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Chapter 27

In the course of the afternoon Hal came upon Mary Burke on the street. She had long ago found her father, and seen him off to O'Callahan's to celebrate the favours of Providence. Now Mary was concerned with a graver matter. Number Two Mine was in danger! The explosion in Number One had been so violent that the gearing of the fan of the other mine, nearly a mile up the canyon, had been thrown out of order. So the fan had stopped; and when some one had gone to Alec Stone, asking that he bring out the men, Stone had refused. "What do ye think he said?" cried Mary. "What do ye think? 'Damn the men! Save the mules!'"

Hal had all but lost sight of the fact that there was a second mine in the village, in which hundreds of men and boys were still at work. "Wouldn't they know about the explosion?" he asked.

"They might have heard the noise," said Mary. "But they'd not know what it was; and the bosses won't tell them till they've got out the mules."

For all that he had seen in North Valley, Hal could hardly credit that story. "How do you know it, Mary?"

"Young Rovetta just told me. He was there, and heard it with his own ears."

He was staring at her. "Let's go and make sure," he said, and they started up the main street of the village. On the way they were joined by others--for already the news of this fresh trouble had begun to spread. Jeff Cotton went past them in an automobile, and Mary exclaimed, "I told ye so! When ye see him goin', ye know there's dirty work to be done!"

They came to the shaft-house of Number Two, and found a swarm of people, almost a riot. Women and children were shrieking and gesticulating, threatening to break into the office and use the mine-telephone to warn the men themselves. And here was the camp-marshal driving them back. Hal and Mary arrived in time to see Mrs. David, whose husband was at work in Number Two, shaking her fist in the marshal's face and screaming at him like a wild-cat. He drew his revolver upon her; and at this Hal started forward. A blind fury seized him--he would have thrown himself upon the marshal.

But Mary Burke stopped him, flinging her arms about him, and pinning him by main force. "No, no!" she cried. "Stay back, man! D'ye want to get killed?"

He was amazed at her strength. He was amazed also at the vehemence of her emotion. She was calling him a crazy fool, and names even more harsh. "Have ye no more sense than a woman? Running into the mouth of a revolver like that!"

The crisis passed in a moment, for Mrs. David fell back, and then the marshal put up his weapon. But Mary continued scolding Hal, trying to drag him away. "Come on now! Come out of here!"

"But, Mary! We must do something!"

"Ye can do nothin', I tell ye! Ye'd ought to have sense enough to know it. I'll not let ye get yeself murdered! Come away now!" And half by force and half by cajoling, she got him farther down the street.

He was trying to think out the situation. Were the men in Number Two really in danger? Could it be possible that the bosses would take such a chance in cold blood? And right at this moment, with the disaster in the other mine before their eyes! He could not believe it; and meantime Mary, at his side, was declaring that the men were in no real danger--it was only Alec Stone's brutal words that had set her crazy.

"Don't ye remember the time when the air-course was blocked before, and ye helped to get up the mules yeself? Ye thought nothin' of it then, and 'tis the same now. They'll get everybody out in time!"

She was concealing her real feelings in order to keep him safe; he let her lead him on, while he tried to think of something else to do. He would think of the men in Number Two; they were his best friends, Jack David, Tim Rafferty, Wresmak, Androkulos, Klowoski. He would think of them, in their remote dungeons--breathing bad air, becoming sick and faint--in order that mules might be saved! He would stop in his tracks, and Mary would drag him on, repeating over and over, "Ye can do nothin'! Nothin'!" And then he would think, What could he do? He had put up his best bluff to Jeff Cotton a few hours earlier, and the answer had been the muzzle of the marshal's revolver in his face. All he could accomplish now would be to bring himself to Cotton's attention, and be thrust out of camp forthwith.

Upton Sinclair