Tom glanced at his chum, then answered, slowly:
“I’m sorry, Mr. Dunlop, sorry indeed, if-----”
“What are you trying to say?” demanded the mine promoter sharply.
“When you left here, Mr. Dunlop, we told you that we couldn’t agree to hold our offer open.”
“Oh, that’s all right. I’ve come right back and taken up your terms with you,” replied the promoter easily.
“But I’m sorry to say, sir, that you are too late.”
“Too late? What are you talking about, Reade? You haven’t entered the employ of any one else not in this wilderness.”
“We’ve formed a partnership with Ferrers, sir,” Reade gravely informed Mr. Dunlop, “and we’re going into the mining business on our own account.”
“Nonsense! Where’s your claim?”
“Somewhere, sir, in this part of Nevada.”
“You haven’t found the claim yet, then?” asked the promoter, with a tinge of relief in his voice.
“No, sir. We located a promising claim, but the Gage gang tricked us out of it. We’ll find another, though.”
“Then you’ll prove yourselves very talented young men,” scoffed Mr. Dunlop. “Lad, don’t you know that I’ve been all over this country with old-time prospectors? There isn’t any claim left that will pay you for the trouble of locating and working it.”
“We’re going to hope for better luck than your words promise us, sir,” Harry hinted.
“You’ll have your labor for your pains, then, and the satisfaction of finding yourselves fools,” exclaimed Dunlop testily. “You’d better drop all that nonsense, and report to me after breakfast.”
“It’s not to be thought of, Mr. Dunlop,” Tom replied gravely. “We are here in the land of gold. We think we see our chance to work for ourselves for a while, and we’re going to make the most of our chance.”
“Then you’re a pair of idiots,” quivered indignant Dunlop.
“We’ll be our own fools, then,” smiled Harry.
“I beg your pardon for getting out of patience,” spoke Mr. Dunlop, more gently. “I’m disappointed in you. All the way here I have been planning to get you both at work early. The stockholders in the Bright Hope are all looking for early results.”
“Couldn’t you get hold of an engineer at Dugout?” Tom inquired.
“Then you’ll have to go farther—–Carson City,” Reade suggested. “There must be plenty of mining engineers in Nevada, where their services are so much in demand.”
“A lot of new claims are being filed these days,” explained Mr. Dunlop. “The best I could learn in Dugout was that I’d have to wait until some other mine could spare its man.”
“I’m sorry we can’t help you, sir,” Tom went on thoughtfully.
“I shall feel it a personal grievance, if you don’t,” snapped the mine promoter.
“We can’t do anything for you, Mr. Dunlop,” spoke Reade decisively. “Just as soon as Ferrers returns, so that our camp can be taken care of, we three partners are going to hustle out on the prospect. Will you have breakfast with us, sir?”