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Chapter 34

In the course of his wanderings about the camp, Hal had observed several wide-awake looking young men with notebooks in their hands. He could see that these young men were being made guests of the company, chatting with the bosses upon friendly terms; nevertheless, he believed that among them he might find one who had a conscience--or at any rate who would yield to the temptation of a "scoop." So, leaving the gathering at Mrs. David's, Hal went to the pit-mouth, watching out for one of these reporters; when he found him, he followed him for a while, desiring to get him where no company "spotter" might interfere. At the first chance, he stepped up, and politely asked the reporter to come into a side street, where they might converse undisturbed.

The reporter obeyed the request; and Hal, concealing the intensity of his feelings, so as not to repel the other, let it be known that he had worked in North Valley for some months, and could tell much about conditions in the camp. There was the matter of adobe-dust, for example. Explosions in dry mines could be prevented by spraying the walls with this material. Did the reporter happen to know that the company's claim to have used it was entirely false?

No, the reporter answered, he did not know this. He seemed interested, and asked Hal's name and occupation. Hal told him "Joe Smith," a "buddy," who had recently been chosen as check-weighman. The reporter, a lean and keen-faced young man, asked many questions--intelligent questions; incidentally he mentioned that he was the local correspondent of the great press association whose stories of the disaster were sent to every corner of the country. This seemed to Hal an extraordinary piece of good fortune, and he proceeded to tell this Mr. Graham about the census which some of the workers had taken; they were able to give the names of a hundred and seven men and boys who were inside the mine. The list was at Mr. Graham's disposal if he cared to see it. Mr. Graham seemed more interested than ever, and made notes in his book.

Another thing, more important yet, Hal continued; the matter of the delay in getting the fan started. It had been three days since the explosion, but there had been no attempt at entering the mine. Had Mr. Graham seen the disturbance at the pit-mouth that morning? Did he realise that a man had been thrown out of camp merely because he had appealed to the deputy state mine-inspector? Hal told what so many had come to believe--that the company was saving property at the expense of life. He went on to point out the human meaning of this--he told about old Mrs. Rafferty, with her failing health and her eight children; about Mrs. Zamboni, with eleven children; about Mrs. Jonotch, with a husband and three sons in the mine. Led on by the reporter's interest, Hal began to show some of his feeling. These were human beings, not animals; they loved and suffered, even though they were poor and humble!

"Most certainly!" said Mr. Graham. "You're right, and you may rest assured I'll look into this."

"There's one thing more," said Hal. "If my name is mentioned, I'll be fired, you know."

"I won't mention it," said the other.

"Of course, if you can't publish the story without giving its source--"

"I'm the source," said the reporter, with a smile. "Your name would not add anything."

He spoke with quiet assurance; he seemed to know so completely both the situation and his own duty in regard to it, that Hal felt a thrill of triumph. It was as if a strong wind had come blowing from the outside world, dispelling the miasma which hung over this coal-camp. Yes, this reporter _was_ the outside world! He was the power of public opinion, making itself felt in this place of knavery and fear! He was the voice of truth, the courage and rectitude of a great organisation of publicity, independent of secret influences, lifted above corruption!

"I'm indebted to you," said Mr. Graham, at the end, and Hal's sense of victory was complete. What an extraordinary chance--that he should have run into the agent of the great press association! The story would go out to the great world of industry, which depended upon coal as its life-blood. The men in the factories, the wheels of which were turned by coal--the travellers on trains which were moved by coal--they would hear at last of the sufferings of those who toiled in the bowels of the earth for them! Even the ladies, reclining upon the decks of palatial steamships in gleaming tropic seas--so marvellous was the power of modern news-spreading agencies, that these ladies too might hear the cry for help of these toilers, and of their wives and little ones! And from this great world would come an answer, a universal shout of horror, of execration, that would force even old Peter Harrigan to give way! So Hal mused--for he was young, and this was his first crusade.

He was so happy that he was able to think of himself again, and to realise that he had not eaten that day. It was noon-time, and he went into Reminitsky's, and was about half through with the first course of Reminitsky's two-course banquet, when his cruel disillusioning fell upon him!

He looked up and saw Jeff Cotton striding into the dining-room, making straight for him. There was blood in the marshal's eye, and Hal saw it, and rose, instinctively.

"Come!" said Cotton, and took him by the coat-sleeve and marched him out, almost before the rest of the diners had time to catch their breath.

Hal had no opportunity now to display his "tea-party manners" to the camp-marshal. As they walked, Cotton expressed his opinion of him, that he was a skunk, a puppy, a person of undesirable ancestry; and when Hal endeavoured to ask a question--which he did quite genuinely, not grasping at once the meaning of what was happening--the marshal bade him "shut his face," and emphasised the command by a twist at his coat-collar. At the same time two of the huskiest mine-guards, who had been waiting at the dining-room door, took him, one by each arm, and assisted his progress.

They went down the street and past Jeff Cotton's office, not stopping this time. Their destination was the railroad-station, and when Hal got there, he saw a train standing. The three men marched him to it, not releasing him till they had jammed him down into a seat.

"Now, young fellow," said Cotton, "we'll see who's running this camp!"

By this time Hal had regained a part of his self-possession. "Do I need a ticket?" he asked.

"I'll see to that," said the marshal.

"And do I get my things?"

"You save some questions for your college professors," snapped the marshal.

So Hal waited; and a minute or two later a man arrived on the run with his scanty belongings, rolled into a bundle and tied with a piece of twine. Hal noted that this man was big and ugly, and was addressed by the camp-marshal as "Pete."

The conductor shouted, "All aboard!" And at the same time Jeff Cotton leaned over towards Hal and spoke in a menacing whisper: "Take this from me, young fellow; don't stop in Pedro, move on in a hurry, or something will happen to you on a dark night."

After which he strode down the aisle, and jumped off the moving train. But Hal noticed that Pete Hanun, the breaker of teeth, stayed on the car a few seats behind him.

Upton Sinclair