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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKing Coal: A Novel - Book 3. The Henchmen Of King Coal - Section 21 To Section 25
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King Coal: A Novel - Book 3. The Henchmen Of King Coal - Section 21 To Section 25 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :3402

Click below to download : King Coal: A Novel - Book 3. The Henchmen Of King Coal - Section 21 To Section 25 (Format : PDF)

King Coal: A Novel - Book 3. The Henchmen Of King Coal - Section 21 To Section 25

SECTION 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!"

 


SECTION 22.

Hal was still possessed by his idea that Jessie must be taught--she must have knowledge forced upon her, whether she would or no. The train would not start for a couple of hours, and he tried to think of some use he could make of that precious interval. He recalled that Rosa Minetti had returned to her cabin to attend to her baby. A sudden vision came to him of Jessie in that little home. Rosa was sweet and good, and assuredly Little Jerry was a "winner."

"Sweetheart," he said, "I wish you'd come for a walk with me."

"But it's raining, Hal!"

"It won't hurt you to spoil one dress; you have plenty."

"I'm not thinking of that--"

"I _wish you'd come."

"I don't feel comfortable about it, Hal. I'm here as Percy's guest, and he mightn't like--"

"I'll ask him if he objects to your taking a stroll," he suggested, with pretended gravity.

"No, no! That would make it worse!" Jessie had no humour whatever about these matters.

"Well, Vivie Cass was out, and some of the others are going. He hasn't objected to that."

"I know, Hal. But he knows they're all right."

Hal laughed. "Come on, Jessie. Percy won't hold you for my sins! You have a long train journey before you, and some fresh air will be good for you."

She saw that she must make some concession to him, if she was to keep any of her influence over him.

"All right," she said, with resignation, and disappeared and returned with a heavy veil over her face, to conceal her from prying reportorial eyes; also an equipment of mackintosh, umbrella and overshoes, against the rain. The two stole out of the car, feeling like a couple of criminals.

Skirting the edge of the throng about the pit-mouth, they came to the muddy, unpaved quarter in which the Italians had their homes; he held her arm, steering her through the miniature sloughs and creeks. It was thrilling to him to have her with him thus, to see her sweet face and hear her voice full of love. Many a time he had thought of her here, and told her in his imagination of his experiences!

He told her now--about the Minetti family, and how he had met Big and Little Jerry on the street, and how they had taken him in, and then been driven by fear to let him go again. He told his check-weighman story, and was telling how Jeff Cotton had arrested him; but they came to the Minetti cabin, and the terrifying narrative was cut short.

It was Little Jerry who came to the door, with the remains of breakfast distributed upon his cheeks; he stared in wonder at the mysteriously veiled figure. Entering, they saw Rosa sitting in a chair nursing her baby. She rose in confusion; but she did not quite like to turn her back upon her guests, so she stood trying to hide her breast as best she could, blushing and looking very girlish and pretty.

Hal introduced Jessie, as an old friend who was interested to meet his new friends, and Jessie threw back her veil and sat down. Little Jerry wiped off his face at his mother's command, and then came where he could stare at this incredibly lovely vision.

"I've been telling Miss Arthur what good care you took of me," said Hal to Rosa. "She wanted to come and thank you for it."

"Yes," added Jessie, graciously. "Anybody who is good to Hal earns my gratitude."

Rosa started to murmur something; but Little Jerry broke in, with his cheerful voice, "Why you call him Hal? His name's Joe!"

"Ssh!" cried Rosa. But Hal and Jessie laughed--and so the process of Americanising Little Jerry was continued.

"I've got lots of names," said Hal. "They called me Hal when I was a kid like you."

"Did _she know you then?" inquired Little Jerry.

"Yes, indeed."

"Is she your girl?"

Rosa laughed shyly, and Jessie blushed, and looked charming. She realised vaguely a difference in manners. These people accepted the existence of "girls," not concealing their interest in the phenomenon.

"It's a secret," warned Hal. "Don't you tell on us!"

"I can keep a secret," said Little Jerry. After a moment's pause he added, dropping his voice, "You gotta keep secrets if you work in North Valley."

"You bet your life," said Hal.

"My father's a Socialist," continued the other, addressing Jessie; then, since one thing leads on to another, "My father's a shot-firer."

"What's a shot-firer?" asked Jessie, by way of being sociable.

"Jesus!" exclaimed Little Jerry. "Don't you know nothin' about minin'?"

"No," said Jessie. "You tell me."

"You couldn't get no coal without a shot-firer," declared Little Jerry. "You gotta get a good one, too, or maybe you bust up the mine. My father's the best they got."

"What does he do?"

"Well, they got a drill--long, long, like this, all the way across the room; and they turn it and bore holes in the coal. Sometimes they got machines to drill, only we don't like them machines, 'cause it takes the men's jobs. When they got the holes, then the shot-firer comes and sets off the powder. You gotta have--" and here Little Jerry slowed up, pronouncing each syllable very carefully--"per-miss-i-ble powder--what don't make no flame. And you gotta know just how much to put in. If you put in too much, you smash the coal, and the miner raises hell; if you don't put in enough, you make too much work for him, an' he raises hell again. So you gotta get a good shot-firer."

Jessie looked at Hal, and he saw that her dismay was mingled with genuine amusement. He judged this a good way for her to get her education, so he proceeded to draw out Little Jerry on other aspects of coal-mining: on short weights and long hours, grafting bosses and camp-marshals, company-stores and boarding-houses, Socialist agitators and union organisers. Little Jerry talked freely of the secrets of the camp. "It's all right for you to know," he remarked gravely. "You're Joe's girl!"

"You little cherub!" exclaimed Jessie.

"What's a cherub?" was Little Jerry's reply.

 


SECTION 23.

So the time passed in a way that was pleasant. Jessie was completely won by this little Dago mine-urchin, in spite of all his frightful curse-words; and Hal saw that she was won, and was delighted by the success of this experiment in social amalgamation. He could not read Jessie's mind, and realise that underneath her genuine delight were reservations born of her prejudices, the instinctive cruelty of caste. Yes, this little mine chap was a cherub, now; but how about when he grew big? He would grow ugly and coarse-looking, in ten years one would not know him from any other of the rough and dirty men of the village. Jessie took the fact that common people grow ugly as they mature as a proof that they are, in some deep and permanent way, the inferiors of those above them. Hal was throwing away his time and strength, trying to make them into something which Nature had obviously not intended them to be! She decided to make that point to Hal on their way back to the train. She realised that he had brought her here to educate her; like all the rest of the world, she resented forcible education, and she was not without hope that she might turn the tables and educate Hal.

Pretty soon Rosa finished nursing the baby, and Jessie remarked the little one's black eyes. This topic broke down the mother's shyness, and they were chatting pleasantly, when suddenly they heard sounds outside which caused them to start up. It was a clamour of women's voices; and Hal and Rosa sprang to the door. Just now was a critical time, when every one was on edge for news.

Hal threw open the door and called to those outside "What is it?" There came a response, in a woman's voice, "They've found Rafferty!"

"Alive?"

"Nobody knows yet."

"Where?"

"In Room Seventeen. Eleven of them--Rafferty, and young Flanagan, and Johannson, the Swede. They're near dead--can't speak, they say. They won't let anybody near them."

Other voices broke in; but the one which answered Hal had a different quality; it was a warm, rich voice, unmistakably Irish, and it held Jessie's attention. "They've got them in the tipple-room, and the women want to know about their men, and they won't tell them. They're beatin' them back like dogs!"

There was a tumult of weeping, and Hal stepped out of the cabin, and in a minute or so he entered again, supporting on his arm a girl, clad in a faded blue calico dress, and having a head of very conspicuous red hair. She seemed half fainting, and kept moaning that it was horrible, horrible. Hal led her to a chair, and she sank into it and hid her face in her hands, sobbing, talking incoherently between her sobs.

Jessie stood looking at this girl. She felt the intensity of her excitement, and shared it; yet at the same time there was something in Jessie that resented it. She did not wish to be upset about things like this, which she could not help. Of course these unfortunate people were suffering; but--what a shocking lot of noise the poor thing was making! A part of the poor thing's excitement was rage, and Jessie realised that, and resented it still more. It was as if it were a personal challenge to her; the same as Hal's fierce social passions, which so bewildered and shocked her.

"They're beatin' the women back like dogs!" the girl repeated.

"Mary," said Hal, trying to soothe her, "the doctors will be doing their best. The women couldn't expect to crowd about them!"

"Maybe they couldn't; but that's not it, Joe, and ye know it! They been bringin' up dead bodies, some they found where the explosion was--blown all to pieces. And they won't let anybody see them. Is that because of the doctors? No, it ain't! It's because they want to tell lies about the number killed! They want to count four or five legs to a man! And that's what's drivin' the women crazy! I saw Mrs. Zamboni, tryin' to get into the shed, and Pete Hanun caught her by the breasts and shoved her back. 'I want my man!' she screamed. 'Well, what do you want him for? He's all in pieces!' 'I want the pieces!' 'What good'll they do you? Are you goin' to eat him?'"

There were cries of horror now, even from Jessie; and the strange girl hid her face in her hands and began to sob again. Hal put his hand gently on her arm.

"Mary," he pleaded, "it's not so bad--at least they're getting the people out."

"How do ye know what they're doin'? They might be sealin' up parts of the mine down below! That's what makes it so horrible--nobody knows what's happenin'! Ye should have heard poor Mrs. Rafferty screamin'. Joe, it went through me like a knife. Just think, it's been half an hour since they brought him up, and the poor lady can't be told if her man is alive."

 


SECTION 24.

Hal stood for a few moments in thought. He was surprised that such things should be happening while Percy Harrigan's train was in the village. He was considering whether he should go to Percy, or whether a hint to Cotton or Cartwright would not be sufficient.

"Mary," he said, in a quiet voice, "you needn't distress yourself so. We can get better treatment for the women, I'm sure."

But her sobbing went on. "What can ye do? They're bound to have their way!"

"No," said Hal. "There's a difference now. Believe me--something can be done. I'll step over and have a word with Jeff Cotton."

He started towards the door; but there came a cry: "Hal!" It was Jessie, whom he had almost forgotten in his sudden anger at the bosses.

At her protest he turned and looked at her; then he looked at Mary. He saw the latter's hands fall from her tear-stained face, and her expression of grief give way to one of wonder. "Hal!"

"Excuse me," he said, quickly. "Miss Burke, this is my friend, Miss Arthur." Then, not quite sure if this was a satisfactory introduction, he added, "Jessie, this is my friend, Mary."

Jessie's training could not fail in any emergency. "Miss Burke," she said, and smiled with perfect politeness. But Mary said nothing, and the strained look did not leave her face.

In the first excitement she had almost failed to notice this stranger; but now she stared, and realisation grew upon her. Here was a girl, beautiful with a kind of beauty hardly to be conceived of in a mining-camp; reserved, yet obviously expensive--even in a mackintosh and rubber-shoes. Mary was used to the expensiveness of Mrs. O'Callahan, but here was a new kind of expensiveness, subtle and compelling, strangely unconscious. And she laid claim to Joe Smith, the miner's buddy! She called him by a name hitherto unknown to his North Valley associates! It needed no word from Little Jerry to guide Mary's instinct; she knew in a flash that here was the "other girl."

Mary was seized with sudden acute consciousness of the blue calico dress, patched at the shoulder and stained with grease-spots; of her hands, big and rough with hard labour; of her feet, clad in shoes worn sideways at the heel, and threatening to break out at the toes. And as for Jessie, she too had the woman's instinct; she too saw a girl who was beautiful, with a kind of beauty of which she did not approve, but which she could not deny--the beauty of robust health, of abounding animal energy. Jessie was not unaware of the nature of her own charms, having been carefully educated to conserve them; nor did she fail to make note of the other girl's handicaps--the patched and greasy dress, the big rough hands, the shoes worn sideways. But even so, she realised that "Red Mary" had a quality which she lacked--that beside this wild rose of a mining-camp, she, Jessie Arthur, might possibly seem a garden flower, fragile and insipid.

She had seen Hal lay his hand upon Mary's arm, and heard her speak to him. She called him Joe! And a sudden fear had leaped into Jessie's heart.

Like many girls who have been delicately reared, Jessie Arthur knew more than she admitted, even to herself. She knew enough to realise that young men with ample means and leisure are not always saints and ascetics. Also, she had heard the remark many times made that these women of the lower orders had "no morals." Just what did such a remark mean? What would be the attitude of such a girl as Mary Burke--full-blooded and intense, dissatisfied with her lot in life--to a man of culture and charm like Hal? She would covet him, of course; no woman who knew him could fail to covet him. And she would try to steal him away from his friends, from the world to which he belonged, the future of happiness and ease to which he was entitled. She would have powers--dark and terrible powers, all the more appalling to Jessie because they were mysterious. Might they possibly be able to overcome even the handicap of a dirty calico dress, of big rough hands and shoes worn sideways?

These reflections, which have taken many words to explain, came to Jessie in one flash of intuition. She understood now, all at once, the incomprehensible phenomenon--that Hal should leave friends and home and career, to come and live amid this squalor and suffering! She saw the old drama of the soul of man, heaven and hell contending for mastery of it; and she knew that she was heaven, and that this "Red Mary" was hell.

She looked at Hal. He seemed to her so fine and true; his face was frank, he was the soul of honourableness. No, it was impossible to believe that he had yielded to such a lure! If that had been the case, he would never have brought her to this cabin, he would never have taken a chance of her meeting the girl. No; but he might be struggling against temptation, he might be in the toils of it, and only half aware of it. He was a man, and therefore blind; he was a dreamer, and it would be like him to idealise this girl, calling her naive and primitive, thinking that she had no wiles! Jessie had come just in time to save him! And she would fight to save him--using wiles more subtle than those at the command of any mining-camp hussy!


SECTION 25.

It was the surging up in Jessie Arthur of that instinctive self, the creature of hereditary cruelty, of the existence of which Hal had no idea. She drew back, and there was a quiet _hauteur in her tone as she spoke. "Hal, come here, please."

He came; and she waited until he was close enough for intimacy, and then said, "Have you forgotten you have to take me back to the train?"

"Can't you come with me for a few minutes?" he pleaded. "It would have such a good effect if you did."

"I can't go into that crowd," she answered; and suddenly her voice trembled, and the tears came into her sweet brown eyes. "Don't you know, Hal, that I couldn't stand such terrible sights? This poor girl--she is used to them--she is hardened! But I--I--oh, take me away, take me away, dear Hal!" This cry of a woman for protection came with a familiar echo to Hal's mind. He did not stop to think--he was moved by it instinctively. Yes, he had exposed the girl he loved to suffering! He had meant it for her own good, but even so, it was cruel!

He stood close to her, and saw the love-light in her eyes; he saw the tears, the trembling of her sensitive chin. She swayed to him, and he caught her in his arms--and there, before these witnesses, she let him press her to him, while she sobbed and whispered her distress. She had been shy of caresses hitherto, watched and admonished by an experienced mother; certainly she had never before made what could by the remotest stretch of the imagination be considered an advance towards him. But now she made it, and there was a cry of triumph in her soul as she saw that he responded to it. He was still hers--and these low people should know it, this "other girl" should know it!

Yet, in the midst of this very exultation, Jessie Arthur really felt the grief she expressed for the women of North Valley; she really felt horror at the story of Mrs. Zamboni's "man": so intricate is the soul of woman, so puzzling that faculty, older than the ages, which enables her to be hysterical, and at the same time to be guided in the use of that hysteria by deep and infallible calculation.

But she made Hal realise that it was necessary for him to take her away. He turned to Mary Burke and said, "Miss Arthur's train is leaving in a short time. I'll have to take her hack, and then I'll go to the pit-mouth with you and see what I can do."

"Very well," Mary answered; and her voice was hard and cold. But Hal did not notice this. He was a man, and not able to keep up with the emotions of one woman--to say nothing of two women at the same time.

He took Jessie out, and all the way hack to the train she fought a desperate fight to get him away from here. She no longer even suggested that he get decent clothing; she was willing for him to come as he was, in his coal-stained mining-jumpers, in the private train of the Coal King's son. She besought him in the name of their affection. She threatened him that if he did not come, this might be the last time they would meet. She even broke down in the middle of the street, and let him stand there in plain sight of miners' wives and children, and of possible newspaper reporters, holding her in his arms and comforting her.

Hal was much puzzled; but he would not give way. The idea of going off in Percy Harrigan's train had come to seem morally repulsive to him; he hated Percy Harrigan's train, and Percy Harrigan also, he declared. And Jessie saw that she was only making him unreasonable--that before long he might be hating her. With her instinctive _savoir faire_, she brought up his suggestion that she might find some one to chaperon her, and stay with him at North Valley until he was ready to come away.

Hal's heart leaped at that; he had no idea what was in her mind--the certainty that no one of the ladies of the Harrigan party would run the risk of offending her host by staying under such circumstances.

"You mean it, sweetheart?" he cried, happily.

She answered, "I mean that I love you, Hal."

"All right, dear!" he said. "We'll see if we can arrange it."

But as they walked on, she managed, without his realising it, to cause him to reflect upon the effect of her staying. She was willing to do it, if it was what he wanted; but it would injure, perhaps irrevocably, his standing with her parents. They would telegraph her to come at once; and if she did not obey, they would come by the next train. So on, until at last Hal was moved to withdraw his own suggestion. After all, what was the use of her staying, if her mind was on the people at home, if she would simply keep him in hot water? Before the conversation was over Hal had become clear in his mind that North Valley was no place for Jessie Arthur, and that he had been a fool to think he could bring the two together.

She tried to get him to promise to leave as soon as the last man had been brought out of the mine. He answered that he intended to leave then, unless some new emergency should arise. She tried to get an unqualified promise; and failing in that, when they had nearly got to the train she suddenly made a complete surrender. Let him do what he pleased--but let him remember that she loved him, that she needed him, that she could not do without him. No matter what he might do, no matter what people might say about him, she believed in him, she would stand by him. Hal was deeply touched, and took her in his arms again and kissed her tenderly under the umbrella, in the presence of the wondering stares of several urchins with coal-smutted faces. He pledged anew his love for her, assuring her that no amount of interest in mining-camps should ever steal him from her.

Then he put her on the train, and shook hands with the departing guests. He was so very sombre and harassed-looking that the young men forbore to "kid" him as they would otherwise have done. He stood on the station-platform and saw the train roll away--and felt, to his own desperate bewilderment, that he hated these friends of his boyhood and youth. His reason protested against it; he told himself there was nothing they could do, no reason on earth for them to stay--and yet he hated them. They were hurrying off to dance and flirt at the country club--while he was going back to the pit-mouth, to try to get Mrs. Zamboni the right to inspect the pieces of her "man"!

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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.
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