When Hal spoke, he did not answer Billy Keating's last remark. He had been listening to a retelling of the North Valley disaster over the telephone; so he was not thinking about his skin, but about a hundred and seven men and boys buried inside a mine.
"Mr. Keating," said he, "are you sure the _Gazette_ will print that story?"
"Good Lord!" exclaimed the other. "What am I here for?"
"Well, I've been disappointed once, you know."
"Yes, but you got into the wrong camp. We're a poor man's paper, and this is what we live on."
"There's no chance of its being 'toned down'?"
"Not the slightest, I assure you."
"There's no chance of Peter Harrigan's suppressing it?"
"Peter Harrigan made his attempts on the _Gazette_ long ago, my boy."
"Well," said Hal, "and now tell me this--will it do the work?"
"In what way?"
"I mean--in making them open the mine."
Keating considered for a moment. "I'm afraid it won't do much."
Hal looked at him blankly. He had taken it for granted the publication of the facts would force the company to move. But Keating explained that the _Gazette_ read mainly by working-people, and so had comparatively little influence. "We're an afternoon paper," he said; "and when people have been reading lies all morning, it's not easy to make them believe the truth in the afternoon."
"But won't the story go to other papers--over the country, I mean?"
"Yes, we have a press service; but the papers are all like the _Gazette_--poor man's papers. If there's something very raw, and we keep pounding away for a long time, we can make an impression; at least we limit the amount of news the Western press association can suppress. But when it comes to a small matter like sealing up workingmen in a mine, all we can do is to worry the 'G. F. C.' a little."
So Hal was just where he had begun! "I must find some other plan," he exclaimed.
"I don't see what you can do," replied the other.
There was a pause, while the young miner pondered. "I had thought of going up to Western City and appealing to the editors," he said, a little uncertainly.
"Well, I can tell you about that--you might as well save your car-fare. They wouldn't touch your story."
"And if I appealed to the Governor?"
"In the first place, he probably wouldn't see you. And if he did, he wouldn't do anything. He's not really the Governor, you know; he's a puppet put up there to fool you. He only moves when Harrigan pulls a string."
"Of course I knew he was Old Peter's man," said Hal. "But then"--and he concluded, somewhat lamely, "What _can_ I do?"
A smile of pity came upon the reporter's face. "I can see this is the first time you've been up against 'big business.'" And then he added, "You're young! When you've had more experience, you'll leave these problems to older heads!" But Hal failed to get the reporter's sarcasm. He had heard these exact words in such deadly seriousness from his brother! Besides, he had just come from scenes of horror.
"But don't you see, Mr. Keating?" he exclaimed. "It's impossible for me to sit still while those men die?"
"I don't know about your sitting still," said the other. "All I know is that all your moving about isn't going to do them any good."
Hal turned to Edstrom and MacKellar. "Gentlemen," he said, "listen to me for a minute." And there was a note of pleading in his voice--as if he thought they were deliberately refusing to help him! "We've got to do something about this. We've _got_ to do something! I'm new at the game, as Mr. Keating says; but you aren't. Put your minds on it, gentlemen, and help me work out a plan!"
There was a long silence. "God knows," said Edstrom, at last. "I'd suggest something if I could."
"And I, too," said MacKellar. "You're up against a stone-wall, my boy. The government here is simply a department of the 'G. F. C.' The officials are crooks--company servants, all of them."
"Just a moment now," said Hal. "Let's consider. Suppose we had a real government--what steps would we take? We'd carry such a case to the District Attorney, wouldn't we?"
"Yes, no doubt of it," said MacKellar.
"You mentioned him before," said Hal. "He threatened to prosecute some mine-superintendents for ballot-frauds, you said."
"That was while he was running for election," said MacKellar.
"Oh! I remember what Jeff Cotton said--that he was friendly to the miners in his speeches, and to the companies in his acts."
"That's the man," said the other, drily.
"Well," argued Hal, "oughtn't I go to him, to give him a chance, at least? You can't tell, he might have a heart inside him."
"It isn't a heart he needs," replied MacKellar; "it's a back-bone."
"But surely I ought to put it up to him! If he won't do anything, at least I'll put him on record, and it'll make another story for you, won't it, Mr. Keating?"
"Yes, that's true," admitted the reporter. "What would you ask him to do?"
"Why, to lay the matter before the Grand Jury; to bring indictments against the North Valley bosses."
"But that would take a long time; it wouldn't save the men in the mine."
"What might save them would be the threat of it." MacKellar put in. "I don't think any threat of Dick Barker's would count for that much. The bosses know they could stop him."
"Well, isn't there somebody else? Shouldn't I try the courts?"
"I don't know. You tell me."
"Well," said the Scotchman, "to begin at the bottom, there's a justice of the peace."
"Jim Anderson, a horse-doctor. He's like any other J.P. you ever knew--he lives on petty graft."
"Is there a higher court?"
"Yes, the district court; Judge Denton. He's the law-partner of Vagleman, counsel for the 'G. F. C.' How far would you expect to get with him?"
"I suppose I'm clutching at straws," said Hal. "But they say that's what a drowning man does. Anyway, I'm going to see these people, and maybe out of the lot of them I can find one who'll act. It can't do any harm!"
The three men thought of some harm it might do; they tried to make Hal consider the danger of being slugged Or shot. "They'll do it!" exclaimed MacKellar. "And no trouble for them--they'll prove you were stabbed by a drunken Dago, quarrelling over some woman."
But Hal had got his head set; he believed he could put this job through before his enemies had time to lay any plans. Nor would he let any of his friends accompany him; he had something more important for both Edstrom and Keating to do--and as for MacKellar, he could not get about rapidly enough. Hal bade Edstrom go to the post-office and get the registered letter, and proceed at once to change the bills. It was his plan to make out affidavits, and if the officials here would not act, to take the affidavits to the Governor. And for this he would need money. Meantime, he said, let Billy Keating write out the check-weighman story, and in a couple of hours meet him at the American Hotel, to get copies of the affidavits for the _Gazette_.
Hal was still wearing the miner's clothes he had worn on the night of his arrest in Edstrom's cabin. But he declined MacKellar's offer to lend him a business-suit; the old Scotchman's clothes would not fit him, he knew, and it would be better to make his appeal as a real miner than as a misfit gentleman.
These matters being settled, Hal went out upon the street, where Pete Hanun, the breaker of teeth, fell in behind him. The young miner at once broke into a run, and the other followed suit, and so the two of them sped down the street, to the wonder of people on the way. As Hal had had practice as a sprinter, no doubt Pete was glad that the District Attorney's office was not far away!
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