“And where’s Nicolas, all this time?” suddenly demanded Harry, glancing at his watch. “Why, the fellow hasn’t been here for three hours! Where can he be?”
“Quien sabe?” responded Reade, using the common Spanish question, given with a shrug, which means, “Who knows! Who can guess?”
“Can Nicolas have fallen into any harm?” asked Hazelton, a new note of alarm in his voice. “The poor, faithful little fellow! It gives me a shiver to think of his suffering an injury just because he serves us so truly.”
“I shall be interested in seeing him get back,” Tom nodded thoughtfully.
“And I’m beginning to have a creepy feeling that he won’t come back!” cried Harry. “He may at this moment be past human aid, Tom, and that may be but the prelude to our own craftily-planned destruction.”
Tom Reade sat up, leaning on one elbow, as he regarded his chum with an odd smile.
“Harry,” Tom uttered, dryly, “we certainly have no excuse for being blue when we have such rosy thoughts to cheer us up!”
“Hang Mexico!” grunted Hazelton.
THE STRANGER IN THE TENT
By and by Tom Reade began to grow decidedly restless. He would sit up, look and listen, and then lie down again. Then he would fidget about nervously, all of which was most unusual with him, for Reade’s was one of those strong natures that will endure work day and night as long as is necessary, and then go in for complete rest when there is nothing else to do.
Harry did not observe this, for he had gone back into the tent. Two sheets of a Mexican newspaper had come wrapped around one of Nicolas’s last food purchases. Hazelton was reading the paper slowly by way of improving his knowledge of Spanish.
At last Tom called, in a low voice:
“Don’t worry about me, chum, if you miss me. I’m going to take a little stroll.”
“All right, Tom.”
Reade did not hurry away. He had to remember that in all probability he was being watched. So he strolled about as though he had no particular purpose in mind. Yet, after some minutes, he gained a point from which he could gaze down the hill-slope toward the little village of huts in which the mine laborers lived.
There were a few small children playing about the one street that ran through the village. A few of the women were out of doors, also, but none of the men were in sight, for these were toiling away at the mine. Though El Sombrero had so far shown no ore that amounted to anything, Don Luis, while waiting to sell his mine for a fortune, kept his peons working hard in the hope that they might strike some real ore.
After Tom had been gazing for three or four minutes his eves suddenly lighted, for he saw Nicolas come out of one of the huts.
“I wonder what has kept the little fellow so long,” Tom murmured. But he turned away with an appearance of listlessness, for, if he were observed, he did not care to have a watcher note his interest in the servant’s coming.