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   Chapter 1 THE LAND OF GOLDEN EGGS

The Young Engineers in Mexico; Or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 22305

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


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 busines

s 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."

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