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   Chapter 14 THE COOK LEARNS A LESSEN

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 15526

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Arrived on the spot it took Tom only a moment to estimate that considerably less than a quarter of a ton of ore had been loosened from the rock bed by the blast.

"We'll drill six inches deeper next time, and put in fifty per cent. more dynamite," Reade decided.

The men brought up the drill and set it, after which the engineer was signaled.

Harry, in the meantime, was down on his hands and knees, curiously turning over the small, loose bits of rock.

"Stung, if this stuff proves anything," sighed Hazelton.

"You can't judge by one handful, Harry," Tom told him. "Besides, we may have to get down twenty, or even fifty feet below surface before we strike any pay-stuff. Don't look for dividends in the first hour. I've been told that gold-mining calls for more sporting blood than any other way in which wealth can be pursued."

"But I don't find a bit of color in this stuff," Harry muttered. "If we're on the top of a vein of gold it seems to me that we ought to find a small speck of yellow here and there."

A dozen blasts were made that morning. When the men knocked off at noon Harry Hazelton's face bore a very serious expression.

"Tom," he murmured to his partner, "I'm afraid we have a gold brick of a gold mine."

"It's an even chance," nodded Reade.

"And think of all the money--out of our savings--we've sunk in this thing."

"I hope you're not going to get scared as early as this," protested Tom. "Why, before we even get in sight of pay-rock we may have to sink every dollar of our savings."

"Then hadn't we better get out of it early, and go to work for some one who pays wages?" questioned Hazelton.

"Yes," Tom shot out, quickly, "if that's the way you feel about it."

"But do you feel differently, Tom?"

"I'm willing to risk something, for the sake of drawing what may possibly turn out to be the big prize in the mining lottery."

"But all our savings," cried Harry, aghast. "That seems like a foolish risk, doesn't it?"

"If you say so, I'll draw out now," Tom proposed.

"What do you think about it?"

"If all the money at stake were mine," Reade said slowly, "then

I'd hang on as long as I had a penny left to invest."

"Tom Reade, I believe you're turning gambler at heart!"

"I intend to be a good, game business man, if that's what you mean by gambling. But see here, Harry, I don't want to pull your money into this scheme if you feel that you'd rather hold on to what you have."

"If you're going to stay in, Tom, then so am I. I'm not the kind of fellow to go back on a chum's investment."

"But if we lose all we've saved then you'll feel---"

"Don't argue any more, Tom," begged Hazelton. "I'm going to be game. You've voted, old fellow, to stay by this claim as long as you can, and that's enough for me."

"But if we lose all our savings," Tom urged. He had now become the cautious one.

"If we lose them, we lose them," declared Hazelton. "And we're both of us young enough to be able to save more before we're seventy-five or eighty years old. Go ahead, Tom. I'm one of the investors here, but the whole game is in your hands. Go as far as you like and I'll stand back of you."

"But---"

"Say no more. Tom, I shall try never again to be a quitter. Whoop! Let the money slip! We'll make the old mine a dividend payer before we are through with it."

That afternoon about a dozen and a half more blasts were laid and fired. Some five hundred feet of the surface of the vein had been lightly blasted, and several tons of ore thrown up.

"I wouldn't call it ore, though," muttered Harry to himself. "I don't believe this rook holds gold enough to put a yellow plating on a cent."

"It does look rather poor, doesn't it, Harry?" Tom asked, trying to speak blithely.

"Humph! We've got to go deeper than this before we can expect to loosen rock worth thirty dollars to the ton," Harry declared cheerily.

"Oh, we'll surely strike pay-rock in big lots after a while," predicted Reade, smiling happily and whistling merrily as he strode away. "I'm glad Harry has his courage with him and his hopes high," Reade added to himself.

"I'm glad Tom is so cheerful and positive," thought Hazelton. "I'll do my best to help him keep in that frame of mind; though, for myself, I believe we would make more money if we stood on a cliff and tossed pennies into the ocean."

"I'm glad to see that all your high hopes have returned," declared

Tom, at supper that evening.

"Oh, I've got the gold fever for fair," laughed Hazelton. "Tom, how are we going to spend the money when we get it?"

"A new house for the folks at home will take some of my money, when

I get it," Tom declared, his eyes glowing.

"Any old thing that the folks take a fancy to will catch my share of the gold," Harry promised.

"But, of course, we'll wait until we get it."

"You haven't any doubts about getting the gold, have you?"

"Not a doubt. Have you?"

"I'm an optimist," Harry asserted.

"What's your idea of an optimist, anyway?" laughed Tom.

"An optimist is a fellow who believes that banknotes grow on potato vines," laughed Harry.

"Oh, we'll get our gold all right," Reade predicted.

"We will, and a lot more. Tom, you and I still have mineral rights that we can file, with Ferrers as trustee."

"We'll go prospecting for two more bully claims just as soon as we begin to see pay-rock coming out of this vein," Tom planned. "Alf, you lazy cigarette fiend, hurry up and bring me some more of the canned meat."

"Bring me another cup of coffee on the jump," called Harry. "While you're about it make it two cups of coffee."

As soon as he had brought the required things Alf tried slyly to slip away by himself, for he had already had his own supper.

"Here, you son of the shiftless one, get back here and drag the grub to this table," yelled one of the men at the miners' table.

After that Alf remained on duty until all hands had been fed. Then he tried to slip away again, only to be roped by a lariat in the hands of the new cook.

"Let me catch you trying to sneak away from work again, and I'll cowhide you with this rope," growled the cook. "Why are you trying to sneak away before your work is finished?"

"I'm almost dead for a smoke," said Alf.

"Smoke, is it? You stay here and wash the dishes. Don't try to get away again until I tell you you can go. If you do--but you won't," finished the cook grimly.

Alf worked away industriously. At last this outdoor kitchen work was finished.

"Now I can go, can't I?" spoke up Alf, hopefully. "Say, I'm perishing for want of a smoke."

"Stay and have a man's smoke with me," said the cook. "Here, hold this between your teeth."

Alf drew back, half-shuddering from the blackened clay pipe, filled with strong tobacco, which the cook passed him.

"You're always itching to be a man," mocked the cook. "And now's your chance. A pipe is a man's smoke. Them cigs are fit only for 'sheeters."

"I don't wanter smoke it," pleaded Alf, drawing back from the proffered pipe.

"You take matches, light that pipe and smoke it," insisted the cook, a man named Leon, in a tone that compelled obedience.

Poor Alf smoked wretchedly away. Finally, when he thought Leon wasn't looking, he tried to hide the pipe.

"Here, you keep that a-going!" ordered the cook wrathfully, wheeling upon the miserable youngster.

So Alf puffed up, feebly, and, when the pipe went out, he lighted the tobacco again.

"Here!" he protested, three minutes later, handing back the pipe.

"Smoke it!" gruffed Leon.

"I--I don't wanter."

"Smoke it!"

"I--I can't," pleaded Alf Drew, the ghastly pallor of his face bearing out his assertion.

"You smoke that pipe, or I'll---"

"Y

ou can kill me, if you wanter," gasped, Alf, feeling far more ill than he had ever felt in his life before. "I don't care--but I won't smoke that pipe. There!"

He flung it violently to the ground, smashing the pipe.

"You little---" began the cook, making a leap after the youngster.

But Alf, his sense of self-preservation still being strong, fled with more speed than might have been looked for in one so ill.

Tom Reade, passing a clump of bushes, and hearing low moans, stopped to investigate. He found the little cigarette fiend stretched out on the ground, his face drawn and pale.

"What on earth is the matter, mosquito?" inquired Reade, with more sympathy than his form of speech attested.

"Oh, dear!" wailed Alf.

"So I gathered," said Tom dryly. "But who got behind you and scared you in that fashion?"

"O-o-oh, dear!"

"You said that before; but what's up?"

"At first I was afraid I was going to die," Alf declared tremulously.

"Yes?"

"And now I'm afraid I won't die!"

Alf sat up shivering convulsively.

"Now, Alf," Tom pursued, "tell me just what happened."

By degrees the young engineer extracted the information that he was after. Bit by bit Alf told the tale, interspersing his story with dismal groans.

"I always told you, Alf, that smoking would do you up if you ever tackled it," Reade said gravely.

"But I have smoked for a year," Alf protested.

"Oh, no," Tom contradicted him. "The use of cigarettes isn't smoking. It's just mere freshness on the part of a small boy. But smoking--that's a different matter, as you've found out. Now, Alf, I hope you've learned a needed lesson, and that after this you'll let tobacco alone. While you're about it you might as well quit cigarettes, too. But I'm going to change your job. Don't go back to the cook. Instead, report to me in about an hour."

Then Tom strode forward. After he had left young Drew there was an ominous flash in the young engineer's eyes. He strode into camp and went straight to the cook's shack.

"Leon," Tom demanded, "what have you been doing to that poor little shrimp of a helper?"

The cook turned around, grinning.

"I've been teaching him something about smoking," the man admitted.

"So I've heard," said Tom. "That's why I've dropped in here--to tell you what I think about it."

"If you're going to get cranky," warned the cook, angrily, "you needn't take the trouble."

"Punishing Alf isn't your work, Leon," Tom went on quietly. "I'm one of the heads here, and the management of this camp has been left more or less in my hands. I gave you a weak, deluded, almost worthless little piece of humanity as a helper. I'll admit that he isn't much good, but yet he's a boy aged fourteen, at any rate, and therefore there may be in that boy the makings of a man. Your way of tackling the job is no good. It's a fool way, and, besides, it's a brutal, unmanly way."

"I guess you'd better stop, right where you are, Mister Reade!" snapped Leon, an ugly scowl coming to his face. "I don't have to take any such talk as that from you, even if you are the boss. You may be the boss here, but I'm older and I've seen more of the world. So you may pass on your way, Mister Reade, and I'll mind my own business while you mind yours."

"Good!" smiled Tom amiably. "That's just the arrangement I've been trying to get you to pledge yourself to. Mind your own business, after this, just as you've promised. Don't play the brute with small boys."

"You needn't think you can boss me, Mister Reade," sneered Leon, a dangerous look again coming into his eyes. "I've told you that I won't take that kind of talk from you."

"You'll have to listen to it, just as long as you stay in camp," Reade answered. "I don't want to be disagreeable with any man, and never am when I can avoid it. But there are certain things I won't have done here. One of them is the bullying of small boys by big fellows like you. Do I make myself plain?"

"So plain," Leon answered, very quietly, as one hand traveled back to the butt of the revolver hanging over his right hip, "that I give you just ten seconds, Mister Reade, to get away and do your talking in another part of the camp."

Tom saw the motion of the hand toward the weapon, though no change in his calm face or steady eyes denoted the fact.

"I believe I've just one thing more to say to you, Leon. I've told young Drew that he needn't bother about coming back as your helper. He is to report to me, and I shall find him another job."

"Are you going to get away from here?" snarled the angry cook.

"Presently."

"I'll give you only until I count ten," Leon snapped, his hand still resting on the butt of his revolver.

"You're not threatening me with your pistol, are you?" Tom inquired in a mild tone.

"You'll find out, if you don't vamoose right along. One--two--"

"Stop it," Tom commanded, without raising his voice. "You may think you could get your pistol out in time to use it. Try it, and you'll learn how quickly I can jump on you and grab you. Try to draw your weapon, or even to shift your position ever so little, and I'll show you a trick that may possibly surprise you."

There was no trace of braggadocio in Tom Reade's quiet voice, but Leon knew, instantly, that the young engineer could and would be as good as his word.

"Take your hand away from the butt of your pistol," came Tom's next command.

Something in the look of the young engineer's eyes compelled the angry cook to obey.

"Now, unbuckle your belt and hand it to me, revolver and all."

"I'll---" Leon flared up, but Tom interrupted him.

"Exactly, my friend. You'll be very wise if you do, and very sorry if you don't!"

White with rage Leon unbuckled his belt. Then he handed it out, slowly. He was prepared to leap upon the young engineer like a panther, but Tom was watching alertly. He received the belt with his left hand, holding his right hand clenched ready for "business."

"Thank you," said Tom quietly. "Now, you may return to your work.

I'm ready to forget this, Leon, if you are."

Leon glared speechlessly at his conqueror. This cook had lived in some of the roughest of mining camps, and had the reputation of being dangerous when angry.

From outside came an appreciative chuckle. Then Jim Ferrers stepped into the shack.

"So you were hanging about, ready to back up the kid?" demanded the cook.

"I? Oh, no," chuckled Jim. "Leon, when you've known Mr. Reade as long and as well as I do you'll understand that he doesn't ask or need any backing. Mr. Reade wants only what's right--but he's going to have it if he has to move a township."

Tom departed, swinging the belt and revolver from his right hand.

"I'm through here," muttered Leon, snatching off his apron. "That is, just as soon as I've squared up accounts with that kid."

"Then you'd better put your apron on again," Jim drawled, humorously. "It takes longer than you've got left to live when any one goes after Tom Reade to get even."

"Jim Ferrers, you know me well enough," remarked Leon, reaching for his hat. "Most times I'm peaceable, but when I get started I'm a bad man."

"Exactly," nodded Jim undisturbed. "That's why you can never hope to come out on top in a row with Mr. Reade. While you may be a bad man, he's a good man--and ALL MAN! You don't stand any show with that kind. Hang up your hat, Leon. Here's your apron. Put it on and stay with us. When you cool down you can stay right along here and take lessons in the art of being a real man!"

Jim Ferrers strolled out of the shack, leaving the vanquished cook in a towering rage. By degrees the expression on the fellow's face altered. Ten minutes later he was at work--at cook's duties.

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