The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 17: My Captors

“Hol’ your head up zere and take zee soup! Eeet ees zee best I have made in zees many months, and Pierre Bonneau ees one great cook, he ees, eef he do say eet heernself. Now zat ees zee goot boy. Swallow heem all down—yum, yum, yum, —zen you get back zee life and zee muscle.”

“He’s comin’ right through it, shore’s I’m a sinner, Bonneau. But he’s been on the rocks, an’ more’n once I thought he’d gone down fur good. I’ll save him yit.”

“You save heem! You Yankee salt-water braggart! You one gran’ fraud! I save heem! I, Pierre Bonneau, zee great cook! I make zee soups and all zee ozzer good zings, an’ when I pour zem down heem and he feel zem teekling his throat, so nice and so soft, he take hol’ of life again an’ pull heemself right back’ into zee world. I, Pierre Bonneau, save heem! Do not forget zat, Monsieur Braggart Starboard Sam!”

“Shut up, you French bullfrog! You may beat me cookin’; I ain’t gifted that way, but I’d like to know who helps git the things fur you to cook! I’d like to see you doin’ it! You’d starve ter death ef you wuz by yourself out in this country!”

It was such a dialogue as this that saluted my ears when consciousness returned. I opened my eyes wide, as much in astonishment as in pleasure at the sound of those well known and friendly voices. I would have sprung to my feet, but I found I was unable to raise myself even a few inches.

“Lie still! Lie still!” said Bonneau. “Vat you exhaustin’ yourself for ven here we are ready to do’ anyzing you want. Lie still and hol’ your mouth open and drink zee soup, now!”

I opened my mouth obediently, and Bonneau tipped a liquid into it out of a tin pan. The liquid had a grateful taste, and I feebly asked for more, wherefore Bonneau was hugely delighted, and rewarded me with a fresh supply.

“Come here, come here!” shouted Starboard Sam. “The lad’s hisself agin.”

In a moment both Henry and Pike were standing over me, delight writ large on their faces.

“Yes, he ees heemself again,” said Bonneau, “and he has zee appetite of one greezzly bear.”

“Wa’al, that’s a mighty good sign,” said Pike, “but don’t give him too much. You don’t want to start him to travellin’ back’ards.”

I looked at them all in amazement, I feared that it was a phantasy; some creation of a disordered mind. At length I managed to ejaculate:


There was a resounding and hearty laugh from all, which increased my amazement.

“I don’t think I look much like Hank Halftrigger in anythin’ ‘xcept size,” said Pike, “but you took me fur him sartin shore on the mountain side up thar, which ain’t to be wondered at, seein’ that you wuz wild with fever, an’ would hardly hev knowed an elephant from the side uv a brick house ef you’d a met ‘em both in the road.”

I began to understand.

“Then I’ve been sick?” I asked.

“Sartin, shore,” said Pike. “You’ve been downright sick, an’ you ain’t over it yit, either, though you’re out uv danger. Why, boy, you’ve jest been a ragin’ wild with fever, an’ sometimes it’s been ez much ez both your brother an’ Bonneau could do to hol’ you on that bed uv boughs thar. Once you dragged ‘em both right off thar feet, an’ you’ve been talkin’ all sorts o’ wild talk about swimmin’ about in a river an’ drownin’ a man, an’ people shootin’ at you in the water, which none uv us know nuthin’ about.”

I was silent for a while. I am not so religious, perhaps, as I ought to be, but I breathed a prayer of thankfulness that in my delirium I had wandered into the hands of my friends and not into those of my enemies.

“How long have I been here?” I asked. “This is the eighth day,” said Pike, “and this is the fust time since we chased you down the mountain side that you’ve spoke a sensible word.”

“Yes, an’ he has talked enough,” broke in Bonneau. “I am zee doctor here, and zee patient must not be exhausted. Now, all you go away, and Monsieur Joe, you go to sleep. I, Pierre Bonneau, command it. Shall I have all my beautiful work spoiled? Sapristi, non.”

They left me, and I quickly fell into a deep and refreshing slumber. I awoke with a ravenous appetite, and Bonneau soon appeared with more soup, all of which I drank.

“Now you have zee right look,” said the little Frenchman. “Your eyes are bright and your color ees coming back. You will soon be strong again, and I, Pierre Bonneau, with my skill, have doneeet.”

I felt so much stronger that I was able to sit up, propped against a tree. We were camped in a grove at the foot of the mountain. A brook splashed and bubbled over the stones nearby. A fire burned under one of the trees. Further off the mules were grazing at the ends of their lariats. I had been lying upon a blanket spread over a bed of soft boughs. It was a grateful scene of rural peace and ease.

“Our part is soon explained,” said Henry. “When you went up on the hill to examine the country we became alarmed at your long absence. We followed you, and Pike found the trail of many footsteps. We guessed that you had been captured by Halftrigger’s band, for we knew of the presence of no others in that vicinity. This guess became a certainty when Pike stalked their camp that night and saw them all and you among them. We followed all the time, waiting for a chance to rescue you. We signalled with torches one night, hoping you would see and understand. The next day we met Mr. Sheldon, on a hunting expedition, and Pike signalled again by sending sticks down the river, but this time the signals indicated that we were five instead of four. Then Mr. Sheldon, as you know, went boldly into their camp the next day. We lost them the night of the storm, when it was all we could do to keep together, and we knew no more about any of you until we saw you running like a wild man down the side of the mountain and Pike overtook you after a long chase. The spot where he caught you is not 500 yards from here, and here we’ve been ever since. Mr. Sheldon is out now hunting, but will be back in an hour or two.”

Then I told my story, to which they listened with breathless interest and many ejaculations from Bonneau and Sam.

“It wuz standin’ so long in the water that give you the fever an’ sent you off your head,” said Pike. “‘Taint no wonder, either. Anybody would hev give in under all that.”

“Do you know what has become of Halftrigger and his band?” I asked.

“They wuz across the mountain over thar two or three days ago,” said Pike. “I scouted a bit and lay near ‘em in the brush, an’ they wuz still bent on findin’ the gold, but they didn’t know much which way to go. They’ve hed so much trouble that they’re purty badly broke up.”

“And we’ve lost a week lying here!” I exclaimed. “All on my account, too! If I’d exercised even common care I would never have fallen into their hands!”

“Never you min’ about that,” said Pike, soothingly. “All uv us make mistakes sometimes, an’ we ain’t lost nuthin’ yet. We’ve got ez good a chance ezever, fur in a day or two you’ll be strong, an’ then we’ll be off after thet gold ag’in. We’re boun’ to hev it or bust a b’iler.”

“We’ve fared much better than our rivals,” said Henry, “for here we all are in good trim to resume the expedition.”

“Never say die!” said Starboard Sam. “The ship is stanch, the wind is good, an’ we’re boun’ to come’ into port yet. What d’ye say, Bonneau?”

“Will we get zere?” exclaimed Bonneau. “Oui! Ze great Napoleon become ze Emperor of France because he find ze crown of France lying on ze ground and he pick it up on ze point of hees sword! We will be great and brave, too; we will clear ze way to ze gold wiz our swords, n’est ce pas, mes braves? Oui! Hurrah!”

Weak as I was I caught some of Bonneau’s enthusiasm, and I could see that the others also were affected by it. Even Pike’s usually calm eye flashed. The old fever in us all had not abated.

“We’ll stay on this cruise,” said Starboard Sam, “ez long ez we’ve got a plank under us an’ a rag to set to the win’. All the bloody pirates in Christendom kain’t turn us from our course.”

“Those are brave sentiments, and I like to see you express yourselves with so much vigor and pluck,” said a clear voice behind me.

I turned and saw Mr. Sheldon approaching with his gun on one shoulder and a haunch of venison on the other. He flung the venison down, leaned his gun against a tree and approached me with outstretched hand and a frank smile.

“Ah, my young friend is himself again,” he said. “Truly I am delighted, for I have feared more than once in the last few days that this gold hunt would end for you in six feet of earth.”

My story was told over again for the benefit of Mr. Sheldon, and he commented freely upon it.

“Upon my word,” he said when I had finished, “this is quite a chain of adventures. Your friend Mr. Halftrigger seems to be as bold and resourceful a villain as I have ever met, and I have seen some fine scamps in my time. I foresee also that you will have, more trouble from these same gentry, since two bodies directed towards the same point must inevitably come in contact. Now gentlemen I must confess that all this interests me, interests me very much; nay I am interested more than a consistent hermit should be in things which savor so much of the passions of man.”

Pike and Henry laughed and looked as if they knew what was going to come next.

“Nevertheless, I yield to this curiosity,” continued Mr. Sheldon, apparently not noticing Pike and Henry, “and I have a proposition to make to you gentlemen. I wish you to renew your invitation to me and ask me to join your gallant company on this expedition. I care nothing about the gold, but I would like to assist in foiling Mr. Halftrigger and his assistants. I will defer in all things to Mr. Pike, who is the natural leader of the expedition, and I do not think you will have any complaint to make of me.”

With one voice we welcomed the new recruit, for his coolness and assurance had impressed us all.

“Well, that is settled,” said Mr. Sheldon, “and now, Monsieur Bonneau, with your kind permission I will sample some of your best venison steaks, for I have had a long tramp to-day.”

The evening meal was ready, and all except myself helped Mr. Sheldon to dispose of it. As I was the invalid of the party I had eaten my share, especially prepared for me, already. Good as my own appetite had been, it was a weak exhibition compared with that of my companions, though it must be admitted that Bonneau’s cookery was enough to tempt even one who had been satiated with delicacies.

The appetizing odors of venison and other toothsome products of the wilderness filled the grove. Nor were the culinary appliances so rude as one might think they would have been under the circumstances. We had put some small pots and pans and tin cups and plates in the baggage that we carried on our mules, and Bonneau did the rest.

The camp had been pitched with much skill. The grove in which it lay was small, and there was nothing else near enough to permit a concealed enemy to reach us with a rifle shot. No one could cross the open unless the night should be very dark, and escape observation, if ordinary caution were exercised.

“Being duly enrolled as a member of this organization,” said Mr. Sheldon, as he paused between mouthfuls, “may I be permitted to ask what are our plans?”

“Depends on Joe thar,” said Pike. “Soon ez he kin travel we’ll be a- movin’.”

“Two days, three days,” said Bonneau, “and all hees strength be back. He ees young and strong, and get well, tres vif.”

I was glad to hear this, for I chafed at the restriction my illness put upon our party. I started to speak, but Pike held up his hand.

“Hush thar,” he said. “What’s happened to you might a-happened to any uv us. It wuz jest chance that it wuz you, an’ we don’t want to hear any more about it.”.

“Three days at furthest and we will be moving; is it not so?” inquired Mr. Sheldon.

“That’s what we calkylate on,” said Pike.

“Which way will we go?” asked Mr. Sheldon.

“I’m thinkin’,” said Pike, “that this last river, the one that Joe spent the night in, dodgin’ them pirates, is the one that we’ve been lookin’ fur. I guess we had blundered out uv our course when we struck the fust one.”

“As the first seems to have been the wrong one, the chances that the second is the right one are increased,” said Mr. Sheldon.

“Then I’m in favor,” said Pike, “uv crossin’ this mountain an’ follerin’ that river down stream till we strike the signs uv what Pedro told us about. Then ef we don’t fin’ anythin’ we’ll come back an’ go up stream.”

Everybody agreed with Pike, and the journey over the mountain was to be begun as soon as I was strong enough for it.

“What if we meet Halftrigger?” asked Henry.

“I guess ef we do Mr. Halftrigger will hev to take care o’ hisself,” said Starboard Sam.

“As the subject of Halftrigger is mentioned,” said Mr. Sheldon, “I am very sorry to tell you some unpleasant news.”

This announcement created a stir among us, but Mr. Sheldon gratified our curiosity at once.

“In my hunt to-day,” said he, “I passed over the crest of the ridge, and I found that a third party of gold-hunters was in the vicinity. These newcomers were eight in number, and, in my opinion,, they are quite as select a lot of cutthroats as Halftrigger’s own men. I talked with some of them, and though they offered me no harm, I am too good a judge of character to be mistaken in my impressions. I also discovered that after I left them they met Halftrigger, and I am of the opinion that the two bands have fraternized and united against us. Moreover, they are likely to attempt our destruction, and it behooves us to be exceedingly careful.”

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