Joe, too, imitating the stealthy motion of the pursuer, swiftly gained upon him, overtaking him just as he had the sand-bag poised aloft, ready to be brought down upon the head of the traveler.
With a cry, Joe rushed upon the would-be assassin, causing him to stumble and fall, while the gentleman in front turned round in amazement.
Joe sprang to his side.
“Have you a pistol?” he said quickly.
Scarcely knowing what he did, the gentleman drew out a pistol and put it in Joe’s hand. Joe cocked it, and stood facing the ruffian.
The desperado was on his feet, fury in his looks and a curse upon his lips. He swung the sand-bag aloft.
“Curse you!” he said. “I’ll make you pay for this!”
“One step forward,” said Joe, in a clear, distinct voice, which betrayed not a particle of fear, “and I will put a bullet through your brain!”
The assassin stepped back. He was a coward, who attacked from behind. He looked in the boy’s resolute face, and he saw he was in earnest.
“Put down that weapon, you whipper-snapper!”
“Not much!” answered Joe.
“I’ve a great mind to kill you!”
“I’ve no doubt of it,” said our hero; “but you’d better not attack me. I am armed, and I will fire if you make it necessary. Now, turn round and leave us.”
“Will you promise not to shoot?”
“Yes, if you go off quietly.”
The order was obeyed, but not very willingly.
When the highwayman had moved off, Joe said:
“Now, sir, we’d better be moving, and pretty quickly, or the fellow may return, with some of his friends, and overpower us. Where are you stopping?”
“At the Waverly House.”
“That is near-by. We will go there at once.”
They soon reached the hotel, a large wooden building on the north side of Pacific Street.
Joe was about to bid his acquaintance good night but the latter detained him.
“Come in, my boy,” he said. “You have done me a great service. I must know more of you.”
JOE’S NEW FRIEND
“Come up to my room,” said the stranger.
He obtained a candle at the office, gas not being used in San Francisco at that time, and led the way to a small chamber on the second floor.
“Now, sit down, my boy, and tell me your name.”
“How long have you been here?”
“Less than a week.”
“I only arrived yesterday. But for your help, my residence might have been a brief one.”
“I am glad I have been able to be of service to you.”
“You were a friend in need, and a friend in need is a friend indeed. It is only fair that I should be a friend to you. It’s a poor rule that doesn’t work both ways.”
Joe was favorably impressed with the speaker’s appearance. He was a man of middle height, rather stout, with a florid complexion, and an open, friendly face.