Chapter 26 continues
The story so far: Company guards assemble; weapons are drawn.
Milo, Paul and Andre ran toward the fray. The crowd parted to let them pass. When they reached the miner with the rifle, Paul put his hand on the miner’s shoulder. “We honor your courage. But you can put the gun down now.”
Milo, Paul and Andre turned, until they were standing right in front of the men on horses. Andre took off his hat. “Afternoon, Sheriff Turner, Mr. Stone. Bit warm for June, wouldn’t you say, Stone? Your fine yellow suit is getting damp.”
“You’re one of them now, Andre?” said Augustine Stone, part owner of the Oliver Mining Company. “One of my foremen had doubts about you. Guess I should have listened. He told me you were turning to the bad side.”
“That there is a matter of perspective, wouldn’t you say?”
“How’s this for perspective, you Wob traitor?” Sheriff Turner said. From atop his horse, he drew his gun. Augustine Stone did the same. The miners on the perimeter immediately showed their weapons.
“There are more of us than there are of you,” Andre said. “For your own safety, gentlemen, I suggest you think about what you’re doing. Don’t make any rash decisions. Don’t move too quickly.”
“Or what? Your band of criminals will kill us?” Mr. Stone asked.
Milo took an awkward step forward. He cleared his throat, then spoke boldly. “I think, sir,” Milo said. “You are the criminal, no?”
“Me?” Mr. Stone laughed. “I am no criminal. This is my bloody land. Hell, this is practically my bloody town. I own everything you see. I probably own you!”
“Own me?” Milo asked. “You think?”
Mr. Stone stared back, meeting Milo’s gaze. He raised his eyebrows.
“Who owns your boots?”
“You do, sir.”
“Who owns your shovel?”
“You do, sir.”
“Who owns your house?”
“Don’t have no house. But you have my paycheck, and rent is due.”
“So we agree,” Stone said, looking satisfied. “I own your bloody ass.”
“So it appears,” Milo said, and smiled. “But last I checked, it is not legal to own another person in the United States of America. Is that not true, Paul?”
“I didn’t go to a university, like Mr. Stone here,” Paul said. “But I think that is true, Milo.”
“That true!” Someone in the crowd yelled. “I learn that in night school!”
Men within hearing distance laughed. The men on horseback pretended not to notice. “Got a point?” Mr. Stone asked.
Milo addressed the crowd again. “In that book of this country, the constitution, do it say a man can own another man?”
“No!” the crowd screamed back.
“No, it don’t,” Milo said to Mr. Stone. “So. My point it being, you the criminal here, not us.”
Mr. Stone laughed again. Sheriff Turner laughed too, but there was something altogether unnatural about the way their laughter fell out of their mouths. It was almost as if they were coughing instead, and Katka could tell the big men were rattled. Mr. Stone looked at Milo anew, as if he were seeing him for the first time.
“If any of your men want a job tomorrow, I suggest you tell them to get back to work.”
“Or what?” Andre said. “Your men will shoot ’em? Like you did to Hans Nurmi?”
“Go back to work!” he yelled. “Go back to work and we’ll pretend this never happened!”
The crowd did not flinch.
“If you stay out here, on my property, you will never work again. Mark me, not here, not at any mine owned by the Oliver Mining Company! Your children will starve! You will have no place to live!”
All was quiet as snow.
Then a man yelled, “Mine childrens — already they are starving!”
Mrs. Zalar yelled next. “The house you give is not a house. It is a shack not fit for dog! And you don’t give. We pay!”
The voices multiplied. The volume increased. The languages melded, until Katka could recognize few words. She continued taking notes. “If the workers and their families were afraid, they did not show it.”
“Mr. Stone,” Andre said. “You are correct. These workers will never work here again. At least not under the current conditions. Not under you.”
“If you think you will organize these lawless foreign-borns, Andre, think again. It’s been tried. They are easily broken.”
“This is not 1907, Mr. Stone. There’s a war on. We both know there are no workers coming in. There will be no scabs swimming off the ships in Duluth. These workers will not be broken. Are you sure you’re not thinking of yourself? You are the one who will be broken.”
Tomorrow: Chapter 26 continues.