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Chapter 27

Hal was so startled by this discovery that he stopped in his tracks and gazed at the man. He had heard a lot about "trouble-makers" in the camps, but so far the only kind he had seen were those hired by the company to make trouble for the men. But now, here was a union organiser! Jerry had suggested the possibility, but Hal had not thought of it seriously; an organiser was a mythological creature, whispered about by the miners, cursed by the company and its servants, and by Hal's friends at home. An incendiary, a fire-brand, a loudmouthed, irresponsible person, stirring up blind and dangerous passions! Having heard such things all his life, Hal's first impulse was of distrust. He felt like the one-legged old switchman who had given him a place to sleep, after his beating at Pine Creek, and who had said, "Don't you talk no union business to me!"

Seeing Hal's emotion, the organiser gave an uneasy laugh. "While you're hoping I'm not a 'dick,' I trust you understand I'm hoping _you're_ not one."

Hal's answer was to the point. "I was taken for an organiser once," he said, and his hands sought the seat of his ancient bruises.

The other laughed. "You got off with a beating? You were lucky. Down in Alabama, not so long ago, they tarred and feathered one of us."

Dismay came upon Hal's face; but after a moment he too began to laugh. "I was just thinking about my brother and his friends--what they'd have said if I'd come home from Pine Creek in a coat of tar and feathers!"

"Possibly," ventured the other, "they'd have said you got what you deserved."

"Yes, that seems to be their attitude. That's the rule they apply to all the world--if anything goes wrong with you, it must he your own fault. It's a land of equal opportunity."

"And you'll notice," said the organiser, "that the more privileges people have had, the more boldly they talk that way."

Hal began to feel a sense of comradeship with this stranger, who was able to understand one's family troubles! It had been a long time since Hal had talked with any one from the outside world, and he found it a relief to his mind. He remembered how, after he had got his beating, he had lain out in the rain and congratulated himself that he was not what the guards had taken him for. Now he was curious about the psychology of an organiser. A man must have strong convictions to follow that occupation!

He made the remark, and the other answered, "You can have my pay any time you'll do my work. But let me tell you, too, it isn't being beaten and kicked out of camp that bothers one most; it isn't the camp-marshal and the spy and the blacklist. Your worst troubles are inside the heads of the fellows you're trying to help! Have you ever thought what it would mean to try to explain things to men who speak twenty different languages?"

"Yes, of course," said Hal. "I wonder how you ever get a start."

"Well, you look for an interpreter--and maybe he's a company spy. Or maybe the first man you try to convert reports you to the boss. For, of course, some of the men are cowards, and some of them are crooks; they'll sell out the next fellow for a better 'place'--maybe for a glass of beer."

"That must have a tendency to weaken your convictions," said Hal.

"No," said the other, in a matter of fact tone. "It's hard, but one can't blame the poor devils. They're ignorant--kept so deliberately. The bosses bring them here, and have a regular system to keep them from getting together. And of course these European peoples have their old prejudices--national prejudices, religious prejudices, that keep them apart. You see two fellows, one you think is exactly as miserable as the other--but you find him despising the other, because back home he was the other's superior. So they play into the bosses' hands."

Upton Sinclair