At the meeting on the night before it had been agreed to spread the news of the check-weighman movement, for the sake of its propaganda value. So now when the three men came out from the office, there was a crowd waiting to know what had happened; men clamoured questions, and each one who got the story would be surrounded by others eager to hear. Hal made his way to the boarding-house, and when he had finished his supper, he set out from place to place in the camp, telling the men about the check-weighman plan and explaining that it was a legal right they were demanding. All this while Old Mike stayed on one side of him, and Edstrom on the other; for Tom Olson had insisted strenuously that Hal should not be left alone for a moment. Evidently the bosses had given the same order; for when Hal came out from Reminitsky's, there was "Jake" Predovich, the store-clerk, on the fringe of the crowd, and he followed wherever Hal went, doubtless making note of every one he spoke to.
They consulted as to where they were to spend the night. Old Mike was nervous, taking the activities of the spy to mean that they were to be thugged in the darkness. He told horrible stories of that sort of thing. What could be an easier way for the company to settle the matter? They would fix up some story; the world outside would believe they had been killed in a drunken row, perhaps over some woman. This last suggestion especially troubled Hal; he thought of the people at home. No, he must not sleep in the village! And on the other hand he could not go down the canyon, for if he once passed the gate, he might not be allowed to repass it.
An idea occurred to him. Why not go _up_ the canyon? There was no stockade at the upper end of the village--nothing but wilderness and rocks, without even a road.
"But where we sleep?" demanded Old Mike, aghast.
"Outdoors," said Hal.
"_Pluha biedna_! And get the night air into my bones?"
"You think you keep the day air in your bones when you sleep inside?" laughed Hal.
"Why don't I, when I shut them windows tight, and cover up my bones?"
"Well, risk the night air once," said Hal. "It's better than having somebody let it into you with a knife."
"But that fellow Predovich--he follow us up canyon too!"
"Yes, but he's only one man, and we don't have to fear him. If he went back for others, he'd never be able to find us in the darkness."
Edstrom, whose notions of anatomy were not so crude as Mike's, gave his support to this suggestion; so they got their blankets and stumbled up the canyon in the still, star-lit night. For a while they heard the spy behind them, but finally his footsteps died away, and after they had moved on for some distance, they believed they were safe till daylight. Hal had slept out many a night as a hunter, but it was a new adventure to sleep out as the game!
At dawn they rose, and shook the dew from their blankets, and wiped it from their eyes. Hal was young, and saw the glory of the morning, while poor Mike Sikoria groaned and grumbled over his stiff and aged joints. He thought he had ruined himself forever, but he took courage at Edstrom's mention of coffee, and they hurried down to breakfast at their boarding-house.
Now came a critical time, when Hal had to be left by himself. Edstrom was obliged to go down to see to his wife's funeral; and it was obvious that if Mike Sikoria were to lay off work, he would be providing the boss with an excuse for firing him. The law which provided for a check-weighman had failed to provide for a check-weighman's body-guard!
Hal had announced his programme in that flash of defiance in Cartwright's office. As soon as work started up, he went to the tipple. "Mr. Peters," he said, to the tipple-boss, "I've come to act as check-weighman."
The tipple-boss was a man with a big black moustache, which made him look like the pictures of Nietzsche. He stared at Hal, frankly dumbfounded. "What the devil?" said he.
"Some of the men have chosen me check-weighman," explained Hal, in a business-like manner. "When their cars come up, I'll see to their weights."
"You keep off this tipple, young fellow!" said Peters. His manner was equally business-like.
So the would-be check-weighman came out and sat on the steps to wait. The tipple was a fairly public place, and he judged he was as safe there as anywhere. Some of the men grinned and winked at him as they went about their work; several found a chance to whisper words of encouragement. And all morning he sat, like a protestant at the palace-gates of a mandarin in China, It was tedious work, but he believed that he would be able to stand it longer than the company.
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