The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 13: An Unexpected Visit

Halftrigger and Spanish Pete drew aside the next morning and began an earnest discussion. I guessed it was about the mine and what they thought the best way to find it. But while they were talking the man Masters, who had gone some distance down the river, returned on a run to the grove.

“Cappen! Cappen!” he called out. “There’s somebody comin’.”

Halftrigger was considerably startled, as in fact the rest of us were also.

“Somebody comin’,” he exclaimed. “What d’ye mean, Masters?”

“It’s just as I say, Cappen,” he replied. “There’s a man comin’ up the stream and he’s headed straight for us.”

He pointed in the direction he had mentioned, and about a quarter of a mile away we saw the figure of a man approaching us carrying a gun over his shoulder. “A hunter, I guess,” said Halftrigger. The man came on, rapidly walking with a steady swinging step. He never veered at all from his course, but came straight for the grove. As he came nearer I recognized him, to my great amazement. It was Mr. Sheldon, the genial hermit.

I would have shouted a warning to him, but it was too late. He was under the guns of the Halftrigger party now and would have to rely upon his own strength or diplomacy. He was near enough to see the men. Halftrigger’s gigantic form was outlined clearly among the trees, and the hermit could scarcely avoid noticing him and knowing him, for he had had abundant opportunity to examine every feature of the man the night we lay in the bush. But he came on steadily, and as he entered the grove Halftrigger, after making a sign to his men to keep silent, stepped forward.

“Ship ahoy!” he called out, assuming an air of joviality. “Luck to you, stranger. We don’t see many o’ your like in this part o’ the world.”

“Good morning to you,” said Mr. Sheldon, in his gay, off-hand manner. “I saw the smoke from your fire some distance away, and as it was the first evidence I’ve had in a month that I was not alone in these wilds I thought I’d pay you a visit.”

“Glad to see you, stranger,” said Halftrigger. “Come in an’ take pot luck with us. Might I ask you what your name may be?”

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Sheldon, “my name is Henry Barnes, and I’ve been down here all spring and summer on a hunting expedition. I’ve liked the country so well and I’ve had such good sport that I’ve dawdled away months here.”

“That’s frank and hearty,” said Halftrigger, telling the thing that was not with as much ease and grace, as Mr. Sheldon did. “My name’s Todd; Bill Todd of San Francisco, and me an’ these lads here o’ mine are out lookin’ for gold. We’ve got no perticklar idea whar it’s to be found, but we thought ef we loafed around long enough we might find it.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Mr. Sheldon, leaning on his rifle and sweeping the camp with a keen glance. His eyes rested on my face for a moment, and then passed on as if he had never seen me before and had not the faintest idea who I was. But his eyes roved around the camp a second time, and alighted on me again. I noticed a faint movement of the eyelids, and then his glance passed on, the warning unnoticed by all save myself. But I had guessed already that Mr. Sheldon had come into the camp as a spy, and I needed not the caution. I gave no sign of recognition. But I waited with a great anxiety to see what course Halftrigger would adopt. Knowing the desperate character of the sailor and his men, I feared danger to Mr. Sheldon, though I could not see that they had anything to gain by molesting him. Never having seen him before, they could not guess his designs in coming among them.

“Been long in this valley, mate?” asked Halftrigger, maintaining his friendly and familiar air.

“A few days only,” replied Mr. Sheldon, “but I’ve knocked around in pretty lively fashion in that time.”

“Is that so?” said Halftrigger, his eyes lighting up. “Then maybe you kin help me an’ this gang o’ mine out o’ our scrape. We don’t know much about travelin’ aroun’ in this kind o’ country. Leastways I don’t, fur I’ve been follerin’ the sea most o’ my life. So we’ve got kinder mixed up an’ don’t know just whar we are.”

“Any information that I may have is at your disposal,” said Mr. Sheldon, politely.

“Whar does this river go to?” asked Halftrigger. “I kinder had an idea that it run into another river somewhars hereabouts.”

“I am very sorry that I cannot give you any information on that point,” said Mr. Sheldon, “but I have not followed its course far enough to see.”

“Oh, well, it don’t matter,” said Halftrigger, though his face showed disappointment. “It wuz jest a guess o’ mine an’ I wuz wantin’ to see whether I wuz right.”

Of course, it was easy enough for me to divine what Halftrigger was endeavoring to do. He thought he could gain from an unsuspecting hunter sufficient knowledge to guide him in the search for the hidden mine.

“Fine stream,” said Halftrigger. “Come across many rivers in these parts?”

“I’ve seen several,” replied Mr. Sheldon.

“Some o’ ‘em run dry,” said Halftrigger. “I’ve come across two or three river beds ez dry ez powder. ‘Spect you’ve seen some o’ the same kind round here, hevn’t you?”

Mr. Sheldon also must have understood the meaning of Halftrigger’s questions, but he answered lightly in the negative.

During this dialogue I stood near the river’s bank. After eating my meagre breakfast I had not been rebound, and there was nothing in my appearance that would cause a stranger to ask questions about me. Nevertheless, Mr. Sheldon turned his eyes upon me, and said to Halftrigger:

“I notice that one of your party is very young. Your son, perhaps, though he does not look like you.”

“Yes,” said Halftrigger, with a grin that he could not hide, “that’s my only son, Frank. His mother died when he wuzn’t but two years old. I guess I’ve led him a purty hard life, bein’ ez I’m a rovin’ chap an’ sailor man. But now that he’s getting on to be a man hisself he kin hustle, and besides he’ll git whatever I hev after a while. You ain’t got anything pertickler against your old dad, hev you, Frank?”

I forced myself to answer that he had invariably treated me well. I admired the grim humor and cool assurance of the villain.

“Those sentiments do credit to you both,” said Mr. Sheldon. “Parents and children should be true to each other, and so should friends. Now, you may think I am talking boastfully, but I never desert a friend of mine. If he is in trouble or danger I am ready to risk all for him. I will be true to him to the last.”

He let his glance rest lightly upon me again, and I understood.

“You talk mighty big about yourself, stranger,” said one of the men, a sulky brute named Fisher.

Mr. Sheldon put his thumb and forefinger around his right eye, forming a circle through which he looked at Fisher.

“My friend,” he said, “you have rather a heavy face, and I have no doubt your education is deficient. Nevertheless I am compelled to inform you that you are ill-mannered.”

“Wa’al, it don’t make no difference,” growled the man. “I don’t see no use o’ jawin with you. You kaint do us no good.”

“Perhaps not, nor am I aware that you can do me any good,” returned Mr. Sheldon, with perfect coolness.

“Don’t min’ him, Mr. Barnes,” said Halftrigger, who evidently had no desire to seek a quarrel. “Tom got out o’ bed back’ards this mornin’ an’ he ain’t feelin’ in good humor.”

Most of the men laughed, but Fisher was determined not to be appeased. He had been the leader among the malcontents, and he seemed to have his mind set upon picking a quarrel.

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