“If I were in Bascomb’s place,” Dick declared positively, “I would go before the board of directors and tell them the whole story. Then no one else could ever hold any power over me.”
“I guess that’s the way all of us think we would act if we’d meet a blackmailer,” nodded Reade. “Yet I guess most of the victims, when there’s a sad, true story that could be told about them, pay the blackmailer and so secure silence.”
“Which may be another way,” mused the young army officer, “of saying that most men are cowards. Or, maybe, it’s another way, after all, of saying that the man who does anything very wrong or crooked is generally such a coward at heart that he’ll spend his savings in keeping his secret from the world.”
“Yet Bascomb must have shown considerable bravery in meeting Evarts’s demands,” suddenly suggested Reade. “Otherwise, Mr. Bascomb would now be a poor man and Evarts would have spent all of Bascomb’s money. Heretofore, I imagine, Evarts hasn’t been able to blackmail his relative for anything much more substantial than a good job. I hear that Evarts has been drawing good pay from the Melliston Company for something more than four years—–and Evarts isn’t a very useful man, at that.”
“Then, after four years of easy berths, no wonder Evarts hates you, Tom, for having bounced him out,” smiled Dick Prescott.
“I’m afraid I’m going to do worse than bounce the fellow out of a job,” sighed Reade. “I’m afraid I’ve helped head him for prison for a term of a good many long years.”
“Evarts did that much for himself,” Prescott argued. “I wouldn’t waste much worry over the fellow.”
“I suppose it’s my way to worry over a dog with a sore paw,” answered Reade thoughtfully, “Certainly Evarts has done some mean things against me, and without any just cause; but I don’t like the thought of his having to be locked up, away from sunlight, joy and life, for so many years as I’m afraid are coming to him.”
Arrived at camp, Tom found Mr. Bascomb walking back and forth on the porch of the engineers’ house.
“You’re up late, sir,” was Tom’s friendly greeting to the president.
“Yes, Reade; I can’t sleep to-night,” said Mr. Bascomb wearily. “I came over here to talk with Prenter. Where is he?”
“Asleep, I imagine, sir,” Tom answered.
“Wrong,” replied President Bascomb. “I’ve already been inside, but Prenter isn’t in the house.”
“Then perhaps he thought it too lively around here,” laughed Reade, “and went over to Blixton to sleep at the hotel.”
Mr. Bascomb didn’t reply to this, but puffed hard at the black cigar he was smoking and sending up clouds of smoke.
But the president of the Melliston Company became instantly more distracted when Tom Reade began an account of the capture of Evarts, and his jailing, and the escape of Mr. Sambo Ebony.
Presently Bascomb began to puff harder than ever at his cigar.