Mawkum, my chief draftsman—when you have only one it is best to label him “Chief” to your clients; they think the others are off building bridges for foreign governments, or lunching at Delmonico’s with railroad presidents—my chief draftsman, I say, occupies the room opening into mine. His outlook is a brick wall decorated with windows, behind which can be seen various clerks poring over huge ledgers, a section of the roof topped with a chimney, and in the blue perspective the square, squat tower of the Produce Exchange in which hangs a clock. Both of these connecting rooms open on the same corridor, a convenient arrangement when clients wish to escape without being seen, or for the concealing of bidders who are getting plans and specifications for the same tenders, especially when two of them happen to turn up at the same moment.
Mawkum manages this, and with such adroitness that I have often seen clients, under the impression that the drafting-room was full, sit patiently in my office and take their turn while he quietly munches his sandwich behind closed panels—an illusion sustained by a loud “Good-morning” from my chief addressed to the circumambient air, followed by the slamming of the corridor door. When I remonstrate with Mawkum, insisting that such subterfuges are beneath the dignity of the office, he contends that they help business, and in proof quotes the old story of the unknown dentist who compelled a suffering prince to call the next day at noon, claiming that his list was full, when neither man, woman nor child had been in his chair for over a week—fame and fortune being his ever after.
When Mawkum gets tired of inspecting the brick wall and the industrious clerks and the face of the clock, he strolls leisurely into my room, plants himself at my window—this occurs during one of those calms that so often come to an office between contracts—and spends hours in contemplating the view.
To me the stretch of sky and water, with its dividing band of roof, tower and wharf, stretching from the loop of steel—that spider-web of the mighty—to the straight line of the sea, is a never-ending delight. In the early morning its broken outline is softened by a veil of silver mist embroidered with puffs of steam; at midday the glare of light flashing from the river’s surface makes silhouettes of the ferry-shuttles threading back and forth weaving the city’s life; at twilight the background of purple is bathed in the glory of the sunset, while at night myriads of fireflies swarm and settle, tracing in pencillings of fire the plan of the distant town.
Mawkum, being commercially disposed, sees none of these things; his gaze is fixed on the panting tugs towing chains of canal boats; on the great floats loaded with cars and the stately steamers slowing down opposite their docks. Today he develops an especial interest.
“That’s the Tampico in from Caracas and the Coast,” he says, leaning across my desk, his fat hand resting on my letter file. “She’s loaded pretty deep. Hides and tallow, I guess. ’Bout time we heard from that Moccador Lighthouse, isn’t it? Lawton’s last letter said we could look for his friend in a month—about due now. Wish he’d come.” And he yawned wearily.