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Chapter 30

In the end, of course, Hal had to come down to practical matters. He sat by the bed and told the old man tactfully that his brother had come to see him and had given him some money. This brother had plenty of money, so Edstrom could be taken to the hospital; or, if he preferred, Mary could stay near here and take care of him. They turned to the landlady, who had been standing in the doorway; she had three boarders in her little home, it seemed, but if Mary could share a bed with the landlady's two children, they might make out. In spite of Hal's protest, Mary accepted this offer; he saw what was in her mind--she would take some of his money, because of old Edstrom's need, but she would take just as little as she possibly could.

John Edstrom of course knew nothing of events since his injury, so Hal told him the story briefly--though without mentioning the transformation which had taken place in the miner's buddy. He told about the part Mary had played in the strike; trying to entertain the poor old man, he told how he had seen her mounted upon a snow-white horse, and wearing a robe of white, soft and lustrous, like Joan of Arc, or the leader of a suffrage parade.

"Sure," said Mary, "he's forever callin' attention to this old dress!"

Hal looked; she was wearing the same blue calico. "There's something mysterious about that dress," said he. "It's one of those that you read about in fairy-stories, that forever patch themselves, and keep themselves new and starchy. A body only needs one dress like that!"

"Sure, lad," she answered. "There's no fairies in coal-camps--unless 'tis meself, that washes it at night, and dries it over the stove, and irons it next mornin'."

She said this with unwavering cheerfulness; but even the old miner lying in pain on the cot could realise the tragedy of a young girl's having only one old dress in her love-hunting season. He looked at the young couple, and saw their evident interest in each other; after the fashion of the old, he was disposed to help along the romance. "She may need some orange blossoms," he ventured, feebly.

"Go along with ye!" laughed Mary, still unwavering.

"Sure," put in Hal, with hasty gallantry, "'tis a blossom she is herself! A rose in a mining-camp--and there's a dispute about her in the poetry-books. One tells you to leave her on her stalk, and another says to gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying!"

"Ye're mixin' me up," said Mary. "A while back I was ridin' on a white horse."

"I remember," said Old Edstrom, "not so far back, you were an ant, Mary."

Her face became grave. To jest about her personal tragedy was one thing, to jest about the strike was another. "Yes, I remember. Ye said I'd stay in the line! Ye were wiser than me, Mr. Edstrom."

"That's one of the things that come with being old, Mary." He moved his gnarled old hand toward hers. "You're going on, now?" he asked. "You're a unionist now, Mary?"

"I am that!" she answered, promptly, her grey eyes shining.

"There's a saying," said he--"once a striker, always a striker. Find a way to get some education for yourself, Mary, and when the big strike comes you'll be one of those the miners look to. I'll not be here, I know--the young people must take my place."

"I'll do my part," she answered. Her voice was low; it was a kind of benediction the old man was giving her.

The woman had gone downstairs to attend to her children; she came back now to say that there was a gentleman at the door, who wanted to know when his brother was coming. Hal remembered suddenly--Edward had been pacing up and down all this while, with no company but a "hardware drummer!" The younger brother's resolve to stay in Pedro had already begun to weaken somewhat, and now it weakened still further; he realised that life is complex, that duties conflict! He assured the old miner again of his ability to see that he did not suffer from want, and then he bade him farewell for a while.

He started out, and Mary went as far as the head of the stairway with him. He took the girl's big, rough hand in his--this time with no one to see. "Mary," he said, "I want you to know that nothing will make me forget you; and nothing will make me forget the miners."

"Ah, Joe!" she cried. "Don't let them win ye away from us! We need ye so bad!"

"I'm going back home for a while," he answered, "but you can be sure that no matter what happens in my life, I'm going to fight for the working people. When the big strike comes, as we know it's coming in this coal-country, I'll be here to do my share."

"Sure lad," she said, looking him bravely in the eye, "and good-bye to ye, Joe Smith." Her eyes did not waver; but Hal noted a catch in her voice, and he found himself with an impulse to take her in his arms. It was very puzzling. He knew he loved Jessie Arthur; he remembered the question Mary had once asked him--could he be in love with two girls at the same time? It was not in accord with any moral code that had been impressed upon him, but apparently he could!

Upton Sinclair