” he said politely, “I’d like to see you at the office for a while.”
Convinced now that Bannon was doing everything in his power to conciliate him, Grady grew more important “Very well,” he said; “when I’ve got through up here, ye can see me if ye like.”
“All right,” said Bannon, patiently; “no hurry.”
During the full torrent of Grady’s eloquence the work had not actually been interrupted. The big boom bearing its load of timber swept in over the distributing floor with unbroken regularity; but the men had worked with only half their minds and had given as close attention as they dared to the delegate’s fervid utterances. But from the moment Bannon appeared there had been a marked change in the attitude of the little audience; they steered the hoist and canted the timbers about with a sudden enthusiasm which made Bannon smile a little as he stood watching them.
Grady could not pump up a word to say. He cleared his throat loudly once or twice, but the men ignored him utterly. He kept casting his shifty little sidewise glances at the boss, wondering why he didn’t go away, but Bannon continued to stand there, giving an occasional direction, and watching the progress of the work with much satisfaction. The little delegate shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cleared his throat again. Then he saw that two or three of the men were grinning. That was too much.
“Well, I’ll go with you,” he snapped.
Bannon could not be sure how much of an impression Grady’s big words and his ridiculous assumption of importance had made upon the men, but he determined to counteract it as thoroughly as possible, then and there. It was a sort of gallery play that he had decided on, but he felt sure it would prove effective.
Grady turned to go down as he had come up, by the ladders, but Bannon caught him by the shoulder, saying with a laugh: “Oh, don’t waste your time walking. Take the elevator.” His tone was friendly but his grip was like a man-trap, and he was propelling Grady straight toward the edge of the building. Four big timbers had just come up and Bannon caught the released rope as it came trailing by. “Here,” he said; “put your foot in the hook and hang on, and you’ll come down in no time.”
Grady laughed nervously. “No you don’t. I suppose you’d be glad to get rid of me that way. You don’t come that on me.”
The men were watching with interest; Bannon raised his voice a little. “All right,” he said, thrusting his foot into the great hook, “if you feel that way about it. We’ll have a regular passenger elevator in here by and by, with an electric bell and sliding door, for the capitalist crowd that are going to own the place. But we workingmen get along all right on this. Swing off, boys.”
He waited for Grady down below. It mattered very little to him now whether the walking delegate chose to follow him down the hoist or to walk down on the ladders, for every one had seen that Grady was afraid. Bannon had seen all the men grinning broadly as he began his descent, and that was all he wanted.
Evidently Grady’s fear of the rope was less than his dread of the ridicule of the men, for Bannon saw him preparing to come down after the next load. He took a long time getting ready, but at last they started him. He was the color of a handful of waste when he reached the ground, and he staggered as he walked with Bannon over to the office. He dropped into a chair and rubbed his forehead with his coat-sleeve.
“Well,” said Bannon, “do you like the look of things? I hope you didn’t find anything out of the way?”
“Do you dare ask me that?” Grady began. His voice was weak at first, but as his giddiness passed away it arose again to its own inimitable oratorical level. “Do you dare pretend that you are treating these men right? Who gave you the right to decide that this man shall live and this man shall die, and that this poor fellow who asks no more than to be allowed to earn his honest living with his honest sweat shall be stricken down with two broken ribs?”
“I don’t know,” said Bannon. “You’re speaking of the hoist accident, I suppose. Well, go and ask that man if he has any complaint to make. If he has, come and let me know about it.”
“They call this a free country, and yet you oppressors can compel men to risk their lives——”
“Have you any changes to suggest in the way that hoist is rigged?” Bannon cut in quietly. “You’ve been inspecting it. What did you think was unsafe about it?”
Grady was getting ready for his next outburst, but Bannon prevented him. “There ain’t many jobs, if you leave out tacking down carpets, where a man don’t risk his life more or less. MacBride don’t compel men to risk their lives; he pays ’em for doing it, and you can bet he’s done it himself. We don’t like it, but it’s necessary. Now, if you saw men out there taking risks that you think are unnecessary, why, say so, and we’ll talk it over.”
“There’s another thing you’ve got to answer for, Mr. Bannon. These are free men that are devoting their honest labor to you. You may think you’re a slave driver, but you aren’t. You may flourish your revolver in the faces of slaves, but free American citizens will resent it——”
“Mr. Grady, the man I drew a gun on was a carpenter. His own union is looking after him. He had thrown a hammer down into a bin where some of your laborers were at work, so I acted in their defence.”
Grady stood up. “I come here to give you warning to-day, Mr. Bannon. There is a watchful eye on you. The next time I come it will not be to warn, but to act. That’s all I’ve got to say to you now.”
Bannon, too, was on his feet. “Mr. Grady, we try to be fair to our men. It’s your business to see that we are fair, so we ought to get on all right together. After this, if the men lodge any complaint with you, come to me; don’t go out on the job and make speeches. If you’re looking for fair play, you’ll get it. If you’re looking for trouble, you’ll get it. Good-morning.”
The new régime in operation at the elevator was more of a hardship to Peterson than to any one else, because it compelled him to be much alone. Not only was he quite cut off from the society of Max and Hilda, but it happened that the two or three under-foremen whom he liked best were on the day shift. The night’s work with none of those pleasant little momentary interruptions that used to occur in the daytime was mere unrelieved drudgery, but the afternoons, when he had given up trying to sleep any longer, were tedious enough to make him long for six o’clock.
Naturally, his disposition was easy and generous, but he had never been in the habit of thinking much, and thinking, especially as it led to brooding, was not good for him. From the first, of course, he had been hurt that the office should have thought it necessary to send Bannon to supersede him, but so long as he had plenty to do and was in Bannon’s company every hour of the day, he had not taken time to think about it much. But now he thought of little else, and as time went on he succeeded in twisting nearly everything the new boss had said or done to fit his theory that Bannon was jealous of him and was trying to take from him the credit which rightfully belonged to him. And Bannon had put him in charge of the night shift, so Peterson came to think, simply because he had seen that Hilda was beginning to like him.
About four o’clock one afternoon, not many days after Grady’s talk with Bannon, Peterson sat on the steps of his boarding-house, trying to make up his mind what to do, and wishing it were six o’clock. He wanted to stroll down to the job to have a chat with his friends, but he had somewhat childishly decided he wasn’t wanted there while Miss Vogel was in the office, so he sat still and whittled, and took another view of his grievances. Glancing up, he saw Grady, the walking delegate, coming along the sidewalk. Now that the responsibility of the elevator was off his shoulders he no longer cherished any particular animosity toward the little Irishman, but he remembered their last encounter and wondered whether he should speak to him or not.
But Grady solved his doubt by calling out cheerfully to know how he was and turning in toward the steps. “I suppose I ought to lick you after what’s passed between us,” he added with a broad smile, “but if you’re willing we’ll call it bygones.”
“Sure,” said Peterson.
“It’s fine seasonable weather we’re having, and just the thing for you on the elevator. It’s coming right along.”
“It’s as interesting a bit of work as I ever saw. I was there the other day looking at it. And, by the way, I had a long talk with Mr. Bannon. He’s a fine man.”
Grady had seated himself on the step below Peterson. Now for the first time he looked at him.
“He’s a good hustler,” said Peterson.
“Well, that’s what passes for a fine man, these days, though mistakes are sometimes made that way. But how does it happen that you’re not down there superintending? I hope some carpenter hasn’t taken it into his head to fire the boss.”
“I’m not boss there any longer. The office sent Bannon down to take it over my head.”
“You don’t tell me that? It’s a pity.” Grady was shaking his head solemnly. “It’s a pity. The men like you first-rate, Mr. Peterson. I’m not saying they don’t like anybody else, but they like you. But people in an office a thousand miles away can’t know everything, and that’s a fact. And so he laid you off.”
“Oh, no, I ain’t quite laid off—yet. He’s put me in charge of the night shift.”
“So you’re working nights, then? It seemed to me you was working fast enough in the daytime to satisfy anybody. But I suppose some rich man is in a hurry for it and you must do your best to accommodate him.”
“You bet, he’s in a hurry for it. He won’t listen to reason at all. Says the bins have got to be chock full of grain before January first, no matter what happens to us. He don’t care how much it costs, either.”
“I must be going along,” said Grady, getting to his feet. “That man must be in a hurry. January first! That’s quick work, and he don’t care how much it costs him. Oh, these rich devils! They’re hustlers, too, Mr. Peterson. Well, good-night to you.”
Peterson saw Bannon twice every day,—for a half hour at night when he took charge of the job, and for another half hour in the morning when he relinquished it. That was all except when they chanced to meet during Bannon’s irregular nightly wanderings about the elevator. As the days had gone by these conversations had been confined more and more rigidly to necessary business, and though this result was Peterson’s own bringing about, still he charged it up as another of his grievances against Bannon.
When, about an hour after his conversation with Grady, he started down to the elevator to take command, he knew he ought to tell Bannon of his conversation with Grady, and he fully intended doing so. But his determination oozed away as he neared the office, and when he finally saw Bannon he decided to say nothing about it whatever. He decided thus partly because he wished to make his conversation with Bannon as short as possible, partly because he had not made up his mind what significance, if any, the incident had, and (more than either of these reasons) because ever since Grady had repeated the phrase: “He don’t care what it costs him,” Peterson had been uneasily aware that he had talked too much.
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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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