“Yes,” said Hill, deliberately. “I think I know you—pretty well—now.”
“I wonder,” said Warden.
He moved slowly forward, throwing the light before him as he did so. The place had been blasted out of the rock, and here and there the stone shone smooth as marble where the charge had gone. Rough shelves had been hewn in the walls, leaving divisions between, and on some of these were stored bags of the precious metal that had been ground out of the ore. There was no sign anywhere of any entrance save the iron-bound door behind Hill.
Straight in front of him Warden stopped. They stood face to face.
“Well?” Warden said. “What do you know of me?”
Hill’s eyes were as steel. He stood stiff as a soldier on parade. He answered curtly, without a hint of emotion. “I know enough to get you arrested when this—farce—is over.”
“Oh, you call this a farce, do you?” Bill Warden’s words came slowly from lips that strangely smiled. “And when does—the fun begin?”
Hill’s harsh face was thrown into strong relief by the flare of the torch. It was as flint confronting the other man. “Do you really imagine that I regard this sort of Forty Thieves business seriously?” he said.
“I imagine it is pretty serious so far as you are concerned,” said Warden. “You’re in about the tightest hole you’ve ever been in in your life. And it’s up to me to get you out—or to leave you. Do you understand that?”
“Oh, quite,” said Fletcher Hill, sardonically. “But—let me tell you at the outset—you won’t find me specially easy to bargain with on that count—Mr. Buckskin Bill.”
Bill Warden threw up his head with a gesture of open defiance. “I’m not doing any—bargaining,” he said. “And as to arresting me—afterwards—you can do as you please. But now—just now—you are in my power, and you’re going to play my game. Got that?”
“I can see myself doing it,” said Fletcher Hill.
“Yes, you will do it.” A sudden deep note of savagery sounded in Warden’s voice. “Not to save your own skin, Mr. Fletcher Hill, but for the sake of—something more valuable than that—something more precious even than your cussed pride. You’ll do it for the sake of the girl you’re going to marry. And you’ll do it—now.”
“Shall I?” said Fletcher Hill.
Bill Warden’s hand suddenly came forth and gripped him by the shoulder. “Damn you!” he said. “Do you think I want to save your life?”
The words were low, spoken with a concentrated passion more terrible than open violence. He looked closely into Hill’s eyes, and his own were flaming like the eyes of a baited animal.
Hill looked straight back at him without the stirring of an eyelid. “Take your hand off me!” he said.
It was the word of the superior officer. Warden’s hand fell as it were mechanically. There followed a tense silence.
Warden made a sharp movement. “I did it to save your life,” he said. “You’d have died like a dog within ten seconds if I hadn’t turned you back.”