Hal was coming to know these people; to see them no longer as a mass, to be despised or pitied in bulk, but as individuals, with individual temperaments and problems, exactly like people in the world of the sunlight. Mary Burke and Tim Rafferty, Cho the Korean and Madvik the Croatian--one by one these individualities etched themselves into the foreground of Hal's picture, making it a thing of life, moving him to sympathy and fellowship. Some of these people, to be sure, were stunted and dulled to a sordid ugliness of soul and body--but on the other hand, some of them were young, and had the light of hope in their hearts, and the spark of rebellion.
There was "Andy," a boy of Greek parentage; Androkulos was his right name--but it was too much to expect any one to get that straight in a coal-camp. Hal noticed him at the store, and was struck by his beautiful features, and the mournful look in his big black eyes. They got to talking, and Andy made the discovery that Hal had not spent all his time in coal-camps, but had seen the great world. It was pitiful, the excitement that came into his voice; he was yearning for life, with its joys and adventures--and it was his destiny to sit ten hours a day by the side of a chute, with the rattle of coal in his ears and the dust of coal in his nostrils, picking out slate with his fingers. He was one of many scores of "breaker-boys."
"Why don't you go away?" asked Hal.
"Christ! How I get away? Got mother, two sisters."
"And your father?" So Hal made the discovery that Andy's father had been one of those men whose bodies had had to be cut to pieces to get them out of the shaft. Now the son was chained to the father's place, until his time too should come!
"Don't want to be miner!" cried the boy. "Don't want to get _kil-lid_!"
He began to ask, timidly, what Hal thought he could do if he were to run away from his family and try his luck in the world outside. Hal, striving to remember where he had seen olive-skinned Greeks with big black eyes in this beautiful land of the free, could hold out no better prospect than a shoe-shining parlour, or the wiping out of wash-bowls in a hotel-lavatory, handing over the tips to a fat padrone.
Andy had been to school, and had learned to read English, and the teacher had loaned him books and magazines with wonderful pictures in them; now he wanted more than pictures, he wanted the things which they portrayed. So Hal came face to face with one of the difficulties of mine-operators. They gathered a population of humble serfs, selected from twenty or thirty races of hereditary bondsmen; but owing to the absurd American custom of having public-schools, the children of this population learned to speak English, and even to read it. So they became too good for their lot in life; and then a wandering agitator would get in, and all of a sudden there would be hell. Therefore in every coal-camp had to be another kind of "fire-boss," whose duty it was to guard against another kind of explosions--not of carbon monoxide, but of the human soul.
The immediate duties of this office in North Valley devolved upon Jeff Cotton, the camp-marshal. He was not at all what one would have expected from a person of his trade--lean and rather distinguished-looking, a man who in evening clothes might have passed for a diplomat. But his mouth would become ugly when he was displeased, and he carried a gun with six notches upon it; also he wore a deputy-sheriff's badge, to give him immunity for other notches he might wish to add. When Jeff Cotton came near, any man who was explosive went off to be explosive by himself. So there was "order" in North Valley, and it was only on Saturday and Sunday nights, when the drunks had to be suppressed, or on Monday mornings when they had to be haled forth and kicked to their work, that one realised upon what basis this "order" rested.
Besides Jeff Cotton, and his assistant, "Bud" Adams, who wore badges, and were known, there were other assistants who wore no badges, and were not supposed to be known. Coming up in the cage one evening, Hal made some remark to the Croatian mule-driver, Madvik, about the high price of company-store merchandise, and was surprised to get a sharp kick on the ankle. Afterwards, as they were on their way to supper, Madvik gave him the reason. "Red-faced feller, Gus. Look out for him--company spotter."
"Is that so?" said Hal, with interest. "How do you know?"
"I know. Everybody know."
"He don't look like he had much sense," said Hal--who had got his idea of detectives from Sherlock Holmes.
"No take much sense. Go pit-boss, say, 'Joe feller talk too much. Say store rob him.' Any damn fool do that. Hey?"
"To be sure," admitted Hal. "And the company pays him for it?"
"Pit-boss pay him. Maybe give him drink, maybe two bits. Then pit-boss come to you: 'You shoot your mouth off too much, feller. Git the hell out of here!' See?"
"So you go down canyon. Then maybe you go 'nother mine. Boss say, 'Where you work?' You say 'North Valley.' He say, 'What your name?' You say, 'Joe Smith.' He say, 'Wait.' He go in, look at paper; he come out, say, 'No job!' You say, 'Why not?' He say, 'Shoot off your mouth too much, feller. Git the hell out of here!' See?"
"You mean a black-list," said Hal.
"Sure, black-list. Maybe telephone, find out all about you. You do anything bad, like talk union"--Madvik had dropped his voice and whispered the word "union"--"they send your picture--don't get job nowhere in state. How you like that?"
Sorry, no summary available yet.