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The Lost Mine Of The Padres








From: The Light Of Western Stars

In the cool, starry evenings the campers sat around a blazing fire and
told and listened to stories thrillingly fitted to the dark crags and
the wild solitude.

Monty Price had come to shine brilliantly as a storyteller. He was
an atrocious liar, but this fact would not have been evident to his
enthralled listeners if his cowboy comrades, in base jealousy, had not
betrayed him. The truth about his remarkable fabrications, however,
had not become known to Castleton, solely because of the Englishman's
obtuseness. And there was another thing much stranger than this and
quite as amusing. Dorothy Coombs knew Monty was a liar; but she was
so fascinated by the glittering, basilisk eyes he riveted upon her, so
taken in by his horrible tales of blood, that despite her knowledge she
could not help believing them.

Manifestly Monty was very proud of his suddenly acquired gift. Formerly
he had hardly been known to open his lips in the presence of strangers.
Monty had developed more than one singular and hitherto unknown trait
since his supremacy at golf had revealed his possibilities. He was
as sober and vain and pompous about his capacity for lying as about
anything else. Some of the cowboys were jealous of him because he held
the attention and, apparently, the admiration of the ladies; and Nels
was jealous, not because Monty made himself out to be a wonderful
gun-man, but because Monty could tell a story. Nels really had been the
hero of a hundred fights; he had never been known to talk about them;
but Dorothy's eyes and Helen's smile had somehow upset his modesty.
Whenever Monty would begin to talk Nels would growl and knock his pipe
on a log, and make it appear he could not stay and listen, though he
never really left the charmed circle of the camp-fire. Wild horses could
not have dragged him away.

One evening at twilight, as Madeline was leaving her tent, she
encountered Monty. Evidently, he had way-laid her. With the most
mysterious of signs and whispers he led her a little aside.

"Miss Hammond, I'm makin' bold to ask a favor of you," he said.

Madeline smiled her willingness.

"To-night, when they've all shot off their chins an' it's quiet-like,
I want you to ask me, jest this way, 'Monty, seein' as you've hed more
adventures than all them cow-punchers put together, tell us about the
most turrible time you ever hed.' Will you ask me, Miss Hammond, jest
kinda sincere like?"

"Certainly I will, Monty," she replied.

His dark, seared face had no more warmth than a piece of cold, volcanic
rock, which it resembled. Madeline appreciated how monstrous Dorothy
found this burned and distorted visage, how deformed the little man
looked to a woman of refined sensibilities. It was difficult for
Madeline to look into his face. But she saw behind the blackened mask.
And now she saw in Monty's deep eyes a spirit of pure fun.

So, true to her word, Madeline remembered at an opportune moment, when
conversation had hushed and only the long, dismal wail of coyotes broke
the silence, to turn toward the little cowboy.

"Monty," she said, and paused for effect--"Monty, seeing that you have
had more adventures than all the cowboys together, tell us about the
most terrible time you ever had."

Monty appeared startled at the question that fastened all eyes upon him.
He waved a deprecatory hand.

"Aw, Miss Hammond, thankin' you all modest-like fer the compliment, I'll
hev to refuse," replied Monty, laboring in distress. "It's too harrowin'
fer tender-hearted gurls to listen to."

"Go on?" cried everybody except the cowboys. Nels began to nod his head
as if he, as well as Monty, understood human nature. Dorothy hugged her
knees with a kind of shudder. Monty had fastened the hypnotic eyes upon
her. Castleton ceased smoking, adjusted his eyeglass, and prepared to
listen in great earnestness.

Monty changed his seat to one where the light from the blazing logs
fell upon his face; and he appeared plunged into melancholy and profound
thought.

"Now I tax myself, I can't jest decide which was the orfulest time I
ever hed," he said, reflectively.

Here Nels blew forth an immense cloud of smoke, as if he desired to hide
himself from sight. Monty pondered, and then when the smoke rolled away
he turned to Nels.

"See hyar, old pard, me an' you seen somethin' of each other in the
Panhandle, more 'n thirty years ago--"

"Which we didn't," interrupted Nels, bluntly. "Shore you can't make me
out an ole man."

"Mebbe it wasn't so darn long. Anyhow, Nels, you recollect them three
hoss-thieves I hung all on one cottonwood-tree, an' likewise thet
boo-tiful blond gurl I rescooed from a band of cutthroats who murdered
her paw, ole Bill Warren, the buffalo-hunter? Now, which of them two
scraps was the turriblest, in your idee?"

"Monty, my memory's shore bad," replied the unimpeachable Nels.

"Tell us about the beautiful blonde," cried at least three of the
ladies. Dorothy, who had suffered from nightmare because of a former
story of hanging men on trees, had voicelessly appealed to Monty to
spare her more of that.

"All right, we'll hev the blond gurl," said Monty, settling back,
"though I ain't thinkin' her story is most turrible of the two, an'
it'll rake over tender affections long slumberin' in my breast."

As he paused there came a sharp, rapping sound. This appeared to be Nels
knocking the ashes out of his pipe on a stump--a true indication of the
passing of content from that jealous cowboy.

"It was down in the Panhandle, 'way over in the west end of thet
Comanche huntin'-ground, an' all the redskins an' outlaws in thet
country were hidin' in the river-bottoms, an' chasin' some of the last
buffalo herds thet hed wintered in there. I was a young buck them days,
an' purty much of a desperado, I'm thinkin'. Though of all the seventeen
notches on my gun--an' each notch meant a man killed face to face--there
was only one thet I was ashamed of. Thet one was fer an express
messenger who I hit on the head most unprofessional like, jest because
he wouldn't hand over a leetle package. I hed the kind of a reputashun
thet made all the fellers in saloons smile an' buy drinks.

"Well, I dropped into a place named Taylor's Bend, an' was peaceful
standin' to the bar when three cow-punchers come in, an', me bein' with
my back turned, they didn't recognize me an' got playful. I didn't stop
drinkin', an' I didn't turn square round; but when I stopped shootin'
under my arm the saloon-keeper hed to go over to the sawmill an' fetch
a heap of sawdust to cover up what was left of them three cow-punchers,
after they was hauled out. You see, I was rough them days, an' would
shoot ears off an' noses off an' hands off; when in later days I'd jest
kill a man quick, same as Wild Bill.

"News drifts into town thet night thet a gang of cut-throats hed
murdered ole Bill Warren an' carried off his gurl. I gathers up a few
good gun-men, an' we rid out an' down the river-bottom, to an ole log
cabin, where the outlaws hed a rondevoo. We rid up boldlike, an' made a
hell of a racket. Then the gang began to throw lead from the cabin, an'
we all hunted cover. Fightin' went on all night. In the mornin' all my
outfit was killed but two, an' they was shot up bad. We fought all day
without eatin' or drinkin', except some whisky I hed, an' at night I was
on the job by my lonesome.

"Bein' bunged up some myself, I laid off an' went down to the river to
wash the blood off, tie up my wounds, an' drink a leetle. While I was
down there along comes one of the cutthroats with a bucket. Instead of
gettin' water he got lead, an' as he was about to croak he tells me a
whole bunch of outlaws was headin' in there, doo to-morrer. An' if I
wanted to rescoo the gurl I hed to be hurryin'. There was five fellers
left in the cabin.

"I went back to the thicket where I hed left my hoss, an' loaded up with
two more guns an' another belt, an' busted a fresh box of shells. If I
recollect proper, I got some cigarettes, too. Well, I mozied back to the
cabin. It was a boo-tiful moonshiny night, an' I wondered if ole Bill's
gun was as purty as I'd heerd. The grass growed long round the cabin,
an' I crawled up to the door without startin' anythin'. Then I figgered.
There was only one door in thet cabin, an' it was black dark inside. I
jest grabbed open the door an' slipped in quick. It worked all right.
They heerd me, but hedn't been quick enough to ketch me in the light of
the door. Of course there was some shots, but I ducked too quick, an'
changed my position.

"Ladies an' gentlemen, thet there was some dool by night. An' I wasn't
often in the place where they shot. I was most wonderful patient, an'
jest waited until one of them darned ruffians would get so nervous he'd
hev to hunt me up. When mornin' come there they was all piled up on
the floor, all shot to pieces. I found the gurl. Purty! Say, she was
boo-tiful. We went down to the river, where she begun to bathe my
wounds. I'd collected a dozen more or so, an' the sight of tears in her
lovely eyes, an' my blood a-stainin' of her little hands, jest nat'rally
wakened a trembly spell in my heart. I seen she was took the same way,
an' thet settled it.

"We was comin' up from the river, an' I hed jest straddled my hoss, with
the gurl behind, when we run right into thet cutthroat gang thet was
doo about then. Bein' some handicapped, I couldn't drop more 'n one
gun-round of them, an' then I hed to slope. The whole gang follered
me, an' some miles out chased me over a ridge right into a big herd of
buffalo. Before I knowed what was what thet herd broke into a stampede,
with me in the middle. Purty soon the buffalo closed in tight. I knowed
I was in some peril then. But the gurl trusted me somethin' pitiful. I
seen again thet she hed fell in love with me. I could tell from the way
she hugged me an' yelled. Before long I was some put to it to keep my
hoss on his feet. Far as I could see was dusty, black, bobbin', shaggy
humps. A huge cloud of dust went along over our heads. The roar of
tramplin' hoofs was turrible. My hoss weakened, went down, an' was
carried along a leetle while I slipped off with the gurl on to the backs
of the buffalo.

"Ladies, I ain't denyin' that then Monty Price was some scairt. Fust
time in my life! But the trustin' face of thet boo-tiful gurl, as she
lay in my arms an' hugged me an' yelled, made my spirit leap like a
shootin' star. I just began to jump from buffalo to buffalo. I must hev
jumped a mile of them bobbin' backs before I come to open places. An'
here's where I performed the greatest stunts of my life. I hed on my
big spurs, an' I jest sit down an' rid an' spurred till thet pertickler
buffalo I was on got near another, an' then I'd flop over. Thusly I got
to the edge of the herd, tumbled off'n the last one, an' rescooed the
gurl.

"Well, as my memory takes me back, thet was a most affectin' walk home
to the little town where she lived. But she wasn't troo to me, an'
married another feller. I was too much a sport to kill him. But thet
low-down trick rankled in my breast. Gurls is strange. I've never
stopped wonderin' how any gurl who has been hugged an' kissed by one man
could marry another. But matoor experience teaches me thet sich is the
case."

The cowboys roared; Helen and Mrs. Beck and Edith laughed till they
cried; Madeline found repression absolutely impossible; Dorothy sat
hugging her knees, her horror at the story no greater than at Monty's
unmistakable reference to her and to the fickleness of women;
and Castleton for the first time appeared to be moved out of his
imperturbability, though not in any sense by humor. Indeed, when he came
to notice it, he was dumfounded by the mirth.

"By Jove! you Americans are an extraordinary people," he said. "I don't
see anything blooming funny in Mr. Price's story of his adventure. By
Jove! that was a bally warm occasion. Mr. Price, when you speak of being
frightened for the only time in your life, I appreciate what you mean. I
have experienced that. I was frightened once."

"Dook, I wouldn't hev thought it of you," replied Monty. "I'm sure
tolerable curious to hear about it."

Madeline and her friends dared not break the spell, for fear that the
Englishman might hold to his usual modest reticence. He had explored
in Brazil, seen service in the Boer War, hunted in India and
Africa--matters of experience of which he never spoke. Upon this
occasion, however, evidently taking Monty's recital word for word as
literal truth, and excited by it into a Homeric mood, he might tell a
story. The cowboys almost fell upon their knees in their importunity.
There was a suppressed eagerness in their solicitations, a hint of
something that meant more than desire, great as it was, to hear a story
told by an English lord. Madeline divined instantly that the cowboys
had suddenly fancied that Castleton was not the dense and easily fooled
person they had made such game of; that he had played his part well;
that he was having fun at their expense; that he meant to tell a story,
a lie which would simply dwarf Monty's. Nels's keen, bright expectation
suggested how he would welcome the joke turned upon Monty. The slow
closing of Monty's cavernous smile, the gradual sinking of his proud
bearing, the doubt with which he began to regard Castleton--these were
proofs of his fears.

"I have faced charging tigers and elephants in India, and charging
rhinos and lions in Africa," began Castleton, his quick and fluent
speech so different from the drawl of his ordinary conversation; "but I
never was frightened but once. It will not do to hunt those wild beasts
if you are easily balled up. This adventure I have in mind happened in
British East Africa, in Uganda. I was out with safari, and we were in a
native district much infested by man-eating lions. Perhaps I may as well
state that man-eaters are very different from ordinary lions. They are
always matured beasts, and sometimes--indeed, mostly--are old. They
become man-eaters most likely by accident or necessity. When old they
find it more difficult to make a kill, being slower, probably, and with
poorer teeth. Driven by hunger, they stalk and kill a native, and, once
having tasted human blood, they want no other. They become absolutely
fearless and terrible in their attacks.

"The natives of this village near where we camped were in a terrorized
state owing to depredations of two or more man-eaters. The night of
our arrival a lion leaped a stockade fence, seized a native from
among others sitting round a fire, and leaped out again, carrying the
screaming fellow away into the darkness. I determined to kill these
lions, and made a permanent camp in the village for that purpose. By
day I sent beaters into the brush and rocks of the river-valley, and
by night I watched. Every night the lions visited us, but I did not see
one. I discovered that when they roared around the camp they were not so
liable to attack as when they were silent. It was indeed remarkable how
silently they could stalk a man. They could creep through a thicket
so dense you would not believe a rabbit could get through, and do it
without the slightest sound. Then, when ready to charge, they did so
with terrible onslaught and roar. They leaped right into a circle of
fires, tore down huts, even dragged natives from the low trees. There
was no way to tell at which point they would make an attack.

"After ten days or more of this I was worn out by loss of sleep. And one
night, when tired out with watching, I fell asleep. My gun-bearer
was alone in the tent with me. A terrible roar awakened me, then an
unearthly scream pierced right into my ears. I always slept with my
rifle in my hands, and, grasping it, I tried to rise. But I could not
for the reason that a lion was standing over me. Then I lay still. The
screams of my gun-bearer told me that the lion had him. I was fond of
this fellow and wanted to save him. I thought it best, however, not to
move while the lion stood over me. Suddenly he stepped, and I felt poor
Luki's feet dragging across me. He screamed, 'Save me, master!' And
instinctively I grasped at him and caught his foot. The lion walked out
of the tent dragging me as I held to Luki's foot. The night was bright
moonlight. I could see the lion distinctly. He was a huge, black-maned
brute, and he held Luki by the shoulder. The poor lad kept screaming
frightfully. The man-eater must have dragged me forty yards before he
became aware of a double incumbrance to his progress. Then he halted
and turned. By Jove! he made a devilish fierce object with his shaggy,
massive head, his green-fire eyes, and his huge jaws holding Luki. I let
go of Luki's foot and bethought myself of the gun. But as I lay there on
my side, before attempting to rise, I made a horrible discovery. I did
not have my rifle at all. I had Luki's iron spear, which he always had
near him. My rifle had slipped out of the hollow of my arm, and when the
lion awakened me, in my confusion I picked up Luki's spear instead. The
bloody brute dropped Luki and uttered a roar that shook the ground. It
was then I felt frightened. For an instant I was almost paralyzed.
The lion meant to charge, and in one spring he could reach me. Under
circumstances like those a man can think many things in little time. I
knew to try to run would be fatal. I remembered how strangely lions had
been known to act upon occasion. One had been frightened by an umbrella;
one had been frightened by a blast from a cow-horn; another had been
frightened by a native who in running from one lion ran right at the
other which he had not seen. Accordingly, I wondered if I could frighten
the lion that meant to leap at me. Acting upon wild impulse, I prodded
him in the hind quarters with the spear. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a
blooming idiot if that lion did not cower like a whipped dog, put his
tail down, and begin to slink away. Quick to see my chance, I jumped
up yelling, and made after him, prodding him again. He let out a bellow
such as you could imagine would come from an outraged king of beasts.
I prodded again, and then he loped off. I found Luki not badly hurt. In
fact, he got well. But I've never forgotten that scare."

When Castleton finished his narrative there was a trenchant silence. All
eyes were upon Monty. He looked beaten, disgraced, a disgusted man. Yet
there shone from his face a wonderful admiration for Castleton.

"Dook, you win!" he said; and, dropping his head, he left the camp-fire
circle with the manner of a deposed emperor.

Then the cowboys exploded. The quiet, serene, low-voiced Nels yelled
like a madman and he stood upon his head. All the other cowboys went
through marvelous contortions. Mere noise was insufficient to relieve
their joy at what they considered the fall and humiliation of the tyrant
Monty.

The Englishman stood there and watched them in amused consternation.
They baffled his understanding. Plain it was to Madeline and her friends
that Castleton had told the simple truth. But never on the earth, or
anywhere else, could Nels and his comrades have been persuaded that
Castleton had not lied deliberately to humble their great exponent of
Ananias.

Everybody seemed reluctant to break the camp-fire spell. The logs had
burned out to a great heap of opal and gold and red coals, in the heart
of which quivered a glow alluring to the spirit of dreams. As the blaze
subsided the shadows of the pines encroached darker and darker upon the
circle of fading light. A cool wind fanned the embers, whipped up flakes
of white ashes, and moaned through the trees. The wild yelps of coyotes
were dying in the distance, and the sky was a wonderful dark-blue dome
spangled with white stars.

"What a perfect night!" said Madeline. "This is a night to understand
the dream, the mystery, the wonder of the Southwest. Florence, for long
you have promised to tell us the story of the lost mine of the padres.
It will give us all pleasure, make us understand something of the thrall
in which this land held the Spaniards who discovered it so many years
ago. It will be especially interesting now, because this mountain hides
somewhere under its crags the treasures of the lost mine of the padres."

*****

"In the sixteenth century," Florence began, in her soft, slow voice so
suited to the nature of the legend, "a poor young padre of New Spain was
shepherding his goats upon a hill when the Virgin appeared before him.
He prostrated himself at her feet, and when he looked up she was gone.
But upon the maguey plant near where she had stood there were golden
ashes of a strange and wonderful substance. He took the incident as a
good omen and went again to the hilltop. Under the maguey had sprung
up slender stalks of white, bearing delicate gold flowers, and as these
flowers waved in the wind a fine golden dust, as fine as powdered ashes,
blew away toward the north. Padre Juan was mystified, but believed that
great fortune attended upon him and his poor people. So he went again
and again to the hilltop in hope that the Virgin would appear to him.

"One morning, as the sun rose gloriously, he looked across the windy
hill toward the waving grass and golden flowers under the maguey, and
he saw the Virgin beckoning to him. Again he fell upon his knees; but
she lifted him and gave him of the golden flowers, and bade him leave
his home and people to follow where these blowing golden ashes led.
There he would find gold--pure gold--wonderful fortune to bring back to
his poor people to build a church for them, and a city.

"Padre Juan took the flowers and left his home, promising to return,
and he traveled northward over the hot and dusty desert, through the
mountain passes, to a new country where fierce and warlike Indians
menaced his life. He was gentle and good, and of a persuasive speech.
Moreover, he was young and handsome of person. The Indians were Apaches,
and among them he became a missionary, while always he was searching for
the flowers of gold. He heard of gold lying in pebbles upon the mountain
slopes, but he never found any. A few of the Apaches he converted; the
most of them, however, were prone to be hostile to him and his religion.
But Padre Juan prayed and worked on.

"There came a time when the old Apache chief, imagining the padre had
designs upon his influence with the tribe, sought to put him to death
by fire. The chief's daughter, a beautiful, dark-eyed maiden, secretly
loved Juan and believed in his mission, and she interceded for his
life and saved him. Juan fell in love with her. One day she came to
him wearing golden flowers in her dark hair, and as the wind blew the
flowers a golden dust blew upon it. Juan asked her where to find such
flowers, and she told him that upon a certain day she would take him
to the mountain to look for them. And upon the day she led up to the
mountain-top from which they could see beautiful valleys and great trees
and cool waters. There at the top of a wonderful slope that looked down
upon the world, she showed Juan the flowers. And Juan found gold in such
abundance that he thought he would go out of his mind. Dust of gold!
Grains of gold! Pebbles of gold! Rocks of gold! He was rich beyond all
dreams. He remembered the Virgin and her words. He must return to his
people and build their church, and the great city that would bear his
name.

"But Juan tarried. Always he was going manana. He loved the dark-eyed
Apache girl so well that he could not leave her. He hated himself for
his infidelity to his Virgin, to his people. He was weak and false,
a sinner. But he could not go, and he gave himself up to love of the
Indian maiden.

"The old Apache chief discovered the secret love of his daughter and the
padre. And, fierce in his anger, he took her up into the mountains and
burned her alive and cast her ashes upon the wind. He did not kill Padre
Juan. He was too wise, and perhaps too cruel, for he saw the strength
of Juan's love. Besides, many of his tribe had learned much from the
Spaniard.

"Padre Juan fell into despair. He had no desire to live. He faded and
wasted away. But before he died he went to the old Indians who had
burned the maiden, and he begged them, when he was dead, to burn his
body and to cast his ashes to the wind from that wonderful slope,
where they would blow away to mingle forever with those of his Indian
sweetheart.

"The Indians promised, and when Padre Juan died they burned his body and
took his ashes to the mountain heights and cast them to the wind, where
they drifted and fell to mix with the ashes of the Indian girl he had
loved.

"Years passed. More padres traveled across the desert to the home of
the Apaches, and they heard the story of Juan. Among their number was
a padre who in his youth had been one of Juan's people. He set forth to
find Juan's grave, where he believed he would also find the gold. And he
came back with pebbles of gold and flowers that shed a golden dust,
and he told a wonderful story. He had climbed and climbed into the
mountains, and he had come to a wonderful slope under the crags. That
slope was yellow with golden flowers. When he touched them golden ashes
drifted from them and blew down among the rocks. There the padre found
dust of gold, grains of gold, pebbles of gold, rocks of gold.

"Then all the padres went into the mountains. But the discoverer of the
mine lost his way. They searched and searched until they were old and
gray, but never found the wonderful slope and flowers that marked the
grave and the mine of Padre Juan.

"In the succeeding years the story was handed down from father to son.
But of the many who hunted for the lost mine of the padres there was
never a Mexican or an Apache. For the Apache the mountain slopes were
haunted by the spirit of an Indian maiden who had been false to her
tribe and forever accursed. For the Mexican the mountain slopes were
haunted by the spirit of the false padre who rolled stones upon the
heads of those adventurers who sought to find his grave and his accursed
gold."





Next: Bonita

Previous: The Crags



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