The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 11: A Tragedy

The shove of a heavy foot awakened me.

“Here’s a bite for you to eat,” said Halftrigger, “an we’re goin’ to be a-cruisin’ mighty quick.”

My wrists were unbound again, and they were not rebound after I had taken my food.

“We’ll keep you in the middle o’ our gang as we march, along,” said Halftrigger, “an’ I guess you won’t git away. Ef he tries to run, boys, plunk him.”

The command was addressed to the assembled party, and there was no doubt of their willingness to do as he ordered.

“I guess Hassan, thar, would jump at sech a chance,” continued Halftrigger, looking towards the Moor, “ez I’ve seen him castin’ pleasant glances at you. How about it, Hassan, my lad!”

The Moor grinned and tapped the handle of his knife. “Hassan is one o’ the disciples o’ Mohammed,” said Halftrigger to me, “and he ain’t had our Western advantages. He thinks it lawful to stick that crooked knife o’ his atween the ribs o’ the infidel. So mate, you’ll kindly overlook any little bloodthirsty demonstrations on the part o’ Hassan.”

I knew this talk was intended to arouse my fears and to torment me, and I concluded to adopt my former course on such occasions and say nothing.

But Halftrigger seemed to be highly delighted with himself that morning, and evidently intended to make me a target for what he thought to be his wit.

“Heard anythin’ from them friends o’yours that you desarted so’s to ship with me?’” he asked.

I was somewhat startled at first, for I feared that there was a meaning in the words, and he had seen the signals of the night before. But a moment’s reflection convinced me that it was a mere coincidence.

“No,” I replied. “But I have no doubt I will. I am in your company, and they are sure to pay you their compliments.”

“Oh!” he said, “will they? Well, we will have to make room for them, an’ they may come in handy, too. We’ll need diggers when we git to whar all that gold is. Me and my mates kin lay in the shade while you and your mates dig fur us. Why, that’ll beat slave-drivin’ all-to pieces, an’ then, when all the work is over, we kin put you an’ your mates away so nice an’ handy!”

I knew very well what he meant, but I was not a child to be frightened with that sort of thing. I replied, with a steady countenance, too, that the shoe would more likely be on the other foot.

“Not while I’m in command o’ the ship,” said Halftrigger.

Just then Spanish Pete announced that everything was ready and we started. The party was well armed every man having a rifle and a pistol, while most of them were provided with knives also. They were certainly capable of making a very formidable fight. They straggled along loosely, but they kept a vigilant watch on me and for possible enemies. Halftrigger walked near me, and nothing escaped his wary eye. But I soon saw that the party suffered from a serious disadvantage.

Halftrigger, its commander, was a sailor, and knew nothing about wilderness trails. His men were afflicted with a similar ignorance. It was more by blundering luck than by skill that they had adhered to the course which Pedro had mapped out, and they still felt very uncertain of their bearings.

Halftrigger, under the pretence of friendliness, tried to elicit some information from me. This gave me a cue. So long as he thought my life valuable to him he would not put an end to it. Every day’s delay was worth a fortune to me. I answered very guardedly, intending to convey the impression that I knew a great deal, and for an adequate return might be induced to part with my information. I did this merely to lead him on, for as I have said before I knew that good faith was not to he expected from such a man as he.

“Wa’al, my lad,” said Halftrigger, with a pretense at joviality, “you’d better make the best o’ your bargain. I’ve riled you a bit now an’ then, but you’ll fin’ my bark is sometimes wuss than my bite. Besides you know when I git that gold I’ll be in a mighty good humor an’ I’ll feel like doin’ suthin fur my frien’s. I think the mine is hereabouts; do you?”

I replied that the indications favored his opinion.

“I think we’d better go down this stream,” he said. “Maybe we’ll strike the dry river bed that Pedro told about, an’ ef we don’t I guess we’ll find out whether we’re off our bearin’s or not.”

I said that I thought it would be well for him to ascertain just where he was. He took this to indicate my indorsement of his theory, and accordingly directed the march down the stream. We plodded along for several hours. The sun was very bright and warm and as the stream was a mountain torrent, the way was rough. The men grew impatient, and there was much grumbling, some of which was directed at Halftrigger.

“I say, Cappen’,” said one to Halftrigger, “I thought we wuz gittin’ purty close to that gold. Are we goin’ to tramp over these mountains and valleys forever?”

“Ef you don’t want to go along with us,” said Halftrigger, “you needn’t, you kin stop right whar you are, an’ we’ll divide your share o’ the gold among the rest o’ the boys. I guess they won’t grumble.”

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