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   Chapter 2 TROUBLE BREWS ON THE TRAIL

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 15492

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


So silent had been the approach of Tom and his waif companion that those below had not perceived them.

Moreover, judging from the expressions on the faces of the people almost at Reade's feet, they were all too deeply absorbed in their own business to have any eyes or ears for outside matters.

Through the scene below was one of armed truce that might, at any moment, break into hostilities, with human lives at stake, Tom glanced coolly downward for a few seconds after his first startled, unheard remark.

"I'm going, to duck out of this," whispered Alf Drew, whose slim little figure was shaking in a way suggestive of chills.

"Don't be in a hurry," Tom murmured. "We may be of some use to some of these people."

"Tote those guns away, friends," spoke one of the revolver-armed men with the automobile party, "and march yourselves under the guns. Remember, we have women here."

"They can get away," returned one of the sullen-faced men with rifles. "We won't hinder 'em. We'll give 'em two full minutes to get where it's safe. Then we're going to turn our talking machines loose."

From the top of the low cliff came Tom Meade's drawling voice:

"Oh, I say, friends!"

Startled, all below glanced quickly upward.

"There seems to be trouble down there," Tom suggested.

"There sure is," nodded one of the armed men with the automobile party.

"Now, it's too glorious a day to spoil it with fighting," Reade went on. "Can't we arbitrate?"

"The first move for you, young man," warned one of the four men, raising his rifle, "is to face about and git outer here."

"Not while there are women and children present who might get hurt,"

Tom dissented, with a shake of his head.

"Git, I tell you!" shouted the man, now aiming his rifle full at

Tom's chest. Git--before I count five."

"Save your cartridge," proposed Tom. "I'm too poor game, and I'm not armed, either. Surely you wouldn't shoot a harmless orphan like me." Saying which the young engineer, having found a path down the cliff nearby, started slowly to descend.

"Get back there! Another step, and I'll put a ball through you!" roared the man who had Reade covered with his rifle.

"That wouldn't prove anything but your marksmanship," Suggested Tom, and coolly continued to descend.

"Going to get back?" howled the man behind the gun.

Without further answer Reade quickened his pace somewhat, reaching the flat bottom of the gully on a run.

Though he felt that the chances were eight out of ten that he would be shot at any second, Tom didn't betray any outward fear. The truth was that even if he wanted to stop, he would have found it somewhat difficult on that steep incline.

Where he landed, on his feet, Tom stood between the hostile parties. Had hostilities opened at that moment he would have been in a bad position between the two fires.

"Great Scott!" gasped the frightened Alf, peering down.

That youngster had thrown himself flat on his stomach his head behind a bush. He was trying to make himself as small as possible. "Whew! But Reade has the real grit!"

First of all Tom gazed curiously at the four men, who glared back at him with looks full of hate.

"Who are you, anyway?" demanded the spokesman of the sullen four.

"I might be the sheriff," Tom replied placidly.

"Huh!" retorted the spokesman.

"But I'm not," Tom went on, rather genially. "I'm just an inquisitive tourist."

"Heard o' Bald Knob?" demanded the leader of the four.

"No," admitted Reade, opening his eyes with interest. "Who is he, and how did he become bald?"

"Bald Knob is a place," came the information. "It's the place where inquisitive tourists are buried in these parts."

"I'll look it up some day," Tom promised, good-humoredly.

"You'll look it up before dark if we have time to pack you there," growled the leader of the men. "Now, are you going to stand aside?"

Tom shook his head.

"Let's shake hands all around and then sit down for a nice little talk," the young engineer suggested.

"There's been too much talk already," snarled Tom's antagonist.

The men of the automobile party were silent. They had scented in Tom an ally who would help their cause materially.

"Then you won't be sociable?" Reade demanded, as if half offended.

"Git out and go about your business," ordered the leader of the four men.

"It's always my business when women and children appear to be in danger," returned Tom. He turned on his heel, presenting his broad back as a target to the rifles as he stepped over to automobile party.

Oddly the four men, though they had the look of being desperate, did not offer to shoot.

Tom's audacity had almost cowed them for the moment.

"I hope I can be of some use to you," suggested Tom, raising his hat out of respect to the women.

"I reckon you can, if you're a good hand with a gun," replied the older of the two armed men with the motor party. "Got any shooting irons about you?"

"Nothing in that line," Tom admitted.

"Then reach under the cushion, left-hand front seat of that car," returned the same speaker. "You'll find an automatic revolver there."

Reade, however, chose to ignore the advice. He had small taste for the use of firearms.

Seeing, the young engineer's reluctance the younger of the two armed men went himself to the car, taking out the revolver and offering it to this cool young stranger.

"Thank you," was Tom's smiling reply. "But that tool is not for me. I'm the two-hundred-and-thirteenth vice president of the Peace Society."

"You'd better fight, or hike," advised the older of the two men. "This isn't going to be a safe place for just nothing but chin. And, ladies, I ask you to get behind one of the cars, since you won't leave here. Throw yourselves flat on your faces. We don't want any good women hit by any such mean rascals as that crowd over there."

The men with the rifles scowled dangerously.

"Now, listen to me--all hands," begged Tom, raising his right hand. "It's none of my business, as I very well know, but may I inquire what all this trouble is about?"

A rather portly, well dressed and well-groomed man of sixty, who had been leaning against the side of one of the cars, now spoke up promptly enough:

"I am head of the company that has legally staked out a claim here, young man. Ours is a mining company. The men yonder say that they own the claim--that they found it first, and that it is theirs. However, they never staked it off--never filed their claim."

"It's our claim, just the same," spoke up the at the four men. "And we won't have it jumped by any gang of tenderfeet on earth. So get out of here, all of you, or the music will start at once. We don't want to hit any woman or children, but we're going to hold our own property. If the women and the child won't get out of here, then they'll have to take their chances."

"That's the case, and the line of action!" growled another of the men.

"But let me ask you men," continued Tom, facing the quartette, "do you claim that you ever made legal entry of your asserted title here?"

"Maybe we didn't," grunted the spokesman. But we've known of this place for 'most a year Today we came to settle here, stake off our claims, file our entry and begin living here. But we found these benzine trotters on the ground.

"But these people state that they have made legal claim here," Tom urged.

"We have," insisted the portly man in black.

"If there is any dispute over the facts, my friends," Tom continued, turning once more to the four men, "then it looks like a case for the courts to settle. But if these people, who appear to be from the East, have acquired legal title here then they'll be able

to hold it, and you four men are only intruders here. Why, the matter begins to look rather clear--even for a Nevada dispute."

"These folks are going to move, or we'll topple 'em over and move 'em ourselves," insisted the leader.

"Men," rejoined Reade, "I'm afraid you're not cool enough to settle this case fairly. We'll call in a few of the neighbors and try to get the facts of the case. We'll---"

"Neighbors?" jeered the leader of the quartette. "Where are you going to find any?"

"Right near at hand," Tom proposed. "Much nearer than you think.

Drew!"

Alf still lay behind the bush near the edge of the cliff. He was still present mainly because he had not courage enough to run away.

"Drew!" Tom repeated, this time speaking sharply, for he guessed that the cigarette fiend was shaking in his boots.

"Yes, sir," piped the faltering voice of Alf.

"Drew, run to camp as fast as you can. Tell Ferrers to bring the whole crowd over at once."

Alf was astounded by this staggering command, which sounded like an order to rush an army to the spot. Yet he managed to gasp:

"Yes, sir."

"Now, go! Make fast time. Don't let any of this outfit catch you and hinder you."

"No, sir!"

This time Alf Drew's voice sounded faintly, over his shoulder from a considerable distance, for the boy was running fast, fear lending speed his feet.

"You see," Tom went on coolly, standing so that he could face both factions in this quarrel, "I don't know much about the merits of the case, and I'm a stranger here. I don't want to be accused of being too fresh, so I've sent for some of the natives. They'll know, better than just what to advise here. It won't take 'em long to get here."

Tom wound up this last statement with a cheerful smile.

"So Jim Ferrers is over in your camp, is he?" demanded the leader of the four men.

"Yes," Tom assented affably. "Do you know him?"

"Maybe."

"Jim is a fine fellow," Reade went on warmly. "He knows all about Nevada, too, and he's a man of good judgment. He'll be a lot of use to us in getting at the rights of this case."

"There's only one right side," insisted the leader of the quartette.

"So my friend here has informed me," answered Reade, nodding in the direction of the stout man in black. "Yet there seems to be a good deal of difference in opinion as to which is really the right side. But just wait until Jim and his friends get here. They'll be able to set us all straight and there won't be any need for doing any rough work like shooting."

"Dolph, we'd better shoot up the whole crowd, including the cheeky young one, before Jim Ferrers and his crowd gits here," propose one of the quartette.

"Jim Ferrers will be awfully displeased, you do," drawled Tom. "Do you know Jim? He has a reputation, I believe, for being rather sore on folks who shoot up his friends."

"I'll do it for you, anyway, kid!" growled one of the four, leveling his rifle.

But their leader struck the weapon up angrily just before the shot barked out.

"Who's having Fourth of July around here?" called a laughing voice from some distance down the rising path at the rear of the quartette. The four men turned quickly, but Tom had recognized joyfully the tones of Harry Hazelton's voice.

"You keep out of here, stranger!" ordered one of the quartette gruffly.

"Don't you do anything of the sort, Harry!" roared Reade's voice.

"You keep right on an join us."

"Did you hear my advice?" insisted the leader of the four, holding his rifle as though would throw the butt to his shoulder.

"Yes," said Hazelton, calmly, "but I also heard my senior partner's order. He and I stick together. Gangway, please."

Harry was cool enough as he rode his horse at a walk past the men. Hazelton will never understand how near death he was at that moment. But there had been a few whispered words between the men, and they had allowed him to ride by.

"What's the game here, Tom?" Harry called cheerily. "Any real excitement going on?"

"No." Tom shook his head. "Just a little misunderstanding over a question of fact."

"Then I see that the lie hasn't been passed," grinned Hazelton.

"The ground isn't littered at all."

He rode up to his chum, displaying no curiosity.

That the automobile party had been much cheered by the arrival of the young engineers was wholly apparent. For the same reason the four men appeared to be a good deal less certain of themselves.

"I guess there isn't going to be any real trouble," spoke Reade carelessly. "But there's a question at issue that I feel it would be impertinent in me to try to settle, so I've sent for Jim Ferrers to bring over the whole crowd."

Though Harry couldn't imagine where Ferrers's "crowd" was, he wisely held his tongue.

At the same time an earnest conference was going on among the four men. They spoke in low whispers.

"Jim Ferrers, alone, we could handle," declared the leader. "But if Jim has a crowd back of him things won't go our way when it come to the shooting."

"Let's start it before Ferrers's party gets here," growled another of the sullen ones.

"We would be tracked down and shot at by Ferrers and a crowd," argued the leader. "Things are too warm for us here, just now. In a case like this remember that a fellow lasts longer when he does his shooting from ambush and at his own time. We won't let this Dunlop crowd fool us out of our rights, but we'll have to choose a better time--and fight from ambush at that."

It was soon plain that this view prevailed among the quartette.

As they turned to move away, the leader remarked:

"We'll leave you for a while, Dunlop, but don't image you've won. Don't get any notion that you'll ever win. You'll hear from us again."

"And you'll hear a plenty as long as your hearing remains good," snarled another of the men.

The four disturbers, turning their backs, started down the sloping trail.

"Oh, but I'm glad we've seen the last of them!" shuddered one of the women of the Dunlop party.

"Don't be deceived into thinking that the last has been seen of that crew, madam," spoke Tom Reade gently. "Those fellows will be heard from again, and at no very distant hour, either. Mr. Dunlop--I believe that is your name, sir?"

The stout man bowed.

"Mr. Dunlop," Reade went on, earnestly, "I urge you to get these women and the child away from here as soon as you can. Also any of the men who may happen to have no taste for fighting. I don't believe you'll see those four men in the open any more, but there'll be more than one shot fired from ambush. You surely won't expose these women and the child any further!"

"But, Father," broke in one of the women, tremulously, "if we leave, it will take one of your two fighting men to run the car. Think how weak that will leave your defense."

"You forget, my dear," spoke Mr. Dunlop, gently, "that our newly-found young friends have just sent for other men."

Tom smiled grimly as he thought of Jim Ferrers's "crowd"--consisting of poor, frighten little Alf with the cigarette-stained fingers.

"At any cost or risk, sir," Tom went on, after a moment, "you must get the women and the child away from here. But--why, where is the child?"

There was an instant of dismay. The little girl had vanished.

"Gladys!" spoke Dr. Dunlop's daughter in alarm.

From under one of the cars a muffled voice answered, "Here I am."

Then Gladys, sobbing and shaking, emerged into view.

"I was so frightened!" cried the child. "I just had to hide."

"The men have gone away, dear," explained her mother soothingly.

"And now we're going too. We'll be safe after this."

At that instant three shots, fired in rapid succession, rang out.

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