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Chapter 4

Mr. Richard Parker was busy, said the clerk in toe outer office; for which Hal was not sorry, as it gave him a chance to get his breath. Seeing a young man flushed and panting, the clerk stared with curiosity; but Hal offered no explanation, and the breaker of teeth waited on the street outside.

Mr. Parker received his caller in a couple of minutes. He was a well-fed gentleman with generous neck and chin, freshly shaved and rubbed with talcum powder. His clothing was handsome, his linen immaculate; one got the impression of a person who "did himself well." There were papers on his desk, and he looked preoccupied.

"Well?" said he, with a swift glance at the young miner.

"I understand that I am speaking to the District Attorney of Pedro County?"

"That's right."

"Mr. Parker, have you given any attention to the circumstances of the North Valley disaster?"

"No," said Mr. Parker. "Why?"

"I have just come from North Valley, and I can give you information which may be of interest to you. There are a hundred and seven people entombed in the mine, and the company officials have sealed it, and are sacrificing those lives."

The other put down the correspondence, and made an examination of his caller from under his heavy eyelids. "How do you know this?"

"I left there only a few hours ago. The facts are known to all the workers in the camp."

"You are speaking from what you heard?"

"I am speaking from what I know at first hand. I saw the disaster, I saw the pit-mouth boarded over and covered with canvas. I know a man who was driven out of camp this morning for complaining about the delay in starting the fan. It has been over three days since the explosion, and still nothing has been done."

Mr. Parker proceeded to fire a series of questions, in the sharp, suspicious manner customary to prosecuting officials. But Hal did not mind that; it was the man's business to make sure.

Presently he demanded to know how he could get corroboration of Hal's statements.

"You'll have to go up there," was the reply.

"You say the facts are known to the men. Give me the names of some of them."

"I have no authority to give their names, Mr. Parker."

"What authority do you need? They will tell me, won't they?"

"They may, and they may not. One man has already lost his job; not every man cares to lose his job."

"You expect me to go up there on your bare say-so?"

"I offer you more than my say-so. I offer an affidavit."

"But what do I know about you?"

"You know that I worked in North Valley--or you can verify the fact by using the telephone. My name is Joe Smith, and I was a miner's helper in Number Two."

But that was not sufficient, said Mr. Parker; his time was valuable, and before he took a trip to North Valley he must have the names of witnesses who would corroborate these statements.

"I offer you an affidavit!" exclaimed Hal. "I say that I have knowledge that a crime is being committed--that a hundred and seven human lives are being sacrificed. You don't consider that a sufficient reason for even making inquiry?"

The District Attorney answered again that he desired to do his duty, he desired to protect the workers in their rights; but he could not afford to go off on a "wild goose chase," he must have the names of witnesses. And Hal found himself wondering. Was the man merely taking the first pretext for doing nothing? Or could it be that an official of the state would go as far as to help the company by listing the names of "trouble-makers"?

In spite of his distrust, Hal was resolved to give the man every chance he could. He went over the whole story of the disaster. He took Mr. Parker up to the camp, showed him the agonised women and terrified children crowding about the pit-mouth, driven back with clubs and revolvers. He named family after family, widows and mothers and orphans. He told of the miners clamouring for a chance to risk their lives to save their fellows. He let his own feelings sweep him along; he pleaded with fervour for his suffering friends.

"Young man," said the other, breaking in upon his eloquence, "how long have you been working in North Valley?"

"About ten weeks."

"How long have you been working in coal-mines?"

"That was my first experience."

"And you think that in ten weeks you have learned enough to entitle you to bring a charge of 'murder' against men who have spent their lives in learning the business of mining?"

"As I have told you," exclaimed Hal, "it's not merely my opinion; it's the opinion of the oldest and most experienced of the miners. I tell you no effort whatever is being made to save those men! The bosses care nothing about their men! One of them, Alec Stone, was heard by a crowd of people to say, 'Damn the men! Save the mules!'"

"Everybody up there is excited," declared the other. "Nobody can think straight at present--you can't think straight yourself. If the mine's on fire, and if the fire is spreading to such an extent that it can't be put out--"

"But, Mr. Parker, how can you say that it's spreading to such an extent?"

"Well, how can you say that it isn't?"

There was a pause. "I understand there's a deputy mine-inspector up there," said the District Attorney, suddenly. "What's his name?"

"Carmichael," said Hal.

"Well, and what does _he_ say about it?"

"It was for appealing to him that the miner, Huszar, was turned out of camp."

"Well," said Mr. Parker--and there came a note into his voice by which Hal knew that he had found the excuse he sought--"Well, it's Carmichael's business, and I have no right to butt in on it. If he comes to me and asks for indictments, I'll act--but not otherwise. That's all I have to say about it."

And Hal rose. "Very well, Mr. Parker," said he. "I have put the facts before you. I was told you wouldn't do anything, but I wanted to give you a chance. Now I'm going to ask the Governor for your removal!" And with these words the young miner strode out of the office.

Upton Sinclair