“You’ve got that much of your information straight,” assented Tom, looking up with a smile.
“Well, Reade, maybe you’d better be a bit more polite and sociable. You’ve missed staking this claim, but I think we can fix it to give you a job here as engineer.”
“That would be very kind of you, I’m sure,” nodded Tom. “But I can’t undertake any work for you.”
“Then you’ll lose some money.”
“I’m used to losing money,” smiled Tom. “As for my partner, he’s a real wonder in the way of losing money. He lost ten cents yesterday.”
“We’ve got a fine claim,” asserted Dolph Gage. It’s right under our feet, and there isn’t another such claim in Nevada. Now, if you two want to make any real money you’d better begin to be decent with us right now. Otherwise, you won’t get the job. Now, what do you say?”
“I vote for ‘otherwise,’” laughed Reade, turning on his heel.
“Oh, you run along and be independent, then,” called Dolph Gage after him. “If you’re going to stick the winter through on this Range you’ll be hungry once or twice between now and spring, if you don’t take the trouble to get in right with us.”
“Why?” questioned Reade, halting and looking squarely back. “Do you steal food, too?”
Once More Tom turned on his heel. Harry walked along with him. Jim Ferrers all but walked backward, holding his rifle ready and keeping a keen eye over the claim stealers.
“Come along, Jim,” called Tom at last. “Those fellows won’t do any shooting. Their minds are now set on their new claim. They expect to dig out gold enough to enable them to buy two or three banks. They won’t shoot unless they’re driven to it.”
Jim Ferrers turned and walked with the boys.
Fifteen seconds later a rifle cracked out behind them, the bullet striking the dirt well to the left of Tom’s party.
“It’s a bluff, Jim, and-----” began Reade.
Crack! spoke Ferrers’s ride.
“I knocked Gage’s hat off,” said the guide dryly. “Now, if he fires again, it’ll show that he’s looking for trouble.”
“The fellow who goes looking for trouble is always a fool,” Tom remarked.
“Because trouble is the most worthless thing in the world, yet a fellow who goes looking for it is always sure to find twice as much as he thought he wanted.”
By the time the young engineers had reached their own camp, Harry, whose face had been growing gradually “longer” on the walk, sank to the ground in an attitude of dejection.
“Just our luck!” he growled. “Gage is right when he says that claim is the best in this part of Nevada. And, just because we were too slow, we lost it. Fortune, you know, Tom, knocks but once at any man’s door.”
“I don’t believe that,” said Tom stoutly. “Harry, now that we’ve made a start and lost, my mind is made up as to our course now. I hope you’ll agree with me.”