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Chapter 23

Jeff Cotton sprang forward. "Stop!" he cried.

But Hal did not stop.

"See here, young man!" cried the marshal. "Don't carry this joke too far!" And he sprang to the door, just ahead of his prisoner. His hand moved toward his hip.

"Draw your gun, Cotton," said Hal; and, as the marshal obeyed, "Now I will stop. If I obey you in future, it will be at the point of your revolver."

The marshal's mouth was dangerous-looking. "You may find that in this country there's not so much between the drawing of a gun and the firing of it!"

"I've explained my attitude," replied Hal. "What are your orders?"

"Come back and sit in this chair."

So Hal sat, and the marshal went to his desk, and took up the telephone. "Number seven," he said, and waited a moment. "That you, Tom? Bring the car right away."

He hung up the receiver, and there followed a silence; finally Hal inquired, "I'm going to Pedro?"

There was no reply.

"I see I've got on your nerves," said Hal. "But I don't suppose it's occurred to you that you deprived me of my money last night. Also, I've an account with the company, some money coming to me for my work? What about that?"

The marshal took up the receiver and gave another number. "Hello, Simpson. This is Cotton. Will you figure out the time of Joe Smith, buddy in Number Two, and send over the cash. Get his account at the store; and be quick, we're waiting for it. He's going out in a hurry." Again he hung up the receiver.

"Tell me," said Hal, "did you take that trouble for Mike Sikoria?"

There was silence.

"Let me suggest that when you get my time, you give me part of it in scrip. I want it for a souvenir."

Still there was silence.

"You know," persisted the prisoner, tormentingly, "there's a law against paying wages in scrip."

The marshal was goaded to speech. "We don't pay in scrip."

"But you do, man! You know you do!"

"We give it when they ask their money ahead."

"The law requires you to pay them twice a month, and you don't do it. You pay them once a month, and meantime, if they need money, you give them this imitation money!"

"Well, if it satisfies them, where's your kick?"

"If it doesn't satisfy them, you put them on the train and ship them out?"

The marshal sat in silence, tapping impatiently with his fingers on the desk.

"Cotton," Hal began, again, "I'm out for education, and there's something I'd like you to explain to me--a problem in human psychology. When a man puts through a deal like this, what does he tell himself about it?"

"Young man," said the marshal, "if you'll pardon me, you are getting to be a bore."

"Oh, but we've got an automobile ride before us! Surely we can't sit in silence all the way!" After a moment he added, in a coaxing tone, "I really want to learn, you know. You might be able to win me over."

"No!" said Cotton, promptly. "I'll not go in for anything like that!"

"But why not?"

"Because, I'm no match for you in long-windedness. I've heard you agitators before, you're all alike: you think the world is run by talk--but it isn't."

Hal had come to realise that he was not getting anywhere in his duel with the camp-marshal. He had made every effort to get somewhere; he had argued, threatened, bluffed, he had even sung songs for the marshal! But the marshal was going to ship him out, that was all there was to it.

Hal had gone on with the quarrel, simply because he had to wait for the automobile, and because he had endured indignities and had to vent his anger and disappointment. But now he stopped quarrelling suddenly. His attention was caught by the marshal's words, "You think the world is run by talk!" Those were the words Hal's brother always used! And also, the marshal had said, "You agitators!" For years it had been one of the taunts Hal had heard from his brother, "You will turn into one of these agitators!" Hal had answered, with boyish obstinacy, "I don't care if I do!" And now, here the marshal was calling him an agitator, seriously, without an apology, without the license of blood relationship. He repeated the words, "That's what gets me about you agitators--you come in here trying to stir these people up--"

So that was the way Hal seemed to the "G. F. C."! He had come here intending to be a spectator, to stand on the deck of the steamer and look down into the ocean of social misery. He had considered every step so carefully before he took it! He had merely tried to be a check-weighman, nothing more! He had told Tom Olson he would not go in for unionism; he had had a distrust of union organisers, of agitators of all sorts--blind, irresponsible persons who went about stirring up dangerous passions. He had come to admire Tom Olson--but that had only partly removed his prejudices; Olson was only one agitator, not the whole lot of them!

But all his consideration for the company had counted for nothing; likewise all his efforts to convince the marshal that he was a leisure-class person. In spite of all Hal's "tea-party manners," the marshal had said, "You agitators!" What was he judging by, Hal wondered. Had he, Hal Warner, come to look like one of these blind, irresponsible persons? It was time that he took stock of himself!

Had two months of "dirty work" in the bowels of the earth changed him so? The idea was bound to be disconcerting to one who had been a favourite of the ladies! Did he talk like it?--he who had been "kissing the Blarney-stone!" The marshal had said he was "long-winded!" Well, to be sure, he had talked a lot; but what could the man expect--having shut him up in jail for two nights and a day, with only his grievances to brood over! Was that the way real agitators were made--being shut up with grievances to brood over?

Hal recalled his broodings in the jail. He had been embittered; he had not cared whether North Valley was dominated by labour unions. But that had all been a mood, the same as his answer to his brother; that was jail psychology, a part of his summer course in practical sociology. He had put it aside; but apparently it had made a deeper impression upon him than he had realised. It had changed his physical aspect! It had made him look and talk like an agitator! It had made him "irresponsible," "blind!"

Yes, that was it! All this dirt, ignorance, disease, this knavery and oppression, this maiming of men in body and soul in the coal-camps of America--all this did not exist--it was the hallucination of an "irresponsible" brain! There was the evidence of Hal's brother and the camp-marshal to prove it; there was the evidence of the whole world to prove it! The camp-marshal and his brother and the whole world could not be "blind!" And if you talked to them about these conditions, they shrugged their shoulders, they called you a "dreamer," a "crank," they said you were "off your trolley"; or else they became angry and bitter, they called you names; they said, "You agitators!"

Upton Sinclair