Hal took a minute or so to ponder the situation. "Mr. Cotton," he said, at last. "I know how to spell better than that. Also my handwriting is a bit more fluent."
There was a trace of a smile about the marshal's cruel lips. "I know," he replied. "I've not failed to compare them."
"You have a good secret-service department!" said Hal.
"Before you get through, young fellow, you'll discover that our legal department is equally efficient."
"Well," said Hal, "they'll need to be; for I don't see how you can get round the fact that I'm a check-weighman, chosen according to the law, and with a group of the men behind me."
"If that's what you're counting on," retorted Cotton, "you may as well forget it. You've got no group any more."
"Oh! You've got rid of them?"
"We've got rid of the ring-leaders."
"That old billy-goat, Sikoria, for one."
"You've shipped him?"
"I saw the beginning of that. Where have you sent him?"
"That," smiled the marshal, "is a job for _your_ secret-service department!"
"And who else?"
"John Edstrom has gone down to bury his wife. It's not the first time that dough-faced old preacher has made trouble for us, but it'll be the last. You'll find him in Pedro--probably in the poor-house."
"No," responded Hal, quickly--and there came just a touch of elation in his voice--"he won't have to go to the poor-house at once. You see, I've just sent twenty-five dollars to him."
The camp-marshal frowned. "Really!" Then, after a pause, "You _did_ have that money on you! I thought that lousy Greek had got away with it!"
"No. Your knave was honest. But so was I. I knew Edstrom had been getting short weight for years, so he was the one person with any right to the money."
This story was untrue, of course; the money was still buried in Edstrom's cabin. But Hal meant for the old miner to have it in the end, and meantime he wanted to throw Cotton off the track.
"A clever trick, young man!" said the marshal. "But you'll repent it before you're through. It only makes me more determined to put you where you can't do us any harm."
"You mean in the pen? You understand, of course, it will mean a jury trial. You can get a jury to do what you want?"
"They tell me you've been taking an interest in politics in Pedro County. Haven't you looked into our jury-system?"
"No, I haven't got that far."
The marshal began blowing rings of smoke again.
"Well, there are some three hundred men on our jury-list, and we know them all. You'll find yourself facing a box with Jake Predovich as foreman, three company-clerks, two of Alf Raymond's saloon-keepers, a ranchman with a mortgage held by the company-bank, and five Mexicans who have no idea what it's all about, but would stick a knife into your back for a drink of whiskey. The District Attorney is a politician who favours the miners in his speeches, and favours us in his acts; while Judge Denton, of the district court, is the law partner of Vagleman, our chief-counsel. Do you get all that?"
"Yes," said Hal. "I've heard of the 'Empire of Raymond'; I'm interested to see the machinery. You're quite open about it!"
"Well," replied the marshal, "I want you to know what you're up against. We didn't start this fight, and we're perfectly willing to end it without trouble. All we ask is that you make amends for the mischief you've done us."
"By 'making amends,' you mean I'm to disgrace myself--to tell the men I'm a traitor?"
"Precisely," said the marshal.
"I think I'll have a seat while I consider the matter," said Hal; and he took a chair, and stretched out his legs, and made himself elaborately comfortable. "That bench upstairs is frightfully hard," said he, and smiled mockingly upon the camp-marshal.
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