But Edward would not stop for a single smile; his every faculty was absorbed in the task he had before him, to get his brother out of this predicament, so dangerous and so humiliating. Hal had come to a town owned by Edward's business friends, and had proceeded to meddle in their affairs, to stir up their labouring people and imperil their property. That North Valley was the property of the General Fuel Company--not merely the mines and the houses, but likewise the people who lived in them--Edward seemed to have no doubt whatever; Hal got only exclamations of annoyance when he suggested any other point of view. Would there have been any town of North Valley, if it had not been for the capital and energy of the General Fuel Company? If the people of North Valley did not like the conditions which the General Fuel Company offered them, they had one simple and obvious remedy--to go somewhere else to work. But they stayed; they got out the General Fuel Company's coal, they took the General Fuel Company's wages--
"Well, they've stopped taking them now," put in Hal.
All right, that was their affair, replied Edward. But let them stop because they wanted to--not because outside agitators put them up to it. At any rate, let the agitators not include a member of the Warner family!
The elder brother pictured old Peter Harrigan on his way back from the East; the state of unutterable fury in which he would arrive, the storm he would raise in the business world of Western City. Why, it was unimaginable, such a thing had never been heard of! "And right when we're opening up a new mine--when we need every dollar of credit we can get!"
"Aren't we big enough to stand off Peter Harrigan?" inquired Hal.
"We have plenty of other people to stand off," was the answer. "We don't have to go out of our way to make enemies."
Edward spoke, not merely as the elder brother, but also as the money-man of the family. When the father had broken down from over-work, and had been changed in one terrible hour from a driving man of affairs into a childish and pathetic invalid, Hal had been glad enough that there was one member of the family who was practical; he had been perfectly willing to see his brother shoulder these burdens, while he went off to college, to amuse himself with satiric songs. Hal had no responsibilities, no one asked anything of him--except that he would not throw sticks into the wheels of the machine his brother was running. "You are living by the coal industry! Every dollar you spend comes from it--"
"I know it! I know it!" cried Hal. "That's the thing that torments me! The fact that I'm living upon the bounty of such wage-slaves--"
"Oh, cut it out!" cried Edward. "That's not what I mean!"
"I know--but it's what _I_ mean! From now on I mean to know about the people who work for me, and what sort of treatment they get. I'm no longer your kid-brother, to be put off with platitudes."
"You know ours are union mines, Hal--"
"Yes, but what does that mean? How do we work it? Do we give the men their weights?"
"Of course! They have their check-weighmen."
"But then, how do we compete with the operators in this district, who pay for a ton of three thousand pounds?"
"We manage it--by economy."
"Economy? I don't see Peter Harrigan wasting anything here!" Hal paused for an answer, but none came. "Do we buy the check-weighmen? Do we bribe the labour leaders?"
Edward coloured slightly. "What's the use of being nasty, Hal? You know I don't do dirty work."
"I don't mean to be nasty, Edward; but you must know that many a business-man can say he doesn't do dirty work, because he has others do it for him. What about politics, for instance? Do we run a machine, and put our clerks and bosses into the local offices?"
Edward did not answer, and Hal persisted, "I mean to know these things! I'm not going to be blind any more!"
"All right, Hal--you can know anything you want; but for God's sake, not now! If you want to be taken for a man, show a man's common sense! Here's Old Peter getting back to Western City to-morrow night! Don't you know that he'll be after me, raging like a mad bull? Don't you know that if I tell him I can do nothing--that I've been down here and tried to pull you away--don't you know he'll go after Dad?"
Edward had tried all the arguments, and this was the only one that counted. "You must keep him away from Dad!" exclaimed Hal.
"You tell me that!" retorted the other. "And when you know Old Peter! Don't you know he'll get at him, if he has to break down the door of the house? He'll throw the burden of his rage on that poor old man! You've been warned about it clearly; you know it may be a matter of life and death to keep Dad from getting excited. I don't know what he'd do; maybe he'd fly into a rage with you, maybe he'd defend you. He's old and weak, he's lost his grip on things. Anyhow, he'd not let Peter abuse you--and like as not he'd drop dead in the midst of the dispute! Do you want to have that on your conscience, along with the troubles of your workingmen friends?"
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