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Chapter 18

Looking about, Hal saw some of the guests of the Harrigan party. There was Vivie Cass, standing under an umbrella with Bert Atkins; and there was Bob Creston with Dicky Everson. These two had on mackintoshes and water-proof hats, and were talking to Cartwright; tall, immaculate men, who seemed like creatures of another world beside the stunted and coal-smutted miners.

Seeing Hal, they moved over to him. "Where did you get the kid?" inquired Bob, his rosy, smooth-shaven face breaking into a smile.

"I picked him up," said Hal, giving Little Jerry a toss and sliding him off his shoulder.

"Hello, kid!" said Bob.

And the answer came promptly, "Hello, yourself!" Little Jerry knew how to talk American; he was a match for any society man! "My father's went down in that cage," said he, looking up at the tall stranger, his bright black eyes sparkling.

"Is that so!" replied the other. "Why don't you go?"

"My father'll get 'em out. He ain't afraid o' nothin', my father!"

"What's your father's name?"

"Big Jerry."

"Oho! And what'll you be when you grow up?"

"I'm goin' to be a shot-firer."

"In this mine?"

"You bet not!"

"Why not?"

Little Jerry looked mysterious. "I ain't tellin' all I know," said he.

The two young fellows laughed. Here was education for them! "Maybe you'll go back to the old country?" put in Dicky Everson.

"No, sir-ee!" said Little Jerry. "I'm American."

"Maybe you'll be president some day."

"That's what my father says," replied the little chap--"president of a miners' union."

Again they laughed; but Rosa gave a nervous whisper and caught at the child's sleeve. That was not the sort of thing to say to mysterious and rich-looking strangers! "This is Little Jerry's mother, Mrs. Minetti," put in Hal, by way of reassuring her.

"Glad to meet you, Mrs. Minetti," said the two young men, taking off their hats with elaborate bows; they stared, for Rosa was a pretty object as she blushed and made her shy response. She was much embarrassed, having never before in her life been bowed to by men like these.

And here they were greeting Joe Smith as an old friend, and calling him by a strange name! She turned her black Italian eyes upon Hal in inquiry, and he felt a flush creeping over him. It was almost as uncomfortable to be found out by North Valley as to be found out by Western City!

The men talked about the rescue-work, and what Cartwright had been telling of its progress. The fire was in one of the main passages, and was burning out the timbering, spreading rapidly under the draft from the reversed fan. There could be little hope of rescue in this part of the mine, but the helmet-men would defy the heat and smoke in the burned out passages. They knew how likely was the collapse of such portions of the mine; but also they knew that men had been working here before the explosion. "I must say they're a game lot!" remarked Dicky.

A group of women and children were gathered about to listen, their shyness overcome by their torturing anxiety for news. They made one think of women in war-time, listening to the roar of distant guns and waiting for the bringing in of the wounded. Hal saw Bob and Dicky glance now and then at the ring of faces about them; they were getting something of this mood, and that was a part of what he had desired for them.

"Are the others coming out?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Bob. "I suppose they're having breakfast. It's time we went in."

"Won't you come with us?" added Dicky.

"No, thanks," replied Hal, "I've an engagement with the kid here." And he gave Little Jerry's hand a squeeze. "But tell some of the other fellows to come. They'll be interested in these things."

"All right," said the two, as they moved away.

Upton Sinclair