The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 26: A Proposition

When the heavy bar that defended the door was put in place, Bonneau held up a torch which illumined the little room.

“Both here!” he exclaimed, “and both without a wound! Ah, thees ees one great moment for we have zee fear zat we never see you again!”

“Yes,” replied Pike, “we’re all right, an’ how hev you boys come through it?”

We had been casting hurried glances about as soon as we entered to see in what manner the defenders had fared. My first thought was of Henry, but he was apparently unharmed, and so were all the others except Mr. Sheldon, who had a strip of cloth tied around his left arm.

“A trifle,” he said, in reply to our inquiring glances. “A stray bullet came, in at a loophole when they made their first attack and barked my arm. And you; what success did you have? Did you achieve the object of the sally?”

I told the story of the tree cannon, and our success in ruining it, and they listened closely, making many comments.

“It was a clever device,” said Mr. Sheldon, when I had concluded, “but you have spiked their cannon. Had it not been for this sally I believe they would have destroyed our fort. We heard the report of your guns and were in a state of great suspense. Then the assault upon us came, and again you saved us with your flank attack.”

“Wa’al, we’re all back here ag’in together,” said Pike, “an’ I think Halftrigger hez hed enough fur this night. So I vote fur havin’ a bite to eat an’ some rest.”

Two of the party were detailed to watch at the loopholes, and then we ate strips of meat which Bonneau brought forth from the larder. It did not fall to my lot to keep watch, and thoroughly exhausted by the labors, the excitement and the dangers of the night, I lay down upon the floor and instantly went to sleep.

When I awoke it had been daylight some time, and I found that work had been resumed on the tunnel. This was by Pike’s orders. He said that the outlaws after their failure and losses of the night before would endeavor to starve us out, and it was necessary to provide at once for our water supply. Two hours after the work had been resumed we secured a fine flow of water in the tunnel, and no longer had any fears on the the score of thirst.

While this work was in in progress Pike was in his favorite position at the loopholes, scanning the country.

“I hevn’t seen any signs uv ‘em,” he said, “an’ I don’t see none uv the dead either. I guess they managed to carry off the fallen.”

“What do you think of our position now after last night’s victory?” I asked.

“It could be a sight wuss,” said Pike, “but all the same, they’ve got us cooped up here, an’ ef they choose to wait in the woods thar an’ ambush us I don’t know when we kin git out. Thar must be at least a dozen or fifteen uv ‘em left, an’ they kin keep a good watch on us fur days an’ days. Still we kin stan’ it jest ez long ez they kin.”

Our quarters were close and stuffy, and we were discommoded by the large quantity of earth that we had brought up from the tunnel, but we were prepared to hold the fort as long as our enemies threatened us,. It was my place, as Pike’s assistant, to help keep the watch through the loopholes, and while I was looking towards the crest of the hill I saw a man issue from the wood. I called the attention of Pike who was watching on the other side of the house to the figure. He looked through the loophole and exclaimed:


There was another loophole on the same side of the house, and I put my eye to it. As the figure came nearer there was no mistaking it for any other than Halftrigger’s. He held up a stick, on the end of which a white rag floated, and came on steadily.

“Thet white rag means a truce, I reckin’” said Pike. “I guess he wants to hev a talk with us.”

Halftrigger approached our fort with as firm a step and as calm a face as if he and its defenders were old friends about to be re-united. Though I knew him to be a consummate villain, I could not restrain my admiration of his hardihood. Nor did Pike.

“Pity sech a fellow should take up with robbers an’ cutthroats an’ be the wust uv ‘em all,” he said.

Halftrigger looked as jaunty as ever. He had stuck a sprig of a crimson mountain flower in his hat, and swung his shoulders in a way that was quite gay and debonnair. When he was about fifteen yards distant he halted and hailed us.

“Hello, in the house thar, my beauties!” he called. “I hope you’re well an’ sassy this mornin’ an’ are in humor fur o’ bit o’ conversation with a friend.”

“What do you want?” asked Pike, through the loophole.

“I ain’t no sea lawyer,” replied Halftrigger, “an I kain’t talk through a timber wall. Come out whar I kin hear ye.”

“You’ll hardly expect us to put ourselves in your hands,” replied Pike.

“But I’ve put myself in yours,” replied Halftrigger. “Why don’t you meet me half way?”

“But you know that we are men uv honor,” replied Pike, “an’ wouldn’t shoot at you when you come by yourself carryin’ that white rag. We don’t know the same about you.”

“You’re not ez polite ez an admiral,” replied Halftrigger, without any show of ill-humor, however, “but I guess I kin stan’ it. ‘Spose you open your door an’ stan’ thar. Ez you don’t trust us you could close it afore we could make a rush. Now, I’ll call my lieutenant an’ we’ll come up an’ talk to you about some propositions I’ve got to make.”

We were clustered at the loopholes, and after a little consultation we decided that we would accept the proposition. Pike hailed Halftrigger and told him to bring on his friend. Halftrigger beckoned in the direction of the wood, and Spanish Pete appeared and joined him.

“Don’t open the door much,” said Pike, “for we don’t want ‘em to ketch any idea of our tunnel.”

Then Pike, Mr. Sheldon and myself stepped outside, the others remaining to hold the door. But we stood in front of the door, ready for action at the first sign of treachery.

“Glad to see ye, gen’lemen,” said Halftrigger. “Hope we’ve been able to keep ye from sufferin’ from dullness. This gen’leman who hez jest joined me is Mr. Peter Mendoza, born in Spain an’ ez tidy a lad ez one could wish to hev with him on a cruise.”

“What is it that you want to say to us?” asked Pike.

“Don’t hurry me,” replied Halftrigger. “I’m a-comin’ to that. I hope you hev noticed what a fine day it is, gen’lemen; how invitin’ it is, I might say, for a lot o’ hearty lads sech ez us to meet together an’ discuss a proposition like friends.”

“Wa’al, let us know what you’ve got to say, an’ less not jabber all day about the weather,” exclaimed Pike, impatiently.

“Oh, well, ef you’re in sech a hurry,” said Halftrigger, “an’ want us to drop all the ornaments o’ conversation, which do so much to season the discourse o’ friends, I’ll come to the p’int. We’ve been a- scrappin’ an’ a-shoo’tin’ at each other over a lot o’ gold which you think is your’n, but which we think is our’n by rights.”

“Well, I must say you have all your assurance with you!” exclaimed Mr. Sheldon.

“Sartinly! sartinly!” replied Halftrigger, with a polite bow. I never travel without it. Now, to come back to what I wuz a-goin’ to say when the gen’leman interrupted me.

“Thar seems to be a dispute about the ownership o’ this gold. But it’s in your han’s jest at this time. Moreover, you’re inside the house and we’re outside. We kain’t git in an’ you kain’t git out. So thar you are. Now I’ll admit that so fur we haven’t been very successful in this engagement. You spiked our artillery fur us in great fashion last night. But I don’t lay it up ag’in you. Also you druv us off, an’ we lost some o’ our men. But we’re still mighty strong, an’ you kain’t come out o’ your fort without our poppin’ you over. So we’ll jest hang back in the woods thar an’ wait fur you. Your food an’ water will soon give out, an’ then you’ll hev to surrender. But I’m willin’ to play fair, even when I hold all the cards. So I’ll make you an offer.”

“What is your offer?” asked Pike as Halftrigger paused.

“It’s this,” replied Halftrigger. “All the gold that you’ve got in thar is our’n, but you’ve made sech a good fight fur it thet we’re willin’ to stop all the fightin’ an’ let you take one-third o’ the gold, bein’ ez you’re the smaller party, while we take two-thirds.”

This proposition was made with a coolness and assurance that astounded us all, and before we had time to reply Halftrigger continued:

“After the division is made far an’ squar’, ‘cordin’ to the terms, I’ll see that you get off safe, an’ that none o’ the boys pester ye.”

Now I for one was indignant at such a proposition. I was not willing to make a division of the gold, even if we could have trusted Halftrigger, and I believed that he would cut our throats without mercy if he got us in his power. But I waited for Pike to do the talking.

“Wa’al I must say, Mister Halftrigger,” said Pike slowly, “that you’d make a mighty good hoss swapper. You’d never furgit to ask enough. Now, ez fur that gold you speak of, it’s all our’n.”

“Oh, we kain’t agree on that, an’ so we won’t argy it,” said Halftrigger lightly.

“No, we won’t argy it,” said Pike, with emphasis. “But ez fur dividin’ it with you, I don’t see no call fur us to do that. In fact, I’m dead ag’in it. Before I’d give a single lump to you I’d fight it out here to the last notch. But I’ve got pardners, an’ they’ve got a right to be heard. What do you say, boys?”

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