Part 3 out of 4
"It is all too true," shuddered Nicolas.
"Come, brace up, Nicolas, and be a man," Tom urged, slapping the
servant cordially on the shoulder. "Don't be afraid of any man.
Let Gato threaten you if he wants to. Nothing has happened to
you yet, and he who is afraid is the only man that suffers. Come,
Gato, you will have to get up on your feet. We can't let you
"I shall not stir a step," declared the fellow, grimly.
"Oh, yes, you will."
"Not if you kill me for refusing. If you wish to take me anywhere,
Gringos, you will have to carry me every step of the way."
"We won't carry you, either," Tom continued, coolly. "Gato, a
few moments ago, you had the whip-hand. Now, we're carrying the
whip. We don't want any nonsense. If you carry matters too far
you'll discover that Hazelton and I have had more or less experience
as wild animal trainers. But, first of all, your head. It must
be attended to."
Tom wiped away the blood, which was now clotting, with his own
"Help me to stand him on his feet, Harry," Reade then commanded.
Between them they dragged the heavy fellow to his feet, but Gato
promptly cast himself down again.
"We'll haul you up again," Tom went on, patiently. "Don't try
that mulish trick any more, Gato, or I promise you that you'll
No sooner had he been placed on his feet than. Gato once more
threw himself down. As soon as he went down, however, Tom jerked
him to his feet.
A roar like that of an angry bull escaped the lips of the suffering
"He is trying to summon his men!" cried Nicolas, snatching up
No sooner was Gato upright than he threw himself down once more.
Again he was roughly jerked to a standing position.
The fourth time that Gato was placed on his feet he stood, though
he was shaking with fury.
"That's a little better," Tom nodded. "Now, Nicolas, I imagine
you know more than I do about where your countrymen carry their
extra arms. Search this fellow for weapons, and don't overlook
No pistol was revealed by the search, but a long, keen-edged knife
was brought to light.
"No gentleman has any occasion to carry a thing like that," mocked
Reade. Thrusting the blade into a cleft of rock close by, Tom
snapped the blade, rendering the weapon useless.
"Now, we're ready to go on," announced Tom. "Harry, will you
keep behind our guest of the evening and spur him on if he shows
signs of lagging?"
"Take this gun, Senor Reade," Nicolas hinted, trying to pass the
weapon to the young chief engineer.
"I don't want it," returned Tom, shaking his head and making a
gesture of repulsion. "I don't like guns. They always make me
nervous. I'm afraid of accidents, you see."
"You take the gun, then, Senor Hazelton," begged Nicolas, turning
to the other engineer.
"Don't you believe it," retorted Harry, gruffly. "I'd lose caste
forever with Tom if I carried firearms. Tom says that nobody
but a coward will carry firearms. You keep the gun yourself."
"_Muy bien, senor_," (very good, sir) agreed Nicolas, meekly.
"It is better that I should carry the weapon then, for I am truly
worthless. I am but a _peon_."
"Oh, confound you!" choked Harry. "I didn't mean that. You're
one of the best fellows on earth, Nicolas, for you're a man that
can be trusted. Better unstrap that belt of cartridges from Gato,
The big Mexican ground his teeth and cursed in helpless rage while
the little servant stripped him of the belt and adjusted it about
his own waist.
"Now, let's get along," Reade urged. "We've been losing a lot
of valuable time. Besides, we don't know when we'll run into
some of this mountain pirate's choice friends."
Tom strode on ahead. Nicolas ran to his side, walking with him.
Then came Gato, urged on by Harry Hazelton.
"See here, you Nicolas," remarked Tom, protestingly, "why on earth
didn't you stay put? We left you behind to-night so that you
wouldn't run into trouble with Don Luis."
"Don Luis himself told me to wait on your excellencies night and
day, as long as you remained in Bonista," Nicolas affirmed, solemnly.
"Don Luis hasn't yet changed those orders, and so I must remain
with you. But I had flattered myself that just now I was of enough
service to you so that you wouldn't be displeased."
"Displeased? Not a bit of it," muttered Tom. "But we didn't
want you to get yourself into trouble on our account. Now, you've
gone and written your name in Gato's bad books for certain."
"I have, senor," the _peon_ admitted. "Gato will take delight
in cutting my throat for me one of these days."
"Great Scott!" Reade gasped, shivering. "That's cheerful."
"So that, perhaps, senor," suggested the _peon_, slyly, "you will
be willing to take me with you to your own country. Perhaps there,
also, you will be able to give me work as your servant."
"Rest assured of one thing, Nicolas. If we can get you safely
over on to the American side of the border we'll look after you
"I am very grateful, senor," protested Nicolas, humbly.
"But we're a long way from the American border as yet," Tom went on.
"You will get there safely, senor," predicted the _peon_. "You
are a great man, and you know how to do things."
"Well, for simple faith you're the limit, Nicolas, my boy. For
one thing, though, it strikes me that our getting over the border,
which is some hundreds of miles away, might be hindered if we
have the tough luck to run into any of Gato's armed pals along
"You do well to remind me, senor!" cried Nicolas, in a low tone,
but one, nevertheless, which was full of self-reproach. "So much
have I enjoyed my talk with you that I have been forgetting to
look after your safety. Pardon me, senor. I will vanish, but
I shall watch over you with the wide-open eyes of the panther."
In another instant Nicolas had vanished from the trail. Tom,
however, did not worry. He knew that Nicolas was not far away,
and that the little _peon_ was doubtless as valuable a scout as
their expedition could have.
"I wish I had asked him to unload that gun, though," Reade muttered
to himself. "He's likely as not to hurt some one else beside
the enemy with a stray bullet or two."
Three miles further on Tom, Harry and their prisoner halted, for
on the rough road they were now becoming winded.
"I am near, senores," whispered a familiar voice, though Nicolas
did not show himself over the rocks that concealed him.
"Yes," sneered Gato, harshly, "you are indeed near--near death,
you silly little fool. Always before you have been safe because
you were not a fighting man. But now you have taken to deeds
of arms, and you shall take your chances whenever you stir in
these mountains. For that matter you will surely be cut down
before the dawn comes."
"That reminds me," muttered Tom. "We want to be farther from
Don Luis before dawn arrives. Gato, oblige us by rising and joining
in the hike."
Though Gato snarled, he allowed himself to be hoisted to his feet.
Then, with alert Harry behind him the villain allowed himself
to be ordered along the trail.
When dawn came Nicolas informed the young engineers that they
were now within about four miles of the nearest telegraph station.
The food that they had brought along was opened; even Gato had
his share. Then Nicolas vanished once more, and the march was
The sun was well up, and beating down hot and fiery when Nicolas,
standing on a jutting ledge of rock, pointed down into the valley
at a little clump of wooden buildings, roofed with corrugated iron.
"That third house is the telegraph station," said the _peon_.
"You will know it by the wires running in."
"Shan't we all go down?" asked Harry.
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be wise," Tom answered. "We can't turn
our prisoner loose. On the other hand, if we took him with us,
roped as he is, it might stir up a lot of questioning and make
some trouble. But Nicolas will know better. What do you say,
"I say that Senor Reade is right."
Tom therefore started down into the valley alone. A few half-clad
natives lounged in the street. They stared curiously at this
stalwart-looking, bronzed young Gringo who walked toward them
with alert step.
Two or three of the children, after the custom of their kind,
called out for money. Tom, smiling pleasantly, drew forth a few
loose American coins that he had with him and scattered them in
the road. Then he hastened on to the telegraph station, a
squalid-looking little one-room shanty. But the place looked good to
Tom, for its wires reached out over the civilized world, and more
especially ran to the dear old United States that he was so anxious
to reach with a few words.
Tom passed inside, to find a bare-footed, white-clad Mexican soldier
at a telegraph desk. The soldier wore the chevrons of a sergeant.
"Sergeant, may I send a telegram from here?" Tom inquired in Spanish.
"Certainly, senor," replied the sergeant, pushing forward a blank.
As this telegraph station was a military station, it was under
the exclusive control of the soldiery.
Tom picked up the blank and the proffered pencil. He dated the
paper, then wrote the name and address of the manager of his and
Harry's engineering office in the United States. Below this Reade
"Hazelton and I are now endeavoring to reach railway and return
immediately. If not heard from soon, look us up promptly through
"Our man will know, from this, if he doesn't hear from us soon,"
Tom reflected, "that there has been foul play, and that he must
turn the matter over to the United States Government at Washington
for some swift work by Uncle Sam on our behalf. Once this message
gets through to the other end, Harry and I won't have to worry
much about being able to get out of Mexico in safety."
The sergeant read the English words through carefully.
"Will the senor pardon me for saying," ventured the telegrapher,
"that this message reads much as though yourself and a friend
are trying to escape?"
The man spoke in English, though with a Spanish accent.
"What do you mean, Sergeant?" Tom queried, quickly.
"Why should you need to escape, if you are honest men, engaged
in honest business?" demanded the sergeant, eyeing Reade keenly.
"Why, it isn't a felony to try to get out of Mexico, is it?" Tom
"That depends," said the sergeant. "It depends, for instance,
on why you are leaving."
"We're leaving because we want to," Tom informed him.
"You are Senor Reade, are you not?" pressed the sergeant, after
eyeing the telegram once more. "And your friend, who does not
appear here in person, is Senor Hazelton? Unless I am wrong,
then you are the two engineers whom Don Luis Montez engaged.
How do I know that you have any right to leave Mexico? How do
I know that you are not breaking a contract?"
"Breaking a contract?" Tom retorted, somewhat indignantly. "Sergeant,
we are not contract laborers. We are civil engineers--professional
"Nevertheless," replied the sergeant, handing back the telegram
into the hands of bewildered. Tom Reade, "I cannot undertake
to send this message until it is endorsed with the written approval
of Don Luis Montez, your employer."
"Does Don Luis own this side of Mexico, or this wing of the Mexican
Army?" Tom inquired, with biting sarcasm.
"I cannot send the telegram, senor, except as I have stated."
Whereupon the sergeant began firmly, though gently, to push Tom
out of the room. Comparing the size and muscular development
of the two, it looked almost humorous to see this effort. But
Tom, who now realized how hopeless his errand was, allowed himself
to be pushed out. Then the door was slammed to and locked behind
"Nothing doing!" muttered Reade, in chagrin and dismay. "In fact,
much less than nothing! Harry and I will simply have to tramp
fifty miles further and find the railway. Great Scott! I doubt
if the conductor will even let us aboard his train without a pass
signed by Don Luis. Hang the entire state of Bonista!"
Deep in thought, and well-nigh overwhelmed by the complete realization
of his defeat, Tom stalked moodily back up among the rocks.
As he turned a sharp, jutting ledge, Tom suddenly recoiled, as
a brisk military voice called:
"Para! Quien vive!" (Halt! Who goes there?)
Reade found a Mexican military bayonet pressing against his chest,
behind the bayonet a rifle, and to the immediate rear of the rifle
a ragged, barefooted young soldier, though none the less a genuine
Further back other soldiers squatted on the ground. In their
centre sat the scowling Gato, handcuffed and therefore plainly
Harry and Nicolas were also there--not handcuffed, yet quite
as plainly prisoners.
THE JOB OF BEING AN HIDALGO
"This must be a part of the army that Don Luis also owns!" flashed
through Reade's mind.
From behind the group stepped forth a boyish-looking young fellow
at whose side dangled a sword. He was a very young lieutenant.
"Are these your men?" inquired Tom.
"Yes," nodded the lieutenant.
"Why have they stopped me?" Tom demanded, calmly.
"On suspicion, senor."
"Suspicion of what?" demanded Reade, his eyes opening wider.
"Is it suspicious for a foreigner to be walking about in Mexico?"
"I am not here to answer questions, senor," replied the young
officer. "You will be good enough not to resist."
"I haven't any intention of resisting," Tom retorted. "I know
better than to think that I can thrash the whole Mexican Army
that is behind you."
"You are as sensible as I had hoped you would be, senor," continued
the lieutenant, with a slight bow.
"But I wish you would tell us why you are holding us," Tom insisted.
"I am not obliged to tell you, senor, and I am not certain that
it would be wise of me to do so," the officer answered. "However,
I will say that I found your party with a Mexican citizen as a
"And you seem to have made a prisoner of the same fellow yourself,"
"As an officer of the Mexican Army, senor, that is my privilege,"
came the lieutenant's response. "As to your right, however, to
arrest and hold a Mexican citizen, there may be some question.
I shall have to satisfy myself on this point before I can release
"Why, I'll be wholly frank with you," Tom Reade offered. "This
fellow, Gato, is a rascal whom I had occasion to thrash. In revenge
for the humiliation he has given me to understand that he would
kill me. Last night he held us up at the point of his rifle.
Our servant, Nicolas, threw a stone that bowled Gato over. Then,
for our own safety, we tied him up and brought him with us."
"Why was it necessary to your safety, senor, since you had the
fellow's rifle and his ammunition? You see, I have gained this
much from your friend."
"Why was it necessary?" Tom repeated, wonderingly. "Why, Lieutenant,
do you feel that we should have turned a deadly enemy loose?"
"But you had no right to arrest him, senor."
"Nor did we arrest him in the sense that you mean, Lieutenant.
All we did was to render Gato helpless and bring him along with
us until we should have passed out of the bit of country in which
he might have been dangerous to our safety."
"How could he be dangerous when you had his weapon?" the lieutenant
"Why, he had other men out with him. How long would it have taken
Gato to find his men and bring them down upon us--three or four
guns against one?"
"But did you see his other men at any time in the night?"
"No," Tom admitted.
"Senor, you have made a grave mistake in arresting and holding the
man, Gato. You had no right to do so."
"Why, in our own country," Tom protested, "any one may arrest
a man who is committing a crime. In our own case we very likely
would have lost our lives to bandits if we had not tied Gato and
brought him with us."
"Had you tied him and left him behind it might have been different,"
explained the lieutenant. "But what you did, Senor Reade, was
to make an actual arrest, and this you, as an American, had no
right to do. Therefore, I shall hold you until this matter has
been further inquired into."
It was a bad plight, and there seemed to be no simple way out
of it. The young chief engineer began to see that, innocently,
and wholly for the purpose of self-protection, he very likely
had infringed upon the kinds of rights that foreigners in Mexico
do not possess.
"All right, Lieutenant," sighed Tom. "I suppose we shall have
to go along with you. Where are you taking us?"
"That will have to be decided," said the officer. "Nowhere for
the presents my men are tired and need rest. We will not humiliate
you, Senor Reade, by placing you in irons, but I will ask your
word of honor that you won't attempt to escape from us."
"I give you that word of honor," said Tom, simply.
"And I have only to remind you, senor, that, if you make the mistake
of breaking your word, bullets travel fast and several of my men
"I am an American and a gentleman," Reade returned, with offended
dignity. "My word of honor is not given to be broken."
"Then you will seat yourself, senor, or stroll about and amuse
yourself within the narrow limits of this small camp."
Tom stepped over, rested his hand on Harry's shoulder, then dropped
to a seat beside his chum.
"Can you beat it?" Tom demanded, in ready American slang.
"It would be hard to, wouldn't it?" Harry asked, smiling sheepishly.
Pedro Gato turned to regard them with a surly grin. Though handcuffed,
Gato seemed to feel that he was now enjoying his own innings.
For an hour or more the soldiers continued to rest. All of them,
including the lieutenant, who sat stiffly aloof from his men,
rolling and smoking cigarettes.
"I see a bully argument against cigarette smoking," whispered
Tom in his chum's ear.
"What is it?" Harry wanted to know.
"All of these fellows are smoking cigarettes. I am proud of myself
to feel that I don't belong in their class."
"A year ago Alf Drew would have felt at home in this cigarette-puffing,
sallow-faced lot, wouldn't be?" grinned Harry.
"I am glad to say that Alf now knows how measly a cigarette smoker
looks," answered Tom.
Alf Drew, as readers of the preceding volume will remember, was
a boy addicted to cigarettes, but whom Tom had broken of the stupid
habit. Alf was now employed in the engineering offices of Reade
"There's something coming," announced Reade, presently. "It sounds
like a miniature railroad train."
"I wish it were a real one, and that we had our baggage aboard,"
muttered Harry, with a grimace.
One of the sentries had gone to intercept the approaching object.
Instead the soldier now permitted the approaching object to roll
into camp. It proved to be Don Luis's big touring car. In the
tonneau sat the mine owner and Dr. Carlos Tisco.
"What is this, Senor Reade?" cried Don Luis Montez, in pretended
astonishment. "In trouble? Lieutenant, these gentlemen are friends
of mine. May I ask you what this means?"
Tom was not deceived by this by-play. He snorted mildly while
the young army lieutenant explained why he had detained the engineers.
"But these gentlemen are friends and employes," Don Luis explained.
"What they tell you about Gato is quite true. Will you oblige
me by releasing these gentlemen, Lieutenant."
The young officer seemed to hesitate.
"It's all a part of the comedy," whispered Tom, and Harry nodded.
"I--I will let these Americanos go, for the present, Don Luis,"
suggested the lieutenant, "provided you will take them back to
your estate, and agree to be responsible for them if they are
"Thank you very much, Lieutenant. I will readily undertake that,"
agreed Montez, smiling. "Then come, Senores Reade and Hazelton,
and I will interrupt my journey to take you back to safety under
a hospitable roof."
"I don't know that I wouldn't rather go with the soldiers," Harry
muttered to his chum.
"No!" murmured Reade. "I've heard too much about these Mexican
prisons to care anything about going to one. I reckon we'd better
go with Don Luis. After we've rid ourselves of military guard,
and have reached the Montez estate, we are at least released from
our word of honor not to attempt an escape. I guess, Harry, we
had better take up with Don Luis's rascally offer."
"Well, _caballeros_, does it need much discussion to enable you
to accept my kindness?" called Montez, banteringly.
"Not at all, Don Luis," Tom made answer. "We're going with you--with
the lieutenant's consent."
The young lieutenant bowed his agreement. Tom and Harry lifted
their hats lightly to the officer, then stepped into the tonneau
of the car.
"Home," said Don Luis.
The chauffeur made a quick turn, and the car speedily left the
"I have often heard, gentlemen, that foreigners have difficulty
in understanding our laws," observed Don Luis. He spoke affably,
but mockery lurked in his tones. "Without realizing it you two
have committed a serious offense against our laws. You have ventured
to arrest a Mexican citizen."
Nicolas, who sat in front with the chauffeur, sat as stiff and silent
as though he had been a figure of stone.
"What will be the outcome of this adventure, under the law?" Tom
"It would need one of our judges to say that," replied Don Luis,
shrugging his shoulders. "However, I may be able to arrange the
matter with the authorities."
"And, if you can't arrange it--?"
"Why, then, I dare say, my friends, you will have to be arrested
again. Then you would be taken to one of our prisons until your
trial came off. You might even be held _incommunicado_, which
means that, as prisoners, you would not be allowed to communicate
with the outside world--not even with your American government."
"And how long would we be held _incommunicado_?" Tom asked.
Don Luis gave another shrug of his shoulders.
"You would be held _incommunicado_, Senor Reade, until the judges
were ready to try you."
"And that might be years off," Tom muttered.
Don Luis beamed delightedly, while a thin smile curled on Dr. Tisco's
"You are beginning, senor, to get some grasp of Mexican law,"
"In other words, Don Luis," said Tom, dryly, "it's a game wherein
you can't possibly lose, and we can remain out of prison only as
long as you are gracious enough to will it?"
"That might be rather a strong way of stating the case," murmured
the Mexican. "However, after your unlawful act of last night,
you undoubtedly are liable to a long confinement in one of our
prisons. But believe me, Senor Reade, you may command me as far
as my humble influence with our government goes!"
The situation was certainly one to make Tom think hard. He was
certain that Don Luis had engineered the whole situation, even
to urging Gato on to a part in this grin drama.
"Well, you've got us!" sighed Tom.
"You will find me your best friend, always," protested Montez.
"You have us," Tom continued, "but you haven't our signatures
to the report on your mine. That is going to be more difficult."
"Time heals all breaches between gentlemen who should be friends,"
declared Don Luis, quite graciously.
After that it was a silent party that rode in the touring car.
Though the road back to the estate was worthy of no such name
as road, the big car none the less "ate up the miles." It was
not long before the young engineers caught sight of the big white
"Come, gentlemen," begged Don Luis, alighting, and turning to
the young engineers with a courtly grace that concealed a world
of mockery. "You will find your rooms ready, and my household
ready to minister to your comfort."
Tom Reade, as he stepped upon the porch, drew himself up as stiffly
as any American soldier could have done.
"We've had to come this far with you, Don Luis," admitted the
young engineer, dropping all his former pretense of dry good humor,
"but you can't make us live under your roof unless you go so far
as to have us seized, tied and carried in."
"I have no intention of being anything but a gracious friend and
host," murmured Montez.
"Then, while we probably must stay here," Tom resumed, "we'll
leave your place and go to live somewhere in the open near you.
We can accept neither your house nor your food."
"Very good," answered Montez, meekly, bowing again. "I will only
suggest, _caballeros_, that you do not attempt to go too far from
my house. If you do, the soldiers will surely find you. Then
they will not bring you back to me, and you will learn what
_incommunicado_ means in our Mexican law. _Adios_, _caballeros_!"
"Am I still the servant of the American gentlemen, Don Luis?"
asked Nicolas, humbly.
"You may go with them. They will need you, little Nicolas," answered
Don Luis, and watched the three out of sight with smiling eyes.
Montez could afford to be cheerful. He knew that he had triumphed.
TWO VICTIMS OF ROSY THOUGHTS
"There is one thing about it," remarked Reade, as he rose and
stood at the doorway of the tent. "We're not being overworked."
"Nor are we getting awfully rich, as the weeks go by, either,"
"No; but we're puppets in a game that interests me about as much
as any that I ever saw played," Tom smiled back.
"This game--interests you?" queried Harry, looking astonished.
"That is a new idea to me, Tom. I never knew you to be interested,
before, in any game that wasn't directly connected with some great
"We have a great ambition at present."
"I'd like to know what it is," grumbled Harry. "It's three weeks
since that scoundrel, Don Luis, brought us back in triumph. We
refused to enter his house as guests, and started to camp in the
open in these two old tents that Nicolas secured for us. In all
these three weeks we haven't done a tap of work. We haven't studied,
or read because we have no books. We sleep, eat, and then sleep
some more. When we get tired of everything else we go out and
trudge over the hills, being careful not to get too far, lest
we run into the guns of Gato and his comrades, for undoubtedly
Gato was turned loose as soon as he was lost to our sight. We
don't do anything like work, and we're not even arranging any
work for the future. Yet you say that you're boosting your ambitions."
"I am," Tom nodded solemnly. "Harry, isn't it just as great an
ambition to be an honest engineer as it is to be a highly capable
"Don't capitalists usually invest large sums on a favorable report
"And, if the engineers were dishonest the capitalists would lose
their money, wouldn't they?"
"Then here's our ambition, and we're working it out--finely,
too," Tom went on, with much warmth. "Don Luis has a scheme to
rob some people of a large sum of money by selling them a worthless
mine in a country where there are several good ones. If he could
get us to help him, to our own dishonor, Don Luis Montez would
succeed in swindling this company of men. Harry, we're just lying
around here, day after day, doing no hard work, but we're blocking
Don Luis's game and saving money for honest men. Don Luis doesn't
care to have us assassinated, for he still hopes to break down
our resistance. He can't bring the capitalists here to meet us
until we do give in, and so the game lags for Don Luis. He can't
bring in other engineers, for they'd meet us and we would post
them. The American engineer must be a serious problem for Don
Luis. He thought he could buy almost any of us. Our conduct
has made him afraid that American engineers can't be bought.
Evidently he must have his report signed by American engineers
of repute, which means that he is trying to sell his worthless
mine to Americans. Harry, we're teaching Don Luis to respect
the honesty of American engineers; we're saving some of our countrymen
from being swindled, probably out of thousands of dollars; we're
proving that the American engineer is honest, and we're discouraging
rascals everywhere from employing us in crooked work. Now, honestly,
isn't all that ambition enough to hold us for a few weeks?"
"I suppose so," Harry agreed. "But what is the end of all this
to be. Won't Don Luis merely have us assassinated in the end,
if we go on proving stubborn?"
"He may," Tom answered, pressing his lips grimly. "But, if he
does, he'll pay heavily for his villainy."
"Every man has to pay for his sins."
"That's what we were taught in Sunday school," Harry nodded, "and
I've always believed it. Yet here, in these remote mountains
of the state of Bonista, if anywhere, Don Luis would appear to
be safe. If a few of his men crept up here, late some night,
with pistols or knives, and finished us before we had time to
wake up, do you imagine that any one hereabouts would dare to
make any report of the matter? Would our fate ever reach the
"It would be sure to, in time, I believe," Tom answered, thoughtfully.
"That I can't tell. But I believe in the invariable triumph of
right, no matter how great the odds against it may seem."
"Let right triumph, after we're buried," continued Harry, "and
what good would it do us?"
"None, in any ordinary material sense. Yet good would come to
the world through our fate, even if only in proclaiming, once
more, the sure defeat of all wicked plans in the end."
Harry said no more, just then. Tom Reade, who ordinarily was
intensely practical, was also the kind of young man who could
perish for an ideal, if need be. Tom went outside, stretching
himself on the grass under a tree. He sighed for a book, but
there was none, so he lay staring off over the valley below.
Twenty minutes later Harry, after trying vainly to take a nap
on a cot in the tent, followed his chum outside.
"Odd, isn't it, Tom?" questioned Hazelton. "We're living what
looks like a wholly free life. Nothing to prevent us from tramping
anywhere we please on these hills, and yet we know to a certainty
that we wouldn't be able to get twenty miles from here before
soldiers would have us nabbed, and marching away to a prison from
which, very likely, no one in the outside world would ever hear
of us again."
"It is queer," agreed Tom, nodding. "Oh, just for one glimpse
of Yankee soil!"
"Twice," went on Harry, "we've even persuaded Nicolas to bribe
some native to take a letter from us, to be mailed at some distant
point. After two or three days Don Luis, in each instance, has
come here, and, with a smile, has shown us our own intercepted
letter. Yet Nicolas has been honest in the matter, beyond a doubt.
It is equally past question that the native whom Nicolas has
trusted and paid has made an honest attempt to get away and post
our letter; but always the cunning of a Montez overtakes the trusted
"And one can only guess what has happened to the messengers,"
Tom said, soberly. "Undoubtedly both of the two poor fellows
are now passing the days _incommunicado_. It makes a fellow a
bit heartsick, doesn't it, chum, to think of the probable fates
of two men who have tried to serve us. And what, in the end,
is to be the fate of poor little Nicolas? Don Luis Montez is
not the sort of man to forgive him his fidelity to us."
"And where's Nicolas, all this time?" suddenly demanded Harry,
glancing at his watch. "Why, the fellow hasn't been here for
three hours! Where can he be?"
"_Quien sabe_?" responded Reade, using the common Spanish question,
given with a shrug, which means, "Who knows! Who can guess?"
"Can Nicolas have fallen into any harm?" asked Hazelton, a new
note of alarm in his voice. "The poor, faithful little fellow!
It gives me a shiver to think of his suffering an injury just
because he serves us so truly."
"I shall be interested in seeing him get back," Tom nodded thoughtfully.
"And I'm beginning to have a creepy feeling that he won't come
back!" cried Harry. "He may at this moment be past human aid,
Tom, and that may be but the prelude to our own craftily-planned
Tom Reade sat up, leaning on one elbow, as he regarded his chum with
an odd smile.
"Harry," Tom uttered, dryly, "we certainly have no excuse for being
blue when we have such rosy thoughts to cheer us up!"
"Hang Mexico!" grunted Hazelton.
THE STRANGER IN THE TENT
By and by Tom Reade began to grow decidedly restless. He would
sit up, look and listen, and then lie down again. Then he would
fidget about nervously, all of which was most unusual with him,
for Reade's was one of those strong natures that will endure work
day and night as long as is necessary, and then go in for complete
rest when there is nothing else to do.
Harry did not observe this, for he had gone back into the tent.
Two sheets of a Mexican newspaper had come wrapped around one
of Nicolas's last food purchases. Hazelton was reading the paper
slowly by way of improving his knowledge of Spanish.
At last Tom called, in a low voice:
"Don't worry about me, chum, if you miss me. I'm going to take a
"All right, Tom."
Reade did not hurry away. He had to remember that in all probability
he was being watched. So he strolled about as though he had no
particular purpose in mind. Yet, after some minutes, he gained
a point from which he could gaze down the hill-slope toward the
little village of huts in which the mine laborers lived.
There were a few small children playing about the one street that
ran through the village. A few of the women were out of doors,
also, but none of the men were in sight, for these were toiling
away at the mine. Though _El Sombrero_ had so far shown no ore
that amounted to anything, Don Luis, while waiting to sell his
mine for a fortune, kept his _peons_ working hard in the hope
that they might strike some real ore.
After Tom had been gazing for three or four minutes his eves suddenly
lighted, for he saw Nicolas come out of one of the huts.
"I wonder what has kept the little fellow so long," Tom murmured.
But he turned away with an appearance of listlessness, for, if
he were observed, he did not care to have a watcher note his interest
in the servant's coming.
So Nicolas passed on toward the tents without having observed Reade.
"I won't get back too soon," Tom decided. "If we are watched
at all it wouldn't do to have me appear too much interested in
the _peon's_ doings."
Now that his mind was somewhat easier, Tom strolled on once more.
His roundabout path took him along among the rocks that littered
the ground over the principal tunnels of _El Sombrero_. Hundreds
of feet beneath him now toiled some of the _peons_ who lived in
the village of huts yonder.
Presently Reade increased his speed considerably, deciding that
now it would be safe to return directly to camp. Suddenly he
stopped short, head up, his gaze directed at the tops of three
or four rocks. Some human being had just dodged out of sight
at that point.
Tom felt a swift though brief chill. Something had made him suspect
that the prowler might be Gato, or one of the latter's companions.
Instead of running away Tom made for the place of hiding in short
"Hold on there a minute, my friend," Tom called in Spanish. "I
think it may be worth my while to look you over."
Just as Reade was ready to bound over the rocks a figure rose
as though to meet him. A light leap landed Reade on top of the
stranger, who was borne to earth.
"Mercy senor!" begged the other. "Do not be rough with me. I
am not strong enough to stand it."
The man spoke Spanish and was well past middle age, of a very
spare figure, and his face was very thin, although there was a
deep flush on his cheeks.
"Oh, I beg your pardon," said Tom in Spanish. He touched the
stranger's cheeks, which were hot with fever.
Then Tom slid off his poor captive and squatted beside him. Reaching
for the man's left wrist and resting two fingers on his pulse,
Tom added, gently:
"Tell me all about it, senor."
"There is not much to tell," panted the stranger, weakly, for
Tom's landing on him had jarred him severely. "I am sick, as
you can see."
"Oh, that isn't much," said Tom, blithely. "With decent care
you will soon he well. It is plain that you are a gentleman--no
_peon_. Yonder, some distance, is a house where I think you are
very likely to be well taken care of. Don Luis Montez--"
Despite the hectic flush in the cheeks, the stranger's face paled
visibly. Tom, always observant, noted this.
"Oh, I see," Reade went on, calmly. "You do not like Don Luis
Montez, or you do not care about going to his house."
The stranger gazed up wistfully at the young engineer's kindly face.
"Senor," he asked, "you would not betray me?"
"You mean to Don Luis?"
A weak nod was the answer.
"Rest easy on that score, my friend," Tom begged, dryly. "Don Luis
and I are not on the best of terms. I do not like him very
"Will you help to hide me here, and then go away and be silent?"
"Go away and leave you here?" suggested Reade.
"Yes, senor. It will be a great favor."
"It would be murder," Tom retorted. "Man, you're ill and you
need care--nursing. I don't know much about doctoring, but if
you have any reason why you don't want Don Luis to know you're
here, then I'll do the best I can for you here. I have a chum
who'll help me. You have been traveling for some time?" Tom continued,
his glance taking in the stranger's well-worn shoes and trousers.
"That is true, yes," nodded the stranger.
"You've been over a rough road, also," Tom continued, "and now
you're ill. Your pulse is a hundred and twenty, and you're breathing
thirty-two times to the minute. You must have a good bed, be
covered comfortably and have plenty of water to drink while we're
getting some medicines for you."
"You are indeed kind, but I fear," protested the stranger, "that
you will attract attention my way, and then I shall be captured."
Tom studied the face of the sick man keenly.
"I wish you would tell me something about yourself," the young
engineer hinted. "It might help me to decide what it is best
to do for you."
"Senor," begged the stranger, with a start of dread "it would
be a great kindness to me if you would go away and leave me here.
Do not come back--and forget that you have seen me."
"It can't be done," replied Tom, with gentle positiveness. "It
wouldn't be in American nature to go away and leave a fellow creature
to die of helplessness when a little care and nursing ought to
put that man on his feet again. But I won't argue with you, for
I see the excitement is bringing a deeper flush into your face.
Senor, as you are a gentleman trust another gentleman to serve
you loyally and not betray you. I am going to leave you for a
little while. Will you give me your word to remain here until
"Yes," nodded the other, weakly.
"I'll wrap this around you," Reade continued, taking off his own
blouse and wrapping it around the thin body of the older man.
"This will help you a little if you are taken with chills. I
shall be back as soon as I can possibly come without attracting
attention. Do not be startled if you hear other footsteps than
my own. I shall bring with me a friend. I would trust in his
hands anything or all that I have in the world. Will you trust
me to serve you, senor?"
"I shall trust you," promised the other, simply. "In truth, my
young friend, I have many reasons why I could wish to recover of
this illness and be well again."
Tom slipped away, then rose to his full height, and resumed his
late appearance of lounging along without an object. As he neared
the camp he espied Nicolas, whom he had forgotten.
"Our little fellow came back, you see," called Harry, as Tom neared
the tents. "What have you been doing?"
"Loafing," yawned Reade, as he strolled up. When he reached the
cook tent, however, he stepped inside and the Mexican servant
"Senor," Nicolas reported, in a whisper, "I think I succeeded in
"But you do not yet know?" queried Tom.
"How can I know so soon, senor?" questioned Nicolas.
"True," nodded Tom.
Then he stepped outside the tent, remarking: "Our food supply is so
low, Nicolas, that I fear you will have to take the basket and go
"It shall be done, senor," promised the servant, and going into
the tent appeared a moment later with a basket.
Tom handed him some money.
"I am listening to your orders, senor."
"Oh, you know as well what food to get as I do," Tom rejoined.
"But," he added, under his voice, "you _must_ get me some--"
Here Tom added the Spanish names of three or four drugs that he
"I think I shall be able to get the drugs, senor. Some of the
_peons_ must keep them in their houses."
"You must get them, as I said. Now, make good time. I will await
Then Tom drew Harry aside, describing the finding of the fever-stricken
"Who on earth can he be?" wondered Harry, curiously. "And what
can he be doing in this out of the way part of the world?"
"That's his own secret," retorted Tom, dryly; and the man is bent
on keeping it. There are only two things that we need to know--one
that he is ill, and the other that he is very plainly a gentleman,
who would be incapable of repaying our kindness with any treachery.
What do you say, Harry? Shall we bring him here and look after
"That's for you to say, Tom."
"It's half for you to say, Harry. Half the risk is also yours,
if anything goes wrong."
"Tom, I feel the same way that you do about it," Harry declared,
his eyes shining brightly. "A fellow creature in distress is
one whom we can't pass by. We can't leave him to die. Such a
thing would haunt me as long as I live. When do you want to go
"Just as soon as it's dark," Reade replied. "That will be within
the hour, for here in the tropics night comes soon after the sun
When the time came Tom and Harry left their tent, strolling slowly.
It was very dark and the young engineers listened intently as
they went along. They found their stranger and lifted him from
the ground. He was so slight and frail that he proved no burden
whatever. Apparently without having been seen by any one Reade
and Hazelton bore their man back to camp.
"Into the cook tent," whispered Reade. "Don Luis, if he should
visit us, is less likely to look there than anywhere else."
Into the cook tent they bore the stranger, arranging a bed on
the floor, and covering the sick man with such blankets as his
condition appeared to call for.
"I am back, _caballeros_," announced Nicolas, treading softly
into the tent. "To the praise of Heaven, be it said, I secured
the medicines you told me to get."
Then Nicolas stopped short, gazing wonderingly at the fever-flushed
face of the stranger.
"He's a puzzle," remarked Harry, four days later.
"Meaning our sick man?"
"Of course. But he isn't going to be a sick man much longer,
thanks to you, Tom. You were born to be a physician."
"Don't you believe it," smiled Reade. "The only previous experience
I've had was when I simply had to pull you through out on Indian
Smoke Range last winter. Harry, I was afraid you were a goner,
and I couldn't let you go. But then, just when you were at your
worst I had the best of outside help in pulling you through."
"You mean you got help after you had pulled me out of all danger,"
Hazelton retorted. "And now you've pulled our stranger through.
Or the next thing to it. His fever is gone, and he's mending."
"Nothing much ailed him, I reckon, but intense anxiety and too
little food. Our man is resting, now, and getting strong."
"But he's a mystery to me," Harry continued.
"I can't make anything out of him."
"Do you figure out anything concerning him?" Hazelton inquired.
"I don't want to. It isn't any of my business. Our unknown guest
is very plainly a gentleman, and that's enough to know about him.
If he hasn't told us anything more then it's because he thinks
his affairs are of more importance to himself than to us."
"Oh, of course, I didn't mean that I wanted to pry into his affairs,"
"No; and we won't do it, either, Harry. If our guest should happen
to be missing some morning, without even a note of thanks left
behind, we'll understand what it cost him to slip away without
The day before Don Luis had made one of his occasional visits,
but he had not gone into the cook tent. Even had he done so the
mine owner would probably have seen nothing to make him curious.
At the further end of the cook tent lay the stranger, and his
bed had been curtained off by a dark-colored print curtain that
looked as though it might have been placed there to partition
off part of the tent. Don Luis had called merely to chat with
the young engineers, and to use his keen eyes in determining whether
his enforced guests were any nearer to the point of yielding to
his demands upon them.
Concerning the sick man, Nicolas had remained wholly silent.
He did not offer to go near the sick man, but brought whatever
Tom or Harry had called for. To have the sick man on their hands
had been a rather welcome break for the young engineers, since
it had given them something with which to occupy themselves.
Just before dark on the fifth day, Tom strolled into the cook
tent, going to the rear and parting the curtain.
"How do you feel, now?" Reade asked in a whisper.
"Much stronger, senor," came the grateful answer. "Last night,
when your servant slept, I rose and walked about the tent a little
to find the use of my legs again. To-day, when alone, I did the
same thing. By morning I shall be fit to walk once more. Senor,
do not think me ungrateful if you come into this tent, some morning,
soon, and find my end of it deserted. I shall go, but I shall
never forget you."
"You will please yourself, sir," Tom answered, simply. "Yet I
beg you not to attempt to leave until you are able to take care
of yourself. We shall not think you ungrateful if it be a long
time before we hear from you again. Another thing, sir. When
you go do not fail to take with you, in your pockets, food enough
to last you for some days."
"I--I cannot pay for it," hesitated the stranger. "Nor, for
the present, can I offer to pay you back the money you have expended
on my medicines."
"Now, who said anything about that?" Tom asked, nearly as gruffly
as it was possible for him to speak to a sick man. "Pay for nothing
here, sir, and do not worry about it, either. You do not know
how much pleasure your coming has given us. We needed something
to do needed it with an aching want that would not be stilled.
Looking after you, sir, has been a very welcome treat to us."
"You have been kinder to me, senores, than any one has been to me in
many years," murmured the stranger, tears starting to his eyes.
"There, there! Forget it," urged Tom.
"Good evening, Don Luis!" sounded Harry's voice outside. "Ah,
"That's our warning to stop talking," whispered Tom in the stranger's
ear, then rose and slipped outside the curtain.
"Where is Senor Reade?" inquired Don Luis.
"Any one calling me?" inquired Tom, looking out of the cook tent.
"Ah, good evening, gentlemen."
Tom stepped outside, offering his hand. As this was the first
time of late that he had made any such overture to the mine owner,
Montez was quick to grasp the hope that it conveyed.
"You are not comfortable here, Senor Reade," said Don Luis, looking
about. "I regret it the more when I remember how much room I
have under my poor roof. Why don't you move up there, at once.
There are several apartments any one of which you may have."
"On the contrary we are very comfortable here," Tom rejoined,
seating himself on the ground. "We have lived the open-air life
so much that we are really happier in a tent than we could be
in any house."
"I cannot understand why you can feel so about it," murmured the
Mexican stepping to the entrance of the larger tent and glancing
inside. "I will admit, Senor Reade, that you keep a very tidy
house under canvas, and your wants may be extremely simple. But
a house offers comforts that cannot possibly be found in a tent
like this. And the other is still smaller and more cheerless,"
he added, crossing into the other tent.
Don Luis was now within arm's length of the thin curtain, and was
apparently about to push it aside.
"Won't you come outside," suggested Tom, "and tell me the object
of your call this evening? It is too warm in here."
"Gladly," smiled the Mexican, letting go of the curtain, which
he had just touched, and wheeling about.
"Hang the rascal!" muttered Tom, inwardly. "Has he gotten wind
of the fact that we have a stranger here? Does Don Luis know
all about the man? Is he playing on my nerves at this moment?"
But Montez, with an appearance of being wholly interested in Tom
Reade, went outside with him. Harry placed campstools for the
callers, while the young engineers threw themselves upon the ground.
Don Luis Montez, as usual, was to do the talking, while Dr. Tisco's
purpose in being present was to use his keen, snapping eyes in
covertly studying the faces of the two Americans.
"I have called to say," declared Don Luis, coming promptly to
the point, "that within three days a party of American visitors
will be here. They come with a view to buying the mine, and I
shall sell it to them at a very handsome profit. Before we can
deal with these Americans it will be absolutely necessary for
me to have that report, signed by you both. Moreover, you must
both give me your word of honor that you will meet the Americans,
and stand back of that report. That you will do all in your power
to make possible the sale of the mine."
"We've discussed all of that before," said Harry, dryly.
"And we shall yet require a little more time before we can give a
too definite answer," Tom broke in hastily, to head off his chum.
"But the time is short, _caballeros_," Don Luis urged, a new light,
however, gleaming in his eyes, for this was the first time that
the young engineers had shown any likelihood of granting his wishes.
"A great deal can be decided upon in three days, Don Luis," Tom
went on, slowly. "You will have to give us a little more time,
and we will weigh everything carefully."
"But you believe that you will be ready to meet my views?" Don
Luis demanded, eagerly.
"I cannot see how our endorsement of your mine can be of any very
great value to you," Tom resumed. "It is hardly likely that any
of these capitalists who are coming have ever heard of us. In
any case, they are quite likely to feel that we are much too young
to be able to form professional opinions of any value."
"You give me your help in the matter," coaxed Montez, "and I will
attend to the rest. More, _caballeros_; stand by me so well that
I dispose of the mine, and I will promise you twenty thousand
dollars, gold, apiece."
"That is a lot of money," Reade nodded, thoughtfully. "But there
are other considerations, too."
"Yes; your liberty and your safety," Montez broke in, quickly,
with a meaning smile. "_Caballeros_, do not for one moment think
that I can be hoodwinked, and that you will be safe as soon as
you meet your fellow Americans. One single flaw in your conduct,
after they arrive, and I assure you that you will be promptly
arrested. That would be the end of you. It is always easy for
government officers to report that prisoners attempted to escape,
and were shot dead because of the attempt. That is exactly what
will happen if you do aught to hinder the sale of this mining
"Nothing like a clear understanding," smiled Tom, rising, and
once more holding out his hand. "Don Luis, it will be enough
if we give you our answer by the morning of day after to-morrow?
And I will add that I think we shall see our way clear to help
along the sale of this mining property at a high figure. Let
me see; at what value do you hold it?"
"At two million and a half dollars, Senor Reade."
"I think we can assure your visitors that they are doing well
enough," Tom nodded.
"One word more, _caballeros_," said Montez, as he let go of the
young chief engineer's hand. "If you fail us, do not either of
you imagine, for a moment, that you have any further lease of life."
"I don't believe we shall fail you," Tom assured the Mexican.
"I believe that the visiting Americans will buy. If they don't
it won't be our fault."
"And now that we are at such an excellent understanding once more,
Senor Reade," proposed the mine owner, "can't we prevail upon
you to come up to the house and spend a pleasant evening."
"Thank you," Tom returned, graciously. "But not to-night. I
am restless. I must do considerable thinking, and I don't want
to talk much. Action is what I crave. If you see us running
all over your property, don't imagine that we are trying to run
away from here."
"My property is at your disposal," smiled Don Luis. "I shall
feel assured that you will not go many miles from here."
The remark covered the fact that Montez had all avenues of escape
so well guarded that the young engineers simply could not escape
Good nights were exchanged, and the visitors, smiling politely,
"Now, why on earth did you talk to Don Luis in that fashion?"
Harry demanded, as soon as they were alone. "You know, well
enough, that not even the certainty of immediate death would make
you accede to his rascally wishes."
"I'm afraid I don't know anything of the sort," Tom drawled.
"On the contrary, we may help Montez sell out to the American
"Tom Reade, are you going crazy?"
"Not that I've noticed."
"Then what are you talking about?"
"Harry, I'm tired, and I think you are."
"I'm sick and tired with disgust that Don Luis should think he
could use us to bait his money-traps with," Hazelton retorted.
"Let's turn in and get a good night's rest."
"Oh, bother!" retorted the junior engineer. "I couldn't sleep.
Tom, I shan't sleep a wink to-night, for dreading that you'll turn
rascal-helper. Tell me that you've been joking with me, Tom!"
"But I can't truthfully tell you that," Reade insisted. "I am
not joking, and haven't been joking to-night."
"Then I wish you'd open up and tell me a few things."
"Wait," begged Tom. "Wait until I'm sure that the few things
will bear telling."
With that much Harry Hazelton found that he would have to be content.
He allowed himself to be persuaded to turn in.
Tom Reade was asleep in a few minutes. It was after two in the
morning ere Harry, after racking his brains in vain, fell asleep.
The next morning it was found that the stranger in the back of the
cook tent had made good his prophecy by vanishing.
THE HIDALGO PLANS GRATITUDE
Soon after an early breakfast Tom and Harry were afield.
From behind a window in the upper part of his big house, Don Luis,
equipped with a powerful field glass, watched them keenly whenever
they were in sight.
"What on earth are the Gringos doing?" he wondered, repeatedly.
"Are they just walking about, aimlessly? At times it looks like
it. At other times it doesn't."
Then Montez sent for Tisco and discussed with him the seeming
mystery of the actions of the young engineers.
"Don't ask me, Don Luis," begged the secretary. "I am not clever
at guessing riddles. More, I have not pretended to understand
this Gringo pair."
"Are they, in the end, going to trick me, Carlos?"
"Who can say?" demanded Dr. Tisco, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Of course, they both know that it will be but a short cut to
suicide if they attempt to fool you."
"Their deaths will cause me no anxiety, Carlos, either before
or after the sale," murmured Montez. "In fact, my good Carlos--"
"Say it," leered Dr. Tisco, as his employer paused.
"I may as well say it, for you have guessed it, Carlos. Yes,
I will say it. Even if this Gringo pair appear honestly to aid
me in making the sale--and even if I do make the sale and receive
the money--this Gringo pair must die. We know how to arrange
that, eh, my staunch Carlos?"
Dr. Tisco shrugged his shoulders.
"Of course, we can put them out of the way, at any time, with
secrecy and dispatch, Don Luis. But what will be the use--provided
they help you to get the American money into your hands? To be
sure, the new buyers will soon find that they have a worthless
mine on their hands, but that may happen with the finest mine.
The new buyers will never be able to prove that you brought all
of your pretty-looking ore from another mine. You can depend
upon the secrecy of the people from whom you have been buying
the baiting ore for _El Sombrero_."
"Ah, but there is another side to that, Carlos. If Senores Reade
and Hazelton serve us, and then go safely back to the United States,
they can swear that they found and knew _El Sombrero_ to be worthless.
Then their evidence, flanked by the sudden running-out of _El
Sombrero_, will make a case that the new American buyers could
take into court."
"Let them take it into court," proposed the secretary, contemptuously.
"The governor of Bonista rules the judges of the courts of the
state of Bonista with an iron hand. Rest assured that, if the
Americans were to take their claims into the courts of this state,
the judges would decide for you, and that would be the end of
the matter. And do you believe, Don Luis, that, after Senores
Reade and Hazelton once get alive out of Bonista, any consideration
would tempt them to come back here to testify? They have sampled
"Yet why do you object, Carlos, to having the Gringo pair put
out of the way?"
"I do not care anything about their lives," Tisco declared, coolly.
"It is only on general business principles that it seems to me
unwise to have human lives taken when it is not necessary. He
who resorts too often to the taking of life is sure to meet his
"Not in Bonista," jeered Montez, "and not where Don Luis is concerned
in business matters."
"As you will, then," sighed the secretary. "You will please your
own self, anyway, Don Luis."
"Truly, Carlos. And so I have decided that these Gringo engineers
shall perish, anyway, as soon as they have served my purpose."
This talk had taken place in a cupola. Down the stair, with stealthy
steps, crept a young, horrified, trembling girl.
Francesca, knowing that her father had gone to the cupola, had
followed him to talk with him. She had halted on hearing voices.
Now, with despair in her eyes, the terrified girl stole away
like one haunted and hunted by evil spirits.
"My father--an intending murderer! He, of a proud hidalgo family,
a vile assassin, in thought at least?" moaned the girl, wringing
her hands as soon as she had stolen to the privacy of her own rooms.
"My father's hands--to be covered with human blood!" sobbed Francesca,
sinking down before a crucifix to pray.
For hours the girl remained in terror-stricken solitude. Then
she rose, somewhat comforted at last, and with the aid of cold
water removed the traces of her tears from her dark, beautiful face.
Her plan was to seek her father, throw herself at his feet, and
beg him not to disgrace the blood of the hidalgos nor to destroy
his own soul with a hideous crime.
"I must seek him in private. There must be no others near when
I make my appeal!" thought the girl.
Just then a servant entered.
"Your father is in the garden, Senorita Francesca," reported the
woman, "and wonders why you do not join him. It is his wish that
you join him now."
"Say to my father that his wish is my law," quavered the terrified
Five minutes later Francesca went timidly up to her father in
the gardens before the house.
Don Luis turned to her. He was thinking, at the moment, of his
dark plans regarding the young engineers. In his eyes, despite
his effort to smile on his daughter, was a deadly glitter that
dried up hope in the heart of the daughter.
"You have been secluding yourself more than usual to-day, _chiquita_,"
That word _chiquita_, meaning "pet," caused the girl to recoil
inwardly. Could it be that this hard, cruel man had the right
to address her in endearing terms?
"I am not well to-day, my father," she answered, in a low voice.
"Then take my arm, _chiquita_, and walk with me," urged Montez.
"My father," she cried, shrinking back, "if you will indulge me,
I will walk alone. Perhaps, in that way, I shall gain more strength
from the exercise."
"As you will," smiled Don Luis, coldly. "For myself, I have much
to think of. I have American guests coming soon. I expect that
they will buy _El Sombrero_ for money enough to make you one of
the richest heiresses in all Mexico, _chiquita_."
"For me? And I do not know how to care for money!" answered the
girl, unsteadily. Then she turned away, swiftly, unable to stand
longer looking into Don Luis's eyes.
Through the day Tom and Harry had tramped about almost feverishly,
stopping at intervals as though for rest. Now, in the late afternoon,
they were on their way back to camp by a route that took them
not far from Don Luis's grounds.
As they came within sight of the place, Tom espied Montez and
Dr. Tisco walking slowly at one end of the garden, seemingly engaged
in earnest conversation. At the farther end of the garden from
them, Francesca walked by herself, seeming outwardly composed.
"It seems strange, doesn't it," asked Harry, "that such a fine
girl can possibly be Don Luis's daughter?"
"She inherits her mother's purity and goodness, doubtless," Tom
"Ouch!" grunted Hazelton, stumbling over a stone with which his
foot had collided. At Harry's exclamation Tom glanced up, then
his eyes met a strange sight.
Lying in a cleft in the rocks, with his head behind a bush, and
well concealed, lay the stranger whom the young engineers had
nursed through an illness.
That stranger was intently gazing at the garden of Don Luis.
So absorbed was he that he had either not heard or did not heed
the passing of the two Americans.
For a brief instant Tom Reade halted, regarding the face of the
"I didn't have an idea about you, Mr. Stranger," muttered Tom
to himself, as he plodded forward once more. "But now--now,
I'll wager that I've guessed who and what you are. Mr. Stranger,
I believe that this one glance at your face has told me your
story and your purpose in being in these mountains of Bonista!"
TWO REAL SIGNATURES
Though they were in Mexico the young engineers found it chilly
that evening, after sundown.
"Nicolas, can you spare wood enough to start a little campfire?"
Tom asked, as he put on his blouse after supper.
"Yes," replied the little Mexican. "For what is the use of being
strong if I could not tramp after more wood to-morrow?"
"We'll pay you well for all your trouble for us, _mi muchacho_"
(my boy) Tom promised.
"I am rewarded enough in being allowed to serve you, _caballeros_,"
"And the queer part of it is that he means what he says," muttered
Tom, gazing after the departing little _peon_.
Very shortly a cheerful fire was crackling away. Tom and Harry
brought their campstools and sat down before it.
"I'll be thankful when we get back to the States," mused Tom.
"I hope it'll be soon, too," answered Harry, with a wistful glance
toward the north, where, several hundred miles away, lay their
Nor did either one expect to be many days more away from home.
The young engineers had arrived at a somewhat surprising conclusion.
They had agreed to sign a suitable report and to stand back of
Don Luis in all the claims he might make concerning _El Sombrero_
Much different would their feelings have been had they known all
that frightened little Francesca had overheard that they were
to be secretly slain, as soon as their usefulness in the swindle
Rather late into the night the young engineers sat up, talking
in such low tones that even Nicolas, squatted on the ground beside
a smaller fire, could not hear what they were saying. He would
not have understood, anyway, as the young engineers were talking
It was very late when the young engineers turned in that night.
It was eight in the morning when Nicolas aroused them.
"Is the stranger back in your tent, Nicolas?" Tom inquired, as
soon as his eyes were open.
"Well, I'm not astonished. I didn't really expect him to return."
Tom and Harry were quickly astir, and ready for breakfast. Nicolas
served them carefully, as always.
"We're not through much too early, anyway," Tom murmured. "Here
come Don Luis and his artful shadow."
The touring car stopped, at a little distance from camp. After
the two passengers had alighted the chauffeur drove on two hundred
yards further ere he drew up to wait for them.
"Good morning," hailed Don Luis, cordially. "I see you are waiting
"We have been ready for you since we first rose," Tom answered.
"Is your answer ready?" Don Luis demanded, eyeing them searchingly.
"Don Luis," Tom replied, instantly, "the report that you wanted
us to sign for you would hardly answer the purpose with shrewd
American investors. That report goes back too far; it covers
too many points that you might be supposed to know were true,
but which engineers who had been here but a few weeks could hardly
be expected to know at first hand. Do you see the point that
I am raising?"
Don Luis deliberated for a few moments.
"I think I do see the point, Senor Reade. You mean that the report
will not do."
"So," Tom continued, "Hazelton and I don't feel that we ought
to sign that report. However, we will get up and sign for you
a report that will answer in every way, and this new report will
be satisfactory. If you will let your driver take Nicolas up
to the house, Nicolas can bring the typewriting machine from your
office, and some stationery with it. We can set the machine up
on the camp table, and within the next two hours we can agree
upon a satisfactory report, which I will write out on the machine."
"And you will sign the new report--when?"
"Just as soon as we have it written out in form that will suit you."
"You will want the big ledger for facts?" asked Montez.
"No," smiled Tom; "because the ledger doesn't contain facts anyway.
We can invent just as good statements without any reference to
Don Luis laughed softly. Then he turned to his secretary.
"My good Carlos, see that Nicolas knows what he is going after.
Then let him go in the car."
Nicolas sped away in the automobile. Presently he was back, with
the typewriting machine and an abundance of stationery.
Tom quickly fitted a sheet of heavy bond paper to the carriage
of the typewriter.
"Now, let us agree," asked Tom, "on what the report is to contain."
Slowly at first, then more rapidly, the matter was planned. Tom
winced a bit, as he made up some tables of alleged output of the
mine supposed to have come under his own observation and Harry's.
But he wrote it all down with lead pencil and afterwards copied
it on the machine.
At the end of three hours the report was finished. Tom read it
all over slowly to Don Luis. As Tom laid down each page Dr. Tisco
picked it up to scan it.
At last the infamously lying document had been read through and
"Let us have the end of it over with quickly," begged Tom, producing
and shaking his fountain pen. He affixed his signature. Hazelton
did the same.
"So far, good," declared Don Luis, passing the complete, signed
document to Dr. Tisco. "Now, senores, let us have the whole matter
understood. The report is excellent; it could not be better for
the purpose. The American visitors will be delighted with it.
But you are not to play me any tricks of any kind!"
"Don Luis," promised Tom, earnestly, "we shall stand by that report
first, last and through to the finish. We shall not--by word,
gesture, wink, or by any trick or device--give your coming American
visitors the least warning that the report is not fully as honest
as it appears to be."
We shall back you firmly and as strongly as we know how, and help
you in any way in our power to put the deal through. Can we promise
"No," said the mine owner. "And, on my part, I promise you that,
if I sell the mine, as I now surely shall do, you shall have twenty
thousand dollars, gold, apiece, and your lives also. Here is
my hand on the pledge of an hidalgo."
Don Luis shook hands with both American engineers. Even as he
did so a wolfish gleam crept into his eyes. Montez, in his mind's
eye, already saw the two Gringos stretched on the ground in death
in a remoter part of the mountains. That was to be his real reward
to the young dupes of his villainy.
"When do you expect your purchasers?" Tom Reade inquired.
"Two days after to-morrow, Senor Reade. But, in the meantime,
now that we are friends and really partners--will you not come
over and share the comforts of my poor home while we wait?"
"You will pardon us for not accepting, Don Lids," Tom urged.
"We have met your wishes, and shall continue to meet them, but
we feel that we would rather remain where we are--at least, until
your visitors arrive."
"So be it, then," muttered Don Luis. Yet he appeared slightly
offended by their decision. Since the young engineers had now
proved themselves to be as great rascals as he himself, Don Luis
Montez could not understand why they should refuse to associate
"You wish me to leave you alone, now?" asked the mine owner, smiling
"Only when you wish to leave us, Don Luis," Tom protested, so
artlessly that the Mexican felt less offended.
"Sit down and chat with us until you tire of our company," urged
So Montez and Tisco dropped into the campstools again. They tried
to chat on various topics, but conversation proved a failure.
"We will go, now," said Don Luis, rising twenty minutes later.
"But, senores, we shall hope to see you daily until our investors
arrive and then all the time."
"You will find us always at your command, Don Luis," Tom remarked,
"Ah, my good Carlos," murmured Don Luis, as the Mexican pair sped
homeward in the car, "for once you made a bad guess. You insisted
that the Gringos would hold out and would not serve me. You have
seen my patience and my firmness win over their foolish, stubborn
"But they still hope to trick you, my patron," suggested Dr. Tisco.
"Doubtless, now, their intention is to serve you until they can
escape; then they plan to get back to the United States and furnish
the testimony on which the American investors can sue you in the
courts for the return of the purchase money on a charge of fraud."
"There, again, the Gringos can meet only defeat," chuckled Don
Luis, his lips to his secretary's ears. "As soon as the sale
is made I shall see to it that our pair of young American engineers
are promptly done to death!"
THE FINAL TOUCH OF TRAGEDY
On the day announced, at about eleven in the morning, two automobiles
reached Don Luis's home. Besides the mine owner the cars contained
nine other travelers, all Americans.
These were the investors who were expected to buy _El Sombrero_
at a price of two and a half million dollars.
Over at the camp Tom and Harry saw the party arrive. They could
see the travelers being served with refreshments on the veranda.
"There's the crowd, Harry. And here's a car, coming this way,
undoubtedly for us. Now, we've got to go over there for our first
practice as bunco men."
Harry Hazelton made an unpleasant grimace. "I feel like a scoundrel
of the worst sort, but it can't be helped," he muttered.
The car was soon at hand. Tom and Harry were dressed and ready.
Though their clothing suggested the field engineer, they were
none the less dressed with a good deal of care. They entered
the tonneau of the automobile and started on their way to help
put the mine swindle through.
"Here are my engineers, gentlemen," smiled Don Luis, "and at least
three of your number, I believe, are well acquainted with Messrs.
Reade and Hazelton."
Tom ascended the steps, feeling rather weak in the knees. Then
the young engineers received one of the severest jolts of their
Three of the gentlemen in that group, both young men knew well.
They were President Haynes, General Manager Ellsworth and Director
Hippen of the A.G.& N.M. Railroad. These gentlemen Tom and Harry
had served in railroad work in Arizona, as told in "_The Young
Engineers in Arizona_."
Now, in a flash, it was plain to both young Americans why Don
Luis had wanted them, especially, to report favorably concerning
_El Sombrero_ Mine. President Haynes and his associates in the
A.G.& N.M. R.R. had every reason in the world to trust the young
engineers, who had served them so faithfully on another occasion.
These gentlemen would believe in anything that Reade and Hazelton
backed with their judgment.
"You?" cried Tom, with a start, as President Haynes held out his
hand. Then, by a mighty effort, Reade recovered himself and laughed
"This is a pleasant surprise, Mr. Haynes! And you, Mr. Ellsworth,
and you, Mr. Hippen."
"And we're equally surprised to find you here, Reade, and you,
Hazelton," rejoined President Haynes. "But we feel more at home,
already. You know, Reade, we're quite accustomed to looking upon
anything as an assured success when you're connected with it."
"And, in its way, this mine is the biggest success we've backed
yet," Tom declared readily.
Don Luis Montez, though he was keenly watchful, was delighted so far.
"What do you really think of this mine, Reade?" broke in Mr. Ellsworth.
"Is it all that a careful investor would want?"
"If you're getting what I think you are," Tom answered, "you're
getting a lot more, even, than you might be led to expect. _El
Sombrero_, if it includes the limits that I suppose the tract
does, will be worth a great deal more than you are paying for it."
"The limits?" asked Mr. Ellsworth, keenly. "Don't you really
know, Reade, what the limits of the property are?"
"Why, that is a matter to which I haven't given much attention,
so far," answered Tom, with disarming candor. "But, if we can
have a map of this part of the country, I'll quickly mark off the
limits on which I think you should insist."
Don Luis caught at this readily.
"My good Carlos," Don Luis directed, turning to his secretary,
"place in Senor Reade's hands a map of this part of the country."
"A map of your possessions only, Don Luis?" asked Dr. Tisco.
"A map of my possessions, of course," agreed Don Luis.
The map was brought, a large one, and spread on the table.
"Now, perhaps," suggested Tom, "the tract I am about to mark off
on this map is a larger one than Don Luis had intended to include
in the sale, but let us see what Don Luis will have to say."
With Harry's help Reade marked off on the map a tract containing
about forty-four hundred acres. This was fully twice as large
as the tract Don Luis had planned to deed with _El Sombrero_.
However, as Don Luis reckoned all this wild mountain land to
be worth not more than twenty-five cents an acre, he did not care
about Tom's liberality in the matter of real estate.
"We will have these limits ruled in with red ink," Montez proposed,
"and the deed shall cover the limits so indicated. Yes; I will
sell that whole tract of rich mineral land to you, gentlemen,
for two million and a half of dollars."
"Then," declared Tom Reade, "you will find that you will not regret
your purchase, gentlemen."
"You are confident of that, Reade?" asked President Haynes, anxiously.
"I am more than confident," Tom declared, promptly. "I am as
certain of what I state as ever an engineer can be of anything."
"If we were alone," thought Don Luis Montez, exultantly, "I would
take off my hat to this young Gringo, Reade. He is a far more
accomplished liar than I can ever hope to be. And these Americanos
are becoming convinced all ready."
"Do you agree with your associate, Hazelton?" inquired Mr. Ellsworth.
"Absolutely," Harry proposed. "I have been watching Tom Reade to see
if he was making the statement emphatic enough to suit my ideas.
Gentlemen, the property we have staked off on this map is a good
investment one that will soon make the American financial markets ring."
"I'm satisfied, on Reade and Hazelton's report," declared Mr. Haynes.
"I know these young men, and I'd trust my life or my fortune to their
honesty or their judgment alike."
"I'm satisfied, too," nodded Ellsworth.
"I can say the same," nodded Mr. Hippen.
"Then we hardly need to look or inquire further," laughed another
of the intending investors, pleasantly.
From this will be seen how much frequently depends upon the reputation
of an engineering firm for honor and judgment. In New York City,
downtown, is an almost dingy suite of offices. It is the business
headquarters of a firm of mining engineers known and trusted the
world over. Probably the entire equipment of these offices, including
the laboratories and assay rooms, could be purchased for seven
or eight thousand dollars. The real asset of this firm is its
reputation for splendid judgment and unfailing honor. Let this
firm of engineers indorse a new mine sufficiently, and Wall Street
will promptly raise twenty million dollars to finance the scheme.
This firm of engineers, despite its rather dingy quarters, often
earns a yearly income running into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
These men of the A.G.& N.M. R.R. knew Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton
as well and favorably as the mining world at large knows the New
York firm which has been referred to above.
"It all looks good to me," declared President Haynes, speaking again.
"And to me," nodded several others of the visitors.
"In the mine, this afternoon," Tom proposed, "we can show you much
more that you will like."
Now, as by magic, Don Luis's servants appeared with tables which
they set and spread on the porch and luncheon was served.
"Now, we will go see _El Sombrero_ itself," Don Luis proposed.
"I shall not have much to say to-day. I understand that you are
willing to have Senor Tomaso Reade do the explaining."
"More than willing--anxious," replied General Manager Ellsworth.
That night Tom and Harry returned to their tent. As they went
at a late hour their absence from the house was barely noted.
All through the afternoon the visitors had been busy inspecting
ore supposed to have been blasted in the tunnels of _El Sombrero_
Mine. As the reader will understand, every bit of this ore had
been brought from a profitable mine further up in the mountains.
"How does it seem to be a rascal, Tom?" inquired Harry, as he blew
out the candle in their tent.
"Great!" muttered Tom Reade.
The day following was given somewhat to sight-seeing in and around
the mine, but still more to a discussion of the intended purchase.
As Don Luis would not hear to reducing his price, the visitors
were finally satisfied to pay the money demanded.
"When will you be ready to turn the money over, gentlemen?" inquired
"As soon as we can reach a town where there is both a bank and
a telegraph office," replied Mr. Haynes. "The whole amount of
money is on deposit in New York City, subject to sight draft.
If you are well enough known at the bank, Don Luis, to introduce
us, the draft may be drawn at that bank, and accepted from New
York on telegraphic inquiry."
"The speed of you American business men is marvelous!" cried Don
Luis Montez, delightedly.