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Title: Crossed Trails in Mexico - Mexican Mystery Stories #3
Author: Fairfax, Nell Virginia, Ripley, Helen Allan
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Crossed Trails in Mexico - Mexican Mystery Stories #3" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



CROSSED TRAILS IN MEXICO

by

HELEN RANDOLPH



A. L. Burt Company, Publishers
New York    Chicago

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Mexican Mystery Stories For Girls
By Helen Randolph

The Mystery of Carlitos
The Secret of Casa Grande
Crossed Trails in Mexico


Copyright 1936 by
A. L. Burt Company
Printed in the U.S.A.

      *      *      *      *      *      *



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                           PAGE
  I. "I'm Afraid I'm Going to Lose My Life"                            7
  II. The Mystery Man                                                 19
  III. The Hitch-Hiker                                                29
  IV. Pressing Difficulties                                           38
  V. The Hidden Car                                                   51
  VI. A Familiar Face                                                 63
  VII. "We Must Get an Early Start"                                   78
  VIII. At the Mine                                                   90
  IX. Miss Prudence's Cleaning Spree                                 100
  X. The Indefinite Mañana                                           111
  XI. The Secret of the Olla                                         119
  XII. Heading for Trouble                                           127
  XIII. The Pottery Woman's Warning                                  139
  XIV. Jo Ann's Search                                               148
  XV. Anxious Moments                                                161
  XVI. Down the Mine Shaft                                           177
  XVII. In the Darkness                                              189
  XVIII. Jo Ann Finds a Way                                          200
  XIX. An Exciting Race                                              216
  XX. More Troubles                                                  229
  XXI. Welcome Guests                                                243



                               CHAPTER I
                 "I'M AFRAID I'M GOING TO LOSE MY LIFE"


Peggy nudged Jo Ann and pointed to the sign ahead: "Speed limit, 80
miles."

Jo Ann's dark brown eyes twinkled. "It's plain to see we're out in the
Texas open now--the wide open."

"Too bad poor old Jitters can't accept the invitation to do eighty. She's
doing well when she makes forty or fifty. But even if she could go
faster, Florence wouldn't let her." Peggy gestured toward the small,
trim, fair-haired girl at the wheel.

"Florence has lived in Mexico so long that she's slow but sure like the
Mexicans. She's always saying, 'Why the great rush? There's plenty of
time!' If I were driving, now--" Jo Ann nodded her mop of unruly black
curls vigorously--"I'd encourage Jitters to go her limit, especially
since she has brand-new tires."

"Here too. Weren't we lucky to find such a bargain in a car? I'll admit
she's not much on looks and that she shakes till she deserves the name of
Jitters--but she's ours, all ours." Peggy's hazel eyes gazed admiringly
upon their old battered Ford.

"And look where she's carrying us: to Mexico! All the way to the land of
mystery and romance!"

"I can hardly wait to get back down there again. I wonder if we'll run
into as thrilling adventures as we did last summer when we were visiting
Florence."

Peggy smiled. "You will. You're always getting out of one mystery only to
tumble headlong into another."

Jo Ann nodded toward the prim, erect, gray-haired woman on the front seat
beside Florence and murmured, "Miss Prudence'll keep me on my good
behavior this time. Even if some tremendous mystery bumps right into me
this trip, I'm not going to pay one bit of attention to it."

"Straight from Missouri am I," Peggy replied, laughing.

"From Mississippi, you mean. From a year's hard work in good old Evanston
High. The work's agreed with us, hasn't it? We're both four or five
pounds heavier. School's agreed with Carlitos, too." Jo Ann leaned
forward to smile at the round-faced eleven-year-old boy sitting on the
other side of Peggy. "He's as fat as a butter ball now."

Ever since the five had started on their long automobile journey,
Carlitos had been too busy viewing the scenery to talk, but at Jo Ann's
words he opened his blue eyes wide and asked in broken English, "Butter
ball--what is dat?"

Both Jo Ann and Peggy exchanged smiles. It seemed strange to them that
Carlitos could not understand the most commonplace phrases, yet when they
stopped to think that he had spoken Spanish altogether till he had come
to the States last fall, they marveled that he talked as well as he did.

While Jo Ann was explaining to him the meaning of the words "butter
ball," Peggy was mentally reviewing his strange life. When he was about a
year old his parents had come from New Jersey to a remote Mexican village
where his father, Charles Eldridge, owned a silver mine. A few months
later Mr. Eldridge had met his death at the hands of a treacherous
Mexican foreman, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Eldridge had died from the
combined effects of shock and pneumonia, leaving the tiny Carlitos in the
care of a poor ignorant Indian nurse. The foreman, who had taken
possession of the mine, then tried to kidnap Carlitos, the rightful heir.
Alarmed at this threatened danger, the nurse had fled across the
mountains with Carlitos and her family where they were befriended by Jo
Ann, Florence, and herself. Due to their efforts Carlitos's uncle, Edward
Eldridge, had been found and the mine restored to Carlitos. So dismayed
had his uncle been at finding that his nephew could not speak English
that he had sent him to Massachusetts to live with his aunt, Miss
Prudence Eldridge.

Peggy smiled to herself as her thoughts wandered around to the New
England spinster aunt who had come down by train with Carlitos to
Mississippi and was accompanying them the rest of the way to Mexico. Miss
Prudence's never-ceasing astonishment at having a half-grown nephew who
was just learning to speak English was a source of amusement to her and
Florence and Jo Ann.

Just then Carlitos broke into an excited exclamation: "We come to big
city! See--big high houses!"

"Fine!" Jo Ann ejaculated. "That must be Houston. We've made much better
time than I thought. We'll be there by seven o'clock."

With a broad smile Peggy remarked low-voiced to Jo Ann, "Don't forget
that you drew Miss Prudence for your roommate tonight. I heard her say
she always rises at five-thirty, so I see where you'll have to get up
with the chickens."

"If I have to get up at that ghastly hour, I'll wake you and Florence,
too. It'll be specially good for you to get up early. As Miss Prudence
said last night, 'Remember, the early bird catches the worm'!"

Peggy made a funny little grimace. "But I don't want to catch worms--I
don't like 'em."

"You'll have to acquire a taste for them then," Jo Ann retorted between
giggles. A moment later she added, "We really ought to get an early start
tomorrow morning, sure enough, since we may go by way of Brownsville."

On reaching the city a half hour later, they drove straight to one of the
larger hotels.

"I just adore going into strange hotels," remarked Peggy, starting to get
out of the car.

Miss Prudence turned in time to see her rising and said quickly, "You
girls wait here while I go in and look around. One can't be too
particular about the kind of hotel one chooses, even to stay for a few
hours."

Disappointed, Peggy dropped back into her seat.

"Never mind, Peg, when we get to Mexico she'll let Florence and us take
the lead, since she's never been there before."

In a few minutes the girls saw Miss Prudence returning, followed closely
by a porter.

"Come on," she called out briskly to them. "I've registered for us all."

She hurried them on inside the hotel and into the elevator so rapidly
that Peggy declared afterwards that she wouldn't have known she was in a
hotel if she hadn't seen a bellboy.

When the porter stopped at the first room and asked which baggage he was
to carry in, Miss Prudence pointed to her suitcase, then hesitated a half
second.

Peggy grasped this opportunity to put in, "Jo says she's going to be your
roommate this time."

Miss Prudence smiled over at Jo Ann. "Fine. Carlitos's room connects with
ours; then you and Florence have the one next to his. All of you hurry
and get cleaned up, now, so we can get something to eat right away. Then
we'll come straight up and go to bed. We have to get an early start in
the morning, you know."

The three girls exchanged swift glances but did not protest.

Once inside their room, however, Peggy groaned loudly to Florence, "Miss
Prudence acts as if we were still in rompers. Putting us to bed as soon
as we've eaten our suppers! What's the fun of coming to a new city if you
can't see anything?"

By nine o'clock, still inwardly protesting but outwardly calm, the girls
were marshaled back to their rooms by Miss Prudence.

Jo Ann bade Peggy and Florence good night and remarked with a teasing
smile, "You'll hear me knocking at your door about 5:30 A.M."

"Don't you dare!" both girls exclaimed in the same breath. Florence
added, "Surely you wouldn't be that cruel!"

"Oh yes, I would. Misery needs companionship. Be sure to leave the
sliding panel of your door down as it is now, so you can hear my first
tap." Jo Ann indicated the top section of the door which was screened by
a Venetian blind, as were the doors of all the other rooms.

It seemed to Jo Ann she had hardly been asleep two winks that night when
she heard a voice saying in her ear, "Sorry, my dear, but it's time
you're getting up."

Miss Prudence! Surely it couldn't be morning! She suppressed a groan and
turned over for another nap, only to hear the insistent voice: "Sorry, my
dear, but----"

Jo Ann managed to mumble a sleepy "All right."

After much stretching and yawning she reluctantly slipped out of bed. She
stood blinking sleepily at Miss Prudence in her blue kimono and thinking
how Chinesey she looked with her long, gray, braided pigtail down her
back.

Miss Prudence's next words were anything but Chinese: "Call the girls and
Carlitos before you start to dress. Both Peggy and Florence are slower
than you, and it'll take them a long time to get ready."

"Some of my clothes are in Peg's bag, so I'll have to go in and get them
before I can dress. I'll wake them then." Thoroughly roused at last, Jo
Ann thrust her feet into her slippers, slipped into her negligee, and
started down the hall.

Just as she reached the girls' door a man's earnest voice sounded
startlingly clear through the screened panel of the door directly across
the hall. Her heart gave a sudden frightened leap at hearing someone say,
"I'm afraid I'm going to lose my life before this is over."

So distinct were the words that it seemed as if the man were talking to
her. In danger of losing his life! And he was! There was no mistaking the
conviction in his voice. It was not the broken trembling voice of a
coward. It had been firm, strong, even though he was sure he was in grave
danger. He must be talking to someone over the phone--there was no
audible answer. Why was he in such terrible trouble? What had he done?
Was he a criminal or a detective?

Standing statue-like at the girls' door Jo Ann listened intently for his
next words. "I was hot on their trail," the voice went on, "but had two
flats, and that delayed me.... Yes, in the usual place."

Before she could realize that the conversation had ended, the door opened
suddenly, and a tall, stalwart man wearing a broad-brimmed tan felt hat
stepped out. On seeing Jo Ann he halted and shot a piercing glance at her
from gray eyes so penetratingly keen that she felt as if they were
cutting straight through her.

She flushed with embarrassment. It had been unpardonably rude to
eavesdrop that way. What must that man think of her? Hurriedly she began
knocking on the girls' door.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw that the man, after hesitating a
fraction of a second, had gone on down the hall toward the elevator.



                               CHAPTER II
                            THE MYSTERY MAN


After she had knocked several times, Peggy called out sleepily, "Who's
that?"

"Open the door. Hurry!"

"All right--I'll be there--in a jiffy."

In a few moments Peggy flung the door open, and Jo Ann stepped inside,
her eyes still dilated with excitement.

"I've just heard the strangest--most mysterious thing!" she gasped.

"You would!" Peggy declared. "But that's nothing unusual for you. You're
always hearing and seeing mysterious things."

"What was it?" Florence called from the bed.

"Well, just as I had reached your door and was about to knock, I heard a
man in the room directly across the hall say in the most earnest voice
imaginable, 'I'm afraid I'm going to lose my life before this is over.'"

Both girls stared wide-eyed at Jo Ann; then Peggy, recovering from her
first shock, asked half doubtfully, "You're sure you didn't misunderstand
him? Your imagination runs riot now and then. Perhaps you just thought
you heard him say that."

Jo Ann shook her head vigorously. "No imagination about it. I heard him
as distinctly as I do you now."

"What on earth made him say that, do you suppose, Jo?" Florence asked
curiously.

"That's what I'd like to know."

"What can that man be--a gangster?" Without waiting for an answer Peggy
added, shuddering, "The idea of that man's being right across the hall
from us gives me the creeps." She flew back to the door to see if she had
locked it.

"I believe he must be a detective; I feel sure he wasn't a gangster," Jo
Ann said quickly. "He didn't look like one."

"You saw him!" both girls exclaimed together.

"Yes, he came out of his door suddenly and caught me standing there
listening. I hadn't any business eavesdropping--but I just couldn't help
it. I wanted to know why he thought he was going to lose his life."

"Did you hear him say anything else?" queried Peggy in a whisper,
glancing back toward the door as if she thought the man might be doing
some eavesdropping himself.

"Not very much. Evidently he was talking to someone over the phone. I
couldn't hear anyone answering. He said that he'd lost the trail because
he'd been delayed on account of two flat tires."

"Lost the trail!" Florence repeated. "That sounds as if he's a detective,
sure enough. Whom do you suppose he was after?"

"That's hard to say. I'd have to use my imagination to answer that."

"You've certainly run into a real mystery this time," put in Peggy, now
thoroughly convinced that Jo Ann's tale was not fiction. "You ought to
have thought up some kind of a solution by----"

A sharp knock at the door broke into Peggy's sentence, and all three
girls gave little surprised jumps and stared at the door without saying a
word.

The next instant Miss Prudence's voice called out crisply, "Girls!"

"Oh, it's just Miss Prudence!" Peggy exclaimed in relief. "I thought
maybe that man...." She left her sentence unfinished and ran to the door.

Jo Ann's face reddened guiltily. She had forgotten entirely about
dressing and telling the girls to hurry.

As soon as Miss Prudence stepped inside and saw that the girls were still
in their pajamas, she looked over reproachfully at Jo Ann and said, "I
thought you'd all be almost dressed by this time."

"We would've been ready, but...." Jo Ann rushed into an account of the
strange telephone conversation she had heard, ending apologetically, "I
was so excited that I forgot all about our having to dress."

As soon as Jo Ann had finished, Miss Prudence spoke up quickly, "The
sooner we get out of this hotel the better. I don't like the idea of
being in a room across from a man that's expecting to get killed any
instant. Hurry fast as you can and get dressed."

"The man's not in his room now: I saw him go down the hall toward the
elevator," Jo Ann reminded her.

"But he might come back any minute, and there might--well, something
might happen. Hurry, girls."

Thus urged, the girls dressed hastily. Even Peggy, who usually was
deliberate about arranging her auburn hair into neat waves, speeded up
this part of her toilet and was dressed in record-breaking time.

After they had been joined by Carlitos they all went down to the coffee
room for their breakfast and then on out to the garage to get the car.

Jo Ann slipped into the front seat of the car saying, "It's my turn to
drive Jitters this morning."

"I'll sit with you to see that you don't go too fast," Florence remarked
smilingly, dropping down beside her.

Jo Ann laughed. "It's Jitters herself that'll keep me from exceeding the
speed limit."

After they had left the city and had gone several miles, Jo Ann noticed
that in the automobile just ahead of them were three men, one wearing a
uniform and the other two in civilian clothes and large felt hats similar
to the one the mystery man had worn. "The biggest one of those men in
that car ahead looks exactly like the man I overheard talking this
morning," she remarked to Florence. "He's the same size and is wearing
the same kind of hat."

Florence smiled. "It seems to me most of the men I've seen so far in
Texas are big and wear that kind of hat. You have that mystery man on
your mind: that's why you think you see a resemblance."

"Maybe so, but I believe it's that very man."

"It's possible that it is he, but"--Florence smiled--"I'm more interested
in that man in the uniform. I believe he's a traffic cop and is going to
get you for speeding."

"Look at that sign!" Jo Ann pointed to another road sign indicating that
the speed limit was 80 miles. "And now look at the speedometer. I'm going
to let Jitters do her best now and pass that car. I want to get a good
look at that man and see if it is my mystery man. I'll feel relieved to
know he's still alive."

Jo Ann stepped on the gas and soon was swinging out to the side of the
road. As she passed by the other car, she threw a swift but keen glance
at the largest one of the men.

"That is the mystery man!" she exclaimed a moment later. "I'm sure it's
he. I certainly am glad he's still alive."

Florence relayed Jo Ann's words to Peggy, whereupon Peggy craned her neck
to stare out of the rear window at the occupants of the car. "Where do
you suppose they're going--to Mexico?" she asked Florence a moment later.

Florence shook her head. "Ask me an easy question. That's too hard for
me."

"I wish I knew more about him. I wonder why he's in such terrible
trouble. I hope he's going the same route we are."

"It's high time we're deciding whether we're going by way of Brownsville
or Laredo," Florence called back, hoping that Miss Prudence would catch
the anxious note in her voice. She and the other two girls had hinted
very strongly to her that they would like to take the longer route, by
way of Brownsville, so they could see Lucile Owen, one of their
schoolmates, but Miss Prudence had so far refused to say definitely
whether she would be willing.

"I'd love to see Lucile," Jo Ann put in, loud enough for Miss Prudence to
hear, and adding also for her special benefit, "She says no one really
knows Texas till he's seen the Rio Grande valley and its citrus groves."

"It's the most famous garden spot of Texas," added Peggy.

The girls could see that Miss Prudence was favorably impressed, but she
still hesitated to give her approval, saying, "It's so far out of our
way--four hundred miles at least."

"I believe if we keep singing the valley's praises she'll give her
consent," Florence prophesied, low-voiced, to Jo Ann.

"Whichever way we go, I hope the mystery man goes the same way," Jo Ann
replied. "I want to find out more about him. Is his car still following?"

Florence turned around to see, then reported, "Yes, just a short distance
behind."

Several times afterwards Jo Ann asked that same question, to have it
answered each time in the affirmative.

By about two o'clock she decided that they must be nearing the road
turning off to Brownsville. "Miss Prudence'll have to decide very shortly
now which way we're going," she told Florence.

Evidently Peggy was thinking the same thing, as the next moment they
heard her appealing again to Miss Prudence to decide on that route. While
Miss Prudence was still wavering about her decision, Jo Ann drove past
the Brownsville road, but stopped as soon as Florence told her she had
seen the sign. "We've got to decide right now," she ended.



                              CHAPTER III
                            THE HITCH-HIKER


Just as Florence was speaking, she and Jo Ann saw the car that had been
following whiz by them with only the two men in civilian clothes in it.

"Oh, there goes the mystery man!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "He's going the
Laredo road. I wish I could follow and see if anything happens to him."

Miss Prudence spoke up quickly: "We're not going to follow anybody who's
expecting to be murdered any minute. We'd better go the Brownsville road.
Back to that filling station and ask if the road's good."

Jo Ann obediently backed the car to the filling station, though a queer
feeling now possessed her that she ought to have kept on the Laredo road.
"I can't help feeling as worried over that man as if I'd known him for a
long time," she told herself. "I wonder if I'll ever see him again."

By this time Miss Prudence was talking to the service-station man about
the road.

"I think the road's okay, but"--he nodded toward a man in uniform--"he'll
know. He's a coast guard and goes back and forth often that way. He's
waiting to catch a ride to Brownsville now."

Miss Prudence inspected the tall blond young man closely, then remarked
low-voiced, "It might be a good idea to have him go with us: coast guards
are used to protecting people."

"I hope she asks him to ride with us," Jo Ann whispered to Florence. "He
might know about the mystery man, since he's been riding in the car with
him."

The next moment Miss Prudence gestured to the coast guard, who promptly
hurried over to the car and in answer to her questions began praising the
road and the beauty of the valley.

"Californians could learn how to boost higher and better from him," Jo
Ann thought, smiling. "Miss Prudence'll be sure to go now."

She was right. Miss Prudence promptly decided to go to Brownsville and
asked the coast guard to accompany them. To make room for him on the
front seat, she ordered Carlitos and Florence to exchange places.

"You're the sandwich filling now," Jo Ann laughingly told Carlitos, as he
slipped in beside her.

Carlitos smiled doubtfully. From the expression on her face he knew she
must be joking, but he could not understand the point.

After she had explained it to him, she told the curious coast guard
briefly how it was that Carlitos, though an American by birth, was just
beginning to speak English. The guard, proud of his newly learned
Spanish, began talking in that language to Carlitos, much to his joy and
to Miss Prudence's disapproval.

At the first break in their conversation Jo Ann quickly recounted to the
guard the strange telephone conversation she had overheard in the hotel
and ended tentatively, "I believe that man I overheard was one of those
men whose car you were in."

"You're probably right," the guard replied. "I'd never seen either of
those men before they picked me up, but they told me they'd been chasing
some smugglers who'd been bringing in dope and gold across the Mexican
border. I shouldn't like to be in those men's shoes. Those smugglers
belong to a desperate gang who're as cold-blooded as snakes. They'd as
soon kill anyone as not."

"With as many officers as we have, it looks as if they could stop that
smuggling," Jo Ann replied.

The guard shook his head. "Easier said than done. When we get to
Brownsville, I'll show you just one of the smugglers' many tricks--how
some of the boldest bring dope and gold across the bridge there, closely
guarded as it is. Smugglers have whole bags of such tricks."

"Be sure to show us that. It'll be interesting to find out first hand
about smugglers."

Though it was dark when they reached Brownsville, Jo Ann reminded the
guard of his promise as he was about to get out of the car near the
International Bridge.

"Sure, I'll show you if you want to see," he answered. "It's black as
pitch under the bridge now, and you'll get a better idea of how the
smuggling's done."

Jo Ann turned to Miss Prudence and rapidly explained that the guard was
going to show them how some of the smuggling was carried on across the
border.

Miss Prudence raised her eyebrows in disapproval. "I hardly think you
girls need any information along such lines. Of course, it's probably a
little interesting--in a way--to see how smuggling could be carried on
right under our custom officials' noses, but----"

Jo Ann smiled to herself. Miss Prudence was as curious to know about
smuggling methods as she was. "She'll consent--after she objects a
while."

Jo Ann was right. Finally, after protesting a few more minutes, Miss
Prudence gave her permission, and all five followed the guard below the
bridge. Blinded by the sudden change from the lighted street, they
stumbled along in the darkness, half terrified at their daring.

"The river's very low now," the guard explained. "Anyone can manage to
crawl down the bank and get out a long way under the bridge and hide.
Just before the smuggler, coming from the Mexican side, nears the
appointed place, he whistles his signal to his confederate waiting under
the bridge, then tosses his package over the railing to him."

"There might be some of those smugglers here this very instant," Miss
Prudence whispered nervously. "Let's go back."

"They might think we're spying on them and shoot us," added Peggy.

Jo Ann heard the amused note in the guard's voice as he answered, "There
won't be any smuggling going on this early in the evening."

"But it's pitch dark," Miss Prudence put in.

"And terribly scary," added Florence, grabbing Jo Ann by the arm. "Come
on."

Even though Jo Ann was reluctant to leave this fascinating spot, she too
felt more comfortable when they climbed back up the bank and out on the
lighted sidewalk again. Her thoughts centered once more on the mystery
man whose work kept his life endangered by smugglers.

"I hope he breaks up that gang of smugglers without losing his life," she
told herself.

After they had said good-by to the coast guard, they went to the nearest
hotel.

"The first thing we've got to do now," Jo Ann said while they were being
whisked up in the elevator, "is to phone Lucile and tell her we're here."

"She'll be sure to invite us to her house to dinner tonight," put in
Peggy, her eyes shining with anticipation.

"Won't it be nice to be together again?" added Florence.

As soon as Jo Ann had succeeded in getting Lucile on the telephone, Peggy
and Florence listened eagerly to the one-sided conversation and tried to
guess the other side.

Lucile's eager voice came back quickly in answer to Jo Ann with an
invitation for all five to spend the night at her home. "You've arrived
at the right moment," she went on. "Edna is visiting me and I'm having a
little dinner party for her tonight."

Jo Ann refused the first part of the invitation, explaining that they had
already secured their rooms at the hotel. "We'll be delighted to come to
your dinner party, though," she added.

Miss Prudence broke in quickly with an emphatic, "Tell her it'll be
impossible for me and Carlitos to come. I'm too tired to go another step
anywhere. If they'll come after you girls and bring you back, it'll be
all right for you to go without me."

Jo Ann relayed this message to Lucile, ending, "We'll be ready when you
get here."



                               CHAPTER IV
                         PRESSING DIFFICULTIES


After Jo Ann had finished talking to Lucile, Florence and Peggy asked
together, "Is it a real party she's having? Will we have to dress up?"

"Yes, we'll have to wear dinner dresses, of course. We'll have to speed,
too, if we're to be ready when she gets here."

"Oh, I'm afraid my blue crêpe'll be a mass of wrinkles," Peggy exclaimed
as she hurried over and began unpacking her clothes.

"Get my dress--the pink taffeta--out, too," Jo Ann called out on her way
to the bathroom. "It's in your suitcase. I'll have my bath in two jiffies
and be in my dress in another one."

When she reappeared in the room a few minutes later, garbed in a negligee
whose rose color matched her fresh glowing cheeks, she found that Miss
Prudence and Carlitos had gone to the dining room and that Florence and
Peggy were standing lamenting over the wrinkled state of their dinner
dresses.

"Our dresses are terribly rumpled, and yours is the worst of the three,"
Peggy remarked with a worried frown. "I hate for us to disgrace Lucile by
coming to her party looking like wrecks of the Hesperus."

"We won't have time to send them out to a pressing shop or even to the
maid here in the hotel--we'd never get them back in time to wear," added
Florence.

"Oh, stop worrying!" Jo Ann sang out, as she ran the comb through her
curls. "I'll press all three dresses while you're getting your baths. You
have a small electric iron in your bag, didn't you say, Florence?"

"Yes. It's really a toy that I'm taking as a present to one of the little
girls in my neighborhood. The cord's so short--I doubt if you can use the
iron."

"Get it out and I'll use it all right." Jo Ann's voice was confident.

When Florence handed the iron to her and she saw how short the cord was,
she began to feel dubious, though her determination did not waver. She'd
manage some way. After a hasty look about the room she saw there was only
one usable light socket in the room--the high ceiling one above the bed.

"I'll have to attach the iron to that socket." She pointed to the ceiling
light.

Florence looked at the diminutive cord and laughed. "You can't do it."

"If you'll hold me steady, you'll see." Jo Ann climbed up on the foot of
the bed. "Hold my legs, now." She stood tiptoe on this perch and after
many efforts succeeded in putting the plug into one of the center
sockets.

That done, she stepped down on a newspaper on the bed, but to her
disappointment she saw that the cord lacked at least four feet.

Peggy and Florence burst into giggles at the funny sight of Jo Ann
holding the iron in midair.

"Stop giggling, sillies, and do something, quick. This iron's getting
hot, and I'm getting tired holding it. Get that table over there and put
it up here on the bed. Hurry!"

The two girls rushed over to the table, jerked off the water pitcher and
glasses, and then carried it over and lifted it on top of the bed. The
iron still hung at least two feet above the table.

"Oh gee!" wailed Jo Ann. "Get something else to put on top of the table.
Step on it! Don't run around in circles like a puppy after its tail,
Peg."

"Thanks for the beautiful comparison," Peggy grinned. "You're equally
funny looking yourself, springing up and down on that bed every time you
move."

"Can't help springing. It's the springiest bed in all Texas."

By that time Florence had brought over the low luggage stool and placed
it on top of the table. But even with its added height there were several
inches between it and the iron.

"There's nothing else to put on top of that--except the dresser," called
out Peggy between giggles. "Oh yes, maybe the telephone book'll help."
She ran over with it and several magazines and piled them on top of the
luggage stand.

"Attaboy!" Jo Ann ejaculated triumphantly as she set the iron down on the
magazines. "Now bring me something for an ironing-board cover and the
dresses."

In a few more minutes she was ironing away energetically, swaying back
and forth in her efforts to keep her balance on the springy bed. "Stop
staring at me and giggling and get dressed, you sillies. What's so funny
now?"

"I was just wondering what the manager'd say if he'd come in and catch
you ironing," grinned Peggy. "It's against the rules to iron in a
room--at least, it is in all the hotels I've ever heard of."

Jo Ann flushed guiltily. Noticing that the sliding wood panel of the door
was down and that someone might be able to peer between the slats of the
blinds at the screened top, she implored Peggy to slide the panel up.
Peggy obediently pushed the panel up as commanded, but no sooner had she
turned away than it slipped down with a crash like a pistol shot.

Both girls jumped in alarm, and Jo Ann almost tumbled off the bed.

"Now we're in for it!" Jo Ann gasped. "Someone'll think we're shooting in
here and will come to investigate. Shove that panel up again--quick. Push
a chair against it to hold it in place."

After a few minutes had passed and no one had come to investigate, Jo Ann
breathed more freely. Just as she was complimenting herself on coming to
the finishing touches of her pressing, there came a sudden knocking at
the door. Jo Ann was petrified. Was it the manager? She shook her head
vigorously at Peggy, who was starting to open the door.

The next moment the door was rattled violently. Simultaneously the panel
banged down again.

From the hall there sounded a woman's shrill voice.

"Miss Prudence!" the girls gasped.

"Open the door this instant, Peg, and get her inside before someone else
comes," Jo Ann ordered.

The moment Miss Prudence stepped inside and saw Jo Ann perched on top of
the bed, ironing, she stared in amazement. As soon as she had recovered
from her first surprise, she burst out, "What does this mean? Don't you
know it's against the rules to iron in your room? I've never stayed in a
hotel anywhere that allowed ironing in the rooms. We'll get in trouble
yet--besides having to pay extra money. You'd better stop this instant."

"But I'm most through now," Jo Ann replied meekly. "In a few minutes I'll
have my dress finished."

"But just suppose the manager should knock on the door and catch you on
top of the bed like this?"

As Miss Prudence was still worrying when Florence had finished dressing,
she decided to see for herself what the hotel rules said about ironing.
She walked over and began glancing at the printed rules hanging on the
wall by the telephone.

A few moments later she stopped reading and burst into peals of laughter.
"Oh, girls!" she exclaimed after she had checked her mirth a little.
"This is rich! Funniest thing I've ever heard. The rules say----" She
stopped and broke into uncontrollable laughter again.

Peggy ran over to read the rule that was causing Florence so much
amusement. Then she too began to laugh, stopping only long enough to
exclaim, "Oh--this is killing!"

"What's the joke? What on earth does that say?" Jo Ann demanded.

Peggy checked her laughter long enough to answer, "It says when a
guest--wishes to iron--to call the office, and ironing board--and iron'll
be sent up immediately."

Jo Ann's jaw dropped, as did Miss Prudence's. Their expressions were so
ridiculous that Florence and Peggy continued laughing till the tears
rolled down their cheeks.

After an amazed, "And to think I could've had a real iron and board for
the asking!" Jo Ann began laughing equally merrily.

They were all still smiling broadly several minutes later when they went
down to the lobby to meet Lucile and her mother, who were waiting for
them there.

The dinner party turned out to be a great success, and the girls did not
return to the hotel till almost eleven o'clock.

"It's my turn to sleep with Miss Prudence," Peggy remarked on entering
the other girls' room, "but I'm scared to go in there and wake her up
this late. She'd think it an unearthly hour." She stopped talking and
smiled over at the girls. "Aren't you going to be polite and ask me to
sleep with you? You'd better, because I'm going to, invitation or no
invitation."

With a mock groan Jo Ann looked at the double bed and then at Peggy.
"Say, Florence," she remarked finally, "I feel sorry for ourselves, don't
you?"

"Put her in the middle where she can take the consequences," suggested
Florence, her eyes twinkling.

Jo Ann grimaced. "The consequences'll probably be that you and I'll be
out on the floor before the night's over."

After much subdued giggling and chatter the three girls finally climbed
into bed and drifted off to sleep.

About five o'clock the next morning they were aroused by someone knocking
at the door.

Peggy waked with a start. "Someone knocking! Maybe the hotel's afire and
they're trying to rouse us!" darted through her mind.

She flung off the covers, tumbled over the sleeping Jo Ann, and rushed to
the door to find an anxious-faced Miss Prudence.

"Thank goodness you're here, Peggy," Miss Prudence exclaimed. "I just
woke up and found you weren't in my room, and I was so alarmed! Are the
other girls here?" She snapped on the light and stood blinking at the
frightened Florence and Jo Ann, who by this time were sitting up in bed,
trying to figure out what had happened.

"Now that you're all awake you might as well dress, so we can get an
early start," Miss Prudence announced crisply.

Jo Ann groaned audibly and sank back in the bed.

"Isn't it only about two or three o'clock?" Florence asked hesitatingly.

"Mercy, no! It's after five. It takes you girls so long to dress that
it'll be six or half past before you'll be ready."

"Oh, but I'm so--so sleepy!" Peggy yawned. "Five o'clock's an awful hour
to get up."

Miss Prudence eyed her severely. "You stayed up too late last night,
probably. Just dash some cold water in your face--that'll wake you." She
added with a whimsical note in her voice, "Perhaps I'd better do it for
you--and sprinkle some on Florence and Jo Ann, too."

"Oh, have a heart, Miss Prudence!" Jo Ann begged, burrowing her head
under the covers.

Seeing that Miss Prudence was in earnest about the early start and was
going to stay there to see that they did get up and dress, Florence and
Jo Ann reluctantly slipped out of bed.

"When we reach the mine, I'm going to sleep and sleep to make up for all
this lost time," Jo Ann murmured to the girls between yawns as she was
dressing.

"Maybe you'll even sleep through the siesta hour--you couldn't learn that
trick last summer, it seemed," Peggy replied. "I take to sleeping the way
Miss Prudence does to getting up with the chickens. Maybe the tropical
heat'll make her more sleepy-headed down there."

Florence smiled. "Here's hoping it will."



                               CHAPTER V
                             THE HIDDEN CAR


Once they were in the car and on their way, winding along the Rio Grande
and breathing in the fresh, invigorating morning air, they felt better
about having had to start so early.

"We'll make the city early this afternoon, at this rate," Peggy remarked.
"That'll give us time to do a little sightseeing. I wish we didn't have
to go clear to Laredo before we cross the river. I'm eager to get on
Mexican soil right away."

"That's the way with me," Jo Ann added. "I wish there were a short cut
somewhere. It seems as if there ought to be."

When, two hours later, they stopped at a filling station in a little town
to get some gas, and Jo Ann made this same remark to the service man, he
looked puzzled and merely nodded his head. Florence, realizing that he
understood little English, began questioning him in Spanish.

All smiles on hearing his native language, he answered at once, "_Sí_,
there is a bridge you can cross here. They are putting in a new highway
across the desert, which joins the main highway from Laredo."

"_Bien._ I think we shall go that way," Florence replied. "It will save
us much time, will it not?"

"_Sí_--a little. It is about a hundred kilometers less, that way."

Florence smiled. "That is very good." Now that she was so close to the
country where her parents lived she was growing more and more eager to
get home.

"That desert road doesn't sound good to me," Miss Prudence put in,
shaking her gray head vigorously. "It's probably impassable. Ask him if
it's any worse than this one. I certainly don't want to get stranded in
the desert."

Florence obediently relayed her question.

"If there isn't any rain"--the man grinned and shrugged his
shoulders--"you can drive through all right."

Florence translated to Miss Prudence what he had said and added, "The
rainy season doesn't begin till September. We're not likely to have rain.
Look at the sky!" She gestured to the cloudless expanse of blue above
them.

"It's so dry and hot now it's hard to believe it ever rains in this
forsaken country." Miss Prudence hesitated a moment, then went on, "If
we'll save that much distance through this awful country, maybe we'd
better try it."

"Grand!" ejaculated all three girls together.

"Ah, how good!" sang out Carlitos in Spanish.

While Miss Prudence was still pointing out the country's bad points, Jo
Ann followed the man's directions and turned into the side road leading
across the toll bridge. With little difficulty she steered the car down
the narrow road, not stopping till they reached the bridge.

As soon as they had passed over the middle of the bridge, the girls and
Carlitos, to Miss Prudence's evident disapproval, exclaimed joyously,
"We're in Mexico now! _Viva_ Mexico! _Viva_ Mexico!"

As both Florence and Carlitos spoke Spanish fluently, it did not take
them long to answer the questions asked by the customs officials on the
Mexican side, and so they were soon permitted to drive on. They had not
left the river far behind before the vegetation began to change again to
the typical desert varieties, mesquite, chaparral, cacti--especially the
prickly pear and many other thorn-bearing kinds.

Miss Prudence expressed her opinion by saying in a disgusted tone,
"Desolation itself. I never saw so much land going to waste."

"But just think how fertile and productive the land is after it's
irrigated," observed Florence.

Miss Prudence passed over Florence's comment without a word and went on
to scold about the condition of the road. "And that man called this a
good road. I'd call it a series of gullies. It's practically impassable.
If it should rain----"

"It won't, don't worry," comforted Florence.

On account of the many washed-out places in the road, Jo Ann found that
she had to drive in low gear frequently. As a result the engine soon
became overheated and steam began to pour out in jets from the radiator.

"Oh, gee!" she ejaculated. "I'll have to stop now and get some water and
put it in the radiator." She drew her brows together into a frown.
"Where'll I get the water? We haven't a drop with us. Of all the
tenderfeet, I'm the biggest and greenest."

"We'll have to drive all the way back to the river--or maybe we can find
a water hole down toward the river. We might walk down that gully a piece
and see." Florence pointed to the deep cut leading toward the river.

"All right." Jo Ann drew the car up to one side of the road and stopped.

"What's the matter?" Miss Prudence called out anxiously.

"Nothing except our radiator's thirsty. I'm going down here and see if I
can find some water for it." She reached down and picked up a tin bucket
off the floor. "Who wants to go with me?"

"I'll go," Florence replied.

After eying the thick thorny vegetation on all sides, Peggy shook her
head. "Not I. I'd feel as if I were being electrocuted, walking through
all those thorns and stickers."

As Jo Ann and Florence were picking their way gingerly along the rocky
gully, Jo Ann exclaimed, "Why, look! Here're some automobile tracks, and
here's one that looks as if it'd been made just recently. I can't imagine
anyone's being able to get much farther down here."

"Nor I."

When they had gone several yards farther, Jo Ann noticed that the car
tracks led up the sloping left side of the gully. All at once she spied a
car hidden behind some bushes up on the edge of the gully.

"Look, there's the car!" she exclaimed, low-voiced, pointing to it. "Up
there behind that mesquite. Looks as if someone's tried to hide it there.
Something queer about that--suspicious. I'd like to go up and peek inside
it."

"Well, I for one am not going up to investigate." Florence caught Jo Ann
by the hand and pulled her along as fast as she could through the maze of
thorny plants. "You have entirely too much curiosity."

"It's enough to make anyone wonder, to find a car hidden in such a
desolate spot. Maybe"--she whispered her next word--"smugglers've hidden
it there. I'm going up and----"

"Oh, please don't--please----" Florence tugged at Jo Ann's arm, but in
vain.

Jo Ann turned back and started up the slope.

"Well, if you're bound to go, I might as well go, too. I'm not going to
stay here alone." After this whispered reply Florence began following
her.

Without speaking another word the two girls climbed on up the slope.
Cautiously they peeked through the mesquite and chaparral to see if they
could notice anyone in or around the car.

As soon as they were satisfied that there was no one in sight, Jo Ann
made her way up to the old Ford and peered inside, Florence close behind.

Both girls opened their eyes wide on seeing the quantities of pottery and
baskets piled in the back of the car.

Just as Jo Ann was about to whisper to Florence that she believed the car
belonged to smugglers, she suddenly noticed that there was steam jetting
out from the radiator. She pointed meaningly to the steam.

Florence caught the point immediately. Since the engine was still hot the
car must have been hidden there only a few minutes before. Without saying
a word she indicated to Jo Ann that they must hurry away.

Jo Ann lingered for one long keen-eyed look at the battered old car and
especially at the license tag. She was determined to be able to identify
the car if she should see it again. She felt that there was something
mysterious about its being hidden there. A moment later she followed
Florence back down the slope. Silently they continued on down the gully.

On noticing a path leading upward a few yards ahead on the left, Jo Ann
opened her lips to remark about it. Before she could utter a word, a
man's angry voice floated down, speaking rapidly in Spanish. What was it
he was saying? Something about----

Florence caught hold of her hand in a convulsive clutch, and she turned
to see Florence's eyes dilated in terror.

Simultaneously a second voice sounded, with an even more angry ring in
it.

"Hurry! Let's run!" Florence breathed.

To Florence's consternation, Jo Ann darted straight up the path. Just
before reaching the top she halted and peered cautiously in the direction
of the men's voices, then scurried silently back.

Together the two ran up the gully, not even halting when thorns tore
Florence's skirt and scratched a red gash in one of Jo Ann's legs.

"Those men must've said something terrible to scare Florence this way,"
Jo Ann thought as she ran. "All I could make out were the words 'money'
and 'thief.'"

On the two rushed, with only a hurried glance backward now and then.

When at last, panting and puffing, they reached the road, Jo Ann gasped,
"What'd--they say?"

"The first one said--'he's a thief--cheating us--I'm going to kill him.'"

"Wh-ew!" Jo Ann ejaculated while Florence was catching her breath. "The
other--what'd he say?"

"He said, 'I'll help--you kill him.' Then he said--something about some
packages weighing more than his enemy had paid them for."

"Did he say what was in the packages?"

"No."

"I believe those men are smugglers, don't you?"

Florence nodded. "I feel sure they are."

"Do you suppose they belong to that gang of smugglers the mystery man was
after?"

"Hard to say."

"I believe I'll know those men if I ever see them again--their car, too."
Jo Ann threw another hasty glance over her shoulder. "We'd better get
away from this place soon as possible."

"But the engine's so hot--and we haven't any water."

"Here's hoping the engine's cooled off by now."

When they reached the car, Jo Ann glanced anxiously to see if the steam
were still rising.

"Thank goodness!" she murmured as she saw there was no sign of misty
vapor rising from the radiator. "We'll get away from this spot in a
hurry."

When they reached the car, Peggy called out, "We'd decided you'd tumbled
into a water hole or the Rio Grande and drowned. What kept you so long?"

"Er--we----" began Florence.

Jo Ann broke in hurriedly with, "We couldn't find any water."

"What'll we do?" Miss Prudence spoke up quickly. "We can't go on without
water, can we?"

"Yes, the engine's cooled enough by now."

"But it would be the height of folly to start out on a desert road
without water."

By that time Jo Ann had started the car, but not before both she and
Florence had looked anxiously toward the gully.

"Something happened down in that gully that scared them," Peggy told
herself knowingly on noticing their anxious side glances and the excited
expression in their eyes. "As soon as I get them off to themselves, I'm
going to find out."



                               CHAPTER VI
                            A FAMILIAR FACE


It was with the keenest relief that Jo Ann managed to start the car and
drive away before the men appeared. She was not alone in feeling
relieved.

Florence's taut body relaxed, and she remarked, in a low tone, "That was
a narrow escape. If those men'd seen us, no telling----" She left her
sentence unfinished.

Jo Ann nodded understandingly. Those men would have been more angry than
ever if they had known that she and Florence had been listening to them
and peeking into their car. It was too bad she and Florence couldn't have
got some water, but she would far rather run the risk of finding water
elsewhere than for those men to have discovered them there.

Florence seemed to have read her thoughts as she remarked the next
moment, "Surely we'll be able to find some water soon. We've just got to
get some before we go much farther."

The engine soon began to boil again, and Jo Ann was almost in despair.
"Now what'll we do?"

The next instant Florence cried excitedly, "There's a water carrier! We
can get water from him."

"You mean that donkey cart jogging ahead there with the barrel on it?"

"Yes. The Mexican's carrying water to some ranch house or village, and
maybe we can get him to sell us some."

In a flurry of dust Jo Ann stopped the car beside the cart, and Florence
called out in Spanish to the old wrinkled water carrier, "_Buenos tardes,
señor_. Will you sell us a little water?"

At the sound of Florence's voice the lazy burro promptly stopped, and the
man stood peering at them from under his big sombrero.

"See," Florence went on, "we need water for our car. Will you sell us
some?"

"_Muy bien._" He nodded his head and reached for the bucket Jo Ann was
holding out to him.

"Thank my stars someone knows where to get water in this awful desert!"
Miss Prudence exclaimed, feeling relieved at sight of the water. "Do you
suppose that is the only way the people have of getting water out here,
Florence?"

"Probably so."

"Well, I'd certainly hate to live here! Imagine having to drink that
water! And washing dishes and clothes in a thimbleful of water wouldn't
suit me at all, either. I have the whole Atlantic Ocean right at the edge
of my home in Massachusetts."

Florence smiled at the contrast of life in the desert and on the
seacoast.

After they had filled the radiator and their thermos jug with the
precious fluid, they drove off, the girls and Carlitos all calling a
smiling "_adios_" to the water carrier.

A little later, at the old stone house on the edge of the village, they
were halted and their passports examined. As they were waiting for one of
the men to look over the papers Carlitos and Florence talked in Spanish
to the other man. Jo Ann half smiled to herself as she noticed Miss
Prudence's evident disapproval at seeing Carlitos's delight on finding
someone with whom to speak Spanish.

Catching Jo Ann's expression, Miss Prudence remarked crisply, "I can't
get used to having a foreigner for a nephew. I have my doubts if he'll
ever get to be a genuine American."

"I wish I knew Spanish as well as he does. I love the language--it's
beautiful," Jo Ann replied. "I'd be glad, if I were you, that he knows
it; maybe he'll soon be speaking English as easily as Spanish."

"I hope so."

As Jo Ann drove the car slowly through the narrow streets of the quaint
old village, the girls gazed interestedly at the adobe and stone houses
and the picturesque church with its bell tower. From behind half-closed
doors they caught glimpses of dark, eager faces peering at them. A moment
later the road sloped down an abrupt hill, and there was nothing to be
seen but the bleak expanse of desert.

"There's a weird beauty about the desert," Peggy commented thoughtfully
to Florence as she gazed at the vast stretch of silvery grays and tawny
browns which were rolled out before them and silhouetted against the deep
blue of the sky.

"I've decided there's no spot on earth where there isn't beauty of some
description. I agree with you that the desert has its share of
loveliness."

"And it has its share of washes and gullies too," spoke up Miss Prudence
as the car suddenly dipped into a deep cut which jolted them vigorously
from side to side.

About an hour later, Carlitos suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, look--the
mountains! See, over there!"

The other four stared in the southwesterly direction in which he was
pointing, and soon all were able to distinguish the low irregular purple
line of mountains.

"The sight of those mountains thrills me," declared Florence with a
joyous exultation that the other girls and Carlitos shared. "Just think!
Back of that line there's another higher range, then another."

From then on they watched the mountains become more and more distinct,
the deep purple changing into a soft, mauve-tinted gray, while the
distant ranges gradually came into view, their lofty majestic peaks
cloud-wreathed.

When at last they reached the main paved highway, Miss Prudence's
expression brightened. "Thank my stars we're on a good road at last!"

"Oh boy! What a road!" cried Jo Ann as she turned into the smooth-paved
highway.

The miles seemed to fly by, and almost before she realized it they had
reached the first mountain range and begun to climb the walled-in highway
which wound back and forth up the mountain side.

So intent was Jo Ann upon keeping the car close to the cliffs, she could
catch only fleeting glimpses of the valley below and of the road beyond
as it threaded its way higher and higher. The other four, however, had
plenty of time to drink in the majestic beauty of the scenery.

Several times Miss Prudence became alarmed over Jo Ann's ability to
manage Jitters and started to caution her, but each time Peggy broke in
with such warm praises of Jo Ann's driving that she subsided. "Jo never
lets her nerves run away with her," Peggy declared. "She always keeps her
head in emergencies, like the good scout that she is."

"She may be able to keep her nerves from running away, but can she keep
this old Ford from running amuck?" Miss Prudence came back sharply.

"Sure. Jitters is hitting on all four--humming along like a--well, maybe
not like a Cadillac, exactly, but at least like a much better car."

In spite of Peggy's encouragement Miss Prudence did not cease to be
nervous till they reached a more level stretch.

When at last they came in sight of the city, the girls' and Carlitos's
excitement reached the boiling point.

"Now I can speak de Spanish in de city," exulted Carlitos, oblivious of
Miss Prudence's frown.

"Oh, don't you hope the band plays tonight so we can promenade around the
Plaza?" exclaimed Peggy. "That's the most fun! The lovely music--those
beautiful dark-eyed señoritas--and, oh, those handsome men! Light of my
eyes! Pride of my heart!" Peggy placed her hand over her heart in a
ridiculously exaggerated gesture that sent Florence into peals of
laughter.

Suddenly remembering that Peggy's exaggerated acting might have been
misunderstood by Miss Prudence, Florence hastily checked her mirth and
remarked, "Peggy doesn't mean anything by her raving. She's perfectly
harmless."

On nearing the outskirts of the city Miss Prudence suggested to Florence
that, as she was familiar with the hotels, she choose the best one and
drive directly to it. "When I say choose the best one, I mean the most
modern one," she explained.

"There's a beautiful new one just built recently that I know you'll
like," Florence replied, then added, "I'd better drive the rest of the
way, as I'm familiar with the city and the narrow one-way streets."

Jo Ann stopped the car saying, "I'm glad to turn the wheel over to you.
I'd get all mixed up on the one-way streets and go in the wrong direction
every time, since all the signs are in Spanish."

With eyes eager and shining, the four young people viewed the streets,
the shops and houses, and the crowds in the downtown section.

When Florence stopped the car in front of the city's most modern hotel,
Miss Prudence went with Florence and Peggy to see about rooms while Jo
Ann stayed in the car with Carlitos.

A smiling little black-eyed Mexican newsboy ran up to the car to try to
sell them a paper, and Carlitos promptly bought one; not that he wanted
to read it, but because he wanted to talk to a real Mexican boy once
more. He was still chatting with him in a lively flow of Spanish when
Miss Prudence came back. At first she frowned in disapproval, then began
to smile. "I might as well be resigned to having a little Mexican for a
nephew," she remarked to Jo Ann. "Carlitos loves Mexican people and their
language."

"I do, too," Jo Ann replied. "Spanish is such a beautiful language, and
the people here--why, there aren't any friendlier, more smiling people
anywhere in the world."

As soon as they had gone up to their cheerful, airy hotel rooms, bathed
and dressed, it was time for supper. At Florence's suggestion they went
to an old restaurant with a more distinctive Mexican atmosphere and
cookery than the hotel had. The girls, as well as Carlitos, thoroughly
enjoyed ordering from a menu card written in both Spanish and English.

Miss Prudence smiled whimsically as she glanced at the card and remarked
to Florence and Carlitos, "You two may order your food in Spanish, but
not I." Her smile suddenly disappeared on noticing the high prices:
"Scrambled eggs--forty cents," she read. "Why, that's terrible!"

"But that's in Mexican money," laughed Florence. "That's only about
thirteen cents in American."

Miss Prudence nodded. "O-oh! I see. I'd forgotten about that."

It was a delicious meal that the alert, polite waiter brought them, and
even Miss Prudence, who at first was dubious about Mexican cookery's
comparing favorably with New England's, praised it enthusiastically.

Florence and Carlitos, though, enjoyed it most of all.

"That _chocolaté_ is the best I've had since I left Mexico last fall,"
Florence declared, while Carlitos was all smiles over the _frijoles_ and
_chile con carne_.

When they left the restaurant, it was twilight, and they could hear the
band in the little park, or plaza, as it was called, playing an old
Mexican air.

"Oh, let's go to the Plaza now and promenade!" exclaimed Peggy eagerly.
"I adore walking around and around the square with the crowds."

"Yes, let's," agreed Florence. "You want to go, too, don't you, Jo Ann?"

"Of course. I may let you girls do the strolling around while I sit on
one of the spectators' benches and----"

"Pooh!" scoffed Peggy. "You're no Methuselah. You'll have to promenade
too. When you're in Mexico, do as the Mexicans do, my dear." Realizing
that Miss Prudence had not given her consent to their plan, she began
explaining how the Mexican girls walked slowly round and round the
square, while the boys walked equally as slowly on the inside in the
opposite direction, exchanging smiles and a few words now and then but
not stopping. "And chaperons! I never saw so many. You won't have seen
Mexico unless you see this scene."

Miss Prudence smiled. "That being the case, I'll have to go with you."

As soon as they had reached the Plaza, Miss Prudence and Carlitos found
seats, and the three girls joined the laughing, dark-eyed señoritas,
mingling with them and feeling a warm kinship--a oneness with them.

Jo Ann, having been the one on the outside, found her attention centered
on the spectators sitting or standing near the curb rather than on the
boys on the inside of the Plaza.

Just as she reached one of the corners, she caught a sudden glimpse of a
familiar face in the crowd in the background. Her heart leaped. There was
the mystery man! The very man to whom she had listened in the hotel in
Houston. Thank goodness, he hadn't lost his life!

As she slowed her steps to look over her shoulder at him to assure
herself that she was not mistaken, Florence pulled her along saying, "No
fair stopping--you're blocking the line."

"Yes, but I just saw the mystery man on that corner, and I----"

"Jo! I declare you must have that man on your mind. You're probably
imagining that it's he. Someone resembling him, perhaps it was."

"No--no! It was he. When we get back around to that corner I'll point him
out to you."

"Who's that you're going to point out, Jo?" broke in Peggy.

"The mystery man! I've just seen him. I wish you didn't have to keep
going in the same direction."

Jo Ann could scarcely wait to get back to that corner. It seemed miles
around the square to her this time. When at last she reached the corner
again, she gazed eagerly about for the stalwart, keen-eyed stranger, but
he was not to be seen anywhere.

"Oh, shoot! He's gone!" she exclaimed, exasperated. "And I wanted to tell
him about those smugglers we saw back there in the desert."



                              CHAPTER VII
                      "WE MUST GET AN EARLY START"


Peggy stretched her eyes wide. "Smugglers! You actually saw some
smugglers in the desert?"

"Sh! Not so loud," Jo Ann warned, low-voiced. "We think they were
smugglers, but of course we can't be absolutely certain."

"So that was what you and Florence were so excited about when you came
back to the car out there in the desert. Hurry up and tell me all about
it."

"We can't--not here, with all these people around. Wait till we get to
the hotel; then we'll tell you everything, won't we, Florence?"

Florence nodded assent.

After a second time around the Plaza without seeing the mystery man, Jo
Ann was more disappointed than ever.

When they reached the place where Miss Prudence and Carlitos were
sitting, Miss Prudence gestured to them to step from the line and come to
her side. "Girls," she began as soon as they walked over, "I think we'd
better leave now and go on back to the hotel. You know the trip tomorrow
up the mountains to the mine is bound to be a very hard one. We must get
an early start in the morning."

On hearing these familiar words, "get an early start," the girls
exchanged swift glances but succeeded in keeping sober expressions on
their faces.

Peggy protested lightly, "This music is so lovely, I hate to leave it."

"You'll be able to hear it from your room at the hotel--it's so close
by," Miss Prudence replied.

"Peggy likes to promenade as well as to hear the music," Florence put in,
teasing.

"She'll have other opportunities to promenade, probably."

"Yes," put in Florence. "The mine is not so far away but what we can come
back here at least a few times this summer."

Miss Prudence rose from the bench and started toward the hotel, the girls
following, but not without several backward glances at the fascinating
Plaza and the gay young crowd.

Peggy would not have followed as meekly if it had not been that she was
eager to hear Florence's and Jo Ann's tale about the smugglers. Jo Ann,
too, would not have been so willing to go if it had not been that the
mystery man had disappeared and she now felt that she would not get a
chance to tell him about the smugglers.

When they reached the hotel, Florence, who was to be Miss Prudence's
roommate, went on with Jo Ann and Peggy to their room, explaining to Miss
Prudence that she would come to bed shortly.

As soon as Peggy had closed the door of their room, she ordered, "Tell
that tale about the smugglers from beginning to end. I knew something
exciting had happened to you back there in the desert, and I don't know
why I forgot to ask about it sooner unless it was because I was so
interested in getting to the city."

Jo Ann, with Florence's frequent promptings, quickly recounted the
details about the hidden car, its contents, and the men's angry
conversation.

"Wh-ew, I'm glad I didn't go with you after the water," Peggy exclaimed
when they had finished. "I'd have been sure to have shrieked or squealed,
and they'd have discovered me. One thing I don't understand, though, is
what makes you so certain they were smugglers. The fact that they had
baskets and pottery in their car doesn't prove that they were trying to
take them across the border without paying duty, does it?"

"No," Jo Ann replied. "Think what a good blind the pottery and baskets
would be! It would look as if the men were regular merchants buying
Mexican wares for the trade in the States, wouldn't it?"

Peggy nodded.

"Then think how easy it'd be to conceal dope or gold in the jars and
vases and baskets. It's dope or gold--or both--they're probably
smuggling. The chances are the packages the men complained about not
being weighed correctly held one or both of those articles."

"That's so. Those are the things the coast guard said were smuggled most
frequently."

"I'm not going to be satisfied till I see my mystery man again," Jo Ann
went on earnestly. "I could tell him the exact spot where we'd seen that
hidden car, and that might be the very bit of information he needs to be
able to catch the men."

"I shouldn't be at all surprised if those men belong to the gang that
man's trying to break up. I wish, Jo, you could see that mystery man and
tell him all this, but in this big city"--Florence shook her head
dubiously--"your chances of seeing him again are small."

Jo Ann's chin took on a determined little tilt. "I'm coming back here as
soon as I can and look for him. I believe this main plaza is a good place
to look for him, too. It's a sort of central meeting place for
everybody."

Florence nodded. "That's true. Everybody naturally gravitates toward the
Plaza. It's the very heart of the city."

Long after Florence had left to go to Miss Prudence's room and Peggy was
sound asleep, Jo Ann lay wide awake pondering over plans for getting back
to the city and for finding the mystery man. She had to leave early
tomorrow with the others, as all arrangements had been made for
Florence's father and Carlitos's uncle, Mr. Eldridge, to meet them at a
small village on the way to the mine.

It was well that they did get an early start the next morning, as the
nearer they approached the high mountain range beyond the city, the
steeper and more dangerous the road became.

"I think we'll have to leave our car at the village and go the rest of
the way to La Esperanza by oxcart or horses," said Peggy. "That's the way
Mr. Eldridge said they had to do last summer." She smiled over at Miss
Prudence. "Which will you choose, the oxcart or a horse?"

"A horse every time," came back the quick reply. "I love to ride
horseback."

"Grand!" approved Jo Ann.

"I'll feel safer--more comfortable, too--on a good horse than in this
car." Miss Prudence added whimsically, "I beg your pardon for knocking
Jitters that way."

Jo Ann smiled broadly. Miss Prudence was a good scout after all. She
could ride horseback and condescended now and then to a bit of slang,
such as the word "knocking" just then.

When they neared San Geronimo where they were to meet Dr. Blackwell and
Mr. Eldridge, the faces of all five began to glow with anticipation.
Florence could hardly wait to see her father, and Carlitos his uncle Mr.
Eldridge, who was Miss Prudence's only brother.

As soon as she caught sight of the flat-roofed adobe houses of the
village Florence began exulting, "I'll soon see Dad now! He'll be waiting
at old Pedro's store."

"We'll hate to give you up," put in Peggy. "We'll miss you so much!"

"It won't be long till I'll be coming over to see you, and then you can
come over and visit with me and see our city again."

"So we'll end up in spending the summer together after all," laughed Jo
Ann.

Florence nodded so emphatically that Peggy's face brightened again.

In a few more minutes Florence stopped the car in front of the little
store, then leaped out and into the arms of a tall, distinguished,
gray-haired man, crying, "Daddy! Oh, Daddy! I'm so glad to see you."

Just then a tall thin man and a small black-eyed Mexican boy rode up on
horses and leaped off.

At sight of them Carlitos shouted joyfully, "My uncle and Pepito! My
Pepito!" He sprang out of the car, ran over and greeted his uncle
hastily, then flew over to the grinning little Mexican and threw his arms
affectionately about him.

"Who is that child?" Miss Prudence demanded of Jo Ann after they had all
exchanged greetings with Mr. Eldridge.

"That's Pepito, his foster brother--the son of the nurse who took care of
Carlitos so many years. They love each other like real brothers."

"We-ell, I suppose they should feel that way," Miss Prudence said slowly.
"After all, all the peoples of the earth are 'of one blood'--so the Good
Book says."

"We believe that in theory but don't always practice it, as Carlitos and
Pepito do," put in Mr. Eldridge, secretly amused at his sister's inward
struggle to accept this relationship between her nephew and the little
Mexican.

"Where're the horses we're to ride?" Peggy asked curiously after looking
about on all sides. "Or are we going to ride in that oxcart over there?"

"No, that won't be necessary. I left the horses on up the road about
twelve miles," Mr. Eldridge answered. "I've had the road repaired so you
can drive the car to the foot of the mountain."

"Why, that's grand!" exclaimed both girls together. "Not that we don't
like to ride horseback," added Jo Ann, "but we can travel so much faster
in Jitters."

After many words of farewell Florence and her father drove off down the
highway which led to the town farther into the interior where they lived.

In a few more minutes, Jo Ann was steering Jitters out of the village and
into the road which led to the mine. She had only two other passengers
now, as Carlitos insisted on riding on the horse with Pepito.

Just as she was about to pass a little shack on the outskirts of the
village, she caught sight of an empty old Ford parked under a mesquite
tree just off the road. She stared at it incredulously, then cried out a
sharp, "Oh, there's that same car we----" She checked her words suddenly,
swerving the car dangerously near an irrigation ditch at the side of the
road.

"Mercy!" gasped Miss Prudence from the back seat. "What are you trying to
do--turn us over?"

Jo Ann's face flamed with excitement and embarrassment.

"No'm," she said meekly as she drove on slowly. "I--I--really--I
don't--see why I did such a silly trick."

Under cover of the car's noise, a little later, Peggy asked curiously,
"What on earth made you so excited over seeing that old car?"

Jo Ann's voice was barely audible as she replied, "Because it was the car
Florence and I saw hidden up in that gully in the desert. Smugglers."

"O-oh! Are you absolutely sure?"

Jo Ann nodded. "It had the same license number, and the radiator was
bumped in exactly the same places."



                              CHAPTER VIII
                              AT THE MINE


When they neared the foot of the lofty mountains and the end of the
automobile road, Jo Ann parked the car in front of a small thatched adobe
house. "This is the jumping-off place," she smiled. "Here's where we
leave Jitters and get our horses."

Miss Prudence eyed the house curiously. "This must be where Ed told me we
were to change into our riding clothes. He said for us to be ready by the
time he and the boys got here. I don't fancy going into a strange house
in a strange----" She stopped abruptly as a fat, smiling-faced Mexican
woman appeared at the open door and began beaming her welcome and
punctuating her Spanish with gestures for them to come inside.

Summoning her limited Spanish, Jo Ann replied with a "_Gracias_," then
turned and translated the woman's welcoming words to Miss Prudence.

After a moment's hesitation Miss Prudence followed the girls into the
house. Her keen eyes quickly took in the room, which had a neat,
well-kept appearance in spite of its dirt floor and primitive furniture.

The woman disappeared into the other room, evidently the kitchen, as they
could hear her rattling dishes and beating vigorously with some utensil.

"I hope she's making us some _chocolaté_," Jo Ann whispered to Peggy as
they slipped into their khaki riding trousers.

"I hope so too. I'm hungry as a bear. Mountain air always gives me a
ravenous appetite."

"Here, too. I could wrap myself around a substantial meal right now, and
it'll probably be two hours yet till we reach the mine--and supper."

As Jo Ann's thoughts turned on the distance to the mine, she wondered how
she would be able to get back to the city and find the mystery man. Now
that she had seen the car of those suspected smugglers in the village so
close by, she felt it was more imperative than ever for her to tell the
mystery man about them and their whereabouts. "I've simply got to get in
touch with him some way," she told herself.

So intent was she upon these thoughts that she did not heed Peggy's
nudging her till she squealed out, "Can't you put on your boots, Peg,
without poking me in the side?"

"Oh, I most humbly beg your pardon," Peggy replied, her twinkling eyes
showing that her apology was anything but abject.

Catching her gesture, a nod of the head in Miss Prudence's direction, Jo
Ann looked over at Miss Prudence. The next moment her eyes opened in
astonishment. That long, full, navy skirt Miss Prudence had on--how on
earth was she ever going to ride in that thing? That must be one of those
old-fashioned side-saddle riding skirts she'd heard her grandmother talk
about. It'd be absolutely dangerous to ride side saddle in this
mountainous country. She'd often heard how easily such a saddle was
tipped out of balance and the rider thrown off. The next moment she
relaxed as the thought occurred to her that there were no side saddles in
this part of the country. Perhaps she'd better tell her that.

Somewhat embarrassed, Jo Ann stammered, "Er--Miss Prudence--er--they
don't have any--side saddles down here."

Miss Prudence looked puzzled as she replied Yankee-fashion with a
question, "Well, who wants one?" Seeing the girls' eyes fastened on her
skirt, she smiled, "This isn't one of those old side-saddle riding
skirts. It's a divided skirt." There was a note of pride in her voice as
she added, "I was the first woman in my part of the country to begin
riding astride. I shocked the older people dreadfully."

"I think you were a good sport, Miss Prudence, to start that style,"
Peggy remarked.

Miss Prudence received this praise with a pleased smile.

Just then the Mexican woman entered with a tray of food which she set on
a little table near by. Gesturing and talking rapidly to Jo Ann, she
explained, "I think you have much hunger, and I make you some
_chocolaté_."

Though Jo Ann's reply was made in broken Spanish, it was straight from
her heart. "_Gracias._ You are most kind. We have hunger after the long
ride. And _chocolaté_--I love it." She raised the cup to her lips and
drank a little of the rich, frothy liquid. "This is very delicious."

Peggy and Miss Prudence nodded a smiling approval to the woman, and her
black eyes glowed with happiness at the praise, both spoken and unspoken.

A few minutes after they had finished eating, Mr. Eldridge and the two
boys rode up.

On going outside Jo Ann saw that there were three other horses saddled
and waiting for them. She noticed, too, that José, Pepito's father, was
standing near by, his arms caressingly about Carlitos, whom he loved
almost as dearly as he did his own son. Carlitos's face was aglow with
happiness at being reunited with his Mexican friends.

After she and Peggy had mounted, they watched with curious eyes to see
how Miss Prudence manipulated that queer skirt. When they saw her
unbutton the front panel and fold it back and refasten it on another set
of buttons, they saw that it was a divided skirt after all.

Peggy leaned over from her horse to murmur to Jo Ann, "It looks like a
pair of floppy-legged pajamas now."

Jo Ann nodded, then added, grinning, "I prefer to sleep in pajamas and
ride in trousers. It's so much more modest."

Peggy suppressed a giggle with difficulty at the thought of the proper
Miss Prudence's ever wearing anything but the most correct clothes.

Notwithstanding the queer skirt, they found that Miss Prudence rode
unusually well, handling her horse with the ease of an experienced
horsewoman.

Up the steep mountain trail they began climbing in single file, José in
the lead. The sheer precipice at the edge looked so dangerous to Jo Ann
that she tried to keep from looking over. One good thing, they had an
excellent guide in José. He had led her and Florence over worse places
than this.

On nearing the mine a strange feeling of tenseness filled the girls and
Carlitos; and yet that was not surprising, as the mine had been the scene
of the most thrilling adventures they had ever experienced. It was here
that they had been rescued from the treacherous mine foreman who had
stolen the mine from Carlitos's father.

On their arrival at the great stone house that this foreman had so
proudly built for his own use, they found José's wife, Maria, the nurse
who had reared Carlitos as one of her family. Though she was only a poor
ignorant woman of the peon class, the girls as well as Carlitos loved
her.

"Maria has a heart of gold," Jo Ann told Miss Prudence as they watched
her enfold Carlitos in her arms and kiss him on each cheek. "She loves
him as she does her own Pepito and her girls."

A few minutes later Maria proudly showed Carlitos to his room, into which
she had put the best of everything, then took Miss Prudence and the girls
to adjoining rooms, which looked bare and forbidding with their concrete
floors, scant furniture, and curtainless, iron-barred windows.

"Looks like a soldiers' barracks," Miss Prudence said crisply after a
swift glance about.

Jo Ann laughed, then said, "You should have seen this house as it was the
first time I saw it. There was a grand piano in every room with a game
rooster tied to one of the piano legs."

Miss Prudence gasped. "A rooster in every room! Heavens! You mean to say
this whole house was a chicken coop?"

"Not exactly. It was just that Mexican foreman's idea of the luxurious
life. He loved music and cock fighting, so he wanted the pianos and
roosters handy."

"Heavens!" gasped Miss Prudence again. "Why, I must fumigate this whole
house, clean it with Old Dutch Cleanser, Lysol----"

"Oh, Maria cleaned it long ago--thoroughly," broke in Jo Ann quickly,
seeing that the anxious-eyed Maria was watching Miss Prudence's frown of
evident disapproval and was worried. She turned now to Maria and said in
Spanish, "The house is very clean. You have worked hard."

Maria's grave eyes brightened. "Yes, the little girls and I work hard."
She gestured to the window and the corners of the room. "See, I clean it
good like Carlitos's mamá show me."

Though Miss Prudence had caught from these gestures that Maria was
showing how thoroughly she had cleaned the house, she was far from being
convinced that it was fit for human habitation. Again she broke into a
list of the different kinds of cleansing materials and things that she
would need.

"We'll have to go to the city to get all those things," put in Peggy.
"They won't have them in the little store in the village."

Jo Ann's eyes suddenly began to shine. Here was her chance to get back to
the city to find the mystery man. She could stop in the village and find
out what those smugglers were doing there. Maybe they were buying baskets
and pottery from the villagers. She'd soon find out now.

The first moment she and Peggy were alone she told her of her plans.

Peggy laughed. "I knew that's what you were planning. You can't resist a
mystery, can you?"

"And you're almost as eager as I am to have a finger in my mystery pie.
You know you're crazy to go to the city with me."

"Of course I am."



                               CHAPTER IX
                     MISS PRUDENCE'S CLEANING SPREE


Before dropping to sleep that night Jo Ann decided that as soon as she
got up in the morning she would urge Miss Prudence to let her and Peggy
go to the city. "I'll tell her what this house needs worse than another
cleaning is some pretty cretonne for curtains and pillows, and some of
the lovely Mexican pottery and bright-colored blankets. I could stop at
the village and buy the pottery and blankets. There were some pieces of
pottery outside that shack near where the smugglers' car was parked.
That'd give me a grand chance to find out from the family in the shack
about the smugglers. Then I'd have more to tell the mystery man--if I can
find him. Finding him--that'll be the hard part."

Still visioning ways and plans for this trip to the city, she finally
drifted off to sleep.

She was roused early the next morning by a cold hand upon her bare
shoulder. Horrors! One of those smugglers had grabbed her--she'd jerk
away from him! She sprang out of bed with a leap that sent her into the
middle of the room, then stood staring dazedly at an amazed Miss
Prudence.

"Why, I didn't mean to frighten you, Jo Ann," she said apologetically. "I
just meant to wake you early so----"

"O-oh, it's just you!" gasped Jo Ann, feeling very foolish at seeing it
was only Miss Prudence. "I must've been dreaming. I thought one of
those----" She stopped abruptly. She must not say a word about having
seen those smugglers. No use to get Miss Prudence stirred up and excited
over them.

"I'm sorry I scared you," Miss Prudence began again, "but I thought we
ought to get an early start to----"

"But we're at the end of our journey," broke in Peggy, who was sitting up
in bed now, rubbing her eyes sleepily. "We don't have any place to start
early to."

"What I began to say was that we ought to get an early start at giving
this house a thorough cleaning," Miss Prudence went on, undisturbed by
Peggy's interruption.

"The house looks clean to me--very clean," Jo Ann remarked.

"Maria may have gone through the motions of cleaning, but"--Miss Prudence
raised her eyebrows skeptically--"a peon housekeeper's ideas of cleaning
and an American's are two different things."

"Don't you want us to go to the city to get some--some fumigating
stuff--formaldehyde, isn't that what you call it?" Jo Ann asked eagerly.

"No, I've decided it isn't necessary to have the place fumigated. I've
decided there's enough laundry soap here to begin with. Ed says he's
ordered more, and a lot of supplies that should have come to the village
yesterday. He thinks they'll come today surely. I'll make plenty of
strong suds, and we can begin scrubbing this morning. When we get
through, this place'll be as bright as a new penny."

"It'll still be dreadfully bare, though," Jo Ann remarked tentatively.
"As you said last night, it looks as bare as a barracks. What it needs is
gay cretonne draperies and pillows, bright-colored blankets to throw over
the chests and couches, and some of the lovely Mexican _ollas_. As soon
as we get the house clean, let's go to the city to get the draperies. We
can probably find some pottery and blankets at the village."

"Well, we'll think about that later."

"The sooner we get this house fixed up, the longer we'll have to enjoy
it," spoke up Peggy, coming to Jo Ann's aid. She knew how Jo Ann's heart
was set on getting back to the city. "Let's try to have it all done by
the time Florence comes."

"Well, we'll see."

The girls had to content themselves with that vague promise.

After Miss Prudence had left the room and the girls were dressing, Jo Ann
remarked, "I haven't given up hope yet of going to the city soon. I'm
going to try to persuade Miss Prudence to let us go to the village this
afternoon for the supplies that Mr. Eldridge is expecting."

"I'll help persuade her." Peggy changed the subject abruptly by saying,
"I hate to have her hurt Maria's feelings by doing all this cleaning,
don't you?"

Jo Ann nodded. "I'll try to smooth it over to Maria, but she'll never be
able to understand such extreme ideas about sanitation."

As soon as they had finished eating breakfast, the girls entered
industriously into Miss Prudence's "cleaning spree," as Jo Ann called it.
While Peggy poured the soapy water over the concrete floors, Jo Ann
scrubbed vigorously enough to satisfy even Miss Prudence.

"It's really fun," Jo Ann declared as she swished the foamy suds about
with her broom.

Miss Prudence, a towel over her head and her long skirts tucked up and
pinned in the back, bustled about superintending the girls, Maria and her
oldest daughters, and the two boys.

Maria was horrified that Miss Prudence should set Carlitos, the chief
owner of the silver mine and the house, to doing such menial tasks as
carrying water from the stream back of the house. Miss Prudence, however,
believed with St. Paul that he who would not work should not eat and soon
had everybody in the household stepping lively.

"I wish that soap and other supplies'd come today," she said, frowning as
she took out the last bar of soap. "The supplies are very low. I can't
plan a decent meal in this house without those things."

"Peggy and I'll go to the village for them this afternoon," Jo Ann
offered eagerly. "We can drive the car and make better time than José can
in the oxcart."

Miss Prudence hesitated a moment, then replied, "Well, if José can go
with you, I believe you'd better go."

"Fine! I'm sure Mr. Eldridge'll let José go. He sends him there
frequently for the mail--every other day, I believe."

Jo Ann was right in this surmise. Mr. Eldridge promptly agreed to let
José accompany the girls to the village. "José can take two burros along
to carry the supplies," he added, "and he won't need the oxcart at all."

So it was that shortly after lunch the two girls and José started on
horseback but changed into the automobile when they reached the foot of
the mountain.

On reaching the village they drove straight to Pedro's store to see if
the supplies had come. On finding that they had arrived, José set to work
to load them into the car. While he was busy at that task, Jo Ann and
Peggy walked back to the adobe shack where Jo Ann had seen the smugglers'
car.

To Jo Ann's relief, the battered old car was not in sight.

"I'll have a far better chance to find out about the smugglers without
their being on the scene," she remarked to Peggy.

As soon as they neared the shack, a thin, undernourished woman with a
black _rebosa_ about her shoulders and a baby in her arms appeared at the
door. Peeping from behind her skirts were several other small, half-clad,
hungry-looking children. As quickly as she could in her broken Spanish,
Jo Ann explained that she wanted to buy some of the pottery jars piled up
at the side of the house.

The woman shook her head and replied, "I have much sorrow that I cannot
sell them to you. Two men in an automobile told me they take all my
_ollas_."

"Was that their automobile I saw here near your house yesterday?"

The woman nodded.

"I must find out when they will be back," Jo Ann thought quickly. "Can
you not get more jars for these men by the time they come back, and sell
me some of these you have now?" she asked tentatively.

"No, that is impossible. It takes much time to make the _ollas_, and the
men say they come back in three or four days."

"Three or four days," Jo Ann thought. "I hope Florence comes on one of
those days, so we'll have an excuse to come down here to meet her."

Peggy broke into her thoughts with, "Ask her the price of these jars.
They're lovely." She picked up two jars, each attractively decorated with
a design of cactus and Spanish dagger.

Jo Ann relayed this question to the woman. "How much do you sell these
for?"

The woman went on to tell the price of each--an absurdly small amount,
not a third as much as they were worth.

"Is that what those men pay you for them?" Jo Ann asked incredulously.

"_Sí._" The woman nodded.

Jo Ann repeated the price to Peggy, adding, "Those men are robbers, as
well as----"

She left her sentence unfinished and turned back to the woman, saying,
"They do not pay you enough. I will give you twice that much for these
two _ollas_."

The woman's eyes opened wide. "Ah--that is good. I have much need of
money to buy food for my children." She hesitated a moment, then added,
"_Bien_, I will let you have these two. The men will be angry, but
then----" She shrugged her shoulders expressively.

Jo Ann's mind was working rapidly. Perhaps she could help this poor woman
to market more of her pottery. Florence had a friend who purchased
Mexican curios for a firm in the States. She would tell Florence about
this woman's pottery. "I'll take these two _ollas_. Don't let those men
have all your pottery after this. I will sell it for you at this price."

After Jo Ann had paid for the jars and had promised the woman again to
help sell more of the pottery for her, Peggy remarked as they were
starting away, "I'm glad you paid that woman more for the _ollas_, but
I'm afraid those men'll be furious when they find out you're buying her
pottery at double the price they pay. You're heading for trouble."

Jo Ann's face grew grave. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I'm glad just
the same that I could help that family. Those poor little children look
half starved to me."

"They surely do," Peggy agreed.



                               CHAPTER X
                         THE INDEFINITE MAÑANA


As soon as Jo Ann woke the third morning after their trip to the village,
she reminded Peggy that they must go back without fail today. "You know
Florence said she'd either be there by noon, or that there'd be a letter
telling exactly when to expect her. It all depended, she said, on which
day her father had to go to the city."

Peggy half smiled. "That's not the only reason you want to go to the
village. You want to get another look at those smugglers and get some
information about them; now, don't you?"

"Yes. I want to be able to give the straight facts to the mystery man--if
I ever see him again. I want to find out how often those men come to the
village--where they go on their trips farther into the interior--what it
is they're smuggling--exactly what route they take on their way back to
the border, and----"

"What do you think you are--a glorified kind of Sherlock or a whole
detective agency?"

"Neither. Only I think we've bumped into a fascinating mystery that's
daring us to solve it. I want to play safe, but if we can get any
information that'll aid in catching that band of smugglers and maybe help
keep the mystery man from losing his life, I certainly want to get it."

"Well, don't get too venturesome. I've known you to get too enthusiastic
about your mystery-solving. One good thing, José will go with us to the
village. He'll be our bodyguard without knowing it."

To the girls' relief Miss Prudence gave her permission for them to
accompany José to the village again. They were ready and waiting
impatiently for him several minutes before he appeared with the horses
and an extra pack burro.

"I'm afraid those smugglers'll have come for the pottery and gone before
we get to the village, at this rate," Jo Ann fumed while she was waiting.

Peggy grinned. "So much the better for us. I, for one, never want to see
them."

"I've got to find out their plans some way or other."

As before, they rode down the mountain, then left their horses and the
burro at the rough thatched shed where their car was stored.

"Let's give this shed a name," Peggy suggested as they climbed into the
car.

"All right," Jo Ann agreed. "How about calling it Jitters' House? That's
what it is now. It's the first time the garage was so far away that I had
to ride horseback to get to it."

Peggy smiled. "Hereafter, then, this is Jitters' House."

On nearing the Mexican woman's shack Jo Ann began looking eagerly to see
if the pottery were still piled up beside it.

"Good!" she exclaimed. "The pottery's still there. That means the men
haven't----" She stopped in the middle of her sentence. José was
beginning to understand English much better now that he was staying at
Mr. Eldridge's home, and so might be able to get an inkling of what she
was talking about.

As it was, Peggy understood, since Jo Ann had been worrying all the way
down the mountain lest the pottery and the men should be gone.

Jo Ann drove straight to Pedro's store, the scheduled meeting place
again, as it had been the day they had all driven from the city. There
was no sign of Florence's small trim figure to be seen outside the store
or inside.

"Maybe we're too early," Peggy suggested.

"We have to wait for the mail, anyway--it hasn't come yet, Pedro said,"
Jo Ann replied. "If there isn't a letter from her, we'll know she's
coming and will wait till she appears. This delay suits me to a T."

"Don't I know it! You're just aching for those old smugglers to appear
while we're here. I hope they don't."

Undisturbed, Jo Ann went on, "While we're waiting, let's you and me go
back to that shack and find out if any of the family knows exactly when
the men are coming after the pottery."

"We-ell, I s'pose there couldn't be any danger about asking a few
questions."

Peggy climbed back into the car with Jo Ann, leaving José squatting on
the sidewalk smoking his corn-shuck cigarette and chatting with a group
of his peon friends.

When they stopped in front of the shack, they noticed a little dark-eyed
girl, the tallest of the stair-step children she had seen previously,
standing close to the piles of pottery. Jo Ann promptly leaped out of the
car and walked over and began admiring the pottery.

"The _ollas_ are very beautiful," she said in her slow Spanish. "Did you
help to decorate them?"

"_Sí_, I fix this one." She picked up a small, brightly colored jar.

"It is lovely," admired Jo Ann. "You are very artistic."

The girl's black eyes shone, and two dimples twinkled in her olive-tinted
cheeks at this praise.

After she had looked at the pottery a few minutes longer, Jo Ann asked
haltingly, "Do you know when the men are coming for your _ollas_?"

"_Sí_," the girl nodded, her long black braids swaying with the motion.
"They tell my papa they come _mañana_."

"_Mañana_," Jo repeated to herself discouragedly. That was the most
indefinite word in the Spanish language. It might mean tomorrow, and it
might mean any time in months to come. "Do you mean Friday?" she asked.

"_Sí_, Friday."

"What time?"

The girl shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe in the morning; maybe in the
afternoon--I do not know."

"What time did they come last time they bought your pottery?"

The child shook her head. "I do not remember."

Just then the girl's mother appeared in the doorway and smiled broadly on
recognizing Jo Ann and Peggy.

Jo Ann walked over to the door and, after exchanging greetings with her,
asked if she knew exactly when the men were coming after the pottery,
ending, "Maybe they will sell me some more of your beautiful _ollas_ when
they come."

The woman answered with the same gesture as had her daughter--a shrug of
her shoulders and, "I do not know."

"When do they usually come?" Jo Ann persisted.

"Last time they come about this hour. They stop at Pedro's store first;
then they come here."

Jo Ann's eyes brightened. At last she had secured a bit of information.

As it turned out, this was the only piece forthcoming. Question after
question brought forth only the inevitable but expressive shrug of the
shoulders.

Though she could see Jo Ann was discouraged, Peggy could not help smiling
and asking teasingly, "Have you learned yet what this means?" She raised
her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders in true Mexican style.

"Silly!" Jo Ann exploded. The next moment she grinned and replied, "It
means anything and everything. I'm going to cultivate that gesture myself
and use it when anyone tries to quiz me."

When they reached the store, the mail had arrived and in it a letter from
Florence.

Jo Ann tore open the envelope quickly, glanced over the short note, and
handed it to Peggy, saying, "She'll be here tomorrow afternoon--and so'll
we be here." To herself she added that there might be two others who
probably would not be very comfortable persons to have near.



                               CHAPTER XI
                         THE SECRET OF THE OLLA


The girls had thought that as usual José would accompany them to the
village the next day. As it happened, however, there was some extra work
for him to do about the mine, and Mr. Eldridge decided to send Carlitos
and Pepito as escorts for them in place of José. "Each boy can ride a
horse, and then on the way back they can ride double, as they did the
first day, and let Florence have the extra horse," he said.

"Fine!" Jo Ann exclaimed.

Peggy was silent. The thought had darted into her mind that if those
smugglers should chance to be in the village at the same time that they
were, it would be more comfortable to have José along instead of the
boys.

When they reached Jitters' House, the boys suddenly decided to stay there
and wait for the girls. "Pepito and I are going to build a dam in this
stream," Carlitos explained, gesturing toward the small stream near by.

When a half hour later the girls passed the pottery woman's shack without
seeing any sign of the smugglers' car, Peggy breathed a little more
freely. "We'll probably leave before they get here," she thought.

As if in answer to her thoughts, Jo Ann spoke up briskly, "I see where
we'll have to wait around the village till those men come. Since the
pottery's still there, I know they haven't come yet."

"Oh, I wouldn't do that," Peggy answered quickly. "We might have to stay
so long it'd be dark before we'd get back to the mine."

"Of course we can't wait that long. I'm in hopes they'll come soon, but I
want to see them if I possibly can."

When they came in sight of Pedro's store, they saw Florence standing out
in front, looking up the narrow street.

"Attaboy! There she is!" cried Jo Ann.

"She sees us now!" Peggy waved both arms vigorously, a gesture that was
answered equally enthusiastically by Florence.

As soon as the three girls had exchanged the warmest of greetings and
Florence and her baggage were settled in the car, Jo Ann broke into an
account of having seen the smugglers' car, and all the other details.

Florence was indignant over the ridiculously low price the men were
paying the villagers for their pottery. "You're right, Jo. Those men are
thieves," she said. "They're making three or four hundred per cent profit
on the pottery, to say nothing of what they're getting out of their
smuggling. I believe I can pay that woman and the other villagers more
than you did for their _ollas_, and ship them to the States, and still
break even. When I see these poverty-stricken women with their big
families to feed and clothe, I feel I've got to help them every chance I
get."

"I do, too," agreed Jo Ann.

"And I," added Peggy. "But I don't want to get those smugglers angry at
us. They'll be furious when they find out you're planning to buy all the
pottery."

Both Jo Ann and Florence were silent a moment; then Jo Ann remarked,
"Maybe we hadn't better buy all the pottery, because if we do, the men'll
stop coming here altogether, and I won't get a chance to find out more
about them to tell the mystery man. I want to help him--his life's at
stake."

Florence nodded. "That's so." She turned to Peggy then with, "You're
right. We'd better buy only a few pieces of pottery."

"Let's drive past the shack now and see if the smugglers' car is there,"
Jo Ann suggested, starting the car even as she spoke.

"That's all right with me if you'll keep on driving and not stop," Peggy
spoke up.

Jo Ann drove very slowly past the pottery woman's house, but there was no
sign of any kind of car to be seen. As the pottery was still there, she
knew the men were yet to come. She drove on a short distance, then turned
into a rough road circling into the village. To Peggy's disapproval she
turned again a few minutes later into the side road leading past the
woman's house.

Almost simultaneously Jo Ann and Florence caught sight of the old car
parked beside the house. "The smugglers' car!" they both gasped.

"Turn as fast as you can and get away from here," ordered Peggy.

Instead of obeying her command Jo Ann drew the car to the side of the
road and stopped. "You stay in the car, Peggy, while Florence and I see
if we can find out anything."

"Oh, do be careful!"

With Peggy's last words in their minds Jo Ann and Florence approached the
shack cautiously, coming up close to the back of the house, where they
halted. Though they could not see the smugglers and the woman except by
peeping around the corner of the shack, they could hear them talking.

"They're trying to make her come down on the price, aren't they?" Jo Ann
whispered.

"Yes; trying to force her down to a mere fraction of what the _ollas_ are
worth." An angry glint came into Florence's blue eyes. "I feel like
marching right out and telling her not to----" She stopped whispering to
listen to the woman's plaintive reply that she needed the money for food
for her children.

Jo Ann caught the woman's words and their meaning. "Come on, let's see if
we can't persuade or bluff them into giving more money."

Without hesitating, Florence stepped out, and together the two marched on
around to where the men and the woman were standing.

At their approach the two swarthy-skinned men looked up in surprise. The
taller one, who was a little squint-eyed and had a scar on his chin, drew
his brows together into a deep frown as he peered from under his sombrero
at Jo Ann.

Involuntarily Jo Ann caught her breath as the thought darted into her
mind that he looked as if he recognized her. "Perhaps he saw me there in
the gully," she thought.

By that time Florence was talking to the woman in rapid Spanish, offering
to buy all her pottery at almost three times more than the men had
offered.

The taller man whirled about to stare at Florence and to scowl more
fiercely than ever. "It is impossible for you to buy the _ollas_. She
promise us all--everything."

Florence ignored this remark and asked the woman, "How much did they say
in the first place that they would pay you?"

Between sobs the woman replied and added, "Now they say they will give me
only half of that."

"Since they won't pay you what they had promised, then sell your pottery
to me."

Both men broke into a torrent of protests, waving their arms and shaking
their heads violently.

While they were absorbed in arguing with Florence, Jo Ann gradually edged
over and looked into the back of the car, the bottom of which was filled
with pottery packed in straw. After one hasty glance over her shoulder at
the men, she reached over and pulled out a large _olla_ from the middle.

How heavy it was! She peered into it, then thrust her hand inside. There
was a package--a heavy one--at the bottom.

Just then a furious voice rang out, "Put that _olla_ back in the car!"

She wheeled about to see the shorter one of the men rushing angrily
toward her.



                              CHAPTER XII
                          HEADING FOR TROUBLE


In another moment the man had grabbed the _olla_ out of Jo Ann's hand and
had placed it back in its nest of straw in the car. "What are you doing?"
he demanded sharply, edging between her and the car. "Leave these alone!"

Jo Ann detected a note of alarm in his voice. "He's afraid I've
discovered the contents of that _olla_," she thought. Determined to
conceal her nervousness, she replied in as cool and controlled a voice as
she could muster, "How much will you take for that _olla_?"

The man shook his head. "No--no. It is not for sale."

"I will give you fifty _centavos_ for it."

"No--no. I cannot sell it."

"Well, how about seventy-five _centavos_, then?"

The merest shadow of a smile began to spread over the man's dark,
unshaven face. Perhaps here was a chance for him to make a few extra
_centavos_, and no one would be the wiser. He reached down in the car and
after rummaging about for a few moments drew up another _olla_ similar to
the one Jo Ann had picked up. "Here--I let you have it," he said,
offering it to her.

Jo Ann shook her head. "No, that is not the one I want. It is this one."
She started to lean over the car, but the man stopped her.

"No, this is the only one I have to sell," he insisted. "See, it is
beautiful! Seventy-five _centavos_ is very cheap. I do not make
anything."

"Cheap!" Jo Ann flung back at him, her eyes blazing. In her anger she had
forgotten to be cautious. "I heard what you're paying for these _ollas_.
You are a thief. Pay them more money, or I'll buy them all myself."

He scowled menacingly at her. "Ah, it was you who put evil things into
that woman's head--demanding more money! They are lucky to get that much.
Do not interfere with my business again. _Sabe?_"

Before she could reply, the other man stepped up, an angry glint snapping
in his eyes along with that same half-puzzled expression, as if he were
still undecided about her identity. The two men exchanged a few whispered
sentences so rapidly that she could not make out a single word. Every now
and then they glanced in her direction.

"They're furious at me," she thought. "I don't want them to stop coming
to the village. I'd better not say another word." She glanced over at
Florence, who was motioning to her to leave. "Florence has come to the
same conclusion. Time we're leaving this place."

She walked over to Florence, and after both had bade the woman and her
children "_Adios_," they started off down the road toward their car.

"Those men are watching us," Jo Ann remarked a few minutes later, after a
swift backward glance over her shoulder. "I don't want them to get so
angry that they'll stop coming to the village, do you?"

"No. That's why I told the woman I could buy only a part of their
pottery." A satisfied smile passed over Florence's face. "I hope that'll
force those men to pay more. They're very anxious to keep on buying here,
because this village makes unusually good pottery."

"Their designs are beautiful. I think they'll keep on coming here." Jo
Ann looked back over her shoulder again before adding, "They're still
watching us. Did you notice how that taller one kept staring at me?"

Florence nodded. "It made me wonder if he'd seen you when you so
foolishly ran up the side of that gully."

"But how was I going to be able to recognize them if I hadn't seen them?"

When they reached their car, Peggy began hurling questions at them.

"Florence'll tell you everything," Jo Ann said as she started the car
quickly and turned up the rough road toward the city, adding, "I'm
heading toward the city so those men won't know where we live."

After she had gone a short distance, she wound back out of the village by
the rough back streets. When she finally cut back onto the main road, she
threw an anxious look back up the road toward the village. There was no
sign of a car to be seen.

"We fooled them," she said, well pleased.

"I believe we did," agreed Florence. "They probably think we live in the
city."

When, two hours later, the girls and the two boys reached the mine, the
girls had completely recovered from their nervousness over their
encounter with the smugglers.

Florence was enthusiastic over the attractive appearance and cleanliness
of the great stone house, which of course delighted Miss Prudence.

"While you are here, Florence," she said, "we'll all have to make a trip
to the city to buy materials for draperies and couch and pillow covers to
brighten up this gloomy old house. It still reminds me of a barracks,
even if it is clean."

"I think that'll be fine," approved Florence, exchanging pleased glances
with Jo Ann and Peggy. "We all love to go to the city."

Of the three Jo Ann was the most delighted. She must get to the city and
find the mystery man, especially now that she had some more information
about the smugglers. "Can't we go tomorrow, Miss Prudence?" she asked
eagerly.

Miss Prudence shook her head. "No. I want to finish all the cleaning
first."

"But the house is spotless now," Jo Ann protested.

"The kitchen is a downright disgrace. Why Maria insists on using that old
fireplace to cook on when she has this new range, I can't understand. It
makes such a mess. I told her I wanted that fireplace closed up. I want
some shelves put up, too. There isn't any place to store our supplies.
This kitchen wasn't built for convenience. It's big as all outdoors, but
there's no place to put anything."

"Poor Maria!" thought Jo Ann. "She'll never understand Miss Prudence's
ideas of a modern kitchen. She feels that the kitchen is her domain and
won't like any interference. We'll have all we can do to keep peace in
the family."

"We'll have to take Florence around the camp tomorrow and show her all
the improvements," Peggy spoke up. She turned to Florence. "Mr.
Eldridge's had all the miners' ugly little shacks replaced with stone
houses built of the natural stone from the quarry."

"Yes, I noticed a few of them as we came up. I'm so glad. It worried me
to see the contrast between those horrible shacks and this great stone
house."

"You'll be delighted to see the modern machinery they've put in the mine,
too," Jo Ann put in. "They use electricity now for a good deal of the
work, and that makes it lots easier on the miners--less dangerous, too.
Mr. Eldridge's promised to show us around tomorrow."

"Fine." Florence's face was aglow on hearing of these improvements. She
was as happy as the other girls to hear how the drudgery and squalor had
been removed from the miners' lives since Mr. Eldridge had taken over the
management of the mining company of which Carlitos was the chief
stockholder. As all three girls owned stock in the company--a gift for
their share in recovering the mine for him--they felt a personal
responsibility for improving conditions.

"Don't you want to go with us on our ride about the camp tomorrow?" Jo
Ann asked Miss Prudence.

"Yes, I've been wanting to ever since I came, but I've been so busy, you
know. I'll get an early start at cleaning tomorrow morning, so I can go
with you."

An amused expression slipped into each girl's face at the familiar words
"an early start."

So it was that, immediately after the siesta hour, the girls and Miss
Prudence set out on horseback on a general inspection trip of the mining
camp.

"We won't have time to go down into the mine this time," Miss Prudence
said as they rode off. "Ed says that he wants us to go all through it
soon, though."

"We're very anxious to go down into the mine, aren't we, girls?" said Jo
Ann.

"We surely are," both replied.

With the greatest satisfaction Jo Ann and Peggy pointed out the rows of
neat, substantial limestone houses, each one very homelike with flowers
and vines.

"The Mexicans love beauty," Florence remarked to Miss Prudence as they
passed a house one side of which was covered with a bougainvillea vine
aflame with pinkish purple flowers. The tiny yard was a riot of color,
too.

"Yes, I've noticed that they are very fond of flowers," Miss Prudence
agreed. "Carlitos told me today that Maria had asked him if I'd brought
some flower seed with me--that she wanted to see if she could grow some
new kinds of flowers."

Jo Ann, who had been listening to their conversation, now called out,
"That reminds me, let's dig up some ferns and cactus--that kind that has
bright red blossoms--this afternoon and plant them in our pottery jars.
And let's make a rock garden in the patio, too, and plant all the
different kinds of cacti we can find."

"A grand idea," the girls agreed, and Miss Prudence nodded approvingly.

As they approached the mine opening, Jo Ann proudly pointed out the
electric tram-cars which were used to carry the ore down the steep
incline, instead of the burros, as formerly. "The biggest improvement of
all, though, is the way they get the ore out of the mine. Mr. Eldridge
has promised to take us down there some time soon."

After leaving the mine they rode a short distance on up the beautiful
winding mountain trail, then reluctantly turned at Miss Prudence's
suggestion and started homeward. Before leaving the trail, however, they
persuaded her to wait while they dismounted and dug up some cactus and
resurrection plants.

"This cactus'll look lovely in that big jar with the cactus design on
it," Peggy explained to Miss Prudence. "And you'll love to watch these
resurrection plants. You can keep them out of water for months, till
they're dried, dead-looking balls, then put them into water, and they'll
unfold and become green and beautiful again."

Once again, when they were crossing the crystal clear stream that ran
near the house, they begged Miss Prudence to halt. "Wait for us while we
dig up some of these exquisite wild maidenhair ferns," Jo Ann urged, an
appeal that the other two promptly echoed.

"All right," Miss Prudence agreed, halting under the shade of a rocky
cliff over which trickled a tiny silver ribbon of water into a fern-edged
pool.

Peggy began pulling up some of the ferns close by, but Jo Ann remarked,
"I can't bear to spoil the beauty of this pool by taking any more of
these ferns. Let's go up the stream a little farther, Florence."

Jo Ann and Florence walked on along the stream in silent admiration and
soon disappeared around a great moss-covered boulder.

Suddenly Florence caught sight of a short chunky figure of a man just
ahead. She gasped aloud. Simultaneously Jo Ann's lower jaw dropped, and
her eyes opened wide. The next instant the man clambered up the side of
the cliff and disappeared.

"One of the smugglers!" whispered Jo Ann, finally recovering her speech.
"He was spying on us."

"The one that grabbed the _olla_ from you," Florence breathed. "Let's
hurry back."

The girls wheeled about and ran back down the stream.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                      THE POTTERY WOMAN'S WARNING


On coming in sight of Miss Prudence and Peggy, the two girls checked
their steps.

"Let's don't mention seeing that man before Miss Prudence," Jo Ann
warned. "No use alarming her."

"All right," Florence agreed. "He didn't act as if he were dangerous,
anyway. He ran, too."

"He didn't want us to see him--to recognize him. What's he doing here?"

Florence shook her head, puzzled. "I can't imagine. The pottery woman
said they always went on to the city after getting the pottery."

All at once it dawned upon Jo Ann that they had not got any ferns and
would soon be back at the pool empty-handed. "Miss Prudence'll wonder why
we didn't get some ferns," she said. "Let's stop this minute and pull up
some."

"All right."

In a few more minutes they had carefully pulled up some clumps of the
daintiest maidenhair specimens in sight and had wrapped elephant-ear
leaves about their roots to keep the leaf mold from falling off.

When they neared the pool Peggy called out, "What'd you see to make you
come flying back so fast--a rattlesnake or a boa constrictor?"

"Er--neither," Florence replied.

To her and Jo Ann's relief Miss Prudence asked quickly, "Are there really
boa constrictors around here? Did you ever see one here?"

"Not right here," Florence replied guardedly.

"Close here?"

"Well--fifty miles or so to the south."

"Hop on your horses and let's go this minute." Miss Prudence tapped her
boot against her mount's flank and started riding down the path.

In a few minutes the three girls were following.

After Miss Prudence had gone out of hearing distance, Peggy rode over
close to Jo Ann and demanded, "What did you girls see to scare you that
way?"

Jo Ann leaned over and whispered, "One of the smugglers!"

Peggy gave a little sudden start that made her horse quiver responsively.
"Gol-ly!" she ejaculated. "What'd he come up here for?"

"That's what Florence and I want to know."

By the time the girls had reached the house, Miss Prudence had dismounted
and had gone inside.

As they were walking along the corridor to their room Maria hurried out
of the kitchen, an excited gleam in her black eyes.

After a swift glance around to assure herself that Miss Prudence was not
in sight she called to Florence in a low voice and motioned for all three
of them to come there. As they drew near she went on excitedly, "There is
a woman here from San Geronimo to see you. She say she has something to
tell the señoritas who bought her _ollas_ a few days back. It is very
important, she say."

"A woman from San Geronimo to----" Florence checked her flow of Spanish
to relay the message in English to Peggy and Jo Ann.

"She must think it's important to come 'way up here," Jo Ann murmured to
Florence as they followed Maria and Peggy into the kitchen. "Do you
suppose it could be something about those----"

Before she could finish her sentence, they were inside the kitchen. There
sitting beside the door talking to José was the woman from whom Jo Ann
had bought the pottery.

On seeing Jo and Florence the woman rose and hurried over to meet them.
With her words tumbling over each other in her excitement, she began
talking to Florence. So rapid was her Spanish that Jo Ann could catch
only a few words now and then. One thing she was sure of, however, was
that the woman was frightened. But why? She could stand the suspense no
longer and broke in, "What is it, Florence? What's the trouble?"

Florence turned and explained quickly to her and Peggy, "She says she
heard the smugglers threaten to get even with you and me."

Jo Ann's eyes flew open, but she repressed the frightened exclamation on
the tip of her tongue.

"Her oldest girl overheard one of the men tell the other that they'd find
out at Pedro's store where we lived," Florence went on; "then that he'd
drive on with the load of pottery and let him wait around here for a
while."

"So that's why that man's here--to get even with us!" Jo Ann exclaimed.
"That means we'll have to be extremely careful for a few days. Did she
say when the other man'd be back at the village?"

"No, but I'll ask her."

After questioning her closely Florence relayed her answers to the girls.
"She doesn't know. Says she thinks he'll come one day soon--maybe about
this time next week."

"The vague _mañana_," Peggy summed up. "That means we'll be sitting on
top of a volcano for no telling how long."

"I'm so thankful we know of the volcano's existence," Jo Ann replied. She
smiled over at the woman with a "_Muchas gracias_. You have been very
kind to walk all this way to tell us about the man."

Florence, too, joined in thanking her, then began talking to the
anxious-faced Maria. She could see she was worried even more than they
themselves. "Don't worry, Maria. José won't let anything happen to us.
Will you, José?"

"No, no, Miss Florencita. I will take care of you. But you and Miss Jo
and Miss Peggy must be very careful. Stay here at the house unless I am
with you. Shall I tell Mr. Eldridge about this?"

"No--well, not yet, anyway." Jo Ann put in hastily. She must get the
information to the mystery man, and if she stayed a prisoner in this
house all the time, she couldn't get the chance. Mr. Eldridge might not
even want her and the girls and Miss Prudence to go to the city, if he
knew about this man's threat.

"José, you haven't gone after the mail yet, have you?" Florence asked.

José shook his head. "I am leaving soon."

"Get a burro so this woman can ride home. She must be very tired. I'm
sure Mr. Eldridge will not object."

"_Bien._ I get the burro." He gestured to the woman. "Come with me."

"Wait just a minute, José," spoke up Jo Ann. "I want to give her
something for her children."

She ran to her room and reappeared in a moment carrying a large box of
caramels. She handed them to the woman, saying, "Here are some _dulces_
for your children. We will come back next week for some more _ollas_. You
will have some ready then?"

The woman nodded.

Both Maria and the girls felt relieved after the woman and José had gone
without Miss Prudence's seeing her.

"I'd have had to tell Miss Prudence everything from A to Z about that
woman if she'd seen her," declared Jo Ann. She turned to Maria. "You must
not let Miss Prudence know anything about what this woman said. _Sabe_?"

"No--I will not. I know nothing," Maria replied with emphasis, then
shrugging her shoulders added, "Miss Prudencia no speak the Spanish. I no
speak the English."

"Even if they did speak the same language, Maria wouldn't confide in
her," Jo Ann thought. "They can't understand each other. Neither one
knows how good and kind the other is. Why is it that women living under
the same roof are so often antagonistic to each other?"

Almost the same moment Miss Prudence entered the kitchen, gave Maria a
few orders, with Florence as interpreter, then added in a suspicious
tone, "I noticed a Mexican woman just leaving the house with a box in her
hands. What did Maria give her?"

"Nothing," Florence replied quickly. "Jo Ann gave her a box of caramels
for her children. She's the woman Jo Ann bought the jars from. I'm going
to get some more from her and from the other villagers and ship them to
my friend in St. Louis, who has a curio shop."

When Miss Prudence changed the subject to a discussion of the menu for
supper, all three girls were relieved.



                              CHAPTER XIV
                            JO ANN'S SEARCH


It was not till after they had gone to bed that night that the girls had
an opportunity to talk over the woman's story and Jo Ann's and Florence's
discovery of the smuggler's presence.

"I'm certainly glad you had my bed put in your room," Florence remarked,
reaching over across the narrow space that separated her bed from the
girls' double one and patting Jo Ann's hand. "I'd be scared to sleep in
one of these huge old rooms by myself--especially knowing about that
smuggler's being around here."

"I'm as tall as he is, so I'm not scared of him," grinned Jo Ann. "If I
were as small and lilylike and fragile-looking as you, I might be
uneasy."

"Stop teasing me that way," laughed Florence, "or I'll roll over between
you two for protection."

Just as they were about to drop off to sleep, Jo Ann murmured drowsily,
"If Miss Prudence dares to come in and wake me up early in the morning
with 'we'll have to get an early start'--at something or other, I'm--I'm
going to----" She hesitated.

"I'm going to what?" jibed Peggy.

"I'm going to fire my pillow at her, then turn over and go back to
sleep."

Peggy giggled. "Uh-huh! I see you firing a pillow at her."

As it happened, Miss Prudence did enter their room early the next morning
to waken them, but instead of hurling a pillow Jo Ann listened gladly to
her plan for an "early start."

"Going to the city--this morning?" she repeated, wide awake as soon as
the phrase "going to the city" had entered her brain. "That's fine! Sure
we'll be ready by the time you are." Seeing that Peggy was sufficiently
awake now to take in the plan for a trip to the city, she asked, "You'll
be ready, won't you, Peg?"

"Yes, indeed. Reach over and wake Florence. Tweak her ear or her nose."

Florence protested vigorously at this manner of being wakened but quickly
subsided when Jo Ann told her about the trip.

An hour later they were dressed and mounted on their horses, as were
Carlitos and Miss Prudence. José tied the two bags to his saddle, which
were the only pieces of luggage they were taking, since they were to stay
only one night.

"Remember, Carlitos," his uncle said smilingly on telling him good-bye,
"you'll be the man of the party after you reach Jitters' House. That's as
far as José'll go, you know."

When they reached Jitters' House, José placed the bags in the car while
the girls and Miss Prudence changed from their riding clothes into
outfits more suitable for wear in the city. Miss Prudence was neatness
itself in her sheer black dress, while the three girls looked fresh and
lovely in their linen suits and crisp dainty blouses, topped off by pert
little hats.

"I'm so glad the band will play on the Plaza tonight," Peggy remarked
after she had slipped into the front seat beside Jo Ann, who was at the
wheel.

"I'm glad, too, but not for that reason," Jo Ann replied. "You want to
promenade, while I want to watch for----" She left her sentence
unfinished, but Peggy knew that it was the mystery man for whom she would
be looking.

When they neared the shack where the pottery woman lived, Jo Ann looked
eagerly to see if there were any signs of the smugglers or their car.
"Nothing doing," she said finally.

On nearing the city Florence took the wheel on account of her knowledge
of the city. After eating a late lunch, they started out on their
shopping tour to buy draperies and other materials.

Everywhere she went, whether in the car or afoot, Jo Ann kept looking for
the mystery man. Every stalwart male of the mystery man's approximate
height whom she caught sight of she studied intently, hoping that it
would be he. She begrudged the time spent inside shops buying cretonnes
and draperies, as she felt she would never find him in such places.

"Maybe he'll be on that same corner of the Plaza again," she comforted
herself later that evening after a fruitless search.

As soon as the band began playing, all three girls made straight for the
Plaza and began promenading along with the gay groups of Mexican girls,
while Miss Prudence and Carlitos sat watching from a bench on the outside
of the square.

As before, Jo Ann had eyes only for stalwart onlookers who might turn out
to be the mystery man. Peggy, however, kept on the inside of the line.

When they had strolled about the square the second time, Peggy suddenly
uttered an exclamation of surprise, "There he is! There he is!"

"Where? Where?" Jo Ann asked eagerly.

"There--see? That tall, dark-haired, handsome boy with the big black
eyes!"

"Oh, gosh!" Jo Ann ejaculated disgustedly when she realized Peggy had not
meant the mystery man but the tall youth with whom she had exchanged
smiles the other time she had promenaded.

She was still more discouraged and disgusted after a whole evening of
strolling around the Plaza with no sign of the mystery man.

"I'm afraid this trip's going to be a complete flop, after all," she
remarked to Peggy. "I might as well have gone to the hotel when Miss
Prudence and Carlitos did."

"Miss Prudence was an angel to let us stay so long, wasn't she?" Peggy
smiled.

Jo Ann nodded indifferently. Peggy might be thrilled over exchanging
smiles with a handsome Mexican boy, but not she.

The next morning, as soon as they left the hotel to finish their
shopping, Jo Ann began to search for the mystery man again, but in vain.

"The last thing we'll do is to go to the market," Miss Prudence announced
on leaving the department store a little later.

"Let's go to the big market near the center of the city," Florence
suggested. "You can buy every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable
there."

"The mystery man wouldn't be doing any marketing," Jo Ann thought
wearily. "It'll be no use to look for him there."

All at once a sudden thought struck her. If he should have any inkling
about the smugglers hiding the dope or gold, or whatever stuff it was, in
jars and vases, he might stay around the pottery booths where the pottery
could be bought so cheaply. She brightened visibly at this idea.

As soon as they reached the market, she left the others with Miss
Prudence in front of one of the vegetable stands and wandered back to
where she had remembered seeing the pottery booth. Eagerly her eyes roved
here, there, and all around the booths near by. That broad-shouldered man
standing----She caught her breath. It was the mystery man!

"He's alive! He's alive!" rang through her mind; then the words, "Now's
my chance to talk to him."

All at once it occurred to her that it would be an embarrassing situation
all around if Miss Prudence should appear while she was talking to this
stranger. "Before I say a word to him, I'll slip back to tell Florence to
keep Miss Prudence and Carlitos away from the pottery booth for a while,"
she thought quickly.

No sooner had this plan entered her mind than she hurried to Florence's
side, whispered a few words, and waited only long enough to catch her
emphatic "All right," then rushed back to the pottery booth as fast as
she could zigzag her way through the crowded passageways.

When she caught sight of the stalwart figure again, she gave a sigh of
relief and hastened over toward him.

As she drew near, the man shot a piercing glance at her, then a gleam of
unmistakable recognition shone in his keen gray eyes.

"He hasn't forgotten me," she thought. "That makes it easier."

She began speaking in a low voice: "You're trying to catch a band of
smugglers, aren't you?"

The man gave an involuntary start but controlled his features. "What
makes you think that?" he countered.

"From what I overheard you say in the hotel--I didn't mean to
eavesdrop--and from a bit of information I got from--" she started to say
"from a coast guard" but changed to--"from somebody else."

"Was that somebody else a smuggler?" he asked in a carefully light tone.

"No--no." There was a hint of impatience in Jo Ann's voice. He was trying
to throw her off the track. She'd go straight to the point now. "I've
accidentally run across some information about some smugglers that may
help you," she said.

An alert expression replaced the half smile on the man's face as he
asked, "What is that you think you've discovered?"

Quickly Jo Ann recounted her and Florence's discovery of the hidden car
with the pottery and the baskets near the border, the smugglers'
conversation, and their seeing them again at the village, ending with,
"I'm sure that must've been gold in that jar I lifted. It was so very
heavy."

"It looks as if you've discovered one set of them," he said thoughtfully.
"They're only two of a large gang, though. The ringleaders stay on the
other side."

"Was it the ringleaders you'd been pursuing in Texas?" she asked,
low-voiced.

He nodded. "Dangerous men they are. If we can catch them we can break up
the gang. I'm going to keep an eye open for cars loaded with baskets and
pottery. If I can follow them to the border I may be able to catch the
leaders. Tell me exactly where you discovered that hidden car."

Jo Ann went on to describe as accurately as possible the location of the
gully in which she and Florence had found the car.

"Do you happen to know the license number of their car?"

"Yes." As she gave the number, he jotted it down in a notebook.

"Anything else about the car to distinguish it?"

Jo Ann went on to tell of the battered places in the radiator.

"And now give me a detailed description of the men."

Racking her brain for every item that would be helpful, she described
their appearance and clothes, from the braided leather strips about their
sombreros to a peculiar squint in the left eye of the taller man.

"Good. You're a close observer, I wish you could find out exactly when
they'll leave San Geronimo next week. If you could, I could wire my men
across the border. Maybe together we might round up the ringleaders. If I
don't get them soon, they'll----"

He halted abruptly, but Jo Ann knew instinctively that he had been going
to add "get me." That was what he had said over the telephone in the
hotel. She must--must get him that information if possible.

"I don't want to mix you girls up in this affair, and if you can't get
the information without endangering yourselves, don't do it."

Jo Ann's eyes began to gleam determinedly. "I'll get it. As soon as we
find out exactly when the men're starting from the village, I'll get word
to you. If I can't come, I'll write you--but where?"

The man took a card from his pocket and after writing on it handed it to
her, saying, "Write me in care of general delivery. I had decided to
leave in the morning, but now, since you've given me this very valuable
information, I'll wait till I hear from you. If you should come back to
the city, you'll find me somewhere around this pottery booth in the
daytime and near the Plaza at night."

Jo Ann was about to ask some more questions when she caught a glimpse of
Miss Prudence and the girls coming down the crowded aisle. "I've got to
go this instant," she said and hurried around back of the booth, meeting
them in the main aisle.

"I hadn't missed you till a moment ago," Miss Prudence remarked to her.
"What've you been buying?"

"Nothing--yet. I want to get a pair of Mexican sandals to use for bedroom
slippers. Have you seen any here?"

"Yes; they're at a booth on the extreme left," Florence put in quickly.
"I'll show you. Come on, Peg. We'll meet you and Carlitos at that first
fruit booth, Miss Prudence, in a few minutes."



                               CHAPTER XV
                            ANXIOUS MOMENTS


As soon as Miss Prudence and Carlitos were out of hearing distance,
Florence asked eagerly, "Did you get to talk to the man, Jo?"

"Yes, and he was glad to get the information. He gave me his card. See?
His name's Mr. Andrews, and I'm to write to him here in care of general
delivery. I'll tell you all about it when we get back to the hotel."

In spite of this promise Jo Ann did not get an opportunity to recount
this conversation till hours later.

After purchasing the sandals with much bargaining in true Mexican style,
Jo Ann and the girls waited for some time at the fruit booth for Miss
Prudence and Carlitos.

"I wonder what's happened to Miss Prudence and Carlitos to keep them so
long," Florence said finally.

"I know Miss Prudence's not delayed by carrying on a conversation in
Spanish with anyone," smiled Peggy. "She's like me--about the only words
she knows are _cuanto_ and _adios_."

"Perhaps she's bargaining by the gesture method," added Jo Ann.

Several minutes later an anxious-faced Miss Prudence came hurrying up and
asked, "Where's Carlitos? Have you seen him?"

"No," all three replied.

"Well, he's disappeared--was right by my side one minute--then the next
he was gone. I've searched all around the market but can't find him."

"You've just missed each other in the crowds," Florence replied
comfortingly. "You stay right here, and we three'll separate and go in
different directions and meet here again. We'll find him."

Noticing an empty chair near by, Jo Ann moved the chair over to Miss
Prudence's side and said, "Sit here and rest. I'm sure we girls can find
him."

Wearily Miss Prudence sank down in the chair, and the girls started off
to find Carlitos. Each took a different section of the building to search
and wound in and out the maze of crowded passageways that divided the
scores of booths.

After Jo Ann had made the rounds of her allotted part twice without
seeing Carlitos, she started back to Miss Prudence, hoping that the other
girls had found him. Peggy arrived almost the same moment, but she, too,
was alone.

The worried frown on Miss Prudence's face deepened on seeing they had not
found Carlitos.

"Florence'll find him: she's more familiar with this building," Jo Ann
told her more confidently than she felt. Into her mind had darted the
recollection of the harrowing experience they had once had when Carlitos
had been kidnaped by the treacherous Mexican foreman. Just suppose he'd
been kidnaped again! That one of those smugglers had stolen him to get
even with her and Florence. That pottery woman had said they had
threatened to get even some way.

Just as she had come to this painful point in her thoughts, Florence
appeared--alone.

"No sign of him anywhere," she announced. "One man told me he'd seen a
boy of his description going out a side door."

"Did he say this boy was alone?" Jo Ann asked anxiously.

"He didn't say." Florence had caught Jo Ann's emphasis on the word alone,
and her heart began thumping rapidly. Did Jo Ann think someone might have
kidnaped him again? The smugglers! Could they---- "I'll go back and ask
that man if Carlitos was alone," she said.

She hurried back to find the man and returned a few moments later, saying
in a disappointed voice, "He said he didn't notice whether he was alone
or not."

"Maybe he got tired of waiting here and went back to the hotel," Jo Ann
suggested.

"He might have," Miss Prudence replied. "Florence, tell the woman at this
booth"--she gestured to the booth just back of them--"that if she sees an
American boy looking for somebody to tell him we've gone to the hotel."

After another round of searching they left the market and drove back to
the hotel. Florence parked the car near the side entrance, saying, "We'd
better leave the car here handy, as we'll be leaving as soon as we can
find Carlitos."

They hurried into the hotel, looked about the lobby, and then went up to
their rooms. Carlitos was nowhere to be seen.

"I declare, I'm getting more and more worried--and thoroughly
exasperated," Miss Prudence announced after looking in the last room.

"Wait here, Miss Prudence, and I'll run down to the lobby and ask the
clerks at the desk if they've seen him," Jo Ann said hurriedly. "He
might've left some message there."

"Well--I'll finish my packing while I'm waiting."

"I'll go with you, Jo," offered Florence and Peggy together.

On inquiring at the desk Jo Ann found that neither of the clerks had seen
him.

As she was starting to turn away, one of the clerks summoned the porter
who stood at the front entrance and asked him if he had seen Carlitos. To
the girls' delight the porter nodded and replied that he thought he had
seen him talking to a newsboy about half an hour ago.

The girls' faces brightened on hearing this, Jo Ann's especially, as she
immediately recalled how fascinated Carlitos had been with a Mexican
newsboy the first day they had arrived. After a quick "_Muchas gracias_"
to the porter, the girls hurried out to the street, Jo Ann in the lead.

When they had walked only a short distance down the street, Jo Ann heard
a newsboy's shrill cry in broken English. "Carlitos's voice!" she
exclaimed. "I hear him!"

She rushed around the corner and stared across the street. There, a bag
of newspapers slung across his shoulder, stood Carlitos selling a paper
to an American.

"Can you beat that!" Peggy ejaculated, catching sight of Carlitos at the
same time.

"Of all things!" Florence gasped.

They hastened across the street to his side. He greeted them half
joyfully, half sheepishly; then, with a gesture to the grinning little
Mexican newsboy beside him, he said, "I sell lots of papers for Diego. He
say I very good 'cause I can speak de Spanish and de English."

"You may be good at selling papers, Carlitos," Jo Ann answered, "but you
should've told your aunt Prudence where you were going. She's been
worried stiff about you."

"Worried stiff--stiff," he repeated, puzzled.

"Badly worried--_mucho_. She's been afraid something terrible had
happened to you. Come on to the hotel. We're leaving for the mine in a
few minutes."

Reluctantly Carlitos parted with his newsboy friend.

As soon as they had brought Carlitos to the hotel room and Miss Prudence
had delivered him a strong lecture, she urged them all to hurry and pack
their few belongings and leave at once. "You know it's a long hard trip
to the mine, and I certainly don't want to be riding horseback on that
steep, rocky mountain trail after dark."

"We don't either," said Jo Ann quickly. "Florence and I had one
experience riding in the mountains in the dark and through a terrible
storm, too, and we don't want another, do we, Florence?"

"No, indeed."

After leaving the city Florence slipped over to let Jo Ann drive. "You're
a better chauffeur than I am and always make better time. We must get
back to the mine before dark, especially since we saw----"

She left her sentence unfinished, but Jo Ann knew that she meant the
smuggler they had seen near the mine.

When they finally reached Jitters' House in the late afternoon, they
found José waiting for them.

"I wonder why he happened to come?" Peggy remarked curiously on seeing
him standing beside the shed. The next instant she realized that he must
be uneasy because of the pottery woman's account of the smugglers'
threats. "He's come as an extra protection for us," she thought.

"It's good of him," Jo Ann put in, and Florence added, "He's always
thoughtful and kind."

Carlitos was delighted to see him. Another male was a welcome change
after having to stay with women for two days. That was one reason he had
felt that he must slip off with the newsboy awhile, though he couldn't
have explained that in words. He was eager to tell José all about his
trip, too.

Even Miss Prudence expressed appreciation of José's coming, adding, "He's
as thoughtful as he can be."

Jo Ann was the first one of the group to finish changing into riding
clothes. She hurried back to the shed where José was still waiting, as
she was anxious to know how things had been running at the mine, and
especially if he had seen anything of the smuggler hanging around. She
had described the smuggler so carefully to him that he would be able to
recognize him.

"Have you seen anything of that strange man while we've been gone?" she
asked him.

To her relief José shook his head. "No."

"Everything all right?"

This time José shook his head more emphatically. "Ah--there was much
trouble at the mine today." With many excited gestures he went on to tell
her that one of the loaded tram-cars had got loose and had crashed down
the mountain side, tearing up the track and causing much trouble. "Very
much trouble," he repeated, shaking his head.

"What caused the car to break loose?"

José shrugged his shoulders expressively. "That I do not know. Me no
_sabe_. Señor Eldridge say he no understand."

All at once the thought flashed into her mind that perhaps the smuggler
was at the bottom of this accident. Maybe that was his way of getting
even.



                              CHAPTER XVI
                          DOWN THE MINE SHAFT


The next three days were busy ones for the girls. Miss Prudence had
bought scores of yards of gay-colored cretonnes and other materials, and
she now set all three to work making couch and pillow covers and
draperies.

"I've got to have draperies to hide the iron bars at the bedroom
windows," she had said. "I don't like to see those iron bars. They make
me feel as if I'm in prison."

When she escorted the girls to her bedroom and showed them the heaps of
materials, Jo Ann remarked with a whimsical smile, "I didn't realize what
I was getting us into when I suggested brightening up this house with
draperies and cushions. It looks as if we'll be running the sewing
machine instead of Jitters for the next week or two."

Florence and Peggy both laughed. They knew Jo Ann did not like any task
that kept her in the house, and especially one of the sitting-still kind,
like sewing.

"'Outdoor action and plenty of it,' is Jo Ann's slogan," Peggy explained
a moment later for Miss Prudence's benefit. "She says sitting still and
sewing make all her muscles feel cramped and her head ache and her mind
tired."

"Well, it does," Jo Ann defended. "I feel as if I'm getting petrified.
I'd rather climb mountains any time."

"I'll let you run the machine, then," Miss Prudence spoke up briskly.
"That'll keep your feet moving up and down as if you're climbing."

"A poor substitute," Jo Ann returned, smiling.

"Before you begin sewing, I'll give you an active job that'll bring into
use more of your muscles--measuring windows. Be sure to get the exact
length. Nothing looks worse than draperies that're too short."

After Jo Ann had finished measuring windows, she set to work basting and
stitching the hems in the draperies. By this time her thoughts had
wandered from sewing to the mystery man and the smugglers. Was that
smuggler still lurking around the mine and had the other one reached the
border without being caught? And was the mystery man still safe and
sound? She must get word someway to him when the smugglers were to make
their next trip, so he could follow them. If only he could catch those
ringleaders and break up that gang!

So engrossed was she in these thoughts that she did not heed Peggy's
sudden outburst of laughter several minutes later till Florence called
out a merry, "Jo! Will you look what you've done! You've hemmed all your
draperies upside down, so that the parrots or parrakeets--or whatever
kind of birds they are in the design--are all standing on their heads."

"They'll look comical with their tails perpetually in the air," giggled
Peggy. "I'm getting dizzy already even at the thought of those poor birds
hanging head downward that way."

"Oh dear!" groaned the discomfited Jo Ann on viewing her mistake. "Now
I've got to rip out every hem. Oh, woe is me!"

"I'll help you," Florence offered, taking one of the draperies from her.

"Next time concentrate on your sewing instead of on the mystery man and
those----" Peggy stopped talking abruptly on seeing Miss Prudence enter
the room.

As soon as José came to the house that evening, Jo Ann slipped to the
kitchen to ask him if he had seen the smuggler hanging around the mine.

At his reply that he had not, Jo Ann felt relieved till the next moment,
when he added, "We have much trouble at the mine today. No get out much
ore." He went on to explain that the tram-car wrecked the previous day
had torn up the track badly and that there had been trouble with some of
the mine machinery.

"Have they found out who wrecked the car?" she asked.

"No. One man told me he saw Luis, a bad workman _El Señor_ discharged
last week, near the track before the wreck." José shrugged his shoulders.
"I do not know who did it. Maybe it was Luis--maybe it was the strange
man you saw."

"Why did Mr. Eldridge discharge this Luis?"

"He steal ore."

As Miss Prudence entered the kitchen just then and sat down, Jo Ann could
not question José further. She left the room wondering if after all she
had not been wrong in her surmise about the smuggler's having wrecked the
car. He might have become alarmed after she and Florence had seen him and
have left immediately. She certainly hoped that was the case.

By the time the girls had finished sewing, Jo Ann was thoroughly weary of
staying in the house. "If I don't get outside for a long horseback ride
or a climb up the mountains today, I'll go raving crazy," she said.

Peggy laughed at this exaggerated speech, and Florence remarked
smilingly, "Well, by all means let's get out and explore the country this
afternoon. I'm fed up with staying inside, too."

"To tell you the truth," Peggy put in, "I've been rather glad to stay
inside. Ever since I heard about that smuggler's hanging around here, the
house looks good to me."

"Oh, he's gone away by now, surely," Jo Ann answered. "José says no one
else has said a word about having seen a stranger around, and in a small
camp like this a stranger surely couldn't escape being noticed. I feel
sure he's gone back to join the other man. If that man returns for the
pottery the same time that he did last week, he'll be back at the village
Friday. I've got to get word to the mystery man what day they're starting
for the border."

"The woman promised me to save some of the pottery for me, but I want to
select the best designs from the entire lot before she sells any of
them," Florence put in.

"That means we'll have to go and get the pottery before those men come,"
Jo Ann remarked. "That suits me to a T. You've already written to your
friend in St. Louis that you're sending the pottery in a few days,
haven't you?"

"Yes."

"Well, that settles it. We'll go to the village to get the pottery
Thursday morning and take it to the city and ship it from there. That'll
give me a fine chance to find out from the woman when the smugglers're
coming and to see the mystery man and tell him when to look out for
them."

"I see where you're headed for more trouble," Peggy spoke up. "You'd
better keep your fingers out of this whole affair. You're too
adventuresome."

Jo Ann half smiled. "Oh, skip it--the lecture, I mean. Let's get the
horses and go for a ride now."

"There's one thing I'd like better than to go for a long ride, and that's
to go through the mine," Florence said. "Mr. Eldridge promised me he'd
take us through it while I'm here this time. When he comes in to lunch,
let's beg him to take us down into it this afternoon."

"Fine!" approved Jo Ann. "I've been eager to see how the _malacate_ works
now that it's run by electricity."

"What's a _malacate_, and what does it do?" Peggy asked curiously.

"It's a windlass arrangement that draws the ore up out of the mine. A
rawhide bag is tied to the end of a long cable and let down into the
shaft. Using electricity is a vast improvement over the old way."

"Did the peons have to work the windlass--wind it by hand?" Peggy asked,
puzzled.

"No, burros were used for that purpose. But before they used a windlass,
back in primitive times, they made the Indians carry the ore up in bags,
and they had to climb all the way up out of the mine on dangerous notched
logs for ladders. Many and many of those Indians have fallen into the
deep shafts, to their death."

There was silence for a moment; then Florence spoke up: "I have my doubts
if Mr. Eldridge'll take us into the mine in the daytime. The miners are
very superstitious about women going into the mine, he said. They think
every time a woman goes in, something terrible always happens--an awful
explosion or a cave-in, killing one or more of the miners."

Jo Ann nodded understandingly. "That's so. I'd forgotten about that.
We'll ask him to take us tonight, then."

As soon as Mr. Eldridge came in to lunch, all three girls greeted him
with requests to show them through the mine that night.

"We-ell, I don't know quite what to say to that," he replied slowly.
"There've been two peculiar accidents lately that make me somewhat
reluctant to take you down into the mine. Those accidents haven't been
accounted for to my satisfaction yet."

"But they were both outside the mine, weren't they?" asked Jo Ann.

"Yes."

"And two days have passed by without any more trouble," Florence added.

Mr. Eldridge smiled. "Well, I might as well say you may go. When three
girls pounce upon one poor defenseless man, he has to agree to their
plans. There's no night shift working tonight, so this'll be a good time.
Be ready by eight o'clock."

"All right," the girls chorused in reply.

That afternoon the three, accompanied by Carlitos and Miss Prudence, took
a long horseback ride over a beautiful mountain trail.

Miss Prudence refused, however, to go with them on their trip to inspect
the mine that night or to let Carlitos go. "Carlitos is tired and sleepy
from the long ride, and bed's the best place for him," she said. "I
should think you girls would've had enough exercise, too."

By a quarter of eight the girls were ready and waiting. Knowing that the
mine was damp and cold, they had put on their sweaters and heaviest
oxfords, and Jo Ann and Peggy had prepared themselves for darkness as
well, as they had their flashlights.

When Mr. Eldridge and they reached the shaft, he switched on the
electricity to work the _malacate_ so they could go down into the mine.

No sooner had the machinery started running than the Mexican night
watchman came running to investigate, an alarmed expression on his face.
"Ah, it is you!" he exclaimed in a relieved tone on seeing Mr. Eldridge.

Mr. Eldridge smiled. "You are a good watchman, Manuel. I am taking the
señoritas down to show them how we mine the ore. Do not tell anyone the
señoritas have been in the mine. _Sabe?_"

"_Sí._ I _sabe_," Manuel replied quickly, knowing at once why _El Señor_
had given this order.

"Don't turn off the _malacate_. See that nobody comes near it. Stay close
by."

Manuel nodded assent. "I stay here."

"Manuel is the best watchman we've ever had," Mr. Eldridge told the
girls. "I can trust him not to go to sleep."

When Jo Ann found herself in the rawhide bag tied at the end of the long
cable and being dropped down into the shaft's eerie darkness, she felt a
queer sinking sensation at the pit of her stomach, as if she were falling
through bottomless space. "It's breath-taking--scary," she thought.

It was with a gasp of relief that she stepped out of the bag and onto the
rocky bottom of the shaft. She knew exactly how Peggy felt when she
scrambled out of the bag a little later and exclaimed, "Wh-ew! My heart's
up here!" She was clutching her throat dramatically.

Together they waited for Florence's descent. By their flashlights' gleam
they could see that her eyes were dilated and her lips tightly closed.

"It scared you speechless," grinned Peggy after waiting a moment for her
to speak.

Florence nodded and managed a "Took my breath!"

It seemed to all three that of all the cold, damp, terrifying places to
work, a silver mine was the worst. Mr. Eldridge led them through low
narrow tunnels and into several black, cavernous recesses opening from
these passageways and showed them the different mining processes.

Peggy became decidedly nervous on learning that the ore was dynamited
down. "There might be some dynamite around here now, and it might explode
and blow us into smithereens," she whispered to Jo Ann.

A few minutes later she bumped into something against the wall that made
her leap back in haste. When Mr. Eldridge told her it was a dynamite box,
her heart began leaping faster than ever.

"He means an empty dynamite box," Jo Ann explained hastily as her
flashlight's beam showed her the ghastly pallor of Peggy's face. "Some
miners are using it as an altar," she added comfortingly. "See, there's a
picture of the Virgin inside."

"I believe I'm ready to leave this murky gloom and get back up into the
good fresh air," Peggy said, her voice still shaky.

"Well, I believe you've seen all the most interesting things." Mr.
Eldridge smiled. "We'll go on up."

When they came back to the shaft, to Mr. Eldridge's amazement, the
_malacate_ was not working. "Now what's the matter!" he exclaimed,
annoyed. "I told Manuel to keep the _malacate_ running so we could get
back."

For several minutes they stood waiting in vain for the cable and bag to
appear.

Finally, in an exasperated tone Mr. Eldridge remarked, "Never had
anything like this happen before. Can't imagine what's the matter.
Manuel's always been so dependable. We may have to walk all that long
distance to the entrance of the workings. And you're all so tired
already."

Just then there sounded an excited cry that reverberated uncannily
through the shaft.

"Why, that's José's voice!" Jo Ann exclaimed. "What's----"

The next instant the words, "Manuel's--killed!" echoed down to them.

A moment's stunned silence fell; then Mr. Eldridge gasped,
"Manuel--killed! Start the _malacate_ at once, so we can get up there!"

"No can--the wires all broke," came back the wailing answer.

"Wires broken--and Manuel killed and----" Mr. Eldridge's voice trailed
off into silence.

Jo Ann cut in, "José's so excitable! Manuel may have only fainted or been
shocked unconscious."

"That's true. All the more reason I must get up there at once. It'll take
us so long to walk to the entrance."

"Can't José attach burros to the _malacate_ and pull us up that way?" put
in Jo Ann.

"Yes, he could. That'd take lots less time." Mr. Eldridge called
immediately to José to attach the burros to the _malacate_ and start it
working, ending with the usual, "_Sabe?_"

"_Sí_," José called back. "I go now."

While they were anxiously awaiting for José to start the _malacate_, Mr.
Eldridge remarked that he had better go up first to see about Manuel. "I
hate to go ahead of you, though."

"Don't worry about us," Jo Ann said, more confidently than she felt.
"There's nothing here to harm us."

"Nothing at all," agreed Florence in a voice that quivered
unconvincingly.

Just then Peggy's hand clutched Jo Ann's convulsively. "Poor Peg's scared
stiff at the idea of his leaving us," thought Jo Ann as she grasped the
cold hand in a comforting pressure. Her mind, however, flew back to
Manuel. Surely he couldn't have been killed. He must've fainted. But he
was so strong-looking. What could have happened in that short time? If
only José would hurry faster and let down that cable. "Oh, surely Manuel
can't be dead!" she kept repeating to herself.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                            IN THE DARKNESS


After what seemed to Jo Ann an interminable time the cable appeared, and
Mr. Eldridge was pulled up the shaft.

"I feel better now that he's up safely," Jo Ann said, breathing more
freely.

"I don't know which I dread worse--going up in that awful bag or staying
down here in this terrible dark," Peggy groaned.

Noticing that Peggy's flashlight was not on, Florence asked, "Why don't
you switch on your flashlight? That'll help some."

"It won't turn on. When I bumped against that dynamite box, I got so
scared I dropped it. It must've got broken then."

So worried over Manuel was Jo Ann that she paid little heed to Peggy's
continued laments. If only this awful suspense about him was over! Surely
he must be only unconscious. If he were, when they got out they could
help give him first aid. She'd had first-aid training in her scout work.
"I wish I could go up first and see if I could do anything for him," she
told herself.

Just then she heard Peggy say, "I believe I'll go up first. I can't stand
this creepy darkness. I keep thinking that smuggler's hidden down here
and----"

"Peggy's so upset and nervous, she'd better go up first," Jo Ann admitted
to herself reluctantly. Aloud she said, "All right, Peg, you go next. See
what you can do to help Manuel."

"But, Jo, Manuel's dead!" she wailed.

Jo Ann shook her head as she answered, "I can't believe that he is."

Shuddering, Peggy went on: "I'd planned to wait for you two before I took
a step when I got up. The lights are off up there. Whoever killed Manuel
must've cut off the lights."

"Mr. Eldridge'll have some kind of a light, surely. If Manuel's
breathing--I can't help feeling that he is--do everything you can for
him."

Soon the quivering Peggy was inside the bag and being slowly pulled up
the shaft. When, however, she had ascended only a short way, something
went wrong with the cable, and the bag hung suspended--motionless.

Peggy's terrified shriek echoed and re-echoed through the shaft.

"Horrors!" gasped Florence. "I hope the cable's not stuck. Sometimes
it'll get stuck that way for an hour or more."

"You'll be all right in a minute," Jo Ann called up to Peggy. "Don't get
scared." In a low voice she added to Florence, "I hope I'm telling the
whole truth."

To their vast relief, in a few minutes the bag began to move upward once
more.

"Thank goodness!" Florence ejaculated. "Which one of us had better go up
next? I'd like to, but if you----"

Jo Ann's impulse was to speak up, "Let me go," but, instead, she replied,
"You go on. I have a flashlight, and you haven't."

Several minutes later, with mingled feelings of relief and fear, she
watched Florence being pulled up till she was above the reach of the
flashlight's beam. All was eerie blackness now. The shadows began to take
on weird ghostlike shapes. Was that a man crouching over there? The
smuggler?

An involuntary shudder shivered through her body. She must not let her
imagination run riot this way. She steadied her lower lip to prevent its
trembling.

At last the bag loomed into view, and after an anxious wait she got
inside it. Slowly--painfully slowly she began to ascend.

When she was about halfway up, the cable suddenly spun around, knocking
the bag against the rocky side of the shaft. She felt a stinging
sensation in her right arm as it struck the rocks. Clutching her
flashlight more tightly and cringing with pain, she lifted her arm to
protect her light. It was too late. The flashlight had been broken--badly
smashed.

In another moment she had forgotten about her injured arm and broken
flashlight in a more serious trouble. The bag was stuck--not moving
either up or down. She stifled a shriek that was threatening to escape
her lips. No wonder Peggy had cried out. And it was worse this time.
There was utter darkness below. No one to call up comfortingly from the
bottom of the shaft. No one at the top either. Both girls were probably
hovering over Manuel now, if he---- Had they found by now that he really
was dead?

She must shut out that terrifying picture from her mind. It seemed,
though, to be outlined against the darkness in a glaring light that
refused to be blotted out. How long would she have to hang this way in
midair, seeing this horrible picture?

"Better to hang suspended than to be dashed to the bottom on those
rocks," she told herself. "Peg was in the same plight, and now she's up
safely. But then she was stuck only two or three minutes, and you've been
here ten or fifteen at least," she reminded herself discouragedly.

Endless ages dragged on, it seemed to her, as she hung there. Would this
suspense never end? Had anything happened to José? Had he been killed,
too?

At last, when her hopes had almost ebbed away, she felt the bag moving
upward. Actually going up now. As she neared the top and drew in deep
breaths of the fresh air, a great wave of gratitude swept over her.

Once safely out on the ground, she began feeling her way through the
darkness toward the light on her left. José hurried up just then with a
lantern in his hand.

"Tell me about Manuel--he is not dead, is he?" she asked him quickly.

"I think he is. He look dead when I see him," José answered brokenly.
"That wicked Luis--he knock him down. I catch Luis and tie him to a
tree." He gestured to the right.

"Luis! That miner Mr. Eldridge discharged for stealing?"

"Yes."

"But why did he want to hurt Manuel? Manuel didn't discharge him."

"Manuel tell him to keep away." José went on to explain that Luis had
thrown a crowbar back of the switchboard, so the _malacate_ would not
work, and that when Manuel had tried to grab him Luis had knocked him
down. There was a triumphant tone in his voice as he added, "I catch
Luis. I fix him."

"How did it happen that you came up here? You didn't come with us."

José hesitated a moment, then replied, "I saw you come up here, and I
think _El Señor_ need me. He tell me to take Luis down to the big house
now. I leave you now."

On nearing the _malacate_ Jo Ann could see Manuel's inert figure lying on
the ground, Mr. Eldridge bending over him, and the girls standing near
by.

"Is he----" Jo Ann left her question unfinished, but both girls knew what
she meant.

"He's still alive," Florence whispered. "Unconscious. I could feel his
pulse. His skin is a clammy cold. I wish I had some hot-water bottles to
put around him."

"Thank goodness he's still alive!" Jo Ann exclaimed softly.

"We've put our sweaters over him," Peggy added, gesturing to the sweaters
on Manuel's body. "I can't think of anything else to do."

"We might heat some rocks or bricks and put around him," Jo Ann suggested
eagerly.

"Good idea," approved Mr. Eldridge, who had overheard her. "I'll help
you. We must do something to help him, since it'll be hours before we can
get a doctor here."

They hurried about gathering wood and soon built a small fire on some
flat stones. As soon as the stones were hot, they pushed them out of the
fire, then covered them with some old pieces of a torn blanket.

"We must be absolutely certain these rocks'll not burn him," Jo Ann
cautioned. "Persons suffering from shock are more easily burned than
usual. My scout book said never to put anything hot next the patient till
it could be held against your face for a minute without feeling too hot."
She tested each stone before passing it on to Mr. Eldridge to place next
to the unconscious figure.

After that was done, Jo Ann began rubbing his arms toward the body.

"Why's she doing that?" queried Peggy in a low voice.

"I think it's to restore the circulation."

When Jo Ann was still rubbing his arms, Manuel's eyelids began to
flicker.

"He's beginning to become conscious," Mr. Eldridge said, low-voiced. "As
soon as José comes back he and I'll carry him down to the house. There
isn't any serious bleeding, so I feel sure it'll be safe to carry him
now. We'll have to make a stretcher."

No sooner had he finished speaking than Jo Ann dashed away, returning
shortly with two poles. Mr. Eldridge immediately jerked off his coat and
pulled the poles through the sleeves, then tied a piece of blanket
securely to the poles also. By that time José was back from taking Luis
to the house. With Mr. Eldridge's help José tenderly lifted the injured
man upon the improvised stretcher and set off down the trail, careful to
hold the poles as steady as possible.

The girls followed close behind, Jo Ann bringing up the rear.

"Do you know where José took the prisoner?" Peggy asked Jo Ann.

"Yes. To our house."

"Gracious! That's awful. I'll never be able to sleep a wink tonight,
knowing he's in the same house that we are."

"It's the safest place to keep him in the camp. The walls are as thick as
a regular prison's, and there're iron bars to all the windows. Besides,
José'll guard him."

"It makes me shivery all over to know he's under our roof."

"I don't believe even a Houdini could escape from that house," Jo Ann
assured her. "You'll be safe. Don't worry."



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                           JO ANN FINDS A WAY


Although Peggy had vowed she would never be able to close her eyes all
night with that prisoner in the house, she was so tired that she was not
long in dropping off to sleep. Exhausted by their exciting experiences,
all three slept till late the next morning.

"For a welcome change," as Florence expressed it afterwards, Miss
Prudence had not wanted to get an early start to go somewhere or to do
some housework, and so had allowed them to drowse on undisturbed.

The first thing Jo Ann saw on waking was the smiling Maria carrying in a
tray of food.

As Maria set the tray on the small table between the beds, she remarked,
"Miss Prudencia say you may have your breakfast in bed. You were so
brave--so good to help Manuel last night."

"_Muchas gracias_," replied Jo Ann, eying delightedly the golden toast,
oranges, crisp brown bacon, and cups of steaming chocolate.

Peggy and Florence chimed in with their thanks; then Peggy put in
quickly, "Florence, ask her if the prisoner is still in the house."

Florence promptly relayed this question.

Maria nodded. "_Sí._ José watch good all night." She went on to add that
José had just come into the kitchen and had said he wanted to tell the
señoritas something about Luis.

"Don't you know what it is?" Florence asked curiously.

"No. Miss Prudencia send me out of the kitchen then, and José leave."

"Is José going to the village to get the _rurales_ to come after Luis
this morning?"

"_Sí._"

"Tell him when he comes back that we want to go with him. Tell him to
have the horses ready for us."

With a nod of assent Maria left the room.

Jo Ann began eating an orange, a thoughtful expression in her dark brown
eyes. A moment later she remarked, "I shouldn't wonder if that Luis was
hired by the smuggler to do all the damage he could."

"Why, what makes you think that?" asked Peggy in surprise. "You haven't
seen them together, have you?"

"No."

"And you've never seen that smuggler here again since that first time,
have you?"

"No."

"Then why this sudden idea?"

"Because two men in the same small mining camp who have a grievance
against the mine owners would be likely to get together. They'd have a
common interest--to get even."

Peggy smiled. "Oh, you Miss Sherlock!"

"Your mentioning the smuggler reminds me that the pottery woman said
she'd have the pottery ready for us today," put in Florence. "I want you
girls to help me select the finest pieces as samples to send to my friend
in St. Louis for her curio shop. It'll be quite a job to get them packed
right. I was in hopes José would have time to help me pack them. His
having to get the officers this morning might interfere."

"I don't think it will," Jo Ann replied. "Do you think you could get a
crate in the village and pack your pottery there?"

"I doubt it. They've never shipped any pottery by train. I believe I'll
take the pottery to Jitters' House, and José can hunt up something around
there to make a crate out of."

By the time the girls had finished eating and had dressed in riding
outfits, José was waiting for them with the horses.

As soon as they came out, Florence asked José what it was that he had to
tell them about the prisoner, Luis. After he had explained in a rapid
flow of Spanish, Florence passed the news to the eager Jo Ann and Peggy.
"He said Luis had told him that some strange man had promised to give him
a few _pesos_ if he would wreck the mine machinery. He believes, judging
by Luis's description, that this stranger was one of the men the pottery
woman warned us about."

"So I guessed right," Jo Ann spoke up.

"It doesn't seem fair for Luis to get a prison sentence and for the
smuggler to go free," Peggy said, low-voiced, to Jo Ann.

"Both of those smugglers're going to get caught yet--you'll see." Jo
Ann's head bobbed up and down emphatically.

"Does that mean you're going to try to catch them?" Peggy asked, an
anxious note in her voice.

"Wait and see," Jo Ann replied teasingly as she leaped on her horse.

On reaching the village José went in search of the officers while the
girls drove to the pottery woman's shack to buy the _ollas_ and vases.

With the greatest care Florence, with the girls' help, selected the most
artistic designs and shapes from the piles of pottery. "If my friend
likes these pieces as well's I do," she said, "I know she'll buy
regularly from these villagers and take a large per cent of their output.
They'll get ever so much more money, too, than they have been getting.
We'll be doing them a good turn, as well as my friend."

At Jo Ann's urging Florence then began adroitly questioning the woman
about when she was expecting the men to come after the pottery this week.

"They send me word they come in two days," she replied.

"That'll be Friday, then," commented Jo Ann, who had caught the woman's
words.

After they had finished choosing the pieces of pottery, they packed them
in the back of the car.

"I'd like to know where José's going to sit now," observed Peggy as she
crowded into the front seat with Jo Ann and Florence.

"He'll manage someway," Jo Ann smiled.

On reaching Pedro's store they found José waiting for them.

"Did you find the _rurales_?" Florence asked him.

"_Sí_, I find two. They have gone to the mine to get Luis. They say they
do not need me to help."

"Good," Florence approved. "Now you can help me pack these _ollas_ and
vases."

After José had squeezed into the back seat and they were driving off,
Peggy remarked to Florence, "What puzzles me is how are you going to get
the pottery shipped after you get it packed? There's no railroad and no
truck service here. Someone'll have to take it to the city. How're you
going to get it to the city?"

"I thought we'd drive in ourselves if--if----"

"We can't let there be any ifs about it," broke in Jo Ann crisply. "We've
got to get to the city tomorrow. I've got to get word to the mystery man
to be on the lookout for the smugglers Friday."

"Couldn't you write to him?" Peggy asked.

"It wouldn't reach him in time. They take the mail in to the city every
other day. I asked at the store, and the mail's already been sent, and no
more'll be sent till Friday. That'd be too late."

"But Miss Prudence'll probably say 'nothing doing' when we tell her we
want to drive to the city," persisted Peggy. "She said she didn't like
riding in Jitters well enough to take another trip to the city soon."

"I heard her say yesterday that she had to have some more supplies--that
she just couldn't keep house without a larger variety of food," Florence
remarked. "She said we'd all be having scurvy and beri-beri and all sorts
of diseases if we didn't have a greater variety."

Jo Ann smiled. "That sounds good to me--not the diseases, of course.
We'll tell her we'll bring her a load of good eats--fresh fruits and
vegetables and anything she asks for. I'm going to get word to the
mystery man--or bust."

Both girls laughed, and Peggy added a moment later, "Puff out your cheeks
and prepare to bust, Jo, 'cause Miss Prudence won't let you go."

"You underrate my persuasive powers, and you don't realize how tired she
is of preparing the same menus, day after day. I heard her say the other
day that about the only thing Pedro sold at his store was beans, beans,
beans."

When they reached Jitters' House, José set to work at once to make a
crate. The girls wrapped each piece of pottery with the paper they had
brought for that purpose and carefully placed the smaller jars inside the
larger ones. When the crate was finished, they packed excelsior around
the jars and in every inch of space. That done, José carried the crate
over to the house across the road, for safe-keeping.

With a wide smile Jo Ann remarked, "We'll have to get an early start
tomorrow morning to take our crate to the city. We'll have to promise to
make the trip there and back in one day, I know."

When they were riding horseback on the mountain trail, they met the
_rurales_ taking their prisoner to the village. The girls urged their
horses close to the cliff to allow room for them to pass on the narrow
trail.

After they had gone by, Jo Ann said gravely, "I hope it won't be long
till the smugglers are prison-bound, too. I believe this Luis was just
their tool."

As soon as they had entered the house, the girls hunted up Miss Prudence,
and Jo Ann told of their plan to take the pottery to the city the next
day and get supplies for her.

Miss Prudence pursed up her lips thoughtfully and remained silent for
some time before answering.

Jo Ann, with her usual impatience, could not stand this quiet and
suspense and began talking about the necessity of a more varied diet. "We
need more fruit and vegetables to have a balanced diet, don't you think?
Our home economics teacher told us at school that it was absolutely
necessary for us to get plenty of fruit, as most of it has vitamin B.
It's that vitamin that makes our nerves normal and steady, she said."

Miss Prudence's lips relaxed into a whimsical smile. "Well, we certainly
need our nerves steadied after last night's wild excitement." She grew
grave again. "I believe that Luis was trying to kill Ed and you girls."

Jo Ann did not stop to argue this point but kept to the diet question.
"If you'll make a list of the things you want, we'll have them here for
you tomorrow evening."

"Before dark?"

"Yes."

"Well, I hesitate to give my consent. Maybe I'd better go with you--but,
no. I feel as if I ought to stay and nurse Manuel. Maria has no more idea
than a jay bird about how to take care of sick folks. Why, when I put
some rolls of bandage in the hot oven to sterilize this morning, she
looked at me as if she thought I was crazy!"

In spite of her hesitation, Jo Ann finally succeeded in persuading her to
let them go to the city.

"If you set the alarm clock for four-thirty and get up then, I believe
you can make the trip in one day," she said as the girls were about to
leave. "Take my clock to your room." She reached over to the near-by
table, picked up her alarm clock, and set it to go off at that hour
before handing it to Jo Ann.

It was hard for Jo Ann to keep from laughing, as she could see Florence's
eyes twinkling, and Peggy holding her hand over her mouth to check her
mirth.

At the first sound of the alarm the next morning, Jo Ann reached over and
turned it off, then popped out of bed and began dressing. Florence rose
almost as promptly, but it required much persuasion from both of them to
get Peggy out of bed.

"I'm not keen on this trip anyway, since we won't get to stay in the city
tonight and promenade on the Plaza," she grumbled drowsily as she sat on
the edge of the bed, making no move to dress. "I'm not interested in
seeing an old mystery man, as Jo Ann is."

"Only in handsome young Mexican ones," Jo Ann grinned. "Well, you may
pass your smiling young Mexican on the street today."

"If I should, I'd look very romantic sitting in an old car packed with a
huge crate, now, wouldn't I? He'd think I was bringing chickens or
something to market."

Both girls laughed at Peggy's disgusted tone.

"That reminds me," Jo Ann added, "that we must go straight to the market
as soon as we reach the city."

By the time they had dressed and had eaten a hurried breakfast, José was
waiting for them with the horses. To their surprise he rode on up the
trail with them.

"I didn't know you were going with us," Florence remarked to him.

"Miss Prudencia say I must take you to the village and go back for you
this afternoon."

"That's good. It might be late this evening before we get back, but we're
counting on getting back before dark."

As soon as they reached Jitters' House, they changed their clothes while
José was putting the pottery crate into their car.

"Jitters is a picture now," Peggy remarked on coming out to the car.

"You'll be sure to see your handsome young man today," teased Jo Ann.

So interested were the girls in their plans for the day, as they drove
through the village, that Jo Ann for once forgot to look over at the
pottery woman's shack till after she had reached Pedro's store. "Did
either of you notice if the pottery was still piled up by the woman's
house?" she asked.

Both shook their heads.

"I'm sure it must be still there. The woman seemed to be certain that the
men weren't coming till tomorrow to get it. She said they'd sent her word
this time."

As there was little travel on the road, Jo Ann was able to make good
time. As usual, she had planned to let Florence drive when they neared
the city.

"At the rate you're speeding, Jo," Florence remarked finally, "we'll be
in town before we realize it."

Jo Ann laughed. "Speeding in Jitters? Impossible. That old car in front
of us isn't built for speeding, either. It's been keeping ahead at about
the same distance for the last hour."

"So I've noticed," said Peggy. "It must be of the same year's vintage as
Jitters."

"If she is, Jitters can beat her. I'm going to step on it and see if I
can't gain on her." With that Jo Ann stepped on the gas, and soon their
car was lessening the distance between it and the car ahead.

As they drew closer Jo Ann suddenly uttered an excited little cry.

"What's the matter?" queried Florence and Peggy together.

"That's the smugglers' car!"

"You're crazy, Jo!" ejaculated Peggy derisively.

"It can't be!" Florence cried.

"But it is! I'm positive it is."

"You're just guessing," retorted Peggy. "You can't tell from here."

"I'm going to pass that car, and you look hard, Florence, and see if
those men aren't the smugglers and if it isn't piled full of pottery."

"Oh, don't, Jo," begged Peggy, now beginning to be afraid that Jo Ann
might be right. "Don't try to pass it."



                              CHAPTER XIX
                            AN EXCITING RACE


With a warning honk of her horn Jo Ann sped up and started to pass the
other car.

Almost simultaneously one of the men turned and stared incredulously,
then shouted out a sharp order. The next instant the other man swerved
his car dangerously toward them, trying to force them off into a deep
ditch.

"Oh, step on it!" cried Peggy. "Step on it!"

"They're trying to hit us!" shrieked Florence.

Somewhere from the back of Jo Ann's mind came the command, "Keep your
head!"

Automatically her nerves and muscles obeyed. She turned her car sharply
and swiftly out toward the ditch as close as she dared, giving it all the
gas that it would take.

For a perilous moment that seemed ages-long to the girls the car hovered
near the edge of the bank. Instinctively both Florence and Peggy leaned
to the other side of the car, as if to make their weight the deciding
factor in keeping the car from falling into the ditch.

Then, to their unbounded relief, their car swept by, missing the other by
a few inches.

"A miracle!" gasped Peggy.

"Keep stepping on it!" implored Peggy as she turned to look back at the
smugglers' car. "They're coming full tilt after us."

"O-oh, hear them yelling at us!" put in Florence, her eyes dilated with
fright. "They're trying to catch us. Step on it! Suppose they should
shoot at us--or our tires!"

Though Jo Ann heard the girls' earnest pleas, she wasted no energy in
replying. Every cell in her brain must be centered on driving. That car
was still dangerously near. They might push past and try that same trick
of forcing her into the ditch on the other side. Moreover, the road ahead
was much steeper and narrower. It wound threadlike up the mountain side.
What if those smugglers should deliberately wait and force them off that
high road! To be knocked off that steep rocky cliff would mean death for
all of them. And what if her engine should go bad up there--or a tire
blow out! "Steady, Jo," she ordered herself. "Stop worrying and
concentrate on driving."

"They're not gaining an inch," Florence called out encouragingly then.

"But they're not losing any," added Peggy.

When, in spite of her determination not to worry, she had to slow down at
turns in the winding road, she found her breath coming more and more
quickly. Perhaps the smugglers could make the turns faster.

Again and again Florence encouraged her with, "They're not gaining."

Finally, when they were nearing the highest stretch of all, Florence
exclaimed, "They're dropping behind a little now! See, Peg!"

"Hot ziggity! They are, sure enough!" cried Peggy, vastly relieved. "I
believe the worst's over. But don't slow down, Jo."

"I won't any more than I have to," Jo Ann replied, cheered immensely by
the girls' assurance that the smugglers were dropping behind in the race.

"Good old Jo--and good old Jitters," praised Florence. "They can't be
beaten."

"Don't brag too soon," Jo Ann found time to say in short, clipped
sentences.

She was determined to keep Jitters running at the greatest speed
possible, and yet not be reckless in making the many sharp curves. With
mind and eyes ever alert, she watched the road. She must be ready for any
emergency.

Florence and Peggy kept turning every minute or two to watch the pursuing
car.

"It's losing ground right along," Peggy kept saying, ending each time
with, "isn't it, Florence?"

Each time, to Jo Ann's joy, Florence would reply with an emphatic "Yes."

Still Jo Ann held to the maximum speed possible for safety. "Nothing like
being on the safe side," she told herself. "They might gain on us on the
down grade."

After they were on the downward stretch, both girls assured her that they
believed the danger was over. "They'll never catch us now unless we have
engine or tire trouble."

A few minutes later, on glancing back, Peggy exclaimed triumphantly,
"They've about stopped! They've stopped now! On that highest curve. One
of them's getting out now. Maybe they have a flat."

"Here's hoping they have two flats," smiled Florence.

"Why not wish for three, for good measure?" added Jo Ann.

"Say, aren't you thankful Miss Prudence isn't along?" Peggy asked
suddenly.

Both girls smiled, and Peggy went on, "She'd have had heart failure or
something by this time."

"No, she wouldn't," declared Jo Ann. "She'd have rallied to the cause and
encouraged me on, as you two did. When it comes to the test, she's strong
for action and plenty of it."

A few minutes later Florence announced that it would not be long till
they would reach the city. "Do you think we'd better change, Jo, and let
me take the wheel?"

Jo Ann shook her head. "I don't want to stop even long enough for that."

"Oh, no, don't change," begged Peggy, immediately disturbed at the idea
of stopping.

"I know the shortest way to the market now, and that's where we want to
go first," Jo Ann declared. "I've got to find the mystery man at once, so
he can get on the smugglers' trail."

"It won't be easy for him to follow them even then," Peggy said
thoughtfully. "Can't they go around the city some way?"

"No, that's the only road till they get to the edge of the city," replied
Florence. "They'll probably not come up into the main part."

"I imagine the mystery man'll phone or telegraph to the officers on both
sides of the border to be on the lookout," put in Jo Ann. "They could
catch more of the gang that way."

When Jo Ann turned into the street leading to the market, Florence
remarked, "It'll be no use trying to find a parking place in front of the
market. It's always full. You'll save time by parking in the first empty
place you find within a reasonable distance. I've wasted as much as half
an hour hunting for a parking place down here."

"We mustn't waste any time anyway," Peggy put in. "We have lots of things
to buy for Miss Prudence, and I've a little shopping I want to do, too.
We can be doing our buying while Jo hunts up her mystery man."

At quite a little distance from the market Jo Ann found a parking place.
No sooner had she stopped the car than she sprang out, saying, "I'll meet
you at that same booth in front, where we waited the other day."

Off she rushed down the street, her fast-flying steps causing more than
one Mexican to say smilingly, "_Americana_."

When Peggy tried to lock the car a few moments later, she found that she
couldn't. "Something's gone wrong with it," she said, handing the key to
Florence. "See if you can make it work."

After several unsuccessful efforts Florence slipped the keys into her
purse, saying, "Oh, let's don't worry any more about trying to lock it.
We can get a boy to watch the car for us." Hardly had she finished
speaking than she caught a glimpse of the newsboy with whom Carlitos had
been so friendly. "Here's the very boy!" she exclaimed, gesturing to him
to come to her.

The boy's large black eyes lit in swift recognition, and he ran over to
her side.

Florence quickly explained to him that she wanted him to watch the car
while she went to the market.

With a nod of assent the boy answered, smiling, "_Sí._ I watch good for
you. You are Carlitos's friend."

"He'll watch it right; we won't have to worry," Florence said confidently
as she and Peggy walked on down to the market.

Soon they were busily buying fruit and vegetables.

In the meantime Jo Ann had elbowed her way through the crowded aisles of
the market to the pottery booth at the back. On reaching the booth she
stared around, anxious-eyed, hunting for the mystery man. Oh, where was
he? There wasn't a sign of him anywhere. He'd said he was always around
here at this time of day. What if he should've missed coming this day?

She walked slowly back of the booth and on around to the front again, her
eyes scanning every man in sight. "He's not here," she told herself
finally, "and I don't know where else to go to look for him. Oh dear! The
smugglers'll get away again."

Just as she had reached this discouraging conclusion a stalwart,
olive-skinned man with a dark mustache and black hat stepped up to her
side and said in a low tone, "Don't show your surprise--I'm the man
you're looking for."

The mystery man! Jo Ann barely suppressed a gasp of amazement. Disguised
as a Mexican. The same aquiline nose and gray eyes, but how startlingly
different he looked.

In almost an inaudible voice she told him as quickly as she could about
the smugglers being on the way to the city.

The man's eyes shone on hearing this news. "Good work. We'll follow them
this time and try to get the ringleaders of the gang as well as those
two. I must get word to my men right away on both sides. You're still at
the La Esperanza Mine?"

"Yes."

"I'll let you know how I come out. Many thanks for your help." With that
the man rushed off toward a side exit.

Feeling relieved and happy that she had succeeded in delivering this
message, Jo Ann walked on to the front to look for the girls and found
them, as she had thought she would, buying fruit and vegetables.

Peggy was the first to spy her. "You don't have to tell us you've had
success, Jo," she said. "You're smiling from ear to ear."

"I didn't mean to be that jubilant."

"You have a right to be happy," Florence said warmly. "Peg and I are
glad, too, aren't we?"

"Sure."

While Peggy and Florence selected the fruit and vegetables, Jo Ann made
the other purchases, chiefly by means of the sign language, as her
Spanish was not sufficient for bargaining. As soon as they had all
finished their buying, Florence found two small Mexican boys to carry
their piles of packages to the car. With the boys at their heels they
started out to the street, Florence in the lead.

Just as she stepped out on the street, Florence caught sight of the
newsboy, his face and head bleeding, almost surrounded by a crowd of
people.

"Gracious! What can have happened to the poor child?" she gasped as she
ran toward him.

As soon as he saw Florence the newsboy began explaining between sobs,
"Oh, señorita, two men--stole--your car! I try to stop them--and one of
them--knock me down."

"Oh, that is terrible!" Florence cried, at the same time scrutinizing his
wounds. "Not deep, but painful," she decided before going on to question
him about the appearance of the men.

Brokenly, the boy began describing the man who had hit him. "He had a
scar--on his chin--and one eye squinted--an evil eye."

"That sounds like the taller one of the smugglers," Florence decided
immediately. "Was he the taller one of the two men?" she asked.

"_Sí._ I try to keep them--from stealing your car, but----" The boy
stopped talking to sob afresh.

"I'm sure you tried," Florence comforted him. "Here is some money." She
handed him some coins and then a clean handkerchief, adding, "Wipe the
blood with this."

A tall professional-looking man stepped up just then and remarked, "I
will look after the boy."

With a "_Muchas gracias_" and an "_Adios_" to the boy, Florence hurried
back to Jo Ann and Peggy, who were standing near by, still wondering what
had happened.



                               CHAPTER XX
                             MORE TROUBLES


As soon as she drew near, Florence burst out excitedly, "Our car's
stolen!"

Jo Ann's and Peggy's eyes stretched to their widest, and their lower jaws
dropped.

Jo Ann was the first to recover from the shock. "Our car's stolen! Why,
who could've----Oh, it must've been the smugglers!"

"I'm sure it was," Florence replied. "The newsboy described one of them
exactly--the taller one."

Peggy gasped audibly. "That settles it, then."

"He hit the boy--knocked him down--then they drove off in our car."

"I don't understand why the smuggler should've hit the boy," put in Jo
Ann bewilderedly. "What'd the boy have to do with the affair?"

Florence and Peggy exchanged glances, then Florence answered, "I hired
the boy to watch our car while we went to the market. The lock on the car
wouldn't work. I'm to blame."

"Oh--I'm beginning to see now." The bewildered expression on Jo Ann's
face slipped away, and a look of determination took its place. "We've got
to get our car back right away." She drew her brows together into a
little frowning line of concentration.

"Hadn't we better report it to the police?" Peggy asked.

Jo Ann shook her head. "Not yet. Maybe later. I believe we'd better hunt
up the mystery man and tell----" She halted abruptly. "But maybe he's
left the city already. I hope not. I want to tell him our car's license
number, so he can follow it--especially since the smugglers might've
discarded their car entirely. But maybe one of them might drive ours and
the other one their car. Come on. We'll plan what to do as we walk." She
caught Florence with one hand and Peggy with the other.

"But where're we going?" queried Peggy.

"Anywhere so we can get away from this crowd," Florence whispered, eying
the curious onlookers, who were waiting to see what the _Americanas_ were
going to do.

No sooner had the girls started off down the street than Florence
remembered about the two little boys carrying their packages. She glanced
around and saw them following close behind, the packages piled up in
their arms almost as high as their chins. "Gracious!" she exclaimed. "We
can't have them following us everywhere. We'd better have them take the
packages back to the market and leave them there for a while. Walk
slowly, and I'll catch up with you in a shake."

She wheeled about, gave a quick order in Spanish to the boys, and then
accompanied them to the market. After leaving the packages at the same
booth where they had waited before and paying the boys a few _centavos_,
she flew back to the girls.

"I've decided to go to the telephone exchange first," Jo Ann announced to
her quickly. "Where is it?"

"One block down, then turn to the right and go about a block and a half."

"Let's step on it." Jo Ann strode off in what Peggy always called her
"long-legged gallop," which meant that both she and Florence had to take
two or three steps to Jo Ann's one.

Having caught up with Jo Ann by running, Florence asked, "Why--are
you--going to the exchange?"

"'Cause I feel sure that he was going to do some long-distance
phoning--and he started off in this direction." With that she galloped
off faster than ever.

"People'll think we're crazy--running--along like this," puffed Peggy.

Florence nodded assent "They're saying, 'Ah, those--queer _Americanas_!'"

The two girls reached the exchange at last in time for Florence to help
Jo Ann question one of the operators. The man they had described, the
operator replied, had left only a few minutes before.

"Where did he go?" Jo Ann asked quickly.

The operator shook her head. "That I do not know."

"Now where?" Peggy asked Jo Ann curiously.

"To the telegraph office. He'd probably have to telegraph, too, to some
of the inspectors. Where's the telegraph office, Florence?"

"Go back to the corner where we just turned. It's a block past the
market."

"Oh, gosh!" Jo Ann exploded. "Just my luck to go to the wrong place
first. Come on."

Off she rushed out of the building and soon was several yards ahead of
the other two. By the time she had reached the telegraph office, she was
panting, her cheeks a brilliant scarlet with beads of perspiration
running down them.

Just as she dashed in, she bumped into a man hurrying out.

"Oh--I--beg your----" she began, then gasped, "Oh, it's _you_! I've--been
hunting--for you!"

"What's happened?" the mystery man asked, guiding her outside, away from
the curious stare of the people in the office.

As quickly as she could manage in her breathless state, she recounted
what had happened.

"Glad you found me in time," he replied. "I was just ready to leave in
pursuit. What's your car's number?" He jerked out a notebook from his
pocket and jotted down the number she gave him. "I'll try to get your car
back to you," he added then. "About your getting home this afternoon----"

He broke off in the middle of his sentence and turned to the tall, erect
Mexican man standing back of him, whom Jo Ann now noticed for the first
time. "Gonzales, I want you to drive this girl and her friends to their
home out beyond San Geronimo. She'll tell you how to get there, if you
don't know." He turned again to Jo Ann, saying, "This is Juan Gonzales,
my right-hand man; Gonzales, this is my right-hand girl, Miss Jo Ann
Cutrer. Take good care of her." He addressed Jo Ann again: "He's a
careful driver. I'll write to you as soon as I can." With an "Adios" he
hurried on to the curb, sprang into a tan roadster, and drove off
rapidly.

By that time Peggy and Florence had come puffing up, and after
introducing Mr. Gonzales to them, Jo Ann explained that he was to drive
them home. Florence, with her knowledge of Mexicans and their language,
talked for a few minutes in Spanish with the stranger before agreeing to
this plan. Having decided that he was a gentleman and trustworthy, she
told Jo Ann that she, for one, thought they ought to be starting back
home shortly. "As soon as we get our packages at the market, we'll be
ready, won't we?"

"I have a few things I'd like to get," spoke up Peggy.

"How long will it take you to finish your shopping?" Mr. Gonzales asked
in excellent English, surprising them all so that there was a moment's
silence before Peggy answered, "I'll be ready in about fifteen or twenty
minutes. You girls will be too, won't you?"

Both nodded assent.

"Very well, I'll have Mr. Andrews's other car here waiting by that time
for you."

"Mr. Andrews's car?" Jo Ann repeated puzzledly, then smiled. "You mean
the mystery man's car. We've called him the mystery man so long that I'd
forgotten for the moment that he'd told me his name was Andrews. I'll try
to remember that hereafter."

The girls hurried off to finish their shopping and in about a quarter of
an hour were back at the corner. Almost at the same minute Mr. Gonzales
drove up in a sedan, and the girls climbed into the back seat, piling
their packages on the floor.

Jo Ann noted with satisfaction that Mr. Gonzales was a careful driver,
weaving in and out the traffic with ease and taking no unnecessary risks.
Having arrived at this conclusion she relaxed somewhat and began talking
over their exciting experiences with the girls. "One thing I'm thankful
for is that we three paid for Jitters ourselves," she remarked. "Wouldn't
it be terrible if, say, Miss Prudence, had been a part owner? Wouldn't
you hate to tell her about the car's having been stolen?"

Both nodded emphatically, and Florence added, "I've been wondering if
we'd better tell her. I rather think not. She'd get all stirred up over
it, and besides, the mystery man'll probably get Jitters back to us in a
few days. How about keeping quiet about it for a while?"

"I'm in favor of keeping mum till we hear from Mr. Andrews," Peggy put
in. "If he writes he couldn't find the car, why, of course, we'll have to
tell Miss Prudence and Mr. Eldridge then."

"When José meets us at Jitters' House this afternoon," Jo Ann broke in,
"he'll know something's wrong at once. He'll want to know what's become
of Jitters."

"We'll tell him the truth and ask him to say nothing about it for a few
days--till we tell him he may," Florence suggested. "He already knows
about those men being angry at us for getting the pottery they'd planned
to buy. That reminds me, I feel mighty bad about losing that pottery. I'd
written my friend I was shipping it, and she'll be expecting it."

"Mr. Andrews may recover it when--or if--he finds our car," Peggy
remarked.

"I certainly hope he recovers both the car and the pottery," Jo Ann said
with a sigh. "When I think of that gang of smugglers he's fighting--well,
I just get scared stiff. I'm afraid they're going to kill him before it's
all over."

"Let's try not to worry," advised Florence.

When they finally reached Jitters' House, they found José waiting for
them with the horses. His black eyes widened in surprise on seeing them
getting out of a strange car.

After the girls had thanked Mr. Gonzales and he had started off toward
the city, Florence told the mystified José what had happened, ending, "Do
not tell anyone about the car's having been stolen."

"I will not tell," he promised.

As the rest of the family had finished eating dinner by the time the
girls had reached the house, they ate alone and thus escaped being
questioned as much as they would have been otherwise. Shortly afterward
they went on to their bedroom. So engrossed were they still in talking
over their adventures that it was late before they could compose
themselves and go to sleep.

The next day lagged snail-like to the girls. All three went about their
household tasks with an air of subdued suspense.

Over and over Jo Ann found herself wondering about the mystery man. Was
he still alive? Perhaps even now he was lying badly injured--dying in
some remote gully in the desert. Had that awful presentiment he'd had
about losing his life--had it actually come to pass, or was it about to?
She shuddered at these gloomy thoughts.

Noticing how worried Jo Ann looked, both girls realized that it was the
mystery man's fate more than the loss of the car that was troubling her.
They both tried to take her mind off this subject, and Peggy even tried a
bit of teasing finally in her effort to make her less pessimistic.

"You're going around here with such a long face that your chin almost
touches the floor," she told her. "Miss Prudence'll be wondering what's
the matter."

"She's already asked me if you're sick, Jo," Florence added. "She said
you looked so pale and peaked that she'd about decided she'd better give
you some of her iron-strychnine tonic."

"Ugh!" Jo Ann ejaculated, grimacing. "That's the vilest-tasting stuff in
the whole world. I'd better turn up the corners of my mouth into a grin
right now." In spite of these words, her lower lip trembled threateningly
as she added, "When you know some person's life is in danger, you can't
help thinking and worrying about it."

"Snap out of the dumps," Peggy ordered. "I hear Miss Prudence coming. I
feel it in my bones that she's bringing her bottle of tonic."

Jo Ann obediently tried to force her lips into the semblance of a smile.
Peggy's and Florence's lips curved upward without any difficulty when
they saw Miss Prudence enter, actually carrying a bottle.

Jo Ann eyed the bottle askance a moment; then her face brightened into a
real smile as she read the label, "Furniture Polish."

"You girls don't seem to know what to do with yourselves this morning,"
Miss Prudence said briskly, "so I've decided to give you some extra
work--polishing the furniture."



                              CHAPTER XXI
                             WELCOME GUESTS


The next morning the girls waited anxiously for José to return from his
trip to the village for the mail. They had wanted to go with him, but
Miss Prudence had vetoed that plan with, "The sun's so hot today, and Jo
Ann's looking so pale, that I believe you'd better not take that long
horseback ride. I think I'd better begin giving her some of my
iron-strychnine tonic."

Jo Ann shook her head vigorously. "Oh, no, I don't need any tonic! Indeed
I don't. Don't waste any of your medicine on me. When it's gone you'd
probably have to send back to the States for some more."

"Well, I'll wait two or three days; then, if you're not looking better by
that time, you'll have to take that tonic without fail." Miss Prudence's
voice was firm.

When the family sat down to eat their lunch, José had not yet returned
from the village.

Noticing that Carlitos was not at the table, Peggy inquired of Miss
Prudence about him.

"He went with José after the mail," she replied.

No sooner had she finished her sentence than Carlitos burst into the
room, his blue eyes round and dark in his excitement. With his Spanish
words tumbling over each other in his haste he blurted out, "Ah,
senoritas, your automobile--it is stolen. Terrible!"

Not being able to understand him, Miss Prudence and Peggy stared
wonderingly. Jo Ann's and Florence's faces, however, flamed scarlet with
embarrassment.

"The cat's out of the bag now," flashed through Jo Ann's mind. "We'll
have to tell the whole tale." She could feel Mr. Eldridge's eyes boring
into hers.

The next moment Miss Prudence ordered sternly, "Carlitos, speak English!
Tell me what's happened."

In halting English Carlitos repeated that the girls' car had been stolen.

"Stolen!" ejaculated Miss Prudence. "What next?" She turned to her
brother. "Do you suppose that Luis could've stolen it?"

"No. The girls drove to the city after Luis was taken prisoner."

By this time Jo Ann had recovered her wits sufficiently to say slowly,
"The car was stolen when we were in the city."

"My stars!" Miss Prudence gasped. "Why--why didn't you tell us before
this? The idea of your not saying one word all this time! And you
might've been stolen--kidnaped--yourselves!"

"Don't get so flustered, Prue," Mr. Eldridge advised. "The girls're safe
and sound if their car isn't." He looked over at Jo Ann. "Begin at the
first and tell us exactly what happened. Florence, you and Peggy put in
all the details she misses."

Thus commanded, Jo Ann took a long breath and plunged into the story,
beginning at her first anxiety over the mystery man's presentiment about
his going to be killed. From that she went on to their discovery of the
smugglers' car in the desert, their finding them in the village, and her
reporting all this to the mystery man.

Other than a few exclamations and gasps Miss Prudence did not interrupt.
But when Jo Ann stopped to catch her breath, she threw in, "Well, after
all this wild adventure, I'll be afraid to let you girls stick your noses
outside the door. And here I'd thought all this time I was the perfect
chaperon."

The expression of stupefied amazement on his sister's face made Mr.
Eldridge smile half whimsically and say, "I've learned not to be amazed
at anything this trio pulls off. There're still several points not clear
in my mind, though." He began hurling question after question at the
girls, till each felt as if she were being cross-examined on the witness
stand.

Finally he was satisfied that he had gathered together all the loose ends
of the story. His face was grave as he said, "I'm glad it's all turned
out as it has--so far, but hereafter don't get tangled up in any way
whatever with smugglers. They're a dangerous set, as Mr. Andrews told
you. Most of them would as soon shoot our officers as not. Indeed, they
seem to look upon them as good targets for their practice. The next time
you suspect anyone of being a smuggler, come tell me about it."

So earnest and emphatic had Mr. Eldridge been that for the first time Jo
Ann realized fully the risks she had been running. "I'm through with
smugglers and their affairs from now on," she declared. "I was more to
blame for getting mixed up in this than Peggy and Florence. They'd have
kept out of it if it hadn't been for me."

Florence spoke up promptly and began trying to share the blame, but Jo
Ann shook her head. "No, I'm the guilty one."

After this well-deserved lecture Jo Ann felt "indigo blue," as she
expressed it to the girls afterward. "If I could only hear from Mr.
Andrews that he's all right and that the smugglers were caught and the
car found!"

The next day dragged on interminably, so it seemed to Jo Ann in her low
state of mind.

"Oh, cheer up, Jo," Peggy finally begged. "You're going to get good news
tomorrow, I feel it in my bones."

"I hope your bones're trustworthy," Jo Ann returned; "but I have my
doubts about their power to prophesy."

On the morning of the fourth day Jo Ann woke in a more cheerful mood. "I
believe we're going to hear from Mr. Andrews today," she told the girls.

Peggy smiled. "Your bones must be getting prophetic, too."

When José appeared at noon with a letter from Mr. Andrews, Peggy and
Florence were quite as excited as Jo Ann.

"Hurry up!" Peggy implored, as Jo Ann began to open it.

"Read it out loud--hurry!" urged Florence.

In another moment Jo Ann had unfolded the letter. "Why, it has only three
lines in it! It just says, 'All is well. Am bringing your car Saturday
afternoon to San Geronimo. Hope to get there by four o'clock.'"

Jo Ann's face was beaming by this time. "Just think! He's all right--and
so's Jitters!"

"Gr-and!" chimed in Peggy, catching Jo Ann and Florence by the hands and
circling about in lively dancing steps.

While they were still whirling about, Miss Prudence entered the room.

Jo Ann checked her fast-flying feet and sang out, "We've swell, elegant
news! The mystery man's alive, and he's bringing our car to the village
this afternoon--about four o'clock."

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear that!" Miss Prudence exclaimed. "Let's
see--if he reaches the village that late, he'll probably come on out
here. We must have a good dinner for him. That's fine of him, bringing
your car all that distance. Suppose you girls come to the kitchen and
help me awhile. I'll see that he gets some good New England cooking."

Jo Ann grinned. "That lets us girls out. We're from the South."

Miss Prudence came back promptly with, "You're all good help just the
same. Come along."

The three girls followed her to the kitchen and were soon busy helping
her prepare the salad and dessert. So diligently did they work that they
had finished before it was time for José to go to the village with the
horses for the two men to ride.

"Let's go with José," Jo Ann suggested.

"All right," agreed Peggy and Florence.

All three hurried off at once to change into their riding outfits.

When, about two hours later, they came in sight of Pedro's store, Jo
Ann's sharp eyes spied two cars in front of the building. "One of the
cars is a brand-new one. A beauty."

"Maybe it's Mr. Andrews's," Peggy suggested.

"That other one's his, I know. I wonder where he's parked Jitters. I
don't see her."

"I hope nothing has happened to her," put in Florence.

With their faces lit by the broadest smiles, the three sprang from their
horses and greeted Mr. Andrews, who had hurried out to meet them, Mr.
Gonzales following closely behind him.

"Oh, we're so happy you're safe and sound--that you're both all right!"
Jo Ann welcomed them.

"We certainly are, too, aren't we?" added Peggy.

Florence nodded. "Yes, indeed."

"Did you capture the smugglers--all of them?" Jo Ann asked eagerly in the
next breath.

Mr. Andrews smiled. "Not all of them; but the three ringleaders and the
two whose trail you set me following are behind prison bars. That gang's
broken to bits; I can breathe more freely now. If it hadn't been for you,
I might be dead. I'm certainly grateful to you."

Jo Ann drew a long sigh of relief, as did the other two girls. "That
certainly is grand news," she added the next moment.

"I hope that's the last experience you girls'll ever have of that kind,"
he said earnestly.

A moment's silence fell; then Jo Ann asked, "Where's Jitters?" Suddenly
recalling that neither man knew the name of their car, she added,
smiling, "Our old Ford, I mean."

The two men exchanged smiles before Mr. Andrews answered, "Jitters is a
complete wreck--in a deep gully near the border."

A look of utter bewilderment appeared on the face of each girl.

In another moment Jo Ann recovered sufficiently to say haltingly,
"But--you wrote--you were bringing our car."

"I did bring it. There it is!" Mr. Andrews gestured to the shining new
car. "It's a present for the assistance you girls have given us--to take
the place of your Jitters."

Three pairs of eyes flew open to their widest. So overwhelming was their
amazement that for once none of them could speak for a full minute.

"You have done much for us," Mr. Gonzales spoke up, smiling. "You have
probably saved my life as well as Mr. Andrews's. _Muchas gracias_."

"But--but, Mr. Andrews--Mr. Gonzales," began Jo Ann confusedly. "We do
not deserve this fine new car. You must not give us such a----"

"You have more than earned it," smiled Mr. Andrews. "It is yours by
rights. We owe you more than we can ever repay you."

Convinced at last that the car was rightfully theirs, the girls began to
exclaim delightedly:

"Grand!"

"Gorgeous!"

"Wonderful!"

"A thousand thanks from each one of us," added Jo Ann, shining-eyed.

With that the three of one accord ran over to the car to inspect it and
revel in its beauty.

"We'll feel so elegant--so swanky, riding about in this car!" exclaimed
Jo Ann.

They climbed inside then to admire the upholstery and shining gadgets.

A few minutes later Jo Ann was proudly driving out of the village, the
two men following in the other car, and José with the aid of a small boy
bringing along the horses.

"Won't Miss Prudence and Mr. Eldridge be surprised when they hear about
our new car?" Peggy remarked.

Jo Ann smiled broadly. "Miss Prudence was always scared of Jitters.
She'll be delighted."

"What shall we name it?" Florence asked a moment later.

Peggy suddenly chuckled. "How about naming it for Miss Prudence? It's so
shining and spotlessly clean. And besides, that name might help Jo to be
more prudent--less reckless."

"That name suits me," laughed Jo Ann.

"And me," added Florence. "And I believe it'll please Miss Prudence,
especially when we explain why we've chosen the name."



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

--Copyright notice provided as in the original--this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--A Table of Contents was added for the reader's convenience.

--Obvious typographical errors were corrected without comment.

--Non-standard spellings and dialect were left unchanged.





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