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Chapter 23

Bidding Mrs. Swajka farewell, Hal set out for the railroad station. But before he had gone a block from the hotel, he ran into his brother, coming straight towards him.

Edward's face wore a bored look; his very manner of carrying the magazine under his arm said that he had selected it in a last hopeless effort against the monotony of Pedro. Such a trick of fate, to take a man of important affairs, and immure him at the mercy of a maniac in a God-forsaken coal-town! What did people do in such a hole? Pay a nickel to look at moving pictures of cow-boys and counterfeiters?

Edward's aspect was too much for Hal's sense of humour. Besides, he had a good excuse; was it not proper to make a test of his disguise, before facing the real danger in North Valley?

He placed himself in the path of his brother's progress, and in Mrs. Zamboni's high, complaining tones, began, "Mister!"

Edward stared at the interrupting black figure. "Mister, you Joe Smith's brother, hey?"

The question had to be repeated before Edward gave his grudging answer. He was not proud of the relationship.

"Mister," continued the whining voice, "my old man got blow up in mine. I get five pieces from my man what I got to bury yesterday in grave-yard. I got to pay thirty dollar for bury them pieces and I don't got no more money left. I don't got no money from them company fellers. They come lawyer feller and he say maybe I get money for bury my man, if I don't jay too much. But, Mister, I got eleven children I got to feed, and I don't got no more man, and I don't find no new man for old woman like me. When I go home I hear them children crying and I don't got no food, and them company-stores don't give me no food. I think maybe you Joe Smith's brother you good man, maybe you sorry for poor widow-woman, you maybe give me some money, Mister, so I buy some food for them children."

"All right," said Edward. He pulled out his wallet and extracted a bill, which happened to be for ten dollars. His manner seemed to say, "For heaven's sake, here!"

Mrs. Zamboni clutched the bill with greedy fingers, but was not appeased. "You got plenty money, Mister! You rich man, hey! You maybe give me all them moneys, so I got plenty feed them children? You don't know them company-stores, Mister, them prices is way up high like mountains; them children is hungry, they cry all day and night, and one piece money don't last so long. You give me some more piece moneys, Mister----hey?"

"I'll give you one more," said Edward. "I need some for myself." He pulled off another bill.

"What you need so much, Mister? You don't got so many children, hey? And you got plenty more money home, maybe!"

"That's all I can give you," said the man. He took a step to one side, to get round the obstruction in his path.

But the obstruction took a step also--and with surprising agility. "Mister, I thank you for them moneys. I tell them children I get moneys from good man. I like you, Mister Smith, you give money for poor widow-woman--you nice man."

And the dreadful creature actually stuck out one of her paws, as if expecting to pat Edward on the cheek, or to chuck him under the chin. He recoiled, as from a contagion; but she followed him, determined to do something to him, he could not be sure what. He had heard that these foreigners had strange customs!

"It's all right! It's nothing!" he insisted, and fell back--at the same time glancing nervously about, to see if there were spectators of this scene.

"Nice man, Mister! Nice man!" cried the old woman, with increasing cordiality. "Maybe some day I find man like you, Mr. Edward Smith--so I don't stay widow-woman no more. You think maybe you like to marry nice Slavish woman, got plenty nice children?"

Edward, perceiving that the matter was getting desperate, sprang to one side. It was a spring which should have carried him to safety; but to his dismay the Slavish widow sprang also--her claws caught him under the arm-pit, and fastening in his ribs, gave him a ferocious pinch. After which the owner of the claws went down the street, not looking back, but making strange gobbling noises, which might have been the weeping of a bereaved widow in Slavish, or might have been almost anything else.

Upton Sinclair