The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 27: The Unexpected

I think it was on the thirteenth day of our imprisonment, for imprisonment it had come to be, that we were discussing for the thousandth time the all-important topic, that is, how to get away with our gold.

“We might put the gold in the tunnel,” said Henry, “fill the dirt in and smooth it over again. After a while we could come back and get it.”

“‘Twouldn’t work,” said Pike. “Halftrigger knows we’ve got the gold, an’ he’d never give up the sarch till he found it. It looks, boys, ez if we’ll hev to go out an’ make a fight with ‘em. But I hate to do thet, for the odds are all agin us.”

“What matters eet!” exclaimed Bonneau. “Have we not fought ze Indians and whipped zem? And have we not fought ze outlaws and whipped zem, and cannot we whip zem again? Sacre nom de guerre!”

“Yes, we might whip ‘em, Bonneau,” said Pike good-humoredly, “but while we’re doin’ it you might get the top uv your head shot off, an’ then all the rest uv us would feel sorry.”

It had turned very hot that day, and the atmosphere in our little cabin was close, oppressive and foul. We longed for the wider space of out-of-doors. It was tantalizing, too, to see all the outlaws down in the riverbed at the mine. They had thrown the picks’ aside and were scattered under some trees that grew at the edge of the riverbed.

“What are they doing?” I asked of Pike, who was watching them intently through a peephole.

“Playin’ cards by the Eternal!” exclaimed Pike, “or at least they hold in thar hands what looks like cards. Wa’al they do take things easy, they do, an’ the hull gang is thar, too, every one uv ‘em!”

“And think of us sweating ourselves to death in this little hole!” said Henry.

“But remember, lad, that we’ve still got what we come after—the gold,” said Starboard Sam

In an hour or more the heat became so oppressive that we opened the door and all went outside. All of the outlaws were down in the riverbed, for we knew their exact number, and consequently we had no fear of a shot from ambush.

“If weather signs are the same here that they are in the East, I’d say this heavy heat means rain,” said Henry.

“Maybe they are the same,” said Pike, “fur I’ve seen a little streak uv lightnin’ over thar.”

He pointed up the valley to the range of mountains that walled it in at that end, and we saw the lightning playing apparently along the crest of the mountain. It was not vivid, but was more like what we call heat lightning or summer lightning back in the East.

“The rain may be a-getherin’ up thar,” said Pike, “an’ ef so I hope some uv it will come our way. It’s hard to breathe now.”

“It cannot come too soon for me!” exclaimed Bonneau. “I melt all away wiz, ze heat, and soon zere be nozzing left of me but one little spot of grease.”

“Poor Bonneau!” said Henry. “Wouldn’t you like to be sitting up on top of that distant mountain crest now, Bonneau? The breeze would strike you there, and the nice cool drops of water would fall on your face. Ah, it would be so pleasant up there Bonneau!”

“Will you stop that!” cried Bonneau. “You only make me feel ze worser. Mon Dieu! eet ees too much.”

“Look at our enemies down there,” continued Henry. “They make themselves comfortable in the shade, and see how they are absorbed in their card games!”

The outlaws were sitting in a cluster, and seemed to be completely oblivious of our near presence. But I turned my eyes away from them to watch the pranks of the lightning over the distant mountains.

“Not a bit uv wind stirrin’,” said Pike, who wet his forefinger and held it up.

“Reminds me o’ some o’ the days I’ve seen when I wuz cruisin’ out in the Malay seas,” said Starboard Sam. “You’ll never know real heat till you go out there, an’ your vessel lays becalmed on a scorchin’ sea with a sky o’ burnin’ brass above you. The sails hang down like dishrags. The pitch runs meltin’ from the seams. You expect every moment fur the woodwork to start a-blazin’, and you lay on the deck a- pantin’, your tongue hangin’ out like a dog’s. That’s the sort of heat that wilts a fellow an’ makes him a baby. Your muscles turn into jelly an’ you feel ez ef you didn’t hev strength enough to raise your biscuit and pork to your mouth.”

“I believe that is a storm getherin’ over thar, shore enough,” said Pike, pointing again up the riverbed to the distant mountains.

The flashes of lightning had grown more numerous and also much brighter. They were no longer the weak effervescence of summer. Broad bars of deep red light would burst over the peaks and tinge them with their fiery hues. Curious grayish clouds were assembling. The rumbling of distant thunder came through the breathless air.

“That must be a fine storm on the mountains up there,” said Henry; “but since it’s so lively, I believe that on the whole I prefer to be down here.”

“Ef that storm will jest whip its tail around in this direction an’ cool us off a little, I won’t object,” said Sam.

“I’d say it’s rainin’ mighty heavy up thar on the mountain tops,” said Pike, who was keenly watching these meteorological phenomena. “See them dark lines. The water must be comin’ down by the barrels full all at once.”

The gray clouds had opened and the mountain tops, distant as they were, seemed to be enveloped in a torrent of rain. There was one clap of thunder much louder than the others, and then the lightning began to fade and the clouds to dissipate.

“The thick uv it is over,” said Pike, “an’ it’ll begin to dwindle down now.”

As the outlaws were still engrossed in their card-playing, we remained outside the hut and watched the clearing atmosphere over the mountains. By and by there was a breath of a breeze which felt like balm on our cheeks. We inhaled great draughts of the cooling air and expanded our lungs.

“It’s the effect uv the storm up thar,” said Pike, “it’s set the air a-stirrin’ an’ cooled it off.”

We sat some time longer, enjoying the whiffs of air and casting occasional glances at the brigands down in the riverbed.

“This is rather pleasant,” said Henry. “I think I’d like to take a nap on the grass here. I hope you fellows will wake me up if our friends in the valley there make any disturbance.”

“Wake you up!” said Bonneau. “W’y, of course. But zere ees something coming down ze valley now zat you will want to see. Vat a queer country and vat queer things we see in it! Vat ees zat, Monsieur Pike? Vat ees eet?”

He pointed up the valley, and as our eyes followed the line of his finger, we sprang wonderstruck to our feet. A huge, yellowish wall of something was rushing down the channel, spouting foam and bearing trees upon its crest. At the same moment its heavy, steady roar struck our ears.

“Great God!” exclaimed Pike. “It’s a mountain uv water sweepin’ down the valley!”

The outlaws, roused from their sport by the roar of the torrent, sprang up, but the next instant it leaped upon them and blotted them out. We had one fleeting glimpse of men whirled up by the yellow flood. Then it sucked them down again, and the torrent roared and raged down the valley, and lapped almost to our feet.

Awed and stricken even to dumbness by the tremendous cataclysm, we stood as if we had lost the power of motion, while the turbid sea rushing by spouted its yellow foam upon us. Henry was the first to recover speech, and he uttered in solemn tones the words:

“And behold the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!”

“Aye,” said Starboard Sam, “it’s like the storm an’ the wreck at sea; that claims some and lets others go. They’ve been taken and we’ve been left.”

“We have been delivered from our enemies as if by a miracle,” said Mr. Sheldon. “Don’t you think we’d better go further back up the hill? The rising torrent may claim us, too, and sweep us away after the others.”

“No,” said Pike, whose manner indicated that he was deeply impressed by the scene, “we’ve seen the torrent at its flood. It’s likely to go down now.”

“Once again I say vat a queer country and vat queer things we see in eet! Vat ees eet all, Monsieur Pike; did zat great ocean of water drop from the skies?” exclaimed Bonneau.

“It come from the skies in the fust place,” said Pike, “ez I suppose all the water comes from thar. But what we’ve seen wuz a cloudbust or freshet in the mountains. Some big cloud on that range over thar whar we saw the clouds an’ the lightin’ hez busted wide open, an’ all the water droppin’ out at once hez come rushin’ down this valley here. We might hev expected that somethin’ uv this kind would happen here some day. It might ‘a’ been a hundred years afore it come, but it wuz shore to come at last. Water hed run down this valley afore, an’ we might ‘a’ knowed it would run down ag’in. Boys, the hand uv the Almighty hez come down; an’ it hez crushed our inemies.”

Pike spoke in tones of solemn conviction, and for some time no one of us said another word. As Pike had predicted, the flood rose no higher, neither did it diminish. The slope of the valley at this point was considerable; and the water swept by with great rapidity.

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