Christmas Dinner – Calumet “K”, Chapter 17

Christmas Dinner – Calumet “K”, Chapter 17

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

XVII.

The elevator was the place for the dinner, if only the mild weather that had followed the Christmas storm should continue—on that Bannon, Pete, and Max were agreed. New Year’s Day would be a holiday, and there was room on the distributing floor for every man who had worked an hour on the job since the first spile had been driven home in the Calumet clay. To be sure most of the laborers had been laid off before the installing of the machinery, but Bannon knew that they would all be on hand, and he meant to have seats for them. But on the night of the thirtieth the wind swung around to the northeast, and it came whistling through the cracks in the cupola walls with a sting in it that set the weighers to shivering. And as the insurance companies would have inquired curiously into any arrangement for heating that gloomy space on the tops of the bins, the plan had to be given up.

As soon as the last of the grain was in, on the thirty-first, Max took a north-bound car and scoured South Chicago for a hall that was big enough. Before the afternoon was gone he had found it, and had arranged with a restaurant keeper to supply the dinner. Early the next morning the three set to work, making long tables and benches by resting planks on boxes, and covering the tables with pink and blue and white scalloped shelf-paper.

It was nearly ten o’clock when Max, after draping a twenty-four-foot flag in a dozen different ways, let it slide down the ladder to the floor and sat down on the upper round, looking out over the gridiron of tables with a disgusted expression. Peterson, aided by a man from the restaurant, was bringing in load after load of thick white plates, stacking them waist high near the door. Max was on the point of calling to him, but he recollected that Pete’s eye, though quick with timbers, would not help much in questions of art. Just then Bannon came through the doorway with another flag rolled under his arm.

“They’re here already, a couple of dozen of ’em,” he said, as he dropped the flag at the foot of the ladder. “I’ve left James on the stairs to keep ’em out until we’re ready. Better have an eye on the fire escape, too—they’re feeling pretty lively.”

“Say,” Max said abruptly, “I can’t make this thing look anyhow. I guess it’s up to you.”

Bannon stepped back and looked up at the wall.

“Why don’t you just hang them from the ceiling and then catch them up from pretty near the bottom—so they’ll drape down on both sides of the windows?”

“I know,” said Max, “but there’s ways of making ’em look just right—if Hilda was here, she’d know——” He paused and looked down at the red, white, and blue heap on the floor.

During the last week they had not spoken of Hilda, and Bannon did not know whether she had told Max. He glanced at him, but got no sign, for Max was gazing moodily downward.

“Do you think,” Bannon said, “do you think she’d care to come around?”

He tried to speak easily, as he might have spoken of her at any time before Christmas Day, but he could not check a second glance at Max. At that moment Max looked up, and as their eyes met, with an awkward pause, Bannon knew that he understood; and for a moment the impatience that he had been fighting for a week threatened to get away with him. He had seen nothing of Hilda, except for the daily “Good morning,” and a word now and then. The office had been besieged by reporters waiting for a chance at him; under-foremen had been rushing in and out; Page’s representatives and the railroad and steamboat men had made it their headquarters. It may be that he would not have spoken in any case, for he had said all that he could say, and he knew that she would give him an answer when she could.

Max’s eyes had dropped again.

“You mean for her to help fix things up?” he asked.

Bannon nodded; and then, as Max did not look up, he said, “Yes.”

“Why—why, yes, I guess she’d just as soon.” He hesitated, then began coming down the ladder, adding, “I’ll go for her.”

Bannon looked over his shoulder—Pete was clattering about among the dishes.

“Max,” he said, “hold on a minute.”

Max turned and came slowly back.

Bannon had seated himself on the end of a table, and now he waited, looking down at the two rows of plates, and slowly turning a caster that stood at his elbow. What he finally said was not what Max was awaiting.

“What are you going to do now, Max—when you’re through on this job?”

“Why—I don’t know——”

“Have you got anything ahead?”

“Nothing sure. I was working for a firm of contractors up on the North Side, and I’ve been thinking maybe they’d take me back.”

“You’ve had some experience in building before now, haven’t you?” Bannon was speaking deliberately, as if he were saying what he had thought out before.

“Yes, a good deal. It’s what I’ve mostly done since I quit the lumber business.”

“When Mr. MacBride was here,” said Bannon, “he told me that we’ve got a contract for a new house at Indianapolis. It’s going to be concrete, from the spiles up—there ain’t anything like it in the country. I’m going down next week to take charge of the job, and if you’d like to go along as my assistant, I’ll take you.”

Max did not know what to say. At first he grinned and blushed, thinking only that Bannon had been pleased with his work; then he grew serious.

“Well,” said Bannon, “what do you say?”

Max still hesitated. At last he replied:—

“Can I have till to-morrow to think about it? I—you see, Hilda and I, we most always talk things over, and I don’t exactly like to do anything without——”

“Sure,” said Bannon; “think it over if you like. There’s no hurry up to the end of the week.” He paused as if he meant to go on, but changed his mind and stood up. Max, too, was waiting, as if there were more to be said.

“You two must think we’ve got all day to fix things.” It was Pete calling from the other end of the room. “There ain’t no loafing allowed here.”

Bannon smiled, and Max turned away. But after he had got a third of the way down the aisle, he came back.

“Say, Mr. Bannon,” he said, “I want to tell you that I—Hilda, she said—she’s told me something about things—and I want to——” It had been a lame conversation; now it broke down, and they stood through a long silence without speaking. Finally Max pulled himself together, and said in a low, nervous voice: “Say, it’s all right. I guess you know what I’m thinking about. And I ain’t got a word to say.” Then he hurried out.

When Max and Hilda came in, the restaurant man was setting up the paper napkin tents on the raised table at the end of the hall, and Pete stood by the door, looking upon his work with satisfaction. He did not see them until they were fairly in the room.

“Hello,” he said; “I didn’t know you was coming, Miss Vogel.” He swept his arm around. “Ain’t it fine? Make you hungry to look at all them plates?”

Hilda followed his gesture with a smile. Her jacket was still buttoned tightly, and her eyes were bright and her cheeks red from the brisk outer air. Bannon and James were coming toward them, and she greeted them with a nod.

“There’s going to be plenty of room,” she said.

“That’s right,” Pete replied. “There won’t be no elbows getting in the way at this dinner. Come up where you can see better.” He led the way to the platform, and they all followed.

“This is the speakers’ table,” Pete went on, “where the boss and all will be”—he winked toward Bannon—”and the guest of honor. You show her how we sit, Max; you fixed that part of it.”

Max walked around the table, pointing out his own, Pete’s, James’, and Bannon’s seats, and those of the committee. The middle seat, next to Bannon’s he passed over.

“Hold on,” said Pete, “you forgot something.”

Max grinned and drew back the middle chair.

“This is for the guest of honor,” he said, and looked at Hilda. Pete was looking at her, too, and James—all but Bannon.

The color, that had been leaving her face, began to come back.

“Do you mean me?” she asked

“I guess that’s pretty near,” said Pete.

She shook her head. “Oh, no—thank you very much—I can’t stay.”

Pete and Max looked at each other.

“The boys’ll be sorry,” said Pete. “It’s kind of got out that maybe you’d be here, and—I don’t believe they’d let you off.”

Hilda was smiling, but her face was flushed. She shook her head. “Oh, no,” she replied; “I only came to help.”

Pete turned on Max, with a clumsy laugh that did not cover his disappointment.

“How about this, Max? You ain’t been tending to business. Ain’t that so, James? Wasn’t he going to see that she come and sat up with us where the boys could see her?” He turned to Hilda. “You see, most of the boys know you’ve had a good deal to do with things on the job, and they’ve kind of took a shine to you——” Pete suddenly awoke to the fact that he had never talked so boldly to a girl before. He hesitated, looked around at Max and James for support and at Bannon, and then, finding no help, he grinned, and the warm color surged over his face. The only one who saw it all was Hilda, and in spite of her embarrassment the sight of big, strong, bashful Pete was too much for her. A twinkle came into her eyes, and a faint smile hovered about her mouth. Pete saw it, misunderstood it, and, feeling relieved, went on, not knowing that by bringing that twinkle to Hilda’s eyes, he had saved the situation.

“It’s only that they’ve talked about it some, and yesterday a couple of ’em spoke to me, and I said I’d ask Max, and——”

“Thank you, Mr. Peterson,” Hilda replied. “Max should have told me.” She turned toward Max, her face sober now except for the eyes, which would not come under control. Max had been dividing his glances between her and Bannon, feeling the situation heavily, and wondering if he ought not to come to her relief, but unable to dig up the right word. Pete spoke up again:—

“Say, honest now, ain’t you coming?”

“I can’t really. I’m sorry. I know you’ll have a good time.”

Bannon had been standing aside, unwilling to speak for fear of making it harder for her. But now she turned to him and said, with a lightness that puzzled him:—

“Aren’t we going to do some decorating, Mr. Bannon? I’m afraid it will be dinner time before Mr. Peterson knows it.”

Pete flushed again at this, but she gave him a quick smile.

“Yes,” said Bannon, “there’s only a little over half an hour.” He paused, and looked about the group, holding his watch in his hand and fingering the stem. The lines about his mouth were settling. Hilda glanced again at him, and from the determined look in his eyes, she knew that his week of waiting was over; that he meant to speak to her before she left the hall. It was all in the moment’s silence that followed his remark; then he went on, as easily as if he were talking to a gang on the marine tower—but the time was long enough for Hilda to feel her brief courage slipping away. She could not look at him now.

“Take a look at that door, James,” he was saying. “I guess you’ll have to tend to business if you want any dinner.”

They all turned and saw the grinning heads of some of the carpenters peering into the room. There was the shuffling of many feet behind them on the stairs, and the sound of cat calls and whistling. A shove was passed on from somewhere back in the hallway, and one of the carpenters came sprawling through the door. The others yelled good-naturedly.

“I’ll fix ’em,” said James, with a laugh, starting toward them.

“Give him a lift, Pete,” said Bannon. “He’ll need it. You two’d better keep the stairs clear for a while, or they’ll stampede us.”

So Pete followed, and for a few moments the uproar from the stairs drowned all attempts at conversation. Only Max was left with them now. He stood back by the wall, still looking helplessly from one to the other. The restaurant men were bustling about the floor; and Hilda was glad they were there, for she knew that Bannon meant to send Max away, too. She was too nervous to stand still; and she walked around the table, resetting the knives and forks and spoons. The paper napkins on this table were the only ones in the room. She wondered at this, and when the noise of the men had died away into a few jeering cries from the street, and Max had gone to get the flags (for she had said that they should be hung at this end of the room), and the waiters were bustling about, it gave her a chance to break the silence.

“Aren’t the other”—she had to stop to clear her throat—”aren’t the other men going to have napkins?”

“They wouldn’t know what they were for.”

His easy tone gave her a momentary sense of relief.

“They’d tie them on their hats, or make balls to throw around.” He paused, but added: “It wouldn’t look bad, though, would it?—to stand them up this way on all the tables.”

She made no reply.

“What do you say?” He was looking at her. “Shall we do it?”

She nodded, and then dropped her eyes, angry with herself that she could not overcome her nervousness. There was another silence, and she broke it.

“It would look a good deal better,” she said, “if you have time to do it. Max and I will put up the flags.”

She had meant to say something that would give her a better control of the situation, but it sounded very flat and disagreeable—and she had not meant it to sound disagreeable. Indeed, as soon as the words were out, and she felt his eyes on her, and she knew that she was blushing, she was not sure that she had meant it at all. Perhaps that was why, when Bannon asked, in a low voice, “Would you rather Max would help you?” she turned away and answered in a cool tone that did not come from any one of her rushing, struggling thoughts, “If you don’t mind.”

She did not see the change that came over his face, the weary look that meant that the strain of a week had suddenly broken, but she did not need to see it, for she knew it was there. She heard him step down from the platform, and then she watched him as he walked down the aisle to meet Max, who was bringing up the flags. She wondered impatiently why Bannon did not call to him. Then he raised his head, but before a word had left his lips she was speaking, in a clear tone that Max could plainly hear. She was surprised at herself. She had not meant to say a word, but out it came; and she was conscious of a tightening of her nerves and a defiant gladness that at last her real thoughts had found an outlet.

“Max,” she said, “won’t you go out and get enough napkins to put at all the places? You’ll have to hurry.”

Bannon was slow in turning; when he did there was a peculiar expression on his face.

“Hold on, there,” called a waiter. “There ain’t time to fold them.”

“Yes, there is,” said Bannon, shortly. “The boys can wait.”

“But dinner’s most ready now.”

“Then I guess dinner’s got to wait, too.”

The waiter looked disgusted, and Max hurried out. Bannon gathered up the flags and came to the platform. Hilda could not face him. For an instant she had a wild impulse to follow Max. She finally turned her back on Bannon and leaned her elbows on a chair, looking over the wall for a good place to hang the flags. She was going to begin talking about it as soon as he should reach the platform. The words were all ready, but now he was opposite her, looking across the table with the red and white bundle in his arms, and she had not said it. Her eyes were fixed on a napkin, studying out the curious Japanese design. She could hear his breathing and her own. She let her eyes rise as high as the flags, then slowly, higher and higher, until they met his, fluttered, and dropped. But the glance was enough. She could not have resisted the look in his eyes.

“Did you mean it?” he asked, almost breathlessly. “Did you mean the whole thing?”

She could not reply. She glanced around to see if the waiters could hear.

“Can’t you tell me?” he was saying. “It’s been a week.”

She gazed at the napkin until it grew misty and indistinct. Then she slowly nodded.

A waiter was almost within hearing. Bannon stood looking at her, heedless of everything but that she was there before him, that her eyes were trying to peep up at him through the locks of red gold hair that had strayed over her forehead.

“Please”—she whispered—”please put them up.”

And so they set to work. He got the ladder and she told him what to do. Her directions were not always clear, but that mattered little, for he could not have followed them. Somehow the flags went up, and if the effect was little better than Max’s attempt had been, no one spoke of it.

Pete and Max came in together soon with the napkins, and a little time slipped by before Bannon could draw Max aside and grip his hand. Then they went at the napkins, and as they sat around the table, Hilda and Bannon, Pete and the waiters, folding them with rapid fingers, Bannon found opportunity to talk to her in a low voice, during the times when Pete was whistling, or was chaffing with the waiters. He told her, a few words at a time, of the new work Mr. MacBride had assigned to him, and in his enthusiasm he gave her a little idea of what it would mean to him, this opportunity to build an elevator the like of which had never been seen in the country before, and which would be watched by engineers from New York to San Francisco. He told her, too, something about the work, how it had been discovered that piles could be made of concrete and driven into the ground with a pile driver, and that neither beams nor girders—none of the timbers, in fact—were needed in this new construction. He was nearly through with it, and still he did not notice the uncertain expression in her eyes. It was not until she asked in a faltering undertone, “When are you going to begin?” that it came to him. And then he looked at her so long that Pete began to notice, and she had to touch his foot with hers under the table to get him to turn away. He had forgotten all about the vacation and the St. Lawrence trip.

Hilda saw, in her side glances, the gloomy expression that had settled upon his face; and she recovered her spirits first.

“It’s all right,” she whispered; “I don’t care.”

Max came up then, from a talk with James out on the stairway, and for a few moments there was no chance to reply. But after Bannon had caught Max’s signals to step out of hearing of the others, and before he had risen, there was a moment when Pete’s attention was drawn by one of the waiters, and he said:—

“Can you go with me—Monday?”

She looked frightened, and the blood rose in her cheeks so that she had to bend low over her pile of napkins.

“Will you?” He was pushing back his chair.

She did not look up, but her head nodded once with a little jerk.

“And you’ll stay for the dinner, won’t you—now?”

She nodded once more, and Bannon went to join Max.

Max made two false starts before he could get his words out in the proper order.

“Say,” he finally said; “I thought maybe you wouldn’t care if I told James. He thinks you’re all right, you know. And he says, if you don’t care, he’d like to say a little something about it when he makes his speech. Not much, you know—nothing you wouldn’t like—he says it would tickle the boys right down to their corns.”

Bannon looked around toward Hilda, and slowly shook his head.

“Max,” he replied, “if anybody says a word about it at this dinner I’ll break his head.”

That should have been enough, but when James’ turn came to speak, after nearly two hours of eating and singing and laughing and riotous good cheer, he began in a way that brought Bannon’s eyes quickly upon him.

“Boys,” he said, “we’ve worked hard together on this job, and one way and another we’ve come to understand what sort of a man our boss is. Ain’t that right?”

A roar went up from hundreds of throats, and Hilda, sitting next to Bannon, blushed.

“We’ve thought we understood him pretty well, but I’ve just found out that we didn’t know so much as we thought we did. He’s been a pretty square friend to all of us, and I’m going to tell you something that’ll give you a chance to show you’re square friends of his, too.”

He paused, and then was about to go on, leaning forward with both hands on the table, and looking straight down on the long rows of bearded faces, when he heard a slight noise behind him. A sudden laugh broke out, and before he could turn his head, a strong hand fell on each shoulder and he went back into his chair with a bump. Then he looked up, and saw Bannon standing over him. The boss was trying to speak, but he had to wait a full minute before he could make himself heard. He glanced around and saw the look of appeal in Hilda’s eyes.

“Look here, boys,” he said, when the room had grown quiet; “we aren’t handing out any soft soap at this dinner. I won’t let this man up till he promises to quit talking about me.”

There was another burst of laughter, and James shouted something that nobody understood. Bannon looked down at him, and said quietly, and with a twinkle in his eye, but very firmly:—

“If you try that again, I’ll throw you out of the window.”

James protested, and was allowed to get up. Bannon slipped into his seat by Hilda.

“It’s all right,” he said in a low tone. “They won’t know it now until we get out of here.” His hand groped for hers under the table.

James was irrepressible. He was shouting quickly now, in order to get the words out before Bannon could reach him again.

“How about this, boys? Shall we stand it?”

“No!” was the reply in chorus.

“All right, then. Three cheers for Mr. Bannon. Now—Hip, hip——”

There was no stopping that response.

 

THE END

 

 

 


LIVE EVENT: Calumet “K”: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel by Shoshana Milgram

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Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is free to all students.

The Last Hundred Yards – Calumet “K”, Chapter 16

The Last Hundred Yards – Calumet “K”, Chapter 16

XVI.

Bannon stood looking after her until she disappeared in the shadow of an arc lamp, and after that he continued a long time staring into the blot of darkness where the office was. At last the window became faintly luminous, as some one lighted the wall lamp; then, as if it were a signal he had been waiting for, Bannon turned away.

An hour before, when he had seen the last bolt of the belt gallery drawn taut, he had become aware that he was quite exhausted. The fact was so obvious that he had not tried to evade it, but had admitted to himself, in so many words, that he was at the end of his rope. But when he turned from gazing at the dimly lighted window, it was not toward his boarding-house, where he knew he ought to be, but back into the elevator, that his feet led him. For once, his presence accomplished nothing. He went about without thinking where; he passed men without seeing who they were or what they were doing. When he walked through the belt gallery, he saw the foreman of the big gang of men at work there was handling them clumsily, so that they interfered with each other, but it did not occur to him to give the orders that would set things right. Then, as if his wire-drawn muscles had not done work enough, he climbed laboriously to the very top of the marine tower.

He was leaning against a window-casing; not looking out, for he saw nothing, but with his face turned to the fleet of barges lying in the river; when some one spoke to him.

“I guess you’re thinking about that Christmas dinner, ain’t you, Mr. Bannon?”

“What’s that?” he demanded, wheeling about. Then rallying his scattered faculties, he recognized one of the carpenters. “Oh, yes,” he said, laughing tardily. “Yes, the postponed Christmas dinner. You think I’m in for it, do you? You know it’s no go unless this house is full of wheat clear to the roof.”

“I know it,” said the man. “But I guess we’re going to stick you for it. Don’t you think we are?”

“I guess that’s right.”

“I come up here,” said the carpenter, well pleased at the chance for a talk with the boss, “to have a look at this—marine leg, do you call it? I haven’t been to work on it, and I never saw one before. I wanted to find out how it works.”

“Just like any other leg over in the main house. Head pulley up here; another one down in the boot; endless belt running over ’em with steel cups rivetted on it to scoop up the grain. Only difference is that instead of being stationary and set up in a tank, this one’s hung up. We let the whole business right down into the boat. Pull it up and down with that steam winch.”

The man shook his head. “What if it got away from you?”

“That’s happened,” said Bannon. “I’ve seen a leg most as big as this smash through two decks. Thought it was going right on through the bottom of the boat. But that wasn’t a leg that MacBride had hung up. This one won’t fall.”

Bannon answered one or two more questions rather at random, then suddenly came back to earth. “What are you doing here, anyway?” he demanded. “Seems to me this is a pretty easy way to earn thirty cents an hour.”

“I—I was just going to see if there wasn’t something I could do,” the man answered, a good deal embarrassed. Then before Bannon could do more than echo, “Something to do?” added: “I don’t get my time check till midnight. I ain’t on this shift. I just come around to see how things was going. We’re going to see you through, Mr. Bannon.”

Bannon never had a finer tribute than that, not even what young Page said when the race was over; and it could not have come at a moment when he needed it more. He did not think much in set terms about what it meant, but when the man had gone and he had turned back to the window, he took a long breath of the night air and he saw what lay beneath his eyes. He saw the line of ships in the river; down nearer the lake another of Page’s elevators was drinking up the red wheat out of the hold of a snub-nosed barge; across the river, in the dark, they were backing another string of wheat-laden cars over the Belt Line switches. As he looked out and listened, his imagination took fire again, as it had taken fire that day in the waiting-room at Blake City, when he had learned that the little, one-track G. & M. was trying to hinder the torrent of the Northern wheat.

Well, the wheat had come down. It had beaten a blizzard, it had churned and wedged and crushed its way through floating ice and in the trough of mauling seas; belated passenger trains had waited on lonely sidings while it thundered by, and big rotary ploughs had bitten a way for it across the drifted prairies. Now it was here, and Charlie Bannon was keeping it waiting.

He stood there, looking, only a moment; then before the carpenter’s footsteps were well out of hearing, he followed him down the stairway to the belt gallery. Before he had passed half its length you could have seen the difference. In the next two hours every man on the elevator saw him, learned a quicker way to splice a rope or align a shaft, and heard, before the boss went away, some word of commendation that set his hands to working the faster, and made the work seem easy. The work had gone on without interruption for weeks, and never slowly, but there were times when it went with a lilt and a laugh; when laborers heaved at a hoisting tackle with a Yo-ho, like privateersmen who have just sighted a sail; when, with all they could do, results came too slowly, and the hours flew too fast. And so it was that Christmas night; Charlie Bannon was back on the job.

About ten o’clock he encountered Pete, bearing off to the shanty a quart bottle of cold coffee and a dozen big, thick sandwiches. “Come on, Charlie,” he called. “Max is coming, too; but I guess we’ve got enough to spare you a little.”

So the three of them sat down to supper around the draughting-table, and between bites Bannon talked, a little about everything, but principally, and with much corroborative detail—for the story seemed to strain even Pete’s easy credulity—of how, up at Yawger, he had been run on the independent ticket for Superintendent of the Sunday School, and had been barely defeated by two votes.

When the sandwiches were put away, and all but three drinks of the coffee, Bannon held the bottle high in the air. “Here’s to the house!” he said. “We’ll have wheat in her to-morrow night!”

They drank the toast standing; then, as if ashamed of such a sentimental demonstration, they filed sheepishly out of the office. They walked fifty paces in silence. Then Pete checked suddenly and turned to Bannon.

“Hold on, Charlie, where are you going?”

“Going to look over those ‘cross-the-house conveyor drives down cellar.”

“No, you ain’t either. You’re going to bed.”

Bannon only laughed and started on toward the elevator.

“How long is it since you had any sleep?” Pete demanded.

“I don’t know. Guess I must have slept part of the time while we was putting up that gallery. I don’t remember much about it.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said Pete, and as he said it he reached out his left hand and caught him by the shoulder. It was more by way of gesture than otherwise, but Bannon had to step back a pace to keep his feet. “I mean business,” Pete went on, though laughing a little. “When we begin to turn over the machinery you won’t want to go away, so this is your last chance to get any sleep. I can’t make things jump like you can, but I can keep ’em going to-night somehow.”

“Hadn’t you better wrap me up in cotton flannel and feed me warm milk with a spoon? Let go of me and quit your fooling. You delay the game.”

“I ain’t fooling. I’m boss here at night, and I fire you till morning. That goes if I have to carry you all the way to your boarding house and tie you down to the bed.” Pete meant it. As if, again, for illustration, he picked Bannon up in his arms. The boss was ready for the move this time, and he resisted with all his strength, but he would have had as much chance against the hug of a grizzly bear; he was crumpled up. Pete started off with him across the flat.

“All right,” said Bannon. “I’ll go.”

At seven o’clock next morning Pete began expecting his return. At eight he began inquiring of various foremen if they had seen anything of Charlie Bannon. By nine he was avowedly worried lest something had gone wrong with him, and a little after ten Max set out for the boarding house.

Encountering the landlady in the hall, he made the mistake of asking her if she had seen anything of Mr. Bannon that morning. She had some elementary notions of strategy, derived, doubtless, from experience, and before beginning her reply, she blocked the narrow stairway with her broad person. Then, beginning with a discussion of Mr. Bannon’s excellent moral character and his most imprudent habits, and illustrating by anecdotes of various other boarders she had had at one time and another, she led up to the statement that she had seen nothing of him since the night before, and that she had twice knocked at his door without getting any reply.

Max, who had laughed a little at Pete’s alarm, was now pretty well frightened himself, but at that instant they heard the thud of bare feet on the floor just above them. “That’s him now,” said the landlady, thoughtlessly turning sideways, and Max bolted past her and up the stairs.

He knocked at the door and called out to know if he could come in. The growl he heard in reply meant invitation as much as it meant anything, so he went in. Bannon, already in his shirt and trousers, stood with his back to the door, his face in the washbowl. As he scoured he sputtered. Max could make little out of it, for Bannon’s face was under water half the time, but he caught such phrases as “Pete’s darned foolishness,” “College boy trick,” “Lie abed all the morning,” and “Better get an alarm clock”—which thing and the need for it Bannon greatly despised—and he reached the conclusion that the matter was nothing more serious than that Bannon had overslept.

But the boss took it seriously enough. Indeed, he seemed deeply humiliated, and he marched back to the elevator beside Max without saying a word until just as they were crossing the Belt Line tracks, when the explanation of the phenomenon came to him.

“I know where I get it from,” he exclaimed, as if in some measure relieved by the discovery. “I must take after my uncle. He was the greatest fellow to sleep you ever saw.”

So far as pace was concerned that day was like the others; while the men were human it could be no faster; with Bannon on the job it could not flag; but there was this difference, that to-day the stupidest sweepers knew that they had almost reached the end, and there was a rally like that which a runner makes at the beginning of the last hundred yards.

Late in the afternoon they had a broad hint of how near the end was. The sweepers dropped their brooms and began carrying fire buckets full of water. They placed one or more near every bearing all over the elevator. The men who were quickest to understand explained to the slower ones what the precaution meant, and every man had his eye on the nearest pulley to see when it would begin to turn.

But Bannon was not going to begin till he was ready. He had inspected the whole job four times since noon, but just after six he went all over it again, more carefully than before. At the end he stepped out of the door at the bottom of the stairway bin, and pulled it shut after him. It was not yet painted, and its blank surface suggested something. He drew out his blue pencil and wrote on the upper panel:—

O.K.

C. H. Bannon.

Then he walked over to the power house. It was a one-story brick building, with whose construction Bannon had had no concern, as Page & Company had placed the contract for it elsewhere. Every night for the past week lights had been streaming from its windows, and day and night men had waited, ready at any time for the word to go ahead. A dozen of them were lounging about the brick-paved space in front of the battery of boilers when Bannon opened the door, and they sprang to their feet as they read his errand in his face.

“Steam up,” he said. “We’ll be ready as soon as you are.”

There was the accumulated tension of a week of inactivity behind these men, and the effect of Bannon’s words was galvanic. Already low fires were burning under the boilers, and now the coal was piled on, the draughts roared, the smoke, thick enough to cut, came billowing out of the tall chimney. Every man in the room, even the wretchedest of the dripping stokers, had his eyes on the steam gauges, but for all that the water boiled, and the indicator needles crept slowly round the dials, and at last the engineer walked over and pulled the whistle cord.

Hitherto they had marked the divisions of time on the job by the shrill note of the little whistle on the hoisting engine boiler, and there was not a man but started at the screaming crescendo of the big siren on top of the power house. Men in the streets, in the straggling boarding houses over across the flats, on the wharves along the river, men who had been forbidden to come to the elevator till they were needed lest they should be in the way, had been waiting days for that signal, and they came streaming into the elevator almost before the blast had died away.

Page’s superintendent was standing beside Bannon and Pete by the foot of the main drive. “Well,” he said, “we’re ready. Are you?”

Bannon nodded and turned to a laborer who stood near. “Go tell the engineer to go ahead.” The man, proud as though he had just been promoted, went out on the run.

“Now,” said Bannon, “here’s where we go slow. All the machinery in the house has got to be thrown in, one thing at a time, line shafts first and then elevators and the rest of it. Pete, you see it done up top. I’ll look out for it down here. See that there’s a man to look at each bearing at least once in three minutes, and let me know if it gets warm.”

It took a long time to do it, but it had to be done, for Bannon was inflexible, but at last everything in elevator, annex, and spouting house that could turn was turning, and it was reported to Bannon. “Now,” he said, “she’s got to run light for fifteen minutes. No——” he went on in answer to the superintendent’s protest; “you’re lucky I didn’t say two hours. It’s the biggest chance I ever took as it is.”

So while they stared at the second hands of their watches the minutes crept away—Pete wound his watch up tight in the vain hope of making it go a little faster—and at last Bannon turned with a nod to the superintendent.

“All right,” he said. “You’re the boss now.”

And then in a moment the straining hawsers were hauling cars up into the house. The seals were broken, the doors rolled back, and the wheat came pouring out. The shovellers clambered into the cars and the steam power shovels helped the torrent along. It fell through the gratings, into steel tanks, and then the tireless metal cups carried it up, up, up, ‘way to the top of the building. And then it came tumbling down again; down into garners, and down again into the great weighing hoppers, and recognized and registered and marketable at last, part of the load that was to bury the Clique that had braved it out of sight of all but their creditors, it went streaming down the spouts into the bins.

The first of the barges in the river was moved down beside the spouting house, her main hatch just opposite the tower. And now Pete, in charge there, gave the word, and the marine leg, gravely, deliberately descended. There is a magnificent audacity about that sort of performance. The leg was ninety feet long, steel-booted, framed of great timbers, heavy enough to have wrecked the barge like a birch bark canoe if it had got away. It went down bodily into the hold and the steel boot was buried in wheat. Then Pete threw another lever, and in a moment another endless series of cups was carrying the wheat aloft. It went over the cross-head and down a spout, then stretched out in a golden ribbon along the glistening white belt that ran the length of the gallery. Then, like the wheat from the cars, it was caught up again in the cups, and shot down through spouts, and carried along on belts to the remotest bins in the annex.

For the first few hours of it the men’s nerves were hair springs, but as time went on and the stream kept pouring in without pause, the tension relaxed though the watch never slackened. Men patted the bearings affectionately, and still the same report came to Bannon, “All cool.”

Late that night, as the superintendent was figuring his weighing reports, he said to Bannon; “At this rate, we’ll have several hours to spare.”

“We haven’t had our accident yet,” said Bannon, shortly.

It happened within an hour, at the marine leg, but it was not serious. They heard a splintering sound, down in the dark, somewhere, and Pete, shouting to them to throw out the clutch, climbed out and down on the sleet-clad girders that framed the leg. An agile monkey might have been glad to return alive from such a climb, but Pete came back presently with a curious specimen of marine hardware that had in some way got into the wheat, and thence into the boot and one of the cups. Part way up it had got jammed and had ripped up the sheathing of the leg. They started the leg again, but soon learned that it was leaking badly.

“You’ll have to haul up for repairs, I guess,” the captain called up to them.

“Haven’t time,” said Pete, under his breath, and with a hammer and nails, and a big piece of sacking, he went down the leg again, playing his neck against a half-hour’s delay as serenely as most men would walk downstairs to dinner. “Start her up, boys,” he called, when the job was done, and, with the leg jolting under his hands as he climbed, he came back into the tower.

That was their only misfortune, and all it cost them was a matter of minutes, so by noon of the thirtieth, an hour or two after MacBride and young Page arrived from Minneapolis, it became clear that they would be through in time.

At eight o’clock next morning, as Bannon and MacBride were standing in the superintendent’s office, he came in and held out his hand. “She’s full, Mr. Bannon. I congratulate you.”

“Full, eh?” said MacBride. Then he dropped his hand on Bannon’s shoulder. “Well,” he said, “do you want to go to sleep, or will you come and talk business with me for a little while?”

“Sleep!” Bannon echoed. “I’ve been oversleeping lately.”

 

 

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).

Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is FREE for all students to attend!

The Company and The Clique – Calumet “K”, Chapter 15

The Company and The Clique – Calumet “K”, Chapter 15

XV.

Before December was half gone—and while the mild autumn weather serenely held, in spite of weather predictions and of storm signs about the sun and days of blue haze and motionless trees—the newspaper-reading public knew all the outside facts about the fight in wheat, and they knew it to be the biggest fight since the days of “Old Hutch” and the two-dollar-a-bushel record. Indeed, there were men who predicted that the two-dollar mark would be reached before Christmas, for the Clique of speculators who held the floor were buying, buying, buying—millions upon millions of dollars were slipping through their ready hands, and still there was no hesitation, no weakening. Until the small fry had dropped out the deal had been confused; it was too big, there were too many interests involved, to make possible a clear understanding, but now it was settling down into a grim fight between the biggest men on the Board. The Clique were buying wheat—Page & Company were selling it to them: if it should come out, on the thirty-first of December, that Page & Company had sold more than they could deliver, the Clique would be winners; but if it should have been delivered, to the last bushel, the corner would be broken, and the Clique would drop from sight as so many reckless men had dropped before. The readers of every great newspaper in the country were watching Page & Company. The general opinion was that they could not do it, that such an enormous quantity of grain could not be delivered and registered in time, even if it were to be had.

But the public overlooked, indeed it had no means of knowing, one important fact. The members of the Clique were new men in the public eye. They represented apparently unlimited capital, but they were young, eager, overstrung; flushed with the prospect of success, they were talking for publication. They believed they knew of every bushel in the country that was to be had, and they allowed themselves to say that they had already bought more than this. If this were true, Page was beaten. But it was not true. The young men of the Clique had forgotten that Page had trained agents in every part of the world; that he had alliances with great railroad and steamer lines, that he had a weather bureau and a system of crop reports that outdid those of the United States Government, that he could command more money than two such Cliques, and, most important of all, that he did not talk for publication. The young speculators were matching their wits against a great machine. Page had the wheat, he was making the effort of his career to deliver it, and he had no idea of losing.

Already millions of bushels had been rushed into Chicago. It was here that the fight took on its spectacular features, for the grain must be weighed and inspected before it could be accepted by the Board of Trade, and this could be done only in “regular” warehouses. The struggle had been to get control of these warehouses. It was here that the Clique had done their shrewdest work, and they had supposed that Page was finally outwitted, until they discovered that he had coolly set about building a million-bushel annex to his new house, Calumet K. And so it was that the newspapers learned that on the chance of completing Calumet K before the thirty-first of December hung the whole question of winning and losing; that if Bannon should fail, Page would be short two million bushels. And then came reporters and newspaper illustrators, who hung about the office and badgered Hilda, or perched on timber piles and sketched until Bannon or Peterson or Max could get at them and drive them out. Young men with snap-shot cameras way-laid Bannon on his way to luncheon, and published, with his picture, elaborate stories of his skill in averting a strike—stories that were not at all true.

Far out in Minnesota and Montana and South Dakota farmers were driving their wheat-laden wagons to the hundreds of local receiving houses that dotted the railroad lines. Box cars were waiting for the red grain, to roll it away to Minneapolis and Duluth—day and night the long trains were puffing eastward. Everywhere the order was, “Rush!” Railroad presidents and managers knew that Page was in a hurry, and they knew what Page’s hurries meant, not only to the thousands of men who depended on him for their daily bread, but to the many great industries of the Northwest, whose credit and integrity were inextricably interwoven with his. Division superintendents knew that Page was in a hurry, and they snapped out orders and discharged half-competent men and sent quick words along the hot wires that were translated by despatchers and operators and yard masters into profane, driving commands. Conductors knew it, brakemen and switchmen knew it; they made flying switches in defiance of companies’ orders, they ran where they used to walk, they slung their lunch pails on their arms and ate when and where they could, gazing over their cold tea at some portrait of Page, or of a member of the Clique, or of Bannon, in the morning’s paper.

Elevator men at Minneapolis knew that Page was in a hurry, and they worked day and night at shovel and scale. Steamboat masters up at Duluth knew it, and mates and deck hands and stevedores and dockwallopers—more than one steamer scraped her paint in the haste to get under the long spouts that waited to pour out grain by the hundred thousand bushels. Trains came down from Minneapolis, boats came down from Duluth, warehouse after warehouse at Chicago was filled; and over-strained nerves neared the breaking point as the short December days flew by. Some said the Clique would win, some said Page would win; in the wheat pit men were fighting like tigers; every one who knew the facts was watching Charlie Bannon.

The storm came on the eighteenth of the month. It was predicted two days ahead, and ship masters were warned at all the lake ports. It was a Northwest blizzard, driven down from the Canadian Rockies at sixty miles an hour, leaving two feet of snow behind it over a belt hundreds of miles wide. But Page’s steamers were not stopping for blizzards; they headed out of Duluth regardless of what was to come. And there were a bad few days, with tales of wreck on lake and railroad, days of wind and snow and bitter cold, and of risks run that supplied round-house and tug-office yarn spinners with stories that were not yet worn out. Down on the job the snow brought the work to a pause, but Bannon, within a half-hour, was out of bed and on the ground, and there was no question of changing shifts until, after twenty-four hours, the storm had passed, and elevator, annex and marine tower were cleared of snow. Men worked until they could not stagger, then snatched a few hours’ sleep where they could. Word was passed that those who wished might observe the regular hours, but not a dozen men took the opportunity. For now they were in the public eye, and they felt as soldiers feel, when, after long months of drill and discipline, they are led to the charge.

Then came two days of biting weather—when ears were nipped and fingers stiffened, and carpenters who earned three dollars a day envied the laborers, whose work kept their blood moving—and after this a thaw, with sleet and rain. James, the new delegate, came to Bannon and pointed out that men who are continually drenched to the skin are not the best workmen. The boss met the delegate fairly; he ordered an oilskin coat for every man on the job, and in another day they swarmed over the building, looking, at a distance, like glistening yellow beetles.

But if Chicago was thawing, Duluth was not. The harbor at the western end of Lake Superior was ice-bound, and it finally reached a point that the tugs could not break open the channel. This was on the twenty-third and twenty-fourth. The wires were hot, but Page’s agents succeeded in covering the facts until Christmas Day. It was just at dusk, after leaving the men to take down the cable, that Bannon went to the office.

A newsboy had been on the grounds with a special edition of a cheap afternoon paper. Hilda had taken one, and when Bannon entered the office he found her reading, leaning forward on the desk, her chin on her hands, the paper spread out over the ledger.

“Hello,” he said, throwing off his dripping oilskin, and coming into the enclosure; “I’m pretty near ready to sit down and think about the Christmas tree that we ain’t going to have.”

She looked up, and he saw that she was a little excited; her eyes always told him. During this last week she had been carrying the whole responsibility of the work on her shoulders.

“Have you seen this?” she asked.

“Haven’t read a paper this week.” He leaned over the desk beside her and read the article. In Duluth harbor, and at St. Mary’s straits, a channel through the ice had been blasted out with dynamite, and the last laden steamer was now ploughing down Lake Michigan. Already one steamer was lying at the wharf by the marine tower, waiting for the machinery to start, and others lay behind her, farther down the river. Long strings of box cars filled the Belt Line sidings, ready to roll into the elevator at the word.

Bannon seated himself on the railing, and caught his toes between the supports.

“I’ll tell you one thing,” he said, “those fellows have got to get up pretty early in the morning if they’re going to beat old Page.”

She looked at him, and then slowly folded the paper and turned toward the window. It was nearly dark outside. The rain, driving down from the northeast, tapped steadily on the glass. The arc lamp, on the pole near the tool house, was a blurred circle of light. She was thinking that they would have to get up pretty early to beat Charlie Bannon.

They were silent for a time—silences were not so hard as they had been, a few weeks before—both looking out at the storm, and both thinking that this was Christmas night. On the afternoon before he had asked her to take a holiday, and she had shaken her head. “I couldn’t—I’d be here before noon,” was what she had said; and she had laughed a little at her own confession, and hurried away with Max.

She turned and said, “Is it done—the belt gallery?”

He nodded. “All done.”

“Well——” she smiled; and he nodded again.

“The C. & S. C. man—the fellow that was around the other day and measured to see if it was high enough—he’s out there looking up with his mouth open. He hasn’t got much to say.”

“You didn’t have to touch the tracks at all?”

“Not once. Ran her out and bolted her together, and there she was. I’m about ready for my month off. We’ll have the wheat coming in to-morrow, and then it’s just walking down hill.”

“To-morrow?” she asked. “Can you do it?”

“Got to. Five or six days aren’t any too much. If it was an old house and the machinery was working well, I’d undertake to do it in two or three, but if we get through without ripping up the gallery, or pounding the leg through the bottom of a steamer, it’ll be the kind of luck I don’t have.” He paused and looked at the window, where the rain was streaking the glass. “I’ve been thinking about my vacation. I’ve about decided to go to the St. Lawrence. Maybe there are places I’d like better, but when a fellow hasn’t had a month off in five years, he doesn’t feel like experiments.”

It was the personal tone again, coming into their talk in spite of the excitement of the day and the many things that might have been said. Hilda looked down at the ledger, and fingered the pages. Bannon smiled.

“If I were you,” he said, “I’d shut that up and fire it under the table. This light isn’t good enough to work by, anyway.”

She slowly closed the book, saying:—

“I never worked before on Christmas.”

“It’s a mistake. I don’t believe in it, but somehow it’s when my hardest work always comes. One Christmas, when I was on the Grand Trunk, there was a big wreck at a junction about sixty miles down the road.”

She saw the memory coming into his eyes, and she leaned back against the desk, playing with her pen, and now and then looking up.

“I was chief wrecker, and I had an old Scotch engineer that you couldn’t move with a jack. We’d rubbed up together three or four times before I’d had him a month, and I was getting tired of it. We’d got about halfway to the junction that night, and I felt the brakes go on hard, and before I could get through the train and over the tender, we’d stopped dead. The Scotchman was down by the drivers fussing around with a lantern. I hollered out:—

“‘What’s the matter there?’

“‘She’s a bit ‘ot,’ said he.

“You’d have thought he was running a huckleberry train from the time he took. I ordered him into the cab, and he just waved his hand and said:—

“‘Wait a bit, wait a bit. She’ll be cool directly.'”

Bannon chuckled at the recollection.

“What did you do?” Hilda asked.

“Jumped for the lever, and hollered for him to get aboard.”

“Did he come?”

“No, he couldn’t think that fast. He just stood still, looking at me, while I threw her open, and you could see his lantern for a mile back—he never moved. He had a good six-mile walk back to the last station.”

There was a long silence. Bannon got up and walked slowly up and down the enclosure with his hands deep in his pockets.

“I wish this would let up,” he said, after a time, pausing in his walk, and looking again at the window. “It’s a wonder we’re getting things done at all.”

Hilda’s eye, roaming over the folded newspaper, fell on the weather forecast.

“Fair to-morrow,” she said, “and colder.”

“That doesn’t stand for much. They said the same thing yesterday. It’s a worse gamble than wheat.”

Bannon took to walking again; and Hilda stepped down and stood by the window, spelling out the word “Calumet” with her finger on the misty glass. At each turn, Bannon paused and looked at her. Finally he stood still, not realizing that he was staring until she looked around, flushed, and dropped her eyes. Then he felt awkward, and he began turning over the blue prints on the table.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll have to do,” he said. “I rather think now I’ll start on the third for Montreal. I’m telling you a secret, you know. I’m not going to let Brown or MacBride know where I’ll be. And if I can pick up some good pictures of the river, I’ll send them to you. I’ll get one of the Montmorency Falls, if I can. They’re great in winter.”

“Why—why, thank you,” she said. “I’d like to have them.”

“I ain’t much at writing letters,” he went on, “but I’ll send you the pictures, and you write and tell me how things are going.”

She laughed softly, and followed the zigzag course of the raindrop with her finger.

“I wouldn’t have very much to say,” she said, speaking with a little hesitation, and without looking around. “Max and I never do much.”

“Oh, you can tell how your work goes, and what you do nights.”

“We don’t do much of anything. Max studies some at night—a man he used to work for gave him a book of civil engineering.”

“What do you do?”

“I read some, and then I like to learn things about—oh, about business, and how things are done.”

Bannon could not take his eyes from her—he was looking at her hair, and at the curved outline of one cheek, all that he could see of her face. They both stood still, listening to the patter of the rain, and to the steady drip from the other end of the office, where there was a leak in the roof. Once she cleared her throat, as if to speak, but no words came.

There was a stamping outside, and she slipped back to the ledger, as the door flew open. Bannon turned to the blue prints.

Max entered, pausing to knock his cap against the door, and wring it out.

“You ought to have stayed out, Mr. Bannon,” he said. “It’s the greatest thing you ever saw—doesn’t sag an inch. And say—I wish you could hear the boys talk—they’d lie down and let you walk on ’em, if you wanted to.”

Max’s eyes were bright, and his face red with exercise and excitement. He came to the gate and stood wiping his feet and looking from one to the other for several moments before he felt the awkwardness that had come over him. His long rubber coat was thrown back, and little streams of water ran down his back and formed a pool on the floor behind him.

“You’d better come out,” he said. “It’s the prettiest thing I ever saw—a clean straight span from the main house to the tower.”

Bannon stood watching him quizzically; then he turned to Hilda. She, too, had been looking at Max, but she turned at the same moment, and their eyes met.

“Do you want to go?” he said.

She nodded eagerly. “I’d like to ever so much.”

Then Bannon thought of the rain, but she saw his thought as he glanced toward the window, and spoke quickly.

“I don’t mind—really. Max will let me take his coat.”

“Sure,” said Max, and he grinned. She slipped into it, and it enveloped her, hanging in folds and falling on the floor.

“I’ll have to hold it up,” she said. “Do we have much climbing?”

“No,” said Max, “it ain’t high. And the stairs are done, you know.”

Hilda lifted the coat a little way with both hands, and put out one small toe. Bannon looked at it, and shook his head. “You’ll get your feet wet,” he said.

She looked up and met Bannon’s eyes again, with an expression that puzzled Max.

“I don’t care. It’s almost time to go home, anyway.”

So they went out, and closed the door; and Max, who had been told to “stay behind and keep house,” looked after them, and then at the door, and an odd expression of slow understanding came into his face. It was not in what they had said, but there was plainly a new feeling between them. For the first time in his life, Max felt that another knew Hilda better than he did. The way Bannon had looked at her, and she at him; the mutual understanding that left everything unsaid; the something—Max did not know what it was, but he saw it and felt it, and it disturbed him.

He sat on the table, and swung his feet, while one expression chased another over his face. When he finally got himself together, he went to the door, and opening it, looked out at the black, dim shape of the elevator that stood big and square, only a little way before him, shutting out whatever he might else have seen of rushing sky or dim-lighted river, or of the railroads and the steamboats and the factories and rolling mills beyond. It was as if this elevator were his fate, looming before him and shutting out the forward view. In whatever thoughts he had had of the future, in whatever plans, and they were few, which he had revolved in his head, there had always been a place for Hilda. He did not see just what he was to do, just what he was to become, without her. He stood there for a long time, leaning against the door-jamb with his hands in his pockets, and the sharper gusts of rain whirled around the end of the little building and beat on him. And then—well, it was Charlie Bannon; and Max knew that he was glad it was no one else.

The narrow windows in the belt gallery had no glass, and the rain came driving through them into the shadows, each drop catching the white shine of the electric lights outside. The floor was trampled with mud and littered with scraps of lumber, tool boxes, empty nail kegs, and shavings. The long, gloomy gallery was empty when Bannon and Hilda stepped into it, excepting a group of men at the farther end, installing the rollers for the belt conveyor—they could be seen indistinctly against a light in the river house.

The wind came roaring around the building, and the gallery trembled and shook. Hilda caught her breath and stopped short.

“It’s all right,” said Bannon. “She’s bound to move some.”

“I know—” she laughed—”I wasn’t expecting it—it startled me a little.”

“Watch where you step.” He took her arm and guided her slowly between the heaps of rubbish.

At one of the windows she paused, and stood full in the rain, looking out at the C. & S. C. tracks, with their twinkling red and green lights, all blurred and seeming far off in the storm.

“Isn’t this pretty wet?” he said, standing beside her.

“I don’t care.” She shook the folds of the rubber coat, and glanced down at it. “I like it.”

They looked out for a long time. Two millwrights came through the gallery, and glanced at them, but they did not turn. She stepped forward and let the rain beat on her face—he stood behind, looking at her. A light showed far down the track, and they heard a faint whistle. “A train,” he said; and she nodded. The headlight grew, and the car lights appeared behind it, and then the black outline of the engine. There was a rush and a roar, and it passed under them.

“Doesn’t it make you want to jump down?” she said softly, when the roar had dwindled away.

He nodded with a half-smile.

“Say,” he said, a little later, “I don’t know about your writing—I don’t believe we’d better—” he got the words out more rapidly—”I’ll tell you what you do—you come along with me and we won’t have to write.”

“Come—where?”

“Up to the St. Lawrence. We can start on the third just the same.”

She did not answer, and he stopped. Then, after a moment, she slowly turned, and looked at him.

“Why—” she said—”I don’t think I——”

“I’ve just been thinking about it. I guess I can’t do anything else—I mean I don’t want to go anywhere alone. I guess that’s pretty plain, isn’t it—what I mean?”

She leaned back against the wall and looked at him; it was as if she could not take her eyes from his face.

“Perhaps I oughtn’t to expect you to say anything now,” he went on. “I just thought if you felt anything like I did, you’d know pretty well, by this time, whether it was yes or no.”

She was still looking at him. He had said it all, and now he waited, his fists knotted tightly, and a peculiar expression on his face, almost as if he were smiling, but it came from a part of his nature that had never before got to the surface. Finally she said:—

“I think we’d better go back.”

He did not seem to understand, and she turned away and started off alone. In a moment he was at her side. He guided her back as they had come, and neither spoke until they had reached the stairway. Then he said, in a low tone that the carpenters could not hear:—

“You don’t mean that—that you can’t do it?”

She shook her head and hurried to the office.

 

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).

Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is FREE for all students to attend!

 

The Big Swing – Calumet “K”, Chapter 14

The Big Swing – Calumet “K”, Chapter 14

XIV.

The effect of the victory was felt everywhere. Not only were Max and Pete and Hilda jubilant over it, but the under-foremen, the timekeepers, even the laborers attacked their work with a fresher energy. It was like the first whiff of salt air to an army marching to the sea. Since the day when the cribbing came down from Ledyard, the work had gone forward with almost incredible rapidity; there had been no faltering during the weeks when Grady’s threatened catastrophe was imminent, but now that the big shadow of the little delegate was dispelled, it was easier to see that the huge warehouse was almost finished. There was still much to do, and the handful of days that remained seemed absurdly inadequate; but it needed only a glance at what Charlie Bannon’s tireless, driving energy had already accomplished to make the rest look easy. “We’re sure of it now. She’ll be full to the roof before the year is out.” As Max went over the job with his time-book next morning, he said it to every man he met, and they all believed him. Peterson, the same man and not the same man either, who had once vowed that there wouldn’t be any night work on Calumet K, who had bent a pair of most unwilling shoulders to the work Bannon had put upon them, who had once spent long, sulky afternoons in the barren little room of his new boarding-house; Peterson held himself down in bed exactly three hours the morning after that famous victory. Before eleven o’clock he was sledging down a tottering timber at the summit of the marine tower, a hundred and forty feet sheer above the wharf. Just before noon he came into the office and found Hilda there alone.

He had stopped outside the door to put on his coat, but had not buttoned it; his shirt, wet as though he had been in the lake, clung to him and revealed the outline of every muscle in his great trunk. He flung his hat on the draughting-table, and his yellow hair seemed crisper and curlier than ever before.

“Well, it looks as though we was all right,” he said.

Hilda nodded emphatically. “You think we’ll get through in time, don’t you, Mr. Peterson?”

“Think!” he exclaimed. “I don’t have to stop to think. Here comes Max; just ask him.”

Max slammed the door behind him, brought down the timekeeper’s book on Hilda’s desk with a slap that made her jump, and vaulted to a seat on the railing. “Well, I guess it’s a case of hurrah for us, ain’t it, Pete?”

“Your sister asked me if I thought we’d get done on time. I was just saying it’s a sure thing.”

“I don’t know,” said Max, laughing. “I guess an earthquake could stop us. But why ain’t you abed, Pete?”

“What do I want to be abed for? I ain’t going to sleep any more this year—unless we get through a day or two ahead of time. I don’t like to miss any of it. Charlie Bannon may have hustled before, but I guess this breaks his record. Where is he now, Max?”

“Down in the cellar putting in the running gear for the ‘cross-the-house conveyors. He has his nerve with him. He’s putting in three drives entirely different from the way they are in the plans. He told me just now that there wasn’t a man in the office who could design a drive that wouldn’t tie itself up in square knots in the first ten minutes. I wonder what old MacBride’ll say when he sees that he’s changed the plans.”

“If MacBride has good sense, he’ll pass anything that Charlie puts up,” said Pete.

He was going to say more, but just then Bannon strode into the office and over to the draughting table. He tossed Pete’s hat to one side and began studying a detail of the machinery plans.

“Max.” He spoke without looking up. “I wish you’d find a water boy and send him up to the hotel to get a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of coffee.”

“Well, that’s a nice way to celebrate, I must say,” Pete commented.

“Celebrate what?”

“Why, last night; throwing Grady down. You ought to take a day off on the strength of that.”

“What’s Grady got to do with it? He ain’t in the specifications.”

“No,” said Pete, slowly; “but where would we have been if he’d got the men off?”

“Where would we have been if the house had burned up?” Bannon retorted, turning away from the table. “That’s got nothing to do with it. I haven’t felt less like taking a day off since I came on the job. We may get through on time and we may not. If we get tangled up in the plans like this, very often, I don’t know how we’ll come out. But the surest way to get left is to begin now telling ourselves that this is easy and it’s a cinch. That kind of talk makes me tired.”

Pete flushed, started an explanatory sentence, and another, and then, very uncomfortable, went out.

Bannon did not look up; he went on studying the blue print, measuring here and there with his three-sided ruler and jotting down incomprehensible operations in arithmetic on a scrap of paper. Max was figuring tables in his time-book, Hilda poring over the cash account. For half an hour no one spoke. Max crammed his cap down over his ears and went out, and there were ten minutes more of silence. Then Bannon began talking. He still busied his fingers with the blue print, and Hilda, after discovering that he was talking to himself rather than to her, went on with her work. But nevertheless she heard, in a fragmentary way, what he was saying.

“Take a day off—schoolboy trick—enough to make a man tired. Might as well do it, though. We ain’t going to get through. The office ought to do a little work once in a while just to see what it’s like. They think a man can do anything. I’d like to know why I ain’t entitled to a night’s sleep as well as MacBride. But he don’t think so. After he’d worked me twenty-four hours a day up to Duluth, and I lost thirty-two pounds up there, he sends me down to a mess like this. With a lot of drawings that look as though they were made by a college boy. Where does he expect ’em to pile their car doors, I’d like to know.”

That was the vein of it, though the monologue ran on much longer. But at last he swung impatiently around and addressed Hilda. “I’m ready to throw up my hands. I think I’ll go back to Minneapolis and tell MacBride I’ve had enough. He can come down here and finish the house himself.”

“Do you think he would get it done in time?” Hilda’s eyes were laughing at him, but she kept them on her work.

“Oh, yes,” he said wearily. “He’d get the grain into her somehow. You couldn’t stump MacBride with anything. That’s why he makes it so warm for us.”

“Do you think,” she asked very demurely, indeed, “that if Mr. MacBride had been here he could have built it any faster than—than we have, so far?”

“I don’t believe it,” said Bannon, unwarily. Her smile told him that he had been trapped. “I see,” he added. “You mean that there ain’t any reason why we can’t do it.”

He arose and tramped uneasily about the little shanty. “Oh, of course, we’ll get it done—just because we have to. There ain’t anything else we can do. But just the same I’m sick of the business. I want to quit.”

She said nothing, and after a moment he wheeled and, facing her, demanded abruptly: “What’s the matter with me, anyway?” She looked at him frankly, a smile, almost mischievous, in her face. The hard, harassed look between his eyes and about his drawn mouth melted away, and he repeated the question: “What’s the matter with me? You’re the doctor. I’ll take whatever medicine you say.”

“You didn’t take Mr. Peterson’s suggestion very well—about taking a holiday, I mean. I don’t know whether I dare prescribe for you or not. I don’t think you need a day off. I think that, next to a good, long vacation, the best thing for you is excitement.” He laughed. “No, I mean it. You’re tired out, of course, but if you have enough to occupy your mind, you don’t know it. The trouble to-day is that everything is going too smoothly. You weren’t a bit afraid yesterday that the elevator wouldn’t be done on time. That was because you thought there was going to be a strike. And if just now the elevator should catch on fire or anything, you’d feel all right about it again.”

He still half suspected that she was making game of him, and he looked at her steadily while he turned her words over in his mind. “Well,” he said, with a short laugh, “if the only medicine I need is excitement, I’ll be the healthiest man you ever saw in a little while. I guess I’ll find Pete. I must have made him feel pretty sore.”

“Pete,” he said, coming upon him in the marine tower a little later, “I’ve got over my stomach-ache. Is it all right?”

“Sure,” said Pete; “I didn’t know you was feeling bad. I was thinking about that belt gallery, Charlie. Ain’t it time we was putting it up? I’m getting sort of nervous about it.”

“There ain’t three days’ work in it, the way we’re going,” said Bannon, thoughtfully, his eyes on the C. & S. C. right-of-way that lay between him and the main house, “but I guess you’re right. We’ll get at it now. There’s no telling what sort of a surprise party those railroad fellows may have for us. The plans call for three trestles between the tracks. We’ll get those up to-day.”

To Pete, building the gallery was a more serious business. He had not Bannon’s years of experience at bridge repairing; it had happened that he had never been called upon to put up a belt gallery before, and this idea of building a wooden box one hundred and fifty feet long and holding it up, thirty feet in air, on three trestles, was formidable. Bannon’s nonchalant air of setting about it seemed almost an affectation.

Each trestle was to consist of a rank of four posts, planted in a line at right angles to the direction of the gallery; they were to be held together at the top by a corbel. No one gave rush orders any more on Calumet K, for the reason that no one ever thought of doing anything else. If Bannon sent for a man, he came on the run. So in an incredibly short time the fences were down and a swarm of men with spades, post augers, picks, and shovels had invaded the C. & S. C. right-of-way. Up and down the track a hundred yards each way from the line of the gallery Bannon had stationed men to give warning of the approach of trains. “Now,” said Bannon, “we’ll get this part of the job done before any one has time to kick. And they won’t be very likely to try to pull ’em up by the roots once we get ’em planted.”

But the section boss had received instructions that caused him to be wide-awake, day or night, to what was going on in the neighborhood of Calumet K. Half an hour after the work was begun, the picket line up the track signalled that something was coming. There was no sound of bell or whistle, but presently Bannon saw a hand car spinning down the track as fast as six big, sweating men could pump the levers. The section boss had little to say; simply that they were to get out of there and put up that fence again, and the quicker the better. Bannon tried to tell him that the railroad had consented to their putting in the gallery, that they were well within their rights, that he, the section boss, had better be careful not to exceed his instructions. But the section boss had spoken his whole mind already. He was not of the sort that talk just for the pleasure of hearing their own voices, and he had categorical instructions that made parley unnecessary. He would not even tell from whom he had the orders. So the posts were lugged out of the way and the fence was put up and the men scattered out to their former work again, grinning a little over Bannon’s discomfiture.

Bannon’s next move was to write to Minneapolis for information and instructions, but MacBride, who seemed to have all the information there was, happened to be in Duluth, and Brown’s instructions were consequently foggy. So, after waiting a few days for something more definite, Bannon disappeared one afternoon and was gone more than an hour. When he strode into the office again, keen and springy as though his work had just begun, Hilda looked up and smiled a little. Pete was tilted back in the chair staring glumly out of the window. He did not turn until Bannon slapped him jovially on the shoulders and told him to cheer up.

“Those railroad chaps are laying for us, sure enough,” he said. “I’ve been talking to MacBride himself—over at the telephone exchange; he ain’t in town—and he said that Porter—he’s the vice-president of the C. & S. C.—Porter told him, when he was in Chicago, that they wouldn’t object at all to our building the gallery over their tracks. But that’s all we’ve got to go by. Not a word on paper. Oh, they mean to give us a picnic, and no mistake!”

With that, Bannon called up the general offices of the C. & S. C. and asked for Mr. Porter. There was some little delay in getting the connection, and then three or four minutes of fencing while a young man at the other end of the line tried to satisfy himself that Bannon had the right to ask for Mr. Porter, let alone to talk with him, and Bannon, steadily ignoring his questions, continued blandly requesting him to call Mr. Porter to the telephone. Hilda was listening with interest, for Bannon’s manner was different from anything she had ever seen in him before. It lacked nothing of his customary assurance, but its breeziness gave place to the most studied restraint; he might have been a railroad president himself. He hung up the receiver, however, without accomplishing anything, for the young man finally told him that Mr. Porter had gone out for the afternoon.

So next morning Bannon tried again. He learned that Porter was in, and all seemed to be going well until he mentioned MacBride & Company, after which Mr. Porter became very elusive. Three or four attempts to pin him down, or at least to learn his whereabouts, proved unsuccessful, and at last Bannon, with wrath in his heart, started down town.

It was nearly night before he came back, and as before, he found Pete sitting gloomily in the office waiting his return. “Well,” exclaimed the night boss, looking at him eagerly; “I thought you was never coming back. We’ve most had a fit here, wondering how you’d come out. I don’t have to ask you, though. I can see by your looks that we’re all right.”

Bannon laughed, and glanced over at Hilda, who was watching him closely. “Is that your guess, too, Miss Vogel?”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think you’ve had a pretty hard time.”

“They’re both good guesses,” he said, pulling a paper out of his pocket, and handing it to Hilda. “Read that.” It was a formal permit for building the gallery, signed by Porter himself, and bearing the O. K. of the general manager.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Bannon commented. “Now read the postscript, Miss Vogel.” It was in Porter’s handwriting, and Hilda read it slowly. “MacBride & Company are not, however, allowed to erect trestles or temporary scaffolding in the C. & S. C. right-of-way, nor to remove any property of the Company, such as fences, nor to do anything which may, in the opinion of the local authorities, hinder the movement of trains.”

Pete’s face went blank. “A lot of good this darned permit does us then. That just means we can’t build it.”

Bannon nodded. “That’s what it’s supposed to mean,” he said. “That’s just the point.”

“You see, it’s like this,” he went on. “That man Porter would make the finest material for ring-oiling, dust proof, non-inflammable bearings that I ever saw. He’s just about the hardest, smoothest, shiniest, coolest little piece of metal that ever came my way. Well, he wants to delay us on this job. I took that in the moment I saw him. Well, I told him how we went ahead, just banking on his verbal consent, and how his railroad had jumped on us; and I said I was sure it was just a misunderstanding, but I wanted it cleared up because we was in a hurry. He grinned a little over that, and I went on talking. Said we’d bother ’em as little as possible; of course we had to put up the trestles in their property, because we couldn’t hold the thing up with a balloon.

“He asked me, innocent as you please, if a steel bridge couldn’t be made in a single span, and I said, yes, but it would take too long. We only had a few days. ‘Well,’ he says, ‘Mr. Bannon, I’ll give you a permit.’ And that’s what he gave me. I bet he’s grinning yet. I wonder if he’ll grin so much about three days from now.”

“Do you mean that you can build it anyway?” Hilda demanded breathlessly.

He nodded, and, turning to Pete, plunged into a swift, technical explanation of how the trick was to be done. “Won’t you please tell me, too?” Hilda asked appealingly.

“Sure,” he said. He sat down beside her at the desk and began drawing on a piece of paper. Pete came and looked over his shoulder. Bannon began his explanation.

“Here’s the spouting house, and here’s the elevator. Now, suppose they were only fifteen feet apart. Then if we had two ten-foot sticks and put ’em up at an angle and fastened the floor to a bolt that came down between ’em, the whole weight of the thing would be passed along to the foundation that the ends of the timbers rest on. But you see, it’s got to be one hundred and fifty feet long, and to build it that way would take two one hundred-foot timbers, and we haven’t got ’em that long.

“But we’ve got plenty of sticks that are twenty feet long, and plenty of bolts, and this is the way we arrange ’em.

We put up our first stick (x) at an angle just as before. Then we let a bolt (o) down through the upper end of it and through the floor of the gallery. Now the next timber (y) we put up at just the same angle as the first, with the foot of it bearing down on the lower end of the bolt.

“That second stick pushes two ways. A straight down push and a sideways push. The bolt resists the down push and transmits it to the first stick, and that pushes against the sill that I marked a. Now, the sideways push is against the butt of the first timber of the floor, and that’s passed on, same way, to the sill.

“Well, that’s the whole trick. You begin at both ends at once and just keep right on going. When the thing’s done it looks this way. You see where the two sections meet in the middle, it’s just the same as the little fifteen-foot gallery that we made a picture of up here.”

“I understand that all right,” said Pete, “but I don’t see yet how you’re going to do it without some kind of scaffolding.”

“Easy. I ain’t going to use a balloon, but I’ve got something that’s better. It’ll be out here this afternoon. Come and help me get things ready.”

There was not much to do, for the timber was already cut to the right sizes, but Bannon was not content till everything was piled so that when work did begin on the gallery it could go without a hitch. He was already several days behind, and when one is figuring it as fine as Bannon was doing in those last days, even one day is a serious matter. He could do nothing more at the belt gallery until his substitute for a scaffold should arrive; it did not come that afternoon or evening, and next morning when he came on the job it still had not been heard from. There was enough to occupy every moment of his time and every shred of his thought without bothering about the gallery, and he did not worry about it as he would have worried if he had had nothing to do but wait for it.

But when, well along in the afternoon, a water boy found him up on the weighing floor and told him there was something for him at the office, he made astonishing time getting down. “Here’s your package,” said Max, as Bannon burst into the little shanty. It was a little, round, pasteboard box. If Bannon had had the office to himself, he would, in his disappointment, have cursed the thing till it took fire. As it was, he stood speechless a moment and then turned to go out again.

“Aren’t you going to open it, now you’re here?” asked Max.

Bannon, after hesitating, acted on the suggestion, and when he saw what it was, he laughed. No, Brown had not forgotten the hat! Max gazed at it in unfeigned awe; it was shiny as a mirror, black as a hearse, tall, in his eyes—for this was his first near view of one—as the seat of a dining-room chair. “Put it on,” he said to Bannon. “Let’s see how it looks on you.”

“Not much. Wouldn’t I look silly in a thing like that, though? I’d rather wear an ordinary length of stovepipe. That’d be durable, anyway. I wonder what Brown sent it for. I thought he knew a joke when he saw one.”

Just then one of the under-foremen came in. “Oh, Mr. Bannon,” he said, “I’ve been looking for you. There’s a tug in the river with a big, steel cable aboard that they said was for us. I told ’em I thought it was a mistake——”

It was all one movement, Bannon’s jamming that hat—the silk hat—down on his head, and diving through the door. He shouted orders as he ran, and a number of men, Pete among them, got to the wharf as soon as he did.

“Now, boys, this is all the false work we can have. We’re going to hang it up across the tracks and hang our gallery up on it till it’s strong enough to hold itself. We’ve got just forty-eight hours to do the whole trick. Catch hold now—lively.

It was a simple scheme of Bannon’s. The floor of the gallery was to be built in two sections, one in the main house, one in the spouting house. As fast as the timbers were bolted together the halves of the floor were shoved out over the tracks, each free e

nd being supported by a rope which ran up over a pulley. The pulley was held by an iron ring fast to the cable, but perfectly free to slide along it, and thus accompany the end of the floor as it was moved outward. Bannon explained it to Pete in a few quick words while the men were hustling the big cable off the tug.

“Of course,” he was concluding, “the thing’ll wabble a good deal, specially if it’s as windy as this, and it won’t be easy to work on, but it won’t fall if we make everything fast.”

Pete had listened pretty closely at first, but now Bannon noticed that his attention seemed to be wandering to a point a few inches above Bannon’s head. He was about to ask what was the matter when he found out. It was windier on that particular wharf than anywhere else in the Calumet flats, and the hat he had on was not built for that sort of weather. It was perfectly rigid, and not at all accommodated to the shape of Bannon’s head. So, very naturally, it blew off, rolled around among their feet for a moment, and then dropped into the river between the wharf and the tug.

Bannon was up on the spouting house, helping make fast the cable end when a workman brought the hat back to him. Somebody on the tug had fished it out with a trolling line. But the hat was well past resuscitation. It had been thoroughly drowned, and it seemed to know it.

“Take that to the office,” said Bannon. “Have Vogel wrap it up just as it is and ship it to Mr. Brown. I’ll dictate a letter to go with it by and by.”

For all Bannon’s foresight, there threatened to be a hitch in the work on the gallery. The day shift was on again, and twenty-four of Bannon’s forty-eight hours were spent, when he happened to say to a man:—

“Never mind that now, but be sure you fix it to-morrow.”

“To-morrow?” the man repeated. “We ain’t going to work to-morrow, are we?”

Bannon noticed that every man within hearing stopped work, waiting for the answer. “Sure,” he said. “Why not?”

There was some dissatisfied grumbling among them which he was quite at a loss to understand until he caught the word “Christmas.”

“Christmas!” he exclaimed, in perfectly honest astonishment. “Is to-morrow Christmas?” He ran his hand through his stubby hair. “Boys,” he said, “I’m sorry to have to ask it of you. But can’t we put it off a week? Look here. We need this day. Now, if you’ll say Christmas is a week from to-morrow, I’ll give every man on the job a Christmas dinner that you’ll never forget; all you can eat and as much again, and you bring your friends, if we work to-morrow and we have her full of wheat a week from to-day. Does that go?”

It went, with a ripping cheer to boot; a cheer that was repeated here and there all over the place as Bannon’s offer was passed along.

So for another twenty-four hours they strained and tugged and tusselled up in the big swing, for it was nothing else, above the railroad tracks. There was a northeast gale raging down off the lake, with squalls of rain and sleet mixed up in it, and it took the crazy, swaying box in its teeth and shook it and tossed it up in the air in its eagerness to strip it off the cable. But somewhere there was an unconquerable tenacity that held fast, and in the teeth of the wind the long box grew rigid, as the trusses were pounded into place by men so spent with fatigue that one might say it was sheer good will that drove the hammers.

At four o’clock Christmas afternoon the last bolt was drawn taut. The gallery was done. Bannon had been on the work since midnight—sixteen consecutive hours. He had eaten nothing except two sandwiches that he had stowed in his pockets. His only pause had been about nine o’clock that morning when he had put his head in the office door to wish Hilda a Merry Christmas.

When the evening shift came on—that was just after four—one of the under-foremen tried to get him to talking, but Bannon was too tired to talk. “Get your tracks and rollers in,” he said. “Take down the cable.”

“Don’t you want to stay and see if she’ll hold when the cable comes down?” called the foreman after him as he started away.

“She’ll hold,” said Bannon.

 

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).

Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is FREE for all students to attend!

 

Averting a Strike – Calumet “K”, Chapter 13

Averting a Strike – Calumet “K”, Chapter 13

XIII.

It was the night of the tenth of December. Three of the four stories of the cupola were building, and the upright posts were reaching toward the fourth. It still appeared to be a confused network of timbers, with only the beginnings of walls, but as the cupola walls are nothing but a shell of light boards to withstand the wind, the work was further along than might have been supposed. Down on the working story the machinery was nearly all in, and up here in the cupola the scales and garners were going into place as rapidly as the completing of the supporting framework permitted. The cupola floors were not all laid. If you had stood on the distributing floor, over the tops of the bins, you might have looked not only down through a score of openings between plank areas and piles of timbers, into black pits, sixteen feet square by seventy deep, but upward through a grill of girders and joists to the clear sky. Everywhere men swarmed over the work, and the buzz of the electric lights and the sounds of hundreds of hammers blended into a confused hum.

If you had walked to the east end of the building, here and there balancing along a plank or dodging through gangs of laborers and around moving timbers, you would have seen stretching from off a point not halfway through to the ground, the annex bins, rising so steadily that it was a matter only of a few weeks before they would be ready to receive grain. Now another walk, this time across the building to the north side, would show you the river house, out there on the wharf, and the marine tower rising up through the middle with a single arc lamp on the topmost girder throwing a mottled, checkered shadow on the wharf and the water below.

At a little after eight o’clock, Peterson, who had been looking at the stairway, now nearly completed, came out on the distributing floor. He was in good spirits, for everything was going well, and Bannon had frankly credited him, of late, with the improvement in the work of the night shifts. He stood looking up through the upper floors of the cupola, and he did not see Max until the timekeeper stood beside him.

“Hello, Max,” he said. “We’ll have the roof on here in another ten days.”

Max followed Peterson’s glance upward.

“I guess that’s right. It begins to look as if things was coming ’round all right. I just come up from the office. Mr. Bannon’s there. He’ll be up before long, he says. I was a-wondering if maybe I hadn’t ought to go back and tell him about Grady. He’s around, you know.”

“Who? Grady?”

“Yes. Him and another fellow was standing down by one of the cribbin’ piles. I was around there on the way up.”

“What was they doing?”

“Nothing. Just looking on.”

Peterson turned to shout at some laborers, then he pushed back his hat and scratched his head.

“I don’t know but what you’d ought to ‘a’ told Charlie right off. That man Grady don’t mean us no good.”

“I know it, but I wasn’t just sure.”

“Well, I’ll tell you——”

Before Peterson could finish, Max broke in:—

“That’s him.”

“Where?”

“That fellow over there, walking along slow. He’s the one that was with Grady.”

“I’d like to know what he thinks he’s doing here.” Peterson started forward, adding, “I guess I know what to say to him.”

“Hold on, Pete,” said Max, catching his arm. “Maybe we’d better speak to Mr. Bannon. I’ll go down and tell him, and you keep an eye on this fellow.”

Peterson reluctantly assented, and Max walked slowly away, now and then pausing to look around at the men. But when he had nearly reached the stairway, where he could slip behind the scaffolding about the only scale hopper that had reached a man’s height above the floor, he moved more rapidly. He met Bannon on the stairway, and told him what he had seen. Bannon leaned against the wall of the stairway bin, and looked thoughtful.

“So he’s come, has he?” was his only comment. “You might speak to Pete, Max, and bring him here. I’ll wait.”

Max and Peterson found him looking over the work of the carpenters.

“I may not be around much to-night,” he said, with a wink, “but I’d like to see both of you to-morrow afternoon some time. Can you get around about four o’clock, Pete?”

“Sure,” the night boss replied.

“We’ve got some thinking to do about the work, if we’re going to put it through. I’ll look for you at four o’clock then, in the office.” He started down the stairs. “I’m going home now.”

“Why,” said Peterson, “you only just come.”

Bannon paused and looked back over his shoulder. The light came from directly overhead, and the upper part of his face was in the shadow of his hat brim, but Max, looking closely at him, thought that he winked again.

“I wanted to tell you,” the foreman went on; “Grady’s come around, you know—and another fellow——”

“Yes, Max told me. I guess they won’t hurt you. Good night.”

As he went on down he passed a group of laborers who were bringing stairway material to the carpenters.

“I don’t know but what you was talking pretty loud,” said Max to Peterson, in a low voice. “Here’s some of ’em now.”

“They didn’t hear nothing,” Peterson replied, and the two went back to the distributing floor. They stood in a shadow, by the scale hopper, waiting for the reappearance of Grady’s companion. He had evidently gone on to the upper floors, where he could not be distinguished from the many other moving figures; but in a few minutes he came back, walking deliberately toward the stairs. He looked at Peterson and Max, but passed by without a second glance, and descended. Peterson stood looking after him.

“Now, I’d like to know what Charlie meant by going home,” he said.

Max had been thinking hard. Finally he said:—

“Say, Pete, we’re blind.”

“Why?”

“Did you think he was going home?”

Peterson looked at him, but did not reply.

“Because he ain’t.”

“Well, you heard what he said.”

“What does that go for? He was winking when he said it. He wasn’t going to stand there and tell the laborers all about it, like we was trying to do. I’ll bet he ain’t very far off.”

“I ain’t got a word to say,” said Peterson. “If he wants to leave Grady to me, I guess I can take care of him.”

Max had come to the elevator for a short visit—he liked to watch the work at night—but now he settled down to stay, keeping about the hopper where he could see Grady if his head should appear at the top of the stairs. Something told him that Bannon saw deeper into Grady’s man[oe]uvres than either Peterson or himself, and while he could not understand, yet he was beginning to think that Grady would appear before long, and that Bannon knew it.

Sure enough, only a few minutes had gone when Max turned back from a glance at the marine tower and saw the little delegate standing on the top step, looking about the distributing floor and up through the girders overhead, with quick, keen eyes. Then Max understood what it all meant: Grady had chosen a time when Bannon was least likely to be on the job; and had sent the other man ahead to reconnoitre. It meant mischief—Max could see that; and he felt a boy’s nervousness at the prospect of excitement. He stepped farther back into the shadow.

Grady was looking about for Peterson; when he saw his burly figure outlined against a light at the farther end of the building, he walked directly toward him, not pausing this time to talk to the laborers or to look at them. Max, moving off a little to one side, followed, and reached Peterson’s side just as Grady, his hat pushed back on his head and his feet apart, was beginning to talk.

“I had a little conversation with you the other day, Mr. Peterson. I called to see you in the interests of the men, the men that are working for you—working like galley slaves they are, every man of them. It’s shameful to a man that’s seen how they’ve been treated by the nigger drivers that stands over them day and night.” He was speaking in a loud voice, with the fluency of a man who is carefully prepared. There was none of the bitterness or the ugliness in his manner that had slipped out in his last talk with Bannon, for he knew that a score of laborers were within hearing, and that his words would travel, as if by wire, from mouth to mouth about the building and the grounds below. “I stand here, Mr. Peterson, the man chosen by these slaves of yours, to look after their rights. I do not ask you to treat them with kindness, I do not ask that you treat them as gentlemen. What do I ask? I demand what’s accorded to them by the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, that says even a nigger has more rights than you’ve given to these men, the men that are putting money into your pocket, and Mr. Bannon’s pocket, and the corporation’s pocket, by the sweat of their brows. Look at them; will you look at them?” He waved his arm toward the nearest group, who had stopped working and were listening; and then, placing a cigar in his mouth and tilting it upward, he struck a match and sheltered it in his hands, looking over it for a moment at Peterson.

The night boss saw by this time that Grady meant business, that his speech was preliminary to something more emphatic, and he knew that he ought to stop it before the laborers should be demoralized.

“You can’t do that here, Mister,” said Max, over Peterson’s shoulder, indicating the cigar.

Grady still held the match, and looked impudently across the tip of his cigar. Peterson took it up at once.

“You’ll have to drop that,” he said. “There’s no smoking on this job.”

The match had gone out, and Grady lighted another.

“So that’s one of your rules, too?” he said, in the same loud voice. “It’s a wonder you let a man eat.”

Peterson was growing angry. His voice rose as he talked.

“I ain’t got time to talk to you,” he said. “The insurance company says there can’t be no smoking here. If you want to know why, you’d better ask them.”

Grady blew out the match and returned the cigar to his pocket, with an air of satisfaction that Peterson could not make out.

“That’s all right, Mr. Peterson. I didn’t come here to make trouble. I come here as a representative of these men”—he waved again toward the laborers—”and I say right here, that if you’d treated them right in the first place, I wouldn’t be here at all. I’ve wanted you to have a fair show. I’ve put up with your mean tricks and threats and insults ever since you begun—and why? Because I wouldn’t delay you and hurt the work. It’s the industries of to-day, the elevators and railroads, and the work of strong men like these that’s the bulwark of America’s greatness. But what do I get in return, Mister Peterson? I come up here as a gentleman and talk to you. I treat you as a gentleman. I overlook what you’ve showed yourself to be. And how do you return it? By talking like the blackguard you are—you knock an innocent cigar——”

“Your time’s up!” said Pete, drawing a step nearer. “Come to business, or clear out. That’s all I’ve got to say to you.”

“All right, Mister Peterson—all right. I’ll put up with your insults. I can afford to forget myself when I look about me at the heavier burdens these men have to bear, day and night. Look at that—look at it, and then try to talk to me.”

He pointed back toward the stairs where a gang of eight laborers were carrying a heavy timber across the shadowy floor.

“Well, what about it?” said Pete, with half-controlled rage.

“What about it! But never mind. I’m a busy man myself. I’ve got no more time to waste on the likes of you. Take a good look at that, and then listen to me. That’s the last stick of timber that goes across this floor until you put a runway from the hoist to the end of the building. And every stick that leaves the runway has got to go on a dolly. Mark my words now—I’m talking plain. My men don’t lift another pound of timber on this house—everything goes on rollers. I’ve tried to be a patient man, but you’ve run against the limit. You’ve broke the last back you’ll have a chance at.” He put his hand to his mouth as if to shout at the gang, but dropped it and faced around. “No, I won’t stop them. I’ll be fair to the last.” He pulled out his watch. “I’ll give you one hour from now. At ten o’clock, if your runway and the dollies ain’t working, the men go out. And the next time I see you, I won’t be so easy.”

He turned away, waved to the laborers, with an, “All right, boys; go ahead,” and walked grandly toward the stairway.

Max whistled.

“I’d like to know where Charlie is,” said Peterson.

“He ain’t far. I’ll find him;” and Max hurried away.

Bannon was sitting in the office chair with his feet on the draughting-table, figuring on the back of a blotter. The light from the wall lamp was indistinct, and Bannon had to bend his head forward to see the figures. He did not look up when the door opened and Max came to the railing gate.

“Grady’s been up on the distributing floor,” said Max, breathlessly, for he had been running.

“What did he want?”

“He’s going to call the men off at ten o’clock if we don’t put in a runway and dollies on the distributing floor.”

Bannon looked at his watch.

“Is that all he wants?”

Max, in his excitement, did not catch the sarcasm in the question.

“That’s all he said, but it’s enough. We can’t do it”

Bannon closed his watch with a snap.

“No,” he said, “and we won’t throw away any good time trying. You’d better round up the committee that’s supposed to run this lodge and send them here. That young Murphy’s one of them—he can put you straight. Bring Pete back with you, and the new man, James.”

Max lingered, with a look of awe and admiration.

“Are you going to stand out, Mr. Bannon?” he asked.

Bannon dropped his feet to the floor, and turned toward the table.

“Yes,” he said. “We’re going to stand out.”

Since Bannon’s talk with President Carver a little drama had been going on in the local lodge, a drama that neither Bannon, Max, nor Peterson knew about. James had been selected by Carver for this work because of proved ability and shrewdness. He had no sooner attached himself to the lodge, and made himself known as an active member, than his personality, without any noticeable effort on his part, began to make itself felt. Up to this time Grady had had full swing, for there had been no one among the laborers with force enough to oppose him.

The first collision took place at an early meeting after Grady’s last talk with Bannon. The delegate, in the course of the meeting, bitterly attacked Bannon, accusing him, at the climax of his oration, of an attempt to buy off the honest representative of the working classes for five thousand dollars. This had a tremendous effect on the excitable minds before him. He finished his speech with an impassioned tirade against the corrupt influences of the money power, and was mopping his flushed face, listening with elation to the hum of anger that resulted, confident that he had made his point, when James arose. The new man was as familiar with the tone of the meetings of laborers as Grady himself. At the beginning he had no wish further than to get at the truth. Grady had not stated his case well. It had convinced the laborers, but to James it had weak points. He asked Grady a few pointed questions, that, had the delegate felt the truth behind him, should not have been hard to answer. But Grady was still under the spell of his own oratory, and in attempting to get his feet back on the ground, he bungled. James did not carry the discussion beyond the point where Grady, in the bewilderment of recognizing this new element in the lodge, lost his temper, but when he sat down, the sentiment of the meeting had changed. Few of those men could have explained their feelings; it was simply that the new man was stronger than they were, perhaps as strong as Grady, and they were influenced accordingly.

There was no decision for a strike at that meeting. Grady, cunning at the business, immediately dropped open discussion, and, smarting under the sense of lost prestige, set about regaining his position by well-planned talk with individual laborers. This went on, largely without James’ knowledge, until Grady felt sure that a majority of the men were back in his control. This time he was determined to carry through the strike without the preliminary vote of the men. It was a bold stroke, but boldness was needed to defeat Charlie Bannon; and nobody knew better than Grady that a dashing show of authority would be hard for James or any one else to resist.

And so he had come on the job this evening, at a time when he supposed Bannon safe in bed, and delivered his ultimatum. Not that he had any hope of carrying the strike through without some sort of a collision with the boss, but he well knew that an encounter after the strike had gathered momentum would be easier than one before. Bannon might be able to outwit an individual, even Grady himself, but he would find it hard to make headway against an angry mob. And now Grady was pacing stiffly about the Belt Line yards, while the minute hand of his watch crept around toward ten o’clock. Even if Bannon should be called within the hour, a few fiery words to those sweating gangs on the distributing floor should carry the day. But Grady did not think that this would be necessary. He was still in the mistake of supposing that Peterson and the boss were at outs, and he had arrived, by a sort of reasoning that seemed the keenest strategy, at the conclusion that Peterson would take the opportunity to settle the matter himself. In fact, Grady had evolved a neat little campaign, and he was proud of himself.

Bannon did not have to wait long. Soon there was a sound of feet outside the door, and after a little hesitation, six laborers entered, five of them awkwardly and timidly, wondering what was to come. Peterson followed, with Max, and closed the door. The members of the committee stood in a straggling row at the railing, looking at each other and at the floor and ceiling—anywhere but at the boss, who was sitting on the table, sternly taking them in. James stepped to one side.

“Is this all the committee?” Bannon presently said.

The men hesitated, and Murphy, who was in the centre, answered, “Yes, sir.”

“You are the governing members of your lodge?”

There was an air of cool authority about Bannon that disturbed the men. They had been led to believe that his power reached only the work on the elevator, and that an attempt on his part to interfere in any way with their organization would be an act of high-handed tyranny, “to be resisted to the death” (Grady’s words). But these men standing before their boss, in his own office, were not the same men that thrilled with righteous wrath under Grady’s eloquence in the meetings over Barry’s saloon. So they looked at the floor and ceiling again, until Murphy at last answered:—

“Yes, sir.”

Bannon waited again, knowing that every added moment of silence gave him the firmer control.

“I have nothing to say about the government of your organization,” he said, speaking slowly and coldly. “I have brought you here to ask you this question, Have you voted to strike?”

The silence was deep. Peterson, leaning against the closed door, held his breath; Max, sitting on the railing with his elbow thrown over the desk, leaned slightly forward. The eyes of the laborers wandered restlessly about the room. They were disturbed, taken off their guard; they needed Grady. But the thought of Grady was followed by the consciousness of the silent figure of the new man, James, standing behind them. Murphy’s first impulse was to lie. Perhaps, if James had not been there, he would have lied. As it was, he glanced up two or three times, and his lips as many times framed themselves about words that did not come. Finally he said, mumbling the words:—

“No, we ain’t voted for no strike.”

“There has been no such decision made by your organization?”

“No, I guess not.”

Bannon turned to Peterson.

“Mr. Peterson, will you please find Mr. Grady and bring him here.”

Max and Peterson hurried out together. Bannon drew up the chair, and turned his back on the committee, going on with his figuring. Not a word was said; the men hardly moved; and the minutes went slowly by. Then there was a stir outside, and the sound of low voices. The door flew open, admitting Grady, who stalked to the railing, choking with anger. Max, who immediately followed, was grinning, his eyes resting on a round spot of dust on Grady’s shoulder, and on his torn collar and disarranged tie. Peterson came in last, and carefully closed the door—his eyes were blazing, and one sleeve was rolled up over his bare forearm. Neither of them spoke. If anything in the nature of an assault had seemed necessary in dragging the delegate to the office, there had been no witnesses. And he had entered the room of his own accord.

Grady was at a disadvantage, and he knew it. Breathing hard, his face red, his little eyes darting about the room, he took it all in—the members of the committee; the boss, figuring at the table, with an air of exasperating coolness about his lean back; and last of all, James, standing in the shadow. It was the sight of the new man that checked the storm of words that was pressing on Grady’s tongue. But he finally gathered himself and stepped forward, pushing aside one of the committee.

Then Bannon turned. He faced about in his chair and began to talk straight at the committee, ignoring the delegate. Grady began to talk at the same time, but though his voice was the louder, no one seemed to hear him. The men were looking at Bannon. Grady hesitated, started again, and then, bound by his own rage and his sense of defeat, let his words die away, and stood casting about for an opening.

“—This man Grady threatened a good while ago that I would have a strike on my hands. He finally came to me and offered to protect me if I would pay him five thousand dollars.”

“That’s a lie!” shouted the delegate. “He come to me——”

Bannon had hardly paused. He drew a typewritten copy of Grady’s letter from his pocket, and read it aloud, then handed it over to Murphy. “That’s the way he came at me. I want you to read it.”

The man took it awkwardly, glanced at it, and passed it on.

“To-night he’s ordered a strike. He calls himself your representative, but he has acted on his own responsibility. Now, I am going to talk plain to you. I came here to build this elevator, and I’m going to do it. I propose to treat you men fair and square. If you think you ain’t treated right, you send an honest man to this office, and I’ll talk with him. But I’m through with Grady. I won’t have him here at all. If you send him around again, I’ll throw him off the job.”

The men were a little startled. They looked at one another, and the man on Murphy’s left whispered something. Bannon sat still, watching them.

Then Grady came to himself. He wheeled around to face the committee, and threw out one arm in a wide gesture.

“I demand to know what this means! I demand to know if there is a law in this land! Is an honest man, the representative of the hand of labor, to be attacked by hired ruffians? Is he to be slandered by the tyrant who drives you at the point of the pistol? And you not men enough to defend your rights—the rights held by every American—the rights granted by the Constitution! But it ain’t for myself I would talk. It ain’t my own injuries that I suffer for. Your liberty hangs in the balance. This man has dared to interfere in the integrity of your lodge. Have you no words——”

Bannon arose, caught Grady’s arm, and whirled him around.

“Grady,” he said, “shut up.”

The delegate tried to jerk away, but he could not shake off that grip. He looked toward the committeemen, but they were silent. He looked everywhere but up into the eyes that were blazing down at him. And finally Bannon felt the muscles within his grip relax.

“I’ll tell you what I want you to do,” said Bannon to the committeemen. “I want you to elect a new delegate. Don’t talk about interference—I don’t care how you elect him, or who he is, if he comes to me squarely.”

Grady was wriggling again.

“This means a strike!” he shouted. “This means the biggest strike the West has ever seen! You won’t get men for love or money——”

Bannon gave the arm a wrench, and broke in:—

“I’m sick of this. I laid this matter before President Carver. I have his word that if you hang on to this man after he’s been proved a blackmailer, your lodge can be dropped from the Federation. If you try to strike, you won’t hurt anybody but yourselves. That’s all. You can go.”

“Wait——” Grady began, but they filed out without looking at him. James, as he followed them, nodded, and said, “Good night, Mr. Bannon.”

Then for the last time Bannon led Grady away. Peterson started forward, but the boss shook his head, and went out, marching the delegate between the lumber piles to the point where the path crossed the Belt Line tracks.

“Now, Mr. Grady,” he said, “this is where our ground stops. The other sides are the road there, and the river, and the last piles of cribbing at the other end. I’m telling you so you will know where you don’t belong. Now, get out!”

 

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).

Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is FREE for all students to attend!