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Chapter 25

Hal had promised Alec Stone to keep a look-out for trouble-makers; and one evening the boss stopped him on the street, and asked him if he had anything to report. Hal took the occasion to indulge his sense of humour.

"There's no harm in Mike Sikoria," said he. "He likes to shoot off his head, but if he's got somebody to listen, that's all he wants. He's just old and grouchy. But there's another fellow that I think would bear watching."

"Who's that?" asked the boss.

"I don't know his last name. They call him Gus and he's a 'cager.' Fellow with a red face."

"I know," said Stone--"Gus Durking."

"Well, he tried his best to get me to talk about unions. He keeps bringing it up, and I think he's some kind of trouble-maker."

"I see," said the boss. "I'll get after him."

"You won't say I told you," said Hal, anxiously.

"Oh, no--sure not." And Hal caught the trace of a smile on the pit-boss's face.

He went away, smiling in his turn. The "red-faced feller. Gus," was the person Madvik had named as being a "spotter" for the company!

There were ins and outs to this matter of "spotting," and sometimes it was not easy to know what to think. One Sunday morning Hal went for a walk up the canyon, and on the way he met a young chap who got to talking with him, and after a while brought up the question of working-conditions in North Valley. He had only been there a week, he said, but everybody he had met seemed to be grumbling about short weight. He himself had a job as an "outside man," so it made no difference to him, but he was interested, and wondered what Hal had found.

Straightway came the question, was this really a workingman, or had Alec Stone set some one to spying upon his spy. This was an intelligent fellow, an American--which in itself was suspicious, for most of the new men the company got in were from "somewhere East of Suez."

Hal decided to spar for a while. He did not know, he said, that conditions were any worse here than elsewhere. You heard complaints, no matter what sort of job you took.

Yes, said the stranger, but matters seemed to be especially bad in the coal-camps. Probably it was because they were so remote, and the companies owned everything in sight.

"Where have you been?" asked Hal, thinking that this might trap him.

But the other answered straight; he had evidently worked in half a dozen of the camps. In Mateo he had paid a dollar a month for wash-house privileges, and there had never been any water after the first three men had washed. There had been a common wash-tub for all the men, an unthinkably filthy arrangement. At Pine Creek--Hal found the very naming of the place made his heart stand still--at Pine Creek he had boarded with his boss, but the roof of the building leaked, and everything he owned was ruined; the boss would do nothing--yet when the boarder moved, he lost his job. At East Ridge, this man and a couple of other fellows had rented a two room cabin and started to board themselves, in spite of the fact that they had to pay a dollar-fifty a sack for potatoes and eleven cents a pound for sugar at the company store. They had continued until they made the discovery that the water supply had run short, and that the water for which they were paying the company a dollar a month was being pumped from the bottom of the mine, where the filth of mules and men was plentiful!

Hal forced himself to remain non-committal; he shook his head and said it was too bad, but the workers always got it in the neck, and he didn't see what they could do about it. So they strolled back to the camp, the stranger evidently baffled, and Hal, for his part, feeling like the reader of a detective story at the end of the first chapter. Was this young man the murderer, or was he the hero? One would have to read on in the book to find out!

Upton Sinclair