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The Young Engineers in Nevada
by H. Irving Hancock
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E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig



THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN NEVADA

or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick

By

H. IRVING HANCOCK



CONTENTS

CHAPTERS I. Alf and His "Makings of Manhood" II. Trouble Brews on the Trail III. Jim's Army Appears IV. Sold Out for a Toy Bale! V. No Need to Work for Pennies VI. Tom Catches the "Nevada Fever" VII. Ready to Handle the Pick VIII. Jim Ferrers, Partner IX. Harry Does Some Pitching X. Tom's Fighting Blood Surges XI. Planning a New Move XII. New Owners File a Claim XIII. Jim Tries the New Way XIV. The Cook Learns a Lesson XV. Why Reade Wanted Gold XVI. The Man Who Made Good XVII. The Miners Who "Stuck" XVIII. The Goddess of Fortune Smiles Wistfully XIX. Harry's Signal of Distress XX. Tom Turns Doctor XXI. The Wolves on the Snow Crust XXII. Dolph Gage Fires His Shot XXIII. Tom Begins to Doubt His Eyes XXIV. Conclusion



CHAPTER I

ALF AND HIS "MAKINGS OF MANHOOD"

"Say, got the makings?"

"Eh?" inquired Tom Reade, glancing up in mild astonishment.

"Got the makings?" persisted the thin dough-faced lad of fourteen who had come into the tent.

"I believe we have the makings for supper, if you mean that you're hungry," Tom rejoined. "But you've just had your dinner."

"I know I have," replied the youngster. "That's why I want my smoke."

"Your wha-a-at?" insisted Tom. By this time light had begun to dawn upon the bronzed, athletic young engineer, but he preferred to pretend ignorance a little while longer.

"Say, don't you carry the makings?" demanded the boy.

"You'll have to be more explicit," Tom retorted. "Just what are you up to? What do you want anyway?"

"I want the makings for a cigarette," replied the boy, shifting uneasily to the other foot. "You said you'd pay me five dollars a month and find me in everything, didn't you?"

"Yes; everything that is necessary to living," Reade assented.

"Well, cigarettes are necessary to me," continued the boy.

"They are?" asked Tom, opening his eyes wider. "Why, how does that happen?"

"Just because I am a smoker," returned the boy, with a sickly grin.

"You are?" gasped Tom. "At your age? Why, you little wretch!"

"That's all right, but please don't go on stringing me," pleaded the younger American. "Just pass over the papers and the tobacco pouch, and I'll get busy. I'm suffering for a smoke."

"Then you have my heartfelt sympathy," Tom assured him. "I hate to see any boy with that low-down habit, and I'm glad that I'm not in position to be able to encourage you in it. How long have you been smoking, Drew?"

Alf Drew shifted once more on his feet.

"'Bouter year," he answered.

"You began poisoning yourself at the age of thirteen, and you've lived a whole year? No; I won't say 'lived,' but you've kept pretty nearly alive. There isn't much real life in you, Drew, I'll be bound. Come here."

"Do I get the makings?" whined the boy.

"Come here!"

Drew advanced, rather timidly, into the tent.

"Don't shrink so," ordered Tom. "I'm not going to spank you, though some one ought to. Give me your wrist."

Reade took the thin little wrist between his thumb and finger, feeling for the pulse.

"Are you a doctor?" sneered Drew.

"No; but generally I've intelligence enough to know whether a pulse is slow or fast, full or weak."

"But——-"

"Keep quiet," Tom commanded, as he drew out his watch. His face expressed nothing in particular as he kept the tip of his forefinger against the radial artery at the boy's wrist.

"Fine," commented the young engineer, a few moments later, as he let go the captive wrist.

"Good pulse, eh?" questioned Alf Drew.

"Great!" quoth Tom. "Fine and wiry, and almost skips some beats. I'm not much of an authority on such subjects, but I believe a boy of your age ought to have a normal pulse. Where do you expect to wind up with your 'makings' and your cigarettes?"

"They don't hurt me," whined Alf.

"They don't, eh?" demanded Reade, rising and drawing himself up to his full height of five-feet-eleven. "Drew, do you think you look as healthy as I do?"

As he stood there, erect as a soldier, with his fine athletic figure revealed, and the bronze on his face seemingly inches deep, Tom Reade looked what he was—-every inch a man though still a boy in years.

"Do you think you look as healthy as I do?" Tom repeated.

"No-o-o-o," admitted Alf. "But you're older'n me."

"Not so much, as years go," Tom rejoined. "For that matter, if you go on with your cigarettes you'll be an old man before I get through with being a young man. Fill up your chest, Alf; expand it—-like this."

As he expanded his chest Reade looked a good deal more like some Greek god of old than a twentieth century civil engineer.

Alf puffed and squirmed in his efforts to show "some chest."

"That isn't the right way," Tom informed him. "Breathe deeply and steadily. Draw in your stomach and expand your chest. Fill up the upper part of your lungs with air. Watch! Right here at the top of the chest."

Alf watched. For that matter he seemed unable to remove his gaze from the splendid chest development that young Reade displayed so easily. Then the boy tried to fill the upper portions of his own lungs in the same manner. The attempt ended in a spasm of coughing.

"Fine, isn't it?" queried Tom Reade, scornfully. "The upper parts of your lungs are affected already, and you'll carry the work of destruction on rapidly. Alf, if you ever live to be twenty you'll be a wreck at best. Don't you know that?"

"I—-I have heard folks say so," nodded the boy.

"And you didn't believe them?"

"I—-I don't know."

"Why did you ever take up smoking?"

"All men smoke," argued Alf Drew.

"Lie number one. All men don't smoke," Tom corrected him. "But I think I catch the drift of your idea. If you smoke you think men will look upon you as being more manly. That's it, it?"

"It must be manly, if men do it," Alf argued.

"You funny little shaver," laughed Tom, good-humoredly. "So you think that, when men see you smoking cigarettes, they immediately imagine you to be one of them? Cigarette-smoking, for a boy of fourteen, is the short cut to manhood, I suppose."

Tom laughed long, heartily, and with intense enjoyment. At last he paused, to remark, soberly:

"Answering your first question, Drew, I haven't the 'makings.' I never did carry them and never expect to."

"What do you smoke then?" queried Alf, in some wonder. "A pipe?"

"No; I never had that vice, either. I don't use tobacco. For your own sake I'm sorry that you do."

"But a lot of men do smoke," argued Alf. "Jim Ferrers, for instance."

"Ferrers is a grown man, and it would show a lot more respect on your part if a 'kid' like you would call him 'Mr. Ferrers.' But I'll wager that Mr. Ferrers didn't smoke cigarettes at your age."

"I'll bet he did."

"We'll see."

Tom stepped to the doorway of the tent, Alf making way for him, and called lustily:

"Ferrers! Oh, Mr. Ferrers!"

"Here, sir!" answered the voice of a man who was invisible off under the trees. "Want me?"

"If you please," Tom called back.

Ferrers soon appeared, puffing at a blackened corn-cob pipe. He was a somewhat stooped, much bronzed, rather thin man of middle age. Ferrers had always worked hard, and his body looked slightly the worse for wear, though he a man of known endurance in rough life.

"Ferrers, do you know what ails this boy?" demanded Tom.

"Laziness," Jim answered, rather curtly. "You hired him for a chore-boy, to help me. He hasn't done a tap yet. He's no good."

"Don't be too hard on him, Ferrers," pleaded Tom solemnly. "I've just heard the youngster's sad story. Do you know what really ails him? Cigarettes!"

"Him? Cigarettes!" observed Ferrers disgustedly. "The miserable little rascal!"

"You see," smiled Tom, turning to the boy, "just what men think of a lad who tries to look manly by smoking cigarettes."

"Cigarettes? Manly?" exploded Jim Ferrers, with a guffaw. "Men don't smoke cigarettes. That's left for weak-minded boys."

"Say, how many years you been smoking, Jim Ferrers?" demanded Alf, rather defiantly.

"Answer him, please," requested Tom, when he saw their guide and cook frown.

"Lemme see," replied the Nevada man, doing some mental arithmetic on his fingers. "I reckon I've been smoking twenty-three years, because I began when I was twenty-four years old. Hang the stuff, I wish I had never begun, either. But I didn't smoke at your age, papoose. If I had done so, the men in the camps would have kicked me out. Don't let me catch you smoking around any of the work you're helping me on! Is that all, Mr. Reade? 'Cause I've got a power of work to do."

"That's all, thank you," Tom assured him. "But, Ferrers, we'll have to take young Drew in hand and try to win him back to the path of brains and health."

"Say, I don't believe I'm going to like this job," muttered Alf Drew. "I reckon I'll be pulling my freight outer this camp."

"Don't go until tomorrow, anyway," urged Tom. "You'll have to go some distance to find other human beings, and grub doesn't grow on trees in Nevada."

With a sniff of scorn Ferrers tramped away.

"I guess, perhaps, what you need, Drew is a friend," remarked Tom, resting a hand on the boy's nearer shoulder. "Make up your mind that you can't have a cigarette this afternoon, take a walk with me, in this fresh air and the good old sunshine. Let's drop all talk of cigarettes, and give a little thought to brains and a strong body. They don't flourish where you find boys smoking cigarettes. Come along! I'm going to show you how to step out right, and just how to breathe like a human being. Let's try it."

Tom had almost to drag the boy, to make him start. But Reade had no intention of hectoring the, dough-faced little fellow.

It was rough ground along this mountain trail in the Indian Smoke Range of mountains, in Nevada. Soon the pulses of both began to beat more heavily. Tom took in great breaths of the life-giving air, but Alf was soon panting.

"Let's stop, now," proposed Tom, in a kindly voice. "After you've rested a couple of minutes I'm going to show you how to breathe right and fill your lungs with air."

Soon they were trying this most sensible "stunt." Alf, however, didn't succeed very well. Whenever he tried hard it set him to coughing.

"You see, it's mostly due to the cigarettes," said Tom gravely. "Alf, you've simply got to turn over a new leaf. You're headed just right to have consumption."

"Cigarettes don't give a fellow consumption!" retorted the younger boy sullenly.

"I don't believe they do," Tom admitted, thoughtfully. "Consumption is caused by germs, I've heard. But germs take hold best in a weakened part of the body, and your lungs, Alf, are weak enough for any germ to find a good place to lodge. What you've got to do is to make your lungs so strong that they'll resist germs."

"You talk like a doctor!"

"No; I'm trying to talk like an athlete. I used to be a half-way amateur athlete, Drew, and I'm still taking care of my body. That's why I've never allowed any white-papered little 'coffin-nails' to fool around me. Bad as your lungs are, Alf, they're not one whit worse than your nerves. You'll go to pieces if you find yourself under the least strain. You'll get to shivering and crying, if you don't stop smoking cigarettes."

"Don't you believe it," muttered the boy, sullenly.

"Alf," smiled Tom, laying a hand gently on the boy's shoulder, "you don't know me yet. You haven't any idea how I can hang to a thing until I win. I'm going to keep hammering at you until I make you throw your cigarettes away."

"I'm never going to stop smoking 'em," retorted Drew. "There wouldn't be any comfort in life if I stopped."

"Is it as bad as that?" queried Tom, with ready sympathy. "Then all the more reason for stopping. Come; let's finish our walk."

"Say, I don't want to go down and through that thick brush," objected Alf Drew, slowing his steps.

"Why not?"

"Snakes!"

"Are you afraid of snakes, Alf?"

"Some kinds."

"What kinds?"

"Well, rattlers, f'r instance."

"There are none of that kind on this part of the Indian Smoke Range," Reade rejoined. "Come along with me."

There was something mildly though surely compelling in Tom's manner. Alf Drew went along, though he didn't wish to. The two were just at the fringe of the thick underbrush when there came a warning sound just ahead of them.

Click! cl-cl-click!

"Whee! Me for outer this!" gasped Alf, going whiter than ever as he turned. But Tom caught him by the shoulder.

"What's the matter?" demanded Reade.

Click cl-cl-click!

"There it is again," cried Alf, in fear.

"What on earth are you talking about?" Tom demanded.

Once more the dread sound smote the air.

"Rattlers!" wailed Drew, perspiring from fear. "Lemme get away from this."

"Nonsense!" retorted Reade, retaining a strong clutch on the boy's shoulder, though once more the sound reached their ears.

"It's all your nerves, Alf," Tom insisted. "You just imagine such things. That's what cigarettes do to your nerves."

"But don't you hear the rattlesnake?"

"I don't," Tom gravely informed him, though once more the nerve-disturbing sound rose clearly on the air. "See here, Alf, rattlers, whatever their habits, certainly don't climb trees. I'll put you up on that limb."

Tom's strong young arms lifted Alf easily until he could clutch at the lowest limb of a tree.

"Climb up there and sit down," Reade ordered. Drew sat on the limb, shaking with terror.

"Now, I'll show you that there isn't a snake anywhere in that clump of brush," Tom proposed, and forthwith stepped into the thicket, beating about lustily with his heavy boots.

"L-l-l-look out!" shivered Drew. "You'll be bitten!"

"Nonsense, I tell you. There isn't a rattler anywhere on this part of the Range. It's your nerves, Alf. Cigarettes are destroying 'em. There! I've beaten up every bit of this brush and you see that I've not been bitten. Now I'll help you down to the ground, and you want to get a good, steadying grip on your nerves."

Alf Drew permitted himself to be helped to the ground. No sooner, however, had his feet touched the earth than there came that ominous rattling sound.

"There, you big idiot!" howled Alf. "There it is again!"

"Just your bad nerves, Alf," Tom smiled. "They're so bad that I'll overlook your lack of respect calling me an idiot!"

"Don't you s'pose I know rattlers when I hear 'em?" asked Drew, sullenly. "I was almost bitten by one once, and that's why I'm so afraid of 'em."

"I was bitten once," Tom replied. "Yet you see that I'm not very nervous about them, especially in a part of the country where none are ever found. It's your nerves, Alf—-and cigarettes!"

"I wish I had one now," sighed the younger boy.

"A rattlesnake?" Tom inquired innocently.

"No—-of course not! A cigarette."

"But you're going to forget those soul-destroying little coffin-nails," Reade suggested. "You're going to become a man and act like one. You're going to learn how much more fun it is to have your lungs filled with pure air instead of stifling cigarette smoke."

"Maybe I am!" muttered the boy.

"Oh, yes; I'm sure of it," said Reade cheerfully.

Cl-cl-cl-click!

"O-o-o-ow!" shrilled Alf, jumping at least two feet.

"Now, what's the matter with you?" inquired Tom in feigned astonishment.

"Don't tell me you didn't hear the rattler just now," cried young Drew fiercely.

"No; I didn't," Tom assured him. "And how could we find a rattler—here? We're crossing open ground now. There is no place within three hundred feet of us for a rattlesnake to move without our seeing him."

Cl-cl-cl-click!

Alf Drew held back, trembling.

"I'm not going forward another step," he insisted. "This ground is full of rattlers."

"Let's go back to camp, then, if your nerves are so unstrung," Reade proposed.

They turned, starting backward. Again the warning rattle sounded, seemingly just in front of Alf, though there was no place for a snake to conceal itself nearby.

Alf, however, turned paler still, halted and started off at right angles to his former course. Again the rattle sounded.

"Hear that snake?" demanded young Drew.

"No; and there isn't one," Tom assured him. "Why will you be so foolish—-so nervous? In other words, why do you destroy your five senses with cigarettes in this fashion?"

Cl-cl-click!

Alf Drew halted, trembling so that he could hardly stand.

"I'm going to quit camp—-going to get out of this place," he shivered. "The ground is full of rattlers. O-o-o-oh! There's another tuning up."

Tom laughed covertly. The disturbing sound came again.

"I never saw a place like this part of the range," Alf all but sobbed, his breath catching. "Oh, won't I be glad to see a city again!"

"Just so you can find a store where you can buy cigarettes?" Tom Reade queried.

"I wish I had one, now," moaned the young victim. "It would steady me."

"The last ones that you smoked didn't appear to steady you," the young engineer retorted. "Just see how unstrung you are. Every step you take you imagine you hear rattlers sounding their warning."

"Do you tell me, on your sacred honor," proposed Alf, "that you haven't heard a single rattler this afternoon?"

"I give you my most solemn word that I haven't," Tom answered. "Come, come, Alf! What you want to do is to shake off the trembles. Let me take your arm. Now, walk briskly with me. Inflate your chest with all the air you can get in as we go along. Just wait and see if that isn't the way to shake off these horrid cigarette dreams."

Something in Reade's vigorous way of speaking made Alf Drew obey. Tom put him over the ground at as good a gait as he judged the cigarette victim would be able to keep up.

Readers of the preceding volumes of this series, and of other, earlier series, need not the slightest introduction to Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton. Our readers of the "Grammar School Series" know Tom and Harry as two of the members of that famous sextette of schoolboy athletes who, under the leadership of Dick Prescott, were known as Dick & Co.

In the "High School Boys Series," too, our readers have followed the fortunes of Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, through all their triumphs on football fields, on baseball diamonds and in all the school sports.

Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes succeeded in winning appointments to the United States military Academy, and their adventures are fully set forth in the "West Point Series."

Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell "made" the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and what befell them there has been fully set forth in the "Annapolis Series."

Reade and Harry Hazelton elected to go through life as civil engineers. In "The Young Engineers in Colorado" has been fully set forth the extraordinary work of these young men at railroad building through the mountains wilds. In "The Young Engineers in Arizona" we have followed Tom and Harry through even more startling adventures, and have seen how they handled even greater problems in engineering.

Up to date the careers of these two bright young men had not been humdrum ones. The surroundings in which their professional lives had been passed had been such as to supply them with far more startling adventures than either young man had ever looked for.

And now they were in Nevada, the state famous for its gold and silver mines. Yet they had come ere solely in search of a few weeks of rest. Rest? There was anything but rest immediately ahead of the young engineers, but the curtain had not been lifted.

Immediately after the completion of their great work in Arizona, Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton had gone back east to the good old home town of Gridley. While there they had encountered Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes, their old school chums, at that time cadets at the United States Military Academy. The doings of the four old chums at that time in Gridley are set forth fully in "Dick Prescott's Third Year At West Point."

During the weeks spent East, Tom and Harry had taken almost their first steps in the study of metallurgy. They had succeed in mastering the comparatively simple art of assaying gold and silver.

So now, with the summer past, we find our young engineers out in Nevada, taking a little more rest just because no new engineering task of sufficient importance had presented itself.

"If we're going to be engineers out West, though, Harry, we simply must know a good deal about assaying precious metals," Tom had declared.

So, though the chums were "taking a rest," as they phrased it, they had brought with them a small furnace and the rest of the outfit for assaying minerals in small quantities.

Today, however, was altogether too fine for thoughts of work. Just after breakfast Harry Hazelton had borrowed the only horse in camp, belonging to Jim Ferrers, their cook and guide, and had ridden away for the day.

Barely had Hazelton departed when Alf Drew, hungry, lonely and wistful, had happened along. He asked for "a job." There really wasn't one for him, but good-natured Reade created one, offering five dollars a month and board.

"No telling, young man, how long the job will last," Tom warned him. "We may at any hour break camp and get away."

But Alf had taken the job and gratefully. Not until after the noon meal had the little fellow revealed his unfortunate vice for cigarette smoking.

"You've simply got to give up that habit, Alf" Tom urged, as they walked along.

"You can't make me," retorted young Drew. "You've no right to."

"No, I haven't," Tom admitted soberly. "If I had any real rights over you I'm afraid I'd turn you over my knee and spank you, three times a day, until you gave up the beastly habit."

"You're not going to bounce me, are you?" asked Alf.

"No; I'll keep you here as long as we can use a boy. But, mark me, Alf, somehow, and before very long, I'm going to break you from your cigarettes. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to do it just the same!"

Alf Drew looked uncommonly solemn, but he said nothing.

For five minutes more they walked on, then came suddenly out from under a line of trees and stood at the edge of a low cliff, gazing down in astonishment at the gully below them.

"What on earth——-" began Tom Reade, in amazement.

"Let's scoot!" begged Alf tremulously. "There's going to be some killing right down there!"

It certainly looked that way.

In the gully three automobiles, showing the effects of long travel over hard roads, stood close together. More than a dozen people, all but two of whom were dressed in "eastern" clothes, stood by the machines. Two of the party were women, and one a girl of twelve.

The two men who belonged to the party, but did not appear to be "eastern," had drawn revolvers, and now stood facing four sullen-looking men who stood with the butts of their rifles resting on the ground.

"Gracious! We can't have any shooting with women and children standing around to get hit!" gasped Tom Reade.



CHAPTER II

TROUBLE BREWS ON THE TRAIL

So silent had been the approach of Tom and his waif companion that those below had not perceived them.

Moreover, judging from the expressions on the faces of the people almost at Reade's feet, they were all too deeply absorbed in their own business to have any eyes or ears for outside matters.

Through the scene below was one of armed truce that might, at any moment, break into hostilities, with human lives at stake, Tom glanced coolly downward for a few seconds after his first startled, unheard remark.

"I'm going, to duck out of this," whispered Alf Drew, whose slim little figure was shaking in a way suggestive of chills.

"Don't be in a hurry," Tom murmured. "We may be of some use to some of these people."

"Tote those guns away, friends," spoke one of the revolver-armed men with the automobile party, "and march yourselves under the guns. Remember, we have women here."

"They can get away," returned one of the sullen-faced men with rifles. "We won't hinder 'em. We'll give 'em two full minutes to get where it's safe. Then we're going to turn our talking machines loose."

From the top of the low cliff came Tom Meade's drawling voice:

"Oh, I say, friends!"

Startled, all below glanced quickly upward.

"There seems to be trouble down there," Tom suggested.

"There sure is," nodded one of the armed men with the automobile party.

"Now, it's too glorious a day to spoil it with fighting," Reade went on. "Can't we arbitrate?"

"The first move for you, young man," warned one of the four men, raising his rifle, "is to face about and git outer here."

"Not while there are women and children present who might get hurt," Tom dissented, with a shake of his head.

"Git, I tell you!" shouted the man, now aiming his rifle full at Tom's chest. Git—-before I count five."

"Save your cartridge," proposed Tom. "I'm too poor game, and I'm not armed, either. Surely you wouldn't shoot a harmless orphan like me." Saying which the young engineer, having found a path down the cliff nearby, started slowly to descend.

"Get back there! Another step, and I'll put a ball through you!" roared the man who had Reade covered with his rifle.

"That wouldn't prove anything but your marksmanship," Suggested Tom, and coolly continued to descend.

"Going to get back?" howled the man behind the gun.

Without further answer Reade quickened his pace somewhat, reaching the flat bottom of the gully on a run.

Though he felt that the chances were eight out of ten that he would be shot at any second, Tom didn't betray any outward fear. The truth was that even if he wanted to stop, he would have found it somewhat difficult on that steep incline.

Where he landed, on his feet, Tom stood between the hostile parties. Had hostilities opened at that moment he would have been in a bad position between the two fires.

"Great Scott!" gasped the frightened Alf, peering down.

That youngster had thrown himself flat on his stomach his head behind a bush. He was trying to make himself as small as possible. "Whew! But Reade has the real grit!"

First of all Tom gazed curiously at the four men, who glared back at him with looks full of hate.

"Who are you, anyway?" demanded the spokesman of the sullen four.

"I might be the sheriff," Tom replied placidly.

"Huh!" retorted the spokesman.

"But I'm not," Tom went on, rather genially. "I'm just an inquisitive tourist."

"Heard o' Bald Knob?" demanded the leader of the four.

"No," admitted Reade, opening his eyes with interest. "Who is he, and how did he become bald?"

"Bald Knob is a place," came the information. "It's the place where inquisitive tourists are buried in these parts."

"I'll look it up some day," Tom promised, good-humoredly.

"You'll look it up before dark if we have time to pack you there," growled the leader of the men. "Now, are you going to stand aside?"

Tom shook his head.

"Let's shake hands all around and then sit down for a nice little talk," the young engineer suggested.

"There's been too much talk already," snarled Tom's antagonist.

The men of the automobile party were silent. They had scented in Tom an ally who would help their cause materially.

"Then you won't be sociable?" Reade demanded, as if half offended.

"Git out and go about your business," ordered the leader of the four men.

"It's always my business when women and children appear to be in danger," returned Tom. He turned on his heel, presenting his broad back as a target to the rifles as he stepped over to automobile party.

Oddly the four men, though they had the look of being desperate, did not offer to shoot.

Tom's audacity had almost cowed them for the moment.

"I hope I can be of some use to you," suggested Tom, raising his hat out of respect to the women.

"I reckon you can, if you're a good hand with a gun," replied the older of the two armed men with the motor party. "Got any shooting irons about you?"

"Nothing in that line," Tom admitted.

"Then reach under the cushion, left-hand front seat of that car," returned the same speaker. "You'll find an automatic revolver there."

Reade, however, chose to ignore the advice. He had small taste for the use of firearms.

Seeing, the young engineer's reluctance the younger of the two armed men went himself to the car, taking out the revolver and offering it to this cool young stranger.

"Thank you," was Tom's smiling reply. "But that tool is not for me. I'm the two-hundred-and-thirteenth vice president of the Peace Society."

"You'd better fight, or hike," advised the older of the two men. "This isn't going to be a safe place for just nothing but chin. And, ladies, I ask you to get behind one of the cars, since you won't leave here. Throw yourselves flat on your faces. We don't want any good women hit by any such mean rascals as that crowd over there."

The men with the rifles scowled dangerously.

"Now, listen to me—-all hands," begged Tom, raising his right hand. "It's none of my business, as I very well know, but may I inquire what all this trouble is about?"

A rather portly, well dressed and well-groomed man of sixty, who had been leaning against the side of one of the cars, now spoke up promptly enough:

"I am head of the company that has legally staked out a claim here, young man. Ours is a mining company. The men yonder say that they own the claim—-that they found it first, and that it is theirs. However, they never staked it off—-never filed their claim."

"It's our claim, just the same," spoke up the at the four men. "And we won't have it jumped by any gang of tenderfeet on earth. So get out of here, all of you, or the music will start at once. We don't want to hit any woman or children, but we're going to hold our own property. If the women and the child won't get out of here, then they'll have to take their chances."

"That's the case, and the line of action!" growled another of the men.

"But let me ask you men," continued Tom, facing the quartette, "do you claim that you ever made legal entry of your asserted title here?"

"Maybe we didn't," grunted the spokesman. But we've known of this place for 'most a year Today we came to settle here, stake off our claims, file our entry and begin living here. But we found these benzine trotters on the ground.

"But these people state that they have made legal claim here," Tom urged.

"We have," insisted the portly man in black.

"If there is any dispute over the facts, my friends," Tom continued, turning once more to the four men, "then it looks like a case for the courts to settle. But if these people, who appear to be from the East, have acquired legal title here then they'll be able to hold it, and you four men are only intruders here. Why, the matter begins to look rather clear—-even for a Nevada dispute."

"These folks are going to move, or we'll topple 'em over and move 'em ourselves," insisted the leader.

"Men," rejoined Reade, "I'm afraid you're not cool enough to settle this case fairly. We'll call in a few of the neighbors and try to get the facts of the case. We'll——-"

"Neighbors?" jeered the leader of the quartette. "Where are you going to find any?"

"Right near at hand," Tom proposed. "Much nearer than you think. Drew!"

Alf still lay behind the bush near the edge of the cliff. He was still present mainly because he had not courage enough to run away.

"Drew!" Tom repeated, this time speaking sharply, for he guessed that the cigarette fiend was shaking in his boots.

"Yes, sir," piped the faltering voice of Alf.

"Drew, run to camp as fast as you can. Tell Ferrers to bring the whole crowd over at once."

Alf was astounded by this staggering command, which sounded like an order to rush an army to the spot. Yet he managed to gasp:

"Yes, sir."

"Now, go! Make fast time. Don't let any of this outfit catch you and hinder you."

"No, sir!"

This time Alf Drew's voice sounded faintly, over his shoulder from a considerable distance, for the boy was running fast, fear lending speed his feet.

"You see," Tom went on coolly, standing so that he could face both factions in this quarrel, "I don't know much about the merits of the case, and I'm a stranger here. I don't want to be accused of being too fresh, so I've sent for some of the natives. They'll know, better than just what to advise here. It won't take 'em long to get here."

Tom wound up this last statement with a cheerful smile.

"So Jim Ferrers is over in your camp, is he?" demanded the leader of the four men.

"Yes," Tom assented affably. "Do you know him?"

"Maybe."

"Jim is a fine fellow," Reade went on warmly. "He knows all about Nevada, too, and he's a man of good judgment. He'll be a lot of use to us in getting at the rights of this case."

"There's only one right side," insisted the leader of the quartette.

"So my friend here has informed me," answered Reade, nodding in the direction of the stout man in black. "Yet there seems to be a good deal of difference in opinion as to which is really the right side. But just wait until Jim and his friends get here. They'll be able to set us all straight and there won't be any need for doing any rough work like shooting."

"Dolph, we'd better shoot up the whole crowd, including the cheeky young one, before Jim Ferrers and his crowd gits here," propose one of the quartette.

"Jim Ferrers will be awfully displeased, you do," drawled Tom. "Do you know Jim? He has a reputation, I believe, for being rather sore on folks who shoot up his friends."

"I'll do it for you, anyway, kid!" growled one of the four, leveling his rifle.

But their leader struck the weapon up angrily just before the shot barked out.

"Who's having Fourth of July around here?" called a laughing voice from some distance down the rising path at the rear of the quartette. The four men turned quickly, but Tom had recognized joyfully the tones of Harry Hazelton's voice.

"You keep out of here, stranger!" ordered one of the quartette gruffly.

"Don't you do anything of the sort, Harry!" roared Reade's voice. "You keep right on an join us."

"Did you hear my advice?" insisted the leader of the four, holding his rifle as though would throw the butt to his shoulder.

"Yes," said Hazelton, calmly, "but I also heard my senior partner's order. He and I stick together. Gangway, please."

Harry was cool enough as he rode his horse at a walk past the men. Hazelton will never understand how near death he was at that moment. But there had been a few whispered words between the men, and they had allowed him to ride by.

"What's the game here, Tom?" Harry called cheerily. "Any real excitement going on?"

"No." Tom shook his head. "Just a little misunderstanding over a question of fact."

"Then I see that the lie hasn't been passed," grinned Hazelton. "The ground isn't littered at all."

He rode up to his chum, displaying no curiosity.

That the automobile party had been much cheered by the arrival of the young engineers was wholly apparent. For the same reason the four men appeared to be a good deal less certain of themselves.

"I guess there isn't going to be any real trouble," spoke Reade carelessly. "But there's a question at issue that I feel it would be impertinent in me to try to settle, so I've sent for Jim Ferrers to bring over the whole crowd."

Though Harry couldn't imagine where Ferrers's "crowd" was, he wisely held his tongue.

At the same time an earnest conference was going on among the four men. They spoke in low whispers.

"Jim Ferrers, alone, we could handle," declared the leader. "But if Jim has a crowd back of him things won't go our way when it come to the shooting."

"Let's start it before Ferrers's party gets here," growled another of the sullen ones.

"We would be tracked down and shot at by Ferrers and a crowd," argued the leader. "Things are too warm for us here, just now. In a case like this remember that a fellow lasts longer when he does his shooting from ambush and at his own time. We won't let this Dunlop crowd fool us out of our rights, but we'll have to choose a better time—-and fight from ambush at that."

It was soon plain that this view prevailed among the quartette. As they turned to move away, the leader remarked:

"We'll leave you for a while, Dunlop, but don't image you've won. Don't get any notion that you'll ever win. You'll hear from us again."

"And you'll hear a plenty as long as your hearing remains good," snarled another of the men.

The four disturbers, turning their backs, started down the sloping trail.

"Oh, but I'm glad we've seen the last of them!" shuddered one of the women of the Dunlop party.

"Don't be deceived into thinking that the last has been seen of that crew, madam," spoke Tom Reade gently. "Those fellows will be heard from again, and at no very distant hour, either. Mr. Dunlop—-I believe that is your name, sir?"

The stout man bowed.

"Mr. Dunlop," Reade went on, earnestly, "I urge you to get these women and the child away from here as soon as you can. Also any of the men who may happen to have no taste for fighting. I don't believe you'll see those four men in the open any more, but there'll be more than one shot fired from ambush. You surely won't expose these women and the child any further!"

"But, Father," broke in one of the women, tremulously, "if we leave, it will take one of your two fighting men to run the car. Think how weak that will leave your defense."

"You forget, my dear," spoke Mr. Dunlop, gently, "that our newly-found young friends have just sent for other men."

Tom smiled grimly as he thought of Jim Ferrers's "crowd"—-consisting of poor, frighten little Alf with the cigarette-stained fingers.

"At any cost or risk, sir," Tom went on, after a moment, "you must get the women and the child away from here. But—-why, where is the child?"

There was an instant of dismay. The little girl had vanished.

"Gladys!" spoke Dr. Dunlop's daughter in alarm.

From under one of the cars a muffled voice answered, "Here I am." Then Gladys, sobbing and shaking, emerged into view.

"I was so frightened!" cried the child. "I just had to hide."

"The men have gone away, dear," explained her mother soothingly. "And now we're going too. We'll be safe after this."

At that instant three shots, fired in rapid succession, rang out.



CHAPTER III

JIM'S "ARMY" APPEARS

"Down on your faces!" called the older of the armed men with the motor party.

"Not necessary," spoke Tom, dryly. "The shots were fired by Jim Ferrers's army."

"And I missed the pesky critter, too!" spoke Jim's voice, resentfully, as he showed his head over the edge of the cliff, where three puffs of smoke slowly ascended.

"Don't show yourself, Jim! Careful!" Reade warned their guide.

"It's all right," declared Ferrers indifferently, as he rose to his full height, then discovered the path by which Tom had descended. "The critters took to cover as soon as they heard me making a noise."

With that explanation Ferrers slid rather than walked down into the gully.

"Where are the rest of your men?" questioned Mr. Dunlop, eagerly.

"I'm all there are," explained Jim, "except one pesky little puffer of cigarettes. He's hiding his stained fingers somewhere in the brush half a mile from here."

"There are no more men to your crowd?" spoke Dr. Dunlop anxiously.

"None," Tom broke in. "My order to the boy, Drew, was intended by way of conversation to interest your four callers."

"Then, indeed, we must look out for an ambush," said one of Mr. Dunlop's companions, a man of thirty.

"And you will be in real danger every minute of the time," said Dunlop's daughter, fearfully. "Father, why can't you come out of this wild country? Is the money that you may make out here worth all the risk?"

"Yes," answered Mr. Dunlop, with a firmness that seemed intended to settle the matter.

"Why did you fire on those men without provocation?" Tom asked, aside, of Jim Ferrers, who stood stroking his rifle barrel with one hand.

"I had provocation," Ferrers answered.

"Oh," said Reade, who was none the wiser.

"I'll 'get' Dolph Gage yet, if I ever have a fair chance without running my neck into the noose of the law," added Ferrers, with silent fury in his tone.

"Is there a story behind it all, eh" queried Tom mildly.

"Yes, Mr. Reade. Too long a story to tell in a minute."

"I didn't mean to pry into your affairs, Ferrers," Tom made haste to say.

"Well, for one thing, Dolph Gage shot the only brother I ever had—-and got cleared of the charge in the court!" muttered Ferrers.

"Was your brother killed?" Tom inquired.

"Didn't I state that Dolph Gage shot him?" demanded Jim in a semi-injured tone. "Men don't often waste ammunition out in this county, even if I did send in three wild shots just now. But that was because I was excited, and couldn't see straight. I'll try to do better next time."

Mr. Dunlop was now engaged in making his daughter, her child and the other woman comfortable in one of the touring cars.

Several of the men in the party, also, had decided that they did not care to remain if they were to be exposed to shooting at all hours of the day.

In the end Mr. Dunlop had but three of the men in his party left with him.

The younger of the two armed men was sent to drive the car containing the women. One of the guests of the Dunlop party drove a second car. In this order they started for Dugout City, thirty miles away. As the roads hardly deserved the name the motor cars would not be likely to reach Dugout before dark.

"Look out for ambushes," exclaimed Mr. Dunlop, to the armed driver of the women's car.

"Yes, sir; but there isn't much danger of our being fired on. Gage's gang will be only too glad to see the women folks leaving here. We won't be troubled."

Mr. Dunlop stood anxiously gazing after the two touring cars as long as they could be seen. Then he stepped briskly back, holding out his hand to Tom Reade.

"Permit me, now, to thank you for your timely aid," said the stout man. "You know my name. Will you kindly introduce your friends?"

This Tom did at once, after which Mr. Dunlop presented his three companions. One was his nephew, Dave Hill, the second, George Parkinson, Mr. Dunlop's secretary, and the third a man named John Ransome, an investor in Mr. Dunlop's mining enterprise. The elder of the armed men who remained behind was Joe Timmins, both guide and chauffeur. The young man who had gone with one of the cars was Timmins's son.

"You have a mining claim hereabouts, Mr. Dunlop?" Tom inquired.

"Yes; but not exactly at this point," added the older man, with a smile as he noted Reade staring about him with a quizzical smile. "The claim stands over there on that slope"—- pointing to the westward.

"Has it been prospected, sir?" asked Hazelton.

"Yes: it's a valuable property, all right. I brought my party out here to show it to them. The friends who have returned to Dugout, and Mr. Ransome here, have the money ready to put up the needed capital as soon as they are satisfied."

"I'm satisfied now," spoke up Ransome, "and I'm sure that the others are, after what Mr. Dunlop showed us this morning."

"How soon do you begin operations?" Tom asked with interest.

"As soon as my men have talked it over and have concluded to put up the money, replied Mr. Dunlop.

"We're ready, now—-all of us," Ransome broke in.

"Then," said Mr. Dunlop, "the next step will be to get in touch with a satisfactory engineer. You see, Mr. Reade, it's either a tunneling or a boring claim. We must either sink a shaft or drive a tunnel—-whichever operation can be done at the least cost. Either way will be expensive, and we must find out for a certainty which will be the cheaper. There's a lot of refractory rock in the slope yonder. In the morning our party will get all the ore we can from the surface croppings, then start for Dugout, going from there to Carson City. At Carson we hope to find an honest engineer and a capable metallurgist."

"Then you haven't engaged any engineer?" Reade asked, almost eagerly.

"Not yet. There was no need, until we had satisfied the investors."

"Perhaps Hazelton and I can make some deal with you, Mr. Dunlop," Reade proposed.

"In what line?" inquired Dunlop. "Are you miners—-or machinists?"

"When we want to be really kind to ourselves," smiled Tom, "we call ourselves engineers."

"Mining engineers?" demanded Mr. Dunlop, gazing at the two youths in astonishment.

"No, sir. Neither Hazelton nor myself ever handled a mine yet," Tom answered. "But we have done a lot of railroad work."

"Railroad work isn't mine digging," objected Mr. Dunlop.

"I'm aware of that, sir," Tom agreed. "Yet boring is largely excavation work; so is tunneling. We've had charge of considerable excavating in our services to railroads."

"Very likely," nodded Dunlop, reflectively. But how about the assays for gold and silver? Sometimes, when searching for drifts and runs of the metal we may need a dozen assays in a single week."

"We have the furnace with us, sir; the assay balance and all the tools and chemicals that are used in an ordinary assay."

"You have?" asked Mr. Dunlop. "Then you must have come prepared to go into this line of work."

"We thought it more than likely that we'd amuse ourselves along that line of work for a while," Tom explained truthfully. "Yet mining attracts us. We'd stay here and go into the thing in earnest if we could make good enough terms with you."

"Would seventy-five dollars a month for each of you be satisfactory?" asked Mr. Dunlop keenly.

"No, sir," replied Reade with emphasis. "Nor would we take a hundred and seventy-five dollars, either. When I said that we would consider a good proposition I meant just that, sir."

"Hm-m-m-m!" murmured Mr. Dunlop. "I shall have to give this matter thought, and question you a good deal more on your qualifications. I suppose you would be willing to let this matter remain open for a few days?"

"Certainly, sir; we are in no hurry. However, until we are definitely engaged we do not bind ourselves to be ready for your work."

"Where is your camp?" said Mr. Dunlop.

Jim Ferrers explained the easiest way of reaching the camp in a motor car.

"And I'd advise you to come to our camp, too," Tom added. "You'll be safer there than here."

"But we would; expose you to danger, too," Mr. Dunlop objected.

"We're rather used to danger," smiled Tom placidly. "In fact, just a little of danger makes us feel that we're getting more enjoyment out of life."

"Do you think it a good plan to take up the invitation of these gentlemen, Timmins?" inquired Mr. Dunlop.

"It's the safest thing you can do, sir," answered Joe Timmins.

"We'll start back, now," proposed Tom. "If you don't drive too fast you'll give us a chance to reach our camp in time to welcome you."

"You start now, and we'll start within ten minutes," proposed Mr. Dunlop.

This being agreed to, Tom, Harry and Ferrers began the task of climbing the cliff path. At last they reached the top, then started at long strides toward camp, Ferrers's horse having been surrendered by Harry to Dave Hill.

"Who knows," laughed Tom, "we may become mining engineers here in Nevada"

"Small chance of it," Harry rejoined. "In opinion Mr. Dunlop is a good enough fellow, but he's accustomed to making all the money himself. He'd want us at about a hundred dollars a month apiece."

"He can want, then," Tom retorted. "Yet, somehow, I've an idea That Mr. Dunlop will turn to be generous if he decides that we're the engineers for him."

For some minutes the trio tramped on silently, in Indian file, Ferrers leading.

"Hello, Alf!" bellowed Tom through the woods, as they neared their camp site. No answer came.

"Where did you leave the little fellow, Jim?" inquired Reade.

"I didn't notice which way he went, sir," returned the guide. "He looked plumb scared, and I reckon he ducked into cover somewhere. Maybe he headed for Dugout City and hasn't stopped running yet."

Then a turn of the path under the trees brought them in sight of their camp.

Rather, where the camp had been. Jim Ferrers rubbed his eyes for an instant, for the tents had been spirited away as though by magic. Nor were the cots to be seen. Blankets lay strewn about on the ground. A quarter the camp's food supplies was still left, and that was all.

"Is it magic, Jim?" gasped puzzled Tom Reade.

"No, sir; just plain stealing," Ferrers responded grimly.

"Then who——-"

"Dolph Gage's crew, I'll be bound, sir. They don't want you two hanging around in this country, and they want me a heap sight less. But maybe we'll show 'em! The trail can't be hard to find. We'll have to start at once."

"After we've seen and spoken to Mr. Dunlop," Tom amended. "We can't run off without explanation to the guests that we have invited to share the camp that we thought had."

Barely a hundred yards away four men lay on their stomachs, heads concealed behind a low fringe of brush under which the muzzles of their rifles peeped.

"Remember," whispered Dolph Gage faintly, "all of you fire your first shot into Jim Ferrers. After that we'll take charge of the youngsters! Get a close bead on Jim. Ready!"



CHAPTER IV

SOLD OUT FOR A TOY BALE!

Jim Ferrers had stated a plain truth when he remarked that Nevada men did not often waste ammunition.

With four rifles aimed at him, at that short, point-blank range, it would seem that Jim's last moment had come.

Yet at that instant the sound of an approaching motor ear was heard.

Then the car, moving at twelve miles an hour mounted the crest at a point less than seventy yards from where the four ambushed men lay.

Joe Timmins caught sight of them.

"Take the wheel!" muttered Timmins, forcing Parkinson's nearer hand to the wheel.

In an instant Joe was upon his feet, drawing his revolver. He fired at the men in ambush, but a lurch of the car on the rough ground destroyed his aim.

"Dolph Gage and his rascals at the ridge," bellowed Joe, in a fog-horn voice, pointing.

Jim Ferrers dropped to the ground, hugging it flat. Harry followed suit. Tom Reade hesitated an instant, then away he flew at a dead run.

Close to a tree Tom stopped, thrusting right hand in among the bushes. Up and down his hand moved.

"Shoot and duck!" snarled Dolph, in a passion because of their having been discovered.

Boom!

Over by the ridge where Gage and his fellow rascals lay it looked as though a volcano had started in operation on a small scale.

Fragments of rock, clouds of dirt, splinters and bits of brush shot up in the air.

Following the report came a volley of terrific yells from Dolph and his fellows.

They had been on the instant of firing when the big explosion came. Jim Ferrers, too, was taking careful aim at the moment.

It is a law of Nature that whatever goes up debris, mixed with larger pieces of rock and clots of earth, descended on the scene of the explosion. Yet little of this flying stuff reached Dolph Gage and his companions, for they were up and running despite the mark that they thus presented to Ferrers.

Nor did the rascals stop running until they had reached distant cover.

"Stop it, Jim—-don't shoot!" gasped Tom Reade, choking with laughter, as Ferrers leaped to his feet, taking aim after the fugitives.

"I want Dolph Gage, while I've got a good, legal excuse," growled Ferrers, glancing along rifle barrel at the forward sight.

"Don't think of shooting," panted Tom, darting forward and laying a hand on the rifle barrel to spoil the guide's aim. "Jim, it isn't sportsmanlike to shoot a fleeing enemy in the back! Fight fair and square, Jim—-if you must fight."

There was much in this to appeal to the guide's sense of honor and fair play. Though scowled, he lowered the rifle.

"Tom, you everlasting joker, what happened?" demanded Harry Hazelton.

"You saw for yourself, didn't you?" retorted Reade.

"Yes; but——-"

"Are you so little of an engineer that you don't know a mine when you see one, Harry?"

"But how did that mine come to be there?"

"I planted it."

"When?"

"Today, when you started on your ride."

"Oh!"

"You see, Harry, I was pondering away over mining problems this morning. As you had the only horse, that was all that there was left for me to do. Now, you must have noticed that most of the outcropping rock around here is of a very refractory kind?"

"Yes," nodded Hazelton.

"Then, of course, you realize that for at least a hundred feet down in the mine the rock that would be found would be the same."

"Undoubtedly."

"So, Harry, I was figuring on a way to blast ore rock out whenever we should find refractory stuff down a shaft or in the galleries or tunnels of a mine."

"Fine, isn't it?" retorted Hazelton. "A great scheme! You blast out the rock and the force of the explosion shoots all the fine particle of gold into the walls of the mine—-just the way you'd pepper a tree with birdshot!"

Mr. Dunlop had drawn close and now stood smiling broadly.

"That appears to be one on you, Reade," suggested the mine promoter.

"That's what I want to find out," returned Tom soberly; "whether I'm a discoverer, or just a plain fool."

"What do you think about it?"

"Let's go and look at the ledge, and then I can tell you, sir," Reade answered, striding forward.

"Look out!" cautioned Joe Timmins. "Those hyenas will shoot. They'll be sore over the trick you played on them, and they'll be hiding waiting for a chance for a shot."

"Oh, bother the hyenas," Tom retorted, impatiently. "I'm out for business today. Coming, Mr. Dunlop?" The mine operator showed signs of hanging back.

Harry promptly joined his chum at what was left of the little ledge. After a few moments Mr. Dunlop, seeing that no shots were fired, stepped over there also, followed by his nephew. Jim Ferrers climbed a tree, holding his rifle and keeping his eyes open for a shot, while Timmins threw himself behind a rock, watching in the direction that the four men had taken.

"This looks even better than I had expected," Tom explained, his eyes glowing as he held up fragments of rock. "You see, the dynamite charge was a low-power one. It just splintered the rock. There wasn't so very much driving force to the explosion. Another time I could make the force even lower."

"Here's gold in this bit of rock!" cried Harry, turning, his eyes sparkling.

"Yes; but not enough to look promising," replied Mr. Dunlop, after examining the specimen. "But we'll look through the rest of the stuff that's loose."

The two men who had hung back soon joined them.

"I wouldn't care about filing a claim to it," Mr. Dunlop, shaking his head after some further exploration. "This rock wouldn't yield enough to the ton to make the work profitable."

"Just a little, outcropping streak, possibly from the claim that I have below," was Mr. Dunlop's conclusion "By the way, Reade, how did you explode the mine?"

"With a magneto," Tom explained, then ran and took the battery from behind the tree from which he had fired it. "I buried the wire, of course, so that no one would trip over it," he added. "Just after I got it attended to Alf Drew happened along, looked forlorn, and wanted a job. So I had almost forgotten the mine, until I realized that the thing was planted right in front of where Dolph Gage's crew were hidden. By the way, Jim, where is Alf?"

"All the information I've got wouldn't send you two feet in the right direction," the guide reported gruffly.

"And where are our tents and the other stuff?" Harry demanded. "Gage's crew couldn't get far with them in the time they've had. Shall we hustle after our property?"

"Yes," nodded Tom.

"At the momentary risk of being shot to pieces," added Mr. Dunlop, dryly.

"Those little chances go with being involved in a Nevada mining dispute, don't they?" queried Reade.

"Where can we begin to look?" Harry pressed. "Let's scurry about a bit. Surely men can't get away with tents without leaving some trail."

Within two minutes they had the trail. Marks were discovered that plainly had been made by dragging canvas and guy-ropes along over the ground.

"We'll find our stuff soon," predicted Tom, striding along over a rough trail. "The scoundrels didn't have a team, and they wouldn't take the stuff far without other transportation than their own backs. Hello! What's in there?"

Tom had detected some motions in a clump of brush.

"Look out!" warned Jim Ferrers, bringing his rifle to "ready."

But Tom darted straight into the brush.

"Then this is where you are?" demanded Tom dryly. He glanced down at the cowering form of Alf Drew.

"So you've got the 'makings,' have you?" Reade demanded, seizing Alf by the collar and yanking him up to his feet.

Paper and tobacco fell from young Drew's nerveless grasp to the ground.

"You made me drop the makings of a good one," whined Alf resentfully.

"You didn't have that stuff two hours ago. Where did you get it?" Reade demanded.

"Found it," half whimpered Drew.

"Do you expect me to believe any such fairy tales as that?" insisted Tom Reade.

"If you have tobacco and cigarette papers," Tom continued, "then some one gave the stuff to you. It was Dolph Gage, or one of his rascals, wasn't it?"

"Don't know him," replied the boy, with a shake of his head.

"Now, don't try to fool me, Drew," warned Tom, with a mild shake administered to the youngster's shoulders. "How much tobacco have you?"

"A whole package," admitted Alf reluctantly, feeling that it would be of no use to try to deceive his employer.

"And plenty of papers to go with it?"

"Ye-es."

"You got it from four men?"

"No; I didn't."

"Well, from one of four men, then? Tell me the truth."

"Ye-es."

"What did you do to please the four men?"

Alf Drew shifted uneasily from one foot to the other, and then back again.

"Come! Speak up!" Reade insisted sternly.

"You're wasting our time. What did you do for the four men?"

"I didn't do anything," Alf evaded.

"What did you tell them, then?" Reade wanted to know.

"They asked me a few questions."

"Of course; and you answered the questions."

"Well, I——-"

"What did the men want to know about?" pressed Tom, the look in his eyes growing sterner still.

"They wanted to know how many men Jim Ferrers had," admitted the Drew boy.

"Oh, I see," pondered Tom aloud, a half smile creeping into his face. "They were guessing the size of Ferrers's army, were they?"

"I—-I guess so," Alf replied.

"And you told them——-?"

"I told 'em the camp was made up of you and Mr. Hazelton, Jim Ferrers and myself."

"And then they gave you the tobacco for cigarettes, did they?"

"I made 'em gimme that first," Alf retorted, a look of cunning in his eyes.

"So, my bright little hero, you sold us out for a toy bale of cigarettes, did you?" demanded Tom Reade, staring coldly down at the shame-faced youngster.



CHAPTER V

NO NEED TO WORK FOR PENNIES

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

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

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

"Very much so," replied Reade, releasing his grip on Drew's shoulder. "Come on, friends, we'll hunt further."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I think we could," Tom answered.

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

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

"How much will you young men want?"

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

"The fighting risk?" questioned Mr. Dunlop.

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

"But such pay is absurd!" he protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Right you are there, lad" agreed Tom.

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

"Come here," ordered Tom.

Alf wonderingly advanced.

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

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

"Well, I have ter," argued Drew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"All right," Tom agreed.

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

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

With a yell of terror Alf Drew bounded back.

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

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

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

"No; I didn't."

"Didn't you, Mr. Hazelton?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click-ick-ick! sounded close to him.

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

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

"Of course," Tom admitted with a wink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yet suppose I had engaged you,"

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

"Why, Reade?"

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

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

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

Within an hour after breakfast the Dunlop ear pulled out, leaving Tom Reade with only his own party.

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

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

"Do you really want to work for Dunlop?"

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

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

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

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

Click-ick-ick-ick!

"Rattlers again!" shivered Alf.

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



CHAPTER VI

TOM CATCHES THE "NEVADA FEVER"

Two nights passed without adventure. On each of these nights the three campers—-for Alf didn't "count" divided the hours of darkness into three watches, each standing guard in his turn. On the third morning after the departure of the Bright Hope group the campers were seated at breakfast around the packing case that served as table.

"I feel as though we ought to be at work," suggested Hazelton.

"Good!" mocked Tom. "You've been riding every day lately, and I have remained in camp, testing samples of ore that I've picked up on my strolls."

"You take the horse today," proposed Harry, "and I'll stay in camp and work."

"Suppose both of us stay in and work," proposed Reade.

"That'll be all right, too," nodded Harry, pleasantly. "May I ask, Tom, what you're up to, anyway?"

"Yes," Reade smiled. "If the Bright Hope is a real mine there must be other good property in this region. I've been looking about, and making an assay every now and then. Jim, you've prospected a bit, haven't you?"

"Yes," nodded the guide. "And, gentlemen, in my day I've been sole owner of three claims, each one of which panned out a fortune."

"Great!" glowed Harry. "But how did you lose your money, Jim!"

"I never got a cent out of any of the mines," rejoined the guide grimly.

"How did that happen?"

"Did you ever hear of 'square gamblers'?" inquired Ferrers.

"Some," Tom admitted with a grimace. "We ran up against one of that brood in Arizona, eh, Harry?"

"You didn't play against him, I hope, hinted Jim soberly.

"Yes, we did," admitted Tom. "Not with his own marked cards, though, nor with any kind of cards. We met him with men's weapons, and it is necessary to add that our 'square gambler' lost."

"The 'square gamblers' that I met didn't lose," sighed Jim Ferrers. "They won, and that's why all three of my mines passed out of my hands before they began to pay."

"You must know something about ore and croppings, and the like, Jim?", Tom continued.

"In a prospector's way, yes," Ferrers admitted.

"Then we'll take a walk, now. Alf can wash up the dishes."

"It's all the little wretch is fit for," muttered Ferrers contemptuously.

Jim looked carefully into the magazine of his repeating ride, then saw to it that his ammunition belt was filled.

"Ready when you gentlemen are," he announced.

"Say, won't you take me with you?" pleaded Alf.

"You wouldn't be of any use to us," Reade answered.

"But I—-I am afraid to stay here alone."

"Do you believe yourself to be so valuable that any one will want to steal you?" Tom laughed.

Alf made a wry face and watched the others depart. Then, filled with needless alarm, he crawled out into a thicket and hid himself. He didn't mean to be trapped by prowlers!

Tom led the way for nearly a mile. At last the trio climbed a slight ascent, halting at the top of the ridge.

"You see, Jim," Tom explained, "this ridge runs southwesterly from here."

"I see it does?" nodded the guide.

"Now, to the northeastward I don't believe there are any croppings that look good enough. But just keep along to the southeast, picking up a specimen here and there. Some of the rock looks good to me."

Jim Ferrers didn't answer in words, though his eyes gleamed with the old fever that he had known before.

"Here's a pretty piece of stone," called the guide in a low tone. He stood holding a fragment about as big as his two fists.

"It's streaked" pretty well with yellow, you see, gentlemen," he remarked;

"It is," Tom agreed, taking the specimen.

"Does the vein run with the top of the ridge?" demanded Harry eagerly.

"It runs a little more to eastward, from this point, I think," Tom made answer. "But let us walk along, in three parallel lines, and see who finds the best indications."

By noon all three were fairly tired out by the steep climbing over the rocky ground. Each had as many specimens as he could carry. The result of the exploration had tended to confirm Tom's notion as to where the vein lay.

"Now, let's see about where we'd stake the claim," Tom proposed. "Of course, we want to get the best rock obtainable. We don't want to leave the best part of this slope for some one else to stake out. It seems to me that the claim ought to start up by that blasted tree. What do you say, Jim?"

"Well, I don't like to make mistakes where you young gentleman are concerned," Ferrers answered, taking off his felt hat and scratching his head. "You see, it isn't my claim."

"The dickens it isn't!" Reade retorted.

"Why, you—-you gentlemen didn't plan to take me in, did you," asked Ferrers, opening his eyes very wide in his amazement over the idea. "You see I—-I can't contribute my share of the brains, along with a pair like you," continued the guide. "Look at you two—-engineers already! Then look at me—-more'n twice as old as either of you, and yet I'm only a cook."

"You're an honest man, aren't you, Jim?" demanded Reade.

"Why, there's some folks who say I am," Ferrers slowly admitted.

"And we're among those who believe that way," Tom continued. "Now, Jim, you're with us, and you've every right to be a partner if we find anything worth taking up in the mine line."

"But there ain't no sense in it," protested the guide, his voice shaking with emotion. "You don't need me."

"We need a man of your kind, Jim," Tom rejoined, resting a very friendly hand on the guide's shoulder. "Listen to me. Hazelton and I are engineers first of all. We'd sooner be engineers than kings. Now, the lure of gold is all well enough, and we're human enough to like money. Yet a really big engineering chance would take us away from a gold mine almost any day in the year. Eh, Harry!"

"I'm afraid it would," confirmed Hazelton.

"If we left a paying mine, Jim, what would we want?" Tom continued. "We'd want an honest partner, wouldn't we—-one whom we could leave for six months or a year and still be able to depend on getting our share of the profits of the mine. You've gambled in the past, Jim, but you stopped that years ago. Now you're honest and safe. Do you begin to see, Jim Ferrers, where you come in? Another point. How old do you take us to be?"

"Well, you're more than twenty-one, each of you," replied Ferrers.

"Not quite, as yet," Tom answered. "So, you see, in order to take out a claim we'd need a guardian, and one whom we could depend upon not to rob us. Jim, if we're to take up a mine we must have a third man in with us. Do you know a man anywhere who'd use us more honestly than you would?"

"I don't," exclaimed Jim Ferrers. "At the same time, gentlemen, I know your kind well enough. Both of you talk of fighting as though you dreaded it, but I'll tell you, gentlemen, that I wouldn't dare to try any nasty tricks on either of you."

"We understand each other, then," Tom nodded. "Now, then, let us try to make up our minds just where we would want to stake off this claim if the gold assays as well as it looks."

At the beginning Tom and Harry built a little pile of stones. Then, by mere pacing they laid off what they judged to be the fifteen hundred feet of length which the government allows to a single mining claim.

"We can attend to the proper width later," suggested Tom. "Now, what do you say if we make for camp at once. I'm not hungry; still, I think I could eat my half of a baked ox."

The instant that the trio reached camp, Jim Ferrers, with an unwonted mist in his eyes, began to juggle the cooking utensils. Tom busied himself with building the best fire that he could under the chamber of the assaying furnace, while Harry Hazelton, rolling up his sleeves, began to demonstrate his muscle by pulverizing little piles of ore in a hand-mill.

"Be careful not to mix the lots, Harry," advised Tom, glancing over from his station by the furnace.

"Thanks for the caution," smiled Hazelton. "But I have just enough intelligence left to understand the value of knowing from what section of the slope each particular lot of rock comes."

Dinner was eaten in silence. For one thing the campers were ravenously hungry. In the second place, though each kept as quiet as possible, he was deep in the thrall of the fever to dig up hidden gold.

The meal was nearly over when Alf Drew came into camp.

"Are you leaving anything to eat?" he asked.

"Maybe," said Jim Ferrers grimly, "but you were left to wash the breakfast dishes, and you haven't done it yet. Now, you'll wash the breakfast things, and then the dinner things, before you get even a cold bite to eat."

Alf didn't protest. Now that he was back safe in camp he felt much ashamed of himself for having run away and left the camp unwatched.

As soon as he had eaten his dinner Tom Reade went back to the assay furnace to improve the fire.

"Now, Harry, we'll get the powdered stuff ready to roast," Reade remarked. "We've a lot of it to rush through this afternoon."

"And we want to be sure to finish it at least two hours before dark, too," Larry nodded. "If we decide to file a claim Jim ought to be riding for Dugout City by dark, ready to file the papers the first thing in the morning."

"And Jim can bring back half a dozen men to help us sink the first shaft," proposed Tom.

"That's where I feel like a fool," muttered Ferrers. "I haven't a blessed dollar to put in as capital."

"We'll take your honesty for a good deal in the way of capital, Jim," Tom hinted cheerfully.

"Harry, you might get out the transit, the tape, markers and other things. If we stake out a claim we'll do it so accurately that there can be no fight, afterward, as to the real boundaries of our claim."

"What shall we call the claim?" inquired Hazelton, as he came back with the surveying outfit.

"Suppose we wait until the assay is done, and find out whether the claim is worth anything better than a bad name," laughed Tom.

The crucibles were in the furnace now, and a hot flame going. Jim Ferrers sat by, puffing reflectively at his pipe as he squatted on the ground nearby. Alf Drew was smoking, too, somewhere, but he had taken his offensive cigarettes to some place of concealment.

Harry anxiously watched the course of the sun, while Tom kept his gaze, most of the time, near the furnace.

"Come on, Harry!" called Tom at last. "We'd rake out the crucibles. My, but I hope the buttons are going to be worth weighing."

A withering blast of hot air reached the young engineers as the oven door of the portable assay furnace was thrown open. The crucibles were raked out and set in the air to cool.

"Would fanning the crucibles with my hat do any good?" asked Hazelton eagerly.

"Some," yawned Tom, "if you're impatient."

Reade strolled off under the trees, whistling softly to himself. Jim Ferrers smoked a little faster, the only sign he gave of the anxiety that was consuming him. Harry frequently sprang to his feet, walked up and down rapidly, then sat down again. Two or three times Hazelton burned his fingers, testing to see whether the crucibles were cool enough to handle. At last Tom strolled back, his gaze on the dial of his watch.

"Cool enough for a look, now, I think," Reade announced.

Harry bounded eagerly toward the crucibles, feeling them with his hands.

"Plenty cool enough," he reported. "But how did you guess, Tom?"

"I didn't guess," Reade laughed. "I've timed the crucibles before this, and I know to a minute how long it ought to take."

"What a chump I am!" growled Harry, in contempt for self. "I never think of such things as that."

Tom now carefully emptied the crucibles. In the bottom of each was found a tiny bead of half-lustrous metal, which miners and assayers term the "button."

"The real stuff!" glowed Hazelton.

"Ye-es," said Tom slowly. "But the next question is whether the buttons will weigh enough to hint at good-paying ore. Even at that, these buttons are only from surface ore."

"But the ore underneath is always better than the surface ore," contended Hazelton.

"Usually is," Tom corrected. "If we get good enough results from this assay it will at least be worth while to stake a claim and work it for a while."

Harry waited with feverish impatience. Tom Reade, on the other hand, was almost provokingly slow and cool as he carefully adjusted the sensitive assaying balance and finally weighed the buttons. Then he did some slow, painstaking calculating. At last he looked up.

"Well, sir?" asked Jim Ferrers.

"From this surface ore," replied Tom calmly, "twenty-eight dollars in gold to the ton; silver, six dollars."

"That's good enough for me!" cried Ferrers, his eyes brightening.

"Wow! Whoop! Oh—-whee!" vented Harry, then ran and snatched up the surveying transit.

"Yes; I guess we'd better go along and do our staking," assented Tom.

"And I'll be ready at daylight to file the claim at Dugout City," promised Jim. "I won't sleep until I've seen our papers filed."

"You'll file the claim in your own name, Jim," Tom suddenly suggested.

"No; I won't," retorted Ferrers. "I'll play squarely."

"That will be doing squarely by us, Jim," Tom continued. "We don't want to use up our claim privileges on one stretch of Nevada dirt."

If we can find claims enough we'll stake out three, and then pool them all together in a gentlemen's agreement."

"That's a good deal of trust you're showing in me, gentlemen," said Jim huskily.

"Never mind, Jim," returned Reade quietly. "You can show us, you know, that we didn't waste our confidence."

While they were still talking the three came in sight of the ridge.

"Look there!" gasped Harry suddenly.

"Dolph Gage and his tin-horn crowd!" flared Jim Ferrers, in anger. "Hang the fellow! This time I'll——-"

"Stop fingering your rifle, Jim," ordered Reade. "Remember, nothing like fighting! If they haven't filed notice in due form on the claim, we're safe yet. If they have——-"

"Look!" hissed Ferrers.

At that moment Dolph Gage could be seen nailing a sheet of white paper to a board driven into the soil.

"We've staked what you want, I reckon!" bellowed Gage laconically. "Staked it in due form, too, if you want to know."

"I guess we've lost that claim," said Tom slowly.

"Have we?" hissed Jim Ferrers.



CHAPTER VII

READY TO HANDLE THE PICK

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

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

"You've no right on this ground."

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

"How do you know we haven't?"

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