E-text prepared by Jim Ludwig
THE YOUNG ENGINEERS IN MEXICO
or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers
H. IRVING HANCOCK
CHAPTERS I. The Land of Golden Eggs II. The Wolf Who Showed His Teeth III. Gato Strikes the Up Trail IV. Tom Does Some Sampling V. The Mine That Did and Didn't VI. Watching the Midnight Lights VII. Don Luis's Engineering Problem VIII. Dangling the Golden Bait IX. Don Luis Shows His Claws X. The Spirit of a True Engineer XI. A Piece of Lead in the Air XII. Nicolas Does an Errand XIII. Pining for the Good Old U.S.A. XIV. Next to the Telegraph Key XV. The Job of Being an Hidalgo XVI. Two Victims of Rosy Thoughts XVII. The Stranger in the Tent XVIII. Craft—Or Surrender? XIX. The Hidalgo Plans Gratitude XX. Two Real Signatures XXI. The Final Touch of Tragedy XXII. Mr. Haynes Asks a Few Questions XXIII. The Engineer Turns XXIV. Conclusion
THE LAND OF GOLDEN EGGS
Luis Montez, mine owner, stood on the broad veranda in front of his handsome home, looking out over the country sweeping away to the eastward.
"Gentlemen, you are in a land of golden promise," began Senor Montez, with a smile and a bow. "I should call it more than promise. Why not? My beloved country, Mexico, has been shipping gold to the world ever since the days of Montezuma."
"Yes; in a mineral sense Mexico has truly a golden history," nodded Tom Reade, one of the engineers to whom Montez was speaking.
"And a golden history in every sense," added Senor Montez, with a quick rush of patriotism. "Mexico is the finest country on earth. And, though we are neither as numerous in population, or as progressive as your own great country, still Mexico has greater possibilities than the United States."
Tom was too polite to argue that point. And Harry Hazelton, whom a seventy-mile ride in an automobile over dusty roads, that day, had rendered very drowsy, didn't consider an argument worth while.
"Mexico has almost incredible natural wealth," Montez went on, his voice soft and purring, his eyes glowing with something that might have passed for pride. "Yet, through all the centuries that white men have been here, I am confident that not one per cent. of the country's natural resources has yet been taken from the ground. Enough wealth lies at man's beck and call to change the balance of power between the nations of the world. I have been in your great city, New York. It is a place of tremendous wealth. Yet, within ten years, gold enough can be taken from the ground within a radius of twenty miles of here to buy the whole great city of New York at any sane valuation."
"That purchase would require billions of dollars," broke in the practical Hazelton.
"But the wealth is here," insisted Senor Montez, still smiling. "Truly, caballeros, as I have told you, this is the land of golden—"
Again the Mexican paused, eloquently.
"The land of golden eggs?" suggested Harry.
For an instant there was a flash in the Mexican's eyes. Then the friendly smile reappeared.
"Of course, you jest, senor," he replied, pleasantly.
"Not at all, Senor Montez," Hazelton assured him. "When gold is so plentiful that it can be picked up everywhere, there must be a goose at hand that lays golden eggs. Eggs are among the most common things that we have. When gold nuggets are as large and as abundant as eggs then we may properly call them golden eggs."
Senor Montez, flipped away the cigar that he had finished, and reached for another. This he carefully cut at the end, lighting it with graceful, elegant deliberation. The Mexican was a distinguished-looking man above medium height. A little past forty years of age, he possessed all the agility of a boy of twenty. Frequently his sudden, agile movements indicated the possession of unusual strength. Dark, like most of his countrymen, constant exposure to the tropical sun had made his face almost the color of mahogany. His carriage was erect, every movement instinctive with grace. Clad in a white linen suit, with white shoes, he wore on his head a Panama hat of fine texture and weave.
The house of which the broad veranda was a part, was a low, two-story affair in stone, painted white. Through the middle of the house extended the drive-way leading into a large court in which a fountain played. Around the upper story of the house a balcony encircled the court and around the windows there were also small balconies.
Many servants, most of them male, ministered to the wants of those in the house. There were gardeners, hostlers, drivers, chauffeurs and other employs, making a veritable colony of help that was housed in small, low white houses well to the rear.
Some thirty acres of grounds had been rendered beautiful by the work of engineers, architects and gardeners. Nature, on this estate, had been forced, for the natural soil was stony and sterile, in keeping with the mountains and the shallow valleys in this part of the little and seldom-heard-of state of Bonista.
To the eastward lay, at a distance of some two miles, one of the sources of Senor Montez's wealth El Sombrero Mine, producing some silver and much more gold. At least so the owner claimed.
It was Senor Luis Montez himself who had gone to the nearest railway station, seventy miles distant, and there had made himself known, that forenoon, to the two young engineers from the United States.
Tom and Harry had come to El Sombrero at the invitation of Montez. After many careful inquiries as to their reputation and standing in their home country, Montez had engaged the young men as engineers to help him develop his great mine. Nor had he hesitated to pay the terms they had named—one thousand dollars, gold, per month, for each, and all expenses paid.
Over mountain trails, through the day, much of the way had of necessity been made slowly. Wherever the dusty, irregular roads had permitted greater speed, the swarthy Mexican who had served Senor Montez as chauffeur on the trip had opened wide on the speed. At the end of their long automobile ride Tom and Harry fairly ached from the jolting they had received.
"There are other beautiful features of this gr-r-rand country of mine," the Mexican mine owner continued, lighting his second cigar. "I am a noble, you know, Senor Tomaso. In my veins flows the noble blood of the hidalgos of good old Spain. My ancestors came here two hundred and fifty years ago, and ever since, ours has been truly a Mexican family that has preserved all of the most worthy traditions of the old Spanish nobles. We are a proud race, a conquering one. In this part of Bonista, I, like my ancestors, rule like a war lord."
"You don't have much occupation at that game, do you, senor?" Tom asked, with an innocent smile.
"That—that—game?" repeated Senor Montez, with a puzzled look at his young guest.
"The game of war lord," Reade explained. "Mexico is not often at war, is she?"
"Not since she was forced to fight your country, Senor Tomaso, as you help to remind me," pursued Montez, without a trace of offense. "Though I was educated in your country, I confess that, at times, your language still baffles me. What I meant to say was not 'war lord,' but—but—"
"Over lord?" suggested Reade, politely.
"Ah, yes! Perhaps that better expresses what I mean. In Mexico we have laws, senor, to be sure. But they are not for caballeros like myself—not for men who can boast of the blood of Spanish hidalgos. I am master over these people for many miles around. Absolute master! Think you any judge would dare sign a process against me, and send peon officers of the law to interfere with me? No! As I tell you, I, Luis Montez, am the sole master here among the mountains. We have laws for the peons (working class), but I—I make my own laws."
"Does it take much of your time, may I ask?"
"Does what take much of my time?" repeated Senor Montez, again looking puzzled.
"Law making," explained Tom Reade.
Montez shot a swift look at the young engineer. He wondered if the American were making fun of him. But Reade's face looked so simple and kindly, his eyes so full of interest, that the Mexican dismissed the thought.
"I spend no time in making laws—unless I need them," the Mexican continued. "I make laws only as the need arises, and I make them to suit myself. I interpret the laws as I please for my own pleasure or interests. Do you comprehend?"
"I think so," Tom nodded. "Many of the big corporations in my country do about the same thing, though the privilege has not yet been extended to individuals in the United States."
"Here," continued the mine owner, earnestly, "no man disputes my will. That, of itself, is law. Here no man sues me, for if he attempted to do so, he would go to prison and remain there. If I tell a man to leave these mountains, he does so, for otherwise he would never leave them. If a man annoys me, and I tell one of my trusted servants to attend to my enemy—then that enemy never troubles me further."
"That is interesting—it's so simple and effective!" cried Tom, pretended enthusiasm glowing in his eyes. "Say, but that's practical! A man annoys you, and you send a servant to tell him to stop. Then he stops."
"Because my enemy also vanishes, you understand," smiled Senor Luis, indulgently.
"But doesn't the governor of Bonista ever hear of the disappearances?" suggested Reade, very casually.
"What if he does?" demanded Don Luis, snapping his fingers gayly. "Are not his excellency, the governor, and I, the best of friends? Would he give heed to rumors against me, brought by evil-tongued men? Oh, no! El gobernador (the governor) has, at times, even kindly lent me his troops to make sure that an enemy of mine doesn't travel too far. No! I tell you, Senor Tomaso, I am over lord here. I am the law in these mountains."
"It must be a great comfort, Don Luis—if you have many enemies," suggested Tom Reade smilingly.
"Ah, no! I have no enemies to-day," cried the Mexican. "Why should I? I am generous and indulgent, and the soul of honor. No one has just reason to disagree with me. Here I give all men the round trade—no, what in your country you call the square deal. But you shall see. You are now associated with me in a great, a gr-r-rand enterprise. You shall soon see how just and generous I can be—am always. You shall understand why the son of a noble house need have no foes. Senor Tomaso, I have taken one great liking to you in the few hours that we have been together. And as for you, Senor Henrico—"
With a courtly flourish Don Luis wheeled about to face young Hazelton. But the sound of deep breathing was all that came from Harry. Fatigued by the long, rough automobile ride, that young engineer had dropped fast asleep in the broad porch rocker.
"Your friend is much fatigued," spoke Don Luis, with fine consideration. "If you deem it best, Senor Tomaso, we will arouse him and he shall go to his room for an hour's sleep before the evening meal."
"If his sleeping in the chair doesn't annoy you, Don Luis, my friend will wake up, refreshed, in twenty minutes or so."
"So be it, then. Let him sleep where he is. But you, Senor Tomaso, would you not like to step inside and lie down for a while?"
"No, I thank you," Reade answered. "Unlike Hazelton, I feel very wide awake. When shall we go to the mine?"
"To-morrow, or the next day," replied the Mexican, with a gesture which almost said that "any day" would do. "First, you must both rest until you are wholly refreshed. Then you may want to stroll about the country a bit, and see the odd bits of natural beauty in these mountains, before you give too serious thought to work."
"But that is not our way, Don Luis," Tom objected. "When we are paid a thousand dollars a month apiece we expect to do an honest day's work six days in every week."
"Ah, then, to-morrow, perhaps we will talk about the work. And now, if you will pardon me, I will go inside for a few minutes in order to see about some business matters."
Readers of the "Grammar School Boys Series," the "High School Boys Series" and of the preceding volumes in the present series, will feel that they are already intimately acquainted with Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, a pair of young civil engineers who, through sheer grit, persistence and hard study had already made themselves well known in their profession.
In the first volume of the "Grammar School Boys Series," Dick Prescott and his five boy chums, Greg Holmes, Dave Darrin, Dan Dalzell, Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, were introduced under the name of Dick & Co. These six chums, standing shoulder to shoulder, made a famous sextette in school athletics. Their start was made during their grammar school days, when they had many adventures and did much in the field of junior sport. Their high school life, as set forth in the series of that name, was one of athletics, mixed with much study and efforts to find their true paths in life. In high school athletics the members of Dick & Co. won a statewide reputation, as to-day members of winning high school athletic teams are bound to do. It was during their high school days that Dick & Co. determined on their professions through life. Dick Prescott and Greg Holmes both secured competitive appointments to the United States Military Academy, and their further doings are set forth in the "West Point Series." Dave Darrin and Dalzell, with a burning desire for naval life, obtained appointments to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. What befell them is fully told in the "Annapolis Series." As for Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton, while still in high school they became seized with a strong desire for careers as civil engineers. They were fortunate enough to secure their first practice and training in a local engineering office in the home town of Gridley. Then, with vastly more courage than training, Tom and Harry went forth into the world to stand or fall as engineers.
Their first experiences are told in the opening volume of this series, "The Young Engineers In Colorado." Joining a western engineering force as "cub" engineers, at first the laughing-stock of the older engineers on the staff of a new railroad then building in Colorado, the two boys did their best to make good. How well they succeeded is known to readers of that volume. Their adventures in the Rocky Mountains were truly astounding; some of them, especially those with "Bad Pete," a braggart and scoundrel of the old school, were sometimes mirth-provoking and sometimes tragic. Other adventures were vastly more serious. When the boys reached the crisis of their work it seemed as though every tree in the mountains concealed an enemy. All these and many more details are told in that first volume.
In "The Young Engineers In Arizona," we found the pair engaged in a wholly new task—that of filling up an apparently unfillable quicksand in the desert so that a railway roadbed might be built safely over the dangerous quicksand that had justly earned the name of the "Man-killer." Here, too, adventures quickly appeared and multiplied, until even the fearful quicksand became a matter of smaller importance to the chums. How the two young engineers persevered and fought pluckily all the human and other obstacles to their success the readers of the second volume now know fully.
Then Tom and Harry, who had been putting in many spare hours, days and weeks on the study of metallurgy and the assaying of precious metals, went, for a "vacation," to Nevada, there further to pursue their studies. Quite naturally they became interested in gold mining itself, and all their adventures, their mishaps, failures, fights and final successes were fully chronicled in the third volume, entitled "The Young Engineers in Nevada." The mine that finally proved a dividend payer was named "The Ambition Mine." A staunch Nevadan, Jim Ferrers, by name, became their partner in the Ambition. Jim, who was an old hand at Nevada mining, was now managing the mine while Tom and Harry, after going East and establishing an engineers' office in a large city not far from New York, had traveled to other states, studying mines and assay methods. Within the last few months, so rapid had been their progress in mine engineering, that they had been consulted by a number of mine owners. Articles that they had written had appeared in journals devoted to mining and engineering, and the fame of our two friends had been rapidly spreading.
Both scrupulously honest in all things, Reade and Hazelton had also won a reputation as "square" mining men. With their skill and honesty established, the opinions of the two partners on mining problems were generally respected wherever they happened to be known.
So, in time, Luis Montez had heard of them, and had decided that he needed their services at El Sombrero (The Hat) Mine in the Mexican state of Bonista. After some correspondence the two engineers had been speedily engaged, and the opening of this volume deals with the time of their arrival at the handsome country house of Senor Montez.
After his host had gone inside, and Harry Hazelton slept on, Tom, who had risen—to bow to Senor Montez, remained on his feet, pacing slowly and thoughtfully up and down the porch.
"Now that I've seen my new employer," mused Tom, under his breath, "I wonder just how much I really like him. He's a polished man, and a charming fellow from the little that I've seen of him. But his talk of ruling these hills, even in life and death—does that speak well for him. Is he a knave, or only a harmless braggart? Is he a man against whom one should be seriously on his guard? Don Luis's manners, in general, I admire, but I don't quite like the cruel expression about his month when he laughs. However, that may be the way of the country, and I may be the victim of prejudice. Anyway, as far as Harry and I are concerned, we needn't worry much about the kind of man Don Luis is. The few thousands of dollars that he will owe us as his engineers we are pretty certain to get, for Don Luis is a very wealthy man, and he couldn't afford to cheat us. For the rest, all he wants us to do is to work hard as engineers and show him how to get more valuable ore out of his mines. So, no matter what kind of man Don Luis may be, we have nothing to fear from him—not even being cheated out of our pay."
Having settled this in his mind, Tom Reade sank into one of the roomy porch chairs, half closing his eyes. He was soon in danger of being as sound asleep as was Harry Hazelton.
Certainly Reade would have been intensely interested had he been able to render himself invisible and thus to step into one of the rooms of the big, handsome house.
In a room that was half office, half library, Senor Luis Montez was now closeted with another man, whom neither of the engineers had yet met. This man was short, slight of build and nervous of action and gesture—a young man perhaps twenty-six years of age. Carlos Tisco was secretary to Don Luis. Tisco was a graduate of a university at the capital City of Mexico, a doctor of philosophy, no mean chemist, a clever assayer of precious metals and an engineer. In a word Dr. Tisco had been so well trained in many fields of science that it was a wonder that Don Luis should feel the need of employing the two young American engineers.
"You have seen my new engineers, Carlos?" queried Don Luis, almost in a whisper, as the two men, bending forward, faced each other over a flat-top desk.
"Through the window shutters—yes, Don Luis," nodded the secretary, a strange look in his eyes.
"Then what do you think of the Gringo pair, my good Carlos?" pursued Don Luis.
"Gringo" is a word of contempt applied by some Mexicans to Americans.
"I—I hardly like to tell you, Don Luis," replied the younger man, with an air of pretended embarrassment.
"Ah! Then no doubt you feel they are not as clever as they have been rated—my two Gringos," smiled the mine owner. "Rest easy, Carlos. It may be better if they be not too clever."
"It—it is that which I fear, Don Luis," replied the secretary, in a still lower voice. "I have been studying their faces—especially their eyes as they spoke. Don Luis, I much fear that they are very clever young men."
"Ah! Then again that is not bad," laughed the master gayly. "If they be clever, then they will not need so much explanation."
Now the secretary became bolder.
"Don Luis, though you have spent many years in the United States, I fear you do not at all understand some traits of the Gringo character," warned Dr. Tisco. "For example, you want these young men for a special service, and you are willing to pay them generously—lavishly in fact. Has it escaped you, Don Luis, that some of these obstinate, mule-headed Gringos are guilty of an especial form of ingratitude which they term honor?"
"I know that some Gringos make much bombastic use of that term, while other Gringos scoff at the word 'honor,'" replied the mine owner, thoughtfully. "But even suppose that these Gringos have absurdly fanciful ideas of honor? They will never guess for what I really want them. Their work will be done, to my liking, and they will go away from here with never a suspicion of the kind of service they have performed for me."
"Pardon me, Don Luis," murmured Dr. Tisco, "but to me they do not look like such fools. They will suspect; they will even know."
"It matters little what they suspect, if they hold their tongues," replied the mine owner.
"You will have to appeal to their love of money, then," suggested the secretary. "You will have to pay them extremely well. Even then they may balk and refuse."
"Refuse?" repeated Don Luis opening his eyes wide. "Carlos, you do not seem to understand how hopeless it would be for them to refuse. I am master here. None knows better than you that I hold life and death in my hand in these mountains. Do not all men hereabouts obey my orders? Will el gobernador ask any awkward questions if two Gringos should stroll through these mountains and never be heard from again? Who can escape the net that I am able to spread in these mountains? The Gringos refuse me—betray me? Are they such fools as to refuse me when they find that I hold their lives in the palm of my hand?"
"They may even refuse your bait with death as the alternative," persisted the secretary. "Don Luis, you know that there are such foolish men among the Gringos."
"Then let them refuse me," proposed Don Luis, jestingly, though his white teeth shone in a savage smile. "If they are difficult to manage—these two young Gringos—then they will quickly disappear, and other Gringos shall come until I find those that will serve me and be grateful for their rewards."
"I wish you good fortune with your great schemes, Don Luis," sighed young Dr. Tisco.
"Carlos, you have not eaten for hours. You are so famished that the whole world is colored blue before your eyes. Come, it is close to the hour for the meal. You shall meet and talk with my Gringos. You will then be able to judge whether I shall be able to tame them."
THE WOLF WHO SHOWED HIS TEETH
A rare host at table was Don Luis Montez. He possessed the manner, even if not the soul, of a great nobleman.
His daughter, Francesca, reputed to be a beauty, did not appear at table. So far the young engineers had not met her. They would be presented, however, within a day or two, after the Mexican custom, for Tom Reade and Harry Hazelton were to be guests in the white palace during their residence in this part of Mexico.
Dr. Tisco, too, tried to be most entertaining, and succeeded.
"You are the surgeon at the mine?" Harry ventured.
"A medico?" suggested Dr. Tisco, with a bow of humility. "Ah, no, senor, I have not that honor. I am a doctor of philosophy, not of medicine."
"Then you may be a scientific expert," Harry hazarded. "You are the expert here at the mine?"
"Not so," broke in Don Luis, gently. "It is true that Carlos has some knowledge of chemistry, but he is not a mining expert. He is my secretary, my man of affairs."
"Oh, really the manager of the mine, then?" pursued Harry. "Pardon me if I ask too many questions. I do not mean to be impertinent. But, as we are going to work here I wish to know who's who is Senor Montez' representative."
"Carlos," broke in Don Luis, again, "is rather more than the mine manager. He serves me in a variety of interests, and the mine is only one of them."
"If you wish to know whether you are to be under my instructions," Dr. Tisco continued, "I can assure you that you are not. I seldom give orders except as the direct—I might say the directed—mouthpiece of Don Luis."
"I have a separate manager at the mine," added Don Luis. "You shall meet him to-morrow. His name is Pedro Gato. You will find him a self-opinionated fellow, and one used to having his own way. He has to be somewhat turbulent, or he would never hold some of my peons (laborers) in check. But under the surface you will find Pedro Gato an excellent fellow if you do not rub him too hard the wrong way."
"Gato will not attempt to give us any orders, of course?" Tom asked very quietly.
"Possibly not," dubiously replied Don Luis. "I really do not know. That point has not before come up to me for consideration."
"Then I hope you will make it clear to Senor Gato, Don Luis, that we are engineers, wholly in charge of our own work; that we have been engaged as experts and that we manage our own work in the way that appears to us best to serve our employer's interests."
"That can all be arranged very amicably, I am certain," replied Don Luis, as though to dismiss the matter for the present.
Dr. Tisco, covertly, was intently watching the eyes and faces of the young engineers. The secretary was most anxious to take an accurate measure of these two young Americans, who were now highly important to his plans.
After the evening meal, Don Luis summoned a number of his home retainers, who played mandolins and guitars. Some of them sang with considerable sweetness and power. The full moon, soon to wane, shed lustrous light over the tropical scene of beauty. It was a delightful evening. Tom and Harry, when they retired, found themselves ready to sleep instantly. Their bedrooms opened into a common parlor. Early in the morning they were astir.
"What shall we wear, Tom?" inquired Hazelton, going toward his trunks.
"I wonder what people wear in Mexico," Harry continued. "I don't want to make any mistake in my clothing."
"The best clothing for engineers about to go down into a mine will be top-boots, khaki trousers and flannel shirts."
"But will that be suitable to go to breakfast in?" Harry asked. "Will it be showing sufficient courtesy to our host? And suppose the daughter should be at table?"
"That's so," Reade nodded. "I am sorry that we didn't fish for points last evening."
A knock came at the door.
"Aqui!" (here) Tom answered.
The door opened slowly. A man servant of perhaps twenty-five years, attired in clean white clothes, but bare-footed, stood in the doorway, bowing very low.
"Buenos dias, caballeros!" (good morning, gentlemen) was his greeting.
Tom invited him to enter.
"Caballeros," announced the peon, "I am your servant, your slave, your dog! My name is Nicolas."
"How do you do, Nicolas," responded Tom, holding out his hand, which the Mexican appeared too dazed, or too respectful to take. "We may find a servant useful. But we never kept slaves, and we wouldn't dream of calling any man a dog."
"I am your dog, caballeros," Nicolas asserted. "I am yours to do with as you wish. Beat me, if I do not perform my work well."
"But I wouldn't beat a dog. Almost any dog is too fine a fellow to be served in that fashion," Tom explained.
"Caballeros, I am here to receive your pleasure and commands concerning breakfast."
"Is it ready?" demanded Harry hopefully.
"The kitchen is open, and the cooks there," Nicolas responded. "When your excellency's orders have been given the cooks will prepare your meal with great dispatch."
"Has Don Luis come down yet?" Tom inquired.
"No; for his great excellency has not yet eaten," answered the peon.
"Oh! Then your master eats in his own room?" Tom asked.
"Don Luis eats always his breakfast in bed," Nicolas told them.
"Then I guess we were too fresh, Tom, in getting up," laughed Harry.
As this was spoken in English, Nicolas, not understanding, paid no heed. Tom and Harry, on the other hand, had a conversational smattering of Spanish, for in Arizona they had had a large force of Mexican laborers working under them.
"Nicolas, my good boy," Tom went on, "we are quite new to the ways of Mexico. We shall have to ask you to explain some matters to us."
"I am a dog," said Nicolas, gravely, "but even a dog may speak according to his knowledge."
"Then of what does the breakfast here usually consist?"
"Of anything in Don Luis's larder," replied the peon grandly.
"Yet surely there must be some rule about the meal."
"The only rule, excellency, is the pleasure of the host."
"What does Don Luis, then, usually order?"
"Chocolate," replied the servant.
"And a roll or two, excellency."
"What does he eat after that?" Harry demanded, rather anxiously.
"Nothing, caballero, until the next meal."
"Chocolate and a roll or two," muttered Harry. "I am afraid that wouldn't hold me through a day's work. Not even a forenoon's toil. I never did like to diet on a plan of tightening my belt."
"Anything for which the caballero will ask shall be brought," replied Nicolas, with another bow.
"How about a steak, Tom?" Harry asked, turning to his chum.
"Pardon, excellency, but we have no such thing here," Nicolas interposed, meekly.
"Eggs?" Harry guessed.
"Excellency, we shall hope to have some eggs by to-morrow,"
"Harry, you idiot, why didn't you ask for mince pie and doughnuts, too?" laughed Reade.
"Nicolas, my boy, the trouble with me," Harry explained, "is that chocolate and rolls will never hold my soul and body together for more than an hour at a time. Chocolate and rolls by all means, but help us out a bit. What can we call for that is more hearty."
"There are tortillas to be had sometimes," the servant answered. "Also, sometimes, frijoles."
"They both sound good," Harry assented vaguely. "Bring us some."
"Caballeros, you shall be served with the speed at which the eagle flies!" exclaimed the servant. With a separate bow to each he withdrew, softly closing the door after him.
"Now Harry, let's hustle into some clothes," urged Tom. "Since we are to eat here mine clothes will be the thing. Hustle into them!"
Bred in the ways of the camps, ten minutes later Tom and Harry were washed, dressed and otherwise tidy in every respect.
"I've a mind to go outdoors and get some glimpses of the scenery for a few minutes," Harry hinted.
"Don't think of it. You don't want to come back to a cold breakfast."
So both seated themselves, regretting the absence of morning newspapers.
Then the time began to drag. Finally the delay became wearisome.
"I wonder how many people Nicolas is serving this morning?" murmured Hazelton, at last.
"Everyone in the house would be my guess," laughed Tom. Still time dragged by.
"What on earth will Don Luis think of us?" Harry grunted.
"There is only one thing for it, if this delay lasts any longer," Tom answered. "If this delay lasts much longer we shall have to put off breakfast until to-morrow and get to work."
"Put off breakfast until to-morrow?" Hazelton gasped. "That's where I draw the line. Before I'll stir a step from here I must have at least food enough to grubstake a canary bird."
Some minutes later, Nicolas rapped at the door. He then entered, bearing a tray enveloped in snowy linen. This tray he put down, then spread a tablecloth that he had brought over one arm.
"Will you be seated, caballeros?" he asked, respectfully, as he took his stand by the tray. Then he whisked away the linen cover. Gravely he set upon the table a pot of chocolate, two dainty cups and saucers and a plate containing four rolls.
"Where's the butter, Nicolas?" asked Harry.
"Butter, caballero? I did not understand that you wished it. I will get it. I will run all the way to the kitchen and back."
"Never mind the butter this morning, Nicolas," spoke up Tom, at the same time kicking Harry gently under the table.
"Can I serve you further, now, caballeros" inquired Nicolas, with great respect, "or shall I bring you the remainder of your breakfast?"
"Bring us the rest of the breakfast, by all means," begged Harry, and the servant left them.
"Why did you tell him not to mind the butter?" grunted Hazelton.
"Because," Tom answered, "it struck me that, in Mexico, it may not be customary to serve butter in the morning."
Harry took a bite of one of the rolls, finding it to be soft, flaky and delicious. Then he removed another linen covering from the pot and started to pour the chocolate. That beverage did not come as freely as he had expected.
"What ails the stuff?" grunted Hazelton. "This isn't the first of April."
Then Harry removed the lid from the pot, glancing inside, next he picked up a spoon and stirred the contents of the pot.
"I wish Nicolas were here," said Hazelton.
"Why?" Tom wanted to know.
"I'm bothered about what's etiquette in Mexico. I don't know whether it's right to eat this stuff with a knife, or whether we're expected to spread the stuff on the rolls."
"It is pretty thick stuff," Tom agreed, after taking a look. "But let me have the pot and the spoon. I think I can manage it."
After some work Tom succeeded in reducing the chocolate to a consistency that admitted of pouring, though very slowly.
"It took you almost three minutes to pour two cups," said Harry, returning his watch to his pocket. "Come on, now! We've got to make up for lost time. What will Don Luis think of us? And yet it is his household arrangements that are keeping us away from our work."
Chocolate and rolls were soon disposed of. Then the two engineers sat back, wondering whether Nicolas had deserted them. Finally, both rose and walked to stretch their legs.
"No restaurant in New York has anything on this place for slow-march service!" growled Hazelton.
As all things must come at last, so did Nicolas. He carried a tray and was followed by a second servant, bringing another.
The tortillas proved to be, as Harry put it, "a cross between a biscuit and flapjack." The frijoles were just plain boiled beans, which had evidently been cooked on some other day, and were now mushy. But it was a very solid meal that now lay before them, and the young engineers ate heartily.
"Will the caballeros have some more chocolate?" suggested Nicolas.
"Not now," said Hazelton. "But you might order some for to-morrow's breakfast, and then we shan't have to wait for so long next time."
The additional servant had gone, noiselessly, but Nicolas hovered about, silently.
At last the meal was finished. Tom had chewed his food thoroughly, what he had eaten of it, but Harry, in his hunger, had eaten hurriedly.
"Now we'll have to find Don Luis and apologize," hinted Tom. "Hereafter I can see that we shall have to rise much earlier. Confound it, it's a quarter of nine, already."
The two youngsters hastened out to the veranda. A man servant was lazily dusting and placing porch chairs.
"Has Don Luis gone to the mine?" asked Tom in Spanish.
"Don Luis?" repeated the servant, in evident astonishment. "Presently his excellency will be dressing."
"Thank you," nodded Tom, and paced the veranda, leisurely. "Harry, we didn't make such a bad break after all, then. Plainly Don Luis didn't plan an early start."
"Is Dr. Tisco around?" asked Harry, of the servant.
"The learned doctor must be dressing by this time, caballero," replied the servant respectfully.
"Hm!" mused Harry. "Can it be that the people in Bonista do their work at night?"
"Oh, I'll wager the poor peons at the mine have been at work for some time," Tom smiled. "Anyway, I'm glad we haven't kept everyone else waiting."
At half-past ten o'clock Dr. Tisco appeared, immaculate in white. He bowed low and courteously to the guests.
"I trust, caballeros, that you have enjoyed perfect rest."
"Yes," answered Harry. "And now we're fidgeting to get at work. But, of course, we can't start for the mine until Don Luis gives us the word, and we are at his pleasure."
"It is nearly time for Don Luis to appear," said Tisco gravely.
"Is he always as late as this?"
"Here, Senor Hazelton, we do not call eleven o'clock a late hour for appearing."
Twenty minutes later Don Luis appeared, clad in white and indolently puffing at a Mexican cigarette.
"You will smoke, gentlemen?" inquired their host, courteously, after he had inquired concerning their rest.
"Thank you," Tom responded, pleasantly. "We have never used tobacco."
Don Luis rang and a servant appeared.
"Have one of my cars ordered," commanded Don Luis.
Ten minutes later a car rolled around to the entrance.
"You will come with us, Carlos?" inquired Don Luis.
"Assuredly, Don Luis," replied the secretary, in the tone of a man who was saying that he would not for worlds miss an expected treat.
It was a seven-passenger car of late design. Into the tonneau stepped the two Mexicans and the two young engineers.
"To the mines," ordered Don Luis.
"Do you wish speed, excellency?" inquired the chauffeur.
"No; we will go slowly. We may wish to talk."
Gravely, in military fashion, the chauffeur saluted, then allowed the automobile to roll slowly away.
"It is not an attractive road, after we leave the hacienda," explained Don Luis Montez to Tom. "It is a dusty road, and a somewhat hard one. The mining country is not a beautiful place in which to live."
"It is at least more beautiful than the country in which our mine is located," Tom replied.
"Are you gentlemen, then, mine owners as well as mine experts?" inquired their host.
Tom told Don Luis briefly about their mine, the Ambition, in the Indian Smoke Range, Nevada.
"And is your mine a profitable one?" inquired the Mexican.
"It hasn't made us millionaires," Tom rejoined, modestly, "but it pays us more money, every month, than we really need."
Don Luis glanced covertly at his secretary, with a look that conveyed:
"If these young Gringos have all the money they want, and more, then we may find it difficult to appeal to their avarice."
Dr. Tisco's return glance as much as said:
"I am all the more certain that we shall find them difficult."
Don Luis commented to the two young men on the country through which they were passing. Finally the car drew up before the entrance to El Sombrero Mine. There was the shaft entrance and near it a goodly-sized dump for ore. Not far from the entrance was a small but very neat looking office building, and a second, still smaller, which might have been a timekeeper's office.
"Hello, Pedro!" called Don Luis.
Out of the office building sprang a dark-featured Mexican, perhaps forty years of age. He was truly a large man—more than six feet in height, broad of shoulder and deep of chest, a splendid type of manhood.
"My good Gato," purred Don Luis, "pay your respects to Los Caballeros Reade and Hazelton."
Gato approached, without offering his hand. His big, wolfish eyes looked over the young American pair keenly.
"So Don Luis has brought you here to show whether you are any good?" said the mine manager, in a voice as big as his frame. "I shall soon know."
Before the big, formidable manager Harry Hazelton remained silent, while Don Luis and his secretary slid softly into the office building.
"Gato, just what do you mean by your remark?" asked Tom Reade, very quietly.
"I mean that I shall put you at work and find out what you can do," leered the mine manager.
"Mistake number one!" rejoined Tom coolly. "I do not understand that you have any authority to give us orders."
"You shall soon learn, then!" growled the man. "I am the mine manager here."
"And we are the engineers about to be placed in charge," Tom continued. "If we stay, Gato, you will assist us in all ways that you can. Then, when you have received our instructions you will carry them out according to the best of your ability."
The two looked each other sternly in the eyes, Pedro Gato appearing as though he enjoyed young Americans better than any other food in the world. Indeed, he might have been expected to eat one of them right then and there.
Behind a shade in the office building Dr. Tisco stirred uneasily.
"What did I say to you, Don Luis?" inquired the secretary. "Did I not suggest that these Gringos would not be easily controlled?"
"Wait!" advised Don Luis Montez. "Wait! You have not yet seen what my Gato will do. He is not a baby."
"These Gringos will balk at every hour of the day and night," predicted Dr. Tisco.
"Wait until you have seen my good Gato tame them!" chuckled Don Luis, softly.
GATO STRIKES THE UP TRAIL
"When you speak to me, Gringo," bellowed Pedro Gato, "you will—"
"Stop, Greaser!" shot back Tom, sternly, though he did not even stir or raise his hands.
"Greaser?" bellowed Pedro Gato. "That is foul insult!"
"Not more so than to call me a Gringo," Tom Reade went on coolly. "So we are even, though I feel rather debased to have used such a word. Gato, if you make the mistake, again, of using an offensive term when addressing me, I shall—well, I may show a somewhat violent streak."
"You?" sneered Gato. Then something in the humor of the situation appealed to him. He threw back his head and laughed loudly.
"Gringo," he began, "you will—"
"Stop that line of talk, fellow," commanded Tom quietly. "When you address me, be good enough to say either 'senor' or 'sir.' I am not usually as disagreeable as this in dealing with my fellow men, but you have begun wrong with us, Gato, and the first thing you'll have to learn to do will be to treat us with proper courtesy."
From the shaft entrance showed the faces of four grinning, wondering Mexicans of the usual type. The talk had proceeded in Spanish, and they had been able to follow it.
As for the mine manager, his bronzed face was distorted with rage. The veins near his forehead were swelling. With a sudden roar, Pedro Gato sprang forward, aiming a blow with his open right hand at Reade's face.
Bump! That blow failed to land. It was Gato, instead, who landed. He went down on his back, striking the ground with jarring force.
"What did I say?" whispered Dr. Tisco.
"Wait!" responded Don Luis, with a shrug of his shoulders.
Well-nigh frothing at the mouth, Pedro Gato leaped to his feet. All was red now before his eyes. He rushed forward bellowing like a bull, intent on crushing the young American who had dared to treat him thus.
Tom's left fist drove into the fellow's unguarded face. His right followed, and Gato, big as he was, staggered back. Tom's right foot performed a trip that sent the big Mexican bully to earth again.
"Now get up, Gato, like a man of intelligence, and behave yourself," advised Reade coolly. "Just because we have had a bad introduction is no reason why we should continue enemies. You treat me with proper respect and I'll do as much for you."
But Gato snarled like a wild beast. He was not armed. With every man in these Bonista mountains afraid of him, Gato had never felt the need of carrying weapons. But now he plunged to the doorway of the shaft house, then came bounding back, flourishing a knife that he had snatched from one of the peons.
"Back! Back, Gato!" shouted Dr. Tisco, rushing from the office building.
To the secretary Gato paid no heed. He was close to Tom now, circling cautiously around the young engineer. Harry, though not at all minded to bolt, had stepped back far enough to give Reade elbow room.
"Stop, Gato!" shouted Don Luis. "It is I who command it—I, Don Luis. Throw your knife on the ground."
Gato snarled, but he was cowed. The brutal manager held his employer in awe. He was about to cast his weapon down when Tom Reade interposed.
"Don Luis, I ask you to let the fellow go on. This question will have to be settled right before we can proceed. This fellow is only a coward, or he wouldn't need a knife in fighting with a man half his size."
"Better throw away your knife, my good Gato," purred Don Luis, "or Senor Reade will shoot you."
"I won't," Tom retorted. "I couldn't, anyway. I am not armed. I never was enough afraid of any one to carry weapons. But let Gato go on with his knife. If he fails, then I shall hit him until my arm aches."
"Stop, Senor Reade! I command it!" cried Don Luis, imperiously. "And you, Gato, throw down your knife. I will not have fighting here among men who must be friends."
But Gato, after hearing himself described as a coward, saw only red before his eyes. He must have this Gringo's life, and that quickly. Afterwards he would explain and seek Don Luis's pardon.
"If you prefer, Gato, we will shake hands and forget this," suggested Tom Reade.
"Ah, so you are afraid?" sneered the mine manager.
"Try me and see, if you prefer that," Tom retorted.
With a snarl Gato circled closer. Don Luis Montez snatched from one of his pockets a silver-mounted revolver, but Hazelton caught the flash and in the next instant he had wrenched the pistol away from the mine owner.
"This is Reade's fight, Don Luis," Harry explained.
"Hand back my pistol instantly," hissed Don Luis.
"Not until the fight is decided, Don Luis," Harry rejoined. Slipping the weapon into one of his own pockets he retreated a few yards.
Suddenly Gato sprang, the knife uplifted. Tom Reade leaped in the same fraction of a second. Tom's shoulder landed under Gato's right shoulder, and the knife did not descend. Like a flash Tom bent as he wheeled. Gripping the mine manager by the captured arm, Tom threw him forcefully over his own shoulder. Pedro Gato landed, half-dazed, on the ground. Tom, snatching the knife, hurled it as far as he could throw it.
Snarling, the big fellow started to rise. As he did so Tom Reade's fist landed, sending the Greaser bully to earth. The big fellow made several efforts to rise, but each time Tom's fist sent him flat again, until a final heavy blow silenced him.
"Don Luis," explained Tom, quietly, turning and bowing, "I can't begin to tell you how much I regret this unavoidable scene. When I encountered this big bully I was at once tempted to resign my position here with you, for I realize, of course, that I cannot hope to go on with any such man in a position where I would have to depend so much upon his cheerful and friendly service. I would have resigned, but I realize, Don Luis, how much expense you have gone to in the matter of getting us here, and I know, also, that there might be a good deal of delay in getting some one else to take our places."
"Gato will not trouble you again," promised Don Luis, bowing charmingly.
"Of course not, sir," Tom rejoined. "I couldn't work here and let him go on annoying me all the time. Don Luis, I shall have to crave your indulgence to the extent of discharging this fellow and securing another manager who is less of a wild beast and more of a man."
"Oh, but I cannot let Pedro Gato go," protested Don Luis, quickly. "He is too old an employ, too valuable a man. No other could manage my peons as he does."
"Let me go!" begged Gato, harshly. "Let me go, that I may have all my time to myself that I may find the best way to avenge myself on this miserable Gringo. Don Luis, do not think of attempting to keep me penned in El Sombrero. I must be idle that I may have the more time to think."
Tom remained silent. He had stated his case, and the decision must be found by Don Luis.
"For many reasons," whispered Dr. Tisco, "let Gato go. For either good or bad reasons it will be best to let him go."
"You are right, Carlos," nodded the mine owner quickly. Then, raising his voice:
"My good Gato, you shall have your wish," he went on, in his purring tone. "Yet do not think there is anger behind my words. I let you go because it is your wish. I do not so decide that I may humiliate you, but because you have served me well. When you need a friend, Gatito, you will know to whom to send word. Go your way in friendship."
Even Tom Reade, with his somewhat scant knowledge of Spanish, was quick to note, mentally, the meaning of that term, "Gatito," which meant "little Gato," and was used as a term of affection. It was a form of telegraphy that was not wasted on the departing mine manager, either, for it told him that Don Luis had some excellent reason for thus quickly falling in with the wishes of the new American chief engineer.
With a grateful smile at Don Luis, then with a scowl of unutterable hatred flung in Tom Reade's direction, Pedro Gato next turned on his heel and strode up the path.
From his pocket Harry Hazelton drew forth the silver-mounted revolver and approached the owner of the mine.
"Allow me to return this to you, Don Luis," urged Hazelton. "I must also apologize for having snatched it from you so rudely. I did not know what else to do, for I feared that you intended to interfere in the quarrel."
"And what if I had so intended?" asked the Mexican mine owner, with one of his puzzling smiles.
"Just this," Harry answered, candidly. "Mr. Reade never gets into a fight if he can help it. When he does find himself in one I have learned, from long experience, not to interfere unless he calls for help. So I did not want any one to interfere between him and Gato."
"It was a most unfortunate affair," said the Mexican. "Senor Tomaso, I must warn you that Pedro Gato is one who never forgives an injury. He will devote himself to thoughts of a revenge that shall be terrible enough to satisfy his wounded feelings. You will do well to be on your guard."
Tom smiled as he replied:
"Don Luis, I trust that I have seen the last of the fellow."
"Be assured that you have not seen the last of him, Senor Tomaso."
"Then it may go hard with Gato," smiled Tom, carelessly. "But I trust I have not offended you in this matter, Don Luis. If I have, I am willing to withdraw, and I will reimburse you for the expense you have incurred in bringing us here."
"I shall not let you go," smiled the Mexican, "unless you feel that you no longer wish to remain in the same country with Pedro Gato."
"That thought has not entered my mind, sir," Reade responded, almost stiffly.
"Then we will say no more about the matter, and you will remain," nodded the Mexican. "And now we will go down into the mine and give you your first chance to examine our problems there."
As they entered the shaft house it was discovered that the elevator cage was at the foot of the shaft. While they waited for the cage to come up, keen Dr. Tisco whispered to Tom:
"Senor Reade, night and day you must be unceasingly on your guard against Gato. In these mountains a hundred men will follow his beck and call."
"If they are all like him, then Gato should turn bandit," laughed young Reade.
"It is not unlikely that he will do so," sighed Tisco, with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "In Mexico, when a defeated man seeks blood revenge it is no uncommon thing for him to turn bandit until he has accomplished his hope of a terrible revenge. Then, afterwards, if the bandit has annoyed the government enough, and has repeatedly escaped capture, the bandit makes his peace with the authorities and receives his pardon."
The cage arriving at this moment, the four men entered, and started downward. Three hundred and sixty feet from the earth's surface Don Luis led them from the car into a tunnel.
"I will now show you," promised Don Luis, "something of the problem that confronts the engineers of this mine."
"Keep your eyes open, and your wits about you, Harry," whispered Tom Reade. "I may be wholly wrong, yet, somehow, I can't quite rid myself of a notion that Don Luis wants us for some piece of rascally work, though of what kind I can't imagine."
"I shall watch these two Gringos like a cat," reflected Dr. Tisco. "I half suspect that they will foolishly sacrifice their lives sooner than serve us."
TOM DOES SOME SAMPLING
At sight of Don Luis's party a Mexican foreman came running forward.
"How runs the ore this morning?" asked Don Luis.
"Not quite as well as usual, excellency," replied the man, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"How! Do you mean to tell me that the ore is running out for a streak!"
"Oh, no, excellency. Yet it is the poorest ore that we have struck for a fortnight. However, it will pay expenses and leave something for profit, too, excellency."
"Show us what you have been doing," Don Luis directed.
Leading the way with a lantern that threw a brilliant light, the foreman went on down the tunnel to the heading. As he neared the end of the tunnel the man called loudly and a number of workmen stepped aside.
As they reached the spot, Tom's quick eye saw that the morning's blasts had loosened some eight tons or so of ore. Drillers stood ready to drive through the rock for the next blast.
"Let us look at the ore, Senor Tomaso," suggested the mine owner.
Tom began to delve through the piles of shattered, reduced rock. The foreman held the lantern close, that the young engineer might have all the light he wanted, and called to miners to bring their lights closer.
Then Harry, also, began to examine the rock. For some minutes the two young engineers picked up specimens and examined them.
"What do you make of it?" inquired Don Luis Montez at last.
"Is this what you call a run of poor luck?" Tom asked the foreman, dryly.
"Yes, senor; rather poor," answered the foreman.
"Then it must be rather exciting here when the ore is running well," smiled Tom. "At a guess I should say that this 'poor' stuff before us will run thirty dollars to the ton."
"It usually runs fifty, senor," broke in Don Luis. "Sometimes, for a run of a hundred tons, the ore will show up better than seventy-five dollars per ton."
"Whew!" whistled Reade. "Then no wonder you call this the land of golden promise."
"By comparison it would make the mines in the United States look poor, would it not?" laughed the mine owner.
"There are very few mines there that show frequent runs of fifty dollars to the ton," Harry observed.
"Are you going to clear out this ore, and send it to the dump" Tom asked the foreman.
"Then I would be glad if you would do so at once," Tom remarked.
For answer the Mexican foreman stared at Tom in a rather puzzled way.
"I will do so as soon as I am ordered," he responded, respectfully.
"All right," returned Reade. "I'll give you the order. Clear this stuff out and get it up in the ore cage. Clear this tunnel floor with all the speed you comfortably can."
"Perhaps the senor will explain?" suggested the foreman.
"These caballeros are the new engineers in charge of the mine," said Dr. Tisco.
"Ah! So? Then if Pedro Gato will only give the order—" began the foreman.
"If Pedro Gato gives you any orders," Tom suggested, briskly, "you will ignore them. Pedro Gato is no longer connected with the mine."
"Not connected?" gasped the foreman, who plainly doubted his ears.
"No," broke in Don Luis. "You will take no more orders from Gato. These caballeros are the engineers, and they are in charge. You heard the order of Senor Reade. You will clean out this tunnel, sending the ore above to the dump."
"It shall be done," cried the foreman, bowing low before the mine owner.
"And now, Senor Tomaso, if it suits you, we will go to another tunnel," proposed Don Luis.
"Very good, sir," Tom assented. "What had been in my mind was to order the drillers at work here and see a blast made."
"We can be back long before the next blast can be prepared," replied Montez. "Carlos, lead the way to tunnel number four."
The secretary turned, retracing his steps, Don Luis bringing up the rear.
"Oho! I have dropped my cigar case," remarked Don Luis a minute later. "I will go back and get it."
The others waited near the shaft. Tom wondered, slightly, why Dr. Tisco had not volunteered to go back after his employer's missing cigar case.
Presently Don Luis appeared.
"Now we will go to number four," he said.
The cage carried them to a lower level. Here another foreman came forward to meet them and to conduct them to the heading. Here were some five tons of rock. Tom and Harry found it to be about the same grade of ore as that seen above.
"Is this ore as good as you usually find in this vein?" Tom inquired of the second foreman.
"Not quite, senor, though to-day's blasts have turned out to be very fair ore," responded the foreman.
"I should say it is good ore," Tom remarked dryly. "Now, will you set the shovelers at work moving this stuff back a little way? I want to see a new drilling made and watch the results of the blast."
"If Pedro Gato—" began the foreman, reluctantly.
"Pedro Gato has nothing to do with this," Tom answered quickly. "Mr. Hazelton and I are privileged to give such orders as we deem best. Will you kindly tell the foreman so, Don Luis?"
"It is quite true," replied the mine owner. "Gato is no longer with us, and these gentlemen are in charge."
"Then I will have the ore moved back at once," agreed the foreman.
"But first we will go back out of the dirt and out of the danger from the blast," spoke Don Luis, using a good deal the tone of an order.
"The rest of you may go back," suggested Reade. "But I wish to see the drilling done."
"It is unnecessary, Senor Tomaso," smiled Don Luis, blandly. "Come back with us."
"I must see the men work, Don Luis, if I am to understand the work here," Tom rejoined, very quietly, though with a firmness that was wholly apparent.
"Oh, very good then," smiled Montez, with a shrug of his shoulders.
Three of the inspecting party went back, but Tom remained close behind the drillers. Twice he stopped them in their work, to collect small samples of the pulverized stuff that the drills turned back. These specimens he placed in sample envelopes and stored in his pockets. From the ore that was being shoveled back he chose other small specimens, labeling the envelopes in which he stored them.
By the time that the ore had been shoveled well back the drillers had completed their work. Now the "dope men" came forward, putting the sticks of dynamite in place. Tom watched them closely.
"Do you call this last work well done?" Tom inquired of the foreman of the tunnel.
"Yes, yes, senor, as well as I have been able to see," responded the Mexican.
"Then come with me. Just look at the tamping. Hardly worthy of the name of tamping, is it?" Tom asked, poking at the material that had been forced in as tamping.
"Senor, my men must have been indolent, this time," admitted the foreman.
"Very indolent, or else indifferent," Tom smiled, grimly. "Here, you men, come here and let me show you how to set dynamite and tamp it. Perhaps I do not understand the job very well, but we shall see."
Ten minutes later Tom Reade abandoned his work, rather well satisfied.
"Now, when we fire the blasts, we shall move some rock, I believe," he smiled.
The wires were attached, and all hands went back, most of them going considerably to the rear of the man at the magneto battery.
A rocking explosion followed. Tom was among the first to run forward. At the heading were heaps of rock.
"Get in and pry it loose. Shovel it back," Tom ordered, in Spanish.
Shortly after, Don Luis, Dr. Tisco and Harry appeared on the scene. They found Tom turning over the ore as it came back. More than a dozen samples he dropped into envelopes, labeled them and put them away in his pockets.
"What ails this lot of ore?" inquired Harry, after looking at specimens.
"It is not running as well," said Tom briefly. "Go through the stuff and see what you think of it."
"But we have much more to see, caballeros," interposed Don Luis.
"If you will be kind enough to indulge me here, for a few minutes more, I shall be grateful," Tom informed him.
"Oh, very good," assented Don Luis, with a shrug of his shoulders. "But it is not my purpose to tire you with too many observations on our first trip through the mine."
With a fine sample of Castillian courtesy and patience, Don Luis waited, smoking, until Reade had quite finished his inspection.
"I am now at your service, Don Luis," announced the young chief engineer, rising and going toward his employer.
The remaining four tunnels of El Sombrero Mine were visited. In each tunnel was the same pile of ore awaiting them, and it all looked good. That in number three was the richest ore of all.
"Now, I think we have seen enough for today," announced Don Luis, when they had inspected number three tunnel.
"Then if you will go along and let me join you later, I shall appreciate it," Tom suggested politely.
"You wish to linger?" queried Don Luis, looking amused.
"I wish to see a blast made here," Tom replied.
"I, too, would like to see one," Harry added.
"Then we will wait for you," agreed Don Luis, with a sigh that contained just a trace of impatience.
A drilling and a blast were made. Again a lot of poor rock was loosened. Tom and Harry collected specimens, labeling them.
"Now, we will return to the house," said Don Luis.
"I would really like to put in a long day here at the mine," proposed Reade, reluctantly.
"To-morrow, then," nodded Don Luis. "But, for to-day, I am tired of this place. There is much about which I wish to consult you, caballeros, at my office."
Tom glanced swiftly, covertly at Harry, then responded:
"In that case, my dear Don Luis, we are wholly at your service."
THE MINE THAT DID AND DIDN'T
At the head of the shaft, Nicolas, the servant, awaited them.
"Nicolas, you rascal!" exclaimed Don Luis, angrily. "You have not been attending your caballeros."
"Your pardon, excellency, but the automobile moved too swiftly for me," pleaded Nicolas. "All the way to the mine I ran, and here I have waited until now."
"Keep pace with your duties hereafter, scoundrel," commanded Don Luis, angrily.
Nicolas stepped meekly to the rear of the party. It was his business to attend Tom and Harry everywhere. In Mexico one of the grade of gentleman, if he wishes only a glass of water, does not go for it; he sends the attending servant.
This time Nicolas slipped up on the front seat of the car beside the chauffeur. The car traveled at a high rate of speed over the rough road.
"It must cost you a mint of money for tires and repairs, not to speak of new cars," laughed Tom, after he had been bounced up two feet in the air as the automobile ran over a rough place in the road.
"Pouf! What does it matter, to a man who owns El Sombrero?" smiled Don Luis Montez.
"I am answered," Tom agreed. "The price of a few imported cars cannot matter much to you."
"How many better mines than El Sombrero have you seen?" questioned the mine owner, leaning forward.
"None," said Tom, promptly.
"If all days' indications are as good as those of to-day," Harry added.
"To-day has been but a poor day at the mine," murmured Dr. Tisco.
"Then El Sombrero is indeed a marvel," Tom declared.
"It is a very rich mine," nodded Don Luis. "Yet there may be richer ones, in these mountains, yet undiscovered."
"Where is the next best mine around here?" Tom inquired.
"Perhaps it is El Padre," murmured Don Luis, after a slight pause.
"Where is El Padre (the Priest) located?" Tom wanted to know.
"It is about four miles from here, up over that road," Don Luis rejoined, pointing out the direction.
"May I ask if El Padre is one of your properties, Don Luis?" Tom continued.
"No; why should I want it when I own El Sombrero?"
"Not unless you wish to own as many mines as possible."
"El Sombrero should be enough for my greatest dreams of wealth," declared Don Luis, closing his eyes dreamily.
Then the car stopped before the house.
Don Luis alighted, Tom and Harry at his heels. A servant appeared at the entrance to the court and informed him that the midday meal was ready to serve.
"We will go to the table, then," exclaimed the Mexican. "After having luncheon we shall be ready for an afternoon of hard work."
No sooner had the young engineers slipped into their seats at table than Nicolas appeared behind their chairs. He served them gravely and without a word.
For nearly an hour the luncheon lasted. Finally the dishes were cleared away and several boxes of cigars were brought. Tom and Harry both declined them. Dr. Tisco lighted a cigar at once; Don Luis spent much time in selecting his cigar. This he lighted with the same deliberation. At last the mine owner settled back in his seat.
"Caballeros," he inquired, suddenly, "what did you think of El Sombrero?"
"I would call it, Don Luis," Harry replied, with enthusiasm, "the finest mine I have seen or heard of."
"You did not see the best of the ore to-day," Montez assured them.
"What ore we did see is as fine as any we would ever wish to see," Tom said.
"Then you were delighted with the mine?" inquired their host, turning to Reade and speaking more eagerly.
"If the ore always runs as well," Tom rejoined, "it ought to be one of the richest gold and silver properties in the world."
"Pouf! The ore usually runs much better—is worth much more than that which you saw to-day," protested Don Luis.
"Then you are to be congratulated on possessing a treasure among mines," Tom commented.
"I am delighted to hear you say that."
"But when we adjourn to your office," Reade continued, "there are a few questions that I shall want to ask you."
"Why not ask them here, Senor Tomaso?" queried Don Luis, in his purring, half affectionate voice.
"Here at your table?" protested Reade.
"But this is not dinner. This is a mere business luncheon," replied Don Luis, with another smile.
"Yet I would like to discuss some of the samples with you, Don Luis," Tom explained. "Surely, you do not wish me to bring out dirty samples to spread on your fine linen."
"It would matter not," declared the Mexican. "Still, if you have scruples about the proprieties, then we will go to the office within a few minutes."
The two who were smoking continued to do so. Don Luis started to describe some of his experiments in raising Spanish mules. The finest mules that come out of Spain, class, in price, with blooded horses. Don Luis talked with the enthusiasm of one who understood and loved mules.
Then, finally, they passed to the office.
"Now, I shall be glad to talk with you for hours," the Mexican hidalgo assured the young engineers.
Dr. Tisco, as though to show that he took no personal interest in the talk, retired to an armchair at the further end of the room. Nevertheless, the secretary observed carefully all that was said. Covertly he studied the faces of the young engineers at all times.
"Ask me what you will," begged Don Luis, as he sank into an easy chair close to the table on which Tom began to arrange his envelopes of specimens taken from the mine.
"First of all, Don Luis," Tom began, "you spoke of some problems that you wished us to solve in the operation of your mine."
"Yes, Senor Tomaso."
"I would like to ask you what the problems are that we are to consider," Tom announced.
"Did you not see some of the problems before you, while we were going through the mine?" inquired Montez.
"At the risk, Don Luis, of appearing stupid, I must confess that I did not."
"Ah, well, then we shall come to the problems presently. You have other questions. Ask some of them."
For a moment or two Reade studied what he had written on the various envelopes before him. Then he picked out two.
"Here, Don Luis," the young chief engineer went on, "are samples of two lots of ore. The first is from the pile that we found pried loose when we went into the first tunnel that we visited. It is rich ore."
"It is good enough ore," Montez replied, with a polite shrug of the shoulders.
"Now, from the second tunnel that we entered, and where we also found a pile of loose ore, here is another sample. It is as rich as the first sample."
"Certainly, Senor Tomaso."
"But in this second tunnel I had a drilling made and a blast fired. Here," picking up a third envelope and emptying it, "is a sample of the ore that we saw taken from that blast. If this sample contains any gold or silver the quantity is so small, evidently, as to render this kind of ore worthless."
"Yes?" murmured Don Luis, softly. "What is it that you have to say?"
"Why, sir, how does it happen that, right on top of such extra-fine ore we run upon blank rock at the very next blasting."
"That sometimes happens in El Sombrero," Don Luis replied, smoothly,
"How often has it happened?" asked Tom, looking up from the table and glancing keenly at Don Luis.
Dr. Tisco, though he appeared to be almost asleep, stirred uneasily.
"How often has it happened?" repeated Don Luis. "Oh, perhaps a dozen times in a few months, taking all the tunnels together."
"How long have these streaks of blank rock been?" insisted Tom Reade, while Harry wondered at what his chum was driving.
"How long?" echoed Montez, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Oh, how should I know? Personally I am not interested in such things."
"But have you gone as much as a whole week drilling and blasting through blank rock?" Tom pressed.
"A week? No; not for two days. Of that I am certain. But why do you ask all this, Senor Tomaso?"
"In order that I may better understand the nature of the mine," Reade responded. "I want to know what the chances are, as based on the record of the mine to date. Of course, Don Luis, you know what it means, often, when pay ore fails to come out of a streak, and a solid wall of blank rock is encountered."
By "blank rock" Tom meant rock that did not contain a promising or paying amount of metal in the ore.
"What it means?" Montez asked. "No; I can't say that I do."
"The wall of blank rock, found at the end of a vein of gold, Don Luis, often, if not usually, means that the vein has run out, and that it is useless to dig further."
"I did not know that," murmured the Mexican, in a tone of merely polite astonishment. "Then you believe that El Sombrero will not turn out much more profitable ore?"
"I didn't say that," Tom continued. "But I will admit that finding the wall of blank rock ahead made me a bit nervous. Some great mines have been started, Don Luis, as you must be aware. For a few weeks they have panned out ore of the highest value. Much capital has been put into such mines, and for a time men have thought they owned a new Golconda. Then—suddenly—the blank wall, and no more gold has ever come out of that mine. In other words, it was but a pocket of rich gold that had been struck, and nothing more. Hundreds of men have ruined themselves by investing in such mines."
"I see," murmured Don Luis, thoughtfully.
"You did not know this before?" Tom asked, in some amazement.
"No, Senor Tomaso. I have been a good business man, I suppose, for I have prospered; and much of my money has been made in mining. Yet I have never had the assurance to consider myself a practical mining man. Dr. Tisco, here, is—"
"An ignoramus on the subject of mining," declared the secretary, who appeared just then to wake up.
"Carlos is modest," laughed Don Luis. "True, he is not a skilled mining man, yet he knows so much on the subject that, compared with him, I am an ignoramus. But that is what you are here for, you two. You are the experts. Investigate, and then instruct us."
"Have you any record of the number of times that you have encountered the blank rock, and the number of feet in thickness of the wall in each case?" Tom asked.
"That is unfortunate," said Reade, thoughtfully. "Hereafter we will keep such a record carefully. Don Luis, I will admit that I am perplexed and worried over this blank rock problem. I know Hazelton is, too."
"Yes, it is very strange," agreed Harry, looking up. Truth to tell, he had hardly been following the talk at all. Harry Hazelton was quite content to be caught napping whenever Tom Reade had his eyes open.
"Now, I would like to go back to the mine and stay there until some time in the night," Tom proposed. "I would like to take Hazelton with me. Soon we will arrange it, if necessary, so that Harry and I shall divide the time at the mine. Whenever, in any of the tunnels, blank rock is struck, whichever one of us is in charge will stay by the blank rock blasting, keeping careful record, until pay ore is struck again."
"You two young engineers are too infernally methodical," grumbled Dr. Tisco under his breath."
"That is a very excellent plan," smiled Montez, amiably. "We will put some such plan into operation as soon as we are fairly under way. But not to-day."
"I would like to start at once," Tom insisted.
"Not to-day," once more replied Don Luis, though without losing patience. "Yet, if you are anxious to know how the blank rock is coming I can telephone the mine and get all the information within five minutes. That will be an excellent idea. I will do it now, in fact."
Crossing the room, Don Luis rang and called for the mine.
"Our young engineers are very sharp—especially Senor Reade," murmured Dr. Tisco to himself, while the telephone conversation was going on in Spanish. "Yet I wonder if our young engineer does not half suspect that Don Luis has no man at the other end of the wire?"
Tom did not suspect the telephone trick. In fact, the young chief engineer had as yet no deep suspicion that Don Luis was a rogue at heart.
"The report is excellent," called Don Luis, gayly, as he came back. "In that tunnel where we saw the blasting done the blank rock has been penetrated, and the rich ore is coming again."
"How I'd like to see it!" Tom glowed.
"Why?" asked Don Luis, quickly.
"Because I am anxious to know all the secrets, all the indications, of fine old El Sombrero."
"It is a fine mine, isn't it, Senor Tomaso?" demanded Don Luis, enthusiastically.
"From all indications it ought to be," Reade answered. "Yet it's a new formation of rock to me—this sandwich formation as I might call it, with the alternate layers of rich ore and blank stuff."
"I have been drawing up a report on the mine," murmured Montez, opening a drawer in his desk. "This report describes the operations and the profits so far. Glance through it with me."
The report had been written in English, by either Dr. Tisco or his employer.
Tom and Harry listened carefully to the reading.
"But why do you put so much enthusiasm into the report, Don Luis, when the mine is not for sale and is not to be run as a stock company property?"
"Of course, El Sombrero is my sole property, and of course I shall keep it so," smiled the Mexican. "But I like, even in a report to myself, for my own use, to have the report set forth all the truths concerning the mine."
"That is reasonable," Tom agreed.
"Now, Senor Tomaso, as you have seen, this report is couched in my own English. I would be glad if you would write this out for me, putting it into better English."
"It would seem like presumption in me to think that I could put it into better English," Reade protested.
"Nevertheless, to please me, will you put this report into your own English?" requested Don Luis.
"With all the pleasure in the world," Tom assented.
"Here are writing materials, then."
"But I see that you have a typewriting machine over in the corner," suggested the young chief engineer. "I can write the report much better and more rapidly on the machine."
"Ah!" breathed the Mexican, looking highly pleased. "If you will but do that! We will go outside so as not to disturb you."
The report, being a long one and containing several tables of figures, Reade was occupied nearly three hours. During this time Don Luis conducted Harry over the estate, pointing out many things of interest. At last Tom, with a slight backache from bending so long over the machine, leaned back and carefully read what he had written.
"Do you wish anything, caballero?" inquired Nicolas, appearing as though from hiding.
"You might be good enough to tell Don Luis that I have finished, and that I await his pleasure."
Nicolas disappeared. Five minutes later Montez, his secretary and Hazelton came in. Tom read through his typewritten draft of the report.
"Excellent! gr-r-r-rand! glorious!" breathed Don Luis. "Ah, you are a master of English, Senor Tomaso. Myself, I understand Spanish better. And now one stroke of the pen for each of you," added the hidalgo, crossing the room to his desk. "As my new engineers you shall both sign this report, and I shall have much pleasure from reading this, many times, when I am an old man."
Don Luis dipped a pen in ink, then held it up. Harry was about to take the pen when Tom Reade drawled:
"It wouldn't be quite right for us to sign this report, Don Luis."
"Why not?" queried the Mexican, wheeling like a flash.
"Just for the simple reason," Reade answered, "that to sign the report would be to state all the facts contained in the report as being of our personal observation. We haven't seen enough of the mine, as yet, for it to be right for us to sign the report. An engineer's signature to a report is his statement—ON HONOR—that he personally knows such report to be true. So I am very certain you will understand that it would be a breach of honor for us to sign this document."
"Ah! He is clever—and now the real trouble must begin!" Dr. Tisco told himself. "These engineers are not easily duped, but in Don Luis's hands they will destroy themselves!"
WATCHING THE MIDNIGHT LIGHTS
Don Luis Montez laid down the pen. Outwardly he was as amiable as ever; certainly he was all smiles.
"A thousand pardons, caballeros!" he murmured. "Of course, you are quite right. It had not occurred to me in that light before. True, the report was intended only for my own pleasure in later years, but that does not alter the nice point of honor."
Tom Reade was deceived by Don Luis's manner. He did not suspect that, at this very instant, the Mexican was consumed with demoniacal rage.
"I shall not be patient another time," muttered Don Luis, between his teeth and under his breath. Yet aloud he said:
"We have had too much of business to-day. We are tiring ourselves. Until dinner time let us go outside and be gentlemen. Business for to-morrow or next week. And my dear daughter. Brute! I have been forgetting her."
Senorita Francesca, a darkly beautiful girl of eighteen, shy and retiring from the convent schooling that had ended but lately, soon came downstairs at her father's summons. Dr. Tisco bowed low before the charming girl. Tom and Harry were presented, and tried to make themselves agreeable to the young Mexican girl. Senorita Francesca's shyness, however, made this somewhat difficult, so the young engineers felt inwardly grateful when Dr. Tisco strolled down the porch with her.
Dinner proved to be a somewhat formal affair. Yet, as soon as the meal was finished Senorita Francesca was escorted from the dining room by her father and returned to her room.
"What did you think of the young lady, Tom?" Harry asked his chum when he could do so privately.
"A fine-looking girl," Reade answered briefly. "But I fear she would be highly offended if she knew that, all through dinner, my every thought was on the mine and the problems that we shall find there."
"I want to talk with you about that mine, and about some impressions that I have formed here," murmured Hazelton.
"Then another time, my dear fellow, for here comes Don Luis, and I see Dr. Tisco returning from the garden."
That forestalled conversation for the time being. When the young engineers, still relentlessly attended by Nicolas, sought their own rooms Hazelton was so drowsy that he undressed hurriedly and dropped into bed.
Later in the night Harry sat up suddenly in the dark. Some one was moving in the parlor that separated the two bedrooms. An instant after awakening Harry slipped off the bed, then stole toward the next room.
In the darkness he made out a moving figure. Like a panther Harry sprang, landing on the all but invisible figure.
"Now, I've got you!" Hazelton hissed, wrapping his arms around the prowler.
"And small credit to you," drawled Tom's dry voice. "Hist!"
"What's up?" demanded Hazelton, dropping his voice to a whisper.
"You and I are."
"But what's the matter?"
"I couldn't sleep," Tom whispered.
"You—troubled with nerves!" gasped Hazelton.
"Not just the way you understand it," returned Tom. "But I was thinking, thinking, and I sat by the window yonder. Come over there, Harry, but step without noise."
Wondering what it all meant, Hazelton softly followed his chum to the open window.
"Now, look," said Tom, pointing, "and tell me what you see."
"A moment ago I thought I saw a light twinkling over there among the hills."
"Look sixty seconds longer, and you'll see more lights, Harry; those lights are on the trail that leads from the nearest gold mines to El Sombrero. It is the trail Don Luis pointed out to us to-day."
"Harry, I'm going to get on my clothes and slip over in that direction. Do you want to go with me?"
"Yes; but what—"
"I can tell you better when we're on the way. Come on; dress! We can easily leave the house without being detected."
Though Harry had already been through hosts of adventures, he felt creepy as he dressed with speed and stealth, bent on slipping unobserved out of their employer's house. But he was used to following his chum's lead.
When both were ready, which was very soon, Tom softly opened the door of their parlor, thrusting one foot out into the broad corridor. As he did so he kicked against a man lying prostrate on the floor. It was Nicolas, the Mexican attendant, sleeping across their threshold that he might be on hand when wanted.
The man stirred, muttered something almost inaudible, then gradually began to breathe more deeply. Tom, after waiting, took a step over the body of Nicolas. Harry closed the door behind them, then followed. Soon after they stood out on the lawn.
"I'm glad Nicolas went to sleep again," muttered Tom, in a low voice. "The fellow would have insisted on following us, and I wouldn't want him with us to-night, to tell Don Luis everything."
"But what on earth—"
"Harry, old fellow, Don Luis is the essence of courtesy. He has been very polite to us, too. Yet something has aroused a suspicion in me that Don Luis Montez wishes to use us in some way that we wouldn't care to be used. So I'm saying little, but my eyes are going to be open all the time from now on."
"Oh, Don Luis must be on the square," Hazelton retorted. "What could he want of us that is crooked?"
"I don't know, yet," Tom replied, as he led the way rapidly down the road. "But I'm going to watch, and, if there's anything wrong, I'm going to get a line on it."
"El Sombrero is Don Luis's own mine. Surely he hasn't hired us to fool him about his own property."
"I don't know what it is that's wrong," Tom admitted. "Nor am I sure that anything is wrong. But I'm going to do my own watching and gather some of my own information. See, there are the lights on that trail beyond, and there are several lights. It looks like a caravan moving down the trail."
"A caravan?" Harry repeated. "Of what?"
"I don't know, Harry. That's what I'm here to-night to find out."
Brisk, soft walking brought them nearer and nearer to the twinkling lights along the trail that ran into their own road at a point lower down.
"I wish I knew what on earth Tom is thinking about," Harry muttered to himself. "However, I may as well save my breath just now. If I hang to him I'm likely to know what it is."
"We'll reach a hiding place from which we can watch that caravan, or whatever it is, turn from the hill trail into this road," Tom whispered, after they had gone somewhat further.
At this point the main road that ran from. Don Luis's estate to his mine was decidedly irregular. Many boulders jutted out, making a frequent change in the course of the road necessary. It was Tom's intention to gain the nearest ledge of rock of this sort to the hill trail, and there hide to watch the caravan.
They had nearly reached this point when out of the darkness a figure stole softly to meet them.
"Nicolas!" muttered Tom, in a low voice, all but rubbing his eyes. "How on earth did you get here?"
"Am I not commanded to keep with you everywhere, and serve you in all things?" demanded the servant. "Do not go around that next point in the road, caballeros. If you do, you will run straight into Pedro Gato, who has other men with him."
DON LUIS'S ENGINEERING PROBLEM
"Gato?" whispered Harry. "What is he doing around here?"
"There is no reason why we should care what he is doing," Tom returned. "He isn't in the employ of the mine. Come along, Harry."
But Nicolas seized the young chief engineer by the arm.
"Beat me, if you will, Senor Americano," pleaded Nicolas. "But don't encounter Gato. It would be as much as your life is worth."
"Why? Is Gato on the warpath for us?" Tom questioned.
"I fear so," Nicolas answered. "Don't let him see you."
"But I must see him, if the fellow is out for us," muttered Tom. "Show me where he is."
"He and three or four men are camped just around there," said the Mexican servant, pointing.
"Come along, Harry," Tom whispered. "Go cat-foot."
Ere the young engineers came in sight around the turn a slight glow of light against the stones caught their glance. Tom held a hand behind him as a signal to Hazelton to slow up. Then Reade peered around a jutting ledge of rock.
On the ground, around a low camp-fire, were seated four Mexicans. Two of the number had rifles, that lay on the ground near them. Behind them, an ugly scowl on his face, sat Gato, his back resting against a rock.
"But you will not find your enemies out here to-night, Senor Gato," softly remarked one of the quartette around the fire.
"No," admitted Gato, in a growling voice.
"Then why are we waiting here?"
"Because it pleases me," snapped the big fellow. "What ails you? Am I not paying you?"
"But two of us—and I am one of them—do not like to be seen," rejoined the speaker at the fire. "The troops hunt us. There is a price on our heads."
"Bandits!" muttered Tom Reade, under his breath, as he drew back. "I have heard that Mexico is overrun with bandits. These gentlemen are some of the fraternity."
"Take us up to the house, Gato," urged one of the men at the fire. "We shall know how to enter and find your friends. Everyone sleeps there. It will be the safer way."
"It does not suit me," retorted Gato, sullenly.
"But why not?"
"Am I not paying you?"
"Then take my orders and do not ask questions."
At this there were sounds of dissatisfaction from all four of these bad men.
"For one thing," Gato explained, "Don Luis would not like it. He would accuse me of treachery—or worse. I do not want Don Luis's ill will, you see."
"But Don Luis will be angry, in any case, if you injure his engineers, won't he?" asked one of the men.
"A little, but after a while, Don Luis will not care what I do to the Americanos," growled Pedro Gato.
"Humph! That's interesting—if true," whispered Tom Reade.
"Yet what are we doing here?" insisted one of the men. "Here, so close to where the troops might pick us up?"
"You are obeying orders," snarled Gato.
"But that information is not quite enough to suit us," objected one of the Mexicans.
"You might go your own way, then," sneered Gato. "I can find other men who are not so curious. However, I will say that, when daylight comes, we will hide not far from here. None of you know the Americanos by sight. I will point them out to you as they pass by in the daylight."
"And then—what?" pressed one of the rough men. "Are we to kill the Americanos from ambush?"
"Eh?" gasped Tom Reade, with a start.
"If you have to," nodded Pedro Gato. "Though, in that case, I shall call you clumsy. I shall pay you just four times as much if you bring them to me as prisoners. Remember that. Before I despatch these infernal Gringos I shall want the fun of tormenting them."
"Oh, you will eh?" thought Tom, with a slight shudder.
"I heard, Gato," ventured one of the Mexicans, incautiously, "that one of the Americanos beat you fearfully—that he threw you down and stamped on you."
"It is a lie!" uttered Gato, leaping to his feet, his face distorted with rage. "It is a lie, I tell you. The man does not live who can beat me in a fight."
"I was struck with amazement at the tale," admitted the Mexican who had brought about this outburst.
"And well you might be," continued Gato, savagely. "But the Americanos procured my discharge. And that was humiliation enough."
"Yet what difference does it make, Gato. As soon as Don Luis is through with the Americanos he will restore you to your old position."
"It is because the Americanos treated me with such contempt," retorted Pedro. "No man sneers at me and lives."
"You unhung bandit!" muttered Tom under his breath. "Why don't you tell your bandit friends that you are angry because of the trouncing I gave you before a lot of men? But I suppose you hate to lose caste, even before such ragged specimens as your friends."
Suddenly one of the men around the fire snatched at his rifle. Next scattering the embers of the fire, the fellow threw himself down flat, peering down the road.
"The troops are coming," he whispered. "I hear their horses."
"The horses that you hear are mules," laughed Gato, harshly. "It is the nightly transport of ore down to El Sombrero. Just now Don Luis is having fine ore brought over the hills from another mine and dumped into El Sombrero."
"Why should he bring ore from another mine to El Sombrero?" asked one of the men, curiously.
"How should I know?" demanded Gato, shrugging his shoulders and spitting on the ground. "Why should I concern myself with the business that belongs to an hidalgo like Don Luis?"
"It is queer that—"
"Silence!" hissed Gato. "Do not meddle with the secrets of Don Luis Montez, or you will be sorry for it."
Gato's explanation about the mule-train had quieted the fears of the bandits as to the approach of troops. In some mountainous parts of Mexico the government's troops are nearly always on the trail of bandits and the petty warfare is a brisk one.
"Go to sleep, my friends. There will be nothing to do until day comes."
"Then, good Gato, take us somewhere off this road," pleaded one of the men. "It is too public here to be to our liking."
"You may go to a quieter place," nodded Gato. "You know where—the place I showed you this afternoon. As for me, after the mule-train has left the mine, I must go there. I will join you before daybreak."
"We'll go now, then," muttered one of the men, rising.
They were coming up the road in the direction of the young engineers. There was no time to retreat. Tom glanced swiftly around. Then he made a sign to Harry. Both young engineers flattened themselves out behind a pile of stones at the roadside. Their biding-place was far from being a safe one. But four drowsy bandits plodded by without espying the eavesdroppers. As for Nicolas, he had vanished like the mist before the sun.
"Ha-ho-hum!" yawned Pedro Gato, audibly.
Tom raised his head, studying their immediate surroundings. He soon fancied he saw a safe way of slipping off to the southward and finding the road again below where Gato stood.
Signing to Hazelton, Reade rose softly and started off. Two or three minutes later the young engineers were a hundred yards away from Gato, though in a rock-littered field where a single incautious step might betray them.
"Come on, now," whispered Tom. "Toward the mine."
"And run into Gato?" grimaced Harry. "Great!"
"If we meet him we ought to get away with him between us," Tom retorted. "One of us did him up this morning."
"Go ahead, Tom!"
Reade led the way in the darkness. They skirted the road, though keeping a sharp lookout.
"There are the lights of the mule-train ahead," whispered Tom. "Now, we're close enough to see things, for there is El Sombrero just ahead."
"What's the game, anyway?" whispered Harry.
"Surely you guess," protested Tom.
"Why, it seems that Don Luis is having ore from another mine brought down in the dead of the night."
"Yes, and a lot of it," Tom went on. "Did you notice how much rich ore there was in each tunnel to-day? And did you notice, too, that when blasts were made with us looking on, no ore worthy of the name was dug loose? Don Luis has been spending a lot of money for ore with which to salt his own mine!"
"Salting" a mine consists of putting the gold into a mine to be removed. Such salting gives a worthless mine the appearance of being a very rich one.
"But why should Don Luis want to salt his own mine?" muttered Harry.
"So that he can sell it, of course!"
"But he doesn't want to sell."
"He says he doesn't," Tom retorted, with scorn. "This afternoon, you remember, he got me to copy a report in English about his mine and then he wanted us to sign the report as engineers. Doesn't that look as though he wanted to sell? Harry, Don Luis has buyers in sight for his mine, and he'll sell it for a big profit provided he can impose on the buyers!"
"What does he want us for, then? He spoke of engineering problems."
"Don Luis's engineering problem," uttered Tom Reade, with deep scorn, "is simply to find two clean and honest engineers who'll sign a lying report and enable him to swindle some man or group of men out of a fortune."
"Then Don Luis is a swindler, and we'll throw up the job," returned Harry Hazelton, vehemently. "We'll quit."
"We won't help him swindle any one," Tom rejoined. "We won't quit just yet, but we'll stick just long enough to see whether we can't expose the scoundrel as he deserves! Harry, we'll have to be crafty, too. We must not let him see, too soon, that we are aware of his trickery."
DANGLING THE GOLDEN BAIT
Creeping closer to the mine, Tom and Harry saw the ore dumped from a train of forty mules. They also heard the fellow in charge of the train say that he would be back with two more loads that night.
"We don't need to wait to see the rest of the ore brought," Tom whispered to his chum. "We know enough now."
"Look over there," urged Hazelton. "There goes the rest of the trick. Men are shoveling the borrowed ore into the ore hoists."
"Of course," nodded Tom, disgustedly. "The ore is going below, to be piled in the tunnels. It will be 'salted' there all right for us to inspect in the morning. Oh, this trickery makes me sick!"
"What are you going to do now?" Hazelton asked.
"We may as well go back to the house and get some sleep."
"I'm strong for getting out of here in the morning," Harry muttered.
"Fine!" Tom agreed. "So am I. But what I want to do is to find out who is marked out for the victim of this gigantic swindle. I want to put the victim wise. I'd be wild if I failed to find Don Luis's intended dupe and tell him just what he's in for."
"Do you imagine that Montez will ever allow us to get face to face with the man who's to be fleeced?"
"He won't do it intentionally, Harry. But we may have a way of locating the victim in time to save him from being robbed."
"Anyway, I should think the victim would have every chance in the world to sue and get his money back," Harry mused.
"How is one to get back the money that he has put into a gold mine?" Tom demanded. "Everyone knows that the most honest mine is a gamble. It may stop turning out paying ore at any hour. Besides, what show would a stranger have in the courts in this part of Mexico? You have heard Don Luis boast that he practically owns the governor of Bonista. No, sir! The only way to stop a swindle will be to stop it before it takes place."
Tom rose from his hiding place, back in the dark away from the lights at the mine shaft. He nudged his chum, then started to creep away. Presently they rose and moved forward on foot. Ere long they had left the mine well behind.
"I hate to go back into that polished robber's house at all," Harry muttered. "Tom, what do you say? We can cover at least the first dozen miles between now and daylight. Let's make a streak for the railway and get back to the States."
"But what about saving the victim of the intended swindle?" objected Reade.
"We could come out with a newspaper exposure that would stop any American from buying the mine, or putting any money into it," proposed Hazelton.
"We might, only no newspaper would print such stuff. It would be libelous, and subject the newspaper editor to the risk of having to go to jail."
"All I know," sighed Harry, "is that I want, as speedily as possible, to put as much distance as possible between us and Don Luis's home."
"We'll go out through the front door, though, when we go," Tom proposed. "We won't sneak."
They did not encounter Gato on the way back to the big, white house. Though they did not know it, the boys were being trailed by the alert, barefooted Nicolas. Nor did that servant feel easy until he had seen them softly enter the house. Then Nicolas, as before, stretched himself on the floor before the door of the rooms occupied by the young engineers.
Tom's alarm clock woke him that morning. In another moment Reade was vigorously shaking Hazelton.
"Now don't give a sign to-day," Tom whispered to his friend. "If Don Luis is going to be crafty, we shall have to fight him with craft—at the outset, anyway."