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   Chapter 4 SOLD OUT FOR A TOY BALE!

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 9789

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Jim Ferrers had stated a plain truth when he remarked that Nevada men did not often waste ammunition.

With four rifles aimed at him, at that short, point-blank range, it would seem that Jim's last moment had come.

Yet at that instant the sound of an approaching motor ear was heard.

Then the car, moving at twelve miles an hour mounted the crest at a point less than seventy yards from where the four ambushed men lay.

Joe Timmins caught sight of them.

"Take the wheel!" muttered Timmins, forcing Parkinson's nearer hand to the wheel.

In an instant Joe was upon his feet, drawing his revolver. He fired at the men in ambush, but a lurch of the car on the rough ground destroyed his aim.

"Dolph Gage and his rascals at the ridge," bellowed Joe, in a fog-horn voice, pointing.

Jim Ferrers dropped to the ground, hugging it flat. Harry followed suit. Tom Reade hesitated an instant, then away he flew at a dead run.

Close to a tree Tom stopped, thrusting right hand in among the bushes. Up and down his hand moved.

"Shoot and duck!" snarled Dolph, in a passion because of their having been discovered.

Boom!

Over by the ridge where Gage and his fellow rascals lay it looked as though a volcano had started in operation on a small scale.

Fragments of rock, clouds of dirt, splinters and bits of brush shot up in the air.

Following the report came a volley of terrific yells from Dolph and his fellows.

They had been on the instant of firing when the big explosion came. Jim Ferrers, too, was taking careful aim at the moment.

It is a law of Nature that whatever goes up debris, mixed with larger pieces of rock and clots of earth, descended on the scene of the explosion. Yet little of this flying stuff reached Dolph Gage and his companions, for they were up and running despite the mark that they thus presented to Ferrers.

Nor did the rascals stop running until they had reached distant cover.

"Stop it, Jim--don't shoot!" gasped Tom Reade, choking with laughter, as Ferrers leaped to his feet, taking aim after the fugitives.

"I want Dolph Gage, while I've got a good, legal excuse," growled

Ferrers, glancing along rifle barrel at the forward sight.

"Don't think of shooting," panted Tom, darting forward and laying a hand on the rifle barrel to spoil the guide's aim. "Jim, it isn't sportsmanlike to shoot a fleeing enemy in the back! Fight fair and square, Jim--if you must fight."

There was much in this to appeal to the guide's sense of honor and fair play. Though scowled, he lowered the rifle.

"Tom, you everlasting joker, what happened?" demanded Harry Hazelton.

"You saw for yourself, didn't you?" retorted Reade.

"Yes; but---"

"Are you so little of an engineer that you don't know a mine when you see one, Harry?"

"But how did that mine come to be there?"

"I planted it."

"When?"

"Today, when you started on your ride."

"Oh!"

"You see, Harry, I was pondering away over mining problems this morning. As you had the only horse, that was all that there was left for me to do. Now, you must have noticed that most of the outcropping rock around here is of a very refractory kind?"

"Yes," nodded Hazelton.

"Then, of course, you realize that for at least a hundred feet down in the mine the rock that would be found would be the same."

"Undoubtedly."

"So, Harry, I was figuring on a way to blast ore rock out whenever we should find refractory stuff down a shaft or in the galleries or tunnels of a mine."

"Fine, isn't it?" retorted Hazelton. "A great scheme! You blast out the rock and the force of the explosion shoots all the fine particle of gold into the walls of the mine--just the way you'd pepper a tree with birdshot!"

Mr. Dunlop had drawn close and now stood smiling broadly.

"That appears to be one on you, Reade," suggested the mine promoter.

"That's what I want to find out," returned Tom soberly; "whether

I'm a discoverer, or just a plain fool."

"What do you think about it?"

"Let's go and look at the ledge, and then I can tell you, sir,"

Reade answered, striding forward.

"Look out!" cautioned Joe Timmins. "Those hyenas will shoot. They'll be sore over the trick you played on them, and they'll be hiding waiting for a chance for a shot."

"Oh, bother the hyenas," Tom retorted, impatiently. "I'm out for business today. Coming, Mr. Dunlop?" The mine operator showed signs of hanging back.

Harry promptly joined his chum at what was left of the little ledge. After a few moments Mr. Dunlop, seeing that no shots were fired, stepped over there also, followed by his nephew. Jim Ferrers climbed a tree, holding his rifle and keeping his eyes open for a shot, while Timmins threw himself behind a rock, watching in the direction that the four men had taken.

"This looks even better than I had expected," Tom explained, his eyes glow

ing as he held up fragments of rock. "You see, the dynamite charge was a low-power one. It just splintered the rock. There wasn't so very much driving force to the explosion. Another time I could make the force even lower."

"Here's gold in this bit of rock!" cried Harry, turning, his eyes sparkling.

"Yes; but not enough to look promising," replied Mr. Dunlop, after examining the specimen. "But we'll look through the rest of the stuff that's loose."

The two men who had hung back soon joined them.

"I wouldn't care about filing a claim to it," Mr. Dunlop, shaking his head after some further exploration. "This rock wouldn't yield enough to the ton to make the work profitable."

"Just a little, outcropping streak, possibly from the claim that I have below," was Mr. Dunlop's conclusion "By the way, Reade, how did you explode the mine?"

"With a magneto," Tom explained, then ran and took the battery from behind the tree from which he had fired it. "I buried the wire, of course, so that no one would trip over it," he added. "Just after I got it attended to Alf Drew happened along, looked forlorn, and wanted a job. So I had almost forgotten the mine, until I realized that the thing was planted right in front of where Dolph Gage's crew were hidden. By the way, Jim, where is Alf?"

"All the information I've got wouldn't send you two feet in the right direction," the guide reported gruffly.

"And where are our tents and the other stuff?" Harry demanded.

"Gage's crew couldn't get far with them in the time they've had.

Shall we hustle after our property?"

"Yes," nodded Tom.

"At the momentary risk of being shot to pieces," added Mr. Dunlop, dryly.

"Those little chances go with being involved in a Nevada mining dispute, don't they?" queried Reade.

"Where can we begin to look?" Harry pressed. "Let's scurry about a bit. Surely men can't get away with tents without leaving some trail."

Within two minutes they had the trail. Marks were discovered that plainly had been made by dragging canvas and guy-ropes along over the ground.

"We'll find our stuff soon," predicted Tom, striding along over a rough trail. "The scoundrels didn't have a team, and they wouldn't take the stuff far without other transportation than their own backs. Hello! What's in there?"

Tom had detected some motions in a clump of brush.

"Look out!" warned Jim Ferrers, bringing his rifle to "ready."

But Tom darted straight into the brush.

"Then this is where you are?" demanded Tom dryly. He glanced down at the cowering form of Alf Drew.

"So you've got the 'makings,' have you?" Reade demanded, seizing

Alf by the collar and yanking him up to his feet.

Paper and tobacco fell from young Drew's nerveless grasp to the ground.

"You made me drop the makings of a good one," whined Alf resentfully.

"You didn't have that stuff two hours ago. Where did you get it?" Reade demanded.

"Found it," half whimpered Drew.

"Do you expect me to believe any such fairy tales as that?" insisted

Tom Reade.

"If you have tobacco and cigarette papers," Tom continued, "then some one gave the stuff to you. It was Dolph Gage, or one of his rascals, wasn't it?"

"Don't know him," replied the boy, with a shake of his head.

"Now, don't try to fool me, Drew," warned Tom, with a mild shake administered to the youngster's shoulders. "How much tobacco have you?"

"A whole package," admitted Alf reluctantly, feeling that it would be of no use to try to deceive his employer.

"And plenty of papers to go with it?"

"Ye-es."

"You got it from four men?"

"No; I didn't."

"Well, from one of four men, then? Tell me the truth."

"Ye-es."

"What did you do to please the four men?"

Alf Drew shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, and then back again.

"Come! Speak up!" Reade insisted sternly.

"You're wasting our time. What did you do for the four men?"

"I didn't do anything," Alf evaded.

"What did you tell them, then?" Reade wanted to know.

"They asked me a few questions."

"Of course; and you answered the questions."

"Well, I---"

"What did the men want to know about?" pressed Tom, the look in his eyes growing sterner still.

"They wanted to know how many men Jim Ferrers had," admitted the

Drew boy.

"Oh, I see," pondered Tom aloud, a half smile creeping into his face. "They were guessing the size of Ferrers's army, were they?"

"I--I guess so," Alf replied.

"And you told them---?"

"I told 'em the camp was made up of you and Mr. Hazelton, Jim

Ferrers and myself."

"And then they gave you the tobacco for cigarettes, did they?"

"I made 'em gimme that first," Alf retorted, a look of cunning in his eyes.

"So, my bright little hero, you sold us out for a toy bale of cigarettes, did you?" demanded Tom Reade, staring coldly down at the shame-faced youngster.

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