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Chapter 24

The camp-marshal of North Valley had been "agitated" to such an extent that he could not stay in his chair. All the harassments of his troubled career had come pouring into his mind. He had begun pacing the floor, and was talking away, regardless of whether Hal listened or not.

"A campful of lousy wops! They can't understand any civilised language, they've only one idea in the world--to shirk every lick of work they can, to fill up their cars with slate and rock and blame it on some other fellow, and go off to fill themselves with booze. They won't work fair, they won't fight fair--they fight with a knife in the back! And you agitators with your sympathy for them--why the hell do they come to this country, unless they like it better than their own?"

Hal had heard this question before; but they had to wait for the automobile--and being sure that he was an agitator now, he would make all the trouble he could! "The reason is obvious enough," he said. "Isn't it true that the 'G. F. C.' employs agents abroad to tell them of the wonderful pay they get in America?"

"Well, they get it, don't they? Three times what they ever got at home!"

"Yes, but it doesn't do them any good. There's another fact which the 'G. F. C.' doesn't mention--that the cost of living is even higher than the wages. Then, too, they're led to think of America as a land of liberty; they come, hoping for a better chance for themselves and their children; but they find a camp-marshal who's off in his geography--who thinks the Rocky Mountains are somewhere in Russia!"

"I know that line of talk!" exclaimed the other. "I learned to wave the starry flag when I was a kid. But I tell you, you've got to get coal mined, and it isn't the same thing as running a Fourth of July celebration. Some church people make a law they shan't work on Sunday--and what comes of that? They have thirty-six hours to get soused in, and so they can't work on Monday!"

"Surely there's a remedy, Cotton! Suppose the company refused to rent buildings to saloon-keepers?"

"Good God! You think we haven't tried it? They go down to Pedro for the stuff, and bring back all they can carry--inside them and out. And if we stop that--then our hands move to some other camps, where they can spend their money as they please. No, young man, when you have such cattle, you have to drive them! And it takes a strong hand to do it--a man like Peter Harrigan. If there's to be any coal, if industry's to go on, if there's to be any progress--"

"We have that in our song!" laughed Hal, breaking into the camp-marshal's discourse--

  "He keeps them a-roll, that merry old soul--
    The wheels of industree;
  A-roll and a-roll, for his pipe and his bowl
    And his college facultee!"
"Yes," growled the marshal. "It's easy enough for you smart young chaps to make verses, while you're living at ease on the old man's bounty. But that don't answer any argument. Are you college boys ready to take over his job? Or these Democrat politicians that come in here, talking fool-talk about liberty, making labour laws for these wops--"

"I begin to understand," said Hal. "You object to the politicians who pass the laws, you doubt their motives--and so you refuse to obey. But why didn't you tell me sooner you were an anarchist?"

"Anarchist?" cried the marshal. "_Me_ an anarchist?"

"That's what an anarchist is, isn't it?"

"Good God! If that isn't the limit! You come here, stirring up the men--a union agitator, or whatever you are--and you know that the first idea of these people, when they do break loose, is to put dynamite in the shafts and set fire to the buildings!"

"Do they do that?" There was surprise in Hal's tone.

"Haven't you read what they did in the last big strike? That dough-faced old preacher, John Edstrom, could tell you. He was one of the bunch."

"No," said Hal, "you're mistaken. Edstrom has a different philosophy. But others did, I've no doubt. And since I've been here, I can understand their point of view entirely. When they set fire to the buildings, it was because they thought you and Alec Stone might be inside."

The marshal did not smile.

"They want to destroy the properties," continued Hal, "because that's the only way they can think of to punish the tyranny and greed of the owners. But, Cotton, suppose some one were to put a new idea into their heads; suppose some one were to say to them, 'Don't destroy the properties--_take them!_'"

The other stared. "Take them! So that's your idea of morality!"

"It would be more moral than the method by which Peter got them in the beginning."

"What method is that?" demanded the marshal, with some appearance of indignation. "He paid the market-price for them, didn't he?"

"He paid the market-price for politicians. Up in Western City I happen to know a lady who was a school-commissioner when he was buying school-lands from the state--lands that were known to contain coal. He was paying three dollars an acre, and everybody knew they were worth three thousand."

"Well," said Cotton, "if you don't buy the politicians, you wake up some fine morning and find that somebody else has bought them. If you have property, you have to protect it."

"Cotton," said Hal, "you sell Old Peter your time--but surely you might keep part of your brains! Enough to look at your monthly pay-check and realise that you too are a wage-slave, not much better than the miners you despise."

The other smiled. "My check might be bigger, I admit; but I've figured over it, and I think I have an easier time than you agitators. I'm top-dog, and I expect to stay on top."

"Well, Cotton, on that view of life, I don't wonder you get drunk now and then. A dog-fight, with no faith or humanity anywhere! Don't think I'm sneering at you--I'm talking out of my heart to you. I'm not so young, nor such a fool, that I haven't had the dog-fight aspect of things brought to my attention. But there's something in a fellow that insists he isn't all dog; he has at least a possibility of something better. Take these poor under-dogs sweating inside the mountain, risking their lives every hour of the day and night to provide you and me with coal to keep us warm--to 'keep the wheels of industry a-roll'--"

Upton Sinclair