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Chapter 29

They came to the house where John Edstrom was staying. The labouring man's wife opened the door. In answer to Hal's question, she said, "The old gentleman's pretty bad."

"What's the matter with him?"

"Didn't you know he was hurt?"

"No. How?"

"They beat him up, sir. Broke his arm, and nearly broke his head."

Hal and Mary exclaimed in chorus, "Who did it? When?"

"We don't know who did it. It was four nights ago."

Hal realised it must have happened while he was escaping from MacKellar's. "Have you had a doctor for him?"

"Yes, sir; but we can't do much, because my man is out of work, and I have the children and the boarders to look after."

Hal and Mary ran upstairs. Their old friend lay in darkness, but he recognised their voices and greeted them with a feeble cry. The woman brought a lamp, and they saw him lying on his back, his head done up in bandages, and one arm bound in splints. He looked really desperately bad, his kindly old eyes deep-sunken and haggard, and his face--Hal remembered what Jeff Cotton had called him, "that dough-faced old preacher!"

They got the story of what had happened at the time of Hal's flight to Percy's train. Edstrom had shouted a warning to the fugitives, and set out to run after them; when one of the mine-guards, running past him, had fetched him a blow over the eye, knocking him down. He had struck his head upon the pavement, and lain there unconscious for many hours. When finally some one had come upon him, and summoned a policeman, they had gone through his pockets, and found the address of this place where he was staying written on a scrap of paper. That was all there was to the story--except that Edstrom had refrained from sending to MacKellar for help, because he had felt sure they were all working to get the mine open, and he did not feel he had the right to put his troubles upon them.

Hal listened to the old man's feeble statements, and there came back to him a surge of that fury which his North Valley experience had generated in him. It was foolish, perhaps; for to knock down an old man who had been making trouble was a comparatively slight exercise of the functions of a mine-guard. But to Hal it seemed the most characteristic of all the outrages he had seen; it was an expression of the company's utter blindness to all that was best in life. This old man, who was so gentle, so patient, who had suffered so much, and not learned to hate, who had kept his faith so true! What did his faith mean to the thugs of the General Fuel Company? What had his philosophy availed him, his saintliness, his hopes for mankind? They had fetched him one swipe as they passed him, and left him lying--alive or dead, it was all the same.

Hal had got some satisfaction out of his little adventure in widowhood, and some out of Mary's self-victory; but there, listening to the old man's whispered story, his satisfaction died. He realised again the grim truth about his summer's experience--that the issue of it had been defeat. Utter, unqualified defeat! He had caused the bosses a momentary chagrin; but it would not take them many hours to realise that he had really done them a service in calling off the strike for them. They would start the wheels of industry again, and the workers would be just where they had been before Joe Smith came to be stableman and buddy among them. What was all the talk about solidarity, about hope for the future; what would it amount to in the long run, the daily rolling of the wheels of industry? The workers of North Valley would have exactly the right they had always had--the right to be slaves, and if they did not care for that, the right to be martyrs!

Mary sat holding the old man's hand and whispering words of passionate sympathy, while Hal got up and paced the tiny attic, all ablaze with anger. He resolved suddenly that he would not go back to Western City; he would stay here, and get an honest lawyer to come, and set out to punish the men who were guilty of this outrage. He would test out the law to the limit; if necessary, he would begin a political fight, to put an end to coal-company rule in this community. He would find some one to write up these conditions, he would raise the money and publish a paper to make them known! Before his surging wrath had spent itself, Hal Warner had actually come out as a candidate for governor, and was overturning the Republican machine--all because an unidentified coal-company detective had knocked a dough-faced old miner into the gutter and broken his arm!

Upton Sinclair