The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 5: What We Found

The boy played his part with skill. He slouched along, skipping stones now and then at some object, and then thrusting his hands in his pockets and whistling. But he never lost sight of his man. At first we staid so far behind him that Spanish Pete was lost to our view, but for the sake of caution we moved up two or three times to see the Spaniard still stalking on ahead. Thus we formed a kind of chain of observation, and as we were at one end of the chain and the Spaniard was at the other, we felt safe from further scrutiny from him.

The Spaniard’s course still led near the edge of the bay, and soon we passed out of the town. He must have noticed the boy whistling and skipping stones but the sight of a ragamuffin was not likely to attract attention. He stopped and looked back two or three times, as if he wished to see whether Pike was following him. The advantage of having the boy as a proxy was evident.

For an hour we walked steadily on.

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

“The chase is gittin’ hot,” he replied. “No doubt uv it. That feller wouldn’t walk out here jest fur his health. They’ve got a camp out here somewhars an’ that Spaniard is leadin’ us to it. I hope the boy won’t lose him.”

“No danger!” I said, “that youngster is too smart for any thing of that kind.”

We were in the country now, in a quite lonely region, too, and the boy was walking so fast that it was an effort to keep in sight of him, for he skimmed over the ground like an antelope. By and by he stopped near the brow of a little hill and beckoned to us. While he waited we hurried up.

“Thar’s your friend in the cove down thar,” he said, “an’ he’s got company, too. I guess this is his stoppin’ place.”

Standing behind some trees, which offered good concealment, we looked over the brow of the hill. Below us was a little cove or inlet of the bay, almost concealed by a dense and overhanging foliage. At the verge of the water we saw Spanish Pete, Halftrigger and a third man whom neither of us had ever seen before. This third man had nothing special in his appearance. He was just such a thug as we could find loafing around any of the San Francisco dives. But he was a big, strong fellow, and his weapons were not concealed. We looked eagerly for Pedro, but he was not there. Tied to a bush was a boat with a large sail. The boat seemed to have room enough in it for a dozen persons.

“What luck!” whispered Pike to me. “They mean to go down the coast in that boat. Wa’al they kin go, but they won’t take Pedro with ‘em ef we kin help it, an’ I think we kin.”

“I guess the trail’s ended for me here, ain’t it, pards?” asked the boy. “Is my job over?”

“Yes,” said Pike, “and you’ve earned your money, too, sonny.”

“All right,” said the boy, “I don’t know what your lead is, but luck to you, pards.”

He waved his hand nonchalantly, walked back in the direction of the town and we never saw him again.

Halftrigger and his fiends were making up packages and stowing them in the boat. They were so much engrossed in their occupation and evidently had so little fear of observation that they talked quite freely and in unguarded voices. We were not near enough to hear all they said, but we caught enough to learn that the departure would be made that night, and that Pedro and two others would join them in the cove.

“An’ then,” we heard Halftrigger say exultantly, “we’ll be off after the gold, an’ that hunter fellow an’ his gang can suck thar thumbs an’ cry, ef they want ter.”

Then in his glee he sang his favorite pirate song.

“Pedro ud like ter go off with that hunter’s gang ef I’d let him,” said Halftrigger in a louder voice than usual; “but he won’t get the chance. We need Pedro in this little job we’ve got on hand don’t we, Pete? Sooner than let him get away I’d give him a few inches of this.”

He held up a formidable dirk as he spoke, and laughed with real enjoyment. The Spaniard laughed, too, and said:

“He’ll not get away from you.”

“Not now,” added Halftrigger, “but when he’s taken us to that mine of his things will change. We won’t need Pedro half so bad then as we do now, eh, Pete?”

Then all three of the men laughed hideously. I saw that Pedro’s rescue would be for his own sake as well as ours.

It was now within an hour of sunset, and Pike, leaning over to me, whispered:

“I’ll stay here an’ watch ‘em, Joe, while you go back after the rest uv the boys. You kin lead ‘em straight to the place, kaint you?”

I nodded nay head.

“An’ tell ‘em to come purvided,” said Pike, “fur thar’s no tellin’ what’ll happen to-night. Halftrigger ain’t got no scruples about bloodlettin’, an’ the others with him look jest ez bad. Now, be off with you, an’ don’t bother erbout me. I kin take keer uv myself. You’ll fin’ me here when you come back.”

Fortunately I found the remainder of our party at the room, and my news set them on edge with excitement. We made our preparations in two minutes, and then we started; back to the cove. It was dusk when we left the house, but I had no difficulty in finding the way. We trudged along, silent but watchful, and soon drew near the cove.

As we cautiously climbed the hill overlooking the water we heard the sound of voices, and I discovered Halftrigger’s among them. I had feared that Pedro and the others might arrive, and that the whole party would depart before my return, but the voices reassured me. As we approached the brow of the hill Pike’s sibilant whisper greeted us:

“It’s all right,” he said, stepping from the shadow of a tree trunk. “Pedro an’ the others haven’t come yet.”

Pike took his natural place as commander of our party, and we disposed ourselves about the hill. The darkness and the thick foliage afforded effective concealment, and we had no fear of premature discovery. The moon came out, and its bright light fell on the party below us in the cove. While lying in the shadow ourselves we could watch all their movements with ease. They finished their arrangements and sat down in the boat to wait for the others. Some time passed thus, and Halftrigger began to grow impatient.

“I wonder what’s keepin’ the lazy dogs,” he said, with a look of anger on his sinister face.

“They will be here very soon,” said Spanish Pete.

Halftrigger growled, but made no intelligible reply.

Another half hour passed and Halftrigger was in a ferocious temper.

“Them fellers need shakin’ up,” he said, rising, “an’ I’ll do it fur ‘em. I’m goin’ to meet ‘em and hurry ‘em along.”

The other two offered no objection, and Halftrigger, stepping heavily, as if he would like to crush the laggards under his feet, came up the hill in our direction.

“What shall we do?” I whispered to Pike who was crouched within two feet of me.

“Let him pass,” he replied. “We ain’t got no reason fur stoppin’ him now, fur he’ll be back soon with the rest uv his crowd.”

Halftrigger passed very near us, the moonlight falling on his evil face and deepening its repulsive look. We heard him for some time tearing along through the undergrowth. Then there was silence on the hill and in the cove, for Spanish Pete and the other ruffian ceased to talk. In about three-quarters of an hour we heard footsteps in the direction whence Halftrigger had gone. Pike put his ear to the earth and said:

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