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Chapter 13

Knowing these people well, Hal could measure the effect of the thunderbolt he had hurled among them. They were people to whom good taste was the first of all the virtues; he knew how he was offending them. If he was to win them to the least extent, he must explain his presence here--a trespasser upon the property of the Harrigans.

"Percy," he continued, "you remember how you used to jump on me last year at college, because I listened to 'muck-rakers.' You saw fit to take personal offence at it. You knew that their tales couldn't be true. But I wanted to see for myself, so I went to work in a coal-mine. I saw the explosion; I saw this man, Jeff Cotton, driving women and children away from the pit-mouth with blows and curses. I set out to help the men in the mine, and the marshal rushed me out of camp. He told me that if I didn't go about my business, something would happen to me on a dark night. And you see--this is a dark night!"

Hal waited, to give young Harrigan a chance to grasp this situation and to take command. But apparently young Harrigan was not aware of the presence of the camp-marshal and his revolver. Hal tried again:

"Evidently these men wouldn't have minded killing me; they fired at me just now. The marshal still has the revolver and you can smell the powder-smoke. So I took the liberty of entering your car, Percy. It was to save my life, and you'll have to excuse me."

The Coal King's son had here a sudden opportunity to be magnanimous. He made haste to avail himself of it. "Of course, Hal," he said. "It was quite all right to come here. If our employés were behaving in such fashion, it was without authority, and they will surely pay for it." He spoke with quiet certainty; it was the Harrigan manner, and before it Jeff Cotton and the two mine-guards seemed to wither and shrink.

"Thank you, Percy," said Hal. "It's what I knew you'd say. I'm sorry to have disturbed your dinner-party--"

"Not at all, Hal; it was nothing of a party."

"You see, Percy, it was not only to save myself, but the people in the mine! They are dying, and every moment is precious. It will take a day at least to get to them, so they'll be at their last gasp. Whatever's to be done must be done at once."

Again Hal waited--until the pause became awkward. The diners had so far been looking at him; but now they were looking at young Harrigan, and young Harrigan felt the change.

"I don't know just what you expect of me, Hal. My father employs competent men to manage his business, and I certainly don't feel that I know enough to give them any suggestions." This again in the Harrigan manner; but it weakened before Hal's firm gaze. "What can I do?"

"You can give the order to open the mine, to reverse the fan and start it. That will draw out the smoke and gases, and the rescuers can go down."

"But Hal, I assure you I have no authority to give such an order."

"You must _take_ the authority. Your father's in the East, the officers of the company are in their beds at home; you are here!"

"But I don't understand such things, Hal! I don't know anything of the situation--except what you tell me. And while I don't doubt your word, any man may make a mistake in such a situation."

"Come and see for yourself, Percy! That's all I ask, and it's easy enough. Here is your train, your engine with steam up; have us switched onto the North Valley branch, and we can be at the mine in half an hour. Then--let me take you to the men who know! Men who've been working all their lives in mines, who've seen accidents like this many times, and who will tell you the truth--that there's a chance of saving many lives, and that the chance is being thrown away to save some thousands of dollars' worth of coal and timbers and track."

"But even if that's true, Hal, I have no _power_!"

"If you come there, you can cut the red-tape in one minute. What those bosses are doing is a thing that can only be done in darkness!"

Under the pressure of Hal's vehemence, the Harrigan manner was failing; the Coal King's son was becoming a bewildered and quite ordinary youth. But there was a power greater than Hal behind him. He shook his head. "It's the old man's business, Hal. I've no right to butt in!"

The other, in his desperate need, turned to the rest of the party. His gaze, moving from one face to another, rested upon the magazine-cover countenance, with the brown eyes wide open, full of wonder.

"Jessie! What do you think about it?"

The girl started, and distress leaped into her face. "How do you mean, Hal?"

"Tell him he ought to save those lives!"

The moments seemed ages as Hal waited. It was a test, he realised. The brown eyes dropped. "I don't understand such things, Hal!"

"But, Jessie, I am explaining them! Here are men and boys being suffocated to death, in order to save a little money. Isn't that plain?"

"But how can I _know_, Hal?"

"I'm giving you my word, Jessie. Surely I wouldn't appeal to you unless I knew."

Still she hesitated. And there came a swift note of feeling into his voice: "Jessie, dear!"

As if under a spell, the girl's eyes were raised to his; he saw a scarlet flame of embarrassment spreading over her throat and cheeks. "Jessie, I know--it seems an intolerable thing to ask! You've never been rude to a friend. But I remember once you forgot your good manners, when you saw a rough fellow on the street beating an old drudge-horse. Don't you remember how you rushed at him--like a wild thing! And now--think of it, dear, here are old drudge-creatures being tortured to death; but not horses--working-men!"

Still the girl gazed at him. He could read grief, dismay in her eyes; he saw tears steal from them, and stream down her cheeks. "Oh, I don't know, I don't _know!_" she cried; and hid her face in her hands, and began to sob aloud.

Upton Sinclair