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Chapter 9

Hal read the document which had been prepared the night before. They demanded the right to have a union without being discharged for it. They demanded a check-weighman, to be elected by the men themselves. They demanded that the mines should be sprinkled to prevent explosions, and properly timbered to prevent falls. They demanded the right to trade at any store they pleased. Hal called attention to the fact that every one of these demands was for a right guaranteed by the laws of the state; this was a significant fact, and he urged the men not to include other demands. After some argument they voted down the proposition of the radicals, who wanted a ten per cent. increase in wages. Also they voted down the proposition of a syndicalist-anarchist, who explained to them in a jumble of English and Italian that the mines belonged to them, and that they should refuse all compromise and turn the bosses out forthwith.

While this speech was being delivered, young Rovetta pushed his way through the crowd and drew Hal to one side. He had been down by the railroad-station and seen the morning train come in. From it had descended a crowd of thirty or forty men, of that "hard citizen" type which every miner in the district could recognise at the first glance. Evidently the company officials had been keeping the telephone-wires busy that night; they were bringing in, not merely this train-load of guards, but automobile loads from other camps--from the Northeastern down the canyon, and from Barela, in a side canyon over the mountain.

Hal told this news to the meeting, which received it with howls of rage. So that was the bosses' plan! Hot-heads sprang upon the cinder-heap, half a dozen of them trying to make speeches at once. The leaders had to suppress these too impetuous ones by main force; once more Hal gave the warning of "No fighting!" They were going to have faith in their union; they were going to present a solid front to the company, and the company would learn the lesson that intimidation would not win a strike.

So it was agreed, and the committee set out for the company's office, Wauchope carrying in his hand the written demands of the meeting. Behind the committee marched the crowd in a solid mass; they packed the street in front of the office, while the heroic seven went up the steps and passed into the building. Wauchope made inquiry for Mr. Cartwright, and a clerk took in the message.

They stood waiting; and meanwhile, one of the office-people, coming in from the street, beckoned to Hal. He had an envelope in his hand, and gave it over without a word. It was addressed, "Joe Smith," and Hal opened it, and found within a small visiting card, at which he stared. "Edward S. Warner, Jr."!

For a moment Hal could hardly believe the evidence of his eyesight. Edward in North Valley! Then, turning the card over, he read, in his brother's familiar handwriting, "I am at Cartwright's house. I must see you. The matter concerns Dad. Come instantly."

Fear leaped into Hal's heart. What could such a message mean?

He turned quickly to the committee and explained. "My father's an old man, and had a stroke of apoplexy three years ago. I'm afraid he may be dead, or very ill. I must go."

"It's a trick!" cried Wauchope excitedly.

"No, not possibly," answered Hal. "I know my brother's handwriting. I must see him."

"Well," declared the other, "we'll wait. We'll not see Cartwright until you get back."

Hal considered this. "I don't think that's wise," he said. "You can do what you have to do just as well without me."

"But I wanted you to do the talking!"

"No," replied Hal, "that's your business, Wauchope. You are the president of the union. You know what the men want, as well as I do; you know what they complain of. And besides, there's not going to be any need of talking with Cartwright. Either he's going to grant our demands or he isn't."

They discussed the matter back and forth. Mary Burke insisted that they were pulling Hal away just at the critical moment! He laughed as he answered. She was as good as any man when it came to an argument. If Wauchope showed signs of weakening, let her speak up!

Upton Sinclair