The Hidden Mine - Cover

The Hidden Mine

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 9: A Misadventure

We felt that we had no time to lose, as it would now be a race for the mine between our band and Halftrigger’s. And it was a race, too, in which we did not intend to be beaten. The power of gold is wonderful. It inspires men—good men, too, sometimes—to their greatest efforts.

Our kindly host, though refusing to accompany us, took the greatest interest in our success, and helped in our hurried preparations for departure.

“Don’t let that scar-faced scoundrel beat you,” were his last words to us as we left him, with our mules trotting by our side. While on the march we studied Pedro’s diagram with the greatest care. It dealt in generalities more than particulars, we were compelled to admit. Much turned upon Pedro’s idea of a day’s journey. If he had reckoned such a measure a few miles greater or less than we did, our calculations might suffer a serious upsetting. This fear of a mistake grew as we approached the end of our twentieth day’s journey. It became a certainty when, at the close of that day, we halted in a barren plain, in which we could nowhere find running water.

“Wa’al, I swan!” said Pike; “here we are. We hev travelled twenty days, ‘cordin’ to Pedro’s directions, but we don’t strike what he said we’d strike. We wuz to come to a little river runnin’ through a narrow valley. We took it down jest ez he said it. But we don’t see no river. We don’t even see no valley.”

“But Pedro’s instructions were indefinite,” said Henry. “We have followed the direction he indicated as nearly as possible, but still it would be easy to go wrong, as we probably have done,”

“I thought that river would set us right, “said Pike. “A river oughtn’t to be a hard thing to find.”

But talk as we pleased, the fact remained that we had gone wrong in some manner. It was our business to endeavor to right ourselves, and that, too, very quickly. Beyond the plain we could see a range of low mountains or high hills, whichever we chose to call them. The river might lie just beyond the range, and we soon decided to push on in the night until we crossed the plain.

We reached the base of the range about midnight, and camped there until morning. After a hurried breakfast we began the ascent, which was not great and which caused us but little trouble. The sure-footed mules, with their heavy burdens upon their backs, trotted along as if they were born mountain-climbers and made nothing of such a small ascent as the one before us.

In a couple of hours we had reached the crest and in another three- quarters of an hour we were half way down the other side. Henry, who was in advance, uttered a cry of joy, and, pointing ahead, exclaimed:

“Behold the river!”

Down in a narrow valley we could see clear water shining among the trees, and we had no doubt it was the river that we were seeking.

We hurried down the slope and soon stood upon the banks of the river. It was a beautiful little stream. It plashed over many pebbles, and the trout darted about in its clear waters.

“This must be the river.” said Pike. “It must be, sartin shore. But we’ve got to go along its banks until we come to another little river that runs into it. Now, which way must we go—up stream or down stream? Thar’s whar the rub comes in.”

It was a perplexing question, for while we might be going in the wrong direction Halftrigger’s band might reach the same stream and, going in the right direction, forestall us.

At first we thought of dividing into two parties, one to go up the river and the other to travel in the opposite direction, but we quickly dismissed the idea. Pike said it would be bad policy to divide and weaken our forces, as we were likely to come to blows with the Halftriggers. It would be better for us to take our luck together. Then we had to decide upon which direction to pursue first, and nobody wished to say.

“We’ll leave that to luck, too” said Pike, drawing his hunting-knife. “I’ll pitch up this knife, an’ when it falls whichever way the p’int inclines most, whether up stream or down stream, that’s the way we’ll follow.”

Pike tossed up the knife, and we watched it fall with as much interest as if the fate of the world turned upon it. Down fell the knife, and it lay parallel with the river, its blade pointing down stream.

We lingered no longer than was required for Pike to pick up his knife and return it to his girdle, and then we hastened down the river. It flowed with many crooks and turns in its narrow channel, and twice we came to little cataracts. Trees and thousands of wild flowers grew on its banks, but we had no time to admire such things as these. We were too anxious to find the river’s tributary, which would serve as an easy guide to the hidden mine.

But the day passed and we came to no such tributary. The sun was going down behind the mountains, but in our anxiety to find the second river we continued our progress by moonlight until midnight. We were still unsuccessful, but we were forced to stop for rest and sleep.

“‘Twon’t do to tucker ourselves out,” said Pike.

We threw ourselves upon the earth, and, though we were sore in spirit over our failure to find the second stream, soon went to sleep, leaving it to the mules to warn us of an approaching foe, if any should come.

We were up again at sunrise and Pike was in favor of pushing on down the river.

“We might hev been two or three days journey out of the course when we come to the water,” he said, “an’ tain’t wuth while to give up this route until we’re, shore we’re wrong.”

So we went on again. The valley through which the river flowed, narrow already, was now becoming narrower. Presently it flowed through a pass in which we barely found a footing for ourselves and the mules beside the stream. But beyond this it broadened out and the hills on either side were low.

“I think I will climb one those hills over there,” I said, “and take a look about us. From that elevation I may have the good luck to see the river for which we are looking.”

“All right,” said Pike, “take your gun along, an’ be keerful uv yourself. When you get through you can follow on down the stream after us.”

The hill to which I referred lay about an eighth of a mile to our left, and attained a considerable elevation. I was some time in climbing it. When I had nearly reached the summit I looked back and saw that my friends had disappeared in the foliage which lined the river’s bank. But I felt no apprehension on that account, as I had merely to follow the course of the river to overtake them.

Arrived at the summit I found that I had a splendid view of a wide expanse of beautiful rolling country, stretching away to the southward. Far off among the trees I saw what looked like a thread of silver. It was very distant, and could be seen but faintly, but I believed it to be a water course, and with youthful enthusiasm and confidence in our luck, I believed it was the water course for which we were looking.

I wished to be certain of what I saw, in order that I might not be the bearer of false news to my companions, and I cast about me for means of ascertaining. I stood on the very apex of the hill, and in looking around for further vantage ground, my eyes alighted upon some tall trees that grew near. What would be easier than to climb one of them. From its lofty boughs I might easily discern the nature of the distant silver thread that aroused my hopes. It was a good idea I thought, and I put it into effect instantly.

I leaned my rifle against a tree, and drew myself up with vigorous muscles. From bough to bough I went until I had ascended a great distance, and then I stopped to sweep the horizon line with my eyes. Yes, there was my silver thread, now grown to a silver rope, so clear and so sparkling in the sunlight that it was water, unmistakably.

I was about to begin the descent when a loud chorus of harsh disagreeable laughter came up to me. I was so amazed that I almost lost my hold on the tree. Then a voice shouted:

“Come down out o’ that, young feller, an’ don’t you make any noise an’ try to call your shipmates, or we’ll blow you into Kingdom Come! Now, look lively and come along!”

I looked down and saw the malicious face of Halftrigger grinning at me. Nor was he alone. Around him stood the whole of his band, and every one of those evil faces expressed derision.

“Ain’t he a fine ‘un,” said Halftrigger. “Caught jest like a squirrel up a tree, an’ Pete, if he calls out, bore a hole through him with his own rifle.”

The Spaniard was covering me with my own weapon, and a half dozen others had their pieces raised also. I was helpless. My pistols were in my belt, and I might possibly have brought down one of the gang, but I would have been shot to pieces the next instant.

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