“Shall I pull the trigger, Black?” asked the man who held the weapon to Reade’s head.
“Yes; if he doesn’t soon come to his senses,” snarled Black.
“I’ve already told you,” persisted Tom, “that I couldn’t give you the proper signature, even if I wanted to—–which I don’t.”
“You may be glad to talk before we’re through with you tonight,” threatened Black. “The time for trifling is past. Either give us that signature or else prepare to take the consequences. For the last time, are you going to answer my question?”
“I’ve told you the truth,” Reade insisted. “If you won’t believe me, then there is nothing more to be said.”
“You lie, if you insist that you don’t know the signatures for tonight!” cried Black savagely.
“All right, then,” sighed Tom. “I can’t tell you what I don’t know.”
From off in the distance came the shrill too-oo-oot! of a locomotive. Tom Reade heard, and, despite his fears for his safety, an exclamation of joy escaped him.
“Oh, you needn’t build any false hopes,” sneered Black. “That whistle doesn’t come from the through train. It’s one of the locomotives that the S.B. & L. had delivered over the D.V. & S., which makes a junction with your road at Lineville. A locomotive or a train at the Lineville end won’t help your crowd any. That isn’t the through train required by the charter. The S.B. & L. loses the game, just the same.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tom argued. “The S.B. & L. road was finished within charter time. No railroad can get a train through if the opposition sends out men to dynamite the tracks.”
“Humph!” jeered Black maliciously. “That dynamited roadbed won’t save your crowd. The opposition can make it plain enough that your crowd dynamited its own roadbed through a well-founded fear that the tracks clear through weren’t strong enough to stand the passing of a train. Don’t be afraid, Reader the enemies of your road will know how to explain the dynamiting this side of Brewster’s.”
“That’s a question for tomorrow, Black,” rejoined Tom Reade. “No man can ever tell, today, what tomorrow will bring forth.”
Too-oo-oot! sounded a locomotive whistle again. One of the men in the thicket threw himself to the ground, pressing his ear to the earth.
“There’s a train, or a locomotive, at least, coming this way from Lineville, boss,” reported the fellow.
“A train?” gasped Black. Then his face cleared. “Oh, well, even if it’s a fully equipped wrecking train, it can’t get the road mended in time to bring the through train in before midnight, as the charter demands.”
Now the train from Lineville came closer, and the whirr of its approach was audible along the steel rails. The engine’s bell was clanging steadily, too, after the manner of the engines of “specials.”
’Gene Black crowded to the outer edge of the thicket, peering through intently. The bright headlight of an approaching locomotive soon penetrated this part of the forest. Then the train rolled swiftly by.