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   Chapter 5 NO NEED TO WORK FOR PENNIES

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 12798

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"I--I didn't see how it could do any harm," sniveled young Drew.

"Perhaps it didn't," Tom admitted. "So far, it has resulted only in our being ambushed and all but murdered. Now, where did they take our tents and the other stuff?"

"I don't know," declared Alf. "Are the tents gone?" He answered so promptly that Reade believed him.

"Very much so," replied Reade, releasing his grip on Drew's shoulder.

"Come on, friends, we'll hunt further."

"Say, what was that big explosion?" asked Alf, running after the party when he found himself being left alone.

"No time to talk until we find our camp stuff," Tom called back over his shoulder.

"I'll help you," proposed Alf eagerly.

"You're full of helpfulness," Reade jibed.

But Alf evidently preferred to stick to them. He ran along at the heels of the last rapidly striding man. Joe Timmins was the only one absent, he having remained at the camp site to keep a watchful eye over the automobile.

Jim Ferrers was in the lead, his trained eyes searching the ground for the trail of the tents.

Within five minutes the party came upon the tents and the food supplies, all of which had been dumped into a thicket in confused piles.

"We'll sort this out and get it back to camp," Tom proposed. "Alf, little hero, redeem yourself by buckling down to a good load. Come here; let me load you down."

Alf meekly submitted, cherishing a half hope that he would not be discharged from his new position after all.

At the end of an hour the stuff had all been taken back and the camp looked a good deal as it had looked that morning.

"Now, Alf," directed Tom in a milder, kinder tone, "you hustle over and break your back helping Mr. Ferrers to get supper ready. We're a famished lot. Understand?"

Alf was only too glad to be able to understand that his part in the dismantling of the camp had been overlooked. While Tom and Harry led their guests into one of the tents, young Drew hastened over to where Jim Ferrers was starting a fire in the camp stove.

"Now, put that stuff back in your pockets, or I'll throw it in the fire!" sounded the angry voice of Ferrers. "You can't use any of that stuff when you're working around me."

"The poor little cigarette pest must have been trying to use his newly acquired 'makings,'" grinned Tom.

While Ferrers was thus busied with preparation of the meal, Joe Timmins had taken the guide's rifle and was keeping a watchful eye over the approaches to the neighborhood.

"So you young men think you could serve me satisfactorily as engineers," questioned Mr. Dunlop.

"I think we could," Tom answered.

"But I am afraid you young men have a rather large notion as to the pay you're worth," continued the mine promoter.

"That's right, sir," Reade nodded. "We have a good-sized idea on the pay question. Now, when you go to Dugout City next you might wire the president of the S.B. & L. railroad, at Denver, or the president of the A.G. & N.M., at Tucson, Arizona, and ask those gentlemen whether we are in the habit of making good on large pay."

"How much will you young men want?"

"For work of this character," replied Tom, after a few moments of thought, during which Harry Hazelton was silent, "we shall want six hundred dollars a month, each, with two hundred dollars apiece added for the fighting risk."

"The fighting risk?" questioned Mr. Dunlop.

"Well, we shall have Dolph Gage and his crowd to guard against, won't we?" Reads counter-questioned.

"But such pay is absurd!" he protested.

"From your view-point, very likely, sir. From our view-point it will be very ordinary compensation, and nothing but our desire to learn more about mining will tempt us to go into it at the figure we have named."

"Your price puts your services out of the question for my company," replied Mr. Dunlop, with a shake of his head.

"Very good, sir," Tom rejoined pleasantly. "No harm done, and we need not talk it over any more. We wish you good luck in finding proper engineers for your work. You will probably motor back to Dugout tomorrow morning, won't you?"

"We'll have to," Mr. Dunlop answered. "We're not safe here until we hire a few good men to come out here to keep Gage and his fellows at a distance."

"That's true, sir," Tom nodded. "As you'll need a good many men here by the time you start work on your mine you'll do well to bring at least a score of them down at once. Twenty good, rough men, used to this life and not afraid of bullets, ought to make you feel wholly safe and secure on your own property."

There was more talk, but neither Tom nor Harry again referred to their serving the new company as engineers.

In due course of time Jim Ferrers, with such help as Alf was able to give, had supper ready to serve. It was a rough meal, of hard tack, pilot bread, potatoes, canned meats and vegetables, but outdoor life had given all a good appetite and the meal did not long remain on the camp table.

For guard duty that night it was arranged that Jim Ferrers and Joe Timmins should relieve each other. Tom also offered to stay up with Ferrers, Harry taking the watch trick with Timmins, though neither of the young engineers was armed or cared to be.

Harry and Timmins were to take the first watch. The others retired early. Tom Reade was about to begin undressing when Hazelton came in for a moment.

While the chums were chatting, Alf Drew's forlorn figure showed at the doorway of the tent.

"Say, boss," complained Alf, "I haven't any place to sleep."

"What?" Reade demanded in pretended surprise, "with nearly all the ground in Nevada at your disposal?"

"But that isn't a bed," contended Alf.

"Right you are there, lad" agreed Tom.

"Now, see here, boss, only one of you two is going to sleep at a time tonight. I'm tired--I ache. Why can't I sleep on the other cot in this tent?"

"Come here," ordered Tom.

Alf wonderingly advanced.

Whiff! whiff! moved the young engineer's nostrils.

"Just as I thought," sighed Reade. "You've been smoking cigarettes without any let-up ever since supper."

"Well, I have ter," argued Drew.

"And now you smell as fragrant as a gas-house, Alf. Mr. Hazelton is rather particular about the little matter of cleanliness. If you were to sleep on his cot the smell of cigarettes would be so strong that I don't believe Mr. Hazelton could stay on his co

t when it came his time to turn in."

"But say! If you knew how dead, dog-tired I am!" moaned Alf.

"Oh, let him sleep on my cot," interposed Harry, good-heartedly. "If I can't stand the cot when I come to use it, then it won't be the first night that I've slept on hard ground and rested well."

"All right, Alf, climb in," nodded Tom. "But see here. Cigarettes make you as nervous as a lunatic. If you have any bad dreams tonight, and begin yelling, then I'll rise and throw you outdoors. Do you understand?"

"Yes," mumbled the boy. "But I won't dream. I'm not nervous now. It's only when I can't get enough cigs that I'm nervous."

"You should have seen him this afternoon," Tom continued, turning to his chum. "The lad and I took a walk. At every other step he kept imagining that he heard rattlesnakes rattling."

"And I did, too," contended Alf stoutly. "You know I did. You heard 'em yourself, Mr. Reade."

"I didn't hear a single rattler," Tom replied soberly.

"Let the tired little fellow go to bed in peace," urged Harry.

"All right," Tom agreed.

Alf went to the head of the cot, to turn the blanket down from the head.

Click-ick-ick-ick! came the warning sound.

With a yell of terror Alf Drew bounded back.

"There's another rattler," he screamed. "It's under that blanket."

"It's all your nerves," Tom retorted. "There isn't a rattler within miles of here."

"Didn't you hear a rattle, Mr. Reade?" wailed the cigarette fiend.

"No; I didn't."

"Didn't you, Mr. Hazelton?"

Harry was on the point of answering "yes," but Tom caught his eyes, and Harry, knowing that something was up, shook his head.

"You must both be deaf, then," argued Drew.

"Why, see here, you nervous little wreck of a cigarette," said Tom, grinning good-humoredly, "I'll show you that there is no snake in that bed. Watch me."

With utmost unconcern, Tom took hold of the blanket, stripping it from the cot. Then he ran his hands over the under blanket.

"Not a thing in this bed but what belongs here," Tom explained. "Alf, do you see how cigarettes are taking the hinges off your nerves."

Shame-faced, and believing that Tom was right, Alf advanced toward the cot. As he reached the side of it---

Click-ick-ick! sounded close to him.

"You can't make me stay in this tent. It's the most dangerous spot in Nevada," cried Drew, turning and fleeing into flee open. The two chums could hear his feet as he sped to another part of the camp.

"Some trick about that rattling?" queried Harry in a whisper.

"Of course," Tom admitted with a wink.

"It's a shame to tease the youngster so."

"It would be," Tom assented rather gravely, "but I'm using that means to make the lad afraid to smoke cigarettes. If young Drew goes on smoking the miserable little things he'll become come a physical wreck inside of a year."

"How do you do the trick, anyway?" asked Harry curiously.

"Does it really sound like the click of a rattler?" asked Tom.

"Does it? I was 'stung' almost as badly as poor Alf was. How do you do the trick?"

"I'll show you, some time," nodded Tom Reade.

With that promise Harry had to be content, and so must the reader, for the present.

Hazelton went out to stand first watch with Joe Timmins. Alf Drew, finding that the Dunlop party had no room for him under the shelter they had rigged from the rear of the automobile, curled himself on the ground under a tree and fitfully wooed sleep. By daylight the little fellow was fretfully awake, his "nerves" refusing him further rest until he had rolled and smoked two cigarettes. By the time the smoke was over Jim Ferrers called to him to help start the breakfast.

Nothing had been seen of the four intruders through the night.

"I think we shall try to get safely through to Dugout City this morning," suggested Mr. Dunlop.

"You'll make it all right, if you have gasoline enough," remarked Ferrers, who hovered close at hand with a frying pan filled with crisp bacon.

"You don't believe Gage will try to attack us on the way?"

"He has no call to," replied Ferrers. "You're obeying him by leaving the claim, aren't you?"

"Then probably Gage and his companions will settle down on the claim after we leave," suggested Mr. Dunlop.

"If Gage tries to jump the claim in your absence," proposed Ferrers, "your course is easy. If you have the legal right to the claim you'll have to bring back force enough to drive those hyenas off."

"Will you people try to keep an eye over the claim while I'm gone?" asked Mr. Dunlop.

"That would be a little out of our line," Tom made reply. "Besides, Mr. Dunlop, I'm not at all sure that we shall be here until you return."

"But we haven't settled, Reade, whether you and your partner are to be our engineers at the Bright Hope Mine."

"Quite true, sir," nodded Tom. "On the other hand, you haven't engaged us, either"

"Won't you keep the matter open until our return?"

"That would be hardly good business, Mr. Dunlop."

"Yet suppose I had engaged you,"

"Then we'd be going back to Dugout City with you."

"Why, Reade?"

"So that we might get in touch with the world and find out whether you are financially responsible. We wouldn't take an engagement without being reasonably sure of our money."

"You're a sharp one," laughed Mr. Dunlop.

Yet he made no further reference to engaging the two young engineers, a fact that Reade was keen enough to note.

Within an hour after breakfast the Dunlop ear pulled out, leaving

Tom Reade with only his own party.

"What our friend wants," smiled Harry, "is a pair of mining engineers at the salary of one mere surveyor."

"He won't pay any more than he has to," rejoined Reade.

"Do you really want to work for Dunlop?"

"I really don't care a straw whether I do or not," was Tom's answer. "Harry, we're in the very heart of the gold country and we don't need to work for copper pennies."

"If you'll allow me to say so, friends," put in Jim Ferrers, "I believe you two are the original pair with long heads and I'm going to stick to you as long as you'll let me."

"Me, too," piped up Alf Drew ungrammatically.

The young cigarette fiend was at that instant engaged in rolling one of his paper abominations.

Click-ick-ick-ick!

"Rattlers again!" shivered Alf.

Paper and tobacco fell from his fingers and he fled in terror.

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