In the middle of the morning a man came up to him--"Bud" Adams, a younger brother of the "J. P.," and Jeff Cotton's assistant. Bud was stocky, red-faced, and reputed to be handy with his fists. So Hal rose up warily when he saw him.
"Hey, you," said Bud. "There's a telegram at the office for you."
"Your name's Joe Smith, ain't it?"
"Well, that's what it says."
Hal considered for a moment. There was no one to be telegraphing Joe Smith. It was only a ruse to get him away.
"What's in the telegram?" he asked.
"How do I know?" said Bud.
"Where is it from?"
"I dunno that."
"Well," said Hal, "you might bring it to me here."
The other's eyes flew open. This was not a revolt, it was a revolution! "Who the hell's messenger boy do you think I am?" he demanded.
"Don't the company deliver telegrams?" countered Hal, politely. And Bud stood struggling with his human impulses, while Hal watched him cautiously. But apparently those who had sent the messenger had given him precise instructions; for he controlled his wrath, and turned and strode away.
Hal continued his vigil. He had his lunch with him; and was prepared to eat alone--understanding the risk that a man would be running who showed sympathy with him. He was surprised, therefore, when Johannson, the giant Swede, came and sat down by his side. There also came a young Mexican labourer, and a Greek miner. The revolution was spreading!
Hal felt sure the company would not let this go on. And sure enough, towards the middle of the afternoon, the tipple-boss came out and beckoned to him. "Come here, you!" And Hal went in.
The "weigh-room" was a fairly open place; but at one side was a door into an office. "This way," said the man.
But Hal stopped where he was.
"This is where the check-weighman belongs, Mr. Peters."
"But I want to talk to you."
"I can hear you, sir." Hal was in sight of the men, and he knew that was his only protection.
The tipple-boss went back into the office; and a minute later Hal saw what had been intended. The door opened and Alec Stone came out.
He stood for a moment looking at his political henchman. Then he came up. "Kid," he said, in a low voice, "you're overdoing this. I didn't intend you to go so far."
"This is not what you intended, Mr. Stone," answered Hal.
The pit-boss came closer yet. "What you looking for, kid? What you expect to get out of this?"
Hal's gaze was unwavering. "Experience," he replied.
"You're feeling smart, sonny. But you'd better stop and realise what you're up against. You ain't going to get away with it, you know; get that through your head--you ain't going to get away with it. You'd better come in and have a talk with me."
There was a silence.
"Don't you know how it'll be, Smith? These little fires start up--but we put 'em out. We know how to do it, we've got the machinery. It'll all be forgotten in a week or two, and then where'll you be at? Can't you see?"
As Hal still made no reply, the other's voice dropped lower. "I understand your position. Just give me a nod, and it'll be all right. You tell the men that you've watched the weights, and that they're all right. They'll be satisfied, and you and me can fix it up later."
"Mr. Stone," said Hal, with intense gravity, "am I correct in the impression that you are offering me a bribe?"
In a flash, the man's self-control vanished. He thrust his huge fist within an inch of Hal's nose, and uttered a foul oath. But Hal did not remove his nose from the danger-zone, and over the fist a pair of angry brown eyes gazed at the pit-boss. "Mr. Stone, you had better realise this situation. I am in dead earnest about this matter, and I don't think it will be safe for you to offer me violence."
For a moment or two the man continued to glare at Hal; but it appeared that he, like Bud Adams, had been given instructions. He turned abruptly and strode back into the office.
Hal stood for a bit, until he had made sure of his composure. After which he strolled over towards the scales. A difficulty had occurred to him for the first time--that he did not know anything about the working of coal-scales.
But he was given no time to learn. The tipple-boss reappeared. "Get out of here, fellow!" said he.
"But you invited me in," remarked Hal, mildly.
"Well, now I invite you out again."
And so the protestant resumed his vigil at the mandarin's palace-gates.
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