’Gene Black led the way back from the track and into the woods for a few rods. Then the party wheeled, going eastward in a line parallel with the track.
Tom did not speak during the journey. It was not his nature to use words where they would be worse than wasted.
After proceeding a quarter of a mile or so, Black parted the bushes of a dense thicket and led the way inside. At the centre the brush had been cleaned out, clearing a circular space about twenty feet in diameter and dimly lighted by a lantern placed in the centre of the inclosure.
“A snug little place, Reade,” chuckled the scoundrel, turning about as Reade was piloted into the retreat. “How do you like it?”
“I like the place a whole lot better than the company,” Tom answered promptly.
“What’s the matter with the company?” jeered Black.
“A hangman would feel more at home in a crowd like this.”
“See here, cub! Don’t you try to get funny,” warned Black, his eyes snapping dangerously. “If you attempt any of your impudence here you’ll soon find out who’s master.”
“Master?” scoffed Tom, his own eyes flashing. “Black, do you draw any comfort from feeling that you’re boss of such an outfit? Though I daresay that the outfit is better than its boss. However, you asked my opinion, and you got it. I’ll give you a little more of my opinion, Black, and it won’t cost you a cent.”
He looked steadily into his enemy’s eyes as he continued:
“Black, a good, clean dog wouldn’t willingly stand by this crowd!”
Thump! ’Gene Blacks clenched fist landed in Reade’s face, knocking him down.
“Thank you,” murmured Reade, as he sat up.
“Much obliged, are you?” jeered Black.
“Yes,” admitted Tom. “As far as it goes. That was a coward’s act—–to have a fellow’s hands tied before daring to hit him.”
Black’s face now turned livid with passion.
“Lift the fool to his feet, if he wants to stand,” ordered Black savagely. “He’s trying to make me waste my time talking to him. Operator, call up Brewster’s and ask if he held the train as ordered by wire.”
“Oho!” thought Tom. “So that’s your trick? You have the wire in your control, and you’re sending supposed train orders holding the train at a station so that it can’t get through You’re a worse scoundrel than I thought!”
Off at the edge of the brush, on the inner side, a telegraph instrument had been set up on a barrel. From the instrument a wire ran toward the track.
In another moment the sounder of the sender was clicking busily. There was a pause, then the answer came back: Click-click-click-clickety-click!
The operator, a seedy-looking fellow over whose whole appearance was written the word “worthless,” swung a lantern so that the light fell on a pad of paper before him. Pencil in hand, he took off the message as it came.