The Young Engineers on the Gulf or The Dread Mystery of the Million Dollar Breakwater
By H. Irving Hancock
CHAPTERS I. The Mystery of a Black Night II. The Call of One in Trouble III. Vanishing into Thin Air IV. Some One Calls Again V. Wanted—-Daylight and Divers VI. Mr. Bascomb is Peevish VII. Tom Isn't as Easy as He Looks VIII. Mr. Prenter Investigates IX. Invited To Leave Camp X. The Night is Not Over XI. A Message from a Coward XII. An Engineer's Fighting Blood XIII. Wishing It on Mr. Sambo XIV. The Black Man's Turn XV. A David for a Goliath XVI. A Test of Real Nerve XVII. Tom Makes an Unexpected Capture XVIII. The Army "On the Job" XIX. A New Mystery Peeps In XX. A Secret in Sight XXI. Evarts Hears a Noise XXII. Mr. Bascomb Hears Bad News XXIII. Ebony Says "Thumbs Up" XXIV. Conclusion
THE MYSTERY OF A BLACK NIGHT
"I wish I had brought my electric flash out here with me," muttered Harry Hazelton uneasily.
"I told you that you'd better do it," chuckled Tom Reade.
"But how could I know that the night would be pitch dark?" Harry demanded. "I don't know this gulf weather yet, and fifteen minutes ago the stars were out in full force. Now look at them!"
"How can I look at them?" demanded Tom, halting. "My flashlight won't pierce the clouds."
Reade halted on his dark, dangerous footway, and Harry, just behind him, uttered a sigh of relief and halted also.
"I never was in such a place as this before."
"You've been in many a worse place, though," rejoined Tom. "I never heard you make half as much fuss, either."
"I think something must be wrong with my head," ventured Harry.
"Undoubtedly," Tom Reade agreed cheerily.
"Hear that water," Harry went on, in a voice scarcely less disconsolate than before.
"Of course," nodded Tom. "But the water can hardly be termed a surprise. We both knew that the Gulf of Mexico is here. We saw it several times to-day."
The two young men stood on a narrow ledge of stone that jutted out of the water. This wall of stone was the first, outer or retaining wall of masonry—-the first work of constructing a great breakwater. At high tide, this ledge was just fourteen inches above the level surface of the Gulf of Mexico, and at the time of the above conversation it was within twenty minutes of high tide. The top of this wall of masonry was thirty inches wide, which made but a narrow footway for the two youths who, on a pitch black night, were more than half a mile out from shore.
On a pleasant night, for a young man with a steady head, the top of this breakwater wall did not offer a troublesome footpath. In broad daylight hundreds of laborers and masons swarmed over it, working side by side, or on scows and dredges alongside.
"Wait, and I'll show a light," volunteered Tom raising his foot-long flashlight.
Some seventy-five yards behind them a crawling snake-like figure flattened itself out on the top of the rock wall.
"Don't show the light just yet," pleaded Harry. "It might only make me more dizzy."
The flattened figure behind them wriggled noiselessly along.
"Just listen to the water," continued Hazelton. "Tom, I'm half-inclined to think that the water is roughening."
"I believe it is," agreed Tom.
"Fine time we'll have getting back, if a gale springs up from the southward," muttered Harry.
"See here, old fellow," interposed Tom vigorously, "you're not up to concert pitch to-night. Now, I'll tell you what I'll do—-first of all, what you'll do. You sit right down flat on the top of the wall. Then I'll move on up forward and see what has been happening out there that should boom shoreward with such a racket. You stay right here, and I'll be back as soon as I've looked into the face of the mystery."
"What do you take me for?" Harry asked almost fiercely. "A baby? Or a cold-foot?"
"Nothing like it," answered Tom Reade with reassuring positiveness. "You're out of sorts, to-night. Your head, or your nerves, or some thing, has gone back on you, and you walk through this blackness with half a notion that you're going to walk over a precipice, or drop head-first into some danger. With such a feeling it would be cruelty to let you go forward, chum, and I'm not going to do it. I'll go alone."
The crouching figure to the rear of the young engineers quivered as though this separation of the two engineers on this black night was a thing devoutly to be desired.
"You're not going to do anything of the sort," retorted Harry Hazelton. "I'm going forward with you. I'm going to stick to you. All I wanted was a minute in which to brace myself. I've had that minute. Now get forward with you. I'm on your heels!"
Tom Reade shrugged his shoulders slightly. However, he did not object or argue, for he realized that his chum was sensitive over any circumstance that seemed to point to sudden failure of his courage.
"Come along, then," urged Tom. "Wait just a second, though. I'll flash the light ahead along the wall, to show you that it's all there, and just where it lies."
A narrow beam of light shot ahead as Tom pressed the spring of his pocket flash lamp.
A weird enough scene the night betrayed. In perspective the wall ahead narrowed, until the two sides seemed to come to a point. Back of all was the thick curtain of black that had settled down over the gulf. A little farther out, too, the water seemed rougher. There would seem to be hardly a doubt that a gale was brewing.
"Shut that light off!" Hazelton commanded, fighting to repress a shudder. "I can do better in the darkness. Now, go ahead, and I'll follow."
Tom started, but he went slowly now, feeling that this pace was more suited to the condition of his chum's nerves. Harry followed resolutely, though none but himself knew how much effort it took for him to keep on in the face of such a nameless yet terrible dread as now assailed him.
To the rear a bulky, hulking figure rose and stood erect. With the softest of steps this apparition of the night followed after them, until it stole along, ghost-like, just behind Hazelton. Then a huge arm was raised, threateningly, over Harry's head.
At that particular moment, as though insensibly warned, Hazelton stopped, half-wheeling. In the next second Harry bounded back just out of reach of the descending arm, the hand of which held something. But in that backward spring Harry, in order to save himself from pitching into the water, was oblige to turn toward Reade.
"Tom!" exploded the young engineer. "Flash the light here quickly!"
In the instant, however, that Harry had sprung backward the figure had slipped noiselessly into the water to the left. As Reade wheeled about, throwing on the light, he let the ray fall in the water to the right of the wall. But no sign of the intruder appeared; the water had closed noiselessly over the now vanished figure.
"What's the matter?" asked Reade, as he stood looking, then finally flashed his light over to the other side of the wall.
"I saw—-" began Hazelton. Then changed to: "I thought—-er—-I saw—-oh, nonsense! You'll josh the life out of me!"
"Not I," Tom affirmed gravely, as a thrill of pity, for what he deemed his friend's unfortunate "nervous condition," shook him. "Tell me what you saw, Harry."
"Why, I thought I saw a big fellow—-a black man, too—-right behind me, arm upraised, just ready to strike me."
"Well, where is he?" Tom demanded blankly, flashing the light on either side of the narrow wall-top. "See him anywhere now, chum?"
Harry didn't. In fact, he hardly more than pretended to look. The thing that had been so real a moment before was now utterly invisible. Hazelton began to share his chum's suspicion as to the utter breakdown of his nerves and powers of vision.
"It was nothing, of course," said Harry, shamefacedly, but Tom vigorously took the other side of the question.
"See here, Harry, it must have been something," insisted Reade. "You're not dreaming, and you're not crazy. It would take either one of those conditions to make you see something that didn't really exist. No mere nervous tremor is going to make you see something as tall as a man, standing right over you, when no such thing exists."
"Well, then, where is the fellow?" Harry Hazelton demanded, helplessly, as he stared about. "There isn't any human being but ourselves in sight, either on the wall or in the water. Your light shows that."
The light did not quite show that, and could not, since the huge prowler was now swimming gently under water, some seven or eight feet from the surface.
"We'll have to solve the question before we leave here," declared Tom. "We can't have folks following us up in a ticklish place like this. Besides, Harry, I'm willing to wager that your vision—-whatever it was—-has some real connection with the mystery that we're going out yonder to investigate. So we'll solve the puzzle that's right here before we go forward to look at the bigger riddle that the dark now hides from us out yonder. Use your eyes, lad, an I'll do the same with mine!"
Neither Tom Reade nor Harry Hazelton are strangers to the readers of this series, nor of the series that have preceded the present one.
Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, now engineers in charge of a big breakwater job on the Alabama gulf coast, were first introduced to our readers in the "Grammar School Boys Series." There we met them as members of that immortal band of American schoolboys known as Dick & Co. Back in the old school days Dick Prescott had been the leader of Dick & Co., though, as all our readers know, Prescott was not the sole genius of Dick & Co. Greg Holmes, Dave Darrin, Dan Dalzell and Tom and Harry had been the other members of that famous sextette of schoolboy athletes.
After reading of the doings of Dick & Co. in the "Grammar School Boys Series," our readers again followed them, through the events recorded in the four volumes of the "High School Boys Series". Here their really brilliant work Boys Series athletes was stirringly chronicled, as along with scores of non-athletic adventures that befell them.
At the close of the high school course Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes secured appointments as cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. All that befell them there is duly set forth in the "West Point Series." Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell were fortunate enough to secure appointments as midshipmen in the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, and their doings there are set forth in the "Annapolis Series."
Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, on the other hand, had felt no call to military glory. For their work in life they longed to become part of the great constructive force wielded by modern civil engineers. During the latter part of their high school work they had studied hard with ambition to become surveyors and civil engineers. In their school vacations they had sought training and experience in the offices of an engineering firm in their home town of Gridley. After being graduated from the Gridley High School, Tom and Harry had done more work in the same offices. Then, in a sudden desire for advancement, and possessed by the longing for a wider field of endeavor, Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton had secured positions as "cub engineers" on the construction work that was being done to rush a new railway, system over the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The stern, hard work that lay before them, the many adventures in a rough wilderness, and the chain of circumstances that at last placed Tom Reade in charge of the railroad building, with Harry as first assistant engineer, are all told in the first volume of this present series, "The Young Engineers In Colorado."
That great feat finished satisfactorily, the ambition of our young engineers led them further afield, as told in "The Young Engineers in Arizona." A great, man-killing quicksand had to be filled in and effectively stopped from shifting. Reade & Hazelton undertook the task. Incidentally Tom came into serious, dangerous conflict with gamblers and other human birds-of-prey, who had heretofore fattened on the earnings of the railway laborers. It was a tremendously exciting time that the young engineers had in Arizona, but they at last got away with their lives and were at the same time immensely successful in their undertaking.
In "The Young Engineers In Nevada" we found our young friends under changed conditions. While at work in Colorado and in Arizona Tom and Harry had studied the occurrence of precious ores, and also the methods of assaying and extracting ores. Having their time wholly to themselves after finishing in Arizona the dauntless young pair went to Nevada, there to study mining at first hand. In time they located a mining claim, though there were other claimants, and around this latter fact hung an extremely exciting story. Both young engineers nearly lost their lives in Nevada, and met with many strenuous situations. Their sole idea in pushing their mine forward to success was that the money so earned would enable them to further their greatest ambition; they longed to have their own engineering offices. In the end, their mine, which the young engineers had named "The Ambition," proved a success. Thereupon they left their mining partner, Jim Ferrers, in charge and went east to open their offices.
We next found the young engineers engaged to the south of the United States border. These adventures were fully set forth in the preceding volume in this series, entitled "The Young Engineers in Mexico." Tom and Harry, engaged to solve some problems in a great Mexican mine, found themselves the intended tools of a pair of mine swindlers of wealth and influence. From their first realization of the swindle Tom and Harry, even in the face of threats of assured death, held out for an honest course. How they struggled to save a syndicate of American investors from being swindled out of millions of dollars was splendidly told in that fourth volume.
And now we find our young friends down at the gulf coast town of Blixton, Alabama. Here they are engaged in a kind of engineering work wholly unlike any they had hitherto undertaken. The owners of the Melliston Steamship Line, with a fleet of twenty-two freight steamships engaged in the West Indian and Central American trade, had looked in vain for suitable dock accommodations for their vessels, worth a total of more than six million dollars. In their efforts to improve their service the Melliston owners had found at Blixton a harbor that would have suited them excellently, but for one objection. The bay at Blixton was too open to shelter vessels from the severity of some of the winter gales. Up to the present time Blixton had not been used for harbor purposes. But the Melliston owners had conceived the idea that a great breakwater could be so built as to shelter the waters of the bay. They had quietly bought up most of the shore front of the little town, which had railway connection. Then they had searched about for engineers capable of building the needed breakwater. Reade & Hazelton, hearing of the project, had applied for the work. As the young men furnished most excellent recommendations from former employers they had finally secured the opportunity.
By no means was the task an easy one, as will presently be shown. It was a work that would have to be carried on in the very teeth of jealous Nature. Tom and Harry were fully aware of the great difficulties that lay before them. What they did not know was that they would presently have to contend, also, with forces set loose by wicked human minds. What started these untoward forces in operation, and how the forces worked out, will soon be seen.
Captain of a queer crew was Tom Reade, and Harry was his lieutenant. Of the laborers, seven hundred in number, some four hundred were negroes; there were also two hundred Italians and about a hundred Portuguese. Many, of each race, were skilled masons; others were but unskilled laborers. There were six foremen, all Americans, and a superintendent, also American. There were a few more Americans and two or three Scotchmen, employed as stationary engineers and in similar lines of work.
A touch of the old Arizona trouble had invaded the camp. There had recently been a pay-day, and gamblers had descended upon the camp of tents and shanties. Once more Reade had driven off the gamblers, though this time with less trouble than in Arizona. At Blixton, Tom had merely sent for the four peace officers in the town of Blixton, and had had the gamblers warned out of camp. They had gone, but there had been wrathful mutterings among many of the workmen.
The camp was a half mile back from the water's edge, on a low hillside. Here the men of the outfit were settled. There had been mutinous mutterings among some of the men, but so far there had been no open revolt.
Tom, however, who had had considerable experience in such matters, looked for some form of trouble before the smouldering excitement quieted. So did Harry.
On this dark night Tom had proposed that he and his chum take a stroll down to the shore front to see whether all were well there. Soon after leaving camp behind, the young engineers had started on a jog-trot. Just before they reached the water's edge the wind had borne to their ears the faint report of what must have been an explosion out over the waters of the gulf.
"Trouble!" Tom whispered in his chum's ear. "Most likely some of the rascals that we drove out of camp have been trying to set back our work with dynamite. If they have done so we'll teach 'em a lesson if we can catch them!"
So the young engineers had started out over their narrow retaining wall. We have seen how they had walked most of the distance when Harry had had his sudden warning of the hostile arm uplifted over his head.
"What could it have been?" demanded Tom in a low voice, as he continued to cast the light from his flash lamp out over the waters on either side of the wall.
"It must have been my nervous imagination," admitted Harry. "Whew! But it did seem mighty real for the moment."
"Then you're inclined, now, to believe that it was purely imagination?" pursued Tom.
"Ye—-e—-es, it must have been," assented Harry reluctantly.
Tom made some final casts with the light.
While they were conversing, well past the short radius of the flash lamp's glare, a massive black head bobbed up and down with the waves. Out there the huge negro who had swiftly vanished from the wall, and who had swum under water for a long distance, was indolently treading water. Wholly at home in the gulf, the man's black head blended with the darkness of the water and the blackness of the night.
"Oh, then," suggested Reade, "we may as well go along on our way. Plainly there's nothing human around here to look at but ourselves."
So they started slowly forward over the wall. Leisurely the black man swam to the wall, taking up the dogged trail again in the darkness behind the pair of young engineers.
Several minutes more of cautious walking brought Tom Reade to a startled halt.
"Look there, Harry!" uttered Reade, stopping and throwing the light ahead.
Out beyond them, not far from the end of the wall, some hundred feet of the top had been torn away. For all the young engineers could see, the foundations might have gone with the superstructure.
"Dynamite!" Tom muttered grimly. "So this is the way our newly-found enemies will fight us?"
"It won't be such a big job to repair this gap," muttered Harry calmly.
"No; but it'll take a good many dollars to pay the bills," retorted Tom.
"Well, the expense can't be charged to us, anyway," maintained Harry. "We didn't do this vandal's work, and we didn't authorize its being done."
"No; but you know why it was done, Harry," Tom continued. "It was because we drove the gamblers out of the camp, and thus made enemies for ourselves on both sides of the camp lines."
"Anyway, the company's officers can't blame us for trying to maintain proper order in the camp," Hazelton insisted stoutly.
"Not if we can stop the outrages with this one explosion, perhaps," replied Tom thoughtfully. "Yet, if there are many more tricks like this one played on the wall you'll find that the company's officers will be blaming us all the way up to the skies and down again. Big corporations are all right on enforcing morality until it hits their dividends too hard. Then you'll find that the directors will be urging us to let gambling go on again if the laborers insist on having it."
"Well, we won't have gambling in the camp, anyway," Harry retorted stubbornly. "We're simply looking after the interests of the men themselves. I wonder why they can't see it, and act like men, not fools."
"We're going to stop the gambling, and keep it stopped," Tom went on, his jaws setting firmly together. "But, Harry, we're going to have a big row on our hands, and various attempts against the company's property will be made."
"If the company's officers order us to let up on the gambling," proposed Harry, "we can resign and get out of this business altogether."
"We won't resign, and we won't knuckle down to any lot of swindlers either, Harry!" cried Tom. "Some one is fighting us, and this wreck of a sea-wall is the first proof. All right! If any one wants to fight us he shall find that we know how to fight back, and that we can hit hard. Harry, from this minute on we're after those crooks, and we'll make them realize that there's some sting to us!"
"Good enough!" cheered Hazelton. "I like that old-time fight talk! But are you going to do anything to protect the wall to-night, Tom?"
"I am," announced the young chief engineer.
"What's the plan?"
"Let me think," urged Reade. "Now, I believe, I have it. We'll send one of the motor boats out here, with a foreman and four laborers. They can arm themselves with clubs and patrol the water on both sides of the wall. The 'Thomas Morton' has a small search-light on her that will be of use in keeping a close eye over the wall."
"That ought to stop the nonsense," Harry nodded. "But I don't imagine that any further efforts to destroy the wall will be made tonight, anyway."
"We'll have the night patrol out every night after this," Tom declared. "But I'm not so sure either, that another effort won't be made to-night, if we don't put a watch on to stop this wicked business. Harry, do you mind remaining out here while I run back and get the boat out?"
"Why should I mind?" Hazelton wanted to know.
"Well, I didn't know whether you would, or not—-after seeing that imaginary something behind you."
"Don't laugh at me! I may have had a start, but you ought to be the first to know, Tom, that I haven't frozen feet."
"I do know it, Harry. You've been through too many perils to be suspected of cowardice. Well, then, I'll run back."
Tom Reade had really intended to leave the flash lamp with his chum, but he forgot to do so, and, as he jogged steadily along over the wall he threw the light ahead of him. As he got nearer shore Tom increased his jog to a brisk run.
Once, on the way, he passed the prowling negro without knowing it. That huge fellow, seeing the ray of light come steadily near him, hesitated for a few moments, then took to the water, swimming well out. After Reade had passed, the fellow swam in toward the wall.
Up on the wall climbed the negro. For a few minutes he crouched there, shaking the water from his garments. Then, cautiously, he began to crawl forward.
"Boss Reade, he done gone in," muttered the prowler. "Boss Hazelton, Ah reckon he's mah poultry!"
Harry, keeping his lone vigil away out on the narrow retaining wall, was growing sleepy. He had nearly forgotten his scare. Indeed, he was inclined to look upon it as a trick of his own brain.
THE CALL OF ONE IN TROUBLE
Once Tom Reade reached the solid land he let his long legs out into a brisk run.
With his years of practice on the Gridley High School athletic team he was not one to lose his wind readily.
So he made his way at the same speed all the way up to the camp.
"Who dar?" called a negro watchman, as Tom raced up to the outskirts of the camp.
"Reade, chief engineer," Tom called, then wheeled and made off to the right, where the more substantial barracks of the foremen stood. Superintendent Renshaw lived in a two-story barrack still farther to the right, as the guest of the young engineers.
"Quien vive?" (who's there?) hailed another voice, between the two barracks buildings.
"So, Nicolas, you rascal, you haven't gone to bed?" demanded Tom, halting. "What did I tell you about earlier hours?"
Nicolas was the young Mexican servant whom Tom and Harry had brought back with them from Mexico. Readers of the previous volume know all about this faithful fellow.
"You and Senor Hazelton, you waire not in bed," replied Nicolas stolidly.
"You're not expected to stay up and watch over us as if we were babies, Nicolas," spoke Tom, in a gentler voice. "You'd better turn in now."
"Senor Hazelton, where is he?" insisted Nicolas, anxiously.
"Oh, bother! Never mind where he is," Tom rejoined. "We won't either of us be in for a little while yet. But you turn in now—-at once—-instanter!"
Then Tom bounded over to the little porch before the foremen's barracks, where he pounded lustily on the door.
"Who's there? What's wanted?" demanded a sleepy voice from the inside.
"Is that you, Evarts?" called Reade.
"Get on your duds and turn out as quickly as you can."
"You want me?" yawned Evarts.
"Now, see here, my man, if I didn't want you why on earth would I call you out in the middle of the night?"
"It's late," complained Evarts.
"I know it. That's why I want you to get behind yourself and push yourself," retorted the young chief engineer energetically. "Hustle!"
Twice, while he waited impatiently, Tom kicked the toe of one boot against the door to emphasize the need of haste. Other drowsy voices remonstrated.
"Hang a man who has to sleep all the time!" grunted Tom Reade.
After several minutes the door opened, and a lanky, loose-jointed, lantern-jawed man of some forty-odd years stepped out.
"Well, what's up, Mr. Reade?" questioned the foreman, hiding a yawn behind a bony, hairy hand.
"You are, at last, thank goodness!" Tom exclaimed. "Evarts, I want you to rout out four good men. Lift 'em to their feet and begin to throw the clothes on 'em!"
"It's pretty late to call men out of their beds, sir," mildly objected the foreman.
"No—-it's early, but it can't be helped," Tom Reade retorted. "Hustle 'em out!"
"Black or white?" sleepily inquired Evarts.
"White, and Americans at that," Tom retorted. "Put none but Americans on guard tonight, Evarts! What do you suppose has happened?"
"No! You're still too sleepy. Evarts, some scoundrels have blown out a good part of our wall yonder."
"Are you joking, Mr. Reade?"
"No, sir; I am not. Dynamite must have been used. Hazelton and I heard the noise of the blast, but of course we got out there too late to catch any miscreant at the job."
Evarts, at first, was inclined to regard the news with mild disbelief, but he soon realized that something must have happened very nearly as the young chief engineer had described.
"Well, what are you standing there for?" Tom demanded, impatiently. "Are you going to wait for daylight? Get the four men out—-all Americans, mind you. Hustle, man!"
Evarts started away; toward the camp over to the left of them. As he did so Tom darted in another direction. Two minutes later Tom was back, piloting by one arm a man who was still engaged in rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. This was Conlon, engineer of the motor boat, "Morton."
"Where's Evarts?" Reade queried, impatiently. "Oh, Evarts! Where are you, and what are you doing?"
"Trying to get four men awake," bawled back the voice of the foreman, from the distance. "As soon as I get one man on his feet the other three have sunk back to sleep."
"Wait until I get over there then!" called Tom, striding forward. "Come along, Conlon! Don't you lag on me."
"There! Do you fellows reckon you want Mr. Reade to bump in here and shake you out?" sounded the warning voice of Evarts.
As Tom and the motor boat's engine tender reached the little, box-like shack from which Evarts's tones proceeded, four men, seated on the floor, were seen to be lacing their shoes by the dim light of a lantern.
"A nice lot you are!" called Tom crisply. "How many hours does it take you to get awake when you're called in the middle of the night?"
"This overtime warn't in the agreement," sleepily retorted one of the men.
"You're wrong there," Reade informed him, vehemently. "Overtime is in the agreement for every man in this camp when it's wanted of him—-from the chief engineer all along the line. Now, you men oblige me by hustling. I don't want to wait more than sixty seconds for the last man of you."
"I've a good mind to crawl back into my bunk," growled another of the men.
"All right," retorted Tom Reade, with suspicious cheerfulness. "Try it and see what kind of fireworks I carry concealed on my person. Or, just lag a little bit on me, and you'll see the same thing. Men, do you realize that there's foul play afoot out on the retaining wall? We've got to go out there in time to stop anything more happening. Now, you've got your shoes on; grab the rest of your clothing and hustle it on as we make for the beach. Come along!"
Tom fairly got behind the men and pushed them outside. They would have liked to complain, but they didn't. Some of them were larger and heavier than the chief engineer, but they knew quite well that, at sign of any trifling mutiny to-night, Reade would thrash them all.
"If any one is trying to blow up the wall, Mr. Reade, it's all your fault, anyway," ventured Evarts, as the little party started at a brisk walk for the beach. "When you've got a mixed crowd of men working for you, you shouldn't interfere too much with their amusements. Yet you would have the gamblers run out of camp just when our boys were getting ready to have some pleasant evenings."
"I'll run out any one else who attempts to bring disorderly doings into this camp," Tom retorted quietly.
"Then there'll be some more of your seawalls blown up," Evarts warned him gloomily.
"If such a thing happens again there'll be some men hurt, and some others breaking into prison," Tom answered with spirit. "Any evildoers that try to set themselves up in business around here will soon wish they had kept away—-that's all."
"It's a bad business," insisted Evarts, wagging his head. "When you have a mixed crowd of workmen—-"
"I think you've said that before," Tom broke in coolly. "To-night we're in too much of a hurry to listen to the same thing twice. Come on, men. You can go a little faster than a walk. Jog a bit—-I'll show you how."
"This is pretty hard on men in the middle of the night," hinted Evarts, after the jogging had gone on for a full minute. "It ain't right to——-"
"Stop it, Evarts!" Tom cut in crisply. "I don't mind a little grumbling at the right time, and I often do a bit myself, but not when I'm as rushed as I am to-night. There's the dock ahead, men—-a little faster spurt now!"
Tom urged his men along to the dock. With no loss of time they tumbled aboard the "Morton," a broad, somewhat shallow, forty-foot motor boat of open construction.
"Get up and take the wheel, Evarts," Tom. directed. "Get at work on your spark, Conlon, and I'll throw the drive-wheel over for you. Some of you men cast, off!"
In a very short time the "Morton" was going "put-put-put" away from the dock.
Tom, after seeing that everything was moving satisfactorily, turned around to look at the four men huddled astern.
"Don't any of you go to sleep," he urged. "A good part of our success depends on how well you all keep awake and use your eyes and ears."
That said, Tom Reade hastened forward, stationing himself close to Evarts, who had the steering wheel.
Some of the men astern began to talk.
"Silence, if you please," Tom called softly. "Don't talk except on matters of business. We want to be able to use our ears. Conlon, make your engine a little less noisy if you can."
Now Reade had leisure to wonder how matters had gone with Harry Hazelton.
"Of course that threatening figure Harry saw behind him was an imaginary one," Tom said to himself, but he felt uneasy nevertheless.
A few moments later Reade clutched at one of Evarts's arms.
"Did you hear that, man?" the young engineer demanded.
"Hear what?" Evarts wanted to know.
"It sounded like a yell out there yonder," Tom rejoined.
"Didn't hear it, Mr. Reade."
"There it goes again!" cried Tom, leaping up. "Some one is calling my name. It must be Harry Hazelton, and he must want help. Conlon, slam it to that engine of yours!"
VANISHING INTO THIN AIR
Left by himself Harry had stood, at first, motionless, or nearly so. He strained his hearing in trying to detect any unusual sound of the night, since it was so dark that vision would not aid him much.
There was nothing, however, but the mournful sighing of the wind and the lapping of the waves. It seemed to Hazelton that the wind was growing gradually more brisk and the waves larger, but he was not sure of that until the water commenced splashing across his shoes. The footway on the masonry became more slippery in consequence.
"With these rocks well wet down I wouldn't care much about having to run back to the land," muttered Harry, dryly. "However, I won't have to go back on my own feet. Tom will have the boat out here, and undoubtedly he will plan to have us both taken back to shore after we get through cruising around here. We should have brought the boat out in the first place."
A night bird screamed, then flapped its wings close to Harry's face in its flight past him. The young engineer saw the moving wings for an instant; then they vanished into the black beyond.
Farther out some other kind of bird screamed. The whole situation was a weird one, but Harry was no coward, though a less courageous youth would have found the situation hard on his nerves.
Still another night bird screamed, of some species with which Hazelton was wholly unacquainted. The cry was answered by some sort of strange call from the shore.
"It's a fine thing that I'm not superstitious," laughed the young engineer to himself, "or I'd surely feel cold chills chasing each other up and down my spine."
As it was, Harry shivered slightly, though not from fear. With the increasing wind it was growing chilly out there for one who could not warm himself with exercise.
"It's a long time, or it seems so," muttered the young engineer presently. "Yet I'll wager that Tom is hustling himself and others on the very jump."
Again the call of a night bird, and once more a sound from shore seemed to answer it.
"Real birds?" wondered Hazelton, with a start of sudden curiosity. "Or have I been listening to human signals? If so, the signals can't cover any good or honest purpose."
That train of thought set him to listening more acutely than before. Yet, as no more calls reached his ears the attention of the young engineer soon began to flag.
The monotonous lapping of the waves against the stone wall, the constant splashing of water over the rocks and the steady blowing of the wind all tended to make the watcher feel drowsy.
"What on earth can be keeping good old Tom?" Harry wondered, more than once.
It would have been well, indeed, had Harry kept his eyes turned oftener toward the shore end of the wall. In that case he might more speedily have detected the wriggling, snake-like movement of the big negro moving toward him.
With great caution the huge prowler came onward, raising his head a few inches every now and then and listening. The black man's nostrils moved feverishly. He was using them, as a dog would have done, to scent any signs of alarm on the part of the human quarry that he was after.
At last Harry Hazelton turned sharply, for his own ears were attuned to the stillnesses of the western forests and his hearing was unusually acute. He had just heard a sound on the wall, not far away. Instantly the young engineer was on the alert.
Then his eyes, piercing the darkness, made out the crawling, dark form, which did not appear to be more than fifty feet away from him.
For a second or two Harry stared. But he knew there could be no snake as broad as this crawling figure appeared to be.
"Who's there?" Hazelton called quickly.
The writhing mass became still, flattening itself against the bed of rock. Hazelton was not to be deceived, however.
"Who's there?" Harry repeated. "You had better talk up, my man!"
Still no sound. Harry started forward to investigate. His foot touched against a good sized fragment of rock left there by one of the masons.
Without delay Harry reached down, picking up the rock, which was rather more than half as large as his head.
Holding this in his right hand Harry advanced with still more confidence, for he felt himself to be armed. Hazelton had been a clever pitcher in his high school days and knew that he could make this fragment of rock land pretty close to where he wanted it to go.
"Who are you?" demanded Hazelton, once more, as he stepped cautiously forward. "No use in your keeping silent, my man. I see you and know that you're there. Moreover, I'm going to drag the truth out of you as to what you're doing out here on the wall at this hour of the night—-and to-night of all nights."
Still no answer; Harry went steadily forward, until he was within a dozen feet of the head of the flattened brute in human guise. Hazelton could now see every line of his adversary plainly, though he could not make out the fellow's face.
"You'd better get up and talk," warned Harry, poising the rock fragment for a throw. "If you don't you'll cast all the more suspicion upon yourself. For the last time, my man, who are you and what are you doing here?"
The huge black figure might have been a log for all the answer that came forth.
"All right, then; it's your own fault," Harry Hazelton continued calmly. "As you won't speak I'm going to crack the nut for myself. Your head will be the nut, and this rock I have in my hand shall be the hammer. I'm going to slam this rock on your head with all the force I've got, and I'm a good, straight thrower."
Yet, though Hazelton spoke with such confidence, he was far from meaning all he said. In the first place, he had no legal right, under the circumstances, to go as close to murder as it might be for him to throw the rock at the rascal's head. Moreover, Harry would hardly have exercised such a legal right, had he possessed it, without the strongest provocation.
From the black prowler came a sudden, fierce snort. It sounded altogether like defiance.
"Ho—-ho! You're finding your voice, are you, my man?" Hazelton jeered. "Then talk up in time to save yourself!"
Instead the huge black man began to writhe forward.
"Stop that!" ordered Harry dangerously. He did not retreat from the writhing human thing, but he took better aim, noting that the black man was hatless and that his head offered a fair mark. "You're going to get hurt in just about a second more," he added.
Uttering another snort the bulky black sprang to his feet with surprising agility in one of his great size.
Harry now let his right hand fall back quickly. He was poising for the throw in earnest, for there could no longer be any doubt that the stranger was planning a deadly assault.
"Take it, then, since you want it!" snapped out Harry Hazelton. The fragment of rock left his hand, propelled with force and directed with accurate aim at the negro's face.
But the crafty black dodged just in time, at the same instant throwing up his hands.
Harry gasped as he saw his unknown assailant deftly catch the rock fragment as though it had been a base ball.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" jeered the black, in a hoarse, rumbling voice.
He threw back his hand, gathering impetus for the cast. Hazelton could do nothing but throw himself on the defensive, planning to duplicate the black man's catch.
Then the stone came—-but it did not go high, instead, by a jerk of his wrist, the negro hurled it at Harry's right foot.
That granite-like fragment struck Hazelton's foot with full force.
"You—-you scoundrel!" groaned Harry, in an all but admiring gasp.
Like a flash he bent over, snatching up the fragment for his own use.
"Now, I'll slam you into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico!" cried the young engineer, vengefully, as he tried to straighten up.
A groan escaped him. His injured foot was paining him more than he had expected.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" harshly jeered this mysterious, evil creature. The black man had halted as Harry prepared to throw, but he showed no sign of hesitation. Though he stood still, he thrust his repulsive, leering face forward, as though to offer that face as the best mark.
Harry found that he could not stand straight—-the pain in his injured foot was now too intense.
"Get back with you!" ordered Harry. "Get back if you don't want a heap worse than you gave me."
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" came the sneering laugh. Then the stranger reached out his hands as though to seize the youth.
"I guess I'll have to do it—-though not because I really want to hurt you!" muttered Harry ruefully.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!"
There could be no question that the unknown was merely playing with him. Little as he liked to make the ugly throw Harry knew that he had to do it. When Hazelton had anything to do he believed in doing it well. So, putting all possible force into his throw, Harry let the rock fragment fly, and this time he was sure that his enemy would not be able to dodge in time.
Nor did the black man make any seeming effort to dodge.
Bump! Squarely in the black face the rock landed. Harry heard the sound and felt ill within himself. Yet the black man did not stagger. With a contemptuous snort he kicked the fragment of rock into the water as it landed at his feet.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!"
For the first time Harry Hazelton felt positively dismayed. He saw the long, massive arms moving, looking like a powerful ape's arms. There could be no doubt that the unknown was ready for a spring.
Harry did not retreat. Where could he run to? Only a few yards could he go out towards the end of the wall. Then, if he wished to continue his flight he could only take to the water.
Only a glance was needed at the bulky, powerful frame of the unknown to make it appear certain that the latter could swim two rods to the young engineer's one.
Harry decided instantly to stand his ground and to make the most valiant fight possible on so slippery a footing as that presented by the top of the retaining wall.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!"
It was as though the black unknown sought to terrify his intended victim with his repetitions of that harsh, discordant laugh. Harry braced himself and waited.
Then, off shoreward, came the sound of "put-put-put." The motor boat, "Morton," was putting out at last.
"If I can keep this fellow busy for a few minutes, I can have all the help I want," flashed through Hazelton's mind. So he opened his mouth, raising his voice in a long, pent-up hail.
"R e—-e—-e a d e! To—-o—-o—-om R e a d e! Quick! Hazelton!"
"Ha, ha!" jeered the unknown black.
Then, suddenly, he leaped—-not unexpectedly, however, for Harry had been watching, cat-like.
The unknown threw out his arms, seeking to wrap them around Hazelton.
Not in vain had Harry been trained, season after season, on the athletic ground of one of the best high school elevens in the United States.
As the fellow leaped at him Harry crouched lower and went straight at his opponent.
Powerful as the stranger was he was no football player. Harry "tackled" him in the neatest possible way, then strove to rise with this great human being.
In the first instant it seemed to the young engineer as though he were trying to lift a mountain. His back felt as though it were snapping under a giant's task. Yet, but for one fact, Hazelton would have risen with his man, and would have hurled the mysterious one over into the waters of the gulf.
Just in the instant of victory Harry's injured right foot gave out under him. With a stifled groan he sank down just as he threw his opponent.
The black, instead of going into the water, landed hard on his back on the top of the wall. He was up again, however, before Hazelton could repress the pain in his foot and leap at the wretch.
"Ha, ha! Ho, ho!" came the tantalizing challenge.
"Put-put-put!" sounded over the water, coming nearer all the time.
"Re—-e—-e—-e a d e! T o m R e a d e! Help—-quick!" yelled Harry, lustily.
This, doubtless, was the first call that Tom, at the bow of the motor boat, thought he heard.
Uttering a snort, this time, instead of the laugh, the black sprang at his intended prey. Their heads met, with considerable force. Then, with a wild chuckle, the black wound his apelike arms around the young engineer.
"Reade! Tom Reade! Reade!" bellowed Hazelton lustily, as he tried desperately to free himself from the crushing embrace of the other.
* * * * *
Over the waters came the penetrating beam of a small search-light. The "Morton" was coming nearer all the time, but the ray did not yet reach with any great clearness the point where Harry Hazelton had been fighting for his life against his strange foe in the black night.
"Keep parallel with the wall, Evarts," Tom ordered, crisply. "Conlon, are you pushing the engines for all it's worth?"
"Yes, sir," came from the engine-tender. "This old craft isn't good for quite seven miles' an hour, anyway."
"There! Now I've picked up the part of the wall where there isn't any wall in sight just now," said Tom, wincing over his own bull. "Hazelton ought to be just this side of there."
"There's no one near the breach," replied Evarts.
"So I see," Reade admitted, in a tone of worriment. "Oh, well, Harry isn't such an infant as to be wiped out all in one moment."
"Where is Mr. Hazelton then?" inquired Evarts, as Tom swung the arc of the searchlight in broad curves.
"Great Scott! I wish I knew!" gasped Reade, his perplexity and his anxiety growing with every second. "There appears to be no one on top of the wall."
Evarts ran in within a few feet of the wall, on the shore-side of the breach.
"Shall I land you there, sir?" questioned the foreman.
"Presently," Tom nodded. "But now, back out a few feet and swing the boat's nose around so that I can make a search with this light." Evarts obeyed the order. Despite the smallness of the light, Reade was able to send the searching beam of light back nearly one-half of the way to shore. Nowhere was there any human being visible on the wall.
"Harry! Hazelton!" bawled Tom, with all the power in his lungs.
There was no answer.
"Jupiter! You'll have to land me, I reckon," quaked Tom Reade. "Drive her nose in—-gently. I'll be ready to jump."
"Be careful how you do jump," warned Evarts. "It's mighty slippery on that wall tonight."
Tom poised himself as the boat moved in close. Then he took a light leap, landing safely.
Here the young chief engineer again brought his pocket flash lamp into play. Closely he scanned the top of the wall all around where he knew he had left his chum.
But Harry was nowhere to be seen, nor, on the wet wall, could Tom find any signs of a scuffle, or any other sign that gave him a clue.
"Evarts, this is mighty mysterious!" groaned the young chief.
"Unless—-" hinted the foreman.
"Perhaps Mr. Hazelton ran along the walltop to the shore."
"He'd have hailed us, then, in passing, wouldn't he?" choked Tom Reade. "Besides, I had the light playing on this wall most of the way. If he had run back we would have seen him, even if he hadn't hailed. And he couldn't have run farther out to seaward. Evarts, I'm downright worried."
Tom Reade might indeed well be worried over the grewsome mysteries of this night of evil deeds.
SOME ONE CALLS AGAIN
Half an hour later Tom Reade leaped ashore at the little pier.
"My orders, Mr. Reade."
"They're brief and concise," Tom rejoined. "You're to cruise the length of the wall, especially farther out from shore. Use your searchlight freely. Keep the wall so guarded that no rascal can slip out there, either over the wall or by boat, and do any damage. Mr. Evarts, the safety of the wall until daylight is your whole charge."
"Very good, sir. But I'm sure that nothing more will happen to the wall."
"If anything does it will be up to you, Mr. Evarts," Tom assured him grimly. "I'll hold you responsible."
"I won't let anything happen, Mr. Reade. And I hope you find Mr. Hazelton all right."
"He may be up at camp," Tom answered, though in his heart he did not believe it.
Had Harry escaped whatever danger had menaced him, Tom knew very well that his chum, after appealing for help, would by some means have signaled his subsequent safety.
However, Tom started toward camp at a run. He was wholly mystified. The search in the neighborhood of the breach in the wall had been continued until its hopelessness had been fully demonstrated. The search had also been continued over the water, for a possible clue to the mystery.
Though Tom ran, he felt himself choking, stifling. Despite all his efforts to cheer himself the young chief engineer felt certain that his chum had mysteriously met his fate, and that brave, dependable Harry Hazelton was no more.
Yet how could he have vanished so completely, and what possibly could have happened to his assailant or assailants?
"It'll be an awful night, until daylight," Tom groaned inwardly, as he ran. "At daylight, of course, we can make a far better search, especially over the water. But in the hours that must elapse—-! It's going to be a tough period of waiting!"
Arrived at camp, Tom made straight for his own barracks, letting himself in with a latch-key as soon as he could control his shaking hand sufficiently to use the key.
Tom bounded straight for the bed-room of the superintendent, at the rear of the little building.
"Mr. Renshaw!" shouted the young chief, throwing open the bed-room door.
The barrack was lighted by electricity. Tom threw on the light, then wheeled toward the bed, to find the superintendent sitting up, revolver in hand.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" gasped the superintendent. "Mr. Reade, in my stupor from being aroused I was just on the point of shooting you for a burglar. It's awful!"
"You ought to throw that revolver to the bottom of the gulf," Tom rasped out.
"Not much!" retorted the superintendent. "Handling as mixed a crew as we have on this work I wouldn't think of going about unarmed. And you ought to go armed, too, Mr. Reade."
"Bosh!" uttered Tom. He had a well-known objection to carrying a pistol. Reade always maintained that a pistol-carrying man was a coward. A coward is one who is afraid, and the man who is not afraid has no reason to carry a weapon.
"Renshaw," added Tom, "there's just one circumstance in which I would carry a pistol—-and that is, if I were carrying large sums of other people's money. If I were a pay-master, or a bank messenger, I'd carry a pistol, but under no other circumstances, outside of military service, would I carry a weapon. But—-are you thoroughly awake, now?"
"Then, Mr. Renshaw, get up and hide that pistol somewhere. While you're about it, listen to me. Some scoundrel has blown out a large portion of our retaining wall to-night. I left Hazelton on guard at the point and came ashore to get out the motor boat, 'Morton.' Before I could return I heard Hazelton's call for help, and—-he has disappeared! There's wicked work on hand to-night. You'll have to get up and help me. Be quick with your dressing. We've work to do to-night, and all of it is man's work."
Tom hastily added such other particulars as were needed. Renshaw, while he dressed hurriedly, listened with a horror that he took no pains to conceal.
"Evarts claims that it's revenge work, on the part of some of our men, because Hazelton and I stopped gambling in the camp," Tom continued.
"It might be," Renshaw admitted thoughtfully. "But to me it seems that there must be a lot more behind the whole terrible matter."
"That's the way it strikes me, too," Tom nodded. "However, you're dressed, so now we can hurry out and get busy."
"What shall we do first?" Superintendent Renshaw inquired.
"That's what I've been thinking over while you were dressing," Tom replied. "Of course the one thing of real importance is to find Hazelton."
"Killed, beyond a doubt," replied the older man.
"I refuse to believe it," Tom retorted. "There's a mystery in his fate, but I simply won't believe that Harry has been killed."
"Then why didn't you hear from him further?"
"That's the mystery."
Tom had shaped their course for the barracks occupied by the foremen. He bounded upon the little porch and began to hammer on the door with both fists.
"Turn out, everybody!" Tom bellowed. "Every foreman is on duty to-night. Show a light, and let us in as soon as you can."
Some one was heard stirring. Then Dill, one of the foremen, admitted the callers.
"Are all the others up?" Reade asked, sharply.
"Good! Tell your associates to finish dressing as quickly as possible and to meet me in the office."
"The office" was a little room just inside the entrance to the building. It was a room where the foremen sat and chatted in the evenings.
"Put a double-hustle on, everyone," Tom called after Dill.
Barely three minutes had passed when all of the six remaining foremen had assembled. Tom plunged instantly into a brief account of what had happened.
"It seems to me, sir—-" Dill began.
"Keep it to yourself, then, if you please," Tom interrupted him gently. "We haven't any time for opinions to-night. What we want is swift, intelligent work, and a lot of it."
Tom thereupon gave each man his directions.
"Now, each of you go to your own gangs in the camp," he added. "Wake what men you need and put 'em to work. If any of the men object to being taken from their cots in the night, just lift them out. Don't stand any nonsense. Let each foreman make it his business to know just what the men under him are doing."
One foreman was to take men with lanterns and go out carefully over every foot of the seawall. Another was to organize a beach patrol. Still another, with but two men, was to go into the town of Blixton and see if any tidings of Hazelton could be obtained there. To one foreman fell the task of searching carefully through camp before going to other work assigned to him.
"Now, get to work, all of you," Tom ordered. "As an extra inducement you can tell your men that the one who finds Hazelton, whether dead or alive, shall have a reward of one hundred dollars. Remember the watchword for to-night, which is, 'hustle!'"
In all, some sixty men were pulled from their cots. Tom, having given the orders, walked down to the beach with his superintendent.
"You've covered everything that's possible, I think, Mr. Reade," commented the foreman.
"I think I have. But there won't be any rest for any one until we have found Hazelton."
"Are you going to have the water dragged?"
"Not before daylight—-perhaps not then," Reade replied. "I can't bring myself to believe that Harry was thrown into the water and that he drowned there."
"It'll take the chief a day or two to realize that," sighed the superintendent to himself. "Yet that is exactly what has happened. The chief won't believe it, though, until the body is found."
Down on the beach there was really nothing for Tom and his head man to do after the arrival of the foremen and their gangs. Everything went ahead in an orderly manner.
"I don't suppose you could get any rest, under the circumstances, Mr. Reade," hinted the superintendent, "yet that is just what you are going to need."
"Rest?" echoed Tom, gazing at the man, in a strange, wide-eyed way, while a grim smile flickered around the corners of his mouth. "What have rest and I to do with each other just now?"
"Yet there's nothing you can do here."
"I am here, anyway," Reade retorted. "I'm on the spot—-that's something."
"Let me run back to the house and get you some blankets," urged the superintendent. "Then you can lie down on the sand and rest. Of course I know you can't sleep at present."
"It is not necessary go back," volunteered a voice behind them. "I have the blankets."
"Nicolas!" gasped Tom, in surprise. "How did you know I was here?"
"I wake up when you talk to Meester Renshaw," replied the Mexican simply. "I listen. I know, now—-poor Senor Hazelton!"
Nicolas's voice broke, and, as he stepped closer, Tom beheld some large tears trickling down the little Mexican's face.
"Nicolas, you're a good fellow!" cried Tom, impulsively, "but I don't want the blankets. Spread them on the sand, then lie down on them yourself until I need you."
"What—-me? I lie down?" demanded Nicolas. "No, no! That impossible is. I must walk, walk! Me? I am like the caged panther to-night. I want nothing but find the enemy who have hurt Senor Hazelton. Then I jump on the back of that enemy!"
Saying which Nicolas saluted, and, as became his position of servant, fell back some yards. But first he had dropped the blankets to the beach.
The light of lanterns showed that the men of one gang were searching thoroughly all along the top of the wall. Once in a while a man belonging to the beach patrol passed the chief engineer and the superintendent, reporting only that no signs of Harry had been found.
An hour thus passed. Then, from over the water, as the lantern-bearing searchers were returning, a dull explosion boomed across the water.
"Great Scott!" quivered Tom. "There they go at it again, Mr. Renshaw! Another section of the retaining wall has gone—-blown up!"
WANTED—-DAYLIGHT AND DIVERS
In a trice the foreman of the gang on the wall wheeled his men about, running them out seaward toward the scene of the latest explosion. That much was plain from the twinkling of the rapidly-moving lanterns.
"Come on, Renshaw!" Tom shouted. "You, too, Nicolas. You can pull an oar."
Reade was already racing out on to the small dock. He all but threw himself into a rowboat that lay tied alongside.
"Cast off and get in," Tom ordered his companions, as he pushed out a pair of oars. "Nicolas, you're also good with a pair of oars. Mr. Renshaw, you take the tiller. Inform me instantly when you see the first gleam of the 'Morton's' search-light. Evarts ought to have caught the scoundrels this time. Evidently he's been cruising softly without showing a light."
Mr. Renshaw gathered up the tiller ropes as Tom pushed off from the dock. Then the chief engineer addressed himself to the task of rowing. His firm muscles, working at their best, shot the little craft ahead. Nicolas, at the bow oars, did his best to keep up with his chief in the matter of rowing, though the Mexican was neither an oarsman nor an athlete.
"Don't you make out the motor boat's lights yet?" Tom asked impatiently, after the first long spurt of rowing.
"Not yet, sir," replied the superintendent. "I shan't miss the light when it shows."
A few minutes later the superintendent announced in a low voice:
"There's some craft, motionless, just a bit ahead."
Tom, without stopping his work at the oars, turned enough to glance forward.
"Why, it's—-it's the 'Morton'!" he gasped.
"I believe it is," declared the superintendent, staring keenly at the nearly shapeless black mass ahead.
Tom, with his jaws set close, bent harder than ever at the oars.
"Senor!" wailed Nicolas, gaspingly. "If you do not go more easily I shall expire for lack of breath. I cannot keep up with you."
Reade fell into a slower, stronger stroke.
"Drop the oars any time you want to, Nicolas," Reade urged. "There won't be much more rowing to do, anyway."
Presently Tom himself rested on his oars, as the boat, moving under its own headway, approached the motor boat.
"Going to board her on the quarter?" the superintendent asked.
"No; by the bow," Tom answered. "Let go the tiller ropes. I'll pull alongside."
As they started to pass the boat a sound reached them that made Reade grow wild with anger. Snore after snore, from five busy sleepers!
Tom pulled softly up to the bow.
"There's the anchor cable!" snorted Tom, Pointing to a rope that ran from the bow of the "Morton" down into the water. "Did you ever see more wicked neglect of important duty? And not even a lantern out to mark her berth! Get aboard, Mr. Renshaw, and go aft to start the engine. Nicolas, you take this boat astern and make fast. Don't wake the sleepers—-poor, tired shirkers!"
Tom, in utter disgust, leaped aboard the boat at the bow. There, behind the wheel, Evarts lay on the floor of the boat, his rolled-up coat serving as a pillow.
Almost noiselessly Tom hauled up the light anchor. Then he stood by the wheel.
"All ready at the engine, Mr. Reade!" called the superintendent, softly.
"Let her go," Tom returned, "as soon as Nicolas boards."
The Mexican was quickly aboard, after having made the rowboat's painter fast.
"Headway!" announced Renshaw, throwing over the drive-wheel of the engine.
"Put-put-put!" sputtered the motor. Then the "Morton" began really to move. With the first real throb of the engine the electric running lights gleamed out.
Aft Conlon began to stir. Then he opened his eyes.
"What—-" he began.
"Silence!" commanded Mr. Renshaw.
"Tell me who's at the wheel?" Conlon begged.
"Mr. Reade," replied the superintendent, dryly. "Now, keep still!"
"Whew—-ew—-ew!" whistled Conlon, in dire dismay. Then he sank back, watching the engine with moody eyes. The other three men aft still slept.
Presently Tom, in shifting his position, touched one foot lightly against the foreman's head. Evarts half-awoke, then realized that the boat was moving.
"Who started this craft against my orders?" he drowsily demanded, as he sat up.
"I did," Tom retorted witheringly, "though I didn't hear your orders to the contrary."
"You—-Mr. Reade?" gasped the foreman, leaping to his feet.
"Yes—-and a fine fellow you are to trust!" Tom rejoined. "I leave you with very definite orders, and you go to sleep. Then there's another explosion out on the wall and you sleep right along."
"Another explosion?" blurted Evarts, rubbing his eyes with his fists. "Here, let me have that wheel, sir. I'll have you out there quick!"
"You've nothing more to do here," Tom answered, dryly, without yielding the wheel.
"What do you mean by that?" Evarts cried quickly.
"Can't you guess?" wondered Reade.
"Mr. Reade means," said Conlon, who had come forward, "that we're fired—-discharged."
"Nonsense!" protested Evarts.
"Conlon has guessed rightly, as far as you're concerned," Tom continued. "To-morrow, Evarts, you go to Mr. Renshaw and get your pay. As for you, Conlon, you're not discharged this time. Evarts admitted himself that it was he who gave positive orders to tie the boat up at anchor. You were under his orders, so I can't hold you responsible. Are you wide awake, now?"
"Yes, sir," answered Conlon meekly.
"Then go back and attend to your engine. Look sharp for hail or bell."
"I guess you'll find you can't quite get along without me," argued Evarts moodily. "You'll find that you need me to manage some of the men you've got."
"You're through with this job, as I just did you the honor to inform you," Tom responded quietly. "To-morrow Mr. Renshaw will pay you off up to date."
"If I'm bounced, then you'll pay me for the balance of the month, anyway!" snarled the foreman defiantly. "You can't drop me without notice like that."
"You'll be paid to date only," Tom retorted. "You've been discharged for wilful and serious neglect of duty, and you're not entitled to pay for the balance of the month."
"All right, then," retorted the other hotly. "I'll collect my money through the courts. I'll show you!"
"Just as you please," Reade replied indifferently. "But I imagine any court will consider seven dollars a day pretty large pay for a man who goes to sleep on duty."
"See here, I'll—-"
"You'll keep quiet, Evarts, or you'll go overboard," Reade interrupted significantly. "I happen to know that you can swim, so I won't be bothered with you here if you insist on making a nuisance of yourself."
Mr. Renshaw, having been relieved at the engine, now came forward.
"Mr. Renshaw," directed the young chief engineer, "as soon after daylight as it is convenient for you you'll pay Evarts off in full to date and let him go. He threatens to sue if he is not paid to the end of the month, but if he wants to we'll let the courts do our worrying."
"All right, sir," nodded the superintendent.
Evarts had dropped into a seat just forward of the engine. He sat there, regarding Tom Reade with a baleful look of hate.
"You're a success, all right, at one thing, and that's making enemies," muttered the discharged foreman under his breath.
Besides attending to the wheel Tom now reached out with one hand and switched on the search-light, which he manipulated with one hand. Shortly he found the spot where the portion of the wall had been blown away by the first explosion. A hundred and fifty yards farther out he beheld the work of the second explosion. Some seventy-five yards in length was the new open space, where at least as much of the retaining wall as was visible above the water had been blown out.
"Slow down, Cordon," ordered Tom. "All we want is headway."
"All right, sir."
Tom drifted in within a few feet of the former site of the retaining wall. The "Morton" moved slowly by, Tom, by the aid of the searchlight, noting the extent of the disaster.
"Get back aft, Evarts," ordered the young engineer, turning and beholding the late foreman. "We don't want you here."
For a moment or two it looked as though Evarts would refuse. Then, with a growl, he rose and picked his way aft. By this time the other men who had been in his gang were awake. They regarded their former foreman with no great display of sympathy.
"I'll confess I'm mystified," muttered Tom, watching the scene of the latest explosion for some minutes after the engine had been stopped. "When daylight comes and we can use the divers we ought to know a bit more about how such a big blast is worked in the dead of night when the scoundrels ought to make noise enough to be heard. It must have been a series of connected blasts, all touched off at the same moment, Mr. Renshaw, but even such a series is by no means easy to lay. And then the blasts have to be drilled for, and then tamped."
"As you say, sir," replied the superintendent, "a much clearer idea can be formed when we have daylight and the divers."
Tom held his watch to one side of the searchlight.
"Nearly two hours yet until daylight, Mr. Renshaw," he announced. "And, of course, it will be two or three hours after daylight before we can get the divers at work. A fearful length of time to wait!"
"You'd better go back to the shore, sir," urged the superintendent.
"Not while this boat needs to be run," objected Reade. "For the rest of the night I want a man here whom I can trust."
"Will you trust me with the boat?" proposed the superintendent.
"Why, of course!"
"Then let me run back to the dock and put you ashore, Mr. Reade. After that I'll come out here and patrol along the wall until broad daylight."
That was accordingly done. The "Morton" lay alongside the dock, and Nicolas instantly busied himself with casting off the rowboat and making her fast to the pier instead.
Evarts sullenly remained in the boat.
"Come on, Evarts," spoke Tom quietly.
"Mr. Reade," expostulated the late foreman, "I'm not going to be thrown out of my job like this."
"Which especial way of being thrown out do you prefer then?" Tom queried, dryly.
"I'm not going to be put out of my job until I've had at least one good talk with you," insisted the foreman.
"I'm afraid the time has passed for talking with you," Reade responded, turning toward the shore. "You lost a great chance, to-night, to serve the company with distinction, and your negligence cost the company a lot of money through the second explosion. Are you coming out of that boat—-or shall I come back after you?"
Evarts rose, with a surly air. He stepped slowly ashore, after which one of the crew cast off. The engine began to move, and the "Morton" started back to her post.
"Oh, you feel fine and important, just at this minute!" grumbled the discharged foreman, under his breath, glaring wickedly at the broad back of the young chief engineer. "But I'll do something to take the importance out of you before very long, Tom Reade!"
Truth to tell, Tom, though he was still alert to the interests of his employers, felt anything but important. The thought of Harry Hazelton's unknown fate caused a great, choking lump in his throat as Reade stepped from the pier to land.
MR. BASCOMB IS PEEVISH
At the first blush of dawn Tom despatched the tireless Nicolas to Blixton to notify the police of the explosions and of the disappearance of Harry Hazelton.
Two men in blue, wearing stars on their coats, came over within an hour, walked about and looked wise until noon. They discovered nothing whatever, and their theories did not strike Reade as being worthy of attention.
As soon as possible the divers were sent down at the two wrecked parts of the retaining wall. These men reported that the breaches extended ten feet beneath the surface at some points; only eight feet at other points. The foundations of the walls were reported as being secure. Then Tom, under the directions of two divers, put on a diver's suit and went down himself, for the first time in his life. After some two hours, with frequent ascents to the surface, the young chief engineer had satisfied himself that the foundations were secure. Then he did some rapid figuring.
"The loss will not exceed eight thousand dollars—-the cost of rebuilding the missing parts of the walls," Reade informed Superintendent Renshaw.
"Only eight thousand dollars!" whistled the superintendent.
"Well, that figure isn't anywhere nearly as high as I feared it might be," Tom pursued.
"But it will strike the directors of the Melliston Company as being pretty big for an extra bill," muttered Renshaw. "Especially, since—-"
The superintendent paused.
"You were going to say," smiled Tom, wanly, "since the loss wouldn't have happened if I hadn't kicked the gamblers out of camp."
"That's about the size of it, Mr. Reade," nodded Renshaw. "Directors of big companies are less interested in moral reforms than in dividends. They're likely to make a big kick over what your crusade has cost them already, even if it costs them no more."
"We'll see to it that it doesn't cost them any more," Tom retorted. "Every night we'll watch that sea wall the way a mother does a sick baby. There'll be no more explosions. As to the directors kicking over the present expense, they'll have a prompt chance to do it. As soon as the telegraph office in Blixton was open this morning I wired the president of the company. Now, I'm going ashore. I can't do anything out here to help you, can I?"
"Nothing," replied Renshaw. "If I didn't know how foolish the advice would sound, Mr. Reade, I'd urge you to take a nap."
"I'll take a nap when I find it impossible to keep my eyes open any longer," Tom compromised. "For the next few hours—-work and lots of it."
As yet no effort had been made to repair the breaches in the wall. The different gangs were working that day in nearer shore. The divers, gathered on a scow, were now waiting for the "Morton" to convey them back to shore. Reade decided to go with them.
"Twenty minutes to two," murmured Tom to himself, glancing at his watch as the "Morton" went laboriously back over the dancing, glinting waves. "There's a train due at Blixton at 1:30. By the time I get back to the house I ought to find one or more officials of the company impatiently waiting to jump on my devoted neck."
Nor was Tom disappointed in this expectation. Pacing up and down on the porch of the house occupied by the engineers and superintendent was George C. Bascomb, president of the Melliston Company. Behind him stood Nicolas, respectfully eager to do anything he could for the comfort of the great man.
"Ah, there you are, Reade," called President Bascomb in an irritated tone, as he caught sight of the young engineer striding forward. "Now, what's all this row that you wired us about?"
"Will you come down to the water, and go out with me to look at the damage, sir?" asked Tom, as he took the president's reluctantly offered hand.
"No," grunted Mr. Bascomb. "Let me hear the story first. Come inside and tell me about it."
"Our friend is not quite so gracious as he has been on former meetings," thought Tom, as he led the way inside. "I wonder if he is going to get cranky?"
Inside was a little office room, as in the foremen's barracks.
"Any decent cigars here?" questioned Mr. Bascomb, after exploring his own pockets and finding them innocent of tobacco.
"No, sir," Tom answered. "No one here smokes."
"I've got to have a cigar," the president of the company insisted.
"Then, sir, if you'll give Nicolas your orders, he'll run over to Blixton and get you what you want."
The Mexican departed in haste on the errand.
"Now, first of all, Reade," began the president, "I am disgusted at learning of one fool mistake that you've made."
"What is that, sir?" Tom asked, coloring.
"I've just learned that you discharged Evarts—-one of our best and most useful men."
"I did discharge him, sir," Reade admitted.
"Take him back, at once."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I can't do it. He—-"
"I don't think you quite understand," broke in Mr. Bascomb coldly. "I directed you to take Mr. Evarts back on this work."
"I was about to tell you, sir, why I can't do anything of the sort. I—-"
"Stop right there, Reade," ordered President Bascomb, in his most aggressive, bullying manner. "The first point that we have to settle is that Evarts must come back on the pay-roll and have his old position. Be good enough to let that proposition sink in before we take up the second."
"I am very sorry, sir," Tom murmured respectfully, "but I can't and won't have Evarts back here. I won't have him around the work at all. Now what is the second proposition, sir?"
As Tom spoke he looked straight into Mr. Bascomb's eyes. The other glared at him unbelievingly but angrily.
"Young man, you don't appear to understand that I am president and head of the Melliston Company."
"I quite understand it, sir," Reade answered. "At the same time I am chief engineer here, and I am committed to building the breakwater and dredging out the enclosed bay or harbor, all within a certain fixed appropriation. In order to keep my part of the bargain I must have men with me on whom I can depend to the fullest limit. Evarts isn't such a man and I won't have him on the work again."
"He'll go on the pay-roll, anyway," snorted Mr. Bascomb.
"I can't help what you may see fit to pay him, Mr. Bascomb, provided you pay him somewhere else. But the fellow can't go on the pay-roll here for the simple reason that he wouldn't be allowed to visit this construction camp for the purpose of getting his money. Mr. Bascomb, I am not trying to ride a high horse. I recognize that you are president of the company, and that I must take all reasonable orders from you and carry them out to the letter. Yet I can't take any orders that would simply hinder my work and damage my reputation as an engineer. Evarts can't come back into this camp as long as I am in charge here."
"We'll take that up again presently," returned Mr. Bascomb, with an air of ruffled dignity. "Now, there's another matter that we must discuss. I know what has been done in the way of great damage to the retaining wall. I also know that this damage came through enmity that you stirred up by drumming certain parties out of this camp."
"You refer, sir, I take it, to my act in having Blixton police officers come in here and chase out some gamblers who had come here for the purpose of winning the money of the workmen?"
"That's it," nodded Bascomb. "In that matter you went too far—-altogether too far!"
"I'm afraid I don't understand you, sir."
"You mean, Reade, that you don't want to understand me," snapped the president. "You admit having chased out the gamblers, don't you?"
"Of course, I admit it, sir."
"That was a bad move. In the future, Reade, you will not interfere with any forms of amusement that the men may select for themselves in their evening hours."
Tom stared at the speaker in undisguised amazement.
"But, Mr. Bascomb, the men are shamelessly robbed by the sharpers who come here to gamble with them."
"That's the men's own affair," scoffed the president. "Anyway, they have a right to pitch away their wages if they want to. Reade, when you're as old as I am you will understand that workmen who throw away their money make the best workmen. They never have any savings, hence they must make every effort to keep their jobs. A workman with savings becomes too independent."
"I am certain you have seen more of the world than I have, Mr. Bascomb," Reade replied, respectfully. "At the same time I can't agree with you on the point you have just stated. A workman with a bank account has always a greater amount of self-respect, and a man who has self-respect is bound to make a good citizen and a good workman. But there are still other reasons why I had the gamblers chased out. Gambling here in the camp would always create a great deal of disorder. Disorder destroys discipline, and a camp like this, in order to give the best results in the way of work, must have discipline. Moreover, the men, when gambling, remain up until all hours of the night. A man who has been up most of the night can't give an honest day's work in return for his wages. Unless the men get their sleep and are kept in good condition we can't get the work out of them that we have a right to expect."
"The right man can drive workmen," declared Mr. Bascomb, with emphasis. "You'll have to drive your men. Get all the work out of them, but drop at once this foolish policy of interfering with what they do after the whistle blows. We can't have any more of this nonsense. It costs too much. By the way, how much will it cost to repair the damage to the retaining walls?"
"About eight thousand dollars, sir, if my first figuring was correct," was Reade's answer.
"Eight thousand dollars!" scowled President Bascomb. "Now, Reade, doesn't that amount of wanton, revengeful mischief teach you the folly of trying to regulate camp life outside of working hours?"
"I'm afraid it doesn't, sir."
"Then you must be a fool, Reade!"
"Thank you, sir. I will add that you're not the first man who has suspected it."
"You will, therefore, Reade," continued Mr. Bascomb, with his grandest air of authority, "cause it to become known throughout the camp that you are not going to interfere any further with any form of amusement that is brought to the camp evenings by outsiders."
"Is that proposition number two, sir?" queried the young chief engineer.
"Then please don't misunderstand me, sir," Reade begged, respectfully, "but it is declined, as is proposition number one."
"Do you mean to say that you are going to go on with your fool way of doing things?"
"Yes, sir—-until I am convinced that it is a fool way."
"But I've just told you that it is," snapped Mr. Bascomb.
"Then I say it very respectfully, sir, but pardon me for replying that I don't consider the evidence very convincing. I have shown you why I must have good order in the camp, and I have told you that I do not propose to allow gambling or any other disorderly conduct to go on within camp limits. I can't agree to these things, and then hope to win out by keeping the cost of the work within the appropriation."
"Do you feel that you'll keep within the appropriation by making enemies who deliberately blow up our masonry?" glared Mr. Bascomb.
"I doubt if there will be any more expense in that line, sir. I intend to have such a watch kept over the wall as to prevent any further mischief of the kind."
"Watchmen are an item of expense, aren't they?" snorted the president.
"Yes, sir; but next to nothing at all as compared with the mischief they can prevent."
"I have already told you how to prevent the mischief, Reade. Stop all of your foolish nonsense and let the men have their old-time pastimes."
"I can't do it, sir."
"Have you paper, pen and ink here?" thundered Mr. Bascomb. "If so, bring them."
Tom quietly obeyed.
"Reade," again thundered the president of the Melliston Company, "I have had as much of your nonsense as I intend to stand. You are out of here, from this minute. Take that pen and sign your resignation!"
TOM ISN'T AS EASY AS HE LOOKS
"I don't believe I'll do that, sir," murmured Tom, putting down the pen.
"You don't, eh?"
"Oh, then you'd rather wait and be forced out?"
"How about the contract, sir, between your company and Reade & Hazelton? Contracts can't be broken as lightly as your words imply."
"I'll break that contract, if I set out to," declared Mr. Bascomb, purpling with half-suppressed rage. "I've every ground for breaking the contract. You're running things with a high hand here, and disorganizing all our efforts. No contract will stand on presentation of any such evidence as that before a court."
"I am quite willing to leave that to a court, if I have to," Reade rejoined. His tones were decidedly cold. "Mr. Bascomb, even if I were inclined to forfeit the contract I would have no legal right to do so without the approval of my partner, Hazelton."
"Humph! He's dead," snorted the president.
"That yet remains to be proved, sir," Tom answered huskily, his voice breaking slightly at thought of Harry.
"How on earth do you think you could defend a contract against a wealthy company like ours? Why, we could swamp you under our loose change alone. How much money have you in the world? Two or three thousand dollars, perhaps."
"I've a little more than that," Tom Reade smiled. "For one thing, I'm a third owner in the Ambition mine, on Indian Smoke Range, Nevada, and the Ambition has been a dividend payer almost from the start. Hazelton owns another third of the mine."
"Eh?" gasped Mr. Bascomb, plainly taken aback.
"Oh, we're not millionaires," Tom laughed easily. "Yet I fancy Hazelton and I could raise enough money to fight any breach-of-contract case in court. With a steady-paying mine, you know, we could even discount to some extent the earnings of future years."
"Oh, well, we don't want hard feelings," urged Mr. Bascomb, his manner becoming more peaceable. "The plain truth is, Reade, that we're utterly dissatisfied with your way of managing things here. When you know how the Melliston Company feels toward you, you don't want to be impudent enough to insist on hanging on, do you?"
"I am certain that I speak for my partner, sir, when I state that we won't drop the contract until we have fulfilled it," Tom muttered, coolly, but with great firmness.
"What's all this dispute about anyway, Bascomb?" a voice called cheerily from the hallway.
"Oh, it's you, is it, Prenter?" asked Mr. Bascomb, turning and not looking overjoyed at the interruption.
Simon F. Prenter was treasurer of the Melliston Company. Tom had met him at the time of signing the engineers' contract with the company. Now Reade sprang up to place a chair for the new arrival.
"What was all the row about?" Mr. Prenter asked affably. He was a man of about forty-five, rather stout, with light blue eyes that looked at one with engaging candor.
"I have been suggesting to Reade that he might resign," replied Mr. Bascomb, stiffly.
"Why?" asked Prenter, opening his eyes wider.
"Because he has raised the mischief on this breakwater job. He has all the men by their ears, and the camp in open mutiny."
"So?" asked Mr. Prenter, looking astonished.
"Exactly, and therefore I have called upon the young man to resign."
"And he refuses?" queried the treasurer. "Most astounding obstinacy on the part of so young a man when dealing with his elder."
"I'll try to explain to you, Mr. Prenter," volunteered Reade, "just what I've been trying to tell Mr. Bascomb."
"I don't know that I need trouble you," replied Mr. Prenter, moving so that he stood more behind the irate president. "I overheard what you were telling him."
Then the treasurer did a most unexpected thing. He winked broadly at the young engineer.
"Yes, Prenter," Mr. Bascomb went on, "this camp is in a state of mutiny. The men are all at odds with their chief."
"Strange," murmured the treasurer of the Melliston Company. "When I paused on the porch, before entering, I thought I caught sight of unusual activity down at the water front. Did you notice it, too, Bascomb?"
"I noticed nothing of the sort," replied the president stiffly. "Am I to infer, Prenter, that you are going to follow your occasional tactics and try to laugh me out of my decision as president of the company?"
"Oh, nothing of the sort, I assure you," hastily protested the treasurer. But he found chance to drive another wink Tom Reade's way. The young chief engineer could not but feel that an ally had suddenly come his way.
"Now, what is the nature and extent of the mutiny?" asked Mr. Prenter.
"First of all, eight thousand dollars' damage has been done to the retaining wall of the breakwater," replied Mr. Bascomb. "That is, according to Mr. Reade's figures, which very likely may prove to be too low. Also, Mr. Hazelton has been murdered."
"Hazelton—-killed?" gasped Mr. Prenter showing genuine concern. "Of course I know that the telegram to the office said that Hazelton was missing, but I didn't suppose it was anything as tragic as a killing."
"Well, Hazelton can't be found, so I haven't a doubt he was killed as part of a general plan of mutiny and revenge on the part of the mixed crews of men working here," declared Mr. Bascomb.
"Oh, I sincerely hope that Hazelton hasn't lost his life here!" cried Mr. Prenter. "Reade, aren't you going to take us down to the water front and show us the extent of the damage?"
"I shall be only too glad to do so, sir," Tom agreed.
Even Mr. Bascomb consented at last to go. As they gained the porch Nicolas rushed up with the cigars for which the president had sent him. While Mr. Bascomb paused to light one, Mr. Prenter thrust an arm through Tom's and led that youth down the road.
"Now, Mr. Reade," murmured the treasurer, earnestly, "Mr. Bascomb, of course, is our president, and I don't want you to treat him with the slightest disrespect. But Bascomb isn't the majority stockholder nor the whole board of directors, so I'll just drop this hint: When Bascomb talks of resignations don't attach too serious importance to it until you receive a resolution endorsing the same view and passed by the board of directors of the company."
"Thank you. I have no intention of resigning," smiled Tom.
"Now, let's go on," continued Mr. Prenter.
Mr. Bascomb, having his cigar lighted, seemed to prefer strolling in the rear by himself.
"Now, I don't want to give you any wrong impressions, Mr. Reade," went on Mr. Prenter. "Mr. Bascomb is the head of our company, but other directors represent more of the stock of the company than he does. I am one of them. Sometimes Mr. Bascomb gets a bit hard-headed, and he is inclined to give orders that others of us wouldn't approve. I judge that you and he were having some dispute when I happened along."
"I didn't regard it as a dispute, sir," Reade rejoined. "In the first place, I had discharged, for incompetency and faithlessness, a foreman named Evarts.
"And Evarts is a pet of Mr. Bascomb's," smiled Mr. Prenter. "I imagine that Evarts is even some sort of family connection who has to be looked after and kept in a good job."
"Anyway," Tom continued, "I explained that Evarts was worse than useless here and that I couldn't have him in the camp or on the job."
"Quite right, I fancy," nodded Mr. Prenter. "In the second place, Mr. Bascomb ordered me to stop my crusade against the gamblers who had tried to invade the camp and rob the men of their earnings. Hazelton and I had that sort of row once out in Arizona—-and we won out."
"You deserve to win out here, too," remarked Mr. Prenter. "I have no patience with anything but straight, uncompromising right. We can't control the men, if they see fit to leave the camp at night, but you have every right—-and it's your duty—-to see to it that no disorder is allowed within camp limits. I, too, have heard something about your trouble here, Mr. Reade, and I can promise you that the directors generally will sustain you. So Mr. Bascomb demanded your resignation?"
"He did, sir."
"Let it go at that," smiled Mr. Prenter. "You may even, sometime, if it will please Mr. Bascomb, hand him your resignation. I will see to it that it doesn't get past the board of directors. Mr. Bascomb is irritable, and sometimes he is a downright crank, but he is valuable to us just the same. We feel, too, Reade, that you and Hazelton are just the men we need to put this breakwater through in the best fashion."
"Even though at least eight thousand dollars in damage was done last night?" queried Tom.
"Yes, even in the face of that. I am certain that you will know how to forestall any more such spite work."
"Now, I'm not altogether so sure of that, sir," Reade answered, quickly. "Of course we'll be eternally vigilant after this, but the trick was done last night so cleverly and mysteriously that we may be surprised again by the plotters. Speaking of mystery, could anything be stranger, or harder to explain, than what happened to poor Hazelton?"
"There was mystery for you!" nodded Mr. Prenter. "Have you any ideas whatever on the subject of Hazelton's disappearance?"
"Not the slightest," groaned Tom. "I know all the indications are that he has been killed, and I ought to believe that such is the case. But I simply won't believe it. Why, if he were killed, what became of the body?"
"It's a puzzle," sighed Mr. Prenter.
They were now nearing the land end of the breakwater wall. Mr. Bascomb overtook them. Together the three strolled out along the wall, halting frequently, to observe what the men were doing. It was their plan to keep on until they came to the scene of the two explosions of the night before.
"Just what are you doing here?" asked Mr. Bascomb, stopping and pointing to a gang of men at work on a scow moored against the wall.
"I can tell you, after a fashion, sir," Reade answered. "Yet this was a part of Hazelton's performance. He had charge here, and knew ever so much about it. Poor old Harry!"
Behind them, at the beginning of the wall, a long, loud whistle sounded.
In a moment fully a hundred of the workmen stood up, waved their caps and cheered as though they had gone mad.
Coming forward, with long strides, was Harry Hazelton, in the flesh!
MR. PRENTER INVESTIGATES
Tom suddenly felt dizzy. He wished to race back, to be the first to greet his chum and press his hand. But just then Reade felt strangely bewildered.
"Of course I don't believe in ghosts!" Tom laughed nervously.
"No!" chuckled Mr. Prenter. "This is real flesh and blood that is coming toward us."
Now, for the first time, Tom Reade knew just how fully he had believed, in the inner temple of his soul, that Harry Hazelton had been actually killed.
"Pulling my work to pieces, are you, Tom?" Harry called jovially.
"P—-p—-pardon me for not coming to meet you, old fellow, b—-b——but I'm dumbfounded at seeing you," Tom called back.
Harry, too, looked rather unsteady in his gait by the time he joined them. The last few yards he tried to run along the wall. Tom thrust out an arm and caught him just in time.
"You've been hurt, Harry!" gasped Tom.
"Yes, and I guess I'm a bit weak, even now," Hazelton mumbled. "Hurt? Look at this."
Hazelton uncovered his head, displaying a court-plaster bandage underneath which clotted blood showed.
"Where in the world have you been?" Tom quivered.
"At sea," Harry answered, with an attempt at banter.
"What happened to you?"
"Tom, you remember the big black man I imagined that I saw last night?"
"Of course I do."
"He was a reality," Harry went on soberly. "After you had gone he appeared again. We had it hot and heavy. I saw your boat coming, and I yelled—-"
"I heard you," Tom interposed. "We got along as speedily as we could."
"And you didn't find me," finished Harry. "That brute hit me over the head with something. We clinched and rolled into the gulf together. That was the last that I remember clearly for some time. For a long time I had a dream that I was bobbing about in water, and that I had my arms around a floating log. By and by I came to sufficiently to discover that the dream was a reality. I was holding to the log in grim earnest. How I came to find the log I can't imagine. I think, while more than half unconscious, I must have been swimming straight out into the gulf. Then I must have touched the log and clung to it instinctively. Anyway, when I recovered more fully I knew that the 'long-shore lights looked thousands of miles away. I was too weak even to dream of trying to swim back, or to push the log before me. So I got a stout piece of cord out of one of my pockets and lashed myself to the log. I was afraid I might become unconscious again. A part of the time I was unconscious.
"Well after daylight I saw a sloop headed my way. It didn't look as though it would go straight by either. So I waved my handkerchief—-my hat was gone. After a while the skipper of the sloop saw me and headed in for me. It was a sloop that carries the mails to Hetherton, a village that has no rail connection.
"The captain hauled me aboard, questioned me, looked as though he more than half doubted my yarn, and then put me to bed in the cabin of the sloop. He attended to me as best he could. When we reached Hetherton, about noon, a doctor patched me up. I had something to eat, bought this new hat, and hired a driver to take me ten miles to the railway. Then I came over here as soon as I could, and—-pardon me, but I'm feeling weak. I'll sit down right here."
Harry sat down heavily on the wall.
"Why didn't you wire me?" asked Tom.
"Why, you didn't doubt but that I'd turn up as surely as any other bad egg, did you?" questioned Harry, looking up.
"Chum, I wouldn't admit it, even to myself, but I feared you were dead. But we mustn't waste time talking. Describe that black man to me, and—-"
"And the company will hire detectives to start right on the trail of that negro," interjected Mr. Prenter.
"If—-if the expense is really warranted," ended Mr. Bascomb, cautiously.
"Warranted?" retorted the treasurer of the Melliston Company. "Why, it is absolutely necessary to protect our work here! That big negro is the key to the mystery. We must catch him if it costs us a thousand dollars."
"Oh, well," assented President Bascomb, reluctantly.
"I—-I guess I'm all right to start in to work now," Harry suggested, trying to rise.
"Sit down—-you're not!" replied Tom and Treasurer Prenter, in the same breath, as both pressed Harry back to the wall.
"We don't need work so much to-day," Mr. Prenter continued. "What we want to do is to solve this mystery. You stay here, Hazelton. I'll go back alone and find a 'bus or a carriage. Then we'll go back to camp and hold a council of war. Something must be done, and we'll decide how it's to be done."
Mr. Prenter, though no longer a young man, proved that he carried both speed and agility in his feet. While he was gone Tom endeavored to get a few more particulars from Harry, but Hazelton simply didn't know anything that threw any more light on the dread mystery of the breakwater.
"Then a million-dollar undertaking like this is to be constantly imperiled, just because of a senseless moral crusade that you two young men are trying to put through in the camp," declared Mr. Bascomb moodily.
Tom covertly signaled his chum to pay no heed to this remark.
Within a quarter of an hour Treasurer Prenter returned in a stage drawn by two sorry looking horses.
"This will carry us up to the house, if the affair doesn't break down," Mr. Prenter called cheerily. "Come along, folks."
Soon afterwards the four were back on the porch. Nicolas came gliding out to see what he could do for their comfort.
"Just circulate around and make sure that no one gets close enough to hear what we're talking about," Mr. Prenter directed. He had already ordered the driver of the stage to withdraw a few rods and await orders.
"Now, then, Hazelton," continued the treasurer, "we're anxious to hear more of your strange story."
"I've told you all there is to it," protested Harry.
"Surely, there must be some more to it."
"Then, for the tale of an engineer who was all but murdered, and a case enveloped in mystery from end to end," cried Mr. Prenter, "we have a most singular scarcity of details."
"There are only two more details needed, as it appears to me," Tom remarked quietly.
"Good! And what are they?" demanded the treasurer, wheeling around to look keenly at the young chief engineer.
"The two details we now need," Reade continued, "are, first, who was the negro? Second, who was behind the negro in this rascally work?"
"Only two points to be solved," suggested the treasurer mockingly, "but pretty big points. Of course, the first point is—-"