It was not necessary to strike a match, for, in the very faint light there, Tom espied an object on the foot of the bed that he recognized—–one of the Mexican’s white canvas shoes.
Tom snatched it up quickly. Then, despite his steady nerves, he staggered back.
TOM MAKES AN UNEXPECTED CAPTURE
For an unearthly scream pierced the air. There was a wrench, a bounding figure—–and then Tom Reade felt a jolt near his solar plexus that made him gasp.
“Stop that!” gasped the young chief engineer.
“You, Senor?” demanded an incredible, drowsy voice.
“Yes; it’s I—–Reade.”
“A thousand pardons, Senor!”
“So this is you, Nicolas?”
“What are you doing here?”
“The negro got away from me.”
“I know that, but—–”
“I could not help it, Senor. I assure you I was not careless.”
“I never knew you to be careless, Nicolas.”
“Thank you, Senor. But I stood over that black scoundrel, watching for the slightest move on his part. I had my forefinger ready, and he did not dare move.”
“I can quite believe that,” agreed Tom, dryly, “after the poke you just gave me.”
“Again a thousand pardons, Senor, but in the dark, and awaking so suddenly, I did not see you or know you.”
“I can quite believe that, Nicolas.”
“As I was saying, Senor, I was watching over the black man when some one came up behind me—–so softly that I did not hear. But I felt. Ah! What I felt! It was a fist that seemed to break in the top of my head. Down I went, and I heard a voice. I knew that voice, too. So would you have known it, Senor!”
“Whose voice was it?” asked Tom, curiously.
“The voice of Evarts.”
“The discharged foreman?”
“Yes, Senor. But I am delaying my story. While Evarts was speaking I heard another sound. At one effort the negro snapped the cords that held him. Ah, he is a powerful brute.”
“He is,” Tom affirmed solemnly.
“I knew it was my task to keep the negro from getting away,” continued the little Mexican excitedly. “So I leaped up, extended my forefinger and rushed at him. But thees Evarts—–hees feest catch me between the eyes. I do not have to guess the spot where he struck me, Senor, for I can feel it yet. Down I went, and knew no more. When next I opened my eyes I found myself lying in the middle of a theecket of bushes. I theenk, perhaps, the scoundrels believed they had killed me, and so they hid my body. But I have fool’ them. I am still alive—–much alive!”
“What did you do when you came to, Nicolas?”
“Senor,” protested the Mexican, “there was no more need of me. You had gone after men. Eef you came back, you have many men with you, so you do not need me. For that reason I come home.”