Two or three of the children, after the custom of their kind, called out for money. Tom, smiling pleasantly, drew forth a few loose American coins that he had with him and scattered them in the road. Then he hastened on to the telegraph station, a squalid-looking little one-room shanty. But the place looked good to Tom, for its wires reached out over the civilized world, and more especially ran to the dear old United States that he was so anxious to reach with a few words.
Tom passed inside, to find a bare-footed, white-clad Mexican soldier at a telegraph desk. The soldier wore the chevrons of a sergeant.
“Sergeant, may I send a telegram from here?” Tom inquired in Spanish.
“Certainly, senor,” replied the sergeant, pushing forward a blank. As this telegraph station was a military station, it was under the exclusive control of the soldiery.
Tom picked up the blank and the proffered pencil. He dated the paper, then wrote the name and address of the manager of his and Harry’s engineering office in the United States. Below this Reade wrote:
“Hazelton and I are now endeavoring to reach railway and return immediately. If not heard from soon, look us up promptly through Washington.”
“Our man will know, from this, if he doesn’t hear from us soon,” Tom reflected, “that there has been foul play, and that he must turn the matter over to the United States Government at Washington for some swift work by Uncle Sam on our behalf. Once this message gets through to the other end, Harry and I won’t have to worry much about being able to get out of Mexico in safety.”
The sergeant read the English words through carefully.
“Will the senor pardon me for saying,” ventured the telegrapher, “that this message reads much as though yourself and a friend are trying to escape?”
The man spoke in English, though with a Spanish accent.
“What do you mean, Sergeant?” Tom queried, quickly.
“Why should you need to escape, if you are honest men, engaged in honest business?” demanded the sergeant, eyeing Reade keenly.
“Why, it isn’t a felony to try to get out of Mexico, is it?” Tom counter-queried.
“That depends,” said the sergeant. “It depends, for instance, on why you are leaving.”
“We’re leaving because we want to,” Tom informed him.
“You are Senor Reade, are you not?” pressed the sergeant, after eyeing the telegram once more. “And your friend, who does not appear here in person, is Senor Hazelton? Unless I am wrong, then you are the two engineers whom Don Luis Montez engaged. How do I know that you have any right to leave Mexico? How do I know that you are not breaking a contract?”
“Breaking a contract?” Tom retorted, somewhat indignantly. “Sergeant, we are not contract laborers. We are civil engineers—professional men.”
“Nevertheless,” replied the sergeant, handing back the telegram into the hands of bewildered. Tom Reade, “I cannot undertake to send this message until it is endorsed with the written approval of Don Luis Montez, your employer.”