Author: Randolph, Helen
Young women — Juvenile fiction
Americans — Mexico — Juvenile fiction
Crossed Trails in Mexico
Mexican Mystery Stories #3
- CHAPTER PAGE
- I. “I’m Afraid I’m Going to Lose My Life” 7
- II. The Mystery Man 19
- III. The Hitch-Hiker 29
- IV. Pressing Difficulties 38
- V. The Hidden Car 51
- VI. A Familiar Face 63
- VII. “We Must Get an Early Start” 78
- VIII. At the Mine 90
- IX. Miss Prudence’s Cleaning Spree 100
- X. The Indefinite Mañana 111
- XI. The Secret of the Olla 119
- XII. Heading for Trouble 127
- XIII. The Pottery Woman’s Warning 139
- XIV. Jo Ann’s Search 148
- XV. Anxious Moments 161
- XVI. Down the Mine Shaft 177
- XVII. In the Darkness 189
- XVIII. Jo Ann Finds a Way 200
- XIX. An Exciting Race 216
- XX. More Troubles 229
- XXI. Welcome Guests 243
“I’M AFRAID I’M GOING TO LOSE MY LIFE”
“I’M AFRAID I’M GOING TO LOSE MY LIFE”
Peggy nudged Jo Ann and pointed to the sign ahead: “Speed limit, 80 miles.”
Jo Ann’s dark brown eyes twinkled. “It’s plain to see we’re out in the Texas open now—the wide open.”
“Too bad poor old Jitters can’t accept the invitation to do eighty. She’s doing well when she makes forty or fifty. But even if she could go faster, Florence wouldn’t let her.” Peggy gestured toward the small, trim, fair-haired girl at the wheel.
“Florence has lived in Mexico so long that she’s slow but sure like the Mexicans. She’s always saying, ‘Why the great rush? There’s plenty of time!’ If I were driving, now—” Jo Ann nodded her mop of unruly black curls vigorously—“I’d encourage Jitters to go her limit, especially since she has brand-new tires.”
“Here too. Weren’t we lucky to find such a bargain in a car? I’ll admit she’s not much on looks and that she shakes till she deserves the name of Jitters—but she’s ours, all ours.” Peggy’s hazel eyes gazed admiringly upon their old battered Ford.
“And look where she’s carrying us: to Mexico! All the way to the land of mystery and romance!”
“I can hardly wait to get back down there again. I wonder if we’ll run into as thrilling adventures as we did last summer when we were visiting Florence.”
Peggy smiled. “You will. You’re always getting out of one mystery only to tumble headlong into another.”
Jo Ann nodded toward the prim, erect, gray-haired woman on the front seat beside Florence and murmured, “Miss Prudence’ll keep me on my good behavior this time. Even if some tremendous mystery bumps right into me this trip, I’m not going to pay one bit of attention to it.”
“Straight from Missouri am I,” Peggy replied, laughing.
“From Mississippi, you mean. From a year’s hard work in good old Evanston High. The work’s agreed with us, hasn’t it? We’re both four or five pounds heavier. School’s agreed with Carlitos, too.” Jo Ann leaned forward to smile at the round-faced eleven-year-old boy sitting on the other side of Peggy. “He’s as fat as a butter ball now.”
Ever since the five had started on their long automobile journey, Carlitos had been too busy viewing the scenery to talk, but at Jo Ann’s words he opened his blue eyes wide and asked in broken English, “Butter ball—what is dat?”
Both Jo Ann and Peggy exchanged smiles. It seemed strange to them that Carlitos could not understand the most commonplace phrases, yet when they stopped to think that he had spoken Spanish altogether till he had come to the States last fall, they marveled that he talked as well as he did.
While Jo Ann was explaining to him the meaning of the words “butter ball,” Peggy was mentally reviewing his strange life. When he was about a year old his parents had come from New Jersey to a remote Mexican village where his father, Charles Eldridge, owned a silver mine. A few months later Mr. Eldridge had met his death at the hands of a treacherous Mexican foreman, and shortly afterwards Mrs. Eldridge had died from the combined effects of shock and pneumonia, leaving the tiny Carlitos in the care of a poor ignorant Indian nurse. The foreman, who had taken possession of the mine, then tried to kidnap Carlitos, the rightful heir. Alarmed at this threatened danger, the nurse had fled across the mountains with Carlitos and her family where they were befriended by Jo Ann, Florence, and herself. Due to their efforts Carlitos’s uncle, Edward Eldridge, had been found and the mine restored to Carlitos. So dismayed had his uncle been at finding that his nephew could not speak English that he had sent him to Massachusetts to live with his aunt, Miss Prudence Eldridge.
Peggy smiled to herself as her thoughts wandered around to the New England spinster aunt who had come down by train with Carlitos to Mississippi and was accompanying them the rest of the way to Mexico. Miss Prudence’s never-ceasing astonishment at having a half-grown nephew who was just learning to speak English was a source of amusement to her and Florence and Jo Ann.
Just then Carlitos broke into an excited exclamation: “We come to big city! See—big high houses!”
“Fine!” Jo Ann ejaculated. “That must be Houston. We’ve made much better time than I thought. We’ll be there by seven o’clock.”
With a broad smile Peggy remarked low-voiced to Jo Ann, “Don’t forget that you drew Miss Prudence for your roommate tonight. I heard her say she always rises at five-thirty, so I see where you’ll have to get up with the chickens.”
“If I have to get up at that ghastly hour, I’ll wake you and Florence, too. It’ll be specially good for you to get up early. As Miss Prudence said last night, ‘Remember, the early bird catches the worm’!”
Peggy made a funny little grimace. “But I don’t want to catch worms—I don’t like ’em.”
“You’ll have to acquire a taste for them then,” Jo Ann retorted between giggles. A moment later she added, “We really ought to get an early start tomorrow morning, sure enough, since we may go by way of Brownsville.”
On reaching the city a half hour later, they drove straight to one of the larger hotels.
“I just adore going into strange hotels,” remarked Peggy, starting to get out of the car.
Miss Prudence turned in time to see her rising and said quickly, “You girls wait here while I go in and look around. One can’t be too particular about the kind of hotel one chooses, even to stay for a few hours.”
Disappointed, Peggy dropped back into her seat.
“Never mind, Peg, when we get to Mexico she’ll let Florence and us take the lead, since she’s never been there before.”
In a few minutes the girls saw Miss Prudence returning, followed closely by a porter.
“Come on,” she called out briskly to them. “I’ve registered for us all.”
She hurried them on inside the hotel and into the elevator so rapidly that Peggy declared afterwards that she wouldn’t have known she was in a hotel if she hadn’t seen a bellboy.
When the porter stopped at the first room and asked which baggage he was to carry in, Miss Prudence pointed to her suitcase, then hesitated a half second.
Peggy grasped this opportunity to put in, “Jo says she’s going to be your roommate this time.”
Miss Prudence smiled over at Jo Ann. “Fine. Carlitos’s room connects with ours; then you and Florence have the one next to his. All of you hurry and get cleaned up, now, so we can get something to eat right away. Then we’ll come straight up and go to bed. We have to get an early start in the morning, you know.”
The three girls exchanged swift glances but did not protest.
Once inside their room, however, Peggy groaned loudly to Florence, “Miss Prudence acts as if we were still in rompers. Putting us to bed as soon as we’ve eaten our suppers! What’s the fun of coming to a new city if you can’t see anything?”
By nine o’clock, still inwardly protesting but outwardly calm, the girls were marshaled back to their rooms by Miss Prudence.
Jo Ann bade Peggy and Florence good night and remarked with a teasing smile, “You’ll hear me knocking at your door about 5:30 A.M.”
“Don’t you dare!” both girls exclaimed in the same breath. Florence added, “Surely you wouldn’t be that cruel!”
“Oh yes, I would. Misery needs companionship. Be sure to leave the sliding panel of your door down as it is now, so you can hear my first tap.” Jo Ann indicated the top section of the door which was screened by a Venetian blind, as were the doors of all the other rooms.
It seemed to Jo Ann she had hardly been asleep two winks that night when she heard a voice saying in her ear, “Sorry, my dear, but it’s time you’re getting up.”
Miss Prudence! Surely it couldn’t be morning! She suppressed a groan and turned over for another nap, only to hear the insistent voice: “Sorry, my dear, but——”
Jo Ann managed to mumble a sleepy “All right.”
After much stretching and yawning she reluctantly slipped out of bed. She stood blinking sleepily at Miss Prudence in her blue kimono and thinking how Chinesey she looked with her long, gray, braided pigtail down her back.
Miss Prudence’s next words were anything but Chinese: “Call the girls and Carlitos before you start to dress. Both Peggy and Florence are slower than you, and it’ll take them a long time to get ready.”
“Some of my clothes are in Peg’s bag, so I’ll have to go in and get them before I can dress. I’ll wake them then.” Thoroughly roused at last, Jo Ann thrust her feet into her slippers, slipped into her negligee, and started down the hall.
Just as she reached the girls’ door a man’s earnest voice sounded startlingly clear through the screened panel of the door directly across the hall. Her heart gave a sudden frightened leap at hearing someone say, “I’m afraid I’m going to lose my life before this is over.”
So distinct were the words that it seemed as if the man were talking to her. In danger of losing his life! And he was! There was no mistaking the conviction in his voice. It was not the broken trembling voice of a coward. It had been firm, strong, even though he was sure he was in grave danger. He must be talking to someone over the phone—there was no audible answer. Why was he in such terrible trouble? What had he done? Was he a criminal or a detective?
Standing statue-like at the girls’ door Jo Ann listened intently for his next words. “I was hot on their trail,” the voice went on, “but had two flats, and that delayed me…. Yes, in the usual place.”
Before she could realize that the conversation had ended, the door opened suddenly, and a tall, stalwart man wearing a broad-brimmed tan felt hat stepped out. On seeing Jo Ann he halted and shot a piercing glance at her from gray eyes so penetratingly keen that she felt as if they were cutting straight through her.
She flushed with embarrassment. It had been unpardonably rude to eavesdrop that way. What must that man think of her? Hurriedly she began knocking on the girls’ door.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw that the man, after hesitating a fraction of a second, had gone on down the hall toward the elevator.
THE MYSTERY MAN
After she had knocked several times, Peggy called out sleepily, “Who’s that?”
“Open the door. Hurry!”
“All right—I’ll be there—in a jiffy.”
In a few moments Peggy flung the door open, and Jo Ann stepped inside, her eyes still dilated with excitement.
“I’ve just heard the strangest—most mysterious thing!” she gasped.
“You would!” Peggy declared. “But that’s nothing unusual for you. You’re always hearing and seeing mysterious things.”
“What was it?” Florence called from the bed.
“Well, just as I had reached your door and was about to knock, I heard a man in the room directly across the hall say in the most earnest voice imaginable, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to lose my life before this is over.’”
Both girls stared wide-eyed at Jo Ann; then Peggy, recovering from her first shock, asked half doubtfully, “You’re sure you didn’t misunderstand him? Your imagination runs riot now and then. Perhaps you just thought you heard him say that.”
Jo Ann shook her head vigorously. “No imagination about it. I heard him as distinctly as I do you now.”
“What on earth made him say that, do you suppose, Jo?” Florence asked curiously.
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
“What can that man be—a gangster?” Without waiting for an answer Peggy added, shuddering, “The idea of that man’s being right across the hall from us gives me the creeps.” She flew back to the door to see if she had locked it.
“I believe he must be a detective; I feel sure he wasn’t a gangster,” Jo Ann said quickly. “He didn’t look like one.”
“You saw him!” both girls exclaimed together.
“Yes, he came out of his door suddenly and caught me standing there listening. I hadn’t any business eavesdropping—but I just couldn’t help it. I wanted to know why he thought he was going to lose his life.”
“Did you hear him say anything else?” queried Peggy in a whisper, glancing back toward the door as if she thought the man might be doing some eavesdropping himself.
“Not very much. Evidently he was talking to someone over the phone. I couldn’t hear anyone answering. He said that he’d lost the trail because he’d been delayed on account of two flat tires.”
“Lost the trail!” Florence repeated. “That sounds as if he’s a detective, sure enough. Whom do you suppose he was after?”
“That’s hard to say. I’d have to use my imagination to answer that.”
“You’ve certainly run into a real mystery this time,” put in Peggy, now thoroughly convinced that Jo Ann’s tale was not fiction. “You ought to have thought up some kind of a solution by——”
A sharp knock at the door broke into Peggy’s sentence, and all three girls gave little surprised jumps and stared at the door without saying a word.
The next instant Miss Prudence’s voice called out crisply, “Girls!”
“Oh, it’s just Miss Prudence!” Peggy exclaimed in relief. “I thought maybe that man….” She left her sentence unfinished and ran to the door.
Jo Ann’s face reddened guiltily. She had forgotten entirely about dressing and telling the girls to hurry.
As soon as Miss Prudence stepped inside and saw that the girls were still in their pajamas, she looked over reproachfully at Jo Ann and said, “I thought you’d all be almost dressed by this time.”
“We would’ve been ready, but….” Jo Ann rushed into an account of the strange telephone conversation she had heard, ending apologetically, “I was so excited that I forgot all about our having to dress.”
As soon as Jo Ann had finished, Miss Prudence spoke up quickly, “The sooner we get out of this hotel the better. I don’t like the idea of being in a room across from a man that’s expecting to get killed any instant. Hurry fast as you can and get dressed.”
“The man’s not in his room now: I saw him go down the hall toward the elevator,” Jo Ann reminded her.
“But he might come back any minute, and there might—well, something might happen. Hurry, girls.”
Thus urged, the girls dressed hastily. Even Peggy, who usually was deliberate about arranging her auburn hair into neat waves, speeded up this part of her toilet and was dressed in record-breaking time.
After they had been joined by Carlitos they all went down to the coffee room for their breakfast and then on out to the garage to get the car.
Jo Ann slipped into the front seat of the car saying, “It’s my turn to drive Jitters this morning.”
“I’ll sit with you to see that you don’t go too fast,” Florence remarked smilingly, dropping down beside her.
Jo Ann laughed. “It’s Jitters herself that’ll keep me from exceeding the speed limit.”
After they had left the city and had gone several miles, Jo Ann noticed that in the automobile just ahead of them were three men, one wearing a uniform and the other two in civilian clothes and large felt hats similar to the one the mystery man had worn. “The biggest one of those men in that car ahead looks exactly like the man I overheard talking this morning,” she remarked to Florence. “He’s the same size and is wearing the same kind of hat.”
Florence smiled. “It seems to me most of the men I’ve seen so far in Texas are big and wear that kind of hat. You have that mystery man on your mind: that’s why you think you see a resemblance.”
“Maybe so, but I believe it’s that very man.”
“It’s possible that it is he, but”—Florence smiled—“I’m more interested in that man in the uniform. I believe he’s a traffic cop and is going to get you for speeding.”
“Look at that sign!” Jo Ann pointed to another road sign indicating that the speed limit was 80 miles. “And now look at the speedometer. I’m going to let Jitters do her best now and pass that car. I want to get a good look at that man and see if it is my mystery man. I’ll feel relieved to know he’s still alive.”
Jo Ann stepped on the gas and soon was swinging out to the side of the road. As she passed by the other car, she threw a swift but keen glance at the largest one of the men.
“That is the mystery man!” she exclaimed a moment later. “I’m sure it’s he. I certainly am glad he’s still alive.”
Florence relayed Jo Ann’s words to Peggy, whereupon Peggy craned her neck to stare out of the rear window at the occupants of the car. “Where do you suppose they’re going—to Mexico?” she asked Florence a moment later.
Florence shook her head. “Ask me an easy question. That’s too hard for me.”
“I wish I knew more about him. I wonder why he’s in such terrible trouble. I hope he’s going the same route we are.”
“It’s high time we’re deciding whether we’re going by way of Brownsville or Laredo,” Florence called back, hoping that Miss Prudence would catch the anxious note in her voice. She and the other two girls had hinted very strongly to her that they would like to take the longer route, by way of Brownsville, so they could see Lucile Owen, one of their schoolmates, but Miss Prudence had so far refused to say definitely whether she would be willing.
“I’d love to see Lucile,” Jo Ann put in, loud enough for Miss Prudence to hear, and adding also for her special benefit, “She says no one really knows Texas till he’s seen the Rio Grande valley and its citrus groves.”
“It’s the most famous garden spot of Texas,” added Peggy.
The girls could see that Miss Prudence was favorably impressed, but she still hesitated to give her approval, saying, “It’s so far out of our way—four hundred miles at least.”
“I believe if we keep singing the valley’s praises she’ll give her consent,” Florence prophesied, low-voiced, to Jo Ann.
“Whichever way we go, I hope the mystery man goes the same way,” Jo Ann replied. “I want to find out more about him. Is his car still following?”
Florence turned around to see, then reported, “Yes, just a short distance behind.”
Several times afterwards Jo Ann asked that same question, to have it answered each time in the affirmative.
By about two o’clock she decided that they must be nearing the road turning off to Brownsville. “Miss Prudence’ll have to decide very shortly now which way we’re going,” she told Florence.
Evidently Peggy was thinking the same thing, as the next moment they heard her appealing again to Miss Prudence to