“I miss my guess, then,” chuckled Mr. Renshaw, quietly, “if our arrival isn’t followed by war in earnest.”
“War is never so bad,” retorted Tom Reade, his jaws setting, “as a disgraceful peace!”
AN ENGINEER’S FIGHTING BLOOD
Just at half-past eight that evening Tom, Harry, the superintendent and the foremen entered camp.
They went, first, to a shack which they knew to be occupied by orderly, respectable blacks.
“Come, men,” said Tom, halting in the doorway. “I’ve an idea we may need you.”
Six negroes rose and came forward.
“There are gambling and bootlegging going on in this camp to-night, aren’t there?” Reade inquired.
“Ah doan’ rightly know, boss,” replied one of the negroes cautiously.
“But you suspect it, don’t you?” Tom pressed.
“Yes; Ah done ’spec so, boss,” grinned the negro.
“And I do, too,” rejoined Tom. “Come along. We may need a little help.”
With this reinforcement—–the negroes were wanted for work rather than for fighting—–Tom now stepped off briskly through the camp.
Nor did he have to guess in which way to go through the darkened streets of this little village of toilers. Shouts of laughter and the click of ivory dice and celluloid chips signaled the direction.
The largest shack in the village was closed tightly as to door and window, though light came out through the chinks. Tom stepped over there boldly, not turning to see whether his following were close behind him.
Stepping up to the closed door the young chief engineer placed his shoulder against it. He gave a sturdy push, and the barrier flew open.
There were about fifty of his men crowded into one large room. A half dozen gambling games were in full blast. At two tables stood bootleggers, each with a bottle of liquor and glasses.
Tom stalked boldly in, still without turning to look at his own following. Reade’s face bore such a mild look that the leader of the visiting gamblers was wholly deceived as he glanced up.
“The chief!” called one workman, in dismay, and a dozen men made a break for the door. But Harry and the others prevented their getting out.
“Oh, it’s all right,” cheerily announced the leader of the gamblers. “Mr. Reade has just come here to look on and make sure that everything is being conducted above board and on the square. Isn’t that so, Reade?”
“Yes,” Tom assented, pausing near the central table at which gambling was going on.
At that assurance the panic-stricken gamblers breathed more easily. Several men who had jumped up from their seats went back to their chairs.
“Reade is a good friend of ours,” called the leader of the gamblers, mockingly. “He isn’t going to interfere with any amusements that are properly carried on—–eh, Reade?”