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Chapter 21

There was one member of this committee whom Hal watched with especial anxiety----Mary Burke. She had not yet said a word; while the others argued and protested, she sat with her lips set and her hands clenched. Hal knew what rage this failure must bring to her. She had risen and struggled and hoped, and the result was what she had always said it would be--nothing! Now he saw her, with eyes large and dark with fatigue, fixed on this fiery young labour-leader. He knew that a war must be going on within her. Would she drop out entirely now? It was the test of her character--as it was the test of the characters of all of them.

"If only we're strong enough and brave enough," Jim Moylan was saying, "we can use our defeats to educate our people and bring them together. Right now, if we can make the men at North Valley see what we're doing, they won't go back beaten, they won't be bitter against the union, they'll only go back to wait. And ain't that a way to beat the bosses--to hold our jobs, and keep the union alive, till we've got into all the camps, and can strike and win?"

There was a pause; then Mary spoke. "How're you meanin' to tell the men?" Her voice was without emotion, but nevertheless, Hal's heart leaped. Whether Mary had any hope or not, she was going to stay in line with the rest of the ants!

Johann Hartman explained his idea. He would have circulars printed in several languages and distributed secretly in the camp, ordering the men back to work. But Jerry met this suggestion with a prompt no. The people would not believe the circulars, they would suspect the bosses of having them printed. Hadn't the bosses done worse than that, "framing up" a letter from Joe Smith to balk the check-weighman movement? The only thing that would help would be for some of the committee to get into the camp and see the men face to face.

"And it got to be quick!" Jerry insisted. "They get notice to work in morning, and them that don't be fired. They be the best men, too--men we want to save."

Other members of the committee spoke up, agreeing with this. Said Rusick, the Slav, slow-witted and slow-spoken, "Them fellers get mighty damn sore if they lose their job and don't got no strike." And Zammakis, the Greek, quick and nervous, "We say strike; we got to say no strike."

What could they do? There was, in the first place, the difficulty of getting away from the hotel, which was being watched by the "spotters." Hartman suggested that if they went out all together and scattered, the detectives could not follow all of them. Those who escaped might get into North Valley by hiding in the "empties" which went up to the mine.

But Moylan pointed out that the company would be anticipating this; and Rusick, who had once been a hobo, put in: "They sure search them cars. They give us plenty hell, too, when they catch us."

Yes, it would be a dangerous mission. Mary spoke again. "Maybe a lady could do it better."

"They'd beat a lady," said Minetti.

"I know, but maybe a lady might fool them. There's some widows that came to Pedro for the funerals, and they're wearin' veils that hide their faces. I might pretend to be one of them and get into the camp."

The men looked at one another. There was an idea! The scowl which had stayed upon the face of Tim Rafferty ever since his quarrel with Moylan, gave place suddenly to a broad grin.

"I seen Mrs. Zamboni on the street," said he. "She had on black veils enough to hide the lot of us."

And here Hal spoke, for the first time since Tim Rafferty had silenced him. "Does anybody know where to find Mrs. Zamboni?"

"She stay with my friend, Mrs. Swajka," said Rusick.

"Well," said Hal, "there's something you people don't know about this situation. After they had fired you, I made another speech to the men, and made them swear they'd stay on strike. So now I've got to go back and eat my words. If we're relying on veils and things, a man can be fixed up as well as a woman."

They were staring at him. "They'll beat you to death if they catch you!" said Wauchope.

"No," said Hal, "I don't think so. Anyhow, it's up to me"--he glanced at Tim Rafferty--"because I'm the only one who doesn't have to suffer for the failure of our strike."

There was a pause.

"I'm sorry I said that!" cried Tim, impulsively.

"That's all right, old man," replied Hal. "What you said is true, and I'd like to do something to ease my conscience." He rose to his feet, laughing. "I'll make a peach of a widow!" he said. "I'm going up and have a tea-party with my friend Jeff Cotton!"

Upton Sinclair