Pete and Max came in together soon with the napkins, and a little time slipped by before Bannon could draw Max aside and grip his hand. Then they went at the napkins, and as they sat around the table, Hilda and Bannon, Pete and the waiters, folding them with rapid fingers, Bannon found opportunity to talk to her in a low voice, during the times when Pete was whistling, or was chaffing with the waiters. He told her, a few words at a time, of the new work Mr. MacBride had assigned to him, and in his enthusiasm he gave her a little idea of what it would mean to him, this opportunity to build an elevator the like of which had never been seen in the country before, and which would be watched by engineers from New York to San Francisco. He told her, too, something about the work, how it had been discovered that piles could be made of concrete and driven into the ground with a pile driver, and that neither beams nor girders—none of the timbers, in fact—were needed in this new construction. He was nearly through with it, and still he did not notice the uncertain expression in her eyes.
It was not until she asked in a faltering undertone, “When are you going to begin?” that it came to him. And then he looked at her so long that Pete began to notice, and she had to touch his foot with hers under the table to get him to turn away. He had forgotten all about the vacation and the St. Lawrence trip.
Hilda saw, in her side glances, the gloomy expression that had settled upon his face; and she recovered her spirits first.
“It’s all right,” she whispered; “I don’t care.”
Max came up then, from a talk with James out on the stairway, and for a few moments there was no chance to reply. But after Bannon had caught Max’s signals to step out of hearing of the others, and before he had risen, there was a moment when Pete’s attention was drawn by one of the waiters, and he said:—
“Can you go with me—Monday?”
She looked frightened, and the blood rose in her cheeks so that she had to bend low over her pile of napkins.
“Will you?” He was pushing back his chair.
She did not look up, but her head nodded once with a little jerk.
“And you’ll stay for the dinner, won’t you—now?”
She nodded once more, and Bannon went to join Max.
Max made two false starts before he could get his words out in the proper order.
“Say,” he finally said; “I thought maybe you wouldn’t care if I told James. He thinks you’re all right, you know. And he says, if you don’t care, he’d like to say a little something about it when he makes his speech. Not much, you know—nothing you wouldn’t like—he says it would tickle the boys right down to their corns.”
Bannon looked around toward Hilda, and slowly shook his head.
“Max,” he replied, “if anybody says a word about it at this dinner I’ll break his head.”
That should have been enough, but when James’ turn came to speak, after nearly two hours of eating and singing and laughing and riotous good cheer, he began in a way that brought Bannon’s eyes quickly upon him.