“What do you mean?” Tom wanted to know. “You got even by placing me under a great obligation?”
“Just that,” nodded the cook, “we had trouble, once, and you came out on top, didn’t you?”
“Yes; but that little affair needn’t have prevented us from being friends.”
“It did, until I had done something to make you needed me as a friend,” the cook declared.
Tom laughed at this statement of the case. It accorded quite closely, however, with the cook’s generally sulky disposition. Even a friendship Leon would offer or accept grudgingly.
“But why did you follow me?” Tom continued, as they neared the camp. “Did you think I was going to run into danger?”
“Well,” he admitted, finally, “when I saw you stealing off, soft like, I had a queer notion come over me that, maybe, you were discouraged, and that you were going off to put an end to yourself.”
Tom started, stared in amazement, then spoke in a tone of pretended anger:
“Much obliged for your fine opinion of me, Leon,” he declared. “Only cowards and lunatics commit suicide.”
“That’s all right,” nodded the cook doggedly. “I’ve seen men lose their minds out here in these gold fields.”
They were now in camp.
“Wait, and I’ll call Ferrers and a few of the men, Leon,” Tom proposed.
“What for? To stand guard?”
“No; we must send back a few of the men to find that man you wounded. It was Eb. He fell in a heap. If his own companions didn’t carry him away he was left in a bad fix.”
“You’ll be going back to nurse rattlesnakes yet!” almost exploded the cook.
“That’s all right, but we’re going to find that wounded man if he’s in need of help,” Tom stoutly maintained.
He called Jim Ferrers, who roused five more men. Then the party returned to the place on the trail where Eb had been left. There were still blood spots on the ground, but Eb had vanished. The party spent some minutes in searching the vicinity, then concluded that Gage had rescued and carried away the wounded man.
It may be said, in passing, that Eb was subsequently found, by officers, lying in a shack not far from Dugout City. The fellow was nearly dead, when found, from careless handling of his wound. At Dugout the surgeons amputated his wounded leg, and Eb finally wound up in prison.
During all the excitement Hazelton had not been aroused. He knew nothing of what had happened until morning came.
Before Tom Reade turned in that night he shook hands with the sullen cook.
“I think you and I are going to be good friends, after this, Leon,” Tom smiled. “I hope so, anyway.”
“And I’m glad you gave me back my gun,” grunted Leon. “It gave me a chance to do something for you. Yes; I reckon we’ll be good friends after this.”