The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 18: Paths Cross

Pike and Mr. Sheldon kept guard through the night and the rest of us were up with the sun. Bliss was in gay spirits, or at least appeared to be, and ate his breakfast with an appetite that seemed able to withstand the wear of ages. Bonneau gazed at him in wonder and admiration.

“You like my cooking?” he asked. “You are a jewel, Mr. Frencher,” said Bliss, “and if ever this party falls into the hands of Halftrigger I shall recommend that you be saved in order that you may continue to exercise your talents, but in a larger field.”

“Ef that should happen you might not be thar to know anythin’ about it,” said Starboard Sam, who was provoked at the man’s coolness.

“I am in the hands of your friends,” said Bliss, saluting.

“We’ve decided what to do with you, Bliss,” said Pike, when the breakfast was finished. “I am waiting patiently,” said Bliss. “We’re goin’ to keep all your arms which we took last night, an’ now that you’ve had your breakfast, we must ask you to git. Ef you’ll cross the mountain thar I dessay you’ll find your friends without much.trouble.”

Bliss looked somewhat surprised, but he arose and walked away in the direction Pike had pointed out. When he had gone about twenty feet he turned, lifted his flap-brimmed hat and said:

“Gentlemen, you’ve treated me white, much whiter than I expected or deserved, and I shall report your consideration to Capt. Halftrigger.”

He turned and began the ascent of the mountain and we watched him until he reached the summit and passed out of sight beyond it.

“Odd fish,” said Mr. Sheldon. “Wouldn’t be surprised if he had a streak of good concealed somewhere among his many streaks of bad.”

A half-hour later Pike called us together for consultation. He said he was in favor of our moving at once, and he gave cogent reasons in support of his proposition. He said that the location of our camp was now known to the enemy, and since we wished to avoid trouble if possible, it would be necessary for us to move. He thought I would be able to ride one of the mules. The truth of his reasoning was so apparent that all of us agreed with him without further discussion, and in a half-hour we had packed up and were on the march.

We followed the base of the mountain for five or six miles, moving at a pretty rapid pace. I was mounted on a mule, and youth and a vigorous constitution enabled me to recover my strength so rapidly that I was not at all fatigued by the journey. Pike took the lead and we followed him without question. After a short rest we began the ascent of the mountain, the slope of which was but gentle at this point. In two hours we reached the summit, which was covered by dense forests.

Climbing a high rock, we had a splendid view of the valley beyond. Through the centre ran the river, fringed by trees, which, however, were not numerous enough to hide the ribbon of water. Pike examined the valley with keen eyes.

“I don’t see anythin’ uv em,” he said, “though they might be among them trees over thar. Do you fellers see anythin’?”

We strained our eyes in a search for signs of the enemy, but we saw neither the brigands nor indications of their presence. After some consideration Pike decided that we should remain where we were until nightfall. Then under the protection of the darkness we would make the descent of tile mountain and pass down the valley. This would probably save us from a collision with Halftrigger’s men.

“I’m huntin’ gold and not a fight,” said Pike, and so said we all.

When night was well spread over the earth we began the descent of the mountain, but found the slope much greater than on the opposite side. Nevertheless we experienced little difficulty. The sure-footed mules picked their way along in the dark, and the men, except myself, followed close behind. As for me, I was on the back of the largest and strongest mule, and it was nothing more than a pleasure excursion.

“I think I’ll get sick, too,” said Starboard Sam, enviously, just after he had stumbled over a stone and bruised his shin, “an’ then maybe I’ll be taken aboard a tight, shore craft like that ar mule. How does it feel, Joe, to be settin’ up thar so comfortable like?”

“Pretty good,” I said. “I’m sorry for you, Sam, but I guess you’ll have to walk. The other mules have too much baggage to carry without taking you up.”

“That Starboard Sam ees one lazy sailor,” said Bonneau. “He too lazy to do anything but eat the fine victuals I cook and tell ze great yarns about hees adventures at sea. Hear heem talk one would think he ze Flying Dutchman heemself.”

“Shut up, Frenchy,” said Sam, “abusin’ your best friend. Ef you don’t I’ll give you a shove that’ll send you rollin’ clear down the mountain an’ right into Halftrigger’s camp.”

“Eef you do,” said Bonneau, “I come right back up here and show you how a French gentleman take his revenge.”

“Dry up thar,” said Pike, “we’ve got to be cautious goin’ along here. Besides, you Yank and you Frenchman kain’t make us think you’re quarrelin’.”

Which was a fact, for, as I have told already, Sam and Bonneau were sworn chums.

“We’re approachin’ the foot of the mountain now,” said Pike, “an’ we don’t want to run across them other fellers, I don’t think there is much danger uv it, but tain’t wuth while to run chances when you kin keep frum it.”

We advanced in a silence broken only by the sound of our footsteps. My mule was ahead of the column, but I could see nothing in front of me but the trees which lined the mountain side, and through them faint glimpses of the valley.

The silence was broken by a scrambling, sliding sound, a cry of wrath and pain and the thud of a heavy fall.

“Help lads! Help! Come an’ pull me out o’ this,” cried Starboard Sam. “I think I’ve bruk every bone in me body on these confounded breakers.”

“Not so loud; not so loud!” said Pike, in a warning voice.

“An’ do ye expect a man to keep silent when he’s bein’ run through a sassidge mill?” cried Sam.

Pike repeated his warning in a more emphatic manner, and we pushed forward, cautiously until we came upon the sailor, who was lying by the side of a huge rock. He had stepped on some loose stones, which had slid under his feet. Then he had lost his balance and rolled down the mountain until he was brought up by the boulder.

Pike pulled Sam to his feet and thumped him all over.

“You ain’t hurt,” he said, chuckling at Sam’s mishap. “All your bones are whole. You ought to know that the best way to git down a mountain ain’t to roll down it.”

“I thought the mountain had rolled down on me,” said Sam, who was also feeling of his bones and rejoicing at their unbroken condition.

“Be more keerful,” said Pike, as we began the descent once more. But in a few more minutes we were at the foot of the slope in a rather dense growth of trees and bushes. Very glad, too, we felt, for the descent had been by no means easy, except for me.

“That was a rough v’y’ge,” said Starboard Sam, looking back at the mountain which rose up like a huge wall in the darkness, “an’ I’m right glad I’m in port.”

“Hush, that,” said Pike, “I don’t know whether you’re in port yet.”

He stood in a listening attitude.

“Hev ye sighted a strange craft?” asked Sam.

“No,” replied Pike, “but I think I hear one.”

I listened also, but at first I could hear nothing.

Presently a slight murmur came to my ears.

“That’s the sound of many voices, men talkin’,” said Pike, “an’ I don’t see who it could be ‘cept Halftrigger an’ his band. I’m thinkin’ that in tryin’ to dodge ‘em we’ve run right into that gang. You fellers keep mighty quiet now, an’ we’ll see ef we kin hear anythin’. That’ll tell us more about ‘em.”

Our little cavalcade had halted in a thicket and the mules stood by quietly and contentedly while we put our ears to the ground.

“I hear the tramp uv heavy feet ez well ez the sound uv voices,” said Pike, “an’ it’s all gittin’ louder. They’re comin this way. We’ve got to dodge ‘em, an’ I guess this is ez good a place ez any to dodge ‘em In.”

Under Pike’s cautious instructions we shoved back further into the thicket where we would be completely concealed, though we might see any one passing.

“Vat will we do wiz ze mules?” asked Bonneau.

“Leave ‘em alone,” said Pike. “We’ve got to trust to luck that they don’t make any noise, which they ain’t likely to do ‘less you fellers git to foolin’ with ‘em an’ provokin’ ‘em. Keep mighty still now, for they’ll soon be passin’ us.”

The sound of men’s voices was now distinctly audible and there was also a threshing about in the undergrowth. A gigantic figure came into the moonlight, and I looked once more upon the hardened lineaments of Halftrigger. Close to him were Spanish Pete and the man Bliss, and behind them struggled the whole band, most of them swearing at the difficulties of the night march.

Halftrigger had come into an opening among the trees and bushes and he paused to rest. His followers, taking advantage of the opportunity, threw themselves on the ground, panting after their exertions like dogs that had tired themselves out while running.

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