The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 28: A Parting and a Meeting

We began to prepare for our departure. The first and greatest thing was to arrange for the carrying of the gold to ‘Frisco, and the finding of the mules we thought had solved the problem. But when we brought out the little canvas bags with their precious contents, and made them into packs which would not chafe the backs of the mules too much, we found that we had nearly twice as much as we could carry on such a long journey. For a while we were in a quandary, as we did not like to leave any of our hard-earned treasure behind, but at last Mr. Sheldon suggested that we bury what we could not carry on this journey. We adopted his idea, and buried it in the side of the hill, smoothing over the earth carefully and then covering it with squares of turf. Then we felt that it was safe until such time as we might return for it.

A portion of the gold being buried, there was nothing left for us to do but depart, and we had agreed to start on the following day, when Mr. Sheldon gave us a great surprise.

“Boys,” he said, “I shall leave you this afternoon.”

“Leave us!” cried Pike in astonishment. “Why, what’s thet fur.”

“I’ve been thinking it over for a day or two,” replied Mr. Sheldon, “and I guess I must be off for my house in the hollow tree. The gold hunt is over, and we’re well rid of all our enemies. I never really cared for the gold myself, but when I found that the other fellows were trying to beat you out of it it fired my blood, so to speak, and I determined to stick to you, because I liked you, until the crisis was over. It is over now and I must be off. I want to see that my house is all right and that everything, is in order.”

We knew that Mr. Sheldon was a very eccentric man, but we were also fully aware of his many sterling qualities and of the great interest that he had taken in us, and the valuable aid that he had given to us. So there was an outcry against his declaration. But he would not be persuaded.

“Boys,” he would say, “I am solitary by nature. I dislike the company of my fellows. I don’t know any other party that I would have stayed with as I have stayed with you. I like every one of you and you are my friends, but my house is waiting for me.”

“But one-sixth of the gold is yours,” said Pike. “What shall we do with that?”

Again Mr. Sheldon surprised us by obstinately refusing to take a single lump of it. He said he had plenty of property, back in New York City, more than he knew what to do with, and he did not want a cent more. We urged him, but could not move him.

“Wa’al,” said Pike at last, “we’ll put one-sixth of it to your credit in a bank at ‘Frisco, an’ it’ll be thar when you want it.”

“I’ll never claim it,” said Mr. Sheldon.

That very afternoon, he left us. He would not even take one of the mules. Each of us wrung his hand at parting for we knew he was a true friend. Then he threw his rifle over his shoulder and walked off towards the northwest. We watched him until he disappeared over a distant hill.

“What a queer man,” said Henry.

“Yes,” said Pike, “but he’s made of ra’al gold.”

We felt much sadness over the departure of Mr. Sheldon, for we had become attached to him, but other events raised our spirits too high for us to be affected by it long. The shadow caused by the great tragedy of the flood also soon passed, but hardly ever have men been happier or more hopeful than were we when we made our last preparations for the journeys to ‘Frisco. We had won our treasure through many dangers, and we looked forward to the enjoyment of it. It is true that we were compelled to leave half of our wealth behind, but we believed that it would be secure when we came again.

“Guess the price o’ gold will go down when to ‘Frisco,” said Starboard Sam, “fur ef I ain’t took greatly, we’ll flood the market.”

“Never mind about that, Sam,” said Henry, “gold is gold always, and you’ll find a market for yours.”

“The fear o’ thet hez never troubled me,” said Starboard Sam, “but I’m wonderin’ what I’ll do with all my money. Guess I’d buy the old frigate Constitooshun, thet I’ve sailed and fou’t in so much, but the Guv’ment wouldn’t sell her. Say, Bonneau, how’d I look in the uniform o’ a admiral, covered all over with gold buttons and gold epaulets so heavy they’d hold my shoulders down, an’ a whoppin’ big three-cornered hat on my head a-pacin’ the quarter-deck o’ thet big frigate, an’ a- sailin’ ‘er wharever I pleased, an’ a-makin’ the Britishers, and the Dutchers an’ the Frenchers an’ the Spanishers an’ everybody keep out of my way?”

“You would be one great man. You would be like an emperor. You would be as magneeficent as ze great Napoleon heemself,” said Bonneau, admiringly.

“I don’t know but what I’ll try it,” said Starboard Sam, reflectively. “I might make the Guv’ment an offer fur the Constitooshun, an’ ez I’m one of them that fit in her and helped to make her famous, the Guv’ment might think well o’ the matter, an’ let me hev her, bein’ ez it’s me.”

The idea was so pleasing to Starboard Sam that the smile of content did not depart from his face for many hours.

At last we started. We decided to leave the cabin in a tolerable state of equipment, ready for the next wanderers who might come along.

“‘Tain’t wuth while to t’ar anythin’ down,” said Pike. “We’ve hed luck at this here place, an’ ef any feller comes wandering’ along after we’ve gone we ought to leave things ez comf’ble fur him ez we kin.”

So we left some furs, and some dried meat in the cabin. Then we fastened the door in such a manner that the wild animals could not force it, gave the word to our mules, and started off at a lively pace for ‘Frisco.

Pike, who always had a good idea of direction, figured out the point on the horizon beyond which San Francisco lay, and we bent our course towards it. Our journey to the mine had been zigzag, but we decided that we would not waste any time on the return trip through wandering from our course.

Although we were anxious to turn our gold chunks into gold coin we’ did not hurry. We enjoyed the beautiful weather, and the scenery, which often was very picturesque. Seven or eight hours a day was about all that we devoted to marching. Sometimes we would, stop to hunt game. Nevertheless we made steady and good progress, and were free from apprehension of any kind until the night of the fourth day after we had started. We had encamped by the banks of a little brook, and were aroused about midnight by the squealing of the mules. We made a careful examination, though we failed to discover anything at that time. But the next morning up the stream, about thirty yards from the point at which we had encamped Pike saw the print of some footsteps in the mud of the bank. As no one of us had passed that spot he knew they must have been made by a stranger. The mud was very soft, and the shape of the footprint had changed so’much that Pike was unable to tell anything except that a man had been there.

I knew from the way Pike shook his head when he saw the footprint that his apprehensions were aroused, and my own experience was sufficient to tell me that it was not a matter to be passed over lightly. We had such a precious convoy of treasure that we were bound to be very cautious, and the knowledge that another or others had been so near to us in the night was not reassuring.

“Ef the mud hadn’t settled around his footmark so much,” said Pike, “I might tell more about it, but ez it is I kain’t even say whether an Injun or a white man hez trod here. Still it must hev been a white man, fur I don’t think thar are Injuns in this part uv the country.”

Pike endeavored to trace the footprints further, but the ground was so hard that the stranger had left no other marks. We spent two hours searching the vicinity, but achieved no result save failure. Pike was the only one of us upon whom the matter weighed long.

“Some stray hunter who passed near us in the night, I guess,” said Henry, and I soon came to the same conclusion.

On the following night we were aroused again by mules. But this time we did not even find a footprint. Nevertheless we felt sure that the mules would not have given a false alarm, and our apprehension returned. We had no fear for ourselves, but the possession of the treasure made us uneasy. Now, for the first time in all our lives, we felt the burden of wealth. We dreaded lest in some manner we should be robbed of our gold. We decided to resume our night watch, but there was no alarm on the third night.

Two days later we entered very mountainous country. We could have avoided the mountains by making a wide curve to the south, but we thought it would save time to press straight on over them. The range was bare and cut by mighty ravines, down which we would drop stones and no sound would come back.

“I wonder eef eet has any bottom at all?” said Bonneau, after one of these experiments.

“S’pose you drop down and see, Bonneau,” said Starboard Sam with a grin. “I’ll take care o’ your gold until you come back to claim it.”

But Bonneau declined the invitation with great emphasis.

We travelled for a day on the mountain, and then we began to fear that we had made a mistake. The way was continually growing steeper and more difficult. Sometimes it led dangerously near the precipices, and at last we were brought up by a sheer wall of stone. We halted, and for a while were in doubt whether to seek some new road or return as we had come and make the long journey around the mountain. But Pike did not like to go back without one more attempt to make the passage. So leaving Bonneau and Sam with the mules, Pike, Henry and I turned to the right, and passing in front of the wall sought a path around it. We succeeded in this attempt, and then decided to go further and see what other obstacles we might meet. In order to facilitate the search we separated.

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