By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
THE STORY SO FAR: Laura and Bill and their cousins, Gray and Beth, had been at their fathers’ construction camp in Sonora all summer, helping to earn enough money to pay their father’s mortgage and to give their mother a much needed operation. Now they were on their way back to the border. Laura, because she had overheard her father and Bill talking, believes they are carrying something valuable, but does not want Bill to know she suspects. At their noon meal they were held up by a dangerous looking Mexican; but after having eaten with them he leaves after warning them about the pass in the mountains.
At a pueblo through which they passed they saw three horses tied beside the cantina. The horses belong to three tough men who had left camp the day before they did.
As they approached the pass they were stopped by the three men who ordered them to hand over the gold. Reluctantly each gave up the small savings they were carrying. Angered by the small amount and determined on a thorough search of the wagon, one of the bandits threw up the lid of the grub box and began pawing among the contents. In a flash Laura was up in the wagon beside him.
“Laura, get down,” Bill cried out in English. “I’ll tell him.”
Laura did not notice Bill’s outcry. Her attention was all on their grub-box and the man who was throwing things about.
“Pig,” she said scathingly to Pedro, “would you soil our food? See. I shall search for you. Watch carefully.”
Perhaps because she was a girl, perhaps because she was an American, perhaps for some reason wholly unknown to himself, the man obeyed.
Spreading a clean cloth on the spring seat she took the things from the box and exposed them to view. When the box was empty she pointed.
“See, it is empty. There is nothing.”
“Leave this alone,” she commanded. “you have already searched it.”
As one by one the packages were placed upon the seat without the results he desired, Pedro grew ugly. Again the boys glanced at each other. They gathered their muscles. Juan was plainly nervous.
“We have gold. Let us leave,” he urged.
But Manuelo added, “Search once more.”
Everything that remained in the wagon was thrown helter-skelter. Pedro tipped up the front seat. He got down and looked under the wagon bed. He even felt over the harness, but one of the mules flailed out at him. He got back into the wagon. He reached for the handle of the grub-box, but Laura had returned the contents and was calmly sitting on the lid. As his grimy fingers touched the wood she slapped them briskly.
“Leave this alone,” she commanded. “You have already searched it.”
There was no fear in her voice, no yielding. For a split second the man hesitated. Just then there came a sound from the trees above the cliff. The men whirled, ready. There was no repetition of the sound and presently they breathed in relief.
“Let us go,” Juan cried. “You see there is no more.” Manuelo also grunted his desire for haste.
Reluctantly Pedro acquiesced. After all, this was more money than he had seen for a long time. More than he could have earned in many weeks. Why risk being caught for more? He mounted his horse. The three whirled to dash through the pass, but, between the frowning cliffs stood a grim, swarthy man.
“Buenos dias,” he greeted amicably, but each word clipped the other close.
“Now to please to return the money to –” he indicated the boys. Purple with rage, but helpless to protest, Pedro threw the bag to Bill. “Some rope. We’ll tie their hands.” Gray brought it quickly from the wagon. Eagerly, but bursting with wonder, the boys tied the hands of the bandits behind them. Still obeying orders they lashed the bridles of the three horses together and turned them so they headed back toward the pueblo.
“It is not these I am hunting,” he gave them a quick warm smile. “It is one bad hombre. These will do.”
“You are an officer?” Gray asked, curiously.
“Si,” the man nodded without taking his glance from the three horsemen. “The man I seek has been seen in this neighborhood. I kept from the pueblos so word could not get to him. That is reason for my so great hunger, Senorita.”
They smiled in return and thanked him profusely.
“Vamoose. Ondelay.” He called sharply and soon the group, prisoners and captor, disappeared down the road.
When they had passed from sight Beth sat down and started to cry.
“What do you know about that?” Gray exclaimed. “He acted like a bandit to deceive us.”
“Let’s get our things gathered up and get on our way,” bill suggested, and finding the oat sacks he tried to tie up the holes.
“Wait.” Gray leaned against the off mule and faced his cousin. “What is going on here? I thought you were too passive to be true. Evidently we are carrying money, but why and where?”
For answer Bill turned to his sister. Unashamed tears stood in her eyes but he beamed approval. “How did you know?”
“I overheard you and father talking. Then the grub-box had been repacked. I know it is somewhere about the grub-box but I don’t know where.”
“What are we carrying?” Beth demanded. “We can surely know now.”
Bill drew a long breath. “It is the money for Mother,” he said, “and a payment due Senor Gonzales by the fifteenth – on that mortgage. We had to get the money through. This seemed the only way.”
“And they wouldn’t trust me,” Gray stated a little bitterly.
“It wasn’t a question of trust. To carry arms would have invited suspicion. The fewer knowing it the better.”
“But where is it?” Beth’s eyes were opening wider and wider.
“Beneath the false bottom of the grub-box. If Pedro had tipped that box he would have discovered it. Laura’s ruse is all that saved it. Laura outwitted the bandits.”
They all beamed their approval; but Laura’s nerves were near the breaking point. “Let’s go,” she said weakly.
“Yes.” Bill put the word to action. “We are through the danger point now. Tonight we will be in Corlitis, thank goodness. The rest of the way will be easy.”
Then, as they resumed their journey, each was silent, although each heart was singing. They knew the dear mother who had waited so patiently would at last be able to see.
Laura was the first to speak. “I would face any danger for Mother,” she said, and she knew, somehow, that she had spoken their thoughts.