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   Chapter 10 CLOUDS AND GATHERING STORMS.

Elizabeth Hobart at Exeter Hall By Jean K. Baird Characters: 22356

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Dennis O'Day, as he stood at the door of his saloon this autumn afternoon, was an excellent advertisement for the line of goods he carried. He was big and flabby. The skin about his eyes had grown into loose sacks; his eyes were a steel-gray, cruel, keen, crafty, without a particle of humor or affection. He owned the largest breweries in the state, and controlled numerous retail houses where his products were sold.

His dealings were largely with the foreign element. He spoke ready German with its various dialects. His name indicated his nationality. Though an Irishman he lacked the great-heartedness of his countrymen. The humor which made their shanties brimming with life and fun was not for him. He drove the Poles and Slavs who lived about Bitumen like a herd of cattle. The few who voted, voted as Dennis O'Day told them. The labor problem was discussed over his bar. He fixed for them the length of day, and the rate per ton. He was the bell-sheep for all the foreign herd. In return for their allegiance, he bailed them out of jail when necessary. When Gerani in a drunken quarrel, had stabbed the fighting, ugly-tempered little Italian, Marino De Angelo, it was Dennis who established an alibi, and swore all manner of oaths to prove that Gerani, a law-abiding citizen, a credit to the commonwealth, could not possibly have done it. As to the guilty party, O'Day had shaken his head in doubt. He was not quick to remember the faces of these foreigners. There were many about-some new to him. It was impossible to point out the guilty man. He appeared really grieved that the death of De Angelo should go unpunished, and left the court-room with the avowed intent of bringing the murderer to justice. That had been some five years before, and De Angelo's murderer was yet unpunished. But from that time, Gerani was a slave to O'Day. There was no work about the hotel or town that he would not do at the saloonist's bidding. He made good wages in the mines and the proprietor of "The Miner's Rest" received the biggest portion of them.

It was not for love of Landlord O'Day the big Pole served so faithfully, for he muttered and cursed under his breath the instant he was out of range of the cold, steely eyes. O'Day was not in ignorance of this for Coslowski had warned him. The men had been drinking, Gerani among them.

"Keep your eye on the big Polack," he said to Dennis, yet loud enough for all to hear. "If you don't want to hand in your checks soon, don't let him get behind you on a dark night."

At that Gerani had scowled malignantly. O'Day laughed loud and mirthlessly, while he washed glasses and kept his eye on the scowling Pole.

"He'd do it quick enough. Dead men tell no tales; but confessions do. And I've left with Father Brady a nice lot of paper which he's to read when I'm gone. It will be hot enough around here to make more than one swing for a breeze. I'm safe with Gerani-so long as those papers are safe with Father Brady." The big Pole moved away from his place at the front. As O'Day ceased speaking, he disappeared into the darkness.

By such methods O'Day had gained his influence over the foreigners. He was lawless. His place was open on the Sabbath and until all hours of the night. Young boys entered sober and came forth drunk. There was no one to call him to account. Then from somewhere came Joe Ratowsky. And from that time, the troubles of Dennis O'Day began.

Yet big Joe was apparently innocent. He could smatter only a little English. No one seemed to know where he came from and he never furnished the information even when asked; he never seemed to hear the question. He was friendly with his countrymen, and stood by them whenever the need arose. He was often called upon to act as interpreter between the bosses and the men, but still he was different from those about him. He was a Pole, heart and soul, and his faith was bound to the homeland whose ultimate independence was his one dream; he had risen a grade higher in the moral scale than those whom his work made his associates. Joe took baths. Joe read a Polish paper; he did not drink except one glass of beer at his dinner. None of them had ever been able to persuade him to go further than that. Whether it were a wedding or a wake, Joe was staunch. This moderation, with the baths, set him, apart.

He did not mine at Bitumen, but worked his little patch of ground, interpreted when there was need for small consideration, and at last opened a little restaurant where lunches after the German style were served. His black coffee certainly excelled O'Day's beer, while the wienerwurst and "Schnitz-und-Kn?pf" put to shame the meals at "The Miner's Rest."

Joe's place consisted of a great room with a bare floor, furnished with wooden chairs and tables. One weekly paper in German was always to be found. The German element at Bitumen could read their own language; and they passed the news on to the others. The innovation of the paper diminished the popularity of O'Day's place. Joe also introduced music, or what was passed for it. Then O'Day offered to buy him out at a price more than the place was worth. Joe smiled blandly, "Me know Slav-me know Polack talk. Me know no English like you say. Me no understand. Meester Hobart, he tell you vat you says. He tell you quick like the tivil." But Dennis O'Day had no desire to speak with Mr. Hobart. His efforts with Joe were futile. The big Pole had made up his mind not to understand.

The superintendent was liked well enough by the saloonist, and consequently by the greater portion of the men. Mr. Hobart was opposed to liquor, and had not hesitated to express himself to that effect. But O'Day cared little for that so long, as he said, the man knew his place and did not interfere. And his place, to O'Day's way of thinking, was to superintend the mines, and let the morals of the men alone. "I'll take good care of them," he was apt to add with a crafty look. His intercourse with Mr. Hobart began and ended with a bow of recognition in the street. So far as the liquor business was concerned, O'Day considered the superintendent harmless, and that was as far as he concerned himself with anyone.

Some subtle influence was working against O'Day. From whence it came he was not able to determine. The time had passed, however, when he could break the law with impunity. He felt that keen eyes were upon him. He was cunning enough to know that his safety now lay in his keeping within the limits of the law. He made ostentatious show of closing at the prescribed hours. All the while he kept his eyes and ears open to discover his enemy.

Big Joe Ratowsky was the only probable one. He made frequent visits to "The Miner's Rest," but never drank. He knew the ages of all the miners. In this respect Joe's watchfulness was clear to O'Day's mind; but there the evidence stopped, and much could be said on the other side. So, still at sea, O'Day kept himself sober and his eyes and ears open to all that was said and done in his place of business. Finally, when his confidence was fully restored, he returned to his old way of doing business, and kept open one Sunday. His place was filled with drunken, riotous Poles and Slavs. In a spirit of recklessness, he sold freely to all. On the following morning a summons was served to appear before the court to answer to the charge of illegal liquor selling. The charge was brought by the Pole, big Joe Ratowsky. Even then O'Day's perception was dull. It did not come to him that Joe was merely the instrument in the hand of someone who would not act openly.

Raffelo Bruno, the little hunchback shoemaker, opened his eyes to the truth. He was by nature suspicious. He had faith in no man. When the summons came to O'Day, Raffelo quit his bench and made his way to the saloon. His dark, swarthy face, with stubby beard, was twisted and contorted. He gesticulated continuously, sawing the air with his hands. "Ye-s-Joe Ratowsky, he run and tell ze-ze. He ees-one-fool. He ze monkee on ze stick. Mees-ter Ho-bart, he meek hims-jump."

The suggestion was enough. Joe was the tool of someone, and that someone was Superintendent Hobart; such was the idea the Italian meant to convey. O'Day in forcible terms cursed himself that he had not seen this before. It was evident enough now. Mr. Hobart, as superintendent, dare not antagonize the drink-indulging miners with open warfare against the saloon. Joe was his tool, carrying out his plans. Joe Ratowsky with his smattering of English did not know enough to make himself a formidable enemy. Some keen mind with a knowledge of the liquor law was the power back of the Pole. The coffee-house and reading-room which Joe had opened were mere subterfuges to draw the men away from the saloon. The man could not and did not make enough to keep himself and family in the poor way they lived.

It was clear enough to O'Day now, though he ridiculed Bruno for suggesting that Mr. Hobart interested himself in such matters.

The summons was served in October. O'Day appeared before the November court. They might have brought half a dozen different counts against him, but they did not. The prosecuting attorney, with great confidence in his own judgment, had drawn up the papers specifically charging Dennis O'Day with selling to minors. He had evidence sufficient on that one count to have his license revoked.

The trial passed off quickly. Four boys, not over sixteen, testified that Dennis O'Day himself had sold liquor to them, not once but many times. It was proof positive without Joe Ratowsky giving his testimony.

O'Day himself sat hunched up in the prisoners' dock, glinting his keen eyes about from witness to juror. When the witnesses had testified against him, his attorney brought forth, in turn, the father of each boy, who declared that he had personally given the saloonist permission to sell liquor to his son. By this the Minor Liquor Law was, in effect, circumvented. That each father was the richer by some of O'Day's money was generally supposed. But that was not the issue at hand. The case was dismissed. O'Day went back to Bitumen wiser in that he knew whom to fear, and with the privilege of freely selling to the young boys who had testified against him.

Though to all appearances the matter ended here, the fight had just begun.

It would have been impossible for anyone, except O'Day, to tell just how the trouble began. But before a month had passed, there arose a feeling of dissatisfaction among the miners. It could be felt rather than expressed. Where once every Slav and Pole smiled at the mention of the boss's name, now there was only silence, a silence ominous to those who knew the signs. Joe Ratowsky understood and went at midnight to ask Mr. Hobart to go away somewhere for a time, until the discontent passed. But Mr. Hobart was not one to leave his work because a man of Dennis O'Day's stamp saw fit to disapprove of him. If there was trouble brewing, there was all the more reason for him to stand at his post. He laughed at Ratowsky's fears, and encouraged him to think that half the discontent among the men was of his own imagi

nation.

A series of accidents, or what passed as such, began immediately after Dennis O'Day was acquitted.

The cable, which drew the coal cars up the incline, broke, letting them fall back at break-neck speed against the engine-house. Fortunately it occurred at a time when the men were not riding up the incline, so no lives were lost. This accident was the subject of discussion that night at "The Miner's Rest." O'Day was over-solicitous about the welfare of the men. He criticised corporations which risked the lives of the workmen for the sake of saving. "Anyone could see the cable was weak in spots," he said. "It wasn't a week ago that I walked up the incline-wouldn't trust myself to such a rotten chain. A new cable costs, of course, and the company used the old one till it fell to pieces. They hain't risking their lives. What does it matter to them if a few Slavs and Polacks hand in their checks? Huns and Dagos are thick as blackberries in June, and about as valuable."

At his words the men about the tables scowled. It mattered to them if a few lives were lost, providing their own were among them.

"I wish I had the corporations by the throat," added O'Day vehemently, all the while watching the effect of his words upon his hearers. He could read these people like an open book, and he was keen enough to know when it was wise to stop talking and when continue. "I'd choke them into taking care of the men's lives. You're all just so many cattle to them. A Hun isn't so much to them as a cow, and they would see you all in perdition rather than lose a good mule."

The faces about him were scowling and malignant. Each man was ready to believe all evil against that great and incomprehensible body known as a corporation. They had heard the war-cry between capital and labor dinned into their ears since the day they set foot upon American soil. It meant nothing to them that their teachers were always men like O'Day, who, while lining their own pockets with the laborers' earnings, cry out against the men who are getting more, though lawfully. It never came to their untrained minds that O'Day proved nothing. He said so, that was enough. O'Day listened to the muttered growls of dissatisfaction.

"But, I suppose," he continued hypocritically, "that we shouldn't blame the men who have put their money in the mines. They are only wanting a fair interest on their investment. That's only right. No doubt they send money enough right into Bitumen to have things kept up first-class, better houses for the miners, and cables that don't break. I'm thinking there hain't one of those big ones in the city who knows how poor you men live, how little you get, and how you risk your lives every day you work. How should they know? They spend money enough to have things fine." Then he added, "They hain't to blame if the men they've put in charge hain't honest."

That was enough for one night. O'Day, still discreet and tactful, dropped the subject. Not so with the men. They rolled the idea about until it grew into immense proportions. A week passed, and yet they talked. If there had been one among them fitted to lead, there would have been open trouble. There was no one. Bruno had daring and sagacity enough, but he was an Italian-a Dago, in common parlance, and the Slavs and Poles hated the Dagos worse than they hated the smallpox.

Sometime later a small stationary engine blew up; and Colowski was hit on the head by a piece of flying iron. Ellis, the engineer, insisted that he was not careless. He had kept his steam-register down to one hundred and fifty pounds when the limit was three hundred. Superintendent Hobart was about to discharge him when Joe Ratowsky appeared.

"It's the tivil's own work, b'gosh, Meester Hobart. Gerani, he comes and he fools with the little boiler-clock. Me come like the tivil, b'gosh, or me could have stopped it quick." He had picked up the steam-register and was holding it in his hand. It was what he called the boiler-clock. It had been hurled a great distance but yet remained whole.

Mr. Hobart took it from Joe's hand to examine it. He had given little credence to Ratowsky's words. He whistled softly to himself as he examined the register. He began to believe the Pole right. Affairs at Bitumen were assuming a serious aspect.

O'Day's acquittal had taught him one lesson-to be prepared for any emergency. For that reason, he handed the register to Ellis. "Look closely at that," he said. "There's evidence enough there to free you from blame. But I wish you and Joe to see this for yourselves and not take my word for it."

Ellis, too, whistled when he examined the register. Little wonder that he had not been able to put on a full head of steam. A strong but almost invisible steel rod had been driven in the face of the register at such a point that the hand moving under the pressure of steam would stop at the one-hundred-and-fifty-pound mark.

"It couldn't have been driven there by the explosion?" asked Ellis.

"Impossible. We haven't a steel brad like that about the place, and never have had. Joe saw Gerani prowling about before you came."

"And I saw him leave, Mr. Hobart. I went up to Bruno's shack to have my shoes fixed, and I came down over the hill instead of the usual way by the road. Gerani was just going up as I came down."

Mr. Hobart made no further comment. But from that time Gerani was watched closely. Joe Ratowsky, while seemingly doing nothing but attend his little lunch-counter, shadowed the man. He knew when Gerani came and went. There was proof enough that he had been interfering with the engine. But it was not he alone whom Mr. Hobart wished to reach. It was the man back of the act who had sent the Pole to do the work.

The superintendent thought at first of dismissing Gerani. But this might bring on more serious complications. His fellow-workmen might object-the Huns and Poles, at least. The Italians were not in the mines but were employed about the dumps, and on the road which wound about the mountain. It was Joe again who thought of a means of subduing Gerani. He had heard enough of O'Day's covert suggestion that he could tell much that Gerani dreaded. Joe undertook the same stratagem. One stormy night he met Gerani on his way home. Catching him by his sleeve, he detained him long enough to say in his native tongue, "I've a word to say to you in secret, brother. O'Day is not the only one that knows about the Dago. The superintendent, he knows, too; but he keeps quiet because you are a good miner when you are not drunk, brother. So a word of warning. Keep friends with Mr. Hobart, and whatever happens, don't let it come to his ears that Gerani went up at daylight to work at the engine. Just a word of warning, brother, all given in good faith, and for the sake of the land from which we came."

That was all. Joe Ratowsky strode on through the darkness without giving the other time to respond. In his own tongue, his speech was impressive. He saw now, from the frightened expression of Gerani's face, that his words had struck home.

The next morning, the big Pole was not at the mines, nor did he come to draw the pay due him. Joe Ratowsky chuckled to himself when several days passed. "Gerani-oh-he all right. We no fear him. Me scare him like the tivil, b'gosh."

Mr. Hobart rested easy again with Gerani at a distance and afraid of him. But men of O'Day's stamp can readily find tools to their need.

There was a week or more of quiet, then the engine and one car, which went down the mountain each morning to bring back the mail, was derailed at the second switchback and crashed into a forest of big oaks. The car was empty, and the train, being on the second switch, was moving backward. The rear end of the coach was crushed but the engine and engineer escaped unhurt.

"Gerani," said Mr. Hobart when he heard the news, but Ratowsky shook his head in negation. "You no see him no more. He be bad man at Bitumen no more, b'gosh." Then Joe laughed heartily and slapped his broad limbs with his hand. He never lost his first appreciation of the manner in which he had settled Gerani's interference. There had been a gang of a dozen Italians somewhere along the road, but they had neither seen nor heard anyone.

For several weeks communication between Bitumen and the rest of the world was cut off. It was then that Joe Ratowsky walked to the foot of the hill to telegraph Elizabeth to remain at Exeter. And the day following he called upon her, with a letter, putting the best construction he could upon the road being disabled.

There was a little mule-driver in the mines who bore the euphonious name of Ketchomunoski. He ate much wienerwurst and drank beer freely, and on holidays devoured, at one sitting, a half-dozen loaves of bread, the centers of which had been previously dug out and filled with melted lard. He visited "The Miners' Rest" and reeled home to his shack at a late hour. All these are mere preliminary details to the statement that his nerves were growing irritable, and his temper uncertain. He beat one mule until it was forced to return disabled to the barn, and a few days later mistreated a second until it was worthless and the boss in a humane spirit had the animal shot.

For such cases a precedent had long been established. The boy deserved to be discharged at once, and discharged he was. Had conditions been normal, discharging a mule-driver would have been of so little moment it would have passed without comment. But O'Day's quiet work had not been without its effect.

The same evening, a delegation of miners waited upon Mr. Hobart. Ketchomunoski was to be put back or the rest of them would go out. Mr. Hobart listened to their terms. He considered the question before replying. Again he felt certain that another brain had put the plan in operation. After deliberation, he spoke to them plainly. Such a movement on their part was ill-advised. First, the largest orders for the year had already been filled, and enough coal was at the dumps and in cars at the foot of the mountain to fill the orders which came in month by month. So far as The Kettle Creek Mining Company and its patrons were concerned, the mines could shut down until spring; as to the miners, they knew that they had neither money nor food to supply them for a month.

He tried to reason with them; but the Hungarians and Polack miners know no reason. Mr. Hobart's present method of talking with them, to their way of thinking, betokened not sound common sense and judgment, but fear.

They blustered and threatened and defied. At this, Mr. Hobart arose, declaring that they might take what course they would, he could not return Ketchomunoski to work. The delegation, expressing their anger in strong words, departed. Mr. Hobart immediately sent word to Ratowsky, Ellis and half a dozen other men whom he knew would stand by him. Together they talked over the situation, cleaned their firearms, and then sent Ratowsky, by moonlight, down the mountain to purchase and bring back a supply of ammunition.

By the following evening the strike at Bitumen was on.

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