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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-06-14 01:52:51
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“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. SECTION 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. SECTION 16. Hal never knew what Percy said to Cartwright that night; he only knew that when they arrived at the mine the superintendent was summoned to a consultation, and half an hour later Percy emerged smiling, with the announcement that Hal Warner had been mistaken all along; the mine authorities had been making all possible haste to get the fan ready, with the intention of opening the mine at the earliest moment. The work was now completed, and in an hour or two the fan was to be started, and by morning there would be a chance of rescuers getting in. Percy said this so innocently that for a moment Hal wondered if Percy himself might not believe it. Hal's position as guest of course required that he should graciously pretend to believe it, consenting to appear as a fool before the rest of the company. Percy invited Hal and Billy Keating to spend the night in the train; but this Hal declined. He was too dirty, he said; besides, he wanted to be up at daylight, to be one of the first to go down the shaft. Percy answered that the superintendent had vetoed this proposition—he did not want any one to go down but experienced men, who could take care of themselves. When there were so many on hand ready and eager to go, there was no need to imperil the lives of amateurs. At the risk of seeming ungracious, Hal declared that he would “hang around” and see them take the cover off the pit-mouth. There were mourning parties in some of the cabins, where women were gathered together who could not sleep, and it would be an act of charity to take them the good news. Hal and Keating set out; they went first to the Rafferties', and saw Mrs. Rafferty spring up and stare at them, and then scream aloud to the Holy Virgin, waking all the little Rafferties to frightened clamour. When the woman had made sure that they really knew what they were talking about, she rushed out to spread the news, and so pretty soon the streets were alive with hurrying figures, and a crowd gathered once more at the pit-mouth. Hal and Keating went on to Jerry Minetti's. Out of a sense of loyalty to Percy, Hal did no more than repeat Percy's own announcement, that it had been Cartwright's intention all along to have the mine opened. It was funny to see the effect of this statement—the face with which Jerry looked at Hal! But they wasted no time in discussion; Jerry slipped into his clothes and hurried with them to the pit-mouth. Sure enough, a gang was already tearing off the boards and canvas. Never since Hal had been in North Valley had he seen men working with such a will! Soon the great fan began to stir, and then to roar, and then to sing; and there was a crowd of a hundred people, roaring and singing also. It would be some hours before anything more could be done; and suddenly Hal realised that he was exhausted. He and Billy Keating went back to the Minetti cabin, and spreading themselves a blanket on the floor, lay down with sighs of relief. As for Billy, he was soon snoring; but to Hal there came sudden reaction from all the excitement, and sleep was far from him. An ocean of thoughts came flooding into his mind: the world outside, his world, which he had banished deliberately for several months, and which he had so suddenly been compelled to remember! It had seemed so simple, what he had set out to do that summer: to take another name, to become a member of another class, to live its life and think its thoughts, and then come back to his own world with a new and fascinating adventure to tell about! The possibility that his own world, the world of Hal Warner, might find him out as Joe Smith, the miner's buddy—that was a possibility which had never come to his mind. He was like a burglar, working away at a job in darkness, and suddenly finding the room flooded with light. He had gone into the adventure, prepared to find things that would shock him; he had known that somehow, somewhere, he would have to fight the “system.” But he had never expected to find himself in the thick of the class-war, leading a charge upon the trenches of his own associates. Nor was this the end, he knew; this war would not be settled by the winning of a trench! Lying here in the darkness and silence, Hal was realising what he had got himself in for. To employ another simile, he was a man who begins a flirtation on the street, and wakes up next morning to find himself married. It was not that he had regrets for the course he had taken with Percy. No other course had been thinkable. But while Hal had known these North Valley people for ten weeks, he had known the occupants of Percy's car for as many years. So these latter personalities loomed large in his consciousness, and here in the darkness their thoughts about him, whether actively hostile or passively astonished, laid siege to the defences of his mind. Particularly he found himself wrestling with Jessie Arthur. Her face rose up before him, appealing, yearning. She had one of those perfect faces, which irresistibly compel the soul of a man. Her brown eyes, soft and shining, full of tenderness; her lips, quick to tremble with emotion; her skin like apple-blossoms, her hair with star-dust in it! Hal was cynical enough about coal-operators and mine-guards, but it never occurred to him that Jessie's soul might be anything but what these bodily charms implied. He was in love with her; and he was too young, too inexperienced in love to realise that underneath the sweetness of girlhood, so genuine and so lovable, might lie deep, unconscious cruelty, inherited and instinctive—the cruelty of caste, the hardness of worldly prejudice. A man has to come to middle age, and to suffer much, before he understands that the charms of women, those rare and magical perfections of eyes and teeth and hair, that softness of skin and delicacy of feature, have cost labour and care of many generations, and imply inevitably that life has been feral, that customs and conventions have been murderous and inhuman. Jessie had failed Hal in his desperate emergency. But now he went over the scene, and told himself that the test had been an unfair one. He had known her since childhood, and loved her, and never before had he seen an act or heard a word that was not gracious and kind. But—so he told himself—she gave her sympathy to those she knew; and what chance had she ever had to know working-people? He must give her the chance; he must compel her, even against her will, to broaden her understanding of life! The process might hurt her, it might mar the unlined softness of her face, but nevertheless, it would be good for her—it would be a “growing pain”! So, lying there in the darkness and silence, Hal found himself absorbed in long conversation with his sweetheart. He escorted her about the camp, explaining things to her, introducing her to this one and that. He took others of his private-car friends and introduced them to his North Valley friends. There were individuals who had qualities in common, and would surely hit it off! Bob Creston, for example, who was good at a “song and dance”—he would surely be interested in “Blinky,” the vaudeville specialist of the camp! Mrs. Curtis, who liked cats, would find a bond of sisterhood with old Mrs. Nagle, who lived next door to the Minettis, and kept five! And even Vivie Cass, who hated men who ate with their knives—she would be driven to murder by the table-manners of Reminitsky's boarders, but she would take delight in “Dago Charlie,” the tobacco-chewing mule which had once been Hal's pet! Hal could hardly wait for daylight to come, so that he might begin these efforts at social amalgamation! SECTION 17. Towards dawn Hal fell asleep; he was awakened by Billy Keating, who sat up yawning, at the same time grumbling and bewailing. Hal realised that Billy also had discovered troubles during the night. Never in all his career as a journalist had he had such a story; never had any man had such a story—and it must be killed! Cartwright had got the reporters together late the night before and told them the news—that the company had at last succeeded in getting the mine ready to be opened; also that young Mr. Harrigan was there in his private train, prompted by his concern for the entombed miners. The reporters would mention his coming, of course, but were requested not to “play it up,” nor to mention the names of Mr. Harrigan's guests. Needless to say they were not told that the “buddy” who had been thrown out of camp for insubordination had turned out to be the son of Edward S. Warner, the “coal magnate.” A fine, cold rain was falling, and Hal borrowed an old coat of Jerry's and slipped it on. Little Jerry clamoured to go with him, and after some controversy Hal wrapped him in a shawl and slung him onto his shoulder. It was barely daylight, but already the whole population of the village was on hand at the pit-mouth. The helmet-men had gone down to make tests, so the hour of final revelation was at hand. Women stood with wet shawls about their hunched shoulders, their faces white and strained, their suspense too great for any sort of utterance. A ghastly thought it was, that while they were shuddering in the wet, their men below might be expiring for lack of a few drops of water! The helmet-men, coming up, reported that lights would burn at the bottom of the shaft; so it was safe for men to go down without helmets, and the volunteers of the first rescue party made ready. All night there had been a clattering of hammers, where the carpenters were working on a new cage. Now it was swung from the hoist, and the men took their places in it. When at last the hoist began to move, and the group disappeared below the surface of the ground, you could hear a sigh from a thousand throats, like the moaning of wind in a pine-tree. They were leaving women and children above, yet not one of these women would have asked them to stay—such was the deep unconscious bond of solidarity which made these toilers of twenty nations one! It was a slow process, letting down the cage; on account of the danger of gas, and the newness of the cage, it was necessary to proceed a few feet at a time, waiting for a pull upon the signal-cord to tell that the men were all right. After they had reached the bottom, there would be more time, no one could say how long, before they came upon survivors with signs of life in them. There were bodies near the foot of the shaft, according to the reports of the helmet-men, but there was no use delaying to bring these up, for they must have been dead for days. Hal saw a crowd of women clamouring about the helmet-men, trying to find out if these bodies had been recognised. Also he saw Jeff Cotton and Bud Adams at their old duty of driving the women back. The cage returned for a second load of men. There was less need of caution now; the hoist worked quickly, and group after group of men with silent, set faces, and pickaxes and crow-bars and shovels in their hands, went down into the pit of terror. They would scatter through the workings, testing everywhere ahead of them with safety-lamps, and looking for barriers erected by the imprisoned men for defence against the gases. As they hammered on these barriers, perhaps they would hear the signals of living men on the other side; or they would break through in silence, and find men too far gone to make a sound, yet possibly with the spark of life still in them. One by one, Hal's friends went down—“Big Jack” David, and Wresmak, the Bohemian, Klowoski, the Pole, and finally Jerry Minetti. Little Jerry waved his hand from his perch on Hal's shoulder; while Rosa, who had come out and joined them, was clinging to Hal's arm, silent, as if her soul were going down in the cage. There went blue-eyed Tim Rafferty to look for his father, and black-eyed “Andy,” the Greek boy, whose father had perished in a similar disaster years ago; there went Rovetta, and Carmino, the pit-boss, Jerry's cousin. One by one their names ran through the crowd, as of heroes marching out to battle. SECTION 18.


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