THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN ARIZONA
LAYING TRACKS ON THE MAN-KILLER QUICKSAND
By H. Irving Handcock
CHAPTER I. THE MAN OF "CARD HONOR"
"I'll wager you ten dollars that my fly gets off the mirror before yours does."
"I'll take that bet, friend."
The dozen or so of waiting customers lounging in Abe Morris's barber shop looked up with signs of renewed life.
"I'll make it twenty," continued the first speaker.
"I follow you," assented the second speaker.
*Truly, if men must do so trivial a thing as squander their money on idle bets, here was a novel enough contest.
Each of the bettors sat in a chair, tucked up in white to the chin. Each was having his hair cut.
At the same moment a fly had lighted on each of the mirrors before the two customers.
The man who had offered the bet was a well known local character—Jim Duff by name, by occupation one of the meanest and most dishonorable gamblers who had ever disgraced Arizona by his presence.
There is an old tradition about "honest gamblers" and "players of square games." The man who has been much about the world soon learns to understand that the really honest and "square" gambler is a creature of the imagination. The gambler makes his living by his wits, and he who lives by anything so intangible speedily finds the road to cheating and trickery.
Jim Duff had been no exception. His reputation was such that he could find few men among the residents of this part of Arizona who would meet him at the gaming table. He plied his trade mostly among simple-minded tourists from the east—the class of men who are known in Arizona as "tenderfeet."
Rumor had it that Jim Duff, in addition to his many years of unblushing cheating for a living, had also shot and killed three men in the past on as many different occasions.
Yet he was a sleek, well-groomed fellow, tall and slim, and, in the matter of years, somewhere in his forties. Duff always dressed well—with a foundation of the late styles of the east, with something of the swagger of the plains added to his raiment.
"Stranger, you might as well hand me your money now," drawled Duff, after a few moments had passed. "It'll save time."
"Your fly hasn't hopped yet," retorted the second man, with the air and tone of one who could afford to lose thousands on such stupid bets.
The second man was of the kind on which Jim Duff fattened his purse. Clarence Farnsworth, about twenty-five years of age, was as verdant a "tenderfoot" as had lately graced Paloma, Arizona, with his presence.
Even the name of Clarence had moved so many men to laughter in this sweltering little desert town that Farnsworth had lately chopped his name to "Clare." Yet this latter had proved even worse; it sounded too nearly like a girl's name.
So far as his financial condition went, Clarence had the look of one who possessed money to spend. He was well-dressed, lived at the Mansion House, often hired automobiles, entertained his friends lavishly, and was voted a good enough fellow, though a simpleton.
"My fly's growing skittish, stranger," smiled Jim Duff. "He's on the point of moving. You'd better whisper to your fly."
"I believe, friend," rejoined Clarence, "that my fly is taking nap. He appears to be sound asleep. You certainly picked the more healthy fly."
Jim Duff gave his barber an all but imperceptible nudge in one elbow. Though he gave no sign in return, that barber understood, and shifted his shears in a way that, even at distance, alarmed the fly on the mirror before Duff.
"Buzz-zz!" The fly in front of the gambler took wing and vanished toward the rear of the store.
Some of the Arizona men looking on smiled knowingly. They had realized from the start that young Farnsworth had stood no show of winning the stupid wager.
"You win," stated young Clarence, in a tone that betrayed no annoyance.
Drawing a roll of bills from his pocket, he fumbled until he found a twenty. This he passed to Duff, sitting in the next chair.
"You're not playing in luck to-day," smiled Duff gently, as he tucked away the money in one of his coat pockets. "You're a good sportsman, Farnsworth, at any rate."
"I flatter myself that I am," replied Clarence, blushing slightly.
Jim Duff continued calmly puffing at the cigar that rested between his teeth. They were handsome teeth, though, in some way, they made one think of the teeth of a vicious dog.
"Coming over to the hotel this afternoon?" continued Duff.
"I—I—" hesitated Clarence.
"Coming, did you say?" persisted Duff gently.
"I shall have to see my mail first. There may be letters—"
"Oh," nodded Duff, with just a trace of irony as the younger man again hesitated.
"Life is not all playtime for me, you know," Farnsworth continued, looking rather shame-faced. "I—er—have some business affairs attention at times."
"Oh, don't try to join me at the hotel this if you have more interesting matters in prospect," smiled the gambler.
Again Clarence flushed. He looked up to Jim Duff as a thorough "man of the world," and wanted to stand well in the gambler's good opinion. Clarence Farnsworth was, as yet, too green to know that, too often, the man who has seen much of the world has seen only its seamy and worthless side. Possibly Farnsworth was destined to learn this later on—after the gambler had coolly fleeced him.
"Before long," Farnsworth went on, changing the subject, "I must get out on the desert and take a look at the quicksand that the railroad folks are trying to cross."
"The railroad people will probably never cross that quicksand," remarked Jim Duff, the lids closing over his eyes for a moment.
"Oh, I don't know about that," continued Farnsworth argumentatively.
"I think I do," declared Jim Duff easily. "My belief, Farnsworth, is that the railroad people might dig up the whole of New Mexico, transport the dirt here and dump it on top of that quicksand, and still the quicksand would settle lower and lower and the tracks would still break up and disappear. There's no bottom to that quicksand."
"Of course you ought to know all about it, Duff," Clarence made haste to answer. "You've lived here for years, and you know all about this section of the country."
That didn't quite suit the gambler. What he sought to do was to raise an argument with the young man—who still had some money left.
"What makes you think, Farnsworth, that the railroad can win out with the desert and lay tracks across the quicksand? That's a bad quicksand, you know. It has been called the 'Man-killer.' Many a prospector or cow-puncher has lost his life in trying to get over that sand."
"The real Man-killer quicksand is a mile to the south of where the tracks go, isn't it?" asked Farnsworth.
"Yes; and the first party of railway surveyors who went over the line for their track thought they had dodged the Man-killer. Yet what they'll find, in the end, is that the Man-killer is a bad affair, and that it extends, under the earth, in many directions and for long distances. I am certain that railway tracks will never be laid over any part of the Man-killer."
"Perhaps not," assented Clarence meekly.
"What makes you think that the railroad can ever get across the Man-killer?" persisted Duff.
"Why, for one thing, the very hopeful report of the new engineers who have taken charge."
"Humph!" retorted Duff, as though that one word of contempt disposed of the matter.
"Reade and Hazelton are very good engineers, are they not?" inquired young Farnsworth.
"Humph! A pair of mere boys," sneered Jim Duff.
"Young fellows of about my age, you mean?" asked Farnsworth.
"Of your age?" repeated Duff, in a tone of wonder. "No! You're a man. Reade and Hazelton, as I've told you, are mere boys. They're not of age. They've never voted."
"Oh, I had no idea that they were as young as that," replied Clarence, much pleased at hearing himself styled a man. "But these young engineers come from one of the Colorado, railroads, don't they!"
"I wouldn't be surprised," nodded the gambler. "However, the Man-killer is no task for boys. It is a job for giants to put through, if the job ever can be finished."
"Then, if it's so difficult, why doesn't the road shift the track by two or three miles?" inquired Clarence.
"You certainly are a newcomer here," laughed Duff easily. "Why, my son, the railroad was chartered on condition that it run through certain towns. Paloma, here, is one of the towns. So the road has to come here."
"But couldn't the road shift, just after it leaves here?" insisted Clarence.
"Oh, certainly. Yet, if the road shifted enough to avoid any possibility of resting on the big Man-killer, then it would have to go through the range beyond here—would have to tunnel under the hills for a distance of three miles. That would cost millions of dollars. No, sir; the railroad will have to lay tracks across the Man-killer, or else it will have to stand a loss so great as to cripple the road."
"Excuse me, sir," interrupted a keen, brisk, breezy-looking man, who had entered the shop only a moment or two before. "There's a way that the railroad can get over the Man-killer."
"What is that?" asked Duff, eyeing the newcomer's reflected image in the mirror.
"The first thing to do," replied the stranger, "is to drop these boy engineers out of the game. These youngsters came down here four days ago, looked over the scene, and promised that they could get the tracks laid-safely—for about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
"Pooh!" jeered Duff, with a sidelong glance at young Farnsworth.
"Of course it is pooh!" laughed the stranger. "The thing can it be done for any such amount as that, and it is a crazy idea, to take the opinions of boys, anyway, on any such subject as that. Now, there's a Chicago firm of contractors, the Colthwaite Construction Company, which has proposed to take over the whole contract for laying tracks across the Man-killer. These boys figure on using dirt and then more dirt, and still more, until they've satisfied the appetite of the Man-killer, filled up the quicksand and laid a bed of solid earth on which the tracks will run safely for the next hundred years. The Colthwaite people have looked over the whole proposition. They know that it can't be done. The two hundred and fifty thousand dollars will be wasted, and then the Colthwaite Company will have to come in, after all, drive its pillars of steel and concrete, lay well-founded beds and get a basis that will hold the new earth above it. Then the track will be safe, and the people of this part of Arizona will have a railroad of which they can be proud. But these boys—these kids in railroad building—humph!"
"Humph!" agreed Jim Duff dryly.
The gambler using the mirror before him, continued to study keenly this stranger, even after the latter had ceased talking and had gone to one of the chairs to wait his turn.
"You're through, sir," announced the barber who had been trying to improve the gambler's appearance. "Thank you, sir. Next."
Clarence, wholly crushed by the weight of opinion, was not yet through with his barber. Duff, after lighting a fresh cigar, stepped over to where the newcomer was seated.
"Are you stopping at the Mansion House?" inquired the gambler.
"Yes," answered the stranger, looking up.
"So am I," nodded the gambler. "So I shall probably have the pleasure of meeting you again."
"Why, yes; I trust so," replied the stranger, after a quick, keen look at Duff. Undoubtedly this newcomer was accustomed to judging men quickly after seeing them.
"These boy engineers!" chucked Duff. "Humph!"
"Humph!" agreed the stranger.
At this moment two bronzed-looking, erect young men came tramping down the sidewalk together. Each looked the picture of health, of courage, of decision. Both wore the serviceable khaki now so common in surveying camps in warm climates. Below the knee the trousers were confined by leggings. Above the belt blue flannel shirts showed, yet these were of excellent fabric and looked trim indeed. To protect their heads and to shade their eyes as much as possible from the glare of Arizona desert sand, these young men wore sombreros of the type common in the Army.
"This looks like a good place, Harry," said the taller of the two young men. "Suppose we go inside."
They stepped into the barber shop together, nodding pleasantly to all inside. Then, hanging up their sombreros, they passed on to unoccupied chairs.
Just in the act of passing out, Jim Duff had stepped back to admit them.
"They're Reade and Hazelton, the very young engineers that the railroad has just put in charge of the Man-killer job," whispered one knowing citizen of Paloma. The news quickly spread about the barber shop.
Jim Duff already knew the boys by sight, since they were stopping at the Mansion House. He uttered an almost inaudible "humph!" then passed on outside.
Neither Tom Reade nor Harry Hazelton heard this exclamation, nor would they have paid any heed to it if they had.
Yes; the two young men were our friends of old, the young engineers. Our readers are wholly familiar with Tom and Harry as far back as their grammar school days in the good old town of Gridley. Tom and Harry were members of that famous sextet of schoolboy athletes known at home as Dick & Co. The exploits of Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, as of Dick Prescott, Dave Darrin, Greg Holmes and Dan Dalzell, have been fully told, first in the "Grammar School Boys Series," and then in the "High School Boys Series."
After the close of the "High School Boys Series" the further adventures of Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes are told in the "West Point Series," while all that befell Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell has already been found in the pages of the "Annapolis Series."
In the preceding volume of this series, "The Young Engineers in Colorado," our readers were made familiar with the real start in working life made by Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton. Back in the old High School days Reade and Hazelton had been fitting themselves to become civil engineers. They began their real work in the east, and had made good in sterner work in the mountains in Colorado.
Our readers all know how Tom and Harry opened their careers in Colorado by becoming "cub engineers" with one of the field camps of the S. B. & L. railroad. Taken only on trial, they had rapidly made good, and had earned the confidence of the chief engineer in charge of the work. When, owing to the sudden illness of both the chief engineer and his principal assistant the road's work had been crippled, Tom and Harry had had the courage as well as the opportunity to take hold, assume the direction, and complete the building of the S. B. & L. within the time required by the road's charter.
Had the young engineers failed, the S. B. & L., under the terms granted by the state, might have been seized and sold at public auction. In that case, the larger, and rival road, the W. C. & A., stood ready to buy out the S. B. & L. and reap the profits that the latter road had planned to earn. Not only had the young engineers succeeded in overcoming all natural obstacles, but, in a series of wonderful adventures, they had defeated the plots of agents of the W. C. & A. From that time on Tom and Harry had been famous in Colorado railroad circles.
After the S. B. & L. had been finished and put in operation, Tom Reade had remained with the railroad for several months, still serving as chief engineer, with Harry Hazelton as his trusted and dependable assistant.
Now, at last, they had been lured away from the S. B. & L. by the offer of a new chance to overcome difficulties of the sort that all fighting engineers love to encounter. The Arizona, Gulf & New Mexico Railroad—more commonly known as the A., G. & N. M.—while laying its tracks in an attempt at record-beating, had come afoul of the problem of the quicksand, as already outlined. Three different sets of engineers had attempted the feat of filling up the quicksand, only to abandon it.
There was little doubt that the Colthwaite Construction Company, a contracting firm with years of successful experience, could have, "stopped" the quicksand, but this Chicago firm wanted far more money for the job than the railroad people felt they could afford to spend.
So, in a moment of doubt, and harassed by troubles, one of the directors of the A., G. & N. M. had remembered the names and the performances of Tom and Harry. This director of the Arizona road, being a friend of President Newnham, of the S. B. & L. road, had written the latter, asking whether the services of Tom and Harry could be secured. The reply had been in the affirmative, and Tom and Harry had speedily traveled down into Arizona. In the few days they had been at this little town of Paloma, they had gone thoroughly over the ground, they had studied the problem, and had expressed their opinion that the job could be put through creditably at a cost not exceeding a quarter of a million dollars.
"Go to it, then!" General Manager Curtis had replied. "You have our road's credit at your command, and we look to you to make good. You are both very young, but Newnham's word is quite good enough for us."
The day before this story opens this general manager had boarded one of the rough-looking construction trains and had gone back to the road's headquarters.
As they sat in the barber shop now Tom and Harry were quite unaware of the interested notice they were receiving. This was not surprising, for both were good, sane, wholesome American boys, with no more than the average share of conceit, and neither believed himself to be as much of a wonder as some experienced railroad men credited them with being.
"Stranger, excuse me, but you're Reade, aren't you?" inquired one of the men of Paloma who was present.
"Yes, sir," nodded Tom, looking up pleasantly from the weekly paper that he had been scanning.
"You're head of the new job on the Man-killer, aren't you?" questioned the same man. By this time every man in the barber shop was secretly watching the young engineers, a fact that was plain to Harry Hazelton, as he glanced up from a magazine.
"Yee, sir," Tom answered again. "In a way I'm at the head of it, but my friend, Hazelton, is really as much at the head as I am. We are partners, and we work together in everything."
"Do you think, Reade, that you're going to win out on the job?" inquired another man.
"Yes, sir," nodded Tom.
"You seem very confident about it," smiled another.
"It's just a way we have," Tom assented good-naturedly. "We always try to keep our nerve and our confidence with us."
"Yet you are really sure?"
"Oh! yes," Reade answered. "We have looked the quicksand over, and we feel sure that we see a way of stopping the Man-killer, and forcing it to sustain railroad ties and steel rails."
"How are you going; to go about it?" questioned still another interested citizen. These men of Paloma had good reason for being interested. When the iron road was finished, Paloma would be an intimate part of the now outside world. It was certain that Paloma real estate would rise to three or four times its present value.
"I know you'll excuse us," replied Tom, still speaking pleasantly, "if we don't go into precise details."
"Then you are going to make a secret of your plans?" inquired another barber-shop idler. His tone expressed merely curiosity; Arizona men are proverbially as polite as they are frank.
"We're somewhat secretive—yes, sir," Tom replied. "That is only because we regard the method we are going to use as being mainly the concern of the A., G. & N. M. No offense meant, sir, either."
"No offense taken," replied the late questioner.
Tom had already, within a few minutes, made an excellent impression on the majority of these Arizona men present.
As to the other newcomer, who had lately spoken so warmly of the Colthwaite Company, he was now silent, apparently greatly absorbed in a three-days-old newspaper that he had picked up. Yet he managed to cast more than one covert glance at the boys.
"I have heard both of you young men spoken of most warmly, as real engineers who are going to solve the problem of the Man-killer," declared Clarence Farnsworth, as, alighting from the barber's chair, he strolled past the pair.
"Thank you," nodded Tom, with all his usual simple good nature.
"If you make a successful job of it is will be a splendid thing for you in your professional careers," continued Farnsworth, rather aimlessly.
"Undoubtedly," nodded Harry.
The stranger who had held so much converse with Jim Duff was through with the barber at last. Though the day was scorchingly hot in this desert town, the stranger stepped along briskly until he had reached the hotel.
The Mansion House would scarcely have measured up to the hotel standards of large cities. Yet it was a very good hotel, indeed, for this part of Arizona, and the proprietor did all in his power for the comfort of his guests.
As the stranger ascended the steps to the broad porch he caught sight of Jim Duff, approaching the doorway from the inside.
"Oh, how do you do?" was Duff's greeting. "Hot, isn't it?"
"Very," nodded the stranger.
"I usually have my luncheon in my room, which is large and airy," continued Duff. "As I dislike to eat alone, I have ordered the table spread for two. I shall be very glad of your company, stranger, if you care to honor me."
"That is kind of you," nodded the other. "I shall accept with much pleasure, for I, too, like to eat in good company."
After a little more conversation the two ascended to Duff's room on the next floor. Certainly it was the largest and most comfortable guest room in the hotel, and was furnished in good taste. The main apartment was set as a gentlemen's lounging room, Duff's bedroom furniture being in a little room at the rear.
Hardly had Duff pressed the bell button before there came a tap at the door. One waiter brought in a table for two, with the napery. This he quickly arranged. As he turned toward the door two other waiters entered with dishes containing a dainty meal for a hot day.
"You may arrange everything and then leave us, John," directed Duff. Soon the two new acquaintances were alone together, the gambler serving the light meal with considerable grace.
"How long have you been with the Colthwaite Company?" asked Jim Duff presently.
"I didn't say that I had ever been with the Colthwaite Company," smiled the stranger.
"No," admitted the gambler; "but I took that much for granted."
Again the eyes of the two men met in an exchange of keen looks, Then the stranger laughed.
"Mr. Duff, I realize that it is a waste of time to try to conceal rather evident facts from you. I am Frederick Ransom, a special agent for the Colthwaite Company."
"You are down here to get the contract for filling up the Man-killer quicksand?" Duff continued, with an air of polite curiosity.
"The contract is not to be awarded," Ransom answered. "The A., G. & N. M. has decided to do the work itself, with the assistance of two young engineers who have been retained."
"Reade and Hazelton," nodded Jim Duff.
"They may fail—are almost sure to do so. Then, of course, Mr. Ransom, you will have a very excellent chance of securing the contract for the Colthwaite Company."
"Why, yes; if the young men do fail."
"Will you pardon a stranger's curiosity, Mr. Ransom? Have you laid your plans yet for the way in which the young men are to fail?"
From most strangers this direct questioning would have been offensive. Jim Duff, however, from long experience in fleecing greenhorns, had acquired a manner and way, of speaking that stood him in good stead.
After a moment's half-embarrassed silence Fred Ransom burst into a laugh that was wholly good-natured.
"Mr. Duff, You are unusually clever at reading other's motives," he replied.
"I went to school as a youngster, and learned how to read the pages of open books," the gambler confessed modestly. "So you have, as yet, no plan for compelling the young engineers to fail and quit at the Man-killer?"
This was such a direct, comprehensive question that Fred Ransom remained silent for some moments before he admitted:
"No; as yet I haven't been able to form a plan."
"Then engage me to help you," spoke Jim Duff slowly, coolly. "I know the country here, and the people. I know where to lay my finger on men who can be trusted to do unusual things. I shall come high, Mr. Ransom, but I am really worth the money. Talk it over with me, and convince me that your company will be sufficiently liberal in return for large favors."
"Oh, the Colthwaite Company would be liberal enough," protested Ransom, "and quick to hand out the cash, at that."
"I took that for granted," smiled Duff, showing his white teeth. "Your people, the Colthwaites, have always been accustomed to paying for favors that require unusual talent, some courage-and perhaps a persistency of the shooting kind."
Then the two rascals, who now thoroughly understood each other, fell to plotting. An hour later the outlook was dark, indeed, for the success of Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton.
CHAPTER II. DUFF ASSERTS HIS "RIGHTS"
"We've a hard afternoon ahead of us, Harry," remarked Tom Reade, as the engineer chums finished the noonday meal in the public dining room of the Mansion House.
"Pshaw! We'll have more real work to do after our material arrives," rejoined young Hazelton. "We're promised the material in four days. If we get it in a fortnight we will be lucky."
"That might be true on some railroads," smiled Tom. "But Mr. Ellsworth, the general manager of the A., G. & N. M., is a hustler, if I ever met one. When we wired to him what we needed, he wired back that enough of the material would be here within four days to keep us busy for some time. I believe Mr. Ellsworth never talks until he knows what he's talking about."
"Well, I hope you can find some work for the men to do this afternoon," murmured Harry, as the two young engineers rose from table. "Hawkins, our superintendent of construction, has about five hundred mechanics and laborers who will soon need work."
"Yes," agreed Tom. "The men took the jobs with the understanding that their pay would run on."
"The day's wages for five hundred workmen is a big item of loss when we're delayed," mused Hazelton.
"There's another consideration that's even worse than the loss," Tom went on in a low voice. "The pay train will be here this afternoon and the men will have a lot of money by evening. This town of Paloma is going to be wide open to-night in the effort to get the money away from our five hundred men."
"We can't stop that," sighed Harry. "We have no control over the way in which the workmen choose to spend their money."
"Want me to tell you a secret?" whispered Tom mysteriously.
"Yes, if it's an interesting one," smiled Harry.
"Very good, then. I know I can't actually interfere with the way the men spend their money. But I'm going to give them some earnest advice about avoiding fellows who would fleece them out of their wages."
"Go slowly, Tom!" warned Hazelton, opening his eyes rather wide. "Don't put yourself in bad with the men, or they may quit you in a body."
"Let them," retorted Tom, with one of his easy smiles. "If these men throw up their work General Manager Ellsworth will know where to find others for us. Few of our men are skilled workers. We can find substitutes for most of them anywhere that laborers can be found."
"But you've no right—"
"Of one thing you may be very sure, Harry. I'll take pains not to step over the line of my own rights, and not to step on the rights of the men who are working for us. What I mean to do is to offer them some very straight talk. I shall also warn them that we are quite ready to discharge any foolish fellows who may happen to go on sprees and unfit themselves for our work. I've one surprise to show you, Harry. Wait until Johnson, the paymaster, gets in. Then you'll see who else is with him."
"Are you gentlemen ready for your horses?" asked a stable boy, coming around to the front of the hotel.
"Yes," nodded Tom.
Two tough, lean, wiry desert ponies were brought around. Tom and Harry mounted, riding away at a slow trot at first.
From an upper window Fred Ransom looked down upon them, then called Duff to his side.
"There is your game, Duff," hinted the agent.
"They'll be easy to a man of my experience," laughed the gambler. "I've a clever scheme for starting trouble with them."
He whispered a few words in his companion's ears, at which Ransom laughed with apparent enjoyment.
"You're a keen one, Duff," grinned the agent from Chicago.
"I've seen enough of life," boasted the gambler quietly, "to be able to judge most people at first sight. You shall soon see whether I don't succeed in starting some hard feeling with Reade and Hazelton."
The nearer edge of the treacherous Man-killer was something more than two miles west of the town of Paloma. In the course of a quarter of an hour Tom and Harry drew rein near a portable wooden building that served as an office in the field.
Mr. Hawkins, a solid-looking, bearded man of fifty, with snapping eyes that contrasted with his drawling speech, stepped from the building.
"Hawkins," called Tom, as a Mexican boy led the horses away to the shade of a stable tent, "I see you have some men idle."
"Nine-tenths of 'em are idle," replied the superintendent of construction. "I warned you, Mr. Reade, that our gangs would soon eat up the little work that you left us. Out there, by the last cave-in you'll see that Foreman Payson, has about fifty men going. They'll be through within an hour."
"And the material, even if delivered within the promised time, is still two days away," remarked Reade. "I'll confess that I don't like to see the railroad lose so much through paying men for idle time."
"It can't be helped, sir," replied the superintendent. "Of course, if you like, you can set the laborers at work shoveling in more dirt at the points where the last slide of the quicksand occurred. But, then, shoveling dirt in, without the timbers and the hollow steel piles will do no good," continued Hawkins, with a shake of his head. "It would be worse than wasted work."
"I know all that," Tom admitted. "To tell you the truth, Mr. Hawkins, I wouldn't mind the men's idleness quite so much if it weren't that the pay train comes in this afternoon. An idle man, not over-nice about his habits, and with a lot of money in his pockets, is a source of danger. We're going to have five hundred such danger spots as soon as the men are paid off."
"Don't know that, sir!" demanded Superintendent Hawkins. "The town of Paloma is just dancing on sand-paper, it's so uneasy about getting its hand into the pile of more than thirty-eight thousand dollars that the pay train is going to bring in this afternoon."
"I know," nodded Tom rather gloomily. "I hate to see the men fleeced as they're likely to be fleeced to-night. Some of our men will be so badly done up that it will be a week before they get back to work—unless there is some way that we can stop the fleecing."
"There isn't any such way," declared Superintendent Hawkins, with an air of conviction.
"You've surely been around rough railroading camps enough to know that, Mr. Reade."
"I've seen a good deal of the life, Hawkins," Tom answered, "but of course I don't know it all."
"Yet you know that you can't hope to stop railroad jacks from spending their money in their own way. The saloons in Paloma will take in thousands of dollars from our lads to-night and all day to-morrow. The gamblers will swindle them out of a whole lot more. Day after to-morrow, Mr. Reade, you wouldn't be able to borrow twenty dollars from our whole force."
"It's a shame," burst from Tom indignantly, as the three turned to gaze westward across the desert. "These men work as hard as any toilers in the world. They receive good wages. Yet where do you find a railroad jack who, after years and years of toil on these burning deserts, has two or three hundred dollars of his own saved?"
Hawkins shrugged his shoulders.
"I know all about it," he responded, "and I grow angry every time I think about it. Yet how is one going to protect these, men against themselves?"
"I believe there's a way," spoke Tom confidently.
"I hope you can find it, then, Mr. Reade," retorted Hawkins skeptically.
"At any rate, I'm going to try."
"What are you going to do, Mr. Reade?" demanded the superintendent curiously.
"You'll be with me, won't you?" coaxed Tom.
"You'll stand with us, shoulder to shoulder."
"I certainly will, Mr. Reade!"
"And the foremen? You can depend upon them?"
"On every one of them," declared Hawkins promptly. "Even to the Mexican foreman, Mendoza. He's a greaser, but he's a brick, and a white man all the way through!"
"Call the foremen in, then—all except Payson, who is with his gang."
Tom and Harry stepped inside the office. Mr. Hawkins strolled away, but within ten minutes he was back again, followed by Foremen Bell, Rivers and Mendoza.
"Two wagons have driven up, east of here," announced Mr. Hawkins, as he entered the office building. "They've stopped a quarter of a mile below here and have dumped two tents. I think they're about to raise them."
Tom stepped hastily outside, glancing eastward, where they saw what the superintendent had described. One of the tents had just been raised, though the pitching of it had not yet been thoroughly done.
"What crowd is that?" Reade asked. "Who is at the head of it?"
"I see one man there—the only man in good clothes—who looks like Jim Duff," replied the superintendent, using his field glasses.
"The gambler?" asked Tom sharply.
"He's pitching his tent on the railroad's dirt, isn't he!"
"Come along. We'll have a look at that place."
A few minutes of brisk walking brought the young engineers, the superintendent and the three foremen to the spot.
Tent number one had been pitched. It was a circular tent, some forty feet in diameter. The second tent, only a little smaller, was now being hoisted.
"Who's in charge of this work?" asked Tom in his usual pleasant tone.
"My manager, Mr. Bemis—Dock Bemis," answered Jim Duff suavely, as he moved forward to meet the party. "Dock, come here. I want you to know Mr. Reade, the engineer in charge of this job."
Duff's manners were impudently easy and assured. The fellow known as Dock Bemis, an unprepossessing, shabbily dressed man of thirty-five, with a mean face and an ugly-looking eye, came forward.
"I'll take Mr. Bemis's acquaintance for granted," Tom continued, with an easy smile. "You own this outfit, don't you, Mr. Duff?"
"I've rented it, if you mean the tents, tables and chairs," assented the gambler. "I've a stock of liquors coming over as soon as I send one of the wagons back."
"What do you propose to do with all this?" Tom inquired.
"Why, of course, you see," smiled Duff, with all the suavity in the world, "as your boys are going to be paid off this afternoon they'll want to go somewhere to enjoy themselves. As the day is very hot I thought it would be showing good intentions if I brought an outfit over here. I'll have everything ready within an hour."
"So that you can get our men intoxicated and fleece them more easily?" asked Tom, with his best smile. "Is that the idea?"
Jim buff flushed angrily. Then his face became pale.
"It's a crude way you have of expressing it, Mr. Reade, if you Ill allow me to say so," the gambler answered, in a voice choked with anger. "I am going to offer your men a little amusement. It's what they need, and what they'll insist upon. Do you see? There's a small mob coming this way now."
Tom turned, discovering about a hundred railroad laborers coming down the road.
"Mr. Duff," asked the young chief engineer, "can you show any proof of your authority to erect tents on the railroad's land?"
"What other place around here, Mr. Reade, would be as convenient?" demanded the gambler.
"I repeat my question, sir! Have you any authority or warrant for erecting tents here?"
"Do you mean, have I a permit from the railroad company?"
"You know very well what I mean, Duff."
Though Reade's tone was somewhat sharper, his smile was as genial as ever.
"I didn't imagine you'd have any objection to my coming here," the gambler replied evasively.
"Have you any authority to be on the railroad's land's?" persisted Tom Reade. "Yes or no?"
"No-o-o-o, I haven't, unless I can persuade you to see how reasonable it is that your men should be provided with enjoyment right at their own camp."
"Take the tents down, then, as quickly as you can accomplish it," directed Tom, though in a quiet voice.
"And—if I don't?" asked Duff, smiling dangerously and displaying his white, dog-like teeth.
"Then I shall direct one of the foremen to call a sufficient force, Mr. Duff, to take down your tents and remove them from railroad property. I am not seeking trouble with you, sir; I don't want trouble. But, as long as I remain in charge here no gambling or drinking places are going to be opened on the railroad's land."
"Mr. Reade," inquired the gambler, his smile fading, "do you object to giving me a word in private?"
"Not at all," Tom declared. "But it won't help your plans."
"I'd like just a word with you alone," coaxed the gambler.
Nodding, Reade stepped away with the gambler to a distance of a hundred feet or so from the rapidly increasing crowd.
"I expect to make a little money out of this tent outfit, of course," explained Jim Duff.
"I expect that you won't make a dollar out of it—on railway property," returned Reade steadily.
"I'm going to make a little money—not much," Duff went on. "Now, if I can make the whole deal with you, and if no one else is allowed to bother me, I can afford to pass you one hundred dollars a day for the tent privilege."
Before even expectant Tom realized what was happening, Duff had pressed a wad of paper money into his hand.
"What is this?" demanded Reade.
"Don't let everyone see it," warned the gambler. "You'll find two hundred dollars there, in bills. That's for the first two days of our tent privilege here."
"You contemptible hound!" exclaimed Tom angrily.
Whish! The tightly folded wad of bank notes left Tom's hand, landing squarely in Jim Duff Is face.
In an instant the gambler's face turned white. His hand flew back to a pocket in which he carried a pistol.
CHAPTER III. TOM MAKES A SPEECH ON GAMBLING
"Cut out the gun-play! That doesn't go here!" Tom uttered warningly.
One swift step forward, and one hand caught Jim Duff by the throat. With the other hand Tom caught Duff's right wrist and wrenched away the pistol that instantly appeared in the gambler's hand.
The weapon Tom threw on the ground, some feet away. Then, with eyes blazing with contempt, Tom Reade struck the gambler heavily across the face with the flat of his hand. Hard work had added to the young engineer's muscle of earlier days, and the gambler was staggered.
Another instant, and Superintendent Hawkins who, with Hazelton and the foremen, had run up to them, seized Duff roughly from behind, holding his arms pinioned.
Harry Hazelton picked up the revolver. Quickly opening it, he drew out the cartridges.
"Mr. Bell!" called Harry, and the foreman of that name hastened to him.
"Take this thing back to the office and break it up with a hammer," directed young Hazelton, as he passed the revolver to the foreman. The latter sped away on his errand.
"Let Duff go, Mr. Hawkins," directed Tom. "I'm not afraid of him. Duff, I wish to apologize to you for striking you in the face. I wouldn't allow any man to do that to me. But your action in reaching for a pistol was so childish—or cowardly, whichever you prefer to call it—that I admit I forgot myself for a moment. Now, you are not going to erect any tents for gambling or other unworthy purposes on the railroad's property. It's bad business to let you do anything of the sort. I trust that there will be no hard feeling between us."
"Hard feeling?" hissed Jim Duff, his wicked-looking face paler than ever. "Boy, you needn't try to crawl back into my good graces after the way you acted toward me!"
"I'm not trying to crawl into your esteem, or to get there by any other means," Tom answered quietly, though with a firmness that caused superintendent and foremen to feel a new respect for their young chief engineer. "At the same time, Duff, I don't believe in stirring up bad blood with anyone. You and I haven't the same way of regarding your line of business. That's the main difficulty. As I can't see your point of view, it would be hardly fair to expect you to understand my way of regarding what you wished to do here. Your tents will have to come down and be moved, but I have no personal feeling in the matter. How soon can you get your tents down?"
"They are not coming down, I tell you!" snarled the gambler.
"That's where you and I fail once more to agree," replied Tom steadily, looking the other straight in the eyes. "It's merely a question of whether you will take them down, or whether I shall set our own men to doing it."
Jim Duff had brought with him about a dozen men of his own. They were a somewhat picturesque-looking crowd, though not necessarily dangerous men. They were mostly men who had been hired to run the gaming tables under the canvas. A judge of men would have immediately classified them as inferior specimens of manhood.
So far these men had not offered to take any part in the dispute. Now Duff moved over to them quickly, muttering the words:
"Stand by me!"
As for Tom Reade, he was backed by five men, including his chum. Though none of Reade's force was armed, the young engineer knew that he could depend upon them.
Followed by his adherents, Duff took a few quick strides forward. This brought him face to face with Reade's labors, of whom now more than two hundred were present.
"Are you men or squaws?" called, Duff loudly. "I have brought the stuff over here for a merry night of it. This boy says you can't have your enjoyment. Are you going to let him rule you in that fashion, or are you going to throw him out of here?"
There came from the crowd a gradually increasing murmur of rage.
"Throw this boy out, if you're men!" Duff jeered. "Throw him out, I say, and send word to your railroad people to put a man here in his place."
The murmurs increased, especially from the Mexicans, for the Mexican peon, or laborer, is often a furious gambler who will stake even the shirt on his back.
Foreman Mendoza, who understood his own people, started forward, but Tom, with a signal, caused him to halt.
"Throw him out, I say!" yelled Duff shrilly. "Duff, I'm afraid you're making a fool of yourself," remarked Tom, stepping forward, smiling cheerfully.
Yet another murmur, now growing to a yell, rose from some of the men—a few of the men, too, who were not Mexicans, and a half-hearted rush was made in the young engineer's direction.
"Throw him out! Hustle the boy out!" Duff urged.
"Stop! Stop right in your tracks!" thundered Tom Reade, taking still another step toward the now angrier crowd. "Men, listen to me, and you'll get a proper understanding of this affair. Jim Duff wants me thrown out of here—"
"Yes! And out you'll go!" roared a voice from the rear of the crowd.
"That's a question that the next few minutes will settle," Tom rejoined, with a smile. "If Jim Duff wants me thrown out of here, why don't you men tell him to do it himself?"
The force of this suggestion, with the memory of what they had recently seen, struck home with many of the men. A shout of laughter went up, followed by yells of:
"That's right—dead right!"
"Sail in, Jim!"
"Throw him out, Jim! We'll see fair play!"
Tom made an ironical bow in the direction of the gambler.
"Have you men gone crazy!" yelled Jim Duff hoarsely.
"Have you lost your nerve, Jim?" bawled a lusty American laborer. "You want this boy, as you call him, thrown out, and we're waiting to see you do it. It you haven't the nerve to tackle the job, then you're not a man to give us orders!"
Tom's smiling good humor and his fair proposition had swung the balance of feeling against the gambler. Duff saw that he had lost ground.
"Boy," called a few voices, "if Duff won't throw you out, then you turn the tables and throw him out."
"It isn't necessary," laughed Tom. "After the tents are gone Duff won't have any desire to remain around here. Mr. Duff, I ask you for the last time, will you have your men take down the tents and remove them?"
"I won't!" snarled the gambler.
"Mr. Rivers!" called Tom.
"Yes, sir," replied the foreman, stepping forward.
"Mr. Rivers, take twenty-five laborers and bring the tents down at once. Be careful to see that no damage is done. As soon as they are down you will load them on the wagons."
"On second thought, you had better take fifty men. See that the work is done as promptly as possible."
The Mexicans, who were in the majority, and nearly all of whom were wildly eager to gamble as soon as their money arrived, stirred uneasily. They might have interfered, but Foreman Mendoza ran among his countrymen, calling out to them vigorously in Spanish, and with so much emphasis that the men sullenly withdrew.
Foreman Rivers speedily had his fifty men, together, none of whom were Mexicans.
"Touch a single guy-rope at your peril!" warned Jim Duff menacingly, but big Superintendent Hawkins seized the gambler by the shoulders, gently, though, firmly, removing him from the vicinity of the tents.
All in a flash the work was done. Canvas and poles were loaded on to the wagons. Mr. Rivers's men had entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the thing that, they forced the drivers to start off, and the gambler's men to follow.
Goaded to the last ditch of desperation, Jim Duff now strode over to where Tom stood. No one opposed him, nor did Reade's smile fail.
"Boy, you've had your laugh, just now," announced the gambler, in his most threatening, tone. "It will be your last laugh."
"Oh, I hope not," drawled Tom.
"You will know more within twenty-four hours. You have treated me, with your own crowd about you, like a dog."
"You're wrong again," laughed Tom.. "Jim is fond of dogs. They are fine fellows."
"You may laugh as much as you want, just now," jeered Jim Duff. "You've made an enemy, and one of the worst in Arizona! I won't waste any more talk on you—except to warn you."
"Warn me? About what?" asked Tom curiously.
Instead of answering, Jim Duff turned on his heel, stalking off with a majesty that, somehow, looked sadly damaged.
"He has warned you," murmured Superintendent Hawkins in an undertone. "That is your hint that Duff will fight you to the death at the first opportunity."
"May it be long in coming!" uttered Tom devoutly.
Then, as he turned about and saw scores of laborers coming in his direction, Reade remembered what he wished to do.
"Mr. Hawkins," he continued, turning toward the superintendent, "I see that Mr. Payson's gang is coming in from work. As all our men are now idle, I wish you would direct the foremen to see that all hands assemble here. I have something to say to them."
Within ten minutes the five hundred laborers and mechanics had been gathered in a compact crowd. Now that the excitement of hustling the gambler off the scene had died away, many of the men were sorry that they had not made their disapproval plainer. Though Tom Reade plainly understood the mood of the men, he mounted a barrel, holding up both hands as a sign for silence.
"Now, men," he began, "you all know that the pay train is due here this afternoon. You are all eager to get your money—for what? It is a strange fact that gold is the carrion that draws all of the vultures. A few minutes ago you saw one of the vultures here, preparing to get his supposed share of your money away from you. Does Jim Duff care a hang about any of you? Do any of you care anything whatever for Jim Duff? Then why should you be so eager to get into one of his tents and let him take your money away from you?
"It is true that, once in a while, a solitary player gets a few dollars away from a gambler. Yet, in the end, the gambler has every dollar of the crowd that patronizes him. You men have been out in the hot sun for weeks, working hard to earn the money that the pay train is bringing you. Has Jim Duff done any work in the last few weeks? While you men have been toiling and sweating, what has Duff been doing? Hasn't he been going around wearing the clothes and the air of a gentleman, while you men have been giving all but your lives for your dollars, while you have been denied most of the comforts of living. Hasn't Duff been up at the Mansion House, living on the fat of the land and smiling to himself every time he thought of you men, who would be ready to hand him all of your money as soon as it came to you? Is the gambler, who grows fat on the toil of others, but never toils himself, any better than the vulture that feeds upon the animals killed by others? Isn't the gambler a parasite, pure and simple? On whose lifeblood does the gambler feed, unless it's on yours?"
Tom continued his harangue, becoming more and more intense, yet carrying his talk along in all simplicity, and with a directness that made scores of the workmen look sheepish.
"Whenever you find a man anywhere who professes to be working for your good, or for your amusement, and who gets all the benefit in the end, why don't you open your eyes to him?" Tom inquired presently. "Over in Paloma there are saloon keepers who are cleaning up their dives and opening new lots of liquor that they feel sure they're going to sell you to-night. These dive keepers are ready to welcome you with open arms, and they'll try to make you feel that you're royal good fellows and that they are the best friends you have in the world. Yet, to-morrow morning, how will the property be divided? The keepers of these saloons and Jim Duff will have all your money and what will you have?"
Tom paused, whipping out a white handkerchief that he deftly bound around his head, meanwhile looking miserable.
"That's what you men will have—and that's all that you'll have left," croaked the young chief engineer dismally. "Now, friends, is the game worth a candle of that sort? How many of you have money in the bank? Let every man here who has put up his hand. Not one of you? Who's keeping your money in bank for you? Jim Duff and the sellers of poisons? Will they ever hand your money back to you? Some of you men have dear ones at home. If one of these dear ones sends a hurried, frenzied appeal for money in time of sickness or death what will your answer have to be? Just this: 'I have been working like a slave for a year, but I can send you only my love. Jim Duff, who hasn't worked in all his life, won't let me send you any money.' Friends, is that what you're burning yourselves black on the desert for?"
While Tom Reade spoke Foreman Mendoza had marshaled his Mexicans and was translating the young engineer's words into Spanish.
Nor was it long ere Tom's fine presentation of the matter caught the men in the nobler part of their feelings.
"Don't blame Duff so much," Tom finally went on. "He may be a parasite, a vulture, a feeder on blood, but you and men just like you have helped to make the Duffs. You're not going to do so after this, are you, my friends? You're not going to keep the breath of life in monsters who drain you dry of life and manhood?"
"No!" came a thunderous shout, even though all of Reade's hearers did not join in it.
Even the Mexicans, listening to Mendoza's translation, became interested, despite their lesser degree of intelligence.
Tom continued to talk against time, though he wasted few words. All that he said went home to many of the laborers. While he was still talking the whistle of the pay train was heard.
Reade quickly sent his foremen and a few trusted workmen to head off any "runners" who might attempt to come in from Paloma while the men were being paid off.
As the train came to a stop Tom leaped upon a flat car behind the engine and introduced one of the newcomers—the vice president of a savings bank over in Tucson. This man, who knew the common people, talked for fifteen minutes, after which a clerk appeared from the pay car with a book in which to register the signatures of those who wished to open bank accounts. Then the paymaster and his assistants worked rapidly in paying off.
That railroad pay day proved a time of gloom to many in the town of Paloma. The returning pay train carried the bank officials and twenty-four thousand dollars that had been deposited as new accounts from the men. Of the money that remained in camp much of it was carried in the pockets of men who meant to keep it there until they received something worth while it exchange.
True, this did not trouble the majority of people in Paloma, who were sober, decent American citizens engaged in the proper walks of life.
But Jim Duff and a few others held an indignation meeting that night.
"We've been robbed!" complained one indignant saloon keeper.
"Gentlemen," observed Jim Duff, in his oiliest tones, though his face was ghastly white, "you have a new enemy, who threatens your success in business. How are you going to deal with him?"
"We'll run him off the desert, or bury him there!" came the snarling response.
"I can't believe that boy, Reade, will ever succeed in laying the railroad tracks across the Man-killer," smiled Jim Duff darkly within himself.
CHAPTER IV. SOMEBODY STIRS THE MUD
The next morning only a few of the men, some of those who had refused to open bank accounts, failed to show up at the railroad camp.
"There is really nothing to do this morning," Tom remarked to Superintendent Hawkins. "However, I think you had better dock the missing men for time off. If you find that any missing man has been gone on a proper errand of rest or enjoyment, and has not been making a beast of himself, you can restore his docked pay on the lists."
"That's a very good idea," nodded Hawkins. "It always angers me to see these poor, hardworking fellows go away and make fools of themselves just as soon as they get a bit of pay in their pockets. Still, you can't change the whole face of human nature, Mr. Reade."
"I don't expect to do so," smiled Tom. "Yet, if we can get a hundred or two in this outfit to take a sensible view of pay day, and can drill it into them so that it will stick, there will be just that number of happier men in the world. How long have you been in this work on the frontier, Mr. Hawkins?"
"About twenty years, sir."
"Then it must have angered you, many a time, to see the vultures and the parasites fattening on the men who do the real work in life."
"It has," nodded the superintendent. "However, I haven't your gift with the tongue, Mr. Reade, and I've never been able to lead men into the right path as you did yesterday."
Over in the little village of tents where the idle workmen sat through the forenoon there was some restlessness. These men knew that there was nothing for them to do until the construction material arrived, and that they were required only to report in order to keep themselves on the time sheets. Having reported to their foremen and the checkers, they were quite at liberty to go over into Paloma or elsewhere. A few of them had gone. Some others had an uneasy feeling that they wouldn't like to face the contempt in the eyes of the young chief engineer if he happened to see them going away from camp.
"It's none of the business of that chap Reade," growled one of the workmen.
"Of course it isn't," spoke up another. "He talked to us straight yesterday, however, and showed us that it was our own business to keep out of the tough places in Paloma. I've worked under these engineers for years, and I never before knew one of them to care whether I had a hundred dollars or an empty stomach. Boys, I tell you, Reade, has the right stuff in him, if he is only a youngster. He knows the enemies he has made over in Paloma, and he understands the risks be has been taking in making such enemies. He proved to us that he can stand that sort of thing and be our friend. Look at this thing, will you?"
With something of a look of wonder the speaker drew out the bankbook that he had acquired the afternoon before.
"I've got forty dollars in bank," he continued, in something of a tone of awe. "Forty friends of mine that I've put away to work and do good things for me! If I don't touch this money for some years then I'll find that this money has grown to be a lot more than forty dollars!"
"Or else you'll find that some bank clerk is up in Canada spending it," jeered a companion.
"I don't care what the clerk does. The bank will be still good for the money. Joe, you read the papers as often as any come into camp."
"All right. The next time you find anything about a savings bank that has failed and left the people in the lurch for their money, you show it to me. Savings banks don't fail nowadays! No, Sir!"
Other men through the camp were taking sly peeps at their bankbooks, as though they were half ashamed at having such possessions. Yet many a hard toiler in camp felt a new sense of importance that morning. He began to look upon himself as a part of the moneyed world as, indeed, he was!
"Telegram for Mr. Reade," called one of the two camp operators, coming forward.
Tom tore the envelope open, then stared at the following message:
"Reade, Chief Engineer.
"Have complaint from merchants of Paloma that you have effectually stopped the men from spending any money in the town. Not our policy to make enemies of the towns along our line. Explain immediately.
"Hmmm!" smiled Tom, then passed the message over to Superintendent Hawkins.
"Your newly made enemies have gotten after you quickly, Sir," commented the superintendent grimly.
"Yes," nodded Tom. "And, of course, I can't follow any course that isn't approved by the general manager. I'll wire him the truth and see what he has to say. Operator!"
"Yes, Sir," replied the young man, turning and coming back.
"Wait for a message," directed Tom; then seated himself and wrote the following reply:
"Ellsworth, General Manager.
"Have not interfered in any way with honest merchants of Paloma. Men are at liberty to spend their money any way they choose. I did give the men a talk about the foolishness of spending their wages in buying liquor or in gambling. Result was that men banked about two thirds of the total pay roll with the bank people you sent on pay train yesterday at my request. Also drove off a gambler who tried to erect two tents on railroad property in order to fleece the men more speedily.
"That will tell the general manager about the kind of merchants that I've been injuring," smiled Tom, first showing the sheet to Superintendent Hawkins and then handing it to the waiting messenger.
"I hope Ellsworth, will be satisfied," nodded Hawkins. "Good will is an asset for a railway, and your enemies in Paloma may be able to stir up a good deal of trouble for you. Mr. Reade, I stood with you yesterday, and I'm still with you. If Ellsworth is so cranky that you feel like throwing the job here, then I'll walk out with you."
"Oh, I'm not going to give up the work here," predicted Reade cheerfully. "I'm too much interested in it. Neither am I going to have my hands tied by any clique of gamblers and dive keepers. If Mr. Ellsworth isn't satisfied, then I'll run up to headquarters and talk to him in person. I'm not going to quit; neither am I going to be prevented from winning and deserving the friendship of the men who are here working for us."
"Telegram for Mr. Reade," grinned the operator, again looking in at the doorway.
After reading it, Tom passed over to Hawkins this message from General Manager Ellsworth:
"Unable to judge merits of case at this distance. Will be with you soon."
"That's all right," Reade declared.
"It looks all right," muttered Hawkins, who knew something about the ways of railroads.
Up the track the whistle on a stationary engine blew the noon signal.
"Feel like eating, Harry?" Tom called to his chum, who had been mildly dozing in a chair in one corner of the room.
"Always," declared Hazelton, sitting up and yawning.
"Are you going to eat in town this noon, or in camp?" Tom inquired of the superintendent of construction.
Hawkins was about to answer that he'd eat in camp, when he suddenly reconsidered.
"I guess I'll ride along with you, Mr. Reade," he said dryly.
Horses were brought, and the three mounted and rode away. In such sizzling heat as beat down from the noonday sun Tom had not the heart to urge his mount to speed. The trio were soon at the edge of Paloma, which they had to enter through one of the streets occupied by the rougher characters.
Just as they rode down by the first buildings a low whistle sounded on the heavy, dead air.
"Signal that the locomotive is headed this way," announced Hawkins grimly. "Look out for the crossing, Mr. Reade!"
Hardly had the superintendent finished speaking when a sharp hiss sounded from an open window. Then another and more hisses, from different buildings.
"A few snakes left in the grass," Tom remarked jokingly.
"Oh, you've stirred up a nest of 'em, Mr. Reade," rejoined the superintendent.
Tom laughed as Harry added:
"Let's hope that there are no poisonous reptiles among them. It would be rough on poisonous snakes to have Tom find them."
Then the three horsemen turned the corner near the Mansion House. Superintendent Hawkins looked grave as he noted a crowd before the hotel.
"Mr. Reade, I believe those men are there waiting to see you. I'm certain they've not gathered just to talk about the weather."
There was a movement in the crowd, and a suppressed, surly murmur, as the engineer party was sighted.
Tom Reade, however, rode forward at the head of his party, alighting close to the crowd, which numbered fifty or sixty men. The young chief engineer signed to one of the stable boys, who came forward, half reluctantly, and took the bridles of the three horses to lead them away.
Jim Duff, backed by three other men, stepped forward. There was a world of menace in the gambler's wicked eyes as he began, in a soft, almost purring tone:
"Mr. Reade," announced Jim Duff, "we are a committee, appointed by citizens, to express our belief that the air of Paloma is not going to be good for you. At the same time we wish to ask you concerning your plans for leaving the town."
There could be no question as to the meaning of the speaker. Tom Reade was being ordered out of town.
CHAPTER V. TOM HAS NO PLANS FOR LEAVING TOWN
"My plans for leaving town?" repeated Tom pleasantly. "Why, gentlemen, I'll meet your question frankly by saying that I haven't made any such plans."
"You're going to do so, aren't?" inquired Duff casually.
"By the time that my partner and I have finished our work for the road, Mr. Duff, I imagine that we shall be making definite plans to go away, unless the railroad officials decide to keep us here with Paloma as headquarters for other work."
"We believe that it would be much better for your health if you went away at once," Duff insisted, with a mildness that did not disguise his meaning in the least.
Tom deemed it not worth while to pretend any longer that he did not understand.
"Oh, then it's a case of 'Here's your hat. What's your hurry?'" asked Reade smilingly.
"Something in that line," assented Jim Duff. "I venture to assure you that we are quite in earnest in our anxiety for your welfare, Mr. Reade."
"Whom do you men represent?" asked Tom.
"The citizens of Paloma," returned Duff.
"All of them?" Reade insisted.
"All of them—with few exceptions."
"I understand you, of course," Tom nodded.
"Now, Mr. Duff, I'll tell you what I propose. I'm curious to know just how many there are on your side of the fence. Pardon me, but I really can't quite believe that the better citizens of this town are behind you. I know too many Arizona men, and I have too good an opinion of them. Your kind of crowd makes a lot of noise at times, and the other kind of Arizona crowd rarely makes any noise. I know, of course, the element in the town that your committee represents, but I don't believe that your element is by any means in the majority here."
"I assure you that we represent the sentiment of the town," Duff retorted steadily.
"Much as I regret the necessity for seeming to slight your opinion," Tom went on with as pleasant a smile as at first, "I call for a showing of hands or a count of noses. I'll tell you what we'll do, Mr. Duff, if it meets with your approval. We'll hire a hall, sharing the expense. We'll state the question fairly in the local newspaper, and we'll invite all good citizens to turn out, meet in the hall, hear the case on both sides, and then decide for themselves whether they want the railroad engineers to leave the town or—"
"They do want you to leave town!" the gambler insisted.
"Or whether they want Jim Duff and some of his friends to leave town," Tom Reade continued good-humoredly.
Jim Duff turned, gazing back at the men with him. They represented the roughest element in the town.
"No use arguing with a mule, Jim!" growled a red-faced man at the rear of the crowd. "Get a rail, boys, and we'll start the procession right now."
"Bring a rope along, too!" called another man hoarsely.
"Get two rails and one rope!" proposed a third bad character. "The other kid doesn't seem to be sassy enough to need a rope."
"Gentlemen," broke in Harry Hazelton gravely, "if anyone of you imagines that I'm holding my tongue because I disapprove of my partner's course, let me assure you that I back every word he says."
"Make it two ropes, then!" jeered another voice.
"Reade," continued Jim Duff, "we all try to be decent men here, and the friends with me are a good and sensible lot of men. You have carried matters just a little too far. Think over what you've heard and noticed here, and then tell me again about your plans, for quitting Paloma."
As he spoke Jim made a gesture that kept some of the men near him from rushing forward. Tom did not appear to notice the demonstration at all. Certainly he did not flinch.
"I haven't any such plans," Tom laughed. "I'm hungry and I'm going inside to eat."
With that, he turned his back on the crowd, with Harry behind him, both making for the steps of the hotel. Superintendent Hawkins stepped in after the boys.
"Gentlemen, I can't do anything more," spoke up Jim Duff, with an air of resignation.
"But we can!" roared some of the roughs in the crowd. A dozen of them surged forward. The first of them swung a lariat to slip it over Tom Reade's neck.
Bump! Hawkins's sledge-hammer right hand shot out, landing on that fellow's face. With a moan the fellow collapsed on the sidewalk, his jaw broken.
Then Tom and Harry wheeled like a flash, eyeing the idlers and roughs sternly.
"Don't go any further," proposed Tom, his eyes growing steely, "unless you mean it."
Something in the attitude of the trio of athletic figures standing ready before them disquieted the crowd of roughs. There were armed men in that crowd, but all felt that they had been put in the wrong, so far, and none of them dared draw the first weapon or fire the first shot.
"Take that injured man to a surgeon and have his jaw set," spoke Tom quietly. "Let the surgeon send me the bill. I'm sorry for the fellow, for I'm indirectly the cause of his being hurt. The main cause of his misfortune was due to his being in bad company."
"Come out of that hotel," ordered Jim Duff, his eyes blazing as he stepped forward, though with Hawkins's cold, hard eyes on him the gambler was careful to keep his hands at his sides. "You can't get anything to eat in there!"
"Do you own the hotel?" Tom inquired coolly.
"No; but you can't eat there."
"Join us at lunch, Mr. Hawkins!" Tom invited, turning away from the gambler. The superintendent nodded, for he had no intention of leaving the young engineers for the present.
All three entered the hotel, while the small mob outside hooted and jeered. Tom led the way to a table in the dining room, signing to one of the waiters.
Hardly had the waiter reached them when Jim Duff and the proprietor of the Mansion House came in. Jim, after saying a few words in a low tone, halted, while the proprietor came forward.
"Good morning, Mr. Ashby," nodded Tom, when he saw the proprietor headed their way. The latter looked rather embarrassed, but he moved a hand to signal the waiter to withdraw.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Reade, but I can't have you any longer at this hotel," began Ashby.
"Any particular reason?" Tom inquired, looking the man straight in the eye.
"Yes; some of my other guests object to your presence here."
"Meaning Jim Duff?" questioned Reade coolly.
"I don't care to discuss the matter with you, Mr. Reade, but I can't entertain you here any longer."
"Does that apply even to this meal, Mr. Ashby?"
"Very good," nodded Tom, rising. Harry and Hawkins shoved their chairs back, too, and stood up.
"Say, but I don't like the looks of that!" announced a voice from another table. There were five men seated there, all of them well-dressed and prosperous-looking traveling salesmen, who had arrived that morning.
"This is a very regrettable necessity on my part, gentlemen," began Proprietor Ashby hurriedly, and plainly ill at ease. "Some of my regular guests object to the presence of these young men, and so—"
"These young gentlemen have gotten in bad by objecting to having their men fleeced here in town, haven't they?" inquired the boldest of the drummers. "I heard something about it this morning."
"Perhaps you haven't heard all the circumstances," suggested Ashby in growing embarrassment.
"We've heard enough, anyway," replied the same drummer briskly. "So these young men, who are a credit to their profession and to their home towns, are ordered to leave here? Boys, I guess we leave, too, don't we?"
The other traveling salesmen assented emphatically.
Now Proprietor Ashby felt dismal, indeed. These five men were occupying the best quarters in his hotel, outside of those occupied by Jim Duff. It was not the loss of patronage from these men alone that troubled Ashby. Traveling salesmen have their own ways of "passing around the word" and downing any hotel that depends largely on their patronage.
"You can have all our rooms, then, Mr. Ashby," proposed the same drummer. "We'll have our things out and be ready for our bills within twenty minutes."
"But, gentlemen, be calm about this," begged Ashby. "Finish your meals first. There may be some way of arranging—"
"There is," returned the drummer, with a smile that was a fine duplicate of Tom's own. "We know just where to arrange for the kind of accommodations that we want. Mr. Reade," turning to Tom and Harry, "will you allow me to introduce ourselves. We are aching to shake hands with you, for we've heard all about you."
Proprietor Ashby fidgeted at the side, while the eight departing guests paused long enough to make their names known to each other.
Jim Duff had vanished early, leaving the hotel man to his own humiliation.
The introductions concluded, Hawkins followed the young engineers to their room while the drummers went to their own more costly quarters and hastily packed their belongings.
Fifteen minutes later the party stood in the office and porters were bringing down trunks. Tom and Harry, keeping most of their belongings at camp, had only suit cases to carry.
"Gentlemen, I think you are making a mistake," began Mr. Ashby, as he met the salesmen in the lobby near the clerk's desk.
"We made a mistake in coming here," retorted the leader of the salesmen, pleasantly as to tone, "but we're rectifying it now. Are our bills ready?"
The proprietor went behind the desk to make change, while the clerk receipted seven bills. Ashby's hands shook as he manipulated the money.
"Dobson," he said, in a low tone to one of the drummers, "I had intended ordering a ton of hams from you. Now, of course, I can't—"
"Quite right," nodded Mr. Dobson cheerfully. "You couldn't get them from our house at four times the market price. We wouldn't want our brand served here."
The last bill was paid. Proprietor Ashby stiffened, his backbone, trying to look game.
"Gentlemen," he inquired, "where are you going from here? Won't you let me call the 'bus to take you?"
"Never mind the 'bus, Ash," smilingly replied the leader of the drummers, a man named Pritchard. "If you'll send the 'bus over to the Cactus House with our trunks we'll be greatly obliged."
"Certainly, gentlemen, it's a pleasure to oblige you," murmured Ashby, with a ghastly effort to look pleasant. He watched the eight men step outside. Duff and his crowd had vanished. It would never do to try any mob tricks on so many strangers who had done nothing. The most easy-going citizens of an Arizona town would turn out to punish such a mob.
The three railroad men had their horses brought around, but they rode slowly, chatting with the salesmen on the sidewalk.
In this order they reached the Cactus House, which, thirty years ago, had been famous in and around the old Paloma of the frontier days. The proprietor, a young man named Carter, had succeeded his father in the ownership of the property. It was a neat hotel, but a small one. The elder Carter had lost a good deal of money before his death, and the son was now trying to build up the property with hardly any reserve capital.
At the Cactus there was a great flurry when five such important guests arrived and the young railroad engineers were also most heartily welcomed.
"Our meal time is nearly over, but I'll have something special cooked for you right away, gentlemen," cried young Carter, bustling about, his eyes aglow.
"Before you get that meal ready," said Pritchard, drawing young Carter aside, "I want to ask you whether any man can ever be driven from this hotel, just for being decent?"
"He certainly cannot," replied Proprietor Carter with emphasis.
"Live up to that, son," advised the drummer, "and I half suspect that you'll prosper."
The meal finished, the three men from the railroad camp took leave of their new salesmen friends, mounted and rode back to camp.
"The snakes are not all dead yet," mused Tom quizzically, as, in riding through the "tough" street again they heard hisses from open windows at which no heads appeared.
"There's a letter here for you, Mr. Reade," announced Foreman Payson, who was sitting alone in the office.
"Who brought it?"
"I don't know his name. Never saw him before. He rode out here on horseback."
The envelope, though a good one as to quality, was dirty on the outside. Tom Reade hastily broke the seal and read:
"If you don't get away from Paloma pretty soon your presence will hold the railroad up for a longtime to come! Get out, if you're wise, or the railroad will suffer with you!"
"I reckon the fellow who wrote that was sincere enough," said Tom, as he passed the letter over to his chum. "However, I don't like to feel that I can be seared by any man who's too cowardly to sign his name to a letter."
CHAPTER VI. THE GENERAL MANAGER "LOOKS IN"
Neither Tom nor Harry was stupid enough to be wholly unafraid over the threats of the day. Both realized that Jim Duff and the latter's associates were ugly and treacherous men who would fight sooner than be deprived of their chance to fleece the railway workmen. Yet neither young engineer had any intention of being scared into flight.
"They'll put up a lot of trouble for us," said Tom that afternoon, as the two chums talked the matter over. "They may even go to extremities, and—"
"Shoot us?" smiled Hazelton, though there was a serious look under his smile.
"Yes; they may even try that," I nodded Tom. "Though they won't make an open attempt. They may try to get us from ambush at night. They will be desperate, though not over brave. Recollect, Harry, that the better element in Paloma won't stand much nonsense. There are no braver men in the world than are found right in Arizona, and no men more decent."
"Barring Duff and his gang," laughed Hazelton.
"They're not real Arizona men. They're the kind of human vultures who flock after large pay rolls in any place where men work without having their families in near-by homes. If Duff had enough men of his own way of thinking, they might try to ride out here to camp and clean us out. If they did, then all the decent men in this part of Arizona would take to the saddle and drive Duff and his crew into hiding. After what happened to-day you won't find Duff daring to do anything too open."
"Excuse me, Sir, but there's a train coming," reported Foreman Rivers, thrusting his head in at the doorway of the little office building.
"Not a construction train?" Reade asked.
"Can't make it out yet, sir. The whistle was reported a minute ago."
Tom and Harry, chafing a good deal under their enforced idleness while waiting for materials, hastened outdoors. Soon the train was close enough to be made out. It consisted of an engine, baggage car and one private car.
"It's one or more of the road's officials," murmured Harry.
"I hope it's Mr. Ellsworth," replied Reade, as the chums walked briskly down to the spot where the train would have to halt.
It turned out to be the general manager, a big and capable-looking man of fifty, with a belt-line just a trifle too large for comfort, who swung himself to the ground the instant that the train stopped.
"I'm glad you're here, Reade," nodded the general manager, as he caught sight of his two young engineers. "Come back into my car. We can talk better there."
Tom and Harry mounted to the platform of the car, following Mr. Ellsworth down the carpeted aisle of a very comfortable private Pullman car. The general manager pointed to seats, threw himself into another, and then said:
"Now, tell me all about the row that you've started with the town."
Harry's lips closed tightly, but Tom launched at once into a plain, truthful account of the affair, bringing it down to the noonday meal of the present day.
"It's not clear to me just why you should feel called upon to interfere so forcefully," said the general manager, a little fretfully. "The workmen are all twenty-one years of age and upwards. Couldn't they protect themselves if they wanted protection?"
"Yes, sir, certainly," Tom admitted. "However, letting that fellow Duff put up his tents right on the railroad property would almost make it look as though the road shared, or at least approved, his enterprise."
"Oh, doubtless you were right to order the fellow off the railroad property," assented Mr. Ellsworth. "But why did you go to such trouble to get the men to start new bank accounts and thus send most of their money out of town?"
"May I answer that question, sir, by asking another?" asked Reade respectfully. "Did you wish the men to spend it in Paloma?"
"I don't care a hang what they do with it," retorted the general manager half peevishly. "It's their own money."
"It was you, Mr. Ellsworth, whom I wired yesterday morning, asking that you send down a representative of a savings bank who could open accounts with such of the men as desired."
"Yes, and I sent you a couple of bank men. I didn't have any idea, however, that you'd get the whole town of Paloma by the ears."
"I haven't, sir. I assure you of that. I've hurt only a few parasites—a flock of human vultures. The decent people of the town don't side with them."
"I wish I could be sure that we haven't offended the town as a whole," mused Mr. Ellsworth, "The good will of the people along our line is a great asset."
"You're acquainted with a lot of the real people in Paloma, aren't you, Mr. Ellsworth?"
"With some of them, yes."
"Then, while you're here, sir, I'd be glad if you'd look up some of these acquaintances in town and find out for yourself just how the sentiment stands. We don't wish you to feel that we're a pair of trouble-makers who are doing our best to ruin the road with its future customers."
"I believe I will go into town," mused Mr. Ellsworth. "Is there an automobile anywhere about here?"
"No, sir; but our telegraph operator can wire into town for one. It will take but a few minutes to have a car here."
"Send for it, then."
"Would you like to see Mr. Hawkins while you're waiting, sir?" Tom suggested, rising. "You know Hawkins, and probably you'll be satisfied with his judgment."
"Send Hawkins along."
"Yes, sir; and we won't return for the present, unless you send for us," Reade replied, going toward the forward end of the car.
Superintendent Hawkins was closeted with the general manager until the arrival of the automobile. There was a frown on Mr. Ellsworth's face as they started townward.
"Well," asked Harry Hazelton, with a grin on his face, as he watched the departing car, "are we going to be fired or praised?"
"We're going to lay the track across the Man-killer," returned Reade resolutely.
"How about the gambler and his bad crowd? Are we going to beat them?"
"We're going to do whatever the general manager orders, just as long as we remain here," replied Tom. "He's our only source of authority. If he tells me to let Jim Duff bring a cityful of tents out here and run night or day—then that's all there will be to it."
"I'd sooner quit," growled Hazelton, "than knuckle to such a crew of rascals."
"So would I," nodded Tom good-humoredly, "if it were my quit. But, if Mr. Ellsworth gives such orders it will be his quit, not ours."
Harry walked restlessly up and down the little office, but Tom threw himself down at full length on a cot in the corner. Within two minutes he was sound asleep.
"Humph!" growled Hazelton, as soon as he saw his chum's unconcern. Then he went outside to finish his tramp.
It was toward the close of the afternoon when Mr. Ellsworth returned. Harry was out of sight as the general manager stepped directly into the office.
"Reade," he began. Deep breathing from the corner greeted him. General Manager Ellsworth gazed down at the sleeping form, and a new light of admiration dawned in his eyes.
"So that's the young man whom they're talking of shooting, poisoning or blowing into the next world with dynamite?" he thought. "A lot this young man appears to think about his enemies! There's real courage in this young man. Reade, wake up—if you can spare the time."
Tom opened his eyes, rubbed them, then sat up, next springing to his feet.
"Not having any real work to do makes me sleepy," laughed Tom good-naturedly. "I trust you didn't have to call me many times, Mr. Ellsworth?"
The general manager held out his hand.
"Reade, I've just learned in town what a plucky thing you did, and how coolly you went through it all. A young man with your courage and purpose simply can't be fool enough to be very far wrong."
"Then you learned that the real Arizona people over in Paloma don't find any fault with what I did?" queried Tom.
"Reade, what I discovered is that you have a lot of the finest manhood in Arizona just wild with respect for you," declared Mr. Ellsworth. Then the general manager lowered his voice before he resumed:
"At the same time, Reade, I've also learned that you've stirred up such an evil nest of rattlers that you'll be fortunate if you escape with your life. Candidly, if you feel that you'd like to leave here—"
"Do you want me to quit, sir?" demanded Tom, looking steadily into his chief's eyes.
"I don't," declared Mr. Ellsworth promptly. "If you and Hazelton were to quit me now I don't know where I could get another pair of men who could put into the work all the skill and energy that you two employ."
"Did you have dinner in town, sir?" Tom asked.
"No, for I came out to take you two young men in. Hawkins will also be with us at dinner this evening. He has told me about the Mansion House affair, so the Cactus House shall be the railway house hereafter. That fellow Ashby is uneasy; I think he will be more than uneasy after a while."
The dinner party motored back to town. Dinner was more like a reception that evening, for the news of Tom's plucky fight against the rough element had spread through the town. Nearly two score of men representing the better part of the population of Paloma called at the hotel to shake hands with the young engineers.
"They don't seem to care a hang about me, these men, do they, Hawkins?" laughed the general manager, as he and the superintendent stood in the background of the picture.
"That's because they're Arizona men, sir," replied Hawkins. "Their interest is in the man who has done the thing, not in the boss."
"I can understand why President Newnham, of the S. B. & L., recommended these young men so extravagantly. They're full of force and absolutely free from self-conceit."
Finally the party motored back towards the camp. As it was after dark now, some of the citizens who had visited them escorted the slow moving car as far as the edge of the town, but none of Jim Duff's followers appeared on the streets through which they passed.
"Why are we going back to camp, anyway?" demanded Mr. Ellsworth. "Why not sleep at the hotel to-night?"
"Why, I think it may be better for you to go back to the hotel, sir," Tom proposed. "As for Harry and myself, after what has happened in town to-day, it may be as well if we are on hand at the camp to-night. There may be some attempt to stampede our men. The crowd in Paloma are capable of offering our men free drink, just to do us mischief. We've a lot of strong men in our force, but there are some weak vessels who would be caught by a free offer, and some of our work gangs would be demoralized to-morrow."
Mr. Ellsworth thereupon decided to return to the camp also, and, arriving there, dismissed the car. A tent was pitched for him close to the office, and a cot rigged up in it.
Then the party sat up, chatting, after most of the workmen had turned in for the night.
"I'll be thankful when the material gets here," sighed Tom. "I'm tired of loafing."
"It seems to me that you have been doing anything but loafing," smiled the general manager.
"I want to get to work on the Man-killer. Besides, idleness is costing the road a lot of money in wages for these men."
"I wired this afternoon," stated Mr. Ellsworth, "to have the material trains rushed forward on express schedule as soon as the stuff strikes our lines."
"Then—" began Hawkins slowly.
His next words were drowned out by a booming explosion to the westward of the camp.
"The scoundrels!" gasped Tom Reade, leaping up. "This is more of our friends' work! They have dynamited the most ticklish part of the work on the Man-killer!"
CHAPTER VII. A DYNAMITE PUZZLE
"The scoundrels!" cried General Manager Ellsworth.
He was a man who believed in working along easy lines when possible. His career as a railroad man had taught him the value of meeting other people half way. Now the general manager's white face and flashing eyes revealed the fighter in him.
From off to the south, beyond the quicksand, came a chorus of sharp, shrill, gleeful whoops.
"There go the curs!" flared Harry.
Another volley of jeers reached the camp officials.
"They are mounted on horses," spoke Tom judicially. "They couldn't travel as fast on foot and yell at the same time."
A third taunting chorus traveled over the desert. But Tom and his friends, in the darkness of the night, could not make out the horsemen nor judge how many there were of them.
"You'd better turn out the camp, Mr. Hawkins," directed Tom in a calmer voice.
The superintendent ran over to where a night engineer almost dozed at his post beside a stationary engine.
Half a minute later a series of shrill blasts rang out over the camp. Laborers came tumbling out of the tents. Many of them had slept so soundly that even the noise of dynamiting they had regarded only as a part of their dreams. But the whistle meant business.
"Get the torches out, Mr. Rivers," called Tom, as one of the foremen reported on a run.
To Foreman Payson, Harry gave the order to marshal a hundred of the men to remain in and around the camp, alertly watchful.
"That's a good idea," nodded Mr. Ellsworth. "The explosion may be only a trick to, empty the camp, as a prelude to further mischief."
Scores of torches flared in the darkness as the workmen hurried westward. At the head of all went Tom Reade and the general manager.
Less than half a mile away they came upon the scene of mischief.
"It's just what I expected," nodded Tom, as the leading party halted under the flare of the torches. "You see, sir, here was the point of greatest cave and drift in the quicksand. It's where your former engineers found such a morass of the shifty stuff that they declared the Man-killer never could have its appetite satisfied with dirt. There was a good log and concrete foundation laid down there, and for thirty-six hours the sand had not shifted a particle as far as the eye could discover. Now, look at it!"
Before them the top layer of desert sand had sunk away, revealing a well or sink, one hundred and fifty feet across and the bottom at least forty feet below the general level.
"I always wondered why a suspension bridge wouldn't solve the problem more easily and cheaply than any other construction," muttered Mr. Ellsworth, after he had gotten over his first indignation.
"To avoid every possibility of lurking quicksand the suspension bridge would have to be more than a mile long," Reade answered. "Beyond, there are other treacherous little patches of quicksand. It would cost the road millions to put up a suspension bridge that would hold.
"A short bridge would look all right and doubtless serve all right, for a while. Then, some fine day, part of the structure would give, and a trainload of passengers would be sucked down and out of sight by the shifting sands of the Man-killer."
Mr. Ellsworth turned aside with a shudder.
"I'm glad I'm not an engineer," he said earnestly. "The responsibility for safety of life at this point is all yours, Reade."
"And I'm willing enough to take it, sir, if you don't run trains over the Man-killer until the new roadbed has stood tests that I'll put upon it."
"It'll cost at least ten thousand dollars to repair the mischief that the scoundrels have done to-night," figured Harry Hazelton thoughtfully.
"Then, if we can find out the guilty wretches for certain, we'll see that they earn more than that amount by enforced labor in prison,"' retorted the general manager grimly.
"Mr. Bell!" called Tom briskly.
"Here, sir," reported the foreman, coming forward..
"Mr. Bell, I wish you'd pick out twenty-one good men. Make the brightest of the lot head of the new force of night watchmen. Place the other twenty under his orders. Your gangs will come into play here later than the others, so I'll let your shift of men have the first chance at night-watchman duty."
"All right, sir," nodded Foreman Bell. "Any further orders?"
"None, except that your watchmen will do their best to guard both the line of roadbed and the camp. Further, tell the night engineer to be sure to have steam up so that he can blow a lot of signals at anytime in the night."
"Very good, sir," and the foreman hurried away.
"I'm disgusted with myself for having been caught in this fashion," Tom admitted to Mr. Ellsworth. "But I hadn't an idea that Paloma held any dynamite. I can't imagine how a frontier town on the alkali desert needs dynamite."
"It will probably be found that someone shipped it in a hurry," suggested Mr. Ellsworth.
"But how? Any fellow would be detected who had it brought in on our trains. There has been no time to I stage I it from any other point since the row with Duff started."
"It's a puzzle," admitted Mr. Ellsworth.
"It is, but it won't be for long," Reade declared confidently. "There are ways of finding out how that dynamite got into Paloma, there must be ways of finding out who caused it to be brought in."
Then, suddenly, Tom's eyes grew wider open and brighter.
"Mr. Ellsworth, I believe that dynamite was brought in before the trouble opened."
"But who would have wished to bring dynamite here until the trouble started?"
"Anyone might be interested in doing it who wanted to see trouble start."
"I'm afraid I don't follow you, Reade," observed the general manager, frowning slightly.
"There were others who wanted the job of blocking the Man-killer," Tom went on earnestly. "They wanted a lot more money for the job than we thought was necessary. I don't want to accuse anyone, but I am just a trifle suspicious that the concern of Chicago contractors—"
"The Colthwaite people!" broke in Mr. Ellsworth.
"Yes; if they were bad people, and ugly business rivals—"
"How would the Colthwaite people be able to foresee that you were going to have a fight with Jim Duff?" interposed Mr. Ellsworth.
"I'm going after the answer, if there is one. I hope to be able to tell you the answer one of these days."
Tom and Harry made two trips each, in different directions, to make sure that the watch men were awake and alert. It was nearly eleven o'clock when the general manager and his engineers turned in for a night's rest—"subject to the approval of Jim Duff," as Tom dryly stated it.
No more interruptions followed during the night, however. At daylight the watchmen sought their tents and the day force began to stir soon after.
After the steam whistle bad blown the breakfast call, Reade slipped away from his friends to inspect the laborers at the meal.
"There are some of your men absent, Mr. Mendoza," Tom murmured to the Mexican foreman.
"Yes, Senor. Some of my men slipped away in the night."
"Went off to Paloma, eh?"
Mendoza shrugged his shoulders.
"Gambling, drinking—both," nodded Tom.
"Get the names of your absent Mexicans, and report to me with them."
Reade then went to the other foremen, with the same orders.
Before Tom had seated himself at his own meal, with Harry and Mr. Ellsworth, the foremen appeared, lists in their hands. Tom rapidly ran his finger down the lists.
"Twenty-eight Mexicans and fourteen Americans absent from camp," he muttered. "Foremen, when these men come back you may tell them that they are no longer needed."
All four of the gang bosses looked somewhat astonished.
"Merely for leaving camp in the night time?" Mendoza inquired.
"Yes, under the circumstances," nodded Tom. "If any of these men declare that they were properly absent, and did not visit the gambling and the drinking dives, then such men may be reinstated after they have satisfied Mr. Hazelton, Mr. Hawkins or myself of the truth of their statements."
"Some of these men will be very ugly when they find that they are discharged, Senor," suggested Mendoza.
"But you are loyal to us?"
"Can you doubt it, Senor?" asked Mendoza proudly.
"Then you will know how to handle your own fellow-countrymen. The other foremen will be able to handle the rest of the disgruntled ones. However, as I have told you, if any man claims that he is unjustly treated, send him to headquarters for a chance at reinstatement."
General Manager Ellsworth had heard the conversation, but had not interfered. As soon as the young engineers were alone he joined them at table, saying:
"Aren't you afraid, Reade, that these discharged men will hasten to join our enemies?"
"That is very likely, sir," Tom answered. "These missing men, however, have shown their willingness to become our enemies by leaving camp and seeking their pleasures in the strongholds of the scoundrels who are fighting to break us up."
"That's another way of looking at the matter," assented the general manager.
"I'd much rather have our enemies outside of camp than inside," Reade continued. "If we took these absentees back after they've been in the company of rascals, then we wouldn't have any means of knowing how many of the absentees had agreed to do treacherous things within the camp. It would hardly be a wise plan to encourage the breeding of rattlesnakes within the camp limits."
It was nearly noon when the first batch of laborers, some American and some Mexican, returned to camp. These men started to go by the checker's hut at a distance, but keen-eyed Superintendent Hawkins saw them and ordered them around to the hut.
"You'll have to wait here until your foremen are called," declared the checker.
"Say, what's the trouble here!" demanded one American belligerently.
CHAPTER VIII. READE MEETS A "KICKER" HALF WAY
"Who's your foreman?" asked the checker, a young fellow named Royal
"Payson—if it's any of your business." replied the workman roughly.
The others, seeing him take this attitude, were willing to let him talk for all. Superintendent Hawkins had rounded up the foremen, and now sent them to the checker's hut to deal with the men.
"Some of you are my men," said Payson, looking the lot over. "You're discharged."
"What's that?" roared the same indignant spokesman, a big, bull-necked, red-faced fellow.
"Discharged," said Payson briefly. "All of you who belong to my gang. Checker, I'll call their names off to you."
While Payson, and then the other foremen, were calling the names, the workmen stood by in sullen silence. When the last name had been entered the same bull-necked spokesman flared up again.
"Have we no rights?" he demanded. "Is there no such thing as the right of appeal in this camp, or are we under a lot of domineering, petty tyrants like you?"
"I'm a poor specimen of tyrant,"' laughed Payson good-naturedly. "All I'm doing, Bellas, is following orders. Any man who feels that he was justified in being away, and that he ought to be kept on the pay rolls here, may make his appeal to Mr. Hawkins, Mr. Hazelton or Mr. Reade."