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Chapter 31

He went out to the street, where his brother was pacing up and down in a ferment. The "hardware drummer" had made another effort to start a conversation, and had been told to go to hell--no less!

"Well, are you through now?" Edward demanded, taking out his irritation on Hal.

"Yes," replied the other. "I suppose so." He realised that Edward would not be concerned about Edstrom's broken arm.

"Then, for God's sake, get some clothes on and let's have some food."

"All right," said Hal. But his answer was listless, and the other looked at him sharply. Even by the moonlight Edward could see the lines in the face of his younger brother, and the hollows around his eyes. For the first time he realised how deeply these experiences were cutting into the boy's soul. "You poor kid!" he exclaimed, with sudden feeling. But Hal did not answer; he did not want sympathy, he did not want anything!

Edward made a gesture of despair. "God knows, I don't know what to do for you!"

They started back to the hotel, and on the way Edward cast about in his mind for a harmless subject of conversation. He mentioned that he had foreseen the shutting up of the stores, and had purchased an outfit for his brother. There was no need to thank him, he added grimly; he had no intention of travelling to Western City in company with a hobo.

So the young miner had a bath, the first real one in a long time. (Never again would it be possible for ladies to say in Hal Warner's presence that the poor might at least keep clean!) He had a shave; he trimmed his finger-nails, and brushed his hair, and dressed himself as a gentleman. In spite of himself he found his cheerfulness partly restored. A strange and wonderful sensation--to be dressed once more as a gentleman. He thought of the saying of the old negro, who liked to stub his toe, because it felt so good when it stopped hurting!

They went out to find a restaurant, and on the way one last misadventure befell Edward. Hal saw an old miner walking past, and stopped with a cry: "Mike!" He forgot all at once that he was a gentleman; the old miner forgot it also. He stared for one bewildered moment, then he rushed at Hal and seized him in the hug of a mountain grizzly.

"My buddy! My buddy!" he cried, and gave Hal a prodigious thump on the back. "By Judas!" And he gave him a thump with the other hand. "Hey! you old son-of-a-gun!" And he gave him a hairy kiss!

But in the very midst of these raptures it dawned over him that there was something wrong about his buddy. He drew back, staring. "You got good clothes! You got rich, hey?"

Evidently the old fellow had heard no rumour concerning Hal's secret. "I've been doing pretty well," Hal said.

"What you work at, hey?"

"I been working at a strike in North Valley."

"What's that? You make money working at strike?"

Hal laughed, but did not explain. "What you working at?"

"I work at strike too--all alone strike."

"No job?"

"I work two days on railroad. Got busted track up there. Pay me two-twenty-five a day. Then no more job."

"Have you tried the mines?"

"What? Me? They got me all right! I go up to San Josť. Pit-boss say, 'Get the hell out of here, you old groucher! You don't get no more jobs in this district!'"

Hal looked Mike over, and saw that his dirty old face was drawn and white, belying the feeble cheerfulness of his words. "We're going to have something to eat," he said. "Won't you come with us?"

"Sure thing!" said Mike, with alacrity. "I go easy on grub now."

Hal introduced "Mr. Edward Warner," who said "How do you do?" He accepted gingerly the calloused paw which the old Slovak held out to him, but he could not keep the look of irritation from his face. His patience was utterly exhausted. He had hoped to find a decent restaurant and have some real food; but now, of course, he could not enjoy anything, with this old gobbler in front of him.

They entered an all-night lunch-room, where Hal and Mike ordered cheese-sandwiches and milk, and Edward sat and wondered at his brother's ability to eat such food. Meantime the two cronies told each other their stories, and Old Mike slapped his knee and cried out with delight over Hal's exploits. "Oh, you buddy!" he exclaimed; then, to Edward, "Ain't he a daisy, hey?" And he gave Edward a thump on the shoulder. "By Judas, they don't beat my buddy!"

Mike Sikoria had last been seen by Hal from the window of the North Valley jail, when he had been distributing the copies of Hal's signature, and Bud Adams had taken him in charge. The mine-guard had marched him into a shed in back of the power-house, where he had found Kauser and Kalovac, two other fellows who had been arrested while helping in the distribution.

Mike detailed the experience with his usual animation. "'Hey, Mister Bud,' I say, 'if you going to send me down canyon, I want to get my things.' 'You go to hell for your things,' says he. And then I say, 'Mister Bud, I want to get my time.' And he says, 'I give you plenty time right here!' And he punch me and throw me over. Then he grab me up' again and pull me outside, and I see big automobile waiting, and I say, 'Holy Judas! I get ride in automobile! Here I am, old fellow fifty-seven years old, never been in automobile ride all my days. I think always I die and never get in automobile ride!' We go down canyon, and I look round and see them mountains, and feel nice cool wind in my face, and I say, 'Bully for you, Mister Bud, I don't never forget this automobile. I don't have such good time any day all my life.' And he say, 'Shut your face, you old wop!' Then we come out on prairie, we go up in Black Hills, and they stop, and say, 'Get out here, you sons o' guns.' And they leave us there all alone. They say, 'You come back again, we catch you and we rip the guts out of you!' They go away fast, and we got to walk seven hours, us fellers, before we come to a house! But I don't mind that, I begged some grub, and then I got job mending track; only I don't find out if you get out of jail, and I think maybe I lose my buddy and never see him no more."

Here the old man stopped, gazing affectionately at Hal. "I write you letter to North Valley, but I don't hear nothing, and I got to walk all the way on railroad track to look for you."

How was it? Hal wondered. He had encountered naked horror in this coal-country--yet here he was, not entirely glad at the thought of leaving it! He would miss Old Mike Sikoria, his hairy kiss and his grizzly-bear hug!

He struck the old man dumb by pressing a twenty-dollar bill into his hand. Also he gave him the address of Edstrom and Mary, and a note to Johann Hartman, who might use him to work among the Slovaks who came down into the town. Hal explained that he had to go back to Western City that night, but that he would never forget his old friend, and would see that he had a good job. He was trying to figure out some occupation for the old man on his father's country-place. A pet grizzly!

Train-time came, and the long line of dark sleepers rolled in by the depot-platform. It was late--after midnight; but, nevertheless, there was Old Mike. He was in awe of Hal now, with his fine clothes and his twenty-dollar bills; but, nevertheless, under stress of his emotion, he gave him one more hug, and one more hairy kiss. "Good-bye, my buddy!" he cried. "You come back, my buddy! I don't forget my buddy!" And when the train began to move, he waved his ragged cap, and ran along the platform to get a last glimpse, to call a last farewell. When Hal turned into the car, it was with more than a trace of moisture in his eyes.

Upton Sinclair