Mary's speech was brought to a sudden end. A group of the men had moved down the street, and there arose a disturbance there. The noise of it swelled louder, and more people began to move in that direction. Mary turned to look, and all at once the whole throng surged down the street.
The trouble was at the hospital. In front of this building was a porch, and on it Cartwright and Alec Stone were standing, with a group of the clerks and office-employés, among whom Hal saw Predovich, Johnson, the postmaster, and Si Adams. At the foot of the steps stood Tim Rafferty, with a swarm of determined men at his back. He was shouting, "We want them lawyers out of there!"
The superintendent himself had undertaken to parley with him. "There are no lawyers in here, Rafferty."
"We don't trust you!" And the crowd took up the cry: "We'll see for ourselves!"
"You can't go into this building," declared Cartwright.
"I'm goin' to see my father!" shouted Tim. "I've got a right to see my father, ain't I?"
"You can see him in the morning. You can take him away, if you want to. We've no desire to keep him. But he's asleep now, and you can't disturb the others."
"You weren't afraid to disturb them with your damned lawyers!" And there was a roar of approval--so loud that Cartwright's denial could hardly be heard.
"There have been no lawyers near him, I tell you."
"It's a lie!" shouted Wauchope. "They been in there all day, and you know it. We mean to have them out."
"Go on, Tim!" cried Andy, the Greek boy, pushing his way to the front. "Go on!" cried the others; and thus encouraged, Rafferty started up the steps.
"I mean to see my father!" As Cartwright caught him by the shoulder, he yelled, "Let me go, I say!"
It was evident that the superintendent was trying his best not to use violence; he was ordering his own followers back at the same time that he was holding the boy. But Tim's blood was up; he shoved forward, and the superintendent, either striking him or trying to ward off a blow, threw him backwards down the steps. There was an uproar of rage from the throng; they surged forward, and at the same time some of the men on the porch drew revolvers.
The meaning of that situation was plain enough. In a moment more the mob would be up the steps, and there would be shooting. And if once that happened, who could guess the end? Wrought up as the crowd was, it might not stop till it had fired every company building, perhaps not until it had murdered every company representative.
Hal had resolved to keep in the back-ground, but he saw that to keep in the back-ground at that moment would be an act of cowardice, almost a crime. He sprang forward, his cry rising above the clamour. "Stop, men! Stop!"
There was probably no other man in North Valley who could have got himself heeded at that moment. But Hal had their confidence, he had earned the right to be heard. Had he not been to prison for them, had they not seen him behind the bars? "Joe Smith!" The cry ran from one end of the excited throng to the other.
Hal was fighting his way forward, shoving men to one side, imploring, commanding silence. "Tim Rafferty! Wait!" And Tim, recognising the voice, obeyed.
Once clear of the press, Hal sprang upon the porch, where Cartwright did not attempt to interfere with him.
"Men!" he cried. "Hold on a moment! This isn't what you want! You don't want a fight!" He paused for an instant; but he knew that no mere negative would hold them at that moment. They must be told what they did want. Just now he had learned the particular words that would carry, and he proclaimed them at the top of his voice: "What you want is a union! A _strike!_"
He was answered by a roar from the crowd, the loudest yet. Yes, that was what they wanted! A strike! And they wanted Joe Smith to organise it, to lead it. He had been their leader once, he had been thrown out of camp for it. How he had got back they were not quite clear--but here he was, and he was their darling. Hurrah for him! They would follow him to hell and back!
And wasn't he the boy with the nerve! Standing there on the porch of the hospital, right under the very noses of the bosses, making a union speech to them, and the bosses never daring to touch him! The crowd, realising this situation, went wild with delight. The English-speaking men shouted assent to his words; and those who could not understand, shouted because the others did.
They did not want fighting--of course not! Fighting would not help them! What would help them was to get together, and stand a solid body of free men. There would be a union committee, able to speak for all of them, to say that no man would go to work any more until justice was secured! They would have an end to the business of discharging men because they asked for their rights, of blacklisting men and driving them out of the district because they presumed to want what the laws of the state awarded them!
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