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Chapter 12

White linen and cut glass of the dining-saloon shone brilliantly under electric lights, softened to the eye by pink shades. Seated at the tables were half a dozen young men and as many young ladies, all in evening costume; also two or three older ladies. They had begun the first course of their meal, and were laughing and chatting, when suddenly came this unexpected visitor, clad in coal-stained miner's jumpers. He was not disturbing in the manner of his entry; but immediately behind him came a fat man, perspiring, wild of aspect, and wheezing like an old fashioned steam-engine; behind him came the conductor of the train, in a no less evident state of agitation. So, of course, conversation ceased. The young ladies turned in their chairs, while several of the young men sprang to their feet.

There followed a silence: until finally one of the young men took a step forward. "What's this?" he demanded, as one who had a right to demand.

Hal advanced towards the speaker, a slender youth, correct in appearance, but not distinguished looking. "Hello, Percy!" said Hal.

A look of amazement came upon the other's face. He stared, but seemed unable to believe what he saw. And then suddenly came a cry from one of the young ladies; the one having hair the colour of molasses taffy when you've pulled it--but all fluffy and wonderful, with stardust in it. Her cheeks were pink and cream, and her brown eyes gazed, wide open, full of wonder. She wore a dinner gown of soft olive green, with a cream white scarf of some filmy material thrown about her bare shoulders.

She had started to her feet. "It's Hal!" she cried.

"Hal Warner!" echoed young Harrigan. "Why, what in the world--?"

He was interrupted by a clamour outside. "Wait a moment," said Hal, quietly. "I think some one else is coming in."

The door was pushed violently open. It was pushed so violently that Billy Keating and the conductor were thrust to one side; and Jeff Cotton appeared in the entrance.

The camp-marshal was breathless, his face full of the passion of the hunt. In his right hand he carried a revolver. He glared about him, and saw the two men he was chasing; also he saw the Coal King's son, and the rest of the astonished company. He stood, stricken dumb.

The door was pushed again, forcing him aside, and two more men crowded in, both of them carrying revolvers in their hands. The foremost was Pete Hanun, and he also stood staring. The "breaker of teeth" had two teeth of his own missing, and when his prize-fighter's jaw dropped down, the deficiency became conspicuous. It was probably his first entrance into society, and he was like an overgrown boy caught in the jam-closet.

Percy Harrigan's manner became distinctly imperious. "What does this mean?" he demanded.

It was Hal who answered. "I am seeking a criminal, Percy."

"What?" There were little cries of alarm from the women.

"Yes, a criminal; the man who sealed up the mine."

"Sealed up the mine?" echoed the other. "What do you mean?"

"Let me explain. First, I will introduce my friends. Harrigan, this is my friend Keating."

Billy suddenly realised that he had a hat on his head. He jerked it off; but for the rest, his social instincts failed him. He could only stare. He had not yet got all his breath.

"Billy's a reporter," said Hal. "But you needn't worry--he's a gentleman, and won't betray a confidence. You understand, Billy."

"Y--yes," said Billy, faintly.

"And this," said Hal, "is Jeff Cotton, camp-marshal at North Valley. I suppose you know, Percy, that the North Valley mines belong to the 'G. F. C.' Cotton, this is Mr. Harrigan."

Then Cotton remembered his hat; also his revolver, which he tried to get out of sight behind his back.

"And this," continued Hal, "is Mr. Pete Hanun, by profession a breaker of teeth. This other gentleman, whose name I don't know, is presumably an assistant-breaker." So Hal went on, observing the forms of social intercourse, his purpose being to give his mind a chance to work. So much depended upon the tactics he chose in this emergency! Should he take Percy to one side and tell him the story quietly, leaving it to his sense of justice and humanity? No, that was not the way one dealt with the Harrigans! They had bullied their way to the front; if anything were done with them, it would be by force! If anything were done with Percy, it would be by laying hold of him before these guests, exposing the situation, and using their feelings to coerce him!

The Coal King's son was asking questions again. What was all this about? So Hal began to describe the condition of the men inside the mine. "They have no food or water, except what they had in their dinner-pails; and it's been three days and a half since the explosion! They are breathing bad air; their heads are aching, the veins swelling in their foreheads; their tongues are cracking, they are lying on the ground, gasping. But they are waiting--kept alive by the faith they have in their friends on the surface, who will try to get to them. They dare not take down the barriers, because the gases would kill them at once. But they know the rescuers will come, so they listen for the sounds of axes and picks. That is the situation."

Hal stopped and waited for some sign of concern from young Harrigan. But no such sign was given. Hal went on:

"Think of it, Percy! There is one old man in that mine, an Irishman who has a wife and eight children waiting to learn about his fate. I know one woman who has a husband and three sons in the mine. For three days and a half the women and children have been standing at the pit-mouth; I have seen them sitting with their heads sunk upon their knees, or shaking their fists, screaming curses at the criminal who is to blame."

There was a pause. "The criminal?" inquired young Harrigan. "I don't understand!"

"You'll hardly be able to believe it; but nothing has been done to rescue these men. The criminal has nailed a cover of boards over the pit-mouth, and put tarpaulin over it--sealing up men and boys to die!"

There was a murmur of horror from the diners.

"I know, you can't conceive such a thing. The reason is, there's a fire in the mine; if the fan is set to working, the coal will burn. But at the same time, some of the passages could be got clear of smoke, and some of the men could be rescued. So it's a question of property against lives; and the criminal has decided for the property. He proposes to wait a week, two weeks, until the fire has been smothered; _then_ of course the men and boys will be dead."

There was a silence. It was broken by young Harrigan. "Who has done this?"

"His name is Enos Cartwright."

"But who _is_ he?"

"Just now when I said that I was seeking the criminal, I misled you a little, Percy. I did it because I wanted to collect my thoughts." Hal paused: when he continued, his voice was sharper, his sentences falling like blows. "The criminal I've been telling you about is the superintendent of the mine--a man employed and put in authority by the General Fuel Company. The one who is being chased is not the one who sealed up the mine, but the one who proposed to have it opened. He is being treated as a malefactor, because the laws of the state, as well as the laws of humanity, have been suppressed by the General Fuel Company; he was forced to seek refuge in your car, in order to save his life from thugs and gunmen in the company's employ!"

Upton Sinclair