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Chapter 28

Mary's voice had dropped low, and Hal thought how rich and warm it was when she was deeply moved. She went on:

"I lived all me life in minin' camps, Joe Smith, and I seen men robbed and beaten, and women cryin' and childer hungry. I seen the company, like some great wicked beast that eat them up. But I never knew why, or what it meant--till that day, there at the Minettis'. I'd read about fine ladies in books, ye see; but I'd never been spoke to by one, I'd never had to swallow one, as ye might say. But there I did--and all at once I seemed to know where the money goes that's wrung out of the miners. I saw why people were robbin' us, grindin' the life out of us--for fine ladies like that, to keep them so shinin' and soft! 'Twould not have been so bad, if she'd not come just then, with all the men and boys dyin' down in the pits--dyin' for that soft, white skin, and those soft, white hands, and all those silky things she swished round in. My God, Joe--d'ye know what she seemed to me like? Like a smooth, sleek cat that has just eat up a whole nest full of baby mice, and has the blood of them all over her cheeks!"

Mary paused, breathing hard. Hal kept silence, and she went on again: "I had it out with meself, Joe! I don't want ye to think I'm any better than I am, and I asked meself this question--Is it for the men in the pits that ye hate her with such black murder? Or is it for the one man ye want, and that she's got? And I knew the answer to that! But then I asked meself another question, too--Would ye be like her if ye could? Would ye do what she's doin' right now--would ye have it on your soul? And as God hears me, Joe, 'tis the truth I speak--I'd not do it! No, not for the love of any man that ever walked on this earth!"

She had lifted her clenched fist as she spoke. She let it fall again, and strode on, not even glancing at him. "Ye might try a thousand years, Joe, and ye'd not realise the feelin's that come to me there at the Minettis'. The shame of it--not what she done to me, but what she made me in me own eyes! Me, the daughter of a drunken old miner, and her--I don't know what her father is, but she's some sort of princess, and she knows it. And that's the thing that counts, Joe! 'Tis not that she has so much money, and so many fine things; that she knows how to talk, and I don't, and that her voice is sweet, and mine is ugly, when I'm ragin' as I am now. No--'tis that she's so _sure!_ That's the word I found to say it; she's sure--sure--_sure!_ She has the fine things, she's always had them, she has a right to have them! And I have a right to nothin' but trouble, I'm hunted all day by misery and fear, I've lost even the roof over me head! Joe, ye know I've got some temper--I'm not easy to beat down; but when I'd got through bein' taught me place, I went off and hid meself, I ground me face in the dirt, for the black rage of it! I said to meself, 'Tis true! There's somethin' in her better than me! She's some kind of finer creature.--Look at these hands!" She held them out in the moonlight, with a swift, passionate gesture. "So she's a right to her man, and I'm a fool to have ever raised me eyes to him! I have to see him go away, and crawl back into me leaky old shack! Yes, that's the truth! And when I point it out to the man, what d'ye think he says? Why, he tells me gently and kindly that I ought to be sorry for her! Christ! did ye ever hear the like of that?"

There was a long silence. Hal could not have said anything now, if he had wished to. He knew that this was what he had come to seek! This was the naked soul of the class-war!

"Now," concluded Mary, with clenched hands, and a voice that corresponded, "now, I've had it out. I'm no slave; I've just as good a right to life as any lady. I know I'll never have it, of course; I'll never wear good clothes, nor live in a decent home, nor have the man I want; but I'll know that I've done somethin' to help free the workin' people from the shame that's put on them. That's what the strike done for me, Joe! The strike showed me the way. We're beat this time, but somehow it hasn't made the difference ye might think. I'm goin' to make more strikes before I quit, and they won't all of them be beat!"

She stopped speaking; and Hal walked beside her, stirred by a conflict of emotions. His vision of her was indeed true; she would make more strikes! He was glad and proud of that; but then came the thought that while she, a girl, was going on with the bitter war, he, a man, would be eating grilled beefsteaks at the club!

"Mary," he said, "I'm ashamed of myself--"

"That's not it, Joe! Ye've no call to be ashamed. Ye can't help it where ye were born--"

"Perhaps not, Mary. But when a man knows he's never paid for any of the things he's enjoyed all his life, surely the least he can do is to be ashamed. I hope you'll try not to hate me as you do the others."

"I never hated ye, Joe! Not for one moment! I tell ye fair and true, I love ye as much as ever. I can say it, because I'd not have ye now; I've seen the other girl, and I know ye'd never be satisfied with me. I don't know if I ought to say it, but I'm thinkin' ye'll not be altogether satisfied with her, either. Ye'll be unhappy either way--God help ye!"

The girl had read deeply into his soul in this last speech; so deeply that Hal could not trust himself to answer. They were passing a street-lamp, and she looked at him, for the first time since they had started on their walk, and saw harassment in his face. A sudden tenderness came into her voice. "Joe," she said; "ye're lookin' bad. 'Tis good ye're goin' away from this place!"

He tried to smile, but the effort was feeble.

"Joe," she went on, "ye asked me to be your friend. Well, I'll be that!" And she held out the big, rough hand.

He took it. "We'll not forget each other, Mary," he said. There was a catch in his voice.

"Sure, lad!" she exclaimed. "We'll make another strike some day, just like we did at North Valley!"

Hal pressed the big hand; but then suddenly, remembering his brother stalking solemnly in the rear, he relinquished the clasp, and failed to say all the fine things he had in his mind. He called himself a rebel, but not enough to be sentimental before Edward!

Upton Sinclair