Author: Randolph, Helen
Young women — Juvenile fiction
Americans — Mexico — Juvenile fiction
The Mystery of Carlitos
Mexican Mystery Stories #2
Jo Ann could see that the man and Carlitos were still crouched around the fire.
THE MYSTERY OF
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Akron, Ohio New York
Mexican Mystery Series
by Helen Randolph
The Secret of Casa Grande
The Mystery of Carlitos
Crossed Trails in Mexico
The Saalfield Publishing Company
Printed in the United States of America
- CHAPTER PAGE
- I. The Mysterious Blue-Eyed Boy 7
- II. Neighbors in the Cave 19
- III. An Unwelcome Visitor 33
- IV. The Cave Family Disappears 44
- V. Footprints 55
- VI. A Mysterious Light 69
- VII. The Charcoal Maker 86
- VIII. Friends at Last 100
- IX. “I’m Going to Solve the Mystery” 111
- X. A Soiled Yellowed Envelope 122
- XI. The Bear Returns 135
- XII. Jo Ann’s Trophy 149
- XIII. José’s Strange Story 161
- XIV. The Piñata 171
- XV. “Carlitos—Gone!” 181
- XVI. On a Dangerous Trail 196
- XVII. A Startling Cry 206
- XVIII. Prisoners 218
- XIX. A Daring Plan 229
- XX. The New Hope Mine 239
THE MYSTERIOUS BLUE-EYED BOY
Jo Ann jerked the crude, hand-made chair off the oxcart and set it down in the shade of the thatched roof of the house.
“Your throne’s ready, Your Majesty,” she called over gaily to the pale, worn-looking Mrs. Blackwell whose daughter Florence was helping her off the burro.
“Whoever heard of a throne looking like that?” laughed the slender, hazel-eyed girl beside Jo Ann. “Wait a minute.” She spread a bright rainbow-hued Mexican blanket over the chair. “Now that looks more like a throne.”
Jo Ann nodded her dark curly bob. “You’re right, Peg—as usual.” She turned to Mrs. Blackwell. “I know you’re dead tired. That long automobile trip over the rough roads was bad enough, but the ride up the mountain on that poky donkey was worse yet.”
“Poky’s the word,” put in Florence, her blue eyes twinkling. “That burro, or donkey as you call it, is all Mexican—slow but sure.”
Just as she had finished speaking, the burro flapped his ears, threw back his head, and brayed such a knowing “heehaw” that the girls laughed merrily and even Mrs. Blackwell smiled broadly.
As Mrs. Blackwell dropped down in the chair, Jo Ann remarked to her, “No queen ever had a more beautiful kingdom to look upon from her throne than you have.”
“It’s marvelous!” exclaimed Peggy as all four gazed over the far-flung view stretching out before them: rugged, cloud-tipped mountain peaks, the deep valley covered with tropical growth, and a gleaming, silver waterfall to their right.
“Gracious!” broke in Florence finally. “We’ll never get the house straightened at this rate. And will you look at that driver! I believe he’s sound asleep. He hasn’t taken a single thing off the cart yet.”
As Jo Ann reluctantly turned away, she called over to Peggy, “We’ll have three or four weeks to enjoy all this beauty—let’s get busy now and help Florence straighten up the house. You just sit here, Mrs. Blackwell, and draw in deep breaths of this invigorating air,” she added. “Dr. Blackwell said you weren’t to turn your hand to do a thing.”
“You girls wait on me as if I were a complete invalid. Although I am tired now, I know I’m going to regain my strength rapidly up here.”
While Florence gave orders in Spanish to the driver and the boy in charge of the burros, Jo Ann and Peggy went inside the small, one-room house which was built from stone cut from the mountain side.
While they were waiting for the equipment to be brought in, the girls looked about the room curiously.
“Isn’t this the queerest little house!” Peggy exclaimed. “Not a single window in it. It’s built exactly like the little adobe huts the peons live in.”
“Florence said they bought the place from a Mexican—anyone’d know that at a glance.” Jo Ann walked over across the room to the back door and looked outside. “This must be that funny little kitchen Florence told us about,” she said, gesturing to a small stone building about fifteen feet beyond.
Just then the driver sauntered in and piled some cots and bedding in the center of the cement floor.
Jo Ann wheeled about. “Come on, Peg, let’s sweep out the house and make up the cots. We can do that much, at least.”
By the time they had the cots made up, the Mexicans had finished unloading and were starting off leisurely down the trail behind the oxcart and burros.
“Let’s stop working now and eat our lunch,” called Florence from the kitchen door. “It’s siesta time right now, and it’ll do all of us good to take a nap.”
Peggy grinned over at Florence. “Maybe Jo Ann’ll take a siesta up here. Remember the trouble she got into up on the roof in town during a siesta hour?”
“Don’t worry about me this time. There’s no mysterious window in this house for me to investigate, as there was there.”
“I bet we won’t be here three days before you’ll find some mystery to solve, Sherlock,” teased Peggy.
“Well, Sherlock’s too hungry to look for mysteries now. Let’s eat.”
“That’s what I say,” agreed Florence. “You girls unpack the eats while I go to the spring for some cool water.”
After they had eaten their lunch and had their siestas, the girls worked another hour putting down rugs, arranging gay pillows and blankets on the cots, and making a dressing table out of a packing box.
“Before we start straightening out things in the kitchen, I believe I’d better go down to the goat ranch,” Florence remarked. “I want to see if I can make arrangements to get milk there every day.”
“You mean—goat’s milk?” Peggy asked in dismay, stopping in the middle of slipping a gay cretonne cover on a pillow.
Florence’s eyes twinkled roguishly. “Well, what’s the matter with goat’s milk? That’s what the Mexicans use. When in Mexico do as the Mexicans do.” Seeing the sick-looking expression on both Peggy’s and Jo Ann’s faces, she hastened to explain: “I was just teasing. They raise the goats for market. The natives are as fond of goat’s meat as they are of the milk. They had a cow at this ranch when we were here last year, and——”
“Let’s hope they still have that cow,” put in Peggy quickly.
“So say I,” added Jo Ann emphatically.
Florence picked up the bucket from the rough board table. “Do either of you girls want to go with me?”
“Jo, I know you’re just dying to get out of doors and tramp a bit,” Peggy remarked. “You go with Florence, and I’ll stay here with Mrs. Blackwell.”
“Fine! I’d love it.”
“We won’t be gone long,” Florence told her mother as she and Jo Ann started out the door.
A few minutes later they disappeared down a winding trail back of the house. About halfway down the trail Jo Ann halted a moment to enjoy the beautiful scenery. “This is the life for me!” she exclaimed. “I had a good time in the city, but give me the outdoors. I can hardly wait to begin exploring these mountains.”
About ten minutes later they came in sight of a little pink adobe hut perched on a narrow ledge jutting out from the steep rocky cliff. It looked to Jo Ann as if the hut might topple off any minute and fall into the valley below.
“That’s the goat ranch,” explained Florence.
“The goat ranch! All I see is a hut and a stone wall. Why’d they build a house way up there instead of in that fertile valley?”
“I suppose it’s because that steep cliff back of the hut saved them from so much work in making an enclosure for their goats.”
“I don’t see any goats. Where are they?”
“The little goat herder takes them out every morning to graze on the scrubby mesquite that grows on the mountain side. Goats love to climb, you know. I’ve even seen one on top of an adobe hut.”
The girls followed the trail across a narrow ravine and up to the house.
Just then several dogs began barking, and a black-eyed, olive-skinned Mexican woman and two scantily dressed, barefooted children appeared in the doorway.
The next moment the woman’s face lit at sight of Florence. “Florencita!” she cried, then went on in a rapid flow of Spanish to ask her numerous questions about her family.
As soon as Florence had answered these questions she inquired if they still owned the cow.
The woman nodded assent and urged her and Jo Ann to sit down and rest till Pablito brought the cow and she could milk.
Florence shook her head and handing her the bucket asked if it would be possible for her to send the milk up later by one of the children.
“Sí, Florencita. Muy bien,” she agreed, smiling.
As the girls turned to go, the woman reached down and picked a fragrant, waxy-white flower from the jasmine growing in a pot by the door. “For your mama,” she explained, handing it to Florence.
With a word of thanks and an “Adios” to her and the children, the girls started back down the trail.
“Let’s go home the long way through the valley,” suggested Florence when they reached the ravine. “There’s a cave down this way that I want to show you.”
“Fine! The longer the way, the better. That cave sounds interesting, too.”
Slipping and sliding down the rocky mountain side, they soon reached the broad valley; then they followed the path around the base of the cliff, stopping now and then to gather ferns and flowers.
When they came to a sparkling, crystal-clear spring bubbling out from under the rocks, Jo Ann dropped to her knees and drank thirstily of the icy cold water.
While Florence was drinking, Jo Ann heard a snapping of twigs near by. She wheeled about and, peering through the bushes, saw two small boys gathering wood. One of them was bent over by the weight of a large bundle of the wood, held in place on his back by a rope passed across his forehead; the other was chopping sticks with a machete, a long heavy knife. At first glance Jo Ann thought they must be twins, as they were dressed alike in the loose white trousers and blouse worn by the peon.
A few minutes later the boys stepped back into the narrow trail, but on seeing the girls they quickly moved to one side to let them pass.
With a smile, Florence greeted the boys with the customary salutation, “buenos tardes.” Their little brown faces under their frayed straw sombreros grinned back at the girls as they returned the greeting; then they turned and went on down the trail.
As soon as they were out of sight Jo Ann exclaimed, “That’s the first blue-eyed Mexican I’ve seen! I didn’t know they ever had blue eyes.”
“They don’t! What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you notice that one of those boys had dark-blue eyes?”
“Well, he did.”
“They were both dressed alike, and dirty and ragged. All I noticed was how frail-looking the one was who had the bundle of wood on his back. I couldn’t help wondering why the other boy, who looked stronger, didn’t take part of the load.”
“That’s the one with the blue eyes. Do they belong to the family at the goat ranch?”
“No, I’ve never seen them before. You must be mistaken about the boy’s having blue eyes.”
Jo Ann shook her head vigorously. “I’m positive his eyes were blue—his features were finer too, but his face was so dirty I couldn’t tell much about them.”
Florence smiled. “You’ve a fine imagination, Jo—trying to find another mystery already.”
“I didn’t try to find this mystery. It bumped right into me. If that boy lives around here, I’m going to find out more about him.”
At Jo Ann’s emphatic words, Florence laughed merrily. “All right, but don’t start now. If we’re going to stop at the cave, we’ll have to hurry.”
NEIGHBORS IN THE CAVE
The two girls hurried along the trail, and a few minutes later Florence pointed to a dark, shadowy place about fifty feet up the side of the cliff. “There’s the cave I was telling you about.”
“All I can see through the bushes is a black hole under some rocks. Can we climb up there? I’d like to explore it.”
“Yes, there’s a path leading up to it. It isn’t very large and won’t take you long to look it over.”
After rounding a curve in the trail, Florence led the way up the winding path toward the cave.
“That’s strange!” she exclaimed a moment later. “There’s a burro tied right outside the entrance. Someone must be in there.”
“And I smell smoke from a campfire, don’t you?” asked Jo Ann in a low voice as she moved over closer to Florence. “Do you suppose we’d better go on?”
“Yes, I think it’ll be all right. If we have neighbors, I want to see what sort of people they are.”
Just then they saw, silhouetted against the dark cave entrance, the bent form of an old woman leaning on a stick. On coming closer the girls were able to make out the features of a brown, wrinkled face, which was almost hidden by the folds of the black shawl-like rebosa about her head and shoulders.
“Buenos tardes,” greeted Florence, then went on to explain in Spanish that they had come up to see the cave, not knowing that it was occupied.
While Florence was talking to the old woman, Jo Ann was peering into the dark opening beyond. By the light of the fire in the middle of the floor she could see a woman kneeling by a stone metate grinding corn for tortillas, and near by, lying on a straw mat on the floor, was a tiny naked baby.
Just then several little stair-step children ran to peer up at the visitors from behind their grandmother. Jo Ann took some of the flowers from her bouquet and offered one to each of them. With smiles spreading over their thin, grimy faces, they reached out timidly for the flowers, then drew back behind their grandmother again.
“What is your name?” Jo Ann asked the largest of the children in her best Spanish, but either the child could not understand or else she was too timid to reply.
Hearing a slight noise behind her, Jo Ann turned in time to see the two boys she had noticed gathering wood. The one with the heavy burden on his back passed on into the cave without looking around, but the other hesitated and stared up at her curiously before disappearing into the dim interior. In that short interval Jo Ann had an opportunity to see that his eyes were unmistakably a deep blue; moreover, she noticed that, although his skin was brown, it was not as dark as the other boy’s and the little girls’.
While she was pondering over this difference, Florence reached over and touched her on the arm. “Come on, Jo, we’d better go now. We’ll come down again sometime.”
Both girls waved good-by to the children, then started off down the trail. “Did you notice those boys as they came in?” Jo Ann asked. “One of them has blue eyes, just as I said.”
“I was so busy talking to the grandmother that I didn’t see them till they had passed on into the shadows. Evidently they belong to this family.”
“Well, that blue-eyed one certainly doesn’t look as if he belongs to them. There’s something strange about him. Do you suppose they live in that cave? They didn’t have a stick of furniture—not even a bed or table or chair or anything.”
“Oh, that doesn’t matter to the peons. They never sleep on a bed, and they eat off the floor. But those people did look awfully poor. I don’t believe they had a thing for supper but those tortillas the woman was making.”
“Let’s come down here tomorrow and bring them something. Those children looked half starved to me.”
“We’ll do that very thing, but if we’re going to eat tonight, we’d better be getting back to camp. Mother and Peg’ll wonder what’s happened to us.”
“And we haven’t finished straightening up the kitchen, either,” Jo Ann sighed. “How about cooking supper in that outdoor fireplace? It’s too gorgeous up here to stay in the house any more than absolutely necessary.”
“All right. That’s what I’d planned to do anyway.”
“Isn’t this the road we came up this morning?” Jo Ann asked a moment later, as they came to a cart road winding back and forth up the steep mountain side.
“Yes, we’re almost home. If it weren’t for the trees, we could see the house from here. There’s a short cut straight up the mountain.” She pointed to a narrow path between the trees and rocks. “Since you’re so fond of climbing, we’ll take that and be back at the house before you know it.”
In a short time they arrived at the house, puffing and panting from the exertion of their steep climb.
“Did you—think we—were never—coming?” asked Florence, dropping down beside her mother, who was lying on a cot out in front of the house; then, without waiting for an answer, she asked, “Have they brought the milk yet?”
Her mother nodded. “Just a few minutes ago. Did you and Jo Ann have a nice walk?”
“Yes, indeed! It seemed so good to be tramping over the mountains again.” Florence smiled. “I had to recount the family history from A to Z to the woman at the goat ranch, and she said it gave her much sorrow to learn of your illness. She and all the children’ll probably be up to see you tomorrow. Here’s a jasmine she sent you—we picked the fern down by a spring.” She sniffed the fragrant perfume a moment, then handed the dainty spray to her mother.
“And while we were at the spring,” put in Jo Ann, “we saw two little Mexican boys gathering wood; and I’m sure one of them had blue eyes.”
“Yes, Jo thinks she’s on the trail of another mystery,” laughed Florence.
“Oh dear,” sighed Peggy with a roguish twinkle in her eyes. “I told you we wouldn’t be here three days before she’d find a mystery, and here it’s hardly been that many hours.”
“Then, when we were at the cave,” Jo Ann went on, unruffled by Peggy’s teasing, “the boys came in, and I got a good look at that one’s eyes, and they were blue—a deep, deep blue—bluer than yours, Florence.”
“Well, what’s your solution?” grinned Peggy. “Has your blue-eyed boy been kidnaped, or is he a prince in disguise?”
“I’ll tell you later. Give me a little time, and I’ll find out. Florence and I are going down to the cave tomorrow to carry some food to those children—there were several thin, dirty, half-starved little ones there. Come along, Peg, and if that boy is there, you can see for yourself that his eyes are blue. I hope he is—I want to prove to you and Florence that I’m not color blind.”
“I’m ’most as hungry as those children looked,” put in Florence. “Let’s get supper.”
Jo Ann sprang up. “I’m a swell fire-builder. I’ll build the fire this minute—in the outdoor fireplace.”
“No, you won’t. I’ve beat you to it,” laughed Peggy.
As they went through the house, Jo Ann noticed that a gay red-and-white checked cloth had been spread on the table and places set for four. “You have been busy, haven’t you?” she said motioning toward the table.
“Sure. Mrs. Blackwell told me what to do with things, and I’ve straightened up the kitchen and put some rice on to cook for supper.”
Just as they reached the kitchen door, Florence came up and slipped her arm around Peggy affectionately, “Peg, you’re a grand person to have around; Jo’s been dreading straightening this kitchen all the way home.” She smiled over at Jo Ann, then went on to the kitchen and took several articles out of a box near the door. “Here, Jo, if you’ll fry the bacon and scramble some eggs, I’ll make some real Mexican chocolate; then if you’ll open this jar of preserves, Peg, we’ll have supper ready in a jiffy.”
“Even that won’t be soon enough to suit me,” laughed Jo Ann. “That climb up the mountain and this invigorating air have made me hungry as a bear.”
In a very short time supper was ready, and as Jo Ann placed the platter of bacon and eggs on the table, she