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Chapter 8

Hal judged that he had now exhausted his legal resources in Pedro; the Chief of Police had not suggested any one else he might call upon, so there seemed nothing he could do but go back to MacKellar's and await the hour of the night train to Western City. He started to give his guardians another run, by way of working off at least a part of his own temper; but he found that they had anticipated this difficulty. An automobile came up and the three of them stepped in. Not to be outdone, Hal engaged a hack, and so the expedition returned in pomp to MacKellar's.

Hal found the old cripple in a state of perturbation. All that afternoon his telephone had been ringing; one person after another had warned him--some pleading with him, some abusing him. It was evident that among them were people who had a hold on the old man; but he was undaunted, and would not hear of Hal's going to stay at the hotel until train-time.

Then Keating returned, with an exciting tale to tell. Schulman, general manager of the "G. F. C.," had been sending out messengers to hunt for him, and finally had got him in his office, arguing and pleading, cajoling and denouncing him by turns. He had got Cartwright on the telephone, and the North Valley superintendent had laboured to convince Keating that he had done the company a wrong. Cartwright had told a story about Hal's efforts to hold up the company for money. "Incidentally," said Keating, "he added the charge that you had seduced a girl in his camp."

Hal stared at his friend. "Seduced a girl!" he exclaimed.

"That's what he said; a red-headed Irish girl."

"Well, damn his soul!"

There followed a silence, broken by a laugh from Billy. "Don't glare at me like that. _I_ didn't say it!"

But Hal continued to glare, nevertheless. "The dirty little skunk!"

"Take it easy, sonny," said the fat man, soothingly. "It's quite the usual thing, to drag in a woman. It's so easy--for of course there always _is_ a woman. There's one in this case, I suppose?"

"There's a perfectly decent girl."

"But you've been friendly with her? You've been walking around where people can see you?"

"Yes."

"So you see, they've got you. There's nothing you can do about a thing of that sort."

"You wait and see!" Hal burst out.

The other gazed curiously at the angry young miner. "What'll you do? Beat him up some night?"

But the young miner did not answer. "You say he described the girl?"

"He was kind enough to say she was a red-headed beauty, and with no one to protect her but a drunken father. I could understand that must have made it pretty hard for her, in one of these coal-camps." There was a pause. "But see here," said the reporter, "you'll only do the girl harm by making a row. Nobody believes that women in coal-camps have any virtue. God knows, I don't see how they do have, considering the sort of men who run the camps, and the power they have."

"Mr. Keating," said Hal, "did _you_ believe what Cartwright told you?"

Keating had started to light a cigar. He stopped in the middle, and his eyes met Hal's. "My dear boy," said he, "I didn't consider it my business to have an opinion."

"But what did you say to Cartwright?"

"Ah! That's another matter. I said that I'd been a newspaper man for a good many years, and I knew his game."

"Thank you for that," said Hal. "You may be interested to know there isn't any truth in the story."

"Glad to hear it," said the other. "I believe you."

"Also you may be interested to know that I shan't drop the matter until I've made Cartwright take it back."

"Well, you're an enterprising cuss!" laughed the reporter. "Haven't you got enough on your hands, with all the men you're going to get out of the mine?"

Upton Sinclair