The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 10: Stars of the Night

The arrangements for preventing my escape in the night were simple, but I was bound to confess to myself that they appeared to be very effective. My wrists were already tied together behind me. Another thong was passed around them and then made fast to a sapling. I had a play of about three feet, but I was tethered as if I had been a horse, with far less than a horse’s power of action.

We had nothing but mother earth to sleep upon, but it was no hardship in that warm, dry and balmy climate. All the men, except the two on watch, stretched themselves on the ground around me, and the heavy breathing of some and the snoring of others soon told me that they were asleep.

My mind turned naturally to my situation and the probability or improbability of escape. The chances were too heavily in favor of the latter to afford me much cheer. But I still had hope and faith in Pike. That the big borderer would desert me was not to be imagined for a moment. I knew that the boys had begun long ago the search for me, and I was more than half convinced that Pike had divined already the whole story. But there seemed to be no chance for a rescue on that night. The little hill on which we lay was a natural fort, and Halftrigger’s desperate and determined band could easily defend it against the violent assaults of a force ten times as large as ours. And a secret rescue seemed out of the question, with the vigilant sentinels on guard.

I had resigned myself as best as I could to my situation and was wooing sleep, when again I saw the sinister face of the Moor close to me. He had crawled along the grass like a snake, and when he approached me he sat up.

“You cannot sleep?” he said.

“Perhaps I could if you would not plague me with your villainous presence,” I replied.

But the man still hovered about me like a hyena.

“You are fearful for your life,” he said, “and would ask mercy from the captain if you thought you could get it.”

“That’s a lie,” I replied, and I turned over my side, not wishing to see him or have further talk with him. But he came around and faced me again.

“You gave me a blow to-day,” he said, “and I belong to a race that never forgets that.”

“I would give you another—a half dozen more—if I were not tied,” I replied angrily.

“You are very brave,” he replied, “when you think the captain will protect your life for the present.”

The man’s taunts inspired no fear, but they wearied me excessively, and I refused to reply.

“You will be put to death in three days, two days—maybe less,” he said; “and I hope the hand of Hassan will be chosen to perform the deed.”

I closed my eyes, and this sign of inattention, together with my failure to reply seemed to anger the man, for he said in a slightly higher voice:

“Rather than miss the pleasure, Hassan would do the deed now. By the beard of Mahomet, he would!”.

There was a silence for a moment, and then I felt something chilly and keen against my neck. I opened my eyes and saw that the Moor had drawn his knife and had put the blade against my throat. He drew it along so lightly and delicately that the skin was not severed.

“Ah,” he said, purring like a cat, while his face showed the pleasure he felt, “how the blood of the Christian dog would spurt over my fingers were I to press upon the blade! Truly the most blessed gift of Allah to the Faithful is the right to take the lives of their enemies. The blood of the unbelievers is beautiful in the sight of the followers of the Prophet. It smooths the way to Paradise.”

I would have cried out, but there, was something snakelike in the eyes of the man that held me silent. He played lovingly with his weapon, now passing his finger over the keen edge, then drawing that edge along my neck until I was seized with a damp chill. But he never drew blood.

“If you cry out,” he said, “I will kill you. I will, by Allah! and take the chance.”

I believe that he meant it, and even when the power of my mind over myself returned I would not utter a word for fear he would plunge his weapon into my throat. I had read somewhere that the East Indians are often seized with a sudden madness and rush about killing any one who may come in their way. This man, too, seemed to have the blood-lust in his eyes, and as I knew that he also wished revenge for the blow I had given him I was resolved not to tempt him to a sudden stab.

My nerves were on the verge of collapse when there was a threshing in the grass, and Halftrigger, who was lying near, squirmed about, and at last began to drag his gigantic body up into a sitting posture.

When he heard the noise the Moor sank down and slid away from me like a serpent.

Halftrigger rose slowly to his feet and stepped over toward me. I was devoutly grateful for the interruption. Of the two villains, Halftrigger and Hassan, I greatly preferred Halftrigger just then.

“All safe thar, are you?” said he. “Haven’t desarted the ship yet?”

“How do you expect me to get away tied up like this?” I answered. “I would go quick enough if I could.”

“I’ve no doubt o’ it,” he said with a sardonic laugh, “an that’s jest what I’m guardin’ ag’inst.”

He looked at my thongs, and seeing that they were as hard and fast as ever, stretched himself on the ground, and his strident snore soon told that he was asleep again.

The Moor did not come back to torture me. He had propped himself in a semi-sitting posture against the trunk of a tree about fifteen feet away and had gone to sleep with his mouth open. His lower jaw had dropped down, and the man’s face as he slept was even more repellent than when he had leaned over me and tortured me with his knife.

Scattered about, in whatever attitude their search for ease had caused them to take, were the other men. The moonlight peeped through the trees and showed their faces, which were not pleasant to look upon. I caught occasional glimpses of the two sentinels further down the hillside, but the only noise I heard was the wind.

I shut my eyes again and tried to sleep. I had slept more than once before in the face of danger, but I could not do it now, and opened my eyes only to look upon the star-dotted heavens and the recumbent forms of the sleepers.

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