Keating went to the telephone again, to worry "long distance"; then, grumbling about his last edition, he came back to ask more questions about Hal's experiences. Before long he drew out the story of the young man's first effort in the publicity game; at which he sank back in his chair, and laughed until he shook, as the nursery-rhyme describes it, "like a bowlful of jelly."
"Graham!" he exclaimed. "Fancy, MacKellar, he took that story to Graham!"
The Scotchman seemed to find it equally funny; together they explained that Graham was the political reporter of the _Eagle_, the paper in Pedro which was owned by the Sheriff-emperor. One might call him Alf Raymond's journalistic jackal; there was no job too dirty for him.
"But," cried Hal, "he told me he was correspondent for the Western press association!"
"He's that, too," replied Billy.
"But does the press association employ spies for the 'G. F. C.'?"
The reporter answered, drily, "When you understand the news game better, you'll realise that the one thing the press association cares about in a correspondent is that he should have respect for property. If respect for property is the back-bone of his being, he can learn what news is, and the right way to handle it."
Keating turned to the Scotchman. "Do you happen to have a typewriter in the house, Mr. MacKellar?"
"An old one," said the other--"lame, like myself."
"I'll make out with it. I'd ask this young man over to my hotel, but I think he'd better keep off the streets as much as possible."
"You're right. If you take my advice, you'll take the typewriter upstairs, where there's no chance of a shot through the window."
"Great heavens!" exclaimed Hal. "Is this America, or mediaeval Italy?"
"It's the Empire of Raymond," replied MacKellar. "They shot my friend Tom Burton dead while he stood on the steps of his home. He was opposing the machine, and had evidence about ballot-frauds he was going to put before the Grand Jury."
While Keating continued to fret with "long distance," the old Scotchman went on trying to impress upon Hal the danger of his position. Quite recently an organiser of the miners' union had been beaten up in broad day-light and left insensible on the sidewalk; MacKellar had watched the trial and acquittal of the two thugs who had committed this crime--the foreman of the jury being a saloon-keeper one of Raymond's heelers, and the other jurymen being Mexicans, unable to comprehend a word of the court proceedings.
"Exactly such a jury as Jeff Cotton promised me!" remarked Hal, with a feeble attempt at a smile.
"Yes," answered the other; "and don't make any mistake about it, if they want to put you away, they can do it. They run the whole machine here. I know how it is, for I had a political job myself, until they found they couldn't use me."
The old Scotchman went on to explain that he had been elected justice of peace, and had tried to break up the business of policemen taking money from the women of the town; he had been forced to resign, and his enemies had made his life a torment. Recently he had been candidate for district judge on the Progressive ticket, and told of his efforts to carry on a campaign in the coal-camps--how his circulars had been confiscated, his posters torn down, his supporters "kangarooed." It was exactly as Alec Stone, the pit-boss, had explained to Hal. In some of the camps the meeting-halls belonged to the company; in others they belonged to saloon-keepers whose credit depended upon Alf Raymond. In the few places where there were halls that could be hired, the machine had gone to the extreme of sending in rival entertainments, furnishing free music and free beer in order to keep the crowds away from MacKellar.
All this time Billy Keating had been chafing and scolding at "long distance." Now at last he managed to get his call, and silence fell in the room. "Hello, Pringle, that you? This is Keating. Got a big story on the North Valley disaster. Last edition put to bed yet? Put Jim on the wire. Hello, Jim! Got your book?" And then Billy, evidently talking to a stenographer, began to tell the story he had got from Hal. Now and then he would stop to repeat or spell a word; once or twice Hal corrected him on details. So, in about a quarter of an hour, they put the job through; and Keating turned to Hal.
"There you are, son," said he. "Your story'll be on the street in Western City in a little over an hour; it'll be down here as soon thereafter as they can get telephone connections. And take my advice, if you want to keep a whole skin, you'll be out of Pedro when that happens!"
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