“Punishing Alf isn’t your work, Leon,” Tom went on quietly. “I’m one of the heads here, and the management of this camp has been left more or less in my hands. I gave you a weak, deluded, almost worthless little piece of humanity as a helper. I’ll admit that he isn’t much good, but yet he’s a boy aged fourteen, at any rate, and therefore there may be in that boy the makings of a man. Your way of tackling the job is no good. It’s a fool way, and, besides, it’s a brutal, unmanly way.”
“I guess you’d better stop, right where you are, Mister Reade!” snapped Leon, an ugly scowl coming to his face. “I don’t have to take any such talk as that from you, even if you are the boss. You may be the boss here, but I’m older and I’ve seen more of the world. So you may pass on your way, Mister Reade, and I’ll mind my own business while you mind yours.”
“Good!” smiled Tom amiably. “That’s just the arrangement I’ve been trying to get you to pledge yourself to. Mind your own business, after this, just as you’ve promised. Don’t play the brute with small boys.”
“You needn’t think you can boss me, Mister Reade,” sneered Leon, a dangerous look again coming into his eyes. “I’ve told you that I won’t take that kind of talk from you.”
“You’ll have to listen to it, just as long as you stay in camp,” Reade answered. “I don’t want to be disagreeable with any man, and never am when I can avoid it. But there are certain things I won’t have done here. One of them is the bullying of small boys by big fellows like you. Do I make myself plain?”
“So plain,” Leon answered, very quietly, as one hand traveled back to the butt of the revolver hanging over his right hip, “that I give you just ten seconds, Mister Reade, to get away and do your talking in another part of the camp.”
Tom saw the motion of the hand toward the weapon, though no change in his calm face or steady eyes denoted the fact.
“I believe I’ve just one thing more to say to you, Leon. I’ve told young Drew that he needn’t bother about coming back as your helper. He is to report to me, and I shall find him another job.”
“Are you going to get away from here?” snarled the angry cook.
“I’ll give you only until I count ten,” Leon snapped, his hand still resting on the butt of his revolver.
“You’re not threatening me with your pistol, are you?” Tom inquired in a mild tone.
“You’ll find out, if you don’t vamoose right along. One—–two—–”
“Stop it,” Tom commanded, without raising his voice. “You may think you could get your pistol out in time to use it. Try it, and you’ll learn how quickly I can jump on you and grab you. Try to draw your weapon, or even to shift your position ever so little, and I’ll show you a trick that may possibly surprise you.”
There was no trace of braggadocio in Tom Reade’s quiet voice, but Leon knew, instantly, that the young engineer could and would be as good as his word.