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.