The Hardy boys laughed.
"You take it coolly, at any rate," said Frank.
Mr. Hardy was strangely thoughtful. At last he turned to his sons.
"Mrs. Smith, the landlady, told you that Pedro Vincenzo used to talk about Mexico. He did not tell her his address, did he?"
"He said he came from a part of the country where people lived in caves."
"Ah," said Juan quickly. "Did he mention the Tarahumares?"
"Come to think of it," said Joe, "it seems to me that Mrs. Smith was trying to get her tongue around a name like that. She called them Tarmars. What are they, Juan?"
"Indians," returned the Mexican lad promptly. "The Tarahumare Indians live in the northern sierras, in the mountains of Chihuahua. There are caves in the Septentrion Canon, of course, but people do not live there any more."
"It's a slim clue," said Mr. Hardy, "but if Pedro Vincenzo comes from the mountains of Chihuahua he may have sent Tremmer there."
"You are looking for someone?" asked Juan politely.
"Yes. And perhaps you may be able to help us. Do you know Mexico well?"
"I have traveled a great deal in my own country."
"Could you guide me to this country of the Tarahumares?"
"I must return home first, of course. But 'with my father's permission there is nothing I should like better than to help you." Juan's eyes sparkled with excitement. "It would be the sort of adventure I prefer."
Fenton Hardy outlined briefly the story of Pedro Vincenzo and the missing witness, Elmer Tremmer.
"The man may still be in Texas," he said. "Tomorrow I am going to make some investigations and try to pick up his trail. If I can't find him I suppose our best plan is to go on into the Chihuahua country. At least," he added, "I will go on into Mexico with you, Juan, and Frank and Joe can wait here until I return."
Consternation was written in the faces of the Hardy boys.
"Do you mean to say we can't go with you, Dad?" cried Frank.
Mr. Hardy shook his head.
"It's too dangerous, I'm afraid. This may be just another wild-goose chase. You are safer on United States soil."
The boys were keenly disappointed. Now that they had come so far it was a crushing blow to learn that they might have to sit cooling their heels while their father went on to further adventures in the romantic country across the Rio Grande.
"We won't be any trouble, Dad," pleaded Frank. "We can take care of ourselves. Besides, you may need us."
"I don't like to disappoint you, but it's your safety of which I'm thinking. We'll be going into pretty wild country, won't we, Juan?"
"Very wild," admitted the Mexican boy.
This, however, only increased the Hardy boys' determination to accompany their father. Juan Marcheta, sympathizing with them, said:
"I must go home first. Why not let your sons come with us and stay at my place? They will be quite safe there and I know my parents will be glad to have them visit for a while. It is not far from the Chihuahua country and it will be more interesting for them than waiting here."
"Well, I won't promise," said Fenton Hardy. "We'll see about it tomorrow. Maybe we won't have to go to Mexico at all. After we've all had a good sleep we can make further plans."
Before the boys retired that night Frank said to his brother:
"I'll be glad if we find Elmer Tremmer, all right, but I hope he went to Mexico.''
"So do I," said Joe. "A chance like this Comes only once in a lifetime."
In the Path of Danger
Fenton Hardy was up early next morning and left the hotel immediately after breakfast.
He announced that he was going to make a determined effort to pick up some information about the missing Elmer Tremmer.
"In the meantime," said Frank, "we'll see if we can locate Senor Bario."
The lads amused themselves by exploring the town that morning. Occasionally Juan Marcheta would question some of his own countrymen. He found no one, however, who knew Bario.
"I noticed that he got into a blue roadster after he gave Dad the warning last night,'' Joe said after a time. "I think I would recognize the car if I saw it again."
"I can't understand how Bario comes to be mixed up in our case," Frank declared. "He is a kidnaper, not an oil swindler."
"He may be both," said Juan. "Who knows?"
"Bario must be connected with Vincenzo's crowd and we must be on the right trail or he wouldn't have tried to frighten us into staying out of Mexico, that's certain. I wonder if he really thought that letter would throw a scare into us?"
Juan Marcheta shook his head dubiously.
"Such men will stop at nothing," he said. "You are taking a great risk."
"That's what we're here for," remarked Joe cheerfully. "Let's make the rounds of the garages and parking places and look for that machine.''
They viewed scores of autos within the next hour, and found several blue roadsters. Joe could identify none of them as the machine in "which Bario had driven away from the airport the previous night. When it was nearly noon Frank suggested that they give up the search and resume it after lunch.
"Just a minute!" exclaimed Joe, as they passed the entrance to a narrow lane. "That looks like it."
A battered looking blue car was parked in the pathway, and Joe ran down to inspect it.
He came back in a few minutes, jubilant.
"Same roadster!" he declared. "I'd know it anywhere."
"Then we'll just wait here until Bario comes out," said Frank.
"I have a better plan than that. He might drive away before we can stop him. I'm going to hide in the rumble seat. Then I can't possibly lose him."
Juan Marcheta, fresh from his experience at the hands of the kidnapers, thought Joe's plan was risky and advised caution, which Joe, however, would not listen to.
"For all we know, Tremmer might be right here in town. If he is, then Bario is very likely in touch with him. I might solve this whole case single-handed."
With the greatest confidence in the world, Joe went back down the lane and vanished into the rumble seat of the roadster.
Frank and Juan waited at the mouth of the alley. They were fully prepared for a long stay, but in a few minutes a door opened and two men hurried out of one of the buildings in the lane. They got into the car, which lurched forward, and then shot out into the street, disappearing down the road in a cloud of dust.
The two boys gave chase but the auto swerved around the next corner. By the time Frank and Juan reached the intersection the roadster was nowhere to be seen.
"I hope Joe is enjoying the ride," said Frank, trying to disguise his anxiety. "They may take him all the way to Mexico."
"It was a foolish thing to do," Juan remarked gravely.
They hurried down the street, with very little hope of seeing the car again. Then ten minutes later, in the business section of the town, they were greatly elated to see the blue roadster standing in front of a barber shop. On the sidewalk, engaged in conversation with the two men who had driven the car away, stood Joe Hardy.
"They caught my brother!" declared Frank. "Let's hurry."
However, when Juan and Frank came up to the trio in front of the barber shop, they were relieved to see that Joe was in no trouble, but was talking to the strangers on apparently friendly terms. A moment later the men went into the shop and Joe trudged toward his companions with a pleased grin on his face.
"I thought I was in for it that time," he laughed. "The car hit a bump and I let a yell out of me when I hit my head, so the men knew they were carrying an extra passenger."
"How on earth did you get out of that "crape?" asked Frank.
"They fished me out when the car stopped. They wanted to know why I was riding in the rumble seat, so I simply told them the truth. They were Americans and I explained that I thought the car belonged to Senor Bario because I had seen him driving it last night. But the car didn't belong to Bario at all. One of those men is a barber and it's his car. He says Bario 'borrowed' it from him last night without permission, and that he would have the fellow arrested if he could find him. But he can't find him."
"Why not?" asked Juan.
"He turned the case over to the police, and now it seems that Bario has left town. I tell you, that little car drive was worth while. I picked up more information in those five minutes than we learned all morning. And here's the important part," said Joe, evidently saving the best for the last. "Tremmer was with Bario!"
"Tremmer!" exclaimed Frank.
"The same gentleman. The barber told me that Bario came into the shop yesterday with a little near-sighted man who wanted his mustache shaved off. Bario called him 'Senor Smith.' So there you are. And the police say Bario and this Senor Smith left town together."
Joe was very proud of himself, as he had good reason to be, and suggested that they all hurry back to the hotel at once.
"I think we're going to take a trip to Mexico," he said.
Fenton Hardy was waiting for the boys. He had not, it appeared, succeeded in acquiring much information about Elmer Tremmer.
"The airport people tell me he landed here all right. He came on from Brownsville yesterday morning, but seems to have disappeared into thin air."
"With Senor Bario," said Joe calmly. "They cleared out together."
Fenton Hardy looked at his son in surprise.
"How do you know?"
"We've been doing a little detective work ourselves."
Joe then told his father about the blue roadster and the information he had gleaned from the barber. Mr. Hardy knew the ability of his sons so well, that he was not exactly surprised, though highly pleased, at Joe's success.
"That settles it, then," he declared. "The trail of Bario is the trail of Tremmer–and it leads to Mexico."
"And we may go with you?" asked Frank anxiously.
"I can't very well refuse now," said Mr. Hardy with a smile. Then he turned to Juan Marcheta. "We'll take you home, of course, Juan, and you can help us locate this country of the cave dwellers. If that doesn't work we'll investigate the district where the Bio Oil people were supposed to have their wells."
"When do we leave–and how?" asked Frank.
"We'll leave tonight, if I can make arrangements for an airplane. I think it would be best if we should leave quietly. Bario may have friends in town and you may depend upon it that they'll be watching us."
That afternoon Mr. Hardy found a free-lance pilot who was willing to fly them across the border and to whom he explained the situation. The aviator suggested that the detective and his party drive out of town after darkness had fallen, promising to pick them up at a lonely place about twenty miles away.
Late that night a taxi was waiting at a side door of the hotel. Fenton Hardy and his sons, accompanied by Juan Marcheta, slipped quietly out and got into the car. They gave the driver his directions, and the taxi pulled away from the curb.
"All these precautions may be unnecessary, but it's well to be on the safe side," Mr. Hardy remarked. "Bario knew of our arrival, and it's probable that he will have someone checking up on us."
Frank glanced out the rear window of the taxicab.
"There's a car following us," he said.
Mr. Hardy spoke to the driver, who promptly turned down a side street, sped up a narrow lane, raced down another street, and performed a variety of intricate maneuvres designed to throw any pursuers off their trail. But when they reached the road leading out of town they could still see the headlights of the car behind. "So!" remarked the chauffeur. "'Well, if he wants a race, that's just what he is going to get. Hold tight!"
He stepped on the accelerator, and the taxi leaped ahead. For the next ten minutes the boys enjoyed one of the most exciting rides of their lives. The car leaped and pitched, took curves on two wheels, and roared on into the night at top speed. More than once it seemed that only sheer luck saved it from going into the ditch. The driver was an expert, however, and he knew just what his car would do. Frank, hanging on for dear life and gazing out the rear window, finally reported that the lights of the pursuing car had disappeared.
"I hope he busted an axle," grunted the man it the wheel, slowing down to a more moderate rate of speed.
The headlights shone upon a vast expanse of treeless ranch land. The night was clear, with a full moon and a starlit sky. They drove on until they came to a group of deserted buildings beside the road.
"The old Bar-K ranchhouse," said the driver. "Here's where you stop."
"Has the ranch been abandoned?" asked Mr. Hardy.
"Not a bit of it. Plenty of cattle on the Bar-K range yet. The new buildings are about five miles away."
They got out of the car and Mr. Hardy paid for the trip. The man touched his cap.
"Thanks, mister," he said. "I'll remember what you told me. Nobody will get any information out of me. I say nothin', hear no thin' and see nothin'."
He glanced up at the sky. "It's a good clear night. I guess your pilot will be able to pick you up without any trouble."
"I hope so," said Fenton Hardy.
The taxi driver swung his car around, bade them a cheery goodnight, and rattled off into the gloom.
It was an eerie and lonely place. Not a sound broke the deep silence. The deserted ranch buildings looked ghostly. The boys glanced up into the sky, but the plane was not yet in evidence.
"We may have to wait a while," observed Mr. Hardy, "but the pilot said he would pick us up here without fail."
"It will be a good joke on us if he doesn't show up," Joe said. "I don't relish the idea of legging it back to town."
In the distance the boys heard a faint rumbling sound. It came from beyond a dark slope at the back of the ranch buildings. They looked at one another, puzzled.
Juan Marcheta suddenly flung himself down in the grass and put his ear to the ground. He listened for a moment, his face serious. The heavy rumbling became louder. Juan leaped to his feet.
"It is no train!" he cried. "Quick! Run to the ranch buildings. There is no time to lose. They will be here in a minute."
He dashed across the open ground toward the tumbledown ranchhouse.
"What's the matter?" demanded Joe.
"Quick!" urged Juan. "Quick, or we'll be trampled to death. I know that sound. Cattle! A herd of cattle on the stampede."
The words had hardly left his mouth before the Hardy boys saw a wave of dark shapes break over the crest of the ridge. Hundreds of milling animals rushed madly toward them.
Fenton Hardy and the boys were about a hundred yards from the buildings when Juan cried his warning. The top of the slope was nearly a quarter of a mile away. Yet, as they broke into a run and sprinted for safety, they knew that it would be only a matter of moments before the great herd would reach the foot of the slope.
"If we're caught out in the open we'll be killed!'' yelled Juan.
By this time the others needed no further urging. They could see the black mass of cattle pouring down the hillside, horns tossing in the moonlight, hoofs drumming on the earth. Any living object in the path of that mad stampede would be trampled to a pulp. The front ranks were now halfway down the slope, and still more were pounding over the crest of the hill. It seemed as if the cattle would rush relentlessly into the ranch buildings. For a moment Frank and Joe doubted Juan's wisdom.
The group reached the shadow of the ranchhouse just as the stampede got to the foot of the slope with a thunderous roar. Juan and Joe, in the lead, raced across the few intervening yards of ground and flung themselves into an open doorway.
Fenton Hardy, thinking of the safety of his boys, had lagged behind, waiting to see that all gained the refuge of the buildings before he himself took to cover. It was well that he had done so. Just as he ran into the shadowa Frank uttered a cry, stumbled and fell. At the same moment there was a crash and a splintering of shattered boards. Some of the cattle had plunged into a small fence at the back of the ranchhouse and carried it away in their headlong rush.
"All right, Son," said Fenton Hardy, reaching down and grabbing Frank's outstretched hand. "Are you hurt?"
The boy struggled to his feet. He tried to inn but nearly fell again. His ankle had been twisted by the sudden tumble.
"Go ahead, Dad!" he gasped. "I'll–make it–all right–"
"Nonsense!" Mr. Hardy flung his arm around Frank's waist. He half dragged, half carried the lad toward the doorway. He was still in the danger zone as half a dozen steers came plunging around the side of the ranch-house, bellowing madly. Frank and his father made one last desperate effort. One of the animals thundered toward them.
Fenton Hardy snatched off his hat and brandished it in front of the steer, which shied violently to one side, so close that its heavy flank brushed against Frank and knocked him down. The other animals went rushing past and a moment later Mr. Hardy had dragged his son to the safety of the doorway.
Juan Marcheta and Joe were limp with relief.
"I thought you were both done for!" said the latter.
"It was a very narrow–what you call it?–squeak!" said Juan.
"Close enough," remarked Mr. Hardy. "How is your ankle, Frank?"
"It will be all right. When that steer hit me it felt as if I was being grazed by a locomotive."
The boy managed to get to his feet, and the group stood in the doorway watching the awe-inspiring spectacle. Hundreds of cattle were milling about in the moonlight, and hundreds more were still thundering down the slope behind the ranchhouse.
Suddenly, in the clear night sky, the Hardys saw a winged object skimming high overhead.
"The plane!" cried Joe.
Their pilot had kept his appointment!
It was obvious, however, that it was impossible for him to make a landing. The waiting travelers saw the machine circling above the ranch buildings. Mr. Hardy took a flashlight from his pocket, aimed it skyward, and flashed a signal. A moment later the riding lights of the plane blinked off and on.
"He knows we're here, at any rate," Frank said.
As the aircraft swung around in another circle, the boys caught sight of an object sailing through the air. It struck the roof with a dull thud, bounced off, then fell to the ground. It proved to be a white handkerchief tied around a small bolt. When Juan retrieved it, he found that the piece of linen contained a scribbled note.
"Can't land here. If you can get away and meet me a mile up the road, flash once. If you can't get out, flash twice."
"We certainly can't get out while the cattle are here," said Juan.
Although the stampede had ended, the animals were now herding up around the old ranch buildings. Mr. Hardy raised the flashlight and signaled twice. A moment later the plane straightened out and droned off westward. Then it turned, and came swooping down at terrific speed close to the ground, its motor wide open.
The cattle bellowed with fear. As the roaring monster of the sky swooped toward them, not fifty feet from the earth, the steers suddenly broke and fled. In a moment the earth was again echoing to the thunderous trample of hoofs. The plane banked sharply, for the pilot did not want to get too far above the herd and turn them back again. He swung around to the rear of the living mass and came speeding ahead once more. In less than a minute the animals, routed, plunged back up the slope. "When the last of them had vanished over the top of the ridge, the airplane settled down to earth, bumped heavily, righted itself, and came to a stop.
Fenton Hardy and the boys hastened out of the deserted building that had been such a providential refuge. Their pilot, a bronzed, weatherbeaten young man, stood waiting for them.
"That's the first time I've ever tried riding herd from the air," he remarked. "I didn't expect it would work, but I thought I'd try it anyway."
"It worked, sure enough," said Joe. "I'll bet they won't come back this way in a hurry."
The travelers took their places. In a few moments the idling motor again broke into a roar, the plane went rolling over the level field, took off, and climbed steadily into the sky.
Frank and Joe were tense with excitement. As the nose of the ship turned southward they gazed toward the stars shining above the mysterious horizon.
"On to Mexico!" shouted Frank.
The flight itself was uneventful. The boys experienced a thrill when they flew over the Rio Grande, the great river shining like silver in the moonlight, and realized that they were at last over foreign soil. The plane landed on the outskirts of a small town shortly after daybreak and refuelled, then took off at once on the second leg of its journey.
Within a few hours Juan began to show signs of excitement, evidently recognizing country that was familiar to him. It was all strange and wonderful to Frank and Joe.
The voyagers passed over a great desert where millions of acres of sand lay beneath the sun, broken here and there by marshes, lakes and buttes of reddish rock. Then the aridity gave way to subtropical vegetation and high towering hills, with great gorges through which tumbled mountain streams. Finally they approached the foothills of the sierras, and in the distance lay a city.
This was their destination! It seemed only a few minutes from the time the metropolis appeared in view that the plane was bumping to a stop in a field on the outskirts.
Now that his long adventure was at an end, Juan was impatient to get home. He could scarcely wait while Mr. Hardy gave instructions to the pilot, and Frank went away to find a taxi. "When the four finally drove through the sunlit streets, Juan was as excited as a child.
"Soon I shall be home!" he exclaimed in delight. "You shall meet my father, my mother and my sister Dolores. Ah! There is the wall of our hacienda. I can see the roof. The big trees. Drive faster-faster–"
He had the door open, and was out of the car before it stopped.
"Hi, Rafael!" he called to a sleepy looking servant near the gate.
Then followed a torrential command in his own language, which brought the astonished man over to take charge of the luggage. Juan grabbed Frank and Joe each by an arm.
"Come! You are my guests," he cried. '' Come, Seiior Hardy. Oh, I am so glad to be home."
There was tremendous excitement when Juan reached the great, shady hacienda beyond the wall. A tall, sunburned gentleman with white mustaches and a goatee leaped up from a chair on the veranda, cast aside his newspaper, and rushed at Juan with an incredulous cry of joy. A stout, handsome, dark-haired woman flung open the door, gazed at Juan as if he were a ghost, then burst into tears while she hugged him affectionately. A moment later a beautiful young girl in a white dress came running down the garden path.
"Juan!" she cried joyously, and threw her arms about him.
There was so much tumult and rejoicing that no one paid any attention to Fenton Hardy and his sons until at last Seiior Marcheta turned toward them. His expression, however, did not indicate that he welcomed them with enthusiasm.
He made a stiff little bow.
"You will pardon me, Senors," he said. "You will understand that it will be impossible for me to offer you the hospitality of my home, after what you have done. Will you please oblige me by leaving at once?"
He beckoned to the Mexican servant coming up the walk with the luggage.
"Rafael! Show these people to the gate."
The Symbol Again
Fenton Hardy and the boys were amused as well as embarrassed. It was evident that Juan's father took it for granted that they were in some way connected with the kidnapers. However, Juan himself soon, cleared up the mistake.
''You are wrong, Father!" he cried. ''These are my friends. If it had not been for them, I would not be at home with you now. They have been very good to me."
Senor Marcheta became very agitated, bowed profoundly, and broke into a torrent of apologies. Juan, in his own language, explained to his mother and sister. Frank and Joe were astonished to hear the names "Dolores" and "Pedro" repeated several times in the voluble conversation. The close association of the two words recalled to them the partly destroyed letter that had been found in Pedro Vincenzo's room, back in faraway Bayport.
When the Marchetas had heard Juan's story, their demeanors underwent a distinct change.
The father apologized again and again for his mistake, and warmly thanked Mr. Hardy and the boys for all they had done for his son.
"You will stay with us?" be begged earnestly. "You will do us the kindness of accepting our hospitality while you are in Mexico?"
Mr. Hardy explained that they were in the country on confidential business that might take them far afield. For the present, however, he gratefully accepted the offer. The servant Rafael was instantly ordered to carry the luggage into the house.
Juan told the story of his abduction, explaining how he had escaped from his captors in New York and had started back to Mexico alone. It was soon evident that Senor Marcheta was very proud of his son's initiative and courage. As for the abductors, he vowed that he would some day bring them to justice.
"I was right!" he exclaimed. "Pedro Pancho is a rascal. Dolores," he said to his daughter, "I was wise when I forbade him to come here."
"Is this Pedro Pancho known by another name?" asked Frank.
"It is possible," said Senor Marcheta. "He "wished to pay court to my daughter, but it came to my ears that he had been mixed up in dishonest dealings above the border. He is an unscrupulous rogue, and I should not be surprised to hear that he called himself by another name."
"Vincenzo, for instance?" suggested Joe.
The Marchetas knew Pedro Pancho only by the title under which he had appeared at their home. Frank took the partly burned letter from his pocket and handed it over to Senor Marcheta.
"Perhaps that is in your handwriting," he remarked.
The Mexican examined the missive. As he did so, his eyes widened, and he gasped in astonishment.
"But this is magic!" he exclaimed. "How did you come by this? You arrive here from the United States, you are strangers, you have never met me before–and you hand me a letter in my own writing!"
"It is yours, then?" demanded Mr. Hardy eagerly.
"Indeed it is. I wrote this letter to that rascal Pedro Pancho."
"I thought so," said Frank. "I think there is no doubt but that Pedro Pancho and Pedro Vincenzo are one and the same person."
"This is all very strange," observed Juan's mother, mystified. "Where did you find that letter?"
"Please tell us," begged Dolores.
Fenton Hardy, however, seldom confided in anyone when he was working on a case. Now he explained politely that he was a detective and that while his business in Mexico concerned Pedro Vincenzo, or Pancho, it was of a confidential nature.
"Perhaps we can tell you the whole story after I have located this fellow Pedro," he said.
"I shall be glad to help you," declared Senor Marcheta. "It is possible that he may be bold enough to come here."