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   Chapter 3 GATO STRIKES THE UP TRAIL

The Young Engineers in Mexico; Or, Fighting the Mine Swindlers By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 11340

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"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."

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