“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.
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.”