Gabby Pete, the talkative camp cook, scratched his head under his sombrero, and looked solemn. “Waal, they’ll have ter wait a bit,” he said. “But I kin rustle grub in a hurry onct I git back ter camp. An’, anyhow, Mr. Jack, a feller came to camp a while ago in one o’ them there aeryoplanes. Jest flew up almost to the door an’ steps out an’ gin me this yere letter.” Here Gabby Pete produced a missive from the front of his shirt, and passed it to Jack. “He sez as how it war most partickler that you git it right away. So I rid in with it,” said Gabby Pete, adding aggrievedly: “an’ now you hop on me fur it.”
Jack seized the missive in a sudden fever of anxiety. An airplane? He opened the letter, took in its contents at a glance, and turned excitedly to his chums.
“Father’s held for ransom,” he cried. “Here. Read this.”
ON THE DESERT TRAIL
Eagerly Mr. Temple, Bob and Frank gathered around Jack, crowding to read over his shoulders the missive left at camp by a messenger in an airplane and brought to Ransome by Gabby Pete, the camp cook, following Jack, who had gone to the little New Mexican town to meet the party from the East.
The writing was cramped and foreign, as if the pen were wielded by a hand more accustomed to form German script than English letters. The missive was brief:
“Sir, this is to inform you that Mr. John Hampton is held in a secure place. One hundred thousand dollars must be paid for his release. A man riding alone must bring the money in United States bills of one thousand dollars each to the Calomares ranch two weeks from today. He must wear a white handkerchief in his hat.”
While the others read, Jack turned to Gabby Pete and said authoritatively:
“Pete, you heard me say something just now about my father being held for ransom. I believe you are my friend.” Gabby Pete nodded violently. “Well, forget what you heard. If anybody asks you, remember that father has gone East on business.”
“Sure, boy,” said Pete. “I’m a tombstone. Well, me an’ Angel Face here,” and he slapped his horse affectionately, whereat Angel Face reared and pranced, giving the lie to her name, “we may as well git started fur camp so’s to feed you when you arriv.”
Jack laid a restraining hand on Pete’s knee. “Wait just a minute, Pete. Do you know where the Calomares ranch is located?”
Pete nodded. “Aw, sure,” he said, “that must be Don Fernandez y Calomares, down in Ol’ Mexico. That’s a good hundred mile acrost the border. It’s in a valley in them mountains,” he added, pointing to the darkening southern horizon.
“And who is this Don?”
“Waal,” drawled Gabby Pete, plaintively, “I stick to hum so much o’ the time I never git to talk to nobody nor hear the noos. But seems to me I did hear onct about him. Yes, sir, somebody sez as how Don Fernandez lives in a palace in that wilderness jest like a king of old, with armed ree-strainers or whatever you calls ’em——”