Hal stood and watched the portly figure until it disappeared; then he turned back and passed the three detectives, who stopped. He stared at them, but made no sign, nor did they. Some twenty feet behind him, they fell in and followed as before.
Judge Denton had suggested consulting a policeman; and suddenly Hal noticed that he was passing the City Hall, and it occurred to him that this matter of his being shadowed might properly be brought to the attention of the mayor of Pedro. He wondered what the chief magistrate of such a "hell of a town" might be like; after due inquiry, he found himself in the office of Mr. Ezra Perkins, a mild-mannered little gentleman who had been in the undertaking-business, before he became a figure-head for the so-called "Democratic" machine.
He sat pulling nervously at a neatly trimmed brown beard, trying to wriggle out of the dilemma into which Hal put him. Yes, it might possibly be that a young miner was being followed on the streets of the town; but whether or not this was against the law depended on the circumstances. If he had made a disturbance in North Valley, and there was reason to believe that he might be intending trouble, doubtless the company was keeping track of him. But Pedro was a law-abiding place, and he would be protected in his rights so long as he behaved himself.
Hal replied by citing what MacKellar had told him about men being slugged on the streets in broad day-light. To this Mr. Perkins answered that there was uncertainty about the circumstances of these cases; anyhow, they had happened before he became mayor. His was a reform administration, and he had given strict orders to the Chief of Police that there were to be no more incidents of the sort.
"Will you go with me to the Chief of Police and give him orders now?" demanded Hal.
"I do not consider it necessary," said Mr. Perkins.
He was about to go home, it seemed. He was a pitiful little rodent, and it was a shame to torment him; but Hal stuck to him for ten or twenty minutes longer, arguing and insisting--until finally the little rodent bolted for the door, and made his escape in an automobile. "You can go to the Chief of Police yourself," were his last words, as he started the machine; and Hal decided to follow the suggestion. He had no hope left, but he was possessed by a kind of dogged rage. He _would_ not let go!
Upon inquiry of a passer-by, he learned that police headquarters was in this same building, the entrance being just round the corner. He went in, and found a man in uniform writing at a desk, who stated that the Chief had "stepped down the street." Hal sat down to wait, by a window through which he could look out upon the three gunmen loitering across the way.
The man at the desk wrote on, but now and then he eyed the young miner with that hostility which American policemen cultivate toward the lower classes. To Hal this was a new phenomenon, and he found himself suddenly wishing that he had put on MacKellar's clothes. Perhaps a policeman would not have noticed the misfit!
The Chief came in. His blue uniform concealed a burly figure, and his moustache revealed the fact that his errand down the street had had to do with beer. "Well, young fellow?" said he, fixing his gaze upon Hal.
Hal explained his errand.
"What do you want me to do?" asked the Chief, in a decidedly hostile voice.
"I want you to make those men stop following me."
"How can I make them stop?"
"You can lock them up, if necessary. I can point them out to you, if you'll step to the window."
But the other made no move. "I reckon if they're follerin' you, they've got some reason for it. Have you been makin' trouble in the camps?" He asked this question with sudden force, as if it had occurred to him that it might be his duty to lock up Hal.
"No," said Hal, speaking as bravely as he could--"no indeed, I haven't been making trouble. I've only been demanding my rights."
"How do I know what you been doin'?"
The young miner was willing to explain, but the other cut him short. "You behave yourself while you're in this town, young feller, d'you see? If you do, nobody'll bother you."
"But," said Hal, "they've already threatened to bother me."
"What did they say?"
"They said something might happen to me on a dark night."
"Well, so it might--you might fall down and hit your nose."
The Chief was pleased with this wit, but only for a moment. "Understand, young feller, we'll give you your rights in this town, but we got no love for agitators, and we don't pretend to have. See?"
"You call a man an agitator when he demands his legal rights?"
"I ain't got time to argue with you, young feller. It's no easy matter keepin' order in coal-camps, and I ain't going to meddle in the business. I reckon the company detectives has got as good a right in this town as you."
There was a pause. Hal saw that there was nothing to be gained by further discussion with the Chief. It was his first glimpse of the American policeman as he appears to the labouring man in revolt, and he found it an illuminating experience. There was dynamite in his heart as he turned and went out to the street; nor was the amount of the explosive diminished by the mocking grins which he noted upon the faces of Pete Hanun and the other two husky-looking personages.
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