Calumet "K"
by Samuel Merwin and Henry Kitchell Webster
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"But we've got plenty of sticks that are twenty feet long, and plenty of bolts, and this is the way we arrange 'em. We put up our first stick (x) at an angle just as before. Then we let a bolt (o) down through the upper end of it and through the floor of the gallery. Now the next timber (y) we put up at just the same angle as the first, with the foot of it bearing down on the lower end of the bolt.

"That second stick pushes two ways. A straight down push and a sideways push. The bolt resists the down push and transmits it to the first stick, and that pushes against the sill that I marked a. Now, the sideways push is against the butt of the first timber of the floor, and that's passed on, same way, to the sill.

Illustration: ["WELL, THAT'S THE WHOLE TRICK"]

"Well, that's the whole trick. You begin at both ends at once and just keep right on going. When the thing's done it looks this way. You see where the two sections meet in the middle, it's just the same as the little fifteen-foot gallery that we made a picture of up here."

"I understand that all right," said Pete, "but I don't see yet how you're going to do it without some kind of scaffolding."

"Easy. I ain't going to use a balloon, but I've got something that's better. It'll be out here this afternoon. Come and help me get things ready."

There was not much to do, for the timber was already cut to the right sizes, but Bannon was not content till everything was piled so that when work did begin on the gallery it could go without a hitch. He was already several days behind, and when one is figuring it as fine as Bannon was doing in those last days, even one day is a serious matter. He could do nothing more at the belt gallery until his substitute for a scaffold should arrive; it did not come that afternoon or evening, and next morning when he came on the job it still had not been heard from. There was enough to occupy every moment of his time and every shred of his thought without bothering about the gallery, and he did not worry about it as he would have worried if he had had nothing to do but wait for it.

But when, well along in the afternoon, a water boy found him up on the weighing floor and told him there was something for him at the office, he made astonishing time getting down. "Here's your package," said Max, as Bannon burst into the little shanty. It was a little, round, pasteboard box. If Bannon had had the office to himself, he would, in his disappointment, have cursed the thing till it took fire. As it was, he stood speechless a moment and then turned to go out again.

"Aren't you going to open it, now you're here?" asked Max.

Bannon, after hesitating, acted on the suggestion, and when he saw what it was, he laughed. No, Brown had not forgotten the hat! Max gazed at it in unfeigned awe; it was shiny as a mirror, black as a hearse, tall, in his eyes—for this was his first near view of one—as the seat of a dining-room chair. "Put it on," he said to Bannon. "Let's see how it looks on you."

"Not much. Wouldn't I look silly in a thing like that, though? I'd rather wear an ordinary length of stovepipe. That'd be durable, anyway. I wonder what Brown sent it for. I thought he knew a joke when he saw one."

Just then one of the under-foremen came in. "Oh, Mr. Bannon," he said, "I've been looking for you. There's a tug in the river with a big, steel cable aboard that they said was for us. I told 'em I thought it was a mistake—"

It was all one movement, Bannon's jamming that hat—the silk hat—down on his head, and diving through the door. He shouted orders as he ran, and a number of men, Pete among them, got to the wharf as soon as he did.

"Now, boys, this is all the false work we can have. We're going to hang it up across the tracks and hang our gallery up on it till it's strong enough to hold itself. We've got just forty-eight hours to do the whole trick. Catch hold now—lively."

Illustration: [IT WAS A SIMPLE SCHEME]

It was a simple scheme of Bannon's. The floor of the gallery was to be built in two sections, one in the main house, one in the spouting house. As fast as the timbers were bolted together the halves of the floor were shoved out over the tracks, each free end being supported by a rope which ran up over a pulley. The pulley was held by an iron ring fast to the cable, but perfectly free to slide along it, and thus accompany the end of the floor as it was moved outward. Bannon explained it to Pete in a few quick words while the men were hustling the big cable off the tug.

"Of course," he was concluding, "the thing'll wabble a good deal, specially if it's as windy as this, and it won't be easy to work on, but it won't fall if we make everything fast."

Pete had listened pretty closely at first, but now Bannon noticed that his attention seemed to be wandering to a point a few inches above Bannon's head. He was about to ask what was the matter when he found out. It was windier on that particular wharf than anywhere else in the Calumet flats, and the hat he had on was not built for that sort of weather. It was perfectly rigid, and not at all accommodated to the shape of Bannon's head. So, very naturally, it blew off, rolled around among their feet for a moment, and then dropped into the river between the wharf and the tug.

Bannon was up on the spouting house, helping make fast the cable end when a workman brought the hat back to him. Somebody on the tug had fished it out with a trolling line. But the hat was well past resuscitation. It had been thoroughly drowned, and it seemed to know it.

"Take that to the office," said Bannon. "Have Vogel wrap it up just as it is and ship it to Mr. Brown. I'll dictate a letter to go with it by and by."

For all Bannon's foresight, there threatened to be a hitch in the work on the gallery. The day shift was on again, and twenty-four of Bannon's forty-eight hours were spent, when he happened to say to a man:—

"Never mind that now, but be sure you fix it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" the man repeated. "We ain't going to work tomorrow, are we?"

Bannon noticed that every man within hearing stopped work, waiting for the answer. "Sure," he said. "Why not?"

There was some dissatisfied grumbling among them which he was quite at a loss to understand until he caught the word "Christmas."

"Christmas!" he exclaimed, in perfectly honest astonishment. "Is tomorrow Christmas?" He ran his hand through his stubby hair. "Boys," he said, "I'm sorry to have to ask it of you. But can't we put it off a week? Look here. We need this day. Now, if you'll say Christmas is a week from tomorrow, I'll give every man on the job a Christmas dinner that you'll never forget; all you can eat and as much again, and you bring your friends, if we work tomorrow and we have her full of wheat a week from today. Does that go?"

It went, with a ripping cheer to boot; a cheer that was repeated here and there all over the place as Bannon's offer was passed along.

So for another twenty-four hours they strained and tugged and tusselled up in the big swing, for it was nothing else, above the railroad tracks. There was a northeast gale raging down off the lake, with squalls of rain and sleet mixed up in it, and it took the crazy, swaying box in its teeth and shook it and tossed it up in the air in its eagerness to strip it off the cable. But somewhere there was an unconquerable tenacity that held fast, and in the teeth of the wind the long box grew rigid, as the trusses were pounded into place by men so spent with fatigue that one might say it was sheer good will that drove the hammers.

At four o'clock Christmas afternoon the last bolt was drawn taut. The gallery, was done. Bannon had been on the work since midnight—sixteen consecutive hours. He had eaten nothing except two sandwiches that he had stowed in his pockets. His only pause had been about nine o'clock that morning when he had put his head in the office door to wish Hilda a Merry Christmas.

When the evening shift came on—that was just after four—one of the under-foremen tried to get him to talking, but Bannon was too tired to talk. "Get your tracks and rollers in," he said. "Take down the cable."

"Don't you want to stay and see if she'll hold when the cable comes down?" called the foreman after him as he started away.

"She'll hold," said Bannon.


Before December was half gone—and while the mild autumn weather serenely held, in spite of weather predictions and of storm signs about the sun and days of blue haze and motionless trees—the newspaper-reading public knew all the outside facts about the fight in wheat, and they knew it to be the biggest fight since the days of "Old Hutch" and the two-dollar-a-bushel record. Indeed, there were men who predicted that the two-dollar mark would be reached before Christmas, for the Clique of speculators who held the floor were buying, buying, buying—millions upon millions of dollars were slipping through their ready hands, and still there was no hesitation, no weakening. Until the small fry had dropped out the deal had been confused; it was too big, there were too many interests involved, to make possible a clear understanding, but now it was settling down into a grim fight between the biggest men on the Board. The Clique were buying wheat—Page & Company were selling it to them: if it should come out, on the thirty-first of December, that Page & Company had sold more than they could deliver, the Clique would be winners; but if it should have been delivered, to the last bushel, the corner would be broken, and the Clique would drop from sight as so many reckless men had dropped before. The readers of every great newspaper in the country were watching Page & Company. The general opinion was that they could not do it, that such an enormous quantity of grain could not be delivered and registered in time, even if it were to be had.

But the public overlooked, indeed it had no means of knowing, one important fact. The members of the Clique were new men in the public eye. They represented apparently unlimited capital, but they were young, eager, overstrung; flushed with the prospect of success, they were talking for publication. They believed they knew of every bushel in the country that was to be had, and they allowed themselves to say that they had already bought more than this. If this were true, Page was beaten. But it was not true. The young men of the Clique had forgotten that Page had trained agents in every part of the world; that he had alliances with great railroad and steamer lines, that he had a weather bureau and a system of crop reports that outdid those of the United States Government, that he could command more money than two such Cliques, and, most important of all, that he did not talk for publication. The young speculators were matching their wits against a great machine. Page had the wheat, he was making the effort of his career to deliver it, and he had no idea of losing.

Already millions of bushels had been rushed into Chicago. It was here that the fight took on its spectacular features, for the grain must be weighed and inspected before it could be accepted by the Board of Trade, and this could be done only in "regular" warehouses. The struggle had been to get control of these warehouses. It was here that the Clique had done their shrewdest work, and they had supposed that Page was finally outwitted, until they discovered that he had coolly set about building a million-bushel annex to his new house, Calumet K. And so it was that the newspapers learned that on the chance of completing Calumet K before the thirty-first of December hung the whole question of winning and losing; that if Bannon should fail, Page would be short two million bushels. And then came reporters and newspaper illustrators, who hung about the office and badgered Hilda, or perched on timber piles and sketched until Bannon or Peterson or Max could get at them and drive them out. Young men with snap-shot cameras waylaid Bannon on his way to luncheon, and published, with his picture, elaborate stories of his skill in averting a strike— stories that were not at all true.

Far out in Minnesota and Montana and South Dakota farmers were driving their wheat-laden wagons to the hundreds of local receiving houses that dotted the railroad lines. Box cars were waiting for the red grain, to roll it away to Minneapolis and Duluth—day and night the long trains were puffing eastward. Everywhere the order was, "Rush!" Railroad presidents and managers knew that Page was in a hurry, and they knew what Page's hurries meant, not only to the thousands of men who depended on him for their daily bread, but to the many great industries of the Northwest, whose credit and integrity were inextricably interwoven with his. Division superintendents knew that Page was in a hurry, and they snapped out orders and discharged half-competent men and sent quick words along the hot wires that were translated by despatchers and operators and yard masters into profane, driving commands. Conductors knew it, brakemen and switchmen knew it; they made flying switches in defiance of companies' orders, they ran where they used to walk, they slung their lunch pails on their arms and ate when and where they could, gazing over their cold tea at some portrait of Page, or of a member of the Clique, or of Bannon, in the morning's paper.

Elevator men at Minneapolis knew that Page was in a hurry, and they worked day and night at shovel and scale. Steamboat masters up at Duluth knew it, and mates and deck hands and stevedores and dockwallopers—more than one steamer scraped her paint in the haste to get under the long spouts that waited to pour out grain by the hundred thousand bushels. Trains came down from Minneapolis, boats came down from Duluth, warehouse after warehouse at Chicago was filled; and overstrained nerves neared the breaking point as the short December days flew by. Some said the Clique would win, some said Page would win; in the wheat pit men were fighting like tigers; every one who knew the facts was watching Charlie Bannon.

The storm came on the eighteenth of the month. It was predicted two days ahead, and ship masters were warned at all the lake ports. It was a Northwest blizzard, driven down from the Canadian Rockies at sixty miles an hour, leaving two feet of snow behind it over a belt hundreds of miles wide. But Page's steamers were not stopping for blizzards; they headed out of Duluth regardless of what was to come. And there were a bad few days, with tales of wreck on lake and railroad, days of wind and snow and bitter cold, and of risks run that supplied round-house and tug-office yarn spinners with stories that were not yet worn out. Down on the job the snow brought the work to a pause, but Bannon, within a half-hour, was out of bed and on the ground, and there was no question of changing shifts until, after twenty-four hours, the storm had passed, and elevator, annex and marine tower were cleared of snow. Men worked until they could not stagger, then snatched a few hours' sleep where they could. Word was passed that those who wished might observe the regular hours, but not a dozen men took the opportunity. For now they were in the public eye, and they felt as soldiers feel, when, after long months of drill and discipline, they are led to the charge.

Then came two days of biting weather—when ears were nipped and fingers stiffened, and carpenters who earned three dollars a day envied the laborers, whose work kept their blood moving—and after this a thaw, with sleet and rain. James, the new delegate, came to Bannon and pointed out that men who are continually drenched to the skin are not the best workmen. The boss met the delegate fairly; he ordered an oilskin coat for every man on the job, and in another day they swarmed over the building, looking, at a distance, like glistening yellow beetles.

But if Chicago was thawing, Duluth was not. The harbor at the western end of Lake Superior was ice-bound, and it finally reached a point that the tugs could not break open the channel. This was on the twenty-third and twenty-fourth. The wires were hot, but Page's agents succeeded in covering the facts until Christmas Day. It was just at dusk, after leaving the men to take down the cable, that Bannon went to the office.

A newsboy had been on the grounds with a special edition of a cheap afternoon paper. Hilda had taken one, and when Bannon entered the office he found her reading, leaning forward on the desk, her chin on her hands, the paper spread out over the ledger.

"Hello," he said, throwing off his dripping oilskin, and coming into the enclosure; "I'm pretty near ready to sit down and think about the Christmas tree that we ain't going to have."

She looked up, and he saw that she was a little excited; her eyes always told him. During this last week she had been carrying the whole responsibility of the work on her shoulders.

"Have you seen this?" she asked.

"Haven't read a paper this week." He leaned over the desk beside her and read the article. In Duluth harbor, and at St. Mary's straits, a channel through the ice had been blasted out with dynamite, and the last laden steamer was now ploughing down Lake Michigan. Already one steamer was lying at the wharf by the marine tower, waiting for the machinery to start, and others lay behind her, farther down the river. Long strings of box cars filled the Belt Line sidings, ready to roll into the elevator at the word.

Bannon seated himself on the railing, and caught his toes between the supports.

"I'll tell you one thing," he said, "those fellows have got to get up pretty early in the morning if they're going to beat old Page."

She looked at him, and then slowly folded the paper and turned toward the window. It was nearly dark outside. The rain, driving down from the northeast, tapped steadily on the glass. The arc lamp, on the pole near the tool house, was a blurred circle of light. She was thinking that they would have to get up pretty early to beat Charlie Bannon.

They were silent for a time—silences were not so hard as they had been, a few weeks before—both looking out at the storm, and both thinking that this was Christmas night. On the afternoon before he had asked her to take a holiday, and she had shaken her head. "I couldn't—I'd be here before noon," was what she had said; and she had laughed a little at her own confession, and hurried away with Max.

She turned and said, "Is it done—the belt gallery?"

He nodded. "All done."

"Well—" she smiled; and he nodded again.

"The C. & S. C. man—the fellow that was around the other day and measured to see if it was high enough—he's out there looking up with his mouth open. He hasn't got much to say."

"You didn't have to touch the tracks at all?"

"Not once. Ran her out and bolted her together, and there she was. I'm about ready for my month off. We'll have the wheat coming in tomorrow, and then it's just walking down hill."

"Tomorrow?" she asked. "Can you do it?"

"Got to. Five or six days aren't any too much. If it was an old house and the machinery was working well, I'd undertake to do it in two or three, but if we get through without ripping up the gallery, or pounding the leg through the bottom of a steamer, it'll be the kind of luck I don't have." He paused and looked at the window, where the rain was streaking the glass. "I've been thinking about my vacation. I've about decided to go to the St. Lawrence. Maybe there are places I'd like better, but when a fellow hasn't had a month off in five years, he doesn't feel like experiments."

It was the personal tone again, coming into their talk in spite of the excitement of the day and the many things that might have been said.

Hilda looked down at the ledger, and fingered the pages. Bannon smiled.

"If I were you," he said, "I'd shut that up and fire it under the table. This light isn't, good enough to work by, anyway."

She slowly closed the book, saying:—

"I never worked before on Christmas."

"It's a mistake. I don't believe in it, but somehow it's when my hardest work always comes. One Christmas, when I was on the Grand Trunk, there was a big wreck at a junction about sixty miles down the road."

She saw the memory coming into his eyes, and she leaned back against the desk, playing with her pen, and now and then looking up.

"I was chief wrecker, and I had an old Scotch engineer that you couldn't move with a jack. We'd rubbed up together three or four times before I'd had him a month, and I was getting tired of it. We'd got about halfway to the junction that night, and I felt the brakes go on hard, and before I could get through the train and over the tender, we'd stopped dead. The Scotchman was down by the drivers fussing around with a lantern. I hollered out:—

"'What's the matter there?'

"'She's a bit 'ot,' said he.

"You'd have thought he was running a huckleberry train from the time he took. I ordered him into the cab, and he just waved his hand and said:—

"'Wait a bit, wait a bit. She'll be cool directly.'"

Bannon chuckled at the recollection.

"What did you do?" Hilda asked.

"Jumped for the lever, and hollered for him to get aboard."

"Did he come?"

"No, he couldn't think that fast. He just stood still, looking at me, while I threw her open, and you could see his lantern for a mile back—he never moved. He had a good six-mile walk back to the last station."

There was a long silence. Bannon got up and walked slowly up and down the enclosure with his hands deep in his pockets.

"I wish this would let up," he said, after a time, pausing in his walk, and looking again at the window. "It's a wonder we're getting things done at all."

Hilda's eye, roaming over the folded newspaper, fell on the weather forecast.

"Fair tomorrow," she said, "and colder."

"That doesn't stand for much. They said the same thing yesterday. It's a worse gamble than wheat."

Bannon took to walking again; and Hilda stepped down and stood by the window, spelling out the word "Calumet" with her ringer on the misty glass. At each turn, Bannon paused and looked at her. Finally he stood still, not realizing that he was staring until she looked around, flushed, and dropped her eyes. Then he felt awkward, and he began turning over the blue prints on the table.

"I'll tell you what I'll have to do," he said. "I rather think now I'll start on the third for Montreal, I'm telling you a secret, you know. I'm not going to let Brown or MacBride know where I'll be. And if I can pick up some good pictures of the river, I'll send them to you. I'll get one of the Montmorency Falls, if I can. They're great in winter."

"Why—why, thank you," she said. "I'd like to have them."

"I ain't much at writing letters," he went on, "but I'll send you the pictures, and you write and tell me how things are going."

She laughed softly, and followed the zigzag course of the raindrop with her finger.

"I wouldn't have very much to say," she said, speaking with a little hesitation, and without looking around. "Max and I never do much."

"Oh, you can tell how your work goes, and what you do nights."

"We don't do much of anything. Max studies some at night—a man he used to work for gave him a book of civil engineering."

"What do you do?"

"I read some, and then I like to learn things about—oh, about business, and how things are done."

Bannon could not take his eyes from her—he was looking at her hair, and at the curved outline of one cheek, all that he could see of her face. They both stood still, listening to the patter of the rain, and to the steady drip from the other end of the office, where there was a leak in the roof. Once she cleared her throat, as if to speak, but no words came.

There was a stamping outside, and she slipped back to the ledger, as the door flew open. Bannon turned to the blue prints.

Max entered, pausing to knock his cap against the door, and wring it out.

"You ought to have stayed out, Mr. Bannon," he said. "It's the greatest thing you ever saw—doesn't sag an inch. And say—I wish you could hear the boys talk—they'd lie down and let you walk on 'em, if you wanted to."

Max's eyes were bright, and his face red with exercise and excitement. He came to the gate and stood wiping his feet and looking from one to the other for several moments before he felt the awkwardness that had come over him. His long rubber coat was thrown back, and little streams of water ran down his back and formed a pool on the floor behind him.

"You'd better come out," he said. "It's the prettiest thing I ever saw—a clean straight span from the main house to the tower."

Bannon stood watching him quizzically; then he turned to Hilda. She, too, had been looking at Max, but she turned at the same moment, and their eyes met.

"Do you want to go?" he said.

She nodded eagerly. "I'd like to ever so much."

Then Bannon thought of the rain, but she saw his thought as he glanced toward the window, and spoke quickly.

"I don't mind—really. Max will let me take his coat."

"Sure," said Max, and he grinned. She slipped into it, and it enveloped her, hanging in folds and falling on the floor.

"I'll have to hold it up," she said. "Do we have much climbing?"

"No," said Max, "it ain't high. And the stairs are done, you know."

Hilda lifted the coat a little way with both hands, and put out one small toe. Bannon looked at it, and shook his head. "You'll get your feet wet," he said.

She looked up and met Bannon's eyes again, with an expression that puzzled Max.

"I don't care. It's almost time to go home, anyway."

So they went out, and closed the door; and Max, who had been told to "stay behind and keep house," looked after them, and then at the door, and an odd expression of slow understanding came into his face. It was not in what they had said, but there was plainly a new feeling between them. For the first time in his life, Max felt that another knew Hilda better than he did. The way Bannon had looked at her, and she at him; the mutual understanding that left everything unsaid; the something—Max did not know what it was, but he saw it and felt it, and it disturbed him. He sat on the table, and swung his feet, while one expression chased another over his face. When he finally got himself together, he went to the door, and opening it, looked out at the black, dim shape of the elevator that, stood big and square, only a little way before him, shutting out whatever he might else have seen of rushing sky or dim-lighted river, or of the railroads and the steamboats and the factories and rolling mills beyond. It was as if this elevator were his fate, looming before him and shutting out the forward view. In whatever thoughts he had had of the future, in whatever plans, and they were few, which he had revolved in his head, there had always been a place for Hilda. He did not see just what he was to do, just what he was to become, without her. He stood there for a long time, leaning against the door-jamb with his hands in his pockets, and the sharper gusts of rain whirled around the end of the little building and beat on him. And then—well, it was Charlie Bannon; and Max knew that he was glad it was no one else.

The narrow windows in the belt gallery had no glass, and the rain came driving through them into the shadows, each drop catching the white shine of the electric lights outside. The floor was trampled with mud and littered with scraps of lumber, tool boxes, empty nail kegs, and shavings. The long, gloomy gallery was empty when Bannon and Hilda stepped into it, excepting a group of men at the farther end, installing the rollers for the belt conveyor—they could be seen indistinctly against a light in the river house.

The wind came roaring around the building, and the gallery trembled and shook. Hilda caught her breath and stopped short.

"It's all right," said Bannon. "She's bound to move some."

"I know—" she laughed—"I wasn't expecting it—it startled me a little."

"Watch where you step." He took her arm and guided her slowly between the heaps of rubbish.

At one of the windows she paused, and stood full in the rain, looking out at the C. & S. C. tracks, with their twinkling red and green lights, all blurred and seeming far off in the storm.

"Isn't this pretty wet?" he said, standing beside her.

"I don't care." She shook the folds of the rubber coat, and glanced down at it. "I like it."

They looked out for a long time. Two millwrights came through the gallery, and glanced at them, but they did not turn. She stepped forward and let the rain beat on her face—he stood behind, looking at her. A light showed far down the track, and they heard a faint whistle. "A train," he said; and she nodded. The headlight grew, and the car lights appeared behind it, and then the black outline of the engine. There was a rush and a roar, and it passed under them.

"Doesn't it make you want to jump down?" she said softly, when the roar had dwindled away.

He nodded with a half-smile. "Say," he said, a little later, "I don't know about your writing—I don't believe we'd better—" he got the words out more rapidly—"I'll tell you what you do—you come along with me and we won't have to write."


"Up to the St. Lawrence. We can start on the third just the same."

She did not answer, and he stopped. Then, after a moment, she slowly turned, and looked at him.

"Why—" she said—"I don't think I—"

"I've just been thinking about it. I guess I can't do anything else—I mean I don't want to go anywhere alone. I guess that's pretty plain, isn't it—what I mean?"

She leaned back against the wall and looked at him; it was as if she could not take her eyes from his face.

"Perhaps I oughtn't to expect you to say anything now," he went on. "I just thought if you felt anything like I did, you'd know pretty well, by this time, whether it was yes or no."

She was still looking at him. He had said it all, and now he waited, his fists knotted tightly, and a peculiar expression on his face, almost as if he were smiling, but it came from a part of his nature that had never before got to the surface. Finally she said:—

"I think we'd better go back."

He did not seem to understand, and she turned away and started off alone. In a moment he was at her side. He guided her back as they had come, and neither spoke until they had reached the stairway. Then he said, in a low tone that the carpenters could not hear:—

"You don't mean that—that you can't do it?"

She shook her head and hurried to the office.


Bannon stood looking after her until she disappeared in the shadow of an arc lamp, and after that he continued a long time staring into the blot of darkness where the office was. At last the window became faintly luminous, as some one lighted the wall lamp; then, as if it were a signal he had been waiting for, Bannon turned away.

An hour before, when he had seen the last bolt of the belt gallery drawn taut, he had become aware that he was quite exhausted. The fact was so obvious that he had not tried to evade it, but had admitted to himself, in so many words, that he was at the end of his rope. But when he turned from gazing at the dimly lighted window, it was not toward his boarding-house, where he knew he ought to be, but back into the elevator, that his feet led him.

For once, his presence accomplished nothing. He went about without thinking where; he passed men without seeing who they were or what they were doing. When he walked through the belt gallery, he saw the foreman of the big gang of men at work there was handling them clumsily, so that they interfered with each other, but it did not occur to him to give the orders that would set things right. Then, as if his wire-drawn muscles had not done work enough, he climbed laboriously to the very top of the marine tower.

He was leaning against a window-casing; not looking out, for he saw nothing, but with his face turned to the fleet of barges lying in the river; when some one spoke to him.

"I guess you're thinking about that Christmas dinner, ain't you, Mr. Bannon?"

"What's that?" he demanded, wheeling about. Then rallying his scattered faculties, he recognized one of the carpenters. "Oh, yes," he said, laughing tardily. "Yes, the postponed Christmas dinner. You think I'm in for it, do you? You know it's no go unless this house is full of wheat clear to the roof."

"I know it," said the man. "But I guess we're going to stick you for it. Don't you think we are?"

"I guess that's right."

"I come up here," said the carpenter, well pleased at the chance for a talk with the boss, "to have a look at this—marine leg, do you call it? I haven't been to work on it, and I never saw one before. I wanted to find out how it works."

"Just like any other leg over in the main house. Head pulley up here; another one down in the boot; endless belt running over 'em with steel cups rivetted on it to scoop up the grain. Only difference is that instead of being stationary and set up in a tank, this one's hung up. We let the whole business right down into the boat. Pull it up and down with that steam winch."

The man shook his head. "What if it got away from you?"

"That's happened," said Bannon. "I've seen a leg most as big as this smash through two decks. Thought it was going right on through the bottom of the boat. But that wasn't a leg that MacBride had hung up. This one won't fall."

Bannon answered one or two more questions rather at random, then suddenly came back to earth. "What are you doing here, anyway?" he demanded. "Seems to me this is a pretty easy way to earn thirty cents an hour."

"I—I was just going to see if there wasn't something I could do," the man answered, a good deal embarrassed. Then before Bannon could do more than echo, "Something to do?" added: "I don't get my time check till midnight. I ain't on this shift. I just come around to see how things was going. We're going to see you through, Mr. Bannon."

Bannon never had a finer tribute than that, not even what young Page said when the race was over; and it could not have come at a moment when he needed it more. He did not think much in set terms about what it meant, but when the man had gone and he had turned back to the window, he took a long breath of the night air and he saw what lay beneath his eyes. He saw the line of ships in the river; down nearer the lake another of Page's elevators was drinking up the red wheat out of the hold of a snub-nosed barge; across the river, in the dark, they were backing another string of wheat-laden cars over the Belt Line switches. As he looked out and listened, his imagination took fire again, as it had taken fire that day in the waiting-room at Blake City, when he had learned that the little, one-track G.&M. was trying to hinder the torrent of the Northern wheat.

Well, the wheat had come down. It had beaten a blizzard, it had churned and wedged and crushed its way through floating ice and in the trough of mauling seas; belated passenger trains had waited on lonely sidings while it thundered by, and big rotary ploughs had bitten a way for it across the drifted prairies. Now it was here, and Charlie Bannon was keeping it waiting.

He stood there, looking, only a moment; then before the carpenter's footsteps were well out of hearing, he followed him down the stairway to the belt gallery. Before he had passed half its length you could have seen the difference. In the next two hours every man on the elevator saw him, learned a quicker way to splice a rope or align a shaft, and heard, before the boss went away, some word of commendation that set his hands to working the faster, and made the work seem easy. The work had gone on without interruption for weeks, and never slowly, but there were times when it went with a lilt and a laugh; when laborers heaved at a hoisting tackle with a Yo-ho, like privateersmen who have just sighted a sail; when, with all they could do, results came too slowly, and the hours flew too fast. And so it was that Christmas night; Charlie Bannon was back on the job.

About ten o'clock he encountered Pete, bearing off to the shanty a quart bottle of cold coffee and a dozen big, thick sandwiches. "Come on, Charlie," he called. "Max is coming, too; but I guess we've got enough to spare you a little."

So the three of them sat down to supper around the draughting-table, and between bites Bannon talked, a little about everything, but principally, and with much corroborative detail—for the story seemed to strain even Pete's easy credulity—of how, up at Yawger, he had been run on the independent ticket for Superintendent of the Sunday School, and had been barely defeated by two votes.

When the sandwiches were put away, and all but three drinks of the coffee, Bannon held the bottle high in the air. "Here's to the house!" he said. "We'll have wheat in her tomorrow night!"

They drank the toast standing; then, as if ashamed of such a sentimental demonstration, they filed sheepishly out of the office. They walked fifty paces in silence. Then Pete checked suddenly and turned to Bannon. "Hold on, Charlie, where are you going?"

"Going to look over those 'cross-the-house conveyor drives down cellar."

"No, you ain't either. You're going to bed."

Bannon only laughed and started on toward the elevator.

"How long is it since you had any sleep?" Pete demanded.

"I don't know. Guess I must have slept part of the time while we was putting up that gallery. I don't remember much about it."

"Don't be in such a hurry," said Pete, and as he said it he reached out his left hand and caught him by the shoulder. It was more by way of gesture than otherwise, but Bannon had to step back a pace to keep his feet. "I mean business," Pete went on, though laughing a little. "When we begin to turn over the machinery you won't want to go away, so this is your last chance to get any sleep. I can't make things jump like you can, but I can keep 'em going tonight somehow."

"Hadn't you better wrap me up in cotton flannel and feed me warm milk with a spoon? Let go of me and quit your fooling. You delay the game."

"I ain't fooling. I'm boss here at night, and I fire you till morning. That goes if I have to carry you all the way to your boarding house and tie you down to the bed." Pete meant it. As if, again, for illustration, he picked Bannon up in his arms. The boss was ready for the move this time, and he resisted with all his strength, but he would have had as much chance against the hug of a grizzly bear; he was crumpled up. Pete started off with him across the flat.

"All right," said Bannon. "I'll go."

At seven o'clock next morning Pete began expecting his return. At eight he began inquiring of various foremen if they had seen anything of Charlie Bannon. By nine he was avowedly worried lest something had gone wrong with him, and a little after ten Max set out for the boarding house.

Encountering the landlady in the hall, he made the mistake of asking her if she had seen anything of Mr. Bannon that morning. She had some elementary notions of strategy, derived, doubtless, from experience, and before beginning her reply, she blocked the narrow stairway with her broad person. Then, beginning with a discussion of Mr. Bannon's excellent moral character and his most imprudent habits, and illustrating by anecdotes of various other boarders she had had at one time and another, she led up to the statement that she had seen nothing of him since the night before, and that she had twice knocked at his door without getting any reply.

Max, who had laughed a little at Pete's alarm, was now pretty well frightened himself, but at that instant they heard the thud of bare feet on the floor just above them. "That's him now," said the landlady, thoughtlessly turning sideways, and Max bolted past her and up the stairs.

He knocked at the door and called out to know if he could come in. The growl he heard in reply meant invitation as much as it meant anything, so he went in. Bannon, already in his shirt and trousers, stood with his back to the door, his face in the washbowl. As he scoured he sputtered. Max could make little out of it, for Bannon's face was under water half the time, but he caught such phrases as "Pete's darned foolishness," "College boy trick," "Lie abed all the morning," and "Better get an alarm clock"— which thing and the need for it Bannon greatly despised—and he reached the conclusion that the matter was nothing more serious than that Bannon had overslept.

But the boss took it seriously enough. Indeed, he seemed deeply humiliated, and he marched back to the elevator beside Max without saying a word until just as they were crossing the Belt Line tracks, when the explanation of the phenomenon came to him.

"I know where I get it from," he exclaimed, as if in some measure relieved by the discovery. "I must take after my uncle. He was the greatest fellow to sleep you ever saw."

So far as pace was concerned that day was like the others; while the men were human it could be no faster; with Bannon on the job it could not flag; but there was this difference, that today the stupidest sweepers knew that they had almost reached the end, and there was a rally like that which a runner makes at the beginning of the last hundred yards.

Late in the afternoon they had a broad hint of how near the end was. The sweepers dropped their brooms and began carrying fire buckets full of water. They placed one or more near every bearing all over the elevator. The men who were quickest to understand explained to the slower ones what the precaution meant, and every man had his eye on the nearest pulley to see when it would begin to turn.

But Bannon was not going to begin till he was ready. He had inspected the whole job four times since noon, but just after six he went all over it again, more carefully than before. At the end he stepped out of the door at the bottom of the stairway bin, and pulled it shut after him. It was not yet painted, and its blank surface suggested something. He drew out his blue pencil and wrote on the upper panel:—


Then he walked over to the power house. It was a one-story brick building, with whose construction Bannon had had no concern, as Page & Company had placed the contract for it elsewhere. Every night for the past week lights had been streaming from its windows, and day and night men had waited, ready at any time for the word to go ahead. A dozen of them were lounging about the brick-paved space in front of the battery of boilers when Bannon opened the door, and they sprang to their feet as they read his errand in his face.

"Steam up," he said. "We'll be ready as soon as you are."

There was the accumulated tension of a week of inactivity behind these men, and the effect of Bannon's words was galvanic. Already low fires were burning under the boilers, and now the coal was piled on, the draughts roared, the smoke, thick enough to cut, came billowing out of the tall chimney. Every man in the room, even the wretchedest of the dripping stokers, had his eyes on the steam gauges, but for all that the water boiled, and the indicator needles crept slowly round the dials, and at last the engineer walked over and pulled the whistle cord.

Hitherto they had marked the divisions of time on the job by the shrill note of the little whistle on the hoisting engine boiler, and there was not a man but started at the screaming crescendo of the big siren on top of the power house. Men in the streets, in the straggling boarding houses over across the flats, on the wharves along the river, men who had been forbidden to come to the elevator till they were needed lest they should be in the way, had been waiting days for that signal, and they came streaming into the elevator almost before the blast had died away.

Page's superintendent was standing beside Bannon and Pete by the foot of the main drive. "Well," he said, "we're ready. Are you?"

Bannon nodded and turned to a laborer who stood near. "Go tell the engineer to go ahead." The man, proud as though he had just been promoted, went out on the run.

"Now," said Bannon, "here's where we go slow. All the machinery in the house has got to be thrown in, one thing at a time, line shafts first and then elevators and the rest of it. Pete, you see it done up top. I'll look out for it down here. See that there's a man to look at each bearing at least once in three minutes, and let me know if it gets warm."

It took a long time to do it, but it had to be done, for Bannon was inflexible, but at last everything in elevator, annex, and spouting house that could turn was turning, and it was reported to Bannon. "Now," he said, "she's got to run light for fifteen minutes. No—" he went on in answer to the superintendent's protest; "you're lucky I didn't say two hours. It's the biggest chance I ever took as it is."

So while they stared at the second hands of their watches the minutes crept away—Pete wound his watch up tight in the vain hope of making it go a little faster—and at last Bannon turned with a nod to the superintendent.

"All right," he said. "You're the boss now."

And then in a moment the straining hawsers were hauling cars up into the house. The seals were broken, the doors rolled back, and the wheat came pouring out. The shovellers clambered into the cars and the steam power shovels helped the torrent along. It fell through the gratings, into steel tanks, and then the tireless metal cups carried it up, up, up, 'way to the top of the building. And then it came tumbling down again; down into garners, and down again into the great weighing hoppers, and recognized and registered and marketable at last, part of the load that was to bury the Clique that had braved it out of sight of all but their creditors, it went streaming down the spouts into the bins.

The first of the barges in the river was moved down beside the spouting house, her main hatch just opposite the tower. And now Pete, in charge there, gave the word, and the marine leg, gravely, deliberately descended. There is a magnificent audacity about that sort of performance. The leg was ninety feet long, steel-booted, framed of great timbers, heavy enough to have wrecked the barge like a birch baric canoe if it had got away. It went down bodily into the hold and the steel boot was buried in wheat. Then Pete threw another lever, and in a moment another endless series of cups was carrying the wheat aloft. It went over the cross-head and down a spout, then stretched out in a golden ribbon along the glistening white belt that ran the length of the gallery. Then, like the wheat from the cars, it was caught up again in the cups, and shot down through spouts, and carried along on belts to the remotest bins in the annex.

For the first few hours of it the men's nerves were hair springs, but as time went on and the stream kept pouring in without pause, the tension relaxed though the watch never slackened. Men patted the bearings affectionately, and still the same report came to Bannon, "All cool."

Late that night, as the superintendent was figuring his weighing reports, he said to Bannon, "At this rate, we'll have several hours to spare."

"We haven't had our accident yet," said Bannon, shortly.

It happened within an hour, at the marine leg, but it was not serious. They heard a splintering sound, down in the dark, somewhere, and Pete, shouting to them to throw out the clutch, climbed out and down on the sleet-clad girders that framed the leg. An agile monkey might have been glad to return alive from such a climb, but Pete came back presently with a curious specimen of marine hardware that had in some way got into the wheat, and thence into the boot and one of the cups. Part way up it had got jammed and had ripped up the sheathing of the leg. They started the leg again, but soon learned that it was leaking badly.

"You'll have to haul up for repairs, I guess," the captain called up to them.

"Haven't time," said Pete, under his breath, and with a hammer and nails, and a big piece of sacking, he went down the leg again, playing his neck against a half-hour's delay as serenely as most men would walk downstairs to dinner. "Start her up, boys," he called, when the job was done, and, with the leg jolting under his hands as he climbed, he came back into the tower.

That was their only misfortune, and all it cost them was a matter of minutes, so by noon of the thirtieth, an hour or two after MacBride and young Page arrived from Minneapolis, it became clear that they would be through in time.

At eight o'clock next morning, as Bannon and MacBride were standing in the superintendent's office, he came in and held out his hand. "She's full, Mr. Bannon. I congratulate you."

"Full, eh?" said MacBride. Then he dropped his hand on Bannon's shoulder. "Well," he said, "do you want to go to sleep, or will you come and talk business with me for a little while?"

"Sleep!" Bannon echoed. "I've been oversleeping lately."


The elevator was the place for the dinner, if only the mild weather that had followed the Christmas storm should continue—on that Bannon, Pete, and Max were agreed. New Year's Day would be a holiday, and there was room on the distributing floor for every man who had worked an hour on the job since the first spile had been driven home in the Calumet clay. To be sure most of the laborers had been laid off before the installing of the machinery, but Bannon knew that they would all be on hand, and he meant to have seats for them. But on the night of the thirtieth the wind swung around to the northeast, and it came whistling through the cracks in the cupola walls with a sting in it that set the weighers to shivering. And as the insurance companies would have inquired curiously into any arrangement for heating that gloomy space on the tops of the bins, the plan had to be given up.

As soon as the last of the grain was in, on the thirty-first, Max took a north-bound car and scoured South Chicago for a hall that was big enough. Before the afternoon was gone he had found it, and had arranged with a restaurant keeper to supply the dinner. Early the next morning the three set to work, making long tables and benches by resting planks on boxes, and covering the tables with pink and blue and white scalloped shelf-paper.

It was nearly ten o'clock when Max, after draping a twenty-four-foot flag in a dozen different ways, let it slide down the ladder to the floor and sat down on the upper round, looking out over the gridiron of tables with a disgusted expression. Peterson, aided by a man from the restaurant, was bringing in load after load of thick white plates, stacking them waist high near the door. Max was on the point of calling to him, but he recollected that Pete's eye, though quick with timbers, would not help much in questions of art. Just then Bannon came through the doorway with another flag rolled under his arm.

"They're here already, a couple of dozen of 'em," he said, as he dropped the flag at the foot of the ladder. "I've left James on the stairs to keep 'em out until we're ready. Better have an eye on the fire escape, too— they're feeling pretty lively."

"Say," Max said abruptly, "I can't make this thing look anyhow. I guess it's up to you."

Bannon stepped back and looked up at the wall.

"Why don't you just hang them from the ceiling and then catch them up from pretty near the bottom—so they'll drape down on both sides of the windows?"

"I know," said Max, "but there's ways of making 'em look just right—if Hilda was here; she'd know—" He paused and looked down at the red, white, and blue heap on the floor.

During the last week they had not spoken of Hilda, and Bannon did not know whether she had told Max. He glanced at him, but got no sign, for Max was gazing moodily downward.

"Do you think," Bannon said, "do you think she'd care to come around?"

He tried to speak easily, as he might have spoken of her at any time before Christmas Day, but he could not check a second glance at Max. At that moment Max looked up, and as their eyes met, with an awkward pause, Bannon knew that he understood; and for a moment the impatience that he had been fighting for a week threatened to get away with him. He had seen nothing of Hilda, except for the daily "Good morning," and a word now and then. The office had been besieged by reporters waiting for a chance at him; under-foremen had been rushing in and out; Page's representatives and the railroad and steamboat men had made it their headquarters. It may be that he would not have spoken in any case, for he had said all that he could say, and he knew that she would give him an answer when she could.

Max's eyes had dropped again.

"You mean for her to help fix things up?" he asked.

Bannon nodded; and then, as Max did not look up, he said, "Yes."

"Why—why, yes, I guess she'd just as soon." He hesitated, then began coming down the ladder, adding, "I'll go for her."

Bannon looked over his shoulder—Pete was clattering about among the dishes. "Max," he said, "hold on a minute." Max turned and came slowly back. Bannon had seated himself on the end of a table, and now he waited, looking down at the two rows of plates, and slowly turning a caster that stood at his elbow. What he finally said was not what Max was awaiting.

"What are you going to do now, Max—when you're through on this job?"

"Why—I don't know—"

"Have you got anything ahead?"

"Nothing sure. I was working for a firm of contractors up on the North Side, and I've been thinking maybe they'd take me back."

"You've had some experience in building before now, haven't you?" Bannon was speaking deliberately, as if he were saying what he had thought out before.

"Yes, a good deal. It's what I've mostly done since I quit the lumber business."

"When Mr. MacBride was here," said Bannon, "he told me that we've got a contract for a new house at Indianapolis. It's going to be concrete, from the spiles up—there ain't anything like it in the country. I'm going down next week to take charge of the job, and if you'd like to go along as my assistant, I'll take you."

Max did not know what to say. At first he grinned and blushed, thinking only that Bannon had been pleased with his work; then he grew serious.

"Well," said Bannon, "what do you say?"

Max still hesitated. At last he replied:—

"Can I have till tomorrow to think about it? I—you see, Hilda and I, we most always talk things over, and I don't exactly like to do anything without—"

"Sure," said Bannon; "think it over if you like. There's no hurry up to the end of the week." He paused as if he meant to go on, but changed his mind and stood up. Max, too, was waiting, as if there were more to be said.

"You two must think we've got all day to fix things." It was Pete calling from the other end of the room. "There ain't no loafing allowed here."

Bannon smiled, and Max turned away. But after he had got a third of the way down the aisle, he came back.

"Say, Mr. Bannon," he said, "I want to tell you that I—Hilda, she said— she's told me something about things—and I want to—" It had been a lame conversation; now it broke down, and they stood through a long silence without speaking. Finally Max pulled himself together, and said in a low, nervous voice: "Say, it's all right. I guess you know what I'm thinking about. And I ain't got a word to say." Then he hurried out.

When Max and Hilda came in, the restaurant man was setting up the paper napkin tents on the raised table at the end of the hall, and Pete stood by the door, looking upon his work with satisfaction. He did not see them until they were fairly in the room.

"Hello," he said; "I didn't know you was coming, Miss Vogel." He swept his arm around. "Ain't it fine? Make you hungry to look at all them plates?"

Hilda followed his gesture with a smile. Her jacket was still buttoned tightly, and her eyes were bright and her cheeks red from the brisk outer air. Bannon and James were coming toward them, and she greeted them with a nod.

"There's going to be plenty of room," she said.

"That's right," Pete replied. "There won't be no elbows getting in the way at this dinner. Come up where you can see better." He led the way to the platform, and they all followed.

"This is the speakers' table," Pete went on, "where the boss and all will be"—he winked toward Bannon—"and the guest of honor. You show her how we sit, Max; you fixed that part of it."

Max walked around the table, pointing out his own, Pete's, James', and Bannon's seats, and those of the committee. The middle seat, next to Bannon's he passed over.

"Hold on," said Pete, "you forgot something."

Max grinned and drew back the middle chair.

"This is for the guest of honor," he said, and looked at Hilda. Pete was looking at her, too, and James—all but Bannon.

The color, that had been leaving her face, began to come back.

"Do you mean me?" she asked.

"I guess that's pretty near," said Pete.

She shook her head. "Oh, no—thank you very much—I can't stay."

Pete and Max looked at each other.

"The boys'll be sorry," said Pete. "It's kind of got out that maybe you'd be here, and—I don't believe they'd let you off."

Hilda was smiling, but her face was flushed. She shook her head. "Oh, no," she replied; "I only came to help."

Pete turned on Max, with a clumsy laugh that did not cover his disappointment.

"How about this, Max? You ain't been tending to business. Ain't that so, James? Wasn't he going to see that she come and sat up with us where the boys could see her?" He turned to Hilda. "You see, most of the boys know you've had a good deal to do with things on the job, and they've kind of took a shine to you—" Pete suddenly awoke to the fact that he had never talked so boldly to a girl before. He hesitated, looked around at Max and James for support and at Bannon, and then, finding no help, he grinned, and the warm color surged over his face. The only one who saw it all was Hilda, and in spite of her embarrassment the sight of big, strong, bashful Pete was too much for her. A twinkle came into her eyes, and a faint smile hovered about her mouth. Pete saw it, misunderstood it, and, feeling relieved, went on, not knowing that by bringing that twinkle to Hilda's eyes, he had saved the situation.

"It's only that they've talked about it some, and yesterday a couple of 'em spoke to me, and I said I'd ask Max, and—"

"Thank you, Mr. Peterson," Hilda replied. "Max should have told me." She turned toward Max, her face sober now except for the eyes, which would not come under control. Max had been dividing his glances between her and Bannon, feeling the situation heavily, and wondering if he ought not to come to her relief, but unable to dig up the right word. Pete spoke up again:—

"Say, honest now, ain't you coming?"

"I can't really. I'm sorry. I know you'll have a good time."

Bannon had been standing aside, unwilling to speak for fear of making it harder for her.

But now she turned to him and said, with a lightness that puzzled him:—

"Aren't we going to do some decorating, Mr. Bannon? I'm afraid it will be dinner time before Mr. Peterson knows it."

Pete flushed again at this, but she gave him a quick smile.

"Yes," said Bannon, "there's only a little over half an hour." He paused, and looked about the group, holding his watch in his hand and fingering the stem. The lines about his mouth were settling. Hilda glanced again at him, and from the determined look in his eyes, she knew that his week of waiting was over; that he meant to speak to her before she left the hall. It was all in the moment's silence that followed his remark; then he went on, as easily as if he were talking to a gang on the marine tower—but the time was long enough for Hilda to feel her brief courage slipping away. She could not look at him now.

"Take a look at that door, James," he was saying. "I guess you'll have to tend to business if you want any dinner."

They all turned and saw the grinning heads of some of the carpenters peering into the room. There was the shuffling of many feet behind them on the stairs, and the sound of cat calls and whistling. A shove was passed on from somewhere back in the hallway, and one of the carpenters came sprawling through the door. The others yelled good-naturedly.

"I'll fix 'em," said James, with a laugh, starting toward them.

"Give him a lift, Pete," said Bannon. "He'll need it. You two'd better keep the stairs clear for a while, or they'll stampede us."

So Pete followed, and for a few moments the uproar from the stairs drowned all attempts at conversation. Only Max was left with them now. He stood back by the wall, still looking helplessly from one to the other. The restaurant men were bustling about the floor; and Hilda was glad they were there, for she knew that Bannon meant to send Max away, too. She was too nervous to stand still; and she walked around the table, resetting the knives and forks and spoons. The paper napkins on this table were the only ones in the room. She wondered at this, and when the noise of the men had died away into a few jeering cries from the street, and Max had gone to get the flags (for she had said that they should be hung at this end of the room), and the waiters were bustling about, it gave her a chance to break the silence.

"Aren't the other"—she had to stop to clear her throat—"aren't the other men going to have napkins?"

"They wouldn't know what they were for."

His easy tone gave her a momentary sense of relief.

"They'd tie them on their hats, or make balls to throw around." He paused, but added: "It wouldn't look bad, though, would it?—to stand them up this way on all the tables."

She made no reply.

"What do you say?" He was looking at her. "Shall we do it?"

She nodded, and then dropped her eyes, angry with herself that she could not overcome her nervousness. There was another silence, and she broke it.

"It would look a good deal better," she said, "if you have time to do it. Max and I will put up the flags."

She had meant to say something that would give her a better control of the situation, but it sounded very flat and disagreeable—and she had not meant it to sound disagreeable. Indeed, as soon as the words were out, and she felt his eyes on her, and she knew that she was blushing, she was not sure that she had meant it at all. Perhaps that was why, when Bannon asked, in a low voice, "Would you rather Max would help you?" she turned away and answered in a cool tone that did not come from any one of her rushing, struggling thoughts, "If you don't mind."

She did not see the change that came over his face, the weary look that meant that the strain of a week had suddenly broken, but she did not need to see it, for she knew it was there. She heard him step down from the platform, and then she watched him as he walked down the aisle to meet Max, who was bringing up the flags. She wondered impatiently why Bannon did not call to him. Then he raised his head, but before a word had left his lips she was speaking, in a clear tone that Max could plainly hear. She was surprised at herself. She had not meant to say a word, but out it came; and she was conscious of a tightening of her nerves and a defiant gladness that at last her real thoughts had found an outlet.

"Max," she said, "won't you go out and get enough napkins to put at all the places? You'll have to hurry."

Bannon was slow in turning; when he did there was a peculiar expression on his face.

"Hold on, there," called a waiter. "There ain't time to fold them."

"Yes, there is," said Bannon, shortly. "The boys can wait."

"But dinner's most ready now."

"Then I guess dinner's got to wait, too." The waiter looked disgusted, and Max hurried out. Bannon gathered up the flags and came to the platform. Hilda could not face him. For an instant she had a wild impulse to follow Max. She finally turned her back on Bannon and leaned her elbows on a chair, looking over the wall for a good place to hang the flags. She was going to begin talking about it as soon as he should reach the platform. The words were all ready, but now he was opposite her, looking across the table with the red and white bundle in his arms, and she had not said it. Her eyes were fixed on a napkin, studying out the curious Japanese design. She could hear his breathing and her own. She let her eyes rise as high as the flags, then slowly, higher and higher, until they met his, fluttered, and dropped. But the glance was enough. She could not have resisted the look in his eyes.

"Did you mean it?" he asked, almost breathlessly. "Did you mean the whole thing?"

She could not reply. She glanced around to see if the waiters could hear.

"Can't you tell me?" he was saying. "It's been a week."

She gazed at the napkin until it grew misty and indistinct. Then she slowly nodded.

A waiter was almost within hearing. Bannon stood looking at her, heedless of everything but that she was there before him, that her eyes were trying to peep up at him through the locks of red gold hair that had strayed over her forehead.

"Please"—she whispered—"please put them up."

And so they set to work. He got the ladder and she told him what to do. Her directions were not always clear, but that mattered little, for he could not have followed them. Somehow the flags went up, and if the effect was little better than Max's attempt had been, no one spoke of it.

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.

"Boys," he said, "we've worked hard together on this job, and one way and another we've come to understand what sort of a man our boss is. Ain't that right?"

A roar went up from hundreds of throats, and Hilda, sitting next to Bannon, blushed.

"We've thought we understood him pretty well, but I've just found out that we didn't know so much as we thought we did. He's been a pretty square friend to all of us, and I'm going to tell you something that'll give you a chance to show you're square friends of his, too."

He paused, and then was about to go on, leaning forward with both hands on the table, and looking straight down on the long rows of bearded faces, when he heard a slight noise behind him. A sudden laugh broke out, and before he could turn his head, a strong hand fell on each shoulder and he went back into his chair with a bump. Then he looked up, and saw Bannon standing over him. The boss was trying to speak, but he had to wait a full minute before he could make himself heard. He glanced around and saw the look of appeal in Hilda's eyes.

"Look here, boys," he said, when the room had grown quiet; "we aren't handing out any soft soap at this dinner. I won't let this man up till he promises to quit talking about me."

There was another burst of laughter, and James shouted something that nobody understood. Bannon looked down at him, and said quietly, and with a twinkle in his eye, but very firmly:—

"If you try that again, I'll throw you out of the window."

James protested, and was allowed to get up. Bannon slipped into his seat by Hilda.

"It's all right," he said in a low tone. "They won't know it now until we get out of here." His hand groped for hers under the table.

James was irrepressible. He was shouting quickly now, in order to get the words out before Bannon could reach him again.

"How about this, boys? Shall we stand it?"

"No!" was the reply in chorus.

"All right, then. Three cheers for Mr. Bannon. Now—Hip, hip—"

There was no stopping that response.


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