The Mexican therefore went to his bedroom without protest. Presently Reade became aware of the fact that his clothing had not by any means fully dried. He went to his room, took a vigorous rub-down, donned dry clothing, and then went out on the porch.
Though the night was dark the air was delicious. The combined odors of many flowers came in on the faintly stirring breeze.
Tom leaned back in a chair, his feet on the porch railing. His senses lulled by the quiet and repose of the night he was in danger of falling asleep.
Of a sudden he came to with a start. Off among the trees to the eastward, near the road, a human being was stirring.
Reade rose, moving swiftly back more into the shadow. Then he watched, every sense alert. Yes; some one was moving, out there amid the trees. What he could not see, Tom discovered by his acute sense of hearing.
“I’ll put a hot pebble in that fellow’s bonnet, whoever he is!” Tom muttered vengefully. Entering the house, he left at the rear, then made a stealthy, roundabout trip that brought him at the farther edge of the litte grove of trees.
Now the young engineer crouched close to the ground as he listened. Once more he heard that some one moving, not many yards away. It was pitch-black in there amid the trees. Guided by his ears, Tom moved closer and closer without making a betraying sound. Suddenly he found the tall figure looming up almost in his path.
“Now, I’ve got you!” cried Tom exultantly, making a bound that should have carried his hands to the throat of the prowler.
But the other, like a flash, went on the defensive. Tom felt himself parried, then clutched at. The next instant the prowler had the young engineer in a tackle that carried Tom Reade back to the good old high school days at home. The young engineer was dumped on the ground as though he had been a sack of flour.
“Great Scott!” quivered Tom Reade. “No one but Dick Prescott ever had that tackle down fine!”
“Well, you blithering idiot!” came the indignant answer. “That’s who I am—–Prescott!”
THE ARMY “ON THE JOB”
“You, Dick?” gasped Tom, stumbling ruefully to his feet. Then he leaped at his late foe, throwing his arms around him. The two fairly hugged each other, Yes; here was Dick Prescott, not so many weeks a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point, and now, if you please, Second Lieutenant Richard Prescott, United States Army!
“Well, of all the strange things that the Illinois Central Railroad brings into Alabama!” grunted Tom, now gripping Dick by the hand and holding on as though he never meant to let go.
“If the Illinois Central had built its tracks through to Blixton I probably would have arrived at a civilized hour,” laughed Dick. “As it was, I had to come in on a wood-burning, backwoods road and the train was only five hours and a half behind schedule. Then, from a sleepy policeman I got directions that enabled me to find this place after an hour’s hard work.” To what effect? Only to be pounced upon by you as though you had caught me in the act of stealing all the water in the Gulf of Mexico!”