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The Young Engineers in Mexico by H. Irving Hancock

Part 2 out of 4

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have been forgetting her."

Senorita Francesca, a darkly beautiful girl of eighteen, shy and
retiring from the convent schooling that had ended but lately,
soon came downstairs at her father's summons. Dr. Tisco bowed
low before the charming girl. Tom and Harry were presented, and
tried to make themselves agreeable to the young Mexican girl.
Senorita Francesca's shyness, however, made this somewhat difficult,
so the young engineers felt inwardly grateful when Dr. Tisco strolled
down the porch with her.

Dinner proved to be a somewhat formal affair. Yet, as soon as
the meal was finished Senorita Francesca was escorted from the
dining room by her father and returned to her room.

"What did you think of the young lady, Tom?" Harry asked his
chum when he could do so privately.

"A fine-looking girl," Reade answered briefly. "But I fear she
would be highly offended if she knew that, all through dinner,
my every thought was on the mine and the problems that we shall
find there."

"I want to talk with you about that mine, and about some impressions
that I have formed here," murmured Hazelton.

"Then another time, my dear fellow, for here comes Don Luis, and
I see Dr. Tisco returning from the garden."

That forestalled conversation for the time being. When the young
engineers, still relentlessly attended by Nicolas, sought their
own rooms Hazelton was so drowsy that he undressed hurriedly and
dropped into bed.

Later in the night Harry sat up suddenly in the dark. Some one
was moving in the parlor that separated the two bedrooms. An
instant after awakening Harry slipped off the bed, then stole
toward the next room.

In the darkness he made out a moving figure. Like a panther Harry
sprang, landing on the all but invisible figure.

"Now, I've got you!" Hazelton hissed, wrapping his arms around
the prowler.

"And small credit to you," drawled Tom's dry voice. "Hist!"

"What's up?" demanded Hazelton, dropping his voice to a whisper.

"You and I are."

"But what's the matter?"

"I couldn't sleep," Tom whispered.

"You--troubled with nerves!" gasped Hazelton.

"Not just the way you understand it," returned Tom. "But I was
thinking, thinking, and I sat by the window yonder. Come over
there, Harry, but step without noise."

Wondering what it all meant, Hazelton softly followed his chum
to the open window.

"Now, look," said Tom, pointing, "and tell me what you see."

"A moment ago I thought I saw a light twinkling over there among
the hills."

"Look sixty seconds longer, and you'll see more lights, Harry;
those lights are on the trail that leads from the nearest gold
mines to _El Sombrero_. It is the trail Don Luis pointed out
to us to-day."

"But what--"

"Harry, I'm going to get on my clothes and slip over in that direction.
Do you want to go with me?"

"Yes; but what--"

"I can tell you better when we're on the way. Come on; dress! We can
easily leave the house without being detected."

Though Harry had already been through hosts of adventures, he
felt creepy as he dressed with speed and stealth, bent on slipping
unobserved out of their employer's house. But he was used to
following his chum's lead.

When both were ready, which was very soon, Tom softly opened the
door of their parlor, thrusting one foot out into the broad corridor.
As he did so he kicked against a man lying prostrate on the floor.
It was Nicolas, the Mexican attendant, sleeping across their
threshold that he might be on hand when wanted.

The man stirred, muttered something almost inaudible, then gradually
began to breathe more deeply. Tom, after waiting, took a step
over the body of Nicolas. Harry closed the door behind them,
then followed. Soon after they stood out on the lawn.

"I'm glad Nicolas went to sleep again," muttered Tom, in a low
voice. "The fellow would have insisted on following us, and I
wouldn't want him with us to-night, to tell Don Luis everything."

"But what on earth--"

"Harry, old fellow, Don Luis is the essence of courtesy. He has
been very polite to us, too. Yet something has aroused a suspicion
in me that Don Luis Montez wishes to use us in some way that we
wouldn't care to be used. So I'm saying little, but my eyes are
going to be open all the time from now on."

"Oh, Don Luis must be on the square," Hazelton retorted. "What could
he want of us that is crooked?"

"I don't know, yet," Tom replied, as he led the way rapidly down
the road. "But I'm going to watch, and, if there's anything wrong,
I'm going to get a line on it."

"_El Sombrero_ is Don Luis's own mine. Surely he hasn't hired
us to fool him about his own property."

"I don't know what it is that's wrong," Tom admitted. "Nor am
I sure that anything is wrong. But I'm going to do my own watching
and gather some of my own information. See, there are the lights
on that trail beyond, and there are several lights. It looks
like a caravan moving down the trail."

"A caravan?" Harry repeated. "Of what?"

"I don't know, Harry. That's what I'm here to-night to find out."

Brisk, soft walking brought them nearer and nearer to the twinkling
lights along the trail that ran into their own road at a point
lower down.

"I wish I knew what on earth Tom is thinking about," Harry muttered
to himself. "However, I may as well save my breath just now. If I
hang to him I'm likely to know what it is."

"We'll reach a hiding place from which we can watch that caravan,
or whatever it is, turn from the hill trail into this road," Tom
whispered, after they had gone somewhat further.

At this point the main road that ran from. Don Luis's estate
to his mine was decidedly irregular. Many boulders jutted out,
making a frequent change in the course of the road necessary.
It was Tom's intention to gain the nearest ledge of rock of this
sort to the hill trail, and there hide to watch the caravan.

They had nearly reached this point when out of the darkness a figure
stole softly to meet them.

"Nicolas!" muttered Tom, in a low voice, all but rubbing his eyes.
"How on earth did you get here?"

"Am I not commanded to keep with you everywhere, and serve you
in all things?" demanded the servant. "Do not go around that
next point in the road, _caballeros_. If you do, you will run
straight into Pedro Gato, who has other men with him."



"Gato?" whispered Harry. "What is he doing around here?"

"There is no reason why we should care what he is doing," Tom
returned. "He isn't in the employ of the mine. Come along, Harry."

But Nicolas seized the young chief engineer by the arm.

"Beat me, if you will, Senor Americano," pleaded Nicolas. "But
don't encounter Gato. It would be as much as your life is worth."

"Why? Is Gato on the warpath for us?" Tom questioned.

"I fear so," Nicolas answered. "Don't let him see you."

"But I must see him, if the fellow is out for us," muttered Tom.
"Show me where he is."

"He and three or four men are camped just around there," said
the Mexican servant, pointing.

"Come along, Harry," Tom whispered. "Go cat-foot."

Ere the young engineers came in sight around the turn a slight
glow of light against the stones caught their glance. Tom held
a hand behind him as a signal to Hazelton to slow up. Then Reade
peered around a jutting ledge of rock.

On the ground, around a low camp-fire, were seated four Mexicans.
Two of the number had rifles, that lay on the ground near them.
Behind them, an ugly scowl on his face, sat Gato, his back resting
against a rock.

"But you will not find your enemies out here to-night, Senor Gato,"
softly remarked one of the quartette around the fire.

"No," admitted Gato, in a growling voice.

"Then why are we waiting here?"

"Because it pleases me," snapped the big fellow. "What ails you?
Am I not paying you?"

"But two of us--and I am one of them--do not like to be seen,"
rejoined the speaker at the fire. "The troops hunt us. There
is a price on our heads."

"Bandits!" muttered Tom Reade, under his breath, as he drew back.
"I have heard that Mexico is overrun with bandits. These gentlemen
are some of the fraternity."

"Take us up to the house, Gato," urged one of the men at the fire.
"We shall know how to enter and find your friends. Everyone sleeps
there. It will be the safer way."

"It does not suit me," retorted Gato, sullenly.

"But why not?"

"Am I not paying you?"


"Then take my orders and do not ask questions."

At this there were sounds of dissatisfaction from all four of
these bad men.

"For one thing," Gato explained, "Don Luis would not like it. He
would accuse me of treachery--or worse. I do not want Don Luis's
ill will, you see."

"But Don Luis will be angry, in any case, if you injure his engineers,
won't he?" asked one of the men.

"A little, but after a while, Don Luis will not care what I do to
the Americanos," growled Pedro Gato.

"Humph! That's interesting--if true," whispered Tom Reade.

"Yet what are we doing here?" insisted one of the men. "Here,
so close to where the troops might pick us up?"

"You are obeying orders," snarled Gato.

"But that information is not quite enough to suit us," objected
one of the Mexicans.

"You might go your own way, then," sneered Gato. "I can find
other men who are not so curious. However, I will say that, when
daylight comes, we will hide not far from here. None of you know
the Americanos by sight. I will point them out to you as they
pass by in the daylight."

"And then--what?" pressed one of the rough men. "Are we to kill
the Americanos from ambush?"

"Eh?" gasped Tom Reade, with a start.

"If you have to," nodded Pedro Gato. "Though, in that case, I shall
call you clumsy. I shall pay you just four times as much if you
bring them to me as prisoners. Remember that. Before I despatch
these infernal Gringos I shall want the fun of tormenting them."

"Oh, you will eh?" thought Tom, with a slight shudder.

"I heard, Gato," ventured one of the Mexicans, incautiously, "that
one of the Americanos beat you fearfully--that he threw you down
and stamped on you."

"It is a lie!" uttered Gato, leaping to his feet, his face distorted
with rage. "It is a lie, I tell you. The man does not live who
can beat me in a fight."

"I was struck with amazement at the tale," admitted the Mexican
who had brought about this outburst.

"And well you might be," continued Gato, savagely. "But the Americanos
procured my discharge. And that was humiliation enough."

"Yet what difference does it make, Gato. As soon as Don Luis
is through with the Americanos he will restore you to your old

"It is because the Americanos treated me with such contempt,"
retorted Pedro. "No man sneers at me and lives."

"You unhung bandit!" muttered Tom under his breath. "Why don't
you tell your bandit friends that you are angry because of the
trouncing I gave you before a lot of men? But I suppose you hate
to lose caste, even before such ragged specimens as your friends."

Suddenly one of the men around the fire snatched at his rifle.
Next scattering the embers of the fire, the fellow threw himself
down flat, peering down the road.

"The troops are coming," he whispered. "I hear their horses."

"The horses that you hear are mules," laughed Gato, harshly.
"It is the nightly transport of ore down to _El Sombrero_. Just
now Don Luis is having fine ore brought over the hills from another
mine and dumped into _El Sombrero_."

"Why should he bring ore from another mine to _El Sombrero_?"
asked one of the men, curiously.

"How should I know?" demanded Gato, shrugging his shoulders and
spitting on the ground. "Why should I concern myself with the
business that belongs to an hidalgo like Don Luis?"

"It is queer that--"

"Silence!" hissed Gato. "Do not meddle with the secrets of Don
Luis Montez, or you will be sorry for it."

Gato's explanation about the mule-train had quieted the fears
of the bandits as to the approach of troops. In some mountainous
parts of Mexico the government's troops are nearly always on the
trail of bandits and the petty warfare is a brisk one.

"Go to sleep, my friends. There will be nothing to do until day

"Then, good Gato, take us somewhere off this road," pleaded one
of the men. "It is too public here to be to our liking."

"You may go to a quieter place," nodded Gato. "You know where--the
place I showed you this afternoon. As for me, after the mule-train
has left the mine, I must go there. I will join you before daybreak."

"We'll go now, then," muttered one of the men, rising.

They were coming up the road in the direction of the young engineers.
There was no time to retreat. Tom glanced swiftly around. Then
he made a sign to Harry. Both young engineers flattened themselves
out behind a pile of stones at the roadside. Their biding-place
was far from being a safe one. But four drowsy bandits plodded
by without espying the eavesdroppers. As for Nicolas, he had
vanished like the mist before the sun.

"Ha-ho-hum!" yawned Pedro Gato, audibly.

Tom raised his head, studying their immediate surroundings. He
soon fancied he saw a safe way of slipping off to the southward
and finding the road again below where Gato stood.

Signing to Hazelton, Reade rose softly and started off. Two or
three minutes later the young engineers were a hundred yards away
from Gato, though in a rock-littered field where a single incautious
step might betray them.

"Come on, now," whispered Tom. "Toward the mine."

"And run into Gato?" grimaced Harry. "Great!"

"If we meet him we ought to get away with him between us," Tom
retorted. "One of us did him up this morning."

"Go ahead, Tom!"

Reade led the way in the darkness. They skirted the road, though
keeping a sharp lookout.

"There are the lights of the mule-train ahead," whispered Tom.
"Now, we're close enough to see things, for there is _El Sombrero_
just ahead."

"What's the game, anyway?" whispered Harry.

"Surely you guess," protested Tom.

"Why, it seems that Don Luis is having ore from another mine brought
down in the dead of the night."

"Yes, and a lot of it," Tom went on. "Did you notice how much
rich ore there was in each tunnel to-day? And did you notice,
too, that when blasts were made with us looking on, no ore worthy
of the name was dug loose? Don Luis has been spending a lot of
money for ore with which to salt his own mine!"

"Salting" a mine consists of putting the gold into a mine to be
removed. Such salting gives a worthless mine the appearance of being
a very rich one.

"But why should Don Luis want to salt his own mine?" muttered

"So that he can sell it, of course!"

"But he doesn't want to sell."

"He says he doesn't," Tom retorted, with scorn. "This afternoon,
you remember, he got me to copy a report in English about his
mine and then he wanted us to sign the report as engineers. Doesn't
that look as though he wanted to sell? Harry, Don Luis has buyers
in sight for his mine, and he'll sell it for a big profit provided
he can impose on the buyers!"

"What does he want us for, then? He spoke of engineering problems."

"Don Luis's engineering problem," uttered Tom Reade, with deep
scorn, "is simply to find two clean and honest engineers who'll
sign a lying report and enable him to swindle some man or group
of men out of a fortune."

"Then Don Luis is a swindler, and we'll throw up the job," returned
Harry Hazelton, vehemently. "We'll quit."

"We won't help him swindle any one," Tom rejoined. "We won't
quit just yet, but we'll stick just long enough to see whether
we can't expose the scoundrel as he deserves! Harry, we'll have
to be crafty, too. We must not let him see, too soon, that we
are aware of his trickery."



Creeping closer to the mine, Tom and Harry saw the ore dumped
from a train of forty mules. They also heard the fellow in charge
of the train say that he would be back with two more loads that

"We don't need to wait to see the rest of the ore brought," Tom
whispered to his chum. "We know enough now."

"Look over there," urged Hazelton. "There goes the rest of the
trick. Men are shoveling the borrowed ore into the ore hoists."

"Of course," nodded Tom, disgustedly. "The ore is going below,
to be piled in the tunnels. It will be 'salted' there all right
for us to inspect in the morning. Oh, this trickery makes me

"What are you going to do now?" Hazelton asked.

"We may as well go back to the house and get some sleep."

"I'm strong for getting out of here in the morning," Harry muttered.

"Fine!" Tom agreed. "So am I. But what I want to do is to find
out who is marked out for the victim of this gigantic swindle.
I want to put the victim wise. I'd be wild if I failed to find
Don Luis's intended dupe and tell him just what he's in for."

"Do you imagine that Montez will ever allow us to get face to face
with the man who's to be fleeced?"

"He won't do it intentionally, Harry. But we may have a way of
locating the victim in time to save him from being robbed."

"Anyway, I should think the victim would have every chance in
the world to sue and get his money back," Harry mused.

"How is one to get back the money that he has put into a gold
mine?" Tom demanded. "Everyone knows that the most honest mine
is a gamble. It may stop turning out paying ore at any hour.
Besides, what show would a stranger have in the courts in this
part of Mexico? You have heard Don Luis boast that he practically
owns the governor of Bonista. No, sir! The only way to stop
a swindle will be to stop it before it takes place."

Tom rose from his hiding place, back in the dark away from the
lights at the mine shaft. He nudged his chum, then started to
creep away. Presently they rose and moved forward on foot. Ere
long they had left the mine well behind.

"I hate to go back into that polished robber's house at all,"
Harry muttered. "Tom, what do you say? We can cover at least
the first dozen miles between now and daylight. Let's make a
streak for the railway and get back to the States."

"But what about saving the victim of the intended swindle?" objected

"We could come out with a newspaper exposure that would stop any
American from buying the mine, or putting any money into it,"
proposed Hazelton.

"We might, only no newspaper would print such stuff. It would
be libelous, and subject the newspaper editor to the risk of having
to go to jail."

"All I know," sighed Harry, "is that I want, as speedily as possible,
to put as much distance as possible between us and Don Luis's home."

"We'll go out through the front door, though, when we go," Tom
proposed. "We won't sneak."

They did not encounter Gato on the way back to the big, white
house. Though they did not know it, the boys were being trailed
by the alert, barefooted Nicolas. Nor did that servant feel easy
until he had seen them softly enter the house. Then Nicolas,
as before, stretched himself on the floor before the door of the
rooms occupied by the young engineers.

Tom's alarm clock woke him that morning. In another moment Reade
was vigorously shaking Hazelton.

"Now don't give a sign to-day," Tom whispered to his friend.
"If Don Luis is going to be crafty, we shall have to fight him
with craft--at the outset, anyway."

"I hate to eat the old scoundrel's food," muttered Harry.

"So do I, but it can't be helped for the present. We're not guilty
of a breach of hospitality in planning to show the rascal up.
It is Don Luis who is guilty in that direction. He is planning
to use his guests as puppets in a dishonest game. Keep up your
nerve, Harry, and don't let your face, your manner, or anything
give you away."

Nicolas knocked as soon as he heard the boys stirring. He moved
with speed this morning, spreading the table and then rushing away
for chocolate, _frijoles_ and _tortillas_.

As soon as the boys had finished their breakfast they hastened
out to the porch, but they found their host ahead of them. More,
Don Luis wore field clothing and high-topped, laced walking boots.

"Going afield, sir?" Tom inquired, genially.

"I have been afield, already," replied Montez, bowing and smiling.
"Down to the mine I have been and back. The air is beautiful
here in the early morning, and I enjoyed the walk. You, too,
will enjoy our walks when you become used to them."

Dr. Tisco came out, bowing most affably to the young Americans.

"You look as though you had been walking, too," suggested Tom,
noting Tisco's high-topped shoes.

"I went with Don Luis," replied the secretary. "Oh, by the way,
Senor Hazelton, I believe some of your property has come into
my possession. This is yours, is it not?"

Tisco held out a fine linen handkerchief, with an embroidered
initial "H" in one corner. Harry was fond of fine linen, and
effected these handkerchiefs.

"Yes; it's mine, thank you," nodded Harry, accepting the proffered
bit of linen and pocketing it.

"I found it in a field, just this side of _El Sombrero_," remarked
Tisco, artlessly, turning away.

Though the secretary did not watch Hazelton's face, Don Luis did,
and saw the slight start of surprise and the flush that came to
the young engineer's face.

"You, too, have been walking then, Senor Hazelton?" inquired Don
Luis, pleasantly, though with an insistence that was not to be

Harry didn't know how to lie. He might have dodged the question,
but he was quick enough to see that evasion would make the matter

"Tom and I took a stroll last night," he admitted, indifferently.
"How far did we go, Tom?"

"Who can say?" replied Reade, lightly. "It was so dark, and the
way so unfamiliar that we were glad when we got home, I know."

"They have been prowling," muttered Don Luis, sharply, under his
breath. "I must have them watched."

"Are we going to the mine this morning, Don Luis?" Tom asked,

"Do you care to go, Senor Tomaso?"

"Why, that's just as you say, sir," Reade rejoined. "Of course,
we would like to get actively engaged at our work. In fact, it
seems to me that Harry and I should rise earlier and be at the
mine at least from eight in the morning until six at night."

"You would soon tire yourselves out. The mine is a dirty hole."

"By the way, sir," Reade went on, carelessly, "how far do you
have to send ore to have it smelted."

"About sixty miles."

"By mule-train, I suppose."

"Yes, Senor Tomaso."

"It must be costly shipping."

"So it is," sighed Don Luis, "and yet the ore is rich enough to
bear easily the cost of shipping."

"In what direction is the smelter?"

Don Luis pointed.

"Straight ahead, as I am showing you," he added.

"We saw the lights of a train last night," Tom went on. "I judged
that the mule-train came from the mines above. Yet the mule-train
did not follow the direction that you have just shown me. The
road runs crooked, I take it."

"Oh, yes," nodded their host, as carelessly as Tom had spoken.

"Do the other mines pay as well as _El Sombrero_?"

"Oh, no, Senor Tomaso," Montez replied quickly. "The other mines
yield not anywhere near as rich ore as comes from _El Sombrero_."

"Are you going to take us to see the other mines?" Tom hinted.

"Gladly would I do so, Senor Tomaso, only I am not on good terms
with the owners."

"I'm sorry," Tom sighed. "While we are here I wish that we could
see much of Mexican mines. Nevertheless, when we are through
here I have no doubt that you can give us letters to other mine

"Beyond a doubt," smiled Don Luis, "and it will give me great
pleasure. But I, myself own many mines, and I am seeking to locate
more. If you are suited with my employment, and if we agree,
I shall be able, undoubtedly, to keep you both engaged for many
years to come. Indeed, if you display sufficient resourcefulness
in handling mines I do not believe it will be long ere I shall
be able to pay you each fifty thousand dollars a year. I have
plenty of money, and I pay generously when I am pleased and well

"The scoundrel is fishing for something," thought Tom Reade, swiftly.
"I must not let him beat me in craft."

So he exclaimed, aloud:

"Fifty thousand dollars a year, Don Luis? You are jesting!"

"I beg to assure you that I am not," replied Montez, smiling and

"But fifty thousand a year is princely pay!" cried Reade.

"Such pay goes, of course, only to the most satisfactory of employes,"
declared Don Luis.

"At such pay," Tom said, "Harry and I ought to be satisfied to
remain in Mexico all our lives."

"We shall see," nodded Montez. "But the sunlight is growing too
strong for my eyes. Suppose, _caballeros_, that we move into
the office?"

The others now rose and followed Don Luis.

"What on earth is Tom driving at?" Harry wondered. "He's stringing
Don Luis, of course, but to what end?"

Montez stood at the door of his office, indicating that the young
engineers pass in ahead of him. The instant they had done so
Montez turned to his secretary, whispering:

"Send my daughter here."

Dr. Tisco vanished, though he soon reappeared and entered the office.

Don Luis, after indicating seats to the young Americans, crossed
to a ponderous safe, toyed with the combination lock, threw open
the door and then brought out a ledger that he deposited on one
of the flat-top desks. Five minutes later his daughter Francesca
entered the room.

"Now, what part is the girl to play here?" wondered Tom, instantly.
"If I know anything of human nature she's a sweet and honest
girl. She is no rascal, like her father. Yet he has sent for
her to play some part!"



Senorita Francesca greeted her guests with extreme courtesy.

"She's a fine young woman," thought Harry, with a guilty feeling.
"Blazes, but it's going to come hard to show her father up as
a scoundrel."

"_Chiquita_," (pet) called her father, "it has not been the custom
of this country to train our women in the ways of business. But
you are my only child. Every _peso_ (dollar) that I earn and
save is for you one of these days. I have much money, but I crave
more, and it is all for you, _chiquita_. It is my wish to see
you, one of these days, a very queen of wealth, as you are already
a queen of goodness and tenderness. Since you must handle the
great fortune that I am building for you I have concluded to override
the customs of our people for generations. In other words, I
am going to begin to train you, _chiquita_, in business."

"Business?" murmured the girl. "Ah! That word frightens me--I
am so ignorant."

"Your first lesson shall not tire or dismay you," promised Don
Luis, gently. "Now, place your chair close beside mine, and look
over this ledger with me. I shall not attempt to make you comprehend
too much at first."

With pencil and paper beside the ledger, Don Luis read off many
items. Occasionally he did some figuring on the sheet of paper,
as though to make the matters more clear to his daughter. She
made a very pretty picture, trying to follow her father's explanations,
but the perplexed wrinkling of her brow showed how hard it was
for her to do so.

The figures that Don Luis took from his ledger all tended to show
the immensity of the wealth already produced from _El Sombrero_.
Tom and Harry listened courteously, for they had been invited
to join the group.

"You are tired, _chiquita_," said her father, at last. "I have
taken you too far on our first excursion into the realm of finance.
This morning we will have no more figures. But here is something
that cannot fail to interest you in parts at least."

Shoving aside the ledger, Don Luis drew from a drawer a bulky

"This is the report which Senor Reade prepared for me yesterday,"
Montez explained, looking at the young engineers for an instant.
"The report is written in English, as I desired it written so.
But I will read the most interesting parts in Spanish to you,
_chiquita_. You will observe that this report is a masterpiece
of business composition."

"I am sure that it must be," murmured Francesca, and Tom bowed
his thanks.

"This report, too, is a part of your fortune," continued Don Luis.
"That is, it will help to make your fortune, for it concerns
_El Sombrero_, one of the finest parts of your fortune. We have
been planning, these _caballeros_ and I, that they shall remain
in my employ indefinitely, and they are to be paid better and
better if they serve you through me and serve us well. I shall
reward them as an hidalgo ever rewards."

"I do not need to be told that my father is generous when he is
pleased," murmured Francesca.

"Listen, then, to what Senior Reade has written. It cannot help
but give you much pleasure."

"The shameless rascal!" Tom exclaimed, inwardly, as the trick
became clear to him. "Don Luis is trading upon our sympathies
for the girl in order to induce us to sign his lying report."

Don Luis began to read the report, translating into Spanish as
he went along. When he came to tables of tedious figures Montez
skipped over them hurriedly. He dwelt eagerly, however, on the
paragraphs of the report that asserted such vast wealth to exist
in _El Sombrero_. Francesca listened with rising color. Once
in a while she shot a pretty, sidelong glance at Tom to show her
pleasure over the report, the whole authorship of which she plainly
believed to belong to him.

"Why, it reads like a romance!" the girl cried, clapping her hands
when the reading had finished.

"A romance? Yes!" ground Tom, under his breath. "It is romance--pure
fiction and absurdly false in every line!"

"It must be a wonderful talent to possess, senor," said Francesca,
turning to Tom Reade. "A wonderful talent to be able to describe
a matter of business in such eloquent language."

"It is a rare gift," Tom admitted modestly, though he had a design
in what he was saying. "A rare gift, indeed, and one which I
must not claim. This is your father's report, not mine. He had
written it in English, and all I did was to copy it on the typewriter,
and to make the English stronger at points. So I am not the
author--merely the clerk."

Don Luis frowned for a fleeting instant. Then his brow cleared, and
one of his charming smiles lighted his face.

"The report is a superb piece of work, and you must not believe
as much as Senor Tomaso's modesty would lead him to believe, chiquita.
But this is an engineer's report, and, as such, it is not complete
until it is signed. Hand it to Senor Reade, _chiquita_, and ask
him to sign it. Then Senor Hazelton will do the same."

Francesca accepted the document from her father, turned, and,
with a fascinating smile, handed it to the young chief engineer.

It was a cleverly contrived bit of business, in which the girl
played a wholly innocent part. Francesca dipped a pen in ink
and offered it to Tom, who accepted it. Surely, he could not
embarrass the girl, nor could he seem to refuse to add to her
fortune by any means within his power. Don Luis had brought about
the climax with great cleverness, for he felt certain of Tom Reade's

And gallant Tom Reade ever was. Yet he was keen and self-possessed
as well. While he held the pen in his hand be turned to the Mexican
with one of his pleasantest smiles.

"Don Luis," said the young engineer, "I feel certain that you
did not wholly understand what I said yesterday. What I meant
to make clear was that an engineer's signature to a report is
his written word of honor that every word in the report is true,
to his own knowledge. As I merely transcribed this report from
your own, and have not yet had sufficient opportunity to prove
to myself the value of the mine, I could not in honor sign this
report as yet. As a man of honor you will certainly understand
my position."

"But you are too particular on a point of honor," insisted Don
Luis Montez, with a shrug of his shoulders. "You do not need
to draw the line so sharply with a man of honor. I assure you
that every word in the report is true. Therefore, will you not
be so good as to sign the report?"

"I regret that I have not yet succeeded in making an engineer's
point of honor clear," Tom replied, placing the pen back on the
stand. "It will be some weeks, Don Luis, before Hazelton and
I can possibly hope to find ourselves sufficiently well informed
about the mine to sign the report."

Francesca was by no means stupid. While she did not understand
business matters, she was sufficiently keen to note, from her
father's very insistent manner, and from Tom's equally firm refusal
to sign, that some point of honor was in dispute between the two.
She flushed deeply, glanced wonderingly from one to the other,
and then her gaze fell to the floor.

"_Chiquita_," said Don Luis, tenderly, "I have been thoughtless,
and have given you too long a lesson in business. Besides, Senor
Reade is not yet ready to serve us in this matter. You may go
to your room, my daughter."

Without a word Francesca rose and left the room.

As soon as the door had closed Don Luis broke forth bitterly:

"You have done well to insult me before my daughter. She understands
only enough to realize that you have doubted my honor, and she
certainly wonders why I permitted you to live longer. Senor Reade,
whether or not your American ideas of courtesy enable you to understand
it, you have grievously insulted me in my own house, and have
intensified that insult by delivering it before my daughter.
There is now but one way in which you can retrieve your conduct."

Don Luis Montez rose, dipped the pen freshly in ink, and thrust
it into Reade's hand.

"_Sign that report_!" ordered the Mexican.

Tom rose to his feet. So did Harry.

"Don Luis," spoke Reade calmly, though he was inwardly raging.
"I always like to do business like a gentleman. I feel very
certain that I must have made it very clear to you yesterday that
I could not possibly sign any such report at the present time.
I still prefer to keep our talk within the limits of courtesy
if that be also your wish."

"Sign that report!"

"_I won't do it!_"

Tom accompanied his response by tossing the pen across the room.

"Don Luis, I don't believe that you are a fool," continued the
young chief engineer, calming down again. "If you consider that
I am utterly a fool, either, then you are doing your own intelligence
an injustice. I refuse to sign this report until I have gained
the knowledge for myself that every word in it is true. Further,
I don't believe that I would sign it after I had made the fullest
investigation. I am aware that, last night, mule-trains brought
ore down over the hills from another mine, and that ore was sent
down by the ore hoists into _El Sombrero_."

"That's a lie!" cried the Mexican, hoarsely.

"I am describing what I saw with my own eyes," Tom insisted.

"You will sign this report, and at once!" quivered Don Luis Montez,
a deadly look glittering in his eyes.

"I am quite satisfied that I shall never sign it," Tom retorted.

"That goes for me, too," put in Harry, stolidly.

"I feel that we have finished our work here, since we can do nothing
more for you, Don Luis," Tom went on. "I therefore ask you to
consider our engagement at an end. If you are disinclined to
furnish us with transportation to the railway, then we can travel
there on foot."

"Do you hear the Gringo, my good Carlos?" laughed Don Luis, derisively.

"I hear the fellow," indifferently replied Dr. Tisco, from the
other end of the room.

"Will you furnish us with transportation from here?" Tom inquired.

"I will not," hissed Montez, allowing his rage to show itself
now at its height. "You Gringo fools! Do you think you can defy
me--that here, on my own estates, you can slap me in the face
and ride away with laughter?"

"I haven't a desire in the world to slap your face," Tom rejoined,
dryly. "All I wish and mean to do is to get back to my work in

"Then listen to me, Gringos," said Don Luis Montez, in his coldest
tones. "Your work here is to sign that report. If you do not,
then you shall never leave these mountains! Your lives are in
my hands. If you do not serve me as I have ordered, then I shall
feel obliged--in self-defense--to destroy you!"



"Do you know, Don Luis," drawled Tom, "that you have one fine quality?"

"What do you mean?" demanded the Mexican.

"You are very explicit. You are also extremely candid! You don't
leave the other fellow guessing."

Don Luis Montez frowned. He felt certain that fun was being poked
at him.

"I am trying to make you young men understand that you must do
exactly what I wish of you," he returned, after a moment.

"And we have tried to make it plain, sir, that we haven't, any idea
of doing what you want," Tom Reade answered him.

"You will change your minds," retorted the mine owner.

"Time will show you that, sir. In the meantime, since we cannot
live here, what do you expect us to do?"

"I have said nothing about your not living here," uttered Don
Luis, looking astonished. "You are very welcome to all that my
poor house affords."

"Thank you; but we can't live here, just the same."

"And why not, _caballeros_?"

"Because we shall henceforth be on the most wretched sort of terms
with the owner of this house."

"There is no need of that, _caballeros_. You will, I think, find
me extremely courteous. My house is open to you, and there is
no other place that you can go."

"Nowhere to go but out," mimicked Harry Hazelton, dryly.

"You will find yourselves unable to get out of these hills," Don
Luis informed them, politely, though with an evil smile. "You
may decide to leave us, and you may start at any time, but you
will assuredly find yourselves stopped and brought back. You
simply cannot leave me, _caballeros_, until I give my consent.
Remember, no king could rule in these hills more absolutely than
I do. No one may enter or leave this part of the state of Bonista
without my consent."

"As to that, of course we shall know more later, Don Luis," Tom
returned. "However, we cannot and shall not remain longer as guests
in your house."

"I trust you will consider well and carefully on that point,"
retorted the Mexican.

"No; we simply can't and won't remain here unless--well, unless--"

"What are you trying to say, senor?"

"Then possibly you have overlooked building any dungeons under the
house? Dungeons, I understand, were a part of the housekeeping
scheme in old Mexico."

"There are no dungeons here," said Don Luis icily.

"You relieve me, sir. Then the last obstacle is removed to our
departure. We shall go at once. Come on, Harry."

Tom turned to leave the room, Hazelton at his heels. But Montez,
with an angry exclamation, leaped to the doorway, barring their

"_Caballeros_, you shall not leave like this!"

"No?" Tom inquired. "Harry, our late host wishes us to leave
by the windows."

"All right," nodded Hazelton, smiling. "I used to be something
of an athlete."

"You shall not leave me in any such childish spirit," Don Luis
insisted, stubbornly.

"If you are going to try to reopen the proposition that you made us,"
said Reade, "you may as well stop."

"You will come to your senses presently."

"We are in full possession of them at present."

"We shall yet come to a sensible arrangement of the matter," Montez
continued, coaxingly. Indeed, the Mexican had suddenly come to
see that he was absolutely dependent upon the young Americans
if he hoped to sell his mine in the near future.

"You are wrong, Don Luis," Reade continued. "We can come to no
understanding. Matters have now gone so far that we are no longer
bound by the rules of courtesy. Nor do the laws of hospitality
weigh with us, for you have chosen to bully and threaten us under
your own roof. I will therefore be frank enough to tell you that
we regard you as a mere rogue. Am I right, Harry?"

"Wholly right," nodded Hazelton. "Don Luis, I cannot see that
you are one whit more honest, or in any sense more of a gentleman,
than any of the outlawed bandits who roam these mountains. Therefore,
as Americans and gentlemen, we find it wholly impossible for us
to remain either your employs or your guests. There can be no
hope whatever that we shall consent to serve you, even in the
most innocent way."

Don Luis heard them with rising anger, which, however, he kept down
with a fine show of self-control.

"_Caballeros_, you are young. You have not seen much of the world.
You are mere boys. You have not even, as yet, developed good
manners. Therefore I overlook in you what, in men, might arouse
my anger. Take my advice. Go to your rooms. Think matters over.
When you have cooled we will talk again. No--not a word, now."

Don Luis stepped aside. Tom bowed, very stiffly, in passing the
Mexican. Harry merely gazed into the Mexican's eyes with a steadiness
and a contempt that made the mine owner wince.

Straight down the hallway, to their rooms, Tom marched, Harry
following. Barefooted Nicolas sprang forward, bowing, then swinging
open the door. He bowed again as the young engineers stepped
inside. Then Nicolas pulled the door shut.

"Are you going to stay, Tom, and have any further talk with this
thief?" sputtered Harry, who had held in about as long as was
safe for him.

"What do you think?" Tom asked, grimly, as he knelt upon his trunk
and tugged at the strap.

"I reckon I think about the same as you do," rejoined Hazelton,
closing his own trunk and strapping it.

"One--two _hoist_!" ordered Reade, settling his own trunk upon
his shoulder.

Harry followed suit. In Indian file they moved across the room.

"Nicolas," called Tom, "be good enough--the door!"

The barefooted servant swung the barrier open.

"Thank you," said Tom, marching out. Then he dumped the trunk,
noiselessly, to the floor. Going into an inner pocket he produced
a five dollar bill.

"Nicolas," said the young chief engineer, "you have certainly
done all in your power to make us comfortable. I am sorry that
we are not longer to have the comfort of your services. Will
you do me the favor of accepting this as a remembrance? It is
American money, but you can easily get it changed. And now, let
us shake hands."

Nicolas appeared dazed, both by the money and by Tom's desire to
shake hands with him. The hand that Tom clasped trembled.

"Same here," murmured Harry, also producing a five-dollar bill.
"Nicolas, you're a Mexican, but I wish they produced more of your
kind on the American side of the Rio Grande."

"The _caballeros_ have been too generous with me," protested the
poor fellow, in a husky voice. "I have not deserved this. And,
though I have been a stupid servant, you have not once beaten
me with your canes."

"If you can find the canes you may keep them, then, as a souvenir
of what you didn't get," laughed Reade. "And now, Nicolas, we
must hasten, or we shall lose our trains."

The Mexican would have said more, but he was too dazed. In his
left hand he held ten dollars in American money, about the same
thing as twenty in Mexican coin. It was more money than he had
ever held of his own before--it was almost a fortune. Surely,
these _Americanos_ must suddenly have taken leave of their senses!
Then, too, Senor Reade had just spoken of missing the train.
Did they not realize that the nearest railway train was seventy
miles away? Assuredly, they must be mad!

In the meantime Tom and Harry, having once more shouldered their
trunks, kept on down the broad hallway and out on to the porch.
There was no one there to oppose them, though Don Luis was secretly
regarding them through the crack of a nearly closed door. There
was an evil, leering smile on the face of the Mexican mine owner.

Down the steps, along the drive--it was not a short one, and
then out into the road, Tom continued. His back was beginning
to feel the unaccustomed load on his shoulder.

"Drop it, pretty soon, Tom," muttered Hazelton, behind him.

"I believe I will Reade nodded. Reaching the farther side of
the road he dropped one end of the trunk to the ground. Harry
did likewise.

"Whew!" sputtered Tom. "I'd rather be an engineer, any day, than
a delivery wagon!"

"Well, we're here," announced Harry. Then inquired, "What are
we going to do now?"



"Get your wind back," advised Tom. "Also ease your shoulder a bit."

"And then?"

"We'll carry the trunks up the slope and dump them in some depression
in the rock."

"What's the use of the trunks, anyway?" Harry wanted to know.
"No one else will shelter us in this country. We can't get a
wagon to take our trunks away in. Surely, you don't intend to
shoulder these trunks to the railway station--seventy miles away?"

"No," Reade admitted. "We'll have to abandon our trunks. All
I wanted to be sure about was to get them out of Don Luis's house.
And now I am just as anxious to get them out of sight of his
porch. As long as the trunks stand here they'll tell Don Luis
of our discomfort. I don't want that thieving rascal to have
the satisfaction even of laughing at our trunks."

"All right, if that's the way you feel about it," Hazelton grunted.
"I'm ready to shoulder mine."

"Come along, then," Tom nodded. "Up the slope we go."

Their climb was a hard one. But at last they halted, dropping
their heavy baggage on a flat surface of rock that was not visible
from the big white house. Then up a little higher the now unencumbered
engineers trod. When they halted they could see far and wide
over this strange country.

"Now, what?" asked Hazelton.

"Luncheon, if I had my choice," muttered Tom. "But that's out
of the question, I fear."

"Unless we can catch a rabbit, or something, with our hands."

"Harry, I wonder if we can find the trail all the way back to
the railroad. These mountain paths are crooked affairs at best."

"We know the general direction, and our pocket compasses will serve
us," Hazelton nodded.

"Don Luis seems to think that he can stop us from getting through
to the railroad."

"I'm not so sure that he can't, either, Tom. Hang these little
Mexicans. With our hands either one of us could thrash an armful
of these people, but a Mexican with a gun is almost the size of
an American with a gun. Tom, if we only had a brace of revolvers
I believe we could go through to civilization without mishap."

"We haven't any pistols, so there's no use in talking about them,"
Reade retorted.

"But we would have had revolvers, at least in our baggage, if
you hadn't always been so dead set against carrying them," Harry

"I'm just as much set against firearms as ever," Tom answered,
dryly. "Revolvers are made for killing people. Now, why any sane
man should desire to kill any one goes beyond me."

"Humph! We'll be lucky if we can get out of these mountains without
killing any one," grunted Hazelton.

"Cheer up!" laughed Tom. "The whole world hasn't turned black just
because we've skipped our luncheon."

"I wouldn't mind the luncheon," Harry began, "if--"

He stopped short, as he caught a glimpse of the spot where they
had left their trunks.

"Tom, let's hustle back to where we left our trunks," he whispered.
"I just saw some one moving about on that spot"

"Oh, if any thief is after our baggage, let him have it," smiled
Tom. "The stuff all goes to a thief in the end, anyway, for we
know that we can't carry our trunks with us."

But that didn't suit. Hazelton, who still felt as though he owned
his own trunk. So he started back, soft-footed. Presently they
came in sight of a human being seated on Reade's trunk.

"Nicolas!" breathed Tom.

"_Si, senor_," (yes, sir) returned the servant.

"But what are you doing here?"

"I am your servant," replied the Mexican, calmly.

"Wrong; you're Don Luis's servant."

"But he ordered me to wait on you both unceasingly, senor."

"We have left Don Luis's house, for good," Tom continued, walking
over to where the barefooted one sat.

"That may be true, senor; it is true, since you say it, but my
orders have not been changed. Until Don Luis tells me differently
I shall go on serving you."

"Did Don Luis send you after us, Nicolas?" Reade demanded, wonderingly.

"No, senor."

"Did any one at the house send you?"

"No, senor. I did not need to be sent. I am faithful."

Nicolas followed this with a smile that showed his white teeth.
He spoke in utter simplicity.

"And now what can I do for you, _caballeros_?" the Mexican inquired.

"Nicolas," asked Tom, with sudden inspiration, "is there any store
hereabouts? Any place where food can be purchased?"

"No, senor; there is a store not far from the shaft entrance of
_El Sombrero_ Mine. That is where the _peons_ of the mine draw
their food, and have it charged against their pay accounts. But
no one may buy there for cash."

"Is there no place where you can buy food for us?"

"_Caballeros_, of course, I will not pretend not to understand
that you are on bad terms with Don Luis. Hence, both his storekeeper
and his _peons_ would hesitate to sell food for you or to you.
But I have a relative who works in the mine, and he is a brave
man. I think I can persuade him to sell me food and ask no questions.
In fact, _caballeros_, that is what I will do."

"It won't get your relative into any trouble, will it, Nicolas?"
Tom asked.

"I can manage it, senor, so that no trouble will follow."

"Then take this money and get some food, my good Nicolas, if you
can manage it without getting any one into trouble."

"It will have to be very plain food, Senor Reade, such as _peons_
eat," urged Nicolas.

"Plain food never killed any man yet," Tom laughed. "Well, then,
take this money and serve us at your convenience."

"I have no need of money," replied the Mexican, shaking his head.
"I am well supplied, _caballeros_."

Displaying the two banknotes that he had received an hour before,
Nicolas took three steps backward, then vanished.

"There goes a faithful fellow!" glowed Tom.

"If he isn't doing this under Don Luis's orders," muttered Hazelton.

"Harry, I'm ashamed of you," retorted Tom, finding a soft, grass-covered
spot and stretching himself out. He pulled his sombrero forward
over his face and lay as though asleep. Any one, however, who
had tried to creep upon Reade would speedily have discovered that
he was far from drowsy.

"Humph!" said Harry, after glancing at his chum. "You don't appear
to realize that there's any such thing as danger around us."

"If there is, I can't keep it away," Tom rejoined. "Harry, this
idle life is getting into my blood, I fear. Now, I know just
how happy a tramp feels."

"Go ahead and enjoy yourself, then," laughed Hazelton. "For fifteen
minutes at a time you'd make an ideal tramp. Then you'd want to go
to work"

"I wouldn't mind having a little work to do," Reade admitted.
"Harry, it took nerve to throw up our connection with Don Luis.
At least, that meant some work to do."

"It did not," Harry contradicted. "Don Luis didn't want us in
his mine at all, and showed us that as plainly as he could. All
the work he wanted out of us was the writing of two signatures.
The need of the signatures was all that ever made him bring us
down from the United States."

"He'd he such a charming fellow, too, if he only knew a little
bit about being honest," sighed Tom, regretfully.

"There is one thing about his rascality that I shall never forgive,"
growled Hazelton. "That was, dragging his innocent daughter into
the game, just in the hope that her presence would influence us
to sign."

"I trust, _caballeros_, that you did not find me too slow and
lazy," broke in the soft voice of Nicolas, as that servant stole
back in on them. He was well laden with parcels, at sight of
which Reade sat up with a jerk.

"Anything in that lot that's all ready to be eaten without fussy
preparation, Nicolas?" the young chief engineer asked eagerly.

"Oh, _si senor_!"

"Then lead us to it, boy!"

The Mexican servant unwrapped a package, revealing and holding
up a tin.

"Food of your own kind, from your own country, _caballeros_,"
the Mexican announced proudly.

"Canned baked beans," chuckled Harry, after glancing at the label.
"Hurry and get the stuff open."

Nicolas opened two tins of the beans, then produced a package of
soda biscuits.

"This will be enough for one meal, _caballeros_?" he asked.

"Oh, plenty," nodded Tom.

"And then I have some of our Mexican beans, dried," Nicolas continued.
"They will do when we are not so near a food supply. I have
also a little dish in which to boil them over a fire. Oh, we
shall get along excellently, _caballeros_."

Shortly the very simple meal was ready and eaten in record time.

"And here is something else that we shall drink in the morning,"
Nicolas announced, presently as he held up a package. "It is

As Tom and Harry both detested this beverage, they were forced
to feign their enthusiasm.

"Now, I feel as though we ought to do some walking," Tom declared,
rising and stretching.

"Walking?" queried Nicolas. "Where?"

"Over the hills to the nearest telegraph station. There is one
within twenty miles, is there not?"

"There is, _caballero_," Nicolas assented, gravely, "but it will
be impossible for us to reach it."

"Impossible? Why?" Reade demanded.

"On my way back I kept my eyes open," the Mexican explained.
"As a result I discovered who is in these hills about us."

"Who, then?" Harry asked.

"Pedro Gato," Nicolas affirmed solemnly.

"Who?" said Tom. "Oh, Gato? Only he?"

"Only he and some of his worthless, criminal companions," the
servant went on, solemnly. "Senor Reade, at no greater distance
than this from Don Luis you may be safe from Gato. Yet, if you
stroll but a few miles from here Pedro Gato will not so greatly
fear the hidalgo. Then Gato will work his own will with you."

"He will, oh?" Tom demanded grimly.

"Of a surety, senor!"

"If I should see Pedro Gato first, he would be likely to come in for
another walloping," Tom laughed, dryly.

"But you would not see him, senor. You would hear him only, and
Gato's message would be a bullet."

"Can Gato shoot any better than he fights?" smiled Reade.

Bang! An unseen rifle spoke. Judged by the sound the marksman
was not more than three hundred yards away.

"Sz-z-z-zz!" the leaden missile sang through the air. It flattened
against a rock in front of which the young chief engineer was

"You are answered, _mi caballero_!" cried Nicolas, throwing himself
flat on the earth. "Drop to the earth, senor, before the second
shot is fired!"



Tom did not follow the advice to flatten himself on the ground.
Instead, he stood straighter--even rose on his toes and stared
in the direction whence he judged the shot to have come.

"Gato, you treacherous scoundrel!" Read roared, in Spanish. "Do
you call yourself a brave man, to fight an unarmed foe like this?"

All was silent amid the rocks in the distance.

"Have you too little courage to answer me?" Tom again essayed.
"Or are you man enough to show yourself--to come forward and
listen to me. Don't be afraid. I can't hurt you. I have no
weapon worse than my fists."

As the young chief engineer spoke in Spanish, Nicolas understood.

"Don't! Don't, _mi caballero_," implored the Mexican servant
"Don't let him know that you are unarmed. Make a move as though
to draw a pistol, and Gato may run away instead of sighting his
rifle once more at you."

"Now I know you, Gato, for the wolfish coward that you are," Tom
Reade shouted mockingly. "You are desperately afraid when you
won't meet me, unarmed as I am."

"If Senor Reade is so utterly brave when he has no weapons," thought
the barefooted servant, "then if he had a gun in his hand he would
be the bravest man in all the world!"

"I guess that yellow dog isn't going to bark at us again, just
now," laughed Tom, carelessly, when some moments had passed without
another shot. "Doubtless, the fellow was frightened away by the
sound of his own rifle."

"That shot was a warning," chattered Nicolas. "It is his way
of sending you his defiance. When Gato fires again he will try
in earnest to kill you, and he will keep on firing until he succeeds.
Oh, _mi caballero_, if you will give me some more of your Americano
money, I will hasten about until I find some one who will sell
me a gun for you. You must have one in your hands all the time."

"Not for mine," smiled Reade. "To tell you the truth, Nicolas,
guns sometimes make me nervous. If I had one I might be clumsy
enough to shoot myself with it."

"Nicolas is talking sense," interrupted Hazelton, speaking in
English. "Both you and I should be armed."

"By all means have Nicolas get a gun for you, Harry, if you will,"
Reade answered, coolly. "But none for me."

"I'd like to meet Gato face to face and on equal terms," Harry
went on, dropping back into the Spanish tongue.

"So would I," agreed his chum. "I have much to say to Gato.
If there were mail boxes in this wild country I'd drop him a letter."

"Do you really wish to send Gato a letter?" asked Nicolas, eagerly.

"Why, I'd send him one if I could," nodded Tom.

"Have you writing materials?" pressed the servant.

"Yes--but what's the use?"

"Write your letter, _mi caballero_, and I will hand it to Gato,"
urged the Mexican.

"You?" gasped Tom.


"But how?"

"I will hand the letter to him in person."

"You--go to Gato?"

"Yes. Why not?"

"Gato would kill you!"

"Kill a poor _peon_?" smiled Nicolas. "Oh, no; I am not worth
while. I am not a fighting man."

"Do you mean to tell me," demanded Tom, astonished, "that you
could go openly and safely to Gato?"

"Assuredly," declared Nicolas, composedly. "Gato would not harm
me. I am one of his own people, a Mexican, and have not the courage
to fight. So he would only disgrace himself in the eyes of his
countrymen if he tried to do me harm."

"Is that the truth?" Reade persisted.

"Certainly, Senor Reade. If there were a priest here I would
swear to it as the truth."

"And you have the courage to try to hand a note to Gato?"

"Under the circumstances it does not require courage, since I
am safe," replied Nicolas, steadily and easily.

"Hanged if I don't think I will write a note to Pedro Gato!" chuckled

"Do so, _mi caballero_; at your convenience."

Tom tore a page out of a notebook, and with his fountain pen wrote
the following note in Spanish:

"Pedro Gato: If you had half the courage of a rabbit you would
not go skulking through the hills, shooting at me without giving
me any chance to tell you or show you what I think of you. A
shot has just struck near my head, yet no glimpse was to be had
of the man who fired the shot. If you did that, then you are
a coward of a low, mean type. If you do not feel like accepting
my opinion of you, then will you meet me and explain your conduct
as one real man talks with another? If you will not give me this
explanation, and persist in trying to shoot at me, then I warn
you that I will and must pummel you with my fists if I ever have
the pleasure of meeting you face to face."

"Thomas Reade."

Harry glanced through the note and smiled. "That ought to scare
the bold, bad man," said he.

"Read this, Nicolas, and see if you think the note will shame
the scoundrel," laughed Tom.

"Pardon, _mi caballero_," objected Nicolas, "but I am no scholar.
I do not know how to read or write."

"Oh!" said Tom simply. "Then let me read it to you."

Tom repeated what he had written, then asking:

"Do you think, Nicolas, that it will be safe for you to take this
to Pedro Gato?"

"Assuredly, senor."

"And you are sure you can find the scoundrel?"

"I think so, though it may take considerable time."

Nicolas took the note, holding it tight in his left hand. He
was visible for a few steps, after which he dodged down behind
a rock and was seen no more.

Moving stealthily over the hillsides, Nicolas spent a full hour
in obtaining the first glimpse of Gato. That worthy was seated
on the ground, smoking and chatting in low tones with his
desperate-looking companions. Suddenly Pedro caught sight of the
servant and started up. He beckoned, and Nicolas approached.

"You have come to serve us," said Gato, delightedly. "You are
a good youth, and I shall reward you handsomely some day. You
are ready to tell us how we can trap the two Gringos. How many
weapons have they, and of what kind?"

"Truly, I do not know, Senor Gato," Nicolas answered.

"That taller Gringo taunted me with the claim that he was not
armed at all," grinned Gato, ferociously. "But I am too old a
man to be caught by any such lie as that. He was trying to lead
us on, that we might walk into their Gringo trap. Was he not?"

"Truly I do not know," Nicolas repeated.

"Then what are you doing here, if you bring us no news?" snarled
Gato, whereat Nicolas began to tremble.

"I--I bring a letter from his excellency, _el caballero_, Reade,"
faltered the servant.

"A letter?" cried Gato, hoarsely. "Why did you not say so before."

"I have been waiting, Senor Gato, until you gave me time to speak,"
protested the messenger.

"Hand me the letter," ordered Gato, stretching forth his hand.

Nicolas handed over the page torn from Tom's notebook. Gato slowly
puzzled his way through the note, his anger rising with every

"The insolent Gringo!" he cried. "He insults my courage! This
from one who is a mere Gringo--the most cowardly race of people
on the earth. Oh, I shall exact revenge for this insolence.
And you, Nicolas, had the impudence to come here with such an

"I assure you, Senor Gato, I was but the unfortunate messenger."
Nicolas replied, meekly.

"Since you brought this insolence to me you shall take back my
message. Tell the dogs of Gringos that I laugh at them. Tell
the Gringo, Reade, that, in these hills, I shall do as I please.
That I shall let him pass safely, if I am so minded, or that
I shall shoot at him whenever I choose. Assure him that I regard
his life as being my property. Begone, you rascal!"

Nor did Nicolas linger. From the outset he had been badly scared,
though he had been truthful in assuring Tom Reade that a bandit
would hardly hurt a poor _peon_.

When Nicolas at last reached the young engineers he delivered
the message that Pedro Gato had regarded the whole matter as
insolence, and had been very angry.

"Gato added," continued Nicolas, "that he would shoot at you when
and where he pleased. And he will do it. He is a ferocious fellow."

"Humph!" muttered Tom. "If your feet don't mind, my good Nicolas,
I have a good mind to send Gato another and much shorter note.
Is it far to go!"

"N-not very far," said Nicolas, though he began to quake.

"Of course, I shall pay you well for this and all the other trouble
you are taking on my account," Tom continued, gently.

"I am finely paid by being allowed to serve you at all, Senor
Reade," Nicolas protested.



"You will have to be very careful that Gato does not get another
chance to shoot at you, _mi caballero_," Nicolas went on. "He
does not believe that you are unarmed, or he would speedily settle
with you. But he will shoot at you frequently, from ambush, if
you give him the chance."

"Then I hope he'll do it frequently," grimaced Reade. "The need
of frequent shooting indicates bad marksmanship."

"Senor," begged Nicolas, "I would not joke about Gato. He means
to kill you, or worse."

"Worse?" queried Tom, raising his eyebrows. "How could that be?"

The Mexican servant made a gesture of horror.

"It is worse when our Mexican bandits torture a man," he replied,
his voice shaking. "They are fiends--those of our Mexicans who
have bad hearts."

"Then you believe that Gato plans something diabolical, just because
I walloped him in a fair fight--or in a fight where the odds
were against me?"

"It matters not as to the merits of the fight," Nicolas went on.
"Gato will never be satisfied until he has hurt you worse than
you hurt him."

"And perhaps Don Luis may be behind the rascal, urging him on
and offering to protect him from the law? What do you think about
that, Nicolas?"

"I cannot say," Nicolas responded, with a slight shrug. "I am
Don Luis's servant."

"Pardon my forgetting that," begged Harry. "I should not have
spoken as I did."

"For more than one reason," Tom muttered, "we shall do well to
get out of this unfriendly stretch of country. Harry, we're pining
for the good old U.S., aren't we?"

"Just a glimpse of the American side of the border--that's all
we want," laughed Hazelton.

"And, if we're to be killed, we'll at least be killed while trying
to reach the border," Reade proposed.

"Do you intend starting now, senor?" asked Nicolas, in a low voice.

"Not before dark," Tom murmured.

"Then why do you two not sleep for a while?" begged the servant.
"You will need some strength if you are to travel through these
mountains all night. Sleep! You can trust me to keep awake and
to warn you if danger gets close."

"Thank you, old fellow; I know we can trust you," Tom replied.
He stretched himself out on the ground, pulling his hat down
over his eyes. Within two minutes he was sound asleep. Not more
than a minute after that Harry, too, was dozing.

It was still daylight when Tom awoke. He sat up. Harry was sleeping
soundly, and Nicolas was not in sight.

"Abandoned?" thought Reade. "No; that's hardly likely. Nicolas
rings true. Hiding close to here, undoubtedly, that he may keep
better watch. A call will bring him here."

Tom rose, to look about.

"Be cautious, senor," came the whispered advice from an unseen
speaker. "If you expose yourself you may invite a bullet."

Tom promptly accepted the advice. Going toward the sound of the
voice, he found Nicolas crouched in a trough of rock not far from
where they had lain down.

"Now, Nicolas, it's your turn," whispered Reade.

"My turn for what, senor?"


"I am but a servant, senor. I do not need rest."

"Nicolas, you go in and lie down near Hazelton, and go to sleep."

The Mexican grumbled a little, but all his life he had been taught
to obey orders. Within sixty seconds the servant was sound asleep.

An hour later it began to darken.

Harry Hazelton awoke with a start, to find Tom with his finger
on his lips.

"Nicolas is asleep," whispered Reade. "Don't make any noise that
will awaken him. I have no doubt that he would go through with
us and be our guide. But that would put him in bad with Don Luis,
and we have no right to expose the poor fellow to blame. Move
about without noise, and we'll eat some of the stuff that Nicolas
brought us."

This was done. It was dark by the time that the simple meal had
been finished. Tom drew out another five-dollar bill, which he
pinned to the shirt of the poor Mexican.

"Now we'll take all the food with us," Tom whispered. "Nicolas
won't need any of it, as he's less than twenty minutes' walk from
a square feed. Come along--on tip-toe."

Tom led the way through the darkness, not halting until they were
well away from the Mexican.

"Now, wait a moment, until we get our bearings from the stars,"
Tom proposed. "Then we'll make a straight, fast, soft hike to
the telegraph station."

"Only twenty miles away, over the boulders," murmured Hazelton.

"This is where our past physical training comes in finely," Tom
rejoined. He looked up at the sky, pointing to and naming several
of the fixed stars.

"Now, as we know our course, we can hardly, go astray," Reade
suggested. "Ready! Forward march!"

Tom took the lead in this, as he did in nearly everything else.
For more than an hour the young engineers trudged ahead. When
at last they halted for breath they had covered at least three
miles of their way.

"Nicolas will feel insulted when he wakes, I'm afraid," suggested

"I'm afraid he will. Nicolas may have a copper skin, and be under-sized
and illiterate, but he's one of the old-fashioned, true-to-the-death
kind. But, if he helped guide us out of this wilderness, Don Luis
would probably flay the poor fellow alive afterwards."

"I wonder if we're going to make the telegraph station by daylight!"
Harry went on.

"I'm afraid not. But we ought to be there some time during the

"That will give Don Luis time, perhaps, to wake up to our disappearance
and send men after us," hinted Harry.

Tom's face grew long at this suggestion. He was well aware that
Don Luis Montez was a man who was both dreaded and obeyed in these

"Oh, well, we'll do all we can for ourselves," Tom proposed.
"We'll keep cheerful about it, too--until the worst happens."

"I'm rested, Tom. Shall we start along?"

"Yes; for we're both anxious to get through!"

Once more Reade took the lead. They trudged another mile, often
without finding the semblance of a trail. Finally, they discovered
what seemed to be a crude road leading in their general direction.

Ahead boulders loomed up. They were getting into a rough part
of the mountains.

As Tom plodded around a bend in the road, past a big rock, he
heard a low laugh.

"Oblige me, senores, by showing me how high you can reach in the
air!" came a mocking voice.

Tom and Harry had both stepped around into the plain range of
vision of Pedro Gato.

That scoundrel stood with rifle butt to his shoulder, his glance
running along the barrel. The weapon covered them.

"Don't forget! Your hands, _caballeros_!" insisted Gato, jubilantly.

For a brief instant Tom Reade hesitated. He was doing some lightning
calculating as to whether he would be able to spring forward under
the rifle barrel and knock up the weapon.

But a second glance showed him that he could not hope to do it.
Pedro Gato was completely master of the situation.

"For the third time--and the last, _caballeros_ your hands!
Up high!" commanded Gato exultantly.

"Now, stand just so, until I get back of you," ordered Gato.
"Do not attempt any tricks, and do not turn to look back at me.
If you do I shall pull the trigger--once and again. This rifle
shoots fast."

While talking Gato had placed himself to the rear of his captives,
who, with hands up, remained facing ahead.

"Do you want us to keep our hands up forever?" demanded Tom Reade,

"To take them down will be the signal for death," replied Gato
coolly. "Take your hands down, or turn this way, if you deem
it best. Possibly you will prefer to die, for to-night's entertainment
may strike you as being worse than death. The matter is within
your own choice, wholly, _caballeros_. Perhaps on the whole it
would be far better for you to lower your hands and die."

"Cut out the thrills and the mock-comedy, Gato, and tell us what
else you want us to do," Tom urged, stiffly.

"Oho! My Gringo wild-cat is much tamer, isn't he?" sneered Gato.
"But he shall be tamer still before the night is over. Now--are
you listening?"

Harry made no sign, but Tom shrugged his shoulders.

"Keep your noses pointed the same way. March!" commanded Gato.



Tom and Harry started along the trail, side by side.

Something whizzed through the air. Then something struck the
earth heavily, and there was a slight, quickly repressed groan.

"Quick, _caballeros_!"

For the life of him Tom could not help halting and wheeling about.
The next second he uttered a low cry of glee.

For Pedro Gato lay flat on the ground, Nicolas bending over him.

"Quick, _caballeros_!" implored Nicolas again.

"You fine chap," chuckled Reade, bounding back and bending over
Gato, as Nicolas was doing.

"There was no other way to save you," whispered the servant.
"I had to do it."

As Nicolas raised his right hand, Reade could not help seeing
that it was stained with blood.

"See here," gasped Tom, recoiling. "You didn't--you didn't knife
the scoundrel?"

He had all of an American's disgust of knife-fighting.

"Oh, no--not I," returned the little Mexican. "I do not use
the knife. I am a servant, not a coward. But I had to throw
a stone. I am thankful, senor, that my aim was good."

Tom now discovered that blood was coming from a wound in Gato's
head. Moreover, the rascal was beginning to moan. He would soon
recover consciousness.

"Do you know how to use this, senor?" Nicolas asked, as he passed
over a small coil of stout hempen cord.

"I think we can fix the fellow," Tom nodded. "Roll him over,
Harry, and hold him. Don't let the scoundrel reach for any other

Gato's rifle lay on the ground. Tom pushed it aside with one
foot as Harry turned the fellow.

"Get his hands behind him," muttered Tom. "I'll do the tying."

In a very short space of time Gato's hands had been securely bound
behind him. More cord was tied around his ankles, in such a way
that Gato would be able to take short steps but not run.

Suddenly Gato groaned and opened his eyes.

"You'll be more comfortable on your back, old fellow," murmured
Tom. "Wait. I'll turn you."

Gato stared blankly, at first. Evidently he did not realize the
situation all at once. At last a curse leaped to his lips.

"Go easy on that bad-talk stuff," Tom urged him. "Gentlemen don't
use such language, and men who travel with us must be gentlemen."

"You miserable Gringo!" wailed Gato, gnashing his teeth. "You
will always be full of treacherous tricks. Even when I had you
in front of me, and my eyes on you, you managed to knock me down."

"Oh, no!" laughed Tom. "The credit for this stunt belongs to
good little Nicolas!"

The servant uttered a protesting cry, but too late. Tom had spoken

"Nicolas! You? You little mountain rat of a _peon_!" growled
Gato. "Excellent! I am glad I know, for I shall destroy you."

Nicolas cowered and shivered before the baleful glare in the larger
Mexican's eyes. But Tom took a savage grip of one of Gato's shoulders,
digging in with his pressure until he made the scoundrel wince.

"You'd better go slow with that talk, Gato," Tom warned him.
"If you don't we'll turn you over to Nicolas to do with as he

"All right," sneered Gato, not a whit dismayed. "He would dare
to do nothing to me. He would be too afraid of the vengeance that
he well knows stalks in these hills."

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