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Title: The Broncho Rider Boys with Funston at Vera Cruz - Or, Upholding the Honor of the Stars and Stripes
Author: Fowler, Frank
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Broncho Rider Boys with Funston at Vera Cruz - Or, Upholding the Honor of the Stars and Stripes" ***

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[Illustration: "THIS IS NO PLACE FOR ME," COMMENTED BILLIE AS HE
KEPT HIMSELF WELL HIDDEN BEHIND A GIANT CACTUS.

_The Broncho Rider Boys with Funston at Vera Cruz. Page 33._]

               The Broncho Rider Boys

               With Funston at Vera Cruz


     Upholding the Honor of the Stars and Stripes

                    By FRANK FOWLER

                       AUTHOR OF

"The Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers," "The Broncho
  Rider Boys at Keystone Ranch," "The Broncho Rider
    Boys Down in Arizona," "The Broncho Rider Boys
       Along the Border," "The Broncho Rider
            Boys on the Wyoming Trail."

[Illustration]

       A. L. BURT COMPANY
           NEW YORK.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

        Copyright, 1916
     BY A. L. BURT COMPANY

THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH FUNSTON AT VERA CRUZ

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH
  FUNSTON AT VERA CRUZ.



CHAPTER I.

A DARING ADVENTURE.


"Let me look, Billie," and Donald reached out his hand for the
field glass through which Broncho Billie was gazing down from the
summit of Real del Monte upon the plain of Quesco, through which
the Pachuca river winds its way. "Maybe I can make out who they
are."

Billie handed over the glass without a word and stood expectant,
while Donald scrutinized closely a body of horsemen--twenty or
more in number--which had halted beside the railroad that
connects the little city of Pachuca with the City of Mexico.

"They are not soldiers, that's certain," was Donald's comment
after he had inspected the riders carefully for a couple of
minutes.

"That's what I thought," from Billie. "They look like a bunch of
_vaqueros_ to me; but what would a crowd of fifty cowpunchers be
doing in a country where the only cattle are goats?"

"That's right!" laughed Donald, greatly amused at Billie's odd
expression, "but still that is what they appear to be. Perhaps
they are expecting a drove of cattle up on the train."

"More likely they are expecting a load of bullion going down to
the City of Mexico," remarked the third of the party. "What do
you think, Pedro?" turning to the fourth of the boys who composed
the quartette.

"I am afraid you are right, Adrian," replied Pedro, with an
accent which denoted that of the four he was the only one who was
not of an English-speaking race.

"You don't think they would hold up a train in broad daylight,
and that not more than five miles from town, do you?" queried
Billie.

"If they are what I suspect," declared Pedro, "I think they would
hold it up at the station, if there were only a few more of
them."

"And what do you think they are?"

"I think they are Zapatistas."

"What are they?" asked Donald.

"Followers of the bandit leader, Emilio Zapata."

"Which side does he belong to?" asked Adrian. "Huerta or
Carranza?"

"Neither. He is simply a bandit, and his followers prey upon any
whom they find unprotected."

"And do you really think they are going to hold up and rob the
train from Pachuca?"

"_Sin duda!_" meaning without doubt.

"Then we must prevent them," declared Donald emphatically.

"What business is it of ours?" asked Billie. "If one bunch of
Mexicans wants to rob another bunch, especially if the second
bunch are Huertistas, I don't know that it is for us to
interfere. I'm not looking for trouble."

"You're not afraid, are you? If----"

"Say, Don," interrupted Billie, "what's the use of always asking
such foolish questions? If I remember rightly, the last time you
asked me that question was up on the Rio Grande a year ago, about
the time that I was swimming rivers and breaking into prisons
with the Texas Rangers to get you and Ad out of trouble. Now
why----"

Donald held up both hands.

"That's enough, Billie," he laughed. "I'll take it all back. Of
course you're not afraid. But I insist we must prevent this
hold-up."

"And again I ask, why?"

"Because there may be women and children on the train and----"

"That's enough," exclaimed Billie. "You needn't go on with the
rest. But what's the plan? We're a good ten miles from those
chaps--unless we had an airship."

"And then how far do you think it is?" queried Adrian.

"Well," replied Billie slowly, as he squinted up one eye, "I
should say they are about four miles away as the crow flies. But
we are not crows. By the Real road, it is at least ten miles."

"There must be a short cut somewhere," insisted Donald.

"There is," explained Pedro. "Just around the next turn in the
road there is a goat path that leads down to the river. If you
are not afraid of getting wet----"

"There you go," laughed Billie. "Afraid of getting wet! Just
let's settle it once for all that we are not afraid of anything
that it is right for us to do."

Pedro laughed good-naturedly.

"Well, then, since we are not afraid of getting wet, we can
follow the river for about two miles by fording it several times,
and emerge on the plain a mile this side of the clump of trees
which hides those fellows from the highway."

"And then what?" from Billie.

"That is as far as I've gone."

"Then you'll have to do better. Just as soon as we emerge from
behind those trees, we'll be a fair target. Four against twenty
is 'most too much on an open plain."

For several minutes no one spoke. It was Adrian who broke the
silence.

"I think I see a way, not only to save the train, but possibly to
capture the bandits."

The boys looked up in surprise.

"Do you notice how the railroad curves in toward the hills just
after it crosses the river bridge?" he continued, pointing out
the place he meant.

"Sure, we see it," from Billie.

"Well, when we leave the river, instead of riding toward that
bunch of trees, we'll ride the other way. That will bring us to
the railroad track near the curve. Then we'll ride up the track.
If we do not reach the station before the train leaves, we can
flag it. There is sure to be at least half a dozen guards aboard.
We will make ten. Most of the men aboard will have revolvers. The
result will be that instead of the bandits taking the train by
surprise, we will take them by surprise, and----"

"And the army that takes the other by surprise wins," finished
Billie, taking off his sombrero and bowing to Adrian in mock
gravity. Then to Pedro, "Let the scout lead the way and the army
will fall in behind, with the general at the head."

A laugh followed Billie's words, and putting spurs to their
horses, the four lads dashed down the mountain road upon their
self-appointed mission, which was by no means the first daring
adventure in which they had engaged; for the stories of the
doings of the three American lads in the quartette have furnished
interesting reading for thousands of American boys.

It is because of their numerous adventures and their skill as
horsemen that the trio has become known as the Broncho Rider
Boys. Their names are Donald Mackay, Adrian Sherwood and William
Stonewall Jackson Winkle, better known as "Broncho Billie." This
latter name was given him some two years before when he went to
visit his cousin Donald at the latter's home on the Keystone
Ranch in Wyoming. It was not given him because he was such an
expert rider, but because he could fall from his broncho pony
easier than any boy in that section. Rotund in appearance, he was
as jolly as he was fat, and his chief failing was his appetite.
No matter what the hour, no one ever mentioned eats that Billie
was not hungry.

When he first came West he was supposed to be in poor health. It
speedily developed that such was not the case. He was simply
hungry. Months in the open air had enabled him to eat without
fear and he was now about the most robust specimen of boy that
any one ever saw.

Donald, the oldest of the trio, was one of those level-headed
chaps who had a knack of doing the right thing at the right time.
His judgment had been proven good in many a tight place and under
many thrilling conditions. As a result, he was generally looked
up to as a leader by the others, although it must be admitted
that Adrian was also a lad of sense and plenty of nerve.

Adrian was the owner of a large Wyoming ranch, and one of the
books which has proved most interesting to American boys is known
as The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming Trail, a story of how
Adrian saved his property from being taken away from him by a
dishonest uncle.

About a year previous to the time this story opens, these three
boys had been on a trip along the Rio Grande, when they fell in
with Capt. June Peak and a company of Texas Rangers, who had been
detailed to keep watch of the actions of a band of cattle
smugglers. Sent across the river into Mexican territory on a
secret mission, the Broncho Rider Boys had the good fortune to
rescue Pedro Sanchez, the fourth member of the quartette, from
the hands of a band of ruffians. Pedro turned out to be the son
of Gen. Sanchez of the Mexican army, who was visiting an uncle in
northern Mexico. After a series of thrilling adventures, which
are told in full in The Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas
Rangers, Donald, Adrian and Billie returned to their homes,
promising to visit Pedro in the City of Mexico whenever the time
was ripe.

During the time that the boys were scouting in Mexico they had
learned to speak Spanish quite well, and this knowledge had been
so improved during their visit with Pedro that they now spoke the
language well, an accomplishment which proved of much value to
them later on.

About a month prior to the day upon which this story opens, the
three Americans had met by appointment at New York City and had
come to Vera Cruz by boat and thence to the City of Mexico, where
they found everything in a greatly disturbed condition because
of the revolution which had been started some months previous by
Gen. Carranza.

It might be well right here to state briefly the history of the
previous few months in Mexico, so that all may understand how it
happened that none of the four boys had a very high opinion of
Gen. Huerta, at that time dictator of Mexico.

For nearly 35 years, up to 1911, Mexico had a peaceful existence
under a republican form of government. During the last 32 years
of that time Porfirio Diaz was president. Just prior to 1912 a
revolution was begun against what had come to be called the Diaz
government, and Diaz was compelled to flee from Mexico. The
revolution was headed by Francisco Madero, who was then made
president.

In February of 1913 a revolution was started against President
Madero by Felix Diaz, nephew of Porfirio Diaz, and the City of
Mexico was attacked. At that time Gen. Huerta was in command of
Madero's forces in the City of Mexico. He proved a traitor to
Madero, went over to Diaz, arrested Madero and confined him in
prison. Two days later, April 22, 1913, President Madero was shot
by order of Huerta, who then declared himself dictator. At the
same time he asked that the other nations of the earth recognize
him as the head of the Mexican government, a thing which the
government of the United States refused to do.

March 26, 1913, another revolution was started, this time
against Gen. Huerta by Gen. Carranza, governor of the state of
Chihuahua. This revolution had been in progress more than a year
when this story opens.

Pedro's father, Gen. Sanchez, had been a friend of President
Madero. When Madero was shot, Gen. Sanchez fled to Pachuca where
he had a large hacienda and also owned vast interests in the
silver mines at Real del Monte, some six miles up the mountains.
Later, however, he was promised protection by Gen. Huerta, who
was anxious to have the friendship of such a prominent man, and
returned to the City of Mexico. It was some time after this,
about March 1, 1914--when matters had quieted down in the City of
Mexico--that the three American boys went to visit Pedro.

A few days previous to the one on which we find the four boys
headed for the railroad to foil the would-be train robbers, they
had come to Pachuca, which is located some sixty miles from the
City of Mexico, on horses furnished them by Gen. Sanchez, to see
the mines and the beautiful mountains overlooking the plains of
Quesco. Every day they took long rides in various directions, in
spite of the unsettled condition of the country--a condition
which compelled them always to go armed with their trusty Marlins
and Colts--and that is how they happened to be on the Real road
at such an opportune time.

With these explanations, it is no wonder that the boys were keen
for the adventure upon which they were now embarked.

A sharp ride of fifteen minutes brought them to the river and
into it the horses plunged. At places it was only knee deep and
at other places where they were obliged to cross it was necessary
for the horses to swim; but this was only fun for the Broncho
Rider Boys.

Half an hour after sighting the bandits, the boys halted on the
railroad track, well secreted from their quarry by the curve
before mentioned.

"And none too soon," declared Donald as the sharp whistle of the
engine was heard perhaps half a mile away.

"How shall we flag her?" asked Pedro.

"With that red bandana handkerchief on Billie's neck," replied
Donald as he reached over and snatched the neckwear from its
place.

Springing from his horse, he ran up the track waving the red
signal as he ran.

A sharp blast from the whistle a couple of minutes later gave
proof that the danger signal had been seen, and the grinding of
the brakes told that the train was coming to a stop. Even before
this was an accomplished fact the conductor swung himself from
the front car and came running down the track to see what was the
matter, while the guards covered the boys with their carbines.

"What do you mean by stopping the train?" he demanded angrily.

Donald explained in as few words as possible.

The conductor signalled the guards to him and told them what
Donald had said.

"What had we better do?" asked the conductor.

"We had better go back to Pachuca for help," replied the guards.

"And let the Zapatistas escape!" exclaimed Billie hotly. "What do
you want to do that for?"

"We have only six guards," the conductor explained, "and----"

"And that, with us, makes ten," interrupted Billie.

The conductor regarded the boy with surprise.

"Do you mean you will join us to help capture the bandits?"

"What do you think we're here for?" asked Billie.

"Yes," chimed in Adrian. "What do you suppose we stopped the
train for?"

"But even ten are no match for twenty or more," declared the
guard.

"Of course they are," said Donald, "if the twenty are taken by
surprise."

"Which they will not be if we don't act pretty quick," insisted
Billie. "Come on! Let's go after them," and he climbed up onto
the car.

"That's what I say," said Pedro, following Billie's example.

Without more words the others followed and the conductor gave the
signal to go ahead.

"How about the horses?" asked Donald, turning to Pedro.

"They'll be all right; but if we capture the Zapatistas we'll
have horses enough any way."

"And if we don't," remarked Billie grimly, "there'll be some
riderless horses any way."

"Let us hope that they will not be the ones we have left behind,"
said Donald gravely.



CHAPTER II.

A STRANGE MIX-UP.


While the train was gathering headway the conductor and the
guards rounded up all the men they could find on the train who
were armed. There were more than a dozen, so that in point of
numbers, the force on the train nearly equalled the Zapatistas.
These were so stationed at the windows that they could give the
would-be robbers a warm reception.

"We must use some strategy," declared Adrian, "or we will simply
succeed in killing a few and scaring away the others. That will
not be a very brilliant deed."

"No," from Donald, "but it will save the bullion. What's your
plan?"

"Well, I was thinking it would be a good plan to separate the
train."

"How?"

"You can see it is all down grade from here to where the bandits
are waiting for us."

"Yes."

"As soon as we get to running a good speed, Billie and I will go
into the express car with the three guards. You and Pedro stay
here with the other guards and the passengers. As we near the
bandits, uncouple the train, put on the brakes and stop the
coaches. We will rush by with the engine and express car, firing
as we go----"

"Which will be all right," interrupted Billie, "if they don't
ditch the engine."

Adrian's face fell.

"I hadn't thought of that."

"Well, you'd better."

After a moment Adrian's face brightened.

"They might better ditch the engine and express car than the
whole train," he declared.

"Right you are," from Donald. "If you and Billie are game enough
to try it, I say it is the proper thing. If they ditch the
engine, we will be back a ways and can run down to your
assistance. If they don't ditch you, we will have them between
two fires."

"Just what I thought," replied Adrian. "How about it, Billie?"

"I'm game. My head may be a little thick, but I can see just as
far through a two-inch plank as the next one."

"All right, then. Come on," and Adrian led the way into the car
ahead, while Donald and Pedro stood by to uncouple as soon as
they passed the clump of trees before alluded to.

Almost at the same instant several sharp blasts from the whistle
gave the danger signal, and Donald threw over the coupling lever
and put on the brake. The coaches slowed quickly down, but the
engine and express car dashed in between the horsemen stationed
on either side of the track.

Prepared for what they knew was coming, the engineer and fireman
had thrown themselves down on the floor of the cab, while Adrian,
Billie and the three guards poured a volley into the robbers as
they passed and several horses lost their mounts.

This fire was followed by a fusillade from the horsemen and a
minute later the engine, striking an unspiked rail, rolled
completely over into the ditch, wrenching itself clear from the
express car, which, after bumping over the ties for several
seconds, suddenly ceased its antics and glided smoothly along.

As by a miracle it had run completely over the space from which
the rail had been loosed and landed upon the good track, down
which it now sped.

So unexpected was the change from ties to track that Adrian and
Billie were unable for a few moments to understand what had
happened. Then Billie rushed to the door and seized the hand
brake.

"Grab hold and help stop this car," he yelled to Adrian, "or
there is no knowing where we'll land."

Adrian hastened to obey, but the wrench that had been given the
car when the engine broke loose had put the brake out of
commission and the car sped on.

The three Mexican guards now appeared on the platform and gazed
wildly up the track where they could see the fight going on
between the bandits and their companions.

"What shall we do, Señor?" asked one of them.

"Search me," from Billie. "How long is this grade?"

"It is down hill all the way to Pitahaya."

"How far is that?"

"Ten kilometers from Pachuca."

"That must be about three miles farther," said Adrian.

"Correct," from Billie, "but unless it's a mighty steep up-grade
the other side of Pita-what's-its-name, we're going so fast we'll
not stop till we've run away past it."

"Well, what of it? We can coast back, can't we?"

The car gave a lurch to one side that almost threw the boys off
the platform.

"We're certainly going some," called Adrian. "Hang on!"

And hang on they did until they dashed past the little station of
Pitahaya and after several minutes began to slow down.

"This is a little better," Adrian finally remarked as the car
showed some sign of coming to a stop.

"Yes, indeed," from Billie. "I suppose we'll come to a dead stop
soon. Do you think she'll start back on her own hook, or shall we
have to start her?"

"We'll soon see," and see they did, for a couple of minutes later
the car came to a stop.

For some minutes the five occupants of the car waited to see if
it would start back down the grade. When it did not they got off
to decide what could be done.

"It's a mighty steep hill," Billie ventured. "Looks as though the
five of us ought to start it. Let's try."

The five put their shoulders against the car and pushed with all
their might, but it refused to budge.

"If we only had a crowbar," said Adrian, "we could start it in a
jiffy. Suppose some of you look in the car. There might be one
there."

The three Mexicans jumped to obey.

Directly they appeared in the doorway with a large claw-bar in
their hands.

"Will this do?" asked one.

"Sure! Throw it off," said Billie, "and I'll soon start the old
caboose."

Picking up the bar, Billie inserted the claw under one of the
wheels while Adrian stood with his hand on the car rail ready to
spring aboard.

At the first attempt the claw slipped and nothing happened, but
at the second attempt the wheels yielded a little.

"This time she'll go," Billie called. "All aboard!"

Adrian sprang onto the car as Billie bore down upon the bar and
the wheels began to revolve.

"Never mind the bar," cried Adrian as he saw that Billie was
raising the implement to throw it onto the platform. "Jump
aboard!"

Billie started to obey, but the advice came too late. As he
dropped the bar it struck one end of a tie, flopped over and hit
him on the shin.

"Wow!" he yelled, grabbing his ankle with both hands.

"Never mind your leg," shouted Adrian. "Jump on or you'll be
left."

Billie tried to obey, but the car was now under headway and
although he sprinted his best, he was soon left behind.

Adrian started to jump off the car, but seeing his intention
Billie called to him not to do it.

"I'll get there some time," he called. "Just tell them I'm
coming," and he stood in the middle of the track looking ruefully
after the rapidly disappearing car.

After some moments he picked up the claw-bar and threw it
spitefully into the ditch beside the track, as much as to say,
"Lay there! You're the cause of all the trouble." Then he started
slowly after the car.

In the meantime Adrian was flying as fast back toward Pachuca as
he had been flying away from it only a few minutes before. It
could not have been more than ten minutes altogether since the
wreck of the engine and Adrian figured that if the grade were
steep enough the car might gain momentum enough to carry it back
to the scene of the trouble; but he had little hope that it
would.

When he shot through Pitahaya on his return trip, however, he saw
that the car was going at a terrific rate of speed.

"What do you think?" he asked one of the Mexicans. "Do you think
we'll get all the way back?"

"Cierto," was the reply. "When they first built this road they
used to have mules haul the car to the top of this hill and then
turn it loose and it would run almost to Pachuca. That was before
it had any engines."

Adrian looked at the man and winked one eye very slowly.

"Señor, it is true," spoke up another. "I was a guard at the
time."

Adrian could scarcely believe the statement, but he afterward
learned that the men spoke the truth.

"Well, then," he said, "we had better look to our arms, for we
may need them. There is no knowing how this affair has turned
out."

The advice was well taken, for as they drew near the scene of the
wreck, they saw that they were badly needed. More than a dozen
horsemen were in sight at some distance from the wreck and with
their long-range rifles were doing their best to pick off any one
who showed his head.

"Our party must be out of ammunition," suggested Adrian, "or they
would give a better account of themselves."

"Our carbines would not carry that far," explained one of the
guards.

"Our Marlins will," replied Adrian, and as he spoke there were
two simultaneous flashes from two of the car windows and two of
the bandits fell, one shot from his horse and the other with his
horse shot under him.

For a moment the other horsemen hesitated as to the course they
should pursue and then, putting spurs to their horses, they
dashed toward the train, just as the express car, having reached
the end of the track, bumped onto the ties and came to a stop.

"Now!" cried Adrian as the riders drew near, firing as they came,
and four shots rang out.

The volley from so unexpected a quarter took the horsemen
completely by surprise, and they pulled up with a jerk. The
action proved their undoing, for as they stood thus for a moment,
they gave those in the train the opportunity they desired and the
volley that followed turned four more riderless horses upon the
plain.

It was more than flesh and blood could stand, and the seven or
eight remaining horsemen turned and fled, followed by at least
three whistling bullets from as many Marlins.

The fight was over and the bullion had been saved, but what of
Broncho Billie, who had been left at the top of the hill four
miles away?

That was the first question asked by Donald when he greeted
Adrian two minutes later.

"Oh, he's all right," was the laughing reply. "He's just taking a
little walk for his health."

But when Billie failed to put in an appearance an hour later, the
boys mounted their horses and started up the track to meet him,
leading Billie's mount between them.



CHAPTER III.

BILLIE LOSES HIS NERVE.


Broncho Billie was not a rapid walker. In fact, if there was any
one thing in which Billie was not a success, it was walking. He
could ride a horse all day, but when it came to depending upon
his own legs as a means of locomotion, he was a dead failure.

Therefore he walked slowly along, counting the ties as he went.

"They certainly do lay 'em thick," he mused after some minutes.
"Three hundred and one, three hundred and two, three hundred and
three, three hundred and four, three hun----"

He stopped short and looked behind him.

"I sure thought I heard some one," he muttered. "It must have
been a bird."

He turned and started forward.

"Let's see, where was I? Oh, yes, three hundred and five, three
hundred and six, three hundred and----"

Again he stopped, but did not turn around. Instead he stooped
down as though to pick up a stone, which enabled him to look
backward between his knees.

He caught a movement in the grass at the edge of the right of
way.

"I thought so," he muttered. "Now to find out who it is, and what
he wants."

He picked up a small stone and threw it at a tall cactus which
grew near the track some distance ahead.

"Good shot," he said aloud as the stone hit the stalk. "I wonder
if I could do it again."

He stooped down and picked up another stone, taking a good look
backward from his stooping position. There was not a movement to
indicate the presence of a living thing.

"This is getting on my nerves," the boy mused as he picked up
several small stones and again walked forward. "I don't mind
being followed by a white man, but I'm a whole lot leary of these
greasers. They're bad enough when they're friendly."

Then aloud, as he threw a couple of stones: "I'll never get
anywhere if I don't make better time than this. I'll just sprint
a few."

Suiting the action to the word, he started on a run.

Almost immediately he was aware of a soft pat-pat in his rear. He
had heard a similar sound in the wilds of Wyoming and he
recognized it at once.

It was the footfall of a four-legged animal.

"So!" he ejaculated. "I wonder what it is. If there were wolves
down here I would say it was a wolf, but I don't believe there
are." Then a minute later, "Well, whatever it is, I'm going to
find out."

He whipped out his automatic and turned suddenly.

As before, not a single living thing was in sight, only in the
grass a movement as before.

Without a moment's aim, he fired a single shot at the spot. It
was an act born of fear and Billie knew it, but for the life of
him he could not have done otherwise, so nervous had he become.

The report was followed by a cry of pain and an instant later
there came running directly toward him out of the tall grass a
figure so weird that Billie stood as one paralysed.

The figure was that of a man not more than two feet high, with
long arms and a head of diminutive size. While it stood upright
at times, at others it came forward on all fours. To Billie it
seemed a cross between a man and a monkey.

Gathering his wits in an instant, Billie would have fired
again--in fact, raised his revolver to do so, when the strange
creature fell to its knees and raised its hands in supplication.

"By George!" exclaimed the lad as he stood with lowered weapon.
"What kind of a thing is this? I wonder if it can talk?"

Then as he took a step toward it: "I'm not going to hurt you.
Come here."

The creature arose to its feet and came slowly toward him. As it
did so Billie noticed that blood was running from a wound in its
scalp.

"Poor thing," he said. "That must have been where the bullet hit
him. It was a close shave."

"Can you talk?" he finally asked.

The strange creature turned its head to one side and eyed him
closely, but no sound came from its lips.

"It must be an ape of some sort," mused the boy; "but how did it
become so tame?"

He slowly returned his automatic to its holster, thinking in the
meantime how he could dress the creature's wound; but no sooner
had his hand left his weapon than the ape sprang at him with the
utmost fury. It landed on his shoulder, wound its legs about his
neck, and with its long arms made a wild grab for the revolver.

Then began a strange and terrible struggle for the possession of
the weapon. Even as he fought the beast, Billie realized that in
some manner the ape had learned to fear firearms, but whether it
had ever learned to use them he could not venture a guess. He
felt certain if he could draw the weapon and point it at the ape,
it would at once cringe in fear. What might happen if the ape
should get possession of it, he could only imagine.

For a youth of eighteen, there were few whom Billie met that were
his match physically, but this diminutive man-animal held him as
in a vise. Billie exerted every ounce of his strength to free
himself from the terrible hold, while the ape fought even more
fiercely to retain its grip and to gain possession of the weapon.

It was a weird and fearful struggle waged there in the stillness
of the tropical woodland--a stillness broken only by the
occasional wild scream of the ape, or the hoarse breathing of the
boy as he fought to free himself from that horrible grasp.

The struggle must have lasted for two or three minutes--to Billie
it seemed hours--when by a sudden wrench the lad managed to free
his left arm sufficiently to get the beast by the throat. For an
instant it loosed its hold on his right arm and that act decided
the battle.

Finding his right arm free, Billie seized his revolver and
without drawing it from the holster pulled the trigger.

At the sound of the shot, the ape uttered a plaintive cry,
relaxed its hold upon the lad and fell upon its knees on the
ground with its hands raised in supplication as previously.

"I ought to shoot you," declared the lad between his gasps for
breath as he drew the weapon from its holster and pointed it at
the animal, "but I won't. I'll take you with me and maybe I can
sell you for enough to pay me for the scare you've given me. Now,
march!"

He pointed with his finger down the track, but the beast would
not stir.

"Don't you intend to do what I tell you?"

The animal perked up his head and kept his eye upon the revolver.

"Well," exclaimed Billie as he drew a long breath, "this is the
limit. I can't make you mind and I won't hurt you. I guess the
only thing I can do is to go and leave you."

Suiting the action to the word, Billie turned and started down
the track, his revolver still in his hand.

He had not gone more than a dozen steps, before he heard the soft
pat-pat behind him, and on looking back could see nothing but the
waving grass to indicate the whereabouts of his erstwhile
assailant.

"So I am to be followed, am I? Well, all right." Then, as an
afterthought: "I wonder how I can catch him when I want him. I
wonder if this will do," and he raised his weapon and pointed it
toward the moving grass.

With the same plaintive cry which Billie had come to recognize
as one of fear, the animal ran toward him and sank to his knees.

Billie smiled.

"It's all right, old chap. As long as I know how to handle you,
why you can follow me right back to the train."

Again he started down the track at a brisk walk, it having just
occurred to him that there might be something doing at the other
end of his journey.

Twenty minutes later he reached the station at Pitahaya where he
had expected to find Adrian and the three Mexicans awaiting him,
but, as we know, they had gone on to the scene of the wreck. Not
realizing just what had happened, but always on the alert for the
unexpected, Billie, therefore, began an inspection of the
station.

It did not take him long to discover that Pitahaya was little
more than a siding with a one-room building, which was used as a
freight house and a waiting room. It did not even boast of a
station master.

"There must be some reason for having a building here," he mused.
"There must be some sort of a settlement around somewhere. But
what's that to me? I might as well be jogging along towards
Pachuca."

Then he bethought him of the ape, which he had no mind to lose
after his exciting experience. But the animal was nowhere to be
seen.

"I wonder if I could raise him with a shot," soliloquized
Billie.

He raised his weapon, which he still carried in his hand, and
fired aimlessly, while he turned his eyes in various directions,
but there was nothing to be seen.

"Oh, well," he thought, "what's the difference? He'd just be a
nuisance anyway. I might as well be trudging along."

He jumped off the station platform and proceeded down the track,
filling the magazine to his automatic as he went. Then having
finished the task, he returned it to his holster and once more
began counting the ties.

"One, two, three, four, five, six----"

Bing! And a stone whistled by his head.

Billie turned, and as he did so a second stone from the same
source struck him on the temple, and he fell to the ground.

A second later the ape sprang from a palm beside the station and
ran toward him, stopping every few feet to see if the lad would
rise.

When within a few feet of the prostrate lad the animal made a
leap and landed upon his body. In another instant it had gained
possession of Billie's weapon, which it examined curiously for a
moment, ere it sprang away and stationed itself some two rods
distant, where it sat watching with the weapon aimed directly at
him.

For perhaps five minutes the two retained their relative
positions and then Billie began to regain consciousness. Several
times he moved uneasily and then he suddenly sat up and looked
around.

"I wonder what happened," he finally thought, and then he became
conscious of a pain in his head.

He raised his hand to the aching spot and his fingers encountered
a big lump.

The truth came upon him like a flash. He dropped his hand to his
holster, and sprang to his feet.

As he did so he caught sight of the ape and found himself looking
into the business end of his own weapon.

With a yell he dropped to the ground as though the expected had
happened.

But when no shot followed, he began to regain his wits and lay
still trying to figure out once more just how much the ape might
know about the use of the weapon.

He remembered the old saying that a gun was a dangerous weapon
without lock, stock or barrel, because a man killed his wife
with the ramrod; and so he figured that an animal which had
intelligence enough to throw a stone and knock him senseless,
might have sense enough to fire a revolver.

"If I only knew something about his history," soliloquized
Billie, "I might be able to guess how much he knew. But he is a
perfect stranger to me. I don't even know his name."

After several minutes and nothing had happened, Billie decided to
make some effort to get away.

"I might as well be shot as to be prisoner to an ape," he
thought, and so he arose to a sitting posture and surveyed the
scene.

There sat the ape as before, with the automatic pointed at
Billie, but with a puzzled look upon its face. When the lad
finally arose, the ape appeared still more puzzled and at length,
turning the weapon away from Billie, looked into the muzzle.

"That settles it," exclaimed Billie. "He doesn't know how to fire
it. I'll go and take it away from him."

He started toward the animal, which at once pointed the revolver
in Billie's direction. There came a sharp report and a bullet
whizzed by the boy's head.

"Worse and more of it," exclaimed Billie. "He doesn't know how to
use the thing, but he's liable to shoot me as long as I stay in
range. I'll just make myself scarce."

Stooping down, he picked up a good-sized stone and hurled it at
the ape and then, without waiting to see the result of his throw,
jumped into the jungle which lined both sides of the track,
determined to make a detour and if possible lose his unpleasant
companion.

He had not run far before he realized that the ape was following,
but this he did not mind. There were plenty of trees between
them, and he felt sure he would soon be able to reach some sort
of a habitation, when he suddenly found himself on the edge of a
deep basin into which he plunged before he was able to gain his
equilibrium.



CHAPTER IV.

THE ROSARIO VIEJO.


To be suddenly pitched head-foremost down a rocky declivity into
a mass of prickly pear bushes and other tropical brambles is by
no means pleasant; and as a result Billie was not in the best of
humor when he picked himself up and looked to the top of the
60-foot embankment down which he had slid.

"It's a wonder they wouldn't hang out a red light when they dig a
hole like this," he declared angrily, "and not let a fellow most
break his neck, to say nothing of scratching his eyes out! This
is worse than a subway cave-in."

He pulled himself together and surveyed his surroundings.

The basin looked very much like an old quarry--so old that the
shrubbery on the sides had grown into good-sized trees, and the
whole place was covered with herbage of one sort or another. In
one corner of the excavation, which must have covered some two
acres, there was the ruin of an adobe house, while near the
center was a stone structure made of four stone pillars about
twenty feet apart and roofed over with two huge stone slabs, set
so as to form a gable roof. Except for its size, it had the
appearance of the old-fashioned well houses, which were once so
common in New England.

"It's a tough-looking place, whatever it is," was Billie's
comment. "I wish the fellows were here."

And then for the first time in more than half an hour Billie
bethought him of his companions. His strange experience with the
ape had driven all other thoughts out of his mind.

"By George!" he exclaimed aloud, "I wonder how the fight with the
bandits came out?"

Almost as in answer to his words, there appeared upon the edge of
the excavation into which he had fallen, but upon the opposite
side from that on which he had taken his slide, ten horsemen,
three of whom carried across the pommel of their saddles the
bodies of three men. They halted and surveyed the basin
critically. Then, single file, they slowly descended into the
quarry.

Billie recognized them the minute he laid eyes upon them. They
were the remnant of the bandit band, and the bodies carried
across the pommels of the saddles were three of their wounded
companions.

"This is no place for me," commented Billie as he kept himself
well hidden behind a giant cactus. "It reminds me of Ali Baba and
the forty thieves. I hope I have better luck than Ali Baba."

As though to carry out the trend of Billie's thoughts, the
horsemen halted near the ruin of the adobe house before mentioned
and two of their number dismounted and entered. A minute later
the rest of the band rode into the ruins and disappeared,
followed by the riderless horses of the two dismounted men.

Billie rubbed his eyes.

"I wonder if I'm getting dippy," he muttered. "Maybe that crack
on the side of my head has made me see things."

He sat down to think.

"If I only had some kind of a gun," he mused, "I wouldn't feel so
everlasting helpless. Confound that ape! If I ever see him again
I'll break his neck."

Then, after a moment's thought: "I don't believe the beast would
give up the chase. He's likely to show up at any minute.
Something has to be done."

The boy scanned the edge of the embankment, if perchance he might
see anything of his persecutor. There was nothing in sight and he
decided to go on a tour of inspection. As quietly as possible he
stole along the side of the excavation toward the spot where the
ruin stood, when once more he had that sense of being watched.

Turning his head quickly, he saw the ape about twenty paces to
one side aiming the revolver at him.

Then Billie lost his temper.

"This thing has got to stop," he exclaimed. "I'll be doggoned if
I'm going to stand for it any longer."

He ran quickly toward the ape, and fell on his knees as he had
seen the ape do, and raised his hands in supplication.

The animal quirked its head and fairly beamed with pleasure as it
slowly advanced and stood beside him.

But its simian smile was quickly turned to surprise, for like a
flash Billie snatched the weapon from its hand and aimed it at
the animal's head.

"Now," he said, "you come with me."

The animal made no move.

"We'll see whether you will come or not," said Billie, and
stooping down he broke off a good-sized sprout from a live oak.
"Now, march!" and he raised the whip.

It was the one thing needed. The beast had evidently felt the
touch of a whip before, for it raised its arm and danced about as
though going through some circus maneuver.

"The first mystery is solved," laughed Billie. "Now for the
second one. Come on, Ab," unconsciously naming his companion
after the hero of Stanley Waterloo's famous story.

The ape seemed to know what was wanted and the two proceeded
slowly and silently toward the ruin.

"I've been in a whole lot of queer scrapes," mused Billie as he
crept along, "but this is surely the queerest--tramping around
with an ape to solve the disappearance of ten cutthroats. I hope
I wake up pretty soon."

But it was no dream, as Billie was soon to discover.

Arriving at the ruined building, Billie crawled along by the wall
until he came directly under what had once been a window. Then,
after listening a long time and hearing no sound, he ventured to
raise his head and peep in.

The old ruin was as empty as though there were not a living
person within fifty miles.

"Great Scott!" gasped the boy. "What do you think of that! Now I
know I'm dreaming!"

He turned to the ape, waving his whip.

"Here you, Ab," he said, "go in there and see what you can find."

He pointed to the window and the animal sprang lightly in and a
minute later perched itself on one of the decaying rafters.

"If there were any one around, they would certainly see Ab,"
reasoned Billie, "and would make some noise about it. I guess
it's safe to go in."

He crawled around to the door and entered. There were the tracks
of the horses, but the horses had disappeared as completely as
though they had been swallowed up.

Billie called softly to Ab, who did not see fit to obey until he
waved his whip. Then the animal sprang lightly to the ground.
Billie showed him the tracks.

"Where do you suppose they went?" he asked.

Ab blinked his eyes and, for the first time since Billie had
become acquainted with him, made a noise in his throat, much like
the voice of a child.

Billie smiled in spite of himself.

"I'm glad you've decided to become sociable," he said, "What do
you make of this? You look as though you could think."

Ab blinked his eyes stupidly and then suddenly became alert as
though listening.

"What is it?" asked Billie, impressed by the ape's attitude.

For a reply Ab sprang through the window and made straight for
the structure in the middle of the quarry. In another instant he
was on the roof.

Billie followed as fast as he could and as he stepped beneath the
roof started back in the utmost amazement, for up through what
looked like a huge well there came the distinct sound of human
voices.

For several seconds he stood as one in a spell and then he
started forward to peer into the well, but on a second thought
did not.

"I couldn't see anything if I did," he thought, "but any one
looking up could see me. I'll do better by listening."

The words came to him almost as distinctly as though he were in
the same room with the speakers, and there was no longer any
doubt that the voices were those of the Zapatistas who had
attempted to rob the train.

From their conversation Billie learned the outcome of the fight,
and he was greatly amused at the attempt of the bandits to figure
out who had betrayed them. Each one had a different theory, but
all agreed that there must have been a traitor in the band. It
was all the lad could do to prevent himself from calling out to
them, just to see what effect his words would have.

After discovering from the conversation that the bandits felt
themselves perfectly secure where they were and that they were
likely to stay there for some time, he finally decided to get
back to the railroad and thence to Pachuca and give the alarm.

Acting upon the decision, he made his way across the basin to
where he had slid down the embankment and slowly and laboriously
climbed to the top, followed by Ab.

Retracing his steps, he soon reached the railroad and looking
down the track toward Pachuca gave a shout of delight as he saw
his three chums approaching, leading a fourth horse between them.

"Just in time," he said, as they drew near enough to exchange
greetings.

"Just in time for what?" queried the others as one.

"To capture the bandits that you let escape."

"How do you know that we let any escape?" asked Adrian.

"I'm a mind reader."

The other three looked incredulous.

"Oh, it's a fact," declared Billie. "I can tell you all about the
fight just as well as though I had been there," and he proceeded
to prove his words.

"Some one told you," said Adrian.

"Sure," laughed Billie, thoroughly enjoying the perplexity of
his companions. "My friend Ab. Come here, old man, and be
introduced," and Billie waved his whip, which he still carried.

With a little cry the ape sprang to his side, an act which only
added to the amazement of the others.

"Allow me," said Billie with mock gravity, "to introduce my
friend Mr. Ab from No-man's-land. Ab, these are the rest of the
Broncho Rider Boys. How would you like to join the company?"

Ab scratched his ear and looked wise.

"Oh, come," interrupted Donald. "Tell us what's up and what we
must do to capture the rest of this band of cutthroats."

Thinking that he had carried the joke far enough, and realizing
also that he might be wasting valuable time, Billie related his
adventure, describing the place he had discovered.

"It is the Rosario viejo," said Pedro, as soon as Billie had
finished his story.

"What's that?" asked Billie.

"An abandoned mine. It is called the old Rosario to distinguish
it from the new Rosario, which is now one of the most valuable
mines in this region. The station at Pitahaya was built
especially to serve it."

"I see," said Billie. "Where is the new mine?"

"Down there," and Pedro pointed to a trail leading in the
opposite direction. "It is just about as far from the station on
that side of the railroad as the old Rosario is on this."

"Don't you think we had better summon some assistance from the
mine workers?" asked Adrian.

"They may be in cahoots with the bandits," laughed Donald. "I
have lost my confidence in about every one in this bandit-ridden
land."

"I don't blame you," said Pedro, "and I hope the day will soon
come when all this trouble will be over."

"Then you agree with me that we should tackle the bandits alone,
do you?" asked Donald.

"It is the only safe way."

"All right, then," exclaimed Billie. "Let's be off. If we use a
little strategy, I'm sure we shall succeed."

He turned to mount the horse, which a minute before had been
standing a few feet away, but it was gone.

"Where's my horse?" he cried.

The others turned in surprise.

"It certainly was here a minute ago," declared Adrian.

"Then it can't be very far away," insisted Donald.

"It's so far I can't see it," replied Billie.

"There it goes!" shouted Pedro, who had jumped his mount across
the track as soon as he heard Billie's cry.

The others looked in the direction indicated, and sure enough,
there went the horse about a quarter of a mile away on a dead run
and on its back was Billie's late acquaintance, Ab.

"By George," exclaimed Billie angrily as he snatched a rifle from
Donald's holster, "I've had enough of that ape. I'll put a stop
to his foolishness," and he leveled the rifle.

But ere he could press the trigger, there was a report from
another quarter and the horse and its rider hit the dust.



CHAPTER V.

WHEN THE OLD WAS NEW.


A cry of astonishment went up from the quartette and then they
stood silent to see what would be the next move.

They did not have long to wait, for presently a tall, gaunt
figure strode out of the brambles some yards from the fallen
horse and uttered a hoarse shout, upon which Ab sprang from the
spot where he had fallen and ran toward the newcomer, giving vent
to shrill cries as he ran.

"That must be his master," muttered Billie. "I'm glad I didn't
shoot the little beggar."

"I'm more interested in the master than in the monkey," said
Donald. "He is evidently not a Mexican. Who and what do you
suppose he is?"

"An animal trainer from a circus," replied Adrian.

"There are no circuses in this part of the world," commented
Billie.

"If he only had a hand organ instead of a gun, I could place
him," laughed Donald. "What do you make out of him, Pedro?"

"It's a _saltimbanco_."

"What is that?"

"A man who goes about making people laugh."

"Oh!" from Adrian. "You mean a mountebank?"

"I think so."

"And this chap," ventured Billie, "isn't satisfied with making a
monkey of himself, but carries a real one with him."

Pedro laughed. "That seems to be it."

"I'm sorry he killed the horse," said Donald. "We need him."

"Perhaps he didn't," suggested Adrian. "Suppose we ride over and
see."

Suiting the action to the word, the boys rode out into the open,
much to the newcomer's surprise and consternation.

"Señors," he exclaimed, as he came running toward them, "I am
sorry I had to hurt your horse; but I couldn't lose my brother."

"Your what?" asked Billie.

"My brother. My little brother. Could I, Ambrosio?" and he patted
the ape on the cheek.

"What do you call him?" asked Donald.

"I call him Ambrosio because he is so sweet."

"Bah!" exclaimed Billie. "I called him Ab, but he ought to be
named Diabolo. But how about the horse?"

"I am afraid I have rendered him quite useless for the present,
Señor. I may have broken his leg."

An examination of the fallen animal revealed the fact that while
the leg was not splintered, it was so badly injured that the
animal was quite useless.

"Have you far to go, Señors?" queried the mountebank.

"Only as far as the Rosario viejo for the present," answered
Adrian. "After that----"

"After that," interrupted Billie, "we may not want to go
anywhere."

The mountebank looked at Billie questioningly.

"That's what I mean," reiterated Billie. "We are going there to
capture a band of cutthroats, but we may have a fight."

The man made a grimace, which was intended for a smile.

"I understand. Can I be of any service?"

Donald eyed him suspiciously.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"You may have noticed how I stopped the runaway," he remarked.

"Very neatly."

"Sure," from Billie. "It was a short stop."

"I perceive that you are an American. I am also a fan."

"What!" from the three Americans.

"True. I am even worse. I formerly shot the pill in one of the
bush leagues. I aspired to a place in the box of one of the major
league clubs, but instead I joined the Madero revolution. I had
all the sport I wanted and finding my brother in this forsaken
land, I joined him as a public entertainer. Shall we give you a
sample of our performance?"

"Not now," from Donald. "Let's go and round up this bunch of
revolutionists first."

"But why?" queried the mountebank. "To-morrow they may be the
government."

The boys looked at each other with an expression that said as
plainly as words: "True! We never thought of that."

"Now, I have a better plan," continued the mountebank. "Let's go
and entertain the revolutionists. Let's be neutral."

"I'm afraid we are already belligerents," laughed Adrian. "We
have had one brush with them."

The mountebank heaved a sigh.

"Of course, if you have declared war, we shall have to fight to a
finish, unless," with a grin, "we can intrench."

"It is they who are intrenched," explained Billie. "They are at
the bottom of the old mine, although I don't know how they got
there."

"So," laughed the mountebank. "Suppose we go and find out."

Arrived at the shaft house, for that is what the gable-roofed
building was, the boys and their new-found friend approached and
listened to the sound of voices which still arose to the top of
the shaft.

Evidently considering themselves free and safe, the bandits were
preparing their evening meal, for it was now well on toward
sunset. They were singing and joking as though they had not just
lost half or two-thirds their number.

From a few remarks made now and then, it appeared that they
proposed on the following day to recruit the band up to its
former strength.

"That is the thing we must prevent," declared Donald.

"A very easy thing," said the mountebank, "if we had enough
provisions to remain here for twenty-four hours, or more."

"How so?" asked Billie.

"Why, they will doubtless send out two or three to do the
recruiting. We can capture them as they leave the ruins."

Billie glanced at the man from under his broad-rimmed sombrero as
he asked: "How did you know they came out through the ruins?"

The mountebank smiled.

"Now, don't go to mistrusting me, young fellow, for I'm on the
level. But I've been in this place before, and I know that the
only way to where your friends down there are camping is through
the ruins."

"Have you ever been down there?"

"Yes. They are only about sixty feet below the ground, in a
chamber which was originally a gallery in the mine. The shaft
over which this house is built is over two hundred feet deep."

"I'd like to explore it," remarked Adrian.

"Do you think you have the nerve?" and the stranger bent upon him
a penetrating gaze.

Billie laughed softly.

"Say, stranger," he finally said. "I guess you never heard of the
Broncho Rider Boys. We've got the nerve to do anything that any
other human being dare do."

"Then we'll get rid of these bandits in short notice," declared
the mountebank emphatically. "You are just the chaps I have been
looking for."

He leaned over the mouth of the shaft and gave a shrill whistle.

In an instant all was silent below.

Half a minute later he repeated the whistle thrice.

There was a clatter below of arms and accoutrements.

"Over behind those big cactus with you, quick," was the next
command. "If you insist on fighting these men later, you can.
Now let's get rid of them."

For just a moment the boys hesitated, but there was something in
the man's manner that seemed to force obedience and they obeyed.

They were not a moment too soon, for they had no more than
secreted themselves than the back wall of the ruin flew open and
the men rode out. Of those who had been at the mouth of the shaft
only a few moments before, only the mountebank with his ape was
in sight.

"What is it?" asked one of the band, riding up to him.

"Guard the track at the summit. Let no train pass, even if you
have to tear up the track."

"By whose order?"

The mountebank made a mysterious sign with his left hand.

"_Bueno!_" from the horseman. "Close up the doors and care for
the wounded," and putting spurs to his horse, he led the bandits
from the basin.

As soon as they were out of sight, the mountebank summoned the
boys to the shaft house by a wave of his hand.

"Now," he said, "you'll have a chance to test your nerve, and we
must work rapidly to get where we wish to go before dark."

He took from a crude knapsack which he wore upon his shoulders a
coil of cord about half the size of a lead pencil, but evidently
of much strength. Then seizing the ape, he fastened one end of
the cord to the belt about the animal's body, and despite its
unwillingness to be thus treated began to lower it into the
shaft.

Totally unable to account for his actions, the boys stood
speechless, watching the operations.

After some minutes, the cord slackened.

"He's reached the bottom," was the information vouchsafed. Then a
moment later: "Help me to pull him up, one of you."

Billie hastened to lend a hand and in a short time the head of
the ape appeared above the edge of the shaft. In his hand he held
one end of a good-sized rope, which the mountebank took and tied
around one of the stone pillars which supported the roof.

"Now, then," he said, "we are ready to descend into the old mine.
Which one of you will go first?"

The boys looked at each other, but there was no reply until
Donald asked:

"Why should we go down at all?"

"Why," was the somewhat quizzical reply, "to show your nerve."

"Unless there is some good reason other than that, there are
plenty of ways to show our nerve without lowering ourselves to
the bottom of an old mine."

"There is a good reason," was the reply.

"Then tell us. If it is good, there can be no objection."

"The object of this descent," said the stranger calmly, "is to
see if we cannot solve the mystery of the abandonment of the
mine."

"Have you ever been down?" asked Billie.

"Often."

"There is no foul gas at the bottom?"

"Not now, as you may see by the condition of Ambrosio, who has
been clear to the bottom."

"Then I am willing to be the first to descend; but first I must
know more about you than I do."

"What difference does that make? You will have three friends here
with me. They are all armed and I can see they know how to use
their weapons. I cannot possibly harm you. I will be the third to
descend. I assure you that the descent and the ascent are
comparatively easy for athletic young chaps, as the sides of the
shaft are very uneven. By the aid of this rope you can come up
almost as easily as you would climb a ladder. The adventure is
well worth your while."

"And you won't tell us who you are?"

"I have already told you. I am an American soldier of fortune. My
name, if that means anything to you, is Francis Strong, and I
have assumed this character of a mountebank solely for the
purpose of going about the country without being molested. What I
hope to do, is of no interest to any one but myself."

It was a straightforward statement and the boys saw no reason to
doubt its truthfulness.

"All right, then," exclaimed Billie. "Here goes!"

He grasped the rope and lowered himself over the side. It was as
Strong had said and in a very few minutes he found himself at the
bottom. He could see nothing except the dim light at the mouth of
the shaft.

Giving the rope a vigorous shake, as had been agreed upon, he saw
another figure begin to descend, and in a short time Pedro stood
beside him. Strong was next to descend, then came Ambrosio, and
after him Adrian and Donald in the order named--Donald having
determined to be the last, that he might be sure that everything
was safe above ground.

"I should have given you this," was Strong's first remark upon
alighting at Billie's side, and he drew from his pocket an
electric torch. "But it slipped my mind."

"We all have them in our trunk in the City of Mexico," replied
Billie, "but I doubt if either of us has one with him."

"This is sufficient, for I shall light some torches I have
prepared as soon as we are ready for our work."

When Donald had descended, Strong led the way through a lateral
about thirty or forty feet, at the end of which another vertical
shaft had been sunk. Around the mouth of this Strong had set a
number of torches, which he now proceeded to light. By their
glare it was possible to see part way down the hole.

"The thing I hope to find," explained Strong, "is at the bottom
of that hole, if it exists at all."

"What is that?" asked Billie.

"I think I can best answer your question," was the reply, "by
reading you a translation of a paper which is said to have been
found in the shaft above, where the bandits have made their
rendezvous. How it came into my possession, matters not. I
believe there are now enough of us here to prove or disprove its
truthfulness, unless some one has been here before us."

Seating himself on a jutting boulder, Strong took from his
pocket a paper, which he read as follows under the flickering
torchlight:

  "Being about to leave this world, I desire to obtain forgiveness
  for the great and only crime of my life, hence this confession.

  "There were five of us. Names do not matter. They were my fellow
  workmen. We had been entrusted with the output of the Rosario for
  the year and had promised to guard it with our lives. We heard
  the soldiers of Maximilian coming. We were not enough to
  withstand them. We determined to hide the treasure in the western
  shaft. We carried it to the edge and threw it in. My four
  companions went down to cover it over with dirt, which I brought
  from the other shaft and gave them, shovel by shovel. A mad idea
  seized me. If they were dead, no one but I would know the hiding
  place of the treasure. I would kill them; but how? I glanced
  about. Great pieces of rock were on every hand. Without stopping
  to consider the foulness of the deed I rolled a huge piece to the
  mouth of the shaft and pushed it in. There was a cry of terror
  and I heard a voice call out to know what had happened. I said a
  piece of rock had broken loose and asked what damage it had done.
  Only one replied. The others had been stricken down. Madly I
  pushed over another rock and then another and still another. Then
  there was silence and I fled. The soldiers found me unconscious
  at the bottom of the shaft. Ere I became conscious, Maximilian
  was no more. When I returned hither, the mine had been abandoned.
  Here I have lived for years alone with my misery. Now I die. May
  God forgive me.

                                                    JOSÉ RODRIGUEZ.



CHAPTER VI.

A FEARFUL EXPERIENCE.


"Well?" queried Donald when Strong had finished reading the
paper, "what are we going to do about it?"

"We are going to find out, if we can, whether José Rodriguez told
the truth, and if he did, whether any one else has tried to prove
it."

"What do you think of it, Pedro?" asked Billie, indicating the
opening at their feet.

"Exactly."

"Have you ever been down in it?" asked Adrian of Strong.

"No! I did not feel equal to the task and I was afraid to ask
help of any of these cutthroats."

"What do you think of it, Pedro?" asked Billie, turning to the
Mexican lad, who had made no comment whatever.

"It's an old tale," was the reply, "this story of the Rosario
viejo. I have heard it many times and I presume this shaft has
been explored by every prospector in this section. In my opinion
it is a huge hoax."

At Pedro's words, Strong's face became ashen.

"Are you telling the truth?" he asked hoarsely.

"Indeed I am. My father knows of several who have searched the
place and nothing has ever been found."

Strong drew a long breath and passed his hand over his face.

"I have believed it true," he finally said, "ever since I first
came into possession of this paper. There is something about it
that rings true and I have counted upon finding sufficient wealth
to enable me to achieve a long cherished plan. If what you say,"
turning to Pedro, "is true, my chance of attaining my ambition is
very slim."

"I'm sorry, sir, but if I had known for certain what your object
was in coming down here I might have saved you the trouble.
Isn't there any other way you might obtain the money you wish?"

"If there is, I don't know it."

"Pedro may be right," spoke up Billie suddenly, "but I am in
favor of making an inspection of our own, now that we are here.
What do you say, Don?"

"I'm with you." Then to Strong: "How are we to get to the
bottom?"

Strong reached over and from behind a nearby boulder produced
another bundle of rope.

"I had intended making a rope ladder," he said.

"All right, then," from Donald, "a rope ladder it shall be."

The boys set to work and in the course of an hour had made a rope
ladder more than fifty feet in length. Lowering it into the
shaft, it seemed to reach to the bottom and Billie started to go
down, but Strong prevented him.

"I shall go first," he said. "If there is any danger from
poisonous gas, or from reptiles, I shall take the risk. You boys
have parents and homes. I have no one. If I should suffer any
mishap, do not attempt to rescue me. It would not be worth
while."

"Nothing will happen," declared Adrian. "I have a hunch and my
hunches are usually right."

The rope having been properly fastened and warded off the side by
an ingenious arrangement of several large rocks, Strong began his
descent. In his left hand he carried a flaming torch and Donald
leaned over the edge, looking down, with rifle sighted, to fire
upon any reptile which might be brought to light by the torch's
ruddy glare.

Step by step Strong went down, stopping every now and then to
hold his torch below him, if perchance it might come into contact
with fire damp or any other noxious gas.

He had descended at least three-fourths of the way, when, as he
swung his torch below, he uttered a cry that was almost a shriek
and the torch fell from his hand.

At the same instant Donald gave vent to a loud exclamation and
his rifle cracked.

"Hold on," he cried as he arose from the ground, "as you value
your life, don't lose your hold."

"What is it?" asked the others in one voice.

"Snakes! Dozens of them," replied Donald. "Climb up, Strong, as
fast as you can."

"All right," came a feeble reply, followed almost immediately by
a louder call of "Help!"

"Hold fast," called Donald. "I'm coming."

But before he could turn to step down the ladder, a chattering
figure sprang past him and shot down the rope.

It was the ape. He had heard his master's call and had gone to
his assistance.

A moment later came a joyful cry that told as plainly as words
that Ambrosio had reached his master in time.

"Are you all right now?" called Donald.

"Yes. I'll be up in a minute. Good old boy," the last remark
evidently addressed to the ape.

When Strong's head appeared above the edge of the shaft a couple
of minutes later he was as pale as a ghost and when he at length
came into the full light of the torches, it was seen that his
hair was as white as snow. The fright had completely changed its
color.

"Let's get out of here," he gasped as soon as he was helped to
his feet. "I wouldn't go down into that place again for all the
gold and silver in the world."

"It was pretty rough for sure," admitted Donald. "I just caught a
glimpse as the torch fell among them, but it was so quickly
extinguished by the wriggling mass I only shot once for fear of
hitting you."

"It was the darkness that frightened me," Strong explained
feebly. "If I hadn't let go my torch to hold on with both hands,
I don't think I would have minded so much. But the darkness hid
what was below and it just seemed as though they were right after
me. I'd have been a goner sure if it hadn't been for good old
Ambrosio," and he laid his hand affectionately on the ape's head.

"Do you think you'll be able to climb out of the mine?" asked
Billie as they reached the main shaft.

"Yes, with Ambrosio's aid; but I'm going out first. I don't think
I have nerve enough left right now to be the last out."

The exit from the mine was much slower than the descent had been,
but in the course of an hour they were all once more out under
the stars.

"What about the bandits?" queried Billie.

"Take my advice," said Strong, "and let them alone. This is none
of your quarrel. If the Mexicans want to fight among themselves,
let them. It's a family quarrel and you will only make matters
worse by interfering. The time may come when these very men may
prove your best friends."

"That's the advice I gave when we first discovered them to-day. I
wish now we had all followed it."

"If we are not going to do anything," declared Adrian, "the
quicker we get out of here the better."

"I consider that more good advice," laughed Billie, "especially
as I am just reminded that I haven't had a bite to eat since
noon. But I have no horse."

"That's easily remedied," replied Strong.

He went into the old ruin and in a few minutes returned with a
very good animal, all saddled and bridled.

"It will not be missed," he said. "Now ride for your lives. Take
the trail to the left and don't let moonlight catch you within
five miles of here."

"Aren't you coming with us?" asked Donald.

"No! I am better off here."

"How will you account for your white hair?"

"I'll tell them it is a charm. They'll believe it and it will
make me that much more valuable. Now go!"

Without wasting more words the boys put spurs to their horses and
were soon out of the basin and on their way to Pachuca.

"It seems like a year since we came down here," remarked Adrian
to Billie as they galloped along.

"It sure does," was the reply as Billie rubbed his stomach
suggestively. "I'll never go out again as long as I'm in this
revolutionary republic without a haversack full of grub."

"Who said grub?" called back Donald.

"What a question," laughed Adrian. "Who is it that's always
hungry? It's all he thinks about."

"Oh, it is, eh?" from Billie. "Well, I'm thinking about something
else now. There's the moon coming up over the valley and we're
not three miles from the old Rosario. We'd better keep our eyes
peeled and see that our shooting irons are in shape. We may have
to fight our way home even yet."

As though to verify the prediction there appeared at the moment
the figure of a solitary horseman silhouetted against the rising
moon.

"You're a prophet of evil all right," said Adrian. "Now what?"

"Just keep on riding."

"But that chap is right in our way."

"Then ride him down. He'll be worse scared than we are."

The advice seemed good and the boys spurred forward.

"If you think he means us any harm," Donald remarked, "I might
take a shot at him."

"I don't believe he does."

Again Billie proved a good prophet as the rider rode directly
toward them, waving his hat in his hand.

"It's Tony," exclaimed Pedro as the rider approached a little
nearer.

Tony was one of Gen. Sanchez' servants.

"Why, so it is," laughed Donald. "I suppose he is out looking for
us."

Which was exactly the case. The news of the fight had reached
Pachuca along with the part the boys had played in saving the
bullion, and Pedro's father had heard it along with the others.

Later, word had been brought that one of the boys was missing and
the others had gone to look for him. When none of them returned
after all these hours, Gen. Sanchez had organized a searching
party, of which Tony proved to be the advance guard.

A few minutes later, several horsemen dashed up and the boys were
given a rousing reception.

"The _Jefe politico_ is waiting to greet you," Tony told the
boys.

The jefe politico is the mayor.

Billie smiled broadly and once more rubbed his stomach.

"This begins to look encouraging," he remarked to Pedro. "I think
I can taste the good things already."

Half an hour later the boys reached the city and were given a
cheer as they passed through the main street and up to Gen.
Sanchez' home, which was located half a block from the plaza. And
in another ten minutes Billie was facing the mayor over a plate
of steaming soup, while a mozo stood at his back waiting to serve
the leg of a twenty-five pound turkey. Raising his eyes from the
table, he caught sight of what was coming and gave Donald, who
sat next to him, a dig in the ribs with his elbow.

"How's this for a prophet of evil?" he asked.

Donald took a look at the great bird which was rapidly falling
into pieces under Gen. Sanchez' skillful hand, and remarked with
a wink:

"Great!"



CHAPTER VII.

THE INSULT TO THE FLAG.


A week later, or, to be more exact, on April 10, 1914, the
Broncho Rider Boys and their friend Pedro were back in the City
of Mexico. During the two weeks they had been at Pachuca, many
changes had taken place and on the morning in question they had
just finished their coffee in the breakfast room when Guadalupe,
Pedro's sister, brought in the morning paper.

"What's the news?" asked Adrian.

Guadalupe glanced at the paper and hid it behind her back without
making any reply.

"Why, Sister!" exclaimed Pedro with all the dignity of his
sixteen years. "How can you be so rude?"

"She's only joking," laughed Billie, who was always found on
Guadalupe's side when any argument took place. "Come, tell us!
What is it?"

Guadalupe shook her head.

"Oh, I can't," she replied in a pained voice.

"Why not?" from Billie.

"It says we are going to have war with the United States and I
don't believe it."

"Of course you don't," replied Billie. "Neither does any one
else."

"Let me see," said Pedro sternly.

Slowly the girl handed her brother the paper.

He opened it and read.

"A party of American marines was arrested in Tampico yesterday
for landing on Mexican soil with arms in their hands. They were
marched through the streets under a heavy guard and lodged in
jail. After a parley with the American Admiral, Mayo, the
commandant of the city finally released them upon the assurance
of the Admiral that it should not occur again."

"Well, if it was only a mistake, that doesn't mean war," laughed
Billie, but Donald's face took on a more serious look.

"That isn't all," said Pedro.

"Well," from Billie, "let's have the rest of it."

"The American Admiral has now declared that the men did not land
on Mexican soil with arms in their hands, but that they were in
their boat at the pier when arrested. He claims that they were
taken from under the American flag----"

"What?" almost shouted Billie, springing to his feet. "Taken
from under the American flag? Well, I'll bet that will mean
war--unless," he added after a brief pause, "Gen. Huerta
apologizes."

"Why should he apologize?" asked Pedro.

"For insulting the American flag."

"That's what the American Admiral says," interrupted Guadalupe,
"and he threatens to fire on the city."

"And I'll bet he'll do it," said Adrian.

"If he does we'll sink his ships," said Pedro.

"What with?" asked Billie sarcastically. "Why, Admiral Mayo could
blow Tampico out of the water."

"If he does, the Mexicans will march on Washington," from Pedro.

"What?" from Donald. "March on Washington? Why, Huerta can't
hardly keep Carranza out of the City of Mexico."

"But if your admiral fires on Tampico, Carranza will help Gen.
Huerta," declared Pedro.

"Do you really think so?" asked Adrian.

"I know it. We may have our little family troubles down here in
Mexico, but if the United States should interfere, we'd all turn
in and fight her."

Billie was about to reply when Gen. Sanchez entered the room.

"I see you have been reading the news," he said calmly.

"And discussing it too," said Donald.

"Which we had better not at present," replied the General. "You
boys are our guests and as long as you are, you are our friends;
but I am afraid there is serious trouble coming and I think it
will be much better if you make arrangements at once to return to
the United States. As you know, I am not a favorite with the
present administration and I might not be able to protect you."

"We can ask the protection of the American Ambassador," said
Donald.

Gen. Sanchez smiled kindly.

"The American Ambassador may be asked to leave."

The boys looked serious.

"Do you really think it is as bad as that?" asked Adrian.

"I fear so. Later dispatches from Tampico state that the American
Admiral has demanded a salute of twenty-one guns to the American
flag. I know Gen. Huerta well enough to know that he will never
order the salute."

"Then what will happen?" asked Donald.

"No one can say. I understand that the American government has
placed the matter in the hands of Admiral Fletcher, the ranking
officer, who is in charge of the Atlantic fleet off Vera Cruz."

"Do you think we should go at once?" queried Billie.

"Yes, I think it would be better. I will make such arrangements
as I can for your transportation to Vera Cruz. In the meantime
you had better go and register yourselves at the United States
Embassy. I am never sure of Gen. Huerta."

Without further discussion the boys prepared to take Gen.
Sanchez' advice, and, donning their hats, started for the
embassy, leaving Pedro much chagrined and Guadalupe in tears.

"I can't see why there has to be war!" she declared. "Why can't
men behave themselves?"

"What do girls know about war?" asked Pedro.

"They know it's terrible and takes their fathers and brothers,
that's what they know, and they wish they didn't have to know
that."

Pedro made no reply, but went to his room, where he selected from
among his most cherished belongings a gift for each of his
guests--three beautiful opals--and laid them upon their
respective suit cases.

When the Broncho Rider Boys arrived at the embassy they found a
large crowd of Americans already assembled. Word had been
circulated that it would be wise for all of them to leave Mexico
and those who could were going, while many men whose business
detained them in Mexico were sending their families. All had come
to the embassy for information and to register.

As a result it was late in the afternoon before the boys returned
to Gen. Sanchez' residence. But late as they were, the general
had not yet come in. They went to their room and when they saw
the gifts which Pedro had laid on each valise, they could not
keep back the tears.

"Well, there's one thing," declared Billie as he drew the back of
his hand across his eyes, "we don't have to fight Pedro, no
matter what comes. I'm going to hunt him up and tell him so."

And he did.

It was some hours later when Gen. Sanchez returned and announced
that it would be impossible for the boys to get transportation to
Vera Cruz for two or three days, as the track had been torn up in
the neighborhood of Cordoba, but that he had been promised that
they would be given safe conduct as soon as the track was
repaired.

It was three days later, therefore, before the boys were able to
leave, during which time they remained in the house at Gen.
Sanchez' request to avoid any unpleasantness, which might make
trouble for him.

On the morning of the 13th the boys bade good-bye to their host
and his family and were driven in an automobile to the station.
Already there were more than enough persons to fill four trains,
and the guards were permitting only those to board the cars who
had passes signed by the Mexican provost marshal.

Thanks to Gen. Sanchez, our boys had been provided with such
passes, but they were not allowed to take their rifles or
revolvers aboard the train. They had no more than found seats and
made themselves comfortable than the conductor shouted "Vamanos,"
and the train pulled slowly out of the shed.

"Well," remarked Donald as they rolled slowly along, "this is a
pretty tough ending to a friendly visit. I think I've seen about
all I want of Mexico for some time to come."

"What do you suppose will happen?" asked Billie. "Do you think
we'll really go to war with Mexico unless Gen. Huerta orders the
salute?"

"I don't know," was Donald's cautious reply. "I hope not."

"And I hope we do!" exclaimed a somewhat florid gentleman who sat
in the seat ahead and who had overheard the conversation. "I'd
just like an opportunity to come down here with an army and wipe
the whole nation off the earth."

Donald made no reply, but Adrian asked sympathetically: "Have
they treated you badly, sir?"

"Have they treated me badly? Well, I should say so. They wouldn't
let me out of my hotel for two days and now they have refused to
carry my trunk and made me leave it with the express company. I
guess they don't know who I am."

"I'm sure they do not, sir."

"Well, I'll show them who I am as soon as I get to Vera Cruz and
can see Admiral Fletcher. He'll know how to protect Americans!"

"I'm sure he will, sir."

"And when the first marine lands, I want to be right there with a
rifle to help drive the Mexicans off the earth."

"It would be wise not to say too much," whispered Adrian. "I see
that officer in the end of the car has his eye on you. He may
speak English."

"I don't care who hears me," said the florid man angrily. "I mean
it."

At the same moment a guard who had approached from the other end
of the car laid his hand upon the angry man's shoulder.

"If the Señor is not satisfied," he said, "we shall be pleased to
send him back to the City of Mexico."

"Oh, no-no-no," was the stammering reply. "I am very well
satisfied. All I want is to get out of the country."

"Let us hope there will be no trouble about that," was the polite
response, and the florid man lapsed into silence.

Ordinarily it is a pleasant day's journey from the City of Mexico
to the seaport city of Vera Cruz; or if one prefers he may make a
night ride of it in times of peace. The train which left the City
of Mexico that April morning made no such time. After a tiresome
all-day ride with numerous aggravating stops, when darkness fell
they were still on the plateau of Mexico, some miles west of
Orizaba, running slowly for fear some stray bunch of Carranzistas
or Zapatistas might have torn up a length or two of track.

It was possibly an hour later that the engine gave a furious
jerk, followed by a bump and another jerk, and then the train
came to a dead stop.

In a minute everybody was on his feet asking everybody else what
had happened. As no one knew, there was a general movement for
the doors, as it was too dark to see much from the windows.

"Sit down, everybody," ordered the guard. "There is no danger,
but we have stopped on a high trestle."

The passengers obeyed, realizing the danger of leaving the
coaches. There was a general round of conversation, and then as
the train did not start, people settled back in their seats and
tried to sleep.

Some minutes later Billie gave Adrian a nudge with his elbow.

"Are you asleep?" he asked.

"No. Why?"

"I've just been looking out of the window. We're not on a
trestle."

"No? Well, what of it?"

"Only that the guard was lying. What did he do it for?"

"I don't know. Because he was a Mexican, I guess. Go on to
sleep."

"That isn't the answer, although it's pretty good. They have some
scheme. I wouldn't be surprised if they were going to keep us
prisoners somewhere around here."

"Nonsense. Go on to sleep."

But Billie was not satisfied. He leaned over and tried to talk to
Donald, but he was fast asleep.

"I think I'll go on a little scouting expedition," he muttered.
"I need some exercise."

He arose, stretched himself and walked slowly toward the door,
which stood wide open.

"I wonder where the guard is?" he thought. "It's mighty funny
he'd go and leave the coach like this."

He stepped on to the coach ahead. The same condition existed.

Billie's curiosity got the best of him and he jumped out onto the
ground. It was pitch dark, but he had not advanced more than
twenty steps before he discovered groups of men seated upon the
grass. A second glance convinced him they were armed.

He drew back and stood beside the coach, where he thought fast.

"There's one of two things," he soliloquized. "We are either
prisoners or else we are being guarded against an expected
attack. Whichever it is, this is no time for the Broncho Rider
Boys to be asleep. I'll go and tell the others."

He started to climb onto the car, but a guard appeared on the
platform and ordered him away at the point of his bayonet.

"I'm a passenger," explained Billie.

"Go away!" was the reply, emphasized by a quick advance of the
bayonet.

Seeing that it was no time to argue, Billie slid back into the
darkness.



CHAPTER VIII.

TREACHERY FOILED.


Broncho Billie had been in too many unpleasant places to be at
all worried over his predicament, but he was much concerned about
the condition of the train and its passengers, practically all of
whom were Americans and a large majority of whom were women and
children.

"It would be fierce," he mused, "to have them held here, or in a
detention camp as prisoners; and it would be worse if we should
be attacked by an overwhelming force of revolutionists. I've just
got to know the truth."

He glanced up at the coach with its dimly lighted windows.

"I wish I could talk to old Don. He most always knows what to do.
But how can I get at him?"

He sneaked out to where he could see the coach platform. The
guard was still there, as well as the guard on the other car.

"Worse and more of it," he exclaimed.

Then he examined the car, trying to determine at which window he
had been seated. Several were open, and he determined to try and
speak to some one.

"Our seats are not far from here," he thought as he stopped under
the second one. "I'll try this."

He picked up a stone about as big as an egg and tossed it into
the window. A howl from a child followed the act and Billie
ducked under the car. He could hear the mother pacifying it, but
evidently she, too, had been asleep and had not discovered the
stone.

"I think I know just which child it is," said Billie with a grin,
"and this next open window must be ours."

He picked up another stone and tossed it in to his second choice,
this time with better results.

Donald had just aroused from a nap, and, missing Billie, was
looking for him. Not seeing him in the car, he was about to look
out of the window when the stone hit him on the chin.

"Ouch!" he exclaimed as he started back.

Billie heard the exclamation and gave the familiar whistle.

Donald was on the alert in an instant. Looking up and down the
car to be sure he was not being watched, he stuck his head out of
the window.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Trouble," was Billie's laconic reply. "Come out."

"How can I? The guard is at the door."

"Jump out of the window."

"They might see me."

Billie thought fast.

"Let Ad stand between you and the door."

"Great," from Donald.

He aroused Adrian and told him the situation.

"You stay in the train," he said, "and we'll keep you posted as
to what is going on outside. If there is any real danger we will
give the alarm."

He picked up his overcoat and pretended to be fixing a pillow.
Adrian did the same. Then, while the guard's back was turned, he
dropped out of the window.

Billie was beside him when he rose to his feet.

"This way, Don," he whispered. "Let's get out into the dark and
hold a council of war."

They glided out into darkness, but where they could keep their
eyes on the engine.

"Now tell me about it," said Don.

Billie told him what he had discovered.

"It does look strange," Donald admitted. "Have you any plan?"

"I haven't an idea above an oyster," was the characteristic
reply.

Donald scratched his ear reflectively.

"How would it do," he finally asked, "to sneak over by the
soldiers and see if we can't pick up some scrap of conversation
that may give us a clue as to what is going on?"

"Fine. We must keep together, though. We might never find each
other in the dark if we should become separated."

Silently they crawled toward the spot where Billie had seen the
soldiers. When they did not hear any sign of them after several
minutes' crawling they stopped to listen.

"There surely was a squad here a few minutes ago," declared
Billie. "They must have moved."

They remained silently thoughtful for several minutes, but all
was as silent as a graveyard.

"That's mighty funny," said Billie. "I know I was not mistaken.
Let's go back by the train."

They turned for that purpose and could see a group of figures at
the platform of each coach.

"That's the answer," exclaimed Billie. "They have surrounded the
train. Now let's see what will happen."

They had not long to wait as an officer shortly boarded each car
and a minute later there was a commotion among the passengers.

Drawing a little nearer, the boys could hear the officer in the
car nearest them explaining that the passengers would be obliged
to alight and change trains.

"The track has been torn up ahead of us," he said, "and we shall
have to walk nearly a mile to where the train is that came up
from Vera Cruz."

This had been quite the customary thing in Mexico for some months
and the passengers prepared to obey.

"I don't believe it is true," said Billie to Donald.

"We can soon find out," declared Donald. "Let's walk down the
track a piece. We can easily keep ahead of the crowd."

Avoiding the glare of the locomotive's headlight, the boys
hurried down the track and when far enough away from the train to
feel secure, they took the middle of the track.

"This is far enough ahead," said Donald, "to keep out of sight
and the track is all right so far. I don't believe it is torn up
at all."

"Then what is up?"

"That is what I've been trying to decide for nearly an hour,"
replied Billie. "It looks as though they intended to make all the
Americans prisoners."

"But what for?"

"Why, for hostages, to be sure. Don't you remember how Cæsar took
a lot of the Helvetians for hostages?"

"By George!" from Donald. "I believe you are right. Do you
suppose it is Huerta's orders?"

"I expect so. He hates Americans."

While the boys had been talking the passengers had been taken
from the train and were now coming toward them.

"Let's keep just far enough ahead to see what will happen," said
Donald. "We must get in touch with Adrian somehow."

They started ahead, but it speedily developed that the others
were not following. Instead they had been halted a short distance
from the locomotive, back from the track, and surrounded by
soldiers.

"There seems to be a hitch somewhere," Don finally remarked.
"They don't seem to know just what they do want to do."

"Come on back and find out," said Billie. "It's up to us to do
something."

Cautiously they crept back to where they could hear the
conversation among the passengers and the questions they
asked the guard. Some were laughing and more were expressing
indignation. A few of the women were crying, but above all they
could hear the voice of the florid-faced man telling what he
would do as soon as he could get into touch with Admiral
Fletcher.

"Which won't be very soon, unless I'm mistaken," laughed Donald.

Presently some one began to whistle a popular air, but in such a
way that the boys recognized the well-known whistle of Adrian.

"Do you hear that?" asked Billie. "Ad wants to know what we are
doing."

"He'll have to want for the present," said Don, "but there go a
couple of officers back to the train. Let's follow them."

The boys darted into the shadow of the coaches and crept back
only a few steps behind what proved to be the captain in charge
of the company and his second lieutenant.

"If I only had my automatic, I'd soon settle this whole matter,"
declared Billie.

"You wouldn't hurt anybody, would you?"

"I'd capture the officer and make him take us to Vera Cruz."

"Of course," from Donald. "Why didn't I think of it before? Let's
do it."

"But we have no weapons."

"Then we must get some."

"How?"

"Keep your eyes open. There must be some way."

The officers kept on their way until they reached the first
Pullman, where they stopped for a minute.

"Are the orders in here?" asked the captain.

"No; the conductor has them. He wouldn't stop the train without I
gave them to him."

"Carramba! Why didn't you tell me so before? Go and take them
from him and bring them here at once."

"Bueno, Capitan! Will you wait here?"

"Yes, I'll go inside. Hurry."

The lieutenant turned and hurried back. The boys only saved
themselves from being detected by throwing themselves flat on the
ground.

For a moment the captain remained looking after his companion and
then turned and entered the car.

"We must have that order," said Donald.

"We must!" echoed Billie.

"Then we'll get it," they exclaimed as one.

So alike were the thoughts that passed through their minds that
they did not even feel obliged to speak the plan aloud.

"Which one of us will stop him?" asked Donald.

"You'd better. I'm heavier and I can handle him easier."

They walked back some ten feet, where Donald stopped, while
Billie went about ten feet farther and drew off into the
darkness.

A couple of minutes later they heard the lieutenant coming. He
passed Billie without seeing him.

Then Donald advanced and met him as by chance.

"Who comes there?" asked the lieutenant in a sharp tone, drawing
his revolver.

"Why, hello, lieutenant," said Donald as he came close to him.
"What's happened?"

The lieutenant eyed him suspiciously.

"Where did you come from?" he asked.

"From the rear sleeper. I woke up and found myself all alone."

"Humph!" grunted the lieutenant. "You must have been overlooked.
Come with me."

He started to replace his revolver in its holster when a slight
noise behind him caused him to turn his head. As he did so,
Billie's fist caught him under the chin and he fell in a heap
without making a sound.

"Good work!" muttered Donald as he picked up the revolver which
the lieutenant had let fall. "Now to business."



CHAPTER IX.

DONALD'S STRATEGY.


Lifting the unconscious man in their arms, they bore him into the
darkness away from the train, where he was soon deprived of his
coat, hat, and weapons. Then he was gagged and securely tied with
his own sabretasche.

Donald, being nearest the lieutenant's size, donned his uniform,
buckled on his sword, and with the order in his hand hastily
entered the car, closely followed by Billie, with the ready
revolver in his hand.

The captain had thrown aside his hat and was smoking a cigarette
in one of the easy seats as the boys entered. He gave them only a
hasty glance as he blew a cloud of smoke into the air, and the
next minute he was covered by Billie's weapon.

"Up with your hands!" was the stern order.

The captain hesitated, but a sharp prick from Donald's sword sent
the hands into the air.

In another minute the captain was disarmed.

"Now," said Donald sternly, "we'll see what all this trouble is
about."

He opened the telegram he held in his hand and read:

  "American Admiral has given an ultimatum. Hold train and
  passengers until further orders.
                                                    Maas."

"Who is Maas?" asked Donald sternly.

The captain shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing.

"You'll answer in just one minute, or you'll never have a chance
to answer another question," said Donald, as he stood with drawn
sword, while Billie covered the captain with his revolver.

"Would you murder an unarmed man?" asked the captain.

"I wouldn't consider it murder. Answer."

The look in Donald's eyes was not to be mistaken.

"Gen. Maas is in command of Vera Cruz," the captain said.

"Good. I think I see it all. If it is decided not to accede to
the ultimatum, it is proposed to hold the train load as
hostages."

The captain smiled.

"Now listen!" and Donald spoke very slowly so that every word
might find lodgment. "You have one chance for your life. Can you
guess what it is?"

The captain shook his head.

"To do just exactly as I bid. Just one little attempt to do
differently, and you are a dead man."

The captain scowled, but made no reply.

"Put on your hat and come with me. Order the passengers back on
to the train and give your engineer instructions to cover just as
much of the distance between here and Vera Cruz by daylight as he
knows how!"

The captain shrugged his shoulders as he arose from his seat.

"I see you think it will be easy to escape. Just put any such
idea out of your mind. There is no possible chance."

Donald turned to Billie.

"This is what must be done. We shall walk directly back to where
the passengers are. The captain will give his order without any
hesitation. Otherwise I shall shoot him through my pocket. You
will keep right behind us. If I fire, you fire also. One of us
will be sure to kill him."

Donald led the way from the car and Billie brought up the rear.

Through the dark they marched, each with a hand on the captain,
so they might feel his slightest tremor.

Arriving at the engine the captain summoned the sergeant.

"Order the passengers to board the train," was the brief command.

The sergeant hastened to obey.

"Bueno!" said Donald, as the passengers rushed back.

Then under his breath to Billie: "Call Adrian."

Billie did so.

"Where are you?" Adrian called back.

"Down near the engine."

A moment later Adrian appeared coming through the crowd of
hurrying passengers.

"Where's Don?" he asked as soon as he caught sight of Billie.

"Not far. Stay here. We may need you."

Adrian's face showed some surprise, but he said nothing.

"Now, captain," said Don quietly, "your orders to the engineer,"
and under cover of the darkness he pushed the point of his
revolver into the captain's side, while Billie touched him
significantly in the back.

The captain gave the order as he had been instructed.

"Now for the conductor," ordered Donald.

The order was given, but the conductor refused to obey.

"I must have a written order," he said.

"Why?" asked Donald, in his rôle of lieutenant.

"To countermand the order of Gen. Maas."

"Captain," was Donald's quiet hint, "don't you think it would be
well to place the conductor under arrest?" and again he poked his
revolver into the captain's side.

The order for the conductor's arrest was quickly given.

"Now, then, vamose," called Adrian. Then to the engineer, "I will
act as conductor."

The guards and extra soldiers who had been detailed for this
special service, sprang aboard; the engineer pulled open the
throttle and the train began to move.

"Aren't you going, too?" asked Adrian.

"Yes," whispered Billie to Donald, "hurry aboard with your
prisoner."

The captain was evidently of the same mind, for he started to
board the already moving train.

"No you don't," exclaimed Donald, pulling him back. "You're going
to stay here with us!"

"Do you mean it, Don?" asked Billie in surprise.

"Sure! What do you think he'd do to us as soon as it was light?"

By this time the train was under headway; a second later the last
coach passed them and in another minute the tail lights were
disappearing in the darkness.

"It looks to me," remarked Adrian with a long breath, "as though
we were in the consommé."

"Perhaps," was Donald's laconic reply, "but those women and
children will be safe in Vera Cruz under the guns of Admiral
Fletcher's fleet by daylight, or I'm greatly mistaken."

"And what are we going to do with our friend the captain?"
queried Billie.

"He'll have to accept our hospitality under the stars until
morning and then we'll see."

In telling about his experiences later Billie said it was the
longest and the shortest night he ever knew. It seemed a long
time for daylight, but it seemed a short time for the train which
was bearing his countrymen to safety.

When day finally began to break, the first thing that became
visible was the snow-tipped peak of Mt. Orizaba, against which
the sun threw his brilliant rays long before he could be seen
above the horizon. It was a beautiful sight and the boys voiced
their admiration with many exclamations of delight. Then they
turned their attention to the more serious thoughts for the day.

The first thing they did was to release the lieutenant from his
unpleasant predicament and restore to him his uniform.

"We should like to return you your arms also," said Donald, "but
your government took ours from us and I think we shall have to
keep yours in their place."

Neither of the officers made any reply, but their dark looks
boded no good for the boys.

"You might just as well look pleasant," laughed Billie. "All is
fair in love and war."

"We'll make you sing a different song when we get you in Vera
Cruz," said the captain.

"And when do you think that will be, Captain?" queried Adrian.

"As soon as the next train comes along."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Donald. "That being the case, I
guess we will not wait for another train. By the way, how far is
it to Vera Cruz?"

"About a hundred kilometers."

"That's about eighty-four miles, isn't it, Ad?"

"Just about."

"And it's down hill pretty much all the way, isn't it?"

"I should say so by looking down the valley."

"A right nice little walk, Captain. Let's be going. We ought to
make it easily in four days."

At this cordial invitation the captain lost his temper.

"Carramba!" he exclaimed. "Am I a boy to be made sport of? I will
not go. If you wish me to go you will have to carry me," and he
deliberately laid himself down on the ground.

In spite of themselves the boys were obliged to laugh.

"We carried the lieutenant last night, but we don't desire your
company badly enough to carry you," laughed Billie. "If you don't
want to go, I for one vote to leave you. We have to forage for
something to eat and the fewer there are, the easier it will be.
And speaking of eats, it seems to me I smell something cooking
right now."

At Billie's words the others sniffed up their noses.

"It's a fact as sure as you're born," declared Donald.

"And I'm going to find out where the odor comes from," said
Billie. "There must be a house around here somewhere."

Again he sniffed the air and smiled jubilantly.

"The wind's in the east," he laughed. "It must be somewhere in
this direction. Come on, Captain."

The captain refused to move, but Billie led the way, followed by
the two boys. They had not gone many rods when through an opening
in the trees they beheld a good-sized adobe house. Pushing
hastily toward it, they soon reached a cleared space, and there,
gathered about a bunch of some forty or fifty horses, were a
dozen men, while through the open door of the house many more
were to be seen seated at a table--eating.

"Come on!" exclaimed Billie. "I'm going to have something to eat;
I don't care who they are."

"We might as well make the best of it," declared Donald. "We are
discovered any way and the best thing we can do is to put on a
bold front."

Without further words the three boys walked boldly toward the
house.



CHAPTER X.

A TIMELY RESCUE.


The minute the boys' presence became known, there was a commotion
in the house and in the clearing surrounding it. Those in the
yard sprang toward their guns and those in the house jumped from
the table.

"Don't move," called out Billie. "We are friends."

But the men were not sure and at once surrounded the boys.

They appeared to be soldiers, but their uniforms were of a great
variety and many hues. Only the officer in command had anything
the appearance of a real soldier.

"Who are you?" he demanded as he came forward.

"Friends! Americanos!" replied Donald.

"Yes; and hungry ones," added Billie with a gesture that brought
a smile to the officer's face.

"Where did you come from?" was the next inquiry.

Donald explained that they had been left by a train that had
stopped nearby. He did not think it necessary to enlighten the
officer as to the circumstances.

"If you don't believe us," broke in Billie, "you can ask the
officers we left back there by the track."

Donald made a gesture of impatience, which Billie failed to
understand, but which the officer was quick to interpret.

"Officers? Of which army?" he quickly asked.

"Gen. Huerta's."

"Carramba!" exclaimed the officer in command. "Go quick,
corporal, and bring them to me."

Then to Billie: "If you are telling me the truth you have done me
a great favor."

The boys looked surprised.

"How is that?" asked Donald.

"Do you not know that we are of the army of Gen. Carranza?" was
the interrogative reply.

"Why, no!" exclaimed the boys in unison.

"It is true," said the officer. "I am Captain Lopez. Now tell me,
who are you?"

Briefly Donald told of their acquaintance with Gen. Sanchez and
of their adventures of the night before, at which the captain
laughed heartily.

"You are smart boys," he declared.

"And hungry ones," again added Billie.

"You must be. Here, Juan," calling a soldier to him. "Take these
_muchachos_ to the house and feed them. I'll have a look at these
rebels."

"Rebels," said Adrian to Donald under his breath as they walked
toward the house. "Now what do you think of that?"

"That's his viewpoint," replied Don. "He thinks of the men who
overthrew President Madero as rebels."

By this time they were near enough the house for Billie to smell
the aroma of the coffee and he quickened his pace.

"I'll talk politics after I've sampled the breakfast," he
declared. "If the breakfast is good, I'll join the band."

It was nearly half an hour later that the boys stood before the
captain. With a good breakfast under their belts they felt fit
for anything that might offer.

"I'm afraid you boys are in a bad fix," said Captain Lopez. "I
suppose you want to get to Vera Cruz and on to some ship that
will take you to the United States; but I don't know how you are
going to make it."

"Why, can't we get another train somewhere down the line?" asked
Adrian.

"There may not be any more trains for some time."

"How's that?"

"We are here to stop them."

"Does that mean you are going out to tear up the track?"

"Not right here, but a little nearer Vera Cruz. There is a much
larger body of troops about five miles below."

Billie uttered a prolonged whistle.

"That does look bad, sure enough," he declared. Then, after a
pause: "What's the matter with walking?"

"It's a long ways and the mountains are full of our men."

"Can't you give us a safe passage? You say we have done you a
favor by turning these two officers over to you," suggested
Donald, indicating with a nod of his head the captain and
lieutenant of the train guard who were now held prisoners.

"I'll do the best I can," was the reply, "but you will have to
remain with me to-day. We are on scout duty and shall not return
to the main body until to-night."

"That'll suit me all right," laughed Billie, "and if you don't
mind I think I'll go into the house somewhere and take a nap."

"Bueno," laughed the captain. "You might as well all take a nap.
If we have occasion to leave the neighborhood we will call you."

Ten minutes later the three were fast asleep on a pile of Mexican
blankets in the best room in the house.

Three hours later they were awakened by a fusillade of shots.

They sprang to their feet and looked around. For just a moment
they could not remember where they were. Then they recalled their
situation and became on the alert.

"Trouble outside," was Don's laconic statement.

He and Billie drew the revolvers they had captured the night
before.

"Put 'em up," advised Adrian. "We're not here to fight."

"We might have to," from Billie.

"Not at all. If one side wins, we are safe. If the other side
wins, we are prisoners and the attackers will be our rescuers."

"Great head, Ad," was Billie's comment. "But I'd like to know
what is going on," as another fusillade was heard.

"Better stay where we are till the shooting stops," said Don.

It was good advice and the boys waited as quietly as they could.

A few minutes later there was a volley and a shout, followed by
the sound of rushing feet. Then there was quiet as the shots were
heard receding.

When none of their friends returned after a few minutes, the boys
ventured to the door. There was no one in sight.

"I wonder where they have all gone?" ventured Billie.

"I expect that our friends have run away and some of Huerta's
soldiers are chasing them."

"If they do, they will run into an ambush," said Adrian.

Which is exactly what happened.

"That won't do us any good," said Don. "Now that we are alone, I
vote that we get back to the railroad track. We won't get lost if
we follow that and a train may come along."

The advice seemed good and they started to go.

"Hold on," exclaimed Billie. "Let's see if we can't find some
grub to take with us."

"Great head!" laughed Adrian.

"Great stomach, you mean," from Donald. "It never lets him
forget."

The boys plundered through the house. The owners must have been
scared away, for nothing had been disturbed. In the kitchen they
found a big plate of _tortillas_, half a baked kid, and some
wheat bread. This they appropriated.

"We might as well have a blanket apiece," said Donald. "It is
only another case of a fair exchange. The Mexicans have our suit
cases."

Each took a blanket and Adrian was so fortunate after searching
all over the house as to find a shotgun and a belt full of loaded
shells that went with it.

"If those shells were loaded with buckshot you'd be all right,"
said Billie. "They're the----"

His speech was interrupted by a cry that fairly made their blood
run cold.

"What's that?" and the three stopped as though they had been
paralysed.

Again came the cry, and with a single bound the boys were out in
the open, each with his weapon ready for instant use.

They could see no one, but there was the sound of something
crashing through the brush which hid the railroad from the house.

"Sounded like a wild cat," declared Donald.

"Or a coyote," said Billie.

"I'm sure it was a human voice," remarked Adrian. "Do you
remember the Zuñis?" referring to another adventure told in the
story of the "Broncho Rider Boys Along the Border."

Even as he spoke there emerged from the brush the figure of a
woman carrying in her arms a small child. Winged by fear, she was
bounding along like an antelope.

A moment later, and not two rods behind her, came forth a figure
which the boys instantly recognized as a mountain lion.

How the woman had succeeded in escaping it even for a moment was
a mystery.

In a second the three weapons spoke. The report was followed by a
scream from the beast and a cry from the woman, both of whom fell
lifeless to the earth--the beast dead and the woman in a swoon.

"Take care of the woman, you two," said Adrian. "I'll examine the
beast."

No one stopped to question the order.

Billie picked up the child which the woman had let fall, while
Donald stooped down and felt the woman's pulse. Then he darted
into the house and was back in a minute with a bucket half filled
with water. With it he bathed the woman's temples and poured a
little down her throat.

In a couple of minutes she revived and looked around.

"Mi niña!" she gasped.

"She's asking for her child," said Donald.

Billie carried the little one over and stood it beside her.

With a glad cry she snatched it in her arms and burst into tears.

"She's all right," laughed Donald. "Now let's have a look at that
animal."

They walked over to where Adrian was watching the inanimate
carcass.

"Where did we hit him?" asked Billie.

"I can see three places and one is big enough to throw a baseball
through it."

"That's from the shotgun," said Donald. "It's what did the
business. Must have been buckshot and we were so close it didn't
have a chance to scatter."

"I'd sure like that hide," said Adrian.

"We'll be in luck if we save our own," remarked Billie. "Unless
we can do something for the woman, we'd better be jogging along."

By this time the woman had risen to her feet and the boys could
see that she was not a peon as they had supposed, but of the
better class.

"Where could she have come from?" queried Donald under his
breath.

"Suppose you ask her," laughed Adrian.

Donald did so. At first she was too dazed to answer, but after
Donald spoke a few words quietly and in his very best Spanish,
she was able to answer his questions.

"Is this your house?" he asked.

"No, Señor; my house is down the mountain."

"What are you doing here alone?"

She gave him a startled glance and then hugged the child closer
to her breast.

"You need not fear us," were the reassuring words.

"The soldiers came," she said slowly. "They had already killed
the others. They would have killed me."

"The soldiers?"

"Yes. They were looking for my husband. They said he was hidden
in the house; but he was not. He is with Gen. Carranza."

"When was this?"

"Yesterday. I have been in the mountains all night. There was a
fight a few minutes ago and I saw them pass. Then I came here,
when the awful beast sprang out," and again she drew the child to
her.

"Are you hungry?"

"Si, señor!"

It was the child that answered.

In an instant Billie's hand was in his pack and he held out the
_tortillas_, which both mother and child took and ate ravenously.

After their hunger had been appeased, they questioned the woman
further, telling her they were going to Vera Cruz.

"If you will come with me down the mountain, you can hide in my
house," she said.

"We don't want to hide," laughed Billie. "We want to get to Vera
Cruz. However, we'll see you home, if you don't mind."

Without more words the woman led the way, Billie insisting upon
carrying the little girl.

After a walk of more than two hours, the woman stopped in a
little clearing from which a view of the mountainside for miles
could be gained.

"There is my house," she said, pointing to the roof of a really
noble mansion constructed of stone. "But what is that flag I see
on top of it?"

The boys took one good look at it and then they let out a wild
yell.

"Hurrah!" they cried. "It's the Stars and Stripes."

"I don't know what it means away out here," said Donald, "but
wherever it is it means something. Come on!" and he dashed down
the mountainside, followed by the others.



CHAPTER XI.

FRIENDS IN DISTRESS.


Half an hour later the boys stopped beside a ruined wall in which
was a still more ruined gate.

It was the home of Gen. Luiz Blanco, whose wife and child it was
that the boys had saved from the mountain lion.

Above the house, on a lofty turret, waved the American flag--a
fact which caused the boys to enter the gate and approach the
house without hesitation.

But when they reached the great front door leading into the
patio, they found it shut and barred.

Here they knocked loudly.

For some minutes there was no reply, despite repeated knocks, but
finally a voice called out in English:

"Who's there?"

"American boys in trouble."

"What?" was the surprised reply. "Say it again, till I see if it
is true."

"It's true all right, all right," said Billie. "If you don't
believe it we'll sing the 'Star Spangled Banner,' or 'Hail
Columbia'."

They could hear some one removing the bars and a moment later the
gate swung open, and a huge, bewhiskered man in ragged garments
and a Winchester rifle in his hand stood before them.

"Come in quick," he commanded, "and let's get this gate barred.
There is no knowing when that band of robbers will be back."

"Robbers?" queried Billie, as he set the little girl on the
ground and extended his hand to the man. "What robbers?"

"They call themselves soldiers," and the man seized Billie's hand
and gave it a mighty grip, which made even Broncho Billie wince,
"but what do we care for them? With four Americans we can defy a
hundred of them." Then, as Donald and Adrian finished barring the
gate: "It's certainly good for sore eyes to see such faces," and
he grasped each boy in turn.

"Well, we're mighty glad to see you," replied Donald. "We
expected to find the place deserted."

"How did you know anything about the place?"

"This lady told us it is her home."

"What?" from the man. "Do you mean to tell me this is the Señora
Blanco?"

"Even so, Señor," replied the lady. "No one would recognize me in
these rags and grief. Oh, Señor, had it not been for these brave
Americans I should have been devoured by a lion."

"You don't tell me. But I'd know they were the real thing. Their
faces show it. But come, let's go into the house. You'll excuse
me, Señora, for taking possession of your castle."

"It is yours, Señor. Do with it as you will. But will you not do
me the favor of your name?"

"I beg your pardon, Señora. I had forgotten. I am Ebenezer Black,
who owns the ranch across the valley. My daughter and I were out
on a hunt for some lost cattle when we were waylaid by this
so-called company of soldiers. I drove them off but my daughter
was wounded and I made for this place. Finding no one at home, I
took possession."

"I am so glad, Señor. And where is your daughter now?"

"Sitting in a big armchair, nursing a wounded arm."

"Oh, let us hasten," cried the señora. "I may be of some
assistance."

They hurried into the house and into the great library, now all
in disorder and strewn with bits of cigars and cigarettes. In one
of the big leather chairs sat a girl of some sixteen or
seventeen, with her left arm in a sling, but in her right hand
she held a glistening revolver. She was very slight, but dressed
in a riding costume of unique design, and with a wealth of soft
brown hair hanging just to her collar. With just a touch of
pallor due to the wound, the boys thought her the most beautiful
girl they had ever seen, not excepting Pedro's sister Guadalupe.

That the girl was surprised at the addition to the party goes
without saying. She looked first at her father, then at the
newcomers and then back to her father, as much as to ask: "Who
are they?"

"This," said Mr. Black as the señora came forward, "is the lady
of the house and her daughter. These are American boys, as you
can see, although you haven't had a chance to know many American
boys. I don't know their names, but names don't count. I'll vouch
for them."

"We are very highly complimented," laughed Donald, "but I shall
be pleased to introduce us. I am Donald Mackay. Now that you know
me, I will introduce my friends, Adrian Sherwood, ranch owner and
good fellow, and William Stonewall Jackson Winkle, better known
as 'Broncho Billie.' We are known as the Broncho Rider Boys."

"Oh, Father," exclaimed the girl, "I've read about them. I have a
book some one sent me from the United States telling about their
adventures at the Keystone ranch."

"You don't say so," from her father. "I didn't know they were
such celebrities. Such being the case, young gentlemen, allow me
to introduce my daughter, Josephine, commonly called Josie. Now
then, how did you all come here?"

As briefly as possible Adrian related their adventures since they
left the City of Mexico the previous morning; told about the
information contained in the telegram from Gen. Maas, and wound
up by saying: "We may be at war with Mexico right now for all we
know."

"Well, now what do you think of that?" exclaimed Mr. Black. "I
just knew I had a reason when I hoisted that flag. It's one Josie
always carries in her saddle bags. It makes her feel safer, she
says."

"And I hope she is safer," exclaimed Billie, "with it waving over
her to-day, than she would be without it."

"At any rate she has more protection than she had a few hours
ago," ventured the señora. "I shall never forget how I was
protected."

"I'd feel a whole lot better," said Donald, "if I had some other
weapon. A Colt does very well in a tight place; but I certainly
miss my Marlin."

"We formerly had quite a supply of arms," was the explanation
offered by the señora, "but when Gen. Blanco went to join Gen.
Carranza he armed all his men and it took about everything we
had. However, there are a few weapons left--unless," she added as
an afterthought, "the Huerta soldiers have discovered their
hiding place."

She led the way to the cellar and pointed to a spot at one side.

"If you will brush away the dirt that covers the floor about
there," she said, "you will find a large slab. This can be
raised, and underneath there should still be several good
rifles."

Donald and Billie, who had accompanied her, while Adrian remained
up stairs with the others, quickly followed her instructions. The
edges of the slab were exposed to view and after some effort the
opening was revealed. In it were four rifles and an old-fashioned
cannon. The rifles were not of the latest make, but two were
magazine rifles and were a decided improvement over revolvers in
case it came to defending the house.

"I suppose that old cannon might be mounted on the roof somehow
and made effective," said Donald after he and Billie had
inspected the other arms. Then to the señora: "Is there any
ammunition?"

"There was powder in that wine cask," she replied, "but I don't
know whether there is any left. The balls for the cannon are on
the roof."

The boys examined the cask and found it contained quite a
quantity of powder. Then they all returned to the library and
made their report.

"Not a very heavy armament to withstand a siege, is it?" was Mr.
Black's comment. "Half a dozen rifles with about a hundred
cartridges, an old cannon that might explode any minute, and four
revolvers. It won't do."

"What else can we do?" asked Billie.

"Why, now that there are four of us, we'll cross the valley to my
house. It is just as well located to withstand a siege as this
and it is thoroughly armed and provisioned."

"Suppose we have to fight?"

"Then we'll fight."

"But you forget your daughter and the señora and her child."

"I didn't forget Josie," was the reply, "and, wounded as she is,
she can take care of herself; but I don't know about the others.
They would be a handicap. Have you anything better to offer?"

Billie scratched his head.

"Not for the moment."

"Well, I have," exclaimed Adrian.

"I thought it was about time Ad woke up," laughed Donald. "Let's
have it."

"Captain Lopez told us that there was a large body of Carranza's
troops down the railroad a short distance. If he meant by a short
distance six or eight miles they can not be more than a couple of
miles from where we now are. I feel sure that the skirmish we
passed through has proved disastrous to the Huerta forces and I
am willing to go out and find Captain Lopez and bring relief."

"And I'll go with you," said Billie.

"I can do just as well alone. If I am not captured by the other
side I shall make it easily, and," he added, "I am sure I shall
not be captured, for I can lick any squad of peons that I'm
likely to meet."

"You are a brave boy," said Josie, a bit of praise which brought
the color to Adrian's cheeks and was an added incentive for
bravery.

"But why shouldn't I go?" insisted Billie.

"You may be needed here. This house is a marked place and if a
small band of the Huerta forces has escaped, this will be one of
the places where they will rally."

"Your friend is right," agreed Mr. Black. "I admire the pluck of
all of you, but his plan is best. The sooner he goes the better
and we will make the house as impregnable as we can. Let us hope
he is successful."

"You can bet on me," was Adrian's reply as he shouldered his
rifle, looked to the fastening of his belt, and descended to the
gate, where Mr. Black let him out.

After Adrian had gone the others inspected the house and its
approaches for the purpose of determining where they might mount
the cannon. They finally decided upon a spot in an angle of the
roof, where a chimney offered some protection and from which it
commanded the main approach to the house.

"I'm not sure we will be able to get the cannon up there,"
laughed Billie as they passed through the library on their way to
the cellar, "but we'll do the best we can."

"Don't worry," was Josie's reply. "You don't know how strong Dad
is."

The boys thought they could guess, but when they saw Mr. Black
pick up the cannon as though it had been a log of cord wood and
carry it upstairs they concluded that Josie was right.

"When I was a young man," was Mr. Black's only comment, "I was
considered the strongest man in our county. I reckon if it came
to a pinch I'd be a pretty hard man to handle even yet."

The boys had no doubt of it.

By the time the cannon was mounted and loaded the sun was nearing
the top of the mountains behind them and a few minutes later it
sank from sight.

"It won't be long now until we shall have to depend upon our ears
instead of our eyes for our protection," said Donald. "Where is
the best place to watch?"

"I'll tell you what I think," said Billie. "Let one watch from
the roof and the other down by the gate. The one on the roof can
hear noises from a distance. The one by the gate can hear any one
who may be sneaking around."

"I'll watch on the roof," said the señora. "I know the chirp of
every bird that belongs here. I shall know in a minute if
anything happens that is unusual."

"And I'll watch by the gate," declared Donald.

"Only till midnight," said Billie, "when I'll relieve you."

"And I'll relieve the señora," said Josie.

"Where do I come in?" queried Mr. Black.

"You are the general, Dad. You can be everywhere."

Sentry duty is always nerve-racking business. If you have ever
been obliged to sit alone in the dark and watch with your ears,
you will understand this and you will understand how Donald felt
sitting alone by the barred gate in the dark, 3,000 miles from
home and in the midst of a war-stricken country.

Even the north star looked unfamiliar, so close was it to the
northern horizon. Once in a while he fancied he could hear the
señora weeping, but for at least three hours this was all he
heard.

Then he heard a distinct "S-s-s-s," which was the signal agreed
upon between him and the señora if she heard anything unusual.

In an instant he was on the alert. Yes, he was sure he heard
footsteps near the gate, without. Then there were some minutes of
silence, then the hiss of a fuse and a moment later an explosion
which blew the gate from its hinges.



CHAPTER XII.

A NIGHT ATTACK.


Realizing in an instant that the hiss of the fuse, like the
rattle of the snake, betokened danger, Donald drew hastily back
into the patio in time to be out of reach of the explosion which
splintered the gate and tore it from its hinges.

Then, with finger on trigger, he awaited the coming of the foe.

It was a tense moment and the boy's heart beat fast. He had been
in many trying situations, but never in one where the safety of
so many others seemed to depend upon him.

He heard the sound of oncoming feet and intuitively threw himself
upon the ground behind a little stone paling which surrounded a
dismantled fountain.

The act undoubtedly saved his life, for an instant later there
was a scattering volley and he could hear the bullets hit against
the stone wall of the house behind him.

In an instant he pressed the trigger and a yell which followed
gave evidence that the bullet found a mark.

He fired again, but evidently without effect, and a minute later
a light at one side of the patio told him that the enemy, or a
part of them at least, were inside the gate.

As the light flared up Donald fired again, but again without
avail; but a moment later the cannon on the roof spoke.

"So," he thought, "Billie and Mr. Black are at last awake."

At the report of the cannon the light went out and there was the
rush of scurrying feet, followed by a shout.

The shout indicated that those within the patio had withdrawn to
the other side of the gate.

Feeling sure that the patio was now free of the enemy for a time
at least, Donald retreated in the dark to the house and was soon
inside. At the first landing he encountered Josie, sitting on a
step with a ready revolver. He was able to see her by the dim
light of an oil lamp which hung from the ceiling.

"Where are the others?" he asked.

"On the roof. They are trying to locate the enemy."

Donald ascended to the roof.

"I have a plan," he said, "which will enable us to get in another
shot. Load with shrapnel and I will see if I can't make some sort
of a light outside the gate. Be ready on the instant."

He ran downstairs and again crept out into the dark patio. He had
noticed in the afternoon that there were several bundles of straw
in the stable.

Taking one of these under his arm, he approached the angle in the
wall near the outer gate. He lighted a match and as the flame
caught the straw he flung the bundle over the wall, at the same
time darting inside the stable.

He had hardly found a safe position when the cannon spoke again
and evidently with telling effect.

But before those inside the walls had time to think, the enemy
rushed in, determined to capture the place.

In the dark they rushed to the house, but once under the gallery
which extended all around the inside of the patio, they produced
a light which enabled them to find the doors.

The light also enabled Donald to see those at the door and he
fired from the stable.

For a moment the fire in the rear disconcerted the enemy and
several fled, but others took possession of the doorway and
forced their way in.

The first one who entered fell by a bullet from Josie's revolver;
but realizing her weakness she jumped and fled to the floor
above, where she met her father coming down.

"They have gained possession of the house," Mr. Black told Billie
as he and the señora also descended from the roof. "We must now
guard the stairway. We should be able to hold it indefinitely."

This prediction seemed correct, as the first four or five men who
attempted to reach the second story never got more than their
heads above the floor.

After several trials of this sort, they withdrew and held a
council of war. The result was that a few minutes later a voice
called out from below:

"If you will surrender, your lives will be spared."

In reply Mr. Black shouted: "If you do not withdraw and leave us
in peace you will meet a fearful punishment."

His reply was greeted with jeers.

"I wonder how many of them there are?" queried Billie.

"Quite a bunch from the sound." Then, a moment later, "They seem
to be going out."

"Maybe they think we will come down," said Josie.

"But we must not," exclaimed the señora. "They would kill us.
Surely our friend must bring us aid soon."

"Let us hope so," was Mr. Black's reply.

And hope was the best they could do.

There was no further attack, although they could hear the sound
of voices in the patio below.

After a long period of quiet Mr. Black ventured the assertion
that they were waiting for daylight, and his surmise proved
correct.

No attempt was made to force an entrance until the first faint
light of day began to appear. Then there was renewed activity
below and a few minutes later the sound of a single shot.

"I wonder what that was," exclaimed Billie.

No one could answer, but had Billie been where he could see, he
would have known that it was Donald who fired.

As the light came, Donald, peering through a crack in the stable,
had seen a man climbing up the side of the house toward the roof.
Without a moment's hesitation he fired and the man dropped, shot
through the right hand.

But the shot was Donald's undoing. The flash of his gun was
detected and half a dozen men rushed his hiding place and took
him prisoner.

He was at once taken before the captain of the band and
questioned as to the number of defenders and as to the
whereabouts of Gen. Blanco.

To all the questions Donald gave an evasive answer.

"If you will tell me where Gen. Blanco is," said the captain, "I
will give you your freedom."

"That's easy," was Donald's reply. "He is with Gen. Carranza."

"I don't believe it."

"Well, I can't help that, nor does what you believe make any
difference. It is the truth and what you may believe has nothing
whatever to do with it."

The captain scowled.

"Who is it then, that is defending the house?"

"Americans. You had better let us go, or it will be the worse
for you. We had a safe conduct from Gen. Huerta, but we were
betrayed."

"If I had my way," said the captain, "I'd shoot every American in
the whole of Mexico."

"I don't see why," from Donald. "We have nothing against you."

"Take him away," ordered the captain, "and see that he does not
escape. Now let us capture the others."

There was a rush for the house as Donald was led back to the
stable.

Billie and Mr. Black heard them coming.

"Go to the roof," commanded Mr. Black, speaking to the two
females, "and keep yourselves and the little girl out of sight.
We will hold them back here as long as we can and then we will
also come to the roof."

The command had hardly been obeyed than the Mexicans began to
crowd up the stairs. They were met with shot after shot, but at
last all the weapons were empty.

"Run for the roof," said Mr. Black as he arose to his feet and
with his heavy boot kicked a head which was just coming up the
stairs.

Billie obeyed and a minute later the fugitives had gathered upon
the last place of safety left.

"If we only had some ammunition," moaned Billie. "Can't we do
something?"

Then, as in answer to his own query, he picked up a twelve-pound
cannon ball that lay on the roof and, raising it above his head
with both hands, hurled it through the opening upon those below.

This unexpected attack caused the besiegers to draw back, but
only for a moment. Then they came on again. In his desperation,
Mr. Black, with almost superhuman strength, picked up the cannon
itself, just as Billie had picked up the ball, and hurled it down
the stairs.

Half a dozen men fell beneath its weight, while the others,
frightened at such an exhibition of strength, fell back in
dismay.

A shout from the captain urged them forward, but ere they could
gather their courage for another rush there came the sound of a
volley in the patio below and a minute later Adrian rushed up the
stairs, followed by Captain Lopez and a squad of his soldiers.

Taken in the rear and entirely by surprise, the Huerta forces
threw down their arms and cried for mercy, and in less than five
minutes after the arrival of Captain Lopez and his men, the
entire force, or as many as remained, were prisoners.



CHAPTER XIII.

A NARROW ESCAPE.


Two days later the three boys sat on the verandah of Mr. Black's
commodious house awaiting the call to breakfast. Under escort of
Captain Lopez' men they had crossed the valley between Mr.
Black's and Gen. Blanco's the day after the night attack and had
spent the time since in getting a much needed rest.

"It's less than four days since we left the City of Mexico,"
remarked Donald, "but it seems like a month. I wonder how matters
stand at Vera Cruz?"

"From that telegram from Gen. Maas, that we took from the
lieutenant, Admiral Fletcher may have taken the city," said
Billie.

"I hope not," from Adrian.

"Why?" asked both the others.

"'Cause I'd like to be there when it happens."

"Yes, so would I," echoed Billie.

"If he has taken it," ventured Donald, "we may have difficulty
getting through the Mexican lines."

"Well, the best thing we can do," asserted Adrian, "is to get
somewhere and find out what is going on just as soon as we can."

The call to breakfast interrupted their conversation, but as soon
as they were seated at the table, they broached the matter to Mr.
Black.

"I expect you are right," he said, "but I'd like to have you stay
with me a while. It's mighty lonesome here for Josie and me."

"If we are at war with the Mexicans," remarked Billie, "this will
be an unhealthy place for an American, I imagine. I should think
you would want to take your daughter away from here."

"Oh, Josie and I are not afraid, are we, Josie?"

"No indeed, Dad. We are a match for a regiment of Mexicans when
we are on our own ground."

But in spite of the assertion made by Mr. Black he admitted to
the boys after breakfast when Josie was not present that he
wished his daughter was safe in Vera Cruz.

"Why don't you go with us?" asked Adrian. "We should be pleased
to act as an escort."

"Yes," echoed Billie. "We'll see you through."

"I'll tell you what I had thought of doing," said Mr. Black.
"It's only a good day's ride a-horseback to Moreno. We have many
friends there with whom I could leave her. If you boys would act
as an escort that far you would be no farther from Vera Cruz than
you are now and I believe you would have a better chance in
reaching the port over the Tierra Blanca division than on the
main line."

"Whether we would or not," replied Adrian, "we should be glad to
act as your escort."

"There is another thing in favor of that route," continued Mr.
Black. "The farther we keep from the main line of railroad, the
less likely we are to fall in with the Huerta forces. The
southern territory as far as Santa Lucrecia is practically in the
hands of Carranza."

"From what you say," was Donald's comment, "it is greatly to our
advantage to do as you wish. Let's consider the matter settled
and start at once."

"It's too late in the day to start now," was Mr. Black's reply.
"We shall wait until to-morrow morning and be on our way by
daylight. I don't want to be riding through the mountains after
dark. There are wild animals that are worse than the soldiers."

"As the Señora Blanco can testify," laughed Billie. "Every time I
think of what a close shave she had, it gives me a chill."

That afternoon Mr. Black brought out half a dozen horses for the
inspection of his guests.

"A day's ride on a strange horse isn't always an easy task," he
explained, "and I thought you might amuse yourself trying these.
You can each pick out the one that suits him best."

It was a task which suited the boys better than any they had
undertaken in days, and as they had not only Mr. Black, but Josie
and the General's wife for spectators, they were more than
pleased to show their dexterity after true cowboy fashion.

The remainder of the afternoon was therefore spent in riding,
throwing the lariat and in shooting, much to the gratification of
Mr. Black, who declared he had never seen a better exhibition of
its kind.

As a result of their experience, the boys picked out three
medium-sized horses, which Mr. Black emphatically stated showed
their good judgment of horse flesh, as completely as their riding
had proved their horsemanship.

They were all in the saddle early the following morning, Josie's
wound having healed sufficiently to permit her to ride without
danger.

Early morning in the tropics is the pleasantest time of the day,
and although the road from Mr. Black's hacienda to Moreno would take
them from an altitude of over four thousand feet down to about two
thousand feet above sea level, they would be sufficiently up in
the mountains to make riding fairly comfortable.

The route chosen took the little party first to the headquarters
of the Carranza force operating in that section. They were warmly
greeted by General Dorantes, the commanding officer, who
furnished them with a guard of four men and passes through the
lines, "if," he added as he bade them good luck, "you should find
it necessary to pass our lines. If my reports are correct, we are
in possession of all the territory to the south."

For hours the cavalcade rode on without incident, stopping only
long enough to partake of a mid-day meal at the hacienda of Don
Alvaro Flores, a friend of Mr. Black's. Late in the afternoon,
however, when about six miles from their destination, there came
to their ears the sound of heavy firing--of field pieces mingled
with the occasional roll of a machine gun.

They stopped and listened intently.

"Which direction do you make the firing to be?" asked Mr. Black
of the corporal in command of the escort.

"In the direction of Tierra Blanca, sir. It sounds as though our
forces might have been attacked."

"How will that affect our journey?"

"Hard to tell, sir. If we win, as we shall, the enemy may fall
back toward Santa Lucrecia, or they may retreat toward Moreno. If
you will take my advice, you will halt here until the action is
over."

The advice seemed most excellent and the cavalcade came to a halt
and the riders dismounted to give themselves a much-needed rest.

The firing lasted something like twenty minutes, then suddenly
ceased, with the exception of an occasional "Boom!"

"It sounds as though we had beaten them off," said the corporal.

"Is there any way that we can tell in which direction they have
retreated?"

"Only by a reconnoiter."

"Which is our long suit," declared Billie. "You just stay here
with the guard, Mr. Black, and we three will soon have a report."

Looking to their arms, with which they had been well supplied by
their host before leaving the hacienda, the boys rode forward
toward an elevation something like a mile distant. From this they
hoped to get a view of the country.

There was a fairly level road and they dashed along at a good
rate despite their long ride. The horses were as hard as iron and
the boys did not know the meaning of the word tired.

Reaching the top of the hill, they found a space, from which they
could see clear across the valley through which ran the railroad
from Santa Lucrecia to Vera Cruz. To the right, some miles away,
they could see a good-sized little city which their common sense
told them must be Tierra Blanca. To the left, but nearer, was the
smaller town of Moreno, for which they were headed.

Between the two towns, and coming directly toward them, was a
band of galloping horsemen, probably one hundred or more in
number.

"Great Scott!" was Billie's ejaculation as he caught sight of the
horsemen, "they're coming right at us."

"I believe you are right," from Donald. "They seem to be on this
very road."

"What would you take them to be?" was Billie's next question.

"Give it up," replied Donald.

"I'll bet I can make a good guess," said Adrian. "They are a
flying column of Huerta cavalry, sent out to test the Carranza
lines. They have paid their respects to Tierra Blanca and now
they are headed for Cordoba."

"They'll never get there," said Billie. "They'll run into General
Dorante's men."

"But if it's a surprise, they'll cut their way through."

"It's up to us to see that it is not a surprise!" cried Donald.
"Come on!" and he turned and dashed back the road they had come.

In less than five minutes they were where they had left their
companions. In another two minutes they had told their story and
in another minute the corporal and his men were on their way back
toward General Dorante's headquarters.

"It's only a question of whose horses are the best," said Mr.
Black. "And now let us to cover."

Leaving the highway, the Americans turned sharply to the left and
dashed for the shelter of a piece of woodland something like a
half a mile away. Pell-mell they went over rocks and shrubs,
regardless of themselves or their horses, and succeeded in
reaching the friendly cover just about three minutes before the
cavalry came into sight over the hill.

"We're all right now," said Mr. Black, "if the troopers will
stick to the road, but if they should take it into their heads to
scatter, we might have trouble."

With eager eyes the boys watched the oncoming horsemen, prepared
to flee for their lives if they should be discovered, as they
realized how useless would be any resistance.

Nearer and nearer they came until the leaders were at the very
spot they had just left, and then with a rush they passed by,
turning neither to the right nor to the left.

Every one in the party heaved a deep sigh of relief.

"It's a wonder some of them didn't stop," said Billie.

"Oh, I don't know," laughed Adrian. "Look yonder," and he pointed
to the brow of the hill, where another, but much smaller body of
horsemen had appeared. "They evidently didn't intend to have
their mission interfered with by fighting a rear-guard skirmish."

"I think the best thing we can do," said Mr. Black, "is to
surrender ourselves to the pursuers. They are evidently
Carranzistas and our passes will protect us."

Breaking off a piece of bamboo, Mr. Black tied a handkerchief to
it and raising it above his head the little party rode out of the
woods. They were sighted at once and a party of horsemen dashed
toward them, and surrounded them.

It was as they had expected and Gen. Dorantes' passes were
immediately recognized by the officer in command. He was much
pleased at the information given him concerning the corporal and
thanked the boys in the name of Gen. Carranza for their good
offices. He furthermore detached an escort of a dozen men to see
that they reached Moreno in safety and commended them to the care
of the jefe politico, with the verbal instruction that the boys
be allowed to proceed on their way to Vera Cruz at their will.



CHAPTER XIV.

APRIL TWENTY-ONE.


"Boys," said Mr. Black the following morning as they were
preparing to pay a visit to the jefe politico, "I want you to do
me a favor."

The boys looked at him in surprise.

"Well, what is it?" asked Donald, when Mr. Black did not
immediately continue.

"I want you to accept, as a mark of my appreciation of your
bravery and good services, the horses upon which you are mounted
and the accoutrements."

The look of surprise on the faces of the boys deepened.

"I am sure, sir," replied Donald, speaking for the others, "we
should be pleased to accept them if we were expecting to remain
in the country. We hope, however, to leave Vera Cruz in a very
few days."

"Boys," and Mr. Black's face was most serious, "there is no
knowing when you will reach Vera Cruz; much less leave it."

"What do you mean?" from Billie.

"I had a long talk with my friend, Don Ramon, last night after
you were in bed and he tells me that the railroad between here
and Vera Cruz is in the hands of Gen. Maas, the other side of
Guayabo, and there is almost no chance of your being allowed to
pass through the lines."

"Why not?" from Adrian.

"Well, you see, since we have heard anything, relations between
the two countries have become more and more strained and the
United States has practically declared a blockade on Vera Cruz.
The entire Atlantic fleet is assembled outside and there is
liable to be a clash at any time."

"Then we'll accept the horses, Mr. Black," spoke up Donald, "and
we'll ride to Vera Cruz. It can't be more than fifty miles."

"Forty-six by rail," said Mr. Black. "I kind of thought you might
like to try and make it, is why I want to give you the horses,"
and the speaker smiled knowingly.

"The sooner we start the better, I expect," said Adrian.

"Yes; after you pay your respects to the mayor."

The foregoing conversation explains how it happened that on the
morning of April 21, 1914, the Broncho Rider Boys looked down
from a little hill, the top of which was covered by tropical
foliage, upon the harbor of Vera Cruz, with the American fleet in
the offing.

By a circuitous route and by two nights of riding, hiding in the
day, the boys had reached this spot about an hour after sunrise.

"Whew!" was Billie's exclamation as he looked out across the
harbor at the men-of-war flying the American flag. "There's a
bunch of them, isn't there?"

"Sure is," from Adrian, "and they look peaceable, too."

"You never can tell by the looks of a toad how far it will jump,"
laughed Donald. "But peaceable or warlike, I'd like mighty well
to be on board one of them."

"Here, too," from Billie. "I wonder how we're going to make it."

"How would it do for one of us to try and get into town and find
the American consul?" queried Adrian.

"Fine," from Donald, "if he succeeded; but bad if he did not."

"Then what had we better do?"

"Give it up. Suppose we wait here a while and something may turn
up."

"I'd like to know what can turn up?" asked Billie.

"I don't know; but I was thinking that one of the ships might
happen to send a boat ashore for something. If we saw it coming,
we could ride quickly into town."

Adrian laughed. "I reckon it would be just as hard to get through
the Mexican lines then as now. No! I'm going out to reconnoiter."

It was an hour later when he returned.

"I've found a way," he said as he threw himself on the ground and
fanned himself vigorously with his hat. "It's down by the water
works. There are several Americans down there."

"Good," said Billie. "Let's go. I'm getting mighty hungry."

"Now don't be in a rush," cautioned Adrian. "There's a picket
between here and there. We'll have to ride easy. You put the
saddles on the horses. I'm pretty well tired. I want to tell you
it's hot."

Billie was busy with the horses when Don suddenly pointed out
toward the American men-of-war.

"Look!" he exclaimed. "There's something doing."

And sure enough there was.

Out from behind two of the largest vessels there suddenly darted
a number of launches loaded with blue-jackets and marines.

In another instant they had headed for the shore, while out
behind them trailed the American flag.

The boys sprang to their feet and watched the approaching boats
with the utmost interest.

"There must be a thousand of them!" exclaimed Billie.

"More than that," said Donald, as his eyes ran over the oncoming
boats. "There's nearer fifteen hundred."

"And look there," cried Adrian. "See those two smaller ships
moving in toward shore."

"What do you suppose they are going to do?" asked Billie, all in
a tremor of excitement.

"Looks to me," replied Donald, "like they were going to capture
the town."

"Why, that's war!" from Adrian.

"Well, isn't that what we've been expecting? I wish I knew what
it all means."

As some of the readers may not know what was the cause of the
action it may be explained that a German steamship had arrived
the night before loaded with arms for Huerta's army. Admiral
Fletcher had no right to seize the German ship, so he determined
to seize the port of Vera Cruz. Then if the arms were landed they
would be in the hands of the Americans.

"Well," declared Adrian, "whatever else it means, it means
business."

"Do you suppose the Mexicans will try to prevent the landing?"
asked Billie.

"We'll know in a minute, for they are most ashore," said Donald.

Donald was right and in another minute a shot rang out followed
by a rattle of musketry.

"Flash! Flash! Bang! Bang!" spoke the howitzers in the foremost
of the launches.

Boom! Boom! Boom! came the sound of three guns from the ship
nearest the city, which proved to be the _Prairie_.

The crash of the six-inch shells as they struck in the city could
be heard above the rattle of the rifle fire which had now become
continuous.

"It's a sure enough battle," cried Billie. "Come on! Let's go
down!" and he flung himself onto his horse.

"What would you do?" cried Donald, seizing Billie's horse by the
bridle. "You'd be killed by the fire from our own guns. This is
the best place we could be in while the firing is going on. As
soon as our men have driven the Mexicans out of town, then we can
go in."

"But I want to take a hand in the fun," said Billie.

"It's no fun, as you'll find after it's all over. No knowing how
many of our boys are being lost, to say nothing of the Mexicans."

"Look!" cried Adrian, who had not taken his eyes from the scene
in the harbor. "There are a couple of other ships going into
action."

Billie turned at sound of Adrian's words. Sure enough, there came
flashes from more guns, as the _Chester_ and _San Francisco_
moved up into striking distance, although at that time the boys
did not know the vessels' names.

"What show will the Mexicans have against those guns!" exclaimed
Donald. "They'll be driven out of town in short order."

Once more Donald was right and after some minutes of firing, the
boys realized that the rifle fire was becoming less.

"If they retreat, which way do you suppose they will go?" queried
Adrian.

"I was just thinking about that," was Donald's reply. "What do
you think, Billie?"

"I should think along the main line of railroad."

"And I imagine they'll retreat in every direction," said Adrian.

"In which case," advised Donald, "we'd better be prepared to make
a dash through."

"Look here," from Billie. "Can't you see that the shots are all
aimed at one particular place? I'm sure if we come around by the
south, we can get in behind our men some way. It's a good deal
better chance than to stay here to be shot down by the retreating
Mexicans."

The others were forced to admit the wisdom of Billie's advice and
they proceeded to follow it.

Mounting their horses, they rapidly retraced their steps for a
couple of hundred yards and then headed for the harbor.

They had not gone more than half a mile when they caught a
glimpse of foot soldiers forming in line on what appeared to be a
parade ground.

"This is no place for us," exclaimed Donald. "Back to the woods."

"I'm afraid it's too late," from Adrian.

"I hate to run for it," was Billie's comment, "but it's the best
we can do. I have no mind to fall into Mexican hands right now."

He put spurs to his horse and dashed through a little clump of
trees which grew by the way, closely followed by the other two.

They seemed to have done just the right thing and were
congratulating themselves upon their lucky escape, when they
heard horses coming from the other way.

Billie drew his horse up with a sudden turn.

"It looks as though we'd have to fight for it, boys! If we do
let's give a good account of ourselves."

They drew their Winchesters for instant use.

The sound of hoofbeats drew nearer and then there burst into
sight from around a turn in the road a sight which caused the
boys nearly to fall from their horses with laughter.

Riding on a mule and followed by several peons on burros was the
florid-faced gentleman whom they had met on the train the day
they left the City of Mexico. He was bare-headed and his coat
tails streamed out in the breeze. He had no saddle and was
clinging onto the mule by grasping him around the neck.

"Help! Help!" he cried as he caught sight of the boys. "I
surrender. I surrender."

Seeing the boys' horses directly in his path, the mule came to a
sudden stop, with both feet stuck out before him. The result was
that the florid-faced gentleman, who wished to head a company of
marines to drive the Mexicans off the earth, shot forward over
the mule's head and landed in a cactus bush.

Now a cactus is not a pleasant thing to sit upon, even when the
greatest care is used; but to be shot into it as from a catapult
is more than any one can bear.

With a yell that might have been heard half a mile, had it not
been for the noise of the guns, the man scrambled to his feet and
darted away down the hill, while the peons stopped at the
unexpected sight of the boys.

"Americanos!" they cried, and, tumbling off their burros, fell on
their knees in abject terror, as though expecting that their end
had come.



CHAPTER XV.

THE INSULT AVENGED.


Perceiving that the advantage was on their side, the boys did not
hesitate to profit by it.

"Do as we bid," ordered Donald sternly, "and your lives will be
saved. Disobey and we will not answer for the consequences."

The kneeling peons uttered never a word, but raised their eyes
with a look of surprise.

"Get up," was the next command.

The peons obeyed.

"Now conduct us to the water front by a route where there are no
Mexican soldiers."

"Do you think you can trust them?" asked Billie.

"At any sign of treachery, our first shot will be for them." Then
to the peons: "Now march."

Without a word the peons, five in number, started back over the
route by which they had come but a minute before.

"Where did the other American come from?" asked Billie of the
peon nearest him as they rode along.

"Quien sabe, señor," was the hesitating response. "We saw him
riding by and we followed him."

"That's the way with loud talkers," remarked Adrian. "When the
test comes they usually weaken."

The firing, which had somewhat subsided for a few minutes,
suddenly began again with renewed vigor, especially on the part
of the ships.

"Our boys are getting ready for another advance," said Billie,
and his manner became greatly excited. "Let's get there in time
to take part."

"I'm willing," declared Adrian. "Come on!"

The two boys dug their spurs into their horses and dashed
forward, upsetting a couple of the peons in their flight.

"Hold on!" called out Donald. "You'll get into trouble."

Billie and Adrian paid no attention to his cry, whereupon he
also put spurs to his horse, leaving the peons gaping with
astonishment in the middle of the road.

And now the boys came into sight of the water front where the
fighting was going on. It was at the instant that the order had
been given to clear the space around the custom house, and the
boys saw the marines advance on the double quick.

The Mexicans gave way, but volley after volley was poured down
upon the advancing Americans from the roofs of houses and from
nearby church towers.

There were several shots in rapid succession from the _Chester_,
which had drawn in more closely, every one of which struck a
tower where a large force of Mexicans had gathered.

The tower toppled and fell, carrying many with it.

"Hurrah!" cried Billie. "Give it to them!" and, firing his rifle
as he went, he rode right down into the main street.

"He'll be killed by our own men!" cried Donald.

But he was not. Instead he dashed into the open space in front of
the custom house, just as the marines swept by, his hat off and
his rifle cracking as fast as he could fire.

Seeing that the danger from the marines was past, Donald and
Adrian fell in behind Billie, just as an officer came around the
corner at the head of another company.

Espying the boys, he halted his command.

"What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"We just came to town," replied Billie, "and we're trying to help
avenge the insult to the flag."

"Good!" was the emphatic reply. "Fall in behind us. You may be of
service."

The boys obeyed and followed the company as it swept up the
street. Presently they came to a barricade, behind which the
marines had taken a stand. The boys expected the command to halt,
but instead they passed the barricade and pushed onward toward
the outskirts of the city.

All the time there was a continuous fire upon them by men
secreted on the roofs of houses.

"I'd clean out those snipers if I were in command," said Donald
to his companions.

The words were hardly out of his mouth ere another company of
marines made its appearance and the men dashed into the houses on
either side of the street.

"Somebody has the same idea, Don," was Billie's comment as they
rode along.

Two blocks farther came the order to halt and entrench. A minute
later the officer called the boys toward him.

"Would you rather lend us your horses, or act as orderlies?" he
asked.

"If it's all the same to you," was the reply, "we'll serve as
orderlies."

"Very well. Will you," turning to Adrian, "go back to the custom
house and tell Captain Rush that we have reached our position.
You," to Billie, "ride with all speed to the landing and say that
the enemy has retreated toward the water works. They should not
be allowed to stop long enough to do any damage."

The two boys were off like the wind to carry the orders.

"Anything for me?" asked Donald.

"Not for the present. Better dismount and get behind something."

Two minutes later Adrian pulled up in front of the Custom House
and delivered his message, while Billie kept on to the water's
edge.

"Do you know where the water works are?" asked the officer to
whom Billie gave his order.

"Yes, sir!"

"Then lead us to it."

Without a word Billie obeyed and the Jackies followed on the run.

The information was evidently received none too soon, for they
encountered quite a force of Mexicans, guarding the works.

A volley from the bluejackets was returned by a scattering fire
and the Mexicans turned and fled.

But the volley had been sufficient to lose Billie his mount, as
his horse came to his knees with a bullet in his shoulder.

Without waiting to see the cause of Billie's fall any more than
to ask if he was hit, the Jackies pushed on toward the water
works, leaving Billie to look out for himself as best he could
until the work in hand was completed.

"This is sure enough tough luck," was Billie's comment as he
helped the horse to his feet and examined the wound. "It will lay
him up for a week."

He took the horse by the bridle and led him slowly back toward
the Custom House, where he reported to an officer and hunted up
Adrian.

"What had we better do now?" he asked. "I'd like to find a place
to tend to my horse."

"The fighting seems about over," was Adrian's reply, "and I
reckon the horse will be given attention by some one."

"Oh, I don't want to make any trouble, Ad! If nobody objects,
suppose we go hunt a stable."

They were about to leave when a sergeant stopped them.

"You're to follow me to the Captain," he said. "Here," to a
marine who stood by, "take charge of these horses and see that
the lame one is cared for."

"I wonder if they will take our horses away from us?" muttered
Adrian as they followed the sergeant.

"Give it up. I wonder what he wants of us?"

It did not take them long to find out.

"Are you the boys that brought the messages from Lieutenant
Blunt?" asked Captain Rush.

"Yes, sir."

"Will you undertake another mission?"

"With pleasure," replied Adrian.

"Same here, sir," from Billie, "but my horse has been wounded."

"That's bad. However, I guess we can find another."

"Sure, sir. I can borrow Don's."

"Who is Don?"

"He's the other one of us, sir. He is still out with Lieutenant
Blunt."

"Well," said the Captain, "either two of you will do. What I want
is to find out to just what point the Mexican army is falling
back. Do you think you can find out?"

"Sure."

"Very well. My compliments to Lieutenant Blunt and give him this
order. He will pass two of you through the lines. The other can
remain with him. Sergeant, their horses."

Five minutes later, both astride Adrian's horse and leading the
other, they appeared at the outpost and delivered the order.

"Which two shall it be?" laughed the lieutenant as he looked the
boys over.

"I guess it will have to be Adrian and Don," replied Billie
ruefully. "I've had glory enough for one day. The insult to the
flag has been avenged and the Stars and Stripes are floating over
Vera Cruz."

"I think it's only fair that Don, as you call him, should share
in the adventure," said the lieutenant, "and the sooner you go
the better. It is almost sundown now."

Then as Donald and Adrian started on their mission:

"Success to you and report here when you return."

"Is there any place near here where I can care for my horse?"
asked Billie as soon as the others had passed out of sight.

"Why, yes. There are stables in almost any of these houses. Here,
try this one," and the lieutenant indicated the one before which
they were standing.

Billie knocked on the big door, but there was no reply.

"Knock louder," laughed the lieutenant. "Use your boot."

Billie used his foot and with such vigor that the gate flew open.

When no one appeared to answer his summons, he stuck his head
inside the patio and called lustily.

"Must be deserted," he finally remarked. "Such being the case,
lieutenant, I reckon I might as well take possession."

"Sure. Go ahead. If every one has gone, I may join you later."

Billie led his horse within and looked around. It was a large
house and the patio was the most elaborate Billie had ever seen.
He had thought that Pedro's home in Mexico City was fine, but
this was much finer.

"They must be swells," was the lad's comment. "I reckon they
became frightened and have run away with General Maas."

He started to lead the horse to the stable and then stopped.

"I might as well shut this big gate," he thought. "I'll leave the
little gate open so the lieutenant can come in."

He pushed the big gate together and dropped the bolt in its
place.

"Now to do something for the horse," and he turned to the animal
which stood patiently by.

Then he stopped and stood in mute astonishment at what his eyes
beheld.

In the center of the patio, with rifle in hand, aimed squarely at
his head, stood a figure he had last seen on the banks of the Rio
Grande more than a year before--the figure of a man whom he had
known only as Santiago.

The recognition was mutual, but instead of the friendliness which
had always before marked the attitude of the strange man, there
was now upon his face a look of the most bitter hatred.



CHAPTER XVI.

SHADOWING AN ARMY.


When Donald and Adrian left the city they rode slowly along for
some distance without any sign of the retreating Mexicans,
except the occasional sight of some camp utensil which had been
thrown aside as too heavy to carry. Occasionally they met peons
or women, who looked at them curiously, but all of whom were more
than willing to tell of the army that had so recently passed.

"How many men do you suppose General Maas has?" queried Adrian.

"The lieutenant said it was supposed he had about seven thousand.
It may be more, and it may be less."

"Well, they're certainly light-footed," laughed Adrian. "Don't
you think we ought to get closer?"

"If we can without being seen."

They put spurs to their horses and for a mile or more galloped
along at a fair speed.

Then from a little eminence they saw the rear guard of the
retreating army.

"This is near enough," cautioned Donald.

They halted and watched the marching men.

"How far would you say we are from town, Don?"

"At least seven or eight miles."

"Do you know what towns are in this direction?"

"Not the slightest idea. That's the next thing we must find out."

The enemy having by this time passed out of sight, they again
spurred forward, but holding their distance.

Darkness had now fallen and the boys were obliged to pick their
way more carefully.

For half an hour they rode silently and then Donald spoke:

"They certainly will not march all night. They must have some
place in mind."

"So I think," from Adrian. "But there seems no sign of a halt."

Ten minutes later, however, they caught sight of a fire light.

"That looks like it might be a camp," suggested Adrian.

They rode cautiously forward.

"It surely is," affirmed Donald a couple of minutes later. "We'd
better dismount and do a little reconnoitering on foot."

The suggestion was immediately put into effect.

Leaving their horses tethered beneath a giant palm, which would
serve as a landmark, the boys crept stealthily forward. In a few
minutes they were near enough to see figures about the fire.

"They are evidently getting ready to pass the night," said
Donald.

"Yes," from Adrian, "and there is another fire off yonder," and
he pointed to the right.

"They are getting ready to post their pickets," explained Donald.

"Then we'd better get busy, Don. There must be some way of
finding out where the army is going to stop."

As with one accord they drew still nearer the camp, they could
smell the coffee and their appetites began to assert themselves.

"Wish I had some," whispered Adrian.

"You'll get to be as bad as Billie first thing you know," was the
retort. "But, hush! There comes some one."

They lay flat on the ground and listened.

Whoever it might be was coming directly toward them.

Not a move did the boys make, hoping that they might not be
discovered, but ready to act if they were.

When within ten feet of them the footsteps halted and they heard
a voice say:

"This will be far enough. You are the end man on the line."

"Bueno, caporal!"

"Keep a close watch," cautioned the corporal. "You never know
what these Americans may do."

"Si, Señor. How far are we from Vera Cruz?"

"About four leagues" (twelve miles). "General Maas will make a
stand at Tejeria, about a league further on."

Then as he moved away. "Remember now, no sleeping. This is a real
war."

"Bueno, mi caporal. I understand."

The corporal departed and the sentry, shouldering his rifle,
began pacing his station.

A minute later Donald gave Adrian a dig with his elbow as a
signal, and they slowly crawled away.

"That's the information we are after," whispered Donald when they
were out of earshot. "Now to get back to Vera Cruz as quickly as
possible."

They rose to their feet and ran swiftly but silently toward the
palm tree, where their horses were tethered.

Suddenly Adrian stopped and grabbed Donald by the arm.

"What is it, Ad?" asked Donald.

"Can't you see! There is some one there with the horses."

They both peered through the darkness and Donald quickly
perceived that Adrian was right.

Then as by one impulse they drew a few steps nearer.

In the dim starlight they were able to make out the figures of
several men.

"Do you think they are soldiers?" whispered Don.

Adrian shook his head.

"Camp followers. Thieves," he whispered.

Donald nodded his head in acquiescence.

The boys lay down upon the ground and put their heads together.

"It wouldn't be any trick at all," whispered Donald, "if it were
not for the pickets. But any noise will bring down upon us a
couple of hundred men. Maybe more. We have simply got to dispose
of that outfit without noise. But how?"

"Bad job," was Adrian's only reply.

"If the horses were only our Wyoming cow ponies, they'd come at
our call."

"But they're not," replied Adrian.

For several minutes neither spoke, but lay silently watching the
movements of the men about the horses.

"How many can you make out, Ad?"

"Five."

"I don't see but four."

Adrian pointed to the left, about ten or twelve feet, to one who
stood alone.

"What's he doing there?"

"Give it up." Then a moment later: "I have it!"

"Well, what is it?"

"He's watching for us to return. That's what they're all waiting
for. They think we'll be a great catch."

"That's just it," from Donald. "Let's fool them!"

"Well, first, let's capture the one yonder. We'll show them a
Wyoming Indian trick."

Slowly and silently the boys wiggled their way to where the lone
robber stood. Then as silently as a ghost Donald arose, while
Adrian bent on his knees.

There was a swift movement and Donald's arm was around the
Mexican's neck, shutting off his wind, while Adrian pulled his
feet from beneath him. In another minute he was bound by his own
sash and gagged with a handful of grass.

"That's one!" exclaimed Donald, as he sat upon his prisoner's
chest. "Now, how about the others?"

"Not so easy, Don."

"But it has to be done," declared Donald. "Scratch your head."

Adrian did so, but to no avail.

Time was passing and they did not know how long ere something
would turn up, when Donald gave Adrian a kick.

"Look! They're getting uneasy."

This was undoubtedly true, as the men were moving about and one
of them even had the temerity to light a cigarette.

Then of a sudden Adrian spoke.

"I've got it!" he exclaimed under his breath. "Help drag this
chap farther away."

They picked him up bodily and carried him fifteen or twenty feet.

"Now, listen," said Adrian, "both of you. You, Don, sneak as near
the horses as you dare. I'll give you just five minutes by my
watch. Then I am going to give this man one chance for his life.
I am going to take the gag from his mouth and let him give one
call for help. If he makes another sound, it will be his last."

"Then what?"

"Those fellows have waited so long that they are tired. They will
all rush to where they expect to find him. Then you will rush in
and cut the tethers. By the time they find this man I will be
with you. Sabe?"

"Good!" from Donald. "I'm off."

In exactly five minutes by his watch Adrian gave the prisoner a
rough shake.

"You know what I said?"

The man nodded his head.

"Well, I am now going to take out your gag. If you make more than
one cry, or utter more than one word, your own knife will finish
you."

He held the knife before the man's eyes. Then with the knife in
one hand, Adrian pulled the wad of grass from between the
prisoner's teeth.

No sooner had the man drawn one long breath than he let out a
yell that might have been heard half a mile and which he was
about to repeat with variations, when with a swift movement,
Adrian forced the grass back into his mouth and the yell died in
a dismal gurgle.

"I ought to use the knife," said Adrian, "but I guess this will
do."

With a bound he sprang to his feet and dashed to where Donald was
already performing his part of the work.

The plan had worked exactly as Adrian had figured, and in another
moment the boys were astride the horses and away toward Vera
Cruz.

But one thing they had not taken into consideration. That single
yell of their erstwhile prisoner had aroused the Mexican pickets
and from half a dozen directions came the sound of rifle shots
and then the sound of a bugle calling to arms.

Even while Adrian was running toward the horses, the excitement
had begun, and as the boys started on their homeward ride, a
volley from the encamped forces sent the bullets whistling by
their ears.

"This is no place for us!" cried Donald. "Don't be afraid to use
the spur. It is our only chance."

And now as they rode furiously forward, came the sound of firing
on their left and some distance ahead.

"What does it mean?" called out Adrian as they rode neck and neck
through the darkness.

"Search me, Ad; but our only chance is in our horses," and Donald
again plied the spur.

Outlined against the sky at the top of a small knoll, they could
see a small body of horsemen.

"Keep away to the right," said Donald. "Keep in the valley and in
the shadow," and he drew off the beaten highway, with Adrian
close behind.

On the soft earth their horses' hoofs made no sound and in a
couple of minutes more they descended into a little valley and
the noise of the alarm passed out of hearing.

"It was a mighty close shave," declared Adrian a few minutes
later, when they pulled their horses down to a walk to allow them
to catch their breath.

"Sure was," from Donald, "but we got the information we went
after."

Half an hour later they were challenged by the American pickets,
which had been thrown even further forward than where the boys
had passed through the lines. They stated their mission and were
at once sent under guard to the officer of the day.

"Oh, it's you!" was the lieutenant's salutation as he saw who it
was. "Did you get what you went after?"

"Yes, sir," from Donald. "The enemy has halted at Tejeria,
fifteen miles away."

"Well done. I'll send an orderly to carry the report to
headquarters. You boys are entitled to a rest."

"Where's Billie?" asked Adrian, looking around after the orderly
had departed.

"Who?"

"Billie. Our chum."

"Oh, yes," replied the lieutenant. "He's disappeared."

"Disappeared?"

"Yes. He went into this house here," pointing to the building
before which he had stationed himself, "and when I went in later
to see how he was coming on with his wounded horse, I found the
horse standing in the middle of the patio, but your chum had
disappeared."

"And then what?" queried Donald.

"Nothing. I made up my mind he had gone after something to put on
his horse and I haven't thought much about him since."

"Then it's up to us to find him. Can we go inside?"

"Sure," laughed the lieutenant. "Go as far as you like, only keep
inside the lines."

Without more words the boys entered the patio.



CHAPTER XVII.

BILLIE GETS A SURPRISE.


When Billie found himself looking into the muzzle of a rifle in
the hands of Santiago, his first impulse was to call out; but the
expression on Santiago's face caused him to remain silent.

While the strange man owed his life to the lad, as is related in
the story of the "Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers,"
there was that in the man's face which told that he was under a
severe mental strain, and Billie did not think it wise to presume
upon his former friendship.

Therefore, he remained quiet, waiting for Santiago to speak.

If he recognized Billie, he gave no intimation of the fact; but
in a harsh voice commanded: "Up with your hands!"

Billie obeyed.

"Turn to the left and march. In there," he continued a moment
later as Billie approached an open door in the rear of the patio.

Into the house Billie went--into a large room, but dimly lighted.
Santiago followed, closing the door behind him with a kick.

"Why shouldn't I shoot you down like a dog?" asked Santiago as
soon as the door was closed.

"I can't see any reason," was the reply, "except that it might
cause you a lot of trouble when it was found out. I imagine that
Admiral Fletcher is going to be pretty severe upon snipers and
others who shoot Americans."

"Bah!" exclaimed Santiago angrily. "I spit upon Americans! Bah!"

"That's all right," Billie agreed, "if it's the way you feel
about it."

"Just because you Americans have driven away a few soldiers with
the guns of your great fleet, you don't think you can conquer
Mexico, do you?"

"I hadn't thought much about it."

"Then it's time you did, as you may never have another chance."

"Well, then," explained Billie, "I'll tell you how it looks to
me. You might a great deal better be governed by the United
States than by a man like Huerta."

"Huerta! Huerta!" fairly screamed Santiago. "He is not the
governor of Mexico."

"No," from Billie. "He calls himself the provisional president.
In reality he is a dictator."

"He is a murderer!" shouted the thoroughly excited man.

"Then what are you worrying about? All that the Americans want is
to get rid of Huerta. They don't want Mexico. Didn't you know
that, Santiago?"

"What? Who calls me Santiago? I am Ixtazhl, Prince of the Aztecs
and guardian of the treasures of Montezuma. Who calls me
Santiago?"

In his excitement he rested the stock of his rifle upon the floor
and bent upon Billie a gaze so fierce as greatly to disconcert
him for the moment.

But Billie was not a lad to be easily unnerved and after a moment
he replied calmly:

"I call you by the only name I know. It was the one you used on
the Rio Grande when you sent me on a mission to Pancho Villa."

"Villa! Villa!" repeated Santiago, as though trying to recall
something that had passed from his memory. "Villa! Where have I
heard that name before?"

"On the Rio Grande is all I can tell you. Do you remember Don
Rafael?"

At mention of the name the expression on Santiago's face changed
again, this time to one of fiercest rage.

"Don Rafael!" he cried. "Don Rafael! Now I know you! You are Don
Rafael. That is why I should kill you!"

"Great Scott, no, I am not Don Rafael!" shouted Billie as
Santiago again raised his rifle and the lad perceived that he had
to do with a crazy man. "I'm the boy that saved your life when
Don Rafael tried to kill you. Don't you remember?"

Again Santiago lowered his weapon, and again there came upon his
face that puzzled expression.

"Tell me, Santiago--I mean Prince Iztazil, or whatever you call
it, what are you doing here?"

Santiago eyed him suspiciously, but finally laid his rifle across
a table in the center of the room and approached nearer the lad.

"Listen!" he said in a whisper. "I am the guardian of the
treasure of Montezuma. It is to be used to free Mexico from the
Spaniard. He must be driven out. The land belongs to the Aztec."

"But where is the Aztec?" queried Billie. "I know him not."

"I am he. The peons are my people. The Spaniard--bah! He owns the
houses and he owns the lands; but he must be driven out."

"Isn't that what Villa says?"

"Villa? Villa?" again repeated Santiago, and again he lapsed into
silence.

For some minutes he remained motionless ere he stepped back,
picked up his rifle and started for a door leading to a stairway.

"Come!" he commanded. "I will show you."

"Hadn't we better take care of the horse first?" asked Billie,
not at all anxious to be wandering around with an armed lunatic.
"He may die."

"What is a horse when the future of Mexico is at stake, my son?
Come with me and you shall hear a strange tale."

"I have heard one already," was Billie's mental comment, but
realizing by the term son which Santiago had applied to him that
he was in no immediate danger and trusting to his wits to finally
overcome the strange man should it become necessary, he followed.

At the head of the stairs was another door, which Santiago opened
and entered. It was a sort of ante-room, much like the entrance
into a lodge room. Around the walls was a motley collection of
firearms, swords, spears and smaller weapons.

Stopping in front of one of the racks, Santiago placed his rifle
in it, and then from another took a couple of small swords, one
of which he handed to Billie.

"This is a bug house sure enough," muttered the boy as he took
the sword and examined it curiously. "I wonder what next?"

He had not long to wait, for opening a closet, Santiago took
therefrom two beautifully embroidered robes, one of which he
threw over his own shoulders and the other of which he put on
Billie.

"It doesn't hardly match my hat," laughed Billie.

Without a word, Santiago removed Billie's sombrero and hung it
on a peg in the closet, which he closed.

Then he opened another door and led Billie into a large,
brilliantly lighted room, hung with the richest tapestries.

"Looks like we had strayed into some Turkish bath house," thought
Billie, "but I might as well see the thing through."

"Sit here beside me, my son," Santiago finally said. "You shall
become my heir. I will introduce you to the court."

Santiago clapped his hands, as though bidding a servant to
attend; but there was no response.

He turned his head from one side to the other as though in
amazement and again clapped his hands, this time with vigor.

After a moment's delay, there was a movement behind one of the
draperies and presently the curtain was drawn back and a man's
face appeared.

"Come hither," commanded Santiago.

The man obeyed.

"Where are the others?" demanded Santiago.

"Oh, señor," cried the man, "the others have hidden themselves in
the cellar!"

"Slaves! Cowards!" exclaimed Santiago. "What do they fear?"

"The great guns, señor. We might all be killed."

"You will certainly be killed if you do not mind what I say," was
the reply as Santiago drew his sword. "Now summon the court that
I may introduce my son."

The man bowed and left the room, and in a few minutes returned
accompanied by two more men and several women, all arrayed in
fantastic costumes.

All bowed as they entered, and Santiago waved his hand.

"This is my son and heir," he said. "Come and kiss his hand."

They all came forward and kissed Billie's hand, which he held out
in order to facilitate the job.

"Now," said Santiago, "we----"

"Now," interrupted Billie, "if it is all the same to you, Prince,
we'll have supper. I haven't had a mouthful to eat since
daylight. I'm 'most starved to death."

"It is well," agreed Santiago. "It is well that my heir should
not die of hunger. Let the table be placed."

The order seemed to meet with general approval, and in the course
of half an hour there was spread what would have proved a feast
at any time, but which was beyond description to a hungry boy;
and the way he waded into the food was a caution.

During all this time Santiago had uttered never a word, nor would
he eat but the smallest portion of food--a taste of every dish
which he set before his guest.

"My son tells the truth," Santiago finally remarked as Billie
pushed back his chair with the single word "Bastante," meaning
enough.

"I always try to," was the smiling rejoinder, for Billie was now
in the very best humor. Eating was his strong point and he had
gone the limit.

"Clear away the feast and then reassemble," was Santiago's next
order.

This order was carried into effect, and the servants also must
have enjoyed a square meal, for it was more than an hour ere they
again assembled, during which time Billie sank back in his chair
and slumbered peacefully.

He was finally awakened by a hand laid upon his arm.

"Awake, my son," were the words he heard. "It is now time that I
reveal to you the secret of my life. It is now time that I should
tell you the secret of the treasure of Montezuma."

"That's right, Prince," said Billie sleepily. "Let her go."

Santiago regarded him interrogatively.

"What said my son?"

"Oh, yes, Prince. I forgot you only understood good English. Let
her go, means proceed with the secret."

"Let her go. Let her go," Santiago repeated a couple of times.
"Yes," he continued, "I had forgotten about her."

He clapped his hands and the same servant who had first appeared
approached his chair.

Santiago gave an order in a language which Billie did not
understand, but which he imagined was Indian, and the servant
withdrew, only to reappear a few minutes later with a young woman
who greatly resembled Santiago and who was also arrayed in a
gorgeous costume.

She had evidently not expected to meet a stranger, for she drew
back upon seeing Billie and the color rushed to her face.

"Come hither, daughter," was Santiago's command.

The young woman obeyed.

"Lucia," said Santiago, "this is the honorable young man whom I
have chosen for my heir. Henceforth consider him your betrothed.
The marriage shall take place one new moon from to-day."

"Oh, Father," cried the girl, her face becoming even more scarlet
than before, "I cannot----"

"No!" interrupted Billie, springing to his feet, "neither can I.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Santiago----"

"What!" cried Santiago, springing to his feet and again drawing
his sword. "Who calls me Santiago? I am Prince Ixtazhl of the
great Aztec nation and guardian of the treasure of Montezuma!"

He raised his sword and would have stricken Billie down ere the
boy could have prevented had not the young woman thrown herself
between them and seized his arm.

At the same instant the door from the ante-room opened and Donald
and Adrian entered.



CHAPTER XVIII.

A MISSION FOR FUNSTON.


"Santiago!" exclaimed Donald.

"By all that's great!" from Adrian.

"Help!" cried Lucia. "He will do something desperate!"

Donald and Adrian sprang forward, but their assistance was not
needed. Billie had by this time gathered his wits and in a
twinkling the mad-man was disarmed.

"Shall we bind him?" asked Adrian as they came forward.

"No, indeed," replied Billie as the now helpless man sank down
upon the chair. "He isn't dangerous."

"What's it all about?" queried Donald.

"Oh, nothing much! He simply wanted to make me his heir and marry
me to his daughter."

Donald and Adrian cast an admiring gaze upon Lucia, who was now
kneeling at her father's side.

"Well," said Adrian in an aside, "I don't see why you should
object to that."

"Who said I objected?" demanded Billie. "It is the young woman
who objects."

"But whoever supposed he had a daughter?" said Donald.

"Not I," from Billie. "But this is certainly a queer mess."

Then to Lucia: "How long has he been in this way, Señorita?"

"Only a few days. Since this trouble with the Americanos."

"But how could that affect him?"

"It is a long story, señor. For years he has been trying to
overthrow the government. When Madero was made president, he was
happy. Then came that awful tragedy, by which Madero was killed.
Since that time he has not been himself. But when it became
evident that the United States would interfere he became as you
have seen him to-day."

"When I told him that all the United States wanted was to get rid
of Huerta, he was much pleased," explained Billie. "That was when
he proposed to make me his heir."

Lucia's cheeks grew red, as she asked: "And did you accept his
proposal?"

"I neither accepted nor rejected. I just followed him in to see
what would happen next."

"But would you accept?" insisted Lucia.

"That depends," replied Billie, with a touch of color in his own
face. "But what had we better do now? You and I will discuss the
other question later."

"The best thing we can do," interposed Donald, "is to report to
Lieutenant Blunt. Isn't there some place, Señorita, where your
father can be placed for safe-keeping?"

"He will be perfectly safe here with me, señors, if the servants
are allowed to remain."

"They certainly will be," declared Billie. "I will personally
vouch for that. We have done Captain Rush a good turn to-day and
I know he will be glad to do that much for us. And besides, the
Americans will harm no one."

Lucia gave Billie a grateful look as she replied:

"Ah, señor, I shall trust it all to you. I can see that you are a
friend of my father and I know you are telling the truth."

"You bet you can trust me," was Billie's emphatic reply. "Come
on, fellows, let's go look after my horse."

In the door Billie turned:

"I'll leave my robe in the cupboard, Señorita; and, if you don't
mind, I'll ask Lieutenant Blunt to make himself at home in the
patio."

"The house is yours, señor. Do as you think best."

"By George!" exclaimed Adrian as they descended the stairs to the
patio, "this is getting serious."

"What?" queried Donald.

"Why this affair of Billie and the young lady we have just
left."

"Nonsense!" from Billie. "It isn't half as serious as what I saw
at Moreno."

"No!" laughed Donald. "I saw that myself; but Josie is an
American. Hey, Ad?"

"I don't think it's very nice to be making remarks about young
ladies in their absence," retorted Adrian, bristling up.

"Oh, come now, Adrian!" laughed Billie. "You started it. But what
do you make out of Santiago?"

"He's evidently a rich old chap with a bug. That's all."

"Well," commented Billie, with a nod of his head, "strange things
do happen when you travel. Who'd have thought we'd ever see the
old chap again, and at a time like this?" and he went back to
where Adrian and Donald had stabled the horses, to see if there
was anything he could do for the wounded animal.

When Lieutenant Blunt was made acquainted with the conditions
prevailing in the house, he immediately took possession of the
lower floor and from that time on until the arrival of General
Funston with the Fifth Brigade, it was made one of the official
residences.

The week following the occupation of Vera Cruz by the American
forces was a busy one for our boys. Because of their intimate
knowledge with the Spanish language, they were continually in
demand. There was never a verbal message from the American
Admiral to some Mexican official but what they were called upon,
and they very soon made friends of every Jackie and marine in the
city.

Ten days later the boys stood upon the wharf awaiting the arrival
of the first boatload of General Funston's regulars from the big
transports which had anchored in the harbor the night before.
Because of the shallowness of the water, everything in Vera Cruz
harbor has to be brought ashore in small boats, known as
lighters. As the boys watched the first of these to approach
there was something in the face and bearing of the officer in
command which attracted their attention.

"By George!" exclaimed Donald, "I seem to know that face. Don't
you, Billie?"

"Does look kind o' familiar. Where have we seen him?"

"I'll tell you!" cried Adrian. "It's the lieutenant who was in
charge of the patrol on the Rio Grande."

"Lieutenant Grant!" exclaimed Billie. "Sure as you're born. Well
this is luck!"

"Luck? What do you mean?"

"Why, maybe he'll be able to tell me whatever became of those
drafts for ten thousand pounds that I took from old Don Pablo."

His companions laughed.

"Still thinking about that, are you?" said Donald. "Why of course
you'll never hear of them again. The bank is simply in that
much."

"Maybe so," admitted Billie, "but I'll get something official."

And he did.

It was several days later, though, after the regulars had taken
possession of the city and the navy forces had withdrawn to their
ships. The boys were sitting in Lieutenant Grant's quarters, to
whom they had offered their services as soon after his landing as
they were able, and were laughing over their adventures on the
border.

"It was certainly a close call you boys had," the lieutenant was
saying. "I'm not sure but our neutrality was mighty near a
breaking point. What do you think, Billie?"

"Possibly so; Americans will be Americans. But say, Lieutenant,
whatever was done about those drafts I took from Don Pablo? I've
never been called upon to tell my story, nor have they ever come
back to me."

"That's because you were out of the United States," replied
Lieutenant Grant. "It was less than a month ago that I was asked
if I knew your whereabouts. Uncle Sam has decided that he has no
claim to the drafts and they were returned to me. I have them in
my army chest. If they are any good to you, I shall be pleased to
hand them over."

"I guess they are not much use to any one," sighed Billie
mournfully. "My father says no bank would cash them without Don
Pablo's signature, and no one can get that."

"I'm glad you take it so philosophically," laughed the
lieutenant. "I hope you'll have better luck next time."

The boys arose to leave.

"Which way?" asked the lieutenant.

"No place in particular. We thought we'd go home."

"You mean to the United States?"

"Not to-night," laughed Adrian. "Just to the house where we are
living. It belongs to old Santiago."

"Who is he?"

Briefly the boys narrated what they knew about him on the Rio
Grande, how they had met him here, and why they were staying at
his house.

"Has he no other name?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so," replied Billie. "We always call him
Prince to his face, and his daughter as the Princess Lucia. Of
course, it is all make-believe, but it is one way of keeping him
quiet."

He called to one of Santiago's servants, whom Lucia had lent them
to look after their horses.

"Oh, Chomo!" he said. "Do you know what Santiago's surname is?"

"Si, señor. It is Ojeda."

"What?" cried all the boys at once. "Ojeda? Why, that was old Don
Pablo's name."

The boys stood and eyed each other in speechless wonder. The same
thought was in all their minds.

"Do you think it is possible?" asked Billie at last.

"Do I think what is possible?" asked Lieutenant Grant.

"Why, that Santiago could have given those drafts to the stranger
so as not to be known in the matter."

"Possibly. He seems a man of mystery."

"Well," declared Billie, "I am going to find out."

"How, I should like to know," asked Donald. "He's too crazy to
remember anything, even if he wanted to tell you."

"You forget Lucia," said Billie.

"Oh, no, I haven't," laughed Donald, "and I have no doubt she
would tell you all about it if she knew; but I do not believe she
does. Santiago is too deep to have entrusted his secrets to a
girl not yet out of her teens."

"You never can tell," remarked the lieutenant. "Men with a
hobby do strange things. You'd better ride along with me to
headquarters. I'd like to introduce you to General Funston. He's
a man after your own hearts. You know how he went out and
captured Aguinaldo when he was in the Philippines."

"I've read about it," replied Adrian. "It was a bold deed."

"Sure was," said Donald. "We'll be mighty glad to meet him."

It may also be said that General Funston was glad to meet the
Broncho Rider Boys, especially after Lieutenant Grant told him in
a few words of the good work they had done on the border and on
the day that Vera Cruz was taken.

"And when do you expect to return to the United States?" asked
the general.

"Just as soon as we can obtain passage," replied Donald.

"I think we can arrange that for you in a few days," replied the
general. "In the meantime come in occasionally."

The boys thanked him and started to leave, when the telephone in
the general's quarters rang. He looked for some one to answer,
but no one being at hand, he picked up the 'phone himself.

"What's that?" he asked after a brief moment. "The water works.
You think they are attempting to cut you off. All right, I'll
rush help."

He set down the 'phone and turned to Lieutenant Grant.

"The enemy has gathered in force about the water works," he said
sharply. "They evidently intend cutting off the water supply.
Tell Colonel Bright to send them reinforcements at once. Do you
boys know the way there?"

"Yes, sir," from all three.

"Then show the men the nearest way! Now go! The safety of the
city may depend upon you!"



CHAPTER XIX.

AN UNUSUAL RIDING PARTY.


Flinging themselves into the saddle, the boys rode rapidly after
Lieutenant Grant and were at Colonel Bright's quarters by the
time the bugle had called to boots and saddle. In another minute,
at the head of a squadron of cavalry, they dashed over the road
they had come to know so well.

What happened during the next twenty minutes is history.

Guided by the boys, the reinforcements arrived opportunely to
stop the advance of a large body of Mexicans who would have
destroyed the water works and have left the inhabitants and the
American troops entirely without water.

A few minutes later two batteries with rapid-fire guns put in an
appearance, and in less time than it takes to tell it, the
Mexicans turned and fled.

It was not General Funston's mission in Vera Cruz to overrun any
more Mexican territory, so the Mexicans were allowed to retreat
without pursuit; but the lines were strengthened so that from
that time on there was never any danger from Huerta's forces,
although there were numerous alarms and plenty of scout duty.

During the few minutes of fighting, the boys were in the midst
of it and all came through it without a scratch. But it was
exciting work and when it was over they were publicly thanked by
Colonel Bright for their good work.

"Well," laughed Billie as the three rode slowly back to their
home, "that's glory enough for one day. I don't care to be a
soldier."

"Nor I!" agreed Donald. "I prefer a quiet life on the ranch."

"Which we are in a fair way to see in a few weeks," commented
Adrian. "I have no doubt that General Funston will do as he
agreed and find us passage."

"I for one shall be glad to return to the States," said Donald.

"So shall I after I have found out about Santiago's connection
with that ten thousand pounds."

"That's right," was the laughing rejoinder. "Stick to it, Billie,
and who knows what may happen?"

"Do you know," remarked Adrian slowly, "I'm beginning to be
considerably worried for the Americans scattered throughout
Mexico."

"Why should you be?" from Donald.

"I remember Pedro's words that, if the United States did
anything, Carranza would unite with Huerta."

"I don't believe he would."

"Maybe not. But the Zapata brothers will think this a good time
to make the Americans trouble. I was thinking of Mr. Black and
Josie."

"I'll bet you were," laughed Billie. "I wouldn't be surprised if
they were thinking about you. Hey, Don?"

"Well, they might do worse," said Donald. "There are worse
fellows than Adrian."

"That's right," retorted Adrian good-humoredly. "I can stand it.
But, just the same, I wish I knew they were safe."

"Well, what's the matter with our paying them a visit?" queried
Billie.

"Nix," from Donald. "We'll stay inside the lines. I've had enough
of this bush fighting."

They approached Santiago's residence, where they had decided to
remain until they sailed, when they perceived a peon on a pony
standing by the gate. As they drew near they recognized him as
one of the peons who had served as Mr. Black's mozo.

"Why, hello, José!" exclaimed Donald. "What brings you here?"

The mozo drew a letter from beneath his poncho and handed it to
Donald.

"For me?" asked Donald. "I thought it must be for Adrian. I
didn't think the----"

"It is from the jefe," interrupted the mozo.

"Oh, it's from Mr. Black!" with an accent on the Mr. "That's
different."

Donald opened the letter and read it hastily.

"Well, by George!" he exclaimed, "what do you think of that?"

"I can tell you better when I know what that is," replied Billie.

"Why, Mr. Black is becoming alarmed over the activities of the
Carranza forces and wants us to ask General Funston if he won't
send out enough cavalry to escort him and his daughter to Vera
Cruz in safety."

"Of course we'll ask him!" exclaimed Adrian. "Let's do it at
once."

"Now wait a minute," said Donald. "Let's see about it."

"What is there to see?"

"There's a good deal to see. You remember our experiences on the
Rio Grande?"

"But this is different! We are at war with Mexico now."

"No, we are not. We have simply seized one port as a reprisal. To
send a cavalry force out into the country might bring on more
trouble."

"Well, I don't care!" exclaimed Adrian hotly. "I'll go and ask
him alone if you are afraid to go with me. I'm not going to leave
Jos--I mean Mr. Black and his daughter out there at the mercies
of these greasers. You hear me!"

"Oh, we'll go with you, all right!" said Billie. "But don't be
surprised if you don't get what you ask."

Accordingly the trio started for General Funston's headquarters.
After some delay they were admitted to his presence and Donald
showed him Mr. Black's letter.

The general perused it carefully and then remained silently
thoughtful for some moments.

"I wish I could do what our countryman asks," he finally said,
"but I do not see how I can. To send a force out nearly fifty
miles, even for such a service, would be overstepping the purpose
for which I am here. I----"

"But you wouldn't leave them out there to be mistreated and
perhaps killed, would you?" interrupted Adrian.

The general smiled.

"Such is not my intention; but we must plan some other way. We
must use a little strategy."

"That's right!" exclaimed Billie, "and I'll bet the man who went
out and rounded up Aguinaldo will know how to do it!"

Again the general smiled broadly, evidently well pleased at the
implied compliment.

"I'll do the best I can," he said quietly, "but I am not very
familiar with the lay of the land. You boys have had some
experience. Perhaps you can suggest something."

Adrian said nothing, and Donald scratched his head. It was Billie
who spoke.

"I was just wondering, General," he said, "if some of the men
wouldn't like to take a little horseback ride and see something
of the country."

"Well, now, perhaps they might," assented the general.

"We could show them some mighty fine scenery, sir."

"By the moonlight, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir. By the moonlight and early sunrise."

"And about how many would you like to take on this picnic?"

"Well," replied Billie, squinting up one eye, "I was thinking
that Adrian and I might take out about ten to-night. Then about
the same time to-morrow night Don could take another ten. We
would probably meet somewhere in the mountains and watch the sun
rise."

"A very nice plan," said the general, "and one of which I
approve. You may ask Lieutenant Grant to make enquiries among the
men in his company and see if there are any who would like to be
given two or three days' leave for such a purpose."

"Thank you, sir!" and Billie touched his hat in true military
style.

"And you might say to the lieutenant," was General Funston's
parting words, "that I should be glad to hear later how the men
enjoyed their ride. I think, now that the boys are down here,
they should be given a chance to see the country."

"Billie, you have the making of a great general," was Donald's
comment as they left the general's quarters. "How did you think
of it?"

"I remembered my experience when I wanted men to help me get you
and Ad out of trouble in Presidio. Lieutenant Grant will know all
about it."

And so he did. In less than half an hour ten regulars, some of
them but very little older than Billie and Adrian, were ready for
the ride which Billie had proposed and which in his mind would be
as far as Moreno.

"You are sure ten will be enough?" asked Lieutenant Grant.

"Sure! Twelve Americans are enough to lick fifty Mexicans if it
comes to that; and besides we shall have Mr. Black and Josie.
He's as good as four."

"And don't forget the reinforcements, if they are needed,"
laughed Donald. "We will be right on the spot where we saw the
sun rise the first morning after we left Moreno."

"It looks all right," was Lieutenant Grant's comment, "but it is
always well to have a big enough force. Success to you!"

"You'll make all the necessary explanations to the crowd you
bring out, Don," was Billie's parting words. "Adrian and I will
explain the nature of the trip to our fellows as we ride along."

This they did, and gave the soldier boys a little history of
their own troubles in reaching Vera Cruz.

"No explanations are necessary," remarked a young chap by the
name of Brooks, a corporal. "We saw you out at the water works
and we know you are made of the right stuff. You lead! We'll
follow, won't we, boys?"

"You bet!" replied the others in one voice.



CHAPTER XX.

ADRIAN FOILS A TRAITOR.


It was nine o'clock of the second night that Adrian and Billie,
accompanied by Mr. Black's mozo, José, and the ten troopers,
reached the outskirts of Moreno.

They had made good headway the first night, had slept in the
hills during the day and had come this far without molestation.

"If everything goes to the end as it has this far," remarked
Corporal Brooks to Billie as they neared the little town, "it
will be nothing but a pleasant outing, sure enough."

Arriving at the edge of the town, the boys sent José forward to
see how the land lay and to bring them word.

"Do you think you can trust him?" asked the corporal.

"We'll have to," replied Adrian. "I believe he is loyal, and Mr.
Black seems to have complete confidence in him."

"Let's hope so, anyway," said Billie. "It seems to be the best we
can do to get word to Mr. Black of our presence."

"Hurry back, José," urged Adrian as the mozo departed.

"Si, señor," was the brief reply. "You may depend on me."

"It ought not to take him more than half an hour," explained
Billie. "It isn't more than a mile."

But a half hour passed and then another and still no José.

"Something must have happened to him," said Adrian.

"That's the charitable way to look at it," laughed the corporal.
"It's more likely, however, that he's making arrangements to have
something happen to us."

"I hardly think so," was Billie's comment, "but, if he is, we'll
fool him."

"How?"

"We'll move."

"But he may come back."

"We'll leave one man here on guard. The rest of us will go around
to the other side of town."

"Good!" from the corporal. "You are a strategist."

The plan was at once carried into effect.

"Now then," said Billie, "I'm going in to town myself."

"Not much," declared Adrian. "I'm going."

"I'd offer to go myself," laughed the corporal, "but I don't know
the place."

"We'll toss for it," said Billie.

"All right," and Adrian produced a coin. "Heads I win. Tails you
lose."

"No funny business," said Billie. "Choose heads if you want."

Adrian flipped the coin. It came down heads up.

"All right," agreed Billie. "Now for some set of signals."

"Our old Broncho Rider whistle if I need help," said Adrian. "If
everything is O. K., I'll give the whip-poor-will."

Adrian slid from his horse.

"What are you doing?" asked Billie.

"I'm going afoot. I didn't spend my boyhood among the Indians for
nothing. Good-bye!" and a moment later he disappeared in the
fading moonlight.

"Whatever the conditions," said Billie, "we'll soon know," as he
settled back in his saddle.

Running swiftly along, Adrian made straight for the barracks in
which he knew would be found whatever soldiers might be in the
city.

"If I find everything quiet at the barracks," was his thought, "I
can go straight to where Mr. Black is stopping without fear. If I
find there is any disturbance, I'll be more careful."

Ten minutes of running brought him to the barracks. All was as
quiet as the hour demanded. He stood under the shadow of the back
wall long enough to hear the sentry's call and then he turned in
the direction of the house where the two Americans were stopping.

It was only a few blocks away and he reached it without incident.

"Kind o' funny," he mused, "that I haven't seen or heard a soul
on the street. I wonder what's become of José?"

He stopped a minute to ponder.

"Things are going almost too smooth. I'll just stop a bit."

He stole past the house and a moment later threw himself into the
gutter, where he lay as one dead.

The wisdom of his action soon became apparent.

He hadn't been lying there two minutes until a solitary figure
passed him and stopped in front of the house, evidently listening
to hear what might be going on inside.

A moment later he was joined by another figure. Adrian could just
make them out in the darkness.

"Have they come?" was the whispered question.

"I can't tell," was the whispered reply.

Adrian heard both the question and the answer distinctly.

"It's José," he said to himself. "He knew that it was the plan
for Billie and I both to come to the house. The traitor! I have a
notion to shoot him in his tracks."

Only the fear of creating a disturbance kept the lad from
carrying out his notion.

"Why don't you knock and tell the Gringo you are here?" was the
next question.

"They might be in there."

"Well, what of that? You can tell them you were stopped by the
guard and have just been released. That'll seem reasonable."

José stepped to the door and knocked.

There was no response and he knocked again.

"Who is there?" asked a voice.

"José. I just come from Vera Cruz. Let me in."

There was a movement within and presently the door opened and
José entered, closing the door behind him.

Adrian slowly arose to a kneeling posture.

"I wonder what the other will do now?" he wondered.

He did not have long to wait, for the other knocked on the
pavement with his gun and presently several more figures
appeared. Adrian had just time to throw himself to the ground and
escape detection.

The men in front of the house exchanged whispered confidences and
then all but one started to leave.

"If any one attempts to leave the house," was the command, "fire!
If any one attempts to enter, allow them to do so and then give
the customary call."

"Bueno!" was the response, and all but the one withdrew.

A minute later Adrian again arose to a crouching posture and as
the sentry cautiously approached the door, he crept up behind
him. An instant more and he was upon the man and had him by the
throat.

The man was a wiry Mexican and evidently in training, for he
squirmed and kicked vigorously; but Adrian's grip was too firm
upon him and in a couple of minutes he sank down limp upon the
ground.

The noise of the scuffle must have been heard inside, for the
door cautiously opened and a head peered out.

Without a question Adrian sprang within, dragging the lifeless
form of the sentry with him.

"Quick, bar the gate!" he commanded.

The command was obeyed.

"Now where is Mr. Black?" he asked.

"Upstairs talking with José."

"All right. Bind this man while I go up. Don't let him escape or
he is liable to cut your throat."

"_No temer V, señor_" was the response, meaning "Have no fear."

Adrian ran lightly up the stairs, revolver in hand. He heard
voices talking and had no doubt that José was narrating some
trumped-up story.

"Yes, señor," he heard the mozo say, "they are expecting you. It
is necessary that you go at once."

Adrian flung open the door and covered José with his revolver.

"Put up your hands," he commanded. Then to Mr. Black, to whom
José was talking: "Take his weapons away from him, Mr. Black."

Realizing at once that something was wrong, Mr. Black obeyed.

"Now tie him."

This was also quickly done, Mr. Black asking at the same time
what had happened.

"I can't tell you exactly, Mr. Black, but this man has betrayed
us and we are now watched by a squad of soldiers."

Mr. Black's face turned as black as his name.

"Is that true?" he demanded, seizing José by the shoulder with
such a powerful grip that the man cried out with pain.

"Oh, señor," he cried, "don't kill me! I will tell you all."

"See that you do," was the command. "One lie and I will wring
your neck as I would a chicken. You know me."

"I'll tell the truth. I told the captain at the barracks. He is
going to capture all the Americanos and hold them for ransom and
I am to have half."

"That is evidently the truth," declared Adrian, and he proceeded
to tell Mr. Black what was being done to get him and his daughter
to Vera Cruz, and how José had played them false.

For a moment it looked as though Mr. Black might wreak his
vengeance on José, but after a minute he thought better of it.

"You ought to die this minute," he declared, "but I'll wait till
I have more time." Then to Adrian: "What had we better do now?"

Before Adrian could reply the clear note of a bugle rang out upon
the night air.



CHAPTER XXI.

ADRIAN HAS AN ACCIDENT.


"What do you suppose that means?" asked Adrian.

Mr. Black made no reply and a moment later the bugle call was
repeated.

"It sounds to me," said Mr. Black, "as though some fresh troops
were coming in."

"That's bad," was Adrian's comment.

"Perhaps not, my lad, if we act quickly."

"How so?"

"The new arrivals may take up the attention of the gang of
bandits outside and we may get away ere they return."

"Good," was Adrian's comment. "Where is Miss Josie?"

"Waiting in the next room with the family of my host."

Mr. Black stepped to the door and called to those within. In a
few words he explained the situation and in less than three
minutes he and the girl were mounted and ready to ride.

"Where is your horse?" he asked Adrian.

"I left it with the boys at the cocoanut grove."

"But we can't go and leave you here."

"Of course not. I shall run alongside of your horse, holding to
its mane, Indian fashion. Now then, are we ready?"

"All ready!"

The great gate was opened noiselessly and, bidding a subdued
good-bye to the family, the three passed out into the night.

"I should have throttled José ere I left," declared Mr. Black as
they passed down the street.

"I wish we were as safe as he is," laughed Adrian.

For three blocks they wended their way as silently as possible
and just as they came out into the open there came another bugle
call.

"That's for us," said Adrian. "There is no mistaking that
command. Now to run for it."

The two riders put spurs to their horses and Adrian bounded along
at their side, running as lightly as an antelope. They were
rapidly nearing the spot where the Americans were in waiting,
when Adrian stepped into a hole and pitched forward onto his
face.

"Don't stop for me!" he called. "I'll be there as quick as you
are!"

He picked himself up and started to run, but his ankle gave him
such a pain that he almost fainted.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed, "I've sprained my ankle."

He sat down and rubbed the maimed member for a couple of minutes
and then attempted to hobble on. It was more than he could bear
and he sat down again.

"By George," he groaned, "this is tough! I'll have to call for
help."

He gave the well-known whistle, but there was no response.

He gave it again; but still no answer.

"Worse and more of it," he muttered. "Something has happened to
Billie."

What it might be Adrian could not imagine, but he was sure that
his chum was not at the appointed spot, as he was near enough to
have heard the whistle and would surely have answered.

"Well, I can't stay here. The greasers will be coming pretty
soon. I must get along some way."

He got up and walked a few steps and again sat down. There was no
sound of a pursuit and the hoofbeats of Mr. Black's horses had
ceased.

"They have reached the grove," Adrian muttered. "I must get there
some way."

Once more he arose to his feet and took several steps and then
sank down in a faint, so great was the pain.

When he came to himself he was lying upon a matting of some kind
and to his ears came the faint sound of a guitar, followed a few
moments later by sounds of girlish laughter.

He sat up and looked around, but could see nothing, except a ray
of light coming in through a little crack between a couple of
blankets that formed a curtain in a doorway.

"Where in the name of common sense am I?" he muttered.

He attempted to get to his feet, but the pain in his ankle
brought him quickly to himself.

"Now I remember!" he exclaimed. "I fell and sprained my ankle.
But how did I get here?"

He started to call, but at that moment the music ceased and a
minute later he heard voices saying good night. Then a door was
closed and immediately the curtains were thrown open and a peon
woman stood in the door.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, upon seeing Adrian sitting up and looking at
her. "Then you are not dead?"

"I should say not. Did you think I was?"

"I was afraid so."

"Why?"

"Because your death might be laid at my door."

"Evidently she hasn't discovered I am an American," thought
Adrian. "Well, I'll not tell her until I have to."

The woman turned around and called to some one in the other room
and another figure appeared in the door--that of a girl some
fifteen years of age.

"Look, Peppita," and the elder woman pointed at Adrian.

The girl gave a little scream.

"_Madre mia!_" she exclaimed. "Who is it?"

"I know not, my child. I found him unconscious at our back door
and dragged him inside."

"I beg your pardon," said Adrian. "I didn't know I was near any
house."

"It is a very poor one, señor. I and my daughter are all alone
since my poor Leocadio was killed."

"Who killed him?" asked Adrian, becoming interested.

"The Huertistas. He was a soldier under Gen. Dorantes."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Adrian. "I know Gen. Dorantes well. He is
a fine man. But you will soon be avenged, for Huerta's days are
short."

The woman's eyes snapped.

"_Es verdad?_" meaning, "Is it true?"

"It certainly is. Since the Americans have taken Vera Cruz, Gen.
Huerta will have to go. It is only a question of a few days."

"_Bienissimo!_ The Americans are brave men! My Leocadio was fond
of the Americans."

"I am glad of that, señora, for I am an American."

The woman and girl both started back as in fear and then came
forward again.

"How did you come here, señor?"

"I fell from a horse and sprained my ankle. I tried to walk and
must have fainted."

"Have you friends in Moreno?"

"I did have, but they have gone and I want to get to Vera Cruz."

"Vera Cruz is a long way, señor. I never expect to go that far
from home--me and my little Peppa."

Adrian smiled.

"I expect it does look like a long ways to you, señora; but it is
not far. Do you think I can stay here with you until my ankle is
well enough to walk? I have a little money. I will pay you
something."

"Oh, Mother!" exclaimed the girl, who now spoke for the first
time. "You will let him stay, won't you?"

"The wife of Leocadio would not turn a lame dog out, much less a
lame boy."

"_Mil gracias, señora!_" exclaimed Adrian, with much gratitude.
"Yes, more than a thousand thanks. You will never regret it."

"The wife of Leocadio is not learned," was the reply, "but she
knows an honest youth when she sees one. Come, Peppita, let the
young man go to sleep. We will make our bed out here."

She drew the curtains together and Adrian was left alone to his
own reflections.

"By George!" he exclaimed under his breath, "if I ever get out of
this measly country, I'll be glad. I wonder what has become of
Billie? Of course he'll look for me, and old Don, too; but it
looks as though it might be weeks before I could walk. Well, I
don't care. If Mr. Black and Josie got away, that's glory enough
for one day."

He settled himself down and tried to go to sleep, but his leg
hurt him so that he could not. In fact, the pain was so great
that every once in a while he groaned.

After a few of these groans the woman appeared in the door with
an earthen vessel filled with hot water.

"If the señor will bind this on his ankle, it will do it much
good," she said.

"I'll do anything to get rid of this pain," said Adrian.

He took the jar and, dipping his handkerchief in it, bathed his
ankle freely and finally bound the cloth around the swollen part.

"There," he muttered as he at last succeeded in finding a
comfortable position, "now I think I can get a little sleep."

How long thereafter it was before he came to himself he did not
know, but when he opened his eyes the first streak of daylight
was creeping in through a little window.

A minute later there was the rattle of musketry, followed by a
hearty American cheer. He raised up to look out of the window,
when the side of the room came in with a crash.



CHAPTER XXII.

A RESCUE AND A SURPRISE.


It would be hard to describe Adrian's surprise at the unexpected
event which closed the preceding chapter. His first thought was
that a cannon ball had struck the house, but a second thought
convinced him that such was not the case. Before he had time to
think further he heard a big voice call out:

"Here he is!"

A moment later Mr. Black burst in through the opening in the wall
and, picking Adrian up in his arms as though he had been a baby,
started on a run with him for the nearest horse.

"There you are!" he exclaimed as he set the boy on the horse.
"Now to run for it!"

Adrian needed no second bidding, but digging his heels into the
horse's side he dashed away toward the cocoanut grove, his flight
being protected by the Americans with Billie at their head.

A couple of minutes after, the entire band had rallied in the
shelter of the trees, where they stopped to plan for the next
move.

"How did you ever find me?" asked Adrian as he and Billie peered
out toward the town.

"Mr. Black knew about where he lost you and we tracked you by
your trail. Whoever dragged you into the house, left a trail as
wide as your body."

"It was a woman," explained Adrian, "and she was hiding me. But
where were you when I whistled for help?"

"That's a long story," was the reply, "which I will tell you when
we have time; but briefly we were on the other side of the town,
where we left the man on guard. It appears that our friend José
was a first-class traitor."

"As I discovered," said Adrian.

"Yes," continued Billie, "he sent a bunch of soldiers to capture
us. The sentry heard them coming and gave the alarm. We went to
his aid and succeeded in rescuing him, but that is what got us
into this trouble."

"And now what?"

"Now we have to get away just as soon as we can."

"Right," said Mr. Black. "There is no enemy in sight at this
moment and the best thing we can do is to run for it. If we can
cross the valley safely, we shall have little trouble."

"I'd like to stay and give them a few shots," said the corporal,
"but it would probably be unwise."

"I'll tell you what, Brooks," suggested Billie, "suppose you and
I remain behind until we see the others well across the valley.
If there is any pursuit, we can hold them back for a few
minutes. They will not know how many we are and it will give the
others a chance to escort Mr. Black and his daughter to a place
of safety. You know that is what we really came for."

"Fine!" was the corporal's reply.

Mr. Black and Adrian protested, but they were overruled.

"It's a good idea," said the oldest of the troopers, "and now to
run for it."

It was fully five minutes after the others had left that Billie
and Brooks saw the Mexican infantry, some fifty in number, emerge
from the town and come slowly toward them.

Looking across the valley, they could perceive that the little
band under the direction of Mr. Black was nearing the protection
of the forest that covered the next hillside.

"Two minutes more and they will be safe," said Billie.

"Then we'll give them the two minutes," replied the corporal.
"Cut loose at the bunch as soon as it is near enough."

A moment later two rifles spoke out and then they turned loose
their automatics, to give the impression of a much larger force.

Two men fell and a minute later two more, as the boys'
Winchesters again spoke.

"Now for the horses!" cried Billie as the Mexicans threw
themselves upon the ground.

They sprang to their horses and dashed away down the valley.

They were not discovered until they had cleared the shelter of
the trees and then a volley was fired after them. The bullets
sang all around them, but they escaped unhurt, and before another
volley they were out of range.

"It's a good thing for us that they have no cavalry," said Brooks
as they sped along.

"Sure is," was the response, "and I hope they don't succeed in
getting word ahead of us."

"We'll fix that," said Brooks. "We cross the railroad just at the
foot of the hill and I'll climb up and cut the telegraph wires."

"They may have sent word already."

"Hardly. They may have tried to, but it's dollars to doughnuts
that there was nobody at Joachin or Rio Blanco to receive it. The
nearest night operator, I imagine, is at Piedras Negras."

"They may send a force from there to head us off," suggested
Billie.

"That's so; but I'm not sure whether Piedras Negras is held by
the Carranza or the Huerta forces."

"It's a terrible mix-up, isn't it?" laughed Billie. "But I guess
either side would be glad to get us."

They had reached the tracks by this time and a couple of minutes
later Brooks was up a pole and with the aid of his bayonet broke
the wires.

"If it isn't too late, that'll hold 'em for a while," he remarked
as he descended from the pole and mounted his horse.

When they joined the main company, Billie told Mr. Black what
they had done and repeated to him what Brooks had said.

"I think he is right," said Mr. Black, "and my advice is that we
should give Piedras Negras a wide berth."

"We can't get too far away from the railroad," explained Billie,
"or we shall miss Don and his company. They are coming out for
just such an emergency."

They rode rapidly forward for a couple of hours and then, turning
sharply off the highway, took to the woods which now grew dense
all along the mountain sides.

About ten o'clock they stopped for breakfast and then all took a
nap until the sun drew near the western horizon.

"We should reach our rendezvous with Don about dark," explained
Billie, "and that would get us into Vera Cruz about daylight."

As they approached the appointed spot, Billie and Adrian, ever on
the alert, noticed almost as one that the place had a changed
appearance and mentioned it to the others.

"What do you mean?" asked the corporal.

"I can't exactly explain," was Adrian's reply, "but my prairie
training always warns me to go slow when I sense danger."

"A mighty good idea," muttered one of the troopers, an old
campaigner who had seen service with Funston in the Philippines.
"These are slippery chaps."

"If I could walk," was Adrian's comment, "I'd soon find out what
is wrong; but you can't scout on horseback."

The cavalcade came to a halt and the men examined their weapons
to be sure they were in order.

"What do you think we'd better do, Ad?" queried Billie.

"I don't know. How far are we from the rendezvous?"

"Not more than half a mile."

"If it were not for the possibility of making matters worse,"
suggested Adrian, "I'd fire a few shots; but of course what we
want is to get into Vera Cruz without a fight. What do you think,
Mr. Black?"

"This is new business to me, boys," was the reply. "I'll have to
leave it to you."

"What's the matter with my going on a scout?" asked Billie.

"Nothing the matter with your going," laughed Adrian, "but there
might be with your coming back. No, I shall have to go, ankle or
no ankle."

He slid from his horse, and almost before any one realized what
he was doing he had slipped away on his hands and knees.

"He is certainly a brave boy," was Josie's remark, "and I hate to
think of his taking all this risk on my account."

"Not so much risk for him as for us, I'm thinking," muttered the
old trooper. "They are looking for mounted men--if they're
looking at all--and not for crawling boys."

The old trooper was right, and ten minutes later Adrian returned
to say that there was a small body of horsemen at the next turn
of the road.

"Did you see anything of Don?" queried Billie.

"Not a sign."

"That's mighty funny. Where do you suppose he can be?"

"He may be hiding back in the woods, just as we are."

"Well," said the corporal, "now that we know where the greasers
are, what's the matter of going forward?"

"No matter at all," replied Adrian. "We can easily bear away to
the left and give them the shake, but I don't know what to do
about the others."

"The others will have to look out for themselves," replied
Brooks. "They are able to do it."

The words had hardly left his lips ere there came the sound of a
single shot away to the left.

"There they are!" cried Billie. "Come on!"

The little cavalcade started forward, but ere they had gone a
dozen rods they could hear the sound of approaching horsemen,
crashing through the woods to their right.

"The Mexicans!" said Adrian.

"To cover, every man!" cried the corporal.

A minute later every horse lay flat on the ground with his rider
concealed behind him.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A DINNER AND ITS RESULT.


With a shout the Mexicans broke into the clearing which the
Americans had just left. They were a motley crowd, not much like
the cavalry that forms such a great part of Uncle Sam's army.

"It seems a shame to hurt them," muttered the corporal. "They
look as though they would run if you said boo!"

Seeing no one, the Mexicans, some twenty or twenty-five in
number, came to a halt and their leaders held a council of war.

The Americans, a couple of rods back in the woods, partly
concealed by the trees and partly by the deepening twilight,
watched them silently.

After a couple of minutes' confab, the captain of the band gave
an order which the boys could not hear and a couple of Mexicans
dismounted and began carefully to examine the ground. They were
looking for the prints of horses' hoofs.

"_Aqui'sta!_" exclaimed one of the men on foot, pointing to the
ground.

The captain drew near and leaned over from his horse to see more
clearly.

He was evidently satisfied, for he straightened up and gave
another command and the two horsemen sprang to their saddles.

Another command and every man's sabre flashed in the air.

Raising his own sabre aloft, the captain was about to give
another command, when there was the sound of a single shot from
the rear and the captain's sabre went flying from his hand,
struck by a rifle ball.

"_Carramba!_" he cried. "_Emboscado!_" meaning "an ambush," and
putting spurs to his horse he turned and fled in the direction
from which he had come, followed by the entire band, while the
Americans fired a volley into the air.

"They'll never stop running," laughed the corporal, "until they
reach home--wherever that is."

"And in the meantime we'll get out of here," said Mr. Black.

The men sprang to their feet and to their horses. At the same
moment there came from the woods to the left the well-known
whistle of the Broncho Rider Boys.

"It's Don!" cried Billie, as he gave the answering call, and an
instant later Donald came into view through the trees, closely
followed by half a score of Uncle Sam's troopers.

"Just too late," said Adrian.

"Too late for what?" queried Donald.

"To see a masterly retreat," and in a few words he told Donald
what had occurred.

"Well," was the rejoinder, "I am glad no blood was shed. But who
fired the shot from the rear?"

"I," came a voice, and out of the shadows appeared a figure which
had a most familiar appearance. "If you don't recognize me," he
continued, "you may recognize Ambrosio."

"By George!" exclaimed Billie, "if it isn't our old friend
Strong. Where on earth did you come from?"

"I suppose I might ask you the same thing," was the laughing
reply. "Briefly, I am on my way to Vera Cruz. I heard there was a
band of American brigands out in the mountains and I thought I
might fall in with them."

"So that's what they call us, is it?" said Billie. "I never
expected to be called a brigand."

"Strange things happen to men who travel," declared Strong
facetiously; "but you'd better be going. There are some good
troops in this section and they are on the lookout."

"Good advice," muttered the old trooper. "This ain't no pleasure
excursion."

"Sorry we haven't a horse for you," said Adrian to Strong, "but I
guess you are used to walking."

"A good deal more so than riding. But, if one of you don't mind
giving Ambrosio a lift, it will help some."

Several expressed their willingness to take the ape on behind,
but he would go to no one but Billie.

"All right, old man," laughed the boy; "but no funny business,"
and he broke off a twig and shook it at Ambrosio. "You see this."

Now that the two companies had united, they broke away from the
railroad and made a bee line toward Vera Cruz, arriving in sight
of the city at daybreak.

"Here's where we part company with the troopers," explained
Donald. "We six and Ambrosio will ride into town together and the
boys will come in as they wish. There must be no suggestion of a
military expedition."

"I see," said Mr. Black, "and I want to thank you all for your
kindness to my daughter and to me. That is about all I can do
now. Perhaps some day I can do more."

"That's enough," muttered the old trooper, "unless you can get us
all sent back home. I can't see any use of keeping us here."

"That's all right, old man," laughed the corporal. "You know you
would not go home if you could."

"Better not give me a chance," was the grumbling reply, as the
trooper bit off a big piece of tobacco and tucked it away in his
cheek.

Reveille was just sounding when the boys, accompanied by their
three friends and Ambrosio, perched upon Billie's horse, drew up
in front of Lieut. Grant's quarters. They had been recognized and
passed through the lines, and as the men caught sight of them
they were given a hearty cheer.

"You seem to have made friends," laughed the lieutenant as he
greeted them, "and there is every reason why you should. The
general will be glad to see you and hear your report. I have no
doubt you have a good story to tell, and he likes a good story."

When the boys reached home they found the gate still locked,
although it was now considerably past the time when the household
was astir. Their knock was answered by the _portero_, who, in
response to a question by Billie, said that Santiago was
seriously ill and had been for thirty-six hours.

"What is the matter?" asked Donald.

"Fever."

"I am not surprised," declared Adrian. "The strange thoughts he
has been thinking so many days were bound to result in something
serious."

"Perhaps it is not convenient for us to remain here," said Mr.
Black. "We can, I am sure, find some other place."

But at this moment Lucia appeared at the head of the stairs.
When made acquainted with Mr. Black's words she would not hear of
his taking Josie to any other house and gave orders for making
her perfectly at home. The only one who did not remain was
Strong.

"I'll come back this evening," he said. "I have a strange story
to tell you boys and I may need your help in locating a man I am
most anxious to find."

But he did not come back that evening, and when he did come the
next night the boys were not there, having been invited to dine
with Gen. Funston. Had things not happened thus, a part of this
story could never have been written, for it was while dining with
the general that the boys were given a duty to perform, which was
the most arduous of all their adventures in the land of the
Montezumas.

And this was the manner of it.

They were just finishing dinner and Billie was congratulating
himself that he had had his fill of good American cooking, when
an aide announced that a Mexican gentleman, Don Esteban Mendoza,
craved an immediate audience with Gen. Funston.

"I am sure you young gentlemen will excuse me a few minutes,"
said the general, "as Don Esteban is one of the prominent bankers
of the city and I know his business must be of importance."

The boys were glad to accept the proffered excuse and the general
withdrew, leaving them in the company of several members of his
staff, to whom they briefly related their recent adventure. When
they told of the "ambush" there was much amusement.

In the midst of their conversation the general returned
accompanied by Don Esteban.

"These are the young gentlemen to whom I referred," explained the
general, introducing the boys. "They are typical Americans and,
being civilians and speaking Spanish fluently, will be just the
ones to help you in your trouble."

Then to the boys: "Don Esteban has a very delicate mission for
which he asks the assistance of Americans. He wished me to detail
three young officers for the work, but this I do not feel I can
do, as it is strictly a private mission. If you feel that you can
undertake it, he will be glad to explain it to you."

"Anything that you recommend, General, we shall be glad to
undertake," replied Donald, acting as spokesman for the trio.

"Then I shall turn you over to Don Esteban, and as his business
is pressing, I will excuse you if you wish to accompany him
home."

"A thousand thanks, General," said Don Esteban effusively. Then
to the boys: "My automobile is at the door. If you will take
seats in it, we shall be speedily at my house. You will pardon me
if I speak nothing but Spanish, as I know very little English,
although"--with an expressive glance at Gen. Funston--"I hope to
know it better."

Following Don Esteban, they were soon speeding through the
streets and five minutes later entered a handsome patio.

"This is my house," said Don Esteban. "Be pleased to consider it
your own. Now, if you will follow me to the library, I will
explain the mission I wish you to undertake."

The boys followed without a word, but as they passed up the
stairs Billie muttered under his breath:

"Did you notice, boys, that this house backs right up against
Santiago's?"



CHAPTER XXIV.

DON ESTEBAN'S STRANGE LOSS.


"Before I explain to you the mission I wish you to undertake,"
said Don Esteban, "I must narrate briefly a story that has been
handed down from the days of Montezuma. It is to the effect that
when the Spanish conqueror, Cortez, was about to capture the City
of Mexico, most of the treasure of the Aztecs was sunk in the
lake, which at that time covered a portion of the Mexican
plateau.

"A part of this treasure is said to have been recovered, but the
mine from which the gold of Montezuma was taken has never been
discovered, although search has been made for upward of five
hundred years. Some have supposed that the mine was adjacent to
the City of Mexico and that it was flooded at the time the
treasure was sunk in the lake. Others have thought it was located
in the state of Michoacan, while still others have believed it
located in the vicinity of Mt. Orizaba.

"My reason for telling you this is that some years ago a strange
appearing man came to our bank and made a large deposit of money,
all in gold. He did not deposit it all at once, but brought it in
a few thousand dollars at a time until it amounted to more than a
million dollars. Then he disappeared and we have never seen him
since."

"And has he never called for any of the money?" asked Billie.

"Not in person, although he has drawn upon it at frequent
intervals. The name under which it was deposited is James Moon."

"An American?" asked Donald.

"I could not say whether he was an American or an Englishman. We
took him for the latter. But now I am coming to the real part of
the story.

"In addition to the money which he deposited, he also left with
us a small brass-bound box, in which he said there were valuable
papers. He gave orders that it should be delivered to no one but
himself in person, or until the expiration of ten years. The ten
years will be up in a few days and this afternoon I bethought me
of the box. But when I went into the vault in which it has been
kept for so many years, the place upon an upper shelf, where it
has always stood, was vacant. The box was gone!"

"Gone?" exclaimed all the boys in unison. "Do you mean stolen?"

"So it would appear."

"How could it have been done?" asked Adrian.

"I cannot say; but the strange thing about the whole matter
is that in place of the box, there lay upon the shelf an
envelope--yellow with age, upon which was written in ink that had
scarcely faded the words: 'Montezuma's Mine.'"

"Well, what do you think of that?" queried Billie, looking at the
others in amazement.

"I don't think," laughed Adrian. "It's up to you to do the
thinking."

"Is there no clue whatever?" asked Donald.

"Not that could be really called a clue. The only suspicious
thing that has happened to-day at all, was that a mountebank came
into our bank----"

"A mountebank!" from all.

"Yes."

"Did he have an ape with him?"

"No! He was quite alone. He did not come in to make merry, but to
get a bill changed. While he was there he was observed to
scrutinize the place very closely."

"But he did not go into your vault?"

"No! He took his change and went peaceably out."

"Then, why should you suspect him?" insisted Donald, casting a
knowing glance at the other boys.

"Because, an hour later, he came in again and said that one of
the bills we gave him as change was a counterfeit."

"Was it?"

"No, it was not, although it was an old issue. The teller who
waited upon him had no recollection of ever having seen the bill
before, but rather than have a scene, we gave him another bill
for it."

"How large a bill was it?" asked Adrian.

"Only a peso"--that is a dollar--"and it seemed hardly worth
talking about; but you'd have thought it was a hundred."

"Perhaps it seemed a large amount to him," ventured Billie.

"Perhaps," admitted Don Esteban. "But be that as it may, I should
like to see the man again, and especially would I like to know
where he got that old dollar."

"Why?"

"Because it may have come out of that box."

"Well, yes," said Donald, with a shake of his head, "it might
have; but how could the mountebank have gotten the box?"

"That is the mystery," was Don Esteban's reply.

"And how do you wish us to help you?" asked Adrian.

"Why," explained the banker, "I asked Gen. Funston to find the
mountebank for me. He said you boys would do better than any one
else."

"But why us? Why not a Mexican policeman?"

"Because the mountebank was an American. He may even have been a
soldier and have hidden himself among your men."

"Oh, he was an American, was he?" laughed Donald. "Then I believe
we can put our finger on him with ease. But the man we have in
mind always carried with him an ape."

"Then it may not be the same," replied Don Esteban, "for this one
had no ape with him either time."

"It certainly does look like a mystery," was Adrian's comment.
"Where is the vault from which the box was taken?"

"On the other side of the patio."

"May we examine it?"

"Certainly. I'll show it to you now."

Don Esteban led the way downstairs and across the patio. Opening
the rear door of the bank, he escorted them within and closed the
door.

Passing behind the counter, he opened the iron door of the vault,
disclosing within a good-sized chamber, in the rear of which was
set the great steel safe, locked with a time lock.

"There," explained Don Esteban, pointing to an upper shelf, "is
where the box stood."

"Oh, it was not a large box, then!" said Adrian.

"Oh, no! Not more than eight or nine inches cube."

The boy examined the vault carefully by the light of a gas jet.

"There seems no way that any one could have entered except by the
door," said Donald.

"None whatever!"

"You are sure there is no opening in the ceiling?"

"Absolutely."

Don Esteban led the boys out and locked the door of the vault.

"Well," declared Donald as they came out into the patio after
finishing their inspection, not only of the vault but of the rest
of the office, "I guess we had better go home and study over the
matter a little. I should not be surprised if we could put our
hands upon the mountebank with very little trouble; but I feel
sure he had nothing to do with the disappearance of the box."

"I wish I could feel that way," said Adrian after they were out
of hearing of Don Esteban. "I have never quite trusted Strong.
There is something strange about him."

"Yes, he is a bit queer; but how on earth could he have stolen
the box if he did not even go behind the counter?"

"He couldn't; but still I mistrust him."

"I wonder where Ambrosio was all this time?" mused Billie.

"Tied up at home, most likely. An American among Americans would
hardly feel like traveling around with a hand organ and a
monkey," was Don's emphatic reply.

Upon arriving at Santiago's residence they were told that
Strong had been there earlier in the evening and seemed much
disappointed at not finding them at home.

"Did he leave any word?" asked Billie of the portero.

"None, señor; but Donna Lucia would like to see you in the
library."

"What is the matter? Is Santiago worse?"

"No, señor. He is sleeping quietly. I could not say what she
wants, but she seemed considerably disturbed."

"Better go up alone, Billie," said Donald. "If we are needed, you
can call us. We'll wait here in the patio for a few minutes
before we turn in."

Billie ran up the stairs and tapped at the library door. He was
immediately admitted by Lucia and the door was closed behind him.

"It is getting to be a good deal of a family affair," laughed
Adrian.

"Yes," replied Donald, with a grin. "I wonder where Josie and Mr.
Black are?"

Adrian colored.

"I don't know why you should have thought of them!"

"Oh," replied Donald nonchalantly, "speaking of family affairs
naturally reminded me that you----"

"Oh, Don!" came Billie's voice, breaking in upon the
conversation.

"Yes. What is it?"

"Come up here, the both of you! Quick!"

The boys ran up the stairs two steps at a time.

"In here," and Billie held the library door open. "I've something
I want to show you."

He led the way to the table, and there, under the glow of the
lamp, stood a brass-bound box about eight or nine inches cube.



CHAPTER XXV.

DONALD IS KIDNAPED.


"Great Scott!" was the spontaneous exclamation of both the
newcomers. "Where did it come from?"

"You tell," replied Billie. "Lucia says it was not here an hour
ago. Neither has any one been in the room so far as she knows."

"Has she been here all the time?" asked Adrian.

"No, she was with Josie in her room for a time; but the door into
the patio was locked."

"Some one might have come in through the window."

"A fat chance, isn't there!" laughed Billie, pointing to the only
window in the room which was protected with long and heavy iron
bars, set so closely together that a child would have had trouble
in squeezing through--much less a man.

"Does look a little difficult," replied Adrian.

"Worse than difficult. Impossible," was Donald's comment.

"Did you hear any noise?" asked Billie of Lucia.

"None whatever."

"And you have never seen the box before?"

Lucia wrinkled her brows and thought deeply.

"Do you know," she finally said, "I have a sort of a dim
recollection that, away back in my childhood somewhere, I have
seen it or one just like it."

"Away back in your childhood," laughed Donald, "couldn't have
been so very far, Señorita."

Lucia made a little grimace.

"I'm nearly seventeen," she said.

"Botheration!" said Billie. "We are not here to discuss ages, but
to find out how this box came here. I have no doubt that Lucia
has seen many similar boxes in her time."

"Well," asked Donald, somewhat nettled, "what do you propose to
do?"

"In the first place, I want to search the house."

"That's a good idea," declared Adrian. "Donna Lucia, will you
lead the way?"

"Certainly. Right this way; but don't go into father's room. I
know there is no one in there. One of the servants has been with
him every minute of the time."

Headed by Lucia, the boys explored the house from top to bottom,
but not a sign of any one could they find. So far as they could
determine, the box must have come in of its own self.

"I'll tell you one thing we can and must do," said Billie, after
they had returned to the library. "We must keep a watch in this
room to-night. Whoever put the box here may return."

"Right!" from Don. "You do have occasional lucid intervals,
Billie."

Billie grinned, but made no reply.

"I think we may all stay here for a few hours," suggested Lucia.
"Father is so much better that I think we may have a little
music. I will play some accompaniments on the guitar and Josie
can sing."

"That will seem a good deal like being back in the States,"
declared Adrian. "With the Stars and Stripes flying over my head,
a brigade of American troops on guard and an American girl
singing, I can almost forget I am on Mexican soil."

"How about the accompanist?" queried Billie.

"Oh!" laughed Adrian, "we're quite willing to adopt her. Hey,
Donald?"

"Don't ask me, Ad. Ask Billie."

"I am sure we could do no better," was Billie's gallant reply.

Lucia's suggestion was carried out and for a couple of hours
there was a merry little party under Santiago's hospitable roof.
Even the mysterious box was forgotten and the young people were
giving themselves up to a jolly good time, when suddenly there
came a scream which caused every one to turn their eyes toward
the room in which the sick man was supposed to be lying.

But there in the doorway he stood, his long night robe reaching
nearly to the floor and his thin black hair standing almost on
end.

"Father!" cried Lucia, rushing toward him "What is it?"

He waved her off, but made no reply, while with his long bony
finger he pointed at the brass-bound box.

"Where did it come from?" he asked in a shrill, querulous tone.
"Who brought back my secret casket?"

"Yours?" came from every one in the room.

"Yes! Mine! Mine!!" he almost screamed.

"He's raving!" cried Josie. "Can't some one do something for
him?"

"No," he replied, and his voice became more calm, "I am not
raving. I know whereof I speak. Quick! Let me look within it to
see that all is safe."

"It is locked, Father," said Lucia, coming to his side, "and we
have no key."

"I can unlock it," he cried. "I can unlock it. Give it to me.
Give it to me."

He staggered forward and seized the box in his hands. For several
seconds he fumbled with it, turning it first upon one side and
then upon another, and at last raised the lid. He thrust in his
hand and then stopped as one stupefied.

"Empty! Empty!" he gasped in an almost audible whisper. "The plan
of Montezuma's mine is gone! Gone!!"

A moment he stood and gazed around upon the faces of those in the
room and then collapsed upon the floor.

Quickly the boys picked him up and carried him to his bed and the
attending physician was summoned.

Billie picked up the box and examined it curiously.

"I wonder how he opened it?" he mused. "There must be some sort
of a spring somewhere."

He felt the box all over, but could find nothing. Then he closed
it and set it upon the table. A moment later Donald picked it up
and tried to open it, but it was locked fast.

"Nothing but mysteries," he said. "I'm getting tired of them. But
before anything else happens, I'm going around and notify Don
Esteban that the box is here."

"I'll go with you," said Adrian.

"No, you'd better stay here. I'll take a mozo with me."

He ran hastily down the stairs and a minute later the boys heard
the gate close behind him.

"I guess this is the quickest way," thought Donald as he gained
the sidewalk. "I'll not bother with a mozo. With American
soldiers on guard and my automatic in my pocket, I have nothing
to fear."

A couple of minutes later he was ringing the bell at Don
Esteban's house. He was hastily admitted and at once conducted to
that gentleman's presence, where he narrated hastily what had
occurred at the other house.

"Who is this old man?" Don Esteban asked of Donald.

Donald explained as best he could.

"Which is mighty little," he declared when he had finished. "He
is the greatest mystery we have ever encountered. There is no
doubt that he is an Indian, but he speaks English like an
Englishman."

"I must go and see him at once," declared Don Esteban, rising.

"I don't think you can, sir, to-night. I don't think the
physician would permit it."

"Well, then, the first thing in the morning. I thank you, young
sir. Won't you have a glass of wine before you go?"

"No, I think not," replied Donald. "I've never acquired that
Mexican habit yet. Good night, sir."

He left the house feeling greatly relieved that he had reported
the finding of the box and walked slowly along whistling merrily.
As he turned off the street upon which Don Esteban lived he heard
soft footsteps behind him and turned hastily.

But he was too late.

Before he could see who it was, or ere he could cry out, a cloak
was thrown over his head and he was picked up and carried away
bodily.

Donald was not the boy to give in without a struggle, but kick
and squirm as he might, he could not free himself. Presently
those who were carrying him stopped and laid him on the sidewalk.
Then he heard a knock and a gate opened. Then he was lifted up
again and, almost before he knew it, he was thrust into a little
room--a closet it seemed--and the door closed upon him.

It was a hot night and the little place was stifling.

"I'll smother if I don't get out of this," he muttered.

Slowly he unwrapped the cloak from about his head and at last
freed himself completely from its folds; but he secured little
relief from the heat.

The room could not have been more than six feet square and it did
not take Donald long to run his hand clear around the wall.

There was only one door, that through which he had been thrust,
and it was locked. He pounded upon it, but to no avail. Then he
sat down to think.

"There is certainly no use to sweat myself to death," he told
himself. "I'd better be as quiet as I can. There is air enough
coming under the door so I won't suffocate, so I might just as
well wait and see what will turn up."

He ran his hand all over his automatic and found it in good
shape. Then he leaned back against the wall opposite the door and
waited. Ten minutes later the door was suddenly yanked open,
another figure was bundled into the closet and the door slammed
shut, almost before Donald could think.



CHAPTER XXVI.

A PLOT AGAINST FUNSTON.


A muttered imprecation was the only intimation that the figure
which had been so unceremoniously bundled into the closet was
alive.

"Who are you?" asked Donald in Spanish.

"Let me out of this," was the unsatisfactory response in English.

"Oh!" from Donald. "You are an American. Well, keep still and
I'll help you to get rid of the blanket."

He grabbed hold of the covering and the newcomer was soon
uncovered.

"Now, then, who are you?" asked Donald again.

"I'll show you who I am if I get hold of you," was the uncivil
answer, and an arm shot out.

"Now look here," said Donald, "if you don't stop that I'll let
daylight through you. We are in a bad box and the only thing to
do is to make the best of it."

"We?" exclaimed the newcomer. "Why do you say we?"

"Because I am a prisoner the same as you are. Now, who are you?"

"I'm Lieutenant Grimes of the general's staff. Who are you?"

"I am Donald Mackay, on a special mission for Gen. Funston."

"How did they get you?"

"Kidnaped me on the street. How did they get you?"

"Same way. I had just left the general's quarters."

"I can see that some one might want to capture you, lieutenant,
but I cannot see what they want of me."

"How long have you been here?" asked the lieutenant.

"About half an hour. By the way, are you armed?"

"No; they took away my weapons. How about you?"

"I have my automatic. I'd have used it when you came in, only
you were dumped in so suddenly."

"What do you suppose the game is?"

"I don't know; but we'll find out. I've been in tighter places
than this--but no hotter," after a pause.

"Have you tried to get out?"

"Yes; but it was too hot work. The door seemed pretty strong."

"Perhaps the two of us might force it," suggested Grimes. "I'm a
pretty husky chap."

"We might try," replied Donald. "The place is so narrow we can
get a good brace."

They put their feet against the opposite wall and pushed against
the door.

"We'll never make it that way," said the lieutenant. "We'll have
to throw ourselves at it."

"Not much room for that, Lieutenant, but you give the word and
we'll have a try."

Getting their bearings as well as they could in the dark, they
drew themselves back and then literally threw themselves at the
door. It gave way with a snap and both fell to their feet on the
outside.

Quick as a flash they were on their feet, Donald with his weapon
ready for instant action.

But there was no one in sight.

"That's mighty funny!" exclaimed the lieutenant. "Lock two strong
men up in a place like that and not guard it."

"It's a mighty good thing for us they didn't," laughed Donald. "I
wonder where we are?"

He glanced about the room which was dimly lighted by a couple of
lamps, fastened to the wall by brackets. It was well--yes,
elegantly furnished. At one side of the room was the closet out
of which they had just emerged, while at the opposite side were
three doors. On a third side were two windows and the fourth side
was a plain wall.

"Not a bad-looking place," observed the lieutenant.

"Not at all," echoed Donald, "and there seem plenty of means of
exit."

"Sure, my boy; and if it's all the same to you, we'll go. The
sooner I get back the quicker I'll be able to start something in
this direction. Come on!"

They crossed over to the doors and tried the first one. It was
locked. They tried the second and it opened into another closet.

"Three times and out," laughed Donald as he took hold of the knob
of the last door.

It yielded to his touch and he opened it gently. Then he quickly
and quietly closed it.

"What's up?" asked the lieutenant.

Donald put his fingers to his lips.

"How many?" queried Lieut. Grimes.

"Three," was the whispered response. "Let's hear what they have
to say."

He opened the door a crack, through which they could see three
men seated at a table. One wore the uniform of a Mexican officer,
the other was dressed in Mexican costume, while the third was
unquestionably an American, although they could only see his
back.

"I have carried out my part of the agreement," the American was
saying, "and now I want my money."

"How do we know you have?" asked the officer.

"Haven't I put Gen. Funston into your hands?"

"We are not sure it is Funston," said the other.

"Then bring him out and look at him. You know the general when
you see him, don't you?"

"I think so, although I've never seen him but once."

"Well, that is he, all right," declared the American.

Donald turned and looked at his companion. Then he chuckled.

The lieutenant said nothing, but stroked his whiskers which he
wore in exact imitation of his chief.

"Lucky for the general," he whispered, and Donald nodded his head
that he understood.

The two Mexicans exchanged a few words under their breath which
Donald could not hear and then the officer took from his breast
pocket a large wallet, from which he counted out ten bank notes.
They were yellow backs and Donald was not at all surprised when
the officer said:

"Here are ten one-thousand-dollar bills in American money. We
believe you are telling us the truth, as your words are
corroborated by the men who brought him here. But if you are
playing us false, we shall know how to reach you."

The American shrugged his shoulders as he took the bills, rolled
them up nonchalantly and placed them in his trousers pocket.

"You can find me at the Hidalgo Hotel whenever you want me," he
said, "and now I must be going."

He arose from his seat, and as he did so, Donald caught sight of
his face. It was the mountebank, Strong, but in his stylish
clothing Don had failed to recognize him.

"Great Scott!" he muttered to himself, "the plot thickens!"

"What's that?" queried the lieutenant, who caught the muttered
exclamation.

"Nothing much," replied Donald as the three men walked toward a
door in the farther end of the room and he was enabled to speak
without being heard, "only that is the man I'm looking for. Let's
get out of the window and see if we can't head him off."

He closed the door and turned the key which he had quietly taken
from the other side.

The windows were open and they looked out. They were on the side
of the house overlooking a good-sized lawn.

"That's the reason they are not barred," explained Donald. "Had
they been front windows, we might as well have been in jail. You
go first and I'll cover the retreat."

Lieut. Grimes sprang into the window and lowered himself to the
ground, just as a hand turned the knob.

"Good-bye!" muttered Donald. "Sorry I can't wait to receive you,"
and he followed the lieutenant.

On the ground they could hear the men trying to open the door and
as they sped across the lawn toward a high brick wall, the door
gave way with a crash and they could hear surprised voices.

"They have discovered our wreckage!" cried Donald. "Over the wall
you go!"

"You first this time," said the lieutenant.

"No, you first. I can boost you up, but I couldn't pull you. You
can pull me."

The argument was good and the lieutenant acted upon it.

A minute later he was on top of the wall.

"Great Cæsar!" he exclaimed. "There's nothing under me but
water."

"Never mind that," was the response. "Haul me up."

The lieutenant leaned down and gave the lad a hand.

"Here we are," he said a minute later. "We can't jump in, for
there is no knowing where we are."

"Sure," from Donald. "Let's run along the wall."

This they did for about a hundred yards and then the wall ended
abruptly against what appeared to be an abutment.

"We must act quickly," declared Donald. "They think you are
Funston and won't hurt you. Keep up the deception. I'm going to
swim for it. I'll have help here just as quick as I can. So
long," and, throwing off his coat, he jumped into the water some
twenty feet below.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE ADMIRAL TO THE RESCUE.


When Donald struck the water he allowed himself to go clear to
the bottom, as he wanted to find out just about how deep it was.

It was, as he had expected, about the depth of the water in the
harbor and he made up his mind that he could not be far from some
of the wharves that constitute the water front.

When he came to the surface, he struck out away from the wall,
and by the light of the moon was soon able to see the vessels in
the offing. He could also see that he was well north of the
principal docks.

"I guess I'll land at the first place that offers," he thought,
"and find my way to headquarters from there."

He struck out lustily, but had not been swimming more than a
couple of minutes, when he heard the sharp exhaust of a gasoline
launch.

Realizing that it must be an American craft, he shouted at the
top of his voice.

At first there was no response, but as the boat came nearer and
he shouted even more loudly, a friendly hail came over the
waters.

"Where are you?" came the voice as the boat came to a stop.

"Here, to your port side," he replied.

The launch was started again slowly and Donald was soon able to
make himself visible.

"Who are you?" was the first question pumped at him by the
officer in command.

"Special messenger for Gen. Funston," was the response.

"Where is your uniform?"

"I'm not a soldier. I am a civilian."

"A likely story," snapped the officer, who chanced to be an
ensign.

"I can't help how likely it is," snapped Donald in return. "It's
true, and I want to be put ashore as quickly as possible. I have
an important message and the safety of one of his staff is
involved. There is also a plot on foot to capture the general
himself."

"Nonsense! And besides, I can't put you ashore. I am carrying a
message to Admiral Fletcher."

"But my business is important," insisted Donald.

"So is mine," declared the ensign.

He ordered his launch full speed ahead in the direction of the
flagship.

"It's pretty tough," commented Donald, "but I'll prove I am right
when I get to the ship."

"I hope so," was the reply. "I haven't anything against you and
you may be telling the truth, but I can't take any chances."

Fifteen minutes later they drew up beside the flagship.

"Up you go," said the ensign, motioning Donald up the ladder.
"I'll present you to the officer of the deck," which he quickly
did.

"Here's a man I picked up in the water, sir, who says he has a
message for Gen. Funston, but I had no time to put him ashore."

"Looks more like a boy than a man," replied the officer. Then to
Donald: "What's this about you having a message for Gen.
Funston?"

Donald repeated what he had told the ensign.

"What's that?" asked another officer, coming forward out of the
shadow of the after turret.

The first officer saluted.

"Tell the Admiral your story, my lad," he said.

Again Donald repeated his story, this time going more into
detail.

"Come with me," ordered the Admiral, and he led the way to the
wireless operator.

"Get into communication with Gen. Funston at once," was the
admiral's order.

"Here he is, sir," was the report a couple of minutes later.

"Ask him if he has three American boys on a special mission."

The answer came back promptly that he had.

"Ask him if Lieut. Grimes is missing."

Again came back the answer that he was.

"Tell the general that we have one of the lads on the _Arkansas_,
and that he has had a strange adventure. Tell him I will send the
lad ashore immediately."

"Thank you, sir," said Donald. "I knew some one would know what
to do."

"You're a brave lad," was the Admiral's comment, "and I shall be
glad to hear the end of the adventure. You and your companions
must come out and dine with us as soon as your mission is ended."

Donald thanked him for his kindness and hastened to the launch
which was to take him back.

Twenty minutes later he stood before Gen. Funston.

"You seem to have been in the water," was the general's first
words.

"Yes, sir," laughed Donald. "I jumped from a wall north of town,
leaving Lieut. Grimes on top of it."

"What! Lieut. Grimes on top of a wall? How did he get there?"

"He was kidnapped, sir! It was a case of mistaken identity!"

"Mistaken identity! I don't understand!"

"They took him for you, sir, because his beard is trimmed like
yours."

The general smiled grimly.

"Think I shall have all my staff officers do the same," he
commented. Then more seriously: "Can you lead us to the house?"

"I'm not sure about the house; but I can take you to the stone
wall from which I jumped. That ought to guide us to the house."

"Right," said the general.

He called another member of his staff and gave a few brief
orders.

In another ten minutes two launches loaded with regulars and
armed with a rapid-fire gun in each, steamed swiftly up the
harbor.

"There's the wall!" exclaimed Donald a few minutes later, "and
there's where I jumped," pointing to a spot near the abutment.

The officer in command headed the boats for the shore.

"It is not only a question of freeing Lieut. Grimes," said the
officer, "but we also want to capture the conspirators. This is
a much more serious matter than Gen. Funston is willing to
admit."

"Then if you will take my suggestion, sir," said Donald modestly,
"I would let a few soldiers go over the wall as well as entering
the front of the house."

The officer looked up twenty feet. The wall was absolutely
perpendicular and as smooth as the side of a house.

"I'm afraid none of my men can scale it," he said.

"Can't we throw a grapnel over it, sir?"

"We might; but it would be a very slight hold."

"If you can make it hold at all," laughed Donald, "I'm willing to
make the effort. At best I can only fall back into the water."

"True," declared the officer. "We'll try it."

A grapnel was tied to a long line, such as is used in tying the
launch to the shore, and after several vain attempts the grapnel
caught in the top of the wall.

Donald sprang forward and tested it with his weight and it held.
Then, without another word, he braced his feet against the wall
and in almost less time than it takes to write it, he was at the
top.

"Do you see any one?" asked the officer from below.

"No, sir; but there is the sound of pacing footsteps on the walk
that runs along the side of the house."

"Good! Now make fast the grapnel and we will see if there are a
dozen men here who can climb to the top."

The dozen were quickly found and they were soon at the top of the
wall. The officer finally decided to add to their armament one of
the rapid-firers.

"If there is any resistance," he said, "we'll knock the side of
the house in."

"What shall I do?" asked Donald.

"You'd better come back into the boat. You can help us to enter
the house in front."

Donald slid down the rope and the expedition quickly made a
landing. Silently, so as not to alarm those within the house, the
men took their way to the front of the mansion, which was at once
recognized as one of the finest in Vera Cruz.

"Do you know who lives here?" asked the officer.

"No, sir," replied Donald.

"I was told it was the residence of one of Huerta's generals,"
said a soldier. "It was pointed out to me the first day we
landed."

"Good!" from the officer. "I shall now have no compunction about
entering the place."

With Donald and a couple of soldiers, the officer approached the
door and gave a vigorous knock.

There was no response and he knocked again.

"Who is there?" finally came a voice, evidently a mozo.

"An American officer. Open the door in the name of the law."

There was a still further delay and then another voice asked:
"How do we know it is an officer?"

"Open and find out, before I force the door."

There was a still further delay.

"It's a good thing we guarded the rear," said Donald. "They are
evidently trying to gain time to spirit Lieut. Grimes away,
thinking it is Gen. Funston."

"True," said the officer. "We'll wait no longer. Corporal, force
the door!"

The corporal placed a small stick of dynamite under the door and
fixed a fuse.

"Step back a little," he said.

All obeyed, when at the instant the door was thrown open and a
hand, in which was an automatic revolver, was thrust out,
directly in the face of the officer.

But quick as was the action, Donald was not taken off his guard.

With a single swift blow he struck the weapon into the air.

At the same instant a fusillade from the rear of the house gave
evidence that the men stationed upon the wall had done their
work.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

BILLIE MAKES A DISCOVERY.


Having released Lieut. Grimes and taken the plotters into
custody, the next task was to locate Strong, the mountebank, and
to solve the mystery of the box.

Outside the one exclamation which Donald had uttered when he
recognized Strong as the third of the plotters, he had not
betrayed his secret to any one, and when Lieut. Grimes told his
story to Gen. Funston and described the American, Donald
vouchsafed no information which might help to apprehend him.

"The plotter told the Mexicans that he could be found at the
Hidalgo Hotel whenever he was wanted," explained Lieut. Grimes.
"While he may have lied about it, I think we should send a force
and try to locate him."

The advice was acted upon and a corporal and four soldiers sent
to the hotel, but to no purpose. No such man was known there.

"What was the use of my saying anything about it?" asked Donald
of the other two boys when he returned to Santiago's house and
narrated to them the story of his evening's adventure. "I was
sure he was not there and I have no idea where he is; but we'll
find him and the ten thousand dollars given him by the Mexicans
for his treachery."

"That's right, Don," was Billie's comment. "If you can get that
money and I can get my ten thousand pounds, this trip won't be so
bad."

"In the meantime," said Adrian, "I propose that some of us go to
bed. It's nearly two o'clock and there is mighty little chance
that any one will try to steal the box again."

"I think you are right," said Billie. "We might as well all go.
The doctor is still with Santiago and will stay until he is
better. It isn't at all likely that any one will try to come into
this room while he is here."

Billie voiced the unanimous opinion, and a few minutes later the
young people had all sought their beds, leaving instructions with
the physician and the servants that they were to be called if any
change for the worse occurred in Santiago's condition.

It was probably two hours later, just about daylight, that the
entire household was awakened by a terrible shriek and one of the
maids rushed out into the patio.

The boys came to their feet with a bound and hurried from their
room on the ground floor, while the others appeared at the head
of the stairs.

"What is it?" asked Donald as soon as he could quiet the
shrieking maid. "What are you yelling about?"

"Oh, señor!" she cried. "I have seen the devil."

"Nonsense," laughed the boy. "You had a nightmare."

"No, señor. It was the devil. He had horns and a tail and he had
the little box under his arm. I saw him!"

"The box!" cried Billie. "Quick, Lucia, look and see if the box
is gone!"

The girl rushed back into the library and she, too, gave a
shriek.

"It's gone!" she cried. "It's gone!"

The boys sprang up the stairs three at a time and into the
library. Lucia was right. The box was gone.

"It must be the old boy, sure enough," said Billie, "or at least
one of his imps." Then to the maid: "How did he get in?"

"I don't know, señor. I only saw him go out. He went right
through the door without opening it."

"Nonsense!" from Donald. "His Satanic majesty might go through
a solid door, but the box wouldn't. There is some other
explanation."

"But who could it be?" queried Lucia in great fear.

"Some one who knows the house," declared Adrian emphatically. "He
may have put on some masquerade costume just to frighten these
superstitious servants in case he was discovered."

"I believe Ad is right," agreed Donald. "What do you think,
Billie?"

"Maybe, Don; but I have a theory of my own. If I am right, I can
work it better if I tell no one."

At this moment the physician entered the room.

"How is Santiago?" asked Donald.

"Better! He has gone to sleep, and if he is not disturbed, I
expect him to be greatly improved when he awakens. I should not
be surprised if this were the turning point in his illness."

"Then we had all better go down on to the first floor and leave
him alone with his nurses."

"I'd give a good deal to know where Strong is," remarked Donald
as they were drinking their coffee an hour later.

"So would I," declared Billie. "I believe, if we can find him, we
can solve this entire mystery."

"As soon as we finish our coffee," suggested Donald, "let's get
busy and find him. He can't be far."

"That's right," said Adrian. "We'll round him up in short order.
Hey, Billie?"

"We ought to; but I'll tell you what. You fellows go out and see
if you can get a line on him, and I'll hang round the house to
see that the devil doesn't come and steal the rest of the house."

"Especially Lucia," laughed Donald.

"That's all right," was the good-natured reply; "but I have an
idea that the devil and Strong may have something in common."

"You don't think it was Strong who came and took the box, do
you?" queried Adrian.

"I don't know just what I do think, Ad; but I'm going to do a
little detective work and I want to give the impression that we
are all out. When you fellows go out, don't say anything that
would cause any one in hiding to think we are not all going out
together. Do you sabe?"

"Sure. I hope you'll get a clue if we do not."

When the others had gone, Billie sat quietly in his room for a
long time. He could easily have gone to sleep, as he had had only
a couple of hours' rest, but he made up his mind that he would
not be caught napping again if anything should happen.

But nothing happened.

The minutes passed into hours and it was rapidly nearing noon
when Billie made up his mind that it was a bad job.

"We had our chance at daylight," he muttered, "and now we will
not get another. Whoever is after the box, has it and is not
going to take any further chance of being caught."

He went out into the patio and looked up at the sun. It was
almost in the zenith and the air was stifling.

"Any one would be a fool to go out at this time of day," he
mused. "I wonder where the fellows are?"

He stepped back under the shade of the arcade that extended clear
around the patio and threw himself onto a stone seat.

"Queer old place," he thought, "and a queer old seat."

He laid his hand on one of the carved arms and mechanically toyed
with an eagle's head that formed one of the decorations. To his
surprise the head turned in his hand.

"I hope I haven't broken it," he said as he examined it more
closely.

It was clearly made to revolve and so he turned it clear around,
when of a sudden the arm of the seat fell apart and the bottom
collapsed, disclosing to Billie's astonished eyes a pair of
stairs.

Almost thrown to the pavement by the giving way of the seat,
Billie picked himself up and looked about to see if he were
observed.

There was no one in sight and he stooped down and examined the
stairs carefully. Then he straightened up and rubbed his chin as
a sudden gleam of intelligence passed through his brain.

"So," he muttered, "this is why Santiago dwells in a house that
is directly back of the banker's. That was his box and he is the
strange man who made the million-dollar deposit in Don Esteban's
bank."

Then he stopped and pondered.

"But who stole the box? Not Santiago, for he has not left his
room for days. If it was Strong, he must have entered the bank
from some direction other than this. I don't understand, but I'm
going to make some further investigation."

He reëntered his room, buckled on his automatic and took from his
suit case--which, by the way, he had located at the railway
station along with that of his companions after the occupation of
the city by the marines--his electric torch. Then he went out and
descended the stairs, which he discovered were twenty-four in
number.

Reaching the bottom he found himself upon a landing some six or
eight feet square, from the opposite side of which another flight
of stairs ascended.

"I reckon I better see where they lead to," was his comment as he
slowly began their ascent.

After going up eighteen stairs his head touched the floor above.
He counted the remaining steps by the light of his torch and
found that there were six more. This would make the floor over
his head on an exact level with the floor of Santiago's house.

"It's just as I expected," he muttered. "If I can get
through this floor, I shall find myself in Don Esteban's
residence--somewhere. But just where? That's the question."

He pushed upon the stone above his head, but it refused to move.
Then he held up his torch and examined the ceiling carefully.
Whatever the method by which the stones could be moved, it was
carefully concealed.

Much chagrined, Billie at length decided to retrace his steps and
await the coming of his companions. He reached the landing and
crossed over to the steps by which he had descended.

Glancing up, he uttered an exclamation of surprise, for there at
the opening and peering down the stairs was Ambrosio, the ape.

With a cry of recognition the simian started to descend the
stairs, but at a noise from above he hesitated and then sprang
back and out of sight.

An instant later the opening was closed and Billie was left in
the darkness, except for the light of his torch.



CHAPTER XXIX.

THE MYSTERY DEEPENS.


While Billie was making his discoveries Donald and Adrian had
also been busy.

When they left the house, at Donald's suggestion, they went first
to the bank and told Don Esteban about the disappearance of the
box and what the maid had seen. He was much disappointed until it
was explained to him that they also had another clue.

"We shall spend our time in the slums," said Donald, "while our
chum keeps watch at the house. We feel sure that between us we
shall solve the mystery."

"I hope so," was Don Esteban's response. "Do you think I might be
able to see this man Santiago?"

"I'm afraid not, sir! The doctor wants him to sleep as long as
he can. We will let you know later in the day."

Leaving Don Esteban, the boys started for the plaza, intending to
play the part of sightseers and visit every place in which a
mountebank might reasonably expect to go. They felt certain that
Strong would keep away from the more aristocratic places.

Keeping their eyes open and ever on the alert, they wandered
about the streets and into many public places, but up to eleven
o'clock had made no discovery. Then they entered a cantina for
breakfast, purposely choosing one that was little frequented by
Americans.

Seating themselves at a table in one corner where they could see
without being seen, the boys ordered a hearty breakfast and then
turned their attention to the others in the place.

At the table nearest them were three men of ordinary appearance,
busy with their meal. Beyond them was an American soldier, who
seemed to have dropped in out of curiosity. He was paying very
little attention to his meal, but was eyeing a young woman who
was seated behind the cash counter.

On the other side of the room, and partially hidden from our boys
by the cash counter, was another man, smoking, and evidently
waiting for some one. He kept his eye on the door and every once
in a while glanced nervously at his watch.

"Not much going on in here," said Donald in English.

"No; but we are a little early. There may be more in before we
finish our breakfast."

It was a true prediction, for within the next five minutes as
many more persons entered and disposed themselves around the
various tables. Then the boys' breakfast was served and for a few
minutes they were more absorbed in the food than in the guests.

As Donald raised his eyes for a moment, however, he caught sight
of a man talking to the one sitting back of the cash counter.
They were evidently arguing about something in an undertone and a
minute later the newcomer took a seat with his back to the boys.

"Look!" was Donald's smothered exclamation, "over there by the
cashier. Isn't that our man?"

Adrian raised his eyes and gazed hard at the back of the man's
head.

"I could tell better if he would remove his hat. It does look
like him, but he has disguised himself some way."

"Sure," laughed Donald. "That's part of his trade; but I'm dead
sure it is Strong."

"What had we better do?"

"I don't know. He'll recognize us the minute he sees us. If he is
keeping away from us, he will leave. If he is not, he may come
over and speak to us. There is no reason why he should not, so
far as he knows."

"How would it do to make ourselves visible?"

"I hardly know." Then after a pause: "I'll tell you what. As soon
as we finish we'll go out, as though we did not see him, but we
will be sure to make enough commotion to attract his attention.
Then we'll station ourselves where we can see him as he comes
out."

"That's all right, Don; but suppose he doesn't come out?"

Donald scratched his head.

"Oh!" he exclaimed, "I knew I had a thought back of that. When he
sees us, if he is not trying to avoid us, he will speak to us. If
he does not speak to us, we will know there is something wrong
and take immediate steps to have him arrested."

"But he may escape."

"How can he?"

"I suppose he could go out through the kitchen if he had to," was
the ready reply.

"Yes, I suppose he could. We must do better than that."

"I'll tell you," said Adrian. "I'll go over and speak to that
soldier in English. If it is Strong, he will hear me and will
involuntarily make some move. If he wants to make himself known,
he will. If he does not do so, we will simply sit here till he
goes out and then shadow him."

"That sounds good. Go over and say 'Howdy' to the soldier."

Adrian arose from his seat and stepped over to the soldier.

"Hello, partner!" was his somewhat noisy greeting. "Won't you
come over to our table?"

"Why, sure, neighbor! I was just thinking that I was getting
mighty lonesome."

He arose from his chair and took a seat beside Donald, who had
been observing Strong closely. There could be no doubt that he
had been attracted by Adrian's voice, but he gave no intimation
that he knew the boys.

"Glad to see you," said Donald, without taking his eyes from his
man. "Won't you have another cup of coffee?"

"Bet your life, neighbor!" Then as he lighted a fresh cigarette:
"Smoke?"

"Never learned!" laughed Donald. "Seems mighty funny down here,
doesn't it?"

"Sure does; but you're just as well off without it. Live here?"

"No," replied Adrian; "we were on our way home and got stuck!"

"What's the matter?" asked the soldier, with much concern. "Out
of coin?"

"We haven't much; but Gen. Funston has promised to find us
passage home in a few days. Our friend saw him early this
morning," this latter remark expressly for Strong's ears.

"If he told you he'd do it, he will," said the soldier. "You can
bet on him every time."

It was very evident from Strong's actions that he was taking in
every word of the conversation, which was in English and in an
unusually loud voice. He pretended to eat, then leaned over and
said something to his companion, and a minute later arose from
the table and hastily quitted the place.

But the boys were not to be fooled. They sprang from the table
and hastily followed, Donald throwing a greenback to the cashier
which more than doubly paid the bill.

Their sudden action did not escape the soldier, who, attributing
it to another cause, also hastily quitted the cantina.

As the boys emerged into the street, they saw Strong hastening
away in the direction of the custom house.

"Going to lose himself in the crowd," said Donald. "Don't let him
get out of your sight."

"What's the matter?" asked the soldier, running to catch up with
the boys. "Ugly greasers?"

"No," replied Donald, "we're shadowing a man who is wanted by
Gen. Funston. That's him," pointing; "keep your eye on him."

"I thought you chaps had something on," laughed the soldier. "You
can bet on me!"

Now that they approached nearer the center of the business
portion of the city, there were more people on the street; but
they were so near their quarry that they easily kept him in
sight. Only once had he glanced back, but that was enough to
convince him that he was followed.

"He's headed for somewhere," said Adrian. "He doesn't expect to
get away from us simply by walking."

"Right," agreed Donald. "There he goes into the post office."

"Yes," from Adrian, "and it has two doors. You stop at the first
one and I'll run to the other."

He started on a run and the soldier followed suit.

The sight of a man running and a soldier following, quickly
attracted attention and pedestrians began to stop and see what
the matter might be. In less than a minute a crowd had collected,
among them several soldiers, who quickly brought Adrian to a
halt.

"What's the matter?" asked one. Then as the soldier came up:
"What are you chasing him for?"

"I'm not chasing him," laughed the seeming pursuer. "He and I are
after another chap."

The delay occasioned by this interference was not great, but it
was sufficient to allow Strong to escape, had it not been for
Donald. He had seen the crowd gathering and, realizing what would
happen, ran around the other way, just in time to see Strong
disappearing around the corner of the street on which the bank
was located.

Madly he dashed down the street and turned the corner in time to
see Strong enter the big gate leading into the patio of Don
Esteban's residence.

Putting on more steam, a couple of minutes later Donald also
dashed into the patio; but Strong was nowhere to be seen.

"He must be in the bank," muttered the boy, and he quickly
entered the door.

But Strong had disappeared as completely as though the earth had
opened and swallowed him up.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE MYSTERY SOLVED.


When the opening at the head of the stairs had closed upon Billie
and he realized that he was shut in a subterranean passage, for a
minute his heart sank within him.

He had tried to find an opening at the top of the opposite stairs
and had failed, and he did not know that he would have any better
success in trying to find a way to open the place through which
he had descended.

"Nobody on earth knows that I am down here," he thought, "and
with Santiago sick and maybe dying, no one on earth probably
knows that there is such a passage."

But Billie was not the lad to sit down and cry. He had been in
tight places before and he had an abiding faith in his own
ability to do things. Therefore, he called up his courage and
slowly mounted the stairs leading to Santiago's patio.

At the top of the stairs he found himself confronted by exactly
the same condition as he had found on the opposite side.

"But there is this difference," muttered Billie. "I know that
there must be some sort of a crack where that slab fell back."

He held the electric bull's-eye close to the stone and
scrutinized every spot.

Not a single crack could he spy.

Then he took out his big jack-knife and prodded with it clear
across the width of the stairway.

There was nothing but solid stone.

"Looks kind o' desperate," he told himself, "but I have simply
got to find an opening."

Again he prodded the place over without result.

"It's no use," he finally said to himself. "If I am to get out of
here, help will have to come from somewhere outside. But how can
it?"

He sat down on the stairs and thought deeply.

"If it is as I think," he mused, "these stairs have been used
recently. The very fact that Ambrosio is prowling around here is
proof that Strong must have been here at some time. But where is
Strong?"

He slid down several steps and threw the light of his torch
across to the opposite stairs.

"Bang!" went something that sounded like a falling stone.

Billie sprang to his feet.

"Click! Bang!" and down the opposite stairway streamed a ray of
light.

Billie shut off his electric torch and waited.

Then on the steps there appeared a foot, then another, until a
whole human body was in sight. Then "click, snap!" and the light
disappeared.

"By George!" exclaimed Billie under his breath, "there's a man on
the stairs right opposite to me. Who on earth can it be?"

His first inclination was to turn on the light, but on second
thought he decided not to.

"I'll let him set the copy," thought Billie. "It's a mighty good
thing to be able to spring the surprise."

He drew his automatic and stood ready for any emergency.

It was still as a tomb.

He could hear his own heart beat and he could also hear the heavy
breathing of the other man.

"Sounds like he had been running and was just catching his
breath," was Billie's mental comment.

After some minutes the man's breathing became more quiet and
Billie heard him slowly descending the stairs.

"This won't do," thought Billie. "He probably has some kind of a
light, and if he gets on the landing and I'm up here, I'll be
like a man up a tree."

The lad sat down and slowly slid toward the bottom.

Being only a few steps from the landing, Billie was down first.
He crowded to the right and listened.

The other was now nearly on the landing. Now he was on the
landing, hugging the wall on the side opposite Billie. Now they
passed each other, or rather the man passed Billie, for Billie
stood perfectly still.

It seemed as though he must hear Billie's breathing, but if he
heard anything he must have thought it his own echo, never
dreaming that he was not alone in the passage.

Now Billie could hear him ascending the stairs leading to
Santiago's house, and his hope rose high.

"He must know how to open the floor," thought Billie. "I'll be
right there when he does."

Silently as a cat Billie crept up the stairs behind his unknown
companion.

Near the top the man stopped and a minute later he flashed an
electric light against the stone overhead. Another minute and he
heaved with the top of his head and the slab slid back.

"And now," exclaimed Billie in a deep voice, "put your hands over
your head!"

Whether from fear or from the unparalleled surprise caused by
hearing a human voice at such a time and in such a place, instead
of obeying Billie's command, Strong's hands--for Strong it
was--fell limp at his side and his electric torch fell to the
stones beneath his feet.

"All right," continued Billy, "if that's the way you feel about
it; but just remember that a single false move and I'll cut this
automatic loose among your ribs. Now climb out a step at a time."

With face as white as marble at the shock he had just sustained,
Strong obeyed implicitly and Billie was soon standing on the
stone patio, looking Strong in the face.

"You're a good one, you are," he said sarcastically. "I should
think you'd be ashamed to call yourself an American."

"What do you mean?" asked Strong in a trembling voice.

"Why, first of all, stealing from the bank, and then selling your
own countrymen to the Mexicans."

"Who have I sold?"

"Do you mean to say that you didn't sell Gen. Funston to the
greasers for ten thousand dollars?"

"Of course I do!" in a somewhat stronger voice.

"Perhaps you'll deny that you are Strong, the mountebank. You
don't think for one minute that I don't know you in spite of your
make-up, do you?"

"No, I'll admit that I'm the mountebank. As for my name that is
of small importance in a country like this. But I did not sell
Gen. Funston, as you put it. I knew the man I pointed out was not
Funston and I knew that as soon as the Mexicans found it out they
would let him go. Some one might have told them rightly. As it
was I spoiled their game and I got the money. Do you think it any
crime to do that?"

"That's a matter I am not in a position to discuss," was Billie's
answer. "But how about robbing the bank?"

"I had as much right to the box as any one."

"You'll have to prove that to some one besides me; all I can do
is to turn you over to the authorities."

"Never!" cried Strong. "I'll die before I'll rot in a Mexican
jail!"

He uttered a peculiar noise and before Billie could imagine what
it meant, he felt himself seized from behind by a pair of hairy
hands.

He had been in that clutch once before and recognized in an
instant that he was in the grip of the ape.

He gave one loud cry for help and then turned loose with his
automatic.

The tumult which followed is beyond description. Billie's shout
was as nothing compared to the cry of the ape as one of the
bullets struck him in the leg and another pierced his foot.
Loosing his hold upon the lad, he grabbed for the weapon, but
Billie managed to evade him and would undoubtedly have slain the
animal had not Strong sprung to his assistance, with the result
that in another minute Billie was disarmed.

Ill would the lad have fared then, at the hands of his two
assailants, had not the noise attracted to the scene several
soldiers, while an instant later came a loud shout as Donald and
Adrian dashed into the patio.

On the other side of the square they had heard Billie's shout,
followed by the automatic, and had rushed to his aid.

In another minute both Strong and his hairy friend were overcome
and securely bound.

"Where did you find him?" asked Donald, pointing to Strong.

"Down there," was Billie's reply, as he pointed toward the still
open underground passage way.

"How did he get there?"

"I suppose he entered from a similar entrance in Don Esteban's
patio. I have had an idea all the time that there was some reason
for the position of these two houses."

"But it doesn't lead into the bank. How could he steal the box
out of the vault?"

"There is the real thief!" exclaimed Billie, pointing to the ape.
"He sneaked in while Strong kept the bank employés engaged. By
some mistake in his understanding he put the envelope back in the
bank the next day instead of putting back the box. It was he who
crawled through the bars into Santiago's library. He was also the
devil who scared the maid almost into fits."

"Well! Well!" exclaimed a voice from the gateway. "I never could
have believed it."

The voice was that of Don Esteban, who had entered while Billie
was speaking.

"I have come to see this strange man, Santiago Ojeda," he
explained. "What says the doctor?"

"Here comes the doctor now," announced Adrian as the physician
made his appearance in the gateway. "He can speak for himself."



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE TREASURE OF MONTEZUMA.


The shadows of evening had fallen and a cool breeze was blowing
in off the Gulf of Mexico when a group of persons, among whom
were the Broncho Rider Boys, gathered around the bedside of the
sick man.

It was as the physician had predicted, and when Santiago had
awakened after his long sleep, he had regained his senses,
although he was very weak. But as the day declined and the heat
lessened he had become stronger, and now at his own request,
Lucia and her friends drew around to listen to his tale.

At one side of the bed stood Lucia, the three boys and Don
Esteban. At the other stood Mr. Black, Josie and the physician,
while at the foot of the bed was Strong, with Ambrosio in his
arms, and a couple of soldiers who had the mountebank in
custody.

"As my daughter knows," began Santiago in a feeble voice, "I am a
direct descendant of the great Montezuma. My ancestor was the
guardian of the treasure which had been accumulated by the Aztec
kings for years. After the overthrow of my race by the Spanish
conquerors, there was given to my first great ancestor the
keeping of the secret of the source of the gold which had made
the city of Anahuac such a rich prize.

"This secret has been handed down through all these generations,
the one object being to use this knowledge in freeing Mexico from
the Spanish yoke. This secret I, as the last of my race,
possess."

The aged man paused, his strength being hardly able to the task
he had set himself.

"It is much as I suspected," whispered Don Esteban to Donald,
while Lucia bent over and smoothed the brow of the sick man.

"A few years ago," Santiago finally continued, "I began to see an
opportunity for the people to assert their rights. In our good
Señor Madero I saw the one who should lead the common people out
of their bondage. I went to him and offered him all the wealth at
my command. He accepted the trust and we began our work. It was
at that time that I placed the money with Don Esteban. Also the
box, containing the secret of the mine, of which only I and
Madero knew.

"You all know what has happened since that time. Madero won, but
he was betrayed. His betrayer now seeks to rule the republic, but
he can never do it. He must be overthrown."

The aged man became greatly excited and the physician cautioned
him to be careful. In a few minutes he became more peaceful and
continued:

"I have always been a great friend of the Americans. I admired
their integrity and their government. I spent many years of my
youth in the United States. I have known many of their great men.
I was sure they would be pleased with Madero, and they were. But
after he was betrayed, then I began to fear them, as I was told
that the usurper, Huerta, had been helped by them."

"Who told you that?" asked Billie, almost without thinking.

"That man there," and Santiago pointed with his long bony finger
at the mountebank, Strong. "That man, Francisco Rodriguez, who
claims to be an American, but who is a traitor to his country. He
fed me with lies, as I now know, and he wormed out of me the
secret of Montezuma's Mine."

Again the aged man's excitement nearly overcame him, but again he
rallied with an almost superhuman effort.

"It was because of his lies that I made him my trusted agent;
but he betrayed me as he has others. It was to him I gave the ten
thousand pounds which the young señor took away from my servant,
Pablo Ojeda--who is not an Ojeda, but whom I have allowed to use
that name. I desire that the money become the property of the
young señor," and he feebly extended his hand toward Billie, "who
has always been such a good friend to me and mine. The secret of
the mine is to be found in the box which I left with Don Esteban.
I am getting to be an old man, and if you will now bring in the
box, I will turn it over to my daughter Lucia, who is my only
descendant."

Don Esteban made no move to comply with the request, but looked
at the boys in such a perplexed manner that the sick man was
quick to take notice.

"What is it?" he asked, rising on his elbow and looking at Don
Esteban with burning gaze. "What is it? Has anything happened to
the box?"

"Yes," faltered the banker, "it has been stolen."

"Stolen!" almost shrieked Santiago. "Stolen! Then there stands
the thief!" and he pointed to Strong, who stood with blanched
face.

"We know that," said Billie, "but the box has been stolen again
and no one knows where it has gone."

"You are wrong," muttered Strong. "It has not been stolen. It is
in the bank where it always was."

"Impossible!" cried Don Esteban. "How could it be back in the
vault?"

"Ask Ambrosio," replied Strong, with a wan smile. "He can tell."

"Of course he cannot tell," almost shouted Don Esteban.

"Then we shall never know; but I am sure the box is there."

"Send for it! Send for it!" cried Santiago. "Send for it at once
that I may turn over to my daughter the secret of the mine."

"That you will never be able to do," said Strong. "It has been
destroyed."

"Destroyed!" burst from almost every lip. "Destroyed? How?"

Strong shook his head.

"I can't tell. Again you'll have to ask Ambrosio. It is he who
destroyed it."

"By George!" exclaimed Billie, "I knew I ought to have killed
that monk the first time I had any dealings with him. I'm sorry
now that I didn't."

"At any rate," declared Don Esteban, "I shall send for the box."

He turned to Santiago, who had fallen back upon his pillow, and
over whom the physician was bending and feeling his pulse.

"I shall send for it at once," he repeated.

Slowly the physician raised his head and loosed his hold upon the
sick man's wrist.

"It is too late," he said. "He will not need it. He is dead."

       *       *       *       *       *

On board a returning army transport bound for New York stood the
Broncho Rider Boys casting their last glance shoreward as the sun
was setting behind the mountains that form the background of the
city of Vera Cruz. Over the city still waved the Stars and
Stripes, and as the darkness fell and the tip of Mt. Orizaba
gradually faded from sight, Billie turned to the others and in a
voice tinged with sadness remarked:

"There's only one thing about the whole country that I admire."

"What's, that?" asked Adrian. "Lucia?"

"No; it's the wholesome respect the Mexicans show for
Brigadier-General Funston."

"Yes, and if he is let alone, he'll make them respect the
American flag," echoed Donald.

"Long may it wave!" was Adrian's sententious comment.

But it did not wave long over Vera Cruz, for the following
November, Huerta having been obliged to leave the country in the
meantime and Gen. Carranza having established himself for the
time being in the City of Mexico, the American forces were
withdrawn and the Carranza forces took possession of Vera Cruz.
Some months later Carranza was recognized by the United States,
and at this writing is establishing his government, which
promises to be a continuation of the one established by Madero.

Thus it will be seen that Santiago's work for his country was
productive of good, as are all efforts to bring liberty to the
people and to free them from the rule of a few.

Before sailing for home, the boys had the satisfaction of knowing
that the man known as Strong had been properly punished, and
that, in accordance with Santiago's dying wish, the ten thousand
pounds which he had practically given to Billie months before on
the Rio Grande, were placed to the lad's credit in the banking
house of Don Esteban.

The fate of Ambrosio, the ape which caused so much trouble, was
left in the hands of the keeper of the prison to which Strong was
sentenced. It is to be hoped that his behavior will improve.

THE END.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES

Page 48: Removed extra quotation mark.

Page 60: Changed "moso" to "mozo."

Page 62: Changed typo "gaurd" to "guard."

Page 87: Changed typo "variey" to "variety."

Pages 123, 132: Left words "blue-jackets" and "bluejackets" as
printed.

Page 140: Added closing quotation mark.

Page 197: Added missing period.

Pages 206, 214, 224: Left words "kipnaped" and "kipnapped" as
printed.





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