“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.”