MoboReader > Literature > The Young Engineers in Mexico; Or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers


The Young Engineers in Mexico; Or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 18197

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

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.

"Nothing else?"

"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 an

d 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.

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