The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 2: Starboard Sam’s Story

“Lads,” began Sam, sinking his voice into a husky whisper, which he always affected when he wished to be impressive or was himself impressed with what he was saying, “ye all know I’ve sailed the seas since I wuz knee high to a duck. Wa’al, a man who sails the seas ez long ez I hev will see lots o’ things that he’ll never forgit. All kinds o’ critters are on the seas ez well ez in it.

“It wuz nigh onto fifteen years ago when I wuz on a whalin’ ship, the Nancy Jane out o’ New Bedford. A fine ship wuz the Nancy Jane, an’ Capt’in Ephraim Hawkins, who commanded her, wuz ez fine a man an’ ez brave a man ez ever harpooned a whale or thrashed a landlubber, beggin’ the pardin o’ you four, who are landlubbers yourselves.

“Wa’al, the Nancy Jane went roun’ Cape Horn an’ beat down through the South Seas. We passed the tropical islands, stoppin’ now an’ then to take on water an’ fruit and to barter with the natives. One day when we wuz at anchor in a bay in one o’ the purtiest little-islands I ever did see, a chief comes to us and sez thar’s another ship on the other side o’ the island. It had white men in it, he said, and they wuz actin’ kind o’ curious. They had took on water, but then they staid thar, why he didn’t know. They had nuthin’ to sell, and didn’t want to buy nuthin’, but they staid right thar at anchor, nobody comin’ on shore ‘cept the capt’in an’ the mate, an’ no natives never bein’ ‘lowed to go on the vessel.”

“This yarn stirred up Capt’in Hawkins’s curiosity mightily. White men wuz mighty sc’ace in that part o’ the world them times, and is yet, I reckin, an’ besides, thar curious way o’ doin’ wuz enough to make us want to know what they wuz erbout. So Capt’in Hawkins sez to me, me bein’ the fust mate:

“‘What do ye think o’ it, Sam?’

“‘Pirates, most likely,’ sez I.

“‘Hadn’t we orter go see?’

“‘We’re huntin’ whales, but we ain’t dodgin’ pirates ef they git in our way.’

“‘Nuff said.’

“Capt’in Hawkins wuzn’t the man to dodge a scrimmage, not him. Fact wuz, he’d ruther run to one than run away from it, bein’ thet he was a mighty pious an’ religious man o’ the old Puritan kind. The Nancy Jane was full handed, an’ she carried forrards ez purty an eighteen-pounder brass cannon ez ever you did see, an’ down in her cabin thar wuz er long rack full o’ rifles an’ pistols and sabres. Thar wuz no tellin’ what you’d meet in the South Seas them days, an’ the Nancy Jane went provided, she did. So we set sail and skimmed ‘round the island, kinder lookin’ for a brush and kinder hopin’ we’d git it, fur every man in the Nancy Jane knew how to handle a weepin, and some o’ ‘em had done it, too, in thar time.

“Wa’al, we got ‘roun’ the next day after we started, and thar, shore nuff, through the glass we saw the strange ship lyin’ in a little cove. When we fust spied her she seemed mighty quiet an’ peaceful like, but afore we’d come nigh the captain, who hed the glass, began to bustle about er bit, ez ef he seed suthin’ unusual.

“‘What is it, Captain?’ I asks.

“‘Thar’s a signal o’ distress flyin’ from her peak,’ sez he.

“He took another good and long look, an’ then he. sez ter me:

“‘Sam, see thet ther 18-pounder is ready, and ye’d better hev Tom Landrail standin’ by her. He’s the best gunner in the crew. I can’t make out the character o’ that craft, but suthin’s wrong aboard her. Sarve out the weepins to the men.’

“‘Wa’al, we swept up with that signal o’ distress still flyin’ from the strange craft. Thar war two or three men about the decks, but they seemed to pay no sort o’ attention to us. We maneuvered about a bit in order to get a good look at the ship, an’ then, not bein’ able to make out nuthin’ more, the capt’in gave the order to lay us alongside.

“Jest ez we hove up a tall, slim, preacher-lookin’ man came up the companion way an’ hailed us.

“‘What ship is this?’ asked our capt’in.

“‘It’s the bark John Allen, of Bostin.’

“‘What be your business?’

“‘Tradin’ among the South Sea Islands.’

“‘Who put up that signal o’ distress?’

“‘I did.’

“‘Are you the capt’in?’


“‘Wa’al,’ said our capt’in, ‘we’re ready to help you; what kin we do?’

“The preacher chap kinder hesitated and shuffled his feet about. He looked at us kinder uneasy like, an’ then back behind him ez ef he wuz afeared o’ suthin’.

“Jest then another man come up the companion way. He wuz big an’ broad, an’ he had the ugliest an’ evilest lookin’ face I ever saw. Thar wuz er big scar on one side o’ it and er big burn on t’other side. That wuz Hank Halftrigger, an’ when he come up the capt’in shrank afore him jest ez thet little yeller man we saw to-night wuz afeard o’ him, and couldn’t meet his eye.

“‘What do you want?’ said Halftrigger to us.

“‘I’m talkin’ to your capt’in,’ said our capt’in, angry-like. ‘An’ kin I ask who are you?’

“‘I’m Hank Halftrigger, o’ Bostin,’ said the ugly imp, ‘an’ I ask you ag’in what d’ye want comin’ up alongside a peaceful tradin’ vessel this way an’ threatenin’ murder?’

“Our men, all armed, were standin’ near, right in plain view.

“‘Thar’s a signal o’ distress flyin’ from your masthead,’ said our capt’in, ‘an’ your capt’in hez jest told me he h’isted it. Now, I tell ye, I ain’t goin’ away until I know what’s the matter aboard this vessel.’

“Then our capt’in shet his teeth down ez ef he meant it, an’ you can bet he did, too. Halftrigger looked at our deck, an’ when he saw all our men standin’ thar with weepins thar hands an’ never sayin’ er word, but jest lookin’ ez ef they wuz itchin’ fur er scrap, his eyes hed a villainous flash an’ his throat swelled up jest ez they did to- night when he looked into the muzzle o’ Pike’s pistol. All the time ther preacher-lookin’ cove whut wuz capt’in wuz shakin’ ez ef thar wuzn’t a pinch o’ sand in his gizzard.

“‘Look out,’ said our capt’in. ‘I’m comin’ aboard an’ I want an explanation o’ this here thing.’

“‘It’s all er mistake, ain’t it, Capt’in Parker?’ said Halftrigger, lookin’ very threatenin’ like at his own capt’in. ‘You meant just ter run up the flag, an’ not that thar signal, didn’t you, Capt’in Parker?’

“He looked at thet poor, cowardly capt’in ez ef he’d bore two holes right through him with them gimlet eyes o’ hisn. The Capt’in wuz all a-wobble, an’ dern my eyes ef he didn’t speak up, an’ sez he:

“‘Yes, it wuz all er mistake. I thought I wuz runnin’ up the flag o’ our country, an’ I must be half blin’, shore, fur I run up thet signal instead without ever seein’ the difference.’

The source of this story is Finestories

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