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Chapter 21

Hal went into the drawing-room car. There were Mrs. Curtis and Reggie Porter, playing bridge with Genevieve Halsey and young Everson. Bob Creston was chatting with Betty Gunnison, telling her what he had seen outside, no doubt. Bert Atkins was looking over the morning paper, yawning. Hal went on, seeking Jessie Arthur, and found her in one of the compartments of the car, looking out of the rain-drenched window--learning about a mining-camp in the manner permitted to young ladies of her class.

He expected to find her in a disturbed state of mind, and was prepared to apologise. But when he met the look of distress she turned upon him, he did not know just where to begin. He tried to speak casually--he had heard she was going away. But she caught him by the hand, exclaiming: "Hal, you are coming with us!"

He did not answer for a moment, but sat down by her. "Have I made you suffer so much, Jessie?"

He saw tears start into her eyes. "Haven't you _known_ you were making me suffer? Here I was as Percy's guest; and to have you put such questions to me! What could I say? What do I know about the way Mr. Harrigan should run his business?"

"Yes, dear," he said, humbly. "Perhaps I shouldn't have drawn you into it. But the matter was so complicated and so sudden. Can't you understand that, and forgive me? Everything has turned out so well!"

But she did not think that everything had turned out well. "In the first place, for you to be here, in such a plight! And when I thought you were hunting mountain-goats in Mexico!"

He could not help laughing; but Jessie had not even a smile. "And then--to have you drag our love into the thing, there before every one!"

"Was that really so terrible, Jessie?"

She looked at him with amazement. That he, Hal Warner, could have done such a thing, and not realise how terrible it was! To put her in a position where she had to break either the laws of love or the laws of good-breeding! Why, it had amounted to a public quarrel. It would be the talk of the town--there was no end to the embarrassment of it!

"But, sweetheart!" argued Hal. "Try to see the reality of this thing--think about those people in the mine. You really _must_ do that!"

She looked at him, and noticed the new, grim lines that had come upon his youthful face. Also, she caught the note of suppressed passion in his voice. He was pale and weary looking, in dirty clothes, his hair unkempt and his face only half washed. It was terrifying--as if he had gone to war.

"Listen to me, Jessie," he insisted. "I want you to know about these things. If you and I are ever to make each other happy, you must try to grow up with me. That was why I was glad to have you here--you would have a chance to see for yourself. Now I ask you not to go without seeing."

"But I have to go, Hal. I can't ask Percy Harrigan to stay and inconvenience everybody!"

"You can stay without him. You can ask one of the ladies to chaperon you."

She gazed at him in dismay. "Why, Hal! What a thing to suggest!"

"Why so?"

"Think how it would look!"

"I can't think so much about looks, dear--"

She broke in: "Think what Mamma would say!"

"She wouldn't like it, I know--"

"She would be wild! She would never forgive either of us. She would never forgive any one who stayed with me. And what would Percy say, if I came here as his guest, and stayed to spy on him and his father? Don't you see how preposterous it would be?"

Yes, he saw. He was defying all the conventions of her world, and it seemed to her a course of madness. She clutched his hands in hers, and the tears ran down her cheeks.

"Hal," she cried, "I can't leave you in this dreadful place! You look like a ghost, and a scarecrow, too! I want you to go and get some decent clothes and come home on this train."

But he shook his head. "It's not possible, Jessie."

"Why not?"

"Because I have a duty to do here. Can't you understand, dear? All my life, I've been living on the labour of coal-miners, and I've never taken the trouble to go near them, to see how my money was got!"

"But, Hal! These aren't your people! They are Mr. Harrigan's people!"

"Yes," he said, "but it's all the same. They toil, and we live on their toil, and take it as a matter of course."

"But what can one _do_ about it, Hal?"

"One can understand it, if nothing else. And you see what I was able to do in this case--to get the mine open."

"Hal," she exclaimed, "I can't understand you! You've become so cynical, you don't believe in any one! You're quite convinced that these officials meant to murder their working people! As if Mr. Harrigan would let his mines be run that way!"

"Mr. Harrigan, Jessie? He passes the collection plate at St. George's! That's the only place you've ever seen him, and that's all you know about him."

"I know what everybody says, Hal! Papa knows him, and my brothers--yes, your own brother, too! Isn't it true that Edward would disapprove what you're doing?"

"Yes, dear, I fear so."

"And you set yourself up against them--against everybody you know! Is it reasonable to think the older people are all wrong, and only you are right? Isn't it at least possible you're making a mistake? Think about it--honestly, Hal, for my sake!"

She was looking at him pleadingly; and he leaned forward and took her hand. "Jessie," he said, his voice trembling, "I _know_ that these working people are oppressed; I know it, because I have been one of them! And I know that such men as Peter Harrigan, and even my own brother, are to blame! And they've got to be faced by some one--they've got to be made to see! I've come to see it clearly this summer--that's the job I have to do!"

She was gazing at him with her wide-open, beautiful eyes; underneath her protests and her terror, she was thrilling with awe at this amazing madman she loved. "They will _kill_ you!" she cried.

"No, dearest--you don't need to worry about that--I don't think they'll kill me."

"But they shot at you!"

"No, they shot at Joe Smith, a miner's buddy. They won't shoot at the son of a millionaire--not in America, Jessie."

"But some dark night--"

"Set your mind at rest," he said, "I've got Percy tied up in this, and everybody knows it. There's no way they could kill me without the whole story's coming out--and so I'm as safe as I would be in my bed at home!"

Upton Sinclair