AN UNEQUAL CONTEST.
Bill Mosely was decidedly startled when the man whom he thought helpless sprang up so suddenly and approached him in a menacing manner. He rose precipitately from the rude seat on which he had settled himself comfortably, his face wearing an expression of alarm.
Richard Dewey paused and confronted him. A frown was on his face, and he appeared very much in earnest in the question he next asked. "Have you dared to ill-treat my servant, you scoundrel?" he demanded.
"Look here, stranger," said Mosely, with a faint attempt at bluster, "you'd better take care what you say to me. I'm a bad man, I am."
"I don't doubt it," said Dewey, contemptuously.
This was not altogether satisfactory to Bill Mosely, though it expressed confidence in the truth of his statement.
"You haven't answered my question," continued Dewey. "What have you done with my servant?"
"Perhaps he wasn't your servant," said Bill Mosely, evasively.
"There is but one Chinaman in this neighborhood," said Richard Dewey impatiently, "and he is my faithful servant. Did you tie him to a tree?"
"He was impudent to me," answered Bill Mosely, uneasily.
"Ki Sing is never impudent to any one," returned Dewey, his eyes flashing with anger. "Tell me what you did with him, or I will fell you to the ground."
"I didn't harm him," said Bill Mosely, hastily. "I wanted to teach him a lesson; that is all."
"And so you tied him to a tree, did you?"
"Then go back and release him instantly, or it will be the worse for you. I would go with you, to make sure that you did so, but my ankle is weak. Where did you leave him?"
"A little way down the hill."
"Then go at once and release him. If you fail to do it, some day I shall meet you again and I will make you bitterly repent it."
"All right, stranger; make your mind easy."
Bill Mosely turned to leave the cabin, and Richard Dewey threw himself down on the pallet once more.
But Mosely had no intention of letting the matter rest there. Had he been alone he would not have ventured on any further conflict with Dewey, who, invalid as he was, had shown so much spirit; but he felt considerable confidence in his companion, who was strong and powerful.
He approached Tom Hadley and whispered in his ear. Tom nodded his head, and the two stealthily approached the entrance again and re-entered the cabin.
Richard Dewey had laid himself down on the pallet, thinking that Bill Mosely had gone about his business, when Tom Hadley, who had been assigned to this duty by his more timid companion, threw himself upon the invalid and overpowered him.
"Perhaps you'll insult a gentleman again," exclaimed Mosely tauntingly as he stood by and witnessed the ineffectual struggles of Tom's victim, who had been taken at disadvantage.--"Here's the cord, Tom, tie his hands and feet."
"You're contemptible cowards," exclaimed Dewey. "It takes two of you to overpower a sick man."
"You don't look very sick," said Mosely, tauntingly.
"I have sprained my ankle or I would defy both of you."
"Talk's cheap!" retorted Bill Mosely.
"What is your object in this outrageous assault upon a stranger?" demanded Dewey.
"We'll tell you presently," answered Mosely.--"Now tie his feet, Tom."
"Be careful of my ankle--it is sore and sensitive," said Dewey, addressing himself to Tom Hadley. "You need not tie me further. In my present condition I am no match for you both. Tell me why it is you have chosen to attack a man who has never harmed you?"
Tom Hadley looked to Mosely to answer.
"I'll tell you what we want, Dewey, if that is your name," said the superior rascal. "We want that gold-dust you've got hidden about here somewhere."
"Who told you I had any gold-dust?" inquired the invalid.
"Your servant. He let it out without thinking, but when we wanted him to guide us here, he wouldn't. That's why we left him tied to a tree--isn't it, Tom?"
"I should say so."
"Poor fellow! I am glad to hear he was faithful even when he found himself in the power of two such ruffians as you."
"Look here, Dewey: don't give us any of your back talk. It ain't safe--eh, Tom?"
"I should say so, Bill."
"I intend to express my opinion of you and your villainous conduct," said Dewey, undaunted, "whatever you choose to call it. So Ki Sing wouldn't guide you here?"
"No, he led us round in a circle. When we found it out we settled his hash pretty quick--"
"Like cowards, as you were."
"Are we going to stand this, Tom?" asked Bill, fiercely.
Tom Hadley shrugged his shoulder. He did not enjoy what Bill Mosely called "back talk" as well as his partner, and it struck him as so much waste of time. He wanted to come to business, and said briefly, "Where's the gold?"
"Yes, Dewey, let us know what you have done with your gold."
"So you are thieves, you two?"
"I should say so," interjected Tom Hadley.
"You're a fool," ejaculated Bill Mosely, frowning. "What makes you give yourself away?"
"Because," said Hadley, bluntly, "we are thieves, or we wouldn't be after this man's gold."
"That ain't the way to put it," said Bill Mosely, who shrank from accepting the title to which his actions entitled him. "We're bankers from 'Frisco, and we are going to take care of Dewey's gold, as he ain't in a situation to take care of it himself."
"You are very kind," said Dewey, who, embarrassing as his position was, rather enjoyed the humor of the situation. "So you are a banker, and your friend a thief? I believe I have more respect for the thief, who openly avows his objects.--Tom, if that is your name, I am sorry that you are not in a better business. That man is wholly bad, but I believe you could lead an honest life."
Tom Hadley said nothing, but he looked thoughtful. His life had been a lawless one, but he was not the thorough-going scoundrel that Bill Mosely was, and would have been glad if circumstances had favored a more creditable mode of life.
"We're wastin' time, Dewey," said Bill Mosely. "Where's the gold-dust?"
"Sure you know I have it? I leave you to find it for yourself," answered the sick man, who was never lacking for courage, and did not tremble, though wholly in the power of these men.
"What shall we do, Tom?" asked Mosely.
"Hunt for the gold," suggested Tom Hadley.
If Mosely had judged it of any use to threaten Dewey, he would have done so, hoping to force him to reveal the hiding-place of the gold; but the undaunted spirit thus far displayed by his victim convinced him that the attempt would be unsuccessful. He therefore proceeded, with the help of his companion, to search the hut. The floor was of earth, and he occupied himself in digging down into it, considering that the most likely place of concealment for the treasure.
Richard Dewey watched the work going on in silence.
"If only Ben and Bradley would come back," he said to himself, "I should soon be free of these rascals. They won't find the gold where they are looking, but I needn't tell them that."
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