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Title: The Broncho Rider Boys with the Texas Rangers - The Capture of the Smugglers on the Rio Grande
Author: Fowler, Frank
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: Pulling himself together and grasping his Marlin
firmly, Adrian stepped cautiously toward the broken door.]


THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH THE TEXAS RANGERS

or

The Capture of the Smugglers On the Rio Grande

by

FRANK FOWLER

Author of
    “The Broncho Rider Boys At Keystone Ranch.”
    “The Broncho Rider Boys In Arizona.”
    “The Broncho Rider Boys Along The Border.”
    “The Broncho Rider Boys On The Wyoming Trail.”



A. L. Burt Company
New York.

Copyright, 1915
By A. L. Burt Company

THE BRONCHO RIDER BOYS WITH THE TEXAS RANGERS



CONTENTS

    CHAPTER I.—A MULE HUNT IN THE CHAPARRAL.
    CHAPTER II.—A WILD CHASE AND ITS RESULT.
    CHAPTER III.—A DANGEROUS MISSION.
    CHAPTER IV.—A FRIEND IN NEED.
    CHAPTER V.—A NIGHT IN A MEXICAN KITCHEN.
    CHAPTER VI.—ADRIAN MAKES A CAPTURE.
    CHAPTER VII.—IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY.
    CHAPTER VIII.—IN THE SMUGGLER’S CAVE.
    CHAPTER IX.—GUADALUPE IN DANGER.
    CHAPTER X.—SANTIAGO’S STRATEGY.
    CHAPTER XI.—A COUNCIL OF WAR.
    CHAPTER XII.—THE BATTLE AT THE CAVE.
    CHAPTER XIII.—A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.
    CHAPTER XIV.—PANCHO VILLA.
    CHAPTER XV.—A SHOT IN THE DARK.
    CHAPTER XVI.—A VALUABLE DISCOVERY.
    CHAPTER XVII.—A MEETING OF REVOLUTIONISTS.
    CHAPTER XVIII.—SPRINGING THE TRAP.
    CHAPTER XIX.—WITH THE REGULAR ARMY.
    CHAPTER XX.—SCOUTING FOR UNCLE SAM.
    CHAPTER XXI.—JOINING THE REVOLUTIONISTS.
    CHAPTER XXII.—BESIEGED BY REVOLUTIONISTS.
    CHAPTER XXIII.—BILLIE SOLVES A MYSTERY.
    CHAPTER XXIV.—LOST IN THE CHAPARRAL.
    CHAPTER XXV.—THE FIGHT IN MIDSTREAM.
    CHAPTER XXVI.—BILLIE OVERHEARS A SECRET.
    CHAPTER XXVII.—HUSTLING FOR EVIDENCE.
    CHAPTER XXVIII.—A QUESTION OF NEUTRALITY.
    CHAPTER XXIX.—IN THE DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN.
    CHAPTER XXX.—AU REVOIR, BUT NOT GOOD-BY.



CHAPTER I.

A MULE HUNT IN THE CHAPARRAL.


“Crack!” went Broncho Billie’s revolver and the silver dollar which had
been tossed into the air as a target went spinning into the yellow
waters of the Rio Grande as a result of Billie’s unerring aim.

“Not a bad shot, Ad,” remarked Billie with a laugh as he ejected the
shell from the cylinder and shoved a fresh cartridge into the empty
chamber of the revolver. “I don’t miss ’em very often now, and this time
the river is a dollar in.”

“Yes,” replied Adrian, a bit crestfallen, “and I’m a dollar out.”

“Didn’t think I’d hit it, eh?” and Billie’s round face broadened till it
looked like a full moon.

“Well, I didn’t know but you might, but I hadn’t stopped to think what
would happen to the dollar if you did. The river didn’t look so near.”

Billie chuckled to himself good-naturedly as he returned his six-shooter
to its holster, while Adrian continued:

“I’ll make a better guess at distances before I try it again. I can’t
afford to be losing dollars like that.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Ad!” and Billie shoved his hand down into his
pocket. “Here’s one to take its place.”

Adrian shook his head and made no move to take the proffered coin.

“Go on, take it!” insisted Billie. “I don’t want to make you lose your
last dollar.”

“That’s all right about my last dollar,” replied Adrian. “I guess I know
where to get another, and the lesson is worth a peso.”

“Well, if you go broke because of it, don’t be afraid to tell me,” was
Billie’s joking reply; “but what can be keeping Donald, I wonder. It’s
high time we were getting back over the river,” and Billie cast his eye
toward the mountains some miles in the distance to see how close to
their tops the sun was getting.

“He’ll surely be here in a few minutes,” said Adrian. “He knows how long
it will take us to get to town as well as we do.”

And while the boys are awaiting the arrival of their companion, it might
be well to explain to any reader who has not had the pleasure of reading
the preceding volumes of the Broncho Rider Boys series something about
the trio of young Americans whose names have been mentioned.

Adrian Sherwood, who had so recklessly risked his silver dollar as a
target for his companion to shoot at, was the owner of a ranch in
Wyoming, which he had but recently inherited and come into possession of
through a series of most exciting adventures as told in a preceding
volume of this series, entitled “The Broncho Rider Boys on the Wyoming
Trail.” He was a youth of much wisdom and judgment for one of his years
and a close chum of Billie, who had been christened William Stonewall
Jackson Winkle.

Because of the exciting adventures through which Adrian, Billie and
Donald had passed and because they had practically lived in the saddle
for the past year and a half, they had become known to the cowboys and
rough riders of three states as “The Broncho Rider Boys.” Born in the
south, but having spent most of his boyhood in New York State, Billie
had come west nearly two years previous to find health and to rid
himself of the superfluous weight which some good-natured doctor had
said was the cause of his trouble. Months in the saddle had made very
little difference in his weight and if there were a more healthy chap in
the country than he, such a one would be hard to find.

When Billie first came west, he was a veritable tenderfoot. He was
always creating fun for those with whom he was thrown and was invariably
in some sort of trouble. The number of times he had been thrown from the
back of his broncho could hardly be enumerated, and more in fun than
because he was a daring rider, he had been rechristened Broncho Billie
by his cowboy friends.

But Billie had developed rapidly. Of the three there was not one who
could ride or shoot better than he. His only weak spot was in throwing
the lariat. He never seemed to get just the proper hang and his attempts
to use the rope almost invariably resulted in disaster to himself or his
friends. As is usually the case with fat people, Billie fairly bubbled
over with good humor, being a fine example of Tony Lumpkin’s famous
advice to “laugh and grow fat.”

Donald Mackay, Billie’s cousin, whom he had come west to visit, was the
son of the owner of a big ranch, known as Keystone Ranch. He was one of
those steady, reliable boys whom we have all met and who can always be
depended upon in any emergency to do the right thing, although at times
he may be slower than some others in the manner in which he works. Taken
all in all they were a well-balanced trio, as their actions under many
trying conditions and in many hazardous adventures had justly proved.
They had thwarted an unscrupulous syndicate from robbing Donald’s father
of valuable property. They had protected an inoffensive tribe of Indians
against the designs of a band of sharpers, and they had straightened out
affairs at Adrian’s ranch in a manner which would have been a credit to
much older heads.

After their adventures in Wyoming, as told in a preceding volume, they
had started to return to Arizona by a two months’ ride through Colorado
and New Mexico; but, when they reached Albuquerque, they had received a
letter from Billie’s father, saying that he was going on a vacation trip
to El Paso, Texas, and asking if it were possible for Billie to meet him
there.

“Of course I can,” exclaimed Billie aloud, as he read the letter.

“Of course you can what?” queried Donald.

“Meet father in El Paso,” was the reply.

“What, and leave us to go home all alone?” said Adrian.

“There’s two of you, isn’t there?” retorted Billie, forgetting his
grammar entirely.

“Of course there are two of us; but that’s hardly a company, while, as
everybody knows, three make a crowd,” and Adrian laughed almost sadly.
“Who’d take care of Jupiter?”

Now Jupiter was the broncho which Billie’s uncle had given him when he
first came West, and a terrible time Billie had had in breaking him. He
hadn’t thought about him.

“You could lead him, couldn’t you?” asked Billie.

“We’re driving two pack mules now. How would you expect us to take care
of Jupiter?”

Billie shook his head slowly. “I don’t know,” he said.

“I’ll tell you what,” suddenly exclaimed Donald, “we’ll all go to El
Paso. We’ll ride there. It isn’t so many days out of our way, and we’ll
see something of the country. We might even get a look at President
Madero, of Mexico.”

Donald’s suggestion met with immediate approval by the others, and so,
instead of going southwest from Albuquerque, they headed south. Because
of the lay of the land, they had traveled farther south than was really
necessary, but had figured it out that it would be better riding in the
valley of the Rio Grande than to climb over the range of mountains that
forms the watershed of the Pecos River. Striking the Rio Grande near
Langtry, they had slowly ridden up stream toward El Paso, first on one
side of the river and then on the other, until this afternoon found them
approaching the mouth of the Concho river, which empties into the Rio
Grande from the Mexican side.

Two hours previous they had halted in the chaparral for a bite to eat
and a short _siesta_. While they were lounging about, Donald had
announced his intention of going to a little hamlet, the adobe houses of
which could be seen a couple of miles away, to see if he could not buy a
_riata_, as a rope for leading horses is called.

“Why not wait until we reach Presidio?” queried Adrian. “We should reach
there by dark.”

“We may not, and we need it to tether the pack mules. The one on Bray is
worn out, and first thing we know he’ll wander away and we’ll waste a
whole day looking for him.”

“Well, hurry up, then,” said Billie. “We don’t want to be waiting around
here all the afternoon.”

Without more words Donald had mounted Wireless, for so his mount was
named, and ridden away in the direction of the houses, while Billie and
Adrian had strolled up the bank of the river, killing time. It was
during this stroll that Billie had offered to show his skill with a
six-shooter by hitting a silver dollar thrown into the air.

They had hardly been out of sight of the halting place during their
stroll, but, upon their return, instead of finding Donald, they found
old Bray, one of the pack mules, missing, just as Donald had predicted.

“He cannot have gone far,” declared Adrian. “He hasn’t had time.”

“That’s certain,” was Billie’s reassuring comment, and, feeling sure
that a few minutes’ search of the chaparral would reveal the missing
animal, they started out hastily, on foot, not deeming it necessary even
to mount their steeds.

For the next ten minutes they tramped through the chaparral, calling to
each other as they went, but no sign of the mule could be found. Then
they returned to the camp and mounted their horses, but, although this
enabled them to see over the tops of the mesquite bushes that spread out
for miles up and down the river, they could see nothing of the missing
animal.

“There comes Don,” Billie at last sung out, as he caught sight of the
returning horseman. “Maybe he can give us some advice.”

But Donald had no advice to give, except to scatter and search.

“I hate to say 'I told you so,’” laughed Donald, “because it was really
my fault that I didn’t get a new _riata_ before. I reckon now we might
as well decide to stop here all right, for I can see we have our
afternoon’s work cut out.”

Half an hour’s riding having revealed no sign of Bray, the boys again
met at the camp.

“Haven’t you seen anything at all?” called out Adrian, as the boys came
within hailing distance of each other.

“Yes,” replied Billie, “I saw a _hacienda_ about three miles up the
river. I knew Don spoke a little Mexican, so I came back to tell him,
and ask if you didn’t think it would be a good thing to apply to the
owner for help. Maybe some of the peons have run across Bray and driven
him home.”

“Good idea,” said Adrian. “You fellows go up to the _hacienda_ and I’ll
stay here and look after the other mule and the camp. I’m glad Bray
didn’t have his pack on, or we’d stand a chance of going hungry
tonight.”

“Don’t mention such a thing,” laughed Billie. “The very thought of it
fills me with despair.”



CHAPTER II.

A WILD CHASE AND ITS RESULT.


The _hacienda_ which Billie had discovered in his search for the lost
pack mule was located about a mile from the Rio Grande on the Mexican
side of the river, and appeared to be part of an estate of considerable
size. The house itself was a good-sized dwelling, built in true Mexican
style, with a great wall surrounding it, and the yard, or _patio_, as it
is called, inside the walls. It was of dazzling whiteness, and, situated
upon a little knoll that rose almost abruptly out of the otherwise level
plain, made quite a pretentious appearance.

“Looks as though it might belong to people of quality,” remarked Donald,
as the boys approached it, after a sharp gallop of twenty minutes.

“Yes, or a fort of some kind, with that high wall all around it.”

“The wall, as you call it, is part of the house,” explained Donald.
“However, it serves the purpose of a fortification. Father told me they
got into the habit of building their houses in this way during the days
when revolutions were of almost daily occurrence.”

“A habit from which they haven’t yet recovered,” laughed Billie.

Riding up to the great front door, or gate, which they found closed,
they knocked loudly. A sharp-eyed Mexican lad answered the summons and
ushered them into the _patio_, where they sat quietly upon their horses
until the owner appeared. He was a little, weazened old man—Don Pablo
Ojeda, by name, as the boys afterward learned—but he received them with
a great show of friendliness.

“Welcome, strangers,” he said, by way of greeting. “What can I do for
you today?”

“We are travelers,” replied Donald, “and one of our pack mules strayed
away. Being unable to find it, we thought perhaps some of your servants
might have come across it, and, not knowing to whom it belonged, have
driven it to this place.”

“Quite possible,” replied the old man. “I will summon them and inquire.”

This he did. In response to his summons, half a dozen peons put in an
appearance, but all denied any knowledge of the mule.

“He has probably gone down the river in the direction from which you
came,” said Don Pablo, after the servants had gone back to their work.
“That would be the most natural thing.”

“Quite likely,” was Donald’s reply. “We will look for him in that
direction. We are much obliged to you for your trouble.”

“_No hay de que_,” meaning, there is no occasion for thanks, was the
Mexican’s answer, and, without more ado, the boys took their departure.

“The old hypocrite,” exclaimed Donald, as soon as the boys were out of
earshot. “I actually believe he found the mule himself, and knows where
he is at this very minute.”

“I thought that myself,” commented Billie, “although I could understand
very little of what was being said. But he was altogether too gracious.”

“What most aroused my suspicions,” said Donald, “was a side remark I
heard him whisper to that big dark peon. I didn’t get the whole of it,
but it was something about removing the livestock to another pasture.
But he can’t fool me, if ever I get sight of old Bray, for he had the
Keystone brand.”

The boys walked their horses slowly along, talking the matter over,
undecided what to do next; but, as they at last emerged from behind a
long row of cactus, which formed a hedge around one side of the
_hacienda_, Billie uttered a sudden exclamation.

“Look!” he almost shouted, and pointed away to the left, where, about a
mile distant, could be seen a couple of men on horseback, driving before
them a dozen or more horses and mules. “I believe that big mule a little
to the side is old Bray.”

“I’m sure of it,” replied Donald. “It’s a long ways too far to see the
brand, but he’s got a peculiar stride that I recognize as soon as I set
eyes on him.”

“What had we better do?” queried Billie. “We’re perfect strangers here,
you know.”

“I don’t care if we are,” was the emphatic response. “No thieving
hypocrite can get away with my mule as long as my name is Donald Mackay.
Follow me,” and, putting spurs to Wireless, he dashed off in the
direction of the drove, closely followed by Billie.

From the direction in which the men were driving the animals it was very
evident they were headed for the mountains, some seven or eight miles
away, and it was plain to the boys that, if they ever expected to get
old Bray, they would have to overtake the drove before it reached the
foothills. A small stream flowed across the plain and emptied into the
Concho some miles farther west, and it was necessary for the men with
the drove to cross this stream before they could make a direct line for
the place they wished.

The boys were unfamiliar with the lay of the land, but they made up
their mind that they could cross the stream higher up and thus get
between the men and the mountains. They did not know that the only ford
was the one toward which the men were driving the horses, and
accordingly, instead of following the direct trail, they struck off
diagonally across the plain.

The men saw the boys as soon as they appeared upon the scene, and
immediately put the drove on a full run for the ford.

While the stream toward which both the pursued and the pursuers were
heading was not a large one, it was quite a torrent because of the heavy
rains of the past two or three days—the rainy season having already
begun. The natives were well aware of this, and thought it impossible
for anyone to cross it except at the ford in question. Being fully a
mile in advance, they had no fear of being overtaken, as they felt
certain that when the boys reached the river they would have to turn
down stream for more than half a mile before they could cross. This
would give the thieves another good mile the advantage.

Wireless and Jupiter seemed to know what was expected of them, and
fairly flew over the ground. The natives were also well mounted, and the
chase would have been a fruitless one, had conditions been as they
supposed. But they did not know the kind of boys they had to deal with,
nor the mettle of the horses they rode.

After ten minutes of hard riding, it became evident that the boys were
gaining, and as the thieves and their booty plunged into the ford, the
boys were rapidly approaching the river at the place they had picked out
to cross.

Then for the first time the pursuers saw why it was that the thieves had
chosen a crossing so far downstream.

For just a moment they drew rein, seeing which the natives gave a shout
of derision as they, too, slackened their pace and rode more leisurely
toward the mountains.

But again the thieves had reckoned without their host, for, in another
minute the boys put spurs to their horses and dashed toward the stream,
even higher up than they had first aimed. Billie had discovered a narrow
place, and had made a suggestion to Donald, which they determined to
carry out.

At the spot which Billie had discovered the stream was about thirty feet
from bank to bank. Billie’s suggestion was that they make the horses
jump it.

It was a dangerous suggestion, because the very narrowness of the stream
made the current at this point exceedingly swift. How deep it was
neither of the boys had the slightest idea; they did know, however, that
it was necessarily the deepest spot on the whole plain. But this did not
deter them. They had made up their minds to head off the thieves, and
such a small thing as a thirty-foot leap over a raging torrent of water
was not to be considered.

So surprised were the men whom they were pursuing, that for the time
they forgot their herd and riveted their attention upon the boys, not
for a moment expecting them to try to cross when once they approached
near enough to the stream to know the actual condition.

But, never flagging, almost neck and neck, Wireless and Jupiter dashed
toward the narrow spot.

As they drew nearer, both boys saw that the stream was wider than they
had thought, and swerved just a moment from their course.

Again the natives uttered a shout of derision, expecting to see them
pull up; but on they came.

“Can we make it?” shouted Billie.

“Sure,” replied Donald, who was better acquainted with the latent
ability of his horse than his eastern-bred cousin. “Give Jupiter his
head and just a touch of the spur, and over we go!”

They were right on the brink, and suiting the action to the word, they
gave their horses their heads for the leap.

Into the air they rose like a couple of soaring birds, and for one brief
moment were flying over the rushing water. The shout of derision died on
the lips of the now thoroughly frightened natives, as both the
thoroughbred beauties landed fairly on the opposite bank and sped on
their way, as though they had but jumped a ditch.

By their daring feat the boys had so gained upon the thieves that they
were now not more than a quarter of a mile behind and gaining rapidly.
Seeing that they could not escape with their booty, the thieves turned
suddenly to the left, deserting their herd, and rode as fast as their
horses could carry them directly toward the chaparral that skirted the
Rio Grande.

At this the boys would have drawn rein, seeing that old Bray was now
within their grasp, but their attention was attracted by a shout from
the opposite side of the stream which they had just crossed.

Turning their heads to see whence came the noise, they beheld a body of
a dozen or more horsemen headed toward the ford at full speed.

“Don’t let them escape! Don’t let them escape!” shouted the leader of
the band, and, without stopping to think why they should obey such an
order, but feeling that there was good reason for it, the boys again
took up the chase.

As they espied the horsemen on the opposite bank, and realizing that
there was but one way to escape, the thieves turned in their saddles and
simultaneously fired a shot at their boy pursuers.

The balls whistled by the boys’ heads, but did not stop their furious
gallop. Again the thieves fired, and again the balls whistled harmlessly
by their heads.

But they had no chance to fire again, for the lads were right upon them.
Suddenly Donald’s hand shot forward, and his lariat sung out with
lightning speed. True to its aim, it fell over the shoulders of the
nearest Mexican. Wireless stopped as though he had been suddenly rooted
to the spot; the Mexican’s horse dashed on riderless, and his master lay
senseless upon the ground.

At the same moment Billie’s revolver cracked and the horse of the other
fleeing Mexican pitched headlong to the earth, carrying his rider with
him. Before he could recover himself, Billie had pulled up beside him,
and, leaping to the ground, quickly bound him with his own lariat.

The boys had hardly regained their breath, when a loud cheer announced
the arrival of the other horsemen.

“Good for you, young fellows,” exclaimed the leader of the band, as he,
too, sprang from his saddle. “You’ve made an important capture. We’ve
been trying to get evidence against these cutthroats for weeks. I surely
owe you one.”

“That’s good,” laughed Billie. “It’s mighty nice to have something
coming. But who are you?”

“Oh, me,” was the good-natured rejoinder. “I’m Captain June Peak, of the
Texas Rangers, and these are part of my company.”



CHAPTER III.

A DANGEROUS MISSION.


Of course both Donald and Billie had heard of the Texas Rangers, that
daring body of the Texas militia which has done so much in maintaining
law and order along the Mexican frontier, as well as in the lawless
communities farther interior. This, however, was their first
introduction to the rangers, and they gazed at the riders with
considerable astonishment, their appearance not being such as would give
a stranger a very good opinion of their law-abiding character.

“Texas Rangers,” finally exclaimed Donald, in a tone that indicated some
doubt. “Then what are you doing this side of the Rio Grande?”

“Well, I declare,” responded Captain Peak, looking around at his men
with a twinkle in his eye, “we must have crossed the river without
seeing it. We’d better get back just as fast as we can.”

“That’s right, Cap.,” replied one of the men, “but you wouldn’t think of
leaving these poor fellows lying on the ground, would you?”

“Sure not. Just pick them up, some of you, and we’ll get right back to
our own side of the river.”

The words were no sooner spoken than several of the men sprang to the
ground. The two Mexicans were quickly thrown across the backs of a
couple of horses, and the rangers prepared to return.

The boys had heard the words of the captain, and watched the proceedings
without a word, realizing by the captain’s manner that the affair was
more serious than he let on. As the men again resumed their saddles, and
the captain was about to mount, Donald thought it high time to ask
further questions; but he hadn’t decided just what to say before Captain
Peak asked:

“How did you boys happen to be chasing these greasers?”

“They were stealing our mule—that big one there,” replied Donald,
pointing to old Bray. “You can see he has the Keystone brand, the same
as our horses,” and he indicated the marks upon Jupiter and Wireless.

“Then you’d better cut him out and come along with us,” said Captain
Peak. “This won’t be a very healthy place for you much longer.”

“No?” And the boys looked at the captain inquiringly.

“No; there’s going to be trouble along the border, and it may break out
any minute. That’s why these horse-thieves are so bold; and that’s why
we are on this side the river, where we really have no business. But
these fellows have become such a nuisance that when we saw them leaving
the _casa_ a little while ago we couldn’t resist the chance of getting
them. We shall turn them over to the Mexican authorities at the first
opportunity, and I hope you boys will be on hand to give your testimony
against them.”

“If they are really horse-thieves,” replied Donald, “we shall be glad to
help bring them to justice; but we are only travelers, and don’t wish to
be delayed on our journey any longer than necessary. We have a companion
and another mule back there in the chaparral.”

“All right,” replied Captain Peak, “we’ll ride back that way and see
that no one disturbs you. Then we’ll all get into town as soon as
possible. It’s only six or seven miles.”

Acting upon Captain Peak’s advice, the boys cut old Bray out from the
rest of the drove, and in company with the rangers, galloped back toward
the place where they had left Adrian. It is hard to say which was the
greater, his pleasure at seeing his companions with old Bray in their
possession, or his surprise at the numerous company that was with them.

As they rode leisurely toward Presidio, after crossing to the American
shore, Donald explained to Captain Peak how they happened to be so far
from home. He was much interested in their story, and when they reached
town introduced them to the officials, both civil and military. The
captured horse-thieves were locked up in jail and the boys went home
with Captain Peak, who invited them to spend the night with him at the
hotel.

“I tell you,” exclaimed Billie, as they sat on the porch that evening
after supper, “a woman’s cooking surely does taste good! Why, just
think, we haven’t had a bite for most a month that we didn’t cook
ourselves.”

The following morning the boys were awakened by a big commotion outside,
and, looking down the street toward the jail, saw that it was surrounded
by a great crowd. They hastily dressed themselves and rushed out of the
hotel. Almost the first man they met was Captain Peak.

“What’s the matter?” asked Billie.

“There has been an attempt to rescue the prisoners, but it did not
succeed.”

“Who did it?” queried Adrian.

“We are not exactly sure, as the rescuers mounted their horses as soon
as they were discovered, and managed to get away. Some of the rangers
are after them, however, and I hope will get a trace of them.”

“They must have been pretty bold to come into a town as big as this,”
said Donald.

“So they are; but, as I told you yesterday, there is likely to be a lot
of trouble the other side of the river, and the authorities are having
their hands full looking after possible revolutionists. As a result
lesser culprits go free.”

“That must make a lot of trouble on this side,” suggested Adrian.

“It does, for, in addition to watching for horse and cattle thieves, we
have to keep our eyes open for gun runners.”

“What do you mean?” asked Billie. “What are gun runners?”

“Would-be revolutionists, who smuggle quantities of arms into Mexico
without the knowledge of the Mexican officials.”

“I didn’t know it was our business to stop that. I thought anybody could
buy arms to sell in Mexico?” said Adrian.

“So they can; but these arms would not be for sale. They would be for
arming bands of men to overturn the government. We are under no
obligation to stop it, but, as we want law and order along the border,
we always try to help the Mexican authorities,” explained Captain Peak.

“But there come my men now,” he continued, as several horsemen turned
into the main street.

The boys crowded around with others to hear the result of the chase,
which the men reported to have been fruitless.

“If we could only have chased them over the river we could have captured
them,” declared the sergeant in charge, “but, after the little raid
yesterday, we thought we’d better not try it.”

Seeing that there was likely to be no more excitement, the crowd
dispersed and the boys went into the hotel for breakfast; but when they
came out they found Captain Peak waiting for them.

“How would you boys like to do a little scout duty for me over the
river?” he asked.

“Scout duty?” repeated Donald. “I don’t think I understand.”

“Draw up some chairs,” replied the captain, “and I’ll explain.”

The boys did as directed, and the captain continued:

“I’ve been interested a whole lot in the adventures you boys have had,
and I can see you are a smart bunch. You said you were willing to stay
and help convict the cattle thieves, but we can’t arrange to turn them
over to the Mexican officials and have their trial before tomorrow, no
matter how fast we act. The Mexican always wants to wait till tomorrow.”

“Now, as long as you will be here a day or two, anyway, I thought maybe
you would like to take a little excursion across the Rio Grande, and see
how people live on that side. If you kept your eyes open, you might see
something that would be useful to me.”

“In what way?” queried Adrian.

Captain Peak drew his chair a bit nearer and looked all around to be
sure no one was listening.

“It is like this,” he continued. “President Madero has discovered that
there is a real plot on foot to start another revolution and overthrow
his government. Arms for the revolutionists would have to come from this
side of the river. As a revolution is unlawful, carrying arms across the
Rio Grande to help a revolution is unlawful, and he has asked Uncle Sam
and the State of Texas to prevent any guns or ammunition from going into
Mexico which do not go through the Mexican custom house.”

“It looks to me,” broke in Billie, “as though that was the business of
the Mexican government.”

“So it is,” replied Captain Peak, “but as long as Mexico is a friendly
nation it is also our business to prevent filibustering—and that is what
gun running amounts to.

“There is also another reason for helping to prevent this sort of
smuggling. We frequently have to ask the Mexican government to aid us in
running down outlaws who escape into that country. If we don’t help
them, they won’t help us. So you can see, if we can learn anything about
this revolutionary movement, it will be a good thing. You boys, because
you are strangers and travelers, are just the ones to help. What do you
say?”

For several moments the boys said nothing, but finally Donald replied
that if the captain would give them a few minutes to talk the matter
over between themselves, they would be able to let him know.

“All right,” was the reply, “I’ve an appointment with the mayor, which
will give you all the time you need,” and he left the hotel to keep his
appointment.

“Well,” remarked Billie, as the captain disappeared around the corner,
“what do you think of that?”

“I don’t think anything of it,” replied Donald. “I’ve no liking for that
kind of work.”

“Why not?” queried Adrian.

“I don’t know. I just haven’t, that’s all.”

“You’d like to prevent war, wouldn’t you?”

“Sure,” was Donald’s emphatic rejoinder; “but I can’t see how this trip
can prevent war.”

“I don’t know as it would,” said Adrian, “but, if we could do anything
which would keep a lot of dissatisfied peons from getting guns and going
out and killing people, it seems to me we would be doing a good deed.”

“That’s just the way it seems to me,” declared Billie. “The average
Mexican who wants to start a revolution looks to me a good deal like the
fellows who stole our mule.”

“Not necessarily,” replied Adrian. “Sometimes revolutions are started by
men to overthrow a bad government. But my mother has always taught me
there was a better way to right a wrong than to go to war over it.
That’s why I am in favor of doing all we can to help those who want to
prevent trouble.”

“Of course if you put it that way,” said Donald, “I’ve no objection to
the excursion, as the captain calls it.”

When Captain Peak returned, they unanimously announced their readiness
for the trip, and, half an hour later, fully instructed as to what was
expected of them, they were across the Rio Grande, engaged upon what
proved to be the most important adventure of their career.



CHAPTER IV.

A FRIEND IN NEED.


“This is certainly a funny excursion,” laughed Billie, after the boys
had ridden along in silence for some minutes. “It’s like looking for a
needle in a haystack.”

“How so?” queried Donald.

“Well, isn’t it? This big country is the haystack, and the bunch of gun
runners is the needle. I see mighty little chance of finding them.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Donald. “We never started out to find
anything yet that we didn’t locate it—even old Bray,” he added as an
afterthought.

“That’s right,” chimed in Adrian. “There is nothing like having your
luck with you.”

“Huh,” grunted Billie, “I’m not sure but the greatest luck we could have
would be not to find anything.”

Adrian looked at the speaker in surprise.

“It’s the first time I ever knew you to show the white feather,” he
said.

“Who’s showing the white feather?” demanded Billie, with much spirit.
“I’m just as anxious as anyone to put a stop to lawlessness; but you
wouldn’t call any man a coward, would you, because he wouldn’t
deliberately stick his head in a hornet’s nest?” And he gave his horse a
vicious dig with his spurs.

“Oh, don’t get mad about it,” said Adrian. “I didn’t mean to hurt your
feelings.”

“Well, then, don’t be accusing me of showing the white feather. There’s
a whole lot of difference, in my mind, between being a coward and using
a little common sense.”

“He has the best of you there, Ad.,” remarked Donald; “when it comes to
doing things, Billie will be on the job.”

Donald’s words were like oil on the troubled waters, and after a few
minutes Billie continued in a voice entirely free from any irritation:

“The thing I can’t understand is this: If somebody has so much
information as to what is to be done, why don’t they have some little
knowledge of those who propose to do it? The whole thing looks fishy to
me.”

“I believe you’re right,” assented Adrian, after turning the matter over
in his mind for several minutes. “There is something kind of mysterious
about it.”

“I don’t see it,” declared Donald, “but, even if there is, all we have
to do is to keep our eyes and ears open. We have the law on our side.”

“Looks like mighty little law to me,” replied Billie, who, for some
reason or other insisted upon looking on the dark side. “But, to change
the subject, what do you call that?” and he pointed away to the south,
where a cloud of dust was to be seen.

“Looks as though it might be a herd of cattle.” said Donald, after a
moment’s inspection. “Although,” he added, after further observation,
“it would be a mighty small one.”

“They certainly make a lot of dust,” was Adrian’s comment, followed in a
moment with: “Look! Look! It’s a race! It’s a race!”

A race it certainly was, in which something less than half a dozen
horsemen were engaged, and the boys drew rein to watch it.

At the first glance it did not appear to be very exciting, as one of the
riders was so far in advance that there seemed very little chance for
any of the others. But, as the boys watched the flying horsemen, it
slowly dawned upon Donald that there was something wrong.

“By George!” he suddenly exclaimed, “I don’t believe it’s a race at all.
It looks to me as though there were three trying to catch one, and I
don’t think it’s for any good purpose.”

“I believe you’re right, Don; and, look,” exclaimed Adrian, “they’re
headed this way!”

That the boys were right was fully evidenced as the flying horsemen
approached. The pursuers seemed to be men, while the fugitive was a lad
of about the same age as our travelers.

All at once the boy espied the Broncho Rider Boys, and, digging his
spurs into his horse, turned abruptly and rode directly toward them.

“_Socorre mi! Socorre mi!_” he called, as he came within hailing
distance.

“What does he say?” asked Billie.

“He’s crying for help,” replied Donald. “What had we better do?”

“Help him, of course,” replied Billie.

“And get ourselves into a lot of trouble for our pains,” declared
Donald.

“Who cares! Three to one is more than I can stand,” and Billie yanked
his Marlin from its sheath at his saddle girth.

Seeing that Billie intended to interfere, even if he had to go it alone,
Don and Adrian followed his example, and, spurring their horses forward,
interposed between the boy and his pursuers.

“What’s all the trouble?” asked Donald in Spanish, as soon as the
pursuing horsemen had come to a halt.

“He is running away from home,” replied one who seemed to be the leader,
“and his uncle sent us to bring him back.”

“It isn’t so,” declared the lad, who had stopped his flight and had come
up behind the boys. “Do not believe him, _señores_!”

Adrian turned at the sound of the lad’s voice. “Which are we to
believe?” he asked.

“Believe me,” exclaimed the lad imploringly. “If you let them take me, I
do not know what they will do with me.”

“Why are they chasing you?” asked Don.

“I don’t know, unless it is because they do not like my father.”

“Who is your father?”

“General Sanchez, of President Madero’s staff.”

“Who are these?” and Don pointed to the waiting horsemen.

“I don’t know who that man is,” replied the lad, pointing to the leader,
“but the others are peons on my uncle’s _hacienda_.”

“Is this true?” asked Don, turning to the pursuers, while Billie and
Adrian tenderly fondled their rifles.

“Partly,” replied the leader. “But you heard him say he did not know who
I am. Well, I am one of his uncle’s closest friends. I learned this
morning that Pedro,” and he pointed at the boy, “was getting into bad
company, and so came out to look for him. I found him in bad company and
told him he must come home with me. He refused and rode away. I then
started after him. If I were not his uncle’s friend, do you think I
would have his uncle’s peons with me?”

“It hardly seems so,” replied Donald; “but, if you are such a good
friend of his uncle, it’s a wonder he does not know you. How about that,
Pedro,” and he again turned to the boy.

“It’s all a lie,” was the emphatic reply. “I was out watching the men at
work at the foot of the mountains this morning, when this man rode up.
He told me to come with him. Never having seen him, I refused, whereupon
he threatened to flog me. I jumped on my horse and rode away. A few
minutes later he came after me, making all sorts of threats. Then he
summoned the peons and chased me. They seem to do everything he tells
them, but I do not know why.”

“It sure is a queer mix-up,” said Donald to his companions, in English,
“and I don’t know what to do.”

“I’ll tell you what,” exclaimed Billie, after the matter had been fully
explained to him, “let’s all ride back to his uncle’s, wherever that is,
and see what he says.”

“Why, sure,” said Donald. “Billie, you’ll make a judge some day. We’ll
go at once.”

When the proposed plan was explained to the Mexicans, both sides to the
controversy quickly acquiesced, and, turning their horses about, the
combined parties started toward the mountains, Pedro leading the way.

The road ran along the bank of the Concho for a couple of miles, and
then turned abruptly toward the foothills. It was a beautiful valley,
and the Broncho Rider Boys were much interested in the scenery. They
passed several small groups of adobe houses, which Pedro explained were
on his uncle’s estate, which seemed very large.

“There is the house,” Pedro at length explained, pointing to a fine
appearing place on the top of a small hill. “It’s only a couple of miles
farther.”

So interested had the boys become in what Pedro was telling them that
they had paid very little attention to the rest of the company, until,
as they rounded a turn in the now rocky road, Adrian discovered that the
man who had made all the trouble had disappeared. Adrian quickly turned
and rode back a few rods to where he could get an unobstructed view of
the road behind, and there was Mr. Mexican riding away as fast as his
horse could carry him.

“What shall we do?” queried Adrian, as soon as he had called the others
back.

“Nothing, I should say,” was Donald’s advice. “It looks like the
question of who was right and who wrong had settled itself. I say good
riddance. What do you say, Pedro?”

“I say let him go. I don’t want him; but I should like to know who he
is.” Then to the peons: “Do you know who he is?”

The peons looked stupidly at each other, but made no reply.

“Why don’t you answer?” asked Donald sharply. “Who is that man?”

“_Quien sabe!_” was the exasperating answer, as the men shrugged their
shoulders in a manner which reminded Billie so much of a vaudeville act
that he burst into a hearty laugh.

“_Quien sabe!_” he repeated. “Well, I know enough Spanish to understand
that they don’t know. But why don’t they know?”

“It’s too deep for me,” replied Adrian. “The whole affair is too
mysterious for anyone but a Sherlock Holmes to ferret out; but there is
certainly no need of our going any farther in this direction, and I move
that we start back.”

“You won’t have any trouble in getting home now, will you?” he asked,
turning to Pedro.

“Oh, no; and are you going back to the Rio Brava?”

“To the what?” asked Donald.

“The Rio Brava.”

“He means the Rio Grande,” explained Adrian. “The Mexicans call it the
Rio Brava, and that is the way it is on their maps. I saw one of their
geographies once.”

“Then we’re going back to the Rio Brava,” laughed Billie, “and I hope we
get there before it begins to rain.”

Whereupon, bidding good-by to Pedro, who was most profound in his
thanks, they started on their return ride.

They had not been riding more than half an hour before the clouds, which
had been getting blacker and blacker, became so angry-looking that they
determined to seek shelter, and turned their horses’ heads toward one of
the little cluster of houses they had passed earlier in the day.



CHAPTER V.

A NIGHT IN A MEXICAN KITCHEN.


By the time the boys reached the little cluster of adobe buildings, the
rain was descending in torrents, and, in spite of the tropical
surroundings, the air was much too cold to be comfortable. As they
approached the first house on the outskirts of the hamlet, the door
opened and a blanketed peon, preceded by half a dozen dogs of all kinds
and conditions, made his appearance. Rushing at the horses, the dogs
made the neighborhood hideous with their barking, but they made no
attempt to do more.

“What do you want?” called out the man, speaking in Spanish.

“Call off your dogs,” replied Donald, “so we can talk with you.”

The man did as requested, and the animals grouped themselves around him
in the doorway.

“We want a place to get in out of the rain and something to eat,” Donald
continued, as soon as the barking had ceased.

“There is no place here,” replied the peon.

“What is this building?” and Donald pointed at a small hut at one side,
which was covered with a thatched roof.

“It’s the kitchen.”

“What does he say?” asked Billie, who hadn’t been able to gain the
faintest idea of the conversation.

“He says that’s the kitchen,” replied Adrian.

“Huh!” grunted Billie, “looks more like a pigpen.”

“What’s the matter with our going in there until it stops raining?”
continued Donald, pressing his inquiries.

“You can go in there, if you want to, but there is nothing for you to
eat.”

“No eggs?”

“No.”

“No tortillas?”

“No.”

“No frijolles?”

“No.”

“We will pay you well,” added Donald.

The peon’s manner underwent a remarkable change.

“Perhaps the _señora_ has a few tortillas,” he said. “I’ll go and see.”

He turned and quickly entered the house, returning in a minute to say
that there were both tortillas—corn cakes—and beans, and inviting the
boys to alight.

“There is no room in my _casa_,” he said, “but, if the young _señores_
will be satisfied to go into the kitchen, I will make a fire and the
_señora_ will get them something to eat.”

The boys needed no second bidding, and, quickly dismounting, they threw
their bridle-reins over some cactus growing about, and went inside.

“I’d rather eat out of doors,” declared Billie, after looking the place
over.

“So would I,” said Adrian, “if it were not for the rain.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” ventured Donald philosophically, “I’ve seen worse
places than this. Do you remember the Zunis?”

“It was always dry there,” declared Billie.

“Yes, and there were always plenty of snakes,” laughed Adrian, who never
had forgotten Billie’s aversion to reptiles since his visit to the snake
dancers.

Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of the peon’s wife,
who proceeded to make a fire in the Mexican range, as the boys called
the few bricks set up on edge. From a little earthen dish she produced a
few thin corn cakes, which she toasted over the fire. When they were
properly done, she put them on a dish and poured over them a couple of
spoonfuls of black beans. These she offered to the boys to eat.

Billie looked at it askance.

“I thought I was glad to eat a woman’s cooking at Presidio last night,”
he said. “If this is a sample of Mexican women’s cooking, I’d rather get
my own meals.”

However, they were all hungry, and the beans and tortillas soon
disappeared.

“How much are you going to pay him for this, Don?” queried Adrian. “You
said you would pay him well.”

“I don’t know. Do you think fifty cents is enough?”

“Try him and see.”

Donald took a silver half dollar from his pocket and held it out toward
the man, who had been watching the boys in silence. He looked stupidly
at it, but made no move to take it.

“Don’t you want it?” asked Donald.

“No, _señor_; it is too much.”

“How much do you want?”

“A real is plenty.”

A real is worth in American money about seven cents.

“Oh, take it,” urged Donald in Spanish, “although I think a real is all
it’s worth,” he added in English, which the peon could not understand.

Thus urged the man took the coin and bowed low with many expressions of
thanks. The coin also seemed to have loosened his tongue, and he urged
the boys to make themselves perfectly at home.

“My poor house is yours,” he declared, “as long as you will honor it
with your presence. I will go and give your horses some straw.”

Suiting the action to the word, he hastily left the hut, and, looking
through the door, the boys saw him leading the animals to a little
corral a short distance from the kitchen.

The rain continued to descend almost in sheets.

“This must be the way it rained in the days of Noah,” Billie suggested.

“Yes,” replied Adrian, “and it looks as though it might continue for
forty days. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“What had we better do?” asked Billie, thinking about the ride back to
Presidio.

“What can we do?” echoed Donald. “We never could find our way back to
the Rio Grande in this rain, and, if we did, we would find it so full of
water we couldn’t get across. The only thing we can do is to stay right
here till it stops raining.”

And stay they did.

The afternoon passed and darkness fell. The peon brought in a candle
stuck into a most unique candlestick, which must have been the property
of some ancient Don. The boys wondered where he got it, but did not
think it wise to inquire. They knew too little Spanish to engage in
anything like a general conversation with the man, but they did manage
to get enough out of him to discover that he was much dissatisfied. Why,
they could not make out.

Along about nine o’clock, the peon and his wife betook themselves off to
the other hut, which served as their main house, and the boys, piling
their saddles in the doorway, to keep out any stray dog that might be
prowling about, rolled themselves up in their blankets, stretched
themselves out on the floor, and were soon asleep.

How long he had slept, Billie could not tell, when he was awakened by a
most unusual noise. The rain was still falling, although not in such
torrents. At first Billie thought that the noise was caused by the rain
on the thatched roof; but he soon became convinced that such was not the
case. Finally he reached over and shook the sleeper nearest to him. It
happened to be Adrian.

“What’s the matter?” queried that young gentleman, sitting up and
peering into the darkness.

“I don’t know,” whispered Billie, “but it sounds as though some one were
trying to get in.”

“Where?”

“That’s what I can’t make out.”

Adrian pulled his saddle-bag toward him and took out his electric torch.
Slowly he pointed it in every direction, but he could see nothing
unusual, although the strange noise continued.

“Funny, isn’t it?” he said, and then he arose to his feet.

As he did so, Billie glanced up at the speaker, and what he saw caused a
broad grin to overspread his rotund countenance.

“Look!” he exclaimed, and pointed toward the roof.

Adrian did as he was told, and burst into a hearty laugh, which aroused
Donald.

“What is it?” he exclaimed, also springing to his feet.

“Goats,” laughed Billy. “They’re climbing all over the roof.”

And sure enough they were, for what Billie had seen was the hoof of one
of them sticking through the roof.

“They’ll all be coming through, first thing you know,” said Billie.

“I’m not so much afraid of that as that they will make holes for the
rain to come through,” declared Adrian. “We must scare them off. Shoo!”

But he might as well have cried shoo at the moon.

“Wait a minute,” exclaimed Billie, “I’ll fix them.”

He crawled over to the other side of the kitchen, where a great dry
cactus stem was leaned up against the side of the wall. It was as thick
as a man’s leg, about six or eight feet long, and almost as light as
cork. Waiting until he was satisfied by the sound that a goat was
directly over his head, he gave a great thrust with the cactus log.

His aim was a good one. With a loud bleat, that was almost a wail, the
goat went tumbling off the roof, and in a minute the boys heard it
pattering away as fast as it could scamper. Twice during the night was
the feat repeated, the only inconvenience it caused being that the boys
did not sleep as soundly as they otherwise would.

After the last interruption Billie did not return to sleep, but lay
awake thinking about the strange experiences of the past two days. As a
result he saw daylight slowly breaking, and finding himself so wide
awake, he determined to go and tend to the horses.

Removing the saddles from the doorway, he went out. The rain had ceased
and there was every indication of a fine day. After taking a critical
survey of the landscape, he went to the corral and examined the horses,
to see that they were all right, after which he led them to a pool some
distance away to water.

The whole proceeding consumed some fifteen or twenty minutes, so that,
by the time he was ready to return to the hut, the sun was just rising
above the horizon.

Giving the horses an armful of straw, which he found under a little
shed, he started back to awaken his companions, when, to his surprise,
he found himself confronted by the whole pack of wolfish dogs, who not
only refused to let him advance, but threatened to attack him.

He uttered a loud “Halloo,” but no one seemed to hear him.

“Get out of my way,” he shouted, but his words only seemed to make the
animals more furious.

Again he uttered a loud “Halloo,” and again no one replied.

By this time the dogs had become more courageous, and it began to look
like a very serious situation, so that Billie, in order to defend
himself, drew his six-shooter, determined to use it on the first of the
dogs who should make up his mind to attack him.

Once more, however, he called aloud, and in response to the shout Donald
appeared at the door, just as Billie was taking aim at a big gaunt hound
which seemed determined to spring upon him.

“Don’t do it,” called Donald. “Don’t shoot unless you want to get us
into all sorts of trouble.”

“Why not?” asked Billie. “I’m not going to be made dog meat.”

“You’ll be made worse than that if you kill one of the peon’s dogs.”

Just what might have been the outcome of the situation is hard to tell,
had not a voice of authority suddenly rang out from the direction of the
house:

“_Vaya te, perros! Vaya te!_”[1]

The dogs ceased their angry barking, and slunk hastily away, while
Billie, looking in the direction from which the voice proceeded, saw
Pedro riding around the kitchen.

Footnote:

[1]: “Go away, dogs! Go away!”



CHAPTER VI.

ADRIAN MAKES A CAPTURE.


“By George!” exclaimed Billie, as he advanced to meet Pedro, “you surely
did come right in the nick of time. I thought I’d have to become
dog-meat, just to keep the others out of trouble, and I was going to do
it.”

“I don’t think that would have been necessary,” declared Donald, as he
came out from the kitchen, followed by Adrian. “But I’m glad you got out
of the trouble without killing the peon’s dog. I know how much the peons
think of their dogs—more than their wives.”

“I’m very sorry,” said Pedro, “that you should have had so much trouble,
and that I did not take you home with me yesterday. My uncle says I was
very rude not to have brought you home to breakfast.”

“Breakfast!” exclaimed Billie. “How could you have taken us home to
breakfast? It was after eleven o’clock when we met you.”

Donald laughed.

“You don’t understand,” he said; “in Mexico they call the meal that we
name breakfast simply coffee, as that is all they have to break their
morning fast. From eleven to half-past twelve they have what they call
_almuerzo_, or breakfast. Along about five o’clock they have _cena_, or
supper, and dinner comes anywhere from seven to ten o’clock. This they
call _comida_.”

Billie’s round face expanded into a broad smile.

“Four meals a day!” he finally exclaimed. “Fine! I think I’d like to
live in Mexico.”

“I’m sure we’d like to have you,” laughed Pedro, “and now that I have
found you again, you must come with me and have coffee. Then my uncle
will send someone with you to show you the short way back to the Rio
Brava.”

The Broncho Rider Boys looked at each other knowingly as Adrian
explained that they were not at all anxious to find a short road back,
as they wished to see as much of the country as possible.

“That’s fine,” was Pedro’s exultant exclamation, “for, if you are in no
hurry, you can stay with us several days, and I can take you up the
Concho. I surely want to do something to show you how much I appreciate
what you did for me yesterday. My uncle thinks I was in great danger.”

“How so?” asked Donald.

“Get onto your horses, and I’ll tell you as you ride along,” replied
Pedro. “Here, Fillipe!” he called, “come and saddle the horses.”

Not only Fillipe, but several other peons, who had made their appearance
while the boys were talking, hastened to obey Pedro’s command, and in a
very few minutes the four boys were jogging along toward the Hacienda
del Rio, for so the estate of Pedro’s uncle was called.

“Now for the story,” laughed Billie, “and I wish you would tell it in
English so I can understand.”

“If you won’t laugh at my English,” said Pedro, “I’ll try.”

“What, do you speak English?” asked Adrian.

“A little. My sister, Guadalupe, speaks it well, as does my uncle; but
they call me the lazy one, because I have never tried very hard. I’m
sorry now I didn’t try harder.”

“Well, try now,” insisted Billie. “We have so many foreigners in the
United States and so many speak poor English that we can understand most
anything.”

Pedro laughed heartily.

“I hope I can do as well as some; so, to begin with, I must tell you
something about my home. We live on a large _hacienda_, in the State of
Michoa-can, and our house is built only a little ways from the shore of
a small lake, Tiasca by name. On the other side of this lake are
mountains, very much like these across the Concho,” and he pointed
across the river to the west.

“On the shore of the lake, nearest the mountains, is a little village of
fisher-folk, but they are a bad lot. They are lazy and dishonest. They
steal at every opportunity. Hardly a week passes that some of them do
not cross the lake and steal chickens, pigs, goats, and even cattle. We
call them pirates, because they come over in little boats. They have
always been bad, but since they became Zapatists they are worse than
ever.”

“What do you mean by Zapatists?” asked Adrian.

“Followers of the robber, Zapata. You must have heard about him.”

“Now that you explain, I believe I have. So these men are followers of
Zapata?”

“Yes; and before the days of President Madero they were a part of what
was known as the Las Cruces robbers.

“Well, ever since my father was a young officer he has always had
trouble with these pirates.”

“Do they ever try to break into your house?” queried Billie.

“They did once, and that is part of the story. It happened when
Guadalupe was a baby and I was only a little more. My father was away at
the time with almost all the rurales in the district, and the robbers
must have known that there were only a few peons left to guard the
house.

“Three of them came to the gate and demanded that my mother give them
five hundred dollars. She refused, and they threatened to come and get
it. Mother was not much afraid, as our house is very strongly built of
stone; but still she took every precaution to see that they could not
break in; but that night about twenty-five of them surrounded the house
and sat down to a regular siege.”

“Couldn’t you shoot them from the windows?” asked Billie.

“I suppose we could, but mother didn’t wish to do that. So she just kept
everything shut tight, expecting every hour that my father would return.

“After they had been there three days, one of our peons, Jose Gonzales,
who had been away to Morelia on an errand, came home. He said that, as
he came up the shore of the lake, he heard a group of the pirates saying
that they were getting afraid to stay longer, and that they were going
back across the lake. Sure enough, they did, and my mother was so
relieved, especially to have Jose home, for he was considered above the
ordinary run of peons, that she ceased her watchfulness and turned the
care of the place over to Jose.

“Along about midnight my sister was taken sick, and my mother was
obliged to get up to take care of her. As she came out into the rotunda
and cast her eyes across the _patio_ toward the great front gate, she
saw a sight which frightened her nearly to death. Jose was standing in
the half-open gate, talking to men whom my mother knew must be the
pirates. She realized at once that he was a traitor, and, drawing
quickly back into her room, she barred the door as best she could, and
waited to see what would happen.

“She didn’t have long to wait, as the robbers soon attempted to get in;
but for a long time the bar held. Then Jose brought a great hammer and
the door finally yielded.”

“The villain!” exclaimed Billie, whose fighting blood was stirred by the
recital of such treachery.

“It is even worse than you think,” continued Pedro, “for, as the pirates
rushed in, Jose called out, as he pointed to my father’s strong box:
'There is the silver. You can have that, but the _señora_ is mine.’

“At this he seized my mother, and started to carry her out of the door;
but, as he turned, he saw a sight which caused him to loose his hold and
draw his knife, for there in the door stood my father, his drawn saber
in his hand and death in his eye. He took a step forward and aimed a
blow at Jose, but as he struck, my mother, overcome with joy, seized him
around the knees and spoiled his aim. Instead of cleaving Jose’s skull,
he struck a glancing blow and cut off his left ear. We found the ear
later.”

“Good for your father!” exclaimed all the boys. “But then what
happened?” and they drew their horses down to a walk, so interested had
they become in the story.

“Well, for a moment the robbers were surprised by the attack, but when
they saw my father was alone, they all turned upon him and he would
undoubtedly have been killed, but that his men, who had by this time
overpowered the robbers in the _patio_, came to his aid. The bandits
were soon secured, but in the fight and darkness, Jose escaped. We
afterwards learned that he had been an accomplice of the bandits for
years and had planned this attack for the sole purpose of stealing my
mother. His aim was to become a gentleman and live in the City of
Mexico, and for a while he did. Later my father learned of his
whereabouts and his arrest was ordered, but again he managed to escape.

“During the Madero revolution he tried to win the good graces of
President Madero, but his record was too bad and President Madero
ordered him out of the city. Since that time he has threatened vengeance
on the President and all his friends. It is even said he is trying to
start a new revolution. He is none too good, I can tell you.”

“But what has all this to do with your great danger?” asked Adrian.

“Why, my uncle thinks Jose is the man from whom you rescued me
yesterday.”

“What!” exclaimed all the boys in chorus. “That man!”

“That’s what my uncle thinks. He has been reported in this vicinity. He
has changed his name to Rafael Solis and I heard one of the peons
yesterday address him as Don Rafael.”

“I didn’t notice that he had lost an ear,” said Donald.

“No,” said Billie, “but you noticed that he wore his hair unusually
long, didn’t you? I expect he does that to hide the missing ear.”

“That’s it exactly!” exclaimed Donald. “I knew there was something
strange about his appearance, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell
what it was.”

“Well, that’s it,” replied Billie, “and if I ever get my eye on you
again, Mr. Don Rafael, I’ll know you.”

“You mustn’t say Mr. Don Rafael,” explained Pedro. “Don means Mr. If you
want to, you can call him Don Rafael; but as for me I shall think of him
always as Jose the traitor.

“But here we are at my uncle’s house and he will be more than glad to
see you.”

As the little cavalcade drew up in front of the great white house, a
peon opened the big gate and the quartette rode into the patio. Other
servants quickly took their horses and led them to the stable, while
Pedro escorted the boys up a broad flight of stairs to the second floor,
on which were located the parlors, library and dining room. It was a
beautiful home and our boys felt just a little bit awkward on coming
into such a sumptuous house dressed in their travel-stained riding
garments. But if they had any sense of being out of place, they were
quickly put at their ease by a kindly faced gentleman of middle age, who
advanced to the head of the stairs and greeted them pleasantly.

“These are the brave Americans who gave me such unexpected assistance
yesterday,” said Pedro by way of introduction.

“I guessed as much,” replied his uncle.

“And this is my uncle, Don Antonio Sanchez,” said Pedro to the boys, “he
is just as glad to see you and to have you here as I am. And uncle,” he
continued without stopping to catch his breath, “they are going to stay
with me several days, aren’t you?” to the boys.

“I don’t think we promised, did we?” replied Donald, “but we will stay
today, anyway. We shall be pleased to see something of the Concho
valley.”

Don Antonio lead the way to the dining room, where the boys were
introduced to Pedro’s aunt and to his sister, Guadalupe.

If the boys had been embarrassed upon meeting Don Antonio, they were
more so upon meeting Guadalupe, who was something different from any
girl they had ever met. When she was introduced to Billie and called him
Don Guillermo, he turned as red as a turkey gobbler and wished he was
somewhere else; but, after a few minutes, he forgot his embarrassment in
his morning meal—for when it came to eating, there was nothing could
interfere with the business of the moment.

Don Antonio and his wife were much pleased with the boys and asked
Donald and Adrian many questions about the big ranches from which they
came. Both were able to give him all the information he wanted and he
insisted that after breakfast all should ride over his _hacienda_ and
see the American improvements he had put upon it.

A member of Don Antonio’s household who attracted much attention from
the boys was a great Newfoundland dog, by the name of Tanto. He was
Guadalupe’s special property, and at first eyed the boys with a good
deal of suspicion. But, when he discovered that they were friends of the
family, he became quite as friendly as any of the others.

“He seems very fond of you,” said Billie to Guadalupe, in an attempt to
make himself agreeable to the beautiful _señorita_.

“Yes, indeed,” she replied. “I raised him from a puppy. Are you fond of
dogs, Don Guillermo?”

“Oh, yes,” interrupted Adrian, who overheard the remark, “Don Guillermo
is very fond of dogs. If you could have seen him playing with them,
about daylight this morning, you would have thought so,” at which remark
all the boys laughed heartily, and Billie had to explain his adventure.

“Well, I think it was too bad that you should be caught in such a place;
but Tanto will never do a thing like that. Will you, Tanto?” and she
patted the dog’s head.

“Come on,” called Pedro from the _patio_, “if we’re going to look over
the _hacienda_, let’s get started before it gets any warmer.”

Accompanied by Don Antonio, the boys rode from place to place over the
great farm, along the eastern border of which the Concho river wound its
way, while on the other side the mountains rose abruptly to several
hundred feet. At the southern extremity the river approached almost to
the foot of the mountains, making a narrow neck of land. Still farther
south the river broadened out into quite a lake, upon which were a
number of small boats.

As the boys turned to retrace their path, Adrian lingered a moment to
watch the flight of a flock of water-fowl, and, as he did so, his
attention was attracted to the movements of a boat, which had put out
from the mountain-side, and which had started the flight of the
water-fowl. It contained three men, and, as it slipped silently out of
the shadows of the overhanging trees, there was something about the
appearance of the man at the stern which seemed most familiar, although
he had his blanket thrown over his shoulder in such a manner as to
conceal his face.

At first Adrian started to call his companions, but upon second thought
he decided to do a little reconnoitering on his own hook. He accordingly
dismounted from his horse, and walked slowly around the trees which
obscured his view. At his left was a little point of land, extending out
into the water, and he slowly and cautiously made his way thither. From
this point of vantage he obtained a good view of the river for quite a
distance, and could see the boat without being seen.

It was very evident that the boat had come out of a little inlet about a
hundred yards from the point upon which Adrian was standing, which
appeared to be the mouth of a small brook. On the other side of the
point, around which the boat was slowly being rowed, was a steep rock,
at least three times the length of an ordinary skiff, beyond which it
was impossible for Adrian to see. The boat headed directly for the rock,
and a moment later disappeared behind it; but that one look was
sufficient to convince Adrian that the man who had attracted his
attention was the same who had tried to steal Pedro.

“I wonder what he is doing around here, anyway?” soliloquized Adrian.
“No good, I’m sure. The best thing I can do is to hurry after the rest
of them and tell them what I have seen. They’ll be wondering where I
am.”

Hastily he scrambled up the bank to where he had left his horse, when,
just as he raised his head above the edge, he felt a hand grasp his
right foot, and he was pulled violently downward. For just a minute he
clung to the shrubbery about him, and then, gaining his wits, he
suddenly relaxed his hold and, turning half way round, push himself
backward.

It was an old trick he had learned at school, and the result was that he
came down on top, instead of underneath, the man who had grasped his
ankle.

In another moment he was engaged in a rough-and-tumble fight, which
proved of short duration, for Adrian was much more than a match for his
assailant. Almost as soon as it takes to tell it, Adrian was sitting on
top of a white-shirted peon, whose only weapon was a great stone, with
which he had doubtless intended to intimidate, rather than hit, the boy.

“Well,” exclaimed Adrian, as soon as he had gained his breath
sufficiently to speak, “what do you mean by dragging me down like this?”

At the sound of Adrian’s voice the peon turned his head and looked up at
his captor in the greatest surprise.

“Pardon me,” he whined. “It was a mistake. I thought you were someone
else.”

“Who did you think I was?”

“_El niño de Sanchez_”—meaning the Sanchez boy—whined the peon.

“Oh, you did, eh?” exclaimed Adrian. “Well, you come with me and let Don
Antonio question you. I think he is looking for you.”



CHAPTER VII.

IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY.


Adrian did not have to lead his captive far, for, when he reached the
place where his horse was waiting for him, he saw the others returning.
They had become concerned at his delay, and had come back to look for
him.

“What’s the matter?” called Donald, as soon as he was within speaking
distance.

“I’ve had a fight,” was the response, “and this is the result,” pushing
the peon forward.

“Fight!” exclaimed Billie. “What were you fighting about?”

“Oh, nothing. This man tried to capture me, and I turned the tables,
that’s all.”

“Explain,” said Don Antonio, looking first at Adrian and then at the
peon.

“This man mistook me for Pedro, he says, and tried to drag me into the
river, or somewhere.”

Don Antonio turned upon the peon fiercely.

“Is this true?” he demanded sternly.

“Forgive me, _señor_,” whined the peon, “I was ordered to do it.”

“Ordered!” thundered Don Antonio. “By whom?”

“Don Rafael.”

“_Asi!_” exclaimed Don Antonio, and his face grew even more stern. “So
it is that scoundrel who put you up to this? Where is he?”

The peon remained silent.

“Where is he, I say?” repeated Don Antonio.

“I can’t tell.”

“Why not?”

“He would kill me, _señor_.”

“Have no fear. If you will tell me why you tried to take Pedro and where
we can catch Don Rafael, as you call him, I will give you ample
protection.”

Thus encouraged, the peon said that Don Rafael was hiding in the
mountains a short distance from the river. He said that he had gathered
about him a band of more than fifty men, and that he had told them they
were to be part of a new army to overthrow President Madero and make
Porfirio Diaz again president. In order to protect themselves, he told
them they must make a captive of General Sanchez’s son, Pedro.

“I see,” exclaimed Don Antonio. “They want to hold Pedro as a hostage,
in case any of them get into the hands of the law. Isn’t that it?”

“_Si, señor_,” said the peon, nodding his head emphatically. If this
proved to be true then Donald’s guess had been along correct lines. This
little fact seemed like a good omen to begin with. Now, if it turned out
that this further prediction regarding the limited number of the
rustlers also came to pass, and they could only catch them off their
guard before dawn arrived, it would not be strange if they turned the
trick, daring as their plans might appear.

“Now, first of all we’ve got to muffle our ponies’ heads so they can’t
betray us by neighing,” announced Donald.

“A good idea, I say,” Adrian went on to remark, approvingly. “I’ve known
the best trained cayuse going to let out a neigh when it scented some of
its own kind near by. That’s a thing they just can’t help, seems like.
So, the sooner we get their muzzles tied up the better.”

“You’ll have to show me how,” said Billie; “because that’s where my
education’s been sorter neglected, so to speak. But I want to know, just
stick a pin in that, please.”

He soon learned just how this could be accomplished by the aid of their
blankets. The horses objected to such treatment, but had to submit in
the end. And when the job had been completed they were so muzzled that
they could not have whinnied, no matter how hard they tried.

Mounting them again the three boys moved cautiously ahead. It was their
purpose to cover a cer- [Transcriber's note: missing line(s) of text at
this place in original printed text.] can get away. The rurales can take
care of the fifty others later on.“

“That is good advice,” declared Don Antonio. “Let us hasten back and
send a messenger to Presidio del Norte, and then we can return and watch
for Don Rafael.”

“I don’t see any use of all of us returning to the house,” declared
Billie. “I’ll stay here and watch the river.”

“And I’ll stay with you,” declared Adrian.

“Suppose we fix it this way,” said Don Antonio: “Pedro and one of you
return to the house and send the messenger, and I and two others will
stay and watch the river, as Don Guillermo says.”

“If Don Guillermo’s willing,” replied Adrian, with a laugh at Billie’s
Mexican name.

“Sure I’m willing,” said Billie, “and tell the rurales to hurry up or
we’ll capture the whole bunch.”

The matter having been thus decided, Pedro and Donald returned to the
house, taking the captured peon with them, while the other three hitched
their horses and proceeded to the little point of land from which Adrian
made his observation.

The morning was now far spent, and the sun was rapidly approaching the
meridian; but for once Billie seemed to have forgotten that it was
dinnertime. In fact, so interested was he in the adventure, that he
seemed utterly oblivious of the sun itself, which beat down fiercely
upon the trio, and made the shade almost a necessity. So interested was
he, in fact, that he ventured to the very edge of the point, and peered
eagerly in the direction of the great rock.

“I could almost swim around there,” he said to himself. “I’ve a great
notion to do it.”

For a minute he stood undecided.

“If it wasn’t for my Marlin I would,” he mused. “As it is, I guess I’d
better go around.”

He walked back toward the place where he had left the others, all the
time looking for a place where he could get around behind the big rock.

“What are you looking after?” queried Adrian, as Billie passed the spot
where he sat with his eyes glued on the river.

“I want to see what is the other side of that rock.”

“What good’ll that do? We can see way up the river from here.”

“I don’t know,” was Billie’s response, “but I’ve got a hunch to take a
look.”

“Well, go ahead. Don Antonio and I will stay here. If you see anything,
call.”

Slowly Billie forced his way through the fringe of bushes that lined the
bank, and, little by little, climbed to the top of the big rock, from
which he could gain just as good a view of the mountainous country at
the side as he could of the river. What he saw caused him to drop
hastily to the ground and crawl a step or two backward, for directly in
front of him, not a hundred yards away, was a score or more men grouped
around Don Rafael, who was addressing them earnestly.

Waiting to see whether or not he had been observed, and judging from the
fact that there was no commotion from below that he had not, Billie
cautiously peered through the foliage.

The spot upon which the men were gathered was right at the mouth of the
little stream before mentioned. A boat, evidently the one in which
Adrian had seen Don Rafael and his two companions, was tied to the bank.

So far as Billie could see, only three or four of the men were armed.
They seemed a peaceable lot.

“I wonder what he is telling them?” mused Billie in a partly audible
voice—a habit of talking with himself of which he seemed totally
unconscious. “I wish I could get near enough to hear.”

Cautiously he crept nearer the edge of the rock, in the meantime
straining every nerve to catch a word. Once he did catch the sound of
Don Rafael’s voice, but he could not understand.

“The trouble is,” explained Billie to himself, “he is talking Spanish,
and I’m not familiar enough with the lingo to distinguish the sounds. I
wish he would talk English.”

Again he advanced his position a couple of feet.

The voice was more distinct, and, as Don Rafael became somewhat excited,
Billie caught the words, “_carbina_” and “_macheté_,” which he knew
referred to arms.

“By George!” suddenly exclaimed Billie, in a voice loud enough for
anyone near him to have heard, “I’ll bet they’re talking about running
guns into the country. I’ll bet we’ve stumbled onto the very thing we
came out to find. I must hurry back and tell Ad.”

Unmindful of the men below, he jumped up from his recumbent position and
started to leave the rock the way he had come. In his haste, he did not
notice that the spot upon which he had been reclining was covered with
moss, and, as he took his first step forward, his foot slipped; he
grasped frantically at the surrounding bushes, to save himself, failed
in his attempt, and the next moment pitched head first off the rock.

Vainly he tried to break his fall by catching at the shrubbery. His
efforts only resulted in his turning almost a complete somersault and
landing head first upon the sand, in the very midst of the men upon whom
he had been spying.

As he fell, he gave one cry for help, and then, as his head came into
contact with the hard ground, all around him became dark, and he knew no
more.

The cry for help reached his companions in the midst of an animated
discussion about Mexico and its needs, and they sprang to their feet on
the instant. For just a moment they waited to hear the cry repeated,
but, when it was not, Adrian threw a shell into his repeater, and
started in the direction of the cry, closely followed by Don Antonio,
whose greater age made him somewhat slower in his movements.

From the time the cry was heard until Adrian reached the summit of the
rock, could not have been more than three minutes, but in that time the
men and Billie had completely disappeared, the only thing remaining to
give any idea of what had happened being Billie’s hat, which had fallen
from his head in his fall, and the sound of oarlocks, which seemed to
come from up the little creek.



CHAPTER VIII.

IN THE SMUGGLER’S CAVE.


The soft purling of water was the first sound which greeted Billie’s ear
when he was again able to collect his thoughts. He was lying upon his
back and looking up into darkness. He tried to move, but was unable to
do so, and so closed his eyes and tried to think what had happened.

As his mind became clearer, he remembered his fall; and, as he became
more and more normal, and could move his hands about, he realized that
he was lying in the bottom of a boat and that the purling of the water
was caused by the rapid movement of the boat through the water.

“I wonder what makes it so dark?” he thought. “It was dinnertime the
last I remember, and I don’t feel as though I had been asleep very
long.”

All at once the noise of the water ceased, and a moment later he heard
the boat grate upon the sand. A man sprang over him and beached the
boat, and Billie could feel it being pulled up onto the shore. Then a
light appeared, and in another minute a man with a lighted torch in his
hand came and peered into the boat.

“_Buenos noches_,” Billie exclaimed, after the man had been gazing
silently into his face for several seconds. “_Que hora es?_”

He thought it must be quite right to say “good evening” because it was
dark, but he asked the time to make sure.

The man made no reply, but turned and walked hastily away.

“That’s funny,” said Billie. “I think I’ll follow him.”

He attempted to arise, but a strange feeling in his head and in the pit
of his stomach caused him to forego the attempt.

“I must be hungry,” he thought. “That’s what I get for going without my
dinner. But I’ve been hungry before and never felt this way.”

Somehow or other he didn’t seem able to figure it out, and so he closed
his eyes and lay perfectly quiet, with a sense of going to sleep.

The next time he opened his eyes, the whole scene had changed. He was
lying on some sort of a coarse bed and by the light that came in through
a small grated window in the ceiling, he could see that he was in a
good-sized room, the walls of which appeared to be solid stone.

There were several pieces of furniture in the room, consisting of
chairs, a table and a chest of drawers. On the walls were a couple of
old-fashioned gun-racks, but no guns. The general impression it gave was
not pleasant, and reminded him of some of the old Scotch prisons he had
read about in the works of Sir Walter Scott.

“I wonder where I am,” was the first thought that came to his mind. “I’m
out of the boat, that’s certain, but how did I get here?”

Again he attempted to arise, and this time found that he was stronger
and able to sit up.

He made a careful inspection of the room, and discovered that there was
only one door, directly facing the bed, and no windows save the one in
the ceiling. Then he happened to think of his revolver, and felt for it.
It was gone, but his holster and belt, filled with cartridges, still
remained about his waist.

“I’m in a jolly nice fix,” he muttered to himself, and, for want of
anything better to do, he lay back on the bed and closed his eyes, still
wondering what had happened.

A few minutes later he heard the door open, footsteps approach his bed,
and a hand was laid upon his head.

Billie looked up through half-closed eyelids, and was surprised to see
bending over him a strange-looking individual, who reminded him strongly
of the Zuni medicine man, only that his face was more refined.

“What do you think of him, Santiago?” asked a voice in English, whose
owner Billie could not see, but which sounded somewhat familiar.

“I do not think he is badly hurt. I think he will be all right soon.”

“_Bueno!_ Then I will leave him in your care; but see to it that he does
not escape. Our safety may depend upon keeping him prisoner.”

“That’s nice, pleasant information,” thought Billie as he heard the
speaker withdraw. “To be kept a prisoner, am I? Well, we’ll see about
it.”

He uttered a faint groan and threw his hands over his head as though in
pain.

“I’ll not get well as fast as they expect,” was his mental resolve.
“I’ll make them think I’m too sick to get away until the right time
comes.”

Again Billie felt a hand upon his head and again he observed the man
beside him with half closed eyes.

When the man spoke again his voice was as soft as a woman’s.

“Where do you feel badly?” he asked.

Then for the first time it occurred to Billie to wonder how he happened
to be addressed in English.

“It must be a friend,” he thought. So he replied in a voice that sounded
most strange to him: “In my head. It seems too big for the rest of me.”

“No wonder,” said his companion—whether nurse or jailer, Billie was
trying to determine. “You struck right on top of it when you fell off
the rock.”

It was the first time that Billie had thought of the rock; but at the
word, the happenings of all that had gone before came back to him.

“Now I remember,” he thought. “I must have fallen right in the middle of
that bunch and they have brought me here—wherever this is. That must
have been Don Rafael who was in here; but why are they all talking
English?”

It was a bigger problem than he felt like answering, so he just lay
quiet as he felt a cooling lotion applied to his head and a pleasant but
very pungent odor filled the room.

“I think I’ll go to sleep if you don’t mind,” he finally said and he
closed his eyes.

It did not seem to Billie that he had slept more than fifteen minutes
when he again opened his eyes, but as he learned afterwards he must have
slept nearly twenty-four hours. The strange man still stood beside him,
holding in his hand a dish of steaming soup, while at the foot of the
bed stood Don Rafael.

For just a moment Billie did not recognize either of them, but was
brought to himself by hearing Don Rafael say:

“I am very sorry you met with such a serious accident. I suppose you
must have been hunting and lost your foothold. I have sent word to your
friends and am sure they will come for you as soon as you are able to be
moved.”

He spoke with such an air of truthfulness, that if Billie had not been
absolutely certain that he was a bad man, he would have believed him.
However, he said nothing, and after a minute Don Rafael continued:

“You must not think I have any animosity against you for what you did in
helping Pedro to escape me. That is a matter of Mexican politics of
which you young Americans know nothing. The Americans are all my
friends. Now you must eat your dinner. I will come and see you again.”

The word dinner sounded pretty good to Billie and so he felt justified
in saying “thank you,” and sitting up in his bed took the soup from
Santiago’s hand as Don Rafael left the room.

“You are much better,” said Santiago, as Billie ate his soup as only a
hungry boy can.

“Yes, I think so; but I don’t feel exactly right yet.”

“You will in a little while. Do you want some more?” as Billie emptied
the dish and handed it back.

“I usually eat something besides soup,” declared Billie. “Have you
anything else?”

“Oh, yes,” and Santiago took from a tray which he had placed on the
table a dish of black beans.

“Frijolles!” exclaimed Billie. “They look pretty good. I’m sure I can
eat them,” and eat them he did.

“Are you Don Rafael’s mozo?” he asked as he finally finished his meal.

“Santiago is no man’s servant,” was the soft but dignified reply.
“Santiago belongs to Mexico.”

“I wonder what he means by that?” thought Billie, but he didn’t think it
wise to ask, so he simply said: “Oh!” But after a few minutes he
ventured to ask:

“How do you come to speak English?”

“So that everyone who hears me will not understand. Don Rafael is the
only one here who understands English. It is a foreign tongue.”

Again Billie replied “Oh!” to himself. He thought: “Funny, isn’t it,
that English is a foreign language. I never thought of it before.”

“Do you wish to get up?” Santiago finally asked.

“After a little. If you don’t mind, I think I’ll lie here a while
longer.”

“Very well. I’ll be back soon.”

For a long time Billie lay with wide-open eyes, looking at the ceiling.

“I wonder why I don’t feel like getting up?” he asked himself. “I guess
I must have had a hard bump. I wonder where Donald and Adrian are, and
if they really do know what has become of me. Of course they’ll come and
get me after a while; but where do you suppose I am? It must be some
sort of a cave, I guess.”

He looked at the grated window in the ceiling, through which came the
sunlight as the leaves which almost covered it on the outside were blown
backward and forward by the breeze.

“I wonder where that opening leads to,” he thought. “If I could only get
through that, I’d be all right; but I reckon that’s impossible.”

Still he kept on looking and wishing he were on the other side of the
grating.

All at once something shut off the light.

“Hello!” exclaimed Billie. “I wonder what’s happened?”

In another second the obstacle was removed and the sun shone in again,
only to be shut out a minute later.

“By George!” exclaimed Billie, sitting up in bed, “there’s something
looking in at the window. I believe it’s a dog.”

He got out of bed, and stood directly under the opening, looking upward.

“It is a dog,” he declared. “I wonder whose?” Then all of a sudden: “It
might be Pedro’s. Suppose it is! Tanto! Tanto!” he called.

The animal gave a low whine, as of recognition.

“By George, I’m right!” declared Billie, becoming much excited. “There
must be somebody with him. They must be looking for me. Tanto! Tanto!”
he again called.

At this the dog gave a sharp bark and immediately disappeared.

For a long time Billie watched the opening for him to reappear, but he
did not come back, and Billie finally went and lay down; but not for an
instant did he take his eyes from the little window in the ceiling. He
could tell by the way the glints of light moved about that fully an hour
had passed, when again the opening was darkened and a face appeared at
the grating.

“Don Guillermo! Don Guillermo!” a voice softly called, and then Billie
recognized that his caller was Pedro’s sister, Guadalupe.



CHAPTER IX.

GUADALUPE IN DANGER.


In order to explain Guadalupe’s presence at the grated window in the top
of Billie’s prison-house, it is necessary to recount the happenings at
the Hacienda del Rio and vicinity since the hour that Billie plunged
from the top of the rock into the midst of Don Rafael’s band.

It was shortly after noon when Billie’s accident happened, and Donald
and Pedro were on their way to send for the rurales. As we have seen,
Adrian and Don Antonio ran to Billie’s assistance, but were too late to
discover his whereabouts. They did, however, find his hat, and, in
searching more closely, also discovered the print of many feet on the
sand along the bank of the creek.

Upon making this discovery, Adrian led the way up the creek for several
hundred yards, and finally arrived at a place where the creek seemed to
flow right out from under the side of the mountain.

This solved the mystery. There was undoubtedly a cave under the
mountain, which was entered by means of the stream. Adrian was for
getting one of the small boats he had seen on the banks of the Concho,
and going immediately to Billie’s rescue, but Don Antonio advised that
nothing be done until the rurales arrived and there was a sufficient
force to arrest Don Rafael and his band.

Adrian finally agreed to the plan, and, after a careful survey of the
location, he and Don Antonio returned to the house.

When Donald heard what had happened he was even more insistent than
Adrian had been that they should proceed at once to examine the cave. If
they found it was in possession of Don Rafael and his band, Donald was
in favor of forcing their way in, no matter what the opposition.

“I am sure that would be very unwise,” declared Don Antonio. “Our
messenger is already on his way to Presidio del Norte to summon the
rurales. They will certainly be here by daylight tomorrow morning. Then
we can go in force and will be sure to succeed. If only four of us go,
we will probably be overpowered by numbers and your friend may suffer.
Let us have patience.”

“Well,” replied Donald slowly, “I’ll agree to wait until morning; but,
if the rurales are not here by that time, I shall go after Billie, if I
have to go alone.”

“You won’t have to go alone,” said Adrian. “You know that.”

“Indeed you won’t,” chimed in Pedro. “I remember what you did for me.”

The night passed slowly to our boys, and they were up the following
morning at sunrise. Coffee was served soon after, and still the rurales
had not arrived.

A few minutes later the messenger sent to summon them returned to say
that, owing to a report that a quantity of arms were to be run across
the river lower down the Rio Grande, most of the rurales had been sent
thither, and would not return till morning. This meant they could not
possibly reach the Hacienda del Rio before noon.

“That settles it,” declared Donald. “I’m going to find Billie.”

“And I, too,” said Adrian. “I’ll bet the place the rurales have gone is
at the same place we lost old Bray.”

“Where was that?” asked Don Antonio.

“At the _hacienda_ of old Pablo Ojeda,” replied Adrian, and he told of
their experience.

“I have heard of him often,” said Don Antonio. “He has always been
suspected of smuggling across the border—not only cattle, but liquor,
ammunition, and all dutiable goods.”

“I should think the rurales would lock him up,” said Pedro.

“They have, several times, but he has always managed to escape
punishment. He has some sort of political influence, which has helped
him escape.”

“Well, I don’t care what they do with the old chap,” said Donald. “I’m
off to find Billie.”

“I shall stay and guide the rurales,” said Don Antonio. “You boys go and
do all the scouting you wish; but take my advice and do nothing rash
until I come with the rurales.”

Promising him they would be careful, the little party of three set out,
and Don Antonio went to his study to do some writing. Guadalupe, who had
stood silently by, listening to the conversation, followed the boys to
the great gate, and waved them a good-by, after which she returned to
her room and tried to busy herself in her daily tasks. But somehow she
could not become interested in her work, and, a little later, calling
Tanto, she wandered out into the fields, finally straying to the bank of
the river.

For a time she sat on the bank, watching the flowing water, and thinking
about the three boys, who had so unexpectedly come into her life. She
was much interested in them and their adventures, and her thought went
out especially to Billie, whose captivity seemed most hard.

“And he is in all this trouble just because he helped Pedro to escape
Don Rafael,” she thought to herself, not knowing that the boys had a
mission of their own. “I wish I could do something to help him.”

After a while she arose and walked slowly up the river, toward the spot
where Billie disappeared.

“I mustn’t be walking in this direction,” she suddenly thought, “I might
get into trouble.”

Espying a cow-path, which seemed to lead away from the river, she turned
to the left, thinking that she would come out into the open field after
a little. Instead, she found herself going deeper into the woods, and
after a few minutes again sat down to rest, before retracing her
footsteps.

She called Tanto, but he did not seem inclined to lie down. Instead,
after the manner of dogs, went off on an exploring expedition of his
own.

Guadalupe must have fallen asleep, for she was awakened by Tanto licking
her face.

“Go away,” she exclaimed, springing to her feet, and then she noted that
it was afternoon.

“I must have slept a couple of hours,” she thought. Then, as she started
back by the way she had come: “Come, Tanto, we must be going.”

But Tanto refused to go, and when she turned to call him, he indicated
by every means he could that he wanted her to go in the opposite
direction.

“What is it?” she asked.

Tanto barked loudly, and again started off in the opposite direction,
stopping every few feet and looking back to see if she were following.

“Do you want me to go that way?” she asked, taking a few steps toward
him.

The dog barked joyfully and gave every evidence of pleasure.

“Well, go on, then,” she finally said. “You may know the way home better
than I.”

Off went Tanto on a gentle trot and Guadalupe followed as best she
could.

Tanto led the way up a little hill and down the other side to a ravine
of some depth. It didn’t look very inviting, and Guadalupe stopped.

“I’m sure this isn’t the way home,” she exclaimed. “Come on back,
Tanto.”

But the dog refused to obey, and continued his antics.

“Well,” thought the girl, “I might as well see what he has found,” and
she again followed him until he came to a spot were the path terminated
abruptly in front of a steep bank which was covered with vines and
underbrush.

Up this bank Tanto scrambled, and, with nose to the ground, emitted
several sharp barks.

“What is it?” asked Guadalupe, as she, too, climbed to the top of the
bank, noticing as she did so that she could see the river through the
trees fully half a mile away.

Again the dog barked and put his nose to the ground, while, with his
feet, he began to scratch among the leaves.

Looking down to see what he was trying to get, Guadalupe saw the
grating, and, a moment later, she was down upon her knees beside the
dog.

The grating was partly covered with leaves, so that at first the girl
could not make out what it was. Brushing these aside, the opening was
revealed, and a moment later she had her eyes down as close as she could
get, and was peering into the darkness.

As her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she discovered that she
was looking into a large room, and gradually she could make out the
various pieces of furniture. Then she discovered there was someone on
the bed, and having no doubt as to who it was, she called:

“Don Guillermo! Don Guillermo!”

This was the sound which had attracted Billie’s attention.

“Is that you, Don Guillermo?” she asked.

“Yes,” came the whispered reply.

“Are you hurt?” she next asked.

“Not much.”

“Are you a prisoner?”

“Yes; but I’m not going to be long.”

Guadalupe could see that he was getting upon his feet, and partly arose
to shift her position, when Tanto sprang back with a deep growl. The
next instant she felt herself seized from behind, and, when she would
have screamed, a hand was placed firmly over her mouth.



CHAPTER X.

SANTIAGO’S STRATEGY.


Guadalupe was a girl of spirit. Through her veins flowed the blood of
fighting ancestors, and, when she felt herself so suddenly seized upon,
she had no mind to give up her freedom without a struggle.

Wrenching herself free, she gave one scream. Before she could repeat it,
she heard Tanto utter a fierce growl, and the next minute felt her
captor fall.

Turning quickly to discover what had happened, she saw that Tanto had
grasped her assailant by the throat, and that man and dog were engaged
in a fierce fight upon the ground at her feet.

Even while she looked the man ceased to struggle and lay still.

Calling to the dog, Guadalupe started to leave the spot, but was
prevented by the appearance of two more men. They both started back with
surprise, at sight of the girl and dog, and the lifeless figure at their
feet.

Turning from the prostrate form, Tanto drew back, facing the newcomers.

“_Caramba!_” exclaimed one. “Shoot the brute. I’ve left my pistol in the
cave.”

“And I, too,” said the other. “I have nothing but my knife.”

“Well, then, use your knife. I’ll take care of the girl,” and he
advanced upon Guadalupe.

But Tanto’s blood was up. Everyone but Guadalupe was an enemy. As he
stood by the girl’s side, with lips drawn back and every hair erect, he
was a foe to be considered. The taste of blood had made him wild. Before
the speaker had taken five steps, the dog was at his throat. The force
of the attack carried both dog and man to the ground, where for some
seconds they fought desperately. But the unarmed peon was no match for
the great beast. In a few minutes the conflict was over, and a second
figure lay stretched upon the earth, while Guadalupe—unnerved by the
sight—covered her face with her hands.

She was brought back to herself by a soft voice saying: “Call off your
dog, _señorita_, and I will help you to get away from here.”

Guadalupe raised her eyes in surprise.

“You need have no fear,” the speaker continued. “I am not making war on
women. Call off your dog, or I shall be obliged to kill him,” and
Santiago, for it was he, drew a revolver from his breast.

Seeing that the man was armed, when he had declared to his companion
that he was not, Guadalupe perceived that he must be friendly, and so
called to the dog.

At first Tanto was not inclined to mind, but, after a second command, he
left his last victim and placed himself at Guadalupe’s side.

“You can see I could kill your dog,” explained Santiago. “I could have
killed him before. But I have no love for these,” and he gave the two
bodies a contemptuous kick. “Keep your dog at your side and follow me
before someone else comes.”

Even as Santiago spoke, they heard voices, and other men came crashing
through the bushes some distance away.

“This way,” said Santiago, and he started in an opposite direction.

But they had no more than reached level ground than they heard voices on
the other side.

“It is impossible for us to get away without being seen,” said Santiago.
“Can you send the dog home?”

“Yes.”

“Then do so, and trust to me.”

Bending over Tanto, the girl said in a firm, low voice: “Go home, Tanto!
Go home and bring my father!”

The dog looked at her earnestly for a moment and then at Santiago.

“Go!” again said Guadalupe, and she reached out and took Santiago’s
hand. “No one is going to harm me.”

The dog gave a low whine, as though he perfectly understood, and bounded
away through the underbrush. As he disappeared, Santiago fired his
revolver into the air and advanced toward the approaching footsteps. A
moment later a dozen of the smugglers appeared.

“What’s the meaning of this shooting?” asked the leader.

“Go to the top of yonder mound and see for yourself,” was Santiago’s
reply.

Several of the men hastened to follow the instructions. They scrambled
up the mound, where they recoiled in fright at the sight of their
comrades.

“How did it happen?” asked the leader, as he returned to where Santiago
and Guadalupe were standing.

“Ask the girl,” replied Santiago. “All I know is that I came up from the
room below to bring an order to Louis and Leocadio, who are on guard at
this place. I found them both as you see them. The girl and her dog were
running away as fast as they could. I fired a shot at the dog, but
missed him. I captured the girl, and am going to hold her for a ransom.”

The leader looked at him incredulously. Then to Guadalupe he said:

“How could a dog kill two men?”

Guadalupe looked at Santiago, but made no reply.

“Tell him,” said Santiago. “Tell Fillipe how it happened.”

“I don’t know,” declared Guadalupe. “One man seized me and Tanto sprang
upon him. A few minutes later the other came.”

“Who is the girl?” asked Fillipe.

“She belongs at the Hacienda del Rio,” replied Santiago.

“_Asi!_” exclaimed Fillipe. “This is good news. Don Rafael will be glad
to get her. Come along!”

He seized Guadalupe by the arm and started to lead her away, but
Santiago interfered.

“Hands off!” he said. “She belongs to me. I’ll take her to Don Rafael,
and, if there is any ransom, I shall have it.”

Although Santiago’s words were spoken in a low, soft tone, Fillipe
obeyed, and the entire party left the place and proceeded by a
circuitous route to the rear of the little chain of foothills which
bordered the river. After a walk of some five or ten minutes they
approached a clump of bushes in front of which a Mexican was standing
guard. He stepped aside, and the men entered the bushes, which Guadalupe
soon discovered concealed a door in the hillside. At a knock from
Fillipe the door was opened, disclosing a passageway through which the
men and their captive proceeded, closing the door behind them.

They had no sooner disappeared than two figures emerged stealthily from
behind a jutting rock and threw themselves upon the guard, whom they
quickly overcame and bound.

The two figures were Donald and Adrian.



CHAPTER XI.

A COUNCIL OF WAR.


Having secured the guard and bound him firmly to a tree, the boys
approached the door through which Guadalupe had just been led captive.

“I never suspected it,” said Adrian.

“Nor I,” said Donald, “I thought sure it would be Billie. Where do you
suppose they caught her?”

“I can’t imagine. You don’t suppose they have attacked the house, do
you?”

“Hardly.”

“Where do you suppose this door leads to?”

“There must be some sort of a cave back in these hills,” and Donald left
the door and began exploring the immediate neighborhood.

“By George!” he finally exclaimed, “I believe I’ve got it. You see these
hills form a little ridge leading to the creek. Somewhere in here there
is a cave which opens onto the creek, and these cutthroats have made
some kind of an underground passage to the cave.”

Donald’s guess was a good one. The only thing wrong about it was the
fact that the underground passage was not made by the men at present
using it, but by others many years before—how long, no one knows.

“I believe you are right,” said Adrian, “and, if you are, what is the
matter with following this ridge until we find the other entrance?”

“That’s just what I was going to suggest,” was Donald’s reply. “Come
on!”

Suiting the action to the word, he ascended the hill, followed by
Adrian.

Arrived at the top, the boys could see that they were some little
distance from the creek and that the ridge upon which they stood was not
continuous but broken and irregular. There were also two paths.

“Which of these paths had we better follow, Don?” asked Adrian.

Donald bent down and examined both carefully.

“I believe,” he finally said, “that this one on the left has been the
most used. Suppose we take this?”

They did so, and after a few minutes approached the place where the
bodies of the two smugglers were lying.

“What’s this?” exclaimed Donald, starting back as the two figures caught
his eye.

Adrian made no reply, but stood staring in surprise at the unexpected
sight. It was not a pleasant spectacle, and both the boys involuntarily
turned away from the place.

Donald was the first to regain his composure. “Come,” he said, “this is
no time for squeamishness. Something serious has occurred, and we have
been in too many serious scrapes to falter now! Let’s see what has
happened.”

They approached closer and examined the bodies.

“They have been killed by some wild beast,” declared Adrian. “They look
just like sheep that have been killed by wolves.”

“Yes,” replied Donald, “or by dogs.”

“Why do you say dogs, Don?”

“I just have an idea; that’s all.”

Adrian wrinkled his brow. Then a smile of intelligence passed over his
face.

“I see,” he exclaimed. “I have the same idea—Tanto!”

“Exactly,” replied Don. “But they have captured Guadalupe in spite of
the dog.”

“By George, Don, you’ve hit it exactly! But where is the dog now? He
must have escaped, or we should see his body here.”

“True,” replied Don. “But why should he run away? You’d think a dog
which could do such a thing would stick to his mistress no matter what
happened.”

“Sure you would. There’s a mystery here we must unravel. Where do you
suppose Tanto is?”

As though in response to the question, there was a sharp bark from the
thicket, and the next moment Tanto sprang up onto the mound and attacked
one of the lifeless bodies.

Both the boys turned at the unexpected arrival, only to confront Don
Antonio and an officer of the rurales, who clambered up beside the boys.

“What is the meaning of all this?” demanded the officer, gazing first at
the boys and then at the dog and his victims.

“You know as much about it as we,” replied Adrian; “but anyone can guess
what has happened,” and he proceeded to tell the officer about seeing
Guadalupe taken into captivity by the smugglers and the finding of the
bodies, while Don Antonio called Tanto away and ordered the peons who
had followed him to cover the bodies with branches until they could be
properly cared for.

“Well,” exclaimed the captain, for so the officer proved to be, “we have
evidently run to earth a desperate band; but I am not sure whether they
are simply smugglers or revolutionists.”

“The presence of Don Rafael leads me to believe they are the latter,”
said Don Antonio.

“We shall very soon find out,” declared the captain. “My men will be
here shortly, and we will force the door to the cave and run them out
and capture them.”

“How?” queried Donald.

“Very simply! I will station a part of my men in front of the cave. Then
I will force the rear door! If they try to escape by boat, they will be
either captured or shot. If they turn and show fight, we will be in
sufficient force to overpower them.”

“And, while you are doing this, what do you think will happen to our
friend and to Don Antonio’s niece?”

“Yes,” echoed Don Antonio, “we must remember Guadalupe! We can do
nothing until she is rescued!”

The captain removed his sombrero and scratched his head.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” he finally said.

“That is where Don Rafael is the smartest,” said Adrian. “That is why he
was trying to capture Pedro.”

“What would you suggest?” asked Don Antonio, who had come to have a
wholesome respect for the opinions of the American boys.

“I haven’t figured it out yet,” replied Adrian. “Have you thought of
anything, Don?”

“Yes; I have thought of a number of things, but none that seems to meet
the requirements.”

“How would it do to try and get into communication with Don Rafael?”
suggested Adrian.

“Not a bad idea at all,” replied Donald; “but—hello! what’s the dog
found?” he suddenly asked, as Tanto, with nose to the ground, began to
wag his tail and utter a joyous whine.

The exclamation at once called the attention of the four to the little
grated window, through which Guadalupe was looking when seized by the
bandits, and Donald threw himself down beside the dog and peered into
the space below.

“What do you see?” asked Adrian.

“Three figures,” whispered Donald, “but I can’t make out who they are. I
wish we could pull out these iron bars!”

He seized the grating and pulled with all his might, but the bars
refused to yield.

“If we only had a crowbar!” he exclaimed.

“Beat them down,” came a voice from below.

Donald started back in surprise for just a moment, then put his face
close to the bars and whispered back:

“What did you say?”

“Beat the bars down! They are only held in their place by a frame which
must be rotten.”

Donald repeated the instructions to the others.

“We haven’t anything to beat them in with,” replied Adrian. “Who is it
talking—Billie?”

“I don’t know who it is,” replied Donald. “Sounds like a woman’s voice.
Can’t somebody find a big stone?”

“Plenty,” said Don Antonio. “Here, _hombres_,” to the peons, “bring one
of those big stones yonder.”

The men hastened to obey, and, with the stone for a sledge hammer,
Donald quickly knocked out the iron bars, which fell noisily to the
floor below.

The opening thus made enabled him to get his head in sufficiently to
have seen the interior of the room, had it not been that he shut off his
own light; but it was not necessary for him to see what was going on,
for this time Billie was out of bed and talking to him.

“Is that you, Ad?” he asked.

“No, it’s Don. How are you, Billie? All right?”

“All except a little weakness in my legs and a bit of dizziness in my
head.”

“Who is with you?”

“Guadalupe and Santiago.”

“Santiago who?”

“I don’t know his other name, but he’s all right. He’s looking out for
us.”

“Are you a prisoner?”

“Sure. What do you suppose I’m doing here—taking a vacation?”

Donald could not help laughing at Billie’s characteristic reply, in
spite of the seriousness of the situation, as he turned from the window
to repeat his conversation to his companions.

“What had we better do?” he finally asked.

“Is your friend armed?” asked the captain.

Donald put the question to Billie and received a negative reply.

“Suppose you hand him your rifle and then find out just how things are
in the room below.”

“Here, Billie,” called Don, “you take my Marlin and defend yourself to
the last. How are things fixed down there?”

“Santiago can tell you better than I,” was the response. Whereupon
Santiago explained to Donald the exact condition in the cave.

It appears that when the men who had captured Guadalupe took her before
Don Rafael, he was filled with joy, and ordered that she should be kept
with the greatest care.

“She will prove another and most valuable hostage,” he declared, and at
once ordered her locked up in the same cell with Billie, which was the
only place of its kind in the cave. When Santiago objected, he ordered
him locked up also.

“And here we are,” explained Santiago. “There is but one door into the
cell, and that very narrow, so now that we have two weapons, for I still
have my revolver, we can prevent anyone from coming in. The only way
they could get us out is to starve us out, which, of course, is
impossible now that you are here.”

The information was received with great thankfulness by the rescuing
party. In his attempt to make the escape of his prisoners impossible Don
Rafael had put them in the one spot where, under the changed conditions,
they were comparatively, if not perfectly, safe.

Very briefly Don whispered the proposed plan of attack to those within
the cave, closing with an injunction to Billie to be on the alert and to
make every shot count if the smugglers should attempt to force the
entrance.

“And here’s something to keep up your courage,” he added, throwing into
the cell the luncheon which had been given him when he left the Hacienda
del Rio that morning. “You see, I remembered your failing.”

While this conversation had been going on, the rurales to the number of
half a hundred, guided by Pedro, had arrived, and arrangements were at
once perfected for an attack upon the smugglers’ stronghold.



CHAPTER XII.

THE BATTLE AT THE CAVE.


Mustering his band, the captain of the rurales quickly formed his plan
of attack. Ten of the company were to seize the two boats at the mouth
of the creek and take their positions at the side of the big rock, whose
slippery top had proved so disastrous to Billie. Ten others were to
secrete themselves on the bank of the stream opposite the water entrance
to the cave. The balance of the band were to force the door whose outer
guard had been overpowered and bound by Donald and Adrian.

Having thus disposed his forces, the captain started with his division
of thirty toward the door, with the understanding that he would not
attempt to force an entrance until a shot from the river should advise
him that the water forces were in position.

“What will you have us do?” asked Donald.

“Keep out of the way, so that you will not be shot,” laughed the
captain. “That’s the proper thing for boys.”

“We’re not that kind of boys,” declared Adrian.

“Oh, well then,” answered the captain, “you just skirmish around on the
outside to pick up any who might succeed in getting away! I don’t think
you’ll have a great deal to do, for my men intend to bag the entire
band.”

The plan suited the boys first rate and they proceeded immediately to
take advantage of the instructions.

“I’ll have to station myself somewhere in short range,” declared Donald.
“Having loaned Billie my Marlin, I have nothing but my six-shooter.”

“I reckon that’ll be sufficient. It looks to me as though the whole
thing would be at short range and of short duration. I hope so. We’re
not down here looking for trouble.”

“That’s surely the truth,” laughed Donald, “but somehow or other, we
seem to have a faculty of getting mixed up in all sorts of things.”

“That’s because you are always trying to help some one out of trouble,”
declared Pedro. “If it had not been for me, you would never have been
mixed up in this at all.”

“It does look that way, doesn’t it?” laughed Adrian. “But appearances
are sometimes deceitful, eh Don?” and he gave Donald a knowing look.

“They sure are; but let’s be hunting a place where we may be of
service.”

“I’ll tell you what,” exclaimed Adrian after they had stood undecided
for several minutes, trying to decide upon a position of vantage, “let’s
station ourselves on that little knoll just above the door. Then if any
should get by those guarding the river entrance I could pick them up
with my rifle; while if any should be able to dash past the captain’s
party, you can stop them with your Colt.”

“How about me?” asked Pedro.

“You can either stay with us, or follow Don Antonio.”

“I think I’ll stay with you. As you say, you seem to have a faculty for
getting mixed up in things and this is one of the things I want a hand
in.”

The boys had hardly reached the place they had selected, when a shot
from the river front told that the flanking party had taken its position
and a minute later the boys could hear the blows that were being rained
upon the door to force it from its place.

“It isn’t quite as easy a job as the captain thought,” said Donald after
the battering had continued for several minutes.

“I should say not!” declared Adrian. “He never will get in that way. Why
doesn’t he blow it open?”

“Maybe he doesn’t know how!”

“Then we’d better go and show him! He’s wasting time.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the air was rent by a
terrific explosion and great pieces of rock and a cloud of dust and dirt
were thrown high into the air, almost burying the Broncho Rider Boys and
their companion in the débris.

The smugglers had fired a mine which had been arranged for just such an
attack.

As soon as the boys could gain their feet and free themselves from the
pile of dirt which had been thrown up, they turned their attention to
the rurales to see what might have been the damage done. Fortunately it
was slight. Two men had been killed and three wounded, but not
seriously. The worst feature of the explosion was that the rear entrance
to the cave had been so blocked with the falling rock, that an entrance
was impossible without much digging and clearing away of the rubbish.

However, if the rurales could not get in, neither could the smugglers
get out, except by the river entrance. That they had no desire to do so
was soon evident, for before the main force, accompanied by the boys,
could reach the river front, the smugglers—or as many as could be loaded
into three skiffs—emerged from the cave on the river side.

That they had not expected to meet any resistance in that quarter was
evident from the fact that they were not at all prepared to fight, nor
did they take any precaution to defend themselves until greeted by a
volley from the rurales stationed on the opposite side of the creek.

But no sooner had they received the first volley, than they turned
sharply up stream and a minute later replied with a well directed fire.

Immediately thereafter the ten men who had been posted behind the big
rock clambered up to the top and from this position of vantage poured a
volley into the boats. Almost at the same moment the captain led the
main force around from the other side, thus taking the boats between two
fires.

Seeing their hopeless position and realizing that they were greatly
outnumbered, the smugglers threw down their arms and surrendered. The
boats were quickly drawn ashore and the captured smugglers landed and
placed under a guard.

“There must be at least as many more,” said Donald to the captain, when
he had counted the prisoners and found there were only twenty-four.
“During our scouting we have seen fully forty.”

“Is that true?” the captain asked one of the prisoners.

“_Quien sabe_” was the unsatisfactory reply.

“You don’t know, eh?” said the captain.

“No, _señor capitan_.”

“Perhaps I can help you,” said the captain. Then turning to one of his
men: “Here, corporal, stand this man up against that rock, and if he
doesn’t answer by the time I count ten, shoot him.”

Without a word the corporal obeyed and told off six men as a firing
squad. The smuggler’s hands were tied behind him and he was placed with
his back to the rock, while the rurales with carbines leveled stood
ready to fire.

“Look, you,” said the captain as he took his position a little to one
side. “At the word ten the men will fire and I shall not count very
slowly either. Ready. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight——”

“There are forty-five besides the captain and Santiago,” broke forth the
smuggler.

“Nine, ten, fire,” finished the captain, and at the word the carbines
cracked and the smuggler pitched forward and lay motionless!

An exclamation of horror burst from both the American boys.

“Captain!” cried Donald. “It’s murder.”

“How could you after he had spoken!” exclaimed Adrian.

The captain shrugged his shoulders and lighted a cigarette.

“It had to be done sooner or later. It might as well be now as later.”

“But you broke your word!”

“Not at all. I told him if he did not speak I would shoot. I did not
tell him I would not shoot if he did. You Americans are too
tender-hearted.”

“I shall report the case to your superior officer,” declared Donald.

Again the captain shrugged his shoulders.

“I shall report it myself,” he said. “The man simply tried to escape and
we shot him. It is the _ley de fuga_.”[2]

“Can such things be?” queried Adrian.

“You can see that they are,” answered Don Antonio, who had come up in
time to hear the conversation. “In dealing with men of this class, when
revolution is plotted on every hand, things are done in Mexico which
would not be done could a stable government be established.”

“Before we are through with this band, you may wish that more of them
could be thus disposed of,” declared the captain. “Remember that you
have a companion in there who has not yet been rescued.”

The boys started as though they had been stung. In the excitement of the
tragedy they had just witnessed Billie had passed entirely from their
thoughts.

“We’re a nice pair of chums, ain’t we?” exclaimed Adrian. “No knowing
what is going on inside that cave. Let’s get busy.”

Without waiting to see what the others might be going to do, Adrian
started on a run for the window in the cave.

“If I can’t do anything more,” he thought, “I can at least tell Billie
to keep up his courage! I wish I was in there with him.”

As he climbed up the mound, he noted that a little volume of smoke was
coming out of the window, which now served as a chimney for the cell in
which Billie was confined.

“Powder smoke!” he exclaimed as he drew near enough to get a whiff. “It
must be from the explosion.”

He bent over the hole and tried to look into the cell, but could see
nothing.

“Billie!” he called; but there was no response.

Again he called, this time more loudly, but still there was no answer,
and Adrian’s heart fairly stood still with apprehension.

“I wonder what can be the matter?” he gasped. “By George, I wish I was
in there!”

He had hardly uttered the words, when the place on which he was standing
seemed to give way beneath his feet and he felt himself slowly falling.

It was not a long nor a hard fall, and, as he felt himself once more on
a solid foundation, and looked up toward the sky, he saw he had not
fallen more than twenty or twenty-five feet. What had really happened
was that the roof of the cell, cracked by the explosion, had caved in
with Adrian’s weight, and he was in the very place he was wishing he
was, although the condition of the cell had materially changed since
Donald had looked down into it less than twenty minutes before.

Before the explosion, the cell had been a room some thirty feet square
and twenty or more feet high. Now it was half filled with dirt and
pieces of rock, the door which had guarded its entrance had been
crushed, and through the opening Adrian caught a glimpse of the front
entrance to the cave and the water beyond.

But there was no sign of Billie or the smugglers.

Pulling himself together and grasping his Marlin firmly, so as to be
ready for any emergency, Adrian stepped cautiously toward the broken
door. Hiding himself as well as he could behind the shattered casemate,
he peered out into the cave.

The room was empty and at first there appeared no way in which the
smugglers could have left except by the river, seeing which Adrian
breathed easier.

“They must have gone out like the others,” he thought, “and have been
captured by the rurales.”

Having arrived at this decision, he walked boldly out toward the river
entrance.

But he had not advanced ten paces into the main cave before a noose fell
silently over his shoulders, and he felt himself jerked violently
backward.

The very act, however, caused him to tighten his grip upon his rifle,
and the weapon was discharged, the report vibrating with an echo that
made it seem almost a cannonade. At the same time his head came into
contact with the hard floor with such force that it completely stunned
him.

In the moment of consciousness between the report of the rifle and the
time his head struck the floor, he saw a figure leap forward out of the
darkness, and as he lost consciousness the sound of his own rifle seemed
to be taken up and echoed back by an innumerable number.

And that was just exactly what happened.

The figure that had leaped forward was Donald, and the volley came from
the carbines of a score of rurales, who had followed him into the cave,
and fired pointblank at the smugglers over Adrian’s prostrate form. The
lariat in the hands of one of the smugglers had pulled Adrian to the
earth, just in time to save him from the fire of the rurales.

For the next few minutes the battle in the cave raged with the utmost
fierceness. The smugglers had taken their stand in an alcove, hewn into
one side of the cave, a little above the floor level. A projecting shelf
afforded them a slight shelter, and from this partially fortified
position, they made a desperate fight. In fact, they were doing great
damage among the rurales, and it had begun to look as though they might
succeed in driving them to shelter, when a rattle of shots from their
rear completely disconcerted them, and they threw down their guns and
called out that they surrendered.

The next instant there emerged, seemingly out of the solid rock, three
figures with blackened faces and tattered garments, who advanced toward
the rurales. They were Billie, Santiago and Guadalupe.

“Don’t shoot!” cried Billie, as the rurales, thinking them some new foe,
raised their carbines. “We are friends!”

“Billie!” shouted Donald, dropping his revolver and grasping his stout
comrade in both arms. “What has happened to you?”

“We were in the explosion.”

“You look like you had been in a coal mine. Are you hurt?”

“Not a scratch—none of us!”

“Then look after Ad, while I help dispose of these cutthroats.”

“Ad!” exclaimed Billie. “Is he hurt?”

“I don’t know. There he is. Find out and do something for him as soon as
possible.”

Billie hastened to do Donald’s bidding, but Santiago was before him. He
raised the boy’s head onto his knee, and from a small flask forced a few
drops of liquid down his throat. A moment later Adrian opened his eyes,
gave one look at the two blackened faces before him, and uttered a yell
that brought everyone to “attention” as though a bomb had exploded.

“What is it?” asked Donald, jumping to Adrian’s side.

“That’s what I want to know! What is it?” pointing his finger at Billie.

Donald burst into a loud laugh. He had been under the most intense
excitement for hours, and, as the ludicrousness of the situation struck
him, he could not have kept from laughing had a howitzer been pointed at
his head. His overwrought feelings simply relaxed, and he fairly
screamed with laughter.

Realizing the humor of the situation, Billie speedily joined in, and the
combined laughter of the two was so infectious that, without at all
understanding what it was about, the rurales and smugglers also began to
laugh. It is probable that no battle ever fought had such a remarkable
ending.

For Adrian, it was the best thing that could have happened, for it
brought him to himself, and he discovered at once who the three
black-faced individuals were; but it was a bad thing for the rurales.
While they were indulging in their most enjoyable recreation, Don Rafael
quietly withdrew into the darkness and disappeared into the opening
through which Billie and Santiago had made their entrance.

Footnote:

[2]: Fugitive law.



CHAPTER XIII.

A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.


It was a couple of hours later and the Broncho Rider Boys had just seen
the rurales ride away toward Presidio del Norte with their prisoners.
The two hours had been spent in a vain endeavor to find Don Rafael,
whose sudden disappearance and escape had taken away much of the success
of the expedition. The boys had just made another examination of the
cave, and were now grouped together on the water’s edge, undecided what
should be their next step.

“It is certainly the most mysterious affair I ever had anything to do
with,” declared Donald, “and we have solved some pretty big mysteries.”

“Right you are,” said Adrian. “I thought the mystery of the Zuni
medicine man was the biggest mystery we should ever have to unravel, but
this beats it.”

“What was that?” asked Pedro, who was one of the company.

“It’s most too long a story to tell now,” replied Adrian, “but it was
told in print a few months ago by a friend of ours, Mr. Frank Fowler,
who wrote it into a book under the title of 'The Broncho Rider Boys
Along the Border.’ I’ll send you a copy when we get back to the States.
It was a mystery, all right, but we ferreted it out, hey, Don?”

“We sure did, and we must ferret this one out, too.”

“The most mysterious part to me,” said Billie, who up to this time had
stood apart thinking, “is not the disappearance of Don Rafael, but the
disappearance of Santiago. There is something unusual about him that I
must know.”

“The captain didn’t seem to care much about his disappearance,” said
Adrian.

“I know he didn’t, but he simply took him for another of the smugglers,
while he believes that Don Rafael is the head of a new revolutionary
movement. I am sure that this is not so.”

“What?” asked Don. “Don’t you think Don Rafael is stirring up a
revolution?”

“I meant I didn’t think as the captain does about Santiago,” explained
Billie.

“Oh! Well, what do you think about him?”

“I hardly know; but I don’t believe he is a peon. I believe he is an
educated man and is here in disguise for some purpose.”

“What makes you think that?” asked Pedro. “He seemed like a peon to me.”

“That’s because you did not get well acquainted with him. I did; for,
when you are in as tight a place as we were right after the explosion,
it doesn’t take long to get acquainted.”

“What did he do?” queried Adrian.

“That would be hard to tell. It would be easier to tell what he did not
do; but the thing that first attracted me was the way in which he cared
for Guadalupe.”

“Speaking of Guadalupe,” exclaimed Adrian, “I’d forgotten all about her!
What became of her?”

“Don Antonio took her home long ago,” replied Donald. Then to Billie:
“Then what did Santiago do?”

“He just took charge of the both of us as though he owned us. He didn’t
even appear nervous. You would have thought that he was in the habit of
being blown up. A peon wouldn’t have done that! He would have thought
only of himself.”

“That’s so,” declared Pedro; “I’ve seen them do it.”

“Well, Santiago didn’t. As soon as he had gained his feet after the
explosion knocked him down, he picked Guadalupe up in his arms, and,
calling out to me to follow him, he dashed out into the cave. The place
was full of men, but they were for the most part busy getting into the
boats. They evidently thought that the only attack they had to fear was
from the rear and were all hurrying to get out.

“Without stopping to speak to anyone, he turned toward the rear of the
cave, stood still for a moment, as though looking for something on the
wall, and then gave a sudden push with his hand. As though by magic the
opening appeared through which you saw the three of us come and by which
Don Rafael escaped.”

“Then why can’t we find the place?” interrupted Adrian.

Billie shook his head slowly.

“That’s part of the mystery,” he finally said.

“Yes, and a big part,” declared Donald. “If we could locate that door,
we could find Don Rafael. Don’t you think so, Billie?”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Then let’s find it!”

“I’ll show it to you,” said a soft voice, which came to them out of the
semi-darkness.

At the sound of the voice the boys turned hastily and grasped their
weapons.

“Don’t be afraid,” continued the voice. “No one is going to hurt you,”
and out of the darkness stepped Santiago.

“I just said you were the greatest mystery,” exclaimed Billie, as soon
as he saw who the newcomer was, “and now I know it.”

“Not a mystery,” declared Santiago, “but a patriot.”

“Which is even a greater curiosity in Mexico,” declared Donald.

“I am afraid you are right,” was the sad reply; “but there are still a
few, and some day we will free Mexico from the rule of those who seek
nothing but their own advancement.”

“To which class does Don Rafael belong?” asked Adrian.

Santiago’s usually mild face grew stern.

“To the wrong one, I fear. That is what I am trying to find out. I have
been told he was a patriot. What I have seen today leads me to believe
the opposite.”

Pedro had listened eagerly to what Santiago had been saying, but without
speaking a word. Now he could contain himself no longer.

“He is a dog!” he exclaimed, “a would-be murderer and a thief. He knows
not honor! He bites the hand that fed him, and he would now help to
assassinate our good president, Francisco Madero!”

Santiago’s eyes flashed. “Have a care,” he said. “How do you know all
this?”

“My father is a trusted friend of President Madero. He knows that the
president has at heart the good of all the people, not the rich alone.
Don Rafael, as you call him, was a trusted servant of my father. He
betrayed his trust, and has become the vilest of the vile. I can give
you the proof!”

For several minutes Santiago remained silent, thinking deeply. When he
spoke it was with determination.

“You say you can give me proof,” he said. “You shall have the
opportunity. Come!”

He quickly led the way to the place in the wall of the cave where the
boys felt sure the secret door was hidden. With one foot he gave a
sliding push to a triangular stone in the floor, and a moment later the
secret opening was disclosed.

“No wonder,” exclaimed Billie, “that we couldn’t locate the door. We
never thought that the key might be hidden in the floor. We only
searched in the wall! What simpletons!”

Santiago smiled whimsically, but made no reply, as he led the way
through the door.

“We will not need to close it now,” he explained, “as there is no one
here whom we need fear.”

He took from a niche in the rock a small lantern, which he was about to
light, when Donald drew from his pocket his electric searchlight.

“Take this,” he said, handing it to Santiago. “It is much better.”

Santiago took it in his hand and regarded it curiously.

“It is a strange instrument,” he said. “Is it safe to use it?”

“Why not?” queried Donald in mild surprise.

“It looks like magic. It might bring ill luck.”

“Oh, no,” laughed Don. “Everyone uses them where we came from.”

Santiago hesitated for a moment, and then said slowly: “It may be right
for those who understand. For those who do not it is ill luck. Take it
back. I dare not use it.”

Slowly Donald returned the searchlight to his pocket, while Santiago
fumbled with the lantern which he was trying to light.

As the blue flame of the match cast a flickering light about the place,
suddenly from out the darkness there sprang a figure with uplifted hand,
and hurled itself upon Santiago. There was a muttered oath, a blow, and
the figure darted through the still open door, and disappeared in the
outer cave, while Santiago sank down upon the floor, murmuring to
himself:

“The magic light! The magic light! The ill luck has come!”

“It’s Don Rafael! It’s Don Rafael!” shouted Pedro. “Don’t let him
escape!”

He sprang after the fleeing figure, closely followed by Billie and
Adrian, while Donald bent over the prostrate Santiago, examining his
wound by the light of his electric.

A moment later there was a shot from without, but, while Donald still
bent over Santiago, trying to stop the flow of blood from a wound in his
shoulder, the others came back.

“Did you get him?” he asked.

“I didn’t even wing him,” was Billie’s crestfallen reply. “He must bear
a charmed life. But I’ll get him yet, if I have to stay in Mexico all
summer!”

Santiago raised his eyes, and a fierce smile played upon his lips, as he
fixed his gaze upon Billie.

“Do you mean it, _señor_?” he asked.

“You bet I do!”

“Promise me!”

“Sure, if that will do you any good!” replied Billie lightly.

“Look out!” exclaimed Adrian. “That may mean more than you think!”

“I don’t care what it means,” declared Billie; “I’ve given my word, and
I’ll stick to it!”

Santiago reached out and took him feebly by the hand. “You will never
regret it,” he said. “When you have made your promise good, come back to
me for your reward.”

And then the strange man swooned in Donald’s arms.



CHAPTER XIV.

PANCHO VILLA.


Several days have elapsed, days filled with anxiety over the fate of
Santiago, and once more the boys find themselves in the saddle, headed
for the Rio Grande.

“It sure does seem good to feel your pony between your knees,” exclaimed
Donald, after they had galloped along a couple of miles at a lively
rate, the horses themselves setting the pace after their days of rest.

“That it does,” replied Billie, “especially when your mind is at ease. I
shouldn’t be enjoying myself at all, were I not sure that Santiago was
on the road to recovery. That certainly was a nasty cut. I hope this
trail will lead us to where we want to go.”

“I can see no reason why it should not,” declared Adrian. “It is as
plain as the nose on your face.”

“And that’s pretty plain in your case,” laughed Donald, for it was a
well-known fact that Adrian’s nose was his most prominent feature.

“I wish I could see it that way,” insisted Billie. “It looks to me as
though this were a good deal of a wild goose chase.”

“I don’t see how you figure it,” retorted Adrian, and he put his hand
into his inside pocket and took therefrom a piece of paper. “Here is the
address as plain as can be: 'Rafael Solis, Presidio del Norte, care
Señor Pancho Villa.’ What more do you want?”

“I want to know who Pancho Villa is, and where he lives! There is
nothing sure we can locate such a man.”

“Santiago says he is well known.”

“Yes, for a peon,” said Billie, determined not to be satisfied.

“Santiago says he is more than a peon. He says he is a great man.”

“That may be so—in the eyes of Santiago; and still he may amount to very
little in a place as big as Presidio del Norte.”

“To hear Santiago talk about him,” interjected Donald, “you’d think he
was a great general.”

“That’s because he was the head of a little band of what Santiago calls
patriots during the Madero revolution,” replied Billie.

“Well, that ought to be enough to identify him,” declared Adrian
exultantly. “I’ll bet we can find him.”

Billie was not satisfied, but as the road at this point was through a
ford of the river, conversation for the time was interrupted; and, when
the boys again came abreast, the conversation took another turn. What
has been said, however, is sufficient to show the mission upon which the
boys were bent.

By dint of hard riding the boys reached the Rio Grande before dark, and
immediately crossed to the American side and hunted up Captain Peak.

“Well, well!” he exclaimed, as he caught sight of them. “I was afraid
you had run into some kind of trouble, you were gone so long!”

“Some kind of trouble!” laughed Donald. “Several kinds of trouble would
come nearer hitting it.”

“You don’t say so!” and the captain opened his eyes wide.

“Indeed we do,” said Billie.

“Then I’m even more glad to see you,” chuckled Captain Peak. “Suppose
you come into the hotel and tell me about it.”

Giving their horses to the _mozo_, the boys accepted the captain’s
invitation; but, after a few words, which indicated that the story was
to be a long one, he insisted that its recital be postponed until they
had eaten their supper. The suggestion was promptly seconded by Billie,
who declared emphatically that the story could wait, but that the supper
could not.

If it were not that Captain Peak might be kept waiting too long, it
would be interesting to tell you what and how much Billie ate at that
meal. He has since declared it was the greatest he ever ate—which is a
most remarkable statement, and easily classes it as “some supper.”

But the longest meal eventually comes to an end, and then the boys sat
down with Captain Peak and gave him a detailed account of their
happenings from the time they left him a week before up to their return.

“I was sure I was making no mistake when I sent you out,” he declared,
when the story was finished. “You evidently stumbled right into the very
band I have been looking for. Of course I have heard something of the
capture from across the river, the captain of the rurales having given
out the information. Naturally he took all the credit, and no mention
was made of you boys, which,” continued Captain Peak, after a minute’s
reflection, “is a good thing, seeing that the adventure is only just
begun.”

“Only just begun!” exclaimed Billie. “I was in hopes we were near the
end.”

“So far as your part is concerned, that may be true; but it looks to me
like the beginning of another serious revolution. Evidently this Don
Rafael is acting for someone else—whom, I cannot tell, but I imagine for
Felix Diaz—who naturally would like to take revenge upon Madero for
driving his uncle, Porfirio Diaz, out of Mexico.

“If he expects any help from Villa, however, I am afraid he is going to
be greatly mistaken. I know Villa well, and, peon though he is, he is a
brainy man, and an ardent Maderist. I don’t believe they will ever get
him to join a movement against the president.”

“That’s what Santiago says; but Don Rafael is a smooth talker, and he
may make such promises that Villa will listen to him,” explained Adrian.

“Of course it is none of my business,” continued Captain Peak, “as long
as they stay on their own side of the river; but the trouble is, they
are always coming over here to do their plotting, and to get arms enough
to start things going. That’s why I am glad of this information, and I
shall do all I can to help the present government.”

“My interest in the matter is all on account of my promise to Santiago,”
said Billie. “If we can find this Don Rafael, we shall at once notify
the proper authorities, and I think the rurales will not lose him
again.”

“I’ll do all I can,” said Captain Peak, “but I must act within my
jurisdiction.”

“How can we find this Pancho Villa?” queried Adrian.

“Just go over to Presidio del Norte and ask the first peon you see,” was
the captain’s reply. “They all know him.”

Billie sprang from his chair. “Come on!” he exclaimed, “let’s waste no
time. We may find him in time to put him on his guard.”

“I wouldn’t go tonight, if I were you,” cautioned the captain.

“Why not?” asked Billie.

“Well, I don’t think it is hardly safe.”

“You don’t think we are afraid, do you?”

“It isn’t a question of fear. It is rather a question of a fight, and I
know you don’t want to get into a fight.”

Billie scratched his head.

“I don’t know as I should exactly say we wanted to get into a fight; but
we wouldn’t mind if something should happen that would give us a chance
to take a fall out of our friend, Don Rafael.”

Captain Peak laughed.

“I see!” he said. “All you want is a chance, and you’re not so
particular who furnishes it. But, take my advice, and don’t get into
trouble tonight. Things are too unsettled, and I don’t want to be
obliged to make a raid into Mexico to rescue you. I have even had to
answer quite a few questions about the trouble we had the other day over
by Don Pablo’s.”

“All right,” laughed Billie. “We won’t get into any trouble. We will
just see this wonderful peon, and put a flea in his ear, and then we’ll
come back.”

“Just as you say,” was the captain’s answer. “I’m sure you are able to
take care of yourself.”

Bidding the captain good-night, the boys called for their horses and
slowly rode across the river.

Presidio del Norte is not a large town, but as it is on the line of the
Orient railroad—which at this particular time was in process of
construction—it was quite a lively place for a Mexican pueblo. It is
built around the inevitable plaza, the stores all facing thereon, and,
when the stores and the little booths in the plaza are all lighted,
becomes quite an attractive spot.

Drawing up at one of the booths, the boys accosted an
intelligent-looking peon, and stated their errand. He looked at them a
bit suspiciously, but finally agreed to help them find the object of
their search.

“Follow me,” he said, and, turning away from the brightly lighted plaza,
led them down a dark and narrow street. “Pancho is a poor man,
_señores_, and does not live in a very nice place.”

“He didn’t need to tell us that,” laughed Adrian. “We still are able to
see.”

“No,” said Donald to the guide, “you do not need to apologize. We
understand that Pancho is an honest man, which is more to his credit
than to live in a fine house.”

The Mexican led them about four or five squares and stopped before a
miserable little adobe house.

“_Aqui’sta!_” he exclaimed, and knocked loudly on the half-open door.

“_Quien es?_” came a voice from within, meaning, “Who is it?”

“Americanos to see Pancho,” replied the guide.

“_Bueno!_” came the voice, and a moment later a large, fine-looking man
appeared in the doorway.

“I am Pancho Villa,” he said pleasantly. “What can I do for you?” and
this was the Broncho Rider Boys’ introduction to the man who afterward
became the foremost general of Mexico.



CHAPTER XV.

A SHOT IN THE DARK.


“What can I do for you?” again asked Villa, as the boys did not at once
reply, not knowing exactly what to say, nor how to say it in the
presence of a third person.

“We have a message for you from a fellow patriot,” Adrian finally
replied. “Perhaps it would be better if we entered your house.”

“My casa is a very humble one,” replied Villa, “but, if you will deign
to honor it with your presence, you are quite welcome, _señores_.”

The boys alighted and threw their bridle-reins over a post at the side
of the gate.

“Stay here and watch the gentlemen’s horses, Secundino,” said Villa to
the guide, who was about to leave. “If you see anyone lurking about,
call.”

“_Bueno_” was the reply and the guide threw himself down beside the
horses.

The boys entered the house, followed by Villa. As their guide had said,
it was a poor house, but it was comfortable and clean. Its only
furniture consisted of a few chairs, a table, a bed, and some rugs on
the floor. A single candle furnished the light.

“Now, _señores_,” said Villa, after they had all been seated, “we can
talk without being interrupted. What is your message, and from whom?”

“Our message,” replied Adrian, who seemed to have made himself the
spokesman, “is a warning. It is from one who calls himself only
Santiago.”

“Santiago!” exclaimed Pancho. “Santiago! And how did he come to make
strangers—Americans—the bearer of a message to Pancho Villa?”

“It is a long story,” replied Adrian, “but if you will listen we shall
be glad to explain.”

“No story is too long, if it is the truth,” said Villa.

“Which this is,” declared Adrian earnestly, and for the second time that
evening the events of the past few days were rehearsed.

“And you mean to tell me that Rafael Solis attempted to kidnap the son
of General Sanchez?”

“That is exactly what he did,” declared Billie, who had scarcely been
able to keep quiet while Adrian was talking. “And he would have
succeeded, too, if we had not been there to help him escape.”

“But that isn’t the worst, to my way of thinking,” exclaimed Donald.
“The worst thing was his assault upon Santiago!”

“He explained that to me by saying that Santiago was playing into the
hands of the _haciendados_,” declared Villa, meaning by the
“_haciendados_” the rich landowners, who for years have been grinding
the peons under their heel.

“Explained to you!” exclaimed Billie. “Then you have seen him?”

“He left me not an hour ago.”

“It is none of our business,” said Donald, “but as we are interested in
Santiago, we should be glad to know what he wanted.”

“Just what you might expect—to help him overthrow President Madero, who,
he says, is just as bad as was Diaz.”

“Do you think he is?” asked Billie, who had become much interested in
Mexican affairs during the past few days.

“_Quien sabe!_” was Villa’s non-committal reply. “We hope not, but
Mexico has suffered much from those who should have been her friends.”

“Well, whatever President Madero may be,” said Adrian emphatically, “Don
Rafael is a scoundrel and murderer at heart.”

For several minutes Villa made no reply, then with a shake of his head:
“Time will tell!”

A few minutes later, when the boys were leaving the house, he said: “You
may tell Santiago that he can depend upon me to do the right thing. I am
working for Mexico—not for Pancho Villa.”

“We are sure you are,” was Adrian’s reply, and the others echoed his
words.

Tossing a peso to the peon who had been guarding their horses, the boys
mounted and slowly rode back the way they had come. They had almost
reached the plaza when there was a pistol shot in their rear, followed
by a cry of pain.

Without stopping to consider what their action might lead to, the boys
with one accord wheeled about and dashed back down the street. The
street was as deserted as when they passed up it a moment before. When
they reached Villa’s house they drew rein and called loudly, but there
was no response.

“That’s mighty strange,” said Donald, after they had called a couple of
times with like result. “What do you suppose has happened?”

“Can’t imagine,” replied Billie. “Maybe he doesn’t hear us. I’ll knock.”

He dismounted and gave the door, which was still ajar, a vigorous thump,
but no one replied. Then suddenly, while they were wondering what they
had better do, there was a sound of voices at the head of the street,
and a moment later a crowd of people, headed by several policemen, came
hastily down to where they were standing.

“There they are! There they are!” cried out a voice. “They are the men
who were with him!” And the speaker pointed at the three boys.

“What’s the matter?” asked Adrian, as the policemen stopped at his side.

“This man says you have been plotting with Pancho Villa to start a new
revolution.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Adrian. “You know that Villa is a friend of
President Madero.”

“Yes, everybody knows that,” said the other policeman.

“How about that?” the first policeman asked, turning to their accuser.

“That’s what I said,” declared the man. “I said they were trying to get
Pancho to join a revolution against the president.”

The boys by this time had a chance to take a good look at the man, and
recognized him as the one who had guided them to Villa’s house.
Whereupon Donald exclaimed, with considerable warmth: “That’s a lie, and
you know it.” Then to the policemen: “You don’t have to take our word;
ask Pancho.”

“Of course,” replied the policeman, and he approached Villa’s door and
knocked loudly.

But, as in the case of the boys, there was no reply.

“Where has he gone?” asked the policeman, turning to Adrian.

“I don’t know. He was here just a few minutes ago; but when we came back
to see who was shot, he was gone.”

“What’s that?” asked the policeman. “Did you say somebody was shot?”

“We thought so. We were riding up the street when we heard a shot,
followed by a cry. We came back to find out about it. That’s how we
happen to be here now.”

“What did you find?”

“Nothing!” replied Adrian.

The policeman eyed the boys fiercely.

“Don’t try to make fools of us,” said one.

“No,” declared the other, “we are not to be played with by any young
Gringoes. We don’t believe any such story.”

“I can’t help it whether you believe or not,” retorted Adrian angrily.
“It is the truth!”

“We shall see,” declared the first policeman. “You come with us to the
_cuartel_. The _jeffe politico_ will have to look into this.”

“Now we are in for it,” said Billie, under his breath. “The next time I
hear a Mexican shoot another I’ll ride the other way.”

“Where do you suppose Villa can have gone to?” asked Donald of the other
two, as they rode along behind the policeman, followed by a shouting,
hooting mob.

“Give it up,” replied Adrian. “It couldn’t have been he that was shot.”

“Who knows?” said Billie suddenly. “No one entered the house. He may be
lying in there dead.”

“That’s so!” exclaimed Adrian, “I’ll suggest it to the policeman.”

“Not as you value your life,” interrupted Donald. “If by any chance they
should find him dead, they’d accuse us of killing him.”

All this had been said in English, of which the policemen did not
understand a word. In fact, had it been said in Spanish, it is doubtful
if the policemen could have heard, on account of the hooting and the
cries of “Down with the Americanos! Death to the Gringoes!”

“If they ever get us locked up,” said Donald, a moment later, “it’s
going hard with us. We’ve simply got to get away!”

“All right!” replied Billie. “You lead the way.”

“Wait till the right moment and keep your eye on me. When I shout, both
of you join in and we’ll try and stampede this herd.”

Slowly they rode along the narrow street and finally emerged on to the
plaza. Here the street was much wider, and the crowd became less dense,
although no smaller numerically.

As they passed one of the _cantinas_, a gang of half-drunken railroad
laborers of various nationalities came out, singing and shouting. Among
them were several Americans, seeing which Donald gave a wild yell,
crying at the top of his voice:

“Hurrah for Uncle Sam!”

Billie and Adrian joined in the cry, at the same time putting spurs to
their horses, which sprang forward, upsetting the policemen and creating
a tumult which quickly became a riot, as the Americans in the crowd took
up the cry and shouted lustily for Uncle Sam.

In the confusion which followed shots rang out from every side, most of
them fired into the air, and there was a general scurrying to shelter by
the natives, who had learned to get out of the way when a crowd of track
hands and cowboys began to shoot up the town. Taking advantage of this,
the boys dashed out of the light of the plaza, and were soon well on
their way to the river; and it was none too soon, for, attracted by the
commotion, a band of rurales was ordered out to arrest every foreigner
found on the street.

“It was some excitement while it lasted,” remarked Billie, as they
gained the American side. “I think I’ll stay out of Mexico for a while.”

“What!” exclaimed Donald, “with Don Rafael still at large?”

“Yes,” said Adrian, “how about your promise?”

“By George!” exclaimed Billie. “The excitement had driven it entirely
out of my mind—and besides, I must learn what has become of Villa.”



CHAPTER XVI.

A VALUABLE DISCOVERY.


It was late the next morning when the boys awoke and began calling to
each other.

“What’s the first thing on the program?” asked Adrian, as he put the
last touch upon his toilet.

“The first thing,” declared Billie emphatically, “is breakfast. I hope
they have hot cakes and sorghum molasses.”

“Not a very fashionable dish,” laughed Donald.

“Hang the fashion,” replied Billie. “What I want is something that
tastes good. How about you, Ad?”

“That’s me, too. But I think I prefer ham and eggs, sunny side up.”

“What are you fellows trying to do?” asked Donald, “increase my
appetite?”

“No need of that,” laughed Billie. “I’ve never seen you when you
couldn’t do justice to whatever is set before you; but hurry up.”

Five minutes later they were seated before a breakfast table that seemed
to have been fixed for their special benefit, for not only did the bill
of fare contain ham and eggs, but hot cakes and syrup as well.

For several minutes they were too busy to talk, but finally Donald
pushed back his chair with the remark that so long as he could get a
breakfast like that, he didn’t care how long he stayed on the border.

“Nor I either,” echoed Billie. “But what had we better do to get into
touch with matters across the river?”

“I should certainly advise seeing Capt. Peak,” said Adrian.

“Of course; but what then?”

“Depends upon his answer.”

“Well,” said Billie, “I have a duty to perform and the sooner I set
about it the better. Come on!”

He led the way out of the hotel and down to Capt. Peak’s headquarters.
They found the captain mounting his horse.

“I was just coming to see what had become of you,” he said. “I didn’t
know but you had left the country.”

“No reason why we should, is there?” laughed Donald.

“None at all; but I wouldn’t be found on the other side of the river too
soon, if I were you. You must have stirred up a hornet’s nest last
night.”

“I don’t know what you mean by a hornet’s nest,” replied Billie, “but we
did have quite an exciting time.”

“Of course you found Villa,” said the captain.

“Found him and lost him,” replied Adrian, and he proceeded to narrate
their adventure.

“And you have no idea who fired the shot?”

“Not the slightest.”

“I’m sure Villa was not the victim,” continued Capt. Peak, “or we should
have heard of it by this time. They would have been over here looking
for the murderer.”

“Which might have made a lot of trouble for us,” said Donald.

“Exactly! But if you boys want something to help pass away the time for
a couple of hours, get your horses and we’ll ride down the river and see
if we can hear anything.”

The boys gladly accepted the invitation and a few minutes later were
riding leisurely along the bank of the Rio Grande on what the captain
called a tour of inspection.

“Sort of scout duty,” laughed Adrian.

“Exactly; only we’re not likely to discover anything at this hour of the
day.”

It seems, however, that it is the unexpected that happens, and they had
not ridden more than two or three miles from town before they made a
discovery which brought them to a sudden halt and caused the utmost
astonishment.

Not twenty feet from the river bank, entirely free from any attempt at
concealment, lay at least a dozen cases of rifles and a rapid-fire
Maxim.

“Well!” exclaimed Capt. Peak, as he surveyed the arms from the back of
his horse, “What do you think of that?”

“The thinking doesn’t seem to be up to us,” laughed Billie. “The
question is, what do you think?”

For some minutes Capt. Peak made no reply, the while his eye noted the
surroundings. Then he dismounted and examined the ground carefully,
while the boys watched him with interest.

“I’ll tell you what I think,” he finally exclaimed, as he came slowly
back to his horse. “There has been a pretty good-sized gun-running
expedition—so large, in fact, that these few arms have been entirely
overlooked.”

“They must have been pretty bold to attempt such a thing so near
Presidio del Norte.”

“Yes,” replied Capt. Peak, “and the very boldness of it is what helped
them to succeed. This is the last place I should have looked for a
crossing. I must send out and get these guns.”

“Don’t you think they will be missed later?” asked Adrian.

“No doubt; but the owners will have discovered the loss too late.”

“I was just thinking it might be a good thing to leave them here
unmolested and set a watch over them.”

“What good would that do? They will not make a second attempt at the
same place.”

“It occurs to me,” said Adrian with becoming modesty, “that it would be
a good thing to ride on just as though we had found nothing. As soon as
we get around that piece of chaparral, let me come back and hide myself.
I believe somebody will be around trying to locate the missing weapons.
As I understand it, that rapid-fire gun is a valuable piece.”

“There is no doubt of that,” admitted the captain.

“If the one who comes hunting it finds it has not been molested, he will
think it has not been discovered and he will take some steps to carry it
away. When he does so, I can give the alarm and we can pounce down upon
him.”

“Your idea isn’t at all unreasonable,” said the Captain, “and I’m
perfectly willing to see what we can do.”

Accordingly the little cavalcade rode along for more than half a mile.
It then halted in the edge of the chaparral, where Adrian dismounted and
slowly made his way back through the mesquite bushes which covered the
plain.

It was hot lying there in the broiling sun, but Adrian did not mind.
This was his idea, and somehow he felt sure that it would meet with
success; but for a long time it did not seem so. Finally, however, as
Adrian began to think the Captain might better take charge of the arms,
he noted a strange figure on the opposite bank of the Rio Grande. He was
a little man, and, as nearly as Adrian could make out, old.

“He doesn’t look like a gun runner,” thought Adrian; “but you never can
tell.”

At first the little man did not appear to be looking across the river at
all; but as Adrian watched, he saw that the man on the other shore
carried a pair of field glasses.

“That means that I must lie mighty low,” muttered Adrian to himself, and
he hugged the ground tight, behind the mesquite bush.

The man at length leveled his glasses and peered long and earnestly—not
only at the rapid-fire gun, which showed most prominently—but at all the
bushes up and down the river for some distance.

“He certainly knows what he is looking after,” thought Adrian, “but I
don’t believe he will come over in the day time.”

For the time being at any rate, Adrian was right; for after some minutes
spent in observation, the man returned his glasses to their case and
walked rapidly away.

Slowly Adrian withdrew from his position, backing out on hands and knees
until he was hidden from the other bank. Then, rising, he hastened to
where he had left his friends.

“Well,” was Billie’s greeting as soon as Adrian came in sight. “I hope
you discovered something to pay us for going without our dinner.”

“If catching a gang of gun runners is enough, I think I did.”

“What’s that?” inquired Capt. Peak. “You think you have a line on them?”

“You can judge for yourself,” replied Adrian, and he related what he had
seen.

“Don Pablo Ojeda!” exclaimed Capt. Peak as soon as Adrian had described
the appearance of the man on the opposite shore. “If we can only catch
him red-handed, it will be a great capture!”

“You don’t mean he’s the old chap who tried to steal our mule, do you?”

“He surely is,” declared Donald. “The description fits him perfectly.”

“And it’s very plain, now,” continued the captain, “why they selected
this spot. It is only half a mile up stream from the trail that leads
from Don Pablo’s to the river—just far enough for a boat to float down
of its own accord. All it would take would be one man to steer. Once the
guns were put on board, the others could ride down the river, swim their
horses across and thus avoid any trouble in case the boat were
discovered.”

“I’m glad if my information is of any use,” said Adrian.

“It unquestionably is. Now then,” and the captain mounted his horse, “to
make arrangements to capture all who come to this side of the river.”

“Hadn’t we ought to notify the Mexican authorities?” queried Donald.

“If we were sure the information wouldn’t leak out,” was Capt. Peak’s
reply; “but there is too much revolution in the air right now to know
whom to trust.

“No,” after a pause, “we’ll play this game alone,” and turning his horse
to the north, he started by a circuitous route for town, closely
followed by the boys.

“I’m glad we’re this side the river,” said Billie as they rode along. “I
seem to have more faith in the Rangers than in the Rurales.”



CHAPTER XVII.

A MEETING OF REVOLUTIONISTS.


Midway between the Hacienda del Rio and the _hacienda_ of Don Pablo
Ojeda, near the source of the little mountain stream across which the
Broncho Rider Boys chased the horse thieves in recovering old Bray,
there stands an old mill. When built, or by whom, not even the oldest
inhabitant of that region can remember. It is made of rock quarried out
of the mountain side; and although the water wheel has long since gone
to decay and the millstones have fallen into their beds, the walls of
the building remain intact.

To be sure there is no roof on the building, but the heavy oak rafters,
cut from trees on the mountain side, are reasonably strong, and, covered
with a wealth of tropical foliage, form sufficient covering for one who
is accustomed to the outdoor life of these regions.

Into this ancient structure, on the afternoon of the same day on which
Capt. Peak and his young comrades discovered the rifles of the
gun-runners, four men might have been seen to enter. Three of them were
strangers. The fourth was the missing Don Rafael.

That they had no fear that they would be seen, was evidenced by the open
manner in which the strangers dismounted from their horses and threw
their bridle reins to their accompanying servants.

Of the three one had a decidedly military bearing while the others bore
evidence of being well-to-do landowners.

“You surely have a veritable fortress here, Don Rafael,” declared the
military man after a brief glance around. “With a little work in the way
of outer trenches, it might be made well nigh impregnable to any but
those armed with modern siege guns.”

“So I have thought, General,” replied Don Rafael deferentially.

“Where have you hidden the arms?”

“This way, General,” and Don Rafael led the way to the rear of the ruins
and pointed out a strongly constructed door, which apparently opened
into a vault. “They are well cared for.”

“How many have you?” asked one of the others.

“In the neighborhood of ten thousand small arms and ten machine guns.
Another shipment was brought over the river last night and will be
carted up here tonight.”

“Good!” exclaimed the general. “But now to the purpose of our visit. You
asked us to meet you to hear the plans of General Orosco regarding the
overthrow of the Madero government. What are they?”

“Sh-sh-h! Not so loud,” exclaimed Don Rafael, as he cast furtive glances
out toward the servants and the horses. “Your mozos might overhear!”

“Small chance of that,” said the general, “and if they did they would
want to join the movement.”

“Briefly,” said Don Rafael, “the plan is this: To start the movement in
the northern states with the revolt of the Chihuahua garrison. General
Orosco stands ready at a moment’s notice to come north and assume
command; but you will have to start the movement in your state. I will
start it here.”

“How about Villa? Will he join us?”

“I am sure he will; but if he will not, I will see that he does not
interfere.”

“How many men can you muster?” asked the general.

“I shall have two thousand. I should have been able to do better, had it
not been that my plans were interfered with by three young Gringoes who
are touring this state on horseback! I ran into them at a most
inopportune time, and as I did not wish to get into trouble with the
United States authorities, I could not punish them as I otherwise
would.”

“That’s bad,” said the general.

“Yes, it is; but if they come across my path again, I shall make short
work of them.”

“Well,” said the general after a few more questions and answers, “I
think we know enough. I shall expect to see you at Presidio del Norte in
a few days. I trust you will succeed in your mission with Villa.”

Then, as he emerged from the old mill and once more stood and looked at
the old structure: “This surely is a wonderful spot! We must see that it
is properly fortified.”

The visitors approached their horses and were about to mount, when a
peon on foot was seen approaching from downstream. That he was the
bearer of a message of some sort was evident from his actions, and the
horsemen remained unmounted, awaiting his coming.

“It’s one of the men who were with us on last night’s expedition,”
explained Don Rafael as the man approached near enough to be recognized.
“I wonder what he wants.”

They were not kept long in suspense, for the messenger, seeing that they
were waiting, hastened his footsteps and soon reached them.

“What is it, hombre?” asked Don Rafael.

“A serious mistake was made last night.”

“How so?”

“A lot of rifles and a machine gun were left on the American side of the
river.”

“What!” exclaimed Don Rafael “A machine gun?”

“Si, Señor!”

“What’s to be done?”

“That’s what Don Pablo wants to know. He told me to say that he has
discovered that the guns are right where they were left and so far have
not been seen. One of the men has been posted on this side of the river
to watch that no one molests them. Don Pablo thinks if they are not
discovered during the day, we can easily bring them over right after
dark, so that they can come up here with the others!”

“I don’t see anything else to do,” said Don Rafael.

“Then you will send the men to help?” asked the man.

“Is that what Don Pablo wants?”

“Si, Señor!”

“Very well. Tell him I will have a dozen men on hand as soon as it is
dark. I may come myself to see that he makes no more blunders.”

“That’s the only safe way,” said the general.

The messenger made no reply, but with a muttered “_Hasta lluego_,”[3]
took his departure as fast as he had come and the three strangers soon
followed his example.

Left alone, Don Rafael watched them as they slowly wound their way down
the mountain path, and when they finally passed from view, turned and
entered the mill. Quickly he ascended the dilapidated stone stairs to
the second story, where, in a small room partitioned off from the rest
of the mill, he had made him a habitation, and threw himself upon his
crude bed.

“Pancho Villa!” he exclaimed with a mocking laugh. “Pancho Villa,
indeed! It will be a long time before anyone sees Pancho Villa!”

Footnote:

[3]: Until we meet again.



CHAPTER XVIII.

SPRINGING THE TRAP.


Feeling assured that the trap was well baited with the forgotten guns,
Capt. Peak determined to omit no detail which would insure the complete
capture of the gun-runners when the trap was sprung.

He accordingly mustered his men early in the afternoon, and, accompanied
by the boys, who were most anxious to take a hand in the capture, openly
left town in exactly the opposite direction from the place where the
guns had been discovered. By this plan he hoped to allay any suspicion
which might be aroused and communicated to the smugglers by their spies,
with whom he had no doubt the city was filled.

Riding up stream for several miles, until the city was entirely lost
sight of, the Rangers made a wide detour back into the country, arriving
in the vicinity of the trap just as the sun had set.

As soon as it was sufficiently dark for the men to come out into the
open without being seen from the Mexican shore, they were so disposed
that they could surround the gun-runners on three sides, while a fourth
detachment was posted up stream, but sufficiently near the bank of the
river to cut off a retreat in that direction.

“It would please me greatly,” said Capt. Peak, in giving the last
instruction, “if we could also capture the boat in which the guns are to
be carried over the river. Not only would it be good evidence, but it
would help to prevent similar expeditions in the immediate future.”

This remark offered a suggestion to Donald, and when the others had been
stationed, he announced his plan to Capt. Peak.

“I’m sure,” he said, “that we three boys can capture that boat better
than anyone else, because we are all good swimmers.”

“What has that to do with it?” asked the Captain. “The boat will have to
come to shore to get the guns.”

“I know that,” replied Donald; “but suppose they even succeeded in
getting the guns down to the river bank, what good would it do if they
found the boat gone?”

“I see,” laughed the Captain. “Well, go ahead; but we shall not wait for
the Greasers to get the guns down to the shore before we nab them.”

Having obtained permission to act, Donald at once called Adrian and
Billie and unfolded to them his plan. It was very simple, namely, to
secrete themselves on the shore, or even in the water if necessary.
Then, as soon as the boat had landed the men, to swim up behind it and
draw it back into the river.

“Suppose they make it fast to the bank,” suggested Adrian.

“I had thought of that,” replied Donald, “and that is why I think it
better to hide on shore.”

“How would it do for one of us to remain on shore,” suggested Billie,
“and the others to station themselves out in the river where the water
is breast high? Then, if they fastened the boat to the shore, the one on
land could, in the dark, easily slip up and cut the ropes.”

“Not a bad idea,” replied Donald. “Suppose you stay on shore and Ad and
I will do the water act.”

“Yes,” said Adrian, “and if you are discovered you can easily pass
yourself off as a Mexican. If you are questioned all you have to say is
'quien sabe’ and stick to it, and they’ll know you are a peon.”

“Suits me,” declared Billie, and he drew his hunting knife from his
belt. “One stroke of this will cut any ordinary rope.”

This plan having been decided upon, Donald and Adrian threw off their
superfluous clothing and waded out into the stream, while Billie
secreted himself behind a little pile of brush, left on the shore by the
last high water.

They had hardly taken their positions, when the faint sound of oars came
to their ears and a couple of minutes later a good-sized batteau came
into sight through the darkness. It was rowed by six men while a half
dozen more were seated at the bow and in the stern.

The batteau had no sooner touched the shore than those in the bow sprang
out and pulled the boat partially onto the gravelly beach. The others
followed more slowly, but after a minute or more all were landed. Not a
word was spoken for some minutes, and several of the men spread
themselves out into a scouting party. One of them passed so close to the
place where Billie was concealed that he could have touched him with his
hand; but it never seemed to occur to the Mexicans that anyone might be
hidden on the beach.

Those who were not on the lookout, pushed the boat back into the water
and turned it so they could pull out immediately it had received its
load. Then for the first time a spoken order was given in a low voice—a
voice which sounded strangely familiar to Billie, although he could not
think where he had heard it.

“All ready!” it said, “and hurry up! Juan and I will be sufficient to
guard the boat!”

“So ho!” exclaimed Billie to himself! “It appears we are to have two to
deal with,” and as he saw the figures steal away in the darkness he
slipped silently nearer to the boat to see how the guard was placed.

A glance was sufficient to show him that one man sat in the boat with
oars in his hands, while the speaker stood on the shore. He had not yet
decided what to do, when he noticed that the boat was silently and
slowly drawing away from land. The shore guard must have noticed it at
the same time, for he said in a sharp whisper to the oarsman:

“You’re drifting out! Hold your boat to the shore!”

The oarsman gave a couple of strokes with his oars, but without any
apparent result! The boat continued to draw away.

“The current must be very swift!” he muttered.

“Or else you are very weak,” declared the man on shore, and he leaned
over to grasp the boat, which was still within reach.

This was Billie’s opportunity and he was quick to seize it. He had
realized from the beginning that it was not the current, but Adrian and
Donald who were pulling the boat into the stream, and so, as the man on
shore leaned over to grasp the boat, Billie sprang forward and gave him
a violent shove, which landed him face down in the bottom of the
batteau, and sent the craft well out into the stream.

Then, without a moment’s hesitation, Billie sprang in after him, calling
out to the other two boys to scramble aboard without delay.

Almost before the words were out of his mouth, there was a crack of
rifles and the shouts of the Rangers mingled with the cries of the
gun-runners, who had been caught in the trap.

But quick as Billie had been, the man whom he had pushed into the boat
was quicker. He was on his feet in an instant and grappling with the
lad, while at the sound of the shots he called to the oarsman:

“Pull for the other shore! Pull for your life!”

Although Billie was large and strong for his age he was no match for his
assailant, who was not only possessed of much strength, but was as agile
as a cat. Almost in less time than it takes to tell it, he had thrown
the boy to the bottom of the boat. Quickly he picked up an oar, as
though to deal him a blow, when his attention was diverted by the severe
rocking of the boat.

Turning to see the cause, he espied Donald and Adrian piling in over the
gunwale.

Raising aloft the oar which he had intended for Billie, he aimed a
vicious blow at the head nearest him, but as the blow was about to
descend, Billie caught him by one leg and he dropped the oar to save
himself from falling into the water.

By this time the oarsman had discovered the condition of affairs and had
come to his companion’s rescue. Rising in his place he struck with his
oar the boy nearest him. It happened to be Donald, and the oar came down
on his shoulder with a sounding whack. It was only by the greatest good
luck that it did not hit him on the head. As it was it caused him to
utter a cry of pain and release his hold on the boat.

It was a critical moment.

Adrian had just succeeded in pulling himself into the boat, but had not
yet gained his footing; Donald was apparently helpless in the water, and
Billie was struggling with the leader of the gun-runners, while the
oarsman, with oar in hand, seemed to command the situation.

But before the man with the oar could gather himself for another blow
Adrian, from his crouching position, sprang upon him. His head struck
the Mexican squarely in the pit of the stomach, and with a loud “Ah!” as
the wind was knocked out of him he toppled over into the water. The next
instant Adrian reached over and seized Donald by the hair and pulled him
up to the boat, where he was able to grasp the gunwale with his
uninjured arm.

The blow which struck Donald, and his cry, had a most unfortunate result
upon Billie. For just a moment he was undecided whether to throw his
antagonist into the river, or to release his hold and help Donald. In
that moment his opponent saw his opportunity and took advantage of it.

With his doubled knee he struck Billie in the face and as the lad fell
over into the boat, he plunged into the river and struck out for the
Mexican shore.

“Don’t let him get away,” cried Billie, as soon as he could gather
himself to speak. “It’s the leader of the gang!”

“All right,” said Adrian. “Help me pull Donald in and we’ll row after
him.”

In almost no time Donald was helped into the boat and Billie and Adrian
seized the oars and started in pursuit of the fleeing Mexican. They were
not expert oarsmen, but they did their best and the boat made good
headway. But row as hard as they could, they were unable to discover a
trace of the fugitive, and it soon became evident that he had escaped in
the darkness. Neither did they see anything of the man whom Adrian had
knocked overboard.

“We haven’t made a very creditable record,” declared Adrian as they
finally ceased rowing and tried to make out where they were. “I hope
Capt. Peak did better.”

Considerably crestfallen, the boys turned the boat and rowed for the
American shore, where they shortly arrived.

“Well,” said Capt. Peak as they beached the batteau and sprang ashore,
“I see you have the boat. Did you get anything else?”

“Nothing but a sore shoulder,” replied Donald ruefully.

“It’s all my fault,” declared Billie. “I ought to have shot the leader
instead of trying to capture him.”

“The leader!” exclaimed Capt. Peak. “Was it the leader you were fighting
with?”

“Sure!” was Billie’s emphatic reply. “And he’s a good one, too!”

“You ought to know,” laughed the Captain. “It was your old friend, Don
Rafael.”

“What!” cried Billie, as he regarded Capt. Peak with a look of blank
despair. “Don Rafael! You don’t mean it!”

“That’s what the men say, and I have no doubt they know.”

“And to think that I had my hands on him and didn’t recognize him!” said
Billie, almost in tears with disappointment. “That’s twice I’ve let him
escape. I’ll bet I don’t do it a third time!”



CHAPTER XIX.

WITH THE REGULAR ARMY.


Despite the escape of Don Rafael, the expedition had been a great
success. All the other gun-runners, with the possible exception of the
one whom Adrian knocked into the river, had either been captured or
shot, the arms had been secured for evidence, and the boat, which had
been so well used, had been captured.

“It’s all very well for the Rangers,” said Billie to Donald as they were
climbing into bed that night, “but it hasn’t helped me a bit. I am no
nearer keeping my promise to Santiago than I was yesterday morning. In
fact, I am further away, for Don Rafael will be more cautious than
ever.”

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it,” replied Donald good-naturedly. “Go to
bed and sleep over it. You may dream it out. Because we’ve done our best
today is no sign we cannot do better tomorrow. We profit by experience,
my father says. Our very failures make us try that much harder.”

“That’s a fact,” declared Adrian. “I’ve proved that myself.”

“It doesn’t seem as though I could try much harder,” said Billie, with a
vigorous shake of his head; “but as Donald says, the best thing to do
now is to sleep over it,” and he tumbled into bed and was soon sleeping
as soundly as though he had not just been through an ordeal which would
have been a memorable one even for one much more experienced than
Broncho Billie.

The events of the morrow proved that sleeping over the matter was the
very best thing that could have been done, because it was the last real
good night’s sleep the boys had for some time. While they were eating
their breakfast the next morning, Capt. Peak came in and told them that
a revolution against President Madero had already broken out and that
General Felix Diaz was attacking Vera Cruz.

“So you see,” he added, “our predictions were pretty nearly correct.”

“What effect will it have upon your work?” asked Donald.

“I expect it will increase it greatly. We shall have to be more active
than ever to prevent gun-runners, smugglers—for gun-running is nothing
less than smuggling—from getting arms across the border.”

“You seem to have done about all you can since we have known you,”
laughed Adrian. “I don’t see how you can do much more.”

“Well, in the first place,” explained Capt. Peak, “I expect we shall be
attached to some regiment of regular army cavalry, or at least we shall
be under the direct orders of some United States officer, instead of
working as state troops as we do in times of quiet. This will
undoubtedly be the first step. After that, we can only guess as to what
duty may be assigned us.”

The Captain’s prediction proved quite correct and before night it was
announced that Captain Peak’s company had been assigned to duty with the
regulars under command of Col. Bliss.

During the day many rumors were afloat as to happenings across the
river, but it was not until that night that the revolution developed in
Presidio del Norte. Then firing was heard, and from the American side it
could be seen that a skirmish of some sort was in progress.

It was while these events were shaping themselves that the Broncho Rider
Boys held a council of war over their own future.

“We ought to be in El Paso now,” said Donald, in reviewing the
situation. “We are already past due and Billie’s father will be greatly
worried at our non-appearance; but I don’t know how we can help it.”

“Can’t we telegraph him?” asked Billie.

“There is nothing but a military line from here to Langtry,” replied
Donald.

“Well, I’m sure Capt. Peak can get a message through for us,” insisted
Billie. “I feel more like staying here now than ever. I am sure I shall
be able to get a line on Don Rafael, and if I can’t capture him I may be
able to help some one else do so.”

“I feel a good deal like Billie,” declared Adrian, “and I vote to notify
Billie’s father, if possible, and stay right here for a few days longer
anyway.”

“Two is a majority,” said Donald, “so let’s go and see what we can do.”

They found Capt. Peak in conversation with a member of Col. Bliss’ staff
and made known their wants.

“These are the young men of whom I have just been speaking,” said Capt.
Peak to the officer. “Boys, I want to introduce you to Lieut. Grant of
the regular army!”

The boys acknowledged the introduction.

“And so you want to get a message to El Paso,” said the Lieutenant.

“If we can,” replied Billie. “I am afraid my father will be getting
worried.”

“Of course you know the line is for purely military purposes?”

“Yes sir,” was Billie’s prompt reply, “and this message is a military
necessity.”

“Yes?” queried the Lieutenant. “How so?”

“Because it has to be sent to prevent Capt. Peak from losing our
services.”

Both the Lieutenant and Capt. Peak laughed heartily at Billie’s witty
reply, while the Lieutenant said forcibly:

“And that he cannot afford to do right now. We have already counted upon
your assistance in a little scouting expedition.”

“Then the message can be sent?”

“Undoubtedly. Also, we will undertake to get you a reply.”

“That is most kind of you,” said Billie, “and for my part I am ready to
volunteer for duty this minute.”

“How about your companions?” asked the Lieutenant.

“We are like Dumas’s three guardsmen,” said Adrian. “'One for all and
all for one.’”

“Then we’ll consider the matter settled,” said the Lieutenant. “Report
here at seven o’clock this evening for instructions.”

“Well,” remarked Donald as the trio rode away, “I never expected to
become a military scout.”

“Nor I,” declared Billie, “but neither did I ever expect to be
christened Broncho Billie. I’ll sure have some tales to tell when I get
back east.”

“Yes,” laughed Adrian. “First thing you know you’ll become a regular
Buffalo Bill, and be running a Wild West show!”

“I shouldn’t be at all surprised. In these days of rapid-fire methods,
why not a circus?” asked Billie.

And the other two replied: “Why not?”



CHAPTER XX.

SCOUTING FOR UNCLE SAM.


When the boys reported for duty to Lieut. Grant at seven o’clock they
found that conditions across the river had developed rapidly. The
revolutionists had taken possession of Presidio del Norte and the
skirmish referred to in the last chapter was in full swing.

“I hadn’t expected such rapid developments,” said the Lieutenant after a
word of greeting. “This breaking out of open hostilities has made the
mission upon which I wish to send you much more dangerous than I had
thought. If, under the circumstances, you do not feel like undertaking
it, I will detail someone else.”

“Has the telegram gone to my father?” asked Billie.

“Yes.”

“Then I feel bound to perform the duty you desire.”

“You need not,” said the Lieutenant.

“Whether I need, or not, I do. When I’m paid for doing a job I expect to
do it. Of course,” he added, “we’d do whatever you want us to anyway;
but the telegram is personal with me.”

“I admire your spirit,” said the Lieutenant earnestly, “and I am now
more than ever convinced that you are the very ones to perform the
service.”

The Lieutenant opened a drawer in his desk and took therefrom a large
map, which he spread out upon a table. It was drawn so as to show, not
only the boundaries of the different counties and districts, the
watercourses and highways, but was also shaded so as to show the
topography of the country on both sides the Rio Grande.

“Now look,” he said to the boys, placing the point of his pencil on the
map, “and listen carefully. Here is where you found the guns the other
day. Here is the beach where you captured the boat. Back here, half a
mile, you strike the trail leading to the little town of Alamito. There
you come upon the line which has been surveyed by the Orient road and
which strikes the Southern Pacific at Alpine. The reason why this spot
has been selected for gun-running is that arms can be unloaded at Alpine
and brought down here over these trails. Do you understand?”

The boys nodded their heads.

“Perfectly,” they exclaimed.

“Col. Bliss has been informed that a decoy expedition is to be started
from Alamito within a day or two, possibly tomorrow night, for the
purpose of drawing our soldiers into a conflict with a band of Mexican
revolutionists, in the hope that we will follow them across the river
into Mexican territory. This would create an international dispute,
which the revolutionists hope would cause the United States to take a
hand in the Mexican troubles.

“The information desired, is to know, not the exact time of the proposed
decoy expedition, for the conspirators will see that this information
comes to us, but the exact size of the force, the route to be followed
and the names of the men who are planning the expedition. The latter is
the most important. Once their identity is known, it will be easy to do
the rest, even to stopping the expedition before it starts.”

“Have you any suggestion as to how to go about this?” asked Donald.

“Yes; that is one of the things I was going to explain. My idea is for
you to join the expedition.”

“Will they take us?” queried Adrian.

“It is for you to see that they do.”

“We don’t look like Mexicans,” ventured Billie.

“The conspirators are not all Mexicans,” said the Lieutenant. “In fact,
it is thought that the whole thing is planned by Americans who own
property in Mexico and want this government to intervene. Cowboys are
the very chaps needed, and you can fill all the requirements. I should
say the best place to join the expedition is in Presidio del Norte. If
you can cross the river while the fighting is going on you stand a good
chance of meeting the very men you are looking for.”

“It’s about the biggest job we ever tackled,” said Donald aside to
Adrian.

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Adrian. “That bunch of smugglers was no
small proposition.”

“You are not afraid to undertake it, are you?” asked the Lieutenant.

“Afraid!” exclaimed Billie. “Why, Lieutenant, we’re scared half to death
most of the time; but that doesn’t keep us from going ahead and doing
whatever needs to be done. The only real fear in this matter is that we
may not be smart enough to work the thing out.”

“Then I know of no one who is,” laughed the Lieutenant.

“We’ll do our best,” said Donald.

“I am sure of that,” declared Lieut. Grant, “so now off with you! Do not
delay your report a minute longer than necessary. Everything depends
upon having information in advance.”

The Lieutenant turned again to his desk and filled out a blank.

“Here is a pass through the patrol,” he said as he handed Donald the
paper. “Also an order to allow you to use the barge you captured. A
couple of my men will row you over and bring the barge back. You can
swim your horses behind. Once on the other side, you will have to look
out for yourselves.”

Leaving the Lieutenant, the boys mounted their horses and rode rapidly
out of town to the spot where the boat lay. A short distance from the
shore they were stopped by the patrol and presented the pass. The
corporal of the guard was called, to whom they also gave the order for
the use of the batteau and men to row them over. Both the pass and the
order were promptly honored and in less than half an hour after leaving
the Lieutenant they were on the Mexican shore.

While the spot upon which they landed was some distance from the firing
line between the Federal troops and the revolutionists, they soon found
that they were in the direct line of fire and quickly proceeded to
change their position.

“I don’t mind taking some chances in a fight for Uncle Sam,” said
Adrian, “but I object to being made a mark for a lot of greasers, who
are fighting among themselves.”

“Right,” assented Billie, “but it looks as though this were Uncle Sam’s
service, so we’ll have to take some chances. Suppose we get to the top
of that knoll and see if there is still enough light to determine what
is happening.”

For want of better advice the boys accepted Billie’s suggestion, and
rode toward the little rise of ground. When they had approached the top,
they dismounted, threw their bridle reins over a mesquite bush and
cautiously made their way to the summit on foot.

While it was after sunset, it was well that the boys took this
precaution. As they lifted their heads above the brow of the little hill
they discovered, a short distance away, a force of Federals so posted as
to command the knoll, evidently fearing that it might conceal some of
the attacking revolutionists.

Quickly the boys dropped out of sight, and remounting their horses rode
rapidly farther up stream. Then, using the little ridge as a screen,
they made their way around to where they could approach the Federal line
from the left.

Having then determined their position by a hasty reconnoiter, they
advanced openly as though ignorant of all the trouble.

Their presence was quickly discovered and a detachment of cavalry
charged down upon them, whereupon Donald waved his white handkerchief as
a flag of truce, and the three halted until the horsemen came up.

“_Quien viva?_” shouted the leader as he came within hailing distance,
which, being translated, means, “Who lives?” and is the common challenge
either on the field or in camp.

“Mexico!” replied Donald, acting as spokesman.

“_Que gente?_” demanded the officer, meaning literally, “What people?”
although the challenge is used very much as our soldiers call, “Who goes
there?”

“Friends!” replied Donald. “We are Americans and wish to go to Presidio
del Norte.”

“Impossible!” declared the officer, who bore the rank of lieutenant. “No
one can pass the lines.”

“Will you take us to the commanding officer?” was Donald’s next
question.

“Without doubt,” replied the officer with a broad smile. “We are bound
to do that, whether you wish or not.”

“Suits us,” was the reply; and at the word of command the little
detachment started for headquarters, wherever that might be, the
cavalrymen keeping the boys well surrounded.

It was a short ride, the commanding officer having made his headquarters
in an adobe hut just behind a knoll similar to the one on the side of
the valley where the boys had obtained their first view of the battle.
They were quickly ushered into his presence and their joy and surprise
may well be imagined when they recognized, in one of his aides, the
captain of the rurales who had captured the smugglers at the cave.

The recognition was mutual and an exclamation of surprise burst from the
lips of the captain.

“_Caramba!_” he exclaimed. “Where do you come from?”

The boys looked at each other in some confusion, not knowing just what
to say. But once more Billie was equal to the occasion and he replied
with his most innocent smile, “We were captured!”

“So I see,” laughed the captain. “But what were you doing?”

“We wanted to see the battle,” replied Billie. “We never had seen one
and we wanted to know what it was like.”

The captain smiled grimly and was about to say something more, when the
general demanded sternly:

“Who are these boys, Captain?”

“They are the boys who aided in capturing Don Rafael’s gang,” was the
prompt reply.

“What! The boys who rescued my son from that cutthroat!”

“The same, General!”

If the boys had been surprised at recognizing the captain, they were
much more surprised at what followed.

Springing from his chair, the general seized first one boy by the hands
and then another and wound up by throwing his arms about all three, much
to their discomfort as well as their embarrassment.

“My brave lads!” he exclaimed. “How can I ever thank you for what you
did for my son? He has told me all about you! I can never repay you.”

“We’re not looking for any payment,” stammered Adrian. “All we want is
to get into Presidio del Norte.”

General Sanchez drew back and regarded them in surprise.

“Presidio del Norte!” he exclaimed. “What can you possibly want there?”

For a moment the boys made no reply, but eyed each other in a
questioning manner. Each knew what the other was thinking, but neither
was sure just what to say. At last Billie spoke.

“Tell him, Donald,” he said. “It’s the very best thing to do.”

“Right!” was Donald’s reply. Then to the general: “Can we have five
minutes with you in private?”

“Five!” exclaimed General Sanchez. “Ten times five if you wish!”

“Five will be plenty,” said Donald.

The general issued an order and the room was quickly cleared.

“Now, then,” said he, “you may talk to me like I was your own father!
That is the way I feel toward you.”



CHAPTER XXI.

JOINING THE REVOLUTIONISTS.


Fifteen minutes later, just as the last rays of daylight were fading
away, three horsemen were seen to dash out of the Federal lines and head
straight for the intrenchments which the revolutionists had hastily
thrown up around Presidio del Norte.

A minute later a band of at least a dozen cavalrymen followed in hot
pursuit.

But that one minute had been sufficient to give the three horsemen
enough of a lead to make it a stern chase, which everyone knows is a
long chase; and although the cavalry were plainly well mounted, the
three horsemen gradually ran away from them.

When this became evident, the pursuers opened fire upon the trio, but
their shots failed to reach their mark. In a couple of minutes more, the
cavalrymen were obliged to draw rein to prevent them from coming within
range of the revolutionists’ rifles, while the fleeing horsemen rode
directly into the trenches and later into the town.

The three horsemen were the Broncho Rider Boys and the chase was a ruse
determined upon by the boys and General Sanchez when they told him their
mission, for of course General Sanchez was as anxious to thwart the
revolutionist plot as was Lieut. Grant.

So well was the ruse carried out, however, that it completely deceived
the revolutionists; and as the boys came inside the revolutionary lines,
they were cheered loudly.

They approached the first officer they met and asked the way to the
commander of the city. He was not only glad to direct them, but even
offered to accompany them—an offer which they were glad to accept.

“That was a narrow escape,” he said as they rode along.

“It was that,” replied Donald; “but it was either escape or be stood up
before a firing squad, and we took the chance. If that’s the way the
Madero government treats people, it’s no wonder you all revolted.”

“That’s right,” declared Billie. “I’d like to have a chance to take a
shot at them.”

“You shall have it,” declared the officer. “I will tell the general and
he will be glad to enlist you.”

“_Bueno!_” replied Billie, although joining the revolutionists was a
thing he had not before considered. A gun-running expedition didn’t seem
so bad; but to be put out on the firing line was a good deal too much
like war.

They soon reached the barracks, and for the second time that evening the
boys were ushered into the presence of a commanding general.

Without giving them a chance to speak, the officer who had conducted
them thither introduced them by saying:

“General, here are three Americans who have just broken through the
enemy’s line and want to join our army.”

“Is it possible?” queried the general, a dapper little man, who looked
about as much like the boys’ idea of a revolutionist as a horse looks
like a goat.

The officer assured him that it was more than possible; that it was a
fact.

“They must be smart young men to escape General Sanchez,” was the
general’s next remark.

“They are,” declared the officer, who seemed to be considerably nettled
at the general’s manner. It was a daring ride, he had seen it and he
wanted the credit of bringing in three such valuable recruits. “I’d be
glad to have them in my battalion,” he added.

“_Asi!_” said the general as he slowly nodded his head. He was clearly
suspicious and still the revolution was so new and the need of men so
great that he couldn’t afford to be too particular. “So you would like
them in your company, Don Carlos?”

“_Cierto!_” was the officer’s emphatic reply.

“Very well; take them along. But remember, you have sharp work ahead,
and want only men on whom you can depend. These American cowboys are a
hard lot, especially when they are drinking.”

“I know men when I see them,” replied Don Carlos, with an air of
self-importance. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”

“_Bueno!_” and the general waved his hand. “Take them away. I’m busy
now; but come back in an hour and I’ll give you your instructions.”

“Come,” commanded the officer called Don Carlos, and the boys followed
him from the room, not having spoken a word.

“I hope we’re going to see some active service,” said Adrian to Donald
in an undertone, which was intended for the ears of the officer,
although it was supposed not to be.

“I’ll bet we will,” replied Donald in the same manner. “The major here
is all right.”

Don Carlos squared his shoulders and threw out his chest, the remark
having greatly pleased his vanity. And right here it may be said that
Don Carlos was as brave and dashing a revolutionist as there was in the
army, his only weakness being his egotism. Because of this his judgment
was bad, and courage without wisdom is quite apt to get one into
trouble.

“Well,” muttered Billie, who had quickly caught on to the game, “I’d
like to know where I’m going before I join any company. The major may be
all right, but unless he gets a chance, what can he do?”

“We’ll have plenty of chance,” interrupted the major.

“Yes, I know,” grumbled Billie, “to stand in a trench and shoot at
nothing. What I want is something with a dash!”

“We’ll have that, too,” declared Don Carlos. “What would you say to a
raid across the river and a fight with the patrol?”

“Fine! That’s the kind of a job for me!”

“How about your comrades?”

“We’re with you!” exclaimed both Adrian and Donald in one breath.
“Anything for excitement!”

“You’re young men after my own heart!” declared Don Carlos, who was a
right young man himself.

“Where are we going now?” asked Billie, seeing that they were riding
back toward the firing line.

“My men are mostly in the trenches,” replied Don Carlos, “but the dozen
or more I have selected for this raid are in a little cantina just
around the corner.”

He gave his horse the spur and a moment later pulled up at the most
inviting of the numerous cantinas which encircled the plaza.

“Here we are!” he exclaimed, as he leaped from his horse. “Come in and
I’ll introduce you to the rest of the troop.”

As the boys alighted they recognized the place as the one that had
played such a conspicuous part in their recent visit to Villa, but they
felt sure that no one would recognize them; and even if anyone did, the
revolution had completely changed conditions since that time. The only
fear they had was that they would not be able to play the part they had
assumed.

“Take your time,” was Donald’s advice, “and keep your wits about you.”

“You don’t suppose they’ll want us to drink, do you?” asked Billie.

“I hardly think so,” answered Donald. “My observation is that the
average Mexican is not a drinker of anything stronger than agua
frescas”—meaning by this, drinks like limeade, piña and other soft
drinks.

“Oh, well,” laughed Billie, “I could stand a good lemonade right now.
Let’s hurry up!”

Donald’s prediction was quite right, and when the boys entered they
found a number of the troop just about to indulge in a _grosella_, a
very palatable beverage made from currants and tasting much like the now
famous grape juice. A couple of tough-looking Americans were the only
ones who were drinking anything intoxicating.

“These are our new recruits,” cried Don Carlos, so that all could hear.
“Here’s their health!”

“_Salud!_” meaning, “your health,” was the boisterous response, and in a
very few minutes the boys found themselves on terms of soldierly good
fellowship with the whole band, not excepting the Americans, who were
the most boisterous of all.

“I don’t like these fellows’ looks at all,” declared Adrian to Billie,
the first time he got a chance to speak to him privately. “They look
like a couple of outlaws.”

“I expect they are,” laughed Billie. “Perhaps they take us for the
same.”

“By George, I believe they do!” was Adrian’s answer. “Now what do you
think of that?”

“What do I think of what?” queried Donald, who had heard the remark.

Adrian repeated the conversation.

“Well,” declared Donald, “I don’t know but we are, in the eyes of anyone
who don’t know the facts.”

“What!” exclaimed Billie. “Haven’t I a right to fight for the
revolutionists if I want to?”

“Sure you have; but if you are caught at it, your own government would
not interfere in your behalf. If you expect the United States to protect
you, you must be neutral in other peoples’ battles!”

“Of course,” explained Adrian, “our present position is not that.”

“Oh, no!” replied Donald. “We are on a mission for our own government.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the major, who, calling all the
men aside, explained to them briefly that they were to go on a dangerous
mission across the river into the United States.

“If it succeeds,” he said, “it will not only insure the success of our
cause, but will mean a goodly sum of money to each one of us.”

“How is that?” asked one of the Mexicans.

“Because the work we have to do is in the interest of a large railroad
syndicate, which is most anxious to have the United States intervene in
the troubles in Mexico!”

“We want no intervention by the United States,” declared several of the
men fiercely. “Rather Francisco Madero than the American pigs!”

“You don’t understand,” explained one of the Americans, to whom our boys
had taken such a dislike. “The Americans only want to be guaranteed——”

“We know,” replied one Mexican. “We are willing to fight, but not for
the Americans.”

“_Bueno!_” exclaimed several.

For a few minutes it looked as though there might be a small revolution
among the revolutionists, but Don Carlos was equal to the occasion and
announced that no one had to go who did not want to.

“Neither will they get any of the money,” he added. “Now then, all who
do not wish to go may return to the trenches.”

No one made a move, although there was considerable muttering.

“Now that this matter is settled,” said Don Carlos, “I will go and get
my final instructions. I’ll be back soon.”

“We seem to be getting pretty close to the facts,” said Donald as Don
Carlos left. “If we can only get some names we shall have all the
information we need.”

“We shall get those after we get a little better acquainted,” said
Adrian, and he proceeded to make friends with the members of the band as
best he could.

Perceiving that this was the proper thing to do, Donald and Billie also
began to get better acquainted and were making good progress when Don
Carlos returned, accompanied by two companions, which brought the number
up to twenty.

“Attention!” he called as soon as he entered the cantina.

The order was obeyed, although not in a very soldierly manner.

“The expedition is to leave for the American side in twos and threes,”
he explained, “and we are to meet at Alamita at eight o’clock tomorrow
night. If any are captured, they are to allow themselves to be
imprisoned without protest. No matter what happens, keep your orders
secret. You understand?”

“_Bueno!_” was the unanimous reply.

“Then go!” ordered Don Carlos, and he stepped aside to allow the men to
pass out.

“Stop!” exclaimed a voice from the rear of the cantina. “One thing you
have forgotten!”

The boys, along with the others, turned at the sound of the voice and
there in a rear door stood Don Rafael.

“Great Scott!” exclaimed Billie. “This is no place for me!” and he made
a bolt for the door, followed by Adrian and Donald.

“Stop them,” cried Don Rafael, who recognized them at the same instant
they recognized him. “They are spies!”



CHAPTER XXII.

BESIEGED BY REVOLUTIONISTS.


At the cry of spies all was confusion, and the revolutionists, with loud
imprecations, sprang forward to seize the accused.

But quick as were the Mexicans, the Broncho Rider Boys were quicker!
Evading the outstretched hands which would hold them, the boys dashed
for the door, striking right and left at all who came within reach.

“Look out for the knives and use your fists,” cried Donald, as he
planted a well directed blow on the point of Don Carlos’ chin, which
laid that enthusiastic revolutionist low.

Billie and Adrian followed suit, and the two nearest them went down
under their attack.

Another bound and they had reached the door.

“Shoot them,” cried Don Rafael. “They are friends of Gen. Sanchez!”

He drew his revolver and would have fired, had not the man nearest him
knocked his revolver from his hand.

“You’ll hit our own men,” he said. “Who are you anyway?”

“I’ll show you who I am,” replied Don Rafael, beside himself with rage.
“Take that!” and he aimed a blow at the man, which not only knocked the
man down, but caused Don Rafael to nurse his fist with pain.

And now the boys are in the street and the whole band is after them,
shouting and firing their revolvers indiscriminately.

Ordinarily such an affair would have created great excitement, but with
firing in progress all about the city, it only attracted a few old men
and boys, who joined in the pursuit.

“Get off the plaza,” cried Adrian. “Get into the dark!”

“Can’t we get our horses?” gasped Billie.

“No!” replied Donald as they ran. “Never mind the horses! Look for some
place where we can hide.”

They darted down the first street which seemed to offer a refuge, with
the whole band in hot pursuit.

“They’re gaining on us,” said Billie. “Let’s turn another corner!”

This they did and still another, but were unable to shake off their
pursuers, who seemed to increase in numbers.

“In here!” at last cried Donald, as he noticed the door of a house
standing partly open. “In here and shut the door!”

Suiting the action to the word, he darted in. The others followed,
slamming the door behind them.

It was not a moment too soon, for the next instant the crowd came around
the corner and passed down the street, thinking the boys still ahead.

It was pitch dark in the room into which they had stumbled, but Donald
produced his electric light and they took a hasty survey of their
surroundings.

“Here’s a candle,” he said. “We’d better light it and save our
electricity.”

This they did, and as the dim light gave them a better view of the
entire place they were all struck with its familiar appearance.

“It seems to me as though I had been in here before some time,” said
Billie.

“Me too,” declared Adrian, and he looked about more carefully.

“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Billie. “It’s Villa’s house!”

“By George, you’re right,” said Adrian. “I wonder where he is?”

“It don’t look as though anyone had been here since we were,” said
Billie.

“Maybe there hasn’t,” replied Donald. “This surely is a queer mess we
have fallen into.”

The noise of a great commotion in the street and the sound of pounding
on doors came to them through the grated window.

“The mob is returning!” said Adrian.

“What do you suppose the pounding is?” queried Billie.

“I should say they were breaking into the houses along the street,” said
Donald.

“That is just what they are doing,” asserted Adrian. “Looking for us, no
doubt.”

“We’d better barricade the door,” exclaimed Donald, and he grabbed the
bed and pushed it against the door, while Billie pushed up the table.

“Not much to barricade with,” remarked Adrian and he piled up the
chairs.

The work had hardly been completed when there was a knocking on the
door.

The boys made no response.

“Open!” cried a voice, “in the name of the law, open the door!”

Still the boys made no reply; but they made ready to use their weapons
if necessity demanded.

Then came blows upon the door, evidently from an ax, and in a moment the
lock was shattered.

“It’s time to give them warning,” said Donald. “Fire through the first
opening they make.”

The very next blow made the opening desired and three shots rang out.
They were followed by screams from the street and the hammering ceased.

“They’ve found out that there is some one here, anyway,” said Billie. “I
wonder what they’ll do next?”

A volley from without was his answer, but the shots were all high and no
damage was done. The boys did not wait for a second volley, but jumped
around to each side of the door, out of range.

Evidently believing that the shots had taken effect, the besiegers
renewed their attack; but at the first blow the boys reached around and
delivered their fire.

There was no answering shout to tell that the shots had taken effect,
but the hammering ceased and a second later there was another volley.

“They are simply wasting their ammunition,” said Donald. “As long as we
stay away from in front of the door they cannot possibly hit us.”

“They might batter the house down though,” said Adrian. “I wonder if
there isn’t some way of escaping by the rear.”

“Suppose you go and look,” said Donald.

“I’ll go,” exclaimed Billie. “My experience in the smugglers’ cave has
made me expert.” He dropped down on the floor and made his way on all
fours to the back of the room.

There seemed to be but one entrance to the room and that was from the
street. The entrance into the patio, which might have been expected,
being lacking.

“I wonder why that is,” thought Billie. “All the Mexican houses I have
ever seen opened into a patio.”

The patio is the little court around which Mexican houses are almost
invariably built.

“Give me your electric light,” he at length said to Donald. “I am sure
there must be an opening somewhere.”

Donald did as requested and Billie on all fours went carefully round the
room, looking for a possible door.

“Here’s the place,” he finally exclaimed, “but the door has been walled
up.” Then a moment later: “Hello, what’s this? A trap door.”

Quickly he brushed away the sand with which the floor had been covered,
as is the Mexican custom, and the outlines of a door were plainly
visible; but there seemed no way of raising it. Several times he passed
his hand over the door, if perchance he could find a knob or a secret
bolt, but in vain!

“I’ll have to pry it open with my hunting knife,” he finally exclaimed
and began digging away with all his might.

“Are you sure it’s a door?” asked Donald, crawling over to where Billie
was at work.

“Sure! Can’t you see?”

“It surely is,” said Donald. “Here, let me hold the light, while you get
a good purchase with the knife.”

Billie handed over the electric light and gave the knife a vicious dig
into the crack between the door and the surrounding floor. At the same
time the besiegers struck the street door a terrific blow with the end
of a steel rail which had been brought up from the railroad camp.

Just exactly what happened, Billie was at first unable to realize. All
he knew was that the trap door, upon which he was leaning with one hand,
had given way beneath him, and he was falling head first down a flight
of stairs.

Picking himself up as soon as he struck bottom, which was not more than
six feet, he started to ascend the stairs, but at the second step his
head came into contact with the floor.

The trap door had flown back into its place.



CHAPTER XXIII.

BILLIE SOLVES A MYSTERY.


“Ouch!” exclaimed Billie, as his head came into contact with the door.
“I wonder what——” and then he stopped and listened.

Overhead he could hear the sound of stamping feet and the sound of
shots. After a couple of minutes there was silence, which was more
ominous than the sound of fighting.

For a moment Billie’s heart fairly stopped beating with fear for what
might have happened to his companions. Had they been killed or simply
overpowered? What was he to do?

Even while these thoughts flashed through his mind the silence was
broken by voices, and above all the others he could hear that of Don
Rafael, which he had now come to recognize.

“Bring them out into the light where I can get a good look at them,” he
ordered. “The gringo curs! We’ll have a nice little shooting party at
daylight that will make them an example for others who want to spy upon
Mexican patriots!”

“Patriots!” thought Billie. “If they are patriots, I’m sorry for
Mexico.”

“Where is the other one?” he heard Don Rafael ask a minute later.

“These are the only two,” was the reply.

“Where is your comrade?” he heard Don Rafael ask, and Billie’s heart
gave a great leap for joy as Donald’s voice replied:

“Don’t you wish you knew?”

“Answer,” commanded Don Rafael.

To which Billie heard Adrian say: “You’ll find out soon enough where he
is!”

“_Caramba!_” almost shouted Don Rafael. “If you don’t answer at once
I’ll shoot you now instead of waiting till daylight.”

“Do,” replied Adrian, “and it will make it just that much worse for
you!”

Evidently Don Rafael must have been somewhat impressed by what Adrian
said, for he did not shoot. Instead he commanded to bring more lights
and search the place.

But there was nothing to be seen but the empty room, the scuffle having
obliterated all signs of the trap door.

“Whose house is this?” Don Rafael at length asked.

“Pancho Villa’s,” replied one of the men.

“Villa’s!” cried Don Rafael. “Villa’s! May the saints protect us! Let us
go at once!”

A minute later Billie heard the retreating footsteps overhead and a
couple of minutes later all was again still.

“I wonder what there is about Villa to scare Don Rafael in that way,” he
thought. “The last I knew, he was trying to get Villa to join the
revolution.”

It was too big a problem for Billie, and so instead of bothering about
it he began to figure how he was going to get out.

“If the door could open to let me in,” he said aloud to himself, “it can
open to let me out.”

“You are right!” replied a voice in Spanish from somewhere out of the
darkness.

To say that Billie was not startled by the voice would be rather a
strong statement, for brave as he was, such a happening tended to send
several creepy chills up his back. He had retained his hold upon his
knife as he fell, and his clasp upon it tightened considerably as he
asked with all the courage he could command:

“Who are you and how do you know?”

“I know because I fixed it to open. I will leave you to guess who I am.”

In an instant it flashed into Billie’s mind who it was that was speaking
to him, and he replied with a good deal more assurance:

“There is but one person who could have made and used it! You are Pancho
Villa.”

“_Bueno!_” was the reply.

“Well then,” asked Billie, “will you kindly show me how to get out?”

“Yes, if you will tell no one I am here.”

“It’s a bargain,” said Billie.

A moment later there was a sound of a match being lighted and the cellar
was illumined by a faint gleam of light, which grew larger as the light
was applied to the wick of a candle. By this light Billie saw he was in
a cellar the same size as the room above and that his companion was
lying on a bed in one corner of the cellar.

“What’s the matter?” asked Billie. “Are you sick?”

“I have been wounded,” was the reply.

“When?”

“The night you boys visited me.”

“By whom?”

“I am not sure, but I think it was Don Rafael Solis.”

“That must have been the shot we heard as we were leaving that night!”

“Yes!”

“How are you now?”

“I was going to leave here tomorrow. I am afraid there is going to be an
uprising against President Madero very soon.”

“What!” asked Billie. “Didn’t you know it had already broken out? Why,
they are fighting all around here right now.”

Villa sprang to his feet, entirely forgetful of the wound in his side.

“Do you mean to tell me,” he said, “that a revolution has already
begun?”

“Exactly!”

“Who started it?”

“Gen. Felix Diaz, they say. Up here, the garrison has joined the
revolution. Gen. Sanchez was on his way to take command when the
revolution broke out. He failed to reach here in time. He is now
attacking the city with a thousand infantry and five hundred cavalry.”

“Who is in command of the revolutionists?”

“I do not know for sure; but one of the chief actors is called Don
Carlos, while Don Rafael seems to have a lot to say.”

For several minutes Villa stood silent, turning the matter over in his
mind and seemingly undecided as to the course he should pursue. Then he
suddenly straightened himself and looked Billie squarely in the eye.

“The revolution is wrong,” he said. “President Madero is the friend of
the peon. I shall stick to him no matter what happens. Come, it is time
I was acting.”

He took a step up the stairs and by the light of the candle drew back a
bolt and opened the trap door. Then he stood aside for Billie to pass.

Arriving in the room above they stopped and surveyed the wreck. The
rail, with which the door had been battered in, was where it had fallen
and confusion reigned.

“Where are you going?” asked Billie after a moment.

“To join Gen. Sanchez. Why?”

“Because something has got to be done between now and daylight to save
my companions!”

“_Bueno!_” exclaimed Villa. “They shall be saved!”

“How?”

“I will explain later! No friend of Santiago shall suffer for trying to
do me a kindness. And, besides,” he added after a moment, “I owe Don
Rafael one for this.”

He placed his hand on his wound and a look of fierce determination
passed over his face.

“How did it happen?” asked Billie, no longer able to restrain his
curiosity.

“He tried to assassinate me and would have succeeded had I not had the
trap door to hide me. I think my sudden disappearance must have
frightened him. That is why he was frightened again tonight when he
found he was in my home. He must think that the place is guarded by an
evil spirit.”

“It seems more like a good spirit to me,” declared Billie, “but let us
hasten to Gen. Sanchez! I cannot rest easy till my companions have been
rescued.”



CHAPTER XXIV.

LOST IN THE CHAPARRAL.


An hour later Billie and Pancho Villa stood before Gen. Sanchez. It was
then ten o’clock and the sun would arise shortly before five. Neither
Billie nor Villa had any doubt that Don Rafael would carry out his
threat to execute the two young Americans. It was in keeping with his
previous actions and with the so-called laws of the revolution.

They had encountered some difficulty in getting through the city lines,
but Villa was equal to the occasion and they reached the Federal pickets
in safety. Here they gave their names and were quickly escorted to Gen.
Sanchez’s headquarters.

The general had lain down to take a few minutes’ sleep, but had left
word to be awakened if anything was heard from the boys.

Briefly Billie told his story.

“What can be done to save my friends?” he asked.

Gen. Sanchez looked grave.

“It is a hard problem,” he replied. “We have been trying all day to
force our way into the city, but have not yet succeeded, as you know. It
seems hardly possible that we should be able to carry the lines between
now and dawn.”

“Still there is a way,” said Villa.

The general regarded him with considerable surprise.

“How?” he asked.

“By the bed of the river.”

“What do you mean?”

“The river,” explained Pancho, “runs right beside the walls of the
barracks. The water on this side is not so deep but that it is possible
for men to march right up to the walls of the barracks, if they know the
channel. I know it. If I had a hundred men who were not afraid I could
carry the barracks.

“But,” he continued, “in order to lead this force to the barracks
unobserved, it would be necessary for you first to attack the city from
the opposite side. While the fighting is going on fiercely over there
and the revolutionists are striving to prevent you from entering the
city on the east, I will lead this hundred men into the barracks. As
soon as we have rescued the Americans we will attack the revolutionists
in the rear! You know what the result will be?”

“Undoubtedly!”

“Then you agree?”

“Yes; but I hardly know how to withdraw a hundred men from any one place
on our attacking line. Our force is small as it is.”

“I wish some of the rangers were over here,” exclaimed Billie. “They’d
help, I know.”

“Yes,” replied Gen. Sanchez, “but that is impossible. If any American
soldiers were to help us it would be almost as bad at this particular
time as though they helped the other side. We shall have to do the best
we can. I will promise you fifty, and a hundred if possible. Return at
3:30 o’clock and I will give the order.”

“I need a hundred men,” declared Villa as he and Billie left the
general’s presence, “and I don’t see how I can do with less.”

“I’ll tell you!” suddenly exclaimed Billie. “Maybe the rangers cannot
come as rangers to help rescue Donald and Adrian, but they can come as
friends of mine and I believe they will. I have at least five hours to
get across the river and bring them back. I am going to try. It is the
only way. I wonder if we can find a horse!”

“_Cierto!_” replied Villa. “We’ll take the first good one we see!”

This they did, and ten minutes later Billie was again headed for the
American shore.

Billie had been over the ground between Presidio and Presidio del Norte
so many times that he thought he knew it perfectly, and as a result,
although the night was dark, he put spurs to his mount and was quickly
beyond the Federal outposts.

But the horse Billie was riding was not Jupiter. He was undoubtedly a
good horse, as the speed at which he went fully testified. But it is one
thing to have a horse that understands English and another to have one
that understands only Mexican, as Billie soon discovered.

The horse which Billie had mounted at Pancho’s suggestion was Mexican
clear through. He had never been across the Rio Grande, nor had he the
slightest knowledge of the ground over which he was running. He had come
from the south only twenty-four hours before, and, despite all that
Billie could do, he insisted in bearing away from the river. Time and
again Billie forced him back into the right direction, as he thought,
but after half an hour’s hard riding, which should have brought him to
the spot where the boys had landed from the boat, there was no river in
sight.

“By George!” exclaimed Billie aloud, as he finally drew rein and peered
into the darkness, “I wonder where that river has gone to. It ought to
be around here somewhere!”

He turned his horse sharply to the left and for several minutes rode
slowly along, looking all about his narrow horizon.

“Don’t you know where you are?” he asked of the horse; but not
understanding English, there was no answering movement of the animal’s
ears and no sense of that companionship which a horseman should feel
from his mount.

“If I’d had Jupiter under me I wouldn’t be in this fix!” thought Billie,
and for a brief moment he was almost overcome with a sense of
loneliness.

But there was no time to waste. The lives of his companions depended
upon his success, and he hastily pulled himself together and spurred
forward.

For another five minutes he galloped along, when all at once his horse
went down upon his knees and only the saddle kept Billie from going over
his head.

Quickly gathering himself, he tried his best with the reins to lift the
animal to his feet; but his efforts were in vain and he was obliged to
dismount.

One look at the ground beneath his feet was sufficient. He had ridden
into the midst of a prairie dog village and his horse had fallen into
one of the holes.

After some minutes, Billie succeeded in getting the animal on his feet;
but when he mounted and started to ride, he found that the broncho was
so lame he could scarcely move.

While the accident was unfortunate in one way, it was a good thing in
another. It served as a landmark to tell Billie where he was—for the
very first day the boys had arrived on the Rio Grande they had noticed
it and Billie was sure that it was the only dog village for miles.

“I must be about two miles from Don Pablo’s,” he mused. “That makes me
fully six miles from the city and with this lame pony I don’t know how
long it will take me to get there! I wish I could get hold of one of old
Don Pablo’s mules.”

He gave the broncho a slap with the reata, not having the heart to use
his spurs. The animal tried to go a bit faster, but the effort was a
failure.

“I can walk faster than this,” was the lad’s next thought and without a
moment’s hesitation he threw himself from the horse and started in the
direction of the river on a run.

“If I can only find that river,” he muttered as he sped along. “I’ll
stick close to it until I reach town. It can’t be so very far away!”

Billie was a good runner and he had learned in his months of experience
on the plains how to run so as not to tire himself. It was vastly
different from running along a beaten path, or even along a regular
trail. The ground was covered with sand hummocks, and every once in a
while he would run into a patch of sand so deep that it was impossible
to do more than walk.

After some minutes Billie struck a belt of chaparral.

“Well!” he gasped, “this is encouraging, anyway. I am getting nearer the
river.”

Through the brush he ran and finally, to his great delight, he emerged
into a beaten path.

“Now I’m all right,” he thought. “This will lead me right down to the
shore.”

Encouraged by the thought, he put on more steam and spurted ahead; but
when, after five minutes’ running, he failed to come to the water, he
stopped and looked around.

“I must be going in the wrong direction,” he exclaimed, and turning,
began to retrace his tracks.

For nearly ten minutes he kept on his course and then again stopped,
pretty well tired out.

“This is something fierce!” he said aloud. “I’m in as bad a fix as that
chap you read about in mythology, who was lost in a labyrinth. I used to
think that was a pretty fishy story, but here I find myself in the same
fix. I wish the stars would come out!”

But the stars failed to appear and Billie stood perplexed.

As he stood thus undecided, his ears caught the sound of a strange
little cough and a smile spread itself over his face.

“The prairie dogs are barking at the pinto,” he laughed. “Well, anyway,
I know where I am as far as they are concerned. I must have gone pretty
nearly in a circle. That wouldn’t be strange for me, but why should this
path go in a circle?”

He took off his sombrero and wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“It’s mighty funny,” he continued, still thinking of the path.

Then an explanation came to him.

“It isn’t a circle!” he exclaimed. “It’s a loop and I would have gone
straight across it if I had kept on the way I was going when I first
struck it. There must be a bend in the river down here somewhere.”

Billie’s surmise was quite correct. It was a bend in the river, and in a
few minutes more, pushing straight through the chaparral, he came in
sight of the water.

“Well!” declared the lad as he drew a deep breath, “I’m certainly glad
to see you! And now to get to the other side.”

He sprang down the bank in three long strides and peered out toward the
American shore. It seemed a long way and the water was running at a good
speed.

“What a fool I was not to stick to the broncho,” he muttered. “If he
couldn’t walk, he could swim. If I was sure he was still there I’d go
back and get him; but that’s altogether unlikely. No sir, I’ve just got
to swim it alone and the sooner the better.”

He threw off his jacket and began to unbuckle his cartridge belt.

“If I could only find a log of some kind, it wouldn’t be so bad; but I
don’t see any.”

He took a few steps along the shore, peering into the darkness, as he
rolled his belt about his six-shooter and deposited them in his hat.

Then he turned again to the water, and, throwing off his boots—which
together with his jacket he tossed up on the bank, as if perchance he
might come back for them on the morrow—he waded in.

He had reached deep water, and was just about to strike out for the
opposite shore, when his ear caught the sound of oar-locks. He paused in
the act of launching himself into the current, and listened attentively.
There was no mistaking the sound, and he waited anxiously to see what
would appear.

He had not long to wait, for a couple of minutes later a batteau, very
much like the one the rangers had captured the night before, came into
sight, rowing slowly upstream. It contained three persons, two at the
oars and the third standing in the bow of the boat, looking forward.

Billie sank himself into the water until nothing could be seen below his
eyes. There was only one chance in fifty that he would escape detection,
but he was in luck, and, as soon as the boat passed him, he struck out
for it with all his speed.

Good swimmer though he was, he would never have been able to catch the
boat had the men been rowing with any speed; but they were evidently
looking for something, and were going so slowly that it was no trick at
all to swim up behind and seize the stern with both hands.

For several minutes after he had secured a hold he made no move, being
content to let the boat tow him along; but, after a few minutes, he
began silently to use his feet and legs and to turn the boat’s head
toward the American shore.

At first the oarsmen did not notice what was happening. Then the one on
the American side of the boat exclaimed:

“_Caramba, hombre!_ Don’t pull so hard! Can’t you see you are pulling us
out of our course?”

“Yes,” echoed the man in the bow, “don’t get too near the American shore
tonight. We may be watched.”

“I’m not pulling hard,” replied the other oarsman. “It’s Emilio who is
weak. If he would pull harder, there’d be no trouble!”

Hearing the controversy, Billie sank lower into the water, and let the
boat hold its course. Then, after a couple of minutes, he again diverted
the little craft, being more careful, however, to do it gradually.

Several times he performed the feat, until the boat was past the middle
of the stream.

“I guess I’m near enough now,” he thought to himself, “so I won’t have
any trouble,” and was about to release his hold and let the boat go on
her way, when the man at the bow called out sharply:

“Where are you going? Do you want the gringo patrol to get you?”

The words were spoken in a much louder tone, evidently, than had been
intended, and must have been heard from the American shore, for
immediately thereafter there came a challenge in English:

“Boat ahoy! Who goes there?”

There was no answer from the boat, only an answering tug from the
oarsman, who pulled lustily to turn his boat from shore, while Billie,
using himself as a rudder, strove his best to keep the boat in an
opposite direction. The result was that the boat kept straight ahead.

“Who goes there?” again came the challenge. “Answer, or I’ll fire!” A
threat which was carried out a moment later when no reply was
forthcoming.

The patrol must have caught a glimpse of the boat, for the bullet
whistled through the air close to it.

“_Caramba!_” shouted the man in the bow. “Why don’t you pull?”

“We are pulling!” exclaimed the oarsmen, “but the evil one must have the
boat in his grasp, Don Pablo! We can’t turn it!”

“Don Pablo!” exclaimed Billie to himself, “so that’s who it is!” And he
struggled harder than ever to turn the boat toward the shore, while the
patrol, evidently reinforced by two or three comrades, poured a sharp
fusillade in the direction of the sound of the voices.

“The evil one, verdad!” exclaimed Don Pablo. “The evil one must have
hold of you, Emilio. Pull!”

But, instead of pulling, Emilio dropped his oar and pitched forward into
the boat, pierced by a rifle ball from the shore patrol, which now
seemed to have the range of the boat.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE FIGHT IN MIDSTREAM.


As the bullets whizzed overhead and all about the boat, and as Billie
saw the oarsman pitch forward, he had two thoughts in his mind—one to
keep from being hit by the bullets, and the other to capture Don Pablo,
whom he considered as the real leader of the gun runners.

It took some quick thinking to know what to do, but Billie was learning
how to do that very thing.

Seizing the oar which had fallen from Emilio’s hand, he dragged it out
of the rowlocks, at the same time calling out with all his might:

“Cease firing!”

The command, given in excellent English, had its effect upon the
soldiers on the shore. The firing ceased, and a voice called out:

“Who are you?”

“I’m a messenger from Americans who are in danger in Presidio del
Norte,” replied Billie; “but there are Mexicans in the boat. You have
hit one of them, and I’ve captured the boat!”

“Then bring the boat ashore,” called the patrol.

“I can’t!”

“Why not?”

“They won’t let me!”

“I thought you said you had captured the boat!”

“So I have,” replied Billie, “but I haven’t captured the Mexicans!”

“No,” shouted Don Pablo, who was now slowly making his way toward the
stern of the boat, “nor will you. Your hour has come!”

“Don’t be so sure!” called the voice from the shore, and a shot rang
out, which came so close that Billie could hear it sing above his head.
Don Pablo ducked into the bottom of the boat, as though to dodge a
bullet which was already yards away.

“Did I hit him?” called the patrol.

“No, but you came pretty close,” replied Billie. “But you hadn’t better
try it again. You might hit me. I’m in the water.”

“What, swimming?”

“Yes! I’ve got hold of the stern of the boat; but I’ve got to let go,”
he added hastily, as he saw Don Pablo again rise to his feet.

“What for?”

“They’ll get me!”

“If we fire high enough can’t we keep ’em down till you can push the
boat to shore?” asked the patrol.

“You might try it!”

And they did, with the result that Don Pablo again ducked to the bottom
of the _batteau_, while Billie worked with all his might to push the
boat toward shore.

It is one thing to swing a boat under headway, and another to push a
boat of the size of the _batteau_ even obliquely against a current. Thus
it was that, while Billie had been talking, the boat had slowly drifted
downstream and the patrol had been obliged to run along the bank.

“I’m afraid I can’t do it!” Billie finally shouted. “I guess I’ll have
to give up!”

“Don’t,” called back the soldiers. “Hang on and we’ll come out after
you. One of the boys has gone for a boat.”

“All right,” called Billie. “Hurry up!”

“If they don’t,” muttered the lad, “I’ll have to give up.”

Then he thought of his mission, which had momentarily been driven from
his mind by the excitement.

“I can’t give up,” he thought. “I must get into the boat.”

Holding on to the gunwale with one hand, he reached up and took his
six-shooter from under his hat, letting both the hat and cartridge belt
fall into the river. Then, as the shots continued to fly over the boat,
he slowly pulled himself aboard, at the same time calling out to those
on shore:

“Cease firing! I’ve boarded her!”

Having boarded the _batteau_, the next thing for Billie was to make
himself master of the craft, an act which he at once recognized was
somewhat difficult, seeing it was two to one, and at least one of the
two was probably just as well or better armed than he.

However, there was no backing out, nor had our hero any idea of such a
thing. He knew if he would succeed in the mission which he had
undertaken there must be no such word as fail. Therefore, the first
weapon at hand was strategy, and strategy Billie at once employed by
putting himself in a position where the oarsman served as a shield for
any bullet Don Pablo might see fit to fire at him.

This was comparatively easy, as Don Pablo, in his endeavor to get at
Billie, had left the bow of the boat and gone astern, while Billie had
executed a flank movement by swimming around and boarding the craft from
the bow. This put the oarsman between him and Don Pablo, with his face
toward the latter.

At the sound of the lad’s voice, the oarsman arose and turned his head
to see what had happened.

“'Bout face!” exclaimed Billie, covering the man with his Colt. “If you
move I’ll fire!”

The oarsman turned his face quickly, only to find himself looking into
the muzzle of Don Pablo’s revolver, that nimble old gentleman having
arisen from the bottom of the boat as soon as the firing on shore had
ceased, with the intention of taking a shot at Billie before he could
put himself on the offensive.

Finding himself thus between two fires, the oarsman let out a yell that
would have done credit to a bunch of football players.

“Don’t shoot!” he cried. “For the love of the saints, don’t shoot, Don
Pablo! You will hit me instead of the gringo!”

“Sit down!” commanded Don Pablo.

“Don’t you dare,” countermanded Billie, “unless you want a bullet in
your back!”

“I’ll shoot you if you don’t,” said Don Pablo.

“I’ll shoot you if you do,” declared Billie.

“Mercy! Mercy! _Señores!_” cried the oarsman. “I have done nothing for
which I should be shot.”

“You are protecting the gringo!” said Don Pablo.

“You are protecting Don Pablo!” repeated Billie, who, now that he had
shaken the water out of his eyes and had secured a firm footing, could
fully appreciate the strange condition of affairs.

If Don Pablo should carry out his threat to shoot the man, he would
leave himself at Billie’s mercy. Should Billie shoot first, and his
bullet fail to reach Don Pablo, he would be at the mercy of the Mexican.

But Billie seemed to have the best of the situation, for all he wished
to do was to hold Don Pablo at bay until the boat from the American
shore should come to his rescue. As a result he was satisfied to let
matters remain as they were. Especially did he feel that he had the
better of the situation when he heard the sound of oar-locks from out
the darkness.

“You won’t have to stand long,” he said to the oarsman, “I hear them
coming after us. As soon as they arrive you can sit down.”

“They shall never get us!” exclaimed Don Pablo. “I’ll die first!” and he
pulled the trigger of his revolver.

Had the old man fired without speaking, there is no knowing what damage
he might have done; but, from his words, Billie guessed exactly what he
proposed to do, and ere Don Pablo could pull the trigger, he rocked the
boat. As might have been expected, the shot flew wild, as Don Pablo
sought to maintain his balance.

“Now I’ve got you,” said Billie. “Surrender or I’ll fire.”

Almost at the same instant the form of another _batteau_ loomed up in
the darkness, and a voice exclaimed in Spanish:

“Look out! There’s a boat ahead!”

The cry was followed by a wild attempt of those in the oncoming boat to
check its progress; but the effort was in vain and the two boats came
together with such force as to cause Billie to lose his balance. He made
a vain attempt to regain his equilibrium, but without avail, and so, in
order to make the best of a bad situation, he plunged, rather than fell,
into the river.



CHAPTER XXVI.

BILLIE OVERHEARS A SECRET.


It might have been expected that, as Billie plunged into the water, his
chief thought would have been regarding his safety. But such is the
vagary of the human mind, that safety was the least of his thoughts. The
question he asked himself as he dove from the boat was:

“Now, who do you suppose they are, and where did they come from?”

In order to answer the question it is necessary to make a word of
explanation.

As stated before, the _batteau_ to which Billie was clinging had
gradually drifted downstream, even while he was shouting his story to
the patrol. After Billie climbed into the boat, and ceased his effort to
direct its course, it drifted even more rapidly than before. The result
was that, when struck by the other boat, it had drifted back nearly to
the bend in the river where Billie first took to the water.

When Billie arose to the surface, after his dive, he looked about to see
what had become of the boats. There they were, not twenty feet away,
side by side! One might have thought they had met on purpose, rather
than by chance, so friendly was their appearance.

And this was exactly the case, although that purpose came very near
being thwarted by Billie’s activity.

“Well,” thought Billie, as he shook the water from his eyes, “seeing
that I am here, I might as well find out what is going on.”

Slowly he approached the boats, and now that he was bareheaded, he could
not be distinguished from the water.

“He must be somewhere around,” he heard one voice declare.

“Unless he has been drowned,” suggested another.

“No such good fortune,” said a third, which Billie recognized as
belonging to Don Pablo.

“Do you know who he was?” asked another voice, this in English.

“He said he was a messenger,” replied Don Pablo, also in English. “He
said something about going for help for some Americans who are in
danger.”

“There are plenty of them in danger, for that matter,” replied the
voice, “but they are not likely to get any help from him, whoever he
was. If he didn’t drown, he has probably made for the shore. I don’t see
any use of our worrying about him any longer.”

“He may be clinging to the boats, as he did before,” said Don Pablo.

“We can soon find out,” was the answer. “You look all around my boat,
and I’ll look around yours.”

The oarsmen slowly swung both boats, so that those in one could obtain a
view of the other. There was no Billie in sight, and each speaker so
reported. But, in spite of the report, Billie was right there, just the
same.

Any boy who can tread water knows how easy it is to stand still, and,
with little or no effort, allow a boat to which he might have attached
himself to turn, without turning with it. That is just what Billie did.
He practically went clear around the boat without moving. The boat did
the moving instead.

Having satisfied themselves that they were alone in the middle of the
river, the occupants of the boats drew them close together, and began an
animated conversation in English, so that the oarsmen could not
understand.

“What was all that shooting going on upstream?” asked the newcomer.

“It was the patrol. The American drew their fire,” was Don Pablo’s
response. “They pretty nearly finished Emilio.”

“No great loss,” muttered the other.

“Not to you,” replied Don Pablo bitterly. “You foreigners seem to think
that a Mexican more or less is a small matter.”

“Oh, come now, Don Pablo,” replied his companion, in a changed tone of
voice, “don’t get a wrong impression. There is a whole lot of difference
between Mexicans. You know as well as I do that a peon more or less
makes little difference, even to you. Men like you are the real support
and strength of Mexico.”

“Whether they are or not makes little difference. But now to the matter
we came here to discuss: How much will you give me if I bring about an
invasion of American territory by our people?”

“Who do you mean by our people?”

“I mean the Mexicans.”

“There are two kinds of Mexicans since this morning,” was the reply.

“How so?”

“There are now Maderists and revolutionists,” said the newcomer. “I
wouldn’t give you five cents to bring about an invasion by the
revolutionists.”

“Why not?”

“Because they are not the government.”

“Not yet!” said Don Pablo.

“When they become the government it will be time to discuss them,” was
the curt reply.

“Then what do you want?” asked Don Pablo.

“This is what I want,” said the other. “I want you to bring about some
action that will cause the United States to intervene in Mexican
affairs.”

“For what purpose?”

“So that our property in Chihuahua will be protected. There will never
be a real government in Mexico until the United States makes it. If your
revolution——”

“Sh-h-h!” exclaimed Don Pablo. “These peons might understand.”

“What do you care? It is your revolution, isn’t it?”

“No! No! It is the people who have arisen.”

“All right. Have it your own way; but whose ever revolution it is, if it
succeeds in bringing about intervention by the United States, the
purpose will be accomplished and you will be well paid. If this
revolution fails to bring about the result, then we must keep having
revolutions till we do succeed. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly.”

“We will furnish the money. You do the rest.”

“We!” thought Billie to himself, as he followed the conversation. “I
wonder who we are?”

Then again, after a moment’s thought: “Great Scott! This must be the
party whom Lieut. Grant wanted us to locate. Don Pablo and Don Rafael
are only tools. This man is the real power. How am I going to land him?”

While he was still turning the matter over in his mind, he heard the
stranger say:

“Here are drafts on the Bank of England for ten thousand pounds. See
that the money is used to the best advantage if you ever expect any
more. You’ll hear from me when I want to see you again.”

Then to his oarsmen: “All right! Let’s go home!”

Slowly the boats drew apart. For just a moment Billie was undecided
which one to follow. Evidently the visitor was the very man he had
started out to find, and yet, what would happen if he followed him?
Would anyone believe his story without some other evidence—evidence
which he did not have? But Don Pablo had the evidence—the drafts on the
Bank of England. Those were what he needed and those he must have.

Without a moment’s hesitation he turned and grasped the stern of Don
Pablo’s boat, which was slowly moving away under the power of only one
oar.



CHAPTER XXVII.

HUSTLING FOR EVIDENCE.


After what seemed an age to Billie, although the time actually consumed
could not have been more than fifteen minutes, the boat reached the
shore at a spot with which he was most familiar. It was the end of the
trail leading from the river to Don Pablo’s _hacienda_.

As soon as the boat touched the beach, Don Pablo sprang ashore and
pulled it up onto the land and made it fast to a post. The oarsman
followed more slowly, while Billie remained in the water until both men
started up the trail.

Then he came ashore and silently followed after. He was barefooted and
bareheaded. He was wet through and had no weapon; still he was
undaunted.

He kept as close to the two men as he dared, fearing he might lose sight
of them in the dark. He had no idea of what time it was, but figured
that he must have been away from General Sanchez’ headquarters at least
three hours. This gave him only three hours to finish his mission and
return. His heart sank, as he thought what might happen in case he
should fail, and a great sob welled up in his throat, as the faces of
his chums came to his thoughts.

“I can’t fail!” he declared to himself. “I have just got to win.”

The men ahead of him walked rapidly, and in a comparatively short time
reached the _hacienda_. Billie remembered it well—every spot he had
noticed upon his first visit to the _hacienda_ had impressed itself upon
his memory.

Reaching the big gate, Don Pablo knocked lustily and the gate was
quickly opened.

Here was Billie’s first real difficulty. How was he to enter? Once the
gate was shut, he knew it might take him hours to find a way in.
Something had to be done and done at once.

Picking up a good-sized stone, Billie let it drive with all his might at
the boy who stood in the gateway holding the light. It was a good shot
and struck the boy on the shin. With a cry of pain he dropped the lamp
and grabbed the injured member.

“_Caramba_, what is that?” exclaimed Don Pablo, as he drew his revolver.
“Are we attacked by thieves, or is the spirit of evil in the air?”

“It is neither,” replied the boy who had been hit. “It must be Juanito
who threw the stone. He is jealous because I have a better place than
he.”

“What is Juanito doing outside the _hacienda_ at this time of night?”
demanded Don Pablo. “Go bring him in, and do you, Luis,” turning to the
oarsman, “give him a good beating. Then take three men and go and bring
the body of Emilio to the _hacienda_.”

As soon as he had thrown the stone Billie had glided quickly to the
adobe wall which surrounded the _hacienda_, and, as the boy and Luis
went in search of the supposed Juanito, and Don Pablo passed within the
gate, Billie darted in behind him and hid himself behind one of the
bushes which he remembered seeing in one corner of the _patio_.

Stopping only for a moment to take a drink from a jar, which stood at
the foot of the stairs, Don Pablo ascended to the second floor. A moment
later, seeing that the way was clear, Billie followed, just in time to
see Don Pablo enter one of the rooms which opened out onto the great
corridor, for it must be said that the _casa_ of Don Pablo was a large
and handsome one.

Having located the room, Billie sat down in the dark to wait.

He did not have to wait long, for in a few minutes Luis and the boy
returned, much chagrined over their inability to locate little John.

“What’s that?” asked Don Pablo, coming to the door in his shirt-sleeves,
“can’t you find him?”

“No, _señor_,” was the reply. “It is too dark.”

“Well, let him go until morning. Then give him a good beating.”

“Who is that you are going to whip?” called a woman’s voice from
somewhere down below.

“Juanito. He threw a stone and made us a lot of trouble.”

“Why, he couldn’t,” replied the woman. “He is here with me and hasn’t
been out tonight.”

“What,” queried Don Pablo, “hasn’t been out tonight? Then there is
something wrong! Quick, Luis, call some of the men and make a thorough
search.”

The servant hastened to obey, while Don Pablo went back into his room.
Through the open door Billie saw him take an envelope from the pocket of
the coat which he had thrown over a chair and place it in the drawer of
a great secretary. Then, seizing his hat, he ran quickly downstairs,
closing the door behind him.

“I thought I would stir things up,” mused Billie, as he crept silently
toward the room which Don Pablo had just vacated. “Now, if I can get
that envelope and get out of here while the men are hunting for me, I’ll
be all right!”

Reaching the door, he waited until the voices below told him that the
men had gone out. Then he softly pushed open the door and entered.

It was a larger room than he had thought from the glimpse he had from
without, but it lay just as he expected. Quickly he opened the drawer of
the secretary and took therefrom the envelope. By the light of the oil
lamp that hung from the ceiling he saw that it bore the name of a New
York bank and he had no doubt it contained the evidence he sought.

He closed the drawer, and as he turned to leave the room caught sight of
Don Pablo’s cartridge belt and revolver hanging on the back of a chair.

“I might need something like this,” he thought, and without a single
qualm of conscience he buckled the belt around him, drew out the
revolver, and loaded the empty chamber which Don Pablo had fired while
in the boat.

With the revolver in his hand he was about to leave the room, when a
soft voice—a voice which he never could forget—said quietly:

“Don’t you think, _señor_, that you are making yourself almost too much
at home?”

At the sound of the voice, Billie turned as though shot.

“Santiago!” he exclaimed. “Where did you come from?”

If Billie had been surprised by the sound of the voice, Santiago was
even more surprised when he recognized the visitor.

“Don Guillermo!” he cried. “Is it really you? I did not recognize you in
that attire!”

“You mean in this lack of attire,” replied Billie quizzically, as he
regarded his bare feet and drabbled condition.

“But why are you here?” asked Santiago.

In just as few words as possible Billie explained.

“And you have seen Pancho Villa?” queried Santiago.

“Yes, and things are just as I tell you. Don Rafael and Don Pablo are
both enemies of Mexico. They are both working for their own advancement.
You know that a war with the United States is the last thing honest
Mexicans desire.”

“Undoubtedly. And you think the possession of these drafts will aid you
in preventing it?”

“Unquestionably,” was Billie’s emphatic reply.

“Then go! I shall make no attempt to detain you, although I am powerless
right now to aid you. This shall be a part of the reward I promised you.
When you can come to me and tell me that Don Rafael is no more, you
shall have the rest. Now go, before the men return. They are a wild lot.
and now that the revolution has broken out, there is no controlling
them.”

Billie started for the stairs; but, before he reached them, he could
hear the men coming in, grumbling at their ill luck and in finding no
one.

“Wait,” said Santiago. “I will go down and attract their attention, so
that you may come down. Be careful.”

Suiting the action to the word, Santiago ran quickly down the stairs, as
though just awakened.

“What is all the trouble?” he asked. “Have the Maderists attacked us?”

“Maderists,” laughed one. “_Caramba_, no! Don Pablo has been frightened
by a shadow.”

“By his guilty conscience, more likely,” muttered another. “The idea of
getting honest men up at this time of night to hunt goblins.”

“Look out! There he comes!” whispered another. “If he hears you, you
will think of something besides goblins!”

While this conversation had been going on, Billie had managed to slip
down stairs, and again took his place behind the bush in the _patio_.
Then, as the men went back to the servants’ quarters, he edged around
near the gate, watching an opportunity to slip through.

While he stood there waiting, he heard a clock strike midnight.

“It is not as late as I thought,” he said to himself. “There is still
time if I am not detained.”

He glanced around and no one was in sight but Santiago. Outside all was
dark, and he decided now was his chance.

Grasping the revolver tightly in his hand, he darted for the gateway,
and bumped squarely into Don Pablo, who entered at the same moment.

For a moment the collision stopped Billie and sent Don Pablo reeling
against the wall. Billie was much the heavier, but the old man was a
bunch of sinews. Both gathered themselves for a spring as Don Pablo gave
a cry that sounded like a wild beast and could be heard all over the
_hacienda_.

“Gringo dog!” he exclaimed. “Now I have you!” and he made a dash at the
boy.

Billie raised the revolver in his hand as though to fire, and then
changed his mind.

“He must be unarmed,” he thought, “and I don’t want to kill him.”

He shoved his arm out sharply and the barrel of the revolver struck Don
Pablo full in the face, knocking him to the ground.

With a yell which he had learned from the Wyoming cowboys, Billie sprang
over the prostrate form and dashed away in the darkness.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A QUESTION OF NEUTRALITY.


So sudden had been Billie’s assault and escape that it was several
minutes before those in and about the _hacienda_ could understand what
had occurred. But when they did at last comprehend, they started after
him with a wild cry of revenge.

This time, however, Billie knew his ground and whither he was going.
Straight as an arrow he ran, in spite of the darkness, and, several
minutes before the pursuing Mexicans had reached the river, he had
unfastened the boat and launched it into the stream. With the aid of one
oar, which he used as a paddle, he was slowly disappearing in the gloom
when he heard the pursuers upon the bank. Several shots were fired at
him, but all went wild. In a few minutes he was within hailing distance
of the American shore.

Thinking it wise under the circumstances, he called aloud as he
approached land, and after two or three shouts received an answer from
the patrol.

Guiding the boat by the sound of the voices, he was soon ashore, where
he was surrounded by the United States soldiers.

“Who are you?” demanded the corporal of the guard.

Billie explained.

“Why didn’t you come in sooner?”

Again Billie explained.

“It doesn’t sound exactly right,” was the corporal’s reply. “We shall
have to take you to headquarters.”

“That’s exactly what I want,” declared Billie, “and the sooner the
better. If I don’t get help quick my friends will be executed.”

“What’s that?” asked the corporal, with added interest.

Briefly Billie explained.

“You’ll never get any help from the lieutenant,” he was told.

“I’m not expecting it,” was Billie’s response. “But I’ll bet the rangers
will help me!”

The corporal shook his head. “It would be a breach of neutrality,” he
declared. “The President wouldn’t stand for it, even if the commanding
officer did. It would cost him his commission; maybe something worse.”

“We’ll see,” was Billie’s only reply. “Now will you rush me to
headquarters?”

“You bet I will,” replied the corporal, emphatically, and in almost no
time Billie was galloping toward Presidio in charge of a couple of
troopers.

Lieutenant Grant had turned in when the galloping horsemen drew rein in
front of his headquarters, half an hour later, but he quickly turned out
again when the troopers made known their errand.

“Well, well,” he exclaimed, as he caught sight of Billie. “There must be
something serious to have caused you to make a report at this time of
night!”

“There is,” was Billie’s forcible reply. “The lives of my two companions
depend upon my getting assistance to rescue them from the
revolutionists!”

“Tell me about it,” said the lieutenant, and Billie did so in the
shortest manner possible.

“What do you expect me to do?” asked the lieutenant, when he had
finished.

“I don’t know. I was in hopes you could suggest something!”

“I’m afraid that even a suggestion from an officer of the United States
might be looked upon as a breach of neutrality,” was the reply.

“Then how would it do if you should go to bed and go to sleep?” asked
Billie. “Of course you could not violate your order of neutrality if you
were asleep.”

“That’s true.”

“And then, again,” explained Billie, “there is a dangerous man abroad
tonight, who needs watching.”

“How’s that?”

“I saw an English-speaking foreigner give a Mexican ten thousand pounds
tonight to aid the revolution.”

“What!” almost shouted the lieutenant. “Ten thousand pounds?”

“Exactly.”

“How do you know he gave him that amount?”

Billie ran his hand inside his shirt and pulled forth the big envelope
he had taken from Don Pablo’s secretary.

“I couldn’t swear to it yet,” he said; “because I have not looked inside
this envelope; but, if I am not mistaken there is that sum in drafts on
the Bank of England in this envelope.”

With trembling fingers he tore open the wrapper, and there, just as he
had expected, were the drafts—ten, each for a thousand pounds!

“And who was the man?” asked Lieutenant Grant.

“I don’t know, but I had hoped that the name on the drafts might tell.”

The lieutenant examined them carefully. Then he shook his head. “No,” he
said, “there is nothing to show by whom they were drawn. They are simply
bank checks of one of the largest banks in New York on the Bank of
England, with whom they doubtless have a large account. They are made
payable to Pablo Ojeda, and, so far as the checks go to show, might have
been purchased by Don Pablo himself. However, in the expert hands of the
United States Secret Service, we may be able to find out whose money
this really is.”

At this information Billie’s face fell.

“I thought I was doing a big thing,” he muttered. “Now I see I might
better have followed the man.”

“You have done a big thing,” said the lieutenant; “and, to show my
appreciation of what you have done, I am going to send all the pickets
for half a mile down the river to hunt the man. If any of your friends
should slip across the river at that point, I shall not know it. And
now, I’d advise you to hunt up Captain Peak and go to bed—that is,
unless you and he should decide to do a little more scout duty before
daylight.”

Billie was not slow to take the hint, and started for the hotel. He had
not gone twenty paces when the two troopers who had ridden in with him
overtook him.

“Just tell Captain Peak,” said one of them, “that there’ll be ten of us
waiting for you down below the custom house. We’ll be in our
shirt-sleeves, as it wouldn’t do to be found dead in our uniforms if
anything should happen.”

Billie’s heart gave a great bound. “I see,” he said. “You won’t have to
wait long.”

Five minutes later he was in Captain Peak’s room telling his story. In
another ten minutes the two of them emerged from the hotel and walked
swiftly down the street. In still another ten minutes, men who looked
like cowboys, but each carrying a Winchester, might have been seen going
toward the river below the custom house. Half an hour later the streets
again took on a deserted appearance, save for the two or three policemen
who suddenly emerged from unknown quarters and resumed their beats.



CHAPTER XXIX.

IN THE DARKNESS BEFORE DAWN.


Promptly at the appointed hour—the darkest hour in the whole
twenty-four, the hour before dawn—Pancho Villa appeared at the door of
General Sanchez’s headquarters. Almost simultaneously General Sanchez
appeared in the doorway.

“Is everything in readiness?” he inquired, as he recognized Villa.

“Everything but the men, general.”

“They are also ready,” was the response. “I regret that there are only
fifty; but they are well officered, and will do whatever they are told.
They are the pick of my force.”

Villa saluted, but made no reply.

“Don’t you think them sufficient?”

“No, general; but I hope for reinforcements!”

“I am afraid you will not receive them. But where is the American
youth?”

“He has gone across the river, general.”

“Across the river? You don’t mean he has deserted his comrades?”

“No, general. He has gone for reinforcements!”

“Oh! I see,” and General Sanchez shrugged his shoulders.

“But I am afraid they will not come,” continued Villa. “The pickets on
both sides of the river are very alert tonight.”

“Do you know where the Americans expect to cross?”

“I can only guess, general.”

“Perhaps you will guess aloud.”

“I should guess they might cross below the ferry.”

“Very well.”

He turned to an orderly who stood ready to ride at a moment’s notice:
“Go tell Captain Rodriguez that if a band of refugees should seek to
land from the American shore they are to be allowed to pass
unquestioned.” Then to Villa: “Is that all?”

“Yes, general.”

“Very well, go! You will find your force down by the water’s edge. The
assault upon the revolutionists’ lines will begin in half an hour!”

But, in the meantime, what of Donald and Adrian?

When the revolutionists headed by Don Rafael had broken into the house
and the boys were taken prisoners, they had been as greatly surprised at
the disappearance of Billie as had the others; but it did not take
Donald long to figure out what had happened. Of course he did not know
that Billie was hearing all that was going on, but he felt sure that he
was safe.

At the first opportunity he had explained to Adrian his solution of the
mystery, and both had confidence that in some way Billie would bring
about their escape, although they could not see how.

Because of this confidence they kept a bold front, but it must be
admitted that they thought their last hour had come when Don Rafael had
declared that he would have them shot immediately. When he gave orders
to suddenly leave the place, they were much mystified, not knowing that
a guilty conscience had filled him with a great fear.

After leaving the place where they were captured, the boys were first
escorted to the _cuartel_ by a shouting, howling mob. Here they were
examined by a petty officer. After that they were conducted into the
presence of the commanding general and again examined with a view to
finding out what their mission really was. Finally, they were turned
over to a corporal, and after several hours were locked up in a room in
the barracks to await further action.

“Well!” exclaimed Adrian, as soon as they were left alone. “This seems
the most serious situation in which we have ever found ourselves!”

“Possibly so,” replied Donald; “but we know that Billie is at work to
get us out.”

“We certainly do,” affirmed Adrian; “just as he knew we were at work to
rescue him when he was captured by the smugglers; but it is going to be
a great deal harder to get to us, with a battle line all around us. For
my part, the situation seems hopeless.”

“'While there is life there is hope,’ says the old proverb,” declared
Donald, “and we are very much alive.”

“Yes, and able to put up a fight if we had a chance; but what chance is
there, when we have been deprived of our arms, and will be taken from
this room by a file of soldiers? No, old man”—and there was a visible
tremor in Adrian’s voice—“I’m afraid our time has come.”

He bowed his face in his hands, and for some minutes both the boys were
silent. Then Adrian straightened up, and, looking Donald squarely in the
face, said:

“If it comes to the worst, I am not afraid to die. It will be in the
service of our country and a man can die but once.”

“That’s the way to talk,” said Donald. “No matter what happens, we must
be brave. If we die, it will be like Americans!”

He put out his hand, which was warmly clasped by Adrian.

“It shall be as you say,” he declared. “But I shall not give up hope
till the very last minute.”

They were still standing with hands clasped, when they heard the key
grate in the lock. They turned quickly at the sound, and, although it
was still an hour until day, and, in spite of their determination to be
brave, for a moment their cheeks paled.

But their time was not yet.

Instead of the file of soldiers which they feared they might see, their
visitor proved to be Don Rafael.

“So!” he exclaimed, as he noticed the pallor upon their faces, “you are
not so brave as you would have me think!” and he laughed scornfully.

The boys made no reply and he continued:

“You thought you would trap me, did you? You thought I wouldn’t
recognize you as the ones who upset my plans at the cave? You are too
young, my friends, to catch an old fox like me!”

“We may be,” said Donald, “but, if anything happens to us, there are
those who will make you pay dearly.”

“Bah!” and Don Rafael snapped his fingers. “That for your friends! I
have been in too many affairs to be bluffed by a couple of striplings.”

“Just as you please,” replied Donald, “but what I say is true. Why, at
this minute they are on their way here!”

As he spoke, there was the boom of a cannon from the outskirts of the
city, followed almost immediately by the crash of rifles.

“Perhaps you think those are your friends,” laughed Don Rafael. “If so
they will meet with a warm reception.”

“They’ll be here before daybreak,” said Adrian.

“You think so?” exclaimed Don Rafael, and he regarded the boys with a
crafty expression. “Well, perhaps you are right, and so, to avoid any
danger of your escape, we will not wait until daylight for your
execution.”

He stepped to the door of the guard room and called:

“Don Carlos!”

A moment later that young gentleman appeared.

“Send me a sergeant and a file of soldiers,” ordered Don Rafael. “I have
decided not to wait until daylight. The execution will take place at
once in the _patio_.”

“It has come!” said Donald aside to Adrian. “Be brave!”

Silently they once more clasped hands, and awaited the coming of the
soldiers, while Don Rafael eyed them savagely.

“I’ll teach you,” he exclaimed, “to interfere with my plans. It will
serve as a lesson to other Americans!”

Then, as the tramp of feet was heard on the stone pavement without:
“Here they come! Now, then, get ready,” and he stepped aside, so as not
to obstruct the doorway.

The boys threw back their shoulders, and looked the man squarely in the
face. His eyes fell before their honest gaze, and he turned his head
with a muttered oath.

At the same moment there was a crash of rifles, which seemed at the very
door, and the sergeant, who had just appeared in the doorway, fell with
a groan.

“_Caramba!_ What is it?” yelled Don Rafael.

He dashed across the room toward the door, as a hearty American
“Hurrah!” followed by a regular cowboy yell was heard without.

At the sound Don Rafael turned as white as his dusky color would permit.
He drew his revolver from his holster, and backed slowly into the room,
with his eye fastened upon the doorway.

So sudden had been the change in affairs, that for a moment the two
Broncho Rider Boys stood stupefied; but, as Don Rafael slowly retreated,
their wits returned.

“Grab him!” shouted Donald.

At the cry Don Rafael turned quickly upon the boys, revolver in hand.

“So,” he exclaimed, “this is your work, too! Well, it is your last!”

Slowly he raised his weapon as though to enjoy the full measure of his
revenge. Then, as his finger pressed the trigger, there was another
crash of rifles. Both boys threw themselves flat upon the floor, and the
bullet from Don Rafael’s revolver buried itself in the adobe wall.

Before he could take a second aim, a tall figure in peon’s garb sprang
into the room.

It was Pancho Villa.

One glance told the story. Without a moment’s warning his revolver
cracked, and Don Rafael pitched forward to the floor, dead.

The next instant a dozen Americans, headed by Billie, rushed into the
room.



CHAPTER XXX.

AU REVOIR, BUT NOT GOOD-BY.


It was not until two hours after daylight that the complete result of
Villa’s strategy was apparent. At that hour the battle was over and the
Federals took possession of the city. For a minor battle it had been a
severe one, and the victory was well won.

From the balcony of the city hall the Broncho Rider Boys watched the
victorious army, with General Sanchez at its head, march into the town.
As the column passed the place where the boys stood, the general caught
sight of them as he glanced from right to left, and gave them a salute
with his sword, which was followed by every member of his staff. The
boys returned the salute, and a few minutes later were given a chorus of
“_Vivas_,” as the troop of Villa passed the balcony.

The Americans who had taken part in the rescue of the boys had returned
to the American side before it was light.

“I reckon we had better return, too,” said Donald, as the boys were
talking the matter over a few minutes later.

“Yes,” replied Adrian, “I suppose we should go and make our report to
Lieutenant Grant.”

“I can’t see that there is much to report,” declared Donald.

“Why,” exclaimed Billie, with a hearty laugh, “that the gun-running
expedition has been abandoned for want of runners.”

“Don’t you think he has heard about it before this?” asked Adrian.

“Possibly,” and Billie chuckled to himself; “but that doesn’t relieve us
from making our report. Besides (decidedly), I’m hungry, and there is
nothing this side of the river fit to eat!”

“I thought there was some reason for the anxiety,” laughed Donald, “but
at that, I think we should go and report.”

They made their way hastily to General Sanchez’s headquarters, where
they were cordially received, although General Sanchez was so busy with
the work of taking over the city that he could spare them but a moment.
He thanked them, however, in the presence of all the officers for what
they had done, and gave them an escort to the river.

“When these troublesome times are over,” he said, as the boys were
leaving, “you must all come and pay Pedro a visit in the City of Mexico.
We shall be most glad to see you.”

The boys thanked him for his invitation, and rode away.

It was not until they had enjoyed a good breakfast that they put in
their appearance at Lieutenant Grant’s quarters. Here again they were
cordially received, although, as they had expected, a report of what had
happened on the other side of the river had already been made. Here,
also, Billie found a telegram from his father, telling him that he could
wait no longer in El Paso, and saying that he would write him about
coming back East in the near future.

“It looks as though my days as a Broncho Rider Boy were about over,”
said Billie, with a sigh; “but whenever you fellows are ready to go and
visit Pedro in the City of Mexico, let me know, and I’ll surely be with
you.”

And in passing it may be well to say that some two months later, when
affairs became so bad in Mexico under General Huerta that the United
States government was obliged to send a force of sailors and soldiers to
take possession of Vera Cruz, our Broncho Rider Boys found
themselves—because of General Sanchez’s invitation—right in the midst of
this trouble. This furnishes another story of the Broncho Rider Boys,
which will be known as The Broncho Rider Boys With Funston At Vera Cruz,
Or Scout Duty Afloat and Ashore.

“You must leave me your permanent address,” declared Lieutenant Grant.
“I may have occasion to write you almost any time.”

“For what?” asked Billie.

“Why, in reference to the ten thousand pounds. If we succeed in tracing
the purchaser of these drafts, your testimony will be necessary to
punish those who may be responsible for creating this trouble along the
Rio Grande.”

“What is he talking about, Ad?” queried Donald.

“I’m sure I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything about ten thousand
pounds. What is it, Billie?”

In answer to which question, Billie related again, both for the benefit
of his chums and of Lieutenant Grant and Captain Peak, the story of his
experiences in the river and at Don Pablo’s _hacienda_.

“Suppose no owner is found for the drafts?” asked Captain Peak. “Then
what?”

“I reckon the bank will be that much ahead, unless,” the lieutenant
added, with a laugh, “our friend Billie should wish to return them to
Don Pablo.”

“Hardly,” replied Billie. Then, as an afterthought: “Santiago said they
were to be a part of my reward.”

“Who is Santiago?” queried Lieutenant Grant.

“A mystery,” was the laughing rejoinder.

And a mystery he must remain for the present, although in the story of
the Broncho Rider Boys with Funston, the mystery is cleared away, and
the ownership of the ten thousand pounds is settled in a manner that
shows what strange things may happen when a nation is at war.

“There is just one more question which I should like to ask,” said
Lieutenant Grant to Billie, as the boys were about to leave. “Of course
there were no Americans in the force that captured Presidio del Norte?”

“Certainly not,” replied Billie. “I am reliably informed that every
American, except we three, left the city some hours before it was
captured. Isn’t that right, Captain Peak?” And Billie turned to the
captain of the rangers.

“Such is the report that was made to me,” declared the captain, “and I
have no reason to doubt it!”

“Then that will be all,” laughed the lieutenant; “and I wish you a
pleasant journey home. When do you start?”

“Just as soon,” replied Billie, “as we can get old Bray loaded with
enough provisions to carry us through.”

And with a hearty handshake all around, the boys started to make
preparations for continuing their journey, carrying with them the best
wishes of all the Texas Rangers.

THE END.



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