“Don’t ask me,” returned Jack, with a shrug of his shoulders. “What have you been doing? Drawing?”
“Why don’t you go on with it?”
“We’re at a point where we need orders, for we’ve had to lay down one part of the work while waiting for further instructions.”
“I can’t help you any, then,” replied Rutter. “Sorry, but before I could give any orders I’d need a few myself.”
At eleven o’clock that night Dr. Gitney arrived, with saddle-bags full of medicines and other necessaries. He saw Blaisdell, and pronounced the assistant engineer a very sick man.
Shortly after midnight Mr. Thurston rode into camp. He tottered from saddle and reeled until Tom, on the lookout for him, ran forward and supported the chief engineer to his tent.
Then Dr. Gitney was sent for and came.
“Your chief has mountain fever, too,” said the medical attendant to Tom, after stepping outside the tent.
“How long will it take them to get well?” asked Wade anxiously.
“Weeks! Hard to say,” replied the physician vaguely.
“Weeks!” groaned Tom Reade. “And the camp now in charge of Jack Rutter, who’s a fine workman but no leader! Doc Gitney doesn’t know it, but he has sentenced the S.B. & L. railroad to death!”
It was a trying situation. The cub engineer felt it keenly, for he had set his heart on seeing the S.B. & L. win out over its rival.
Then, too, all in a flash, the memory of ’Gene Black’s treachery to his employers came back to the mind of Tom Reade.
FROM CUB TO ACTING CHIEF
Tom didn’t sleep that night. He sat by, silently, in the big tent, nursing the patient as Dr. Gitney directed.
In the morning, at five, Matt Rice came. Tom gladly surrendered the post to him and took a scant hour of deep slumber on the bare ground outside.
“Wake up, Reade,” ordered Rutter, at last shaking the cub and hauling him to his feet. “This is no place to sleep. Go to your tent and stretch out full length on your cot.”
“On my cot?” demanded Tom, rubbing his eyes fiercely. “You can’t spare me from the day’s work?”
“I don’t believe there will be any day’s work,” Rutter answered.
“You’re in charge, man! You must put us to work,” Tom insisted.
“I don’t know just what ought to be done,” complained Rutter. “I shall have to wait for orders.”
“Orders?” repeated Tom, in almost breathless scorn. “From whom can you get orders?”
“Howe is Thurston’s assistant at the lower camp,” Rutter rejoined. “He’ll have to come over here and take real charge. I’m going to send a messenger to the telegraph station and wire Mr. Howe to come here at once.”
“See here, Rutter,” blazed Tom insistently, “Mr Howe is in charge of the construction forces. He’s laying the bed and the tracks. He can’t be spared from the construction work for even a day, or the road will fail to get through, no matter what we do here. Man, you’ve simply got to be up and doing! Make some mistakes, if you have to, but don’t lie down and kill the S.B. & L. with inaction.”