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Chapter 22

He took a turn about the room, then he came and stopped in front of Hal. He stood with his hands thrust into his pockets, with a certain jaunty grace that was out of keeping with his occupation. He was a handsome devil, Hal thought--in spite of his dangerous mouth, and the marks of dissipation on him.

"Young man," he began, with another effort at geniality. "I don't know who you are, but you're wide awake; you've got your nerve with you, and I admire you. So I'm willing to call the thing off, and let you go back and finish that course at college."

Hal had been studying the other's careful smile. "Cotton," he said, at last, "let me get the proposition clear. I don't have to say I took that money?"

"No, we'll let you off from that."

"And you won't send me to the pen?"

"No. I never meant to do that, of course. I was only trying to bluff you. All I ask is that you clear out, and give our people a chance to forget."

"But what's there in that for me, Cotton? If I had wanted to run away, I could have done it any time during the last eight or ten weeks."

"Yes, of course, but now it's different. Now it's a matter of my consideration."

"Cut out the consideration!" exclaimed Hal. "You want to get rid of me, and you'd like to do it without trouble. But you can't--so forget it."

The other was staring, puzzled. "You mean you expect to stay here?"

"I mean just that."

"Young man, I've had enough of this! I've got no more time to play. I don't care who you are, I don't care about your threats. I'm the marshal of this camp, and I have the job of keeping order in it. I say you're going to get out!"

"But, Cotton," said Hal, "this is an incorporated town! I have a right to walk on the streets--exactly as much right as you."

"I'm not going to waste time arguing. I'm going to put you into an automobile and take you down to Pedro!"

"And suppose I go to the District Attorney and demand that he prosecute you?"

"He'll laugh at you."

"And suppose I go to the Governor of the state?"

"He'll laugh still louder."

"All right, Cotton; maybe you know what you're doing; but I wonder--I wonder just how sure you feel. Has it never occurred to you that your superiors might not care to have you take these high-handed steps?"

"My superiors? Who do you mean?"

"There's one man in the state you must respect--even though you despise the District Attorney and the Governor. That is Peter Harrigan."

"Peter Harrigan?" echoed the other; and then he burst into a laugh. "Well, you _are_ a merry lad!"

Hal continued to study him, unmoved. "I wonder if you're sure! He'll stand for everything you've done."

"He will!" said the other.

"For the way you treat the workers? He knows you are giving short weights."

"Oh hell!" said the other. "Where do you suppose he got the money for your college?"

There was a pause; at last the marshal asked, defiantly, "Have you got what you want?"

"Yes," replied Hal. "Of course, I thought it all along, but it's hard to convince other people. Old Peter's not like most of these Western wolves, you know; he's a pious high-church man."

The marshal smiled grimly. "So long as there are sheep," said he, there'll be wolves in sheep's clothing."

"I see," said Hal. "And you leave them to feed on the lambs!"

"If any lamb is silly enough to be fooled by that old worn-out skin," remarked the marshal, "it deserves to be eaten."

Hal was studying the cynical face in front of him. "Cotton," he said, "the shepherds are asleep; but the watch-dogs are barking. Haven't you heard them?"

"I hadn't noticed."

"They are barking, barking! They are going to wake the shepherds! They are going to save the sheep!"

"Religion don't interest me," said the other, looking bored; "your kind any more than Old Peter's."

And suddenly Hal rose to his feet. "Cotton," said he, "my place is with the flock! I'm going back to my job at the tipple!" And he started towards the door.

Upton Sinclair