Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 22

Hal proposed going to find Mrs. Zamboni at the place where she was staying; but Moylan interposed, objecting that the detectives would surely follow him. Even though they should all go out of the hotel at once, the one person the detective would surely stick to was the arch-rebel and trouble-maker, Joe Smith. Finally they decided to bring Mrs. Zamboni to the room. Let her come with Mrs. Swajka or some other woman who spoke English, and go to the desk and ask for Mary Burke, explaining that Mary had borrowed money from her, and that she had to have it to pay the undertaker for the burial of her man. The hotel-clerk might not know who Mary Burke was; but the watchful "spotters" would gather about and listen, and if it was mentioned that Mary was from North Valley, some one would connect her with the kidnapped committee.

This was made clear to Rusick, who hurried off, and in the course of half an hour returned with the announcement that the women were on the way. A few minutes later came a tap on the door, and there stood the black-garbed old widow with her friend. She came in; and then came looks of dismay and horrified exclamations. Rusick was requesting her to give up her weeds to Joe Smith!

"She say she don't got nothing else," explained the Slav.

"Tell her I give her plenty money buy more," said Hal.

"Ai! Jesu!" cried Mrs. Zamboni, pouring out a sputtering torrent.

"She say she don't got nothing to put on. She say it ain't good to go no clothes!"

"Hasn't she got on a petticoat?"

"She say petticoat got holes!"

There was a burst of laughter from the company, and the old woman turned scarlet from her forehead to her ample throat. "Tell her she wrap up in blankets," said Hal. "Mary Burke buy her new things."

It proved surprisingly difficult to separate Mrs. Zamboni from her widow's weeds, which she had purchased with so great an expenditure of time and tears. Never had a respectable lady who had borne sixteen children received such a proposition; to sell the insignia of her grief--and here in a hotel room, crowded with a dozen men! Nor was the task made easier by the unseemly merriment of the men. "Ai! Jesu!" cried Mrs. Zamboni again.

"Tell her it's very, very important," said Hal. "Tell her I must have them." And then, seeing that Rusick was making poor headway, he joined in, in the compromise-English one learns in the camps. "Got to have! Sure thing! Got to hide! Quick! Get away from boss! See? Get killed if no go!"

So at last the frightened old woman gave way. "She say all turn backs," said Rusick. And everybody turned, laughing in hilarious whispers, while, with Mary Burke and Mrs. Swajka for a shield, Mrs. Zamboni got out of her waist and skirt, putting a blanket round her red shoulders for modesty's sake. When Hal put the garments on, there was a foot to spare all round; but after they had stuffed two bed pillows down in the front of him, and drawn them tight at the waist-line, the disguise was judged more satisfactory. He put on the old lady's ample if ragged shoes, and Mary Burke set the widow's bonnet on his head and adjusted the many veils; after that Mrs. Zamboni's own brood of children would not have suspected the disguise.

It was a merry party for a few minutes; worn and hopeless as Mary had seemed, she was possessed now by the spirit of fun. But then quickly the laughter died. The time for action had come. Mary Burke said that she would stay with what was left of Mrs. Zamboni, to answer the door in case any of the hotel people or the detectives should come. Hal asked Jim Moylan to see Edward, and say that Hal was writing a manifesto to the North Valley workers, and would not be ready to leave until the midnight train.

These things agreed upon, Hal shook hands all round, and the eleven men left the room at once, going down stairs and through the lobby, scattering in every direction on the streets. Mrs. Swajka and the pseudo-Mrs. Zamboni followed a minute later--and, as they anticipated, found the lobby swept clear of detectives.

Upton Sinclair