“Let the poor little runt have his ‘makings,’ if he wants,” Tom proposed. “But I don’t believe that Alf will smoke the little white pests very much longer.”
“You’re going to stop him?”
“I’m going to make him want to stop it himself,” Tom rejoined, with a slight grin.
Alf came back, looking much pleased.
“Let me feel your pulse,” requested Reade. “Now, let me see your tongue.”
This much accomplished, Tom next turned down the under lid of one of young Drew’s eyes and gazed at the lack of red there displayed.
“I see,” remarked Reade gravely, “that your nerves are going all to pieces.”
“I feel fine,” asserted Alf stolidly.
“You must, with your nerves in the state I now find them,” retorted the young engineer. “Next thing I know you’ll be hearing things.”
“Wow-ow-wow!” shrieked Alf Drew, bounding some ten feet away from the low bush near which he had been standing.
“Get away from that bush, Mr. Reade!” howled the young cigarette fiend. “That rattler will bite you, if you don’t.”
“I didn’t hear any rattler,” said Tom gravely. “Did you, Harry?”
“Not a rattle,” said Hazelton soberly.
Jim Ferrers looked on and grinned behind Alf’s back. The youngster was trembling. As Tom came near him the “rattle” sounded again. Within five minutes two more warning “rattles” had been heard near the boy.
“The camp must be full of ’em,” wailed the terrified boy. “And I’m afraid of rattlers.”
“So am I, Alf,” Tom assured him, “but I haven’t heard one of the reptiles. The trouble is with your nerves, Drew. And your nerves are in league with your brain. If you go on smoking cigarettes you won’t have any brain. Or, if you do, it will be one that will have you howling with fear all the time. Why don’t you drop the miserable things when you find they’re driving you out of your heads”
“Perh-h-h-haps I will,” muttered the boy.
After an early supper, Jim Ferrers rode away. He offered to leave his rifle in camp, but Tom protested.
“I’d feel responsible for the thing if you left it here, you know, Jim. And I don’t want to have to keep toting it around all the time you’re away.”
“But suppose Dolph Gage and his crew come over here, and you’re not armed?”
“Then I’ll own up that we haven’t anything to shoot with, and ask him to call again,” Tom laughed. “But don’t be afraid, Jim. Gage and his crew will be anxious, for the next few days, to see whether they can coax us into serving them. They need an engineer over at their stolen claim, and they know it.”
So Ferrers rode away, carrying his rifle across his saddle.
Alf spent an evening of terror, for the ground around the camp appeared to be full of “rattlers”.