Whether by accident or design, Black, as he made a half turn to start after the cub engineer anew, brushed a corner of the unstable drawing table hard enough to tip it over. A bottle of drawing ink fell, too, splashing ugly black blotches over Tom’s carefully drawn outlines of a map.
“Now, you’ve done it!” exclaimed Tom.
“I haven’t quite finished,” snapped the stranger, rushing after Reade.
“I’m going to box your ears soundly, boy!”
“Are you, indeed?” demanded Tom, halting. He was still smiling, but there was a stern look in his eyes. Tom no longer retreated, but stood awaiting Black’s assault.
Blanks fist shot out straight, but Reade didn’t stop the blow. Instead, he ducked low. When he came up his arms enveloped Black’s legs in one of the swift football tackles that Tom had learned with the Gridley High School football team.
“You annoy me,” drawled Tom, and hurled the fellow ten feet away. Black landed on his back with an angry roar, followed by cursing.
“Profanity is always objectionable to a gentleman,” declared Tom dryly, running over ere the newcomer could regain his feet. Once more Reade bent and rose. As he did so, Eugene Black shot through the tent doorway, landing on the ground a dozen feet beyond.
Tom stood in the doorway, smiling. Black leaped to his feet.
“You puppy!” gasped Black, sending his right hand back to his hip pocket. Tom didn’t wait to see what he would bring out, but darted forward. This time he seized the stranger in a dead tackle, dropping him over on his back without throwing him.
“Now, roll over,” ordered Reade grimly. “I’m curious to see what you have in your pocket. Ah! So—–this is it! You’re another Peter Bad, are you?”
Tom held in one hand a silver-plated revolver with ivory handle that he had snatched out of Black’s pocket.
“I wonder why it is,” mocked Tom, grinning, “that nine out of every ten dude tenderfeet from the east come west with one of these things.”
Black charged the cub, intent on recapturing his pistol, but Reade shot out a foot, tripping him. Then Tom ran nimbly over to the cook tent. Here he halted, breaking the weapon at the breech and allowing the cartridges to drop into his hand. He transferred them to his pocket, then wheeled and picked up Jake’s kitchen hatchet.
With a few swift strokes from the head of the hatchet Tom put that firearm on the retired list for good.
“Give me my pistol, boy!” choked Black, running up.
“Certainly,” rejoined Reade, wheeling and politely offering the ruined firearm. “I don’t want it. I’ve no use for such things”
Black took his weapon, gasped, then, seizing it by the barrel, leaped at Tom, intent on battering his head.
“Here, what’s the trouble?” cried Mr. Thurston, appearing around the corner of the cook house and promptly seizing Black by the collar of his flannel shirt.