Chapter XII. Wolf and Panther After Bear.
 

When the rocket flared across the sky Jimmie rushed into the tent where the drummer was sleeping and shook him savagely.

"Get up an' blow out the gas!" he cried, as the boy gasped and sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Get up!"

"This must be the Fourth of July," the drummer grunted, as another rocket, this time a blue one, flashed across the zenith. "What's doing?"

"They're bombardin' us with red an' blue fire," whispered Jimmie! "Get up. I'm goin' out to see what's comin' off here. Want to go?"

"Of course I want to go," replied Peter. "I didn't come down here to sleep my head off, did I? Shall I take my drum?"

Jimmie sat down on the ground and chuckled.

"You an' your drum!" he exclaimed, being careful to speak in a tone which would not reach the ears of the guards.

"That is a fine drum," urged Peter, the drummer.

"What do you want to lug it around for, then?" demanded Jimmie. "They won't let you beat on it."

"That's what I came down here for--to drum," was the impatient reply. "Think I came down here to get my hair cut?"

"You may get it cut off under your chin before you get back to the Great White Way," Jimmie said. "This is no joke."

"I haven't had a chance to drum since I got here," complained the boy. "The time you heard me is the only one. That's rotten!"

"Why did they let you drum then?" asked Jimmie.

"I just rolled it out before they could stop me."

"I was wondering," Jimmie said, with a sly smile, "if these secret service men went sleuthing with a brass band ahead of them."

"Indeed they don't!" declared the drummer, in defense of his friends. "They found me broke and lost and picked me up, which was mighty good of them. Say," he added, with a slight scowl on his face, "this is a fine, large country to get lost in."

"I should think so," agreed Jimmie. "I wasn't lost, but I hadn't any more money than --than--than a--a--a rabbit when I found Fremont and Ned at El Paso. And my clothes looked like they'd come out of a ragbag. Wore 'em out reclinin' in my side-door Pullman."

"You're fixed up all right now for clothes," observed the drummer, looking the boy's well-dressed, muscular figure over with approving eyes.

"George Fremont bought these," said Jimmie, looking down at his suit. "All right, ain't it? I'm goin' to pay him back when I get to working again. I don't want anybody to give me anything."

"Lieutenant Gordon's son is a patrol leader at Washington," the drummer said, after a thoughtful pause, "and I suppose that's the reason he helped me out. I reckon a Boy Scout can find friends in any part of the world, if he is deserving of them. I found a Mexican boy, over here in the hills, who belongs to a patrol he calls the Owl. We may meet him if we remain about here very long."

"A Boy Scout who is on the square won't have trouble in getting through," Jimmie observed, "but we've got to be moving. I imagine the guards want us to remain here, so we'll have to sneak off if we leave camp. The guards seem to think we couldn't find our way back. We'll show 'em."

Without further words the boys crept out of the tent, waited until the guards were at the other end of the little valley, and dashed away into a shadowy place behind a rock, which they had no difficulty in leaving, presently, without being seen.

Once away from the tents, they turned toward the high peak from which the rockets had been sent up. The way was steep and rough, and it was hard climbing, and more than once they stopped to rest. It was, as has been said, a brilliant moonlit night, and, from the elevation where the boys were, the valley below lay like a silver-land of promise.

"It is a beautiful country," the drummer said, as they paused to rest on a small shelf in the rock. "It is a rich and fertile country, too, one of the most desirable in the world, but I'm afraid the people don't get much out of life here."

"They are selfish and cruel," Jimmie said, "and no nation of that stripe ever prospered. What they need here is less strong drink and more school-houses--more real freedom and less mere show of republican government. We read up on Mexico in the Wolf Patrol when this trouble broke out. We always do that--keep track of what's going on in the world, I mean."

"I know something about the country, too," the drummer said, looking in admiration down on the beautiful valley below, bathed in the sweet moonlight, "and sometimes I wonder that the people are as decent as they are. Although they have never had much of a show, and although they come, many of them, of rude ancestors, the people of Mexico compare favorably with those of other countries."

The boys climbed on again, mounting higher and higher, their aim being to gain the very top of the ridge. After half an hour's hard work they stopped and sat down, to look over the valley again.

"There are no written records of the origin of these people," the drummer said, almost as if thinking aloud. "No one knows the origin of the people. Cortez found them here when he arrived with his brutal soldiers. All that is known is that the inhabitants came from the North."

"Twice the country was populated from the North," Jimmie put in, the readings at the Wolf Patrol club coming back to his mind. "Now I wonder why, in reading history, we always find that invaders came from the North?"

"I've read," the drummer went on, quite enthusiastic over the subject in hand, "that the present North Polar regions were tropical in temperature and in animal and vegetable life, a long time ago."

"Yes, they find there, skeletons of animals which now exist only in the tropics," said Jimmie, "and tropical trees deep under the ice. The earth, they say, shifted in its orbit and it grew cold up there. I guess that is why we read of people always coming down from the North."

"They had to get out of the North," the drummer mused, "because during the Glacial period an ice-cap miles in thickness covered the world down as far as the dividing line between the British possessions and the United States. That is the way California and Mexico and Central America were populated, anyhow."

"You mean that the immediate ancestors of the people of those countries came from the North," Jimmie criticized. "For all we know, the people who lived before them came from the South. They left no records to show that they ever existed, but the earth was not bare of animal life back of the period our scientists figure from."

"The first ones came from the East, by way of Iceland, Greenland, and Baffinland; from the Eastern continent, and about the vicinity of the Caspian sea, and so kept on South on this continent as the climate grew colder. But we were talking of the people of Mexico. I wanted to show you that they have never been favored as the people of our country have, and that they've got years of national childhood to go through yet before they become a great people."

"Go on and tell me about it," urged Jimmie. "We may learn as much about what's going on here by sitting on this plateau as we could by climbing our heads off."

The boys listened a moment, but there were no suspicious sounds about. The mountain lay as silent under the moon as if no human foot had ever pressed its surface. There were lights far down in the valley, but none on the slopes in view.

"About as far back as the books go in Mexican history," the drummer began, "is the seventh century, even when England wasn't much. About that time the Toltecs came out of the North and took possession of the valley where the City of Mexico now is. They were industrious, peaceful and skilled in many of the arts. They kept their records in hieroglyphics.

"They had a year made up of eighteen months of twenty days each, the other five and a fraction being chucked into the calendar any old way. They knew about the stars and eclipses, and built great cities.

"When they build their temples, it is said, they found ruins of other temples beneath them. And the ones who built the temples, the ruins of which the Toltecs found, doubtless found ruins of temples when they began to dig. It is wonderful. The ages and ages that have gone by, with new civilizations growing up and dying out."

"I feel like I was in a land older than the solar system," said Jimmie. "What became of the Toltecs?"

"They were crowded out by the Aztecs somewhere about the twelfth century. The Aztecs were warlike and cruel. It is said that they murdered twenty thousand victims a year on the altars of their gods. They were able people, too, but murderous in all their instincts. They were cultivated to a degree far above the other peoples of the North American continent at that time, but they lacked the feelings of humanity as expressed to-day.

"They built temples--mounds of clay faced with brick, surmounted by great towers where the priests dwelt. It was at the summits of these mounds, on a sacrificial stone, before all the people who could get in view, that the victims of their religious frenzy were slain.

"Then Cortes came, in fifteen hundred and something, and the deluge of blood began. If you have read up on the subject at all, you doubtless know how merciless the Spaniards were in their attitude toward the Aztecs. They killed them by thousands, in open battle and by treacherous means, and they tortured Aztec priests to force them to reveal the places where the vessels of gold used in worship were hidden.

"It is easy to see where the modern Mexican gets his ideas of amusement, as shown in the bull fight. The Aztec-Spanish blood is still in his veins. Of course there are cultured and refined Mexicans, but the great mass of the people are pretty primitive. Outside the cities, in many instances, old tribal relations continue, and the people are unsettled in habitation as well as in spirit, selfish and cruel, too.

"One revolution after another--brought about by unscrupulous leaders in the hope of personal gain--has devastated the country. It seems easy to stir up a revolution in Mexico, for the people are volcanic in temperament, like the earth under their feet, and their eruptions do not always follow usual lines, either, but break out in unexpected places and for unheard of reasons--just as the volcanoes refuse to follow the central mountain chains, but break out in undreamed of localities."

"It requires a strong hand to rule such a people," Jimmie mused. "I guess Diaz has troubles of his own."

"There is no doubt of it," the drummer continued. "In future years Mexico will become one of the garden spots of the world. It is clear why one people after another selected the Valley of Mexico for their abiding place. But blood will tell for evil as well as for good, and the bad strain here must be thinned down. The hills are rich in minerals, and the valleys are fertile, and all the land needs is a race of steady, patient workers--fewer bull fights and less pulque and more days' work."

As the drummer ceased speaking, Jimmie laid a warning hand on his shoulder and bent his head forward in a listening attitude.

"Listen!" he said. "There are men talking just over that slope."