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Chapter 4

Hal had now before him a week's adventures as a hobo: a genuine hobo, with no ten dollar bill inside his belt to take the reality out of his experiences. He took stock of his worldly goods and wondered if he still looked like a dude. He recalled that he had a smile which had fascinated the ladies; would it work in combination with a black eye? Having no other means of support, he tried it on susceptible looking housewives, and found it so successful that he was tempted to doubt the wisdom of honest labour. He sang the Harrigan song no more, but instead the words of a hobo-song he had once heard:

"Oh, what's the use of workin' when there's women in the land?"

The second day he made the acquaintance of two other gentlemen of the road, who sat by the railroad-track toasting some bacon over a fire. They welcomed him, and after they had heard his story, adopted him into the fraternity and instructed him in its ways of life. Pretty soon he made the acquaintance of one who had been a miner, and was able to give him the information he needed before climbing another canyon.

"Dutch Mike" was the name this person bore, for reasons he did not explain. He was a black-eyed and dangerous-looking rascal, and when the subject of mines and mining was broached, he opened up the flood-gates of an amazing reservoir of profanity. He was through with that game--Hal or any other God-damned fool might have his job for the asking. It was only because there were so many natural-born God-damned fools in the world that the game could be kept going. "Dutch Mike" went on to relate dreadful tales of mine-life, and to summon before him the ghosts of one pit-boss after another, consigning them to the fires of eternal perdition.

"I wanted to work while I was young," said he, "but now I'm cured, an' fer good." The world had come to seem to him a place especially constructed for the purpose of making him work, and every faculty he possessed was devoted to foiling this plot. Sitting by a camp-fire near the stream which ran down the valley, Hal had a merry time pointing out to "Dutch Mike" how he worked harder at dodging work than other men worked at working. The hobo did not seem to mind that, however--it was a matter of principle with him, and he was willing to make sacrifices for his convictions. Even when they had sent him to the work-house, he had refused to work; he had been shut in a dungeon, and had nearly died on a diet of bread and water, rather than work. If everybody would do the same, he said, they would soon "bust things."

Hal took a fancy to this spontaneous revolutionist, and travelled with him for a couple of days, in the course of which he pumped him as to details of the life of a miner. Most of the companies used regular employment agencies, as the guard had mentioned; but the trouble was, these agencies got something from your pay for a long time--the bosses were "in cahoots" with them. When Hal wondered if this were not against the law, "Cut it out, Bo!" said his companion. "When you've had a job for a while, you'll know that the law in a coal-camp is what your boss tells you." The hobo went on to register his conviction that when one man has the giving of jobs, and other men have to scramble for them, the law would never have much to say in the deal. Hal judged this a profound observation, and wished that it might be communicated to the professor of political economy at Harrigan.

On the second night of his acquaintance with "Dutch Mike," their "jungle" was raided by a constable with half a dozen deputies; for a determined effort was being made just then to drive vagrants from the neighbourhood--or to get them to work in the mines. Hal's friend, who slept with one eye open, made a break in the darkness, and Hal followed him, getting under the guard of the raiders by a foot-ball trick. They left their food and blankets behind them, but "Dutch Mike" made light of this, and lifted a chicken from a roost to keep them cheerful through the night hours, and stole a change of underclothing off a clothes-line the next day. Hal ate the chicken, and wore the underclothing, thus beginning his career in crime.

Parting from "Dutch Mike," he went back to Pedro. The hobo had told him that saloon-keepers nearly always had friends in the coal-camps, and could help a fellow to a job. So Hal began enquiring, and the second one replied, Yes, he would give him a letter to a man at North Valley, and if he got the job, the friend would deduct a dollar a month from his pay. Hal agreed, and set out upon another tramp up another canyon, upon the strength of a sandwich "bummed" from a ranch-house at the entrance to the valley. At another stockaded gate of the General Fuel Company he presented his letter, addressed to a person named O'Callahan, who turned out also to be a saloon-keeper.

The guard did not even open the letter, but passed Hal in at sight of it, and he sought out his man and applied for work. The man said he would help him, but would have to deduct a dollar a month for himself, as well as a dollar for his friend in Pedro. Hal kicked at this, and they bartered back and forth; finally, when Hal turned away and threatened to appeal directly to the "super," the saloon-keeper compromised on a dollar and a half.

"You know mine-work?" he asked.

"Brought up at it," said Hal, made wise, now, in the ways of the world.

"Where did you work?"

Hal named several mines, concerning which he had learned something from the hoboes. He was going by the name of "Joe Smith," which he judged likely to be found on the payroll of any mine. He had more than a week's growth of beard to disguise him, and had picked up some profanity as well.

The saloon-keeper took him to interview Mr. Alec Stone, pit-boss in Number Two mine, who inquired promptly: "You know anything about mules?"

"I worked in a stable," said Hal, "I know about horses."

"Well, mules is different," said the man. "One of my stable-men got the colic the other day, and I don't know if he'll ever be any good again."

"Give me a chance," said Hal. "I'll manage them."

The boss looked him over. "You look like a bright chap," said he. "I'll pay you forty-five a month, and if you make good I'll make it fifty."

"All right, sir. When do I start in?"

"You can't start too quick to suit me. Where's your duds?"

"This is all I've got," said Hal, pointing to the bundle of stolen underwear in his hand.

"Well, chuck it there in the corner," said the man; then suddenly he stopped, and looked at Hal, frowning. "You belong to any union?"

"Lord, no!"

"Did you _ever_ belong to any union?"

"No, sir. Never."

The man's gaze seemed to imply that Hal was lying, and that his secret soul was about to be read. "You have to swear to that, you know, before you can work here."

"All right," said Hal, "I'm willing."

"I'll see you about it to-morrow," said the other. "I ain't got the paper with me. By the way, what's your religion?"

"Seventh Day Adventist."

"Holy Christ! What's that?"

"It don't hurt," said Hal. "I ain't supposed to work on Saturdays, but I do."

"Well, don't you go preachin' it round here. We got our own preacher--you chip in fifty cents a month for him out of your wages. Come ahead now, and I'll take you down." And so it was that Hal got his start in life.

Upton Sinclair