Hal went out on the street again. It was the hour which would have been sunset in a level region; the tops of the mountains were touched with a purple light, and the air was fresh and chill with early fall. Down the darkening streets he saw a gathering of men; there was shouting, and people running towards the place, so he hurried up, with the thought in his mind, "What's the matter now?" There were perhaps a hundred men crying out, their voices mingling like the sound of waves on the sea. He could make out words: "Go on! Go on! We've had enough of it! Hurrah!"
"What's happened?" he asked, of some one on the outskirts; and the man, recognising him, raised a cry which ran through the throng: "Joe Smith! He's the boy for us! Come in here, Joe! Give us a speech!"
But even while Hal was asking questions, trying to get the situation clear, other shouts had drowned out his name. "We've had enough of them walking over us!" And somebody cried, more loudly, "Tell us about it! Tell it again! Go on!"
A man was standing upon the steps of a building at one side. Hal stared in amazement; it was Tim Rafferty. Of all people in the world--Tim, the light-hearted and simple, Tim of the laughing face and the merry Irish blue eyes! Now his sandy hair was tousled and his features distorted with rage. "Him near dead!" he yelled. "Him with his voice gone, and couldn't move his hand! Eleven years he's slaved for them, and near killed in an accident that's their own fault--every man in this crowd knows it's their own fault, by God!"
"Sure thing! You're right!" cried a chorus of voices "Tell it all!"
"They give him twenty-five dollars and his hospital expenses--and what'll his hospital expenses be? They'll have him out on the street again before he's able to stand. You know that--they done it to Pete Cullen!"
"You bet they did!"
"Them damned lawyers in there--gettin' 'em to sign papers when they don't know what they're doin'. An' me that might help him can't get near! By Christ, I say it's too much! Are we slaves, or are we dogs, that we have to stand such things?"
"We'll stand no more of it!" shouted one. "We'll go in there and see to it ourselves!"
"Come on!" shouted another. "To hell with their gunmen!"
Hal pushed his way into the crowd. "Tim!" he cried. "How do you know this?"
"There's a fellow in there seen it."
"I can't tell you--they'd fire him; but it's somebody you know as well as me. He come and told me. They're beatin' me old father out of damages!"
"They do it all the time!" shouted Wauchope, an English miner at Hal's side. "That's why they won't let us in there."
"They done the same thing to my father!" put in another voice. Hal recognised Andy, the Greek boy.
"And they want to start Number Two in the mornin'!" yelled Tim. "Who'll go down there again? And with Alec Stone, him that damns the men and saves the mules!"
"We'll not go back in them mines till they're safe!" shouted Wauchope. "Let them sprinkle them--or I'm done with the whole business."
"And let 'em give us our weights!" cried another. "We'll have a check-weighman, and we'll get what we earn!"
So again came the cry, "Joe Smith! Give us a speech, Joe! Soak it to 'em! You're the boy!"
Hal stood helpless, dismayed. He had counted his fight won--and here was another beginning! The men were looking to him, calling upon him as the boldest of the rebels. Only a few of them knew about the sudden change in his fortunes.
Even while he hesitated, the line of battle had swept past him; the Englishman, Wauchope, sprang upon the steps and began to address the throng. He was one of the bowed and stunted men, but in this emergency he developed sudden lung-power. Hal listened in astonishment; this silent and dull-looking fellow was the last he would have picked for a fighter. Tom Olson had sounded him out, and reported that he would hear nothing, so they had dismissed him from mind. And here he was, shouting terrible defiance!
"They're a set of robbers and murderers! They rob us everywhere we turn! For my part, I've had enough of it! Have you?"
There was a roar from every one within reach of his voice. They had all had enough.
"All right, then--we'll fight them!"
"Hurrah! Hurrah! We'll have our rights!"
Jeff Cotton came up on the run, with "Bud" Adams and two or three of the gunmen at his heels. The crowd turned upon them, the men on the outskirts clenching their fists, showing their teeth like angry dogs. Cotton's face was red with rage, but he saw that he had a serious matter in hand; he turned and went for more help--and the mob roared with delight. Already they had begun their fight! Already they had won their first victory!
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