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Chapter 2

Hal went back to Reminitsky's boarding-house; a heavy sacrifice, but not without its compensations, because it gave him more chance to talk with the men.

He and Jerry made up a list of those who could be trusted with the secret: the list beginning with the name of Mike Sikoria. To be put on a committee, and sent to interview a boss, would appeal to Old Mike as the purpose for which he had been put upon earth! But they would not tell him about it until the last minute, for fear lest in his excitement he might shout out the announcement the next time he lost one of his cars.

There was a young Bulgarian miner named Wresmak who worked near Hal. The road into this man's room ran up an incline, and he had hardly been able to push his "empties" up the grade. While he was sweating and straining at the task, Alec Stone had come along, and having a giant's contempt for physical weakness, began to cuff him. The man raised his arm--whether in offence or to ward off the blow, no one could be sure; but Stone fell upon him and kicked him all the way down the passage, pouring out upon him furious curses. Now the man was in another room, where he had taken out over forty car-loads of rock, and been allowed only three dollars for it. No one who watched his face when the pit-boss passed would doubt that this man would be ready to take his chances in a movement of protest.

Then there was a man whom Jerry knew, who had just come out of the hospital, after contact with the butt-end of the camp-marshal's revolver. This was a Pole, who unfortunately did not know a word of English; but Olson, the organiser, had got into touch with another Pole, who spoke a little English, and would pass the word on to his fellow-countryman. Also there was a young Italian, Rovetta, whom Jerry knew and whose loyalty he could vouch for.

There was another person Hal thought of--Mary Burke. He had been deliberately avoiding her of late; it seemed the one safe thing to do--although it seemed also a cruel thing, and left his mind ill at ease. He went over and over what had happened. How had the trouble got started? It is a man's duty in such cases to take the blame upon himself; but a man does not like to take blame upon himself, and he tries to make it as light as possible. Should Hal say that it was because he had been too officious that night in helping Mary where the path was rough? She had not actually needed such help, she was quite as capable on her feet as he! But he had really gone farther than that--he had had a definite sentimental impulse; and he had been a cad--he should have known all along that all this girl's discontent, all the longing of her starved soul, would become centred upon him, who was so "different," who had had opportunity, who made her think of the "poetry-books"!

But here suddenly seemed a solution of the difficulty; here was a new interest for Mary, a safe channel in which her emotions could run. A woman could not serve on a miners' committee, but she would be a good adviser, and her sharp tongue would be a weapon to drive others into line. Being aflame with this enterprise, Hal became impersonal, man-fashion--and so fell into another sentimental trap! He did not stop to think that Mary's interest in the check-weighman movement might be conditioned in part by a desire to see more of him; still less did it occur to him that he might be glad for a pretext to see Mary.

No, he was picturing her in a new role, an activity more inspiriting than cooking and nursing. His "poetry-book" imagination took fire; he gave her a hope and a purpose, a pathway with a goal at the end. Had there not been women leaders in every great proletarian movement?

He went to call on her, and met her at the door of her cabin. "'Tis a cheerin' sight to see ye, Joe Smith!" she said. And she looked him in the eye and smiled.

"The same to you, Mary Burke!" he answered.

She was game, he saw; she was going to be a "good sport." But he noticed that she was paler than when he had seen her last. Could it be that these gorgeous Irish complexions ever faded? He thought that she was thinner too; the old blue calico seemed less tight upon her.

Hal plunged into his theme. "Mary, I had a vision of you to-day!"

"Of me, lad? What's that?"

He laughed. "I saw you with a glory in your face, and your hair shining like a crown of gold. You were mounted on a snow-white horse, and wore a robe of white, soft and lustrous--like Joan of Arc, or a leader in a suffrage parade. You were riding at the head of a host--I've still got the music in my ears, Mary!"

"Go on with ye, lad--what's all this about?"

"Come in and I'll tell you," he said.

So they went into the bare kitchen, and sat in bare wooden chairs--Mary folding her hands in her lap like a child who has been promised a fairy-story. "Now hurry," said she. "I want to know about this new dress ye're givin' me. Are ye tired of me old calico?"

He joined in her smile. "This is a dress you will weave for yourself, Mary, out of the finest threads of your own nature--out of courage and devotion and self-sacrifice."

"Sure, 'tis the poetry-book again! But what is it ye're really meanin'?"

He looked about him. "Is anybody here?"

"Nobody."

But instinctively he lowered his voice as he told his story. There was an organiser of the "big union" in the camp, and he was going to rouse the slaves to protest.

The laughter went out of Mary's face. "Oh! It's that!" she said, in a flat tone. The vision of the snow-white horse and the soft and lustrous robe was gone. "Ye can never do anything of that sort here!"

"Why not?"

"'Tis the men in this place. Don't ye remember what I told ye at Mr. Rafferty's? They're cowards!"

"Ah, Mary, it's easy to say that. But it's not so pleasant being turned out of your home--"

"Do ye have to tell me that?" she cried, with sudden passion. "Haven't I seen that?"

"Yes, Mary; but I want to _do_ something--"

"Yes, and haven't I wanted to do something? Sure, I've wanted to bite off the noses of the bosses!"

"Well," he laughed, "we'll make that a part of our programme." But Mary was not to be lured into cheerfulness; her mood was so full of pain and bewilderment that he had an impulse to reach out and take her hand again. But he checked that; he had come to divert her energies into a safe channel!

"We must waken these men to resistance, Mary!"

"Ye can't do it, Joe--not the English-speakin' men. The Greeks and the Bulgars, maybe--they're fightin' at home, and they might fight here. But the Irish never--never! Them that had any backbone went out long ago. Them that stayed has been made into boot-licks. I know them, every man of them. They grumble, and curse the boss, but then they think of the blacklist, and they go back and cringe at his feet."

"What such men want--"

"'Tis booze they want, and carousin' with the rotten women in the coal-towns, and sittin' up all night winnin' each other's money with a greasy pack of cards! They take their pleasure where they find it, and 'tis nothin' better they want."

"Then, Mary, if that's so, don't you see it's all the more reason for trying to teach them? If not for their own sakes, for the sake of their children! The children, mustn't grow up like that! They are learning English, at least--"

Mary gave a scornful laugh. "Have ye been up to that school?"

He answered no; and she told him there were a hundred and twenty children packed in one room, three in a seat, and solid all round the wall. She went on, with swift anger--the school was supposed to be paid for out of taxes, but as nobody owned any property but the company, it was all in the company's hands. The school-board consisted of Mr. Cartwright, the mine-superintendent, and Jake Predovich, a clerk in the store, and the preacher, the Reverend Spraggs. Old Spraggs would bump his nose on the floor if the "super" told him to.

"Now, now!" said Hal, laughing. "You're down on him because his grandfather was an Orangeman!"

Upton Sinclair