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Chapter 32

The two of them went back to the pit-mouth. It had been two days since the disaster, and still the fan had not been started, and there was no sign of its being started. The hysteria of the women was growing, and there was a tension in the crowds. Jeff Cotton had brought in a force of men to assist him in keeping order. They had built a fence of barbed wire about the pit-mouth and its approaches, and behind this wire they walked--hard-looking citizens with policemen's "billies," and the bulge of revolvers plainly visible on their hips.

During this long period of waiting, Hal had talks with members of his check-weighman group. They told what had happened while he was in jail, and this reminded him of something which had been driven from his mind by the explosion. Poor old John Edstrom was down in Pedro, perhaps in dire need. Hal went to the old Swede's cabin that night, climbed through a window, and dug up the buried money. There were five five-dollar bills, and he put them in an envelope, addressed them in care of General Delivery, Pedro, and had Mary Burke take them to the post office and register them.

The hours dragged on, and still there was no sign of the pit-mouth being opened. There began to be secret gatherings of the miners and their wives to complain at the conduct of the company; and it was natural that Hal's friends who had started the check-weighman movement, should take the lead in these. They were among the most intelligent of the workers, and saw farther into the meaning of events. They thought, not merely of the men who were trapped under ground at this moment, but of thousands of others who would be trapped through years to come. Hal, especially, was pondering how he could accomplish something definite before he left the camp; for of course he would have to leave soon--Jeff Cotton would remember him, and carry out his threat to get rid of him.

Newspapers had come in, with accounts of the disaster, and Hal and his friends read these. It was evident that the company had been at pains to have the accounts written from its own point of view. There existed some public sensitiveness on the subject of mine-disasters in this state. The death-rate from accidents was seen to be mounting steadily; the reports of the state mine inspector showed six per thousand in one year, eight and a half in the next, and twenty-one and a half in the next. When fifty or a hundred men were killed in a single accident, and when such accidents kept happening, one on the heels of another, even the most callous public could not help asking questions. So in this case the "G. F. C." had been careful to minimise the loss of life, and to make excuses. The accident had been owing to no fault of the company's; the mine had been regularly sprinkled, both with water and adobe dust, and so the cause of the explosion must have been the carelessness of the men in handling powder.

In Jack David's cabin one night there arose a discussion as to the number of men entombed in the mine. The company's estimate of the number was forty, but Minetti and Olson and David agreed that this was absurd. Any man who went about in the crowds could satisfy himself that there were two or three times as many unaccounted for. And this falsification was deliberate, for the company had a checking system, whereby it knew the name of every man in the mine. But most of these names were unpronounceable Slavish, and the owners of the names had no friends to mention them--at least not in any language understood by American newspaper editors.

It was all a part of the system, declared Jack David: its purpose and effect being to enable the company to go on killing men without paying for them, either in money or in prestige. It occurred to Hal that it might be worth while to contradict these false statements--almost as worth while as to save the men who were at this moment entombed. Any one who came forward to make such a contradiction would of course be giving himself up to the black-list; but then, Hal regarded himself as a man already condemned to that penalty.

Tom Olson spoke up. "What would you do with your contradiction?"

"Give it to the papers," Hal answered.

"But what papers would print it?"

"There are two rival papers in Pedro, aren't there?"

"One owned by Alf Raymond, the sheriff-emperor, and the other by Vagleman, counsel for the 'G. F. C.' Which one would you try?"

"Well then, the outside papers--those in Western City. There are reporters here now, and some one of them would surely take it."

Olson answered, declaring that they would not get any but labour and Socialist papers to print such news. But even that was well worth doing. And Jack David, who was strong for unions and all their activities, put in, "The thing to do is to take a regular census, so as to know exactly how many are in the mine."

The suggestion struck fire, and they agreed to set to work that same evening. It would be a relief to do something, to have something in their minds but despair. They passed the word to Mary Burke, to Rovetta, Klowoski, and others; and at eleven o'clock the next morning they met again, and the lists were put together, and it was found that no less than a hundred and seven men and boys were positively known to be inside Number One.

Upton Sinclair