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Chapter 10

Hal slept but little that night. Amid the sounds of the snoring of eight of Reminitsky's other boarders, he lay going over in his mind various things which might happen on the morrow. Some of them were far from pleasant things; he tried to picture himself with a broken nose, or with tar and feathers on him. He recalled his theory as to the handling of burglars. The "G. F. C." was a burglar of gigantic and terrible proportions; surely this was a time to call out, "Help yourself!" But instead of doing it, Hal thought about Edstrom's ants, and wondered at the power which made them stay in line.

When morning came, he went up into the mountains, where a man may wander and renew his moral force. When the sun had descended behind the mountain-tops, he descended also, and met Edstrom and Sikoria in front of the company office.

They nodded a greeting, and Edstrom told Hal that his wife had died during the day. There being no undertaker in North Valley, he had arranged for a woman friend to take the body down to Pedro, so that he might be free for the interview with Cartwright. Hal put his hand on the old man's shoulder, but attempted no word of condolence; he saw that Edstrom had faced the trouble and was ready for duty.

"Come ahead," said the old man, and the three went into the office. While a clerk took their message to the inner office, they stood for a couple of minutes, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, and turning their caps in their hands in the familiar manner of the lowly.

At last Mr. Cartwright appeared in the doorway, his small sparely-built figure eloquent of sharp authority. "Well, what's this?" he inquired.

"If you please," said Edstrom, "we'd like to speak to you. We've decided, sir, that we want to have a check-weighman."

"_What_?" The word came like the snap of a whip.

"We'd like to have a check-weighman, sir."

There was a moment's silence. "Come in here." They filed into the inner office, and he shut the door.

"Now. What's this?"

Edstrom repeated his words again.

"What put that notion into your heads?"

"Nothing, sir; only we thought we'd be better satisfied."

"You think you're not getting your weight?"

"Well, sir, you see--some of the men--we think it would be better if we had the check-weighman. We're willing to pay for him."

"Who's this check-weighman to be?"

"Joe Smith, here."

Hal braced himself to meet the other's stare. "Oh! So it's you!" Then, after a moment, "So that's why you were feeling so gay!"

Hal was not feeling in the least gay at the moment; but he forebore to say so. There was a silence.

"Now, why do you fellows want to throw away your money?" The superintendent started to argue with them, showing the absurdity of the notion that they could gain anything by such a course. The mine had been running for years on its present system, and there had never been any complaint. The idea that a company as big and as responsible as the "G. F. C." would stoop to cheat its workers out of a few tons of coal! And so on, for several minutes.

"Mr. Cartwright," said Edstrom, when the other had finished, "you know I've worked all my life in mines, and most of it in this district. I am telling you something I know when I say there is general dissatisfaction throughout these camps because the men feel they are not getting their weight. You say there has been no public complaint; you understand the reason for this--"

"What is the reason?"

"Well," said Edstrom, gently, "maybe you don't know the reason--but anyway we've decided that we want a check-weighman."

It was evident that the superintendent had been taken by surprise, and was uncertain how to meet the issue. "You can imagine," he said, at last, "the company doesn't relish hearing that its men believe it's cheating them--"

"We don't say the company knows anything about it, Mr. Cartwright. It's possible that some people may be taking advantage of us, without either the company or yourself having anything to do with it. It's for your protection as well as ours that a check-weighman is needed."

"Thank you," said the other, drily. His tone revealed that he was holding himself in by an effort. "Very well," he added, at last. "That's enough about the matter, if your minds are made up. I'll give you my decision later."

This was a dismissal, and Mike Sikoria turned humbly, and started to the door. But Edstrom was one of the ants that did not readily "step one side"; and Mike took a glance at him, and then stepped back into line in a hurry, as if hoping his delinquency had not been noted.

"If you please, Mr. Cartwright," said Edstrom, "we'd like your decision, so as to have the check-weighman start in the morning."

"What? You're in such a hurry?"

"There's no reason for delay, sir. We've selected our man, and we're ready to pay him."

"Who are the men who are ready to pay him? Just you two"

"I am not at liberty to name the other men, sir."

"Oh! So it's a secret movement!"

"In a way--yes, sir."

"Indeed!" said the superintendent, ominously. "And you don't care what the company thinks about it!"

"It's not that, Mr. Cartwright, but we don't see anything for the company to object to. It's a simple business arrangement--"

"Well, if it seems simple to you, it doesn't to me," snapped the other. And then, getting himself in hand, "Understand me, the company would not have the least objection to the men making sure of their weights, if they really think it's necessary. The company has always been willing to do the right thing. But it's not a matter that can be settled off hand. I will let you know later."

Again they were dismissed, and again Old Mike turned, and Edstrom also. But now another ant sprang into the ditch. "Just when will you be prepared to let the check-weighman begin work, Mr. Cartwright?" asked Hal.

The superintendent gave him a sharp look, and again it could be seen that he made a strong effort to keep his temper. "I'm not prepared to say," he replied. "I will let you know, as soon as convenient to me. That's all now." And as he spoke he opened the door, putting something into the action that was a command.

"Mr. Cartwright," said Hal, "there's no law against our having a check-weighman, is there?"

The look which these words drew from the superintendent showed that he knew full well what the law was. Hal accepted this look as an answer, and continued, "I have been selected by a committee of the men to act as their check-weighman, and this committee has duly notified the company. That makes me a check-weighman, I believe, Mr. Cartwright, and so all I have to do is to assume my duties." Without waiting for the superintendent's answer, he walked to the door, followed by his somewhat shocked companions.

Upton Sinclair