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Chapter 15

Would they wait until morning, or would they come soon? He was inclined to the latter guess, so he was only slightly startled when, an hour or two later, he heard the knob of the cabin-door turned. A moment later came a crash and the door was burst open, with the shoulder of a heavy man behind it.

The room was in confusion in a second. Men sprang to their feet, crying out; others sat up bewildered, still half asleep. The room was bright from an electric torch in the hands of one of the invaders. "There's the fellow!" cried a voice, which Hal instantly recognised as belonging to Jeff Cotton, the camp-marshal. "Stick 'em up, there! You, Joe Smith!" Hal did not wait to see the glint of the marshal's revolver.

There followed a silence. As this drama was being staged for the benefit of the other men, it was necessary to give them time to get thoroughly awake, and to get their eyes used to the light. Meantime Hal stood, his hands in the air. Behind the torch he could make out the faces of the marshal, Bud Adams, Alec Stone, Jake Predovich, and two or three others.

"Now, men," said Cotton, at last, "you are some of the fellows that want a check-weighman. And this is the man you chose. Is that right?"

There was no answer.

"I'm going to show you the kind of fellow he is. He came to Mr. Stone here and offered to sell you out."

"It's a lie, men," said Hal, quietly.

"He took some money from Mr. Stone to sell you out!" insisted the marshal.

"It's a lie," said Hal, again.

"He's got that money now!" cried the other.

And Hal cried, in turn, "They are trying to frame something on me, boys! Don't let them fool you!"

"Shut up," commanded the marshal; then, to the men, "I'll show you. I think he's got that money on him now. Jake, search him."

The store-clerk advanced.

"Watch out, boys!" exclaimed Hal. "They will put something in my pockets." And then to Old Mike, who had started angrily forward, "It's all right, Mike! Let them alone!"

"Jake, take off your coat," ordered Cotton. "Roll up your sleeves. Show your hands."

It was for all the world like the performance of a prestidigitator. The little Jew took off his coat and rolled up his sleeves above his elbows. He exhibited his hands to the audience, turning them this way and that; then, keeping them out in front of him, he came slowly towards Hal, like a hypnotist about to put him to sleep.

"Watch him!" said Cotton. "He's got that money on him, I know."

"Look sharp!" cried Hal. "If it isn't there, they'll put it there."

"Keep your hands up, young fellow," commanded the marshal. "Keep back from him there!" This last to Mike Sikoria and the other spectators, who were pressing nearer, peering over one another's shoulders.

It was all very serious at the time, but afterwards, when Hal recalled the scene, he laughed over the grotesque figure of Predovich searching his pockets while keeping as far away from him as possible, so that every one might know that the money had actually come out of Hal's pocket. The searcher put his hands first in the inside pockets, then in the pockets of Hal's shirt. Time was needed to build up this climax!

"Turn around," commanded Cotton; and Hal turned, and the Jew went through his trouser-pockets. He took out in turn Hal's watch, his comb and mirror, his handkerchief; after examining them and holding them up, he dropped them onto the floor. There was a breathless hush when he came to Hal's purse, and proceeded to open it. Thanks to the greed of the company, there was nothing in the purse but some small change. Predovich closed it and dropped it to the floor.

"Wait now! He's not through!" cried the master of ceremonies. "He's got that money somewhere, boys! Did you look in his side-pockets, Jake?"

"Not yet," said Jake.

"Look sharp!" cried the marshal; and every one craned forward eagerly, while Predovich stooped down on one knee, and put his hand into one coat pocket and then into the other.

He took his hand out again, and the look of dismay upon his face was so obvious that Hal could hardly keep from laughing. "It ain't dere!" he declared.

"What?" cried Cotton, and they stared at each other. "By God, he's got rid of it!"

"There's no money on me, boys!" proclaimed Hal. "It's a job they are trying to put over on us."

"He's hid it!" shouted the marshal. "Find it, Jake!"

Then Predovich began to search again, swiftly, and with less circumstance. He was not thinking so much about the spectators now, as about all that good money gone for nothing! He made Hal take off his coat, and ripped open the lining; he unbuttoned the trousers and felt inside; he thrust his fingers down inside Hal's shoes.

But there was no money, and the searchers were at a standstill. "He took twenty-five dollars from Mr. Stone to sell you out!" declared the marshal. "He's managed to get rid of it somehow."

"Boys," cried Hal, "they sent a spy in here, and told him to put money on me." He was looking at Apostolikas as he spoke; he saw the man start and shrink back.

"That's him! He's a scab!" cried Old Mike. "He's got the money on him, I bet!" And he made a move towards the Greek.

So the camp-marshal realised suddenly that it was time to ring down the curtain on this drama. "That's enough of this foolishness," he declared. "Bring that fellow along here!" And in a flash a couple of the party had seized Hal's wrists, and a third had grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. Before the miners had time to realise what was happening, they had rushed their prisoner out of the cabin.

The quarter of an hour which followed was an uncomfortable one for the would-be check-weighman. Outside, in the darkness, the camp-marshal was free to give vent to his rage, and so was Alec Stone. They poured out curses upon him, and kicked him and cuffed him as they went along. One of the men who held his wrists twisted his arm, until he cried out with pain; then they cursed him harder, and bade him hold his mouth. Down the dark and silent street they went swiftly, and into the camp-marshal's office, and upstairs to the room which served as the North Valley jail. Hal was glad enough when they left him here, slamming the iron door behind them.

Upton Sinclair