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The Walking Delegate

241 pages
Library of Alexandria
ON THE ST. ETIENNE HOTEL T The St. Etienne Hotel would some day be as bulky and as garishly magnificent as four million dollars could make it. Now it was only a steel framework rearing itself into the center of the overhead grayness—a black pier supporting the grimy arch of heaven. Up on its loosely-planked twenty-first story stood Mr. Driscoll, watching his men at work. A raw February wind scraped slowly under the dirty clouds, which soiled the whole sky, and with a leisurely content thrust itself into his office-tendered flesh. He shivered, and at times, to throw off the chill, he paced across the pine boards, carefully going around the gaps his men were wont to leap. And now and then his eyes wandered from his lofty platform. On his right, below, there were roofs; beyond, a dull bar of water; beyond, more roofs: on his left there were roofs; a dull bar of water; more roofs: and all around the jagged wilderness of house-tops reached away and away till it faded into the complete envelopment of a smudgy haze. Once Mr. Driscoll caught hold of the head of a column and leaned out above the street; over its dizzy bottom erratically shifted dark specks—hats. He drew back with a shiver with which the February wind had nothing to do. It was a principle with Mr. Driscoll, of Driscoll & Co., contractors for steel bridges and steel frames of buildings, that you should not show approval of your workmen's work. Give 'em a smile and they'll do ten per cent. less and ask ten per cent. more. So as he now watched his men, one hand in his overcoat pocket, one on his soft felt hat, he did not smile. It was singularly easy for him not to smile. Balanced on his short, round body he had a round head with a rim of reddish-gray hair, and with a purplish face that had protruding lips which sagged at each corner, and protruding eyes whose lids blinked so sharply you seemed to hear their click. So much nature had done to help him adhere to his principle. And he, in turn, had added to his natural endowment by growing mutton-chops. Long ago someone had probably expressed to him a detestation of side-whiskers, and he of course had begun forthwith to shave only his chin. His men were setting twenty-five foot steel columns into place,—the gang his eyes were now on, moving actively about a great crane, and the gang about the great crane at the building's other end. Their coats were buttoned to their chins to keep out the February wind; their hands were in big, shiny gloves; their blue and brown overalls, from the handling of painted iron, had the surface and polish of leather. They were all in the freshness of their manhood—lean, and keen, and full of spirit—vividly fit. Their work explained their fitness; it was a natural civil service examination that barred all but the active and the daring