“Oh, well, we’ll do all we can for ourselves,” Tom proposed. “We’ll keep cheerful about it, too—until the worst happens.”
“I’m rested, Tom. Shall we start along?”
“Yes; for we’re both anxious to get through!”
Once more Reade took the lead. They trudged another mile, often without finding the semblance of a trail. Finally, they discovered what seemed to be a crude road leading in their general direction.
Ahead boulders loomed up. They were getting into a rough part of the mountains.
As Tom plodded around a bend in the road, past a big rock, he heard a low laugh.
“Oblige me, senores, by showing me how high you can reach in the air!” came a mocking voice.
Tom and Harry had both stepped around into the plain range of vision of Pedro Gato.
That scoundrel stood with rifle butt to his shoulder, his glance running along the barrel. The weapon covered them.
“Don’t forget! Your hands, caballeros!” insisted Gato, jubilantly.
For a brief instant Tom Reade hesitated. He was doing some lightning calculating as to whether he would be able to spring forward under the rifle barrel and knock up the weapon.
But a second glance showed him that he could not hope to do it. Pedro Gato was completely master of the situation.
“For the third time—and the last, caballeros your hands! Up high!” commanded Gato exultantly.
“Now, stand just so, until I get back of you,” ordered Gato. “Do not attempt any tricks, and do not turn to look back at me. If you do I shall pull the trigger—once and again. This rifle shoots fast.”
While talking Gato had placed himself to the rear of his captives, who, with hands up, remained facing ahead.
“Do you want us to keep our hands up forever?” demanded Tom Reade, gruffly.
“To take them down will be the signal for death,” replied Gato coolly. “Take your hands down, or turn this way, if you deem it best. Possibly you will prefer to die, for to-night’s entertainment may strike you as being worse than death. The matter is within your own choice, wholly, caballeros. Perhaps on the whole it would be far better for you to lower your hands and die.”
“Cut out the thrills and the mock-comedy, Gato, and tell us what else you want us to do,” Tom urged, stiffly.
“Oho! My Gringo wild-cat is much tamer, isn’t he?” sneered Gato. “But he shall be tamer still before the night is over. Now—are you listening?”
Harry made no sign, but Tom shrugged his shoulders.
“Keep your noses pointed the same way. March!” commanded Gato.
NEXT TO THE TELEGRAPH KEY
Tom and Harry started along the trail, side by side.
Something whizzed through the air. Then something struck the earth heavily, and there was a slight, quickly repressed groan.