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Chapter 15

Percy Harrigan was known to Hal, as a college-boy is known to his class-mates. He was not brutal, like his grim old father; he was merely self-indulgent, as one who had always had everything; he was weak, as one who had never had to take a bold resolve. He had been brought up by the women of the family, to be a part of what they called "society"; in which process he had been given high notions of his own importance. The life of the Harrigans was dominated by one painful memory--that of a pedlar's pack; and Hal knew that Percy's most urgent purpose was to be regarded as a real and true and freehanded aristocrat. It was this knowledge Hal was using in his attack.

He began with apologies, attempting to soothe the other's anger. He had not meant to make a scene like this; it was the gunmen who had forced it, putting his life in danger. It was the very devil, being chased about at night and shot at! He had lost his nerve, really; he had forgot what little manners he had been able to keep as a miner's buddy. He had made a spectacle of himself; good Lord yes, he realised how he must seem!

--And Hal looked at his dirty miner's jumpers, and then at Percy. He could see that Percy was in hearty agreement thus far--he had indeed made a spectacle of himself, and of Percy too! Hal was sorry about this latter, but here they were, in a pickle, and it was certainly too late now. This story was out--there could be no suppressing it! Hal might sit down on his reporter-friend, Percy might sit down on the waiters and the conductor and the camp-marshal and the gunmen--but he could not possibly sit down on all his friends! They would talk about nothing else for weeks! The story would be all over Western City in a day--this amazing, melodramatic, ten-twenty-thirty story of a miner's buddy in the private car of the Coal King's son!

"And you must see, Percy," Hal went on, "it's the sort of thing that sticks to a man. It's the thing by which everybody will form their idea of you as long as you live!"

"I'll take my chances with my friends' criticism," said the other, with some attempt at the Harrigan manner.

"You can make it whichever kind of story you choose," continued Hal, implacably. "The world will say, He decided for the dollars; or it will say, He decided for the lives. Surely, Percy, your family doesn't need those particular dollars so badly! Why, you've spent more on this one train-trip!"

And Hal waited, to give his victim time to calculate.

The result of the thinking was a question worthy of Old Peter. "What are _you_ getting out of this?"

"Percy," said Hal, "you must _know_ I'm getting nothing! If you can't understand it otherwise, say to yourself that you are dealing with a man who's irresponsible. I've seen so many terrible things--I've been chased around so much by camp-marshals--why, Percy, that man Cotton has six notches on his gun! I'm simply crazy!" And into the brown eyes of this miner's buddy came a look wild enough to convince a stronger man than Percy Harrigan. "I've got just one idea left in the world, Percy--to save those miners! You make a mistake unless you realise how desperate I am. So far I've done this thing incog! I've been Joe Smith, a miner's buddy. If I'd come out and told my real name--well, maybe I wouldn't have made them open the mine, but at least I'd have made a lot of trouble for the G. F. C.! But I didn't do it; I knew what a scandal it would make, and there was something I owed my father. But if I see there's no other way, if it's a question of letting those people perish, I'll throw everything else to the winds. Tell your father that; tell him I threatened to turn this man Keating loose and blow the thing wide open--denounce the company, appeal to the Governor, raise a disturbance and get arrested on the street, if necessary, in order to force the facts before the public. You see, I've got the facts, Percy! I've been there and seen with my own eyes. Can't you realise that?"

The other did not answer, but it was evident that he realised.

"On the other hand, see how you can fix it, if you choose. You were on a pleasure trip when you heard of this disaster; you rushed up and took command, you opened the mine, you saved the lives of your employés. That is the way the papers will handle it."

Hal, watching his victim intently, and groping for the path to his mind, perceived that he had gone wrong. Crude as the Harrigans were, they had learned that it is not aristocratic to be picturesque.

"All right then!" said Hal, quickly. "If you prefer, you needn't be mentioned. The bosses up at the camp have the reporters under their thumbs, they'll handle the story any way you want it. The one thing I care about is that you run your car up and see the mine opened. Won't you do it, Percy?"

Hal was gazing into the other's eyes, knowing that life and death for the miners hung upon his nod. "Well? What is the answer?"

"Hal," exclaimed Percy, "my old man will give me hell!"

"All right; but on the other hand, _I'll_ give you hell; and which will be worse?"

Again there was a silence. "Come along, Percy! For God's sake!" And Hal's tone was desperate, alarming.

And suddenly the other gave way. "All right!"

Hal drew a breath. "But mind you!" he added. "You're not going up there to let them fool you! They'll try to bluff you out--they may go as far as to refuse to obey you. But you must stand by your guns--for, you see, I'm going along, I'm going to see that mine open. I'll never quit till the rescuers have gone down!"

"Will they go, Hal?"

"Will they go? Good God, man, they're clamouring for the chance to go! They've almost been rioting for it. I'll go with them--and you, too, Percy--the whole crowd of us idlers will go! When we come out, we'll know something about the business of coal-mining!"

"All right, I'm with you," said the Coal King's son.

Upton Sinclair