So, though the chums were “taking a rest,” as they phrased it, they had brought with them a small furnace and the rest of the outfit for assaying minerals in small quantities.
Today, however, was altogether too fine for thoughts of work. Just after breakfast Harry Hazelton had borrowed the only horse in camp, belonging to Jim Ferrers, their cook and guide, and had ridden away for the day.
Barely had Hazelton departed when Alf Drew, hungry, lonely and wistful, had happened along. He asked for “a job.” There really wasn’t one for him, but good-natured Reade created one, offering five dollars a month and board.
“No telling, young man, how long the job will last,” Tom warned him. “We may at any hour break camp and get away.”
But Alf had taken the job and gratefully. Not until after the noon meal had the little fellow revealed his unfortunate vice for cigarette smoking.
“You’ve simply got to give up that habit, Alf” Tom urged, as they walked along.
“You can’t make me,” retorted young Drew. “You’ve no right to.”
“No, I haven’t,” Tom admitted soberly. “If I had any real rights over you I’m afraid I’d turn you over my knee and spank you, three times a day, until you gave up the beastly habit.”
“You’re not going to bounce me, are you?” asked Alf.
“No; I’ll keep you here as long as we can use a boy. But, mark me, Alf, somehow, and before very long, I’m going to break you from your cigarettes. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it just the same!”
Alf Drew looked uncommonly solemn, but he said nothing.
For five minutes more they walked on, then came suddenly out from under a line of trees and stood at the edge of a low cliff, gazing down in astonishment at the gully below them.
“What on earth-----” began Tom Reade, in amazement.
“Let’s scoot!” begged Alf tremulously. “There’s going to be some killing right down there!”
It certainly looked that way.
In the gully three automobiles, showing the effects of long travel over hard roads, stood close together. More than a dozen people, all but two of whom were dressed in “eastern” clothes, stood by the machines. Two of the party were women, and one a girl of twelve.
The two men who belonged to the party, but did not appear to be “eastern,” had drawn revolvers, and now stood facing four sullen-looking men who stood with the butts of their rifles resting on the ground.
“Gracious! We can’t have any shooting with women and children standing around to get hit!” gasped Tom Reade.
TROUBLE BREWS ON THE TRAIL
So silent had been the approach of Tom and his waif companion that those below had not perceived them.
Moreover, judging from the expressions on the faces of the people almost at Reade’s feet, they were all too deeply absorbed in their own business to have any eyes or ears for outside matters.