“But the third man will get me with his pistol,” Tom decided. “That is, unless they become flustered when I show fight. It’s a slim chance for me—–a mighty slim chance, but I’ll do my best as soon as these wretches start something!”
“Lost your money in your claim, haven’t you?” jeered Gage, who was plainly playing with his intended victim. “Serves you right, after jumping us out of the property just because the law said you could! But the gold’s there, and we’ve got a man with mineral rights to nab the claim as soon as you give up.”
“That will be a long while, I imagine,” Tom smiled back at the rascal.
“Not as long as you may think,” laughed Gage harshly. “We’ve got you now, and we’ll get Hazelton and Jim Ferrers, next thing you know. Then our claim will be established through our friend, and we’ll protect him from being jumped by any one else.”
“If you live,” Tom reminded the fellow.
“Oh, we’ll live!” Gage retorted grimly. “We’re hunted, now, and we’ll kill every man that comes near enough.”
“Begin with this cub!” spoke up Eb, gruffly. “Don’t play with him until he tricks us and gets away.”
“Perhaps you don’t realize how close help is to me,” Tom broke in quickly. It was a “bluff,” but he hoped that it might have its effect.
“If there’s help near you,” quivered Gage, his anger rising, “we’ll make sure that it doesn’t get here in time to do you any good. Draw and finish him boys!”
Before Reade could tense his muscles for a spring, a shot rang out behind them. Eb fell, with a swift, smothered groan of pain.
“Duck!” panted Dolph Gage. “Out of this! To cover, and then we’ll reckon with any one who tries to follow us!”
In the same instant Tom turned, bounding down the trail in the direction from which the shot had come.
“Good! Keep on going, boss!” whispered a calm voice. “Don’t let ’em catch you again.”
“Who are you?” Tom demanded, halting and trying to make out the man’s face in the intense shadow under a ledge of rock.
“Duck!” commanded the same voice. “I’ll follow close. I’m alone, and some of that crew may pluck up heart and follow us. Vamoose!”
“I’ll go at your side, but I won’t run ahead of you,” Tom whispered back. “I know you, now. Thank you, Leon!”
In the darkness, in lieu of shaking hands Tom gripped one of the man’s elbows in sign of thanks.
“We’d better get out of this,” Tom went on, in a barely louder whisper. “But how did you come to be on hand, Leon?”
“Followed you,” was the terse reply.
“From the camp?”
“Wanted to get even with you.”
“You’re talking in riddles,” Reade protested, in a puzzled tone. “At the same time I’m greatly obliged to you.”
“Thought you’d be,” grunted Leon. “That’s how I got even.”