NEWS FROM HOME

The announcement that Roger had his leg caught between the rocks and
that a rattlesnake was about to attack him filled Dave with alarm.

“Oh, Roger, are you sure it’s a rattlesnake?”

“Yes! Yes! Come down and help me! Quick!”

“I will. Can’t you hit him with a rock or something?”

“I will if I can. But hurry up—and bring that axe or something with
you!”

When leveling parties, as they are officially called, go out, one man
often carries an axe with which to clear away any obstructions which may
prevent a clear sight. On this occasion Roger had been carrying the axe,
as well as the chain, and the implement now lay close to where our hero
stood.

Grabbing up the axe, Dave lost no time in scrambling down the rocks. As
he did this he heard a stone strike on some rocks below and knew that
Roger was throwing at the snake.

“Oh, Dave! Help!” yelled the senator’s son, “He’s getting ready to
strike!”

With one wild leap Dave came down to within a few feet of where his chum
stood between two rocks which reached up to his waist. One leg was fast
between the rocks, and while the unfortunate youth was endeavoring
wildly to extricate himself from his predicament, he was shying one
loose stone after another at a snake that was coiled up in something of
a hollow less than a dozen feet away. The hollow was so situated that
exit from it could only be had in the direction occupied by the young
civil engineer.

As Dave approached he saw that it was indeed a rattlesnake that his chum
had disturbed. The reptile was at least five feet in length and of
corresponding thickness, and was now coiled up as if ready to strike.

It was a moment which called for immediate action, and without stopping
to think Dave raised the axe and sent it whirling forward toward the
snake. His aim fell short, but this shortness proved to be thoroughly
effective. The handle of the axe came down with a thud on the rocks,
sending the blade flashing in a semicircle. The sharpened bit of steel
caught the snake in the very center of its folds, inflicting several
deep cuts.

Instantly the reptile’s attention was taken from Roger. It whirled
around swiftly in search of the enemy that had struck it and whipped
angrily at the axe.

“Oh, Dave! can’t you shoot him?” gasped Roger. “I dropped my pistol when
I came down over the rocks.”

In that wild territory it was the custom of every one of the engineering
gang to carry firearms. Dave had a small automatic pistol in his hip
pocket, and this he now brought into play.

Crack! Crack! Crack! went the weapon three times in rapid succession.
The first shot did not take effect, but the second and third hit the
mark, and the rattlesnake twisted and turned in its death agony. Then,
placing the pistol back in his pocket, our hero raised up a stone almost
as large as his head and with it put the reptile out of its misery.

“Oh, Dave, is he—is he dead?” panted Roger. His face had gone white, and
his whole attitude showed how unstrung he was.

“He’s as dead as a door-nail, Roger,” was the answer, after Dave had
made a brief inspection of the remains. “He’ll never bother you or
anybody else again.”

“I felt sure he was going to bite me!” went on the senator’s son with a
shudder.

“You certainly had a close shave, and I don’t wonder that it scared you,
Roger. Think of facing a snake like that and not being able to run
away!”

“He was down in this very hollow where my leg is first. Then he glided
over to the other hollow and began to rattle and coil up to strike. If
you hadn’t come down as you did, he would have struck me sure;” and the
senator’s son shivered again.

“I think we had better wipe off that axe-handle, and the blade, too,”
remarked Dave. “He may have gotten some of his poison on it.”

“Yes, wipe it off very carefully,” answered Roger. “But first of all
I’ve got to get my foot loose. It does beat all how I got stuck.”

“You didn’t hurt your leg or your foot, did you?”

“I scraped my shin a little, but that doesn’t count.”

An inspection was made, and finally Dave had to bend down and unlace
Roger’s shoe before the limb could be gotten out of the space between
the two rocks. Then the footwear was recovered, and the senator’s son
put it on once more. In the meanwhile, Dave took up the axe rather
gingerly and also tied a bit of string to the tail of the lifeless
rattlesnake.

“We’ll take it back to the camp to show the others,” announced our hero.
“They wouldn’t believe our story unless we were able to show the snake.
Besides that, we can keep the rattles if we want to. Some people prize
them quite highly as trophies.”

The axe was wiped off with care, and then, after Roger had recovered his
pistol and also the steel measure he had dropped, the pair scrambled up
the rocks to where Dave had left his flag and the leveling-rod. He waved
the flag in the air as a signal, and presently an answering signal came
back from the other members of the leveling gang, who had been wondering
what had become of the two assistants.

“Say, you fellows have got to attend to business during working hours!”
cried Frank Andrews, when they met. “If you want to——Great catfish!
where did you get that snake?” and he broke off short to gaze in wonder
at the rattlesnake tied to the string that Roger exhibited.

“You have to break off business when you get an unexpected caller like
that,” replied Dave dryly.

“Do you mean to say that rattler attacked you?” questioned Larry Bond
quickly.

“He started to attack Roger.”

“And Dave threw the axe at him and then shot him,” explained the
senator’s son.

“Some rattler! that’s what he is!” was the comment of John Hixon. “If he
struck for you he certainly meant business;” and he examined the remains
of the rattlesnake with much interest.

“We thought we heard several shots, but we were not sure,” remarked
Frank Andrews.

“I guess you didn’t hear them very well because we were in something of
a hollow,” answered Dave; and then he and Roger gave the particulars of
what had occurred.

“You can be mighty lucky that you weren’t struck,” declared Hixon
emphatically. “When I was out in the gold mines in the northern part of
this state I knew a man who was struck twice by a rattler, and he came
about as close to dying as any man I ever saw.”

The adventure had so unnerved Roger that Frank Andrews excused him for
the rest of the day, and he went back to the construction camp, taking
the remains of the rattlesnake with him. Here the story about the
reptile soon spread; and that evening all the men connected with the
camp came in to view the rattlesnake.

“I’m very thankful that you got out of this as luckily as you did,”
remarked Mr. Obray to Roger. Then he told all of his men that they must
be very careful when they went among the rocks and through the bushes.
“Because, you know,” he explained, “where there is one rattlesnake there
may be more. I was told by those who made the first survey for the
railroad that they saw no snakes of any kind in this vicinity.
Evidently, however, there was one snake that they missed.”

“And I hope he’s the only one,” put in Frank Andrews.

The snake scare was the main topic of conversation for several days, and
it is safe to say that no one went anywhere without having his eyes wide
open for a possible appearance of some reptile. But no more
snakes—rattlers or otherwise—put in an appearance.

Phil had written that he would come out to Montana in about a week and
would stop at the construction camp before going to the Endicott place.
Dave and Roger, of course, looked forward to the visit with much
pleasure.

“We’ll have to ask for a day off just to show Phil around,” said Dave.

“That’s so. And among other points of interest we can show him the spot
where you killed the rattler,” answered his chum, with a grim smile.

“Yes, we can do that.”

“I hope Shadow Hamilton comes with him. I could even stand it to hear
some of Shadow’s oldest chestnuts of stories,” went on Roger. “It would
seem like old times at Oak Hall.”

“Let us trust that Shadow has a new batch of stories to tell,” responded
Dave. “We haven’t seen him in such a while he has had plenty of time to
gather in a new crop.”

Several days went by, and the young civil engineers were kept so busy
that they had little time to think about the coming of Phil Lawrence and
Shadow Hamilton. Once or twice they thought of Nick Jasniff and asked
Mr. Obray if that individual had shown himself.

“Not yet,” was the manager’s reply. “Maybe he got wind that you were
here and that is keeping him away.”

On the afternoon of the fourth day following the killing of the
rattlesnake, Dave and Roger were hard at work in Section Five when one
of the general utility men around the camp came riding up on horseback
and leading another steed by the halter.

“Mr. Obray sent me for you,” he announced to the chums. “You are to take
these two horses and ride down to the office as fast as you can. Some
young man is there that you wanted to see—the fellow who came here some
days ago looking for a job.”

“It must be Nick Jasniff!” exclaimed Dave, and lost no time in leaping
into the saddle. He was followed by Roger; and both hurried off along
the trail leading to the construction camp.

“Let us sneak up to the office by the back way and listen to what Nick
Jasniff has to say,” suggested Dave while they were on the way.

This suited Roger, and coming into view of the camp they left the horses
at the shed and hurried along past the bunk-houses to the rear of the
office. Here a window was wide open, and, looking through this, they saw
Mr. Obray at a desk, and sitting near him was his visitor, hat in hand.

“There is no mistake about him. It’s Nick Jasniff,” whispered the
senator’s son.

He was right, it was indeed the former bully of Oak Hall, the rascal who
had been sent to prison for the robbery of Mr. Wadsworth’s jewelry
works. Jasniff was talking very earnestly to the manager of the
construction camp.

“Yes, I am working over at the Double Eight Ranch,” Jasniff was saying.
“I’ve been there now for quite a while, but I don’t like it very much.
You see, I’ve been used to office life, and working around the
construction of skyscrapers, and things like that. I had a pretty good
job out in San Francisco and another one in Seattle. I would much rather
work for a concern like yours than to stick to cow-punching.”

“How long have you been at Double Eight Ranch?” questioned Mr. Obray. He
was doing what he could to put in time until Dave and Roger might
arrive.

“Been there nearly three months.”

“And did you come directly from San Francisco or Seattle?”

“Oh—I—er—came from Seattle,” responded Nick Jasniff hesitatingly. “I
was—er—out of work for about six weeks.”

“And how long did you work in Seattle?”

“A little over a year. I would have stayed there longer, only the firm
that employed me went out of business,” continued the fellow who had
been in prison glibly.

“Ever been in the East—in New York or Philadelphia?”

“No, sir. I never got any farther East than Chicago.”

At this reply from Jasniff Dave poked Roger in the side and both looked
at each other knowingly.

“He’s the same Jasniff,” whispered the senator’s son. “He always did
have a smooth tongue.”

“Yes. And that smooth tongue of his got him into more than one
difficulty,” responded our hero.

The pair remained silent for a minute or two longer listening to the
questions put by Ralph Obray and the answers made by Nick Jasniff.
Finally the questions became so personal that the fellow who had been in
prison commenced to grow suspicious.

“Well, will you have an opening for me or not?” he demanded at last,
arising to his feet.

At that moment Dave and Roger glided around the side of the office and
tiptoed in through the doorway. They came up directly behind Nick
Jasniff before he was aware of their presence.

“Here is the fellow if you want to talk to him,” said Mr. Obray quickly;
and thereupon the visitor turned around, to stare in amazement at Dave
and Roger.

“W—w—what——” stammered Nick Jasniff, and was unable to go on.

“You didn’t expect to see us, did you, Jasniff?” declared Dave coolly.

“You were lucky to get out of prison so quickly,” put in Roger.

“I—I—don’t know you,” faltered Nick Jasniff, and now his face grew
purple while the heavy beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead.

“You don’t know us, eh?” cried Dave. “Well, we know you well enough!”

“Even if you are traveling under the assumed name of Jasper Nicholas,”
added Roger slyly.

“See here! I don’t know what you fellows are talking about!” cried Nick
Jasniff, straightening up. “Is this some game or not?”

“It is a game—on your part,” answered Dave, quickly.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Oh, come, Jasniff, what’s the use of talking like this? We know your
game thoroughly!” burst out Roger. “We have found out all about you, and
Mr. Obray here knows about you, too. He just sent for us to identify
you.”

At this announcement Nick Jasniff wheeled around to confront the
manager.

“Is that true? Did you send for these fellows to come to identify me?”

“I did.” Mr. Obray’s face took on a stern look. “They had told me all
about you.”

“They didn’t have any right to do that!” blustered the fellow who had
been in prison.

“Yes, they did. In fact, it was their duty to do so. We are all honest
men in this camp, and we have no use for fellows like you. I wanted to
make sure that there was no mistake. Now I am sure, and you can get
out—and stay out.”

“I think that Board of Pardons was very foolish to pardon you,” Roger
could not help remarking. “They should have let you stay in prison to
the end of your term.”

At this remark Nick Jasniff looked for a moment blankly at the senator’s
son.

“Now, see here, you——”

“Oh, we know all about how you were pardoned,” went on Roger. “It was a
big mistake. But now that they have let you go, I suppose you have as
much right to earn your living as anybody.”

“But we don’t want you around where we are,” added Dave.

“Huh, I’m not taking orders from you,” blustered Nick Jasniff.

“No, but you are taking orders from me,” interposed Mr. Obray sternly.
“As I said before, I want you to leave this place. I don’t want you to
come here again—understand that;” and he arose to his feet to signify
that the interview was at an end.

“All right—I’ll go. But I won’t forget that you had me come over here on
a fool’s errand,” grumbled Nick Jasniff. And then, as he reached the
doorway and passed outside, he turned around and shook his fist at Dave
and Roger. “Just you wait! Some day I’ll get square with you for this!”
he cried angrily.

Then he ran swiftly toward the horse he had been riding, leaped into the
saddle and rode away.

“He’s mad clean through, that’s certain,” remarked Roger, as he and Dave
hurried out of the office to watch Nick Jasniff gallop away down the
road leading from the construction camp.

“Yes. And I’ve no doubt but he’ll do his best to make trouble for us,”
replied Dave seriously. “It’s too bad! I thought we were done with that
fellow forever.”

“Do you suppose he really has a job at the Double Eight Ranch?” queried
the senator’s son, after a pause, during which they noted Jasniff’s
disappearance around a bend of the trail.

“He must be working somewhere. Or else somebody has supplied him with
funds. He can’t live on nothing.”

“Perhaps he got his funds as he got those stolen jewels, Dave.”

“That might be true too. They say very few men reform after they have
once been in prison.”

“Let us ask some of the others about this Double Eight Ranch.”

This suggestion was considered a good one, and during the next few days
they made a number of inquiries concerning the ranch in question, and
learned that it was a large place located in a fertile valley about
twenty miles away. It was owned by a syndicate of Western capitalists
and was under the management of a man named James Dackley. The ranch
employed about a dozen experienced cowboys and an equal number of
assistants.

“If Nick Jasniff works there it must be simply as an assistant, since he
knows little about a cowboy’s duties,” was Dave’s comment.

“Yes. And if he is only an assistant he can’t be paid very much money.
No wonder he wanted to join our crowd. I suppose he thought he could
earn two or three times as much.”

“Well, Roger, you can’t blame him for wanting to earn money,” returned
Dave briefly. “Now that he has paid the penalty of his crime, as the
laws puts it, he has as much right to go where he pleases, and work at
what he pleases, as anybody.”

“Oh, I’m not begrudging him a chance to earn his living,” cried the
senator’s son quickly. “I hope he reforms and gets along well in life. I
only want him to keep away from where I am. I think I’ve got a right to
pick my company, and I don’t propose to pick such fellows as Jasniff.”

Sunday passed, and then Dave received another letter from Phil Lawrence
stating that the ship-owner’s son had been delayed, but that he would
surely come West in the near future, and that not only Shadow Hamilton
but also Ben Basswood had promised to make the trip with him. Concerning
Ben, Phil wrote as follows:

“You must know how grateful the Basswoods are to you and Roger for
recovering those thousands of dollars’ worth of miniatures down
there on the Border. I think they feel pretty wealthy now, having
been offered a fine price for some of the little paintings. So it
was an easy matter for Ben to get permission to join Shadow and me
when the trip was proposed. Ben is wild, thinking what a good time
he is going to have, for, as you know, he has never had the chance
of getting around that we have had.”

“This is better than ever!” cried Roger, when he read the communication.
“Talk about old times at Oak Hall! We will tear things wide open when
they arrive.”

“We’ll have to attend to our work, Roger. You know we are here to learn
all about surveying and civil engineering. Our play days are very
largely at an end.”

“Oh, I think Mr. Obray and Frank Andrews will let us cut loose a
little—after they understand matters,” pleaded the senator’s son.

The same mail had brought the young men letters from Jessie and Laura
and also an interesting communication from Dave’s Uncle Dunston. The two
girls had been on a trip to New York with Mrs. Wadsworth, and had much
to tell about their sightseeing in and around the metropolis. Both said
they wished Dave and Roger had been with them.

“Too bad! But we are a long way from old New York,” sighed Roger. “My,
what a grand old time we could have had, visiting Bronx Park, Coney
Island, and a lot of other places!”

“Yes. And we might have taken an auto trip or two,” added Dave, his face
brightening.

“And think of being with the girls, Dave!” broke in Roger wistfully. “It
seems a terribly long time since we saw them, doesn’t it?”

“It sure does,” answered Dave. He gave something of a sigh. “Well, it
can’t be helped. If we want to make something of ourselves in this
world, we’ve got to buckle down and take the bitter with the sweet. I
guess it’s just as hard on the girls. They won’t want to go out in
company with any of the other fellows.”

“And we know what we are working for—and that is one comfort,” added the
senator’s son.

In his communication to his nephew Dunston Porter spoke about having
bought some stock in the Mentor Construction Company, and having gotten
Mr. Wadsworth to make the same kind of investment. Between them the two
had put up twenty thousand dollars.

“That sure is something worth while!” cried Roger. “It ought to help
your chance with the concern.”

“Well, if it helps my chance, it’s got to help your chance, too, Roger.”

“I never thought of the company as an investment,” went on the senator’s
son. “I think when I write to my father I’ll speak to him about it, and
tell him of what your uncle and Mr. Wadsworth have done. Maybe my father
will buy a like share.”

“That would be fine, Roger. Then both of us could feel as if we had a
real personal interest in the concern we were working for. Of course,
it’s only a small amount in comparison with what the construction
company really has invested in this business. But every little helps.”

“Yes. And it will prove to those higher up that we have some interest
beyond just earning our salaries.”

Another part of Dunston Porter’s letter referred to the clearing up of a
tract of land on the outskirts of Crumville which belonged jointly to
the Porters, Mr. Wadsworth and an estate which was represented by Mr.
Basswood. The real estate dealer had said that now would be a good time
in which to lay out streets through the tract and sell off the plots for
building. There were several new factories being erected down along the
railroad tracks, and the workingmen employed in these concerns would
want homes.

“The tract has not been used for a number of years,” wrote Dunston
Porter; “and during the past six summers a band of gypsies has been
making its encampment there. We had quite some trouble getting the
gypsies to evacuate, and a couple of them became so ugly that we had
to threaten them with arrest. But they have gone at last, and we
have told them that they cannot come back. We expect to lay out the
streets and the plots of ground immediately, and then Mr. Basswood
is going to get ready and hold a big auction sale of the various
parcels. All of us hope to make quite some money by the
transaction.”

“Hurrah for the auction sale of building lots!” cried Dave. “I hope they
make a barrel of money. Wouldn’t it be fun to be there and see the
various plots sold off?”

“I went to a sale like that in our home town years ago,” returned Roger.
“They had a big tent put up and furnished refreshments, and a small
brass band played selections. The auctioneer was a very gifted talker,
and he made a wonderful address to the assemblage, telling them of all
the advantages to be had by buying the lots. Then the agents got busy
and the lots sold off like hot cakes, some for cash and some on the
instalment plan. At that time there wasn’t a building of any kind on the
land; but less than a year later there were half a dozen rows of houses
and half that number of barns and garages, and now that end of the town
is quite thriving.”

“I’m sure Crumville is bound to grow,” returned Dave. “Just look at what
it was when I was a small boy and what it is to-day! We have three or
four times as many people and stores, and we have a new railroad station
with a good many more trains, and two moving picture theaters, two new
schools, another church, and several new factories. And not only that,
the business men have become so wideawake that they are gathering in the
trade for miles around—trade that used to go to other towns.”

“Well, I hope it does grow, Dave. That will make it so much better for
your folks and the Wadsworths, and also the Basswoods.”

On the morning following this conversation Dave was preparing to go out
with the others when one of the clerks from the office came to him with
the information that Mr. Obray wanted to see him at once. He found the
manager of the construction camp deep in some papers strewn over his
desk.

“Porter, would you like to go on a special errand for me over to
Orella?” the manager asked abruptly. “I’ve got some important papers
that I wish delivered, and I want to see to it that they are placed in
the hands of just the right party.”

“Why, yes, Mr. Obray, I’ll be glad to do whatever you want me to,”
answered Dave quickly. “It’s quite a trip though, so I’ve heard,” he
added with a smile.

“I know that, Porter. But the trail is a good one all the way; and if
you follow the signboards you can’t go astray. You can take a good
horse, and you had better take something to eat along, too. If you start
inside of the next hour, you ought to be able to get back before dark.
Of course, if you have any difficulty in finding the right party, you
can stay in Orella all night and come back to-morrow.”

“Oh, I think I can make the trip in one day, provided I don’t have to
lose too much time in the mining camp. I’ll be ready inside of fifteen
or twenty minutes.”

“Then go ahead, and when you’re ready I’ll give you the papers and also
tell you who they are to be delivered to.”

When Dave rejoined his chum he told Roger about the proposed trip.

“You’re in luck, Dave!” cried the senator’s son. “That will make a dandy
outing. I wish I was going along.”

“I thought at first of asking Mr. Obray to let you go,” answered Dave.
“But then I got to thinking about the time we would want off when Phil
and the others came, and I didn’t want to crowd things too much.”

“Oh, no, I’m glad you didn’t,” was the hasty response. “I don’t want to
have the manager thinking we are loafing on the job.”

Dave ran over to the kitchen and there had Jeff, the cook, put him up a
substantial lunch. Then he dressed himself for the long, hard ride
through the mountains, and a little later presented himself again at the
office.

“Here are the papers,” said Ralph Obray, handing over a large and fat
legal-looking envelope. “I want you to deliver them to Mr. Raymond
Carson or, if Mr. Carson is not there, to either his wife or his
brother-in-law, Mr. Fred Jamison. If you deliver this to the wife or the
brother-in-law, tell them that the papers are very valuable and that
they must not be given to anyone but Mr. Carson.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the young civil engineer. And to make sure of the
names he put them down in the notebook he carried. “I suppose I had
better get a receipt for them,” he added.

“Yes, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do that, Porter, although I know I
can take your word for it. I have watched you ever since you came to
work for our company, and that is why I am trusting you in the present
instance.”

“You can rely on me to do my best, Mr. Obray,” answered our hero. And
then with pardonable pride he drew from his pocket the letter he had
received from his uncle. “I guess this will prove to you how much I am
interested in the Mentor Construction Company,” and thereupon he showed
the manager the paragraph pertaining to the purchase of stock in the
concern by the Porters and Mr. Wadsworth.

“That certainly is evidence!” cried Ralph Obray heartily. “I am glad to
know your people take such a substantial interest in this company. I
might as well tell you, my folks have an interest in it, too. But now
you had better be on your way, because it’s a long trip to Orella and I
won’t feel entirely satisfied until I know those papers are in the hands
of Mr. Carson or those other people.”

“I’ll get them there just as soon as I can make it,” answered Dave.

And a few minutes later he was on his way, never dreaming of the strange
adventure in store for him.