TWO REAL SIGNATURES
Though they were in Mexico the young engineers found it chilly that evening, after sundown.
“Nicolas, can you spare wood enough to start a little campfire?” Tom asked, as he put on his blouse after supper.
“Yes,” replied the little Mexican. “For what is the use of being strong if I could not tramp after more wood to-morrow?”
“We’ll pay you well for all your trouble for us, mi muchacho” (my boy) Tom promised.
“I am rewarded enough in being allowed to serve you, caballeros,” Nicolas answered.
“And the queer part of it is that he means what he says,” muttered Tom, gazing after the departing little peon.
Very shortly a cheerful fire was crackling away. Tom and Harry brought their campstools and sat down before it.
“I’ll be thankful when we get back to the States,” mused Tom.
“I hope it’ll be soon, too,” answered Harry, with a wistful glance toward the north, where, several hundred miles away, lay their country.
Nor did either one expect to be many days more away from home. The young engineers had arrived at a somewhat surprising conclusion. They had agreed to sign a suitable report and to stand back of Don Luis in all the claims he might make concerning El Sombrero Mine.
Much different would their feelings have been had they known all that frightened little Francesca had overheard that they were to be secretly slain, as soon as their usefulness in the swindle was past.
Rather late into the night the young engineers sat up, talking in such low tones that even Nicolas, squatted on the ground beside a smaller fire, could not hear what they were saying. He would not have understood, anyway, as the young engineers were talking in English.
It was very late when the young engineers turned in that night. It was eight in the morning when Nicolas aroused them.
“Is the stranger back in your tent, Nicolas?” Tom inquired, as soon as his eyes were open.
“Well, I’m not astonished. I didn’t really expect him to return.”
Tom and Harry were quickly astir, and ready for breakfast. Nicolas served them carefully, as always.
“We’re not through much too early, anyway,” Tom murmured. “Here come Don Luis and his artful shadow.”
The touring car stopped, at a little distance from camp. After the two passengers had alighted the chauffeur drove on two hundred yards further ere he drew up to wait for them.
“Good morning,” hailed Don Luis, cordially. “I see you are waiting for us.”
“We have been ready for you since we first rose,” Tom answered.
“Is your answer ready?” Don Luis demanded, eyeing them searchingly.
“Don Luis,” Tom replied, instantly, “the report that you wanted us to sign for you would hardly answer the purpose with shrewd American investors. That report goes back too far; it covers too many points that you might be supposed to know were true, but which engineers who had been here but a few weeks could hardly be expected to know at first hand. Do you see the point that I am raising?”