For some minutes Tom plodded on through the darkness. He did not go toward the claim, but in the opposite direction. He walked like one who felt the need of physical exhaustion. Presently coming to a steep trail winding along among boulders he took to the trail, striding on at barely diminished speed.
At last, out of breath from the rapid climb, Tom halted and gazed down over the rugged landscape. “The gold is there,” he muttered. “I’m sure of it. Oh, if we could only find it!”
As Tom stood, deep in thought, the face of his patient friend rose before him.
“I don’t mind going to smash for myself, in a good, hard fight,” Reade went on audibly. “But it seems a crime to drag Harry down to poverty with me. If I could only get him to go away I’d give up my own life, if need be, to prove what’s under our ridge of Nevada dirt.”
“Ye’ll give up your life for less’n that, I reckon!” sounded another voice, close at hand.
Around a boulder Dolph Gage stepped into view, followed by two of his men.
THE MAN WHO MADE GOOD
“Good evening, Gage,” Tom responded pleasantly, after a slight start of alarm. “What brings you in this section again?”
“Wanter know?” sneered Gage, while his companions scowled.
“That was my object in inquiring,” Tom smiled.
“We’re hiding—–that’s what we’re doing here,” Gage volunteered harshly, though he spoke in a low voice.
“Hiding here—–with the officers looking for you?”
“Well, what could be a safer place than right where we’re wanted?” demanded Dolph. “The officers are scouring other counties for us, and they have handbills up offering rewards for us. Right here, overlooking your claim, they’d never think of looking for men who have a price set on their capture.”
“Well, you needn’t be afraid of me,” offered Reade, with mock generosity. “I’m short of money, but I’m not looking for blood money. You had better travel fast from here. I’ll give you until daylight before I send word to the law’s officers.”
“Daylight? You’ll never see daylight again,” Gage retorted. “You will be lying here, looking up at the stars, but you won’t see anything!”
“Your words have a mysterious ring to them,” laughed Tom.
He wasn’t in any doubt as to what the rascals meant to do with him. It was a rule with Tom Reade, however, that he wasn’t dead until he had actually been killed. Even while he spoke so lightly, Tom, through his half-closed eyes, was taking in every detail of the situation.
None of the trio had yet drawn their weapons, though all wore them in plain sight. If they started to draw their pistols Tom decided that he would leap forward holding to Gage, kicking one of the latter’s companions so as to render the fellow helpless, and——