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首页 » 经典英文小说 » The Mercer Boys on a Treasure Hunt » CHAPTER VI THE SCENE IN THE MOONLIGHT
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The sail down the beautiful California coast was uneventful. The fruit steamer was a staunch old boat, though somewhat battered, and it kept its course steadily. After the boys and the professor had tired of exploring it from end to end and looking in on the huge engines which drove it with throbbing energy they spent most of their time on the deck watching the passing shore line, enjoying the warmth and brilliant sunshine. The nights, they found, were cold even in that particular time of the year, and they were not sorry to use blankets even in the shelter of their cabins. They became quite friendly with the captain, who told them stories of many exciting voyages and some unusual storms. Nothing further was seen of Sackett and the mate went sullenly ashore at the first port.

No storms broke the monotony of fair weather and quiet sailing, and when at last they entered Magdalena Bay and approached the settlements they were almost sorry to leave the fruit steamer. At ten o’clock one bright morning they climbed into the cutter and were pulled away to the shore, landing at length on the sandy soil of the small town of Quito.

Ned’s ranch lay several miles inland, and the only means of travel was a lumbering wagon which went to the mines. Learning that this vehicle was to start out the following morning they hunted up the driver, a Mexican, and arranged to drive with him. A small hotel provided them with a place to put up over night and after a satisfying supper they wandered around the town, seeing the sights. The steamer had gone on its voyage after a brief stop.

The population of the town was very small, and exceedingly sleepy. Terry remarked that they slept all day in order to recruit strength enough to play on guitars at night. The population was composed of Spaniards, Mexicans, and a few Americans, whose interest seemed to be chiefly centered in the inland mines, and a number of halfbreeds. Droves of dogs, whose seemingly endless variety astonished the boys, roamed the streets.

“Gosh,” exclaimed Jim, as they came around a pack of them. “I used to like pups, but I don’t know as I do after seeing these. Guess I’ll look under my bed when we get back to the hotel and see if there are any there!”

Soft lights gleamed from most of the houses when evening came on, and the sound of guitars was to be heard on every street. There were no lights along the streets, but the night was warm and bright, and the Americans had no difficulty in walking around the town. Quite early they returned to their hotel and after drinking some cold orange drink, went to bed.

Bright and early in the morning they were up, as they had been told that the mine wagon was to leave at six, and after a hearty breakfast went out and loaded their bags on the vehicle. The driver appeared shortly afterward, rolling a cigaret with amazing skill between two fingers. Terry eyed him in admiration.

“By golly!” he muttered. “I don’t smoke and don’t know as I shall, but if I did I’d give a lot to be able to roll ’em like that! I couldn’t roll one that way with both hands.”

Later on, when in the course of their journey the Spaniard yawned, Terry pretended to be enthusiastic. Without bothering to take the cigaret out of his mouth the driver yawned heartily, and the cigaret, clinging to his upper lip, simply hung suspended until he closed his lips again. Then he resumed smoking, the operation being none the worse for the act, and Terry again shook his head in envy.

“Wonderful people!” he whispered to Don. “Too lazy to do anything at all! Wonder what happens to a cup of coffee when he yawns!”

“Probably he keeps right on pouring it down and doesn’t waste any time,” chuckled Jim. “Great labor savers, these people!”

“I guess their hardest work is to keep from doing any work,” smiled Professor Scott.

The wagon was a large open affair, with two long boards like benches on the side, and the boys and the teacher sat on the seats with their baggage at their feet. The driver sat slumped forward on the front seat, smoking, yawning and dozing by turns, muttering in broken exclamations sometimes to the horses and sometimes to himself. Although they tried to talk to him they received only weary shrugs of his narrow shoulders, and they soon gave it up and talked among themselves.

The country through which they were passing led up in a gradual sweep from Magdalena Bay, and they soon drew out of sight of that broad sheet of blue water and plunged on into the more open country. The soil was somewhat sandy, with an almost tropical vegetation, and small brooks spread like silver ribbons toward the sea. As they continued to work further inland the country became more and more open, with rolling plains and afar off darker stretches marked the hills in which the mines were located.

“Ned’s place is off in that direction,” said the professor, pointing to the southwest. “He tells me that it is in a basin between two small ranges, so we’ll probably come across it all at once.”

At noontime they halted in the shade of a spreading tree which was more of an overgrown bush, a species that the professor did not know, and in which he speedily became interested. The driver immediately sat in the shade and proceeded to eat his lunch from a black box which he had, paying not the slightest attention to them. The boys, wishing to make some coffee, cut some mesquite bushes which were nearby and kindled a small fire. Jim set the coffee to boil and they ate some sandwiches which they had been wise enough to bring with them.

When the coffee was made Don took some to the Spaniard, who accepted it with a brief nod of his head. Terry poked Jim.

“That means thank you,” he said. “Too much trouble to say it!”

Immediately after the noon meal the driver toppled over silently and went to sleep, a movement that afforded Terry much amusement. On this particular occasion, however, the boys could not blame him very much. It was hot, so much so that they were glad to stretch out and nap themselves. At the end of an hour the driver got up suddenly, resumed his seat and clicked his tongue at the two horses. The wagon, with its crew, rumbled on.

It was five o’clock when they topped the final rise and looked down on the Scott ranch. As the wagon rolled down to the place they had a good opportunity to study it closely. There was the main ranch building, a single story affair, constructed of plain boards that showed up gray and sordid against the declining sun. Two large barns flanked the house and an inclosed field with some scattered patches of grass afforded a ground for a half dozen horses. In back of the ranch was another frame building, which they afterward found out was Ned’s laboratory, in which he tested metal from the mines.

Ned Scott was at home when they arrived, in fact, he had seen the wagon top the rise, and came riding out to meet them. They saw him swing carelessly onto the back of a horse and dash up, and Jim, who was used to riding a cavalry horse at school, admired the grace and ease with which he did it. Then, having greeted his father enthusiastically, Ned Scott was introduced to the boys.

He was a young man in his early thirties, broadly built, with black hair and eyes and a serious look. For some years he had lived in practically what was solitude, seeing a few white men from the mines and a good many halfbreeds and Mexicans. The sight of three boys somewhat near his own age was welcome, and he looked forward to some interesting days to come.

When greetings had been exchanged the young engineer led the way to the ranch, where the boys alighted from the mine wagon, and paid the driver. The man took the money unemotionally and drove off, having only exchanged a word in Spanish with Ned.

“Well,” said Terry, as they watched him drive off. “That man is a treat!”

“How is that?” asked Ned.

“He is so calm,” replied Terry, solemnly. “And he is a splendid example. After seeing him I don’t think I’ll ever be fussed or excited over anything again!”

Ned Scott led them into the ranch building, a rough but comfortable place, with a wide, hospitable living room, a big dining-room, kitchen and a number of small bedrooms, all on the one floor. There was a small loft above for storage purposes, but no real upper floor. After they had stowed their things away and had made themselves comfortable Ned took them around the ranch and showed them the place in detail.

As his chief interest was centered in the mines he did not raise cattle, but he had one man to take care of his horses and generally help about the place. There was also an Indian cook, who was blackened by the sun and wind until his skin glowed with a dull color. Ned explained that the man who kept the horses and the barns was a mestizo.

“What is that?” asked Don.

“A man of mixed Spanish and Indian blood,” explained Ned. “Sometimes he is very funny. The Spanish in him gets very dignified at times and he is almost stately, and at other times he is just plain Indian, not much of anything. However, he has a passion for the horses and he is faithful, and outside of the fact that I have to drive him to work in the barns he is all right. I call him Yappi.”

Yappi was seen presently, a tall old man with curiously mixed white and black hair, a skin that was a mottled yellow, and dull black eyes. He bowed to them and passed on, apparently not at all curious. They inspected the barns and looked with considerable interest through Ned’s laboratory and the metals from the mines.

Supper was well served by Spanci the cook, and in the evening they sat on the long low porch talking until it was time to turn in. After a good sleep they were up, taking a trip with Ned to the mines. He led them through the tunnels and explained the complete workings to them, showing how the silver and lead was mined. This took up most of the day and they were thoroughly tired when night came.

Ned was not impressed by the loss of his letter. “Those fellows who attacked you have probably thrown it away,” he said. “I’ll write you another one sometime, dad!”

He asked the boys if they could ride and was delighted to find that they could. Jim, being a cavalry lieutenant at Woodcrest, was somewhat better at it than the others were, but they soon got accustomed to it. On the third day of their visit Ned proposed that they take a moonlight ride that night.

“The moon, as you noticed last night, is beautiful just at this time, and there is a lot more fun riding in the coolness of the night than in the heat of the day,” he said. “I think you will thoroughly enjoy it.”

After supper they mounted and rode out of the ranch grounds, the professor refusing to accompany them. It was a beautiful night, with a glowing moon and a sky splashed with stars and they rode for miles across the open country. The air was clear and cool, the mountains dark and mysterious near at hand, and the boys from Maine enjoyed every minute of it. As they were returning Ned spoke up:

“When we get to the top of the next hill I’ll show you the ranch of my neighbor, Senorita Mercedes,” he said.

His tone was casual, but the boys, remembering what the professor had said about Ned’s interest in the senorita, felt that he was himself interested in looking at the place where she lived. He had not mentioned her name since they had been there, and Terry did not know anything about her. Nor had they discussed the treasure as yet, thought the boys, but that would no doubt come soon.

They topped the rise and paused to rest the graceful, lively horses while Ned pointed to a small white ranch which gleamed brightly in the moonlight. The house itself was small, but the outlying barns were large, and Ned explained that the senorita was at present raising cattle.

“Not many of them,” he went on. “Just enough to keep her alive and eating regularly. She has three ranchman and an overseer.”

Near the ranch some trees and mesquite bushes grew and Don was looking toward this clump fixedly. He thought that he had detected some movement there but was not sure. Ned pulled the rein and turned his horse’s head.

“Well, I guess we had better be getting back,” he said.

“Wait a minute,” called Don, in a low voice. “There are two men coming out of that clump of trees near the ranch and creeping toward the house.”

Ned spun around in his saddle and looked closely. Two men were crossing an open space toward the house, taking care to keep as much as possible in the shadows. Gaining the side of the house they crept to a window and one of them reached up and pushed it. Instantly it swung open.

“Are those fellows her ranchmen?” asked Terry.

“I don’t think so,” said Ned. “That is the library window they just opened. By George, I think they’re going in that window!”

“I suppose that’s what they are opening it for,” nodded Jim.

Ned dug his heels into the flank of his horse. “Then come on,” he shouted, as the first man slipped through the window. “We’ve got to see what is going on in Senorita Mercedes’ ranch!”


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