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.