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   Chapter 16 THE MAN WHO MADE GOOD

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 7182

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"Good evening, Gage," Tom responded pleasantly, after a slight start of alarm. "What brings you in this section again?"

"Wanter know?" sneered Gage, while his companions scowled.

"That was my object in inquiring," Tom smiled.

"We're hiding--that's what we're doing here," Gage volunteered harshly, though he spoke in a low voice.

"Hiding here--with the officers looking for you?"

"Well, what could be a safer place than right where we're wanted?" demanded Dolph. "The officers are scouring other counties for us, and they have handbills up offering rewards for us. Right here, overlooking your claim, they'd never think of looking for men who have a price set on their capture."

"Well, you needn't be afraid of me," offered Reade, with mock generosity. "I'm short of money, but I'm not looking for blood money. You had better travel fast from here. I'll give you until daylight before I send word to the law's officers."

"Daylight? You'll never see daylight again," Gage retorted. "You will be lying here, looking up at the stars, but you won't see anything!"

"Your words have a mysterious ring to them," laughed Tom.

He wasn't in any doubt as to what the rascals meant to do with him. It was a rule with Tom Reade, however, that he wasn't dead until he had actually been killed. Even while he spoke so lightly, Tom, through his half-closed eyes, was taking in every detail of the situation.

None of the trio had yet drawn their weapons, though all wore them in plain sight. If they started to draw their pistols Tom decided that he would leap forward holding to Gage, kicking one of the latter's companions so as to render the fellow helpless, and--

"But the third man will get me with his pistol," Tom decided. "That is, unless they become flustered when I show fight. It's a slim chance for me--a mighty slim chance, but I'll do my best as soon as these wretches start something!"

"Lost your money in your claim, haven't you?" jeered Gage, who was plainly playing with his intended victim. "Serves you right, after jumping us out of the property just because the law said you could! But the gold's there, and we've got a man with mineral rights to nab the claim as soon as you give up."

"That will be a long while, I imagine," Tom smiled back at the rascal.

"Not as long as you may think," laughed Gage harshly. "We've got you now, and we'll get Hazelton and Jim Ferrers, next thing you know. Then our claim will be established through our friend, and we'll protect him from being jumped by any one else."

"If you live," Tom reminded the fellow.

"Oh, we'll live!" Gage retorted grimly. "We're hunted, now, and we'll kill every man that comes near enough."

"Begin with this cub!" spoke up Eb, gruffly. "Don't play with him until he tricks us and gets away."

"Perhaps you don't realize how close help is to me," Tom broke in quickly. It was a "bluff," but he hoped that it might have its effect.

"If there's help near you," quivered Gage, his anger rising, "we'll make sure that it doesn't get here in time to do you any good. Draw and finish him boys!"

Before Reade could tense his muscles for a spring, a shot rang out behind them. Eb fell, with a swift, smothered groan of pain.

"Duck!" panted Dolph Gage. "Out of this! To cover, and then we'll reckon with any one who tries to follow us!"

In the same instant Tom turned, bounding down the trail in the direction from which the shot had come.

"Good! Keep on going, boss!" whispered a calm voice. "Don't let 'em catch you again."

"Who are you?" Tom demanded, halting

and trying to make out the man's face in the intense shadow under a ledge of rock.

"Duck!" commanded the same voice. "I'll follow close. I'm alone, and some of that crew may pluck up heart and follow us. Vamoose!"

"I'll go at your side, but I won't run ahead of you," Tom whispered back. "I know you, now. Thank you, Leon!"

In the darkness, in lieu of shaking hands Tom gripped one of the man's elbows in sign of thanks.

"We'd better get out of this," Tom went on, in a barely louder whisper.

"But how did you come to be on hand, Leon?"

"Followed you," was the terse reply.

"From the camp?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Wanted to get even with you."

"You're talking in riddles," Reade protested, in a puzzled tone.

"At the same time I'm greatly obliged to you."

"Thought you'd be," grunted Leon. "That's how I got even."

"What do you mean?" Tom wanted to know. "You got even by placing me under a great obligation?"

"Just that," nodded the cook, "we had trouble, once, and you came out on top, didn't you?"

"Yes; but that little affair needn't have prevented us from being friends."

"It did, until I had done something to make you needed me as a friend," the cook declared.

Tom laughed at this statement of the case. It accorded quite closely, however, with the cook's generally sulky disposition. Even a friendship Leon would offer or accept grudgingly.

"But why did you follow me?" Tom continued, as they neared the camp.

"Did you think I was going to run into danger?"

Leon hesitated.

"Well," he admitted, finally, "when I saw you stealing off, soft like, I had a queer notion come over me that, maybe, you were discouraged, and that you were going off to put an end to yourself."

Tom started, stared in amazement, then spoke in a tone of pretended anger:

"Much obliged for your fine opinion of me, Leon," he declared.

"Only cowards and lunatics commit suicide."

"That's all right," nodded the cook doggedly. "I've seen men lose their minds out here in these gold fields."

They were now in camp.

"Wait, and I'll call Ferrers and a few of the men, Leon," Tom proposed.

"What for? To stand guard?"

"No; we must send back a few of the men to find that man you wounded. It was Eb. He fell in a heap. If his own companions didn't carry him away he was left in a bad fix."

"You'll be going back to nurse rattlesnakes yet!" almost exploded the cook.

"That's all right, but we're going to find that wounded man if he's in need of help," Tom stoutly maintained.

He called Jim Ferrers, who roused five more men. Then the party returned to the place on the trail where Eb had been left. There were still blood spots on the ground, but Eb had vanished. The party spent some minutes in searching the vicinity, then concluded that Gage had rescued and carried away the wounded man.

It may be said, in passing, that Eb was subsequently found, by officers, lying in a shack not far from Dugout City. The fellow was nearly dead, when found, from careless handling of his wound. At Dugout the surgeons amputated his wounded leg, and Eb finally wound up in prison.

During all the excitement Hazelton had not been aroused. He knew nothing of what had happened until morning came.

Before Tom Reade turned in that night he shook hands with the sullen cook.

"I think you and I are going to be good friends, after this, Leon,"

Tom smiled. "I hope so, anyway."

"And I'm glad you gave me back my gun," grunted Leon. "It gave me a chance to do something for you. Yes; I reckon we'll be good friends after this."

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