It was soon after eight that Bannon went to the boarding-house where Hilda and Max lived, and sat down to wait in the parlor. When a quarter of an hour had gone, and they had not returned, he buttoned up his coat and went out, walking slowly along the uneven sidewalk toward the river. The night was clear, and he could see, across the flats and over the tracks, where tiny signal lanterns were waving and circling, and freight trains were bumping and rumbling, the glow of the arc lamps on the elevator, and its square outline against the sky. Now and then, when the noise of the switching trains let down, he could hear the hoisting engines. Once he stopped and looked eastward at the clouds of illuminated smoke above the factories and at the red blast of the rolling mill. He went nearly to the river and had to turn back and walk slowly. Finally he heard Max’s laugh, and then he saw them coming down a side street.
“Well,” he said, “you don’t sound like bad news.”
“I don’t believe we are very bad,” replied Hilda.
“Should say not,” put in Max. “It’s finer’n silk.”
Hilda said, “Max,” in a low voice, but he went on:—
“The best thing, Mr. Bannon, was when I told him it was Hilda that had been sending things around. He thought it was you, you see, and Grady’d told him it was all a part of the game to bamboozle him out of the money that was rightfully his. It’s funny to hear him sling that Grady talk around. I don’t think he more’n half knows what it means. I’d promised not to tell, you know, but I just saw there wasn’t no use trying to make him understand things without talking pretty plain. There ain’t a thing he wouldn’t do for Hilda now—”
“Max,” said Hilda again, “please don’t.”
When they reached the house, Max at once started in. Hilda hesitated, and then said:—
“I’ll come in a minute, Max.”
“Oh,” he replied, “all right.” But he waited a moment longer, evidently puzzled.
“Well,” said Bannon, “was it so hard?”
“No—not hard exactly. I didn’t know he was so poor. Somehow you don’t think about it that way when you see them working. I don’t know that I ever thought about it at all before.”
“You think he won’t give us any trouble?”
“I’m sure he won’t. I—I had to promise I’d go again pretty soon.”
“Maybe you’ll let me go along.”
“Why—why, yes, of course.”
She had been hesitating, looking down and picking at the splinters on the gate post. Neither was Bannon quick to speak. He did not want to question her about the visit, for he saw that it was hard for her to talk about it. Finally she straightened up and looked at him.