Part 2 out of 8
They came to the three-room cabin which was Both Jerrys' home; and Mrs.
Jerry came to the door, a black-eyed Sicilian girl, who did not look old
enough to have even one baby. They had another bout of grinning, at the
end of which Big Jerry said, "You come in?"
"Sure," said Hal.
"You stay supper," added the other. "Got spaghetti."
"Gee!" said Hal. "All right, let me stay, and pay for it."
"Hell, no!" said Jerry. "You no pay!"
"No! No pay!" cried Mrs. Jerry, shaking her pretty head energetically.
"All right," said Hal, quickly, seeing that he might hurt their
feelings. "I'll stay if you're sure you have enough."
"Sure, plenty!" said Jerry. "Hey, Rosa?"
"Sure, plenty!" said Mrs. Jerry.
"Then I'll stay," said Hal. "You like spaghetti, Kid?"
"Jesus!" cried Little Jerry.
Hal looked about him at this Dago home. It was a tome in keeping with
its pretty occupant. There were lace curtains in the windows, even
shinier and whiter than at the Rafferties; there was an incredibly
bright-coloured rug on the floor, and bright coloured pictures of Mount
Vesuvius and of Garibaldi on the walls. Also there was a cabinet with
many interesting treasures to look at--a bit of coral and a conch-shell,
a shark's tooth and an Indian arrow-head, and a stuffed linnet with a
glass cover over him. A while back Hal would not have thought of such
things as especially stimulating to the imagination; but that was before
he had begun to spend five-sixths of his waking hours in the bowels of
He ate supper, a real Dago supper; the spaghetti proved to be real Dago
spaghetti, smoking hot, with tomato sauce and a rich flavour of
meat-juice. And all through the meal Hal smacked his lips and grinned at
Little Jerry, who smacked his lips and grinned back. It was all so
different from feeding at Reminitsky's pig-trough, that Hal thought he
had never had such a good supper in his life before. As for Mr. and Mrs.
Jerry, they were so proud of their wonderful kid, who could swear in
English as good as a real American, that they were in the seventh
When the meal was over, Hal leaned back and exclaimed, just as he had at
the Rafferties', "Lord, how I wish I could board here!"
He saw his host look at his wife. "All right," said he. "You come here.
I board you. Hey, Rosa?"
"Sure," said Rosa.
Hal looked at them, astonished. "You're sure they'll let you?" he asked.
"Let me? Who stop me?"
"I don't know. Maybe Reminitsky. You might get into trouble."
Jerry grinned. "I no fraid," said he. "Got friends here. Carmino my
cousin. You know Carmino?"
"No," said Hal.
"Pit-boss in Number One. He stand by me. Old Reminitsky go hang! You
come here, I give you bunk in that room, give you good grub. What you
"Twenty-seven a month."
"All right, you pay me twenty-seven, you get everything good. Can't get
much stuff here, but Rosa good cook, she fix it."
Hal's new friend--besides being a favourite of the boss--was a
"shot-firer"; it was his duty to go about the mine at night, setting off
the charges of powder which the miners had got ready by day. This was
dangerous work, calling for a skilled man, and it paid pretty well; so
Jerry got on in the world and was not afraid to speak his mind, within
certain limits. He ignored the possibility that Hal might be a company
spy, and astonished him by rebellious talk of the different kinds of
graft in North Valley, and at other places he had worked since coming to
America as a boy. Minetti was a Socialist, Hal learned; he took an
Italian Socialist paper, and the clerk at the post-office knew what sort
of paper it was, and would "josh" him about it. What was more
remarkable, Mrs. Minetti was a Socialist also; that meant a great deal
to a man, as Jerry explained, because she was not under the domination
of a priest.
Hal made the move at once, sacrificing part of a month's board, which
Reminitsky would charge against his account with the company. But he was
willing to pay for the privilege of a clean home and clean food. To his
amusement he found that in the eyes of his Irish friends he was losing
caste by going to live with the Minettis. There were most rigid social
lines in North Valley, it appeared. The Americans and English and Scotch
looked down upon the Welsh and Irish; the Welsh and Irish looked down
upon the Dagoes and Frenchies; the Dagoes and Frenchies looked down upon
Polacks and Hunkies, these in turn upon Greeks, Bulgarians and
"Montynegroes," and so on through a score of races of Eastern Europe,
Lithuanians, Slovaks, and Croatians, Armenians, Roumanians, Rumelians,
Ruthenians--ending up with Greasers, niggers, and last and lowest, Japs.
It was when Hal went to pay another call upon the Rafferties that he
made this discovery. Mary Burke happened to be there, and when she
caught sight of him, her grey eyes beamed with mischief. "How do ye do,
Mr. Minetti?" she cried.
"How do ye do, Miss Rosetti?" he countered.
"You lika da spagett?"
"You no lika da spagett?"
"I told ye once," laughed the girl--"the good old pertaties is good
enough for me!"
"And you remember," said he, "what I answered?"
Yes, she remembered! Her cheeks took on the colour of the rose-leaves he
had specified as her probable diet.
And then the Rafferty children, who had got to know Hal well, joined in
the teasing. "Mister Minetti! Lika da spagetti!" Hal, when he had
grasped the situation, was tempted to retaliate by reminding them that
he had offered to board with the Irish, and been turned down; but he
feared that the elder Rafferty might not appreciate this joke, so
instead he pretended to have supposed all along that the Rafferties were
Italians. He addressed the elder Rafferty gravely, pronouncing the name
with the accent on the second syllable--"Signer Rafferti"; and this so
amused the old man that he chuckled over it at intervals for an hour.
His heart warmed to this lively young fellow; he forgot some of his
suspicions, and after the youngsters had been sent away to bed, he
talked more or less frankly about his life as a coal-miner.
"Old Rafferty" had once been on the way to high station. He had been
made tipple-boss at the San Jose mine, but had given up his job because
he had thought that his religion did not permit him to do what he was
ordered to do. It had been a crude proposition of keeping the men's
score at a certain level, no matter how much coal they might send up;
and when Rafferty had quit rather than obey such orders, he had had to
leave the mine altogether; for of course everybody knew why he had quit,
and his mere presence had the effect of keeping discontent alive.
"You think there are no honest companies at all?" Hal asked.
The old man answered, "There be some, but 'tis not so easy as ye might
think to be honest. They have to meet each other's prices, and when one
short-weights, the others have to. 'Tis a way of cuttin' wages without
the men findin' it out; and there be people that do not like to fall
behind with their profits." Hal found himself thinking of old Peter
Harrigan, who controlled the General Fuel Company, and had made the
remark: "I am a great clamourer for dividends!"
"The trouble with the miner," continued Old Rafferty, "is that he has no
one to speak for him. He stands alone--"
During this discourse, Hal had glanced at "Red Mary," and noticed that
she sat with her arms on the table, her sturdy shoulders bowed in a
fashion which told of a hard day's toil. But here she broke into the
conversation; her voice came suddenly, alive with scorn: "The trouble
with the miner is that he's a _slave!_"
"Ah, now--" put in the old man, protestingly.
"He has the whole world against him, and he hasn't got the sense to get
together--to form a union, and stand by it!"
There fell a sudden silence in the Rafferty home. Even Hal was
startled--for this was the first time during his stay in the camp that
he had heard the dread word "union" spoken above a whisper.
"I know!" said Mary, her grey eyes full of defiance. "Ye'll not have the
word spoken! But some will speak it in spite of ye!"
"'Tis all very well," said the old man. "When ye're young, and a woman
"A woman! Is it only the women that can have courage?"
"Sure," said he, with a wry smile, "'tis the women that have the
tongues, and that can't he stopped from usin' them. Even the boss must
"Maybe so," replied Mary. "And maybe 'tis the women have the most to
suffer in a coal-camp; and maybe the boss knows that." The girl's cheeks
"Mebbe so," said Rafferty; and after that there was silence, while he
sat puffing his pipe. It was evident that he did not care to go on, that
he did not want union speeches made in his home. After a while Mrs.
Rafferty made a timid effort to change the course of the talk, by asking
after Mary's sister, who had not been well; and after they had discussed
remedies for the ailments of children, Mary rose, saying, "I'll be goin'
Hal rose also. "I'll walk with you, if I may," he said.
"Sure," said she; and it seemed that the cheerfulness of the Rafferty
family was restored by the sight of a bit of gallantry.
They strolled down the street, and Hal remarked, "That's the first word
I've heard here about a union."
Mary looked about her nervously. "Hush!" she whispered.
"But I thought you said you were talking about it!"
She answered, "'Tis one thing, talkin' in a friend's house, and another
outside. What's the good of throwin' away your job?"
He lowered his voice. "Would you seriously like to have a union here?"
"Seriously?" said she. "Didn't ye see Mr. Rafferty--what a coward he is?
That's the way they are! No, 'twas just a burst of my temper. I'm a bit
crazy to-night--something happened to set me off."
He thought she was going on, but apparently she changed her mind.
Finally he asked, "What happened?"
"Oh, 'twould do no good to talk," she answered; and they walked a bit
farther in silence.
"Tell me about it, won't you?" he said; and the kindness in his tone
made its impression.
"'Tis not much ye know of a coal-camp, Joe Smith," she said. "Can't ye
imagine what it's like--bein' a woman in a place like this? And a woman
they think good-lookin'!"
"Oh, so it's that!" said he, and was silent again. "Some one's been
troubling you?" he ventured after a while.
"Sure! Some one's always troublin' us women! Always! Never a day but we
hear it. Winks and nudges--everywhere ye turn."
"Who is it?"
"The bosses, the clerks--anybody that has a chance to wear a stiff
collar, and thinks he can offer money to a girl. It begins before she's
out of short skirts, and there's never any peace afterwards."
"And you can't make them understand?"
"I've made them understand me a bit; now they go after my old man."
"Sure! D'ye suppose they'd not try that? Him that's so crazy for liquor,
and can never get enough of it!"
"And your father?--" But Hal stopped. She would not want that question
She had seen his hesitation, however. "He was a decent man once," she
declared. "'Tis the life here, that turns a man into a coward. 'Tis
everything ye need, everywhere ye turn--ye have to ask favours from some
boss. The room ye work in, the dead work they pile on ye; or maybe 'tis
more credit ye need at the store, or maybe the doctor to come when ye're
sick. Just now 'tis our roof that leaks--so bad we can't find a dry
place to sleep when it rains."
"I see," said Hal. "Who owns the house?"
"Sure, there's none but company houses here."
"Who's supposed to fix it?"
"Mr. Kosegi, the house-agent. But we gave him up long ago--if he does
anything, he raises the rent. Today my father went to Mr. Cotton. He's
supposed to look out for the health of the place, and it seems hardly
healthy to keep people wet in their beds."
"And what did Cotton say?" asked Hal, when she stopped again.
"Well, don't ye know Jeff Cotton--can't ye guess what he'd say? 'That's
a fine girl ye got, Burke! Why don't ye make her listen to reason?' And
then he laughed, and told me old father he'd better learn to take a
hint. 'Twas bad for an old man to sleep in the rain--he might get
carried off by pneumonia."
Hal could no longer keep back the question, "What did your father do?"
"I'd not have ye think hard of my old father," she said, quickly. "He
used to be a fightin' man, in the days before O'Callahan had his way
with him. But now he knows what a camp-marshal can do to a miner!"
Mary Burke had said that the company could stand breaking the bones of
its men; and not long after Number Two started up again, Hal had a
chance to note the truth of this assertion.
A miner's life depended upon the proper timbering of the room where he
worked. The company undertook to furnish the timbers, but when the miner
needed them, he would find none at hand, and would have to make the
mile-long trip to the surface. He would select timbers of the proper
length, and would mark them--the understanding being that they were to
be delivered to his room by some of the labourers. But then some one
else would carry them off--here was more graft and favouritism, and the
miner might lose a day or two of work, while meantime his account was
piling up at the store, and his children might have no shoes to go to
school. Sometimes he would give up waiting for timbers, and go on taking
out coal; so there would be a fall of rock--and the coroner's jury would
bring in a verdict of "negligence," and the coal-operators would talk
solemnly about the impossibility of teaching caution to miners. Not so
very long ago Hal had read an interview which the president of the
General Fuel Company had given to a newspaper, in which he set forth the
idea that the more experience a miner had the more dangerous it was to
employ him, because he thought he knew it all, and would not heed the
wise regulations which the company laid down for his safety!
In Number Two mine there were some places being operated by the "room
and pillar" method; the coal being taken out as from a series of rooms,
the portion corresponding to the walls of the rooms being left to uphold
the roof. These walls are the "pillars"; and when the end of the vein is
reached, the miner begins to work backwards, "pulling the pillars," and
letting the roof collapse behind him. This is a dangerous task; as he
works, the man has to listen to the drumming sounds of the rock above
his head, and has to judge just when to make his escape. Sometimes he is
too anxious to save a tool; or sometimes the collapse comes without
warning. In that case the victim is seldom dug out; for it must be
admitted that a man buried under a mountain is as well buried as a
company could be expected to arrange it.
In Number Two mine a man was caught in this way. He stumbled as he ran,
and the lower half of his body was pinned fast; the doctor had to come
and pump opiates into him, while the rescue crew was digging him loose.
The first Hal knew of the accident was when he saw the body stretched
out on a plank, with a couple of old sacks to cover it. He noticed that
nobody stopped for a second glance. Going up from work, he asked his
friend Madvik, the mule driver, who answered, "Lit'uanian feller--got
mash." And that was all. Nobody knew him, and nobody cared about him.
It happened that Mike Sikoria had been working nearby, and was one of
those who helped to get the victim out. Mike's negro "buddy" had been in
too great haste to get some of the rock out of the way, and had got his
hand crushed, and would not be able to work for a month or so. Mike told
Hal about it, in his broken English. It was a terrible thing to see a
man trapped like that, gasping, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
Fortunately he was a young fellow, and had no family.
Hal asked what they would do with the body; the answer was they would
bury him in the morning. The company had a piece of ground up the
"But won't they have an inquest?" he inquired.
"Inques'?" repeated the other. "What's he?"
"Doesn't the coroner see the body?"
The old Slovak shrugged his bowed shoulders; if there was a coroner in
this part of the world, he had never heard of it; and he had worked in a
good many mines, and seen a good many men put under the ground. "Put him
in a box and dig a hole," was the way he described the procedure.
"And doesn't the priest come?"
"Priest too far away."
Afterwards Hal made inquiry among the English-speaking men, and learned
that the coroner did sometimes come to the camp. He would empanel a jury
consisting of Jeff Cotton, the marshal, and Predovich, the Galician Jew
who worked in the company store, and a clerk or two from the company's
office, and a couple of Mexican labourers who had no idea what it was
all about. This jury would view the corpse, and ask a couple of men what
had happened, and then bring in a verdict: "We find that the deceased
met his death from a fall of rock caused by his own fault." (In one case
they had added the picturesque detail: "No relatives, and damned few
For this service the coroner got a fee, and the company got an official
verdict, which would be final in case some foreign consul should
threaten a damage suit. So well did they have matters in hand that
nobody in North Valley had ever got anything for death or injury; in
fact, as Hal found later, there had not been a damage suit filed against
any coal-operator in that county for twenty-three years!
This particular, accident was of consequence to Hal, because it got him
a chance to see the real work of mining. Old Mike was without a helper,
and made the proposition that Hal should take the job. It was better
than a stableman's, for it paid two dollars a day.
"But will the boss let me change?" asked Hal.
"You give him ten dollar, he change you," said Mike.
"Sorry," said Hal, "I haven't got ten dollars."
"You give him ten dollar credit," said the other.
And Hal laughed. "They take scrip for graft, do they?"
"Sure they take him," said Mike.
"Suppose I treat my mules bad?" continued the other. "So I can make him
change me for nothing!"
"He change you to hell!" replied Mike. "You get him cross, he put us in
bad room, cost us ten dollar a week. No, sir--you give him drink, say
fine feller, make him feel good. You talk American--give him jolly!"
Hal was glad of this opportunity to get better acquainted with his
pit-boss. Alec Stone was six feet high, and built in proportion, with
arms like hams--soft with fat, yet possessed of enormous strength. He
had learned his manner of handling men on a sugar-plantation in
Louisiana--a fact which, when Hal heard it, explained much. Like a
stage-manager who does not heed the real names of his actors, but calls
them by their character-names, Stone had the habit of addressing his men
by their nationalities: "You, Polack, get that rock into the car! Hey,
Jap, bring them tools over here! Shut your mouth, now, Dago, and get to
work, or I'll kick the breeches off you, sure as you're alive!"
Hal had witnessed one occasion when there was a dispute as to whose duty
it was to move timbers. There was a great two-handled cross-cut saw
lying on the ground, and Stone seized it and began to wave it, like a
mighty broadsword, in the face of a little Bohemian miner. "Load them
timbers, Hunkie, or I'll carve you into bits!" And as the terrified man
shrunk back, he followed, until his victim was flat against a wall, the
weapon swinging to and fro under his nose after the fashion of "The Pit
and the Pendulum." "Carve you into pieces, Hunkie! Carve you into
stew-meat!" When at last the boss stepped back, the little Bohemian
leaped to load the timbers.
The curious part about it to Hal was that Stone seemed to be reasonably
good-natured about such proceedings. Hardly one time in a thousand did
he carry out his bloodthirsty threats, and like as not he would laugh
when he had finished his tirade, and the object of it would grin in
turn--but without slackening his frightened efforts. After the
broad-sword waving episode, seeing that Hal had been watching, the boss
remarked, "That's the way you have to manage them wops." Hal took this
remark as a tribute to his American blood, and was duly flattered.
He sought out the boss that evening, and found him with his feet upon
the railing of his home. "Mr. Stone," said he, "I've something I'd like
to ask you."
"Fire away, kid," said the other.
"Won't you come up to the saloon and have a drink?"
"Want to get something out of me, hey? You can't work me, kid!" But
nevertheless he slung down his feet from the railing, and knocked the
ashes out of his pipe and strolled up the street with Hal.
"Mr. Stone," said Hal, "I want to make a change."
"What's that? Got a grouch on them mules?"
"No, sir, but I got a better job in sight. Mike Sikoria's buddy is laid
up, and I'd like to take his place, if you're willing."
"Why, that's a nigger's place, kid. Ain't you scared to take a nigger's
"Don't you know about hoodoos?"
"What I want," said Hal, "is the nigger's pay."
"No," said the boss, abruptly, "you stick by them mules. I got a good
stableman, and I don't want to spoil him. You stick, and by and by I'll
give you a raise. You go into them pits, the first thing you know you'll
get a fall of rock on your head, and the nigger's pay won't be no good
They came to the saloon and entered. Hal noted that a silence fell
within, and every one nodded and watched. It was pleasant to be seen
going out with one's boss.
O'Callahan, the proprietor, came forward with his best society smile and
joined them, and at Hal's invitation they ordered whiskies. "No, you
stick to your job," continued the pit-boss. "You stay by it, and when
you've learned to manage mules, I'll make a boss out of you, and let you
Some of the bystanders tittered. The pit-boss poured down his whiskey,
and set the glass on the bar. "That's no joke," said he, in a tone that
every one could hear. "I learned that long ago about niggers. They'd say
to me, 'For God's sake, don't talk to our niggers like that. Some night
you'll have your house set afire.' But I said, 'Pet a nigger, and you've
got a spoiled nigger.' I'd say, 'Nigger, don't you give me any of your
imp, or I'll kick the breeches off you.' And they knew I was a
gentleman, and they stepped lively."
"Have another drink," said Hal.
The pit-boss drank, and becoming more sociable, told nigger stories. On
the sugar-plantations there was a rush season, when the rule was twenty
hours' work a day; when some of the niggers tried to shirk it, they
would arrest them for swearing or crap-shooting, and work them as
convicts, without pay. The pit-boss told how one "buck" had been brought
before the justice of the peace, and the charge read, "being
cross-eyed"; for which offence he had been sentenced to sixty days' hard
labour. This anecdote was enjoyed by the men in the saloon--whose
race-feelings seemed to be stronger than their class-feelings.
When the pair went out again, it was late, and the boss was cordial.
"Mr. Stone," began Hal, "I don't want to bother you, but I'd like first
rate to get more pay. If you could see your way to let me have that
buddy's job, I'd be more than glad to divide with you."
"Divide with me?" said Stone. "How d'ye mean?" Hal waited with some
apprehension--for if Mike had not assured him so positively, he would
have expected a swing from the pit-boss's mighty arm.
"It's worth about fifteen a month more to me. I haven't any cash, but if
you'd be willing to charge off ten dollars from my store-account, it
would be well worth my while."
They walked for a short way in silence. "Well, I'll tell you," said the
boss, at last; "that old Slovak is a kicker--one of these fellows that
thinks he could run the mine if he had a chance. And if you get to
listenin' to him, and think you can come to me and grumble, by God--"
"That's all right, sir," put in Hal, quickly. "I'll manage that for
you--I'll shut him up. If you'd like me to, I'll see what fellows he
talks with, and if any of them are trying to make trouble, I'll tip you
"Now that's the talk," said the boss, promptly. "You do that, and I'll
keep my eye on you and give you a chance. Not that I'm afraid of the old
fellow--I told him last time that if I heard from him again, I'd kick
the breeches off him. But when you got half a thousand of this foreign
scum, some of them Anarchists, and some of them Bulgars and Montynegroes
that's been fightin' each other at home--"
"I understand," said Hal. "You have to watch 'em."
"That's it," said the pit-boss. "And by the way, when you tell the
store-clerk about that fifteen dollars, just say you lost it at poker."
"I said ten dollars," put in Hal, quickly.
"Yes, I know," responded the other. "But _I_ said fifteen!"
Hal told himself with satisfaction that he was now to do the real work
of coal-mining. His imagination had been occupied with it for a long
time; but as so often happens in the life of man, the first contact with
reality killed the results of many years' imagining. It killed all
imagining, in fact; Hal found that his entire stock of energy, both
mental and physical, was consumed in enduring torment. If any one had
told him the horror of attempting to work in a room five feet high, he
would not have believed it. It was like some of the dreadful devices of
torture which one saw in European castles, the "iron maiden" and the
"spiked collar." Hal's back burned as if hot irons were being run up and
down it; every separate joint and muscle cried aloud. It seemed as if he
could never learn the lesson of the jagged ceiling above his head--he
bumped it and continued to bump it, until his scalp was a mass of cuts
and bruises, and his head ached till he was nearly blind, and he would
have to throw himself flat on the ground.
Then old Mike Sikoria would grin. "I know. Like green mule! Some day get
Hal recalled the great thick callouses on the flanks of his former
charges, where the harness rubbed against them. "Yes, I'm a 'green
mule,' all right!"
It was amazing how many ways there were to bruise and tear one's
fingers, loading lumps of coal into a car. He put on a pair of gloves,
but these wore through in a day. And then the gas, and the smoke of
powder, stifling one; and the terrible burning of the eyes, from the
dust and the feeble light. There was no way to rub these burning eyes,
because everything about one was equally dusty. Could anybody have
imagined the torment of that--any of those ladies who rode in softly
upholstered parlour-cars, or reclined upon the decks of steam-ships in
gleaming tropic seas?
Old Mike was good to his new "buddy." Mike's spine was bent and his
hands were hardened by forty years of this sort of toil, so he could do
the work of two men, and entertain his friend with comments into the
bargain. The old fellow had the habit of talking all the time, like a
child; he would talk to his helper, to himself, to his tools. He would
call these tools by obscene and terrifying names--but with entire
friendliness and good humour. "Get in there, you son-of-a-gun!" he would
say to his pick. "Come along here, you wop!" he would say to his car.
"In with you, now, you old buster!" he would say to a lump of coal. And
he would lecture Hal on the details of mining. He would tell stories of
successful days, or of terrible mishaps. Above all he would tell about
rascality--cursing the "G. F. C.," its foremen and superintendents, its
officials, directors and stock-holders, and the world which permitted
such a criminal institution to exist.
Noon-time would come, and Hal would lie upon his back, too worn to eat.
Old Mike would sit munching; his abundant whiskers came to a point on
his chin, and as his jaws moved, he looked for all the world like an
aged billy-goat. He was a kind-hearted and anxious old billy-goat, and
sought to tempt his buddy with a bit of cheese or a swig of cold coffee.
He believed in eating--no man could keep up steam if he did not stoke
the furnace. Failing in this, he would try to divert Hal's mind, telling
stories of mining-life in America and Russia. He was most proud to have
an "American feller" for a buddy, and tried to make the work as easy as
possible, for fear lest Hal might quit.
Hal did not quit; but he would drag himself out towards night, so
exhausted that he would fall asleep in the cage. He would fall asleep at
supper, and go in and sink down on his cot and sleep like a log. And oh,
the torture of being routed out before daybreak! Having to shake the
sleep out of his head, and move his creaking joints, and become aware of
the burning in his eyes, and the blisters and sores on his hands!
It was a week before he had a moment that was not pain; and he never got
fully used to the labour. It was impossible for any one to work so hard
and keep his mental alertness, his eagerness and sensitiveness; it was
impossible to work so hard and be an adventurer--to be anything, in
fact, but a machine. Hal had heard that phrase of contempt, "the inertia
of the masses," and had wondered about it. He no longer wondered, he
knew. Could a man be brave enough to protest to a pit-boss when his body
was numb with weariness? Could he think out a definite conclusion as to
his rights and wrongs, and back his conclusion with effective action,
when his mental faculties were paralysed by such weariness of body?
Hal had come here, as one goes upon the deck of a ship in mid-ocean, to
see the storm. In this ocean of social misery, of ignorance and despair,
one saw upturned, tortured faces, writhing limbs and clutching hands; in
one's ears was a storm of lamentation, upon one's cheek a spray of blood
and tears. Hal found himself so deep in this ocean that he could no
longer find consolation in the thought that he could escape whenever he
wanted to: that he could say to himself, It is sad, it is terrible--but
thank God, I can get out of it when I choose! I can go back into the
warm and well-lighted saloon and tell the other passengers how
picturesque it is, what an interesting experience they are missing!
During these days of torment, Hal did not go to see "Red Mary"; but
then, one evening, the Minettis' baby having been sick, she came in to
ask about it, bringing what she called "a bit of a custard" in a bowl.
Hal was suspicious enough of the ways of men, especially of
business-men; but when it came to women he was without insight--it did
not occur to him as singular that an Irish girl with many troubles at
home should come out to nurse a Dago woman's baby. He did not reflect
that there were plenty of sick Irish babies in the camp, to whom Mary
might have taken her "bit of a custard." And when he saw the surprise of
Rosa, who had never met Mary before, he took it to be the touching
gratitude of the poor!
There are, in truth, many kinds of women, with many arts, and no man has
time to learn them all. Hal had observed the shop-girl type, who dress
themselves with many frills, and cast side-long glances, and indulge in
fits of giggles to attract the attention of the male; he was familiar
with the society-girl type, who achieve the same end with more subtle
and alluring means. But could there be a type who hold little Dago
babies in their laps, and call them pretty Irish names, and feed them
custard out of a spoon? Hal had never heard of that kind, and he thought
that "Red Mary" made a charming picture--a Celtic madonna with a
Sicilian infant in her arms.
He noticed that she was wearing the same faded blue calico-dress with a
patch on the shoulder. Man though he was, he realised that dress is an
important consideration in the lives of women. He was tempted to suspect
that this blue calico might be the only dress that Mary owned; but
seeing it newly laundered every time, he concluded that she must have at
least one other. At any rate, here she was, crisp and fresh-looking; and
with the new shining costume, she had put on the long promised "company
manner": high spirits and badinage, precisely like any belle of the
world of luxury, who powders and bedecks herself for a ball. She had
been grim and complaining in former meetings with this interesting young
man; she had frightened him away, apparently; perhaps she could win him
back by womanliness and good humour.
She rallied him upon his battered scalp and his creaking back, telling
him he looked ten years older--which he was fully prepared to believe.
Also she had fun with him for working under a Slovak--another loss of
caste, it appeared! This was a joke the Minettis could share
in--especially Little Jerry, who liked jokes. He told Mary how Joe Smith
had had to pay fifteen dollars for his new job, besides several drinks
at O'Callahan's. Also he told how Mike Sikoria had called Joe his "green
mule." Little Jerry complained about the turn of events, for in the old
days Joe had taught him a lot of fine new games--and now he was sore,
and would not play them. Also, in the old days he had sung a lot of
jolly songs, full of the most fascinating rhymes. There was a song about
a "monkey puzzle tree"! Had Mary ever seen that kind of tree? Little
Jerry never got tired of trying to imagine what it might look like.
The Dago urchin stood and watched gravely while Mary fed the custard to
the baby; and when two or three spoonfuls were held out to him, he
opened his mouth wide, and afterwards licked his lips. Gee, that was
When the last taste was gone, he stood gazing at Mary's shining coronet.
"Say," said he, "was your hair always like that?"
Hal and Mary burst into laughter, while Rosa cried "Hush!" She was never
sure what this youngster would say next.
"Sure, did ye think I painted it?" asked Mary.
"I didn't know," said Little Jerry. "It looks so nice and new." And he
turned to Hal. "Ain't it?"
"You bet," said Hal, and added, "Go on and tell her about it. Girls like
"Compliments?" echoed Little Jerry. "What's that?"
"Why," said Hal, "that's when you say that her hair is like the sunrise,
and her eyes are like twilight, or that she's a wild rose on a
"Oh," said the Dago urchin, somewhat doubtfully. "Anyhow," he added,
"she make nice custard!"
The time came for Mary to take her departure, and Hal got up, wincing
with pain, to escort her home. She regarded him gravely, having not
realised before how seriously he was suffering. As they walked along she
asked, "Why do ye do such work, when ye don't have to?"
"But I _do_ have to! I have to earn a living!"
"Ye don't have to earn it that way! A bright young fellow like you--an
"Well," said Hal, "I thought it would be interesting to see coal
"Now ye've seen it," said the girl--"now quit!"
"But it won't do me any harm to go on for a while!"
"Won't it? How can ye know? When any day they may carry you out on a
Her "company manner" was gone; her voice was full of bitterness, as it
always was when she spoke of North Valley. "I know what I'm tellin' ye,
Joe Smith. Didn't I lose two brothers in it--as fine lads as ye'd find
anywhere in the world! And many another lad I've seen go in laughin',
and come out a corpse--or what is worse, for workin' people, a cripple.
Sometimes I'd like to go and stand at the pit-mouth in the mornin' and
cry to them, 'Go back, go back! Go down the canyon this day! Starve, if
ye have to, beg if ye have to, only find some other work but
Her voice had risen to a passion of protest; when she went on a new note
came into it--a note of personal terror. "It's worse now--since you
came, Joe! To see ye settin' out on the life of a miner--you, that are
young and strong and different. Oh, go away, Joe, go away while ye can!"
He was astonished at her intensity. "Don't worry about me, Mary," he
said. "Nothing will happen to me. I'll go away after a while."
The path was irregular, and he had been holding her arm as they walked.
He felt her trembling, and went on again, quickly, "It's not I that
should go away, Mary. It's yourself. You hate the place--it's terrible
for you to have to live here. Have you never thought of going away?"
She did not answer at once, and when she did the excitement was gone
from her voice; it was flat and dull with despair. "'Tis no use to think
of me. There's nothin' I can do--there's nothin' any girl can do when
she's poor. I've tried--but 'tis like bein' up against a stone wall. I
can't even save the money to get on a train with! I've tried it--I been
savin' for two years--and how much d'ye think I got, Joe? Seven dollars!
Seven dollars in two years! No--ye can't save money in a place where
there's so many things that wring the heart. Ye may hate them for being
cowards--but ye must help when ye see a man killed, and his family
turned out without a roof to cover them in the winter-time!"
"You're too tender-hearted, Mary."
"No, 'tis not that! Should I go off and leave me own brother and sister,
that need me?"
"But you could earn money and send it to them."
"I earn a little here--I do cleanin' and nursin' for some that need me."
"But outside--couldn't you earn more?"
"I could get a job in a restaurant for seven or eight a week, but I'd
have to spend more, and what I sent home would not go so far, with me
away. Or I could get a job in some other woman's home, and work fourteen
hours a day for it. But, Joe, 'tis not more drudgery I want, 'tis
somethin' fair to look upon--somethin' of my own!" She flung out her
arms suddenly like one being stifled. "Oh, I want somethin' that's fair
Again he felt her trembling. Again the path was rough, and having an
impulse of sympathy, he put his arm about her. In the world of leisure,
one might indulge in such considerateness, and he assumed it would not
he different with a miner's daughter. But then, when she was close to
him, he felt, rather than heard, a sob.
"Mary!" he whispered; and they stopped. Almost without realising it, he
put his other arm about her, and in a moment more he felt her warm
breath on his cheek, and she was trembling and shaking in his embrace.
"Joe! Joe!" she whispered. "_You_ take me away!"
She was a rose in a mining-camp, and Hal was deeply moved. The primrose
path of dalliance stretched fair before him, here in the soft summer
night, with a moon overhead which bore the same message as it bore in
the Italian gardens of the leisure-class. But not many minutes passed
before a cold fear began to steal over Hal. There was a girl at home,
waiting for him; and also there was the resolve which had been growing
in him since his coming to this place--a resolve to find some way of
compensation to the poor, to repay them for the freedom and culture he
had taken; not to prey upon them, upon any individual among them. There
were the Jeff Cottons for that!
"Mary," he pleaded, "we mustn't do this."
"Because--I'm not free. There is some one else."
He felt her start, but she did not draw away.
"Where?" she asked, in a low voice.
"At home, waiting for me."
"And why didn't ye tell me?"
"I don't know."
Hal realised in a moment that the girl had ground of complaint against
him. According to the simple code of her world, he had gone some
distance with her; he had been seen to walk out with her, he had been
accounted her "fellow." He had led her to talk to him of herself--he had
insisted upon having her confidences. And these people who were poor did
not have subtleties, there was no room in their lives for intellectual
curiosities, for Platonic friendships or philanderings. "Forgive me,
Mary!" he said.
She made no answer; but a sob escaped her, and she drew back from his
arms--slowly. He struggled with an impulse to clasp her again. She was
beautiful, warm with life--and so much in need of happiness!
But he held himself in check, and for a minute or two they stood apart.
Then he asked, humbly, "We can still be friends, Mary, can't we? You
must know--I'm so _sorry_!"
But she could not endure being pitied. "'Tis nothin'," she said. "Only I
thought I was going to get away! That's what ye mean to me."
Hal had promised Alec Stone to keep a look-out for trouble-makers; and
one evening the boss stopped him on the street, and asked him if he had
anything to report. Hal took the occasion to indulge his sense of
"There's no harm in Mike Sikoria," said he. "He likes to shoot off his
head, but if he's got somebody to listen, that's all he wants. He's just
old and grouchy. But there's another fellow that I think would bear
"Who's that?" asked the boss.
"I don't know his last name. They call him Gus and he's a 'cager.'
Fellow with a red face."
"I know," said Stone--"Gus Durking."
"Well, he tried his best to get me to talk about unions. He keeps
bringing it up, and I think he's some kind of trouble-maker."
"I see," said the boss. "I'll get after him."
"You won't say I told you," said Hal, anxiously.
"Oh, no--sure not." And Hal caught the trace of a smile on the
He went away, smiling in his turn. The "red-faced feller. Gus," was the
person Madvik had named as being a "spotter" for the company!
There were ins and outs to this matter of "spotting," and sometimes it
was not easy to know what to think. One Sunday morning Hal went for a
walk up the canyon, and on the way he met a young chap who got to
talking with him, and after a while brought up the question of
working-conditions in North Valley. He had only been there a week, he
said, but everybody he had met seemed to be grumbling about short
weight. He himself had a job as an "outside man," so it made no
difference to him, but he was interested, and wondered what Hal had
Straightway came the question, was this really a workingman, or had Alec
Stone set some one to spying upon his spy. This was an intelligent
fellow, an American--which in itself was suspicious, for most of the new
men the company got in were from "somewhere East of Suez."
Hal decided to spar for a while. He did not know, he said, that
conditions were any worse here than elsewhere. You heard complaints, no
matter what sort of job you took.
Yes, said the stranger, but matters seemed to be especially bad in the
coal-camps. Probably it was because they were so remote, and the
companies owned everything in sight.
"Where have you been?" asked Hal, thinking that this might trap him.
But the other answered straight; he had evidently worked in half a dozen
of the camps. In Mateo he had paid a dollar a month for wash-house
privileges, and there had never been any water after the first three men
had washed. There had been a common wash-tub for all the men, an
unthinkably filthy arrangement. At Pine Creek--Hal found the very naming
of the place made his heart stand still--at Pine Creek he had boarded
with his boss, but the roof of the building leaked, and everything he
owned was ruined; the boss would do nothing--yet when the boarder moved,
he lost his job. At East Ridge, this man and a couple of other fellows
had rented a two room cabin and started to board themselves, in spite of
the fact that they had to pay a dollar-fifty a sack for potatoes and
eleven cents a pound for sugar at the company store. They had continued
until they made the discovery that the water supply had run short, and
that the water for which they were paying the company a dollar a month
was being pumped from the bottom of the mine, where the filth of mules
and men was plentiful!
Hal forced himself to remain non-committal; he shook his head and said
it was too bad, but the workers always got it in the neck, and he didn't
see what they could do about it. So they strolled back to the camp, the
stranger evidently baffled, and Hal, for his part, feeling like the
reader of a detective story at the end of the first chapter. Was this
young man the murderer, or was he the hero? One would have to read on in
the book to find out!
Hal kept his eye upon his new acquaintance, and perceived that he was
talking with others. Before long the man tackled Old Mike; and Mike of
course could not refuse an invitation to grumble, though it came from
the devil himself. Hal decided that something must be done about it.
He consulted his friend Jerry, who, being a radical, might have some
touch-stone by which to test the stranger. Jerry sought him out at
noon-time, and came back and reported that he was as much in the dark as
Hal. Either the man was an agitator, seeking to "start something," or
else he was a detective sent in by the company. There was only one way
to find out--which was for some one to talk freely with him, and see
what happened to that person!
After some hesitation, Hal decided that he would be the victim. It
rewakened his love of adventure, which digging in a coal-mine had
subdued in him. The mysterious stranger was a new sort of miner, digging
into the souls of men; Hal would countermine him, and perhaps blow him
up. He could afford the experiment better than some others--better, for
example, than little Mrs. David, who had already taken the stranger into
her home, and revealed to him the fact that her husband had been a
member of the most revolutionary of all miners' organisations, the South
So next Sunday Hal invited the stranger for another walk. The man showed
reluctance--until Hal said that he wanted to talk to him. As they walked
up the canyon, Hal began, "I've been thinking about what you said of
conditions in these camps, and I've concluded it would be a good thing
if we had a little shaking up here in North Valley."
"Is that so?" said the other.
"When I first came here, I used to think the men were grouchy. But now
I've had a chance to see for myself, and I don't believe anybody gets a
square deal. For one thing, nobody gets full weight in these mines--at
least not unless he's some favourite of the boss. I'm sure of it, for
I've tried all sorts of experiments with my partner. We've loaded a car
extra light, and got eighteen hundredweight, and then we've loaded one
high and solid, so that we'd know it had twice as much in it--but all we
ever got was twenty-two and twenty-three. There's just no way you can
get over that--though everybody knows those big cars can be made to hold
two or three tons."
"Yes, I suppose they might," said the other.
"And if you get the smallest piece of rock in, you get a 'double-O,'
sure as fate; and sometimes they say you got rock in when you didn't.
There's no law to make them prove it."
"No, I suppose not."
"What it comes to is simply this--they make you think they are paying
fifty-five a ton, but they've secretly cut you down to thirty-five. And
yesterday at the company-store I paid a dollar and a half for a pair of
blue overalls that I'd priced in Pedro for sixty cents."
"Well," said the other, "the company has to haul them up here, you
So, gradually, Hal made the discovery that the tables were turned--the
mysterious personage was now occupied in holding _him_ at arm's length!
For some reason, Hal's sudden interest in industrial justice had failed
to make an impression.
So his career as a detective came to an inglorious end. "Say, man!" he
exclaimed "What's your game, anyhow?"
"Game?" said the other, quietly. "How do you mean?"
"I mean, what are you here for?"
"I'm here for two dollars a day--the same as you, I guess."
Hal began to laugh. "You and I are like a couple of submarines, trying
to find each other under water. I think we'd better come to the surface
to do our fighting."
The other considered the simile, and seemed to like it. "You come
first," said he. But he did not smile. His quiet blue eyes were fixed on
Hal with deadly seriousness.
"All right," said Hal; "my story isn't very thrilling. I'm not an
escaped convict, I'm not a company spy, as you may be thinking. Nor am I
a 'natural born' coal-miner. I happen to have a brother and some friends
at home who think they know about the coal-industry, and it got on my
nerves, and I came to see for myself. That's all, except that I've found
things interesting, and want to stay on a while, so I hope you aren't a
The other walked in silence, weighing Hal's words. "That's not exactly
what you'd call a usual story," he remarked, at last.
"I know," replied Hal. "The best I can say for it is that it's true."
"Well," said the stranger, "I'll take a chance on it. I have to trust
somebody, if I'm ever to get anywhere. I picked you out because I liked
your face." He gave Hal another searching look as he walked. "Your smile
isn't that of a cheat. But you're young--so let me remind you of the
importance of secrecy in this place."
"I'll keep mum," said Hal; and the stranger opened a flap inside his
shirt, and drew out a letter which certified him to be Thomas Olson, an
organiser for the United Mine-Workers, the great national union of the
Hal was so startled by this discovery that he stopped in his tracks and
gazed at the man. He had heard a lot about "trouble-makers" in the
camps, but so far the only kind he had seen were those hired by the
company to make trouble for the men. But now, here was a union
organiser! Jerry had suggested the possibility, but Hal had not thought
of it seriously; an organiser was a mythological creature, whispered
about by the miners, cursed by the company and its servants, and by
Hal's friends at home. An incendiary, a fire-brand, a loudmouthed,
irresponsible person, stirring up blind and dangerous passions! Having
heard such things all his life, Hal's first impulse was of distrust. He
felt like the one-legged old switchman who had given him a place to
sleep, after his beating at Pine Creek, and who had said, "Don't you
talk no union business to me!"
Seeing Hal's emotion, the organiser gave an uneasy laugh. "While you're
hoping I'm not a 'dick,' I trust you understand I'm hoping _you're_ not
Hal's answer was to the point. "I was taken for an organiser once," he
said, and his hands sought the seat of his ancient bruises.
The other laughed. "You got off with a beating? You were lucky. Down in
Alabama, not so long ago, they tarred and feathered one of us."
Dismay came upon Hal's face; but after a moment he too began to laugh.
"I was just thinking about my brother and his friends--what they'd have
said if I'd come home from Pine Creek in a coat of tar and feathers!"
"Possibly," ventured the other, "they'd have said you got what you
"Yes, that seems to be their attitude. That's the rule they apply to all
the world--if anything goes wrong with you, it must he your own fault.
It's a land of equal opportunity."
"And you'll notice," said the organiser, "that the more privileges
people have had, the more boldly they talk that way."
Hal began to feel a sense of comradeship with this stranger, who was
able to understand one's family troubles! It had been a long time since
Hal had talked with any one from the outside world, and he found it a
relief to his mind. He remembered how, after he had got his beating, he
had lain out in the rain and congratulated himself that he was not what
the guards had taken him for. Now he was curious about the psychology of
an organiser. A man must have strong convictions to follow that
He made the remark, and the other answered, "You can have my pay any
time you'll do my work. But let me tell you, too, it isn't being beaten
and kicked out of camp that bothers one most; it isn't the camp-marshal
and the spy and the blacklist. Your worst troubles are inside the heads
of the fellows you're trying to help! Have you ever thought what it
would mean to try to explain things to men who speak twenty different
"Yes, of course," said Hal. "I wonder how you ever get a start."
"Well, you look for an interpreter--and maybe he's a company spy. Or
maybe the first man you try to convert reports you to the boss. For, of
course, some of the men are cowards, and some of them are crooks;
they'll sell out the next fellow for a better 'place'--maybe for a glass
"That must have a tendency to weaken your convictions," said Hal.
"No," said the other, in a matter of fact tone. "It's hard, but one
can't blame the poor devils. They're ignorant--kept so deliberately. The
bosses bring them here, and have a regular system to keep them from
getting together. And of course these European peoples have their old
prejudices--national prejudices, religious prejudices, that keep them
apart. You see two fellows, one you think is exactly as miserable as the
other--but you find him despising the other, because back home he was
the other's superior. So they play into the bosses' hands."
They had come to a remote place in the canyon, and found themselves
seats on a flat rock, where they could talk in comfort.
"Put yourself in their place," said the organiser. "They're in a strange
country, and one person tells them one thing, and another tells them
something else. The masters and their agents say: 'Don't trust the union
agitators. They're a lot of grafters, they live easy and don't have to
work. They take your money and call you out on strike, and you lose your
jobs and your home; they sell you out, maybe, and go on to some other
place to repeat the same trick.' And the workers think maybe that's
true; they haven't the wit to see that if the union leaders are corrupt,
it must be because the bosses are buying them. So you see, they're
completely bedevilled; they don't know which way to turn."
The man was speaking quietly, but there was a little glow of excitement
in his face. "The company is forever repeating that these people are
satisfied--that it's we who are stirring them up. But are they
satisfied? You've been here long enough to know!"
"There's no need to discuss that," Hal answered. "Of course they're not
satisfied! They've seemed to me like a lot of children crying in the
dark--not knowing what's the matter with them, or who's to blame, or
where to turn for help."
Hal found himself losing his distrust of this man. He did not correspond
in any way to Hal's imaginary picture of a union organiser; he was a
blue-eyed, clean-looking young American, and instead of being wild and
loud-mouthed, he seemed rather wistful. He had indignation, of course,
but it did not take the form of ranting or florid eloquence; and this
repression was making its appeal to Hal, who, in spite of his democratic
impulses, had the habits of thought of a class which shrinks from
noisiness and over-emphasis.
Also Hal was interested in his attitude towards the weaknesses of
working-people. The "inertia" of the poor, which caused so many people
to despair for them--their cowardice and instability--these were things
about which Hal had heard all his life. "You can't help them," people
would say. "They're dirty and lazy, they drink and shirk, they betray
each other. They've always been like that." The idea would be summed up
in a formula: "You can't change human nature!" Even Mary Burke, herself
one of the working-class, spoke of the workers in this angry and
scornful way. But Olson had faith in their manhood, and went ahead to
awaken and teach them.
To his mind the path was clear and straight. "They must be taught the
lesson of solidarity. As individuals, they're helpless in the power of
the great corporations; but if they stand together, if they sell their
labour as a unit--then they really count for something." He paused, and
looked at the other inquiringly. "How do you feel about unions?"
Hal answered, "They're one of the things I want to find out about. You
hear this and that--there's so much prejudice on each side. I want to
help the under dog, but I want to be sure of the right way."
"What other way is there?" And Olson paused. "To appeal to the tender
hearts of the owners?"
"Not exactly; but mightn't one appeal to the world in general--to public
opinion? I was brought up an American, and learned to believe in my
country. I can't think but there's some way to get justice. Maybe if the
men were to go into politics--"
"Politics?" cried Olson. "My God! How long have you been in this place?"
"Only a couple of months."
"Well, stay till November, and see what they do with the ballot-boxes in
"I can imagine, of course--"
"No, you can't. Any more than you could imagine the graft and the
"But if the men should take to voting together--"
"How _can_ they take to voting together--when any one who mentions the
idea goes down the canyon? Why, you can't even get naturalisation
papers, unless you're a company man; they won't register you, unless the
boss gives you an O. K. How are you going to make a start, unless you
have a union?"
It sounded reasonable, Hal had to admit; but he thought of the stories
he had heard about "walking delegates," all the dreadful consequences of
"union domination." He had not meant to go in for unionism!
Olson was continuing. "We've had laws passed, a whole raft of laws about
coal-mining--the eight-hour law, the anti-scrip law, the company-store
law, the mine-sprinkling law, the check-weighman law. What difference
has it made in North Valley that there are such laws on the
statute-books? Would you ever even know about them?"
"Ah, now!" said Hal. "If you put it that way--if your movement is to
have the law enforced--I'm with you!"
"But how will you get the law enforced, except by a union? No individual
man can do it--it's 'down the canyon' with him if he mentions the law.
In Western City our union people go to the state officials, but they
never do anything--and why? They know we haven't got the men behind us!
It's the same with the politicians as it is with the bosses--the union
is the thing that counts!"
Hal found this an entirely new argument. "People don't realise that
idea--that men have to be organised to get their _legal_ rights."
And the other threw up his hands with a comical gesture. "My God! If you
want to make a list of the things that people don't realise about us
Olson was eager to win Hal, and went on to tell all the secrets of his
work. He sought men who believed in unions, and were willing to take the
risk of trying to convert others. In each place he visited he would get
a group together, and would arrange some way to communicate with them
after he left, smuggling in propaganda literature for distribution. So
there would be the nucleus of an organisation. In a year or two they
would have such a nucleus in every camp, and then they would be ready to
come into the open, calling meetings in the towns, and in places in the
canyons to which the miners would flock. So the flame of revolt would
leap up; men would join the movement faster than the companies could get
rid of them, and they would make a demand for their rights, backed with
the threat of a strike throughout the entire district.
"You understand," added Olson, "we have a legal right to organise--even
though the bosses disapprove. You need not stand back on that score."
"Yes," said Hal; "but it occurs to me that as a matter of tactics, it
would be better here in North Valley if you chose some issue there's
less controversy about; if, for instance, you'd concentrate on getting a
The other smiled. "We'd have to have a union to back the demand; so
what's the difference?"
"Well," argued Hal, "there are prejudices to be reckoned with. Some
people don't like the idea of a union--they think it means tyranny and
The organiser laughed. "You aren't convinced but that it does yourself,
are you! Well, all I can tell you is, if you want to tackle the job of
getting a check-weighman in North Valley, I'll not stand in your way!"
Here was an idea--a real idea! Life had grown dull for Hal since he had
become a buddy, working in a place five feet high. This would promise
But was it a thing he wanted to do? So far he had been an observer of
conditions in this coal-camp. He had convinced himself that conditions
were cruel, and he had pretty well convinced himself that the cruelty
was needless and deliberate. But when it came to a question of an action
to be taken--then he hesitated, and old prejudices and fears made
themselves heard. He had been told that labour was "turbulent" and
"lazy," that it had to be "ruled with a strong hand"; now, was he
willing to weaken the strong hand, to ally himself with those who
"fomented labour troubles"?
But this would not be the same thing, he told himself. This suggestion
of Olson's was different from trade unionism, which might be a
demoralising force, leading the workers from one demand to another,
until they were seeking to "dominate industry." This would be merely an
appeal to the law, a test of that honesty and fair dealing to which the
company everywhere laid claim. If, as the bosses proclaimed, the workers
were fully protected by the check-weighman law; if, as all the world was
made to believe, the reason there was no check-weighman was simply
because the men did not ask for one--why, then there would be no harm
done. If on the other hand a demand for a right that was not merely a
legal right, but a moral right as well--if that were taken by the bosses
as an act of rebellion against the company--well, Hal would understand a
little more about the "turbulence" of labour! If, as Old Mike and
Johannson and the rest maintained, the bosses would "make your life one
damn misery" till you left--then he would be ready to make a few damn
miseries for the bosses in return!
"It would be an adventure," said Hal, suddenly.
And the other laughed. "It would that!"
"You're thinking I'll have another Pine Creek experience," Hal added.
"Well, maybe so--but I have to try things out for myself. You see, I've
got a brother at home, and when I think about going in for revolution, I
have imaginary arguments with him. I want to be able to say 'I didn't
swallow anybody's theories; I tried it for myself, and this is what
"Well," replied the organiser, "that's all right. But while you're
seeking education for yourself and your brother, don't forget that I've
already got my education. I _know_ what happens to men who ask for a
check-weighman, and I can't afford to sacrifice myself proving it
"I never asked you to," laughed Hal. "If I won't join your movement, I
can't expect you to join mine! But if I can find a few men who are
willing to take the risk of making a demand for a check-weighman--that
won't hurt your work, will it?"
"Sure not!" said the other. "Just the opposite--it'll give me an object
lesson to point to. There are men here who don't even know they've a
legal right to a check-weighman. There are others who know they don't
get their weights, but aren't sure its the company that's cheating them.
If the bosses should refuse to let any one inspect the weights, if they
should go further and fire the men who ask it--well, there'll be plenty
of recruits for my union local!"
"All right," said Hal. "I'm not setting out to recruit your union local,
but if the company wants to recruit it, that's the company's affair!"
And on this bargain the two shook hands.
THE SERFS OF KING COAL
Hal was now started upon a new career, more full of excitements than
that of stableman or buddy, with perils greater than those of falling
rock or the hind feet of mules in the stomach. The inertia which
overwork produces had not had time to become a disease with him; youth
was on his side, with its zest for more and yet more experience. He
found it thrilling to be a conspirator, to carry about with him secrets
as dark and mysterious as the passages of the mine in which he worked.
But Jerry Minetti, the first person he told of Tom Olson's purpose in
North Valley, was older in such thrills. The care-free look which Jerry
was accustomed to wear vanished abruptly, and fear came into his eyes.
"I know it come some day," he exclaimed--"trouble for me and Rosa!"
"How do you mean?"
"We get into it--get in sure. I say Rosa, 'Call yourself Socialist--what
good that do? No help any. No use to vote here--they don't count no
Socialist vote, only for joke!' I say, 'Got to have union. Got to
strike!' But Rosa say, 'Wait little bit. Save little bit money, let
children grow up. Then we help, no care if we no got any home.'"
"But we're not going to start a union now!" objected Hal. "I have
another plan for the present."
Jerry, however, was not to be put at ease. "No can wait!" he declared.
"Men no stand it! I say, 'It come some day quick--like blow-up in mine!
Somebody start fight, everybody fight.'" And Jerry looked at Rosa, who
sat with her black eyes fixed anxiously upon her husband. "We get into
it," he said; and Hal saw their eyes turn to the room where Little Jerry
and the baby were sleeping.
Hal said nothing--he was beginning to understand the meaning of
rebellion to such people. He watched with curiosity and pity the
struggle that went on; a struggle as old as the soul of man--between the
voice of self-interest, of comfort and prudence, and the call of duty,
of the ideal. No trumpet sounded for this conflict, only the still small
After a while Jerry asked what it was Hal and Olson had planned; and Hal
explained that he wanted to make a test of the company's attitude toward
the check-weighman law. Hal thought it a fine scheme; what did Jerry
Jerry smiled sadly. "Yes, fine scheme for young feller--no got family!"
"That's all right," said Hal, "I'll take the job--I'll be the
"Got to have committee," said Jerry--"committee go see boss."
"All right, but we'll get young fellows for that too--men who have no
families. Some of the fellows who live in the chicken-coops in
shanty-town. They won't care what happens to them."
But Jerry would not share Hal's smile. "No got sense 'nough, them
fellers. Take sense to stick together." He explained that they would
need a group of men to stand back of the committee; such a group would
have to be organised, to hold meetings in secret--it would be
practically the same thing as a union, would be so regarded by the
bosses and their spotters. And no organisation of any sort was permitted
in the camps. There had been some Serbians who had wanted to belong to a
fraternal order back in their home country, but even that had been
forbidden. If you wanted to insure your life or your health, the company
would attend to it--and get the profit from it. For that matter, you
could not even buy a post-office money-order, to send funds back to the
old country; the post-office clerk, who was at the same time a clerk in
the company-store, would sell you some sort of a store-draft.
So Hal was facing the very difficulties about which Olson had warned
him. The first of them was Jerry's fear. Yet Hal knew that Jerry was no
"coward"; if any man had a contempt for Jerry's attitude, it was because
he had never been in Jerry's place!
"All I'll ask of you now is advice," said Hal. "Give me the names of
some young fellows who are trustworthy, and I'll get their help without
anybody suspecting you."
"You my boarder!" was Jerry's reply to this.
So again Hal was "up against it." "You mean that would get you into
"Sure! They know we talk. They know I talk Socialism, anyhow. They fire
"But how about your cousin, the pit-boss in Number One?"
"He no help. May be get fired himself. Say damn fool--board
"All right," said Hal. "Then I'll move away now, before it's too late.
You can say I was a trouble-maker, and you turned me off."
The Minettis sat gazing at each other--a mournful pair. They hated to
lose their boarder, who was such good company, and paid them such good
money. As for Hal, he felt nearly as bad, for he liked Jerry and his
girl-wife, and Little Jerry--even the black-eyed baby, who made so much
noise and interrupted conversation!
"No!" said Jerry. "I no run, away! I do my share!"
"That's all right," replied Hal. "You do your share--but not just yet.
You stay on in the camp and help Olson after I'm fired. We don't want
the best men put out at once."
So, after further argument, it was decided, and Hal saw little Rosa sink
back in her chair and draw a deep breath of relief. The time for
martyrdom was put off; her little three-roomed cabin, her furniture and
her shining pans and her pretty white lace curtains, might be hers for a
few weeks longer!
Hal went back to Reminitsky's boarding-house; a heavy sacrifice, but not
without its compensations, because it gave him more chance to talk with
He and Jerry made up a list of those who could be trusted with the
secret: the list beginning with the name of Mike Sikoria. To be put on a
committee, and sent to interview a boss, would appeal to Old Mike as the
purpose for which he had been put upon earth! But they would not tell
him about it until the last minute, for fear lest in his excitement he
might shout out the announcement the next time he lost one of his cars.
There was a young Bulgarian miner named Wresmak who worked near Hal. The
road into this man's room ran up an incline, and he had hardly been able
to push his "empties" up the grade. While he was sweating and straining
at the task, Alec Stone had come along, and having a giant's contempt
for physical weakness, began to cuff him. The man raised his
arm--whether in offence or to ward off the blow, no one could be sure;
but Stone fell upon him and kicked him all the way down the passage,
pouring out upon him furious curses. Now the man was in another room,
where he had taken out over forty car-loads of rock, and been allowed
only three dollars for it. No one who watched his face when the pit-boss
passed would doubt that this man would be ready to take his chances in a
movement of protest.
Then there was a man whom Jerry knew, who had just come out of the
hospital, after contact with the butt-end of the camp-marshal's
revolver. This was a Pole, who unfortunately did not know a word of
English; but Olson, the organiser, had got into touch with another Pole,
who spoke a little English, and would pass the word on to his
fellow-countryman. Also there was a young Italian, Rovetta, whom Jerry
knew and whose loyalty he could vouch for.
There was another person Hal thought of--Mary Burke. He had been
deliberately avoiding her of late; it seemed the one safe thing to
do--although it seemed also a cruel thing, and left his mind ill at
ease. He went over and over what had happened. How had the trouble got
started? It is a man's duty in such cases to take the blame upon
himself; but a man does not like to take blame upon himself, and he
tries to make it as light as possible. Should Hal say that it was
because he had been too officious that night in helping Mary where the
path was rough? She had not actually needed such help, she was quite as
capable on her feet as he! But he had really gone farther than that--he
had had a definite sentimental impulse; and he had been a cad--he should
have known all along that all this girl's discontent, all the longing of
her starved soul, would become centred upon him, who was so "different,"
who had had opportunity, who made her think of the "poetry-books"!
But here suddenly seemed a solution of the difficulty; here was a new
interest for Mary, a safe channel in which her emotions could run. A
woman could not serve on a miners' committee, but she would be a good
adviser, and her sharp tongue would be a weapon to drive others into
line. Being aflame with this enterprise, Hal became impersonal,
man-fashion--and so fell into another sentimental trap! He did not stop
to think that Mary's interest in the check-weighman movement might be
conditioned in part by a desire to see more of him; still less did it
occur to him that he might be glad for a pretext to see Mary.
No, he was picturing her in a new role, an activity more inspiriting
than cooking and nursing. His "poetry-book" imagination took fire; he
gave her a hope and a purpose, a pathway with a goal at the end. Had
there not been women leaders in every great proletarian movement?
He went to call on her, and met her at the door of her cabin. "'Tis a
cheerin' sight to see ye, Joe Smith!" she said. And she looked him in
the eye and smiled.
"The same to you, Mary Burke!" he answered.
She was game, he saw; she was going to be a "good sport." But he noticed
that she was paler than when he had seen her last. Could it be that
these gorgeous Irish complexions ever faded? He thought that she was
thinner too; the old blue calico seemed less tight upon her.
Hal plunged into his theme. "Mary, I had a vision of you to-day!"
"Of me, lad? What's that?"
He laughed. "I saw you with a glory in your face, and your hair shining
like a crown of gold. You were mounted on a snow-white horse, and wore a
robe of white, soft and lustrous--like Joan of Arc, or a leader in a
suffrage parade. You were riding at the head of a host--I've still got
the music in my ears, Mary!"
"Go on with ye, lad--what's all this about?"
"Come in and I'll tell you," he said.
So they went into the bare kitchen, and sat in bare wooden chairs--Mary
folding her hands in her lap like a child who has been promised a
fairy-story. "Now hurry," said she. "I want to know about this new dress
ye're givin' me. Are ye tired of me old calico?"
He joined in her smile. "This is a dress you will weave for yourself,
Mary, out of the finest threads of your own nature--out of courage and
devotion and self-sacrifice."
"Sure, 'tis the poetry-book again! But what is it ye're really meanin'?"
He looked about him. "Is anybody here?"
But instinctively he lowered his voice as he told his story. There was
an organiser of the "big union" in the camp, and he was going to rouse
the slaves to protest.
The laughter went out of Mary's face. "Oh! It's that!" she said, in a
flat tone. The vision of the snow-white horse and the soft and lustrous
robe was gone. "Ye can never do anything of that sort here!"
"'Tis the men in this place. Don't ye remember what I told ye at Mr.
Rafferty's? They're cowards!"
"Ah, Mary, it's easy to say that. But it's not so pleasant being turned
out of your home--"
"Do ye have to tell me that?" she cried, with sudden passion. "Haven't I
"Yes, Mary; but I want to _do_ something--"
"Yes, and haven't I wanted to do something? Sure, I've wanted to bite
off the noses of the bosses!"
"Well," he laughed, "we'll make that a part of our programme." But Mary
was not to be lured into cheerfulness; her mood was so full of pain and
bewilderment that he had an impulse to reach out and take her hand
again. But he checked that; he had come to divert her energies into a
"We must waken these men to resistance, Mary!"
"Ye can't do it, Joe--not the English-speakin' men. The Greeks and the
Bulgars, maybe--they're fightin' at home, and they might fight here. But
the Irish never--never! Them that had any backbone went out long ago.
Them that stayed has been made into boot-licks. I know them, every man
of them. They grumble, and curse the boss, but then they think of the
blacklist, and they go back and cringe at his feet."
"What such men want--"
"'Tis booze they want, and carousin' with the rotten women in the
coal-towns, and sittin' up all night winnin' each other's money with a
greasy pack of cards! They take their pleasure where they find it, and
'tis nothin' better they want."
"Then, Mary, if that's so, don't you see it's all the more reason for
trying to teach them? If not for their own sakes, for the sake of their
children! The children, mustn't grow up like that! They are learning
English, at least--"
Mary gave a scornful laugh. "Have ye been up to that school?"
He answered no; and she told him there were a hundred and twenty
children packed in one room, three in a seat, and solid all round the
wall. She went on, with swift anger--the school was supposed to be paid
for out of taxes, but as nobody owned any property but the company, it
was all in the company's hands. The school-board consisted of Mr.
Cartwright, the mine-superintendent, and Jake Predovich, a clerk in the
store, and the preacher, the Reverend Spraggs. Old Spraggs would bump
his nose on the floor if the "super" told him to.
"Now, now!" said Hal, laughing. "You're down on him because his
grandfather was an Orangeman!"
Mary Burke had been suckled upon despair, and the poison of it was deep
in her blood. Hal began to realise that it would be as hard to give her
a hope as to rouse the workers whom she despised. She was brave enough,
no doubt, but how could he persuade her to be brave for men who had no
courage for themselves?
"Mary," he said, "in your heart you don't really hate these people. You
know how they suffer, you pity them for it. You give their children your
last cent when they need it--"
"Ah, lad!" she cried, and he saw tears suddenly spring into her eyes.
"'Tis because I love them so that I hate them! Sometimes 'tis the bosses
I would murder, sometimes 'tis the men. What is it ye're wantin' me to
And then, even before he could answer, she began to run over the list of
her acquaintances in the camp. Yes, there was one man Hal ought to talk
to; he would be too old to join them, but his advice would be
invaluable, and they could be sure he would never betray them. That was
old John Edstrom, a Swede from Minnesota, who had worked in this
district from the time the mines had first started up. He had been
active in the great strike eight years ago, and had been black-listed,
his four sons with him. The sons were scattered now to the four parts of
the world, but the father had stayed nearby, working as a ranch-hand and
railroad labourer, until a couple of years ago, during a rush season, he
had got a chance to come back into the mines.
He was old, old, declared Mary--must be sixty. And when Hal remarked
that that did not sound so frightfully aged, she answered that one
seldom heard of a man being able to work in a coal-mine at that age; in
fact, there were not many who managed to live to that age. Edstrom's
wife was dying now, and he was having a hard time.
"'Twould not be fair to let such an old gentleman lose his job," said
Mary. "But at least he could give ye good advice."
So that evening the two of them went to call on John Edstrom, in a tiny
unpainted cabin in "shanty-town," with a bare earth floor, and a half
partition of rough boards to hide his dying wife from his callers. The
woman's trouble was cancer, and this made calling a trying matter, for
there was a fearful odour in the place. For some time it was impossible
for Hal to force himself to think about anything else; but finally he
overcame this weakness, telling himself that this was a war, and that a
man must be ready for the hospital as well as for the parade-ground.
He looked about, and saw that the cracks of Edstrom's cabin were stopped
with rags, and the broken windowpanes mended with brown paper. The old
man had evidently made an effort to keep the place neat, and Hal noticed
a row of books on a shelf. Because it was cold in these mountain regions
at night, even in September, the old man had a fire in the little
cast-iron stove, and sat huddled by it. There were only a few hairs left
on his head, and his scrubby beard was as white as anything could be in
a coal-camp. The first impression of his face was of its pallor, and
then of the benevolence in the faded dark eyes; also his voice was
gentle, like a caress. He rose to greet his visitors, and put out to Hal
a trembling hand, which resembled the paw of some animal, horny and
misshapen. He made a move to draw up a bench, and apologised for his
unskillful house-keeping. It occurred to Hal that a man might be able to
work in a coal-mine at sixty, and not be able to work in it at
Hal had requested Mary to say nothing about his purpose, until after he
had a chance to judge for himself. So now the girl inquired about Mrs.
Edstrom. There was no news, the man answered; she was lying in a stupor,
as usual. Dr. Barrett had come again, but all he could do was to give
her morphine. No one could do any more, the doctor declared.
"Sure, he'd not know it if they could!" sniffed Mary.
"He's not such a bad one, when he's sober," said Edstrom, patiently.
"And how often is that?" sniffed Mary again. She added, by way of
explanation to Hal, "He's a cousin of the super."
Things were better here than in some places, said Edstrom. At Harvey's
Run, where he had worked, a man had got his eye hurt, and had lost it
through the doctor's instrument slipping; broken arms and legs had been
set wrong, and either the men had to go through life as cripples, or go
elsewhere and have the bones re-broken and reset, It was like everything
else--the doctor was a part of the company machine, and if you had too
much to say about him, it was down the canyon with you. You not only had
a dollar a month taken out of your pay, but if you were injured, and he
came to attend you, he would charge whatever extra he pleased.
"And you have to pay?" asked Hal.
"They take it off your account," said the old man.
"Sometimes they take it when he's done nothin' at all," added Mary.
"They charged Mrs. Zamboni twenty-five dollars for her last baby--and
Dr. Barrett never set foot across her door till three hours after the
baby was in my arms!"
The talk went on. Wishing to draw the old man out, Hal spoke of various
troubles of the miners, and at last he suggested that the remedy might
be found in a union. Edstrom's dark eyes studied him, and then turned to
Mary. "Joe's all right," said the girl, quickly. "You can trust him."
Edstrom made no direct answer to this, but remarked that he had once
been in a strike. He was a marked man, now, and could only stay in the
camp so long as he attended strictly to his own affairs. The part he had
played in the big strike had never been forgotten; the bosses had let
him work again, partly because they had needed him at a rush time, and
partly because the pit-boss happened to be a personal friend.
"Tell him about the big strike," said Mary. "He's new in this district."
The old man had apparently accepted Mary's word for Hal's good faith,
for he began to narrate those terrible events which were a whispered
tradition of the camps. There had been a mighty effort of ten thousand
slaves for freedom; and it had been crushed with utter ruthlessness.
Ever since these mines had been started, the operators had controlled
the local powers of government, and now, in the emergency, they had
brought in the state militia as well, and used it frankly to drive the
strikers back to work. They had seized the leaders and active men, and
thrown them into jail without trial or charges; when the jails would
hold no more, they kept some two hundred in an open stockade, called a
"bull-pen," and finally they loaded them into freight-cars, took them at
night out of the state, and dumped them off in the midst of the desert
without food or water.
John Edstrom had been one of these men. He told how one of his sons had
been beaten and severely injured in jail, and how another had been kept
for weeks in a damp cellar, so that he had come out crippled with
rheumatism for life. The officers of the state militia had done these
things; and when some of the local authorities were moved to protest,
the militia had arrested them--even the judges of the civil courts had
been forbidden to sit, under threat of imprisonment. "To hell with the
constitution!" had been the word of the general in command; his
subordinate had made famous the saying, "No habeas corpus; we'll give
Tom Olson had impressed Hal with his self-control, but this old man made
an even deeper impression upon him. As he listened, he became humble,
touched with awe. Incredible as it might seem, when John Edstrom talked
about his cruel experiences, it was without bitterness in his voice, and
apparently without any in his heart. Here, in the midst of want and
desolation, with his family broken and scattered, and the wolf of
starvation at his door, he could look back upon the past without hatred
of those who had ruined him. Nor was this because he was old and feeble,
and had lost the spirit of revolt; it was because he had studied
economics, and convinced himself that it was an evil system which
blinded men's eyes and poisoned their souls. A better day was coming, he
said, when this evil system would be changed, and it would be possible
for men to be merciful to one another.
At this point in the conversation, Mary Burke gave voice once more to
her corroding despair. How could things ever be changed? The bosses were
mean-hearted, and the men were cowards and traitors. That left nobody
but God to do the changing--and God had left things as they were for
such a long time!
Hal was interested to hear how Edstrom dealt with this attitude. "Mary,"
he said, "did you ever read about ants in Africa?"
"No," said she.
"They travel in long columns, millions and millions of them. And when
they come to a ditch, the front ones fall in, and more and more of them
on top, till they fill up the ditch, and the rest cross over. We are
"No matter how many go in," cried the girl, "none will ever get across.
There's no bottom to the ditch!"
He answered: "That's more than any ant can know. Mary. All they know is
to go in. They cling to each other's bodies, even in death; they make a
bridge, and the rest go over."
"I'll step one side!" she declared, fiercely. "I'll not throw meself
"You may step one side," answered the other--"but you'll step back into
line again. I know you better than you know yourself, Mary."
There was silence in the little cabin. The winds of an early fall
shrilled outside, and life suddenly seemed to Hal a stern and merciless
thing. He had thought in his youthful fervour it would be thrilling to
be a revolutionist; but to be an ant, one of millions and millions, to
perish in a bottomless ditch--that was something a man could hardly
bring himself to face! He looked at the bowed figure of this white
haired toiler, vague in the feeble lamplight, and found himself thinking
of Rembrandt's painting, the Visit of Emmaus: the ill-lighted room in
the dirty tavern, and the two ragged men, struck dumb by the glow of
light about the forehead of their table-companion. It was not fantastic
to imagine a glow of light about the forehead of this soft-voiced old
"I never had any hope it would come in my time," the old man was saying
gently. "I did use to hope my boys might see it--but now I'm not sure
even of that. But in all my life I never doubted that some day the
working-people will cross over to the promised land. They'll no longer
be slaves, and what they make won't be wasted by idlers. And take it
from one who knows, Mary--for a workingman or woman not to have that
faith, is to have lost the reason for living."
Hal decided that it would be safe to trust this man, and told him of his
check-weighman plan. "We only want your advice," he explained,
remembering Mary's warning. "Your sick wife--"
But the old man answered, sadly, "She's almost gone, and I'll soon be
following. What little strength I have left might as well be used for
This business of conspiracy was grimly real to men whose living came out
of coal; but Hal, even at the most serious moments, continued to find in
it the thrill of romance. He had read stories of revolutionists, and of
the police who hunted them. That such excitements were to be had in
Russia, he knew; but if any one had told him they could be had in his
own free America, within a few hours' journey of his home city and his
college-town, he could not have credited the statement.
The evening after his visit to Edstrom, Hal was stopped on the street by
his boss. Encountering him suddenly, Hal started, like a pick-pocket who
runs into a policeman.
"Hello, kid," said the pit-boss.
"Hello, Mr. Stone," was the reply.
"I want to talk to you," said the boss.
"All right, sir." And then, under his breath, "He's got me!"
"Come up to my house," said Stone; and Hal followed, feeling as if
hand-cuffs were already on his wrists.
"Say," said the man, as they walked, "I thought you were going to tell
me if you'd heard any talk."
"I haven't heard any, sir."
"Well," continued Stone, "you want to get busy; there's sure to be
kickers in every coal-camp." And deep within, Hal drew a sigh of relief.
It was a false alarm!
They came to the boss's house, and he took a chair on the piazza and
motioned Hal to take another. They sat in semi-darkness, and Stone
dropped his voice as he began. "What I want to talk to you about now is
something else--this election."
"Didn't you know there was one? The Congressman in this district died,
and there's a special election three weeks from next Tuesday."
"I see, sir." And Hal chuckled inwardly. He would get the information
which Tom Olson had recommended to him!
"You ain't heard any talk about it?" inquired the pit-boss.
"Nothing at all, sir. I never pay much attention to politics--it ain't
in my line."
"Well, that's the way I like to hear a miner talk!" said the pit-boss,
with heartiness. "If they all had sense enough to leave politics to the
politicians, they'd be a sight better off. What they need is to tend to
their own jobs."
"Yes, sir," agreed Hal, meekly--"like I had to tend to them mules, if I
didn't want to get the colic."
The boss smiled appreciatively. "You've got more sense than most of 'em.
If you'll stand by me, there'll be a chance for you to move up in the
"Thank you, Mr. Stone," said Hal. "Give me a chance."
"Well now, here's this election. Every year they send us a bunch of
campaign money to handle. A bit of it might come your way."
"I could use it, I reckon," said Hal, brightening visibly. "What is it
There was a pause, while Stone puffed on his pipe. He went on, in a
business-like manner. "What I want is somebody to feel things out a bit,
and let me know the situation. I thought it better not to use the men
that generally work for me, but somebody that wouldn't be suspected.
Down in Sheridan and Pedro they say the Democrats are making a big stir,
and the company's worried. I suppose you know the 'G. F. C.' is
"I've heard so."
"You might think a congressman don't have much to do with us, way off in
Washington; but it has a bad effect to have him campaigning, telling the
men the company's abusing them. So I'd like you just to kind o'
circulate a bit, and start the men on politics, and see if any of them
have been listening to this MacDougall talk. (MacDougall's this here
Democrat, you know.) And I want to find out whether they've been sending
in literature to this camp, or have any agents here. You see, they claim
the right to come in and make speeches, and all that sort of thing.
North Valley's an incorporated town, so they've got the law on their
side, in a way, and if we shut 'em out, they make a howl in the papers,
and it looks bad. So we have to get ahead of them in quiet ways.
Fortunately there ain't any hall in the camp for them to meet in, and
we've made a local ordinance against meetings on the street. If they try
to bring in circulars, something has to happen to them before they get
"I see," said Hal; he thought of Tom Olson's propaganda literature!
"We'll pass the word out,--it's the Republican the company wants
elected; and you be on the lookout and see how they take it in the
"That sounds easy enough," said Hal. "But tell me, Mr. Stone, why do you
bother? Do so many of these wops have votes?"
"It ain't the wops so much. We get them naturalised on purpose--they
vote our way for a glass of beer. But the English-speaking men, or the
foreigners that's been here too long, and got too big for their
breeches--they're the ones we got to watch. If they get to talking
politics, they don't stop there; the first thing you know, they're
listening to union agitators, and wanting to run the camp."
"Oh yes, I see!" said Hal, and wondered if his voice sounded right.
But the pit-boss was concerned with his own troubles. "As I told Si
Adams the other day, what I'm looking for is fellows that talk some new
lingo--one that nobody will ever understand! But I suppose that would be
too easy. There's no way to keep them from learning some English!"
Hal decided to make use of this opportunity to perfect his education.
"Surely, Mr. Stone," he remarked, "you don't have to count any votes if
you don't want to!"
"Well, I'll tell you," replied Stone; "it's a question of the easiest
way to manage things. When I was superintendent over to Happy Gulch, we
didn't waste no time on politics. The company was Democratic at that
time, and when election night come, we wrote down four hundred votes for
the Democratic candidates. But the first thing we knew, a bunch of
fellers was taken into town and got to swear they'd voted the Republican
ticket in our camp. The Republican papers were full of it, and some fool
judge ordered a recount, and we had to get busy over night and mark up a
new lot of ballots. It gave us a lot of bother!"
The pit-boss laughed, and Hal joined him discreetly.
"So you see, you have to learn to manage. If there's votes for the wrong
candidate in your camp, the fact gets out, and if the returns is too
one-sided, there's a lot of grumbling. There's plenty of bosses that
don't care, but I learned my lesson that time, and I got my own
method--that is not to let any opposition start. See?"
"Yes, I see."
"Maybe a mine-boss has got no right to meddle in politics--but there's