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   Chapter 7 READY TO HANDLE THE PICK

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7636

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"Keep off this ground!" yelled Dolph Gage, snatching up his rifle.

"Stop that nonsense," Tom bellowed back in his own lusty voice.

"You've no right on this ground."

"Yes, we have, if you want to know," Tom continued. "You haven't filed your papers at Dugout yet."

"How do you know we haven't?"

"I'll take a chance on it," smiled Tom amiably, as he and his companions continued to walk nearer.

Jim Ferrers held his rifle so that it would take him but an instant to swing it into action if the need came.

"If you've filed your papers for this claim" Tom continued, lowering his voice somewhat as they drew nearer to the four rascals. "Have you any such paper to show us?"

"Perhaps not," growled Dolph Gage, his evil eyes seeming to shoot flame. "But we've got our notice of claim nailed up here. We got it here first, and now you can't file any mining entry at Dugout City for this bit o' ground."

"Not if your notice is written in the prescribed language," Tom admitted.

"Well, it is. Now, keep off this ground, or we'll shoot you so full of holes that you'll all three pass for tolerable lead mines!"

"If you don't shoot and make a good job of it," Reade insisted, "I'm going to look over your notice of claim and see whether it's worded in a way that will hold in law."

"Drop 'em, boys! Don't let 'em near!" roared Dolph Gage, swinging his rifle as though to bring it to his shoulder.

But Jim Ferrers had forestalled him. The guide was gazing at his enemy through his rifle sights.

"Drop your weapon, Dolph Gage, and do it blazing quick, or I'll shoot you where you stand!" sounded Jim's voice, low and businesslike. "If any of you other galoots tries to raise his weapon I'll turn and drop him."

As Jim Ferrers had a reputation in Nevada as a rifle shot the others hesitated, then let their rifles drop to the ground.

"Hold them to their present good intentions, Jim," said Tom, with a smile, as he continued to move forward. "Now, Mr. Gage--I believe that's your name let me see what kind of notice you know how to draw up."

"There 'tis," muttered Dolph sullenly, pointing to the board.

Tom read the notice through under his breath, word by word.

"You've done this sort of thing before, I guess, Gage," said Reade quietly.

"You bet I have. Find it all reg'lar, too, don't you?"

"As nearly as I can tell, it is," agreed Tom.

"And the claim is ours."

"It's yours if you file the formal papers soon enough."

"They'll be filed first thing tomorrow morning," grunted Dolph

Gage. "Now, try a two-step off the dirt that goes with this claim."

"Not until I've seen the borders that you claim," Tom rejoined.

"Why!" demanded Gage cunningly. "Going to start your claim right at the corners of ours."

"If you'll pardon me," Reade smiled, "I don't believe I'll tell you anything about my intentions."

"Maybe you think this claim is a pretty valuable one," Gage insinuated.

"I didn't say so."

"But you would have staked if we hadn't done it first."

"That's what you've got to guess," smiled Reade.

"Say, now you've lost this claim, tell us some thing straight, won't youth begged Dolph.

"Tell you something straight?" repeated Tom. "Certainly. I'll tell you something just as straight as I know how,"

"Well," he said, at last, "you said you'd tell us something straight."

"And so I will," laughed Tom. "It's just this: Go to blazes!"

"Come, now, don't get fresh, kid!" warned Dolph angrily. "If we're going to be on neighboring claims you may find it a heap to your advantage to use us about half-way decent and polite."

Tom didn't answer at once. He was rapidly covering the statement of location from the paper nailed to the board.

"You fellows picked up a lot of ore stuff around here," continued

Dolph Ga

ge.

"Yes?" Tom inquired. "Did you see us?"

"Yes, and we also saw you making an assay."

"You did."

"Of course we did. Say, friend, how did that assay come out?"

"It came out of the furnace," Tom answered still writing.

"'Course it did. But say, how did that assay read?"

"Read?" repeated Tom. "Why, bless me, I never knew that an assay could read."

"You know what I meant, younker. How did it figger?"

"To the best of my belief," said Tom, "an assay is as much unable to figure as it is to read."

"Don't waste any more time on the kid, Dolph," growled another of the group. "He won't tell you anything that you want to know."

"If he doesn't" rejoined Gage, "maybe he'll miss something. See here--Reade's your name, isn't it?"

"You've got that much of your information straight," assented

Tom, looking up with a smile.

"Well, Reade, maybe you'd better be a bit more polite and sociable. You've missed staking this claim, but I think we can fix it to give you a job here as engineer."

"That would be very kind of you, I'm sure," nodded Tom. "But I can't undertake any work for you."

"Then you'll lose some money."

"I'm used to losing money," smiled Tom. "As for my partner, he's a real wonder in the way of losing money. He lost ten cents yesterday."

"We've got a fine claim," asserted Dolph Gage. It's right under our feet, and there isn't another such claim in Nevada. Now, if you two want to make any real money you'd better begin to be decent with us right now. Otherwise, you won't get the job. Now, what do you say?"

"I vote for 'otherwise,'" laughed Reade, turning on his heel.

"Oh, you run along and be independent, then," called Dolph Gage after him. "If you're going to stick the winter through on this Range you'll be hungry once or twice between now and spring, if you don't take the trouble to get in right with us."

"Why?" questioned Reade, halting and looking squarely back. "Do you steal food, too?"

Once More Tom turned on his heel. Harry walked along with him. Jim Ferrers all but walked backward, holding his rifle ready and keeping a keen eye over the claim stealers.

"Come along, Jim," called Tom at last. "Those fellows won't do any shooting. Their minds are now set on their new claim. They expect to dig out gold enough to enable them to buy two or three banks. They won't shoot unless they're driven to it."

Jim Ferrers turned and walked with the boys.

Fifteen seconds later a rifle cracked out behind them, the bullet striking the dirt well to the left of Tom's party.

"It's a bluff, Jim, and---" began Reade.

Crack! spoke Ferrers's ride.

"I knocked Gage's hat off," said the guide dryly. "Now, if he fires again, it'll show that he's looking for trouble."

"The fellow who goes looking for trouble is always a fool," Tom remarked.

"Because trouble is the most worthless thing in the world, yet a fellow who goes looking for it is always sure to find twice as much as he thought he wanted."

By the time the young engineers had reached their own camp, Harry, whose face had been growing gradually "longer" on the walk, sank to the ground in an attitude of dejection.

"Just our luck!" he growled. "Gage is right when he says that claim is the best in this part of Nevada. And, just because we were too slow, we lost it. Fortune, you know, Tom, knocks but once at any man's door."

"I don't believe that," said Tom stoutly. "Harry, now that we've made a start and lost, my mind is made up as to our course now. I hope you'll agree with me."

"What is it?" Hazelton asked.

"Harry, old fellow, we'll turn mining engineers in earnest for the present. We'll engineer our own mines, with Jim for a partner. Harry, we'll get up our muscle with pickaxes. We'll stake our fortunes on the turn of a pick!"

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