PART I—THE DREAM
That windy autumn noon the young girls of the hat factory darted out of the loft building and came running back with cans of coffee, and bags of candy, and packages of sandwiches and cakes. They frisked hilariously before the wind, with flying hair and sparkling eyes, and crowded into the narrow entrance with the grimy pressmen of the eighth floor. Over and over again the one frail elevator was jammed with the laughing crowd and shot up to the hat factory on the ninth floor and back.
The men smoked cigarettes as the girls chattered and flirted with them, and the talk was fast and free.
At the eighth floor the pressmen got off, still smoking, for “Mr. Joe” was still out. Even after the presses started up they went on surreptitiously, though near one group of them in a dark corner of the printery lay a careless heap of cotton waste, thoroughly soaked with machine-oil. This heap had been passed by the factory inspector unnoticed, the pressmen took it for granted, and Joe, in his slipshod manner, gave it no thought. Later that very afternoon as the opening of the hall door rang a bell sharply and Joe came in, the men swiftly and guiltily flung their lighted cigarettes to the floor and stepped them out or crumpled them with stinging fingers in their pockets. But Joe did not even notice the clinging cigarette smell that infected the strange printery atmosphere, that mingled with its delightful odor of the freshly printed page, damp, bitter-sweet, new. Once Marty Briggs, the fat foreman, had spoken to Joe of the breaking of the “No Smoking” rule, but Joe had said, with his luminous, soft smile:
“Marty, the boys are only human—they see me smoking in the private office!”
Up and down the long, narrow, eighth-floor loft the great intricate presses stood in shadowy bulk, and the intense gray air was spotted here and there with a dangling naked electric bulb, under whose radiance the greasy, grimy men came and went, pulling out heaps of paper, sliding in sheets, tinkering at the machinery. Overhead whirled and traveled a complex system of wheels and belting, whirring, thumping, and turning, and the floor, the walls, the very door trembled with the shaking of the presses and made the body of every man there pleasantly quiver.
The stir of the hat factory on the floor above mingled with the stir of the presses, and Joe loved it all, even as he loved the presence of the young girls about him. Some of these girls were Bohemians, others Jewish, a few American. They gave to the gaunt, smoky building a touch as of a wild rose on a gray rock-heap—a touch of color and of melody. Joe, at noon, would purposely linger near the open doorway to get a glimpse of their bright faces and a snatch of their careless laughter. Some of the girls knew him and would nod to him on the street—their hearts went out to the tall, homely, sorrowful fellow.