“Reade,” he finally blurted out, “how long were you hiding there before Evarts found you there?”
“Some little time,” Tom admitted vaguely.
More clouds of cigar smoke ascended; then, shaking, and his face a sickly white and green, the president inquired:
“Reade, were you there—–you and Mr. Prescott—–at the time when I talked with Evarts on that very spot to-night?”
There was no use in evading the question, so engineer Reade answered in a straightforward manner:
“Yes, sir. Mr. Prescott and I were there.”
“Then—–then—–y-y-you heard all of my talk with Evarts?”
Bascomb’s teeth began to chatter so that he was forced to steady his jaws. Tom and Dick looked aside, pitying the man for his evident anguish of mind.
At last the president steadied himself enough to speak.
“Reade, I know I haven’t been a very good friend of yours, and I even tried to work you out of this contract altogether. Now, you know my secret, and I’m in your power!”
EBONY SAYS “THUMBS UP”
Tom Reade stared in frank amazement at the trembling man.
“Do you mean to insult me, Mr. Bascomb?” demanded the young engineer bluntly.
“Insult you? The fates forbid,” replied Bascomb with a sickly grin. “Reade, I don’t dare offend you in any way.”
“But you do insult me, sir, in believing that it would be possible for me to make any hostile use of whatever unpleasant knowledge I may possess against you.”
“Do you mean to say that you wouldn’t use the knowledge?” demanded the president of the Melliston Company.
“You’re insulting me again, sir. Perhaps you are to be pardoned, Mr. Bascomb. You have been so long dancing to the fiddling of an Evarts that you don’t realize how impossible it is for a gentleman to do a dishonorable thing.”
“Then—–then I—–I can rely upon your silence?” demanded Mr. Bascomb, eagerly.
“I am sorry, sir, to think that you even think it necessary to ask me such a question,” rejoined Reade gravely.
“Reade! Reade! You can’t imagine how grateful you’ll find me if I really can rely upon you to forget what you overheard to-night!” cried the humiliated man. “And you, Mr. Prescott—–may I depend upon you, also, to preserve silence?”
“I’m afraid, sir, you’re putting me in Reade’s class as an insulted man,” Dick smiled grimly. “My friend, the people of this country, in the person of their President, have issued to me a commission certifying that I am worthy to wear the shoulder-straps of an army officer. The shoulder-straps stand for the strictest sense of honor in all things. If I depart, ever so little, from the laws of honor, I prove my unfitness to wear shoulder-straps. Have I answered you.”
There was silence for a few moments. Then, Mr. Bascomb, having smoked his cigar out, tossed the butt away.