The fellow stared boldly into Tom’s eyes, a look of insolent mockery on his features.
“Certainly I’m not going to interfere with any proper amusements in this camp,” Tom nodded, easily.
“What did I tell you, boys?” laughed the leader of the gamblers. “Go on with your play, boys!”
“But gambling isn’t a proper amusement for poor men, who have to toil and sweat for every five-cent piece they get,” Tom Reade continued calmly. “Neither is the trade of bootlegging a decent one, or one that provides decent amusement. I have already warned you that gambling and liquor selling are things of the past in this camp.”
There was another stir in the room. The leader of the gamblers rose, fixing his gaze on Tom’s eyes and trying to stare the young engineer out of countenance.
“What do you mean, Reade?” he demanded.
“Isn’t my meaning clear enough?” Tom insisted, with a chilly smile.
“Man, haven’t you come to your senses yet?” snarled the gambler.
“Do you mean to ask whether I was scared by the cowardly, unsigned letter that I received this evening?” Tom fired back at the fellow, with another taunting smile.
“I don’t know anything about any letter,” muttered the gambler sullenly, “but I heard that you had come to your senses.”
“Whether I have or not,” retorted Tom, “you are pretty sure to come to your proper senses to-night. Men—–I mean workmen, not gamblers or bootleggers—–you are at liberty to pass out of this building.”
“Don’t you go,” shouted the gambler, as some two dozen men started toward the doorway where Harry and the rest were on guard.
Some of them halted.
“I must have made a mistake in calling some of you ‘men,’ since you take orders from such disreputable characters as these gamblers and bootleggers,” Tom taunted them mildly. “Now, all I will say is that those of you who wish to do so may pass outside. The rest may remain here, though they’ll be sorry, afterwards, that they stayed. All who want to get outside must do so at once.”
“Don’t you do anything of the sort,” shouted the gamblers’ leader. “Stay here like men and assert your rights! Come on! I’ll lead you, and show you how to throw these meddlers out.”
“You’ll do it—–just like this, eh?” demanded Tom Reade.
He made a leap for the leader of the gamblers, catching the fellow by the throat and waist. Lifting him, Tom hurled the fellow a dozen feet. The gambler fell on one side, but was up in a moment, his right hand traveling toward a hip pocket.
“Don’t draw,” mocked Tom, with another smile. “Probably you haven’t a pistol there. If you have, you can never make me believe that you have sand enough to draw and shoot before as many witnesses as I have on hand.”
“I’ve a good mind to drill you with lead!” scowled the gambler, still resting his hand behind him.