Seven to Six--an Hour Out for Lunch
MY alarm has a knob on top that brings silence when pressed down, I struck it a blow just now, with my palm reached from under the bedclothes, and slid out of bed. In a sort of stumble I moved to the bathroom, lit the gas-jet, — which shrieked instantly — and got my face with breathless haste into cold water. Dim figures of men with dinner-buckets were visible through a frosted window, slipping down Factory Hill, and I blinked at them through watery eyes. ‘That alarm has lost another five minutes,’I decided. All hope of a shave evaporated, and I made a rapid descent of the back stairs, buttoning the last three vest buttons as I went over stone steps into the street.
Outside there was a paling starlight, and hard cold that made my limbs shrink to each other for comfort, and shot my coat collar around my ears. Down Factory Hill I went in a halfrun, passing slow-paced hunkies and nervous machinists returning from the night shift at Page’s. At this hour there are no noises in Martinsberg, only the faint shriek and grind of the foundry crane that runs all night. It is a sound that to me has an eerie and infernal quality in its vibrations. It suggests an ageless continuance of foundry labor: slow, grinding, uninteresting, and eternal. I toughen a weakened morale by blowing my nose, and thinking very fixedly upon breakfast.
Oatmeal — a North of Ireland landlady — a door that blows open and won’t catch.
‘Come pretty near not gettin’ any breakfast this morning — know that — I slept two hours last night, between four and six — I can’t stand it, I won’t stand it — rheumatism ‘s all through that side —if it keeps botherin’ like this, I ‘ll give up boarders — I won’t stand it! — Have some butter? ‘
The faces of several hundred brass and copper employees met every morning in the quarter-mile between boarding-house and rolling mill are unchanging. The same look and gait, with minor substitutions in walking groups — a new feller for a new girl; a girl who once walked alone, now arm in arm with three others. Those faces, empty, lined, careful, reckless, surrendered, are drawn and tinted clearer in my brain than my own cousins’; I have spent more hours of my life looking into them, and putting them into consciousness. I meet them in slightly different spots each morning, as they or I vary our leaving times, and many, with a miraculous invariability, beside the same tenement or post in the brass-mill fence. There is an old Irishman, whom I met this morning at the space where Factory Hill spreads into Main, from whom the mill must have exacted thirtyor forty-odd years of daily passage here. He is lame and as crudely clothed a man as I have ever seen. Like Cruikshank’s drawings of English laborers — shapeless baggy pants, jagged cuffs, black coat, ragged like a stage pauper’s; safety-pin at the neck; black hat — felt, without band or shape. Gray hair over part of his forehead; a mill complexion, a stiffened knee. There were all the wrinkles and lines of strain, anxiety, and age in his face, coupled with a curious look of boyishness. It was as if the environment compelled his body to endure the cares and labors of a responsible life without any corresponding growth or hardening of spiritual muscle.
Greeks, Portuguese, Syrians, Russians, Poles, Italians, anti Americans; laborers, skilled workmen, the whole hierarchy of bosses — the muffles’ chief in the brass mill, the shippingroom foremen, the bosses of the wire mill and casting shop —moving into the mill between 6.55 and 7.
I opened my locker, and pulled out a torn newspaper to stand on with stocking feet, while climbing into army field shoes. They are joyously comfortable to stand in, and resist the mill environment better than any known footwear. I balance on one foot and draw on blue overalls, till three scalping-machine operators brush by and tumble me into a locker. The whistle blows seven o’clock.
I ‘m on the ‘pony’ rolls with Bill Hartley, roller, who is there now cutting a sample with immense shears. The blocker and helper are beside him, putting on their gloves.
I grab the end of the coil. It has already been mounted on the reel, and at Bill’s nod I shove the end, with something of a lunge, between the two revolving rolls. Several thousand pounds’ pressure are applied instantly, and the copper ribbon shoots through, a thirty-second thinner and flat as a strip of Colgate’s. Speedily I relapse into one of the oil-swabbing automata of which there are twelve in the mill. There ‘s a box — a soap-box a footand-a-half high — that I sit on. At my right hand, hung on a wire from the roll-stand, is my bucket of roll-oil.
I dip into the oil in my pail, using a swab half the size of your fist, and streak on — not too much — upper side, lower side, of that moving ribbon. It takes fifteen minutes for this bar alone to grind through. Sweep your swab like a paint-brush on the moving metal, top side, bottom side, and then meeting — or almost meeting — the oil-smear of your last stroke.
Fifteen minutes pass. I get up from my box; my Portuguese helper, who came in ten minutes ago, slides a new 300-pound coil on the reel, lying on its side. We right it together — I know about the knee-bend now, that puts your back under the load.
Then for new oil — a green stream, finger-size, from the tap, sunlight color into it; and McCarthy’s helper is behind me waiting.
‘Oop!’ Half a cup slithering to the floor beside his foot. He gives me a grin of white teeth, and says something in Polisli English. I worked with him on Mac’s rolls last month.
Back to the soap-box, — a long stroke, top-side and bottom-side, — fifteen minutes to go. I watch the grain in the metal, — stained as it is from the pickle-tubs, — thinking, How ‘d you like to be an inspector? Watch for blister, cracks, humps, foreign impurities, gauge — The Colgate ribbon of metal swerves a little, coming from the rolls; reels a little to this side, a little to that; what of it? Swab top and bottom — a long stroke and even.
There are four more coils in this order. In the middle of the third, the bar sticks in the rolls, stutters, jerks on for an inch or two, shrieks, and stops. I don’t know why kerosene prevents sticking; but it does, and I squirt it from an oil-can near my left hand. The stutter has waked Bill from a light nap, and he relapses into it again when the metal takes to moving. He sleeps in a tilted chair against his locker.
The sixth coil —
Swab — top and bottom — a long sweep — even but not too much —
The order is finished.
Now you ‘re truck-horses — Bill taking the handle of the truck with all the finished coils on it, piled three high and sloping like steps of a pyramid. We push it over to the annealing furnaces to soften the coils for more rolling.
And now for a fresh order, with a quite new adjustment of the rolls, and of the guides which lead the metal in. The minutely different circumstances bring their flood of relief.
Bill helps me mount the next reel; the Portuguese has retired for a drink of water. A wrestling to untwist and bend into the guides — all your strength. Then the rolls bite; the ribbon moves through, and I resume swabbing from my soap-box. This time I look at rolls and not metal — smooth cylinders of chilled iron, evenly revolving, a foot in diameter, costing $600 a pair. Look flat, but they ‘re not. Covered with ‘humps and valleys’ — a fraction of a thousandth of an inch high or deep. A roller worth his salt can tell them by touching with sensitive finger-tips.
I apply my hand, pass my fingers over the oily tops of the rolls, and try to imagine I feel the ‘humps.’ Fingers get caught sometimes, ‘sticker’s’ fingers, roller’s fingers. The hand may break, either at the knuckles or the wrist. What would happen if mine caught? I think it through with a morbid intensity. Some one would run to the engineer, in the centre of the mill. The mill engine would ease slowly and stop at length — three or four minutes, five, maybe, before the fingers ceased grinding! Drop it for the Lord’s sake! — An even stroke, long— top-side and bottom.
Bill went to the drinking fountain near the clock, and coming back said quickly, ‘It’s seven minutes of — last bar.’
So we watched it curl through, impatiently, wishing we could speed the unvarying rate of the rolls, and hoping it would pull out by five minutes of twelve — which it did.
Kerosene will cut away grease, and we all washed hands in it, put the shears and wrench in Bill’s locker to prevent neighborly thieving, and rushed for the sink. There was sullenness and cold water. I borrowed sand soap from Zalinski, an old Pole who inspects copper.
I wish I could tell all there is to tell about Mrs. Badger’s boarding-house. But I can’t for it would take a very long book, and it has only indirectly — though importantly — to do with copper and brass. It was there I learned most about Martinsberg politics and religion — the hatreds of Catholics for Protestants and Protestants for Catholics, and a good deal about people’s ancestry and the complicated way they had intermarried. It was there also that I was told that Mrs. Bertram, who lived on the hill and went to Cape Cod summers, began life by ‘accommodatin’.’
With Mrs. Badger’s advancing age and rheumatism, she slowly cut off the heads of her boarders. She now had left Mr. Lampson, a clerk, Mr. Benny, a foundry workman, Mr. Steffens, a draughtsman, Miss Packard, a schoolteacher, and myself.
To-day we had a boiled dinner, and politics.
‘Why should n’t the mayor sell bottles if he wants to?’ inquired Mr. Lampson.
‘Because it’s a disgrace for a mayor of the town to be carryin’ on trade up and down the street, overalls V all, while he’s mayor.’
Mrs. Badger invariably discussed the mayor at the top of her lungs.
‘It ‘s honest,’ observed Mr. Benny, but without conviction.
‘What have you really got against Mayor Shane?’ I asked.
‘Look at him!’ burst from Mrs. Badger.
‘He’s a Mick.’
‘A dirty Mick,’ she continued.
‘Did not his wife’s sister keep a saloon once?' put in the German draughtsman.
‘Besides,’ — Mrs. Badger’s tone grew hoarse; she had not heard Mr. Steffens’s evidence, — ‘he ‘s a Democrat!’
‘ Yes! ‘ she concluded, her voice breaking; ‘he’s a Catholic!’
I went down-town before they finished, to buy a can of machinist’s soap, and returned to the mill by 12.50. (It seemed reasonable to enter by the ‘rivet-and-bolt’ door, which is just as near as the front way by the hot rolls, and I ran a chance of seeing the rivetand-bolt stock clerk, who is the prettiest girl in the north mill. But she had n’t come.)
By the time I put myself into overalls and field shoes, and the black canvas cap with green visor that I had kept over from steel days on the open hearth, gangs were coming in by the hot rolls. The men who ate out of dinner buckets were putting them back into lockers and moving with very great leisure toward their machines. On the rolls next mine, the sticker — a fat Slav — turned up bringing a new pail of oil. He smiled at me and pointed to a supersaturated apron.
‘It goes into the skin,’ he said, tapping his legs.
Which was a truth. I had found my own legs growing discolored since I began sticking. It soaked easily through all protections.
Bill made an adjustment on the rolls for thin metal, — a delicate job, — the squeezing of bars .015 of an inch thick down to .010.
‘Plenty of oil this time.’
The one o’clock whistle blew. I stood close to the moving ribbon of thin metal and drowned it in roll-oil.
There is almost a technique in rolling ‘thin stuff.’ Thin copper, hardly thicker than thick paper, will tear, crumple, and go crooked, if you ‘re not considerate. As I drown the metal with oil, — this is the ninth bar, — I ‘ll go over in my head little things caught from Bill.
Bar has to pass over several things before it goes to rolls and gets squeezed: first, a round rod — and see that it ‘s smooth and won’t scratch the copper, which is delicate. (Rub it with emery paper.) Then over a brass plate under a wooden peg. (See that they both are smooth — emery and sandpaper.)
Have the guides fit the bar tight.
Have the reel from which the bar unwinds, directly back of guides, so she won’t go into the rolls crooked.
If the rolls squeeze too much, the metal comes out ‘snaky,’ they say. It ‘s like a piece of cloth where the edges have shrunk and the middle has n’t. Watch for that.
What else? I ‘ll think when this bar goes through. What time is it? Early I guess — may be quarter of two.
Put on a lot of oil. Um —
Gauge every bar. Bill is doing it —
Examine edges to see they have n ‘t been roughed up by the guides, Yes.
Look at the surface for scratches, marks, or blisters.
Finished — twelve bars of ‘thin stuff.’
We push the truck to the annealing furnace, and bring a towering one back from the hot rolls. A whale of an order, 45 coils, an eleven-hour job, with nothing to it, after the set is made, but shoving a bar in one side of devouring rolls, swabbing on oil for fifteen minutes, and watching it automatically wind up on the other side.
Bill makes the set. It ‘s guessing done with weird accuracy. The upper roll is screwed up or down, and two iron bars, sticking from the top of the stand, achieve that, adjustment.
Space between the rolls widens from .010 of an inch to .175.
A short little bar is gobbled through for a try. Gauged with a micrometer. Found to be .170.
The iron control-bars are jarred a little by Bill’s hand; space between rolls opens imperceptibly.
Another little bar is passed through. Gauged with the micrometer—.175. Ah-h!
First big bar. ‘Shoot!’ Coil is mounted on reel, end tugged up, rolls bite. I sit on my soap-box and begin on the job again: swab on oil, regular — top and bottom — not too much.
I won’t watch any longer this moving belt of copper slipping by under my swab with the greenish oil dripping on. My eyes go for rest to the gang on the next rolls. A Portuguese Negro is there as sticker’s helper, at this instant fishing with a stick for small coils in a great tub of blue pickle. Near him is the sticker, a man with a great stomach and a small head, who treats his metal to great slushes of oil which run off the edges to the top of his boots and the floor. By twisting I can see the roller. He is thin-faced, with glasses, a short pipe, and an engineer’s cap. With an air of incalculable leisure he gauges his bars between puffs.
The last pair of rolls are mighty ones, grinding long thick bars which take three men to manipulate. The blocker is a high-shouldered fellow in a blue shirt, who stands close and grabs the bar when it first shows an edge through the iron rolls. Over the tops of the stands I can make out a small overhead crane, moving industriously in a cloud of steam from hot tubs.
I turn back to the moving copper, and find my pail all but empty. I *11 fill after this bar. Instead of half turning as I did to see the aisle of rolls, I look straight ahead at eye-level. There are ‘draw benches’ hauling copper through dies into special shapes. I can’t see them well, and my ignorance of their mechanics is complete. A little to the left is the square box of a mill office. Through the window of it I can see a man with arms on his desk, and a head with a thin patch of hair, buried in them. The boss, Halsey. ‘He sleeps all day, but by God, he knows copper.’ This is what Bill says.
For some reason the mill noises break into my attention suddenly with all their different layers and divisions of sound. I have been too much given to the technique of rolling, or to the numbing regularity of a sticker’s strokes, to notice them before. I listen now and hear them all. Underneath is the fundamental engine rumble and the sound of heavy machinery turning in its bearings. Above that the local grind of my own copper strip going through the pony rolls, and one of our couplings banging a loose board of the sheathing at each turnover.
For the scalping machines, buzz is too soft a word. It is a compound sound, the rapid clawing of copper surfaces by six talons of steel. Close to, you catch the individual scrape; at my distance, the sound is still harsh but confused. And it unites with the softened szz-z-z of belts on drums. All this is continuous incessant sound. There are a lot of intermittent ones on top. When a hundred-pound coil drops on the floor twenty yards off, you hear it vaguely; copper bars thrown down by the crane go clang. And occasionally a coil sticks for an instant in the rolls; gives a screech and a shudder, and passes through. The steam lifts that hang over the pickle-tubs scream faintly when the valves open, and trucks loaded with cakes and bar rumble in and out of hearing.
Suddenly the monotonous routine of the mill afternoon was interrupted. I was not aware what had happened, but was conscious that a large event had taken place. Helpers began to crane their necks toward the hot rolls, to straighten curved backs if they were sitting down, to wake up if like the rollers they had fallen asleep. I craned too, and twisted on my soap-box to sweep the aisle of rolls with my eyes, and strain them in the direction of steam-clouds and the hot rolls. The state of half coma in which I had been listening to the noises of the mill left me, and I felt alert, almost eager.
‘Beeg boss come,’ whispered the Lithuanian helper.
Mr. Gordon and Mr. Weller walked down the aisle of the rolls. Mr. Gordon was superintendent of the mill. Mr. Weller an officer of the company. Nobody’s movements grew hurried or unnatural, but a subtle current of consciousness ran through the aisle; no heads were turned, but everyone knew that everyone else knew that Air. Gordon and Mr. Weller were coming down the aisle of the rolls.
Through the roar of the mill a few words filtered, jumbled and without meaning: ‘a new order—radiator brass — competition — spot copper.’
They do not pause anywhere, but pass on and out of the mill through the die department, and leave speculative conversations in little groups all over the mill. I hear the roller next us say, ‘Lookin’ to see who they can lay off, I guess. Five fellers dropped last pay day.’ But my roller, Bill, comes over to the soap-box, and remarks, ‘Weller is a good scout. My uncle was a roller in the brass mill when Mr. Weller was a young college feller learnin’ the business.’
For some minutes some force seemed to have cut across the drone of machines, bar-swabbing, coil-mounting, stiffened muscles, drip of oil, the interminable ribbon of copper squeezing between iron. It was possible to think vividly and pleasantly about anything at all. I recalled a hurdle race that I had won in high school, and the way the crowd blurred at the tape. I began to think about Leonardo da Vinci and about Mr. Gordon. Somebody had told me he had one ambition — to earn enough to be independent of the mill. He had worked thirty-eight years at it, they said, and was about ready to cut loose. He owned an apple farm in Massachusetts somewhere; in a year or two he would put brass behind him and begin the raising of apples.
But a little later, it became an effort, great and overwhelming, to think of Gordon any more, or of anything else. I mounted a coil —
Lifting the swab from my pail of roll-oil, putting it on in regular smears upon the thirty-first coil, watching the metal thicken on the block, winding a little to this side, veering to that —
Sometimes the numbness that a job brings is pleasant, like the sensation before sleep, or like the vagueness that rhythm gives. I have had such a pleasant lessening of consciousness, such lulling, on an easy shovel job, or piling metal, or heaving easily on a rope, or even on this mounting of coils, and swabbing of moving metal. But at other moments, as now, repetition becomes pain, and the growing and piling monotony an exquisite torture. And there are differing elements of pain even in monotony. There is sometimes a sense of ebbing vitality, of the gradual, inevitable withdrawal of life and happy energy from every centre of nerve and mind; a substitution of lethargy, — bodily, mental, — a hopelessness with no point or poignancy to make it dramatic or bearable. There is at times a feeling in the mind and senses, half like the pressure of a weight, bearing down slowly upon you, and wholly beyond tour power to emerge from or cast off, half like an unbearably stale taste, impossible to sweeten or to change.
At such times, it is either impossible to think at all, or, if thoughts do get into the mind, they find it such a smoky, stifling, and ill-smelling place, that they become dark, choked, and malodorous themselves. Even the best of thoughts.
I tried pungent ones, with rich suggestions floating and dangling from them, like my next visit home with a whole happy past to reëxplore, and personalities loved but not seen for long. And I tried the idea of adapting steel inventions and instruments of production to the old-fashioned areas of the brass business — an idea which, with the optimism of ignorance, I loved to speculate upon. No luck at this time. They grow gray or twist themselves into notions of discouragement. And the fact that they seem lifeless now makes me think that they will always be valueless. I remember bitterly how I dreamed that there was life and value in them, whereas, to speak the truth, they are without core, one-dimensional, deflated, and wholly unpromising, like existence, and like myself. They are like the mill with its dust on the slacking-out tables, and its steam rising from pickle-tubs, seen through the day-weary eye of six o’clock.
Now I try fighting it like an enemy. I resolve upon a new thought-groove, kick new muscles into play, find a new movement for my swab — short quick strokes now, to replace the long and steady. I try the same means that you try lo break sleepiness, when you beat back a resistless wave of lethargy by pinching your leg, biting your hand, snapping your head and neck back in its socket. There are means of waking up through mild pain, as now — grinding my right heel into the toe of my left boot.
But an hour later, the fight itself becomes monotonous. I ‘m unbelievably bored, putting up a fight and failing, and bored with thinking about fighting and thinking about failing.
Areas of personality that used to get stimulus enough to keep alive seem contracting, going under water. The live part of me is an island, with salt water advancing upon its beaches, reducing the green centre of me to a coral shoal. And each hour that I repeat the colorless motions, recovery becomes more impossible, the edges of personality quite irrevocably sunk.
I have noticed other men in the mill, facing the same thing, making a fight against it, winning through or surrendering. And I am confident that the men who have gone through into more intelligent jobs have either worked at twenty things or, if tied to a routine job, have kept themselves alive only through the most heroic measures.
I stood up and kicked my legs, which were going stiff from long sitting on the soap-box. Thought hard for a few minutes on supper — thought hard on those noises of the mill, and picked them apart. Why not speak to Bill? It seemed a gigantic, an heroic effort to raise my voice to say, ‘Hey, Bill.’ And what use if I did: we talked our heads empty the first week.
In ten minutes Bill spoke to me. He came over to my side of the rolls, slowly, looked at me, and looked away.
‘Monday is a long day,’he said, ‘always.'
He spat very carefully into the gutter that carries the oil away, and spoke with his head still lowered.
‘Did I ever tell you how I met my wife the first time?’
‘Feller named Compton, chum of mine, ‘n’ I used to go to the movies every night at Swarthmore, ‘n’ then dance—town hall. Worked in the Swarthmore branch then — good place too. Now listen to this. One night, we saw a coupla dames come outer the theatre — good-lookin’ as hell. I said to Cal, — that’s Compton, —
‘“Let, ‘s follow the dames.”
‘He says, “All right”; so we followTed ‘em. They knew it, and were sore as hell ‘n’ tried to walk away, but we walked up on ‘em. And off’ on a street where they’d turned in, we ast if they ‘d mind if we ‘d walk home with ‘em. And one of ‘em — who ‘s my wife — said she did n’t think so, ‘n’ the other girl says, “We don’t know you”; but she looked as if she ‘d like to, so I took the one by the arm who ‘s my wife now, and we walked the way hell ‘n’ gone out in the country with ‘em, past fields ‘n’ fields, ‘n’ finally they ast us our names, ‘n’ I says Rogers. Which got me in wrong when she found out. But at any rate I went with her every night for most, of that summer.’
The end of the bar came out of the rolls with a snap, and Bill went to the other side to help the blocker take the coil off. I mounted a new one on the reel, dragged the end over to the rolls, shoved it in till the rolls bit, took up the swab, and began smearing oil again.
Bill went on. ‘We thought we ‘d get married, ‘n’ we told our folks we thought we would. Her people took it all right, but my mother was sore as hell, ‘n’ said I was a fool, ‘n’ if I did, I need n’t come back. She meant it all right. Father did n’t care.
‘So we decided to get married anyway. I took pop’s car. Hell, how sore ma got over that! I thought she ‘d kill me. Well, I took the car, and we got married by the Swarthmore minister — Congregational. A very nice wedding; all my wife’s people were there and some of my friends. About pop and ma I was sorry, but I did n’t care much.
‘Of course I was scared to go home, ‘n’ so we stayed at my wife’s folks. I was plannin’ to get a rent, but they were high as hell and scarce. Finally I said we might as well go ‘n’ see mother and tell her about it. We went over one Sunday, ‘n’ tried to be nice about it, but she would n’t let us in, though my father ast her to. He said she could n’t make us unmarried by keeping us out. We went back to my wife’s folks.’
The end of the bar passed through the rolls and wound on the block. I mounted a new coil on the reel, lugged 1 lie end to the rolls, shoved it into the bite, and look up my swab.
‘It ‘s funny the way things happen sometimes. I met my wife by following those dames. And we came together with my people in a queer way too. I ‘d been living at my wife’s people’s for a couple of weeks, when they had a fire — a darn bad one; nobody knows now how it started, but it was probably sparks on the roof — and the house burned down. They had a little insurance but not a hell of a lot. Of course, all of us were out in the street. My wife’s uncle took in her father and mother, but there was n’t really room for us. I think this is pretty good; what happened was this. When my mother found out about it, she came over and ast us both, my wife and me, to come and live with her until we got a rent. So we did, of course, and my mother likes my wife now better than my father does. It ‘s funny the way things happen.’
After that Bill felt better, and I know I did. Most of the poisons had gone out of my mind. Of course it was only 4.30, and still hard to finish the turn; but there was nothing deadening and hopeless about the afternoon. I had lost the stale taste in my mind.
There was no fun in the last twelve bars we did, but I could get my will into it. It seemed as if there w’as something to push against. I liked to put one hand on the top of the reel, the other on a spoke, and with my Portuguese helper stiffen my back and legs and right the thing. I did n’t like it, but I was willing. I clenched my teeth a little and was willing. Besides, ‘Everybody’s job is hard when he does it all day — a man goes through with it — nothing was ever accomplished in this world without hard work.’ These moralities jolted into my brain.
Then there were no thoughts, but just a movement of muscles. We shoved the last coil off the gaugingtable to the truck. I helped the blocker do it. Tired muscles, but a changed movement, refreshment. If you shove quickly, the coil will slide from the table flat and find the right place on the load without unwinding.
Pulling truck — no thoughts, or feelings — the mill held as if in your fist, to finish the day; the truck jolting on an uneven floor; attention sharpened for turns and bad floor — and muscles prepared from old practice to slow down at the muffle furnace.
I walk back — ten minutes of six — slowly, muscles loosening, arms dangling. I shake them a little to relax all I can, and scuffle my field shoes through torn bits of copper in the aisle of the rolls.
‘Call it a day,’ Bill says.
There have been four months of it, I think; seven to six, hour out for lunch. Hardly a taste though. Harry Pickering on the ‘breaking-down’ rolls has been at it thirty-eight years.
Whistle: kerosene to cut the dirt from knuckles, cold water. I change into street boots, putting my oily ones in the corner of my locker.
Going out of the mill past the hot rolls, I enter the copper-mill yard and breathe suddenly a sharp winter gust. The ten hours fall away and no longer exist. Easily the mill slips off—the mounting of coils and swabbing roll-oil, the bump of the coupling against a sheathing board, and the quiver of the mill engine. Even the numbness of stiffened brain and nerve lifts as I go through the mill gate. And a glow, made up of relief and thoughts of supper, tenses every man’s leg muscles and pumps his blood hard.
At the space where Factory Hill descends and widens into Main Street, I meet the Irishman with face cut into lines, disorderly gray hair, and the look of boyish bewilderment in his face. I forget my supper and for a few wasted seconds think of to-morrow’s quota of ten hours and next week’s.
Then I push up Factory Hill with my eyes and my mind on Mrs. Badger’s side door, and on the supper, which comes on hot at 6.10.