E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
The Young Engineers in Colorado
or, At Railwood Building in Earnest
By H. Irving Hancock
I. The Cub Engineers Reach Camp
II. Bad Pete Becomes Worse
III. The Day of Real Work Dawns
IV. “Trying Out” the Gridley Boys V. Tom Doesn’t Mind “Artillery”
VI. The Bite from the Bush
VII. What a Squaw Knew
VIII. ‘Gene Black, Trouble-Maker
IX. “Doctored” Field Notes?
X. Things Begin to go Down Hill
XI. The Chief Totters from Command XII. From Cub to Acting Chief
XIII. Black Turns Other Colors
XIV. Bad Pete Mixes in Some
XV. Black’s Plot Opens With a Bang XVI. Shut Off from the World
XVII. The Real Attack Begins
XVIII. When the Camp Grew Warm
XIX. Sheriff Grease Drops Dave
XX. Mr. Newnham Drops a Bomb
XXI. The Trap at the Finish
XXII. “Can Your Road Save Its Charter Now?” XXIII. Black’s Trump Card
THE CUB ENGINEERS REACH CAMP
“Look, Tom! There is a real westerner!” Harry Hazelton’s eyes sparkled, his whole manner was one of intense interest.
“Eh?” queried Tom Reade, turning around from his distant view of a sharp, towering peak of the Rockies.
“There’s the real thing in the way of a westerner,” Harry Hazelton insisted in a voice in which there was some awe.
“I don’t believe he is,” retorted Tom skeptically.
“You’re going to say, I suppose, that the man is just some freak escaped from the pages of a dime novel?” demanded Harry.
“No; he looks more like a hostler on a leave of absence from a stranded Wild West show,” Tom replied slowly.
There was plenty of time for them to inspect the stranger in question. Tom and Harry were seated on a mountain springboard wagon drawn by a pair of thin horses. Their driver, a boy of about eighteen, sat on a tiny make-believe seat almost over the traces. This youthful driver had been minding his own business so assiduously during the past three hours that Harry had voted him a sullen fellow. This however, the driver was not.
“Where did that party ahead come from, driver?” murmured Tom, leaning forward. “Boston or Binghamton?”
“You mean the party ahead at the bend of the trail?” asked the driver.
“Yes; he’s the only stranger in sight.”
“I guess he’s a westerner, all right,” answered the driver, after a moment or two spent in thought.
“There! You see?” crowed Harry Hazelton triumphantly.
“If that fellow’s a westerner, driver,” Tom persisted, “have you any idea how many days he has been west?”
“He doesn’t belong to this state,” the youthful driver answered. “I think he comes from Montana. His name is Bad Pete.”
“Pete?” mused Tom Reade aloud. “That’s short for Peter, I suppose; not a very interesting or romantic name. What’s the hind-leg of his name?”
“Meaning his surnames” drawled the driver.
“Yes; to be sure.”
“I don’t know that he has any surname, friend,” the Colorado boy rejoined.
“Why do they call him ‘Bad’?” asked Harry, with a thrill of pleasurable expectation.
As the driver was slow in finding an answer, Tom Reade, after another look at the picturesque stranger, replied quizzically:
“I reckon they call him bad because he’s counterfeit.”
“There you go again,” remonstrated Harry Hazelton. “You’d better be careful, or Bad Pete will hear you.”
“I hope he doesn’t,” smiled Tom. “I don’t want to change Bad Pete into Worse Pete.”
There was little danger, however, that the picturesque-looking stranger would hear them. The axles and springs of the springboard wagon were making noise enough to keep their voices from reaching the ears of any human being more than a dozen feet away.
Bad Pete was still about two hundred and fifty feet ahead, nor did he, as yet, give any sign whatever of having noted the vehicle. Instead, he was leaning against a boulder at the turn in the road. In his left hand he held a hand-rolled cigarette from which he took an occasional reflective puff as he looked straight ahead of him as though he were enjoying the scenery. The road—trail—ran close along the edge of a sloping precipice. Fully nine hundred feet below ran a thin line of silver, or so it appeared. In reality it was what was left of the Snake River now, in July, nearly dried out.
Over beyond the gulch, for a mile or more, extended a rather flat, rock-strewn valley. Beyond that were the mountains, two peaks of which, even at this season, were white-capped with snow. On the trail, however, the full heat of summer prevailed.
“This grand, massive scenery makes a human being feel small, doesn’t it?” asked Tom.
Harry, however, had his eyes and all his thoughts turned toward the man whom they were nearing.
“This—er—Bad Pete isn’t an—er—that is, a road agent, is he?” he asked apprehensively.
“He may be, for all I know,” the driver answered. “At present he mostly hangs out around the S.B. & L. outfit.”
“Why, that’s our outfits—the one we’re going to join, I mean,” cried Hazelton.
“I hope Pete isn’t the cook, then,” remarked Tom fastidiously. “He doesn’t look as though he takes a very kindly interest in soap.”
“Sh-h-h!” begged Harry. “I’ll tell you, he’ll hear you.”
“See here,” Tom went on, this time addressing the driver, “you’ve told us that you don’t know just where to find the S.B. & L. field camp. If Mr. Peter Bad hangs out with the camp then he ought to be able to direct us.”
“You can ask him, of course,” nodded the Colorado boy.
Soon after the horses covered the distance needed to bring them close to the bend. Now the driver hauled in his team, and, blocking the forward wheels with a fragment of rock, began to give his attention to the harness.
Bad Pete had consented to glance their way at last. He turned his head indolently, emitting a mouthful of smoke. As if by instinct his right hand dropped to the butt of a revolver swinging in a holster over his right hip.
“I hope he isn’t bad tempered today!” shivered Harry under his breath.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” galled Tom, “but can you tell us—–“
“Who are ye looking at?” demanded Bad Pete, scowling.
“At a polished man of the world, I’m sure,” replied Reade smilingly. “As I was saying, can you tell us just where we can find the S.B. & L.’s field camp of engineers?”
“What d’ye want of the camp?” growled Pete, after taking another whiff from his cigarette.
“Why, our reasons for wanting to find the camp are purely personal,” Tom continued.
“Now, tenderfoot, don’t get fresh with me,” warned Pete sullenly.
“I haven’t an idea of that sort in the world, sir,” Tom assured him. “Do you happen to know the hiding-place of the camp?”
“What do you want of the camp?” insisted Pete.
“Well, sir, since you’re so determined to protect the camp from questionable strangers,” Tom continued, “I don’t know that it will do any harm to inform you that we are two greenhorns—tenderfeet, I believe, is your more elegant word—who have been engaged to join the engineers’ crowd and break in at the business.”
“Cub engineers, eh, tenderfoot?”
“That’s the full size of our pretensions, sir,” Tom admitted.
“Rich men’s sons, coming out to learn the ways of the Rookies?” questioned Bad Pete, showing his first sign of interest in them.
“Not quite as bad as that,” Tom Reade urged. “We’re wholly respectable, sir. We have even had to work hard in order to raise money for our railway fare out to Colorado.”
Bad Pete’s look of interest in them faded.
“Huh!” he remarked. “Then you’re no good either why.”
“That’s true, I’m afraid,” sighed Tom. “However, can you tell us the way to the camp?”
From one pocket Bad Pete produced a cigarette paper and from another tobacco. Slowly he rolled and lighted a cigarette, in the meantime seeming hardly aware of the existence of the tenderfeet. At last, however, he turned to the Colorado boy and observed:
“Pardner, I reckon you’d better drive on with these tenderfeet before I drop them over the cliff. They spoil the view. Ye know where Bandy’s Gulch is?”
“Sure,” nodded the Colorado boy.
“Ye’ll find the railroad outfit jest about a mile west o’ there, camped close to the main trail.”
“I’m sure obliged to you,” nodded the Colorado boy, stepping up to his seat and gathering in the reins.
“And so are we, sir,” added Tom politely.
“Hold your blizzard in until I ask ye to talk,” retorted Bad Pete haughtily. “Drive on with your cheap baggage, pardner.”
“Cheap baggage, are we?” mused Tom, when the wagon had left Bad Pete some two hundred feet to the rear. “My, but I feel properly humiliated!”
“How many men has Bad Pete killed?” inquired Harry in an awed voice.
“Don’t know as he ever killed any,” replied the Colorado boy, “but I’m not looking for trouble with any man that always carries a revolver at his belt and goes around looking for someone to give him an excuse to shoot. The pistol might go off, even by accident.”
“Are there many like Mr. Peter Bad in these hills nowadays?” Tom inquired.
“You’ll find the foothills back near Denver or Pueblo,” replied the Colorado youth coldly “You’re up in the mountains now.”
“Well, are there many like Peter Bad in these mountains?” Tom amended.
“Not many,” admitted their driver. “The old breed is passing. You see, in these days, we have the railroad, public schools, newspapers, the telegraph, electric light, courts and the other things that go with civilization.”
“The old days of romance are going by,” sighed Harry Hazelton.
“Do you call murder romantic?” Reade demanded. “Harry, you came west expecting to find the Colorado of the dime novels. Now we’ve traveled hundreds of miles across this state, and Mr. Bad wore the first revolver that we’ve seen since we crossed the state line. My private opinion is that Peter would be afraid to handle his pistol recklessly for fear it would go off.”
“I wouldn’t bank on that,” advised the young driver, shaking his head.
“But you don’t carry a revolver,” retorted Tom Reade.
“Pop would wallop me, if I did,” grinned the Colorado boy. “But then, I don’t need firearms. I know enough to carry a civil tongue, and to be quiet when I ought to.”
“I suppose people who don’t possess those virtues are the only people that have excuse for carrying a pistol around with their keys, loose change and toothbrushes,” affirmed Reade. “Harry, the longer you stay west the more people you’ll find who’ll tell you that toting a pistol is a silly, trouble-breeding habit.”
They drove along for another hour before a clattering sounded behind them.
“I believe it’s Bad Pete coming,” declared Harry, as he made out, a quarter of a mile behind them, the form of a man mounted on a small, wiry mustang.
“Yep; it is,” nodded the Colorado boy, after a look back.
The trail being wider here Bad Pete whirled by them with a swift drumming of his pony’s hoofs. In a few moments more he was out of sight.
“Tom, you may have your doubts about that fellow,” Hazelton remarked, “but there’s one thing he can do—ride!”
“Humph! Anyone can ride that knows enough to get into a saddle and stick there,” observed the Colorado boy dryly.
Readers of the “_Grammar School Boys Series_” and of the “_High School Boys Series_”, have already recognized in Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton two famous schoolboy athletes.
Back in old Gridley there had once been a schoolboy crowd of six, known as Dick & Co. Under the leadership of Dick Prescott, these boys had made their start in athletics in the Central Grammar School, winning no small amount of fame as junior schoolboy athletes.
Then in their High School days Dick & Co. had gradually made themselves crack athletes. Baseball and football were their especial sports, and in these they had reached a degree of skill that had made many a college trainer anxious to obtain them.
None of the six, however, had gone to college. Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes had secured appointments as cadets at the United States Military Academy, at West Point. Their adventures are told in the “_West Point Series_.” Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell, feeling the call to the Navy, had entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Their further doings are all described in the “_Annapolis Series_.”
Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, however, had found that their aspirations pointed to the great constructive work that is done by the big-minded, resourceful American civil engineer of today. Bridge building, railroad building, the tunneling of mines—in a word, the building of any of the great works of industry possessed a huge fascination for them.
Tom was good-natured and practical, Harry at times full of mischief and at others dreamy, but both longed with all their souls to place themselves some day in the front ranks among civil engineers.
At high school they had given especial study to mathematics. At home they had studied engineering, through correspondence courses and otherwise. During more than the last year of their home life our two boys had worked much in the offices of a local civil engineer, and had spent part of their school vacations afield with him.
Finally, after graduating from school both boys had gone to New York in order to look the world over. By dint of sheer push, three-quarters of which Tom had supplied, the boys had secured their first chance in the New York offices of the S.B. & L. Not much of a chance, to be sure, but it meant forty dollars a month and board in the field, with the added promise that, if they turned out to be “no good,” they would be promptly “bounced.”
“If ‘bounced’ we are,” Tom remarked dryly, “we’ll have to walk home, for our money will just barely take us to Colorado.”
So here they were, having come by rail to a town some distance west of Pueblo. From the last railway station they had been obliged to make thirty miles or more by wagon to the mountain field camp of the S.B. & L.
Since daybreak they had been on the way, eating breakfast and lunch from the paper parcels that they had brought with them.
“How much farther is the camp, now that you know the way.” Reade inquired an hour after Bad Pete had vanished on horseback.
“There it is, right down there,” answered the Colorado youth, pointing with his whip as the raw-boned team hauled the wagon to the top of a rise in the trail.
Of the trail to the left, surrounded by natural walls of rock, was an irregularly shaped field about three or four acres in extent. Here and there wisps of grass grew, but the ground, for the most part, was covered by splinters of rock or of sand ground from the same.
At the farther end of the camp stood a small wooden building, with three tents near try. At a greater distance were several other tents. Three wagons stood at one side of the camp, though horses or mules for the same were not visible. Outside, near the door of one tent, stood a transit partially concealed by the enveloping rubber cover. Near another tent stood a plane table, used in field platting (drawing). Signs of life about the camp there were none, save for the presence of the newcomers.
“I wonder if there’s anyone at home keeping house,” mused Tom Reade, as he jumped down from the wagon.
“There’s only one wooden house in this town. That must be where the boss lives,” declared Harry.
“Yes; that’s where the boss lives,” replied the Colorado youth, with a wry smile.
“Let’s go over and see whether he has time to talk to us,” suggested Reade.
“Just one minute, gentlemen,” interposed the driver. “Where do you want your kit boxes placed? Are you going to pay me now?”
“Drop the kit boxes on the ground anywhere,” Tom answered. “We’re strong enough to carry ’em when we find where they belong.”
And—yes: we are going to pay you now. Eighteen dollars, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” replied the young driver, with the brevity of the mountaineer.
Tom and Harry went into their pockets, each producing nine dollars as his share of the fare. This was handed over to the Colorado youth.
“‘Bliged to you, gentlemen,” nodded the Colorado boy pocketing the money. “Anything more to say to me?”
“Nothing remains to be said, except to thank you, and to wish you good luck on your way back,” said Reade.
“I wish you luck here, too, gentlemen. Good day.”
With that, the driver mounted his seat, turned the horses about and was off without once looking back.
“Now let’s go over to the house and see the boss,” murmured Tom.
Together the chums skirted the camp, going up to the wooden building. As the door was open, Tom, with a sense of good manners, approached from the side that he might not appear to be peeping in on the occupants of the building. Gaining the side of the doorway, with Harry just behind him, Reade knocked softly.
“Quit yer kidding, whoever it is, and come in,” called a rough voice.
Tom thereupon stepped inside. What he saw filled him with surprise. Around the room were three or four tables. There were many utensils hanging on the walls. There were two stoves, with a man bending over one of them and stirring something in a pot.
“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Tom. “I thought I’d find Mr. Timothy Thurston, the chief engineer, here.”
“Nope,” replied a stout, red-faced man of forty, in flannel shirt and khaki trousers. “Mr. Thurston never eats between meals, and when he does eat he’s served in his own mess tent. Whatcher want here, pardner?”
“We’re under orders to report to him,” Tom answered politely.
“New men in the chain gang?” asked the cook, swinging around to look at the newcomers.
“Maybe,” Reade assented. “That will depend on the opinion that Mr. Thurston forms of us after he knows us a little while. I believe the man in New York said we were to be assistant engineers.”
“There’s only one assistant engineer here,” announced the cook. “The other engineers are Just plain surveyors or levelers.”
“Well, we won’t quarrel about titles,” Tom smilingly assured the cook. “Will you please tell us where Mr. Thurston is?”
“He’s in his tent over yonder,” said the cook, pointing through the open doorway.
“Shall we step over there and announce ourselves?” Tom inquired.
“Why, ye could do it,” rejoined the red-faced cook, with a grin. “If Tim Thurston happens to be very busy he might use plain talk and tell you to git out of camp.”
“Then do you mind telling us just how we should approach the chief engineer?”
“Whatter yer names?”
“Reade and Hazelton.”
“Bob, trot over and tell Thurston there’s two fellows here, named Reade and Hazelnut. Ask him what he wants done with ’em.”
The cook’s helper, who, so far, had not favored the new arrivals with a glance, now turned and looked them over. Then, with a nod, the helper stepped across the ground to the largest tent in camp. In a few moments he came back.
“Mr. Thurston says to stay around and he’ll call you jest as soon as he’s through with what he’s doing,” announced Bob, who, dark, thin and anemic, was a decrepit-looking man of fifty years or thereabouts.
“Ye can stand about in the open,” added the cook, pointing with his ladle. “There’s better air out there.”
“Thank you,” answered Tom briskly, but politely. Once outside, and strolling slowly along, Reade confided to his chum:
“Harry, you can see what big fellows we two youngsters are going to be in a Rocky Mountain railroad camp. We haven’t a blessed thing to do but play marbles until the chief can see us.”
“I can spare the time, if the chief can,” laughed Harry. “Hello—look who’s here!”
Bad Pete, now on foot, had turned into the camp from the farther side. Espying the boys he swaggered over toward them.
“How do you do, sir?” nodded Tom.
“Can’t you two tenderfeet mind your own business?” snarled Pete, halting and scowling angrily at them.
“Now, I come to think of it,” admitted Tom, “it _was_ meddlesome on my part to ask after your health. I beg your pardon.”
“Say, are you two tenderfeet trying to git fresh with me?” demanded Bad Pete, drawing himself up to his full height and gazing at them out of flashing eyes.
Almost unconsciously Tom Reade drew himself up, showing hints of his athletic figure through the folds of his clothing.
“No, Peter,” he said quietly. “In the first place, my friend hasn’t even opened his mouth. As for myself, when I _do_ try to get fresh with you, you won’t have to do any guessing. You’ll be sure of it.”
Bad Pete took a step forward, dropping his right hand, as though unconsciously, to the butt of the revolver in the holster. He fixed his burning gaze savagely on the boy’s face as he muttered, in a low, ugly voice:
“Tenderfoot, when I’m around after this you shut your mouth and keep it shut! You needn’t take the trouble to call me Peter again, either. My name is Bad Pete, and I am bad. I’m poison! Understand? Poison!”
“Poison?” repeated Tom dryly, coolly. “No; I don’t believe I’d call you that. I think I’d call you a bluff—and let it go at that.”
Bad Pete scowled angrily. Again his hand slid to the butt of his revolver, then with a muttered imprecation he turned and stalked away, calling back threateningly over his shoulder:
“Remember, tenderfoot. Keep out of my way.”
Behind the boys, halted a man who had just stepped into the camp over the natural stone wall. This man was a sun-browned, smooth-faced, pleasant-featured man of perhaps thirty-two or thirty-three years. Dressed in khaki trousers, with blue flannel shirt, sombrero and well-worn puttee leggings, he might have been mistaken for a soldier. Though his eyes were pleasant to look at, there was an expression of great shrewdness in them. The lines around his mouth bespoke the man’s firmness. He was about five-feet-eight in height, slim and had the general bearing of a strong man accustomed to hard work.
“Boys,” he began in a low voice, whereat both Tom and Harry faced swiftly about, “you shouldn’t rile Bad Pete that way. He’s an ugly character, who carries all he knows of law in his holsters, and we’re a long way from the sheriff’s officers.”
“Is he really bad?” asked Tom innocently.
“Really bad?” laughed the man in khaki. “You’ll find out if you try to cross him. Are you visiting the camp?”
“Reade! Hazelton!” called a voice brusquely from the big tent.
“That’s Mr. Thurston calling us, I guess,” said Tom quickly. “We’ll have to excuse ourselves and go and report to him.”
“Yes, that was Thurston,” nodded the slim man. “And I’m Blaisdell, the assistant engineer. I’ll go along with you.”
Throwing aside the canvas flap, Mr. Blaisdell led the boys inside the big tent. At one end a portion of the tent was curtained off, and this was presumably the chief engineer’s bedroom. Near the centre of the tent was a flat table about six by ten feet. Just at present it held many drawings, all arranged in orderly piles. Not far from the big table was a smaller one on which a typewriting machine rested.
The man who sat at the large table, and who wheeled about in a revolving chair as Tom and Harry entered, was perhaps forty-five years of age. His head was covered with a mass of bushy black hair. His face was as swarthy, in its clean-shaven condition, as though the owner had spent all of his life under a hot sun. His clothing like that of all the rest of the engineers in camp was of khaki, his shirt of blue flannel, with a long, flowing black tie.
“Mr. Thurston,” announced the assistant engineer, “I have just encountered these young gentlemen, who state that they are under orders from the New York offices to report to you for employment.”
Mr. Thurston looked both boys over in silence for a few seconds. His keen eyes appeared to take in everything that could possibly concern them. Then he rose, extending his hand, first to Reade, next to Hazelton.
“From what technical school do you come?” inquired the engineer as he resumed his chair.
“From none, sir,” Tom answered promptly “We didn’t have money enough for that sort of training.”
Mr. Thurston raised his eyebrows in astonished inquiry.
“Then why,” he asked, “did you come here? What made you think that you could break in as engineers?”
BAD PETE BECOMES WORSE
Timothy Thurston’s gaze was curious, and his voice a trifle cold. Yet he did not by any means treat the boys with contempt. He appeared simply to wonder why these young men had traveled so far to take up his time.
“We couldn’t afford to take a college course in engineering, sir,” Tom Reade continued, reddening slightly. “We have learned all that we possibly could in other ways, however.”
“Do you expect me, young men, to detail an experienced engineer to move about with you as instructor until you learn enough to be of use to us?”
“No, indeed, we don’t, sir,” Tom replied, and perhaps his voice was sharper than usual, though it rang with earnestness. “We believe, sir, that we are very fair engineers. We are willing to be tried out, sir, and to be rated exactly where you find that we belong. If necessary we’ll start in as helpers to the chainmen, and we have pride enough to walk back over the trail at any moment when you decide that we’re no good. We have traveled all the way from the east, and I trust, sir, that you’ll give us a fair chance to show if we know anything.”
“It won’t take long to find that out,” replied Mr. Thurston gravely. “Of course you both understand that we are doing real engineering work and haven’t any time to instruct amateurs or be patient with them.”
“We don’t want instruction, Mr. Thurston,” Hazelton broke in. “We want work, and when we get it we’ll do it.”
“I hope your work will be as good as your assurance,” replied the chief engineer, with a slight twinkle in his eyes. “What can you do?”
“We know how to do ordinary surveying, sir,” Tom replied quickly. “We can run our courses and supervise the chaining. We know how to bring in field notes that are of some use. We can do our work well within the limits of error allowed by the United States Government. We also consider ourselves competent at leveling. Give us the profile plan and the notes on an excavation, and we can superintend the laborers who have to make an excavation. We have a fair knowledge of ordinary road building. We have the strength of usual materials at our finger’s ends, and for beginners I think we may claim that we are very well up in mathematics. We have had some all-around experience. Here is a letter, sir, from Price & Conley, of Gridley, in whose offices we have done quite a bit of work.”
Mr. Thurston took the letter courteously, though he did not \ immediately glance at it.
“Country surveyors, these gentlemen, I suppose?” he asked, looking into Tom’s eyes.
“Yes, sir,” nodded Reade, “though Mr. Price is also the engineer for our home county. Both Mr. Price and Mr. Conley paid us the compliment of saying that we were well fitted to work in a railway engineering camp.”
“Well, we’ll try you out, until you either make good or convince us that you can’t,” agreed the chief engineer, without any show of enthusiasm. “You may show them where they are to live, Mr. Blaisdell, and where they are to mess. In the morning you can put these young men at some job or other.”
The words sounded like a dismissal, but Blaisdell lingered a moment.
“Mr. Thurston,” he smiled, “our young men ran, first thing, into Bad Pete.”
“Yes?” inquired the chief. “Did Pete show these young men his fighting front?”
Blaisdell repeated the dialogue that had taken place between Tom and Bad Pete.
The chief listened to his assistant in silence. Tom flushed slightly under the penetrating glance Mr. Thurston cast upon him during the recital.
When the assistant had finished, the chief merely remarked: “Blaisdell, I wish you could get rid of that fellow, Bad Pete. I don’t like to have him hanging about the camp. He’s an undesirable character, and I’m afraid that some of our men will have trouble with him. Can’t you get rid of him?”
“I’ll do it if you say so, Mr. Thurston,” Blaisdell answered quietly.
“How?” inquired his chief.
“I’ll serve out firearms to five or six of the men, and the next time Pete shows his face we’ll cover him and march him miles away from camp.”
“That wouldn’t do any good,” replied Mr. Thurston, with a shake of his head. “Pete would only come back, uglier than before, and he’d certainly shoot up some of our men.”
“You asked me, a moment ago, Mr. Thurston, what I could do,” Tom broke in. “Give me a little time, and I’ll agree to rid the camp of Peter.”
“How?” asked the chief abruptly. “Not with any gun-play! Pete would be too quick for you at anything of that sort.”
“I don’t carry a pistol, and don’t wish to do so,” Tom retorted. “In my opinion only a coward carries a pistol.”
“Then you think Bad Pete is a coward, young man?” returned the chief.
“If driven into a corner I’m pretty sure he’d turn out to be one, sir,” Tom went on earnestly. “A coward is a man who’s afraid. If a fellow isn’t afraid of anything, then why does he have to carry firearms to protect himself?”
“I don’t believe that would quite apply to Pete,” Mr. Thurston went on. “Pete doesn’t carry a revolver because he’s afraid of anything. He knows that many other men are afraid of pistols, and so he carries his firearms about in order that he may enjoy himself in playing bully.”
“I can drive him out of camp,” Tom insisted. “All I’ll wait for will be your permission to go ahead.”
“If you can do it without shooting,” replied the chief, “try your hand at it. Be careful, however, Reade. There are plenty of good natural lead mines in these mountains.”
“Yes—sir?” asked Reade, looking puzzled.
“Much as we’d like to see Pete permanently out of this camp, remember that we don’t want you to give the fellow any excuse for turning you into a lead mine.”
“If Peter tries anything like that with me,” retorted Tom solemnly, “I shall be deeply offended.”
“Very good. Take the young men along with you, Blaisdell. I’ll hear your report on them tomorrow night.”
The assistant engineer took Tom and Harry over to a seven by nine tent.
“You’ll bunk in here,” he explained, “and store your dunnage here. There are two folding cots in the tent, as you see. Don’t shake ’em out until it’s time to turn in, and then you’ll have more room in your house. Now, come on over and I’ll show you the mess tent for the engineers.”
This Blaisdell also showed them. There was nothing in the tent but a plain, long table, with folding legs, and a lot of camp chairs of the simplest kind.
“What’s that tent, Mr. Blaisdell?” inquired Harry, pointing to the next one, as they came out of the engineers’ mess.
“Mess tent for the chainmen and rod men laborers, etc.,” replied their guide. “Now, the fellows will be in soon, and supper will be on in half an hour. After you get your dunnage over to your tent amuse yourselves in any way that you care to. I’ll introduce you to the crowd at table.”
Tom and Harry speedily had their scanty dunnage stored in their own tent. Then they sat down on campstools just outside the door.
“Thurston didn’t seem extremely cordial, did he?” asked Hazelton solemnly.
“Well, why should he be cordial?” Tom demanded. “What does he know about us? We’re trying to break in here and make a living, but how does he know that we’re not a pair of merely cheerful idiots?”
“I’ve an idea that Mr. Thurston is always rather cool with his staff,” pursued Harry.
“Do your work, old fellow, in an exceptionally fine way, and I guess you’ll find that he can thaw out. Mr. Thurston is probably just like other men who have to employ folks. When he finds that a man can really do the work that he’s paid to do I imagine that Thurston is well satisfied and not afraid to show it.”
“What’s that noise?” demanded Harry, trying to peer around the corner of their tent without rising.
“The field gang coming in, I think,” answered Tom.
“Let’s get up, then, and have a look at our future mates,” suggested Harry Hazelton.
“No; I don’t believe it would be a good plan,” said Tom. “We might be thought fresh if we betrayed too much curiosity before the crowd shows some curiosity about us.”
“Reade!” sounded Blaisdell’s voice, five minutes later. “Bring your friend over and inspect this choice lot of criminals.”
Tom rose eagerly, followed by Harry. As they left the tent and hurried outside they beheld two rows of men, each before a long bench on which stood agate wash basins. The toilet preceding the evening meal was on.
“Gentlemen,” Mr. Blaisdell, as the two chums drew near, “I present two new candidates for fame. One is named Reade, the other Hazelton. Take them to your hearts, but don’t, at first, teach them all the wickedness you know. Reade, this is Jack Rutter, the spotted hyena of the camp. If he ever gets in your way just push him over a cliff.”
A pleasant-faced young man in khaki hastily dried his face and hands on a towel, then smilingly held out his right hand.
“Glad to know you, Reade,” he laughed. Hope you’ll like us and decide to stay.”
“Hazelton,” continued the announcer, “shake hands with Slim Morris, whether he’ll let you or not. And here’s Matt Rice. We usually call him ‘Mister’ Rice, for he’s extremely talented. He knows how to play the banjo.”
The assistant engineer then turned away, while one young man, at the farther end of the long wash bench stood unpresented.
“Oh, on second thoughts,” continued Blaisdell, “I’ll introduce you to Joe Grant.”
The last young man came forward.
“Joe used to be a good fellow—once,” added the assistant engineer. “In these days, however, you want to keep your dunnage boxes locked. Joe’s specialty is stealing fancy ties—neckties, I mean.”
Joe laughed good-humoredly as he shook hands, adding:
“We’ll tell you all about Blaisdell himself, boys, one of these days, but not now. It’s too far from pay day, and old Blaze stands in too thickly with the chief.”
“If you folks don’t come into supper soon,” growled the voice of the cook, Jake Wren, from the doorway of the engineer’s mess tent, “I’ll eat your grub myself.”
“He’d do it, too,” groaned Slim Morris, a young man who nevertheless weighed more than two hundred pounds. “Blaze, won’t you take us inside and put us in our high chairs?”
There was infinite good humor in this small force of field engineers. As was afterwards learned, all of them were graduates either of colleges or of scientific schools but not one of them affected any superiority over the young newcomers.
Just as the party had seated themselves there was a step outside, and Bad Pete stalked in looking decidedly sulky.
“Evening,” he grunted, and helped himself to a seat at the table.
“Reade and Hazelton, you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pete, I believe?” asked Blaisdell, without the trace of a smile.
“Huh!” growled Pete, not looking up, for the first supply of food was on the table.
“We’ve had the pleasure, twice today, of meeting Mr. Peter,” replied Tom, with equal gravity.
“See here, tenderfoot,” scowled Bad Pete, looking up from his plate, “don’t you call me ‘Peter’ again. Savvy?”
“We don’t know your other name, sir,” rejoined Tom, eyeing the bad man with every outward sign of courtesy.
“I’m just plain Pete. Savvy that?
“Certainly, Plain Pete,” Reade nodded.
Pete dropped his soup spoon with a clatter letting his right hand fall to the holster.
“Be quiet, Pete,” warned Blaisdell, his eyes shooting a cold glance at the angry man. “Reade is a newcomer, not used to our ways yet. Remember that this is a gentleman’s club.”
“Then let him get out,” warned Pete blackly.
“He belongs here by right, Pete, and you’re a guest. Of course we enjoy having you here with us, but, if you don’t care to take us as you find us, the fellows in the chainmen’s mess will be glad to have you join them.”
“That tenderfoot is only a boy,” growled Pete. “If he can’t hold his tongue when men are around, then I’ll teach him how.”
“Reade hasn’t done anything to offend you,” returned Blaisdell, half sternly, half goodhumoredly. “You let him alone, and he’ll let you alone. I’m sure of that.”
“Blaisdell, if you don’t see that I’m treated right in this mess, I’ll teach you something, too,” flared Bad Pete.
“Threatening the president of the mess is a breach of courtesy on the part of any guest who attempts it,” spoke Blaisdell again. “Gentlemen, what is your pleasure?”
“I move,” suggested Slim Morris quietly, “that Pete be considered no longer a member or guest of this mess.”
“Second the motion,” cried Rutter, Rice and Grant together.
“The motion appears to have been carried, without the necessity for putting it,” declared Mr. Blaisdell. “Pete, you have heard the pleasure of the mess.”
“Huh!” scowled Bad Pete, picking up his soup plate and draining it.
Jake Wren, at this moment, entered with a big platter of roast beef, Bob, the helper, following with dishes of vegetables. Then Bob came in with plates, which he placed before Blaisdell. The latter counted the plates, finding eight.
“We shan’t need this plate, Bob,” declared Blaisdell evenly, handing it back. Then he began to carve.
“Put that plate back with the rest, Bob, you pop-eyed coyote,” ordered Bad Pete.
Bob, looking uneasy, started to do so, but Blaisdell waved him away. At that instant Jake Wren came back into the tent.
“For the present, Jake,” went on the assistant engineer, “serve only for seven in this tent. Pete is leaving us.”
“Do you mean—–” flared Pete, leaping to his feet and striding toward the engineer.
“I mean,” responded Blaisdell, without looking up, “that we hope the chainmen’s mess will take you on. But if they don’t like you, they don’t have to do so.”
For ten seconds, while Pete stood glaring at Blaisdell, it looked as though the late guest would draw his revolver. Pete was swallowing hard, his face having turned lead color.
“Won’t you oblige us by going at once, Pete?” inquired Blaisdell coolly.
“Not until I’ve settled my score here,” snarled the fellow. “Not until I’ve evened up with you, you—–“
At the same time Pete reached for his revolver in evident earnest. Both his words and his movement were nipped short.
Morris and Rice were the only men in the engineers’ party who carried revolvers. They carried weapons, in the day time, for protection against a very real foe, the Rocky Mountain rattlesnakes, which infested the territory through which the engineers were then working.
Both these engineers reached swiftly for their weapons.
Before they could produce them, however, or ore Pete could finish what he was saying, Tom Reade leaped up from his campstool, closing in behind the bad man.
“Ow-ow! Ouch!” yelled Pete. “Let go, you painted coyote.”
“Walk right out of the tent, and I shall rejoice to let you depart,” responded Tom steadily.
Standing behind the fellow, he had, with his strong, wiry fingers, gripped Pete hard right over the biceps muscle of each arm. Like many another of his type Pete had developed no great amount of bodily strength. Though he struggled furiously, he was unable to wrench himself free from this youth who had trained hard in football training squads.
“Step outside and cool off, Peter,” advised Tom, thrusting the bad man through the doorway. “Have too much pride, man, to force yourself on people who don’t want your company.”
Reade ran his foe outside a dozen feet, then released him, turning and reentering the tent.
“No, you don’t! Put up your pistol,” sounded the warning voice of Cook Jake Wren outside. “You take a shot at that young feller, Pete, and I’ll never serve you another mouthful as long as I’m in the Rockies!”
Bad Pete gazed fiercely toward the engineers’ tent, hesitated a moment, and then walked wrathfully away.
THE DAY OF REAL WORK DAWNS
The meal was finished in peace after that. It was so hearty a meal that Tom and Harry, who had not yet acquired the keen edge of appetite that comes to hard workers in the Rockies, had finished long before any one else.
“You fellers had better hurry up,” commanded Jake Wren finally. “It’ll soon be dark, and I’m not going to furnish candles.”
As the cook was an autocrat in camp, the engineers meekly called for more pie and coffee, disposed of it and strolled out of the mess tent over to their own little village under canvas.
“Bring over your banjo, Matt,” urged Joe. “Nothing like the merry old twang to make the new boys feel at home in our school.”
Rice needed no further urging. As darkness came down a volume of song rang out.
“What time do we turn out in the morning?” Tom asked, as Mr. Blaisdell brought over a camp stool and sat near them.
“At five sharp,” responded the assistant engineer. “An hour later we hit the long trail in earnest. This isn’t an idling camp.”
“I’m glad it isn’t,” Reade nodded.
Then Blaisdell chatted with the boys, drawing out of them what they knew, or thought they knew, of civil engineering, especially as applied to railroad building.
“I hope you lads are going to make good,” said Blaisdell earnestly. “We’re in something of a fix on this work at best, and we need even more than we have, of the very best hustling engineers that can be found.”
“I am beginning to wonder,” said Tom, “how, when you have such need of men of long training, your New York office ever came to pick us out.”
“Because,” replied the assistant candidly, “the New York office doesn’t know the difference between an engineer and a railroad tie. Tim Thurston has been making a long yell at the New York offices of the company for engineers. Knowing the little that they do, our New York owners take anyone who says he’s an engineer, and unload the stranger on us.”
“I hope we prove up to the work,” sighed Harry.
“We’re going to size up. We’ve got to, and that’s all there is to it,” retorted Tom. “We’ve been thrown in the water here, Harry, and we’ve got to swim—which means that we’re going to do so. Mr. Blaisdell,” turning to the assistant, “you needn’t worry as to whether we’re going to make good. We _shall_!”
“I like your spirit, at any rate, and I’ve a notion that you’re going to win through,” remarked the assistant.
“You try out a lot of men here, don’t you?” asked Harry.
“A good many,” assented Blaisdell.
“From what I heard at table,” Hazelton continued, “Mr. Thurston drops a good many of the new men after trying them.”
“He doesn’t drop any man that he doesn’t have to drop,” returned Blaisdell. “Tim Thurston wants every competent man that he can get here. Let me see—–“
Blaisdell did some silent counting on his fingers. Then he went on:
“In the last eleven weeks, Thurston has dropped just sixteen new men.”
“Whew!” gasped Harry, casting a sidelong glance at his shoes, with visions of a coming walk at least as far back as Denver or Pueblo.
“Mr. Thurston isn’t going to drop us,” Tom declared. “Mr. Blaisdell, Hazelton and I are here and we’re going to hang on if we have to do it with our teeth. We’re going to know how to do what’s required of us if we have to stay up all night finding out. We’ve just got to make good, for we haven’t any money with which to get home or anywhere else. Besides, if we can’t make good here we’re not fit to be tried out anywhere else.”
“We’re in an especially hard fix, you see,” the assistant engineer explained. “When we got our charter something less than two years ago we undertook to have every mile of track ballasted and laid on the S.B. & L., and trains running through, by September 30th of this year. There are three hundred and fifty-four miles of road in all. Now, in July, less than three months from the time, this camp is forty-nine miles from the terminus of the road at Loadstone, while the constructing engineers and the track-layers are thirty-eight miles behind us. Do you see the problem?”
“You can get an extension of time, can’t you?” asked Tom.
“We can—_not_! You see, boys, the S.B. & L. is the popular road. That is, it’s the one that the people of this state backed in the main. When we got our charter from the legislature there was a lot of opposition from the W.C. & A. railroad. That organization wishes to add to their road, using the very locations that our preliminary engineering force selected for the S.B. & L. The W.C. & A. folks have such a bewildering number of millions at their back that they would have won away from us, had they been an American crowd. The W.C. & A. has only American officers and a few small stockholders in this country. The W.C. & A. is a foreign crowd throughout in reality, and back of them they have about all the money that’s loose in London, Paris and Berlin. The W.C. & A. spent a lot of money at the state capital, I guess, for it was common report that some of the members of the legislature had sold out to the foreign crowd. So, though public clamor carried our charter through the legislature by sheer force, the best concession we could get was that our road must be built and in operation over the entire length by September 30th, or the state has the privilege of taking over our road at an appraised value. Do you see what that means?”
“Does it mean that the state would then turn around and sell this road to the W.C. & A. at a good profit?” asked Reade.
“You’ve hit it,” nodded Mr. Blaisdell. “The W.C. & A. would be delighted to take over our road at a price paid to the state that would give Colorado quite a few millions in profits. The legislature would then have a chance to spend those millions on public improvements in the state. I think you will understand why public clamor now seems to have swung about in favor of the W.C.& A.”
“Yet it seems to me,” put in Harry, “that, even if the S.B. & L. does fail to get the railroad through in time, the stockholders will get their money back when the state takes the road over.”
“That, one can never count on,” retorted Blaisdell, shaking his head. “The state courts would have charge of the appraising of the value of the road, and one can never tell just what courts will award. Ten chances to one the appraisal wouldn’t cover more than fifty per cent. of what the S.B. & L. has expended, and thus our company would be many millions of dollars out of pocket. Besides, if the courts could be depended upon to appraise this uncompleted road at twenty per cent. more than has been expended upon it, our company would still lose, for what the S.B. & L. really expects to do is to bag the big profits that can be made out of the section of the state that this road taps. Take it from me, boys, the officials of this road are crazy with anxiety to get the road through in time, and not lose the many millions that are waiting to be earned by the S.B. & L. getting this road through is all that Tim Thurston dreams of, by night or day. His reputation—and he has a big one in railroad building—is wholly at stake on his carrying this job through. It’ll be a big prize for all of us, professionally, if we can back Thurston’s fight to win.”
“I’ll back it to win,” glowed Tom ardently “Mr. Blaisdell, I am well aware that I’m hardly more than the lens cap on a transit in this outfit, but I’m going to do every ounce of my individual share to see this road through and running on time, and I’ll carry as much of any other man’s burden as I can load onto my shoulders!”
“Good!” chuckled Blaisdell, holding out his hand. “I see that you’re one of us, heart and soul, Reade. What have you to say, Hazelton?”
“I always let Tom do my talking, because he can do it better,” smiled Harry. “At the same time, I’ve known Tom Reade for a good many years, and his performance is always as good as his promise. As for me, Mr. Blaisdell, I’ve just told you that Tom does my talking, but I back up all that he promises for me.”
“Pinkitty-plank-plink!” twanged Matt Rice’s banjo, starting into another rollicking air.
“I guess it’s taps, boys,” called Blaisdell in his low but resonant voice. “Look at the chief’s tent; he’s putting out his candles now.”
A glance at the gradually darkening walls of the chief engineers big tent showed that this was the case.
“We’ll all turn in,” nodded Blaisdell.
So Tom and Harry hastened to their tent, where they unfolded their camp cots and set them up. There was not much bed-making. The body of the cot was of canvas, and required no mattress. From out of their baggage each took a small pillow and pair of blankets. At this altitude the night was already rather chilly, despite the fact that it was July.
Rapidly undressing in the dark the young engineers crawled in between their blankets.
“Well, at last,” murmured Harry, “we’re engineers in earnest. That is,” he added rather wistfully, “if we last.”
“We’ve got to last,” replied Tom in a low voice, hardly above a whisper, “and we’re going to. Harry, we’ve left behind us the playtime of boyhood, and we’re beginning real life! But in that playtime we learned how to play real football. From now on we’ll apply all of the best and most strenuous rules of football to the big art of making a living and a reputation. Good night, old fellow! Dream of the folks back in Gridley. I’m going to.”
“And of the chums at West Point and Annapolis,” gaped Hazelton. “God bless them!”
That was not the only short prayer sent up, but within five minutes both youngsters had fallen sound asleep. The man who can sleep as they did, when the head touches the pillow, has many successes still ahead of him!
Nor did they worry about not waking in season in the morning. Slim Morris had promised to see to it that they were awake on time.
Slam! Bump! Tom Reade was positive he had not been asleep more than a minute when that rude interruption came. He awoke to find himself scrambling up from the ground.
Tom had his eyes open in time to see Harry Hazelton hit the ground with force. Then Slim Morris retreated to the doorway of the tent.
“Are you fellows going to sleep until pay days” Slim demanded jovially.
Tom hustled into his clothes, reached the doorway of the tent and found the sun already well up in the skies.
“The boys are sitting down to breakfast,” called Slim over his shoulder. “Want any?”
“_Do_ I want any?” mocked Tom. He had laid out his khaki clothing the night before, and was now in it, save for his khaki jacket, which he caught up on his arm as he raced along toward the wash bench.
Nor had he gone very far with the soap and water when Harry Hazelton was beside him.
“Tom, Tom!” breathed Harry in ecstacy. “Do you blame people for loving the Rocky Mountains? This grand old mountain air is food and drink—almost.”
“It may be for you. I want some of the real old camp chuck—plenty of it,” retorted Reade, drawing a pocket comb out and running it through his damp locks while he gazed into the foot-square camp mirror hanging from a tree.
“May we come in?” inquired Tom, pausing in the doorway of the engineers’ mess tent.
“Not if you’re in doubt about it,” replied Mr. Blaisdell, who was already eating with great relish. The boys slid into their seats, while Bob rapidly started things their way.
How good it all tasted! Bacon and fried eggs, corn bread and potatoes, coffee and a big dish of that time-honored standby in engineers’ camp—baked beans. Then, just as Tom and Harry, despite their appetites, sat back filled, Bob appeared with a plate of flapjacks and a pitcher of molasses.
“Ten minutes of six,” observed Mr. Blaisdell, consulting his watch as he finished. “Not much more time, gentlemen.”
Tom and Harry followed the assistant engineer out into the open.
“Can you tell us now, Mr. Blaisdell, what we’re to do today?” Reade inquired eagerly.
“See those transits?” inquired Blaisdell, pointing to two of the telescoped and compassed instruments used by surveyors in running courses. “One for each of you. Take your choice. You’ll go out today under charge of Jack Rutter. Of course it will be a little bit slow to you the first two or three days, but between you, I hope to see you do more than Rutter could do alone. You’ll each have two chainmen. Rutter will give you blank form books for your field notes. He’ll work back and forth between the two of you, seeing that you each do your work right. Boys, don’t make any mistakes today, will you, So much depends, you know, upon the way you start in at a new job.”
“We’ll do the best that’s in us,” breathed Tom ardently.
“Engineer Rutter,” called Blaisdell, “your two assistants are ready. Get your two sets of chainmen and make a flying start.”
Animated by the spirit of activity that pervaded the camp, Tom and Harry ran to select their instruments, while Rutter hastened after his chainmen.
Bad Pete had not appeared at either mess this morning. He had small need to, for, in the still watches of the night, he had burglarized the cook’s stores so successfully that not even that argus-eyed individual had noticed the loss.
Having breakfasted heartily in a deep thicket, Pete now looked down over the camp, his eyes twinkling in an evil way.
“I’ll get bounced out of mess on account of two pasty-faced tenderfeet like those boys, will I?” Pete grumbled to himself. “Before this morning is over I reckon I’ll have all accounts squared with the tenderfeet!”
“TRYING OUT” THE GRIDLEY BOYS
The chainmen picked up the transits, carrying also the chains and rods. Rutter led the way, Tom and Harry keeping on either side of him, except when the rough mountain trail narrowed. Then they were obliged to walk at his heels.
“We are making this survey first,” Rutter explained, “and then the leveling over the same ground follows within a few days. Both the surveying and the leveling have to be done with great care. They must tally accurately, or the work will all go wrong, and the contractors would be thrown out so badly that they’d hardly know where they stood. A serious mistake in surveying or leveling at any point might throw the work down for some days. As you’ve already heard explained, any delay, now, is going to lose us our charter as sure as guns.”
For more than a mile and a half the brisk walk continued. At last Rutter halted, pointing to a stake driven in the ground.
“See the nail head in the top of the stake?” he inquired.
“Yes,” Tom nodded.
“You’ll find a similar nail head in every stake. The exact point of the plummet of your bog-line must centre on the middle of that nail head. You can’t be too exact about that, remember.”
Turning to one of the chainmen, Rutter added:
“Jansen, take a rod and hustle along to the next stake.”
“Yes, sir,” answered the man, and started on a run. Nor did he pause until he had located the stake. Then he signaled back with his right hand. Tom Reade, in the meantime, had quickly set up his transit over the first stake on his part of the course. He did some rough shifting, at first, until the point of the plummet was exactly over the nail head. Then followed some careful adjusting of the instrument on its supports until two fine spirit levels showed that the compass of the instrument was exactly level. “Now, let me see you get your sight,” urged Rutter.
Tom did so, coolly, manipulating his instrument as rapidly as he could with safety, yet not with speed enough to cause himself confusion or worry.
“I’ve got a sight on the rod,” announced Reade, without emotion.
“Are the cross-hairs, as you see them through the telescope, just on the mark?” Rutter demanded.
“Let me have a look,” ordered Rutter. “A fine, close sight,” he assented, after taking a careful look through the telescope. “Now, take your reading.”
This showed the course by the compass, and was expressed in degrees, minutes and seconds. The poor reading of a course is one of the frequent faults of new or careless engineers.
“Here is a magnifier for the vernier,” continued Rutter, just after Tom had started to make his reading.
“Thank you; I have a pretty good one of my own,” Tom answered, diving into one of his pockets and bringing to light a small but powerful reading glass with an aplanatic lens.
“You carry a better magnifier than I do,” laughed Rutter. “Hazelton, do You carry a pocket glass?”
“Yes, sir,” nodded Harry “I have one just like Reade’s.”
“Good! I can see that you youngsters believe in good tools.”
Tom in the meantime was busy with the vernier of his transit. This is an ingenious device for showing the smaller divisions into which the circles of the compass are divided. Tom quickly jotted down his field note in degrees, minutes and seconds. One chainman now held an end of a hundred-link chain at the nail head on the stake, while a second man started toward the rodman, unfolding the chain as he went.
Tom remained over his transit. The traveling chainman frequently glanced back for directions from Reade whether or not he was off the course of a straight line to the next stake.
Soon the chain-bearer was a little to the left of the line.
Tom held a hand over the telescope of the transit, moving it very slowly to the right. The chain-bearer, glancing slowly back, stepped slowly to the right of the course until Tom’s hand fell abruptly. Then the chain-bearer stopped, knowing that he was on the right line. A metal stake, having a loop at the top from which fluttered a marker of red flannel, the man stuck upright in the ground. Tom took a peep, signaling so gently that the man moved the stake just half an inch before Reade’s hand again fell.
“That stake is right; go ahead,” ordered Tom, but he said it not by word of mouth, but merely with a slight gesture of pushing forward.
“You’ve been well trained, I’ll bet a hat,” smiled Butter. “I can tell that by the practiced way that you signal. O’Brien!”
“Yes, sir,” answered another chainman, stepping forward.
“Take Thane with you, and carry Mr. Hazelton’s transit to Grizzly Ledge. Mr. Hazelton and I will be there presently.”
Two more chainmen started away.
Now, both of Tom’s chainmen started forward, the rear one moving to the first metal stake that displayed the red marker. Tom still remained at the transit, motioning to the men whenever they got the least out of a true straight line to the rodman. It was not hard work for Reade at this point, but it required his closest attention.
After some time had passed the chainmen had “chained” the whole distance between Tom’s stake and the rod resting on the next stake. Now the rodman, after making a close measurement, signaled back. Nine downward sweeps of his right arm signified nine chains; next the movements of his arm signaled the forty-four links of a tenth chain. Then seven movements of the left hand across in front of the eyes, and Reade knew that stood for seven-tenths of a link. Hence on the page of his field note book Tom wrote the distance between the stakes as nine chains and forty-four and seven-tenths links.
“That’s good,” nodded Rutter, who had been watching every move closely. The forty-four signaled by the rodman’s left arm, instead of being made up of forty-four downward strokes, had consisted of four such strokes, followed by a pause, and then four more strokes.
“I’ll go along and see you get the course and distance to the third rod,” said Rutter.
This course and distance, too, in time, had been measured and carefully noted by Reade.
“You’ll get along all right, if you pay strict attention and don’t become confused or careless,” nodded Jack Rutter. “Now, I’ll write ‘Reade’ on this starting stake of yours, and I’ll write Hazelton on your friend’s starting stake. After you’ve surveyed to Hazelton’s starting stake let your rodman bring you forward until you overhaul me.”
“Very good, sir,” nodded Tom coolly.
Rutter and Harry moved along the trail, leaving Tom with his own “gang.”
“Nothing very mentally wearing in this job,” reflected Tom, when he found himself left to his own resources. “All a fellow has to do is to keep his head clear, be faithful and exactly honest with his work, and move with all the speed that good, straight work will allow.”
So Reade moved ahead, getting courses and distances to five more stakes. Then, as he reached the sixth, he gazed ahead and smiled. A mountain pond lay right in his straight path to the seventh stake.
“Can that pond be easily forded?” Reade asked the nearer chainman.
“No, sir; it’s about ten feet deep in the centre.”
Tom smiled grimly to himself.
“Rutter didn’t say anything about this to me,” Tom muttered to himself. “He put this upon me, to see how I’d get over an obstacle like an unfordable pond. Well, it’s going to take a lot of time but I’ll show Mr. Jack Rutter!”
Accordingly, Reade allowed his chainmen to proceed measuring until they were fairly close to the pond. Then he went forward to the metal stake that had just been driven. From this stake he laid out a new course to the north and at exact right angles with the proper course, sending his chainmen forward with markers. When he had thus passed the end of the pond Reade took another course at exactly right angles to the northerly course, but now going westerly. This he extended until it passed the pond by a few feet. Once more Reade laid out a course, southerly, at exact right angles with the westerly course, the southerly line being exactly four chains in length, as the northerly line had been. Now, the young engineer was able to resume his surveying toward the seventh stake. The extra route that he had followed made three sides of a square. Tom was now in line again, with the pond passed, and the exact distance between the sixth and seventh stakes.
“I guess that was where Rutter was sure he’d have me,” chuckled Tom quietly. “He’s probe ably waiting ahead to see me come hot-footing over the trail to ask for orders.”
At the tenth stake Tom found “Hazelton” written thereon.
“Men,” said the young engineer, “I guess this is where we go forward and look for the crowd. Get up the stuff and we’ll trot along.”
Nearly an hour of solid tramping over the trail followed before Tom and his party, guided by the rodman, came upon Harry Hazelton. Jack Rutter, chewing a blade of grass, sat under a tree at a little distance from where Harry was watching and signaling to two chainmen who were getting a distance.
“Is your own work all done?” asked Rutter.
“Yes, sir,” Tom answered.
“Let me see your field notes.”
Reade passed over the book containing them. From an inner pocket Rutter drew out his own field note book. Before another minute had passed Tom had opened his eyes very wide.
“Your field notes are all straight, my boy. If you’ve made any errors, then I’ve made the same.”
“You’ve already been over this work that we’ve been doing?” demanded Tom, feeling somewhat abashed.
“Of course,” nodded the older and more experienced engineer. “You don’t for a moment suppose we’d trust you with original work until we had tried you out, do you? We have all the field notes for at least three miles more ahead of here. Hazelton!”
“Coming,” said Harry, after jotting down his last observations and the distance.
“Let me see your last notes, Hazelton,” directed Rutter. “Yes; your work is all right.”
“What do you know about this, Harry?” laughingly demanded Reade.
“I’ve suspected for the last two hours that Mr. Rutter was merely trying us out over surveyed courses,” laughed Harry.
“If you don’t know how to do anything other than transit work,” Rutter declared, “the chief can use all your time at that. He’ll be pleased when I tell him that you’re at least as good surveyors as I am. And, Reade, I see from your notes that you knew how to measure across a pond that your chainmen couldn’t ford.”
“Mr. Price taught me that trick, back in Gridley,” Tom responded.
Suddenly Jack Rutter sprang to his feet sniffing vigorously.
“Boys,” he announced, “an adventure is coming our way. Can you guess what it is?”
Tom and Harry gazed at him blankly.
TOM DOESN’T MIND “ARTILLERY”
“I give it up,” Reade replied.
“Well, it’s dinner time,” declared Rutter, displaying the face of his watch.
“Do we have to walk all the way back to camp?” queried Harry, who knew that no provisions had been brought with them.
“No; camp is going to be brought to us,” smiled Rutter. “At least, a part of the camp will be brought here. Look up the trail there, at that highest rise. Do you see dust near there?”
“Yes,” nodded Tom.
“A burro pack-train, conveying our food and that of the other surveying parties ahead of us,” nodded Rutter. “You’ll find the cook’s helper, Bob, in charge of it.”
“Is that the way the meals are brought out every day?” asked Hazelton.
“No; but now we’re getting pretty far from camp, and it would waste a lot of our time to go back and forth. So our noon meals will come by burro route. Tomorrow or the day after the camp will be moved forward.”
“How long before that train will be here?” Tom wanted to know.
“Probably ten minutes,” guessed Rutter.
“Then I’m going to see if I can’t find some little stream such as I’ve passed this morning,” Tom went on. “I want to wash before I’m introduced to clean food.”
“I’ll go along presently,” nodded Harry to his chum. “There’s something about the spirit level on this transit of mine that I want to inspect.”
So Tom Reade trudged off into the brush alone. After a few minutes he returned.
“That burro outfit in sight?” he called, as he neared the trail.
“No,” answered Rutter. “But it’s close. Once in a while I can hear a burro clicking his hoofs against stones.”
Harry appeared two minutes later, just as the foremost burro, with Bob by its head, put in an appearance about fifty yards away.
“All ready for you, Bob,” called Rutter good-humoredly.
“You gentlemen of the engineer corps are always ready,” grunted the cook’s helper.
A quick stop was made, Bob unloading tin plates, bowls and cups.
“Soup!” cried Rutter in high glee. “This is fine living for buck engineers, Bob!”
“There’s even dessert,” returned the cook’s helper gravely, exposing an entire apple pie.
There was also meat, still fairly warm, as well as canned vegetables in addition to potatoes. A pot of hot coffee finished the repast that Bob unloaded at this point.
“Everything but napkins!” chuckled Rutter, as he and the boys quickly “set table” on the ground.
“No; something else is missing,” answered Tom gravely. “Bob forgot the finger-bowls.”
The helper, beginning to feel that he was being “guyed,” took refuge in cold indifference.
“Just stack the things up at this point when you’re through,” directed Bob. “I’ll pick ’em up when I come back on the trail.”
Rutter, like a good chief, saw to it that his two assistants and the chainmen were started on their meal ere he himself began. In half an hour every morsel of food and the final drop of coffee had disappeared.
“Twenty minutes to loaf,” advised Rutter, throwing himself on the ground and closing his eyes. “I’ll take a nap. You’d better follow my example.”
“Then who’ll call us?” asked Tom.
“I will,” gaped Rutter.
“Without a clock to ring an alarm?”
“Humph! Any real backwoods engineer can wake up in twenty minutes if he sets his mind on it,” retorted Jack.
This was a fact, though it was the first that Tom or Harry had heard of it.
“See the time?” called Rutter, holding out his watch. “Twenty minutes of one. I’ll call you at one o’clock—see if I don’t.”
In that fine air, with all the warmth of the noon hour, there was no difficulty in going to sleep. Truth to tell, Tom and Harry had tramped so far that forenoon that they were decidedly tired. Within sixty seconds both “cubs” were sound asleep.
“One o’clock!” called Rutter, sitting up and consulting his watch. “Fall to, slaves! There is a big batch of work awaiting us. Hazelton, you can go right on where you left off. Survey along carefully until you come upon a stake marked ‘Reade.’ Then come forward until you find us. Reade, I’ll go along with you and show you where to break in.”
Preceded by their chainmen, Rutter and Reade trudged along the trail for something like a mile.
“Halt,” ordered Jack Rutter. “Reade, write your autograph on that stake and begin.”
Tom stepped over to the transit, adjusting it carefully and setting the hanging plummet on dead centre with the nail head in the top of the short stake.
“Never set up a transit again,” directed Rutter, “without making sure that your levels are absolutely true, and that your vernier arrangement is in order.”
“I don’t believe you’ll ever catch me at that, Mr. Rutter,” Tom answered, busying himself with the finer adjustments of the transit. “Mr. Price pounded that into me every time that he took me out in the field.”
“Nevertheless,” went on Rutter, “I have known older engineers than you, Reade, who became careless, and their carelessness cost their employers a lot of wasted time and money. Now, you—–“
At this juncture Jack Rutter suddenly crouched behind a low ledge at the right.
“Get behind here, quickly, Reade!” called Rutter. “Bad Pete is up the hillside, about two hundred yards from you—–“
“I haven’t time to bother with him, now,” Tom broke in composedly.
“Duck fast, boy! Pete has an ugly grin on his face, and he’s reaching for his pistol. He’s got it out—he’s going to shoot!” whispered Rutter, drawing his head down where it would be safe from flying bullets.
The chainmen, lounging nearby, had wasted no time in getting safely to cover.
“Going to shoot, is he?” murmured Tom, without glancing away from the instrument. “Does Peter really know how to shoot,”
“You’ll find out! Jump—like a flash, boy!”
Tom went calmly on tinkering with the mechanism of his instrument.
Bang! sounded up the trail. Tom’s fingers didn’t falter as he adjusted a small, brass screw.
Bang! came the second shot. Tom betrayed no more annoyance than before. Bad Pete was aiming to drive bullets into the ground close to the young engineer’s feet, making him skip about. The sixth shot Pete was saving for clipping Reade’s hat from his head.
The shots continued to ring out. Tom, though he appeared to be absorbed in his instrument, counted. When he had counted the sixth shot Reade dropped suddenly, picked up a stone that lay at his feet, and whirled about.
Tom Reade hadn’t devoted years to ball-playing without knowing how to throw straight. The stone left his hand, arching upward, and flew straight toward Bad Pete, who had advanced steadily as he fired.
Whiff! Though Pete tried, too late, to dodge the stone, it landed against his sombrero, carrying that away without injuring the owner.
“Kindly clear out!” called Tom coolly. “You and your noise annoy me when I’m trying to do a big afternoon’s work.”
Snatching up his sombrero, Bad Pete vanished into a clump of brush.
Jack Rutter leaped up from his haven of safety, advancing swiftly to his cub assistant.
“Reade,” he exclaimed, with ungrudging admiration, “you’re the coolest young fellow I ever met, without exception. But you’re foolhardy, boy. Bad Pete is a real shot. One of these days, when you’re just as cool, he’ll fill you full of lead!”
“If he does?” retorted Tom, again bending over his transit, “and if I notice it, I’ll throw a bigger stone at him than I did that time, and it’ll land on him a few inches lower down.”
“But, boy, don’t you understand that the days of David and Goliath are gone by,” remonstrated Rutter. “It’s true you’re turned the laugh on Pete, but that fellow won’t forgive you. He may open on you again within two minutes.”
“I don’t believe he will,” replied Tom, with his quiet smile. “At the same time, I’ll be prepared for him.”
Bending to the ground, and rummaging about a bit, Reade selected three stones that would throw well. These he dropped into one of his pockets.
“Now, let the bad man trot himself on, if he has to,” added the cub engineer, waving a signal to the rodman, who had just halted at the next stake.
“Well, of all the cool ones!” grunted Rutter, under his breath. “But, then, Reade’s a tenderfoot. He doesn’t understand just how dangerous a fellow like Pete can be.”
The chainman started away to measure the distance. From up the hillside came sounds of smothered but very bad language.
“There’s our friend Peter again,” Tom chuckled to Rutter.
“Yes, and the ruffian may open on you again at any moment,” warned Jack, keeping an anxious glance turned in the direction whence came the disturbing voice of Bad Pete.
“Oh, I don’t think he will,” drawled Tom, making a hand signal to the leading chainman to step a little more to the left. “I hope not, anyway, for the noise of revolver shots takes my thoughts away from my work.”
Jack Rutter said no more after that, though through the rest of the afternoon he kept an alert lookout for signs of Pete. There were none, however. Rather earlier than usual, on account of the distance back to camp, Rutter knocked off work for the entire party and the start on the return to camp was made.
Harry Hazelton was considerably excited when he heard the news of the firing on his chum. Reade, however, appeared to be but little interested in the subject.
Pete was not in camp that evening.
Rutter went at once to the tent of the chief, to tell him how well the “cubs” had done during the day. Nor did Jack forget to relate the encounter with Bad Pete.
Just as the underlings of the staff were seating themselves around the table in their mess, Mr. Thurston thrust his head in at the doorway.
“Reade,” called the chief engineer, “I have heard about your trouble with Pete today.”
“There wasn’t any real trouble, sir,” Tom answered.
“Fortunately for you, Reade, Pete didn’t intend to hit you. If he had meant to do so, he’d have done it. I’ve seen him shoot all the spots out of a ten of clubs. Don’t provoke the fellow, Reade, or he’ll shoot you full of fancy holes. Of course it showed both grit and coolness on your part in keeping steadily on with your work all the time the fellow was firing at you. Still, it was unwise to expose yourself needlessly to danger.”
“I didn’t consider Bad Pete particularly dangerous,” Tom rejoined.
“A lawless man with a loaded revolver is hardly a safe person to trifle with,” retorted Mr. Thurston dryly.
“I see that I shall have to make a confession,” smiled Tom. “It was this way, sir. When Hazelton and I were on our way west Harry insisted that we were coming into a dangerous country and that we’d need firearms. So Harry bought two forty-five six-shooters and several boxes of cartridges, too. I was provoked when I heard about it, for we hadn’t any too much money, and Harry had bought the revolvers out of our joint treasury.”
“I felt sure we’d need the pistols,” interrupted Hazelton. “Today’s affair shows that I was right. Tom, you’ll have to carry one of the revolvers after this.”
“I’m no gun-packer,” retorted Tom scornfully. “Young men have no business carting firearms about unless they’re hunting or going to war. Any fellow who carries a pistol as he would a lead pencil is either a coward or a lunatic.”
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Reade,” nodded Mr. Thurston approvingly. “Two of my staff carry pistols, but they do so under my orders. In the first place they’re grown men, not boys. In the second place, they’re working over a stretch of ground where rattlesnakes are thick. Your coolness today served you better than a pistol would have done. If you had had a revolver, and had drawn it, Pete would have drilled you through the head.”
“Drilled me through the head—with what?” asked Tom, smiling.
“With a bullet, of course, young man,” retorted Mr. Thurston.
“I don’t believe he would have gone as far as that,” laughed Tom. “You see, sir, it was like this: When I found Harry so set on carrying a pistol, I went down deep in my own pocket and bought two boxes of blank cartridges to fit the forty-fives. I thought if Harry were going to do some shooting, it would be the part of friendship to fix him so that he could do it in safety to himself and others.”
Harry’s face turned decidedly red. He was beginning to feel foolish.
“Now, this morning,” Tom continued, “when I got the khaki out of my dunnage, I ran across the blanks. I don’t know what made me do it, but I dropped the box of blanks into one of my pockets. This noon, when I went off to find a stream where I could wash up, I almost stepped on our friend Peter, asleep under a bush. For greater comfort he had taken off his belt and holster. Somehow, I didn’t like the idea of his being there. As softly as I could I crept close. I emptied his revolver and fitted in blanks from my own box. Then I took about twenty cartridges out of Peter’s belt and replaced them with blanks.”
“Do you mean to tell me,” broke in Rutter, “that Bad Pete, when he turned his revolver loose on you, was shooting nothing but blanks?”
“That was all he had to shoot,” Tom returned coolly. “And blanks were all he had in his belt to reload with. Don’t you remember when we heard him making a noise up the hillside, and talking in dots and dashes!”
“I do,” nodded Rutter, looking half dazed.
“That,” grinned Reade, “was when he started in to reload? and discovered that he had nothing on hand but temperance cartridges. Here—–” Tom began to unload one of his pockets upon the wooden table before the astonished eyes of the others. There was a mixture of his own blank cartridges with the real ammunition that he had stealthily abstracted from Bad Pete’s revolver and belt.
Such a whoop of glee ascended that the head chainman came running from the other nearby mess tent to see what was up.
“Just a little joke among our youngsters, my man,” explained Mr. Thurston. “The young gentlemen are going to keep the joke to themselves for the present, though.”
So the mystified and disappointed chainman returned to his own crowd.
“Let me see, Reade,” continued Mr. Thurston, turning once more to Tom, “what is your salary?”
“I was taken on, sir, at forty dollars a month, as a starter,” Tom replied.
“A young man with your size of head is worth more than that to the company. We’ll call it fifty a month, Reade, and keep our eyes on you for signs of further improvement,” said the chief engineer, as he turned to go back to his own waiting dinner.
THE BITE FROM THE BUSH
From the time that they parted in the morning, until they started to go back to camp in the afternoon, Tom and Harry did not meet the next day. Each, with his chainmen, was served from Bob’s burro train at noon.
“Did you see Bad Pete today?” was Harry’s greeting, as they Started back over the trail.
“Did you hear from him or of him in any way?” pressed Hazelton.
“Not a sign of any sort from Peter,” Tom went on. “I’ve a theory as to what’s keeping him away. He’s on a journey.”
“Yes; between you and me, I believe that Peter has gone in search of someone who can sell him, or give him, a few forty-five cartridges.”
“He’d better apply to you, then, Tom,” grinned Harry.
“Why, I couldn’t sell him any,” Tom replied.
“What did you do with those you had last night?”
“You remember the unfordable pond that came in one of my courses yesterday?”