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 18

Hal made the move at once, sacrificing part of a month's board, which Reminitsky would charge against his account with the company. But he was willing to pay for the privilege of a clean home and clean food. To his amusement he found that in the eyes of his Irish friends he was losing caste by going to live with the Minettis. There were most rigid social lines in North Valley, it appeared. The Americans and English and Scotch looked down upon the Welsh and Irish; the Welsh and Irish looked down upon the Dagoes and Frenchies; the Dagoes and Frenchies looked down upon Polacks and Hunkies, these in turn upon Greeks, Bulgarians and "Montynegroes," and so on through a score of races of Eastern Europe, Lithuanians, Slovaks, and Croatians, Armenians, Roumanians, Rumelians, Ruthenians--ending up with Greasers, niggers, and last and lowest, Japs.

It was when Hal went to pay another call upon the Rafferties that he made this discovery. Mary Burke happened to be there, and when she caught sight of him, her grey eyes beamed with mischief. "How do ye do, Mr. Minetti?" she cried.

"How do ye do, Miss Rosetti?" he countered.

"You lika da spagett?"

"You no lika da spagett?"

"I told ye once," laughed the girl--"the good old pertaties is good enough for me!"

"And you remember," said he, "what I answered?"

Yes, she remembered! Her cheeks took on the colour of the rose-leaves he had specified as her probable diet.

And then the Rafferty children, who had got to know Hal well, joined in the teasing. "Mister Minetti! Lika da spagetti!" Hal, when he had grasped the situation, was tempted to retaliate by reminding them that he had offered to board with the Irish, and been turned down; but he feared that the elder Rafferty might not appreciate this joke, so instead he pretended to have supposed all along that the Rafferties were Italians. He addressed the elder Rafferty gravely, pronouncing the name with the accent on the second syllable--"Signer Rafferti"; and this so amused the old man that he chuckled over it at intervals for an hour. His heart warmed to this lively young fellow; he forgot some of his suspicions, and after the youngsters had been sent away to bed, he talked more or less frankly about his life as a coal-miner.

"Old Rafferty" had once been on the way to high station. He had been made tipple-boss at the San Josť mine, but had given up his job because he had thought that his religion did not permit him to do what he was ordered to do. It had been a crude proposition of keeping the men's score at a certain level, no matter how much coal they might send up; and when Rafferty had quit rather than obey such orders, he had had to leave the mine altogether; for of course everybody knew why he had quit, and his mere presence had the effect of keeping discontent alive.

"You think there are no honest companies at all?" Hal asked.

The old man answered, "There be some, but 'tis not so easy as ye might think to be honest. They have to meet each other's prices, and when one short-weights, the others have to. 'Tis a way of cuttin' wages without the men findin' it out; and there be people that do not like to fall behind with their profits." Hal found himself thinking of old Peter Harrigan, who controlled the General Fuel Company, and had made the remark: "I am a great clamourer for dividends!"

"The trouble with the miner," continued Old Rafferty, "is that he has no one to speak for him. He stands alone--"

During this discourse, Hal had glanced at "Red Mary," and noticed that she sat with her arms on the table, her sturdy shoulders bowed in a fashion which told of a hard day's toil. But here she broke into the conversation; her voice came suddenly, alive with scorn: "The trouble with the miner is that he's a _slave!_"

"Ah, now--" put in the old man, protestingly.

"He has the whole world against him, and he hasn't got the sense to get together--to form a union, and stand by it!"

There fell a sudden silence in the Rafferty home. Even Hal was startled--for this was the first time during his stay in the camp that he had heard the dread word "union" spoken above a whisper.

"I know!" said Mary, her grey eyes full of defiance. "Ye'll not have the word spoken! But some will speak it in spite of ye!"

"'Tis all very well," said the old man. "When ye're young, and a woman too--"

"A woman! Is it only the women that can have courage?"

"Sure," said he, with a wry smile, "'tis the women that have the tongues, and that can't he stopped from usin' them. Even the boss must know that."

"Maybe so," replied Mary. "And maybe 'tis the women have the most to suffer in a coal-camp; and maybe the boss knows that." The girl's cheeks were red.

"Mebbe so," said Rafferty; and after that there was silence, while he sat puffing his pipe. It was evident that he did not care to go on, that he did not want union speeches made in his home. After a while Mrs. Rafferty made a timid effort to change the course of the talk, by asking after Mary's sister, who had not been well; and after they had discussed remedies for the ailments of children, Mary rose, saying, "I'll be goin' along."

Hal rose also. "I'll walk with you, if I may," he said.

"Sure," said she; and it seemed that the cheerfulness of the Rafferty family was restored by the sight of a bit of gallantry.

Upton Sinclair