Read an Excerpt
“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still—as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness within him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.
“It doesn’t,” snapped Eddie Willers.
He reached hastily into his pocket. The bum had stopped him and asked for a dime, then had gone on talking, as if to kill that moment and postpone the problem of the next. Pleas for dimes were so frequent in the streets these days that it was not necessary to listen to explanations and he had no desire to hear the details of this bum’s particular despair.
“Go get your cup of coffee,” he said, handing the dime to the shadow that had no face.
“Thank you, sir,” said the voice, without interest, and the face leaned forward for a moment. The face was wind-browned, cut by lines of weariness and cynical resignation; the eyes were intelligent.
Eddie Willers walked on, wondering why he always felt it at this time of day, this sense of dread without reason. No, he thought, not dread, there’s nothing to fear: just an immense, diffused apprehension, with no source or object. He had become accustomed to the feeling, but he could find no explanation for it; yet the bum had spoken as if he knew that Eddie felt it, as if he thought that one should feel it, and more: as if he knew the reason.
Eddie Willers pulled his shoulders straight, in conscientious self-discipline. He had to stop this, he thought; he was beginning to imagine things. Had he always felt it? He was thirty-two years old. He tried to think back. No, he hadn’t; but he could not remember when it had started. The feeling came to him suddenly, at random intervals, and now it was coming more often than ever. It’s the twilight, he thought; I hate the twilight.
The clouds and the shafts of skyscrapers against them were turning brown, like an old painting in oil, the color of a fading masterpiece. Long streaks of grime ran from under the pinnacles down the slender, soot-eaten walls. High on the side of a tower there was a crack in the shape of a motionless lightning, the length of ten stories. A jagged object cut the sky above the roofs; it was half a spire, still holding the glow of the sunset; the gold leaf had long since peeled off the other half. The glow was red and still, like the reflection of a fire: not an active fire, but a dying one which it is too late to stop.
No, thought Eddie Willers, there was nothing disturbing in the sight of the city. It looked as it had always looked.
He walked on, reminding himself that he was late in returning to the office. He did not like the task which he had to perform on his return, but it had to be done. So he did not attempt to delay it, but made himself walk faster.
He turned a corner. In the narrow space between the dark silhouettes of two buildings, as in the crack of a door, he saw the page of a gigantic calendar suspended in the sky.
It was the calendar that the mayor of New York had erected last year on the top of a building, so that citizens might tell the day of the month as they told the hours of the day, by glancing up at a public tower. A white rectangle hung over the city, imparting the date to the men in the streets below. In the rusty light of this evening’s sunset, the rectangle said: September 2.
Eddie Willers looked away. He had never liked the sight of that calendar. It disturbed him, in a manner he could not explain or define. The feeling seemed to blend with his sense of uneasiness; it had the same quality.
He thought suddenly that there was some phrase, a kind of quotation, that expressed what the calendar seemed to suggest. But he could not recall it. He walked, groping for a sentence that hung in his mind as an empty shape. He could neither fill it nor dismiss it. He glanced back. The white rectangle stood above the roofs, saying in immovable finality: September 2.
Eddie Willers shifted his glance down to the street, to a vegetable pushcart at the stoop of a brownstone house. He saw a pile of bright gold carrots and the fresh green of onions. He saw a clean white curtain blowing at an open window. He saw a bus turning a corner, expertly steered. He wondered why he felt reassured—and then, why he felt the sudden, inexplicable wish that these things were not left in the open, unprotected against the empty space above.
When he came to Fifth Avenue, he kept his eyes on the windows of the stores he passed. There was nothing he needed or wished to buy; but he liked to see the display of goods, any goods, objects made by men, to be used by men. He enjoyed the sight of a prosperous street; not more than every fourth one of the stores was out of business, its windows dark and empty.
He did not know why he suddenly thought of the oak tree. Nothing had recalled it. But he thought of it—and of his childhood summers on the Taggart estate. He had spent most of his childhood with the Taggart children, and now he worked for them, as his father and grandfather had worked for their father and grandfather.
The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggart estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and the whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.
One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside—just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.
Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal—the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.
Eddie Willers shook his head, as the screech of a rusty mechanism changing a traffic light stopped him on the edge of a curb. He felt anger at himself. There was no reason that he had to remember the oak tree tonight. It meant nothing to him any longer, only a faint tinge of sadness—and somewhere within him, a drop of pain moving briefly and vanishing, like a raindrop on the glass of a window, its course in the shape of a question mark.
He wanted no sadness attached to his childhood; he loved its memories: any day of it he remembered now seemed flooded by a still, brilliant sunlight. It seemed to him as if a few rays from it reached into his present: not rays, more like pinpoint spotlights that gave an occasional moment’s glitter to his job, to his lonely apartment, to the quiet, scrupulous progression of his existence.
He thought of a summer day when he was ten years old. That day, in a clearing of the woods, the one precious companion of his childhood told him what they would do when they grew up. The words were harsh and glowing, like the sunlight. He listened in admiration and in wonder. When he was asked what he would want to do, he answered at once, “Whatever is right,” and added, “You ought to do something great . . . I mean, the two of us together.” “What?” she asked. He said, “I don’t know. That’s what we ought to find out. Not just what you said. Not just business and earning a living. Things like winning battles, or saving people out of fires, or climbing mountains.” “What for?” she asked. He said, “The minister said last Sunday that we must always reach for the best within us. What do you suppose is the best within us?” “I don’t know.” “We’ll have to find out.” She did not answer; she was looking away, up the railroad track.
Eddie Willers smiled. He had said, “Whatever is right,” twenty-two years ago. He had kept that statement unchallenged ever since; the other questions had faded in his mind; he had been too busy to ask them. But he still thought it self-evident that one had to do what was right; he had never learned how people could want to do otherwise; he had learned only that they did. It still seemed simple and incomprehensible to him: simple that things should be right, and incomprehensible that they weren’t. He knew that they weren’t. He thought of that, as he turned a corner and came to the great building of Taggart Transcontinental.
The building stood over the street as its tallest and proudest structure. Eddie Willers always smiled at his first sight of it. Its long bands of windows were unbroken, in contrast to those of its neighbors. Its rising lines cut the sky, with no crumbling corners or worn edges. It seemed to stand above the years, untouched. It would always stand there, thought Eddie Willers.
Whenever he entered the Taggart Building, he felt relief and a sense of security. This was a place of competence and power. The floors of its hallways were mirrors made of marble. The frosted rectangles of its electric fixtures were chips of solid light. Behind sheets of glass, rows of girls sat at typewriters, the clicking of their keys like the sound of speeding train wheels. And like an answering echo, a faint shudder went through the walls at times, rising from under the building, from the tunnels of the great terminal where trains started out to cross a continent and stopped after crossing it again, as they had started and stopped for generation after generation. Taggart Transcontinental, thought Eddie Willers, From Ocean to Ocean—the proud slogan of his childhood, so much more shining and holy than any commandment of the Bible. From Ocean to Ocean, forever—thought Eddie Willers, in the manner of a rededication, as he walked through the spotless halls into the heart of the building, into the office of James Taggart, President of Taggart Transcontinental.
James Taggart sat at his desk. He looked like a man approaching fifty, who had crossed into age from adolescence, without the intermediate stage of youth. He had a small, petulant mouth, and thin hair clinging to a bald forehead. His posture had a limp, decentralized sloppiness, as if in defiance of his tall, slender body, a body with an elegance of line intended for the confident poise of an aristocrat, but transformed into the gawkiness of a lout. The flesh of his face was pale and soft. His eyes were pale and veiled, with a glance that moved slowly, never quite stopping, gliding off and past things in eternal resentment of their existence. He looked obstinate and drained. He was thirty-nine years old.
He lifted his head with irritation, at the sound of the opening door.
“Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, don’t bother me,” said James Taggart.
Eddie Willers walked toward the desk.
“It’s important, Jim,” he said, not raising his voice.
“All right, all right, what is it?”
Eddie Willers looked at a map on the wall of the office. The map’s colors had faded under the glass—he wondered dimly how many Taggart presidents had sat before it and for how many years. The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad, the network of red lines slashing the faded body of the country from New York to San Francisco, looked like a system of blood vessels. It looked as if once, long ago, the blood had shot down the main artery and, under the pressure of its own overabundance, had branched out at random points, running all over the country. One red streak twisted its way from Cheyenne, Wyoming, down to El Paso, Texas—the Rio Norte Line of Taggart Transcontinental. New tracing had been added recently and the red streak had been extended south beyond El Paso—but Eddie Willers turned away hastily when his eyes reached that point.
He looked at James Taggart and said, “It’s the Rio Norte Line.” He noticed Taggart’s glance moving down to a corner of the desk. “We’ve had another wreck.”
“Railroad accidents happen every day. Did you have to bother me about that?”
“You know what I’m saying, Jim. The Rio Norte is done for. That track is shot. Down the whole line.”
“We are getting a new track.”
Eddie Willers continued as if there had been no answer: “That track is shot. It’s no use trying to run trains down there. People are giving up trying to use them.”
“There is not a railroad in the country, it seems to me, that doesn’t have a few branches running at a deficit. We’re not the only ones. It’s a national condition—a temporary national condition.”
Eddie stood looking at him silently. What Taggart disliked about Eddie Willers was this habit of looking straight into people’s eyes. Eddie’s eyes were blue, wide and questioning; he had blond hair and a square face, unremarkable except for that look of scrupulous attentiveness and open, puzzled wonder.
“What do you want?” snapped Taggart.
“I just came to tell you something you had to know, because somebody had to tell you.”
“That we’ve had another accident?”
“That we can’t give up the Rio Norte Line.”
James Taggart seldom raised his head; when he looked at people, he did so by lifting his heavy eyelids and staring upward from under the expanse of his bald forehead.
“Who’s thinking of giving up the Rio Norte Line?” he asked. “There’s never been any question of giving it up. I resent your saying it. I resent it very much.”
“But we haven’t met a schedule for the last six months. We haven’t completed a run without some sort of breakdown, major or minor. We’re losing all our shippers, one after another. How long can we last?”
“You’re a pessimist, Eddie. You lack faith. That’s what undermines the morale of an organization.”
“You mean that nothing’s going to be done about the Rio Norte Line?”
“I haven’t said that at all. Just as soon as we get the new track—”
“Jim, there isn’t going to be any new track.” He watched Taggart’s eyelids move up slowly. “I’ve just come back from the office of Associated Steel. I’ve spoken to Orren Boyle.”
“What did he say?”
“He spoke for an hour and a half and did not give me a single straight answer.”
“What did you bother him for? I believe the first order of rail wasn’t due for delivery until next month.”
“And before that, it was due for delivery three months ago.”
“Unforeseen circumstances. Absolutely beyond Orren’s control.”
“And before that, it was due six months earlier. Jim, we have waited for Associated Steel to deliver that rail for thirteen months.”
“What do you want me to do? I can’t run Orren Boyle’s business.”
“I want you to understand that we can’t wait.”
Taggart asked slowly, his voice half-mocking, half-cautious, “What did my sister say?”
“She won’t be back until tomorrow.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?”
“That’s for you to decide.”
“Well, whatever else you say, there’s one thing you’re not going to mention next—and that’s Rearden Steel.”
Eddie did not answer at once, then said quietly, “All right, Jim. I won’t mention it.”
“Orren is my friend.” He heard no answer. “I resent your attitude. Orren Boyle will deliver that rail just as soon as it’s humanly possible. So long as he can’t deliver it, nobody can blame us.”
“Jim! What are you talking about? Don’t you understand that the Rio Norte Line is breaking up—whether anybody blames us or not?”
“People would put up with it—they’d have to—if it weren’t for the Phoenix-Durango.” He saw Eddie’s face tighten. “Nobody ever complained about the Rio Norte Line, until the Phoenix-Durango came on the scene.”
“The Phoenix-Durango is doing a brilliant job.”
“Imagine a thing called the Phoenix-Durango competing with Taggart Transcontinental! It was nothing but a local milk line ten years ago.”
“It’s got most of the freight traffic of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado now.” Taggart did not answer. “Jim, we can’t lose Colorado. It’s our last hope. It’s everybody’s last hope. If we don’t pull ourselves together, we’ll lose every big shipper in the state to the Phoenix-Durango. We’ve lost the Wyatt oil fields.”
“I don’t see why everybody keeps talking about the Wyatt oil fields.”
“Because Ellis Wyatt is a prodigy who—”
“Damn Ellis Wyatt!”
Those oil wells, Eddie thought suddenly, didn’t they have something in common with the blood vessels on the map? Wasn’t that the way the red stream of Taggart Transcontinental had shot across the country, years ago, a feat that seemed incredible now? He thought of the oil wells spouting a black stream that ran over a continent almost faster than the trains of the Phoenix-Durango could carry it. That oil field had been only a rocky patch in the mountains of Colorado, given up as exhausted long ago. Ellis Wyatt’s father had managed to squeeze an obscure living to the end of his days, out of the dying oil wells. Now it was as if somebody had given a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the mountain, the heart had started pumping, the black blood had burst through the rocks—of course it’s blood, thought Eddie Willers, because blood is supposed to feed, to give life, and that is what Wyatt Oil had done. It had shocked empty slopes of ground into sudden existence, it had brought new towns, new power plants, new factories to a region nobody had ever noticed on any map. New factories, thought Eddie Willers, at a time when the freight revenues from all the great old industries were dropping slowly year by year; a rich new oil field, at a time when the pumps were stopping in one famous field after another; a new industrial state where nobody had expected anything but cattle and beets. One man had done it, and he had done it in eight years; this, thought Eddie Willers, was like the stories he had read in school books and never quite believed, the stories of men who had lived in the days of the country’s youth. He wished he could meet Ellis Wyatt. There was a great deal of talk about him, but few had ever met him; he seldom came to New York. They said he was thirty-three years old and had a violent temper. He had discovered some way to revive exhausted oil wells and he had proceeded to revive them.
“Ellis Wyatt is a greedy bastard who’s after nothing but money,” said James Taggart. “It seems to me that there are more important things in life than making money.”
“What are you talking about, Jim? What has that got to do with—”
“Besides, he’s double-crossed us. We served the Wyatt oil fields for years, most adequately. In the days of old man Wyatt, we ran a tank train a week.”
“These are not the days of old man Wyatt, Jim. The Phoenix-Durango runs two tank trains a day down there—and it runs them on schedule.”
“If he had given us time to grow along with him—”
“He has no time to waste.”
“What does he expect? That we drop all our other shippers, sacrifice the interests of the whole country and give him all our trains?”
“Why, no. He doesn’t expect anything. He just deals with the Phoenix-Durango.”
“I think he’s a destructive, unscrupulous ruffian. I think he’s an irresponsible upstart who’s been grossly overrated.” It was astonishing to hear a sudden emotion in James Taggart’s lifeless voice.
“I’m not so sure that his oil fields are such a beneficial achievement. It seems to me that he’s dislocated the economy of the whole country. Nobody expected Colorado to become an industrial state. How can we have any security or plan anything if everything changes all the time?”
“Good God, Jim! He’s—”
“Yes, I know, I know, he’s making money. But that is not the standard, it seems to me, by which one gauges a man’s value to society. And as for his oil, he’d come crawling to us, and he’d wait his turn along with all the other shippers, and he wouldn’t demand more than his fair share of transportation—if it weren’t for the Phoenix-Durango. We can’t help it if we’re up against destructive competition of that kind. Nobody can blame us.”
The pressure in his chest and temples, thought Eddie Willers, was the strain of the effort he was making; he had decided to make the issue clear for once, and the issue was so clear, he thought, that nothing could bar it from Taggart’s understanding, unless it was the failure of his own presentation. So he had tried hard, but he was failing, just as he had always failed in all of their discussions; no matter what he said, they never seemed to be talking about the same subject.
“Jim, what are you saying? Does it matter that nobody blames us—when the road is falling apart?”
James Taggart smiled; it was a thin smile, amused and cold. “It’s touching, Eddie,” he said. “It’s touching—your devotion to Taggart Transcontinental. If you don’t look out, you’ll turn into one of those real feudal serfs.”
“That’s what I am, Jim.”
“But may I ask whether it is your job to discuss these matters with me?”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Then why don’t you learn that we have departments to take care of things? Why don’t you report all this to whoever’s concerned? Why don’t you cry on my dear sister’s shoulder?”
“Look, Jim, I know it’s not my place to talk to you. But I can’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know what it is that your proper advisers tell you, or why they can’t make you understand. So I thought I’d try to tell you myself.”
“I appreciate our childhood friendship, Eddie, but do you think that that should entitle you to walk in here unannounced whenever you wish? Considering your own rank, shouldn’t you remember that I am president of Taggart Transcontinental?”
This was wasted. Eddie Willers looked at him as usual, not hurt, merely puzzled, and asked, “Then you don’t intend to do anything about the Rio Norte Line?”
“I haven’t said that. I haven’t said that at all.” Taggart was looking at the map, at the red streak south of El Paso. “Just as soon as the San Sebastián Mines get going and our Mexican branch begins to pay off—”
“Don’t let’s talk about that, Jim.”
Taggart turned, startled by the unprecedented phenomenon of an implacable anger in Eddie’s voice. “What’s the matter?”
“You know what’s the matter. Your sister said—”
“Damn my sister!” said James Taggart.
Eddie Willers did not move. He did not answer. He stood looking straight ahead. But he did not see James Taggart or anything in the office.
After a moment, he bowed and walked out.
In the anteroom, the clerks of James Taggart’s personal staff were switching off the lights, getting ready to leave for the day. But Pop Harper, chief clerk, still sat at his desk, twisting the levers of a half-dismembered typewriter. Everybody in the company had the impression that Pop Harper was born in that particular corner at that particular desk and never intended to leave it. He had been chief clerk for James Taggart’s father.
Pop Harper glanced up at Eddie Willers as he came out of the president’s office. It was a wise, slow glance; it seemed to say that he knew that Eddie’s visit to their part of the building meant trouble on the line, knew that nothing had come of the visit, and was completely indifferent to the knowledge. It was the cynical indifference which Eddie Willers had seen in the eyes of the bum on the street corner.
“Say, Eddie, know where I could get some woolen undershirts?” he asked. “Tried all over town, but nobody’s got ’em.”
“I don’t know,” said Eddie, stopping. “Why do you ask me?”
“I just ask everybody. Maybe somebody’ll tell me.”
Eddie looked uneasily at the blank, emaciated face and white hair.
“It’s cold in this joint,” said Pop Harper. “It’s going to be colder this winter.”
“What are you doing?” Eddie asked, pointing at the pieces of typewriter.
“The damn thing’s busted again. No use sending it out, took them three months to fix it the last time. Thought I’d patch it up myself. Not for long, I guess.” He let his fist drop down on the keys. “You’re ready for the junk pile, old pal. Your days are numbered.”
Eddie started. That was the sentence he had tried to remember: Your days are numbered. But he had forgotten in what connection he had tried to remember it.
“It’s no use, Eddie,” said Pop Harper.
“What’s no use?”
“What’s the matter, Pop?”
“I’m not going to requisition a new typewriter. The new ones are made of tin. When the old ones go, that will be the end of typewriting. There was an accident in the subway this morning, their brakes wouldn’t work. You ought to go home, Eddie, turn on the radio and listen to a good dance band. Forget it, boy. Trouble with you is you never had a hobby. Somebody stole the electric light bulbs again, from off the staircase, down where I live. I’ve got a pain in my chest. Couldn’t get any cough drops this morning, the drugstore on our corner went bankrupt last week. The Texas-Western Railroad went bankrupt last month. They closed the Queensborough Bridge yesterday for temporary repairs. Oh well, what’s the use? Who is John Galt?”
She sat at the window of the train, her head thrown back, one leg stretched across to the empty seat before her. The window frame trembled with the speed of the motion, the pane hung over empty darkness, and dots of light slashed across the glass as luminous streaks, once in a while.
Her leg, sculptured by the tight sheen of the stocking, its long line running straight, over an arched instep, to the tip of a foot in a high-heeled pump, had a feminine elegance that seemed out of place in the dusty train car and oddly incongruous with the rest of her. She wore a battered camel’s hair coat that had been expensive, wrapped shapelessly about her slender, nervous body. The coat collar was raised to the slanting brim of her hat. A sweep of brown hair fell back, almost touching the line of her shoulders. Her face was made of angular planes, the shape of her mouth clear-cut, a sensual mouth held closed with inflexible precision. She kept her hands in the coat pockets, her posture taut, as if she resented immobility, and unfeminine, as if she were unconscious of her own body and that it was a woman’s body.
She sat listening to the music. It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and the form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean, and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance.
She thought: For just a few moments—while this lasts—it is all right to surrender completely—to forget everything and just permit yourself to feel. She thought: Let go—drop the controls—this is it.
Somewhere on the edge of her mind, under the music, she heard the sound of train wheels. They knocked in an even rhythm, every fourth knock accented, as if stressing a conscious purpose. She could relax, because she heard the wheels. She listened to the symphony, thinking: This is why the wheels have to be kept going, and this is where they’re going.
She had never heard that symphony before, but she knew that it was written by Richard Halley. She recognized the violence and the magnificent intensity. She recognized the style of the theme; it was a clear, complex melody—at a time when no one wrote melody any longer. . . . She sat looking up at the ceiling of the car, but she did not see it and she had forgotten where she was. She did not know whether she was hearing a full symphony orchestra or only the theme; perhaps she was hearing the orchestration in her own mind.
She thought dimly that there had been premonitory echoes of this theme in all of Richard Halley’s work, through all the years of his long struggle, to the day, in his middle-age, when fame struck him suddenly and knocked him out. This—she thought, listening to the symphony—had been the goal of his struggle. She remembered half-hinted attempts in his music, phrases that promised it, broken bits of melody that started but never quite reached it; when Richard Halley wrote this, he . . . She sat up straight. When did Richard Halley write this?
In the same instant, she realized where she was and wondered for the first time where that music came from.
A few steps away, at the end of the car, a brakeman was adjusting the controls of the air-conditioner. He was blond and young. He was whistling the theme of the symphony. She realized that he had been whistling it for some time and that this was all she had heard.
She watched him incredulously for a while, before she raised her voice to ask, “Tell me please what are you whistling?”
The boy turned to her. She met a direct glance and saw an open, eager smile, as if he were sharing a confidence with a friend. She liked his face—its lines were tight and firm, it did not have that look of loose muscles evading the responsibility of a shape, which she had learned to expect in people’s faces.
“It’s the Halley Concerto,” he answered, smiling.
She let a moment pass, before she said slowly and very carefully, “Richard Halley wrote only four concertos.”
The boy’s smile vanished. It was as if he were jolted back to reality, just as she had been a few moments ago. It was as if a shutter were slammed down, and what remained was a face without expression, impersonal, indifferent and empty.
“Yes, of course,” he said. “I’m wrong. I made a mistake.”
“Then what was it?”
“Something I heard somewhere.”
“I don’t know.”
“Where did you hear it?”
“I don’t remember.”
She paused helplessly; he was turning away from her without further interest.
“It sounded like a Halley theme,” she said. “But I know every note he’s ever written and he never wrote that.”
There was still no expression, only a faint look of attentiveness on the boy’s face, as he turned back to her and asked, “You like the music of Richard Halley?”
“Yes,” she said, “I like it very much.”
He considered her for a moment, as if hesitating, then he turned away. She watched the expert efficiency of his movements as he went on working. He worked in silence.
She had not slept for two nights, but she could not permit herself to sleep; she had too many problems to consider and not much time: the train was due in New York early in the morning. She needed the time, yet she wished the train would go faster; but it was the Taggart Comet, the fastest train in the country.
She tried to think; but the music remained on the edge of her mind and she kept hearing it, in full chords, like the implacable steps of something that could not be stopped. . . . She shook her head angrily, jerked her hat off and lighted a cigarette.
She would not sleep, she thought; she could last until tomorrow night. . . . The train wheels clicked in accented rhythm. She was so used to them that she did not hear them consciously, but the sound became a sense of peace within her. . . . When she extinguished her cigarette, she knew that she needed another one, but thought that she would give herself a minute, just a few minutes, before she would light it. . . .
She had fallen asleep and she awakened with a jolt, knowing that something was wrong, before she knew what it was: the wheels had stopped. The car stood soundless and dim in the blue glow of the night lamps. She glanced at her watch: there was no reason for stopping. She looked out the window: the train stood still in the middle of empty fields.
She heard someone moving in a seat across the aisle, and asked, “How long have we been standing?”
A man’s voice answered indifferently, “About an hour.”
The man looked after her, sleepily astonished, because she leaped to her feet and rushed to the door.
There was a cold wind outside, and an empty stretch of land under an empty sky. She heard weeds rustling in the darkness. Far ahead, she saw the figures of men standing by the engine—and above them, hanging detached in the sky, the red light of a signal.
She walked rapidly toward them, past the motionless line of wheels. No one paid attention to her when she approached. The train crew and a few passengers stood clustered under the red light. They had stopped talking, they seemed to be waiting in placid indifference.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
The engineer turned, astonished. Her question had sounded like an order, not like the amateur curiosity of a passenger. She stood, hands in pockets, coat collar raised, the wind beating, her hair in strands across her face.
“Red light, lady,” he said, pointing up with his thumb.
“How long has it been on?”
“We’re off the main track, aren’t we?”
“I don’t know.”
The conductor spoke up. “I don’t think we had any business being sent off on a siding, that switch wasn’t working right, and this thing’s not working at all.” He jerked his head up at the red light. “I don’t think the signal’s going to change. I think it’s busted.”
“Then what are you doing?”
“Waiting for it to change.”
In her pause of startled anger, the fireman chuckled. “Last week, the crack special of the Atlantic Southern got left on a siding for two hours—just somebody’s mistake.”
“This is the Taggart Comet,” she said. “The Comet has never been late.”
“She’s the only one in the country that hasn’t,” said the engineer.
“There’s always a first time,” said the fireman.
“You don’t know about railroads, lady,” said a passenger. “There’s not a signal system or a dispatcher in the country that’s worth a damn.”
She did not turn or notice him, but spoke to the engineer. “If you know that the signal is broken, what do you intend to do?”
He did not like her tone of authority, and he could not understand why she assumed it so naturally. She looked like a young girl; only her mouth and eyes showed that she was a woman in her thirties. The dark gray eyes were direct and disturbing, as if they cut through things, throwing the inconsequential out of the way. The face seemed faintly familiar to him, but he could not recall where he had seen it.
“Lady, I don’t intend to stick my neck out,” he said.
“He means,” said the fireman, “that our job’s to wait for orders.”
“Your job is to run this train.”
“Not against a red light. If the light says stop, we stop.”
“A red light means danger, lady,” said the passenger.
“We’re not taking any chances,” said the engineer. “Whoever’s responsible for it, he’ll switch the blame to us if we move. So we’re not moving till somebody tells us to.”
“And if nobody does?”
“Somebody will turn up sooner or later.”
“How long do you propose to wait?”
The engineer shrugged. “Who is John Galt?”
“He means,” said the fireman, “don’t ask questions nobody can answer.”
She looked at the red light and at the rail that went off into the black, untouched distance.
She said, “Proceed with caution to the next signal. If it’s in order, proceed to the main track. Then stop at the first open office.”
“Yeah? Who says so?”
“Who are you?”
It was only the briefest pause, a moment of astonishment at a question she had not expected, but the engineer looked more closely at her face, and in time with her answer he gasped, “Good God!”
She answered, not offensively, merely like a person who does not hear the question often:
“Well, I’ll be—” said the fireman, and then they all remained silent.
She went on, in the same tone of unstressed authority. “Proceed to the main track and hold the train for me at the first open office.”
“Yes, Miss Taggart.”
“You’ll have to make up time. You’ve got the rest of the night to do it. Get the Comet in on schedule.”
“Yes, Miss Taggart.”
She was turning to go, when the engineer asked, “If there’s any trouble, are you taking the responsibility for it, Miss Taggart?”
The conductor followed her as she walked back to her car. He was saying, bewildered, “But . . . just a seat in a day coach, Miss Taggart? But how come? But why didn’t you let us know?”
She smiled easily. “Had no time to be formal. Had my own car attached to Number 22 out of Chicago, but got off at Cleveland—and Number 22 was running late, so I let the car go. The Comet came next and I took it. There was no sleeping-car space left.”
The conductor shook his head. “Your brother—he wouldn’t have taken a coach.”
She laughed. “No, he wouldn’t have.”
The men by the engine watched her walking away. The young brakeman was among them. He asked, pointing after her, “Who is that?”
“That’s who runs Taggart Transcontinental,” said the engineer; the respect in his voice was genuine. “That’s the Vice-President in Charge of Operation.”
When the train jolted forward, the blast of its whistle dying over the fields, she sat by the window, lighting another cigarette. She thought: It’s cracking to pieces, like this, all over the country, you can expect it anywhere, at any moment. But she felt no anger or anxiety; she had no time to feel.
This would be just one more issue, to be settled along with the others. She knew that the superintendent of the Ohio Division was no good and that he was a friend of James Taggart. She had not insisted on throwing him out long ago only because she had no better man to put in his place. Good men were so strangely hard to find. But she would have to get rid of him, she thought, and she would give his post to Owen Kellogg, the young engineer who was doing a brilliant job as one of the assistants to the manager of the Taggart Terminal in New York; it was Owen Kellogg who ran the Terminal. She had watched his work for some time; she had always looked for sparks of competence, like a diamond prospector in an unpromising wasteland. Kellogg was still too young to be made superintendent of a division; she had wanted to give him another year, but there was no time to wait. She would have to speak to him as soon as she returned.
The strip of earth, faintly visible outside the window, was running faster now, blending into a gray stream. Through the dry phrases of calculations in her mind, she noticed that she did have time to feel something: it was the hard, exhilarating pleasure of action.
With the first whistling rush of air, as the Comet plunged into the tunnels of the Taggart Terminal under the city of New York, Dagny Taggart sat up straight. She always felt it when the train went underground—this sense of eagerness, of hope and of secret excitement. It was as if normal existence were a photograph of shapeless things in badly printed colors, but this was a sketch done in a few sharp strokes that made things seem clean, important—and worth doing.
She watched the tunnels as they flowed past: bare walls of concrete, a net of pipes and wires, a web of rails that went off into black holes where green and red lights hung as distant drops of color. There was nothing else, nothing to dilute it, so that one could admire naked purpose and the ingenuity that had achieved it. She thought of the Taggart Building standing above her head at this moment, growing straight to the sky, and she thought: These are the roots of the building, hollow roots twisting under the ground, feeding the city.
When the train stopped, when she got off and heard the concrete of the platform under her heels, she felt light, lifted, impelled to action. She started off, walking fast, as if the speed of her steps could give form to the things she felt. It was a few moments before she realized that she was whistling a piece of music—and that it was the theme of Halley’s Fifth Concerto.
She felt someone looking at her and turned. The young brakeman stood watching her tensely.
She sat on the arm of the big chair facing James Taggart’s desk, her coat thrown open over a wrinkled traveling suit. Eddie Willers sat across the room, making notes once in a while. His title was that of Special Assistant to the Vice-President in Charge of Operation, and his main duty was to be her bodyguard against any waste of time. She asked him to be present at interviews of this nature, because then she never had to explain anything to him afterwards. James Taggart sat at his desk, his head drawn into his shoulders.
“The Rio Norte Line is a pile of junk from one end to the other,” she said. “It’s much worse than I thought. But we’re going to save it.”
“Of course,” said James Taggart.
“Some of the rail can be salvaged. Not much and not for long. We’ll start laying new rail in the mountain sections, Colorado first. We’ll get the new rail in two months.”
“Oh, did Orren Boyle say he’ll—”
“I’ve ordered the rail from Rearden Steel.”
The slight, choked sound from Eddie Willers was his suppressed desire to cheer.
James Taggart did not answer at once. “Dagny, why don’t you sit in the chair as one is supposed to?” he said at last; his voice was petulant. “Nobody holds business conferences this way.”
She waited. He asked, his eyes avoiding hers, “Did you say that you have ordered the rail from Rearden?”
“Yesterday evening. I phoned him from Cleveland.”
“But the Board hasn’t authorized it. I haven’t authorized it. You haven’t consulted me.”
She reached over, picked up the receiver of a telephone on his desk and handed it to him.
“Call Rearden and cancel it,” she said.
James Taggart moved back in his chair. “I haven’t said that,” he answered angrily. “I haven’t said that at all.”
“Then it stands?”
“I haven’t said that, either.”
She turned. “Eddie, have them draw up the contract with Rearden Steel. Jim will sign it.” She took a crumpled piece of notepaper from her pocket and tossed it to Eddie. “There’s the figures and terms.”
Taggart said, “But the Board hasn’t—”
“The Board hasn’t anything to do with it. They authorized you to buy the rail thirteen months ago. Where you buy it is up to you.”
“I don’t think it’s proper to make such a decision without giving the Board a chance to express an opinion. And I don’t see why I should be made to take the responsibility.”
“I am taking it.”
“What about the expenditure which—”
“Rearden is charging less than Orren Boyle’s Associated Steel.”
“Yes, and what about Orren Boyle?”
“I’ve cancelled the contract. We had the right to cancel it six months ago.”
“When did you do that?”
“But he hasn’t called to have me confirm it.”
Taggart sat looking down at his desk. She wondered why he resented the necessity of dealing with Rearden, and why his resentment had such an odd, evasive quality. Rearden Steel had been the chief supplier of Taggart Transcontinental for ten years, ever since the first Rearden furnace was fired, in the days when their father was president of the railroad. For ten years, most of their rail had come from Rearden Steel. There were not many firms in the country who delivered what was ordered, when and as ordered. Rearden Steel was one of them. If she were insane, thought Dagny, she would conclude that her brother hated to deal with Rearden because Rearden did his job with superlative efficiency; but she would not conclude it, because she thought that such a feeling was not within the humanly possible.
“It isn’t fair,” said James Taggart.
“That we always give all our business to Rearden. It seems to me we should give somebody else a chance, too. Rearden doesn’t need us; he’s plenty big enough. We ought to help the smaller fellows to develop. Otherwise, we’re just encouraging a monopoly.”
“Don’t talk tripe, Jim.”
“Why do we always have to get things from Rearden?”
“Because we always get them.”
“I don’t like Henry Rearden.”
“I do. But what does that matter, one way or the other? We need rails and he’s the only one who can give them to us.”
“The human element is very important. You have no sense of the human element at all.”
“We’re talking about saving a railroad, Jim.”
“Yes, of course, of course, but still, you haven’t any sense of the human element.”
“No. I haven’t.”
“If we give Rearden such a large order for steel rails—”
“They’re not going to be steel. They’re Rearden Metal.”
She had always avoided personal reactions, but she was forced to break her rule when she saw the expression on Taggart’s face. She burst out laughing.
Rearden Metal was a new alloy, produced by Rearden after ten years of experiments. He had placed it on the market recently. He had received no orders and had found no customers.
Taggart could not understand the transition from the laughter to the sudden tone of Dagny’s voice; the voice was cold and harsh: “Drop it, Jim. I know everything you’re going to say. Nobody’s ever used it before. Nobody approves of Rearden Metal. Nobody’s interested in it. Nobody wants it. Still, our rails are going to be made of Rearden Metal.”
“But . . .” said Taggart, “but . . . but nobody’s ever used it before!”
He observed, with satisfaction, that she was silenced by anger. He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another’s personality, marking vulnerable points. But how one could feel a personal emotion about a metal alloy, and what such an emotion indicated, was incomprehensible to him; so he could make no use of his discovery.
“The consensus of the best metallurgical authorities,” he said, “seems to be highly skeptical about Rearden Metal, contending—”
“Drop it, Jim.”
“Well, whose opinion did you take?”
“I don’t ask for opinions.”
“What do you go by?”
“Well, whose judgment did you take?”
“But whom did you consult about it?”
“Then what on earth do you know about Rearden Metal?”
“That it’s the greatest thing ever put on the market.”
“Because it’s tougher than steel, cheaper than steel and will outlast any hunk of metal in existence.”
“But who says so?”
“Jim, I studied engineering in college. When I see things, I see them.”
“What did you see?”
“Rearden’s formula and the tests he showed me.”
“Well, if it were any good, somebody would have used it, and nobody has.” He saw the flash of anger, and went on nervously: “How can you know it’s good? How can you be sure? How can you decide?”
“Somebody decides such things, Jim. Who?”
“Well, I don’t see why we have to be the first ones. I don’t see it at all.”
“Do you want to save the Rio Norte Line or not?” He did not answer. “If the road could afford it, I would scrap every piece of rail over the whole system and replace it with Rearden Metal. All of it needs replacing. None of it will last much longer. But we can’t afford it. We have to get out of a bad hole, first. Do you want us to pull through or not?”
“We’re still the best railroad in the country. The others are doing much worse.”
“Then do you want us to remain in the hole?”
“I haven’t said that! Why do you always oversimplify things that way? And if you’re worried about money, I don’t see why you want to waste it on the Rio Norte Line, when the Phoenix-Durango has robbed us of all our business down there. Why spend money when we have no protection against a competitor who’ll destroy our investment?”
“Because the Phoenix-Durango is an excellent railroad, but I intend to make the Rio Norte Line better than that. Because I’m going to beat the Phoenix-Durango, if necessary—only it won’t be necessary, because there will be room for two or three railroads to make fortunes in Colorado. Because I’d mortgage the system to build a branch to any district around Ellis Wyatt.”
“I’m sick of hearing about Ellis Wyatt.”
He did not like the way her eyes moved to look at him and remained still, looking, for a moment.
“I don’t see any need for immediate action,” he said; he sounded offended. “Just what do you consider so alarming in the present situation of Taggart Transcontinental?”
“The consequences of your policies, Jim.”
“That thirteen months’ experiment with Associated Steel, for one. Your Mexican catastrophe, for another.”
“The Board approved the Associated Steel contract,” he said hastily. “The Board voted to build the San Sebastián Line. Besides, I don’t see why you call it a catastrophe.”
“Because the Mexican government is going to nationalize your line any dAy now.”
“That’s a lie!” His voice was almost a scream. “That’s nothing but vicious rumors! I have it on very good inside authority that—”
“Don’t show that you’re scared, Jim,” she said contemptuously.
He did not answer.
“It’s no use getting panicky about it now,” she said. “All we can do is try to cushion the blow. It’s going to be a bad blow. Forty million dollars is a loss from which we won’t recover easily. But Taggart Transcontinental has withstood many bad shocks in the past. I’ll see to it that it withstands this one.”
“I refuse to consider, I absolutely refuse to consider the possibility of the San Sebastián Line being nationalized!”
“All right. Don’t consider it.”
She remained silent. He said defensively, “I don’t see why you’re so eager to give a chance to Ellis Wyatt, yet you think it’s wrong to take part in developing an underprivileged country that never had a chance.”
“Ellis Wyatt is not asking anybody to give him a chance. And I’m not in business to give chances. I’m running a railroad.”
“That’s an extremely narrow view, it seems to me. I don’t see why we should want to help one man instead of a whole nation.”
“I’m not interested in helping anybody. I want to make money.”
“That’s an impractical attitude. Selfish greed for profit is a thing of the past. It has been generally conceded that the interests of society as a whole must always be placed first in any business undertaking which—”
“How long do you intend to talk in order to evade the issue, Jim?”
“The order for Rearden Metal.”
He did not answer. He sat studying her silently. Her slender body, about to slump from exhaustion, was held erect by the straight line of the shoulders, and the shoulders were held by a conscious effort of will. Few people liked her face: the face was too cold, the eyes too intense; nothing could ever lend her the charm of a soft focus. The beautiful legs, slanting down from the chair’s arm in the center of his vision, annoyed him; they spoiled the rest of his estimate.
She remained silent; he was forced to ask, “Did you decide to order it just like that, on the spur of the moment, over a telephone?”
“I decided it six months ago. I was waiting for Hank Rearden to get ready to go into production.”
“Don’t call him Hank Rearden. It’s vulgar.”
“That’s what everybody calls him. Don’t change the subject.”
“Why did you have to telephone him last night?”
“Couldn’t reach him sooner.”
“Why didn’t you wait until you got back to New York and—”
“Because I had seen the Rio Norte Line.”
“Well, I need time to consider it, to place the matter before the Board, to consult the best—”
“There is no time.”
“You haven’t given me a chance to form an opinion.”
“I don’t give a damn about your opinion. I am not going to argue with you, with your Board or with your professors. You have a choice to make and you’re going to make it now. Just say yes or no.”
“That’s a preposterous, high-handed, arbitrary way of—”
“Yes or no?”
“That’s the trouble with you. You always make it ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Things are never absolute like that. Nothing is absolute.”
“Metal rails are. Whether we get them or not, is.”
She waited. He did not answer.
“Well?” she asked.
“Are you taking the responsibility for it?”
“Go ahead,” he said, and added, “but at your own risk. I won’t cancel it, but I won’t commit myself as to what I’ll say to the Board.”
“Say anything you wish.”
She rose to go. He leaned forward across the desk, reluctant to end the interview and to end it so decisively.
“You realize, of course, that a lengthy procedure will be necessary to put this through,” he said; the words sounded almost hopeful. “It isn’t as simple as that.”
“Oh sure,” she said. “I’ll send you a detailed report, which Eddie will prepare and which you won’t read. Eddie will help you put it through the works. I’m going to Philadelphia tonight to see Rearden. He and I have a lot of work to do.” She added, “It’s as simple as that, Jim.”
She had turned to go, when he spoke again—and what he said seemed bewilderingly irrelevant. “That’s all right for you, because you’re lucky. Others can’t do it.”
“Other people are human. They’re sensitive. They can’t devote their whole life to metals and engines. You’re lucky—you’ve never had any feelings. You’ve never felt anything at all.”
As she looked at him, her dark gray eyes went slowly from astonishment to stillness, then to a strange expression that resembled a look of weariness, except that it seemed to reflect much more than the endurance of this one moment.
“No, Jim,” she said quietly, “I guess I’ve never felt anything at all.”
Eddie Willers followed her to her office. Whenever she returned, he felt as if the world became clear, simple, easy to face—and he forgot his moments of shapeless apprehension. He was the only person who found it completely natural that she should be the Operating Vice-President of a great railroad, even though she was a woman. She had told him, when he was ten years old, that she would run the railroad some day. It did not astonish him now, just as it had not astonished him that day in a clearing of the woods.
When they entered her office, when he saw her sit down at the desk and glance at the memos he had left for her—he felt as he did in his car when the motor caught on and the wheels could move forward.
He was about to leave her office, when he remembered a matter he had not reported. “Owen Kellogg of the Terminal Division asked me for an appointment to see you,” he said.
She looked up, astonished. “That’s funny. I was going to send for him. Have him come up. I want to see him. . . . Eddie,” she added suddenly, “before I start, tell them to get me Ayers of the Ayers Music Publishing company on the phone.”
“The Music Publishing Company?” he repeated incredulously.
“Yes. There’s something I want to ask him.”
When the voice of Mr. Ayers, courteously eager, inquired of what service he could be to her, she asked, “Can you tell me whether Richard Halley has written a new piano concerto, the Fifth?”
“A fifth concerto, Miss Taggart? Why, no, of course he hasn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“Quite sure, Miss Taggart. He has not written anything for eight years.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Why, yes—that is, I can’t say for certain, he has dropped out of public life entirely—but I’m sure we would have heard of it if he had died.”
“If he wrote anything, would you know about it?”
“Of course. We would be the first to know. We publish all of his work. But he has stopped writing.”
“I see. Thank you.”
When Owen Kellogg entered her office, she looked at him with satisfaction. She was glad to see that she had been right in her vague recollection of his appearance—his face had the same quality as that of the young brakeman on the train, the face of the kind of man with whom she could deal.
“Sit down, Mr. Kellogg,” she said, but he remained standing in front of her desk.
“You had asked me once to let you know if I ever decided to change my employment, Miss Taggart,” he said. “So I came to tell you that I am quitting.”
She had expected anything but that; it took her a moment before she asked quietly, “Why?”
“For a personal reason.”
“Were you dissatisfied here?”
“Have you received a better offer?”
“What railroad are you going to?”
“I’m not going to any railroad, Miss Taggart.”
“Then what job are you taking?”
“I have not decided that yet.”
She studied him, feeling slightly uneasy. There was no hostility in his face; he looked straight at her, he answered simply, directly; he spoke like one who has nothing to hide, or to show; the face was polite and empty.
“Then why should you wish to quit?”
“It’s a personal matter.”
“Are you ill? Is it a question of your health?”
“Are you leaving the city?”
“Have you inherited money that permits you to retire?”
“Do you intend to continue working for a living?”
“But you do not wish to work for Taggart Transcontinental?”
“In that case, something must have happened here to cause your decision. What?”
“Nothing, Miss Taggart.”
“I wish you’d tell me. I have a reason for wanting to know.”
“Would you take my word for it, Miss Taggart?”
“No person, matter or event connected with my job here had any bearing upon my decision.”
“You have no specific complaint against Taggart Transcontinental?”
“Then I think you might reconsider when you hear what I have to offer you.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Taggart. I can’t.”
“May I tell you what I have in mind?”
“Yes, if you wish.”
“Would you take my word for it that I decided to offer you the post I’m going to offer, before you asked to see me? I want you to know that.”
“I will always take your word, Miss Taggart.”
“It’s the post of Superintendent of the Ohio Division. It’s yours, if you want it.”
His face showed no reaction, as if the words had no more significance for him than for a savage who had never heard of railroads.
“I don’t want it, Miss Taggart,” he answered.
After a moment, she said, her voice tight, “Write your own ticket, Kellogg. Name your price. I want you to stay. I can match anything any other railroad offers you.”
“I am not going to work for any other railroad.”
“I thought you loved your work.”
This was the first sign of emotion in him, just a slight widening of his eyes and an oddly quiet emphasis in his voice when he answered, “I do.”
“Then tell me what it is that I should say in order to hold you!”
It had been involuntary and so obviously frank that he looked at her as if it had reached him.
“Perhaps I am being unfair by coming here to tell you that I’m quitting, Miss Taggart. I know that you asked me to tell you because you wanted to have a chance to make me a counter-offer. So if I came, it looks as if I’m open to a deal. But I’m not. I came only because I . . . I wanted to keep my word to you.”
That one break in his voice was like a sudden flash that told her how much her interest and her request had meant to him; and that his decision had not been an easy one to make.
“Kellogg, is there nothing I can offer you?” she asked.
“Nothing, Miss Taggart. Nothing on earth.”
He turned to go. For the first time in her life, she felt helpless and beaten.
“Why?” she asked, not addressing him.
He stopped. He shrugged and smiled—he was alive for a moment and it was the strangest smile she had ever seen: it held secret amusement, and heartbreak, and an infinite bitterness. He answered:
“Who is John Galt?”