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Chapter 2

  • “I’ll be with you in a minute, folks.”
  • To appreciate the accent which the American station agent laid on “folks” i_s necessary that one should have been marooned for a couple of years in _amshackle Mexican station with only a chocolate-skinned henchman, or _mozo_ , for companion. It asserted at once welcome and patriotic feeling.
  • “You know this isn’t the old United States,” he added, hurrying by. “Thes_reasers are the limit. Close one eye for half a minute and when you open i_gain it’s a cinch you’ll find the other gone. If they’d just swipe eac_ther’s baggage it wouldn’t be so bad. But they steal their own, then sue th_ompany for the loss. Here, you sons of burros, drop that!” with which h_ived headlong into the midst of the free fight that a crowd of _cargadores_ , or porters, were waging over the up train baggage.
  • Taking warning, the two returned to their own baggage. As they waited, talking, these two closest of friends offered a fairly startling contrast. I_he case of Seyd, a graduate in mining of California University, years o_tudy and strain had tooled his face till his aggressive nose stood boldly ou_bove hollowed cheeks and black-gray eyes. A trifle over medium height, th_undred and sixty pounds he ought to have carried had been reduced a good te_ounds by years of prospecting in Mexico and Arizona. This loss of flesh, however, had been more than made up by a corresponding gain in muscle. Movin_ few paces around the baggage, he exhibited the easy, steady movement tha_omes from the perfect co-ordination of nerve and muscle. His feet seeme_irst to feel, then to take hold of the ground. In fact, his entire appearanc_onveyed the impression of force under perfect control, ready to be turne_oose in any direction.
  • Shorter than Seyd by nearly half a foot, Billy Thornton, on the other hand, was red where the other was dark, loquacious instead of thoughtful. From hi_iery shock of red hair and undergrowths of red stubble to his slangy colleg_tterance he proved the theory of the attraction of opposites. Bosom friend_t college, it had always been understood between them that when either go_is “hunch” the other should be called in to share it. And as the luck—in th_hape of a rich copper mine—had come first to Seyd, he had immediately wire_or Billy. They were talking it over, as they so often before had done, whe_he agent returned.
  • “Why—you’re the fellow that was down here last fall, ain’t you?” he asked, offering his hand. “Didn’t recognize you at first. You don’t mean to say tha_ou have denounced—”
  • “—The Santa Gertrudis prospect?” Seyd nodded. “He means the opposition I tol_ou we might expect.” He answered Billy’s look of inquiry.
  • “Opposition!” The agent spluttered. “That’s one word for it. But since you’r_o consarnedly cool about it, mister, let me tell you that this makes th_leventh time that mine has been denounced, and so far nobody has succeeded i_olding it.” Looking at Billy, probably as being the more impressionable, h_an on: “The first five were Mex and as there were no pesky foreign consuls t_omplicate the case with bothersome inquiries, they simply vanished. One b_ne they came, hit the trail out there in a cloud of dust, and were never see_gain.
  • “After them came the Dutchman, a big fat fellow, obstinate as one of his ow_ules, and a scrapper. For a while it looked as though he’d make good—migh_ave, perhaps, if he hadn’t taken to using his dynamite box for a pillow. Yo_ee, his peons used to steal the sticks to fish, and so many of them ble_hemselves into kingdom come that he was always running shy on labor. So, as _ay, he used the box for a pillow till it went off one night and distribute_im all over the Barranca de Guerrero. Just how it came about of course nobod_new, nor cared, and they never did find a piece big enough to warrant a_nquest. It just went as accidental, and he’d scarcely, so to say, stoppe_aining before a Frenchman jumped the claim. But he only lasted for a coupl_f days, landed back here within a week, and jumped the up train without _ord.
  • “Last came the English Johnnies, two of ’em, the real ‘haw, haw’ boys; no en_f style to them and their outfit. As they had hosts of friends up Mexic_ity, it would never have done to use harsh measures. But if the Johnnies ha_nfluence of one sort, Don Luis—he’s the landowner, you know—had it to burn o_nother. Not only did he gain a general’s commission during the revolutionar_ars, but he’s also a member of the Mexican Congress, so close to th_overnment that he needs only to wink to get what he wants. So just about th_ime the Johnnies had finished development work and begun to deliver ore ou_ere at the railroad—presto! freights went up, prices went down, till they’_iped out the last cent of profit. Out go the Johnnies—enter you.” With rea_arnestness he concluded: “Of course, there’s nothing I’d like better than t_ave you for neighbors. It ain’t so damn lively here. But I’d hate to see yo_illed. Take my advice, and quit.”
  • He had addressed himself principally to Billy. But instead of discouragement, impish delight illumined the latter’s freckles.
  • “A full-sized general with the whole Mexican government behind him? Bully! _ever expected anything half so good. But, say! If the mine is so rich wh_on’t the old cock work it himself instead of leaving it to be denounced b_ny old tramp?”
  • “Because he don’t have to. He has more money now than he ever can use. He i_orth half a million in cattle alone. And he’s your old-fashioned sort tha_ate the very thought of change. By the way, he just left on the up train, hi_nd his niece.”
  • “What, the girl with the dog?” Billy yelled it. “Didn’t you see—no, you wer_n the baggage-room. Well, he’s our dearest friend—presented Seyd here wit_ll of his horses, cattle, lands, and friends. A bit of a mining claim ough_ot to cut much ice in an order like that.”
  • “You met them?” The agent shook his head, however, after he had heard th_articulars. “Don’t count much on Spanish courtesies. They go no deeper tha_he skin. Nice girl, the niece, more like us than Mex, and she ain’t full- blood, for matter of that. Her grandfather was Irish, a free lance that fough_ith Diaz during the French war. His son by a Mexican wife married Don Luis’_ister, and when he died she and her daughter came to keep the old fellow’_ouse, for he’s been a widower these twenty years. Like most of the sprigs o_he best Mexican families, she was educated in Europe, so she speaks thre_anguages—English, French, and Spanish. Yes, they’re nice people from the ol_on down, but lordy! how he hates us gringos. He’ll repay you for the life o_he dog—perhaps by saving you alive for a month? But after that—take m_dvice, and git.”
  • While he was talking, Seyd had listened with quiet interest. Now he put in, “We will—just as quickly as we can hire men and burros to pack our stuff ou_o the mine.”
  • “Well, if you will—you will.” Having thus divested himself of responsibility, the agent continued: “And here’s where your troubles begin. Though donkey- drivers are as thick as fleas in this town, I doubt whether you can hire on_o go to Santa Gertrudis.”
  • “But the Englishmen?” Seyd questioned. “They must have had help.”
  • “Brought their entire outfit down with them from Mexico City.”
  • After Seyd’s rejection of his offer the hacendado had entered int_onversation with a ranchero at the other end of the platform, and, glancing _ittle regretfully in his direction, Seyd asked, “Do you know him?”
  • The agent nodded. “Sebastien Rocha? Yes, he’s a nephew to the General.”
  • “He offered to get me mules.”
  • “He did! Why, man alive! he hates gringos worse than—worse than I hat_exicans. _He_ offered you help? I doubt he’ll do it when he knows wher_ou’re going.” In a last attempt at dissuasion he added, “But if he doesn’t _an’t see how you can win out with rates and prices at the same mark tha_iped out the Johnnies.”
  • “That’s our business.” Seyd laughed. Then, warmed by the honest fellow’_ndoubted anxiety, he said, “Do you remember any consignment of brick tha_ver came to this station?”
  • “Sure, three car loads, billed to the Dutchman. But what has that to do—”
  • “Just this—that the man had the right idea. Though the mine is the riches_opper proposition I have ever seen—besides carrying gold values sufficient t_over smelting expenses—it would never pay, as you say, to ship it out a_resent prices. But once smelted down into copper matte there’s a fortune i_t, as the Dutchman knew. He had already laid out the foundation of an old- style Welsh smelter, and, though it isn’t very big, we propose to make i_take us to a modern plant.”
  • “So that’s your game!” The agent whistled.
  • “That’s our game,” Billy confirmed. “If dear cousin over there can only b_ersuaded to furnish the mules we will do the rest. Go ask him, Bob.”
  • Seyd hesitated. “I’m afraid that I turned him down rather roughly. Let’s tr_irst ourselves.”
  • For the last half hour their baggage had formed a center of interest for th_orters, mule-drivers, and hackmen who formed the bulk of the crowd, and th_nap of the agent’s fingers brought a score of them running. Each tried t_ake his calling and election sure by seizing a piece of baggage. In te_econds the pile was dissolved and was flowing off in as many differen_irections when Seyd’s answer to a question brought all to a sudden halt.
  • “To the _mina_ Santa Gertrudis.”
  • Crash! the kit of mining tools dropped from the shoulder of the muleteer wh_ad asked the question, and it had no more than touched earth before it wa_uried under the other pieces.
  • “I told you so,” the agent commented, and was going on when a voice spoke i_rom their rear.
  • “What is the trouble, señors?”
  • The hacendado had approached unnoticed, and, turning quickly, Seyd met for th_hird time the equivocal look, now lightened by a touch of amusement.
  • Suppressing a recurrence of irritation he answered, quietly: “We wish to go t_he hacienda San Nicolas, señor, upon which we have denounced the mining clai_nown as the Santa Gertrudis. For some reason no one of these men will hire.
  • Perhaps you can tell why?”
  • “Now your fat’s in the fire,” the agent muttered.
  • Whether or no he had overheard Seyd’s answer to the muleteer, the man’s dar_ace gave no sign. “ _Quien sabe?_ Ask their blood brother, the burro. On_ould have little to do and time to waste if he attempted to plumb a mule- driver’s superstitions. _Ola_ , Carlos.”
  • While he was talking the crowd had continued to back away, but it stopped no_nd stood staring, for all the world like a herd of frightened cattle. The bi_uleteer who had led the retreat returned on a shuffling run, and as he stoo_efore the hacendado, sombrero in hand, Seyd saw the fear in his face.
  • “This fellow sometimes works for me. You will need”—he paused, overlooking th_aggage—“three burros and two riding-mules. He has only two. _Ola_ , Mattias!” When a second muleteer had come with the same breathless haste he gave th_uiet order, “You will take these señors to Santa Gertrudis.”
  • Bowing slightly, he had walked away before Seyd could lay hands on enoug_panish to state his obligation, and as, pausing, he then looked back his fac_nce more changed, expressing knowledge and sarcastic amusement at the mixe_eelings behind Seyd’s halting thanks. His bow, returning the customar_nswer, was more than half shrug.
  • “It is nothing.”
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