“You have come to serve us,” said Gato, delightedly. “You are a good youth, and I shall reward you handsomely some day. You are ready to tell us how we can trap the two Gringos. How many weapons have they, and of what kind?”
“Truly, I do not know, Senor Gato,” Nicolas answered.
“That taller Gringo taunted me with the claim that he was not armed at all,” grinned Gato, ferociously. “But I am too old a man to be caught by any such lie as that. He was trying to lead us on, that we might walk into their Gringo trap. Was he not?”
“Truly I do not know,” Nicolas repeated.
“Then what are you doing here, if you bring us no news?” snarled Gato, whereat Nicolas began to tremble.
“I—I bring a letter from his excellency, el caballero, Reade,” faltered the servant.
“A letter?” cried Gato, hoarsely. “Why did you not say so before.”
“I have been waiting, Senor Gato, until you gave me time to speak,” protested the messenger.
“Hand me the letter,” ordered Gato, stretching forth his hand.
Nicolas handed over the page torn from Tom’s notebook. Gato slowly puzzled his way through the note, his anger rising with every word.
“The insolent Gringo!” he cried. “He insults my courage! This from one who is a mere Gringo—the most cowardly race of people on the earth. Oh, I shall exact revenge for this insolence. And you, Nicolas, had the impudence to come here with such an insult.”
“I assure you, Senor Gato, I was but the unfortunate messenger.” Nicolas replied, meekly.
“Since you brought this insolence to me you shall take back my message. Tell the dogs of Gringos that I laugh at them. Tell the Gringo, Reade, that, in these hills, I shall do as I please. That I shall let him pass safely, if I am so minded, or that I shall shoot at him whenever I choose. Assure him that I regard his life as being my property. Begone, you rascal!”
Nor did Nicolas linger. From the outset he had been badly scared, though he had been truthful in assuring Tom Reade that a bandit would hardly hurt a poor peon.
When Nicolas at last reached the young engineers he delivered the message that Pedro Gato had regarded the whole matter as insolence, and had been very angry.
“Gato added,” continued Nicolas, “that he would shoot at you when and where he pleased. And he will do it. He is a ferocious fellow.”
“Humph!” muttered Tom. “If your feet don’t mind, my good Nicolas, I have a good mind to send Gato another and much shorter note. Is it far to go!”
“N-not very far,” said Nicolas, though he began to quake.
“Of course, I shall pay you well for this and all the other trouble you are taking on my account,” Tom continued, gently.
“I am finely paid by being allowed to serve you at all, Senor Reade,” Nicolas protested.