Before long Hal had a chance to see this system of espionage at work, and he began to understand something of the force which kept these silent and patient armies at their tasks. On a Sunday morning he was strolling with his mule-driver friend Tim Rafferty, a kindly lad with a pair of dreamy blue eyes in his coal-smutted face. They came to Tim's home, and he invited Hal to come in and meet his family. The father was a bowed and toil-worn man, but with tremendous strength in his solid frame, the product of many generations of labour in coal-mines. He was known as "Old Rafferty," despite the fact that he was well under fifty. He had been a pit-boy at the age of nine, and he showed Hal a faded leather album with pictures of his ancestors in the "oul' country"--men with sad, deeply lined faces, sitting very stiff and solemn to have their presentments made permanent for posterity.
The mother of the family was a gaunt, grey-haired woman, with no teeth, but with a warm heart. Hal took to her, because her home was clean; he sat on the family door-step, amid a crowd of little Rafferties with newly-washed Sunday faces, and fascinated them with tales of adventures cribbed from Clark Russell and Captain Mayne Reid. As a reward he was invited to stay for dinner, and had a clean knife and fork, and a clean plate of steaming hot potatoes, with two slices of salt pork on the side. It was so wonderful that he forthwith inquired if he might forsake his company boarding-house and come and board with them.
Mrs. Rafferty opened wide her eyes. "Sure," exclaimed she, "do you think you'd be let?"
"Why not?" asked Hal.
"Sure, 't would be a bad example for the others."
"Do you mean I _have_ to board at Reminitsky's?"
"There be six company boardin'-houses," said the woman.
"And what would they do if I came to you?"
"First you'd get a hint, and then you'd go down the canyon, and maybe us after ye."
"But there's lots of people have boarders in shanty-town," objected Hal.
"Oh! Them wops! Nobody counts them--they live any way they happen to fall. But you started at Reminitsky's, and 't would not be healthy for them that took ye away."
"I see," laughed Hal. "There seem to be a lot of unhealthy things hereabouts."
"Sure there be! They sent down Nick Ammons because his wife bought milk down the canyon. They had a sick baby, and it's not much you get in this thin stuff at the store. They put chalk in it, I think; any way, you can see somethin' white in the bottom."
"So you have to trade at the store, too!"
"I thought ye said ye'd worked in coal-mines," put in Old Rafferty, who had been a silent listener.
"So I have," said Hal. "But it wasn't quite that bad."
"Sure," said Mrs. Rafferty, "I'd like to know where 'twas then--in this country. Me and me old man spent weary years a-huntin'."
Thus far the conversation had proceeded naturally; but suddenly it was as if a shadow passed over it--a shadow of fear. Hal saw Old Rafferty look at his wife, and frown and make signs to her. After all, what did they know about this handsome young stranger, who talked so glibly, and had been in so many parts of the world?
"'Tis not complainin' we'd be," said the old man.
And his wife made haste to add, "If they let peddlers and the like of them come in, 'twould be no end to it, I suppose. We find they treat us here as well as anywhere."
"'Tis no joke, the life of workin' men, wherever ye try it," added the other; and when young Tim started to express an opinion, they shut him up with such evident anxiety that Hal's heart ached for them, and he made haste to change the subject.
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