The Broncho Rider Boys
With Funston at Vera Cruz
Upholding the Honor of the Stars and Stripes
By FRANK FOWLER
"The Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers," "The Broncho Rider Boys at Keystone Ranch," "The Broncho Rider Boys Down in Arizona," "The Broncho Rider Boys Along the Border," "The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail."
A. L. BURT COMPANY NEW YORK.
Copyright, 1916 BY A. L. BURT COMPANY
THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH FUNSTON AT VERA CRUZ
THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH FUNSTON AT VERA CRUZ.
A DARING ADVENTURE.
"Let me look, Billie," and Donald reached out his hand for the field glass through which Broncho Billie was gazing down from the summit of Real del Monte upon the plain of Quesco, through which the Pachuca river winds its way. "Maybe I can make out who they are."
Billie handed over the glass without a word and stood expectant, while Donald scrutinized closely a body of horsemen—twenty or more in number—which had halted beside the railroad that connects the little city of Pachuca with the City of Mexico.
"They are not soldiers, that's certain," was Donald's comment after he had inspected the riders carefully for a couple of minutes.
"That's what I thought," from Billie. "They look like a bunch of vaqueros to me; but what would a crowd of fifty cowpunchers be doing in a country where the only cattle are goats?"
"That's right!" laughed Donald, greatly amused at Billie's odd expression, "but still that is what they appear to be. Perhaps they are expecting a drove of cattle up on the train."
"More likely they are expecting a load of bullion going down to the City of Mexico," remarked the third of the party. "What do you think, Pedro?" turning to the fourth of the boys who composed the quartette.
"I am afraid you are right, Adrian," replied Pedro, with an accent which denoted that of the four he was the only one who was not of an English-speaking race.
"You don't think they would hold up a train in broad daylight, and that not more than five miles from town, do you?" queried Billie.
"If they are what I suspect," declared Pedro, "I think they would hold it up at the station, if there were only a few more of them."
"And what do you think they are?"
"I think they are Zapatistas."
"What are they?" asked Donald.
"Followers of the bandit leader, Emilio Zapata."
"Which side does he belong to?" asked Adrian. "Huerta or Carranza?"
"Neither. He is simply a bandit, and his followers prey upon any whom they find unprotected."
"And do you really think they are going to hold up and rob the train from Pachuca?"
"Sin duda!" meaning without doubt.
"Then we must prevent them," declared Donald emphatically.
"What business is it of ours?" asked Billie. "If one bunch of Mexicans wants to rob another bunch, especially if the second bunch are Huertistas, I don't know that it is for us to interfere. I'm not looking for trouble."
"You're not afraid, are you? If——"
"Say, Don," interrupted Billie, "what's the use of always asking such foolish questions? If I remember rightly, the last time you asked me that question was up on the Rio Grande a year ago, about the time that I was swimming rivers and breaking into prisons with the Texas Rangers to get you and Ad out of trouble. Now why——"
Donald held up both hands.
"That's enough, Billie," he laughed. "I'll take it all back. Of course you're not afraid. But I insist we must prevent this hold-up."
"And again I ask, why?"
"Because there may be women and children on the train and——"
"That's enough," exclaimed Billie. "You needn't go on with the rest. But what's the plan? We're a good ten miles from those chaps—unless we had an airship."
"And then how far do you think it is?" queried Adrian.
"Well," replied Billie slowly, as he squinted up one eye, "I should say they are about four miles away as the crow flies. But we are not crows. By the Real road, it is at least ten miles."
"There must be a short cut somewhere," insisted Donald.
"There is," explained Pedro. "Just around the next turn in the road there is a goat path that leads down to the river. If you are not afraid of getting wet——"
"There you go," laughed Billie. "Afraid of getting wet! Just let's settle it once for all that we are not afraid of anything that it is right for us to do."
Pedro laughed good-naturedly.
"Well, then, since we are not afraid of getting wet, we can follow the river for about two miles by fording it several times, and emerge on the plain a mile this side of the clump of trees which hides those fellows from the highway."
"And then what?" from Billie.
"That is as far as I've gone."
"Then you'll have to do better. Just as soon as we emerge from behind those trees, we'll be a fair target. Four against twenty is 'most too much on an open plain."
For several minutes no one spoke. It was Adrian who broke the silence.
"I think I see a way, not only to save the train, but possibly to capture the bandits."
The boys looked up in surprise.
"Do you notice how the railroad curves in toward the hills just after it crosses the river bridge?" he continued, pointing out the place he meant.
"Sure, we see it," from Billie.
"Well, when we leave the river, instead of riding toward that bunch of trees, we'll ride the other way. That will bring us to the railroad track near the curve. Then we'll ride up the track. If we do not reach the station before the train leaves, we can flag it. There is sure to be at least half a dozen guards aboard. We will make ten. Most of the men aboard will have revolvers. The result will be that instead of the bandits taking the train by surprise, we will take them by surprise, and——"
"And the army that takes the other by surprise wins," finished Billie, taking off his sombrero and bowing to Adrian in mock gravity. Then to Pedro, "Let the scout lead the way and the army will fall in behind, with the general at the head."
A laugh followed Billie's words, and putting spurs to their horses, the four lads dashed down the mountain road upon their self-appointed mission, which was by no means the first daring adventure in which they had engaged; for the stories of the doings of the three American lads in the quartette have furnished interesting reading for thousands of American boys.
It is because of their numerous adventures and their skill as horsemen that the trio has become known as the Broncho Rider Boys. Their names are Donald Mackay, Adrian Sherwood and William Stonewall Jackson Winkle, better known as "Broncho Billie." This latter name was given him some two years before when he went to visit his cousin Donald at the latter's home on the Keystone Ranch in Wyoming. It was not given him because he was such an expert rider, but because he could fall from his broncho pony easier than any boy in that section. Rotund in appearance, he was as jolly as he was fat, and his chief failing was his appetite. No matter what the hour, no one ever mentioned eats that Billie was not hungry.
When he first came West he was supposed to be in poor health. It speedily developed that such was not the case. He was simply hungry. Months in the open air had enabled him to eat without fear and he was now about the most robust specimen of boy that any one ever saw.
Donald, the oldest of the trio, was one of those level-headed chaps who had a knack of doing the right thing at the right time. His judgment had been proven good in many a tight place and under many thrilling conditions. As a result, he was generally looked up to as a leader by the others, although it must be admitted that Adrian was also a lad of sense and plenty of nerve.
Adrian was the owner of a large Wyoming ranch, and one of the books which has proved most interesting to American boys is known as The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, a story of how Adrian saved his property from being taken away from him by a dishonest uncle.
About a year previous to the time this story opens, these three boys had been on a trip along the Rio Grande, when they fell in with Capt. June Peak and a company of Texas Rangers, who had been detailed to keep watch of the actions of a band of cattle smugglers. Sent across the river into Mexican territory on a secret mission, the Broncho Rider Boys had the good fortune to rescue Pedro Sanchez, the fourth member of the quartette, from the hands of a band of ruffians. Pedro turned out to be the son of Gen. Sanchez of the Mexican army, who was visiting an uncle in northern Mexico. After a series of thrilling adventures, which are told in full in The Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers, Donald, Adrian and Billie returned to their homes, promising to visit Pedro in the City of Mexico whenever the time was ripe.
During the time that the boys were scouting in Mexico they had learned to speak Spanish quite well, and this knowledge had been so improved during their visit with Pedro that they now spoke the language well, an accomplishment which proved of much value to them later on.
About a month prior to the day upon which this story opens, the three Americans had met by appointment at New York City and had come to Vera Cruz by boat and thence to the City of Mexico, where they found everything in a greatly disturbed condition because of the revolution which had been started some months previous by Gen. Carranza.
It might be well right here to state briefly the history of the previous few months in Mexico, so that all may understand how it happened that none of the four boys had a very high opinion of Gen. Huerta, at that time dictator of Mexico.
For nearly 35 years, up to 1911, Mexico had a peaceful existence under a republican form of government. During the last 32 years of that time Porfirio Diaz was president. Just prior to 1912 a revolution was begun against what had come to be called the Diaz government, and Diaz was compelled to flee from Mexico. The revolution was headed by Francisco Madero, who was then made president.
In February of 1913 a revolution was started against President Madero by Felix Diaz, nephew of Porfirio Diaz, and the City of Mexico was attacked. At that time Gen. Huerta was in command of Madero's forces in the City of Mexico. He proved a traitor to Madero, went over to Diaz, arrested Madero and confined him in prison. Two days later, April 22, 1913, President Madero was shot by order of Huerta, who then declared himself dictator. At the same time he asked that the other nations of the earth recognize him as the head of the Mexican government, a thing which the government of the United States refused to do.
March 26, 1913, another revolution was started, this time against Gen. Huerta by Gen. Carranza, governor of the state of Chihuahua. This revolution had been in progress more than a year when this story opens.
Pedro's father, Gen. Sanchez, had been a friend of President Madero. When Madero was shot, Gen. Sanchez fled to Pachuca where he had a large hacienda and also owned vast interests in the silver mines at Real del Monte, some six miles up the mountains. Later, however, he was promised protection by Gen. Huerta, who was anxious to have the friendship of such a prominent man, and returned to the City of Mexico. It was some time after this, about March 1, 1914—when matters had quieted down in the City of Mexico—that the three American boys went to visit Pedro.
A few days previous to the one on which we find the four boys headed for the railroad to foil the would-be train robbers, they had come to Pachuca, which is located some sixty miles from the City of Mexico, on horses furnished them by Gen. Sanchez, to see the mines and the beautiful mountains overlooking the plains of Quesco. Every day they took long rides in various directions, in spite of the unsettled condition of the country—a condition which compelled them always to go armed with their trusty Marlins and Colts—and that is how they happened to be on the Real road at such an opportune time.
With these explanations, it is no wonder that the boys were keen for the adventure upon which they were now embarked.
A sharp ride of fifteen minutes brought them to the river and into it the horses plunged. At places it was only knee deep and at other places where they were obliged to cross it was necessary for the horses to swim; but this was only fun for the Broncho Rider Boys.
Half an hour after sighting the bandits, the boys halted on the railroad track, well secreted from their quarry by the curve before mentioned.
"And none too soon," declared Donald as the sharp whistle of the engine was heard perhaps half a mile away.
"How shall we flag her?" asked Pedro.
"With that red bandana handkerchief on Billie's neck," replied Donald as he reached over and snatched the neckwear from its place.
Springing from his horse, he ran up the track waving the red signal as he ran.
A sharp blast from the whistle a couple of minutes later gave proof that the danger signal had been seen, and the grinding of the brakes told that the train was coming to a stop. Even before this was an accomplished fact the conductor swung himself from the front car and came running down the track to see what was the matter, while the guards covered the boys with their carbines.
"What do you mean by stopping the train?" he demanded angrily.
Donald explained in as few words as possible.
The conductor signalled the guards to him and told them what Donald had said.
"What had we better do?" asked the conductor.
"We had better go back to Pachuca for help," replied the guards.
"And let the Zapatistas escape!" exclaimed Billie hotly. "What do you want to do that for?"
"We have only six guards," the conductor explained, "and——"
"And that, with us, makes ten," interrupted Billie.
The conductor regarded the boy with surprise.
"Do you mean you will join us to help capture the bandits?"
"What do you think we're here for?" asked Billie.
"Yes," chimed in Adrian. "What do you suppose we stopped the train for?"
"But even ten are no match for twenty or more," declared the guard.
"Of course they are," said Donald, "if the twenty are taken by surprise."
"Which they will not be if we don't act pretty quick," insisted Billie. "Come on! Let's go after them," and he climbed up onto the car.
"That's what I say," said Pedro, following Billie's example.
Without more words the others followed and the conductor gave the signal to go ahead.
"How about the horses?" asked Donald, turning to Pedro.
"They'll be all right; but if we capture the Zapatistas we'll have horses enough any way."
"And if we don't," remarked Billie grimly, "there'll be some riderless horses any way."
"Let us hope that they will not be the ones we have left behind," said Donald gravely.
A STRANGE MIX-UP.
While the train was gathering headway the conductor and the guards rounded up all the men they could find on the train who were armed. There were more than a dozen, so that in point of numbers, the force on the train nearly equalled the Zapatistas. These were so stationed at the windows that they could give the would-be robbers a warm reception.
"We must use some strategy," declared Adrian, "or we will simply succeed in killing a few and scaring away the others. That will not be a very brilliant deed."
"No," from Donald, "but it will save the bullion. What's your plan?"
"Well, I was thinking it would be a good plan to separate the train."
"You can see it is all down grade from here to where the bandits are waiting for us."
"As soon as we get to running a good speed, Billie and I will go into the express car with the three guards. You and Pedro stay here with the other guards and the passengers. As we near the bandits, uncouple the train, put on the brakes and stop the coaches. We will rush by with the engine and express car, firing as we go——"
"Which will be all right," interrupted Billie, "if they don't ditch the engine."
Adrian's face fell.
"I hadn't thought of that."
"Well, you'd better."
After a moment Adrian's face brightened.
"They might better ditch the engine and express car than the whole train," he declared.
"Right you are," from Donald. "If you and Billie are game enough to try it, I say it is the proper thing. If they ditch the engine, we will be back a ways and can run down to your assistance. If they don't ditch you, we will have them between two fires."
"Just what I thought," replied Adrian. "How about it, Billie?"
"I'm game. My head may be a little thick, but I can see just as far through a two-inch plank as the next one."
"All right, then. Come on," and Adrian led the way into the car ahead, while Donald and Pedro stood by to uncouple as soon as they passed the clump of trees before alluded to.
Almost at the same instant several sharp blasts from the whistle gave the danger signal, and Donald threw over the coupling lever and put on the brake. The coaches slowed quickly down, but the engine and express car dashed in between the horsemen stationed on either side of the track.
Prepared for what they knew was coming, the engineer and fireman had thrown themselves down on the floor of the cab, while Adrian, Billie and the three guards poured a volley into the robbers as they passed and several horses lost their mounts.
This fire was followed by a fusillade from the horsemen and a minute later the engine, striking an unspiked rail, rolled completely over into the ditch, wrenching itself clear from the express car, which, after bumping over the ties for several seconds, suddenly ceased its antics and glided smoothly along.
As by a miracle it had run completely over the space from which the rail had been loosed and landed upon the good track, down which it now sped.
So unexpected was the change from ties to track that Adrian and Billie were unable for a few moments to understand what had happened. Then Billie rushed to the door and seized the hand brake.
"Grab hold and help stop this car," he yelled to Adrian, "or there is no knowing where we'll land."
Adrian hastened to obey, but the wrench that had been given the car when the engine broke loose had put the brake out of commission and the car sped on.
The three Mexican guards now appeared on the platform and gazed wildly up the track where they could see the fight going on between the bandits and their companions.
"What shall we do, Senor?" asked one of them.
"Search me," from Billie. "How long is this grade?"
"It is down hill all the way to Pitahaya."
"How far is that?"
"Ten kilometers from Pachuca."
"That must be about three miles farther," said Adrian.
"Correct," from Billie, "but unless it's a mighty steep up-grade the other side of Pita-what's-its-name, we're going so fast we'll not stop till we've run away past it."
"Well, what of it? We can coast back, can't we?"
The car gave a lurch to one side that almost threw the boys off the platform.
"We're certainly going some," called Adrian. "Hang on!"
And hang on they did until they dashed past the little station of Pitahaya and after several minutes began to slow down.
"This is a little better," Adrian finally remarked as the car showed some sign of coming to a stop.
"Yes, indeed," from Billie. "I suppose we'll come to a dead stop soon. Do you think she'll start back on her own hook, or shall we have to start her?"
"We'll soon see," and see they did, for a couple of minutes later the car came to a stop.
For some minutes the five occupants of the car waited to see if it would start back down the grade. When it did not they got off to decide what could be done.
"It's a mighty steep hill," Billie ventured. "Looks as though the five of us ought to start it. Let's try."
The five put their shoulders against the car and pushed with all their might, but it refused to budge.
"If we only had a crowbar," said Adrian, "we could start it in a jiffy. Suppose some of you look in the car. There might be one there."
The three Mexicans jumped to obey.
Directly they appeared in the doorway with a large claw-bar in their hands.
"Will this do?" asked one.
"Sure! Throw it off," said Billie, "and I'll soon start the old caboose."
Picking up the bar, Billie inserted the claw under one of the wheels while Adrian stood with his hand on the car rail ready to spring aboard.
At the first attempt the claw slipped and nothing happened, but at the second attempt the wheels yielded a little.
"This time she'll go," Billie called. "All aboard!"
Adrian sprang onto the car as Billie bore down upon the bar and the wheels began to revolve.
"Never mind the bar," cried Adrian as he saw that Billie was raising the implement to throw it onto the platform. "Jump aboard!"
Billie started to obey, but the advice came too late. As he dropped the bar it struck one end of a tie, flopped over and hit him on the shin.
"Wow!" he yelled, grabbing his ankle with both hands.
"Never mind your leg," shouted Adrian. "Jump on or you'll be left."
Billie tried to obey, but the car was now under headway and although he sprinted his best, he was soon left behind.
Adrian started to jump off the car, but seeing his intention Billie called to him not to do it.
"I'll get there some time," he called. "Just tell them I'm coming," and he stood in the middle of the track looking ruefully after the rapidly disappearing car.
After some moments he picked up the claw-bar and threw it spitefully into the ditch beside the track, as much as to say, "Lay there! You're the cause of all the trouble." Then he started slowly after the car.
In the meantime Adrian was flying as fast back toward Pachuca as he had been flying away from it only a few minutes before. It could not have been more than ten minutes altogether since the wreck of the engine and Adrian figured that if the grade were steep enough the car might gain momentum enough to carry it back to the scene of the trouble; but he had little hope that it would.
When he shot through Pitahaya on his return trip, however, he saw that the car was going at a terrific rate of speed.
"What do you think?" he asked one of the Mexicans. "Do you think we'll get all the way back?"
"Cierto," was the reply. "When they first built this road they used to have mules haul the car to the top of this hill and then turn it loose and it would run almost to Pachuca. That was before it had any engines."
Adrian looked at the man and winked one eye very slowly.
"Senor, it is true," spoke up another. "I was a guard at the time."
Adrian could scarcely believe the statement, but he afterward learned that the men spoke the truth.
"Well, then," he said, "we had better look to our arms, for we may need them. There is no knowing how this affair has turned out."
The advice was well taken, for as they drew near the scene of the wreck, they saw that they were badly needed. More than a dozen horsemen were in sight at some distance from the wreck and with their long-range rifles were doing their best to pick off any one who showed his head.
"Our party must be out of ammunition," suggested Adrian, "or they would give a better account of themselves."
"Our carbines would not carry that far," explained one of the guards.
"Our Marlins will," replied Adrian, and as he spoke there were two simultaneous flashes from two of the car windows and two of the bandits fell, one shot from his horse and the other with his horse shot under him.
For a moment the other horsemen hesitated as to the course they should pursue and then, putting spurs to their horses, they dashed toward the train, just as the express car, having reached the end of the track, bumped onto the ties and came to a stop.
"Now!" cried Adrian as the riders drew near, firing as they came, and four shots rang out.
The volley from so unexpected a quarter took the horsemen completely by surprise, and they pulled up with a jerk. The action proved their undoing, for as they stood thus for a moment, they gave those in the train the opportunity they desired and the volley that followed turned four more riderless horses upon the plain.
It was more than flesh and blood could stand, and the seven or eight remaining horsemen turned and fled, followed by at least three whistling bullets from as many Marlins.
The fight was over and the bullion had been saved, but what of Broncho Billie, who had been left at the top of the hill four miles away?
That was the first question asked by Donald when he greeted Adrian two minutes later.
"Oh, he's all right," was the laughing reply. "He's just taking a little walk for his health."
But when Billie failed to put in an appearance an hour later, the boys mounted their horses and started up the track to meet him, leading Billie's mount between them.
BILLIE LOSES HIS NERVE.
Broncho Billie was not a rapid walker. In fact, if there was any one thing in which Billie was not a success, it was walking. He could ride a horse all day, but when it came to depending upon his own legs as a means of locomotion, he was a dead failure.
Therefore he walked slowly along, counting the ties as he went.
"They certainly do lay 'em thick," he mused after some minutes. "Three hundred and one, three hundred and two, three hundred and three, three hundred and four, three hun——"
He stopped short and looked behind him.
"I sure thought I heard some one," he muttered. "It must have been a bird."
He turned and started forward.
"Let's see, where was I? Oh, yes, three hundred and five, three hundred and six, three hundred and——"
Again he stopped, but did not turn around. Instead he stooped down as though to pick up a stone, which enabled him to look backward between his knees.
He caught a movement in the grass at the edge of the right of way.
"I thought so," he muttered. "Now to find out who it is, and what he wants."
He picked up a small stone and threw it at a tall cactus which grew near the track some distance ahead.
"Good shot," he said aloud as the stone hit the stalk. "I wonder if I could do it again."
He stooped down and picked up another stone, taking a good look backward from his stooping position. There was not a movement to indicate the presence of a living thing.
"This is getting on my nerves," the boy mused as he picked up several small stones and again walked forward. "I don't mind being followed by a white man, but I'm a whole lot leary of these greasers. They're bad enough when they're friendly."
Then aloud, as he threw a couple of stones: "I'll never get anywhere if I don't make better time than this. I'll just sprint a few."
Suiting the action to the word, he started on a run.
Almost immediately he was aware of a soft pat-pat in his rear. He had heard a similar sound in the wilds of Wyoming and he recognized it at once.
It was the footfall of a four-legged animal.
"So!" he ejaculated. "I wonder what it is. If there were wolves down here I would say it was a wolf, but I don't believe there are." Then a minute later, "Well, whatever it is, I'm going to find out."
He whipped out his automatic and turned suddenly.
As before, not a single living thing was in sight, only in the grass a movement as before.
Without a moment's aim, he fired a single shot at the spot. It was an act born of fear and Billie knew it, but for the life of him he could not have done otherwise, so nervous had he become.
The report was followed by a cry of pain and an instant later there came running directly toward him out of the tall grass a figure so weird that Billie stood as one paralysed.
The figure was that of a man not more than two feet high, with long arms and a head of diminutive size. While it stood upright at times, at others it came forward on all fours. To Billie it seemed a cross between a man and a monkey.
Gathering his wits in an instant, Billie would have fired again—in fact, raised his revolver to do so, when the strange creature fell to its knees and raised its hands in supplication.
"By George!" exclaimed the lad as he stood with lowered weapon. "What kind of a thing is this? I wonder if it can talk?"
Then as he took a step toward it: "I'm not going to hurt you. Come here."
The creature arose to its feet and came slowly toward him. As it did so Billie noticed that blood was running from a wound in its scalp.
"Poor thing," he said. "That must have been where the bullet hit him. It was a close shave."
"Can you talk?" he finally asked.
The strange creature turned its head to one side and eyed him closely, but no sound came from its lips.
"It must be an ape of some sort," mused the boy; "but how did it become so tame?"
He slowly returned his automatic to its holster, thinking in the meantime how he could dress the creature's wound; but no sooner had his hand left his weapon than the ape sprang at him with the utmost fury. It landed on his shoulder, wound its legs about his neck, and with its long arms made a wild grab for the revolver.
Then began a strange and terrible struggle for the possession of the weapon. Even as he fought the beast, Billie realized that in some manner the ape had learned to fear firearms, but whether it had ever learned to use them he could not venture a guess. He felt certain if he could draw the weapon and point it at the ape, it would at once cringe in fear. What might happen if the ape should get possession of it, he could only imagine.
For a youth of eighteen, there were few whom Billie met that were his match physically, but this diminutive man-animal held him as in a vise. Billie exerted every ounce of his strength to free himself from the terrible hold, while the ape fought even more fiercely to retain its grip and to gain possession of the weapon.
It was a weird and fearful struggle waged there in the stillness of the tropical woodland—a stillness broken only by the occasional wild scream of the ape, or the hoarse breathing of the boy as he fought to free himself from that horrible grasp.
The struggle must have lasted for two or three minutes—to Billie it seemed hours—when by a sudden wrench the lad managed to free his left arm sufficiently to get the beast by the throat. For an instant it loosed its hold on his right arm and that act decided the battle.
Finding his right arm free, Billie seized his revolver and without drawing it from the holster pulled the trigger.
At the sound of the shot, the ape uttered a plaintive cry, relaxed its hold upon the lad and fell upon its knees on the ground with its hands raised in supplication as previously.
"I ought to shoot you," declared the lad between his gasps for breath as he drew the weapon from its holster and pointed it at the animal, "but I won't. I'll take you with me and maybe I can sell you for enough to pay me for the scare you've given me. Now, march!"
He pointed with his finger down the track, but the beast would not stir.
"Don't you intend to do what I tell you?"
The animal perked up his head and kept his eye upon the revolver.
"Well," exclaimed Billie as he drew a long breath, "this is the limit. I can't make you mind and I won't hurt you. I guess the only thing I can do is to go and leave you."
Suiting the action to the word, Billie turned and started down the track, his revolver still in his hand.
He had not gone more than a dozen steps, before he heard the soft pat-pat behind him, and on looking back could see nothing but the waving grass to indicate the whereabouts of his erstwhile assailant.
"So I am to be followed, am I? Well, all right." Then, as an afterthought: "I wonder how I can catch him when I want him. I wonder if this will do," and he raised his weapon and pointed it toward the moving grass.
With the same plaintive cry which Billie had come to recognize as one of fear, the animal ran toward him and sank to his knees.
"It's all right, old chap. As long as I know how to handle you, why you can follow me right back to the train."
Again he started down the track at a brisk walk, it having just occurred to him that there might be something doing at the other end of his journey.
Twenty minutes later he reached the station at Pitahaya where he had expected to find Adrian and the three Mexicans awaiting him, but, as we know, they had gone on to the scene of the wreck. Not realizing just what had happened, but always on the alert for the unexpected, Billie, therefore, began an inspection of the station.
It did not take him long to discover that Pitahaya was little more than a siding with a one-room building, which was used as a freight house and a waiting room. It did not even boast of a station master.
"There must be some reason for having a building here," he mused. "There must be some sort of a settlement around somewhere. But what's that to me? I might as well be jogging along towards Pachuca."
Then he bethought him of the ape, which he had no mind to lose after his exciting experience. But the animal was nowhere to be seen.
"I wonder if I could raise him with a shot," soliloquized Billie.
He raised his weapon, which he still carried in his hand, and fired aimlessly, while he turned his eyes in various directions, but there was nothing to be seen.
"Oh, well," he thought, "what's the difference? He'd just be a nuisance anyway. I might as well be trudging along."
He jumped off the station platform and proceeded down the track, filling the magazine to his automatic as he went. Then having finished the task, he returned it to his holster and once more began counting the ties.
"One, two, three, four, five, six——"
Bing! And a stone whistled by his head.
Billie turned, and as he did so a second stone from the same source struck him on the temple, and he fell to the ground.
A second later the ape sprang from a palm beside the station and ran toward him, stopping every few feet to see if the lad would rise.
When within a few feet of the prostrate lad the animal made a leap and landed upon his body. In another instant it had gained possession of Billie's weapon, which it examined curiously for a moment, ere it sprang away and stationed itself some two rods distant, where it sat watching with the weapon aimed directly at him.
For perhaps five minutes the two retained their relative positions and then Billie began to regain consciousness. Several times he moved uneasily and then he suddenly sat up and looked around.
"I wonder what happened," he finally thought, and then he became conscious of a pain in his head.
He raised his hand to the aching spot and his fingers encountered a big lump.
The truth came upon him like a flash. He dropped his hand to his holster, and sprang to his feet.
As he did so he caught sight of the ape and found himself looking into the business end of his own weapon.
With a yell he dropped to the ground as though the expected had happened.
But when no shot followed, he began to regain his wits and lay still trying to figure out once more just how much the ape might know about the use of the weapon.
He remembered the old saying that a gun was a dangerous weapon without lock, stock or barrel, because a man killed his wife with the ramrod; and so he figured that an animal which had intelligence enough to throw a stone and knock him senseless, might have sense enough to fire a revolver.
"If I only knew something about his history," soliloquized Billie, "I might be able to guess how much he knew. But he is a perfect stranger to me. I don't even know his name."
After several minutes and nothing had happened, Billie decided to make some effort to get away.
"I might as well be shot as to be prisoner to an ape," he thought, and so he arose to a sitting posture and surveyed the scene.
There sat the ape as before, with the automatic pointed at Billie, but with a puzzled look upon its face. When the lad finally arose, the ape appeared still more puzzled and at length, turning the weapon away from Billie, looked into the muzzle.
"That settles it," exclaimed Billie. "He doesn't know how to fire it. I'll go and take it away from him."
He started toward the animal, which at once pointed the revolver in Billie's direction. There came a sharp report and a bullet whizzed by the boy's head.
"Worse and more of it," exclaimed Billie. "He doesn't know how to use the thing, but he's liable to shoot me as long as I stay in range. I'll just make myself scarce."
Stooping down, he picked up a good-sized stone and hurled it at the ape and then, without waiting to see the result of his throw, jumped into the jungle which lined both sides of the track, determined to make a detour and if possible lose his unpleasant companion.
He had not run far before he realized that the ape was following, but this he did not mind. There were plenty of trees between them, and he felt sure he would soon be able to reach some sort of a habitation, when he suddenly found himself on the edge of a deep basin into which he plunged before he was able to gain his equilibrium.
THE ROSARIO VIEJO.
To be suddenly pitched head-foremost down a rocky declivity into a mass of prickly pear bushes and other tropical brambles is by no means pleasant; and as a result Billie was not in the best of humor when he picked himself up and looked to the top of the 60-foot embankment down which he had slid.
"It's a wonder they wouldn't hang out a red light when they dig a hole like this," he declared angrily, "and not let a fellow most break his neck, to say nothing of scratching his eyes out! This is worse than a subway cave-in."
He pulled himself together and surveyed his surroundings.
The basin looked very much like an old quarry—so old that the shrubbery on the sides had grown into good-sized trees, and the whole place was covered with herbage of one sort or another. In one corner of the excavation, which must have covered some two acres, there was the ruin of an adobe house, while near the center was a stone structure made of four stone pillars about twenty feet apart and roofed over with two huge stone slabs, set so as to form a gable roof. Except for its size, it had the appearance of the old-fashioned well houses, which were once so common in New England.
"It's a tough-looking place, whatever it is," was Billie's comment. "I wish the fellows were here."
And then for the first time in more than half an hour Billie bethought him of his companions. His strange experience with the ape had driven all other thoughts out of his mind.
"By George!" he exclaimed aloud, "I wonder how the fight with the bandits came out?"
Almost as in answer to his words, there appeared upon the edge of the excavation into which he had fallen, but upon the opposite side from that on which he had taken his slide, ten horsemen, three of whom carried across the pommel of their saddles the bodies of three men. They halted and surveyed the basin critically. Then, single file, they slowly descended into the quarry.
Billie recognized them the minute he laid eyes upon them. They were the remnant of the bandit band, and the bodies carried across the pommels of the saddles were three of their wounded companions.
"This is no place for me," commented Billie as he kept himself well hidden behind a giant cactus. "It reminds me of Ali Baba and the forty thieves. I hope I have better luck than Ali Baba."
As though to carry out the trend of Billie's thoughts, the horsemen halted near the ruin of the adobe house before mentioned and two of their number dismounted and entered. A minute later the rest of the band rode into the ruins and disappeared, followed by the riderless horses of the two dismounted men.
Billie rubbed his eyes.
"I wonder if I'm getting dippy," he muttered. "Maybe that crack on the side of my head has made me see things."
He sat down to think.
"If I only had some kind of a gun," he mused, "I wouldn't feel so everlasting helpless. Confound that ape! If I ever see him again I'll break his neck."
Then, after a moment's thought: "I don't believe the beast would give up the chase. He's likely to show up at any minute. Something has to be done."
The boy scanned the edge of the embankment, if perchance he might see anything of his persecutor. There was nothing in sight and he decided to go on a tour of inspection. As quietly as possible he stole along the side of the excavation toward the spot where the ruin stood, when once more he had that sense of being watched.
Turning his head quickly, he saw the ape about twenty paces to one side aiming the revolver at him.
Then Billie lost his temper.
"This thing has got to stop," he exclaimed. "I'll be doggoned if I'm going to stand for it any longer."
He ran quickly toward the ape, and fell on his knees as he had seen the ape do, and raised his hands in supplication.
The animal quirked its head and fairly beamed with pleasure as it slowly advanced and stood beside him.
But its simian smile was quickly turned to surprise, for like a flash Billie snatched the weapon from its hand and aimed it at the animal's head.
"Now," he said, "you come with me."
The animal made no move.
"We'll see whether you will come or not," said Billie, and stooping down he broke off a good-sized sprout from a live oak. "Now, march!" and he raised the whip.
It was the one thing needed. The beast had evidently felt the touch of a whip before, for it raised its arm and danced about as though going through some circus maneuver.
"The first mystery is solved," laughed Billie. "Now for the second one. Come on, Ab," unconsciously naming his companion after the hero of Stanley Waterloo's famous story.
The ape seemed to know what was wanted and the two proceeded slowly and silently toward the ruin.
"I've been in a whole lot of queer scrapes," mused Billie as he crept along, "but this is surely the queerest—tramping around with an ape to solve the disappearance of ten cutthroats. I hope I wake up pretty soon."
But it was no dream, as Billie was soon to discover.
Arriving at the ruined building, Billie crawled along by the wall until he came directly under what had once been a window. Then, after listening a long time and hearing no sound, he ventured to raise his head and peep in.
The old ruin was as empty as though there were not a living person within fifty miles.
"Great Scott!" gasped the boy. "What do you think of that! Now I know I'm dreaming!"
He turned to the ape, waving his whip.
"Here you, Ab," he said, "go in there and see what you can find."
He pointed to the window and the animal sprang lightly in and a minute later perched itself on one of the decaying rafters.
"If there were any one around, they would certainly see Ab," reasoned Billie, "and would make some noise about it. I guess it's safe to go in."
He crawled around to the door and entered. There were the tracks of the horses, but the horses had disappeared as completely as though they had been swallowed up.
Billie called softly to Ab, who did not see fit to obey until he waved his whip. Then the animal sprang lightly to the ground. Billie showed him the tracks.
"Where do you suppose they went?" he asked.
Ab blinked his eyes and, for the first time since Billie had become acquainted with him, made a noise in his throat, much like the voice of a child.
Billie smiled in spite of himself.
"I'm glad you've decided to become sociable," he said, "What do you make of this? You look as though you could think."
Ab blinked his eyes stupidly and then suddenly became alert as though listening.
"What is it?" asked Billie, impressed by the ape's attitude.
For a reply Ab sprang through the window and made straight for the structure in the middle of the quarry. In another instant he was on the roof.
Billie followed as fast as he could and as he stepped beneath the roof started back in the utmost amazement, for up through what looked like a huge well there came the distinct sound of human voices.
For several seconds he stood as one in a spell and then he started forward to peer into the well, but on a second thought did not.
"I couldn't see anything if I did," he thought, "but any one looking up could see me. I'll do better by listening."
The words came to him almost as distinctly as though he were in the same room with the speakers, and there was no longer any doubt that the voices were those of the Zapatistas who had attempted to rob the train.
From their conversation Billie learned the outcome of the fight, and he was greatly amused at the attempt of the bandits to figure out who had betrayed them. Each one had a different theory, but all agreed that there must have been a traitor in the band. It was all the lad could do to prevent himself from calling out to them, just to see what effect his words would have.
After discovering from the conversation that the bandits felt themselves perfectly secure where they were and that they were likely to stay there for some time, he finally decided to get back to the railroad and thence to Pachuca and give the alarm.
Acting upon the decision, he made his way across the basin to where he had slid down the embankment and slowly and laboriously climbed to the top, followed by Ab.
Retracing his steps, he soon reached the railroad and looking down the track toward Pachuca gave a shout of delight as he saw his three chums approaching, leading a fourth horse between them.
"Just in time," he said, as they drew near enough to exchange greetings.
"Just in time for what?" queried the others as one.
"To capture the bandits that you let escape."
"How do you know that we let any escape?" asked Adrian.
"I'm a mind reader."
The other three looked incredulous.
"Oh, it's a fact," declared Billie. "I can tell you all about the fight just as well as though I had been there," and he proceeded to prove his words.
"Some one told you," said Adrian.
"Sure," laughed Billie, thoroughly enjoying the perplexity of his companions. "My friend Ab. Come here, old man, and be introduced," and Billie waved his whip, which he still carried.
With a little cry the ape sprang to his side, an act which only added to the amazement of the others.
"Allow me," said Billie with mock gravity, "to introduce my friend Mr. Ab from No-man's-land. Ab, these are the rest of the Broncho Rider Boys. How would you like to join the company?"
Ab scratched his ear and looked wise.
"Oh, come," interrupted Donald. "Tell us what's up and what we must do to capture the rest of this band of cutthroats."
Thinking that he had carried the joke far enough, and realizing also that he might be wasting valuable time, Billie related his adventure, describing the place he had discovered.
"It is the Rosario viejo," said Pedro, as soon as Billie had finished his story.
"What's that?" asked Billie.
"An abandoned mine. It is called the old Rosario to distinguish it from the new Rosario, which is now one of the most valuable mines in this region. The station at Pitahaya was built especially to serve it."
"I see," said Billie. "Where is the new mine?"
"Down there," and Pedro pointed to a trail leading in the opposite direction. "It is just about as far from the station on that side of the railroad as the old Rosario is on this."
"Don't you think we had better summon some assistance from the mine workers?" asked Adrian.
"They may be in cahoots with the bandits," laughed Donald. "I have lost my confidence in about every one in this bandit-ridden land."
"I don't blame you," said Pedro, "and I hope the day will soon come when all this trouble will be over."
"Then you agree with me that we should tackle the bandits alone, do you?" asked Donald.
"It is the only safe way."
"All right, then," exclaimed Billie. "Let's be off. If we use a little strategy, I'm sure we shall succeed."
He turned to mount the horse, which a minute before had been standing a few feet away, but it was gone.
"Where's my horse?" he cried.
The others turned in surprise.
"It certainly was here a minute ago," declared Adrian.
"Then it can't be very far away," insisted Donald.
"It's so far I can't see it," replied Billie.
"There it goes!" shouted Pedro, who had jumped his mount across the track as soon as he heard Billie's cry.
The others looked in the direction indicated, and sure enough, there went the horse about a quarter of a mile away on a dead run and on its back was Billie's late acquaintance, Ab.
"By George," exclaimed Billie angrily as he snatched a rifle from Donald's holster, "I've had enough of that ape. I'll put a stop to his foolishness," and he leveled the rifle.
But ere he could press the trigger, there was a report from another quarter and the horse and its rider hit the dust.
WHEN THE OLD WAS NEW.
A cry of astonishment went up from the quartette and then they stood silent to see what would be the next move.
They did not have long to wait, for presently a tall, gaunt figure strode out of the brambles some yards from the fallen horse and uttered a hoarse shout, upon which Ab sprang from the spot where he had fallen and ran toward the newcomer, giving vent to shrill cries as he ran.
"That must be his master," muttered Billie. "I'm glad I didn't shoot the little beggar."
"I'm more interested in the master than in the monkey," said Donald. "He is evidently not a Mexican. Who and what do you suppose he is?"
"An animal trainer from a circus," replied Adrian.
"There are no circuses in this part of the world," commented Billie.
"If he only had a hand organ instead of a gun, I could place him," laughed Donald. "What do you make out of him, Pedro?"
"It's a saltimbanco."
"What is that?"
"A man who goes about making people laugh."
"Oh!" from Adrian. "You mean a mountebank?"
"I think so."
"And this chap," ventured Billie, "isn't satisfied with making a monkey of himself, but carries a real one with him."
Pedro laughed. "That seems to be it."
"I'm sorry he killed the horse," said Donald. "We need him."
"Perhaps he didn't," suggested Adrian. "Suppose we ride over and see."
Suiting the action to the word, the boys rode out into the open, much to the newcomer's surprise and consternation.
"Senors," he exclaimed, as he came running toward them, "I am sorry I had to hurt your horse; but I couldn't lose my brother."
"Your what?" asked Billie.
"My brother. My little brother. Could I, Ambrosio?" and he patted the ape on the cheek.
"What do you call him?" asked Donald.
"I call him Ambrosio because he is so sweet."
"Bah!" exclaimed Billie. "I called him Ab, but he ought to be named Diabolo. But how about the horse?"
"I am afraid I have rendered him quite useless for the present, Senor. I may have broken his leg."
An examination of the fallen animal revealed the fact that while the leg was not splintered, it was so badly injured that the animal was quite useless.
"Have you far to go, Senors?" queried the mountebank.
"Only as far as the Rosario viejo for the present," answered Adrian. "After that——"
"After that," interrupted Billie, "we may not want to go anywhere."
The mountebank looked at Billie questioningly.
"That's what I mean," reiterated Billie. "We are going there to capture a band of cutthroats, but we may have a fight."
The man made a grimace, which was intended for a smile.
"I understand. Can I be of any service?"
Donald eyed him suspiciously.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"You may have noticed how I stopped the runaway," he remarked.
"Sure," from Billie. "It was a short stop."
"I perceive that you are an American. I am also a fan."
"What!" from the three Americans.
"True. I am even worse. I formerly shot the pill in one of the bush leagues. I aspired to a place in the box of one of the major league clubs, but instead I joined the Madero revolution. I had all the sport I wanted and finding my brother in this forsaken land, I joined him as a public entertainer. Shall we give you a sample of our performance?"
"Not now," from Donald. "Let's go and round up this bunch of revolutionists first."
"But why?" queried the mountebank. "To-morrow they may be the government."
The boys looked at each other with an expression that said as plainly as words: "True! We never thought of that."
"Now, I have a better plan," continued the mountebank. "Let's go and entertain the revolutionists. Let's be neutral."
"I'm afraid we are already belligerents," laughed Adrian. "We have had one brush with them."
The mountebank heaved a sigh.
"Of course, if you have declared war, we shall have to fight to a finish, unless," with a grin, "we can intrench."
"It is they who are intrenched," explained Billie. "They are at the bottom of the old mine, although I don't know how they got there."
"So," laughed the mountebank. "Suppose we go and find out."
Arrived at the shaft house, for that is what the gable-roofed building was, the boys and their new-found friend approached and listened to the sound of voices which still arose to the top of the shaft.
Evidently considering themselves free and safe, the bandits were preparing their evening meal, for it was now well on toward sunset. They were singing and joking as though they had not just lost half or two-thirds their number.
From a few remarks made now and then, it appeared that they proposed on the following day to recruit the band up to its former strength.
"That is the thing we must prevent," declared Donald.
"A very easy thing," said the mountebank, "if we had enough provisions to remain here for twenty-four hours, or more."
"How so?" asked Billie.
"Why, they will doubtless send out two or three to do the recruiting. We can capture them as they leave the ruins."
Billie glanced at the man from under his broad-rimmed sombrero as he asked: "How did you know they came out through the ruins?"
The mountebank smiled.
"Now, don't go to mistrusting me, young fellow, for I'm on the level. But I've been in this place before, and I know that the only way to where your friends down there are camping is through the ruins."
"Have you ever been down there?"
"Yes. They are only about sixty feet below the ground, in a chamber which was originally a gallery in the mine. The shaft over which this house is built is over two hundred feet deep."
"I'd like to explore it," remarked Adrian.
"Do you think you have the nerve?" and the stranger bent upon him a penetrating gaze.
Billie laughed softly.
"Say, stranger," he finally said. "I guess you never heard of the Broncho Rider Boys. We've got the nerve to do anything that any other human being dare do."
"Then we'll get rid of these bandits in short notice," declared the mountebank emphatically. "You are just the chaps I have been looking for."
He leaned over the mouth of the shaft and gave a shrill whistle.
In an instant all was silent below.
Half a minute later he repeated the whistle thrice.
There was a clatter below of arms and accoutrements.
"Over behind those big cactus with you, quick," was the next command. "If you insist on fighting these men later, you can. Now let's get rid of them."
For just a moment the boys hesitated, but there was something in the man's manner that seemed to force obedience and they obeyed.
They were not a moment too soon, for they had no more than secreted themselves than the back wall of the ruin flew open and the men rode out. Of those who had been at the mouth of the shaft only a few moments before, only the mountebank with his ape was in sight.
"What is it?" asked one of the band, riding up to him.
"Guard the track at the summit. Let no train pass, even if you have to tear up the track."
"By whose order?"
The mountebank made a mysterious sign with his left hand.
"Bueno!" from the horseman. "Close up the doors and care for the wounded," and putting spurs to his horse, he led the bandits from the basin.
As soon as they were out of sight, the mountebank summoned the boys to the shaft house by a wave of his hand.
"Now," he said, "you'll have a chance to test your nerve, and we must work rapidly to get where we wish to go before dark."
He took from a crude knapsack which he wore upon his shoulders a coil of cord about half the size of a lead pencil, but evidently of much strength. Then seizing the ape, he fastened one end of the cord to the belt about the animal's body, and despite its unwillingness to be thus treated began to lower it into the shaft.
Totally unable to account for his actions, the boys stood speechless, watching the operations.
After some minutes, the cord slackened.
"He's reached the bottom," was the information vouchsafed. Then a moment later: "Help me to pull him up, one of you."
Billie hastened to lend a hand and in a short time the head of the ape appeared above the edge of the shaft. In his hand he held one end of a good-sized rope, which the mountebank took and tied around one of the stone pillars which supported the roof.
"Now, then," he said, "we are ready to descend into the old mine. Which one of you will go first?"
The boys looked at each other, but there was no reply until Donald asked:
"Why should we go down at all?"
"Why," was the somewhat quizzical reply, "to show your nerve."
"Unless there is some good reason other than that, there are plenty of ways to show our nerve without lowering ourselves to the bottom of an old mine."
"There is a good reason," was the reply.
"Then tell us. If it is good, there can be no objection."
"The object of this descent," said the stranger calmly, "is to see if we cannot solve the mystery of the abandonment of the mine."
"Have you ever been down?" asked Billie.
"There is no foul gas at the bottom?"
"Not now, as you may see by the condition of Ambrosio, who has been clear to the bottom."
"Then I am willing to be the first to descend; but first I must know more about you than I do."
"What difference does that make? You will have three friends here with me. They are all armed and I can see they know how to use their weapons. I cannot possibly harm you. I will be the third to descend. I assure you that the descent and the ascent are comparatively easy for athletic young chaps, as the sides of the shaft are very uneven. By the aid of this rope you can come up almost as easily as you would climb a ladder. The adventure is well worth your while."
"And you won't tell us who you are?"
"I have already told you. I am an American soldier of fortune. My name, if that means anything to you, is Francis Strong, and I have assumed this character of a mountebank solely for the purpose of going about the country without being molested. What I hope to do, is of no interest to any one but myself."
It was a straightforward statement and the boys saw no reason to doubt its truthfulness.
"All right, then," exclaimed Billie. "Here goes!"
He grasped the rope and lowered himself over the side. It was as Strong had said and in a very few minutes he found himself at the bottom. He could see nothing except the dim light at the mouth of the shaft.
Giving the rope a vigorous shake, as had been agreed upon, he saw another figure begin to descend, and in a short time Pedro stood beside him. Strong was next to descend, then came Ambrosio, and after him Adrian and Donald in the order named—Donald having determined to be the last, that he might be sure that everything was safe above ground.
"I should have given you this," was Strong's first remark upon alighting at Billie's side, and he drew from his pocket an electric torch. "But it slipped my mind."
"We all have them in our trunk in the City of Mexico," replied Billie, "but I doubt if either of us has one with him."
"This is sufficient, for I shall light some torches I have prepared as soon as we are ready for our work."
When Donald had descended, Strong led the way through a lateral about thirty or forty feet, at the end of which another vertical shaft had been sunk. Around the mouth of this Strong had set a number of torches, which he now proceeded to light. By their glare it was possible to see part way down the hole.
"The thing I hope to find," explained Strong, "is at the bottom of that hole, if it exists at all."
"What is that?" asked Billie.
"I think I can best answer your question," was the reply, "by reading you a translation of a paper which is said to have been found in the shaft above, where the bandits have made their rendezvous. How it came into my possession, matters not. I believe there are now enough of us here to prove or disprove its truthfulness, unless some one has been here before us."
Seating himself on a jutting boulder, Strong took from his pocket a paper, which he read as follows under the flickering torchlight:
"Being about to leave this world, I desire to obtain forgiveness for the great and only crime of my life, hence this confession.
"There were five of us. Names do not matter. They were my fellow workmen. We had been entrusted with the output of the Rosario for the year and had promised to guard it with our lives. We heard the soldiers of Maximilian coming. We were not enough to withstand them. We determined to hide the treasure in the western shaft. We carried it to the edge and threw it in. My four companions went down to cover it over with dirt, which I brought from the other shaft and gave them, shovel by shovel. A mad idea seized me. If they were dead, no one but I would know the hiding place of the treasure. I would kill them; but how? I glanced about. Great pieces of rock were on every hand. Without stopping to consider the foulness of the deed I rolled a huge piece to the mouth of the shaft and pushed it in. There was a cry of terror and I heard a voice call out to know what had happened. I said a piece of rock had broken loose and asked what damage it had done. Only one replied. The others had been stricken down. Madly I pushed over another rock and then another and still another. Then there was silence and I fled. The soldiers found me unconscious at the bottom of the shaft. Ere I became conscious, Maximilian was no more. When I returned hither, the mine had been abandoned. Here I have lived for years alone with my misery. Now I die. May God forgive me.
A FEARFUL EXPERIENCE.
"Well?" queried Donald when Strong had finished reading the paper, "what are we going to do about it?"
"We are going to find out, if we can, whether Jose Rodriguez told the truth, and if he did, whether any one else has tried to prove it."
"What do you think of it, Pedro?" asked Billie, indicating the opening at their feet.
"Have you ever been down in it?" asked Adrian of Strong.
"No! I did not feel equal to the task and I was afraid to ask help of any of these cutthroats."
"What do you think of it, Pedro?" asked Billie, turning to the Mexican lad, who had made no comment whatever.
"It's an old tale," was the reply, "this story of the Rosario viejo. I have heard it many times and I presume this shaft has been explored by every prospector in this section. In my opinion it is a huge hoax."
At Pedro's words, Strong's face became ashen.
"Are you telling the truth?" he asked hoarsely.
"Indeed I am. My father knows of several who have searched the place and nothing has ever been found."
Strong drew a long breath and passed his hand over his face.
"I have believed it true," he finally said, "ever since I first came into possession of this paper. There is something about it that rings true and I have counted upon finding sufficient wealth to enable me to achieve a long cherished plan. If what you say," turning to Pedro, "is true, my chance of attaining my ambition is very slim."
"I'm sorry, sir, but if I had known for certain what your object was in coming down here I might have saved you the trouble. Isn't there any other way you might obtain the money you wish?"
"If there is, I don't know it."
"Pedro may be right," spoke up Billie suddenly, "but I am in favor of making an inspection of our own, now that we are here. What do you say, Don?"
"I'm with you." Then to Strong: "How are we to get to the bottom?"
Strong reached over and from behind a nearby boulder produced another bundle of rope.
"I had intended making a rope ladder," he said.
"All right, then," from Donald, "a rope ladder it shall be."
The boys set to work and in the course of an hour had made a rope ladder more than fifty feet in length. Lowering it into the shaft, it seemed to reach to the bottom and Billie started to go down, but Strong prevented him.
"I shall go first," he said. "If there is any danger from poisonous gas, or from reptiles, I shall take the risk. You boys have parents and homes. I have no one. If I should suffer any mishap, do not attempt to rescue me. It would not be worth while."
"Nothing will happen," declared Adrian. "I have a hunch and my hunches are usually right."
The rope having been properly fastened and warded off the side by an ingenious arrangement of several large rocks, Strong began his descent. In his left hand he carried a flaming torch and Donald leaned over the edge, looking down, with rifle sighted, to fire upon any reptile which might be brought to light by the torch's ruddy glare.
Step by step Strong went down, stopping every now and then to hold his torch below him, if perchance it might come into contact with fire damp or any other noxious gas.
He had descended at least three-fourths of the way, when, as he swung his torch below, he uttered a cry that was almost a shriek and the torch fell from his hand.
At the same instant Donald gave vent to a loud exclamation and his rifle cracked.
"Hold on," he cried as he arose from the ground, "as you value your life, don't lose your hold."
"What is it?" asked the others in one voice.
"Snakes! Dozens of them," replied Donald. "Climb up, Strong, as fast as you can."
"All right," came a feeble reply, followed almost immediately by a louder call of "Help!"
"Hold fast," called Donald. "I'm coming."
But before he could turn to step down the ladder, a chattering figure sprang past him and shot down the rope.
It was the ape. He had heard his master's call and had gone to his assistance.
A moment later came a joyful cry that told as plainly as words that Ambrosio had reached his master in time.
"Are you all right now?" called Donald.
"Yes. I'll be up in a minute. Good old boy," the last remark evidently addressed to the ape.
When Strong's head appeared above the edge of the shaft a couple of minutes later he was as pale as a ghost and when he at length came into the full light of the torches, it was seen that his hair was as white as snow. The fright had completely changed its color.
"Let's get out of here," he gasped as soon as he was helped to his feet. "I wouldn't go down into that place again for all the gold and silver in the world."
"It was pretty rough for sure," admitted Donald. "I just caught a glimpse as the torch fell among them, but it was so quickly extinguished by the wriggling mass I only shot once for fear of hitting you."
"It was the darkness that frightened me," Strong explained feebly. "If I hadn't let go my torch to hold on with both hands, I don't think I would have minded so much. But the darkness hid what was below and it just seemed as though they were right after me. I'd have been a goner sure if it hadn't been for good old Ambrosio," and he laid his hand affectionately on the ape's head.
"Do you think you'll be able to climb out of the mine?" asked Billie as they reached the main shaft.
"Yes, with Ambrosio's aid; but I'm going out first. I don't think I have nerve enough left right now to be the last out."
The exit from the mine was much slower than the descent had been, but in the course of an hour they were all once more out under the stars.
"What about the bandits?" queried Billie.
"Take my advice," said Strong, "and let them alone. This is none of your quarrel. If the Mexicans want to fight among themselves, let them. It's a family quarrel and you will only make matters worse by interfering. The time may come when these very men may prove your best friends."
"That's the advice I gave when we first discovered them to-day. I wish now we had all followed it."
"If we are not going to do anything," declared Adrian, "the quicker we get out of here the better."
"I consider that more good advice," laughed Billie, "especially as I am just reminded that I haven't had a bite to eat since noon. But I have no horse."
"That's easily remedied," replied Strong.
He went into the old ruin and in a few minutes returned with a very good animal, all saddled and bridled.
"It will not be missed," he said. "Now ride for your lives. Take the trail to the left and don't let moonlight catch you within five miles of here."
"Aren't you coming with us?" asked Donald.
"No! I am better off here."
"How will you account for your white hair?"
"I'll tell them it is a charm. They'll believe it and it will make me that much more valuable. Now go!"
Without wasting more words the boys put spurs to their horses and were soon out of the basin and on their way to Pachuca.
"It seems like a year since we came down here," remarked Adrian to Billie as they galloped along.
"It sure does," was the reply as Billie rubbed his stomach suggestively. "I'll never go out again as long as I'm in this revolutionary republic without a haversack full of grub."
"Who said grub?" called back Donald.
"What a question," laughed Adrian. "Who is it that's always hungry? It's all he thinks about."
"Oh, it is, eh?" from Billie. "Well, I'm thinking about something else now. There's the moon coming up over the valley and we're not three miles from the old Rosario. We'd better keep our eyes peeled and see that our shooting irons are in shape. We may have to fight our way home even yet."
As though to verify the prediction there appeared at the moment the figure of a solitary horseman silhouetted against the rising moon.
"You're a prophet of evil all right," said Adrian. "Now what?"
"Just keep on riding."
"But that chap is right in our way."
"Then ride him down. He'll be worse scared than we are."
The advice seemed good and the boys spurred forward.
"If you think he means us any harm," Donald remarked, "I might take a shot at him."
"I don't believe he does."
Again Billie proved a good prophet as the rider rode directly toward them, waving his hat in his hand.
"It's Tony," exclaimed Pedro as the rider approached a little nearer.
Tony was one of Gen. Sanchez' servants.
"Why, so it is," laughed Donald. "I suppose he is out looking for us."
Which was exactly the case. The news of the fight had reached Pachuca along with the part the boys had played in saving the bullion, and Pedro's father had heard it along with the others.
Later, word had been brought that one of the boys was missing and the others had gone to look for him. When none of them returned after all these hours, Gen. Sanchez had organized a searching party, of which Tony proved to be the advance guard.
A few minutes later, several horsemen dashed up and the boys were given a rousing reception.
"The Jefe politico is waiting to greet you," Tony told the boys.
The jefe politico is the mayor.
Billie smiled broadly and once more rubbed his stomach.
"This begins to look encouraging," he remarked to Pedro. "I think I can taste the good things already."
Half an hour later the boys reached the city and were given a cheer as they passed through the main street and up to Gen. Sanchez' home, which was located half a block from the plaza. And in another ten minutes Billie was facing the mayor over a plate of steaming soup, while a mozo stood at his back waiting to serve the leg of a twenty-five pound turkey. Raising his eyes from the table, he caught sight of what was coming and gave Donald, who sat next to him, a dig in the ribs with his elbow.
"How's this for a prophet of evil?" he asked.
Donald took a look at the great bird which was rapidly falling into pieces under Gen. Sanchez' skillful hand, and remarked with a wink:
THE INSULT TO THE FLAG.
A week later, or, to be more exact, on April 10, 1914, the Broncho Rider Boys and their friend Pedro were back in the City of Mexico. During the two weeks they had been at Pachuca, many changes had taken place and on the morning in question they had just finished their coffee in the breakfast room when Guadalupe, Pedro's sister, brought in the morning paper.
"What's the news?" asked Adrian.
Guadalupe glanced at the paper and hid it behind her back without making any reply.
"Why, Sister!" exclaimed Pedro with all the dignity of his sixteen years. "How can you be so rude?"
"She's only joking," laughed Billie, who was always found on Guadalupe's side when any argument took place. "Come, tell us! What is it?"
Guadalupe shook her head.
"Oh, I can't," she replied in a pained voice.
"Why not?" from Billie.
"It says we are going to have war with the United States and I don't believe it."
"Of course you don't," replied Billie. "Neither does any one else."
"Let me see," said Pedro sternly.
Slowly the girl handed her brother the paper.
He opened it and read.
"A party of American marines was arrested in Tampico yesterday for landing on Mexican soil with arms in their hands. They were marched through the streets under a heavy guard and lodged in jail. After a parley with the American Admiral, Mayo, the commandant of the city finally released them upon the assurance of the Admiral that it should not occur again."
"Well, if it was only a mistake, that doesn't mean war," laughed Billie, but Donald's face took on a more serious look.
"That isn't all," said Pedro.
"Well," from Billie, "let's have the rest of it."
"The American Admiral has now declared that the men did not land on Mexican soil with arms in their hands, but that they were in their boat at the pier when arrested. He claims that they were taken from under the American flag——"
"What?" almost shouted Billie, springing to his feet. "Taken from under the American flag? Well, I'll bet that will mean war—unless," he added after a brief pause, "Gen. Huerta apologizes."
"Why should he apologize?" asked Pedro.
"For insulting the American flag."
"That's what the American Admiral says," interrupted Guadalupe, "and he threatens to fire on the city."
"And I'll bet he'll do it," said Adrian.
"If he does we'll sink his ships," said Pedro.
"What with?" asked Billie sarcastically. "Why, Admiral Mayo could blow Tampico out of the water."
"If he does, the Mexicans will march on Washington," from Pedro.
"What?" from Donald. "March on Washington? Why, Huerta can't hardly keep Carranza out of the City of Mexico."
"But if your admiral fires on Tampico, Carranza will help Gen. Huerta," declared Pedro.
"Do you really think so?" asked Adrian.
"I know it. We may have our little family troubles down here in Mexico, but if the United States should interfere, we'd all turn in and fight her."
Billie was about to reply when Gen. Sanchez entered the room.
"I see you have been reading the news," he said calmly.
"And discussing it too," said Donald.
"Which we had better not at present," replied the General. "You boys are our guests and as long as you are, you are our friends; but I am afraid there is serious trouble coming and I think it will be much better if you make arrangements at once to return to the United States. As you know, I am not a favorite with the present administration and I might not be able to protect you."
"We can ask the protection of the American Ambassador," said Donald.
Gen. Sanchez smiled kindly.
"The American Ambassador may be asked to leave."
The boys looked serious.
"Do you really think it is as bad as that?" asked Adrian.
"I fear so. Later dispatches from Tampico state that the American Admiral has demanded a salute of twenty-one guns to the American flag. I know Gen. Huerta well enough to know that he will never order the salute."
"Then what will happen?" asked Donald.
"No one can say. I understand that the American government has placed the matter in the hands of Admiral Fletcher, the ranking officer, who is in charge of the Atlantic fleet off Vera Cruz."
"Do you think we should go at once?" queried Billie.
"Yes, I think it would be better. I will make such arrangements as I can for your transportation to Vera Cruz. In the meantime you had better go and register yourselves at the United States Embassy. I am never sure of Gen. Huerta."
Without further discussion the boys prepared to take Gen. Sanchez' advice, and, donning their hats, started for the embassy, leaving Pedro much chagrined and Guadalupe in tears.
"I can't see why there has to be war!" she declared. "Why can't men behave themselves?"
"What do girls know about war?" asked Pedro.
"They know it's terrible and takes their fathers and brothers, that's what they know, and they wish they didn't have to know that."
Pedro made no reply, but went to his room, where he selected from among his most cherished belongings a gift for each of his guests—three beautiful opals—and laid them upon their respective suit cases.
When the Broncho Rider Boys arrived at the embassy they found a large crowd of Americans already assembled. Word had been circulated that it would be wise for all of them to leave Mexico and those who could were going, while many men whose business detained them in Mexico were sending their families. All had come to the embassy for information and to register.
As a result it was late in the afternoon before the boys returned to Gen. Sanchez' residence. But late as they were, the general had not yet come in. They went to their room and when they saw the gifts which Pedro had laid on each valise, they could not keep back the tears.
"Well, there's one thing," declared Billie as he drew the back of his hand across his eyes, "we don't have to fight Pedro, no matter what comes. I'm going to hunt him up and tell him so."
And he did.
It was some hours later when Gen. Sanchez returned and announced that it would be impossible for the boys to get transportation to Vera Cruz for two or three days, as the track had been torn up in the neighborhood of Cordoba, but that he had been promised that they would be given safe conduct as soon as the track was repaired.
It was three days later, therefore, before the boys were able to leave, during which time they remained in the house at Gen. Sanchez' request to avoid any unpleasantness, which might make trouble for him.
On the morning of the 13th the boys bade good-bye to their host and his family and were driven in an automobile to the station. Already there were more than enough persons to fill four trains, and the guards were permitting only those to board the cars who had passes signed by the Mexican provost marshal.
Thanks to Gen. Sanchez, our boys had been provided with such passes, but they were not allowed to take their rifles or revolvers aboard the train. They had no more than found seats and made themselves comfortable than the conductor shouted "Vamanos," and the train pulled slowly out of the shed.
"Well," remarked Donald as they rolled slowly along, "this is a pretty tough ending to a friendly visit. I think I've seen about all I want of Mexico for some time to come."
"What do you suppose will happen?" asked Billie. "Do you think we'll really go to war with Mexico unless Gen. Huerta orders the salute?"
"I don't know," was Donald's cautious reply. "I hope not."
"And I hope we do!" exclaimed a somewhat florid gentleman who sat in the seat ahead and who had overheard the conversation. "I'd just like an opportunity to come down here with an army and wipe the whole nation off the earth."
Donald made no reply, but Adrian asked sympathetically: "Have they treated you badly, sir?"
"Have they treated me badly? Well, I should say so. They wouldn't let me out of my hotel for two days and now they have refused to carry my trunk and made me leave it with the express company. I guess they don't know who I am."
"I'm sure they do not, sir."
"Well, I'll show them who I am as soon as I get to Vera Cruz and can see Admiral Fletcher. He'll know how to protect Americans!"
"I'm sure he will, sir."
"And when the first marine lands, I want to be right there with a rifle to help drive the Mexicans off the earth."
"It would be wise not to say too much," whispered Adrian. "I see that officer in the end of the car has his eye on you. He may speak English."
"I don't care who hears me," said the florid man angrily. "I mean it."
At the same moment a guard who had approached from the other end of the car laid his hand upon the angry man's shoulder.
"If the Senor is not satisfied," he said, "we shall be pleased to send him back to the City of Mexico."
"Oh, no-no-no," was the stammering reply. "I am very well satisfied. All I want is to get out of the country."
"Let us hope there will be no trouble about that," was the polite response, and the florid man lapsed into silence.
Ordinarily it is a pleasant day's journey from the City of Mexico to the seaport city of Vera Cruz; or if one prefers he may make a night ride of it in times of peace. The train which left the City of Mexico that April morning made no such time. After a tiresome all-day ride with numerous aggravating stops, when darkness fell they were still on the plateau of Mexico, some miles west of Orizaba, running slowly for fear some stray bunch of Carranzistas or Zapatistas might have torn up a length or two of track.
It was possibly an hour later that the engine gave a furious jerk, followed by a bump and another jerk, and then the train came to a dead stop.
In a minute everybody was on his feet asking everybody else what had happened. As no one knew, there was a general movement for the doors, as it was too dark to see much from the windows.
"Sit down, everybody," ordered the guard. "There is no danger, but we have stopped on a high trestle."
The passengers obeyed, realizing the danger of leaving the coaches. There was a general round of conversation, and then as the train did not start, people settled back in their seats and tried to sleep.
Some minutes later Billie gave Adrian a nudge with his elbow.
"Are you asleep?" he asked.
"I've just been looking out of the window. We're not on a trestle."
"No? Well, what of it?"
"Only that the guard was lying. What did he do it for?"
"I don't know. Because he was a Mexican, I guess. Go on to sleep."
"That isn't the answer, although it's pretty good. They have some scheme. I wouldn't be surprised if they were going to keep us prisoners somewhere around here."
"Nonsense. Go on to sleep."
But Billie was not satisfied. He leaned over and tried to talk to Donald, but he was fast asleep.
"I think I'll go on a little scouting expedition," he muttered. "I need some exercise."
He arose, stretched himself and walked slowly toward the door, which stood wide open.
"I wonder where the guard is?" he thought. "It's mighty funny he'd go and leave the coach like this."
He stepped on to the coach ahead. The same condition existed.
Billie's curiosity got the best of him and he jumped out onto the ground. It was pitch dark, but he had not advanced more than twenty steps before he discovered groups of men seated upon the grass. A second glance convinced him they were armed.
He drew back and stood beside the coach, where he thought fast.
"There's one of two things," he soliloquized. "We are either prisoners or else we are being guarded against an expected attack. Whichever it is, this is no time for the Broncho Rider Boys to be asleep. I'll go and tell the others."
He started to climb onto the car, but a guard appeared on the platform and ordered him away at the point of his bayonet.
"I'm a passenger," explained Billie.
"Go away!" was the reply, emphasized by a quick advance of the bayonet.
Seeing that it was no time to argue, Billie slid back into the darkness.
Broncho Billie had been in too many unpleasant places to be at all worried over his predicament, but he was much concerned about the condition of the train and its passengers, practically all of whom were Americans and a large majority of whom were women and children.
"It would be fierce," he mused, "to have them held here, or in a detention camp as prisoners; and it would be worse if we should be attacked by an overwhelming force of revolutionists. I've just got to know the truth."
He glanced up at the coach with its dimly lighted windows.
"I wish I could talk to old Don. He most always knows what to do. But how can I get at him?"
He sneaked out to where he could see the coach platform. The guard was still there, as well as the guard on the other car.
"Worse and more of it," he exclaimed.
Then he examined the car, trying to determine at which window he had been seated. Several were open, and he determined to try and speak to some one.
"Our seats are not far from here," he thought as he stopped under the second one. "I'll try this."
He picked up a stone about as big as an egg and tossed it into the window. A howl from a child followed the act and Billie ducked under the car. He could hear the mother pacifying it, but evidently she, too, had been asleep and had not discovered the stone.
"I think I know just which child it is," said Billie with a grin, "and this next open window must be ours."
He picked up another stone and tossed it in to his second choice, this time with better results.
Donald had just aroused from a nap, and, missing Billie, was looking for him. Not seeing him in the car, he was about to look out of the window when the stone hit him on the chin.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed as he started back.
Billie heard the exclamation and gave the familiar whistle.
Donald was on the alert in an instant. Looking up and down the car to be sure he was not being watched, he stuck his head out of the window.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Trouble," was Billie's laconic reply. "Come out."
"How can I? The guard is at the door."
"Jump out of the window."
"They might see me."
Billie thought fast.
"Let Ad stand between you and the door."
"Great," from Donald.
He aroused Adrian and told him the situation.