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Chapter 26

Edward would have endeavoured to carry his brother away forthwith, but there was no train until late at night; so Hal went upstairs, where he found Moylan and Hartman with Mary Burke and Mrs. Zamboni, all eager to hear his story. As the members of the committee, who had been out to supper, came straggling in, the story was told again, and yet again. They were almost as much delighted as the men in Reminitsky's. If only all strikes that had to be called off could be called off as neatly as that!

Between these outbursts of satisfaction, they discussed their future. Moylan was going back to Western City, Hartman to his office in Sheridan, from which he would arrange to send new organisers into North Valley. No doubt Cartwright would turn off many men--those who had made themselves conspicuous during the strike, those who continued to talk union out loud. But such men would have to be replaced, and the union knew through what agencies the company got its hands. The North Valley miners would find themselves mysteriously provided with union literature in their various languages; it would be slipped under their pillows, or into their dinner-pails, or the pockets of their coats while they were at work.

Also there was propaganda to be carried on among those who were turned away; so that, wherever they went, they would take the message of unionism. There had been a sympathetic outburst in Barela, Hal learned--starting quite spontaneously that morning, when the men heard what had happened at North Valley. A score of workers had been fired, and more would probably follow in the morning. Here was a job for the members of the kidnapped committee; Tim Rafferty, for example--would he care to stay in Pedro for a week or two, to meet such men, and give them literature and arguments?

This offer was welcome; for life looked desolate to the Irish boy at this moment. He was out of a job, his father was a wreck, his family destitute and helpless. They would have to leave their home, of course; there would be no place for any Rafferty in North Valley. Where they would go, God only knew; Tim would become a wanderer, living away from his people, starving himself and sending home his pitiful savings.

Hal was watching the boy, and reading these thoughts. He, Hal Warner, would play the god out of a machine in this case, and in several others equally pitiful. He had the right to sign his father's name to checks, a privilege which he believed he could retain, even while undertaking the role of Haroun al Raschid in a mine-disaster. But what about the mine-disasters and abortive strikes where there did not happen to be any Haroun al Raschid at hand? What about those people, right in North Valley, who did not happen to have told Hal of their affairs? He perceived that it was only by turning his back and running that he would escape from his adventure with any portion of his self-possession. Truly, this fair-seeming and wonderful civilisation was like the floor of a charnel-house or a field of battle; anywhere one drove a spade beneath its surface, he uncovered horrors, sights for the eyes and stenches for the nostrils that caused him to turn sick!

There was Rusick, for example; he had a wife and two children, and not a dollar in the world. In the year and more that he had worked, faithfully and persistently, to get out coal for Peter Harrigan, he had never once been able to get ahead of his bill for the necessities of life at Old Peter's store. All his belongings in the world could be carried in a bundle on his back, and whether he ever saw these again would depend upon the whim of old Peter's camp-marshal and guards. Rusick would take to the road, with a ticket purchased by the union. Perhaps he would find a job and perhaps not; in any case, the best he could hope for in life was to work for some other Harrigan, and run into debt at some other company-store.

There was Hobianish, a Serbian, and Hernandez, a Mexican, of whom the same things were true, except that one had four children and the other six. Bill Wauchope had only a wife--their babies had died, thank heaven, he said. He did not seem to have been much moved by Jim Moylan's pleadings; he was down and out; he would take to the road, and beat his way to the East and back to England. They called this a free country! By God, if he were to tell what had happened to him, he could not get an English miner to believe it!

Hal gave these men his real name and address, and made them promise to let him know how they got along. He would help a little, he said; in his mind he was figuring how much he ought to do. How far shall a man go in relieving the starvation about him, before he can enjoy his meals in a well-appointed club? What casuist will work out this problem--telling him the percentage he shall relieve of the starvation he happens personally to know about, the percentage of that which he sees on the streets, the percentage of that about which he reads in government reports on the rise in the cost of living. To what extent is he permitted to close his eyes, as he walks along the streets on his way to the club? To what extent is he permitted to avoid reading government reports before going out to dinner-dances with his fiancée? Problems such as these the masters of the higher mathematics have neglected to solve; the wise men of the academies and the holy men of the churches have likewise failed to work out the formulas; and Hal, trying to obtain them by his crude mental arithmetic, found no satisfaction in the results.

Upton Sinclair