Part 1 out of 8
Produced by Eric Eldred, Beth Trapaga
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
MARY CRAIG KIMBROUGH
To whose persistence in the perilous task of tearing her husband's
manuscript to pieces, the reader is indebted for the absence of most of
the faults from this book.
THE DOMAIN OF KING COAL
THE SERFS OF KING COAL
THE HENCHMEN OF KING COAL
THE WILL OF KING COAL
Upton Sinclair is one of the not too many writers who have consecrated
their lives to the agitation for social justice, and who have also
enrolled their art in the service of a set purpose. A great and
non-temporizing enthusiast, he never flinched from making sacrifices.
Now and then he attained great material successes as a writer, but
invariably he invested and lost his earnings in enterprises by which he
had hoped to ward off injustice and to further human happiness. Though
disappointed time after time, he never lost faith nor courage to start
As a convinced socialist and eager advocate of unpopular doctrines, as
an exposer of social conditions that would otherwise be screened away
from the public eye, the most influential journals of his country were
as a rule arraigned against him. Though always a poor man, though never
willing to grant to publishers the concessions essential for many
editions and general popularity, he was maliciously represented to be a
carpet knight of radicalism and a socialist millionaire. He has several
times been obliged to change his publisher, which goes to prove that he
is no seeker of material gain.
Upton Sinclair is one of the writers of the present time most deserving
of a sympathetic interest. He shows his patriotism as an American, not
by joining in hymns to the very conditional kind of liberty peculiar to
the United States, but by agitating for infusing it with the elixir of
real liberty, the liberty of humanity. He does not limit himself to a
dispassionate and entertaining description of things as they are. But in
his appeals to the honour and good-fellowship of his compatriots, he
opens their eyes to the appalling conditions under which wage-earning
slaves are living by the hundreds of thousands. His object is to better
these unnatural conditions, to obtain for the very poorest a glimpse of
light and happiness, to make even them realise the sensation of cosy
well-being and the comfort of knowing that justice is to be found also
This time Upton Sinclair has absorbed himself in the study of the
miner's life in the lonesome pits of the Rocky Mountains, and his
sensitive and enthusiastic mind has brought to the world an American
parallel to GERMINAL, Emile Zola's technical masterpiece.
The conditions described in the two books are, however, essentially
different. While Zola's working-men are all natives of France, one meets
in Sinclair's book a motley variety of European emigrants, speaking a
Babel of languages and therefore debarred from forming some sort of
association to protect themselves against being exploited by the
anonymous limited Company. Notwithstanding this natural bar against
united action on the part of the wage-earning slaves, the Company feels
far from at ease and jealously guards its interests against any attempt
of organising the men.
A young American of the upper class, with great sympathy for the
downtrodden and an honest desire to get a first-hand knowledge of their
conditions in order to help them, decides to take employment in a mine
under a fictitious name and dressed like a working-man. His unusual way
of trying to obtain work arouses suspicion. He is believed to be a
professional strike-leader sent out to organise the miners against their
exploiters, and he is not only refused work, but thrashed mercilessly.
When finally he succeeds in getting inside, he discovers with growing
indignation the shameless and inhuman way in which those who unearth the
black coal are being exploited.
These are the fundamental ideas of the book, but they give but a faint
notion of the author's poetic attitude. Most beautifully is this shown
in Hal's relation to a young Irish girl, Red Mary. She is poor, and her
daily life harsh and joyless, but nevertheless her wonderful grace is
one of the outstanding features of the book. The first impression of
Mary is that of a Celtic Madonna with a tender heart for little
children. She develops into a Valkure of the working-class, always ready
to fight for the worker's right.
The last chapters of the book give a description of the miners' revolt
against the Company. They insist upon their right to choose a deputy to
control the weighing-in of the coal, and upon having the mines sprinkled
regularly to prevent explosion. They will also be free to buy their food
and utensils wherever they like, even in shops not belonging to the
In a postscript Sinclair explains the fundamental facts on which his
work of art has been built up. Even without the postscript one could not
help feeling convinced that the social conditions he describes are true
to life. The main point is that Sinclair has not allowed himself to
become inspired by hackneyed phrases that bondage and injustice and the
other evils and crimes of Kingdoms have been banished from Republics,
but that he is earnestly pointing to the honeycombed ground on which the
greatest modern money-power has been built. The fundament of this power
is not granite, but mines. It lives and breathes in the light, because
it has thousands of unfortunates toiling in the darkness. It lives and
has its being in proud liberty because thousands are slaving for it,
whose thraldom is the price of this liberty.
This is the impression given to the reader of this exciting novel.
THE DOMAIN OF KING COAL
The town of Pedro stood on the edge of the mountain country; a
straggling assemblage of stores and saloons from which a number of
branch railroads ran up into the canyons, feeding the coal-camps.
Through the week it slept peacefully; but on Saturday nights, when the
miners came trooping down, and the ranchmen came in on horseback and in
automobiles, it wakened to a seething life.
At the railroad station, one day late in June, a young man alighted from
a train. He was about twenty-one years of age, with sensitive features,
and brown hair having a tendency to waviness. He wore a frayed and faded
suit of clothes, purchased in a quarter of his home city where the
Hebrew merchants stand on the sidewalks to offer their wares; also a
soiled blue shirt without a tie, and a pair of heavy boots which had
seen much service. Strapped on his back was a change of clothing and a
blanket, and in his pockets a comb, a toothbrush, and a small pocket
Sitting in the smoking-car of the train, the young man had listened to
the talk of the coal-camps, seeking to correct his accent. When he got
off the train he proceeded down the track and washed his hands with
cinders, and lightly powdered some over his face. After studying the
effect of this in his mirror, he strolled down the main street of Pedro,
and, selecting a little tobacco-shop, went in. In as surly a voice as he
could muster, he inquired of the proprietress, "Can you tell me how to
get to the Pine Creek mine?"
The woman looked at him with no suspicion in her glance. She gave the
desired information, and he took a trolley and got off at the foot of
the Pine Creek canyon, up which he had a thirteen-mile trudge. It was
a sunshiny day, with the sky crystal clear, and the mountain air
invigourating. The young man seemed to be happy, and as he strode on
his way, he sang a song with many verses:
"Old King Coal was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He made him a college all full of knowledge--
Hurrah for you and me!
"Oh, Liza-Ann, come out with me,
The moon is a-shinin' in the monkey-puzzle tree;
Oh, Liza-Ann, I have began
To sing you the song of Harrigan!
"He keeps them a-roll, this merry old soul--
The wheels of industree;
A-roll and a-roll, for his pipe and his bowl
And his college facultee!
"Oh, Mary-Jane, come out in the lane,
The moon is a-shinin' in the old pecan;
Oh, Mary-Jane, don't you hear me a-sayin'
I'll sing you the song of Harrigan!
"So hurrah for King Coal, and his fat pay-roll,
And his wheels of industree!
Hurrah for his pipe, and hurrah for his bowl--
And hurrah for you and me!
"Oh, Liza-Ann, come out with me,
The moon is a-shinin'--"
And so on and on--as long as the moon was a-shinin' on a college campus.
It was a mixture of happy nonsense and that questioning with which
modern youth has begun to trouble its elders. As a marching tune, the
song was a trifle swift for the grades of a mountain canyon; Warner
could stop and shout to the canyon-walls, and listen to their answer,
and then march on again. He had youth in his heart, and love and
curiosity; also he had some change in his trousers' pocket, and a ten
dollar bill, for extreme emergencies, sewed up in his belt. If a
photographer for Peter Harrigan's General Fuel Company could have got a
snap-shot of him that morning, it might have served as a "portrait of a
coal-miner" in any "prosperity" publication.
But the climb was a stiff one, and before the end the traveller became
aware of the weight of his boots, and sang no more. Just as the sun was
sinking up the canyon, he came upon his destination--a gate across the
road, with a sign upon it:
PINE CREEK COAL CO.
Hal approached the gate, which was of iron bars, and padlocked. After
standing for a moment to get ready his surly voice, he kicked upon the
gate and a man came out of a shack inside.
"What do you want?" said he.
"I want to get in. I'm looking for a job."
"Where do you come from?"
"Where you been working?"
"I never worked in a mine before."
"Where did you work?"
"In a grocery-store."
"Peterson & Co., in Western City."
The guard came closer to the gate and studied him through the bars.
"Hey, Bill!" he called, and another man came out from the cabin. "Here's
a guy says he worked in a grocery, and he's lookin' for a job."
"Where's your papers?" demanded Bill.
Every one had told Hal that labour was scarce in the mines, and that the
companies were ravenous for men; he had supposed that a workingman would
only have to knock, and it would be opened unto him. "They didn't give
me no papers," he said, and added, hastily, "I got drunk and they fired
me." He felt quite sure that getting drunk would not bar one from a coal
But the two made no move to open the gate. The second man studied him
deliberately from top to toe, and Hal was uneasily aware of possible
sources of suspicion. "I'm all right," he declared. "Let me in, and I'll
Still the two made no move. They looked at each other, and then Bill
answered, "We don't need no hands."
"But," exclaimed Hal, "I saw a sign down the canyon--"
"That's an old sign," said Bill.
"But I walked all the way up here!"
"You'll find it easier walkin' back."
"Scared of the dark, kid?" inquired Bill, facetiously.
"Oh, say!" replied Hal. "Give a fellow a chance! Ain't there some way I
can pay for my keep--or at least for a bunk to-night?"
"There's nothin' for you," said Bill, and turned and went into the
The other man waited and watched, with a decidedly hostile look. Hal
strove to plead with him, but thrice he repeated, "Down the canyon with
you." So at last Hal gave up, and moved down the road a piece and sat
down to reflect.
It really seemed an absurdly illogical proceeding, to post a notice,
"Hands Wanted," in conspicuous places on the roadside, causing a man to
climb thirteen miles up a mountain canyon, only to be turned off without
explanation. Hal was convinced that there must be jobs inside the
stockade, and that if only he could get at the bosses he could persuade
them. He got up and walked down the road a quarter of a mile, to where
the railroad-track crossed it, winding up the canyon. A train of
"empties" was passing, bound into the camp, the cars rattling and
bumping as the engine toiled up the grade. This suggested a solution of
It was already growing dark. Crouching slightly, Hal approached the
cars, and when he was in the shadows, made a leap and swung onto one of
them. It took but a second to clamber in, and he lay flat and waited,
his heart thumping.
Before a minute had passed he heard a shout, and looking over, he saw
the Cerberus of the gate running down a path to the track, his
companion, Bill, just behind him. "Hey! come out of there!" they yelled;
and Bill leaped, and caught the car in which Hal was riding.
The latter saw that the game was up, and sprang to the ground on the
other side of the track and started out of the camp. Bill followed him,
and as the train passed, the other man ran down the track to join him.
Hal was walking rapidly, without a word; but the Cerberus of the gate
had many words, most of them unprintable, and he seized Hal by the
collar, and shoving him violently, planted a kick upon that portion of
his anatomy which nature has constructed for the reception of kicks. Hal
recovered his balance, and, as the man was still pursuing him, he turned
and aimed a blow, striking him on the chest and making him reel.
Hal's big brother had seen to it that he knew how to use his fists; he
now squared off, prepared to receive the second of his assailants. But
in coal-camps matters are not settled in that primitive way, it
appeared. The man halted, and the muzzle of a revolver came suddenly
under Hal's nose. "Stick 'em up!" said the man.
This was a slang which Hal had never heard, but the meaning was
inescapable; he "stuck 'em up." At the same moment his first assailant
rushed at him, and dealt him a blow over the eye which sent him
sprawling backward upon the stones.
When Hal came to himself again he was in darkness, and was conscious of
agony from head to toe. He was lying on a stone floor, and he rolled
over, but soon rolled back again, because there was no part of his back
which was not sore. Later on, when he was able to study himself, he
counted over a score of marks of the heavy boots of his assailants.
He lay for an hour or two, making up his mind that he was in a lock-up,
because he could see the starlight through iron bars. He could hear
somebody snoring, and he called half a dozen times, in a louder and
louder voice, until at last, hearing a growl, he inquired, "Can you give
me a drink of water?"
"I'll give you hell if you wake me up again," said the voice; after
which Hal lay in silence until morning.
A couple of hours after daylight, a man entered his cell. "Get up," said
he, and added a prod with his foot. Hal had thought he could not do it,
but he got up.
"No funny business now," said his jailer, and grasping him by the sleeve
of his coat, marched him out of the cell and down a little corridor into
a sort of office, where sat a red-faced personage with a silver shield
upon the lapel of his coat. Hal's two assailants of the night before
"Well, kid?" said the personage in the chair. "Had a little time to
think it over?" "Yes," said Hal, briefly.
"What's the charge?" inquired the personage, of the two watchmen.
"Trespassing and resisting arrest."
"How much money you got, young fellow?" was, the next question.
"Speak up there!" said the man.
"Two dollars and sixty-seven cents," said Hal--"as well as I can
"Go on!" said the other. "What you givin' us?" And then, to the two
watchmen, "Search him."
"Take off your coat and pants," said Bill, promptly, "and your boots."
"Oh, I say!" protested Hal.
"Take 'em off!" said the man, and clenched his fists. Hal took 'em off,
and they proceeded to go through the pockets, producing a purse with the
amount stated, also a cheap watch, a strong pocket knife, the
tooth-brush, comb and mirror, and two white handkerchiefs, which they
looked at contemptuously and tossed to the spittle-drenched floor.
They unrolled the pack, and threw the clean clothing about. Then,
opening the pocket-knife, they proceeded to pry about the soles and
heels of the boots, and to cut open the lining of the clothing. So they
found the ten dollars in the belt, which they tossed onto the table with
the other belongings. Then the personage with the shield announced, "I
fine you twelve dollars and sixty-seven cents, and your watch and
knife." He added, with a grin, "You can keep your snot-rags."
"Now see here!" said Hal, angrily. "This is pretty raw!"
"You get your duds on, young fellow, and get out of here as quick as you
can, or you'll go in your shirt-tail."
But Hal was angry enough to have been willing to go in his skin. "You
tell me who you are, and your authority for this procedure?"
"I'm marshal of the camp," said the man.
"You mean you're an employe of the General Fuel Company? And you propose
to rob me--"
"Put him out, Bill," said the marshal. And Hal saw Bill's fists clench.
"All right," he said, swallowing his indignation. "Wait till I get my
clothes on." And he proceeded to dress as quickly as possible; he rolled
up his blanket and spare clothing, and started for the door.
"Remember," said the marshal, "straight down the canyon with you, and if
you show your face round here again, you'll get a bullet through you."
So Hal went out into the sunshine, with a guard on each side of him as
an escort. He was on the same mountain road, but in the midst of the
company-village. In the distance he saw the great building of the
breaker, and heard the incessant roar of machinery and falling coal. He
marched past a double lane of company houses and shanties, where
slattern women in doorways and dirty children digging in the dust of the
roadside paused and grinned at him--for he limped as he walked, and it
was evident enough what had happened to him.
Hal had come with love and curiosity. The love was greatly
diminished--evidently this was not the force which kept the wheels of
industry a-roll. But the curiosity was greater than ever. What was there
so carefully hidden inside this coal-camp stockade?
Hal turned and looked at Bill, who had showed signs of humour the day
before. "See here," said he, "you fellows have got my money, and you've
blacked my eye and kicked me blue, so you ought to be satisfied. Before
I go, tell me about it, won't you?"
"Tell you what?" growled Bill.
"Why did I get this?"
"Because you're too gay, kid. Didn't you know you had no business trying
to sneak in here?"
"Yes," said Hal; "but that's not what I mean. Why didn't you let me in
"If you wanted a job in a mine," demanded the man, "why didn't you go at
it in the regular way?"
"I didn't know the regular way."
"That's just it. And we wasn't takin' chances with you. You didn't look
"But what did you think I was? What are you afraid of?"
"Go on!" said the man. "You can't work me!"
Hal walked a few steps in silence, pondering how to break through. "I
see you're suspicious of me," he said. "I'll tell you the truth, if
you'll let me." Then, as the other did not forbid him, "I'm a college
boy, and I wanted to see life and shift for myself a while. I thought it
would be a lark to come here."
"Well," said Bill, "this ain't no foot-ball field. It's a coal-mine."
Hal saw that his story had been accepted. "Tell me straight," he said,
"what did you think I was?"
"Well, I don't mind telling," growled Bill. "There's union agitators
trying to organise these here camps, and we ain't taking no chances with
'em. This company gets its men through agencies, and if you'd went and
satisfied them, you'd 'a been passed in the regular way. Or if you'd
went to the office down in Pedro and got a pass, you'd 'a been all
right. But when a guy turns up at the gate, and looks like a dude and
talks like a college perfessor, he don't get by, see?"
"I see," said Hal. And then, "If you'll give me the price of a breakfast
out of my money, I'll be obliged."
"Breakfast is over," said Bill. "You sit round till the pinyons gets
ripe." He laughed; but then, mellowed by his own joke, he took a quarter
from his pocket and passed it to Hal. He opened the padlock on the gate
and saw him out with a grin; and so ended Hal's first turn on the wheels
Hal Warner started to drag himself down the road, but was unable to make
it. He got as far as a brooklet that came down the mountain-side, from
which he might drink without fear of typhoid; there he lay the whole
day, fasting. Towards evening a thunder-storm came up, and he crawled
under the shelter of a rock, which was no shelter at all. His single
blanket was soon soaked through, and he passed a night almost as
miserable as the previous one. He could not sleep, but he could think,
and he thought about what had happened to him. "Bill" had said that a
coal mine was not a foot-ball field, but it seemed to Hal that the net
impress of the two was very much the same. He congratulated himself that
his profession was not that of a union organiser.
At dawn he dragged himself up, and continued his journey, weak from cold
and unaccustomed lack of food. In the course of the day he reached a
power-station near the foot of the canyon. He did not have the price of
a meal, and was afraid to beg; but in one of the group of buildings by
the roadside was a store, and he entered and inquired concerning prunes,
which were twenty-five cents a pound. The price was high, but so was the
altitude, and as Hal found in the course of time, they explained the one
by the other--not explaining, however, why the altitude of the price was
always greater than the altitude of the store. Over the counter he saw a
sign: "We buy scrip at ten per cent discount." He had heard rumours of a
state law forbidding payment of wages in "scrip"; but he asked no
questions, and carried off his very light pound of prunes, and sat down
by the roadside and munched them.
Just beyond the power-house, down on the railroad track, stood a little
cabin with a garden behind it. He made his way there, and found a
one-legged old watchman. He asked permission to spend the night on the
floor of the cabin; and seeing the old fellow look at his black eye, he
explained, "I tried to get a job at the mine, and they thought I was a
"Well," said the man, "I don't want no union organisers round here."
"But I'm not one," pleaded Hal.
"How do I know what you are? Maybe you're a company spy."
"All I want is a dry place to sleep," said Hal. "Surely it won't be any
harm for you to give me that."
"I'm not so sure," the other answered. "However, you can spread your
blanket in the corner. But don't you talk no union business to me."
Hal had no desire to talk. He rolled himself in his blanket and slept
like a man untroubled by either love or curiosity. In the morning the
old fellow gave him a slice of corn bread and some young onions out of
his garden, which had a more delicious taste than any breakfast that had
ever been served him. When Hal thanked his host in parting, the latter
remarked: "All right, young fellow, there's one thing you can do to pay
me, and that is, say nothing about it. When a man has grey hair on his
head and only one leg, he might as well be drowned in the creek as lose
Hal promised, and went his way. His bruises pained him less, and he was
able to walk. There were ranch-houses in sight--it was like coming back
suddenly to America!
Hal had now before him a week's adventures as a hobo: a genuine hobo,
with no ten dollar bill inside his belt to take the reality out of his
experiences. He took stock of his worldly goods and wondered if he still
looked like a dude. He recalled that he had a smile which had fascinated
the ladies; would it work in combination with a black eye? Having no
other means of support, he tried it on susceptible looking housewives,
and found it so successful that he was tempted to doubt the wisdom of
honest labour. He sang the Harrigan song no more, but instead the words
of a hobo-song he had once heard:
"Oh, what's the use of workin' when there's women in the land?"
The second day he made the acquaintance of two other gentlemen of the
road, who sat by the railroad-track toasting some bacon over a fire.
They welcomed him, and after they had heard his story, adopted him into
the fraternity and instructed him in its ways of life. Pretty soon he
made the acquaintance of one who had been a miner, and was able to give
him the information he needed before climbing another canyon.
"Dutch Mike" was the name this person bore, for reasons he did not
explain. He was a black-eyed and dangerous-looking rascal, and when the
subject of mines and mining was broached, he opened up the flood-gates
of an amazing reservoir of profanity. He was through with that game--Hal
or any other God-damned fool might have his job for the asking. It was
only because there were so many natural-born God-damned fools in the
world that the game could be kept going. "Dutch Mike" went on to relate
dreadful tales of mine-life, and to summon before him the ghosts of one
pit-boss after another, consigning them to the fires of eternal
"I wanted to work while I was young," said he, "but now I'm cured, an'
fer good." The world had come to seem to him a place especially
constructed for the purpose of making him work, and every faculty he
possessed was devoted to foiling this plot. Sitting by a camp-fire near
the stream which ran down the valley, Hal had a merry time pointing out
to "Dutch Mike" how he worked harder at dodging work than other men
worked at working. The hobo did not seem to mind that, however--it was a
matter of principle with him, and he was willing to make sacrifices for
his convictions. Even when they had sent him to the work-house, he had
refused to work; he had been shut in a dungeon, and had nearly died on a
diet of bread and water, rather than work. If everybody would do the
same, he said, they would soon "bust things."
Hal took a fancy to this spontaneous revolutionist, and travelled with
him for a couple of days, in the course of which he pumped him as to
details of the life of a miner. Most of the companies used regular
employment agencies, as the guard had mentioned; but the trouble was,
these agencies got something from your pay for a long time--the bosses
were "in cahoots" with them. When Hal wondered if this were not against
the law, "Cut it out, Bo!" said his companion. "When you've had a job
for a while, you'll know that the law in a coal-camp is what your boss
tells you." The hobo went on to register his conviction that when one
man has the giving of jobs, and other men have to scramble for them, the
law would never have much to say in the deal. Hal judged this a profound
observation, and wished that it might be communicated to the professor
of political economy at Harrigan.
On the second night of his acquaintance with "Dutch Mike," their
"jungle" was raided by a constable with half a dozen deputies; for a
determined effort was being made just then to drive vagrants from the
neighbourhood--or to get them to work in the mines. Hal's friend, who
slept with one eye open, made a break in the darkness, and Hal followed
him, getting under the guard of the raiders by a foot-ball trick. They
left their food and blankets behind them, but "Dutch Mike" made light of
this, and lifted a chicken from a roost to keep them cheerful through
the night hours, and stole a change of underclothing off a clothes-line
the next day. Hal ate the chicken, and wore the underclothing, thus
beginning his career in crime.
Parting from "Dutch Mike," he went back to Pedro. The hobo had told him
that saloon-keepers nearly always had friends in the coal-camps, and
could help a fellow to a job. So Hal began enquiring, and the second one
replied, Yes, he would give him a letter to a man at North Valley, and
if he got the job, the friend would deduct a dollar a month from his
pay. Hal agreed, and set out upon another tramp up another canyon, upon
the strength of a sandwich "bummed" from a ranch-house at the entrance
to the valley. At another stockaded gate of the General Fuel Company he
presented his letter, addressed to a person named O'Callahan, who turned
out also to be a saloon-keeper.
The guard did not even open the letter, but passed Hal in at sight of
it, and he sought out his man and applied for work. The man said he
would help him, but would have to deduct a dollar a month for himself,
as well as a dollar for his friend in Pedro. Hal kicked at this, and
they bartered back and forth; finally, when Hal turned away and
threatened to appeal directly to the "super," the saloon-keeper
compromised on a dollar and a half.
"You know mine-work?" he asked.
"Brought up at it," said Hal, made wise, now, in the ways of the world.
"Where did you work?"
Hal named several mines, concerning which he had learned something from
the hoboes. He was going by the name of "Joe Smith," which he judged
likely to be found on the payroll of any mine. He had more than a week's
growth of beard to disguise him, and had picked up some profanity as
The saloon-keeper took him to interview Mr. Alec Stone, pit-boss in
Number Two mine, who inquired promptly: "You know anything about mules?"
"I worked in a stable," said Hal, "I know about horses."
"Well, mules is different," said the man. "One of my stable-men got the
colic the other day, and I don't know if he'll ever be any good again."
"Give me a chance," said Hal. "I'll manage them."
The boss looked him over. "You look like a bright chap," said he. "I'll
pay you forty-five a month, and if you make good I'll make it fifty."
"All right, sir. When do I start in?"
"You can't start too quick to suit me. Where's your duds?"
"This is all I've got," said Hal, pointing to the bundle of stolen
underwear in his hand.
"Well, chuck it there in the corner," said the man; then suddenly he
stopped, and looked at Hal, frowning. "You belong to any union?"
"Did you _ever_ belong to any union?"
"No, sir. Never."
The man's gaze seemed to imply that Hal was lying, and that his secret
soul was about to be read. "You have to swear to that, you know, before
you can work here."
"All right," said Hal, "I'm willing."
"I'll see you about it to-morrow," said the other. "I ain't got the
paper with me. By the way, what's your religion?"
"Seventh Day Adventist."
"Holy Christ! What's that?"
"It don't hurt," said Hal. "I ain't supposed to work on Saturdays, but I
"Well, don't you go preachin' it round here. We got our own
preacher--you chip in fifty cents a month for him out of your wages.
Come ahead now, and I'll take you down." And so it was that Hal got his
start in life.
The mule is notoriously a profane and godless creature; a blind alley of
Nature, so to speak, a mistake of which she is ashamed, and which she
does not permit to reproduce itself. The thirty mules under Hal's charge
had been brought up in an environment calculated to foster the worst
tendencies of their natures. He soon made the discovery that the "colic"
of his predecessor had been caused by a mule's hind foot in the stomach;
and he realised that he must not let his mind wander for an instant, if
he were to avoid this dangerous disease.
These mules lived their lives in the darkness of the earth's interior;
only when they fell sick were they taken up to see the sunlight and to
roll about in green pastures. There was one of them called "Dago
Charlie," who had learned to chew tobacco, and to rummage in the pockets
of the miners and their "buddies." Not knowing how to spit out the
juice, he would make himself ill, and then he would swear off from
indulgence. But the drivers and the pit-boys knew his failing, and would
tempt "Dago Charlie" until he fell from grace. Hal soon discovered this
moral tragedy, and carried the pain of it in his soul as he went about
his all-day drudgery.
He went down the shaft with the first cage, which was very early in the
morning. He fed and watered his charges, and helped to harness them.
Then, when the last four hoofs had clattered away, he cleaned out the
stalls, and mended harness, and obeyed the orders of any person older
than himself who happened to be about.
Next to the mules, his torment was the "trapper-boys," and other
youngsters with whom he came into contact. He was a newcomer, and so
they hazed him; moreover, he had an inferior job--there seemed to their
minds to be something humiliating and comic about the task of tending
mules. These urchins came from a score of nations of Southern Europe and
Asia; there were flat-faced Tartars and swarthy Greeks and shrewd-eyed
little Japanese. They spoke a compromise language, consisting mainly of
English curse words and obscenities; the filthiness which their minds
had spawned was incredible to one born and raised in the sunlight. They
alleged obscenities of their mothers and their grandmothers; also of the
Virgin Mary, the one mythological character they had heard of. Poor
little creatures of the dark, their souls grimed and smutted even more
quickly and irrevocably than their faces!
Hal had been advised by his boss to inquire for board at "Reminitsky's."
He came up in the last car, at twilight, and was directed to a dimly
lighted building of corrugated iron, where upon inquiry he was met by a
stout Russian, who told him he could be taken care of for twenty-seven
dollars a month, this including a cot in a room with eight other single
men. After deducting a dollar and a half a month for his saloon-keepers,
fifty cents for the company clergyman and a dollar for the company
doctor, fifty cents a month for wash-house privileges and fifty cents
for a sick and accident benefit fund, he had fourteen dollars a month
with which to clothe himself, to found a family, to provide himself with
beer and tobacco, and to patronise the libraries and colleges endowed by
the philanthropic owners of coal mines.
Supper was nearly over at Reminitsky's when he arrived; the floor looked
like the scene of a cannibal picnic, and what food was left was cold. It
was always to be this way with him, he found, and he had to make the
best of it. The dining-room of this boarding-house, owned and managed by
the G. F. C., brought to his mind the state prison, which he had once
visited--with its rows of men sitting in silence, eating starch and
grease out of tin-plates. The plates here were of crockery half an inch
thick, but the starch and grease never failed; the formula of
Reminitsky's cook seemed to be, When in doubt add grease, and boil it
in. Even ravenous as Hal was after his long tramp and his labour below
ground, he could hardly swallow this food. On Sundays, the only time he
ate by daylight, the flies swarmed over everything, and he remembered
having heard a physician say that an enlightened man should be more
afraid of a fly than of a Bengal tiger. The boarding-house provided him
with a cot and a supply of vermin, but with no blanket, which was a
necessity in the mountain regions. So after supper he had to seek out
his boss, and arrange to get credit at the company-store. They were
willing to give a certain amount of credit, he found, as this would
enable the camp-marshal to keep him from straying. There was no law to
hold a man for debt--but Hal knew by this time how much a camp-marshal
cared for law.
For three days Hal toiled in the bowels of the mine, and ate and pursued
vermin at Reminitsky's. Then came a blessed Sunday, and he had a couple
of free hours to see the sunlight and to get a look at the North Valley
camp. It was a village straggling along more than a mile of the mountain
canyon. In the centre were the great breaker-buildings, the shaft-house,
and the power-house with its tall chimneys; nearby were the
company-store and a couple of saloons. There were several
boarding-houses like Reminitsky's, and long rows of board cabins
containing from two to four rooms each, some of them occupied by several
families. A little way up a slope stood a school-house, and another
small one-room building which served as a church; the clergyman
belonging to the General Fuel Company denomination. He was given the use
of the building, by way of start over the saloons, which had to pay a
heavy rental to the company; it seemed a proof of the innate perversity
of human nature that even in spite of this advantage, heaven was losing
out in the struggle against hell in the coal-camp.
As one walked through this village, the first impression was of
desolation. The mountains towered, barren and lonely, scarred with the
wounds of geologic ages. In these canyons the sun set early in the
afternoon, the snow came early in the fall; everywhere Nature's hand
seemed against man, and man had succumbed to her power. Inside the camps
one felt a still more cruel desolation--that of sordidness and
animalism. There were a few pitiful attempts at vegetable-gardens, but
the cinders and smoke killed everything, and the prevailing colour was
of grime. The landscape was strewn with ash-heaps, old wire and
tomato-cans, and smudged and smutty children playing.
There was a part of the camp called "shanty-town," where, amid miniature
mountains of slag, some of the lowest of the newly-arrived foreigners
had been permitted to build themselves shacks out of old boards, tin,
and sheets of tar-paper. These homes were beneath the dignity of
chicken-houses, yet in some of them a dozen people were crowded, men and
women sleeping on old rags and blankets on a cinder floor. Here the
babies swarmed like maggots. They wore for the most part a single ragged
smock, and their bare buttocks were shamelessly upturned to the heavens.
It was so the children of the cave-men must have played, thought Hal;
and waves of repulsion swept over him. He had come with love and
curiosity, but both motives failed here. How could a man of sensitive
nerves, aware of the refinements and graces of life, learn to love these
people, who were an affront to his every sense--a stench to his
nostrils, a jabbering to his ear, a procession of deformities to his
eye? What had civilisation done for them? What could it do? After all,
what were they fit for, but the dirty work they were penned up to do? So
spoke the haughty race-consciousness of the Anglo-Saxon, contemplating
these Mediterranean hordes, the very shape of whose heads was
But Hal stuck it out; and little by little new vision came to him. First
of all, it was the fascination of the mines. They were old mines--veritable
cities tunnelled out beneath the mountains, the main passages running
for miles. One day Hal stole off from his job, and took a trip with a
"rope-rider," and got through his physical senses a realisation of the
vastness and strangeness and loneliness of this labyrinth of night. In
Number Two mine the vein ran up at a slope of perhaps five degrees; in
part of it the empty cars were hauled in long trains by an endless rope,
but coming back loaded, they came of their own gravity. This involved
much work for the "spraggers," or boys who did the braking; it sometimes
meant run-away cars, and fresh perils added to the everyday perils of
The vein varied from four to five feet in thickness; a cruelty of nature
which made it necessary that the men at the "working face"--the place
where new coal was being cut--should learn to shorten their stature.
After Hal had squatted for a while and watched them at their tasks, he
understood why they walked with head and shoulders bent over and arms
hanging down, so that, seeing them coming out of the shaft in the
gloaming, one thought of a file of baboons. The method of getting out
the coal was to "undercut" it with a pick, and then blow it loose with a
charge of powder. This meant that the miner had to lie on his side while
working, and accounted for other physical peculiarities.
Thus, as always, when one understood the lives of men, one came to pity
instead of despising. Here was a separate race of creatures,
subterranean, gnomes, pent up by society for purposes of its own.
Outside in the sunshine-flooded canyon, long lines of cars rolled down
with their freight of soft-coal; coal which would go to the ends of the
earth, to places the miner never heard of, turning the wheels of
industry whose products the miner would never see. It would make
precious silks for fine ladies, it would cut precious jewels for their
adornment; it would carry long trains of softly upholstered cars across
deserts and over mountains; it would drive palatial steamships out of
wintry tempests into gleaming tropic seas. And the fine ladies in their
precious silks and jewels would eat and sleep and laugh and lie at
ease--and would know no more of the stunted creatures of the dark than
the stunted creatures knew of them. Hal reflected upon this, and subdued
his Anglo-Saxon pride, finding forgiveness for what was repulsive in
these people--their barbarous, jabbering speech, their vermin-ridden
homes, their bare-bottomed babies.
It chanced before many days that Hal got a holiday, relieving the
monotony of his labours as stableman: an accidental holiday, not
provided for in his bargain with the pit-boss. Something went wrong with
the ventilating-course in Number Two, and he began to notice a headache,
and heard the men grumbling that their lamps were burning low. Then, as
matters began to get serious, orders came to get the mules to the
Which meant an amusing adventure. The delight of Hal's pets at seeing
the sunlight was irresistibly comic. They could not be kept from lying
down and rolling on their backs in the cinder-strewn street; and when
they were corralled in a distant part of the camp where actual grass
grew, they abandoned themselves to rapture like a horde of school
children at a picnic.
So Hal had a few free hours; and being still young and not cured of idle
curiosities, he climbed the canyon wall to see the mountains. As he was
sliding down again, toward evening, a vivid spot of colour was painted
into his picture of mine-life; he found himself in somebody's back yard,
and being observed by somebody's daughter, who was taking in the family
wash. It was a splendid figure of a lass, tall and vigorous, with the
sort of hair that in polite circles is called auburn, and that flaming
colour in the cheeks which is Nature's recompense to people who live
where it rains all the time. She was the first beautiful sight Hal had
seen since he had come up the canyon, and it was only natural that he
should be interested. It seemed to him that, so long as the girl stared,
he had a right to stare back. It did not occur to him that he too was a
pleasing sight--that the mountain air had given colour to his cheeks and
a shine to his gay brown eyes, while the mountain winds had blown his
wavy brown hair.
"Hello," said she, at last, in a warm voice, unmistakably Irish.
"Hello yourself," said Hal, in the accepted dialect; then he added, with
more elegance, "Pardon me for trespassing on your wash."
Her grey eyes opened wider. "Go on!" she said.
"I'd rather stay," said Hal. "It's a beautiful sunset."
"I'll move, so ye can see it better." She carried her armful of clothes
over and dropped them into the basket.
"No," said Hal, "it's not so fine now. The colours have faded."
She turned and gazed at him again. "Go on wid ye! I been teased about my
hair since before I could talk."
"'Tis envy," said Hal, dropping into her way of speech; and he came a
few steps nearer, so that he could inspect the hair more closely. It lay
above her brow in undulations which were agreeable to the decorative
instinct, and a tight heavy braid of it fell over her shoulders and
swung to her waist-line. He observed the shoulders, which were sturdy,
obviously accustomed to hard labour; not conforming to accepted romantic
standards of femininity, yet having an athletic grace of their own. They
were covered with a faded blue calico dress, unfortunately not entirely
clean; also, the young man noticed, there was a rent in one shoulder
through which a patch of skin was visible. The girl's eyes, which had
been following his, became defiant; she tossed a piece of her washing
over the shoulder, where it stayed through the balance of the interview.
"Who are ye?" she demanded, suddenly.
"My name's Joe Smith. I'm a stableman in Number Two."
"And what were ye doin' up there, if a body might ask?" She lifted her
grey eyes to the bare mountainside, down which he had come sliding in a
shower of loose stones and dirt.
"I've been surveying my empire," said he.
"My empire. The land belongs to the company, but the landscape belongs
to him who cares for it."
She tossed her head a little. "Where did ye learn to talk like ye do?"
"In another life," said he--"before I became a stableman. Not in entire
forgetfulness, but trailing clouds of glory did I come."
For a moment she wrestled with this. Then a smile broke upon her face.
"Sure, 'tis like a poetry-book! Say some more!"
"_O, singe fort, so suess und fein_!" quoted Hal--and saw her look
"Aren't you American?" she inquired; and he laughed. To speak a foreign
language in North Valley was not a mark of culture!
"I've been listening to the crowd at Reminitsky's," he said,
"Oh! You eat there?"
"I go there three times a day. I can't say I eat very much. Could you
live on greasy beans?"
"Sure," laughed the girl, "the good old pertaties is good enough for
"I should have said you lived on rose leaves!" he observed.
"Go on wid ye! 'Tis the blarney-stone ye been kissin'!"
"'Tis no stone I'd be wastin' my kisses on."
"Ye're gettin' bold, Mister Smith. I'll not listen to ye." And she
turned away, and began industriously taking her clothes from the line.
But Hal did not want to be dismissed. He came a step closer.
"Coming down the mountain-side," he said, "I found something wonderful.
It's bare and grim up there, but I came on a sheltered corner where the
sun shone, and there was a wild rose. Only one! I thought to myself, 'So
roses grow, even in the loneliest parts of the world!'"
"Sure, 'tis a poetry-book again!" she cried. "Why didn't ye bring the
"There is a poetry-book that tells us to 'leave the wild-rose on its
stalk.' It will go on blooming there; but if one were to pluck it, it
would wither in a few hours."
He had meant nothing more by this than to keep the conversation going.
But her answer turned the tide of their acquaintance.
"Ye can never be sure, lad. Perhaps to-night a storm may come and blow
it to pieces. Perhaps if ye'd pulled it and been happy, 'twould 'a been
what the rose was for."
Whatever of unconscious patronage there had been in the poet's attitude
was lost now in the eternal mystery. Whether the girl knew it--or
cared--she had won the woman's first victory. She had caught the man's
mind and pinned it with curiosity. What did this wild rose of the mining
The wild rose, apparently unconscious that she had said anything
epoch-making, was busy with the wash; and meantime Hal Warner studied
her features and pondered her words. From a lady of sophistication they
would have meant only one thing, an invitation; but in this girl's clear
grey eyes was nothing of wantonness, only pain. But what was this pain
in the face and words of one so young, so eager and alive? Was it the
melancholy of her race, the thing one got in old folk-songs? Or was it a
new and special kind of melancholy, engendered in mining-camps in the
far West of America?
The girl's countenance was as intriguing as her words. Her grey eyes
were set under sharply defined dark brows, which did not match her hair.
Her lips also were sharply defined, and straight, almost without curves,
so that it seemed as if her mouth had been painted in carmine upon her
face. These features gave her, when she stared at you, an aspect vivid
and startling, bold, with a touch of defiance. But when she smiled, the
red lips would curve into gentler lines, and the grey eyes would become
wistful, and seemingly darker in colour. Winsome indeed, but not simple,
was this Irish lass!
Hal asked the name of his new acquaintance, and she told him it was Mary
Burke. "Ye've not been here long, I take it," she said, "or ye'd have
heard of 'Red Mary.' 'Tis along of this hair."
"I've not been here long," he answered, "but I shall hope to stay
now--along of this hair! May I come to see you some time, Miss Burke?"
She did not reply, but glanced at the house where she lived. It was an
unpainted, three room cabin, more dilapidated than the average, with
bare dirt and cinders about it, and what had once been a picket-fence,
now falling apart and being used for stove-wood. The windows were
cracked and broken, and upon the roof were signs of leaks that had been
"May I come?" he made haste to ask again--so that he would not seem to
look too critically at her home.
"Perhaps ye may," said the girl, as she picked up the clothes basket. He
stepped forward, offering to carry it, but she did not give it up.
Holding it tight, and looking him defiantly in the face, she said, "Ye
may come, but ye'll not find it a happy place to visit, Mr. Smith. Ye'll
hear soon enough from the neighbours."
"I don't think I know any of your neighbours," said he.
There was sympathy in his voice; but her look was no less defiant.
"Ye'll hear about it, Mr. Smith; but ye'll hear also that I hold me head
up. And 'tis not so easy to do that in North Valley."
"You don't like the place?" he asked; and he was amazed by the effect of
this question, which was merely polite. It was as if a storm cloud had
swept over the girl's face. "I hate it! 'Tis a place of fear and
He hesitated a moment; then, "Will you tell me what you mean by that
when I come?"
But "Red Mary" was winsome again. "When ye come, Mr. Smith, I'll not be
entertaining ye with troubles. I'll put on me company manner, and we'll
go out for a nice walk, if ye please."
All the way as he walked back to Reminitsky's to supper, Hal thought
about this girl; not merely her pleasantness to the eye, so unexpected
in this place of desolation, but her personality, which baffled him--the
pain that seemed always just beneath the surface of her thoughts, the
fierce pride which flashed out at the slightest suggestion of sympathy,
the way she had of brightening when he spoke the language of metaphor,
however trite. How had she come to know about poetry-books? He wanted to
know more about this miracle of Nature--this wild rose blooming on a
There was one of Mary Burke's remarks upon which Hal soon got light--her
statement that North Valley was a place of fear. He listened to the
tales of these underworld men, until it came so that he shuddered with
dread each time that he went down in the cage.
There was a wire-haired and almond eyed Korean, named Cho, a
"rope-rider" in Hal's part of the mine. He was one of those who had
charge of the long trains of cars, called "trips," which were hauled
through the main passage-ways; the name "rope-rider" came from the fact
that he sat on the heavy iron ring to which the rope was attached. He
invited Hal to a seat with him, and Hal accepted, at peril of his job as
well as of his limbs. Cho had picked up what he fondly thought was
English, and now and then one could understand a word. He pointed upon
the ground, and shouted above the rattle of the cars: "Big dust!" Hal
saw that the ground was covered with six inches of coal-dust, while on
the old disused walls one could write his name in it. "Much blow-up!"
said the rope-rider; and when the last empty cars had been shunted off
into the working-rooms, and he was waiting to make up a return "trip,"
he laboured with gestures to explain what he meant. "Load cars. Bang!
Bust like hell!"
Hal knew that the mountain air in this region was famous for its
dryness; he learned now that the quality which meant life to invalids
from every part of the world meant death to those who toiled to keep the
invalids warm. Driven through the mines by great fans, this air took out
every particle of moisture, and left coal dust so thick and dry that
there were fatal explosions from the mere friction of loading-shovels.
So it happened that these mines were killing several times as many men
as other mines throughout the country.
Was there no remedy for this, Hal asked, talking with one of his
mule-drivers, Tim Rafferty, the evening after his ride with Cho. There
was a remedy, said Tim--the law required sprinkling the mines with
"adobe-dust"; and once in Tim's life, he remembered this law's being
obeyed. There had come some "big fellows" inspecting things, and
previous to their visit there had been an elaborate campaign of
sprinkling. But that had been several years ago, and now the apparatus
was stored away, nobody knew where, and one heard nothing about
It was the same with precautions against gas. The North Valley mines
were especially "gassy," it appeared. In these old rambling passages one
smelt a stink as of all the rotten eggs in all the barn-yards of the
world; and this sulphuretted hydrogen was the least dangerous of the
gases against which a miner had to contend. There was the dreaded
"choke-damp," which was odourless, and heavier than air. Striking into
soft, greasy coal, one would open a pocket of this gas, a deposit laid
up for countless ages, awaiting its predestined victim. A man might sink
to sleep as he lay at work, and if his "buddy," or helper, happened to
be out of sight, and to delay a minute too long, it would be all over
with the man. And there was the still more dreaded "fire-damp," which
might wreck a whole mine, and kill scores and even hundreds of men.
Against these dangers there was a "fire-boss," whose duty was to go
through the mine, testing for gas, and making sure that the
ventilating-course was in order, and the fans working properly. The
"fire-boss" was supposed to make his rounds in the early morning, and
the law specified that no one should go to work till he had certified
that all was safe. But what if the "fire-boss" overslept himself, or
happened to be drunk? It was too much to expect thousands of dollars to
be lost for such a reason. So sometimes one saw men ordered to their
work, and sent down grumbling and cursing. Before many hours some of
them would be prostrated with headache, and begging to be taken out; and
perhaps the superintendent would not let them out, because if a few
came, the rest would get scared and want to come also.
Once, only last year, there had been an accident of that sort. A young
mule-driver, a Croatian, told Hal about it while they sat munching the
contents of their dinner-pails. The first cage-load of men had gone down
into the mine, sullenly protesting; and soon afterwards some one had
taken down a naked light, and there had been an explosion which had
sounded like the blowing up of the inside of the world. Eight men had
been killed, the force of the explosion being so great that some of the
bodies had been wedged between the shaft wall and the cage, and it had
been necessary to cut them to pieces to get them out. It was them Japs
that were to blame, vowed Hal's informant. They hadn't ought to turn
them loose in coal mines, for the devil himself couldn't keep a Jap from
sneaking off to get a smoke.
So Hal understood how North Valley was a place of fear. What tales the
old chambers of these mines could have told, if they had had voices! Hal
watched the throngs pouring in to their labours, and reflected that
according to the statisticians of the government eight or nine of every
thousand of them were destined to die violent deaths before a year was
out, and some thirty more would be badly injured. And they knew this,
they knew it better than all the statisticians of the government; yet
they went to their tasks! Reflecting upon this, Hal was full of wonder.
What was the force that kept men at such a task? Was it a sense of duty?
Did they understand that society had to have coal and that some one had
to do the "dirty work" of providing it? Did they have a vision of a
future, great and wonderful, which was to grow out of their ill-requited
toil? Or were they simply fools or cowards, submitting blindly, because
they had not the wit nor the will to do otherwise? Curiosity held him,
he wanted to understand the inner souls of these silent and patient
armies which through the ages have surrendered their lives to other
Hal was coming to know these people; to see them no longer as a mass,
to be despised or pitied in bulk, but as individuals, with individual
temperaments and problems, exactly like people in the world of the
sunlight. Mary Burke and Tim Rafferty, Cho the Korean and Madvik the
Croatian--one by one these individualities etched themselves into the
foreground of Hal's picture, making it a thing of life, moving him to
sympathy and fellowship. Some of these people, to be sure, were stunted
and dulled to a sordid ugliness of soul and body--but on the other hand,
some of them were young, and had the light of hope in their hearts, and
the spark of rebellion.
There was "Andy," a boy of Greek parentage; Androkulos was his right
name--but it was too much to expect any one to get that straight in a
coal-camp. Hal noticed him at the store, and was struck by his beautiful
features, and the mournful look in his big black eyes. They got to
talking, and Andy made the discovery that Hal had not spent all his time
in coal-camps, but had seen the great world. It was pitiful, the
excitement that came into his voice; he was yearning for life, with its
joys and adventures--and it was his destiny to sit ten hours a day by
the side of a chute, with the rattle of coal in his ears and the dust of
coal in his nostrils, picking out slate with his fingers. He was one of
many scores of "breaker-boys."
"Why don't you go away?" asked Hal.
"Christ! How I get away? Got mother, two sisters."
"And your father?" So Hal made the discovery that Andy's father had been
one of those men whose bodies had had to be cut to pieces to get them
out of the shaft. Now the son was chained to the father's place, until
his time too should come!
"Don't want to be miner!" cried the boy. "Don't want to get _kil-lid_!"
He began to ask, timidly, what Hal thought he could do if he were to run
away from his family and try his luck in the world outside. Hal,
striving to remember where he had seen olive-skinned Greeks with big
black eyes in this beautiful land of the free, could hold out no better
prospect than a shoe-shining parlour, or the wiping out of wash-bowls in
a hotel-lavatory, handing over the tips to a fat padrone.
Andy had been to school, and had learned to read English, and the
teacher had loaned him books and magazines with wonderful pictures in
them; now he wanted more than pictures, he wanted the things which they
portrayed. So Hal came face to face with one of the difficulties of
mine-operators. They gathered a population of humble serfs, selected
from twenty or thirty races of hereditary bondsmen; but owing to the
absurd American custom of having public-schools, the children of this
population learned to speak English, and even to read it. So they became
too good for their lot in life; and then a wandering agitator would get
in, and all of a sudden there would be hell. Therefore in every
coal-camp had to be another kind of "fire-boss," whose duty it was to
guard against another kind of explosions--not of carbon monoxide, but of
the human soul.
The immediate duties of this office in North Valley devolved upon Jeff
Cotton, the camp-marshal. He was not at all what one would have expected
from a person of his trade--lean and rather distinguished-looking, a man
who in evening clothes might have passed for a diplomat. But his mouth
would become ugly when he was displeased, and he carried a gun with six
notches upon it; also he wore a deputy-sheriff's badge, to give him
immunity for other notches he might wish to add. When Jeff Cotton came
near, any man who was explosive went off to be explosive by himself. So
there was "order" in North Valley, and it was only on Saturday and
Sunday nights, when the drunks had to be suppressed, or on Monday
mornings when they had to be haled forth and kicked to their work, that
one realised upon what basis this "order" rested.
Besides Jeff Cotton, and his assistant, "Bud" Adams, who wore badges,
and were known, there were other assistants who wore no badges, and were
not supposed to be known. Coming up in the cage one evening, Hal made
some remark to the Croatian mule-driver, Madvik, about the high price of
company-store merchandise, and was surprised to get a sharp kick on the
ankle. Afterwards, as they were on their way to supper, Madvik gave him
the reason. "Red-faced feller, Gus. Look out for him--company spotter."
"Is that so?" said Hal, with interest. "How do you know?"
"I know. Everybody know."
"He don't look like he had much sense," said Hal--who had got his idea
of detectives from Sherlock Holmes.
"No take much sense. Go pit-boss, say, 'Joe feller talk too much. Say
store rob him.' Any damn fool do that. Hey?"
"To be sure," admitted Hal. "And the company pays him for it?"
"Pit-boss pay him. Maybe give him drink, maybe two bits. Then pit-boss
come to you: 'You shoot your mouth off too much, feller. Git the hell
out of here!' See?"
"So you go down canyon. Then maybe you go 'nother mine. Boss say, 'Where
you work?' You say 'North Valley.' He say, 'What your name?' You say,
'Joe Smith.' He say, 'Wait.' He go in, look at paper; he come out, say,
'No job!' You say, 'Why not?' He say, 'Shoot off your mouth too much,
feller. Git the hell out of here!' See?"
"You mean a black-list," said Hal.
"Sure, black-list. Maybe telephone, find out all about you. You do
anything bad, like talk union"--Madvik had dropped his voice and
whispered the word "union"--"they send your picture--don't get job
nowhere in state. How you like that?"
Before long Hal had a chance to see this system of espionage at work,
and he began to understand something of the force which kept these
silent and patient armies at their tasks. On a Sunday morning he was
strolling with his mule-driver friend Tim Rafferty, a kindly lad with a
pair of dreamy blue eyes in his coal-smutted face. They came to Tim's
home, and he invited Hal to come in and meet his family. The father was
a bowed and toil-worn man, but with tremendous strength in his solid
frame, the product of many generations of labour in coal-mines. He was
known as "Old Rafferty," despite the fact that he was well under fifty.
He had been a pit-boy at the age of nine, and he showed Hal a faded
leather album with pictures of his ancestors in the "oul' country"--men
with sad, deeply lined faces, sitting very stiff and solemn to have
their presentments made permanent for posterity.
The mother of the family was a gaunt, grey-haired woman, with no teeth,
but with a warm heart. Hal took to her, because her home was clean; he
sat on the family door-step, amid a crowd of little Rafferties with
newly-washed Sunday faces, and fascinated them with tales of adventures
cribbed from Clark Russell and Captain Mayne Reid. As a reward he was
invited to stay for dinner, and had a clean knife and fork, and a clean
plate of steaming hot potatoes, with two slices of salt pork on the
side. It was so wonderful that he forthwith inquired if he might forsake
his company boarding-house and come and board with them.
Mrs. Rafferty opened wide her eyes. "Sure," exclaimed she, "do you think
you'd be let?"
"Why not?" asked Hal.
"Sure, 't would be a bad example for the others."
"Do you mean I _have_ to board at Reminitsky's?"
"There be six company boardin'-houses," said the woman.
"And what would they do if I came to you?"
"First you'd get a hint, and then you'd go down the canyon, and maybe us
"But there's lots of people have boarders in shanty-town," objected Hal.
"Oh! Them wops! Nobody counts them--they live any way they happen to
fall. But you started at Reminitsky's, and 't would not be healthy for
them that took ye away."
"I see," laughed Hal. "There seem to be a lot of unhealthy things
"Sure there be! They sent down Nick Ammons because his wife bought milk
down the canyon. They had a sick baby, and it's not much you get in this
thin stuff at the store. They put chalk in it, I think; any way, you can
see somethin' white in the bottom."
"So you have to trade at the store, too!"
"I thought ye said ye'd worked in coal-mines," put in Old Rafferty, who
had been a silent listener.
"So I have," said Hal. "But it wasn't quite that bad."
"Sure," said Mrs. Rafferty, "I'd like to know where 'twas then--in this
country. Me and me old man spent weary years a-huntin'."
Thus far the conversation had proceeded naturally; but suddenly it was
as if a shadow passed over it--a shadow of fear. Hal saw Old Rafferty
look at his wife, and frown and make signs to her. After all, what did
they know about this handsome young stranger, who talked so glibly, and
had been in so many parts of the world?
"'Tis not complainin' we'd be," said the old man.
And his wife made haste to add, "If they let peddlers and the like of
them come in, 'twould be no end to it, I suppose. We find they treat us
here as well as anywhere."
"'Tis no joke, the life of workin' men, wherever ye try it," added the
other; and when young Tim started to express an opinion, they shut him
up with such evident anxiety that Hal's heart ached for them, and he
made haste to change the subject.
On the evening of the same Sunday Hal went to pay his promised call upon
Mary Burke. She opened the front door of the cabin to let him in, and
even by the dim rays of the little kerosene lamp, there came to him an
impression of cheerfulness. "Hello," she said--just as she had said it
when he had slid down the mountain into the family wash. He followed her
into the room, and saw that the impression he had got of cheerfulness
came from Mary herself. How bright and fresh she looked! The old blue
calico, which had not been entirely clean, was newly laundered now, and
on the shoulder where the rent had been was a neat patch of unfaded
There being only three rooms in Mary's home, two of these necessarily
bed-rooms, she entertained her company in the kitchen. The room was
bare, Hal saw--there was not even so much as a clock by way of ornament.
The only charm the girl had been able to give to it, in preparation for
company, was that of cleanness. The board floor had been newly sanded
and scrubbed; the kitchen table also had been scrubbed, and the kettle
on the stove, and the cracked tea-pot and bowls on the shelf. Mary's
little brother and sister were in the room: Jennie, a dark-eyed,
dark-haired little girl, frail, with a sad, rather frightened face; and
Tommie, a round headed youngster, like a thousand other round headed and
freckle-faced boys. Both of them were now sitting very straight in their
chairs, staring at the visitor with a certain resentment, he thought. He
suspected that they had been included in the general scrubbing. Inasmuch
as it had been uncertain just when the visitor would come, they must
have been required to do this every night, and he could imagine family
disturbances, with arguments possibly not altogether complimentary to
Mary's new "feller."
There seemed to be a certain uneasiness in the place.
Mary did not invite her company to a seat, but stood irresolute; and
after Hal had ventured a couple of friendly remarks to the children, she
said, abruptly, "Shall we be takin' that walk that we spoke of, Mr.
"Delighted!" said Hal; and while she pinned on her hat before the broken
mirror on the shelf, he smiled at the children and quoted two lines from
his Harrigan song--
"Oh, Mary-Jane, come out in the lane,
The moon is a-shinin' in the old pecan!"
Tommie and Jennie were too shy to answer, but Mary exclaimed, "'Tis in a
tin-can ye see it shinin' here!"
They went out. In the soft summer night it was pleasant to stroll under
the moon--especially when they had come to the remoter parts of the
village, where there were not so many weary people on door-steps and
children playing noisily. There were other young couples walking here,
under the same moon; the hardest day's toil could not so sap their
energies that they did not feel the spell of this soft summer night.
Hal, being tired, was content to stroll and enjoy the stillness; but
Mary Burke sought information about the mysterious young man she was
with. "Ye've not worked long in coal-mines, Mr. Smith?" she remarked.
Hal was a trifle disconcerted. "How did you find that out?"
"Ye don't look it--ye don't talk it. Ye're not like anybody or anything
around here. I don't know how to say it, but ye make me think more of
Flattered as Hal was by this naive confession, he did not want to talk
of the mystery of himself. He took refuge in a question about the
"poetry-books." "I've read some," said the girl; "more than ye'd have
thought, perhaps." This with a flash of her defiance.
He asked more questions, and learned that she, like the Greek boy,
"Andy," had come under the influence of that disturbing American
institution, the public-school; she had learned to read, and the pretty
young teacher had helped her, lending her books and magazines. Thus she
had been given a key to a treasure-house, a magic carpet on which to
travel over the world. These similes Mary herself used--for the Arabian
Nights had been one of the books that were loaned to her. On rainy days
she would hide behind the sofa, reading at a spot where the light crept
in--so that she might be safe from small brothers and sisters!
Joe Smith had read these same books, it appeared; and this seemed
remarkable to Mary, for books cost money and were hard to get. She
explained how she had searched the camp for new magic carpets, finding a
"poetry-book" by Longfellow, and a book of American history, and a story
called "David Copperfield," and last and strangest of all, another story
called "Pride and Prejudice." A curious freak of fortune--the prim and
sentimentally quivering Jane Austen in a coal-camp in a far Western
wilderness! An adventure for Jane, as well as for Mary!
What had Mary made of it, Hal wondered. Had she revelled, shop-girl
fashion, in scenes of pallid ease? He learned that what she had made of
it was despair. This world outside, with its freedom and cleanness, its
people living gracious and worth-while lives, was not for her; she was
chained to a scrub-pail in a coal-camp. Things had got so much worse
since the death of her mother, she said. Her voice had become dull and
hard--Hal thought that he had never heard a young voice express such
"You've never been anywhere but here?" he asked.
"I been in two other camps," she said--"first the Gordon, and then East
Run. But they're all alike."
"But you've been down to the towns?"
"Only for a day, once or twice a year. Once I was in Sheridan, and in a
church I heard a lady sing."
She stopped for a moment, lost in this memory. Then suddenly her voice
changed--and he could imagine in the darkness that she had tossed her
head defiantly. "I'll not be entertainin' company with my troubles! Ye
know how tiresome that is when ye hear it from somebody else--like my
next-door neighbour, Mrs. Zamboni. D' ye know her?"
"No," said Hal.
"The poor old lady has troubles enough, God knows. Her man's not much
good--he's troubled with the drink; and she's got eleven childer, and
that's too many for one woman. Don't ye think so?"
She asked this with a naivete which made Hal laugh. "Yes," he said, "I
"Well, I think people'd help her more if she'd not complain so! And half
of it in the Slavish language, that a body can't understand!" So Mary
began to tell funny things about Mrs. Zamboni and her other polyglot
neighbours, imitating their murdering of the Irish dialect. Hal thought
her humour was naive and delightful, and he led her on to more cheerful
gossip during the remainder of their walk.
But then, as they were on their way home, tragedy fell upon them.
Hearing a step behind them, Mary turned and looked; then catching Hal by
the arm, she drew him into the shadows at the side, whispering to him to
be silent. The bent figure of a man went past them, lurching from side
When he had turned and gone into the house, Mary said, "It's my father.
He's ugly when he's like that." And Hal could hear her quick breathing
in the darkness.
So that was Mary's trouble--the difficulty in her home life to which she
had referred at their first meeting! Hal understood many things in a
flash--why her home was bare of ornament, and why she did not invite her
company to sit down. He stood silent, not knowing what to say. Before he
could find the word, Mary burst out, "Oh, how I hate O'Callahan, that
sells the stuff to my father! His home with plenty to eat in it, and his
wife dressin' in silk and goin' down to mass every Sunday, and thinkin'
herself too good for a common miner's daughter! Sometimes I think I'd
like to kill them both."
"That wouldn't help much," Hal ventured.
"No, I know--there'd only be some other one in his place. Ye got to do
more than that, to change things here. Ye got to get after them that
make money out of O'Callahan."
So Mary's mind was groping for causes! Hal had thought her excitement
was due to humiliation, or to fear of a scene of violence when she
reached home; but she was thinking of the deeper aspects of this
terrible drink problem. There was still enough unconscious snobbery in
Hal Warner for him to be surprised at this phenomenon in a common
miner's daughter; and so, as at their first meeting, his pity was turned
to intellectual interest.
"They'll stop the drink business altogether some day," he said. He had
not known that he was a Prohibitionist; he had become one suddenly!
"Well," she answered, "they'd best stop it soon, if they don't want to
he too late. 'Tis a sight to make your heart sick to see the young lads
comin' home staggerin', too drunk even to fight."
Hal had not had time to see much of this aspect of North Valley. "They
sell to boys?" he asked.
"Sure, who's to care? A boy's money's as good as a man's."
"But I should think the company--"
"The company lets the saloon-buildin'--that's all the company cares."
"But they must care something about the efficiency of their hands!"
"Sure, there's plenty more where they come from. When ye can't work,
they fire ye, and that's all there is to it."
"And is it so easy to get skilled men?"
"It don't take much skill to get out coal. The skill is in keepin' your
bones whole--and if you can stand breakin' 'em, the company can stand
They had come to the little cabin. Mary stood for a moment in silence.
"I'm talkin' bitter again!" she exclaimed suddenly. "And I promised ye
me company manner! But things keep happening to set me off." And she
turned abruptly and ran into the house. Hal stood for a moment wondering
if she would return; then, deciding that she had meant that as good
night, he went slowly up the street.
He fought against a mood of real depression, the first he had known
since his coming to North Valley. He had managed so far to keep a
certain degree of aloofness, that he might see this industrial world
without prejudice. But to-night his pity for Mary had involved him more
deeply. To be sure, he might be able to help her, to find her work in
some less crushing environment; but his mind went on to the
question--how many girls might there be in mining-camps, young and
eager, hungering for life, but crushed by poverty, and by the burden of
the drink problem?
A man walked past Hal, greeting him in the semi-darkness with a nod and
a motion of the hand. It was the Reverend Spragg, the gentleman who was
officially commissioned to combat the demon rum in North Valley.
Hal had been to the little white church the Sunday before, and heard the
Reverend Spragg preach a doctrinal sermon, in which the blood of the
lamb was liberally sprinkled, and the congregation heard where and how
they were to receive compensation for the distresses they endured in
this vale of tears.
What a mockery it seemed! Once, indubitably, people had believed such
doctrines; they had been willing to go to the stake for them. But now
nobody went to the stake for them--on the contrary, the company
compelled every worker to contribute out of his scanty earnings towards
the preaching of them. How could the most ignorant of zealots confront
such an arrangement without suspicion of his own piety? Somewhere at the
head of the great dividend-paying machine that was called the General
Fuel Company must be some devilish intelligence that had worked it all
out, that had given the orders to its ecclesiastical staff: "We want the
present--we leave you the future! We want the bodies--we leave you the
souls! Teach them what you will about heaven--so long as you let us
plunder them on earth!"
In accordance with this devil's program, the Reverend Spragg might
denounce the demon rum, but he said nothing about dividends based on the
renting of rum-shops, nor about local politicians maintained by company
contributions, plus the profits of wholesale liquor. He said nothing
about the conclusions of modern hygiene, concerning over-work as a cause
of the craving for alcohol; the phrase "industrial drinking," it seemed,
was not known in General Fuel Company theology! In fact, when you
listened to such a sermon, you would never have guessed that the hearers
of it had physical bodies at all; certainly you would never have guessed
that the preacher had a body, which was nourished by food produced by
the overworked and under-nourished wage-slaves whom he taught!
For the most part the victims of this system were cowed and spoke of
their wrongs only in whispers; but there was one place in the camp, Hal
found, where they could not keep silence, where their sense of outrage
battled with their fear. This place was the solar plexus of the
mine-organism, the centre of its nervous energies; to change the simile,
it was the judgment-seat, where the miner had sentence passed upon
him--sentence either to plenty, or to starvation and despair.
This place was the "tipple," where the coal that came out of the mine
was weighed and recorded. Every digger, as he came from the cage, made
for this spot. There was a bulletin-board, and on it his number, and the
record of the weights of the cars he had sent out that day. And every
man, no matter how ignorant, had learned enough English to read those
Hal had gradually come to realise that here was the place of drama. Most
of the men would look, and then, without a sound or glance about, would
slouch off with drooping shoulders. Others would mumble to
themselves--or, what amounted to the same thing, would mumble to one
another in barbarous dialects. But about one in five could speak
English; and scarcely an evening passed that some man did not break
loose, shaking his fist at the sky, or at the weigh-boss--behind the
latter's back. He might gather a knot of fellow-grumblers about him; it
was to be noted that the camp-marshal had the habit of being on hand at
It was on one of these occasions that Hal first noticed Mike Sikoria, a
grizzle-haired old Slovak, who had spent twenty years in the mines of
these regions. All the bitterness of all the wrongs of all these years
welled up in Old Mike, as he shouted his score aloud: "Nineteen,
twenty-two, twenty-four, twenty! Is that my weight, Mister? You want me
to believe that's my weight?"
"That's your weight," said the weigh-boss, coldly.
"Well, by Judas, your scale is off, Mister! Look at them cars--them cars
is big! You measure them cars, Mister--seven feet long, three and a half
feet high, four feet wide. And you tell me them don't go but twenty?"
"You don't load them right," said the boss.
"Don't load them right?" echoed the old miner; he became suddenly
plaintive, as if more hurt than angered by such an insinuation. "You
know all the years I work, and you tell me I don't know a load? When I
load a car, I load him like a miner, I don't load him like a Jap, that
don't know about a mine! I put it up--I chunk it up like a stack of hay.
I load him square--like that." With gestures the old fellow was
illustrating what he meant. "See there! There's a ton on the top, and a
ton and a half on the bottom--and you tell me I get only nineteen,
"That's your weight," said the boss, implacably.
"But, Mister, your scale is wrong! I tell you I used to get my weight. I
used to get forty-five, forty-six on them cars. Here's my buddy--ask him
if it ain't so. What is it, Bo?"
"Um m m-mum," said Bo, who was a negro--though one could hardly be sure
of this for the coal-dust on him.
"I can't make a living no more!" exclaimed the old Slovak, his voice
trembling and his wizened dark eyes full of pleading. "What you think I
make? For fifteen days, fifty cents! I pay board, and so help me God,
Mister--and I stand right here--I swear for God I make fifty cents. I
dig the coal and I ain't got no weight, I ain't got nothing! Your scale
"Get out!" said the weigh-boss, turning away.
"But, Mister!" cried Old Mike, following behind him, and pouring his
whole soul into his words. "What is this life, Mister? You work like a
burro, and you don't get nothing for it! You burn your own powder--half
a dollar a day powder--what you think of that? Crosscut--and you get
nothing! Take the skip and a pillar, and you get nothing! Brush--and you
get nothing! Here, by Judas, a poor man, going and working his body to
the last point, and blood is run out! You starve me to death, I say! I
have got to have something to eat, haven't I?"
And suddenly the boss whirled upon him. "Get the hell out of here!" he
shouted. "If you don't like it, get your time and quit. Shut your face,
or I'll shut it for you."
The old man quailed and fell silent. He stood for a moment more, biting
his whiskered lips nervously; then his shoulders sank together, and he
turned and slunk off, followed by his negro helper.
Old Mike boarded at Reminitsky's, and after supper was over, Hal sought
him out. He was easy to know, and proved an interesting acquaintance.
With the help of his eloquence Hal wandered through a score of camps in
the district. The old fellow had a temper that he could not manage, and
so he was always on the move; but all places were alike, he said--there
was always some trick by which a miner was cheated of his earnings. A
miner was a little business man, a contractor who took a certain job,
with its expenses and its chance of profit or loss. A "place" was
assigned to him by the boss--and he undertook to get out the coal from
it, being paid at the rate of fifty-five cents a ton for each ton of
clean coal. In some "places" a man could earn good money, and in others
he would work for weeks, and not be able to keep up with his
It all depended upon the amount of rock and slate that was found with
the coal. If the vein was low, the man had one or two feet of rock to
take off the ceiling, and this had to be loaded on separate cars and
taken away. This work was called "brushing," and for it the miner
received no pay. Or perhaps it was necessary to cut through a new
passage, and clean out the rock; or perhaps to "grade the bottom," and
lay the ties and rails over which the cars were brought in to be loaded;
or perhaps the vein ran into a "fault," a broken place where there was
rock instead of coal--and this rock must be hewed away before the miner
could get at the coal. All such work was called "dead-work," and it was
the cause of unceasing war. In the old days the company had paid extra
for it; now, since they had got the upper hand of the men, they were
refusing to pay. And so it was important to the miner to have a "place"
assigned him where there was not so much of this dead work. And the
"place" a man got depended upon the boss; so here, at the very outset,
was endless opportunity for favouritism and graft, for quarrelling, or
"keeping in" with the boss. What chance did a man stand who was poor and
old and ugly, and could not speak English good? inquired old Mike, with
bitterness. The boss stole his cars and gave them to other people; he
took the weight off the cars, and gave them to fellows who boarded with
him, or treated him to drinks, or otherwise curried favour with him.
"I work five days in the Southeastern," said Mike, and when I work them
five days, so help me God, brother, if I don't get up out of this chair,
fifteen cents I was still in the hole yet. Fourteen inches of rock! And
the Mr. Bishop--that is the superintendent--I says, 'Do you pay
something for that rock?' 'Huh?' says he. 'Well,' I says, 'if you don't
pay nothing for the rock, I don't go ahead with it. I ain't got no place
to put that rock.' 'Get the hell out of here,' says he, and when I
started to fight he pull gun on me. And then I go to Cedar Mountain, and
the super give me work there, and he says, 'You go Number Four,' and he
says, 'Rail is in Number Three, and the ties.' And he says, 'I pay you
for it when you put it in.' So I take it away and I put it in, and I
work till twelve o'clock. Carried the three pair of rails and the ties,
and I pulled all the spikes--"
"Pulled the spikes?" asked Hal.
"Got no good spikes. Got to use old spikes, what you pull out of them
old ties. So then I says, 'What is my half day, what you promise me?'
Says he, 'You ain't dug no coal yet!' 'But, mister,' says I, 'you
promise me pay to pull them spikes and put in them ties!' Says he,
'Company pay nothin' for dead work--you know that,' says he, and that is
all the satisfaction I get."
"And you didn't get your half day's pay?"
"Sure I get nothin'. Boss do just as he please in coal mine."
There was another way, Old Mike explained, in which the miner was at the
mercy of others; this was the matter of stealing cars. Each miner had
brass checks with his number on them, and when he sent up a loaded car,
he hung one of these checks on a hook inside. In the course of the long
journey to the tipple, some one would change the check, and the car was
gone. In some mines, the number was put on the car with chalk; and how
easy it was for some one to rub it out and change it! It appeared to Hal
that it would have been a simple matter to put a number padlock on the
car, instead of a check; but such an equipment would have cost the
company one or two hundred dollars, he was told, and so the stealing
went on year after year.
"You think it's the bosses steal these cars?" asked Hal.
"Sometimes bosses, sometimes bosses' friend--sometimes company himself
steal them from miners." In North Valley it was the company, the old
Slovak insisted. It was no use sending up more than six cars in one day,
be declared; you could never get credit for more than six. Nor was it
worth while loading more than a ton on a car; they did not really weigh
the cars, the boss just ran them quickly over the scales, and had orders
not to go above a certain average. Mike told of an Italian who had
loaded a car for a test, so high that he could barely pass it under the
roof of the entry, and went up on the tipple and saw it weighed himself,
and it was sixty-five hundred pounds. They gave him thirty-five hundred,
and when he started to fight, they arrested him. Mike had not seen him
arrested, but when he had come out of the mine, the man was gone, and
nobody ever saw him again. After that they put a door onto the
weigh-room, so that no one could see the scales.
The more Hal listened to the men and reflected upon these things, the
more he came to see that the miner was a contractor who had no
opportunity to determine the size of the contract before he took it on,
nor afterwards to determine how much work he had done. More than that,
he was obliged to use supplies, over the price and measurements of which
he had no control. He used powder, and would find himself docked at the
end of the month for a certain quantity, and if the quantity was wrong,
he would have no redress. He was charged a certain sum for
"black-smithing"--the keeping of his tools in order; and he would find a
dollar or two deducted from his account each month, even though he had
not been near the blacksmith shop.
Let any business-man in the world consider the proposition, thought Hal,
and say if he would take a contract upon such terms! Would a man
undertake to build a dam, for example, with no chance to measure the
ground in advance, nor any way of determining how many cubic yards of
concrete he had to put in? Would a grocer sell to a customer who
proposed to come into the store and do his own weighing--and meantime
locking the grocer outside? Merely to put such questions was to show the
preposterousness of the thing; yet in this district were fifteen
thousand men working on precisely such terms.
Under the state law, the miner had a right to demand a check-weighman to
protect his interest at the scales, paying this check-weighman's wages
out of his own earnings. Whenever there was any public criticism about
conditions in the coal-mines, this law would be triumphantly cited by
the operators; and one had to have actual experience in order to realise
what a bitter mockery this was to the miner.
In the dining-room Hal sat next to a fair-haired Swedish giant named
Johannson, who loaded timbers ten hours a day. This fellow was one who
indulged in the luxury of speaking his mind, because he had youth and
huge muscles, and no family to tie him down. He was what is called a
"blanket-stiff," wandering from mine to harvest-field and from
harvest-field to lumber-camp. Some one broached the subject of
check-weighmen to him, and the whole table heard his scornful laugh. Let
any man ask for a check-weighman!
"You mean they would fire him?" asked Hal.
"Maybe!" was the answer. "Maybe they make him fire himself."
"How do you mean?"
"They make his life one damn misery till he go."
So it was with check-weighman--as with scrip, and with company stores,
and with all the provisions of the law to protect the miner against
accidents. You might demand your legal rights, but if you did, it was a
matter of the boss's temper. He might make your life one damn misery
till you went of your own accord. Or you might get a string of curses
and an order, "Down the canyon!"--and likely as not the toe of a boot in
your trouser-seat, or the muzzle of a revolver under your nose.
Such conditions made the coal-district a place of despair. Yet there
were men who managed to get along somehow, and to raise families and
keep decent homes. If one had the luck to escape accident, if he did not
marry too young, or did not have too many children; if he could manage
to escape the temptations of liquor, to which overwork and monotony
drove so many; if, above all, he could keep on the right side of his
boss--why then he might have a home, and even a little money on deposit
with the company.
Such a one was Jerry Minetti, who became one of Hal's best friends. He
was a Milanese, and his name was Gerolamo, which had become Jerry in the
"melting-pot." He was about twenty-five years of age, and what is
unusual with the Italians, was of good stature. Their meeting took
place--as did most of Hal's social experiences--on a Sunday. Jerry had
just had a sleep and a wash, and had put on a pair of new blue overalls,
so that he presented a cheering aspect in the sunlight. He walked with
his head up and his shoulders square, and one could see that he had few
cares in the world.
But what caught Hal's attention was not so much Jerry as what followed
at Jerry's heels; a perfect reproduction of him, quarter-size, also with
a newly-washed face and a pair of new blue overalls. He too had his head
up, and his shoulders square, and he was an irresistible object,
throwing out his heels and trying his best to keep step. Since the
longest strides he could take left him behind, he would break into a
run, and getting close under his father's heels, would begin keeping
step once more.
Hal was going in the same direction, and it affected him like the music
of a military band; he too wanted to throw his head up and square his
shoulders and keep step. And then other people, seeing the grin on his
face, would turn and watch, and grin also. But Jerry walked on gravely,
unaware of this circus in the rear.
They went into a house; and Hal, having nothing to do but enjoy life,
stood waiting for them to come out. They returned in the same
procession, only now the man had a sack of something on his shoulder,
while the little chap had a smaller load poised in imitation. So Hal
grinned again, and when they were opposite him, he said, "Hello."
"Hello," said Jerry, and stopped. Then, seeing Hal's grin, he grinned
back; and Hal looked at the little chap and grinned, and the little chap
grinned back. Jerry, seeing what Hal was grinning at, grinned more than
ever; so there stood all three in the middle of the road, grinning at
one another for no apparent reason.
"Gee, but that's a great kid!" said Hal.
"Gee, you bet!" said Jerry; and he set down his sack. If some one
desired to admire the kid, he was willing to stop any length of time.
"Yours?" asked Hal.
"You bet!" said Jerry, again.
"Hello, Buster!" said Hal.
"Hello yourself!" said the kid. One could see in a moment that he had
been in the "melting-pot."
"What's your name?" asked Hal.
"Jerry," was the reply.
"And what's his name?" Hal nodded towards the man--
"Got any more like you at home?"
"One more," said Big Jerry. "Baby."
"He ain't like me," said Little Jerry. "He's little."
"And you're big?" said Hal.
"He can't walk!"
"Neither can you walk!" laughed Hal, and caught him up and slung him
onto his shoulder. "Come on, we'll ride!"
So Big Jerry took up his sack again, and they started off; only this
time it was Hal who fell behind and kept step, squaring his shoulders
and flinging out his heels. Little Jerry caught onto the joke, and
giggled and kicked his sturdy legs with delight. Big Jerry would look
round, not knowing what the joke was, but enjoying it just the same.