The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 12: Another Sign

Halftrigger’s men were as hardened a set as ever I saw, but O’Leary’s death had a depressing effect upon them. The complaints and and the oaths and the unseemly jokes and the horseplay ceased for a while. They plodded along in sullen silence. But even their leader showed his bitter disappointment at finding nothing that answered Pedro’s description of the country surrounding the hidden mine.

“What ef that feller wuz lyin’ after all!” he said. “S’pose that gold o’ his wuz jest a ghost story. Ef ‘twas, then the bullet I sent into his cowardly carcass wuz the best job I ever did in my life, an’ I’ve finished up some jobs purty clean in my time.”

“You have seen some strange adventures in distant seas, I suppose?” I asked, for I always had much curiosity concerning this man.

“Wa’al, rayther,” he said, his face glowing with evil pride. “I wuz never no slouch at takin’ advantage o’ opportunities, and the South Seas are wide and free.”

“I should think the narration of some of them would be extremely interesting,” I suggested.

“Not much, sonny,” returned Halftrigger. “I don’t think there’s much danger o’ you tellin’ tales out o’ school, but I’ve got suthin else to do on this cruise besides spinnin’ yarns.”

Shortly after this we came to a spot which Halftrigger selected as the camp for the night. It was in a small grove in a wide valley. The valley was clear of undergrowth, and no enemy could approach without attracting the observation of a sentinel who was not unusually dull.

The river at this point was too deep for fording, and as the grove grew upon its edge, we camped beside the water. Halftrigger made dispositions similar to those of the preceding night. He stationed two sentinels, and the others scattered themselves about on the grass as they chose. My hands were bound again, and another cord passed around my waist was tied to a stout sapling.

“Thar’s enough o’ rope thar,” said Halftrigger, “to let you roll over in the river, but you won’t float off as O’Leary did. But you’ll drown jest as purtily.”

After these pleasant remarks Halftrigger stretched his mighty length upon the ground and went to sleep. The others were quick in following him to the land of Nod, for the day’s arduous journey had tired them.

As before, I was slow to feel drowsiness. My alarming situation was not conducive to sleep, and now that night had come I expected another sign from Pike. My knowledge of his persistent character and skill in the wilderness, and what I had seen the night before, had given life in my brain to this idea. In the day I had laughed at myself and tried to get rid of the notion, but it would stick. I had told myself that the four lights of the night before were a mere phantasy, the figment of an imagination distorted by my surroundings and anxiety. But as the darkness came on again my reasoning powers were unable to cope with my anticipations. Imagination ruled me, and in spite of myself I looked forward with confidence to what calm thought would have told me I had no right to expect.

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