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Chapter 14

There was a painful pause. Hal's gaze travelled on, and came to a grey-haired lady in a black dinner-gown, with a rope of pearls about her neck. "Mrs. Curtis! Surely _you_ will advise him!"

The grey-haired lady started--was there no limit to his impudence? She had witnessed the torturing of Jessie. But Jessie was his fiancée; he had no such claim upon Mrs. Curtis. She answered, with iciness in her tone: "I could not undertake to dictate to my host in such a matter."

"Mrs. Curtis! You have founded a charity for the helping of stray cats and dogs!" These words rose to Hal's lips; but he did not say them. His eyes moved on. Who else might help to bully a Harrigan?

Next to Mrs. Curtis sat Reggie Porter, with a rose in the button-hole of his dinner-jacket. Hal knew the rôle in which Reggie was there--a kind of male chaperon, an assistant host, an admirer to the wealthy, a solace to the bored. Poor Reggie lived other people's lives, his soul perpetually a-quiver with other people's excitements, with gossip, preparations for tea-parties, praise of tea-parties past. And always the soul was pushing; calculating, measuring opportunities, making up in tact and elegance for distressing lack of money. Hal got one swift glimpse of the face; the sharp little black moustaches seemed standing up with excitement, and in a flash of horrible intuition Hal read the situation--Reggie was expecting to be questioned, and had got ready an answer that would increase his social capital in the Harrigan family bank!

Across the aisle sat Genevieve Halsey: tall, erect, built on the scale of a statue. You thought of the ox-eyed Juno, and imagined stately emotions; but when you came to know Genevieve, you discovered that her mind was slow, and entirely occupied with herself. Next to her was Bob Creston, smooth-shaven, rosy-cheeked, exuding well-being--what is called a "good fellow," with a wholesome ambition to win cups for his athletic club, and to keep up the score of his rifle-team of the state militia. Jolly Bob might have spoken, out of his good heart; but he was in love with a cousin of Percy's, Betty Gunnison, who sat across the table from him--and Hal saw her black eyes shining, her little fists clenched tightly, her lips pressed white. Hal understood Betty--she was one of the Harrigans, working at the Harrigan family task of making the children of a pack-pedlar into leaders in the "younger set!"

Next sat "Vivie" Cass, whose talk was of horses and dogs and such ungirlish matters; Hal had discussed social questions in her presence, and heard her view expressed in one flashing sentence--"If a man eats with his knife, I consider him my personal enemy!" Over her shoulder peered the face of a man with pale eyes and yellow moustaches--Bert Atkins, cynical and world-weary, whom the papers referred to as a "club-man," and whom Hal's brother had called a "tame cat." There was "Dicky" Everson, like Hal, a favourite of the ladies, but nothing more; "Billy" Harris, son of another "coal man"; Daisy, his sister; and Blanche Vagleman, whose father was Old Peter's head lawyer, whose brother was the local counsel, and publisher of the Pedro _Star_.

So Hal's eyes moved from face to face, and his mind from personality to personality. It was like the unrolling of a scroll; a panorama of a world he had half forgotten. He had no time for reflection, but one impression came to him, swift and overwhelming. Once he had lived in this world and taken it as a matter of course. He had known these people, gone about with them; they had seemed friendly, obliging, a good sort of people on the whole. And now, what a change! They seemed no longer friendly! Was the change in them? Or was it Hal who had become cynical--so that he saw them in this terrifying new light, cold, and unconcerned as the stars about men who were dying a few miles away!

Hal's eyes came back to the Coal King's son, and he discovered that Percy was white with anger. "I assure you, Hal, there's no use going on with this. I have no intention of letting myself be bulldozed."

Percy's gaze shifted with sudden purpose to the camp-marshal. "Cotton, what do you say about this? Is Mr. Warner correct in his idea of the situation?"

"You know what such a man would say, Percy!" broke in Hal.

"I don't," was the reply. "I wish to know. What is it, Cotton?"

"He's mistaken, Mr. Harrigan." The marshal's voice was sharp and defiant.

"In what way?"

"The company's doing everything to get the mine open, and has been from the beginning."

"Oh!" And there was triumph in Percy's voice. "What is the cause of the delay?"

"The fan was broken, and we had to send for a new one. It's a job to set it up--such things can't be done in an hour."

Percy turned to Hal. "You see! There are two opinions, at least!"

"Of course!" cried Betty Gunnison, her black eyes snapping at Hal. She would have said more, but Hal interrupted, stepping closer to his host. "Percy," he said, in a low voice, "come back here, please. I have a word to say to you alone."

There was just a hint of menace in Hal's voice; his gaze went to the far end of the car, a space occupied only by two negro waiters. These retired in haste as the young men moved towards them; and so, having the Coal King's son to himself, Hal went in to finish this fight.

Upton Sinclair