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Chapter 27

Hal wanted a chance to talk to Mary Burke; they had had no intimate talk since the meeting with Jessie Arthur, and now he was going away, for a long time. He wanted to find out what plans Mary had for the future, and--more important yet--what was her state of mind. If he had been able to lift this girl from despair, his summer course in practical sociology had not been all a failure!

He asked her to go with him to say good-bye to John Edstrom, whom he had not seen since their unceremonious parting at MacKellar's, when Hal had fled to Percy Harrigan's train. Downstairs in the lobby Hal explained his errand to his waiting brother, who made no comment, but merely remarked that he would follow, if Hal had no objection. He did not care to make the acquaintance of the Hibernian Joan of Arc, and would not come close enough to interfere with Hal's conversation with the lady; but he wished to do what he could for his brother's protection. So there set out a moon-light procession--first Hal and Mary, then Edward, and then Edward's dinner-table companion, the "hardware-drummer!"

Hal was embarrassed in beginning his farewell talk with Mary. He had no idea how she felt towards him, and he admitted with a guilty pang that he was a little afraid to find out! He thought it best to be cheerful, so he started to tell her how fine he thought her conduct during the strike. But she did not respond to his remarks, and at last he realised that she was labouring with some thoughts of her own.

"There's somethin' I got to say to ye!" she began, suddenly. "A couple of days ago I knew how I meant to say it, but now I don't."

"Well," he laughed, "say it as you meant to."

"No; 'twas bitter--and now I'm on my knees before ye."

"Not that I want you to be bitter," said Hal, still laughing, "but it's I that ought to be on my knees before you. I didn't accomplish anything, you know."

"Ye did all ye could--and more than the rest of us. I want ye to know I'll never forget it. But I want ye to hear the other thing, too!"

She walked on, staring before her, doubling up her hands in agitation. "Well?" said he, still trying to keep a cheerful tone.

"Ye remember that day just after the explosion? Ye remember what I said about--about goin' away with ye? I take it back."

"Oh, of course!" said he, quickly. "You were distracted, Mary--you didn't know what you were saying."

"No, no! That's not it! But I've changed my mind; I don't mean to throw meself away."

"I told you you'd see it that way," he said. "No man is worth it."

"Ah, lad!" said she. "'Tis the fine soothin' tongue ye have--but I'd rather ye knew the truth. 'Tis that I've seen the other girl; and I hate her!"

They walked for a bit in silence. Hal had sense enough to realise that here was a difficult subject. "I don't want to be a prig, Mary," he said gently; "but you'll change your mind about that, too. You'll not hate her; you'll be sorry for her."

She laughed--a raw, harsh laugh. "What kind of a joke is that?"

"I know--it may seem like one. But it'll come to you some day. You have a wonderful thing to live and fight for; while she"--he hesitated a moment, for he was not sure of his own ideas on this subject--"she has so many things to learn; and she may never learn them. She'll miss some fine things."

"I know one of the fine things she does not mean to miss," said Mary, grimly; "that's Mr. Hal Warner." Then, after they had walked again in silence: "I want ye to understand me, Mr. Warner--"

"Ah, Mary!" he pleaded. "Don't treat me that way! I'm Joe."

"All right," she said, "Joe ye shall be. 'Twill remind ye of a pretty adventure--bein' a workin' man for a few weeks. Well, that's a part of what I have to tell ye. I've got my pride, even if I'm only a poor miner's daughter; and the other day I found out me place."

"How do you mean?" he asked.

"Ye don't understand? Honest?"

"No, honest," he said.

"Ye're stupid with women, Joe. Ye didn't see what the girl did to me! 'Twas some kind of a bug I was to her. She was not sure if I was the kind that bites, but she took no chances--she threw me off, like that." And Mary snapped her hand, as one does when troubled with a bug.

"Ah, now!" pleaded Hal. "You're not being fair!"

"I'm bein' just as fair as I've got it in me to be, Joe. I been off and had it all out. I can see this much--'tis not her fault, maybe--'tis her class; 'tis all of ye--the very best of ye, even yeself, Joe Smith!"

"Yea," he replied, "Tim Rafferty said that."

"Tim said too much--but a part of it was true. Ye think ye've come here and been one of us workin' people." But don't your own sense tell you the difference, as if it was a canyon a million miles across--between a poor ignorant creature in a minin' camp, and a rich man's daughter, a lady? Ye'd tell me not to be ashamed of poverty; but would ye ever put me by the side of her--for all your fine feelin's of friendship for them that's beneath ye? Didn't ye show that at the Minettis'?"

"But don't you see, Mary--" He made an effort to laugh. "I got used to obeying Jessie! I knew her a long time before I knew you."

"Ah, Joe! Ye've a kind heart, and a pleasant way of speakin'. But wouldn't it interest ye to know the real truth? Ye said ye'd come out here to learn the truth!"

And Hal answered, in a low voice, "Yes," and did not interrupt again.

Upton Sinclair