Coming to the main street of the village, Hal saw the crowd in front of the office. One glance told him that something had happened. Men were running this way and that, gesticulating, shouting. Some were coming in his direction, and when they saw him they began to yell to him. The first to reach him was Klowoski, the little Pole, breathless; gasping with excitement. "They fire our committee!"
"Fire 'em out! Down canyon!" The little man was waving his arms in wild gestures; his eyes seemed about to start out of his head. "Take 'em off! Whole bunch fellers--gunmen! People see them--come out back door. Got ever'body's arm tied. Gunmen fellers hold 'em, don't let 'em holler, can't do nothin'! Got them cars waitin'--what you call?--"
"Sure, got three! Put ever'body in, quick like that--they go down road like wind! Go down canyon, all gone! They bust our strike!" And the little Pole's voice ended in a howl of despair.
"No, they won't bust our strike!" exclaimed Hal. "Not yet!"
Suddenly he was reminded of the fact that his brother had followed him--puffing hard, for the run had been strenuous. He caught Hal by the arm, exclaiming, "Keep out of this, I tell you!"
Thus while Hal was questioning Klowoski, he was struggling half-unconsciously, to free himself from his brother's grasp. Suddenly the matter was forced to an issue, for the little Polack emitted a cry like an angry cat, and went at Edward with fingers outstretched like claws. Hal's dignified brother would have had to part with his dignity, if Hal had not caught Klowoski's onrush with his other arm. "Let him alone!" he said. "It's my brother!" Whereupon the little man fell back and stood watching in bewilderment.
Hal saw Androkulos running to him. The Greek boy had been in the street back of the office, and had seen the committee carried off; nine people had been taken--Wauchope, Tim Rafferty, and Mary Burke, Marcelli, Zammakis and Rusick, and three others who had served as interpreters on the night before. It had all been done so quickly that the crowd had scarcely realised what was happening.
Now, having grasped the meaning of it, the men were beside themselves with rage. They shook their fists, shouting defiance to a group of officials and guards who were visible upon the porch of the office-building. There was a clamour of shouts for revenge.
Hal could see instantly the dangers of the situation; he was like a man watching the burning fuse of a bomb. Now, if ever, this polyglot horde must have leadership--wise and cool and resourceful leadership.
The crowd, discovering his presence, surged down upon him like a wave. They gathered round him, howling. They had lost the rest of their committee, but they still had Joe Smith. Joe Smith! Hurrah for Joe! Let the gunmen take him, if they could! They waved their caps, they tried to lift him upon their shoulders, so that all could see him.
There was clamour for a speech, and Hal started to make his way to the steps of the nearest building, with Edward holding on to his coat. Edward was jostled; he had to part with his dignity--but he did not part with his brother. And when Hal was about to mount the steps, Edward made a last desperate effort, shouting into his ear, "Wait a minute! Wait! Are you going to try to talk to this mob?"
"Of course. Don't you see there'll be trouble if I don't?"
"You'll get yourself killed! You'll start a fight, and get a lot of these poor devils shot! Use your common sense, Hal; the company has brought in guards, and they are armed, and your people aren't."
"That's exactly why I have to speak!"
The discussion was carried on under difficulties, the elder brother clinging to the younger's arm, while the younger sought to pull free, and the mob shouted with a single voice, "Speech! Speech!" There were some near by who, like Klowoski, did not relish having this stranger interfering with their champion, and showed signs of a disposition to "mix in"; so at last Edward gave up the struggle, and the orator mounted the steps and faced the throng.
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