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Chapter 18

Hal found Jerry Minetti with the two officials in their hotel-room: Jim Moylan, district secretary, a long, towering Irish boy, black-eyed and black-haired, quick and sensitive, the sort of person one trusted and liked at the first moment; and Johann Hartman, local president, a grey-haired miner of German birth, reserved and slow-spoken, evidently a man of much strength, both physical and moral. He had need of it, any one could realise, having charge of a union headquarters in the heart of this "Empire of Raymond"!

Hal first told of the kidnapping of the committee. This did not surprise the officials, he found; it was the thing the companies regularly did when there was threat of rebellion in the camps. That was why efforts to organise openly were so utterly hopeless. There was no chance for anything but a secret propaganda, maintained until every camp had the nucleus of an organisation.

"So you can't back this strike!" exclaimed Hal.

Not possibly, was Moylan's reply. It would be lost as soon as it was begun. There was no slightest hope of success until a lot of organisation work had been done.

"But meantime," argued Hal, "the union at North Valley will go to pieces!"

"Perhaps," was the reply. "We'll only have to start another. That's what the labour movement is like."

Jim Moylan was young, and saw Hal's mood. "Don't misunderstand us!" he cried. "It's heartbreaking--but it's not in our power to help. We are charged with building up the union, and we know that if we supported everything that looked like a strike, we'd be bankrupt the first year. You can't imagine how often this same thing happens--hardly a month we're not called on to handle such a situation."

"I can see what you mean," said Hal. "But I thought that in this case, right after the disaster, with the men so stirred--"

The young Irishman smiled, rather sadly. "You're new at this game," he said. "If a mine-disaster was enough to win a strike, God knows our job would be easy. In Barela, just down the canyon from you, they've had three big explosions--they've killed over five hundred men in the past year!"

Hal began to see how, in his inexperience, he had lost his sense of proportion.

He looked at the two labour leaders, and recalled the picture of such a person which he had brought with him to North Valley--a hot headed and fiery agitator, luring honest workingmen from their jobs. But here was the situation exactly reversed! Here was he in a blaze of excitement--and two labour leaders turning the fire-hose on him! They sat quiet and business-like, pronouncing a doom upon the slaves of North Valley. Back to their black dungeons with them!

"What can we tell the men?" he asked, making an effort to repress his chagrin.

"We can only tell them what I'm telling you--that we're helpless, till we've got the whole district organised. Meantime, they have to stand the gaff; they must do what they can to keep an organisation."

"But all the active men will be fired!"

"No, not quite all--they seldom get them all."

Here the stolid old German put in. In the last year the company had turned out more than six thousand men because of union activity or suspicion of it.

"_Six thousand!_" echoed Hal. "You mean from this one district?"

"That's what I mean."

"But there aren't more than twelve or fifteen thousand men in the district!"

"I know that."

"Then how can you ever keep an organisation?"

The other answered, quietly, "They treat the new men the same as they treated the old."

Hal thought suddenly of John Edstrom's ants! Here they were--building their bridge, building it again and again, as often as floods might destroy it! They had not the swift impatience of a youth of the leisure-class, accustomed to having his own way, accustomed to thinking of freedom and decency and justice as necessities of life. Much as Hal learned from the conversation of these men, he learned more from their silences--the quiet, matter-of-fact way they took things which had driven him beside himself with indignation. He began to realise what it would mean to stand by his pledge to those poor devils in North Valley. He would need more than one blaze of excitement; he would need brains and patience and discipline, he would need years of study and hard work!

Upton Sinclair