Tom discreetly repressed his desire to laugh. Hazelton glided into the tent, grinning.
“Tom, be careful not to string Bad Pete so hard, or, one of these days, you’ll get him so mad that he won’t be able to resist drilling you through with lead.”
“Let’s go over to the cook tent and either beg or steal something to eat,” proposed Reade.
It was two hours later when a rodman rode hurriedly into camp.
“Hey, you cubs,” he called, “come and help me get Mr. Blaisdell’s bed ready for him. He’s coming back sick.”
“Sick?” demanded Reade, thunderstruck. “Why, he looked healthy enough when he went out of camp a little while ago.”
“He’s sick enough, now,” retorted the rodman.
“What ails Mr. Blaisdell?” asked Harry.
“It’s mountain fever, I reckon,” rejoined the rodman. “Blaisdell must have been off color for days, and didn’t really know it.”
All three worked rapidly getting everything in readiness for the coming of the assistant engineer. Then Mr. Blaisdell was brought in, on a stretcher rigged between two ponies. The acting chief is face was violently flushed, his eyes seemed bright as diamonds.
“Reade,” said the acting chief thickly, as they lifted him from the litter to his cot, “if I’m not better by morning you’ll have to get word to the chief.”
“Yes, sir,” assented Reade, placing a hand on Blaisdell’s forehead. It felt hot and feverish. “May I ask, sir, if you verified any of the sights on Nineteen?”
“I—–I took some of ’em,” replied the acting chief hesitatingly. “Reade, I’m not sure that I remember aright, but I think—–I think—–you and Hazelton were correct about that. I—–wish I could—–remember.”
Bill Blaisdell closed his eyes, and his voice trailed off into murmurs that none around him could understand. Even Reade, with his very slight experience in such matters, realized that the acting chief was a very sick man.
“You cubs better clear out of here now,” suggested one of the rodmen. “I know better how to take care of men with mountain fever.”
“I hope you do know more about nursing than I do, Carter,” replied Tom very quietly. “In the future, however, don’t forget that, though I may be a cub, I am an engineer, and you are a rodman. When you speak to me address me as Mr. Reade. Come, men, all out of here but the nurse.”
Once in the open Tom turned to Harry with eyes ablaze.
“Harry, could anything be tougher? The chief away, the acting chief down with fever and on the verge of delirium—–and a crooked engineer in our crowd who’s doing his best to sell out the S.B. & L.—–bag, baggage and charter!”
THE CHIEF TOTTERS FROM COMMAND
It was not like Tom Reade to waste time in wondering what to do.
“Harry,” he continued, once more turning upon his chum, “I want you to get a pony saddled as fast as you can. You know that the telegraph wire is being brought along as fast as it can be done. This morning I heard Rutter say that it was hardly five miles back of us on the trail. Get into saddle, wire the chief at the construction camp, and bring back his orders as fast as you can ride.”