The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 21: A Signal From Bonneau

Our mine at last began to show signs of exhaustion, but that fact brought to us no affliction. We were not grasping after the whole world, and there was enough gold for us all stored in our hut. We had begun to talk of our departure for San Francisco, when one morning all of us except Bonneau left for the mine. The Frenchman excelled the remainder of us so much as a housekeeper that it usually fell to his part to remain at the hut, an arrangement in which he acquiesed with willingness.

We had thrown off our coats and were absorbed in our labors when we were aroused by the report of a rifle shot. Pike started up, alarm stamped on his face. “Didn’t that shot come from the hut?” he exclaimed. “Undoubtedly,” replied Mr. Sheldon. Even as the latter spoke, there was the sound of a half-dozen reports, coming like a ragged volley. We looked at each other, and Pike uttered the thought which had come instantly to the minds of all of us:


A rifle-shot was to be the signal for help from whomsoever might be on guard in case danger came, and we had no doubt that the first report was intended as such by Bonneau. The human mind is a curious thing, and we felt little surprise when we heard the sound of this shot, though our success in finding the gold had caused us to forget Halftrigger and his band for the time.

“Grab your guns, boys, an’ come on!” cried Pike. We had never neglected to bring our rifles and pistols with us, and they were lying on the bank only a few feet away. We seized them and, led by Pike, ran towards the house. We were much alarmed. We feared both for Bonneau and the safety of our gold. What if the desperadoes had killed or captured Bonneau, seized the hut and now held all our treasure!

Our view of the hut was cut off by the shoulder of the hill, and we slackened speed before coming into view, in order that we might avoid an ambush. Pike stole forward, made a brief reconnoissance and returned with news that the coast was clear. Then we ran to the top of the hill and found nobody in sight.

The hut appeared to be undisturbed, and nowhere in the vicinity were there indications of intruders. For all we saw, Bonneau might have been inside the hut, peacefully engaged in his cooking. But we knew the shots meant something serious, and were not deceived by these appearances of quiet.

“What do you think of it?” asked Mr. Sheldon of Pike.

“Either they’ve taken Bonneau an’ the hut,” said Pike, “an’ are waitin’ inside fur us to come up whar they kin plunk us, or Bonneau has fortified himself in thar, hevin’ druv ‘em off. But we’ll find out mighty soon. I think we kin go a little closer without comin’ in range uv the hut.”

Obeying the suggestion, we walked forward. The grass was rather thick and long at this place, and as I was watching the hut for movements there I stumbled against something and barely saved myself from a fall. I turned to see what the obstacle was, and beheld the face of a dead man upturned in the grass. The others, attracted by the noise of my stumble, had seen the ghastly object at the same moment.

I recognized the face of one of Halftrigger’s men. There was a bullet- hole through the forehead, and the body was still warm.

“I guess this is Bonneau’s work,” said Pike. “The Frenchmen must hev been outside an’ some distance from the hut when he saw ‘em comin’. I didn’t think he wuz sech a good shot.”

There was a loaded pistol in the man’s belt, and Pike took it out and put it into his own pocket, saying he would probably find use for it. Then we turned our attention once more to the hut. We watched it for many minutes, but we could discover no signs of life. We could see that the rude door which we had made was tightly closed, and we were sure the place was not without a tenant. But which, Bonneau or the desperadoes?

Our position was in some respects unfortunate. The cabin stood about two-thirds of the way up the slope. The crest of the hill was wooded. Riflemen could easily lie concealed there and spread themselves out in such a manner that we could not approach the cabin without exposing ourselves to their fire, granting that such men were concealed there. Thus whether in the house or on the hill they held us at an advantage.

“If Bonneau is in there we ought to let him know of our presence,” said Mr. Sheldon.

“Yes, ef he’s thar,” said Pike, “but ef he isn’t thar an’ our enemies are thar instead, ‘taint wuth while fur us to make ourselves marks fur thar bullets. No, we’ve got to wait fur a sign uv some kind.”

The situation was most puzzling, and there was nothing to do but wait. Waiting is a trying business at best, and it was almost unbearable now as our anxiety about Bonneau and our gold was increasing. We lay in the long grass, which concealed us very well. Pike scouted about a bit, but there was not enough grass and undergrowth for him to approach either the hut or the crest of the hill to see whether the enemy were concealed in either place.

We lay for two or three hours, staring at the hut and the trees beyond until our eyes grew weary. During all this time there was a silence that oppressed us. The cabin stood in the opening, as innocent in appearance as if it had never harbored anything that savored of danger. We expected to see a gun muzzle thrust now and then from a loophole, but no such sight greeted our eyes.

“Suppose, they have killed Bonneau and taken the treasure and gone?” suggested Henry.

“‘Tain’t possible,” said Pike. “They never could hev gethered up the mules an’ our gold an’ hev got away so quick and so clean after the firin’ uv them shots.”

“But the mules are gone,” said Henry.

This was a fact. They usually grazed on the grass near the hut, and they had seemed so much content with their surroundings that we had ceased to tether them. But they were gone now.

“The gang is here, shore,” said Pike emphatically; “either in the cabin or on the hill. The mules may hev been skeered by the shots an’ run away. Besides bein’ so much stronger than we are in number, I don’t think that crowd would run away, even ef all the gold had been packed on the backs uv the mules waitin’ fur ‘em. I think I’ll try the old hat trick an’ see ef anythin’ will come uv it. It kain’t hurt nuthin’ anyway.”

He crawled considerably nearer to the cabin, put his hat on the muzzle of his gun-barrel and thrust it up until the crown showed above the grass. It remained exposed within fair rifle-shot of the cabin for a full minute, but there was no response. No shot was fired. No gun- muzzle showed through the loopholes. Pike showed the hat again and again, but the result was always the same. Finally he came back to us and expressed his disgust at his failure.

“It leads me to believe that the cabin is deserted,” said Mr. Sheldon, “and that the bandits have gone with our gold.”

“No, no,” said Pike earnestly. “You are mistaken. Thar’s somebody in thet cabin, but whether it’s Bonneau or Halftrigger’s gang is more’n I kin tell. Ef it’s Bonneau he thought the hat was on the head uv one uv the gang, an’ concluded to save hisself fur a rush. He’s got everythin’ to gain by waitin’, fur he knows we’ll come to his help. But ef the gang is in thar they don’t want to warn’us, but are waitin’ fur us to come up. No, we mustn’t take sech a risk ez to walk up to that cabin door, turnin’ ourselves into targets ez easy to shoot et ez a barn. I guess we’ll hev to wait fur night now, an’ that won’t be so very long.”

The sun was about three hours high and we had made up our minds that there would be no developments until it went down behind the hills. Acting upon that supposition, we sought as comfortable positions as we could find in the grass, though we were on our guard to prevent the silent approach of an enemy.

We were resting thus when Pike told us to look closely at the cabin.

“Thar’s somethin’ movin’ on the roof,” he said.

The roof of the cabin was nothing but bark and thin canvas. It could hardly support a man’s weight, and we did not believe that any one would be so bold as to thrust his head through. Consequently we awaited developments with eagerness.

Something that looked like the end of a stick was projecting through the roof, and was being twisted about in a queer fashion, as if an effort were being made to enlarge the aperture. This effort became a success, for suddenly an object shot high above the roof and remained stationary. Pike uttered a low whistle and followed it with an exclamation:

“Wa’al, I’ll be darned!”

A pole projected about ten feet above the roof. To the end of the pole was tied a piece of white cloth about a foot square and about six inches below was fastened another piece of cloth of about the same size. A slight wind blew out the small pieces of cloth, and they fluttered like streamers at a masthead. In an upper corner of the first strip were daubed a number of spots, and horizontal stripes were drawn in the remainder of the space.

The lower strip as we could see when the wind fluttered it out, was made of three separate pieces of clothing. The top piece was red, the middle one white and the lower one blue.

“What in thunder does it mean?” asked Pike.

Henry was laughing and we turned to him in wonderment.

“Why, don’t you see?” he replied. “It’s Bonneau holding the fort and he’s telling us so. That strip of cloth at the top is the stars and stripes, or, rather, an attempted imitation of it. The strip, below it is the red, white and blue, the tri-color, the flag of France. The red is a piece of Bonneau’s handkerchief, the blue is his hat lining, and I guess an undergarment furnished the white. Bully for Bonneau! He hasn’t got brains for nothing.”

“Why, it’s all explain ez the nose on your face, now that it’s explained,” said Pike.

“Since Bonneau has signalled us there is no reason why we should not signal back to him,” I said.

“How?” asked Pike.

“Why, as you did to me when I was a prisoner. There are five of us. Hoist our five hats where he can see them, and he is quick-witted enough to know what it means.”

We adopted this suggestion, raising all five of our hats in a row on our gun barrels. Before the hats were in sight a half minute the pole containing the flags was waved about and jerked up and down.

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